Saturday, September 29, 2012

Reclaiming a Hero, Regaining a History

BHAGAT SINGH, hero of freedom struggle,
 celebrated in Pakistan, and by
people in India.

 SHAHEED BHAGAT SINGH did not have a long life. Born on September 26, 1907, he was hanged by the British rulers of India on March 23, 1931, so did not live to see his 24th birthday. But in those short years he had made a name as a fighter for freedom, and one who cared for the people -all the people. That's why his birth was celebrated yesterday by a gathering in Pakistan, which a party from India, including Singh's nephew, wanted to attend, but ran into that old standby of obstructive regimes, visa problems.
Shaheed Bhagat Singh was born in  Banga village, Jaranwala Tehsil in the Lyallpur district of the Punjab Province of British India, now part of Pakistan. His family had come from another village, Narli in erstwhile Lahore district, now part of Tarn Taran district in India.  His grandfather, Arjun Singh, was a follower of Swami Dayananda Saraswati's Hindu reformist movement, Arya Samaj, his father, and uncles Ajit Singh and Swaran Singh, were members of the Ghadar Party, led by Kartar Singh Sarabha and Har Dayal. Ajit Singh was forced to flee to Persia due to pending court cases against him, while Swaran Singh died at home in 1910 following his release from Borstal Jail in Lahore,

In 1919,  at the age of 12, Bhagat Singh visited the site of the Amritsar massacre, where thousands of men, women and children gathered at a public meeting in the Jallianwala Bagh gardens found themselves trapped when Brigadier General Reginald Dyer ordered troops to fire into the crowd. They kept firing for ten minutes until ammunition was almost exhausted., getting through 1,650 rounds of ammunition.  People trying to flee through the garden's narrow exits faced British armoured cars with machine guns fitted. Official Government of India figures said 379 people were  killed and 1,100 wounded, the Indian National Congress estimated more than 1,500 casualties and 1,000 dead. It was April 13, 1919, one day in that imperial history we're exhorted to be proud of.

Bhagat Singh took part in Mahatma Gandhi's Non-Cooperation Movement the following year, and at 14 he welcomed protestors against another massacre when they came to his village, but he became disillusioned with Gandhi's philiosophy of non-violence.  In 1922, he joined the Young Revolutionary Movement.

In 1923, Singh joined the National College in Lahore, where he did well academically, becoming fluent in several languages, but also took part in nationalist youth politics. He also joined the Hindustan Republican Association, and persuaded it to change its name to Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA).

In 1927 Singh was arrested, accused of being involved in a bombing in Lahore, but later released with a heavy fine. He wrote for and edited Punjabi and Urdu newspapers published from Amritsar, and in September 1928 when the Kirti Kisan Party ("Workers and Peasants Party") organised an all-India meeting in Delhi, Singh emerged as its secretary.

That same year the Superintendent of police in Lahore ordered a baton charge on peaceful demontrators protesting the British government's Simon Commission. Lala Lajput Rai who had organised the demonstration was injured and died not long afterwards. Superintendent Scott had personally asssaulted Rai, and Singh blamed him and vowed revenge. By mistake, Singh and his comrades shot the wrong man, an Assistant Superintendent Saunders.

Singh and the others went on the run,and might have remained free, but in 1929 he and Batukeshwar Dutt comrade were caught after bombing the Legislative Assembly. on April 8.  It was more of a spectacular protest against repressive legislation than a terrorist act. They threw two bombs from the public gallery, shouted slogans, and scattered leaflets. Few people were injured and nobody killed, but Singh and Dutt were charged with conspiracy to murder and went to prison.

Then on April 15, 1929, the 'Lahore bomb factory' was discovered by the police, and many members of HSRA arrested. Some turned informants, helping the police to connect Singh with the murder of Saunders..While in prison he led a hunger strike for political status.After one of the prisoners died, and the continuing hunger strike won international attention -lasting 116 days - the authorities moved to bring the Saunders murder case forward.

While in prison Singh kept a diary in which he noted sayings by various people, notably Marx and Engels, and he also wrote a pamphlet, "Why I am an atheist". 

Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were sentenced to death in what had become known as the Lahore conspiracy case, and ordered to be hanged on 24 March 1931. But the hanging was carried out after dark on the evening before. 

There were strikes and protests, and Bhagat Singh became a hero to the people and inspiration to the youth. India did in the end gain independendence, but it was partitioned, with tremendous bloodshed, and 25 million people caused to flee because they lived wrong side of the partition lines. The problems of the people remained unsolved. We can safely say that this is not the freedom for which Bhagat Singh and his comrades fought and died. But they have not been forgotten. Those who have tried this week to reclaim their heroism are regaining the path of history.
  • Birthday memorial: ‘Bhagat Singh was a hero of working people’

    By Ali Usman
    Published: September 29, 2012
    daily Express Tribune

    Bhagat Singh’s proper description is as a revolutionary and anti-imperialist, Farooq Tariq, a member of the Labour Party Pakistan, said on Friday.
    Tariq was speaking to a gathering of some 100 people in connection with the 105th birth anniversary celebrations of
    Bhagat Singh at Diyal Singh Mansion. The celebrations had been organised by Bhagat Singh Memorial Society Pakistan and included a documentary screening, speeches on his life and ideology, and cutting of a cake at Shadman Chowk, the place where Bhagat Singh was hanged on March 23, 1930.
    Tariq said some people in India spoke of him as a nationalist or Sikh leader but his struggle was against those who usurp the rights of the peasants and workers. Tariq announced that they would collect donations and build a Bhagat Singh Museum at his ancestral village.
    Tariq said it was sad that a group of 32 guests from India including writers, intellectuals, social activists and Singh’s nephew did not get visas in time for the birthday celebrations. “They applied for the visa a month ago. Intelligence agencies personnel from kept asking us about them. We provided them their profiles but to no avail,” Tariq said. “It is sad since it was mostly people who oppose fanatics in India and the occupation of Jammu and Kashmir by India,” Tariq added.
    Iqbal Virk, who has possession of Singh’s house and lives in Banga village Jaranwala, ancestral village of Bhagat Singh, was invited as special guest.
    Virk said the primary school where legendary Bhagat Singh received his early education was in a dilapidated condition and his class room has just three walls standing.
    He said the ground where Bhagat Singh used to play as child has turned into a sewage pond but the people of the village still took pride in Singh’s role for independence.
    Playwright Shahid Nadeem said, “The story of Bhagat Singh still continues. Nawab Ahmad Khan, the magistrate who signed the death warrant of Bhagat Singh, was from Kasur. The family expelled Bulleh Shah from Kasur. Nawab Ahmad Khan was killed at the place where Bhagat Singh was hanged. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the then prime minister, was awarded a death sentence in the same case.”
    Farooq Qaiser, the author of several Punjabi books, said it was wrong to present Bhagat Singh as a “peace commodity.” He said he could not be compared to the Taliban either. “The Taliban took up arms to kill innocent people. Singh did not kill a single innocent person. He threw crackers in the assembly to make the deaf hear,” he said.
    Performers from Ajoka Theatre sang folks songs about Singh’s ideology and life between the speeches.
    Later, a cake cutting ceremony was arranged at Shadman Chowk. Those gathered to mark his birthday called it Bhagat Singh Chowk.
    A message from Indian guests who could not attend the event was read before the audience who termed the celebrations “historic…since Lahore had been the scene of Singh’s struggle.”
    Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2012.

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Honour the Victims, Not the Criminal

  1. Above:  RALLY in Affile to oppose Graziani mausoleum and park, photo by Claudio Proietti.
    Below: GRAZIANI  (second from right) with Himmler (fourth from right), Heydrich (second from left) and other Nazis and fascists at the funeral of  police chief Bocchini, Rome, November 21, 1940,.

    UEFA is due to decide next month what to do about racist chants by fans of Rome club Lazio at their match with Spurs. Such behaviour by Lazio fans is nothing new. The Italian club has long had organised fascist gangs on its terraces, and former star player Paolo de Canio who made his name with his fascist salutes was a member of one of them.

    "I'm not a racist, I'm a fascist", Di Canio insisted a few years ago. He declared his admiration for Mussolini who had been "much misunderstood".  So far as I know his politics have not changed since he came into British football, which to a non-fan like me puts the fuss over what someone may have said in a heated exchange on the pitch into a curious context. Still, who knows, if the Swindon Town manager keeps upsetting people the way he did some of his own club's fans, he might end up doing some ankle stretching exercises just like his deeply misunderstood hero.  

    Lazio takes its name from the province around Rome, and that's where, about 50 km from the capital, there's a town called Affile where some people have found another way of saluting fascism.
    A mausoleum and park, dedicated to the memory of Fascist Field Marshall Rodolfo Graziani, has recently been opened in Affile, at a cost of €127,000 to local taxpayers. The mayor Ercole Viri has expressed hope that the site will become as ‘famous and as popular as Predappio’ – the burial place of Mussolini which has become a shrine to neo-Fascists.

    Graziani was Mussolini’s commander in colonial wars in Ethiopia and Libya where he carried out massacres and used chemical weapons against the native populations. In Libya in the 1920s he became known as ‘the Butcher of Fezzan’. He was directly responsible for suppressing the Senussi uprisings, and for the construction of concentration and labour camps. He was also directly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Libyans including Omar Mukhtar in eastern Libya.

    From 1935 to 1936, Graziani conducted the invasion of Ethiopia before becoming viceroy of Italian East Africa and governor-general of Addis Ababa in 1937. In an attempt to consolidate Italian control over the country, Graziani’s occupation army murdered up to 30,000 civilians in just three days in February 1937. Eyewitness accounts tell of how Italian soldiers doused houses with petrol and set fire to them.

    In the same month, Graziani ordered the massacre of the monks and pilgrims at the ancient monastery of Debre Libanos. In May, he was responsible for the assassination of up to 3,000 Ethiopian intellectuals. For these actions, Graziani earned his second title: ‘the Butcher of Ethiopia’.

    As Mussolini’s minister of defence in 1943, Graziani was responsible for putting down dissent in the Nazis’ puppet Salo republic, drafting a decree, which threatened any Italian who refused to serve in the army with execution. Many were killed as a result.

    In 1943, Gollancz published a book called The Trial of Mussolini, which pretended to be a verbatim report of the Italian dictator's trial - which never came - and featured a number of prominent British politicians and newspaper owners like Lord Rothermere of the Daily Mail, whom Musso was able to call as character witnesses for his defence, quoting things they had said in his support before the war. It was written by "Cassius" - a pen name used by Michael Foot.

    But Mussolini never faced such a trial, and nor did Graziani - even though he was among eight Italians against whom the UN War Crimes Commission agreed there was a prima facie case. We are bound to wonder whether Libyans and Ethiopians were seen as lesser breeds, against whom crimes could not only be forgiven, but forgotten. That is what people in these African countries  who know thier history may well suspect.  

    In 1950, an Italian military tribunal condemned Graziani to 19 years for collaborating with Nazis. He served only four months. He was never prosecuted for specific war crimes. In the 1950s until his death, he was the head of the neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement party, the MSI.  In the years of the Cold War when the NATO allies feared that Italy, with its strong Communist Party and unions might prove a weak link, they were inclined to see the fascists, including their terrorist wing, as a possible asset.  

    Nowadays, when Italy's far Right appears as arrogant and violent as ever, celebrating a fascist war criminal as a national hero is bound to give them a shrine to rally around, and encourage their actions. It is not just an insult to past victims but a threat to others roday.

    Fortunately, in Italy and other countries a campaign is under way to oppose the Affile mausoleum and say that Graziani and other leading fascists ought not to be honoured. There have been demonstrations in Affile itself and at Italian embassies in London and elsewhere. A petition circulating online says:
    We, the undersigned, condemn unequivocally this atrocious use of public money to celebrate a war criminal and a Nazi collaborator.
    Furthermore, we call upon the European Union and our own governments to use current European and international legislation to:
    (1) Demand that the Italian government and the Mayor of Affile issue an apology for allowing the memory of Graziani’s victims to be desecrated in this way
    (2) Demand that the Italian government and the Mayor of Affile remove all allusions to Graziani, both direct and indirect, from the memorial
    (3) Demand that the Italian government and the Mayor of Affile dedicate the memorial to all those in Italy and around the world who gave their lives in the struggle against Fascism
    (4) Demand that the Italian government and the Mayor of Affile install a specific memorial at the site which commemorates those Africans who died resisting Italian occupation of their countries

     There is a Facebook page

    And a website:

    On SS Lazio and di Canio:

    On "The Trial of Mussolini":,5299772

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    Tuesday, September 25, 2012

    Marikana Manifesto

    AT the TUC in Brighton two weeks ago a resolution was adopted condemning the shooting of miners by police and at the same time, reaffirming support for the South African NUM and COSATU. I was not surprised. I think delegates were relieved that the obscene charging of surviving strikers with the death of their colleagues had been dropped, and that they could condemn the shootings without having to face the capitalist character of the South African government or examine the relations with it and the mine companies of union leaders and political leaderships we had supported.

     I say "we", remembering the night we rounded off a branch meeting by going round the corner to a party at the ANC offices; the funds raised for elections, and the hostility which met those of us on the Left who sought a hearing for dissident African freedom fighters and socialist trade unionists.

    Things have changed, and are changing, both in South Africa and here. A while ago I was in a jampacked meeting to hear two youth and community activists whose tactics in the cities could probably teach us a few tricks.

     But the old residue remains, and at my union delegation's meeting before the Brighton congress began one brother warned us of "dark forces"(!) at work in South Africa, trying to undermine the relationship between the South African Communist Party and the ANC. I don't think he quite got the terrified response he might have hoped for,(some people previously quite close to the SACP seem ready to end that relationship). But he was sincere, and I am sure he and others will be shocked and horrified to see the declaration below which has been forwarded to us by some South African comrades:

    MINEWORKERS DECLARATION 19th September 2012 Marikana

    We, the striking mineworkers, delegates from various Platinum, gold and other mines and mineworker communities, gathered here today, declare the following:
    1. We stand in solidarity with the mineworkers, ex-mineworkers and their families in the rest of South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, DRC, Angola, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, in West Africa, in Chile, in China, in India, in Italy, Spain and the rest of the world;

     2. We remember the hundreds of thousands of mineworkers who have died on the mines all over the world; we remember those who have died because of mine sickness such as silicosis. We remember all who face a daily death who still work in the mines. The capitalist mine owners become rich at our expense.

     3. We remember the dead, the injured, shot down by the police on the 16th August 2012

    4. The ANC government is not our government; it is the government of the mining bosses, of the capitalists. This is the same in every country in the world- the government is the government of the rich.

     5. The police are not there to protect us and our families but to keep us as slaves to the mining bosses and their cruel system of exploitation.

     6. Our children have no future, we live shacks, the water is polluted, sewage runs in the streets, the few who work earn slave wages, because the mine bosses steal trillions of Rands and dollars worth of wealth from South Africa and the rest of Africa, every year. The migrant labour system is still there, it is just run by new bossboys, the ANC government;

    7. The mines, factories and commercial farms should therefore be taken over, without compensation to the capitalists, and run by the workers,

     8. Parliament is a talkshop, covering the dictatorship of the owners of the mines and the international banks; the government and parliament are their local managers;

    9. Black Economic Empowerment or Indigenization is a tool to by the international mining bosses and banks to bribe a section of the local middle class to manage this slavery system for them;

     10. No worker representative or official should get more than the average wage that skilled workers have achieved; all representatives and officials must be subject to instant recall by the workers;

    11. The striking mineworkers general meetings will decide as a collective when the strike is stopped, suspended or when we take a step forward or a temporary step back;

     12. We stand in solidarity with the striking mineworkers at KDC Goldfields and any other mine that is on strike; we warn the bosses to meet their demands or face a full scale general strike on the mines; we call for a war committee of workers delegates from all mines to be strengthened and to continue to co-ordinate our struggles;

     13. We stand in solidarity with the striking coal mine workers in Italy and Spain

     14. We thank all the working class and activists around the world who came out in protest in support of us- you have shown the real meaning of ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’.

     15. We call for all workers to immediately remove all their shopstewards and leaders who sides with the ANC government and the bosses. Workers’ take control of your unions

    16. At the same time we also call on all workplaces and working class communities to elect worker’s representatives, irrespective if they are in a union or not, permanent or casual, local or immigrant and in the community, the delegates should include the youth and unemployed. All representatives should be subject to instant recall by the constituency that elected them.

    Our demands remain: • The families of the workers massacred by the police and the mine bosses must receive the wage and full benefits of that worker, as if he was alive; • A minimum of R12500 for all mineworkers in Africa. Workers are free to fight for more, such as R16070. All wages must rise when prices rise and not be bound by any agreement to wait for a year or years. • Arrest the police and their commanders who perpetrated the massacre. • Arrest the Lonmin bosses for their complicity in the Marikana massacre • An end to stealing by the mine bosses through transfer pricing; bring back the wealth that the mine bosses have stolen- here are the funds for jobs for all at a living wage, decent houses and services for all, free, quality health care for all, for free, liberatory education for all; equal pay for equal work- an end to casualization and labour broking. • Arrest all the mine bosses for theft .Stop the plunder of the wealth in Africa by Anglo American and other imperialist monopolies • Nationalize all the land, mines, banks, commercial farms, Sasol, Petro-SA, without compensation to the capitalists, place these under workers’ control. This creates the basis for sharing all work among all who can work, for ending all unemployment and low wages, for disbanding the ghettoes and building integrated decent housing and service for all, for free, quality health care for all, for free, liberatory education for all. • Disband the police and the army; for the general arming of the masses

    The above programme sets the basis for the setting up of a working class party, that unites the working class fighters in South Africa, Southern Africa, Africa and around the globe. It is this new party that will lead the struggle for working class power and a Socialist workers’ state, indeed a federation of Southern African Socialist states and a Socialist Africa. The pace at which the workers’ states are integrated to become a unity will be determined by the respective working classes themselves, although we realize that the Anglo American and other mining monopolies keep us divided in different slave camps but for their sole benefit. No struggle for workers’ power in Africa can succeed if the workers in the USA, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and in other countries do not also embark on the struggle for working class power on their own home soil.

     Our mothers were kitchen slaves, our fathers were mineworkers, we want the current and future generations to be free. That is why we are Socialist; that is why we are Communist; that is why we are Trotskyist.

     I don't know the precise provenance of this document, whether it was produced entirely from the miners' own discussion, or penned by political activists and submitted for their approval. But whatever the influence at work it certainly does not read like something the companies or right-wing forces would provide, if they were secretly backing the strikers' union just to split the movement, as some people have suggested. This is not the language of the UDM or other right-wing unions that we know!

     As for that last paragraph about "our mothers" being kitchen slaves and so on, as our comrade in South Africa explains that poetic language is authentic:
    "In the marches here, people sing: my mother was a kitchen girl, my father was a garden boy, that's why, that's why I'm a Socialist, that's why I'm a Communist'. maybe you don't know this song. At the parliament march, workers adapted the song to - my mother was a kitchen girl, my father was a mineworker, that is why I'm a Socialist, that's why I'm a Communist'- things just spring up in struggle".

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    Sunday, September 23, 2012

    Another Pakistan, that we should hear more from

    AFTER affair of "charred Koran", less media attention, or concern,  for 300 burned people? (Photo Fareed Khan, Associated Press)  Trade unionists protest demanding adequate safety laws and protection.

    IT is not often that we see good news from Pakistan, but that might have something to do with our corporate news media as much as with the politics of that unhappy country. We got the predictable and well-choreographed angry response to well-publicised anti-Muslim provocation across several countries this week, and though the Pakistan government declared Friday a day of "love for Mohammad", love was not the most obvious theme of several days of unrest in which 20 people died and at least 195 were injured.

    It is reported that a Pakistani government minister offered $100,000 on Saturday to anyone who kills the maker of an online video which insults Islam. "I announce today that this blasphemer, this sinner who has spoken nonsense about the holy Prophet, anyone who murders him, I will reward him with $100,000," Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour told a news conference, to applause.
    "I invite the Taliban brothers and the al Qaeda brothers to join me in this blessed mission."

    A spokesman for Pakistan's prime minister said the government disassociated itself from the minister's statement. As always the regime treads a careful path between encouraging religious fanaticism and appeasing the US master.

    "You can kill our people with Drones but don't you dare upset us with films", was how one might cynically have interpreted the minister's priorities and message  I was also incluned to wonder how the minister's zeal for punishment might deal with the cleric who charred a Koran to frame a Christian child with learning difficulty, or those brave warriors who recently dragged two dozen people off a 'bus and slaughtered them because they were Shi'ites.

    To which a friend added: "Not to mention the factory owners who murdered hundreds of their own workers in fires. I think if Muhamed were alive today that might anger him a lot more than the film."

    He was referring to the fire in a Karachi clothing factory earlier this month, in which 289 people were killed, and the one in a Lahore shoe factory which killed another 25.

    Reports indicate that workers could not escape the fires because the factory buildings lacked basic fire safety standards and emergency exits. The fire at Ali Enterprises, the garment factory located in Hub river road, Sindh Industrial Trading Estate (SITE) in Karachi killed more than 289 workers. Many of them died of suffocation as they were trapped in the basement. A large number of workers suffered grievous injuries as they jumped from the building to safety.

    It is reported that the factory was illegally established and identifying the dead is extremely difficult as the workers were not registered with government authorities nor received written contracts.

    To be fair, the Pakistani authorities have charged a factory owner with murder. This followed  demonstrations by Pakistani workers expressing their sorrow and anger, and demanding more adequate safety laws and protection. The unions also demanded proper compensation for the families of the victims as well as that the owners be charged with murder.

    According to central bank data, the textiles industry contributed 7.4 percent to Pakistan's GDP in 2011 and employed 38 percent of the manufacturing sector workforce. It accounted for 55.6 percent of total exports.
    Noman Ahmed, from the NED University of Engineering and Technology in Karachi, said few industries and businesses implement the law on safety and fire exits, finding it easy to avoid because of lack of effective monitoring.

    The clothing factory fire has echoes of the notorious Triamgle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York in 1911 in which workers were trapped, or died leaping from upper windows too escape the blaze. While unions and reformers campaigned for improvements in safety, many of the garments on sale nowadays in the United States, Britain and other rich countries are produced in poor countries like Pakistan, Cambodia and Bangladesh. Pakistani factory owners say they are under pressure to keep down costs to compete for export orders.

    It has come out that the Ali Enterprise factory produced clothing for the KiK store chain in Germany. It has also been revealed that only last moth the Karachi factory was given a clean bill for safety by inspectors working on behalf of Social Accountability International, a New York-based monitoring group largely financed by big companies so they can say their contractors meet approved standards.

    We may well ask whether it is accidental that reactionary groups and governments welcome any religious pretext or provocation they can use to whip up a diversion from more material issues. We might also ask whether it is a surprise that our TV news and papers focus on such rows, even when there are much bigger strikes and movements over social issues, as happened recently in Egypt, which might remind us how much we have in common rather than what is supposed to set us apart.

    Even the terrible news from Pakistan, particularly about that factory inspection, might have got people thinking about where our clothes come from, and about where our protection is going, when David Cameron talks of "killing the health and safety culture" and companies are trusted with "self regulation".

    On the other hand, seeing trade unionists in Pakistan marching for their rights and safety reminds us we are all in one fight.

    And here is some more good news from Pakistan
    Dear Friends and Comrades,

    Over the past few months, three Left political parties have been holding meetings to discuss the possibility of a merger and creation of a new progressive force in Pakistani politics. Many of us have been striving for left unity for years, even decades.

    The challenges that working people an
    d progressive political forces face both within this country and in the form of imperialist intrigue cannot be meaningfully confronted without such unity. In the past, efforts to bring the left together have both succeeded and failed, and it is in the spirit of learning from such experiences that this present attempt is being made.

    We do not expect to suddenly emerge as a ‘third’ force in Pakistani politics, because we do not enjoy the kind of patronage of state and non-state powers that right-wing parties. Yet we do believe that the people of Pakistan want to see new alternatives emerging and we expect that a merger of existing left groups will be a giant step forward in building such an alternative.

    It is true that a majority of the Pakistani population is young, and many of these youth are fed up with the existing political options at their disposal. We believe that a left political party can be the face of this young and struggling population, not on the basis of hollow slogans, but in the form of a workable anti-imperialist, secular, anti-feudal and democratic Socialist programme.

    We want to harness the countervailing power of the people of Pakistan to take on and displace all status quo forces.

    Baluchistan is burning, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa continues to be caught in the throes of a war between two fundamentalisms (imperialist and religious), and our biggest city Karachi is engulfed in a mini-civil war….the list could go on.

    None of our existing political parties acknowledges or tries to address these divisions. We believe that only a mass left party can bring Pakistan’s divided nations together by bringing to the fore the shared interests of working people of all of these nations, and by accepting the rights of nations of self determination including the right of cession. We will struggle to affirm Pakistan’s multinational character, and will try and revive the historic alliances of the left and progressive ethno-nationalists. This is the most urgent task facing all progressives and we believe our new party will be at the forefront of this struggle.

    While the merger process to date has included only our three parties, we are circulating this message to clarify that we want all those who share our goals to join us. We believe that the building of a democratic socialist Pakistan is possible only if the means we employ are inclusive from the outset. We invite you all to be part of his historic effort.

    It is been agreed that a federal conference consisting of delegates from all three parties will take place on 4th November 2012 in Lahore. An interim body will be elected for the next six months. A congress of the new party will take place in the middle of next year to elect all the bodies and to set the political and organizational priorities.

    We would also be happy to invite those who are not part of the party to take part in the first federal conference as observer and decide for themselves, if they want to be part of the new party.

    In solidarity,
    1- Awami Party Pakistan
    2- Labour Party Pakistan
    3- Workers Party Pakistan

    Please contact for more information and solidarity
    Awami Party: (Jamil Umer)
    Labour Party: ( Farooq Tariq)
    Workers Party: (Assim Sajad Akhtar)

    The Labour Party of Pakistan is not like the British Labour Party, but originates in the tradition of Labour's Militant Tendency, now represented by the Socialist Party and the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI).  We might nite though that when Farooq Tariq was in Britain a couple of years ago he spoke with the Scottish Socialist Party, with which the SP has burnt is bridges, and referred to the Scots as a sister party. At any rate the Pakistani Labour Party is clearly more successful than the Socialist Party has been so far in building a broad alliance. 

    The Workers Party has a background in Pakistan's version of a Communist Party, having emerged through past splits over whether to look to Moscow or Beijing for guidance, the shock of the Soviet Union's collapse, and the realisation they must find their own way to socialism.

    The Awami Party has a history that goes back to the struggle against the British Raj, when the founders of its tradition,in contrast to Jinnah's Muslim League, were prepared to ally with the Congress Party for the freedom of all India. Strongest in the North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan, it at times experienced provincial government and state repression, under both the military and Bhutto. A former secretary was tortured to death as a "Communist".

    The Awami Party holds that Pakistan has four nationalities - Pakhtun, Baluchi, Sindhi and Punjabi. This approach to national equality, and secular rather than religious identity, could be a factor in he new party becoming a force for workers unity and genuine democracy.       

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    Saturday, September 22, 2012

    Union Freedom, Morocco Bound

    SAID ELHAIRECH held in prison since June 16, and demonstration, stranded Comarit-Comanay seafarers, in May. 

    TRADE UNIONISTS in Spain and France have joined those in several African countries in raising their voices in support of jailed Morocan dockers' leader Said Elhairech, who has been held in prison since June 16.

    Said, general secretary of Moroccan dockers union, Union des Syndicats UMT des Transports, was arrested in Casablanca on unfounded charges, including one relating to national security.
    Three months later he is still being held in prison in the Moroccan capital of Rabat awaiting trial. He has already been denied bail.

    The Spanish unions Transportes, Comunicaciones y Mar of the Unión General de Trabajadores and Servicios a la Ciudadanía of the Comisiones Obreras took part in a demonstration outside the Moroccan embassy in Madrid on September 14  to demand Elhairech’s release. They tried to hand over to the Moroccan ambassador a letter of protest, but embassy officials were hostile and refused to accept it. They left the letter on a desk within the building.

    In Paris, the Force Ouvrière union also staged a protest outside the Moroccan embassy and presented officials with a letter.

    Before his arrest Said Elhareich had been involved in high-profile cases, assisting in defending the rights of stranded Moroccan seafarers following the bankruptcy of the Comarit-Comanav ferry company, and securing a collective agreement in November for dockers in the Eurogate terminal in Tangiers.

    The International Transport Workers Federation(ITF) believes the accusations against Said have been created in order to wage an attack on the trade union work of himself and his colleagues. "As such they amount to an attack on trade union rights in general in Morocco", it says..

    The European Transport Workers’ Federation, the ITF’s European arm, passed a resolution at its dockers’ section meeting in Brussels on 13 September, condemning “the fact that the Moroccan government has so far ignored the appeals coming from unions from all around the world to free Said”, Delegates agreed to contribute to the ITF campaign to win justice for the Moroccan brother.  They also appealed to the Court of Rabat to reconsider its decision to imprison Elhairech.

    Meanwhile, unionists from across the Africa region, including ITF Africa’s women trade unionists, have sent approximately 3000 messages of solidarity demanding Elhairech’s release.
    For more information and details of how to get involved, visit:

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    Friday, September 21, 2012

    Faraway Places, Familiar Story

    A long way from Tottenham Court Road. Or is it?

    "A million miles from the nine-to-five, nestled in an azure ocean, lies a secret... maybe nature's best kept secret. An island of tranquility and harmony, where mankind and Mother Nature entwine in an exceedingly passionate dance of color and life and where every visitor is as special and totally different because of the wondrous creatures that grace this paradise.

    The only place on earth where there are thousand ways to try to do nothing, and each day may be a dream return true..."

    That's the alluring blurb for Conrad Hilton's Rangali island resort in the Maldives, faraway in the Indian Ocean and clearly far away as life could be from the cares and bustle of London's Tottenham Court Road.

    Or is it?

    I've mentioned Tottenham Court Rd in London because this week trade unionists have been picketing there after earler going to Westbourne Park, in a dispute over what they say is victimisation of union members on the Crossrail project.

    But before we come to that, let's hear from the International Union of Food and Catering Workers (IUF) about what's happening across the world in the Maldives:

    Guests at the Hilton Conrad Rangali Islands Resort in Maldives pay 1,000 dollars a night to stay in luxury villas located on two private islands, where they can choose from "seven world class restaurants including the world's first all-glass undersea restaurant serving contemporary cuisine". "For the ultimate dining experience" guests can order a private beach dinner with their own chef and waiter. But conditions are less than luxurious for the workers who serve them.

     Last year, some 350 workers held a peaceful work stoppage to highlight their longstanding demand for a clear reckoning of the service charge which makes up a crucial l part of their pay. Since 2009, the IUF-affiliated Tourism Employees Association of Maldives, TEAM, had attempted unsuccessfully to raise the issue with management.
     When management gave assurances that they were prepared to discuss the issue, the workers returned to work. Twenty-nine workers were then terminated. Union supporters were at the top of the list, which included employees with 10 or more years of service. The ostensible reason for the dismissals was a projected slowdown in business in the second and third quarters of 2011. In fact, tourist arrivals into Maldives grew significantly in this period. The real motivation for the dismissals was to bust the union's activist base

    Twenty-two workers challenged their dismissals at the Employment Tribunal. In February, the Tribunal ruled that the mass firings were unfair, and ordered management to reinstate the workers within 10 days with full back pay.

    The workers are still waiting. Management refused to comply with the court decision, and then appealed it. In August, the IUF wrote Hilton Worldwide Resorts management, urging it to reinstate the 22 workers in compliance with the court order and to enter into negotiations with TEAM. Hilton has not responded. Workers face a long wait at the appeals process, which is only now getting underway.
    The workers have been more than patient.
      Management responded by terminating union supporters - and refuses to comply with a court order ordering the resort to reinstate them. 

    If you go to this IUF site there's a place where you can  click to send a message calling on Hilton management to reinstate these 22 workers who stood up for their rights and recognize their union! 

    Incidentally, that bit about the company ignoring a court order to reinstate sacked workers will sound all too familiar to British trade unionists who have gone to arbitration or employment tribunals and won their case against victimisation only to find the employer simply ignores it.  

    Anyway, here from the Blacklist Support Group on Facebook is the report of what's happening on Crossrail:


    28 workers including a UNITE steward and safety rep have been dismissed from the Crossrail project because they are members of a trade union. The unionised workers employed by E.I.S. Electrical were searched and removed from site last Friday at the instruction of Bam Ferrovial Kier (BFK), the consortium of contractors building Crossrail.

     Crossrail is going to be one of the largest infrastructure jobs in the whole of Western Europe – if it is unionised, the workforce will earn good wages and the job will be safe. This is a deliberate attempt by BFK to intimidate workers and keep the union off the project, so they can keep wages down and force through rushed production targets.
    Whatever nonsense BFK come up with to justify the dismissals, everyone knows there are 3-4 years work left on the project for these sparks alone. But as soon as the union appeared on the job, the steward was banned from the tunnel and forced to sit in the site offices at Westbourne Park for weeks on end. The Safety Rep was suspended and left to sit at home for the past 13 weeks. Eventually BFK threw EIS off the job just to get rid of the union. The Managing Director of E.I.S. has given the union a witness statement and states that the only reason the workers and the reps have been removed from the job is because of the union presence.

    This is a dispute about safety and money. Even the EIS electrical engineer was sacked after he took a photograph of unsafe high voltage electrical cables. BFK are making money by playing with our lives.

    BFK want to save money on Crossrail We want to save lives on Crossrail

    BAM and Kier (part of the BFK consortium) are proven blacklisters of trade union members. They were part of the Consulting Association blacklisting conspiracy exposed in 2009. There is documentary evidence that their senior managers and Directors have illegally victimised union members. We know exactly what they’ve been up to – We’re not going to stand for it on Crossrail. The sparks won their fight against BESNA pay cuts – The rank and file will win the fight for Crossrail. ·


    Here's a video from the frontline: 

    And an update posted by Dave Smiith, a well-known figure in the fight against the blacklist: 

    Video of Day 3 Crossrail dispute - action spreads from Paddington to
    Tottenham Court Road construction sites. Supermodels were delayed from
    attending London Fashion Week catwalk shows


    So even in the heart of London the class struggle interfaces with the glamour world! 

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    Thursday, September 20, 2012

    Sabra and Shattila Thirty Years On

    Not Forgotten... but still waiting for justice

    The Pope arrived in Lebanon last weekend. He met with President Michael Suleiman, and at an open air mass on Sunday he called on young people to work for peace and "love one another". It was not the first papal visit (Pope John Paul came before), but with the carnage in neighbouring Syria, his message was linked to that. He took the opportunity to condemn the supply of arms as a sin.

    What neither Benedict nor  many commentators remarked upon was the bloody massacre which took place near where he was preaching, thirty years ago. A slaughter in which the chief perpetrators were supposed to be Christians, adherants in fact of the Maronite Church which is in communion with the Roman Catholic church. So probably were some of their victims, though most were Moslems.

    It was on September 16, 1982, that Christian Phalangist forces, backed by their Israeli allies, went into Sabra and Shattila refugee camps, which had grown up like a Palestinian town within Beirut. The occasion was said to be the assassination two days before of newly elected Lebanese president Bashir Gemayel, leader of the Kataeb (Phalange) party which, in Lebanon's religious-fractured politics relied on the Maronites' support.

    It was doubtful that Palestinians had anything to do with the killing, but it made do as a pretext, just as the attempt on Israeli ambassador Shlomo Argov in London, arranged by the Abu Nidal group, was used by the Israeli government as its excuse to invade Lebanon and attempt to destroy the PLO.     
    It was after the PLO had withdrawn its forces and weapons from West Beirut, entrusting the safety of its people to international agreements and promises from the United States, that the onslaught on the camps was begun. Israeli troops were in control of West Beirut, and therefore under international law responsible for the fate of the civilian population. And responsible they were, in that they cordoned off Sabra and Chatila, and unleashed the killers to go in, firing flare shells over head to light their way through narrow alleys. General Ariel Sharon was there to watch the operation proceed.

    Besides the Israelis and Phalangists, units of the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army were said to be there. Elie Hobeika, the Lebanese forces intelligence chief, is said to have given orders for the killings to "the Young Men", a gang recruited from men dismissed from the army for criminal activity. Hobeika went on to become an MP and hold ministerial positions.

    At first the people did not know what was happening, and when they did there was nowhere to hide. Their shelters had already been reconnoitred. In one of them, 12 year old Munir was with his mother and sister.  

    “The killers arrived at the door of the shelter and yelled for everyone to come out. Men who they found were lined up against the wall outside. They were immediately machine gunned.” As Munir watched, the killers left to kill other groups and then suddenly returned and opened fire on everyone, and all fell to the ground. Munir lay quietly not knowing if his mother and sisters were dead. Then he heard the killers yelling: “If any of you are injured, we’ll take you to the hospital. Don’t worry. Get up and you’ll see.” A few did try to get up or moaned and they were instantly shot in the head.
    Munir remembered: “Even though it was light out due to the Israeli flares over Shatila, the killers used bright flash lights to search the darkened corners. The killers were looking in the shadows”. Suddenly Munir’s mother’s body seemed to shift in the mound of corpses next to him. Munir thought she might be going to get up since the killers promised to take anyone still alive to the hospital. Munir whispered to her: “Don’t get up mother, they’re lying”. And Munir stayed motionless all night barely daring to breath, pretending to be dead.

    Umm Ali  was in her forties when the massacre took place.
     "The militiamen made us all sit down on the bodies of people who had already been killed.  My daughter turned to me and told me that the body she was sitting on was cold. The men dragged us to our feet and made us walk. They tried to take my daughter but I refused to let them, shouting that we were surrendereing and they couldn't harm us. 
    I thought they might have been Jewish, so I started shouting that I came from a village the Jews call Rosh Pinah in northern Palestine, I started to shout at them that we lived with Jews in Rosh Pina. An israeli soldier heard what was going on and came over. he asked me why I was talking about Rosh Pina to this man. He told me that the man was not an Israeli but a Kitaeb (Phalangist), and the soldier took my daughter from him and brought her back to me.

    The militiaman who had been trying to take my daughter got angry at this, and took a pregnant woman. I saw him kill her and then cut the baby from her stomach before stamping on it. "
    The orgy of savagery and murder went on for three days and nights. The most conservative estimate of the death toll was about 800, but others such as Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliuk reckoned at least two thousand bodies were found amid the ruins.
    This survivor Umm Ali's account is from a pamphlet produced this week by Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). Swee Chai Ang, a doctor who was in Sabra and Shattila's Gaza hospital when the massacre took place founded MAP after coming to the UK. Together with American Jewish nurse Ellen Siegel, Swee also went to Jerusalem to testify before the Israeli government's Kahane Commission. This Commission declared in early 1983 that Israeli military personnel had been aware a massacre was taking place and not taken serious steps to stop it. It held Ariel Sharon personally responsible for having let the right-wing Christian militias enter the camps, knowing the consequences. .

    This damning indictment did not prevent Sharon from resuming his political career and coming back as Prime Minister. (Nor did the accusation that Sharon had misled prime minister Menahem Begin into approving what he thought was a limited operation in Lebanon, while planning to make it all out war and take his tanks into Beirut). It says something about Israeli politics.

    Attempts by survivors to bring a war crimes case against Sharon through the Belgian courts were unuccessful, perhaps because the Belgian authorities came under pressure from the United States as well as Israel.

    Writing in the New York Times on Monday, Seth Anziska points to a wider context of responsibility:   While Israel’s role in the massacre has been closely examined, America’s actions have never been fully understood. This summer, at the Israel State Archives, I found recently declassified documents that chronicle key conversations between American and Israeli officials before and during the 1982 massacre. The verbatim transcripts reveal that the Israelis misled American diplomats about events in Beirut and bullied them into accepting the spurious claim that thousands of “terrorists” were in the camps. Most troubling, when the United States was in a position to exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel that could have ended the atrocities, it failed to do so. As a result, Phalange militiamen were able to murder Palestinian civilians, whom America had pledged to protect just weeks earlier.

    MAP pamphlet: 

    Victims and survivors still waiting for justice:

     A massacre that could have been prevented:

    Ellen Siegel's letter to survivors: 

    And more on the massacre:

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    Sunday, September 16, 2012

    Ramat Gan Memorandum

    IRAQI JEWS arriving in Israel. 1951

    WITH the Jewish New Year dawning tomorrow, an interesting document reaches us from Israel, and from the city of Ramat Gan, where many Iraqi Jews settled. The Israeli government decided recently that another special day be added to the calendar by declaring that the exodus of Jews from Arab lands ought to be remembered with a memorial day.

    The day recommended is the anniversary of the Farhud, or pogrom in Baghdad, on the night of June 1/2, 1941, though oddly it was not till ten years later that the mass flight of Jews from Iraq took place. (Many Jews did leave after the 1941 pogrom but for India, where there was already a long established "Baghdadi" Jewish community). Odder still, it has taken more than sixty years since the arrival of Iraqi Jews in Israel for the Zionist establishment to decide that they, and the Jews from other Arab countries, deserve some attention paid to their history, and then only as victims and refugees.

    Rather then consider centuries of culture and co-existence, this is being tied to the events of one night of bloodshed (and doubtless ignoring the many Iraqis who defended their Jewish neighbours), this being presented as encapsulating Arab-Jewish relations and a supposed Nazi-inspired drive against the Jews to "explain" current hostility to the State of Israel.

    Could this by any chance be related to the increasing difficulties which Israeli hasbara (PR) has been running into, and the need to counter sympathy with Palestinian refugees? Well, here is a blogger in the Jerusalem Post celebrating the new commemoration:

    This key achievement can be credited to Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. He stated: "a new memorial day would correct a historical injustice by finally recognising the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees and victims who were persecuted and forced to leave their homes in Arabs countries". The recommended date for the commemoration is the anniversary of the "Farhud," the massive pogrom against the Jews of Iraq which broke out on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot on June 1–2, 1941. During the pogrom, at least 170, and up to 780, Iraqi Jews were murdered.
    Ayalon said that "the Arab League should recognise the historical fault of Arab countries and these countries should bear responsibility for expelling the Jews and turning them into refugees."

    It is quite unbelievable that in Israel, where over 50% of the Jewish population have Sephardi/Mizrahi roots, that their history is not being taught in schools. But that's about to change. Ayalon stated that on the new memorial day, "we will remember the 850,000 Jewish refugees who were forced to flee from Arab states. This would not just be a symbolic act; in our blood-soaked region, remembrance carries a political and diplomatic meaning. The Palestinians are speaking about refugees at length. Then we will too. While our refugees have assimilated into society, the Palestinian refuges have always been, and still remain, no more than a propaganda tool for their leaders."

    I'd have said it was perfectly believable that the history of the Sefardi/Misrachi, and specifically the Arab Jews has not been taught in Israeli schools. It is part of the general despising of Arab history and culture which entailed dismissal and ignorance of Arab-Jewish achievement too, and expected children to be ashamed of their background. Since Iraqi Jewish professionals were required to replace Palestinians as hewers and drawers of water, and grateful to the Ashkenazi elite, and Misrachim to prove their loyalty by being more anti-Arab than the rest, it has been instrumental too.

    But now the Misrachim are expected to have further reason for gratitude, as they are accorded a new role, and this interst in them comes not from the Ministry of Education but from the Deputy Foreign Minister, surprise, surprise!

    Entitled "Save the Date even if you're Ashkenazi", the piece is written by Michelle Huberman, who we are told is the Creative Director of Harif, an Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. Michelle currently lives in London. She mentions that Harif was founded by Lyn Julius, who seems to divide her time between decrying the "unhappy history" of Jews in Arab lands and blaming the Palestinians for not recognising that Israel must be a Jewish state rather than a state for all its citizens. Huberman also recommends a film, The Forgotten Refugeess, directed by Michael Grynszpan. Seems like quite a few Ashkenazim who "remember", and to whom Mizrachim are to be grateful for representing them. But I am being unfair. Lyn Julius we're told is among those whose parents left Iraq in 1951.

    But do I discern a note of sarcasm, even ingratitude, in this message from Ramat Gan?

    Statement from the Ramat Gan Committee of Baghdadi Jews, 14 September, 2012 / 27 Elul, 5772

    A) We most sincerely thank the Israeli government for confirming our status as refugees following a rapid, 62-year-long evaluation of our documents.

    B) We request that Ashkenazi Jews are also recognized as refugees so that they won't consider sending to our homes the courteous officers of the Oz immigration enforcement unit.

    C) We are seeking to demand compensation for our lost property and assets from the Iraqi government - NOT from the Palestinian Authority - and we will not agree with the option that compensation for our property be offset by compensation for the lost property of others (meaning, Palestinian refugees) or that said compensation be transferred to bodies that do not represent us (meaning, the Israeli government).

    D) We demand the establishment of an investigative committee to examine:

    1) if and by what means negotiations were carried out in 1950 between Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri as-Said, and if Ben-Gurion informed as-Said that he is authorized to take possession of the property and assets of Iraqi Jewry if he agreed to send them to Israel;

    2) who ordered the bombing of the Masouda Shem-Tov synagogue in Baghdad, and if the Israeli Mossad and/or its operatives were involved. If it is determined that Ben-Gurion did, in fact, carry out negotiations over the fate of Iraqi Jewish property and assets in 1950, and directed the Mossad to bomb the community's synagogue in order to hasten our flight from Iraq, we will file a suit in an international court demanding half of the sum total of compensation for our refugee status from the Iraqi government and half from the Israeli government.

    E) Blessings for a happy new year, a year of peace and prosperity, a year of tranquility and fertility.

    The Ramat Gan Committee of Baghdadi Jews (As originally posted by Almog Behar on FB, thanks to Dave Woody for passing this on.)

    And on this last note, may I take this opportunity of wishing l'Shana Tova to all, b'kol zot!

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    Thursday, September 13, 2012

    Annecy Murders: So far more speculation than investigation

    QESHM ISLAND, Iran. Photo from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. Murder victim Saad al Hilli was mechanical design engineer with this company.

    THE horrific murder of a British engineer and his family while holidaying in the French Alps has been displaced from front pages by the final emergence of the truth about even greater horrors that happened in Sheffield.

    Nevertheless the killing of Iraqi born Saad al Hilli, his wife Iqbal, his mother-in-law Suhaila al-Allaf and a passing French cyclist who might have been a witness, with al Hilli's traumatised small daughters Zainab and Zeena
    only chancing to survive, is being investigated.

    So far however we wonder how much is known, or we have been told. And how much that has appeared in the press or on TV is diversion, or even as at Hillsborough, disinformation. We heard that police were searching the al Hilli's Surrey home for clues, but not if they had gone to his workplace.

    We heard of a "family feud", which does not seem to have amounted to much, and we are told that Mrs. al Allaf, who lived in Sweden, had a son who was subject to bouts of mental illness, and had threatened his parents before.

    Yet it is evident that Mr. al Hilli was in fear of something more serious than a row with his brother. He went to a remote spot on a country road as though he had been told to meet someone there. Waiting for him was not a disturbed relative who lost his temper, but a ruthless professional hit man who killed the three family members with a bullet to the head, and then the cyclist who might be a witness.

    The weapon used has reportedly been identified as a Skorpion machine pistol, favoured by Serb ethnic cleansing units such as Arkan's gang in the Bosnian war, and by professional criminal gangs in Serbia.

    Some Dutch students reported a well-dressed man "of Balkan appearance", whatever that means, staying nearby. So far as we know Mr. al Hilli had no Balkan connections, but since the wars some of the gunmen have gone freelance and would serve any state or company willing to hire them so long as the money was right.

    However staff at Viking Camping Europa have dismissed the Dutch couple's account:

    She dismissed suggestions that Mr al-Hilli behaved oddly during his stay, adding: "There was nothing strange. All families leave the campsite at all sorts of times to run errands, go to the shop, organise activities, that sort of thing."

    And she said comments about a mysterious man described as appearing "to come from the Balkans" were "ridiculous".
    She said: "That was an Italian man who was here. He left and got on his plane as was planned."

    But what was the background to this killing?

    "The mystery of the murders of the al-Hilli family in the French Alps has its origins in Britain, the French prosecutor investigating the case said today".

    Mr Maillaud listed the three possible leads as a family conflict over money; Saad al-Hilli's sensitive work as an aeronautic engineer; and – intriguingly – his "Iraqi origins".

    "The fact that he was born in Iraq, that he had family in Iraq, of course that's something that is of interest and we are asking ourselves if there is a link between that and his death," Mr Maillaud said.

    The prosecutor declined to elaborate but complained the French investigators were finding it difficult to work with the authorities in Baghdad.

    Newspapers in the Middle East have been speculating for days that the killings might have some link with the billions of dollars concealed by the late Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.

    Why just the billions said to have been salted away by Saddam Hussein, and not say the billions that disappeared from funds supposedly allocated for reconstruction by those who bombed and occupied Iraq?

    An Iraqi friend had previously written to the newspaper giving her own thoughts on the "Iraqi connection":

    It is very difficult to read the horrific details of the Annecy shootings, described rightly by many media reporters as ‘targeted assassination’. The fact that this particular vehicle was targeted on this quiet road, and the shooting in the head of the adults has all the hallmarks of a professional killing. I fear Mr Al Hilli’s Iraqi nationality is at the heart of this case.
    More 500 Iraqi scientists, professionals and academics (according to had been the subject of a successful targeted assassination very similar in nature to that of the deliberate slaying of Mr Al Hilli. What appears to be a concerted campaign that has not spared any community in Iraq, the assassination campaign started in Baghdad in May 2003 and continues to date. No credible investigation by any official party has ever taken place so far.
    In Iraq, the gunmen who carry out the killing (and they rarely fail) would often ask bystanders to move away, before they shoot to kill their targeted victim.
    While in Iraq where the Green Zone government’s least worry is to protect the lives of those who are best qualified to be critical of its performance, the assassins need not worry about leaving witnesses at the crime scene. In Europe it is a different matter, hence the assassinations of the other three adults. I call on the French investigators not to ignore this credible possibility, to widen the circle of their investigation and take the case to Baghdad. Who else benefits from the emptying of Iraq from the very section of its society that is capable of taking it forwards?

    I am not sure whether her letter was published. It is now.

    Another newpaper did focus attention on a possible connection with Hilli's work:

    Detectives investigating the shooting in the alps massacre are looking into whether Saad Al-Hilli could have been targeted over links to the defence industry.

    Mr Al-Hilli was killed alongside his wife and mother-in-law last week. His daughters Zainab, seven, and Zeena, four, survived the killing.

    There is growing speculation over the motives for the killings. French detectives are reportedly keen to question work colleagues of Saad after discovering that he was killed while working on a secret contract for one of Britain's biggest defence companies.

    Mr Al-Hilli worked for Surrey Satellites Technology Limited (SSTL) near Guildford, and detectives are expected to ask colleagues about whether his work may have made him a target for assassination.

    Mr Al-Hilli was part of a team involved in an undisclosed project linked to European Aeronautic Defence and Space. The company designs and launches satellites for clients who want an "eye in the sky" for commercial, civil or security purposes.

    Less responsible commentators had no inhibitions about speculating on the facts, from self-claimed Luton Town "supporters" for whom it little mattered so long as they could rejoice that a Muslim and his wife and mother in law were dead,

    to former British diplomat Craig Murray, as ever irreverent, but well-informed, if sometimes inaccurate:

    Sylvain Mollier, the ‘passing’ cyclist, was in fact a nuclear metallurgist who worked for a French nuclear company called Cezus (a subsidiary of Areva). Cezus fabricates and processes zirconium into metal and nuclear grade zircoaloy for nuclear fuel assemblies – it also has other applications in aerospace such as components and ceramics for missiles and satellites. Mr Al-Hilli was also a skilled aerospace engineer, on what looks to be his first camping holiday.

    What is the probability that two highly skilled engineers managed be at the same remote place, at the same time, yet still managed to end up dead as a result of what looks to be a military style assasination?

    As someone else pointed out in The Independent comments, the deceased were found by a ‘retired’ RAF officer who, we assume, will recieve perpetual anonymity as a witness. If the police are looking for a motive, try an intercepted rendevous by a security service fixated on denying a hostile power illicit nuclear technology.

    Craig Murray added:

    I have only one thought of my own I want to add at the minute. Al-Hilli was a Shia muslim and had been on pilgrimage to Qoms in Iran. What if it is indeed true that he was in possession of no especial nuclear or defence secrets to pass on to the Iranians, but the Israelis thought that he was? The Israeli programme of assassination of scientists involved in Iran’s nuclear programme is a definite fact. It makes as much sense as anything else at the moment, as a possibility.

    The only trouble is that the ex-RAF man has not received perpetual anonymity but has been named, as one Brett Martin, from East Sussex, and last night he was interviewed on BBC TV.

    As for Saad al Hilli, he was not a nuclear scientist nor even a technician like Mordechai Vanunu who worked in a nuclear plant. All the same, his own field of design engineering linked to satellites might well be of interest to rival military powers, and the satellites themselves can be used for surveillance and intelligence gathering about both economic resources and military, particularly nuclear weapon developments. The connection might not be quite as Craig Murray is suggesting, but he does have a point.

    Read more:

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    Friday, September 07, 2012

    Daft and Spiteful

    A STRANGE MISSAL reaches me, entitled "Press release from the Labour Briefing Co-operative". This informs me that
    'On Saturday, 7th July, members of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) – aided by members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, which produces the Weekly Worker – attended the AGM of Labour Briefing and forced through a vote to close down Labour Briefing after 32 years of publication. The LRC is now producing its own “house journal”, using the same name – Labour Briefing'.

    I was not at this meeting on July 7. I am a member of the Labour Representation Committee, and like many trades union activists, appreciate and support its chairman John McDonnell MP's efforts to put workers' rights and socialism back on the agenda of the Labour Party. I recognised the significance of its choice of name, the first Labour Representation Committee having been formed in 1909 to advance workers' interests politically, and becoming the Labour Party. Having been delegated by my trades union council in Brent to attend LRC conferences, I liked what I saw, in different backgrounds and generations uniting, free constructive discussion, and the warm welcome I received.

    I cannot claim any connection to Labour Briefing, which has been around a lot longer, other than buying it monthly, usually because I am collared by Pete Firmin at our trades council meetings (he happens to be our president) or Mike Phipps, or other LB supporters, all of whom are also in the LRC. I have also occasionally participated in the LLB online discussion list, though sometimes I feared getting out of my depth, this being one of them. "What is the difference between the LRC and Briefing?", many of us would have asked, other than that, as someone else said, one was an organisation without its own publication, and the other a journal without an organisation to back it.

    So it seemed hardly a matter for deep thought let alone controversy when the Labour Representation Committee decided to adopt Labour Briefing as its magazine. But it has aroused a bitter controversy, to the extent that at least two editorial board members, Christine Shawcroft and Jenny Fisher, have apparently formed the "Labour Briefing Co-operative" and are clinging to the title for their own magazine. The press release I have quoted uses identical phases as Christine Shawcroft's blog.

    Yet to my limited mind, their account of things does not make sense. Why should Christine Shawcroft, who is a former vice chair of LRC and was re-elected last year to its executive, see anything wrong in LRC members - several of whom are also on the editorial board - coming along to the AGM of the magazine which they have been promoting? Why would these people put a motion to "close down" a magazine in which they were already prominent, in order to start another with the same name, when all they needed to do was take over the existing magazine?

    And how did they "force a vote"? Poke people in the back with rolled-up magazines?

    Or does Christine - sorry, the "co-operative" - simply mean that the people from LRC insisted the meeting should take a vote, rather than letting the recalcitrant editorial board members just nix the change, or waiting till there was unanimity? I think it's called democracy.

    As for the red herring (or red-baiting) mention of Communist Party of Great Britain help, I assume this refers to the Weekly Worker supporters who have set up within the Labour Party as "Labour Party Marxists" and are also in the Labour Representation Committee, though not very influential in it. I hear there were four of them at the Briefing AGM, and they probably voted for the merger. I don't see why they shouldn't have the right to do so, and their participation could hardly have been decisive.

    I don't see why they are being pointed at in this way unless it is to appeal to ignorant anti-communist elements. But this is after all a press release, and one would not want to give the media a headache explaining the subtle distinctions between left wing groups. Just say "Communist" and that should do the trick.

    Incidentally, though the Weekly Worker appears to support the merger, the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) was apparently against. I hope the "co-operative" finds this encouraging. I must say I found the Labour Party Marxists contribution to the last LRC conference dull and uninspiring, whereas the AWL are always amusing. At the first conference I attended their Martin Thomas was urging the LRC to quit the Labour Party if it was serious about wanting socialism. A year or two later the AWL had decided to join the Labour Party and Martin was back on his feet urging everyone present to do the same.

    This year he has been complaining that LRC is not active enough and that this is why it should not be running a magazine. I see the LRC is organising local groups, it has set up a youth wing, and it's holding a fringe meeting next week at the TUC, so maybe having backed the losing side in the Briefing row Martin may have to change his tune again.

    Having two publications competing with the same name is not new of course, though it may seem a daft idea. After the old Workers Revolutionary Party split in 1985 when Gerry Healy was thrown out, Paul Jennings asked me to come in and help on News Line after work, while the people who had left with Healy continued bringing out their own daily News Line, and still do somehow. But the issues which split the WRP were obvious, and even when there was a WRP (News Line) and a WRP (Workers Press) it was not hard to see the differences. Besides I would not have thought the "Labour Briefing Co-op", who probably like to think of themselves as sensible, down to earth, left-wing Labourites, would take the Healyites, however dogged, for a model.

    In fact the hardest thing to understand is just what they do think they are doing. Their press release says "The Labour Briefing, as a magazine, does not have members and its meetings have always been open to all readers, including those who are members of other groups on the left. Labour Briefing has always relied on goodwill from other groups, .... This mutual trust, which had lasted for 32 years, was broken by the LRC, in a hostile takeover which is tantamount to political asset-stripping".

    If LB was just a magazine, which did not have members, why refer to "other groups"? Surely that implies that LB was itself a group, and that the self-styled Labour Briefing Co-op still are, even if they are not clearly defined or open about it, but prefer expressions like "non-aligned"?They proclaim " – the tradition of being the magazine of the grassroots of the Labour Party, in all our diversity (not the magazine of yet another left group); of covering the activities and ideas of its readers (not just telling them what self-appointed leaders want them to do and think); of being genuinely non-aligned (rather than promoting a single left group or would-be party)".

    Who are they kidding? Labour Briefing was never "the magaine of the grassroots -in all our diversity", it was started by a small entrist group. It waxed and waned over the years with the struggles of the Labour Left as was. Only more recently has its coverage and ideas become more diverse, - much to the evident chagrin of leaders like Christine Shawcroft who seemed to disapprove of some of the ideas contributed by people in the LRC.

    As for being victim of a "hostile takeover", or being expected to promote "a single left group", this seems to be an inexplicably harsh way of taking your distance from a group whose leadership included yourself and was virtually co-extensive with your editorial board. I also dislike the sneering reference to a "house journal" -which I find belittling to the LRC and insulting to the membership, as though we have no ideas and nothing of any interest to say. But then as I think Lenin once said, spite is generally the worst of all motives in politics. And deciding to launch a spoiler when you could have stayed with the magazine is both daft and spiteful.

    In their own blog on this, Christine Shawcroft and Jenny Fisher say: "Speaking during the debate at the Briefing AGM, John McDonnell MP, founder and Chair of the LRC, said “Whatever happens in this room, whatever the decision, we leave here as comrades.” Christine Shawcroft, Chair of Labour Briefing, commented, “Comrades are people who don’t stab you in the back."

    Quite. But I don't see that anyone has stabbed her in the back, or front, whereas...

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