Sunday, April 27, 2014
Sunday, April 20, 2014
World Cup of Blood Overfloweth
Why Construction Safety Campaigners are going to an EmbassyMONDAY, April 28, will be International Workers Memorial Day, with various events planned in Britain and around the world. Here in London, as in previous years, these will include a rally by the statue at Tower Hill of the Unknown Building Worker. But before that, the Construction Safety Campaign and the London Hazards Centre have invited supporters to join them at 1 South Audley Street, in the West End, from 8.30am, where they intend to hand in a letter at the Qatar embassy.
Many Brits and others have gone out after good money working in oil-rich Gulf states like Qatar, but the embassy protest concerns the hard lives and numerous deaths among the larger number of workers, often from poorer Asian countries, employed in construction projects linked with the 2022 FIFA world cup.
A flyer from the International Workers memorial day organising committee says: "Football world wide is a game largely enjoyed by billions of workers. It must not be stained with the blood of workers".
This isn't the first time the Construction Safety Campaign has turned its attention to a sports-related construction. Ten years ago, on April 28 2004, the London campaigners switched from their more usual routes south of the Thames to march on Wembley stadium, where carpenter Patsy O'Sullivan had been killed when a platform fell 300ft. on to him as he was working below.
After representations by the CSC, the building unions, and Brent trades union council, a plaque was put up at the stadium to commemorate Pat O'Sullivan.
But it will take more than one plaque to remember those who have died so far in Qatar, or the further deaths that are predicted.
More than 500 Indian migrant workers have died in Qatar since January 2012, revealing for the first time the shocking scale of death toll among those building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup.http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/18/qatar-world-cup-india-migrant-worker-deaths
Official figures confirmed by the Indian embassy in Doha reveal that 237 Indians working in Qatar died in 2012 and 241 in 2013. A further 24 Indians have died in January 2014.
These come after the Guardian revealed last month that 185 Nepalese workers had died in Qatar in 2013, taking the total from that country to at least 382 over two years.
Human rights groups and politicians said the figures meant Fifa could not "look the other way", and should be leading demands for Qatar to improve conditions for the estimated 1.2 million migrant workers fuelling a huge construction boom.
A comprehensive report released earlier this week by the International Trade Union Confederation estimated that 4,000 immigrant workers could die before the 2022 Qatar World Cup – a result of living in squalor, drinking salty water, working excessive hours in extreme heat and living in cramped conditions.
The report begins “Qatar is a country without a conscience” and only gets more damning from there.
“Fundamental rights and freedoms do not exist for workers in Qatar whether for poor migrant workers or highly paid professional expatriates. Foreign workers are enslaved – owned by employers who own the power of recruitment, total control over wages and conditions of employment, the authority to issue ID cards (not having an ID card can lead to prison) and the ability to refuse a change of employment or an exit visa to leave the country. This is known as the Kafala system.”
The reality is that the stadiums for the 2022 World Cup are being built on the backs of the 1.4 million immigrant workers living and working in Qatar but are being under-compensated and subjected to unfair labor practices. Many of these workers are Nepalese and Indian.
The report goes into specific details about the conditions, allowing workers a first-person account of the situation.
One 26-year-old worker from the Philippines wrote: “After being in Qatar for five years, I would like to take my annual leave and go back home for a short visit. The company practice is that the manager demands a deposit payment of $275 -- an amount which I cannot afford in addition to the price of the ticket.” The worker also notes his living conditions, which include “eight people to one bedroom, sixteen people share a bathroom and thirty five people share a kitchen.”
The statistics cited say that 191 Nepalese workers and 218 Indian nationals died in 2013 alone, and the potential for 4,000 pre-World Cup deaths is based on mortality trend data from the Nepal and Indian embassies.
In response, Qatar has created two separate charters – the Qatar Foundation Mandatory Standards and the Committee Workers' Welfare Standards – but both appear to be ineffective. First of all, the QF appears to allow workers to merely raise objections to conditions as opposed to enact substantial changes, but more importantly, it's self-policed by the contractors themselves. The report notes it periodically conducts self-audits, which consistently fail to yield anything of merit.
The second charter is even more of a joke. Workers meet with management once a month (at an accommodation site, not the actual work site) and are barred from raising topics such as wages, hours of work or potential to switch companies.
FIFA is aware of the issues and has called on Qatar to amend its practices, but it seems that there's little fear of re-locating the World Cup (despite the very bright idea to host a World Cup in Qatar's searing climate). What's more, FIFA is currently under federal investigation because its former VP allegedly accepted bribe money from a firm linked to Qatar's bid.
If that's still not enough to make one question the entire bureaucratic process for soccer's governing body, a Reuters report on Tuesday said that FIFA considered halting an investigation being conducted by an independent ethics committee into the alleged bribes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Thankfully, they thought better of intervening and the investigation is still on-going.
Given all the recent revelations, it's no wonder MLS commissioner Don Garber recently quipped that the Qatar World Cup could become a "monumental disaster." At this point, that seems all too likely.
The Daily Mirror too has reported on Qatar:
The IMF has expressed concern that the row over workers' conditions and deaths in construction could effect Qatar's whole economic development. Roads and hotels along with other infrastructure projects are linked with the world cup.
Qatar is not the only Gulf state where labour conditions and prestigious construction projects have aroused attention. There is an international campaign, involving artists, concerned about the rights and conditions of building workers on the new Guggenheim museum an gallery being built in Abu Dhabi.
But Qatar could be special both for the horrific scale of the casualties and the possibilities which international interest in the World Cup provide for publicity and leverage.
And in London ...MEANWHILE the Construction Safety Campaign and London Hazards Centre are not taking their eyes off what's happening in this country. While people may be patting themselves on the back over the lack of fatalities in the Olympic project - itself owing much to union organisation and public campaigning, - the construction industry continues to take its toll, not least in London, both of workers on the sites and members of the public.
In November it was Richard Laco, killed under a fall of steel and concrete from a collapsing stairwell on the Francis Crick site at St.Pancras, Laing O'Rourke main contractors.
In February, Julie Sillitoe, a cab driver, was killed when falling concrete fell on top of her car in Holborn.
On March 2, Kevin Campbell was killed by a falling object at the Dockland Light Railway site in Stratford, E15. As with the Crick site it was reported that the employers would not allow union safety representatives on site. The contractor, Clancy, would not comment.
A few days later a concrete sprayer employed on the Crossrail project died after a concrete slab fell on him in a tunnel at Holborn.
On April 14, Dainius Rupsys, originally from Lithuania, was killed when part of a building collapsed on him while he was working, in Grosvenor Square. A mini-mechanical digger being used on the second floor of the former US navy premises fell through the ceiling. The Construction Safety Campaign called a vigil outside the McGee site, and UCATT has called for an investigation.
With cuts in already inadequate HSE inspections, and contractors tempted to cut corners by the economic situation as well as David Cameron's assault on what he calls "the health and safety culture", the need for union-backed safety campaigning is as clear as ever. So is the link which union activists point to between injuries and deaths on sites and the employers use of the blacklist against safety reps and anyone else who shows too much interest in working conditions and safety.
Incidentally, remembering the saying "Cuts can Kill", among the lives that have been saved by campaigners is that of the London Hazards Centre. Its demise had seemed possible after local authorities withdrew funding, but thanks to unions and other supporters stepping into the breach, its valuable work continues.
International Workers Memorial Day
Thursday April 28
Assemble at Qatar Embassy, 1 South Audley Street, W1K 1NB
(nearest tubes Hyde Park, Green Park).8.30am to 9am. Letter to be handed in 9.15am
Rally and Memorial by the Statue of the Unknown Building Worker, Tower Hill, EC3, 10.30am
Speakers include: Steve Murphy (UCATT), Gail Cartmel (Unite), Tony O'Brien (CSC), and someone from London Hazards Centre.
Construction Safety Campaign: firstname.lastname@example.org
London Hazards Centre: email@example.com
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Imagine the Books She Might Yet Have Written
TWO items, one amusing, one sad. Let's start with the lighter side. It might be just paper talk, but Euan Blair, the son of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, reportedly fancies standing for Parliament himself, and is setting his sights on Bootle, on Merseyside, regarded as one of Labour's safest seats for the next general election.
Joe Benton, the sitting MP who has represented the constituency for 24 years, is 81, and though he has said he intends standing again in 2015, there is a move in the local party to deselect him and find a younger replacement. That sounds reasonable. But Euan Blair?
The Liverpool Echo reports there are rumours, though it also quotes an unnamed Labour source as saying: “There’s no way Labour is going to lose Bootle, but the idea of parachuting someone like Euan Blair in would be a disaster, a joke."
The joke comes as Blair senior has been boasting how proud he is of going to war on Iraq, and making a new claim to replace his old Weapons of Mass Destruction story, this time saying he saved Iraqis from a war like that in Syria. Around Falluja, where people still suffering the effects of Blair and Bush's war have been fleeing bombardment by the Iraqi government they left, they may not be forthcoming with gratitude to Mr.Blair for saving them from anything.
I must admit I haven't followed young Euan's career until now. It was not his fault who his Dad was, nor that he was sent to a posh school instead of the local comp. When it was reported that he'd been found lying drunk in Leicester Square, that was not as bad as his father's lying in office, though if he had not been at the posh boys' school he might have had the kind of mates who found him a cab home instead of running off leaving him there.
Anyway, years go by, and at 29, Euan has worked for merchant bankers Morgan Stanley, he is married, and he and the missus have moved into a six bedroom Georgian town house in Marylebone with a price tag of £3.6million. But as with his student days and bachelorhood, Mum Cherie the barrister and QC still helps out with housing. "The new Mrs Blair is not the Mrs Blair listed on the property deeds. Land Registry documents have revealed the six-bedroom Georgian town house in Marylebone is joint owned by Euan and his mother Cherie Blair".
If young Mr.Blair has opinions of his own about the Iraq war or anything else he seems to have kept them to himself so far, but there may have been a clue otherwise at the wedding.
The bride's step mother, weather woman Sian Lloyd, was not invited, and she guesses it was because she was against the war.
Cherie Blair grew up in Waterloo just up the road from Bootle, and this is being touted as Euan's connection with the constituency, though local left-wingers wonder what he knows about conditions in the constituency or what experience he has campaigning on issues like jobs or housing. To be fair, Euan Blair did a bit of political work when he was in the States. For the Republicans.
Anyway, Labour's selection procedure is under way, and we'll know whom they have chosen by May 30.
And now to the sad news. Author Sue Townsend, best known as the creator of troubled teenager and sensitive though aspiring yuppie Adrian Mole, has died aged 68, on April 10, in her home town Leicester. She had been ill for some time, and had been dictating her work to her son after suffering blindness as a result of diabetes.
Sue Townsend came from a working class background and had known poverty first hand, and though she found her metier poking fun at the Thatcher years and after in her humorous writing, she was serious in her political views. In a 2009 Guardian interview with Alex Clark, she described herself as a "passionate socialist" who had no time for New Labour. "I support the memory and the history of the party and I consider that these lot are interlopers", she told Clark.
Her views on the Welfare State, and the way it was coming under attack without having yet fulfilled its purpose, were beautifully expressed in a set of essays, drawn both from experience and keen observation, and published as Mr.Bevan's Dream. (Chatto and Windus, Counterblasts, 1989) Her ideas were considered worthy of an intellectual analysis by Jurgen Willems, which can be read on line. His study makes thoughtful reading, though for pleasure I'd re-read Sue Townsend's little book.
Sue Townsend was also a no-nonsense republican (not the kind Euan and his Dad worked with) and in The Queen and I she imagines Her Majesty transferred from Buck House to a council house in Leicester. Helen, a friend in the Labour Representation Committee who unlike me had the pleasure of meeting the author recalls:
"I saw ST during an English day I had to go on during A Levels and she related the story of her own poverty i.e. having no money left due to non-arrival of giro and how she was reduced to asking the benefits officer if he could lend her a fiver - this is also what happpens to the fictional Queen in the Queen and I. It should be essential reading for the Osbornes of this world.
Also when I was an English teaching assistant in Germany in the nineties I did the Adrian Mole books with my sixth formers and as well as laughing (just to prove Germans do have a sense of humour!), they seemed to get the image of Thatcherite Britain Sue Townsend created and could discuss how it could be changed. R.I.P. Sue.
In one of the Adrian Mole books - it may have been Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction - her eponymous hero writes to Tony Blair asking about a refund for having cancelled a holiday in Cyprus believing what the PM said about being in range of Iraqi missiles. That was Sue Townsend's way of bringing things down to earth, and it was a way of speaking a true word in jest.
Here is what she said in person, and not through her fictional character:
'In the build-up to the Iraq war I lost the ability to read due to diabetic retinopathy. Instead I became a close listener. I heard Blair distort and manipulate the English language so that, like Humpty Dumpty in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, for him a word "means just what I choose it to mean".
The phrase "weapons of mass destruction" was ubiquitous. You knew he was talking it up. He had been given a grain of sand by the intelligence services and didn't stop talking it up until it was a boulder, hurtling, Tom and Jerry-like, down a mountain, flattening everything in its path.
I wept tears of shame, rage, and pity as British and American planes dropped their "strategic" bombs over Baghdad. I wondered if Blair was sitting on a sofa with his family watching shock and awe. Did they share a monster bag of Revels, and could he look his children in the eye when the transmission was over? I have never recovered from the shock of that night.
I have been told my fixation with Blair and his involvement with the invasion of Iraq is unhealthy "that was all back in the day", get over it, "move forward". But I can't. I am a professional cynic, or sceptic if you prefer, but deep inside I romanticised the qualities of this country and its government. We had a reputation in the world for the moderation of our political system, the fairness of our judiciary, and, whether entitled to or not, we marched up the hill and built a fortress on the moral high ground. That lies in ruins now.'
Sue Townsend, writing in September 2010
(thanks to another LRC comrade, Mike Phipps, for bringing my attention to that).
I don't suppose it is a joke to the people of Bootle, least of all the local Labour Party members, if they should really find themselves saddled with Euan Blair as their candidate or MP.
Sadder still, we no longer have the genius who invented Adrian Mole, socialist and humourist Sue Townsend, who would have been able to write about it.
Friday, April 04, 2014
Juliano Died a Martyr, but his Work goes Marching on
'My dream is that The Freedom Theatre will be a major force co-oporating with others in generating a cultural resistance carrying on its shoulders universal values of freedom and justice'
JULIANO MER KHAMIS
THREE years ago today, on the afternoon of April 4, 2011, Juliano Mer Khamis stepped out of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp, occupied Palestine, where he worked. He got into his old red Citroen car, with his baby son Jay, to go home.
As he set off, a man in a balaclava came out of an alleyway and told him to stop. The man then shot Juliano five times, before escaping back down the alley, throwing away his mask. Juliano, the theatre director, was killed, though Jay survived. The killer has never been caught. Nor is it known for sure who was behind this murder and what the precise motives were, though Juliano's friends and colleagues have their suspicions, and they are not the only ones.
Juliano Mer Khamis was 52 when he died, the same age as union leader Bob Crow, and like Bob at the height of his career when taken from us. Though the two men came from different countries and backgrounds, both were loved and are sadly missed; and both were hated by reaction, because though they worked in different ways, both were men of the Left.
Juliano Mer Khamis was an Israeli citizen, and his mother was Arna Mer Khamis, who came from a Zionist family and served in the left-Zionist fighting force the Palmach (as did Ariel Sharon). In the 1948 war she drove a jeep. It was only after the war, when the forces of the new State were used to clear Bedouin in the south, that the young woman began to ask herself what she supported, and look for other ideas. This led her to the Communist Party, and it was at a party conferene that she met Saliba Khamis, who came from a Greek Orthodox family. He was active in the party in Nazareth, where it came to lead the city council, and he wrote article for the party paper al-Ittihad.
Arna had been a teacher, but was sacked for marrying an Arab. Welcomed by her new family, she was less well regarded by her Jewish relations, and badly treated in hospital when Juliano was born in 1958. After her death from cancer in 1995 it was almost impossible to find a cemetery where she could be buried.
Although Saliba Khamis was a communist in politics he was not so progressive or liberal as a Dad. Juliano later said he first learned about politics ‘at the end of my father’s belt’. As a youth he tried to identify as an Israeli, serving in the army with his peers and joining the paratroops. For a time he tried dropping the Khamis from his surname. But he could not close his eyes to the crimes and casual brutality of the Israeli military, and his breaking point came when he was ordered to beat an elderly Palestinian man at an army checkpoint. Juliano refused, and punched his officer in the face instead. He was thrown in the slammer for refusing orders, and then dismissed from the forces.
Juliano's subsequent career had its ups and downs, from acting on stage and in films to bumming around at home and abroad, drinking, experimenting with drugs, and sleeping on a beach. He was brought to a more stable life when he met Mishmish Or, an Israeli costume designer, from misrahi (Eastern Jewish) background, moved in and became stepfather to her 2-year old daughter Keshet. Then he was persuaded to follow in his mother's footsteps, working in Jenin.
Arna was working with Palestinian mothers, trying to maintain education after the Israelis had closed schools. She took toys and banned literature to people's homes. She taught art, and invited Juliano to teach drama. In 1993, they started the children's theatre, on the top floor of Samira Zubeidi’s house. Juliano was there constantly, directing rehearsals, and filming his mother and the children for what became Arna’s Children. Samira Zubeidi was shot by an Israeli sniper. The theatre on their house was demolished. But by then Juliano Mer Khamis had become a fiend of Zakharia Zubeidi, her son, who went on to become commander of the Al Aqsa brigade of Palestinian fighters.
In 2004, Juliano brought out the film Arna's Children, which showed how the children of the camps, growing up under occupation, became fighters and martyrs. People in Jenin celebrated, and among them Zakharia Zubeidi. But afterwards, he and Juliano Mer Khamis discussed the fate of the second Intifada, and how Palestinian society and culture could resist and rebuild, rather than depend on its armed heroes. They decided to restart the theatre.
Not everyone liked what they did. Some distrusted co-operation with any Israeli, even one like Juliano who declared himself "100 per cent Jewish and 100 per cent Palestinian" and had been on the run with their own. They resented any distraction from "armed struggle", though Juliano never condemned the fighters, and Zubeidi could hardly be accused of cowardice. Then there were those in the Palestinian Authority who didn't like anything critical of their own collaboration or corruption,and may well have taken umbrage at what young Palestinians were making of Orwell's Animal Farm. Last but not least, there are conservative religious elements, those who object to any modern culture in their society, and are scandalised by talk of teenage boys and girls acting together on stage, and tales of immodest dress, drink and drugs - not pausing to ask where these tales originate, and whether the occupiers might be stirring the pot.
All the same there is a gap between dislike and deciding to kill somebody, and it is not often that Palestinians attack someone who comes in solidarity. Juliano was careful not to cause unecesessary offence to religious people. But as with Vittorio Arrigoni, the Italian solidarity activist murdered in Gaza, suspectedly by a salafi group, there are religious fanatics, possibly not even Palestinian, for whom the concept of solidarity against the Israeli occupation is meaningless, compared to their desire to impose their own reign of terror under the banner of religious "purity".
Whatever the circumstances of Juliano Mer Khamis' martyrdom and the motives of the murderer, or whoever sent him, it has not stopped Juliano's work. Besides its many fans and supporters in Palestine, the Freedom Theatre has won friends and admirers overseas, and a UK Friends group is preparing fundraisers and a tour in Britain.
ARNA IN LONDON at a vigil on the steps of St.Martin le Fields, near Trafalgar Square, remembering Palestinian children killed during the first Intifada. The woman in white with the red flower is Arna Mer Khamis.