Saturday, August 30, 2008

A real-life Biggles who flew for peace

I MIGHT as well confess.I did not take a great deal
of notice of Abie Nathan, who has just died at 81.
Now that he has gone, I think I should have done.
We - meaning Lefties like myself -should have done.
But of course flying off in your plane to see Nasser,
and going on to set up a pirate radio station for peace,
they are magnifique, but not in our text books, are they?

Forty years ago, socialists were variously thrilling over
the Sorbonne, or if more serious, about Renault and Sud Aviation;
or marching to the chant of "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh"
with a brief diversion to consider Prague.
Some discovered the Palestinian problem,
-the year of the Tet Offensive also saw the battle of Karameh.
They even acquired keffyehs along with their posters of Che.

That was the year that Abie Nathan,an enterprising fellow who
had flown bombing raids in the Israeli war of independence
(the Palestinians' Nakba, then worked for El Al, before managing
a trendy Tel Aviv burger restaurant, came up with the idea of an
offshore radio station that would feed young Israeli and Arab
appetites for Western-style pop music while spreading peace
and goodwill. Few people thought the idea would ever sail,
let alone stay afloat amid the political and violent storms.
In the event Abe's peace ship lasted for 21 years.
That's longer than many political parties, and a lot
longer than your conventional statesman's Middle East
"peace initiative".

Born in Abadan, where his Yemeni-born father worked
for Anglo-Iranian (now BP),Abie was educated in Mumbai,
where his family moved in 1939. He joined the RAF and
learned to fly, then in 1947 with partition he found
himself flying refugees to and from India and Pakistan.
The following year, without perhaps having had time to
think about that experience, he was in another conflict,
ferrying planes and spare parts from Czechoslovakia
for the new Israeli air force, before going on to bombing
Flying a converted DC3 Dakota he bombed Egyptian troops,
and Palestinian villages in Galilee In later years
he went back to some of these villages, and saw the
damage, and perhaps more unusually, managed to
make friends with some of the people who remained.
Lasting friends. One woman kept up visiting him
after he suffered a stroke in 1996.

It was in 1966 that Abe Nathan flew a 1927
Boeing-Steerman biplane to Egypt, this time
not to bomb but to try and present President
Nasser with a 60,000-signature peace petition.
The Egyptians treated him courteously, but sent
him home. Abe managed to meet various
international figures whom he thought might help,
then in 1967, the year of the Six Day War, he tried
flying to Egypt again.
This time when he was returned he spent 40 days
in an Israeli prison for "unauthorised contact
with the enemy".

He did not give up.
In 1972 his peace ship began broadcasting
to millions of listeners throughout the Middle East,
and in 1977, he sailed through the Suez Canal
distributing chocolates and toys to Arab children.
It seemed a naive if good-natured idea, but led to meetings
with President Sadat which presaged Sadat's visit to Jerusalem.

Abe Nathan knew there must be more to peace
than distributing sweets or talking to presidents.
In 1978 he went on hunger strike to protest
religious Zionists entrenching themselves in West Bank
and Gaza settlements,and in 1989 he met with Yasser Arafat.
He spent nine months in prison in 1991 for his contacts
with the PLO. Within four years Prime Minister
Yitzhak Rabin was shaking hands with Arafat at the
White House, though true, Rabin himself was to pay a
heavy price for that handshake.

As little as I knew about Abe Nathan's one-man peace efforts
for the Middle East, still less did I know of his other
activities, such as flying aid into Nigeria during the Biafran war,
taking help to Nicaragua after an earthquake, donating medicines to
a Beirut refugee camp, airlifting aid to Kurdish refugees in Iraq,
helping Somalis and Rwandans, and going to Moscow to intercede
for Jewish prisoners. Whatever we make of his politics in
theoretical terms, in practice Abe seems to have outflown Biggles,
but as a humanitarian hero for real!

In 1993 the peace "pirate" packed up his broadcasting, hoping as many
of us did that the Oslo peace talks, whatever their limited first fruits,
would be the beginning of the peace he had sought. In 1996 he suffered
the first of the strokes that ultimately deprived him of speech, and was
confined to a rest home. When he could he spoke of his childhood in India.
What he would make of the present Middle East situation I don't know.
I suspect that Abe the peace pilot and voyager would have saluted those
who took their boats into Gaza this month in a bid to end the blockade.

I dare say the kind of politicians who jailed Abe Nathan before will be
paying tribute to him now, even holding him up as a shining example
of Israel's wish for peace, though not endorsing such initiatives.
Even as Shimon Peres was praising Abe, security police were questioning
Jeff Halper, of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, about
his part in the Gaza expedition.

I also know that Abe Nathan's bold missions and peace broadcasts
did not solve the Israel-Palestine conflict, and that two boats
carrying a symbolic aid cargo have not ended the siege and misery
in the Gaza Strip. But then nor have more conventional efforts,
whether those of so-called statesmen (assuming for the sake of
argument that they do want a peaceful solution, even in their own terms),
or of those of us going on marches and passing resolutions.
We need a mass movement, but sometimes we also need bold deeds
and exemplary actions, and a few people who are not afraid to be
called "meshuggeh" when they dare to carry them out.

Thanks to Lawrence Joffe in the Guardian
for the information about Abie Nathan in his obituary:

And here is what Gush Shalom said in their weekly ad in Ha'aretz:


Abie Nathan -

Courageous peace activist,
Conducted a hunger strike
Against the settlements
Almost to death,
Went twice to jail
For meeting Yasser Arafat,
Planned his actions alone,
Took on himself the responsibility,
Paid the full price,
And was loved by the masses.

May his memory live on!

Gush Shalom, the peace bloc:

Jeff Halper's
organisation ICAHD:

Free Gaza, organisers of the boats:

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why we sailed to Gaza, by Huweida Arraf

On Saturday, after 32 hours on the high seas, I sailed into the port of Gaza City with 45 other citizens from around the world in defiance of Israel's blockade. We travelled from Cyprus with humanitarian provisions for Palestinians living under siege. My family in Michigan was worried sick.

They are not naive. They knew that Israel could have attacked us — as Israeli forces did in 2003, killing non-violent American witness Rachel Corrie (Editor’s note: Corrie, also of the International Solidarity Movement, was run over by a bulldozer operated by Israeli Defense Forces during a protest against the destruction of Palestinian homes; an Israeli military investigation ruled the death accidental) and Brit Tom Hurndall (an ISM representative who died nine months after he was shot in the head in Gaza by an IDF sniper; the sniper was convicted of manslaughter) as well as thousands of unarmed Palestinian civilians over the years.

My family members, though, remember that 60 years ago part of our own family was uprooted and driven from their homes in Palestine by Israeli forces. This loss no doubt fuelled my decision to risk my safety and freedom to advance the human rights of innocent men, women and children in Gaza.

Our two boats were greeted upon arrival by thousands of jubilant Palestinians who in 41 years of occupation had never witnessed such a scene. To get there we braved anonymous death threats and the Israeli military interfering with our means of communications despite rough seas that jeopardized our safety. Before our departure, the Israeli foreign ministry asserted its right to use force against our unarmed boats.

We nevertheless resolved to act, to symbolically end the siege of Gaza – and to do as civilians what governments have lacked the compassion or courage to do themselves. Once here, we delivered critical supplies such as hearing aids, batteries for medical equipment, and painkillers.

When a massive earthquake rocked China and cyclones ravaged Myanmar, the world responded. Governments and civilians alike rallied to help. Yet world governments have witnessed a man-made humanitarian catastrophe unfold before our eyes in Gaza. Karen Koning Abu Zayd, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), has asserted that "Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and – some would say – encouragement of the international community."

Israel claims that its occupation of Gaza ended three years ago with its pullout of soldiers and settlers. But because Israel objected to the outcome of a 2006 Palestinian election that the Carter Center deemed free and fair, it has blockaded Gaza, severely restricting movement of goods and people. Dov Weisglass, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, was quoted shortly before the swearing in of the new Hamas government as saying, "It's like a meeting with a dietitian. We need to make the Palestinians lose weight, but not to starve to death."

More than 200 Palestinians have died in the past year according to Physicians for Human Rights – Israel because they could not exit Gaza for needed medical care. Over 80% of Gaza's population now depends on food aid from UNRWA and the World Food Programme. Unemployment is up to an astonishing 45%. And hundreds of young people are being intellectually starved by Israel's decision to prevent them from taking up overseas academic opportunities.

Now that we have made it into Gaza, we intend to assist Gaza's fishermen. We will sail with them beyond the six nautical mile limit illegally enforced by the Israeli navy. Palestinian fishermen are routinely harassed and attacked as they ply the waters to eke out a living. We hope our presence will keep the Israeli military at bay.

We do this because we are horrified that this siege of 1.5 million men, women and children is allowed to continue. We are saddened for the state of our world when decision-makers can sit back and watch an entire people being slowly and purposefully starved and humiliated.

We know that with our two small boats we cannot open all of Gaza to the outside world. We could not bring with us the freedom of movement, access to jobs, medical care, food and other critical supplies that they are denied today. But we brought with us a message to the people of Gaza: they are not alone. With our successful journey we show them that American citizens and others from around the world have been moved to advance humanitarian principles and human rights. Our efforts this week are undertaken in that spirit and with the hope that our elected representatives will one day follow our example.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Salute these brave seafarers bringing hope !

WE don't often get good news from the Middle East, and when that news concerns people acting together to overcome barriers and defy oppression some of our media seem determined we should not get the news at all.

But here's one welcome item.


GAZA (23 August 2008) - Two small boats, the SS Free Gaza and the SS
Liberty, successfully landed in Gaza early this evening, breaking the
Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The boats were crewed by a determined group of international human
rights workers from the Free Gaza Movement. They had spent two years
organizing the effort, raising money by giving small presentations at
churches, mosques, synagogues, and in the homes of family, friends, and

They left Cyprus on Thursday morning, sailing over 350 kilometers
through choppy seas. They made the journey despite threats that the
Israeli government would use force to stop them. They continued sailing
although they lost almost all communications and navigation systems due
to outside jamming by some unknown party. They arrived in Gaza to the
cheers and joyful tears of hundreds of Palestinians who came out to the
beaches to welcome them.

Two small boats, 42 determined human rights workers, one simple message:
“The world has not forgotten the people of this land. Today, we are all
from Gaza.”

Tonight, the cheering will be heard as far away as Tel Aviv and
Washington D.C.


“We recognize that we’re two, humble boats, but what we’ve accomplished
is to show that average people from around the world can mobilize to
create change. We do not have to stay silent in the face of injustice.
Reaching Gaza today, there is such a sense of hope, and hope is what
mobilizes people everywhere.”
--Huwaida Arraf. Palestinian-American, Huwaida is also a citizen of Israel. She’s a co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, and teaches International Law at Al Quds University in Jerusalem. Huwaida sailed to Gaza aboard the SS Liberty.

“What we’ve done shows that people can do what governments should have
done. If people stand up against injustice, we can truly be the conscience of the world.”
--Jeff Halper, an Israeli professor of anthropology and coordinator of the
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD),. Jeff sailed to
Gaza aboard the SS Free Gaza.

Others on board the boats included Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of former prime minister Tony Blair, who is now "Middle East peace envoy" among his other well-paid jobs, and left-wing Greek MP Tasos Kourakis.

Announcing its change of mind about stopping the boats the Israeli government asserted that those on board wanted to provoke an incident at sea, but that since it knew who they were it would not stop them. Very magnanimous of it. Yet the courageous volunteers could not count on fear of publicity deterring the Israeli navy, any more than the illegality of its blockade. When Israeli forces shot and wounded Nobel prizewinner Mairead Corrigan at B'ilin neither the British nor Irish media paid much attention.

Jeff Halper's point about what governments can do is important. While the two boats were being readied for their voyage from Cyprus, volunteers who had tried to deliver a van load of medical supplies from Scotland to Gaza were giving up in despair after a month of frustration, as Egyptian authorities refused to let them cross the border at Rafah, and threatened to impound their vehicle and contents.

Sixty years ago the British and US governments flew plane loads of supplies into Berlin to break the Soviet blockade of West Berlin. They were prepared to risk confrontation with the Soviet Union of Stalin, but when it comes to Gaza there has been no question of an airlift (and Israeli forces wrecked the airfield), or even convoys, even when there were warnings from aid agencies of a humanitarian disaster. Britain and the US have supported the Israeli blockade, and the Egyptian authorities have helped maintain it.

So let's cheer the volunteers! Wherever they have come from, they have shamed their governments and shown the way, by acting as human beings.
from illegal and dan

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

A pub historian protests...

DID Belgians discover the New World more than a century before Columbus set sail? Before we go sailing adrift into speculation about Madoc, St.Brendan or Eric the Red, let me quickly explain that the reason I'm asking is the new Stella Artois advert.

It would seem the line about this lager being "reassuringly expensive" is no longer effective, if it ever was, though I thought the second word was true enough. The admen had hoped it would give the brew a snootier upmarket image to get rid of its "wife beater" reputation, which I am sure was unfair though I'm no expert.
Maybe they have now started to sense that with times getting harder, the number of pillocks prepared to tell themselves that something must be good because they paid more for it is becoming limited, along with those who go into the pub to flash money around.

The new theme is wholesome. Since May we have had an advertising campaign assuring us that Stella only contains four ingredients - water, barley, maize and hops. Fair enough. There are also yeasts and fines from isinglass to make the beer more clear and sparkling, but let's not get all anorakish.

What I'm objecting to is a new TV ad which tells us that back in 1366 when the world seemed a frightening place, with seas flowing over the edge, and the sun sinking beneath the waves in the West, the inhabitants of Leuven decided to create the finest possible beer with only the best ingredients they could find - the best malted barley, finest maize and hops, and purest water - and Stella Artois was the result.

I don't know what's special about the Leuven brewery's water. (and as I type those words an ad comes up on television about hard water and limescale in washing machines. Spooky, what? And now we have an old episode of Inspector Morse with a family brewery at stake). In some places it is minor impurities that make a difference to the beer - gypsum at Burton on Trent, small quantities of which have been added elsewhere to produce a similar ale.

But if they really put in maize in 1366, that's remarkable, especially when as we are told people still believed the esrth was flat and if you sailed too far you'd fall over the edge.

Maize, as we used to call it when grown for a winter feed for cattle, corn on the cob when we took some of the best heads up the kitchen, was first grown by the natives of Mexico and Central America - hence Indian Corn as people here used to call it, referring to American Indians. It did not reach Europe or the Old World generally until the late 15th century.

Unless someone at Leuven had made a daring secret voyage, and brought back the mystery ingredient.

But though the date "1366" appears on a Stella label, referring to the year when the Leuven brewery first gets mentioned in tax records, Stella Artois was first brewed somewhat later - in time for Christmas sales in 1926 in fact. (Thanks to Wikipedia for this bit of important research). It' has been quite a successful lager since, and is brewed under licence in Australia. I'm not going to knock it, though I am not much of a lager drinker and can find more interesting brews to sample in Belgium (anyone wants to start a fund to enable me to pursue my research?).

But in the interests of maintaining standards in historical discourse, the good name of my pub quiz teams, and the reputation of licensed establishments as fountains of learning, gentlemen of the advertising industry I must protest! With your "reassuringly expensive" salaries I am sure you will care about accuracy.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Georgia: lives and homes destroyed, for economic power and political ambitions

SHEVARNADZE, former Georgian president, ducks camera when arriving at Chatham House for British Foreign Office-sponsored talks, February 10 1995.

WHATEVER historical and legal claim Georgia has to South Ossetia, the Georgian government destroyed its moral claim on the night of August 7, by launching a military offensive with little or no regard for the lives of civilians whom it claims as its own citizens.

The fighting began not long after it had concluded a truce with the South Ossetian separatist leadership to end local street fighting that had broken out earlier that week.

Multiple rocket-launchers, like those used in World War II to break up advancing tank formations, opened up from forest cover, firing rapid salvoes into built-up, populated areas. Evidently the Georgian government thought it could get away with this, letting them be shown on TV.

South Ossetians alleged that Georgian attack planes had bombed civilian targets. Then the tanks moved in.

Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili went on television to boast about what he was doing, declaring that Georgia was re-taking its rightful territory. “Most of South Ossetian territory has been liberated and is under Georgian control,” he said.

Note that he talks about "liberating" territory, not people. While South Ossetian militias fought on with grenade launchers against his tanks, the people were fleeing in thousands from their blitzed towns, heading north. This is what the US president and Western media keep telling us is an elected leader defending "democracy".

The stimulation of a refugee flight may have been deliberate, not just for long term aims of ethnic cleansing but the more immediate purpose of clogging roads and the border tunnel with people and cars that would be in the path of a Russian advance. Saakashvili - who incidentally, promised to "normalise relations with Russia" when he was elected - . must have known the Russians were bound to intervene on the side of the Ossetians, whose separatist movement they encouraged. (North Ossetia, across the mountains, is within the Russian Federation, so the border cuts the people in two). Indeed he may have counted on Russian involvement to bring the United States and its allies out on Georgia's side. Russia has alleged that Georgian forces launched a surprise attack on Russian 'peacekeepers' before the Russian army proper decided to move in.

Georgia was already in receipt of massive US military aid before. It is of strategic value as a NATO applicant on Russia's southern flank, and as the pipeline route for Caspian oil that bypasses both Russia and Iran. Since the break up of the Soviet Union, Western oil companies have not just moved back into Baku but invested heavily in developing offshore oilfields. Already when ex-Communist Party president Shevarnadze was running Georgia he was backed against the separatists, before America switched to the privatising Saakashvili as its man. With 70 per cent of Georgia's budget going on defence spending, and opportunities for arms suppliers and private military contractors, it is patriotism with a dividend, the kind of "democracy" in which they like to invest.

With the United States in economic crisis, and an election year, George W.Bush and his backers may not be averse to a war crisis to bolster their position, and Britain's Brown and Milliband as usual are behind the US.
As for Tory leader David Cameron, his rush to Tbilisi, and promise to be like Margaret Thatcher (remember the Falklands/Malvinas) show that our politicians see beating the war drums as a boost tom their careers.
NATO is in a quandary however. If it wants to sell protection it must show willingness to protect. But taking on Russia is not the same as bombing Serbia, or invading Iraq (which itself has proved a quagmire). Besides, Georgia was supposed to settle its disputes and ethnic conflict to qualify for membership, not to make them worse. France and Germany are questioning US wisdom, other states may wonder whether joining NATO brings more danger rather than less.

We have seen Georgians angry at what they see as adventurism and stupidity by their own government. We may yet see the British public showing unrest - and who knows, finding MPs willing to question what Brown and Cameron might be dragging us into.

Not that Russian behaviour, or that of the South Ossetian separatists, merits oir support. Russian planes and tanks also appear to have hit civilian targets, and taken the opportunity to do as much damage to Georgia as they could. Georgian refugees have fled the Russian offensive, and have been attacked by Ossetians pursuing their own ethnic terror or simply out for loot.

As always, it is the innocent, ordinary people on both sides who suffer, and have nothing to gain from this war. That is something people here can recognise, and it is important that we don't lose sight of human sympathies even as we apportion blame on governments and challenge our own rulers most of all. The other night there was a public meeting in London called by the Stop the War Coalition, with Kate Hudson from CND, John Rees of Stop the War and SWP, Oxford academic Mark Almond, and Russian socialist Boris Kagarlitzky. I didn't go, but I have been listening to the last two speakers recorded on video,. and they made some good points.

Yet somehow in the Oxford man's cynicism and the Russian's giggles I sensed a lack of seriousness, a lack of concern, beyond swapping figures, for those who have lost loved ones, and homes, and been turned into refugees. Was there some kind of insulation as defence-mechanism? The amount of background laughter and humour flowing between audience and speakers was greater than I've heard on Saturday nights at comedy clubs. It sounds like a good time was had by all, and maybe that was deliberate. But I found it shocking when I thought of those weeping people by the roadsides, who have lost everything, and didn't know where to go. If the anti-war movement wants to regain a hearing among the mass of people, beyond the 'usual suspects' (some highly suspect) it needs to clean up its act. And we do need an effective anti-war movement. option=com_content&task=view&id=705&Itemid=1

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Imperial fails test; Full marks for Majid

ALONG with all the students rejoicing that their long-awaited grades had come, and brought with them the offer of a college place, another who already knew his results was excitedly confirming that he will accept a place, after it had seemed he might be denied the right to study medicine.

18-year old Majid Ahmed, from Bradford, obtained straight A grades in all his A-levels, the best GCSE results his school had ever had, and was praised as an exemplary student. But Imperial College, London, decided to withdraw its offer of a place after learning about his conviction for involvement in a burglary as a teenager.

It was an isolated and spent conviction, in 2005, and Majid's fringe involvement in the case was reflected in a four-month community service order which he completed. Since then he has continued making a contribution to the community, volunteering to work with disabled children, and raising £11,000 to provide opportunities for deprived young people in his neighbourhood. This record initially impressed Imperial enough to offer him a place, and Majid worked at a local GP's surgery in preparation for his chosen career.

Then Imperial apparently changed its mind, and it looked like Majid Ahmed's hopes were dashed. With them would go the prospect of persuading other young people from Majid's school and community that hard work and education might overcome the barriers to them achieving anything. It was also a chance to make a dent in the wall of privilege in British higher education, particularly in medicine, where the great majority of places still go to those from well-off professional families.

Imperial was not prepared to take that chance. But Majed persevered. He won support from the local community, and from his MP, Terry Rooney. The Minister of State for Universities, Bill Rammell MP, and the Secretary of State for Education, Ed Balls, expressed support - after all, government is officially committed to widening participation in higher education, even if its policy on loans and fees suggests otherwise. It is also under pressure to do something about teenage crime, and here is a young man showing t
youngsters that you can get out of low-life criminality and do something that is admired and socially useful.

A campaign was set up on Facebook with the slogan "Support Majid Ahmed's right to study medicine!" Then the news came that where Imperial College flunked its test, University of Manchester had stepped in with an offer of a place to Majid.
He has written this letter to supporters:

Hi Everyone,

First let me apologise for the delay in sending this message out. I have been on holiday the last couple of days so didn't really find time to do this because I wanted to sit down and do it properly. Some of you are probably already aware, but some of you may not be, that I have been offered a place to study Medicine at the University of Manchester. It was actually offered to me last week and subsequently a lot of the tabloids and papers covered it on Friday and Saturday last week:

From then until now I have gave a lot of thought about my next step and what I should do now. Well the first most obvious course of action is to accept the place - All I've ever wanted is to get on a medicine course and become a doctor - The University of Manchester has given me a fantastic opportunity to do this and is also a top-class medical school. Although some would say that Imperial College London has a much better medical school, they have rejected me numerous amounts of times and are quite adamant that they are not going to reconsider. I think I can challenge them legally but this would be very expensive and would take a long time to be dealt with. What's more, it is quite clear they don't want to take me on and if I get there now, I will just be persecuted for going to the press and bringing shame on Imperial. Well it's their loss - it isn't really - they'll just fill the place with the next genius on their list.

I have decided that I will take this opportunity from the University of Manchester and excel in my studies (hopefully) and one day graduate to become a fantastic doctor and a leader in the profession. I would like to thank everyone who has helped me and supported me and a great big Thanks to all of you lot who joined the support group.

Best wishes,

Majid Ahmed

We can only wish Majid all the best in his studies and professional future, and hope he enjoys Manchester.
If you ask me it's got to be better than Imperial.


Brits carry on dirty work in Colombia after US pulls out

WHEN some IRA men were arrested in Colombia, accused of offering help to left-wing guerrillas, bourgeois media commentators here were indignant about their nefarious activity, saying it placed in question the 'Good Friday' agreement, the Republicans had broken faith, and so on.

Few of us had realised up till then that the 'Good Friday' agreement was meant to extend to Latin America, and not just Northern Ireland. Perhaps it had hidden clauses not previously reported? But if so, how come the British government was not in breach by providing military assistance to the Colombian government, and permitting the use of ex-SAS men to protect oil companies against peasants who objected to their land being taken?

We don't know the extent of British involvement in Colombia. It has had little news coverage. Foreign Office minister Kim Howells' appearance in photos with Colombian army officers did arouse comment, especially after he made an ill-informed attack on a human rights organisation which my union is supporting. But that was from the labour movement and the Left.

Now however British involvement has been challenged at a different level, as Justice for Colombia reports in the online London Progressive Journal:

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament has called UK military aid to Colombia "inappropriate" and says that any future assistance to the Colombian military should be conditional on an improvement in the human rights situation. In a scathing attack on British policy the Committee also directly contradicts the UK Government position by saying that in fact the human rights situation in Colombia is not improving and that trade unionists continue to be targeted.

The new report, entitled "Foreign Affairs – Ninth Report", also criticises the lack of transparency surrounding UK military aid to Colombia and says that extra-judicial executions carried out by the Colombian military must not be ignored.

According to the Committee, "We conclude that the human rights situation in Colombia is serious and shows little sign of improvement. We further conclude that allegations of extra-judicial executions by the Colombian military, and the continued targeting of trade unionists, cannot be ignored. We therefore believe it is inappropriate for the Government to provide military aid to Colombia without any reference to human rights improvements."

The report goes on to say: "Noting recent moves by the US Congress to freeze some aid to Colombia on human rights grounds, we recommend that the Government should request the Colombian military to demonstrate measurable and verifiable human rights improvements in exchange for future assistance."

The new report was put together in response to the annual human rights report produced by the UK Government, which itself included a chapter on Colombia. However, according to the Committee, Amnesty International argued that the Government report fails "accurately to reflect the seriousness of the human rights situation" in Colombia. The Committee also cited concerns by Amnesty, Saferworld and Human Rights Watch that UK military assistance continues to flow to "units implicated in serious human rights abuses, such as the High Mountain Brigades".

The report reproduces testimony given to the Committee by the UK director of Human Rights Watch, Tom Porteous, in which he argues that "The problem is that the military aid the British Government grant to Colombia is unconditional with regard to any kind of human rights improvements. We think that that sends a bad message. The military in Colombia will go on getting these military goodies without having to do anything in return with respect to human rights."

Porteous continued by saying that "the UK seems to be being saddled with a policy that even the American Government have moved beyond. After the Democrats took control of Congress last year, they froze some military aid to Colombia on human rights grounds. We think that the UK should at least get back into step with the policy of the Americans."

The Foreign Affairs Committee is made up of MPs from all parties and has a remit to oversee the foreign policy of the United Kingdom.

Just as a reminder of what kind of regime Gordon Brown's 'New Labour' government is assisting in Colombia, we hear that. Luis Mayusa Prada, 46, a trade unionist and member of the regional Executive of the Democratic Pole party, was shot dead on the morning of August 8, in the Galan neighbourhood of Saravena. The town has a heavy military presnce, and opponents of the government suspect that security forces carried out the killing.

The Mayusa family, originally from the region of Meta, have previously been targetted for persecution by the military intelligence and other state forces. Luis was the brother of Carmen and Nieves Mayusa, two trade union leaders recently freed from jail after an international campaign on their behalf.

Luis Mayusa, who worked in local government, had led the CUT trade union federation in Meta, but fled to Arauca some years ago after attempts on his life. He stood for the Arauca regional assembly as Democratic Pole candidate in recent elections. He leaves a wife and four children.

see also:

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Sheila Rowbotham is coming back to teach !

ACADEMIC work needn't mean "ivory tower". Sheila Rowbotham helped edit this book on women workers' struggles in the 'Third World'.

NOW for some good news for a change, and it's from the other Man. U. - the university that is. Seems the powers-that-be have seen a bit of sense, listened to some protests, and decided that after laying out an absurd amount for a few hours of outsider Martin Amis valuable time, they can, after all find the more modest funds necessary for keeping one of their more popular and respected lecturers on part-time.

Apologies to those of you who already read this in the Times Higher Education Supplement, but not having kept up my readership of that organ, I've just got the news via a thankyou message to members of the Save Sheila Rowbotham group on Facebook. Might as well let the THES tell the story:

Reprieve for feminist threatened with retirement

7 August 2008

By Melanie Newman

Sheila Rowbotham, the renowned feminist writer threatened with compulsory retirement by the University of Manchester, has won a three-year reprieve.

News that the professor of gender and labour history was being forced to retire at 65 provoked an outcry in May, with academics accusing the university of cynicism for keeping her on until the end of the latest research assessment exercise.

Others unfavourably compared the funding required for Professor Rowbotham, who had asked to stay on working a shorter week, with the £80,000 part-time teaching salary paid by Manchester to the author Martin Amis.

Times Higher Education has learnt that the professor will be kept on as a part-time academic on a third of her current pay. She will be known as a Simon professor, named after a local family that funds the chair.

"I'm obviously very pleased. It looked like there was no hope," Professor Rowbotham said. "I really thought nothing could be done." The job is a research post, but she will continue to teach a final-year course on counterculture after a student campaign.

Her biography of Edward Carpenter is due to be published in October, and she is completing another work on women's contribution to changing everyday life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A Manchester spokesman said: "An agreement has been drawn up regarding Professor Sheila Rowbotham's employment at the University of Manchester, and we are waiting for this to be finalised."

Terry Eagleton, a prominent Marxist and professor of English literature at Manchester, is still facing compulsory retirement this year.

Under age discrimination laws, all employees have a right to ask to continue working beyond the normal retirement age of 65, but employers are under no obligation to accept their request.

Just thought I'd add a reassurance for my old employers that they need not expect any request from me to keep on working after 65. But mine was a boring job anyway.; and to be honest, nobody was going to be petitioning for me to be kept on. Whereas Manchester has an asset hard to replace in Sheila Rowbotham, and an attraction, as the students pointed out.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

As we go marching through Georgia? A WAR TOO FAR

"SO who would you support in this lot?", asked the man in the pub, a couple of days ago, excited at the sound of katyushas being fired in Georgia. I confessed I didn't know. Maybe I should have asked which side he favoured so I could take the opposite. I'd already gathered his views were reactionary on most subjects, and that he wasn't used to being contradicted.

On the other hand, judging from the glee on his face he might not have cared who was winning so long as there was killing. It reminded me of the time I saw a National Front supporter over the moon about news from Lebanon, having heard before I did of the massacres at Sabra and Shatila.

What had happened in Georgia and South Ossetia was not so clear, in terms of taking sides, though a friend and fellow-trade unionist was arguing yesterday that Georgia was a sovereign state defending its territory against Russian aggression. On the other hand I was not clear how his defence of the right of small nations to self-determination might apply to south Ossetia. Nor was I attracted last night by an invitation to join a Facebook group called "Europeans for Georgia

What did become clear yesterday was that the Russians decided to attack after Georgia had sent its tanks into the breakaway region, and that in bombing what might have been military targets they had managed to kill large numbers of innocent civilians. What also got mentioned was that, as I thought, a strategic oil and gas pipeline runs south through this region, avoiding Russian territory; and Georgia has applied to join NATO.

President George W.Bush denounced the Russians for bombing a sovereign state and killing civilians. Quite right. Who do they think they are, Americans?

On TV news a Georgian woman whose home had been bombed said her government had been stupid to provoke the Russians. It was reported that Georgia was having to bring troops home from Iraq, and today we heard they were withdrawing from South Ossetia. So who encouraged them to go in so recklessly?

With US and Israeli politicians and generals training their sights on Iran, and US forces already bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, you'd think they had enough on their plate, without getting involved in the Caucasus. But controversial Swiss-based Israeli journalist Shraga Elam thinks different.

"There is an obvious Israeli involvement in the present conflict between Georgia and Russia.," he says. "There are hundreds of Israeli military advisers in Georgia ..." We need not take his word alone. He quotes sources like military expert Yossi Melman in the daily Ha'aretz:

"Melman wrote on 25.6.2008 that Georgia became a real El Dorado for Israeli arms dealers and numerous representatives of the army and intelligence services. Some former generals like Israel Ziv and Gal Hirsh (with his company Defensive Shield) are very active there.

"Gal Hirsh and Israel Ziv are mainly training and consulting Georgian arm units. They are using the 'chain' method common among Israeli arm dealers: a main contractor wins a tender and employs then sub-contractors, in this case Israeli officers and former Shin Beth employees," wrote Melman.

According to him there was a project to sell Merkava tanks to Georgia, but allegedly the Israeli foreign ministry prevented the deal and a policy was outlined that only defensive weapons are allowed to be sold.

Just the same Russia protested agains the Israeli military support to Georgia after an Israeli produced UAV was shot down. On August 5 Israel reiterated its official policy that it allegedly sells only defensive and not offensive weapon systems to Georgia.

The daily Ma¹ariv points out that the Georgian defense
minister, David Kezerashvili, lived for a while in Israel and speaks Hebrew. It estimates military exports to Georgia as worth at least USD 300 million. An Israeli marketing expert told MaŒariv: "To every Israeli agent representing an Israeli defense company is attached a cousin of the defense minister, who opens the doors for him."

An Israeli website called News First Class (NFC) confirms the massive presence of Israeli advisers in Georgia and writes: "The Israeli military industries upgraded in recent years the Georgian air force, sold unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), advanced artillery systems and trained infantry units." (9.8)

Israel may have to consider whether arming Georgia is good or bad for it as it tries to persuade the Russians not to sell their advanced anti-aircraft missile system S-300 to Iran and Syria.

The Israeli website DebkaFile, which is inclined to sensational and conspiracy theory estimates that up to 1,000 Israeli advisers are active in planning and implementing the present Georgian military action That is more than giving "advice". But we remember how "advisers" began US involvment in Vietnam. Nowadays, in Georgia they may be called "consultants", and as in Iraq, be classed as "civilians".

Sharaga Elam notes that according to Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, there are 127 U.S. military trainers there, of whom about 35 are civilian contractors.

"In addition to the trainers, 1,000 soldiers from the Vicenza, Italy-based Southern European Task Force (Airborne) and the Kaiserslautern-based 21st Theater Sustainment Command, along with Marine reservists with the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines out of Ohio, and the state of Georgia¹s Army National Guard¹s 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry participated in 'Immediate Response 2008'."

"Operation Immediate Response 2008 was held from July 15-July 30, with U.S. personnel training about 600 troops at a former Soviet base near Tbilisi, the largest city and capital of Georgia. The goal of this operation was allegedly teaching combat skills for missions in Iraq.
The Marines left the country already, but not the airmen.

Shraga Elam wites that "It is obvious that there are numerous Israeli and U.S. interests in Georgia and it is highly likely that they are behind the dangerous Georgian move".

I'm not so sure it is obvious why the Israelis should want to get involved in a war so far from their occupation frontline, or risk taking on Russia on top of spearheading a war on Iran. But it is obvious that some interests may be doing well for themselves from the Caucasus conflict, and they could have more influence on the present Israeli regime than the kind of reasonable Israelis that we know.

Especially if the rich uncle in Washington has given a wink of encouragement, along with the promise of benefits from that trans-Caucusu pipeline.

Meanwhile, "military intelligence" being as some say, a "contradiction in terms", it seems some US generals finding their forces in a mess are looking to dig further in, judging from two items spotted by the Information Clearing House(ICH):

Manufacturing Consent For An Attack On Pakistan:
Afghanistan accusing Pakistan of aiding insurgents

US commander in Afghanistan Thursday publicly accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate of "some complicity" over time with militant groups fomenting violence in Afghanistan.

U.S. weighs pursuing militants into Pakistan:

Top Bush administration officials are urging the president to direct U.S. troops in Afghanistan to be more aggressive in pursuing militants into Pakistan on foot as part of a proposed radical shift in its regional counterterrorism strategy, The Associated Press has learned.

Having so long regarded Pakistan as a useful base and ally, used it as hinterland for mojahiddin fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, encouraged the Saudi-funded Taliban as a weight against Iran, and assisted the Pakistan military to acquire nuclear weapons, is the US about to turn on Pakistan?

One of the bombings was of an Indian consulate, and in the past Pakistan intelligence has been implicated in bombings in India. Now that US government no longer regards India as unfriendly, could it use such provocations to draw South Asia's other nuclear power into a horrific war?

It sounds mad. But with US economy, as well as foreign policy, in desperate straits, I would not put anything beyond the neo-cons and Bush's circle.

Like Munch's "Cry" painted before the First World War, that weeping Georgian woman whose neighbours had been killed by the madness of politicians may come to be a symbol of the warnings we should have heard.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Israeli academics oppose war on Iran

ISRAELI academics and peace campaigners this week issued a significant public warning against their state going to war on Iran. Their declaration came as pro-war, anti-Islamic propaganda in the West once again used a misreported speech by President Ahmadinejad to claim that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and is bound to use them against Israel as a Jewish state.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose popularity at home has slumped below that of his predecessor Tony Blair and Tory Margaret Thatcher, used his trip to Israel last month to beat the war drums in the Knesset and promise support for Israel in its stand for "liberty"(!)

The fact that US military commanders have counselled against attacking Iran, and British MoD sources say Britain is not ready for such a war, may increase the danger that Israel will be used to launch it, claiming it is a pre-emptive strike, and relying on hysterical claims that the Iranian government is planning a second Holocaust.

This effort to condition the public for war is firmly rejected by educated Israelis.
Their anti-war declaration says:

There is no military, political or moral justification to initiate war with Iran
A constant flow of information bears witness to the fact that the Israeli government is seriously considering attacking Iran, in order to disrupt its nuclear plans. We do not disregard irresponsible actions by the Iranian government - we also oppose atomic weapons in principle and support the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction from the region. However, it is clear that the main source of the immediate danger of a new, widespread war stems from the policies of the Israeli government and the flow of threats from it, backed by provocative military maneuvers.

After serious consideration, we reiterate our position that all the arguments for such an attack are without any security, political or moral justification. Israel might get caught up in an act of adventurism that could endanger our very existence, and this without any serious effort to exhaust the political and diplomatic alternatives to armed conflict.

We are not certain that such an attack will occur. But the very fact that it is being weighed as a reasonable option, makes it imperative that we warn and caution against the destructive results of an offensive strike against Iran.

Coordinating Group: Prof. Gadi Algazi; Judy Blanc; Prof. Rachel Giora; Prof. Anat Matar; Prof. Adi Ophir; Prof. Yoav Peled; Reuven Kaminer, Prof. Haggai Ram; Prof. Yehuda Shenhav; Prof. Oren Yiftachel.

It is reported that hundreds of people have added their signatures to this statement.

Earlier, long-standing campaigner Reuven Kaminer had warned that while the US military had persuaded Washington to modify its stand in Geneva talks, "There are very powerful forces in the US administration who do not like the idea of waiting around until it might be even more difficult to get an attack off the ground. These forces will try to exploit the to-be-expected difficulties in the Geneva talks as evidence to the effect that Teheran is not getting the message.
When the attempt to ratchet up economic sanctions will prove ineffective, as it must in the given conditions, the hawks will be able to argue that it is time to proceed, quickly but surely, to the final option on the table. Even
with the Geneva gambit, the basic line of the US administration (with Obama in tow) is that armed intervention would be legally and morally justified, because Iran ­even without actually building the bomb - is a new "ticking bomb" in the region. The more aggressive the forces pushing for war in Washington, the deeper their coordination with Israel".

Reuven Kaminer says Barack Obama is doing Israelis no favours by going along with what he hears from their leaders and from the hawks in Washington. "Barack Obama had told friends that his impression from talks in Israel was that it had no faith in the sanctions track. " We might note that, ironically, one hole in the anti-Iran sanctions is Israel, which is purchasing oil from Iran via Europe.

A case of "Don't do as I do, do as I say!"

Looking at some diplomatic danger signs, Reuven Kaminer warns:
"There is no end of signs that the idea of an Israeli strike is being
carefully weighed. General Mullen felt it necessary to repeat, just last
week, an earlier warning on the danger of such a strike, for the second time this month. Olmert explained to Obama that time is running out since the Russians are going to upgrade the Iranian air defense system by the end of the year. Defense Minister Barak and MK Mofaz, who holds a portfolio named Strategic Coordination with the US, held talks in Washington this week.
Mofaz is the darling of the oil speculators for his constant flow of
declarations that war is inevitable. This Saturday, MK Hanegbi, chair of the powerful Foreign Affairs and Security Knesset Committee, called for the establishment of a national unity government to deal with the Iranian

He continues:
"Many of my readers share with me a decided lack of enthusiasm for the
policies and the rhetoric of Ahmadinajad and his circle. Without in any way ignoring the harm and the danger of some of the declarations coming out of Teheran, we must also admit that the Israeli propaganda is very adept at converting whosoever is its current adversary into a "new Hitler". It should be recalled that both Abdul Nasser and Yassir Arafat were cast in the Hitler role, though their real core positions did not justify such a designation. In truth, their basic political platform created ample room for rational political responses which could have defused "inevitable"clashes.

"Nasrallah figures, with Ahmadinajad, as the current, not to be appeased, enemy. But there are abundant signs that Nasrallah knows how to do business responsibly and there is good reason to believe that the current leadership in Iran could be influenced by serious and thoughtful politics. It would certainly be helpful if the "rational" West offered total regional disarmament of all weapons of mass destruction (including Israel's stockpile) to the "irrational and inscrutable" Iranian leadership. Perhaps, the Iranian leadership has cause to ask its critics as to why they consider it is perfectly acceptable that Israel and Pakistan are legitimate members of the nuclear club and why Iran must accept an inferior status. Even if the US and its allies are not ready for anything as fair and logical as regional disarmament, other sets of realistic and patient policies based on mutual respect could go a long way to prevent tensions from getting dangerously out of hand".

It has suited Ahmadinejad to play the bad boy with Western media so as to divert the focus from popular disillusion and repression inside Iran. He probably did not mind his speech about erasing "the regime occupying el Kuds" being interpreted as a "threat to wipe Israel off the map"; and he played a dangerous game with Holocaust revisionism and hypothetical nuclear weapons, neither of which are of any use to the Palestinian people whom Iranians should rightly want to help. He has probably calculated that hostility from the West and Israel could shore up his declining popularity by appealing to patriotic resolve at home.

But Ahmadinejad is not Iran, he does not even have the power as president to take his country to war, and yet if war comes the people to suffer most from any attack would be ordinary Iranians, many opposed to his regime. Among them are the 72,000 Iranian Jews, the largest number in the Middle East outside Israel. Their presence alone gives the lie to claims that Iran is "like Nazi Germany", or that Islamic ideology means Iran must "kill all Jews". It is the Israeli government that says Jews should leave Iran, but so far they have declined offers of "rescue". Could it be Israeli leaders find this embarrassing, as they plan to bomb Tehran?

Several Jewish campaigners and organisations, including Concerned Jewish Canadians, Jewish Voices for Peace (USA) and European Jews for Just Peace. are raising their voices against war on Iran too.

In Britain, the Jewish Socialists' Group at its annual conference earlier this year passed a resolution making clear its opposition both to imperialist war and to the Islamicist regime, thereby solidarising itself with left-wing Iranians too:

"This conference of the Jewish Socialists' Group is alarmed at the growing threat of war against Iran, expressed by Western politicians and in the media, and unabated by reports that the Iranian regime has neither nuclear weapons nor plans to acquire them.
We are concerned that despite the disastrous results of war in Iraq and unending bloodshed in Afghanistan, attempts are being made to accustom the public to these conflicts and make another, even more destructive war, seem inevitable.

We also concerned that such efforts as the British and US governments purportedly make to revive the Middle East peace process may have the limited aim of making it easier for the Saudi and other Arab governments to support war on Iran; and that secure in this knowledge, the Israeli government can persist in aggressive policies towards the Palestinians and Lebanon, pretending its war is with Iran, regardless of the risks entailed for the Israeli people if this became so.

Our opposition to war, and the death and destruction this would inflict on the Iranian people in no way removes our duty to denounce Iranian president Ahmadinejad, whose irresponsible demagogy plays on the external threat, and who has disgraced his country by hosting a racists and Holocaust deniers.
Our solidarity with the Iranian people requires opposition to the repressive Islamicist regime, with its reactionary treatment of women, gays and minorities, as well as the workers' movement. Such policies can only undermine the Iranian people's ability to withstand imperialist attack, and defence of the regime can only weaken and discredit the peace movement.

The Jewish Socialists' Group declares its solidarity with the Iranian people against imperialist war, and with the working people, women, students, gays and minorities in their struggle for social justice and democratic rights.

We demand that the British government which claims to uphold democratic freedoms stops deporting people to face persecution in Iran.

We call for a nuclear weapon-free Middle East, as urged by Mordechai Vanunu, and a ban on all weapons of mass destruction in the area, as a step to removing them from the world.
We demand an end to Israeli occupation in Palestine, and the withdrawal of all imperialist forces from the Middle East.

Conference notes that this is broadly the same position as Hands off the People of Iran(HOPI), and that this campaign has facilitated democratic participation by varied Iranian and other left-wing activists and groups. Conference therefore instructs the national committee to affiliate the JSG with Hands Off the People of Iran(HOPI), and to seek ways in which the JSG can work with Iranians and others to to advance these policies among Jewish people, and in the wider labour and anti-war movement.

Hands off the People of Iran

Jewish Socialists' Group

What's Iran got to do with it?
Joel Beinin article

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Old age pensioners battling on

TODAY is an important anniversary. One hundred years ago, on August 1, 1908, the Old Age Pensions Act became law.
On 31 March 1909 some 647,494 people were to receive the "Lloyd George", as they called it, after the prime minister responsible. To qualify you had to be over 70, of "good character" - if you'd done time in prison or were a habitual drunk you were out -and to have less than twelve shillings and one penny a week from other means. Not everyone received the full pension of five shillings a week, though the majority could.

Britain was not the first country in the Empire to have a pension. In that as other things, New Zealand was ahead, by nearly ten years in this case.

Before the Old Age Pensions Act, if you were fortunate enough to live beyond your working life you had to turn to charity for subsistence, or join the paupers in the workhouse -that wonderful Victorian Christian institution where husband and wife were separated, deprived of their own clothes and dignity, and treated as prisoners whose sin was to be poor. In 1891of England's 29 million population, 1.3 million were paupers, and over 60s comprised 31 per cent of these.

Very few people qualified for private pensions, and not many people earned enough to be able to save for their old age.

Some people did start campaigning for some kind of pension for the old. The borough of Deptford started a pension scheme for deserving residents, dependent on donations, in 1893. Some trade unions established contributory superannuation schemes. But these only covered a small number of workers. Then in December 1898, Reverend Francis Stead and Charles Booth addressed a meeting at Browning Hall, Southwark, where some 14 trade unions - representing engineers, carpenters, gas workers and shop assistants, cab drivers and clerks, etc, together with the National Union of Women Workers, agreed to launch a campaign for an old age pension. A year later this gave rise to the National Pensions Committee, and ten years later the pension was law.

Along the way the Boer war gave MPs an excuse to delay doing anything, but calls from the national pensions committee, the TUC, and the Labour Representation Committee, bearing a 799,750 signature petition, gave them an extra push.

I have gathered all this information from an excellent large-format 16 page book called "The Battle for the Old Age Pension", published by the National Pensioners Convention, to mark the 100th anniversary but also to help their campaign for a decent state pension today. Researched and written by Joe Harris, with editing, design and additional text by Neil Duncan-Jordan, it is well-illustrated and a good educational read.

I bought my copy from my old comrade and friend Dot Gibson, who has become a leading figure in the National Pensioners Convention, and last night I was pleased and very pleasantly surprised to see Dot, who has worked hard in so many campaigns with little publicity, over the years, finally getting a well-desrved few minutes on TV. It would be nice to see and hear more of her and other campaigners like her, instead of the smarmy careerist politicians and vacuous "celebrities" of whom we get so much on TV.

As Dot pointed out, that five shillings given by Lloyd George's government was 25 per cent of the average earnings , whereas today's 93 quid is but 17 per cent of average pay. With food and fuel prices zooming, many old people could once again be faced with the choice of whether to heat or eat.

Pensioners aren't necessary the poorest people in Britain. But whereas some, like me, have benefited from occupational pensions on top of the state money, others have seen their pensions and savings go down the pan, through trusting in dodgy "respectable" companies and listening to government advice. Often old people are unaware of their entitlements or reluctant to apply for means-tested benefits. They don't want to burden their children who, with student loans and mortgages are themselves well into debt. And too often the old are patronised as charity cases, or seen as a "problem" for society, rather than enitled to enjoy some of the wealth which their past labours helped to create.

On the other hand, now that we are living longer, and before the government finds ways to make us work on longer till we drop, having time on our hands, and in many cases organising experience, without the worries of childcare, or fear of being blacklisted and unable to find a job, retirement can provide some of us with a golden opportunity for activism - and not just campaigning for our pensions alone. Meanwhile, with an estimated one in three pensioners facing future poverty, younger people will need to take up the fight for their old age pensions now, rather than wait till they're retired.