Saturday, January 31, 2009

The slogan is wrong, but the workers are right

IN a week that has seen demonstrations over the economic crisis in Russia, and a general strike in France, while Britain's former 'Labour' prime minister Tony Blair told assembled capitalist leaders in Davos what a marvellous system free-enterprise capitalism was, British workers have staged a wave of walk-outs and demonstrations at major plants across the country.

It started at the £200 million Lindsey oil refinery site in Lincolnshire, owned by Total, where an Italian contractor has brought in Italian and Portuguese workers, who are being housed on converted barges. By the end of the week the workers were out at Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland, Milford Haven and the Abbotsthaw power station in Wales, and refineries on Teesside. Workers at the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria were set to join the action, and there was a talk of a march on Downing Street.

This is no ordinary strike. The Grangemouth refinery workers showed their strength last year in their battle for pensions. But this is a new stage in struggle. Some of these workers fear joblessness as the recession bites, some are already unemployed. For those on the Left who were saying we needed more strikes and militancy, this should go some way to suffice. These are no obscure backstreet firms that suddenly hit the news, they are major strategic points which the government can't ignore. Union leaders, used to saying they can't organise solidarity action, were this week catching up with the actions taking place.

(Incidentally, for those media, politicians and middle class tossers who have tried to arouse regional rivalries and antagonism between the UK's nations, it must be disappointing when workers take spontaneous action across three countries.)

The downside to all this is that the issues are dangerously confused. Some workers carried placards with the slogan "British Jobs for British Workers" - actually a reproach to Prime Minister Gordon Brown who used this phrase in his first speech as leader to Labour Party conference, on September 24, 2007, when he promised to make Britain a "world leader" in finance, technology and industry. Brown may have meant to carry echoes of Harold Wilson's "white heat of the technological revolution" from a different day and age, but the phrase about "British Jobs" is a British National Party(BNP) slogan, and the BNP, which has tried without much success to launch its own union is now hoping to muscle in on this struggle, saying its members will join picket lines. That would be a new experience for some of them who are more used to crossing them.

The bosses' media like the BBC have highlighted the "British Jobs for British Workers" slogan, and some workers have vented their anger and frustration in hostile remarks about the foreign workers. But this is not the real issue of these actions. Before anyone brands the workers as "racialist", perhaps they will cast their minds back to the Gate Gourmet dispute at London airport, when a mainly Asian workforce, members of the TGWU Unite, found themselves sacked by an American-owned employer which preferred to hire casual agency labour, many from eastern Europe. Something similar has happened to Asian seafarers employed on Swedish ferries. The employers are taking advantage of outsourcing, casualisation, and European Union rules on "free movement of labour" to break up union organisation and undermine the pay and conditions that workers have won.

The Transport and General Workers Unite and GMB have come across some horrendous exploitation, and have worked to organise Polish and other immigrant workers. The workers at Grangemouth say they have worked with Polish workers and had no problem with them. What concerns many workers is not the nationality of workers coming on site, but firms bringing in their own labour and keeping out local workers and unions.

"The argument is not against foreign workers, it's against foreign companies discriminating against British labour," says Bobby Buids, a regional officer for Unite, quoted in the Guardian. . "If the job of these mechanical contractors at INEOS finishes and they try and get jobs down south, the jobs are already occupied by foreign labour and their opportunities are decreasing. This is a fight for work. It is a fight for the right to work in our own country. It is not a racist argument at all."

Gordon Brown, in Davos when news came of the strikes, promised that economic expansion would create jobs and asked workers to be patient. He reiterated his faith in free markets, and siad the strikes were "indefensible". Tory David Cameron is on record saying promises to protect jobs are in conflict with European Union law. That's understating it. Whereas Britain under Tory or New Labour was the sweatshop of Europe, not in terms of manufacturing, but of opt outs from working hours directives and other gains, things have changed, by the enlargement of the European Union to bring in poorer countries (whose plight has actually worsened in some respects), and by moves in the European court.

We have had cases like Laval, a Latvian contractor, bringing its own workers to a job in Sweden, and able to tell the Swedish unions they could not organise or negotiate for them, because the workers already had a contract in Latvia. Or Ruffert, in Germany, where imported east European workers only earned on average half the pay of the German workers, and neither unions nor local government could do anything without being in breach of laws on free competition. In Luxemburg, the government was told that an agreement linking pay to the cost of living was an unfair restriction on competition.

The British media, previously obsessed with stories of EU waste and imaginary laws on straight bananas, or our "right" to work the longest hours, has not gone out of its way to warn people about these aspects. Labour MEPs seem to have maintained a low profile, whether this is their own or the media's fault. Trade unions and the TUC have started to wake up, and do what they can. But with the European elections due this year, TUC leaders keeping close to Labour are encouraging trades councils to concentrate on campaigning to stop the BNP getting votes. That is a serious issue. But with capitalism destroying people's jobs, homes and savings, we need to offer something more than moralising preaching, or empty slogans like "Hope, not Hate".

Nor is it much use some old sectarian just telling worried and angry workers that "the problem is capitalism". Of course it is. Despite years of New Labour telling us the class struggle was over, workers know the score, and the credit crunch has brought this home to the middle class. What we need are policies that take the power away from the capitalists - including their right to hire and fire whom they like and set worker against worker, competing to be the cheapest labour. That also means fighting racialism and the divisive policies of such as the BNP, who are the enemies of workers' rights. We want not 'British jobs for British Workers' (who have worked abroad often enough) but Workers of the World Unite! But whatever the false consciousness and misguided slogans that have come up, and become the issue for the media, these workers are fighting the bosses for their future. And in this they are right..They have also, incidentally, shown that "secondary action" may be illegal, but is not impossible. That worries the government, and its tame union leaders. It was time somebody did.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Not a student rag, but righteous student rage

SO, it was a red rag to a bull, but was it a load of bull? And can we draw any lessons?

As students returned to their colleges this term we have seen a wave of occupations protesting the Israeli onslaught on Gaza. I was even able to 'join" the occupation at Kings College, London, one evening when the students allowed us in to hold a meeting, organised by Hands off the People of Iran(HOPI), on the Gaza war in Middle East context. The speaker, Israeli socialist Moshe Machover, was amused as a professor emeritus of Kings to find himself in a student sit-in, and happy to help the students drawing up their case for revoking Kings honorary doctorate to Shimon Peres.

Police were called to BBC headquarters in London to drag out demonstrators protesting its refusal to broadcast the emergency aid appeal.

Then yesterday came what appeared to be a leaked e-mail:

"London Student Centre in Euston, 6.30pm,

London Jsocs will be hosting Colonel Geva Rapp, the head of the ground operations in Gaza (Operation Cast Lead)! This talk should be extremely interesting and valuable.
However, please do not talk about this event on facebook due to security concerns and current high tension surrounding the conflict.

'Aish UK together with London JSocs and Panim el
Panim are hosting Colonel Geva Rapp (IDF reserves)for a lightning
tour of the UK this week. Colonel Rapp was the deputy commander of
ground forces in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza this month. Geva is
the Founder and Director of Panim el Panim- an organisation
committed to unity in Israel and the teaching of Jewish values
amongst young Israelis in preparation for their army service. He
lives with his wife Dina in Jerusalem. They have 7 children."

JSocs means Jewish Societies at the various colleges. Aish UK is a spreading, well-heeled outfit operating among Jewish school students. Many parents have expressed misgivings about its brand of Judaism.

Doubters pointed out that Geva Rapp, though an obnoxious right-wing settler leader, was a retired colonel, a reservist, not that high-ranking in the military, and he had not commanded the Gaza operation. But he was worth a protest anyway.

Last night a crowd assembled outside Hillel House, the London Jewish student centre in Euston, where Colonel Rapp was due to be speaking. Inside there were about 20 people patiently waiting. The crowd grew to block the busy Euston Road. Police tried to get down a young man who had climbed on to the building to look into an upstairs window. They shoved people about, and witnesses say one woman was nearly shoved into the path of of an oncoming bus by an over-enthusiastic policeman.

Eventually after almost two hours, a police officer announced through a loud-hailer that the colonel was not coming and the meeting had been cancelled. The demonstrators started to disperse.

If this event had been intended as a wind-up, then it worked. But it was the students waiting in Hillel House who were disappointed and must feel misused, while the people who came to demonstrate outside can feel proud that they turned out at such short notice, and satisfied that the colonel's meeting did not take place. I congratulate them.

Two memories came to mind for me. One was the time when I stood outside a lecture theatre on the Lancaster University campus with a crowd of students, and (I can now reveal) some building workers from the Heysham power station site. The University Monday Club had invited National Front leader Martin Webster to speak, and vice chancellor had rejected appeals to cancel this; but in the end, sensing the mood and what might happen (police and ambulances were standing by), he changed his mind. Webster remained at his hotel, and the rightists did not invite anyone like that again.

The other was of an evening at Hillel House some years ago. The student centre was hosting a public political and cultural event (it might have been the Jewish Quarterly' symposium) and some members of the Jewish Socialists' Group came early, so we could leaflet and sell our magazine outside to people as they arrived. Two officials, one male and one female, came out to request that we stop doing so, on "security" grounds. I don't think they invited us to sell inside instead. Security? The lady explained that by standing outside on the pavement we were drawing attention to the place, and this could lead to a terrorist attack. As though some passing terrorist might say "Gosh, I never noticed that place before, now where did I put my bomb?"

Maybe such threats are no longer the laughing matter I found them then; but I wonder, have those responsible for Hillel House and its safety, and that of students who use it as a place to eat or stay, considered the sense of letting it be used for what was not just a controversial meeting but a blatant provocation, at a time like this.
If a couple of people selling magazines outside for ten minutes was worrying in days gone by, now they have had a crowd blocking the Euston Road for a couple of hours.

If anyone is dim enough to think this was about "free speech", I suggest they try ringing Hillel House and booking a meeting room for, say, Professor Norman Finkelstein. And in the unlikely event they succeed, see how long it is before the Union of Jewish Students protests and calls Finkelstein "antisemitic" because of his views on Israel and the use it has made of the Holocaust. Even the Oxford Union, though it went ahead with inviting Nick Griffin, had trouble with that one.

But here's an ongoing issue. Not Finkelstein, nor even Colonel Rapp. If there 20 Jewish students waiting to hear the colonel last night, there could have been just as many in the crowd outside. But the JSocs and the Union of Jewish Students like to claim they are speaking for all Jewish students, and that their pro-Israel Zionist view doesn't just happen to reflect a majority view but is essential to their identity. The National Union of Students
officialdom, like that of the European Union, seems to have fallen for the Zionist lobby-fostered lie that equates opposition to Zionist ideology with antisemitism. At least before the latest war, they did. Yet I heard from more than one non-Jewish student friend on Tuesday that they were on their way from Gaza occupations to attend Holocaust memorial day events. And for the same reasons.

As for Jewish students, not long ago at a meeting of the new Independent Jewish Voices, I heard a young woman describe how as secretary of her college Jewish Society she had requested some material for Freshers week from the UJS. Instead of the literature on Jewish history, religion and culture she had expected, what arrived was a package of Israeli government propaganda, so that she might as well have asked for it from the embassy. You need not be a committed anti-Zionist to feel unhappy that your religious or cultural affinity is being treated as a licence to count on you as a lobbyist; or even line you up with war criminals and racialists.
They don't even wait till you're at college. At the same meeting we heard from a young man at a Jewish secondary school, - state-funded - unsure if he wanted to go ahead with the hasbara (propaganda) training when he went into the sixth form.

Jews for Justice for Palestinians, which has student supporters as well as a lot of academics, has a meeting on Sunday evening, February 1, with Prof Avi Shlaim, speaking on 'Israel's war with Hamas, Rhetoric and Reality', at Friends Meeting House, 120 Heath Street, Hampstead, NW3. Doors open 7pm

Independent Jewish Voices is holding a book launch meeting on February 3,at SOAS.Thornhaugh St, WC1 and they have invited veteran Israeli peace campaigner Uri Avneri for a meeting in March.

The Jewish Socialists' Group has a meeting on Wednesday, February 11, with Karma Nabulsi, Gerald Kaufman MP, and Yishay Mor. That's 7.30pm at the Imperial Hotel, Russel Square, WC1, and the subject is "After Gaza - What next for the Palestinians, and how can Jews and Israelis help?'

One way to help, to do justice to themselves at least as much as the Palestinians,is for Jewish students who don't want to be used to defend the indefensible, or in devious provocations, to raise their independent Jewish voices. Take over existing societies where you can, or set up your own. No need to argue over a label, stick one on the Zionist Right to isolate it.

Independent Jewish Voices:

Jews for Justice for Palestinians:

Jewish Socialists' Group:

Playing With Fire, Cliff Singer on the Aish project:

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Monday, January 26, 2009

A fighter to the end

BOB DOYLE. Beatings by Blueshirts
left permanent eye damage, but his
political vision remained clear

BOB DOYLE died at the end of last week aged 92, in the St.Raphael's area of Brent, North-West London. Born in a poor Dublin tenement, he never left his class, nor forgot his Irish heritage, but he was an internationalist, and a fighter to the end.

Bob joined the Irish Republican Army in the 1930s, after being beaten up in street fights with the right-wing Blueshirts, which left him with a permanent eye injury. Bob was not just a patriot, he was a socialist. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, and the Blueshirts supported Franco, an Irish Republican contingent was raised to fight the fascists, known as the Connolly Column. Bob Doyle's friend, IRA veteran Kit Conway was killed at the battle of Jarama, as was the poet Charles Donnelly. It was Bob Doyle's 21st birthday. He decided to go out to Spain.

His first efforts were unsuccessful. After stowing away on a ship, he was arrested and expelled from Valencia. But later in the year he crossed over the Pyrenees and reported to a battalion at Figueras. Assigned to train new volunteers because of his IRA training, he disobeyed orders and joined a group heading for the front.

After fighting at Belchite, he was captured at Gandesa by Italian fascist troops in 1938, along with the famous IRA commander Frank Ryan, the leader of the Connolly Column, who later died in Germany. Bob was imprisoned for 11 months in a concentration camp near Burgos. There he was once brought out to be shot and he was regularly tortured by Spanish fascist guards and interrogated by the Gestapo before being released in a prisoner exchange.

During the Second World War, Bob Doyle served in the British merchant navy, afterwards settling in London with his Spanish wife, Lola. A Communist Party member, he became active in the Fleet Street print trade unions, and was involved in the 1958 printworkers' strike. He also undertook dangerous missions to Franco Spain to help the underground Left. After Franco went, Bob became a regular visitor to Spain and Ireland for International Brigade commemorations. He published a book about his experiences in Spain, Brigadista: An Irishman’s Fight Against Fascism.

He is survived by his sons Bob and Julian, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In his old age, Bob Doyle's voice may have weakened, and he still had that damaged eye, but as this speech in Belfast, in 2006, shows
(text below), he retained the strength of conviction and clarity of vision that career politicians rarely attain.

Hello Everyone, I have prepared something to say to you all, but I’m not as strong as I used to be, so I will read what I can, but please bear with me if I hand over to my comrade Harry Owens, should I need to. I’d like to tell why I’m here. Some of you may wonder why a 90 year old veteran of a war that happened a long time ago in a far off country is here speaking to you today. Some of you who know a little about the Spanish Civil War may see it as a glamorous episode in working class history, when young poets, like Byron in Greece, fought and died in a foreign land for a noble cause. Perhaps you have come to see me, a decrepit romantic relic. But I am not here to indulge in emotional memories, though I have many memories of comrades and events that affect me deeply. I am not here to make you sad with tragic recollections of a heroically fought war, or to make you happy with my survival into old age. I am here to make you boil with anger; the powers that supported Franco in Spain are still active, and today their reach is global. The same US corporations that supplied the fascists with oil in Spain are today pilfering the oil of the Iraqi people. The British government that lied to the people while secretly giving financial credits and hypocritically allowing arms to be smuggled to the Spanish fascists is the same government that lied about weapons of mass destruction and led the British people into a war that they did not want. Those who lie and cheat in order to hold on to power, who exploit child and slave labour in the third world to make yet more profits, who torture, murder and massacre in defence of ‘their interests’ - they are still in control. When I am told that Spain was the last noble cause, I know that I am speaking to someone who doesn’t want to see the obvious truth. In 1936 there were many apologists for racism and oppression who did not want to see fascism for what it was. Today the fight against those who put profit before people is just as intense, and the stakes are higher than ever. We must make common cause with those in the third world who are now in the front line, as Spain once was. No more Kenyan peasants must be forced off their land and into urban slums so that supermarkets can sell cheap roses and out of season strawberries. No more Congolese child soldiers must kill and be killed so that Nokia can sell ever cheaper mobile phones. Those who stand up to corporate global capitalism, like Chavez in Venezuela and Castro in Cuba, must be defended. Those whose greed would destroy our environment, with catastrophic consequences for humanity, must be defeated. It is indeed a noble struggle and it will not be over until the liberation of the entire human race. La lucha continúa.

Speech given by Bob Doyle, September 16th. 2006

Last year, after hearing about Spanish civil war veteran Howard Andrews from Dave Chapple, Brent Trade Union Council of which I am a member decided that we would try to get something done about commemorating local men who served in Spain. That was when I heard Bob Doyle's name come up as someone we ought to see. The local history museum has shown some interest, and it would be good if we could take this bit of history into the schools. Bob Doyle is no longer here to inspire us, but his memory ought to.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

BBC's shameful "impartiality" shows inhumanity

DEMONSTRATORS will gather outside the BBC in Portland Place today for another march in support of the people of Gaza. Just when I'd guess many people were, like myself, hoping the ceasefire would give us time to relax, and reflect, and the people in Gaza the chance to bury their dead and try to rebuild their lives. But today's demonstration, at the initiative of Media Workers Against the War, who wanted to highlight bias and under reporting, has been given added point by news from the BBC itself.

I received this from a friend yesterday:


The BBC has broken a 45 year-old agreement with overseas aid charities
by refusing to broadcast a Disasters Emergency Committee fundraising
appeal for Gaza “to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in
the BBC’s
impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story”:

Would the BBC have done the same for Burma, Georgia, Zimbabwe or Tibet?

Complain online here: "

Julia Bard, who sent me this information, appended the letter of complaint which she had sent to the BBC:

"As a journalist and a human being who has frequently made donations as a result of appeals on BBC radio and television, I am horrified that the BBC has refused to broadcast a Disasters Emergency Committee fundraising appeal for Gaza 'to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story'.

Most disasters are ongoing news stories and they all have at least two sides to them.
That doesn't mean leaving people to die for lack of food, medicine and shelter. I am a Jew who, along with many Israelis and other diaspora Jews, has been watching horrified as Israel systematically smashed up an enclave crowded with civilians -- actions which both the Israeli government and the Jewish communal leadership in Britain claimed were being carried out in our name.

I am fortunate in knowing how to donate to the appeal for Gaza without getting this information from the BBC but you must be well aware that this is not the case for most of your audience. By refusing to carry this appeal you are condemning untold numbers of people to continuing suffering. I can think of many words to describe standing by while innocent civilians suffer and die for lack of humanitarian aid. 'Impartial' isn't one of them."

I think Julia's view will be shared by lots of people.

On the news today we were told that the BBC took its decision after consulting its
news editors. This does not entirely surprise me. I've noted before where the BBC's peculiar idea of "balanced reporting" led. It conspicuously failed to cover the regular suppression of civil demonstrations at Bil'in in the West Bank, even though these were drawn to its attention by British participants, and even when Nobel peace prize winner Mairead Corrigan was injured by rubber bullets. It censored out an interview with the main singer and organiser of the Skies Are Weeping concert for Rachel Corrie, held in London, giving the last word to the man from the Zionist Federation. During the recent Gaza massacre we kept seeing Israeli government spokespersons on the news, while the Palestinian envoy in London, Manuel Hassassian, didn't get a look in.
We also heard today that this refusal to broadcast an aid appeal is not the first time. They previously did it after the war in Lebanon. Consistent in one respect, then.

Of course the BBC is not alone in the British media. Just more full of shit about its "impartiality" perhaps. But this weekend Murdoch-owned Sky News was saying it would follow the BBC's lead, and it looks like others will do the same.

Nor is it only on the Middle East that BBC 'balance' has been heavily loaded. I still remember the time, early in the Bosnian war, when we were told on the news that "Muslim authorities" in Zenica were investigating the killing of an aid worker. For a moment I wondered why a police matter was being handled by a religious body, half expecting to see a turbaned imam on my screen, whereas what we saw was an ordinary-looking police officer in an ordinary police car. Then the penny dropped. Although the British government had reluctantly recognised Bosnia and Hercegovina, the country which, unlike Israel, had invaded nobody but was the victim of aggression, was under an arms embargo (unlike Israel). The Foreign Office line was that this was a three-sided war between Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Douglas Hurd told us lifting the embargo would only create a "level killing field"; and throughout the conflict the Bosnians resisting the carve up were called "Muslims".

Tuzla, with its Social Democrat mayor and mixed population was described by the BBC as a "Muslim stronghold". When a mortar attack on the town centre killed 75 youth celebrating Yugoslav Youth Day the BBC rshowed its "impartiality" by refusing to interview a Tuzla parent who happened to be in London. Instead Radio 4 Today programme had the men from the right-wing Serb information centre in its studio. When General Zivjak, who commanded the Bosnian forces at Sarajevo, came here and spoke at a rally, I waited to see if the BBC would call him a "Muslim commander" - he happened to be a genuine Bosnian Serb - but no worry - the BBC did not interview nor mention him. Likewise they mised the opportunity to interview diplomat Sven Alkali on his way back from Washington. I had been waiting to hear how they would describe this Bosnian ambassador to the US who went on to become a government minister - would he be a 'Muslim Jew' or a 'Jewish Muslim'?

Of course back then one could trace the line which the BBC had adopted to
the position being taken by the Foreign Office. More generally, I am inclined to suspect Britain's colonial past has left its governing classes with a mentality which not only deals in stereotypes but assumes the lesser breeds will keep to their allotted places. Tell them a Serb is defending Sarajevo, or a Jewish woman is supporting the Palestinians and you're just not playing by their rules, old boy.

Anyway, after upsetting the Blair government, by reflecting the crisis in British politics over the Iraq war(which is when Media Workers Against the War sprang into life), the Beeb backed down with the loss of a director general and moved to the Right. Except, this time, it seems to have even gone too far for the government.

On Friday BBC director general Mark Thompson turned down a request from International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander to reconsider his decision. Another minister Ben Bradshaw has urged the BBC to "stand up" to the Israeli authorities and broadcast the appeal to raise emergency funds for Gaza. Bradshaw, himself a former BBC journalist, said that broadcasters' decision not to screen the appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) was "inexplicable" and dismissed the Corporation's explanation for its position as "completely feeble".

Labour veteran Tony Benn and other MPs and celebrities taking part in today's demonstration will deliver a letter to the BBC demanding that it reverse its decision.

PHONE: 03700 100 222
TEXT: 03700 100 212

I know some BBC staff are ashamed and disgusted by their bosses' stand. But they have enough trouble keeping their jobs and trying to tell the truth, without trying to have any say in the running of things. As for we the public, we all pay for the BBC one way or another, without it seems having much influence on "our" public service broadcaster, unlike some well-funded professional lobbyists with sway in the media. It may be time to try making ourselves felt by other means.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stop treating cleaners like dirt!

IT was on every newspaper's front-page and main item on TV news - the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Whether or not he can live up to half the hopes placed in him - and closing Guantanamo prison camp will be a good start - it is a historic moment.

As commentators reminded us, he is entering the White House whereas half a century ago his father would have been barred from lunch counters and bus station rest rooms in many parts of America.

I do wish they did not sound so smug and satisfied, mind. Fifty years is a long time for the world's greatest power, with all its modern technology and world-wide media dominance, to shake off the enduring legacy of the slave era. Millions of black Americans are still held down in poverty, Many white Americans remain racist. And all the gains that paved the way for Obama's presidency were made in struggle.

One of the heroines of the civil rights struggle was a seamstress called Rose Parks. On December 1, 1955, coming home from work in Montgomery, Alabama, she sat down on a bus, and refused an order from the driver to give up her seat for a white passenger. As she said, she was tired. In fact, as she said later, she was tired of racism. Rose Parks was a supporter of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People(NAACP), and though her defiance was not the first, it did lead to the Montgomery bus boycott, a major opening battle in the fight against segregation.

It is not only in America that people have to fight for their dignity and decent treatment as human beings, of course, and it is not only blatant Jim Crow laws that oppress and discriminate.

I was reminded of Rose Parks when I heard about Mary Boakye, who is also facing trouble for sitting down, not on a bus in the Deep South, but on a tube train here in London. No, Mary is not the victim of racism, as such, just of the social division which ensures that the army of low-paid workers who keep one of the world's richest cities running are treated like dirt.

Mary is a cleaner, employed by a big global company called ISS to clean the train carriages. No easy job. The way some Metroland travellers sprawl out with their feet up, and food out, you'd think they'd booked bed and breakfast. Not forgetting the free newspapers and scattered junk that accumulates.

Where Mary worked cleaners who have finished a train have to wait till the train doors are opened so they can go. While Mary was waiting she sat down, broom still in hand, her head back and her eyes closed. Cleaners are told not to sit on the seats they have cleaned. Still, you might think Mary's supervisors could turn a blind eye to this rule infraction, especially as there was no complaint about her work. Instead someone took a photograph, and Mary has been accused of sleeping on the job, and sacked. Maybe management has nothing better to do at night. It can't be anything to do with Mary having been a unon rep. The company says it isn't.

The RMT union waged industrial action last year in its campaign for cleaners to get a living wage and decent conditions. The union held a demonstration last week at ISS offices in Greenwich, in defence of two of its members, Mary and tube cleaners' group secretary Clara Osagiede, who faced gross misconduct charge despite being on recognised union duties when she was accused of failing to return to her workplace.

It is demanding that Mary Boakye is reinstated, and has called a special meeting tomorrow night , Friday 23 January, 6pm, at the Exmouth Arms pub, Starcross Road, Euston. The union's genral secretary Bob Crow is billed to speak, along with Pat O’Brien, Steve Hedley, Glenroy Watson, Olly New and others.

I think jobs like cleaning should be taken back in house, and companies like ISS which also has contracts in hospitals, should be sent packing. It is time the workers who do the really essential jobs in this metropolis enjoyed decent pay and dignity, and were treated with the respect due human beings. That's more important than the colour of the man in the White House.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Haters and Hoaxers

"EXTREMIST THREAT TO UK JEWS" said the the front-page story of the Sun (January 8). It said Islamic extremists had compiled a "hate hit list" of British Jews who were to be targeted in revenge for the Israeli attacks in Gaza. I did not bother reading further - it was the Sun after all. But with the Community Security Trust (CST) spokesman warning on Radio 4 of a new wave of antisemitism, it was worrying.

If the story was true it might mean terror attacks on innocent people. Our native UK bombers are not as politically aware or discriminating as the Palestinian movement. Even if those hit were not-so-innocent it would be a dangerous diversion. And if the story was made up, it might encourage misguided youths to follow the suggestion, and would certainly create tension between Muslim and Jewish communities, with the latter believing they were under siege and drawing back from criticism of Israel.

Thanks to the latest Private Eye, we can see how this story was made up, and make up our minds about the Murdoch-owned Sun and its school of journalism. It seems the basis of the Sun story was not any "terrorism" tip off from Special Branch, nor even the CST. It was all their own work.

The story was that someone calling himself Abuislam had posted a message on a Muslim website called asking "Have we got a list of top Jews we can target? Can someone post names and addresses?"

"anti-terrorism expert" Glen Jenvey warned "Those listed should treat it very seriously. Expect a hate campaign and intimidation by 20 or 30 thugs". If he had such detailed knowledge, one presumes he could have warned the people listed and tip the police off.

But was the posting on sufficient evidence? Another poster to the site suggested sending "polite letters" to prominent Israel supporters, but Abuislam would have none of it. "Polite will not work. Target them with demos outside their homes and businesses. Hit and run demos showing and exposing their war crimes in their support".

But according to the Eye, administrators at the site were curious as to just who this "Abuislam" was. They traced his postings to a computer also used by one Richard Tims. This Mr.Tims had previously posted to promote a website, now defunct, which offered cash for stories about Islam for world media use. And who was listed as the contact there? None other than Glen Jenvey, the Sun terror expert. Good, eh?
(How Extremism Works, Private Eye 1228)

Creative Journalism

While the Press Complaints Commission or whoever looks into this story of creative journalism, I am reminded of a story I once heard from an Aussie journalist chum about an episode many years ago, I think it was in Melbourne. There had been some clashes between different groups of immigrants from Yugoslavia, and a team of hacks and photographers was despatched to get the story.

When they came back to the office their boss was not satisfied with what they had to report. "Where's the swastikas?", he demanded. He had heard that one group of immigrants had painted swastikas on the homes of the other lot. The newsmen said they had seen no swastikas, but the boss was adamant. He wanted swastikas. So they sent out again and scoured the neighbourhood where the trouble had taken place, but still could not find any swastikas. When they returned, the boss was angry. "I won't tell you again! I want swastikas!" So back out they went. Only, this time, realising what was required of them, they did not just take a photographer, but a man with some paint.

I'm not sure I remember the name of that news boss. I bet he went far.

A different list

FRIENDS contacted me last year to tell me that my name had appeared on a couple of hate lists. First there was Masada2000's list of "Self-Hating Israel-Threatening" Jews, and then the fascists got hold of my picture for Redwatch. It helps my street cred, and so far nothing untoward has happened to me. But two other people I know have appeared with their pictures on a more threatening list, at an American-based Zionist website,, run by one Lee Kaplan. Dedicated to attacking the International Solidarity Movement whose brave volunteers have assisted Palestinian farmers with their olive harvest, and faced tear gas and rubber bullets when they joined peaceful demonstrations against Israel's annexation wall, this website incited action against them, and appealed for information on the whereabouts of one woman, who has worked for my union.

I could have told them, she was with an ambulance crew in Gaza, and facing enough danger without Mr.Kaplan calling for IDF snipers to target her. I say this was threatening, because unlike the Redwatch fascists who disclaim responsibility for any violence, Kaplan is open about it. And though people assure me that Lee Kaplan is just a 'nutter' who should not be taken seriously, ISM volunteers have already been killed, without any special incitement. Rachel Corrie was crushed by an IDF bulldozer, and cameraman Tom Hurndall shot in the head by an army sniper. I also don't think the Stop the ISM site was only wishing for a campaign against solidarity workers in the frontline.

Anyway, while I was writing to MPs and my union about this, I heard that the offending website has been closed. Whether it shall be able to reappear as the Massada2000 site has done, I don't know. Nor whether its clearly illegal incitement to violence could be prosecuted. Our authorities which always seem ready to extradite people to the United States for computer and other offences draw back from trying to do anything about US-hosted websites (this happened with Redwatch, and before that with child porn sites). Maybe some newspaper will treat Zionist and right-wing hate lists as evidence of a terror threat? But somehow I doubt it.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Faircloth bows out

THERE's a new turn in the affairs of the Amicus wing of the Unite union. Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Unite with the Transport and General's Tony Woodley, was forced to stand for re-election in Amicus because of a legal challenge from Bristol activist Jerry Hicks. As he promised he would, Jerry Hicks is contesting the position, and on January 16 he confirmed that he was standing, announcing nominations from branches around the country.

Meanwhile, however, the Amicus Unity Gazette and others who consider themselves the "broad left" announced their support for Laurence Faircloth,who has been regional secretary of the union in the North West, and more recently the South West.

"Laurence Faircloth is the future of Amicus Unite", said an announcement on the Labour Home site, and Bro.Faircloth told us:

"The present General Secretary has failed to deliver on the many important issues some mentioned above. Now he wants to carry on past 65 years of age, in contrast to the union seeking a shorter working life for our members. He opposed his predecessor Ken Jackson over the same issue. This election provides the opportunity to make a change for the better. If we continue with the status quo Unite will not succeed and our members in every sector will suffer. We must not allow this to happen".

Kevin Coyne, who had replaced Laurence Faircloth in the North West, also announced he was standing. Having been prominent in the ATU faction which was regarded as Blairite, mainly drawing support from the old finance union, and opposed to the requirement for election of full-time officers, Coyne is seen as the right-wing candidate.

Meanwhile, what of Jerry Hicks, who had provide this opportunity to make a change for the better? Somehow his name seemed to have slipped the memory of left-wing papers for whom Faircloth was now the man. Hicks candidature was not mentioned. In private, some people I asked criticised him for bringing the legal case, opportunity or not.

In the Unity Gazette ("for a democratic union controlled by the members"), Laurence Faircloth took a slightly different tack, on November 15:

Why am I standing?

The most important issue facing our union is how we face up to the worst economic recession for decades. Many members face job cuts, short-time working or attacks on pay and conditions. Defending our members must be the top priority for every union officer and activist.

Instead we have an election for General Secretary of the Amicus section. This is a complete distraction. So why is this election taking place? Because if Derek Simpson is to defer his retirement for a year, until he is 66, under law he must face an election".

In his blog, Laurence Faircloth set out his aims for making Unite a truly united, democratic, and fighting union, ready to face the attacks on members jobs and conditions and take up its international responsibility to the working class. In December it was announced that important nominations had come in from Greater Manchester branches.

The following announcement is headed simply "Standing Down":

I wish to thank all the branches, chapels ,Officers staff and workplaces reps and members that nominated me and also the Amicus Unity Gazette for their support.

I am also pleased that much of what I have put forward as my reason for standing has now been delivered by the Joint General Secretaries Derek Simpson, Tony Woodley and the N.E.C. with full integration of Amicus and T.G.W.U. sections of the Union now taking place.

After reviewing the nominations received by all the candidates and in consultation with the Amicus Unity Gazette Board, I have decided to withdraw from the election.

I will be recommending that Derek Simpson should receive the support of Amicus Unity Gazette.

Best Regards,

Laurence Faircloth

We shall have to see what people and papers say. Any useful comments welcome.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Cease-fire should lead to change of direction

SO, a ceasefire has been declared in Gaza. Israel has halted its bombing and started to withdraw its tanks. Hamas has stopped the rockets. If we keep our fingers crossed the lull may last past President Obama's inauguration, and if it survives the odd provocation and signals a real shift in US policy towards keeping its rotweiler on the lead, we might get on to the rocky road to peace.

So was it worth it? In 23 days 1300 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces including 417 children and 108 women, and 5,320 injured. Israeli losses were minor,for all the repeatedly parroted counts of rockets, but for those who lost somebody they were real. And none of these casualties were necessary. The Israeli government could have kept up the previous cease fire, lifted its siege on Gaza which was causing death and suffering while the world looked on, and agreed to talk with Hamas. Instead, with the encouragement of Bush and Blair, it waged a policy of collective punishment of the Palestinian people for the way they had voted, and after wars in Lebanon and Gaza - if we can call it war when they bomb and massacre a largely defenceless population - Israel is no better off.

Though many Palestinians never supported Hamas, and many are critical of it now, the people in Gaza are not likely to chuck out those they elected just because Israel says so. The British people did not bow down to the Luftwaffe's Blitz and decide to collaborate, they waited till Hitler was soundly beaten before they voted out Winston Churchill. The Palestinians have not got an RAF, but they have got steadfastness and willingness to sacrifice. If the Israeli rulers and military had not grown so arrogant in their racism, and not been so confident that they could rely on America, they might have recognised this by now. Instead, they let go and spurned the hand of the PLO leadership, only to find themselves facing Hamas. Then they ignored the fact that even after Hamas was elected a majority of Palestinians favoured resuming peace talks, and a majority of Israelis favoured talking to Hamas.

Elections are due in Israel next month. With this war, Labour's Barak wanted to show how tough he could be at killing Palestinians, prime minister Olmert wanted to show that Israel could still do as it liked with the blessing of Washington, and Benyamin Netanyahu, backed not just by America's Zionist lobby but its frightening Christian Right, vied to show himself toughest of all. There's nothing like a war to unite the classes and keep minds of things for which the leaders have no answer, like economic and social crisis.

The ban on two Arab parties within Israel shows it is not just the Palestinians in Gaza or the occupied territories who are in the politicians' sights. Some Israeli leaders openly speak about ethnic cleansing, Foreign Minister Zippi Livne hints at it even while talking of peace, by saying the Palestinians national rights will be "there" -in a Palestinian statelet for which her government leaves but fenced off enclaves. The cover for such a brutal exclusion might be the US-backed war with Iran. It might even bring more US military and economic aid.

But here uncertainty comes in. Obama has promised the American people fewer foreign adventures not more, and more spending on helping American industry weather recession and tackling the social problems that George Dubya ignored.

There was almost a sign of change just before the Bush reign ended. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice helped draft the UN resolution for a Gaza ceasefire, and was going to vote for it, unlike the US vetoes we saw for instance in the Lebanon war. But in the end she abstained. It then came out that Bush and Cheney had called, telling her not to support the resolution. So those record standing ovations for Cheney at the AIPAC (Zionist lobby) conference were not in vain! Prime Minister Olmert then boasted that he had called Washington to bring about this twist. He may have thought this would boost his prestige with Israeli voters, but US Jewish leaders were not amused. They say the American public, not to mention the political elite, will not take kindly to the notion that America's Secretary of State can be told what to do and humiliated at the behest of a heavily subsidised pipsqueak in the Middle East.

We may note also that unlike in the Lebanon war, Britain voted for the ceasefire this time, even though Gordon Brown's government remains pro-Israel and has continued = but less openly -supplying some of the IDF's arms. The other day I watched some good speeches in the House of Commons condemning Israel's war, from among others, Labour's Gerald Kaufman. (Though it was a pity only about a dozen MPs seemed to be present for the debate). Even the under-secretary for Foreign Affairs had to tell pro-Zionist Labour MP Louise Ellman off for disregarding the Palestinians' lives. I hope the voters of Liverpool Riverside will say the same thing. Ms.Ellman may find alternative employment with the Zionist PR outfit BIPAC, where her former colleague Lorna Fitzsimmons was given a rough time by demonstrators who broke in.

The government knows that such actions are the tip of the iceberg. On Saturday morning I was at the Southern and Eastern Regional Council of the Trades Union Congress (SERTUC), where a motion on Gaza from the Transport and General Workers Union, calling for Israeli withdrawal, an end to the siege and restrictions on movements of Palestinians, and an end to the firing of rockets into Israel, was unanimously passed. The resolution also calls on unions to lobby the European Union for suspension of talks on the EU-Israel Association Agreement, in view of the Israeli state's breaches of international law and human rights.

I took the opportunity to say a few things about responsibility for the war, and mention the letter I had seen from people in Sderot, who did not agree that Israel killing innocent Palestinians in Gaza was delivering peace and security to themselves, and who had established their own cross-border links, people to people. I also noted that though Gordon Brown talked about ending the arms traffic, he did not refer to the arming of Israel - £18 million worth of British equipment supplied in the first three months of last year. Mentioning the US arms ship reported sailing from Germany, I recalled that in the past, members of my union did not wait for government arms embargoes, but imposed their own on repressive and warlike regimes. I recognised we did not have the same rights nowadays, but hoped that if any workers took action as a matter of conscience, we as trade unionists should support them.

Later that day I was at the demonstration in Trafalgar Square, where Deborah Maccoby, speaking for Jews for Justice for Palestinians, described how Israeli police had halted a humanitarian aid convoy organised by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, and forced the drivers to return to Tel Aviv, after confiscating the medical supplies intended for Gaza. "So much for Israel's claims as the 'only democracy in the Middle east'" Deborah commented.

After the official demonstration, which ended peacefully, some youths marched through the West End, and vented their anger on Starbuck's (a US company said to support Zionist settlers) before the police caught up with them. It was not till I got home however that I heard of a much more significant and well-executed action.

As reported by Mark Townsend for the Guardian
"Nine people are being questioned by police following extensive damage at an arms factory where protesters claim military components are being made for Israeli warplanes bombing Gaza.

"The group, which calls itself Smash EDO, entered the EDO MBM Technology plant in Moulsecoomb, Brighton, in the early hours of this morning. During the incident computers and furniture were hurled from the windows of the Sussex factory. Police described the damaged as 'substantial'....

"EDO MBM is the sole British subsidiary of US weapons company EDO Corp. From its Moulescoomb base it manufactures laser-guided missiles that have been used extensively in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Somalia.

The weapons were reportedly used by Israel against Lebanon in 2005, and have also been allegedly used in the occupied Palestinian territories".
Military components factory ransacked in Gaza protest

This was not quite the sort of action I envisaged when I was speaking to the SERTUC meeting that morning. Breaking into a plant and trashing it is illegal. But then workers taking the sort of action they took in the past, like refusing to load a strategic cargo, are also likely to face legal consequences these days - look what happened to Heathrow baggage handlers who wanted to support their own family members who had been sacked by Gate Gourmet. I also see a Southampton University lecturer, John Molyneux, was arrested and is facing charges for organising an entirely peaceful Gaza protest, in a public park, because he allegedly did not give the police sufficient advance notice.

I don't know how much advance notice Israel gave of its attack on Gaza, or of its raid on Jericho (though on that occasion British observers conveniently evacuated half an hour before), when friends of mine were arrested for a small demonstration in Whitehall. I do know that using white phosphorus in urban areas, like besieging a civil population, is highly illegal. Some of my more conservatively orthodox "marxist" comrades may tut-tut at people taking direct action without going through the usual procedures of passing motions and waiting for replies from ministers, before considering a ballot for action, but...

Meanwhile kids are being killed. And the means to kill them are being made in our midst. If people younger and braver than me have decided to take direct action, all I can say is good for them, and more power to their elbow! Guess that may disqualify me from any jury that's to try them, but I hope others may think likewise.

Let's hope the cease fire lasts. But keep up the campaigning for a change of direction. For real peace, for Palestinians and Israelis and the rest of us, there has to be peace with justice.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Stop this Cargo of Death!

WITH Israeli forces destroying a UN store full of food and medical supplies, and shelling a media centre where international correspondents were working, it is getting harder for Israeli government spokespersons to lie about what they are doing; or rather, it is getting harder for BBC and other Western media to nod and pretend to accept the lies in good faith.
That the Israelis are using white phosphorus in Gaza seems now to be generally admitted. Use of this weapon in built-up populated areas is a war crime.

Now we have this report from Amnesty International, which should help give the protests against Israel's war the sharper focus that sometimes seems lacking. When Gordon Brown said the other day that it was vital to stop the arms traffic, he was talking about weapons reaching the Palestinian resistance fighters. We say if Western politicians claim they want peace tthe arms supplies to Israel must be stopped!


Amnesty has learnt that a German owned cargo ship, the Wehr Elbe, carrying huge amounts of weaponry from the U.S - possibly including controversial white phosphorous - has been heading for the Israeli port of Ashdod.

There are breaking news reports that the ship has been suspended after pressure from Amnesty International. At the time of writing the status of the shipment is unclear, but its deadly cargo remains on board. We must maintain pressure to prevent the arms from being unloaded and used to fuel the conflict in Gaza.

More munitions will only fuel further military aggression in Gaza. For the sake of civilians in Gaza and Israel, we need to prevent this deadly shipment from reaching its final destination.

Amnesty is urging Foreign Secretary David Miliband to increase international pressure to prevent this ship with its “vast consignment” of weapons docking anywhere in Israel. Further, we are calling on the UN Security Council for an immediate arms embargo on all parties involved in the bloody conflict in Gaza.

Find out more Stop civilian bloodshed in Gaza and Israel - join our urgent call for a full arms embargo on all parties involved in the Gaza conflict - this ship must be stopped

Friday, January 09, 2009

Can Israeli forces get away with war crimes?

WHITE PHOSPHORUS being scattered over Gaza town. It burns through to the bone.

ISRAELI troops in Gaza told a crowd of civilians to shelter in a building -then shelled the building, according to a report reaching the UN today. It says 30 people were killed in this incident on Sunday, in the Zaytoun district. It is reported that Israeli forces also refused to allow ambulance crews to go in and help the wounded. Even if the Palestinians killed this way had all been combatants, prisoners of war, this massacre would have been reminiscent of the conduct of Nazi SS troops behaved in World War II, although from the bland way it was brief ly announced on BBC news this morning you'd think it was a minor counties' cricket score. It must be their training, though of course we must bear in mind that the victims were only Palestinians.

Meanwhile we have also seen on TV the Israeli air force dropping white phosphorus over Gaza. The commentary did not say that was what they were doing, but I had already seen pictures posted by a friend on the internet who explained what those strange white flares were. I was hesitant to use the pictures without checking their provenance, by now I have seen it on the news.

He says: "White phosphorus cause injuries and death in three ways: by burning deep into tissue, by being inhaled as a smoke, and by being ingested. Extensive exposure in any way is fatal. These weapons are particularly dangerous to exposed people because white phosphorus continues to burn unless deprived of oxygen or until it is completely consumed and can not be put out with water"..

Our correspondent, Dan Jacobus, adds: "I want to be fair in that white phosphorus is also used as an illuminating weapon as well as for smokescreen. In that case it is not "illegal" under conventions that exist.

"Now, if I just left it at that, you might think - hmm well, it looks like day time to me and in that last photo it definitely looks like they're burning the shit out of stuff on the ground. To me, if Israel said they're using it for illumination or something, I wouldn't believe them but I'd say they're making a claim and they should get a benefit before investigations occur.

"The fact that today Israel denied even using White Phosphorus - ( well, that pretty much makes me think that in fact they are using it and these pictures show Israel using it in a weaponized manner".

To me, scattering weapons like white phosphorus or cluster bombs (which Israeli officers said were used like confetti over Lebanon), not on an open battlefield with tanks but on a heavily populated area, makes nonsense of the claim to precision targeting, and is clearly a criminal act.

Soldiers and pilots are not responsible for wars. But they are responsible for obeying illegal orders. Israel adoptd that principle into law, if I am not mistaken after the Eichman trial. Whether anyone in the IDF worries about that, or is shocked by an atrocity like that reported at Zaytoun, is another matter. We heard how an Israeli air force commander asked what he felt when dropping a giant bomb that would kill civilians replied "A slight bump in the cockpit". We also saw how an attempt to charge an Israeli general with war crimes when he set foot in Britain was thwarted because the Metropolitan Police tipped him off before he stepped off the plane.
The British government assured the Israelis that it was going to change the law so such prosecutions could not me made.

Unlike the Lebanon war, when the Blair government stood by the US and Israel against calls for a cease-fire, Britain has voted in the UN Security Council this time for a cease fire resolution, leaving it to America's Condoleeza Rice to abstain. But the suspicion continues that British government and media, even when pretending to be neutral or even criticise Israel, are biased in its favour; or more accurately, that in the bigger picture they are on the same side.

Last night the news of a missile being fired from Lebanon, which Israeli forces themselves doubted was the work of Hizbollah(who usually claim their actions) was enough for BBC TV news to show footage of a Hizbollah rally, while a commentator told us that Hamas and Hizbollah were dedicated to destroying Israel, and then displayed a map of Iran, saying it was supporting them n this aim, and supplying the arms. Had someone mistakenly given him next week's script, for the next phase of the war? Barack Obama's Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, promised during the US primaries that if Israel was attacked, the United States would "obliterate Iran". Will a maverick missile fired from Lebanon be construed as an "Iranian attack"?

This morning the son of the manse Gordon Brown was showing his concerned look, saying that cease fire in Gaza must lead to "stopping the arms traffic". He means those tunnels of course. But what about stopping the arms traffic to Israel? Britain supports sanctions against Iran, and British banks have even interfered with charity money going to Palestinians in Gaza, but when it comes to the IDF, latest British Foreign Office figures show that in the first thre months of 2008, Britain exported £18, 847,795 worth of weaponry to Israel. This was more than twice the sales approved in the whole of 2007, and included parts for combat planes and aero engines, as well as high-tech pilot's aides.

Britain has also made huge sales to Saudi Arabia of course, but we are unlikely to see the Saudis use anyof this against Israel.

LIBERAL DEMOCRAT leader Nick Clegg has called for an arms embargo on Israel.
He is quite right. But neither Labour nor Tories are likely to do that. So will Lib Dems or anyone else support workers putting their own embargo on this bloody trade?

Demonstrations are continuing around the world against Israel's war on the people of Gaza. In Toronto and Montreal police moved in on Jewish women who had seized the Israeli consulates in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

In London demonstrators will gather tomorrow at Hyde Park Speaker Corner at 12.30pm for a march on the Israeli embassy. For more details, including coach transport from other parts of the country, see the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) website at

Hands Off The People of Iran, HOPI, which aims to alert people to the dangers of sanctions and war against Iran, at the same time as supporting workers and students opposing the Islamicist regime, says Iranians have a right and duty to support the Palestinian people. But it warns against placing any trust in President Ahmadinejad, saying his posturing has played into the hands of US imperialism, and his policies divide and weaken resistance, as we have seen in Iraq. HOPI warns that the Iranian regime would use the Palestinian people as pawns to be sacrificed. But right now its main warning is against Zionist and US imperialist war plans.

HOPI is inviting people to a meeting - Gaza: what’s going on?, to discuss the underlying and wider issues of the present uneven war. Its speaker will be veteran Israeli socialist Moshe Machover, a founder of the anti-Zionist left-wing Matzpen group in Israel and former editor of Khamsin magazine.
We might also note that Moshe Machover's lawyer son Daniel has been led efforts to bring Israeli war criminals to trial here in the UK.

7pm, Wednesday January 21
Room 2B23,Strand Campus
King's College, London

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Yesterday's Heroes, Today's Celebs ...Or Unpersons?
TOMMY SHERIDAN (in red tie) with previous Big Brother contestant GEORGE GALLOWAY MP.
And above right, with loudhailer, JERRY HICKS of Amicus.

WITH the bombs killing in Gaza, banks running away with our dosh, stores closing on our high streets, and people losing pensions, homes and jobs, is there any news to cheer us up? Mindful of the 1930s, when people turned amid the gloom to street bands, comedy and musicals, I was looking for a lighter story to give readers a break. What I got was this exclamation from Hamish, a young Scot on Facebook:

'We’re on the verge of an economic crisis that will see 3 million unemployed by the end of ’09 and Tommy Sheridan is on Celebrity Big Brother, ARSE!'

Tommy Sheridan was the hero of the anti-poll tax struggle in Scotland, and was also arrested twice in protests at Faslane nuclear submarine base. He led what had been Scottish Militant Labour from the shade of left-wing entrist and small group politics via the Scottish Socialist Alliance into the limelight of winning elections to the Scottish Parliament, as the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). Winning votes from both Labour and SNP, it took six seats, in 2003, as well as being in the forefront of community and anti-war campaigns, and gaining backing from the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union in Scotland.

Socialists south of the border, coming together in the Socialist Alliance (RIP), dreamed of emulating the Scottish breakthrough.

Then in November 2004, Sheridan announced he was stepping down for family reasons. His wife Gail was expecting their first child. But the News of the World ran articles claiming the family man had been having an extra-marital affair, and visited a swingers club in Manchester. Tommy Sheridan said he would sue. And on August 4, 2006 we were delighted to see him posing with his wife outside the court, having won his case by a majority verdict of 7 - 4, and maximum damages of £200,000.from the newspaper's owners, Rupert Murdoch's News International. Like George Galloway's triumph at the US Senate it was a moment for the Left to savour, even if you didn't entirely share the hero's politics.

But it was only a moment. Not only were members of the SSP dragged into court as witnesses, in a case which the party had advised against bringing, but News International were not going to let it go. Alan McCoombes, who refused to release minutes of the SSP executive which led to Sheridan's resignation, was summoned to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, and jailed for 12 days before the party handed its minutes over. There was evidence that Sheridan had admitted "reckless" behaviour though saying he would deny the allegations.

Although elected co-chair of the SSP in 2006, Sheridan announced he was leaving it in August that year, accusing his former comrades of being complicit in "the mother of all stitch ups" involving Murdoch, MI5, and the Bush administration. The following month he announced that he was starting his own party, Solidarity, along with fellow MSP Rosemary Byrne. For reasons best known to themselves the Socialist Workers Party and the ex-Militant supporters of the Committee for a Workers International (linked with the Socialist Party in England) forgot past differences and rallied to Sheridan's party. They have not rescued him from declining fortunes.

On December 16, 2007, Tommy Sheridan was arrested and charged with perjury, arising from the News of the World case. He is still on bail. There have been newspaper stories about witnesses claiming they were offered bribes, or threatened, not to give evidence.

On November 6, Solidarity candidate Louise McLeary got a mere 87 votes in the Glenrothes by-election for the Westminster parliament, won by Labour. The Scottish Socialist Party got 212.

Will Tommy Sheridan do better in the Big Brother House? Some SWP supporters in England seem to think so, and have formed a support group. I don't know the official line. You'd think they might have learned from having to apologise for George Galloway's performance, even though he had told his then aides nothing about going into the house, and since then he has given them the elbow. We might recall, incidentally that it was Galloway who first called on Sheridan to break with the "Trots" in the SSP, using the Scottish Daily Mail to urge him out.

Anyway, the former hero Tommy was booed by a small crowd before he entered the house - I don't know whether they were a claque got up by the News of the World , or disgruntled Scottish Socialists! Last thing I heard the bookies were laying odds against Sheridan lasting long in the house.

Several blogs have been watching Tommy Sheridan's rise -or decline - into "celebrity" status. Dave Osler commented on him being lined up for Big Brother, then denying it, over two years ago.

Two others who have commented are "Stroppy Bird" and "Madame Miaow" (Anna Chen).

The next guy I want to talk about is a very different character to Sheridan, or George Galloway, even though he is in the latter's party, paradoxically. I'd hesitate to mention him in the same article, except that his case too shows us something about 'the Left'. So far as I know, Jerry Hicks has not been approached to enter the Big Brother house, and does not consider himself a celebrity; but he is a popular trade unionist, and now he is a contender for one of the most important union positions in the country, general secretary of the Amicus section of Unite the union. This mainly involves engineering workers, and electricians, but also has print, scientific and medical sections. Besides, whoever becomes Amicus secretary would also be in line for next general secretary of Unite as a whole, if the merger proceeds.

Jerry is also a socialist activist, - my photo above shows him campaigning outside Uxbridge magistrates' court in west London where he was up for distributing leaflets inside Heathrow airport as part of an anti-deportations campaign. It also shows a banner of the then thriving Socialist Alliance, members of which had travelled from Bristol to support Jerry that day.

Jerry Hicks started work as an apprentice at Rolls Royce in Bristol, famous for making the Concorde's engines,in 1975. Elected a shop steward in 1984, he became convenor for the Test Areas in 1990, and in 2003 he was elected to the Amicus union's national executive.

In June 2005 the workers in the Test Areas staged a 48 hour occupation to save the jobs of two fitters who were facing the sack. Six weeks later Rolls Royce sacked Jerry Hicks himself. Union efforts to get him reinstated were unsuccessful, even though a tribunal pre-hearing found that in all probability he was sacked for his union activity.

Three years before this, Jerry Hicks had supported Derek Simpson's bid for the leadership of Amicus. In 2003 Simpson offered him a job in the union, but Jerry, a believer in elected officers, had turned it down. Some felt Simpson could have done more to back Jerry in his 2005 fight.

Derek Simpson had to use a legal judgement to challenge Sir Ken Jackson, a former leader of the EETPU, staying in office in the merged union, before he could defeat him in an election. Jerry Hicks has successfully used the precedent to challenge Simpson, pointing out he was never elected by the former MSF (technicians)and GPMU (print) sections in the union, and yet would be carrying on beyond retirement age if he remained general secretary now. He also made clear that if his challenge succeeded he would stand for the post himself.

There is disappointment with Derek Simpson's leadership among left-wing trade unionists who supported him. They say that though he criticises government, he remains close to it. He firmly opposed union affiliation with the Stop the War movement. So you might think there'd be some satisfaction that Jerry Hicks challenge has forced an election, and readiness to back him as candidate. Yet a couple of months ago, I saw messages going out asking support for another "left-wing candidate", and no mention of Jerry Hicks at all. I had to ask friends in Amicus whether Hicks was standing, and find out more from his own weblog.

A few years ago Socialist Worker was full of Jerry Hicks and his fight at Rolls Royce, and criticised the union for not backing him enough. For example:

But now you'd think Jerry Hicks did not exist. Here's the SW again, on November 22 2008:

"Nominate Laurence Faircloth in Amicus election

Branches of the Amicus section of the Unite union are nominating candidates for a crucial election for general secretary.Socialist Worker supporters in the union are backing Laurence Faircloth, the candidate of the Amicus Unity Gazette broad left group."

This eagerness to jump in behind the Unity Gazette broad left contrasts with March 2006, when an Amicus member complained in Socialist Worker: " Amicus broad left group falls under Simpson’s control"

But then two years ago, Jerry Hicks was a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). He followed the SWP line to join Respect, as a broad "left" alternative to Labour (for which they ditched the Socialist Alliance). He gained 25 per cent of the votes in the Lockleaze area of Bristol, south of his former workplace at Filton, where he stood as Respect candidate for the council.

Then came the row between George Galloway and the SWP, and instead of following the SWP back out into the wilderness, Jerry Hicks resigned from the SWP and published his own criticism of the way they had conducted themselves.

I don't know whether I'd agree with Jerry Hicks, and I know next to nothing about Laurence Faircloth, except that he apparently came from the EEPTU. I do know that having two "left-wing" candidates stand is likely to benefit neither, and might give Simpson back the post, after all that fuss. I also think that if the SWP had any good reason to oppose Jerry Hicks, apart from sheer spite, they ought to be capable of explaining it, rather than pretending their ex-comrade no longer exists. As it is, he has been able to announce that he has enough nominations to get on the ballot paper, without their help or that of the "broad left" . Not being in Amicus, but in the T&G, I don't need to decide whom to support in this contest. But I am watching this "broad left" as it has now linked up across both sections of Unite. And I distrust anyone who expects us to "forget" awkward people, in the manner of some discredited "socialist" traditions. They can't airbrush them out of the photographs anymore!

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Those Against the Massacre, ...and now those for it.

EDINBURGH, JANUARY 3. (photo from Eddie Truman, Scottish Socialist Party)

AS the UN reports on more than 40 children killed in its Gaza schools, and there are reports of Israeli aircraft dropping white phosphorus, two very different demonstrations are due to take place this evening.


Here in London, however, where people have been holding angry protests outside the Israeli embassy, police have apparently given permission to Zionists to hold a demonstration there supporting Israel's war. If that is not a provocation I don't know what is. The organisers of a Facebook group calling this action say "security and police will be there" I bet they will. I've encountered some of their "security" before, and may have more to say on this.

Thousands of people marched against this war in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening, about the same time as we were rallying in Trafalgar Square, and in other towns and cities and the Israeli War Minister was ordering the tanks in. Here's Gush Shalom's report:
"At the same time as Ehud Barak was ordering the army to start the bloody ground offensive against Gaza, some ten thousand protesters from all over Israel marched in Tel-Aviv in a massive demonstration against the war. All four lanes of Ibn Gvirol St., one of the city's main throughfares, were packed full of demonstrators who marched the two kiolometres from the Rabin Square to the Cinemateque, chanting and waving banners all the way.

“One does not build an election campaign over the dead bodies of children!” shouted the protesters in Hebrew rhymes. “Orphans and widows are not election propaganda!”, “Olmert, Livni and Barak – war is no game!”’ “All cabinet ministers are war criminals!!” Barak, Barak, don’t worry – we shall meet you in The Hague!”, “Enough, enough – speak with Hamas!”

"The demonstration took place after a fight with the police, which tried to prevent or at least limit it, arguing that they would not be able to stop right-wing rioters from attacking it. Among other things, the police demanded that the organizers undertake to prevent the hoisting of Palestinian flags. The organizers petitioned the High Court of Justice, which decided that the Palestinian flag is legal and ordered the police to protect the demonstration from rioters,

"The demonstration was decided upon by Gush Shalom and 20 other peace organizations, including the Women’s Coalition for Peace, Anarchists Against the Wall, Hadash, the Alternative Information Center and New Profile. Meretz and Peace Now did not participate officially, but many of their members showed up. Some thousand Arab citizens from the north arrived in 20 buses straight from the big demonstration of the Arab public which had taken place in Sakhnin.

"The giant Gush Shalom banner said in Hebrew, Arabic and English: 'Stop Killing! Stop the Siege! Stop the occupation!' The slogan of the demonstration called for the end of the blockade and an immediate cease-fire".

As I have anticipated, the fight for peace cannot remain peaceful.

"On the day of the protest, the extreme Right mobilized their forces in order to break up the demonstration by force. The police made a great effort to prevent riots, and the one-mile march from Rabin Square to Cinematheque Square proceeded relatively quietly. However, when the protesters started to disperse, in accordance with the agreement with the police, a large crowd of rightists started to attack them. The police, which till then had been keeping the two camps apart, disappeared from the scene. The rioters then encircled the last of the protesters, harassing them, pushing them about and at a certain point started to besiege the Cinematheque building, where some of the last protesters had found refuge. They tried to break into the building, threatening to “finish off” the protesters, but at the last moment some police arrived and protected the entrance. The rioters stayed around for a long time".

One group of people could not take part in Saturday's demonstration, being detained over the weekend after a protest outside the airbase from where planes were taking off to attack Gaza.

An Israeli comrade has drawn my attention to three other bits of film coverage:>

Besides the anti-war and pro-human rights groups in Israel, Jewish people have been prominent in several demonstrations around the world against Israel's actions in Gaza. On Saturday's march in London there were banners from the Jewish Socialists' Group, Jews Against Zionism, and Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Scottish Jews for a Just Peace took part in the march in Edinburgh. The black-clad ultra-Orthodox Naturei Karta joined with Muslims outside the Israeli embassy. Another Jewish group took their protest to the ambassador's home, at 58 Avenue Road, NW8, on Sunday.

But it would be foolish to think that highflown ethics, religious or secular, or progressive international views, were characteristic of all Jews. There's a story of an early Zionist rejoicing when he heard of crime in Tel Aviv and saying "At last we are a normal people". If he thought it was something new he must have had a sheltered upbringing. But now we can acknowledge that with not only a militarist state but more than forty years of occupying over another people, not just Israel but its loyal outposts have bred at least their 'normal' quota of racist thugs and fascists, like those who wanted to "finish off" Tel Aviv's peace demonstrators.

The organisers of the 'pro-Israel', pro-war demonstration in London are claiming to have called on some 20,000 people to participate. So far about 2,000 have indicated they will (though people often promise to support things on Facebook, without necessary doing so). It's good to see that more than 5,000 have said they would not come. Of course not all those promising to come and "stand with Israel" are necessarily conscious racists, let alone conscienceless killers. A large proportion somehow manage to persuade themselves that Israel is the victim, no matter how many Palestinians it kills or homes it destroys. Far from freeing Jewish people from feeling lone and persecuted, the last thing Zionist leadership wants today is to make us "normal". But then as we know from history, regimes which are justifying ruthless oppression and killing can find it useful to present themselves as the victim, and tell their people the world is out to get them.

A lot of the people the Zionists (and other reactionaries) count upon are, to put it bluntly, not too bright, and many of those saying they will come to the embassy are evidently still at school - in 'faith' schools, which means they are segregated from their peers, and can be indoctrinated by religious bigots and hardline Zionists.

A spokesman for the Community Security Trust was on the radio the other morning talking about rising antisemitism and attacks on Jews and synagogues as a result of the war in Gaza. Contrary to the impression given when these people are introduced, CST, previously known as the Community Security Organisation, is not an objective source. It did not just arise from the community, its idea of "security" has often meant policing dissent within the community, and it is therefore not to be trusted. That said, it is quite likely that foolish and ignorant people have sought to take their anger out on Jewish people or premises, wrongly seen as an extension of Israel. We also know that malicious antisemites who no more care for Arabs than for Jews will try to use the war tension as a cover for their attacks - just as they use terrorist incidents as a pretext for attacking Moslems. Of course it is wrong, and people have a right to protect themselves.
(Though incidentally, the far-Right British National Party is supporting Israel's war in its publications).

But the kind of people who are organising this pro-Israel stand at the embassy are only too happy to confuse distinctions, and provoke antagonism, by insisting that blind support for whatever Israel does is part of Jewish identity. Elsewhere we learn that the embassy event is part of a five day campaign culminating in "a rally of solidarity with Israel" in Trafalgar Square at 11:00am on Sunday, "organized by the Board of Deputies and supported by the CST". They tell us "Under difficult circumstances the IDF is currently freeing southern Israel of terrorist forces in Gaza".

The embassy event organisers say police and the security services have asked them to advise people coming to their demonstration by tube to arrive via Gloucester Road Tube Station and walk up through Gloucester Road/Palace Gate to Kensington Road. I expect there'll be counter-protesters, organised or spontaneous. But I do hope there is none of the violence that Zionist right-wingers inflicted on peace marchers in Tel Aviv. There are bound to be plenty of police and security heavies around, and even if some of those coming provoke you, it would not be worth getting into trouble because of them.

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