Monday, March 30, 2009

After Jacqui - comes the Jacquerie?

WHAT with class warriors smashing the windows of a disgraced but over-rewarded banker's home and Merc in Morningside, and growing anger among Home Counties mortgage-payers who previously thought the system was fine, something has to be done.

One trick is to pretend that anti-capitalism is the preserve of weirdos and nutters, if not terrorists, determined to halt daily life and the fun of commuting, and rob us of all we hold dear, or expensively. Tens of thousands of people marched through London on Saturday, behind the slogan "Put people first!" There were trades unionists and Fair Trade campaigners, Salvationists and student militants, people concerned about child poverty, and the environment, and war. Communist Party red flags were outnumbered by Green Party placards, and I think I even spotted the odd Labour Party banner.

The turn-out was all the more remarkable because this demo had not had huge publicity. For the previous week the television news and London Evening Standard were full of a south London anthropology professor with some curious ideas on menstruation, and supposed plans to storm the City, appropriately on April Fools Day.
I met Chris Knight a couple of times some years back, when his Reclaim the Streets crowd joined demonstrations supporting the Liverpool dockers, and he had discussions with some of my Marxist friends. I could have done without the drums banging inside Conway hall when I was trying to talk to people, but by and large they seemed a decent lot, and Chris himself a nice chap, even if some of his idea seemed a bit far out. I can't imagine him really claiming to command the assault troops, though his house was shown in the news as the "headquarters" for Wednesday's operations. Chris said they would be checking which offices were lit up, and wasting electricity, to the planet's detriment. I wondered if "PUT THAT LIGHT OUT!" would be the slogan, and whether instead of WRP paper sellers we would be seeing Chris and co. in ARP uniform.

Somehow the reporters managed to extract talk of hanging City gents not just in effigy but for real, and a warning that "if the police want violence, they will get it". Unfortunately, I think that is true, and not due to Chris Knight or any other "extremists" but the way the police operate. We have had the build-up, Mayor Boris has garnished his praise of the City bankers with a remark about ringed-nose protesters, and on Saturday for some obscure reason known to themselves the Met had a double line of police across the entrance of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, as though expecting us to storm it. We're not against electricity, it's the bills. Poor old Chris Knight has been suspended by his University, and I think we'll have to defend the chump. After all you don't hear of them sacking right-wing professors whose anti-working class economic advice helped get us into this mess.

There was an international dimension to Saturday's demonstration, in slogans about Gaza and Iraq,and Afghanistan, and in contingents of trade unionists from Germany, Italy and France. I was there with the Jewish Socialists' Group's banner, in front of us were some young people with a Greek banner, and behind us at the start were a group exuberantly chanting in Spanish, though later they were overtaken by a lively crowd of students from Scotland, chanting slogans about Palestine, as well as getting rid of the rich, and that fine chant it's good to hear revived: "Unemployment and inflation, are not caused by immigration, Bullshit! Come off it! The enemy is PROFIT! "

Divide and conquer is an old imperialist game, and the press and right-wing politicians have long been scapegoating immigrant workers and asylum seekers for the problems caused by capitalism. The far-Right British National Party is hoping to make the most of this, and of the current crisis occurring under Labour government which union leaders support, with European elections coming up. The Left is as confused as ever, many taking the recent strikes and demonstrations over construction jobs at oil refineries and power plants as "reactionary", even "racialist", because of the improvised slogan "British Jobs for British Workers", in other words taking at face value what the media told them about it, and not seeing the underlying class issues and frustrations with restrictions on union action.

Now to further complicate matters the leadership of the RMT union, influenced by the Communist Party of Britain, has honoured its turn towards independence from New Labour, by pledging to stand trade unionist candidates in the Euro elections, but under the label "No 2 EU -Yes to Democracy'. The Socialist Party has decided to join this alliance, though some other left-wing groups are being kept out, some say because of their stand against the Lindsey workers. On Saturday's demo a No 2 EU supporter was inviting us to join, saying we should stop European capitalist interests making us privatise our services and industries.

Now hang on! British capitalism, under Thatcher's Tories and Blair's New Labour, has pushed further and faster than any foreign bosses or bureaucrats in privatising (or letting industries go altogether), without needing any pressure from outside. Our bosses have also been among the worst in opposing any regulations on their right to exploit workers. When my union had a large banner on its headquarters at the last election, saying "Keep Britain Working with Labour", I had to ask if this referred to them raising the pension age or resisting the working hours directive. British workers have fewer rights and more restrictions than many in Europe, while Gordon Brown bails out the bankers without restricting their payouts. The New Labour government is persevering with City academies that let business run our schools, and is using taxpayers money to support the Private Finance Initiatives that were Brown's great idea for public services.

In short, though European Union business policies and developments in the European Court are a real issue to be resisted, it is quite unreal to pretend that all our troubles come from Europe. It is also very much against the internationalist spirit in which the RMT, to its credit, has made links in joint campaigns with French and German railworkers. But it might suit the patriotic inclinations of some old Stalinists, who used to love waving the Union Jack on demonstrations even before the fascists adopted it, and will do anything to play down class issues in the hope of wooing 'our' bosses against the foreign variety. Even though the far Right, far from suffering the competition, might be the beneficiaries of such confusion. Not that I'm going to write off this move to pose an alternative to Labour yet. Some of the people decrying it seem to be suffering sour grapes after trying to join and being rebuffed. Hopefully class may yet prevail.

The third way of deflecting anger from the very rich bankers is to fix sights on targets a bit lower down -the Labour ministers and MPs, and some trade union leaders too, whose needs are so much greater than us ordinary folk, so they can only stay at the finest and most expensive hotels, and besides their considerable salaries they must have us pay for their second houses and every appurtenance, be it new carpets, a shower, or sink plug. This is a tricky area for Tory papers to go into - people in glass houses, and so on- but these are desperate times, and risks have to be taken. Anyway, New Labour does so open itself up, both to contempt and ridicule. We have been learning about Tony McNulty(Harrow), and Dawn Butler(Brent South), who claim forsecond homes in their constituencies - not in the Orkneys or Shetlands but on the Metropolitan Line in North West London, places from which thousands of other people commute to work in central London every day..

But the latest embarrassment came with the report that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith had submitted expenses for her constituency home that included hire of two "adult movies" - it seems these were watched by her husband in her absence, and included on a TV and internet invoice without her realising it.

Amid the ribaldry and derision this brought on her head, I also felt a tinge of anger with whoever had been privileged to see this bill and thought it worth passing to the newspapers - whether from political motive or for personal profit. Many years ago when I had a job which gave me access to information about telephone calls people made, and copies of telegrams, I had to sign the Official Secrets Act. But legality aside, isn't there something unclean about prying into what movies people watch, or selling private paperwork? The "public money" involved is small in the overall picture, and so what pretends to be "public interest" may just be prurience.

But then I remembered that it is Jacqui Smith as Home Secretary who would oversee government plans for a private company to run a "superdatabase" that will track all our emails, calls, texts, internet use and so on.
"No government of any colour is to be trusted with such a roadmap to our souls", warns Ken McDonald, former head of the Crown Prosecution Service. Besides the infringement of civil liberties, campaigners say this is a major risk to our private data - but won't make us any safer. "The sheer amount of information that the Government intends to collect will be impossible to analyse properly and will undoubtedly turn up false positives while missing potential security threats amongst the morass of spam emails and private chat".

We may also recall how good this government has been at safeguarding its own data - or easily some of the private firms brought in to handle confidential information have been losing it. We have also been reminded recently how big firms pay good money for spying and information about employees, to use in victimisation and blacklisting.

Maybe Jacqui Smith, if she manages to keep her job, will reconsider. Having seen how easily the personal becomes political, the Home Secretary has been, to use a couple of cliches, hoist with her own petard, and given a foretaste of her own medicine.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bagels, Bengalis, Bands and Bells

TAKING a Sunday morning conducted stroll through London's historic East End, a party pauses to look at the Fieldgate Street synagogue, established in 1899,
To its right is the more modern and impressive East London mosque, which opened its doors for worship on July 12, 1985. There had been a mosque in three converted Commercial Road houses as far back as 1940, but this was nothing like sufficient for the largely Bengali Muslim community that has settled nearby. The present mosque replaced a disused cinema on Whitechapel Road, and when completed backed on to Fieldgate Street.

As people get on, or get old, areas change. The synagogue had its last service at Yom Kippur, October 2007.

A year after the synagogue was built, on Saturday May 12, 1900, a large procession which had wound through the East End stopped in Fieldgate Street, while the band played the Dead March, from Saul, by Georg Fredeick Handel. This was nothing to do with the synagogue however, despite the Biblical allusion.The marchers were trade unionists, bakery workers, protesting the employers' failure to honour agreements on the 10-hour day and minimum pay rates. The grim Dead March was aimed at a master baker, probably Grodzinski, whose first shop had opened in Fieldgate street, next-door to the synagogue on its left, in 1888. The tune had the boss sufficiently rattled to call the police, and ask them to stop the musicians playing. But the band played on, and carried on playing the Dead March whenever the procession came to the shops of bakers who flouted union terms.

I've just read about this in Union Bread, the story of the London Jewish Bakers Union, by Larry Wayne, which has just been published by the Socialist History Society, together with the Jewish Socialists' Group.
Arising in the special circumstances of an immigrant workforce, with their own Yiddish language, producing speciality breads for their own community, and often employed on Sundays when Christian bakeries were closed, the union maintained a remarkable separate existence right up till thirty years ago. By then the bigger bakeries were mechanised, special "Jewish" skills were in less demand, and only a bakers' dozen of old timers were left.

But in its heyday, despite the difficulties of organising in small-businesses, with long hours, the Bakers had a lively existence, trying new tactics from appealing to the Chief Rabbi (who declined to get involved) to setting up worker co-operatives. One idea was the union label, which told the purchaser that their loaf had been baked by union labour, under reasonably hygienic conditions. It seems to have worked, too.

Though there were differences and issues that divided, the Jewish Bakers worked with and enjoyed support from the bigger Amalgamated Union of Operative Bakers, as on the 1900 march. Along with other sections of Jewish trades unionists they also extended what support they could to other workers in struggle, whether the dockers near at hand or Welsh quarry workers.

Some well known figures step on to the stage of this story, too, including John Burns, Keir Hardie, Rudolf Rocker, Charlotte Despard and Eleanor Marx.

Sadly, Larry Wayne who was born and grew up in the East End, died last year before his book had been published. It has an introduction about the writer by his daughter Naomi, better known to many through her work for Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

David Rosenberg, who helped to edit Larry's work for publication, is active in the Jewish Socialists' Group, but has become particularly known in recent years for stepping into Professor Bill Fishman's well-worn shoes by conducting East End walks. Walkers these days range from youngsters studying history to old East Enders recreating their own, foreign tourists to trade union parties. On one recent expedition with members of the RMT union, a well-known Millwall supporter and non-Jewish East Ender now living out in Essex told Dave that he still comes back to Brick Lane regularly for a bag of bagels and a chollah. Like the curries for which Brick Lane is more famous nowadays these specialities are no longer special to minorities.

I am sure that story about the band playing Handel's Dead March outside the bakers will now feature in Dave's talk next time he takes a party into Fieldgate Street.

If you carry on down Fieldgate Street and turn left into Whitechapel Road, heading towards Aldgate East, you come to the site of the original 14th century White Chapel, destroyed by Hitler's bombers in the Blitz. It is now the site of Altab Ali Park, named in memory of a young Bengali boy murdered in a racist attack in 1978. And across the street is the famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry, whose history goes back to 1570, and whose products included Big Ben,at Westminster, and the original Liberty Bell, in Philadelphia, as well as those London bells that play Oranges and Lemons.

It seems a far cry from these poor London streets, beyond the city wall, where generations of immigrants have settled, sweated, and struggled, to these famous national symbols on every tourist itinerary. But as the bells were forged amid the fire and grime of the foundry, so it is in the hearts and minds of working people struggling to live that the dreams of liberty and justice have been cast, to ring true and shine brightly.

East End walks - see:

Socialist History Society -

Jewish Socialists' Group -

Union Bread by Harry Wayne costs £6.

The picture of the union banner (above) appears on the book's cover, courtesy of the Jewish Museum, where the banner is now housed:

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Justice catching up with the instigators

YESTERDAY, while I was writing about the campaign to stop right-wing Indian politician Narendra Modi , the Chief Minister of Gujarat, from visiting Britain, news came that two of his associates have been charged with instigating riots in 2002 in which Muslims were killed.

The Gujarat pogroms were sparked off after a Muslim crowd attacked a train carrying Hindu pilgrims returning from a controversial ceremony. The train was set on fire and people killed in the blaze. But evidence indicates the the massive "retaliation" which hit Muslim homes, mosques and shops, and left at least 1,000 dead, was not just spontaneous, but organised. Chief Minister Modi, who remarked cynically that "every action brings a reaction" , made sure police did not interfere.

Modi is a leader of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, which is Hindu supremacist, and he could become prime minister of India if the party does well in forthcoming elections. But yesterday came this news in one of India's leading dailies:

Date:28/03/2009 URL:


"Kodnani, Patel supplied lethal weapons to mob"

Special Correspondent
Police were too lenient with senior leaders, says SIT
— Photo: PTI

Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Jaydeep Patel, accused in the 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case, arrives to surrender before the Special Investigation Team, in Gandhinagar on Friday.

GANDHINAGAR: Gujarat’s Minister of State for Women’s Welfare Mayaben Kodnani and State Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Jaideep Patel were accused of “leading and instigating” a violent mob to attack the minorities in Naroda-Patiya and Naroda Gaam localities in the aftermath of the Godhra train carnage on February 28, 2002.

More than 105 people, including about 95 in Naroda-Patiya alone, were burnt alive. Some of the women victims were allegedly physically assaulted before being thrown into burning fire and several houses ransacked and set afire by a mob. Ms. Kodnani then was a member of the Assembly from Naroda and Mr. Patel State general secretary of the VHP.

Some of the police complaints filed by the victims soon after the carnage said Ms. Kodnani, Mr. Patel and a few other sangh parivar leaders were seen among the crowd, “instigating” them to attack Muslims. Ms. Kodnani and Mr. Patel were also accused of “distributing” swords and other lethal weapons.

The police, during initial investigations, however, did not find any “evidence” against these persons and closed the investigations with “A” summary, indicating lack of evidence. A few local Hindus were arrested in this connection.

Appointment of SIT

The appointment of the SIT by the Supreme Court to reinvestigate dozen-odd comparatively gruesome massacres, including the Naroda-Patiya and Naroda Gaam incidents, reopened the case. The SIT found that the police were too lenient with senior leaders.

The Jan Sangharsha Manch, which was representing the riot victims before the G. T. Nanavati-K. G. Shah-Akshay Mehta judicial inquiry commission probing the Godhra and post-Godhra carnages, submitted to the SIT the same set of evidences it presented before the Commission to claim that Ms. Kodnani and Mr. Patel were present close to the scene of the massacres during the crucial period.

Based on the reports of two mobile service companies collected by the former crime branch police official, Rahul Sharma, Manch advocate Mukul Sinha told the SIT that the “locations” of the mobile phones owned by Ms. Kodnani and Mr. Patel clearly showed their presence near Naroda-Patiya and Naroda Gaam during the attack by the mob.

Ms Kodnani had, all along, claimed that she was in Gandhinagar, about 40 km away from the scene of the crime, that day and attending the Assembly.

Declared “absconders”

Ms. Kodnani and Mr. Patel failed to respond to the summons issued by the SIT for questioning them. After they twice failed to appear before the SIT towards January end, they were declared “absconders,” forcing them to seek anticipatory bail from the Ahmedabad Sessions Court. Bail was granted on the ground that they were unlikely to tamper with the evidences and posed no threat to the impartial investigation by the SIT.

The SIT moved the High Court last month, seeking cancellation of the anticipatory bails. Justice Vaghela rejected the grounds on which the Sessions Court granted the anticipatory bails, leaving the two with no options but to surrender before the SIT.

© Copyright 2000 - 2008 The Hindu


Friday, March 27, 2009

Summit cancelled. Now Stop Murder Minister Modi!

POGROM IN GUJARAT. Is Chief Minister Modi coming to Britain for
respectability and support?

A top-level economic conference on India that was due to be held in London in May has been cancelled, after protests over the invitation to the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, whom many people hold responsible for the anti-Muslim pogroms there in February 2002, in which as many as 2,000 people may have been killed.

Brent Trades Union Council, in north-west London, heard of the India Summit's cancellation from Arun Kundnani, a member of Awaaz-South Asia Watch, who spoke to the trades council's AGM on Wednesday evening. Arun, who was speaking for a Stop Narendra Modi coalition, said protest letters and calls to the conference organisers may have persuaded them to cancel the summit. But he warned that Modi could still be intentending to visit Britain this year.

India Summit 2009 had been organized by Dow Jones Financial News for May 19-20. Dow Jones now say it has been cancelled "for business reasons". But several organisations, secular and Muslim, had voiced concern over the invitation to Gujarat's chief minister. Munaf Zeena, of the Council of Indian Muslims, wrote to British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith saying Muslims would be grieved to see a mass murderer welcomed to Britain.

Modi has been here before. In the Summer of 2003 he addressed a huge rally in Wembley, and in 2005 he came again despite protests from British Indian Muslims who urged the Foreign Office declare him a persona non grata and refuse him a visa. This was rejected at the time, despite strong evidences of Modi’s crimes.
But the right-wing politician was refused visitor status by the US government that year, and it revoked his existing diplomatic visas under the International Religious Freedom Act.

Explaining the background to violent religious communalism in India, Arun Kundnani said the turn to neo-liberal economic policies in the 1990s had sowed competition and insecurity, in place of unity and faith io progress. This reinforced barriers of caste and religion, behind which people sought protection, and extremists took advantage. The destruction of the Babri mosque at Ayodhya by a Hindu mob had begun a series of actions and counter-actions.

The pogroms in Gujarat had not been just a spontaneous outburst. They showed co-ordination, mobs led by middle-class men with mobile phones and lists of Muslim addresses that could only have come from the authorities. Narendra Modi had made sure police did not interfere.

Arun explained that Modi, a leader of the right-wing BJP, had a background in the RSS that was formed in the 1930s, as a Hindu version of Hitler's Brownshirts. They still held military training camps for their young men. BFunds were raised from Hindu communities in Britain and other countries, many of whom probably thought they were donating to genuine charities. Now the BJP was also receiving backing from business interests in India, and some thought Modi might become a future prime minister. But he needed support from abroad, not just for funds, but "respectability".

A visit to Britain might help Modi aquire a visa for the United States, from the Obama administration, which would be used back in India to demonstrate his "acceptability". This was why he might still come here , business summit or not.

Rrent TUC had invited a speaker from the Stop Modi campaign after learning that Brent North Labour MP Brry Gardiner has been a prominent ally of the BJP minister , whom he called "the Lion of Gujarat". The Labour MP put down an Early Day Motion supporting "vibrant Gujarat". Gardiner's constituency has a large Asian community, many of them Hindus of Gujarati origin, though as a trades council delegate pointed out, many of them had come from East Africa, rather than having a direct connection with Gujarat. Britain's first state-funded Hindu school opened in Kingsbury. People turning to religious leadership might support things from a sense of identity without realising the political implications fully.

But there was concern that Barry Gardiner was opportunistically relying on divisive "community" support, rather than trades union campaigns to unite people across communities. Ealing North MP Stephen Pound appears to be another one enlisted into support for Modi. But others had lent their names to the Gardiner EDM who would surely not support what had happened in Gujarat. Brent TUC will be writing to MPs and to other trade union bodies to alert them, and support the campaign against a Modi visit.

India Summit 2009 cancelled:

Awaaz-South Asia Watch, opposing communalism, war, and reactionary religious politics:

Brent Trades Union Council:

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

My T-Shirt, and Their's; and a Judicial Document

Pregnant Palestinian woman in the <span class=


SOME years ago, at a left-wing event in London, I was introduced to an American called Werner. He was not interested in my magazines, but asked me a question about (non-existent) links with another organisation. He listened impatiently to my explanation of the difference, before asking whether so-and-so was a member of my group, which I admitted. But this other crowd had published something by said so-and -so, Werner pointed out triumphantly, as though he thought I was hiding something.

Though friends had said this veteran was interested in the Jewish Socialists' Group, somehow I got the impression he was not interested in joining, nor learning our history, nor in contributing to our magazine. I'm not paranoid, and the bunch of us were heading to the pub and not the police station, but Werner's questions struck me as more third degree than Fourth International.

What really excited Werner was my T- shirt. It was quite a nice one, I thought; no slogans nor provocative statements to read, just a tastefully artistic townscape of old Jerusalem rooftops and archways, and the one word "Palestine" in quite discreet letters underneath. This was enough to set Werner going. Why was I wearing it? Well, I'd been helping out on a London Friends of Palestine stall that morning. But why Palestine? Why was I supporting the Palestinians?

"What about the Jews of Syria?!", climaxed Werner accusingly. I had to admit that I knew very little about the Jews of Syria. I looked to see if he was about to offer me an appropriate T shirt. I pointed out to him that the Palestinians were not responsible for the regime in Syria, (indeed they had suffered at its hands, as at Tel al Zataar) , any more than the Jews in Syria were responsible for the Israeli state's actions in Palestine. Or Lebanon. Perhaps I should have suggested he address his concerns to Ariel Sharon, who unlike me, did reportedly have secret contacts with the Syrian regime, Syrian security minister Rifaat al Assad (the present Syrian leader's uncle) at any rate, before the Lebanon war and the Sabra and Chatila massacres.

I did know some Syrian Jews, in Manchester, very nice people too. I should have listened to Werner if he had anything worthwhile to tell me about Syrian Jews, or invited him to write something about any campaign he was involved in for them. But I suspect he was only engaged in what my late friend Peter Fryer used to call the "Negroes-in-the South" method of argument. In Peter's younger days in the Communist Party they were trained to sidestep any criticism of the Soviet Union, such as over the treatment of some minorities, by saying "What about the Negroes in the American South?" It did not answer the question of Soviet minorities, nor did it help Black Americans, but it saved the trouble of thinking about the problems.

In this case I had not challenged Werner with any critical remarks about Israel, or Zionism, and had no idea what his views were to begin with, but the one word "Palestine" on my T-shirt had elicited his response. And exemplified a species of logic. All Palestinians are Arabs, some Arabs have allegedly behaved badly, therefore all Palestinians are guilty, and even to mention the name of their country is objectionable.

What brought this memory back to me, of an unimportant person and a trivial episode, was reading veteran Israeli journalist and peace campaigner Uri Avnery's article this week, "A Judicial Document". As Uri remarks, it had been a tumultuous week in the affairs of Israel. Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had made it clear he was abandoning the captive Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit. Labour leader Ehud Barak had decided to join a government which includes outright fascists. The former President of Israel was indicted on rape charges. A group of Israeli soldiers who served in Gaza testified that Israeli officers gave orders to kill unarmed civilians, including children.

A good week to hide any, then (as British government officials might have said). "In this cacophony, who would pay any attention to a sentence written by lawyers in a document submitted to the Supreme Court? ", wondered Avnery.

One issue I do recall concerning Syrian Jews was the case of young Jewish women who were not permitted to leave Syria in order to marry. Perhaps the regime was concerned that Syrian Jews might be reinforcing Israel. I think this human issue was resolved eventually, at least I have not heard it raised recently. But, as Avnery reminds us, Israel has a law which says that the wife of an Israeli citizen is not allowed to join him in Israel if she is living in the occupied Palestinian territories or in a “hostile” Arab country. (Note, incidentally, that legal distinction between Israel and the occupied territories is more than you get on Israeli tourist maps or in many Western media reports.)

"The Arab citizens of Israel belong to Hamulas (clans) which extend beyond the borders of the state. Arabs generally marry within the Hamula. This is an ancient custom, deeply rooted in their culture, probably originating in the desire to keep the family property together. In the Bible, Isaac married his cousin, Rebecca.

"The 'Green Line', which was fixed arbitrarily by the events of the 1948 war, divides families. One village found itself in Israel, the next remained outside the new state, the Hamula lives in both. The Nakba also created a large Palestinian Diaspora.

"A male Arab citizen in Israel who desires to marry a woman of his Hamula will often find her in the West Bank or in a refugee camp in Lebanon or Syria. The woman will generally join her husband and be taken in by his family. In theory, her husband could join her in Ramallah, but the standard of living there is much lower, and all his life – family, work, studies – is centered in Israel. Because of the large difference in the standard of living, a man in the occupied territories who marries a woman in Israel will also usually join her and receive Israeli citizenship, leaving behind his former life.

"It is hard to know how many Palestinians, male and female, have come to Israel during the 41 years of occupation and become Israeli citizens this way. One government office speaks of twenty thousand, another of more than a hundred thousand. Whatever the number, the Knesset has enacted an (officially “temporary”) law to put an end to this movement".

The usual excuse offered for discriminatory laws and repression in Israel is "security", but as Avnery remarks, "Behind the security argument there lurks, of course, a demographic demon. The Arabs now constitute about 20% of Israel’s citizens. If the country were to be swamped by a flood of Arab brides and bridegrooms, this percentage might rise to – God forbid! – 22%. How would the “Jewish State” look then?"

The matter came before the Israeli Supreme Court. The petitioners argued that this measure contradicted the Basic Laws which guarantee the equality of all citizens. The answer of the Ministry of Justice lawyers let the cat out of the bag. It asserts, for the first time, in unequivocal language, that:

“The State of Israel is at war with the Palestinian people, people against people, collective against collective.”

"At war with the Palestinian people". No nonsense there about fighting 'extremists' or "war with Hamas", such as we heard from Israeli PR people during the Gaza slaughter, and dutifully repeated in every broadcast by the BBC and other Western media.

So every Palestinian, be they Hamas or Fatah, or Democratic Front, or no party at all, every Palestinian - man or woman, young or old, is an enemy. Whether they live in Gaza, or the West Bank, or Lebanon, or anywhere else in the world, or are citizens of Israel. "A mason in Taibeh, Israel, a farmer near Nablus in the West Bank, a policeman of the Palestinian Authority in Jenin, a Hamas fighter in Gaza, a girl in a school in the Mia Mia refugee camp near Sidon, Lebanon, a naturalized American shopkeeper in New York – “collective against collective”.

So it is not really surprising that Israeli courts discriminate when handing out sentences, that the occupiers consider themselves entitled to take land and water resources, that armed settlers are allowed to terrorise Hebron stall holders and Bedouin shepherds, or that Israeli planes drop white phosphorus on residential areas, and soldiers are ordered to kill civilians. The hasbara ('explanation') merchants may deny these things, or claim they are exceptions, the unfortunate side-effect of war. But the Israeli Supreme Court rules differently. We can forget that old jibe about liberal-minded soldiers, too, "they shoot and cry". The daily Ha'aretz reported last week on the soldiers of an army unit who had proudly ordered T-shirts showing a pregnant Arab woman with a rifle trained on her belly and the words “1 shot, 2 kills”.

I wonder what sensitive souls like Werner would have to say about those T-shirts? I know that they would be upset to hear that some Israelis unhappy at the depths their society has plumbed are calling it "nazification".
I know that the IDF is not the only army to carry out atrocities, and the Israeli government is not the only one to lie about them. I hope there are not many supposed democrats and "socialists" left who are prepared to make an exception and find excuses for Israel. The Israeli Supreme Court has spelt it out with honesty. And though I am not one of those who always leap to make odious and cliched comparisons, I can't help thinking of which other infamous regime once declared itself at war with an entire people.

It is not a pleasant thought. But it something we have to think about.

No, Israel is not there yet. It still has decent people, they are still able to demonstrate and protest against what their state is doing. But they are worried about the way their society is going. And Israelis like Uri Avnery, who spoke in London recently, are pleading with "friends of Israel" to support them, and not their government.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

They've shot an American. Does America care?

Tristan Anderson

Tristan Anderson

SIX years after American peace protestor Rachel Corrie was crushed and killed by an Israeli army bulldozer as she tried to oppose a house demolition, another young American is lying critically injured in hospital after being hit in the face by a tear gas canister. Four Palestinians were hit with rubber-coated bullets in same attack which took place in the West Bank village of Ni’lin, west of Ramallah, on Friday.

The wounded American, Tristan Anderson, from Oakland, California, had joined Palestinians protesting the Israeli separation wall, which cuts villagers off from their own land in this area. Like Rachel Corrie he was a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement.

“He had a large hole in the front of his head, and his brain was visible,” one protester said. Demonstrators had marched through the streets of Ni’lin toward the separation wall chanting slogans calling for Palestinian national unity and for resistance to the occupation. Then “the Israeli soldiers attacked the peaceful demonstration using rubber-coated bullets gas and stun grenades.”

The coordinator of the Popular Committee in the village, A’hed Al- Khawaja, added, “Four were injured [and] others choked after inhaling gas.” According to Teah Lunqvist, a Swedish protestor, "Tristan was shot by the new tear-gas canisters that can be shot up to 500 meters."

“I ran over as I saw someone had been shot, while the Israeli forces continued to fire tear-gas at us. When an ambulance came, the Israeli soldiers refused to allow the ambulance through the checkpoint just outside the village. After five minutes of arguing with the soldiers, the ambulance passed," she said.

According to David Jacobus, a fellow-American, the demonstration was over and Tristan was back in the village when the soldiers attacked. David says the type of canisters used are more dangerous now, being fired from an M16 rather than just thrown. In this case the canister was fired at close range. At the hospital where he accompanied Tristan surgeons said they were extracting bone fragments from the young man's upper forehead.

Residents in the village of Ni'lin, like those at nearby Bil'in, have been demonstrating against the construction of the Apartheid Wall, deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004. Ni'lin will lose approximately 2500 dunums of agricultural land when the construction of the Wall is completed. Ni'lin was 57,000 dunums in 1948, reduced to 33,000 dunums in 1967, currently is 10,000 dunums and will be 7,500 dunums after the construction of the Wall.

Four Ni’lin residents have been killed during demonstrations against the confiscation of their land.
Ahmed Mousa (10) was shot in the forehead with live ammunition on 29th July 2008. The following day, Yousef Amira (17) was shot twice with rubber-coated steel bullets, leaving him brain dead. He died a week later on 4 August 2008. Arafat Rateb Khawaje (22), was the third Ni’lin resident to be killed by Israeli forces. He was shot in the back with live ammunition on 28 December 2008. That same day, Mohammed Khawaje (20), was shot in the head with live ammunition, leaving him brain dead. He died three days in a Ramallah hospital.

The Israeli army began using to use a high velocity tear gas canister in December 2008. The black canister, labelled in Hebrew as "40mm bullet special/long range," can shoot over 400 meters. The gas canister does not make a noise when fired or emit a smoke tail. A combination of the canister's high velocity and silence is extremely dangerous and has caused numerous injuries, including a Palestinian male whose leg was broken in January 2009.

When the international and Israeli volunteers started joining peaceful demonstrations at places like Nilin the idea may have been that Israeli forces would be more restrained by their presence. The shooting of Israeli anarchist Matan Cohen at Bil'in, like the deaths of Rachel Corrie and British photographer Tom Hurndall (shot in the head by an army sniper) might have put this hope in doubt. But at least if there were international volunteers in the firing line the world media might take notice, so people might have thought. Unfortunately even when Nobel prizewinner Mairead Corrigan-Maguire was hit by rubber bullets and affected by tear gas at Bil'in, the British and Irish press which once gave her front-page coverage seem to have decided she was no longer of interest.

Will Tristan Anderson find himself similarly ignored?

An Israeli friend was saying at the weekend that he feared the soldiers were becoming trigger-happy. That may be a reflection of the worsening state of Israeli politics. But it could also be related to the army feeling confident that the Western media will stay out of the way.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Saying NO to Obama's "Soft War" on Iran

US President Barack Obama may have promised "change", but it is 'business as usual' - that's to say, no business, except maybe funny business with or rather,against Iran. The president announced Thursday that he had extended one of the many levels of sanctions imposed in 1995 over claims that the Iranian government an dealt in "terrorism" and sought to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

The sanctions, prohibiting US companies aiding the development of the Iranian oil industry and halting trade, export/import and investment ties with Iran, were imposed by the Clinton administration and have been extended on an annual basis by successive presidents.

They would have expired without Obama's formal action to extend them.

"The actions and policies of the Government of Iran are contrary to the interests of the United States in the region and pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat" to US national security and the US economy, Obama said in a message to Congress.

The sanctions are one portion of the large range of punitive US, United Nations and international measures imposed against Iran, a country which whatever we think of its oppressive Islamic regime, has invaded nobody, and subscribes to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. By contrast, Israel, which has nuclear weapons, developed with Western help, does not subscribe to the treaty, has repeatedly ignored UN resolutions, continues to occupy and settle territory seized by force, and has bombed and invaded Lebanon and Gaza. It does not face sanctions, but enjoys European Union trade privileges and remains the biggest single recipient of US aid.

So much for the United States as honest peace broker, and for the fairness of its sanctions policy. We may add that Israel's incoming prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu leads a party which is pledged to oppose any Palestinian state west of the Jordan. How does this fit in with America's official commitment to a "two state solution"? What is going to give? Netanyahu is needless to say in favour of US sanctions of course. He claims that Iran "is Germany in 1938" and about to embark on "a second Holocaust, against the Jewish state". We won't rake up Likud's past history. Nor should we deny that Iran's Ahmadinejad has behaved disgracefully in hosting neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers and revisionists (most of whom seem to hail from the United States!) But Iran still has the second biggest Jewish community in the Middle East, and far from desperately seeking refuge as Jews were from Germany seventy years ago, Iranian Jews have so far seen no reason to leap at Israel's offers to "rescue" them.

Ahmadinejad and his regime deserve a kick in the backside, and if the strikes and student demonstrations in Iran are anything to go by, the Iranian people may yet deliver it. But imperialist sanctions are hitting them, not helping them. As Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) says, sanctions are a form of "soft war", not peaceful change, and they hit ordinary people,not the rich and powerful. HOPI is launching a campaign against the sanctions.

Labour MP John McDonnell says: "This campaign is not to aid the regime but to aid the people. The bureaucrats and political elites in Iran easily get around sanctions to do their business. It is the working class and ordinary Iranians who are suffering, and it is vital not to let them ‘suffer in silence’."

HOPI says "it is the working people, the poor and unemployed who suffer" from the sanctions, which far from hitting the elite, "they increase the power of the reactionary regime. The sanctions - and the ongoing threat of a military attack - have actually helped the theocratic regime whip the people into line. Iranian president Ahmadinejad is made stronger by the imperialists' threats. Now anybody criticising the regime is labelled a pro-imperialist stooge. Many anti-capitalist militants and trade unionists have been arrested on spurious charges of being agents of either the CIA or Israel.

"Sanctions are restricting our access to information resources, educational opportunities, job offers and scientific institutions", says Mahsa, an Iranian student living in Europe. " Postal services and banks have imposed restrictions on Iranians. Banks such as HSBC do not accept any fund coming from an Iranian, even if the person resides in another country. Also, we have great difficulties getting travel visas."

It is not as though we have not seen what harm sanctions can do. In Iraq, it is estimated up to a million people may have died because of the UN-imposed sanctions. Poor people and their children were denied food and medicines, hospitals could not get equipment, while Saddam Hussein's officers could import what they liked and enrich themselves from the black market. As if Saddam Hussein's repression had not done enough damage to Iraq's labour movement, sanctions hit industry and working people, not only softening up the country for invasion, but contributing to the conditions after it, with reactionary warlords dominant, while workers and professionals, desperate for food and shelter, have been terrorised hy sectarian gangs, a cover for US-backed death squads. Ironically, the south of Iraq is now a field of influence for Iran's Islamicist regime.

All this may suit US interests, and open the door for Western oil companies, but it is a travesty to call it "democracy in Iraq".Iranians fighting for their rights and progress sympathise with the Iraqi people and what they have been through. That's not how they wish to be "liberated".

We might as well also consider the danger that if the US or its allies try to enforce sanctions with a blockade, "soft war" can easily provide the start of the real thing.

HOPI is holding a public press conference in the House of Commons next week to launch its anti-sanctions campaign, and ahead of it has published this. Note how denial of internet services doesn't hurt the regime but hits its opponents :

How the sanctions affect the people of Iran

  • Hospitals are reporting a shortage of diagnostic kits and surgical equipment as a direct result of sanctions blocking import of "dual-use" equipment.
  • After pressure from the US government, Yahoo and Microsoft removed Iran from the list of countries they served in 2007. Paltalk does not allow free access to its public rooms from Iran. While state officials and the security service have unlimited access to the internet via government servers, students, workers and political activists have to find potentially hazardous ways round the ban.
  • The proposed new sanctions against the import of refined fuel are especially worrying, given the country's inability to produce refined oil. Iran imports $350 million worth of refined fuel per month. Since 2008, Royal Dutch Shell, Spain's Repsol and a Japanese oil company have pulled out of planned projects in Iran, after coming under pressure from the US. This has swelled the already colossal numbers of the unemployed.

March 16 2009: National launch of HOPI's 'Smash the Sanctions' campaign

With John McDonnell MP, Jenny Jones (Green Party London Assembly Member) and Yassamine Mather (Iranian exile, chair Hopi). House of Commons, committee room 6, Monday March 16, 6pm, all welcome.

For more information and background visit:


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A result worth remarking

JERRY HICKS, with megaphone, during an earlier campaign.

FROM some of the talk around the anniversary of the miners' strike, you might have thought militant trade unionism in Britain was a thing of the past. Just as the miners were clobbered by Thatcher's police, and their communities torn through by her policies, so trade union strength has taken some blows over the decades from the loss of of jobs and industries, outsourcing, casualisation, and laws weighed in favour of the most ruthless anti-unon employers.

Then just as the bosses' hacks (including some within our movement) might have looked forward to celebrating victory over us dinosaurs, there came the wave of "wildcat strikes" (a phrase I had not heard since I was a teenage Trot and Trafford Park was covered by massive engineering factories), starting at Lindsey oil refinery. Followed by the report (not exactly "news" to many of us) that well-known firms have been subscribing to an information service that helps them blacklist active trades unionists. They would not throw their money away if they did not think they had anything to worry about. And to an extent it works, particularly in times of unemployment, so that for fear of getting "a name" workers on sites may even think twice about raising concern about safety issues.
But then people do turn, when they have had enough. And one sign of that has come, not in a strike, but in an election, in the Amicus wing of Unite, the union, whose membership includes some of those striking constructional engineers but also ranges across manufacturing industry, and takes in white coated technicians in hospitals and labs, and white-collared workers in the crisis-hit finance and insurance industry.

No, Amicus members have not voted for another Arthur Scargill (as if there is one) to lead them. They have re-elected Derek Simpson as general secretary. When he first came in he was regarded as a left (these things are relative, he ousted right-wing electricians' leader Ken Jackson). More recently he was criticised as too ready to co-operate with the Labour government and employers, and too willing to remain in his post without being re-elected, while the union completes its merger with the Transport and General Workers wing of Unite. When it came to the elections, though, many of the Amicus "left" rallied back to Simpson's side, and a full-time officer who had been put forward as a left-wing candidate stood down and advised supporters to back Derek Simpson and counter a right-wing threat.
Jerry Hicks, whose successful legal challenge to Simpson had brought the election, was criticised by some people for causing this "diversion" of resources, and for a time his left-wing candidature was not mentioned by some left-wing papers. So now let us look at the result. The votes cast were::
D Simpson: 60,048
Jerry Hicks: 39,307
K Coyne: 30,603
P Reuter: 28,283

So even if we accepted the claim by some "broad left" supporters that Derek Simpson was worthy of left-wing support, and that former Rolls Royce convenor Jerry Hicks was being "irresponsible" and splitting the left-wing vote, we see that far from letting the right-wing in, Hicks took almost 40,000 votes, came second and pushed the right-winger Kevin Coyne, a full-time official, into third place.
Thanking his supporters and voters for what was, he says, "a remarkable result", Jerry Hicks acknowledges that "the turnout was low at 15 percent, reflecting as we always said the, disconnect and yawning gap between the union and our members, but the result was extraordinary. It wasn’t so much a battle of ideas as a battle between no ideas, and our idea of what the union needed to do".

Jerry Hicks began his campaign with few resources, other than the respect of those who knew his record as a socialist and trade unionist, and knew that it was down to his effort that they were getting a vote. In contrast, a letter was sent to every individual union member at a cost of £250,000, proclaiming the successes of Derek Simpson, The Spring issue of the union magazine came out in February, and members received with their ballot paper a document accusing Jerry Hicks of lying in his election address.

As for the Left press as Jerry Hicks notes, the Morning Star urged its readers in Amicus to vote for Derek Simpson, and tried to scare people that if they voted for Jerry Hicks they would get Kevin Coyne. The results are an answer to that. Socialist Worker, as I noted in a previous posting, initially ignored Hicks (a former Socialist Workers Party member), and urged support for full-time officer Lawrence Faircloth, as "the left-wing candidate", until Faircloth threw in the towel and urged support for Simpson.. The SWP did then decide to support Jerry Hicks, though he doubts whether they added much to his campaign.

He cites three more important background features, calling them 'the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly', as playing a part in Amicus affairs..

"First there was ‘the Good’ which was the eruption a few weeks ago of the rumbling volcano of anger in the construction industry, with the unofficial strikes at the Lindsey oil refinery; a very clear example of the frustration within the membership that I was raising at every meeting I attended. As the construction workers ratcheted up their demands for action, the inadequacy of the union leaders became even more obvious. The Lindsey strike was unofficial – because after three terms of a Labour government the Tory anti-union laws are still in place: but within five days, the members achieved more than they had in five months of delaying tactics from national leaders.

"Then there was ‘the Bad’ where I attended a meeting of union members at the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters in Aldgate in London. On the agenda was a newsletter for members and the election for General Secretary. This was on the very day the RBS bosses were being put through the wringer in Parliament. The members newsletter headline was “Why should we pay for their mistakes?” – but the union officials would not let them put it out because it might compromise negotiations. So our members never received it and had to read about what was happening to them in the mass media rather than hear from their own union.

"And then ‘the Ugly’ where at Cowley’s BMW plant, the management sacked four shifts, 850 temporary staff – at an hour’s notice, with no redundancy pay. When the management left the building after making the announcement, furious members pelted the union reps with tomatoes, seeing the union as part of the problem instead of the solution.

"How could it get to this? How is it that after three terms of a Labour government, workers some who had worked for BMW for 4 years can still be treated like that? Now more than ever before, we don’t just need a “campaigning union” we need a fighting union, one that instills a confidence in members to resist employers’ attacks. Ours was absolutely a left campaign calling for people before profit, public ownership not privatisation, and a green campaign.

"Discussing with our members why it’s wrong for Unite to support more nuclear power stations simply in the name of some jobs when green energies, Sea, Solar and Wind could produce ten, twenty, thirty times as many jobs without leaving a thousand years of toxic waste! Debating with construction workers that Unite had been wrong to declare support for a third runway at Heathrow – and that investment in public rail transport would create even more jobs with less cost to our environment.

"As the campaign progressed so did its support and optimism. By the end we had a real coalition of individuals, branches, committees and almost every left group. The stuff that dreams are made of we were living in reality.
I travelled over 4,000 miles to attend meetings, take part in demonstrations and to give out leaflets at workplaces. All this along with every other cost was funded by generous donations from a few committees and so many individuals.

"Everyone who was a part of this campaign got something positive from it. You yourselves will know the people you met or contacted, the places that you leafleted. Me - You – Us – We were all so close to making history. It has given us a glimpse of what is possible".

Reading Jerry Hicks' post-election blog I am reminded of the inspiring talk I heard the other week from Trevor Ngwane, a former Soweto councillor and leader of South Africa's anti-privatisation campaign, now speaking for the Socialist Green Coalition which is standing up for the masses of poor people in Africa's richest country. Trevor spoke about day-to-day campaigning, which can range from supporting workers' strikes and defending Zimbabwean refugees and Mozambique migrants, to reconnecting electricity for poor people who can't pay their bills. But he managed to place this in a wider vision, that of striving for a society without exploitation and competition, and reminded us that we could not build socialism if we did not save the planet, just as we cannot save the planet without socialism. * To help answer questions about the trade unions in this struggle, comrade Ngwane was joined by a comrade from Durban who first came to Britain to raise support for his fellow-workers, members of NUMSA, a union similar to Amicus, battling in the days of the Apartheid regime.

The working class is finding its answer to global capitalism, and crisis, and it is an old answer, renewing itself with fresh forces and new forms. Workers of the World Unite - You have nothing to lose but your chains. And you have a world to win!

See "You Have to be Green to be Red, You have to be Red to be Green", report by Norman Traub and Terry Conway for Socialist Resistance.

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Good News from Gaza

IT'S not often we get good news to comment upon in this column, and we have had to wait anguishedly for some from Gaza. But here it is. Yesterday was Milad al-Nabi, for Muslims, that is the birthday of the Prophet. The good news was that the Viva Palestina convoy which began in Britain, and gained enthusiastic popular support along its way through Spain and the Maghreb, only to run into bureaucratic obstruction when it reached Egypt's Rafeah crossing, had finally got through.

A participant reports: "The convoy drove slowly along the Salah Eddine road leading to Gaza City. Along the way, thousands of Palestinians approached every vehicle kissing, touching, hugging the volunteers who had come from afar. in. "They handed their babies, their young children, to the convoy members so that they could be embraced, as if the angels were in town. Drenched in flowers, tears were flowing on both sides.

"Further up the road, people were coming out of their tents and the ruins of their destroyed homes running towards us rubbing their eyes in disbelief that the siege has been broken and they were not alone. In Gaza City, it was jubilations and celebrations tonight where the guests of honour did not want to be considered as guests - but as part of the ever-growing Gaza family. The Gaza authorities have organised a rally in honour of Viva Palestina and a program of activities that includes a tour of the damaged areas including schools, hospitals and other amenities".

The Egyptian authorities had persisted with their interference. After a morning of negotiations they agreed to allow all convoy members through, but Viva Palestina had to agree that some vehicles would have to cross the border from the Al Ouja Israeli controlled crossing point. This included the fire engine sent by British firefightrers, and the boat, due to the restrictions imposed by Egyptian law governing the Rafah Crossing.

"British MP George Galloway made an emotional speech thanking the people of Gaza for the wonderful reception and assuring them that for Viva Palestina and in our millions, 'WE ARE ALL PALESTINIANS' George also reiterated that the people of Palestine have voted and that their voice should be respected".
The media in Britain has either ignored this aid convoy, reported that some young men intending to join it were arrested under "terror laws" (released without charges later), or tried to belittle it as a Galloway stunt. In fact the convoy had wide support. George Galloway, whatever our differences, deserves credit for heading it, and has also made a point. Viva Palestina has brought aid to the people of Gaza, people to people, without telling them whom they should choose to speak for them, or how they should run their affairs, but with the message of real human solidarity, that they are not alone.

Compare this with the conference at Sharm el Shaikh where important world leaders like Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair and Sarkozy met to pontificate and promised $4.4 billion in aid to the Palestinians for reconstruction. Provided, that is, that the donors approved the channels, and that the Israelis would allow building materials through their border crossings. (The Israeli navy also controls the sea approach, and this pracy too has not been questioned, let alone challenged by Western powers).

As veteran Israeli journalist and peace campaigner Uri Avnery commented,
"It was a celebration of sanctimonious hypocrisy, in the very best tradition of international diplomacy. First of all, nobody from Gaza was there. As in the heyday of European imperialism, 150 years ago, the fate of the Natives was decided without the Natives themselves being present. Who needs them? After all, they are Primitives. Better without them. Not only Hamas was absent. A delegation of Gaza businessmen and civil society activists could not come either. Mubarak just did not allow them to pass the Rafah crossing. The gate of the prison called Gaza was barred by the Egyptian jailers.

"The absence of delegates from Gaza, and especially from Hamas, turned the conference into a farce. Hamas rules Gaza. It won the elections there, as in all the Palestinian territories, and continues to govern it even after one of the mightiest armies in the world spent 22 days trying to dislodge it. Nothing will happen in the Gaza Strip without the consent of Hamas. The world-wide decision to rebuild Gaza without the participation of Hamas is sheer foolishness".

Looked at less kindly, it makes the international donors' conference like a continuation of the war. First the IDF y bombs you, then the other states dangle the carrot of aid for reconstruction, and then if they are not satisfied with your submission, the Israelis can decide to bomb you again.

Some newspapers dutifully reported that Israel had insisted the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit be part of any peace talks. The truth is Israeli governments could have sought his release any time, and in fact Olmert sanctioned unofficial negotiations with Hamas, on which he was kept informed, before his government launched the onslaught on Gaza, with as little regard for Shalit's life as for that of so many Palestinians. Gershon Baskin, who engaged in the talks, has revealed what went on behind the scenes.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her fellow leaders were most anxious about not talking with Hamas, or even allowing it a part in Gaza reconstruction. Evidently, their idea of a "two state solution" is one where the Palestinian "state" is fenced off enclaves whose leaders have to be approved by America and Israel. But even so, they might direct some of their anxiety at Israel, whose incoming premier Binyamin Netanyahu heads a party that explicitly rejects any Palestinian state west of the Jordan, and whose coalition partners are outspoken advocates of 'ethnic cleansing'.

The Viva Palestina convoy is a powerful message of real solidarity. The struggle to bring our governments up to the same standard, by exposing their hypocrisy, continues. Tomorrow there's an emergency lobby of parliament in Westminster. MPs will be asked to take their stand with the people of Palestine, and for peace with justice, in line with the growing feeling of the people of Britain.


Friday, March 06, 2009

Women's struggle, Workers' struggle, Worldwide struggle
to pit closures in Britain was fight for whole communities. Women did not just support their menfolk in strike but came to the fore, as in camp at Parkside colliery, near Newton Le Willows, Lancashire.
GRUNWICK strike (left) involved mainly Asian women, drew support from other trades unionists.
WOMEN in IRAN (below, on May Day march) are fighting for their rights both as workers and as women.

March 8 is International Women's Day, and though the importance attached to it varies, it has a special significance in linking the struggles of women for their own rights and as part of the working class. It was as far back as March 8, 1857 that women garment workers in New York came out on strike, along with male colleagues. Their demonstration for better pay and conditions was attacked by police but they persevcred and formed a union. So arguably the Women's Day is older than May Day as a labour day(also inspired by an American struggle, in Chicago), though it took longer to gain recognition.

On March 8, 1908, some 15,000 took part in a women garment workers' strike in New York, and then at the Socialist International's congress two years later in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin proposed that an international women's day be adopted. Its celebration in 1917 in St.Petersburg, by women demanding "Bread and Peace", was the start of the Russian Revolution. After the October Revolution, Alexandra Kollontai persuaded Lenin that Women's Day should be an official holiday, but it was not until 1965 that the Soviet Union adopted it as a holiday.

International Women's Day this year comes amid some important anniversaries. Yesterday marked 25 years since miners at Cortonwood colliery in Yorkshire walked out fearing their pit was marked for closure, and began a national strike that became one of the longest and bitterest struggles in British workers' history. The miners' strike saw Margaret Thatcher's government unleashing brutal, well-equipped riot police against the miners, and secret state and media orchestrated 'dirty tricks' against their leaders. The women of the mining communities, moved on from taking responsibility for food and welfare, to a political campaign which continued after the strike, to resist the pit closure programme and destruction of their communities, and alert the rest of the country to what was happening.

Had the official labour movement given them the backing they deserved we might not be facing some of the problems we have today, with a badly weakened trade union movement and a 'New Labour' government that has continued Thatcher's policies at home and abroad, and now presides over yet another capitalist crisis. But hopefully, as we remember and honour those who fought before, we can summon up the energies and awareness that we need to fight in today's crisis.

Last month saw the thirtieth anniversary of an even bigger upheaval, when the Iranian people, particularly workers like those in the vital oil industry, brought down the Shah's regime, and confounded Western intelligence services, in February 1979; but then lacking political leadership, had the revolution snatched from their hands, and a new type of oppression installed, cloaking capitalist exploitation in religious garb.

Even so, on March 8, 1979, the women who were not prepared to wait patiently until things changed for the better, or the clergy was enlightened, came out against Ayatollah Khomeini's proposal to make Islamic Hijab compulsory. Some on the left, in Iran and abroad, thought the women should have relegated their demands and aspirations to the back, for the supposed good of the 'revolution'. But as a result of the women's protests, Khomeini backed off, and announced "Hijab is not mandatory".

Only later, when the regime had consolidated its power and forces of repression, did it enforce hijab. The position of Iranian women has undergone change and contradictions.Capitalism needed them to work in industry and education, particularly when the war with Iraq strained manpower, but they have been the first laid off and worst affected by cuts and privatisation. With neo-liberal economics have gone the most illiberal restrictions and enforcement of strict Islamic dress code, punishment of young girls for the slightest supposed infringement, and in the more backward country areas at least, reports of stonings and honour killings.

International Women's Day was commemorated by some left-wing women in Iran as far back as 1915, in Resht. But on March 4, 2007, police beat hundreds of men and women who were planning a women's day rally. Police arrested dozens of women and some were released after several days of solitary confinement and interrogation. Two activists were held for over a fortnight and only released after staging a hunger strike.

A new generation has come out fighting from the schools and universities, and the aspirations and taste of freedom in 1979 are not forgotten. Aware of what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iranian women cannot entrust their liberation to imperialist intervention., and must turn to the socialist and workers movement. This movement has learned from experience that at best it fights with one arm tied behind its back unless it brings to the fore the youth and women, their needs and hopes. The same is true of any people resisting imperialism.

As International Women's Day approaches, let us remember that it is international. We have all seen the kind of bourgeois opportunist whose "feminism" only serves to advance her own position in an exploiting society. But no labour, peace or women's movement here can claim to be for equality if it neglects solidarity with sisters and brothers overseas, or expects them to put up with anything less than the rights we would demand for ourselves.

Women and the Iranian Revolution, article by Azar Sheibani

Article by Yassamine Mather on Iranian women' struggle:

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Student deported to Afghanistan

CANADA'S Tory prime minister Stephen Harper, who has visited Afghanistan and keeps touch with his country's troops there says they cannot defeat Taliban by military means, and he is seeking answers from President Obama. British military commanders have voiced similar concerns. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises that no part of Afghanistan is safe.

But the British Home Office has just deported a 16-year old lad to Afghanistan. He was not a criminal, or terrorist, not even a "terror suspect". His rights and safety might have been better treated if he was.

On Tuesday, February 3, Satnam Singh Gurwara (Home Office Ref: G1154308), aged 16, was arrested when he and his dad went to sign at Dallas Court in Salford, as required. He was locked up in the Pennine House Detention Centre at Terminal Two of Manchester Airport. He was then transferred to Campsfield Detention Centre in Oxfordshire, over 150 miles away from his family and friends. He was separated from his mum, Peretpal (39) and dad, Rewandar (46) and his sisters Jasmeen(17) and Simran(12).

The family live in Bolton, Greater Manchester. Satnam had been a student at Bolton Community College. As the name Singh tells us, Satnam and his family are Sikhs, part of a religious minority that suffered in Afghanistan during years of war and religious fanaticism, and did not enjoy security after the country's "liberation" by the US. and its warlord allies. On November 18, 2004, when he was 12, Satnam was snatched on his way to a Sikh temple in Kabul. He says his kidnappers, Taliban, held him for two days, and beat him. He needed 39 stitches in his leg when he was released.

Satnam's family continued to face threats. They decided to sell everything they owned and flee the country in April 2007. Thousands of Sikhs have done the same thing, over the years, some moving into Pakistan, itself not exactly a safe place, or reaching India, or as in the case of Satnam and his family, coming to Britain. In recent years some Sikhs have returned to take their chances in the "democratic" Afghanistan, and rebuild a community life, though the country remains neither tolerant nor secure.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in its advice to travellers says:

  • Afghanistan has a high threat of terrorism and specific methods of attack are evolving and increasing in sophistication.
  • No part of Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence and the potential exists throughout the country for hostile acts. Visitors travelling to Afghanistan do so at their own risk and without protection from HMG.
  • You should maintain a heightened level of vigilance at all time, observing the strictest of security measures and avoid any unnecessary travel. Travellers should also consider making their own security arrangements for the duration of their time in Afghanistan.

  • We strongly advise against all but essential travel to Kabul and the surrounding urban area, because of ongoing terrorist activity and the high risk of kidnap, violent crime and suicide attacks. The main supply routes and principle roads have a particular heightened threat of road side bombs and ambush.

The FCO says that Taliban still engages in kidnappings. It also warns against offending religious susceptibilities, reminding would-be visitors that Afghanistan is a Muslim country - which is a mild way of admitting that the "democratic" regime remains Islamicist in its attitude and laws. Despite this, the Home Office has deported a young man who belongs to a minority, and has experienced ill-treatment at the hands of kidnappers before.

After a week in detention, Satnam was released on bail, but he was arrested again and yesterday, March 3 he was put on the plane for Afghanistan. Fortunately, the Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research Organisation (RAPAR), which had said it was "outraged" by the young man's detention and called for his release, was able to contact friends in Afghanistan so that Satnam would be met at the Kabul airport when he arrived.

Satnam's father Rawander, and mother Peretpal, and sisters Jasmeen, 17, and Simran, 12 - were understandably said to be 'extremely distressed' by the whole affair. And it is not over. The Home Office, which queried Satnam's age and the extent of his leg injuries, says the rest of the family will have to make their own claims for asylum on a case by case basis.

BA Home Office spokesman said: "We do not accept that we should make the provision that each and every asylum seeker that presents themselves as being from a particular country or a particular region should automatically be given UK protection.

"Such an approach would lead to abuse and would cause a pool of other applicants. Therefore, applications are considered on their individual basis.

"Only those who will face fear, persecution or crisis at home will be granted asylum and we will enforce the return of those individuals that the courts are satisfied are not at risk of persecution when they return to Afghanistan."

It might strike us that one department of the British government - the Home Office - does not know - or does not want to know - what another - the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is saying. Or maybe it prefers the propaganda being fed us via the media suggesting that everything in Afghanistan is going fine, apart from the odd casualty or danger to royals.

Back in the 1980s when officialdom was rejecting asylum claims by Iraqi Kurds, it insisted there was no evidence Saddam Hussein had used gas at Halabja - a fact only admitted later when it suited the case for war. Dismissing the marks on a student's leg is no problem for these experts.

Indeed, the British government is quite capable of deciding that people from particular countries or regions should face barriers and discrimination, and as in this case, deportation even into war zones, without any court hearing.

If you would like any more information about this case please contact:
Ben Hickman

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