Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pirates seize Freedom boat, but perhaps it isn't 'news'?

THAT Mairead Corrigan Maguire is in the news again. At least, she ought to be.
The Irish Nobel peace prize winner who once used to be front-page news as one of the Northern Ireland peace women has been shot with an Israeli rubber bullet in the Palestinian West Bank village of Bil'in, and yesterday she was on a boat seized on the high seas by the Israeli navy.

But this has not made the TV news in Britain tonight, and I don't know whether it will make the broadsheets. the shooting didn't either. Not even, so far as I could see, the Irish papers. So without more ado, let's get on to the story, which reached us today.

30 June 2009


For more information contact:
Greta Berlin (English)
tel: +357 99 081 767 / friends@freegaza.org

Caoimhe Butterly (Arabic/English/Spanish):
tel: +357 99 077 820 / sahara78@hotmail.co.uk

[23 miles off the coast of Gaza, 15:30pm] - Today Israeli Occupation Forces attacked and boarded the Free Gaza Movement boat, the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY, abducting 21 human rights workers from 11 countries, including Noble laureate Mairead Maguire and former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (see below for a complete list of passengers). The passengers and crew are being forcibly dragged toward Israel.

“This is an outrageous violation of international law against us. Our boat was not in Israeli waters, and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip,” said Cynthia McKinney, a former U.S. Congresswoman and presidential candidate. “President Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, and that’s exactly what we tried to do. We're asking the international community to demand our release so we can resume our journey.”

According to an International Committee of the Red Cross report released yesterday, the Palestinians living in Gaza are “trapped in despair.” Thousands of Gazans whose homes were destroyed earlier during Israel’s December/January massacre are still without shelter despite pledges of almost $4.5 billion in aid, because Israel refuses to allow cement and other building material into the Gaza Strip. The report also notes that hospitals are struggling to meet the needs of their patients due to Israel’s disruption of medical supplies.

“The aid we were carrying is a symbol of hope for the people of Gaza, hope that the sea route would open for them, and they would be able to transport their own materials to begin to reconstruct the schools, hospitals and thousands of homes destroyed during the onslaught of "Cast Lead”. Our mission is a gesture to the people of Gaza that we stand by them and that they are not alone" said fellow passenger Mairead Maguire, winner of a Noble Peace Prize for her work in Northern Ireland.

Just before being kidnapped by Israel, Huwaida Arraf, Free Gaza Movement chairperson and delegation co-coordinator on this voyage, stated that: “No one could possibly believe that our small boat constitutes any sort of threat to Israel. We carry medical and reconstruction supplies, and children’s toys. Our passengers include a Nobel peace prize laureate and a former U.S. congressperson. Our boat was searched and received a security clearance by Cypriot Port Authorities before we departed, and at no time did we ever approach Israeli waters.”

Arraf continued, “Israel’s deliberate and premeditated attack on our unarmed boat is a clear violation of international law and we demand our immediate and unconditional release.”


CONTACT the Israeli Ministry of Justice
tel: +972 2646 6666 or +972 2646 6340
fax: +972 2646 6357

CONTACT the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
tel: +972 2530 3111
fax: +972 2530 3367

CONTACT Mark Regev in the Prime Minister's office at:
tel: +972 5 0620 3264 or +972 2670 5354

CONTACT the International Committee of the Red Cross to ask for their assistance in establishing the wellbeing of the kidnapped human rights workers and help in securing their immediate release!

Red Cross Israel
tel: +972 3524 5286
fax: +972 3527 0370

Red Cross Switzerland:
tel: +41 22 730 3443
fax: +41 22 734 8280

Red Cross USA:
tel: +1 212 599 6021
fax: +1 212 599 6009

Kidnapped Passengers from the Spirit of Humanity include:

Khalad Abdelkader, Bahrain
Khalad is an engineer representing the Islamic Charitable Association of Bahrain.

Othman Abufalah, Jordan
Othman is a world-renowned journalist with al-Jazeera TV.

Khaled Al-Shenoo, Bahrain
Khaled is a lecturer with the University of Bahrain.

Mansour Al-Abi, Yemen
Mansour is a cameraman with Al-Jazeera TV.

Fatima Al-Attawi, Bahrain
Fatima is a relief worker and community activist from Bahrain.

Juhaina Alqaed, Bahrain
Juhaina is a journalist & human rights activist.

Huwaida Arraf, US
Huwaida is the Chair of the Free Gaza Movement and delegation co-coordinator for this voyage.

Ishmahil Blagrove, UK
Ishmahil is a Jamaican-born journalist, documentary film maker and founder of the Rice & Peas film production company. His documentaries focus on international struggles for social justice.

Kaltham Ghloom, Bahrain
Kaltham is a community activist.

Derek Graham, Ireland
Derek Graham is an electrician, Free Gaza organizer, and first mate aboard the Spirit of Humanity.

Alex Harrison, UK
Alex is a solidarity worker from Britain. She is traveling to Gaza to do long-term human rights monitoring.

Denis Healey, UK
Denis is Captain of the Spirit of Humanity. This will be his fifth voyage to Gaza.

Fathi Jaouadi, UK
Fathi is a British journalist, Free Gaza organizer, and delegation co-coordinator for this voyage.

Mairead Maguire, Ireland
Mairead is a Nobel laureate and renowned peace activist.

Lubna Masarwa, Palestine/Israel
Lubna is a Palestinian human rights activist and Free Gaza organizer.

Theresa McDermott, Scotland
Theresa is a solidarity worker from Scotland. She is traveling to Gaza to do long-term human rights monitoring.

Cynthia McKinney, US
Cynthia McKinney is an outspoken advocate for human rights and social justice issues, as well as a former U.S. congressperson and presidential candidate.

Adnan Mormesh, UK
Adnan is a solidarity worker from Britain. He is traveling to Gaza to do long-term human rights monitoring.

Adam Qvist, Denmark
Adam is a solidarity worker from Denmark. He is traveling to Gaza to do human rights monitoring.

Adam Shapiro, US
Adam is an American documentary film maker and human rights activist.

Kathy Sheetz, US
Kathy is a nurse and film maker, traveling to Gaza to do human rights monitoring.

You can also visit the Free Gaza movement's website:

I'm glad to say the Morning Star has taken up the story:

Outside the GPO on O'Connell street, starting at 5pm
Demanding that Israel release the boat and its cargo and passengers unharmed, and let them continue to Gaza.

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Discord in Unison

GORDON Brown and David Cameron are sparring over who will cut spending on public services, though both know the billions thrown at the banks will have to be recouped from the public, and there are bound to be job losses. Both are championing privatisation, even though the public is having to subsidise it. Union leaders have seemed oblivious to the widespread working-class disillusionment with Labour, and indeed, with parliament.

So some of my friends were excited recently when Dave Prentis, general secretary of the public service union Unison, said public sector workers support for the Labour Party had collapsed, and members were tired of Labour biting the hand that feeds it. Unison, with members working in local government and health services, is the Labour Party's second-biggest donor.

Addressing delegates at the union's annual conference in Brighton, Prentis warned that union money would not back MPs who voted for privatisation, and suggested that the union’s £1 million campaign fund to support the party at the next general election was also under threat unless it changed direction on policy. He warned there would be no more blank cheques, as Labour in office “had let the billionaires, the bankers and the private profiteers call the shots”.

That's good stuff, though threatening to withhold the union's generous funding is not the same as raising the need for a left-wing alternative, as some young comrades seem mistakenly to imagine. I'm old enough to remember that one of the unions which formed Unison was the old National Association of Local Government Officers (NALGO), which was not affiliated to Labour anyway, and some of its higher paid members in both council and health service management were never your typical Labour voter.

But coming up to date, assuming Dave Prentis' justified warning to Labour signals determination to fight its pro-capitalist, privatising policies, with the union's workplace muscle accompanied by political clout; is Unison geared up for such a fight? Defending jobs and public services requires mobilising the enthusiasm of every union member. And as every union member in hospitals and local services knows, it also needs the solidarity, understanding and support of other working people who are the users of your services.

Last weekend I went to the conference of the National Shop Stewards Network, and listened to speakers from the strike committee at Lindsey Oil Refinery, and the cleaners' fight at London School of Oriental and African Studies. John Maguire, Unite convenor at Visteon in Belfast, spoke, and so did Rob Williams, who has won reinstatement at Linamar in Swansea. Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, was there, and so was John McInally, vice president of the PCS union whose members mainly work in the civil service. Otherwise it was mainly a rank-and-file gathering, and I was pleased to hear Clara Osagiede again, speaking about the struggle of cleaners on London Underground for decent treatment in a supposedly civilised society. This was a conference of workers from the grass roots, reporting from the front lines.

Aiming to unite workers from different unions and industries, the National Shop Stewards Network adopted a clause at its very beginning pledging that it will not interfere in the internal affairs of any individual trade union. Some people were grumbling about this assurance a while back, saying it stopped them criticising union leaders, but I argued it was so union officialdom would have no excuse to oppose the National Shop Stewards Network by claiming it undermined or usurped the authority of the union.

I was wrong to think that would work. Some union officials evidently need no excuse, specifically those of Unison. This is what they told their branches this year:

Constitutional matters – National Shop Stewards’ Network

Some UNISON branches may have been notified of a national conference taking place on 27 June 2009.

UNISON is not affiliated to the convening organisation - which has interfered repeatedly in internal UNISON matters.

UNISON rules & the Democracy in UNISON guidelines make clear that support should be given to external organisations only if the union is affiliated to the outside organisation or its activities are in line with UNISON aims and objectives.

Therefore, no UNISON funds or resources should be used in promoting the NSSN or facilitating attendance at events convened by the organisation.

On November 1, 2006, a Unison member called Tony Staunton, secretary of the union's City of Plymouth branch and a delegate on Plymouth Trades Union Council, set off to London with a delegation of south-west area trades unionists to take part in a lobby of Parliament over the National Health Service. On the same day, at 11 am, knowing Bro.Staunton would be away, a team of senior officials went to the Unison offices in Plymouth Civic Centre. There they downloaded information on computers, questioned the branch administrator and treasurer, and took away all records and financial documents.

Tony was contacted in London, and told he must hand over his laptop and home computer the next day. He had to explain that these contained personal files and software that was not the union's property, including his children's Windows XP accounts. The equipment had been given to him in lieu of honoraria for doing union work. He was willing to co-operate if the officials wanted to check the computers in his presence.

All this followed a complaint to the General Secretary of Unison, alleging that a 2-sided A4 colour newsletter of the UNISON UNITED Left South West, which contained Tony Staunton's mobile phone number, had apparently been printed using union resources outside of the union’s Rules.

It was like the employers at the worst, if not a police state. As if sending three officials to investigate was not enough, the union also sought legal advice to get its hands on those computers. Who was making wrong use of union funds? In the end, after a six months suspension, Bro. Staunton was found not to have committed most of the things alleged against him. But he was expelled from the union.

Unison activist Tony Staunton expelled after 23 years in the union


Tony Staunton: Expelled from the union for reading a leaflet.

From the South-West to the North-East. Yunus Bakhsh was at the NSSN conference on Saturday.
Yunus, a staff nurse with a 23-year career, was suspended from his job with Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust in 2006. A disciplinary hearing was held in his absence, over anonymous allegations of bullying, even though a doctor had certified Yunus was suffering from stress. Then a year ago he was sacked.

Yunus might have expected backing from his union, Unison. He had served on the union's national executive and on its health service group executive. But Unison suspended him too, stopping him from using his union office, and taking away computers and records. Later he was to face charges concerning expenses, phone calls, and misuse of the computer for political purposes. A dossier on him included allegations of threatening phone calls to people who had made complaints, break-ins, and smashed windows. Strangely, nobody had gone to the police over these serious matters.

While he was suspended from work, Yunus Bakhsh had time to think about who might have made the complaints against him. A friend introduced him to Facebook, where he was startled to find that Kerry Cafferty, a colleague who had given evidence against him, had "friends" who were known members of the British National Party and other far-Right groups. Cafferty's husband Peter was Unison chair of health, regional auditor and Labour link officer.

Yunus also discovered the Stormfront website, where he found racists and neo-Nazis discussing him and his activities in Tyne and Wear Anti-Fascist Action and other political causes, as well as Unison. In October 2005 someone calling themself 'Northern Flame' asked for "real and substantiated dirt on this nasty piece of work of immigrant stock". The following year a 'Bob Blatchford' wrote: "Just had it on good authority that Yunus Bakhsh was sacked for BULLYING fellow workers! On January 28 another contributor discssed why the Unison branch had been put in administration. They seemed well-informed on the allegations against Yunus - more so than he was, as he had not been officially informed yet.

In January this year, having previously written to Dave Prentis about Kerry Cafferty, Yunus Bakhsh provided the union with evidence about her membership of racist Facebook groups, and about the far-Right seeming far too well-informed on Unison matters. He was told that Cafferty had resigned from the union, and it has nothing against her husband. Presumably the NHS Trust bosses, whose 35 per cent rises Yunus Bakhsh had had denounced, have nothing against Peter Cafferty either. As chair of the staff side he agreed to ending concessionary Christmas transport for staff.

But Yunus Bakhsh remains sacked from his job and expelled from Unison. And the Nazis of the North-East must still be laughing.

Dave Prentis is supposed to be one of the TUC "awkward squad", and he deserves support if he is challenging New Labour. But there is some awkward business to be sorted out in Unison. And the National Shop Stewards Network may feeel entitled to reconsider its pledge about "non-interference".

National Shop Stewards Network, see:


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Friday, June 26, 2009

Schools for Scandal

TEACHERS, and no doubt parents, have been worriedly discussing whether members of the far-Right British National Party(BNP) should be allowed to teach in schools. BNP leader Nick Griffin has been answering questions from the Equalities Commission about his party's racial criteria for membership. But a school in north-west London has been found in breach of race relations law when it refused a boy admission.

Three judges in the Court of Appeal were unanimous in ruling that the Jews Free School (JFS) in Kenton acted unlawfully when it discriminated against the boy because of his mother's ethnicity. The boy, referred to in court as M, is the son of a Jewish father, and a mother who converted to Judaism. According to Jewish tradition descent is reckoned from the mother. But M's mother's conversion was not recognised as sufficient for the school's rules of admission because it took place in a Progressive synagogue.

Although the Jews Free School is within the state sector, and might be expected to take any pupils whose parents wish them to have a Jewish education, it operates an admissions policy determined by the Office of the Chief Rabbi, which insists the child's mother must be Jewish, and does not recognise other than Orthodox conversions. In one case we heard of a woman who had been converted in Israel, and who taught Hebrew in the school was told that her son could not be enrolled as a pupil because they did not recognise her as Jewish.

In a Jewish New Year television broadcast last year Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks went to a Jewish school, the King David in Birmingham where, though the Israeli flag was displayed and children were being taught about the Jewish religion, they included youngsters from Muslim and Sikh families who evidently considered it a good school. This helped the school make up numbers, as well as reflecting its multicultural surroundings, and it helped Sacks portray a cuddly, open and friendly image for his brand of Judaism. Only months earlier, while the bombs fell on Lebanon, the same Chief Rabbi had been proclaiming his pride in Israel, at a rally held at the Jews Free School.

The United Synagogue, which Chief Rabbi Sacks heads, spent £150,000 fighting this case, and claims it represents a threat unless overturned. M's father had appealed against an earlier High Court judgement which said the JFS entry policy was "entirely legitimate". Urging the school not to pursue another appeal, John Hallford, the lawyer representing M.'s father,said:
"We have never sought to interfere with the right of Orthodox Jews to define for their own religious purposes who they do or do not recognise as Jewish. However , it is unlawful for a child's ethnic origins to be used as the criterion for entry to a school. Such a practice is even more unacceptable in the case of a comprehensive school funded by the taxpayer."


The JFS is not unique in mean-spiritedness or discrimination. Some years back I heard of a particularly nasty case involving a toddler with special needs being refused a place in a suitable place because the parents could not provide the grandmother's ketuba, or religious marriage certificate. They pointed out that this grandparent was from Germany, and her documents had gone up in smoke along with the rest of her family.

But the case of 12-year old M. should prove a test case. And while attention is drawn to the JFS, perhaps someone will examine other special features of this state-funded comprehensive - like the allocation of time to training as propagandists for the State of Israel, or the activity in school of a well-heeled religious cult called Aish, about whose influence some parents are concerned.

I'm against faith schools, on which this government has been over-keen, and I wish people would not send their kids to them. But while such places exist, and draw public funds, people should know what they're letting their kids in for, and we are all entitled to know what is going on in them.

Jewish Chronicle report on JFS case:

Jewish Socialist article about Aish:

Copland cops it

A couple of days before the news about JFS, another school in the North West London Borough of Brent was in the news for different reasons. We reported before how three teachers from Copland community school in Wembley were being suspended, following a row over excessive payments to the head. Subsequently the three were reinstated, while it was the turn of the head, Sir Alan Davies and his deputy to be suspended.

It did not stop there. Here is the latest from the Harrow Times:

Copland school board of governors suspended

Tuesday 23rd June 2009

By Jack Royston

THE board of governors has been suspended at a Wembley school where the head was paid £130,000 in bonuses.

Brent Council is investigating claims close to £1m was dished out to a range of staff, including Sir Alan Davies, headteacher at Copland Community School, on top of their salaries.

Sir Alan and two senior managers were suspended in May and the authority has now asked Ed Balls, the children's secretary, to appoint an interim board to run the Cecil Avenue technology college.

Mr Balls said: “It is in the best interests of the school, pupils and parents. Robust governance and management must be established as soon as possible at Copland.

“I have considered arguments on all sides very carefully, including representations that opposed Brent Council’s application to replace the governing body - but there is no alternative in putting Copland back on track.

“I am very concerned about these very serious allegations and am pleased that Brent has acted decisively in putting new management in place.

“I am being kept in touch closely with Brent’s ongoing investigation.”

The council's inquiry centres around two dossiers of information compiled by Hank Roberts, a union rep at the school.

They contain allegation that close to £1m was paid out over seven years in bonuses to a range of staff, including £20,000 allegedly paid to Sir Alan's son Gareth, the caretaker.

Deputy head Dr Richard Evans and bursar Columbus Udokoro were also suspended in May, and Philip O'Hear, head of Capital City Academy, was drafted in to run Copland during the investigation.

The council, which also suspended the budget it gives the school, said suspending senior management was a “neutral act” often undertaken where allegation of this nature are made.

The chairman of the board of governors stood by Sir Alan when the accusations were originally made."


Unfortunately what the government has not suspended is its policy of letting schools like Copland have relative autonomy or pouring support into City Academies, run by private interests, even as the private interests become less keen on putting their money in.

And so to SOAS

And so to a different kind of school, London's School of Oriental and African Studies
(SOAS),a part of the university which I always assumed was there to train anthropologists and spies, but whose students have acquired a bit of a name for militancy in recent years, whether deserved or not, because of their natural concern for the stormy events and human tragedies in the Middle East.

The SOAS students recently had an education in struggles for humanity and justice nearer home, as college cleaners, employed by a company called ISS,fought to achieve the London living wage. First a Unison branch secretary who had organised the cleaners was sacked, and then one morning cleaners were called to a 6.30 am meeting only to find immigration officers waiting. Nine of the cleaners were taken away, and we heard six were deported.

After protests by SOAS students and teachers, management has agreed to review its practices and to write to the Home Secretary asking for "exceptional leave to remain" for those who were detained. SOAS will also ask that those deported be allowed to return.

Well done to the cleaners who fought for a decent living in return for their work, and well done to the students and staff who acted in solidarity with those less secure or well off.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iran: What the Workers are Saying

WHAT is happening in Iran is bigger than any rivalry between bourgeois politicians and clerics, and deeper than any meddling by outside forces. The workers, the women, and the students confronting government thugs and police are participating in an explosion of pent up anger, not just over an election that was rigged from the start, but over a regime of imposed backwardness on the forces of modern progress. Whatever happens in the immediate future, this revolt will not disappear.

Apt comparisons have been made with the revolution that brought down the Shah. That revolution was usurped by the Ayatollahs who stepped in and established the Islamic regime. That is why people coming out now are determined to write their own script.

What is the Iranian workers' movement saying? Here are two statements picked up by left-wing Iranian exiles here. The first is a message from the Iranian Workers Free Trade Union

23 June 2009

Forty-eight days have passed since the suppression and arrest of workers’ gathering on International Labour Day - May Day. During this time our country has witnessed important events and we witness widespread and amazing changes in the social movement.

During their televised debates the presidential candidates repeatedly accused each other of violating citizens’ rights, embezzlement, theft, mismanagement, and incompetence. But none of them had any objection to the laws that have allowed the disastrous events affecting the majority of the population. None of them had any objection to legislation that takes away a worker’s right to strike, sets his wages at a quarter of what is the government's poverty line, takes away the workers right to set up their own organisations, allows mass lay-offs, forces workers to sign blank contracts a one-month temporary contract .

The presidential candidates failed to take up issues regarding freedom of speech, the right to choose one's dress , and hundreds of other inhuman laws that today govern our society. When they raise any issue it was in a superficial way, every one of them attempted to clear himself and accuse the others, as if his opponent had been more strict than himself. In all those debates, clearly and in confronting each other, the candidates themselves proved that they accept all the currentt laws and conditions and that their only quarrel is on who should be in power.

Therefore, we workers, under the present conditions, when social protests have taken the form of a mass and a huge movement has come on the scene to achieve its demands, see it as our right to put forward the demands of fellow workers and to raise our banner. These demands are as follows:

1.Immediate increase in the minimum wage to over 1 million tomans (900 pounds) a month.

2. An end to temporary contracts and new forms of work contracts.

3. The disbanding of the Labour House and the Islamic Labour Councils as government organisations in the factories and workshops, and the setting up of shoras [councils] and other workers’ organisations independent from the government.

4. Immediate payment of workers’ unpaid wages without any excuses.

5. An end to laying-off workers and payment of adequate unemployment insurance to all unemployed workers.

6. The immediate release of all political prisoners including the workers arrested on May Day, Jafar Azimzadeh, Gholamreza Khani, Said Yuzi, Said Rostami, Mehdi Farahi-Shandiz, Kaveh Mozafari, Mansour Osanloo and Ebrahim Madadi, and an end to surveillance and harassment of workers and labour leaders.

7. The right to strike, protest, assemble and the freedom of speech and the press are the workers’ absolute right.

8. An end to sexual discrimination, child labour and the sacking of foreign workers.

Workers! Today we have a duty to intervene, to pose our demands independently and by relying on our own united strength, together with other sections of society, to work towards achieving our human rights.

The Free Trade Union of Iranian Workers


The Syndicate of Vahed Bus workers issued this statement on the 19th of June 2009.

“In recent days, we continue witnessing the magnificent demonstration of millions of people from all ages, genders, and national and religious minorities in Iran. They request that their basic human rights, particularly the right to freedom and to choose independently and without deception be recognized. These rights are not only constitutional in most of the countries, but also have been protected against all odds.

Amid such turmoil, one witnesses threats, arrests, murders and brutal suppression that one fears only to escalate on all its aspects, resulting in more innocent bloodshed, more protests, and certainly no retreats. Iranian society is facing a deep political-economical crisis. Million-strong silent protests, ironically loud with un-spoken words, have turned into iconic stature and are expanding from all sides. These protests demand reaction from each and every responsible individual and institution.

As previously expressed in a statement published on-line in May of this year, since the Vahead Syndicate does not view any of the candidates support the activities of the workers’ organisations in Iran, it would not endorse any presidential candidate in the election. Vahed members nevertheless have the right to participate or not to participate in the elections and vote for their individually selected candidate.

Moreover, the fact remains that demands of almost an absolute majority of the Iranians go far beyond the demands of a particular group. In the past, we have emphasized that until the freedom of choice and right to organize are not recognized, talk of any social or particular right would be more of a mockery than a reality.

The Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company fully supports this movement of Iranian people to build a free and independent civil society and condemns any violence and oppression. “

Thanks to Yassamine Mather of Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) for passing on these messages. HOPI stands with the people of Iran against the Islamicist regime, and against imperialist intervention and war.
To find out more and contact HOPI, visit the website,


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Iran: Vox Populi Versus 'Vox Dei'


REVOLT on the streets of Iran's main cities has predictably thrown many on the Left into some confusion. It shouldn't. Right-wing newspapers and politicians may manage to pretend a sympathy for protesting Iranians which they have not shown for Palestinians, nor for Iranians seeking asylum from the Islamicist regime. Some may condemn the Iranian regime's fundamentalism and treatment of women, without ever having got around to criticising the far more reactionary and repressive regime in Saudi Arabia, Britain's valued arms customer.

On the other side , those of us who have been around for a while may wonder cynically whether Socialist Worker will be excitedly telling us "Tehran Shows The Way!", as it has headlined outbursts of popular anger in other places whence its readers were supposed to derive vicarious pleasure. We doubt it. The SWP and its allies in the Stop the War Coalition leadership have done everything to keep out left-wing Iranian voices which opposed the Islamicist regime. It's not that they imagine the regime is socialist or progressive, but they have their allies to consider, and besides, they think it is good enough for 'backward' nations like Iran.

There are good comrades who will hesitate in anguish over whether to support the Iranian opposition, for good reasons. Isn't Moussavi backed by the West? Doesn't Ahmadinejad stand up to imperialism, and support the Palestinians, who surely need every friend they can get?

Think about it again. Ahmadinejad may strike up poses, but behind the populism, his government has not stopped neo-liberal economic policies and attacks on workers' rights. Repression of women and minorities is no recipe for national unity or an advanced society, and imperialism has no problem with religious reaction and sectarianism - witness Saudi Arabia again, or what the occupiers have bequeathed the people of Iraq. As for the Palestinians, they need Ahmadinejad's flirtation with Holocaust-denying Nazi nutcases like a hole in the head. And though Iran's right to develop nuclear weapons to counter Israel's may be alright as a debating point, in the real struggle it is worse than useless. The Palestinians want to regain their homeland, not a radioactive ruin.

It is the right-wing Christian fundamentalists in the United States who dream of a nuclear Armageddon. It is them, their neo con patrons, and their rent boy Netanyahu who need Ahmadinejad as bogeyman, and could almost have written his script. Palestine, and the rest of the Middle East, will be liberated by popular struggle, not presidents wielding real or notional nukes.

But above all, it is the people of Iran who must pass sentence on the Islamicist regime, and to judge from what we are seeing on the streets, they are starting to do so. This is far too big to be compared with the mob that the CIA and MI6 managed to bring out against Dr.Mossadegh's genuinely anti-imperialist government in 1953. Iranian society has come a long way since then. It is much too big to be about Moussavi. If anything it is beginning to resemble the massive unrest from which the Ayatollah Khomeini usurped power thirty years ago.

As HOPI (Hands Off the People of Iran) says in a statement: "Iranian society is convulsed by a political crisis on a scale not seen for over a decade. Masses of Iranian people have taken to the streets since the results of the rigged elections. Their outrage is justified. The levels of blatant vote-rigging on show was crazy even by the standards of Iran's Islamic Republic regime. The final result underlined that the whole process was compromised from top to bottom:

Ahmadinejad was declared winner by the official media even before some polling stations had closed
• Hundreds of candidates were barred from standing in the first place
• The percentage of votes for each candidate were clearly choreographed - throughout results night none of the candidates' vote varied by more than three percent

The main ‘reformist’ candidate Mir-Hossain Moussavi immediately declared the elections a “charade” and claimed Iran was moving towards tyranny. Thousands of protesters (not all of them backers of Moussavi) poured onto the streets and confrontations between the people and the state’s armed forces have escalated by the hour".

Yesterday it was first reported that an opposition rally would be called off, because of fears that security forces would use live ammunition. Or because Moussavi had met with Iran's supreme leader , Ayatollah Khameimi. n fact the people came out in far bigger numbers than expected, and though one man was shot dead and others attacked by club-wielding supporters of Ahmadinejad, the people refused to give up. Students whose dorms were attacked by the regime's supporters have only become united in anger, and there are reports of workplace meetings and strikes.

HOPI says its supporters are in daily contact with Iran and are pushing for maximum solidarity from the workers’ movement here to progressive forces in that country.

"We are determined that the upsurge against theocratic rule is not derailed by demaguoges and sell-out merchants from within the regime itself. The main danger of that comes from Moussavi himself, the ‘reformist’ darling of the Western media. While he correctly denounces these elections as a “charade”, what about the highly dubious results of the nine previous presidential elections in Iran's Islamic Republic? In the 2009 election, he did not bat an eyelid when the Council of Guardians disqualified over 400 candidates. He did not think the process was a “charade” when the supreme religious leader intervened time and time again to defend Ahmadinejad"

HOPI has not forgotten that when Moussavi was in government in the 1980s he played a major part in repression of the workers and students, when hundreds of socialists and communists were jailed. .

"Even now, although he is furious about losing the elections, he is not calling on the Iranian people to mobilise – he fears losing control of the masses. Instead, he is calling on the 'Religious centres of Guidance' (elite shia Ayatollahs) to denounce the result. He is no fan of radical democracy and mass movements. And neither are the heads of imperialist governments like the US and UK, of course. They want to see a safe, orderly transition in Iran to a compliant, pro-western regime.

"And, like his predecessor Mohammad Khatami, Moussavi is well aware that the survival of the 'Islamic order' is in his interests. That is why, even when he is clearly a victim of the supreme leader's lunacy, he cannot afford to see mass protest broaden, deepen and start to demand more fundamental change. This split within the ranks of the regime itself has allowed the smouldering anger below to find expression on the streets. However, we should not confuse the ordinary Iranians confronting the militias with establishment politicians like Moussavi – the interests of the two are distinct and, at the end of the day, in total opposition to each other.

"Hopi stands against any interference by western imperialist governments in Iran – whether this takes the form of military attack, sanctions or a sponsored ‘colour revolution’ a la Moussavi. We say that the Iranian people themselves – the students’, women"s and working class movements – must fight for their own independent interests. A war would be a disaster for the working people of that country; but the barbaric rule of the theocracy is also intolerable and should be fought from below.

"Iranian students report a June 14 wave of attacks on students in the Tehran, Babol and Isfahan universities with many badly beaten and at least one dead. Unless the protest movement becomes stronger and clearer in its aims, there is a real danger that the trend around Ahmadinejad will use the pretext of the disruption to launch a wave of repression across society as a whole. We must do all in our power to stop this and stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Iran. We have important work to do".

HOPI has called an Emergency meeting in London to consider WHAT IS BEHIND THE IRANIAN CRISIS.
Speakers are long-standing Iranian leftist militant Yassamine Mather and Israeli anti-Zionist veteran and marxist Moshe Machover.

The meeting is at 2pm on Saturday, June 20, at Caxton House community centre,
129 St. John's Way London, N19 3RQ (nearest tube Archway).

HOPI supporters in Ireland have called a demonstration on Saturday outside the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 72 Mount Merrion Avenue Blackrock Co. Dublin, followed by a meeting to discuss what next. .
For more on HOPI and its analysis of events in Iran, see


Monday, June 15, 2009

SOAS: Students occupy in reply to police raid on workers

To bring us up to date on what's happening at the London School of Oriental and African Studies, SOAS, (see previous posting), here is a message from the SOAS Living Wage campaign:

DEMO TODAY - 4:30pm outside SOAS http://freesoascleaners.blogspot.com/

University cleaners who won living wage detained after dawn raid

Students occupy SOAS Directorate

Students and allies at the University of London’s School of School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) have occupied the university today to protest against managers’ attacks on migrant workers.

Nine cleaners from the university were taken into detention after a dawn raid by immigration police on Friday.

Five have already been deported, and the others could face deportation within days. One has had a suspected heart attack and was denied access to medical assistance and even water. One was over 6 months pregnant. Many have families who have no idea of their whereabouts.

The cleaners won the London Living Wage and trade union representation after a successful “Justice for Cleaners” campaign that united workers of all backgrounds and student activists.
Activists believe the raid is managers’ “revenge” for the campaign.

Immigration officers were called in by cleaning contractor ISS, even though it has employed many of the cleaners for years. Cleaning staff were told to attend an ‘emergency staff meeting’ at 6.30am on Friday (June 12).

This was used as a false pretext to lure the cleaners into a closed space from which the immigration officers were hiding to arrest them.

More than 40 officers were dressed in full riot gear and aggressively undertook interrogations and then escorted them to the detention centre. Neither legal representation nor union support were present due to the secrecy surrounding the action. Many were unable to communicate let alone fully understand what was taking place due to the denial of interpreters.

SOAS management were complicit in the immigration raid by enabling the officers to hide in the meeting room beforehand and giving no warning to them.

The cleaners were interviewed one by one. They were allowed no legal or trade union representation, or even a translator (many are native Spanish speakers). The cleaners are members of the Unison union at SOAS. They recently went out on strike (Thursday 28 May) to protest the sacking of cleaner and union activist Jose Stalin Bermudez.

The occupation has issued a list of demands to SOAS management:
1. We call on the directorate to request the secretary of state to immediately release the detainees and to prevent the deportation of the three cleaners who are still in detention in the UK.

2. For the directorate to release a public statement condemning what has happened to the SOAS cleaners and calling for their immediate release and return.

3. To campaign for the return of the cleaners who have already been deported.

4. To bring all contract staff in house. SOAS should not use contractors, ISS or others.

5. To keep immigration officers from entering campus under ANY circumstances or other forms of collaboration with immigration or police. Universities are for education not for state violence and oppression.

6. A year's wage as reparations for all detained and deported staff.

7. To hold accountable SOAS managers who were complicit in facilitating the raid and detention of the cleaners, refusing to aid a sick worker and a pregnant woman.

8. To reinstate Jose Stalin Bermudez, the SOAS UNISON branch chair.

9. To respect the right to organise in Trade Unions unimpeded.

10. To provide space and resources for a public meeting to build support for the SOAS 9 and other migrants, in education and beyond, affected by immigration control and racism.

11. Amnesty for all involved.

One of the detained cleaners today stated, “We’re honest people not animals. We are just here to earn an honest living for our families. SOAS management are being unfair.”

Joanne, one of the occupying students said,
“Universities should be sanctuaries: places free of violence and aggression. SOAS’s reputation as a university has been tainted today due to the complicity of state brutality in the arrest of the cleaners.”

Graham Dyer, lecturer in Economics of Developing Countries and SOAS branch chair of lecturers’ union UCU, said:
“Our fight has united lecturers, staff and students and has rocked SOAS management. Those managers are now lashing out. It is a disgrace that SOAS management saw fit to use a seat of learning to intimidate migrant workers. This is their underhand revenge and we will do all we can to stop migrant workers paying the price.”

The campaign to stop the deportation is supported by Tony Benn, MPs John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, film director Ken Loach, and many trade unionists and student activists.

John McDonnell MP said:
“As living wage campaigns are building in strength, we are increasingly seeing the use of immigration statuses to attack workers fighting against poverty wages and break trade union organising. “The message is that they are happy to employ migrant labour on poverty wages, but if you complain they will send you back home. It is absolutely shameful.”

Ken Loach said:
“This raid is the action of a bully. Migrant workers are amongst the most vulnerable – poorly paid and far from home. Recent action by Unison to secure better wages and conditions at SOAS was good news. Now we wonder if the SOAS cleaners are being targeted because they dared to organise as trade unionists.”

The current occupation is a reflection of broad outrage against these actions by all sectors of society. This raid is widely seen as a continuation of current trends to remove immigrant labour and to maintain impossibly low wages. Cleaning contractor ISS used the same tactics against tube cleaners that went on strike with the result that key activists were deported. Immigration law is being used for union busting.

contact: 020 7898 4950 or 07958 034 181
Email: freesoascleaners@googlemail.com
Blog: freesoascleaners.blogspot.com

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SOAS: Immigration police used to enforce exploitation

STUDENTS at London's Schoool of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) might be expected to be debating events in Iran this morning, but right now (8.30 am) they are demonstrating together with trade unionists against an attack on freedom right on their doorstep.

SOAS is one of the places in London where low-paid cleaners, many of them immigrants from poor and oppressed countries, have been organised by trade unions to fight for decent treatment and a living wage. With backing from students and some of the academic staff the cleaners at SOAS gained the London Living Wage, but then Unison branch chairman Stalin Bermudez, who comes from Ecuador, was sacked in what supporters say was outright victimisation. His dismissl came as students were nominating him honorary president of their union.

But that was not all.

Like many of the low-paid workers who service one of the world's richest cities, the SOAS cleaners are not employed directly in-house by the institution where they work, but through a contractor.
At 6.30am on Friday, June 12, ISS, the outsourced cleaning company hired by SOAS, called a staff meeting for all SOAS cleaners. Within minutes the meeting was raided by approximately 40 immigration police, who detained all cleaners and arrested nine people accused of working without proper documentation.

These nine people are now on fast-track to be deported from the UK.

This looks suspiciously like a familiar pattern seen in Britain and other wealthy countries which exploit migrant labour. Workers who are desperate to earn a living are taken on, and firms turn a blind eye to their immigrant status and documentation, so long as they are cheap. Respectable institutions like SOAS, or Transport for London, or the big City banks with their bonuses for fat cats, outsource the work, so long as it is cheap, and say how the workers are treated is nothing to do with them. But with London rents and prices the workers find they are not earning enough to live, and they also start asking for decent conditions at work.

They start to organise, and take strike action if they can.

It is at that point that management finds reasons to get rid of those they consider ringleaders, and if that is not enough, they discover irregularities with people's immigration papers. As if by coincidence the police come in.
Elsewhere the threat of a police raid is used to intimidate workers into keeping their heads down and mouths shut.

Here's a report in the Morning Star:
The School of Oriental and African Studies in London has been accused of using immigration raids to intimidate and break unions after nine foreign workers were snatched in a dawn raid. Without any advance warning from their bosses nor the university management, SOAS cleaning staff were swooped on by a snatch squad of immigration officers at 6.30am on Friday.
Fearful cleaners were detained on SOAS premises as the officers demanded to see their papers. Some were taken into rooms of the university to be interrogated. A witness said that a member of the public had to step in when a heavily pregnant cleaner was manhandled by officers.

In all nine cleaners, the majority believed to be Ecuadorian and Colombian, were taken away by officers from the UK Borders Agency and may now face deportation. SOAS UCU branch chair Graham Dyer said: "It is no coincidence that there is an immigration raid at a time when the UCU, UNISON and the NUS are fighting against the victimisation of a migrant worker who has been at the heart of a fight that has improved the pay and conditions of workers here at SOAS.

"Our fight has united lecturers, staff and students and has rocked SOAS management. It is a disgrace that SOAS management saw fit to use a seat of learning to intimidate migrant workers. The living-wage campaign has had the support of John McDonnell MP, who said: "As living-wage campaigns are building in strength, we are increasingly seeing the use of immigration statuses to attack workers fighting against poverty wages and break trade union organising.

"The message is that they are happy to employ migrant labour on poverty wages, but if you complain they will send you back home. It is absolutely shameful."

University under fire for raid

Sunday 14 June 2009
by Paddy McGuffin.

see also:

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Friday, June 12, 2009

The Holocaust museum gunman and Nick Griffin, MEP

IT can be hard being a fascist trying to play the respectable public figure. It's not just the opponents ruining your suit with eggs, or even dragging up things you said to besmirch your reputation. You could set the boys loose on 'em if there weren't too many cameras around, or too many opponents, and maybe your new supporters won't bother reading all that stuff, or even see anything wrong in it.

But then some fool who was once photographed leaving one of your party meetings which he had stewarded turns out to be the London nail bomber, and to make things worse says his aim was to start a race war so "all the white people will go out and vote BNP". Or police uncover an explosives cache at the home of that nice professional man who had been one of your candidates. (Still, the media were very understanding and did their best to keep that one quiet).

And then there's that American racist gun nut who decides that one thing he'd like to do before he gets too old is go down the Holocaust museum and do some shooting, gunning down a black security guard..What's that to do with you?

Well, I'll let friend Sunny, who blogs at Pickled Politics, take over the story:

"About ten years ago Nick Griffin gave a prominent speech in the United States at a American Friends of the British National Party event. In fact you can watch the speech online, and he says in his speech:

There’s a difference between selling out your ideas and selling your ideas. And the BNP isn’t about selling out its ideas, but we are determined to sell them. Basically that means to use saleable words such as freedom, security, identity, democracy. Nobody can criticise them. Nobosy can come at you and attack you on those ideas - they are saleable. Perhaps one day, by being rather more subtle, once we’re in a position where we control the British broadcasting media, then perhaps one day the British people might change their mind and say ‘yes, every last one must go’. Perhaps they will one day. But if you hold that out as your sole aim to start with, you’re not going to get anywhere. So instead of talking about racial purity, we talk about identity.

"So we know the BNP hide behind words like ‘identity’ in order to push racial purity - after all their leader admits it. Anyway, it now turns out that the white supremacist and Holocaust Museum terrorist - James von Brunn - attended those meetings too.
The Washington Post reports:

Von Brunn sometimes spoke of having fought for the wrong side in World War II, Blodgett said, and the two men sometimes attended meetings in Arlington County of the American Friends of the British National Party, which raised funds for the British white supremacist group.

Blodgett said that von Brunn never spoke of violent action in their conversations but that “a lot of these people, when they get toward the end of life, they say they’ve wasted all these years hating, and they want to make a statement somehow.”

Still think there’s no link between the BNP and violence?

via Jerome Taylor at the Independent, who has more:

At the time the BNP were forging close links with a variety of US white supremacists and the party’s leader Nick Griffin remains close friends with powerful American neo-Nazis such as David Duke, a former Klu Klux Klan leader and Don Black, another KKK chap who went on to found Stormfront and was placed on the UK’s banned list two months ago.

According to the Post, Von Brunn and Blodgett would regularly attend meetings in Arlington County of the American Friends of the BNP, which raised funds for the British white supremacist group.

The American Friends was wound up by Coterill in 2001 after the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which investigates American white supremacists, started looking into its fundrasing - but the links between the BNP and their sympathisers stateside remain strong.

"Remember, a picture of Nick Griffin speaking alongside former KKK leader David Duke was unearthed recently too. Of course, none of the mainstream broadcasting outlets - who are busy condemning people for throwing eggs at poor Nick Griffin - will raise any of this. Doing research is too much work these days.
If anyone can find a picture of Griffin alongside Von Brunn I’ll treat you to lunch, I promise."


Even the arrest of a known white racist did not stop some right-wing American commentators spinning the story to put the blame for the shooting on liberals and Muslims! http://gawker.com/5286615/ But like the neighbourhood dope pusher, the hate media have to give their junkies what they have been conditioned to expect.

Here today's Guardian also took up the BNP connection:

"A white supremacist who killed a security guard at a Holocaust memorial museum in the US has links to the British National party, which gained two MEPs in last week's European elections.

Thousands of visitors fled the museum in Washington on Wednesday after James von Brunn opened fire, killing a security guard. In the gunfight that followed, the 88-year-old was shot, and is now in a critical condition in hospital.

Yesterday it emerged that Von Brunn, a longtime antisemite, had attended meetings of the American Friends of the British National party (AFBNP), which was set up to raise funds from far-right activists in America.

Mark Cotterill, who ran the US-based organisation before it folded in 2001, said: "He did attend meetings. I have just checked my database and he is down as 'meetings only', so he was not a major donor, although he may have put some money on the plate when it was passed round."

The AFBNP treasurer, Todd Blodgett, also told the Washington Post that he and Von Brunn had attended fundraising meetings in Arlington County. The BNP leader, Nick Griffin, spoke to at least two AFBNP meetings and said the money raised by the organisation made a "significant contribution to the BNP's [2001] general election campaign".

Yesterday a spokesman for the party said: "You get a lot of people coming to meetings but I don't think you can blame us for that. Even if he did go to meetings, it was nothing to do with us."

However, anti-racism campaigners said Von Brunn's links to the BNP underlined its extremist agenda. "It is clear that Nick Griffin is at the centre of an international network of white supremacists," said Dan Hodges, of Searchlight. "The BNP must explain the full extent of his organisation's links with this antisemitic gunman."

The far-right party gained its first two MEPs in last week's European elections – Griffin in the north-west and former National Front leader Andrew Brons in Yorkshire and the Humber. During the campaign, photographs emerged of Griffin alongside the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard Stephen "Don" Black, who was banned from the UK by the then home secretary, Jacqui Smith. He was also criticised for defending a BNP leaflet that said black and Asian Britons should be referred to as "racial foreigners".

At a press conference in Washington, Cathy Lanier, the Washington police chief, said security guard Stephen Johns was shot when he opened the door of the museum for Von Brunn. Other guards opened fire, and Von Brunn slumped to the ground.

In his car, officers found a notebook with a handwritten note saying, "You want my weapons, this is how you'll get them. The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by Jews," according to a court affidavit.

Yesterday Von Brunn was charged with murder and killing in the course of possessing a firearm at a federal facility, both capital offences under US federal law; police said hate crime charges were also possible."

A self-described artist, advertising man and author, Von Brunn had been monitored by anti-racist groups in the United States for many years. He wrote an antisemitic treatise, Kill the Best Gentiles, claiming to expose a Jewish conspiracy "to destroy the White gene-pool". In 1983, he was convicted of attempting to kidnap members of the US federal reserve board. At the time, police said he had wanted to take the members hostage because of high interest rates and the nation's economic difficulties. On the website, Von Brunn blames his six-year imprisonment on "a Jew judge" and "Negro jury".

We might recall that in his efforts to broaden the BNP's appeal - and perhaps sources of support - Griffin was not relying on the Von Brunns, ex-Klansmen and similar "American Friends". This year, in keeping with his decree that the party should put antisemitism on the back burner for now to concentrate on its anti-Muslim line, the BNP's prize Jewish councillor from Essex was sent out to impress some American neo-cons who prefer the more academic brand of racialism, and are probably not short of funds.

No wonder the American Right is anxious to spin the blame away for this shooting.

No wonder Nick Griffin and chums want to say it is nothing to do with them. It never is!

  • But one last point needs to be said. The BNP leader is not the only politician who has been concerned with elections in the past week. It is good that photographs came out of former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke with Nick Griffin. There are also recordings available of Duke speaking at the Holocaust revisionism conference hosted by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian people are not to blame for all the American fanatics welcomed to their country by a president they may soon be rid of. But it is bizarre that a leader who hosts such racists should then address a UN conference on Racism! And perverse that some presumably sincere anti-racists, who are prepared to throw things at Griffin, are not prepared to listen to Iranian left-wing comrades who campaign to oppose Ahmadinejad. For the sake of joined-up politics let's make all the connections.

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    Thursday, June 11, 2009

    Action on Asbestos

    and (right)
    Asbestos campaigners from Manchester, in
    London to lobby
    for justice.

    THERE was a bunch of determined people down in the City of London on Tuesday. Some arrived dressed up as City 'fat cats' (sorry I missed that bit)to draw attention. Later they took tea in the Grange St.Paul's Hotel. But they had not come for fun, and nor were they going to be fobbed off with tea and sympathy.

    The members of the Asbestos Victims Support Group from Greater Manchester had come to lobby the Annual General Meeting of the Association of British Insurers. They were protesting the continued failure to compensate asbestos victims and their families. Their protest was supported by members of the Construction Safety Campaign in London.

    Building workers have been among the main sufferers from asbestos-related illnesses and deaths. But because symptoms may develop over many years, during which a worker may have worked for several employers, or for sub-contractors, it can be difficult to pin responsibility. Firms may have changed names or gone out of business.

    Pleural plaques, scarring of the lungs caused by small fibres, usually asbestos, can develop up to twenty years after exposure. They may be the first indication of what becomes mesothelioma, a painful and deadly cancer which attacks the membrane covering the lungs and abdomen.

    Last year UCATT, the construction union, had members and supporters send cards to Justice Secretary Jack Straw over the Law Lords judgement that pleural plaques were not eligible for compensation. Straw replied that the government was "looking into" this, but that in view of the strength of the Law Lords' findings "I do not want to raise hopes in the matter..."; although going on to say that the government were "listening carefully to representations" and "exploring options" on what could be done.

    When the Scottish parliament passed a bill overturning the Lords' decision, the insurance companies promptly said they would challenge the legality of this.

    But asbestos sufferers and victims can come in many shapes and sizes. There were the women employed making World War II gas masks which contained an asbestos filter in Nottingham, many of whom did not live to see the compensation for which they fought. There were the women in Hebden Bridge who contracted mesothelioma from washing their husbands overalls - the men worked for Turner and Newalls, and of course many of them were victims. There was Barry Welch, who developed fatal mesothelioma thirty years after playing as a boy on his father's knee, when Dad came home from his work at Kingsnorth power station, in Kent, where the pipes were lagged with asbestos.

    Mr.Welch, whose mesothelioma showed in 2003, died the following year, aged 33, and was rated the youngest victim. But last year that record was taken by Leigh Carlisle, from Failsworth, in Greater Manchester. Leigh had a job in marketing, not what you'd think of as a dangerous occupation. Her exposure came when she was a child:
    "I used to take a shortcut across a yard in Failsworth on my way to primary school. I knew that men working there cut asbestos sheets and handled asbestos materials in the yard, but I had no idea that by walking through the yard I could have inadvertently got cancer."

    Leigh was just 26 when doctors who had been investigating her chronic and severe abdominal pains diagnosed the cause as mesothelioma.Though she had to give up her job, she started campaigning for recognition of the disease and its causes, and for an investigation into asbestos use in schools built in the 1960s and 1970s. People were impressed by her courage and determination. Had Leigh Carlisle been able to support Tuesday's demonstration she'd most likely have been there. But she died last year aged just 28 in North Manchester Genral Hospital.

    A survey reported in the Manchester Evening News found asbestos in 8 out of 10 schools in the Greater Manchester area. Meanwhile, UCATT has told the government that there are insufficient regulations on the use of asbestos in housing.

    It took decades after the dangers of asbestos became known for the industry to acknowledge them. It is taking a long time for companies and insurers to face responsibility. Tuesday's lobby had a modest and reasonable demand - that an Employers' Liability Insurance Bureau be set up, paid for through insurance premiums. Tis would ensure that those killed or injured by uninsured employers have the same right to obtain compensation as people injured or killed by uninsured drivers, who can claim from the Motor Insurers Bureau..

    Above all, campaigners want insurers and employers to stop playing for time so that asbestos victims die before they can win compensation. They want society to recognise its duty to those suffering and likely to suffer, and to eradicate remaining dangers of asbestos. Last month they petitioned parliament for government funding to research mesothelioma, said to be the least researched cancer. At present 6 people a day in Britain die from the disease, and it is the fastest growing cancer among women. It is estimated some 70,000 people could die from mesothelioma in this country over the next 30-40 years.

    Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Support Group is being hosted at Manchester Hazards Centre. See:

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    Monday, June 08, 2009

    Maybe targetting works, or rail company sees better prospects

    NO sooner had I blogged about the Jerusalem light rail project, and gone to bed, than the Israeli daily Ha'aretz was going to press with the following news story (thanks to Asa for spotting it this morning).:

    Jerusalem rail operator jumps ship, Tel Aviv group isn't even responding

    The light rail projects for Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are both facing difficulties. In a body-blow to the future Jerusalem light rail, the French company Veolia, which was supposed to run the train system after its construction, is abandoning the project.

    Moving on to Tel Aviv, the city can't even get a response to the compromise it offered MTS, the consortium supposed to build an urban train system, in order to settle issues in dispute. It's waited a month and gotten no answer, causing not a little consternation in government circles.

    As for the Jerusalem system, Veolia not only wants out of running the future train; it's trying to sell its 5% stake in Citypass, the light rail consortium.

    In recent days Veolia has been sending feelers to the Egged or Dan bus consortiums, to potentially replace it as project operator.

    Any change in the ownership structure of Citypass, or in the identity of the project operator, requires the permission of the state. Also, the attempt to add Egged to the consortium could arouse opposition at the Antitrust Authority.

    Veolia has had to contend not only with the delays and difficulties in building the light rail project itself, but with political pressure at home as well. Two months ago a French court heard a lawsuit by a pro-Palestinian group, demanding that the light rail project be halted.

    The organization based itself on an article in French law that allows the court to void business agreements, signed by French companies, that violate international law.

    The political pressure on Veolia has been mounting in another direction. According to various reports abroad, the French firm had been losing major projects in Europe because of its involvement in the Jerusalem job. Observers claim that's the real reason Veolia opted out.

    Also, for two years the Jerusalem project has been held up by battles between Citypass, the city of Jerusalem and various ministries. (The disputes even include whose fault the delays are.)

    Last week the spat between Citypass and the state reached a new low, after the group admitted it couldn't meet the new deadline for the Jerusalem light rail project. It expects to run nine months behind schedule, the consortium said. The state then accused the business consortium of deliberately dragging its feet and of effecting "a hostile takeover of the streets of Jerusalem."

    Sources in Israel's transportation sector called Citypass's announcement "chutzpah," on the grounds that it and the state had agreed on a new schedule only a year earlier. And that was a month after an arbitration process during which the new schedule was ratified.

    In response to Citypass' announcement, the state contacted the arbitrators accompanying the process, asking them to enforce the franchise agreement and force Citypass to finish the works as set in the new schedule, by September 2010, "finally restoring normalcy to Jerusalem."

    The state also asked for permission to stop paying Citypass, including the upcoming installment of NIS 32.5 million.

    Citypass can meet the agreed-on schedule, the state insists: "This isn't inability to complete the project on time. At most it's a crude attempt to squeeze more money from the state," wrote the state in its letter to the arbitrators. "[Citypass] already advised the state and the arbitrators that it doesn't intend to finish the works on time, but it doesn't settle for words: It is making sure to work at a pace that assures it won't meet the agreed-on deadline for completion."

    In summation, the state accuses Citypass of making life in Jerusalem intolerable.

    Citypass denies the allegations, which it called "absurd," and claims the state is indulging in baseless legal gambits in response to the lawsuit Citypass filed against it because of the delays.

    Sources in the know suspect that the delays ruined the project's business model. The cost of the works grew, and there were delays in the transfer of state funding for the companies involved in the project, while the companies needed the money to return their own loans. The upshot, if so, was heightened tensions between the partners in Citypass, mainly between equipment provider Alstom, operator Veolia and the Israeli contractor Ashtrom.

    After some changes, the partners in Citypass are Ashtrom (27.5%), Alstom (20%), Polar Investments (17.5%), Israel Infrastructures Fund (10%) and Veolia (5%).

    The Jerusalem project involves building eight lines. Only the first one has passed the tender process, which Citypass won. The line is supposed to start in Pisgat Zeev, pass along Jaffa Street and end at Mount Herzl. The cost of that line alone is projected at NIS 2.4 billion. The state is providing NIS 1.4 billion.


    Was it the targetted boycott, the opening of alternative and better business prospects, or both?
    Clearly, the Case is Altered.

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    Sunday, June 07, 2009

    Boycott? What boycott?

    SCOTTISH Palestine Solidarity Campaign has sent out a message alerting supporters that on June 13 "the Edinburgh Leith Festival Gala Day will be sponsored by Veolia Water, a company complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation, apartheid and colonisation of Palestine.

    "Leith Festival organisers have not responded formally to the Scottish PSC appeal to refuse any association with a company that is:

    · involved in Israel's tramway project that links illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank to Jerusalem

    · directly implicated in maintaining illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)

    · playing a key role in Israel's attempt to make its annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem irreversible

    "Veolia is actively involved in furthering Israel’s violations of international law and the continuing dispossession of the Palestinian people. Veolia is using Leith Festival as a cynical public relations exercise – the same company that violates international law in Palestine, also discharged raw sewage into the Firth of Forth (fined £13,500). Artists for Gaza have also written to the Leith Festival and also have not had any formal reply.

    "Members of the Leith Festival board of directors are sympathetic to the cause of the Palestinian people. Words, however, are not enough. Leith shouldn't be going against the world-wide rejection of Veolia for its involvement in Israeli crimes. Veolia

    · lost the eight-year, $4.5 billion dollar contract to operate Stockholm county's subway

    · lost a 700 million contract in Bordeaux in France

    · was told to get lost by Sligo and Galway councils in Ireland

    · is losing as much as $7.5 billion in lost contracts.

    Maybe so. I remember the Irish traincrews who refused to train Israeli drivers for the West Bank settlers' rail project. And my friend Dan Judelson of European Jews for Just Peace(EJJP) was able to tell a London meeting a few years ago that a Dutch bank had been persuaded to drop Veolia from its portfolio. An example of targetted boycott working then?

    So what's this? http://www.inminds.com/article.php?id=10043

    Action Alert - Prevent Alstom From Building The Haramain Express Railway!
    To members of Support FreedomCall UK decision to boycott Israel

    Ziyaad Lunat

    Saudi Arabia awarded French company Alstom a multi-million dollar contract for the construction of Haramain Express Railway, to link the holy cities of Makkah and Madina. Alstom is in violation of international law for its part in the construction of the Jerusalem Light Rail, which will link illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory (including East Jerusalem) with the city of Jerusalem. The construction of the light rail is part of a wider Israeli policy to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from Jerusalem and turn permanent the illegal occupation of the city.

    The decision by the Saudi Arabian authorities is in violation of its own international commitments. The Arab League barred member states from dealing with companies involved in the construction of Jerusalem Light Rail project. The Saudi contract sends a signal of approval for Alstom's actions in Jerusalem and highlights the lack of integrity of the Haramain project: the Saudi Arabian government has chosen to link two of Islam's holiest cities by sponsoring the colonization of another.

    Across the world a divestment campaign is taking pace against Alstom and its partner company Veolia, with victories in Sweden and France. In 2006, Dutch ASN Bank took the responsible decision to divest from the project. Alstom and Veolia are accused by Palestinian civil society, represented by the BDS National Committee, BNC, of complicity in grave violation of international law and Palestinian rights for their role in the JLR project. Despite the pressure, the two companies have refused to end their participation in the project. With construction at an advanced stage, Alstom and Veolia are guilty of actively colluding with Israeli apartheid.

    Demand That Saudi Authorities Divest From Alstom NOW!

    1 - Write to the Saudi Railway Organization and to the Saudi Arabian diplomatic representation in your country demanding immediate cancellation of the contract with Alstom.

    Saudi Railway Organisation contact details (http://tiny.cc/llcfC)

    karni@saudirailways.org (Vice President)
    shafqatrabbani@sro.org.sa (Project Manager)
    salim@sro.org.sa (Project Manager)
    sohail@sro.org.sa (Project Engineer)

    Saudi Arabian diplomatic representations worldwide: http://tiny.cc/NvtOd

    Please bcc us on your correspondence: saudialstomdivestment@gmail.com

    2 - Sign the petition: http://www.petitiononline.com/BDSaudi/petition.html

    3 - Write about this issue in your local media. Discuss it in your local mosque and community centers. Participate in actions for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel.

    Find Out More!

    The Case Against Veolia and Alstrom:

    GulfNews: Company in Saudi rail project linked to Israel: http://www.gulfnews.com/news/gulf/saudi_arabia/10318520.html
    Divestment campaign gains momentum in Europe: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10418.shtml
    Veolia looses 3.5 billion EUR contract in Sweden: http://www.diakonia.se/sa/node.asp?node=2807
    PLO takes Veolia Transport and Alstom to court in France: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article9104.shtml
    Legal action in France against Veolia and Anstrom: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article6674.shtml
    Time to hold Veolia to account: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10295.shtml

    The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians From Jerusalem:

    Ethnic Cleansing in East Jerusalem: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10381.shtml
    Civic Coalition to Defend Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem: http://www.ccdprj.ps
    Israeli House Demolitions in Jerusalem Slideshow: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2009/mar/06/israel-palestinian-territories
    Policy of Residency Revocation of Palestinians in Jerusalem: http://www.btselem.org/English/Jerusalem/Revocation_of_Residency.asp

    Global Movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel: http://www.bdsmovement.net/

    Those Saudis again! But what about a supposedly more militant regime? let's go back to April, and the day when the world's media was full of Western reaction to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel speech at the UN conference on racism, in Geneva. With all the furore, and walk-outs, which only boosted Ahmadinejad in the eyes of many "anti-imperialists", not many noticed a little item from the Palestinian Ma'an news agency;

    "Bethlehem – Ma’an – Palestinian civil society groups called on Tehran to cut ties with two French companies profiting from work in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday.

    "A day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took center stage as a critic of Israel at a UN conference in Geneva, the Palestinian Campaign for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) criticized Iran for business ties with Veolia Environment and Alstrom.

    "According to the Tehran Times, the Tehran Municipality is involved in negotiations with Veolia Environment for the development of the city’s urban transport system.

    "Alstom has a headquarters in Tehran and received a number of large contracts, including a 192 million euro contract with Iran's state railways in 1999 and a larger 375 million euro contract to supply 50 turbo compressors to Iran in 2002.

    "The two firms are the investors behind the Citypass consortium that won a 2002 tender issued by Israeli authorities for a light rail line that connects Jerusalem to settlements in the occupied West Bank. The consortium is responsible for construction, operation and maintenance of the system for a 30-year period.

    "The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) called on Tehran to 'take the necessary steps to ban Veolia and Alstom and their subsidiaries from any contracts and operations in the country.'

    "Veolia and Alstom have already been targeted for boycott in countries across Europe. In 2006 the Dutch ASN Bank decided to exclude Veolia from its portfolio on account of the firm’s actions in occupied Jerusalem. In 2008, the company lost its bid to for a contract with Stockholm for eight years, worth 3.5 billion euro, partially due to a strong public sentiment against the company due to its involvement the Jerusalem rail project.

    "Later, the Swedish national pension fund AP7 blacklisted Alstom, partially for its Jerusalem involvement. Less than a week ago Veolia lost a contract worth 750 million euro in Bordeaux, France after to pressure from pro-Palestine activists.

    President Ahmadinejad’s speech to the UN’s Durban Review Conference against racism sparked a walkout by European diplomats and drew condemnation from Israeli and Western officials.

    Ahmadinejad called Israel the 'most cruel and racist regime' during his speech."

    But business is business.

    So maybe the company will manage without sponsoring the Leith festival if it can still pull the odd Middle Eastern contract.

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    Saturday, June 06, 2009

    Commando Kieffer, June 6 1944.

    Above the quiet beach, these simple stones honour them where they fell.
    They belonged to the Commando Kieffer, whose commander is depicted on depicted on the stone above. theirs. (r) .

    The significance of their action is marked by the memorial in steel, the German gun emplacement they stormed, transformed into the flame of freedom.

    OUISTREHAM, is just behind Riva Bella on the Normany coast,some 14 km. north of Caen. It was raining heavily when I arrived early one morning just before Easter, several years ago, and even after the rain stopped the beach was fairly quiet, apart from a few riders. It was not so quiet 65 years ago, when a different kind of rain was falling on Allied troops coming ashore here, at the eastern end of 'Sword' beach.

    Because of Ouistreham's strategic position, by the mouth of the river Orne and the Caen canal, it had been heavily fortified, and the German guns could sweep along the beach.

    It was given to 177 French soldiers under Commander Kieffer, part of the Royal Marines no.4 Commando, to be first to tread the Normandy soil and take out this obstacle. They left 40 men killed or wounded on the beach, and Kieffer himself was hit, with shrapnel in his leg, but carried on with his men. They were supported by a tank from the 13/18th Hussars of the 27th Armoured Brigade.

    The German blockhouse was taken out, and by late morning. Ouistreham had been liberated.

    Philippe Kieffer, born in Port au Prince, Haiti, and as his surname suggests, of Alsatian origin, had begun his career as a naval officer before he decided to persuade his superiors to let him create and lead a force modelled on the British commandos. They trained at Achnacarry in Scotland. Commander Kieffer was awarded a Croix de Guerre for his D-Day action and went on to be a Commander in the Legion d'Honneur.

    Earlier in the morning that Ouistreham was freed, a battalion of the Oxfordshire and Bucks Light Infantry, part of 6th Airborne Division, accompanied by a Royal Engineers platoon and the Glider Pilots, altogether forming a force about the same size as the Kieffer Commando, made their glider-born assault to secure the Pegasus bridge, as it became known after the airborne division's winged horse badge.

    Some Free French and British forces advanced inland towards Caen, but were driven back by counter-attacking Panzers. It was to be some months before the Normandy city, heavily bombed and suffering high civilin casualties, was finally captured.

    On my second day at Ouistreham I walked along the canal to the new Pegasus bridge, and went into the old Gondree cafe besides it, which served the British airborne troops and claims to be the first place in France to have been liberated. The furniture seemed unaltered, but the coffee was fresh. I'd hoped to get some film for my camera too, but was out of luck till I got back to Ouistreham, so did not get any photos. I did get a postcard of the bridge which I posted to my old history prof, the late Austin Woolrych, who took part in the Normandy landings. I didn't realise it at the time, but I've since read that my Dad's old regiment, the Loyals, were engaged in the operation to secure the bridges, though he was on other duties by then with the Royal Signals.

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    Wednesday, June 03, 2009

    Guess who is Standring for the BNP!


    KEITH STANDRING, the man of many part(ie)s,
    here conducting a raffle. Could run a sweep on what he will join next.

    AN old comrade of mine has been in touch to ask whether I'd noticed that a certain common acquaintance of ours, active on the Left over a decade ago, was standing as a British National Party (BNP) candidate. I thought I'd better check on that, as the guy seemed to have settled on the 'respectable' Tory Right last thing I heard, and surely could not go further? He could, and has. Here he is,on the BNP's own website, standing in the County Council elections tomorrow, Keith Standring.



    Who is Keith Standring? A good question. When he appeared on the Conservative Home website it said:

    StandringkeithKeith Standring was a regular soldier in the Grenadier Guards before working for over thirty years in British Intelligence. He is a member of the Conservative Party, The Freedom Association and a supporter of The Bruges Group.

    On that occasion he was opposing the introduction of ID cards in Britain. On that issue many of us would agree with him, though I'm not sure all his new(?) volkish party comrades would. But I can understand his being particularly concerned about identity..

    When I met Standring back in the 1990s he was a GMB union officer, keen to offer his energies and trade union organising experience to working with the International Trade Union Solidarity Campaign set up by the Workers Revolutionary Party(Workers Press). He became its secretary, campaigning in support of the Liverpool dockers and meeting up with Iranian, Turkish and Nigerian workers, just the kind of people whom his current party wishes to deport, if not destroy. If somehow his performance did not quite suit the part, it still seemed a long way from becoming a Tory councillor in Bexhill on Sea.

    But people like Roy Grantham, former general secretary of the clerical union APEX which became part of the GMB general union, had their own memories of union officer Keith Standring. 'One of the oddities in Standring's record is his form in switching both parties and religions. Grantham describes him as "a chameleon" and observes: "When he went to a new religion, he was all for it. And then six months later, he was all for something else." Bob Fazakerley, a former member of APEX in the north-west of England recalls: "He was variously a Communist, Maoist, Catholic, Buddhist or any other affiliation you can think of."

    Incidentally, APEX was the union of the Grunwick strikers, though Grantham insists Standring was still the new boy in the union when this bitter dispute broke out, so won't have played much part in it. Just as well. The right-wing National Association for Freedom(NAFF) which worked to break the strike became the Freedom Association, and Keith Standring is a member of it.

    A chameleon is expert at changing colour, but apparently Keith was not so good at it. His former union colleagues recall a time when he married a Scandinavian woman and died his hair peroxide blond to suit. Only thing was at the GMB conference he decided to take a dip in the hotel pool, and it all washed out, leaving his hair a purplish colour.

    To judge from the items I've been able to google on Keith Standring's recent political evolution, he has been working his way steadily through Tory Right and Freedom Association, and supporting views close to those of the BNP for a while before coming out as a candidate. We can only hope his campaign is a wash out, but whatevrr the real Keith Standring is, his far-Right views are too deep died to pass for temporary.

    For earlier posting on Keith Standring, click on label link.

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