Friday, October 30, 2009

Can Brad make a difference?

BRAD LANDER with partner Meg Barnette and their children, Marek and Rosa.

NEXT Tuesday, November 3, sees New York citizens voting for their mayor, and also for local councillors, and I'm interested in one of the candidates, if only because I know him. Brad Lander, who has worked for the Pratt Centre for Community Development for six years, and campaigned for better housing provision and the rights of low-paid agency workers, won the Democratic Party nomination for Council District 39 in Brooklyn.

We're often given the impression that American politics is all about personalities, PR image, and who gets how much from which vested interests, and that's just by those who'd have us remodel our politics the American way, so it is refreshing to see Lander's election literature being 'old-fashioned' enough to talk about

"The Issues

Preserving Liveable Neighborhoods

New York City has the power to preserve and strengthen the common quality of life of the neighborhoods we love. It's time we started to use it.
Keeping Housing Affordable for New Yorkers

I'm proud of my work to preserve and create affordable homes for New Yorkers. I can't wait to get to the City Council to do even more. "

Standing up for Public Education

As a public school parent, I see every day what makes a great school: small classes, an excellent principal, dedicated teachers, and active parents. Every child deserves no less.

Creating good jobs and a fair economy

I've been fighting to create good jobs in Brooklyn for more than a decade - and today that fight is more important than ever.

Creating a more sustainable city

The importance of thinking globally and acting locally has never been more apparent. I want to apply my experience with sustainable development to build a greener future for our city.

Strengthening Public transportation and liveable streets

A better public transportation system is key to sustainable growth for our community, and for the city and region as a whole. With more frequent subways and buses, with safer and more better-planned streets, we can have both a metropolis that really works, and neighborhoods that are more livable for our day-to-day walks to the grocery store or the park.

Restoring confidence and participation in government

My work with communities in Brooklyn and throughout New York has shown that democratic participation keeps public servants accountable to the public. That is why I want to shine sunlight on city contracts and budgeting, eliminate the culture of pay-to-play and respect the will of voters on term limits.

Promoting public safety and justice

I will work with communities to ensure that our streets remain safe, that our businesses can operate securely, and that our families can thrive and live without fear.

Equal treatment for the LGBT community

Brad is a longtime supporter of LGBT equality and will be a forthright ally in the City Council. Brad will not stand for discrimination in our laws, and will fight to protect civil liberties of all members of our community.

Vote 'Row E' to send a message of support for sick pay

Today, over a million working New Yorkers have no paid so sick days. Many work in places where disease is most likely to spread -- one survey showed that 84% of restaurant workers have no paid sick days, and more than half report going to work sick. Its bad for workers, bad for families, and bad for public health. The New York City Council is currently considering a bill that would allow employees to earn up to 9 paid sick days a year (up to 5 days for small business employees). The Paid Sick Days bill is begin championed by the Working Families Party. One way to show your support is to vote for me (and other Democratic candidates) on Row E, the WFP line. It counts the same, and sends a message in support of progressive public policy.

Honor Julian Brennan by Helping Build Schools in Afghanistan

Marine Lance Corporal Julian Brennan, who grew up on 15th Street in Park Slope, was 25 when he was killed in Afghanistan on January 24, 2009. In a remarkable act of compassion, his parents Bill and Thya Brennan are asking us to make contributions to the Central Asia Institute, which builds schools in Afghanistan.'

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New York, New York

NEW YORKERS are to vote for their mayor on November 3. It's a real executive position, not just for show. The mayor's office at City Hall wields a $50 billion a year budget, biggest of any US city, and employs a quarter of a million people. The city collects $27 billion in taxes, and receives $14 billion from federal and state funds.

When we think of New York we may think of Wall Street, and world capitalism. Maybe that's what the attack on the World Trade Centre was supposed to be about. But like the majority of victims there, the majority of New Yorkers are workers. What's more, this other New York has a history of struggles and hopes that were not always content to be lulled by the "American Dream".

In 1914, Meyer London, a Socialist, was elected to Congress with backing from labour unions and the poor immigrant workers of New York's Lower East Side. London opposed America's entry to the World War, and though once it was in the war he fell in line, he opposed measures like the 1917 Espionage Act of 1917 and the 1918 Sedition Act, which made criticism of the president or the war a crime

In the summer of 1917, with patriotic pro-war sentiment sweeping America, Morris Hillquit ran for Mayor of New York on an anti-war platform, combined with commitment to public services. Socialists, liberals and opponents of the war and repressive legislation rallied to Hillquit's side, and he obtained 22 per cent of the vote.

Anti-war sentiment and working class militancy were not necessarily united. But besides Irish Americans and of course German Americans' reluctance to side with Britain, many American Jews, particularly those immigrant workers, would take some persuasion to endorse an alliance with Czarist Russia, whose oppression and pogroms they had fled. This was one factor in the British government's decision to adopt its Balfour Declaration, supporting the Zionists' project for a Jewish 'National Home', in Palestine. Perhaps British leaders had been sold an exagerated view of Zionist influence on Jews, as well as of Jewish influence in both American politics and Russian Revolution.

But it worked. In 1918, the Zionists asked Meyer London to introduce a resolution in Congress endorsing the Balfour declaration. London did not share the Zionist dreams. “Let us stop pretending about the Jewish past and let us stop making fools of ourselves about the Jewish future,” he said. When he refused to introduce the resolution, the Zionists decided to defeat him. They were joined by Orthodox rabbis who opposed London because he was not religious; and by rich and powerful capitalists who obviously opposed London as a socialist. Jewish leaders and influential figures like Jacob Schiff, Louis Marshall, Nathan Strauss, and Rabbi Stephen S.Wise urged Jews to redeem themselves by rejecting London. He narrowly lost re-election in 1918.

It wasn't the end for London (he was re-elected in 1920), nor for New York labour radicalism. In 1932, still feeling the 1929 Crash and great depression, 200,000 New Yorkers voted for the Socialist Party candidates in city council elections. In 1936, major unions backed formation of an American Labour Party, seemingly following the British model, though it was as much to counter the Socialists and those further left, and channel union backing to Roosevelt.

In the absence of real class politics and tradition, competition and ugly, violent conflict can break out between different minorities fighting each other for the ear of corrupt politicians, access to resources and a place on the ladder, rather than uniting for justice and equality for all. That way those at the top can look down safely on those scrambling for crumbs below. I don't go for conspiracy theory, but I do find it interesting to read that both Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defence League (and later Israel's racist Kach party), and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, notorious for his anti-Jewish utterances, were on the FBI payroll.

US, and New York politics, also see what, to a simple Brit, are some strange alliances. Even the pre-war labour union support for Roosevelt had to go through backing New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia and attorney Thomas Dewey, both Republicans, presumably to sidestep conservative elements in Roosevelt's own Democrat Party.

But one of the most bizarre alliances has taken shape in New York under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who besides his job at City Hall is founder and main owner of Bloomberg LP, a financial software company, and the eighth richest man in the United States. If you think the shadowy Socialist Action team of advisors who gathered around Ken Livingstone was a bit much, or have remarked on Tory Mayor Boris' recruitment of a woman out of a think-tank said to have been associated with the late and unlamented "Living Marxism" magazine ..You ain't seen nothing!

Back in the 1970s, probably the dodgiest character to have emerged from the American Left, Lyndon LaRouche, led his supporters into a campaign of violence against other left-wing orgnisations, called "Operation Mop-Up". Shortly afterwards LaRouche was joined by a psycho-therapist called Fred Newman. The two didn't stay together long, apparently Newman found LaRouche too authoritarian, and LaRouche did not approve of Newman's personal lifestyle. Nowadays, LaRouche is generally regarded as a far-Right cult leader, whose organisations in the United States and Europe seem well-funded and remarkably protected. A young student from Britain, Jeremiah Duggan, was found dead by a roadisde outside Wiesbaden, in Germany, after going to a supposed 'anti-war' conference the LaRouchites had organised. Jerry Duggan's family are still trying to get his death properly investigated.

Fred Newman meanwhile led an 'International Workers Party', which officially dissolved into a New Alliance Party (NAP), and he also founded the New York Institute of Social Therapy. A woman.called Leonora Fulani (born Leonora Branch), also a Ipsycho-therapist, liked his theory of social therapy which is supposed to lead to "the dictatorship of the proletarian ego". Fulani joined the NAP, and ran for President in 1988, then in 1990 she ran for New York governor, with endorsement for Louis Farrakhan. Then in 2000, Newman and Fulani endorsed ultra-conservative Pat Buchanan - whose Catholic-influenced opposition to gay rights should afford interesting discussions with Newman - on record for "polymorphous sexuality" and "Man-boy" relationships.

In 2001, having moved into the Independence Party(originally followers of Ross Perot), Newman and Fulami swung its New York voters behind Republicam Mike Bloomberg for the mayoralty. They helped him get in, and whatever people say about virtue being its own reward, their reward was more than virtual. n 2005 New York's Department of Youth and Community Services gave a $215,000 grant to Newman and Fulani to run an after-school project for high school students. That was only a taster. Bloomberg saw to it that a $8.7 million municipal bond went to Newman and Fulani for a new headquarters.

In 2007, Bloomberg announced he was quitting the Republicans, to be an independent, and this time last year he got through a change in the city's law, enabling him to stand for a third term in office. The Newman-Fulani outfit have come in for attack from various critics. There have been concerns about the way the "All Stars" youth programme was run, and whether they were fit people to run it. Newman, despite being Jewish, was accused of "hate-filled antisemitic diatribes" by the Anti-Defamation League, and to be fair though his target might have been Israel, his reference to "the Jew" sounds like someone imitating Farrakhan, and the language he used suggest more someone in need of therapy, rather than a practitioner dispensing it. Derek Seratte, a trade unionist who quit the New Alliance Party says the "therapy" practised within it might not have set anybody right, but was "effective in terms of controlling a lot of people to do the kinds of things that were asked of them". Christopher Hitchens sayst “the Newman-Fulani group is a fascistic zombie cult ..."

So far as the pro-Zionist organisations go, their tide of criticism seems to have ebbed, and might not lap up up against Bloomberg.

But what has the mayor's record been like for New Yorkers hit by recession and even before that, repossessions?
"Clearly his tactics, which have included cutting off homeless New Yorkers from federal housing assistance, cutting funding to eviction prevention programmes, closing down shelters and drop-in centres and, most recently, kicking people out of shelters for breaking rules such as missing curfews, are not working. Since Bloomberg took office in 2002 homelessness has increased at a rate of 45% each year."
America's Most Unwanted

Still, never mind, if they have nowhere to live the chances are they will have nowhere to vote, assuming they wanted to.

Whereas some supporters have not lost their enthusiasm:
Bloomberg, Lenora Fulani, Fred Newman -- Rally for Victory!

Be there or Be Square! Lenora Fulani, Fred Newman, and all the wonderfully zany leaders of the city's Independence Party kick off their big push to reelect Mike Bloomberg Thursday evening at a rally in Harlem.

Bloomberg is listed as an "invited speaker" for the event at First A.M.E. Bethel Church on 132nd Street at 6.P.M., according to an ad on the Independence Party (New York City wing) website.

There's a recorded pitch for the big night on a voice zipper on the site in which Fulani credits a "new alliance" of blacks and independent voters with electing America's "two most independent leaders" -- Bloomberg and Barack Obama, (while defeating "the Clinton machine" along the way). Here's Fulani:

"Four years ago, a new political coalition put itself on the map; 47 percent of black voters and 60 percent of independents reelected Mayor Mike Bloomberg giving him a mandate for nonpartisan government. That black and independent alliance scored again in 2008 when it carried Barack Obama to victory, defeating the Clinton machine in the primaries and then the Republican machine in November. As part of this new alliance, we have elected the country's two most independent leaders, Barack Obama and Mike Bloomberg. . . . New York City, in all its diversity, has gone independent and we cannot turn back now".


* For a website dedicated to the pursuit of LaRouche and the Newman-Fulani outfit, see



Saturday, October 24, 2009

Electric company "shocked and stunned" - :-)

BRITAIN'S electricity supply industry used to be state-owned, but then and since it was privatised, the companies seem to have carried on behaving as though they own the state. Now one of them has tripped, trying to use the anti-terrorism laws.

This piece of news reached me care of Bristol Unite union activist and socialist Jerry Hicks, though I'm particularly pleased because it concerns a brother from my own section of Unite, and what's more best known in the Manchester area where I hail from. Anyway, as Jerry says, introducing this item, "It's great to win one! and then maybe another?"

High Court defeat leaves Scottish & Southern Energy

Shocked and stunned’

The High Court yesterday (Wed 21st October) rejected an injunction against a building worker which had been brought against him under Terrorism legislation.

Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) had sought the injunction against Steve Acheson claiming his actions were a potential threat to the National Grid and national security. Even though he has never attempted to enter the power station, or disrupt generation, or block the entrance to the site since his unfair dismissal by contractors in December 2008.

Mr Acheson, an electrician is a Unite union member, who has been peacefully protesting against his dismissal and subsequent denial of a grievance process from the Fiddlers Ferry power station in Warrington,

The dispute at the power station started in December 2008, when Steve Acheson was dismissed from the project. Steve complained that he was deliberately being victimised because he was an active trade union member and began to picket the site to regain his job.

In March 2009, the Information Commissioner uncovered an illegal blacklist operating in the construction industry on behalf of 44 of the largest construction companies. After receiving his own file, documentary evidence now fully supports Steve Acheson's claim of deliberate blacklisting from the site. But rather than admitting their obvious guilt and re-employing Steve, SSE unsuccessfully tried to stifle his protest.

At the High Court on Wednesday a legal representative for SSE made a various vague references to Mr Acheson posing a danger to the National Grid! Stretching even the most vivid of imaginations

During his summary, Lord Justice Mann used somewhat dramatic language when he described the SSE legal case as "lacking any evidence at all" and as "fanciful bordering on paranoid". Lord Justice Mann when rejecting the injunction awarded full costs against SSE.

Jerry Hicks who along with many others was at the hearing to support Mr Acheson said. "This would be laughable if it was not so serious. SSE were totally humiliated, their case was ludicrous but it proves the lengths employers will go in their attacks on union members".

And argues that there should be a demand that all the contractors implicated in the blacklisting scandal should be banned themselves from tendering for any government contracts until they offer jobs to the 3000 constructions workers who have been blacklisted.

The very real threat are the big contractors who, by blacklisting trade unionists are ruining workers lives and those of their families. It should be the construction companies in court.

After his victory Steve told supporters: "I have been boosted by the support I have received from so many people. If this Injunction had gone through it would have had a devastating impact upon trade unions ability to organise This is a defeat for corporate bullies and a victory for peaceful protest. Tomorrow I will be back at Fiddlers Ferry, fighting the blacklist and fighting to get my job back"


For more background on this ongoing fight see:

My Unite branch,whose members came, like Steve Acheson, via the Electrical and Plumbing Industries Union(EPIU), has followed and supported the Manchester members in their fight against victimisation and blacklisting, and admired their determination and fortitude..But I'm sure we will not be alone in being thrilled and delighted with this setback for the employers, and wishing strength and success to Steve in his ongoing fight.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Whom they broadcast, and what they don't


THAT'S how I like to see fascists, with BOTH hands up!
Nick Griffin
is second from left, and next to him and third from left
is former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

WELL, the British National Party leader Nick Griffin has had his night on BBC Question Time, and by way of gratitude he says he will complain that he was sibjected to a "lynch mob". Oh dear. I don't normally watch the programme, and last night ws no exception, but I read in the papers that some members of the audience - one of them black, and another Jewish - asked Mr.Griffin some awkward questions. Some even jeered and laughed at him. Diddums.

Maybe we should sympathise with him over this unpleasant experience, but...the reports did not mention any crowd in pointy white hoods waiting with a noose for Mr. Griffin. Now that is what I would call a lynch mob, and I'd be sorry if I'd missed it, indeed not been part of it. But then, I am sure that Griffin, whose party has ran a fund raising operation among white supremacists in the 'States , does not need telling what a lynch mob is. As David Dimbleby reminded the BNP leader last night, he met former KKK leader David Duke on one of his Transatlantic trips.

But that won't stop Griffin making his complaint. One thing the fascists have never been short of is chutzpah. Audacity, as their Italian originals used to say. Getting on Question Time, regardless of performance, was bound to encourage them.

BBC bosses said before last night's programme that not inviting the BNP leader would have amounted to "censorship", and this was not the BBC's job. Really? It may have slipped my memory, but how much coverage did the BBC give the long Liverpool docks struggle, before Robbie Fowler upset commentators by revealing his tee shirt supporting the dockers, in front of the 'Match of the Day' cameras?. Then there was Labour MP John McDonnell's campaign with a view to challenging Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership. The MP got well-attended public meetings wherever he went, with enthusiastic backing from trades unionists. but so far as the news on BBC television went, he did not exist, to the extent that Michael Meacher's abortive stand was treated as the first entry to the jousts, without mentioning McDonnel's campaign let alone giving him a platform on TV.

But we must not accuse the BBC of responding to pressure for censorship on that occasion. After all, they showd themselves perfectly capable of deciding what to keep off the air when it came to the Gaza charities appeal. That wasn't censorship?

When it comes to the BNP, intentionally or otherwise, some BBC reporting gives the BNP and its arguments a chance which isn't afforded other points of view. We hear about the "white working class" feeling betrayed by Labour, but not about the working class without that colour label, which is entitled to feel betrayed. A report on Barking and Dagenham gave voice to those blaming immigrants for decline, and intending to vote BNP, but not a word against two particular groups of foreigners who did damage the areas - Cape Asbestos, whose Barking factory left a legacy of asbestos-related diseases, and Ford Motor Co. who pulled the rug from under employment at Dagenham.

Then there's the publicity which the Beeb and other media don't give to the BNP. Take the 'war on terror'. When two Asian Muslim men in Forest Gate, east London, were arrested for what proved a non-existent terror plot, their homes were turned over by search teams and nothing was found, but for a week or more local people had a job getting home past police cordons and without tripping over television cables. But last year when police found the largest cache of explosives seen in years up in Lancashire in a former BNP candidate's shed, the story somehow didn't make national news.

I commented on this at the time, but Independent columnist Johann Hari, though he thinks the BBC was right to give Griffin the chance to expose himself, looks at this wider picture:

Exactly a decade ago, a 22-year-old member of the British National Party called David Copeland planted bombs in Brixton, Brick Lane (where I live), and a gay pub in Old Compton Street. He managed to lodge a nail deep in a baby's skull, and to murder a pregnant woman, her gay best friend, and his partner. He bragged: "My aim was political. It was to cause a racial war in this country. There'd be a backlash from the ethnic minorities, then all the white people would go out and vote BNP."

Last year, a 43-year-old man called Neil Lewington was arrested "on the cusp" of waging a "terror campaign", it emerged at his trial. He had built a bomb factory in his parents' house which he planned to use to launch attacks against people he considered to be "non-British". He was only caught by chance: he picked a panicked fight with a train conductor, and the police who turned up found he was laden with explosives.

The list of far right-wingers who have been busted for planning violence has spiked up in the past few years. In the home of a BNP election candidate called Robert Cottage in 2008, the police discovered "the largest amount of chemical explosives ever found in this country", they said.

The same year, a thug called Martyn Gilleard was caught with a huge stash of nail bombs, and rage-filled letters in which he declared: "I am so sick of hearing nationalists talk of killing Muslims, of blowing up mosques, of fighting back, only to see these acts of resistance fail to appear. The time has come to stop the talk and start to act." He was only caught by fluke: the police busted him for distributing child porn.

It's not hard to get in on this act. There are dozens of far-right websites that explain – with handy video links – how to make bombs, and then urge you to head to the nearest mosque, synagogue or gay club.

But as the New Statesman's Mehdi Hassan has pointed out, as far as public debate goes, it's as if these crimes never happened. While planned attacks by jihadis (rightly) dominate the news agenda for days, these remarkably similar plans pass unmentioned and unnoticed.

This disjunction exposes a rash of hypocrisy. The parts of the right that gleefully blame all Muslims for the actions of a tiny minority are mysteriously reluctant to apply the same arguments to themselves. If Martin Amis was consistent, he should now declare: "The white community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order. What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation. Strip-searching people who look like they're from Hampshire or from Surrey ... Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children."

The Looming Threat of Terror that comes from the far Right, Johann Hari, Independent, October 14

Amis is the well-known writer and well over-paid guest lecturer at Manchester University, a reminder that though Nick Griffin might not have made intellectual respectability, there are quite a few intellects and Establishment-types around pushing their right-wing views in the media and academe. They can affect to despise Griffin, just as he can whenever necessary distance himself from the convicted thugs and nail-bomb nutters of the Far Right.

If reason and ridicule were enough to defeat the fascists, neither Mussolini nor Hitler would have ever made it to power. Nick Griffin is not up to either, not even to Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose French TV appearances were cited as a worrying precedent. But while others can worry themselves about 'free speech' and quote Voltaire, we might as well quote Griffin. When the BNP won a council seat in Millwall, he spoke about about the value of "well-directed boots and fists" - : "When the crunch comes, power is the product of force and will, not of rational debate.”

You can't argue with that.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two who deserve prizes not imprisonment

TWO PEOPLES. ONE FUTURE, and two men behind bars for working for it.
MOHAMMAD OTHMAN (left) and (right) EZRA NAWI.

A PEACE PRIZE for Obama, a bid for the European Union presidency for Tony Blair, though meanwhile he was given some home truths when he entered a mosque in Nablus.

Two men who should get prizes, for working for the freedom and justice without which there can be no peace, have been put back under lock and key this week by the Israeli occupation authorities.

One is Mohammad Othman, from the Palestinian village of Jayyous, campaigner against the Wall which separates the villagers from their land, arrested on his return from Norway, where he had spoken for a boycott and divestment from Israel. Here is an update from Hindi Mesleh yesterday:

At the court hearing yesterday, the judge has extended Mohammad’s detention for another 11 days. Again, the Israeli interrogation police failed once again to provide any evidence justifying Mohammad’s arrest, but contended that an extension of his detention period was necessary for further interrogation. The military judge rejected the interrogators’ initial request to extend Mohammad’s detention period to 23 additional days, arguing that the period was too long, but agreed to a 11 day extension period, based on “secret information”, which was made available to him by representatives from the Israeli Security Agency (ISA). Military Judge Eliahu Nimni argued that the extension is required in order to end the interrogation and clarify suspicions against Mohammad. At the same time, he maintained that releasing Mohammad would constitute a security threat, despite the fact that no concrete suspicions of any alleged offenses were made, thus siding with the interrogation police. Addameer appealed the court’s decision and the appeal hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, 22 October at 9.30 am at Salem Court (Ofer prison, near Ramallah).

On 14 October, Addameer attorney Mahmoud Hassan stated before the Judge of the Military Appeals Court in an appeals hearing that Mohammad has been ill-treated. Since then, the interrogation police have abandoned their tactics of intimidation and threats, and instead have adopted a strategy of physical and mental exhaustion by leaving Mohammad alone, sitting in the interrogation room in the same position for several hours at a time, with his hands tied behind his back. Every few hours, the interrogators question him on issues relating to his human rights activism and activities as a volunteer with the “Stop the Wall Campaign”. They also ask questions about other staff members of the campaign, which only reinforces Addameer’s and Stop the Wall’s belief that Mohammad is detained for his activities as a human rights defender.

For more information on the case and on the condition Mohammad is in, please go to for a more detailed update. It is very important that all of us keep sending letters to either your own political representatives AND the Israeli authorities!

Mohammad also has a personal message for all the supporters around the world, expressing his deep gratitude to all of you. He says he is doing okay, but his lawyer said that the long hours of interrogation are talking their toll on Mohammad. Mohammad is asking you to step up the campaign for his release and that of other anti apartheid activists.

Far from sapping the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, the arrest of Mohammad Othman has given it a boost, as Hindi Mesleh adds:

The global BDS marathon last friday and saturday was very succesful: it saw around 20 activties held on four continents of the globe, a testimony to the international solidarity that Mohammad’s case has received and a world increasingly less willing to stand by in silence whilst Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights continue.

Next, the Israeli online news YNet reports:
Leftist gets month in jail for assault

Ezra Nawi, member of Ta'ayush organization, is sentenced to 30-days in prison after being convicted of assaulting Border Guard officers, rioting during demolition of illegal Bedouin structures near South Mount Hebron '

Initiated by Palestinians who are Israeli citizens, Ta'ayush (Partnership) is a network of Palestinians and Israeli Jews who work together to bring material and moral support to Palestinian communities under curfew and siege. Ezra Nawi, an Israeli from a misrahi(eastern Jewish) background and a plumber by trade, has been active for years in the area known as South Mount. Hebron. The Palestinians in this small desolate area in the very south of the West Bank have been under Israeli occupation for almost 42 years; they still live without electricity, running water and other basic services, and are continuously harassed by the Jewish settlers who constantly violate both Israeli and International law, but are backed by Israeli occupation forces, in an effort to 'ethnically cleanse" the area of Palestinians.

Ezra Nawi has consistently sought to use non-violent tactics of resistance, but he was sentenced to one month in prison, after being convicted of 'assaulting police officers' and 'rioting' during the demolition of Bedouin homes in July 2007. He was also ordered to pay a fine of NIS 750., and an additional NIS 500 ($135) compensation to each officer he was accused of assaulting..

Perhaps most seriously, Ezra faces a 12-month suspended sentence if he should break the law in the south Hebron area again.

Judge Eilata Ziskind wrote in her ruling that "even if there is a supreme goal, it cannot be used as an excuse to commit offenses." Nawi said in response that "the court has been permitting the occupation. The punishment doesn’t scare me, and neither does the judge."

The judge said, "The fact that a person is acting in the name of one ideology or another, as justified as it may be, is no excuse to commit offenses in the name of that ideology, and in this matter there is no difference between left-wing activists, right-wing activists, religious, seculars, or other groups in conflict."

After the sentencing Nawi told Ynet, "The judge would rather take the word of two Border Guard officers who lied and coordinated their testimonies. The entire system wants to see me in jail. The court has been permitting the occupation for years, they are trying to stop me at all costs. The judge doesn't scare me, and neither does the 30-day sentence. This is testimonium paupertatis to the court, I tried to stop criminal activity, and I ended up having to pay two officers who acted brutally. This is the Israeli reality."

As though the charge of attacking two officers was not ludicrous enough (which may be why Judge Zeskind did not pass a heavier sentence), a group claiming to defend the "human rights" of West Bank settlers has protested that one month was not enough, that the settlers had been insulted, and that Ezra Nawi was being allowexd to "run wild" in the West Bank. The only people running wild have been the armed right-wing settlers, who have trashed shops and stalls in Hebron, and attacked farmers and shepherds in the Hebron hills. The more they want to shout for retributive justice, the sooner they will get it - they and the their supporters, whether in Israel or abroad.

More info:-

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Farewell to an African revolutionary

BONGANI MKHUNGO, who died last week in Durban, is a sad loss to the workers of southern Africa, and to the international movement for socialism. When I met him in London he seemed a quiet, unassuming man, who listened carefully to what comrades said, though sometimes he could not resist a twinkle and quietly shaking with laughter. When he spoke it was to ask a pertinent question, or to talk from experience. In fact, Bongani was a significant figure, someone who had led workers in the most difficult material and political conditions, learning his politics along the way, and more than once receiving death threats to himself and his family,

His time in England cannot have been easy, relying on what rough jobs he could get here and occasional hospitality. while worrying how to get help to those left at home, and his children's education. I remember a rally outside Belmarsh prison, a rainy Sunday afternoon, and Bongani standing patiently with neither a coat nor decent footwear, just incongruous flip-flops. But then life had never been easy.

He was born in 1954, in a Zulu village, brought up in a round mud hut with not enough land for the family to live off. His father had to go off to work in Durban, and then died in 1968. For Bongani that meant an end to schooling (his favourite subject was history) and a trek to town, where he had to find a job and somewhere to live, and get a permit. He was at the Dunlop factory when strikes swept through the city, in 1973, and became a general strike, with crowds of workers marching around chanting Zulu war slogans and threatening management. The government set up a commission which recommended legalising trade unions, hoping to make the struggle safer.

The workers organised, the Metal and Allied Workers' Union entering Bongani's industry, and it was during the strike in the British Tyre and Rubber Company(BTR) Samcol in 1988 that Bongani first came to Britain, with a union delegation seeking support from British workers. Staying with Bob Myers, a Trotskyist shop steward in Manchester, Bongani had long discussions with him, and the pair found they were reaching similar views about workers struggle and leadership. Bob was part of that majority in the Workers Revolutionary Party which had ousted Gerry Healy's corrupt leadership and was trying to re-establish the movement, on principled relations with workers' and democratic struggles internationally.

In South Africa, the white regime had tried to shore itself up by winning the Indian and Coloured sections to its side, while the banned African National Congress encouraged a United Democratic Front (UDF) to counter this. Trades unionists like Bongani meanwhile had spread their organising energy from the workplace into the township communities, where they needed to achieve unity between the workers and youth, to fight for decent living conditions and education, and to counter the divisive activity of Inkatha. Moses Mayekiso, the metalworkers' leader, was jailed by the Apartheid regime, and trade unionists were targeted for violence. So both the UDF and the trade unionists were ostensibly fighting for democratic rights, and yet they came from different directions, and went about it differently. Here's Bongani on this period:

'We had tried to organise township committees. The problem was that the UDF came to every meeting just to tell the workers what to do. This discouraged people.

'This was repeated after Nelson Mandela's release in February 1990. Again the youth were fighting with the police. Many people were being killed. The UDF didn't know what to do. I proposed that we should call a general meeting of the township. Ten thousand people came to it. I felt that the UDF speeches were just window-dressing. They weren't going to do anything.

'I called for discipline among the youth and said they must stop 'necklacing' anybody they felt like killing. I said we needed a defence committee to unite the workers with the youth. So I organised a workshop for some of the leading people, to discuss how we were going to form our structures. None of the UDF people came. I explained how we should organise at every level, with accountability of committees. We wanted to stop people just acting on their own. The youth were pleased about this organisation. We divided the township into areas and started to organise. It was very effective.UDF leaders came to the township and said that this structure was very wrong, becuse nothing was under the UDF's control. They managed to break it all up.

'One year our union held its general meeting near Durban. It was not only union members who attended the rally in the stadium. Lots of youth came too. Because of what the unions had done in 1984 the youth gave great support to the workers' activities. They would come with banners and shout for socialism, even though most of them were UDF supporters.

'I was one of the marshals trying to get .everyone into the rally without trouble. Already in the morning we had a confrontation with the police, who tried to stop people singing as thev marched into the stadium. We had the rally — then, as people were leaving, the police opened fire. I saw one of our stewards hit. We carried him away. Everyone was running to get away.

'The next morning I was called from work to the mortuary to identify bodies, I didn't recognise anyone. But I was given names, and back at work someone knew that one of those names was a young man who had been at our rally. So our shop stewards met.

'We said that we must do something because this young man was killed attending our rally. We went to see his family and told them that the workers wanted to arrange the funeral. They agreed. we returned to the factory and collected money.

'As we were going back to the family we met a man from the UDF He said that they must arrange the funeral as the young man was their member. We told him: 'No. That youth was killed participating with the workers'. We went to the family and they agreed with us. So we organised the luneral. Many of the workers came and I gave the funeral speech. I talked about the struggle of the working class for socialism.'
(from Revolutionary Times, Revolutionary Lives Index Books, 1997.

When a conference was held in Budapest to form the Workers International (for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International), Bongani and other workers who attended from South Africa faced a witch-hunt on their return, with tales alleging that the South African government had paid their fares, and so on. In fact, it was the ANC and its allies in the South African Communist Party and top union leaders who were preparing to take their places in government and boardrooms, with appropriate salaries. Stalinism might have been collapsing in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but it persevered with its methods of smearing opponents in the labour movement, and not just in South Africa.

Today in the "new" South Africa, though Apartheid has gone, workers in the factories and mines, and poor people in the townships and squatter camps are still fighting exploitation and poverty, and with the ANC and its allies in government, more people are ready to talk about, and work for, a left-wing alternative. It is to this ferment that Bongani Mkhungo returned with some enthusiasm. That his life should have been cut so short at this time is tragic, for him and his family, but also for the workers' movement. We can be confident however, as Bongani would have been, that from the new generations coming into struggle we shall see more like him emerging.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Remember Falluja. .. and the mothers who cannot forget

FALLUJA CHILDREN who may have been fortunate enough to survive their city's ordeal. Others, as yet unborn, are still suffering.

BADLY hit by bombing in the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqi industrial city of Falluja, once known as "the city of mosques", has a history going back to ancient Babylon, and was the site of the old Jewish academy of Pumbedita.
When the American-led invasion of Iraq took place, Falluja was quiet at first, perhaps hoping to avoid suffering yet more war damage.

It's new mayor and local leaders tried to co-opeate with the occupiers. But on the evening of April 28, 2003, a crowd of 200 local people gathered outside a school that had been taken over by American forces for headquarters, to demand it be handed back so it could re-open for pupils. Soldiers of the 82nd US Airborne opened fire on the crowd, killing 17 civilians, and wounding more than 70. The following week a protest over this shooting was also fired upon..

Falluja and its surrounding area became insurgent country. On March 31, 2004 Iraqi insurgents ambushed a convoy containing personnel from Blackwater, the US private military contractor.Four Americans were killed and their charred bodies were hanged from the Euphrates bridge.

Vowing revenge, the US forces launched two operations to retake Falluja, first Operatioon Vigilant Resolve, and then Operation Phantom Fury in November 2004. Using among other things white phosphorus, they destroyed nearly two thirds of the city's homes, and killed large numbers of people, including children, before announcing that "calm" had been restored. Later, in 2007, they handed over to Iraqi government forces.

But this petition, brought to my attention by the Iraq Solidarity Campaign, says Falluja's suffering has not ended.

To: The United Nations

Young women in Fallujah in Iraq are terrified of having children because of the increasing number of babies born grotesquely deformed, with no heads, two heads, a single eye in their foreheads, scaly bodies or missing limbs. In addition, young children in Fallujah are now experiencing hideous cancers and leukaemias. These deformities are now well documented, for example in television documentaries on SKY UK on September 1 2009, and on SKY UK June 2008. Our direct contact with doctors in Fallujah report that:

In September 2009, Fallujah General Hospital had 170 new born babies, 24% of whom were dead within the first seven days, a staggering 75% of the dead babies were classified as deformed.This can be compared with data from the month of August in 2002 where there were 530 new born babies of whom six were dead within the first seven days and only one birth defect was reported.

Doctors in Fallujah have specifically pointed out that not only are they witnessing unprecedented numbers of birth defects but premature births have also considerably increased after 2003. But what is more alarming is that doctors in Fallujah have said, "a significant number of babies that do survive begin to develop severe disabilities at a later stage".

As one of a number of doctors, scientists and those with deep concern for Iraq, Dr Chris Burns-Cox, a British hospital physician, wrote a letter to the Rt. Hon. Clare Short, M.P. asking about this situation. She wrote a letter to the Rt. Hon.Douglas Alexander, M.P. the Secretary of State of the Department for International Development (a post she had held before she resigned on a matter of principle in May 2003 ) asking for clarification of the position of deformed children in Fallujah.

She received a reply dated 3rd September 2009 (two days after the Sky TV broadcast of 1st September 2009 ) from a junior minister, deputy to The Secretary of State, Mr. Gareth Thomas MP, Duty Minister, Department for International Development. In his reply he denies that there are more than two or three deformed babies in Fallujah in a year and asserts that there is, therefore, no problem. This is at wild variance with reports coming out of Fallujah. One grave digger of a single cemetery is burying four to five babies a day, most of which he says are deformed.

Clare Short passed us a copy of this letter. It bears a remarkable similarity to three other written answers we have received over a four year period, in regard to child health and the use of depleted uranium. All these letters are based on lies and an aim to confuse the recipients. In her autobiography "Honorable Deception?" Clare Short says "The first instinct of Number 10 (Downing Street) is to lie."We regard the mendacity of Mr. Thomas's letter, and of the other letters we have received, as extremely serious. These letters do not deal with minor matters of corruption, or taxes, but do deal with the use of armed forces and deadly weapons.

The use of certain weapons has tremendous repercussions. Iraq will become a country, if it has not already done so, where it is advisable not to have children. Other countries will watch what has happened in Iraq, and imitate the Coalition Allies' total disregard of the United Nations Charter, The Geneva, and Hague Conventions, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Some countries, such as Afghanistan, will also come to experience the very long term damage to the environment, measured in billions of years, and the devastating effect of depleted uranium and white phosphorous munitions.

If, as we say in our letter to the Duty Minister of the Department for International Development, the UK Government clearly does not know the effects of the weapons it uses, nor, as a matter of policy, does "it do body counts", how can the UK Government judge whether it is conducting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan according to International Law, especially in terms of "proportionality" and long term damage to the natural environment? How can the UK know about the illegality of the weapons systems it sells on the international market, such as the "Storm Shadow" missile, if the very Department of the Government that is supposed to assess the deaths and medical needs of children and adults in Iraq is not telling the truth.

We request from the United Nations General Assembly the following:

1. To acknowledge that there is a serious problem regarding the unprecedented number of birth defects and cancer cases in Iraq specifically in Fallujah, Basra, Baghdad and Al - Najaf.

2. To set up an independent committee to conduct a full investigation into the problem of the increased number of birth defects and cancers in Iraq.

3. To implement the cleaning up of toxic materials used by the occupying forces including Depleted Uranium, and White Phosphorus.

4. To prevent children and adults entering contaminated areas to minimize exposure to these hazards.

5. To investigate whether war crimes, or crimes against humanity, have been committed, and thereby uphold the United Nations Charter, The Geneva and Hague Conventions, and The Rome Statute of The International Criminal Court.


The Undersigned


Thursday, October 15, 2009

From Baldock to Bethnal Green, by way of Jerusalem


A LOT of people have been arguing whether Barack Obama deserved his Nobel peace prize, or if it was not a bit previous, even aside from Afghanistan. Israeli peace campaigner Uri Avnery called the award a "down payment on deeds still to be done". Meanwhile, in Jerusalem the city of peace - another title far from being earned - Israeli riot police were in action against Palestinian youth, Arab homes were being demolished, and Jewish settlers - supported by American money (now there's something Obama should interfere with) - were moving in.

And that is not all. Here is Uri Avnery again:
'The scandal that is taking place now at the foot of al-Aqsa is a part of this story. Something unprecedented is happening there: the digging in “David’s Town” (clearly a propaganda appellation) has been turned over to the same ultra-nationalist religious association, Ateret Cohanim, that is building the provocative Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and around it. The Israeli government, quite officially, has entrusted this scientific task to a political group. Not just any political group, but an ultra-radical one. The digging itself is being conducted by archeologists who accept their authority.

Israeli archeologists who care for the integrity of their profession (there still are some) protested this week that the digging is proceeding in a thoroughly unprofessional way: the work is done in an unscientific hurry, artifacts found are not examined properly and systematically, the sole aim is to uncover evidence as quickly as possible to support the Jewish claim to the Temple Mount.

Many Arabs believe that the aim is even more sinister: to dig under the al-Aqsa mosque in order to bring about its collapse. These fears were reinforced by the disclosure in Haaretz this week, that the digging is undermining Arab houses and threatens to bring them down.'

By way of a a break from all this conflict, which does not get any better, I thought we might take a ramble, -a sorha - through the bigger picture in space and time, from Baldock in Hertfordshire to Bethnal Green in London, by way of Jerusalem -al Kuds - and taking us from a court case 700 years ago to one that is due next month.

Friends and regular readers of this blog may have gathered that I have occasionally joined conducted historical walks through the East End of London, and once, commemorating the huge Tolpuddle Martyrs rally, around the southern bounds of Islington, from Copenhagen Fields to Clerkenwell. What is not so well known, is that on many a Sunday morning I explore the counties of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, without even needing to move from my chair or computer, thanks to BBC Radio Beds, Bucks and Herts (or Beds, Books and Hearts?) and a programme called 'Treasure Quest'. Unlike the contestants in the studio who tackle clues and give directions to the radio car, listeners at home can use the internet. Some of the places I have been to, but others I am only just learning about.

Thus I have learned that beneath the town of Hertford are cellars linked by tunnels said, like the the artificial cave at Royston, also in Herts, to be the work of the medieval Knights Templar. Though it may have suited 18th century antiquarians, present-day writers of conspiracy lit, and those trying to boost small-town tourism to go for this connection, it is not entirely certain, though fortunately no one is fighting over it. The Templars gained their title at the time of the Crusades, from their occupying parts of the Haram al Sharif, around al Aqsa mosque, in Jerusalem, where not only Israelis and Palestinians but rival Christian sects jealously contest possession of ancient sites. Many Arabs have long comforted themselves with the thought that the Zionist state might last no longer than the Crusader kingdom, though alas it has proved not as simple as that.

The Knights Templar also gained tremendous wealth, so that though they lost Acre and Cyprus, they acquired landed property in many places, including Hertfordshire, where they founded the town of Baldock. In those superstitious times - as by some in these - they were credited with possessing mystical knowledge from the East. But it is not clear why the Templars of Hertforshire should have had to go underground. Nowadays there is a Knights Templars school in Baldock, though it is no Hogwarts. The freemasons in Hertfordshire adopted the Knights Templar name, it being a traditional part of masonic lore to claim continuity with the builders of Solomon's Temple.

As their recruitment page explains:

The United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple, and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine Rhodes and Malta of England and Wales and its Provinces Overseas

"This is our title, and you will notice that the word Masonic is included. This is because we are not directly descended from the original Knights Templar, but we came into being (in a wide variety of ritual forms, and at first worked under Warrants of Royal Arch Chapters) in the British Isles in and around the 1760’s. The present day Templar ritual was introduced in the 1850’s, and a few years’ later, the same occurred to the Mediterranean Pass and Malta degrees.

"A direct link with the original Templars is that they were granted their encampment in Jerusalem, on the site of King Solomon’s Temple. On 15th July 1099 the city walls of Jerusalem were breached, and the city captured by the Crusader army of the 1st crusade. In 1118 nine knights under the leadership of Hughes de Payen approached the patriarch of Jerusalem (King Baldwin II); having decided to dedicate their lives to the service of the Holy land. The patriarch subsequently assigned them a portion of the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount (said to have been built on the original Temple of Solomon). This group of knights subsequently took their name from this: Pauperes commiltones Christi Templi Salomonis (the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon). Thus becoming known as the Knights of the Temple, and later, Knights Templar."

We might note that on 15 July 1099 the victorious Crusaders set a synagogue ablaze and massacred Jerusalem's Muslims and Jews before offering their prayers of thanks, but to be fair, I don't think the masons today who claim Templar origin are into that sort of thing, being more about helping fellow-masons and performing charitable works.

The real Knights Templar's tzorres began in 14th century France, under the reign of a King known for some reason as Philip the Fair, who seems to have been anything but. To pay for his wars against the Flemings and English, and get rid of his debts, he had arrested then chased out the Jews, harassed the Lombards, debased the coinage, and even tried taxing the clergy, incurring the wrath of the Pope. Then seeing that the Templars were no longer that popular since the Crusades had finished, and that the papacy was already looking into allegations against them, he imported a team of inquisitors who could get a confession out of anyone. On 13 October 1307 he launched the round up of Knights Templar across France. Not only had they refused to lend him money, but they were alleged to secretly worship the devil, engage in lewd practices with each other, and tear down and piss on the cross. Hundreds were burned at the stake. Finally, in 1314, Philip had the last Grand Master of the Templars, Jacques de Molay, roasted slowly over a fire before the Notre Dame, in Paris. According to legend, de Molay cursed both Philip and Pope Clement V from the flames, saying that he would summon them before God's Tribunal. Within a year they had both died.

Then in England, King Edward II had leading Templars put on trial beginning on October 22, 1309. But it seems that most of those arrested were allowed reconciliation with the church, once they acknowledged that it was heresy to say their order's master could grant absolution. Most Templars in England were never arrested, and the persecution of their leaders was brief. The order was eventually dissolved, and members entered other orders, like the Hospitallers, to which their lands also passed. It was not until 1804 that a modern Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem was formed.

There have been stories about the Templars surviving in Scotland, playing a crucial part in the battle of Bannockburn, and the Bruce rewarding them by creating the Order of the Thistle. But Rosslyn Chapel which is said to contain Templar symbols was not built until a century after they were dissolved. Contemporary accounts of Bannockburn make no mention of any Templar knights (possible invented by the English to explain their defeat). And the Order of Knights of St.Andrew or the Thistle was not created by Bruce in 1314, but by James II in 1440. An even bigger gap separates the Knights Templars from the masonic organisations to whom they hare supposed to have passed on their esoteric knowledge.

But the idea of a secret underground society lasting across centuries and influencing great events is one that turns up in various guises, and if it helps some people to try and explain the mysteries of life, blame a conspiracy, or even feel part of it, mere facts and logic may find it hard to compete.

Besides, who am I, who has just started looking up stuff about the Knights Templer, to dismiss those who have obviously studied the subject? Here is one person who appears to be an expert:

This is Johanna Kaschke, explaining how the Knights Templar obtained a knowledge of significant numbers from the ancient Middle East, which they passed on to the Scottish masons. She believes all sorts of great men through history, like V.I.Lenin, were members of the secret order.

Having never been any good at sums, I am not going to challenge Ms.Kaschke's expertise on numbers. But I can't help noticing those gaps in time, nor wondering how it was that those so gifted with mysteriou powers and the ability to shape history have been unable to foresee and prevent their own persecution.

From her home in Bethnal Green, east London, Johanna Kaschke runs a one-woman secretarial business called Whizz, not to be confused with the similarly-named removals firm, nor the west London-based Maths-Whizz which provides children with tuition. In her blog, Blue Sphere, she writes about health and global warming, local issues, and the problems of working Mums, . "... it does take a lot of time to look after children, give them personal support, spend time with them."

About herself, we learn she is a mother of five, a widow, and now a grandmother.

"I am a resident in Bethnal Green, East London, UK and am engaged in local politics as a member of the Conservative Party. I am also member of the following groups: Hamlets Police & Community Safety Board, :LAP 1 Steering Group member, Member of the Safer Neighbourhood Panel for Bethnal Green North; Board Member of the Parkview Residents Association; Chair of the Parkview Neighbourhood Watch; Member of the Servioce Improvement Working Group".

In her student days in Germany, Johanna Kaschke joined the Social Democrat youth movement, and also assisted Rote Hilfe, which was accused of helping former members of the Red Army Fraction, or Baader Meinhof group. In a blog entry on May 23 she writes:.
When again in the 1960s and 70s the Baader-Meinhof movement came up, I was kind of caught up in it, having to grow up in a society with widespread protests and try to find my way through it. Looking at it today, I can see that a lot of those members were mentally unstable ..."

In London, Johanna Kaschke joined the Labour Party, but managed within a short time to move from Labour to George Galloway's Respect, then to some Communist group, and finally "My current affiliations are with the Conservative Party because I have become a fan of the Monarchy and find that the Conservatives are the only ones wanting to preserve this. I have become a fan of hereditary peers ..."

Now like the knights of old, riding forth to joust with their rivals, this battling Tory grandma is pursuing libel actions against various people who have commented on her, among them David Osler, who is due to face trial on November 23. Our libel laws are a funny old game, and I've no wish to join Dave in the dock, but I do hope to to attend in the public gallery for what looks like a fascinating case.

See Dave's Part on this:

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Changing Times

MINNIE LANSBURY'S MEMORIAL CLOCK , commemorates fighting East End councillor.

THE Prime Minister has announced a fire sale of public assets, the political parties are arguing who can best make cuts, MPs are arguing how much if anything of their generous expenses they ought to pay back, and a century after the first state pensions were paid out, which are still somewhat less generous, our politicians tell us we are living too long, and the retirement age must be raised. Meanwhile in the City, financial institutions that are pillars of 'free enterprise' are flush with the taxpayers' cash, and the Fat Cats have not had to repay anything, in fact we're told the bonus culture is back.

Youth unemployment is at a new high, but never mind, our leaders are competing to 'get tough' on teenage crime and anti-social behaviour. There's also talk of lowering the voting age. In my teenage years, whether concerned about jobs and conscription, joining apprentices' strikes, or marching with CND, many of us clamoured for "votes at 18". Nowadays, as many if not more young people are dissatisfied and want to change the world, but not many feel enthusiastic about elections, or place much faith in the parties in parliament. It is difficult enough these days for older working people to remember the differences between the parties, or that it had anything to do with class. For those young people who have grown up under New Labour, it is nigh impossible.

History is not everything. We need to keep up to date with events and we cannot live in the past. But the working class does need its memory, as surely as any individual, if we are not to forget who we are, and what we have learned, or lose sight of where we are.

At the beginning of the last century, in February 1900, the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, forerunner of today's Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union helped sponsor a conference in London which decided to set up the Labour Representation Committee(LRC). The Gasworkers' union, founded in 1889 at Beckton Street gasworks in London's East End, and later to develop into today's General, Municipal and Boilerakers' (GMB) union, was also represented. Socialists had argued for some time that workers ought to have their own politial party, rather than leave it to rich Tories and Liberals. The Independent Labour Party was founded in 1893 in Bradford. Earlier a young Keir Hardie had been given a hard time when he raised the idea in his mining union. It was after the 1901 Taff Vale judgement in the House of Lords, arising from a rail strike in south Wales, and allowing employers to sue trades unionists for striking, that Ramsay MacDonald wrote to every trade union: "The recent decision of the House of Lords should convince the unions that a Labour Party in Parliament is an immediate necessity".

By 1904, affiliations to the LRC had risen from 41 to 165 unions, with almost a million members, and the LRC had agreed to a levy of penny per member, and to pay MPs (who were not then salaried). Two years later Keir Hardie succeeded in getting the Liberal government to adopt a Trades Disputes Act which effectively overturned the Taff Vale decision, and legalised the right to strike and peaceful picketing. Who could have foreseen that a century later a Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, would be dismissing trade unions (though not their funds) as just another "interest group", that Labour would be courting dodgy billionaires for loans rather than feel beholden to the unions; or that Labour in government would be keeping Tory laws which set back union rights 100 years, so that we have less freedom now than was obtained under the Liberals?
(for more on Taff Vale and the LRC see the pamphlet 'The Story of the Taff Vale Railway Strike' , by Geoff Revell, published by the RMT).

It is 90 years since Labour won control of several East London boroughs, among them Poplar, a waterfront neighbourhood of docks, railway yards, factories and sweatshops. George Lansbury, who had been a member of the Gasworkers' union and the Social Democratic Federation, as well as doing his best to help the poor when he was chair of the Poplar Board of Guardians, became the borough's first Labour mayor. His daughter in law, Minnie Lansbury, a former suffragette who had campaigned on behalf of war pensioners, widows and orphans, became a Labour alderman.

Poplar council strove to improve conditions for working people, providing council housing and public baths, and raising council workers pay, with equal pay for women. In 1920, Poplar was badly hit by recession. To maintain services and assist the unemployed, the council was expected to raise rates, but how could it rely on taxing the poor to pay for the poorer? Lansbury and his comrades came up with another answer. Poplar would withold payment of its precept which it was supposed to cough up, along with rich boroughs like Kensington, towards things like the Metropolitan Police.

As a result, mayor Lansbury and the Poplar council members were taken to court. They marched, with municipal mace bearer in front, and crowds behind. They were jailed, the men in Brixton prison, the women in Holloway. Supporters held demonstrations, and Lansbury addressed them through the bars. trade unions passed resolutions of support. After six weeks, the Poplar councillors were released, and legislation passed to ease the unfair burden on poorer boroughs. Lansbury went on to be leader of the Labour Party, though Poplar remained the high point in his political life, and Poplarism - the use of local government to defend working people, even defy the law, rather than do the capitalist state's dirty work - remained his lasting legacy, even though it was one most Labour leaders would rather forget.

Two articles on Poplarsim:

About George Lansbury:

Minnie Lansbury caught pneumonia as a result of her time in prison, and died in 1922. A memorial clock on Electric House, Bow Road, Tower Hamlets, was erected in her honour in the 1930s. actress Angela Lansbury, George's granddaughter, helped pay for its restoration.

There have been two books about Poplarism. Poplarism, 1919-25: George Lansbiury and the Councillors' Revolt' , by Noreen Branson, was published by Lawrence and Wishart in 1979.
This year has seen the publication of Poplar 1921: Guilty and Proud of It!, by Janine Booth.
Here reviewed by Keith Flett, who also wrote the forward to it:

Known to many of us as a socialist and RMT union activist, Janine, who is also a mother of three, owed her time off work to a painful eye injury, though it can hardly have been a help to writing a book. Still she has succeeded and though I haven't seen it yet, by all accounts it is a good one. I'm looking forward to meeting the author next month, when she is speaking at 'Rising in the East', a day school on East End communities and politics hosted by the Jewish Socialists' Group.

It's at Toynbee Hall, near Aldgate East, on Sunday, November 15, and other speakers include John Eversley on Eaat End doctors and politics, Ben Gidley on Rudolf Rocker and the Jewish Anarchists, and Ansar Ahmed Ullah on the changing politics of the East End's Bengali community. Admission for the day is £5, or £3 unwaged. See:
for details and how to register.

To bring us up to date on Labour politics, the day before the day school will see the conference of the Labour Representation Committee(LRC), not a direct continuation of the body which became the Labour Party, of course, though the choice of its name is significant. This is the campaigning alliance of Labour Party members, trade unionists and socialists which MP John McDonnell has led to fight 'New Labour', raising the need for socialist policies to go with repeal of anti-union laws, and again, the question of working class representation in politics.

Though I'm one of those who sees the need for a new workers' party rather than waiting for Labour to change,I know that the Left cannot achieve this without people waging a fight in the unions, and in the Labour Party. I attended last year's LRC conference, and was impressed by the level of comradely discussion and enthusiasm, the number of trade union activists and youth who took part, and the sense that, whatever our differences, people were not there to advance their careers nor score sectarian points; but, without losing anything in good humour, .were serious about uniting for socialism. So I am going to attend again.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Power to the People!

I WAS sorry I could not make it to Highbury magistrates court last Tuesday. A friend, Jewish peace activist Deborah Fink, faced charges of using threatening behaviour and abusive language and assaulting a police officer. The charges arose because Debbie tried to hold her ground, and her banner, when police forcibly moved demonstrators against Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who was attending a garden party at the Hampstead home of Jewish National Fund chairman Samuel Hayak, during his visit to Britain last May.

Debbie was arrested, handcuffed, thrown in the back of a police van, and held in the cells overnight.

But dismissing the charges against her, District Judge Baker ruled that the demonstrators had been within their rights to protest peacefully ausing the occasion of Lieberman's visit to express their support for Palestinian human rights and disapproval of events in Gaza. They had not sought to stop anyone from attending the garden party, and did not constitute a threat to public order. In preventing Fink and her fellow protesters from exercising their fundamental right to protest, the police had not been acting in the execution of their duty.

I understand Debbie Fink is now considering legal action against the police.

I did make it to a demonstration in support of Mohammad Othman on Thursday. Mohammad is the West Bank campaigner against Israel's annexation fence cutting off his village's land, who was arrested last month on his way home from a speaking visit to Norway. Mohammad's "crime" appears to have been that he spoke in favour of a strategy of boycott, divestment and sanctions to help his people against Israeli occupation and land-grabbing.

Norway's state pension fund decided last month on ethical grounds to disinvest from the Israeli company Elbit, which produces military and surveillance electronics. The Israeli government took a dim view of this and summoned the Norwegian ambassador, but as they can't do much to Norway, perhaps they are taking it out on Mohammad Othman.

Mohammad is currently held in solitary confinement, in a small cell, which measures only 2 square meters. The cell includes a mattress, and a Turkish bathroom (hole in the floor). The cell does not contain a window, which means that there is no natural sunlight or fresh air. Upon his transfer to Kishon (Jalameh) detention centre, he was searched and taken to a doctor for a medical examination, as he got sick in Huwwara provisional detention centre due to poor conditions there. He was given r a medical examination, as he got sick in Huwwara provisional detention centre due to poor conditions there. He was given clothes and slippers, but was allowed to take clean underwear and socks from his own luggage. During the first days following his arrest however, Mohammad suffered from especially hard detention conditions in Huwwara provisional centre, where bathrooms are located outside of the cell. Detainees are only allowed to use them freely during short recreation breaks (35 minutes), only three times a day. When the detainee wishes to use the toilet outside of these hours, he or she must call out for a guard and wait until one agrees to take the prisoner out.”

As a break from solitary, the young man has been subjected to lengthy interrogations, to turn up what from a public campaigner?

Anyway on Thursday, October 8, when Mohammad was due to face a military court, demonstrators from War on Want took their placards saying "Free Mohammad" up to the Israeli embassy, and as surprised police tried to escort us away - Kensington Palace Gardens is a private road - a little crowd of students came to join us and unfurled their banner. The demonstration continued outside the gates, in bright sunshine, and leadletted passers-by, while more police officers came up, and grew more agitated (having called their superiors for instructions), till we obliged them and crossed the road to the place designated "by convention" (they said) for the last five minutes or so. It was the first time in forty years that I've known a demonstration allowed (at first, anway) on the right side of the road, so near to the embassy, and the police were quite polite. Nobody was pushed, and nobody arrested. I couldn't help wondering if they had heard the news from Highbury.

Not that the news from Kishon detention centre was so good. Mohammad Othman has had his dtention without trial extended for another fourteen days. So expect more actions.

At the weekend, friends who had understandably condemned Palestinian Authority chair Mahmoud Abbas for apparently helping the Israeli, British and US governments to bury the Goldstone report on Gaza were asking what President Obama had done to deserve the Nobel peace prize. Uri Avnery, kinder than most, suggested it was a "down payment" on future expectations.

For my part, rather than rest my hopes on presidents and statespersons, then curse and weep when they disappoint me, I like to turn to what less famous people lower down the ranks are doing, without waiting for their governments. Here's a heartening tale that might give fresh meaning to the expression once heard in some corners of the Left, "Do It Yourself Demands"

Tia Goldenberg
Associated Press

SUSYA, West Bank — Residents of a West Bank village with no electricity have been helped out of the darkness by unlikely benefactors — a group of Israelis who installed solar panels and wind turbines to illuminate the Palestinians` makeshift homes.

The villagers of Susya live in tents and caves with power lines darting right above their dwellings, connecting a nearby Jewish settlement to the power grid while bypassing them entirely.

It was this lack of basic services that drew the physicists from Comet-ME, a group of pro-peace Israeli scientists and activists, to this dusty, desolate area. Now the entire village of 300 people has access to power that is reliable, free and green.

At night, rudimentary streetlights dot the otherwise pitch-black village and each home is lit by an energy-saving bulb. Villagers have no access to phone lines, but the power allows them to charge their cell phones.

`Life is easier now,` said Susya villagers Widad Nawaja, standing below the solar panel that powers her home. `We have light. Children can do their homework at night if they couldn`t finish it during the day.`

The residents also hope the new amenities will help them make more money: an electric butter churner means they can produce butter faster than by hand, and two green-powered refrigerators can preserve their produce until it can be sold.

`The communities here are in deep poverty. The project is targeted to help them make more revenue from their own work,` said Noam Dotan, an activist and physicist with Comet-ME.

Comet-ME says it seeks to use renewable energy to empower Palestinian communities like this one, which is among the poorest in the West Bank.

The West Bank, home to some 2.5 million Palestinians, is controlled by the Israeli military, with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority governing some areas. Some 300,000 Israeli settlers also live in the territory. The Palestinians want to make the West Bank part of their future state.

Israel provides power to Jewish settlements and military facilities in the West Bank, as well as to most Palestinian cities and towns.

But Comet-ME says some 500 Palestinian families in communities not officially recognized by the Israeli military authorities in this part of the southern West Bank are forced to live off the grid. The Israeli military said it never received a request for power from the community and if it did, the army would study it `in accordance with the relevant laws.`

Susya villagers used to depend on diesel generators which were costly and polluted the air.

The community has faced a series of evictions by the military and has clashed with Jewish settlers in the past. But the villagers and the activists say the work to set up the new power system — done by both Israelis and Palestinians — helped temper mistrust.

`This is an example of the coexistence between Arabs and Jews, and this is a very important thing,` said Mohammad Ahmed Nasser Nawaja, wearing a traditional Arab robe and carrying the cell phone he charged thanks to the new power system.

Meanwhile, word has spread to other villages lacking electricity. Comet-ME hopes to power up the remaining off-grid families in this area over the next four years.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

It so happens that before I read that report, republished on the Kibbush site,

I'd heard a bit about Comet-ME from supporter Mike Cushman, who also went on one of the peace boats to Gaza, and spoke at a Hyde Park anti-war rally.

COMET on BBC World Competition
Comet-ME Needs YOUR Vote – Today! Comet-ME proudly announces it is one of 12 finalists in the BBC World Challenge 2009. This global competition focuses on grassroots projects and small businesses worldwide that are taking effective, innovative action in environmental and socio-economic issues. In November, the winning project receives an award of $20,000! Comet-ME would use this prize to expand our project and to provide sustainable energy to another community. The winning project will be determined by online voting between 28 September 2009 and 13 November 2009, at

Comet-ME, a group of Israelis, Palestinians, and international volunteers, works closely with very poor communities in the occupied areas of Palestine. Under Israeli military occupation for 42 years, these people have no access (for political reasons) to the electricity grid. Our common goal is to help these people build sustainable energy systems using solar and wind power. Illumination, communication, and refrigeration increase their potential for generating revenue and reducing chronic poverty. We work with mutual interest and mutual respect, in the conviction that what we build together can begin to heal what has been destroyed. Each community owns its own project, and its local committee makes all relevant decisions; we provide materials and knowledge for building the energy systems. We foster pro-activity in these weak communities: teaching and encouraging them to maintain their energy systems leads them toward economic empowerment. All of us believe that working together on such projects weakens the barriers of suspicion and hostility, ultimately facilitating the end of racism and segregation in the Middle East. Building energy systems in the occupied territories, we face daily danger to our work, both from Israeli settlers and from the Israeli army. It’s critical, therefore, that we become internationally recognized. International public opinion has significant impact in Israel. For this reason, we ask you to cast your vote for Comet-ME in the BBC World Challenge 2009. Please visit the website noted above during the voting period of 28 September through 13 November 2009, and vote for Comet-ME. And then, please visit our website at to learn more about the work we are doing with communities in the South Hebron Hills of Palestine. We hope you will forward this e-mail to all your friends, encouraging them to join you in casting a vote for Comet-ME.

Hear hear! This really is about bringing power to the people!

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