Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Southall: Two murders, no conviction, and still it goes on


"Whilst it can reasonably be concluded that a police officer struck the fatal blow, and that that officer came from carrier U.11, I am sure that it will be agreed that the present situation is far from satisfactory and disturbing. The attitude and untruthfulness of some of the officers involved is a contributory factor. It is understandable that because of the events of the day officers were confused, or made mistakes, but one would expect better recall of events by trained police officers. However, there are cases where the evidence shows that certain officers have clearly not told the truth."

THE Metropolitan Police have finally published the report on their own investigation into the death of Blair Peach, the New Zealander killed on a street in Southall, west London, while taking part in an anti-racist demonstration in April, 1979.

Drawn up by Commander John Cass, who ran the Met's internal complaints bureau and led the investigation into Peach's death, the 130-page report confirms and gives substance to what we already knew. Blair Peach was killed by police, specifically by a member of the elite Special Patrol Group(SPG), who then covered up. It says the 33-year old teacher was killed by a blow to the side of the head, and that it could "reasonably be concluded that a police officer struck the fatal blow". It identifies a police van carrying six officers which was at the scene when the fatal blow was struck.

Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, said the report made "uncomfortable reading" but unequivocally accepted the finding that a Met officer was likely to be responsible for the death and expressed his "regret".

Relations between Southall's Asian community and the police had been worsening for some time before this attack, as had tension inflamed by the racist National Front(NF). People complained of police harassment and brutality, and accused the police of failing to take seriously concern about racial attacks.

In 1976 a Sikh schoolboy, Gurdip Singh Chaggar, was murdered in Southall. People said his attackers were a gang of white racialists. The Southall Youth Movement was founded to unite young people from different backgrounds against the racialists. On the other side, John Kingsley Read, moving that year from the National Front to the competing British National Party, told a meeting:

‘Fellow racialists, fellow Britons, and fellow Whites, I have been told I cannot refer to coloured immigrants. So you can forgive me if I refer to niggers, wogs and coons.’ Then, speaking about the murder of Gurdip Singh Chaggar, Read said, ‘Last week in Southall, one nigger stabbed another nigger. Very unfortunate. One down, a million to go.’

He was charged with incitement to racial hatred. At the trial in 1977 Judge Neil McKinnon “directed the jury that the law against incitement to racial hatred did not cover ‘reasoned argument in favour of immigration control or even repatriation.’” The learned fellow concluded that “it was difficult to say what it is that this defendant is alleged to have done that amounts to a criminal offence.” Accordingly the jury found John Kingsley Read not guilty and Her Majesty’s judicial representative gave him some cordial advice for the future: “By all means propagate the views you may have but try to avoid involving the sort of action which has been taken against you. I wish you well.”

Chaggar's killers were never convicted.

Then as the general election approached in 1979, Southall people were shocked to hear that the National Front had been given permission to hold a meeting on St.George's Day in Southall Town Hall. On April 18, a Southall residents' delegation met with Labour's Home Secretary Merlyn Rees to ask him to ban the Front's meeting. Rees declined. Instead, the Metropolitan police was instructed to make sure the NF meeting could proceed and be open.

On Sunday April 22,five thousand people marched to Ealing Town Hall to protest against the Front being allowed to use council premises. They handed in a petition signed by 10,000 residents. Workers in nearby factories decided to strike against the Front coming to Southall - Ford Langley, SunBlest bakery, Walls pie factory and Quaker Oats. So on that Monday there were plenty of people on the streets of Southall, local people joined by anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigners from around London, including a special needs teacher from the East End, a member of the Socialist Workers' Party and Anti-Nazi League, called Blair Peach.

There were also thousands of police, including van loads of the elite anti-riot squad, known as the Special Patrol Group, some as we now know armed with weapons of their own choice over and above official issue, and clearly spoiling for a fight, or worse. One witness remembers a police van with "NF" scrawled in the steam on its windows, and an officer inside holding up the ace of spades.

As the police chased demonstrators into side roads, local resident Parminder Atwal saw from the front of his house what happened to the young bearded man whom he later learned was a New Zealander called Blair Peach:
"As the police rushed past him, one of them hit him on the head with the stick. I was in my garden and I saw this quite clearly. He was left sitting against the wall. He tried to get up, but he was shivering and looked very strange. He couldn't stand. Then the police came back and told him like this, 'Move! Come on, move!' They were very rough with him and I was shocked because it was clear he was seriously hurt."

There were other witnesses whose testimony was the same. A subsequent raid on the lockers of SPG men found several unauthorised weapons including illegal truncheons, knives, two crowbars, a whip, a 3ft wooden stave and a lead-weighted leather stick. One officer had a collection of Nazi regalia which might have indicated where their sympathies and proclivities lay. But none of them would 'rat' on the others, and no one was ever charged. It has taken thirty years of campaigning by friends and family for the police to admit the existence of this report and now to publish it.

Its findings:
• Peach was almost certainly killed by an officer from its elite riot squad, known as the Special Patrol Group (SPG). A number of witnesses said they saw him being struck by a police officer, and the report found that "there is no evidence to show he received the injury to the side of his head in any other way".

• Despite concluding Peach was killed by a police officer, Cass said there was insufficient evidence to charge any officer over the death, a decision echoed by the director of public prosecutions, to whom his report was delivered. An inquest into the death later returned a verdict of death by misadventure.

• Suspicions centred on the SPG carrier U.11, the first vehicle to arrive on Beechcroft Avenue, the street where Peach was found staggering around and concussed. Cass said there was an "indication" that one officer in particular, who first emerged from the carrier but whose name has been redacted from the report, was responsible.

The criminal investigation into Peach's death was hampered by SPG officers, who Cass concluded had lied to him to cover up the actions of their colleagues. He "strongly recommended" that three officers should be charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, giving detailed evidence to show how they were engaged in a "deliberate attempt to conceal the presence of the carrier at the scene at that time". None were ever charged.

• From the outset, the Cass investigation appeared unlikely to find an officer guilty. He defined Peach as a member of a "rebellious crowd" in his terms of reference, adding: "Without condoning the death I refer to Archbold 38th edition para 2528: 'In case of riot or rebellious assembly the officers endeavouring to disperse the riot are justified in killing them at common law if the riot cannot otherwise be suppressed'."

Along with the Cass report, the Met has released more than 3,000 pages of supporting forensic science documents, witness statements, interviews with officers and legal analysis. They include all the detailed evidence gathered by police in the weeks and months after Peach was killed. The nature of his injuries led at least one pathologist to conclude Peach's skull was crushed with an unauthorised weapon, such as a lead-weighted cosh or police radio.

In his report, Cass said the arsenal of weapons caused him "grave concern", but claimed there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the officers involved.

In 1987 the SPG were disbanded, replaced by the Territorial Support Group(TSG), who are equipped with acrylic glass riot shields and visored NATO helmets, and trained at Gravesend, in Kent. Some of these were on duty at the Israeli embassy against Gaza war protesters in January, 2009.

Sir Paul Stevenson says that, 31 years on from the death of Blair Peach, the Met is a "completely different" force, citing what he says were were rigorous inquiries following the death of Ian Tomlinson , an onlooker at last year's G20 protests. A post mortem said Tomlinson died of heart failure, though video evidence shows him being struck and knocked to the ground by police. The man's family are still awaiting an inquest.

Blair Peach's widow, Celia Stubbs, said she was "relieved" to see the report after so long. "This report totally vindicates what we have always believed – that Blair was killed by one of six officers from Unit 1 of the Special Patrol Group whose names have been in the public domain over all these years," she said.

Her lawyer, Raju Bhatt, said: "What I read in this report is a senior investigating officer desperately trying to explain away this death, but despite himself, he is driven by the weight of the evidence to conclude that the death was caused by one of his officers," he said.

Names of officers and witnesses are blanked out of the report, but their identities can be established from published material, including several unofficial reports into Peach's death and transcripts from his inquest, where several officers gave evidence.

The names include five officers serving under Alan Murray, the SPG inspector in charge of the carrier. Aged 29 at the time at the time of the death, Murray resigned from the Met in anger at what he believed was an unfair inquiry by Cass. Murray is now a lecturer in corporate social responsibility at Sheffield University.

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Labour gags its own members on war

"DON'T talk about the war". The other day I joked that Basil Fawlty's advice seemed to have been taken on board by my union leaders, because in an election special featuring an interview with Gordon Brown there was nothing about Afghanistan or Iraq, nor about Labour's clinging to the Trident nuclear missile system while everything else faces cuts.

While Tony Blair, whose lies took us into war, makes a fortune in speakers' fees besides the business directorships he has acquired, it seems New Labour is not too keen on other party members speaking.

When former General, Municipal and Boilermakers(GMB) union officer Dawn Butler became MP for Brent South, the Brent Trades Union Council looked forward to having an understanding MP who would listen to our views and take up some of the issues we campaigning upon. Alas, the trades council has not seen much of the MP, let alone seeing eye to eye with her.

With boundary changes creating a new Brent Central constituency, Ms.Butler confronts Lib.Dem.Sarah Teather, who at present holds the Brent East seat, in next week's general election. Whatever one thinks of Sarah Teather's politics (and I'm certainly no Lib Dems fan), the diminutive woman whom one Labourite deemed the "poison dwarf" has put herself about a bit for constituents and some of their causes. She spoke at a protest rally against health cuts, organised a Whitehall picket for a Willesden man held in Guantanamo, hosted Palestine Solidarity campaigners at the Commons, having previously spoken to a Kilburn meeting on her fact-finding mission to Gaza, which included a stop-off at nearby Sderot.

Pity this goes with her supporting post office privatisation and presumably her party's dedication to an increasingly anti-workers'rights-biased European Union.

But getting back to the wars, Brent Stop the War Coalition organised a Brent Central Election Question Time on WAR, PEACE AND THE MIDDLE EAST last night at the Willesden Green Library Centre, inviting Sarah Teather (Lib Dem, Shahrar Ali (Green), Abdi Duale(Respect) and Sachin Rajput (Conservative). Dawn Butler (Labour)had also been initially invited, but alas it seems her parliamentary duties prevented her taking advantage of this opportunity to face her rivals at the hustings. Two Labour councillors, Zaffar Van Kalwala and Muhammed Butt had stepped into the breach to replace her.

The candidates or their representatives faced questions from Sarah Colbourne, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Jane Shallice, Stop the War Coalition and Christine McLeod, London Guantanamo Campaign on the issues surrounding, the "War on Terror" and Palestine/Israel. Of course, the audience were also participating in the questioning.

The notice looked promising. "It should be a lively and interesting meeting, so we look forward to seeing you there.
Yours in solidarity,
Sarah Cox, joint secretary Brent Stop the War".

Unfortunately, like Dawn Butler MP, I could not attend, but I hope it was a successful meeting. Unfortunately, it seems the two Labour councillors who had been due to represent Dawn Butler could not attend either, though for different reasons.

----- Original Message -----
From: Van kalwala, Cllr. Zaffar
To: scox05@toucansurf.com ; cllr.muhammed.butt@brent.gov.uk

Sent: Monday, April 26, 2010 11:45 AM
Subject: Re: Brent Central election Question Time on WAR PEACE AND THE MIDDLE EAST

Dear Mike and Sarah

Cllr Butt and I unfortunately will not be able to attend tonight's Stop the War's Brent Central Question Time Meeting.

We have been advised by our Group Whip that due to this being a national issue and both Cllr Butt and I being Local Councillors, we would not be best placed to speak on the topic. Furthermore, as we are still elected members, we would not be able to appear in a personal capacity either.

We both apologise for the late notice and hope that tonight's debate go well.

We look forward to participating in future events

Thank you

Best regards


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Sunday, April 25, 2010

War and Peace. Just another Friday at Bil'in

YOUNG Palestinians bear peace flag, perhaps with hope, in spite of everything, or with a sense of bitter irony? Soon after,Imad Rizka, from Jaffa, is shot in the head with tear gas canister. Attack on Bil'in demonstrators came week after they honoured memory of Bassam Abu Rahma, killed with a canister fired into his back at highvelocity, on April 16, 2009.

PALESTINIAN Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - the man appointed by President Mahmoud Abbas, that is, though not yet ratified by the Palestinian Legislative Council, - delayed a working trip abroad in order to open the fifth Bil'in International Conference on the Popular Struggle that took place from April 21-23. He brought with him representatives of 23 foreign consulates and diplomatic missions.

They sat in a giant tent set up in the schoolyard of this village near Ramallah which has been the focal point of non-violent resistance to Israel's annexation fence, joining activists from Bil'in and other villages, as well as children who had come along with their parents and were wandering around with cooked beans and za'atar, women who sat behind tables laden with embroidered handicrafts for sale, a handful of Israelis and dozens of activists from abroad.

On one side stood a row of white chairs bearing the photographs of 15 men - a representative sample of the dozens of popular struggle activists from the Palestinian villages who had been jailed or are still serving time in Israeli prisons. Opposite them and behind the dais was a picture of Bassem Abu Rahma, who was killed in a demonstration on April 17, 2009 by a tear-gas grenade fired directly at him at a high velocity by an Israel Defense Forces soldier.

Besides speeches, the conference included tours of various local sites and participation in the weekly demonstration against the separation fence, which cuts into Bil'in's hills and fields. Among those taking part was Mustafa Barghouti, who hails from the Ramallah area, and was a founder of Palestinian medical aid committees. Mustafa Barghouti came second to Abbas in 2005 presidential elections. His brother Marwan remains in an Israeli jail. Also present was Italian MEP Luisa Morgantini, a member of Rifondazione Communist, who visited both Bil'in and Gaza while vice president of the European Parliament.

In other respects it was another Friday for Bil'in. People gathered at the local mosque, as they had done for the past six years, and set off in procession to the wall still under construction on their lands. They were met by Israeli soldiers who fired stun grenades and smoke bombs. The soldiers shot straight in the face of protesters, and also tried to arrest journalists.

Several serious injuries were sustained. Imad Rizka, 37 years old , from Jaffa, was shot in the forehead with a tear gas canister. He was taken away immediately to Ramallah Hospital by ambulance. Rizka is well-known in Bilin, as he comes to the village every Friday to demonstrate. >He was transferred to the Hadassa Ein Karem hospital after being x-rayed and diagnosed as suffering a broken skull.

Soldiers fired a great deal of tear gas from both sides of the fence. Demonstrators were forced to retreat, but among those who remained, several were arrested. Soldiers crossed the fence and advanced well into village and detained five people among them one local journalist.

Additional injuries are as follows:

One demonstrator from Italy, struck in the back by a tear gas canister; an Italian demonstrator who was shot in the arm with a new type of weapon; an Israeli activist; Um Samarra, 45, from Bilin, who was hit in the leg by a tear gas canister; Haitham al-Khatib, cameraman, who was slightly injured; a Palestinian woman from Bethlehem who sustained a leg injury; and a Palestinian journalist named Abbas al-Momni.

For the popular committees, the conference had been a time for careful balance. Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who has lived in Ramallah and Gaza and is a trusted friend, explains:

"Activists of the popular committees who lead the struggle against the separation fence and the settlements are well aware of the criticism that the 'embrace' they are receiving from the Palestinian Authority is too strong and too tight. They are aware of the suspicious remarks to the effect that the PA is interested in regulating and adjusting the popular struggle, and that it exploits its well-publicized support for it to thwart public criticism of its policies. The activists' solution to this problem is to maintain their political and partisan independence, to distance themselves from the schismatic arguments that characterize the political arena, to continue to plan popular activities, and to put pressure on Hamas and Fatah so that they will reconcile.

"In any case, the Israeli security forces make sure that the activists will not turn into the 'spoiled children' of the PA and ensure that the popular struggle will continue to spread".


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Solidarity with captive film maker


WHATEVER the result of next month's UK general election, the struggle for our rights and justice will go on, in Britain and abroad. My union has just sent me a whole brochure on why we should vote Labour, with not a word of criticism of the government that presides over bonuses for bankers and sackings for workers, and promises more cuts in public services even if the Tories would be worse.

In a two page interview with Gordon Brown, it manages not to mention the cost of renewing the Trident nuclear missile system, or British military invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. I knew that Labour's Charlie Whelan had become political director of Unite, the union, and Unite's Jack Dromey (husband of Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman) is Labour's candidate for the fairly safe Birmingham Erdington seat.

But I had not realised we had taken another advisor, Basil Fawlty (whatever you do don't mention the war!)

Meanwhile the warmongers in Washington and Tel Aviv are drumming up support for another war, this time with Iran. Using President Ahmadinejad's supposed nuclear plans, America threatens a first strike. Whichever of Britain's main parties wins on May 6, we can expect to be told about WMDs and our rulers supposed concern for the rights of the Iranian people - the very people hardest hit by imperialist sanctions and war. Even as nextdoor to Iran, the jails are filling again with political prisoners and the hospitals with victims of depleted uranium, in 'liberated' Iraq.

Still, it has worked out well for the oil companies, and better still for Anthony Blair.

There is only one honourable position for socialists and anyone who believes in human, including union, rights to take, and that is to say 'No to imperialist sanctions and war' and 'Down with the repressive Islamicist regime!"

This is the position of Hands off the People of Iran (HOPI).

And now HOPI has scored a blinder, or is about to, next month.

Internationally-known Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi was arrested on March 1 and has been held without any charges. He has twice been offered bail, but has refused in solidarity with all those incarcerated for their participation in the mass demonstrations against the regime that have shaken Iran since June 2009.

HOPI has obtained permission to screen Jafar Panahi's most popular film in the West – ‘Offside’ – the film about a group of young Iranian women who try to get in to watch a world-cup qualifying football match in Tehran.

HOPI says it sees this as " an important opportunity to raise the profile of Panahi and step up the pressure on the regime in Tehran. We believe that international solidarity of this sort – not the threat of military strikes or sanctions – is the way to deliver effective aid to the struggle of ordinary people in Iran for freedom and social change".

To add icing and marzipan to the cake, Iranian-born comedienne Shappi Khorsandi, whose family had to flee their country pursued by death threats to her dad, is taking time between a busy working schedule and being a working mum, to appear before the film's showing in London on May 12. (Watch out for a Manchester showing later). Shappi was on Graham Norton's show the other night and I was glad to see her book 'A Beginner's Guide to Acting English' get a plug. It's good reading and leaves no doubt that light as the laughter she brings, her human concerns are genuine and intelligent, informed as they are by personal experience.

Also appearing is HOPI supporter and left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell - and here's hoping he is back with a good majority next month, despite the New Labour government's treachery - which he has after all consistently fought against.

The May 12 film screening is co-sponsored by the Labour Representation Committee which John McDonnell founded, filling the gap left by official Labour ceasing to be a voice for ordinary "old" Labour supporters, socialist-minded young people and trades unionists.

And let's face it, after this general election with all its choices of "lesser evil", and downright evil, you'll want to get the peg off your nose and relax, enjoying a good evening among friends and comrades, knowing
it is for a good cause.

The solidarity screening of Offside will be on Wednesday, May 12, 6pm at the Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London W1 Tickets: £10 (£20 solidarity, £5 unwaged). All profits go to the charity ‘Workers Fund Iran’. Please buy your ticket via Paypal here: http://hopoi.org/?p=1195 or by sending a cheque/postal order to PO Box 54631, London N16 8YE

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Shackled in Iran: trade unionist, journalist and film maker need our support



FIRST arrested five years ago for leading Tehran bus workers' fight for decent pay and conditions, Mansour Osanloo was released after an international campaign, and allowed to leave for an international transport workers' conference. But after he returned, as soon as it judged the fuss had died down, the Iranian regime had him arrested again.

Clinging to office after disputed elections, and hugging the spotlight by appearing to defy Washington with his nuclear policy and backing for Middle East militancy, President Ahmadinejad has simultaneously kept to the guidance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei, in his policy of suppressing workers' rights and independent organisation, privatising the economy, and keeping down pay and welfare costs to please the IMF.

Mansoor Osanloo remains in jail, despite reportedly suffering multiple illnesses, including eye and heart conditions, back trouble requiring surgery, and skin trouble. So on Tuesday, April 13, when the Tehran bus drivers' leader had to be taken before the coroner’s medical commission, the prison officers were not taking any chances. They made him wear handcuffs and shackles. These were tightened during the trip to hospital, so that Osanloo arrived with his ankles bleeding.

The medical examination had been requested by doctors concerned whether Mansoor is really fit to serve his prison sentence. Three times now the coroner has declared him medically unfit. The recommendation has been communicated to the Revolutionary Court, the Enforcements unit, as well as Rajai-Shah prison officials. The law requires that prisoners who are declared medically unfit to serve prison sentences be released to undergo treatment in medical facilities outside prison.

Not only has this trade unionist been denied medical treatment, but he has also been subjected to long periods in solitary confinement. Then at the beginning of March after coming out of solitary he was attacked by a fellow-prisoner armed with a knife. The assailant turned out to be a former Revolutionary Guard in jail for murdering his wife.

Osanloo is currently detained in Ward 5, known as the addicts’ ward, where most inmates are addicts and many suffer from contagious diseases such as HIV or hepatitis.

During their dispute five years ago the Tehran bus workers just refused to collect fares. In continuing to hold this workers' leader as a supposed "threat to the security of the state" are the Iranian authorities hoping he will die in jail, or do they simply figure that his incarceration and ill-treatment will serve as a deterrent to other workers from daring to organise?

Jailing the messenger

Osanloo was originally sentenced to five years, but an Iranian journalist who reported on workers' struggles has reportedly received a sentence more than twice that for communicating with international media. The mother of Iranian journalist and human rights activist Abolfazl Abedini says he has been sentenced to 11 years in jail.

Abedini, aged 28, had been detained several times by security forces in the last five years. He was arrested on March 3 in the southwestern city of Ahvaz after his home was raided. His family said he was beaten by members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps as he was taken away. His family learned later that he had been found guilty of "spreading propaganda against the regime through interviews with foreign media."

Eyvazi said she recently wrote an open letter to judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani demanding justice for her son, but had received no reply. "What crime has my son committed that he deserves to be tortured?" Eyvazi wrote in her letter to Larijani. "Is it a crime to defend the rights of workers at the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane Factory, Tehran bus company workers, or the Iranian Teachers Syndicate?"

...and the film maker

Meanwhile, there is no news about another communicator, and a celebrated one, arrested over a month ago, film maker Jafar Panahi. His films include The Circle (winner of the Golden Lion prize at the Vienna film festival in 2000) and Offside (2006), about young women detained when they tried to get in to watch the World Cup qualifying soccer match between Iran and Bahrain. Panahi has still not been charged with any crime. Twice offered bail, he has refused out of solidarity with all those incarcerated for taking part in the mass demonstrations against the regime that shook Iran since June 2009.

His detention is just the latest harassment Jafar Panahi has suffered from the clerics' regime. He has been unable to travel abroad since wearing a green scarf – the colour adopted by the democratic opposition movement – at the Montreal Film Festival in 2009. He was also arrested briefly after attending the memorial service for student Neda Agha Soltan, who was murdered by regime forces during a demonstration. Earlier the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance had announced he would not be allowed to make another film until he ‘re-edited’ earlier films, and he was unable to work for a year.

There is a clear theme of social criticism in his work. In a 2007 interview with the LA Times, Panahi described himself as “a socially committed filmmaker” who operates in the context of a brutally oppressive society: “My movies are about limitations and restrictions, and these are restrictions that I’ve personally experienced.” However, those are minor relative to “the greater restrictions that Iranian women are suffering”, he said.

The prison authorities are piling on the pressure. His wife, Tahereh Saeedi, was only allowed to meet him on March 31 – almost a month after his arrest. She reports that his interrogators continually cover the same ground: “They keep asking him the same questions in order to find contradictions in his comments,” Saeedi revealed in a radio interview.

Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI), the solidarity movement set up by left-wing Iranian refugees and their supporters in Britain to oppose both the Islamicist regime and the threat of imperialist war, is putting Jafar Panahi's release at the centre of its campaign for the freedom of political prisoners in Iran. Moshé Machover, a member of the HOPI steering committee, says: “Jafar Panahi has taken a brave stance. He stands shoulder to shoulder with those brave participants in the mass movement of opposition to the theocratic regime that have been arrested. Now we must stand shoulder to shoulder with him.”

Machover continued: “Our most effective act of solidarity with the inspiring movement for radical change that has filled Iran’s streets is to ensure that imperialism does not launch another disastrous military adventure in the Middle East, this time against an Iran which is pregnant with radical, genuinely democratic change from below”.

Left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell, a supporter of HOPI, said: “The world must make its voice heard in demanding that Jafar Panahi is released without charge along with all those incarcerated for nothing more than demanding basic civil liberties and democratic rights. These violations of basic human rights must not be allowed to go unnoticed and without protest.”

HOPI is urging people to:

* Send emails, faxes and letters of protest to the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 16 Prince’s Gate, London SW7 1PT; info@iran-embassy.org.uk; 020 7589 4440. Don’t forget to send us a copy.

* Sign our statement ‘Freedeom for Jafar Panahi and all political prisoners’: http://hopoi.org/?p=1163

* Put on showings of Panahi’s films: The wounded head (1988), Kish (1991), The last exam (1992), The circle (2000), Crimson gold (2003) and above all Offside (2006). We have been given official permission to show his films, so we can help you to get hold get a copy of the film and DVDs to sell. We can also provide a speaker to introduce the film

* Order Hopi’s ‘Free Panahi’ postcards. Get people to sign the cards and return them to us asap – we will forward them to his family in Iran to show our solidarity. We ask for a donation of £5 or more for 30 cards to cover postage and printing costs.

* Order the A4 bulletin we have produced to highlight Panahi’s case (as well as the ongoing threat of a military attack and increased sanctions). We ask for a donation of £5 or more for 30 bulletins to cover postage and printing costs

*Get your trade union branch/organisation to sponsor this important campaign.

* Financially support the campaign: please use the Paypal button on our home page www.hopoi.org or send cheque/s to Hopi, PO Box 54631, London N16 8YE

I hear HOPI is planning to show one of Jafar Panahi's films in London next month, and hoping for some celebrity guests. Any profit from the showing will go to help political prisoners and the workers' movement in Iran. I will keep readers posted.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

From Bougainville to Boron, taking on RTZ

CAMPAIGNERS from Papua-New Guinea and neighbouring Bougainville island joined American and British trades unionists demonstrating this morning outside the annual shareholders' meeting of the Rio Tinto Zinc(RTZ) mining corporation in the Queen Elizabeth II hall in Westminster.

About 570 families at the tiny town of Boron, in California's Mojave desert, have been hit by RTZ's lock-out at the Borax mine since January 31 this year, which followed the workers' refusal to accept new terms and conditions that would turn good, regular jobs into temporary, part-time or outsourced work.

The multi-billion British-owned company has brought in replacement workers, to take the work of experienced miners, some of whom have 30 and 40 years service in the mine and processing plant. Whether this is good for the product reliability or safety in the mine is open to question. What is not is the company's anti-union, anti-labour attitude.

Not content with trying to starve the workers and their families into submission, and put them in fear of losing their homes, RTZ has hired armed guards in military-looking uniforms, and had helicopters flying overhead. Federal officials are investigating whether the company has broken laws.

"Rio Tinto, Shame! Shame!", people chanted on today's demonstration, waving flags of the Unite union, and holding placards in solidarity with the workers and families at Boron. The American trade unionists sang about "working in the desert, in the mine night and day, for a company that won't negotiate, over decent jobs and pay".

From the other side of the world, protesters from Papua and Bougainville island had brought pictures of the way RTZ metal mining operations destroyed and polluted their environment, felling trees, ripping open a mountainside, and pouring millions of tons of poisonous tailings (waste) into river systems. On Bougainville the company allegedly paid only "slave wages" to black workers, and eventually provoked a war in which thousands died. The company now faces a class action in US courts.

In west Papua, RTZ worked with Freeport-McMoran, a US corporation, which paid millions to the Indonesian military to ensure protection for its operations at the Grasberg mine. According to Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights, in the 1990s Indonesian security forces indulged in "indiscriminate killings, torture and disappearances", as part of defending the mining companies and suppressing the Papuans' fight for freedom. Two years ago, Norway's government pension fund dropped RTZ from its portfolio because of concern over the Grasberg mine's working.

RTZ's activities worldwide keep generating controversy. It began mining uranium at Rossing in Namibia with a licence from the South African apartheid regime, and now there is concern over its possible export of uranium to Iran, as well as complaints about differential wages for white and black workers, and the use of a well-armed private army to maintain order.

In Colombia last month the constitutional court ordered a halt to Muriel Mining's Mande Norte copper mining project because of lack of consultation of local people. RTZ reportedly has a stake in this. In China, four RTZ executives were jailed in a corruption and commercial spying case.

Adding to the international character of today's demonstration, a visiting delegation of Belgian docks trade unionists from the port of Antwerp joined us later.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Making War, Using Law

HOW far is British law, as well as police action, being twisted into a means to punish and intimidate anyone who opposes Israeli aggression and solidarises with the Palestinians? We heard Israeli Zionists fuming and raging about the possibility that some of their generals and politicians could be arrested if they set foot here, and charged with war crimes. That arose from a citizens' initiative led, in the first place, by an Israeli born lawyer. First time it was going to be tried the Israeli general was tipped off by someone in the Metropolitan Police, and stayed on his El Al plane at Heathrow. Since then British ministers have done nothing but apologise to the Israelis, and promise to remove the offending legislation.

It's another matter when maintaining 'order' in Britain. Those responsible for the law are far less considerate, or even neutral.

Last year, on my way home from a demonstration in Trafalgar Square over the onslaught on Gaza, I was overtaken by a crowd of angry kids for whom listening to speeches was obviously not enough. They turned left into Shaftesbury Avenue, heading west towards the embassy. Police cars came haring up, disgorging officers who had been taken by surprise and I guessed would be mad at this.

Later when we did have an official march heading for the embassy - or supposed to go past it - most of us probably realised on clocking the police in Kensington High Street as well in front of Palace Green, many in riot gear, that discretion being the better part of valour, it might be a good idea to furl our banners as soon as decently possible, and make off down side streets, before they trapped us.

Unfortunately many of those whose feelings had rightly been aroused by the agony of Gaza were new to the game we call demos, and the ways of the police, and I doubt they would have listened to words of caution. But that's no excuse for the way they have been treated, not just by police, but by the courts one year later.

Some 78 people have been charged with public order offences. In February and March almost two dozen young men, mostly Muslim, appeared at Isleworth Crown Court, and were sentenced to between eight months and two and a half years imprisonment. That rather puts my two quid fine for defacing the War Office during the Cuban missile crisis into the shade. (A crowd of us had turned from the well-defended US embassy in Grosvenor Square and swept through the West End and down to Whitehall before the police moved in. Myself and a mate spent a night at Rochester Row police station. But they were pretty gentle in those days).

Angered by the Gaza slaughter, frustrated and provoked, by police "kettling" tactics, some of these youth appear to have done little more heinous than throwing a plastic bottle towards the embassy. None so far as I know have killed anybody. Compare this with a case I remember a decade ago when, not far from that Isleworth court, a group of young men who kicked a Chinese student to death and were charged with manslaughter received sentences of three years and less. Mind you, none of them had Moslem names.

Yahia Tebani, a teenager, took part with tens of thousands on the Gaza demonstrations, and at one of these he was among people "kettled" by a police cordon, and only let out slowly, having to give their names and addresses to police and be filmed before they could go. Sarah Irving, on the Electronic Intifada website, describes what happened next:

At 5 am one April morning, police forced their way into the Tebani family's home. Yahia's father Badi Tebani and his family were ordered to lie on the floor. "His four sons were all handcuffed. Three police officers knelt on the back of Hamza, 23. He was sleeping in shorts, but they refused to let him put on any clothes, even though they'd opened the windows, letting in the cold. Computers, mobile phones and clothes were all taken and the family car was broken into. Badi and Hamza described how police played games on the boys' iPhones and made themselves coffee in the kitchen.

The entire family was shocked when they discovered that it was Yahia the police were after. "He is a student at university, he has never has been in prison or in trouble with the police," says Badi Tebani. "He's always had a good character, good behaviour."

Yahia was later charged with violent disorder, an offence which carries a jail term of up to five years. He says that during the demonstration he took a chair from a nearby Starbucks to sit on, but police alleged that the cafe was trashed and the furniture used as weapons. Yahia was advised that if he pleaded guilty to the charge he would get community service, so he followed his lawyer's advice. He didn't know that most of the protesters who did the same were being sent straight to jail, so he was shocked when a friend was handed a two-year sentence. Yahia is now serving a one-year prison term.
(See article in full,
UK's discriminatory criminalization of dissent
Sarah Irving, The Electronic Intifada, 13 April 2010

Parents like Badi Tebani cannot see why their youngsters are being treated as such criminals, considering the atrocious crimes they were moved to protest against. But the courts don't seem to consider public feeling over the war, nor police behaviour at the time. Police are using CCTV evidence but don't allow access to parts which might show them in a bad light. That defendants are young people, without previous records, who acted from understandable, human motives, does not seem to count. Judge Denniss at Isleworth Crown Court in West London, has made it clear that he is imposing "deterrent" sentences. "A 15-year-old boy was given a non-custodial sentence which involves a curfew and an electronic tag, while a Palestinian who only days earlier had seen images in the newspapers of dead relatives in Gaza was given a two-year jail term" (Irving, ibid).

The number of arrests alone, not to mention the custodial sentences, is way out of proportion to what happened on other large demonstrations, and certainly contrasts with the response so far to English Defence League rampages, even when as in Dudley they threw things at police.

MPs Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway have tabled a motion in parliament, and the Stop The War Coalition, has collected more than 1,500 signatures on a petition against the sentences. Police conduct attracted 55 complaints to the Metropolitan Police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission. A number of these were dropped because the ID numbers on officers' uniforms had been covered up.

Meanwhile, a case in Scotland has gone differently, for now Five Palestine solidarity campaigners who protested during an Edinburgh Festival concert given by the Jerusalem Quartet in 2008 had been charged with “racially aggravated conduct”. On Friday they learned that all charges were being thrown out.

The protesters, members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC), (which is separate from the main Palestine Solidarity Campaign), had been concerned about the Israeli siege on Gaza, and also saw their action as part of the boycott campaign against Israel. They argued that the Quartet is regularly sponsored by the Israeli government, and entertains Israeli troops, so is a legitimate target for protest.

I have my doubts about the value, or justice, of a cultural boycott, and the tactic of upsetting concert goers. Disrupting cultural events - in that case visiting Soviet artists - was a method used by the right-wing Zionist youth, Betar, and the Kahanites, and everyone knows they are fascist thugs . On the other hand, I can understand the feeling that while people are being starved or killed, the bourgeoisie should not be allowed to pretend everything is normal; and the calculation that quiet, peaceful protest is all very well, but does not receive any publicity.

Anyway, whatever you think of the concert protests - (there has been another one recently when the Jerusalem Quartet played the Wigmore Hall in London) - it is a bit much when people seeking to protest against racism are charged, not with causing a disturbance, or some such offence, but with racialism. The protest took place on August 29, 2008, and the Scottish protesters were originally charged with "breach of the peace", but it was after a quite big breach of the peace, the war on Gaza, that the Procurator Fiscal changed the charge to “racially aggravated conduct”.

To make this stick, the campaigners had been accused of making “comments about Jews, Israelis, and the State of Israel”. But a BBC audio recording of the event revealed that there had been no reference made to “Jews”. Comments included “They are Israeli Army musicians”, “End the Siege of Gaza”, “Genocide in Gaza”, and “Boycott Israel”.

Sheriff James Scott ruled that “the comments were clearly directed at the State of Israel, the Israeli Army, and Israeli Army musicians”, and not targeted at “citizens of Israel” per se. “The procurator fiscal’s attempts to squeeze malice and ill will out of the agreed facts were rather strained”, he said.

The Sheriff expressed concern that to continue with the prosecution would have implications for freedom of expression generally:
“if persons on a public march designed to protest against and publicise alleged crimes committed by a state and its army are afraid to name that state for fear of being charged with racially aggravated behaviour, it would render worthless their Article 10(1) rights. Presumably their placards would have to read, ‘Genocide in an unspecified state in the Middle East’; ‘Boycott an unspecified state in the Middle East’ etc.
“Having concluded that continuation of the present prosecution is not necessary or proportionate, and therefore incompetent, it seems to me that the complaint must be dismissed.”

So far so good. Thank whatever you believe in for Scottish law.

But Mr Fraser, the Procurator Fiscal Depute, said he would be appealing the ruling.

The prosecution seem awfully keen to get a result in this case, regardless of expense, for what after all was but a minor incident. Maybe there's a shortage of crime in Scotland these days, so they are having to scratch around for matters to keep the courts busy? But we thought "Try, try and try again!" was only Robert the Bruce's motto.

Or could it be the concert case was meant to set a precedent for dealing with boycotts, even introducing the lie that "anti-Zionism is antisemitism" into law?

Not that I am suggesting the police and judiciary are being influenced by political considerations. ... but that seems fairly obvious. What we need to clarify is just what those considerations are, and where they re coming from.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Ahmadinejad the bogey-man, Palestinians the target

IT was a weekend for warmongers. First, President Obama announced that Iran (and North Korea) was being excluded from a US pledge not to attack first with nuclear weapons. Hardly an inducement not to acquire them, which is supposed to be the US policy aim.

Then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the platform at Yom Hashoa -Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad Vashem to claim that Iran was threatening to destroy the Jewish state and accuse "the world" of remaining silent.

"Iran's leaders are barreling toward developing a nuclear weapon, and openly declaring their desire to destroy Israel, " Netanyahu declared. Meanwhile other states "direct their fire at Israel".

America is the only country which has ever used nuclear weapons, and did so while it was the sole possessor of them. Israel is the only state in the Middle East which has nuclear weapons, and unlike Iran has never signed the non-proliferation treaty, nor allowed inspection, preferring to jail its citizen who dared talk about them. Iran is being subjected to US-led international sanctions, while Israel continues to receive massive US aid and enjoy privileged trading status and scientific co-operation in Europe.

To complete the picture of Netanyahu's lies, Iran's "open threats" to destroy the Jewish state consist of one at worst ambiguous speech by President Ahmadinejad where he spoke of Israel disappearing from the pages of history (or "being wiped from the map" as Western media reported) the way the Soviet Union had. The Soviet Union was not destroyed by nuclear attack, and nor would Israel be, if the Palestinians have any say in it, since they wish for freedom in their homeland, not to inherit a radio-active waste. But if it suits the Zionist leaders to have a bogey-man, and it suits Ahmadinejad to play the part, it is the Palestinians, with neither nuclear weapons nor an air force, who are being threatened in their very existence by Israel.

New orders which the Israeli military have been provided with enable the occupation forces to deem any Palestinians or foreigners living in the West Bank 'infiltrators', unless they can show an Israeli-issued residence permit. Those who fail to do so can be deported within 72 hours or jailed for seven years.

The new Order Regarding Prevention of Infiltration and Order Regarding Security Provisions, which comes into force tomorrow (Tuesday) could have "severe ramifications," according to warnings by Palestinian and Israeli human rights group. The order does not define what constitutes a valid permit.

"The orders … are worded so broadly such as theoretically allowing the military to empty the West Bank of almost all its Palestinian inhabitants," said Israeli rights groups in a statement, supported by Ha-Moked, B'Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Rabbis for Human Rights. Until now the vast majority of Palestinians in the West Bank have not been required to hold a permit just to be present in their homes, the groups say.

"The military will be able to prosecute and deport any Palestinian defined as an infiltrator in stark contradiction to the Geneva conventions," they said. The law broadens the definition of an "infiltrator" and could allow Israel to transfer some Palestinians from the West Bank to Gaza, or to deport foreign passport holders married to West Bank Palestinians, or to deport Israelis or foreigners living in the West Bank. The groups said tens of thousands of Palestinians were in those categories.

Israel effectively controls the Palestinian population register and since 2000, apart from once in 2007, the Israeli authorities have frozen applications for renewal of visitor permits for foreign nationals, or applications to grant permanent status in the occupied territories. As a result, many Palestinians live in the West Bank without formal status and are now vulnerable under the new orders. The human rights groups wrote to the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, today asking him to delay or revoke the orders, which they said were "unlawful and allow extreme and arbitrary injury to a vast number of people".

The Israeli military said the purpose of the orders was "the extradition of those residing illegally in Judea and Samaria," an Israeli term for the West Bank. The orders had been "corrected" in order to "assure judicial oversight of the extradition process," it said.

Ironically, the one sizeable group of illegal residents who won't be affected are those who call it "Judea and Samaria" - the Zionist settlers. They can still go where they like, carry firearms, and count on the military for protection whatever they do. Israeli authorities already control the movement of Palestinians with their roadblocks, and decide who is allowed to visit, and now the want to dictate whether people can even remain there.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the orders would make it easy for Israel to imprison or expel Palestinians from the West Bank. "These military orders belong in an apartheid state," he said. "They are an assault on ordinary Palestinians and an affront to the most fundamental principles of human rights. Israel's endgame is not peace. It is the colonisation of the West Bank."

Indeed this order is reminiscent of the powers the Nazis gave themselves to remove people from Germany, except their's began before they began occupying neighbouring territories. It is some way to commemorate the victims of what began with small, legal measures, and casual brutality. It is to the credit of Israeli rights campaigners that they are giving warnings now. But will Israel's backers in Washington and in Europe pay attention, and rein it in, or will they be pre-occupied with the Iranian bogeyman? That too, from being a useful diversion (for both presidents, in Washington and Tehran) , could escalate dangerously into a war they did not really want.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

We would not want you to paint the wrong picture , but...

THE British government likes to pretend that together with its American senior partner it has brought good to Iraq, and Tony Blair has certainly done well out of the war he tricked us into. A mixed bunch of Iraqi and Western businessmen were gathered in a London hotel recently to assure each other that things are getting back to "normal", and encourage Iraqi graduates to come home.

An art exhibition is due to open in Manchester on Friday, April 16, entitled Contemporary Art Iraq. The guest list for the exhibition in the Cornerhouse Art Gallery was to include the Iraqi ambassador, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband MP and five of Iraq's most promising artists flown over for the occasion.

Alas, it seems the UK Border Agency's computer says NO.

The five artists could provide no valid bank statements. Proof of financial stability and a bank account in the applicant's home country is a bureaucratic requirement for British visa authorities. But its a very tall order in a bombed and occupied country with no banking infrastructure.

Reporting this in the Independent on Saturday, the paper's art correspondent Arifa Akbar says the exhibition, showcasing works by 19 artists from Iraq who have created pieces through the both wars, Saddam Hussein's downfall, the occupation and subsequent upheavals, will still open on Friday, April 16, "but organisers are bitter about the absence of the artists – and the taxpayers' money wasted on the effort to bring them here".

"Return flights and hotels had been booked and the artists flew to Beirut in an effort to make their passage to obtaining a visa easier. The cost of remaining in Lebanon while they tried to sort out visas added to the £10,000 bill.

"For campaigners opposed to the visa restrictions for artists entering Britain on a temporary basis, this is the latest example of a pointlessly bureaucratic and obstructive 'points system'. A host of headlining artists at the annual WOMAD world music festival have been prevented from performing in past years as well as poets at the Ledbury Poetry Festival".

A petition against Home Office restrictions on invited non-EU artists was recently submitted to Downing Street by the Manifesto Group. Signatories include Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery, Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, the writer Maureen Duffy and Helena Kennedy QC. Manick Govinda, Manifesto Club campaigns director, said the ban on the artists was an example of the "ludicrously bureaucratic and draconian visa restrictions".

We might also note that the ban on Iraqi artists follows refusal of visas to a Palestinian under-19 football team who had been due to train at Chester, and more recently to three Palestinian farmers who were invited to the Fair Trade exhibition. George Brown had previously said he favoured including Palestinians in the Fair Trade project, and the government has said there may be visas for the farmers in future - but not for the exhibition to which they had been invited.

The artists ban seems yet another case of either hypocrisy, bureaucracy or both making nonsense of official promises and "joined up government". The artists denied entry include Shaho Abdul Rahman, 36, a designer and painter, Azar Othman Mahmud, 22, an installation artist, Sarwar Mohamed, 37, a filmmaker, all from Sulaymaniyah; Falah Shakarchi, 45, a painter from Baghdad and Julie Adnan, 24, a photojournalist from Kirkuk.

The show was co-curated by ArtRole, a British-based arts organisation partly funded by the Arts Council and Foreign Office for the study of Iraq. Its director Adalet Garmiany said the setback could harm British-Iraqi relations. "Since 2003, Iraqis have been promised democracy but Britain and America have not managed to do what they promised. We tried to use art to rebuild some of that trust. This incident loses that trust ... The artists have been refused visas for not having bank statements; many Iraqis do not have bank accounts. It's an unstable country, usually its citizens are paid in cash," he said.

A spokesman for the Home Office could not confirm details of the case.


No entry: Talent refused a visa

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Monday, April 05, 2010

The socialism that made Milwaukee famous

EMIL SEIDEL elected Milwaukee mayor 100 years ago, and Victor Berger allied Socialists with organised labour.

WITH American right-wingers becoming increasingly aggressive like a media-generated Ku Klux Klan, Sarah Palin urging them to stop cars with Obama-Biden stickers, and Texas conservative "educators" gunning for Thomas Jefferson, it's good to see the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel publishing a piece by a historian that rips the ignorance to which they cling like a worry-blanket.

"Socialism before it was a four-letter word "One hundred years ago tomorrow, Milwaukee made political history. On April 5, 1910, we became the first (and only) major city in America to elect a Socialist mayor. A former patternmaker named Emil Seidel won a decisive victory in the spring election, beginning a period of Socialist success at the polls that would last until Frank Zeidler stepped down in 1960.

"To those outside the city, Seidel's win seemed positively revolutionary, a bold and abrupt departure from the American norm. The truth is that municipal Socialism had been germinating here for generations. It mattered, first of all, that Milwaukee was the most German city in America and that some of its residents were genuine revolutionaries. An 1848 revolt against the German monarchs had ended in victory for the crowned set and exile for thousands of rebels, many of them well-educated idealists who wanted nothing less than to change the world".

I was just talking about an 1848 refugee at a Passover seder the other evening. August Bondi had taken part in a student rising in Vienna and went on to ride with John Brown's anti-slavery fighters in Kansas, served in the Civil War, and then settled down to be a respected Kansas citizen.

John Gurda tells us that a significant number of "Forty-Eighters" found their way to Milwaukee, where they established music societies, theatre groups, schools and other organizations that made their new home the "German Athens" of America. (and to think I only knew it for the beer!) "The exiles were as passionate about politics as they were about culture. Their Turner halls and freethinker congregations became forums for ideas that would come to life as Milwaukee Socialism".

"European intellectuals may have supplied the seeds, but workers furnished the soil. As Milwaukee became a center of industry in the late 1800s, the city attracted legions of blue-collar immigrants who worked 10 to 12 hours for a dollar or two a day, without a dime in benefits. They were understandably open to the Socialist argument that workers deserved a greater share of the wealth they created.

"The 'laboring classes' were particularly receptive after state militia troops levelled deadly fire against a group of strikers marching for the eight-hour day in 1886. The shootings sparked a populist revolt that swept a number of factory hands into political office. They were swept out again when Republicans and Democrats joined forces, but Milwaukee workers were ripe for a rematch.

"The regular parties offered a progressively weaker alternative. Like many American cities, Milwaukee became a cesspool of political corruption during the Gilded Age. Under Mayor David Rose, who held sway between 1898 and 1910, public morals reached their historic low point. Virtually everything that was not nailed down - from public hay supplies to aldermanic votes - was for sale to the highest bidder.

"Milwaukee Socialism, finally, had superb leadership. Victor Berger, the movement's chief tactician, brought its rhetoric down from the clouds of abstraction and forged a highly effective alliance with organized labor. Although he believed firmly in the 'cooperative commonwealth' envisioned by his comrades, Berger wanted to succeed in the here-and-now rather than wait for the sweet by-and-by.

"His goal was to educate by governing, and you could govern only by winning elections. Berger's party began to field candidates in 1898, and its first successes, not surprisingly, came in the working-class wards of the German north side. The aldermen elected from those neighborhoods showed a diligence and a creativity that made their regular-party counterparts look like hopeless hacks by comparison.

"There was, in short, a constellation of forces that aligned to produce the Socialist triumph of 1910. The party's desire for a new social order gave its members a motive. Disaffected industrial workers gave them the means. The open corruption of the Rose era provided an opening. Berger developed the strategy, and his comrades on the Common Council set the example.

"Voters soon learned to trust the Socialists and, despite some shameless redbaiting by the regular parties, a rising tide of popular support finally crested in the landslide victory of April 5, 1910. Not only did Seidel win the mayor's race, but Socialists took a large majority of seats on both the Common Council and the County Board. Berger himself went to Washington as the lone Socialist in Congress.

"To some party regulars, the 1910 sweep marked the dawn of a new era. To some capitalists, it represented the end of civilization as they knew it. The reality, as usual, fell somewhere in between. Milwaukee did change perceptibly. The brothels on River Street were closed, municipal services were expanded, and the minimum wage for city workers was raised. The Socialists tried to enact a host of even broader measures: improved public works, better public schools, more public parks, larger public libraries, sounder public health - all under the aegis of "public enterprise."

"Other pet initiatives, including public ownership of the utilities and advanced social welfare legislation, never came to pass under the Milwaukee Socialists. Perhaps their greatest achievement was a shift in the tone and conduct of municipal government. The Socialists delivered, and the public came to expect, administrations rooted in honesty, efficiency, frugality, and concern for the working person. The result was continued success at the polls. Although Seidel lost his 1912 bid for a second term, voters kept Dan Hoan in office from 1916 to 1940 and Frank Zeidler from 1948 to 1960.

"By the time Zeidler left City Hall, Democrats had long since captured the Socialist Party's labor base, appropriated much of its rhetoric, and even enacted some of its pet programs, notably Social Security. The party of Seidel and Hoan became a dwindling core of the faithful who stuck to their ideological guns but were no longer a credible threat at election time.

"Although the party's ascendancy is long past, the Socialist period in Milwaukee's development is much more than a historical curiosity. Not only did the movement give us lasting amenities like a stellar park system, but it also embodied a deep and timeless blend of pragmatism and idealism. Although they worked for real-world reforms, the Socialists didn't stop there. They called their fellow citizens to a higher conception of the common good, one that placed cooperation above competition and mutualism above bare self-interest. They believed that a government based on those ideals was humanity's best hope for the future.

"We seem to have lost that hope in recent years - the result of all-too-frequent misconduct by our elected representatives, certainly, but also of our own diminished expectations. The Socialist centennial reminds us that Milwaukee was once animated by a view of the common wealth that can be ours to reclaim for the twenty-first century.

"The ideals of the Socialists were never fully realized, as ideals never are, but they can still serve as signposts to a sounder future - and it all started 100 years ago tomorrow".

The publication of John Gurda's article has prompted vigorous replies by right-wingers denouncing Milwaukee as the worst city in America if not on earth, and blaming urban decay and social problems on its "socialism", till someone pointed out that socialists have not been running the city for more than half a century, and wondered whether the critics had bothered reading the article, or just responded to the word "socialism" the way they have been conditioned to, by right-wing newspapers and Fox news.

Arguments from history won't settle the Right of course, but articles like Gurda's should strengthen the Left's confidence, as well as raising the level of discussion. To deal with the hard-core right will take more than history or logic, important as these are, and may need giving the rightists the kind of arguments they understand. Knowing our history is though important for our morale.

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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Unions demand BBC apology

EIGHT trade unions have closed ranks behind the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers' union (RMT) to demand that the BBC apologise for remarks made by broadcaster John Humphrys about the rail unions' strike ballot.

Network Rail won a High Court action on Thursday to stop a four-day walkout by signallers going ahead this week, after successfully arguing the RMT's strike ballot had been flawed. The company warned that "unlawful" strike action would cause "immense damage to the economy".

The decision was welcomed by the government. But RMT General Secretary Bob Crow warned that the dispute was by no means over. "They have won round one, but this is a 15-round heavyweight contest," he said.

The RMT and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association were both planning strikes in disputes over changes to signallers' terms and conditions and 1,500 maintenance job cuts. The unions say this is not just about jobs but about safety on the railways. Now both RMT and TSSA plan to reballot members.


Eight National Unions, who are represented by the Trade Union Coordinating Group, today demanded that the BBC make a full retraction and apology to Bob Crow and the RMT for the completely unsubstantiated allegation used by John Humphrys in his interview with Bob Crow on this morning's Today programme.

John McDonnell MP, Parliamentary Convenor of the TUCG, said:

"How can a ballot conducted by the Electoral Reform Society be rigged? This was one of the most disgraceful biased performances of an interviewer and of the BBC itself in the history of the BBC and its treatment of trade unions."

"The Court case in which the RMT dispute was discussed did not infer ballot rigging but errors in the ballot making process. Under law, union ballots have to be conducted by an independent scrutineer. This ballot was sent out, counted and completely run by the Electoral Reform Society. The idea that ballot papers were sent out to derelict Signal Boxes is a complete myth; not a single ballot paper was sent out to any Signal Box or workplace. They were sent out by the ERS to RMT members’ homes.”

“For an allegation of ballot rigging to be made on the Today Programme is an appalling slur on both the union and Bob Crow himself and brings discredit on the whole of the BBC. We are demanding that a retraction is made by the BBC and an apology given and that Mr Crow is given an opportunity to explain the RMT’s case without this biased interference."

Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the civil service union PCS , said; “The real story here is not the actions of the RMT, which are clearly beyond reproach, but why we have laws in this country that make it virtually impossible for people to defend themselves.”

“Rather than slurring the RMT the BBC should be examining why bosses and judges have the power to prevent unions taking legitimate industrial action to defend their members. A full repeal of the anti-union laws introduced by Margaret Thatcher is long overdue. The right to strike is essential to any democratic society. If we forget that we are moving into very dangerous territory.”

The Trade Union Ccordinating Group brings together eight National Unions (BFAWU, FBU, NAPO, NUJ, PCS, POA, RMT and URTU) representing over half a million members to coordinate their campaigning work both in Parliament and beyond.

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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Journalist "in hiding" from Israeli secrets case

AN Israeli journalist who has made his name exposing the conduct of the military and security services is "in hiding" in Britain, The Independent newspaper has reported. The paper's diplomatic correspondent Kim Sengupta, says Israeli sources who prefer to remain anonymous believe Uri Blau, a reporter at Haaretz, who has been away in Asia, is hoping to negotiate with Israeli prosecutors before he returns.

The news comes days after it emerged that another Israeli journalist, 23-year old Anat Kam, who supposedly took leave of absence from her job, has been held under house arrest for the last three months on charges that she leaked classified documents to the press while completing her military service.

It is being suggested that documents which Anat Kam saw provided Uri Blau with the basis of an article he wrote for Ha'aretz in November 2008. This said that one of two Islamic Jihad militants killed in Jenin in June 2007 had been targeted for assassination in apparent violation of a ruling issued six months earlier by Israel's supreme court. While not outlawing assassinations in the West Bank altogether, the ruling heavily restricted the circumstances in which they were permissible, effectively saying that they should not take place if arrest was possible.

Blau left Israel for a trip to Hong Kong with his girlfriend in December. While he was away the Israeli authorities are said to have seized his computer, after arresting Anat Kam, presumably looking for evidence of a connection between them. This may have persuaded Blau to prolong his stay abroad. And though not sure where he was, friends did note lately that his name was appearing on stories from London -among them one suggesting a split between British security and the Foreign Office over the latter's decision to expel a suspected Mossad officer operating under diplomatic cover.

Perhaps a stay in London will be a good opportunity to compare notes with British colleagues on the way official "secrecy" operates to obstruct good reporting!

It was Uri Blau who wrote about Israeli soldiers choosing their own tee shirt designs, such as one charmingly depicting a pregnant woman in the sniper crosshairs, with the slogan "kill two for the price of one". It was also Blau who reported that the military had asked Shin Bet security to identify Israeli peace campaigners and left-wing activists who might be joining protests in the West Bank. Maybe it was not by chance that a member of Tel Aviv-based Anarchists against the Wall, Matan Cohen, was shot in the face at Bil'in.

But while the military might not like any of Blau's stories, the significance of tying him into the Anat Kam case could be that making this a "security" issue. they may accuse him of encouraging her to "steal" secret documents. Ms.Kam is held on "espionage" charges, which could carry a lengthy prison sentence. It is alleged that she passed classified documents to a male journalist while working as a clerk in the Israel Defence Forces Central Command during her military service. She was arrested more than a year after Uri Blau's report, which was cleared by military censors at the time of publication, when she was working for the news service Walla, until recently owned by Haaretz.

Meanwhile the Israeli press and TV have been gagged from reporting any of this, even though the news has been coming out in overseas blogs like Richard Silverstein's Tikkun Olam, and Anat Kam's detention was reported by the Independent's Israel-based correspondent Donald McIntyre last week. Ha'aretz and Channel 10 say they will go to court to challenge the reporting ban on April 12. Anat Kam's trial could open on April 14.

  • It will not be the first time that the Israeli state has tried journalists on "security" issues, nor the first time it has clamped down on reporting. In November 1966, Maxim Ghilan and Shmuel Mor were tried in secret and jailed for revealing in the magazine Bul that Mossad had assisted the Moroccan secret police in the kidnapping of Moroccan trade unionist Mehdi Ben Barka. Israeli media were not allowed to report on the case until after stories had appeared in the foreign press. Ghilan and Mor were only released after the Israeli government's advisers persuaded it that their imprisonment had brought more unwelcome attention than the article in their obscure magazine.

    • In January 1983 the Israeli scientist Marcus Klingberg, who had been at a top-secret government biological research centre, was told he must travel to a plant abroad. He was then lifted on his way to the airport, and interrogated for some time. Accused of passing secret information to the Soviet Union, he was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment, of which he served 16. For the first ten years both his arrest and sentence were kept secret.

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