Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Not yet the last post!

AS Lib Dems and Tories combine in plans to privatise Royal Mail, post office workers like others are preparing for a fight to defend two important parts of our real 'national heritage' - the ideal of public service, and the institution of free, representative trade unions.

Dave Chapple's book Grasshoppers, Stonkers and Straight Eights, George Massey and Bristol Post Office Workers 1930-1976, taking its title from post workers' slang, is a tribute by one union activist to another.

George Massey, son of a postman and union activist, started as a boy messenger in Easton, Bristol, where he grew up, and spent the remaining 46 years in the Post Office, apart from his wartime army service. In 1958 he was elected to the executive council of the Union of Post Workers (UPW), which grew into today's Union of Communication Workers(UCW).

Dave says he was first led to the idea when clearing some old cupboards at the UCW's Bristol offices, and if like me you can seldom get through such jobs without pausing to look at some fascinating old magazines or pictures then you will share the delight at Dave's cornucopia of photographs, cartoons from the Post , the union's magazine, and sundry clippings of news, advertisements and pamphlets.

Not content with a scrapbook, Dave went to see George Massey, and found the veteran full of life, not just memories of Bristol working class life in bygone years, but the same passion for justice that had inspired him as a lad. George may walk with sticks nowadays, but as he told Dave, "Remember, I'm no armchair Marxist!"

This is no mere trade unionists' version of coffee table nostalgia, though its 240 pages of A4 make it big enough. It graphically reminds us of real struggles, and some of these at least aren't yet over. Arthur Hagg's picture of a woman and man pushing the UPW barrow together must not have convinced some of my Dad's colleagues in Newton Street sorting office in Manchester, for they were still arguing against equal pay, fearing it would encourage more women to come and take men's jobs, up into the 1950s. "But if the GPO has to pay them the same money, it can't use them as cheap labour," I said, in my innocent childish logic. Of course, Society decreed that man must be the breadwinner, provide a telly, and aspire to a motor car, while women were supposedly light of care and looking for marriage. But attitudes change, and by the 1960s even the more conservative blokes will have realised their daughters, if not wives, could earn more as a typist. No longer content with having to take all the overtime they could get to earn a living wage, or telling themselves it was worth it for the pension, post office workers began thinking about their strength. The photo on the rear of this book shows a mass meeting during the 1971 national post strike, at the front women telephonists, and their poster angrily asking "Scabs, will you refuse the rise?"

Not that there were many scabs, I think, though I did hear of some workers near retirement being authorised by the union to go into work, knowing that in fact there would be little for them to do, with no letters to sort, but this way they would not lose their pensions. In Lancaster, something else happened. Some striking post workers were running a special delivery service taking pension and benefits cheques to people in the area who might have problems otherwise. Post office management intervened, taking away the delivery van.

Long part of the civil service, post office workers could also consider themselves serving the public - often in direct contact, whether over the counter, delivering mail, or putting someone's call through. Since they were a Crown service, they did not have to argue as other workers did, for nationalisation. Instead, their union was perhaps the only one where Guild Socialism, that quaintly English form of syndicalism, gained lasting influence. It could mean a tendency to corporatism, but it could and did also lead to demands for workers management and control.

A photograph at the beginning of this book shows Bristol UPW members, men and women, with placards saying "Equal Pay for Equal Work", "Free Civil Servants from MI5", "Shorter Working week for All", and "Let More Workers Manage Industry". That was on the Bristol Trades and Labour Council's May Day march in 1947. The union went on record for workers control in 1957. Now, the post office has been broken up into bits, British Telecom privatised, the parcels service parcelled out, with private couriers losing sensitive official documents but not, it seems, their contracts. The Con-Dem coalition, following where New Labour tried, wants to sell off Royal Mail, and thinks it can weaken workers' opposition by offering shares. I expect the workers will see through this, and may even come up with their counter plan for all communication services.

With his four decades in the post office interrupted only by a wartime stint in Burma, George Massey was involved from boyhood in the long struggle of post office trade unionists. But more than that, George was a communist, seeing the struggle of the whole working class, in Britain and internationally. He was all the better for being not afraid to challenge the party line occasionally. Put out in the 1930s for being unwilling to swallow the Moscow Trials, he did not let this get in the way of opposing Cold War right-wing and its witch-hunts in the 1950s.

Dave Chapple, too, does not let his own anarcho-syndicalist views obstruct the respect and warm sympathy he has for a fellow-working class fighter, and for those who have gone before us. He does not try to make his subjects fit his own picture, but lets them do the talking, bringing out their views and experience, before, as in this book, modestly offering some 'Final Thoughts'. This is the second book of its kind he has produced, his first having been Henry Suss and the Jewish working class of Manchester and Salford . In between, he has paid tribute to hospital worker and Spanish civil war veteran Howard Andrews, and written about past struggles in his hometown, Bridgwater, besides finding time to be a post worker and branch secretary, and chair the National Shop Stewards Network .

The link between generations is made explicit by an opening "Tribute to the Rosa Luxemburg Group of Sorting Clerks and Telegraphists", a group to which young George Massey belonged, with quotes from the Bristol Rank and File Committee minute book, explaining that "The new Rank and File movement of the UPW is being inaugurated with the object of rejuvenating the leadership of the UPW, to counteract the pronounced tendency of sectarianism and bureaucracy , and to rally the defeatist attitude of the Staff into a militant and progressive trade union movement". That was in September 1935.

Grasshoppers, Stonkers and Straight Eights costs £10 and is available from
Somerset Socialist Library,
Bridgwater, Somerset TA6 5AU

See also:

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

When blood becomes cheaper than water

HOW are the Iraqi people managing to rebuild their lives and country, after being 'freed' at so much cost from dictatorship? How is the country known from ancient times as the most fertile in the Middle East, and in modern times the most developed, coping with the destruction caused by war and today's environmental problems?

A recent report from the Organisation for Women's Freedom in Iraq concluded gloomily that women had felt safer and freer under the rule of Saddam Hussein, when they could please themselves what to wear and walk down the street without being attacked. Now they suffer not just from lawlessness, but from the power given religious reactionary politicians and the encouragement given their thugs.

Another report, coinciding with the murder of Kurdish journalist Sardasht Osman, says Iraq is the most dangerous place on earth to be a journalist.

23-year old Osman had been brave enough to suggest wrongdoing and corruption involving members of the Barzani family, one of two which between them run Iraq-Kurdistan. He was heading into the University of Salahaddin in Erbil when he was grabbed by two men and bundled into a car. His body was dumped later, still handcuffed, and with two bullet wounds to the head, near the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, whose leader Jalal Talabani is also president of Iraq.

But you don't need to stick your nexk out or look into the affairs of the rulers to find yourself a target for murder gangs.

Among the latest murder victims were Faisal Hassan, his wife and their two young children, killed not in some remote lawless mountain or desert warzone, but when gunmen broke into their west Baghdad home. The motive was not sectarian, political or even economic - but water-related.

Forty-year-old Hassan worked in Abu Ghraib, the city whose prison became notorious for torture first under Saddam Hussein and again under its American 'liberators'. Hassan's job might have seemed safe and peaceful enough, in the government department supervising water distribution to farmland in and around Abu Ghraib. But he was the third irrigation department employees in the city to be killed in the past three months, according to Mohammed Khudhair, a police investigater.

"All these employees had nothing to do with politics or anti-militant activities, but instead were victims of the nature of their work, which has become a risky one," he said.

In Iraq’s rural areas, the breakdown of national government with the imperialist invasion unleashed traditional tribal and clan allegiances and rivalry, sometimes encouraged by covert counter-insurgency operations launched by the occupiers. Conflict over land and water resources has been worsened by damage and problems with water supply and distribution.

''Government officials can’t control the regulation of irrigation and stop those who violate their regulations either because of corruption or because they fear for their lives. So we have to solve this issue ourselves.''
"Today, we don’t have a fully functioning government as it is totally preoccupied by the security situation and political wrangling so we don’t have a strong role to deter any possible widespread conflict," Karbala-based analyst Jaafar Moahmmed Ali said. "Besides, we have an acute shortage of water nationwide and a very bad economic situation that makes it very hard for farmers to do other work."

Tribal sheikh Ali Ismael al-Zubaidi from Diwaniya Governorate, about 200km south of Baghdad, said he had been having "tough negotiations" over water allocations with another tribe that lives upstream from his. "We have daily problems with water. They are siphoning water with huge electric water pumps and leave only drops for us," al-Zubaidi said. "Government officials can’t control the regulation of irrigation and stop those who violate their regulations either because of corruption or because they fear for their lives. So we have to solve this issue ourselves."

Al-Zubaidi said he needed to hold more meetings with the upstream tribe to resolve the water dispute "but that doesn’t mean that we can wait a long time. We will act swiftly to secure the water we need for our land even if we have to take up weapons."

Iraq was one of the more fertile countries in the region, thanks largely to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
However, in recent years water levels in the two rivers have steadily fallen due to below-average rainfall and the construction of dams upstream in neighbouring Turkey and Syria. In addition, the country’s agriculture has been hit by decades of war and insecurity, underinvestment and the unchecked felling of trees for firewood, which has increased soil salinity and caused desertification in some areas. Large tracts of once fertile agricultural land have been transformed into semi-arid desert and are causing an increasing number of sandstorms as soil-binding plants shrivel up.

In response, the government has adopted measures to regulate the amount of water being used for irrigation in each province but has faced difficulties implementing them. "The farmers didn’t adhere to the water distribution regulations. We advise them to follow the regulations this year because we cannot guarantee the amount of water we’ll have," says Mahdi al-Qaisi, undersecretary at the Ministry of Agriculture.

(thanks to IRIN and Malak Hamden , for this information, provided via Iraq Ocupation Focus).
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Homeland ruined, Refuge refused

WHILE Iraq remains neither safe nor sound, Britain and several other countries have begun forcibly repatriating refugees, both to Iraq proper and Iraq Kurdistan. Refugee officials and rights groups have urged them not to forcibly repatriate Iraqi asylum seekers, particularly members of minority communities, because of prevailing insecurity in the country.

Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Norway all announced deportation plans. Some 40 asylum-seekers arrived in Baghdad on 17 June – the UK’s third deportation in that week. They said they had been beaten by British border police to force them to board and then leave the plane taking them back to Baghdad. Thirty-six of the Iraqi men who were removed against their will were still being held at Baghdad airport, where they had arrived early Thursday, the BBC reported from the Iraqi capital.
It said the deportation was carried out by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) under conditions of 'complete secrecy'. The UKBA declined to comment on the specific allegations, except to say that minimum force is only used as a last resort when an individual becomes disruptive or refuses to comply. The Iraqi deportees were grabbed by the neck and beaten, one of the men, Sherwan Abdullah, told the BBC. 'They nearly kill them, they cannot breathe,' the Kurdish man reportedly said.

The UKBA has said that the deportations were based on court rulings, which found that it was safe to return people to Iraq. But the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, cautioned against deportations in a statement from Geneva, saying that violence and human rights violations are still prevalent in parts of Iraq.

“Our position and advice to governments is that Iraqi asylum applicants originating from Iraq's governorates of Baghdad, Diyala, Ninewa and Salah-al-Din, as well as from Kirkuk province, should continue to benefit from international protection,” Melissa Fleming, a spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said at a press briefing on 8 June.

“Our position reflects the volatile security situation and the still high level of prevailing violence, security incidents, and human rights violations taking place in these parts of Iraq,” she said.

Iraqi minorities - including Christians of various denominations, Yazidis and the Shabak – living in third countries are particularly fearful of any forced returns. A Chaldean Christian Iraqi refugee who has lived in the Netherlands since 2006 said he feared being singled out for deportation because of the many attacks against his community in Iraq. "Kidnappings and politically motivated killings continue to take place in what seems to be an attempt to resettle or eradicate Iraq's indigenous population," he said.

He is one of more than half a million Iraqi Christians who have fled since the US-led invasion of the country in 2003. According to the US-based Brookings Institution, an estimated 500,000 Christians remain in Iraq since numbering between 1 million and 1.4 million before 2003.

“Christians continue to be targeted and there is no protection from the Iraqi authorities,” said Dr Ghazi Rahho, a Christian Iraqi who fled the country several years ago and now works as a professor in Jordan.

Rahho’s cousin, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, a leading Christian authority in Iraq, was kidnapped and killed in February 2008, an incident that led to some 12,000 Christians fleeing Mosul, about 400km northwest of Baghdad. “To date, kidnappings and assassinations are taking place. And other tactics are used to terrorize Christians. Our churches, for instance, are being bombed," said Rahho.

According to an April 2010 Amnesty International (AI) report, more than 100 people were killed between mid-July and mid-September 2009 in attacks targeting Christians, Sabean-Mandaeans, Yazidis, Turkoman Shias, Shabaks and Kaka'is.

AI has called on the international community to “end all forcible returns to any part of Iraq; any return of rejected asylum-seekers should only take place when the security situation in the whole country has stabilized.”

Iraqis are the second largest refugee group in the world, according to UNHCR's 2009 Global Trends report, with an estimated 1.8 million seeking refuge primarily in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey. The report, released in advance of World Refugee Day on 20 June, said voluntary repatriation worldwide in 2009 was the lowest for 20 years, with around 251,500 returns, of which only 38,000 were Iraqi.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

War and Peace erased from history

THE first was a major turning point in history, a massive invasion and bombing which devastated Beirut bur failed to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organisation. It culminated in the Sabra and Chatila massacres by Israel's right-wing Christian allies, for which Ariel Sharon was held morally culpable. It brought huge anti-war demonstrations in Tel Aviv, and the formation of Yesh Gvul (there is a border, or limit) by reservists who insisted there was a line beyond which they would not serve, thus setting the example for today's young people who bravely refuse to serve in occupation.

It left Israeli troops in southern Lebanon, backing the Christian militias, till eventually this occupation was ended by combined Lebanese resistance and opposition in Israel. And, ironically, by upsetting the balance of forces in Lebanon, driving out the PLO and destroying moderate Muslim forces like the Shi'ite Amal militia, Israel's 1982 Lebanon war - officially dubbed "Peace in Galilee" -brought on the return of the pendulum the rise of its current bogeyman, Hezbollah.

Eleven years later, and what Israel and all its mouthpieces abroad had declared unthinkable was happening. The Israeli government sat down to negotiate with Yasser Arafat and the PLO leadership in Oslo, the secret talks led to a public agreement, and televised handshakes on the White House lawn. Inadequate as it was, the Oslo agreement allowed the formation of the Palestinian Authority, and some measure of international recognition. It seemed only a matter of time before the Authority became a state, and even the Return of the Palestinian refugees could be negotiated. For now, Arafat came out of exile, and won a Nobel peace prize along with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, even if Rabin was also to be awarded the assassin's bullet -something which Zionists had always said would happen to any Arab leader who made peace with Israel.

No need to go on. Suffice to say that if you should ever try to discuss what happened with young Israelis some time in the future, don't blame them if they look a bit blank and mystified, or even suspect you of making stuff up. They will be victims of their education. This item appeared today in Ha'aretz:

First Lebanon war, Oslo Accords missing from Israeli textbooks
By Or Kashti

The first Lebanon war and the Oslo Accords are missing from Israeli history textbooks, Haaretz has learned, while more recent events, such as the signing of the peace agreement with Jordan, are included.

The Education Ministry said in response that "naturally, not all historic events could be included in the curriculum."

Some 10 days ago, public school history teachers received a handbook sent by the director of history education at the Education Ministry, Michael Yaron. The handbook, titled "Subjects for the High School History Curriculum" sets down the topics history teachers are expected to cover over the three years of high school.

History lessons in high school are divided into two units, both mandatory for all students. The second unit is further divided into the following two groupings: Nazism, anti-Semitism, World War II and the Holocaust; and building the State of Israel in the Middle East. The latter grouping includes all Israeli conflicts from the struggle for statehood to the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, followed by a section on the "peace agreements between Israel, Egypt and Jordan."

In the past, the Education Ministry generally avoided teaching recent history, arguing that it takes 20 to 30 years to arrive at a historical perspective suitable for teaching young people. However, skipping over the first Lebanon war and the Oslo Accords, but including the peace accords with Jordan as well as "Jewish immigration into Israel during the last 30 years of the 20th century," appears to represent a deviation from the rule.

"The Education Ministry doesn't like [to address] controversial issues like the first Lebanon war or the Oslo Accords," a veteran history teacher told Haaretz. "It's not necessarily political, it's more of a desire to avoid confrontation and keep things quiet."

"This is wrong, even pedagogically," the teacher continued. "The so-called sensitive subjects are the most relevant ones and the most interesting to students."

'Mapping out reality'

"Professionally speaking, this is a ridiculous and unreasonable decision," said professor Hannah Yablonka of Ben-Gurion University, who chairs the ministry's advisory committee on history education. "The peace agreement with Jordan didn't appear in a vacuum, but as a result of the Oslo Accords. But it's more than that, these issues are existentially important. Students need to know what the Palestinian Authority is. This is part of mapping out reality."

As for the Lebanon war, she said, "28 years offers enough perspective on this particular event, especially if later events are taught in schools. There's no professional justification for these decisions."

An Education Ministry official rejected the claims that the decision to exclude these subjects was political. "A professional external committee staffed comprised of the best historians put together the curriculum from which these guidelines are derived, and which was published two years ago," he said. "There were plenty of arguments and deliberations within the committee before they agreed on a program that took into account not just historic events, but the fewer number of teaching hours allocated to history lessons."

The chairman of the committee, Professor Yisrael Bartal of the Hebrew University, could not be reached for comment.

Mind you, I can imagine this history with the best bits taken out is going to lead to some incomprehension between the generations. If the young try to understand what parents or grandparents are talking about, they may wonder at the gap between taught history and memory.

I still remember puzzling over a photograph my Dad had in his album, of British soldiers marching down a street watched by Oriental people in quilted jackets. On the back it was captioned, in my Dad's copperplate, "The Loyals in China". There was nothing about this in school history, or even the library books. But sure enough, a battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment had been among British troops sent into Shanghai in the 1920s. They were there to help the Japanese, if the Kuomintang had not succeeded in putting the workers down.

Israel is not the only country where they are selective about what history is taught. All the same, there would not be room in the curriculum to teach about every place where British troops were sent. (Had my Dad remained with his regiment in the 1930s, perish the thought, he might have been suppressing the people of Palestine). Whereas Lebanon in 1982 and subsequent years is hardly a minor, insignificant episode in Israeli history.

As for the Oslo agreement, I did say that youngsters should not be blamed for any ignorance. It is another matter when one hears adult Zionists today ruling out Palestinian self-determination (notwithstanding the incantation about "two state solution" which we hear from their political friends) by declaring there is "no such thing as a Palestinian nation". For some of them, at least, Oslo was a bad dream, for which Rabin had to pay the price, and they will cheerfully assure you "there are no Palestinians" . That is something they look forward to their armed forces achieving. And if these are just the "extremists" among Zionists, they are not outside government, nor without influence on what is taught to Israeli school students.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

International action answers blockade and state piracy

INTERNATIONAL trade unionists are joining peace and solidarity campaigners in response to the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the act of state piracy against the freedom flotilla in which nine Turkish citizens were killed.

They are answering Israel's blockade with a blockade against Israel!

In the early hours of Sunday morning more than 500 people blocked the gates of the Oakland docks, across the bay from San Francisco, to protest the expected arrival of an Israeli Zim lines container ship. Dockers, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union (ILWU) Local 10, refused to cross the picket line.

To counter any move to discipline them, the dockers cited health and safety provisions in their contract. An independent arbitrator called in to rule on whether they were within their rights ruled that they were entitled not to cross.

When the Israeli ship did not show up as expected, the pickets remained on duty just in case, so the afternoon shift was also cancelled.

The Oakland action, supported by the al Awda Palestinian Return coalition, Bay Area Labor chapter of US Labor Against War(USLAW), the anti-war coalition ANSWER, and a Transport Workers Solidarity Committee , among others, was organised in response to a call from Palestinian trade unions for international action over the attack and seizure of the Gaza freedom flotilla. The San Francisco Labor Council and Alameda Labor Council passed resolutions denouncing Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and sent out public notices of the dock action.

A small pro-Israel counter demonstration made little impression on the Oakland pickets.
"My grandmother's Jewish. I'm not anti-Semitic," said Larkspur resident Frank McClain, who had joined the picket line. "But what Israel's doing is murdering people. They staged a raid in international waters. If Somalis had done that, they'd be called pirates and we'd have punished and stopped them immediately. Israel does it and our president calls it 'an unfortunate incident.'

"Our view is that the state of Israel can not engage in acts of piracy and kill people on the high seas and still think their cargo can go anywhere in the world," said Richard Becker, an organizer with ANSWER, the peace coalition which backed Sunday's picket.

The Oakland picket was welcomed as "something we have longed for and expected" by the General Federation of Trade Unions of Palestine, in a message recalling how the longshoremen had taken decisive action against Apartheid South African shipping in 1984. Then the ILWU refused for a record-setting 10 days to unload cargo from the South African “Ned Lloyd” ship. Despite million-dollar fines imposed on the union, the workers held strong, providing a tremendous boost to the anti-apartheid movement. Sacked Liverpool dockers also remember the solidarity they received from the ILWU.

Longshoremen also led Bay Area trade unionists protesting America's war on Iraq, and were attacked by riot cops. But Sunday's picket is the first time Israel has faced such action from workers in the United States. It may not be the last. The attack on the Gaza freedom flotilla has definitely proved a turning point.

SWEDEN'S trade unions have announced a blockade of goods going to and from Israel, which started with containers being blocked at midnight. The Swedish unions say they have two specific objectives:

1. Lifting the blockade on Gaza

2. Allowing an independent, international investigation of what happened at
the Israeli boarding of the so called Freedom Flottilla when nine people
were shot to death.

In the port of Gothenburg about ten containers, both Israeli imports and exports were immediately identified in the container terminal. They have been separated and will stand untouched on the docks until the end of the blockade at midnight on June 29.

" Everything has passed very calmly and I believe it will continue to do so until next Wednesday", says Peter Annerback, chairperson of the Swedish Dockworkers Union section 4 (Hamn4an) and member of the unions executive committee. "Since we are not in a conflict with our employers a 'conflict-contained' container that carries any medical equipment will be allowed exemption", Annerback continued.

" We have identified more goods on its way to or from Israel than we had expected. We thought the flow of goods would be much lower considering the blockade has been announced for twenty days", says Hamn4ans trustee Erik Helgeson.

" Our ambition is of course that our action can be one of many grassroots initiatives that will keep the eyes of the world focused on the 800.000 children that lives isolated in Gaza. The Palestinian civilian population must be allowed to rebuild their economy, their infrastructure and freely integrate with the rest of the world. The war on Gaza and Israel's brutal blockade have made all this impossible for over three years now".

The Swedish Dockworkers Union have explained the motives behind the unions
blockade of Israeli goods in two articles:


Dagens ETC:

Could it happen here?

A few years ago at a conference for trades unionists called by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, where the boycott of Apartheid South Africa was evoked, I remarked that the most effective boycott actions had been taken by trade unionists, such as the Liverpool dockers who refused to let in a shipload of uranium from then occupied Namibia. But, I pointed out, trade unionism on the docks had been set back when these Liverpool dockers were sacked for refusing to cross a picket line. The Labour government had maintained Tory laws restricting union action and outlawing secondary picketing. Workers at Heathrow were disciplined by the union for striking in support of the Gate Gourmet workers - not only fellow trades unionists but in several cases, family members.

It was not my intention to pour cold water on talk of solidarity but to promote some discussion and hear what some more experienced and prominent trade union figures had to say. Alas I only seemed to provoke some uncomfortable shuffles and exchanged glances. Or maybe that was my imagination. On we went to the rhetoric and speechifying. Still, we may be awakening, however late. to the way fighting for our freedom is necessary if we are really going to help others fight for theirs. We might even take some tips from brothers and sisters in the 'States.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Panduleni: A comrade they could neither destroy nor buy

SAD news in a message from Jade, a Namibian comrade.

" Pandu passed way this week Wednesday after a period of illness.

Good bye and Farewell dear Panduleni Kali. It has been an honour and a privilege to know you and to stand alongside you in the struggle for social justice. They imprisoned you in exile for five years without charges, they slandered and tortured you, though you were innocent. Pandu was innocent. Pandu was a committed revolutionary, even until the very end".

I met Panduleni and her twin sister Ndamona Kali briefly when they came to London, it must be about 20 years ago. Passing the plate of sandwiches at a party in west London I murmured "bon appetit". In reply they smiled and chatted amiably to me in fluent French, and were clearly amused when they saw I was surprised, as well as literally lost for words!

I learned that they had mastered several European languages, besides those of their native land. However, the twins were not here to entertain with their language and social skills, impressive as these were, nor to brighten up our party, though they did. They were here on a serious mission, to make people aware of the hidden side to Namibia's struggle for independence.

Like others of their generation they had left home full of courage and hope to take part in the freedom struggle against colonial subjection and white South African rule. Like others, though they had survived, they had suffered. But worse, they had suffered at the hands of what was supposed to be their own side, of those whose call to join and fight they had heeded. And they were not alone.

Panduleni and Ndamona Kali joined the South West Africa Peoples Organisation (SWAPO) in 1974, when they were 15 years old. In 1978 they left Namibia for Angola, where they underwent military training. Then in 1980 the sisters were sent abroad for education. They were studying in Cuba when their troubles began

"On 8 November 1984 we were called by the man responsible for foreign students, who told us we had to go and sign some SWAPO papers. A Cuban woman, who we later heard was State Security, ordered us to undress, without any explanation. She put on some gloves and examined us internally. We were ordered to put on our clothes again, and told that one of us had to go under escort to our hostel room and separate our things from the university property. All this time we were asking why this was happening.

"On the second day we demanded to see the chief official there. We said we needed an explanation because we were certain that we had never committed any crime on Cuban soil. It did not enter our heads that SWAPO had any hand in this. We even demanded to see our SWAPO representative so that we could tell him about all these things the Cuban government was doing to us.

"I was taken before two men, one black and one white. The white man I later knew was a Cuban and the black one a Namibian. The Namibian told me he was sent by SWAPO to tell us that we are needed in Africa. He said there was a small problem we had to solve in Africa and then after solving it we would come back and continue our studies."

When Panduleni was taken back to the cell Ndamona was ordered out to the room with the two men, and went through the same procedures. "It was such a shock to be one minute living the life of a student in what we thought was a socialist country, happy, studying, with friends — and the next minute to be taken by armed
security forces, locked up, strip-searched and handcuffed and transported miles away to a cell, with all my belongings packed by armed security guards. On the fifth day we were escorted to the military airport".

On the plane they were not allowed to go to the toilet without permission from the security guards, something they were to get used to. At mealtimes the stewardess was ordered to remove the plastic knives. They were flown to Luanda, in Angola, and the Cubans handed them over to SWAPO. Taken in a truck to a post in the bush, they were in the hands of SWAPO Security. They later learned the guards had been trained in the Soviet Union.

After a few days it was back in the truck, where they found two male comrades, seated with hands tied behind their back. After two days journey they reached Lubango, and were separated from the male prisoners, whom they did not see again for five years. The next morning the sisters were asked to write their autobiographies. After that they were separated and did not see each other again for two years.

Panduleni: "After I wrote my autobiography, I was told to go in a small room and I slept on the floor with only one blanket. About two o'clock in the morning I was called out. I went to the office, where I found six men, with a small lantern. They asked me to repeat my autobiography — speak it — which I did. They then told me that it was high time that I started to be serious: 'SWAPO knows everything about you — your whole activities inside and outside Namibia. Don't think that anything you have done is a secret.' They asked me if I was ready to talk peacefully or was I ready for violence. I said I had told them the truth and if they went to violence that was up to them.

"They stood up and ordered me to go out. The one with the lantern went in front of me, leading the way. I followed him and we went into an underground room. We were later joined by two others. In the room I noticed two poles and a horizontal pole. This did not immediately mean anything to me. I was ordered to undress myself. At first I refused and demanded an explanation. They went and collected some sticks, and they started beating me while I was undressing myself. They took a rope and tied my hands to the horizontal pole.

"My legs were tied together and they then tied them to the other pole, which caused a lot of pain in my back, and they beat me with the sticks until I fell unconscious. They then took me to the room and this was repeated throughout two months. Then I was transferred to another place, where I was again confronted with these questions: 'Where, when and by whom were you recruited to be a South African spy, and what did they promise you?' I told them that I was never recruited. This was the first time that anybody had even intimated why I was being treated like a criminal. I told them that I joined SWAPO to fight for the freedom of our country, and that I never had any connection with the South African regime.

"I told them that I was very well known, especially in the place where I came from, Luderitz, and at our school in Omaruru. I was sure they could get a lot of information about my political activities from those places. But they had written off our high school as a training ground for South African spies! Therefore they didn't trust any student coming from that school.

"They took out their ropes and a black cloth. They ordered me to undress, and the black cloth was tied round my eyes. This really scared me. I started shouting that they were going to kill an innocent person. They told me to go out, and because I was blindfolded somebody was holding me from behind. After walking for a distance I could feel that I was going in a type of underground, in a sort of hole. I was ordered to sit down flat on the ground and then I got a shower of sticks beating me. I didn't know where the next blow was corning from, and my hands were now tied as well. So they started beating while I was seated.

"They ordered me to lie on one side and then after finishing they ordered me to lie on the other side and then again on my stomach and they kept on beating until they were tired. So I was in pain and they left me there and took off the blindfold. They left me in that hole and later every time I wanted to lift up my head I collapsed.

"After I don't know how many hours I lifted up my head again and saw a girl sitting a distance from the hole. I asked her for water and she refused. It started raining and I was still in the hole. A male guard came and then he told me to go into a hut. By this time 1 could not walk because my whole body was swollen. So I had to crawl up to the hut. This interrogation continued like this, with beatings and solitary confinements, for eight months. After this eight months I could not bear the pain any more.

"I really had confidence that justice would one day prevail and that the truth would come out. So I decided to make up a story. I knew that my story would be a lie. Maybe it would last for a month and then the truth would come out. Of course later I realised that that lie lasted for five full years, and maybe for the rest of my life because SWAPO has never shown any willingness to investigate the case.So I 'confessed' that I was a South African spy. I gave them impossible dates. I told them I was trained in Rehoboth, at the 'big building with writing on the front "South African Training Centre" — a place that does not even exist in Rehoboth. I gave them names of people who do not exist, but even then SWAPO did not investigate to find that this was a lie, leading me then to the conclusion that SWAPO was never interested in arresting enemy agents.

"After I 'confessed' I was put together with other alleged enemy agents. We were sleeping in a dug-out. Then there were about 30 of us. This number grew to over 100. The dug-out is a hole dug in the ground with a layer of three bricks round the edge. Usually it was so overcrowded that we had to arrange ourselves in lines facing different ways to find the space to sleep. During the day, when we were not forced to do hard labour outside we had just enough space to sit down on the ground. The roof was made of corrugated iron. It was very hot. There were small holes which served as windows with iron bars. In that dug-out everything was done. Once the door was closed it was the toilet and the eating room. It was also the hospital at the same time. Small tins were used for the toilet.

"There were diseases like asthma and bronchitis, beri beri, skin diseases and some peculiar stress illnesses. There were many people who suffered mental illness. One woman gave birth in the hole, without water, without scissors, without so much as a clean cloth to lay the baby on. The baby died, the mother was taken away - and was put back in the hole after a couple of days.

"I remained in this place until May 1989 (that was almost five years from the time I was first arrested in Cuba in November 1984. In all that time we had no chair, no bed. It was a privilege to get an empty rice sack to sleep on, or a milk drum to sit on outside the hole. We had nothing to read. We existed on talk about our childhood, and fantasies and dreams — to such an extent that we felt guilty if we did not dream because we would have nothing to tell the others".

(Revolutionary Times, Revolutionary Lives, Index Books, 1997)

Reminiscent as this is of Stalinist repression in the Soviet Union where SWAPO security had been trained, there may have been particular factors behind the African organisation's distrust of its own young people, and use of brutal state power without a state. In the previous decade SWAPO fighters had been ordered to join the South African-backed Unita forces opposing the MPLA which eventually won in Angola with support from the Cubans. Sam Njuma and the other SWAPO leaders already faced unrest from the SWAPO youth league, in camps in Zambia, which they had to suppress with the help of the Zambian army. Concerned to re-assert their authority, and prove themselves to their Cuban and Soviet allies, the SWAPO leadership needed to find "spies" to scapegoat, and crush any dissidents, even if it meant pretending that two bright young women who showed signs of independent minds were dangerous South African "agents", evidently recruited and trained before they were 15 years old!
(see 'The SWAPO 'Spy Drama'', Paul Trewhela, Searchlight South Africa, No.6, January 1991)

With strikes and unrest among Namibian workers playing their own part in the freedom struggle, the SWAPO leaders may also have wanted to make sure they were in control, the regime in the camps a foretaste of the order they might need to impose with independence, to ensure their own privileges and reassure international capital.

Once they were free and re-united, the Kali sisters did not forget those they had left behind. They campaigned for the release of any remaining prisoners, and joined with parents who wanted to know what had happened to their young people. They gained support from the newly-formed Workers Revolutionary Party (now the Communist Party) of Namibia, which recognised truth and democratic, human rights as essential to the political independence of the working class.

It was another matter winning this recognition from the Left outside. In South Africa even self-claimed Trotskyists told the Namibian comrades to subordinate everything to helping SWAPO win elections.
Here in Britain, many people who had supported the struggle against the Apartheid regime from afar did not want to hear criticism of their heroes, even from those who had been in the struggle close-up. Here too, there was perhaps the lingering influence of the kind of thinking which once accepted the Moscow Trials, because it wanted to believe them. At a sparsely attended press conference, a leftie journalist from the Guardian threw a hostile question at the sisters then flounced out without waiting for their reply.

Things have moved on, the Left, or at least parts of it, have become a little more sophisticated. In Nambia itself the stand taken by Panduleni and Ndamona Kali and their comrades may have helped safeguard some political pluralism and liberty, and the abilities of both twins appear to have been recognised in the positions they obtained. Yet remarkably, just as their earlier bitter experiences failed to break them, so their later careers did not take them away from the aims and principles formed when they were young. As Jade says: "Pandu was a committed revolutionary, even until the very end".


Thursday, June 17, 2010

BP and a bit of history

Dr. MOHAMMED MOSADDEGH brought down because he tackled BP, then known as Anglo-Iranian.

AS BP boss Tony Hayward, under fire over the Gulf oil disaster, told astounded US congressmen that he had not been in the loop about what went on at the rig, they, and we, once again wonder at the ways of big business. If you really get on, you can not only earn a magnificent salary - said to be in the region of £6 million in his case - for supposed responsibility, but blandly claim that it's nowt to do with you, guv, the moment things go wrong.

Forgetting Union Carbide's little Bhopal difficulty, Americans from right to left are complaining that Obama is too soft on the British company, while Brits are defensively saying this is unfair. We might note that Margaret Thatcher got rid of the British government's stake in BP, and the company merged with the American Amoco as it became more involved in north America. What is worrying many people here is the thought that their pension funds could be dependent on BP.

Some Americans have unkindly been looking at some of the dramatic episodes in BP's past. For example the writer who says:
"We've cleaned up BP's mess before"

What they are recalling are the events almost sixty years ago in Iran. British oil interests developed in that country before the First World War. Burmah Oil established a subsidiary, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later Anglo-Iranian, which raised capital by selling shares. In 1913 they built the oil refinery at Abadan. The same year they gained an important ally in Winston Churchill, at the British Admiralty. The Royal Navy switched from coal to oil, and the British government became a major shareholder in the company.

By the late 1920s, discontent was growing in Iran over the way Anglo-Iranian(AIOC) operated with its monopoly, keeping the best jobs for Brits rather than training Iranians, and sending crude oil out rather than establish more advanced industry in Iran. The company made sure its biggest profit showed outside, paying its taxes in Britain and only a measly royalties to the Iranian government.

A 1933 agreement was not seen as satisfactory, and the AIOC broke it anyway. The oil company was highly profitable, but its Iranian workers were poorly paid and lived in squalid conditions.

In March 1946 oil workers struck, demanding better pay and housing, and health care. On July 14, 1946 they went on strike again in Abadan. Despite a military curfew, the strike went on for three days. Police clashed with demonstrators. Britain's Labour government, with a 50 per cent holding in AIOC, was not on the workers' side. It had already expressed concern over peaceful May Day demonstrations in Iran that year, saying it was worried over Soviet influence. Now the Royal Navy was deployed and stationed at the shores of Arvand river. Attlee's cabinet met on July 15, and approved a proposition to deploy troops to Basra, across the border in Iraq, just in case.

The Iranian government insisted it was in control, but meanwhile Anglo-Iranian was bribing tribal leaders in Khuzestan, to provide strike breakers, and the tribal forces were also armed by Britain. British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, a former general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, criticised Iranian prime minister Ghavamossaltaneh for not keeping down left-wing groups, and said that the oil workers were better paid than the average in Iran.

The public feeling in Iran grew. The government could look enviously at Saudi Arabia where, with much less needs to provide, the regime enjoyed a 50-50 revenue split with Aramco.

On 28 April 1951, the Majlis (Iranian Parliament) named Dr. Mohammed Mosaddegh as new prime minister by a vote of 79–12. Aware of Mosaddegh's rising popularity, the young Shah appointed him. On 1 May, Mosaddegh nationalized the AIOC, cancelling its oil concession due to expire in 1993 and expropriating its assets.

" With the oil revenues we could meet our entire budget and combat poverty, disease, and backwardness among our people. Another important consideration is that by the elimination of the power of the British company, we would also eliminate corruption and intrigue, by means of which the internal affairs of our country have been influenced. Once this tutelage has ceased, Iran will have achieved its economic and political independence.
The Iranian state prefers to take over the production of petroleum itself. The company should do nothing else but return its property to the rightful owners. The nationalization law provide that 25% of the net profits on oil be set aside to meet all the legitimate claims of the company for compensation…"

The British government was unwilling to negotiate. Anglo-Iranian withdrew its technicians and tried to close the Abadan refinery, something the Iranians had been accused of. The company set about organising a worldwide boycott of Iranian oil, and the Attlee government sent the Royal Navy into the Gulf to make it a blockade. The army was prepared to seize the Abadan refineries, although the Truman administration in Washington tried to caution its ally.

With Churchill coming back to government in Britain, war seemed more likely, and the new Eisenhower administration in the US was ready to back Britain. But it did so by different means. First the CIA urged Shah Reza Pahlevi to sack Mosaddegh, and when this did not work, it paid a combination of gangsters, clergy, corrupt politicians and army officers to bring about chaos, and a coup. While the Shah fled abroad, on August 19, 1953, a royalist mob led by thugs hired by the CIA marched on Mosaddegh's home. Mosaddegh was arrested, tried and convicted of treason by the Shah's military court. On December 21, 1953, he was sentenced to solitary confinement in a jail cell in Central Teheran for three years, then placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life.

The Shah had returned in triumph accompanied by Allan Dulles of the CIA. The minister of Foreign Affairs and the closest associate of Mosadegh, Hossein Fatemi, was executed on Oct. 29, 1953 by order of the Shah's military court. The Shah also ordered the execution of military officers and student leaders who had been closely associated with Mosaddegh. He set up the notorious Savak secret police with American help.

But having saved Anglo-Iranian, or British Petroleum as it became, the Americans did not content themselves with feeling satisfied. The British company's monopoly on Iranian oil was replaced by an international consortium, under the name National Iranian Oil Company, in which Anglo-Iranian as was now held just 40% of the shares. The consortium agreed to share profits on a 50-50 basis with Iran, "but not to open its books to Iranian auditors or to allow Iranians onto its board of directors."
The lion's share of Iranian oil now passed into the hands of other Western companies, notably the US, Rockefeller-owned Standard Oil.

By a coincidence, US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Allan at the CIA were both in the law firm that looked after Standard Oil's interests. And Kermit Roosevelt, who managed the coup in Iran, left his CIA post later to join the board of Gulf Oil.

The Shah's regime lasted a further 26 years before it was brought down by a popular uprising, in which the oil workers played an important part. Sadly, though for a time they controlled the refineries, they did not have a political party that could take the power, and it was the Ayatollahs who reaped this.

The strong anti-American feeling on which they could count did cause some US rulers to regret past deeds. In March 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said: "The Eisenhower administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons. But the coup was clearly a setback for Iran's political development and it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America."

In the same year, The New York Times published a detailed report about the coup based on declassified CIA documents.

Dr.Mosaddegh remains a popular historical figure to many Iranians, as a democratically elected and patriotic leader who sought to act against the foreign exploiters and for his people's good. Ironically, however, the Islamicist regime for all its demagogy prefers not to see his name celebrated officially or taught about positively in schools. This may be because the clerics never liked Mosaddegh as a secular leader with western culture, but also because they, like the British government, considered the communists a real threat.

It was the turn against Mosaddegh by Ayatollah Abol-Ghasem Kashani and other clergy that undermined his support from the lower middle class and religious masses, and helped Iran's imperialist enemies impose the Shah's regime. Too much memory is dangerous for those in power today.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Will new inquest bring justice for Jeremiah?

THE long-sought second inquest on the death of student Jeremiah Duggan is to open next Tuesday at Barnet coroners' court, in north London. Jerry was killed in Wiesbaden, Germany, where he had gone to attend what he thought was a peace conference to oppose the war on Iraq.

His body was found by the autobahn just outside town, on March 27, 2003. German police accepted that he had run out into the motorway and been struck by two vehicles.

But a London inquest in 2004 rejected a suicide verdict, after hearing from the Metropolitan Police that the organisers of the Wiesbaden conference, the Schiller Institute, were a front for the political cult led by the American, Lyndon LaRouche. Hours before his death Jeremiah Duggan had 'phoned his mother saying he was in "big trouble" and wanted to be rescued. The coroner ruled that the student had been in a "state of terror" when he died.

However it was left to the Duggan family and friends to campaign for a full and fearless investigation into Jerry's death. The evidence they gathered with the help of professional experts pointed to a very different picture than that accepted by the German authorities, even as to whether Jerry was killed by the two vehicles, or elsewhere, and his body brought to where it was found.

The LaRouchites meanwhile have claimed variously that the British student was on drugs, or some kind of spy, and that the allegations of suspicious death were part of a high-level conspiracy against them involving British and US government figures, and the Tavistock clinic in London.

At a hearing in the High Court in London last month the Duggan family won their case for a new inquest. Before it can be held the process of gathering the facts and making the enquiries takes place and only then does the Coroner hold a full Inquest and give a verdict. The official opening of the Inquest will start the process and be presided over by the North London Coroner Mr Andrew Walker.

After the official opening relevant matters can be discussed in preparation for the initiation of a full fact finding enquiry into the cause and circumstances whereby Jeremiah met his death. It is not a criminal trial nor will any guilty party be blamed. But Lyndon LaRouche, who from the start opposed any full investigation, has written to the Coroner to become an "interested party."

In April 2010 Judge Elias and Mr Justice Aikenhead were presented with legal witness documents which provided new information about how Jeremiah was in the offices of the LaRouche Executive Intelligence Review prior to his dead body being found on the road and that Jeremiah was seen as the enemy and a spy and hunted down . This information together with other reports led the two Judges in the Royal Court of Justice to state that “in the interest of Justice” a fresh Inquest should be held.

In Germany, where the Wiesbaden prosecutor had ruled that no one else but Jeremiah Duggan himself had been responsible for his death, a spokesman for his office stressed again in March last year that there was no evidence linking the LaRouche movement to the young man's death. In February 2010 the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany rejected the Duggan family's request for judicial review of the decision not to reopen the inquiry.

The Duggan family and supporters say they welcome the start of a process of Justice and hope it will "set a precedent of how human life is to be valued whether at home or abroad, but also show how we are with Germany and France members of one European Community and committed therefore to assist one another in examining fully and fearlessly how Jeremiah met his death".

Official opening 9am on Tuesday 22ndJune 2010 ( one hour duration)

Tel:020 8447 7680.Nearest tube Northern Line High Barnet.

For more information :www.justiceforjeremiah.comor

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ballymurphy to Bogside; extra ghosts at the Saville inquiry

THE Saville Inquiry into the events of 'Bloody Sunday' in Derry has finally published its findings.

On January 30, 1972, twenty-seven people were shot by soldiers of the British Army's Parachute Regiment ordered to stop a civil rights demonstration in the Bogside area. Thirteen men, seven of them teenagers, died immediately. Another man died four and a half months later. The Army claimed at the time that its men were fired upon and returned the fire.

The Saville Inquiry, which has been accepted by the British government, found that all of those shot were unarmed, and that the killings were "unjustified and unjustifiable." Five of those wounded were shot in the back.

Rather than try to separate stone-throwing youth from the main, peaceful crowd, troops opened fire on all, chasing people through a housing estate. Jack Duddy, 17, was killed by a single bullet to the chest in the courtyard of Rossville Flats. Witnesses said that he was unarmed and running away from soldiers. Pat Doherty, 31, was shot from behind while trying to crawl to safety in the vicinity of the flats' forecourt, between the building and Joseph Place. He was killed with a single bullet. Photographs show that he was not armed.

Barney McGuigan was going to the aid of Patrick Doherty while signalling with a white handkerchief when he was killed by a bullet fired through the back of his head. He died where he fell near the corner of the flats between Rossville Street and Joseph Place. He was41.

So it went on. The inquiry goes into detail to try and identify which soldiers fired which shots, and and in what circumstances. It rejects the claim that the soldiers were returning fire or were even under threat from the demonstrators.

• "None of the casualties shot by soldiers of Support Company was armed with a firearm or (with the probable exception of Gerald Donaghey) a bomb of any description. None was posing any threat of causing death or serious injury. In no case was any warning given before soldiers opened fire," the report said.

• Evidence from soldiers to the inquiry that they had fired after coming under attack was rejected. "We have concluded that none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers. No one threw or threatened to throw a nail or petrol bomb at the soldiers on Bloody Sunday."

• The credibility of the accounts given by the soldiers was "materially undermined" because all soldiers bar one who were responsible for the casualties "insisted that they had shot at gunmen or bombers, which they had not". Saville said: "Many of these soldiers have knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing".

Saville points not only to lies by soldiers but failings by the officers, who unleashed their men without regard for whether they were chasing innocent civilians and not "terrorists", and then sought to justify the shootings by claiming they had been under attack.

Politicians and top brass are expressing horror now at any suggestion there might be prosecutions in the wake of the Saville inquiry. It would be unfair now that IRA men have been released they say, forgetting that the IRA has decommissioned its weapons, something that is taking Loyalist groups a little longer. It would have a bad effect on the morale of our boys in Afghanistan, is another argument I've heard. Why, are they getting orders to massacring people there? Forgetting, incidentally, that the Derry massacre shocked people here because, whatever the IRA might have said, we were told the city was Londonderry, and British soil. So the people killed were British citizens. And if the army could do that there, why not in Dundee or Doncaster, Birmingham or Bristol?

So the British government has held not one, but two inquiries, the first under Lord Widgery being seen as a whitewash and now this one, setting blame, but long years after. And while it blames soldiers and even officers, its finger seems to stop at a certain level. Saville has rejected the contention that the state had authorised the troops to use "unwarranted lethal force" or sanctioned them "with reckless disregard as to whether such force was used". It also rejected the idea that the government had more generally "tolerated, if not encouraged" the use of unjustified lethal force in Northern Ireland, thereby creating the conditions which led to the Bloody Sunday attacks.

So are the politicians really concerned about protecting soldiers, or anxious to avoid questions being asked of themselves?

Why was it decided, and by whom, that a peaceful civil rights march should not be allowed that Sunday? Why was a combat unit, like the Parachute Regiment, put into what should have been a policing role, and apparently psyched up to believe they were under attack, then let loose on civilians? Did it never occur to those in charge of "law and order" that if you treat people, particularly the young, as dangerous "terrorists", they may decide to become just that, throwing away their placards and even stones for the chance to take up an armalite, and even up the score a little?

Saville's rejection of the accusation that the British government "tolerated if not encouraged" the use of unjustified lethal force may have been easier because his inquiry forbade the mention of one name, that of a district in West Belfast, called Ballymurphy.

What happened there on three days in August, 1971, five months before Bloody Sunday, might suggest a different light on matters. It was on Monday, August 9 that year that the British government introduced internment without trial in northern Ireland. That morning, a number of women in Ballymurphy went to the police and army posts to ask where their menfolk were being taken, but they were turned away. Some youths started rioting, and there was some trouble with Protestants nearby who were allegedly driving Catholic families from their homes.

In Springfield Park, a local man who was trying to lift children to safety was shot and wounded. People who tried to go to his aid were deterred by army gunfire. Parish priest Father Hugh Mullen took out a white cloth to wave as he tried to reach the wounded man. As he knelt to assist him he was shot. Another man, Frank Quinn, who came out to help Father Mullen was shot dead.

About the same time, troops opened fire on some people gathered on waste ground, wounding a young man called Noel Philips. Mrs.Joan Conolly, who saw him go down, tried to reach him, and an army sniper took off the side of her face. The following day Eddie Doherty was shot in the back as he made his way home. Two more men were shot on August 11. The Army claimed they had been armed and firing at soldiers. No evidence was found that they or anyone else killed in Ballymurphy - 11 in those three days -was carrying weapons or had used them. Paddy McCarthy, a community worker, was trying to deliver bread and milk to families afraid to leave their homes when he was wounded. Later he died of a heart attack while in army hands.

The British Army unit involved in the Ballymurphy shootings was the Parachute Regiment. Some of the soldiers were later identified as being on duty in Derry, in the Bloody Sunday massacre. The Ballymurphy killings were scarcely reported at the time, and the official version was that soldiers had exchanged fire with gunmen - even though no soldiers were injured, and no guns were found by the victims. Some of the children orphaned by the shootings were given refuge in the South, but had to endure gibes that "your daddy was a terrorist".

At the annual conference of trades union councils in Blackpool last month, a delegation of women from Ballymurphy, led by Joan Connolly's daughter, who had only been a little girl when she saw her mother killed, spoke about their fight for truth and justice. They told us that when someone tried to say something about Ballymurphy during the Bloody Sunday inquiry they were warned that if it was mentioned again the inquiry would be halted.

The Ballymurphy relatives are seeking an independent, international enquiry. They also want the British government to acknowledge that those killed were innocent.


www.relativesforjustice. com

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Iranian leader raises two fingers to West, but brings fist down on workers

IRANIAN President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has raised two fingers of scorn to Western imperialism, calling US President Obama "immature", and declaring that Iran will continue its nuclear enrichment programme, in defiance of UN sanctions.

But if anyone thinks there's anything intrinsically "progressive" about the Iranian regime, or that its Islamicist leaders are trying to free the people from capitalism, Iranian workers can tell you different.

Reza Shahabi, a leader of the bus workers, was arrested yesterday. Brother Shahabi is a board member and treasurer of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (Vahed Syndicate). He had been on sick leave for the past few days. When he returned to work on Saturday morning he was told to report to the Tehran Bus Company headquarter. After reporting to the headquarter he was arrested by four intelligence agents. Following his arrest, Bro.Shahabi was taken to his home where they searched his belongings and personal information including his computer and afterwards transferred him to an unknown location. His whereabouts has not been reported to his family.

Saeed Torabian, the union's public relations director, was arrested on June 9, and taken to an unknown place of detention.

As of this time, four leaders and elected representatives of Vahed Syndicate are in prison. Mansour Osanloo, Syndicate's president of the board of director, Ebrahim Madadi, Vice-President; Saeed Torabian, Public relations director and Reza Shahabi, Treasurer.

Other members of the union have reportedly been harassed at work by the Vahed Company and there are fears of more arrests of Vahed Syndicate members and other labour activists. In recent weeks, Mansour Osanloo has been subject to harassment and threats of new charges by prison officials and other agents of the Islamic regime. While in prison, Bro. Osanloo has recently been interrogated and accused of relationship with opposition groups as well as insulting the "Supreme Leader", Ayatollah Khamanei and Ahmadinejad.

These allegations have been denied by Osanloo. Both Torabian and Shahabi had been suspended without pay from work for about four years following the 2005 strike. After years of inquiries they were finally reinstated in their job and were returned to work but now they are arrested as a part of an obvious scheme orchestrated jointly by intelligence officials and the Tehran Bus Company.

Friday's Morning Star had an intersting article by Jamshid Ahmadi enitled Iran's neoliberal agenda.

"On the first anniversary of the fraudulent election that secured Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's second term as president, Iran is once again under the international media spotlight", the writer observes, saying that three days after the UN security council imposed devastating fourth-term sanctions, the regime has clamped down on people in anticipation of mass demonstrations planned for the anniversary of the election.

"From the outside, Iran's Islamic regime is superficially characterised by its anti-Western foreign policy and particularly by its verbal attacks against the US and Israel.

"However, the vast majority of progressives rightly recognise that beneath its sloganeering facade lies a theocratic and reactionary regime fronted by Ahmadinejad's illegitimate government. Less noted is the regime's neoliberal economic doctrine and its impact on the majority of the population - the working people and the poor.

"At the outset, Ahmadinejad's populist slogans against the damaging neo-liberal policies of his predecessor president Mohammad Khatami proved popular among the marginalised and poor and certain disorganised sections of the working people", writes Jamshed Ahmadi.

However this people's champion, promising to alleviate chronic poverty, fight corruption, and challenge the super-rich, had no intention of reversing the regime's neoliberal economic plans. Unrestrained privatisation and deregulation of the labour market continued at an even faster pace and workers' protests were crushed.

"Since Ahmadinejad's first term in office there have been no significant increases in productive investments. Economic growth continues to be based solely on the export of crude oil and a form of parasitic capitalism which is engaged in speculation. The net result has been increasing hardship for working people and the poor".

The difference between Ahmadinejad's economic programme and the one operating before is solely the shifting of the dominant economic beneficiaries within the regime's elite. His free-market-based economic policies are designed to maximise profit and divert it towards new leading groupings in power.

"Growing privatisation of key public assets and the development of a 'small government' that shrugs off direct responsibility for national economic development but strictly enforces a non-unionised and cheap labour workforce are examples to note".

What is missing in Iran from Milton Freidman's neo-liberal model, Ahmadi explains, is a totally open competitive market. It has been fixed to benefit interests within the regime itself.

"The Islamic Guard Corps, a key political supporter of Ahmadinejad and its high command, has been the main economic beneficiary of the massive privatisations. The corps will do anything lawful or unlawful to expand its economic empire, including using intimidation and direct force.

"It was during Ahmadinejad's first term in office that the constitution was amended to require the government to privatise key state assets through Tehran's stock exchange. The lucrative parts of the oil industry, mines and the national telecommunication infrastructure have been the key areas targeted by the commanders of the Islamic Guard.

"To justify this wholesale privatisation, Ahmadinejad described it as 'giving people's affairs back to people' and dubbed the privatisation as the distribution of 'justice shares' where ordinary people can become share owners. This is reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher's 'share-owning democracy' where, as intended, very few shares ended up with the people.

"In dealing with the government's economic problems and in particular the growing budget deficit, Ahmadinejad's government has embarked on an extremely right-wing economic shock therapy, which it has dubbed the 'great surgery'.

"Ahmadinejad plans to remove all major price subsidies and instead use this money to provide 'cash payments' to the disadvantaged. This is one of the main planks of neoliberal economics advocated by the IMF. This dangerous plan was even opposed by the parliament that is dominated by the supporters of Ahmadinejad's rigged election.

"All experts are warning that the resulting massive inflationary rise will hurt the working people and the poor. It should be noted that Iran lacks the necessary infrastructures in order to be able to divert the so-called 'cash payments' towards those in need.

Ahmadi says the Iranian government sees neo-liberal economics as the remedy to all Iran's economic problems, while at the same time protecting the interests of its elites.

"Like its predecessors, Ahmadinejad's government sees the workers of Iran as a dangerous force that needs to be contained in terms of its economic demands, desire to get organised and political activities.

"The brutal crackdown by the Islamic Guards on those protesting against the illegal election of Ahmadinejad and continuing imprisonment and execution are not the actions of a state protecting itself against foreign interference. It simply represents the actions of a dictatorship using brute force to protect the political power and massive economic interests of its new oligarchs".

Jamshid Ahmadi is Assistant General Secretary of the Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People's Rights. For further information visit

The place of the so-called Revolutionary Guard in the plunder of assets and crushing of protests is worth notice. It will not be news to Iranians. But at last year's conference of the Labour Representation Committee, after Marsha-Jane Thompson moved re-affiliation to Hands off the People of Iran(HOPI), a supporter of the supposedly Trotskyist international Posadas tendency spoke in support of the Ahmadinejad regime, and praised the way the "Revolutionary Guard" had dealt with opponents. I answered this in strong terms, and the conference overwhelmingly endorsed re-affiliation.

But though the lone Posadist may be an extreme case, there are still people on the Left who naively assume that because Ahmadinejad is a bogey-man for the Zionists and the West, his regime must somehow be "progressive" , "anti-imperialist" and worthy of support. Leaving aside those individuals for whom such naivety goes with being on the regime's payroll, and whose own "left-wing" credentials are to say the least doubtful, we only have to look at the way the Stop the War Coalition has twice rejected HOPI's requests for affiliation.

Maybe it would not be too much to refer them to that Morning Star article and remind them that the one really progressive, anti-imperialist force is the working class.

Ahmadinejad in China:

Hands off the People of Iran:

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Friday, June 11, 2010

'As one door closes, another one opens...'

THE National Shop Stewards Network(NSSN) will be holding its annual conference on June 26,
and it is likely British Airways cabin crew will be speaking about their ongoing dispute, even if they have to hide their faces or appear in disguise to avoid yet more victimisation by BA boss Willie Walsh.

The employer has banned people from posting messages on Facebook or talking to local papers, taken disciplinary action against 50 workers, and sacked their branch secretary for taking time on union business,
before reaching for another High Court injunction on May 15.

"It's a free country", as we used to say.

Railway workers too have had their experience of court injunctions derailing their union's legally balloted strike actions. The National Shop Stewards Network was formed on an initiative from their union, RMT, arising from discussion at a conference it called on the crisis in working class political representation.

So the NSSN conference, which attracts workplace representatives, trades union council and branch delegates and workers from across industry and public services, is bound not only to hear reports from ongoing struggles but to consider the political and legal dimensions. We now face a Tory government committed to cuts and privatisation, to making working people and the poor pay for the rich capitalists' crisis, and armed with the Tory anti-union laws which New Labour so dutifully maintained for them while in office.

We have seen unions conducting ballots in accord with the law, only for the results to be challenged and even overturned on trivial, contentious, even fabricated reasons. John Hendy QC who has acted for the unions says he has been told by a senior judge that there is no right to strike in this country. (See also:

We heard the other day that Labour MP John McDonnell, who fought for a trade union freedom bill under the last Labour government, had withdrawn from the Labour leadership contest. Now, thanks to RMT trade unionist Janine Booth, writing in the Stroppyblog, is the good news:

As one door closes another one open: John McDonnell tops the poll in the Private Members' Bill Ballot.

John McDonnell MP has been drawn first in the Private Members' Bill Ballot today and has opted for a Bill to tackle abuse of trade union ballots by employers.

John McDonnell said:

"It's a funny old world, as one door closes another one opens. Coming top in this poll will enable me to tackle an abuse of the current employment laws by employers that I have tried to reform for the last 4 years."

"As we have seen in the current BA Cabin Crew dispute and many other recent disputes, employers have been able to exploit a loophole in the existing law by using minor technical errors in a trade union ballot for industrial action to frustrate the democratic decisions of trade unionists who wish to take action.

This resort to the courts by some ruthless employers is bringing current employment law into disrepute and undermining industrial relations in this country. The courts are being dragged into disputes and used as weapons in the hands of bullying employers. Even where there have been overwhelming majorities in ballots in favour of strike action, minor technicalities which would have no material effect on the outcome of the ballot, are being exploited to negate the democratic decision of the trade unionists involved.

This cannot be right and in the interests of good industrial relations needs to be addressed."

Note-to Editors-

Over the past four years John has made several attempts to tackle this issue by introducing amendments to the then Government's employment legislation and promoting in Parliament the TUC backed Trade Union Freedom Bill.

I know some NSSN activists, including my good friend Dave Chapple, who is NSSN chair, have felt I attached too much importance to the Labour Party contest. They argue that Labour is past saving, and that anyway trades unionists must rely on their own strength rather than putting any faith in parliament. I can't say they are entirely wrong. Certainly that so few Labour MPs were even prepared to nominate a socialist says something about the parliamentary Labour Party.

Yet Labour was originally formed to defend trade union rights, as a result of the experience of the RMT's forerunners, the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, confronting the Taff Vale judgement which said trade unions could not be indemnified against legal action for the results of striking. And until we have built an alternative, we might look at Labour today, and apply the saying that it is
"Better to light one small candle than to forever curse the dark".

So long as John McDonnell or any other MP does hold up that light, I am sure that everyone coming to the National Shop Stewards Network conference, whatever their views on the Labour Party, will agree on welcoming this news.

National Shop Stewards Network Conference, 11 am Saturday June 26, 2010,
South Camden Community School, London NW1

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Sad day for Labour

BOWING OUT of Labour's leadership contest, John McDonnell reminds us resistance to Tory-Lib Dem coalition is main fight.

AS my friends know, and as regular readers will have gathered, I am one of those people who have been supporting Labour MPJohn McDonnell's attempt to challenge for the Party leadership. His second attempt, because John stepped out from the ranks of fellow Left MPs to seek nomination in 2007, trying to challenge the 'coronation' of Gordon Brown.

He spoke at enthusiastic meetings of trade unionists and community campaigners at the time, his name being linked with opposition to war and privatisation, and his efforts for a trade union freedom bill. But the media seemed under an oath not to acknowledge his existence. Trade unions, however critical they had been of their treatment by Labour government, withheld support, and MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group seemed readier to mutter about McDonnell not consulting them than to muster enough nominations for him to stand.

This time, the party knows it is electing an Opposition leader, not a Prime Minister, yet it is hard to imagine the front contenders - the Miliband brothers and Ed Balls, let alone Andy Burnham - credibly opposing anything the Tories do, when they participated in a government which pursued war and privatisation and maintained Tory anti-union laws.

That's why I was delighted when I heard that John McDonnell had been persuaded to stand again. This would be one for all those who, despite New Labour's record, had voted for the Party, ennabling MPs like John to increase their majorities, and who would want a fight against the Tory cuts. John had the support of the Labour Representation Committee and many trade union activists, writing to MPs to nominate him, and this time he was able to get a showing in the media, including the Daily Mirror and Radio 4's Any Quetions, where he scored a hit with a south Wales audience, to judge from the applause.

At the same time, one could not help noticing a touch of reluctance when John's decision to stand was announced, and a tiredness and resignation in his voice, as he resumed the leadership challenge after hard campaigning against Heathrow airport expansion and to hold the Hayes and Harlington seat, when he might have been hoping to take a break with his family. Politicians, even socialists, are only human.

In 2007 a blip occurred near the time for nominations when maverick Michael Meacher suddenly announced he wanted to stand, though he soon withdrew. This time, with John McDonnell having announced he was standing, and John Cruddas MP announcing he wasn't, the Left was given an opportunity to show its talent for disunity when Diane Abbott MP threw her cap in, saying the other candidates "looked alike". Remnants of the right-on 1980s argued that the Hackney North MP was not only a left-winger in good standing, but black and a woman besides. They suggested John McDonnell stand down. Others resisted this claim on their progressive credentials, and disputed Diane Abbott's, pointing to her friendliness to Tories (disgraced former minister Jonathan Aitken gave her support!), and son at an expensive private school. Diane Abbott's TV audiences might outnumber those of us who have met John McDonnell at picket lines and public meetings, but not when it comes to the vote.

With nominations from MPs due to close, it appeared John McDonnell had 16, and Abbott 9. Even if they could be pooled - and that would be up to the nominators - they would fall short of the 33 needed to make the ballot paper. Supporters of John McDonnell were making last-minute calls to uncommitted MPs to add their nominations, and to Labour's National Executive Committee to allow all six candidates to be on the ballot. (echoing an emergency resolution from the Unite union national conference). This might not alter the final outcome, but would give ordinary Party members and members of affiliated trade unions the chance to vote for their candidate of choice, and facilitate the widest political debate.

Then this morning, the following letter was received:

Dear Comrades

I am writing to let you know that I have withdrawn from the Labour Party leadership race this morning.

I stood for the Labour leadership as the candidate of the Left and trade union movement so that there could be a proper debate about Labour’s future in which all the wings of the party were fully represented. It is now clear that I am unlikely to secure enough nominations and so I am withdrawing in the hope that we can at least secure a woman on the ballot paper.

We came into this campaign knowing that it would be really difficult to obtain sufficient nominations but we knew we had to try. The support we received from rank and file party members and from trade unionists was just overwhelming but we still could not overcome the barrier of gaining sufficient support from Labour MPs.

I appealed to the party leadership to lower the qualifying bar to allow all the candidates on the ballot paper. It was perfectly possible within the existing rules for this to be done. Reducing the bar to 5% would have allowed all the declared candidates to get on the ballot paper and the Party to have a full and open debate about its future direction. The party hierarchy refused and instead threw its weight behind one candidate.

I know that many Labour activists and trade unionists will be disappointed.

I want to thank you for all your hard work in lobbying and campaigning to secure sufficient nominations to get me on the ballot paper. You could not have worked harder.

I am urging everyone to continue the fight for democracy within the party so that in future elections rank and file members will be represented by the candidate of their choice.

We must also now throw our energies into the campaign to resist the cuts that the Coalition government is launching against our community. Providing leadership in this struggle is critically important in this coming period. We will be convening rallies and demonstrations and linking up with trade union action to resist the cuts. Let’s rise to this challenge.

Yours in solidarity,

John McDonnell MP

Last week at my union, Unite's conference in Manchester, Labour's acting leader Harriet Harman said:

"Over the next few months with our labour party members and our trade union supporters, 4 million people will have the chance to help shape Britain’s progressive future by choosing the next leader of the Labour party. This will be the biggest election - by a mile - in any political party or any organisation in this country. This is not the block vote – this is about millions of trade union members - people at work in of thousands of workplaces up and down the country – each one of them having a vote".

Harriet Harman's speech is worth reading in full as a reminder of what sort of rhetoric Labour is still capable of, now that its back in opposition, and when speaking to trades unionists, in this case members of the union for which her partner Jack Dromey, now a Labour MP, worked for so long.

Harman appealed to working class feeling, and readiness to oppose the Tories, but harking back again to those ideas about advancing disadvantaged sections of people by promoting individuals, she also expressed the view that the next shadow cabinet ought to be made up 50-50, of male and female. (Does that mean if a person who happened to be female was also well-worth including for her talents and qualifications, she could not be added if that would exceed the 50 per cent?) Harman has nominated Diane Abbott, though as with Frank Field's nomination of John McDonnell, nomination is not a guarantee that the nominee will get your vote).

It is a sad day for Labour when a genuine socialist like John McDonnell felt he had to drop out of the leadership contest. Considering the respect and support he could obtain from anti-war activists and ordinary trades unionists, I wonder, with him no longer in the running, how many of the four million cited by Harriet Harman will be actually bothering to vote? I dare say many of John's supporters will now be voting for Diane Abbott, as he is recommending, but it will be an unenthusiastic vote for second-best.

For me, the important thing is in that last sentence of John McDonnell's letter, about leadership in the struggle against the Tory cuts. Of course, I never felt confident that John McDonnell was going to be elected leader of the Labour Party. But I had hoped a substantial vote for him and his policies would signal a willingness to fight, and be a shot across the bows of the Con-LibDem government, and the New Labour leftovers alike. It might have added a boost to confidence in coming struggles, and even made our union leaders put up more of a fight.

As it is, we have been denied that opportunity, and Labour leadership voters will have to make do with second-best. But while the Labour leadership contest is not yet over, the fight back against this government has only just begun. And at least we will have the satisfaction of knowing that in John McDonnell, our struggle will continue to have one parliamentary voice.