Saturday, October 30, 2010

Iranian workers also have rights!

NOT content with keeping leading Iranian trades unionists in prison long after their release was promised, the Iranian government and its agents are reported to be using threats and violence against their families.

Mansour Osanloo is the jailed leader of the Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Workers Syndicate, whose release was anticipated months ago. In recent weeks, Osanloo's daughter, Zoya Samadi, has been telephoned several times with death threats. On one occasion, the callers told her: “You got a first-hand experience the last time. This time you can be sure you won’t survive,” referring to her earlier abduction and torture at their hands which resulted in her miscarriage.

Earlier, Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported that Intelligence Ministry agents had showed up on Zoya’s door step ostensibly to deliver court summons. Failing to find her and her husband, they turned on the neighbours instead creating a major intimidating scene at the neighbourhood.

Both Zoya and Osanloo’s wife, Parvaneh, have been summoned by the court. Rights activists say the intention is to intimidate and exert pressure on Osanloo himself.

Separately, on October 11, Intelligence Ministry operatives arrived at the home of Gholamreza Gholamhosseini, a Vahed labor activist, around 9:00 a.m. in order to arrest him. As the agents were not able to locate Bro. Ghlamhosseini at the house, they took his 15 year old son, Amir, and held him in captivity until 8 p.m. the same day. he was released after several family members rushed to the police station. But this wasn’t before Amir had been subjected to hard interrogation for several hours.

Earlier, Gholamhosseini’s wife had been told that Amir’s release was conditional on obtaining information on her husband’s whereabouts. The operatives also took many personal belongings of Gholamhosseini away after a thorough search of the house. Witnesses say the agents produced no court warrants and were extremely rude and violent. The operation was led by “chief interrogator Mohebi”, who happens to be a prominent torturer and Intelligence Minister official at the Revolutionary Guards ward of the notorious Gohardasht prison.

Gholamreza Gholamhosseini is one of the Vahed bus workers syndicate activists who was arrested during the 2005 strike. He was arrested and held for several weeks. He was subsequently released and fired from his job at Vahed bus company for four years. He was eventually allowed back to work 8 months ago following a court ruling but was fired again three months ago.

Gholamhosseini is currently on the run from Intelligence Ministry. He is wanted for attempting to organize a strike at Vahed bus company. Long periods of torture and interrogation awaits him if he is captured. Last month, Heydar Moslehi, the Minister of Intelligence, said in a press conference that “anyone engaged in economic acts of sabotage (meaning organizing strikes) will be dealt with severely.”

The International Transport Workers federation(ITF), has condemned the continuing imprisonment of members of the Vahed Syndicate. ITF Inland Transport Secretary Mac Urata said: “The injustice continues. There had been some hopes that the union’s treasurer, Reza Shahabi, might be released today, but they look like they will come to nothing - just like the regime’s empty promises to release Mansour Osanloo. We invite the Iranian government to prove us wrong and show that they can still do the decent thing and release these innocent workers.”

He continued: “We are reliably informed that Reza Shahabi is being heavily interrogated, despite reported health issues, and being denied legal advice and contact with his deeply worried family. His family have paid 60 million Toman (USD 60,000) in bail, but his release is still nowhere in sight.”

Reza Shahabi was arrested on 12 June this year without any charges being specified by the authorities. In August the ITF’s 42nd Congress in Mexico City unanimously adopted an emergency resolution to demand his and Mansour Osanloo and Ebrahim Madadi’s immediate release.

  • Yesterday, was the annual general meeting of the Stop the War Coalition(STWC) in Britain. In the past, the STWC has not had a good record on Iran. When a group of Iranian refugee comrades walked from Birmingham to London to join the Coalition's national rally they were told they could not have a speaker on the platform because they were opponents of the Iranian government. (in contrast, CND, part of the Coalition, hosted a speaker from the Iranian embassy)

    • Although leading STWC figures denied knowledge of this decision, the Coalition has twice refused the request to affiliate from Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI), which has a policy of opposing imperialist sanctions and war threats to Iran, but supporting the struggle of Iranian workers and democratic forces. The arguments from Stop the War's Andrew Murray seem to vary - that HOPI was 'opposed to everything the Coalition stood for' (which set people wondering just what the Coalition really stood for - not least people who belonged to both organisations), that Stop the War could not "take a position on the nature of the Iranian regime" (as though it was facing a resolution on this), and finally, that an individual belonging to HOPI made some disrespectful remarks about the STWC leadership -at a conference that was nothing to do with HOPI. Evidently Murray and the rest must do their research. But is it relevant?

      Since the massive unrest on the streets in Iran, both the Socialist Workers Party -which had a leading part in the Stop the War Coalition - and the Communist Party of Britain, of which both Andrew Murray and CND's Kate Hudson are members - have taken their distance from the Iranian government. Writing in the Morning Star, John Haylett said in August that notwithstanding its relations with other governments and movements standing up to US bullying, Ahmadinejad's regime is not anti-imperialist. Referring to the big democracy struggles which broke last year on to Iranian streets, he concludes:"Solidarity cannot be withheld by trade unionists and other progressives in Britain simply because US imperialism opportunistically criticises Iran for practices it excuses or ignores in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

      Nor should revulsion against the vile punishments and repression visited on Iranians be misused to justify imperialist intervention, as the B52 liberals did with regard to Iraq.As Tudeh Party of Iran general secretary Ali Khavari, the leader of the country's banned communists, makes clear, "Regime change from outside, such as occurred in Iraq, is neither possible nor acceptable by any means in Iran. Any foreign force that attempts such a dangerous provocation will burn its fingers, set the whole region on fire and seriously endanger world peace."

      This year HOPI approached the Stop the War Coalition leadership for discussion, hoping to clear up any misunderstandings, even if there remain differences. Still they were rebuffed.

      Meanwhile, the SWP has had its own little difficulties. It has waved goodby to both Stop the War national convenor Lindsey German and her partner John Rees, STWC national organiser.

      Yesterday's conference had a resolution before it to accept HOPI, and a nomination for Yassamine Mather of Iranian Workers Left Unity to join the leadership.
      Unfortunately I could not attend the conference yesterday. It probably would not have made much difference if I had, as neither of the affiliates which I might have represented had submitted the paperwork in time. Things are bit more formal than in previous years.

      I'm still waiting to hear how it went. Unfortunately, with the shock and awe induced by the ConDem government's class war policies, a lot of people I know were busy out campaigning this weekend, and couldn't make it. Even the organisers seem to have decided the conference would be smaller. But we should not forget that when things are going badly at home, both the Tories and the Tehran government may decide it's a good time for war.

      And Iranian workers also have rights.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

How Mosley helped them ban May Day

IN one of Jack Lindsay's novels, mounted police are breaking up a May Day rally in London, and one of the characters remarks to his friend that there are only two capital cities in Europe where people are forbidden to march on May Day, one of them being Madrid under Franco, the other being London under Labour.

It's a long time since I read the book, but I'd guess they were talking about May Day 1950, as part of the story was set around Sheffield, and preparations for the World Peace Congress held in the city that year. Lindsay was a prolific writer perhaps better remembered today as a historian than for his ventures into fiction, which I have not seen around for years, nor heard anybody mention.

The Greater London Association of Trade Union Union Councils (GLATUC) has been commemorating 150 years of history this week, dating from the foundation of its predecessor, the old London Trades' Council. There was a rally on Saturday, and there's a celebratory booklet out, with articles on the London Trades Council's origins, the conditions in 1860, the famous 'Matchgirls'' Strike of 1888 which lit the way for trade unionism in the East End, the Police Strikes at the end of the First World War, and so on.

You can read about Stepney Trades Council and Guernica, how West Ham trades council in docklands helped force the tube stations open as shelters during the Blitz, and Brent trades council hosted Nelson Mandela's last public meeting in England before he returned to South Africa, arrest and imprisonment.
It's all well illustrated, and for just a couple of quid it's all a good read.

GLATUC nowadays arranges London's May Day march, usually culminating in a Trafalgar Square rally, but in an article entitled 'The Battle of the Ban' we read how May Day in London, the labour day festival, was banned for three years running 1948, 1949 and 1950, and how the London Trades Council had to stand up and defy Clement Attlee's Labour government.

Trouble began with a 'blast from the (all-too recent) past'. Sir Oswald Mosley's British fascists had been forbidden from wearing their blackshirt uniforms since the late 1930s, and Mosley himself was imprisoned under the wartime 18B regulations. By the late 1940s however Mosley was trying to revive his movement, hoping to exploit anti-Jewish prejudices that had never gone away in spite of Hitler's holocaust, and had been given a new lease in response to Zionist attacks on British forces in Palestine.

This issue might be expected to die down with British withdrawal, and soon Mosley and other racists would find a new target, turning their attention to west London, where housing conditions fuelled tension between poor whites and new West Indian immigrants. But for now there were still clashes at places like Ridley Road, in Dalston, and with not only memories of the East End in the 1930s but the horrors of Auschwitz and Belsen fresh in people's minds, many not only fought the fascists but asked how Labour could tolerate their re-emergence.

Labour Home Secretary James Chuter Ede responded by saying he was considering a ban on all political marches in London. Oswald Mosley then announced that he was going to hold a May Day march, starting from the same place as the London trades council march. The Metropolitan Police obligingly arranged for them to follow separate routes, but on the say there were still clashes, and 30 anti-fascists were arrested.

Chuter Ede announced there would be a three month ban on all processions in London. London Trades Council held a meeting in Trafalgar Square to protest the ban and fascist antisemitic attacks. The government now extended its ban until February 1949. As soon as it ended the fascists were allowed to hold another East End march, which met mass resistance.

The ban was imposed again, this time affecting the 1949 May Day march. Defying the ban, groups of workers met up and marched on the Square, where there was a rally attended by some 30,000 people. frustrated by the defiance, police took out their rage on those leaving the square afterwards, and made arrests.

"The situation now was one where the fascists by their provocative actions could bring a ban on all other political demonstrations and collusion was suspected with the authorities."
(The Battle of the Ban, in '150 Years of Union Struggle', GLATUC pamphlet).

With the ban on marches imposed again in 1950, and due to end on May 2, Chuter Ede announced he was extending it again. London Trades Council meanwhile had a rally planned for May 7. They urged supporters to come from all parts of London, but avoid giving police any excuse to attack them. The police nevertheless still harassed people coming to Trafalgar Square, making several arrests, and then let the mounted police loose to charge on demonstrators.

Meanwhile, adding insult to injury, across London on the same day, Mosley and his cohort enjoyed a police escort to make their foray into Hackney.

As feeling grew, and the government faced a general election, it did not continue with the bans.
But other things were happening. The Attlee government, trying to hold on to what it could of the British Empire, had been the first in Britain's history to maintain "peacetime" conscription. One of the slogans on the May Day marches had been to end the war in Malaya, where British forces were protecting the plantation owners and fighting Communist guerrillas. In June 1950 a new war broke out, in Korea.

Later that year, unable to prevent the World Peace Congress being held in Sheffield, the Labour government did its best to strangle it, by for instance banning delegates from overseas attending. Paul Robeson was among those denied a visa.

The Attlee government had also decided that Britain should become a nuclear power as well as taking its place alongside America in the Cold War. Here too, as we see from Christopher Andrews' new authorised history of MI5, the fascists, however depleted, could have their uses. In December 1947, concerned with the need to step up security in government departments, Attlee minuted:
"We cannot afford to take risks here, and the general public will will support us. Fellow travellers may protest, but we should face up to this. Action should be taken in regard to Fascists as well as Communists, though the former are feeble."

"Feeble though the tattered remnants of British Fascism were, they proved of some use, for public relations purposes in enabling the government to claim that it was protecting the state against extremists of both left and right. In March 1948, following cabinet discussion, the Prime Minister announced in the House of Commons the introduction of what became known as the 'Purge Procedure' , excluding both Communists and Fascists from work "vital to the Security of the State".
(Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm, p.383).

I well remember the forms one had to fill in for even the humblest of civil service jobs, demanding to know if you were ever a member of a Communist or Fascist organisation. Since the Mosleyites no longer called themselves the British Union of Fascists but had become simply the British Union, and then more confusingly, the Union Movement, I suppose they could honestly say they did not. I don't know whether they or other far-Right followers have ever been troubled by intrusive "security" probing and blacklisting. Or if the ban on all "extremists" served, as Mr.Andrew says, useful for "public relations purposes". One must allow the Labour and liberal politicians space to keep up proprieties.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Members v. Money in Britain's biggest union

LEN McCLUSKEY (above)with pickets at Heathrow. JERRY HICKS (with megaphone) in an earlier campaign. And below, the man in the ads, LES BAYLISS. Nothing up his sleeve...

He had a full-page colour ad on the back of the Guardian today. Another full-page ad in Murdoch's Sun. Yesterday there was an ad in the Tory Mail on Sunday. All of this advertising can't come cheap, even on the salary of an Assistant General Secretary of Britain's biggest trade union.

Les Bayliss is standing for election to Unite the union's top job, general secretary. All Unite members have received an eight page A4 brochure from the union containing election statements from all four candidates, introducing themselves and their policies.

Of course they have done more to make themselves known. Len McCluskey, an Assistant General Secretary from the merged union's former Transport and General Workers' Union component (Bayliss is from the engineers' union Amicus) has visited the members on picket in the British Airways dispute, and spoken at meetings against the Con Dem coalition's cuts. Jerry Hicks, the former Rolls Royce convenor standing as a 'rank and file' candidate, pledged to only take a workers' wage, has been all over the country, wherever he can find members to talk to or a struggle to support. Gail Cartmail, who claims to be the only "independent" candidate, promises to put Unite's resources behind a campaign fighting the cuts, and has been on television.

Les Bayliss, as the newspapers tell us, is the "moderate" candidate. Or, if you believe his supporters (not that I've met any, but there is a website), Les Bayliss is the Progressive Left Workers Uniting Group Candidate.

There seems to be nothing moderate about his election expenditure, and like his best-known supporter, outgoing general secretary Derek Simpson, he has left behind workers uniting, progressing instead from attacks on the union's backing for BA workers to opposing resistance to the cuts.

"THE LEADER of Britain's biggest union has backed a moderate who is AGAINST militant strike action to be his successor. Outgoing Unite boss Derek Simpson last night threw his weight behind Les Bayliss, who has slammed walk-outs over spending cuts as “suicide”. If the ex-engineer wins the top job, the recent spate of strike action could be a thing of the past.

[amicustheunion] News from the General Secretary

Derek Simpson retires at the end of the year and will be replaced by a single general secretary who will run Unite, Britain's biggest union and Labour's biggest donor. Mr Simpson said: "British people are facing a very difficult time right now and it's vital that the leader of Unite is up to the task of protecting members jobs and public services.

“Ranting and raving from the side lines will only keep Labour in opposition for a generation. The cuts announced this week are the tip of a very nasty iceberg but the task of opposing them will be complex. Only one candidate standing in the Unite general secretary election has in my mind the skills for this difficult job.

“Les Bayliss has the skills and the courage to unite the labour movement and build support in the general public for an alternative economic strategy to bring the country our of recession without the pain that will be imposed by the Tories on every family in this country.”

Mr Bayliss, 57, is known as a moderate who has called for “common sense” over strike action. He also condemned the British Airways walk-outs. Last month he warned: "Public sector strikes will only deprive the vulnerable of services the Tories want to cut".

So you can see, Bayliss has support and publicity from the Murdoch press after all, without needing to spend money on adverts.

Bayliss has attacked supposed union militancy in the British Airways cabin crews dispute, taking a dig at his rival contender Len McCluskey's involvement, with a gibe that it was like watching the TV crime series 'Life on Mars', with Willie Walsh on one side and Len McCluskey on the other.

Very witty. Highly amusing. Except that the militancy we saw came from Walsh's British Airways management, with staff cuts imposed regardless, even though workers had accepted cuts in pay. Free travel entitlement which was part of their conditions was taken away, and workers disciplined for such heinous offences as talking to their local newspaper about what was happening. Almost 40 union members, many of them representatives, were sacked. So which side were you on, 'Brother' Bayliss? Or needn't we ask? Perhaps the £62 million in cuts that BA staff offered to accept was not enough? Beyond promising not to call a strike at Christmas and assuring us militancy (from the union side) just doesn't work, the man with so much money to spend on asking for our votes to lead the union seems a bit reticent in telling us what his policy would be.

Likewise, though Bayliss warns that strikes against the Con Dem coalition's cuts would be "suicide", we don't know what strategy he recommends. Evoking half-memories of the 'Winter of Discontent' ignores the fact that even before the Con Dem cuts were announced people affected by strikes like those of the dustmen in Leeds and Birmingham understood the workers' claim to justice and blamed the council for the problems. Bayliss is horrified at the prospect of transport strikes before the Olympics, though we might think removal of ticket office staff and cuts in maintenance and emergency cover could have more effect. (The Piccadilly Line was virtually shut down for much of Saturday because of fears about the fire service not being at hand). Besides, the Olympics might not be the big issue worrying Londoners right now, when it is estimated 82,000 people could be evicted next year because of cuts in housing benefit, and councils are planning to move up to 200,000 homeless out to b&bs on the south coast.

What Bayliss and his media supporters ignore is that those who want to fight the cuts are not talking about industrial action by sections of workers, though this is bound to occur when people have no choice. What would he recommend to London firefighters whom Tory Brian Coleman wants to sack so he can impose his way? A movement against the cuts is coming together uniting working people as service providers and users. Coming actions might involve people not just walking out, but people stopping in, defending public property and facilities threatened with closure. We have no blueprint for action. But nor I suspect does Les Bayliss have an alternative strategy up his sleeve. His advice to those hit by the cuts is not to fight them.

Not that he is ignoring what others are doing. We hear he has reported Len McCluskey for criticising him at an anti-cuts meeting. Aw, diddums!

But then Bro.Bayliss is quite shy sometimes, as indeed is Bro.Simpson. Bayliss mentions his experience and responsibilities handling union finance, and promises a union card and free diary. Simpson praises Bayliss' "skills and courage". But it took a Channel Four Dispatches programme recently to remind us how, some years ago, when Bayliss had responsibility for financial matters in Amicus, he became involved in a curious affair with union charitable donations.

In September 2005, a website run by dissident Amicus members published some comments on confidential union documents they had obtained, pertaining to Les Bayliss and a businessman, "Mr.X" - later identified as Steve Sampson. Sampson had introduced Bayliss to a charity called Express Link-up, which provided computers for schools. Over three years, Amicus charitable fund donated a quarter of a million pounds to this charity. "Mr.X", Sampson, asked Express Link-up for 10 per cent of that money as a “finder’s fee”. He also wanted similar commission on a donation from the government. It seems that in the end he only got £8,000, on the Amicus contribution. But meantime, Les Bayliss suggested to the charity that the “finder’s fee” to Mr.Sampson should not show up in its accounts.

The article, drawing on the leaked documents, said that in 2003 the union’s senior lawyer met with Bayliss to discuss his relationship with "Mr. X". Bayliss admitted that he had been questioned by police because of another affair involving this businessman and an alleged Land Fill Tax scam. Shortly after this meeting Amicus General Secretary Derek Simpson wrote to Bayliss, saying that he considered that Bayliss had been guilty of “a serious misjudgement” in his dealings with Express-Link-Up, but that he was satisfied that Bayliss had not gained financially from his links with Mr. X in the matter of the union’s donation to Express-Link-Up.

Simpson also wrote to Express-Link-Up to make it clear that the donation from the union’s charity fund to the charity was not dependent on the payment of a “finder’s fee” for Mr. X. Two years later, in July 2005, Bayliss was suspended from office in the union while an investigation was carried out, apparently, according to, again dealing with the Bayliss’s relationship with Mr. X.

In September that year, Steve Sampson, owner of Paradise Wildlife Farm, in Broxbourne, Herts, was convicted with two other men over the alleged theft and falsification of documents from an environmental tax credit scheme for landfill waste. More than £1 million was said to be involved in grants and fees obtained through false invoicing and kickback arrangements. All three pleaded their innocence. After a trial lasting seven months they were convicted, Sampson getting two and a half years sentence. In May 2007 the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction of all three men on the grounds that the trial judge's jury instructions were no clear enough for the jury to have made an informed decision. All three men had finished serving their sentences at the time of their exoneration.

Meanwhile, back in Amicus, Derek Simpson had apparently decided to clamp down on people whom he felt were out to destabilise his leadership with false allegations. The union executive decided to investigate how internal documents had been leaked to, and consider the legal and rule implications . Three Amicus employees linked with the 'Broad Left' Unity Gazette were suspended.

Bro. Bayliss, notwithstanding his "serious misjudgement" was now entrusted with further responsibiliy, including the merger with the TGWU, the 'development of amicus within construction', and union imput on preparations for the 2012 Olympics.

The Workers Uniting faction backing Les Bayliss shares its name with that of the merged union supposedly formed by Unite and the United Steelworkers of America. I don't know how significant that is. Like most union members, I suspect, I knew nothing about that merger until it was announced from a May Day platform in Trafalgar Square, at the same time as Unite the union was formed. International unity is a very fine thing, but I don't know why that particular union, nor why we were never asked to vote on it, unlike the merger of TGWU and Amicus to form Unite.

Getting back to our current election, I have just received my ballot paper and another booklet of candidates' election addresses, this time with the details of branches nominating them. From this I learn that Les Bayliss received nominations from branches and chapels representing 137,942 members, and Len McCluskey from a much larger number, covering two pages, and representing 375,866. Jerry Hicks,for whom I'll probably vote, scores 109,088, and Gail Cartmail a mere 38,320.

At this rate, Len McCluskey is clear favourite, and it is reassuring to note that voting for my candidate of choice won't inadvertedly hand it to Les Bayliss, as some feared. (Unfortunately one doesn't get to mark a second choice).

But sadly, a lot of members in many branches seldom get to branch meetings. And even more sadly, a lot of union members read anti-union papers like the
Sun and News of the World . Let's hope for once they are telling the truth when they say they take no notice of what the papers tell them. Having a union led by someone supported by money and the Murdoch media is no way to challenge Clegg and Cameron.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Emergency! Cuts will put lives at risk.

Can Trades Union Councils reclaim historic role in coming struggles?

IT will be a busy day tomorrow. Around the country people will be out protesting and campaigning against the Con-Dem governments cuts, and attacks on jobs, rights and services. Here in London there's to be a march beginning at 11 am from the RMT union's headquarters in Chalton Street, and going to the TUC, and the Southern and Eastern Regions TUC (SERTUC) is cutting short its normal meeting to hold a rally in Congress House.

Before that however, London firefighters are walking out for an eight hour stoppage in protest at plans to impose new working hours on them, and this looks like just the first skirmish in a much bigger conflict. In the past, the government had army units on standby with old fire appliances to take the place of striking firefighters. But now a strikebreaking private company stands ready, albeit with ill-trained staff, to move in and use the regular fire brigades' own equipment.

The London Fire Brigade says it will respond to any emergency tomorrow, but meanwhile Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members are welcoming other trades unionists and members of the public to join them on picket lines, particularly at Ladbroke Grove and Euston Road fire stations, from which they are concerned that scabs may be operating.

Cuts that take away jobs can mean loss of lives

The FBU has warned that ten thousand fire service jobs are under threat from government plans to slash 25 per cent from fire and rescue service budgets over the next four years. Responding to the government Comprehensive Spending Review, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “This government seems intent on imposing cuts that will wreak havoc within the fire and rescue service and short change both the public and firefighters.

“These pernicious cuts must be fought to defend public safety. They are not inevitable, but politically driven. The FBU will oppose these draconian attacks on an essential frontline service and robustly defend the key role firefighters play in keeping communities safe.


The government says there are "bound to be winners and losers" from its plans. In the fire service it is not hard to see who is winning something. When London’s firefighters go on strike, the safety of Londoners will be in the hands of an international company whose chief executive officer, John Shannon, receives an annual bonus of £400,000 and salary of £300,000, largely paid for by London council tax payers.

“Last year the company, Assetco, made a £10.8 million increase in profits, again largely wrung from its biggest client, the London Fire Brigade” , Matt Wrack says. “Mr Shannon is far from their only fat cat. Many of the directors are on stunningly large salary and bonus packages, and also hold several other directorships.

“Assetco will deploy at most just 700 poorly trained employees to try to do the work of nearly 6,000 highly professional London firefighters” said Bro. Wrack. “In fact, they are understood informally to have just half that number. They are very secretive about who these employees are.

“Assetco’s temporary workforce have been secretly trained in Lincolnshire at a former RAF base. But the nature and length of that training is a closely guarded secret. We hear informally that it is just a few days. You cannot train a fully competent firefighter in a few days.

“They will operate from 27 locations, instead of London’s 113 fire stations, and they will use 27 fire engines instead of the normal 169.

“The London Fire Brigade is by far Assetco’s biggest customer, according to its website, “the business is built around a cornerstone 20-year operational asset management contract with the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) for London Fire Brigade.’ Its other clients are the Abu Dhabi government, the UAE government, and Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue.

“In February 2001 it secured a 20-year PFI contract to own and manage all London fire engines and equipment. London’s fire engines, which used to belong to Londoners, now belong to Assetco.

“In July 2009 AssetCo secured a 7-year contract, the first of its nature in the UK, to provide a 700 strong firefighter reserve capability to LFEPA. They and the LFEPA put about the myth that it was for emergencies like a pandemic illness or flooding, but its real purpose was as a strikebreaking force, designed to ensure that London firefighters were always negotiating at a disadvantage.

“The London Fire Brigade started the process of sacking all its firefighters, and intends to have their work done in a half-hearted and inadequate way, by a company whose top people have already grown rich at Londoners’ expense, just in order to avoid sitting down and negotiating shift patterns with the Fire Brigades Union. Nothing could be more irresponsible, and nothing could be more pig-headed” said Matt Wrack.

The union is not only warning the public of the danger, but making the point to employers - ultimately the public again, except for the politics in between. The London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority has 17 members, eight of them nominated from the London Assembly, seven from the London boroughs, and two appointed by the Mayor.

Heading the Authority at present is notorious Tory Brian Coleman, or as he is nicknamed "Mr.Toad" from Barnet, linked with shedding services and enjoying generous expenses, and strongly criticised for among other things, his attitude to emergency services.

Link with trades union councils

Following on after the march and the SERTUC mobilising rally, members of the Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils (GLATUC) will be taking the stage at Congress House at 2pm to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the London Trades Council which preceded it. They won't just be looking back at history, but facing up to the struggles that are now opening up against this coalition government, and discussing what part trades union councils can play in them.

Nevertheless our history is important.

London Trades Council was set up from a Building Trades Conference, following the 1859 London builders' strike, which had shown the need for co-ordination between different trades. The strike had also brought the issue of workmen from one country being brought in to replace others on strike, and the need for solidarity not just at home but internationally. It's no coincidence that the London trades council was linked with the formation of the International Working Men's Association, also known as the First International. Although it did not affiliate, George Odger, of the Operative Bricklayers' Society was chair of the trades council and became president of the International, working with Karl Marx.

Founded in May 1860, the London Trades Council was not the first. Sheffield and Glasgow trades councils were founded in 1858, and Edinburgh in 1859. By 1868 it was possible to hold a national conference of trades councils in Manchester, and that was how the Trades Union Congress was formed. George Potter, one of the founders of the London Trades Council became chairman of the TUC. So it was the trades councils, including London, which preceded the TUC, though the latter is obviously now the more powerful body, and some union leaders seem undecided whether to treat the trades union councils (as they are now called) as poor relations, or no relation.

The London Trades Council supported such historical struggles as the Matchgirls', gas workers' and dockers' strikes in the 1880s, and went on, as did trades councils elsewhere, to support the campaign for an old age pension -another issue topical again. Around the country, trades councils became councils of action during the 1926 General Strike, organising picketing and help for people, and sometimes coming near to running towns. Even when not called upon to show such potential, local trades union councils have not struck to the humdrum or parochial. In London, Stepney trades council arranged the first public exhibition of Picasso's Guernica painting, using it to raise funds for Spanish republican refugees. Brent TUC as is well known, helped the heroic Grunwick strikers, but less well known, it organised the last public meeting at which Nelson Mandela spoke before returning to South Africa and arrest.

In 1949 and 1950 the Labour Home Secretary used the threat of marches by Oswald Mosley's fascists to ban all processions in London, in time to effect May Day. Here's the Times, May 8, 1950:

Hundreds of mounted and foot police assembled in the West End of London yesterday, prevented 'May Day' demonstrators from defying the Home Secretary's prohibition of political processions. Struggles between demonstrators and police occurred in various parts of the West End when thousands of people converged on Trafalgar Square for a rally called by the London Trades Council. Mounted police rode along roads and pavements, breaking up processions, and banners and placards with the legends 'Peace' and 'Stop the war in Malaya' were wrested from standard-bearers. Sixty-nine persons were charged last night and will appear in Court today.

The TUC broke up the London Trades Council to remove this "Communist" thorn in the side of Labour, but eventually London got a federation of local borough-based trades councils which today is GLATUC. With much of the industrial base on which trades councils like Brent or Barking rested gone, they may seem only a shadow of past strength, but as representatives of trade unionism in the community, they can take on a new life, providing a focus for struggles. In the current crisis and the face of the government's onslaught, trades union councils can provide a means not only to unite workers in different industries and services, but to unite the unemployed with those still working, unite public service providers with service users, most often the same class, and bring around young people facing an at best uncertain future.

Some union bureaucrats (no names, no packdrill, but you may have met them) are not too keen on working with people from other unions, let alone handing initiative to the lay rank and file. But for firefighters and health workers, as for postal and transport workers, though we understand that shifts may prevent you going to every meeting, you're always welcome to ask trades union councils for support. So the message is don't be strangers. Get your branch affiliated, and get stuck in

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

From Miami to Mumbai - Agents and Terror Conspiracies

TWO columns, of trade unionists and students, are to converge on Downing Street this evening, for a twilight demonstration against the Con Dem government's spending cuts. Later on there's to be a meeting in Portcullis house. There will be other protests around the country, and a march in London on Saturday called by the RMT rail union.

All this, modest as it is compared to what's happening across the Channel, is just a small beginning, but it is bound to overshadow a previously planned candlelit vigil on another issue, at 6 pm outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square. Nevertheless, several big name speakers from the labour movement, including Tony Benn, Tony Woodley from Unite the union, the RMT's Bob Crow, and Christine Blower from the teachers' union, had agreed to speak at the embassy vigil, which is sponsored by Unite together with the Cuban Solidarity Campaign.

Two special guests are due. Irma Gonzalez Salanueva is the daughter of Rene Gonzalez, one of the Miami Five - Cubans held prisoner in the United States since September 1998 on espionage charges, after they had infiltrated and gathered information on right-wing Cuban emigre groups based in Miami. Tom Goldstein is a US lawyer who has been acting for the Five, and for wives denied US visas to visit their husbands in jail.

In August this year the Wikileaks website published a CIA paper entitled "What If Foreigners See the United States as an 'Exporter of Terrorism'?" . This looked at the possibility that people abroad might hold the United States to blame for letting extremists recruit US nationals and use the US as a base for terror attacks.
Following hassles in the United States, the Wikileaks site has been moving, and that paper does not seem currently available, but you can read about it:

The paper considered cases where US counter-terrorism might be thought lax, and also cited the 1994 Hebron mosque massacre carried out by an American, Dr.Barukh Goldstein.

What it did not do - leading some of us to wonder if it was an officially inspired "leak" - was consider groups that have enjoyed US protection and CIA support, such as the Nicaraguan contras or the Cuban exiles. No mention of the Cuban airliner blown up off Barbados, for instance, nor of more than 3,000 people killed in terrorist attacks on Cuba. At the request of the US government, information obtained by the Cuban Five agents in Miami was passed on to the FBI, who then used it to identify and arrest the five anti-terrorists.

How much did US know about Mumbai attack ?

A question being raised now is how much US agencies know about terror attacks in other countries, besides those they designate as enemies, and what they have to do with them.

A report by
Sebastian Rotella, of the ProPublica group, published in the Washington Post on Saturday, October 16, says that:

"Three years before Pakistani terrorists struck Mumbai in 2008, federal agents in New York City investigated a tip that an American businessman was training in Pakistan with the group that later executed the attack. The previously undisclosed allegations against David Coleman Headley, who became a key figure in the plot that killed 166 people, came from his wife after a domestic dispute that resulted in his arrest in 2005.

"In three interviews with federal agents, Headley's wife said that he was an active militant in the terrorist group Lashkar-i-Taiba, had trained extensively in its Pakistani camps, and had shopped for night-vision goggles and other equipment, according to officials and sources close to the case. The wife, whom ProPublica is not identifying to protect her safety, also told agents that Headley had bragged of working as a paid U.S. informant while he trained with the terrorists in Pakistan, according to a person close to the case.

"Federal officials say the FBI "looked into" the tip, but they declined to say what, if any, action was taken. Headley was jailed briefly in New York on charges of domestic assault but was not prosecuted. He wasn't arrested until 11 months after the Mumbai attack, when British intelligence alerted U.S. authorities that he was in contact with al-Qaeda operatives in Europe.

"In the four years between the wife's warning and Headley's capture, Lashkar sent Headley on reconnaissance missions around the world. During five trips to Mumbai, he scouted targets for the attack - using his U.S. passport and cover as a businessman to circulate freely in areas frequented by Westerners. He met in Pakistan with terrorist handlers, including a Pakistani army major accused of helping direct and fund his missions, according to court documents and anti-terrorism officials.

In March, Headley pleaded guilty to charges of terrorism in the Mumbai attacks and to a failed plot to take and behead hostages at a Danish newspaper. He is cooperating with authorities.

It is not clear from the available information whether a different response to the tip about Headley might have averted the Mumbai attacks. It is known that U.S. anti-terrorism officials warned Indian counterparts several times in 2008 about a possible attack on Mumbai, according to U.S. and Indian officials. The warnings included details, such as a threat to the iconic Taj Mahal hotel, which became a target, officials say.

Former DEA informant

The handling of the Headley case calls into question the progress of American law enforcement and intelligence agencies in improving their coordination and ability to "connect the dots" and deter attacks. It also raises questions about a complicated relationship between American authorities and a confessed terrorist.

Court records and interviews show that Headley served as an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration starting in the late 1990s. But a former senior U.S. law enforcement official said Headley's work as an informant ended before the Mumbai attacks in 2008. He could not say whether Headley worked for the drug agency during the years when he was helping to plan the attack.

"Headley was closed as an informant because he wasn't producing anything," the former senior official said. He said he believed Headley's relationship with the DEA ended "years" before Mumbai, but he did not have more precise information.

Federal officials refused to discuss the 2005 tip other than to confirm that the FBI conducted an inquiry into the allegations made by Headley's wife.

"We can confirm there was a lead based on his wife's tip," said an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of pending legal cases. "We can't get into details."

Mumbai joins a list of cases in which plotters caught the attention of authorities beforehand: London in 2005, Madrid in 2004, the Sept. 11 attacks. Such advance glimmers are part of the landscape of counterterrorism. Facing many threats and limited resources, authorities must make hard choices, a British spymaster said recently.


After the Sept. 11 attacks, Headley told associates that he planned to train with Lashkar as part of a secret mission for the U.S. government, the person close to the case said. "The FBI and DEA have joined forces and I am going to work for them," this person quoted him as saying. "I want to do something important in my life. I want to do something for my country."

In June 2006, a friend who owned a U.S. immigration consulting firm helped Headley open a Mumbai office of the firm as a cover, court documents say. During the next two years, Headley scouted and videotaped targets, the documents say. He joined an upscale gym, befriended a Bollywood actor and stayed with a Moroccan girlfriend at the Taj Mahal hotel, a prime target of the plot, according to documents and officials.

Headley reported to his handlers, including a suspected Pakistani Army major, at debriefings in Pakistan, according to court documents and officials. As the plot took shape in 2008, U.S. anti-terrorism agencies warned Indian counterparts at least three times about a suspected Lashkar plan to attack Mumbai, according to Indian and U.S. officials.

The first U.S. warning to India came in early 2008 and described general intelligence about Lashkar wanting to strike Mumbai, according to an anti-terrorism official with knowledge of the warnings. After a scouting trip to Mumbai in April 2008, Headley went to Chicago in May and told his accomplice about an evolving plan for seaborne gunmen to land in front of the Taj Mahal hotel, which he had scouted extensively, court documents show.

Also in May, U.S. officials told their Indian counterparts that Lashkar's potential targets included the Taj Mahal hotel and nearby sites frequented by foreigners and Americans, according to the anti-terrorism official. In September, a U.S. warning caused Indian anti-terrorism officials to meet with officials at the hotel, which beefed up security, according to the official.

In early November, Headley met with his Lashkar handler in Karachi, where militant bosses were making final preparations of the 10-man attack squad, documents say. And on Nov. 18, U.S. officials advised India about a suspicious vessel related to a potential maritime threat to Mumbai, the official said.

Four days later, the gunmen left Karachi by boat. On Nov. 26, they struck the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, a Jewish center, a cafe and a train station. The gunmen singled out Americans, Britons and Jews. The three-day slaughter caught Indian security forces unprepared despite the warnings.

Afterward, Lashkar deployed Headley on a plot against a Danish newspaper that had published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. In January 2009, he visited the newspaper to ask about advertising and shot reconnaissance video, documents say.

Lashkar soon put the plot on hold, so Headley turned to Ilyas Kashmiri, an al-Qaeda kingpin in Pakistan, documents say. Kashmiri offered militants in Europe to Headley for a plan to decapitate hostages at the newspaper and throw their heads out of windows, documents say.

When Headley contacted the militants that summer, British intelligence detected him, officials say. He was arrested by the FBI last October and is now in a federal prison in Chicago. Anti-terrorism officials say he has become a treasure trove of information about Lashkar and al-Qaeda, whose recent suspected Mumbai-style plots in Europe have been linked to Kashmiri. Last week Interpol announced that it had issued worldwide Indian arrest warrants for Kashmiri and four other top suspects in the Mumbai and Denmark cases, all of whom have been identified by Headley, officials say.

The Pakistani government has admitted that the Mumbai attack was planned and launched from their soil. A former Pakistan general was arrested in connection with it. As we have said in this blog, the arms and equipment used in the Mumbai attack were such as to suggest professional military support and involvment. Two years previously Indian police chief A.N.Roy publicly accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency(ISI) of using Lashkar e-Taiba, supposedly an arm of al Qaeda, to carry out the bombings of seven crowded trains in Mumbai area which killed 208 and injured 600 people.

Back when Pakistan was providing bases for US forces, and support for anti-Soviet guerrillas fighting in Afghanistan, the CIA -and probably Britain's MI6 - considered the Pakistani military and the ISI as an ally. Founded by a British officer, the ISI received CIA training. This alignment continued when Pakistan assisted the Saudi-funded Taliban. India on the other hand was seen from Washington as too pro-Soviet or at the very least suspiciously neutral. As for Kashmir, rather than support its people's right to self-determination, the powers have connived at its partition. Lashkar e-Taiba (The Army of the Pure) supported by the ISI, weakened the Kashmiri national struggle by waging its own sectarian religious war against non-Muslims, and those not Muslim enough.

Now, as in 1947, when the UN agreed to India's partition, the watchword remains divide et impera.

With its own forces waging war in Afghanistan which has spilled over into Pakistan, and with the rise of the Right in India, the United States began shifting alliances, almost 180 degrees. This is in line with Israel's links to militant Hindu nationalists (who quietly put away their past Aryanism and admiration for Hitler!) The Bush administration did not go that far, but it did start treating India as an ally. The two countries began military co-operation.

See India Is a Key Ally in the War on Terror, Obama has a chance to build on sound Bush diplomacy, article by Douglas Feith in the now Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal

But it is not always that easy to liquidate past links and assets. Indeed they may still have their uses, in persuading your new friends that they had better hasten to your side.

The Israeli intelligence news site Debka, which we'd guess is employed by Mossad to put out its own disinformation among the supposed "inside" information, is treating the news about Headley as coming from the US government, perhaps as an effort in damage limitation.

It recalls that this year, on April 2, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 439 discussed the possibility of Headley's employ by the US as an undercover double agent:

India finds it hard to believe that US terror experts were ignorant of Headley's role as key man in the planning and selection of targets for the attack [in Mumbai] and the dispatch of the Lashkar-e-Taibe terrorists for its execution.
These suspicions have led New Delhi to the supposition that Headley was a double or triple agent working for US intelligence, Pakistani's Inter-Services (military) Intelligence - ISI and also al Qaeda.
While Washington did indeed tip off Indian intelligence to the impending Mumbai attack two months in advance, the Indians now suspect that it withheld information which could have prevented the attack so as not to expose Headley.

Asking itself why the US government had decided to release information, the Israeli comes up with two possible explanations:

One: "The federal authorities are anxious to distract American public attention from the court procedures beginning last week in the case of the Palestinian-American Major Nidal Malik Hasan accused of murdering 13 US servicemen at Fort Hood base on Nov. 5, 2009 and responsibility for the most deadly Islamist terrorist attack ever staged in a US military installation. .."

Anyone would think that disturbed individuals going on shooting sprees were a hitherto unknown phenomenon in the United States, so that it must be assumed this was an organised "terrorist attack". Well, admittedly it was unusual in that the victims were military personnel, whereas all-American gunmen generally shoot down civilians such as work colleagues or schoolmates. Besides, only in Israel when some right-wing fanatic shoots up a mosque, or shoots down a prime minister, are we permitted the "lone gunman" explanation. Having fixed the "Palestinian" label on the major born in Virginia, Debka claims US soldiers were ordered to destroy "evidence" on their mobile phones, such as that "throughout his shooting rampage, Nidal never stopped shouting Allah is Great!"

"Our sources also confirm that the emergence of a Palestinian terrorist willing to carry out a massacre inside the United States is highly embarrassing for the Obama administration at a time when its diplomats are working hard to revive peace diplomacy in the Middle East". Whereas evoking the Muslim terror conspiracy is essential now for those Zionists keeping the pot warm for the Tea Party.

On to Debka's second, and if you ask me, more interesting explanation:
"Two: The US administration came under heavy fire for the unspecific, imprecise terror alert the State Department issued the whole of Europe on Oct. 3 against Mumbai-style multiple terror attacks. Three weeks later, most counter-terror agencies in Europe are certain the alert was unfounded and hurt Washington's credibility.
By releasing new data on the Headley case, the Americans hope to prove to the Europeans that they have learned their lesson from the Mumbai atrocity and were no longer repeating the mistake of disregarding incoming tips. Their warning to Europe was based on information garnered from the jailed German al Qaeda operative Ahmad Wali Siddiqui. This time it was taken seriously".

Considering the logistics of the Mumbai attacks, the backing the attackers had and the weapons used, it has been hard to imagine how such an operation could be mounted in Europe. Considering the part an American agent evidently played at Mumbai, we must worry how much the Americans really know, and whether they have told us everything.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Marching against racist 'Loyalty Oath'

יחד נגד חוקי הגזענות - צעדה יהודית-ערבית בתל אביב
SATURDAY NIGHT IN TEL AVIV. "Together we will defend democratic rights",
"The voice is that of Lieberman, the hands those of Netanyahu"

Photo from

THOUSANDS of demonstrators marched through central Tel Aviv on Saturday night in opposition to the Israeli government's loyalty oath bill, which requires non-Jewish residents to swear loyalty to "the State of Israel "the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state." as the price of citizenship.

Many see this amendment to the government's Citizenship Act as a step towards enforced "population transfer" - that is, ethnic cleansing of the State's Palestinian minority. This is the explicitly declared aim of
Russian-born Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the far-Right Yisrael Beitenu party, Foreign Minister and deputy prime minister in Binyamin Netanyahu's government.

But as some banners on Saturday night's demo declared, borrowing a Biblical phrase, "The voice is the voice of Lieberman, but the hands are the hands of Netanyahu". Other banners read: "Fascism and ethnic cleansing are standing proud", the by now familiar "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies", and "Together we will defend democratic freedom".

The marchers, who included both Jews and Arabs, marched towards the Sarona compound, headquarters of the Ministry of Defence, before holding a rally in nearby gardens. Among those leading the march were Knesset members Dov Khenin and Muhammad Barakeh, from the Communist Party-led coalition Hadash, former Knesset member Mossi Raz of the left-Zionist Meretz party, and Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now.
Also prominent carrying his two-flag sign was veteran campaigner Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom

"We are here to protest with the entire street against the dangerous policy of the government, which Labor ministers also support," Oppenheimer told the Israeli news site Ynet. He said Israel could not maintain an occupation and retain democracy.

"Democracy will prevail and racism will be defeated. There is no room for (Prime Minister Netanyahu) Bibi and Lieberman's games in the peace process. Everyone's interest is for a two-state solution. There will be no (population) transfer here," added MK Barakeh.

Speaking on a park bench in Sarona garden, MK Dov Khenin said,
"The statement 'The Arab citizens of Israel are the true demographic threat' was not uttered by Rabbi Meir Kahane or Avigdor Lieberman, but by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Jerusalem conference. Two years ago, the idea of population transfer was a slogan of extreme right-wing parties. A month ago it was the subject of an official speech by the Foreign Minister in the United Nations. "

"Friends, the population transfer has turned from a nightmare into an operational plan. Against this we stand here today.""The democratic freedom is in grave danger. The nightmare of a transfer is turning into a realistic plan, and that's why we stand here today. The foul wave that started with the Arabs has now reached the Jews who dare think differently. Attacks on universities, artists and academicians have also become part of the internal danger. We stand before a fatal battle for our future," he added.

"Lines that mustn't be crossed"

YOUNG people from Labour Zionist youth movements HaShomer Hatzair (the Young Guard) and Noar Oved v'Lomed (Working and Student Youth) have added their voices to the protest over Israel's new Citizenship Act. 'There are red lines that mustn't be crossed,' they warn.

Some 200 former Hashomer and Noar Oved members rallied outside the Knesset inJerusalem last week, and there have been similar demonstrations in Afula, Beersheba, Holon, Akko and Tel Aviv, denouncing the new loyalty oath amendment as "racist".

Hashomer Hatzair, which played a significant part in pioneering the kibbutz movement, was the youth movement associated with the left-wing Mapam party, which merged into Meretz. The much larger Noar Oved v'Lomed is the youth section of the Histadrut labour unions.

"We, the former members of the Zionist youth movements, consider this law "anti-Zionist and anti-democratic," said Ziv Rosenberg, spokesman for Noar Oved v'lLomed.

"The state was established in the spirit of respect for the minority which resides in it. This law obligates every citizen, even if he is not Jewish, to pledge allegiance to values that go against his way of life. This law reeks of racism and is incompatible with the values of democracy," he said.

According to Rosenberg, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, due to political considerations, is "appeasing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman with a law that does not make sense. There are red lines that must not be crossed; first and foremost for ourselves, but also for Israel's reputation abroad." (YNet)

Loyalty law is last straw, says Mike

AWARD-winning film director Mike Leigh has cancelled a visit to Israel because of the Israeli government's new 'loyalty' oath. The British Jewish director had been due to fly out on October 20 for a number of engagements, the main one having been to take part in the "great masters" programme at the Sam Spiegel Film & Television School in Jerusalem.

In a letter to school director Renen Schorr, he cited several of Israel's policies, including the oath, which would require non-Jews seeking Israeli citizenship to pledge allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state".

"As you know, I have always had serious misgivings about coming, but I allowed myself to be persuaded by your sincerity and your commitment," Leigh wrote. "And it is because of those special qualities of yours that I am especially sorry to have to let you down. But I have absolutely no choice. I cannot come, I do not want to come, and I am not coming.

"Eight weeks after our lunch, the Israeli attack on the flotilla took place. As I watched the world very properly condemn this atrocity, I almost cancelled. I now wish I had, and blame my cowardice for not having done so.

"Since then, your government has gone from bad to worse. I need not itemise all that has taken place ... I still had not faced up to the prospect of pulling out until a few weeks ago, but the resumption of the illegal building on the West Bank made me start to consider it seriously. And now we have the Loyalty Oath.

"This is the last straw – quite apart from the ongoing criminal blockade of Gaza, not to mention the endless shooting of innocent people there, including juveniles ..."

Although many artists have responded to calls for a boycott of Israel, including notably film director Ken Loach, Mike Leigh's decision is the more significant not just for his prominence but because of the director's background. The son of a Salford Jewish GP, Mike grew up in a home where the Zionist JNF blue box stood next to the phone. Both his parents were active in local Zionist affairs, and Mike spent most of his younger years in the Zionist youth movement Habonim. He has both family and friends in Israel.

But though long personally critical of Israel and Zionism, Mike preferred to reflect rather than engage in controversy in his one "Jewish" play, 'Two Thousand Years" (2005) and he has not appeared on political platforms or engaged in public gestures. Not until now.

previous expectations -,7340,L-3956515,00.html

disappointment -,7340,L-3970718,00.html

Rights Lawyer for London meeting

ISRAELI human rights lawyer Orna Kohn has been retained by Adalah, the centre for Arab minority rights in Israel, fighting the cases of Palestinians affected by existing Israeli law, and she represented Israeli citizens seized on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Orna says the Israeli security establishment already has more than enough powers to control Arab citizens, and the new 'Loyalty Oath' is both racist and unnecessary.

Orna Kohn is due to speak in London on November 11th on
Israel's decade of impunity -October 2000 to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla

Thursday, 11 November, 7pm, The Indian YMCA, 41 Fitzroy Square, London, W1T 6AQ

Meeting organised by Jews for Justice for Palestinians and the Jewish Socialists' Group.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

The miners are rescued, and their memories unearthed

LUIS URZUA led the shift underground, and was last to be freed. Luis was used to hardship and responsibility young, looking after the younger kids. His father and his stepfather were both murdered by Pinochet's regime

NOW that we have all been delighted to see the Chilean miners rescued, witness and share in the joy of their families, it is not a bad time to look at some of the circumstances.

We'll note in passing another piece of good news, that Baroness Thatcher was too ill to attend her 85th birthday party. Maybe we'll get the news we've been waiting for in time for those street parties by the end of the year after all.

To those brought up in Thatcher's (and Blair's) Britain and used to its right-wing press, it must have come as a shock to see men come crawling from underground, and be told that down there, children, is where wealth is created, and not in the City finance houses or by 'celebrities' on catwalks.

We know now that the miners had warned about dangers in this mine, and in the methods being used to speed up the extraction of ore. We know that the mine owners in their generosity did not pay the men's wages while they were trapped underground. And now the companies are excited that in the course of the rescue operation richer gold and copper deposits were found.

But here's John Pilger, of whom it has been said, "For more than a generation, he has been an ever stronger voice for those without a voice and a thorn in the side of authority, the Establishment.

'The accident that trapped the miners is not unusual in Chile and the
inevitable consequence of a ruthless economic system that has barely
changed since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Copper is
Chile’s gold, and the frequency of mining disasters keeps pace with prices and profits.
There are, on average, 39 fatal accidents every year in
Chile’s privatised
mines. The San Jose mine, where the men work, became so
unsafe in
2007 it had to be closed – but not for long. On 30 July last, a
department report warned again of “serious safety deficiencies”,

but the minister took no action.
Six days later, the men were entombed.

'For all the media circus at the rescue site, contemporary Chile is a
country of the unspoken. At the Villa Grimaldi, in the suburbs of the
capital Santiago, a sign says: “The forgotten past is full of memory.” This was the torture centre where hundreds of people were murdered and disappeared for opposing the fascism that General Augusto Pinochet and his business allies brought to Chile. Its ghostly presence is overseen by the beauty of the Andes, and the man who unlocks the gate used to live nearby and remembers the screams".

It was on September 11, 1973, "Chile's own 9/11", as Pilger reminds us, that reforming Chilean president Salvador Allende's elected Socialist government was overthrown by Thatcher's friend General Pinochet.
Allende's government had been held up as proof that you could advance to socialism by a "peaceful road", but the CIA and the military put a stop to that after he expropriated American-owned copper mining companies.

Thousands of Chilean workers and students were rounded up by the junta, or fled as refugees. The labour movement and Left here were horrified by mass executions and torture in Chile, but with Pinochet came Chicago school monetarist economics,and the Right took it as inspiration.

A group of print trade unionists picketing over an in-house dispute on Fleet Street one-night were approached by two lubricated 'gentlemen of the press', who asked what it was about. They explained their issue politely (they were members of the now long-merged Society of Lithographic Artists, Designers and Engravers, SLADE, real gentlemen and ladies). "Well, I should not worry about", one of the editors said, "in six months time your union will be destroyed, and you will be lying dead in the gutter".

Peregrine Worsthorne visited the Chilean prison camp on Dawson Island, and saw no sign of brutality or torture. The left-wing prisoners were lucky to still be alive, he thought. Besides, if a British socialist government tried to "turn this country into a Communist State, I hope and pray our armed forces would intervene to prevent such a calamity as efficiently as the armed forces did in Chile."

When Pinochet came to Britain it was only right that Tories like Worsthorne and Thatcher stood by their man. In Chile, according to Pilger, you see little sign of Allende's name being remembered, though plainly what people remember may not be reflected in official public memory.

"Today, Chile is a democracy, though many would dispute that,
notably those
in the barrios forced to scavenge for food and steal
electricity. In 1990,
Pinochet bequeathed a constitutionally
compromised system as a condition of
his retirement and the
military’s withdrawal to the political shadows. This
ensures that
the broadly reformist parties, known as Concertacion, are

permanently divided or drawn into legitimising the economic
designs of the
heirs of the dictator.

At the last election, the right-wing Coalition for
Change, the
creation of Pinochet’s ideologue Jaime Guzman, took power
president Sebastian Piñera. The bloody extinction of
true democracy that
began with the death of Allende was, by
stealth, complete.
Piñera is a billionaire who controls a slice
of the mining, energy and
retail industries. He made his
fortune in the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup
and during the
free-market “experiments” of the zealots from the University
of Chicago, known as the Chicago Boys. His brother and
former business
partner, Jose Piñera, a labour minister
under Pinochet, privatised mining
and state pensions
and all but destroyed the trade unions.

This was
applauded in Washington as an “economic miracle”,
a model of the new cult
of neo-liberalism that would sweep
the continent and ensure control from
the north. Today Chile
is critical to President Barack Obama’s rollback of the

independent democracies in Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela.
Piñera’s closest
ally is Washington’s main man, Juan Manuel
Santos, the new president of
Colombia, home to seven US
bases and an infamous human rights record
familiar to
Chileans who suffered under Pinochet’s terror.

Post-Pinochet Chile has kept its own enduring abuses in shadow.
families still attempting to recover from the torture or
disappearance of a
loved one bear the prejudice of the state and

Those not silent are
the Mapuche people, the only indigenous nation
the Spanish conquistadors
could not defeat. In the late 19th century,
the European settlers of an
independent Chile waged their racist War
of Extermination against the
Mapuche who were left as impoverished
outsiders. During Allende’s thousand
days in power this began to change.
Some Mapuche lands were returned and a
debt of justice was recognised.
Since then, a vicious, largely unreported war has been waged against the

Mapuche. Forestry corporations have been allowed to take their land,
their resistance has been met with murders, disappearances and
prosecutions under “anti terrorism” laws enacted by the
dictatorship. In
their campaigns of civil disobedience, none of the
Mapuche has harmed

The mere accusation of a landowner or businessman that the
“might” trespass on their own ancestral lands is often
enough for the
police to charge them with offences that lead to
Kafkaesque trials with
faceless witnesses and prison sentences
of up to 20 years. They are, in
effect, political prisoners.

While the world rejoices at the spectacle of the miners’ rescue,
Mapuche hunger strikers have not been news. They are
demanding an end to
the Pinochet laws used against them,
such as “terrorist arson”, and the
justice of a real democracy.
On 9 October, all but one of the hunger
strikers ended their
protest after 90 days without food. A young Mapuche,

Luis Marileo, says he will go on.
On 18 October, President Piñera is due to
give a lecture
on “current events” at the London School of Economics.
should be reminded of their ordeal and why.

And now, about a working class hero against whom Chile's rulers had committed their crimes well-before he was old enough to go down the mine.

The difficult life of Luis Urzua, the last miner to come to the surface

Translation of extracts from an article in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo

... Urzua was the first to speak to the outside world and the last to
leave the mine .. The Chilean government and NASA describe him as a natural leader
.. He has become the man who has spent longest underground ever
.. His father and stepfather were killed during the Pinochet

Little is known of Luis Urzua (54) and his family, he is the one who
has spoken least out of the 33 rescued. But this shift leader, from
Vallenar, was as important as the mining minister, Laurence Golborne or the
Codelco engineer, Andre Sougarret, who led the rescue operation. Without him,
there would have been no rescue.

The shift leader in San Jose, a topographer by trade, was the first to
speak to the outside world. “Hallo, who am I talking to?” said
Golborne. “can you hear me?” asked a voice from 650 metres down. “we can hear you
loud and clear, who am I talking to?” “you are talking to the shift
leader. Luis Urzua. We are OK. Waiting to be rescued”.

…….After 67 days of suffering and happiness, the man deserves his world
record. But few know how hard the life of this born fighter has been.
A calm person, the oldest of six children, he helped bring up the younger
ones. He had to. While Luis was still a child, his father, also Luis
Urzua, was killed by the dictator, Augusto Pinochet. He was a member of
the Communist Party. His stepfather, Benito Tapia, was also killed, by
the “caravan of death” (a squad led by generals that went from prison to
prison carrying out assassinations).

He was a member of the Socialist Party.
NASA says that Luis Urzua is a “natural leader”…..The mother of the
“hero of Copiapo”, Nelly Iribarren, says “My son has always been very
disciplined, he was the one in charge among the children. As my husband
died when they were small, Luis was the man of the house,, he helped me
bring them up and he always made the rules”.

“Luis has been a miner for 31 years, he knows about underground rescue
and first aid, and so we knew that he would look for some way to get out.
And I can imagine “mi negro” going round and sorting everyone out, rationing
food and handing out tasks because he is like that, bossy but organised”
said his mother, who did not go to Camp Hope set up round the mine
because of her health.

What this good woman does not talk about is the suffering caused her and
her children, which includes the time Luis has spent underground. Of
Luis’ first father we know little. Just that he was also called Luis Urzua
and he disappeared under the Pinochet dictatorship. We know more about
Nelly Iribarren’s second husband.

Benito Tapia Tapia, 32, worked for Cobresal and was Luis Urzua’s
stepfather, all the father Luis had. He was a national leader of the
Confederation of Copper miners and member of the Central Committee of
the Socialist Youth. On 17th September 1973, he was arrested and taken to
Copiapo prison. From there to the barracks and then he lived no more.
Benito was assassinated by the Caravan of Death along with the managing
director of Cobresal, Ricardo Garcia Posada and Maguindo Castillo
Andrade, another trade union leader like him.

At nine in the morning on Wednesday 17th October, major Carlos Brito of
the Atacama Regiment based in Copiapo took Ricardo out of the public
prison, and at 19.20 the same day sergeant Oscar Pasten did the same
with Benito Tapia and Maguindo Castillo. All three were taken to the
barracks. From there they went to the cemetery. “The shooting of Garcia, Castillo
and Tapia was led by lieutenant Ramon Zuniga Ormeno along with sub
lieutenant Fernando Castillo Cruz” was the statement given to judge Juan
Guzman by Diaz Araneda a few years ago. Arturo Araya, who was Juan
Mendoza (the legal doctor)’s assistant, arrived at the Copiapo morgue early on
the morning of 18th October. He saw three bodies lying covered by white
sheets on slabs. He went to uncover one to undress it and start the autopsy
but the cemetery administrator stopped him “these bodies are untouchable”
he said.

The three bodies were buried with no coffins in an open trench in Patio
16. In the register, Garcia was given number 13, Tapia 14 and Castillo
15. some days later, Bernardo Pinto, a worker in Cobresal, paid a
gravedigger to open the grave and never forgot what he saw. When they came to the
surface, “they had no coffins and the three bodies were destroyed, with
deep cuts to the face, trunk, legs, in some you could see the bones in
the wounds” said Bernardo. Soon afterwards, the three bodies, including
Benito’s, disappeared forever from the cemetery.

Maglio Cicardini, mayor of Copiapo and Sergio Iribarren, Luis’ cousin,
corroborate the story. “It is true, his father and stepfather were
assassinated”. Jaime Tapia, brother of the murdered Benito, was in Camp
Hope and represents Luis. Asked if his brother was assassinated by the
dictatorship, he replied “I can tell you nothing, it will all come out
when it should, after they are rescued”.

(thanks to Sue Lukes for making this available).

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Strange friends and dodgy dollars

PAMELA GELLER (left)claims President is a Muslim and says she has seen rude photos of his mother. RABBI SHIFREN (right),invokes the Alamo for Orange County Republicans. Ex-West Bank settler pitches his campaign against Mexicans and Muslims.
ROBERTA MOORE (above) in London with EDL and the Zionist Federation's Jonathan Hoffman (photo courtesy David Hoffman). What appears to be blue tattoo on her breast was subject of speculation. Someone thought it was a lyre bird, someone else suggested a character from Moomin. But we had no trouble recognising the tattoo sported by this doughty 'defender' of Wales (below), it went with the salutes.
That's the trouble with tattoos, they are not as easy to change as flags.

geller supports english defence league

ENGLISH DEFENCE LEAGUE supporters went on the rampage in
Leicester at the weekend. One brave pack were videoed chucking
stones and chasing a Muslim woman into a cafe, before they had
to join their pals making a strategic withdrawal after coming
face to face with local youth in Highfields.

Someone arranged for an EDL group to join the anti-Muslim 'Ground Zero' protesters
in New York recently, and in Sunday's Observer ( October 10) ,
Mark Townsend reported:
An Observer investigation has established that the EDL has made contact with anti-jihad groups within the Tea Party organisation and has invited a senior US rabbi and Tea Party activist to London this month. Rabbi Nachum Shifren, a regular speaker at Tea Party conventions, will speak about Sharia law and also discuss funding issues.

The league has also developed links with Pamela Geller, who was influential in the protests against plans to build an Islamic cultural centre near Ground Zero. Geller, darling of the Tea
Party's growing anti-Islamic wing, is advocating an alliance with the EDL. The executive director of the Stop Islamisation of America organisation, she recently met EDL leaders in New York and has defended the group's actions, despite a recent
violent march in Bradford.

Curious to know more about this"senior" Rabbi, I learned that he hails from Los Angeles, but lived in a right-wing Zionist settlement in the occupied Palestinian West Bank for a time. Now employed as a teacher in LA he is running for office for the Republicans, and is billed as the "surfin'" rabbi.

'Yet he opted to reside in Kfar Tapuah, a West Bank settlement perched a half-hour from the “lousy” Mediterranean surf. Kfar Tapuah is considered an extremely militant, right-wing, anti-government stronghold. "I’d compare its residents to white militants in the United States" says Hagit Yaari, an Israeli spokesperson for Americans for Peace.

Actually putting the rabbi down as simply an Islamophobe seems a little unfair, he appears equally concerned with stopping more Mexican and other immigrants from coming into his "white America". Whether it worries him that similar prejudice in the 1930s and 1940s kept out Jewish refugees I don't know, as in the piece I read he does not mention the subject, preferring to identify with those who won the West from those pesky Hispanics. But he says he will urge British Jews, who he thinks are "terrified", to support the EDL.

Pamela Geller runs a blog called Atlas Shrugs, and it's a fascinating read if you're not too bothered about the plausibility of her stories. Apparently she has information about President Obama's "sexual peccadillos", as well as his secret birth or conversion to Islam, and why he went to Pakistan -it could only be to score drugs or to meet the jihadis, or perhaps both. What's more she has seen obscene photos of Obama's mother in the nude. If other news channels like CNN have her information they are obviously afraid to use it.

In our pic, Geller is wearing a Little Green Footballs polo, but in Wednesday's Guardian the guy who runs that discussion website, Charles Johnson, regretted they let her use it. "Geller often supports and glorifies people who can only be described as white supremacists and genocidal war criminals. For example, last April, Geller defended South African apartheid advocate and convicted terrorist Eugene Terreblanche, blaming his murder on "black supremacism" and warning that it was the start of "white genocide" in South Africa In July, Geller posted an ode of support to genocidal Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic.

No matter. Now that she has made a name for herself, Pamela Geller seems to have access to mainstream media and 'respectable' political company in America, and besides, she is not short of a dollar or two to spread her views. Lawyer David Yerushalmi , whose clients include Stop Islamization of America, and the American Freedom Defence Initiative, was claiming " a victory for the First Amendment,” (i.e. free speech) after a lawsuit requiring the Manhattan Transit Authority to accept posters for buses that decry the so-called Ground Zero mosque and depict the Twin Towers burning. But as the lawyer must know, this kind of free speech does not come free. Apart from the lawsuit costs, Pamela Geller, executive director of Stop Islamization of America, paid $9,500 for the ads and signed a contract last month with CBS Outdoor, the MTA’s advertising representative. "

The New York Times has run a profile of Geller, showing her to be a very wealthy woman, her wealth including a $4-million divorce settlement, a $5-million life insurance on the death of her ex-husband, Michael Oshry (her married name was Pamela G. Oshry), and a portion of the $2-million sale of the Hewlett Harbor home she jointly owned with Oshry. All of which allows her to live in luxury on an entire floor of upper Eastside condo

But as blogger Richard Silverstein tells us, ""What isn’t as well-known, and was whitewashed from her Times profile, is that the basis of her wealth is a criminal enterprise. Michael Oshry, her ex-husband who died of an alleged heart attack in 2008, owned a large Long Island car dealership which operated a scam allowing buyers to purchase cars using fraudulent identities. Such a scam is perfect for organized crime and others seeking to use cars in the commission of felonies. In fact, one such vehicle was used by a former car salesman to murder two New York City police officers. An employee who discovered the scam was murdered execution-style. Geller was listed as a co-owner of the dealership though she denied any knowledge of the fraud. However, the head of the local D.A.’s economic crimes unit is quoted as saying that the owners of the dealership knew about, and possibly actively organized the fraud, which implies that either Geller had to know about it or willfully kept herself in the dark:
Peress said the corruption at Universal “went all the way to the top.

Richard adds, "I note the Times profile reveals that Geller’s personal attorney is David Yerushalmi, who incorporated the non-profit entity under which she and Robert Spencer produce their blogs. This in turn allows David Horowitz to plow funds into their enterprise that have been given on a tax-deductible basis.

Nick Griffin of the British National Party(BNP) has been telling his supporters that the EDL and its allies were Zionist-backed - sour grapes, perhaps, as he put his Holocaust skepticism on a back burner in order to concentrate on playing the anti-Muslim theme, and the Jewish Chronicle remarked on how pro-Israel the BNP had become. As we noted before the BNP's Jewish woman councillor from Essex was despatched to an American neo-con conference.

Judging from the number of known BNP members who have been spotted with the EDL, they are not put off by Griffin's strictures. Searchlight magazine has identified the EDL leader who calls himself 'Tommy Robinson' as being a former BNP member called Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. An article in the October issue of the anti-fascist magazine names other past and present BNP activists in the EDL. "Alan pretty much now the EDL organiser in Newcastle, but in May 2010 he stood as the BNP parliamentary candidate in Newcasstle East where he received 3.5% of the vote

Talking of Newcastle, as Searchlight's Nick Lowles noted on September 24:, "20 to 30 EDL thugs attacked a Socialist Workers Party meeting in Newcastle Wednesday evening. Two doormen were beaten but there are no reports of any arrests. Earlier today two EDL supporters were arrested in Gateshead which led to an EDL demo outside the local police station".

The EDL claims to have a Jewish section now led by the strange figure of Roberta Moore, and seeming to consist largely of Israelis. Ms.Moore herself is Brazilian born but lived in Israel for a time, and says she was a supporter of the Kach party founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane. The Community Security Trust advised Jews to give no support to EDL or Stop the Islamification of Europe, and even the Zionist Federation's Jonathan Hoffman has denied co-operating with them, claiming the photograph of him with Roberta Moore was a fake, thought he had to drop that claim. (The EDL and Zionist Federation had turned up to oppose pro-Palestinian demonstrators at the settler-owned Ahava cosmetics in Covent Garden). Jewish anti-fascists have of course joined others opposing the EDL and similar outfits, and when Stop the Islamification of Europe tried to march on the Harrow mosque, some rabbis raised their voice in solidarity with Muslims.

Though EDL claims it is only against "Islamic extremists" and sharia law, a lot of those who turn out for anti-Islamic demonstrations and street violence seem to be less sophisticated, and neither know nor particularly care whom they are attacking. In Luton they attacked the Sikh mayor, in Dudley they took out their rage on a Hindu temple, and despite recent alliances many of them don't bother to hide their hatred of Jews. But there are signs at times that more intelligent hands are guiding some EDL actions, as when they target left-wing meetings, or use the invitation of a particular Muslim speaker as pretext to threaten a mosque. When the speaker is banned they claim a victory. Judging from the amount of travelling they do, they also don't seem short of funds.

A north London businessman has come out publicly as supporting the EDL:
Alan Lake, a 45-year-old businessman from Highgate, North London, sees the EDL as a potential "street army" willing to be deployed against what they claim is rising Islamification of Britain.

But support and material encouragement also appears to be reaching the anti-Islamic movement from the wilder, and some would say, crazier wing of neo-cons and Zionists in America, and from some Christian fundamentalists there as well. They can overlook the odd tattooed swastika or Hitler salute that seem a hard to break habit among those they are unleashing. And the fascists, whatever their prejudices, don't mind money, by whatever route it reaches them and regardless of the source. I'd also guess that the strings we've been shown so far are not necessarily the only ones behind the scenes

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