Monday, November 29, 2010

Hold on to our history!

THE PEOPLE'S STORY, Edinburgh,below, and right, the People's History Museum, in Manchester.

WHEN people are losing their jobs and homes, you may think it a bit of a diversion to be worried about our historical heritage. Only today they were talking on TV about local authorities that could possibly raise money by selling off paintings and objets d'art that some have stored in basements, away from the public gaze.

That's as it may be, though the objection was raised that some items were donated or left under covenant. I remember this was a problem for the Tate when it wanted to charge admission, that it would affect its Turner collection, paintings donated by the artist on condition that the public could freely see them.

Of course paintings kept out of sight, whether in town hall basements or bank vaults, are something else, in troubled times a form of limited issue currency. Mind you, if "we are all in this together", as ministers tell us, who has money for pictures? They could go abroad of course, though this is an international crisis. And if not particularly well-known pictures are released on the market, whatever their artistic merit, will they raise their value or be a bargain-basement?

What concerns me is a different kind of heritage, and more especial value. Students are on the streets or occupying their colleges to defend access to education. Well, museums are just as much part of education as schools and colleges and textbooks. And unless we see education as just training us to do as we are told and operate the bosses' machines, everyone is entitled to find out everything we can about our culture and our history.

One thing that reactionary rulers cannot easily take away, though they try, is our memory. For some years now, people have been waking to the fact that it is ordinary people, and not just 'great men', certainly not those who merely inherit position, that make history. We have started to appreciate the value of what we inherit from the struggles of past generations, and to store and cherish it, be it in books, pictures, sound recordings or whatever. Who knows, it may be part of what we need just now to inspire and strengthen our resolve to fight those taking us back to misery, and change society for future generations to enjoy a better life, as well saving the planet.

A few months ago, dodging out of the rain on Edinburgh's Canongate, I ducked into the People's Story museum and found myself alternately moved, amused and delighted by its scenes and relics of past life, and some not so far past from familiarity, of ordinary folk's lives, labour and leisure in the Scottish capital. It's only a wee museum, and the steps are steep between floors, but it's a friendly place and, amid all Edinburgh's tourist pageantry, I'd recommend it.

My own native ground, as befits its rich working class history, now boasts inter alia the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, largely the fruit of activist couple Ruth and Eddie Frow's vision; and the People's History Museum. This originated partly in the National Museum of Labour History, begun at Limehouse Town Hall in east London, before accepting Manchester council's hospitality and merging with another collection. In February this year the People's History Museum re-opened at the Left Bank on Spinningfields in central Manchester, after a £12.5 million redevelopment. With backing from national trade unions, and co-operatives, as well as Manchester City Council and the National Heritage Fund, the People's History Museum has also received state funding, amounting to 20 per cent of its budget.

But now the Department of Culture, Museums and Sport (DCMS) has announced it will no longer fund eight "museums that should be the responsibility of local communities". These "non-national" museums include the National Football Museum, in Preston, the National Coal Mining Museum for England, in Wakefield, the Horniman Museum in south-east London, whose anthropological collection is very popular with schoolkids (and me), and in Manchester, the Museum of Science and Industry and the People's History Museum (whose website says it is the only national museum in central Manchester, and gives directions for visitors from elsewhere). I can't help wondering whether this government's understanding of "non-national" means "not in the West End of London" or "not in South Kensington". And I can't help noticing that besides museums with a working class connection, the hit list includes the popular Horniman, historically linked with secular materialism. This museum, with its gardens part of a school nature trail, will lose more than £4 million a year, around 85 per cent of its budget.

Why should these institutions receive public money? Because it is our history, our enlightenment, our children's pleasure and education, and OUR money. Working class people pay a higher percentage of their income in tax, whereas some members of this government avoid paying any. We owe what rights we have to the generations whose struggle is reflected in the People's History Museum. And if this country can afford an expensive royal wedding for its living relics, it can afford a contribution to our places. An online petion is collecting signatures to demand that funding is restored to the People's History Museum and the other "non-national" museums.


Still on history, I recently drew on information in the booklet 150 Years of Union Struggle, published by the Greater London Association of Trade Union Councils (GLATUC) to commemorate the anniversary of its predecessor the London Trades Council. With articles on the trades' councils' origins, the famous Matchgirls' Strike, the Police Strikes and much more, it is a good read and well-illustrated, and costs £2 per copy. But if your trades union council wants to order 20 or more copies for members or for some event, you can order them at £1.50 per copy. Money with order to GLATUC Secretary, 16 Mansell Road, London W3 7QH.


Cities of London and Westminster Trades Union Council is advertising a video and presentation on the Freeing of the Pentonville Five, back in July1972, when widespread walk-outs and demonstrations by workers forced the government of the day to find remarkable means of freeing five dockers who had just been jailed over picketing in a struggle over jobs.

For more information contact Roger Sutton,

Going further back, I still remember the grins of recognition when I got out my library book at tea break on a building job in Sussex, fifty years ago. It was The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell. "You're reading the Brickies' Bible!" , said one of the bricklayers from Brighton. The novel had been out of print for decades, and though republished (by Lawrence and Wishart, I think) in 1955 I hadn't realised it was that well known.

Tressell was Robert Noonan, a Dublin-born housepainter and decorator who worked in Hastings, and wrote with sad humour about his working life, his workmates, the fear they shared of the boss, and the workhouse, and the hero's attempts to persuade his colleagues that a socialist alternative was possible. Finishing his book in 1910, Noonan approached publisher after publisher, without success. He nearly burnt his manuscript in despair, but his daughter saved it. The painter-writer died of TB in 1911. His daughter managed to get the book published in 1914, and later editions were published abroad, but British publishers were inclined to cut the politics out. Many years later, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was to be published in full and reach a much wider audience as a television play - still particularly appreciated by building workers, as I recall.

Hastings, meanwhile, is no longer quite the conservative 'Mugsborough' that Noonan-Tressell described, and next year trades unionists in the seaside town will mark the centenary of Robert Noonan's death with a celebration of his life and work. That's from noon to 8pm in the St.Leonard's Assembly Rooms, Hastings, on February 5, 2011. Make a date - details to follow.


More recent generations of building workers are being invited to tell their stories for a project on Constructing Post War Britain being run from the University of Westminster. They'd particularly like to hear from anyone who was employed on the Barbican, Stevenage New Town, the Shell Mex site, the South Bank Arts Complex, Sizewell A, or Fawley Power Station.
, or

Moving from the gorblimey to the ridiculous, some might say, I have just been adding my own modest contribution to working class history, by narrating my experiences working in Willesden in the 1960s.
It's not my fault that firms like AEI, Elliot Automation and Mulliner Park Ward all closed down, even Allnatts the builders appears to have gone, and the BT Telephone Managers Office on Shoot Up Hill is no more. Indeed I could argue that the last would have done better not to have disposed of my talents. I know I signed the Official Secrets Act before they gave me my cards, but it is all on tape now for the Britain At Work oral history project in which I've been taking part, at least it is if the guy recording me was not laughing too much to hold the recorder straight.

I might find out next week, when there is a meeting about the Britain at Work project, that's Thursday, December 9, 6.30pm at History Talk, Notting Hill Methodist Church, 240 Lancaster Rd., W11 (side entrance), near Ladbroke Grove tube. Refreshments available., but let them know if you're coming.

tel: 020 7792 2282

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

If the State is trying to teach the kids a lesson, what they learn may be something else

YESTERDAY was the day of the youngsters. University students and some lecturers too took part in actions around the country against the Con Dem government and the raising of tuition fees, already highest in Europe.

But what made the day was the emergence of school youth, those who would face the financial wall of exclusion being erected, and who are under attack in other ways, both in school and after. Youth unemployment is already at its highest in years. Abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) hits those from low-income families who want to stay on at school after 16. And some supposed work experience schemes amount to slave labour with nothing at the end.

Besides, young people today, even the young kids, are not unaware of the wider political picture, and not dependent on teachers or "outside agitators". They are hearing enough at home. Being young they are quicker to learn, and to act. And yesterday in London they got a lesson in the nature of power, from the Metropolitan Police.

After their apparent failure to control protesters taunted into action at the Tories Millbank HQ, yesterday saw the Met back on usual form, confronting schoolkids.

A carnival of protest called by the University of London Union brought students to Trafalgar Square at the same time as a pre-arranged demonstration led by Socialist Party students and youth was due to proceed. For a flavour of the latter which was missing from what we saw on TV, here's their own video:

Some time after 2pm yesterday, I saw this message from South East London trade unionist and Socialist Party member Glenn Kelly:
Report that SP and Youth Fight for jobs and education march has been kettled in despite route having been agreed with police over a week before the demo. Need comrades ringing Westminster police and contact press to complain. Is the real reason why so light policing of last demo exposed as coppers wanted green light to return to bully boy tactics of G20 demo

Lest we forget, an inquiry accepted that newsvendor Ian Tomlinson, a passer-by, was deliberately knocked to the ground by police in the City, during the G20 protests, but decided there was no point prosecuting anyone for the man's death.

Labour MP John McDonnell had reported yesterday "Amazingly large number of students demonstrating in Trafalgar Square now moving off down Whitehall in good humoured and peaceful march"

Then at 14.56, John reported via Twitter: Young people contacting me who have been kettled in Whitehall, have asked police to leave and been refused.

John McDonnell ‎again: "6 to 7 hours later 2000 students trapped in kettled area. Without food or water and cold.

Meanwhile, what had we seen on TV? Five news showed young people marching intercut with a clip of some attacking a glass panel at Tory HQ in the previous demo, just in case we had forgot. Later on BBC and other news we saw young people in Whitehall, no mention that there had been a previously agreed march, not much sense if any that they were being held there in the cold for hours, unable to leave, and no shots that I saw of mounted police being in action against the crowd, as I have subsequently heard.

But of course, more than adequate footage of some angry young people attacking an empty police van which, for some reason, had been left in the middle of the crowd. Was it left there so it could be attacked, and the media could get their picture of "student violence"? Wherever do we get such cynical ideas?

Yesterday evening I was at a meeting discussing other matters, but conversation naturally turned to the day's event, if only because one of our guests was late, having been one of the members of the public caught up in the kettling operation. And as I said, when we discussed the van, if I had been kept out in the cold that time I might have turned a little "violent".

We were pleased to hear that two local schools, Preston Manor and Queens Park,
had been involved in action, as well as hearing of schools student actions in neighbouring Tory Barnet. Being as we are Brent Trades Union Council, we will be joining Brent Fightback, our local anti-cuts campaign, in tackling Brent Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather, now children's minister in the Con-Dem coalition, in her lair.

Meanwhile, here's another witness from yesterday, Alex Callinicos:
Having not been kettled in Whitehall, I was standing at a bus-stop in Trafalgar Square hoping to go home. Up popped about 50 school kids carrying 'F*ck Fees' placards etc who had presumably escaped from Whitehall. No sooner had they gathered at the stop than several police vans appeared. They disgorged riot cops in full regalia, who chased the youngsters into the Strand. This is going on all over central London.

Was the police operation yesterday designed to prevent violence or provoke it?
If the former, why take so long letting people disperse?

After suggestions that the Met's failure to protect Millbank Tory Towers was a way of warning the government against cuts in manpower, were the Met yesterday out to prove to Cameron and their fans in the media that they can still hack it?

Getting brutal against a crowd of schoolkids is not really that impressive.

But not for the first time, the methods used seem designed to impress on first-time demonstrators, that this is what happens when you come out on what was supposed to be a peaceful protest, and in this case, also to convey to worried parents that they should not have let their kids take part.

But these student and school protests are only early, and relatively good natured, flashes of the storm that is building up. The youngsters and their parents may be learning different lessons than those which Cameron and his cops may imagine.

After all, if people can be held for eight hours in freezing temperatures without food, water, or toilet facilities, merely for being on, or near, a demo, would people not be better off committing criminal actions, as then even if caught they are entitled to a lawyer, as things stand, and there are rules about how you must be treated, as a prisoner? Not that I'm advocating anything, you understand, just making an observation.

Years ago, a lecturer at Lancaster University was telling me that following troubles there over issues of university governance, union recognition for cleaners, and then sacking of left-wing teaching staff, the university had decided to take fewer mature students, who were seen as troublesome. He was complaining that the youngsters being selected, straight from school and exams, were too passive, they did not question what he said, and he was getting bored by the lack of argument in seminars.

I don't think that is going to be the problem with the kids we saw yesterday, whether at school, or if they can make it, university. I can see some interesting discussions in classes on civics, government, philosophy or history.

  • here are some witnesses to what happened:
  • Talking of Lancaster, here's a heartening piece of news:

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Unite steps to the Left

BRITAIN'S biggest and potentially most powerful trade union has a new general secretary who has said he will unite members to fight the Con-Dem government cuts. Ex-Liverpool docker Len McCluskey has passed the finishing post with 101,000 votes, way ahead of the other three contenders.

The official announcement won't be made till Wednesday, and Unite's existing twin general secretaries Derek Simpson (from the former Amicus union) and Tony Woodley (from the Transport and General) don't step down till next year. But Tory newspapers are already yelling that the Left has "grabbed control", and that this election heralds strikes against the government, and discomfort for Labour's Ed Milliband.

Allowing for the Mail 's twisted way of describing workers' organisations and democracy, and trying as per tradition to frighten the middle classes, this may not be far wrong. As the saying used to go, "This animal" (the working class) "is wicked. When you attack it, it defends itself!". This election is not the first sign that waking up, and seeing the bankers and Bullingden boys cheering attacks on our class, workers - like students -are ready to fight back.

"I am honoured and humbled at the confidence Unite members have shown in me," Len McCluskey said after the final count was announced. "My first task now will be to bring our union together and unite it in a campaign against the devastation the government is unleashing against working people and their communities throughout the land."

In second place came rank-and-file member Jerry Hicks, a former Rolls Royce convenor who began campaigning while Labour was still in office, warning that whoever won the general election, trade unionists would have to fight to defend their rights and services. Besides challenging the link with New Labour, Jerry Hicks pledged he would take back the union for the members, and only accept a worker's wage if elected to the top position.

Despite being regarded as an outsider, with the union's so-called United Left faction throwing its weight behind McCluskey, Jerry Hicks scored a respectable 52,000 votes. A tribute to his hard work and perseverance, showing the trust and support he has received from many ordinary members and activists, this could be a good start for a rank and file movement linking the fight for workers rights with chasing bureaucratism out of the union.

Behind Hicks, with only 46,000 votes, came assistant general secretary Les Bayliss, the right-wing candidate who had attacked Len McCluskey's leadership in the BA cabin crews' dispute, promising that he would "never call strikes at Christmas", and spoke at the TUC against workers taking industrial action to fight the cuts, saying this would make them the "bad guys". Evidently not enough members were impressed by his arguments, nor by the support he received in the Murdoch press and from Derek Simpson. We can only hope he and whoever helped him pay for full-page newspaper ads are satisfied they got their money's worth.

Gail Cartmail,another assistant general secretary, whose name I remember from the days of struggle in the printing industry, came fourth with 39,000 votes. She said she was "really pleased" with the level of support she achieved given that no organised group within the union had backed her. "I think this shows I ran a very strong campaign," she said. Perhaps she would have done better had she not left people unsure where she stood between camps in the union.

It would be foolish to exagerate the significance of this election. For one thing, fewer than 16 per cent of the union's membership actually voted, which I think suggests not complacency and apathy over what is happening, but workers uncertainty and lack of confidence that they and their union can do anything. That is the big one that anyone leading the union or championing its rank and file have to tackle.

Secondly, Len McCluskey, "Red Len" as the Tory press automatically calls him, is not some fiery left-winger taking over from nowhere. A member of the Labour Party for almost 40 years, he started work on the docks in the 1960s, becoming a senior shop steward, and then in 1979 he was made a full-time union officer, representing members in a broad range of industries. In 1990, he became national secretary for the general workers group, leading negotiations in various industries, and he also led the white-collar group for a three-year period. In 2004 he was promoted to become the union's national organiser for all the service industries, including public services, construction and the voluntary sector.

During this time, however critical, the TGWU remained loyal to Labour. Bro.McCluskey's former colleagues on the Liverpool docks were victimised and not re-instated. The Tory anti-union laws were never repealed. The Gate Gourmet workers at London airport went down the road, and fellow-TGWU members at the airport who stopped in sympathy were disciplined. At election time a huge banner on the side of Unite House said "Keep Britain working with Labour". We were not sure if this referred to raising the pension age, or resisting the European Union's directive on reducing working hours.

Nevertheless, Len McCluskey has a mandate for change. He comes in with support not only from the United Left but from members who felt he could be trusted as having a left-wing approach and a safe pair of hands; as well as many who feared -as we have seen, mistakenly - that voting for Jerry Hicks might let in the right-winger Bayliss. Taken with the fact that Jerry Hicks came in second, this result clearly marks a step to the Left by Unite, and it must encourage a strong two-pronged campaign now at both official and grass-roots levels, for workers rights and against the Con-Dem cuts, chasing the right-wing bureaucrats out in the process.


Friday, November 19, 2010

First a Medal, then the Sack

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Down by the Riverside, Where the people's housing was privatised.

BATTERSEA riverside, Hovis mills behind St.Mary's Church,c.1981. From place for industry, Thames side became location for developers, including Tory council.
(Right). Up goes For Sale sign on what was working class housing. Below window on right the name Archer recalls John Archer, West Indian-born mayor of Battersea in late 19th century.
(Below) In one of last project before they were abolished, GLC architects left touch of humour on new estate with portraits of famous, including Lord Justice Denning and Vanessa Redgrave.

MAYOR BORIS has said it, and with his headline-grabbing gift for hyperbole, made comparisons with the 'ethnic cleansing' of Kosova.

There was some tut-tutting at the seeming trivialisation of mass killing, and no doubt some more serious complaints behind scenes at the Tory mayor's being a maverick and blurting out what his party and its Lib Dem coalition partners in government were doing.

But it was reported that London local authorities were already block booking bed and breakfast accommodation along the south coast in anticipation of having to find places for for families made homeless by cuts in housing benefit, on top of the number of repossessions.

We have been here before, though not on the anticipated scale. The process whose consequences Boris Johnson warned against is not new, nor indeed was his comparison. When Westminster city council was clearing the neglected property of Artillery Row Mansions to make way for the property developers, about fifteen years ago, some people who had occupied the building hung out a banner, across the road from city hall, accusing the council of "social cleansing".

That was while we were used to the sight of war and 'ethnic cleansing' in Bosnia and Kosova, and refugees were still arriving.

The Tory Westminster council, led by Dame Shirley Porter, the Tesco heiress, was already making its name for madcap privatisation (cemeteries sold off cheap which then had to be bought back), shoving homeless families in properties full of rats and asbestos, and the policy which eventually placed the council in the dock and Dame Shirley in luxury exile, selling off council houses and flats in marginal wards so as to change their social composition and, so it was hoped, political complexion.

Now, working-class people are being told their housing benefit will be cut, so they will just have to find cheaper accommodation in less expensive areas, in crude terms, get out of London,(while simultaneously receiving the opposite advice, that they should move to where the work is). People are rightly remembering Lady Porter.

The fact is, though, what Porter did was only an extension of similar policies that had been carried on by her fellow Tories south of the river, in the London Borough of Wandsworth.

Christopher Chope, a judge's son from Putney, was elected as a councillor in Wandsworth in 1974 and became the council leader in 1979.

In 1980-1 I spent some time working in Wandsworth, mainly by the Battersea riverside. The area was seeing some changes. The old boy in the cafe on the corner could remember the mornings when the road outside was full of people going to work. The days when Manbre Sugars, Projectile Engineering and especially, Morgan Crucible were in Battersea. Now there was just Rank, Hovis McDougall's flour mill by the river (and since then that too has gone). "In those days the young lads got apprenticeships", he said, surveying his empty tables.

Across the road from St.Mary's church a new estate was being completed, designed by the Greater London Council's architects, before the GLC lost its housing functions and a few years before it was abolished. The new estate, a mixture of houses and flats around a scenic water feature, was passing into the hands of Wandsworth council. Nearby it was overlooked by some high-rise council-owned tower blocks. "The people up there, families with kids, are thinking they will be able to move down here when this place is built," said my workmate, a local Battersea boy. "But they've got no chance".

Even before the estate was finished, Wandsworth's Tory council had the estate agents down with "for sale" notices, and a show flat opened. To complete the picture, an old pre-war estate on the other side was given a lick of paint and some flower tubs, and advertised with flats for sale as Battersea Village.

A taxi driver told me he'd been flummoxed by two yuppies he'd picked up asking for "South Chelsea". They explained they meant "over the bridge". Battersea. Oh, well, yuppies need housing too. And to show off its marketing skills, Wandsworth was to add high-rise flats off Falcon Road, previously dubbed hard-to-lets, to its for sale portfolio.

Before that, however, the council redeveloped an area off East Hill, replacing old dwellings with houses for sale. "I'm glad we got rid of those people off East Hill," a Wandsworth council officer told us. "They were scum!" I don't suppose the councillors said anything like that, but this was a senior staff member, ex-military and colonial type, and he wasn't standing for election.

Christopher Chope on the other hand, earned the name "Chopper Chope" for cutting council spending, and an OBE in 1982 for services to local government. Wandsworth won accolades from Sir Alfred Sherman, the ex-Stalinist turned high priest of Thatcherism, who went on to defend Lady Porter. The year after gaining his OBE, Chope was elected to parliament as MP for Southampton, Itchen, and he was promoted by Margaret Thatcher to be Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment. He helped her introduce the poll tax.

Today he is MP for Christchurch, in Hants, and has called for the minimum wage to be abolished, introducing an Employment Opportunities Bill, to introduce more freedom to the jobs market, he says.

The market rules! Even if sometimes it gets a helping hand from government. So if you are one of those low-paid workers who keep London going, and you cannot afford to live where you are, you'll just have to move. Even if it is the government and local council who have helped keep your wages down and housing costs up, determining that the area where you live is no longer for people like you, y'understand?

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

No Respect North of the Border

ANY SEATS GOING? Scottish parliament at Holyrood, during recess.
As empty as Respect's presence or policies in Scotland.

ONE of Britain's newer and smaller political parties held its conference over the weekend. George Galloway's party Respect had to consider motions on the 'Age of Austerity' and response to the government's cuts, on the idea of a 'Robin Hood tax' on wealthy speculators, on Latin America, and on Cuba and the 'Miami 5' - Cubans imprisoned in the United States for spying on right-wing terrorist groups based there.

But it was not one of these resolutions from branches that occasioned most controversy. As announced on the party's website, a few days before the conference, (and over a month after the deadline for motions to be submitted) it was an initiative from the party's leader:

Should George Go North? - Conference debate The Respect Party will this weekend debate whether we should for the first time organise in Scotland. An amendment has been tabled which will open the way for Respect to campaign in elections to the Scottish Parliament. Below George Galloway outlines his arguments in an interview with Scottish Newsnight on BBC. Details of the conference can be found here.

The conference, held at South Camden Community Centre, near St.Pancras in London, adopted the following:

“Conference notes that:

  1. There will be elections to the Scottish Parliament in May 2011
  2. These elections will be conducted under a form of proportional representation in which some MSPs are elected from a list
  3. Respect has not organized in or contested elections in Scotland in the past because of the hegemony of other parties to the left of Labour
  4. This hegemony no longer exists
  5. In the context of unprecedented cuts by the Condem Coalition and disappointment with the Labour and SNP, there is now an opportunity for Respect to contest elections to the Scottish parliament with a realistic prospect of success

Conference therefore believes

  1. National officers should start preparations for Respect to contest elections to the Scottish Parliament
  2. Preparations should include immediately registering Scottish Respect as a description that can be used in Scottish elections and seeking to recruit residents in Scotland to Respect.”
So George is going home?

Already, supporters are referring to his "strong roots" in Glasgow, as an augur of success. But how deep do they go? Born in Dundee, where he first made his name - good or otherwise - as a young Labour organiser, he later became Labour MP for Glasgow, Hillhead, defeating the SDP's Roy Jenkins, and then for Glasgow, Kelvin, before his expulsion from the Labour Party as a result of opposing the Iraq war, calling Tony Blair a liar, and calling on British soldiers to refuse to obey illegal orders.

With that, and his stand up to bullying from the US Senate, Galloway became a hero with many people who neither knew nor cared about past controversies in his career, especially when set against the calamity of Tony Blair. Becoming a founder member of the Respect coalition, he gained as allies a large section of the Socialist Alliance, notably the Socialist Workers Party, who were also able to introduce him from Stop the War Coalition platforms as the voice of the anti-war movement. For them, and for other left-wingers who joined Respect, it was enough that Galloway was no longer in the Labour Party, even though some MPs remaining in it had a longer record of opposing the leadership.

Rather than fighting on in Glasgow, or in Scotland, Galloway came down to take the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency in London from Labour's Oona King, who had supported the war. Once in it was said that he spent more time in the Big Brother house on TV than in the Commons speaking up for his constituents. (But unlike this time, he didn't ask for his party's advice before making that move, though once in, they, and not least the SWP, felt bound to support him there). Then in this year's election, he unsuccessfully contested Poplar and Limehouse. Now he apparently fancies trying his chances back north of the Border.

Not that he has not kept up an interest in Scottish affairs. When the cracks first appeared in the Scottish Socialist Party over Tommy Sheridan's entanglement with the News of the World, it was Galloway who, via the pages of the Scottish Mail on Sunday, urged Sheridan to team up with him on a "dream ticket", and ignore the SSP's "Trotskyite apparatchniks".

At that time, Tommy Sheridan rejected Galloway's call, and the Scottish Socialist Party itself accused Galloway of trying to sow a split, and urged socialists within Respect to dissociate themselves from their leader's hostile activity.

Still, Sheridan did decide to split, forming his Solidarity party with support from the Socialist Workers Party and encouragement from Galloway. There were rumours this alignment might not last, though admittedly the story on which Dave Osler commented here appeared in the Sunday Times, which as sister paper to the News of the World had its own reasons to welcome someone bringing down Sheridan. The story may now only appear to have been premature, though this time last year George Galloway was supporting Sheridan.

When I was in the Socialist Alliance, we looked north of the border to the Scottish Socialist Party' s success in uniting to break out of the left groups ghetto and raise the red flag of socialism in mainstream politics, with its electoral breakthroughs. Giving it a clear run in Scotland, the Socialist Party in England and Wales had launched the Alliance, and were joined by the Socialist Workers Party which gained the leadership of the Alliance, only to ditch it so as to join Galloway in Respect. Marry in haste, repent at leisure as the saying goes.

Now Respect, a party based in England, and not even widely based here either, decides at its conference in London, that it will try to establish itself in Scotland too. Not that we have heard of any spontaneous grass-roots groups forming there, and delegations coming to plead for Respect to come north. Nor that Respect has any great policy to put before the Scottish voters. All we are told is that the fight against the Con Dem cuts offers an "opportunity", and that "other parties to the left of labour" no longer have "hegemony".

If Galloway has been consistent in anything it has been his attacks on the Scottish Socialist Party - that and his hostile references to Trotskyism.

The Socialist Workers Party, widely regarded and claiming to be Trotskyist, managed to keep a thick skin so long as it was in Respect. (SWP in Scotland which was officially under the SSP umbrella opted for Sheridan's breakaway). So, apparently, did Ken Loach, a member of Respect's national council, when George Galloway disparaged his film 'Land and Freedom' as sustaining "slanders" against the Stalinists in Spain. So did Alan Thornett's International Socialist Group/Socialist Resistance, which helped in the move from Socialist Alliance to Respect and participated loyally, even turning its own paper over to be a Respect organ for a time, though it happens to hold the official "Fourth International" franchise in the UK.

When I heard Galloway attacking people who raised gay rights issues in Iran as being warmongers, I wondered how the ISG, traditionally more advanced than other leftists on such issues, could stay silent.
They did show signs of stepping out from Respect to support the Green Party sometimes, and with their comrades in Scotland adhering to the Scottish Socialist Party, they have decided this new move north is too much.

Here, courtesy of Liam McOaid is the text of a leaflet distributed by supporters of Socialist Resistance in Respect.

"We are strongly opposed to the proposition that Respect organise in Scotland, as proposed in amendment E to Motion 1

imageSocialist Resistance has supported Respect since its inception in 2004 and previously supported the Socialist Alliance. We supported George Galloway’s letter which sought to democratize the leadership of Respect and backed the majority in the ensuing split in the organisation in 2007. We put the resources of our newspaper at the disposal of Respect. We understood that George and Salma , given their role in the anti-war movement had a vital contribution to make in building a political alternative to New Labour.

But were a resolution to organise Respect in Scotland to be passed at this Respect Conference this would make our situation in the organisation untenable. We are against such a resolution being adopted on a number of grounds:

1) A controversial change of a long-held policy that Respect does not organise in Scotland should not be introduced a week before the conference and with no discussion at the National Council or in the branches.

2) The only purpose in organising in Scotland would be for Respect to stand candidates in next May’s Scottish Parliament elections and in subsequent parliamentary and local elections. Respect has no policy positions on the specific situation in Scotland, particularly the issue of devolution and self-determination an issue around which there would be several different positions. To go into a Scottish election with no debate on key political issues would be fundamentally wrong.

3) There are already two left parties in Scotland standing in elections and they intend to continue doing so, namely the SSP and Solidarity. The SLP also stands in elections in Scotland. The last thing the Scottish left needs is another left party standing in those same elections and dividing the left vote still further.

4) In Respect there have always been different views on which party to support in Scotland. We support the SSP. If this conference were to adopt a position on organising in Scotland and to fight elections SR members would be in an impossible situation. For a party to have members who advocate voting for a different party would be untenable – both for Respect and for SR".

Some Respect supporters are saying why should their party not stand where it likes, ignoring the fact that it has still to establish itself there or even adopt policies. One person I saw said that Scotland needed a good left-wing voice to fight the cuts, at Westminster -ignoring the fact that what Respect is talking about is fighting for a place at Holyrood. They point to the setbacks suffered by the existing Left, but don't explain why adding to divisions would remedy the matter. It is less like someone proclaiming the need to advance a cause, more like the directors of a chain-store seeing the closure of high street shops as their chance to move in. Mind you, one person was kind enough to suggest that if the SSP - which has already announced candidates - really wants unity, it should apply to join Respect -which has not even arrived yet!

I think that Socialist Resistance has made the right move. And I hope they are not the last.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

A time to remember all who served.

MEMORIAL near Tower Hill, London, to Merchant Seamen.
But after war, many who weren't 'British' were deported.

WHAT a pity for Lord Snooty and his Pals, that while he - alias David Cameron - was lecturing Chinese students on the advantages of freedom, British students were storming and trashing Tory party headquarters. The Metropolitan Police, more usually outnumbering demonstrators, anticipating battles that no one else has thought of, and kicking off with enthusiasm, this time seemed to be taken unaware, with only 225 officers to stem the tide, and took its time finding reinforcements.

Nothing to do with letting the government see what might happen with police cuts.
Senior officers would never do that. Still, with government policies causing rising unemployment, poverty, social conflict and crime, ministers should not expect they can have law and order on the cheap.

The Sun front-paged its outrage that the students' 70,000-strong peaceful demonstration over fees and cuts had been "hijacked" by extremists. As though the Sun and papers like it had ever bothered reporting a demonstration, however big, that stayed peaceful, let alone putting it on the front-page. But the angle of distinguishing between the main, presumably legitimate, demonstration and the Millbank assault, though reasonable, is unusually so from this source.

Perhaps they too sense that the huge student demo portends something bigger is looming. As does the explosion of anger at Millbank.

Meanwhile, David Cameron must have felt safer in China, where he was only criticised for insensitivity in wearing his poppy. Had nobody at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office thought to warn the prime minister that what might be an obligatory badge of respectability for politicians in Britain, affecting to remember those killed or maimed and disabled in the wars that they keep waging, might evoke other memories in Beijing.

In two Opium Wars, from 1839 to 1842 and from 1856 to 1860, superior British weaponry and warships imposed the 'benefits' of free trade and especially that in the poppy product on China, obtaining Hong Kong along with privileges for British merchants.

If that was long ago, and didn't figure in Cameron's Eton history syllabus, here's a more recent piece of history that probably hasn't been taught in schools, and was not included in the current season of official "remembrance".

As decisive as the Battle of Britain was in the outcome of World War II, so was the much longer Battle of the Atlantic, which made sure badly-needed food and fuel reached Britain, despite the preying U-boat wolf packs.

As the Nazi tanks and bombers spread across Europe, in 1939, the Chinese Merchant Seamen's Pool of approximately 20,000 was set up, headquartered in Liverpool. Many Chinese seafarers had settled here, though they faced prejudice (ironically Chinese people were often blamed for brining in opium!), and when jobs at sea were scarce, British seafarers could turn against the Chinese and other Asians. But when there's a war on, extra hands are welcome whatever their colour.

Reinforced from the Empire, hundreds of thousands of Chinese seamen and other workers were recruited, and many hundreds were killed and injured aboard British ships. Some were torpedoed by German submarines, and could find themselves swimming amid burning oil when tankers went down. A seaman called Poon Lim set the world record of 133 days for survival on a wooden raft after his ship was sunk by a U-boat in 1942. ( A similar but shorter experience had persuaded my Uncle Issie to quit sailing Canadian tankers for the relative safety, as he thought, of the army).

Despite facing the same dangers as their fellow crewmen, Chinese seafarers had fewer rights and lower pay than their British counterparts, until a campaign was waged to win a wartime danger bonus for Chinese seamen equal to that which was granted to British seamen.

After the war was over, it was another matter.

The Labour government and the shipping companies colluded to forcibly repatriate thousands of Chinese seamen. The Blue Funnel Line, which had started in the Far East trade, and long had Chinese crews, now fired them all. The police lost no time swooping on the docklands to deport the no longer wanted Chinese. Many had to leave behind wives and children. Only many years later was this topic aired publicly, and in 2005 the BBC broadcast something about it.

"He just went out to the shop, and my mum was waiting for him to come home, and he never came," Linda Davis said of her father.

"When I was a baby, he was sent back to Shanghai. I've had to grow up without a father," said Margaret Taylor. "I try to put it out of my mind because I know I'll never meet him."

The police operation was ordered by the Home Office and supervised by Special Branch. It must have been one of the fastest things the Attlee government accomplished. Within 48 hours the Chinese seafarers were on their way to China, and there was not much chance of cases being reviewed, or appeals. No problem there with Fabian gradualism.As far as records show, there were no reviews of individual cases, or appeals. And though the government was Labour, it is unlikely to have faced any opposition from Britain's Conservatives.

Families were naturally devastated, and the after effects long outlived the action.

"I'm close to tears now, just talking," Margaret Taylor said.

In 2007 , Anna Chen made a series of programmes about the Chinese in Britain for Radio Four, revisiting the street in Liverpool where her father was born, and also seeing the plaque by the Pier Head which now commemorates the Chinese seafarers.

Today the politicians are wearing their poppies, and Searchlight magazine this month announced a campaign by Hope Not Hate, with trade union support, linking the fight against fascism with commemoration of Britain's war dead. Let us remember all those who served and suffered, and remember too that the defeat of Hitler which our parents celebrated, was not yet the end of inhumanity or racism.

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Barbaric injustice, but it's 'business as usual' for antiwar coalition

AN urgent e-mail reached me from a friend whom I only know through Stop the War meetings and demonstrations:

"Tomorrow, Iran could execute Sakineh Ashtiani.
Our global outcry stopped her unjust stoning sentence in July. Now we have 24 hours to save her life.
Iran's allies and key UN powers are our best hope -- they could persuade Iran of the serious political cost of this high-profile killing. Click below to send them an urgent call to action and send this to everyone -- it only takes three minutes and we are her last chance:

Sakineh's adultery case is a tragic sham stacked with human rights violations. First, she was to be stoned to death. But the Iranian government had to revoke the sentence after her children generated a worldwide outcry against the farcical trial -- she could not speak the language used in court, and the alleged incidents of adultery took place after her husband's death.

Then her lawyer was forced into exile, and the prosecution conjured up a new trumped-up charge for which she would be executed -- the murder of her husband. Despite this being double jeopardy, as she is already serving time for alleged complicity in this crime, Sakineh was tortured and paraded on national television to 'confess', and was found guilty. Since then the regime has arrested two German journalists, her lawyer and her son, who has bravely led the international campaign to save his mother. All remain in prison and Sakineh's son and lawyer have been also tortured and have no access to lawyers.

Now Iranian human rights activists state an order has just been issued from Tehran to implement her killing immediately. She is on the list and tomorrow is execution day.

Our persistent campaigning led Iran to drop Sakineh's stoning sentence and captured the attention of leaders in countries with influence on Iran, like Turkey and Brazil. Now let's urgently raise our voices to stop her killing and inhumane treatment and free her, her lawyer, her son and the jailed German journalists. Send a message and share this emergency call with friends and family:

The Islamic regime of Iran plans to execute Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani immediately

Sakineh hanging imminent

Iranian woman could be stoned Wednesday

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani: A life in the Balance (Amnesty International)

A person discussing this case on Facebook said 'let's hope it's not used by the West as another excuse to attack Iran'. I should think that we've heard enough from Iraqi women to put paid to the notion that US bombing and invasion delivers benefits or rights for women.

But in any case it is worth noticing that the petitioners are not addressing their concerns to the US State Department or Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but appealing to governments which are the nearest thing the Iranian regime has to friends. A wise move, I hope. As the Guardian reminds us:

"Back in August, then Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva offered sanctuary in his country to Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for the "crime" of adultery. It was another moral and well-judged piece of diplomacy from the leader, who has just been replaced in presidential election by his protege, Dilma Rousseff".

I hope the campaign works. I was slow to pay attention, and when I did it was because I trust the person who forwarded the communication to me, . Wish I could say the same about the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition. I wasn't able to get along to the Coalition's AGM at the weekend. Seems I did not miss much.

Here's Ben Lewis, of the Communist Party of Great Britain, writing in Weekly Worker:

"Around 300 people attended the very ‘business as usual’ Stop the War Coalition annual conference on October 30. On offer were more or less the same timetable, speakers and motions as in previous years - and, of course, the same narrow, pacifistic politics. So it was that Communist Party of Britain members Andrew Murray and Kate Hudson, Labour lefts Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, Guardian columnist Seamus Milne, Respect’s George Galloway and the Counterfire duo of Lindsey German and John Rees graced the congress with speeches that would be instantly recognised by anybody who has ever attended a STWC meeting or demonstration.

"Unfortunately, something else has not changed: the STWC leadership’s desire to avoid serious political discussion from the floor. Last year a contentious motion on the Tamils was “remitted” to the steering committee (read: buried) instead of being discussed thoroughly and voted on. This time it was the fate of a motion on self-determination for Kashmir, moved by the British South Asia Solidarity Forum (BSASF)".

What a shame it is to belong to a minority that is not flavour of the month, or be one of those small nations that are making a nuisance of themselves, clamouring for the attention of our so-British Left. Get to the back of the queue, we'll discuss your problems later...if at all. The Palestinians were fortunate enough to have their cause adopted by the SWP/ Stop the War leadership because it found out Muslim organisations were planning a march on the same day as the first big Stop the War Coalition demonstration, and it wanted to bring them on board. That is not to say that support is not genuine, or reflecting real feelings as Israel persists in inhumanity towards the Palestinians and contempt for humanity as a whole. But solidarity flawed by opportunism and inconsistency is not up to what the Palestinians deserve.

Back to comrade Ben again:

"We also saw the usual motion from the CPGB-ML calling on Stop the War to fight for the slogan of ‘Victory to the resistance’ in Afghanistan and Iraq. In opposing this, Gareth Jenkins of the Socialist Workers Party said that he was “not opposed to the slogan” - he was actually “fully in favour” - but the coalition needed to think about “breadth” and “not drive people away” by making this slogan a “condition for participation” in the coalition. Finally, he added that we needed a “good debate” on this within the coalition - not that there was one, of course".

I can't help wondering how long the CPGB-ML Maoists would last if they found themselves within reach of the Taliban or some of the armed squads active in Iraq. I dare say Iraqi and Afghan communists could tell them a few things. Preferring the defeat of our own imperialist ruling class is not the same as actually desiring the victory of whoever British soldiers are supposed to be fighting against. As Iraqi oil workers' leader Hassan Juma'a put it a couple of years ago when asked about his attitude to resistance, "I am for resistance that fights the Americans, not that which kills Iraqi people. We too are waging resistance, but we are doing it our own way as workers". Unfortunately, the Maoists and others like them are not so specific about what they mean by "resistance". But then they only want "Victory" to it as a slogan, they are not going to take responsibility for it, any more than the SWP spokesperson who is "fully in favour" - but let's not talk about it now it might put off people. After all, the really big demonstrations by which some of his until-recently comrades got so carried away included not only Muslim organisations, but contingents of Liberal Democrats.

However, as Ben observes:

"Delegates were soon to find out that this ‘broad’ approach is only applied when it suits the STWC leadership and their political prerogatives though. For the third successive year, Hands Off the People of Iran’s attempt to affiliate was rejected. This time, however, the tactics the leadership employed plumbed depths that perhaps none of us thought possible".

"As soon as I entered the hall in the morning, it was clear that something fishy was going on. The delegates’ pack handed out to all present had a little note “concerning motion 8” (ie, the CPGB motion on Hopi). The note falsely alleged that last year’s conference had agreed to oppose Hopi affiliation “on the grounds that Hopi had made public comments hostile to the Stop the War Coalition, including the statement that Hopi aimed to become ‘an alternative political centre’ to the Stop the War Coalition and that Stop the War had ‘rotten politics’.”

If, like me, you're operating with more or less common logic you may wonder why HOPI keeps trying so hard to be accepted and recognised as part of the Stop the War Coalition, if it is intent on setting up an 'alternative centre'. Or why, if it was intent on some devious plot against Stop the War, it should queer its own pitch with "public comments" beforehand. But then the truth is that HOPI has made no such declarations. What has happened is that Andrew Murray, having previously claimed HOPI was against everything the Coalition stood for, failed to substantiate this, falling instead on something which one individual, Mark Fischer, said at an internal Communist Party of Great Britain meeting. Still, Mark Fischer is national secretary of HOPI, can ignore the public statements which HOPI has made, and the fact that it includes a range of people who are not members of the CPGB (apart from mere dupes like me, there's a number of Iranians, but what do they know?!) ...ignore also the strange anomaly that the CPGB is a member of the Coalition. But then witch-hunting an organisation that is already in the Coalition would risk the kind of discussion we don't want, eh, and might worry other punters?

It seems the delegates’ notes reprinted a letter from Andrew Murray in April 2009, asking the Hopi steering committee to address the “issue” of what Mark Fischer reportedly said. I'm on that committee, and though I hadn't even known or particularly cared what he said at some other meeting, I know that we offered more than once to meet Stop the War committee representatives and talk about it. Some of us hoped that once we'd got it out of the way we could even open a discussion about sanctions and the threat of war against Iran.

There was a discussion at this year's conference, with a motion from the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran, calling for “unconditional negotiation” between Iran and the West, which HOPI chair Yassamine Mather argued would come at the expense of the Iranian people themselves. A motion against the recent cyber warfare attack was taken in parts, apparently to avoid linking the anti-war stand with support for the masses' struggle in Iran. Stop the War officer Andrew Burgin, who I'm ashamed to say used to be a member of the same party as me, apparently thinks that for the sake of unity, the Coalition must be careful not to upset "Ahmadinejad supporters". But it is OK to exclude Ahmadinejad opponents from this "broad" coalition.

Andrew Burgin concedes that Ahmadinejad's regime is “brutal and dictatorial”. John Rees said much the same. But then Rees has parted, first from the Iranian Press TV star George Galloway, whom he used to introduce as the leader of the anti-war movement, and since then from the Socialist Workers Party, not that I can see much to choose between them. Galloway was still there, of course, and I don't know whether either of the Merry Andrews who remain upset about what Mark Fischer said on their "rotten politics" have had a word with Gorgeous Georgie about his colourful description of those who criticised the Iranian regime's treatment of gays as being "the pink emd of the khaki MoD". Only that was not in an internal meeting but on TV and repeated from a Stop the War platform.

It was Andrew Burgin who falsely claimed that: “Hopi draws an equals sign between imperialism and the Iranian regime”. Perhaps he should compare notes with Sean Matgamna who accused HOPI of supporting "the mullah's bomb"! Or he could at least pay attention to what HOPI has said and done against imperialist war and sanctions. But then I remember my surprise a few years ago when Andrew Burgin spoke against the African Liberation Solidarity Campaign (ALISC) application for a place on the STWC steering committee, arguing that "people don't know them". "But he knows them!", I exclaimed. Thanks to delegates, ALISC did get a place on the steering committee, but no thanks to Andrew Burgin who probably knew the African comrades as well as I did , but chose for whatever reason, to pretend ignorance rather than vouch for them.

Last year, according to Ben Lewis, it was Andrew Burgin who approached him during the lunch break, suggesting that if he remitted the motion for HOPI recognition to the executive, there was morechance of it being accepted. This time, it was other people who approached Joseph Healey of the Green Left to persuade him to withdraw his speaking slip to support HOPI's motion. Instead he decided to move it himself.

Andrew Burgin claimed that HOPIs politics would "weaken and split" the Coalition.
Not so. It managed to unite the CPB, SWP, the latter's breakaway 'Counterfire' group (led by John Rees and Lindsey German)and the International Socialist Group against it. Maybe Mark Fischer's remark about the STWC leadership's "rotten politics" was a bit strong. But they seem intent on confirming it.

See also:

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

"They came to kill Iraq"

Church turned into charnel house

BAGHDAD Blood still smeared the walls of Our Lady of Salvation Church on Monday. Scraps of flesh remained between the pews. It was the worst massacre of Iraqi Christians since the war began here in 2003. But for survivors, the tragedy went deeper than the toll of the human wreckage: A fusillade of grenades, bullets and suicide vests had unraveled yet another thread of the country's once eclectic fabric.

"We've lost part of our soul now," said Rudy Khalid, a 16-year-old Christian who lived across the street. He shook his head.

"Our destiny," Khalid said, "no one knows what to say of it."

See also:

To judge from some of the people I've heard over the last couple of days, chattering lightly about a suspect package found at an East Midlands airport, whether it mattered, and who might be behind it, they too, supposedly anti-war people concerned about Iraq and the Middle East, don't know what to say about this more serious atrocity.

But 58 people were killed in a Baghdad church on Sunday, and though they might not weigh heavily in the statistics of slaughter and suffering in Iraq, these too were innocent victims, human beings killed for no reason other than being in "the wrong place" - in this case their place of worship, on their sabbath day, in other word murdered for their religion.

The massacre came after the church was seized, and worshippers held hostage, by a group said to be an affiliate of al-Qaida. The point of the attack reportedly was to demand that prisoners held in Iraq and Egypt should be freed. But the people in the Chaldean Catholic church were not government officials or diplomats. They were just Iraqis , members of a minority whose church has been in Iraq many centuries.

Some of the attackers spoke Arabic with non-Iraqi accents, according to surviving witnesses.

"They came to kill Iraq, not Iraqis," said Bassam Sami, who huddled in a room for four hours before security forces managed to free him. "They came to kill the spirit of Iraq. They came to kill the reason to live, every dream that you want to make true."

As with other hostage situations, there are arguments about whether the rescue method made the killing worse. Last month when British aid worker Linda Norgrove was killed in Afghanistan initial statements said she had been killed by her captors, exploding a body belt, but later reports said her death was caused by US forces throwing a grenade into the cave where she was held.

US forces arrived at the scene of the Baghdad church siege some time before the assault was made, but they deny taking part in the operation.

"On the morning after security forces stormed the Syrian Catholic Church, freeing hostages but leaving far more dead and wounded behind, official accounts contradicted one another's and prompted suggestions they might have inadvertently worsened the carnage. A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said security forces made the decision to storm the church after believing the assailants had begun killing the hostages. Had they not, he said, the toll would have been even worse.

"But one official said that 23 of the hostages were killed when two of the gunmen detonated suicide vests as security forces stormed the church. Another confirmed that account but said that many hostages were killed soon after the gunmen, thought to number between six and 15, seized the building.

Before the gunmen entered, Rafael Qutaimi, a priest, had managed to herd many of the other survivors into a backroom, where they barricaded themselves behind two bookshelves. "Peace be upon you, Mary," some prayed. "God in heaven, help us," others muttered. In time, the gunmen learned they were there. Unable to break in, they hurled four grenades inside through a window, killing four and wounding many more, survivors said.

"Sami was lucky. He escaped from the backroom without any visible wounds. But Monday, he listed his friends who had died the day before. Raghda, John, Rita, the Rev. Wassim, Fadi, George, Nabil and Abu Saba.

"A long list," he said simply. He shook his head, growing angry. Several survivors said that many of the casualties occurred when the gunmen entered and began firing randomly at people, church icons and even windows. They described a ferocity on the part of the gunmen, some of them speaking in dialects from other Arab countries, as though the very sight of the church's interior had enraged them.

"They seemed insane," said Ban Abdullah, a 50-year-old survivor.

What is clear is that the only reason these people were targeted was their religion. Elsewhere in Iraq, mosques have been attacked, and people have been killed or driven from their homes because they were Sunni, or Shia, in the wrong place, or for being Palestinians. This is not a mass movement of sectarian hatreds, but the work of groups of armed men, in this case not even Iraqis. Not only did the Western powers unleash sectarian conflict when they "freed" Iraq, they set about doing their best to encourage it. Remember the British squad caught wearing Arab clothes with a carload of explosives near a mosque in Basra?

But as an Iraqi friend of mine observed, neither the Americans nor Brits have suicide bombers. That
part of the 'conspiracy', if there is one, requires someone else doing their work.

We can see why the British government and media might not want to make a big issue of the church attack. Didn't they tell us that they had brought peace to the country? Iraqi refugees are being sent home, from this and other countries, and London has another Iraqi investment conference shortly. Even the Islamophobes here and in the States, looking for excuses for their own prejudice and hatred, won't get too worked up. Not genuinely. After all, like the people killed or suffering in Faluja or Gaza, the people in the Baghdad church were only Arabs.

But the left and the anti-war movement ought to have something to say, to condemn such attacks, which are nothing to do with the Iraqis or anyone else's liberation struggle, but quite the opposite. If all we can do is bleat on about the hypocrisy of our own rulers, true though that is, we in our own way will end up as useless and bad as they are.

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