Saturday, June 25, 2011

Alf Filer: loss of a stalwart comrade

SAD news to start this weekend. Alf Filer, a comrade whom I had known since the 1980s, has been killed in a road traffic incident. His car broke down on the A27 and another vehicle drove into it.

I first met Alf in 1982, in the wake of the Israeli bombing and invasion of Lebanon, and the Sabra and Chatila massacres, when I went to a crowded meeting in Brixton Town Hall, to launch the Labour Committee on Palestine. Despite the strong feelings of outrage over Israeli action and solidarity with the Palestinian people, which had brought people there, it became clear there were differences over the PLO, and the Israeli peace movement, and how to tackle Zionism. Worse, these issues were entangled with the interminable divisions in the British Left, and some complicated background intrigue.

Alf made a passionate appeal for unity, reminding us why we were there, and asking what the Palestinians left in the camps would say if they could see us bickering He was heckled and jeered. He proposed a fellow member of Brent Labour Party, Mike Heiser, for the steering committee, and myself, like Mike a member of the Jewish Socialists' Group. He also proposed Tony Greenstein and Andrew Hornung, who had been among the LCP's founders. But they rejected this conciliatory gesture, and took part in a walk-out.

Within a week the LCP was under attack in the capitalist press, which focused on Lambeth council leader Ted Knight and supposed irregularities, and in Socialist Organiser, then being taken over by Sean Matgamna (now elder thinker of the Alliance for Workers Liberty). Alf had explained to me that the odd upheaval in the LCP was related to a manouvre by Matgamna, evolving a pro-Zionist position, against his erstwhile allies who were fiercely "anti-Zionist". It was all a bit complicated, as myself and Mike Heiser found when denounced by Zionists brandishing Socialist Organiser and demanding we answer allegations it made.

The Labour Committee on Palestine survived, although the Palestinian cause within the Labour movement was weakened by the persistent in-fighting and rivalries to which genuine differences and discussion on the Middle East often seemed subordinate. Our leading figure Ken Livingstone, seldom able to attend meetings because he was busy running the Greater London Council, went on to become Labour MP for Brent East, and Alf Filer was a stalwart of the campaign that put him there.

I met Alf again when, with other JSG members, I was asked to help him steward a Labour Party public meeting in Brondesbury with both Livingstone and his predecessor Reg Freeson speaking. When Alf had stood as a council candidate in Cricklewood, the Zionists ran a campaign against him. During this Brondesbury by-election the Tories produced an eve-of-poll leaflet aimed at Jewish voters, saying "A Vote for Labour is a Vote for the PLO!", attacking Alf by name even though he was not the Labour candidate. The election was actually fought on issues like nursery places and Kilburn baths, and Labour increased its majority by eleven per cent. The Palestinian general delegation in London did not take up my suggestion of a press release saying "11% Swing to PLO in Brondesbury!"

At that meeting, Alf had suggested I join the Brent East Labour Party. I found this piquantly amusing, as I'd been expelled in that very constituency, and ward, in 1964, Reg Freeson having been among my antagonists. But as I pointed out to Alf I was no longer living in the area. When I did return to Brent, some years later, I joined the new Socialist Alliance, and found myself working with former Labour Party secretary Alf Filer, and some of his former fellow officers, for the Alliance's candidate in the 2003 Brent East by-election. Alas though there was a lot of feeling against the Blair government because of the Iraq war, a lot of working class Labour voters simply did not vote, and the anti-war vote chiefly went to the Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather, who managed to keep the constituency and is now in the Con Dem government.

It was during that by-ection that Labour's hard man John Reid misguidedly turned up in Alf's road with two of his minders. We were supping tea at the time, but Alf flew out of the house and gave then Health Secretary Reid a mouthful about things happening in local hospitals. After a short exchange, during which Reid evidently mistook us for supporters of Arthur Scargill's party and blamed Scargill for the death of mining communities ("That was Thatcher," I replied. "But I forgot - you've joined her!), the minister and minders climbed back into the ministerial limo and sped off).

Alas, the Socialist Alliance which had seen such promising starts and recruited such serious people as Alf, was not to last. But he did not just drift off. Alf had his family to cope with. He had teenage offspring starting work. He was in hospital for a bit. But it was a brief interruption. As a college lecturer at Harrow he was among the first people to start campaigning against cuts and closures in the area, spurring us on the Brent Trades Union Council to get involved.

When the EDL said they were coming to Harrow to march against a new mosque, Alf played a leading part in mobilising opposition, encouraging his students and fellow teachers to turn out for the big counter-demonstration, at which he spoke, and making sure the fascists were seen off, having got nowhere near the mosque.

After the Israeli assault on the Gaza freedom flotilla and killings on the Mave Marmara, Alf came down to Whitehall with us to join the angry demonstration, and lost no time in joining those speaking from an improvised platform on top of a London bus. "Who is that speaking?" asked a friend. I could not see, but I recognised the voice. "It's Alf". "For what organisation?" "Just Alf". Never mind, it was no time for ceremony.

I was surprised when I heard recently that Alf had moved to the south coast, and sedate Worthing at that, but sure enough he was not going into quiet retirement. Last week I was at a conference in the TUC's Congress House and a man spoke about reviving the Worthing Trades Union Council. I went over to tell him about my friend Alf Filer, and sure enough, the union activist had already been contacted by Alf who was getting active locally about cuts and the NHS.

We have been deprived of a stalwart comrade.

Alf Filer Socialist Resistance - Coalition of the Resistance - Activists Meeting - 02.09.10

Alf Filer for Jews Against Zionism at Gaza Flotilla massacre rally

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Surgeon who upset PM's photo op sent off on "extended leave"

IT was the day of the Clapham Junction rail crash. Ambulances streaming backward and forward rushing injured to St. George's Hospital in Tooting, medics and nurses and other staff working full out to cope, students and workers queuing to donate blood.

Three trains were involved. Thirty-five people were killed. It could have been more. All because an electrician having to work all the hours he could without a break had been tired and made a mistake wiring signals. And a government looking forward to privatising the railways had not invested in the latest safety systems.

At St.George's, that afternoon, a porter rushing a person on a trolley into an operating theatre found his way obstructed by a bunch of suits and a VIP visitor in their midst. "Do you mind getting out of my way?", exclaimed the exasperated worker, "I'm trying to do my job here!" ( At least that's the gist of it, more or less. South London hospital workers do not swear, not even in extremis).

A surprised Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher might have been unused to being addressed in this way, but she and her entourage stepped aside so the hard-working worker could get on with his job. It may have saved somebody's life.

That was back in December 1988, and though word spread rapidly through the hospital site of what had happened, and been said, I don't suppose it was recorded for posterity. But this is 2011, and when a surgeon at Guy's hospital took exception to Prime Minister Cameron and his sidekick Nick Clegg using his workplace for a photo opportunity, without them or their crew even conforming to dress regulations, it was videoed, went viral on the internet and even made the mainstream media.

This government's plans for the health service might have added to the delight with which the incident was greeted, even if not contributing to the outburst. But it could still have passed away and been forgotten, except there's a sequel.

Our informant, a north London woman who has been having treatment at Guy's, e-mailed friends the other night:.

I don't know if I told you but the orthopaedic surgeon who shouted at Cameron and Clegg last week is MY SURGEON. I went to Guy's to see him today for my follow-up and lo and behold he (Mr Nunn) has been put on sudden "extended leave"

No one knows when he will be back.I was told in a hushed whisper by a staff member (who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals) that Mr Nunn was in deep trouble with the management over being rude to the TWO C's.

Mr Nunn is a brilliant surgeon, reckoned one of the best in the country (if not THE WORLD) and NHS patients are being denied his skills! -- (as for me I feel bereft as well as politically angry).

Now the story has been taken up in today's Independent:

"It was a vintage piece of political theatre when a photocall by David Cameron and Nick Clegg at Guy's Hospital was disrupted last week by a disgruntled surgeon objecting to the poor compliance of the camera crew with hygiene regulations. A clip of the incident went viral on Youtube. But it has ended badly for 57-year-old David Nunn, the orthopaedic surgeon blamed for startling the Prime Minister and his deputy, who has unexpectedly gone on leave, and for his NHS patients who now face longer waits to be seen by Mr Nunn's hard-pressed colleagues.

The hospital yesterday insisted that Mr Nunn's sudden departure was at his own request. But a patient told The Independent a doctor in the ortho-paedic department had used the term "gardening leave" to explain Mr Nunn's absence and claimed he had been "reprimanded" by managers at the trust.

Peter Hodgson, 63, a retired tie manufacturer from Clapham, south London, was seen by Mr Nunn for a hip replacement on the morning of the Prime Minister's visit on 14 June. He returned for a follow-up appointment on Tuesday.
"Mr Nunn was not there and we were told there was a one-and-a-half hour delay. I asked the registrar where he was and he said Mr Nunn was on gardening leave and had been reprimanded for what he did last week. So the very best knee and hip man in London has been suspended, in effect, for telling the people with the Prime Minister to roll up their sleeves and remove their ties because they were not hygienic. And now the rest of the NHS is suffering."

Guy's and St Thomas' Trust, said that Mr Nunn was "currently on leave" and his patients would be managed by colleagues during his absence. It added: "If we feel any patients would benefit from treatment at another NHS Trust we will refer them to the appropriate consultant."

The sensitivity of the issue was underlined by a leaked memo from the trust, circulated to staff, which said Mr Nunn had "requested leave" and it would be "inappropriate to comment further". It added: "At this stage we do not know when Mr Nunn will return to the Trust. Staff should be aware that media may phone without identifying themselves as media. It is imperative staff not answer any questions or provide information or personal opinions. If unsure, always decline to comment and terminate the phone call."

Cameron and Clegg had chosen St Thomas', opposite the House of Commons, for a photocall to launch their changes to plans for the NHS. They were chatting to a patient when Mr Nunn came in. He said: "Excuse me, I'm the senior orthopaedic surgeon in this department. Why is it that we're all told to walk around like this and these people aren't?" He then flashed his arms in the direction of the camera crew. Mr Cameron looked perplexed and aides quickly tried to smooth things over, ushering Mr Nunn out into the corridor where he could be heard shouting, "I still mean it".

The ward sister had exempted journalists and camera crew from observing the hygiene rules about rolling up their sleeves and removing ties because they were not coming into contact with patients. Cameron and Clegg had followed the drill because they were. The trust said at the time that Mr Nunn's view "was not shared by the wider team".

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Theft of the Century " three times bigger than reported"

AS Afghans go hungry and Iraqis protest at failure to restore essential services in their oil-rich but war-shattered country, it is reported that billions of dollars supposedly poured in for aid and reconstruction have disappeared. Not only are huge sums unaccounted for, but they may be even bigger than first thought.

American auditors acknowledged some years ago that they had lost track of vast sums supposedly earmarked for reconstruction in Iraq. It was reported a week ago that they believed some $6.6 billion (£4 billion), all delivered in cash, could not be accounted for. It was not clear how much was pocketed by US contractors or Iraqis. But Stuart Bowen of the monitoring office said it could be the "largest theft of funds in national history".

Now the speaker of the Iraqi parliament Osama al-Nujaifi has said the money unaccounted for by the US is $18.7bn - three times more than the reported $6.6bn. Just before leaving on a flight to Washington, al Nujaifi said he had received a report this week based on information from US and Iraqi auditors that the amount of money withdrawn from a fund for Iraqi oil proceeds but unaccounted for was much more than the $6.6 billion reported.

"There is a lot of money missing during the first American administration of Iraqi money in the first year of occupation, " the Iraqi parliamentarian told al Jazeera. "Iraq's development fund has lost around $18bn of Iraqi money in these operations - their location is unknown. Also missing are the documents of expenditure. "I think it will be discussed soon. There should be an answer to where has Iraqi money gone."

The Bush administration flew in a total of $20bn in cash into the country in 2004. According to a Guardian report, "Roughly 20 cash-carrying flights took off for Iraq from the US in the months before May 2004 delivering more than $12bn. Once on Iraqi soil, the haul was stored in a former Saddam Hussein palace and in US military camps. Thereafter it was usually stuffed into sacks, piled into the backs of open pick-up trucks before being distributed to beneficiaries. "

This was money that had come from Iraqi oil sales, surplus funds from the UN oil-for-food programme and seized Iraqi assets. Officials in Iraq were supposed to give out the money to Iraqi ministries and US contractors, intended for the reconstruction of the country.

'No trace'

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Iraqi officials argue that the US government was supposed to safeguard the stash under a 2004 legal agreement it signed with Iraq, hence making Washington responsible for the cash that has disappeared.

The US has audited the money three times, but has still not been able to say exactly where it went. Pentagon officials have contended for the last six years that they could account for the money if given enough time to track down the records.

See also:


BILLIONS of pounds earmarked for rebuilding Afghanistan have been wasted on overpaid consultants and corporate profits, a damning report claims.

It says £5 billion of promised funds has never materialised - while £3 billion of the £7.5 billion actually spent has found its way back to wealthy donor countries rather than helping the Afghan economy.

This has happened through a mix of "high levels of corruption", bumper company profits of up to 50 per cent and the vast earnings potential of foreign consultants, who can take home up to £250,000 a year as a result of hardship payments and "danger money".

Some £5 billion of promised aid is still with foreign governments, apparently because of delays in reconstruction on the ground, corruption and the inability of the Afghan government to keep tabs on the vast sums of cash.

Five American companies are named as having scooped the lion's share of their country's cash - with huge sums eaten up by an opaque web of sub-contractors.

The consultants' six-figure salaries are in shocking contrast to the millions of Afghans who live in extreme poverty. About half of the 27 million population are thought to live on 50p a day, and one in five children dies before his or her fifth birthday.

Last night, opposition politicians in Britain said the discrepancy between the aid pledged and delivered was "staggering", and there was a "real danger" of failing Afghanistan's desperately poor population.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

The spirit of Brian Haw

Brian HawAlign Left

IT must have been early on, before the really big anti-war demonstrations in Britain, because there was only a handful of us on Whitehall protesting for the people of Iraq, and I don't remember the names of the speakers, apart from Iraqi writer Haifa Zangana, perhaps MP Jeremy Corbyn, and a thin and not well-clad looking person who made an impression on me that I'd not expected. This was my first encounter with Brian Haw, the peace protester who became an internationally-known figure with his ten-year long vigil in Parliament Square.

It was an Easter Sunday afternoon, I think, and a cold one. The man who addressed us gave a veritable sermon, though choosing as his parable the story of the Good Samaritan, but with a twist. Talking of the "scribes and pharisees" who walked by on the other side, he said "I see them every day, these scribes and pharisees who walk by", and made clear he was not just talking about MPs who resented his presence, but clergy from Westminster Abbey who hurried past eyes averted, but complained about his protest spoiling their view.

Brian Haw challenged the politicians and their laws, defying the efforts of Westminster city council and the police to have him evicted, for ten years, winning respect and admiration, but at the weekend he finally lost a battle. This notice appeared on Brian's website:

Saturday 18th June 2011

Dear friends and supporters,

It is with deepest regret that I inform you that our father, Brian, passed away this morning.

As you know he was battling lung cancer, and was having treatment in Germany.

He left us in his sleep and in no pain, after a long, hard fight.

With your help we have been able to share months more than we should have had with him, and for that we are eternally grateful.

We would like to have this time to be together as a family, to share in the love he gave us, and respectfully ask that you allow us this time undisturbed.

We will make further arrangements known to you all in due course.

Once again thank-you for your kindness and continued support,

Kind regards,

Brian's family.

I have been reading up about Brian's background and history, and can see where he and his views were coming from. He was one of five children, born in 1949, in Woodford Green, Redbridge, and growing up in Barking and Whitstable. His father, who worked in a betting office, had been among the first British soldiers to enter Bergen-Belsen. He committed suicide by gassing himself, when Brian was just 13.

Apprenticed to a boat-builder, then serving in the Merchant Navy as a deckhand, Brian became a keen evangelical Christian. He visited Northern Ireland, and Cambodia, and then worked with youngsters in Redditch, in the West Midlands.

He came down to London and started camping in Parliament Square, on June 2, 2001, to protest at British foreign policy and wars, and in particular the effect of US-led sanctions on children in Iraq. The head of the UN's "food for oil" programme, Denis Halliday, had resigned from his post in in protest stating that "4000 to 5000 children are dying unnecessarily every month due to the impact of sanctions because of the breakdown of water and sanitation, inadequate diet and the bad internal health situation" (Independent, 15/10/99).

With limited means but dedicated volunteers, Voices in the Wilderness sent people to Iraq to report back, and ran sanctions-busting with medical supplies. George Galloway's Mariam Appeal, taking its name from a young Iraqi girl flown to London for treatment for leukemia, provided more graphic images and information. But politicians and people in authority here and in the United States seemed more interested in investigating the charities. than hearing about the effect of the policies they supported. Brian's protest brought them face to face with it.

There was some support, from Tony Benn and others, and some artists provided works for the demonstration. Another reproduced it poster by poster in the Tate.

Westminster City Council attempted to prosecute Brian for causing an obstruction, in 2002, but failed because his banners did not impede movement. It has another bid due to go to court this year. MPs objected to the use of a megaphone, and a House of Commons committee recommended banning permanent protests in Parliament Square, in case they provided a cover for terrorists(!). The government passed its Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, under which the Met tried to prosecute some friends of mine over a small and entirely peaceful demonstration in Whitehall. But Brian was able to argue that his protest and residence in Parliament Square had begun before the Act, and therefore the law could not apply to him.

The authorities persisted, and in the early hours of 23 May 2006, 78 police arrived and removed all but one of Brian's placards citing continual breached conditions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 as their reason for doing so. Sir Ian Blair, head of the Met at the time, later admitted the operation had cost £27,000 . The actions of the police were criticised by members of the Metropolitan Police Authority at its monthly meeting on 25 May 2006. When Brian appeared at Bow Street Magistrates' Court on 30 May, refusing to enter a plea, the court entered a not guilty plea on his behalf, and he was bailed to return to court on 11 July 2006.

On 22 January 2007 Haw was acquitted on the grounds that the conditions he was accused of breaching were not sufficiently clear, and that they should have been imposed by a police officer of higher rank. District Judge Purdy ruled: "I find the conditions, drafted as they are, lack clarity and are not workable in their current form."

On 12 January, 2008, Brian Haw was at a protest against the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, outside Downing Street. Seven people were arrested, including Brian, who said "I was filming the students lying down in the road when one officer stepped forward, as I was walking back, and pushed the camera with his hand. It struck my face." He accused the police of using "violent and humiliating force".

On 25 May 2010 the day of the State Opening of Parliament for the new Con-Dem coalition, Brian Haw was arrested at 8:30am.

But it seems his cigarettes, which he stuck to as doggedly as his protests, succeeded where the powers that be could not. In September he was diagnosed with lung cancer and in January went to Germany for treatment.

Tributes to Brian Haw will be flowing from peace campaigners, civil rights activists and the labour movement. I didn't share his religious convictions or pacifism, and nor could I campaign as he did with such faith in the efficacy of individual protest. To be honest, I'd have neither the stamina nor the bottle to campaign the way Brian did!

But hearing of Brian Haw's death on the same day that Labour's Ed Balls urges public sector trade unionists not to strike in defence of their pensions, I am not just saddened. I am wishing we had a few more like Brian Haws and a lot more of their defiant spirit to lead our movement.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

By George, he'd got it!

KV, or "Fit for Active Service" by George Grosz, 1917

I'VE been meaning to use this classic cartoon by German artist George Grosz since hearing friends talking about the way people are being assessed as fit for work, and taken off disability benefit, by ATOS, the company contracted by the government for this purpose. The other day it was a guy who can barely walk unaided, earlier I heard from a social worker in the Midlands whose client has alzheimers and can hardly recognise his wife. The police have had to bring him home on three occasions.

The assessor ticking the boxes put down "slight memory problems".

Like the German army physician in Grosz's picture finding the skeleton "KV" - A1 fit for duty.

George Grosz had been through the German military in World War I, and along with the irreverence of Dada artists his no-nonsense eye sharply dissected the society around him. He.was arrested during the Spartakus uprising in January 1919, but escaped using fake identification documents, and joined the newly formed Communist Party of Germany (KPD). . In 1921 Grosz was accused of insulting the army, which resulted in a 300 German Mark fine and the destruction of the collection Gott mit uns ("God with us"), a satire on German society. Grosz left the KPD in 1922 after having spent five months in Russia and meeting Lenin and Trotsky. Remaining a man of the Left, he was fortunate enough to get a teaching invitation in the New York in 1932, and though returning briefly to Germany, got out with his family in January 1933, as the Nazis came into power.

A Facebook group set up called "After Atos" says:
"Many facts and stories appear everyday about the Atos assessment and whether it is helping people back to work and off benefits or whether it is causing undue distress and harm to disabled people and people with long term disabilities and even terminal illness.

"The fact is, that no one know the facts. Despite numerous attempts by both professionals, concerned MPs and various members of the public and charitable and care support bodies no one in government or at Atos is willing to give the facts about how many and what type of disabilities are being assessed by Atos, what type of disabilities are being assessed as fit for work. how many of these assessed for work have gross, complex, permanent and even terminal illnesses or what effects these assessments and their results are having on people's lives, their carers and their families. No one has got or been able to supply the most important facts. The facts of whether it is doing harm or doing good".

After Atos Assessment has devised an on-line survey for those who have gone through the Atos ESA Medical Assessment to complete. As it says:
"Since 2008 Atos has assessed 100,000s disabled people to see if they are fit for work and get them off benefits. From April 2011 Atos seeks to assess over 10,000 disabled people per week. No one knows what happened to the 100,000s disabled who were assessed before and no one will know what happens to the disabled who will be assessed in future unless those assessed tell it for themselves. After Atos Assessment form provides that very opportunity. Thank you for your contribution".

Some more definite, and damning, information is being aired. About people who committed suicide after being assessed. (A recent survey by Mind revealed that 51% of people with mental health conditions were left with suicidal thoughts at the prospect of a work capability assessment by Atos). About other people who though seriously ill were wrongly found fit, and then died before entering any work, but were allegedly chased and harassed right to the end.

There is even a group now called "Nurses Against Atos". Maybe doctors who don't want to fit the George Grosz picture will also form up.

Around 60 disabled people, supporters and benefit claimants protested on Tuesday outside a recruitment event held by the Atos Origin company. The firm is recruiting healthcare workers as Disability Assessors to carry out the computer based ‘health’ assessments which have seen thousands of disabled and sick people losing benefit entitlements. Groups including Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), London Coalition Against Poverty, Mental Health Resistance Network and Winvisible Network were all present at the event. As the evening wore on someone turned up with a megaphone, and angry chants of ‘Atos Kills’ rang out across Triton Square.

Next Wednesday there is to be a demonstration in Manchester. I'm sorry I missed the London protest, and wish the Manchester comrades every success.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Guess which government won't support deal to help domestics...

THEY can be flown around the globe with their employer, and then find themselves
unable to leave the house. For some it may be an escape from grinding poverty and war zones, to relative comfort and security, at the price of working long hours. But at the other extreme people can find themselves not only exploited as cheap labour but treated as the employer's property, in other words, slaves.

Not expensive property to be looked after, let alone respected as human belongs. There was the woman who, after going hungry and enduring beatings, waited till she was thin enough to wriggle out of a dog flap and escape. And there are those who fear jumping from the frying pan to the fire, if they have to throw themselves on the mercy of immigration laws.

"If you take a walk on a Sunday in Hyde Park, you will spot many a family with a domestic worker in tow, someone of a Filipino or south Asian background, poorly dressed and lagging behind with a sense of deference. She may be a domestic worker on a work visa with satisfactory working conditions. But we know the majority of such workers are exploited and often paid less than the minimum wage, with the boundaries between slavery and employment becoming very blurred indeed".

That's Rahila Gupta, introducing her book Enslaved, The New British Slavery, (2007), though the cases she documents are not confined to female domestics. Rahila reaches the conclusion that immigration controls serve to keep labour enchained.

Meantime, from the Far East, where domestic servants are more common, to Britain, where we used to think being in service was a thing of the past, these exploited workers have asserted their dignity and rights by sometimes organising, like other workers, in trade unions. No easy thing when it may be difficult to get away and meet others - some use an excuse and cover like going to church. They also need their rights recognised by law, and sympathetic legislation.
It's an international issue.

And guess which government is digging in its heels against action to help? Yeah, that's right.

Here's Louise Nousratpour reporting in today's Morning Star:

THE government refused today to sign an international labour treaty aimed at improving protection for exploited domestic workers. A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovations and Skills (BIS) revealed that Britain will be abstaining from a vote on whether to adopt the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) new Domestic Worker Convention.

Representatives from national governments have been meeting in Geneva to discuss the details of the guidelines, with a final vote taking place today. .But the department spokesman insisted that Britain already provided "comprehensive protections to domestic workers and we do not consider it appropriate or practical to extend criminal health and safety law, including inspections, to private households employing domestic workers.

"However, we do strongly support the principles the ILO treaty enshrines."

Campaigners and unions condemned the government's "spineless" stance on the issue and dismissed its claim that domestic workers were already protected by law.They pointed to mounting evidence that many were being ill treated and denied the minimum wage, with employers facing no retribution.

In more extreme cases, domestic workers suffered physical and sexual abuse and were treated like slaves without pay or holidays. Anti-Slavery International spokeswoman Audrey Guichon said that Britain's decision not to ratify the treaty meant that "it does not think domestic workers are 'real' workers, deserving of the same protections as everyone else.

"The vast majority of countries are expected to vote in favour of this convention and the UK will be standing alone in not supporting what would be an internationally accepted minimum standard of protection of domestic workers' rights."

Unite union assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: "Domestic workers are excluded from basic working rights and face the real threat of abuse such as insults, threats, alongside physical and even sexual abuse."This convention is a real step forward for justice for these domestic workers."

Ms Holland demanded that Britan supports the treaty.She also called on ministers to "lift the threat to the overseas domestic worker visa, which ended modern day slavery in this country and offers essential protections but is now poised to go."

Britain bails out of domestic worker treaty

See also:

For more on migrant domestic workers and their efforts to organise see:

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Teachers who don't toe their government's line on troubled history

GOVERNMENTS like to control what school students are taught about, as well as what they are taught about it. This is particularly obvious when politicians start talking about history, using expressions like "our national heritage", and demanding that teachers emphasise the "positive" virtues of the British Empire, for instance.

If history is taught properly it should not be rote-learning an indigestible mass of meaningless "facts", such as kings and queens in order, which is the kind of learning some of our ministers (and maybe tame 'educators') approve; but should bring a realisation that there is more than one side to a story, and encourage the young to enquire, to seek the truth, and to think for themselves logically.

One answer to the question "why do we need to learn all this stuff?" is that THEY (whoever they happen to be, running a particular country) don't want you to learn about it! And sometimes what everyone should know, because we're still living with the effects, is what they don't want you to know.

In Israel an officially approved history textbook published not long ago leaves out the 1982 Lebanon war; and though schools must teach about the Holocaust of course, teachers are not supposed to talk about the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe, by which so many of the country's population were made into "Arab refugees" when the state was set up.

Nevertheless, as Asaf Shtul-Trauring reports in Ha'aretz , some teachers think they have a duty to their students, not to keep the truth from them, rather than to the government to keep to its line.

"When Shira (not her real name ), a history teacher at a junior high school in the center of the country, mentioned "nakba" in a class three years ago, none of her students had any idea what it referred to. Today, she says, the word just surfaces naturally among the students. They know about it and talk about it. According to her, the reason is clear - Amendment 40 to the Budget Foundations Law, more commonly known as the 'Nakba Law'.

"'Shira' is one of around 100 teachers and educators who teach the Nakba ('catastrophe' - the Palestinians' term for the loss of their land to Israel in 1948 ) to their students with the help of a unique study kit called 'How do you say Nakba in Hebrew?' The kit was developed by Zochrot, a small Tel Aviv-based organization seeking to raise public awareness of the Palestinian Nakba, especially among Jews in Israel.

"Zochrot is distributing the kit to teachers at a time when the Nakba is recurring in headlines as a subject that is not to be touched - especially not in schools. But over the last two years Zochrot has distributed 300 copies of the study kit. It covers pre- and post-1948 Palestinian settlements; Israeli and Palestinian recollections of the conquest and destruction of villages; and the refugees' flight and their expulsion. The kit did not receive the ministry's approval and most of the teachers using it conceal their source.

"Eitan Bronstein, the founder of Zochrot, stresses that the kit's goal is not to present the Palestinian narrative. 'For me, the Nakba is part of our history,' he says, 'just as it is part of Palestinian history.'

"'Dafna,' a history and citizenship teacher in northern Israel, uses a section of the kit that presents three competing theories on events in the village of Ein Azael (along the eastern slopes of the Carmel ). Students are asked to present the different versions of events and discuss them.

"In the Palestinian narrative, the emphasis is on 'Zionist gangs' that bombed the triangle of villages Aghzam, Jaba and Ein Azael, in violation of the cease-fire. On the other side, there is a passage from the book The War of Independence, printed by the IDF, whereby the villages were attacked after their residents fired on the Tel Aviv-Haifa road, thereby effectively blocking it.

"'This opened up our eyes, because the contradictions between the different versions were really crazy. Nowhere [before] did I hear the Palestinian narrative,' says Michal, an 11th-grade student in Dafna's class. She adds: 'It was very interesting to see not just the Israel side, and to go beyond the point of view that we learn in Israel - that we are heroes and they are always trying to oppress us.'

"Both Dafna and Shira were concerned about being interviewed using their full names, for fear of sanctions from the Education Ministry. The ministry said: 'Teachers are not permitted to teach content, in any subject, that was not approved by the relevant professionals at the Education Ministry.'"

That a measure restricting civil rights and attempting to curb what is taught by teachers was brought in as an amendment to a budgeting law will sound amusingly familiar to British teachers and anyone else who remembers how Margaret Thatcher's notorious Clause 28, forbidding the "promotion" of homosexuality in schools, was smuggled in tacked on to the end of a local government finance bill!

The teachers in Israel who are refusing to toe the line and putting their duty to teach their students honestly first, deserve a salute. Their defiance should also be an example to educators everywhere.

For a report on the Nakba law see:

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Sunday, June 05, 2011

Tel Aviv march says "Yes to a Palestinian state"

TWO weeks after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rebuffed President Barack Obama's call for peace, and received 29 standing ovations from the US Congress in Washington, thousands of people have marched through Tel Aviv to deliver a very different message.

Saturday night's demonstration was held under the banner "Israel says yes to a Palestinian state.
"Organisers called on Netanyahu to recognise that establishment of a state by Palestinians would serve vital Israeli interests, the Israeli news service YNet reports. It estimates that some 20,000 people attended the rally, while "dozens of rightists staged a counter-protest nearby".

Palestinian leaders are planning to declare a state in September and seek international recognition.

YNet refers to the demonstrators as "Leftist", but notes that besides groups like Gush Shalom and Hadash (alliance led by the Communist Party) there were contingents from Peace Now, Meretz, the Labour Party, "and even representatives from Kadima" (the party founded by Ariel Sharon, it has Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni bidding for leadership) .

Demonstrators carried signs reading "Yes to peace" and "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies." Echoing Obama's call for a return to the 1967 borders, the Workers Party had a banner saying "Yes to '67, Direct Line to Peace!" Some people had giant posters featuring the image of Obama and his famous slogan "Yes, we can."

Yenina Altman, 80, came to attend the march all the way from Haifa. "It’s important to me to voice the desire to see the Palestinians independent," she told Ynet. "I came from Poland after my entire family perished, I was in a ghetto and a concentration camp. I would like to have my country show tolerance and respect for the Palestinians and give them the right for an independent state just as we desired."

Makhoul Rwada from Kafr Yasif, a Palestinian village in western Galilee, said, "We hope that such acts of protest will grow stronger and cause a change which will see an independent Palestinian state along 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as capital."

Knesset member Daniel Ben Simon thanked former Mossad chief Meir Dagan for his warning that Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak (former Labour Party leader) were " perhaps paving the way to another war. "

Knesset Member Dov Henin from Hadash stated "this is the most fatal battle in the peace camp's history – there is an alternative to a terrible war. A peace of two-states and two capitals in Jerusalem is not only vital. It’s also possible."

MK Ahmad Tibi stated that the "longest occupation in modern history must end and whoever refuses to negotiate 1967 will have to negotiate 1948 and one state instead of two neighbouring states." Referring to the settlement block he said: "Blocks are metastases and both are cancerous tumors that must be removed for a possible peace and a two-state solution.",7340,L-4078157,00.html
with thanks to Assaf Adiv for additional information.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

Osanloo is Out! Now Free the Rest!

IRANIAN busworkers' leader Mansour Osanloo has been freed from jail, almost four years after his arrest and imprisonment. Mansour, a bus driver and president of the Vahed Syndicate representing bus drivers in Tehran, had been the target of violence while in prison and suffered ill health. He was taken back to prison on May 21 after having been in hospital because of his heart condition.

His release now is conditional of his "good behaviour" and payment of a bond.

The Iranian trade unionist's freedom had been demanded by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), and by my own union Unite, which made him an honorary member.

"This is a great day for Mansour and his family – and for his fellow Vahed union members and those of us in the international trade union movement who are honoured to call him a friend, " said ITF general secretary David Cockroft. "It’s doubly welcome given the deterioration in his health during his time behind bars. He is free because trade unionists worldwide demanded justice.”

He continued: “That bail has been set falls short of the full pardon we all wanted, and which the Iranian government promised, but for now we can just take a moment to savour his richly deserved return to his family.”

“But – and sadly even on a day as good as this one there has to be a but – there are other innocents in jail in Iran for the same ‘crime’ of wanting to join a trade union. They include Mansour’s colleagues, Reza Shahabi and Ebrahim Madadi. For all of them, and us, the fight is not over. As much as we welcome the Iranian government’s move and its finally listening to reason, we know we must renew our insistence that those other prisoners are set free and the threat of re-arrest lifted from Mansour, and then commit the ITF, our member unions and friends in the trade union and human rights movements to campaigning on their behalf.”

The Vahed Syndicate said they would like to thank everyone who has fought for Brother Osanloo's release. From its beginnings in 2005 the ITF-affiliated union was subjected to heavy repression, including repeated attacks and arrests. Mansour Osanloo was heavily targeted. As well as being beaten up and having his tongue slit he was imprisoned in 2005 and 2006. Then in 2007, just one month after visiting the London head office of the ITF and meeting trade unionists in Brussels, he was arrested. Three months later he was sentenced to five years imprisonment on charges of ‘acting against national security’ and ‘propaganda against the state’; in 2010 another year was added to his sentence. In reality his only offence was to help found a genuinely democratic trade union.

For more details, including a film, press releases and history, please see

Osanloo's release was also welcomed by Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI), which has started a bulletin on workers' struggles in Iran.

HOPI is campaigning for the release of trade unionists, student activists and other political prisoners, including cultural figures like film-maker Jafar Panahi.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Don't let them get away with blackmail and bullying!

NEGEV Bedouin demonstrate in Jerusalem against repeated demolition of their village by Israeli forces. "KKL Steals Bedouin Land". K(eren) K(ayemet) Le(Yisrael) , Everlasting Fund for Israel, is the Hebrew name for the JNF, which has earmarked the villagers' lands for a settlement and forest. (photo Anne Paq /ActiveStills)

FIRST, two items of good news. One, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron has quietly dropped out of his association with the Jewish National Fund (JNF). That's the Zionist "charity" which acquires and develops land in Israel and whose rules preclude Arabs from renting or working on it. Founded long before the State of Israel was established, it was left intact by successive Israeli governments not only for its fundraising abilities abroad but because the state could claim not to discriminate among citizens, knowing that a supposedly non-state institution was doing it. Its Hebrew name is Keren Kayemet LeYisrael - Everlasting Fund for Israel.

Just why Cameron has dropped out has not been made clear. Perhaps he feels he is in enough trouble. Some of that involves foreign aid and charities, Or he does not want any embarrassment to snare Britain's game in the Middle East. Gordon Brown and Tony Blair remain JNF patrons, but anti-Zionist campaigners are hoping Ed Milliband may now give it a miss. And though Cameron's aides only mention pressures of time, Zionists are worried at this straw in the wind.

The second bit of news is that despite heavy lobbying, a bit of bullying (including vague legal threats), emotionalism and Academics for Israel founder Ronnie Fraser performing like Violet Elizabeth Bott (saying he felt physically "sick". She said it better with a lithp), the Universities and Colleges Union(UCU) has refused to accept the European Union commission's "working definition" on antisemitism.

You can read about this in Mark Elf's blog:

The so-called "definition", entailing acceptance that Zionism is the legitimate expression of "self-determination" for Jews, would leave many a notorious antisemite free to say they only wanted Jews to "go to their own country", as Mosleyites could be heard saying after 1948, while many a Jewish figure would find themselves classified as "antisemitic". Tony Lerman, former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research says it is worse than useless, preventing reasonable criticism of Israel or Zionism, while blinding people to really dangerous antisemitism. Lerman was consulted by the commission, but says they ignored everything he said, while listening to American Jewish organisations instead. He sees the same "definition" influencing the Jewish Chronicle editor's cover for a right-wing Polish politician and the deliberations of some of our MPs.

The UCU rejection of this formula also puts the college lecturers' union ahead of the leadership in the National Union of Students.

But sadly, not all our academic institutions share either the logic showed by UCU members at their conference, or their courage. The other day we heard how a campaign had been whipped up against West Dunbartonshire council over its boycott policy, by inventing a fictitious council ban on books by Israeli authors. To hear some of the hysterical comments this was heading towards book-burnings across Scotland.

Only it was all bollocks.

Now from the book ban that wasn't, to a lecture ban that is:

"For the past 3 years the Medical School at the University of Liverpool has hosted a successful 4 week elective 'Healthy Inclusion' course that looks at issues such as homelessness, refugees and asylum seekers. It is one of the only courses of its kind in the UK and has been nationally acclaimed by academics and those in the medical profession.

On the 24th January 2011 a case study lecture on Palestine was held but before the lecture took place it was disrupted by a student. She was distraught at the subject matter and then missed most of the lecture. The lecture continued and received positive feedback from the attending students.

A complaint by another student at the University of Liverpool was made to the Medical School. It was never disclosed whether or not this was a formal complaint.

The University of Liverpool suspended the 'Healthy Inclusion' course for medical students on the 11th April 2011 without providing any reasons to students and staff.
On the 6th May 2011 the Jewish Chronicle online released a statement claiming the course had been suspended due to the distribution of literature that defended suicide bombing and that it was pending investigation; there has been no indication of this investigation and our own investigation has shown that:

- No pamphlet supporting suicide bombing was distributed, as was the basis of the 'investigation'

-The student who made the complaint was not enrolled on the course

-The course is highly acclaimed and a popular module choice for students and provides a great service in the community, supporting a local women's group

-The basis for suspending the course have not been made available for even those who teach on the module

We Believe that:

- No course should be closed down on the basis of one complaint that came from a student who was not enrolled on the course

-This module is an important subject to be made available to medical students and its popular reputation is testament to its important subject matter

We have an obligation to protect important subjects like this from suspension based on claims with no validation.

Moreover, we expect our universities to deal with these issues in a professional manner, and not to keep staff and students in the dark."

This is from an invitation passed on to me on Facebook by Mike Cushman, an academic and member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, who was one of the first in with aid for education in Gaza. So, respect.

All the same my immediate reaction tended towards disbelief. Surely no one would be able to get a course, and one with such positive aims, stopped just like that? And surely they would not try? But then the mention of interest for medical students reminded me of something I commented upon two years ago:

Lectures cancelled after Zionist campaign
report by Robyn Rosen, Jewish Chronicle October 29,

Two lectures by Israeli-based charity Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) were cancelled after a Zionist organisation told hospitals holding the talks that they were “anti-Israel”.

Miri Weingarten from PHR-I was due to give a lecture, entitled The Right to Health in a Conflict Zone, to three hospitals in Manchester, Liverpool and Bury last week. But just hours before the lecture, the Manchester Royal Infirmary and Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool cancelled the event.

Karen Solomon, director of the Zionist Central Council in Manchester, sent more than 200 emails to members urging them to contact the hospitals. Ms Solomon said that the original plan was to send members to the meeting to dispute some of the topics.'

So Alder Hey and Manchester Royal Infirmary cancelled, for what the latter's spokesperson called "security reasons", though Miri spoke to an appreciative audience in Bury without any problems.

This kind of bullying only works if people surrender their own right to reason and prefer not to know anything and allow themselves to be bullied. Where does it stop? Last week a handful of women shop assistants in Liverpool's left-wing News from Nowhere bookshop had to face harassment and intimidation from a gang of lumpen thugs from the English Defence League. They are not, so far as I know, planning to close down their bookshop. Let's tell our academic institutions they should not be bowing to pressure from equally prejudiced right-wing Zionists, even if the latter are cleverer about the way they try to do their bullying.

For a petition on this subject, see:

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