Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sparks Flying -and they've got reason to JIB!

AS teachers, civil servants and 0thers get ready for further action over jobs and pensions, it looks like the coming Autumn of Discontent will not be confined to the public sector. A new battlefield is coming up, and it will be taken by some of those old bogeymen whom the Tory press used to denounce for ruining their game back when I was a lad.

The electricians, whose reputation for militancy might have seemed laid to rest when their right-wing led union went over to the other side at Wapping, are back as a fighting force. Some 500 or more sparks and fitters, together with other construction trade unionists, crowded into London's Conway Hall last week for fighting talk about jobs and wages and the blacklist. There were cheers for calls for action.

Credit for this upsurge must go to the employers, and above all the eight major contractors who have apparently seen the economic crisis and a sympathetic Tory government as their signal to tear up longstanding agreements and bury for once and all the idea of "partnership" beloved of right-wing union leaders and bureaucrats.

These eight companies have decided to pull out of the nationally negotiated industry agreement and replace the existing skill and pay structure with three new grades for electricians - metalworker £10.50 per hour, £12 per hour for wiring, and £14 for terminating. The existing Joint Industry Board (JIB) rate is £16.25 per hour across the board. For some workers it could mean a 35 per cent pay cut.

The last time electrical contractors attempted to cut wages by de-skilling in this way in 1999 it led to a series of strikes including the Jubilee Line extension, Royal Opera Hose, Pfizers and power generating sites.

Add the current move to continued bitterness over victimisation and blacklisting of union activists and bullying of safety reps, as well as concern and resentment over government cuts - including that of HSE inspections - and you have a recipe for building anger.

It is indeed worth noting that two of the workers who spoke at the Conway Hall meeting were electricians who have been fighting the blacklist, and were members of the breakaway left-wing Electrical and Plumbing Industries Union formed after Wapping. The idea that the old Electrical, Engineering and Plumbing Trades Union(EEPTU) could only produce scabbing took a blow when its members were involved in the Jubilee Line strike.

Since then the EEPTU came back into the body of the trade union movement via its merger with the engineers, and though some of the old practices seemed to persist at officer level, both former eectrical unions are now part of UNITE, and a new generation has arisen, ready to make this unity a reality in battling for members' rights and living standards.

The Olympics, Media City, Manhester, and large power stations could be affected by action.

There has been a further meeting of UNITE stewards in Leeds, and meetings are planned in the coming months in Manchester, Liverpool and other areas. Workers are calling for ballots of those employed by JIB firms, but there is also talk of taking unofficial action on large sites and not waiting for ballots. For this too, perhaps, the employers, government and judges who have found all sorts of ingenious excuses for disputing ballots may have themselves to thank.

The new rank and file paper Site Worker which was involved in calling the London meeting is keen to contact UCATT and GMB members as well as those in UNITE. For information contact siteworkers@virginmedia.com

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

sums and connections to Banbury

Ricky Thompson:
Highest estimated cost of riots: £100m
Tax Avoidance by Vodafone: £6 Billion
Tax spent on Libyan intervention: £1 Billion
Tax avoidance in 2010 by richest people in UK: £7 Billion
Tax payers bill for banking crisis: £131 Billion
......Tax money spent in Iraqi conflict: £4.5 billion
Tax money spent on Afghan conflict (up until 2007): £7 billion
Total MP expenses bill (2007): £87.6m
Perspective: priceless.
Haringay shuts 8 youth clubs, crime and robbery go up 100 per cent. correlate that one!

    Mark Copestake
    For the cost of sending 2 young men to jail for 4 years for setting up a facebook group that didn't cause a riot, you could employ 4 youth workers for 4 years working with up to 200 of the most vulnerable young people per year, or pay a full time youth advice service in 8 large secondary schools (benefiting around 10,000 students) for a year, or you could employ 24 young people on £15k for a year at a time when youth unemployment has reached over 20% Via @milo stephens
Unite youth workers, employed by Oxfordshire county council, decided by a 93% majority to take strike action against the council’s proposed closure of all youth centres, removal of JNC terms and conditions and destruction of the youth work approach to young people. The jobs of 80 youth workers are at risk. The first day of strike action will be held on Tuesday 23rd August in Banbury – there will be picket lines from 7.30am
Please come out and show your support! Oxfordshire youth workers would much rather being doing their jobs, but the council is turning its back on young people:
  • The Conservative-led council plans threaten 26 youth centres and two youth teams
  • Oxfordshire county council plans to slash youth service funding from £3.7 million to £1.4 million making the county the lowest contributor to youth services in the entire country
  • The cuts spell the end of professional youth work in Oxfordshire, replacing qualified youth workers with non-professional managers and volunteers

This is on Cameron’s turf and in his constituency all youth centres will close. The political significance of all of this will not be lost on anyone.
There is great support for this dispute throughout Unite in Oxfordshire and from other unions throughout the county.
There are three things you can do immediately to support their action:

1) Send a message of solidarity to the branch at mike.beal@oxfordshire.gov.uk;

2) Sign the open letter at www.odtuc.org.uk on behalf of your organisation by emailing g.little@odtuc.org.uk by 12noon on Sunday;

3) Join youth workers from 11am outside Banbury Youth Centre and 12 noon outside Banbury Town hall. For details of free transport from Oxford, call 07780760697.

Oxford Area Activists are running a coach on the day timetable as follows:
Leaving BlackBird Leys Youth Centre at 9.30am (East Oxford),The Taylorian Institute St Giles (centre of Oxford) 10.00am, followed by Wolvercote Youth Centre at 10.15 then on to Banbury. The coach contact is Pierre on 077807606971

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Preacher of War heading for Birmingham

AS a man and a youth go on trial for murder in Birmingham today, arising from the death of three young men knocked down by a car while defending neighbourhood shops during riots, people from the city's various communities are going to hold a peace rally.

But peace and tolerance are far from the agenda of a controversial American pastor heading for Birmingham next week.

Pastor Jack Hagee, who plans to hold a rally in the Symphony Hall, is the man who said that Hitler had been sent by God, as the "hunter" who would drive Jews out of the cracks and crevasses of German society, and force them to go to Israel.

Now he wants the United States to join Israel in a first-strike nuclear war against Iran, and claims this would be fulfilling divine prophecy.

Hagee claims Muslims are exhorted by the Koran to kill Christians and Jews.

It was after Hagee's sermon about God sending Hitler was publicised in 2008 that Republican presidential candidate John McCaine decided to repudiate the pastor's endorsement. But that has not ended the pastor's preaching prominence or political influence. Said to have had the ear of George Dubya Bush, Hagee serves as head pastor of the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, and hosts his own television program, seen twice a day on the Evangelical christian network TBN which claims to reach 92 million American households and is expanding overseas.

The Texan preacher also appeared on right-wing broadcaster Glenn Beck's show a number of times, and offered prayers the evening before Beck’s “Divine Destiny“ event last year. Beck showed his own take on Hitler after the killing of young people attending a Labour Party summer camp in Norway, comparing the murdered youngsters to Nazis, rather than their killer. Formerly with Murdoch's Fox News, Beck is unsurprisingly known for opposing Muslims, alleged Lefties, and supposedly over-generous welfare payments.

If Pastor Hagee's brand of Christian preaching has little of the peace and love associated with his religion's founder, nor does his church have much time for vows of poverty. But it has a distinct angle on charity. The Word of Faith programme on TBN is a non-denominational Pentecostal movement, based on the power of the spoken word to claim one’s spiritual and material desires. The movement’s other central tenet,is that “sowing a seed”—contributing to the ministry—will result in the donor’s “harvest” of personal prosperity. Like the televangelists’ individual ministries, TBN is operated by a non-profit entity, so contributions are tax-deductible to the donor and tax free to the ministry.

While TBN reaps more than $100 million of revenue per year, mostly from viewer donations, Hagee’s organization reports annual revenues of about $15 million. In 2004, the San Antonio News Express reported that he was the highest-paid nonprofit executive in that city; his pay was nearly twice that of the next best-paid executive.

As for divine judgments, Hagee claimed that Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,800 people in 2005, was “the judgment of God against New Orleans” because of a planned Gay Pride parade. He also said it was "no
accident" that the Icelandic volcano erupted to disrupt UK flights and hurt the economy, the day after the Advertising Standards Authority here ruled against an Israeli government tourism poster depicting the Dome of the Rock and old city of Jerusalem.

Rabbi Shlomo Odze of Birmingham Central Synagogue has been quoted by the Birmingham Post, accusing Pastor Hagee of antisemitism. But if the pastor's theme of Hitler-the-hunter sending Jews to Israel was not enough to bridge the divide between Bible Belt bigots and worried Jewish people, even religious Zionist allies, the cheques and lobbying support from his Christians United for Israel (CUFI) seem to have endeared him to Benyamin Netanyahu. Just when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) seemed to be weakening, and facing dissent from American Jews, Hagee has ridden to the rescue with big bucks and the mobilising muscle of right-wing Christian evangelism.

Ironically, some of this Christian money has gone to right-wing Zionists in Israel to help them campaign against civil rights and peace groups which they denounce for receiving foreign funds! But the vision of Jack Hagee and evangelists like him goes beyond their insistence that Israel must hold on to occupied territories and deny equality to Palestinians. These Armageddon preachers seek an end-time war with Iran, which they claim was biblically prophesised, and will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ - along incidentally with the extinction of those Jews who fail to convert in time. There's a price for everything.

Apparently this won't be the first time Hagee has been to the UK. He held a rally on May 14-15, 2010 at Westminster Central Hall, organised by the John Hagee Ministries UK-registered charity, and attended by over 2,800 delegates. JHM UK is based in an office in Swindon, in the west of England, and is headed by a certain Des Starritt, who provides management services for a number of organisations and religious ministries.

Maybe it is not too much to ask that those who are concerned about Muslim fundamentalists and their influence should take a look at the well-funded American Christian original? And to ask whether someone like Hagee is what is wanted in Birmingham right now?

Labour MP Richard Burden (Northfields) has compared Hagee's case with that of the Palestinian Muslim Raeed Salah who was arrested at the start of a speaking tour and told he was not allowed in this country. The MP urges Birmingham council to refuse Hagee the use of its premises.

Acknowledgements to Richard Bartholomew for first bringing attention to this in his blog last month.

See also:


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Belgravia is not burning, and the City is still safe

A VIEW FROM DOWN UNDER. Andrew Dyson in Melbourne 'Age'

OVER four days in August, riots and looting in London and other English cities and towns have caused widespread damage. Four people were killed. Over a thousand arrested. Armoured vehicles were out in Clapham, something not seen since the 1926 general strike. On Tuesday night over 16,000 police were mobilised on the streets of London, and even in quiet suburban areas where nothing was happening shopkeepers were advised to close early and old people to stay indoors - whether an over-reaction or a propaganda move.

The Prime Minister and the Mayor of London had to cut short their holidays, and MPs were recalled. To hear them talk the trouble that flared up was just down to "criminality", and "sick" people, in no way connected with social causes or government policies. Yet there were no fires in Belgravia or Mayfair, which have their share of criminals, nor windows smashed in the City of London, where bankers and speculators loot whole nations and continents. One could define and almost predict the social geography of the rioting, and we can see its political limits.

Indeed the first outbreaks came from the same places which saw rioting in the 1980s, Broadwater Farm and Brixton, followed by Liverpool. But contrary to what some foreign observers seemed to assume, though black youth feeling against the police was an issue, these were not "race" but class riots. In some places it seemed the majority of the youth on the street were white. Outside the big cities there were riots in places known as islands of poverty amid affluence. The majority of those arrested and brought to courts which are working overtime are under 24, many under 18, and most are unemployed.

The initial explosion of anger in Tottenham was sparked off by the police killing of Mark Duggan on Thursday evening, August 4, as he was on his way home in a minicab. The reaction was not instantaneous, and the dead man's family and friends have said they did not want the violence. But as with the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes on the Underground at Stockwell, the police were a lot quicker at putting out a story to justify the shooting than they have been at telling the truth.

Mark Duggan, a 29-year old father of two had been killed by members of the specialist armed police unit CO19 who were waiting for him with officers involved in Operation Trident, supposedly aimed at black gun crime. We were told a police officer had been wounded in a gunfight. The Independent Police Complaints Commission, which quickly took over the investigation, said a non-police issue handgun was recovered from the scene and a bullet was found lodged in a police officer's radio. Ballistics tests later revealed this bullet had come from a police weapon, and ricocheted after hitting Mark Duggan in the arm. There was no evidence to prove the other weapon found, wrapped in a sock, had belonged to Duggan, or that he had fired it. No wounded officer, no gunfight.

Meanwhile rumours were circulating, locally and on the internet, that police had dragged Mark Duggan from his cab, held him down and shot him. Neither the Met nor the IPCC apparently felt obliged to get in touch properly with Duggan's family, who were left in the dark mourning a loved one and feeling they did not count. It was 36 hours before they were even allowed to see the body.

Late on Saturday afternoon, August 6, members of the family and friends were joined by other local people to march from Broadwater Farm estate to Tottenham Police Station. They demanded that a senior officer speak and tell them what had happened. Those who knew Mark Duggan best said they did not believe he would have been foolish enough to open fire on the police. Eventually, a chief inspector spoke with the crowd but they were expecting a commissioner. It was after 8pm, when disappointed demonstrators were already leaving with their kids, that some youths decided they had been patient long enough, and attacked two police cars. This was the start of the rioting that spread on the following nights to other parts of London, and other parts of the country.

Despite the fact that it kicked off with young, disadvantaged and mostly black young people confronting the state, this was not the first round of "the revolution", as some starry-eyed romantic lefties seemed to hope, not even "working class youth fighting back", as a friend in my old home town, Salford, claimed, at least not in a conscious sense. The people who set fire to a carpet store in Tottenham gave no thought to the working class families in flats above, who lost everything and were lucky to get out alive. Three young Asian guys hit by a car and killed in Birmingham were only trying to protect their family shop and homes, just as they might at other times had to fight off racist attacks. They were not guarding Buckingham Palace or the City banks, and nor was the man in Ealing who died from a beating, after trying to stop youths setting light to bins by his road.

It makes no sense to spin illusions in what riots can achieve, crediting all the crowd with lofty aims, nor to judge them as though all and everybody was responsible for what each did. A crowd of individuals can range from those who want to make a point, and are genuinely angry, through those who are there for the buzz, or a fight, to those who have merely come along to watch, and then maybe seen the opportunity to join in looting, grabbing whatever they can. In one place people were videoed looting Poundstretcher, which hardly suggests great ambition, nor a criminal master plan, but does look as though they were hard up.

For David Cameron, of course, it was all "sheer criminality", and disregard for the community, forgetting the time he and Mayor Boris were raising cain in the notorious Bullingden Club, but forgetting too that it was his grand dame (and Blair's too) Baroness Thatcher who declared "There is no such thing as society". For over two decades the Tories, their media, and New Labour have denigrated the workers' part in creating wealth, done everything to weaken and undermine union solidarity, and destroyed working class communities, as we saw with the miners. They freed capitalists and bankers to seek profit wherever and however they can, and competed in extolling acquisitive individualism.

What's more our MPs and leaders set a good example. As a remark making the rounds on Facebook observes, "Jim Sheridan, Lembit Opik, David Crausby, Shahid Malik, Ruth Kelly among those who looted plasma TVs on their expenses - and they're on £64k salaries. None of them went to jail". Nor indeed did Salford MP and ex-minister Hazel Blears, now condemning the rioters, feel too badly about charging the taxpayer for an £800 bed. Neither Margaret Thatcher nor Tony Blair got where they are by hard work and honesty. One led a government that was "economical with the truth" to help arm Saddam's Iraq, the other lied to go to war helping destroy that country.

The politicians who are condemning the youth and demanding that parents "take responsibility", with the threat of evictions and stopping people's benefits (what about those who like some of the football hooligans have well-paid jobs and are home owners?), will not face their own responsibilities. But on top of the industries and jobs they have seen off, their cuts alone are doing much bigger and more long-lasting damage than the riots and vandalism.

In some of the areas where rioting took place there is 30 per cent and more unemployment, particularly affecting the young. Young people who might stay on or go to college in the hope of improving their chances with qualifications, or even try unpaid work experience, are being deprived of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) which was supposed to help those from poor families do just that. Local authorities are cutting youth services, libraries, sports centres, swimming pools. Besides leaving young people with nothing to do, it may be sending them a certain message.

Now the message from Communities(sic) and Local Government Minister Eric Pickles is that he is sure magistrates will hand out sentences that reflect "the public's anger", (the judiciary in this country is supposed to be independent, by the way). He and Cameron still intend to cut police budgets and manpower, but will strengthen police powers. The fire service, who were praised for the brave way they got to the blazes, is also facing cuts. Cameron is talking of taking powers to curb social networking sites on the internet, which were apparently a Good Thing in the Arab Spring but a Bad Thing in the British Summer and Autumn. That makes it easier for government to control the news.

As for the 'Opposition' , Labour's Glenda Jackson MP (Hampstead and Highgate) claims the youngsters were privileged with BlackBerrys (whatever they are. I'm too old!) and wants water cannon used, as does mayoral hopeful Ken Livingstone, leaving Tory Home Secretary Theresa May who has been reluctant, looking like a liberal softie.

Still, never mind. Senior police officers can feel relieved the heat has fallen away from the hacking and corruption scandal, and they are being criticised for supposedly holding back. Belgravia is not burning, and the City is still safe. For now.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

Veolia in trouble with protesters and investers

DAYS after failing to win a contract with Ealing council in west London, the French waste and water company Veolia announced last week that it would scale back its operations in several countries after a surprising first-half net loss of €67.2 million.

The company's difficulties are being greeted as heartening news by campaigners working for a boycott of firms that profit from the Israeli occupation and settlement regime in the occupied Palestinian territories. Veolia has been among companies singled out by Palestinian civil society organisations asking for solidarity in the form of a boycott.

With headquarters in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, and shares quoted in Paris and New York, Veolia Environment SA is one of the main international companies to have grown by spreading into what were previously public service areas in many countries. It is involved in water supply and management, waste disposal, public transport, and energy. In 2009 it employed around 300,000 employees in 74 countries.

Among its subsidiaries, Connex lost rail service contracts in both Australia (Melbourne) and Britain. It had been due to run services in London and the South East until this year, but in June 2003 the Strategic Rail Authority decided to cut the South Eastern franchise short, citing poor financial management and "a serious loss of confidence... in the ability of the company to run the business in its widest sense".

The objection to Veolia's partnership in the Jerusalem Light Rail project is another matter. This system links West Jerusalem to illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, bypassing Palestinian villages and furthering the annexation of East Jerusalem. Veolia also operates bus services in the West Bank which run on the settlers-only roads, a refinement on South African-style apartheid. By helping the occupiers to divide the West Bank and enfold what should be the Palestinian capital, the French company is helping obstruct any progress to peace via a Palestinian state.

Dumping on the Occupied Territory

In May this year the Israeli Human Rights organisation B'Tselem published a detailed report on how the Israeli authorities and companies which work with them use - and abuse - land and resources in just part of the occupied West Bank, the Jordan valley and northern Dead Sea region, which successive Israeli governments and the Army appear intent on holding on to regardless of any peace agreements.

Besides mentioning the Israeli company Ahava products, the report has a section on waste.

"The environmental-nuisance disposal sites Israel built in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area are primarily intended to serve Israeli governmental authorities – the city of Jerusalem, the settlements in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea, and settlements elsewhere in the West Bank. Establishing the sites in the Jordan Valley enables the disposal to take place far from the territory of the Israeli authorities, saves valuable space for the Israeli governmental authorities, and reduces costs for transporting and handling the material at the disposal sites inside Israel. For many years, Israel has not invested meaningful sums in the sites in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area. Had it done so, they would be operating in accordance with the relevant regulations and standards applying inside Israel, thus preventing environmental pollution.


North of the Yafit settlement, next to Tirza Reservoir, the Samaria Towns Environmental Association operates the Tovlan waste-disposal site. Alongside it is a fertilizer manufacturing operation that uses the waste from the Tovlan site. The Tovlan site has been operated since the 1990s as a private business, without a plan approved by the regional council, and without infrastructure to prevent ground pollution and emission of greenhouse gases, or a plan to rehabilitate it. In 2004, the Towns Association upgraded and enlarged the facility to give it a “national dimension,” with a capacity of a thousand tons of refuse a day.

Currently, the site is used only by Israeli settlements. In addition to settlements in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, large settlements such as Ari’el and the Barkan industrial area also use the site. The site is operated by a subsidiary of a French corporation Veolia, T.M.M. Integrated Recycling Industries, that pays royalties to the Jordan Valley Regional CouncilDispossession and Exploitation : Israel's Policy in the Jordan Valley and Northern Dead Sea, B'tselem, May 2011

Veolia's involvement in the Jerusalem Ligh Railway (along with that of Alstom engineers) led to opposition ranging from Irish transport staff refusing to train Israeli recruits for the project to Dutch institutional investors withdrawing funds. A legal case in France had less success. And Veolia has profitable contracts in both Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In London, Palestine solidarity campaigners are lobbying against major waste contracts going to the French firm. They drew some satisfaction in April when the ((April 7) reported "The £1bn battle to deal with hundreds of thousands of tonnes of South West London’s household rubbish has come down to its final two bidders.Viridor and the Waste Recycling Group will now go head-to-head to persuade Croydon, Sutton, Merton and Kingston they have the best solution for 200,000 tonnes of waste produced in the boroughs each year.The four boroughs, which form the South London Waste Partnership(SLWP), hope to announce the winning bid early next year".

Evidently Veolia was out of the running. Ben Soffa, Secretary of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: ‘Local activists and PSC branches organised a really vocal campaign to oppose awarding this contract to a company that is complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation. This is just the latest in a series of setbacks for Veolia, which has failed to win a string of other public contracts in France, England, Wales, Ireland and Australia, at a cost totalling billions of Euros".

Then on Wednesday Ealing council failed to select Veolia for a comprehensive tender for its domestic refuse, street cleaning and parks maintenance contract. Veolia had been given the previous parks maintenance contract. Activists had written to and met with councillors, detailing Veolia’s involvement in the illegal Israeli occupation. The contract would have been worth approximately £300 million over 15 years – one of Ealing Council’s largest single contracts.

Sarah Colborne, Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) Director, said in a press release: “Veolia’s loss of this contract, following its failure in a number of significant bids in Britain and internationally, is a clear sign that Veolia is paying a high price for its complicity in Israel’s occupation and violations of international law.”

The company's fortunes may be running into other kinds of trouble. The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Veolia “announced a corporate overhaul of the company that includes divestitures and a significant geographic scale-back”. They also reported Veolia’s disclosure of 2007-2010 accounting fraud in the US, amounting to €90 million. Company officials are reported to have said the scale-down is related to “financial difficulties encountered by Veolia’s customers”.

Meanwhile in West London ...

Environmental campaigners in Brent, north-west London, are concerned about Veolia's existing contract with the council and fear expansion to link with other boroughs could mean waste from better-off boroughs being brought in for dumping or incineration. Veolia already has a waste depot in Alperton and is proposing sites there and in Park Royal as it touts for the new West London Waste Authority contract.http://wembleymatters.blogspot.com/2010/11/brent-waste-capital-of-west-london.html

Meanwhile, in a message to campaigners the secretary of a local group says:
"We may not know the precise reason that Veolia was not selected for the bid, but the systematic lobbying by members and supporters in Ealing of councillors, council officials and the provision of detailed legal and factual analysis of Veolia's grave misconduct in the West Bank and Jerusalem certainly forced the issue into the Council's deliberations. We should therefore rightly see this as a campaign success; and thank you to everyone who was involved in this.

"We now need to put our focus on the next campaign against Veolia. Six London boroughs – Ealing, Hounslow, Hillingdon, Richmond, Harrow and Brent – have combined to form the West London Waste Authority (WLWA). The WLWA is in the process of asking companies to tender for an approx. £ 485 million residual domestic waste contract. We know that Veolia has made it onto the shortlist for this contract. Our job is to put real pressure on the WLWA to kick Veolia out of the process. Now we need as many residents of the six boroughs as possible to sign the letter which we will send to the WLWA to show the amount of opposition there is to Veolia’s bid".

For copy of letter being sent see:

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Saturday, August 06, 2011

Spot the Difference!

UNITE the Union has issued this statement about Thanet Earth, a company that supplies many of our supermarkets, and like much of Britain's agri-business, employs a lot of migrant labour:

Investigation finds major supermarket supplier breached labour guidelines
August 5, 2011

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) has concluded its investigation into agency labour suppliers at the Kent-based agricultural producer Thanet Earth and found that legal guidelines have been breached.

Unite welcomes this investigation, but calls on the supermarket clients - including Asda, M&S and Sainsbury’s - to go further and uphold the commitments they have signed up to under the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI).

The GLA found that the agencies failed over the payment of wages and failed to have adequate grievance and disciplinary procedures in place. They also criticised Thanet Earth Marketing Ltd for failing to take complaints over pay seriously, despite Unite helping over 70 workers make complaints.

Unite has been pushing the ETI organisation and the supermarkets to take action over wages, union rights and security of employment, that goes beyond the legal, minimum standards upheld by the GLA and meets their own, enhanced commitments.

Unite regional officer, Dave Weeks, said: "It is time for Asda, M&S and Sainsbury’s to take their ethical commitments seriously and help us ensure that Thanet Earth cleans up its act.

"We welcome the serious way in which the GLA has gone about its duties. We now wish to see the same seriousness from the Ethical Trading Initiative and the supermarkets that are signed up to it.

“These big High Street brands claim to uphold the rights of all workers in their supply chains. Yet Unite has complained that the majority of workers at Thanet Earth are still in insecure employment, and the agencies bypass legislation to avoid paying industry rates. The company has also gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent our organisers from speaking to workers. The GLA has even found evidence of illegal breaches of its code.”

Recently dismissed worker, Vanda Sefer, added: "In my third year of employment at Thanet Earth, and as a known union member, my work was stopped when I took paid holiday. I had no dismissal hearing and no right of appeal. This is how the agency scares people from taking holidays and from joining the union. The supermarkets should not let this happen to people."

Notes to editors:

The GLA concluded that the method of calculation of holiday pay and entitlement was neither transparent nor compliant with guidelines; no one they talked to knew their entitlement or how it was arrived at; and there was no clear statement of holiday pay included on wage slips.

It also conceded that due to the numbers of complaints that were made, Thanet Earth Marketing Ltd clearly knew there was a big problem and should have acted on it. The company has been instructed to improve on this.

The GLA also failed the agencies on a lack of grievance and disciplinary procedures. Unite has helped over 70 agency workers take grievances out, none of which have been acted on formally.


And now here's how the BBC reported the matter:

Agencies supplying staff to the UK's biggest greenhouse complex have been cleared of wrongdoing after complaints by a trade union. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) investigated three agencies used by Thanet Earth in Kent after Unite said they breached legal guidelines. It found no issues with two agencies. A third was asked for more evidence and re-issued with a full GLA licence. Unite said it welcomed the serious way in which the GLA had investigated. Thanet Earth staff agencies 'did not breach guidelines'

And naturally the company giving its side says:
"Thanet Earth fully exonerated by impartial investigation


This is not the first time I have noted faulty and less than impartial reporting by the BBC, and particularly in the South East, so I suppose I should not be surprised by this example. However the previous cases bore the marks of accepting governmental spin or being swayed by an influential political lobby. In this case so far as we can see the corporation is taking the side of a private business in the way it reports things.

Ewa Jasiewicz who has worked for Unite as an organiser as well as being a professional journalist is angry that the BBC quotes the union to support its report when in fact it is saying the opposite to what Unite said. But Ewa feels strongly also because of her own experience. "As a Unite organiser I have worked on this campaign and personally worked with workers involved who have had their rights violated by agencies and Thanet Earth. This is a total stitch-up and we must expose it."

Ewa is urging supporters to contact the BBC complaints department. "Send them links to the Unite release and challenge them on their skewed reporting.. https://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/forms/ Also, contact Thanet Earth direct and complain. Judy Whittaker mailto:press%40thanetearth.com and 01892 831 280

Background info can be found on the Unite website,
and the blog www.stopsweatshopgreenwash.blogspot.com

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Remembering Who We Are


EXECUTION of Jeremiah Brandreth, William Turner, and
Isaac Ludlam, for High Treason, at DERBY. The authorities were clearly taking no chances - the men were hanged, and then their heads cut off.

TWO things I've watched on TV that were interesting were an interview with Owen Jones on his book 'Chavs', concerned with working class identity and challenging middle-class types who like to think comic caricature Vicky Pollard is real and typical; and another episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?", in which we accompany often famous people as they delve into their ancestry.

I'd often thought geneology pretty boring, all those dusty records and complicated family trees, but in these programmes we go on journeys, and see how individual human beings were caught up in historic events as well as the emotion - pride, joy, sorrow - on the face of someone learning what an ancestor went through or achieved.

Maybe we can apply the concept of discovering who you really are collectively too, so the struggles and bravery of past generations of working people remind us not just what we owe, but that we bear a proud tradition and have a future for which to fight. We might educate the know-nowts and even give the know-alls something to think about.

So it's good to see the growing interest in events and commemorations of our history, and see the places to which they lead. In mid-July of course there was the TUC's annual Tolpuddle rally, commemorating the six Dorset agricultural workers transported for trying to form a union in 1834. Just in case anyone complacently thought the attitude that led to that sort of thing was all in the past, we have had Oliver Letwin, Tory MP for West Dorset, saying that the government wants to instil "discipline and fear" among public sector workers.

Pentrich, or as it was sometimes known, Pentridge, is a quiet village in Derbyshire where what has been called "England's Last Revolution" took place in 1817. On the night of June 8, a band of stocking frame knitters, iron workers, quarrymen and labourers, numbering up to 300, set off to march on Nottingham, where they were expecting to meet with support. All had been hit by bad economic circumstance, recession and bad harvest. They thought that if working people gained a say in politics, instead of leaving parliament in the hands of big landowners, they might get a government that would help. Thomas Bacon, a local stockinger involved in the uprising, said "the business for a parliamentary reform was the ultimate meaning of the affair on the principles of what is called universal suffrage and annual parliaments."

In January that year a huge petition of over half a million signatures calling for the reform of parliament had been rejected by the government. In the months that followed large numbers of reformers were arrested and political societies such as the Hampden Clubs and the Pentrich Political Society were outlawed. Then in March 1817 the authorities had broken up a large demonstration in Manchester called to see off the 'Blanketeers', weavers who intended marching to London with a petition to the Prince Regent.

Since the Spa Fields riots in London, in November 1816, the government had tooled up with legislation and troops to meet unrest or insurrection. Lord Sidmouth the Home Secretary had unleashed an army of spies around the country to report what was happening. Some were agent provocateurs, like the notorious William Richards, known as 'Oliver the Spy'. So the authorities were well aware of the plan for an uprising, and may well have encouraged premature local actions that they could easily crush. One of the rebels executed for his part in the rising, William Turner of South Wingfield, cried out from the scaffold, "This is the work of the Government and Oliver."

On May 29, the Sheffield magistrates raided a secret meeting in the town, which an informer claimed was planning an insurrection for June 10. Then on June 6 a meeting of delegates at Thornhill Lees near Dewsbury was betrayed by Oliver and the men were seized by troops. Oliver moved on to Nottingham on June 7 where he assured his contacts that all was ready for a rising on June 8 and that lavish promises of support from Birmingham and London had been made. But the men of Pentrich had no support, apart from a group of weavers from Holmfirth who set out for Huddersfield on the evening of June 8. After exchanging a few shots with the military, the men escaped into the night. Although two men were arrested and eventually tried, they were acquitted by the jury.

On the evening of June 8 between 50 and 300 stockingers, ironworkers and labourers from the villages of Ripley, Pentrich, Alfreton, and South Wingfield gathered and set out to march the fourteen miles to Nottingham, collecting more men and arms on the way. With poor communications, they did not know about the arrests with had broken support elsewhere. Their leader, 27-year old Jeremiah Brandreth assured his followers that Nottingham would already be secured, that 100,000 men from other towns would meet them, and that London would be the next objective. According to one of Brandreth's commanders, Brandreth "believed the day and hour were fixed when the whole nation was expected to rise; and before the middle of the week, he believed there would be hundreds of thousands in arms ... there were men appointed all over the nation."

When they arrived at Nottingham they found only a small number of supporters who fled into the forest on seeing troops. Waiting for them instead were mounted dragoons. The Pentrich men, armed only with home-made pikes and a few guns, were soon routed. Arrests were made over the next few days.

Earl Fitzwilliam, the Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire, wrote to Sidmouth about the episode, blaming the spy 'Oliver' for what had happened. But the government was determined to make an example of the rebels.
Altogether, eighty five of the marchers were placed in Nottingham and Derby gaols, to be brought to trial at the County Hall in Derby, charged in the main of "maliciously and traitorously [endeavouring] . . . . . by force of arms, to subvert and destroy the Government and the Constitution." Twenty three were sentenced, three to transportation for fourteen years and eleven for life. Brandreth, Ludlam and Turner were convicted of high treason and sentenced to death. The prison chaplain who visited Brandreth found him remarkably calm and unafraid about his fate. The three were publicly hanged and beheaded at Nuns Green in front of Friar Gate Gaol in Derby.

The movement for reform did not die down. In August 1819, thousands gathered at St.Peters Fields in Manchester for a peaceful rally, only to be set upon by mounted troops in the infamous 'Peterloo Massacre'
Only a few years later, in 1824, trade unions were made legal. But it took more than a half century before working men got the vote. However cynical we get about parliament in these times ("if voting changed anything ..."), we should never forget that what rights we have, and our entitlement to have any say were never handed down to us on a plate from above, they were won by "ordinary" working people who were determined, and who paid a price in blood.

Notts TUC is commemorating the Pentrich uprising tomorrow, August 6 with a gathering at the Ashes, South Wingfield, DE 55 7LR, from 15:00 - 21:00. An afternoon of music and song with Nottingham Clarion Choir and Rosa's Lovely Daughters. There'll be a conducted walk of historic sights at 16.00.

Licensed bar - bring your own food or barbecue.

Incidentally.getting back to geneology, I read that entertainer and former Tory MP Giles Brandreth claimed descent from Jeremiah of that ilk, but the claim is doubted, and he does not appear on tomorrow's bill.


Where Manchester TUC's annual Peterloo Commemoration Concert will be remembering the ordinary men and women who were cut down in Manchester on August 16, 1819 in a demonstration asking for the right to vote for all.

The venue is to be the Barbirolli Suite, Radisson Edwardian Hotel Old Free Trade Hall, Peter Street. (Very appropriate, as the Free Trade Hall, venue for many a political and cultural event, stood more or less on the ground of St.Peter's Field, and used to have a mural of the Peterloo massacre in the bar, as I recall).

Performers this year include:

Claire Mooney - local singer/songwriter

Dave Puller - celebrated Wythenshawe poet

Rich Man's Ruin - acclaimed folk trio from Liverpool

Doors open - 7pm no dress code

Manchester TUC will be asking for a donation on the door to help pay for this event

Manchester TUC would like to acknowledge the support received from North West TUC and Radisson Edwardian Hotel for this event.

More information available from:

Kate Richardson 07984 870 602



Looking forward to next month

On Sunday, September 4, there will be the annual commemoration of the Burston school strike, when children walked out of their school in support of sacked socialist teachers Tom and Kitty Higden, in April 1914, and villagers decided to run their own "Strike School" with the Higdens, which lasted till 1939, winning wide national and even international support.

The rally with speakers and bands will be from 11 am to 4.30 at the Church Green, Burston, near Diss, in Norfolk. Speakers include Diana Holland from my union Unite, and entertainment includes Robb Johnson and the Irregulars. Plus there will stalls, food, and a beer tent. I expect there will be coaches from London and other places, find out from your union.

Lastly, while you have got your diary out make a note of this one:

Socialist History Society Public Meeting
This year’s annual A L Morton Memorial Lecture
7pm Wednesday September 28, 2011
Louise Raw on
“The Truth about the 1888 Match Girls’ Strike
and its Place in History”
Venue: Bishopsgate Institute, Liverpool St
The speaker is the author of the book, Striking a Light: The Bryant and May Match women and their Place in Labour History, copies of which will be available at the meeting.

Free entry, all welcome, retiring collection

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

How Rupe got High and Mighty

with more than a little help from his friends

(photo Andrew Wiard, Report)

AS a judge makes an example of the young man who foam-pied Rupert Murdoch, sending him to jail,
we have a timely reminder of how the tycoon's power was firmly established in British politics as well as media when he sacked over 5,500 workers, and set up operations in his 'Fort Wapping', sans rights and sans unions.

The picture above of the Metropolitan Police cavalry riding to clear a path for Murdoch's papers is part of an exhibition about the Wapping dispute 25 years ago, now on show at the TUC 's headquarters in Congress House, Great Russel Street, WC1.

With photographs and publications from the time, the exhibition explains how the Australian-born billionaire transformed the ailing pro-Labour Sun with injections of topless models, and Tory jingoism, so that he was not only able to help Margaret Thatcher into government in 1979, but to use the £47 million profit he made from British newspapers in 1985 to boost his empire both sides of the Atlantic.

But to take on the unions which had won good conditions for printworkers on Fleet Street, and incidentally to slap down ideas like right of reply, editorial independence or integrity, making sure journos would jump when he said, Murdoch needed, and received, the help of his friends.

Between 1980 and 1993 Thatcher's government passed six major acts of parliament aimed at curbing the unions. The 1980 Employment Act limited the right to picket and outlawed "secondary", or sympathy strikes. The 1982 Employment Act limited the grounds on which workers could take action - so if workers took action over political issues - like arming Apartheid, say, or the release of prisoners, or even the NHS, - that can be deemed illegal. Up to £250,00 could be sequestered from union funds by the courts.

The 1984 Trade Union Act compelled unions to hold ballots before calling strike action, and thus enabled employers to plan their moves, while as we know judges can find all sorts of pettifogging conditions and excuses to interfere even when a union has gone through the procedure. The 1986 Public Order Act introduced criminal offences related to picketing, thus strengthening the police and rendering pickets and organisers liable to arrests and jail. (News International Wapping -25 Years On, The Workers' Story).

Before the bosses moved they took legal advice from Farrars solicitors, who said "...if a moment came when it was necessary to dispense with the present workforces...the cheapest way of doing so would be to dismiss employees while participating in a strike or industrial action." Staff at the Times and Sunday Times were not even aware at first that they would be affected by the move to Wapping. But one trade union did know all about it. The right-wing EETPU was in on Murdoch's plan, and to the disgust of many of its members, not least electricians on Fleet Street, was actually recruiting workers from elsewhere to man the Wapping plant.

Though many workers rallied to the side of the printworkers in this struggle, they were unable to defeat a ruthless capitalist employer who had at his side the law and the state. Within days of the dispute starting News International had court decisions forbidding solidarity action. Unions were fined if members took action to support the sacked workers by refusing to handle News International papers' transport and distribution. Within weeks the assets and funds of SOGAT, the main printing union, were seized or sequestered.

Outside the Wapping plant, mounted police wielding batons rode into the crowds of p[ickets and supporters. Hundreds of people were injured. Some 1,435 people were arrested, and four men were jailed, among them SOGAT pickets leader Mike Hicks, arrested in a dawn raid on his home and sentenced to a year in prison, with eight months suspended. So bad did the police presence get, that with buses terminated at Aldgate, and local residents held up at road blocks, while Murdoch's trucks sped through their streets, Wapping residents -some of whom also experienced police violence and arrests - held their own demonstration to 'Reclaim Our Streets'.

The organisers of the exhibition are clear they don't want to look back mournfully on this past defeat, from which we have all suffered lasting effects, but to strengthen and inspire the fights today, not just against the billionaire media and their friends, or the Con-Dem cuts, but to win from Labour a firm commitment to restore our employment and union rights. We may have different ideas as to what this entails or whether we want to rely on Labour. All the same, having seen how the last Labour government conserved the Tory anti-union laws, and heard Ed Miliband say he wants to reduce the say unions have in the Labour Party, this too is a timely aspect to discuss.

The exhibition is on until August 12 at the TUC, and well worth a visit - handy for lunchtime if you are working in town, and just around the corner from Tottenham Court Road tube and on the way to the British Museum if you are on a holiday visit. You'll find some friendly people who were there at the time of the Wapping dispute available for a chat, or to swap reminiscence, and you can also buy souvenir badges and books.

The exhibition is at TUC Congress House, London WC1B 3LS. open Monday-Friday 10am-6pm until 12 August.

After this it is going on tour, with a showing at Jack Jones House in Liverpool in the week of the Labour Party conference.

An Eye for the Truth


ANOTHER exhibition, another anniversary. Carlo Giuliani was killed by police at a G8 demonstration ten years ago in Genoa. Jess Hurd was there and won't forget what she saw, and because Jess is a photographer, who captured this image of the young man lying on the ground, neither will we.

Jess Hurd works with a variety of campaigning grass-roots organisations, and gets around with her camera recording the truth, in this country and abroad, the triumphs as well as tragedies, and sometimes those funny little insights too. Jess has also been a leading person in the campaign "I am a photographer not a terrorist", fighting off attempts by the police to treat people taking photographs as though they were breaking the law.

Showing an individual artist can also do collective action, Jess is chair of the London Photographers' branch of the National Union of Journalists. The photograph of Carlo Giuliani above is among a selection of her pictures - by no means all of sad subjects - on show in her exhibition 'Taking the Street -Global Protest', which I've been to see in Harrow.

The Usurp Art Gallery showing it is at 149 Vaughan Road, HA1 4EB. near West Harrow station on the Metropolitan Line. It is open Thursday to Sunday 2- 7pm, The photo exhibition is on till August 28. For more information on this and other events see their website:


See also:

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Pakistan provides troops for repression in Bahrain

BAHRAINI flags at London's May Day rally this year. Some have sought refuge here as regime clamps down.

TROOPS from Pakistan are being used to help suppress unrest in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain.

Saudi tanks and helicopter gunships were sent into Bahrain in March, after mass demonstrations over political freedom and social justice, when demonstrators invaded the financial district.

In the ensuing repression, government forces went into the hospitals where wounded demonstrators were being treated, and attacked doctors and medical workers. More than 50 medical staff were reported missing afterwards. Many were detained after raids like that on Salmaniya hospital on March 17.

The security forces also seized the premises of the Bahrain trade unions, and clamped down on journalists.

It was about this time that advertisements started appearing in the Pakistani media.

"Urgent requirement - manpower for Bahrain National Guard," said one.

"For service in Bahrain National Guard, the following categories of people with previous army and police experience are urgently needed," said another, with "previous experience" and "urgent need" underscored.

The categories included: former army drill instructors, anti-riot instructors, retired military police, and former army cooks.

According to a report on al-Jazeera, Saudi and Bahraini officials visited Islamabad, and succeeded in bringing back at least 2,500 former servicemen, who have swelled the Bahrain national guard and riot police by as much as 50 per cent.

"We know that continued airplanes are coming to Bahrain and bringing soldiers from Pakistan," Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera. "We do not know the exact number, but we know that it is much more than 1,500 or 2,000 people."

One sad aspect of this is that apparently many of the Pakistani soldiers who have taken the bait are from Baluchistan, a poor region of Pakistan which has itself suffered repression by Pakistani governments in the past. Another is that, with a major cause of unrest in Bahrain being discontent by Shi'ites fed up with discrimination and inequality from their Sunni rulers, the use of Pakistani troops, who are predominantly Sunni,provokes sectarian bitterness.
"Our own Shia cannot join the security forces, but the government recruits from abroad," said Rajab.

In Pakistan, Shi'ites are a minority, and have suffered sectarian violence and terrorist attacks. In Bahrain, Shi'ites are a majority, and may look to neighbouring Iran for support (where to add to the complications, there is a Baluchi minority and aome armed groups opposing the Tehran regime). Anger has already been aroused by reported attacks on Shi'ite mosques and shrines in Bahrain. There is talk of the government naturalising Pakistanis who want to stay, so as to alter the demographic balance. The danger could be that people might take their resentment out not just on the Pakistani troops, but on other Pakistanis who only came to Bahrain to work.

In Pakistan, where it seems as hard to separate the army command from business as to see where the security and intelligence services stop and terrorist gangs begin, recruitment of personnel for Bahrain was handled by the Fauji Foundation,a big conglomerate with close ties to the military. In addition to the Overseas Employment Services, which is tasked with providing job opportunities for retired military personnel, the foundation owns large cereal and gas companies, sugar mills, security firms, as well as hospitals and universities.

"Pakistanis, particularly Baluchs, make up a large part of the Bahraini force," said Fahad Desmukh, a former resident of Bahrain who now lives in Pakistan."They are extremely visible on the streets - so visible that the protestors were recently responding to the police in Urdu, knowing they did not speak Arabic."

A small country of 33 islands, and roughly 800,000 people (including about 235,000 non-nationals), Bahrain has a Defence Force of about 12,000 and a National Guard of 1,200, according to the US State Department.

"What it shows is that the Bahraini government has little trust in its own citizens to conduct security operations," Michael Stephens, a Qatar-based Bahrain specialist at the Royal United Services Institute, told Al Jazeera. "So they rely on foreign recruits to unquestioningly carry out orders of violently suppressing protests."

Pakistani involvement in supplying personnel to the Middle East is not new, according to Mujib Mashal of al Jazeera. He quotes Hamid Hussein, a historian of the Pakistan military.
"In the 1970s and 80s, many Arab countries flushed with oil money bought state of the art equipment, but [the] local population lacked technical skills," ...
"A number of Pakistan army and air force personnel were deputed to several countries including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Syria and Iraq. "

The recruitments varied from a dozen advisors to thousands of trainers and operators of complicated equipment. In 1970 then Brigadier Zia ul Haq helped the Jordanian forces suppress Palestinians in what became known as "Black September".
Zia ul Haq went on to become the military dictator who introduced a swift process of "Islamisation" in Pakistan.

When the Saudi regime grew nervous about the "Arab Spring" spilling over its border from Bahrain, the chairman of the Saudi National Security Council, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, made two quiet trips to Pakistan to seek their support. "Potential need for foreign troops in case protests spiral out of control has forced Saudis to work with current Pakistani civilian government for whom they have nothing but utter contempt," said Hussain.

The trip was followed by visits from the Bahraini foreign minister and the commander of their national guard. Then the adverts started appearing.

So even as US planes and forces go into Pakistan, appearing to treat it as a 'failed state', it appears the government finds employment for its citizens by providing them as mercenaries overseas.

"The president and prime minister of Pakistan, faced with grim economic situation of the country and army brass uncertain about continued US funding, are delighted at the potential of a cash windfall from Saudi patrons," said Hussain.

In Baluchistan, which has had its own movement for self-determination for some time, as well providing some recruits to clandestine left-wing groups, we can expect a different view.

"We call upon the Baluch nation not to become part of any tyrant or oppressive army, at a time when the Baluch nation is living in a state of war … and are struggling against the tyrants ourselves," Basham Baluch, a spokesman for Baluch Liberation Front said in a 2009 statement. "Instead of turning the young Baluch into hired killers, they should join the national armies [Baluch Liberation Front, Baluchistan Liberation Army] to make the independence of their homeland a reality.

"We do not want the Baluch people to be used and turned into mercenaries."

"What I wonder is how the Pakistani government allows this many people to be brought here and used as mercenaries," said Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain. "We know that many of these recruits are poor, uneducated, and are just looking for a job. They don't know what they are signing up for. But the Pakistan government certainly knows, so why are they allowing this?"

Follow Mujib Mashal on Twitter: @mujmash

Pakistani troops aid Bahrain's crackdown - Features - Al Jazeera English

See also: Arrests force Bahrain's writers into exile - Features - Al Jazeera English

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