Friday, October 21, 2011

Sheikh Jarrah to Dale Farm ...and the perils of "crossfire"

IT'S been that kind of week. Not hard to join up the dots, but not necessarily in ways expected.

ON MONDAY, in the wake of Tory Defence Secretary Liam Fox''s resignation and the continuing inquiry, friends were talking about the Israeli connection. Three of the names linked to Fox and his best man Werrity were lobbyists, Mick Davis, Michael Lewis, and Poju Zabludowicz. On the Jewish Socialists' Group national committee that evening we discussed how ordinary people feel about these big shots, and how to counteract their influence.

Tuesday evening I was in the House of Lords attending a meeting hosted by Lord Hylton, about housing rights and planning laws in occupied East Jerusalem, as viewed by delegates of a new body called Advocats Sans Frontieres who had specifically been invited to observe the struggle in Sheikh Jarrah district, to the north of the Old City.

Professor Bill Bowring of the Haldane Society said that evey time he has visited the city he sees new gaping holes where there used to be houses and people, and new places going up for settlers and surrounding the city. He said you could tell which were Israeli and which Palestinian blocks by the water tanks on roofs, because the Israelis enjoyed a constant supply while Palestinians were only supplied two or three times a day.

Bill went through some of the international law and pronouncements from the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice, concerning status of occupied territory, discrimination, and human rights, which Israeli authorities ignore even though Israel has ratified international treaties.

According to international law no one should face interference in their home or private life, and eviction is only justified in exceptional circumstances. Israel says such laws do not apply to it. When an Israeli genral who had ordered demolition of homes at Rafeah came to Britain in 2005 he was tipped off so as to avoid arrest, otherwise he might have faced a privately-initiated prosecution. Now there were changes in the law so any attempt to bring charges against Tzippi Livneh during her visit would have to go through the Director of Public Prosecutions. (Foreign Secretary) "William Hague has issued retrosepective immunity."

Hannah Rought Brooks spoke about the way urban space has been affected in east Jerusalem under occupation and annexation - 35 per cent expropriated, 22 per cent designated "green areas" where people could not build, 30 per cent "unplanned areas" likewise, thus leaving just 13 per cent for Palestinians, though they were a majority. In this shrinking space they faced restrictive plans, a shortfall of 1,100 housing units a year, and a restrictive permits regime.

No wonder then that people wound up building homes without waiting for permission, and then could be given a choice - either demolish your own home, or pay the cost of it being demolished by the authorities. So families are not only made homeless but landed with a large bill.

Hannah praised the activity of some Israeli groups like the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and Bimkom, which oppose the evictions. But their efforts and the tenacity of Arab families were up against the attitude of Jerusalem municipality which only allocates 5-10% of its budget to Palestinian areas, though they are 35 % of the population. The Israeli state, with its settlements, its wall, seperate transport system and checkpoints was doing everything to wrest East Jerusalem from the West Bank, already reduced to just three points of access, at Qalandiya, Olives and Gilo.

Palestinian families, some of whom found themselves in Sheikh Jarrah having fled or been forced out of other areas in 1948, had been told by the UN refugee administration that if they stayed there three years the homes would be theirs. But the properties were not given them in name. Then after Israel took the area in the 1967 war it went on to pass the 1970 Administration Law under which Jewish families who had left in 1948 could claim ownership, bringing forth Ottoman title deeds which were recognised - unlike the Palestinian refugees who have been accorded no right of return, and those like the Bedouin within Israel whose claims to property are seldom recognised.

Since then the properties claimed have paassed via two Israeli committees to the Nahalat Shimon company, and Palestinians are being harassed and forced out not by returness but by settlers, including right-wing religious groups who have fortified themselves in a seven-story building dominating the area. This too was built without planning permission, but instead of demolition it is being defended by armed soldiers.

Marina Sergides showed the presentation about Sheikh Jarah, and told us about three families who had lost their homes, like the El Ghawis, whose nine-year old son was taken away in plastic handcuffs during the eviction, and whose mother found him later in a police cell, injured and not given medical attention.

Over the last three years, more than 60 Palestinians have been forcibly evicted in this area and at least another 500 are at risk of dispossession and displacement, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).

We discussed how to get more international media attention to this situation, to make sure that British officials visit Sheikh Jarrah, and to urge the British government to use its influence in the European Union in support of people like the Sheikh Jarrah residents.

I noted the irony that while the British consulate's location in Sheikh Jarah had been seen as watching over the territory, it was the British government which using its presidency over the EU had tried to suppress a report on what was happening to East Jerusalem. No wonder Palestinians are up in arms over Tony Blair the "Middle East Peace Envoy" having his new headquarters built in Sheikh Jarrah.

That day there had been a report about Givat Hamatos, another Israeli development designed to drive a nail into the prospect for two states by cutting off the West Bank from its capital, East Jerusalem. Illegal flats plan to cut off Arab east Jerusalem

WEDNESDAY morning, we saw hundreds of riot police storming into Dale Farm, in Essex, so the bailiffs would be able to evict those traveller families they haven't been able to intimidate. Like the Bedouin facing clearance under Israeli plans, these people are no longer free to move around, nor tolerated when they try to settle. The council says they were on greenfield land, the former owner who sold it to them says it was a brownfield site which the council itself had tarmacked for a scrap yard. The council which had denied or kept them waiting for planning permission says they were illegal for setting up home without a permit.

Having tried negotiations and the courts, those who have been driven out by this show of force, and given nowhere else to go, are homeless. Even some of the news coverage reminds me of the Middle East, with an ITN reporter going straight from the police action to interview an Essex man who had complained about people from Dale Farm allegedly throwing beer bottles over the fence into his garden. That's it, then, evict the whole community!

I've clocked the Beeb before purveying what I saw as porkies about a smaller scale eviction exercise against Gypsy families camped on land they had bought near Broxborne, so I guess the media toeing the line on this are showing consistency.

Anyway, we watched the police storm in, and in later footage five of them appeared to ram a woman against a fence. We were told that one woman had been injured, "caught up in the violence" apparently. Nothing deliberate then? She had been taken to hospital with what sounded like serious back injury, and said she had been attacked by police, but I suppose you can't believe everything you hear from those people.

I shouldn't imagine an operation like this was carried out solely at the Tory council's request and without at least a nod and a wink from the Home Office, and perhaps the prime minister. And on Wednesday evening I went to a meeting about public service pension rights, where leading trade unionists told us the Con-Dem government is waging class war, and negotiations are a waste of time, because the government is not even listening. I can't help thinking the Dale Farm operation, tasers and all, is also a rehearsal for dealing with workplae occupations and community cuts protests too.

When we are hearing about senior Tories pocketing large sums from the Zionists and other lobbyists, maybe what should impress is not the latters' readiness to bribe, as the formers' greed in augmeng their already large incomes by accepting financial inducements to support the kind of policies that they are inclined to follow anyway.

And so to THURSDAY, when having heard what US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had to say earlier in the week about Gaddafi, I very much doubted suggestions that he had been captured alive and might live to stand trial and give his side, as well as testify about relations with Western business interests and governments.

Sure enough, it appears he was wounded in the legs, but later died from two shots in the head, having been taken from his car, or from a culvet where he was hiding -with a gold-plated pistol, they add, - having taken shelter from NATO attack. The details seem to vary, but as someone said we had to be shown the sewage pipe just as we were shown Saddam Hussein being taken from a hole in the ground, though it now seems that too was a bit of fakery for the camera.

Today we learn that according to Mr.Mahmoud Jibril of the National Transitional Council, whom papers are already dubbing Libyan Prime Minister, Muammar Gaddafi was captured alive, but then he was "killed in crossfire".

Some say the Libyan rebels are not ready for our lind of democracy, but it sounds like they are soon picking up the language.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

West Papua. It's a Goldmine.

SOME of the places in the world whose people play the most important part in our lives through actual wealth creation (as distinct from conspicuous consumption, or the hocus-pocus trick of transposing billions of debt owed peoples and profit bonuses for private individuals), are places seldom heard of.

There are places deep in the heart of Africa where kids are made to crawl into unsafe mines for an ore called Coltan, from which tantalum can be extracted to end up in cellphones, game players and other gadgets used by your kids, and for all I know in this laptop I am using. The UN says the trade fuels wars, but then the wars help provide the captive child labour, and somehow the Western companies involved in purchasing ore or supplying weapons manage to keep their hands clean.

Unlike the makeshift mines and holes dug out of the ground of eastern Congo, the world's biggest gold and copper mine is one gigantic hole and an underground mine which make up Freeport, in West Papua, owned jointly by US-based Freeport McMoRan, Indonesian subsidiary PT Freeport Indonesia and their Anglo Australian partner, Rio Tinto.

West Papua is the western half of the island we used to call New Guinea. Its straight
-line border shows the colonial past, when this was Netherlands New Guinea. With UN approval it was taken over by Indonesia, which has encouraged its own settlers there, while the formerly Australian-administered eastern side together with adjoining islands forms the state of Papua-New Guinea.

Papuans who don't accept the carve-up come into conflict with the Indonesian military, as seen in the report which a friend in Australia has forwarded from the news site New Matilda:

The Indonesian military and police started shooting at around 2:37pm West Papua time, yesterday 19 October. Information about what exactly transpired are still sketchy but at least one person was shot (believed dead), scores have been arrested, hundreds have fled to the hills and jungle surrounding the capital, and the capital is in a state of lockdown.

A Papuan priest who was fleeing the shooting contacted New Matilda to report that an army truck passed him carrying Papuan participants who had been present at the Third Papua Congress. According to the witness they were "covered with blood" and had been "beaten and shot".

The violence erupted at the conclusion of the Third Papuan Congress, a three-day gathering held at the Taboria oval (Zaccheus Field) in Abepura, during which Papuan leaders declared their independence from the Indonesian state.

As many as 20,000 West Papuans met, danced and debated how to achieve their civil and political rights. For three days the atmosphere had been tense. The venue was ringed by Armed Personnel Carriers, military trucks and Barracudas — a type of armed jeep favoured by the paramilitary police. Machine guns were trained on the participants and thousands of soldiers and paramilitary police armed with automatic weapons were present.

Published on (

Some earlier reports show an important dimension to what's happening in West Papua. Here are excerpts:

16 Aug 2011

"We are not valued as human beings. We are treated as an instrument of the company. Our goal is to get to a position where we are treated as human," says union organiser Sudiro.

According to miners interviewed in July 2011, many workers are forced to take out bank loans to pay for basic needs and to support their families. After retirement, some must seek alternative types of income. Yet when workers attempt to raise these issues with Freeport management, they have received warning letters in return.

"It seems like the company sees us as the troublemakers. But," says Sudiro, referring to workers’ contributions to gold and copper production, "we are the solution-makers."

SPSI PT Freeport Indonesia is one local branch of the national labour union federation of Indonesia. The organisation has represented PTFI mine workers in 16 Collective Labor Agreements (CLA) dating back to 1977. But until recently it functioned as little more than a rubber stamp for company policies.

Freeport has a history of suppressing workers’ rights and union organising. Under Suharto, independent labour organising was prohibited. Those that tried were often killed or spent years in jail. But over the past decade, as political space has slowly opened up, Sudiro and other workers have been quietly organising.

Campaigns to educate fellow mine workers about their rights and the role of unions in protecting workers seem to be paying off. Reflecting on worker participation in the recent strike, Sudiro says, "The workers finally opened their eyes and minds to the situation. The company cannot stop this. We have woken up. We will never go back to how we were treated before the strike."

Nevertheless, SPSI Freeport members continue to face threats and intimidation from the company. When two of the union members travelled to Jayapura to seek advice from Papuan leaders, they were followed by Indonesian security forces who have long been paid by Freeport to guard the mine.

9 Oct 2011

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Buck House cleaners get a result

BACK in April I blogged about the campaign to win better pay for the cleaners at Buckingham Palace. Working amid such opulent surroundings they were getting less than the living wage. The issue got good publicity and was raised in Parliament, Campaigners in the Public and Commercial Service (PCS) union even turned up among the tourists outside the Palace during the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, to make sure the downstairs side of Palace life was not forgotten.

It's good to report that persistance and initiative seem to have worked. Today via Facebook we received this message:
We're nearly there! Thanks everyone for your support on this, on behalf of our PCS members working as cleaners in the royal household. It has not been the easiest of times, but we've got there in the end! In solidarity Lizzie

That's not Lizzie Windsor, by the way. Here's the report from the PCS to which our FB friend directed us:

Big pay rise for Buckingham Palace cleaners

17 October 2011

The Queen's cleaners have won a 16% pay rise after a campaign by PCS.

The low-paid workers, who keep Buckingham Palace spic and span every day, will see their pay rise from £6.45 to £7.50 an hour from 1 November.

Contract company KGB Cleaning – which employs the workers – has promised there will be no cuts to jobs or hours to pay for the rise.

Cleaners have also been given new changing rooms with lockers.

The union campaign included a demonstration during Prince William and Kate Middleton’s royal wedding celebrations.

The rise will be paid to cleaners working in Buckingham Palace and Buckingham Palace Mews.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Remembrance in Paris

ANNIVERSARIES are not always occasions to honour with pride, some of them are shameful. It was fifty years ago, on October 17, 1961, that hundreds of people were killed by the police, not in some dark corner of Africa or under a brutal Middle Eastern dictatorship, but in Paris, the 'city of light', under the French Fifth Republic.

France's day of shame came because, like other colonial powers, it had not extended its famed liberte, egalite et fraternite to all those it ruled. In Algeria people were fighting for freedom in their own way, attempting to wrest their country from the Army and the settlers. The war spilled over into mainland France. In August 1958 four policemen were killed in Paris, and the Prefect of Police ordered massive raids on Algerians living in the area, during which 5,000 of them were detained, many of them being held in the Vel' d'Hiv stadium.

That was where the police had rounded up Jews for deportation during the Occupation. But if anyone started talking about that, Prefect of Police Maurice Papon displayed no sign of embarassment. Why should he?

In the next few years Papon established a special auxilary force, many of its recruits themselves Algerians, to pursue vendetta against suspected militants. There were reports of torture. The Algerian FLN waged its own campaign against police and alleged collaborators, and against rival political or trade union activists. In August 1961 it resumed bombings against the police. The enraged police increasingly attacked anyone they thought looked Algerian, sometimes hitting people who weren't even from the Maghreb.

On October 2, during the funeral of a policeman killed by the FLN, Papon proclaimed: "For one hit taken we shall give back ten!" That same day visiting Montrouge police station he told officers they need not worry too much about what they were permitted to do by the law. "You also must be subversive in the war that sets you against others. You will be covered, I give you my word on that."

Three days later the prefecture of police announced in a press statement the introduction of a curfew from 8.30 p.m. to 5.30 a.m. in Paris and its suburbs for "Algerian Muslim workers", "French Muslims" and "French Muslims of Algeria" (all three terms used by Papon, although the approximately 150,000 Algerians living at the time in Paris were officially considered French and possessed a French identity card.

The French Federation of the FLN called upon all Algerians in Paris to demonstrate peacefully against the curfew, widely regarded as a racist measure, on October 17. Thousands of riot police were mobilised to stop them, metro stations were closed, homes were raided overnight, and some 11,000 persons were arrested, and transported by bus to the same internment centers used under Vichy. Others including Moroccans and Tunisians, were taken to police stations.

About 4,000 to 5,000 people managed to march from the Place de la Republique to Opera, peacefully, before being blocked by the police. The demonstrators turned back, but at the Rex Cinema the police opened fire into the crowd, then charged them. Several people were killed.

Elswehere, Algerians were thrown off bridges into the Seine and drowned, while others were beaten up and killed by "welcoming committees" of cops waiting for them at the police stations or detention places. It is not known how many people were killed that day, or in the following days when corpses kept turning up in the river. One witness said at least 200. The prefecture of police said just two. A French government commission in 1998 admitted 48, but those who have investigated found even official documents listed more than that.

A group of police who were sickened by what they had seen said:
" What happened on 17 October 1961 and in the following days against the peaceful demonstrators, on which no weapons were found, morally forces us to bring our testimony and to alert public opinion... All guilty people must be punished. The punishment must be extended to all of the responsible people, those who give orders, those who feign of letting it happen, whatever their high office may be... Among the thousands of Algerians brought to the Parc des Expositions of the Porte de Versailles, tens have been killed by blows from rifle butts and pickaxe handles... In one of the extremity of the Neuilly bridge, groups of policemen on one side, CRS on the other, moved slowly towards each other. All the Algerians captured in this huge trap were knocked out and systematically thrown in the Seine. A good hundred people were subjected to this treatment... [In the Parisian police headquarters], torturers threw their victims by tens in the Seine which flows at only a few meters from the courtyard, to keep them from being examined by the forensic scientists. Not before having taken their watches and money. Mr. Papon, prefect of the police, and Mr. Legay, general director of the municipal police, assisted to these horrible scenes... These indisputable facts are only a small part of what has happened in these last days and what continues to happen. They are known by the municipal police. The extortions committed by the harkis, the district special brigades, the brigades des aggressions et violences are not secret any more. The little information given by the newspapers is nothing compared to the truth... We do not sign this text and sincerely regret it. We observe, not without sadness, that the current circumstances do not allow us to do so..."

The authorities were more concerned with finding out the anonymous authors than with investigating, let alone punishing, the crimes about which they spoke.

In 1944 many police had taken part in the rising which opened Paris to its liberators. But during the Cold War years those seen as sympathetic to the Left were likely to find their careers blocked, while others who had been notorious collaborators and outright fascists were welcomed back.

Maurice Papon would be their man, and them his. Before the war, Papon had served the French colonial regime in Syria in a security intelligence role. Returning to France in November 1940 he chose to join Marshall Petain's Vichy regime, and was appointed to the prefecture of the Gironde region, in charge of Jewish Affairs. He worked with the Nazi SS arranging the deportation of Jews from Bordeaux to Drancy, and on to Auschwitz, and he administered Vichy laws enabling him to sell off land and businesses which had been Jewish-owned.

De Gaulle met Papon in September 1944, and somehow though his wartime role can not have been secret, the Vichyite Papon was able to pass himself off as a good patriot for long enough to get new jobs in post-war France and then Algeria. He was made prefect of Constantine in October 1949, spent some time putting down nationalists in Morocco in 1954, then returned to Constantine in 1956, where his authority was soon associated with repression, detention camps and torture.

On March 13, 1958, policemen demonstrated in the courtyard of police headquarters - later to be where bodies of Algerians were piled - demanding special high risk payments because of the war. Encouraged by a right-wing deputy called Jean-Marie Le Pen, 2,000 of them tried to storm the National Assembly, to shouts of "Sales Juifs! A la Seine! Mort aux Fellaghas!" ("Dirty Jews, into the Seine!, Death to the Algerian rebels!"). The next day Maurice Papon was appointed Prefect of Police.

The attack on "sales juifs" may have been aimed at politicians they did not like, but it was also a tradition for the French Right going back to the time of Dreyfus, and strong among both Vichyites and the colons in Algeria. Racist police had also more than once attacked people in working class Jewish neighbourhoods after chasing back Communist demonstrations.

On February 8, 1962 the Paris police under Papon's leadership attacked just such a demonstration, which had been called against the right-wing OAS terrorists. Police blocked nearby streets at both ends before charging the crowd. Demonstrators tried to take refuge in the entry of the Charonne metro station, but police pursued them into the station and hurled heavy iron plates (used around the bases of trees and on metro vents) down onto demonstrators in the stairwells. Eight people were crushed to death or died from skull fractures and a ninth died from wounds in hospital. All of the dead, except a sixteen year-old boy, were members of the CGT unions. A massive funeral demonstration drew between quarter and a half million participants. The dead are buried in the Pere Lachaise cemetery near the Mur des Federes. Police blamed the violence on the demonstrators.

Papon had meanhile been awarded the Legion of Honour by De Gaulle. Forced out of his police position after the kidnap and murder of Moroccan oppositionist Mehdi Ben Barka, Papon was found another job as director of Sud Aviation, the French builders of Concorde, again owing to De Gaulle's support. After May 1968, he became a deputy, and then Minister of the Budget from 1978 under prime minister Raymond Barre and president Giscard d'Estaing.

On May 6, 1981 details about Vichy past emerged, when Le Canard enchaîné published documents signed by Papon which show his responsibility in the deportation of 1,690 Bordeaux Jews to Drancy internment camp from 1942 to 1944. After a very long investigation, this led to his eventual 1995 to 1998 trial and conviction for crimes against humanity. In 1998, he was stripped of all his decorations after his conviction for crimes against humanity. Sentenced to ten years, Papon was released on ill-health grounds a few years later. He died at home aged 96.

If some things are a matter of shame, there are those like the anonymous "republican policemen" who testified to what they knew, and those who insist on remembering the victims and uncovering the truth, and that is a matter for pride. Among writers who have pursued the truth about the 1961 Paris massacre and related events is Jean-Luc Einaudi (see reference below). Another is the historian and Socialist Party senator David Assouline. This evening there is going to be a commemoration of the Paris massacre and honour to its victims, organised by among others, the Association of Maghhrebi Workers in France and the Union of French Jews for Peace, who say:

Fifty years ago on October 17, 1961, during the war in Algeria, the FLN had organized a peaceful demonstration in the streets of Paris to support the cause of Algerian independence. Hundreds of Algerians - men, women and even children - were brutally massacred. While many bodies were recovered from the Seine, others littered the sidewalk in front of the Rex cinema, while 50 dead bodies were piled in the courtyard of the police headquarters in Paris. Remember that the Prefect of the time was a ... Maurice Papon, the same man who was convicted of crimes against humanity for his role in the deportation of Jews from Bordeaux during World War II, when he was Secretary General of the prefecture of the Gironde. Between the anti-Semitic atrocities and massacre of Algerians - designated at the time as "French Muslims' - Papon and France, both of them, showed a continuity in their hate crimes. This year, October 17 will mark the 50th Anniversary of the "Great Ratonnade" a prelude to the independence of Algeria. A demonstration, called by the UJFP and many other associations, will be held to commemorate this dark recent history of France.

See you Monday, October 17 to 18 hours before the Rex cinema at the corner of the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle, and the Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière (M ° Bonne Nouvelle).

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Desert Fox

SO Tory Defence Minister Liam Fox has found himself defenceless. Once fancied by the Thatcher faithful to step into her shoes, so to speak, the Scots GP has stepped down, sparing David Cameron from the embarassment of removing his one-time leadership rival, before anything else came out.

The Fox Affair has centred on his relationship with a friend called Adam Werritty, who joined him for trips and top-level meetings yet had no official place in either the government or the Ministry of Defence. The Times reported last Monday:

"He maintained such a close relationship with Dr Fox that when he undertook “James Bond” style trips to Iran in the months before last year’s election, mutual friends assumed it was on behalf of the Defence Secretary".

On Friday documents appeared which showed that Werritty, who called himself the Minister's adviser, though Fox insisted they were just good friends, had received £147, 000 from certain companies interested in influencing government policy. That was quite generous if it was just so Fox could have the company of his best man on trips to Dubai and other destinations.

On the other hand, they were travelling first-class and staying at five-star hotels. Meeting foreign heads of state and generals. Perhaps like Cameron amd the Royals they helped drum up trade for Britain's armaments industry. Fox could have taken along a civil servant from the minsitry. Having a mate along whose salary and fares were paid by private benefactors would save expense to the taxpayer.

If only Fox had pointed this out perhaps he would have earned the public's gratitude, instead of arousing suspicion by denying everything. As it was, people who observed Dr.Fox's peregrinations wondered why, with three highly paid advisers employed at the MoD he preferred to be assisted by Mr.Werrity, and if they were not just travelling on official business, what purposes were being served.

It wasn't all work, but then after a visit to "our boys" in Afghanistan or Iraq, the minister needed some relaxation.

What came out on Friday was that Werrity was the founder of Pargav Ltd., a not -for-profit company which handled money from sources including Sri Lanka and top Israeli lobbyists. One of its backers has been Tamares Real Estate, an investment company owned by Poju Zabludowicz, heir to the Israeli Soltam arms fortune.

Along with his business interests, which include real estate in Las Vegas and the Israeli settlement of Maalei Adumim, on occupied Palestinian territory, Finnish-born Zabludowicz, who now lives in London, is chairman of the British Israel Communications and Research organisation, BICOM, the main Israeli lobbying organisation in Britain.

'A spokesman for Zabludowicz said he owned a "legacy" arms business in the US, but added that it was not a significant part of his empire. Most of his assets were now in property, he said.

"Any suggestion that he has benefited from this relationship [with Pargav] would be completely wrong," he said. "For many years, Poju Zabludowicz has helped fund not-for-profit organisations, not individuals, due to his passion for the promotion of peace and understanding between peoples in the United States, Europe and the Middle East."

Yeah, right. Mr.Zabludowicz is a modest and retiring man, of generous and I'm sure laudable aims. In their report on "The Pro-Israel Lobby in Britain", a Channel Four Dispatches programme, James Jones and Peter Obore found that few of the people they interviewed seemed to have even heard of the Finnish-born philanthropist. "Our questions continually met with blank expressions from senior politicians and people in the Jewish community".

But Zabludowicz had somehow disbursed of a discreet two million pounds in donations, over three years, and BICOM had sent thirty representatives to America, to learn from the US lobbyists AIPAC, as well as working with the Conservative Friends of Israel, which has paid for numerous MPs trips to Israel. To be fair, we should note that there is also a Labour Friends, and that BICOM found former Labour MP Lorna Fitzsimons a job as its director.

In September 2005, as Jones and Obore tell us, Zabludowicz met with David Cameron, and through Tamares Real Estate he channeled some £15,000 to help Cameron with his successful campaign for the Tory leadership.

More recently it was reported that Poju Zabludowicz is one of the people backing the Community Security Trust (CST), headed by Gerald Ronson, which is officially concerned with protecting Jewish people and institutions in Britain, and maintains co-operation with police. Cameron spoke at the CST's dinner. praising its role. It was after receiving a report from the CST that Home Secretary Theresa May ordered Palestinian visitor Raeed Salah's arrest.

Another reported Pargav sponsor, Michael Lewis, 52, was vice-chairman of Bicom until 2007 and boss of Oceana Investments. A Conservative party donor, he also gave £13,832 to Atlantic Bridge, the charity set up by Fox and run by Werritty from Fox's parliamentary office. While Zabludowicz was helping Cameron in 2005 Lewis donated £5,000 to Fox's leadership campaign. Something about not putting all your eggs in one basket comes to mind!

A firm which reportedly donated £15, 000 to Pargav was G3 Good Governance Group, described as a private intelligence company which provides advice on risky overseas investments and investigative services. G3 says it places the "highest priority on integrity, discretion and trust", and its donation to Warrity's outfit was for "charitable" work. With offices in Mayfair and Manhattan, G3 has been chaired by Chester Crocker, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs under President Ronald Reagan, since at least 2005. It employs 32 analysts.

By a co-incidence, the Sri Lanka Development Trust has shared the same building as G3. Chester Crocker's friends say he had no involvment with Sri Lanka and had never heard of the Trust. But Liam Fox has. He set it up. Now based in Edinburgh, the Trust promotes private investment in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka's civil rights record, its treatment of the Tamil minority, crushing the Tamil Tigers' revolt and rounding people up into detention camps, have been criticised both in UN reports and US diplomatic dispatches obtained by Wikileaks. Those in the Sri Lankan government most involved in the repression were worried that arms supplies and investment might be affected. Perhaps embarassingly for Dr. Fox he was on a visit to Sri Lanka when the Wikileaks material appeared.

An report from MoD Permanent Secretary Ursula Brennan was presented to the Prime Minister on Monday. In a letter to the Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, Ms Brennan noted that other people had been present in only four of the 22 occasions on which Mr Werritty and Dr Fox had met at the MoD. Three of those were on the subject of Sri Lanka, though the fourth concerned Israel.

"A meeting last year at the Ministry of Defence between Defence Secretary Liam Fox and the incoming UK ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, will form a key part of the inquiry into the relationship between Dr Fox and his best man, Adam Werritty. Questions will also be raised about a dinner Mr Werritty helped arrange at the Herzliya Conference in February this year.

"The JC can reveal that Mr Werritty was considered to be Dr Fox's "chief of staff" by some of those who dealt with him, although he had no official job within the MoD. Dr Fox was forced to admit this week that his friend should not have been present at a sensitive meeting at the MoD with the ambassador-elect.

"The Defence Secretary is known as a champion of Israel within the government. Speaking at the Herzliya Conference in February, which Mr Werritty also attended, he urged tougher sanctions against Iran, Mr Werritty's area of expertise."

The Israel connection also entwines indirectly with a more private - but MoD related -issue about which questions have been raised. Lee Petar, a former director of communications at BICOM, has a PR company, Tetra Strategy, which has Zabludowicz's Tamares company among its clients.

But this sub-plot enters UK-US business relations, and the mirky borderland between the "Defence establishment" and the business world. Tetra was employed by Harvey Boulter, a Dubai-based British businessman whose company is called Porton Capital, or the Porton Group. Maybe it is a coincidence that the Ministry of Defence chemical and biological warfare laboratories are on Porton Down in Wiltshire. Boulter's company specialises in military and medical technology. It wanted advice from Tetra on a claim against the American company 3M.

A statement issued by Tetra on Monday said: "The case concerned the development of new MRSA testing technology developed by the MoD. Tetra introduced its client to Adam Werritty in March 2011, widely believed at the time to be an official adviser to Dr Liam Fox. The purpose of the introduction was to brief the MoD on the litigation."

A Porton subsidiary, Acolyte, had taken on the technology called BacLite which it believed could detect the suberbug MRSA. Porton then made a deal with 3M to sell its shares in Acolyte, but the deal later ran into trouble, with 3M claiming the technology didn't work, while Porton said the US firm was not properly developing it.

Mr Boulter claims Adam Werritty agreed to set up a meeting at which both commercial ventures would be raised with Dr Fox. He thought the issue would be raised in Cabinet, and that the British government might think again about a knighthood for 3M's British-born chief executive George Buckley.

It appears there was also discussion about mobile phones being provided for British service personnel in Afghanistan, and their possible usefulness in assisting British-backed rebels in Libya.

It may be that Prime Minister David Cameron and his chums won't miss Dr.Liam Fox, who was a jumped-up state school boy without the Old Etonians' connections or finesse. Notwithstanding his medical background he made no secret of his wish to asssit private treatment at the expense of the NHS. Top military chiefs may have accepted his cuts but not his seeming to assume he knew their job.

As a right-wing backed leadership rival Fox was possibly brought into Cameron's Cabinet tent so he could be inside pissing out rather than the other way. Following his resignation Cameron focussed on praising his supposed success in clearing up the mess that Labour allegedly left. But he must be keeping his fingers crossed that not too much of a tangled web is going to be unravelled.

See also:

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Friday, October 14, 2011

CPS says "Sorry". But does the government give a FACK?

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has apologised to the family of Mark Wright for failings in the way it investigated and took action over his death.

Mark, the 37-year old father of two children, had gone to work for a firm called Deeside Metal near Chester, which disposed of scrap metal and waste. He was not happy with safety and conditions there, but soldiered on with his family to keep.

One day in March 2005 a lorry delievered a load of what the driver said were empty aerosols. The firm did not check, but told Mark to put them in a crusher. In fact, the cans contained inflammable materials, and there was an explosion in which Mark was engulfd in flame and inhaled burning gas.

The CPS initially ruled that neither Deeside Metal, aerosol manufacturer Jeyes nor his boss Robert Roberts should face manslaughter charges.

I remember Mark Wright's mother, at a Workers Memorial Day rally in London, describing how the family had heard about his horrible death. Rather than investigate the circumstances the police were more concerned with warning his parents against "harassment" of the employers when they took flowers to the site.

It took four years cmpaigning by the Wright family before the CPS decided Mr Roberts should face manslaughter charges, and a court ruled that the length of the delay meant any subsequent trial would be an "abuse of process."

Jeyes, Deeside Metals and Mr Roberts were convicted of breaching health and safety laws in December 2010.

Mr Wright's mother Dorothy Wright said the apology "brings to a close our battle for justice. I would hope that in future workplace killing will be considered as the serious crime that it truly is."

Labour MP Katy Clark welcomed the apology, but said it was "long overdue" and would have not have been made but for tireless campaigning by Ms Wright and Families Against Corporate Killing (Fack), the campaign group of which Ms Wright is a founder member.

She added: "It is clear there could have been a criminal prosecution for manslaughter. The failures in how Mark's case was handled meant that this did not happen. Now that these failures have been acknowledged it is essential that measures are put in place to stop them from ever reoccurring."

Meanwhile the Con Dem government is proceding with measures to run down the Health and Safety Executive inspectorate, and reduce the "burden" of safety regulation on companies. The September issue of Hazards magazine says minister Chris Grayling had met ten different industry bodies this year to discuss his plans. "But he couldn't find any time in his diary for FACK..."

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Real life coming to New Bond Street Sotheby's sale

ROSIE the Riveter

ROSIE the Riveter helped win the war. We don't know how much she earned or how much profit the boss made from her work, but as a symbol of American women working in wartime industry (and doing what had been "men's jobs" ) Rosie appeared in more than one art work, and she earned $4,959,500 in less than an hour on May 22 2002 when Norman Rockwell's painting, originally for a Saturday Evening Post cover, was sold by auction house Sotheby's.

Tomorrow evening when Sotheby's holds an art sale at its New Bond Street premises in London's West End there will be some real life American workers and their supporters turning up, though it's meant to be a black bow tie event, and the Teamsters union members and friends are only coming to bid for a fair deal for workers.

With unemployment in the UK highest it has been in 17 years, Europe in financial crisis, and Americans so happy with capitalism they are resisting police violence to occupy Wall Street, this may seem a funny time to expect profits from selling costly luxuries like art works. But from the big art houses like Sotheby to the makers of "limited edition" tat and dodgy dealers in stamps, they know that when people with money are not sure of the future their aesthetic interest increases.

Some genuine works of art are rarely seen outside the bank vaults.

With an annual turnover of around US $774 million, offices on New Bond Street and York Avenue, Manhattan, and more than 200 years in the art business, Sotheby are the big boys. In 1964 Sotheby purchased Parke-Benet, America's biggest auctioneer of fine art, and in 1983 the company was purchased by American shopping malls developer A. Alfred Taubman, who went on to take it public.

In 2010, Sotheby’s sales increased by 74 percent to $4.8 billion. And recently, Sotheby’s reported its most profitable quarter in the company’s 267-year history. But despite the record profits and respectable image, Sotheby prefers to act like a cowboy outfit when dealing with some of its workers.

An important part of dealing in valuable works of art and looking after them is played by the art handlers. Auctioneers may sell the art, but it is the handlers who transport the items safely and set them up for display. Some of Sotheby's art handlers have more than 40 years experience, handling works of art that sell for as much as $100 million. But rather than recognise the value of their work, and reward them properly, Sotheby has refused to negotiate a fair contract with their union, the Teamsters. The company has locked out its professional art handlers with no paycheck, outsourcing their work to temporary workers. Meanwhile, Sotheby’s rewarded its chief executive officer by nearly doubling his annual salary to almost $6 million.

The handlers and their union have held demonstrations at Sotheby's Manhattan premises, and last week some trade unionists in London received this letter appealing for support:

I am writing to ask your assistance on an important Teamsters campaign against the Sotheby's auction house in New York, where a group of 40 workers - mostly people of color - have been locked out of their jobs by an institution that caters to the decadence of the world's richest families, individuals and corporations; and, whose Board of Directors includes the likes of James Murdoch.

(website is

Sotheby's hired the notorious union busting law firm, Jackson Lewis, to master mind their strategy. Their wealthy clientele sit on the boards of museums, ballet companies and operas. These favorite "charities"
controlled by New York's elite also serve as tax shelters while legitimate
providers of government social services are being cut. One in five New Yorkers live in poverty and the number is even more dramatic for families of color.

One thing we have found in our campaign is that the wealthy elite do not want to be called out publicly. We have demonstrated and hand-billed their gala fundraisers and even key auctions. Sources inside Sotheby's tell us this is having an impact on Sotheby's. For this reason we are trying to demonstrate at other Sotheby's locations around the world.

On October 13th , Sotheby's London is conducting their biggest auction of the Fall season and we are asking the British labor movement to help us organize a spirited demonstration at Sotheby's so that all auction-goers will at least get a taste of the discomfort that the 40 families of locked-out workers feel by going without a paycheck for two months.

Andy Banks

International Brotherhood of Teamsters

Director, Campaigns Unit

Support has come from Unite, RMT and the GMB union, and the the issue of Sotheby's mistreatment of workers is being raised in parliament, as well as by Cities of London and Westminster Trades Union Council into whose bailiwick the New Bond Street premises fall.

Tomorrow evening, Thursday October 13 at 6pm the swells arriving for Sotheby's art sale may find themselves meeting a bit of social realism that wasn't mentioned in the company's ad. I'm sure Rosie would approve.

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"Assassination? That's Our Game!"

ORLANDO LETELIER and his bombed car. Murdering diplomats in Washington has been done before.

AMERICA and Iran appeared a step nearer war yesterday with the US government claiming to have evidence the Iranian government was behind a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

Describing a "murder-for-hire" plot involving two Iranians and a Mexican drugs cartel, US attorney-general Eric Holder said the Saudi ambassador and scores of others would have been killed in a bombing at a Washington restaurant.

The attorney-general said Iran would be "held to account" over what he described as a flagrant abuse of international law. Tne US Treasury department immediately imposed sanctions against five individuals allegedly linked to the plot.

The Iranian government said it was "outraged" over the allegations, and that the US was expert at making false claims. "This is a fabrication," said a spokesman for Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The bomb plot accusation comes as Saudi forces have been putting down demonstrations for civil rights in their eastern provinces, and blaming the unrest on encouragement from Iran. In neighbouring Bahrain, following the suppression of democratic opposition with the help of Saudi tanks, the authorities have sentenced doctors to long terms in prison for treating injured protesters.

In the United States itself the Obama adminsitration is seeing the streets and headlines taken from the right-wing "Tea Party" by an unprecedentedly wide movement across the country supporting the populist and anti-capitalist call to "Occupy Wall Street" and end the bankers' power.

Meanwhile in Israel, amid relief that the Netanyahu government had finally negotiated the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit in return for Palestinian prisoners, after years when it preferred making war, there were suggestions from seasoned critics that Netanyahu was clearing the decks for the big one - preparing for war with Iran.

It has been said before that Israel would need permission for its planes to cross Saudi airspace for this, and though there were reports this had been obtained, the Saudi regime might find it easier if they had a pretext.

The basis for the Iranian bomb plot story is that two men, one an an American-Iranian, Manssor Arbabsiar, 56, and Gholam Shakuri, an Iranian, have been charged in New York with the alleged plot to pay a Mexican drug cartel to help assassinate Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador and close confidante of the Saudi king. According to the US justice department, the aim was to bomb a restaurant in Washington frequented by Jubeir with the possibility of a hundred or more bystanders being killed in the explosion. US officials said the Iranians put a $1.5m price tag on the assassination.

The White House said Obama called Jubeir today to express solidarity between the US and Saudi Arabia in the face of "a flagrant violation of US and international law". Meanwhile US officials said the bomb plot could have been written as a Hollywood script.

Maybe it was.

As with previous US accusations linking the Tehran government to bombings in Argentina, the precise motivation of the alleged conspracy has not yet been made clear. It is true that the Iranian and Saudi regimes, one Shi'ite and the other Sunni, are rivals, waging a stealthy war by proxy for supremacy in the Muslim world, and particularly via the upeavals in the Middle East. It is also true that the Iranian regime has engaged in terror against its political opponents. Iranian and Kurdish exiles abroad, - and got away with it - before.

Whatever the truth about the present story, however. for America to get on its high horse and display moral outrage over an assassination plot will cause wry amusement to anyone who knows the global record of the CIA.

The US government and its agencies have also not been too concerned about killing innocent bystanders in the bombings they have carried out or supported - including some in Iran.

As for the killing of a diplomat in Washington, the alleged plot against the Saudi ambassador would not be the first time something like this was done. Last month saw the 35th anniversary of one such murder, that of former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier.

Letelier, a Chilean Socialist and oppoment of the right-wing dictator General Augusto Pinochet was killed by a car bomb explosion on September 21, 1976, in Sheridan Circle, along with his US assistant, Ronni Moffitt. Her husband Michael Moffitt was injured but survived.

Several people were later convicted for this murder. Among them was a former CIA man Michael Townley, who served five years in prison but was freed under the Federal Witness Protection Program. General Manuel Contreras and Brigadier Pedro Espinoza of the Chilean DINA secret police were convicted in Chile in 1993. Townley said that General Pinochet gave the order for the attack; This was confirmed by General Contreras. But Pinochet, who died on December 10, 2006, was never brought to trial for the murders.

Following Pinochet's death the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), for which both Letelier and Moffitt worked, called for the release of all the classified documents related to the Letelier–Moffitt assassination. The Clinton administration de-classified more than 16,000 documents related to Chile, but withheld documents related to the Letelier-Moffitt assassination in Washington on the grounds that they were associated with an ongoing investigation. If there was an investigation, the Bush administration cancelled it.

A State Department document made available by the National Security Archive on 10 April 2010 reveals that an official statement warning against Pinochet's Operation Condor assassination program was sent to US diplomatic missions in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay on 23 August 1976, to be passed on to the host governments. But this was rescinded by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on 16 September 1976, supposedly after US ambassadors raised fears for their safety and the diplomatic consequences. Five days later the assassination of Letelier took place in Washington.

The US administration is plainly not as concerned about offending Ahmadinejad as it was about upsetting the CIA protege Pinochet. For his part, Ahmadinejad, faced with continued political and social unrest at home, has been happy to play the bogeyman for Western imperialists, and democrats, so he can rely on tension and threats coming from abroad. But this time the game may be getting out of his hands.

Unlike the days when it placated Pinochet, the US is calling on its allies to help isolate Iran. This might be a substitute for waging war, as we are told, or it might be a preparation for it.

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Guerrilla tactics take the smile off arrogant bosses' face

NEW tactics, new alignments and new people are being brought into the growing resistance to the aggression against working people's living standards and welfare launched by the Con-Dem government and its big business allies.

Westminster Bridge was blocked today by an alliance of health professionals, trades unionists, old age pensioners and students, responding to a call initiated by UK Uncut to 'Block the Bridge, Block the Bill', on the eve of the House of Lords vote on the government's Health and Social Care Bill.

The bridge was a symbolic target, as it stands between the Houses of Parliament and St.Thomas' Hospital. Campaigners warn that Health Minister Andrew Lansley's Bill, handing over to GP consortia and opening the doors wide to private profiteers, is a way to demolish the National Health Service.

'Public Health for Cumbria director and former UK Public Health Association chairman Dr John Ashton, who joined the protests, said there was real anger across the NHS at the threat to this most cherished public institution.

"This confused and convoluted Bill threatens to undermine the guarantee of health security irrespective of position or wealth and, at the same time, creates the conditions for private health-care companies to come in and cherry-pick profitable parts of care," he said.

"I am proud that public health specialists have been able to give voice to this anger over the past few days, an anger which has no political boundaries!"

Civil Service union PCS leader Mark Serwotka said that the Bill represents the "gravest threat to the NHS" since its foundation."Peaceful protest and civil disobedience have a long and proud history in this country, and are a perfectly legitimate response to plans that no-one voted for and no-one wants," he said.'

The PCS union has already balloted its members for industrial action over jobs and pensions on November 30, and they will be joined by unions including the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the University and Colleges Union(UCU). Others intending to ballot members range from the big boys like Unison and Unite (members in public sector), and Prospect (whose members include government scientists and Health and Safety inspectors)hrough to such relative newcomers to the battlefield as the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the National Association of Head Teachers.

The strike on November 30, likely to be a start rather than a finish, will give ignorant loudmouthed Tory supporters, who jeer that the public sector workers normally "do nothing", the opportunity to learn otherwise. More important than the industrial muscle however will be political effect of such wide unity between workers, and the government's isolation.

Meanwhile another section of workers is coming into action with quite new tactics, perhaps scaring some union officials, never mind employers . A couple of hundred electricians brought Oxford Street to a halt last Wednesday. Police moved in, snatching Unite union flags and tearing down banners as they tried to force the men back off the road.

Undaunted, but heeding advice by more experienced militants not to be provoked, the workers instead wheeled around and, to the confusion of the Met, went back to the Tommy Clarke building site where they had begun their demonstration at 6.30 am.

The contractor is one of seven companies - there were eight - who say they will quit the Joint Industry Board (JIB) which has negotiated electricians pay for forty years, and impose their own company agreements. This could enable them to de-skill much of the work on sites, cut electricians' pay by as much as 35 per cent, reduce apprenticeships and abolish established procedures.

It might be no co-incidence that this attack on a section of workers comes at a time when the government is cutting already inadequate health and safety inspections and promising to free employers from what they call 'red tape' and restrictions. It is probably no coincidence either that the big contractors who want to quit the JIB have also allegedly been users of so-called Consultancy Services, successors to the notorious Economic League in compiling blacklists of 'undesirable' employees.

Workers in construction trades who fight for better conditions on sites, or let themselves be put forward as safety reps, have found themselves on the lists, prevented from getting another job. Though such practices were ruled illegal, workers like Dave Smith, who was a UCATT safety representative when he was blacklisted in 1994, have had to fight their own cases - in Dave's case using the Human Rights Act, which Tory Home Secretary Teresa May wants to remove.

Recent actions by electricians have been joined by both Unite and UCATT activists, some of them workers with bitter experience of being on the blacklist. But many of those taking part are younger workers new to militant action. What they might lack in experience seems to be made up for in willingness to try new tactics.

After we have seen employers flouting the law, governments outlawing 'secondary' picketing and solidarity actions, judges accepting frivolous pretexts to dismiss ballots and issue injuctions, and unions hamstrung by fines and the threat of sequestration, these young workers are finding ways to treat the law and the bosses with the respect they deserve - in other words to say "Up Yours!"

It is difficult to organise in the building industry at the best of times, with each site presenting a fresh challenge, and if workers had to ballot for official action each time there was a dispute over safety or victimisation the job could be finished before the union got started. But on the other hand, as UCATT's Mick Dooley was pointing out to a meeting of Greater London trades councils on Saturday, companies trying to meet a target date for completion, and having sub-contractors complaining that they could not get on site to start their work, are quite vulnerable to action by even a section of their workers.

It must also be a problem for employers to threaten "ringleaders" if these are already outside the gate. And the protesters have been gaining confidence when they found they could stop a lorry, and persude the driver not to deliver concrete to a site.

Ar Blackfriars station in August, it was Balfour Beatty who faced a mass meeting outside their site, urging their electricians not to go into work. At Farringdon last month there was a mass trespass on the site, and as a break from speeches the invaders played music over their sound system to make it a festive occasion!

As well as London there have been actions so far in Manchester, Liverpool. and Newcastle, where the protesters tried to block the Tyne Tunnel. Each time, according to Mick Dooley, some 300 workers turn up early in the morning for these "guerrilla" actions. Well perhaps this is that mobility of labour that ministers were always on about.

There are rumours that Unite officialdom, unhappy about the irregular activity have called in some union officers for a talking to. It was nevertheless Unite national officer Harry Cowap who, according to the Morning Star, 'received roars of approval after calling on the sparks to go back and bring "thousands" to the next demonstration outside the Tate next Wednesday'.

I understand that's the Tate Modern. Perhaps they could call it A Happening.

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Everything is Possible
Woman with imagination and vision, but no idle dreamer.

THERE was a capacity crowd in the hall at Congress House on Wednesday night, and I was one of the minority of males attending. A new feature-length documentary about a figure from early last century was having its screening at the SERTUC Film Club, SERTUC being the Southern and Eastern Region of the Trade Union Congress, but as I think the reversal of the usual sex balance might suggest, this audience was much more than "the usual suspects".
And it was a rewarding evening for all.

Sylvia Pankhurst: Everything is Possible tells the story of the battling sufragette and socialist who never surrendered her beliefs and principles, whether to brutality from State or pressure from Family, and never lost her feeling, often expressed in practical help, for humanity.

Born in Manchester, where her mother and father started a branch of the Independent Labour Party, Sylvia began studying at Manchester Art School in 1898, and in 1900 she won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London. In the film we see some of her work, depicting strong working women like some she might have known up north, with warmth, respect and admiration. But Sylvia was not one of those who stick at sentimentalising the oppressed while doing nothing to combat their oppression, and as she became more involved in the women's suffrage movement in London she decided to put her art to one side and concentrate on politics.

For Sylvia Pankhurst achieving the vote would never be an end in itself, and still less was she interested in raising a narrow elite of upper class women to take their place alongside men in a parliament maintaining wealth and privilege. As her repeated arrests and hunger strikes would show, it was not lack of courage that set her apart from the increasingly desperate actions taken by some sufragettes, but her insistance that the movement must involve the mass of women, and not just an elite of heroines - though a heroine she was.

What's more, while some working men still had no vote, she saw them as allies to be won, rather than competitors - whatever the backward attitudes of some union leaders, or the bizarre (to our modern ears) ideas of a self-styled marxist intellectual like Belfort Bax, who devoted his energies to opposing women's rights.

It was the First World War that shed sharp light on things. Like her friend Keir Hardie, Sylvia Pankhurst saw no glory in workers being sent to the trenches for rival imperialist powers and war profiteers. Unlike her mother Emmeline and older sister Christabel, she would not put aside her fight for equality to support the war effort, and getting more women into production, rather than parliament. But while her mother and sister waved the flag for Our Boys, it was Sylvia, based in London's East End, who helped to see their children were not neglected, with cost-price cafes, toy workshops where mums could earn a wage, creches, and mother and baby clinics in local pubs, one dubbed the Mother's Arms.

(Next time I stumble between the push-chairs and buggies parked in my local Wetherspoon by the mums who gather there with their ankle-biters to confer over brunch I will no longer grumble about what I thought was a modern-day development, having now seen the precedents shown in this film!)

All this was practical solidarity, not mere charity, and went with campaigning on rents and pensions, leading deputations of impoverished East End women to parliament, and editing the Women's Dreadnought, which eventually became the Workers' Dreadnought. It was Sylvia Pankhurst's paper, probably the first edited by a woman, which exposed things people were not supposed to know about, like British Army officers ordering 37,900 executions of conscripts. When an officer, Major Siegfried Sassoon, wrote A Soldiers Declaration, Against the War, it was the Dreadnought that published it.

If not many of us in Wednesday night's audience had known that, I would imagine fewer still of us realised before seeing this film that like James Connolly in Dublin before her, Sylvia Pankhust responded to police brutality by organising a people's army. We see them exercising with real rifles. Stirring times! No wonder by the Second World War our rulers were reluctant to trust the Home Guard with these, or that Sylvia Pankhust has yet to be given a place on a plinth outside parliament, or due mention in our school history books.

An enthusiast like many for the October Revolution in Russia, Sylvia Pankhurst was among the founders of the British Communist Party, though she was not unafraid to tell Lenin when she differed - notably on his advice to communists at the time to get in with Labour and take their place also in parliament. For his part, the leader of the Bolsheviks took Sylvia seriously enough to spend time arguing with her position in Left -wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder.

Sylvia Pankhurst's internationalism continued, in and out of the Party. She supported the dockers who stopped work loading a ship called the Jolly George in London, in 1920 because it was going to carry arms to Poland for use against the Soviet Union. (another piece of working class history we must be grateul to this film for restoring, when nowadays such industrial action is well outside what is legally permitted by our anti-union laws, and there's a danger of such precedents being erased from working class consciousness).

In the 1920s and 1930s, Sylvia Pankhurst was among the first to recognise the menace of fascism and fight against it, and she also assisted Italian and Jewish refugees. She and an Italian socialist Silvio Erasmus Corio set up home at Woodford Green in Essex, and their son Richard was born in 1927.

In 1935, Sylvia launched the Ethiopian News to support the resistance to Italian colonisation. After her partner Silvo died in 1954 she was invited by Emperor Haile Selassie to come and live in Ethiopia, where she founded the Social Service Society and edited a monthly periodical, the Ethiopia Observer. Sylvia Pankhurst died in Addis Ababa on 27 September 1960. The emperor ordered that she should receive a state funeral. Richard Pankhurst became a professor at the University of Addis Ababa and is an outstanding scholar on Ethiopian studies.

Richard and his wife Rita are among the people interviewed in this film, along with academics like Mary Davis. No less than 100 volunteers were involved in conducting the interviews and digging out all kinds of rare archive footage, photographs and documents, some from security files, to tell the story of Sylvia Pankhurst and try to explain her politics. In doing so they have not only brought an under-rated heroine to life and a well-deserved fresh attention, but contributed a missing piece to our picture of 20th century history.

Directors Ceri Dingle and Viv Regan from WORLDwrite, and reporter Saleha Ali who did much of the interviewing were available to discuss with the audience on Wednesday, and I see Ceri Dingle and Professor Mary Davis are due to discuss Sylvia Pankhurst: Everything is Possible on Sunday morning, October 9, when it will be shown along with a short fim about Ethiopia, at the Renoir cinema, in Brunswick Square, under the auspices of London Socialist Film Co-op.

The film is also available on DVD at £10 and well worth showing at your union branch, trades council, history or student society etc


Sylvia Pankhurst was one of first to recognise danger of fascism. An article from Workers Dreadnought;

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