Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fox's trail in Haymarket may lead to bigger prey

ARRIVING at Embankment, Unite banners followed by that of Wandsworth prison officers. In several prisons staff held union meetings in defiance of ban on strikes.
Probation officers and Court staff were also on march, along with head teachers and members of the Chartered Society of Physio-Therapists - all those who according to Tories were just "militants itching for a fight".
And on a day when Cameron jeered at Labour for being "union funded", we got reminded of where the Tories get their funds.

WITH two million people
on strike across the country yesterday, and many thousands, from teachers and nurses, to physiotherapists and prison officers, marching to within a stone's throw of Parliament. a small group of demonstrators invading an office building on Haymarket may seem just a sideshow.

So it is. But neither irrelevant nor insignificant. In fact the 'Occupy London' commandos may have picked a target that was more significant than they realised, or tame media are willing to admit. They should be congratulated.

The suprise action took place at Panton House, the headquarters of global mining company Xstrata, which occupies the third and fourth floors of the five-storey building. About 40 activists got into the unguarded building and raced up stairs, unfurling a banner on the roof.

Police kettled about 200 more people in the street outside, while territorial support group officers and others were brought in to remove those inside, who had taken up slogan chants about tax evasion and top bosses' pay. Some protesters said they were roughly handled and thrown down stairs by the heavy mob. About twenty arrests were made.

According to Xstrata's annual report its CEO, Mick Davis, received a pay and free share package worth £17.7m in the last financial year.

As one of those held in the police kettle said: "I'm here because the public sector is getting cut. All the people who are getting hurt by them are the poorest in the country. All the people who don't suffer are the bankers and the rich people."

In a press release Karen Lincoln, a supporter of Occupy London, said: "Mick Davis is a prime example of the greedy 1% lining their own pockets. In this time when the government enforces austerity on the 99%, these executives are profiting. The rest of us are having our pensions cut, health service torn apart and youth centres shut down. We refuse to stand by and let this happen."

But there is more to Mick "the Miner" (City nickname, bet he never got coal dust in his sandwiches!) Davis than his top salary. In the strange business which emerged this year leading to the resignation of Tory Defence Secretary Liam Fox, Mick Davis was one of three top Zionist lobbyists revealed to have funded the activities of Fox's associate Adam Werritty.

Davis, 52, is chairman of United Jewish Israel Appeal, a British charity which splits its contributions between charitable work in the UK and Israel. But that is just one of his favoured causes. Davis gave £150,000 to Conservative party central office over the last 21 months according to Electoral Commission records. He also gave £7,500 to the office of the education secretary Michael Gove in August.

Gove you may remember intervened to tell London schools they must not have anything to do with a Palestinian children's cultural event this year. The Education Secretary was also on TV yesterday criticising the teachers for being on strike over their pensions, and complaining that the BBC and other media were not doing enough to investigate the political past of union leaders like Unite's Len McCluskey. As though there was anything shady or hidden about the man we elected general secretary of my union, unlike the background of the education secretary's sponsors.

In June, Mick Davis was among a delegation that included Poju Zabludowicz, heir to an Israeli arms fortune and the chairman of the Zionist lobby Bicom, which met the foreign secretary William Hague to discuss the impact of the Arab spring on Israel. Zabludowicz's Liechtenstein-registered company Tamares, which owns property in Las Vegas and the West Bank settlement of Ma'alei Adumim, has been another generous donor to Mr.Werrity and the Tories.

The maverick former British diplomat Craig Murray is continuing like a terrier to worry the government with questions about Mick Davis' protege Mr.Werrity, his trips to Iran, to mention another topical subject, and how he helped arrange for Britain's ambassador in Tel Aviv, Matthew Gould to meet Israeli generals over dinner, and what they talked about.

But the Middle East is only one corner of Mick Davis interests, helping Israel but a hobby you might say. According to Wikipedia, Xstrata plc is a global mining company headquartered in Zug, Switzerland and with its registered office in London. It is a major producer of coal (and the world's largest exporter of thermal coal), copper, nickel, primary Vanadium" and Zinc, and the world's largest producer of ferrochrome. It has operations in 19 countries across Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, North America and South America. Xstrata has its primary listing on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. It has a secondary listing on the SIX Swiss Exchange. Its largest shareholder is Glencore International plc, which has a stake of approximately 34%.

That last sentence really is interesting. It is like you are exploring a cave and think you have come to the end, only to find a small opening to one side opening up into a whole bigger cave system. A dark labyrinth.

"Glencore's history reads like a spy novel"
So said an Australian programme about the company.

We could pick up part of that thread from January 20, 2001, when hours before leaving office, US president Bill Clinton granted a presidential pardon to a businessman called Marc Rich, who had been indicted by then federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliano, and was on the US Justice Department's Most Wanted List. The charges against Rich related to illegal trading with Iran and tax evasion.

Rich, who began in metals trading, had got to know the international materials markets and during the 1973-4 oil embargo he found ways to buy Iranian and Iraqi oil relatively cheaply then resell it for twice the price to US companies. He had reportedly gained a friend and business partner in Ayatollah Khomenei. While the Iranian leaders might fulminate against America and Israel, they needed to sell their oil, and were not too bothered apparently by Marc Rich's profitable sales to America or his donations to the Zionists.

Allegations were made that Clinton had decided on the pardon because Rich's ex-wife, a shoe factory heiress, had donated money to the Democrats. But among other factors revealed, Israeli leaders including then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres interceded with the President on Marc Rich's behalf. So for some reason did Spanish King Juan Carlos

Despite the pardon, Rich decided to stay in Switzerland, living for a time at Zug then moving to Meggen. He is said to hold both Spanish and Israeli passports, and to have boasted of his work for Mossad. He has been awarded honours by two Israeli universities, Bar Ilan and the Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

There were rumours linking Rich with the London-based Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), This bank, used by the CIA to fund Afghan mujahaddeen and by Abu Nidal for arms puchases, was also implicated in the Iran-Contra affair, by which arms sales to the Iranian regime helped fund support for right-wing Contras in Nicaragua, thus bypassing US Congressional scrutiny. The BCCI was wound up amid scandal twenty years ago, leaving innocent creditors such as Asian shopkeepers stranded.

But Marc Rich and Co. AG survived , having become Glencore International plc a multinational mining and commodities trading company headquartered in Baar, Switzerland and with its registered office in Saint Helier, Jersey. It is the world's largest commodities trading company, with a 2010 global market share of 60 percent in the internationally tradeable zinc market, 50 percent in the internationally tradeable copper market, 9 percent in the internationally tradeable grain market and 3 percent in the internationally tradeable oil market.

Glencore has production facilities around the world and supplies metals, minerals, crude oil, oil products, coal, natural gas and agricultural products to international customers in the automotive, power generation, steel production and food processing industries.

Glencore has mining interests around the world, from Colombia to the Congo, Katanga to Khazakhstan, .

"Glencore is also noted for its association with the publicly traded Xstrata mining group, also headquartered in the low-tax Canton of Zug, Switzerland. Glencore is reported to serve as a marketing partner for Xstrata. As of 2006, Glencore leaders Willy Strothotte and Ivan Glasenberg are on the board of Xstrata, which Strothotte chairs. According to The Sunday Times in 2005, Glencore controlled 40% of Xstrata stock and has appointed the Xstrata CEO, Mick Davis."
(Wikipedia again).

So what does it all signify? No good asking me. But having taken a glimpse at these affairs, and shone a torch briefly into that labyrinth, we must hope that people do ask questions and maybe someone better qualified may start to untangle the web,

Watching David Cameron on TV sneering about trade unionists funding the Labour Party, and accusing Ed Miliband of asking "trade union funded" questions, I reflected that at least the millions of working people who contribute to Labour through our unions are open and honest about how we earn our money and the way that it is spent. We pay our whack of income tax in this country, which is more than a lot of the Tories' backers can say.

Whether we, the mugs in their eyes, get as good value for money from our politicians as the billionaires make sure they get from theirs is another matter, of course.

PS A Footnote

I believe this is called serendipity, a happy coincidence, though not pehaps for friends and patrons of messrs. Cameron, Hague, Fox and Werrity, it is a remark by Robert Fisk in the Independent on Wednesday:

"Anyway, the Iranians trashed us yesterday and made off, we are told, with a clutch of UK embassy documents. I cannot wait to read their contents. For be sure, they will soon be revealed".

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Friday, November 25, 2011

From the Battle for the Olive Groves to War in the Groves of Academe

AS people in Egypt courageously attempt to regain the reins of their revolution, an Israeli strolling in Tahrir Square was surprised to hear more than one protester say that what they wanted was "democracy like they have in Israel".

They did not burst into a rendition of the Zionist Hatikva, which the Israeli Education ministry would like to impose in all schools; nor were they under illusions as to how much real equality they would enjoy as Arab citizens in Israel (which proclaims itself the Jewish state), let alone as to how much democracy the Israeli state is prepared to concede to Palestine, i.e. the territories it has held under occupation for 44 years.

If anyone needed a reminder of Netanyahu's attitude on the neighbour's rights, he has just reimposed the Israeli freeze on Palestinian funds, previously clamped when Palestine won UNESCO recognition, now imposed again because Fatah and Hamas have agreed on partnership. The Israeli government would sooner have them engage in civil war, even if it means Hamas in Gaza would not be bound by any peace that the Palestine Authority makes.
Peace? Who wants that? We got America backing us, ain't we?

What the people our Israeli reporter heard were trying to say simply was that they want the same kind of democratic rights in their country as Israelis were supposed to enjoy in their state, the right to criticise leaders and governments, to protest and strike, even to screw up as Israelis have done in electing lousy governments.

And what the reporter found ironic was that just when people in Arab countries were risking their lives for freedom, Israelis were facing the dimunition of theirs in the name of patriotism and security. The measures so far - the jailing of a journalist who went too far, the restrictions on funding of non-governmental organisations, the removal of a TV station's license - might not seem too exceptional, when each was taken on their own. But they are not being taken on their own.

"A nation which enslaves others forges its own chains" was an old adage which some thoughtful Israelis quoted as far back as 1968 when it became evident their government had no intention of voluntarily relinquishing the territories it had gained in the previous year's war. We might also remember Abraham Lincoln's realisation that America could not remain half-slave, and half -free. Israel has got away with it for 44 years, with American support, proclaiming itself "the only democracy in the Middle East", albeit not equally a state for all its citizens (it claims instead to be for many of us who are not), while ruling over the neighbouring people by brute force.

The Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, guarded by Israeli troops, are untroubled by some of the laws which Israel boasts, such as on employment, discrimination or women's rights, and the right-wing settlers have only contempt for the democracy of ordinary Israelis. But these settlements and their yeshivot have become the bases for forays into Israel proper, fostering hate and terror against the Arab minority and others, including recently Jewish peace supporters, in a manner which Diaspora Jews will find all too reminiscent of fascist and antisemitic movements.

Veteran peace campaigner Uri Avnery has remarked that what he fears more than Israel annexing the West Bank is that the right-wing settlers will annex Israel.

Against the background of these tensions, it is interesting to see fissures opening in Israel's academic establishments. These do seem to run deeper than the rivalries and competition for funds that we might see elsewhere, even though funding is involved.

"Bar Ilan University is the only Zionist university left in Israel,” – asserted Professor Efraim Inbar, Director of that institution's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, at a gala dinner of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) held last Tuesday night in New York. The ZOA are not any old Zionists, mind. Led at one time by liberal figures like Louis Brandeis and Rabbi Hillel Silver, they have moved sharply to the Right, denouncing other Jewish organisations for being 'soft' on such 'terrorists' as Nelson Mandela, and condemning Israel's decision to withdraw settlers and troops from Gaza, whose people they say should receive no US funds or outside support until they totally end opposition to the State of Israel.

Contacted by the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Inbar stood by his claim, saying Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, for example, were “not Zionist” in his opinion. “There are many Bolshevik post-Zionists at these universities, who pack their faculties with similar-minded lecturers. The Israeli universities are overflowing with post-Modernists who undermine not only Zionism but academic truth itself.”

Inbar said that although he knows that there are also Zionist lecturers at the various Social Studies faculties, they are outnumbered. “An evil wind is emanating from these places,” he said.

Inbar’s comments were received warmly by an 800-strong audience that came to the Grand Hyatt Hotel in midtown Manhattan to see right-wing talk-show host Glenn Beck receive the “Dr. Miriam & Sheldon Adelson Defender of Israel Award”. Another award was given to House Foreign Relations chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who denounced the "dangerous Palestinian scheme" of achieving UN recognition and statehood, and praised Israeli West Bank settlements as "not an impediment to peace - but a solution for Israel’s survival.”

To really make up the evening, and thrill the audience, Republican presidential contender Michele Bachmann called for the US Navy to blockade Iran, and the Pentagon to prepare "war plans".

To be sure, Bar Ilan University has some claim to be outstanding. Among its more famous alumni is Yigal Amir, who is serving a life sentence for the assassination in 1995 of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin whom he considered a traitor for trying to make peace with the Palestinians. Though thousands of Israelis rally each year in honour of the murdered leader, some 14 per cent of the population said Amir should be pardoned, and last year Bar Ilan students partied on the anniversary of the assassination, though they claimed this was just a coincidence as they were celebrating the college term opening.

Some 70 prominent lecturers from various Israeli universities accused Bar-Ilan University of political persecution and denying lecturers promotion and tenure due to their politics, following the university's decision to deny tenure to Dr. Ariella Azoulay last year, and more recent decision not to promote Dr. Menachem Klein, of the political science department, to professor. Bar-Ilan dismissed the allegations saying "decisions about promoting lecturers are made solely on the basis of their academic achievements."

Azoulay, who has published about 10 books and numerous essays in prominent journals, said the university denied her tenure and promotion because of her leftist leanings. "Dr. Azoulay is one of the world's leading researchers in photography and visual culture," the lecturers' group wrote to the Council and Bar-Ilan's president and rector. In view of Azoulay's international recognition, "the university's decision raises a heavy suspicion of political persecution," they wrote.

Prof. Yaron Ezrachi of Hebrew University's political science department said "Bar-Ilan has learned to conceal political considerations, disguising them as academic processes. We fear the precedent of firing lecturers for radical political views of any kind, despite their international academic excellence. This could contaminate the entire higher education system in Israel."

A university which has attracted a different kind of attention is Ben Gurion University of the Negev, based in Be'ersheva. A report in the newspaper Yediot Ahronot says that a committee appointed by the Israeli Council for Higher Education has recommended closing the university's department of politics and government, on account of its "extreme leftist tendency".

We must remember that what supporters of the Israeli government consider "extreme leftist" might not strike everyone as particularly "leftist" at all, but even moderate criticism of the treatment of Palestinians, including that of Negev Bedouin, may be deemed so. What the department's critics seem to particularly dislike is that not only do lecturers express their own opinions, but the department encourages students to partipate in community activity off campus as part of their work.

It seems that the committee investigating BG University sought an unusually high amount of student input into its report, and this looks suspiciously like the work of Im Tirzu, the right-wing student outfit whose members have come from the army, and whose funds have been boosted by right-wing American support. Israeli Education Minister Gideon Saar is chair of the Israeli Council on Higher Education and a supporter of Im Tirzu.

One person in BG's politics department who has particularly angered the right-wing and brought the witch-hunters buzzing around Be'ersheba is Neve Gordon. An ex-paratrooper with war disabilities, he has been a director of Physicians for Human Rights, formed during the first Intifada, and is a member of Ta'ayush, Arab-Jewish Partnership, which has organisd practical solidarity such as food and medical supply convoys to villages under curfew.

A supporter of the Israeli peace camp and Palestinian statehood, Neve Gordon won a noted libel action against American-born Haifa academic Steven Plaut, one of the initiators of the Israeli campus witch hunt.

Then Dr.Gordon wrote in a Los Angeles Times piece on August 20, 2009 that he had decided to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement because Israel had become a right-wing apartheid state and he felt he had no choice but to support such actions. This led to threats by some US donors to withhold funds from Ben-Gurion University, and the university tried to distance itself from Dr.Gordon. Ben-Gurion University president Professsor Rivka Carmi, said, "We are appalled by Dr. Neve Gordon's irresponsible remarks, that morally deserve to be completely and utterly condemned. "We disapprove of Gordon's disastrous views and reject his cynical exploitation of the freedom of speech in Israel and the university."

Education Minister Saar called Gordon's article "repugnant and deplorable. The Israeli government has since legislated against support for boycott. But Professor Carmi was unable to persuade Dr.Gordon to quit, and the department promoted him to head it. Now Professor Carmi has had to defend her university against a broader attack.

Not that Ben Gurion University is encouraging resistance to the demands of the military and its state. It cut the pay of Professor Idan Landau who was jailed in May for refusing to perform army reserve duty. Professor Landau has refused reserve duty for the last 11 years and has been jailed three times, but this is the first time that the university has taken any action against him. King's College professor Shalom Lappin, known to some of us as a left-Zionist Peace (but not Now) type has joined academics from Israel and abroad in writing to the BG president, Professor Rivka Carmi, to challenge the university's decision.

Professor Lappin, who said he did not agree with Professor Landau's actions, nevertheless said he was "appalled" at the BGU response. He wrote: "Despite your insistence that this decision is not politically motivated, the fact that Professor Landau was singled out for this punItive action suggests that it was, in fact, a vindictive expression of political opinion, as well as a gross abuse of administrative authority. I strongly doubt that you would have penalised a faculty member who took a week off his/her academic duties to engage in political activities that you agree with.
"Nor, I suspect, would you have applied this sanction to a colleague who was absent from campus for a week in order to attend to family or personal business, and taught make up classes to compensate his/her students, as Professor Landau did."

The university response, written by lawyer Almog Tzabar, said: "Landau was not punished by the university nor did the university impose any sanctions upon him because of his political views or because the university is taking any sort of position concerning his choice not to do reserve duty.

"An employee is paid a salary for working. Since Landau was in jail, he was unable to work during his period of incarceration – and therefore is not eligible for the salary he would have earned during that period. Therefore, in accordance with solicited legal advice, it was decided to dock his salary for that period because he was not working.
"Nevertheless, above and beyond any legal requirements, since Landau did fulfil his teaching requirements, it was decided to dock 50 per cent of his salary for the time he was absent from work. Not only is this behaviour not improper, this decision reflects the university administration's cautious use of public funds."

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Will US change the Lockerbie script?

JULY 3, 1988. IRANIAN AIRBUS brought down by US navy missile. Western media might have forgotten, others did not. Was Pan Am 103 bombed in revenge?

AFTER the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya, with US eyes turning to Syria, and threats being made to Iran, a little question is bothering me. Will the US government and Western media be keeping to the pursuit of Libyan 'bad guys' for the bombing of Pan Am 103, among other crimes, or are we about to see a change of script?

At the beginning of this month it was reported that the Obama administration had made, or was about to make, a formal application to the new Libyan authorities for the extradition of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the man convicted for the Lockerbie bombing, who was released to return home to Libya on compassionate grounds.

The Scottish government which agreed to the release would not comment on whether it would oppose US moves. But Professor Robert Black QC, who set up the original Camp Zeist trial and persuaded the Libyans to let Megrahi stand trial under Scottish law, believes Megrahi was the victim of a miscarriage of justice, and he said the US would be acting against international law if they sought to try the man again.

The new Libyan government has said it will consider extradition requests, though earlier, during the fighting, the rebels had said they would not.
"We will not give any Libyan citizen to the West," Mohammed al-Alagi, the NTC justice minister, told reporters in Tripoli. "Al-Megrahi has already been judged once and he will not be judged again ... We do not hand over Libyan citizens, (Muammar) Gadhafi does."

As we saw with Osama Bin Laden, the US does not always afford its enemies the luxury of a trial. But in this case their quarry seems likely to escape the talons of US "justice" whatever is decided, as still proclaiming his innocence to the end, Megrahi is reported to be geninely at death's door.

If this is frustrating for those pursuing a hue and cry against the dying man, they might lift their hopes with the news that, following soon after the capture of Saif al Islam Gaddafi, who said Libya had only ever admitted "responsibility" (and not "guilt") for Lockerbie to get over international sanctions, another man, who might allegedly have had a much bigger role than Megrahi, has been captured. Whether asks for Abdullah al Senussi to be handed over, we will see.

Many people, including some with good reason to follow the Pan Am 103 case closely, have their doubts as to whether Megrahi - or indeed Libya - should have been in the dock in the first place. Several legal experts including the UN observer at his trial had strongly challenged the verdict, and there were signs that evidence against the Libyan had been fabricated.

Already in 2003 a former CIA officer had claimed evidence against Megrahi had been planted, and on Sunday, August 28, 2005 the Scotsman reported:

Police chief- Lockerbie evidence was faked
A FORMER Scottish police chief has given lawyers a signed statement claiming that key evidence in the Lockerbie bombing trial was fabricated. The retired officer - of assistant chief constable rank or higher - has testified that the CIA planted the tiny fragment of circuit board crucial in convicting a Libyan for the 1989 mass murder of 270 people.
The police chief, whose identity has not yet been revealed, gave the statement to lawyers representing Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, currently serving a life sentence in Greenock Prison.
The evidence will form a crucial part of Megrahi's attempt to have a retrial ordered by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC). The claims pose a potentially devastating threat to the reputation of the entire Scottish legal system. The officer, who was a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland, is supporting earlier claims by a former CIA agent that his bosses "wrote the script" to incriminate Libya.

The vital evidence that linked the bombing of Pan Am 103 to Megrahi was a tiny fragment of circuit board which investigators found in a wooded area many miles from Lockerbie months after the atrocity. The fragment was later identified by the FBI's Thomas Thurman as being part of a sophisticated timer device used to detonate explosives, and manufactured by the Swiss firm Mebo, which supplied it only to Libya and the East German Stasi.

It was later suggested that Thurman's technical expertise lay less in interpreting such evidence than in making sure it was found near the right spot. Ulrich Lumpert, the Mebo AG engineer who testified to the validity of this evidence, admitted in an affidavit to lying in court and stealing the object from his employer after the attack whereupon it was planted.

The Scottish police officer had apparently decided to approach lawyers with what he knew after Megrahi's first appeal failed. In June 2007 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission granted Megrahi leave to appeal against his conviction for a second time. After initially appealing, Megrahi abandoned his second appeal in August 2009 as an ongoing appeal would have prevented him from being moved to Libya under the Prisoner Transfer Scheme which was thought to be a possibility in 2009. Then Megrahi was freed on compassionate grounds by the Scottish Government on 20 August 2009 following doctors reporting on 10 August 2009 that he had terminal prostate cancer and was expected to have around three months to live.

Martin Cadman, whose son Bill was killed in the Lockerbie bombing, said "I'm very pleased he has been released on compassionate grounds because I don't think he was the right person to be there anyway. It is just righting a wrong...I think he was innocent and he was not involved. I don't believe he should have been in prison and I'm very pleased he will be back home with his family very soon."[31] Doctor Jim Swire, whose 23 year-old daughter Flora was killed said "I don't believe for a moment that this man was involved in the way that he was found to have been involved. I feel despondent that The West and Scotland didn't have the guts to allow this man's second appeal to continue because I am convinced had they done so it would have overturned the verdict against him."

There has been a great deal of recrimination between the US, British and Scottish governments over who agreed to Megrahi's release and why. US media encouraged relatives of the Lockerbie victims to feel betrayed and shout that the Libyan ought to have died in prison, and claimed that Britain had sought to appease Gaddafi so BP could win conessions in Libya. (that US oil companies felt jealous having been after the same contracts was not relevant of course). The British Labour government was happy to let those inept Scots take the blame. The Scots government said that London had encouraged them to go ahead with the release, a view with which senior mandarin Sir Gus O'Donnel's report concurred.

The Mail-on-Sunday claimed to have seen secret documents showing that Labour had caved in to a Libyan threat. The Telegraph on the other hand said its evidence from onfidential letters and e-mails showed it was all about pursuing oil interests and trade.

What all assumed was that Megrahi had been guilty and properly tried. What few asked, least of all south of the border (where that Scottish policeman's evidence had scarcely been reported) was what would have happened if the case had gone to the second appeal, and Megrahi had won by presenting evidence of a frame-up. If the Libyan was not guilty, who was?

Before and after Libya was put in the frame for Lockerbie there were various theories advanced as to who had been behind the bombing, and why, ranging from South African intelligence through the Israeli Mossad agency (presumably intending to provoke a reaction against one or other of its enemies) to the all-purpose Abu Nidal. But the most plausible, and from knowledgable if biased sources, pointed to the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, (PFLP-GC) led by Ahmed Jibril. Though one of the smaller guerrilla group, this breakaway from the better-known PFLP came to specialise in bold and technically ambitious operations. Jibril had been a Syrian army officer, and with Syrian backing came finance from Syria's ally, Iran.

On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes, a missile cruiser, having entered Iranian waters in the Straits of Hormuz, brought down an Iran Air A300 airbus, killing all 290 passengers and crew, including 66 children aboard. The US claimed its trained forces mistook the airbus for a much smaller Nimrod fighter about to attack. The US government never apologised for their action, and the officers and crew of the Vincennes were decorated when they returned from their tour of duty.

US and British forces were alerted to expect a reprisal attack after this, and it is possible that Mossad tipped them off that this could involve Ahmed Jibril. The PFLP-GC had allegedly undertaken to carry out a contract for revenge on behalf of Iran. The organisation had a cell based near Frankfort, and was said to have links with a drug trader working with the CIA. A bomb maker called Marwan Abdel Razzack Khreesat was part of the Frankfurt group.

On October 26, 1988, Khreesat was arrested and one of his bombs seized. Then Khreesat was mysteriously released. Former CIA agent Oswald Le Winter stated, "…pressure had come from Bonn… from the U.S. Embassy in Bonn… to release Khreesat."

Documents from the US Defene Intelligence Agency, dated 1994, two years after the Libyans were accused, still described the PFLP-GC as the Lockerbie bombers.

But by then both Britain and the United States had restored and improved relations with Syria, using its help in the Gulf War against Iraq, and were no longer desribing the Assad regime as a sponsor of terror. So if a villain was needed, Gaddafi would have to fill the part.

Now that things have changed once again, will America have to try and change the script?

One possible sign of change came in, of all places, the Jewish Chronicle, on September 27. Its politics are needless to say not my own, but it is worth quoting both for its openness (the author is not one of the paper's staff but a barrister specialising in criminal law) and because the author suggests the CIA had more than diplomatic niceties to cover when they stitched up the Libyans and Megrahi for the Lockerbie bomb.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Explosion shatters Iran's security, but Netanyahu worries for his own

yuval diskin & meir dagan

NOT A WHISPER ...but for crying out loud! Former security chief Yuval Diskin and Meir Dagan of Mossad. Netanyahu wants them investigated for blowing his war plans.

WHILE working its people up to be ready for war on Iran, with propaganda and air raid siren testing, the Israeli government is tightening screws on information and expressions of opinion at home. It is not always obvious whether the repressive moves are required for "security", or if the war threats and "security" are a pretext for repression.

With the UN's International Atomic Energy Authority expressing concern over Iranian uranium enrichment plans, although Iranian leaders insisted these were for peaceful purposes, there have been claims that both Israeli and British forces were being readied for an attack on Iran.

Veteran peace campaigner Uri Avnery has argued that Israel will not attack Iran, not only for the difficulties and retaliation it would bring, but because such an attack could not be planned without backing and help from the United States. He is hoping Obama will resist the clamour for war from US Republicans.

A huge explosion at an Iranian missile base on November 12 killed Major General Hassan Moghaddam and at least 16 soldiers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Although Iranian authorities described it as an accident, some referred to Moghaddam as a "martyr", and in Israel the press coyly suggested that it was an act of sabotage the authors of which were unknown.

Although there are armed groups such as Mojahadeen active in Iran, with possible renewed US support, the scale and choice of target of the attack do strongly point to Mossad. Moghaddam, who was trained in China and North Korea, has been described as the architect of the country’s ballistic missile program. The Alghadir base where the explosion occurred, housed Iran’s Shehab-3 missiles, which are capable of reaching Israel.

Alex Fishman, reporting in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot cites U.S. intelligence as saying the target was more advanced missile prototypes the Sajjil and Ghadr F. The new missiles would have longer range, being made from aluminium, and requiring less fuel.

If this was a Mossad operation they were either very lucky or very well-informed. Together with their ability to get the explosive device in so close to the general, this might explain why the Iranian authorities' embarassment made them claim it was an accident rather than openly express their outrage.

But the Israeli government too, though not concealing its pleasure at the result, was reluctant to admit responsibility, and not only for security reasons. For Prime Minister "Bibi" Netanyahu and his cabinet there are other worries than Iran, one being the new Palestininian initiatives at both diplomatic and street level, the other being dissent within Israel, stretching up from the social justice movement through an unruly media to the very organs of state. Right-winger Bibi and his Labour Defence Minister Barak must both have hesitated about giving nachas to Mossad.

A top investigative journalist, Uri Blau of Ha'aretz, could be facing seven years in prison for presenting the military in unflattering light. Among other things he wrote two reports based on secret documents leaked to him by a young woman called Anat Kamm who obtained them during her military service. The memos from IDF General Yair Naveh showed he approved targeted assasinations of unarmed Palestinian suspects, in the occupied or Palestinian Authority territory, rather than troubling to arrest them. This was in breach of rulings from the Israeli Supreme Court, but rather than look into the lawbreaking, the authorities have gone for the whistle blowers. Anat Kamm has already been jailed, to "make an example" of her for other young people who may come across confidential information during their service, the judge said frankly.

Meanwhile, as some commentators remarked, senior officers frequently leak or plant information in the press when it suits them, as well as disobeying the law, without too much trouble from judges. Reporters without Frontiers have pointed out that the law under which Blau is being prosecuted has not been used in 50 years.

Top reporters and editors from the Israeli media held an emergency conference on Sunday aimed at defending freedom of the press. It was called in response to a recent downsizing in Israeli media outlets, the pending closure of Israel’s second commercial television channel, Channel 10, and a bill toughening Israeli libel laws. Conference organizers said the event would be “opening shot to a series of steps, planned for the upcoming weeks, aimed at stopping the sweeping attack on the media.”

It is not just military matters that are making the government and politicians nervous about their "security". Against the background of this Summer's social justice protests, Netanyahu recently threatened the licenses of Israeli media if they published information from a leaked list detailing the riches of Knesset members.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee has approved an amendment to the current libel law that, if approved by Knesset, would result in a substantial hike to the maximum damages paid and would loosen the criteria for slander and libel. Criticis of the amendment believe this will hamper freedom of expression and the independent press.

There has also been legislation introduced to impede the funding of peace, human rights and social justice organisations. The drive for this, complaining of "foreign interference" in Israel's affairs (and those of the West Bank) comes from right-wing organisations which themselves receive massive funding from sources like the right-wing Christian Zionist outfits in the United States. If they have no sense of irony, it is possible Netanyahu may be seeing flaws in raising this issue. He faces questions over donations he collected in the United States, in breach of Knesset rules. There has also been unwelcome publicity over money spent by Israel and its friends in influencing governments in Europe. View Halloo, as they say.

Besides legislation, there are other ways of dealing with communicators who offend. Keren Neubach was dismissed from her position as anchorwoman of “Mabat Sheni” (Second Glance), Channel One’s news magazine show. Neubach who held the position for three years, is considered highly critical of the government and many view her dismissal as politically motivated.

“I am concerned with the connection between the assault on the press and that on the judicial system,” veteran investigative journalist Ilana Dayan told participants of the conference. “Someone is afraid of dogged press and a critical Supreme Court.”

Channel 2 News anchor Yair Lapid warned: "An incontinent government is silencing dissenting voices." Raviv Druker, of Channel 10, said. "Both the government and the rich are a threat to free press."

Israel Police and the Communications Ministry cut off the broadcasts of Kol Hashalom radio station on Saturday, claiming that they are pirate broadcasts. Kol Hashalom says its offices, located in the Palestinian Authority, are not subject to Israeli law, but Palestinian law, and therefore the Israeli Communications Ministry does not have the authority to shut it down.

Kol Hashalom has been broadcasting for the past seven years from East Jerusalem, using broadcasting equipment in Ramallah and an operating license from the Palestinian Communications Ministry. The station was established by Israeli peace activists working together with Palestinian peace activists.

The station is intended to replace the legendary Kol Hashalom radio station operated by Abbie Nathan, but a slightly different Hebrew spelling was chosen to differentiate between the two. The original station’s spelling translates to “The Voice of Peace” in English, while the new station’s spelling translates to “The Whole Peace”.

According to the station’s operators, for all its broadcast history, they were never asked to stop broadcasting or to acquire an Israeli license. Their first communication of the kind was received on November 4, asking them to stop broadcasting, claiming that their operations are illegal. The station denied the charges and requested time to form a reply.

Station manager Mossi Raz, a former Knesset member for the doveish Meretz party, was called into a police station for interrogation on Thursday. While Raz was questioned under caution, he was asked to give orders to end broadcasts, or else he would be remanded by a judge and the police would raid the station’s offices.

Raz is certain that the decision to close down the station is part of a general attack on what the government regards as "left-wing" organizations. The station provided a platform for groups that are now under attack by the new law that would curb their foreign funding.

Likud MK Danny Danon recently turned to the Attorney General, demanding that he shut down the station, claiming that is broadcasting incitement.
It is not only "left-wing" organisations and liberal media that are troubling the government. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met on Sunday with Mossad chief Tamir Pardo in a bid to end the crisis between them which culminated last week with Lieberman's ordering his officials to cut links with the intelligence service. Lieberman, who has been under police investigation over his assistance to businessmen moving funds into banks in Belarus, has reportedly been classed a "security risk".

On Friday he saw Prime Minister Netanyahu on Friday to give him examples of Mossad's misbehaviour. He complains that Mossad has been bypassing his Ministry, communicating behind his back with some African states and with Egypt, Turkey and Jordan. He also claims that while Mossad received Foreign Ministry reports, they witheld their own reports from the ministry.

When former Mossad chief Meir Dagan stepped down this year he went on to launch an attack on Netanyahu and his Defence Minister Ehud Barak, describing them as "reckless and irresponsible individuals", who would endanger Israel's existence with their plans to attack Iran.

Dagan is no dove. As Mossad chief he authorised assassinations and planned attacks just like the one on the Iranian missile base.

But he has criticised the government's failure to seize the opportunity presented by the Saudi-backed peace plan which offered relations with all Arab states if Israel negotiated an agreement with the Palestinians. He warned that if the Palestinians pushed ahead for UN recognition, Israel could face isolation as well as another Intifada, and in desperation Netanyahu and Barak might choose to go to war with Iran. If they did, Israel would find itself at the centre of a regional war, with missiles raining down. "Better a bomb in the basement in Tehran than missiles on the roofs of Tel Aviv".

One Israeli commentator, noting Dagan was one of the "most rightwing militant people ever born here ... who ate Arabs for breakfast, lunch and dinner", said ""When this man says that the leadership has no vision and is irresponsible, we should stop sleeping soundly at night."

Worried about the public awakening, Netanyahu is not content with locking up journalists, and shutting down radio stations, but has decided to try and gag his former intelligence and security chiefs.

As the well-informed blogger Richard Silverstein recorded:

The Kuwaiti paper, Al Jarida who, the Guardian says, has a history of publishing authoritative stories using high level Israeli sources, that Bibi Netanyahu has demanded an investigation of leaks orchestrated by Meir Dagan and Yuval Diskin designed to sabotage his plans to attack Iran. This will bring about the unlikely scenario of the current Shabak director, Yoram Cohen investigating his former boss and its most recent chief, Diskin, and the former Mossad chief as well. Again, I can’t ever recall something like this happening. They may’ve investigated a general or cabinet minister, but two intelligence chiefs at the same time?

  • In his latest blog posting at Tikkun Olam, Richard reveals that the Israeli press have been gagged from revealing the identity of a suspect accused of threatening to attack Peace Now premises and supporters as part of the right-wing settlers' "price tag" campaign which has already seen attacks on Palestinians and mosques.
  • Apparently the suspect's mother is a senior police officer and his father the (Netanyahu-appointed) head of Shin Bet. This man shouted at reporters in court "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!" Well, they do now.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

John Laings demo gets a result

RMT'S STEVE HEDLEY enumerates points conceded by bosses

AFTER less than an hour demonstrating outside the offices of contractor John Laing in Victoria, central London, this morning, trade unionists achieved what looks like a good result.

Invited inside the company's Allington House headquarters to talk with a senior manager, three members of the RMT rail union re-emerged to report that the firm had now agreed to recognise the union, reinstate dismissed members, and give a reference to union rep Marciano Flora to help him fight deportation.

Laings, best known as a building contractor and developer, has expanded into services in the public sector and has the cleaning contract for London Overground rail. It was after cleaners had joined the union that management called a number of them to come in for supposed overtime on October 25, only to hand them over to UK Border Agency police for detention.
(see previous report

Marciano Flora had been in the country several years, initially working for his brother in law's firm. Since taking a job with Laing he had applied for a new work permit, and was waiting for this to come through. Police who arested him admitted they did not know why he was being detained but had instructions.

Among those supporting today's demonstration, besides RMT members. with their banners, were Unison members from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where cleaners organised in that public service union had a similar experience.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Freedom Riders add to Veolia's worries

AS police in New York brutally cleared Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccutti Park in the small hours overnight, a small group of youth inspired at least partly by an earlier US protest were boarding a bus bound for Jerusalem.

They too were to be intercepted by police, as their simple, peaceful action against injustice posed a threat to the powers that be, and a problem incidentally for one French-based company whose name and logo have become all too familiar here in Britain.

The struggles are not unrelated, regardlesss of the awareness or wishes of participants, since it is the United States which, for all its President's supposed commitmen to "two states" is vetoing Palestinian recognition by the UN.

And the Palestinian activists, though they have studied the example of the US black freedom riders, who fought against racist 'Jim Crow' laws in the South, want it made clear they are not just contesting the Zionist settlers' sole monopoly of 'bus seats, but challenging the segregated transport system as part of the illegal annexation , ethnic leansing and settlement of East Jerusalem, which ought to be the seat of government of free Palestine.

Here is the report from the Palestinian news agency:

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- Palestinian activists boarded Israeli settler buses Tuesday in an action inspired by the American civil rights movement which resulted in several arrests.

The activists headed toward the Kohav Yakov and Psagot settlement bus stops and boarded a bus for Jerusalem. Israeli forces stopped the bus on the Hizma checkpoint and prevented it from entering Jerusalem.

Settlers left the bus while it was searched and the activists were removed and arrested. As many as seven were reported to have been arrested by late Tuesday.

The detainees were identified by organizers as Nadeem al-Sharbate, Badee Dwak, Huwaida Arraf, Basel al-Araj, Fadi Quran, Mazin Qumsiyeh, and Fajr Harb.

"We launch this campaign in the belief that we will not achieve freedom, justice, and self-determination unless we make the Israeli occupation pay, economically and politically, for its daily violations of our rights and dignity," a campaign statement said.

The campaign aims to "deepen the people's involvement in the popular resistance, in tandem with the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel."

The activists said they would continue to defy Israeli forces by boarding Egged and Veolia buses, which are used by settlers, in an action inspired by the US civil rights movement.

They will continue to "express our firm opposition to the illegitimate colonial entity on Palestinian land, all apartheid practices, human rights violations, land confiscation, the wall, and the refusal to let refugee return to their homeland."


In the UK, Veolia Transport was known under its old name Connex, but now Veolia is better known through its involvment in local authority contracts and waste disposal.

In a letter to the West London Waste Authority which groups several boroughs, campaigners say there is evidence that the company has "been guilty of grave misconduct in relation to international and humanitarian laws and norms". They cite evidence that the company operates discrimination in employment, as well as being engaged in controversial projects.

"Veolia Transport, a subsidiary of Veolia Environnement, is a leading partner in the CityPass consortium, contracted to build a light-rail tramway linking West Jerusalem to illegal Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem. Once built, the rail system will cement Israel‟s hold on occupied East Jerusalem and tie the settlements even more firmly into the State of Israel. This applies not only to the settlements in East Jerusalem: the 'Ammunition Hill' station of the network will operate as the feeder station for settler traffic from Ma'aleh Adumim, a large Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and from Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley.

"The line is due to open in 2011 and Veolia is responsible for operating it. With its involvement in this project, the company is directly implicated in maintaining illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory and is playing a key role in Israel‟s attempt to make its annexation of the Palestinian territory of east Jerusalem irreversible. Further, as a willing agent of these policies, Veolia is undermining the chances of a just peace for the Palestinian people.

"Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the annexation of East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. This is clearly confirmed by numerous UN resolutions and by the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Wall, which Israel has been building in the West Bank. The settlements violate Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention: “…The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” as well as Article 53 forbidding destruction of property in occupied territory. In some cases in East Jerusalem these violations amount to war crimes, i.e. “grave breaches” of the Convention (see Articles 146 and 147), as they involve extensive appropriation of Palestinian property not justified by military necessity. These grave breaches are being facilitated by Veolia‟s part in the construction and future operation of the tramway serving the settlements. The tramway also constitutes a significant alteration of the infrastructure of the occupied Palestinian territories contrary to the Hague Regulations of 1907, Section 3, which are also part of international law.
In April 2010 the UN Human Rights Council declared the tramway and its operation to be illegal (A/HRC/RES/13/7 of 14 April 2010). The resolution was passed 44 to 1, with the UK, France and all the EU members of the Council voting in favour. The operation of the tramway is precisely what Veolia has a contract to do.

"Thus, through its involvement in the building and future operation of this tramway linking Israel‟s illegal settlements with West Jerusalem, Veolia is facilitating Israel's 'grave breaches' of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and is complicit in its perpetuation of those breaches. In other words, Veolia is involved in aiding and abetting on-going war crimes. It is also facilitating, exacerbating, aiding and abetting Israel‟s breach of the Hague Regulations.

"Veolia furthermore operates two bus services serving the same function as the tramway: supporting and consolidating illegal settlements and tying them more closely into Israel. These are services 109 and 110, operated by its local company, Connex. They link the settlements of Beit Horon, Giv'at Ze'ev, Mevo Horon and Ramot Alon to Israel. Part of the route was until recently an Apartheid road on which Palestinians from the West Bank were forbidden to travel, even though it passes through the West Bank. In June 2010 the ban was theoretically lifted, but in practice to date, with restricted access and egress, it is still unclear whether West Bank Palestinians can now use the services".

That last point seems today to have been clarified.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

History that's haunting America

FRONTLINE TO PICKET LINE. US war vets line up to protect Oakland occupation.

AMERICA'S Occupy Wall Street movement has not only spread across the continent from shore to shining shore, but taken on new seriousness in the West Coast port city of Oakland, where police attacks on the protesters have widened their support, and led to a general strike action stretching from school teachers to longshoremen (port workers).

People were not placated by an apology from the mayor after an ex-marine was injured when police officers fired tear gas canisters into the crowd. As the Marine Corps paper reported:

OAKLAND, Calif. — A clash between Oakland police and Occupy Wall Street protesters left an Iraq War veteran hospitalized Wednesday after a projectile struck him in a conflict that came as tensions grew over demonstration encampments across the San Francisco Bay Area.

Scott Olsen, 24, suffered a fractured skull Tuesday in a march with other protesters toward City Hall, said Dottie Guy, of the Iraq Veterans Against the War. Olsen’s family members said the Marine Corps corporal served two tours of duty in Iraq.

The demonstrators had been making an attempt to re-establish a presence in the area of a disbanded protesters’ camp when they were met by officers in riot gear.

Fortunately Scott Olsen recovered. But news of the attack brought more ex-servicemen out to line up in protection of the protest camp, and stirred expressions of support from among serving military personnel.

Although some wild rumours had been flying around about "the marines coming", there is no doubt that ex-marines and other veterans have been turning up at occupy protests, not just on the West Coast but at Wall Street itself. Their participation is at least partly motivated by experience of the jobs market and health issues after the military has dispensed with their services, and has apparently taken extra encouragement since the AFL-CIO unions voiced support.

We might also note that in a week when politicians and the media have been trying to turn poppy-wearing and Armistice Day into their own propaganda stunt, a group of ex-servicemen turned up at St.Paul's cathedral to meet with the Occupy LSX campers.

Although the British Legion and American Legion are different, both originated in the period after the First World War and Russian Revolution, when the ruling classes grew frightened that returning servicemen facing unemployment and hardship would form dangerous revolutionary material. One only has to look at photographs of the original Jarrow Crusade to see that these marchers with neatly folded capes over their shoulders were marching in step and used to it.

But for the United States, supposed land of safe and successful capitalism, the news of ex-servicemen siding with the people against the bankers, and coming into potential conflict with the very forces they served has a haunting echo of history. Next year will be the 80th anniversary of the Bonus March when unemployed ex-servicemen went to Washington to demand payment of money owed them from their First World war service.

The Bonus Expeditionary Force, as they called themselves, numbered 43,000 marchers, 17,000 First World War veterans. their families, friends and supporters, who assembled in Washington, D.C., in the spring and summer of 1932. Many had been out of work since the onset of the Depression.

Retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, who became famous for his frank and outspoken criticisms of US policy and the use made of the military to serve big business interests by intervening overseas, visited the marchers' camp to show support.

But on July 28 US. Attorney General William D.Mitchell ordered the veterans removed from all government property. First the Washington police moved in, and meeting resistance, opened fire. Two veterans were wounded and later died. Then President Hoover ordered the army to clear the campsite.

At 4:45 p.m., commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the 12th Infantry Regiment, Fort Howard, Maryland, and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, supported by six battle tanks commanded by Maj. George S. Patton, formed in Pennsylvania Avenue while thousands of civil service employees left work to line the street and watch. The Bonus Marchers, believing the troops were marching in their honor, cheered the troops until Patton ordered the cavalry to charge them—an action which prompted the spectators to yell, "Shame! Shame!"

After the cavalry charged, the infantry went in with fixed bayonets and adamsite gas, an arsenical vomiting agent. Driven out, veterans, families, and supporters retreated across the Anacostia River to their largest camp. Hoover ordered the assault stopped. But General MacArthur, who regarded the Bonus March as a Communist attempt to take power, ignored the President and ordered a new attack.

(Perhaps a later President Truman was mindful of this episode when, fearing war with China, he relieved General MacArthur of his command in Korea, and MacArthur came home to a ticker-tape reception on Wall Street).

Fifty-five veterans were injured in the onslaught and 135 arrested. A veteran's wife miscarried. When 12-week-old Bernard Myers died in the hospital after being caught in the tear gas attack, a government investigation reported he died of enteritis, though a hospital spokesperson said "the tear gas did not do it any good".

The US public showed what it thought by dumping Hoover and giving a landslide electoral victory to Franklin Delano Roosevelt that year. In 1933 there was another veterans' march, which Roosevelt tried to defuse with a more compromising approach, though it was to be some years before he was forced to agree the bonus.

On the labour front, 1934 saw a West Coast maritime strike, which became a general strike in the San Francisco bay area, including Oakland. There was also the widely supported teamsters' strike in Minneapolis.

The two men killed when police opened fire on the Bonus Marchers in Washington were William Hushka , a Lithuanian immigrant who had served in the US Army in World War I, and Eric Carlson a veteran from Oakland, who had served in the trenches in France during that war. Both men are buried at Arlington.

Studs Terkel's Hard Times, an oral history of the Great Depression, has accounts of the Bonus March and its repression.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Cleaning up with the help of Controls

WHILE James Murdoch was denying he knew anything about how his Dad's firm's hacks hacked into people's private communications, and Home Secretary Theresa May was denying responsibility for Border Controls officers being told to reduce passport checks, I was almost nostalgic for the days when Labour was in office and ministers were automatically held accountable -by the Murdoch press among others - for every file that went astray in the post. Nobody asked why Her Majesty's mail was being carried by private couriers.

In those days too the Home Secretary was ridiculed for being unable to say exactly how many illegal immigrants there were in Britain. I could not see how people who had somehow managed to sneak in illegally were supposed to be counted, and to hear the papers you'd think they knew where they lived, but I was never that good at maths, not even the flexible sort called statistics.

But with Labour trying to beat the Tories at their own game by chasing Theresa May over immigrants and borders, a friend has questioned the pretence that this is about "security", He asked innocently how many terrorist attacks in Britain in recent decades have been carried out by people who were here "illegally"?

"Not many", is I think the most generous answer.

But surely that is not the point. We may have had buildings and transport bombed by Irish Republicans, UK -born Muslims (and Zionists if you go back to the 1940s) and supposedly "lone wolf" members of the British Far Right, but if you are recruiting people to build, look after and clean them, that's where the "illegals" come in.

But it is the control system which makes people "illegal", and helps make the business work.

Cleaning is an oustanding, albeit not unique, example. From prestigious City banks to hospitals, colleges, and trains, the work is put out to companies which bid for cheapness by employing people who are desperate for the work. These workers can expect neither the pay and conditions nor security obtained by inhouse staff. But then they try to better their position a bit by organising and joining a union. That's when the employer or agency starts to look for excuses to get rid of someone, or takes an interest in their passports, and the border police show up. By sheer coincidence, of course

In June 2009, ISS. the company employing cleaning staff at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) called all its staff to a meeting in a ground floor room at 7 am one morning. When they were assembled more than 40 police in full riot gear entered by fire doors and the main entrance and surrounded the workers.

They cleaners were locked in the room and then led one by one into another room, where their immigration status was checked during which they had no representation or even a translator (many staff are native Spanish speakers). A lot of the cleaners were in emotional distress. A trade union representative was refused access to the staff.

The raid was instigated by the cleaning contractor ISS who requested the police action. (Ironically ISS had won this contract from another company which was not paying a living wage). Two members of SOAS management were present during the raid liasing with the police. Nine cleaners, five of them UNISON members were taken into detention. One detained cleaner was six months pregnent, she collapsed during the events. Five of those detained were already being put on planes and returned to poverty and possible persecution in South America within a few days of arrest, and while SOAS students and fellow trade unionists were meeting to protest.

A current case concerns John Laing Integrated Services. Known as a major building contractor, Laing has expanded into numerous niches in the public sector (which we were always told is not "wealth creating". ) John Laing Integrated Services (JLIS) boasts that it "provides a full suite of operational services to public sector clients, including local authorities, education, rail, police, fire and rescue, health and cultural services. We are also at the forefront of outsourcing for library services, being the only private sector organisation running and directly employing library professionals in the UK. Our approach is based on providing a fully integrated solution to the management of services and facilities. We develop management solutions that enable our clients to focus on their core business, whilst delivering first class services to their customers."

John Laing Integrated Services is managing library modernisation in the London Borough of Hounslow and services at several London police stations, as well as the public order and firearms training centre at Gravesend.

It also runs cleaning on London Overground railways. And as the RMT rail union announced recently:

"RMT CLEANERS have forced contractor John Laing Integrated Services to recognise the union on London Overground following an organising campaign that has seen the vast majority of the workforce join the union since the end of March.
A ballot carried out under Central Arbitration Committee rules after the firm refused to enter into a voluntary agreement returned a six-to-one vote to give RMT bargaining rights for the staff, who work from depots at Acton, Gospel Oak, New Cross Gate and Willesden.
The union has been waging a long-term campaign to win better terms for transport cleaners who have seen their pay and working conditions squeezed massively by hard-nosed sub-contractors since rail privatisation 15 years ago".

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said:
“Our reps at John Laing deserve massive credit for a determined organising campaign that began only in March, supported by organisers and activists from across the RMT family".

The sequel wasn't long in coming, as RMT activist Steve Hedley reports. over 30 workers were rounded up by the border cops, in collusion with the company.

"These workers were told by their managers to come in to do overtime. When staff said that they did not wish to do this overtime the managers became insistent. Instead of being given overtime they were hauled in by Border Agency agents. These workers now believe that there was never any overtime for them to do and John Laing is clearly complicit in this disgraceful operation.

"The incident occurred on October 25. Among those rounded up was one of the RMT representatives who was handed over as ‘the RMT Rep’ by management. Further evidence of John Laing complicity – if further evidence was needed – comes from payslips where the pay of those who were to be detained had been stopped in advance and when workers arrived with company vehicles there were staff there ready to take these vehicles off them and drive them back to the depot".

RMT members and supporters will be lobbying:

John Laing Headquarters

Arlington House

150 Victoria Street, opposite Victoria station

Wednesday November 16 8 am -10am

Most of those detained have now been released. Despite this a John Laing manager has said that none of those who had been detained will be re-employed.A number have not yet been released and may even face deportation. The RMT will assist these members legally and will be part of any fight back against deportation

The Union is conducting an inquiry into these events and John Laing’s complicity in them. It says it will fight to get the members back to their workplace. "The Border Agency was used against members on LUL and Network Rail after RMT won the London Living wages. We saw them off there and will see them off here as well."


THESE actions concern human beings, not statistics, and decent workers, not the kind of stereotype depicted in the tabloid media. Here is a footnote about one of them.

Marciano Flora is a cleaner on London Overground, working for the contractor John Laing. The Home Office wants to deport Marciano. But he, his family and his workmates want him to stay in London. Please support our campaign.

Marciano Flora is 42 years of age. He came to London in October 2006, invited by his brother-in-law to work as a plumber in his company. He had a five-year working visa.

His brother-in-law describes him as “such a hard worker, who never complained, and got on well with our clients.” Unfortunately, the business went into liquidation in December 2009 due to the recession.

Marciano immediately looked for another job, and began working for John Laing as a cleaner in March 2010. He showed all his details, including his passport, and was assured that it was legal to work in this job.

Within six months working for John Laing, Marciano was nominated for an ‘employee of the month’ award. He is hardworking and popular at work, and actively involved in his church.

On Tuesday 25 October 2011, John Laing told several of its employees to carry out cleaning duties, and then gathered them inside a school hall for the UK border police to arrest them. Marciano had applied for leave to remain in the UK before his visa was due to expire in October, and has a receipt letter from the Home Office that this application is being processed. He explained this to the officers, but they arrested him. He is now being held in a detention centre in Dover, and has been told that he must leave the country by Wednesday 9 November.

Marciano Flora is very much settled here in London. He lives with his sister and brother-in-law, and has a very close relationship with them and their two daughters, Chloe and Chanelle.Marciano is a member of the RMT trade union. The union is helping Marciano to fight this unjust deportation, and we need your help.

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