Sunday, May 27, 2012

Syria: are we getting a true picture?

. But where, and whose? The BBC used this pic to illustrate its news, and they say "the camera does not lie", but the photographer who took the picture tells a different story.

THERE seems little doubt that Bashir Assad's regime in Syria is using massive military repression against its people, and has massacred civilians, just as his father did. Whether those fighting against the regime are all fighting for freedom and progress for the people is another matter. Some of them are at least equally politically capable of massacres, even if not deploying the same military hardware.

A recent article in Socialist Worker was headed "The two sides are not the same", but this grossly oversimplifies the conflict in Syria. There are more than two sides in Syria. There are left-wing forces opposing the regime, but there are also reactionary salafis and returned jihadists who would treat ordinary Syrians with democratic aspirations as at best expendable, and in fact an enemy to be fought.

The Saudi regime which is the most reactionary in the Middle East is sending money and arms to rebels in Syria, at the same time as it sends tanks and helicopters to gun down people fighting for their rights in Bahrain. But Saudi Arabia, besides wanting to remove the Assad regime as an ally of Iran, is a favoured ally and of course arms customer of the imperialist West.

Only last week the Saudis concluded a £1.6 billion contract for Hawk trainers and pilot training with BAE systems. This is a continuation of the massive al Yamamah agreement from Thatcher's days.

So there have been no recriminations over Saudi support for the Taliban, which was also partly aimed against Iran, no condemnations from Western politicians of armed infiltrators and death squads who came over the border from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, and not much said about reports that al Qaida has moved people into Libya and now Syria as well. (Remember the early days of the "war on terror" when we were told the CIA and MI6 could simply cut off its funds?)

The BBC may not be worst of news broadcasters, though Palestine Solidarity campaigners recently held a demonstration in London over the Beeb's failure or unwillingness to report many of the things happening in Occupied Palestine. We hear about Murdoch and Fox news.

But today there comes a heartfelt cry of anger from a news professional over the way the British corporation has misused his work. It should certainly give food for thought.

"Somebody is using illegaly one of my images for anti Syrian propaganda on the BBC web site front page.

"Today Sunday May 27 at 0700 am London time the attached image which I took in Al Mussayyib in Iraq on March 27, 2003 (see caption below) was front page on BBC web site illustrating the massacre that happen in Houla the Syrian town and the caption and the web site was stating that the images was showing the bodies of all the people that have been killed in the massacre and that the image was received by the BBC by an unknown activist. Somebody is using my images as a propaganda against the Syrian government to prove the massacre.

"Al Musayyib, Iraq - May 27, 2003
An Iraqi child jumps over a line of hundreds of bodies, in a school where they have been transported from a mass grave, to be identified. They were discovered in the desert in the outskirts of Al Musayyib, 40 km south of Baghdad. It has been estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Iraqis had been reported missing in the region south of Baghdad. People have been searching for days for identity cards or other clues among the skeletons to try to find the remains of brothers, fathers, mothers, sisters and even children who disappeared when Saddam's government crushed a Shi'ite uprising following the 1991 Gulf War.

Marco Di Lauro

The use of the picture could be a genuine mistake, perhaps the result of understandable haste to get a picture, and inadequate staff and resources for the news. Some professionals point to the danger of accepting pictures from just any source without checking.

As photographer David Hoffman puts it: "Will we see an explanation from the Beeb? This is what happens when the bean counters dump the experienced professionals in favour of free interns sourcing free pics".

Photo-journalist John D McHugh comments: "As professionals we abide by a code of conduct that outlets such as the BBC can trust, but by accepting and publishing anonymous, unverified submissions, they leave themselves open to this kind of deception. It also highlights the very real dangers associated with using photographs from an unknown source and/or citizen journalist. As professionals we abide by a code of conduct that outlets such as the BBC can trust, but by accepting and publishing anonymous, unverified submissions, they leave themselves open to this kind of deception."

This points to a much wider issue than Middle East coverage of course, in the way news media have been changing, and turning to non-professional (and cheaper)sources of material. Or as in this case, accepting what turns out to be pirated material recycled for a different news story!

All the same, I can't help suspecting the Beeb would have been more circumspect in accepting pictures for a different news story -as it is for reporting some news atories at all.

Finally though, as someone who regularly uses Facebook - from where I received this story about the misused recycled photograph and the photographer's understandable indignation - I am all too frequently asked to look at or share pictures which are supposed not just to illustrate some event but to clinch an argument or prove a point. Seldom do the pictures tell me anything I didn't know, and sometimes one feels embarassed to suggest to the person posting who is on "our" side that the picture they are using looks suspect or posed, so that if I wasn't already convinced it would cause me to have my doubts.

Here in the tale of even a genuine photograph being recycled is a reminder that, contrary to the old saying, the camera - and more especially its misused product - can lie!

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

State-sanctioned pogrom in south Tel Aviv

CARNIVAL of Reaction. "Kill Sudanese" says slogan on woman's tee shirt.

TIME was that the Hatikvah district of south Tel Aviv, its name shared with the Zionist anthem and meaning, ironically, "the Hope", was known for housing riots, juvenile delinquency and violent clashes with police. It is still a poor neighbourhood, evidently, but with Israeli politicians concerned that the public is turning from the national "security" obsession to concern about social issues, where better for them to start a racist campaign diverting discontent into mob violence against scapegoats?

Last night thousands of people, including imported thugs and their women cheerleaders, listened to right-wing politicians at a rally in Hatikvah quarter, blaming problems on the mainly African asylum seekers who have arrived in recent years.
'The central demonstration was organized mostly by Likud activists, which was somewhat strange to begin with, as the protest was officially aimed at the Likud led government'.
- Haggai Matar, south Tel Aviv resident reporting for +972 mag
After hearing from Likud politicians and those further to the Right the crowd turned on reporters identified as left-wing and unpatriotic by right-wing activists, and then surged out to beat African men and women on the street, and attack homes and shops. Police said later nine arrests had been made.

Miri Regev of the Likud party had described asylum seekers as a "cancer in our body," and promised to do everything "in order to bring them back to where they belong". Her Likud colleague Danny Danon, who heads a lobby group campaigning against illegal immigration (not to be confused with Israel's illegal settlements) said the only solution to the problem would be to "begin talking about expulsion".

"We must expel the infiltrators from Israel. We should not be afraid to say the words 'expulsion now'," he was reported as saying.

"Dangerous extremists have infiltrated the Knesset and are a real threat to Israeli society" is the comment on Peace Now poster. " Get the dangerous infiltrators away from (our) neighbourhoods." Depicted l-r are Knesset members Miri Regev, Eli Yishai, Michael Ben Ari and Danny Danon, "the agents of racism".

Asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea have entered Israel fleeing poverty, oppression and war. The war and regime change in Libya have blocked another escape route, by which people also tried to reach Europe. Those who come to Israel often trek over the border from Sinai, assisted by Bedouin, much as the children of Israel were led by Moses, according to the Bible's Exodus story.

Some are abused and robbed by the people smugglers, before they are dumped on the border. They find no Milk and Honey awaiting, but have to depend on help from Israeli non-governmental agencies and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, before they can find illegal work. In the poorest areas of Tel Aviv they live among working class Israelis mostly from a Middle Eastern or north African background. Many of the African migrants have to sleep in the parks.

Where south Tel Aviv becomes old Jaffa both Israeli Jews and Arabs face pressure on housing space, not from African migrants, but from landlords and developers eyeing suitable properties for gentrification and profit. Residents face rent increases and evictions. It is a fair bet the Likud politicians won't identify this particular issue as a "cancer".

The aforementioned Bible repeatedly exhorts its readers not to oppress the stranger, "for ye were strangers in Egypt, and know what is in the heart of a stranger". Israeli leaders who claim the book as property deeds for their right to seize West Bank real estate are less interested in such moral injunctions, and it is clear they are either skipped or overridden in the yeshivot where right-wing settlers hang out.

But for a flavour of what took place in south Tel Aviv last night, here is local reporter Haggai Matar:

'Last night I had to flee a raging mob not too far from my home in south Tel Aviv. After long speeches of incitement by right-wing parliamentarians, the masses stormed after me and a fellow journalist, and then turned on African asylum seekers, their businesses and their homes. This is how it happened.

It started out as a fairly quiet demonstration – or demonstrations, to be precise. One small demonstration took place in Shapira, my neighborhood, where several weeks ago an Israeli young man threw Molotov cocktails into asylum seekers’ homes. The dominant discourse here was, as is typical of the neighborhood, more moderate, and focused on blaming the government (and not the asylum seekers) for local hardships in south Tel Aviv.

On my way to the central right-wing demonstration in Hatikva neighborhood, a five minute bike ride to the east, I ran into several dozen demonstrators walking in the opposite direction. It turns out that these were J14 activists from all over the city, who wanted to make a point of the importance of finding solutions to benefit both veteran Israeli communities, struggling to make a living and fearing a rise in crime, and the masses of African asylum seekers who have no jobs and nowhere to go but these parts of the city. They felt unwelcome at the central demonstration and decided to split and form this march. (J14 is the social justice movement which emerged on Israeli streets starting from July 14 last year).

The central demonstration was organized mostly by Likud activists, which was somewhat strange to begin with, as the protest was officially aimed at the Likud led government. It started out quite peacefully, and a group of us journalists and photographers was standing on the side, somewhat bored and discussing plans for the weekend. On the stage, local residents told stories of attacks they experienced by African asylum seekers, while MKs from the Likud and parties further to the right were placing the blame for all the neighborhoods’ hardships on the asylum seekers and “the left.” The crowd was growing uneasy, but none of us thought that this would turn into anything big.

And then it happened

It all started with one woman who came at me out of nowhere, and started screaming: “You throw stones at soldiers! Shame on you! Get the hell out of here!” I tried to say that I have never thrown stones at anybody in my life, but she was not exactly in the mood for dialogue. “You lie! I see you every week on television throwing stones at soldiers and calling them Nazis!”

From this point on everything happened extremely fast. The one woman turned into two, then a group of ten people, which kept on growing. I tried to explain that this was a misunderstanding, that I never attacked any soldier, that I am a resident of Shapira and a journalist covering the protest. But I was talking to myself. Nobody was listening.

Only four seconds or so must have passed before similar charges were leveled at my colleague, Ilan Lior of Ha’aretz, who was standing next to me. “You too throw stones at soldiers! I drive a bus and every week I see you attacking checkpoints!” someone yelled. A hand from the crowd grabbed Ilan’s notepad and threw it in the air. Ilan was trying to say that he was never in the occupied territories and that it’s all a misunderstanding, but he too was talking to himself. Nobody was listening.

At this point, about six Border Police officers showed up and tried to stand between the growing mob and the two of us. I hoped this would help, but soon enough an older woman broke through and leaped towards me, beating my chest, back and hands. I started retreating, knowing that I wouldn’t stand a fighting chance against the masses if I tried to stop her. I lost sight of Ilan. He was sucked into the crowd. I had an open road behind me, I could escape. I feared for Ilan. I feared for myself.

I knew no one would come to my aid. Faced with the angry mob and seeing more people coming from behind me and looking for action – I chose flight. A speaker on the central stage was saying how Daphni Leef and her J14 friends were actually the cause of all “our” problems. I was standing near a police car, wondering how I would get my bike back from the demonstration area, when I heard the loudspeakers announcing that “Haggai Matar is here, and he and his mother are traitors who should be kicked out of the country.” This was really time to split and go home.

nd then the mob began to charge forward

I was walking back towards my part of town when I heard a massive cry, looked back, and was horrified to see the mass – about 1,000 people strong – racing forward in my direction, screaming “Sudanese to Sudan!” Later, I would find out that Ilan managed to escape the crowd around him, that 20 people started to chase him, and that the 20 soon turned into this horde I was seeing. Ilan was grabbed by policemen who possibly saved his life when they tossed him into a police car and got out of there.

I kept on running and reached the Hagana Bridge, separating the greater part of Tel Aviv from its eastern neighborhoods. It is also the bridge separating Hatikva from Shapira, Neve Sha’anan and LevinskyPark, where dozens and hundreds of asylum seekers sleep at nights. Right now this bridge was – like in old times – the last line of defense between the mob and the area most densely populated by foreigners.

Fortunately, the police realized this, and was successful in stopping the human flow on the bridge. Unfortunately, this was not the end. A car packed with Africans was caught in the crowd, its windows shattered, its riders threatened and saved by police. Seeing this from afar I decided it was time to go home, but reports kept flowing in: the mob turned back into Hatikva and attacked asylum seekers’ businesses and homes, looted at least one store, and attacked random black people on the streets. Seventeen were arrested, but the attacks went on for hours.

Morning is now up, broken windows of shops and houses need mending, and the peace is somewhat restored. At the end of the day, we must remember that most of the people in our southern neighborhoods largely live together in peace. Many try to bridge gaps and find solutions. Many on both sides know that their enemy is not the asylum seekers or the local Israeli population but the government – which is both creating this impossibly flammable situation and throwing burning matches into it. But this is not the end of the story. It is only the beginning.'

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Monday, May 21, 2012

No Ease in Zion

THE Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv is no leftie liberal organ, but those Zionist propagandists who monitor the media for any sign of what they call "bias", protesting any piece of news reporting which depicts the Israeli state in an other than favourable light might have missed this front-page headline.

It says, in Hebrew, "Settlers fire on Palestinians, IDF soldiers look on from sideline".

The incident to which it refers was captured on video by the civil rights group B'Tselem, and they managed to get some coverage in Western media this time.

It was also reported by reported by correspondent Haggai Matar in the online +972 news mag:

A 24 year-old Palestinian was hit in the head from a live round of bullets Saturday in the village of Asira al-Qibliya. B’Tselem footage of the event shows the settlers shooting at the young man, and Israeli soldiers standing by them – doing nothing to prevent it.

According to B’Tselem, the incident started at around 16:30 Saturday, when a group of settlers descended from the extremist settlement Itzhar towards the Palestinian village (as seen in the first video below). According to eye witnesses the settlers – some of them masked and some armed – started fires in the fields near the village and threw stones at Palestinians who moved towards them, who also started throwing stones at the settlers.

On Sunday, right-wing Israelis marched through Muslim areas of east Jerusalem, waving flags, to mark Jerusalem Day, commemorating the "unification" of the city, that is the conquest of Arab east Jerusalem by Israeli forces in the 1967 war.

Police had told Arab shopkeepers to close for the day to avoid trouble, and security forces were out to deal with any protests. Even the left-liberal Zionist party Meretz was ordered to take down a banner which might give offence to the flag-waving marchers.

As +972 describes it:
Jerusalem Day is meant to be a celebration of the city’s ‘reunification’ following Israel’s victory in the 1967 war. In practice, it is a day for Israeli nationalists, draped in flags, dancing in circles, singing and chanting (including the popular Israeli nationalist chant, ‘death to Arabs’) as they march through the streets of East Jerusalem and the Old City. Many of the Jewish demonstrators are bused in from right-wing yeshivas in Israel and the West Bank.

Here supporters of the Israeli occupation, even those who claim to favour a "two state solution" (from which Jerusalem and its environs are exempt), often hold up their hands in horror at suggestions of Palestinian rights to East Jerusalem, saying "you cannot want to divide the city again?"
Meanwhile Palestinian residents suffer neglect and ethnic cleansing, and more than three quarters live below the poverty line.

The peace group Gush Shalom, which called supporters to join a Palestinian protest by Jerusalem's Damascus Gate, said:

A lie does not become a truth, even if repeated forty-five times. Jerusalem is a not a united city, and has never been a united city in the forty-five years since 1967. East Jerusalem is a Palestinian area under occupation rule. Just so is it treated by the governmental and municipal authorities of the State of Israel, and by the settlers who are dispossessing the Palestinian inhabitants, with the funding and backing of these authorities - as recently happened again in the Beit Hanina Neighborhood.

"Jerusalem Day" is not a holiday to Israel's citizens or to residents of Jerusalem. It is a holiday only for the young settlers, who are given by the Jerusalem Police a free hand to hold a provocative "Flag Dance" throughout East Jerusalem – even though in previous years this "dance" developed into an ongoing chain of racist harassment and violence against Palestinian inhabitants.

It is time to end the lie and erase this ugly stain from the calendar of the State of Israel. The real Jerusalem Day will be the day when the occupation ends and Jerusalem becomes the capital of two states - West Jerusalem the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine. Only then can Jerusalem truly be a united city, by the free will of all its inhabitants - Israelis and Palestinians alike.

There was one bright moment during Sunday’s Jerusalem Day events, as reported byLisa Goldman. A young Palestinian boy, perhaps about 10 years old, was holding his Palestinian flag when it was snatched from him by an Israeli orthodox settler. The boy tried to rescue his flag, and was struggling with the man when an armed officer of the Israeli Border Police approached.

The boy ran off down the street pursued by the officer, then stumbled and fell. He might have been captured, but as he scrambled back on to his feet, a 22-year old Israeli activist Sahar Vardi from Jerusalem, brilliantly and bravely blocked the officer.

Her intervention and the whole incident was captured in a brilliant series of photographs by Haim Schwarczenberg, and film also appeared on You Tube. It brought the usual stream of hate and threats of violence from right-wing Zionists, some of whom also want to break the cameras and/or the legs of what they call "leftist photographers". But we must not be rude and describe those making such threats as fascists.

There will come a time when Jerusalem is the shared capital of two peoples living in peace as equals. When it does Israelis, and Jewish people in general, will look back in gratitude that our honour was saved by the likes of Sahar Vardi.


Oh, and I almost forgot. Veolia, the French-owned utilities company is involved in the transport system linking Jerusalem with illegal settements, which provided "Happy Jerusalem Day" balloons. But that is not political, you understand?

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Can they snatch away crane safety law?

VICTIM'S MOTHER, Liliana Alexa (centre with dark glasses) at Tower Hill for International Workers Memorial Day event

WE know the government is attacking hard-won rights, and that health and safety provisions are among the services being attacked. But when a law that was only enacted two years ago, after determined public campaigning, is in danger of being taken away, it is hard to believe the attack could be so blatant, or - since it was in response to two deaths -so heartless.

On 26 September 2006 a 165 foot crane collapsed in Thessaly Road, Battersea onto a block of flats killing Michael Alexa, 23, and the crane driver, Jonathan Cloke, 37. Michael, a bus driver and member of the Transport and General Workers Union, now Unite, was changing a wheel on his car in the street outside his mother's home. His body was trapped under the collapsed crane and was left there for five days until the he could be moved safely.

"My life stopped that day", recalls Michael's mother Liliana. "He was a wonderful young man who wanted to achieve so much. He left behind a son who is nearly two and who will never know his father".

But Liliana Alexa did not stop at grieving for her son. Together with neighbours, and helped by the Construction Safety Campaign and the Battersea and Wandsworth Trade Union Council, she started the Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group (BCDAG). London Hazards Centre assisted with technical health and safety information and background research.

Initial investigations at Thessaly Road showed faults in the crane, including missing, bent and worn bolts, and that the crane was very old. News from other parts of the country including more accidents in London, showed that the Battersea disaster and its causes were far from unique. Inspection and regulations on cranes appeared to be left to owners - and with sub-contracting it was not always easy to see who was responsible for what.

Besides calling for an investigation of their own tragedy, BCDAG worked to publicise the bigger picture, and demanded a proper enforcement regime on construction industry safety and regulations, and a national public register for all cranes in the UK.

In January 2008 the group met with Lord McKenzie and discussed their submission to an enquiry into health and safety regulation and in January 2009 the HSE launched a consultation on new Regulations to set up the register, which ended on 9 October 2009.

In 2010 the Notification of Tower Crane Regulations Act was introduced, with a 'Crane Register'. Although campaigners might not have been satisfied this went far enough, they did feel it was an important achievement.

Now it appears this was a step too far so far as this government is concerned.

David Cameron has said he has a New Year's Resolution to "kill off the health and safety culture for good".

We have seen that already inadequate HSE inspections are being cut back, that industries like docks are being declared safe, and that there is insufficient money available apparently to check asbestos in schools. Of course it helps that media can't find space to tell the public about such issues, having previously fed us stories about children being banned from playing conkers without wearing safety goggles in school yards.

In March 2011 Employment Minister Chris Grayling commissioned an independent review of health and safety legislation and appointed Professor Ragnar Löfstedt - Director of the King's Centre for Risk Management at King's College, London - to chair it. This review and HSE consultations are due to end on July 4.

But it is reported that Löfstedt has proposed repealing the Notification of Tower Crane Regulations (2010).

So we are back to "self-regulation", and leaving it to the owners.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has welcomed the publication of the Löfstedt review. A statement on their website in November says:
"Professor Löfstedt has made recommendations aimed at reducing the burden of unnecessary regulation on businesses while maintaining Britain's health and safety performance, which is among the best internationally. The Government has accepted his recommendations".
Incidentally, we note that the professor himself has insisted he did not use the word "burden" when talking about the health and safety regulations.

But it is a safe bet that the Con Dems' government will read what they want in the review and draw from it the conclusions that suit them.

Health and safety campaigners say there are positive bits in the review. Professor Löfstedt does not recommend widespread repeal of UK health and safety legislation, most of which is determined at European level these days. He makes positive comments about the work of safety reps, although proposing nothing to strengthen their rights. (One thing to come out in the exposure of blacklisting in construction is that workers who raise safety issues or come forward as reps can be victimised, and their names added to the lists, so further employment is denied).

But of immediate concern is the the threat to remove the crane regulations which campaigners like Liliana Alexa worked so hard to achieve.

When Cameron and co. speak of killing off a "health and safety culture", it isn't just a culture that can get killed.

The Construction Safety Campaign, Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group and London Hazards Centre are holding a meeting to discuss the implications of the Löfstedt review, and how to resist attacks on health and safety.

This is on Wednesday May 23 at the London Hazards Centre, in the old Hampstead Town Hall,
213 Haverstock Hill, London NW3 4QP (nearest tube Belsize Park)

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Friday, May 18, 2012

A Challenge to the Slanderers
WORKING CLASS HERO still seems to upset some people eight years after he died.

FORMER building worker Des Warren died eight years ago, on April 24, 2004, after years of illness, a shadow of his former self, due to drugs administered him in prison bringing on a severe form of Parkinson's Disease.

Des, a steel fixer by trade, had been jailed for three years for his part in the 1972 builders' strike, when he fought for a £1 an hour minimum wage, and against the notorious "lump" system, which enabled employers to evade legal responsibilities for insurance, and health and safety, and to undermine trade unionism in the industry, by paying workers a lump sum and pretending they were self-employed.

During the strike Des Warren, Ricky Tomlinson (now a famous actor) and colleagues from North Wales and Chester took a bus to Shrewsbury, touring sites there and in nearby Telford new town, to persuade men still working to come out and join them. During that visit they were accompanied by police wherever they went. Nobody was arrested. In fact, as Ricky Tomlinson recalls, a senior police officer congratulated the pickets at the end of the day on the way their effort had been conducted!

Months after the strike had ended police acting on orders from Tory Home Secretary Robert Carr were sent to North Wales and Chester and two dozen men were rounded up from their homes and taken to Shrewsbury to face trial. They were charged with "conspiracy". At his trial, Des Warren told the court there had been a conspiracy - between the government, the police and the employers. He was sentenced to three years, Eric Tomlinson as he then was got two years, and others received suspended sentences, among them Terry Renshaw (four months) who would go on later to become mayor of Flint.

There was a campaign to free the Shrewsbury Two, but it received scant support from the builders' union UCATT, or the TUC, especially after Labour had become the government and Home Secretary Roy Jenkins refused to consider it. As Ricky Tomlinson points out, "We ended up spending more time in jail under Labour than we had under the Conservatives". After his release he joined those campaigning for Des Warren to be freed, and tried to address the TUC in Blackpool, but was denied a platform. He and his companions had to listen to a speaker denouncing the pickets, and were thrown out of the public gallery when they protested.

Des Warren, who had been in the Communist Party, switched to the Workers Revolutionary Party after his release. The WRP published his book, The Key To My Cell, about his experiences. It pulls no punches about his persecutors and those who let him down politically, but does give credit where due to people who had tried to help him. Though I did see Des Warren at an event in Brixton after the WRP split in the 1980s, his chronic illness made it impossible for him to keep up public activity, and he increasingly came to need convalescence and nursing.

For some years now there has been a campaign to have the Shrewsbury convictions squashed and the pickets' names cleared. The Justice for Shrewsbury 24 campaign has held marches in Shrewsbury and mass meetings in London, it has lobbied MPs at Westminster and demanded that the government release documents and material information about the trial which remains hidden in the interests of so-called "national security".

As a contribution to the campaign and to educating new generations, Des Warren's The Key to My Cell was republished a few years ago, and members of the Warren family have played a part in campaigning. Along with militants involved in the original campaign in the 1970s march comrades who were not even born then , and members of both building unions, Unite and UCATT. Ricky Tomlinson is a supporter of Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party and the former miners' leader has spoken at campaign meetings. So has Bob Crow of the RMT. Others involved include Labour and Communist Party members, former members of the WRP, activists in the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, and others simply concerned with defending workers' rights and fighting injustice.

Yet some people who call themselves trade unionists don't seem happy about this campaign, and beneath the genuine unity and enthusiasm it has aroused, there seem to be some out to divide and undermine it. Rather than open opposition, this takes the form of smears and rumour-mongering aimed at sapping confidence, and it would be interesting to know where this is coming from. Apparently one of the targets attacked is Des Warren's book, and thus its author, who it is suggested wasn't capable of expressing his own experiences and thoughts, but was just some kind of stooge for outside forces. It says something for Des Warren and his book that they can still awaken such antagonism, and it says a lot about his detractors that they have waited so long to smear someone who is dead, and even now are too cowardly to come out into the open.

Anyway, I am pleased to see that journalist Chris Corrigan, who worked with Des on the book and whom I know as a man of quiet and decent integrity, has decided to reply to this smear, and here, with an introductory letter from Gerry Downing, is Chris's statement, as it appears in
Weekly Worker 914 , Thursday May 17 2012

Chris Corrigan sets the record straight about Des Warren

The ideals fought for by Des Warren and his comrades during and after the 1972 building workers’ strike need to be clearly restated. By far the best way to honour the memory of those who were surely amongst the foremost class warriors of the last century is not simply to legally ‘clear the names’ of the falsely criminalised and jailed Shrewsbury pickets, but to organise to finish the fight against the ‘lump’, which led them into sharp conflict not only with the building employers and Tory government of the day, but also with the Ucatt union bureaucracy, the TUC cowards and their apologists.

Des is very clear in his book, The key to my cell, that it was these latter three who held that key, which they refused to turn in order to maintain their rotten, corrupt, class-compromise positions of defending capitalism as the source of their privilege.

Following divisions in the Justice for the Shrewsbury Pickets campaign, allies of these have attempted to undermine the authenticity of Des’s book. A rumour has been spread that the book was not really Des’s work at all or that in writing it he was ‘spoon-fed’ by the Workers Revolutionary Party, which organisation he joined after he was released from jail. Here, the record is set straight by Chris Corrigan, who assisted Des in the production of the book.

Gerry Downing

I am a life member of the NUJ and have been a journalist for 48 years. For the past three I have been a contract sub-editor at The Guardian newspaper. Prior to that I was a staff sub-editor at The Independent for 22 years.

Previously I was a news reporter on the Western Mail, then the Birmingham Post, and then, from 1969 to 1974, in Fleet Street with the Press Association news agency, where I was a high court and central criminal court/Old Bailey reporter. Needless to say, you require very high skills in shorthand for such tasks, in terms of accuracy and speed. In fact, I still have my Pitman’s shorthand certificates from the 1960s.

It was these shorthand skills that led to me to cover the appeal court case in the Strand, where Des and Ricky Tomlinson were seeking to overturn their Shrewsbury convictions. I got talking to Des during the many lunch breaks and adjournments - they were temporarily out on bail - and liked him enormously. Any trade unionist would - he was an extremely impressive man with very high principles which he powerfully expressed. No wonder employers did not like him.

By this time I resigned from the PA, which was increasingly departing from its traditional role as an impartial national news agency and joining in the general rightwing media campaign: eg, against the early-70s miners’ strikes and vilifying so-called dossing, card-playing, night-shift workers at Cowley and Longbridge. I worked freelance, and contributed news stories to various papers as well as, when possible, to the Workers Press, the WRP’s paper. I eventually joined the WRP in early 1975, when the Americans had to leave Saigon in a hurry.

I also got to know Des’s family, including Elsa, who worked tirelessly, speaking for the Shrewsbury campaign to free Des and his fellow defendants. As is known, their appeal was rejected.

After Des’s eventual release from jail, I kept in touch. He was anxious to bring out a book about his experiences. I offered to put my shorthand skills at his disposal - it must be emphasised he was unable to hold a pen still for even a second, or use a typewriter, because of his continuous shakes from the onset of Parkinson’s disease brought on by prison authorities administering Largactil and other heavy tranquilisers. (Largactil was later superseded by drugs which did not cause the same level of side-effects, which continual large doses often brought about.)

So Des needed help to write his book. When he was ready, and when I was available, I spent six weeks with him, sometimes staying at his house in Buckley, North Wales, or travelling by moped each day from Runcorn.

It went like this. Des spoke - I recorded what he said. Each night I would transcribe my shorthand notes onto printed sheets. These proofs would be checked by Des. We eventually had a full manuscript. After about a fortnight, I returned and Des had gone through the manuscript and made additions and changes during the next two weeks. He was ill, but his mind was still sharp, as was his memory, and he had full control of the content - every sentence of it. Nobody else except Des contributed to, or had any control, over its content. He wrote it - even the title, The key to my cell.

My role was as shorthand writer and secretary, and also as a researcher when dates and times needed checking or court transcripts and newspaper cuttings needed finding. All of which Des collated and chose where to insert in the book.

Finally, if anyone wants to challenge the integrity of the above account they can face the consequences or I am willing to meet them to sensibly discuss it. This includes Mr Terry Renshaw - if he is able to absent himself from his work as a highly active member of the North Wales Police Authority, which, in a previous form, helped put Des, Ricky and others behind bars in the first place.

To order copies of the book contact

Chris Corrigan

Further reading:


Legal News:

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Courage and Betrayal in a Country Churchyard

ST.JOHN THE BAPTIST, BURFORD, west Oxfordshire, where the Levellers were held.

One of the detained soldiers left his name on the Font.

(postcard from rubbing by BC Boulter, copyright Friends of Burford Church).

On May 17. 1649, Sedley and his comrades had to watch as three of their fellows were shot in the churchyard.

PASSING through Banbury in Oxfordshire on a quiet Sunday afternoon last week I did not realise that this market town was once the starting point of dramatic events whose denouement, further west at Burford, will be commemorated this weekend.

With the execution of King Charles I on January 30, 1649, Oliver Cromwell had defeated the Royalists and those within his own parliamentary side who would have had him compromise with the king and the old order. Now he would turn on those whose support he had needed for both these victories. Cromwell, "God's Own Englishman", intended a regime based on those whom the Almighty had rewarded with wealth and property.

But his New Model Army had mobilised common men and those who voiced their aspirations, such as those described as "Levellers" -a term once used for rural protesters who tore down enclosure fences, then extended to those who would allegedly bring all society down to one level. The so-called Levellers in Cromwell's army denied both the name given them and the aim attributed; but they did think all should have some share in the rights and kingdom for which they had fought, and began to accept the label bestowed upon them by their enemies as an honour.

An Agreement of the People drawn up and discussed among these soldiers had appeared before the Putney Debates of October and November 1647, and a final version, appended and issued in the names of prominent Levellers Lt. Col. John Lilburne, William Walwyn, Richard Overton and Thomas Prince appeared in May 1649. It called for an extension of suffrage to include almost all the adult male population, electoral reform, a Parliament to be elected every two years, religious freedom, and an end to imprisonment for debt.

These Levellers wanted to get rid of corruption, make the law accessible to all, allow religious tolerance so anyone could pray their own way and discuss ideas, and have rights that were due them as human beings, not dependent on riches or inheritance. At the Putney Debates in 1647, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough defended natural rights as coming from the law of God expressed in the Bible. Lilburne argued that the freeborn rights of Englishmen had been taken away by the 'Norman Yoke'. But whatever their historical views they would agree with Richard Overton that liberty was an innate property of every person.

The Levellers can be seen as establishing a continuity between age-old aspirations, such as were voiced in the 1381 Peasants Revolt, the demands raised in Kett's revolt in Norfolk in 1549, and modern ideas of democracy and justice. In 1649, Lilburne, Walwyn, Prince, and Overton were imprisoned in the Tower of London by the Council of State. While they were held there they wrote a pamphlet entitled "An Agreement Of The Free People Of England" (written on May 1, 1649). It includes reforms that have since been made law in England, such as the right to silence, and others that have not been, such as an elected judiciary.

Shortly after this, Cromwell moved against the "Banbury mutineers", 400 troopers who supported the Levellers and who were commanded by Captain William Thompson. The mutiny was over pay the men were owed and badly needed, as well as their political demands. To defuse the pay issue, Cromwell acknowledged the soldiers' financial grievances and secured £10,000 from Parliament towards payment of arrears. But Captain Thompson and his men neither trusted the meagre promissory notes they were given, nor forgave the government its repression of the Levellers. On May 6, 1649, Thompson issued a rousing declaration, "England's Standard Advanced" (extracts:)

"Whereas it is notorious to the whole world, that neither the Faith of the Parliament, nor yet the Faith of the Army (formerly made to the People of this nation, in behalf of their Common Right, Freedom and safety) hath bin all observed, or made good, but both absolutely declined and broken, and the People only served with bare words and faire promising Papers, and left utterly destitute of all help or delivery : And that this hath principally bin by the prevalency and treachery of some prominent persons (now domineering over the People) is most evident.

Wherefore through an inavoydable necessity, no other means left under heaven, we are inforced to betake our selves to the Law of nature, to defend and preserve our selves and Native Rights, and therefore are resolved as one man (even to the hazard and expence of our lives and fortunes) to to endeavour the redemption of the Magistracy of England, from under the force of the Sword, to vindicate the Petition of Right, to set the unjustly imprisoned free, to relieve the poore, and settle this Common-wealth upon the grounds of Common Right, Freedom, and Safety.

Be it therefore known to all the free People of England, and to the whole world, that, (chusing rather to die for Freedom than to live as slaves) we are gathered and associated together upon the bare account of Englishmen, with our Swords in our hands, to redeem our selve and the Land of our Nativity, from slavery and oppression, to avenge the blood of War shed in the time of Peace, to have justice for the blood of M. Arnold shot to death at Ware, and for the blood of M. Robert Lockyer, and divers other who of late martial Law were murthered at London.

And that all the world may know particularly what we intend, and wherein we will particularly center and acquiesce for ever, not to recede or exceed the least punctillio, we declare from the integrity of our hearts that by the help and might of God we will endeavor the absolute settlement of this distracted Nation, upon that forme and Method by way of an Agreement of the People, tendered as a Peace-offering by Leiut. Col. John Lilburn, M. Will. Walwyn, M. Thomas Prince, and M. Richard Overton, bearing date May 1. 1649. the which we have annexed to this our Declaration as the Standard of our Engagement, thereby owning every part and particular of the Premisses of the said Agreement, Promising and Resolving, to the utmost hazard of our Lives and Abilities, to persue the speedy and full Accomplishment thereof, and to our power, to protect and defend all such as shall Assent or Adhere thereunto :

And that till such time as by Gods Assistance we have procured to this Nation the Declared purpose of this our Engagement, we will not Divide nor Disband, nor suffer our selves to be Divided nor Disbanded, resolving with soberness and civility to behave our selves to the Country, to wrong nor abuse any man, to protect all to our power from violence and oppression in all places where we come; resolving to stop the Paiment of all Taxes or Sesments whatsoever, as of Excise, Tythes, and the Tax of ninety thousand pounds per Mensem. &c.

And having once obtained a New Representative, according to the said Agreement, upon such Terms and Limitations therein expressed; We shall then freely lay down our Arms, and return to our several Habitations and Callings.

Signed by me William Thompson, at our Randez-vouz in Oxfordshire, neer Banbury, in behalf of my Self, and the Rest Engaged with me, May 6. 1649.

Further south, Colonel Scrope's regiment of horse, selected for service in Ireland, had been marched as far as Salisbury, but Leveller-inspired soldiers seized the regimental colours and elected new officers. An attempt by Scrope to pacify the mutineers was rejected, with only 80 officers and men remaining loyal. The mutinous troops issued a declaration stating their refusal to leave England, or to be disbanded until their grievances over arrears of pay were settled. They demanded a political settlement in line with the Levellers' Agreement of the People and the restoration of the elected Army Council of 1647.

William Thompson set off from Banbury with 400 men, intending to meet up with the Salisbury mutineers and make common cause. To avoid a clash with troops sent to hold a bridge against them, they waded a river and crossed swampy ground.

A Major White was sent by Cromwell and the army commander Fairfax to mediate with Thompson's troops and give them assurances that force would not be used against them.

Meanwhile security was strengthened at the Tower, where Lilburne and his friends were held, and loyal troops and cavalry were reviewed by Cromwell and Fairfax in Hyde Park, ready to move against the mutineers. Cromwell had on occasion assured his soldiers that he sympathised with their radical hopes, as against the monarchy, but he had also told friends that the Levellers, and the Diggers who sought peacefully to work the land in common, threatened property and privilege.

"What is the purport of the levelling principle but to make the tenant as liberal a fortune as the landlord. I was by birth a gentleman. You must cut these people in pieces or they will cut you in pieces."

Mutineers from Salisbury and Aylesbury had joined forces at Abingdon. Manoeuvring swiftly to keep the rebel forces apart, Fairfax succeeded in surrounding the main body at Burford. He ordered a surprise night attack which was led by Cromwell himself. After a few shots were exchanged, most of the mutineers surrendered. Several hundred were taken prisoner and locked in Burford Church for several days, after which three of them were taken out as ringleaders, and executed by firing squad in the churchyard. The rest were pardoned by Fairfax.

Meanwhile, William Thompson, with two troops of horse, had escaped the Burford ambush and been pursued into Northamptonshire by a force led by Colonel Reynolds. Refusing to surrender, Captain Thompson killed two of his pursuers before being killed himself in a skirmish, near to Wellingborough where he may have been trying to reach a Digger community.

His brother, Cornet James Thompson, was one of the three men shot in Burford churchyard, on May 17, 1649, the others being Corporal Perkins and John Church.

Thus the Levellers were crushed, and England's first revolution rendered safe for the owners of property and wealth. Within the year, the Diggers or "True Levellers" too, followers of Gerard Winstanley and their agrarian communes, were also broken up. Not till the rise of the working class and a series of bitter struggles lasting into the 20th century was the vote extended to all, and today behind the facade of parliamentary democracy we see wealth and property grasped in the ever tighter hands of a privileged few, while even rights we thought we'd long attained are being taken away.

So let us honour the courage of those betrayed heroes and keep the light they lit aflame.

IN 1975 a group of people from the Workers Educational Association went to Burford to commemorate the Levellers, and a plaque honouring those executed was unveiled by Tony Benn. Since then the annual commemoration event has grown, and this Saturday, May 19, we are promised speakers from UK Uncut and 38 Degrees, both concerned with cuts and issues of social justice, as well as the RMT's new president Alex Gordon. Oxford and District trades union council is mounting an exhibition, there'll be stalls, and entertainment including the Sea Green Singers (named after the Levellers' favourite colour) and The Original Rabbit's Foot Spasm Band.

Oh yeah, and as an added bonus, all this is happening in David Cameron's backyard!

Once again, as in previous years, I won't be able to go (previously it was Palestinian demonstrations in London, this year the Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils has its meeting which was postponed because of last weekend's trades councils conference in Coventry). No peace for the wicked. But for those of you who are able to go to Burford on Saturday, I recommend it, and wish everyone a good time and a successful event.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

An Unjust and Outrageous Sacking
SACKED for defending herself against attack.

PUBLIC transport workers have often been the victims of abuse and violence, particularly racist attacks. Years ago I had to intervene after three yobboes started on a Black clippie who'd had the temerity to ask for their fares, and set about an elderly white man who had gone to her aid. I managed to ram one of their heads against the side, fortunately without doing any damage to the bus, and fortunately too they decided it was their stop, and went off, making threats to get me another time. Just another Saturday night.

Of course I was younger and braver in those days and my temper was up. Having occasionally experienced bigotry and bullying when I was a kid, I hate all racists of whatever variety, and I recognised the enemy.

The bus conductress confessed that she had been tempted to swing her ticket machine at their heads, but feared losing her job if she had done that.

We no longer have bus conductors, and we are threatened with losing train drivers as well as station staff. But now I'm old I think those of us who appreciate them being around to help should take their side, against the bosses (and Boris)who want to take away their jobs, and against the backward and obnoxious types (whether lumpen or yuppie) who target them.

I agree with the posters we see saying "Don't take it out on our staff" and warning that severe penalties will be sought against those who do. But now I am wondering whether we can take London Underground seriously when it promises to look after or even take sides with its staff.

Dayna Nembhard, a Customer Service Assistant(CSA) with eight years unblemished service for London Underground, was sacked for supposed "Gross Misconduct", without any corroborated evidence, because of an incident which happened after work and away from station premises.

Dayna had finished work, and stopped at a KFC for something to eat. Unprovoked, a white female customer racially attacked her. Dayna, described by colleagues as mild-mannered, is pregnant, and feared harm to her unborn child. She sought to defend herself.

Police were called, and interviewed Dayna, but after hearing what had happened, both from her and from witnesses, they let her go without any charges.

So far, so good, even if the person who started the trouble was not charged either.

But not good enough for London Underground, it seems. An investigating manager obtained CCTV footage from KFC. An internal disciplinary panel, all white, ignored witness statements and apparently took no notice of the police explanation that a member of LU staff had been racially abused. They did not consult LU's own Race Relation Advisory board.

Dayna Nembhard was sacked, and with a "gross misconduct" charge against her will probably have difficulty getting another job.

We would not want to make too much out of one case. London Underground boasts of the diversity of its workforce, which includes black people at managerial level. But some tube workers say this is not a one-off, isolated case. In 2008 LU was found guilty of racial discrimination by an employment tribunal for sacking Jerome Bowes off the Bakerloo Line.

"RMT rep Elaine Holness, spoke out about LU’s discrimination at Jerome’s tribunal. Her white manager then put in a grievance, accusing her — a black woman — of racially harassing him! This treatment eventually cost Elaine her job.

"In 2008, RMT discovered LU was paying out an average of £4,000 a day in employment tribunal settlements. That shows that LU was systematically discriminating against and mistreating workers, paying out compensation as if it was a 'business cost'.

An RMT website reports the following resolution:

"We note the report from our Regional Organiser on this shocking case. We are appalled that London Underground has seen fit to victimise and sack a member of staff who did nothing more than stand up for herself against a racist attack while she was off-duty.

We note that there is to be a Directors' Review of this case tomorrow, and give notice that should this not lead to Dayna’s reinstatement, this union will fight this injustice with all methods at our disposal.

We therefore instruct the General Secretary to:

  • pursue this case through the full procedure agreed last year, including a meeting between himself and Mike Brown before proceeding to industrial action if necessary
  • raise this issue with our Parliamentary group
  • arrange a meeting with Dayna's GLA member, Navin Shah
  • support and resource the organising efforts of Dayna’s branch, our Regional Council, and its Black and Ethnic Minority Members’ Committee and Station and Revenue Grades Committee
  • seek maximum publicity for this case

London Transport Regional Council and branches to be advised."

There is a petition we can sign to show support for Dayna as she fighs for reinstatement at London Underground.

As an anti-racist as well as a trade unionist I have naturally signed. Compensation is not enough. Dayna Nebhard should be reinstated in her job.

As a trade unionist and socialist I have frequently supported opposition to privatisation of public services.

As a member of the public I also think we should scrutinise those who are managing the services we are supposed to own.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Round One to Steadfastness and Unity

OUTSIDE Ramle prison, May 3, for those INSIDE
(Mahfouz Abu Turk / APA images)

PALESTINIAN detainees held in Israeli prisons have agreed to end a month long mass hunger strike held to draw world attention to their plight and demand just treatment from Israel. In what appears to be a victory for the prisoners' steadfastness and unity, they have obtained significant concessions in negotiations which the Israeli authorities were not keen to hold.

Prisoner representatives from each of the political factions agreed to the deal in Ashkelon jail, prisoners society chief Qaddura Fares said in a statement. Israel's internal security service Shin Bet confirmed the deal, the Israeli news site Ynet reported.

Many Palestinians are detained without charges or trial, under laws Israel inherited from the British colonial mandate. The hunger strike brought world attention to this, and brought prisoners relatives and thousands of sympathisers out to demonstrate in support. This unity across the spectrum also succeeded where the Palestinian Authority had not in forcing Israeli auhorities to negotiate with those to whom they said they would not talk.

Senior Hamas official Saleh Arouri, who was a member of the negotiations team, said Israel agreed to provide a list of accusations to administrative detainees, or release them at the end of their term. In comments to the Hamas-affiliated new site Palestine Information Center, he said that under the Egypt-brokered deal Israel agreed to release all detainees from solitary confinement over the next 72 hours.

Israel will also lift a ban on family visits for detainees from the Gaza Strip, and revoke the "Shalit law," according to the official. (The "Shalit law" restricted prisoners' access to families and to educational materials as a collective punishment for the five-year captivity of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in the Gaza Strip. Shalit was freed in October in a prisoner swap agreement).

Around 2,000 prisoners joined the mass hunger strike launched on April 17, demanding improved prison conditions, as well as fairer treatment. There was concern at first that not enough people were demonstrating outside the prisons, and that the Israeli authorities might remain hard-faced and ruthless in their willingness to see a human tragedy. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said on TV that there was nothing to be done if people were prepared to "commit suicide in the name of Islam".

In fact, as he well knew, this was not about Islam, and the demonstrations which did grow in sympathy with the prisoners drew support from all sections, including secular groups and Christians.

There was concern particularly for the lives of two prisoners who had gone on hunger strike ahead of the mass protest and by last week had gone without food for 77 days.

At this stage of a hunger strike, death can happen abruptly. Something can happen to the heart and this is the fear now,” said Hadas Ziv, public outreach coordinator at Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I). If the political authorities will decide not to do anything and not to release them on grounds of medical condition,” she added, “eventually death may occur, if nothing happens in the really, really near future.”

On 7 May, the Israeli high court rejected an appeal by Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, Palestinian prisoners on day 77 of their hunger strike. The two men were challenging the fact that they are being held under Israeli administrative detention orders without charge or trial. With no intervention by Israel’s highest court, Diab and Halahleh’s conditions were only worsening by the day, Ziv said.

Ziv said that the Israeli Prison Service has placed every possible obstacle in the way of PHR-I doctors who are trying to examine the hunger strikers. The organization had been forced to appeal to Israeli courts in order to gain access to the prisoners. The PHR spokeswoman said the authorities were acting on the wrong perception that if Israel isolates the prisoners it could win the struggle and it can break the hunger strike. “I think that this is such a short-sighted and horrendous policy and I think that if independent doctors, lawyers and family visits would have been enabled, one would have seen a resolution that could have saved lives.”

It is estimated that Israel has arrested and detained over 750,000 Palestinians since it began occupying the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including East Jerusalem in 1967.

It is not clear whether Diab and Halahla have accepted the prisoners' agreement, which includes their release at the end of their detention term. Their lawyer says both refused to stop their strike unless they were immediately released. A prisoners society lawyer Jawad Bulous is heading to the prison hospitals to discuss the deal with hunger-strikers.

PLO official Hanan Ashrawi applauded the deal and said it proved the power of non-violent resistance. "The Palestinian prisoners in facing the Israeli Prison Authority is a victory not only for them and their families, but also for the millions of Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory and in exile," Ashrawi said in a statement. "The hunger strikers' courage is magnificently inspiring, and their selflessness deeply humbling," the official added.

She also thanked Egyptian mediators, the international community "and people of conscience worldwide" for supporting the strikers.

The prisoners' readiness to suffer and risk their lives has brought more world media attention to Palestinian peaceful protest than they are used to, perhaps because of its scale. What must be worrying the Israeli government now, as it heartens Palestinians and those Israelis who wish to see peace with justice, is that the steadfastness and unity shown in the prisoners' fight is an indication of the popular struggle coming in the "third Intifada". This may prove to be its opening round.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Schools for Scandal

I WAS listening this weekend to teachers and others describing the relentless march of so-called academies and "free schools" across the country, taking educational provision away from public accountability and the remit of elected local authorities; opening the way for forms of selection (social as well as educational), and private ownership and profit.

Without forgetting the way New Labour supported the "academies" idea, delegates at the annual conference of trades union councils, meeting in Coventry, unanimously supported a resolution saying that schools were being "forced to become so-called 'academies' through a process of bullying, bribing and railroading". It called for opposition similar to that against the Con-Dem coalition's attack on the National Health Service.

During the debate a delegate from Wiltshire recounting how a private company taking over hospital services had refused to talk with the union about bullying and other abuses going on, warned that this company was moving into schools now and might similarly refuse union recognition. Another delegate told how a head teacher converted to the academy idea had decided to ignore opposition from teaching staff, how teachers who achieved good results were nevertheless removed because they were union members, and how the head had told staff: "This is my school, and if you choose to work here you do things my way".

Indeed the only thing "free" about "free schools" and academies seems to be the way the government and authorities who are supposedly strapped for cash for necessary repairs and things like asbestos removal, not to mention teachers' pensions, and public libraries, suddenly find lavish sums available for those who go along with their policies.

In Lincoln the authorities were so impressed with one man's apparent success. a Mr.Gilliland, they let him set up an academy from the technical college and then expand, taking on the junior and infant schools to form The Priory Academy LSST, The Priory Witham Academy and The Priory City of Lincoln Academy. The Department for Education gave £26.29 million for the complete rebuild of city school site and put £24,366 to the Witham Academy – a project which was heavily funded by Lincolnshire County Council.

A further £6.33 million of DfE cash was allocated to LSST. By August 2011, the Witham Academy build was complete and the building work at the Lincoln Academy will be finished by this September. The LSST has a planetarium, an all-weather running track and more recently, boarding facilities created for sixth formers, with priority for RAF families.

When this trust acquired a chateau in Bayeux, France, to establish the Centre des Etoiles, there was some bad feeling among other headteachers in Lincolnshire, who thought it was getting unfairly over-endowed with resources. But the trust said the decision to buy the £496,382 site was agreed when the federation was formed in 2008. Students visited the site to learn the 'Priory Way' – a cultural code of conduct cited as the reason for exceptional behaviour and results.

Also in 2009, the local authority again approached the federation. Two Grantham schools were failing and they were soaked up by the federation. The new Ruskin Academy was made possible through £13 million in funding from Government. The trust's latest acquisition is the £1.7million Laughton Manor equestrian centre, set in 90 acres of land in Folkingham, near Sleaford, which will be operational by September.

But other people were getting interested in what they learned about "the Priory Way". They wondered about contracts for work on that chateau, and about how much of the cost was for refurbishment of apartments for Mr.Gilliland and family. And that was not all.

As was reported in mid-April:
The boss of one of Britain's most lavishly funded academy schools has quit amid an investigation into its financial management.

Richard Gilliland, whose £200,000 salary meant he was earning more than the Prime Minister, resigned as chief executive of the Priory Federation of Academies following an investigation by the Department.

The Lincolnshire-based organisation, which is run by a trust, provides education for over 5,000 students between the ages of three and 18 on four sites in Lincoln and Grantham.

Read more:

Looking into the official report on the Priory Federation we learn:

4. The CEO has used the resources of the Federation to purchase training for his son, receive personal tax advice, purchase DVDs and other items using a Federation credit card and had items delivered to the academy address which were both personal and of an inappropriate nature. We were concerned that invoices appeared to have been altered to hinder identification of the recipient of the training that had been paid by the Federation, namely the CEO’s son.

5. The financial management of the Federation has not been of a standard necessary for an organisation of its current size. Regularity and transparency in the use of public funds has not been demonstrated. The desire to drive the ethos and branding of the organisation has not always been linked to the fact that they are in receipt of considerable levels of public funding....

8. The purchase of Laughton Manor included a manor house whose top floors were prepared and decorated to a standard that we consider met the requirements of the CEO and his wife’s intended occupation of the premises rather than the needs of the Federation. Due to tax implications the CEO never fully moved in and it is still not clear what this accommodation will be used for.

The report went on to mention the:
 Inappropriate nature of personal purchases using the Federation credit card and delivered to the Federation address.
 Use of a flat at the Manor House, Laughton Manor as a residential property and they costs in refurbishing this.
 The Federation may have paid removal costs in relation to the move to/from the Manor House, Laughton Manor.
 Establishment of a private apartment at French Centre and the costs of refurbishing.
 Use of the French Centre by family members for activities not related to Federation business.

22. As discussed below there has been extensive use of the Federation credit cards. A number of these purchases appeared to be for personal use and Mr Gilliland confirmed that he had purchased personal items that came out of the £2,000 “allowance” discussed above. In July and August 2011 Mr Gilliland made two payments to the Federation for £1,253.39 and £1,349.76 in relation to personal items he had purchased from Amazon between December 2009 and July 2011. Mr Gilliland stated that he had repaid these amounts as the new FD suggested that he should repay the Federation for any personal items purchased.

23. Mr Gilliland admitted that some of the personal items purchased using the Federation credit card and delivered to the Federation offices were of an inappropriate nature to be delivered to a school site (e.g. sex games and supplements). He stated that these would only be opened by him as staff did not open mail addressed to him.

Even as the Department of Education said it had handed the matter over to police, it appeared the approach of PC Plod was not yet near enough to persuade educational authorities either in Lincolnshire or London to pause in their policy of backing academies. As the Lincolnshire Echo reported this week. "Education bosses have given their support to the Priory Federation of Academies Trust in the wake of the Richard Gilliland scandal".

I'll leave the last word to a commentator today on the This is Lincolnshire discussion page:
“Hey JP 3157,
Do you remember the days when Headteachers, businessmen and politicians were pillars of the community to be looked up to and respected ? What the heck happened !!!!!!! This lot have brought great shame upon the education community and suspicion to the motives of any future school considering academy status.”

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Thursday, May 03, 2012

Roughed up then cuffed. Olympic trial run?

WHILE we wait for the results of the elections in London, those privileged to reside in the area affected by the Olympics must continue to worry for their rights and wonder how much democratic say they have in the running of their neighbourhoods.

When some Bow residents heard that ground to air missiles were to be based on the roof of their flats they must have thought this was a late April Fools Day hoax, but it is deadly serious. A meeting being held in Bow tonight will voice residents fears over the stationing of missiles in their area.

On the less dramatic level people in Leyton were not happy about the space where they walk their dogs or go jogging being taken for a basketball training centre. Couldn't existing basketball places be used, they asked. Must east London lose yet another open space? An attempt to block the invasion was firmly, even roughly, dealt with. The Games must go on.

The Greenway which afforded views of the Olympic site and had become a tourist attraction for walkers and cyclists is being closed off now for security reasons, leaving a popular cafe without its customers.

Of course we must not forget the benefits to come from the Olympics. Newham council which has about 70,000 on its housing waiting list has been promised no less than 350 homes to let from the Olympic Village. For now more impressed with rising property prices and curbs on housing benefit it is trying to ship people to the other end of the country.

We have heard several cases in recent years of people with cameras being treated as terrorists and though I'd thought this hysteria by the police was dying down, it could be the Olympics are giving it another boost, to judge from this story, which also relates to the domination of private property over public space, as well as the issue of construction safety. It comes from the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom:

On Thursday 26th April, Mike Wells, a citizen journalist who writes for the Games Monitor website, was filming unsafe working practices on Leyton Marsh at the 'chaotically managed' Olympic construction site. As a result of his attempt to film and draw attention to the unsafe practices of an excavator working close to pedestrians on Sandy Lane (the pathway running adjacent to Leyton Marsh), Mike was assaulted first by the driver who did not want the activities filmed and was then brutally restrained by a number of bailiffs resulting in injuries to his ribs and forehead.

Several Shergroup employees dragged him 200m to Lea Valley Ice Centre car park under duress. Several shocked members of the public tried unsuccessfully to intervene and prevent further injury to Mike who had a gash on his forehead and was clearly in pain.

His assailants refused to show ID or explain their actions but appeared very agitated and were ordering people to keep away. One of them was recording the scene and bystanders on video. Police arrived and immediately arrested Mike, who was driven away in handcuffs after being treated for some time in an ambulance.

It was very difficult to get information about where Mike was being held. Eventually we discovered that he was at Stoke Newington Police station, from where he was transferred to Leyton Custody Centre (a facility specially built for the Olympics).

He was tried in an emergency Saturday court session at Bow Magistrate Court on Saturday, and this is where Mike's case becomes even more troubling. Despite being assaulted and injured, the CPS requested that Mike be denied bail. They claimed that the members of the public that witnessed the incident were protestors, taking part in a 'highly organised event' in which protestors were menacing security staff by taking images of them. They claimed that members of the public were 'professional' and had set out to intimidate staff and security. Mike is a professional. He's a professional journalist. Mike, like all of us, should have the right to document the destruction, contamination and unsafe working practices on our marsh without being accused of criminal activity.

It was claimed that Mike 'jumped into the excavator' (a completely unfounded accusation) and in the next breath that he 'published events about the Olympics' as if Mike were involved in propagating incitement to violent protest. Mike is completely dedicated to covering the truth about the Olympics and its effect on communities; he has never incited or carried out any violent protest and in fact has been the victim of violence from the bailiffs. Despite what Mike has suffered in pursuit of covering the truth, he was denied bail on the basis he was of 'no fixed abode'. Mike lives on the Lea in a narrowboat. This is exploiting the strict use of the term in a disingenuous way to justify denying bail.

What is even more shocking is that the Magistrate mistakenly claimed that Mike should not have been on Sandy Lane as this is an area 'covered by the injunction'. The injunction prohibits blocking construction vehicles and staff; it does not prohibit walking or filming on Sandy Lane, until recently a tranquil public footpath that the ODA claims is open to full public access. On the completely erroneous basis that Mike had broken the injunction, Mike was remanded in custody in Thameside prison for seven days.

He has been allowed very little access to the outside world and visits from his friends have been denied.

What further punishment will Mike face for speaking the truth?

What threats may we face for speaking the truth about Mike? That remains to be seen. However, for entirely peaceful actions people trying to save our marsh have faced litigation threats, two High Court Injunctions, prison sentences, an eviction, threat of a further possession order and one individual has been slapped with an ASBO which could result in a 5 year prison sentence. The signs are not good.

This is one incident. The CPBF says that had it happened before the Beijing Olympics it might have made the national media, but it happened in London and so it hasn't. But I wonder how long it is before such treatment of an independent journalist or photographer who upsets business interests becomes quite "normal", after it has been tried out in the Olympics "security" zone?

Hearing that an American company like KBR is in line for privatised police contracts does not make me feel any safer.

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I'm voting against the Tory toffs, and for socialists
BORIS AND CHUMS. With futures assured, the Bullindon Club could enjoy a smashing time. London's mayor to be is Bottom Right (no puns intended). Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne were also members, and though there is some doubt whether Education Minister Michael Gove was rich enough to make it, the man he has appointed to cut schools' spending, Sebastian James, was a member of the Club.

WHEN I've finished this posting I'll be off to vote in the election for London mayor and the Greater London Assembly. If I'd had any doubts about voting for Ken Livingstone - not that there's much choice - they have been laid to rest by the escalating campaign against him in the London Evening Standard, on top of the keen backing for Boris Johnson from Prime Minister David Cameron of course.

Boris may play the clown to give ordinary Londoners a false sense of security, but he does not fool around when showing his class loyalty, whether its condemning UK Uncut for occupying Fortnums (the sacrilege!) in their campaign against rich tax dodgers, or insisting the Chancellor must look after the City boys and bankers - you can thank him for the "granny tax". Cameron, condenmed even by some of his Tories for being out of touch, and up to his eyes in the scandal around Murdoch, needs a Johnson win to restore morale and uphold his government.

We might have expected the Standard to maintain its vendetta against Ken if it was still running in tandem with the Daily Mail and owned by the Rothermeres.
On 21 January 2009 the Russian business oligarch and former agent Alexander Lebedev and son Evgeny Lebedev, now the paper's chairman, agreed to purchase 75.1% of the paper for £1, since when they have turned it into a freesheet (at least in central London and on the tube), but evidently haven't made much change to its Tory politics. It supported Cameron in the general election and now it is supporting Boris Johnson.

That Ken Livingstone's former economic adviser John Ross, an expert on Russia, thought it a good thing so much Russian money was coming into the City of London, is just one of political life's little ironies. That Lord Desai, the former LSE "Marxist" elevated to the peerage by Labour, is supporting the Standard campaign against Ken is another, which I trust my friends in the Labour Party will sort out as soon as they get the chance.

Meanwhile, though I have no choice but to vote for Labour's Ken Livingstone as mayor, and to vote for the Labour candidate in my constituency for the GLA, it is another matter when it comes to the London-wide assembly vote which is done by party list, and on the orange ballot paper I beleive.

Here there's a slate of candidates from the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition standing, with the slogan TUSC against CUTS, which is maybe easier to remember and say than the mouthful of a name. I've got my criticisms against this outfit, which seems to have emerged to a large extent from the same groups that rendered the Socialist Alliance ineffective when it could have mounted a real challenge to New Labour. Not yet a party, but still an uneasy coalition, it is tending to graft its politics on to the anti-cuts movement, in which members are active, rather than let them evolve from within. In Southampton I see the leader of council workers in struggle against the Tory council has appealed to people not to split the Labour vote.

Nevertheless my criticisms of the TUSC partners pale to insignificance when placed against the need to speak out against Labour councils which are carrying out the cuts, closing libraries and other services as in Brent, or telling poor people they had better move out of London if they can't afford the rents, as we have seen Newham doing, effectively lining up with Tory boroughs like Westminster and Hammersmith and Fulham.

We must also be honest in recognising that the troubles we're having with local hospitals closing the A&E and seeking mergers that will make people travel further for service, began with New Labour in government bringing in the Tory idea of Private Finance Initiative well ahead of Mr. Lansley and his NHS reform. And then there are the academies, taking education away from elected local government; and of course the Tory anti-union laws which New Labour kept intact and the Con Dem government now wants to reinforce, making it harder for us to fight back and defend rights at work.

So we should not feel obliged to keep our mouths shut about Labour just to fight the Con Dem government, it only leaves the Tories and Lib Dems smirking as though we have admitted they are right, makes us seem half-hearted and hypocritical in our opposition, and leaves working people confused or uncertain, wondering if we really are "all the same". Besides if we don't want the far Right to exploit demoralisation and people fighting each other for jobs and homes, we have to raise the socialist banner and show there is a better way. "Another world is possible" (to borrow a phrase one of the few socialists left in the parliamentary Labour Party has used).*

To get a genuine fighting socialist voice in the GLA would be great, but even raising the Red Flag in this election campaign is good, particularly because the people whose names I recognise on the TUSC are people I've marched with, stood on picket lines with, and one occasion invaded a rail depot with so we could demonstrate as a crowd outside a disciplinary hearing being held at night. And yes the cleaner being picked on because she had joined the union got to keep her job!

Among the people on the TUSC list are Mick Dooley, whom I first met on a Workers Memorial Day march with the Construction Safety Campaign and who organised the day school on asbestos in which trade unionists and healthcare professionals took part at Barts Hospital. Notwithstanding his troubles with the UCATT leadership Mick also played an active part in supporting the rank and file electricians who took on and defeated big construction giants trying to deskill and drive down wages in their industry. (By coincidence while we were demonstrating outside the bosses' Park Lane beano one night who turned up but Ken Livingstone who had been invited to address the diners inside, but was persuaded to have a word with the workers outside first!)

When Steve Hedley of the RMT asked supporters to join a picket outside Laings to demand they talk with the union and stop trying to get a cleaners' steward deported, I was hoping we would not have to stay there too long. We didn't. After less than an hour of picketing their central London offices the embarassed management asked Steve and his colleagues in to talk, and the issue was apparently resolved.

A couple of years ago I blogged about Sian Griffiths, the London firefighter who was invited to Buckingham Palace to be awarded a medal one day, then escorted off fire brigade premises a day or two later, suspended for allegedly "harassing" someone during the strike which the Tories provoked. Well I am glad to see Sian got her job back and seemed in good spirit when I chanced to meet her at Willesden trades hall, around the corner from Pound Lane fire station, the other week. Sian was there meeting supporters because she is another candidate on the TUSC list.!image/1080948045.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_225/1080948045.jpg

SIAN GRIFFITHS got a medal and she will get my vote.

These are not career politicians or mere party hacks, they are frontline fighters for workers' rights and services in London, and for all its faults the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition can be proud to have them on its list. They will get my vote.


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