Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Teachers in Fight for Freedom BAHRAINIS at London May Day rally

THE struggle in Bahrain was given a further tightening yesterday with the Interior Ministry announcing a ban on all protest gatherings, and threatening legal action against opposition groups that organise anti-government demonstrations.

Coming a year after the authorities cracked down with martial law, the move seems to have worried the regime's Western backers, whether because they are finding it harder to defend the repression or fear that tightening the screw too much mean it is near to breaking. The British government issued a statement expressing "concern" at what it called an "excessive" blanket ban.

Sheikh Rashid al-Khalifa, the interior minister, said that "repeated abuse" of the rights to freedom of speech and expression could no longer be tolerated. In future protests would only be permitted once security and stability were sufficient to maintain national unity.

The interior ministry said that any "illegal rally or gathering would be tackled through legal actions against those calling for and participating in it".

Bahrain's part in the Arab spring –  the "Pearl Revolution" – was brutally ended last March, when  Saudis and other forces moved in to help restore order. People were killed, and doctors who treated wounded protesters been put on trial for conspiracy. But the embers have ben smouldering since and flared up again recently with demonstrators chanting "Down with Hamad", the king.

Opposition parties say a full crackdown would mean throwing more people in jail and risking a bigger confrontation, as well as embarassing allies. More than two thirds of Bahrainis are Shi'a Muslims who have faced discrimination, and might look to Iran for support. But Bahrain hosts the  US Navy's 5th Fleet, as well as providing ship repair and engineeting facilities in the Gulf, and has links with the US and Britain.

"I am concerned that the government of Bahrain has decided to ban all rallies and public gatherings until further notice," said UK Foreign office minister Alistair Burt,  "We understand the government's concerns about maintaining law and order, especially when faced with increasingly violent protests, but a blanket ban of this nature is excessive. Peaceful protest is a democratic right. I hope the Bahraini government will rescind this measure as quickly as possible. I also call on protesters to desist from violent protest. Violent acts should be condemned publicly by prominent members in society."

On 21 October an appeal court upheld the guilty verdict against the Bahraini Teachers’ Association (BTA) leaders, Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Jalila al-Salman, but reduced their prison sentences to five years and six months respectively. Mahdi and Jalila, respectively President and Vice-President of BTA, were arrested in 2011 after supporting calls for reform in Bahrain. Whilst in detention they were subjected to torture and forced to sign “confessions”.

In September 2011, a military court convicted them of attempting to overthrow the ruling system by force and inciting hatred of the regime. The report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry last year found that the authorities had grossly exaggerated, if not manufactured, many claims brought against thousands of ordinary people who had been caught up in the February 2011 Arab Spring protests. Mahdi and Jalila’s only “crime” was to have the temerity to promote respect for the values of solidarity, equality and democracy.

The teachers' union network Education International (EI) is urging trade unionists and supporters of democractic rights to increase pressure on the Bahraini Government to respect human and trade union rights. "EI calls on authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Mahdi, to ensure that Jalila does not serve any of her remaining sentence, and to drop all charges against them".

Former Bahraini MP Ali Aswad will be giving an update on what has happened to Mahdi Abu Deeb and Jalila al Salman, as well as the wider picture of teachers, trade union and democratic rights in Bahrain, when he addresses a meeting in the House of Commons on November 12.

Ali Alaswad was an MP from the largest opposition party Al Wefaq. Elected in October 2010 , he resigned along with 17 other MPs in February 2011, in protest at the violent crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators. During the period of martial law he left Bahrain after he was targeted by the regime and now lives in London where he continues his work for democracy in Bahrain.

At the meeting on "Teachers and the Arab Spring" he will be speaking alongside Mohamed Sghaier Saihi, an executive member of the UGTT union federation in Tunisia. The Tunisian vistor is from , Kasserine province, which was a hotbed of the Tunisian revolution, and where he is regional spokesman for the teachers’ union. He will speak about the Tunisian revolution and the continuing waves of strike and protests against the Islamist Ennahda party led government, which combines religious conservatism with neo-liberal economic. policies. Read more here:

 Other speakers are Mary Compton, a member of the National Union of Teachers(NUT) here and editor of Teachersolidarity website, just back from a delegation to Egypt; and Anne Alexander of the MENA solidarity network which has organised the meeting.  The joint chairs of the meeting will be Labour MP Katy Clark and Nick Grant, a member of the NUT national executive.

MONDAY November 12, 7.30pm

Eyewitness reports from Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain

Committee Room 8, House of Commons, SW1A 2TT

Mohamed Sghaier Saihi: UGTT union federation, teachers’ spokesman in the Kasserine region
Mary Compton: NUT activist and editor of Teachersolidarity website, recently returned from a delegation to Egypt
Ali Alaswad: Resigned MP from al Wefaq Party, Bahrain
Anne Alexander: MENA Solidarity Network

Katy Clark, MP and Nick Grant, National Executive member, NUT

(NB  It is always advisable to arrive early to events at the Houses of Parliament to allow time for queuing at security and getting to the committee room).

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I thought they wanted to put trade unionists in the Tower!

FIRST the London Transport Museum (or further back the Fire Service museum if you like) and then the British Museum, Now the Tower of London, scene of so much history, is the centre of a historic dispute. Behind the splendour of the Yeomen warders who greet the tourists and guard the Crown Jewels, the skivvies who keep this medieval fortress and palace clean and presentable are stepping out of the dark and miserable past to demand trade union rights and a living wage.

There will be a demonstration outside the Tower on Saturday, November 3, at 1pm

The .cleaners at the Tower of London, employed by contractor MITIE, say they are currently paid a poverty wage despite the Historic Royal Palaces seeing an admissions income for 2011/12 of £42.8 million. They are asking for the very modest London Living Wage of £8.30 p/hour. Furthermore, they are asking for sufficient numbers of workers to face the excessive and constantly changing workloads, and they are requesting copies of their contracts of employment that actually reflect their actual hours of work and holiday entitlements. The cleaners also lack facilities for changing and washing.

The company has banned the IWGB cleaners' union from the Tower of London and other sites where it has members. 

The union says MITIE is one of the government's favourite contractors, but has a terrible track record regarding the treatment of its workers. It claims some pregnant women working for MITIE were  forced by sadistic managers to carry out tasks that would endanger the life of their unborn babies nearly causing a miscarriage.

Although the Industrial Workers of Great Britain, to give its full name,  is a relative newcomer to the 21st century industrial scene, it claims a name and tradition going back to the early part of the last century when there were efforts to establish a British version of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) which was so big in the Western Hemisphere and to some extent Australia.

That first attempt gained success among women workers at the Singer factory on Clydebank. The current edition of the IWGB is claiming some success organising and fighting for low-paid cleaners, often women and/or immigrant workers, in supposedly affluent London. That might be seen as competing with, or reflecting on the adequacy of, activity by bigger trade unions.  But any differences are rightly being put aside when it comes to the basic issues of fighting for a living wage and the right to trade union recognition.

Among those who will be speaking at Saturday's rally are Steve Hedley of the RMT rail union, who has been involved in organising cleaners on the London Underground, and Chris Baugh of the public service union PCS whose members include cleaners at Buckingham Palace. Journalist Owen Jones who is a member of the Labour Representation Committee is also speaking.  

The cleaners at the Tower have also received support from MPs who have signed an Early Day Motion submitted by Labour MP John McDonnell:
That this House notes that the Tower of London has seen the highest number of visitors in over 30 years and that the Historic Royal Palaces have seen an admissions income for 2011/12 of 42.8 million; expresses disappointment that cleaners employed at the Tower of London under contract by MITIE Cleaning Services are paid below the London living wage and that the Historic Royal Palaces have failed to ensure the compliance of its contractor with the Greater London Authority rate of 8.30 per hour, which is designed to provide a minimum acceptable quality of life; further notes the Board of Trustees renewed the contract with MITIE on the proviso that rates of pay and numbers of operatives should not be varied without their approval; further notes that MITIE is an Associate Corporate Member of Historic Royal Palaces; is concerned that the cleaning operatives' conditions of employment do not meet the standards expected, the cleaning operatives do not have sufficient numbers and face excessive and constantly changing workloads, their requests for copies of their contracts of employment have been ignored, as have their request for contracts that will reflect their actual hours of work and holiday entitlements and requests for health and safety training and provision of personal protective equipment have gone unheeded; further notes with concern that cleaners lack facilities for changing and washing and that the efforts of the cleaner union IWGB to raise their members' concerns have been disregarded; and expects the cleaners to be treated with respect, paid fairly and employed in sufficient numbers to meet the demands of the Tower of London.

Industrial Workers of Great Britain:

Early Day Motion 538

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Battles in the Museums

STAYING on the road despite dangerous obstructions.  LT Museum, Covent Garden. Entrance fee increased, yet management wants to axe jobs and cut pay of lowest paid by around 20 per cent. Projects for schools are being shelved.

MUSEUMS, other than those dedicated to trade union and working class history, might have been thought to provide a quiet refuge from the class struggle, but in today's Britain of attacks on people's living standards, rights and culture, they too are becoming battlegrounds for the resistance.

Cleaners and maintenance staff at the British Museum are on strike this morning to oppose outsourcing which they fear could seriously undermine their pay and conditions. The PCS and Unite unions believe senior managers are already close to confirming contracts which would start from April. The fifty or so workers the unions represent, already low-paid, voted overwhelmingly for strike action.

Meanwhile at the popular London Transport museum in Covent Garden, the Transport Salaried Staff Association(TSSA) which organises staff has raised the alarm about the effect of cuts on members' jobs and the future of the museum.  

The transport museum owes its origins to a decision by the London General Omnibus Company back in 1920 to preserve two Victorian horse buses and a motor bus for posterity. Nowadays the museum has something for everybody, from engines and rolling stock to famous London Underground posters. In 2011 the Museum attracted almost 300,000 visitors, an increase of over 40% in four years. This year over 120,000 schoolchildren were expected to benefit from the Museum’s outreach programme.
The entrance fee has recently risen to £13.50 for an adult ticket.

But Transport for London has cut its grant to the museum by 25 per cent, a total of £3.5 million over four years. the TSSA says Arts Council funding has also dried up, resulting in a number of educational projects and posts being shelved.

In a letter to the Guardian earlier this year, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes was joined by TV "Time Team" presenter Tony Robinson and transport expert Christian Wolmar in warning that "Swingeing cuts...have left the museum starved of crucial income", causing outreach work to be shelved, and that recent and possible future increases in the entrance fee were "jeopardising access for poorer Londoners."

 They noted that seven valued posts had been abolished and now staff feared for jobs. In a more recent leaflet from TSSA the union says museum management is now proposing to cut permanent staff by 30 per cent and cut the salaries of the lowest paid staff by around 20 per cent.

The British Museum celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2003 and as anyone passing through nearby streets can testify is one of the country's most popular tourist attractions, with six million visitors a year, as well as a centre for scholarship.  Today's strike lasted just a few hours, but unions are planning further action next Monday to coincide with a gathering of the museum's members, expected to attract 3,000 guests.

While the TV news and government are crowing that Britain is "out of recession" it does not feel that way to those in work, let alone out of it. The Office for National Statistics has reported that people’s living standards fell sharply since 2008. Meanwhile food and energy costs are rising well above the rate of inflation and train companies recently announced another steep increase in fares.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka says: “With the cost of living soaring the last thing these low-paid workers need is a private company taking over and cutting their wages and working conditions to boost profits and line shareholders’ pockets.

“Cleaners and other museum staff work incredibly hard to maintain this prestigious and popular cultural attraction and we know this is appreciated by the millions of visitors the museum attracts every year. Introducing the profit motive is not only unnecessary, it risks undermining these important services to the public.”

Unite regional officer Carolyn Simpson said: “Unite will not stand idly by whilst our members and this vital museum service is sold-off to an external provider. Without our members carrying out the cleaning and servicing of the buildings and exhibits, the British Museum’s standing as a world class heritage site is in danger of becoming second class. We will not allow these jobs be outsourced without a fight.”

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Trahison des Clercs in NW London

 LIBRARIES struggle united generations.

WE had a good night at the Preston pub in Wembley on Monday night. A year or so after Brent's Labour council closed six libraries in the borough (they called it "reorganisation") the campaigners who resisted closure had marked the anniversary with a torch relay around the sites, readings and other events, and on Monday October 22 the Preston Park campaigners held another of their fundraising pub quiz nights.

My trades council team-mates being otherwise engaged I hooked up with three local teachers instead, and thus got an update on the serious fraud case involving their former head, while also enjoying the company and a few pints. And we managed a reasonable score in the quiz too. The class struggle can take many forms as I'm always impressing upon younger comrades.  

Alas for some of the Brent campaigners the news this week is a bit of a disappointment,

When I first moved into Brent in the early 'Sixties the area had lots of factories large and small, but you could travel from Kilburn to Harlesden via Kensal Rise, and not pass a single drinking establishment, The reason aas it was explained to me was that the landowner for much of the area in between was.All Souls College, Oxford, which did not approve of boozers.

There is an All Souls Avenue and College Road, while over Cricklewood way there's Chichele Road, sharing its name with a chair and scholarship, Henry Chichele being an All Souls founder. There was also a College Park pub across the Harrow Road, but that was over the boundary in Hammersmith.

Nowadays the area has quite a few pubs and until recently it also had a positive amenity provided by All Souls College, in the shape of Kensal Rise library. This had the honour of having been opened by Mark Twain in 1900. Cricklewood library was also donated by All Souls, though both were run until last year by Brent council. Having decided to close these libraries, the council helpfully suggested that users could go to Willesden Green library centre instead, and then announced that this too would have to temporarily close while the site underwent redevelopment.

Remembering that the Cricklewood and Kensal Rise buildings, though used by the council, had actually belonged to All Souls, and been dedicated for use as libraries, campaigners who had failed to persuade the council to change its plans had an idea. They would appeal to the college to help them reopen their libraries.      

Alas the  Brent and Kilburn Times reports that All Souls College are to sell the Cricklewood and Kensal Rise libraries to developers, despite the pleas of local library campaigners that they be handed over to the community. LINK Friends of Kensal Rise Library had raised more than £70,000 to fund their proposal. The land is now likely to be used to build flats.

Henry Chichele was an Archbishop of Canterbury. Founded by him and Henry VI in 1438, All Souls College,  is today a registered charity with assets of £264,000,000. But evidently, business is business. Still, in disappointing the good folk of Cricklewood and Kensal Rise, the college has true to its educational aims, given them a quick lesson in the priorities of capitalism.

  •  It's not all closures. Brent's new £100 million Civic Centre will be opening its doors to the public on November 9-10.Skanska, the company overseeing the £100m project, and incidentally well-known to those fighting the building industry blacklist, is joining with the College of North West London to promote construction careers, by inviting people to visit the site and "take a tour of the UK’s greenest public building".  Local trade unionists and campaigners say they are not so green as to welcome the council's concentration of resources on this project, or the working conditions planned for staff.  As the open day comes on the eve of Diwali, which is a big occasion in Brent, they could show their appreciation of the council's plans by taking along a suitable white elephant.   
To follow and keep up to date with matters in Brent, and particularly Wembley::

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Lord Rich arse wants to rob old people

 READY and willing, not to be ripped off and exploited, but to fight 
for future generation's 
rights as well as our own.
Pensioners and disabled 
waiting to join TUC 
October 20 demonstration.  

 IT was bound to come, I suppose.

WE have seen young people, even with qualifications, forced to do dead-end, boring jobs without even a wage just so they can receive their dole money.

We have seen sick and disabled people, sometimes terminally ill,  passed as supposedly fit for work just so they can be deprived of their benefits. If the government was interested in getting people into work why would it be closing Remploy? Getting people off benefit is a profitable business. What happens to them next is of no interest, to those in power.

So who is next?

Why obviously the elderly. We have already heard the threats to travel passes and fuel allowance, and been told that we are living too long, so the pension age must be raised, That way fewer of us will live to see what we have worked for, and those that do will have fewer years to enjoy it.

But that is not enough for Lord Bichard. He thinks you should work for your pensions. Lord Bichard is not a Tory. A former senior civil sevant, he sits as a crossbencher in the Lords, and apparently he is a big mate of Lord Blunkett, whom you may remember as a New Labour minsiter though us old fogies can still remember when he was a socialist.

Michael Bichard is a former head of the Benefits Agency (1990-95) and later the head of the Employment Agency (1995-2001). His great idea, bashing pensiners for Cameron's Big Society is that the retired should be forced to work for their state pensions and stop being a "burden on the state". He is kind enough to suggest pensioners could work for charities, or as carers, ignorant perhaps of the fact that many already do just that.

"Are we using all of the incentives at our disposal to encourage older people not just to be a negative burden on the state but actually be a positive part of society?" he says. "We are now prepared to say to people who are not looking for work, if you don't look for work you don't get benefits, so if you are old and you are not contributing in some way or another maybe there is some penalty attached to that."

Now, I am old fashioned enough to think that we worked for our pensions all our life. That like unemployment or sickness benefit it comes under national insurance, or in this case, assurance. When the time grew near for my state pension I was told it would be a reduced amount, because back in the 1970s an unscrupulous employer had failed to pay my stamp , and I'd been too busy to notice. Some would say your pension, whether state or occupational, is simply backpay. Or money which was borrowed from you and is due to be repaid, though as we have seen, some bosses regard it as their own to play with, and make disappear. Nowadays they have not even got the decency to go over the side of their yachts off Tenerife.

As for the state pension, in this country it  works out at just 17% of average earnings, whilst the value  of state pensions across the rest of Western Europe are above 40%, If you are getting an additional pension from your old job or are still doing a bit of work you are liable for income tax. Any additional benefits you receive such as for housing costs or council tax are means tested.. The trick of those who put labels on things it seems to me is to call things like pensions "benefits" and imply they are some kind of hand-out which ought at least to be means tested. Those in receipt can then be at best patronised if we are deemed "deserving", or denounced as scroungers, Lord Bichard says we are a "burden" - that is something  to be resented if not got rid of.

Were his ideas accepted and became policy then presumably somebody would have to assess whether pensioners were fit for work. Having seen the way this is done with other people taken off benefit it would be a great opportunity for Atos or another company to expand its business interviewing pensioners and declaring them fit, so that instead of paying out money to pensioners the taxpayers (which by the way includes pensioners one way or another) would be paying billions to the company. Further costs would be incurred when these decisions were overturned in court, as happens with many disability decisions, though I suppose some might be saved by the number of old people who get ill from stress, commit suicide or simply pop their clogs before their case comes up. That's one way the "burden on the state" can be reduced.

But even if the assessment was fair, and not outsourced to profiteering companies, why should people have to work for money they have already earned? Your pension is your money, so anyone withholding it would be robbing you.

If someone wants to do some paid work on top of their pension and is fit then good luck to them. They may be passing on their experience and skills to younger people. Unfortunately some people are having to carry on working or take cleaning jobs etc because they need the money, and the government raising the pension age is not helping

As it is a large number of pensioners are at present doing low paid or unpaid work in the charitable or "voluntary" sector. You only have to look in the window of those charity shops that have filled empty high streets and see who is working, or remember those two ladies who served tea for your Hospital Friends till the big chains were let in. Millions more pensioners work as carers and child minders. But is Cameron's 'Big Society' interested in voluntary work that is really voluntary, and will government or its business partners recognise that someone caring for a family member or neighbour, or looking after kids is contributing to society?

We have already seen the young woman who thought she might put her education to use and gain relevant work experience working in a local museum, taken out of that and sent to sweep aisles in a supermarket for her unemployment benefit. And the young 'volunteers' left to sleep under the bridge before working all day for the Jubilee. Is this now to be inflicted on pensioners? And what does it do to encourage companies getting free labour to think of retaining paid staff let alone creating real jobs?
paid jobs?

Incidentally, Bichard himself was a top "Sir Humphrey" in the civil service till he retired at the age of 54 on an index linked pension estimated to be worth £120,000 a year. He collects a taxpayer funded pension of over £2,300 a week. But he thinks people on state pensions of little more that £100 a week should be compelled to work for their pittance.

Talking of voluntary service, some old people round my way have not only been campaigning to keep their local library, which they share with local kids as the main users, but tried to keep it running after  the council made its cuts.  A mate of mine retired from the civil service on somewhat less than the pension paid to Lord Bichard has been keeping busy giving advice to unemployed people and tenants.  And then there are the numerous pensions campaigners and retired union activists who are nowadays fighting not just for their own welfare, but even more for the kind of society and conditions we bequeath to future generations.

But I would guess that is not the sort of unpaid  work for the community that the government or Lord Bichard have in mind - except in wanting to stop us from doing it. They probably think that most old people are conservative and anyway, won't put up much of a fight. It is time to disabuse them of such complacency.

See also:

  • Old Age Pensioners and others concerned at soaring fuel prices and the cost of keeping warm this Winter are going to gather in the Westfield shopping centre at Stratford 12 noon tomorrow.
  • Greater London Pensioners Association has its conference on Saturday 3rd November 2012 from 10a.m. to 3.30p.m.
Entrance £3 including Buffet Lunch



Speakers: Dr. John Lister - Health Emergency
Prof. Steve Iliffe - Social Care for the Elderly
Karen Jennings - Asst. Gen. Sec. UNISON
Caroline Pigeon - GLA Assembly Member - Transport



Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sidelight on Damascus' "dirty secret" might illuminate others' crimes

 "WHAT  did I do?" ALOIS BRUNNER, alias GEORG FISCHER, Nazi with a long career

POET and broadcaster Michael Rosen shined a torch into a neglected if not hidden corner of Syria's political history with a letter in the Guardian last week:
One dirty secret that might have light shone on it as a consequence of the Syrian conflict (Report, 16 October) concerns the fate of Alois Brunner.  In 2003, the Guardian described him as "the world's highest-ranking Nazi fugitive believed still alive" and he was reported to be last seen in Syria. As a captain in the SS and under the command of Adolf Eichmann, he was personally responsible for thousands of deportations from Austria, Greece, Slovakia and France.
 My family has a personal interest in knowing more as Brunner deported my father's uncle and aunt from the Hotel Excelsior in Nice to Drancy, from where they were taken to Auschwitz. It has not been established how he evaded capture in 1945, how he made his way to Syria or how he lived there. Lives are being lost and international interests being played out in Syria. I wouldn't want the story of Brunner to be any kind of trophy or bargaining chip in all this. I would hope that as and when the people of Syria find peace and justice they are also able to tell us more of what he did, what happened to him and why.
Michael Rosen
       Though I can't claiim any family or personal interest like Mike's in investigating Brunner and his crimes, I did think it worth putting a word in, and wrote to the Guardian myself:

Dear Sir,
Amid the killing and turmoil happening in Syria, Michael Rosen is quite right to remind us that a perpetrator of past horrors found employment and refuge there. (Guardian Letter October 18). What seems to be known is that Eichman's number 2. Alois Brunner, was enlisted like many another Nazi by Reinhard Gehlen's spy network which worked for the Americans for a time before becoming the official intelligence service of the German Federal Republic.

In his book "The Game of Nations", former CIA man Miles Copeland who served in both Damascus and Cairo boasted of how he arranged for Nazis to take intellgence and security posts in Arab countries in order to counter communist influence. Alois Brunner became an adviser to the Syrian government and doubtless found ample use for Gestapo and SS experience. Uncovering such stories is relevant today both for understanding the darker aspects of Middle East history and weighing the claims of some Western institutions and agencies to be bearers of democracy and freedom.

Charles Pottins

 I expect the Guardian letters editor had more than enough correspondence on other matters to sort out this week, what with the TUC march against austerity, the US presidential contest, and the row over Jimmy Saville and the BBC, not forgetting the continuing conflict in Syria too. Libya seems to have flared up again too (though I'll be interested to see how if at all that is reported by British media). There has been bombing in Gaza, car bombing in Beirut, and angry demonstrations in Kuwait.  So one letter focusing on an old Nazi either dead or in his nineties in Damascus may have seemed like stretching topicality enough.

 Still, well done to Michael Rosen for managing to raise the question of Brunner, who seems to have remained an unepentent Nazi murderer to the end. Here's what Wikipedia says:

It has been alleged that Brunner found a working relationship after WWII with the Gehlen Organization.[11][12]
He then fled Germany only in 1954, on a fake Red Cross passport, first to Rome, then Egypt where he worked as a weapons dealer, and then to Syria, where he took the pseudonym of Dr. Georg Fischer. In Syria, he was allegedly hired as a "government advisor" — with some suggesting he was advising the Syrian dictatorship on torture and repression techniques, some dating from his time as an SS torturer. Syria has constantly refused entry to French investigators as well as to Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld who spent nearly 15 years bringing the case to court in France. Simon Wiesenthal tried unsuccessfully to trace Brunner's whereabouts.[citation needed]
In his 1980s interview by the German magazine Bunte, Brunner declared that his sole regret was not having murdered more Jews. In a 1987 telephone interview to the Chicago Sun Times, he stated: "The Jews deserved to die. They were garbage, I have no regrets. If I had the chance I would do it again...
It seems he was not the only one to go to Damascus. Walter Rauff, who invented the mobile gas chamber to ease the work of Nazi troops and einsatzgruppen on the Rusian front, and was later sent to undertake similar operations in North Africa, was another who found a niche in the Syrian capital for a time. Rauff is said to have served various intelligence, including Mossad and MI6 in his time, and ended up helping run Pinochet's DINA secret police in Chile, where he died peacefully at home.

As for Brunner, who was reported to be living in Damascus under the alias of Dr. Georg Fischer.there were unconfirmed reports in 1999 that he may have died in 1996, but he was reportedly sighted in 2001. There some reports suggesting he was no longer in Syria, but these seemed unsubstantiated. In 2011, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that the German intelligence service BND had destroyed its file on Brunner in the 1990s, and that remarks in remaining files contain conflicting statements as to whether Brunner had worked for the BND at some point.

It is possible that contact with wanted Nazis like Brunner were handled indirectly, via the old Nazi commando Otto Skorzeny, who had his own web at the same rime as running an arms business in Spain.

Uncovering the full story of what Nazis like Alois Brunner were able to do while enjoying protection from regimes like that in Syria might be more than a scandal for the Federal German intelligence service (Bundesnachrichtendienst, BND) and the CIA. It could throw light on the way these services operated to bring about the results they wanted, in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Five years after the Iraqi revolution took Baghdad out of the imperialist-backed "Baghdad Pact", and its government began attempting to turn the petroleum industry to the service of the people, Damascus was the base for CIA-backed plots to bring down the regime of Colonel Kassem. Involved in these was a little known officer called Saddam Hussein. On the night of February 8, 1963, the Ba'athist coup took place. Kassem was shot soon after. At least 5,000 Iraqis were killed in the ywo days that followed, as the Ba'athist forces went on a house to house hunt for "communists", assisted it is said with lists of names supplied by the CIA.

Was the Americans' intelligence in Iraq that strong, or did others assist? Did West German intelligence and its Nazi assets like Brunner help and provide expertise?

We don't know.

But three years later there were far bigger scake killings as well as round ups for detention after another CIA backed coup, this time in Indonesia.  And by a coincidence, after each of these right-wing coups there arrived, in Iraq and then in Indonesia, another old relic from the Nazi Reich, the banker Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, bringing economic advice..   

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Compassion is Contraband!

ISRAELI planes have reportedly used white phosphorus again in an attack on Gaza, while in Israel itself three peace campaigners were remanded after appearing in court with taser burns and other injuries sustained when commandos boarded the ship, the Estelle in international waters, and taken it into Ashdod.

The Estelle, sailing to Gaza from Sweden, had some 30 people on board including five European MPs and the three Israelis, Elik Elhanan, Reut Mor and Yonathan Shapira. The vessel was carrying an aid cargo including cement, children's books and footballs, as a gesture of friendship to Gaza's children and defiance of Israel's blockade.

Also on board was Dror Feiler, an Israeli-born Swedish citizen and leading member of European Jews for Just Peace. Swedish authorities have asked the Israeli government why Dror was taken away from the other Swedes on board, and expressed concern for his welfare. A musician and former paratrooper, born on kibbutz Yad Hanna, Dror was beaten and robbed by his Israeli captors when taking part in a previous voyage.

The three Israeli citizens joined the Estelle a few days before, coming by spedboat from Greece and evading the Greek Coast Guard. With them came the MPs from Greece, Sweden, Spain and Norway.

In an e-mail message to Adam Keller of the Israeli group Gush Shalom, before the Israeli naval commandos stormed the Estelle, Yonathan Shapiro, a former Israeli air force helicopter pilot, said that in deciding to join this humanitarian aid mission he was continuing what he started in 2003, when he and other pilots signed a letter refusing to take part in offensive operations against the Palestinians.

Shapiro was detianed previously when sailing with a Jewish Peace ship to Gaza in 2010.

The Estelle's passengers were warned in a message from the Government of Israel, passed by the Finnish Foreign Ministry, that they would be taken into custody in Israel and that they might be prosecuted for "illegal entry into Israel." They asked the Finns to relay back their answer – that they had no intention of or interest in trying to enter Israel, and that their sole purpose is to reach the Gaza Strip which is not part of Israel and from whose inhabitants they got an explicit invitation.

The three Israelis appeared in court this morning, charged with violating Disengagement Law, incitement, incitement to rebellion and aiding the enemy; and  'infiltration' (though as a friend in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign remarks, why Israeli passengers would leave Israel  to travel to Gaza to then 'infiltrate' Israel via Gaza is rather puzzling!  Perhaps the nabt will have to be charged with aiding "infiltrators", since it brought them into Ashdod.

The State's request that the hearing be held behind closed doors for reasons of national security was denied by Judge Orit Hadad. Shapira rejected the IDF's version which said that the vessel was seized without the use of force. "Fifteen warships surrounded our ship to stop some peace activists," Shapira said upon entering the courtroom. "Masked soldiers boarded the ship and took control using taser guns."

Rami Elhanan, Elik's father, said: "Of course they were tasered. Our children are not liars. We saw the burn marks on Elik's hands. Elhanan, a member of the Israeli-Palestinian Forum for Bereaved Families, who lost his daughter Smadar in a suicide bombing that took place on Ben-Yehuda street in Jerusalem 15 years ago, took part in the Gaza flotilla two years ago.

 Elhanan also rejected the IDF's report that claimed there was no humanitarian cargo on board the vessel."This claim is untrue ..... There were toys on the ship, medicine; they are just not telling the truth."
An IDF official said: "The IDF operated according to the law and does not intend to confront the claims of those which we view as outlaws."

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

October 20 London: The 'Plebs' out on the march,

 UNITE members near the front of the march.
Pensioners and disabled people wait off Picadilly to join the march
Medical Practitioners Union, photo by MPU member Dr.Brian Robinson, with thanks.

TRADE unionists and community campaigners were back on the streets of London on Saturday, supporting the march called by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) against public service cuts and austerity and for a "future that works".

Between 150,000 and 200,00 people marched in London, and there were also big demonstrations in Glasgow (50,000) and Belfast. 

Many of the placards took up directly related issues such as privatisation, and health and safety, and the environment and war were not forgotten either. Greek and other international delegations were warmly welcomed, with a recognition that the struggle against capitalist austerity measures is not confined by boundaries.

In contrast with Labour leader Ed Miliband's attempt at "middle ground" respectability with assertation that Labour is the party of "One Nation", adopting the ideal which Disraeli vainly held up for the Tories in the 19th century, many hand-painted placards alluded to the Tories' recent embarassment by proclaiming proudly "Up with the Plebs! Down with the Toffs!" and similar class war sentiments   .

Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell MP has finally resigned a month after the incident when he swore at police at Downing Street, allegedly telling an officer to "learn your place" and calling her a "pleb" because she asked him to leave by a side gate rather than opeing the main gate for him to cycle out.

Whatever experiences we have had with the police, most people can reason that if this is how a leading Tory talks to those public servants specially charged with looking after the ruling class and its privilege, it is a fair indication of how his kind think of the rest of us. Mitchell has had to step down for blurting it out, though it seemed Prime Minister David Cameron was too thick to see the damage his chum had done. Marvellous what an Etonian education does for one.

The size of yesterday's demonstration seemed down on previous ones and earlier expectations. But whatever the reasons, it remained a broad sweep of society outside the narrow ruling class, and there was little doubt of the anger and determination of those marching.   

There was applause for Unite union general secretary Len McCluskey when he told the Hyde Park rally that  we would have to fight, and referred to the TUC's vote to consider a general strike and consult member unions. "That consultation starts now," McCluskey added, asking his audience if they were prepared for it, and receiving a positive assent.

By contrast, again, Ed Milliband was booed later when he said a Labour government would still have to make cuts.

I'd already left the park before this, passing as I went various groups setting out their stalls, and the Socialist Party's own platform, at Speakers Corner, from which Linda Taafe was addressing a non-existent crowd on the need for a 24-hour general strike, seemingly unaware that Len McCluskey had stolen her thunder, or that anything had changed since they lobbied the Brighton TUC.with this demand. (Elsewhere, I see, the old believers of the remnant WRP were chanting "TUC get off your knees! etc", as they were last year and indeed have done for many a year).

There were a few SP members I recognised, serious and respected militants,  standing at points around their platform, with leaflets, but looking isolated and bewildered, as though waiting for a crowd that had not arrived. Their party appeared to have put in a lot of effort and one could not miss its large banners at each entrance to the park, but this only seemed to underline a sense of separateness from the mainstream. Not as distant as the Labour Party leadership, mind, which cannot convince anyone it is on our side. 

Len McCluskey speech:

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

West's two faces on Bangladesh war criminals

 FOR the right-wing Daily Mail it must have seemed just what the doctor ordered.

'NHS boss faces death penalty over charges of torture and 18 murders in Bangladesh'

One of Britain's most important Muslim leaders – who has a senior role in the NHS – is to be charged with 18 murders by a war crimes tribunal in his native Bangladesh, investigators have told The Mail on Sunday.
Coming amid the growing outcry over Jimmy Saville's visits to hospitals, the Mail story appeared timely, and to hit two targets at once - Muslims and the NHS.

Unlike a lot of the chaff on these topics that appears in the tabloid presss, the story by Abul Taher, published on October 13, was serious and factual, even if the headline's reference to Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin's status as an "NHS boss" might have been a bit misleading.

Mueen-Uddin won't have been in a position to decide anything about your treatment or operation, recruitment and remuneration of staff, or whether your local A&E closes. Not even about hospital car parking. He is described as director of Muslim Spiritual Care Provision in the NHS and chairman of the Multi-Faith Group for Healthcare Chaplaincy.

But as the Mail says, he "is accused of abducting, torturing and killing 18 journalists, academics and doctors during the bloody war of independence in Bangladesh in 1971"

If you read on to the end of the story you would find:
A Department of Health spokesman said: 'Mr Mueen-Uddin is not employed by either the Department of Health or the NHS.

'He was head of Muslim spiritual care in the NHS, and chair of the Multi-Faith Group for Healthcare Chaplaincy, an independent organisation which provides advice to the Department of Health about multi-faith healthcare chaplaincy on behalf of all Faith Groups.
.Nevertheless, Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin's background, the allegations against him, and how far he got in this country, deserve to be examined.  

During the Bangladesh war, forced when the Pakistan rulers refused to accept election results, thousands of people were killed, not only by the Palistan army, but by irregulars sponsored and armed by Islamicist parties opposed to Bangladesh seceding. The biggest of these was Jamaat e-Islami, which has wings in both Pakistan and Bangladesh, and has supported mujaheddin in Kashmir. One of the armed groups supported by its student wing in Bangladesh was the Al Badr brigade. 

Bangladesh's war crimes investigators say that Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, while working as a journalist for a newspaper called the Daily Purbadesh in the capital Dhaka, was also said to be a secret member of  the Al-Badr Brigade, which abducted and killed opponents. Mueen-Uddin fled Bangladesh shortly after independence, going via India, Nepal and then Pakistan, from where he caught a flight to London in the early Seventies.

Sanaul Huq, the Inspector-General of Bangladesh's national police force, who is co-ordinating the ICT investigation, said his investigators believe that Mr Mueen-Uddin killed dozens of people during the independence war, but they can link him only to 18 murders with evidence and eyewitness testimonies.

The ICT said  Mueen-Uddin and his associates allegedly subjected their victims to horrendous torture before killing them and dumping their bodies in sports grounds which earned the nickname 'killing fields'.

Mr Huq told The Mail on Sunday: 'They abducted an eye doctor, and then gouged his eyes out before killing him and dumping his body.'They abducted a cardiologist and cut out his heart before killing him and dumping his body.'They kidnapped a woman journalist, and cut her breasts off before killing her. Her decomposing body was later found with her breasts cut off.

'These victims were chosen because they were leading figures in the independence movement. Mueen-Uddin was a leading figure when it comes to killing activists. This is why we want to try him in court.'As soon as charges are made – which I can guarantee will happen in days – we will request the British Government to hand him back to Bangladesh, and we will ask Interpol for his arrest. We will use all means, diplomatic and legal, to bring him back. If we fail, we will try him in absentia.'

Bangladeshi socialists in London alleged years ago that war criminals fleeing justice in Bangladesh were being admitted to Britain, with the apparent connivanmce of the British authorities, and  finding a niche for themselves in such fields as religious education. The East London Mosque was singled out for mention.Mueeen-Uddin is vice chairman of the East London Mosque and has worked with Dawatul-Islam, an educational and youth organisation seen as pro-Jamaat e-Islam.

Despite its record, Jamaat e-Islami has been able to function as a legal political party in Bangladesh, as well as raising funds in London, It was in government for a time in coalition with the Bangladesh National Party, between 2000-2008. During this time it received praise from the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher, who considered Jamaat-e-Islami as a democratic party and didn’t find any evidence of Jamaat being involved in bombing or connected to bombing.’ -The Bangladesh Observer report (5 August 2006.   This did not prevent Jamat e-Islami leading anti-US protests during the recent row over a "blasphemous" film. 

The return of the Awami League to government in 2008 set in motion the long-delayed invesyigation and pursuit of the war criminals, and yet Jamaat e Islami continues to present itself as the innocent victim of a political witch-hunt, and continues to enjoy sympathetic backing, free or paid for, from some quarters in the West.

In Open Democracy,Gita Sahgal has been looking at the Bangladeshi party's background and its backing. ( Bangladesh: the forgotten template of 20th century war
"A recent article by Elliot Wilson in the Huffington Post asked whether British aid was being used to fund a crackdown on human rights in Bangladesh. The article did not discuss where the £250 million given by the British government is spent or whether that spending is effective. Wilson argues that the Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina has undertaken ‘the most sustained assault on freedom of speech in the 41 years since independence’. A major reason for his claim is the arrest of Mir Quasem Ali, whom he describes as a leading member of the Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami, head of a major charity and a media magnate, arguing that he has been arrested solely for his public criticism of a Tribunal established to try crimes committed during the Bangladesh war of liberation in 1971.

Gita says many Bangladeshis living at home and abroad are concerned about the human rights situation in their country. But althouh human rights advocates and independent observers agree that many of the tribunal processes are flawed, they don't accept that the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) was established solelyfor Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, to get rid of her political opposition. 
 Indeed the tribunal has helped raise human rights issues by addressing impunity for mass crimes. And many people see a reckoning with the past as a necessary reassurance over their future.

"Human rights concerns in Bangladesh are far wider than the Wilson suggests. For instance, the government has been reluctant to accept new refugees fleeing violence in Burma. Unfortunately for Wilson’s argument that this is the worst attack on freedom of speech in Bangladesh’s history – the opposition is also implicated in targeted attacks on minorities when they came to power in a BNP and Jamaat e Islami coalition.

"Fear of their rise to power again has lead religious minorities to campaign hard for Bangladesh to return to its secular founding principles. At meetings in the East London tabernacle and at the House of Commons a number of organisations representing religious minorities such as Ahmadiyyas, and the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, described pogroms against them as soon as the BNP came to power in a previous election. Syed Anas Pasha, representing Bangladeshi journalists, described how journalists reporting on these attacks were themselves attacked.

"For those whose lives are threatened by fundamentalists, 1971 is not simply a bad memory but a current threat; one which has largely disappeared from public memory abroad."

Gita Sahgal says that Bangladesh 1971 is the "forgotten template" for conflicts that define the late 20th century, from former Yugoslavia, through Rwanda during the 1990s, and on a smaller scale in Gujarat, India in 2002. "The Bangladesh story tells us what happens when a military crackdown is supported by militias composed of religious fundamentalists with their own agenda".

The Jamaat e Islami was already known as a violent political party of the far right in Pakistan, bent on attacking minorities and creating an Islamic state. Indeed, their founder Maulana Maududi, who had opposed the creation of Pakistan as a Muslim homeland, is regarded as the first modern theorist of an Islamic state. On March 25th 1971, the Pakistan army launched a huge military crackdown in Dhaka – including an assault on Dhaka University in which many staff and students were rounded up and killed. Hindu halls of residence were particularly targeted.
The most notorious event that al Badr are said to have instigated, is known as the ‘killing of the intellectuals’. In the days before the surrender of the Pakistani army, dozens of professors, journalists, doctors and others were picked up, taken to torture centres, and killed.
 Wilson fails to mention that Mir Quasem Ali is under investigation by the tribunal, not for what he said about it, but for what he is alleged to have done during 1971. According to the Bangladesh press, the charges against the Jamaat leader include that he was the Chittagong unit commander of Al-Badr, described as ‘a vigilante outfit mobilised by Jamaat's erstwhile student wing Islami Chhatra Sangha’, and was third in the outfit's command structure. The investigation relates to atrocities alleged to have been committed by al Badr.
It is not surprising that Wilson, who calls himself an investigative journalist, doesn’t mention any of this. A recent book on 1971 by Sarmila Bose, Dead Reckoning: memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War, which has been comprehensively rebutted by Naeem Mohaiemen, manages to claim to interview all sides, to give a balanced account of what happened. As I showed in my analysis of the book, the author failed to interview any members of the Jamaat e Islami, or address allegations of their role in the conflict.  The story has simply vanished from her work.

David Bergman, himself a critic of the Tribunal, has investigated the Jamaat e Islami’s extensive lobbying efforts in the USA, and raised questions about whether the lobbying firm hired by Mir Quasem Ali in New York acted legally under the Foreign Agent Registration Act of 1938.

This Act requires that any lobbying firm acting on behalf of a foreign political party must register itself with the Department of Justice. The firm in question has signed contracts with Mr Ali (whose contract was terminated) and his brother worth $310,000 to work on exactly the same issues – ‘the Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal and political opposition matters.’ Later they were reported to have dropped the work on opposition matters.

Given the extensive well funded lobbying effort by lawyers and lobbyists hired by the Jamaat e Islami or individuals connected to them, we might ask whether the Huffington Post article is part of this extensive lobbying effort, or driven by a genuine concern for fair trial and free speech. Both human rights and development efforts have been driven forward in Bangladesh by the efforts of  activists committed to secular values and gender equality. Without these efforts, the Awami League would not have made a commitment to hold trials in the first place, nor be able to show such a good record on development".
Much as imperialist Western governments and their media may affect distaste for religious reactionaries such as Jama'at e Islaimi, they also have to consider whether the diversions and divisions they create are not preferable to some of the things that go with commitment to secular values and economy. That's a consideration which applies in both Tower Hamlets and Bangladesh.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Nine Acres and no end of trouble, but this family are fighting to stay

WHEN Cricklewood bus driver Anthony Counihan inherited a piece of land in Co.Galway from his late father it didn't look like it would change his life or that of his family greatly. It was 9.5 acres of poor farmland with a shack but no drainage, and it brought £18 a week in rent.

Being an honest man, Mr.Counihan reported his gain of property to Brent council. They decided that the Counihan-Sanchez family now had a "capital asset" and so were no longer eligible for housing benefit. Not only that, but they landed the family with an eviction order and a demand for repayment of £70,000 of housing benefit.

Since then council officials have advised the family to 'move back to Ireland' - although only Anthony was born there and his partner Isabel and the five children were born in Brent. Local MP Glenda Jackson suggested they move to Wales. When Mr.Counihan asked the council official who had said the family should go to Galway whether she was saying he should give up his job driving buses out of Cricklewood depot, she advised him not to, because jobs were hard to come by.

That's a bit of a commute even though we know the government expects workers to travel longer distances. Evidently joined-up thinking is not a requirement for council officers, or their geography is a bit hazy.

Anthony and his family had moved from a council property in Kilburn to Galway to look after his sick father in 2007, signing away the lease on their council property after the council had failed to advise him they could sublet the tenancy for their year in Ireland. On returning to Brent, the council eventually found them a high-rent private property in Kilburn, but they were unable to afford the rent and were evicted. The council then found them temporary housing some miles away in Ealing, despite the children attending five different schools in Brent - and this was also at a rent the family were unable to afford - and again they were threatened by eviction. Brent Council has decided that the Counihans have made themselves "intentionally homeless", which would enable them to avoid their statutory duty to rehouse them. Anthony has offered to sell the land, or even to give it to Brent Council after they threatened to sue for fraud as the land was 'capital' and thus he was not entitled to benefits.

Local people who are supporting the Counihan-Sanchez family's right to housing and to stay in Brent accuse the council and its officers of showing an astonishing level of both incompetence and lack of humanity. Campaigners also see a link with the "social cleansing" policy which some London councils are adopting, to comply with government cuts and high-priced land and housing by driving out working class families.

The Counihans are not going quietly.

Labour-controlled Brent's new leader Mohammed Butt was challenged about the way the family have been treated when he addressed Brent trades union council last month, and the family and their supporters have even occupied the council chamber as part of their protests.

On October 6 about 100 people gathered in Kilburn Square then marched along Kilburn High Road and through South Kilburn for a rally which was addressed by Isabel Counihan-Sanchez and her daughter Sarah, 15, as well as trade union and community activists. The marchers' banner said "Housing for the Counihan family, Housing for All, No Cuts in Brent", and they sang a song, "You cannot throw the Counihans out of Brent!"

  • On its way through South Kilburn the march stopped outside a house on Cambridge Avenue, to honour the memory of another local victim of austerity. Here was where Nygel Firminger lived in a basement flat. He had various problems over employment - including 3 months in work for which he did not get paid - and had received a head injury at work for which he required medication, but was still being pressured to find work and facing possible sanctions by the Kilburn job centre. When he wasn't getting paid he had turned to loan companies and was having to pay back these loans rather than pay his rent, and was evicted from the flat by the housing association. On the day he was evicted he was barred from returning to the flat to collect his medication. Later in the day he got back into the flat and was later found dead there. An inquest on this death is to be held on Nov 1st. Kilburn Unemployed Workers group which had been in touch with Nygel hopes to attend.
    The next Counihan Campaign public meeting is tomorrow, Wednesday 17th October 7pm @ Marian Community Centre, 1 Stafford Rd, Carlton Vale Estate, NW6 5RS

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Whom they were watching

MAKING frequent visits to Broadmoor and Chequers, entertainer Jimmy Savile met deluded and dangerous creatures whom most of us would shun. (TOP) Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliff was just one. AND BELOW Jim 'll Fix It for Tory Boy to become Foreign Secretary. 

NOW the investigation is into who fixed things for Jim. 

REVELATIONS continue about the predatory sexual activities of the late Jimmy Savile, about the rumours and reports that were ignored or even supressed by people in authority, so that Savile could use his status as popular entertainer and charity worker as cover for alleged abuse of children and vulnerable patients.

Leaving aside their own role in not following up the stories about Savile which supposedly "everyone" knew, the newspapers, such renowned respecters of privacy, are falling on the BBC, roping in other suspects(all dead of course), and blaming "the Permissive 'Sixties"  (which so many of us missed), but that's the Mail  of course yearning back to authoritarian 1930s.

The NHS too has come under fire.

But while some have shown us pictures of Savile shaking hands with Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliff, in Broadmoor hospital, others have reminded us of his more frequent handshakes with Margaret Thatcher, and the times he was guest at Chequers. Underlining Savile's adoption by the Establishment, we learn that the government appointed him head of a task force to manage Broadmoor after the psychiatric hospital's management board was dismissed. 

Getting back to the BBC however, was it really that "permissive" back in those days, and did it really fail to check the background and extra-mural interests of employees?

Quite the opposite. Jimmy Savile must have been safe - or considered "safe" - because he was not considered "political".  Got on quite well with the Establishment in fact. Others had different experiences.

Michael Rosen is a well-known broadcaster and poet, who has been Children's Laureate,  has strong views on education and literacy, and frequently gets invited to visit schools. So far as I am aware there are no untoward rumours or allegations about him. But Mike has not always had an easy career path.

His first step into broadcasting came as a Graduate Trainee at the Beeb. A bright young lad with left-wing parents, Rosen made no secret of his own left-wing views. In 1972 he was sacked, told that no department in the BBC had a place for him.  "We think it would be better if you went freelance.’ In fact, at least two departments, Arts Features and Further Education, wanted to employ him but were prevented from doing so because there was a ‘security problem'. According to John Laird, who was in charge of Graduate Trainees, ‘I was called by the chairman of one board who said: "You’ll be glad to know we’ve appointed Rosen." Then he called again, embarrassed, and said it had been “blocked".'

 Michael Rosen obviously made it back to the microphones eventually. But it took some time and determination.

Film and TV director Roland Joffe received an Academy Award nomination for "The Killing Fields", and top prize at the 1986 Cannes film festival for "The Mission".In the spring of 1977 he was commissioned by the BBC to direct The Spongers, a new play by Jim Allen about the failures of the welfare state. Producer Tony Garnett informed the BBC’s Drama Department that he wanted to hire Joffe as the director. But there was an unusually long delay in confirming his appointment. Eventually Garnett was summoned by Shaun Sutton, Head of Drama, to his fifth-floor office at the Television Centre, Wood Lane.

Sutton looked distinctly uncomfortable. ‘There is a problem with Joffe’s contract,’ he said. 'He hasn’t got BH (Broadcasting House) clearance.' Astonished, Garnett asked why. Sutton refused to give a reason except to mutter: 'It was the man in the mac in Broadcasting House.'

The attempt to blacklist Joffe had nothing to do with the BBC’s Drama Department. It had come from the Personnel Office at Broadcasting House on the advice of MI5. .What might have seemed like random decisions affecting this or that individual were part of a system.that had been in place since 1937.

"All BBC employees had a personnel file which included their basic personal details and work record. But there was also a second file. This included ‘security information' collected by Special Branch and MI5, who have always kept political surveillance on ‘subversives in the media’. If a staff member was shortlisted for a job this second file was handed to the department head, who had to sign for it. The file was a buff folder with a round red sticker, stamped with the legend SECRET and a symbol which looked like a Christmas tree. On the basis of information in this file, the Personnel Office recommended whether the person in question should be given the job or not. A former senior BBC executive recalls seeing one journalist’s security file, stamped with a Christmas tree symbol: 'For about twelve years it had recorded notes such as "has subscription to Daily Worker” or “our friends say he associates with communists and CND activists." It is fair to say that there were contemporary memos from personnel officials adding they thought this was ridiculous. But it was still on file.‘

The names of outside job applicants were submitted directly to C Branch of M5. They were then passed on to the F Branch ‘domestic subversion', whose F7 section looks at political ‘extremists', MP’s, lawyers, teachers and journalists. After consulting the registry of files, the names were fed into MI5’s computer, which contains the identities of about a million ‘subversives'.

Once MI5 had vetted an applicant their decision was given in writing to the BBC’s Personnel Office. MI5 never gave reasons for their recommendations. But, quite often, if they said a person was a ‘security risk', that was enough to blacklist him or her permanently. Members of board interviews were advised not to ask questions. And it was only when an executive or editor put pressure on the Personnel Department that MI5's decision was overruled.

 Extract from: Blacklist The Inside Story of Political Vetting, by Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Hogarth Press, LONDON, Published 1988 ISBN 0 7012 0811 2

When the information about MI5 vetting at the BBC became public in 1985, the Corporation tried to make out it had only affected a small number of staff, and been related to "sensitive" matters and security issues. Alasdair Milne, then Director-General, said: 'It may sometimes look foolish, but it is another source of information when you are trying to work out whether people are up to certain jobs; Clearly we are involved, a number of us, in very sensitive areas of material and the process of establishing that people can handle that sort of material is important, even in a democratic society.'“

In fact, the blacklist and vetting applied widely, and to departments and programes that have little to do with "sensitive" material.  Of course sometimes one can see reasons, though they are not usually given. There were "problems" raised about employing  a guy called Jeff Perks. Well he had been a member of the Communist Party. And while at the National Film School he had made a film with Mike Rosen about the Shrewsbury building pickets. Tory MPs did not like it. They still don't like things coming out about the Shrewsbury pickets. 

Yvette Vanson, known for her films about Steven Lawrence and about the miners in the Battle of Orgreave, was blacklisted when she first went for a job at the BBC because she had been in the Workers Revolutionary Party. Newsreader Anna Forde faced obstacles at the Beeb because she had a boyfriend who had been in the Young Communist League.

A young journalist who was given a three-month contract as a Researcher for Nationwide, the now defunct daily magazine programme, in February 1982 reported a rape by a Saudi Arabian army officer being concealed by Manchester police because of diplomatic pressure.

A few days after the item was broadcast he received a memo from his editor congratulating him on ‘an excellent story' and a fine start to his career at the BBC. But a week before his contract expired, he received a letter from the Personnel Department informing him that it would not be renewed. His editor, who had planned to retain him, protested to Personnel, who eventually conceded there were ‘security reasons’. The journalist had been a student activist at Manchester University, and then, briefly, a member of the small Maoist group, Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist).
(Blacklist, Hollingsworth and Norton Taylor)

Maybe if the BBC and its security advisers had devoted less time and effort to vetting left-wing job applicants and members of staff, they could have done something useful, like taking some of their more Establishment and Tory-inclined stars to the vets.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The 14-year old who frightened the Taliban

 MALALA on left-wing platform. Opposing Islamic reaction and imperialism.

TALABAN operating in Pakistan's Swat valley have been credited with a new victim today - a 14 year old schoolgirl who was targetted because she stood up for the rights of women and children, and especially for girl's education. 

A gunman walked up to a bus taking children home from school and shot 14-year old Malala Yousufzai in the head and neck. Two other girls were wounded, but it was clearly Malala who was the target.
The teenager was airlifted by helicopter to a military hospital in Peshawar, and there were reports she might be sent abroad for treatment. Several schools in the area stopped for the day in protest at the attack and in sympathy with Malala.

Malala, whose father is a headmaster, began writing a blog when she was just 11 under the pseudonym Gul Makai for the BBC. She opposed the Taliban and championed the need for girls education, which the Islamic extremist movement opposes.

"This was a new chapter of obscenity, and we have to finish this chapter," said Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan by telephone.

Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf condemned the attack and called her a daughter of Pakistan. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the shooting "barbaric" and "cowardly."
Leila Zerrougui, the U.N. special representative for children in armed conflict, condemned the attack "in the harshest terms."

 ''Education is a fundamental right for all children," she said in a statement. The Taliban "must respect the right to education of all children, including girls, to go to school and live in peace."

Malala was nominated last year for the International Children's Peace Prize, which is organized by the Dutch organization KidsRights to highlight the work of children around the world.

But the 14-year old heroine, who knew that her outspoken views would make her a threat and a target for the Taliban, was not just a campaigner for "Western culture", as the media report. She was a supporter of a left-wing movement linked with the International Marxist Tendency, which means she opposes both Islamicist reaction and imperialist control.

Al Qaida and Taliban fighters began spreading from their base in Afghanistan into the Swat valley of Pakistan about five years ago.By 2008 they controlled much of it and began meting out rules and their own brand of justice. During about two years of its rule, the Taliban forced men to grow beards, restricted women from going to the bazaar, whipped women they considered immoral and beheaded opponents.

Taliban militants in the region also destroyed around 200 schools. Most were girls' institutions, though some prominent boys' schools were struck as well. The private school owned and operated by Malala's father was temporarily closed under the Taliban.

At one point, the Taliban said they were halting female education, a move that echoed their militant brethren in neighboring Afghanistan who during their rule barred girls from attending school.
While the Pakistani military managed to flush out the insurgents during the military operation, the Taliban's top leadership escaped. 

Link to International Marxist tendency comment:

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Monday, October 01, 2012

Was the October War necessary?

WITH Binyamin Netanyahu and Iran's President Ahmadinejad sparring at the UN, keeping people guessing if and and when their countries could be at war, some attention turned this week to a previous conflict.
 JUST 39 years after the October 1973 'Yom Kippur War' challenged  Israel's hold on Arab territories siezed six years before and ushered in the famous oil crisis, many documents about what went on in the background have become available, providing fuel for books and articles on how the Israeli military was apparently caught napping and where intelligence failed.

Much criticism focuses on late leaders Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, and the military's failure to mobilise reserves or move its tanks to the front in time for the assault. But veteran commentator and peace activist Uri Avnery says this is still avoiding a much bigger political issue.  Was the war really necessary?

"IT TRANSPIRES that in February 1973, eight months before the war, Anwar Sadat sent his trusted aide, Hafez Ismail, to the almighty US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. He offered the immediate start of peace negotiations with Israel. There was one condition and one date: all of Sinai, up to the international border, had to be returned to Egypt without any Israeli settlements, and the agreement had to be achieved by September, at the latest.

Kissinger liked the proposal and transmitted it at once to the Israeli ambassador, Yitzhak Rabin, who was just about to finish his term in office. Rabin, of course, immediately informed the Prime Minister, Golda Meir. She rejected the offer out of hand. There ensued a heated conversation between the ambassador and the Prime Minister. Rabin, who was very close to Kissinger, was in favor of accepting the offer.

Golda treated the whole initiative as just another Arab trick to induce her to give up the Sinai Peninsula and remove the settlements built on Egyptian territory.

After all, the real purpose of these settlements – including the shining white new town, Yamit – was precisely to prevent the return of the entire peninsula to Egypt. Neither she nor Dayan dreamed of giving up Sinai. Dayan had already made the (in)famous statement that he preferred “Sharm al-Sheik without peace to peace without Sharm al-Sheik”. (Sharm al-Sheik, which had already been re-baptised with the Hebrew name Ophira, is located near the southern tip of the peninsula, not far from the oil wells, which Dayan was also loath to give up.)

Even before the new disclosures, the fact that Sadat had made several peace overtures was no secret. Sadat had indicated his willingness to reach an agreement in his dealings with the UN mediator Dr. Gunnar Jarring, whose endeavors had already become a joke in Israel.

Before that, the previous Egyptian President, Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, had invited Nahum Goldman, the President of the World Jewish Congress (and for a time President of the World Zionist Organization) to meet him in Cairo. Golda had prevented that meeting, and when the fact became known there was a storm of protest in Israel, including a famous letter from a group of 12th-graders saying that it would be hard for them to serve in the army.

All these Egyptian initiatives could be waved aside as political maneuvers. But an official message by Sadat to the Secretary of State could not. So, remembering the lesson of the Goldman incident, Golda decided to keep the whole thing secret.

THUS AN incredible situation was created. This fateful initiative, which could have effected an historic turning point, was brought to the knowledge of two people only: Moshe Dayan and Israel Galili.

The role of the latter needs explanation. Galili was the eminence grise of Golda, as well as of her predecessor, Levy Eshkol. I knew Galili quite well, and never understood where his renown as a brilliant strategist came from. Already before the founding of the state, he was the leading light of the illegal Haganah military organization. As a member of a kibbutz, he was officially a socialist but in reality a hardline nationalist. It was he who had the brilliant idea of putting the settlements on Egyptian soil, in order to make the return of northern Sinai impossible.

So the Sadat initiative was known only to Golda, Dayan, Galili and Rabin and Rabin’s successor in Washington, Simcha Dinitz, a nobody who was Golda’s lackey.

Incredible as it may sound, the Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, Rabin’s direct boss, was not informed. Nor were all the other ministers, the Chief of Staff and the other leaders of the armed forces, including the Chiefs of Army Intelligence, as well as the chiefs of the Shin Bet and the Mossad. It was a state secret.

There was no debate about it – neither public nor secret. September came and passed, and on October 6th Sadat’s troops struck across the canal and achieved a world-shaking surprise success (as did the Syrians on the Golan Heights.)

As a direct result of Golda’s Grand Default 2693 Israeli soldiers died, 7251 were wounded and 314 were taken prisoner (along with the tens of thousands of Egyptian and Syrian casualties)."

With other politicians and writers saying nobody spoke out before the war, Avnery feels  understandably justified in reminding them that one maverick did:

"Several months before the war, in a speech in the Knesset, I warned Golda Meir that if the Sinai was not returned very soon, Sadat would start a war to break the impasse.

I knew what I was talking about. I had, of course, no idea about the Ismail mission, but in May 1973 I took part in a peace conference in Bologna. The Egyptian delegation was led by Khalid Muhyi al-Din, a member of the original group of Free Officers who made the 1952 revolution. During the conference, he took me aside and told me in confidence that if the Sinai was not returned by September, Sadat would start a war. Sadat had no illusions of victory, he said, but hoped that a war would compel the US and Israel to start negotiations for the return of Sinai.

My warning was completely ignored by the media. They, like Golda, held the Egyptian army in abysmal contempt and considered Sadat a nincompoop. The idea that the Egyptians would dare to attack the invincible Israeli army seemed ridiculous.

The media adored Golda. So did the whole world, especially feminists. (A famous poster showed her face with the inscription: “But can she type?”) In reality, Golda was a very primitive person, ignorant and obstinate. My magazine, Haolam Hazeh, attacked her practically every week, and so did I in the Knesset. (She paid me the unique compliment of publicly declaring that she was ready to “mount the barricades” to get me out of the Knesset.)

Ours was a voice crying in the wilderness, but at least we fulfilled one function: In her ‘March of Folly”, Barbara Tuchman stipulated that a policy could be branded as folly only if there had been at least one voice warning against it in real time.

Perhaps even Golda would have reconsidered if she had not been surrounded by journalists and politicians singing her praises, celebrating her wisdom and courage and applauding every one of her stupid pronouncements.

THE SAME type of people, even some of the very same people, are now doing the same with Binyamin Netanyahu. Again, we are staring the same Grand Default in the face".

It seems the Yom Kippur was neither necessary nor atoned for.

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