Sunday, June 30, 2013

Disaster that won't be forgotten. Struggle that still goes on.

PIPER ALPHA at night. 167 killed as North Sea rig blazed.
TWENTY FIVE years after the worst ever oil rig disaster, the blaze on Piper Alpha, in the North Sea, in which 167 workers were killed, there has been a conference to consider the lessons. The BBC is to screen a film about it. But trade unionists fear lives could be lost again, because the government is reducing provision for health and safety inspections in offshore oiland gas, as in other industries, and because workers are frightened to open their mouth about health and safety in case it leads to them losing their jobs and being blacklisted, in the same way as has happened to building workers.   

Trouble on the Piper Alpha rig, operated by Occidental oil in the sea north-east of Aberdeen, started with maintenance issues. On July 6, 1988, one of two pumps sending oil and gas to the mainland had its safety valve removed for routine maintenance, and replaced with a temporary cover.  The on-duty engineer filled out a permit which stated that Pump A was not ready and must not be switched on under any circumstances.

When the night shift began at 6pm, the engineer found the on duty custodian busy, so placed the permit in the control room, and left. This permit disappeared. There was another for general overhaul of the pump , and so did another for genral overhaul of the pump

At 9:45 p.m. problems with a methanol system had led to an accumulation of hydrate ice formed by gas and water combining, and causing a blockage in Pump B. So pump A was restarted, apparently without realising it had no safety valve.  The temporary plate cover was obscured from view by machinery. At 9.55pm escaping gas ignited and caused the first of two explosions, also damging the firefighting system. While the firefighting system was not on automatic control and could not be remotely started from the control room, two outlying platforms joined by pipe to Piper Alpha continued pumping oil and gas into the damaged rig, where it escaped and fuelled the flames.

10:04 p.m. The control room was abandoned. Piper Alpha's design made no allowances for the destruction of the control room, and the platform's organisation disintegrated. No attempt was made to use loudspeakers or to order an evacuation. Emergency procedures instructed personnel to make their way to lifeboat stations, but the fire prevented them from doing so. Instead the men moved to the fireproofed accommodation block beneath the helicopter deck to await further instructions. Wind, fire and smoke prevented helicopter landings and no further instructions were given, with smoke beginning to penetrate the personnel block.

As the crisis mounted, two men donned protective gear in an attempt to reach the diesel pumping machinery below decks and activate the firefighting system. They were never seen again.

By the time rescue helicopters reached the scene, flames over one hundred metres in height and visible a huindred kilometres away prevented safe approach. Tharos, a specialist firefighting vessel, was able to approach the platform, but could not prevent the rupture of the Tartan pipeline, about two hours after the start of the disaster, and it was forced to retreat due to the intensity of the fire. Two crewmen from the standby vessel MV Sandhaven were killed when an explosion on the platform destroyed their Fast Rescue Craft; the survivor Ian Letham later received the George Medal.

The blazing remains of the platform were eventually extinguished three weeks later by a team led by famed firefighter Red Adair, despite reported conditions of 80 mph (130 km/h) winds and 70-foot (20 m) waves. The part of the platform which contained the galley where about 100 victims had taken refuge was recovered in late 1988 from the sea bed, and the bodies of 87 men were found inside.

Various recommendations were made by an inquiry into the disaster, and accepted by the industry. It was also recommended that the government transfer responsibility for safety in the North Sea from the Department of Energy to the Health and Safety Executive, to avoid a conflict of interest between productivity and safety considerations. Survivors and relatives formed an association to campaign for better safety.

The disaster also boosted a determination by offshore oil industry workers to organise themselves. The Offshore Industries Liaison Committee, formed to link workers regardless of trade or original union eventually became a union in its own right, though not officially recognised by management or within the TUC. In 2008 it became part of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), a merger which made sense as the RMT already had diver members.

It is Jake Molloy,  formerly OILC general secretary, and now Aberdeen-based regional organiser for the RMT, who is warning that the dismantling of a specialist offshore safety division set up by the government after the Piper Alpha accident will make things worse and should be reversed.

Oil and Gas UK, a lobby group for the major oil companies,  issued its latest annual health and safety report before the Piper 25 conference in Scotland, outlining a 48% reduction in the number of reportable oil and gas releases over the last three years, plus an all-time low in 2012 in the incidence of "over-three-day injuries".

Jake Molloy says these statistics were irrelevant if those employed offshore were still too frightened to report safety breaches because they believed they could lose their job. "Overall safety in the North Sea has improved since Piper Alpha but I have got two safety representatives in my office now saying they cannot do what they are meant to," he said. "You can have all the statistics and the technology in place but it does not make a blind bit of difference if people are under pressure, being bullied, or just disengaged."

Molloy is worried that companies driving to cut costs cut endanger jobs and safety, with workers frightened to risk their employment if they raise safety isues.     

Molloy says oil companies subcontract almost all North Sea work to third-party contractors, meaning those employers are more scared of losing their multimillion-pound deals through lost work time than interested in listening to difficult issues raised by their employees. Some managers rule in a climate of fear where employees dread an "NRB" (not required back) on the grounds of a one-off complaint about their behaviour.

He said even safety representatives feared their employers and did not have the authority to halt operations as they do in Norway, where the overall industry safety record is much better.

The decision by the government to dismantle the offshore safety division inside the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and subsume its functions inside a newly created energy division covering onshore and other installations is also troubling the RMT. "HSE says this restructuring will make no difference but I remain to be convinced, as does the rest of the trade union movement in Scotland. We are also worried that the role of the HSE is being diluted,"

See also:

There are obvious parallels here with the building trade where workers who raised safety issues found themselves blacklisted. In fact, among the names which stood out among the files of the employers' blacklist Consulting Assocation was that of Glasgow academic Charles Woolfson, apparently becoming of interest after he criticised safety standards in the wake of the Piper Alpha disaster. There were suggestions big companies could put pressure on the institution employing him.

 How an academic got on the blacklist

OILC to RMT, and Enemies

Eight different unions were trying to organise in the offshore oil industry before the OILC got started. In their hard struggle for recognition, safety representation, and wages commensurate with the industry's profits as well as the risks and harsh conditions they faced on the North Sea, workers not only had to contend with hardfaced employers but with two-faced union officialdom.

In March 1991, union officials signed a new 'hook up' agreement with the bosses, over the heads of the workers. Rank and file resentment and anger led to the OILC declaring itself an independent trade union, which gained official certification.They also gained support from the Norwegian offshore union OFT.

Efforts continued to win united action with other unions, for instance to gain better pay and conditions for the worse off workers, like those in catering services, often migrant workers, whom RMT and the TGWU represented.

But even when the OILC decided to rejoin the family, as it were, by merging with the RMT in 2008, its troubles were not over. Two larger unions, the Transport and General (TGWU) and Amicus, had merged and held their first joint executive meeting, and as the bureaucrats looked for ways to chuck their weight about some of them discussed  a move to chuck the RMT out of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

I thought at first this was a heavy handed follow up to the RMT being expelled from the Labour Party. This had been because it permitted its Glasgow branch to support the Scottish Socialist Party. But I was told in my union branch  that the RMT's "crime" in the eyes of some people was that it had accepted the OILC, a union outside the TUC, to enter the fold.

At that I pointed out the hypocrisy, to say the least, when our new partners in Amicus had brought back in the EEPTU electrical union, and some of its leaders and methods. The EETPU had been outside because it was expelled from the TUC, after Wapping. The OILC was only outside because of its efforts to organise workers, not for scabbing as the EEPTU had done performing Murdoch's bidding.

The irony was obvious enough, as my branch had originated from the breakaway Electrical and Plumbing Industries Union, formed by workers opposed to the right-wing EEPTU leadership and determined to stay with the mainstream trade union movement. But we too had been denounced as a "split" by some of the same people condemning the OILC, before we eventually voted to join the TGWU.     

 Anyway, others more important and influential than me must have thought the same thing, because I never heard more of the plot to oust the RMT, and I don't know whether it ever amounted to more than talk or if anything was done, or even recorded of it. It is possible the change of leadership in Unite put the matter to rest. Still, I am recording it now as a reminder of what not just the RMT/OILC but the decent majority of Unite members are up against.  

Piper Alpha oil rig disaster

The OILC Saga

Struggle in North Sea Oil industry

Concern as companies drive to cuts costs

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Race attack could have been worse

 QUESTIONING whether police doing job, and what happened to CCTV footage of attack

A SMALL demonstration called at short notice outside Wembley police station early this evening had the twofold aim of alerting people to the danger of racist attacks, and demanding answers from police about their mishandling of an investigation, at its very start.

It was 5.20am on Sunday, June 9, when a large black car pulled up on Willesden High Road, near the bus garage. Out got five white men, and set about attacking two young men of African descent who  had just got off a bus from central London.

One of their victims managed to avoid being punched in the face, but was separated from the other man, who was punched to the ground and kicked repeatedly.

The attackers might not have expected to be seen by many people, let alone interrupted, at that time on a Sunday morning. Fortunately they were. Three witnesses across the road shouted out and ran across to the African man's defence. The attackers got back into their car and drove off, still shouting.

Their victim was taken by the police to hospital with bruises under his eyes and later had a broken tooth removed. One of the witnesses, Robin Sivapalan, a local trade unionist met him later at Northwick Park hospital and brought him to his house to recover.

This attack in the London Borough of Brent came only days after the firebombing of an Islamic cultural centre in Muswell Hill, north London,as supposed "retaliation" for the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich on Wednesday, May 22. Brent, with its diverse population usd to facing economic adversity together is not good territory for racists and bigots.  But that does not prevent them targetting it - not for votes but for hatred. 

 In 2009 the British National Party produced a video supposedly showing how the borough was being taken over by Muslims.. Could it be that in 2013, feeling their time has come after Woolwich, yet frustrated by their humiliation in Whitehall, a group of thugs got into their car and set off to drive into the area looking for anyone whom they thought might be a Muslim, or failing that, any black person?

Whatever their precise motive, this was plainly no random attack or altercation gone wrong. And had they not been interrupted....we might be looking at something more than GBH, bad as that was..

Checking with police at Wembley on Wednesday, the witness Robin was told that the case had not yet been allocated to an investigating officer, nor had it been logged as a racist attack. He stressed to the police officer that the assault could well have been far more damaging had there not been an intervention from the public, that the attackers posed a threat to all Black people - not just the particular victim in this case - and that this was possible backlash to the Woolwich incident. (Police say they have been busy keeoping an eye on mosques, but surely watching out for attacks on persons should be part of the same remit?)

Robin and the victim went to a local business where they were shown the CCTV footage which caught the entire attack, with the car, from two cameras and they informed the police that the evidence was available.

It took till the Thursday for the police to call the victim, and the investigating officer failed to reply to any of the messages left by Robin. By the following Thursday the CCTV footage had been lost. The police had been told that they were welcome to collect the recording equipment themselves while the footage was still retrievable.

The police attended the business on Wednesday 19th and discovered one set of footage had been deleted. They only collected the recording equipment and called in witnesses after DS Williams had been informed by Robin that the second set of footage had also been lost and that he would take the matter further. 

Concerned  residents in Brent held a picket at Wembley Police Station on Thursday June,27., and sent in a deputation  calling for meeting with the Borough Commander that will provide accountability for this failure to act. They have also contacted local councillors. 

Coming in a week when it was revealed that the Metropolitan police who for so long failed the Lawrence family sent an agent into their circles to try and smear and discredit them, this case has once again got people talking about "institutional racism".

It must also alert minorities - in Brent that's a majority - and the labour movement to give thought to community self-defence and security.


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Thursday, June 27, 2013

When Mandela Came to Willesden

IT has been said that when great revolutionaries  and fighters for the oppressed die they are turned into harmless ikons, the better to dupe the masses, by those who hated everything they stood for when alive. In the cae of Nelson Mandela, the hypocritical beatification has happened while he was still alive, and though we might discuss the reasons another time, we can see that with the 94-year old ex-president's life possibly near an end, only Nazi Nick Griffin thought his likely death a laughing matter,

Mandela was admitted to hospital with a chronic lung infection, contracted during his 27 years in an Apartheid prison cell. It was while he was held, and people campaigned for his release, that Margaret Thatcher condemned him as a "terrorist", and Tory students sported "Hang Nelson Mandela" tee shirts.

Even after his release, to commence the largely peaceful transition for which those with South African interests must feel genuinely grateful, Tories were reluctant to greet his success or relax their hostility and prejudice. The traces of British ssupport to Inkatha and even to diehard South African white racists may never be uncovered, but more open Tory attitudes have been remembered.

This week, as admirers held their breath,  the London Borough of Brent awarded the freedom of the borough to Mandela. It may be a bit late for him to come and enjoy it, but as a letter in the Guardian explains, there are reasons why it was belated.

The Brent Labour group first recommended the freedom of Brent for Nelson Mandela in April 1990, after he came to a concert at Wembley following his release from prison (Diary, 26 June). This was to thank UK and Brent campaigners for his release. Unfortunately, their recommendation to confer the honour was frustrated by the abstention of the Tory group and so failure to achieve the required majority. Our attempt to go ahead anyway was prevented by a high court injunction by the then Tory leaders, with costs of £10,000 levied against the Labour leader and mayor. It is an indication of how opinion in Britain has changed towards Mandela that all Tory councillors voted with us this time in a unanimous vote. Some weeks ago, when we were moving office, we found the original 1990 "Welcome Mandela" plaque. This was presented to the high commission of South Africa on Monday, who have agreed it will be displayed permanently in our new civic centre in Wembley.
Cllr Jim Moher
Executive council, London borough of Brent 

Mandela came to Wembley in 1990, but that was not the first time he had spoken in the North-West London borough.

In 1962 Nelson Mandela came briefly to London for 11 days in June (whilst having gone “underground" following the treason trial) before returning to South Africa where he was soon arrested and imprisoned.
Whilst in London well known trades council activist Tom Durkin arranged for Mandela to address the Willesden Trades Council and was immensely proud Willesden Trades Council (now part of Brent) had hosted his last political meeting outside South Africa. In his autobiography Mandela wrote "In London I resumed my old underground ways, not wanting word to leak back to South Africa that I was there. But I was not a recluse; my ten days there were divided between ANC business, seeing old friends and occasional jaunts as a conventional tourist."  On Friday, June 8 he met senior ANC members in exile, Yusuf Dadoo and Vela Pillay, and the following Sunday he met Milton Obote, the Prime Minister of Uganda. Then meetings with David Astor, the editor of The Observer, Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the Labour Party, and Joe Grimmond, leader of the Liberal Party.

(150 Years of Union Struggle, A Celebration of the Trades Council Movement in London, published by Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils).

On Brent Trades Union Council, which succeeded the old Willesden and Wembley TUCs when the two London boroughs were merged, we are naturally proud of the tradition established by our predecessors, and will be seeking out memories and reports of that 1962 meeting.

Meanwhile the trades council remains engaged in the current struggle against racism,. This  evening at 6pm supporters,  including witnesses of a brutal racist attack which happened last week near where we meet, will be going to Wembley police station to raise concern as to whether this incident is being propeerly investigated. 

Community protest as Police lose CCTV evidence of unprovoked racist attack in Willesden  
Please note this is at 6pm and not as stated in this report.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Why I skipped Assembly

 MARCHING against A&E closures in Ealing. Resistance like this, involving trade union councils and local people, was not waiting for leadership from the "top". 

IT might be churlish of me, some would say "sectarian", to take a negative view of an event that I could not be bothered to attend, where if you believe supporters no less than 4,000 people gathered to hear rousing speeches by Frances O'Grady of the TUC, Len McCluskey of my own union Unite, popular young left-wing writer Owen Jones and others, and to launch the fightback against the Con Dem government's austerity.

At least you could say it was a better alternative than the Labour Party leadership's current output of statements supposed to raise voters' enthusiasm and supporters' morale by assuring us that Labour will carry on with cuts and taking away benefits, and won't even nationalise the things we are already subsidising. Mention of means tests for pensioners has reminded a historically-minded bod like me of Ramsay MacDonald's National Government. Could we be seeing another, wider coalition replacing this one?

But I had my reasons for wanting nothing to do with the 'People's Assembly'. For one thing the name reminded me of  a poorly-attended event I attended in the closing days of the Greater London Council, which was supposed to rally the masses to resistance against the Thatcher government. My erstwhile comrades on the Left who were backing Ken Livingstone had been talking about a "Council of  Action' thereby evoking the General Strike, but a "People's Assembly" was what we got.

It was held in Wembley, and it was one of my predecessors on Brent Trades Council, the late Tom Durkin, who spoke from the floor criticising the failure to turn to the organised workers' movement for support. Though he and I came from different corners of the Left (Tom was a member of the Communist Party) I had to admit he had a point. I had heard Ken Livingstone in meetings cheerfully recounting how he rubbed shoulders with the Lords, but never seen him campaign outside Fords in Dagenham, or at St.George's hospital in Tooting where I worked.

At this Assembly in Wembley, John McDonnell, then in charge of the GLC's finances, outlined how different services would be adversely effected if the authority set a budget to meet the government's wishes. Valerie Wise, who was chair of the GLC Women's Committee, got up to complain that this would all be unfair to women. She sounded as though she thought it was what the GLC intended to do. In other words our assembly was a waste of time.

"I reckon this lot are going to sell out and back down!" I remarked to friends when we broke for lunch. Some exchanged glances and said nowt. Perhaps they already knew. "What do you think of John McDonnell?", said a fellow who knew a bit about economics and possibly about what was going on behind the scenes at County Hall and in the Labour Left besides. He evidently approved of McDonnell, and invited me to. I guess he knew about the developing split. Livingstone removed John as his deputy in 1985, the same year as another acrimonious split was to happen. But as a mere naieve extra I knew nothing at the time. Beyond realising that the People's Assembly would achieve nothing and was probably not intended to.

But surely this new People's Assembly is different? Far from ignoring organised labour it had union leaders to the fore. Even Unison decided to get involved, though its participation may have been overshadowed this weekend by its advice to members that they must enforce the the bedroom tax.
By contrast, Len McCluskey from Unite took the occasion to urge civil disobediance and said we should make the country "ungovernable". I wonder which voice will prove most significant? Maybe the members will decide.
But with local people, often encouraged by trades union councils and informed by public service professionals, organising and taking initiatives against cuts even while Labour was still in office, I was suspicious from the start about a self-appointed leadership announcing itself , first as the 'Coalition of Resistance' and then by calling this Assembly, supposedly a forum for discussion, yet with enough speakers announced beforehand to leave little room for spontaneity from the grass-roots.

I've great respect for some of the people involved, not just union leaders but campaigners whom I'd listen to any time. Some I'm proud to call friends. But two names stood out at the centre of things to make me see this as something to avoid. John Rees and Lindsay German were leading figures of the Stop the War Coalition, who obviously acquired a taste for addressing large rallies, and then tried to take the movement with them into Respect. That they are no longer with George Galloway nor in the Socialist Workers Party has not given me any more confidence in them. But one way of staying leaders rather than followers is to ignore what other people are doing and start your own campaign. Ousted from the SWP leadership, these two began 'Counterfire'., which begat the Coalition of Resistance, and led to the People's Assembly, and along the way, a cafe in Camden which did the catering for the Assembly.
People who know the dynamic duo better than me have registered similar misgivings. Here is a former SWP member, Mike Pearn, writing on Facebook:
"From the moment the 'Peoples Assembly' was announced it was obvious that it was a top down event that would lead nowhere. All the hallmarks of the Rees clique were openly displayed. Despite which a number of comrades who really should know better became rather enthusiastic for the event.

Casting my beady eye across fb this evening however it has been curious to see more than one cynical remarks being made about the 'Peoples Assembly' by those who only yesterday were its best, if ever so slightly, critical builders. From what I see the most cutting political criticism they have of the 'Peoples Assembly' is that the commercial caterers are charging £2 for a samosa.

Personally I would be rather more concerned at the waste of energy and resources that this pointless jamboree represents. Personally I think it wise not to provide an audience for the likes of Rees and his band of acolytes. Personally those who are now concerned by the price of somosas have displayed their own lack of political judgement.

Dave Renton, an independent-minded comrade who has been lending his skills as a barrister to the anti-blacklisting campaign, seems to be no longer persona grata with my local SWP, though whether he has been shown the door by the Party yet or is finding his own way to it, I'm not sure. But here is what Dave had to say well in advance about the People's Assembly:

"The People’s Assembly (PA) is still 13 weeks away, but many aspects of how it will work are already clear. A very large number of national organisations have given the call for the Assembly their support. Nine national unions have already signed up ( good. The chief sponsor of the People’s Assembly is the Coalition of Resistance (CoR), on which something like around 100 different left-wing parties, campaigns etc, are represented. Most if not all of these, we can assume, will sponsor the PA. We can anticipate that there will be speaking roles reserved for individuals who have played prominent parts in the various hospital campaigns, and in the protests against the bedroom tax. Size matters; we are facing a government which is co-ordinating austerity measures in every area of the public sector, social benefits, private employment, health, housing, education, etc. It would be churlish not to welcome an initiative on a grand scale.

The PA will announce “action”, in other words a national demonstration, timed presumably to coincide with the return of students in the autumn. It will coincide with an international anti-austerity conference. It will announce the formation of further Coalition of Resistance groups / People’s Assemblies, which are to be set up in every area. So far, so reasonable. Among those in the audience of the PA there will be many hundreds of people who are not activists, or who have not have had a means of being active for several years. It is possible that some of them will become permanently involved in the movement, and, if so, this is to be heartily welcomed. But for those of us who have been part of the movement for more than a few months, there is a method here, and one that we know only too well.

It was John Rees of Stop the War (StW), Counterfire (CF) and CoR who led off the discussion of how the PA would work at the recent CoR National Council. ( We can imagine, without needing to be conspiratorial, that the plan for a People’s Assembly was first discussed round “that” Clapton Square dining room table, with Lindsey German. Lindsey will have been on the phone to Chris Nineham, then Clare Solomon, James Meadway and Sam Fairbarn, and only much later will the plan have been visited upon the world.

Like Terminator VI (“I’ll be back … back … back”), this is of course a sequel. The first People’s Assembly to be held at Westminster Central Hall was the Stop the War Coalition People’s Assembly against war in Iraq on 15 March 2003. This too was planned by John and Lindsey and then agreed with Chris. This too had various international speakers and spin-off events......

Above all, People’s Assembly I was a talking shop: with dozens of speakers making essentially the same points in lengthy succession.

There are more problems here though than mere repetition. If the various anti-cuts campaigns are to cohere into a national movement capable of bringing down the government (an ambition I anticipate we will hear from PA II, as grand ambitions are needed to keep the troops busy), key to this will be protests of a scale to make the country feel ungovernable, and to achieve that there will need to be a generation of movement activists with a shared political understanding. Don’t get me wrong, by “understanding” I don’t necessarily mean a shared, developed ideology. I just mean an idea, the simpler the better (“No Poll Tax” / “Peace, Bread, Land”).

Behind PA II there is an unstated analysis of how this generation will be formed. And it is based on reasoning that is – ultimately – bleak and unrewarding:

 I have only quoted extracts from Dave Renton's critique, which is based on experience, and also quotes that of others: 

'When you read George Galloway’s description of the last days of Respect (‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, some of the most moving passages are those where he describes the seemingly-inexplicable shift in John and Lindsey’s behaviour, from wooing him and other leaders of Respect, to ignoring them. He focussed on the treatment of Salma Yacoob:

“There is a custom of anathematisation in the organisation which is deeply unhealthy and has been the ruin of many a left-wing group before us. This began with Salma Yaqoob, once one of our star turns, promoted on virtually every platform, and who is responsible for some of the greatest election victories (and near misses) during our era. “

“Now she has been airbrushed from our history at just the time when she is becoming a regular feature on the national media and her impact on the politics of Britain’s second city has never been higher. “

Not impressed by those who tell him "John and Lindsey have changed", Dave nevertheless makes clear that he is not just talking about two individuals but about a method which they share with others.

How many national “Stop the Cuts” movements do we have now anyway: PA, CoR, UtR, NSSN, do Right to Work or the People’s Charter still exist? How has the left been strengthened as we have “grown” from 2 to 3, 4 or 5 of them? Do any of them work to strengthen the self-activity of the majority of people?

My real criticism is of the “front” method; and of the assumptions behind it.
Bearing in mind such warnings I was initially surprised by the way so many unions (or at least their leaders) were throwing their weight, and their members' money, behind this event. It is not as though they are simple, trusting folk, and it surely can't be from fondness for John Rees and Lindsay German politically? We remember the union leaders largely pulling back from support for Stop the War, and though the majority of the British public was opposed to the war on Iraq it was left to two brave railway workers to take industrial action, and to schoolkids to try 'civil disobedience'.  Maybe it was because back then Labour was in government. Does that mean that any 'disobedience' will be replaced by collaboration with the cuts once a Labour government or even a coalition with Labour support is implementing them - just as Labour councils already are doing? 

That Unison decided to take part seems quite a change from its attitude a few years ago towards  the National Shop Stewards Movement, and the reported discouragement of branches from affiliating or sending delegates to local trades union councils - a constituent part of the TUC.
Unite under Len McCluskey has been another story. Not long after taking over McCluskey over-ruled Steve Hart, the union's political director, telling him Unite was going to support the Coalition of Resistance. On June 11, Hart stepped down, and according to Patrick Wintour of the Guardian , tweeted that he had been told he was "too close to Labour". But his replacement, Jenny Formy, is on the Labour Party's National Executive Committee, which Hart was not. As Oscar Wilde used to say, the truth is seldom plain and never simple.

Unite continues handing over millions of pounds to Labour, despite our general secretary being rebuffed by Miliband for having the temerity to say the Party should stop listening to Tony Blair and his cronies and stand with working people and the poor against Con Dem cuts.

It could be Len feels funding an anti-austerity conference and encouraging resistance is cheap at the price.He told the People's Assembly that the labour movement should put itself "at the heart of this coalition of resistance" against the coalition's assault on the public sector."We need to demonstrate, protest and lobby, and we need to do more - take direct action to let the elite know we are here,"

He seems to think 'direct action', civil disobediance is one way of getting around restrictions on the right to strike and engendering a mood that, in defiance of law and government will reawaken willingnes to use industrial strength. Well, we shall see.

But when Bro. McCluskey says local People's Assemblies should be established and become a mobilising force against the cuts, he seems to forget that around the country members of Unite and other trade unions are already mobilising,  with scant resources but a wealth of experience, in the trade union councils and campaigns they support.

Nobody will object to any moves to bring greater unity and co-ordination between campaigns. But we should certainly object to any attempt to divide or subordinate them to something coming down from on top.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Following in young Fred's Footsteps

SOME of the country's most popular museums are endangered by spending cuts. Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) , Bradford's National Media Museum and the National Railway Museum in York could close, according to the Science Museum Group (SMG), which also runs the Science Museum in London. It has announced that a further 10% cut in government funding would leave it with "little choice" but to close one of the museums.

Council leaders in 11 local authorities have written to Chancellor George Osborne  The council leaders said they were "equally concerned" about potential cuts at the National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield, whose funding is contracted through SMG.

Councils  said visitors to the National Media Museum contributed about £24m a year to the local economy, and the National Railway Museum brought in £40-50m. Visitors to the Museum of Science and Industry provided about £28m to the local economy.

Friends in the North West say they make a point of taking their children to the MOSI for both pleasure and instruction. The museum's hands on gadgets and displays make it an especial favourite with kids. 

That the threatened museums are in the North, where so much of  science and industry was developed, but which has also born so much of the brunt of industrial decline and austerity, has not gone unnoticed. Even the Archbishop of York has said something about it.
Archbishop condemns threat to museums.

As though to rub insult into injury, news of the theat to these valued assets comes with reports that Prime Minister David Cameron favours the building of a £15 million museum dedicated to Margaret Thatcher, whose disdain for industry and the North, and hatred for the workers has been more than reciprocated. At least two popular petitions for the museums are circulating, one of them explicitly saying that money should not be going to the Thatcher museum.
 Petition to save the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)

Against public money for Thatcher museum

I must confess I have not yet visited the three museums, though I hope to remedy the omission. The MOSI was built long after I left Manchester. It stands on what was once the site of the world's first
railway station, Manchester Liverpool Road, opened on September 15, 1830, for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Sadly, this line also saw the scene of the world's first recorded fatal railway accident, when Liverpool MP William Huskisson,  who had travelled for the opening ceremony was knocked down by Stephenson's Rocket at Parkside.

This must have been a great disappointment to the crowd of mill workers and colliers who had come out not only to see the trains but to throw bricks and whatever else was to hand at the carriage carrying the main guest, the Prime Minister, Duke of Wellington. The Iron Duke wisely decided to stay in his carriage and return to Liverpool without setting foot in Manchester. I don't suppose this is the kind of history that Mr.Gove wants taught in the national curriculum. Who knows, it might even give us ideas.

I did go down to Castlefield area with a schoolmate one Saturday in search of an earlier bit of history, the remains of part of the Roman wall of  Mancunium. We found it under the railway arches at the back of a builders' yard near Knott Mill. Knott Mill station, now Deansgate, opened on July 30, 1849, as part of the Manchester to Altringham line. That began from Oxford Road station, which I knew before it was modernised. On another of my urban strolls, after I had become "political", I came to look at the hollow south of the station. There where the River Medlock now runs underground was once the neighbourhood dubbed "Little Ireland", and described in Friedrich Engel's The Condition of the Working Class in England , first published in 1844. 

"....the most horrible spot...lies on the Manchester side, immediately south-west of Oxford Road, and is known as Little Ireland. In a rather deep hole, in a curve of the Medlock and surrounded on all four sides by tall factories and high embankments, covered with buildings, stand two groups of about two hundred cottages, built chiefly back to back, in which live about four thousand human beings, most of them Irish. The cottages are old, dirty, and of the smallest sort, the streets uneven, fallen into ruts and in part without drains or pavement; masses of refuse, offal and sickening filth lie among standing pools in all directions; the atmosphere is poisoned by the effluvia from these, and laden and darkened by the smoke of a dozen tall factory chimneys..."
Chorlton on Medlock and "Little Ireland"

I remember when Salford council decided to name a block of flats after Engels, the local Tories made a fuss, though it was pointed out to them that Fred was a respected local businessman, and we might add that he joined the militia and even rode to hounds.

Anyway I see the ten story block in Eccles has been refurbished, and Engels seems now to be established in local histories.

Young Fred Engels had been sent to Manchester to look after his father's mill and probably to keep him out of trouble. Here he discovered the English -and Irish -working class. Engels and his friend Marx did not have to invent the class struggle, that was already happening. They just had to realise its historical significance. Two years before The Condition of the Working Class in England appeared and six years before the Communist Manifesto, a general strike which began among the Staffordshire colliers had spread across the North West, and Manchester was naturally an important centre.

 August 11, 1842 At 6.30am a crowd of over 10,000, many of whom, it was noted, were women, assembled in Granby Row Fields. The main speaker was Christopher Doyle who urged the strikers not to return to work until their demands had been met. As he was speaking the Mayor Mr Neil and a number of magistrates rode up to the cart and told them that the meeting was illegal and must disperse. The Riot Act was then read and one hundred soldiers appeared, fully armed and with two six pound artillery pieces. The crowd fled but there was no violence or casualties. Companies of soldiers were then stationed in Hunt Street, on Oxford Road near Little Ireland, and also opposite Esdaile’s Buildings.

A meeting took place at the Carpenter Hall attended by mechanics, engineers, millwrights, moulders and smiths which passed resolutions in favour of the People’s Charter which they declared “contains the elements of justice and prosperity and we pledge ourselves never to relinquish our demands until that document becomes a legislative enactment”. They also pledged not to return to work “until the decision of the trades of Manchester be ascertained.”

During the morning thousands of workers marched from Ashton and Stalybridge to Rochdale and brought out most of the mills and factories. A mass meeting passed a resolution declaring that they would not resume work until they had obtained a fair price for a fair day’s labour. They then marched to Heywood and turned out the mills and factories there.


Friday 12 August
There was a meeting of various trades and mill hands at the Fustian Cutters room, 70 Tib Street at 10am which passed two resolutions, one declaring that the strike was for the Charter and the other declaring that the operatives offer themselves as “conservators of the public peace”.
The mechanics met at Carpenters’ Hall at 2pm where they heard reports from delegates from Lancashire and Yorkshire on the situation in their trades and their attitude to the strike. The conference concluded by passing a resolution which stated “that the only remedy for the present alarming distress and widespread destitution is the immediate and unmutilated adoption and carrying into law of the document known as the People’s Charter, that this meeting recommends the people of all trades and callings forthwith cease work until the above document becomes the law of the land.”

Saturday 13 August
The weekly Manchester Guardian, published on Saturday, carried an editorial which practically frothed at the mouth:
“…we have seen the resolutions passed at the meeting of delegates at the Sherwood Inn and the Carpenters’ Hall yesterday. To us, who well knew the real objects of the agitators, these resolutions convey no information. But to parties who have hitherto, either wilfully or ignorantly, shut their eyes to the truth, we recommend a perusal of the resolutions; and especially the second, recommending that the present forced cessation of work shall be continued until what is called “the charter” becomes the law of the land. Disguise it as we may the present movement is rising against the government and the law. Call it by what name we please, IT IS REALLY AN INSURRECTION.” (The Manchester Guardian 13 August 1842) 

To come back up to date, a film on the Condition of the Working Class is due to get what I think is its first London screening on Thursday evening at Congress House, courtesy of the Southern and Eastern Regions of the TUC (SERTUC). I think there will be refreshments, though I cannot confirm the rumour that Sir Brendan Barber will be standing the drinks.

Here's the info:


A new documentary feature film by Michael Wayne & Deirdre O'Neill
Runtime: 82 mins

Everything changes and yet everything stays the same. 1844: Friedrich Engels writes his book 'The Condition of the Working Class in England', a classic denunciation of the appalling living conditions for working people living at the heart of the industrial revolution in Manchester, England.  In 2012: a group of working class people from Manchester and Salford have the job of devising a theatrical show from scratch based on their own experiences and Engels' book. They have 8 weeks before their first performance. The Condition of the Working Class follows the process from the first rehearsal to first night and situates their struggle to get the show on stage in the context of the daily struggles of working people facing economic crisis and austerity politics.


Thursday 20 June, 7- 9.30pm

   TUC Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS
(nearest tube Tottenham Court Road)

FREE ADMISSION    Booking essential

BOOKINGS:    or 020 7467 1220

According to Film International, "This is not a film. It is rehearsal for revolution".

 Sounds like the Guardian back in 1842!

Also of interest:
  Digging out Engels club

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Australia closes door on Bahraini rights speaker

HOWEVER good the image of a country and its people for standing up for human rights and fair play to all, you can count on its Immigration officials to ruin it. Not that I would imagine these were acting without a word of advice from those above them in government..
A prominent Bahraini surgeon and human rights defender, Dr Ghassan Dhaif, has been barred from entering Australia for a speaking tour organised by Amnesty International Australia and the Bahrain Australia Youth Movement.

The Department of Immigration rejected Dr.Dhaif's visa application on the grounds that he may seek asylum even though he applied for a Temporary Work (Short Stay Activity) Visa (Subclass 400) with the support of Amnesty International Australia, the Australia Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Nursing Federation and the Australian Education Union.

He was due to speak about the military crackdown and human rights crisis in Bahrain, in which he was arrested, incarcerated and tortured for over one year for the crime of treating injured protesters.

“It is disappointing that one week following a condemnation of Bahrain’s human rights crisis in the Federal Parliament of Australia, immigration has denied a Bahraini human rights defender from entering the country”, said Abdulelah al Hubaishi, Bahraini refugee and spokesperson for the Bahrain Australia Youth Movement.

Last Monday, resolutions were tabled in the Lower House of the Federal Parliament of Australia condemning the ongoing repression of Bahrain’s mass protest movement. During the parliamentary debate, Federal Members of Parliament highlighted the heavy repression of Bahraini medics.

Al Hubaishi continued, “It is clear that western countries are backing the Bahraini regime and continuing their standard practice of hypocrisy. The Australian government is only concerned with human rights on paper but in reality it is silencing the Bahraini people”.

The Refugee Action Coalition has condemned the decision of Australian immigration to reject Dr Dhaif’s visa application.

“Denying a visa to Dr Ghassan because he might claim asylum is another shameful example of the Australian government’s lack of humanitarian principles in relation to refugees. The government is more concerned about competing with the Coalition to maintain a hard line on refugees than taking a stand with those fighting for human rights in Bahrain,” said Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition.

The events organised as part of the speaking tour will proceed regardless.

“Attempts to silence Dr Ghassan Dhaif only cause us to raise the volume of our voices. We must stand in solidarity with the Bahraini people and continue to expose the daily human rights violations in Bahrain.

While health services continue to be militarised and thousands of political prisoners are behind bars, we will build the international solidarity movement and generate pressure on the Bahraini regime and its allies”, concluded Al Hubaishi.

Contact Bahrain Australian Youth Movement:

Information received via Middle East and North Africa Solidarity network 

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Clara and the Comintern

BACK in March we did not let International Women's Day (March 8) pass without writing something about Clara Zetkin, the woman who did so much to make it a day in the socialist calendar, and not as a once a year token gesture towards feminism while leaving the women to make the tea at our meetings for the rest of the year, but as an assertion of the importance of the doubly oppressed women workers in struggle.

Though the idea was inspired particularly by the battles fought by women workers in the United States, like those at the Lawrence mills, who came up with the historic slogan "We want bread -and roses too!", it was the women of Petrograd, Russia who gave it powerful meaning when their demonstrations on Women's day, March 1917 (late February in the old Russian calendar) began the first round of the Russian Revolution,  bringing down Tsar Nicholas II.

Clara herself was born in a village in Saxony, however, in 1857, and first gained prominence as a member of the German Social Democratic Party, later becoming a founder of the Communist Party of Germany. The stamp above was issued in her honour by the GDR (East German) post office in 1987.     
On Wednesday night there's a book launch at Housman's bookshop in London for the book on Clara Zetkin that has been produced as an Occasional Paper by the Socialist History Society, and two of the writers, Marilyn J. Boxer and John S.Partington will be speaking.

Earlier this year the Australian-based journal Links International  published an article based on a talk given in 2010 in Toronto by John Riddell.  

Describing how Clara Zetkin began her speeches " Genossinnen und Genossen!"  - German for “women comrades and men comrades”. an unusual greeting at a time when few women were at socialist meetings, Riddel says Zetkin had been a friend of Fredrick Engels and joined the Social Democratic "in its earky heroic days". She formed a close alliance with Rosa Luxemburg to defend the party's revolutionary heritage against opportunist leaders.

At a time when women still had not even got the vote, let alone wide recognition in the movement
 " Zetkin and Luxemburg were the first women to fight their way into the central leadership of socialist parties." Clara Zetkin led the Socialist (or Second) International’s work among women, and it was in this capacity that she not only promoted women's rights and struggles, and International Women's Day, but called the first international socialist conference in opposition to the World War I

.However, John Riddell draws attention to another aspect of Clara Zetkin's importance.

In 1917 and 1918 the First World War was ended by revolutions in Russia and Germany. In 1919 Clara Zetkin was one of the founders of the German Communist Party. The war's end had not brought peace, as the Allied powers waged wars of intervention against the emergent Soviet Union, and in Germany right-wing militarists waged terror against the revolutionaries. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered. Right-wing social democrats, anxious to preserve capitalist rule under the new republic, were implicated with the officers.

 Nevertheless, though the new Communist Party was strong and determined, the Social Democrats retained the support of the majority of workers. In March 1920, when extreme rightists attempted a military takeover (the Kapp Putsch) the Social Democrats played a major role in the massive general strike that defeated the coup.

Later that year an assembly of metalworkers in Stuttgart, where Clara Zetkin was based, adopted a resolution calling on the trade unions for a joint campaign on five demands “shared by all workers”:

    Reduced prices for food and essentials of life.

    Opening of the capitalists’ financial records and higher jobless benefits.

    Lower taxes on workers and higher taxes on the rich.

    Workers’ control of raw material and food production and distribution.

    Disarming of reactionary gangs and arming of the workers.

John Riddell says this was "an early example of the communist concept of transitional demands, which are rooted in immediate needs but point toward workers’ rule."

The following month, in January 1921, the German Communist Party central bureau made a more comprehensive appeal to all workers’ organisations, including the Social Democrats, for united action. Clara Zetkin was a leading member of this body, but the appeal’s main author was party co-chairperson Paul Levi. Known as the “Open Letter”, this call included the Stuttgart five points, in more detailed form, plus demands for the release of political prisoners and resumption of Germany’s trade and diplomatic relations with the Russian Soviet republic.

Riddell says the Communist (or Third) International (Comintern) adopted the united front policy in 1921.  Zetkin, at 64, older than any other of its main leaders, became an influential figure not only in the German Communist Party, but in the International. The call for an alignment with the Soviet Union took on added importance in Germany, as the Allied victors were demanding reparations from the near-bankrupt German state and threatening occupation. .

Clara Zetkin, hoping to channel national resentment in Germany away from the right, called in the Reichstag for an alliance with Soviet Russia, as “the only way to achieve a revision of the Versailles Treaty and ultimately to tear it up”. The establishment of workers’ power, she said, will be “the hour when the German nation will be born, the birth of a unified German people, no longer divided into lords and servants”.
Many German Communists were not happy with what they saw as a turn from revolutionary aims towards appeasing the Social Democrats (whose leaders had in fact rejected the Open Letter), and were even less comfortable with what seemed like invocation of nationalism. There was also oppositon in the Comintern. "A current led by Hungarian communists such as Béla Kun called on communists to sharpen their slogans and initiate minority actions that could sweep the hesitant workers into action – the so-called 'theory of the offensive'. Although criticised by Lenin, this concept found some support in the Moscow-based Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI), including from Nikolai Bukharin and Gregory Zinoviev."

The ECCI initially criticised the Open Letter. Lenin supported it, however, and the matter was referred to the next world congress.

Worsening poverty in Germany had produced a contradictory situation. The Communist Party had more than 400,000 members, and many were impatient for action, whereas the bigger section of workers remained with the Social Democrats and union leaders, clinging desperately to their jobs if they could, pessimistic and passive. In Clara Zetkin’s words, the workers were “almost desperate” yet “unwilling to struggle”.

"Zetkin and her colleagues urged efforts to unite workers in a defensive struggle, in which they could regain the confidence needed for a renewed and concerted offensive for workers’ power. However, her left-wing opponents within the party urged minority action to provoke a crisis. As one of them later commented, “A stagnant swamp was everywhere. A wall of passivity was rising. We had to break through it at any cost.”

Unfortunately events outside Germany, relayed through the Comintern's envoys, led to Zetkin and Levi being ousted from the leadership, and the Party took an adventurist turn, with the "March Action", in 1921, an abortive armed revolt that ended in defeat.  Paul Levi was expelled after labelling it a putsch.   

That left Clara Zetkin, who at the central committee in April criticised those who had abandoned the Open Letter and the alliance with Soviet Russia, and taken the party on a confrontation course that excluded the masses. “Party campaigns can prepare the road for mass action, can provide goals and leadership for them, but cannot replace them”, her proposed resolution stated.

"When the Comintern met in congress in Moscow, in June, Zetkin found support. Lenin and Leon Trotsky launched a campaign to overturn the ultraleft 'theory of the offensive' and won the Communist International to a course similar to what Zetkin had advocated."

The Comintern adopted the United Front policy. This "enabled Zetkin to carry out two years of fruitful work as the Communist International’s best-known non-Russian leader. As the head of the Communist International’s work among women, Zetkin sought to imbue it with united front concepts.

 This work was never a high priority for party leaders, and women made up at best 10 per cent of the total membership. Still, the Communist Women’s International had its own publications and conferences both internationally and nationally, which reached far beyond the party membership. Zetkin “wanted to win not only women [industrial] workers, but women who were office employees, peasants, civil servants, intellectuals”, writes biographer Gilbert Badia. “She favoured appealing to Social Democratic women, setting aside invective in order to win a hearing.”

"In the mid-1920s, as the Comintern was bureaucratised under Joseph Stalin, the Communist Women’s International was among the first victims. In 1925, Zetkin’s international women’s magazine was shut down as 'too costly'; the next year, over strenuous objections by Zetkin and her colleagues, the women’s secretariat was dissolved and formation of further women’s organisations prohibited, amid warnings regarding “feminism” and “Social Democratic methods”.

Zetkin also was among the leaders of  International Workers Aid, which provided humanitarian relief, and International Red Aid, which defended victims of political persecution. Established to help counter the famine in Russia in 1921, Workers’ Aid soon had 200,000 people fully under its care; it then provided funds for industrial development equal to half what the Soviet government summoned up from its own resources.

"This promising beginning was undone ... when the Communist International and its KPD reverted to a more extreme version of the ultraleftism of the “theory of the offensive” period. Social Democracy was now seen as a “wing of German fascism”, or, in Stalin’s word, its “twin”. The term “united front” was still used, but it was now to be a “united front from below”, that is, no appeals to leaders of other political currents; instead, attempts to win rank-and-file workers to Communist-led movements.

"This reversal was dictated by the tactical needs of a bureaucratic faction that ruled in Moscow, in the first stage of a process that quickly led to the Communist International’s degeneration.Except for a partial respite in 1926-27, Zetkin now became an oppositionist, expressing her most deeply held views only in private letters, closed meetings and confidential memos.

"The then-dominant left faction of the KPD was aligned with Comintern president Gregory Zinoviev, and in 1926 they followed him into the United Opposition, led by Zinoviev and Trotsky. Zetkin allowed her animosity to the German ultralefts to colour her assessment of this new opposition. She lined up with Nikolai Bukharin, then allied with Stalin, in a combination that was promoting bureaucratisation of the Communist International. Tragically, in 1927 she vocally supported measures to expel the United Opposition’s supporters.

"Only two years later, Zetkin supported the current led by Bukharin, the so-called “Right Opposition”, in its rebellion against an ultraleft turn in Stalin’s policies. Bukharin’s tendency was defeated, and its supporters expelled or forced to recant. Zetkin alone remained at her post, never recanting her views, and proclaiming them when she could in letters, memos and personal discussions. She made no secret of her scorn for Stalin, once writing of him, in the chauvinist idiom of the era, as “a schizophrenic woman wearing men’s pants”.

During these tormented years, her health, never good, gave way. Circulatory problems increasingly impeded her walking. She suffered the after effects of malaria, and in her last years she was almost blind.

She held to the hope that the Communist International could be reformed – as did Bukharin, Trotsky and almost all Communist oppositionists at that time. She did not quit the official Communist movement. But she could not prevent Stalin from utilising her enormous prestige for his own purposes.

On one occasion she managed to assert in print that she disagreed with the Comintern’s line. Two of her closely argued critiques of Stalinist policy somehow reached independent socialist periodicals, which published them.

Zetkin’s greatest concern was the rise of German fascism. Faced with this threat, the Communist International retreated into sectarianism, branding the Social Democrats as fascist, rejecting a broad alliance against Hitlerism, and making no attempt to prepare concerted resistance. Zetkin favoured a united front response, a position similar to that championed by Trotsky and the Left Opposition.

When the German parliament reconvened in 1932, it was Zetkin’s right, as its oldest member, to officially open the session. When she heard this, she exclaimed, “I’ll do it, dead or alive.” The Nazis vowed to kill her if she appeared. Now near death, she was carried in a chair to the speaker’s platform, to face an arrogant throng of uniformed Nazi deputies. Her voice, weak at first, grew in volume and passion, expressing both her defiance and her insight into how the fascist menace could be defeated: ...

Nonetheless, the German workers’ movement went down without making a stand. In the early months of 1933, the Nazis took power and crushed the Communist Party and the workers’ movement.

Clara Zetkin died in July that year. It was a time of defeat and demoralisation. Had she lived five years longer, she would have witnessed the Communist International turn sharply to the right, embracing alliances with bourgeois forces in defence of capitalism, while Stalin organised the murder of almost all her friends and colleagues then living in the Soviet Union".
John Riddell , Socialist Voice (Canada), April 19, 2010

 Links International, January -February 2013

In the SHS book on Clara Zetkin, Florence Herve notes that while she was treated as a heroine in the postwar GDR, idealised in stamps and sculpture and with parks named after her, nothing was said about her differences with Stalin or the leaders of the KPD.
In drawing attention to John Riddell's lecture and quoting extracts I hope this will help fill the gap, which is not coverd in the otherwise excellent SHS book,  .    

SHS Book launch at Housman's, Wednesday, June 12. 7pm  Admission £3 redeemable against any publication in the bookshop.

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Friday, June 07, 2013

Larkin in the Park


 A DAY IN THE PARK. Irish Citizens Army members parade outside Croydon House

TALKING about the tremendous wave of protest sweeping Turkey, which has led to clashes with police, and unions calling strike action, someone was saying on TV the other day that it was strange for such an explosion of anger to be started by a fight over a park.

Though I've never been to Istanbul, I can imagine that for the inhabitants of its teeming streets, proud as they may be of its historic buildings and views of the Bosphorus, being able to enjoy a breath in the park neath some fine leafy trees is something to treasure over another flaming shopping mall. I'd be on their side even without the banners of the Left to guide me.

It also occurred to me that maybe we have grown complacent over our right to parks, fresh air and green, open spaces. Just because some trees are old does not mean they were always ours to enjoy. Coming from a place whose proletarians fought for the vote at Peterloo, and later for space to roam on the moorlands, leading to the Peak District National Park, and looking at what's happening to our NHS, I'd say never take what your ancestors gained for granted.

But what the remark about the Taksim Gezi park reminded me of more topically is that this year the Irish labour movement is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Dublin transport strike and lockout. Involving more than 20,000 workers in struggle against 300 employers, this bitter dispute lasted from 26 August 1913 to 18 January 1914.  Although the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU), led by Liverpool-born James Larkin, was simply fighting for decent pay and conditions, this was a battle for the basic right to belong to a trade union.

About Dublin in 1913, Wikipedia tells us:

In 1913, one third of Dublin's population lived in slums. 30,000 families lived in 15,000 tenements. An estimated four million pledges were taken in pawnbrokers every year. The infant mortality rate amongst the poor was 142 per 1,000 births, which was very high for a European nation. The situation was made considerably worse by the high rate of disease in the slums, which was the result of a lack of health care and cramped living conditions, among other things. The most prevalent disease in the Dublin slums at this time was tuberculosis (TB), which spread through tenements very quickly and caused many deaths amongst the poor. A report published in 1912 claimed that TB-related deaths in Ireland were fifty percent higher than in England or Scotland, and that the vast majority of TB-related deaths in Ireland occurred amongst the poorer classes.     

If anyone needed to organise and raise themselves to decent conditions it was the Dublin workers. Yet organising in this city, with so many unskilled workers competing for what were often casual jobs, could not be easy. 

William Martin Murphy, the owner of the Dublin tramway corporation and much else beside, was supposed to be a charitable man in private, but in his his business he preferred casual staff as less likely to join the union, had people working up to 17 hours a day, and encouraged an informer culture so people snitched on fellow workers. A former Home Rule MP who considerd Larkin a dangerous revolutionary, Murphy owned newspapers to take his side, and rallied the employers to resist trade unionism. On August 15, 1913 he set the path by sacking 40 workers suspected of belonging to the ITGWU, and over the following weeks got rid of 300 more.   

During this struggle the workers were not only up against the employers and scabs. On August 30, two men were killed and hundreds injured when the Dublin police baton charged a crowd in Sackville Street (Now O'Connell Street) where Larkin had been addressing a rally. The Church, too, sided with the bosses and denounced socialists like Larkin and his deputy James Connolly as enemies of religion. When the socialist Dora Montafiore arranged for locked out workers' children to be given a break and be taken care of by sympathisers in England, the Church denounced this as a plot to meddle with their souls and convert them to Protestantism or atheism. Priests led mobs to stop the children embarking.

If anyone could stand up to such reactionary foes it was James Larkin. A pioneer of the flying picket and the sympathy strike as tactics, he was reknowned as an orator who could raise the morale and unity of a crowd, articulating their finest aspirations. Already before founding the ITGWU he had achived the rare feat of uniting Catholic and Protestant workers in Belfast in what began as a dock strike in 1907 and became a general strike movement even affecting the police.

But there was more to Larkin's vision of "One Big Union" than strikes and pickets. To organise women workers, but also to extend the union's reach to the workers' family and community, both to reinforce it as a union and make it a force to change society, 'Big Jim' was joined by his sister, Delia Larkin. Early in 1912 the union had acquired its Liberty Hall headquarters, and here Delia Larkin started a workers' choir and later a workers' dramatic society. There were Irish language classes, and every Christma there would be children's party, with jelly and ice cream and presents for all.

.Then on Sunday, August 3, 1913, Croydon Park, a country house with three acres of parkland at Clontarf, was opened as the union's recreation centre. There was a "Grand Temperance Fete" and children's carnival, with singing and dancing and games, and the band played all day. The park became home to two workers' football teams and a boxing team too. And come Christmas 1913, in defiance of the employers' lockout, and the barrage of attacks from priests and press, a fine Christmas tree went up in the park, along with three large marquees in which 5,000 children could be fed and entertained.
The bosses and reactionaries might paint Jim Larkin as the devil, but to many Dublin working people it was the Larkins and the union who had put a smile on the children's faces.

In September 1913, following the police brutality experienced in Dublin, Croydon Park was given another historical significance. It was here that the newly formed Irish Citizen Army would assemble to train and drill, under a former British Army officer, a son of the Protestant Ascendancy, Captain Jack White.. Begun as a workers' defence force, the Citizen Army under James Connolly's leadership would have a major role in the Easter Rising of 1916.

Why Taksim Gezi plan raised emotion

Croydon Park and the ICA.

See also:,_Humanities_%26_Social_Sciences/History/news_viewer?did=218756893

Books:  James Larkin, Irish Labour Leader, 1876-1947, by Emmet Larkin

             A Labour History of Ireland, 1824-1960, by Emmet O'Connor

             Strumpet City (novel) by James Plunkett

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Thursday, June 06, 2013

Turkey Alight

WHATEVER its place in the tangle of Middle East power struggles, with revolt in Syria, a truce in the long-drawn Kurdish freedom fight, and the Mavi Marmara case opening -Turkey has been convulsed by an upheaval that has taken commentators by surprise.

Whatever the outcome, two things seem clear. One is the brutality of the police, with their armoured vehicles, water cannon and US-supplied riot gas. Turkey's deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinç apologised for their heavy-handed tactics, which he said were "wrong and unjust", but the forces of repression were obviously well equipped and waiting for the chance to use this equipment.

The other side of the barricade sees the red flags of communists, socialists, secularists who see themselves defending Ataturk's heritage, and even some socially-progressive Islamists joining the environmental campaigners whose protest to save a park set off the touch paper. The revolt has spread from Istanbul to Ankara and other cities, and been joined by major trade unions. Though some groups remain uncertain and hesitate to join, it is hard to question the social character of this unrest.

The Left sees the destruction of Istanbul's Gezi Park for a shopping mall as part of the Erdogan government's neo-liberal capitalist agenda, and suspects the government of turning towards Islamic reaction to cover its measures.   

Here is a statement issued by the Day-Mer Turkish and Kurdish community centre in London:
On 27th May 2013, a police escorted demolition team arrived at the Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul Turkey to flatten the entire park and destroy all the parkland, including the trees. Despite resistance from local people and environmentalist groups, the site was cleared and demolition work proceeded. The police then clashed with protesters who began to occupy the Park. The activists have been camping there for three days in an attempt to stop the destruction. The demolishing soon grounded to a halt after Sırrı Süreyya Önder, an MP for the Peace and Democracy Party, stood in front of one of the bulldozers for three hours. This led to a wider resistance building up and galvanised a massive stand against the demolition of the site. The determined environmentalists, community groups, members of political parties and trade unionists continued to occupy the park until 30th May 2013.

On the morning of 30th May 2013, approximately around 5am in the morning, the police have used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd. This only increased the support for the protesters and attracted hundreds more from all sorts of backgrounds to make the resistance stronger. Turkish riot police continued to fire tear gas and water cannons into crowds of demonstrators gathered in Istanbul’s Gezi Park on Friday 31st May 2013. Despite the order by an Istanbul court for the temporary suspension of the project to uproot trees in the park, the extensive use of tear gas and water cannons on crowds resulted in serious injuries. Amnesty International has called Turkish government to halt the brutal police repression and investigate all abuses.

Despite this hundreds of working people, students, environmentalists, socialists, trade unionists, ordinary people continued to gather at the Taksim Square to oppose and show their anger against the excessive use of power by the police and the state. The standoff between security forces and protestors, now numbering thousands, has continued well into early hours of Saturday, with its end not yet in sight. Most media organisations have turned a blind eye on what is happening and stopped reporting news to the world. The government have tried to block all 3G mobile phone signals to stop the news spreading over social network sites. But there is now a wider anger against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the police in Turkey.

The unrest has spread to many cities such as Ankara, Izmir, Kayseri, Izmit, Bodrum and many more. Slogans such as ‘Erdogan must go’, ‘Erdogan out,’ and ‘Chemical Erdogan’ have been echoed by thousands of people around the country. Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan and the Istanbul Mayor, Huseyin Avni Mutlu, have denied any wrongdoing and defended vehemently the actions of the police. They went as far as labelling the protestors ‘trouble makers’ with designs to use the protests for advancing their political interests. At the time of writing this statement 3 people were confirmed to be killed and resistance of people getting bigger in every city in Turkey.

What sparked this rebellion? Turkey over the past decade has been ruled by the AKP party which is known to be an Islamic-leaning and conservative political party in Turkey. The AKP government, now in its second term in office under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, came into power with promises of EU membership, ‘zero-problems with neighbours’ foreign policy, as well as better and peaceful living conditions for all citizens. Over the first term the AKP government has failed on the assurance of EU membership primarily because of having a poor record on civil liberties, as well as not resolving the Kurdish and Alevi issue. Erdogan in his second term in office has failed dramatically over the promises of better relationships with neighbouring countries by either being in war or on the verge of war with countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria and other Middle Eastern neighbours. Most of these issues were a result of the foreign policy demands of the US from Turkey.

Despite making some efforts on the Kurdish issue, the AKP governments’ hesitance to completely resolve this issue have raised questions concerning its honesty and willingness to resolve this major issue of Turkey. This is in spite of the fact that Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) calling a ceasefire after almost 30 years of guerrilla fighting. Its promise of a prosperous and wealthy society has seen workers up and down the country taking strike actions for better pay and working conditions.

Major strike actions taken by Turkish Airline workers and DHL workers have raised international concerns regarding how workers have been treated by the employment laws imposed by the AKP government. In addition, high profile strike actions have been taken by workers in the manufacturing, coal mining and agricultural sectors against the pay and working conditions imposed by the AKP government. The biggest attack during the AKP reign has been the attacks on civil liberties, particularly on the freedom of expression. Thousands of journalists, lecturers, writers, politicians, intellectuals and ordinary people have been imprisoned and made to wait for trial in prisons in Turkey. Most recently Erdogan and his AKP party has put a ban on alcohol sales after 10pm and continued their transformation of turning the Republic of Turkey into an ‘Islamist heaven’. We need your help in stopping this state and police brutality. Given these important developments, we are urging all our friends in UK to show their solidarity by signing our online petition. This is a petition which demands the end to the violence and release of all people in custody. 

 This is a petition which demands the end to the violence and release of all people in custody. SIGN HERE


Monday, June 03, 2013

Far Right did not get far, but we hear from some of Farage's followers

 STAND OFF in Sheffield. They did not pass.

FOR Far Right extremists and followers of the English Defence League, hoping to make the most out of people's horror and anger over the barbaric murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich, it was a disappointing weekend.

Thugs and bigots may have taken the opportunity to threaten and attack Muslims and mosques at night in various parts of the country, but did not turn out in numbers for a day of protest on Saturday.
In Exeter, where the EDL had promised a "vigil", nobody turned up at all. In Bristol fewer than half a dozen EDL supporters came out, and were kept away from the cenotaph by opponents. This was quite a drop from their numbers earlier in the week when they showed their supposed respect for drummer Rigby by rampaging through part of the city and rioting in Wetherspoons.

In Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester, Oxford and Edinburgh, the EDL and its Scottish counterparts faced similar opposition, while in London where the British National Party leader Nick Griffin had earlier threatened his supporters would defy a police ban on them marching from Woolwich to Lewisham, he apparently decided discretion was the better part of valour and turned up lateish for a march in Whitehall instead.

If the BNP had been dreaming of reprising the 1977 Battle of Lewisham when the National Front was stopped by local residents and anti-fascists, in the hope of a different result, it may have been just as well for them that their provocative threat to march on the Lewisham Islamic Centre was thwarted.  No more than about 150 of them turned out, and while they failed to reach the Cenotaph as intended, some of their opponents succeeded in reaching them. 

Nick Griffin moaned: “People who wanted to come have been turned away by the police. People have been attacked by the Far Left gang on their way in, so perhaps that’s cut numbers.”
Hardly a day of triumph for the Master Race,  or for Griffin's attempt to restore his Party's flagging fortunes.

But then the far Right's efforts to hijack public feeling over Lee Rigby's horrific death had been thwarted not just by campaigners and opinion formers but by the Help for Heroes' charity whose teeshirt the young drummer had been wearing, publically refusing a donation from the EDL: by a statement from Brigadier Liles of his Fusiliers' regimental association, and by Lee Rigby's family in Manchester. (Though some of the responses to Brigadier Liles show a certain cocksureness among EDL supporters within the Army).
Lee Rigby's relatives including his mother Lyn, stepfather Ian, wife Rebecca and son Jack, said: “Lee would not want people to use his name as an excuse to attack others.

“We would not wish other families to go through this harrowing experience and appeal to everyone to keep calm.”

This simple, principled and dignified statement must have impressed a lot of people, but not everyone was willing to show respect for the grieving family. According to a leading activist of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the family were "idiots".  Asked to explain, Mr.Marty Caine, a UKIP member in Dorset said: : "Like a lot of idiots they believe the EDL are right-wing fascists I suppose."

Maybe every party has its loudmouths, unspeakable oafs and nutters, but UKIP seems to be particularly afficted with them, and following their recent electoral successes they appear to have become more outspoken. It is ironic,not to say chutzpah, that after he was surrounded and barracked by a small crowd in Edinburgh, UKIP's Nigel Farage chose to describe his opponents as "fascists". .

In Leicestershire UKIP  suspended one of its candidates Chris Scotton, 24 after it was revealed that he had “liked” the English Defence League on Facebook, as well as a site claiming racism was just “ethnic banter” and a group talking about “losing a black friend in the dark”.”

But a UKIP spokesman said: “I do not think he is a racist. He is a young lad who is taking an interest in his community and wants to get involved. We should be encouraging that.”

Eric Kitson, elected UKIP county councillor in Worcestershire, is not a "young lad", he is 59.  Kitson  had to resign his Wyre Forest seat after a row over a cartoon of a Muslim being spit-roasted on a fire fuelled by copies of the Koran, posted on his Facebook profile.  It has also shown a string of anti-Jewish remarks including false claims that the Rothschild banking dynasty had controlled Nazi ­Germany’s leader Adolf Hitler.

Mr Kitson even suggested that Mr Farage should consider uniting with Nick Griffin, and the BNP.
We are used to claims by UKIP's leader that his party is not racialist and would not allow infiltration by the BNP. But we are starting to wonder whether Nick Griffin, if he resumes his efforts at "respectability", won't feel compelled to declare he wants nothing to do with those disturbed fanatics  in UKIP.

Anna-Marie Crampton, a UKIP candidate in the Crowborough ward of East Sussex County Council, was suspended from the party in April, after internet postings in her name suggesting  that World War Two was a Jewish conspiracy.

One posting on a conspiracy theory site said: "The Second World Wide War was engineered by the Zionist Jews and financed by the banksters to make the general public all over the world feel so guilty and outraged by the Holocaust that a treaty would be signed to create the State of Israel as we know it today."

She apparently advised people to "read the Protocols of Zion, all you need to know is in there and it's in their own words". Ms.Crampton has claimed that someone else must have hijacked her Facebook and Twitter identities to post the messages. The account used carried photographs of her posing with Nigel Farage. 

The "it wasn't me" defence was not something the UKIP councillors in Lincolnshire found necessary. All 16 of them refused to sign an anti-racism declaration iintroduced by Labour.  Chris Pain, leader of the county council’s UKIP group, the official opposition, told the council's annual meeting: “I cannot support this document. “It actually pushes forward the chance of multiculturalism, one of the fundamental things that’s wrong with our society."

 And so, if the Woolwich atrocity has not brought out as many fascists as their leaders hoped, the row continues to bring out what's underneath some patriots' flags, and Farage's UKIP pound sign.

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