Thursday, October 31, 2013

Waging "Lawfare" Down Under

NOT content with misusing Australian passports for dirty operations in the Gulf and elsewhere, Israel's Mossad spying agency is behind a phoney "human rights" outfit that is trying to use Australia's courts to silence and intimidate people who oppose what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.

The Israeli law center Shurat HaDin has filed a law suit in the Australian federal court against an Australian academic, Jake Lynch, director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University, for supporting the the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Claiming that Lynch’s support of the BDS movement violates Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act, they hope to focus on his refusal to sponsor Hebrew University of Jerusalem academic Dan Avnon for a fellowship. But whatever the unfairness or otherwise of this application of the boycott (friends of Avnon say he has a good record and is not a racist), Lynch argues that it was just an individual decision, and did not prevent Avnon from obtaining other sponsors. He also points out that his Centre has more than once hosted Israeli and Jewish speakers.

Shurat HaDin is seeking a court order requiring Lynch to apologize and renounce his BDS campaign, stating that his participation in and support of the BDS movement has led to “adverse distinction, exclusion, restriction and adverse preference based on the Jewish race, descent, national and ethnic origin of goods, services, persons and organisations,” reported The Australian.
Lynch dismissed the accusations against him, saying he is certain that “we will prove, in court if necessary, that it does not amount to any form of discrimination or racism.”  

The Murdoch-owned Australian newspaper recently seized on two isolated incidents - a violent late-night attack by some drunken yobs on two Jewish couples at Bondi, and three stupid students singing Springtime for Hitler, to claim that Australia was becoming more antisemitic, and link this to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Critics said it was the newspaper which was encouraging antisemitism by equating ordinary Jewish people with the Israeli state.   

It is worth noting that the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), regarded as the highest representative body of Australian Jewish communities, and affiliated to the World Jewish Congress, has issued a statement dissociating itself from the Israeli group's lawsuit.  The ECAJ, which has campaigned to oppose BDS, says it regards the academic boycott as "repugnant", and wants to encourage more academic contacts. (Most boycott supporters would point out that their tactic is directed against institutions, not individuals, but this gets ignored). However the Australian Jewish leaders say the way to oppose BDS is with argument, not litigation.  

They may well have born in mind the ignominious collapse of  an ill-advised case brought by Ronnie Fraser, a member of the University and Colleges Union in Britain, against his union.

At any rate, ECAJ argues that litigation can be counter-productive, especially if it is pursued for political ends.

But the Israeli organisation Shurat HaDin is no bunch of amateurs. Claimed as a "civil rights" organisation - a description accepted by The Australian and other newspapers, it more accurately describes its actions as "lawfare" - waging war by using law.  When it has not been looking after the "rights" of soldiers accused of using excessive force, and officers charged with war crimes, it has increasingly turned to legal harassment of political opponents and boycott supporters.

A leaked US embassy cable revealed that in 2007, Shurat HaDin's director Nitsana Darshon-Leitner confided to a US official that her group  “took direction … on which cases to pursue” and still “receives evidence” from the Mossad and from Israel’s National Security Council.

The leaked cable was one of those passed on by Bradley Manning and published by Wikileaks. The cable’s author quotes Darshan-Leitner as explaining the government’s rationale for using a proxy rather than going to local courts directly: “The National Security Council (NSC) legal office saw the use of civil courts as a way to do things that they are not authorized to do.”

“Among her contacts, Leitner listed Udi Levy at the NSC and Uzi Beshaya at the Mossad, both key [US] Embassy contacts on anti-terrorist finance cooperation,” wrote the unnamed official who apparently authored the cable after meeting with Leitner in 2007. At the time of the cable was written, the NSC’s head was Ilan Mizrahi, a former deputy chief of Mossad.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Shurat HaDin did not reply to an email sent yesterday seeking comment on the issues raised in this article.

Besides its actions in the courts, Shurat HaDin runs an annual tour of Israeli military bases, courts, prisons, settlements and “the controversial Security Fence.”  It is called "the Ultimate Mission to Israel", and at a cost of about $3,000 per person, it offers the chance to meet Israeli soldiers and officers, undercover collaborators, cabinet ministers and to “observe a trial of Hamas terrorists in an IDF military court.”  Also promised are “briefings by Mossad officials and commanders of the Shin Bet.”

Claiming to take action against "terrorist" regimes and organisations, Shurat HaDin has been guided by the Israeli state and Mossad in pursuing legal actions against bodies deemed as handling funds for them.  

In contrast with its defence of Israeli soldiers accused of crimes, it tried to obstruct negotiations for the release of captive Gilad Schalit, according to Israeli journalist Yossi Gurvitz in the online .972 magazine.

As for deciding what constitutes "antisemitism", in 2011, Max Blumenthal discovered that a major funder for Shurat HaDin was Pastor John Hagee, the Texan evangelist who says Hitler was the "hunter" sent by God to drive out Jews and make them go to Israel. But Pastor Jack, apart from denouncing "half-breed Jews, descendants of Esau", is founder of Christians United for Israel, condemns Islam, and has given money to Im Tirzu, which witch-hunts Israeli academics considered left-wing and traitorous. So that's alright then.

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Retreat at Grangemouth is Dangerous for All

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
    But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
    You never get rid of the Dane.
Rudyard Kipling 
THE 11th-hour surrender deal agreed by my union at Grangemouth undoubtedly represents a blow not just to the workers there but to those throughout Scotland and Britain.

Responsible for a vital part in Scotland's industry and economy, the Grangemouth workers were among the best-paid, and well-organised. Unite is the biggest union in Britain, and under Len McCluskey's leadership it has advanced to the fore not only of workers' struggle to defend their rights and living standards but of the fight for working-class politics in the labour movement.

Threatened with closure of the Grangemouth refinery and petrochemical plant by a billionaire capitalist, Jim Ratcliffe, sitting on his yacht off the South of France, McCluskey and Unite have agreed to a three year wage freeze, which amounts to a pay cut as inflation continues. They have surrendered the final salary pension scheme. And they have given up facilities for union convenors and the right to strike for three years, so the Ineos company management can resume attacking workers' rights and jobs without worrying about resistance.

Trivialising this episode as just another union "sell out" or blaming Len McCluskey just to score points in Facebook discussions hardly bears up to the seriousness of the issues. But it would be foolish to claim this as a victory.

As one of Len McCluskey's critics from the Left (he still has opponents on the Right) notes: "On Friday 25 October the workforce cheered the announcement of a deal that will keep the plant open. That was a natural feeling of relief but it was hardly an endorsement of the terms or the actions of their union’s leaders. Their sense of relief will be short-lived".

 "This defeat without a fight – the very worst sort of defeat – gives a green light to every boss, CEO and manager in Britain to go on the offensive. If even an exceptionally skilled workforce, like the one at Grangemouth, and a mighty union like Unite with its left talking general secretary, can be forced to eat humble pie, then aggressive managers everywhere will be tempted to follow suit." 
 Comment by Jeremy Dewar, on Jerry Hicks' blog. 

Writing from a very different angle, Iain McWhirter in the Herald agrees:
' THE spontaneous cheers of the Grangemouth workers on Friday at the news of their capitulation said it all.

This has been one of the worst industrial relations disasters of modern times and has disturbing implications for trade unionism, the Labour Party and Scotland. The workforce only narrowly escaped with their jobs, but had to accept all of Ineos's terms - a promise not to strike, a three-year wage freeze, zero bonuses, the end of final salary pensions. It was game, set and match to private equity.

The result will have been noted by every industrial employer in Britain, as the highest-paid and best-organised (in a trade union sense) industrial workers in Scotland have been humbled. Indeed, at times Grangemouth felt like a speed-dating version of the miners' strike.'

Grangemouth bailout: Did Ineos screw the taxpayer of £134million?

ANALYST Richard Murphy is baffled by the company's books and he revealed to the Record that the company actually made £7million in profit last year.
Newspapers and politicians who like to accuse unions and their members of "holding the country to ransome" were a bit more restrained in commenting on Ineos and Jim Ratcliffe doing just that. Nobody demanded that Ineos, a private equity company which became Britain's biggest chemical firm and biggest private company, and moved its HQ to Switzerland to avoid tax, should open its books. But both City commentators and government officials wondered about its deals and accountancy techniques. Not least accountants hired by Unite.    

"Rather than losing money, as the company claim, the chemical plant at Grangemouth delivered £7million in profits last year, analyst Richard Murphy told the Daily Record.
His claims fuelled speculation that Ineos used smart accounting techniques to paint a bleaker
future for the plant and secure taxpayers’ cash.
Murphy said the plant made £6million profit the year before, even after a pension fund shortfall was factored in.
Ineos claim it loses £10million a month.

Murphy, of Fulcrum Chartered Accountants, studied the Ineos accounts on behalf of the union Unite. He says the plant was making a fortune until Ineos apparently set out to make it appear loss-making.
He said Ineos, unlike any other company, decided to factor in their investment in the plant as a loss.
Yesterday, Treasury officials involved in negotiating a £125million infrastructure loan to Ineos said they had to ask for more information from the company over the complex financial structure.
The Scottish government have also chipped in with £9million of grants, making a total of £134million.
Ineos appeared to have presented their accounts in a way which emphasised their need for an urgent injection of finance to underwrite future infrastructure costs."

With Grangemouth there was more than the 800 jobs of  refinery workers at stake. As Jeremy Dewar notes:
"Grangemouth supplies 70 per cent of Scotland’s petrol pump supplies as well as a considerable amount in the North of England and the North East of Ireland. It processes 200,000 barrels a day and powers the Forties pipeline which transports a third of the North Sea’s output. At least 10,000 Scottish jobs depend on Grangemouth, which accounts for £1 billion of trade and makes up 8 per cent of Scotland’s manufacturing output..
As McWhirter tells us, "Grangemouth is key to the North Sea's biggest oil field - the BP-operated Forties field 110 miles east of Aberdeen. Up to one-third of the North Sea's entire crude oil production is fed directly into the Grangemouth site. During the strike in Grangemouth in 2008, 70 North Sea platforms were forced to shut down or reduce production. It is hardly surprising therefore that BP - former owner of Grangemouth - was heavily involved in this week's rescue and helped underwrite the new business plan."

There was also a complex political dimension to this battle. While the workers were still locked out and Ineos was pleading poverty, Labour MP Michael Connarty offered to take them at their word. "I would buy the plant for £1!", he told a rally outside the gates, adding that if Ratcliffe got a pay freeze and government subsidy he would be printing money.

But Ineos had already been making its own use of the Labour Party connection. In the run up to the attack on pay and pensions they used the row over Falkirk Constituency Labour Party to victimise Grangemouth convenor Stevie Deans, who is also chair of the CLP, and was accused of encouraging Unite members and friends to join the Labour Party. (A serious offence!) Why should a Swiss-based company be concerned with Labour's selection processes?  One might as well ask who told Ed Miliband that he should ask the police to investigate whether there had been a Labour Party rule infringement?  As it was there were no charges to answer, and after Unite balloted members for strike action Stevie Deans was reinstated.

But Ineos had got its diversion, and opportunity to probe the union's defences and undermine its solidarity. And now, as workers return to a no strike deal, the Murdoch press heralds a renewed witch hunt against Deans in the Labour Party.

A lot of people were quite rightly raising the call to nationalise Grangemouth. With so much public money going in, and a private company ready to close down Scotland, why not? But who would do it? If the Con Dem coalition were unlikely to nationalise, how about the Scottish government? I'm not sure what powers it has, but has it the will-power?

With the independence referendum coming, and the Scottish National Party(SNP) concerned to fight off any challenge from Labour (to whom it has just lost the Dunfermline by-election), would its leader act boldly to save jobs and the Scottish economy, not to mention the SNP's radical and progressive image?

 Salmond spoke not about nationalising but about finding buyers for Grangemouth.  (Apparently the Chinese already have a share).
"At the same time, Salmond was on the line to Unite general secretary Len McClusky trying to persuade him that industrial madness had afflicted his Grangemouth office and that he had better have a word with them. The consequences might not only be a collapse of union membership - that's happening anyway - but serious damage to the Labour Party in Scotland. Johann Lamont is a Unite member and the union backed her leadership campaign in 2011.

Some Labour people might have been content to see the plant close, the better to damage Salmond, but the people of Scotland were looking for a solution, not another 1980s industrial horror show. This alerted Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has of course been in dispute with Unite over the Falkirk selection fiasco.

There were also direct appeals to the Grangemouth workers who had been divided on the action, about half having voted against it. By Wednesday night, confident of the workers' agreement, Salmond had persuaded Ratcliffe and brokered a deal which involved Ineos reopening the plant, investing £300m (most of which was effectively underwritten by the government) to provide a 20-year future for Grangemouth as a global player turning shale gas from America into plastics."
So now we can better understand Len McCluskey's reference to the "security of Scotland" when he announced his surrender plan.

Could there have been another way? It seems to me that in the present political situation, workers have to be prepared to occupy and take over plants, offices, banks and anything else, rather than being advised to wait passively for government -and a hostile government at that - to nationalise. At the same time I'm aware that's not easy, and saying "just like UCS", referring to an occupation more than thirty years ago in pre-Thatcher Britain, will not suffice to give confidence.

According to Jerry Hicks' supporters, "Unite could have altered the whole history of the dispute by organising the immediate occupation of the plant as soon as the lock out was threatened in mid-October. Its members would have been called on to close down the refinery; with union backing they could have refused and the workforce seized control of the equipment and the dispute.

Flying pickets and solidarity action around Britain’s other refineries would soon have had an effect in the petrol stations across the country. From a position of strength, the  British and Scottish governments should have been faced with the demand that Grangemouth be nationalised ..."  
Just like that?

Even if Len McCluskey had felt able and willing to call such action, there is no guarantee it would have been supported. As Jeremy Dewar notes elsewhere the union was only able to get 60 per cent support for opposing the Ineos plans.

Dewar speaks of the need to build a rank and file movement and "wrest control" of the union, but I think focussing on elected officers (at a time when many union reps are victimised), official's salaries and leadership ballots, even if you are right, is not confronting the all-round political class consciousness which we need. Not that the political 'left' as it manifests itself these days is that much help.   

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Could it be the end for Copland?

IT's almost a year since I went to a quiz night in Wembley, and teamed up with a trio of teachers. While we didn't win, I learned from them an interesting piece of information, namely that the former head of Copland School where they taught was to appear in court with five associates on charges of fraud and money-laundering.

Since the long-running affair at Copland had at one stage seen the suspension of the teachers held responsible for whistleblowing, and the school and its pupils are suffering from lack of funds, one could hardly accuse my informants of being vindictive when they nodded satisfaction that the head and his team looked like facing custodial sentences.

But this month, as teachers throughout the country joined action to defend their pensions, the news from the court and from Copland school was a bit of an education.

First,  the knighted "superhead” Sir Alan Davies and five former colleagues walked free from court on October 3, when prosecutors dropped charges that they had plotted to defraud Brent Council of £2.7m in bonuses.

Davies, 65, had been accused of authorising illegal  payments over six years while he was headmaster of Copland School in Wembley. He was said to have received more than £900,000 in “inappropriate payments” himself.

But the conspiracy charge against him and five other senior figures was dropped. Instead he pleaded guilty to six counts of false accounting between April 2007 and June 2009.

Judge Deborah Taylor sentenced him to 12 months imprisonment suspended for two years.

“I take into account your achievements but your dishonesty represents a very great fall from grace,” she said. He had failed to ensure transparent management at the school and had lied to protect himself. “What sort of message does that send out as head of a school when you resorted to lies?”

Davies has admitted tampering with dates on payroll forms but insisted the cash was honestly paid to and received by him. He was also acquitted of a further count of money laundering for allegedly flushing more than £270,000 of dirty money raked in from the scam from a NatWest bank account into a Spanish account in May 2008.

Davies’ alleged co-conspirators were formally cleared.They included Dr Richard Evans, 55, a former deputy head and education advisor to PM David Cameron, who had been accused of pocketing £600,000.

Also in the dock were the former chair of governors, Dr Indravadan Patel, 73, the former school bursar, Columbus Udokoro, 62, HR manager Michelle McKenzie, 53, and ex-vice chair of governors, Martin Day, were also accused of being involved in the alleged fraud on Brent Council.

Brent Council may now seek compensation through the civil courts.

Copland school was placed under "special measures" this year after an Ofsted report said it was  inadequate in almost all areas.  Headmaster Graeme Plunkett who took over in September 2010was reportedly told he would have to go. 

Teachers and students at Copland may have wondered whether Mr. Plunkett was taking blame for problems not of his making. Among the criticisms outlined by Ofsted was the state of the school building which it said provided an “unacceptable environment for learning.”

Copland school student directly confronted David Cameron on the neglected state of the school buildings.

Dilapidated classrooms at Copland were due to be rebuilt with money from the Building Schools for the Future fund, but Tory Education minister Michael Gove scrapped that programme. Copland was the only local authority controlled secondary school in the borough but within weeks it was announced it would be converted to an academy.

Many fear Copland's  future has been settled, and it hasn't any.    

Now a correspondent calling theirself 'Mistleflower' has written in the blog Wembley Matters on October 16  drawing attention to further developments:
The cull in the summer resulted in the end in Copland losing around  60 staff, most taking ‘voluntary’ redundancy either because they were desperate to get away from the last regime’s shambolic mismanagement or they saw the way the wind was blowing with the new one (cut Copland to the bone, close it down, flog it off). Many of the teachers who left were happy, like myself, to do supply teaching rather than stay.

I now hear that Phase 2 of the process has begun. Around 50  support staff have been informed that 32 of them are to be made redundant. These include such people as library staff, pastoral support workers, science technicians, mentoring staff, caretakers, ICT technicians and, ( in the week that ex-Copland footballer Raheem Sterling was included in Roy Hodgson’s England squad for the World Cup qualifier), the football coach. Apart from the obviously essential nature of their work, people like these liaise with parents at difficult times, help motivate students, keep them on track and generally promote the social cohesion which is at the heart of any school community. ( Those wielding the axe might need  to look up those two words ‘heart’ and ‘community’).

As in July, in all of this, agreed procedures are being ignored, possibly illegally.

Phase 3, it has apparently already been announced, will take the axe to the Teaching Assistants, the staff who provide in-class support for children with special learning, language or emotional needs, ( Every Child Matters is soooo last century).

After that? Well, what remains of the place is still sitting in a very nice location and the few staff who remain can maybe get jobs helping to clear the site for the next Carpet Warehouse. One way or another, it looks like it will be an Absolute Return for someone, but clearly  not for the current kids and staff at Copland.
I don't know how much it will cost Brent to try and recover some of its money. Maybe I will meet up again with my teacher friends on Monday when I go to another quiz match - one of a series being held by the Save Preston Library campaigners, who fought Brent council over the closure of their local library, another affect of government austerity and the council's cuts.

If not there, then maybe some teachers will come to the public meeting which Brent Trade Union Council is holding on Thursday evening at the Methodist Church in Harlesden. Guest speaker is Kingsley Abrams, a member of the Unite union national executive, speaking on the fight against Austerity. Kingsley made his name as a Labour councillor in Lambeth, by refusing to vote for cuts. That lost him the Labour whip. But it could win him the Labour nomination for the Brent Central parliamentary constituency. And if Brent Labour party has the sense and spirit to nominate him he could get in.  But that's a big if, mind. 

Wednesday 23rd October

The Fight Against Austerity

Speaker: Kingsley Abrams   National Executive member, Unite the union, and Lambeth Labour Councillor

7.30 p.m., Harlesden Methodist Church Hall, 25 High Street Harlesden,  London, NW10 4NE

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

More on that WHO report

LAST month the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a long-awaited report summarising the findings of an investigation into congenital birth defects in Iraq which many people had expected would point to a link between their prevalence and the use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions by US and allied forces.

To the surprise of those who had awaited it, this 'summary report' finds:
"The rates for spontaneous abortion, stillbirths and congenital birth defects found in the study are consistent with or even lower than international estimates. The study provides no clear evidence to suggest an unusually high rate of congenital birth defects in Iraq."
Although critics have suggested there were odd features to this report, Jaffar Hussain, WHO's Head of Mission in Iraq, said it was based on survey techniques that are "renowned worldwide" and that the study was peer reviewed "extensively" by international experts.
Writing in the Guardiant this week ,Dr.Nafeez Ahmed reminds us of the Iraqi Health Ministry officials who told the BBC there would be "damning evidence" of the links between depleted uranium use and birth defects.

"For years, medical doctors in Iraq have reported "a high level of birth defects." Other peer-reviewed studies have documented a dramatic increase in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia in the aftermath of US military bombardment. In Fallujah, doctors are witnessing a "massive unprecedented number" of heart defects, and an increase in the number of nervous system defects. Analysis of pre-2003 data compared to now showed that "the rate of congenital heart defects was 95 per 1,000 births - 13 times the rate found in Europe."

Nafeez Ahmed quotes  Dr. Keith Bavistock of the Department of Environmental Science, University of Eastern Finland,  a retired WHO expert on radiation and health who says the WHO 'summary document' is  "disappointing."
"This document is not of scientific quality. It wouldn't pass peer review in one of the worst journals. One of the biggest methodological problems, among many, is that the document does not even attempt to look at existing medical records in Iraqi hospitals - these are proper clinical records which document the diagnoses of the relevant cases being actually discovered by Iraqi doctors. These medics collecting clinical records are reporting higher birth defects than the study acknowledges. Instead, the document focuses on interviews with mothers as a basis for diagnosis, many of whom are traumatised in this environment, their memories unreliable, and are not qualified to make diagnosis."
Asked whether there was reason to believe the WHO report had been politically compromised, Dr. Baverstock  said:
"The way this document has been produced is extremely suspicious. There are question marks about the role of the US and UK, who have a conflict of interest in this sort of study due to compensation issues that might arise from findings determining a link between higher birth defects and DU. I can say that the US and UK have been very reluctant to disclose the locations of DU deployment, which might throw further light on this correlation."
Dr.Ahmed says this has happened before:
"In 2001, Baverstock was on the editorial board for a WHO research project clearing the US and UK of responsibility for environmental health hazards involved in DU deployment. His detailed editorial recommendations accounting for new research proving uranium's nature as as a genotoxin (capable of changing DNA) were ignored and overruled:
"My editorial changes were suppressed, even though some of the research was from Department of Defense studies looking at subjects who had ingested DU from friendly fire, clearly proving that DU was genutoxic."
Baverstock then co-authored his own scientific paper on the subject arguing for plausibility of the link between DU and high rates of birth defects in Iraq, but said that WHO blocked publication of the study"because they didn't like its conclusions."
"The extent to which scientific principles are being bent to fit politically convenient conclusions is alarming", said Baverstock.
The British medical journal, The Lancet, reports that despite the study's claims, a "scientific standard of peer review... may not have been fully achieved."
One scientist named as a peer-reviewer for the project, Simon Cousens, professor of epidemiology and statistics at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), told The Lancet that he "attended a relatively brief meeting of around one and a half hours, so just gave some comments on an early presentation of the results. I wouldn't classify that as thorough peer review."
Nafeez Ahmad also contrasts the WHO findings with those of a Japanese-based human rights network which investigated recorded birth defects at a major hospital in Fallujah for the year 2012, confirmed first hand birth defect incidences over a one-month period in 2013, and interviewed doctors and parents of children born with birth defects. The report concluded there was:
"... an extraordinary situation of congenital birth defects in both nature and quantity. The investigation demonstrated a significant rise of these health consequences in the period following the war... An overview of scientific literature relating to the effects of uranium and heavy metals associated with munitions used in the 2003 Iraq War and occupation, together with potential exposure pathways, strongly suggest that environmental contamination resulting from combat during the Iraq War may be playing a significant role in the observed rate of birth defects."
The report criticised both the UN and the WHO for approaches that are "insufficient to meet the needs of the issues within their mandate."
Hans von Sponeck, former UN assistant secretary general and UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq,says it would justify public skepticism:
"The brevity of this report is unacceptable", he told me:
"Everybody was expecting a proper, professional scientific paper, with properly scrutinised and checkable empirical data. Although I would be guarded about jumping to conclusions, WHO cannot be surprised if people ask questions about whether the body is giving into bilateral political pressures."
Von Sponeck said that US political pressure on WHO had scuppered previous investigations into the impact of DU on Iraq:
"I served in Baghdad and was confronted with the reality of the environmental impact of DU. In 2001, I saw in Geneva how a WHO mission to conduct on-spot assessments in Basra and southern Iraq, where depleted uranium had led to devastating environmental health problems, was aborted under US political pressure."
Asked whether such political pressure on the UN body could explain the unscientific nature of the latest report, Von Sponeck said "It would not be surprising if such US pressure has continued".
"There is definitive evidence of an alarming rise in birth defects, leukaemia, cancer and other carcinogenic diseases in Iraq after the war. Looking at the stark difference between previous descriptions of the WHO study's findings and this new report, it seems that someone, somewhere clumsily decided that they would not release these damning findings, but instead obscure them."

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Monday, October 07, 2013

Newport Pride

NEWPORT'S HERITAGE.   Lost but not forgotten, part of Kenneth Budd's mural commemorating events of 1839.

TWO rival demonstrations kept apart by police took place outside Lunar House, in Croydon, the headquarters of the UK Border Agency, on Saturday. About 20 British National Party supporters hoping to boost their far-Right party by blaming immigrants for the country's problems were opposed by four times that number of trade unionists mobilised by Croydon Trade Union Council.

Two different demonstrations far apart across the country but separated only by geography took place on Saturday and Sunday, in Newport, Gwent and Kensington, London, respectively. In the second demonstration people were protesting outside the Daily Mail office over that Tory paper's attack on Labour leader Ed Miliband which smeared his late father Ralph Miliband's views, calling him the "Man who hated Britain". Half the demonstrators carried placards proudly saying they were "Hated by the Daily Mail", while the other half's placards simply said "We hate the Daily Mail!"

Leaving my friends to argue which was the more appropriate slogan (a debate which Jonathan Swift would have enjoyed recording better than I can), I remain focused on the Mail's defence for its "hated Britain" headline, claiming that despite serving in the Royal Navy during the war, Ralph Miliband retained "nothing but hatred for the values, traditions and institutions — including our great schools, the Church, the Army and even the Sunday papers — that made Britain the safe and free nation in which he and his family flourished."

You could not make it up.

There is another narrative about those to whom we owe our freedom, and the traditions they have bequeathed us, and it was because they know and value their history that the people in Newport, Gwent, were demonstrating on Saturday.  

In 1832, after huge agitation which had grown throughout Britain, Parliament passed the Reform Act, which extended the vote to the property-owning middle class, but left working people outside with nothing. Feeling used and betrayed, the awakened working class and those who wanted radical change and democracy started to organise in support of a 6-point charter aimed at making parliament work for the people. But parliament, used to serving vested interests under the Crown resisted. The Chartists' petition, signed by 1,280,958 people, and brought to London to be carried in procession on May 7, 1839, was delivered to parliament after the Whitsun recess on June 14. But on July 12, when it was moved by the Birmingham MP Attwood, to be considered by a committee of the whole House, the motion was rejected by 235 votes to 46.   

The Chartists had tried doing things the constitutional way and been answered. They had to discuss what to do next. The government and its spies were watching, and preparing. "The spirit of revolution is strong and increasing," General Sir Charles Napier warned the Home Secretary Lord Russell on 16 July, 1839. There was trouble in Newcastle and Birmingham, and three days of fighting around Bolton. In August the miners of the North East began what they hoped would become a general strike. But on September 14 the Chartists' national convention broke up having reversed its support for a "National Holiday", as delegates called their strike plan.

In Monmouthshire, where more than 15,000 people had signed the petition, including over 1,000 women, people were angry over the arrest of a Chartist called Henry Vincent, who had been charged with making "inflammatory speeches" and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment by the Monmouth Assizes.  

Wales had already seen an earlier rising at Merthyr, and the miners and ironworkers, hardened by their own work conditions and struggles, were in no mood for passivity. In Newport, too, while wealth accumulated for a few, there was desperate poverty. John Frost, a Newport councillor and magistrate who was forced to stand down as mayor after attending the Chartist Convention, toured Wales urging people not to break the law with acts of violence. He called instead for people to march on Newport for a mass protest demanding the release of Henry Vincent.

Whatever Frost intended, this was not destined to be a peaceful protest. As the Chartists set out, Frost leading a column from the west, Zephaniah Williams leading those from Blackwood to the north-west, and William Jones bringing up a column from Pontypool to the north, they were joined by many miners who had armed themselves as best they could expecting a clash. On the other hand witnesses who saw the marchers pass remarked on the number with crutches or artificial limbs, a reminder of the dangerous conditions in the mines. Altogether as many as 5,000 people may have taken part in the march, including an entire chapel congregation that joined them on the Sunday morning. But not all made it into Newport.

Meanwhile the authorities in Newport had been preparing. The Mayor had sworn in 500 Special Constables and asked for more troops to be sent. There were about 60 soldiers stationed in Newport already, and he gathered 32 soldiers of the Nottinghamshire Foot in the Westgate Hotel where Vincent and other Chartist prisoners were being held.

By the time the marchers arrived in the town they were exhausted and bedraggled after their overnight marching and soaking in rain. Seeing the police and specials outside the hotel, and hearing that more Chartists had been arrested, the first marchers tried to rush it, but according to a witness they were "no match for the police and specials, armed with their staves of office. They accordingly withdrew for a few moments to procure whatever they could lay their hands on in the form of weapons - guns, staves, pikes, hay forks, sickles, and even spades were hastily seized by the excited and turbulent mob!

"Some of the women who had joined the crowd kept instigating the men to attack the hotel - one old virago vowing that she would fight till she was knee-deep in blood, sooner than the Cockneys should take their prisoners out of the town. She, with others of her sex, gathered large heaps of stones, which they subsequently used in defacing and injuring the building which contained the prisoners. When the mob had thus armed themselves, the word 'Forward!' was given, and as soon as they were within hearing of the police, they imperatively demanded the release of their friends, which demand was of course refused".
Though the angry crowd did storm the hotel, and briefly got into the building to try and free their comrades, they were soon forced to retreat by the trained and better armed soldiers. By the time the fighting ended a couple of dozen Chartists had been shot and killed, and more than 50 were wounded. The others withdrew from Newport. This was the last rising of its kind in Great Britain, though it was not the end of the Chartists.

Two hundred people were arrested for their part in the Newport events, and 21 were charged with high treason. John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones were found guilty on the charge of high treason and sentenced to be hung drawn and quartered. After a nationwide petitioning campaign and, extraordinarily, direct lobbying of the Home Secretary by the Lord Chief Justice, Viscount Melbourne, this was commuted to transportation to Van Diemens Land for life. John Frost was pardoned in 1856 and allowed to return to Britain, receiving a triumphant welcome in Newport, though he settled instead near Bristol, and continued to write articles calling for reform.

 Some years ago, on holiday with friends at
 St.Briavel's Castle, we paid a visit to Newport, and by
the spot on the bank of the River Usk from which the
three Chartists were deported, I took a picture of this
plaque in their memory.
It was originally unveiled by the author Alexander Cordell,
whose novel Rape of the Fair Country was inspired by the
events of the Newport rising. 

But in 1978 a far more impressive and colourful memorial to the Newport Chartists was set up in an underpass, in the form of a 35m (115ft) mural mosaic created by artist Kenneth Budd, using 200,000 pieces of tile and glass to depict the insurrection. It became a favourite of both visitors and local people, who could take their children to see it, and tell them about their stirring history.

Alas now no one can see it, because on Thursday the Newport council's bulldozers brought it down, as part of clearing the way for a £100m shopping centre development. The council had said it would  cost £600,000 to save and move the mural. The Welsh heritage body Cadw declined to list the 1970s mosaic which was in a city centre subway off John Frost Square.

Some 4,000 signatures had been collected to save the mural, to no avail. So on Saturday, mixing sadness and anger, people gathered for a rally in Newport centre and hundreds marched to hand in a letter to sympathetic councillors, and tell the council how they felt about what it had done to Newport's pride.

PHOTOS - Lloyd David Miller

And on a side note:


David Jones    The Last Rising  OUP (1983)

Ivor Wilkes     South Wales and the Rising of 1839  Gomer (1989)

David Black and Chris Ford   1839: the Chartist Insurrection (2012)

Alexander Cordell - Rape of the Fair Country (novel) Victor Golancz (1959)

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Thursday, October 03, 2013

History in the Mail

THE Tory Daily Mail has worked wonders, projecting Labour leader Ed Miliband into the limelight in the week of the Tory party conference, lending him not just sympathy but respect, and raising fighting morale both within and beyond the ranks of the Labour Party. None of this was intentional of course, but though it might have served temporarily to divert attention from some of the nasty stuff the Tories are preparing, it has been a bonus to the labour movement on top of Labour's own conference and the massive TUC-backed demonstration for the NHS and against austerity which greeted the Tories on their arrival in Manchester at the weekend.

The Mail has it in for Miliband, it's said, because he dared come out for press regulation after the results of the Leveson inquiry. How dare any elected leader try to interfere with the power of billionaire press barons to  do and say what they like in their idea of "democracy"?  But that's not all.

Miliband's promise to freeze fuel prices, and Labour conference calls to reverse privatisation of the Royal Mail and railways are hardly revolutionary, but along with the emotive issue of healthcare they could help persuade working class voters that Labour is back on their side, and they also appeal to middle class people long disillusioned with privatised utilities and services. The Mail and the Daily Express both ran stories accusing Miliband of wiping millions off share prices, and the Express even carried an "Exclusive" predicting that this would cause power cuts and blackouts in 2015.

But then realising perhaps that readers might be more worried about the prices on their bills than of shares, and fear a freeze on homes this Winter rather than one on prices, the Mail must have decided to go for a "Red" scare instead and the kind of patriotism that is the last refuge of scoundrels.

How to present mild-spoken Miliband, previously depicted as an ineffectual Mr.Bean-like character, as some dangerous fiery red revolutionary inciting class war? The job was entrusted to a Mail hack called Geoffrey Levy, more often turning out little stories about the royals. He seems to have turned to a book about Ed and Dave Miliband's father Ralph, , the Marxist academic, who was brought to this country as a refugee from Nazism, and gleaning from it a remark the teenage Ralph Miliband made in his diary about nationalist Englishmen, produced an article headlined "A Man Who Hated Britain". 

To be fair the article did mention that Ralph Miliband went on to serve in the Royal Navy - he was on a destroyer during the Normandy landings. But understandably it forgot to mention that the Mail's pre-war hero Sir Oswald Mosley had meanwhile served his sentence under Defence Regulation 18B, or to acknowledge that if papers like the Daily Mail, hostile then as now to asylum seekers had  their way, people like the ungrateful Milibands would never have been allowed into this country.

 For a period in the 1930s the Mail ran articles such as that by Tory MP Sir Thomas More headed "The Blackshirts Have What Conservatives Need",(April 25, 1934) and "Hurrah for the Blackshirts!" by the newspaper's proprietor, Viscount Rothermere. (July 8,1934). The paper's enthusiasm for Mosley later cooled, whether because of his declining fortunes or their decreasing advertising revenue, But Lord Rothermere (below, left) had a more important hero figure on the Continent.

As he had written in 1933:

" I urge all British young men and women to study closely the progress of the Nazi regime in Germany. They must not be misled by the misrepresentations of its opponents. The most spiteful detracters of the Nazis are to be found in precisely the same sections of the British public and press as are most vehement in their praises of the Soviet regime in Russia. They have started a clamorous campaign of denunciation against what they call "Nazi atrocities" which, as anyone who visits Germany quickly discovers for himself, consists merely of a few isolated acts of violence such as are inevitable among a nation half as big again as ours, but which have been generalized, multiplied and exaggerated to give the impression that Nazi rule is a bloodthirsty tyranny."
Rothermere fully understood one special feature of Nazi policy. As he explained:

 "The German nation, moreover, was rapidly falling under the control of its alien elements. In the last days of the pre-Hitler regime there were 20 times as many Jewish Government officials in Germany as had existed before the war. Israelites of international attachments were insinuating themselves into key positions in the German administrative machine. Three German Ministries only had direct relations with the Press, but in each case the official responsible for conveying news and interpreting policy to the public was a Jew. It is from such abuses that Hitler has freed Germany."

Hitler responded with a letter appreciating Lord Rothermere's support, and the friendship continued as the Nazis went on to extend the benefits of their rule and methods to neighbouring countries. In a message to Hitler congratulating him on the annexation of Czachoslovakia, Rothermere urged the Fuhrer to carry on further:

Some people have complained that it's wrong to judge a newspaper by bringing up "an article written eighty years ago", but apparently it is OK to attack the leader of the Labour Party on the basis of what his father confided to his diary when he was 16 years old. 

The Mail's normally outspoken editor Paul Dacre has been a bit quiet so far, or maybe he is otherwise engaged.  His father Peter Dacre performed outstanding service during the War, covering the West End for Express newspapers about the time Ralph Miliband was in the Navy. Doesn't sound like a reserved occupation, but Express owner Lord Beaverbrook was in the government. 

The present day owner of the Mail and 4th Viscount Rothermere loves Britain to the tune of a £40m neo-Palladian stately home in 220 acres of grounds in Wiltshire, where he spends time with his family, plus a flat in London’s Eaton Square, handy for the Mail's Kensington offices or his seat in the House of Lords, but he is no narrow-minded patriot, also owning a chateau in the Dordogne. This may explain how he manages to claim foreign domicile and therefore exemption from tax on income, including dividends from the Daily Mail and General Trust plc, that he keeps offshore. Just because you love this country and its venerable institutions does not mean you must contribute to their upkeep. Leave that to the mugs on PAYE.

Keeping up the French connection, the Mail has given support to a more recent fascist than the two we've named.
And to round things off, one man who has written in praise of the attack on the Milibands is the British National Party's Nick Griffin, fresh back from telling his own party conference about  his "peace mission" to Syria.

Oddly enough, nasty Nick takes the accusation back to Miliband's grandfather Samuel, and this is not the first time one of the Miliband brothers has been attacked this way. In 2007 one of Putin's aide's suggested then incoming Foreign Secretary David Miliband had inherited an anti-Russian gene from his Polish-born grandfather, whom he alleged belonged to an "organisation commanded by Trotsky" -presumably he meant the Red Army!  The Mail back then had no difficulty detecting a whiff of antisemitism about this targeting.

I've never met either of the Miliband brothers, though I wrote to David Miliband on behalf of the Jewish Socialists' Group complaining about the denial of visas to a Palestinian under-19 football team who had been invited to train and play a couple of friendlies in this country. I don't know what the Foreign Secretary thought about my arguments for welcoming such contacts, as he passed the matter on to some Foreign and Commonwealth Office civil servant who stuck to the technicalities of applying for and issuing visas. Well, Miliband was new to the job, and perhaps he did not want to discuss an issue that would not help his position in government.

I was introduced to the Milibands' mother, Ralph Miliband's widow Marion some years ago, oddly enough at a meeting about the Middle East, in Brussels. (Perhaps she would have made a better Foreign Secretary than her son David). She was asking me whether people still read Ralph Miliband's books. It occurred to me afterwards that contrary to Jewish mother stereotypes she had not said anything about her sons, who were already prominent in the Labour Party.

The joke used to be that Ralph Miliband had written books arguing that socialism was nothing to with parliament and the Labour Party, and his two sons had loyally set out to prove the old man right. I see Len McCluskey has used that gag already.

I missed the chance to meet Ralph back in 1982, when he attended a meeting in County Hall to protest the war in Lebanon, bringing with him the Belgian Jewish scholar Marcel Liebman (author of Leninism Under Lenin). 

Friends who studied under Ralph Miliband at Leeds speak of his "warmth", and "inspiration", saying he was fair and encouraging even when you disagreed with him.  More surprisingly, even a former Thatcher aide is disgusted with the Daily Mail and praises Ralph's integrity:

But then, let's face it, this is not really just a row about the Milibands, father and sons, nor the leadership of the Labour Party.  When even Tories like Cameron and Michael Hesseltine are uneasy about what the Mail has done, we may sense it has gone too far, but it has not strayed far from the direction it has always gone.  

Defending its claim that Ralph Miliband "hated Britain", the Mail now says, "... what is blindingly clear from everything he wrote throughout his life is that he had nothing but hatred for the values, traditions and institutions — including our great schools, the Church, the Army and even the Sunday papers — that made Britain the safe and free nation in which he and his family flourished."

With the Tory party holding its conference yards from where the Peterloo massacre took place, we might remember with what struggles and sacrifice such freedoms and rights as we still enjoy were really won, and note the British traditions and institutions which are not part of the Daily Mail list, such as our trade unions, our right to protest, our co-operatives and the NHS, and yes, the socialism developed here by Owen and William Morris, and the immigrants Fred Engels and Karl Marx. In other words, the Britain that the Mail hates!

Because there are two different, opposed Britains, or as another immigrant's son recognised, in a phrase recently adopted but seemingly misunderstood, Two Nations. Or two classes, to be correct.

Many people probably know that it was the Daily Mail which used the so-called Zinoviev Letter to attack Labour, referring to "instructions" given the Socialists by their supposed "Masters" in Moscow. We might also point out that the slogan "For King and Country" which ran at the masthead of the Mail for many years was originally the headline for an editorial attacking the miners and trade unions in 1926. That editorial did not appear because the Mail's printworkers back then refused to print it, and that was how they joined the General Strike.

Conditions have changed, but the sides are the same. Once again our enemies want to denounce opponents as traitors and outlaws, as they wrap their greed for profit in the flag.

Meanwhile, Marion Miliband may like to know that it's an ill wind that blows no good, thanks to whoever took this pic:

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