Sunday, December 29, 2013

Carry On Cutting - With Carrion Carillion

WHILE people in the London Borough of Brent have seen their local libraries "reorganised" out of existence by a so-called Labour council that brushed aside public protests, what is happening in the neighbouring borough of Harrow?

Surrounding the picturesque hilltop village with its straw-boatered public schoolboys, a privileged island, the rest of Harrow is just like any other borough, with similar problems, not helped by industrial decline. The council had a Labour majority until a split in the Labour group gave it no overall majority and opened the way for Tory control.

This year the council announced it would pay council tenants to move out and get homes in the private sector, so as to free council housing. Harrow has also been handing over council services to private interests, though this was not just something the Tories began.

A friend posts an item on Brent Fightback's Facebook page:

    Harrow braced for cuts in library staff under new manager

Carillion, which has taken over the running of Harrow's 11 libraries, is to review staffing with job losses likely  

By John Shammas 27 Dec 2013 09:39

Cutbacks in staff at libraries in Harrow are on their way despite new management, the Harrow Observer has learned.

Harrow Council transferred the day-to-day management of its 11 libraries to an arms-length management company in September, John Laing Integrated Services (JLIS), that was taken over by construction giant Carillion only the following month.

Tony Henderson, group media relations manager at Carillion said: “Announcements were made to staff on the November 20. The number of roles at risk will be confirmed during the consultation process. There are discussions with staff and their trade unions and no decisions have been made yet."

The announcement has sparked outrage from local trade union representatives, who have claimed they were not adequately consulted, and the Harrow branch of public sector UNISON claimed 29 posts would be lost.

A Harrow UNISON spokesman said: “It appears that drastic staffing reductions seem to be the only way in which private companies can seek profit from local authority services signalling a recipe of reduced service quality when public services are outsourced.”

A spokesman for Harrow Council said: “John Laing had already begun a review of staffing when the change to Carillion occurred – the arrival of Carillion has had no effect on the jobs review. The quality of the contract has remained unchanged and Harrow Council sought guarantees on that during the changeover.

“Even if the libraries service had remained in-house, the financial climate would have meant Harrow Council having to review the staffing position.”

There were 107 library staff who transferred from the council’s employment to JLIS as part of the outsourcing of the library management.

When Harrow Council’s then cabinet member for community and culture Councillor Nizam Ismail (Independent Labour) signed the contract with JLIS, he said: “We’re delighted that we have managed to secure a positive future for our library service.”

The "Independent Labour' councillors in Harrow originately split with the main party in a row that was supposed to be about alleged racialism. It is ironic that an "Independent Labour' councillor signed the contract which Carillion has now taken over, considering some of the allegations that have been made against Carillion.

That was in Swindon, where this same company took over management of hospital services, and has since been making cuts.

But Carillion has also been at the centre of the row over blacklisting in the construction industry, with the GMB union taking legal action against the company, and trying to persuade councils to block it from contracts. The company had been due to have a stall at the 2013 Labour Party conference, but was kicked out because of the blacklisting issue.

Here is a report from the GMB in September about its battles with Carillion:

GMB Carillion Swindon Protest Over Cuts

Tuesday, September 17, 2013
GMB Protest Tomorrow ( Wed 18th September) At Great Western Hospital In Swindon In Dispute Over Job Losses And Pay Cuts For Members Employed By Carillion
The members will not accept further high handed behaviour from Carillion and the protest at the gate is just a first step in this new dispute says GMB.

There will be a lunchtime protest by GMB members employed by Carillion at the gate of Great Western Hospital in Swindon tomorrow at 12.40pm on Wednesday 18th September in a dispute over job losses and cuts in pay arising from changes to shift and rota arrangements without consultation.

At the protest GMB members will unfurl a 9 metre banner revealing that almost unanimous rejection by GMB members working for Carillion at the hospital of proposed new shift and rota changes in a workplace ballot. The vote was 99.2% to reject the new arrangements.

The changes will mainly affect housekeeping staff and ward hostesses, though all staff will lose paid breaks. Of the current cleaning workforce of 200, around 20 will be made redundant, but every member of staff will be doing 80 hours less cleaning each year.

GMB members stand to lose on average £650 per year, due to loss of unsocial hour’s payments, and some staff will lose up to 11 lieu days. The new arrangements introduce 12 hour shifts; with a one hour unpaid break in the middle. There are particular problems for staff with childcare commitments, or second jobs. The new longer shifts will also mean that staff will not be able to get to and from work by public transport on Sundays, and few of the staff own cars.

In 2012 there were 21 days of strike action by these workers in protest against bullying and discrimination by Carillion at the hospital. GMB members demanded that Carillion management act to stop the culture of bullying on the contract and for an end to discrimination in the application of pay and conditions on the contract.

That dispute is still on-going as Carillion refused to acknowledge the continued discrimination and victimisation of employees. This has so far resulted in fifty seven cases filed against Carillion in the employment tribunal. GMB are extremely confident of a just resolution through litigation.

In a seperate case GMB lawyers in June 2013 lodged claims in the High Court in London seeking compensation for 70 GMB members blacklisted by Carillion and other construction employers. Liz Keates who is still employed  in the Carillion HR department was named in the House of Commons as one of the managers who administered the blacklisting of construction workers for Carillion.

Carole Vallelly, GMB organiser, said “There will be fewer cleaners per ward, and those cleaners will have fewer hours to maintain the cleaning standards on those wards”.

 Carillion are seeking to get the same amount of cleaning done with fewer staff, and the longer shifts will inevitably lead to a reduction of work quality.

 During 2012, the Great Western Hospital NHS trust conducted an external audit of cleaning standards by Carillion, and GMB has been advised that the report concluded there was room for improvement.

 GMB is particularly concerned that there has been no consultation. GMB has more than three quarters of the affected staff in membership but Carillion has not spoken to the union.

There are a number of areas where the concerns of our members could be resolved by negotiation but Carillion management at GWH continue to refuse to consult with GMB who speak for these members. Carillion is duty bound to consult with the members individually and GMB will insist that they do so.

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

He Kept on the Road

AMONG the crop of deaths at this time of the year, we have to report that of Peter Gibson, in Croydon, who passed away in his sleep in the early hours of December 16, only a couple of weeks after Norman Harding in Leeds. They knew each other well, having been for many years comrades-in-arms in the Socialist Labour League and its successor organisation the Workers Revolutionary Party, and were both among the principled working class core of the comrades who ousted long-time leader Gerry Healy in 1985.

Peter was a life-long trades unionist and political activist, who started in the Labour League of Youth in  the late 1940's/early 1950's, and in the shopworkers' union USDAW, which if I am not mistaken was Ted Knight's union also in the same area.  Peter was a Labour Councillor in Streatham in the 1950's but expelled from the Labour  Party in Croydon more than 50 years ago for being critical of Labour Councillors who failed to attend a meeting  to vote for "Christmas extras" for residents in Croydon's old people's homes. (info from fellow trade unionist and ex-Croydon mayor Peter Spalding).

It was as an active member of USDAW that Peter Gibson became Secretary of Croydon Trades Council in the  late 1950's and throughout most of the 1960's. (ibid). It may have been in 1962 when I came up to London to support Lambeth Trades Council members campaigning against racism and fascism that I met Peter for the first time, among some Croydon brothers taking part.

Having gone to work on the 'buses, Peter was based at Thornton Heath Bus Garage and very  soon became a TGWU shop steward. He went on to become an elected TGWU representative at local, regional and  national level - serving for some years on the TGWU National Executive. He undertook many other responsibilities  within the Trades Union movement but always refused offers of becoming a full-time official because he preferred to  be a lay member.

When Croydon TUC was reconstituted in 1978 Peter Gibson became its Treasurer and remained so for 15 years. Not long after I'd rejoined the sans Healy WRP in 1986 Croydon trades council held a Palestine evening, with Yusuf Alani from the PLO office, acting as labour attache, and Peter and Dot Gibson made a point of bringing me to join the get together at Ruskin House.

Peter  became Secretary of Croydon TUC (for a second time) in 1994 and remained Secretary until he retired. During the 1980's he helped to organise speakers for meetings in Croydon including national Trades Union and political leaders and also  host delegations from across Europe. He participated in delegations to Paris and Berlin and in the late 1980's helped to  form links between bus workers in London and transport workers in Paris (Isle de France Region of the CGT).

In the closing years of the WRP me and Peter did not always agree, and as hitherto comrades seemed to turn into different groups of friends, we drifted somewhat apart. Some of our differences would have been difficult to explain to an outsider, and I'm not sure I could remember them accurately now. But one thing I do remember is that for the brief time I was asked to produce an International Trade Union Solidarity Campaign newsletter, Peter Gibson always took a genuine, positive interest in the content, and always made sure he had a batch for his union contacts, of which there were quite a lot.

Whatever criticisms other comrades might have had of his leadership on the buses and in the TGWU in this difficult period of anti-union laws,  privatised companies, and a divided and weakened workforce with fewer rights, Peter soldiered on, and cannot have been a careerist judging from his refusal to accept a full-time union post.

After he retired, Peter served for eight years as a much respected Governor of Croydon College (14, 000 full-time and part-time  students and nearly a 1000 staff). He also founded and chaired the Croydon Retired Peoples' Association and went on to to  act as Secretary and then Chair of the Croydon Branch of the TGWU/UNITE retired members group.  He continued to campaign on issues from pensions to post office closures particularly affecting older people.

Having only this year joined a Unite Retired members branch myself, and with nothing like Peter's years of distinguished service in the TGWU/Unite, I can only regret I will not have the chance to talk to him again and learn from his experience of who's who and what's what.

Among friends and comrades who did know Peter well, one is Keith Scotcher, who grew up in Croydon:
'I am writing here to express my regret at the passing of Peter Gibson, a tireless veteran internationalist and socialist, trade unionist and campaigner for workers rights. Peter was a former delegate to the trades council and bus workers representative. I first met Peter in 1965 when I joined the Young Socialists and learned much from his good and wise advice, which served me well when I later became shop steward at Fords car plant in Dagenham. I am sure there very many trade unionists and people in general who knew and respected Peter and will remember him well'

Peter Spalding, vice president of Croydon Trades Union Council, writes:
 " He was a life-long dedicated TU activist. He was a man of great integrity and highly regarded by everyone who knew and worked  with him - even those who sometimes disagreed with him.
 He was a much loved father, grandfather and great grandfather and was, of course, the husband of Dot Gibson the General  Secretary of the National Pensioners' Convention ".

Peter Gibson's funeral takes place Tuesday 7th January 2014 - 11:45 a.m. at Croydon Crematorium followed by a Commemorative Meeting/Reception at Ruskin House, Croydon, at 1:00 p.m.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Disgrace and MacShame

 THIS Christmas, spare a thought for prisoners. If like me you've chortled again at Ronnie Barker's wily ways of surviving in the Christmas edition of "Porridge", be assured that the powers that be, in keeping with this government's bid to be the nastiest within living memory, have decreed prison life should be neither comedy nor a holiday.

A friend reports that people in prison can no longer receive parcels.

''Under the rules, families are prevented from sending in basic items of stationery such as cards, paper or pens to help people in prison keep in touch with their friends and families and wish them a happy Christmas. They are also prevented from sending books and magazines or additional warm clothes and underwear to the prison. Instead people in prison are now forced to pay for these items out of their meagre prison wages to private companies who make a profit from selling goods to prisoners.
The Prison Reform Trust has been contacted by women prisoners who cannot get hold of enough clean underwear to keep them hygienic during their period. 

Rates of pay for those working average around £10 a week and can be as little as £2.50 a week for a prisoner who is unable to work - out of which they must pay for phone calls, TV rental, stationery, reading material and any additional food, clothes and toiletries they may need. It costs 20p a minute to call a mobile from a prison phone during the week; and 9p a minute to phone a landline.

The advice team has also heard from prisoners working outside in the community on release on temporary licence, but who are not able to get hold of enough clothes to keep them warm during the cold winter weather.

I'll probably be saying more on this, and hope I'm not the only one.

Meanwhile, to cheer us up, let us consider one particular celebrity facing Yuletide behind bars. Former Labour MP, Minister and Privy Councillor Dennis MacShane is 65, but he won't be needing his pensioner's bus pass for a little while. He has been sentenced to six months' imprisonment after admitting making bogus expense claims amounting to nearly £13,000.

MacShane, the former MP for Rotherham, pleaded guilty last month to false accounting by filing 19 fake receipts for "research and translation" services. Today, he became the fifth ex-MP to be jailed in relation to the 2009 expenses scandal. He was also ordered to pay costs of £1,500 within two months.
Others have received stiffer sentences.

MacShane described how signatures on receipts from the European Policy Institute (EPI), a "charity" he ran,  had been faked, as from an invented "general manager".  One letter dated October 2009 described how he drew funds from the EPI so he could serve on a book-judging panel in Paris.

MacShane described how signatures on receipts from the European Policy Institute (EPI) had been faked.

MacShane's expenses claims had been under scrutiny for four years, but evidence was hidden behind parliamentary privilege. Police could not prove any wrongdoing without the correspondence, and dropped their inquiry in July 2012 before reopening it in November last year when the letters emerged and the cross-party standards and privileges committee recommended a 12-month suspension from the Commons.

The judge, Mr.Justice Sweeney, accepted that MacShane had not been motivated by personal greed. 
But passing sentence  he said MacShane had committed a "flagrant breach of trust" and had no one to blame but himself. The dishonesty involved was considerable and was repeated many times over a long period," the judge said. "The deception used was calculated and designed to avoid suspicion falling on your claims."

He ruled that McShane should serve half his six-month sentence, and might leave earlier.
 Flanked by two security officers, MacShane said "cheers" as the sentence was delivered, adding "quelle surprise" as he was led from the dock.

Before we get all soft 'cos it Christmas and start grieving that we can't post Denis a parcel, let's consider his form. And hear what people say. Poet and broadcaster Mike Rosen is not a vindictive fellow, but his comment was:

"Little story for you. Denis McShane has got 6 months prison. He's someone I was at university with him and knew him when he worked on the student newspaper. I got a traineeship at the BBC and straightaway he sold this as a story to the papers (the Express, I think) as dangerous lefty gets taken on at the BBC and I think there was a question in the House about it."

Mike had done well at Oxford, and trained at London Film School, but whatever promise he showed at the BBC that first year his career was put on hold, and he was blacklisted for years before he ever found his way to his present niche as children's poet. Meanwhile Denis had taken his step to success.

McShane worked for the BBC from 1969 to 1977, and changed his Polish surname, Matyjaszek,  to his mother's maiden name at the request of his employers, but that was just a start. He was fired by the BBC after using a fake name to call the radio phone-in programme he worked on at the time. During the call, MacShane accused leading Tory Reginald Maudling of being a crook, with the MP threatening to sue as a result.

 From 1978-79 McShane served as president of the National Union of Journalists, and then in 1980 he obtained a position as political director of the International Metalworkers Federation, a job which lasted till 1992. This enabled him to back Solidarnosc in Poland, from where he was deported after participating in a demonstration.

He was elected Labour MP for Rotherham in 1994, and after the 2001 general election, he was  appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, with responsibility for the Balkans and Latin America. In 2002 he denounced President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela as a 'ranting, populist demagogue', comparing him to Mussolini. This was during the attempted military coup to depose the democratically elected president. After it failed he had to overcome the Blair government's embarassment and make it clear that Britain deplored the coup attempt.

In November 2001, an article was published in the Observer under the name of Birmingham Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood's name, supportive of the war in Afghanistan, and headlined "The Five Myths Muslims Must Deny".  A few days later however, it was revealed that the article had not been  written by Mahmood, but by MacShane. Mahmood agreed to put his name to the article after Lord Ahmed of Rotherham had refused.

In 2003 MacShane fully supported Tony Blair's war on Iraq, which as we know was based on lies about WMDs, every bit as deceitful as any MP's expenses claims, but with deadlier results, for which neither Blair nor his accomplices have faced justice. 

It was also in 2003 that the minister criticised the Muslim community for not doing enough to condemn acts of terrorism. He demanded that Muslim community leaders choose between "the British way" of democracy and Islamic terror.  This ultimatum was not just resented by Muslims but criticised by the Jewish Socialists' Group (JSG), who recalled how antisemites incited anti-Jewish hostility on the back of Zionist terror in Palestine in the 1940s. The JSG condemned the notion of collective guilt as well as the onus placed on minorities to prove their suitability for "the British way".

Not everyone has been so fastidious about "friends" or raised inconveniant memories. When MacShane's actions forced him to resign his seat, Martin Bright wrote in the Jewish Chronicle that his "fall from grace has been a blow for those who share his concerns about extremist politics, whether it is radical Islamism in the Middle East, neo-fascism at home or the rise of ultranationalist groups in Eastern Europe." He has described MacShane as "one of" the Jewish communities "greatest champions".

McShane was chair of the inquiry panel of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Anti-Semitism, which reported in September 2006, going along with the same equation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism which the European Union has since dropped. In March 2009, he became chairman of the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, which was involved in the hounding of Jewish academic Brian Klug last month.

 The Rotherham MP, longstanding member of the Labour Friends of Israel,took the shooting of some Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse, France as an occasion to attack his old union,complaining  "There is little media or political concern when the National Union of Journalists or the University and College Union back boycotts of Jewish journalists or Israeli academics."  As I pointed out at the time there were no such boycotts. The UCU considered boycotting Israeli academic institutions, and the NUJ sent a resolution to the TUC discussing an economic boycott.

One might expect MacShane to get his facts right as a professional journalist, as well as a former NUJ president. Instead he made the same blurring of distinctions as in a different way had been made by the illiterate Toulouse gunman. But as was said in his expenses case, the ex-Minister was very careless in his paperwork.

On 8 September 2009, MacShane helped set up a series of secret meetings between then Tory Defence Secretary Liam Fox, his friend Adam Werrity, Britain's ambassador in Tel Aviv, Matthew Gould, and senior Mossad officers. The object of their discussions was war on Iran. Fox resigned in 2011 following controversy over his relationship with the lobbyist Werrity.

And now MacShane is sent down. Some bloggers are saying the £13,000 he was done for was just a fraction. I'd say expenses fiddling was only the least of the damage he could have done. If MacShane has got off lightly, so in a different way have we.  

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Loss of an Artist and Fighter

SORRY to hear of the death,  at only 59,  of Leon Kuhn, a very talented artist, who dedicated his imagination and skills to relentlessly depicting the truth about capitalism and war, and assisting the fight against them.

I met Leon some years ago at a Stop the War event where he had a stall for his cartoons and postcards. Before that a comrade from Kilburn had mentioned that he was going to visit this artist who was with the Socialist Workers Party(SWP) politically, but also a Workers Press reader. Evidently though his socialist commitment never wavered, Leon was no sectarian, and his cartoons frequently appeared in the Morning Star. He also lent support to Respect during its East End campaigns, and to Unite Against Fascism. Whatever variation in his position,  his crosshairs remained trained on the enemy.

A book "Topple the Mighty" brought out with Colin Gill took an irreverent but erudite look at the imperial history behind much of London's monuments and statuary. 

A tribute on the Counterfire site by Chris Bird, who worked with Leon and marched with him on demonstrations, says:
During the miners’ strike of 1984-5 Leon was an active member of Kilburn Miners Support Group and one of his most valued possessions was the miner’s lamp given to him by the NUM in gratitude for his support. Leon was sceptical of the art world of inflated prices and obscure meanings. For Leon art must connect with the struggle of ordinary people. 


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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Black and Red

IT must be almost thirty years since I went to a lecture by the late Peter Fryer, and got into his book 'Staying Power; the History of Black People in Britain'. That was how I learned about the Black abolitionist, Olaudah Equiano, and the Black Chartist William Cuffay.

We'd done the Chartists at school, and of course we must also have learned something about the abolitonists and William Wilberforce. But I could not remember any mention  that there were black people involved in these contributions to our history.

I might mention that not long before I went to that Peter Fryer lecture I overheard a conversation between two members of the Transport and General Workers Union, one of whom worked at Transport House, about a union recruitment leaflet that had been produced but was considered unsuitable and sent back by an officer for one of the regions.

The leaflet had used a photograph of some smiling women workers, who happened to be union office staff, to say something like "This is the union for us!" Only it seemed that before a particular region of the TGWU would use it their batch had to be reprinted with the photograph altered, so that two of the women had their complexions lightened and a third, evidently too dark,  was airbrushed out altogether.
I heard the sisters concerned saw what had been done, and were not too happy about it. 

Well, we have come a long way since then, or so we like to think. Prejudice of that sort is far less common nowadays, certinly less admitted.. The TGWU had a black general secretary, Jamaican-born Bill Morris, even if he did end up as Baron Morris of Handsworth.  Local authorities as well as the TUC hold a "Black History Month", though its effectiveness may vary.

If there seemed moves afoot to reverse things, they were vigilently opposed. Dalston has got its new CLR James Library, and Equiano and Mary Seacole remain in the national curriculum. Quite rightly so. This is not about "political correctness" nor simply giving black youngsters positive "role models", but teaching history with nowt left out. Perhaps Ken Loach's "Spirit of '45" may be forgiven for having none other than white faces (though I know friends disagree) , but if that is the way we picture all our labour movement history we are as bad as those union officials who wanted black faces whitened out of their leaflets.

So lets welcome two fascinating books published this year which contribute to putting things right.
First is 'William Cuffay, The Life and Times of a Chartist Leader' by Martin Hoyles, which starts by telling us about slavery on the island of St.Kitts in the West Indies, which is where William Cuffay's grandfather was taken as a slave from Africa. As a historian tells us "Given the size of St.Kitts and Nevis, the wealth generated by their planters during the latter half of thee eighteenth century was extremely impressive. But it was made only at the cost of untold human suffering."

 One way slaves could escape to freedom, despite its rough conditions, was the Navy, and thus it was that William Cuffay was born in Chatham, where his father had landed and obtained work in the dockyard. William started as an apprentice tailor, a trade in which perhaps his deformed legs and stunted growth, the result of childhood rickets, were less of an obstacle. He moved to London, where in 1827 he married Mary Ann Marvell, a straw hat maker, at the now fashionable St.James', Picadilly, and they lived in the now less fashionable Lambeth, south London.

Attempting to defend their wages and conditions by organising at work, for mutual help and strike action, the journeymen tailors were among those who formed the backbone of the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union. When this did not suffice, the tailors, and Cuffay among them, turned to the fight for political rights. This coalesce around the Six Points of the People's Charter.

Holding meetings around the country, gathering signatures for their mass petition, organising women as well as men (though as yet they only demanded votes for men), the Chartists' slogan was "Peaceably if we can, forcibly if we may". In November 1839 after the Chartists in South Wales attempted to free arrested comrades and clashed with armed troops in Newport, it was William Cuffay who moved the resolution at a meeting of the Metropolitan Tailors Charter Association in London, blaming the government's "injustice and cruelty" for provoking insurrection, and declaring "We therefore do most deeply feel for and sympathise with our brethren in Wales, and with Mr.Frost in particular, and further, we pledge ourselves to use every exertion to save them."

John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones were sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered, but after a national outcry this was commuted to transportation for life. William Cuffay continued his activity, popular as a speaker for his wit and humour, He sang at Chartist concerts and even acted in plays. He worked with Feargus O'Connor on his Land Plan, by which working people could acquire cottages and smallholdings. He helped plan the renewed petition and mass demonstrations of 1848. But then as some Chartists prepared to go underground, and the government's spies set about trying to catch them, Cuffay was entrapped in a supposed plot, arrested, and clapped in jail to await trial. A portrait of him in Newgate shows him grinning in good-humoured defiance, as though to say "You think you can stop us this way?!" His wife Mary collected for the defence fund, and was banned from the court for protesting.  

Transported to Van Diemens Land (Tasmania), Cuffay was fortunate enough to be freed to work at his trade there, and Mary managed to raise support to go out and join him. The population of Tasmania, half of whom themselves freed convicts, were ready for Cuffay's ideas, and he was able to play his part in establishing trade unions, ending the use of convict labour for docks and public works, and repealing the oppressive Master and Servants Act. Still addressing big public meetings in his 'Seventies, Cuffay died in the workhouse in 1870, aged 82. Obituaries credited his contribution to the cause of  workers' freedom, and thanks to people like Cuffay, Chartism has been called Britain's most successful export. Tasmanians gained universal male suffrage by 1900 and enfranchised women in 1903 - well ahead of Britain.

 Martin Hoyles' tribute to Cuffay, true to its sub-title, not only recounts his life for inspiration, but fully describes his times, the hardships and the happier side, and of course the Chartist movement, with a fantastic wealth of illustrations. If you want to defend your rights you ought to know to whom you owe them. Read this book, and give it to your children.

Chris Braithwaite, whose life is the subject of the latest Socialist History Society publication, came to Britain from Barbados, having first served in the Merchant Navy during the First World War. He married an English woman, Edna,and settled in the East End of London,  Obtaining work with the Shipping Federation, he joined the National Union of Seamen.

Havelock Wilson, the notoriously right-wing leader of that union, who had organised patriotic demonstrations against other trade unionists during the war, was not interested in the conditions of coloured and colonial seafarers, nor would he give Braithwaite the chance to improve things. He preferred a deal with the shipowners not unlike that which led to Apartheid in South Africa, by maintaining a divided workforce.

Strange as it may seem, Chris Braithwaite was to get a better hearing from Nancy Cunard, whose anti-racist sympathies and interest in African roots (she married an American jazz musician) set her on the opposite side to her wealthy shipowning family. Documents show MI5 took an interest in her friendship with the Indian V.K.Menon, and we know they were also watching Braithwaite.

With some experience of militant trade unionism and black struggle in the United States, the Bajan joined the Communist Party. To conceal his political acvtivity from his employers he always used the name "Chris Jones", which is how most people knew him. The Comintern attached great importance to seafarers and their struggles, holding an international conference of them, and during the so-called Third Period of "class against class" the Red International of Labour Unions proposed to set up a rival seafarers' union in Britain, an idea which must have had some appeal not only for colonial seafarers like Braithwaite but for those who saw the NUS expelled from the TUC after 1926. However Harry Politt resisted the idea as particularly impractical during a trade recession.

What did emerge in 1929 however was the Seamen's Minority Movement, linked with the National Minority Movement spanning other unions, mobilised for militant left-wing policies. A committee of "militant coloured seamen" was formed by the SMM, and an international seamen's club opened in Poplar. A "Chris Jones" chaired the committee's second meeting,and a Trinidadian called Jim Hedley became secretary. Nor did this Chris Jones confine his work to organising seamen. In 1932 he helped organise a demonstration against the imprisonment of the National Unemployed Workers Movement leader Wal Hannington.

 The rise of Hitler to power brought a new change in the politics of the Soviet leadership. As it encouraged popular front policies and sought improved relations with Britain and France, the struggles of colonial peoples against these powers were relegated. Not only that, but Mussolini's Italy, the original fascism, seems to have been seen as a lesser evil, and at a time when the brutal invasion of Ethiopia brought calls for League of Nations sanctions, Moscow decided it should not impede trading, including oil, with Italy.

Chris Braithwaite and George Padmore broke with the Communist Party and its fronts, and joined the Trotskyist C.L.R. James to set up an International African Friends of Abyssinia (as Ethiopia was called at this time). Braithwaite also chaired the first conference of the Colonial Seamen's Association, which brought together black, Chinese, Arab and Indian seafarers,

The political party with which Braithwaite and Padmore came closer in the late 1930s was the Independent Labour Party(ILP), though having got their fingers burnt with the CP they hesitated to trust another predominantly white left party. It might be interesting to know what they thought of the ILP leader Maxton's neutralism when the issue of Ethiopia and sanctions came up. Braithwaite's colonial seamen decided to launch their own, workers' sanctions, interfering with strategic cargos which might go to help Mussolini's war.

As 'Chris Jones', the black seafarer did speak alongside Bob Edwards of the ILP when the latter, back from aiding the POUM in Spain, addressed thousands at a Glasgow rally. He also spoke at dock gate meetings in London, as the anarchist Matt Kavanagh recalled. He worked with the ILP writer Ethel Mannin who has him little disguised speaking alongside anarchist Emma Goldman in her satirical 1946 novel Comrade, O Comrade.

In opening up the story of 'Chris Jones' or Chris Braithwaite, author Christian Hogsbjerg has also opened up a largely otherwise forgotten chapter, still with interesting questions, in the history of the British Left. The Socialist History Society is to be congratulated on bringing it out.

William Cuffay, The Life and Times of a Chartist Leader   
 by Martin Hoyle, Hansib  £9.99

Chris Braithwaite, Mariner, Renegade and Castaway,
 by Christian Hogsbjerg, Socialist History Society, in association with Redwords  £4


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Monday, December 16, 2013

Keep up the call for Nuke-free Middle East!

 DIMONA nuclear complex in Israel can't be exempt from talks

DESPITE the grumbles from Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, and rumbles from the war party in Washington, the Iranian government's agreement to curb nuclear development in exchange for reduction of sanctions, is arousing hopes for this to be a new start.

"Across the globe, headlines pronounced that a 'breakthrough agreement' had been reached in Geneva. Iran's atomic ambitions had been curbed in exchange for limited sanctions relief, thus deflating the long-standing military standoff.

"The deal hammered out between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia stipulates that Tehran will halt progress on enrichment capacity, stop developing its heavy water reactor at Arak, and open access to international weapons inspection. While this deal paves the way for Iran's reintegration into the family of Western nations, and can therefore be conceived as a real milestone, in terms of the Middle East nuclear problem, any robust agreement,however, will have to include Israel."

This was Israeli professor and peace activist Neve Gordon.speaking to Al Jazeera at the weekend. But Gordon, who teaches Politics at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev at Beersheba, not all that far from Israel's Dimona nuclear complex, knows what he is up against. 

"Within Israel, speaking about the nuclear programme in Dimona is taboo. Mysteriously, however, there is also a broad-based agreement to keep silent about it in Washington and in most European capitals. Despite claims made by independent analysts that Israel likely has around 80 warheads, and is believed to be the only state in the region that has produced separated plutonium, and possibly highly enriched uranium, the two key ingredients in nuclear weapons. Indeed, it may now have enough plutonium, including the plutonium already in weapons, for up to 200 nuclear warheads.

Creating a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East is actually not a new idea. Ironically, it was first proposed in the United Nations General Assembly in 1974 by no other than the major 'culprit' in the recent fray - Iran.

"So why are politicians and mainstream media outlets concentrating on Iran and its decision to embark on a nuclear programme instead of adopting a more ambitious framework that considers the steps needed to make the Middle East a zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction? To be sure, I am against Iran developing a nuclear weapon, but I am also opposed to Israel having a nuclear arsenal, which at 200 warheads, would be larger than the arsenal of Britain. There is, after all, a connection between the two and this connection needs to be spelled out, if a broader framework is to be adopted".

The call for a nuclear weapon free Middle East was raised by Israel's long imprisoned nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu from the moment he could speak out on this issue. And the demand that Israel give up its nuclear weapons as part of an agreement was raised by new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani when he addressed the UN General Assembly, well before the latest agreement.

Intriguingly, it was also reported before the Iranian agreement was announced that
Israeli, Iranian and Arab representatives attended a preliminary meeting in Switzerland.

in preparation of an international conference. The Israeli government then denied that its representatives had actually met with the Arabs and Iranians. Were the talks in Switzerland held to make it easier for President Obama to persuade the Iranians, then played down so Netanyahu could help Obama's opponents keep the talk of war against Iran going?

Whatever the dangerous game he is still playing, neither Netanyahu nor his allies, from Senators Kirk and Menendez in Washington to gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas, have succeeded in stopping the advance towards an anti-nuclear deal or the optimism this arouses.

In the British House of Commons at Westminster the following exchages took place on November 25:
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab):
The European Union, the Government and the United States are to be congratulated on this brave and bold step towards reducing tension in the middle east. Would it be right for the Government now to approach Israel and ask for a reciprocal gesture and for it to open its nuclear facilities to international inspection, in order to denuclearise the whole middle east?

Mr Hague:
Politics is the art of the possible, as I think we all know in this House, and it has turned out that this agreement is possible. The hon. Gentleman is trying to lead me into something that it would probably not be possible for us to obtain.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab):
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), Secretary Kerry, and all others involved on achieving this exceptionally important agreement. It must be hoped that not only will it lead to Iran re-entering the international community, but that it will ameliorate oppressive aspects of its internal policies. Will the right hon. Gentleman point out to the Prime Minister of Israel, who yesterday said that nuclear weapons are the most dangerous weapons in the world—he should know because he has a stockpile of several hundred nuclear warheads and the missiles with which to deliver them—and who in addition refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, that any attempt to damage or attack the agreement in any way will be unacceptable and will be opposed?

Mr Hague:
As I have said, we would strongly discourage any country from seeking to undermine the agreement, but I have not seen any sign that any country will do so in any practical way. Every country in the world understands how serious that would be. Some may disapprove of the agreement, but they know it has been made by, among others, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and that it must be given its chance. I believe it will be given its chance.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab):
Those who mocked Lady Ashton’s appointment—they certainly do not include the Foreign Secretary—may wish to apologise accordingly.
Is there not a kind of unholy alliance, certainly including Israel, but also including Saudi Arabia and possibly elements within the Iranian regime, that would want to undermine or destroy the agreement? Should we not be very much on our guard against that.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab):
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and draw his attention to what he said about momentum in the process in the region. I obviously hope that a detailed agreement is reached within six months. Will he now turn his attention to the need for a nuclear weapons-free middle east, and the importance of reconstituting the conference, which Finland was supposed to have held, involving all countries in the region? Without an agreement on a nuclear-free middle east, somebody will develop nuclear weapons or Israel will go on being unchallenged as the only nuclear weapons state in the region. This is urgent.

Mr Hague:
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are keeping our focus on that. I pay tribute to him for keeping his focus—relentlessly—in his questions in Parliament, but we are also keeping our focus and continuing our work to bring the conference together. If we can carry our success on this agreement through to the success of a comprehensive and final settlement, it will be a big advance towards what he has been campaigning for and remove more of the excuses of other nations against such discussions. I think, therefore, that he can view this as a step forward in that regard.

Posted on November 25, 2013

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Who is that marching in Brick Lane? It's the Media 's favourite Muslim!

A GROUP claiming to uphold Muslim law announced its attention of marching in Brick Lane this afternoon, against the evils of alcohol. Well, I can understand some residents might be tired of the swell of boozy tourists (and worse) on their street at weekends, and I could manage a curry without the obligatory pint of lager.

They would not be the first place in Britain to declare a dry area, after all some Welsh communities did it long before the arrival of any Muslims. And though you would not think so to look at most of today's Left and labour movement, Temperance and teetotalism have been traditional among some socialists.    

Still, a quieter Brick Lane without a pub might not be so good for the restaurant trade, nor popular with the young men out on the street touting for its customers. And if residents wanted a change or even stricter licensing they are quite capable of raising the issue with their local councillors.

My suspicion that this march might not be quite what it seems was reinforced by reading the report in the East London Advertiser.

It quoted a spokesman for the "Sharia Project" called Abu Rumaysah, 30, who said: “There’s a lot of problems in the area like anti-social behaviour caused by drinking and a lot of the Muslims are involved in selling alcohol in their shops.”

He added: “The one who is not a Muslim is already going to the hell fire. The one who drinks or sells alcohol ... God can forgive if he mends his ways.”

Mr Rumaysah, who lives in Waltham Forest where the group is based, said hate preacher Anjem Choudary is one of its “mentors”.

Well fancy that! And they know all about anti-social behaviour in Waltham Forest, only it's not all fuelled by alcohol. There's more than one kind of booze.

Last week three young men were jailed for a campaign to impose their version of Sharia Law. The court heard that two Muslim converts, Jordan Horner, 19 and Ricardo McFarlane, 26, roamed the streets in the early hours of the morning and confronted members of the public, berating them for their alleged anti-Islamic behaviour. They threatened to ‘kill non believers’ and ‘shank’ - stab - them and uploaded videos to Youtube criticising non-Muslims for being inappropriately dressed.

Around 4am on January 6 of this year Horner, McFarlane and a group of men in Muslim dress approached a group of five men walking along the street, snatched cans of beer out of their hands before emptying them into the gutter. Horner, who is white and sports a ginger beard,  demanded: 'Why are you poisoning your body? It is against Islam. This is Muslim Patrol. Kill the non-believers.'

Horner, described as close to preacher Anjem Choudary, punched two of the men, but denied hitting a third. He and a 23-year-old also threatened a man and two doctors Claire Coyle and Robert Gray around the Bethnal Green Road and Great Eastern Street areas of east London on December 19 last year and January 13 this year.

At an earlier hearing the prosecutor said:
: 'The victims describe the main aggressor as being ginger with a ginger beard. And one victim said the white ginger male punched him in the jaw. It was a group attack and a religiously aggravated assault.'

The 23-year-old of Finsbury Park, north London, who has convictions for section 4 offences in April of last year, handling stolen goods and dishonesty, was remanded back into custody.

The Daily Mail had a picture of the not too bright looking nineteen year old slugger standing in a group with "hate preacher" Anjem Choudary, an ex-solicitor whom other Muslims say has few qualifications as preacher. and none whatsoever in Sharia law. But it was not the first time that paper featured Horner, or Choudary, in Waltham Forest. An article published in 2011 claimed Choudary and his chums had support from local Muslims to impose Sharia law in the London borough, and was illustrated with a photograph of "Jamaal Uddin" -alias Jordan Horner -putting up a poster announcing this was now a "Sharia law zone".

This kind of publicity, way out of proportion to Choudary's miniscule following, was presumably what encouraged the English Defence League(EDL) to think it could march into Walthamstow in 2012 and be welcomed by the non-Muslim population grateful to be liberated from alien rule. As we know not all the Metropolitan Police could get them through, though they did get a "warm welcome"!
As for imposing Sharia law, the nearest we got was Jordan Horner, encouraged perhaps by the publicity he'd got in the Mail to believe he was acting for local Muslims.

But of course this wasn't the first time Anjem Choudary's activities and their publicity provided an excuse for the English Defence League. In 2009, after a week campaigning and thousands of leaflets he managed to muster fewer than 20 supporters to stage a protest in Luton against a parade by the Royal Anglian Regiment, returning from Afghanistan.  There are more than 20,000 Muslims in Luton, and whatever their views on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, shared by many non-Muslims, they like their neighbours were probably glad to see the soldiers back. Choudary was banned from a Luton mosque. But of course his protest, which led to scuffles with local people, was extensively covered by the media, from the BBC to the Nazi Stormfront site.  

And sure enough it was in Luton that what became the EDL was formed, supposedly as a response to Choudary's Muslim protest. Even if it did seem to be quick off the mark.

Born in Britain, Choudary went to Southampton University, where is said to have been a bit of a lad for the 'birds' and the booze, and other substances, and liked a game of cards, before he got into religion. He is often described as leading Al Muhajiroun, in succession to Omar Bakri, who was banned from Britain, although Al Muhajiroun is supposed to be banned by law for glorifying "acts of terrorism". Since then he has turned up under various names, such as Islam4UK, usually announcing provocative actions which tend to not happen, or be damp squibs, but always get lots of publicity.

I once chanced on a copy of the paper Al Muhajiroun, many years ago, and was struck by an odd phrase accusing Jews of subverting "natural aristocracy". Somehow the concept of "natural aristocracy" did not sound very Islamic. I discovered this particular phrase came not from the Koran but the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Of course that was a secret police job.

By way of a change, Choudary -and Horner -turned on another target this year, attacking Shia Muslims.

Sure enough, Anjem Choudary announced his intention of leading today's march, but only gathered a handful of supporters. The local paper had already reported that people were not impressed:

 An East London Mosque official said the rally was a publicity stunt that would “antagonise local people and business owners”.

He said The Shariah Project is “strongly linked” to Anjem Choudary’s group Al-Muhajiroun, members of which were recently sentenced to jail for threatening people drinking alcohol in east London in so-called “Muslim Patrols”.

The EDL faced united opposition and failed to get into the London borough of Tower Hamlets in September, when it was promising to free the people from Islamic dominance. It's Luton-based founder Tommy Robinson, alias Stephen Yaxley Lennon, was among those arrested, and since then he has quit, because of "extremists". If the EDL or similar forces were hoping today's fiasco would improve their chances, it looks like they have a long wait coming..

But maybe until someone else comes along the reactionary media will keep on trying to boost Anjem Choudary. It's all part of the game.

And for a States' side view see:

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

True to the End. Norman Harding

SAD NEWS reaches me from friends in the North.

Dear comrades

Norman died a few hours ago. I understand from his stepson Graham that he had been free of pain over the past 2-3 days thanks to care by staff at St Gemma's in Leeds. A vigil had been maintained at his bedside by family members for the last day or so.

After his admission to St James' Hospital in Leeds with a serious chest infection, Norman's stay there became a nightmare as they were unable to control his pain properly. His underlying condition was pulmonary fibrosis that possibly resulted from his time working as a cutter in the textile industry. He went home 2 weeks ago, but it soon became clear that he and his wife Pauline could not cope. His admission to a rehabilitation unit still didn't relieve his pain and lack of rest, so he was taken to St Gemma's palliative care unit last Thursday. I spoke with him on Friday and he had managed to sleep and was lucid and free of pain, though very frail.

Others have told me that he continued to be pain free over the weekend, but sedatives made it increasingly difficult for him to converse. At the end his family was with him.
As soon as funeral arrangements are settled I will let you all know.


When Norman Harding was admitted to St.James's Hospital in Leeds for that last painful period of his life, he was not far from where he grew up, in Shakespeare Street. His travels in between were eventful, and far from easy. 
Norman was born on 25 June 1929, just before the great depression. His dad was an engineer, but because of the slump he had to take part time work on the railways. His mother worked in a mill, and Norman remembered hearing how she secured a wage rise for the mill workers by taking the advice of her father, which was to kick the belt off the pulley which powered the looms
Wikipedia tells us that Norman Harding's father played piano, singing in public houses to supplement the family's income, but also sang at Leeds Town Hall in a production of Handel's Messiah, and with the Huddersfield Choral Society. That helps explain something I discovered when staying in the same flat as Norman from 1976-7, his knowledge and appreciation of music. He knew his Jussi Bjorling from his Count John McCormick, and more beside.

Leaving school aged 14, in 1943, Norman did various jobs before starting as a trimmer at John Barran’s clothing factory.

It was after the war that Norman Harding was called up for National Service, completing his basic training at RAF Padgate, RAF Honiley, Castle Bromwich, and Hereford. Sent to Germany, he served in the RAF's 5352 Wing at Hamburg’s Fuhlsbüttel airport, which was involved with the Berlin Airlift. Although fraternisation was still forbidden he made friends with German families in the area, strengthening his view that ordinary working people of whatever nationality would find more in common with each other than with the officer class.

After being demobbed, Norman went back to the clothing trade in Leeds, becoming a delegate for the Leeds No. 2 branch of the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers, and then a delegate for the Leeds City Labour Party. In 1957 he joined the Cross gates Tenants’ and Householders’ Association, and edited a community newspaper. 

 Having joined the Trotskyist group in the Labour Party known only as 'the Club', comrade Harding participated in its expansion around Peter Fryer's little paper The Newsletter, working with local teacher Jack Gale to win over Communist Party members and YCLers whose views had been shaken by Khruschev's "secret speech" and the invasion of Hungary. Thus was gathered the Socialist Labour League, immediately proscribed by Labour, but proceeding to gain a majority in the youth movement, the Yong Socialists.

Something else which loomed important at this time was the nuclear issue. Britain had exploded its first hydrogen bomb in May 1957, and the first big Aldermaston march took place the following year. If any young readers of Norman Harding's autobiography 'Staying Red' are surprised to find a chapter devoted to nuclear disarmament they may also be surprised to learn from it that militants like Norman formed an organised contingent on that march. As he reminds us, it was the Norwood Labour Party, in which the Trotskyists were influential, that brought the unilateralist, anti-H-bomb call to Labour Party conference, in a resolution moved by Vivienne Mendelson, and opposed by hitherto left-wing hero Aneurin Bevan, who said it would mean him going "naked into the conference chamber".

The Communist Party, and the unions it still influenced, also opposed the unilateralist call, and when they did decide to join the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) they swamped it with their emphasis on summit talks, flag-waving and anti-Americanism, which Norman describes in his book.

In the 1970s, Norman Harding moved to London, where he would spend the next two decades  working for the Socialist Labour League, which later became the Workers Revolutionary Party, and a very different kind of party from the one he had tried to build. One of the stories he tells which illustrates the difference was the time he went canvassing a working class estate with Vanessa Redgrave. When a poor woman with kids clinging told him about the problems in the flats and difficulty getting repairs done, Norman asked if there was a tenants association on the estate. Redgrave interrupted him to tell the woman it was down to capitalism, and that was why she must vote for the revolutionary party candidate. Later the newcomer Redgrave reported the veteran revolutionary Harding for his "reformism"

When I came to London in 1976 to work for News Line, I knew a bit of Norman's past activity and from reading old back issues of the Newsletter that he had written news and articles for it, before the emphasis started being put on "professional" journalists. Norman was kept busy behind the scenes with jobs like despatch and driving, and seemed to work all hours, so even though we lived in the same flat and worked in the same centre (before I was 'exiled' to the Midlands) I can't say I got to know him well.

But one evening I was able to join Norman and my News Line colleague Paul Jennings for a drink in the Plough, and while we were there a bunch of women came into the pub who were the Friends of Fulham football team that practised on the Common. One of them came over to speak to Norman, and thanked him for some music tapes which she said had "worked like a treat". It seemed that this couple whom Norman had got to know had a troubled, autistic child. Norman had put together a selection of classical tapes which soothed and relaxed their youngster, making the family's life much easier. I don't think he ever put a brass plate on his door as a consultant, but a few years ago when a Facebook friend was asking whether anybody knew anything about music and autism I put her in touch with Norman. 

Trivial as this anecdote may seem (I don't think Norman even thought to mention it) it remained in my memory because it was so atypical of the 'hard' attitude the party seemed to encourage, and it may give a clue to the significant role Norman Harding was to play in the downfall of tyrant Gerry Healy. Working so close to the WRP leadership, yet in the background, Norman saw and heard how people were treated, and he was often the one older comrade to whom young members confided their troubles and got a hearing. What's more, he remained in touch with his working class roots and did not sever "ordinary" people and human problems from his socialist aspirations. That meant his loyalty and dedication was to the class, and to socialism, and not to dogma or a leader.

Having learned how far the corruption of the Healy regime went, Norman Harding joined those who drove Healy out, having uncovered, among other things, his systematic abuse over the years of no less than 26. female comrades. If you want to know more, and how such things could happen, you have got to read Norman's book.

Having helped and consolidated that victory, Norman finally did something to improve his own life, by returning to some of his old links in Leeds, and at 58, marrying and acquiring a ready-made family. Before long he was once again leading a tenants movement, and writing about his thoughts and memories. ,

Incidentally, something else I remember about Norman besides his record collection was the book I found on his shelf, a well-worn out of print .'Memoirs of a Bolshevik' by Osip Piatnitsky, who like Norman once had the task of organising the despatch of the party paper, Lenin's clandestine Iskra. Indeed, Piatnitsky had previously worked in the clothing industry, and devised garments into which the papers could be stitched, to be worn by the party's women couriers. 

Already it depicted a different kind of Bolshevism to the version we were sold, and it is still out of print I believe, its author having been dispatched by Stalin's murder machine.I don't know whether it helped inspire Norman, but now his work should help inspire and educate a new generation.

Steve Drury has suggested those who knew Norman Harding may wish to write tributes and reminiscences, and one possibility is that they are collated on Norman's blog at and will also be passed on to his family and perhaps read out at the funeral.


Lawnswood Crematorium
Otley Road,
L16 6AH

Date:  Weds Dec 18th     Time: 15.40

Afterwards at the Lawnswood Arms, Otley Rd, Leeds LS16  7PH  0113 2671823     

Please let us know if you planning to attend:
07950 870733

Best wishes

John Davies


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mandela's enemies, and his legacy

HOW considerate of Nelson Mandela to the end, to time his departure so that David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major can escape the British winter to attend his funeral. I won't join the vulgar types expressing unpleasant wishes for their journey or return, it is not nice, and besides the immediate replacements would be just as bad, or worse.

Nor will I dwell overlong on the hypocrisy of some of those paying tribute to the African leader (and incidentally I see Israeli premier Netanyahu is not going,blaming the cost of security, though probably fearing hostile protests, besides which he must regret the precedent set by South Africa's white rulers in freeing Mandela let alone letting him take their place peacefully. Aging President Shimon Peres has been diagnosed with a convenient dose of 'flu and advised not to travel, so memories will not be stirred of his role in for instance Israeli nuclear co-operation with the Apartheid regime.)

 Here in Britain, like lots of people, I remember the way demonstrators demanding the release of Nelson Mandela and other Apartheid prisoners were harassed by police outside South Africa House; the use of British-made Alvis Saladin armoured vehicles in killing and repressing Africans at Sharpeville and Soweto; and the jolly "Hang Nelson Mandela!" tee shirts adopted by young British Tories.

The tee shirts were particularly associated with the Federation of Conservative Students(FCS), dubbed "Maggie's Militant Tendency" in a BBC Panorama programme that was sued for libel and disowned by the BBC under Tory pressure. Later, in 1986, Norman Tebbit disbanded the FCS, not because of their nasty tee shirts about Mandela but for an article attacking Harold Macmillan. Harry Phibbs who wrote the article went on to join the Evening Standard as a columnist, and is today a leading Tory councillor in Hammersmith. House of Commons Speaker John Bercow MP has regretted the right-wing views he associated with in the FCS.

Former MP Terry Dicks however, now a member of Runnymede district council in Surrey,stands by his denunciation of Nelson Mandela as a "black terrorist" who had, what's more, insulted Margaret Thatcher by declining to see her on his 1990 trip to Britain. Fortunately the electors of Hayes and Harlington are no longer saddled with Terry Dicks as their MP, his place having been taken by left-wing Labourite John McDonnell MP. That's as far a swing from right to left as you could get in British parliamentary politics!

Although the Tory students acquired a reputation for racially abusing bar staff during their boozy beanos, and one since prominent as a blogger has been upset by revelations of his attempts to woo the BNP, they were not strictly dogmatic in their racialist alignments. A black leader like Jonas Savimbi could be their hero, since his Unita movement in Angola was an ally to the South African regime.

Even after the big vested interests that run South Africa had decided to dump Apartheid, and the process which made Mandela president was under way, some Tories in Britain, and perhaps some elements in the secret state, were ready to back anyone, black(Buthelezi) or white(Clive Derby-Lewis) who might seem able to stop what now seems inevitable from taking place. Derby-Lewis, who visited London and became vice-president of the right-wing Western Goals network, is serving time in South Africa for hs part in the assassination of South African Communist party leader Chris Hani  Maybe one day the whole story will be told.

On the left, reactions to Mandela's death have ranged from those, not all of the same persuasion, who have spoken only of the ANC leaders; greatness to some who see only the 'sell out' of a potential socialist revolution for Stalinist "stages theory". Many refer more concretely to the way in which miner's union leader and ANC vice president Cyril Ramaphosa became a multi-millionaire mine owner, while miners were left in poverty and squalor alongside the immense wealth they extract, and striking platinum miners shot down by police at the Marekana mine.

It  is a far cry from the day soon after Apartheid fell, when thousands gathered for a triumphal rally with MPs and churchmen in Hyde Park, and I stood outside selling, or trying to sell, my Workers Press, with its front-page reporting South African police using dogs to attack striking shopworkers, and faced the hostile glares of those for whom the workers should be grateful for their freedom and the new South African regime, ven with the same old South African police, could do no wrong.

That was nothing to the hostility, or at best cold indifference, faced by comrades - former freedom fighters, ex-prisoners, active trade unionists who'd defied death threats -who came here from Namibia or South Africa to seek support for their struggles and warn against trusting the new regimes.     

But things have changed.

Here, introducing his autobiography, Armed and Dangerous, is Ronnie Kasrils, a leading member of both the ANC and the Communist Party, who became a minister in Mandela's government. Kasrils, who says the 1960 Sharpeville massacre led him to join the ANC, was shocked by the killing of 34 workers at the Marekana mine into looking at where they had gone wrong:

South Africa's liberation struggle reached a high point but not its zenith when we overcame apartheid rule. Back then, our hopes were high for our country given its modern industrial economy, strategic mineral resources (not only gold and diamonds), and a working class and organised trade union movement with a rich tradition of struggle. But that optimism overlooked the tenacity of the international capitalist system. From 1991 to 1996 the battle for the ANC's soul got under way, and was eventually lost to corporate power: we were entrapped by the neoliberal economy – or, as some today cry out, we "sold our people down the river".

What I call our Faustian moment came when we took an IMF loan on the eve of our first democratic election. That loan, with strings attached that precluded a radical economic agenda, was considered a necessary evil, as were concessions to keep negotiations on track and take delivery of the promised land for our people. Doubt had come to reign supreme: we believed, wrongly, there was no other option; that we had to be cautious, since by 1991 our once powerful ally, the Soviet union, bankrupted by the arms race, had collapsed. Inexcusably, we had lost faith in the ability of our own revolutionary masses to overcome all obstacles. Whatever the threats to isolate a radicalising South Africa, the world could not have done without our vast reserves of minerals.

To lose our nerve was not necessary or inevitable. The ANC leadership needed to remain determined, united and free of corruption – and, above all, to hold on to its revolutionary will. Instead, we chickened out. The ANC leadership needed to remain true to its commitment of serving the people. This would have given it the hegemony it required not only over the entrenched capitalist class but over emergent elitists, many of whom would seek wealth through black economic empowerment, corrupt practices and selling political influence.

To break apartheid rule through negotiation, rather than a bloody civil war, seemed then an option too good to be ignored. However, at that time, the balance of power was with the ANC, and conditions were favourable for more radical change at the negotiating table than we ultimately accepted. It is by no means certain that the old order, apart from isolated rightist extremists, had the will or capability to resort to the bloody repression envisaged by Mandela's leadership. If we had held our nerve, we could have pressed forward without making the concessions we did.

PS   SOMETHING I'd just like to add from the days when Mandela was a fugitive fighter for freedom, but some recognised him early as a great man.
Back in 1962 Nelson Mandela spent 11 days in June in London before returning to South Africa and almost certain arrest. The then secretary of Willesden trades council, Tom Durkin, thought it would be a pity not to take advantage of the African leader's visit, and invited Mandela to address the trades council. It was probably the last public meeting Mandela did before he was locked up by the Apartheid regime.
Unfortunately the NW London trades unionists were not the only people interested in Mandela. We now know that the CIA helped the South African authorities lift Mandela after his return to the country.
Willesden and Wembley merged to form Brent Trades Union Council, better known for backing the Grunwick strikers, but we are just as proud of our predecessor's initiative in holding that historic meeting with Mandela, just another example of the important function trades union councils can play. Think globally, act locally -and make sure your branch affiliates to the local trades union council!

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