Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Welcome Back on the Street

 The latest issue of Jewish Socialist magazine has hit the streets somewhat later than planned, in time for Saturday's demonstration against racism, but having gone to press before the editors had time to consider saying anything about Ukraine. Perhaps that's just as well.  While the great powers have thankfully hesitated so far to go to war, no such inhibition has restrained those friends on the Facebook left who rushed to take sides, throwing far more heat than light on the matter, and denouncing each other in terms that suggested imminent fisticuffs, not least among those gathered in the name of Left Unity.

That new grouping does get a mention, along with the People's Assembly initiative, in the latest Jewish Socialist.

More important however, is the magazine's focus on fighting all forms of racism and chauvinism, wherever they're found.  Roma Gypsies proudly waving their flags were at the front of Saturday's march in London, and Jewish Socialist has an original feature by Margaret Greenfields on how Jews and Roma are coming together in Solidarity in Budapest, as well as a report on resistance to clearances of Negev Bedouin.

Colin Green asks whether Israeli military operations on Gaza have been used as a testing ground for new weapons, while a new book on Anarchists Against the Wall is reviewed by Ross Bradshaw.

From generation unto generation, some memories evoked by last year's 75th anniversary statement on Kristallnacht and today's attacks on minorities are published, as is a report by two thoughtful school students on their visit to Auschwitz.

How the Left should confront the insidious growth of 'respectable' anti-immigrant racism exploited by Nigel Farage's UKIP, tipped to do far too well in coming Euro-elections, is  considered by veteran campaigner Don Flynn; while critical scientist Dave King alerts us to the sinister resurgence of research attempting to link genetics and I.Q. , a familiar way of trying to justify inequality.

All work and no play makes Yetta and Yankel into dull girls and boys, but fortunately Jewish Socialist maintains its claim to wider interests, with Dave Rosenberg visiting an exhibition on Jews in football, and Mike Gerber introducing us to hip-hop artist and poet the Ruby Kid.   A moving poem by 'the Kid' about the horrific 1911 Triangle  Shirtwaist fire in which over 100 garment workers were killed might suitably be footnoted by reference to the item by Paul Collins, of War on Want, on the struggle of garment wokers in Bangladesh.  

Tears of the Merry Widow

MUST admit I often turn first to the back of Jewish Socialist magazine to see what mischief is being wreaked in Dybbuk's Diary, and in this issue I am pleased to find some interesting info about America's first lady of Islamophobia, Pamela Geller. I don't often praise Home Secretary Theresa May, but I was pleased by her decision last year to stop a visit to Britain by Geller and her comrade in arms Robert Spencer. The pair had been due to delight an English Defence League (EDL) rally in Woolwich, with the obvious aim of exploiting the murder of Lee Rigby,for which two men have now received lfe sentences.

Geller's campaigns have ranged from opposing a Muslim cultural centre in New York (the supposed "ground zero mosque") through posters on the New York subway backing Israel as the "civilised man" against "savages", to allegations that President Obama's mother appeared in porn films and that Obama is Malcolm X's "love child". She has threatened to sue HM government over its ban on her and Spencer. Though various trusts fund their political campaigns, she has money of her own.

In 2007, police investigating a murder at Long Island's Universal Auto Sales, owned by Pamela Geller's  former husband Michael Oshry, uncovered a racket in which drug dealers and other criminals had been able to launder their proceeds and acquire expensive fast cars, which were registered to other owners. They also found bank statements had not been sent to the firm's office but to the Oshrys' home. Pamela Geller, though listed as a partner in the business, burst into tears, and told the cops she had known nothing about her husband's business affairs. That's quite a change from her usual beaming grin in photographs, and claims to know the President's innermost family secrets.

But, as Dybbuk says, it seemed to work. While a dozen people linked with Universal Auto were arrested, "Pamela Geller remained free to .collect a $4 million divorce settlement, a portion of the $1.8 million realised from the sale of theLong Island home, and then a $5 million life insurance payment when Michael Oshry died a few months after remarrying in 2008".

That sounds like quite a cutie the 'Tea Party' have got as a hostess, and the EDL have had as a friend, though I hear the police have not yet finished with Universal Auto. There is speculation that the shooting of Collin Thomas might be linked somehow with the killing of two cops, also in Long Island. There have been calls for the case to be handed over to the FBI.

Meanwhile I am interested in finding out more about the trusts that have been channeling funds to Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. And whether all that money has remained in the USA.


And talking of money, YOU may be able to buy Jewish Socialist at political events or a decent bookshop, it's £2 a copy,  but to subscribe you can send cheques or POs for £10 for four issues, made out to Jewish Socialist publications. Send to Jewish Socialist, BM3725, London WC1N 3XX.    

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Deaths and the government's dirty work

 FRENCH I.T. firm Atos let it be known last month that it was looking for an early exit from its contract with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to assess whether people on benefits are fit for work.

“In its current form it is not working for claimants, for DWP or for Atos Healthcare. For several months now we have been endeavouring to agree an early exit from the contract, which is due to expire in August 2015. Despite these ongoing discussions, we will not walk away from a frontline service.”

The news came, by co-incidence, on the same day there were nationwide protests over Atos and its tests. The papers dutifully reported that Atos said its staff had been regularly subjected to abuse and assaults, even "death threats". One's natural human sympathy with anyone who had to face that kind of thing in their work had to contend with some of the stories we have heard about the victims of Atos dirty work.
 Linda Wootton had to go for a test in January last year. Linda, aged 49, had suffered complications after a heart and lung transplant years before. She suffered blckouts, and was on ten prescribed medications. But the Atos testers asked her questions like "can you get dressed?", and "What is 100 minus 25?". They ascertained that she could lift a mobile phone, and could walk across the testing room.

 “The test only took 20 minutes,” her husband Peter remembered. “She was crying for longer than that beforehand".

Linda was pronounced fit for work.

“The benefits were actually stopped on February 14,” Peter explains. “Happy Valentine’s. She was in hospital with a chest infection, typing her appeal on her iPad, crying her eyes out. We were lucky because I earned a salary that meant we were OK and we didn’t lose the house.

"But she felt distraught about it. She’d say to me, ‘I’ll have to go back to work then.’ It was only in the days before her death she said, ‘Well, maybe I wasn’t fit for work.’ Only when she had been told she was going to die.

“The thing I find so galling is that at no point did they speak to the doctor who said her condition would not get better back in 2007,” he continues. “At no point did they speak to anyone at Harefield Hospital where she’d had her transplant. Why wouldn’t they do that?"

Linda died on April 25 last year,  only nine days after the Department of Work and Pensions finally rejected her claim of employment support allowance (ESA) of £108.05 a week, sending her a curt letter while she lay desperately ill in hospital.

Although she appealed against the decision, the DWP wrote back saying she would need to score at least 15 points from the assessment but her results were nil.

They concluded: “We have decided that you are not entitled to Employment and Support Allowance because you have been found to be capable of work following your recent Work Capability Assessment.”

Peter Wootton told the Sunday Mirror: "I sat there and listened to my wife drown in her own body fluids. It took half an hour for her to die – and that’s a woman who’s ‘fit for work’. The last months of her life were a misery because she worried about her benefits, feeling useless, like a scrounger."

"I’m not blaming Atos for her death. She died because of a collapsed lung and blood clots after a medical procedure. But I pitied the way Linda was made to feel and I still feel very, very frustrated at the way she was treated.”


Government statistics indicate that between January 2011 and November 2011, 10,600 sick and disabled people died within six weeks of their benefit claim ending. Such was the furore about this figure, the DWP has stopped using Atos data to count the number of deaths. (the Big Issue, March 10)

On March 1, I wrote about Mark Wood, "a face behind the figures", a man with mental health problems whose own doctor diagnosed unfit for work, but whom Athos deemed OK. His benefits were stopped and he starved to death, in David Cameron's west Oxfordshire constituency.

A recent article in the Big Issue told about Tim Salter, a blind 53-year-old suffering from agoraphobia. Tim hanged himself after an Atos test that found him fit to work and a DWP decision to axe his £30-a-week incapacity benefit left him wondering how he could afford his housing association rent. South Staffordshire coroner Andrew Haigh declared: “A major factor in his death was that his benefits had been greatly reduced leaving him almost destitute.”

It also gave us the case of  David Coupe  a former farmer in Derbyshire who died of a rare form of cancer in October last year. He had been stripped of his £50-a-week incapacity benefit and ruled fit to work in December 2012, despite being housebound with a painful back injury, ulcers and diabetes. It left David and his wife Lyn with just £71 a week for the last 10 months of his life.

 “David got a very rare form of cancer, it took his sight and his hearing, then finally his life,” says Lyn. “But months before that Atos had taken away his dignity. His doctors and specialist nurses wrote to the firm but never received a reply.”

Lyn says she has now been sent a letter confirming David’s backdated incapacity benefit will be paid. The Labour MP Dennis Skinner brought up David Coupe’s case in the House of Commons, memorably describing Atos as a “heartless monster”. The Prime Minister conceded it was all “desperately sad” and used it to criticise the “quality of decision-making”.


But hasn't Atos just been doing what the government paid them to do? In May 2013, Dr Greg Wood, a former Atos employee, revealed how skewed the tests were against claimants and how much pressure testers were under to change reports and find the right conclusion (ie: fit to work). 

Kaliya Franklin, aka Bendy Girl, who writes the Benefit Scrounging Scum blog, believes Atos has provided a convenient smokescreen for government strategy. “The contract was designed on the basis of reducing the number of claims,” she says. “Atos did what they were told.

Dennis Skinner says he isn’t sure “whether [Atos] are leaving before they’re shoved, or the government has realised it’s an opportunity to get rid of them and blame it on them”. The MP wants fundamental changes in medical testing of benefit claimants.

About this time last year it was revealed the government spent £37m in just eight months fighting appeals against benefit claimants declared fit for work, winning only 57% of cases. As many as 59,493 claimants won their appeals. So something, apart from claimants, is not working. At the ATOS protest in Ealing, west London, last month, lawyer Eve Turner, who is also secretary of the local trades council, spoke about the number of cases she has been winning. But as she pointed out, this was no consolation for the unfortunates who die while waiting months for their appeals to be heard.  

MPs have accused Atos of winning its contact on the back of “false promises”. As Margaret Hodge told the 'Mirror':

“It appears that ATOS got this contract by misleading the DWP about how many sites they had to carry out assessments and how many medical professionals that had ready to carry out these assessments,” she said.

“Thousands of people with severe disabilities are having to wait months and months and months for health assessments. They are the victims of the greed that obtained the contract on the back of false promises.”


Is this the end for Atos?  Far from it. Whether or not it has to pull out of the work assessment business before it is pushed, the company has fresh fields opened up to it.

Despite coming under fire for its role in testing people currently receiving disability benefits, the IT company has been given joint responsibility with the National Savings and Investments (NS&I) to implement the programme which will replace childcare vouchers, The Times reported.

NS&I confirmed that while the French IT services firm will be responsible for the payment aspect of the scheme, it will not be involved in eligibility testing.

Government sources told the newspaper that they were certain the agency is capable of running the programme.

Meanwhile, for now, Atos is carrying on dealing with disability claimants. And whoever replaces them  - Capita? G4S? - will still be doing the government's dirty work.  As minister Iain Duncan Smith carries on with his "reforms", Labour MP Sheila Gilmore says he is using the disabled as guinea pigs.

So the campaigners who demonstrated against Atos in February are not packing up their campaign.
Another wave of protests is planned on April 1, and that is no joke. An activist says there will be 144 national peaceful demonstrations against Atos and DWP. "We are demanding that work capacity assessments are no longer carried out by an IT company, but by our local GPs and the funds paid into the NHS rather than non tax paying big businesses!."

To which we may add that GPs must be properly funded and not under pressure from the government and its friends in the media to withold sick notes,

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tanks for the Memory

BRITISH Chieftains on parade. Argument over where they went and bill that was twice paid.

BACK in the early 1980s when circumstances forced me to take a security job, which was all I could get, about the only privilege for working long, boring hours, was entrance to some interesting buildings. Among the larger ones was a stately pile on Millbank, near Parliament Square, housing the offices of the Crown Agents, who supplied anything from postage stamps to pharmaceutical storage systems to overseas governments. It is now a private company with headquarters in Surrey.

Not far away, on Great Smith Street, was a neat, more modest unmarked building belonging to an offshoot of the Crown Agents, International Military Services(IMS). When I spent a night there my instructions included to check all desks in the reading room for any materials or documents that had been left out, and if I found any, to make a note of the location, then remove the items to a safe in the office. Had I been there during the day I might have seen visitors from various countries perusing manuals and catalogues of military hardware for export, much like you or I looking through an Argos catalogue.

At that time the Argentine junta had a naval purchasing mission in Victoria, as it seems HM government was very sportingly helping them prepare for the Falklands/Malvinas war. Other visitors who came on shopping trips had included both Iranians and Iraqis.

IMS, which also had a much larger modern building in Abbey Orchard Street, had been set up by Harold Wilson's Labour government in 1974, but its first chairman was Sir John Cuckney, a former director of Midland Bank, whose name later cropped up in the controversy over arms to Iraq. It was Midland Bank which had a special section devoted to military equipment sales, and which loaned large sums to Saddam Hussein's government. Any losses made when the regime defaulted or was brought down were covered by the British Department of Trade and Industy's Export Credit guarantees, in other words, the public.

However, our current story concerns arms to Iran.

Between 1971 and 1976, the Shah of Iran had ordered 1,500 Chieftain tanks and 250 repair vehicles costing £650 million. The shah's regime paid up front, which must have come in handy for the British government. But then in 1979,  with only 185 tanks delivered,  the Iranian Revolution deposed the Shah, and installed an Islamic Republic. The massive arms deal came apart, and the Iranians asked for their money back. But the British government had other ideas.

"We chose not to return the equivalent of £450 million that Iran had paid us," said Tory MP Ben Wallace. "Instead we sold the tanks to Saddam Hussein who then proceeded to use them against the people of Iran."

In 2010 it was reported that the Iranian government had won a longdrawn out court case ove this, and that Britain, more specifically IMS, was waiting for the Iranians to apply for their money, and would then pay it back. But by last year the money had still not been paid, possibly because of sanctions against Iran. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office granted visas to a group of Iranian officials to come and pursue their case for the funds in the courts here. But no sooner had the Iranians touched down at Heathrow than their passports were seized, their visas revoked, and themselves locked up as supposed asylum-seekers.

(This reminds me incidentally of another case, when a British diplomat who had been working in Iran was detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and his home was searched, although he was never charged. It looked as though MI6 and MI5 might have been working at cross purposes).+

Ben Wallace, MP for Wyre and Preston North, is a former Army intelligence officer who also served as overseas director for QinetiQ, the now privatised MoD research and development company. He is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Iran. Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate on March 11, he urged that the money owed to the Iranians be released now that relations were improving. The MP also expressed concern that while the US government was issuing letters of comfort to assist US banks wishing to trade in Iran after sanctions were eased, British banks had no such protection from the long reach of Congress.

IMS is fairly dormant as a company now that arms sales are left to private companies, but it is being kept going to deal with cases like the Iranian claim, which could reach court here in June.

Meanwhile, according to Private Eye, the Treasury has Iran listed as owing the UK money on this deal, because the Shah borrowed part of the money for the deal from British banks, which were paid £28.44 million under our old friend the Export Credit Guarantee Department.  






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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Twenty Years Ago

 TWENTY years ago I was involved in Workers Aid for Bosnia, a left-wing initiative to support the Bosnian people against aggression and "ethnic cleansing" and to take material aid, particularly to the workers of Tuzla, a mining and industrial town in the north of the country, with a tradition of resistance to fascism.

Today, twenty years later, Tuzla has been at the centre of a storm of unrest against the privatisers and asset-strippers wrecking its economy. A new generation of young people are finding their voice as they fight for their future, and their movement has already burst the banks of the divisions brought by war and intervention. 

This article, written after I had been to Tuzla on a convoy, was commissioned by my late friend  Bernard Misrahi, and appeared in the November-December issue of 'Chartist'.  It was also included in the anthology 'Taking Sides' published later by Workers Aid for Bosnia.

Workers Aid, initiated by Trotskyists, and much inspired and informed by a Serb comrade, was a remarkable achievement, largely thanks to the support and involvment of "ordinary" people, from pensioners to youth, and trade unionists.  Of course it was only a fraction of what was needed, and what could have been done, had more people, and bigger organisations, put their mind to it.

But nevertheless, I like to think that in helping some of our brave Bosnian friends keep alive, we may also have helped keep alive the flame of resistance and hope that is alight again today.   


  Solidarity on wheels

"THEY want to divide up Bosnia. So what am I supposed to do?" demanded Adzic, "Divorce my
wife, split up my family? Where will my children go? My wife is a Serb. I am Muslim... ha! me a Muslim! I've not been in a mosque since I was a kid.

"But now, they put a label on you. And for people there it is different. You must go to the church, or go to the mosque, if you want to eat. I could never believe that this would happen in my country..."

We'd been collecting for Bosnia, on a cold winter afternoon, and were in a cafe in Leeds. Adzic had heard from his sister, after months of worrying whether she and her children were still alive. But her letter told of burned homes, friends taken away, 'ethnic cleansing'. I wondered what people on neighbouring tables were making of this.

What was I making of it? Could I continue with routine meetings, gossiping with old friends on demonstrations, going for a meal, contented I'd done my bit? Maybe somewhere at the back of my mind a picture of that Bosnian woman fleeing with her children resonated with something I'd heard as a kid, about a young girl fleeing a pogrom in Russia, carrying her baby brother, my grandfather.

Earlier this year, fed up with hearing why we could not, or should not, do anything, I told friends I was going to Bosnia. Workers Aid for Bosnia were sending a convoy to Tuzla, a mining town with a mixed population. Though I'm not a driver, they agreed I could go.

We assembled in Zagreb. Seventeen lorries with food from the miners' union of Slovenia. Six from Germany, driven by Bosnians who’d been working there, Jacques from Normandy,  with  a huge
long truck loaded with milling grain and seeds. Sue from New Zealand who had fetched a lorry load of medical supplies from Sweden; Paddy, from Glasgow, ex-soldier reading politics at Cambridge, putting his convov-driving experience to use. Lisa doing the same with her studies in nutrition. Young Andy from the Lake District, long-haired and scruffy, who proved ace at repairing lorries, and handling them on iced-up mountain roads.

 MAKING FRIENDS in central Bosnia, Sue from New Zealand

Paul, a young lorry driver from Leyland had heard about the convoy on local radio, and decided to take his annual holiday driving with us. "I'd seen Bosnia on the news, and it just seemed the right thing to do"'. Dot, a Marxist since her teens, had found the hardest bit telling her grandchildren she wouldn't be with them at Christmas, when she led the previous convoy.

The quickest way to Tuzla is straight down an all-weather highway via Zupanje. It's recommended in tour maps. But that was before the war. Now this northern route runs through a narrow neck of Serb- held territory, and UNPROFOR doesn't want to disturb them. So it's down the winding coast road to Split, where we're joined by the Spanish and Basque comrades with a coach stacked with food.

From here a zig-zag route leads over the mountains, via hairpin bends and makeshift tracks.

Fortunately, fighting between Bosnian and Croat forces had ceased. And with fine weather, we'll be facing dust clouds, instead of slithering on mud (the snow and ice came on our way back). But first there's a three-dav wait on a hot, dusty lorry-park outside Split, while papers are sorted out with UN and Croat officials, who poke about in our lorries, looking for anything that s not on the paperwork. The Bosnian drivers are impatient to leave, anxious to reach their homes, not knowing what they'll find.

At Kamenets, a cold wait at dawn, while armed border officials of the Croat: 'Hercog-Bosna' statelet look in the lorries, and half-seriously accuse Fazlovic, one of the Bosnians, of 'black-marketeering', after finding 200 cigarettes in his cab. They're just throwing their weight around. While we're waiting I scramble up the hillside to find a suitab1e bush, toilet roll in my pocket. Evidently I'm not the first, so I step gingerly. Though the border point has no toilets, a dutyfree shop is waiting to open - the enterprise culture has arrived.

We were lucky, moving off after a few hours. A smaller convoy the following month was kept waiting at the border for ten days. Friends who went out this Summer were thrown in a water-logged basement cell in Mostar by the Croat  HVO militia, and only freed after Labour MPs and trade unions, here and in Croatia protested about their disappearance.

Our trip had begun almost like a holiday ~ moonlit Adriatic coves, swimming near Split, wooded hills, blue lakes and snow- capped peaks under the sun. Then came the burnt-out houses, in increasing numbers A friend pointed out some marked with a white cross, left unscathed.

Bosnians had returned from working abroad to build these family homes. Now their life-work was in ruins. We pass hungry-eyed children, desperate for a few sweets thrown from the window. An old man gratefully accepts a cigarette. A young girl dashes across the road to slow down vehicles, so the little ones can get something.The Bosnians and Slovenes are better prepared, throwing out big bags of popcorn as they go by. At a turning, a young head-scarved mother holds a toddler to wave, and we find some chocolate and an orange to give her. 'Hwala', thanks, she smiles, brushing back a tear. My eyes need wiping too.

At Prozor, as dusk fell, drunken Croat militiamen stagger out of bars. One of them rammed a riflebutt through Jacques' windscreen. At Gorni Vakuf, a British officer told us we must wait till morning, but not step off the road as there were mines about. I'm told several people have been maimed or killed by small anti-personnel mines left at roadsides. We saw a lot of young people with legs missing. The British government exports such mines, but refused export licenses for mine detectors under the arms embargo on Bosnia.

Entering Bosnian-held territory, we pass through small towns with mixed Muslim and Croat population, and no burned out houses or other signs of ethnic cleansing. Workers cycling home from a power station wheel over to ask where we're going. "Tuzla? Very good. People hungry in Tuzla. Good luck!" Over the hills to Vares, with minaret and church spire intact amid neat suburbs. Past half-derelict rusting works that remind me of England.

On the steep hill out of Vares, a young lad in Bosnian army camouflage-fatigues comes over. "You are from England?" . Dirk, our driver, is from Germany, Genevieve's from Belgium, Edna's from Leeds,... 'So this is international workers' solidarity?'. 'That's right, chuck!' says Edna. 'Great!' he beams, and turns to explain to his mates .

We've a crooked rock-hewn tunnel to pass through, and more climbing. Jacques' lorry has to be diverted to Zenica, and its load decanted into smaller vehicles. We spend a night on windswept Mount Milenkovic, hearing Serb artillery. Next morning a man with a wheelbarrow and shovel is out mending holes in the road. We share tea and cigarettes with him. He s a Serb too, keeping the aid route open, unpaid.. "When this war is over, we must not forget people like him," says Farouk, our guide from Tuzla. Whenever I hear the BBC refer to Dr .Karadzic and his gangsters as "the Bosnian Serbs", I remember this decent man mending the road to Tuzla.

Tuzla reminded me almost of a northern town. Even the mosques are like little Nonconformist chapels with minarets. Our hosts, the Kreka miners' union, are proud of their tradition. Outside their centre stands a heroic statue of a miner with a rifle commemorating not just the partisans, as I thought, but a strike in 1921 when thev resisted the Serb royal regime's attempt to deport 'foreign' (eg Croat) miners. In 1984-5 Tuzla miners held regular collections for British miners.

Many of the buildings in Tuzla bear scars of shellfire. Food and fuel are in short supply and there were power cuts. Tihomir, with whom I was staying, told us by candlelight about running with his wife and child to reach a shelter, and seeing children blown to pieces. A mining engineer, he had spent some time in England, and showed me his souvenirs -NUM badges. Tihomir didn't think much of the government in Sarajevo, but was proud of the voung men in his army unit, who "always look after each other, whatever their background, and whatever the danger".

The big cream-painted Serb Orthodox church was restored after Serb shelling. At Easter, people collected food parcels there. Little notices pinned around the town, some with snapshots, announced latest deaths in action. Some had green crescents, others black crosses, and some
had red stars. Before the war, more than 20 per cent of Tuzla people were of mixed families, identified as 'Yugoslav'.

The town is full of Muslim refugees, country folk. I saw a man grazing goats outside the bank. There are crescents and stars scrawled with 'SDA' - Izetbegovic's Muslim-based party. But the mayor and council are proudly secular, non-nationalist, social democrat. Delivering aid to them and the miners helps them keep the town united.

A noisy Saturday night rock-concert must have been audible up in the hills. Another way of annoying the Serb nationalist chetniks by insisting everything stays 'normal'. Ninella, 19, taking part in a shooting competition next day, was asked whether she practised with pop-up Serbs as targets. "Not Serbs, chetniks!', she admonished. Her army friend said: 'All chetniks are Serbs, but not all Serbs are chetniks."

Back home in England, a Tower Hamlets Liberal tells the radio interviewer "It's not natural for different people to live together, look at Bosnia'; and an anti-racist friend can't understand why I "take sides". But 'ordinary' people whom he would deem 'non-political' understand.

The news is Tuzla has been shelled, and the road through Vares is threatened. Some idiot here accuses us of carrying guns to Bosnia. I think of Ninella and her friends, of Tihomir and his family, and of that lad whose eyes lit up at 'international workers solidarity"; and I wish we could.

TUZLA, Bosnia and Hercogovina

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Don't Forget Iraq (3)

I normally hesitate to take up stories about oppression of women, or child abuse, in Islamic countries, in case they are manufactured for propaganda purposes. But sometimes they are true. I know that Hussein al Alak, whose comment I am republishing here, is a decent and patriotic Iraqi as opposed to  the imperialists' war and occupation of his country as he is to the reactionary regime they have left behind.
At the first conference of the Stop the War Coalition, when I wanted to second a motion calling for support to secular and democratic forces in Iraq, I was told there would not be time. However time was found for several speakers to oppose the motion, among whom I remember Candice Unwin of the Socialist Workers Party, who beside the usual accusation that we were "telling Iraqis what to do", evoked the story of an Iraqi child attacked by British soldiers, to declare emotionally that she was not going to ask whether that child was secular or not.

The motion was lost, though about a third of delegates supported it, evidently unimpressed by the SWP demagogy or weighted debate. 
Had I been able to speak I was going to explain that far from detracting from solidarity with the people of Iraq, we wanted to warn that before they withdrew from Iraq, the imperialists would rely on reactionaries and corrupt leaders to foster a backward regime and promote sectarian conflict in Iraq, so as to divide and rule. We should be supporting secular forces, trade unions, women's movements and students, to counteract this.
Tragically, events since then have more than bore this out. As for Stop the War and the SWP, they may not have wanted to tell Iraqis what to do, but they don't seem to have listened to them either. Even when there were signs of the "Arab Spring" spreading to Iraq, with people starting to regain their confidence and challnge the government, they did not get the attention they should.

Anyway, here is Hussein al Alak:

Iraqi government's paedophile plan for children

I am writing in disgust at the total disregard to the rights of women and girls in Iraq, whose lives are to be further blighted by the proposal of the Ja'afari Personal Status Law.

The proposed law, which is still to be voted on by Iraq's parliament, will legalise paedophilia, by allowing the marriage of 9 year old'girls, will prevent women from leaving their homes without their husbands permission, and will also permit a husband the right of sexual gratification at his whim, in effect legalising rape.

The Ja'afari Status Law, if introduced, will also prevent a Muslim from marrying a non Muslim, which will only add further tension, to Iraq's already fractured social fabric, which has been pushed to its limits, since the USA and UK introduced democracy to Iraq.

What has horrified both myself and numerous others, is the silence which has come from Britain's Parliament, who after all were the first to decry the human rights abuses of Saddam Hussain, along with claiming that their invasion was to help champion the cause of women's rights in Iraq.

It is grotesque, that the UK is failing to utilise it's influence over the Iraqi Government, into reversing its plan to create the worlds first pervert state, which as most people are fully aware, was most generously funded by the US/UK tax payer.

At the same time, the UK also need to have some clarity and inform us the electorate, what Britain's political, military and diplomatic positions with the Iraqi Government and it's British based institutions will be, should the US/UK backed Iraqi Government, legalise both primary school aged brides and rape.


And here is another Iraqi who is always worth listening to, the indefatigable Haifa Zangana, on the same subject:


I would not bother asking Candice Unwin about this, as she seems to have had enough trouble holding the lid down on rape allegations in the SWP.

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Don't Forget Iraq (2)

Politicians may be happy to "move on" from what they did to Iraq - seeking fresh field to conquer?  And the leaders of the much-reduced Stop the War Coalition may have happily decided it was all over.  For Iraqis, unhappily, it is not. And people like Iraq Occupation Focus (IOF) have not taken their eyes off an ordeal that is still going on. 

FALLUJAH scene of carnage again

Here is Mike Phipps, of IOF, speaking at a meeting in the House of Commons for
Justice for Iraq 2014

Iraq is back in the news and once more it’s Anbar Province and Fallujah at its heart. Nearly 400,000 people have fled Anbar since fighting started at the end of last year. According to the UN, 65,000 people fled the fighting in the towns of Fallujah and Ramadi in one week alone.

The narrative peddled by the Iraqi Government and picked up in the mainstream media is that Al-Qaeda had taken over Fallujah. It’s not particularly accurate but it helped to secure an immediate delivery of arms to the Iraqi regime from its US puppeteers to help quell the protests in Anbar. These protests began over a year ago, demanding the freeing of tens of thousands of detainees held without charge by the security forces. Brutal torture and rape - regardless of gender - are widespread in Iraq’s jails. Last year alone, the state executed 169 people, putting it third in the league behind China and Iran.

The Iraqi Government’s accusation of an external Al-Qaeda takeover was made to justify a ferocious siege and bombardment of the Fallujah and Ramadi.  Human Rights Watch has accused the regime of “indiscriminate mortar fire in civilian neighbourhoods” and “killing its own citizens unlawfully”.  Hundreds of people have been killed and more than 200,000 displaced.

The Pentagon is considering following up its arms shipments with the deployment of more troops in the region to train Iraqi forces - this almost ten years after the first round of collective punishment was inflicted on Fallujah - when US forces killed between 4,000 and wounded6,000  -mostly civilians, using white phosphorous in what can only be called one of the worst war crimes of this new century.

Now Us forces are back - training Iraqi soldiers in Jordan, according to a recent Reuters report.

Any fresh deployment by US forces will hardly generate the same headlines that the 2003 invasion elicited. “The face of American-style war-fighting is changing,” Nick Turse wrote recently. “Forget full-scale invasions and large-footprint occupations; instead, think: special operations forces working on their own but also training or fighting beside allied militaries… And along with those special ops advisors, trainers, and commandos expect ever more funds and efforts to flow into the militarization of spying and intelligence, the use of drone aircraft, the launching of cyber-attacks, and joint Pentagon operations with increasingly militarized “civilian” government agencies.” He argues that the new approach to conflict - involving the Pentagon, the CIA and other agencies - using commando tactics, backed up by selective assassination by Predator Drones constitutes nothing less than a new Obama doctrine.

The UK also understands the changing military framework. Global Research recently reported “In December 2007, Major General Graham Binns, Commander of British Forces in Basra, handed illegally occupied Basra Province back to the Iraqis.

However, Major General Binns, who commanded the 7th Armoured Brigade when it led the siege of Basra in 2003, is back in Basra with a new hat on. In the revolving door between the US and UK armies and mercenary companies, Binns, who left the army in 2010, joined Aegis Defence Services, who have been employed by the New Governor of Basra.

Amongst other things, states the Major General: “Aegis will be asked to provide help with setting up specialised CCTV detection and checkpoint systems across the city, establishing a “ring of steel” security system to thwart suicide bombers.” Sounds just like old times.” concludes the report.

There’s something shameless about this that only the Brits can pull off. It’s paralleled by the Govt appointment of a new Trade Representative to Iraq whom Haifa has recently written about. Baroness Emma Nicholson, who campaigned against the Saddam Hussein regime’s abuse of human rights and was a prominent vocal supporter of the 2003 invasion to “free the Iraqi people from terrible tyranny”.

Nicholson has now shifted her role from an outspoken champion of human rights to being Executive Chairman of the Iraq Britain Business Council. Addressing a conference last month, The Baroness pointed out that the country’s economy was one of the most vibrant in the world, despite the current challenging situation in some regions.

That would be Anbar again and specifically Fallujah. According to a Truth Out report by Dahr Jamail this month,

 ‘Doctors, residents and NGO workers in Fallujah are accusing the Iraqi government of "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity" that have occurred as a result of its ongoing attack on the city.

Dr. Ahmed Shami, the chief of resident doctors at Fallujah General Hospital, told Truthout that since Iraqi government forces began shelling Fallujah in early January 2014, at least 109 civilians have been killed and 632 wounded.

"Ten of those killed were children, and 40 of the wounded are children," Shami said. He also said five of the dead are women, as are 35 of the wounded.

"Many children have been killed in cold blood as the result of the indiscriminate shelling of the city," Shami said. "At the same time, there are many young people from the city who (Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-)Maliki's army has killed and burned their bodies." -

 The Iraqi army refuses to allow medical supplies into the city, bombing bridges and roads to prevent their delivery. Some reports say Falluja’s general hospital has been attacked by government bombardment on eight separate occasions.

 This is the  regionally “challenging situation”  to which Emma Nicholson refers. But things are pretty bleak nationally too. Its criminal justice system is corrupt and murderous: “Last year alone, 1,200 men and women were on death row, most of them sentenced after the usual pre-trial confessions under torture,” wrote Robert Fisk recently.

 Much of the media is sectarian and Iraq remains one of the most dangerous countries  - correction the most dangerous country  - in the world for journalists. A new personal status law - against which women demonstrated courageously on Saturday - threatens to bring back child marriage. Around one third of people  are below the poverty line. This breeds extraordinary desperation - Iraq is now a centre for human organ trafficking, female sex trafficking and child slavery.

Business opportunities indeed.

 Emma Nicholson understands that talk about human rights in Iraq is passe now. Britain’s Coalition is a government that doesn’t care much for the human rights of its own citizens, let alone anyone else’s. Its housing policy has been criticised by the UN for penalising the vulnerable. Its police routinely infiltrate and spy on those fighting miscarriages of justice. And last week we read: “About 168,000 older people have stopped receiving help with essential tasks such as eating, washing and getting dressed as a result of deep and continuing cuts to social care under the coalition government,” in a report from Age UK. Human rights are cheap these days.

 And it’s not just the government; the mainstream media is equally compliant. In the little noticed al-Sweady inquiry in London, British soldiers ten years on stand accused of the torture and murder of Iraqis in their custody. Corpses showed evidence of “eyes missing, tongues cut out, and noses cut off".  Human rights abuses - but no-one’s interested.

Then in January a bombshell: A devastating 250-page dossier, detailing allegations of beatings, electrocution, mock executions and sexual assault, has been presented to the International Criminal Court, and could result in some of Britain's leading defence figures facing prosecution for "systematic" war crimes.

General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the British Army; former defence secretary Geoff Hoon; and former defence minister Adam Ingram are among those named in the report, entitled "The Responsibility of UK Officials for War Crimes Involving Systematic Detainee Abuse in Iraq from 2003-2008". The damning dossier draws on cases of more than 400 Iraqis, representing "thousands of allegations of mistreatment amounting to war crimes of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment". They range from "hooding" prisoners to burning, electric shocks, threats to kill and "cultural and religious humiliation". Other forms of alleged abuse include sexual assault, mock executions, threats of rape, death, and torture.

In these tough economic times, business opportunities, it seems, trump the luxury of human rights, even when it would have politically expedient to champion them in the past. This is why the British govt - and indeed the whole EU - can’t really bring itself to impose any serious economic sanctions on Russia right now, given the impact that might have on investment and the London property market - “an elite with the morality of the hedge fund” as Kremlin watcher  Ben Juddah put it recently.



Don't Forget Iraq

The organisation US Labor Against the War has asked friends to copy and circulate this message. I am glad to do so, not only as a tribute to them but as a service to those here in Britain who have too short memories of the US and British invasion, and its aftermath.

USLAW Statement on the Eleventh Anniversary

of the Illegal U.S. Invasion of Iraq

With heavy heart and renewed determination, the officers, staff, and affiliates of U.S. Labor Against the War mark the eleventh anniversary of the outbreak of the illegal U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. For many Americans, the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq at the end of 2011 marked the end of U.S. involvement with, and responsibility towards, the Iraqi people.  We disagree.

Even though our combat forces are out, the war continues to have catastrophic effects in Iraq, and for the families of tens of thousands of U.S. veterans. Millions of Iraqis grieve the loss of loved ones killed by the U.S. military, while Americans mourn the deaths of thousands of our soldiers.

The sectarian violence wracking Iraq has its immediate origins in the ignorant and hubristic policies imposed by U.S. occupation forces. The sectarian factionalism encouraged by the U.S. occupation has paralyzed the Iraqi political process, presided over by a dysfunctional government. Depleted uranium from U.S. munitions is a continuing, widespread, and profound threat to the Iraqi environment and people, and to returning U.S. troops. Iraqi workers, 80% of whom work in the public sector – the oil industry, transportation, heavy manufacturing, hospitals, schools, ports, social services - are forbidden from organizing unions and engaging in collective bargaining because the U.S. kept in force the 1987 Saddam Hussein decree that prohibits public sector workers from organizing unions. All this and more is the legacy of a war that has not ended for Iraqis, for which the American people and our government must take responsibility.

The war, now officially over for more than two years, continues to have catastrophic effects in the U.S. as well. Our Iraq war veterans suffer loss of limbs and eyes, long-term traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder. They suffer from homelessness, unemployment, and suicide disproportionate to their numbers in society. The economic wellbeing of the country is threatened by the overhang of debt created by the reckless funding of the war and the distorted federal budget priorities that fund U.S. militarized foreign policy, instead of devoting those resources to urgent domestic human needs.

As we reflect on the terrible continuing effects of the Iraq war, we in U.S. Labor Against the War commit ourselves to continuing and deepening our partnerships within the labor movement and with peace, veterans, and community organizations. We will continue to work with our partners in the Iraqi labor movement and Iraqi civil society. We will not turn away from our longstanding commitments to peace and justice in Iraq, and for our veterans and the American people. We are determined to end our country’s militarized foreign policy, no matter where our government seeks to apply it, and to promote true security for our people through universal education, health care, and modern infrastructure.

These are our commitments as we mark the eleventh anniversary of the U.S. war in Iraq.


1718 M Street, NW, #153, Washington, DC 20036 ~ (202) 521-5265 ~ Info@USLaborAgainstWar.org

www.USLaborAgainstWar.org ;♦ facebook.com/labor.against.war ♦ facebook.com/IraqSolidarity ♦ @USLAWLeader

We encourage all USLAW affiliates to post this statement on their websites, reproduce it in newsletters, and circulate it electronically and in print to members, supporters, the media and allies.
Download in PDF format

منظمة عمال أمريكا المناهضين للحرب (USLAW)

تجريد السياسة الخارجية للولايات المتحدة- التنظيم من أجل اقتصاد جديد

بيان منظمة عمال أمريكا المناهضين للحرب بمناسبة الذكرى الحادية عشر لبدء الحرب على العراق

بقلوب قوية و إرادة متجددة، يسجّل المسئولون و الموظفون في  منظمة عمال أمريكا المناهضين للحرب (USLAW) الذكرى الحادية عشر على شن العدوان غير الشرعي من قبل الولايات المتحدة لغزو العراق و احتلاله. و بالنسبة للكثير من الأمريكيين، يعتبر انسحاب القوات العسكرية الأمريكية من العراق بنهاية عام 2011 بمثابة نهاية لالتزام الولايات المتحدة مع الشعب العراقي و مسؤوليتها تجاهه. و لكننا لا نتفق معهم على ذلك.

فبالرغم من خروج قواتنا الحربية، إلّا أن الحرب مستمرة بتأثيراتها و مخلفاتها الكارثية على العراق، و أيضا على عوائل عشرات الألوف من المحاربين الأمريكيين المسرّحين من الخدمة العسكرية. أن الملايين من العراقيين غارقون بالحزن لفقدانهم لأحبابهم الذين قتلتهم القوات الأمريكية، و بالوقت نفسه يعم الحزن على الأمريكيين لوفاة الآلاف من جنودنا في الحرب.

أن العنف الطائفي الذي يعصف بالعراق له صلة وثيقة و جذور مباشرة تمتد في عمق السياسات الجاهلة و المتعجرفة المفروضة من قبل قوات الاحتلال الأمريكية. و أن الأحزاب الطائفية التي شجعها الاحتلال الأمريكي قد شلّت العملية السياسية في العراق، و على رأسها الحكومة المختلة. و أن اليورانيوم المنضب من الذخيرة الأمريكية لا يزال يمثل تهديدا مستمرا وواسعا و معقدا إلى الشعب العراقي و البيئة في العراق، إضافة إلى أفراد القوات الأمريكية العائدين. أما عمال العراق و الذين يعمل 80% منهم في القطاع العام-الصناعة النفطية و المواصلات و الصناعات الثقيلة و المستشفيات و المدارس و الموانئ و الخدمات العامة، فهم محرومون من التنظيم بنقابات أو الانخراط في المفاوضات الجماعية و ذلك لأن القوات الأمريكية قد أبق و بالقوة القانون الذي أصدره صدام حسين في عام 1987 و الذي يمنع عمال القطاع العام من حق التنظيم النقابي. كل هذا و غيره من الأمور، هي مخلفات لحرب لم تنته بعد بالنسبة إلى العراقيين، و التي ينبغي على الشعب و الحكومة الأمريكية تحمّل المسؤولية أزائها.

وأن الحرب، رسميا و بعد مرور أكثر من عامي ، لا تزال تأثيراتها الكارثية مستمرة في الولايات المتحدة كذلك. أن الكثير من المحاربين الأمريكيين المسرحين من الخدمة قد فقدوا أطرافهم أو أعينهم أو أصيبوا بإصابات شديدة و طويلة الأمد في الدماغ، إضافة الى العديد من الأمراض النفسية التي تعقب حالات الكوارث. و هم يعانون من التشرد بدون منازل أو البطالة أو الميول الانتحارية لنسب عالية منهم في المجتمع. أن تحسن الوضع الاقتصادي في البلاد مهدد من جراء أعباء الديون التي نجمت عن التمويل غير المسؤول للحرب و و الأولويات الحكومية الخاطئة في تمويل السياسات الأمريكية الحربية الخارجية بدلا من توظيف الموارد المالية الى تلبية الاحتياجات الإنسانية و الأسرية الهامة.

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Two very different fighters lost

TONY BENN at Bread and Roses club in Clapham, welcoming American trade unio nits from US Labor Against the War.

Below, MICK ABBOTT, wearing Shrewsbury pickets tee shirt, with Ricky Tomlinson and other campaigners, at Westminster.   

AS though the death of RMT leader Bob Crow was not enough, we have lost two other fighters from our side, two men from very different backgrounds, TONY BENN and MICK ABBOTT, both of whom dedicated their lives to the cause of socialism and the working class, and both of them sadly missed. 

Warm tributes have poured in to Tony Benn from all sorts of people who genuinely admired him and appreciated his contribution to the movement and British politics. Often they come with memories of this or that speech which inspired the listener, or occasions when  they were grateful for Tony Benn's support. It must niggle Labour's self-styled "modernisers", if they are not too thick-skinned, to reflect that Benn's popularity is unlikely to ever accrue to the likes of Tony Blair.

There's some question which the genuine Benn admirers have found more sickening, the hypocritical and patronising praise for Tony Benn now he's dead from politicians who opposed eveything he stood for when alive; or the way some old adversaries have been coaxed back out of obscurity to denounce Benn before he is buried. He has been accused of splitting Labour, and being "destructive", and this by people like Shirley Williams who broke from the Labour Party to form the SDP and encourages her Lib Dem colleagues to back the coalition's attack on the NHS. 

They accuse Benn of "resisting new ideas", and Williams, whose own "new idea" when a Labour minister of Education was to propose replacing student grants by loans, says "Tony was yearning for a world that was gone. …He didn’t really recognise that the world was becoming global." Really? Is that the man I remember as Anthony Wedgwood Benn, dragging Parliament into the 20th century so he didn't have to become Lord Stansgate? The Postmaster General who opened the GPO Tower in London to the public? The champion of Concorde (part built in his Bristol constituency) who restored that "e" at the end as an earnest of Anglo-French co-operation?  

I was never one of Tony Benn's uncritical fans, and won't pretend so now. I even attacked him on occasion. (Like when he fell into bad company -i.e. Socialist Action and its Serb nationalist chums who formed the 'Committee for Peace in the Balkans'.) 

But on the positive side, I remember my Mum and Dad, admonishing my youthful cynicism, saying that " At least he fought to stay out of the House of Lords when most of them could not wait to get in there". My Dad, one of the disappointed generation,  still jeered bitterly about "Earl Attlee" and rarely had a good word for any politician, so praise from him was praise indeed. Benn earned it,and thus probably persuaded a lot of people that politics and voting was still worthwhile..

Second, I saw a message on Facebook (unfortunately I did not save it) from someone involved in support for the Hillingdon hospital cleaners' fight. These were mainly Asian women, who found themselves in the frontline fighting the privatisers, as they resisted having their wages cut. They were delighted when Benn accepted an invite to speak at a public meeting in their support in Southall. Apparently more than they got from Southall's then Labour MP (or some in the union).

Thirdly, talking of new ideas, during Benn's time as Industry Minister he took his belief in democracy beyond the palace of Westminster by supporting workers who took over their factories to resist sackings and closures. Skeptical as we were about things like the Meriden co-op for their utopian aspect, and the danger they could descend into class collaboration before reaching a dead end, it is worth thinking about them again today's context (as well as contrasting Benn's efforts with New Labour's distance from anything involving workers). One workers' occupation may be worth a thousand words about "nationalisation" in a left-wing paper.
  And  even naive co-operatives are better than Labour MPs and councils demanding, as some recently did, tougher action against squatting.

I don't know whether Tony Benn was ever associated with the campaign for the Shrewsbury building pickets. (perhaps someone can tell us?) .But Mick Abbott, who died at his home in Wigan on February 27, most certainly was. I think Mick was one of the Wigan building workers who brought the issue of the jailed pickets on to a march in Preston called by the union in 1974, and he was one of the leaders of the march from Wigan to London the following year, as well as accompanying Ricky Tomlinson to the TUC in Blackpool. Having worked so hard to keep the issue alive when others, not least the Labour and trade union leaders, preferred trying to bury it, Mick came to the fore in the more recent campaign to bring out the truth about what happened to the pickets, hidden in still secret government documents, as w ell having the sentences squashed.

Unlike Benn, Mick was not born into a privileged background and did not have a career in politics. He was one of 12 siblings born in Kirkdale, Liverpool, on March 24, 1939, and he worked most of his life -when he could - in the construction industry. Married to Mary, and a father of four, he was a warm, friendly man with a typically Scouse sense of humour, but he could be serious, whether patiently reasoning with employers, or winning the confidence of fellow workers.

There were 400 people, relatives and friends, at his funeral to pay tribute, but as for fame, if his name did not make the papers or television, he had a different kind, in the dossier compiled on him for over 40 years by the secretive Consulting Association, financed by big construction companies. Like more than 3,000 other building workers and others, having acquired a name for asking for decent conditions and reporting safety breaches, Michael Abbott found himself not wanted time and again for work that was going on the sites.     

 Working as a scaffolder, Mick was also a TGWU shop steward on several sites, and with his brother Terry, also TGWU, he led a strike at  Stanlow oil refinery in Cheshire. An earlier major dispute came during the construction of Fiddlers Ferry power station near Warrington. A 1964 CA entry states: “Mr Abbott said: ‘I started on the Monday morning and the guy who was in charge said to us he wouldn’t take his lads up on the wet steel. At about 10.30am that morning an old man about 62, a steel erector, came hurtling down and was impaled on the steel barriers. We are always having to fight for safer conditions in the construction industry.’”

When I met the Wigan building workers contingent on that Preston march in 1974 they were surprised to hear that I was working on the Heysham power station site, having used somewhat irregular methods to get on site without going through Taylor Woodrow, the main contractor. They told me that none of them, who had been at Fiddlers Ferry, had been able to get a job at Heysham.

Taylor Woodrow was a major subscriber to the Consulting Association, and before that, to its predecessor, the right-wing Economic League.
When the the CA's offices in Droitwich were raided in 2009 as part of an investigation by the Information Commissioners Office, a total of 3,200 names were discovered on its database. Among documents found were invoices showing that 44 construction firms, including some of the UK’s biggest, were regularly using the database. David Clancy, ICO investigations manager, gave evidence to an employment tribunal that some of the information in files used to blacklist workers “could only be supplied by the police or security services.”

It was during the 1972 building strike, the first national strike in the industry, that Mick Abbott got to know Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson, who were later jailed on "conspiracy" charges for their part in organising pickets during the strike. At his trial, Des Warren famously said that the only conspiracy had been betwen the big employers, the Tory government, and the police. When Labour got in Home Secretary Roy Jenkins -another of the SDP "gang of four" - refused to release the two pickets, who spent more time in jail under Labour than they had under the Conservatives. A later Labour Home secretary, Jack Straw, told MPs that government documents concerning the Shrewsbury trial must be kept secret for reasons of "national security".

Talking about the CA blacklist, Mick Abbott said last year; “My file goes back to 1964, and the last entry says that I rekindled the campaign for justice for the Shrewsbury picketers in 2006. They have been watching me all these years and passing this information around, blighting my life over four decades.”

Banned from sites, Mick became self-employed, installing kitchens. But he continued campaigning, including support for the Construction Safety Campaign, and the Blacklist Support Group, as well as the Justice for Shrewsbury 24 pickets campaign. In 2012 he met MPs on the Scottish Affairs select Committee who were discussing the effect of blacklisting. He had previously been with Ricky Tomlinson and other activists to a meeting in the Commons about the Shrewsbury case, and he carried on campaigning even though he was seriously ill.

But then Mick Abbott along with other campaigners found themselves up against another kind of obstruction, something which we have been aware of for some time, but refuses to explain itself and therefore remains to be explained. Some people within the Shrewsbury campaign have set themselves up as the "official" campign, according to their website, casting aspersions on activists, and winding the campaign down. Here, added to a tribute to Mick Abbott, is some experience narrated by Pete Farrell:
In December 2013 Mike dispite suffering from just having had chemo went along with others from the Justice for Shrewsbury National committee to the press conference at Parliament. We were prevented from going in by Police who had been told by E.Turnbull we were not invited.  (Eileen Turnbull is a researcher and treasurer for the campaign) Mike had re-established the present campaign in 2006 after having looked after Des Warren and promised Des before he died he would, a man of his word. Mike had as a young man marched from Wigan to London with others demanding their release ! Why is this woman so frightened of the truth ? Why did she walk away without explanation from the National Committee which had a democratic constitution and ignore it ? Why did the Annual Shrewsbury march get cancelled listen to Bob Crow and R.Tomlinson at the rally Ricky states Mike Abbott has spent 30 years fighting for Justice, where's Justice for Mike ? Lets have the truth !

SHREWSBURY marchers ready to start. The marches attracted a wide range of trade union activists and some young people learning about the pickets' case for the first time. Why did the marches stop?

Obituary for Michael Abbott 


MPs vote for release of papers 

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bob's last battle (it's still being fought).


AMONG the many tributes that have poured in to RMT leader Bob Crow, who died on Tuesday, perhaps not enough have spoken of his dedication not only to bettering the lives of railway workers, seafarers and others in his union, but to battling for the working class and a future for all.

I mentioned yesterday how Bob was often to be seen at events like the trades union councils' conference and his support for the National Shop Stewards Network, and I should also mention his appearances at the Durham Miners' Gala, and the Shrewsbury Justice for Pickets' demonstration, as well as the Liverpool conference of the Construction Safety Campaign a few years back. Pity the press took no interest in these of his travels, waiting until they could snap him on holiday instead. 

Last year Bob Crow not only spoke to us in the local trades councils' movement but for us as well.
A bit of background history to explain. In 1868, the year after the Second Reform Act conceded the vote to working men (women still had to fight on), Manchester and Salford trades council, representing union branches for all the different trades in that important industrial area, decided  to call a conference of similar bodies from other towns. It was at that conference, held in the Mechanics Institute, Princess Street, Manchester, that the Trades Union Congress (TUC) was formed.  

Over the years the child far outgrew its parent bodies, which remain essentially grass roots, rank and file committees, yet as with unions and the Labour Party, it is as well to remember which came first. In the 1926 General Strike, while the TUC became the general staff and dealt with government, it was the local trades councils which became councils of action, not just mobilising pickets but distributing food and information, and in places determining what should move and where, so they became embryonic organs of dual power,

Remote as those days may seem, with local trades union councils much reduced in numbers and strength by changes in industry, they are nevertheless enjoying a modest revival, and finding a new significance as vehicles for conveying trade unionism in the community, at the centre of campaigns against austerity. Besides uniting workers who are both users and providers of services hit by cuts, a good trades council will lend support to the unemployed and old people, and win respect from the young whose energy and fresh ideas more than compensate for lack of experience. It can raise its political voice - independent of party or myriad sects -on the environment, democratic rights, police attacks, racism, or the international context. The adage "Think Globally, Act Locally" could be adopted, and has already been by some trades councils.

From trade union leaders and officialdom, we have experienced varied attitudes to the trades councils - from warm appreciation of our role,through lip service, to muttering that we're a nuisance. One TUC general secretary reputedly confided in friends that he was relying on "anno domini" to remove the problem of trades councils, in other words hoping that ageing and tiring members would not be replaced. In the midst of the fight to defend the National Health Service and its workers, I've been told that one major trade union with members in the hospitals does not encourage its branches to affiliate with their local trades union councils. Fortunately some do, and are able to make an important and informed contribution to campaigns in their areas.

In 1948, the London Trades' Council's defiance of a Cold War Labour government's ban on the capital's May Day march led to the TUC disbanding the London Trades Council, which was seen as a front for communists. In more recent years we have not experienced that kind of clash in the movement. But the increasing concentration of funding and resources away from the hands of local branches leaves trades union councils weakened, not only for staging events like May Day (for which some union officers are not enthusiastic) but for work we should be doing like assisting unemployed workers' groups, advice.centres and union organising.

Last year the Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils (GLATUC) submitted a motion to the annual conference of trades union councils, calling for greater union support for trades councils in local campaigning. Beefed up by Merseyside with an amendment calling for trades councils to be represented at the TUC, this was submitted as a resolution to the 2013 trades union congress. And here we come upon another anomaly, that though it was trades councils which started the TUC, our conference is allowed to submit a resolution, but we only have a symbolic fraternal delegate each year, who is not allowed to move it. (This only applies so far as I know to the trades councils in England and Wales and the British TUC, the Scottish TUC is a different matter).

In 2012 I had the honour of being that fraternal delegate, only to find myself excluded from the hall and consigned to the outer darkness of the visitors' gallery, due apparently to a mistake in the credentials I'd been given, which was beyond the power or ingenuity of TUC officialdom to remedy over three or four days of the congress. Meanwhile some people were apparently willing to believe that these officials could or would organise a general strike!

Fortunately, to move the resolution on local campaigning, Motion 75, at the 2013 Bournemouth TUC we had a valiant and powerful champion, in RMT leader Bob Crow. Here is what he had to say:
 Bob Crow (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers)

Congress, it gives me the absolute honour to move this motion on behalf of the TUC Trades Union Councils’ Conference.  However, I shouldn’t be at this rostrum moving this motion because, in my opinion, it should be someone from the trades councils coming to this Congress to express that point of view.  (Applause)  However, I will come back to that point at the end, because I am sure that everyone is going to be voting for this issue, anyway.  I cannot imagine that anyone would dare go back to their particular trades council, to which their union would be affiliated, to tell them anything different.

First of all, let me pay tribute to those great women and men out there, many of whom are retired trade unionists yet active trade unionists or working, who do the work on a day-to-day basis and do the graft out there.  The fact is that we wouldn’t be here as an organisation if it was not for the trades councils coming together in the first place to set up the Trades Union Congress.  We want to remember what happened.  There have been a lot of history lessons today about what happened over a hundred-odd years ago by certain people.  Let me give you a bit of history.  Workers came together to organise against bosses both on an industrial and national level, but in a locality level as well.  Those old trades councils together with the trades union Movement together in a locality, a town or a city, do a tremendous job.  It is all right at this level bringing unions together, which is absolutely crucial to the development of the trade union Movement, but it is also crucial as well at regional level in the TUC and both at the trades council level as well. The fact is that they are running on a shoestring.  The point is that the trades councils could do so much more if they were given some extra facilities in the form of money.  My grandmother used to say to me, “It’s not all about money, you know, Bob.  There’s no shame in being poor.”  No, there’s no shame in having no money, but it’s one hell of an inconvenience.  (Applause)  That’s the real issue out there.  You can’t run on nothing.  

The fact of the matter is that what is taking place at the moment are massive attacks, as we all know.  Speaker after speaker, for the last three to four years, have come to this rostrum and have told us about their particular circumstances that workers are facing on a day-to-day basis, from industries shutting down, from pay freezes to food banks.  Someone told me today that in some parts of the country the food banks are actually running out of food. That is how bad it has got in Britain in 2013.  

With all the reservations about this motion – there are no reservations from me, by the way, although I would like to see what the reservations are because those reservations should be put to one side – the fact is that RMT a few years ago gave up its right to put a motion to this Congress to change the rule that trades councils should come to this body and move motions and be a part of this Trades Union Congress.  The fact of the matter is that if you have the opportunity, brothers and sisters, to go to the Irish trade union Movement, to the Welsh TUC or the Scottish TUC, you will see a far bigger involvement of trades councils and, in my opinion, a far better congress because you have more rank and file people speaking from the shop floor.  What I want to see is the rank and file taking part.  It is all very easy for a national officer to another national officer about how life is so hard out there for us.  I want to hear from workers telling me their experiences about what is taking place, and we are going out there to defend those people and to try and make life easier for them.  

Therefore, brothers and sisters, the reservation should be, at the end of the day, that of course it has to comply with the rules of the TUC.  I wouldn’t expect anything different from that, but rules can be changed if we have to comply with those rules and, quite rightly, we should apply the procedure at all times.  When passing this motion, brothers and sisters, I don’t want it passed on the basis that someone said, “Well, there was a reservation so we ain’t going to do no nothing.”  I am asking you to pass this resolution on the basis that trades councils will be given ample funding, that trades councils can come together, they can talk about their issues and they should be allowed to send delegates to this rostrum to move motions on behalf of the people they represent. On that basis, brothers and sister, I ask you to pass this motion without any reservation.  
 The motion was seconded by Kathy Taylor of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) who said that she was proud to be chair of the Northumberland County Association of Trades Union Councils, and supported by other speakers, including Union of Communication Workers delegate Amarjit Singh, a postal worker from Wales who has been a regular attender at trades union council conferences. No one spoke against. But before the congress was allowed to vote, as it did -unanimously - for the resolution, assistant TUC general secretary Paul Nowack, an unelected official, was called upon to express the reservations of the General Council, that allowing a trades council representative at congress would be in breach of existing rules, and might even undermine the "sovereignty" of individual unions.

How the TUC is supposed to alter its rules other than by resolutions and votes at Congress, is beyond my knowledge of constitutional law, and my common sense leads me to wonder at how one added delegate participating in congress can undermine whole trade unions and threaten civilisation as we know it, But what do I know, I could not even wangle my way in the door at Brighton while the chair Paul Kenny, of the GMB, was officially welcoming me to congress! 

So despite the eloquence of Bob Crow and others, and the vote at Bournemouth, the motion that was passed seems to have remained a dead letter. That's why last night, at a meeting of  Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils' executive, which opened with a minute's silence for Bro.Crow, delegates went on to agree the following motion should be submitted to trades councils' conference:

This Conference has major concerns that Motion 1 “Supporting Local Campaigning” chosen to go to Congress 2013 by this Conference and passed by delegates at Congress 2013 has since been put on the back burner by the General Council. This appears to be because of bullet point 3 contained in that motion - the right of this Conference to select a Trades Union Council delegate to attend Congress as a delegate and move the Trades Council Conference motion on our behalf.
This Conference therefore calls for the General Council to be censured for their complete lack of respect for both the wishes of delegates to this Conference and delegates to Congress. We further call for immediate action on the implementation of this motion so that we can send our own Trades Union Council delegate to Congress 2014.




Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Hard Man to Replace

LIKE an awful lot of people, I was saddened to hear of the death today of Bob Crow, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union. He was only 52.

Bob was a union leader who fought for his members and his industry. Having started on the railways as a labourer in the tree felling gang, he was very much determined the union must be for all its members, and not just those who had achieved relatively good pay and conditions. He also raised issues of safety and welfare of rail passengers, as well as fares, and did not leave the bosses' media free to pose as friends of commuters. 

It was under Bob Crow's leadership - assisted by good well-motivated officers and lay activists - that the RMT took up a fight for contract cleaners, many of them insecure migrant workers, employed on the Underground and other services, as well as taking its stand for ticket office and other station staff's jobs, and safer stations.

From the Underground to under water, as well as taking up the tough job of defending seafarers against international owners, the Maritime side of RMT brought in divers, and made sense of its accepting the oil rig workers' Offshore Industries Liaison Committee into the union. Some jealous leaders in other unions thought they could make this a pretext for removing the RMT from the Trade Union Congress, but fortunately they were persuaded to think again about this daft idea.

With Bob Crow as general secretary the RMT's membership increased from around 57,000 in 2002 to more than 80,000 in 2008, making it one of Britain's fastest growing trade unions, and still growing. It's a resounding raspberry to the hacks and pundits who kept telling us unions were a relic and that Bob Crow's militant style acknowledging class struggle was particularly outdated. As well as leading the RMT, Bob Crow became one of the best known and best-liked members of the TUC General Council, well-regarded by members of other unions.

What I will particularly remember is not just Bob Crow's independence of Labour leaders and willingness to confront employers, but his readiness to meet and give his time and help to the grass roots and wider labour movement. He was one of the few trade union general secretaries, possibly the first, to give up his weekend to address the annual conference of trades union councils, and it was with his backing that the National Shop Stewards' Network got under way. I also remember Bob turning up at the Casa (dockers' club) in Liverpool, to present awards at the Construction Safety Campaign's annual conference. And those of us who appreciate the Easington Colliery brass band's continued enlivenment of labour movement events have the generosity of the RMT union to thank.

We got used to seeing Bob, not just on TV but in all sorts of places and meetings, among us sometimes as one of the crowd rather than always the star.  As a speaker he could say things I disagreed with, but what struck me more was his warm and genuinely human perspective. Unpretentious, as when he told a trades councils' conference in London that he knew a little about what was happening in education through his daughters who were teachers; amusing yet thoughtful, as he told how a docker home from fighting in the Second World War was not prepared to accept bad conditions or bullying at work, telling the boss "We just beat Hitler, do you think I'm scared of you?!'

And giving us something to reflect on, when he pointed out that sadly, thanks to austerity policies, we must be the first generation since the end of the Second World War who could not say our children would be better off than we were.

Bob Crow was proud of his roots in the East End of London, as my mate Dave Rosenberg found when they discussed his East End walks and football fanship together.  To the media pack, he justly insisted on his right to stay in a council house like the one where he grew up, and to reject the "right to buy" from which he might have profited. He likewise insisted on his right to enjoy a holiday in Brazil, asking nonchalantly whether they thought he should just "sit under a tree reading Karl Marx"!

He was loyal to his class and believed in its future. He set an example. He will be hard to replace.


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Monday, March 10, 2014

If Netanyahu fails to rally his troops, can Christian Right step into the breach?

 AS Israeli prime minister Netanyahu renewed efforts to rally his troops around Capitol Hill this month, a US politician accused American Jews of selling out Israel by supporting President Obama and not backing additional sanctions against Iran.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a Republican from Minnesota, said "The Jewish community gave [Obama] their votes, their support, their financial support and, as recently as last week, 48 Jewish donors who are big contributors to the president wrote a letter to the Democrat senators in the U.S. Senate to tell them to not advance sanctions against Iran."

Interviewed by Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, a self-described "American conservative Christian group and lobbying organization,"  Bachman said this was against  Israel’s interests. "What has been shocking has been seeing and observing Jewish organizations who it appears have made it their priority to support the political priority and the political ambitions of the president over the best interests of Israel. They sold out Israel."

According to Right Wing Watch. which monitors right-wing movements and politics in the United States, Bachman last month claimed that  “President Obama and John Kerry have preferred Iran" over Israel. Interviewed by Perkins she said  "At the same time while the United States is giving a free pass to Iran, our secretary of state is rattling a saber and effectively calling for an economic war against our greatest ally Israe," Bachmann said. "It doesn’t make any sense.”
 U.S. Rep. Bachmann: American Jews sold out Israel Minnesota congresswoman says U.S. Jews have prioritized Obama's ambitions over the best interests of Israel.  Haaretz | Mar. 5, 2014 http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.578140

Allowing for the over the top exaggeration that we expect from the Republican Right and particularly its god-bothering wing, the congresswoman was raising real concerns that Binyamin Netanyahu must share. He and his government have staked so much on being able to drag America towards launching or at least supporting a war on Iran, so much on cementing an alliance with the American Right, and so much on continuing to enjoy unquestioning Jewish support. .

On February 17 , addressing a 40 member delegation from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations,on their annual shindig in Israel, Netanyahu said Israeli -Palestinian peace prospects were poor, U.S.-led nuclear negotiations with Iran were wrong, and advocates of boycotting Israel were just “classical anti-Semites in modern garb.”

In the past anti-Semites boycotted Jewish businesses,” he said, “and today they call for the boycott of the Jewish state.”  The comparison is more than a bit incongruous when Israel is not some poor persecuted tailor or shopkeeper but a strong military power and occupier, and Netanyahu's own ministers boast that its high tech export-led economy - including military equipment sold around the world - can withstand any boycott.

It is Palestinians in Hebron whose shops and stalls are turned over by armed mobs, Palestinian villagers whose olive trees are uprooted and burned. Israel's blockade on Gaza is more effective bullying than any boycott pickets. All that Secretary of State John Kerry has asked the Israeli government to do is restrain its thugs, and make minor concessions to the Palestinians, so as to avoid further boycott calls and make his job of keeping Arab states quiet easier. 

But having suspended the tough macho Likud stance ("Everybody hates us and we don't care!" in Milwall parlance) to appeal to Jewish solidarity, calling on the delegates  to “fight back” against boycott advocates, “to delegitimize the delegitimizers,”  Netanyahu went on to urge them to renew the battle against President Obama's policy on Iran.

" This could be dynamite", wrote J.J.Goldberg, in the Jewish daily Forward. "All  49 members of the Conference of Presidents have seats on AIPAC’s executive committee, so a call to the conference is a call to AIPAC. (America israel Public Affairs Committee, the main Zionist lobby) The last confrontation centered on the interim agreement signed November 24 in Geneva, which set terms for formal negotiations. Iran agreed for the first time to freeze or reduce most nuclear activity during talks. In return the West lifted about 10% of sanctions. Netanyahu called it a “historic mistake.”

AIPAC tried already, in alliance with hawkish US senators to get fresh sanctions against Iran, and Obama's relaxation reversed. Others said Israel was dragging the United States into war, and Jewish peace activists petitioned that AIPAC was not speaking for them. Netanyahu's case was not helped by reports that Israeli intelligence chiefs said the Iranian agreement was a step in the right direction.

AIPAC and Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Alderson, a major backer for Netanyahu,  had also failed in calling for action against Syria.  It  seems strange that Israel lobbyists might side with jihadis, some linked with  al Qaida, against Assad whose father once col
laborated secretly with Ariel Sharon.. Well it's complicated. As some people might say "This is the Middle East".  Or, looked at from a different angle, some Americans would not care overmuch which Arabs they were bombing - that is the Wild West.

Anyway, AIPAC admitted defeat.  But Netanyahu wanted them to try again. Or as J.J.Goldberg saw it, "to put their head back in the noose". Because while many people in US politics were complaining at the way these "Jewish leaders" were attempting to steer foreign policy, many American Jews were asking who these "leaders" were, whom often they'd never heard of let alone voted for.

Netanyahu and his rich uncle Sheldon should have known. A couple of years ago the Israeli prime minister was assuring people that President Obama would soon be gone. While lumpen Zionists like Pamela Geller were having fun with the Tea Party, billionaire Adelson donated $10 million to Republican Mitt Romney's election chest,  and said he was willing to spend $100 million or more to make sure Obama was not re-elected.


"In 2012, Mitt Romney slammed Obama for not supporting tougher sanctions against Iran and for not more explicitly pledging that, if sanctions fail to curb Tehran’s nuclear program, the U.S. will attack.  In so doing, Romney road-tested the critique leveled by Benjamin Netanyahu and many American Jewish 'leaders'.

"The result? Obama won 69 percent of the Jewish vote. According to an exit poll by J Street (the only organization to ask such a question), Jewish voters preferred Obama to Romney on Iran by a margin of 58 to 26 percent.More recent surveys reveal basically the same thing. A Pew Research Center poll last October found that 52 percent of American Jews approve of Obama’s Iran policy while 35 percent disapprove."

The only 'leader’ who speaks for American Jews on Iran is Barack Obama
Most American Jews support Obama’s policies on Iran - so in whose name are their so-called 'leaders’ sabotaging his nuclear diplomacy?
By Peter Beinart    | Jan. 22, 2014 


Of course there was more to US Jewish voting than arguments about Israel or Iranian policy. Many will have preferred Obama's social policies, or those he is accused of, to the hard-line weakest to the wall attitude of which the conservatives are so proud. Many, listening to conservative anti-immigrant and anti-minority rhetoric  will have been reminded, if they were honest, that these were the kind of people who kept Jews out of their clubs and wanted to keep them out of America.

As for the vociferous Christian Right, many Jews value US tolerance and liberal ideas, not to mention taking umbrage when a Pastor Jack Hagee says Hitler was sent by God, or hearing the hair-raising ideas some preachers have for a nuclear Armageddon starting in the Middle East.

Especially now that Ahmadinejad has gone, Iranian mullahs don't seem half so scary.

So that if even Senator John McCain's AIPAC speech, linking the issues of Iran and Ukraine. was not so gung ho as he might have pretended, and Netanyahu avoided criticising Obama, trying instead to deliver his speechwriters' jokes and wax eloquent about peace prospects, there were two reasons.

One may be that their talking tough about Iran is overshadowed by the uncertainty about what to do or even say about Ukraine. The other is that the usual ovations from the loyal crowd at AIPAC echo emptily outside, where its main constituency was meant to be. AIPAC still has big bucks and plenty of politicians in its pockets for now. But as American Jews move away from unquestioning support for Netanyahu and his right-wing policies, more Israelis too may wonder about relying on the US Christian Right.



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