Saturday, July 26, 2014

How Britain Looks After its Heroes

WHENEVER British soldiers come home from whatever war they have been fighting, or old soldiers find themselves in the news as say, victims of robbery, it is customary for headline writers to refer to them as "heroes".

Not wishing to be grudging I thought I might as well adhere to the convention. Our story concerns what happened to an ex-soldier, who became the victim, not of common street robbers, but of government policies administered by smooth officials.

A friend posts the article written by Michael Havis for the Stevenage Advertiser.

A year ago former soldier David Clapson, aged 59, died at his home from diabetic keto-acidosis, which the NHS calls “a dangerous complication of diabetes caused by a lack of insulin.”

Because he had no money, Mr.Clapson could not pay for his electricity to keep his insulin supply cool.

His jobseeker’s allowance of approximately £70 a week – on which his family says he was reliant – had been suspended three weeks before on June 28, for missing meetings.

According to his family, Mr Clapson was found “alone, penniless and starving” a short distance from a pile of printed CVs, with nothing to his name but £3.44, six tea bags, a tin of soup and an out-of-date tin of sardines.

The coroner found that David – a former BT engineer of 16 years, who had served two years in Northern Ireland with the Royal Corps of Signals during The Troubles – had nothing in his stomach when he died.

Now his sister, Gill Thompson, says “lessons must be learned” by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) before vulnerable benefit claimants are sanctioned in future.
Severe Condition, ..."Correct Procedures"
She said: “I rang him regularly to check on him and so did friends, but because he was such a quiet and private person neither family nor friends knew just how bad it was.

“Apparently the DWP rely on information from the claimant, support workers or medical professionals to understand the level of vulnerability.

“Should his severe condition not been taken into consideration when issuing this sanctions? Should someone have checked his file?”

In a letter sent by the DWP regarding the case, head of benefit centres – Claire McGuckin – said “I am confident that the correct procedures were followed for the administration of benefit.”

Gill said: “I am disgusted with the DWP response and now feel I should make this more public. David should have been helped by health professionals not persecuted by the authorities. He was not a scrounger but wouldn’t seek help. He needed true professional and clinical support which never came.

“The authorities should have been more willing to understand and help a vulnerable adult before they die.“The signs were there and lessons must be learned to ensure cases like this are truly eliminated from a fair society.”
The pile of printed CVs found near David Clapson's body suggests that far from being a "scrounger", he was making every effort to find himself a suitable job, something rarely to be offered by those places misleadingly described as Job Centres. He might not have had time for their pointless "meetings".

Maybe the DWP staff would have been better able to pay attention to Mr.Clapson's particular needs and condition if they were not under constant pressure to take away people's benefits. Money for which he would have paid adequate national insurance during his 16 years working for British Telecom, as well as his time in the army.

Under the war on welfare presided over by Tory Ian Duncan Smith and his understudy Esther Mcveigh, thousands of people have died after decisions taken by DWP officials or the private firms brought in to profit from removing people's entitlement to unemployment or disability benefit. 'Hero' or not, David Clapson joined the statistics.

Read more:

See also:

And there's more.

Since I posted this blog, I see Tom Pride (Pride's Purge) has gone further into the area and assembled a whole sheaf of cases.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Marching Together. End the War on Gaza!

 SOME say as many as 100,000 people marched in London on Saturday, July 19, against the war in Gaza, and in support of Palestinian freedom.
It was certainly big. There were also demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Haifa, and several Jewish groups took part in the demonstration in London.

That's the corner of the red Jewish Socialists' Group banner, with its distinctive Magen David shaped logo, that you can see among the marching crowd in Whitehall in my photo, above.  The photo below was among a few posted on Facebook by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. I'm not sure, but I think the young people with the improvised banner may be linked with a fairly new group called Young Jewish Left.

In both pictures you can see a placard with the Hebrew slogan "Dai LeKibbush" -Enough of the Occupation! -which is used by the Israeli peace camp.

I wasn't able to go to the Israeli embassy with the march, so reaching home later I switched on the TV news to see how it was reported. Perhaps I blinked, because I missed any mention on BBC or ITV , though it did make al Jazeira. Perhaps if there'd been some violence and lots of arrests the media would have taken more interest; but friends say it all passed off peacefully, which considering the understandable feelings about Gaza, the numbers on the march, and the youth and inexperience of some of them, is a tribute both to the sense of the crowd and the care taken by the organisers.

According to a blogger for the Tory Spectator, mind, the streets of London on Saturday were full of "antisemites"!  I must have missed them. Though I stood in Whitehall and watched the march go past I did not even spot any obviously offensive or "iffy" placards. Nor did the Spectator correspondent, it seems, as for evidence to damn the thousands, including presumably the Jews, who marched in London, he cites some regrettable incidents after a march in Paris, and some Muslim cleric who, so far as I know, had nothing to do with the march in London, or events in Palestine.

And to think that the Spectator used to get accused of antisemitism itself, and not only because of its onetime Foreign Office "Arabist" associations. Mind you, it also used to be thought of as an intellectual magazine.

Our true blue blogger does take the marchers to task for protesting against Israeli actions, and supposedly not condemning the ISIS terror in Iraq. Well in fact, a leaflet widely distributed on Saturday's march did condemn the ISIS actions along with those of the IDF. But as far as I know the so-called Islamic Caliphate has not set up an embassy or mission in London, so it is hard to see where a demonstration against their actions could go to.  Perhaps with the reports that ISIS was financed and armed by the Saudis, and as yet unconfirmed claims that the "rebels" received US military training, a demonstration against the Saudi embassy would be in order, though I doubt whether anyone from the Spectator would organise it.

Getting back to those Jewish demonstrators, at a meeting I had to attend on Saturday a trade union brother was remarking that he had met some Jews on a Gaza demonstration, as though this was something new, and I gathered he was referring to the highly visible religious Neturei Karta types. (Has anyone seen a female of the species?  Guess you have to grow a beard. At least some of the Muslim brothers do let their partners and daughters out to demonstrate, there were plenty of them on Saturday.)   Other speakers prefaced their remarks by saying they were not religious, as though the war in Gaza was about religion.  

Asad Rehman, an anti-racist activist in east London, has been involved in moe than one campaign, and has a more sophisticated awareness. Talking about the photographs posted by PSC on Facebook, Asad commented: 

"I wouldn't normally share this as I don't think there is anything new about Jewish groups supporting the people of Palestine. In fact during the 1st intifada the Jewish socialist group David Rosenberg, anti-Zionists such as Mike Marqusee Michael Rosen Arthur Neslen were at the forefront of solidarity with the people of Palestine at the very moment that the religious leaders of the Muslim community remained silent.
          Free Palestine!!"

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Fears for life of Iranian trade unionist

INTERNATIONAL demands are being renewed for the release of Iranian bus workers' leader Reza Shahabi. The campaign has been given fresh urgency with the news that Shahabi is seriously ill after a hunger strike in prison.

Below are two of the calls going out for Rez Shahabi's freedom.

Free Reza Shahabi now!
Reza Shahabi – an Iranian labour activist member of the executive committee of the VAHED Bus Union - has been on hunger strike for almost 40 days in prison in Iran. According to the latest reports from Tehran, his protest is now having grave physical effects on him and he has become paralysed down the left side of his body.

Shahabi has spent the last four years in prison, accused by the Islamic state in Iran of “gathering information and colluding against state security, spreading propaganda against the system and ‘Moharebeh’” (translated as “enmity against god”). Over the last few years, his state of health has deteriorated markedly. Vindictively however, the authorities have not allowed him access to appropriate medical treatment.

Shahabi is an anti-war, anti-imperialist worker activist. In his defence, Hands Off the People of Iran is joining forces with the veteran labour activist, Ali Pichgah (a former leader of Iran's oil workers’ strike) to call for his immediate, unconditional release.

As a matter of urgency, Reza Shahabi now needs hospital treatment. His life is being endangered by the Iranian authorities’ refusal to allow him proper medical care. We hold the government of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani directly responsible for Reza Shahabi's life. This brave working class leader has taken a stand against capitalist exploitation and oppression in Iran – as well as any attack on the country by the west or Israel - and it is incumbent on all anti-imperialist/anti-war activists to support Shahabi in these extremely difficult days, when he is putting his life on the line for his beliefs.

What you can do:

  • Support the demand of Hopi and Ali Pichgah for the immediate release of Reza Shahabi! Publicise this protest widely!
  • Email your name/your organisation to Hopi at and we will add your details to the protests we are coordinating (please indicate whether personal capacity or not)
  • Invite a speaker from Hopi to a meeting of your organisation to explain our anti-war/anti-imperialist work and the situation of the working people in Iran
  • Write to the European embassy for Iran (notify us if you do):
Ambassade de la Republique Islamique d'Iran
4 avenue d'iena
75116 Paris, France

In solidarity,

Hands Off the People of Iran
Yassamine Mather, Persian contact – 07590 429 226
Mark Fischer, Hopi secretary – 07950 416 922
Hopi, PO Box 54631, London N16 8YE,


Posted by: Hands Off the People of Iran <>





Iran: Free jailed trade union leader Reza Shahabi now

In partnership with the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), a global union federation representing some 4.5 million transport workers in around 700 unions in over 150 countries worldwide.

Reza Shahabi, treasurer of the Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, has been in custody in Iran since June 2010 on charges that result solely from the legitimate representation of his union members. Reza Shahabi is suffering from a number of health problems, which appear to result from the brutal treatment he received when he was arrested. Unions and other organisations, including the ITF and Amnesty International, have made numerous appeals for his freedom, and for him to receive the medical attention he needs. The ILO has stated that it, 'Urges the Government to secure without further delay Mr Shahabi’s parole, pardon and immediate release from prison, the dropping of any remaining charges.' Tell the government that no worker should be imprisoned for his or her trade union activities, much less be treated in a way which amounts to deliberate torture, and demand that Shahabi is released immediately and unconditionally from prison.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Israel loses a battle Down Under

AS Israeli bombs and missiles rain on Gaza, Israelis with nothing better to do take their ringside  seats in supposedly endangered Sderot to applaud, and Knesset members who should be in a different kind of secure institution clamour for a war of extermination.

In Israel itself, as well as around the world, there are demonstrations. Among those on the London protest today, with a banner calling for Palestinian freedom, were a fairly new group called Young Jewish Left, some of whose families could have been counted on to back 'Israel Right or Wrong' in the past.

If  Bibi Netanyahu and those competing to be more warlike think they can ignore such voices, they may soon learn otherwise. Even the US State Department, having seen the peace talks it sponsored collapse with nothing achieved, has warned Israel that it may be facing a tidal wave of boycott and sanctions.

I've not been an uncritical supporter of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) myself, especially not when people keep talking about them in initials, which I suspect can mean we are talking among ourselves like a cult, and not communicating with the uncommitted, nor thinking how and when to apply each tactic so as to be both justified and effective.

But I've no doubt that boycott as such is a legitimate and reasonable tactic to adopt, whether to put pressure on Israeli institutions or simply to express one's repugnance at what the Israeli state is doing. And as people look for something alse to do after writing letters and going on demonstrations I can see more and more looking for such means.

That's why a court case in Australia has highly topical importance. I'm grateful to blogger Asa Winstanley and the Electronic Intifada website for bringing it to our attention.

Back in October an Israeli group called Shurat HaDin, misleadingly claiming to be a human rights group, brought a case to an Australian court against an associate professor  called Jack Lynch of the University of Sydney.

Lynch had refused to endorse a fellowship application from Dan Avnon of the Hebrew University, because of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and their links to the Occupation and the military.

He explained the academic boycott strategy: “to withhold cooperation from fellowship schemes which represent institutional links between our university and these two Israeli universities which therefore make us [in Sydney university] indirectly complicit in the occupation.”

Since there was nothing to prevent the Israeli candidate from applying to others to endorse his application, and Jack Lynch was simply exercising his own choice, one might of thought that was up to him. But Shurat HaDin took the Australian academic to the Australian federal court, claiming his stance was discrimination, and motivated by racism against Jews. So the issue was not whether Dan Avnon had been unfairly treated but whether it was illegal to apply or advocate a boycott at all.

Australian Jewish institutions which are not normally that critical of Israel thought this was not the way to oppose the boycott, and said it was a bad move. Jack Lynch was able to point to other occasions when he had worked with Jewish and Israeli colleagues, so could not be accused of general prejudice. Sure enough, in April, the court struck out most of the case.

And now those bringing the case have withdrawn. Jack Lynch says this shows the boycott is "fireproof".

.Shurat HaDin are not just some naive independent outfit who happened to make a mistake. As Asa Winstanley points out:

A US State Department memo published by WikiLeaks shows the group’s leader Nitsana Darshan-Leitner admitting to taking a lead from Mossad, Israel’s international spy agency, notorious for dirty tricks campaigns and for assassinations of Palestinian activists, political leaders and fighters.

Shurat HaDin has been been heavily involved in Israel’s strategy of using global courts to attack critics of Israel – dubbed “lawfare.”
But as Jack Lynch says, the case had “completely backfired” on Shurat HaDin, which had gone around leading politicians touting the so-called London Declaration Against Anti-Semitism, and getting them to sign up that BDS activism was antisemitic.

In a statement to the press, Lynch said the final collapse of the case against him represented a “complete vindication for the principled stance I have taken in fighting off a despicable attack on political freedom in Australia.”

Now Australian academic unions which had been worried about the legal implications can feel free to back members who engage in a boycott. Meanwhile the judge must decide on how to recover some of the costs of the case, and Jack Lynch is hoping he can be reimbursed. 

For my part, remembering the time-honoured history of boycotts, from the origins of the word in Ireland , through those of Nazi Germany and South Africa, I am glad that a shameful attempt to hide the power of a brutal occupier behind the rights of individual Jews has been rebuffed. Had Shurat HaDin succeeded it might have damaged the Palestinian people but it would most certainly have harmed the Jews.

If Shurat HaDin is really close to the Israeli  "intelligence" services our verdict must be "Misguided by Mossad"!

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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Cruelty of Capital Clearances

THE front-page story of yesterday's Daily Mirror gave a true
picture of the brutal reality behind words like "regeneration"
applied in our cities, and claims by politicians and tame
academics in recent years that "the class struggle is over" (they

mean "and you lot lost!").
The Mirror's Nick Sommerlad drew our attention to the Hoxton area of London, traditionally a poor neighbourhood though not too far from the bustle of finance and the City where fortunes are made and gambled, and banker's bonuses rise.

As older small businesses make way for new office blocks and the fashionable arty crowd flash their money in restaurants and clubs, Hoxton has been on the up, but not for working people living there. 

Sommerlad says up to 90 households on the New Era estate, some of whom have lived there for many years, fear they could be forced out by a massive rent rise.

Built in the 1930s, the estate looks pretty ordinary, and has a long history of providing affordable housing, but
it has been taken over by a consortium which has already raised rents by ten per cent in the past year and plans further increases to bring rents up to "market values".

Tory MP Richard Benyon, is a director of his family’s 300-year-old Englefield Estate, which owns 20,000 acres of land from Hampshire to Scotland. Its portfolio includes the 250-property Benyon Estate in East London which is now a “minority shareholder” in the flats on the New Era Estate. His brother Edward Benyon confirmed the family was part of the consortium during a meeting with tenants, and said besides raising rents they want to build more flats on the estate. .

The Mirror quotes Debra Cox, a teaching assistant, who has lived there for 18 years, as saying: “This is social cleansing – this has always been a form of social housing and they just want rid of us.  I have been to the council and was told we don’t have a chance of being rehoused.”

Debra told the new landlord: “You do realise that as soon as you put them on at market value, whenever that may be, myself, my husband and my 18-year-old daughter will be homeless?”
Her husband Gary, 50, fumed: “My wife had a seizure during the night brought on by the stress.
"My wife is ill and I am going to lose my f*****g flat because of you and your mates.”

While rents and house prices have been soaring, particularly in London, the Con Dem coalition has capped housing benefits, knowing this means working class people are being forced out of the capital.

The Mirror says an investigation with the GMB union earlier this year revealed Benyon’s £110million estate has received hundreds of thousands of pounds of housing benefit – despite the MP attacking the “something for nothing” welfare state. "On top of Mr Benyon’s haul from tenants and the taxpayer, his family farms received more than £2million in EU subsidies since 2000."

Apparently the Newbury MP says he is seeking legal advice about the report.
Let him. 

Although a Labour councillor in Islington expressed concern over what was happening in Hoxton, it is not clear what, if anything, the council intends to do about it.  Meanwhile some Tory councils like Westminster and Wandsworth have notoriously had their own policies of clearing working people from properties and estates, and Hammersmith Tories wanted to get rid of council housing. 
 At the trades union councils' conference in Cardiff on June 14, speaking in support of a motion on housing, I defended a clause at the end which worried some delegates, calling for decriminalisation of squatting. Reminding conference of the big squatting movement just after the war, when homeless families took over luxury mansions as well as disused army camps, I said the Tories knew their policies would cause more homelessness, and that is why they have made squatting a criminal offence for the first time in centuries. Sadly, far from opposing this, leading Labour MPs have said the law should be extended to cover business premises.

The resolution was passed, complete with the call for decriminalising squatting.

A young worker I know had this to say on the subject the other day: 
I remember the last time I moved to London. I was skint, jobless and without a place to stay, but a mate put me up in a squat he was living in at the time, and when that squat closed, another mate kindly put me up in his squat, and so it developed that I ended up squatting in empty houses all over East and North East London for the best part of a year. At the time, that was legal of course, and you didn't see that many rough sleepers on the streets of London.

In fact, I remember a mate telling me at the time that basically, most medium to long term rough sleepers in London were folk with serious drug and/or mental problems, because it really wasn't that hard to find an hostel or an empty house no less. I believed him, because it made sense.

Five years later, I'm walking through Brent Cross after the nightshift, and I spies a family spending the night in an underpass, with two kids. Five years later, they've banned squatting, at the same time as they've introduced the bedroom tax, unleashed a mass wave of sanctions on dole claimants, cut benefits and cut council funding. And that's what you end up with, in the world's financial capital, the seat of a once great empire. Children sleeping rough. I remember seeing a propaganda poster in humble Cuba back in the day. It said, '350,000 children are sleeping rough tonight, all over the world. Not one of them is Cuban'. You can draw whatever conclusions you like from that, but what a Great country this Britain is, eh?

I hope there is more resistance to evictions and support for squatting empty properties in future. I say taking away social housing to make profits is theft. Forcing people from their homes, or denying anyone a roof over their head, is violence, whatever the law says. And if someone hits you, you have a right to hit back. . 

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