Friday, November 28, 2014

Two Women of Worth

MINNIE LANSBURY on her way to arrest.

The other evening I heard an interesting, indeed inspiring, talk about Minnie Lansbury, who was one of the rebel Labour councillors in the London Borough of Poplar who went  to  prison rather than deprive local people of services or impose a heavy tax burden on the poor.

The speaker was Janine Booth, an RMT trade union member and author of "Guilty and Proud Of It!", about the Poplar councillors, just back from doing some further research in Holland, and with her enthusiasm and illustrations she really brought her subject to life.

Born in 1888, the year of the great matchgirls strike which launched the New Trade unionism in the East End, Minnie Glassman was one of seven siblings, her family Jewish immigrants  who had fled the poverty and persecution of Czarist Russia.

 Her father, Isaac Glassman was a boot finisher, who might work 13-14 hours a day, when there was work to be had. As this trade declined, he managed to become a coal merchant, delivering with his horse and cart around the East End.  On one occasion, in Stratford, he was attacked by two men in the street, for no apparent reason other perhaps than that they recognised him as a Jew.

On May 20, 1913, Isaac was able to pay his £5 fee to become a naturalised British citizen, entitled to vote.   Minnie's mother Annie did not bother. She would not have been given a vote anyway -there were still five years and a world war to go before women achived that, and then incompletely.

But Minnie was not one to wait.  Having become a teacher in a London County Council school for a grand £7 a month, she joined the National Union of Teachers, and in 1911 and 1913 her East London branch discussed motions for equal pay for women - at that time more than two thirds of the profession - passing one second time around.  That too did not become official union policy till after the War.  Meanwhile Minnie Glassman also joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) - she became a Suffragette.

With the outbreak of the First World War, the leaders of the Suffrage movement, the Pankhursts, were swept into the patriotic tide - except for Sylvia, working in the East End of London, who refused to suspend her campaign for women's rights or her socialist opposition to the war. Her East London WSPU, which was also Minnie Glassman's branch of course, was expelled.

While Christabel Pankhurst and her allies distributed white feathers, and campaigned for conscription, and internment of aliens, it was Sylvia Pankhurst and her supporters like Minnie Glassman in the East End who made sure soldiers' children were fed, campaigning for wives to receive payments and widows their pensions, and against price rises and profiteering. They re-opened a run down pub as the Mother's Arms, providing cheap nutritious meals. They supported refugees against being deported back to Russia to serve in the Czar's army.

 Minnie, who had married George Lansbury's son Edgar in 1914, carried on teaching, but she became particularly well-known and liked for her work on war pensions.

The East London suffragettes differed from the national WSPU in another respect. They recognised that not just women but many male workers too still did not have the vote, and decided this too was their business.  The East London branch became the Workers Suffrage Union, adopting a class point of view, and its paper changed its name from Women's Dreadnought to Workers' Dreadnought. They held some lively meetings at the dock gates.

Both Sylvia Pankhurst and Minnie Lansbury welcomed the Russian Revolution, and in their own ways became Communists, but they came to differ about what was to be learned from it.  Sylvia had seen enough of right-wing Labour opportunism and support for the war, and despite campaigning so long for the vote, distrusted anything to do with parliament or resembling reformism. In vain did Lenin, seeing such fervour as a childhood malady of the new Communists, seek to persuade her to have anything to do with the Labour Party.

Young Minnie, on the other hand, perhaps from being closer to the working class (and less personally scarred than Sylvia), rather than theoretical grounding, saw the opportunity to continue the kind of struggles she had engaged in, and make some gains, not for herself, but for the working class.  The Labour Party had not yet bolted its doors against the Communists. With George Lansbury leading the Labour Party in Poplar, and taking  the council, Edgar became a councillor and  Minnie was made an alderman.

Poplar was one of the poorest areas of London, and its low-paid workers were hit by post-war recession and lay-offs. The council, introducing a number of impovements from equal pay for women and a minimum wage for council workers, to free school meals for poor children, and heating the water in the second-class dwimming baths. It brought in electrification, and it wanted to launch public works for the unemployed, but the government refused funding. The council had to find money for poor relief -unemployment benefit - in those days. With so much low rent, low rateable value property in the borough, it also had to raise a precept, just like Kensington or Chelsea, to such costs as the Metropolitan Police.

It was the Poplar councillors' defiant decision in 1921 not to raise this money, in order to challenge this unfair funding and demand "equalisation of rates", which led to their imprisonment. They marched to jail heads held high, and cheered by supporters. They were able to hold council meetings in prison, and George Lansbury addressed crowds outside through the bars of his cell.

Although the Labour Party leadership condemned their action, two other east London boroughs decided  to join Poplar's lead. Eventually, the councilors were released, and the government rushed through measures to ease the burden, including £250,000 a year subsidy to Poplar.

Alas, though she had gone to prison in high spirits, Minnie's health suffered from the conditions inside, and she died on January 1, 1922, of pneumonia and infuenza. When her death was announced at a rally, people broke down in tears.

The working class had lost a fine, heroic fighter.

After her death, Edgar Lansbury married again, to actress Moyna Macgill. He served as mayor of Poplar from 1924-5.  That year the couple had a daughter Angela Lansbury.  A memorial clock to Minnie Lansbury was put up on Electric House, Bow Road. When it was restored in 2008, actress Angela Lansbury was proud to contribute, and send a message of support.

MINNIE LANSBURY'S CLOCK  on Bow Road, E3.  Edgar's daughter, actress Angela Lansbury, contributed to restoration.

Meanwhile, Across the River... 

 Unlike Minnie Glassman, Ada Brown was not born in the East End or South London, but in a small Northamptonshie town called Raunds. Coming to London to work among the poor, Ada joined the West London Mission, then in  1897 transferred to the Bermondsey Settlement. There she met Alfred Salter, then a student at Guy's Hospital. It is said that he converted her to socialism and she encouraged him to become a Christian, though Alfred too came from a religious family. They joined the Peckham branch of the Society of Friends (Quakers) together, and were married on 22 August 1900.

Alfred Salter set up a low-cost medical practice in Bermondsey, and in his first week made 12 shillings and sixpence, but he soon needed to expand this practice as more patients came.  Offering services free to those who could not pay, Dr. Salter also pioneered mutual health insurance schemes and adult education classes on health matters.

Though they had joined the Liberal Party to seek improvements in the area, the Salters decided to join the Independent Labour Party (ILP) led by James Keir Hardy in 1908. In November 1910 the ILP nominated seven candidates for the borough council elections in Bermondsey. Only one, Ada Salter was elected, becoming the first woman councillor in London. Personal tragedy struck when the couple's daughter Joyce – then eight years old – died of scarlet fever.  Perhaps if they had not chosen to live in the poor inner city and send their daughter to the local school this might not have happened. Ada was defeated in the elections of 1912.

However, the Salters did not give up. Ada Salter was re-elected to the councilin 1919, and in the 1922 General Election Alfred Salter, was elected MP for  Bermondsey West. The Labour Party also had the largest number of seats on the Bermondsey Borough. Ada now became London's first woman Mayor. As a socialist she declined to wear Mayoral robes or the chain of office.

With a Labour majority on the council, it could do something about public health, which Alfred Salter had recognised as a priority. It launched a campaign,  with special films which were shown to large crowds in the open air,  and pamphlets distributed throughout the borough. A systematic house-to-house inspection was conducted to seek out conditions dangerous to health. Premises where food was sold were constantly examined and samples of foods were taken away for analysis.

The people of Bermondsey welcomed the actions taken by the local council. In the 1925 elections,every seat on the Borough Council and the Board of Guardians returned Labour members. The parliamentary seat and the two London County Council seats were also held by the party.

When the Labour Party took office in 1922 the death-rate was 16.7 per 1,000. By 1927 it had fallen to 12.9. In 1922 the number of new cases of tuberculosis was 413. In 1927 it was 294. Deaths from the disease fell from 206 to 175. Alfred Salter claimed " Though Bermondsey is an overcrowded industrial area, with few amenities and a poor population living under great residential and economic disadvantages, yet if the death rate continues to diminish at the present rate, the borough will be entitled in a few years to be regarded as one of Britain's health resorts. Day in, day out, year in, year out, this wonderful preventive work, scientifically organised and directed by trained brains, is going on like clockwork. The Labour majority in the Council intend to employ any and every means to stamp out preventable illness."

The Salters had acquired a convalescent home in Kent for Bermondsey people, and Alfred Salter also campaigned successfully to obtain a solarium for TB patients. Some children with tubercolosis were even sent to Switzerland for fresh air, while for healthier youngsters the council established a number of local play grounds. Dr.Salter had been one of the founders of  what became the Socialist Medical Association and in 1931 he visited the Soviet Union with its President Somerville Hastings.

Ada Salter claimed to know nothing about her husband's speciality, health, but she made her own contribution to improving life in Bermondsey, and London, by her passion for having trees planted in city streets, and gardens. Though Alfred Salter resigned from Bermondsey Borough Council in 1931, Ada remained, continuing her effort  to make Bermondsey into a Garden City.

Fenner Brockway, wrote about the progress made by 1937:
"By this time Bermondsey's trees and flowers were famous. Travelling on the Southern Railway by the long viaduct which crosses the borough passengers noted with wonder the avenues of green between the crowded buildings, the beds of tulips or dahlias in the gaps between the houses, the climbing roses on the balconies of the tenements. Films of the streets, gardens and churchyards were shown all over the world and some American visitors included them with Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London in the sights of London."

Elected to the London County Council in 1925, Ada Salter became Chair of the Parks Committee in 1934, and worked on behalf of the introduction of a Green Belt.


During the First World War Ada and Alfred Salter worked for the Non-Conscription Fellowship. Ada  was also active in the Women's Labour League. At the end of the war she was amongst the British delegation to the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom conventions in Zürich and Vienna. 

The Quaker pacifist faith which had strengthened the couple's resolve during one world conflict was less helpful as a guide as a new one loomed. Alfred Salter fell out with fellow socialists in Bermondsey in 1937 when they mobilised to block the way to Mosley's fascists, in the Battle of Long Lane.  He also believed somewhat naively that appeasement might avert war with Germany, though unlike Tory appeasers who sympathised with Hitler, Salter hoped that ordinary Germans could be encouraged to turn away from the fuhrer. Perhaps he did not fully grasp what was happening to anti-Nazi Germans. During the war, to his credit, Dr.Salter was one of the few political voices against indiscriminate mass bombing of civilians.   

Ada Salter died on 5th December, 1942. Alfred Salter wrote a month later: "The loneliness grows deeper and has not lessened in the slightest with the lapse of time. Sometimes it is almost unbearable, but I have to learn to bear it."

Whatever we think of Alfred and Ada Salter's overall politics, what endeared them to local people and remains in memory was their dedicated effort to raise the health and quality of life of working people, and replace ugly slums with their vision of a garden city.

A rose garden, opened in 1936 within the Old Surrey Docks area (near Southwark Park),was spontaneously referred to as the 'Ada Salter Garden' from the start, and in June 1943 the name was formally recognised by the LCC.  A Salter Memorial Lecture is promoted by the Quaker Socialist Society each year

After a statue of Alfred Salter, seated on a park bench, was stolen in November 2011, probably for its scrap value, plans were made to replace it with statues of both Alfred and Ada, and of the dayghter they lost. A campaign was launched to raise £50,000 for this, and my own trades council in Brent was one of many labour movement bodies which contributed. Southwark borough council, which nowadays includes the Bermondsey area, agreed to match what was raised.   

The new statue of Ada Salter is to be unveiled at 2pm on Sunday, November 30, at Bermondsey Wall East SE16.

GARDENS IN DOCKLAND part of legacy by which Ada Salter is remembered.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

From Under the Covers to Lecturing in College

 FROM RADICAL ACTIVIST to respectable academic? The roles of police agent Bob

Just over a month ago, on October 23, 2014, the Metropolitan Police Service agreed to pay £425,000 to a woman called Jacqui whose child was fathered by a man called Bob Lambert. Obviously this was no ordinary paternity suit. Jacqui said she did not know at the time of her relationship with Lambert that that he was an undercover police officer. The Met agreed to pay up in return for Jacqui dropping a legal action alleging assault, negligence, deceit and misconduct by senior officers.

Jacqui was a 22-year-old campaign activist when she met Lambert, who was passing himself off as a fellow campaigner and using the pseudonym Bob Robinson. She gave birth to their son in 1985. When the boy was two years old his father vanished, and she told BBC News she had received psychiatric care after learning the officer's real identity.

Jacqui was one of several women who said they were duped into relationships with officers who were spying on them. Scotland Yard said it "unreservedly apologises for any pain and suffering" but added that “the Metropolitan Police Service has never had a policy that officers can use sexual relations for the purposes of policing”. Scotland Yard had previously refused to either confirm or deny whether Bob Lambert was a Special Demonstration Squad operative, despite his own admissions to journalists. However, it was forced to change its position in August 2014 after a legal ruling.

Fathering children under a false idenitity then doing a runner is not all that Bob Lambert has been accused of.  In June 2012 Green MP Caroline Lucas said in Parliament that Lambert  had planted a fire bomb that caused £340,000 worth of damage to the Harrow branch of Debenhams department store in 1987 as part of his undercover work in the Animal Liberation Front. Lambert denied this. Two animal rights campaigners served four years in prison for attacks such as this.

In 2013, it was reported that while undercover with London Greenpeace, Lambert had co-authored the 'McLibel leaflet', which resulted in a defamation lawsuit from McDonald's Corporation that took ten years to resolve.

After his own time undercover Lambert was in charge of other police officers doing the same kind of work.  He deployed officers into Reclaim the Streets as well as campaigns for justice by families of black people whose deaths were mishandled by police, such as Stephen Lawrence. In addition to his role in the Special Demonstration Squad, he was head of the Muslim Contact Unit from its establishment in 2002.

So what is Robert Lambert doing with himself these days? No longer wearing his hair long like he did in wilder times, the under the covers police agent  is now a 'respectable' academic.   
After his career in the police force, he became a lecturer at the University of St. Andrews and a part-time senior lecturer at the London Metropolitan University. He was co-director of the European Muslim Research Centre in the Department of Politics at Exeter University until August 2011.[3][4]
Robert Lambert works part time lecturing on Criminology and Policing at London Metropolitan University.

Besides environmental and anti-racist campaigners, trade unionists defending their right to work and organise believe they have scores to settle with Lambert. Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group says the "expert" on Muslim terror has a dark past, not confronting terrorism but infiltrating peaceful campaigning groups. "He is directly implicated in police attempts to spy on, smear and discredit Stephen Lawrence's family campaign regarding police failures to investigate Stephen's racist murder in 1993, and also in the 'mysterious' passing on of Special Branch files to a private company paid by large construction firms to compile a blacklist of trade unionists active in the building trade, many of who were victimised and fired."

Now a college lecturer himself, long blacklisted building worker Dave is joining with others to tell London Metropolitan University it has no business employing Robert Lambert. " He is a known liar, spy and exploiter of women - not in any way a fit person to be trusted teaching students at a University that likes to portray itself as 'progressive'.
We aim to keep up pressure on London Met until they fire him. Join us in our picket of the University building where he works this Friday."

12.00 – 2.00pm
LMU Tower, 166-220 Holloway Road, London N7 8DB
Islington Against Police Spies, email:
For more information on Bob Lambert and other undercover police activities, contact:

See also:

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Lies, Spies and Custard Pies

NOT ALL COMEDYMark Thomes made spies' activity subject of Edinburgh show. But while he was interested in what arms dealers were up to, the police were more interested in him.

WELL-KNOWN comic Mark Thomas is among a group of journalists who are taking the Metropolitan Police to court for spying on them in the name of national "security". This makes a change from the things we heard about police officers allegedly turning a blind eye to illegal activities by hacks working for the Murdoch press with whom they swapped information. It also contrasts with the way intelligence services have used some newspapers with whom they could plant stories for public disimformation.

But the six who say they were spied on by police are independent, or relatively independent, journos, who dedicated themselves to uncovering wrongdoing by the rich and powerful, rather than doing their dirty work.

Mark Thomas made his name and his Channel 4 show The Mark Thomas Comedy Product changed its name to simply The Mark Thomas Product, after he investigated the practice of avoiding inheritance tax by declaring art, furniture, homes and land available for public viewing. He went after Tory politician Nicholas Soames, who eventually paid the tax, and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown changed the law. But Channel Four decided Thomas was going too far when he  wanted to take up corporate accountability and corporate manslaughter law.

We might see a connection here with industrial snooping and blacklisting. Many building workers, for instance, found their names had been added to blacklists after they protested over risky conditions at work or became safety reps. Recently the Blacklist Support Campaign (BSC) has been asking how much information on workers was passed on by police, and why its own activities, rather than those of unscrupulous employers or blacklisters, have been monitored by the police.

Ironically, much of the police snooping on journalists and campaigners like Mark Thomas, as well as the BSC,  appears to have been carried out by the Metropolitan Police 'National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit' (NDEDIU), whose supposed purpose is to monitor and police so called 'domestic extremism'. The background used to step up such surveillance has been fear of violence and terrorism.

Far from engaging in such activities, those targeted can honestly claim to have exposed the forces behind them.  Mark Thomas adopted various guises to visit arms fairs and show how dealers in torture and death were not too fussy about their customers. The parliamentary committee which oversees weapons exports, the House of Commons Quadripartite Select Committee, commended him for his undercover work, which led to official warning letters being issued to a number of companies.  His work in this area is covered in As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela: Underground Adventures in the Arms and Torture Trade, a book chronicling his experiences undercover, his political activism and his projects designed to find and report loopholes in arms trading laws, which culminated in a controversial un-broadcast Newsnight report about the Hinduja brothers.

Just as environmental and other campaigns were infiltrated by spies and provocateurs, including policemen who befriended and slept with women activists, so the campaign against the arms trade was infiltrated. Mark Thomas made this the material for his Edinburgh fringe show this year

For years, Martin appeared to work tirelessly for Campaign Against Arms Trade. He was warm, funny and apparently loyal. He was a good friend, turning up at the police station after Thomas's first arrest for activism. He was so loved that he was asked to be godparent to one activist's child. But he was being paid to spy on the group by BAE Systems, Britain's largest arms manufacturer. Who could ever have imagined it? This was a man who put a custard pie in the face of the former BAE head honcho, Richard Evans. A spy wouldn't do that, would he?

In a statement released last week the National Union of Journalists says six of its members have discovered that their lawful journalistic and union activities are being monitored and recorded by the Metropolitan Police. They are now taking legal action against the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Home Secretary to challenge this ongoing police surveillance.

The NUJ members involved in the legal challenge include Jules Mattsson, Mark Thomas, Jason Parkinson, Jess Hurd, David Hoffman and Adrian Arbib.

All of them have worked on media reports that have exposed corporate and state misconduct and they have each also previously pursued litigation or complaints arising from police misconduct. In many of those cases, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has been forced to pay damages, apologise and admit liability to them after their journalistic rights were curtailed by his officers at public events.

The surveillance was revealed as part of an ongoing campaign, which began in 2008, during which NUJ members have been encouraged to obtain data held about them by the authorities including the Metropolitan Police 'National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit' (NDEDIU).

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

    "It is outrageous that the police are using their resources and wide-ranging powers to put journalists under surveillance and to compile information about their movements and work on secret databases. There is no justification for treating journalists as criminals or enemies of the state, and it raises serious questions for our democracy when the NUJ is forced to launch a legal challenge to compel the police to reveal the secret evidence they have collected about media workers.

    "The union will continue to give its full support to the members involved in the case and we are committed to putting a stop to this unacceptable state interference and monitoring that labels our members as domestic extremists."

Mark Thomas said:

    "In my view, the police surveillance and the collation of data on journalists point to a police spying culture that is out of control and without proper oversight.

    "The fact that none of the journalists are suspected of criminality but all of them cover stories of police and corporate wrong doing hints at something more sinister, that the police seem to be spying on those who seek to hold them to account.

    "The inclusion of journalists on the domestic extremist data base seems to be a part of a disturbing police spying network, from the Stephen Lawrence family campaign to Hillsborough families, from undercover officers' relationships with women to the role of the police in the construction blacklist.

    "Personally my entries relate to a network of collaborations, the police appear to be in contact with private security firms to collect data on myself, as well as (bizarrely) an employee at the Open University.

    "This legal action is part of a process to try and hold the police to account."

Freelance photographer Jess Hurd, some of whose moving human interest work was exhibited at a gallery near me, said:
"I have faced intimidation, surveillance and on occasion violence, from the police all my professional life. It should not be the case that I sometimes fear going to work. The very creation of a 'domestic extremist' database which stores details on innocent people feels like state intimidation.

    "Either the police do not like the journalistic work that we do or the trade union and press freedom campaigns we have been involved in, either way this is no justification for targeted state surveillance and squandered tax payers money."
  Jason N. Parkinson, freelance video journalist, said:

    "My file is 12 pages long and holds around 140 separate surveillance logs spanning nearly a decade. The files make it very clear they have been monitoring my movements, with whom I associate and even what clothing I wear, in order for police intelligence units to build up a profile of me and my network of associates and contacts.

    "The files also show signs that my social media and internet activities have been monitored. They also logged that I was asked to give a speech at a conference in 2011, which ironically was about police surveillance.

    "Some of the most worrying logs have been of my activities away from work. In July 2008, an officer spotted me, 'on Forty Lane Wembley NW9 on his bicycle'. For no reason at all, there appears to have been a search of voter registration records and the CRIS database, where information on witnesses and victims of crime are held.

    "This pulled up my previous address, my current address and the name of my ex-partner, who, it appears, was then checked for a criminal record on the Police National Computer. Another log noted my visit to a supermarket and recorded my vehicle registration number.

    "The disclosure of my domestic extremist files seem to show what I had suspected for the last eight years, the police have been keeping journalists that cover political protest under surveillance and it is not merely an intimidation tactic that should be ignored, as some have suggested in the past.

   Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary, said:

    "There is growing concern that the authorities are using surveillance against union members, journalists and campaigners. Political policing has no place in a democratic society, it threatens press freedom and any unjustified conduct must stop.

    "I fully support the NUJ members in their campaign to know what information is being held about them in secret. We must expose and challenge wrongdoing wherever it exists and act against those who undermine the rights of journalists, union members and everyone who supports an open, transparent and democratic society."

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Beyond Satire, It's Sick Charity

 Who will save the children of Falluja?

SATIRICAL song writer Tom Lehrer remarked that when US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize, satire became obsolete. Since then we've had further occasions to feel cynical about the choice of Nobel candidates. But what can we say about a man whom many regard as a war criminal being honoured by a well-known children's charity?

Here is a report from the Independent:

Tony Blair was last night recognised for his humanitarian work at a glamorous gala to raise funds for a global children's charity – in front of guests including Lassie the dog.

The controversial former Prime Minster received the Global Legacy Award at the Save the Children Illumination Gala 2014, which was held at The Plaza in New York City.
The star-studded event boasted a guest list featuring Save the Children President and CEO Carolyn Miles, acting couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner and Twilight actress Dakota Fanning – as well as the much-loved collie dog.

Upon receiving his award Blair praised aid workers fighting Ebola in West Africa, as well as the increase in the amount of foreign aid donated by the UK over the past 10 years, according to the Mail Online.

“From the beginning of humankind there has been brutality, conflict, intrigue, the destructive obsession with a narrow self-interest,” he said.“But throughout all human history, never has been extinguished that relentless, unquenchable desire to do good. To act not only in self-interest and sometimes to even to act in defiance of it.”

Well Lassie should have cocked his leg or thrown up his dinner at this point, but he is not available for comment.  Tony Blair must know all about brutality, conflict and intrigue, having lied his way into the war on Iraq, as well as presiding over the continuation of policies that increased the gap between rich and poor in this country, and Tory legislation tying trade unions hand and foot from doing much about it. As for self-interest, Tony Blair was not short of a few bob before he became prime minister, and since then he must have lost count of the millions he has amassed from various jobs and sinecures.

Save the Children and other charities have portrayed some heartrending scenes of child poverty and suffering at home and abroad to stir the public's conscience. We don't expect aid charities to do anything as controversial as discussing the underlying causes - though some, such as War on Want, do remind us that policies have consequences. 

But even at the level of just showing us how bad things are, before Save the Children goes all gooey fawning on Tony Blair it could focus its attention on just one Iraqi town, Falluja, attacked and bombed twice by US  forces with British participation. At first they denied the use of white phosphorus, supposed to be banned under international law, and depleted uranium munitions. But these things came out. And whatever the precise causes, the effects of war on Falluja have continued.

In 2010 it was reported that an academic study[38] had shown "a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer." since 2004.[39] In addition, the report said the types of cancer were "similar to that in the Hiroshima survivors who were exposed to ionising radiation from the bomb and uranium in the fallout", ... (Wikipedia)

"Iraqi physicians have also long reported a spike in cases involving severe birth defects in Fallujah since 2004. They have reported children born with multiple heads, serious brain damage, missing limbs and with extra fingers and toes."
 The BBC's John Simpson reports from the central Iraq city of Falluja, where ... in Falluja had warned women that they should not have children.

There is plenty more.

No need to labour the point.

But what was the reason for Save the Children honouring Blair anyway? Was it supposed to attract more money?  Blair is hardly the most popular figure in Britain today.  But then maybe there's a clue in them holding this ceremony in New York, which is also home to JP Morgan Chase, the bank which gave our former Prime Minister a part-time job this year, a mere £2 million to supplement his pension.

Though some charities have to be increasingly careful these days to avoid anything "political" which might affect their status, others seem to be drawing closer to government and big business, so that sometimes it becomes harder to see the difference. While still relying on public generosity and unpaid volunteers, they may also serve as conduits for government funds and corporate tax-exempt donations with or without strings attached. While expecting lower-ranking staff to work enthusiastically for low pay or even workfare, they insist that top bosses merit salaries at least comparable to those of major company directors or government ministers. My landlord, a registered charity, finds it necessary to increase our rents each year, while its CEO reportedly earns more than the Prime Minister.

During the recent dispute at St,Mungo's where Unite union members fought off attempts to lower grades and do away with consultation, the union was interested to see how this charity's board had been filled with newcomers after a merger with another, less well-known charity; and how these included someone linked to Serco, a commercial outsourcing business keen to acquire new profitable activities even as it has been losing or having to divest from others in which it has not been doing so well.

And so back to Save the Children, and from the Daily Mail (August 8, 2013) we learn that:

Executives at one of the UK’s most prominent international aid charities were handed bonuses worth more than £160,000 last year.

Save the Children increased performance-related pay to executives by a third compared to the previous year, a move that could prove controversial following criticism of the huge pay-packets enjoyed by charity bosses.

The charity’s chief executive Justin Forsyth, a former advisor to Tony Blair, was among nine Save the Children executives handed the bonus in 2012.

It was revealed earlier this week that Mr Forsyth earned a salary of £163,000, which is now known to include £22,560 in performance-related pay.

He is one of six staff at the 14 charities which make up the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) that earn more than the Prime Minister’s £142,500 salary.

The revelation prompted the International Development Secretary Justine Greening to say that the finances of major aid organisations - which receive hundreds of millions of pounds from taxpayers - must be open to scrutiny.

William Shawcross, the chairman of the Charity Commission, also said that ‘disproportionate’ salaries in the face of decreasing charitable donations from the public risked ‘bringing the charitable world into disrepute’.

Save the Children paid its executives £120,000 in performance-related pay in 2011 but said that Mr Forsyth declined the money due to being ‘relatively new’ in his role.

The payments increased significantly to £162,000 last year after the company ‘restructured’ the way it offered bonuses.

The charity said the payments encouraged the ‘very best’ from staff and helped to ‘save the lives of more of the world’s poorest children’.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Plots against Labour

WITH all the interest shown in various anniversaries this year, one slipped past almost unnoticed last month which might have topical relevance. It was 90 years since the Daily Mail published a front-page story, four days before the October 1924 General Election, about instructions supposedly sent from Moscow to British Communists, on how to subvert the armed forces and bring about a revolution, - supposedly with the help of the first Labour government.

Labour had opened trade and diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union that year, then lost a confidence vote from the Liberals for deciding to drop the prosecution of communist John Ross Campbell under the 1797 Incitement to Mutiny Act, for publication of an open letter in Workers Weekly calling on soldiers to "let it be known that, neither in the class war nor in a military war, will you turn your guns on your fellow workers."

New national elections were scheduled for October 29.

On October 10, the Foreign Office received a document purporting to be the letter signed by Grigori Zinoviev and Arthur McManus of the Communist International, and hence referred to as the "Zinoviev Letter".  Thought to have been the work of Czarist Russian emigres out to sabotage Anglo-Soviet relations, or possibly even commissioned from them, the forgery was nevertheless treated as genuine,  and through the collusion of the intelligence services and Tory Central Office it was passed over to the Mail for publication.

"CIVIL WAR PLOT BY SOCIALISTS' MASTERS" was the Mail's headline. Plainly aimed to strike fear into the middle class, it certainly put the wind up Labour's Ramsay MacDonald. Whether or not it made a big difference to Labour's vote, it made clear that senior officialdom in the state would not let an elected our government do as it pleased.

A leading part in the behind the scenes collaboration between state intelligence services, Tory party and media was played by Major Joseph Ball, whose shadowy career took him from MI5 and the Zinoviev Letter to Conservative Research Department, and links with an antisemitic magazine that was used to smear Leslie Hore-Belisha, and remove him as War Minister.  Handling secret contacts between Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Mussolini's diplomats, Ball also set up spying operations not only against Labour but against those anti-Appeasement Tories around Winston Churchill. Ball then had a hand at the start of the Second World War in deporting "enemy aliens" -often anti-Nazi refugees.

All this may seem a long way in the past, though we do get occasional echoes. The Mail went for Ed Miliband's refugee father as "anti-British" , though he served in the Royal Navy. Unable to frighten us with Zinoviev or the Soviet Union, the Tories make do with denouncing Len McCluskey and Unite the union as "masters" of the Labour Party.  Alas, as a Unite member I regret its not true.

But nowadays, the stories can be more subtle, and plots more insidious. Lynton Crosbie, the Aussie whom the Tories hired as campaign strategist may not be a tough guy like Major Ball, but he has a reputation though he operates in different times.

This weekend the big story was supposed to be Labour MPs wanting to ditch Ed Miliband as a loser before he is even put to the test. It was the Observer's front-page lead.  Now the Observer has not got the Mail's reputation as a right-wing rag, nor its history. (Well not quite. I'll deal with the so-called "Red House" story and the police raid on the WRP school another time).

it's certainly not aimed at the same readership.

But pro-Labour blogger Tom Pride noticed something odd about this story. He asks:

Why is the Observer employing a Mail journalist to smear Ed Miliband?
by Tom Pride

The Observer has a naughty little article today claiming there are "at least" twenty shadow ministers calling for Ed Miliband to stand down.

I say naughty, because the article fails to name even one shadow minister.

And considering there are only about 24 shadow ministers in the entire shadow cabinet, "at least" 20 would have to be just about all of them. Including Ed Miliband himself.

In fact, the whole article is so ridiculous in its anti-Labour spin and propaganda, it's exactly the kind of thing you'd expect to see in the Daily Mail.

Which is not very surprising considering the journalist who wrote the Observer piece - Daniel Boffey - used to write exactly the same kind of political smear articles for the Mail on Sunday:

Miliband and his £18m holiday villa
Fury over Gordon Brown’s ‘cynical’ letter to murder victim’s local paper
Jacqui Smith's cleaner hasn't had a pay rise for five years
Labour's army of spin, G20 summit is 'choreographed' by private firm

We reveal explosive report Ed Balls refused to make public

So why is the Lib Dem Guardian/Observer employing a hack who writes anti-Labour articles for the Tory Mail?  Another example of the Lib Dem /Tory coalition in action perhaps?


Maybe where there is a whiff of smoke, there is fire, or maybe it is something decomposing. At the Labour Representation Committee's conference on Saturday, left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell
said if there was a move to get rid of Ed Miliband now it was a right-wing plot. Referring to one of the suggested replacements for Miliband, LRC political secretary Pete Firmin, a retired postman, said "If anyone thinks Alan Johnson's the answer they must have asked a bloody silly question!"  Johnson, a former Communications Workers Union general secretary who was Home Secretary
from 2009-10, ruled himself out as a leadership contender today. and warned that remov Miliband now would be political suicide for Labour.

So if there are some hardened Blairites willing to take that risk, it suggests that rather than worrying Labour might lose, they fear what might happen if it wins, and finds an aroused working class demanding the reversal of austerity cuts, and trade unionists demanding their rights. The Party is already in difficulty explaining why the railways can't come back under public ownership, a call which has widespread public support. Energy and utility companies would be next. What with creeping big business tyranny under  TTIP, to which public awakening has just begun, some MPs might fancy a quiet time staying in opposition (without actually doing any opposing) or a weakened Labour Party entering yet another coalition, where it can pretend its hands are tied.  This is the basis for a fifth column feeding stories to, and taking leadership from, the class enemy and its press,

Not to be outdone by the Observer with its anonymous quotes , the Independent has another story about people being against Miliband, of a more specific kind. It claims wealthy Jewish donors regard Miliband as "toxic" because he and other Labour MPs voted for recognising Palestine.

One prominent Jewish financial backer, a lifelong Labour supporter, said he no longer wanted to "see Mr Miliband in Downing Street or Douglas Alexander as Foreign Secretary".

A senior Labour MP warned that Mr Miliband now had a "huge if not insurmountable challenge" to maintain support from parts of the Jewish community that had both backed and helped fund Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's election campaigns.

At the same time, a former cabinet minister privately admitted that Labour's fundraising efforts were in disarray. The former minister said the party would struggle to raise anywhere near the £19m a party is entitled to spend under electoral law in the run-up to next May's poll. "We will have to pass the begging bowl round to the unions," they said. "That would send a bad signal. In return, they [the unions] would demand to call the shots on policy."
It's an ill wind that blows no good!

But are Jewish donors that important to Labour nowadays?  And are so many presumably intelligent professionals and shrewd business people really taking their line from 'Beaty' (Maureen Lipman) and Mr.Netanyahu and his embassy, when there is so much dissent within the Jewish community over Israel's stubborn and aggressive policies?  A very large number of prominent Israelis, including former intelligence chiefs, wrote to British MPs before the vote, urging them to vote FOR Palestinian recognition. Unlike the sources quoted by the Independent, these people not only know what thet are talking about and were only too willing to give their names, and positions held.

Assuming the people quoted in the Independent are genuine, but too shy to give their names, who was it it, I wonder, who put the reporter on to the story, and to them, in the first place? I suppose we could make some intelligent guesses. And they would not be Labour Party members.

Besides telling possible pro-Israel and Jewish donors what attitude they are supposed to take, rather than leaving them to think for themselves, the article has also woken the sleeping dogs of prejudice, for whom any mention of Jews and money in the same or nearby sentences sets them yapping, even if they haven't a clue what its all about.  

And between now and the general election in May I expect there'll  be all sorts of stories.  

By the way, getting back to the Tories campaign manager, here's what the Telegraph, of all papers, had to say when he was appointed 
...Lynton Crosby had concentrated on the visceral issues that have been proven to bring out the core Conservative vote. This is how he has always operated – and he should under no circumstances be underestimated. He is the genius behind the most successful Right-wing politician of the last quarter-century, Australia’s John Howard, who was elected four times between 1996 and 2004, and remains the second longest-serving Australian prime minister, after Sir Robert Menzies. Working for him, Crosby developed what opponents labelled “dog whistle” politics – campaigning techniques which sent out a covert message. John Howard’s enemies claimed that this was sometimes implicitly racist.

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Sunday, November 02, 2014

A Hero No Longer Forgotten

EDWARD RUSHTON (1756-1814)

IT is just a few years since I heard about Edward Rushton, Liverpool's blind poet, anti-slavery campaigner and radical revolutionary.

Born in John Street, Liverpool, in 1756, Edward Rushton was educated at Liverpool Free School to the age of 11, and then he was apprenticed to a shipping firm, sailing to the West Indies. It was thus that he saw the slave trade first-hand and also befriended a young African slave of his own age.
Rushton's adventures at sea were ended when a disease caught overseas caused him to go blind at the age of 19. But that was just the start of a new life, in which he did not forget what he had seen, nor fail to advance those who faced the same obstacles as himself. Rushton wrote poetry, campaigned against the press gangs and against black slavery, and supported the American War of Independence and the French Revolution.

He founded the worlds first school for the blind which, in the middle of the nineteenth century, moved to a building later occupied by the Merseyside Trade Union, Community and Unemployed Resource Centre.

I think it was while in Liverpool during the 1995-8 docks struggle that Bill Hunter told me he was writing something about Edward Rushton, a figure I'd never heard of before. Bill, whom I'd known since my youth, had been at times an engineering worker, shop steward and professional revolutionary, and was known and respected by the dockers. He was also a great strengthener to those younger Trotskyists who sent Gerry Healy packing.  In retirement, though not always in good health, Bill not only kept up his activities but broadened them, maintaining links with Latin American revolutionaries, and producng books on, among other things, his own life, the dockers' struggles and Edward Rushton.  Bill Hunter says: “I wrote this book on Edward Rushton in an attempt to rescue from obscurity, this uncompromising fighter for the common people, and to pay tribute to his indomitable spirit.”
Living History Library
Book ISBN: 0-9542077-0-X
Talking Book ISBN: 0-9542077-1-8

click on this icon to hear Rushton's 'Ode to a Robin'

Rushton's letter to Washington about the president's 'owning' of slaves
Chapter 12 - The Liverpool Seamen’s Revolt of 1775
Nerve review of the book

Bill Hunter is not the only one to have been inspired to write about Rushton, as it happens, historian Mike Royden appears to have beaten him to it, and you can read his account of Rushton's life and achievment here:

Actor John Graham Davis seems to have been typecast as a copper for much of his TV appearnces, though recently promoted to be a judge for Peter Barlow's trial on Coronation Street. Whether he'll get to judge the real culprit we'll have to wait and see, but meantime John, whom I met in Leeds through Workers Aid for Bosnia, takes on a different kind of role this month. It's appropriate as he was the speaking voice in the Talking Book version of Forgotten Hero. Here's a message from John on Facebook:
This month marks the bi-centenary of Liverpool's great unsung radical, Edward Rushton. I've spent two years researching and writing about this extraordinary man, and I can't believe that he has remained a virtual secret for two hundred years. Come and help us in this archeological dig, and celebrate our forgotten hero... Blinded at seventeen as a result of helping kidnapped Africans below decks on a slave ship, Rushton educated himself by having a boy read to him during a long period of poverty. Eventually accepted into the liberal abolition circles dominated by university men such as Rathbone and Roscoe, the 'ordinary sailor' Rushton became one of the most intransigent opponents of slavery, suffered hostility within the slave trading city, lost two businesses through Admiralty boycotts and widespread public hostility and escaped an assassination attempt - only to persevere in his various campaigns, and to finally see the slave trade abolished in 1805.

To celebrate Rushton's life - and hopefully to help pull him out of his shameful anonymity - Turf Love and DaDaFest are collaborating on a number of events in Liverpool throughout November and the coming months. Here's what's lined up.... Exhibitions at the Victoria Museum and the National Slavery Museum, readings in libraries sponsored by UNISON, a commemorative inter-faith service in the Anglican Cathedral (Nov 22nd) and a staged reading of the new play by James Quinn and myself, Unsung. Please book free tickets below.
 All these things are in celebration of a remarkable man: radical reformer, determined slavery abolitionist, fighter against impressment (the press gang), defender of freedom of speech, campaigner, through his verse, against violence against women, supporter of the rights of the Irish against English colonial oppression, supporter of trade unions, of Polish independence from Czarism, of American independence from colonial rule, and of French freedom from autocracy. Rushton's poetry is also justly celebrated, and a new edition, featuring his passionate anti-slavery verse, is about to be published. Join us to celebrate this remarkable and shamefully neglected figure. Event details -

I will be speaking about Edward Rushton and giving readings from his work on Wednesday Nov 12 at Toxteth Library (1.30-3) and Central Library (6.30-8pm). These readings are sponsored by UNISON, and are free. It would be really good to see you at some of these events.
John Graham Davies

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