Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Voices Against State Piracy

DROR FEILER,  aboard aid vessel Juliano, named after Juliano Mer-Khamis, director of the Jenin Freedom Theatre, who was murdered in 2011.  This boat was sabotaged while in Greek harbour.

ONCE again, Israeli naval forces have illegally intercepted and seized vessels and crew attempting to breach the blockade on Gaza to deliver civil aid.

Here are two statements about this, in chronological order as received. The first is from veteran Israeli peace campaigner and former Knesset member Uri Avneri, and the organisation he leads, Gush Shalom (the Peace Bloc):
Avnery: Let the Gaza Flotilla through, open the Port of Gaza under international supervision

Press Release June 28, 2015

Former Knesset Member Uri Avnery, of Gush Shalom (The Israeli Peace Bloc),  calls upon Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya'alon to take a sober thought at the last moment and allow what had been called "The Swedish Flotilla" to reach the Port of Gaza. "Four small boats, loaded with medical equipment and solar panels to generate electricity, do not constitute the slightest threat to Israel's security. The arrival of the boats with their humanitarian cargo at Gaza would be a modest good will gesture by the State of Israel. Conversely, sending armed commandos to take over the boats at sea would be one more act of naked force which would further entrench Israel's image as an aggressive and violent Goliath - an image which is the main reason for the increasing acts of boycott against Israel all over the world ".

Avnery recalled that on at least four past occasions, the State of Israel allowed  the arrival of humanitarian aid ships to Gaza. That was before the decision to adopt the policy of naked force, a policy which caused bloodshed in the disastrous Marmara Affair. For example, In November 2008, the government of Israel allowed two boats, which carried 44 activists from 17 countries, to dock at the port of Gaza. At that time, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a statement reading  "We will allow these publicity-seekers to get into Gaza, and thus deny success to their  public relations provocation". The Israeli Navy was then instructed to track the boats but not interfere with their sailing and docking at Gaza – and that was all. "The text of the 2008 communique can still be found in the Foreign Ministry computers, and it can still be re-published today, word by word" suggested Avnery.

"Beyond the specific issue of this flotilla, it's high time to open the Port of Gaza and free the economy of the Gaza Strip from the strangulation which drives its residents to unemployment and terrible poverty, the breeding ground for extremism and hatred. It is well known that international parties are willing to mediate an agreement on international supervision of the Port of Gaza, and the Hamas leadership is willing to reach such an agreement" says Avnery.

   And this evening I received the following from European Jews for Just Peace, EJJP, to which the Jewish Socialists' Group(JSG) is affiliated.   The JSG has endorsed the statement.                               

Statement of the EJJP on The Freedom Flotilla III
July 1st, 2015

On June 29th, the Israeli navy assaulted the Swedish boat “Marianne” in international waters, seizing it’s crew of human-rights activists and its cargo of humanitarian supplies in what can only be called an act of piracy. The passengers were dragged against their will into Israel, to the city of Ashdod.

The Freedom Flotilla aims to break the siege on the Gaza Strip, which the Israeli government has turned into the world’s largest open-air prison. Though the boats and the activists are unarmed, they seek to break the siege in a symbolic action of sailing through to Gaza, in order to call attention to the incarceration of almost 1.8 million people, who are denied their basic rights to travel and to trade, being cut-off from the world by the Israeli military.

The chairman of European Jews for Just Peace, Dror Feiler, is among the illegally incarcerated passengers of the boat “Marianne.” We learned from him that just a few days prior to the Israeli assault, one of the boats in the flotilla was sabotaged within the coastal waters of Greece, leading to the suspicion that the Israeli armed forces have violated Greek sovereignty in order to sabotage the Freedom Flotilla.

European Jews for Just Peace is a coalition of European Jewish organizations, committed to peace and to justice. We demand of our European governments to act to release the captive passengers, among them European Parliament member Ana Miranda. We strongly condemn the inhuman siege on the Gaza Strip.


To which I might add that Dror Feiler is a friend, and though now living in Sweden, was born in Israel and served in its armed forces.  On previous Gaza flotillas he was arrested and roughed up by the Israeli forces and he is currently banned from entering Israel - except of course when they
incarcerate him. This means Dror cannot see his 92-year old mother, a nurse who has continued working with Physicians for Human Rights.

more info:






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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hame to Scotland's Hot Summer

 NO EASY BERTH for privateers

SCOTLAND'S First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was on bright and sparkling form when she visited the USA earlier this month. Appearing on the satirical news programme The Daily Show she told host John Stewart: "You billed me on your website as a comedian - so you've raised all these expectations that I'm going to be funny".

"And I'm a politician, and as you know, politicians are rarely very funny."

Then when the conversation got on to Scottish oil stocks, Stewart mockingly asked: "How much are we talking about here? May we invade you."

Sturgeon replied: "I think this is progress because you just heard there Jon, presumably on behalf of the United States ask permission to invade an oil-producing country, it doesn't usually work that way."

 But the SNP leader was coming home to face trouble in her own back yard - almost literally - and residents who say its beyond a joke.  While she was away the  'Let's Save Govanhill' campaign group was taking council officers on a tour of their estate showing them the amount of rubbish strewn around, which they blame on neglect and fly-tipping.

They are calling on Glasgow city council leader Gordon Mathieson to intervene.
The group have also met with Nicola Sturgeon as part of their campaign. She was MSP for Govan before that constituency was abolished, and still represents the area as MSP for Glasgow Southside.

The campaigners have posted photographs of rubbish-strewn streets and greens on Facebook. Demanding "serious intervention into the ghetto Govanhill has now become", Liz Armour of the Save Govanhill group said : "Yet again the images of Nicola Sturgeon's constituency have shocked many people. Others have said this is nothing new. The sad thing is children live in this filth and they see the squalor everyday surrounding them.

"Despite council officials viewing it firsthand on their tour we are not holding our breaths waiting for some serious action from them, instead we will continue holding our noses at the stink that Govanhill is now creating for Glasgow."


When I first heard that protesters were going to Nicola Sturgeon my thought was that surely this was a council matter, and not up to the First Minister?  I wondered if the Labour Party was stirring things up, and deliberately diverting people's frustration so as to embarrass the SNP leader. But a friend who lives in Govan assures me people there are well aware of the Labour-led Glasgow city council's responsibilities, and were turning to their MSP because they felt the authorities were neglecting them.

Meanwhile, away from the schemes and back-streets of Glasgow, another struggle is taking place, and this is one we predicted.  In 2007, hearing that the SNP having received funds from the Souter family  had dropped its position on public ownership of transport, I wondered how this might affect Caledonian MacBrayne, whose ferries provide the vital service to the Scottish islands.

Now here is Richie Venton, industrial organiser for the Scottish Socialists Party:

Caledonian Macbrayne (CalMac) ferry workers – members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers’ union (RMT) – are taking industrial action in defence of their pensions, jobs, conditions of work – and against privatisation by the Scottish government, who seem set to hand the publicly-owned CalMac ferries over to the private, profiteering Serco.

They start with an overtime ban, followed by a 24-hour strike.

The workers run lifeline services to remote communities on the Clyde and Hebrides CalMac ferries.

These RMT members deserve and need the solidarity of every worker in Scotland.

They are themselves often members of the island communities who depend on these lifeline services. They are dedicated and hardworking, going out in all weather, and have only resorted to this action because of the threat to the services they provide as well as the jobs and conditions they’ve gained through collective union efforts.


They decided on this course of action by sweeping majorities in a ballot of RMT members, who make up about 680 of the 1,400-strong workforce. In a decisive 60% turnout, on a two-question ballot, 98% of them voted in favour of industrial action short of strike action, and 92% in favour of strikes. Even if the Tories’ vicious hurdles against the right of workers to withdraw their labour had already been made law, there would still be a legal majority for this solidarity action.

That in itself illustrates the strength of feeling of a workforce that has tried every other option to get guarantees on their pensions and against compulsory redundancies.

Read more about the CalMac struggle at Richie Venton’s blog.



In another dispute, hospital porters who have been fighting for upgrading and a raise in pay have taken their protest to the Dundee offices of Scottish Health Minister Shona Robinson whom they say is blocking their award.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Secrets and Spies linked with blacklisting

WITH government ministers like Ian Duncan Smith anxiously insisting the results of their policies should be hidden behind secrecy, two stories illustrate the way police are guarding their right to spy on the public. 

We are not talking about dangerous criminals or terrorists here, but about those who have been at the receiving end of violence, and tried to do something about it.

Duwayne Brooks and Stephen Lawrence were teenagers, on their way home one night in 1993 when they were chased by a racist gang, and Stephen was stabbed and bled to death, just yards from the bus stop where they had been waiting, in Eltham, south east London. 

Now 40, and a former Lib Dem councillor, Duwayne not only gave evidence but campaigned along with the Lawrence family for those who had attacked them and murdered his friend to be brought to justice. Since then he has called for the Metropolitan Police to reveal the truth about spying that it conducted, not against the murder suspects, but against him and the Lawrence campaigners.

The Yard said it would hand over any material its officers had collated on him. But Duwayne says what he received from the Met were three pages of intelligence reports, all heavily redacted, so that only four sentences were visible. Even the dates were covered up.

“The ­Commissioner promised they would be open and ­transparent and said the Met would provide copies of documents held on me. Instead they sent me this stuff which is a waste of time. It clearly shows they are still holding information about me. Are they still covering up? Yes 100%.”

Stephen Lawrence's mother Doreen entered the House of Lords as Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, a Labour life peer, on September 6, 2013. Duwayne Brooks was awarded an OBE this month.  But in 2013 a former police officer, Peter Francis, revealed that he had been employed to gather "dirt" on Duwayne Brooks and the Lawrences.  Scotland Yard promised an inquiry.  

The documents do show the police were keen to play up differences between Duwayne Brooks and the Lawrences. One sentence in the report suggests he supported the Movement for Justice, and had criticised Stephen's parents for reluctance to speak at rallies. Another sentence quotes Duwayne  saying that “the black community should not walk on by when the police are stopping blacks in the street”.

BLACKOUT  Heavily redacted document from the Met

He said: “How did they know that? I believe the redacted ­information would answer that.”

The Met said: “We made an undertaking to disclose material held on Mr Brooks to his solicitor. As explained, it was redacted to protect ­sensitive information.”


ANOTHER attempt to uncover what the Met's snoops are up to ran into the secrecy barrier this week when they refused to disclose whether undercover copper Mark Jenner was still on active service, citing "health and safety" grounds.

Jenner, who also used the name Mark Cassidy, posed as a joiner in 1996 and became active in the building union Ucatt until 1999.  He also went to the Colin Roach Centre, which was particularly concerned about police violence. Jenner/Cassidy established a relationship, lasting five years, with a woman teacher, who bore his child, while he was collecting information on her involvement in environmental campaigns.  (CORRECTION:  (see comment) I confused this with another case, Jenner did not give this woman a child and she was not involved in environmental campaign. Shows danger of not checking facts when working late at night!)

 A diary left behind by Jenner indicates that he was interested in building workers campaigning on safety issues. He even chaired some meetings. Former police officer Peter Francis has confirmed that Jenner, a member of the Yard's Special Demonstrations Squad, was an undercover agent.
But Metropolitan Police chiefs have turned down a freedom of information request asking if the former spy was still on duty, saying they would not “confirm or deny” any details of his activities.
The Met cited the need to protect “personal data” as well as the potential for “health and safety” breaches.

“It is deeply cynical for the police to be using personal data as an excuse to withhold information, when they had no hesitation to distribute workers’ personal details to blacklisters and ruin their lives,” said Ucatt acting general secretary Brian Rye.

A database of blacklisted construction workers, held contrary to the Data Protection Act, was discovered in 2009. It included details about workers' political views,  out of work activities and families, and some of the information looked suspiciously as though it had been gathered by undercover police officers.  Since then other information has been brought to light about meetings between senior police officers and employers.

“The police’s continued refusal to answer questions about their role in the blacklisting of ordinary construction workers is reprehensible,” said Brian Rye. "Everyone who had their lives blighted by blacklisting deserves the complete truth. That will only be achieved through a full public inquiry into this disgusting practice.”

Promising increased police surveillance to protect national security, Home Secretary Theresa May told MPs that the “snoopers’ charter” proposals blocked by the Lib Dems during the last parliament were “too wide-ranging” and would be tightened up. Former government lawyer Victoria Prentis, who was elected a Tory MP last month, said that Britain was “lucky to have” its spies.  “They have been proved repeatedly to be both efficient and decent and a great example of the values we hold so dear in this country,” she said.

See also:

UNDERCOVER (and under-the-covers) COP  Mark Jenner, aka Cassidy, spied on workers concerned about health and safety,  and lived with woman he had befriended under false identity before moving on.
"A great example of the values we hold so dear in this country,”?

Investigate Blacklisting, says Nicola's Mum  

ANTI-BLACKLIST campaigners seem to have claimed some success this week having set up stall at the Scottish National Party Trade Union Group meeting in Stirling.
NICOLA Sturgeon is being urged to set up a Hillsborough-style public inquiry into the scandal of blacklisting – by her mum.

Councillor Joan Sturgeon and her North Ayrshire colleagues want an official investigation into the shameful employment practice.

The Record previously told how almost 600 workers in Scotland were blocked from getting jobs by the Consulting Association.

Their blacklist was revealed after a raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2009. It led to the organisation being shut down.


Blacklisting was also mentioned by new Midlothian MP Owen Thompson in his maiden speech in the Commons, in which he also, ironically, praised the speech of fellow newcomer Victoria Prentis.

BUT RMT trade unionists have been less impressed with the SNP trade union group's failure to back opposition to privatisation of Caledonian-MacBrayne ferries.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

From Hajduk to Hammers

 NK HAJDUK, 1944, with new red stars and friends on the island of Vis. 

IT was back in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the years before the First World War.  A group of Croat students attending the University of Prague went to the city's old U Fleku pub after watching a football match between AC Sparta and SK Slavia. They got talking about how popular the game was in their home city, Split, and how good their friends were, and decided Split ought to have a professional side.
It wasn't just the beer talking, because soon after they met they had their club officially registered with the authorities, on February 13, 1911. Thinking what to call their team they went to see an old teacher, Josip Barač, and he suggested "Hajduk", a name for a brigand, which had come to be romanticised and associated with guerrillas fighting foreign rule, whether the Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian empires.

A famous hajduk called Andrija Simic had arrived in Split in 1902, after years in an Austrian prison, and been greeted by cheering crowds. Barač told the football club founders that the name "Hajduk"  symbolized "that which is best in our people: bravery, humanity, friendship, love of freedom, defiance to powers, and protection of the weak. Be worthy of that great name."

Hajduk described itself as "hrvatski nogometni klub" (Croatian football club) and adopted the Croatian chequerboard coat-of-arms in its crest, reflecting people's opposition to the Austro-Hungarian policy of keeping Dalmatia separate from the rest of Croatia. This issue would reappear in World War II, when in return for Mussolini's backing the Ustashe conceded Split and the rest of Dalmatia to Italian rule, while extending their own brutal regime over Bosnia and Hercogovina.

Hajduk's first opponent had been Calcio Spalato, the club of an autonomist party from in Split, and their matches ended with a 9-0 (6-0) victory for Hajduk. Under the wartime occupation they were offered the chance to compete in the Italian first division as "A C Spalato", but turned it down, and they adopted the same defiance when the Germans occupied Split and turned it over to the Ustashe's NDH state.

In the same year that Hajduk was founded, a young man from Kumrovec in northern Croatia went to work at a factory in Kamnik, in Bohemia, going on to jobs in Germany and Austria, where he ended up a test driver for Daimler. Of mixed Slovene and Croat parentage, his name was Joseph Broz, though he was to become better known in the Second World War by the nom de guerre, Tito.

It was also in 1911 that the Serb journal Almanack published an article on Young Bosnia, and that a teenager called Gavril Princip joined the nationalist group.  On June 28, 1914, Vidovdan (St.Vitus Day) to patriotic Serbs, in Sarajevo, he fired the shots which killed the visiting Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, and provided the pretext for the first Great imperialist war.

Called up to the Austro-Hungarian army, Joseph Broz made Sergeant-Major. But more important than this military experience, he was captured by the Russians, then freed from a prison camp by revolutionary workers during the February Revolution, and went on to join the Red Guards and become a communist.

Forward to September 1943, when news of the Italian surrender reached Tito's partisan headquarters in Bosnia, where they had already been joined by British officers, Churchill supporting them as the most effective if not sole force fighting the Germans in Yugoslavia. It was urgent for the partisans to reach Split, and take the Italian forces' surrender - and arms supplies -before anyone else, particularly Germans, got there. It would mean a forty mile journey across Hercogovina's rough terrain -"good only for raising sheep and Ustashe", as a Bosnian saying has it.

The 1st Proletarian Division's advance force made it in a 24 hour forced march, much of it overnight, clashing with an Ustashe unit on the way and capturing weapons from them. When they reached the hills overlooking Split they saw a little old Fiat car winding its way up the zig zag road to meet them.
"What kept you?" said the driver. He told them that Split was in the hands of its citizens, and that local partisans assisted by high school students had taken over and disarmed the Italians.

 General Emilio Becuzzi surrendered the Split garrison, consisting of "Bergamo" division, some 12-13,000 men, on September 12, 1943. Italian officers wanted to keep command of their own units, but this was not accepted. Instead, some 350 Italian soldiers who wanted to join the partisans were formed into the Garibaldi battalion - same name as an Italian unit in the International Brigade in Spain. (There's a memorial plaque honouring these Italians on the post office as you enter Split from the south).  On September 15, in Livno, Herzogovina, the Matteotti battalion was formed, taking its name from an Italian Socialist MP whom the fascists murdered.

More Italians joined the partisans in Montenegro, forming an entire Garibaldi Division which stayed in Yugoslavia until early 1945, when it's member were shipped back to Italy.

Meanwhile in Split, while partisans used captured Italian vehicles to cart away weapons and ammunition, the British Captain Deakin made a balcony speech to citizens, with Croatian poet and partisan officer Lola Ribar interpreting, promising that as British and Allied forces advanced up through Italy they would be able to give more support to the liberation struggle in Yugoslavia.
His speech was widely circulated by the resistance paper Slobodna Dalmacija (Liberated Dalmatia) - (which still exists as a title today, though President Tudjman and his business cronies put paid to its independence). A Nazi paper in Zagreb reported this as an "unfortunate speech made by a local Jew disguised as a British officer").

 As for Hajduk, at a ceremony on their home ground, the entire football team lined up and pledged their allegiance to the partisans.

The partisans could not stay in Split, where their presence made them and the civilian population prey to Luftwaffe bombing. The Germans took the city. But they could not have Hajduk.

The club's players made their way to the Adriatic island of Vis, where a new partisan headquarters was set up, from which joint operations were launched with British commandos and special boat units. On May 7, 1944 on the Feast of Saint Duje, the patron saint of Split, Hajduk began playing again as the official football team of the Yugoslav resistance. They played against teams from the Allied forces in Italy, and famously defeated the British in a friendly match.[12] The team sewed the partisan red star on to their white-and-blue strip,

In 1945, Hajduk made a tour through Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, where they were honoured by de Gaulle, Syria and Malta. After the war, Tito, who frequently attended matches, invited his favourite team to move to Belgrade and become the official Yugoslav People's Army team. But they preferred to keep their "Dalmatian spirit" and stay in Split.

 And why am I recounting all this in my blog just now?

Well the other day I was talking to a comrade of mine who was over the moon because the football team which he supports, West Ham, acquired a new manager this month, Slaven Bilic, whom he describes as a "Socialist", and not like the owners.


Not knowing much about football, I looked up Bilic, a Croat who began his professional career with Hajduk, and past player for both West Ham and Everton, and found that he is certainly on record when in Croatia as wanting to drive racialism out of the game,

When managing the Turkish side Besiktas he declared:
   "The team's philosophy is 'power to the people.' There are no rich or poor here. No classes. That's why I can say that I am endeavoring for a socialist team." (Post-match interview after Beşiktaş beat Gaziantepspor 2–0 in Spor Toto Super Lig).[28]

Wikipedia tells us:
Along with his native Croatian, Bilić is fluent in German, Italian, and English, while he also holds a degree in law. As a big fan of rock music, he plays rhythm guitar with his favored red Gibson Explorer and is a member of Rawbau, a Croatian rock group. In 2008, the band recorded a song for Croatia's performance at Euro 2008 called "Vatreno ludilo" ("Fiery Madness").Bilić has identified himself as a socialist, and has said "If you know to share what you own, you live happily and with honor. I am a true socialist. I know I can't save the world on my own; but if there is a struggle against unjustness, I always prefer to be on the frontline, and that is my attitude toward life."
My West Ham mate reckons Bilic is bound to be a big change from Sam Allardyce, whom he replaces.  Sounds like he is a change from most managers, though of course Fergie and Brian Clough have been outspoken Labour men.  Sir Alex indeed has credited his early days as a trade unionist and shop steward in the shipyards with teaching him leadership skills. (not a fashionable background for Labour politicians in recent years).  

Both Hajduk and Slaven Bilic have had checkered careers as well as badges, and no doubt my mate's fanzine will be able to appraise what contribution the new manager brings to the Hammers' game as well as his politics, and what if anything it owes to his first club's heritage. Meantime I thought his arrival a good excuse to dig up a bit of history.


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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ambassador's Assessment

JEREMY CORBYN meets supporters on June 20 anti-austerity march.

CRAIG Murray is a former British diplomat who fell out with the Blair government over its support to foreign dictators, became a human rights activist, and is today a member of the Scottish National Party. Well-travelled, and well-educated, he easily refutes any notion of patriotic Scots being dim or parochial.

Being acquainted with the ways of intelligence services, and newspapers, Craig Murray didn't hesitate to characterise the supposed Foreign and Commonwealth Office memo about what Nicola Spurgeon had told the man from the French embassy as having "MI5 written all over it". "This is the worst example of British security services influencing an election campaign since the Zinoviev letter", he commented.

As it turned out, the ambassador story did not do the SNP any harm.

And now, here are some real, and interesting things, that a former British ambassador - Craig Murray - has had to say about another election, the one for leader of the Labour Party.  I recommend his arguments to any Labour supporters feeling intimidated by the so-called "realists" sighing that a left-winger just can't win, and to any honest journalists plucking up the courage to differ from their proprieter's party line.  

The media are working overtime to marginalise Jeremy Corbyn as a Labour leadership candidate on the grounds that he is left wing and therefore weird and unelectable. But they face the undeniable fact that, Scottish independence aside, there are very few political differences between Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon. On issues including austerity, nuclear weapons, welfare and Palestine both Sturgeon and Corbyn are really very similar. ..

Nicola Sturgeon won the UK wide leaders debate in the whole of the United Kingdom, despite the disadvantage of representing a party not standing in 90% of it by population. She won not just because she is clever and genuine, but because people all across the UK liked the left wing policies she articulated.

A Daily Mirror opinion poll following a BBC televised Labour leadership candidates’ debate this week had Jeremy Corbyn as the clear winner, with twice the support of anyone else. The media ridicule level has picked up since. This policy of marginalisation works. I was saddened by readers’ comments under a Guardian report of that debate, in which Labour supporter after Labour supporter posted comment to the effect “I would like to vote for Jeremy Corbyn because he believes in the same things I do, but we need a more right wing leader to have a chance of winning.”

There are two answers to that. The first is no, you don’t need to be right wing to win. Look at the SNP. The second is what the bloody hell are you in politics for anyway? Do you just want your team to win like it was football? Is there any point at all in being elected just so you can carry out the same policies as your opponents? The problem is, of course, that for so many in the Labour Party, especially but not just the MPs, they want to win for personal career advantage not actually to promote particular policies.

The media message of the need to be right wing to be elected is based on reinforced by a mythologizing of Tony Blair and Michael Foot as the ultimate example of the Good and Bad leader. These figures are constantly used to reinforce the consensus. Let us examine their myths.

Tony Blair is mythologised as an electoral superstar, a celebrity politician who achieved unprecedented personal popularity with the public, and that he achieved this by adopting right wing policies. Let us examine the truth of this myth. First that public popularity. The best measure of public enthusiasm is the percentage of those entitled to vote, who cast their ballot for that party at the general election. This table may surprise you.

Percentage of Eligible Voters

1992 John Major 32.5%
1997 Tony Blair 30.8%
2001 Tony Blair 24.1%
2005 Tony Blair 21.6%
2010 David Cameron 23.5%
2015 David Cameron 24.4%

There was only any public enthusiasm for Blair in 97 – and to put that in perspective, it was less than the public enthusiasm for John Major in 1992.

More importantly, this public enthusiasm was not based on the policies now known as Blairite. The 1997 Labour Manifesto was not full of right wing policies and did not indicate what Blair was going to do.

The Labour Party manifesto of 1997 did not mention Academy schools, Private Finance Initiative, Tuition Fees, NHS privatisation, financial sector deregulation or any of the right wing policies Blair was to usher in. Labour actually presented quite a left wing image, and figures like Robin Cook and Clare Short were prominent in the campaign. There was certainly no mention of military invasions.

It was only once Labour were in power that Blair shaped his cabinet and his policies on an ineluctably right wing course and Mandelson started to become dominant. As people discovered that New Labour were “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, to quote Mandelson, their popular support plummeted. “The great communicator” Blair for 90% of his Prime Ministership was no more popular than David Cameron is now. 79% of the electorate did not vote for him by his third election

Michael Foot consistently led Margaret Thatcher in opinion polls – by a wide margin – until the Falklands War. He was defeated in a victory election by the most appalling and intensive wave of popular war jingoism and militarism, the nostalgia of a fast declining power for its imperial past, an emotional outburst of popular relief that Britain could still notch up a military victory over foreigners in its colonies. It was the most unedifying political climate imaginable. The tabloid demonization of Foot as the antithesis of the military and imperial theme was the first real exhibition of the power of Rupert Murdoch. Few serious commentators at the time doubted that Thatcher might have been defeated were it not for the Falklands War – which in part explains her lack of interest in a peaceful solution. Michael Foot’s position in the demonology ignores these facts.

The facts about Blair and about Foot are very different from the media mythology.

   What the bloody hell are you in politics for anyway? Do you just want your team to win like it was football? Is there any point at all in being elected just so you can carry out the same policies as your opponents?



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Friday, June 19, 2015

All Gas and Knighthoods

 ANTI-FRACKING protest on Lancashire's Fylde coast. Offshore fracking may have caused minor earthquake.  GMB union called conference in Blackpool to reassure people about benefits of fracking.

LAST weekend's conference of local trades union councils, meeting in Crewe, discussed motions, and action, on a variety of issues, from Climate Change to Child Abuse, Low Pay to Benefit Sanctions. Delegates pledged to resist attacks on Trade Union rights in the civil service and to reject the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), about which politicians are being so suspiciously quiet.

But when it came to prioritising the resolution that should go to this year's TUC, conference voted to select one which essentially repeats what we said last year. That the fraternal or sororal delegate whom we are entitled to send to congress each year should have proper speaking and voting rights, including the right to move the one resolution which we are entitled to submit.

This might not seem an earth-shattering decision, or likely to make front-page news, but it is one which the TUC has found far from straightforward.  When it was raised a few years ago as part of a resolution urging trade unions to give more support to trades councils, moved on our behalf by the late Bob Crow of the RMT union, the resolution was passed,  but TUC officers registered "reservations"on behalf of the General Council, centred on the question of representation at Congress.   

It is hard to get at what's behind these reservations. Trades councils, to use their traditional name, are not some weird and wonderful idea dreamed up by trendy left-wing intellectuals. They go back to the 19th century. It was a conference called by the Manchester and Salford trades council in 1868 which became the Trades Union Congress.

Nowadays, trades union councils, as they are properly called, represent trade unionism in the community. Bringing together members of different unions with branches in the same area, they remain essentially rank and file bodies, consisting of lay members not only supporting each other in any struggles at work, but campaigning from a working class point of view on issues that can range from housing in London to flood prevention and control in the West Country, and of course the fight for the National Health Service. With this belief in workers' unity it is only consistent of trades councils to stand against racism where they live and be interested in an international perspective. Being concerned with where they live has increasingly led also to concern with the environment and climate change.

Maybe it is this spectre of lay activists, unconstrained by narrow sectional advantage or careerism, campaigning in their own time, and liable to be "political", that more conservative union officialdom finds worrying? Looking at trades councils in decline with their old industrial base, and aging officers, former TUC president Brendan Barber is reputed to have said that the problem could be left to anno domini.   But though weakened by neglect, and sometimes falling, trades councils have not gone away. New ones have been formed, old ones revived, and with new ways of organising and attracting younger members, those of us making use of retirement and our freedom passes may look forward to handing over to a new generation.

But that aside, surely the admission of one delegate and allowing that person to speak can hardly be seen as threatening the whole TUC edifice with overturn, can it?

When the issue was raised again at last year's TUC, only a couple of minor union's delegates spoke against it, expressing fears that having an extra delegate might give some unions unfair advantage,  the delegate from the Royal Society of Physiotherapy objecting -quite incorrectly -that trades council delegates were not accountable to anyone.   

It looked as though the resolution might be passed. But, as last year's fraternal delegate, Dave Chapple from Bridgwater TUC, explained to this year's trades councils' conference, when the chair decided to go to a card vote (meaning unions can cast votes proportionate to the size of their official membership),  the trades councils' motion was defeated by 2,908,000 votes to 2,718,000.  There are not two million chartered physiotherapists in Britain. It appears the big GMB union was one of those whose delegates did not enter the debate, but whose weight made sure the motion was defeated.

Hearing this, I was reminded of what I heard at the TUC in Brighton in 2012, when I was the fraternal delegate, officially welcomed by the chair, (now Sir) Paul Kenny from the platform, albeit I was consigned to the outer darkness of a seat in the remote visitor's gallery.  At that congress, outside which demonstrators were calling for a "general strike", delegates agreed to a motion from the RMT union to explore the prospect of concerted industrial action against the Con Dem coalition's austerity policies. Only a handful of smaller unions like the Airline Pilots' Association spoke against. Others, like Sir Paul's union the GMB, and perhaps Unison, reputedly agreed among themselves not to oppose the motion, but to make sure afterwards that nothing came of it. And of course, nothing did.   

Hearing about the GMB again last Saturday, trades council conference delegates were amusedly pointing out to each other the news in  the papers that GMB general secretary Paul Kenny had been knighted in the Queen's birthday honours list. For "services to trade unionism", naturally. The Tory press were claiming this was merely for the union's generosity to Labour. But I was thinking that whoever advises on these things must have had a shrewd knowledge of what went on behind the sometimes militant-sounding speeches at union conferences.


Perhaps I should have remembered something else Dave Chapple said, at last year's trades councils conference in Cardiff.  At that conference we passed a motion about the dangers for the environment and global warming of the oil and gas prospecting method known as "fracking". Bridgwater postman Dave got up to ask why nobody had spoken against, particularly why no one from the GMB union, which he understood was in favour of fracking. 

There was no response.

At the time, I thought maybe Dave was being a bit unfair. Delegates were all there representing their trades council, irrespective of their own particular trade union, with whose national policy they might not necessarily agree anyway.

But the more we see of the GMB's distinctly pro-fracking policy the more we must wonder at the union's apparent lack of concern about explaining itself to other trade unionists.

Already in April last year the GMB joined its voice to contractors welcoming reports that fracking could create a £33 billion industry eventually employing 64,000 workers.This ignored the doubts expressed by others concerning the viability of the energy industry as well as the harmful effects on areas.


Then in  January this year it was claimed that unions had pressured Labour MPs to abstain from a vote that would have imposed a moratorium on the shale gas industry. Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt,  who resigned from the government to support the moratorium, said: “Two of Britain’s biggest unions – the GMB and Unite – weighed in [on Monday], begging Labour MPs not to support a ban on fracking. This may go some way to explaining... Labour’s 180 degree about-turn.”

Only 52 MPs backed the moratorium, with 308 against. Earlier in the day there had been suggestions the anti-fracking rebels could win with Labour support.


Unite members were concerned at the claim their union was involved. Unite's own conference in July 2014 had passed an anti-fracking resolution.


But the GMB union sent a letter to MPs before the vote urging them to oppose the amendment, saying that support for the moratorium would be “a total abdication of any moral responsibility” for the UK’s use of and extraction of gas.“We will be using gas for many decades to come and this gas needs to come from somewhere,” it said.

"GMB says that over 80 MPs are members of its union. Only seven voted for the amendment proposing a moratorium, while most of their Labour colleagues abstained. On Friday GMB will hold a conference on fracking in Blackpool, close to a site where shale gas tests are believed to have caused earth tremors in 2011".

The GMB's welcome for the supposed benefits of fracking last year came as it was reported that the UK government was resisting EU efforts to regulate the industry.

The government is continuing to push through changes in its Infrastructure Bill to take away obstacles to fracking under people's homes and property and under national parks.


Much of this activity threatens to take place in what have been thought of as Tory areas, and yet precisely because residents have made efforts to conserve their neighbourhoods and property values, can arouse bitter local opposition which environmental campaigners -and even possibly Labour - could harness.

It would be a pity if this resistance and the possibility of new alignments were to be weakened by trade union bureaucrats preferring to stake their members' hopes on promises from greedy bosses in return for their political services. 

The GMB has been evoking its longstanding link to the gas industry.  Will Thorne, a socialist whom Eleanor Marx helped learn to read,  founded the gasworkers' union in 1889, and went on to become one of the first Labour MPs, representing West Ham South. The GMB can claim to be the gasworkers' successor union.  But Thorne built his union by organising the workers in struggle for their rights against the employers, not through a sweetheart deal for privilege by championing the employers' interests.

But then Thorne only got an OBE, and that much later, not a knighthood.

The Times reported on June 9.

GMB breaks with Unite to support fracking

 One of Britain’s biggest unions has backed fracking by agreeing to work with explorers to develop the industry.

In a move that splits the labour movement — Unite, Britain’s biggest union, has been anti-fracking — the GMB has signed a charter with UK Onshore Oil & Gas.

The charter, signed at the GMB’s annual conference in Dublin yesterday, said that companies and employees would commit to safety rules and the development of skills and the supply chain to support fracking — the production of gas or oil through the hydraulic fracturing of rock in difficult-to-access reserves underground.

And here's a press statement yesterday from the union:

GMB Northern Region on fracking

Thursday, June 18, 2015
GMB northern region welcome June 18th briefing from chemicals industry on fracking in Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Given the fragility of the oil and gas sector due to price pressures, diversification through shale gas could well become a key employer within the energy sector says GMB Northern Region.
GMB Northern Region welcome a briefing to businesses on fracking which took place in Newcastle upon Tyne today (18th June 2015). See notes to editors 1 for copy of press release from the Chemical Industry Association.
On 8th June the GMB Congress agreed an important statement on fracking which acknowledged that while there are important considerations, the economic, indigenous energy and employment benefits cannot be ignored. See notes to editors 2 for copy of GMB CEC statement agreed by GMB Congress in Dublin on 8th June 2015.
Billy Coates, GMB Northern Regional Secretary said "This is very much work in progress. The strategic importance of fracking within the UK's balanced energy mix must not be ignored. Along with nuclear, renewables, green coal, oil and gas, fracking could be absolutely essential to achieving near self -sufficiency which will benefit domestic and business need.
Fracking has in effect being going on for years as a by-product of oil and gas exploration. Given the fragility of the oil and gas sector due to price pressures, diversification through shale gas could well become a key employer within the energy sector.
Policy makers need to take this into account as we look to sustainable communities through employment, investment, secure energy through supply, price and use".


Surely all this deserves more than a mere knighthood? 

BRO. KENNY, now Sir Paul, at TUC.  "TUC get off your knees", the demonstrators chanted. Did he hear "Arise ye faithful servant"?

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Spying on the Victims

FAMILY of Jean Charles de Menezes held gathering outside Stockwell tube station where he was killed.  This was early in January, 2006. Below, the big guy on the left was using a big camera taking close-ups of faces in the crowd.

The family of Jean Charles de Menezes are going to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, using Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, on the right to life,  to challenge the decision by British authorities that nobody should be prosecuted for his death.

The 27-year old Brazilian electrician was on his way to work when he was shot dead by police marksmen on a tube train at Stockwell, on July 22, 2005. Some thought the way he was shot several times at close range suggested an army-style killing rather than police action.

They had supposedly mistaken him for a terrorist suspect they were pursuing for attempted bombings the day before.  The police story carried by the press was that Jean Charles had been wearing an unseasonal bulky coat, such as might be concealing a bomb or a weapon, and that he had vaulted ticket barriers in his hurry to escape pursuit and get on to the tube.

In fact Jean Charles was not wearing a big coat at all, just a light denim jacket, and he used his season ticket to go through the barriers in the normal way. An inquest held at the Oval in 2008 heard how police had been watching the south London block of flats where he lived, and followed him, although the man they were supposed to be watching had left London the night before and was out of the country. At one point a plain-clothes officer actually sat next to Jean Charles on the bus. When the electrician alighted at Stockwell he unknowingly passed two other police watchers as he walked to the tube.

Meanwhile, if any officer had any doubts that they were pursuing the right man, they could not get through. The communications officer in the crowded control room at Scotland Yard could not make himself heard above the excited din of those following the chase.

The inquest returned an open verdict.

Cressida Dick, the officer in charge at the Yard received a medal and was promoted acting Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. She is now Assistant Commissioner of Special Operations.    
Speaking about the family's decision to go to Strasbourg with the case, Patricia da Silva, a cousin of Jean Charles de Menezes said: "For 10 years our family has been campaigning for justice for Jean because we believe that police officers should have been held to account for his killing.
“Jean's death is a pain that never goes away for us.

 An interesting sidelight on this battle for justice is that while the authorities claimed there was insufficient evidence to prosecute anybody over Jean Charles' death, the police did put in an effort to spying on the family and their supporters and friends. They were subject to surveillance as were the relatives of Cherry Groce, who was shot by armed police in Brixton, and Ricky Reel, the student victim of a racial attack.  A report acknowledged that the information collected by a controversial undercover unit "served no purpose in preventing crime or disorder".


The family and friends of Stephen Lawrence, murdered in south-east London, were spied on as they campaigned for justice. In fact, far more police work went into infiltrating and spying on their campaign than into pursuing the murder suspects. It is likely that one reason south London police were reluctant to proceed against Stephen's killers, besides institutional racism, was that one of the gang involved was the son of a professional criminal and police informer.

But more than one police force was engaged in spying on the Lawrence campaign.
"Greater Manchester Police has admitted that it spied on people attending the Inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, making it the fourth constabulary known to be involved.
When the MacPherson Inquiry took place in 1998, it held a number of hearings outside London. A GMP memo was issued on 8 October asking for ‘information or intelligence on groups or individuals who are likely to be attending’ to be given to a Detective Chief Inspector in Special Branch.
The spying appears to have been motivated by wholly political concerns. There was no anticipation of any threat to public order, there is no suggestion of anything criminal, and the memo makes no mention of anything untoward.

Since there was no suggestion of illegal activity or threatened disorder from any of these campaigns, which were simply out to seek the truth and obtain justice, would we be unreasonable to suggest that what the police were after was any 'dirt' they could find or make up to try and discredit witnesses and campaigners, and cover up their own wrongdoing?

Trade unionists digging out the truth about blacklisting, mainly in the building industry, have come upon evidence that those compiling illegal files and selling information to employers were able to work hand in glove with police officers and undercover agents infiltrating the unions and meetings. So officers paid for by the taxpayer, including the workers, were being used to target workers who took up perfectly legitimate issues of safety and conditions, and help unscrupulous employers penalise them and their families by denying them work.

Environmental and other campaigns have also been targeted by undercover police, who went so far as to form relationships with women in groups they were infiltrating, and even father children by them, before disappearing on to other work. It is also well known that where campaigns are infiltrated, provocations and actions that land people in trouble with the law can follow. In perhaps the most notorious case an undercover agent named as perpetrator of a store bombing has been promoted and found an academic post.

While the government and tame media pretend that police need more powers for surveillance to protect us from terror, a campaign to raise public awareness of what the snoops and agents are really up to has been formed, and is promising new exposures coming along.

This is the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance, COPS,


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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Political Repression is All in the Game, When Big Money is in Play

BIG OIL lubricated way for Azerbaijan, but protesters steal the light. 

THE European Games are due to open in Baku, the capital of oil-rich Azerbaijan, on Friday, but the Azerbaijani government's hope to use this event to boost its image suffered an own-goal last night with the news that a British rights campaigner, Emma Hughes, had been detained at the airport and would not be allowed to enter Azerbaijan.   

In a message to friends, Emma, who has called these "the BP games", accusing the British Petroleum company of backing the Azerbaijani regime, said:
"I'm being detained in Baku. I may get deported, but Azerbaijan's 100 political prisoners face years in jail until the BF-funded regime falls". 
Emma works with Platform, a group dedicated to promoting education, art and political activism concerning the global oil industry and its effects on society and the environment.



RAISING PRISONERS' PLIGHT ,  Emma Hughes exposed lobbyists.

In September 2013 she wrote about how an Azerbaijani government-backed lobbying outfit, The European Azerbaijani Society(TEAS) was working the British conference season, holding receptions at the conferences of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties.

Life in Azerbaijan is starkly different from TEAS facade of drinks and jazz. Azerbaijan's ruling elite have used the country's oil and gas wealth to establish a repressive system where police constantly monitor people, there is almost no press freedom and even the most peaceful of protests are violently broken up. In the past 18 months the Azerbaijani government have conducted what Human Rights Watch calls "a deliberate, abusive strategy to limit dissent" as it attempts to stifle opposition in the run up to the Azerbaijan presidential elections. In January in the town of Ismayilli, batons and teargas were used to break up demonstrations and in March water cannons and rubber bullets were fired on a protest in Baku – afterwards police arrested seven members of the youth movement NIDA for planning to incite violence, despite the demo remaining peaceful throughout. Human Rights Club have spent the last few months documenting political prisoner cases, they estimate there are over 100 political prisoners in Azerbaijan's jails – two of whom were expected to be election candidates until their incarceration forced them to withdraw.
Her article, published on September 27, 2013 in the Guardian 'Comment is Free' column,  was headed:  Why UK politicians should be wary of Azerbaijan's overtures


 It would seem some British politicians have taken her warning with a pinch of salt, some barrels of oil, or a generous helping of mazooma.

As Private Eye (no.1393, May 29-June 11) reports:
Two days before polling, the Electoral Commission released details of the latest political donations, including a £50,000 gift to the Conservatives from one Javad Marandi, who last year gave the party £75,000 in a series of smaller gifts. Marandi is a British businessman who since 2002 has been managing partner of Pasha Construction, part of the Pasha Holdings conglomerate owned by the family of President Ilham Aliyev’s wife, Mehriban Aliyeva (nee Mehriban Pashayeva.)
According to a leaked US embassy cable in 2010: “The family of First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva” is “the single most powerful family in Azerbaijan.” It dominates several ministries and “controls Pasha Holdings, a conglomerate that includes Pasha Bank, Pasha Insurance, Pasha Construction, and Pasha Travel”. Most firms in Azerbaijan have to pay off officials demanding “slices of the corruption pie... [but] projects by Pasha Construction face few, if any, of these setbacks and are generally among the fastest to be built in Azerbaijan.”
Projects include the new Four Seasons hotel in the capital Baku, which had a glamorous launch in 2012 at which Pasha Construction was represented by Mr Marandi. He has also appeared in photographs at New York charity balls alongside Leyla Aliyeva, the president’s daughter.
When the Eye asked Mr Marandi if his donation was related to his business interests, his spokesperson said he gave the money “in a purely personal capacity as a British citizen and any suggestion that it was made for any other reason is entirely inaccurate”.
Concerns about human rights in Azerbaijan are currently building as the government imprisons critical journalists before next month’s European Games in Baku.

Of course, £50,000 might be a lot of money to me and you, and it is probably helping to flavour BP's own influence, but Azerbaijan is not the only ex-Soviet republic proving remunerative, and of course not the biggest.  (Kazakhstan's ruler has paid Tony Blair for advice, but that was through a company, whereas here we are talking about Party donations).

A report on the Tories' generous new supporters last year said:
"Since 2010, at least £1,157,433 has been donated to the party through British citizens who were formerly Russian citizens or are married to Russians or their associated companies."

And another:

Keeping up the sporting link, money was even raised with the promise of a tennis match to the highest bidder. And if the reference to Russians living in London sounds like we're talking about rich emigres separate from the Russian government, one of those involved in the fundraising fun was a former Finance Minister favourite of Putin.


That some of those who've made fortunes from the former 'workers' state' have followed their money to the City of London, settled and sent their offspring to posh public schools, does not stop them providing a useful channel for dosh and influence. It facilitates it. 
Critics thought not. And adding grist to their mill, Electoral Commission records promptly revealed Mrs Chernukhin to have been deemed an ‘impermissable donor’ when she first tried to give £10,000 to the Tory Party in 2012, seemingly on grounds that she was then a foreign citizen.
Publicity over the links to Russian wealth may sit uncomfortably with Cameron's calls to keep up sanctions against Russia now. But never lacking in hypocrisy or chutzpah, the Bullingdon Boy's champions David and Boris may sense new opportunities to shine by making speeches about "corruption" , and riding the tide of the FIFA scandals. 



Trust some spoilsports to point out that not all corruption involves foreigners, and even the FIFA affair appears to involve British banks and companies.

Could the Cameron government combine its new-found desire to lead a crusade against corruption with its seeming willingness to bite the hand that feeds, reviving Cold War, to steal the 2018 World Cup plans and prestige back from Russia?

In the (now Russian-owned) Evening Standard, (June 9) Simon Jenkins writes that
Cameron previously tried to suppress questions about FIFA, but now could use the corruption row to land the games for Britain. 

But could he get away with this?  Never trust a Tory!

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Thursday, June 04, 2015

Support the Challenger from the Left!

JEREMY CORBYN, MP (Islington Tribune)

...and a message from North of the Border we should note.

First, the good news. There is a Left-wing, anti-austerity candidate standing in the Labour Party's leadership election.  I don't know whether Jeremy Corbyn will even get the 35  nominations from fellow Labour MPs necessary for his name to appear on the ballot paper. But he should.

We saw the hurdles John McDonnell had to face when he made a challenge for the leadership.

The news tonight was that Jeremy Corbyn had obtained ten nominations within 24 hours of announcing his intentions, and I'd guess some are from the new MPs who previously issued an anti-austerity statement.  Adding my vote to an online poll run by the Daily Mirror I was heartened to find myself among 87 per cent for Jeremy Corbyn. It won't count in the official leadership stakes of course, but it should count for something.
With the other candidates competing to be most right-wing, complaining that poor Ed Miliband pulled the Party to the Left, and sounding like they've rooted through David Cameron's waste bin for old speeches attacking welfare claimants,  it's good to see anyone making a challenge from the Left.
Not that Jeremy Corbyn is just anyone. He opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has championed the rights of the Palestinian people, with more principled consistency than George Galloway and none of the latter's tainted links or bloated arrogance.

As a supporter of working people's rights and aspirations for a better society (not the selfish individual "aspiration" some other Labour lights have been extolling), Jeremy Corbyn  ranks close to John McDonnell,  with whom he often shares a platform, in respect from rank-and-file trade unionists.

Jeremy Corbyn is also a good MP, known and liked by people in his Islington North constituency. Many years ago when I read about rumours that right-wing, Blairite  councillors  in Islington were plotting to oust the MP, I mentioned it to a mate of mine long resident in the Holloway Road and active in the community. "They must be mad," he opined, "Everyone here likes Jeremy, even if they have no time at all for the council".  Since then those right-wingers have gone, and as local councils go, in these days of pervasive privatisation and cuts, Islington is not that bad, according to my trade union informants.

As for Jeremy, besides those union activists who'll back him, I know people in Tufnell Park who left the Labour Party in disgust at Blair's lies an war, and joined the Greens. But come election time, as they explain to friends, "We have to vote Labour for Jeremy Corbyn". That's anecdotal of course, but Jeremy Corbyn's 21,000 plus majority is real enough.
 Some years back, helping to host a conference of European Jews for Just Peace, I asked Jeremy Corbyn along as a guest panel speaker. Well, we were meeting near Archway, in his constituency, though there were not a lot of votes to be gathered from the delegates from Stockholm, Brussels, Paris and Rome.  Jeremy turned up hotfoot from Heathrow where he had been dealing with an immigration case, spoke and spent more time answering questions and discussion (he is a good listener as well as speaker), before getting away to hold his surgery for constituents.   
More recently, I was at a rally held in tribute to the late Mike Marqusee, writer and journalist, who died at the beginning of this year. It was little more than a week after the depressing result of the general election. Jeremy Corbyn was jointly chairing, or compering, the event, along with comedian Mark Steel, who had us all on our feet not for a minute's silence in memory of Mike, but a rousing cheer in recollection of his life.  Indeed, though we were all, family and friends and comrades, remembering a sad loss, we came away from that gathering with a very positive feeling, some of the unity and courageous defiance that Mike Marqusee bequeathed us.

I see Jeremy Corbyn's challenge for leadership as continuing and embodying some of that spirit.  As he says on TV tonight, the party, and the movement, should really be having a policy debate rather than a leadership contest, but he hopes his his challenge can encourage that debate.  If we can get behind it, and especially if Jeremy can get a decent vote, the Left is finding its feet again. Then we will be on the march.

When Scottish Affairs are All Our Affairs



One of the odd aspects of the campaign against building industry blacklisting was that hearings were held in the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee. As anti-blacklisting campaigner Dave Smith explained to Brent Trades Union Council's meeting the other week this was solely because it was one committee where Labour had a majority and so the issue could be pursued.

Like others, Dave was hoping that an incoming Labour government under Ed Miliband would honour its promises to hold an inquiry into blacklisting, particularly with the evidence that has come out about undercover police activity in trade unions and campaigns. Dave, and the Blacklist Support Group, were keen that is should be a full public inquiry.

Though the return of a Tory government is obviously a setback, Dave Smith said we should not be depressed or give up. "Cameron has only got a 12-seat majority. Thatcher had 144 seats at one point, and we still defeated her!"
Many people are hoping that Labour and the Scottish National Party can combine to beat the Tories, and I have seen messages complaining that Left-wing Labour MPs have not come out openly for an alliance with the SNP against austerity and Trident.

These are still early days, and too early for recriminations before things have really started, but we cannot ignore the message from Neil Findlay, MSP, who was Jim Murphy's challenger for the Labour leadership in Scotland, and resigned last month from the Party's shadow cabinet over its failure to analyse its disaster north of the Border.

Neil Findlay writes (Wednesday, June ):

"Today in parliament I called for a Scottish Inquiry into the Blacklisting of construction workers. It is clear that the Tories won't do it but the Scottish Government could.

Depressingly only two SNP MSPs turned up for the debate and the only one who spoke, Mike McKenzie actually questioned whether the big construction companies had actually blacklisted people!!!!! I find this astonishing as I thought there was a general consensus given all the evidence that has been unearthed in the information commissioners raid. I will post the video later so people can see the debate."

Two Scottish building workers interviewed by the Daily Record were not amused to hear that what they had experienced might all be imaginary.

And here is that video of the Scottish parliament as promised.

PS   In a message on Facebook today, Neil Findlay says:

"Great meeting today with Jeremy Corbyn's campaign team - please urge Labour MPs to nominate him and your trade union to support him - let's have the widest possible debate about the future of the Labour Party".

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Monday, June 01, 2015

FIFA's Unfinished, and Proper, Business

WAITING for sporting chance. Palestinian team detained at border.
IT did not make the front-pages nor TV news here, unlike the arrests in FIFA, but there was a not unconnected incident on May 21 this year, that deserves to be recorded in history. It was not one of the great moments in sport, nor a proud episode for the State of Israel.  

"This evening Israeli Forces delayed the Palestinian National Football Team at the Allenby/Al Karamah Crossing, the only international border for Palestinians living in the Occupied West Bank. The national team was on its route to Tunisia as part of their preparation for its upcoming official matches.

"This new Israeli violation occurred less than 24 hours after Mr. Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, left Israel and Palestine, having received a commitment from Israeli PM Mr. Netanyahu about facilitating the travel of Palestinian athletes. The Israeli Football Association, as usual when Palestinian athletes are harassed by Israeli Forces, haven’t issued any condemnation.

Please find below the letter sent by the head of the Palestine Football Association Gen. Jibril Rajoub to FIFA President Mr. Sepp Blatter on this new Israeli violation against Palestinian sports.

The following was sent out by the Palestine Football Association earlier today:

Date: 21/5/2015

Ref: X-Pob/2015/156

Mr. Joseph Blatter

Fédération Internationale de Football Association

Subject: VIP escort for Palestinian Footballers on the border

Dear President,
Dear Brother

I hope you had the time to rest after your trip to our region and the busy schedule of meetings with both the Palestinian and Israeli sides.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the Israeli Government’s promise to facilitate the movement of our players is having its first test as I am writing this letter. Our National team, which is heading for Tunisia for a training camp, has been delayed at the Allenby crossing point by the Israeli authorities.

Player Sameh Maraabah has been detained by the Israeli authorities for two hours now, and the team has decided it will not leave without him.

The implications of this incident can only confirm the PFA’s position on the promises given by the Israeli Government; that they are only words unless they are included in solution that can only come through, and be guaranteed by the FIFA congress.

Sincerely Yours

Jibril Rajoub


Palestine Football Association
ALL SMILES.  Netanyahu with Blatter. But within 24 hours of promises team was detained at border.

Sepp Blatter's mission to the Middle East, meeting both Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, and symbolically releasing a peace dove in Ramallah, was meant to contain conflict before it reached FIFA.

On 20 March 2015, the Palestinian Football Federation (PFA) submitted a motion for debate at the  28-29 May FIFA annual congress in Zurich. The motion called for the suspension of the Israeli Football Federation (IFA) from FIFA until the following conditions were satisfied:

 -   Football participants and all equipment related to the sport to be able to move freely in, out and within Palestine.

  -  Football facilities are to be built and maintained in Palestine without hindrance.

 -   Football clubs established within illegal settlements in the West Bank to be banned from playing in IFA competitions

    - IFA  to take firm action in order to eliminate racist and apartheid practices within its own leagues.

   - IFA  to recognise the PFA as the sole governing body for football within Palestine.

Thus the Palestine Football Federation was not just taking the conflict with the Israeli state into another international body without considering specific relevance, not relying on rough application of the "Apartheid" word, and not calling for an unconditional boycott based merely on disapproval of the Israeli state,  or questioning its legitimacy.

There's no need to "bring politics into sport", when thanks to Israel and its occupation it is already there.   Israel systematically restricts the freedom of movement of Palestinian footballers as of other people. The use of road blocks to control Palestinian movement often means that away games can take two days and cause worry for players' families, even though the game could be in a neighbouring town or village. Athletes, staff and officials are also routinely denied permission to travel internationally, as well as between the West Bank and Gaza. Matches have had to be cancelled and foreign visitors have been humiliated at borders.

Footballers and other sportspeople are frequently targets for arrest and detention. In July 2009, leading national team member, Mahmoud Sarsak, was arrested without charge, imprisoned for three years and tortured while in prison. He was only released after worldwide pressure was imposed by FIFA and UEFA. In April 2014, Sameh Maraabeh was arrested and imprisoned without charge for eight months then denied permission to travel to the 2015 Asian Games in Australia.
Damage and destruction inflicted on facilities

Football facilities have been hit by war, as well as restrictions on development. In 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, the pitches and buildings of 30 Gazan football clubs were damaged or destroyed. The rebuilding of facilities in the West Bank has been extremely difficult. Since many of these facilities are in Areas B and C (80 percent of the West Bank) Israel has the power to prevent development for what they deem “security reasons” while FIFA officials have been prevented from constructing new facilities as part of FIFA's Goal Project. Additionally, the importing of new equipment to both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank has been blocked and massive taxes have been imposed.

An argument that I've more than once used against comparisons with Apartheid South Africa is that Israeli sport is not legally segregated, and even the national football team has Arab players, Palestinian citizens of Israel.  But that does not mean the game in Israel is free of racism. Fans of Betar Jerusalem, historically linked with the ruling right-wing party, are notorious for racialist chants on the stands and violence in the streets. They protested when two Chechen players were taken on, and neither theirs nor other Betar teams are likely to tolerate Palestinians. 

The blatant racism imposed at Beitar Club has been highlighted to FIFA and UEFA by The Mossawa Centre and the Coalition Against Racism. IFA has never been disciplined for the club's failure to employ any Arabs, and the management that signed two Chechen Muslims was ousted, as were the players - after destructive demonstrations by fans. In November of 2014, during a football match, Beitar fans chanted "Death to Arabs." This kind of chanting has been an issue in the past and continues.

IFA recently segregated Palestinian youth teams from Jewish youth teams by splitting a national children's league in the al-Shomoron area, in clear breach of FIFA's statute (No 3) on racism. Reports say that this action was taken following the request of parents of Jewish child participants. The rights group, Adalah (the Legal Centre for Arab Minorities in Israel) has taken IFA to the district court and a decision is yet to be determined.

Israel has failed to stop the alarming growth of racism against Arab minorities in Israeli football. The Coalition Against Racism in Israel's 2013 report stated that incidents in the premier league were rising steeply and that despite various initiatives in this field, it appears that so long as enforcement measures are not announced, including penalties, this trend will not show any significant decline.
- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/fifa-must-suspend-israeli-membership-it-did-apartheid-south-africas-694678643#sthash.I3bXO7Oy.dpuf

The timing of the moves against FIFA officials accused of corruption have led some people to talk as though it was all a plot to save Israel from expulsion. In fact the investigations had been going on for some time, and if there are any "dark forces" at work, as suggested by Sepp Blatt's daughter, they are probably interested in even bigger global issues than Israeli and Palestine football fixtures.

Besides which, FIFA was unlikely to have expelled the Israelis. Whereas, though the PFA withdrew
its expulsion call, the Israelis were not left untouched. The issues are still live. The Israeli journalist Amira Hass, a thoughtful and forthright critic of her government and its occupation, and committed anti-racist, writes:

"A laywoman’s question to UEFA, the European soccer federation, and to its president, Michel Platini, who worked diligently to shelve the Palestinian bid to suspend Israel from FIFA.
Will you let Beitar Jerusalem play against European teams? This question is based on an amended Palestinian motion adopted in full at the FIFA congress relating to Israeli violations of the organization’s statutes.

"After its win against Maccabi Tel Aviv, Beitar is in fact expected to play in Europe. This is the team whose coach Guy Levy said about a month ago: 'Even if there was an [Arab] player who suited me professionally, I wouldn’t bring him on because it would create unnecessary tensions.'
So I ask you, Platini, how do you square Levy’s statement with Section 3 of the FIFA statutes, entitled 'Non-discrimination and stance against racism'? The section states: 'Discrimination of any kind against a Country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin color, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion … is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.'

"Racial segregation in sports led to South Africa’s suspension from FIFA in 1962. The Israeli sociologist Tamir Sorek, who teaches at the University of Florida, has researched Palestinian soccer before and after 1948. He told Haaretz that in 1977, whites were asked in a South African opinion poll to name the greatest damage inflicted by apartheid. Damage to South African sports ranked No. 3. “Historians disagree on the extent sanctions in general, and in sports in particular, contributed to the downfall of the apartheid regime,” Sorek said. “But there is no doubt that the ruling party believed that the boycott was influencing public opinion.”

"On Friday, 163 FIFA members voted in favor of the Palestinian amendment to the motion (with nine against and 37 abstaining). The headlines and reporting focused on the shelving of a resolution that would have suspended Israel from FIFA. My Haaretz colleagues Barak Ravid and Uzi Dann suggested that anybody celebrating an Israeli victory shouldn’t overdo it.
In that same spirit, I would suggest that Palestinians angry that once again a Palestinian leader has caved should learn something about how politics work.

"A Palestinian insistence that FIFA vote for Israel’s suspension would have ended in failure. The head of the Palestinian soccer federation, Jabril Rajoub, could have retained a macho image and flaunted the demand to put the Palestinian resolution to a vote, just as those who fire Qassam rockets at Israel from Gaza flaunt their dubious military achievements. But the predicted defeat of the motion would have given a kosher stamp of approval to Israel’s violations.

"But now, 167 delegates have affirmed in the amendment that passed: “Restrictions of Palestinian rights for the freedom of movement. Players and football officials both within and outside the borders of the occupied State of Palestine, have been systematically restricted from their right to free movement, and continue to be hindered, limited, and obstructed by a set of unilateral regulations arbitrarily and inconsistently implemented. This constitutes a direct violation by IFA of Article 13.3 of the FIFA Statute, specifically in relation to Article 13.1(i) and its correspond[ing] articles in UEFA rules.”

"Commentators spoke of a yellow card against Israel, not a red card. Another hackneyed phrase — a snowball effect — would no less accurately reflect the maneuver room the Palestinian delegation managed to create.

"FIFA has now appointed the equivalent of a probation officer for Israel. The establishment of a monitoring committee will enable the Palestinians to continue to pester FIFA, and it puts Rajoub under the microscope of social-media activists who will demand proof that a corrupt FIFA hasn’t bought him off.

"On the other side of the front, the monitoring committee leaves Israel in a state of constant tension. Any expression of racism on the Israeli soccer field and the delaying of a soccer player at the Allenby crossing would be grounds for deliberations and possible punishment of Israel."



It remains to be seen whether Amira is too optimistic, or if UEFA and Western governments together with a media focused on different matters will allow Betar to play in Europe and the Israeli government to get away with holding up Palestinian teams, in breach of the promises it has made.

To put this in a wider context, in 2009 a Palestinian under-19 team was invited to Britain, to train and play some friendly matches, only to be prevented from coming not by the Israeli authorities but by British officialdom refusing them visas. Some MPs and other people asked why, and I was deputed by the Jewish Socialists' Group to write to then new Foreign Secretary David Miliband. I argued that if Britain wanted to be an honest broker and help achieve peace in the Middle East, it should be doing everything to encourage such contacts and restore confidence in a better future among Palestinian youth.

In reply I received a letter from some Foreign and Commonwealth Office official whom I'd never heard of, naturally ignoring the points I'd made, and setting out in detail procedures for visa applications.

Hopefully since Ed Miliband supported recognition of a Palestinian state and possibly lost some votes in certain quarters as a result, things have started to change, even though Labour's defeat has sent Ed off to Ibiza, and the Nasty Party are back again.  The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is to lobby Parliament on Tuesday, June 23, and it would not surprise me if football became one of the issues raised.


Jordan has reportedly declared the Palestinian football federation leader ' persona non grata' after he backed Sepp Blatter over the Jordanian candidate for the top FIFA post.

Jibreel Rjoub has complained before he can only enter and exit the West Bank through Jordan - claimed he can't go through Israel. Now it seems he can't go through Jordan either!


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