Friday, December 29, 2006

A bonfire of liberties

2007 will see a smoking ban introduced in public buildings in England. Most significantly, no provision is allowed for private clubs who may wish to allow smoking.

As a cigar smoker myself, I am acutely aware of the degree of moral hysteria surrounding this issue, where there has been an intertwining of public health concerns (often based upon exagerated misinformation), and an acceptance of the basic principle that the government should legislate against behaviour regarded as anti-social.

On the public health issue, some otherwise sane people lose all sense of proportion over the dangers of second hand smoke. As social animals living in collective, industrial societies we are exposed to constant diverse health risks due to the activities of others – traffic fumes, industrial waste gases, pollen, food additives – second hand tobacco smoke is only one of many.

And the evidence of health dangers from second hand smoke are presumptive projections that are not empirically established. Everyone understands that buying a lottery ticket doesn’t mean you will win the lottery, and in the same way slight exposure to second hand smoke does not necessarily pose any significant health risk. Public policy considerations need to balance an actual assessment of risk, against the requirement that individuals must be able to make their own choices, not idealise a risk-free environment that can never exist.

What is more, the ban on private clubs allowing smoking was allegedly based upon the entirely specious hokum of health concerns for bar workers. But cigarette smoke is measured at around 1 micron, whereas a good extraction system will remove particulates down to about 1/3 micron. Good air circulation will also dilute and disperse any gaseous components, so that a smoking environment with air purification can be cleaner than a non smoking environment without extraction. I have worked in factories where much more toxic substances than cigarette smoke are handled, and appropriate extraction systems can and do provide a safe working environment.

Had the health issue been the genuine cause of concern then legislation could have enforced extraction systems, and other measures. But the real issue is that people support the ban because they think smoking is anti-social – “why should I breathe your smoke?” Now to a certain degree this is sensible, and a choice of non-smoking and smoking venues should be provided. But of course a choice has precisely not been allowed in the current legislation.

This is what ties the smoking issue into the wider politics of New Labour, with its preoccupations about anti-social behaviour. Or more specifically, using legislation to enforce arbitrary social preferences of the majority against minorities, in order to enforce shared community of values.

For example, Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) are, to the best of my knowledge, an internationally unique form of legislation because they do not criminalise specific behaviours, but rather any arbitrary behaviour that anyone else find anti-social, provided a magistrate agrees: then if you breach the order the behaviour is criminal. The only international precedent for this form of legislation I have been able to find (and this is not just a cheap shot) is Himmler’s proposed legislation of 1944 against Gemeinschaftsfremde. (Community aliens). This was more liberal than New Labour's law, because it required a compulsory referral to social workers before imprisonment if the Nazi equivalent of an ASBO was breached, and only proposed prison if social work referral failed. Interestingly Himmler's law was not enacted as both the German judiciary and the police opposed it for being unworkable and in principle contrary to natural justice to imprison people for arbitrary anti-social behaviour.


It is no coincidence that the Nazis were also the first country to ban smoking. A myth is propagated by today’s anti-smoking campaigners that the Nazi ban was racially inspired due to Jewish influence in the tobacco industry, and therefore different to their own campaigns. This is entirely false, the concerns of the Nazis were exactly the same issues of public health, and even echoed leftist criticisms of smoking that tobacco comapanies were making profits at the expense of public health. The 1944 national ban on smoking on public transport was personally initiated by Hitler over the issue of passive smoking risks, and Nazi scientists Franz H Muller (in 1939) and Eberhard Schairer and Erich Schoniger (in 1943) were the first to publish good research demonstrating provable links between smoking and lung cancer.


The question is whether the state should restrict choice in order to enfoirce healthy living. The anti-smoking campaigners, (including the Nazis!) believe the state should play this interventionist role - and the spurious arguments about second hand smoke are a stalking horse for their full agenda, which is to ban smoking altogether.

Now clearly New Labour are not Nazis. But there is a tendency within New Labour that shares the Nazi ideology of communitarianism. This was expressed by the Nazis in terms of Volksgemeinschaft – a national community with shared values that were rather arbitrary (for example, against swing music and English style clothes). The logic of New Labour is “triangulation” around the issues that affect swing voters, to win electioons at any cost. As seen in the 2005 Hodge Hill by-election this can lead Labour to conduct a basically far-right election campaign, pandering to the prejudices of voters, in echo of Thatcher's defence of "people like us".

Nor was this an aberration, Liam Byrne the victorious labour candidate is an affirmed Blairite who is now immigration minister! You can view all his election material here. Labour decided to contest this marginal working class constituency on the issues of opposing immigration, and authoritarian measures against anti-social behaviour. More recently we have seen New Labour orchestrate a moral scare about Moslem women wearing a veil – largely demonising people because they are different from the arbitrary values of the majority.

I have argued elsewhere about the changes in the Labour Party: “the Labour Party has a broadly progressive electoral constituency, and historical links with the trade union infrastructure, but it is in continued antagonism with both of these elements. Nevertheless, although the Party no longer articulates the aspirations of these support groups, they do provide a constraint upon it, and mediate the transformation of the Labour Party, so that it appears less dramatic than it is.” The important point here is that the electoral support of Labour is broadly to the left of the party over a number of issues, such as the Iraq war, opposition to privatisation, support for trade unions, etc. But New Labour also know that on the issues of race and immigration, and social conformity, they can mobilise their electoral base around a right wing communitarian agenda.

Interestingly, no voice within the Labour party distanced itself from the far-right campaign in Hodge Hill. There does need to be a serious debate about whether socialists should be more actively arguing for opposition to Labour and union disaffiliation from the Labour Party, given its irreversible shift to being a neo-liberal authoritarian party.

It is in this context that New Labour have introduced the smoking ban, and ban on hunting with dogs - because they believe it is a defensible role of the state to legislate to enforce the preferred choices of the majority, even where the minority activity does not harm other people. This is whipped up by moral scares, and ill-informed arguments.

Unfortunately many on the left do not realise that we have to defend the rights of all minority activities that do not inherently harm other people, even those who make life-style choices different from our own,




Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Child is shot in Bethlehem


Here is a Xmas story for 2006.

On the afternoon of December 8th 2006, Miras Al Azzeh, a 12 year old boy was shot whilst playing at home in Aida Camp, Bethlehem.

The Israelis claim that "IDF (Israeli Defense force) troops identified several armed Palestinians in the Al Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. The troops fired and hit one of the armed men after clearly identifying him as an armed adult Palestinian"

In contrast, a Western volunteer who has been working in the camp for the last two years reports:

What the IDF in fact saw was a group of children aged between 3 and 12 years old playing in a room. The children had been playing in that room for over two hours when the shooting occurred. It was morning so light and visibility was good. The assorted Al Azzeh children often play here so that was nothing unusual, it is after all their house. The watchtower from which Miras was shot is clearly visible from the house, probably about 70 metres away.

Anyone standing next to the Watchtower is clearly visible from the room with the naked eye, and the same is true in reverse. That said, soldiers do not look with the naked eye. Soldiers are equipped with high powered binoculars and have equally high powered sights on their weapons. Miras had been playing with a toy gun but was not holding it when he was shot. At around
midday, in good visibility, it is inconceivable that from this distance highly trained soldiers using high-tech viewing equipment mistook a group of children aged between 3 and 12 for "armed men". Miras is the oldest child that was there. At 12 years old he is about 130cm tall and weighs around 45kg.

The IDF boldly lie and say: "It is important to note that in the past three months there has been a large increase of terror activities against IDF troops from Al Aida refugee camp area, including the hurling of dozens of explosives and the shooting onto the roads between the refugee camp and city of Bethlehem."

Our British witness contradicts this: "Having been living in Aida Camp until two months ago I can personally testify that this just was not happening whilst I was there. In the first half of this year there were more IDF incursions into Aida Camp than there had been from August onwards. Sometimes during these incursions some children may throw stones at the IDF jeeps as they race around the camp or fires may be lit. The children believe they are trying to protect their camp and their families. There hasn’t been any armed resistance in the last couple of years whilst I have been there and people say it has been this way since 2002/3. People in the camp tell me that nothing has really changed in the camp recently and things have still been relatively quiet. There have been IDF incursions, mainly on a night time into the camp, but there haven’t
been the often daily incursions, shootings and tear gas that there was earlier this year. And there is still no armed resistance coming from the camp."

In fact my own personal observation is that one of the most remarkable things about the West bank is how relaxed the IDF soldiers are, this is certinly a marked contrast to the nervy vigilance that we saw in Brit soldiers in the 6 counties while the war was going on in Ireland. There simply is hardly any armed resistance to the occupation, becasue the retaliations are too brutal, and the balance of military force too uneven.

Fortunately Miras is doing well. His uncle says: "He is amazingly recuperating very fast and his family is cooking a big meal on Sunday, they have invited many friends and family, and all the neighbours, and the doctors and staff at the hospital where Miras spent his time after the surgery. We all wish that you too, our friends, are present at this time of celebrating life and hope for the future of Miras and all children of Palestine and everywhere."

On Tuesday this week there was another disgusting reminder of this continued
IOF policy of targeting children, it sounds all to familiar.

A 13 year old girl, Do'a Nasser Hamid, was playing with friends near the Apartheid Wall in the village of Far’un, near Tulkarm. She was shot by an IDF sniper from one of the Watchtowers in the Wall. Do’a was not as ‘lucky’ as Miras. Her funeral was on Wednesday…

For the sake of Miras and D’oa, for all other Palestinian children, and for all children of the world, please continue to spread these stories and work for justice.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Children of Bethlehem

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I visited Bethlehem at the beginning of the Eid festival in November, when most children receive presents, and are dressed in their best new clothes.

Everywhere the girls were dressed in smart fashionable outfits, but what was most noticeable was that all the boys had toy guns, and new combat fatigues. Of course when I was a child in the 1960s in England we also had toy guns and played war all the time; and most of our fathers had been soldiers. Play has an important role in helping children make sense of the world they are in.

These young boys of Palestine are not play acting a war from the past, but dreaming of a war for the future. This is what Israel has created. The pictures here are from Aida refugee camp, where until this summer the boys could go into the fields and play football, look for turtles or fly kites. But just ten metres from where these scenes were shot the Israelis have built the 8 metre high apartheid wall, cutting these children from the land.


According to the relief workers at the camp many of the children, especially the boys, were traumatised by the construction of a wall that blocked them into their narrow streets and by the nonchalant and impudent brutality of the Israeli soldiers. There is now a high incidence of bed wetting and sleep disorders among the children. Now they cannot go out to play, their fathers and uncles cannot tend their land or harvest their olives, they cannot travel to Jerusalem, just 5 minutes away by car.

In the English language Peace has two meanings. It means absence of conflict, but it also means tranquillity. The apartheid wall is an attempt by the Zionists to create “facts on the ground” that any eventual “peace” settlement will reward them with their colonial land seizure, as they herd the Arabs they see as Untermenschen into ghettos and reservations. But the wall is torture to the souls of these children, and in their hearts they have no peace, nor will they have peace while they are treated like animals. Next year will see the 40th anniversary of the Zionist annexation of Lebensraum in the West Bank and Gaza. Yet through all those years not a solitary Palestinian voice has argued for acceptance of the occupation. Not a single Palestinian has been prepared to kneel at the proud feet of their conquerers.

The children of Palestine deserve a better future than war and hatred and violence. Yet that is the future that the Israeli wall, and the colonisation of the West Bank with half a million Zionist settlers inevitably brings to them.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Flags of our Fathers

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Clint Eastwood's new film is built around the most iconic image of victorious soldiers raising the flag.

Good idea, perhaps, but he used the wrong picture and the wrong flag! (It is a symptom of our cultural domination by the USA that the equally iconic image of Russian soldiers hoisting the red flag over the rubble of the Reichstag is rarely seen in Britain)

The second world war has taken on a mythic status, as seen in the films of Steven Speilberg, etc. And the generation, like my father, who fought in that war, are regarded as the heroes, the good soldiers who fought in a clearly justifiable war.

But there was more than one war. There was a war to keep the British colonies, and there was a war between the Japanese empire and the British Empire and USA to determine which brutal superpower would dominate Asia. This is the war that Clint Eastwood celebrates.

Let us remember the other flag of our fathers, and the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who enlisted to fight in the other war, the war against facism. Many soldiers in the British army who wanted to fight Hitler were diverted by the bosses to serve Britain's own sordid imperial interests in the Far East, but at the same time there WAS a people's war here in Britain - a popular mobilisation that overthrew Mussolini and Hitler. There was a war in Europe against fascism, a just war.

The defeat at Dunkirk had destroyed the authority of the Colonel Blimps and chinless wonders who wanted an unpoliticised "professional" army, and instead for the first time since the Putney debates at the end of the English revolution the British army were involved in democratic debate about war aims, and what they were fighting for. An unoffical soldiers parliament was convened in Cairo, the first act of which was to demand the nationalisation of the land and banks; and every army unit had an official political education programme, and the education officers were often CP members.

It as become fashionable in recent years to twin together Hitler and Stalin as equally terrible tyrants. What a travesty. The Soviet bureucracy was brutal and undemocratic, but they were not fighting to promote racial supremacy and they never created an industrial process to destroy human beings and turn them into lamp shades. Were the crimes of the Soviet bureaucracy worse then the crimes of the British government during its own industrial revolution?

The victory of the Axis forces would have thrown the human race into a dark barbarism beyond our most fevered nightmares. Fascism was halted in the Streets of Stalingrad by the Red Army, and the hundreds of thousands of partisans who harried the fascist armies, in the Ukraine, Belorus, Italy, France and elsewhere. But let us not forget the paradox that for those brief few years Churchill and Roosevelt also fought fascism, and young men from Britain and America were the people's soldiers.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

on prostitution and the debate about prostitution

'thay say a black man is a pimp
Well let me tell you the biggest pimp
on planet motherfuckin Earth, is her momma
It's her MOMMA that told her,
"Get a man that got a good job girl!
Make sure he got a good car girl!
Make sure he can take you out and buy you somethin girl!'


I do not usually turn to Dr Dre for political instruction yet i think that this well written passage is very relevant to the current dicussion on sex work. With these words Dre shows that sex work does not merely exist because of the immorality of a small number of outcasts. Instead he shows that certain aspects of prostitution exist very widely within society at large. We may not be a society if pimps clients and sex workers. However, when we use conspicuous symbols of their wealth in order to attract the opposite sex, or alternatively when look for those symbols as a criterion for choosing a sexual partner, our behaviour is not a million miles away from those practices which we condemn as prostitution.

The point here is that prostitution is not something that emerges out of the personal immorality of a minority but out of the social structure. It is in the context of massive inequality, of economic insecurity that people turn to sex work. And what of the clients? Well if people can use their economic power to jump the cue for healthcare, or to have someone else scoop the shit out their toilet, then why expect them to feel morally obliged not to use their money to pay for sex. My aim here is not to exonnerate the clients, but to suggest that, like CEOs and debt collectors, clients are a product of the way things are.

Max Horkheimer, i believe, once said that those who are not prepared to talk about capitalism should remain quiet on the subject of fascism. On this matter i would suggest that politicians whose governments are not prepared to do shit about capitalism and inequality (that means you harriet harman) should remain quiet on the matter of sex work.

Reuben

Monday, December 04, 2006

Colin Fox at RAF Brize Norton demo

I am pleased to be able to give you a link to the audio of Colin Fox speech. Colin is convenor of the Scottish Socialist Party. He travelled a long way to make this speech, and I wish we could have given him more time.

His attendence shows the commitment that the SSP has to the anti-war movement. We should remember that Colin's SSP colleage, Rosie Kane MSP, has only just been released after a week in prison for opposing Britain's nuclear arsenal!


Thanks to Simon Bridewell for audio of all the speeches, which can be heard on Indymedia.

Listen to Colin Fox's full speech here.

Simon summarised Colin's speech as follows:

“Whilst he was coming along the road to the rally, Colin saw one of the aircraft taking off, and he said it reminded him of the more than 120 British soldiers who took off from the base and never came back home alive. And that figure, he said, was dwarfed by the more than three thousand American soldiers that didn’t come home either. And that figure itself was dwarfed by the 660 thousand Iraqis who haven’t come home, who have been murdered by this illegal occupation. We’ve been told, he said, that if we bring out the troops from Iraq, there’ll be civil war. The latest figures released by the UN, he said, indicate that by the end of this year there will be more than thirty six thousand five hundred people slaughtered in a sectarian civil war. We have a 9/11 happening virtually every month in Iraq, he said. Regime change in Iraq, he said, is the sole and inviolable right of the Iraqi people themselves. We are watching the endgame of a catastrophic political failure at the hands of Bush and Blair. We are watching the endgame where Labour politicians who supported the war are recanting and openly begging our forgiveness. What will Tony Blair be remembered for, asked Colin. Will he be remembered as the man who brought twenty years of the hated Tories to an end? Will he be remembered as the first Labour leader elected with a working majority? Will he be remembered as the first Labour prime minister to be elected three times? No he won’t. He’ll be remembered as a liar and the worst leader this country has ever had.”

RAF Brize Norton demo report

Around 800 marched on Saturday.

Overall it was an excellent demo, and did receive press coverage, including the news on Classic FM, an Arabic language Iranian TV channel, and the mass circulation Sunday People.


The turn out was just enough, but is revealing of the current state of organisation of the anti-war movement. I carefully say a problem of“organisation” rather than politics - because while there does need to be a strategic debate about the direction of the anti-war movement, in my opinion the real weaknesses are to do with lack of grass roots confidence and in some areas the peace movement is insufficiently inclusive (so for example we have the ludicrous situation of their being two separate Stop the War groups in Oxford)

Anyway, those towns and groups who did organise for Brize did well, while some other towns didn’t mobilise at all. For example there was a coach from Coventry but not Birmingham, and as many people came from Bristol as from London, which are the same distance. Indeed, nearly as many people came from Reading University as from the whole of London!

I have absolutely no criticisms of the national CND or Stop the war organisations, both of whom worked really well to support the demo. But there does seem to be a weakness generally of the London left who don’t realise that there are 40 million English people outside the M25!



Local activist Brian Shakespeare reads the names of the dead at the base, along with Iraqi, Hayder Sayed. With them are Felicity Arbuthnot and gulf war vet Tony Flint


For me the three highlights of the event were:


i) The deeply moving ceremony at the gates where flowers were laid, the names of the British dead were read by local activist, Brian Shakespeare, and a sample of Iraqi names were read by a Swindon resident Iraqi refugee, Hayder Sayed. The march spontaneously fell silent to hear the names.


ii) The two minutes of silence in the barracks town of Carterton. What was brilliant was that this united the demonstrators and town’s people in a common observance of respect for the dead. All the shoppers in Somerfield’s supermarket, and in the café’s and shops observed the silence as well as us.


iii) The inspirational speech by Colin Fox of the Scottish Socialist party. We have an audio recording of this, which I will add a link to later.

The speakers were Lindsay German (Stop the War Coalition), Tony Flint (gulf war veteran and DU victim), Kate Hudson (CND), Felicity Arbuthnot (researcher and journalist), Gwyn from At Ease (independent advice line for service people) , Andrew Murray (Stop the War), Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour), Colin Fox (Scottish Socialist party) and Caroline Lucas MEP (Green).

I also spoke at the beginning on behalf of the local groups who organised the demo. I was very pleased by the way that all the speakers were interesting, and didn’t cover the same ground. Kate Hudson in particular encouraged everyone to throw themselves into the campaign against the obscenity of a Trident replacement.



Friday, November 24, 2006

Congratulations Derek

The Green arty have elected Derek Wall as the new male principal speaker. He stood as a socialist, and marxist, so this is a significant vote.

His main opponent Keith taylor is a much more conventional and conservative figure, but with a high profile as he is a councillor in Brighton.

The Green Party does not have a "leader", and instead has two principal speakers, one male and one female. Only the male position was coontested, and Sian Berry was elected unoppsed to the female poistion.

The final ballot results were:
Keith Taylor 705
Derek Wall 767

Derek also won the first round voting with 657 first preference votes.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A prison of measured time


The increasing financial scandal revolving around London’s Olympic bid should come as no surprise. Indeed opponents of the Olympics predicted exactly this before the deal was even signed. For example, Kevin Blowe wrote (PDF) " According to the Auditor-General of New South Wales, Sydney 2000 ended up costing over twice the pre-bid figures. In Athens, total costs will be at least four times as high as the bid committee's initial budget. It is worth remembering that twelve months before the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, the government needed to provide an emergency cash injection of £105m."

According to Kevin: "In Sydney, underused venues are costing taxpayers A$46m (£18m) a year to keep afloat and will lose money for at least another decade. The Super Dome, where the closing ceremony was held, recently went into receivership. After the Athens Games, the Greeks face a £6.25bn debt and £60m a year for the upkeep of its unused facilities."

It is a measure of the weakness of the left in England - both ideologically and organisationally - that there is no credible campaign against the 2012 Olympics.

Two yeas ago I wrote an article, pointing out the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has admitted that £340 million will be channelled from the existing sports lottery distributors. So the Olympics will actually take money away from participative sport provision for ordinary people, and channel it towards elite professional athletes.

Already for the Beijing Olympics planned for 2008 UK Sport, the body that distributes funding under the World Class performance Programme is spending £57.5 million supporting just 320 elite competitors, plus a further £16 million to their sporting bodies. This Includes £600000 to support one professional weightlifter; £5.3 million for the equestrian team, £2 million for high diving, and over £1 million for the archery team.

The sporting ideal represented by the Olympics was described the French Marxist, Jean-Marie Brohm, as "physical torture put on as entertainment … held up as politically neutral and culturally legitimate". This is absolutely correct, and there is far too little critical examination of the negative effect of competitive sport pushing the human body to the limits of its physical capacity. For example the British marathon runner Paula Radcliife has explained that her distinctive head rolling while running is a mechanism for dealing with the debilitating pain she experiences. A French army instructor recently expressed the philosophy brilliantly on TV, saying "pain is weakness leaving the body"

It is instructive that the sports which exemplify the Olympics are those based upon direct comparative measurement: for example, athletics, swimming, weightlifting, cycling, skiing and boxing. The competition is between those who can best sublimate their human individuality and transform their body into a machine for producing the most efficient performance: the transformation of human beings into abstract physical labour that can be measured and compared. It is no coincidence that the origin of these alienated sports where the element of play is entirely absent coincided with the emergence of wage labour as the dominant relationship of production; a process which removed play and enjoyment from the daily experience of productive labour.

Of course, the increased popularity of weightlifting and aerobic exercise in gyms and fitness clubs is due not only to an increasing cultural recognition of the benefits of exercise, but also because the endorphin rush experienced when the body is pushed to the limits of its physical strength or endurance is genuinely pleasurable. This is a legitimate and (in moderation) a healthy and beneficial leisure activity

However, to compete at an international level subverts the pleasure and benefit of moderate physical exercise and turns it into a masochistic regime where human beings are subordinated to maximising the outputs of their own bodies, even at the cost of their long term health or mental well being. The Olympics - and even more so the Tour de France – are dominated by performance enhancing drugs, and the effective collusion by the sports’ governing bodies.

What is more, the training infrastructure and the development of sports science is much more advanced in the developed economies of the imperialist powers. So every four years the Olympics gives an opportunity for the great powers to ideologically demonstrate that their world dominance is underpinned by an implicit biological and racial superiority. This is one of the impetuses behind the prestige of holding the games – an orgy of conspicuous consumption that validates the host nation as a major power.

I have written other articles on the Olympics that may be of interest:

On Munich

And on sport in the DDR. (I didn’t know until recently that the Australian state explicitly copied the sport infrastructure of the DDR!)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Art by Palestinian prisoners

The following works were made by Palestinians incarcerated in Israeli camps.



Thursday, November 16, 2006

RAF Brize Norton demo 2nd December

Well I suppose I should plug this, as the whole thing was my idea in the first place:
Troops Out Now
End the Occupations Iraq and Afghanistan
Saturday 2nd December
Assemble 12pm to start at 1pm

Here is one we made earlier: >




Brize Norton is Britain's largest military base, and the transport hub for all British troops going in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan.RAF Brize Norton is the base from which all British troops are flown to Iraq and Afghanistan, and where they return to (alive and dead). This national demonstration to the gates of the base is to demand immediate withdrawal of British troops.

RAF Brize Norton was also used to refuel American military flights transporting munitions from Kelly air force base in the USA to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, taking bombs to be used by the Israeli Defense Force in the war on Lebanon.

We want to see the largest possible demonstration on 2nd December. Our message is simple. Bring the British troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Stop using British bases to support the occupations of those countries.

Featuring...
Kate Hudson, CND
Jeremy Corbyn, rebel Labour MP
Caroline Lucas, Green MEP
Felicity Arbuthnot, journalist and researcher
Rosie Kane MSP or Colin Fox MSP, Scottish Socialist Party
Plus two other speakers from national Stop the War to be confirmed.

Master of Ceremonies:
Andy Newman, Secretary of Swindon Stop the War Coalition

Called by: Oxford CND, Oxford StWC, Oxford Trades Union Council, Faringdon Peace Group, Swindon StWC and CND, Bristol StWC. Supported nationally by Stop the War Coalition, Voices in the Wilderness, CND, Green party, Scottish Socialist Party. I am sure it is also supported by other organisations, but these are the ones who have actually told us!

This is currently the top billed item on the national Stop the War website

Dowload the leaflet here:

Getting there by Public Transport: geta coach or train to Oxford and then there is a coach from Oxford train station, organised by Oxford CND

Leaves at 11;15 am.

phone Nuala on 01865 749459 to book

(£5.50 / £3.50 concessions)

Getting there by car - there will be car parking arranged on the dsay and a shuttle bus to the start - check the national Stop the war website for details nearer the time.

Or please contact you local Stop the War or other Paece group and check if they are putting on transport.

So I hope you come on the day, Apart from anyting else there is occassional sceptisim by some peace activists about how democratic the Stop the war Coalition is. Well we moved the idea for this demo at conference, the motion was passed, and now the demo is taking place - so pretty democratic I think.

The Apartheid Road Systems



The accusation that Israel is an apartheid state is not one of political rhetoric. It is an accurate use of the definition of apartheid, which is parallel social systems in the same land for different ethnic groups.

Let us look at roads in the occupied territories; here we see the construction of an entirely separate infrastructure of road building to connect the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank with Israel and the illegally annexed city of East Jerusalem.

These roads are modern, and protected by walls or fencing to prevent Palestinians approaching them. In some parts of the West bank, the “wall” is a fence. Ththe following picture illustrates that it is not just a fence. There are motion detectors and CCTV cameras. The section of fence below protects the settler only road to the illegal colonists’ encampment at Har Homa. The picture shows two Palestinian persons on foot who had walked a few hundred metres from their homes in a Greek orthodox housing settlement just left of the picture (The Zionists are planning to demolish this Christian settlement in Bethlehem during the next few months – as they say it is too near the wall). As soon as these pedestrians came close to the wall, three vehicles appeared from Har Homa – presumably security personnel– and pulled up to intimidate them. Although it is hard to see in the picture, the Jews are armed with machine pistols – and they were not passers by, they came down from Har Homa just because a Palestinian was seen near “their” road. A road built on Palestinian land.


In addition, the wall is being used to systematically disrupt the transport infrastructure of the Palestinian economy. The following picture of the wall, built in Jerusalem, (considerable to the east of the “Green Line” – the 1967 borders) directly blocks the main Jerusalem to Jericho road. This road has existed for thousands of years, and is now completely blocked.


All Palestinian towns are being restricted to only one access road, which is controlled usually by 18 year old Israeli conscripts, who may capriciously grant or deny access at whim. The following photograph shows how the Zionists have blocked one of the roads into Hebron.

I met two women who had been stopped on their way to maternity hospitals. Jewish settlers of course would be whizzed to hospital unimpeded on their separate road system.

The Israeli army also uses the Palestinian roads, rather than the settler roads to move their Panzers. The heavy, tracked vehicles do enormous damage.

When the wall is built around the industrial town of Beit Fajjar, the Zionists are going to permanently block the current (already inadequate) tarmaced road, and the only route in and out will be via the following track, that is bare rock. (It looks white because it is covered in marble dust from quarrying)


The disruption and destruction of the Palestinian road system means that the cost of car ownership is higher for Palestinians than for the colonialist settlers. What is more, economic development for the Palestinians – we must keep reminding ourselves that this is all within the occupied territories of the West Bank – is being undermined. Whereas the illegal settlements are being bound into the Israeli economy by their developing road system. This is two different economic systems for two peoples on the same land. This is apartheid.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Burn, baby, Burn!


Last night, as part of our regular series of socialist films in Swindon, we showed “Burn” directed by Gillo Pontecovo. The Portuguese language version “Quemada” is unavailable, and in any event the original cinema release in Britain was dubbed, and in the curious way that spaghetti westerns work, the dubbing somehow adds to the exoticism and authenticity.

This is an amazing film, and Marlon Brando plays Sir William Walker, the same actually existing historical character who was subject of Alex Cox’s piss-poor 1987 film, “Walker”. (It was an tremendous conceit of Cox that he sought to surpass the Pontecovo and Brando film!) Rather improving upon history, Pontecovo makes Walker an Englishman, an agent provocateur who stirs up slave revolt and a movement for national liberation from Portugal, in the interests of the British crown and sugar companies.

Nothing is simple, as Brando creates his own Toussaint Louverture, by manipulating a slave rebellion, under the leadership of amazingly charismatic actor, Evaristo Marquez. Simultaneously, he coaches the slave owners towards recognising the advantages of wage labour and independence, and the necessity of heading off the slave revolt into constitutional paths. In arguments of acute contemporary relevence when the film was made, the victorious slave army find that their cultural poverty undermines the potential of their victory over colonialism - they simply need the expertise of the former slave owners.

Brando pulls off an amazing role, because he is both historically convincing as a charming agent of perfidious Albion, while at the same time his part allows him to express in words, for the benefit of the audience, the developing realisation of their class interests by the capitalists and rebellious slaves. Had the role been played by a lesser actor (Ed Harris in "Walker", for example!), this would have been creaky, but the animal presence of Brando leaves no room for scepticism.

Ten years later, Brando returns as the agent of the sugar companies, and provokes a coup, the introduction of British troops, and a classic Vietnam style counter-insurgency war (The film was made in 1969!) to destroy the guerrillas, who have taken to arms again once they realise that wage labour is just another form of slavery. The final victory goes to Evaristo Marquez, who choses to hang, rather than be given freedom at the whim of his conquerors, thus he keeps the spirt of rebellion alive. As his fictional character, General Jose Dolores, explains: freedom is not worth having if it is given, it has to be taken.

It is inexplicable that this film is so little known.

We'll miss you Jack


Sometimes people die, who you have never met, and quite unexpectedly you realise that they represented something important to you, and their passing means that a little of yourself has also gone. The world is a little less innocent, as a part of the security of your own past is buried with them.

So I was surprisingly moved to hear that Jack Palance had died. Partly of course I am mourning the character of Jack Wilson. Never has murder seemed so glamorous. In Shane, perhaps the greatest example of Hollywood film making, Palance plays a dandy gunslinger, a hired gun for the cattle barons. But you know that Alan Ladd’s Shane character has been no better than him in the past, and Wilson is an externalisation of the dangerous edge in Shane that Jean Arthur’s character is drawn to in preference to the dull farmer Van Heflin. Perhaps the most subtle and poignant portrayal in film of a shared love that can never be.

In one of the most gripping moments in the film Palance mercilessly guns down small farmer, Frank Torrey, played by Elisha Cook Jnr. It is a cathartic moment, as Torrey is an archetype of the 1950s western, the decent, nostalgic former confederate soldier (so often cropping up in John Ford westerns). Palance mocks “Robert E Lee and his rebel trash” and then shoots Torrey down like a dog. I cheer every time! This machine kills fascists!

Palance also starred in Attack in 1953. The full impact of this movie is hard to appreciate in these more cynical days, but it was political dynamite when it was made, while the corpses of WW2 were still warm in the memory. The first ever film to show political and financial corruption, and class conflict in the US military. A curiously European type of war movie, that ends not in patriotic catharsis and validation like so many American war films, but in betrayal, futility and anonymous carnage in a pointless and god-forsaken backwater of France. This was one of Palance’s most electric performances, and it is a must see film.

Palance also played Castro in the film, Che, but I have never seen it Perhaps it is best that way!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Palestinian Unity government?


The possibility of a national unity government in the Palestinian Authority (PA) is a very significant development, and the offer by Hamas prime Minister Ismail Haniya to step down is a welcome one.. Following last year’s election Hamas formed a government in March this year. Funding from the European Union and the USA was stopped, and millions of Sheckels collected as tariffs on behalf of the PA by Israel have been withheld, in defiance of Israel’s obligations under the Oslo agreement.

As a result the PA has simply failed to function. There has been no money for salaries, and the workers of the PA have been on strike for 7 months. There is no postal service, the schools are closed, hospitals and clinics are working with a skeleton staff and most non-emergency work has ceased. The closure of the PA has also meant that export licences and other documentation cannot be issued – so almost all of Palestine’s international trade has stopped. The largest industrial export sector – quarried stone – has almost completely stopped work, laying thousands of stone cutters into desperate poverty, and several factories have gone bankrupt. Agricultural exports have also stopped. What is more,, there is almost no tourism, due to the war in Lebanon. In some Palestinian towns, Bethlehem and the illegally annexed East Jerusalem, tourism has been the most significant industry. In short the international siege has driven the Palestinian people to the brink of disaster.

The USA, withdrawing funding from a project for children >

The vindictiveness of the sanctions can be seen by a simple example of the project for a childrens’ playground at the village of Beir Fajjar, a village by the way that elected Fattah and not Hamas. Following the election result USAID cancelled a grant of $30000, and the playground is not to be completed.

The hypocrisy of the sanctions can be seen by the fact that Israel is continuing to build settlements in the West Bank, in clear defiance of international law that land cannot be gained by conquest, and in defiance of their own commitments in the Oslo accords. Yet US aid to Israel continues unabated.

So could the stalemate have been avoided. Some responsibility lies with Hamas. They achieved 44% of the vote, which was only 38% of those entitled to vote. Yet they insisted in treating their victory as a mandate for a complete change in direction, with all cabinet posts held by Hamas members, and their withdrawing government recognition of Israel. The election result really gave them no popular mandate for this. It has largely been Hamas who have procrastinated and delayed forming a national unity government that could undermine the excuses for the siege.

Some of the responsibility lies with Fattah. They lost the election because they promised victory and delivered defeat, they promised peace and delivered only continued occupation and escalating Jewish settlement. The low level corruption and graft could have been tolerated had the Palestinian Authority that resulted from Oslo brought some improvement for the Palestinian people as a whole, but it only truly benefited the political elite of Fattah.

Arguably as the Israelis have no intention of holding to their side of Oslo, and the PA can offer no servcies, the Palestinains would be better abandoning the pretensions of the PA, and thereby putting responsibility for the welfare of the civilian population back to the Israelis as the occupying power

Huge responsibility lies with the Israelis. The Oslo accords have been systematically broken, abused and cynically set aside. The Zionist have never wanted peace, the only peace they want is the peace of the Palestinians herded into reservations, starved, disease ridden and broken. Their continued settlements and annexation of East Jerusalem offer no viable future for twin states. The elections were fairly conducted by the Palestinians, but undermined by the Israelis, who even refused to allow campaigning by West Bank politicians in Gaza, and vice versa. They created the conditions of Hamas’s victory, and couldn’t believe their luck as the international community denounced Hamas as terrorists and withdrew funding.

So what of this boycott? It is hard to justify or explain at any level, except as a deliberate intervention by the EU, and European powers, orchestrated from Washington, to support Israel’s policy of annexing the West Bank, slice by slice, and hemming the indigenous population into walled reservations. Comparisons are often made with Apartheid, in truth it is a political project more in common with the driving off their land in the nineteenth century of the Native Americans, or aboriginal Australians.

Hamas does not recognise the state of Israel. Well actually neither does Saudi Arabia, but the Western powers don’t seem to mind that. Hamas's militia has been on cease fire for two years, but they reserve the right to conduct military operations against Israel. Well actually that is a legal rights for occupied peoples, and there is no dispute in International Law that the West Bank and Gaza are occupied. But a bigger inconsistency is that the sanctions are because of Hamas’s political programme, and the fact they have an armed militia. But surely it is illogical and inconsistent to apply sanctions against the Palestinian Authority over the programme and activities of one political party? By all means the EU and USA would be entitled to not finance Hamas itself, but why withdraw agreed subsidies from the PA State, who are a separate entity from Hamas, and provide public services like schools and hospitals?

If they are worried about the growth of anti-Western feeling in the Arab world, then apply sanctions to Israel!

Friday, November 10, 2006

A day out in Hebron

The brutality of Israel as a settler society is most starkly seen in Hebron. This is a town of around 220 000 people. It is not only surrounded by Zionist settlements (There are nearly half a million Zionists illegally settled in the West bank), but there are also around 300 ultra orthodox Jews settled in the old city itself, protected by an entire brigade (4000 troops) of the Israeli army (IDF)

It is worth saying a few things about the settlers. They fall into two categories, the economic settlers – where Israeli state policy subsidises migration into the West Bank, with low rents, tax rebates, etc. There are also the ideological settlers, like in the centre of Hebron. These ideological settlers do not work, they receive generous salaries from the state just to live in Arab areas, ,and their presence justifies huge repressive presence from the IDF and disrupts economic life and civil society for the Palestinians.

The economic settlements are linked by the road structure (special roads just for settlers) to Jeruslelem in an East-West axis, and the wall built allegedly to protect them hems in the Palestinian towns, like Bethlehem, and prevents economic expansion. The development of any independent Palestinian economy would need to grow north south, along the axis of Ramallah, East Jeruselem (currently entirely illegally annexed by the Zionists into “Israel” although it represents a full 40% on the Palestinian GDP), Bethlehem and Hebron. The pattern of settlements (and the road/wall infrastructure that supports it) makes economic independence impossible because it cuts at right angles across the natural geography of the West Bank.

For anyone used to the bustling life of an Arab souk, the old city of Hebron is a shock. The settlers have placed concrete blocks in the road to stop vehicular access to the shops, and the settlers also live cheek by jowl with Palestinian neighbours – this means to protect them there are soldiers stationed on all the roofs. The settlers – nearly all American born, but some French) live like pigs and throw their rubbish and detritus down into the street below, which has required the Palestinians to erect mesh roofs over the streets. As a result the souk is almost completely empty.



Note in the following picture, the house on the left is occupied by Palestians, the house on the right by ultra-orthodox Jewish settlers. Note that the settlers' house is poorly maintained and slovenly, and they have the army on the roof to protect them!


Settlers throw rubbish and waste out of their windows into the Arab streets below - their objective is to make life so intolerable for the Arabs that the leave.


Would you want to go shopping with an occupying army literally looking over you!

We met one man who has had two children killed by the settler family next door, trying to get him to move. Of course the settlers have de facto complete legal immunity. They have also offered him $1 million to move but he will not, especially after them murdering his children. But there is also the practical issue that he stands in the front line, and if he moves, his cousin next door will be next in turn for harassment. Literally 3 metres away from this man’s roof terrace is an IDF post on the settler’s roof, so close you can talk to the young soldier there. (you can see him on the left of the photo sticking his head out a gap in the mesh)

The Zionists have also stolen the souls of street children, these ultra poor urchins (as young as 9 or 10) are sometimes paid to act as spies by the IDF, and after a while payment stops, and they are then blackmailed instead, that the IDF will tell the Palestinians. Some of these children have gone on to commit assassinations for the Zionists.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

HI I'm back

..

Well, I have been away for a while in Palestine. Although I had read a lot about the situation, the reality is more disturbing, and the experience was more personal than I was expecting.

I will write more about it by and by. But I start with one thought. Often in the West we read well meaning discussions separating out the Islamists, the suicide bombers, secular traditions and the workers movement as if they are discrete and separate.

In reality they are all jumbled up. This picture was hanging – with pride of place - in a trade union office. It is a picture of one of their members, a manual worker in a stone cutting factory, who martyred himself in a suicide bombing attack against the Zionists. He was a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs, itself a further level of confusion as Al Aqsa is linked to Fatah, which is effectively the pro-business party in Palestine, and is a nominally secular organisation, but names itself after the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and note the image of the dome of the rock mosque on the poster.

The brave young Palestinians who have engaged in martyrdom operations against Israel are not separate from mainstream Palestinian society. Look at this young man, fashionably dressed, not a fanatic or someone intrinsicly different from us, but someone responding to intolerable oppression, and apartheid discrimination. A brave young worker, and trade unionist, prepared to take up arms againt the military occupation and attempted anexation of his country.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

‘Drunken Consent is Not Consent’ – an attack on women’s sexuality

In an Interview with the times last week Solicitor general Mike O’Brien once again raised the issue of making drunken sex into something that courts potentially class as rape. As tempted as I and all other socialists might be to support any measure capable of raising the woefully low conviction rate for rapes, this proposal is highly problematic, not simply for men engaged in consensual sex but for women.

As the discrimination moderator on the revolutionary left forums pointed out, such proposals ‘reduce women who drink to the legal status of a child’. She is absolutely right. Such proposals seem to assume that women could not possibly want to participate in the joys of drunken sex. It assumes that women, unlike men, could not possibly wish make such decisions in a state other than one of cool, sober rationality. In other words these proposals seek to impose upon women and men a narrow, idealised view of female sexuality. One might ask – at the risk of being pilloried - why such proposals would not apply to men who are drunkenly induced to consent to sex. On one level this might be put down to the obvious power differentials that exist between men and women, both on an individual and a societal level. Yet these proposals also betray a fundamentally conservative approach which views sex not as the collective endeavour of two individuals, but instead treats sex in terms of the woman giving something of herself and the man taking it away. This is why I ,as a socialist and a supporter of feminism oppose mike o'brien's proposals.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Aboriginal deaths in police custody

The following link shows a slide show of photographs of the campaign for justice for a young indiginous man, Mulrunji, killed in police custody. Please be pateint while the slide show loads:
http://www.socialist-alliance.org//page.php?page=586

As Dave Riley reported in Green Left Weekly:

Queensland Murris (Indigenous Australians) and their supporters marched on the state parliament on October 10. In a protest called to coincide with the first sitting day of the newly elected Labor government, the 600 demonstrators confronted Premier Peter Beattie with the demand that senior sergeant Chris Hurley be sacked.
A state deputy coroner’s report handed down on September 27 had found that Hurley had caused the death of Mulrunji, an Aboriginal man in his custody, at the Palm Island watch-house on November 19, 2004. The deputy coroner, Christine Clements, also found that senior police had conspired to cover up the circumstances of Mulrunji’s death.
It was an angry crowd that gathered at the parliament gates. Petitions demanding that Hurley be sacked were handed to the premier, who addressed the crowd amid catcalls and abuse. Cameron Doomadgee, Mulrunji’s brother, told Beattie, “I want you to do right by my brother”.
Beattie asked the crowd to respect “due process” but, as Indigenous speakers at the protest had already pointed out, Hurley had been allowed to work as a police officer for almost two years after the killing and while he was under investigation. Given the very clear findings handed down by the coronial inquest, the Indigenous community is adamant that Hurley be sacked and charged.
The rally and march had been organised at short notice, but drew protesters from Palm Island as well as parts of south-east Queensland. At the community meeting that followed the march, plans were made to hold another protest on November 19, the second anniversary of Mulrunji’s death.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

MoD forced to recognize Gulf War Syndrome

On 26 September, after a 10-year battle, veteran Alex Izett, 36, forced the Ministry of Defence to concede that he is suffering from Gulf War Syndrome.

In a precedent setting case, Mr Izett is the first veteran to be acknowledged as suffering from the syndrome even though he was never deployed to the Gulf. His victory opens the way for thousands of veterans suffering from ill health to claim war pensions and compensation for the way the Ministry of Defence (MoD) destroyed their health.

In 1991, in preparation for deployment to the Gulf war, Mr Izett received nine vaccinations in 24 hours. The war ended before his deployment, and his body started to disintegrate soon after. The former lance corporal tried to commit suicide twice after developing osteoporosis, paralysis, and kidney problems.

He now suffers from depression, walks with a stick, his teeth are falling out, and his bones are so weak he has broken his knee-cap, shoulder and ribs.

In 2004 Mr Izett, who lives in Bersenbruck, Germany, went on a 40-day hunger strike to force the MoD to hold a public inquiry into Gulf War Syndrome. Though the MoD refused, and tried to deny the existence of the syndrome, his hunger strike precipitated a campaign which won an independent (non-governmental) public inquiry.

Mr Izett said:
“My family, Gina, Christian and Sabrina, have suffered with me. Had it not have been for them then I am sure I would never have lived on to see this glorious day! I would like to thank them, as I do my mum, dad, sister and aunt for their continuous and appreciated help. I would also like to thank my dear friends at Payday who cared for me during the full duration of my 40-day hunger strike.”

The War Pensions Appeal Tribunal has now ruled that he has Gulf War Syndrome. The MoD’s denial of his condition meant that if he died, his wife Gina, 39, would get nothing.

Mr Izett further commented on his victory:
“The MoD have done nothing for me in the past 16 years. However, my dear friends and family gave me faith, more so strength to live on and carry on my battle for justice against the MoD.”

The ruling confirms that Gulf War Syndrome exists and establishes once and for all that vaccinations are clearly a cause. The price the MoD will have to pay for their criminal disregard of human life is not big: they must pay his dental bills, and the Veterans Agency will decide whether Mr Izett will be awarded the full £124-a-week pension, not a royal sum for causing continuing ill-health.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Action Against Global Warming


Calvin Jones recently asked us to advertise the global day of action for Climat change on 4th November. Pleased to oblige:

10.00am Cycle protest assembles at Lincoln's Inn Fields, South side (Holborn/Temple tube). Goes via ExxonMobil offices, Australian Embassy and Downing Street to arrive at US embassy at 11.30 am.

11.00am Rally opens : Messages from around the world, performance poetry & musical protest with "Seize the Day" and others.

12 noon Main Rally at US Embassy, Grovsenor Square. Speakers include George Monbiot, Colin Challen MP, Caroline Lucas MEP, Norman Baker MP, Zac Goldsmith.

1.00 pm March for Global Climate Justice from US embassy to Trafalgar Square

1.45 - 2.00 pm March joins i-Count's.. Mass Gathering in Trafalgar Square

1.00 - 3.00pm i-Count Mass Gathering in Trafalgar Square.

Stop climate chaos are limiting their activities to the UK but the march organizers, CCC, are keen on international solidarity, more on: http://www.campaigncc.org/.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Migrant workers exploited at Stansted

The problems facing migrant workers in Britain can be seen by looking at the example of the baggage handling company, Swissport, who refuse to directly employ their staff, and instead use an agency that takes a large cut of the migrant workers earnings for accommodation and fees.
The mainly male Polish workers are employed on the check-ins and baggage handling ramps at Stansted by Swissport. The company claims that they are “self employed”, and so the staff do not receive any sick pay, holiday pay or other normal items that the directly employed workers receive. This is reminiscent of the scam during the 1970s of unscrupulous building employers enforcing self employed status through the “lump” system, that was opposed by a long campaign from the construction unions.

The current situation is even worse as Swissport are exploiting a two tier work force, with directly employed British workers getting better conditions than the Poles. The workers union, the GMB is taking legal advice because it believes that as the migrants can work only for the single employer, and lose their accommodation if they leave the job with Swissport, then they cannot legally be classified as self-employed.

The migrant workers are supplied to Swissport by Labour Source Limited an agency operating out from Walthamstow, London which insists that they work as self-employed labour through another agency, Nova Corporate Services Ltd Leeds , which sets-up their self-employed status as an individual limited company and deals with tax and National insurance etc.. Confused – well that – presumably - is the idea. These Polish workers do not speak English as their first language, don’t know British employment law, and yet are employed through a legal maze of several different companies!

Yet another agency, Labour Source Ltd from Ruislip, Middlesex puts the migrant workers into accommodation and charges them £183 per week rent, an agency fee of £250 and takes a deposit of £1,650 which they lose if they leave the job. After paying their rent, utilities bills and other associated costs they are left with approximately £250 per month for food and personal living expenses.

A further problem facing these migrant workers is that the accommodation is in Takley, Essex and without transport the workers are forced to walk the three miles to the airport along unlit country lanes in the early hours of the morning.

As GMB Organiser, Gary Pearce, says: "GMB is asking Swissport to openly condemn the treatment of these migrant workers both at work and in their accommodation and to take them into directly employment with the company. In that way they will be entitled to the whole packed of pay and conditions that GMB has negotiated for the directly employed workforce. Self-employed people have the freedom to work where and when they want and so these works are losing out on both fronts. They have no freedom to keep the money they earn or the freedom to work and live where they want to. If Swissport did this these workers could then afford to arrange their own accommodation and cut out the money deducted by the agencies that are taking a cut of everything they earn."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I am Cuba


This Monday we showed Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1964 film, “Soy Cuba” (Я - Куба) at our Swindon Socialist Film Club. There were 18 people there, including some new faces, although I feel a bit guilty that we didn’t make enough effort to talk to people afterwards. I think we are al a bit tired at the moment, as there is so much political stuff going on.

Soy Cuba is probably the most visually beautiful film I have ever seen, certainly comparable to the best cinematography of Hollywood’s masters like James Wong Howe. The interplay of influence with Hollywood is also interesting, for example the famous 10 minutes single take from Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) was technically interesting but not artistically satisfying. The opening 10 minutes of “Soy Cuba” include the most extraordinary single take that sweeps from overhead through partying holiday makers and takes the shot underwater! Indeed the film is so visually rich that it is almost intoxicating. There is also a scene where three rebels are captured by Batista’a army, and in conscious tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, each says “I am Fidel!” Allegedly Scorcese watched Soy Cuba to learn techniques used in "Goodfellas", and the opening sequence of "Boogie Nights" would also seem to be influenced by it.

(Actually, not only was the film visually intoxicating, the event was in a pub so it was literally intoxiciating as well. In tribute to the film's theme I thought the occasion merited breaking out a Romeo y Julieta Churchill, which i think is the best smoke of its size)

Soy Cuba uses the technique of four almost wordless short stories. The first of which is extremely clever – showing a glamorous and lusciously decadent nightclub, and allowing us to enjoy it long enough before revealing that it is a brothel, and then taking us into the life of one of the prostitutes. In a brilliant touch the American businessman who buys the girl also insists on buying her crucifix, against her wishes, a rape of her cultural identity. As the Sex Pistols said, “Cheap holidays in other peoples’ misery” (Brilliant and worth watching)

The other three stories concern a peasant farmer evicted from his land, urban student revolutionaries, and finally the process that leads a peasant to join Fidel’s army. The film concludes with a sweeping march of Fidel’s army.

It is certainly a great film, but I am not sure how satisfying it was as a political event, It is a bit long and too arty for some tastes, and some people went to the bar for the second half. Some other people complained it was a bit propagandistic. But in truth it is no more propaganda than most Hollywood fare, but it cuts against the grain of our common sense expectations. What is more, the picture it paints of Batista’s Cuba and the crying need for social justice was true

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

More on those Sheridan tapes

By the way - I refer everyone to the best account of the issues I have read, by Martin Wicks.

Joaquín Bustelo has published a quite lengthy rebuttal on the Marx Mail list refuting my arguments about the Sheridan tape. It seems that some people find his arguments very convincing, and so here is a first draft of my response. I may amend and refine this as other comrades point out any shortfalls in my arguments.

Firstly I should express my stand point, I have never been, nor do I ever expect to be, a member of the SSP. I have no personal or political relationship with any of the individuals or factions within the SSP. However I do support the principle of broad socialist parties. I would be interested in why Bustelo is so partisan in favour of Sheridan.

Bustelo identifies the main axis of conflict as between Sheridan and the Murdoch press, with a seeming sub-text that the News of the World (NOTW) was engaged in an operation to destroy a socialist politician because he was a socialist.

This interpretation of events has a bearing on how appropriate it was for Sheridan to engage in court action. So we need to examine it.

Firstly the tabloid press in Scotland, Wales and England is indiscriminate, and has attacked the reputations of politicians from all parties. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott; Leader of the Welsh labour party, Ron Davies; Leader of the Liberal Democrats Paddy Ashdown; former Chair of the Conservative Party, Jeffrey Archer.

Politicians have responded differently, Paddy Ashdown responded by saying it was none of the press’s business, and came out with his reputation enhanced. Conservative minister David Mellor cashed in on his notoriety to become a sports commentator. David Blunkett disastrously denied substantially true allegations and had his reputation destroyed, Jeffrey Archer and another conservative politician Jonathan Aitkin went to prison for perjury. And truth can also be liberating, as Ron Davies says in the interview I did with him: "Events have freed me up to be truer to my own beliefs"

Not only does the press attack politicians of all parties, but court action is not necessarily the best political response, and if the press allegations are true then it can be disastrous.

There is another question that engaging in court action exposes the Labour movement to judicial interference. When the Daily Mirror libelled miners’ leader Arthur Scargill, Scargill quite correctly relied upon a labour movement campaign of public meetings and publications refuting the claims. To have done otherwise would not only have exposed the NUM’s reputation to potential defeat in court, but also opened the books of the NUM to outside scrutiny, while they will probably have quite justifiably engaged in some (morally and ethically correct but legally dubious) financial obfuscation during their year long strike

Arthur Scargill has also been extremely careful during his career to give no unnecessary personal pretext to the press to attack him. Tommy Sheridan’s personal life is his own, but whatever political judgement we may make about swingers clubs and three in a bed sex, anyone who wishes to make those lifestyle choices should perhaps consider a less high profile political career. This may not be true in other countries or cultures, but in Scotland, Wales and England the press can and will relentlessly pursue a prurient agenda about sex, that is likely to overwhelm any other political message coming from that individual or his party.

So even had the NOTW allegations been entirely untrue, it is dubious that a court action was necessarily the best response. The advice of the party was for Sheridan to brave it out.

However, once Sheridan decided to initiate libel action this could not just be an action between Sheridan and the NOTW, it also inevitably entailed another dynamic – which was a conflict within the SSP. I find the argument that there was prior conspiracy against Sheridan totally unconvincing and unsupported by any evidence. However, given that there was a feeling within the party that Sheridan should not proceed, and given that a substantial minority at least believed there was some truth in the story, then proceeding with the libel action would inevitably damage the party.

Bustelo makes the remarkable claim that the evidence of the tape is that: “SHERIDAN DOES NOT ADMIT THE TRUTH OF THE NEWS OF THE WORLD CHARGES. On the contrary, he point-by-point refutes them. In this, the transcript is largely consistent with what Sheridan said in court” (Emphasis in the original)

The main thrust of Bustelo’s intervention in the debate is that the Sheridan tape supports Sheridan’s own account of the 9th November Executive Committee meeting, and that 15 members of the EC present who recall a different story are subject to some sort of cognitive dissonance due to factional hostility to Sheridan: “Basically, a majority of the NEC members had already whipped themselves up into a frenzy over this, convicted Sheridan in their own minds, and took whatever recognition of past indiscretions Sheridan laid before them at the meeting as an admission on his part that the first NotW article was true. Again, they could not or would not understand that Sheridan was saying that while indeed he had done some embarrassing and foolish things, the allegations in News of the World were not them.

This is the contention that needs to be addressed.

It is hard to refute Bustelo’s arguments because of the confused way he presents them. In general Bustelo’s article is hard to follow, because he does not set out his arguments and then marshal evidence to support those propositions, instead he jumbles up evidence and argument. But an important issue seems to be that he believes that because the NOTW article contained inaccuracies and specific lies, then this means that Sheridan is vindicated.

This seems to assume that Scottish libel law is the same as in America. Whereas in Scotland the defence of substantial truth can be used, which in fact is closer to the political reality. Politically it doesn’t matter if that or that detail is incorrect, if the overall thrust of the allegations is founded.

This perhaps explains why Bustelo (with no obvious context) introduces an account of how Anver Khan admits exaggerating her story, and also includes lengthy insert from another supporter of Sheridan describing the Fiona McGuire testimony, that are not directly relevant to the issue under discussion. Suddenly introducing a lot of detail gives an impression of rigour, but he does not incorporate the evidence to support his argument. Supporters of the SSP have never defended nor stood by the NOTW story. Yet Bustelo bases a lot of his argument on the idea that the inaccuracies in the NOTW article somehow wrong foot Sheridan’s opponents – this reveals his failure to distinguish between the two dynamics: Sheridan v NOTW, and Sheridan v the SSP.

The same approach of introducing a lot of technical evidence about the mechanics of tape forgery seems to give extra credibility to his discussion of the tape, but is not really relevant. At one stage he claims the tape supports Sheridan’s account, at another that the tape has been “sexed up”, and because he did not wait for the second instalment he is quiet over the tape’s dealing with Katrine Trolle’s evidence – that completely refutes his argument that the tape supports Sheridan’s account of events. Bustelo rather confusingly produces evidence that doubts the veracity and provenance of the tape, and then uses the same tape as evidence to support his argument.

Specifically Bustelo argues that Sheridan only admitted to previous sexual activity before he was married, and that the tape supports his claim that his visit to Cupids in 2002 did not happen. There are several problems with Bustelo’s account here:

i) He totally discounts the evidence of Katrine Trolle that supports the claim of the visit to Cupids in 2002. When he wrote his article Bustelo would have been unaware that the second instalment of the tape would include support of Trolle’s testimony, but he should have been aware that Trolle’s account given in Court was supported by evidence from her flat mates and her phone records. Her evidence is simply inconvenient and so it is ignored. This is consistent with Sheridan admitting to the meeting on 9th November that the story was true, as remembered by 15 of the 19 people there, but disputed by Joaquín Bustelo who was in another continent at the time.

ii) In the tape, referring to his earlier sexual activity, Sheridan says: “I've admitted that. That's out in the open. That's a matter of public record. ”, but when he described what he said to the EC he says: “I then make the biggest mistake of my life by confessing something in front of 19 f ***** g, what am I doing confessing in front of these c **** ?" ” had he only been repeating what in his own words was already in the public domain, why would he describe it as a confession and a mistake? Yet what Bustelo argues is that the EC majority confused an admission of previous activity with an admission that there was some substance to the NOTW story. He then claims that the EC may have “consciously distorted the written record of the meeting to depict Sheridan as having admitted the truth of the NotW article even though he was insisting they were false. ”

iii) Sheridan’s argument for why he should go to court are consistent with the EC majority’s claim that he intended to perjure himself. He says on the tape: “'I guarantee you if I am presented with incontrovertible evidence ? video tapes, CCTV, something of that character ? I'll put my hand up and say ?I'm sorry'...and I'll walk away. ”. Note that he is not denying that such incontrovertible evidence could be produced. Surely if the NOTW story was a pack of lies he would have said, there cannot be any evidence because it isn’t true.

iv) Why did the four comrades who subsequently remembered Sheridan denying the NOTW accusations vote for him to step down as convenor?

v) Given that the meeting was lengthy, and attended by 19 people plus Sheridan, it is inconceiveble that no-one would have sought clarification of exactly what Sheridan was admitting to. Yet this is what Bustelo would have us believe.

vi) Bustelo’s account simply fails on the basis of Occam’s razor. Instead of believing the most economical and credible account, to believe Sheridan means we have to accept the most far fetched and inclusive conspiracy, including Sheridan’s closest friends, the party leadership, et al.

With regard to the circumstances of the tape’s production and why it is only now in the public domain, Bustelo again asserts a conspiracy: “. Basically McNeilage, who was one of the three best men at his wedding, sandbagged and betrayed Sheridan, and is now running guns to the most despicable of lying bourgeois media outlets to use against a rival in the socialist movement. Do I believe this person did this all on his own initiative, independently of the anti-Sheridan faction in the leadership? Sure, I also believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus. ”

I don’t know George McNeilage, so cannot give any account of why he made the tape, but had the recording of the tape been part of a wider factional fight within the SSP, then the conspirators would surely have deployed it at an earlier stage which would have been to their greater advantage. It is entirely plausible that McNeilage made this tape at is own initiative. If we cast our minds back to that time there was intense speculation about what was happening in the SSP, and if McNeilage suspected that Sheridan was intending to perjure himself in such a way that the party would be damaged, he may have felt that he should record the conversation without being clear about his motives. Remember that Jeffrey Archer’s perjury was also revealed by a friend, Ted Francis, and his assistant Angele Peppiat, had been secretly recording evidence of Archer’s deceit. Again Bustelo prefers the melodramatic conspiracy explanation.

It is of course regrettable that McNeilage and now Katrine Trolle have cooperated with the NOTW. But remember that the Sheridan case has created enormous animosity, many of Sheridan’s closest friends feel a deep sense of betrayal, and Trolle herself was treated like shit in court, and is regarded as a non-person by Sheridan’s supporters who would rather ignore her evidence. The ill feeling and indiscipline in speaking to the tabloids is a consequence of Sheridan’s disgraceful behaviour, and in particular the hubris of his after court antics.

Finally, Bustelo puts a lot of smoke round the issue of whether or not the tape is reliable evidence. I don’t know and neither does he. However McNeilage vouches for the tape, and it is consistent with the evidence of 15 of the 19 people who attended the EC meeting, and it is consistent with Katrine Trolle’s evidence. What is more, the NOTW having already been stung with one lost libel action felt confident enough to publish it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

No one is illegal

The well-known slogan “Workers of the world unite” means what it says. It does not mean “Only workers with the correct immigration status unite”

SPONSOR/ATTEND TRADE UNION CONFERENCE AGAINST IMMIGRATION CONTROLS

SATURDAY MARCH 24th 2007

ASYLUM LINK, ST ANNES CHURCH, OVERBURY ST, LIVERPOOL 7

Opposing deportations and immigration detention is legitimate trade union activity. However fighting immigration controls is not charity. Controls weaken the labour movement itself.

* They split workers between “legal”/“illegal”, undermining wages/conditions
* They criminalise bosses for hiring undocumented workers and turn employers into Home Office spies. They bring controls into the workplace - encouraging immigration service raids
* They turn trade unionists into immigration officers demanding the immigration status of other workers. This happens in personnel offices at recruitment. It goes further. Most welfare – housing, hospital treatment, non contributory benefits – is linked to immigration status. So workers within local authorities, the NHS and benefit agencies must check immigration documents.

No One Is Illegal is a group of trade unionists long active in anti-deportation campaigns. We have produced with trade unions the pamphlet Workers Control Not Immigration Controls.

We want a conference based on open debate. We also think it important to discuss: * the amnesty proposals * how unions can campaign for recruitment of the undocumented *how the undocumented include more than refugees * what absence of controls would mean.

We ask union organisations to sponsor (give their name to) the conference and send delegates. Admission/ sponsorship free - donations welcome (cheques to No One Is illegal). Workers Control Not Immigration Controls can be obtained by donation (or downloaded at www.noii.org.uk ). We can provide a speaker.

Initial sponsors :
Trades Councils: Tameside, Oxford ,Bury, Waltham Forest. Union branches: Bolton NUT, Manchester Unison Community Health,

No One Is Illegal 16 Wood St, Bolton BL2 IDR, Email info@noii.org.uk

Friday, October 06, 2006

Organising Migrant Workers

UPDATE - over 70 Polish Migrant workers attended the launch meeting of the branch.

Given the racist hysteria recently in the press about migrant workers, it is good to see that the unions are responding in exctly the right way. During the otherwise unfortunate stewardship of Kevin Curran the GMB showed exemplary leadership in the Somerset town of Chard in organising both white british and Portuguse migrant workers at the Oscar Meyer factory, in the process undermining a racist campaign in the town.

There is a danger that empoloyers will use migrant workers to undermine wages and conditions, and it is the unions job to send a clear message that migrant workes are all welcome here; and we will not tolerate bosses employing them on worse terms and conditions. That can only be aceived in one way - shop floor organisation and directly recruiting migrant workers into our unions so that we can stand together.

The GMB has now passed an another importnat milestone and is launching its first trade union Branch dedicated to the needs of migrant workers in Southampton tonight. At present the Branch is mainly catering for Polish workers employed in the security industry in but will be extended to cover the estimated 30,000 polish workers in and around Southampton. The Branch will provide language training, job training and work placements.

According to Alan Frazer, GMB Organiser, “We have been representing migrant workers more and more in recent years. We have found that need different things from native workers and so this dedicated Branch will provide that service. GMB will be extending this initiative across the south east and nationally..

The GMB also organises Polish workers at The American Dry Cleaning Company in Colindale London; and in the East Midlands where two fulltime GMB Organisers (who are themselves migrant workers) recruit and organise migrant labour in horticulture, farming poultry and food processing.

The GMB has also negotiated and signed two national agreements in the off-shore industry with CAPE Industrial Services and AMEC which ensure that migrant workers, nearly all who are Polish are paid the national agreement rate for the job, have the correct training and skills levels and are not discriminated against over any element covered by the national agreement rates and terms.

The T&G is also making efforts to organise migrant workers - particularly in the agricultural sector.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Statement by Colin Fox on behalf of SSP

After accusing the SSP executive of fabricating minutes and orchestrating "the mother of all frame-ups", Tommy Sheridan is now accusing the party of colluding with News of the World and MI5 to produce a fake video confession.This is an absurd and fantastical allegation that will be treated with astonishment by most people in Scotland. In fact, the tape is clearly authentic and blows apart Tommy's preposterous allegations against his old party comrades. The tape establishes, from Tommy's own mouth, that our 11 comrades, who were forced under threat of imprisonment to give evidence to the Court of Session, told the truth.
Contrary to the latest chapter in Tommy Sheridan's science fiction novel, the SSP had no involvement in the production of this tape. George McNeilage is an SSP member, but holds no position within the party. He taped this conversation as a private individual and as a former close personal friend of Tommy Sheridan.
The SSP does not advocate or practise the secret taping of conversations. The SSP had no knowledge of or role in the production of this tape.We have sought to build a political movement based on mutual trust - though we also recognise, with the benefit of hindsight, that Tommy Sheridan has been prepared to trample all trust into the dirt for his own personal ends.
Nor is it true, as has been falsely claimed by supporters of Tommy Sheridan, that the SSP handed this tape over to News of the World. The SSP EC has never had possession of this tape; nor did the SSP have any involvement in passing the tape to the newspaper. Neither the SSP nor any of its office-bearers have received or will receive a single penny from News of the World or from any other media company - unlike Tommy Sheridan, who was recently paid £30,000 by the New Labour-supporting media corporation, Trinity Mirror, for denouncing his then comrades as "scabs", "liars", "rats" and "perjurers".
We believe that events are now rapidly approaching a conclusion that will have seriously damaging consequences for Tommy Sheridan and his breakaway political organisation, Solidarity, founded on the basis of a lie and fraud.History will judge Tommy Sheridan's libel action as one of the biggest political misjudgements of modern times and will vindicate the judgement of the 2004 SSP EC, who advised a different course of action.
With a perjury investigation now underway, we are confident that the good name of the SSP will be restored 100 per cent. We can now start to draw a line under the past and move forward, establishing new branches, recruiting new members and winning support by engaging in the many campaigns for social and economic justice emerging across Scotland.
We have in recent weeks renewed our commitment to the anti-war movement and to the rapidly developing struggle for Scottish independence.We will continue our campaign against nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
Our party was built and will grow further around the principle of showing practical solidarity to workers and communities in struggle. We believe that if the SSP continues to look outward and engage with working people in their day-to-day struggles we can quickly recover any ground we have lost as result of the calamitous actions of Tommy Sheridan.