Thursday, June 29, 2006

GMB/ASDA Agreement

The document agreed by the GMB and ASDA can be found at:

Collective punishment

Compare and contrast:

Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention:
Part III : Status and treatment of protected persons #Section I : Provisions common to the territories of the parties to the conflict and to occupied territories.
No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.

With the following statement from the Israeli Foreign Ministry:

“In response to the abduction of IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit on June 25, IDF forces entered the southern Gaza Strip during the night, moving into the region of Dahaniya in the southeastern Gaza Strip.

The IDF operation has included:

- Artillery fire at open areas in the southern Gaza Strip.
- Aerial attacks on three bridges in the central Gaza Strip.
- Aerial attack on electricity transformer station south of Gaza city
- Entry of armored forces into the Dahaniya area, mainly the abandoned airport. The area of Dahaniya represents a strategic control and observation point over the area of Rafah and the southern Gaza Strip. So far there has been one incident of gunfire and anti-tank missile fire at the forces, but no injuries or damage were reported. “

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

STOP PRESS - ASDA strike off.

GMB shop stewards in ASDA have voted to accept a new national agreement.
The five day strike due to start at Midnight on Friday has therefore been called off. More news tomorrow when the details become clear.

(Remember you read it here first)

No rule of law in Iraq.

The degree of lawlessness to which Iraq has descended is summed up by today’s statement from President Vladimir Putin that Russian special forces will track down and kill the kidnappers who executed 4 Russian diplomats in Iraq.

According to Pravda, Putin’s statement did not specify what special forces might be involved. Agents of the Foreign Intelligence Service and the Federal Security Service - the main successor to the KGB - could be considered special forces. The Russian army has not historically employed specialist units equivalent to Britain’s SAS or the American Delta Force.

Obviously the killings are horrific and regrettable, but hang on. Isn’t Iraq supposed to be a sovereign state with its own elected government? On what legal basis will the Russians be able to send troops into Iraq to carry out vigilante killings? It will be interesting to see whether the British government protests against the KGB being deployed in iraq to murder people.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Cuban exile confesses to terrorism

Last week the Miami Herald published remarkable confessions from Jose Antonio Llama, a former board member of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), who admitted creating a well armed paramilitary organisation during the 1990s, which aimed to commit terrorist atrocities in Cuba. The CANF, was created in 1981 by President Ronald Regan, and its board members allegedly also have strong links with the present US government.

Jose Antonio Llama, known as Toñin, told El Nuevo Herald that the arsenal to carry out these plans included a cargo helicopter, 10 ultralight radio-controlled planes, seven vessels and abundant explosive materials. He also provided the newspaper with proof of the financial transactions.
Llama remembers that the project started to take shape during CANF's annual meeting in Naples in June 1992. He said businessman Miguel Angel Martinez of Puerto Rico proposed the idea of ''doing more than lobbying in Washington'' to overthrow Castro. About 20 of the foundation's most trusted leaders agreed and designated Jose ''Pepe'' Hernandez, the current CANF president, and Mas Canosa to choose the armed group. ''It was agreed that since this was a delicate matter, details about the paramilitary group would be discussed in petit comite [a small committee],'' Llama said. ``At the meeting that board members and trustees held the following year [1993] in Puerto Rico, the chosen ones started to meet and consider everything that needed to be bought.''

To buy explosives, the group used businessman Raul Lopez, an anti-Castro exile involved in infiltration operations in Cuba in the 1960s, Llama said. Lopez owned a company authorized to purchase explosives to open up sewage canals for South Florida's sugar industry.

The plans failed ultimately failed only after Llama and four other exiles were arrested in Puerto Rico in 1997 on charges of conspiracy to assassinate Castro during the Ibero-American Summit on Margarita Island, Venezuela. A jury acquitted them after a US judge would not allow the defendant’s confessions to be used as evidence.

Nor is the case of Jose Antonio Llama unique. In April this year the American Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms seized over 1000 automatic weapons from the terrorist group Alpha 66. When the searched the house of Alpha 66 member, Robert Ferro, Federal agents reported finding weapons wherever they looked — behind framed paintings, thermometers and mirrors, inside hollowed-out walls of closets and under the staircase. They said they found some of the most powerful firearms — Uzis and AK-47s — in the master bathroom and bedroom, behind clothing and plywood. The investigators also found rockets launcher and grenades.

The admission of Cuban exile Mafiosi in the USA that they were planning and are engaged in terrorism is extremely important in connection with the so-called Miami Five. Rene Gonzalez, Ramon Labanino, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and Gerardo Hernandez were part of the La Red Avispa network; a collection of the Cuban agents living in Florida reporting on the activities of a number of organisations involved in terrorist activity. The information discovered by Cuban agents has helped thwart numerous bombings and assassination attempts, and even helped the FBI catch a cocaine smuggling ring. And yet all of a sudden in September 1998, the Florida branch of the FBI arrested all five and fitted them up on chrages of espionage and murder. In December 2001, after a trial in Miami, where given the influence of anti-Castro exiles there was no chance of a fair trial, U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard gave the five Cubans a collective total of four life sentences and forty four years in prison, with no chance of parole.

As Labour MP, Michael Connarty, has described the case: “By monitoring [those] who were threatening Cuba by planning terror and acts of violence against an autonomous country, [the Miami Five] were doing something legitimate. We now have a situation where the US legal system has been brought into disrepute by the vicious use of state apparatus against a group of people who were not in anyway threatening the US.” Michael Connarty is also perceptive in explaining how the incarceration of the Miami Five is also an act of war: “There is however, a general feeling in US politics that you deal with things you don’t understand by smashing them. The reality in Cuba is that there is no way for capitalist power to buy into the internal system. It is carefully fed into to the US political psyche that if you can’t influence or pull strings within that system, then you have to wipe it out, and I think that they see present day Cuba as something they would like to wipe out of the political equation. I have no doubt that this is a factor in the Miami Five case, a way of the US showing that they will be vicious to anyone representing that system.”

Last Saturday I went to an excellent day-school organised by Socialist Resistance on the politics of Latin America, and they had brought Cuban Trotskyist, Celia Hart, to speak. Celia made an excellent point that when she is debating with people in Cuba the lack of solidarity by the international left for the Miami Five is constantly raised against her.

Friday, June 23, 2006

(belated) Stop the War Conference Report

Sorry this is a bit late. I decided to post a report here rather than on the main socialist unity website so that people could comment.

Stop the War conference had about 400 delegates, about one quarter women, and judging by appearance around one tenth black or Asian. We sent three delegates from Swindon.

Generally I thought the conference was very positive, and better than I was expecting. There were 25 motions, 9 of them from local Stop the War Groups (Edinburgh, Swindon, Merseyside, Oxford, Yeovil, Finsbury Park, Tyneside, University College hospital, and Hounslow), there were also motions from the National Steering Committee, Respect, SWP, and a joint one from the RMT and CWU. As this was a working conference on building the anti war movement there was little in the motions that was contentious, and so the business flowed fairly smoothly. As with any organisation, and any conference, knowing how the system works is important.
With Stop the War, there is a little bit of behind the scenes horse trading, where the officers’ group will ask some motions to be subtly amended so that they don’t prove impossible to implement, but I think this is all part of a constructive dialogue.

Over the last couple of years there has been a problem of the officers group not necessarily implementing all the motions passed at conference that create policy, but the Coalition does run with very limited resources.

A more general problem is that there is insufficient debate or even awareness of the current state of the coalition on a national basis. Last year I was the only member of the national steering committee from outside London, and the only delegate from a local Stop the War group, and it proved difficult for me to keep going, not least because the meetings were at 6:30 on a weekday in London, and there was no pooled fare arrangement.

Personally I try to keep in touch with people in a few Stop the War groups around the country, and the picture I get is that there is a tiredness, and an emphasis on localism, that requires more than routine of big national demos to address. Given the overwhelming unpopularity of the war, and the fantastic work that has been done by Military Families (and full credit to Chris Nineham and Andrew Burgin for that) I think there needs to be debate about why the anti-war movement is not doing better at setting the news agenda. If peo9ple want to know more about MFAW or anything else I will answer questions in the comments.

I was a bit disheartened recently when I went to a pre-conference meeting of Bristol stop the war Coalition, that after I gave what I thought was a very balanced view of both the strengths and weaknesses of the movement at the moment, based on several years of persistent organising in the peace movement, I was basically pooh-poohed by some young SWP comrades who seem to have newly got involved with the Stop the War Coalition, and for whom it is all ever onwards and upwards.

Anyway, the opening session at conference should have been an opportunity for that debate to emerge, but it didn’t quite happen. However I was heartened by how many delegates there were from local groups, doing the unglamorous routine work of grass roots campaigning.
I had two areas of concern. One was that Sami Ramadani’s expressed the opinion that the sectarian violence in Iraq is largely the creation of the occupying forces, and this seemed to be accepted by most delegates in an uncomplicated way, with some seeming to believe that it is all a dirty tricks campaign by the US.

The other area of concern was the debate over Iran. Firtslt the whole debate went a bit weird because the platform speakers, Dilip Hiro and Elahah Povey did seem to take the eccentric view that the Iranian government are brilliant, and the women’s movement and democratic movement in Iran are an example to us in the west (I exaggerate hardly at all). There were flurry of speakers slips around this, but I think correctly the conference arrangements committee took the view of not allowing the eccentricities of the platform speakers to overshadow a debate on the need to oppose a possible attack on Iran.

The motion moved by Callinicos on behalf of the SWP on Iran was to my mind much to weighted to the idea that there is a settled US policy to attack Iran, and I am not at all sure that is the case. The prevailing mood in the coalition seems very uncritical of the probability of war on Iran, and I personally think it is over-emphasised, in contrast for example to Afghanistan

After lunch we split into several workshops. Alarm bells rang for me as this is sometimes a manoeuvre to prevent debate, but at this conference the effect (and I am sure the intention) was quite the opposite, The smaller groups and more informal atmosphere allowed much more participation in discussion.

So generally the conference was a good experience, and was conducted democratically and in good spirit, but there still needs to be a serious debate about how to take the peace movement forward, and it is not clear how or where that can be achieved.

Reader feedback survey

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

GMB ready to rumble with ASDA

GMB Members In ASDA Wal-Mart 20 Distribution Depots Deliver An Overwhelming Vote For Strike Action

GMB Shop Stewards National Council and officialls are meeting today in Manchester to consider the ballot result and set dates for industrial action.

the strike vote by GMB members in Asda Wal-Mart's 20 distribution depots across the country went 3 to 1 (74.1%) in favour of strike action in support of their outstanding claims with the company. They also voted by an even bigger margin of more than 4 to 1 for industrial action short of a strike.

GMB members who were balloted work as HGV drivers and warehouse picker and loaders at Asda Wal-Mart 20 distribution depots including Bedford, Chepstow, Dartford, Didcot, Erith, Falkirk, Grangemouth, Ince George in Wigan, Lymedale Staffordshire, Lutterworth in Leicestershire, Portbury in Bristol, Skelmersdale, Teesport, ADC Wigan, Wakefield and Washington. They move 30,000 tonnes per day of ambient, fresh, chilled and frozen produce from 20 distribution depots to 300 Asda Wal-Mart Stores around the country.

GMB members in Asda Wal-Mart's distribution depots want to see the establishment of proper national bargaining structures between the company and GMB covering pay, conditions and union facilities in all 20 distribution depots.

Paul Kenny, GMB General Secretary responding to the ballot result said, "GMB members in the 20 Asda Wal-Mart distribution depots have spoken. They have voted by three to one to take strike action despite all of the company's attempts to dissuade or intimidate them to vote no. GMB members have been subjected to unprecedented interference and propaganda by Asda Wal-Mart. This ballot result shows that it is time for Asda Wal-Mart to wake up and smell the coffee. GMB members tell us that the company is gearing up and may illegally attempt to use agency labour to do our members jobs. This is what is behind the company statement that in the event of industrial action the customers will not notice a thing. Using agency labour during an official trade dispute is illegal and GMB will not allow Asda Wal-Mart to run a coach and horses through UK labour law. Any attempt by outside agencies to interfere or undermine this lawful industrial action by GMB members will be responded to with full vigour."

Update: Asda reps at the GMB national shop stewards meeting have voted for a 5 day strike with effect from midnight on 30th June, ending on 4th July. Bring it on.

If wishes were horses ....

The news that prominent left MP Alan Simpson is to be disciplined by the Labour Party, and could even lose the Labour whip, is further evidence of the relentless determination of the Labour right to crush all opposition within the party.

Chief whip and Blairite numbskull, Jacqui Smith has also reported Alan to Nottingham South CLP, who will decide whether to censure their MP tomorrow. Of course this is a dangerous course of action for the Blairites, as Alan is popular with his constituency party, and with the voters.

From their point of view they may have picked on the wrong target, as Alan offers them few weaknesses to exploit. He is probably the most committed MP in Westminster towards environmental sustainability, he is a leading figure in Labour Against War, and an articulate socialist.

But the move does raise the question of what strategy the Labour Left now have. I went to a very interesting workshop at the recent Stop the War Coalition conference on working in the Labour Party, that was addressed by the ever brilliant Alice Mahon.

There were around 15 people in the room, of whom half were in the Labour Party, and it would be fair to describe the rest as sharing the politics of the labour left, but cannot see any point in continued participation in the Party.

Although the meeting was intended to discuss how to work for peace within the Party, inevitably the meeting veered into a discussion of whether the left should even still be members. The discussion was very interesting with several of the delegates complaining how moribund their local wards or constituency parties are. In particular there seems a general experience that union branches no longer send delegates to the GMC, often as in the case of my union branch, because there is no-one eligible, as individual membership of the Labour Party is increasingly rare amongst union activist.

Alice Mahon reported the victorious fight by her CLP to select the excellent socialist Linda Riordan, in the teeth of determined opposition by the Blairites, who used all sorts of dirty tricks. Unfortunately, the experience of Swindon South where Millbank were able to orchestrate the victory of the woefully useless Anne Snellgrove over left NEC member Christine Shawcroft seems more typical. Indeed Swindon is a good case study of the collapse of the Labour Party in the south of England, where despite two Labour MPs, the council now has a thumping Tory majority, and 5 former labour councillors have defected to the conservatives in as many years. A comrade from Portsmouth described how there is an awful atmosphere in the local party, and other comrades reported experiences of being marginalised.

The workshop was then addressed by NEC member Pete Willsman, who unintentionally revealed the gap between aspiration and reality. Pete argued forcibly that the left were still a major force within the party, as they have 4 out of 6 constituency delegates on the NEC (but there are 33 members of the NEC), and that if only they could win between 30 and 35 members on the National Policy Forum (NPF) they could get items on the agenda for conference, and if then passed they would be in the manifesto.

But the positions held by the left give them no substantive power, and they are a million miles away from winning enough positions on the NPF. Even then – Labour governments have never felt mandated by their manifesto commitments.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Question for Trinidad and Tobago supporters

Okay, you decided to support T&T, good on you - but who will you be supporting on Tuesday? The reason I ask is simple, if we take a look at the table supplied here at the SU World Cup Aggregator with one game to go there is only one scenario where T&T can get through to the next round.

With T&T on one point and Sweden on four T&T must win their match and rely on England beating Sweden with a healthy goal difference. Now are you supporting T&T and therefore willing England on to a hefty victory against Sweden or was it a stance to irritate England supporters, in which case a defeat by Sweden could force England into second place and the more difficult second round match?

Do you feel torn?

The North Koreans are coming!

Those North Koreans are always invading people aren't they? That's why we need peace loving nations like the Americans to bomb them into the stone age for their own good.

Today's urgent story is that the Korean's "Taepodong II missile, thought to be capable of reaching the West coast of the US, is ready for launch" - cripes!

U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Thomas Schieffer, said today that North Korea is continuing to fuel a long-range ballistic missile and that the country could launch it "at almost anytime." Maybe within 45 minutes even?

Japan's PM Junichiro Koizumi warned of severe measures in response should North Korea decide to commit suicide by launching an attack. Will these dastardly foreigners never stop their evil machinations? Who will save us from this imminent threat?

Important Update: Condoleeza Rice has described the Korean government's actions (although the fact that they haven't actually done anything yet is just the sort of trick these orientals get upto) as "sabre rattling". I kid you not.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Weekend open thread number four

It's that time of week again - this is the fourth and possibly last weekend open thread (don't want to overdo it now).

If you've got thoughts about bloody Wayne Rooney, Afghanistan or the drugs industry - or if you've got a question, query or complaint this is the time to do it.

Nothng is off topic, feel free to change the subject at any time, make your self at home!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Standing up for the members

New General Secretary Paul Kenny, in a speech to the GMB Congress said that politicians were like babies nappies; “they need changing regularly, and for the same reason.” It was a pity that the GMB Congress didn’t act according to this unusual dictum when Blair was invited to speak to the delegates on Tuesday. He was treated like a good friend with whom we have some minor differences. There were plenty of hostile questions from the delegates, in the question and answer session; on Iraq, ‘reform’ of the public sector, pensions etc. But he wasn’t barracked or heckled. He was apparently treated with ‘respect’ instead of the contempt which he has earned.

Blair gave a robust defence of his right wing neo-liberal policies of course. When the session was over some delegates (I was told by somebody present less than half, but nevertheless a significant number) gave him a standing ovation. These are the same people who passed a document, GMB at Work, which abandons the idea of partnership with the employers, which Blair’s government considers to be the mark of a ‘modern’ trade union. These were the same delegates who have voted against privatisation of public services, and to affiliate to the Keep Our NHS Public campaign.

Perhaps some of them are Labour loyalists who can only smile as the government kicks them. Probably most of them did not want to give the impression of hostility or ‘splits’ between the unions and government in front of the media. In giving a standing ovation to Blair they were failing to do what they should be doing, standing up for the members. How can anyone give a standing ovation to the man responsible for introducing ‘reforms’ which are destroying the very foundations of the NHS?

In the Congress the top table ruled out a resolution which called for the right of branches to support candidates other than Labour ones, on the ground that this would lead to the union’s expulsion from the Labour Party. If you hold the position that it is necessary for the trades unions to ‘stay in and fight’ or ‘win back the party’, then isn’t it necessary to break with the political programme and methods of the Blairites? Isn’t it necessary to recognise that Blair and all those who support his politics are enemies of the trades unions?

If the unions stay in the party that is their choice, but they cannot defend the interests of their members without demanding a fundamental change of political direction. It matters not a jot if the party is headed by Blair or Brown, or anybody else for that matter, if the policy is the same; ‘free market’ neo-liberalism.

It is time for the abandonment of an approach which says, on the one hand the government has done some positive things, on the other some negative, as if they balance each other out.
Blair is not the devil incarnate, of course. He did not move the party into the neo-liberal camp without support of others. Indeed, it was largely the trade union leaders who delivered the party to him so easily.

It is the collaboration with the government which the union leaders have for the most part carried out, which has allowed it to get away with a programme of abandonment of the welfare state, privatisation of public services, and support for a right wing republican administration in the USA. An unequivocal break with the politics of Blairism is necessary if the unions are to be taken seriously. They can’t stand up for the members and for Blair.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

No One Is Illegal

New Minister Liam Byrne has provoked media speculation that there is to be an amnesty for 'illegal immigrants' in this country (as they have in Spain and suggested in the US) [1, 2, 3, 4, 5] by refusing to rule it out and announcing his department was preparing a report weighing the "pro's and con's" of an amnesty.

Jack Dromey said that "The time has come for the government to be brave, distinguishing between deporting the few who commit serious crimes and allowing the many undocumented migrant workers to remain. They are good men and women, essential to our economy and pillars of their local churches and communities."

An amnesty for all 'illegals' is long overdue - the misery, grief and injustice that this government and its predesors have caused through its detention and removals policy is the real criminal in this story. If the government does take this step then it will be fantastic news, but will the tabloids let them?

As it happens we are rasiing money for No One Is Illegal through our sweepstake
on Blair's resignation which costs just £2 to enter - all proceeds go to NOII.

Update: 120 detainees are on hunger strike in Campsfield detention centre

Monday, June 12, 2006

Gilad Atzmon At Marxism

I'm aware this might be old news but i was really suprised to find that onece again Gilad Atzmon will be at the SWP's Marxism event.

To be honest I thought that last year he had been invited by somebody unaware of all the issues surrounding him - namely his blatant anti-semitism - and that the conference organisers didn't feel like backing down. That he has been invited back to appear at Marxism, given all of the issues raised last year, basically suggests that some people think that his public anti-semitism is a non-issue - that it simply doesn't matter. Interestingly, the justification I came across last year - that he is simply appearing as a musician - is not going to wash this year. According to the SWP/Marxism website Gilad Atzmon and Martin Smith will 'tell the story of [John] Coltrane’s musical development and the struggle against racism in America.' They are putting Atzmon on stage to talk about racism for fucks sake!

This is a man who on his website dedicated an article to 'The J's' (ie the Jews) who in vintage style he described as "running the show running American political life, running American show business, running the ‘new Middle East’, running the Communist revolution."

Seriously if there are any SWPers in the blogosphere who might be able to explain to me why they have decided to put him on the platform I would be very interested to hear what they have to say. And yes I do know he is from a Jewish background and no I don't think that makes irrelevant his support for tradtional European anti-semitism.

In the meantime, see my review of Mr Atzmon's website here

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Memory - the last casualty of war

Following the suicide of three inmates at Guantanamo Bay, we learn that US Rear Admiral Harris said: "They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."

Have we heard similar before, from General William Westmoreland, US commander in Vietnam: “Orientals don't place the same value on human life as we do."

The quote is used in the Academy Award winning 1975 documentary “Hearts and Minds” as a voice over for film of B52s carpet bombing Vietnam, a war that left between 1 million and 2 million Vietnamese dead.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Weekend Open Thread

It's that time again - Jeez it's hot - the third weekend open thread.

Nothing is off topic, feel free to change the subject at any time, maybe your sun burn is unbearable, you've decided to support Iran in the World Cup or have composed a memorial poem for Zarqawi... what have you got?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Lazy, useless journalists make the best apologists for state terrorism

Today the BBC reported on the aftermath of Israel's horrific strike on Palestinian civilians on a Gaza beache. While they do report on the civilian casualties, I am particularly troubled by the last paragraph which states as if it were fact that 'For many months, the Israelis have regularly shelled open areas such as fields and orchards in an effort to prevent Palestinian militants using them to fire their home-made missile into crudely made missiles into nearby Israeli territory. '

To take at face value Israel's justification for shelling open fields is worse than stupid. Anybody vaguely acquainted with the situation will recognise such tactics of being part of a longstanding policy of collective punishment, of colletctively demoralising and physically weakening the Palestinians. Presumably if George Bush told him that he'd sent troops into Iraq to destoy WMD's hed believe that and all.

On a side note I am very pleased to have picked this up before
Mark Elf the 'buddha', if you like, of picking up Pro-Israeli shit in the media.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Green Progress

The beard and sandle count was very lowOn Sunday I attended the packed launch of Green Left, a new socialist current within the Green Party, supported by leading members of the party.

The launch declaration states that Green Left hopes “to raise Green Party politics to meet the demands of its radical policies. Green politics needs to be based on dynamic campaigning and hard intellectual groundwork to create workable alternatives.

The Green Party is an organisation full of contradictions. It's a clearly progressive organisation with a manifesto packed full of the policies of the left, yet its robustly decentralised structure allows space for the right to operate - like in Leeds for instance.

For some in the Green Party they are in the Party as much to fight for peace and social justice as the environment, but others can be attracted to reactionary and disempowering ideas like the Giai theory or even population control. The Green Party, like the green movement, has no single position on ASBOs, trade unions or even nuclear power - but it's this very openness that makes the Green Party one of the places that socialists can effectively operate, both in terms of winning progressives over to a more consistent left position but also to win those outside of any formal political organisations to progressive ideas.

In the Green Party you'd encounter a pluralist environment where people think, speak and act very differently to those in the organised left - which makes it a challenging, uncomfortable and rewarding place to be. Whilst it's easier to stick with the old formulations and old friends the left needs to become those little fish in the big ponds - in Respect, the Labour party, the anti-capitalist movements, the Green Party - in fact everywhere there is space for socialist ideas.

What impressed me about the Green Left meeting was that this was a group of down the line socialists who wanted to be a real assett to the Green Party and ensure it engaged with the trade union movement and other left activists, an area where the Greens are not always particuarly strong. Plus there wasn't a pair of sandals in sight.

Read the launch statement here

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Sion Simons

Watching Prime minister's question time over lunch today (hard life being a student ;) ) i had the misfortune to see a particularly scummy Blairite MP Sion Simon get up. He started talking about unemployment in his constituency and assrted that it was a crucial factor behind 'white working class' alienation. He then emphasised the importance of supporting 'our people' to quote his exact phrase. A friend of mine who was watching with my - an Asian guy from the midlands - said he sounds more like a tory. There is another word that could be used to describe such sentiments. However being cautious about leaving the blog open to legal disputes, I will simply leave it readers to draw their own conclusion about what his comments meant given his career as a journalist for The Telegraph, the News of The World and The Spectator.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Slavery in Britain today

Nazir Afzal, Director of the Crown prosecution Service has made the startling claim that: “slave auctions are being held in public places at airports where brothel keepers are bidding for women destined for prostitution.’’ One auction had taken place outside a coffee shop in the arrivals hall at Gatwick Airport, the CPS said. Others were believed to have been staged at Heathrow, Stansted and other British airports.

According to the Independent, Det Chief Supt Eyles of the Vice Squad argues that many of the foreign women who work in brothels come to Britain specifically to work in the sex industry, rather than being innocent victims. He claims the women buy forged documents from the traffickers before being smuggled into the country, while others come as tourists but do not leave. He claims that the women can make huge amounts of money - from £5,000 to £10,000 a week. That may be the case for some individual women, and would be their choice, But this attitude shows gross complacency from the police when faced with the growing problem of slavery, and not only sex slavery, but also indentured and unfree domestic service, and work in agriculture. One example is the appalling case of “Veronica”, the 16 year old Lithuanian girl rescued from a brothel in Hounslow last year, who had been tricked into coming to the UK, and then held here as a slave. She earned £800 per day for her pimps, but was not given a penny of it herself.

Last year’s report (1 MB PDF) from the ILO revealed that there are currently 12.3 million slaves in the world, and 2.4 million of them have been transported via illegal slave “trafficking”. This includes 270000 slaves brought against their will into the industrialised countries. In the West 77% of slaves are coerced into the sex trade, and 23% for other economic activity.

The latest government figures suggest that there are at least 1500 prostitutes held as slaves in the UK, many from Lithuania, and from ILO estimates this would indicate that there are over 300 slaves in the UK being used for work outside the sex trade. The ILO estimates that globally 98% of slaves in the sex trade are women or children, and between 40% and 50% of all victims are children.

Most shockingly, a survey by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) of 185 clients of prostitutes in Italy, Sweden and Japan found that only half say they would report slavery to the police if they knew about it, and others said they preferred young and unfree girls, as they were more docile.

Many of these women feel trapped into prostitution because their status in Britain is illegal. If they come forward to the authorities they will probably be deported, but as the Poppy Project who work with trafficked women says, “If they return, some of the women are tracked down and re-trafficked, or the women go missing. Some of my colleagues have helped girls who wanted to go home – only for them to disappear.”

But fear of rape or abduction for sex is not treated by the Home Office as grounds for asylum. Women Against Rape are launching a dossier of misjudged cases, and a fact sheet for advisors at a public meeting on Friday 23 June 06, 11am Trinity United Reformed Church, Buck Street, Camden Town, London NW1

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Morales Effect

Indigenous activist, in traditional dress, fires a stone at worried police from her sling during the Water War, Picture by Tom Kruse
When Evo Morales
won the Presidential election in December 2005 it was the culmination of many years of struggle against hard line neo-liberal, racist governments.

The movements that rose up to oppose the privatisation of natural resources were unprecedented, bottom up and so powerful they were capable of taking on the army and overthrowing Presidents.

Morales, or his party MAS, were not the leader of these movements - but he is the most high profile political leader who has a past rooted in working class struggle. Morales explicitly distanced himself from the most miltant protests of 2005 knowing that he was likely to be elected in the near future. However, he understands his relationship with these movements, for instance taking a 50% pay cut when he took office signalling to everyone around the world that he was a politician of principle rather than part of the body of careerist and self inflated politicos who were in politics as much for their ego and personal gain as any cause they wish to further.

Other moves that were as much about signals of intent as they were political acts include the purging of the top brass of the military and the appointment of leading members of the social movements to high office. For example the new Jusice Minister
Casimira Rodriguez, who Christian Perentti describes in The Nation as having "started working at age 13 in Cochabamba as a maid. For the mostly white men of the Bolivian bar, this appointment was an insult beyond comprehension... She recounted how she and other maids--some of whom were held as virtual prisoners--used their only free day each week to organize a union for domestic servants. "I have lived with injustice and inequality," said Rodriguez. "It is hard to fight corruption, but I can show the people that this is their house, too."

The main demand of the movements on the new government was the renationalisation of natural resources and one that Morales has begun to address. Making a speech on how Bolivia's resources have been "looted by foreign companies" he announced the highly popular, but limitted, seizure of assetts of the three major gas companies in Bolivia. He has stated that the mining and forestry industries are next and most radically, land reform (which the FT says is a bad thing)

But this is not a government opposed to the market - only the daggers drawn neo-liberal version that was imposed upon the country in the 1990's. Vice President García Linera said that "Transnational corporations are welcome in Bolivia, but they will not dominate the economy. They should expect to pay taxes and submit to reasonable environmental and social regulations. But they will still make profits" and he seems to be true to his word.

Jindal Steel and Power an Indian company has just signed $2.3 billion dollar contracts in Bolivia - the biggest ever contract given to an Indian company in South America. D
rugs companies have switched sides to MAS, because the amount of medication Bolivians take (can afford) is currently very low - MAS is the only party likely to make a deep commitment to health care (and thus increase in the drug budget), and the ubiquitous Cuban doctors have already arrived. It seems that many of the multi-nationals feel reassured that Bolivia is a region of economic stability and opportunity.

The might of the Bolivian state: Picture by Tom KruseMany of the leaders of the social movements are concerned. Concerned by the top down behaviour of the government, the limits to reforms and, I suspect, the lack of role of the social movements themselves.

Solares, leader of COB (the Bolivian version of the TUC) described Evo as "mediocre, incapable, anti-worker and reformist" and proclaimed "scientific socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat" as the only solution to Bolivia's problems. The FEJUVE (the powerful neighbourhood associations) are not much happier and have equally colourful rhetoric.

Whilst the leaders of the movments still call demonstrations and protests and make declarations the people are certainly giving Morales a chance - the recent call for a general strike and march brought out just 200 people. These radical leaders may need to learn patience but also to read the mood of those they represent, a strike with no support damages the movement far more than no strike at all. I know it's unusual for a UK reader to have to think about a union leader that is for more radical action than the members but this is the situation in Bolivia today.

Nick Buxton, writing in Bolivia, says that despite the progressive reforms "it is still true that the MAS Government have done little to change, or even start to change, the neo-colonial structures of power and wealth that have created such stark inequality in Bolivia. The figures in Government may have changed, but those who control economic power have not. As even Morales admits "we have won the Presidency but not power"."

This Morales effect is an interesting phenomenon. When Blair came to power he got a honeymoon but delivered nothing but neo-liberalism, and the erosion of Labour's support has been slow to say the least - Morales on the other hand may not be contemplating attacking the market system but is delivering real reform that could make a massive difference at the base of society. Just as the left in Bolivia needs to learn at speed a nuanced approach to this phenomenon the left here needs to support the Bolivian movement's demand for deep reforms and the Morales government's attacks on neo-liberalism - and that is not a trick that is easy to master.

The second open thread

I meant to do this a couple of days ago for the weekend but been too busy.

Well, I think the last open thread went quite well don't you? Why don't we try it again then? Of course it's been a very sunny weekend, but you might like to talk about something political - thoughts on the terror arrests perhaps, or the new Muslim Council leader who was elected yesterday - nothing is off topic, and feel free to change the subject.

On your marks, get set..... BLOG

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Cuba's Brokeback montaña

Cuba has made a major step forward in reducing the prejudice against same-sex relationships. The groundbreaking Soap Opera "The Dark Side of the Moon," has captivated the nation with five intertwined story lines about HIV/AIDS. However, the plot which has made the programme the must see event on Cuban TV is the story about a woman, Belkis, who suspected that her husband, a construction worker and loving father named Yassel, was having an affair with another woman. Then she learned the truth: Yassel was in love with another man.

In one emotional scene, Yassel's mother, Marcia, pleads with her husband, David, to allow Yassel to live with them after his wife throws him out. "This fairy is not my son," responds David, his face twisting in anguish. "I raised a man, a man. ... Tell him to leave here and go far away." But David eventually accepted his son after learning Yassel had been infected with HIV. In the end, Yassel also seems at peace with himself. "You don't know what it's like living with a mask, Belkis," he says to his wife, "trying to please everyone in the world, repressing your desires and annulling who you are."

As Peter Tatchell has pointed out, although Cuba legalised homosexuality in 1979, there is still discrimination, and the Cuban Association of Gays and Lesbians was suppressed as recently as 1997. But this soap opera is going out in prime time, and all programming must be approved by the Cuban Communist Party, so it has the official seal of approval. Attitudes have been improving slowly, and were given a boost by the arrival of a number of health professionals from the former German Democratic Republic. The American charity The Cuba AIDS Project also applauds treatment the Cuban healthcare system provides to HIV/AIDS patients in Cuba.

Magda Gonzalez, chief of the drama division for the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, which oversees the nation's television stations, said the soap opera has been among the most-watched in Cuban history. Viewers have responded with a flood of mostly favourable e-mails, she said, and Yassel's relationship has been grist for radio talk shows and newspaper articles. "If you are going to talk about AIDS, then you have to deal with the theme of sex between men," Gonzalez said.

A recent story in the Chicago Tribune interviewed Cubans about their attitudes to the Soap. "Ten years ago this would have been impossible," said Daniel Hernandez, a gay 22-year-old student. "A lot of things have evolved." But Juan Miguel Mas, a 40-year-old dancer says: "This is a macho society where, even now, a gay man hides being with another gay like me,"

"There was never any space in the public discourse (about homosexuality). It's as if gays didn't exist," explained Alarcon, 26, a biochemist. "This is an important step in terms of getting the message about homosexuality to the people," he said. "We've seen it in movies, but everyone watches the soap opera. It helps people understand what it means to be gay."

Cuba is becoming increasingly influential internationally, and last month, Cuba was elected to a United Nations human rights council with 135 votes despite the opposition of the USA. Castro needed only 96 votes. Visiting Havana was one of the first initiatives by new Haitian President René Préval, and Bolivian President Evo Morales meet Castro the day before he nationalized his country's natural-gas industry. A Latinobarómetro poll last year showed that in South America, Castro's approval rating was 4.8 out of 10, and George Bush's was 4.1. Increasing liberalisation towards same sex relationships is welcome evidence that Cuba is in return being influenced by the tide of democratic reform in Latin America.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Sex workers of the world unite!

It is excellent to see a major British trade union taking seriously the issue of fighting the oppression of women (and men) in the sex industry.

The GMB are holding a fringe meeting at the ILO Labour Conference in Geneva, on 8th June, along with the International Sex Workers Union (ISWU). Ana Lopez, GMB Sex Workers Branch President said, “I believe that it is essential for trade unionists and labour experts who are concerned about workers in the sex industry to share experiences and questions, with an eye to longer term co-operation. Join us for a frank conversation about the role of trade unions in protecting sex workers, dealing with the risks, opportunities and challenges.”

The GMB has made mainstream trade union membership available to sex workers since March 2003. This is a major step forward in overcoming the stigma of sex work, and realising that the women and men engaged in this work can best improve their conditions through collective organisation. The campaigning stance by the GMB on this issue is an excellent example of the progressive role that trade unions can play in fighting against discrimination, and against prejudice.

International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW) approached several other unions and were turned down several times before the GMB accepted their affiliation. Ana Lopes says that the unions who rejected them expressed the opinion that sex work is not like other forms of work, and that the sector is not one that is easily organised. But Ana argues that the obstacles are by no means unique to sex work, and some of the concerns raised – the semi-legality of sex workers, the stigma and the discrimination – are identical to those raised by other undocumented migrant workers. The GMB are a good choice as a union for Sex Workers, they are a general union who organise other workers in low status jobs, and are also the main union in the gambling industry, which faces similar issues. Although Sex Workers are in the entertainment industry, it would be hard to see them at home in Equity, the Arts and Entertainment Union, who have a quote from Dame Judy Dench on their home page!

Ana Lopes is a genuine hero. Her background is anthropology with a PhD from the University of East London and she worked in the sex industry for four years, as a phone sex operator, glamour model and strip tease dancer. (Which also emphasises that sex work is wider than just prostitution) She is the author of “SEX WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE! Organizing in the sex industry.” She played a leading role in the creation of the IUSW, which later merged with the GMB. This marked an important shift in attitudes, and within a year of the the merger, the GMB adopted a policy calling for the decriminalisation of Sex Work.

This is an area where international cooperation is also vitally important, given the scale of human trafficking, and sex tourism. Check out the website of the
Network of Sex Work Projects, and of course the English Collective of Prostitutes, who both provide excellent resources on this issue.

It is also worth mentioning the debate there has been around this
issue on the consistently excellent Stroppy Blog (my current favourite)

Barely Barley

According to the Independent Ken Loach's new, award winning film is being viciously suppressed by the imperialist dogs that run the UK's cinemas. According tot he article

"The film's UK distributors, Pathé, have received barely 30 orders for prints of the film, which is soon to be released. As things stand, it will therefore be shown in just 30 cinemas across the country.

"Loach attributes this astonishingly paltry figure to the British cinema industry's reservations about his film's tricky subject matter, and media criticism of its (allegedly) pro-IRA leanings."

Compare this to the 300 cinemas the film will be shown in in France. Although I'm told France is not a socialist utopia.

This is not the first film of Loach's this has happened to. Land and Freedom got a very limitted release despite playing to packed audiences, I know Colchester Odeon sold out of tickets well before the single showing one night only that they deemed appropriate.

Loach is reported to have described some right wing critics as "creeping out from under their stones, slagging off a film they've not even seen". What honest stone would harbour such vermin though?

If you get the chance to see the film I'm sure it will be a corker - perhaps we should lend it a hand - ask your local cinema today if they will be showing the award winning film - and if not, why not? In fact, I'm off to do that now.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Guardian's Big Blogger

For those of you with lives you may have noticed Big Brother, with its attempt to permanently damage those with mental health problems - suicide threats, recently sectioned contestants and now an ex-contestant on hunger strike, please please please let this spell the end of Big Brother.

Well there is now the upmarket version - the Guardian's Big Blogger on the
Comment is Free section of the site. The idea is simple - they've picked five 'ordinary folk', well as ordinary as you can find hanging out at the Guardian's interactive forum, and promoted them to internet columnists, and we, the readers, are to decide who is the best and worst and the winner gets the opportunity to go on the Guardian payroll. Simple.

Well, the contestants have begun to post and on Thursday afternoon we can vote (click the link to find out how when voting opens) just so you don't have to bother sorting the wheat from the chaff I've done it for you - although I have an ulterior motive in that I'm determined that one of the contestants does not win the competition, for reasons that will become clear.

So the bloggers, and their first blog entries are...

Francis Sedgemore makes a so so start on the environment, but there is so much of Lovelock and Gaia thesis (coupled with its unremmitting pessimism) I've not taken to him. Must get out of hippy mode and get a bit more energy.

Christina Morgan writes with a very witty and light touch about Rugby - although, alas, I can find no particular left reason for her to stay she certainly has done nothing to deserve to be ditched as yet.

Ciaran Jenkins writes an empassioned post on English football, entitled winningly "Why I hate Enlgand" and has got to be the left's clear winner. Revolutionary defeatism in the Guardian - wooop!!!!

Frank Fisher is an idiot. He must be purged. Immediately. His first post attacking Amnesty International and in support of David bloody Irving means a suicide bomber would be morally justified in... no hold on, that sort of talk gets you in trouble. Just vote him out.

[The fifth doesn't seem to have posted yet - when he / she does I'll edit this post to give you the run down. No longer applicable]

Ali McNab has been given his space today. Definately should not go before Fisher. A discussion on unemployment and being given a real voice, not earth shattering but intelligent and attempting to create an expression to his feelings on being part of the 'underclass'

The left must mobilise its vast forces to ensure Frank Fisher loses the competition miserably. Unfortunately the forces of the Daily Mail are rallying behind him - he must not be allowed to take one more step towards the hallowed, cough, pages of the Guardian.

Tomorrow afternoon go to Comment is Free and use your vote wisely - the class struggle takes place in every sphere of our lives, and this is a fight we can win!