Monday, July 31, 2006

Who are we English?

In this month’s edition of searchlight there are two very interesting articles about England fans in Germany. Nick Lowles points out that “there is something unpleasant and aggressive about our society that is not repeated on the continent”, and he reports how there were repeated incidents of xenophobic violence, and celebration of our culture of fighting and drinking. In contrast Mark Perryman points out that this violence is hardly surprising given the level of violence every Friday and Saturday night in pubs and Clubs round England. And while a minority of England fans are hooligans, the overwhelming experience of Germany 2006 was positive, as an amazing 350000 English fans visited the World Cup! Most enjoyed the footballl, and enjoyed mixing with the travelling fans of 32 nations, united by love of football. England fans even laid a wreath, alongside Polish and German fans at Dachau.

This has been a huge shift, as in previous tournaments the numbers of travelling fans was much smaller (just 10000 in Italy in 1990), allowing the ultra hooligans to have a disproportionate influence.

But Perryman asks an important question that will not go away. Who are we English?

The St George flag is a new phenomenon, almost unseen before Euro ’96. It is noticeable where I live that many of the large population of Goan immigrants (who are Portuguese citizens through accident of empire) are strong England supporters, with flags on their cars, and replica shirts. England can be a racially inclusive national identity, stripped of Imperial British baggage. If we want it to be, if we fight for that vision of our national identity, and contest the political right’s authority to shape Englishness.

As Scotland and Wales move towards independence, faster to the north than in the west, but both inexorably, then who are we who are left behind? We have no parliament, we have no national anthem. For most of us English we don’t even have a capital city, as London has a culture and dynamic completely alien to us, and most English people can't stand the place. But we do have a football team, and we do have Monty Panesar!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Drugs are bad mmmmmkay!

Well that's what they'd have us believe. But the demonisation of cannabis, as part of a war on drugs (about as logical as, say, a war on terror) is threatening to make many people's lives hell. And I'm not talking about the 16 year old stoners in the park, but all the people suffering from MS who benefit from the medical use of cannabis. The group THC4MS has never hidden its efforts to supply cannabis chocolate to MS sufferers - who have long reported positive effects from smoking the drug.

Three members of the group are scheduled to appear at Carlisle Crown Court on the 4th December on a charge of conspiracy to supply cannabis, a charge that carries a maximum sentance of 14 years hard labour. If they are found guilty then production and distribution of cannabis products to those in need of them most will be forced to cease.

The following petition, which has attracted over 3000 signatures already, aims to halt the prosecution. Whilst this may seem an extremely improbably outcome, at the very least it serves to lobby the government to take seriously the issue of legalising cannabis for medicinal purposes.

Please sign :)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Rich man's war, poor man's fight

Eighteen months ago, Hercules XV179 was shot down by Iraqi insurgents, and all 10 air crew were killed. Eight of the ten were based at RAF Lyneham, delivering a severe blow to the small Wiltshire town.

The bereaved relatives have asked renowned human rights lawyer, Simon McKay, to represent them at the upcoming inquest. But in an incredibly mean spirited move, the Ministry of Defence is refusing to pay for their legal representation.
The issue the families wish to raise at the inquest is whether the MoD was negligent by not providing explosive suppressant foam in the fuel tanks.

All American Hercules have foam in the tanks. This is hardly new technology, and has been deployed since the Vietnam war: it makes a remarkable difference, and one American Herc recently survived 19 rounds in the fuel tank, but still landed safely.
RAF pilots had asked for British planes to be fitted with the foam two years before XV179 was shot down. The cost would be a measly £275000 plus £50000 per aircraft – in terms of military budgets this is small change.

Time ands again British casualties in Iraq show evidence of incompetence, and negligence towards their safety. Soldiers killed because they have had to give up their body armour, soldiers with insufficient ammunition, out of radio contact, or given insufficient training.

The government has a duty of care towards service men and women. That duty of care was betrayed when they were sent into an immoral invasion in Iraq, and when they were sent to Afghanistan. That duty of care is betrayed when they have inadequate equipment to protect their lives.

The anti-war movement in Britain is absolutely correct to draw attention to the scandalous disregard the politicians have towards service lives. The best way to protect service men and women is an immediate withdrawal of British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no contradiction between this demand, and also arguing for solidarity for those fighting to liberate Iraq from US and UK occupation, because that is the only way lasting peace can be achieved.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Urgent financial appeal by Il Manifesto

Italian left wing daily newspaper Il Manifesto is making an urgent appeal for funds.

Of course we are all used to left wing publications making financial appeals, but this occasion is different. Il Manifesto is an internationally important institution, and it is under threat of closure.

Il Manifesto has survived for more than 35 years as a workers’ co-operative, without the interference of a capitalist proprietor, and has consistently produced first class journalism.
Although originally supportive of the Communist Party, Il Manifesto has always been independent of party control, and in more recent years has supported the social movement, and Rifondazione Comunista.

It is a witty and innovative paper, combining investigative reporting with satire and cheeky disrespect for the rich and powerful. Nor does Il Manifesto rely on third hand reportage for international events: rivalling its pro-establishment competitors it has journalists around the world. One of its reporters, Giuliana Sgrena, was kidnapped in Iraq by insurgents in February 2005, but thankfully later released.

Il Manifesto is now in danger of closing, since February they have been struggling to pay their own salaries.

On the basis of an annual turnover of 17.5 million Euros, and a staff of 121, the Italian State subsidies cover 25% of costs. The rest of the paper’s income comes from sales. They sell an average 29000 copies of the paper every day, and have 5,892 subscriptions.

Il Manifesto has suffered because of loss of sales due to on-line publishing, and also a steep rise in costs – which rose by 11% in 2005.

Please send a contribution today with your credit card.

Let us ensues that Il Manifesto, and its experiment in defying the laws of the market, survives. The paper has played a vital role in Italy and internationally. It has supported the development of the Italian left away from sectarianism of the past, and towards the collaborative way of working of Rifondazione, and the social forums.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Migrant workers in Lebanon

Thanks to the African blogger, black looks, for pointing out the plight of the tens of thousands of “African and South Asian migrants amongst the displaced in Lebanon. Unlike other foreign nationals from the Middle East and the West, who have been evacuated by their respective governments, this group have largely been left to fend for themselves without money or papers. Many of them at the lowest strata of society and in a foreign land. It is estimated that there are some 20,000 Ethiopians as well as Nigerians, Ghanaians, Sudanese, Somalis, Sri Lankans and the largest group (90,000) Filipinos working in domestic servitude, as migrant or forced labour and the sex industry in Lebanon.”

Some but not all of these migrants workers are part of an international industry in people trafficking. As I have pointed out
before there are some 12.3 million slaves in the world today. As Black Looks describes it: “In Africa as elsewhere in the South, the majority poor and dispossessed subsidise the lifestyle of the minority world enabled by a system of dehumanization based on cultural, religious, ethnic and racial difference. Psychologically it is easier to oppress someone who is regarded as different and with whom you can distance yourself. In this way, Nigerian children are taking to Senegal to work in domestic servitude and Senegalese children are taken to Ghana. One ethnic group becomes forced labour or sexual slaves for another in a tit for tat series of exchanges that encompasses the whole world. Going outside one’s own community also makes it more difficult for those trafficked to escape. The further you take someone away from their home the more difficult it is for them to find their way back - trapped in distance, language, culture, bonded-debt and in the case of Lebanon abandoned in a war zone thousands of miles from home.”

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ted Grant's funeral

Here are the details of Ted Grant's funeral arrangements - please circulate as best you can:

It will take place at the South Essex (Corbett's Tey) crematorium in Ockenden road, Upminster RM14 2UY on Tuesday 8th August at 1.15pm. It can be reached by public transport from Upminster Station (Tube/Overground)by getting the 370 bus going to Gray's or Corbett's Tey.

A memorial meeting will take place on Sat afternoom 9th Sept at the friends meeting place, Euston London - more details later.

Friday, July 21, 2006

TUC win 'Pole Tax'reform for Polish workers over-paying tax

The TUC today (Thursday) welcomed a major victory for Polish workers in Britain who have been paying double tax on their earnings. A campaign by the TUC South West region has led to a treaty being signed today between the Polish and UK Governments that will make sure Polish workers do not pay both tax in the UK and high level tax on the same earnings when they return to Poland. Thanks to this treaty, UK tax paid will count against Polish tax.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber is visiting the Polish church in Bristol today where the problem was first raised with the TUC by the Polish support group, Polski Bristol. The South West TUC took up the campaign with Dawn Primarolo, Bristol South MP and Paymaster General, highlighting to the Minister the complicated tax rules and the fact that workers in other countries such as Ireland get better tax treatment. The Government has subsequently reached an agreement that will benefit thousands of Polish workers employed in the UK. Dawn Primorolo has signed the treaty today on behalf of the British Government.

Speaking at the Polish church in Bristol this evening, Brendan Barber will say: 'Unions, campaigners and community groups in Bristol have worked together to secure an important victory for thousands of Polish workers across the whole country and end this unjust 'Pole tax'.

The Government rightly recognises the value that Polish workers add to the UK economy and has responded quickly to union concerns that they were not being treated fairly.'
Julia Verne , Polski Bristol, said: 'This is great news for Polish workers who have been penalised with unfair tax demands when they go home. The current double tax system doesn't take into account the high cost of living in the UK and is especially punitive to workers on low pay. The system means that workers are left with very little disposable income. When we first raised this issue, the church was packed with workers who wanted to know why they faced double tax. This treaty is great news and we are indebted to the TUC for helping us tackle this issue.'

Nigel Costley, South West TUC Regional Secretary, said:'Unions are giving on-the-ground support to Polish workers to make sure they are treated properly at work but we've proved we can also tackle bigger problems. I didn't realise that they had to pay double tax and was pleased to help them campaign for reform. Dawn Primarolo has been very quick to respond to this issue and make the system fairer for workers in her own constituency and across the country.'

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Stop this destructive war! Workers on all sides are paying the price!

A statement by the Workers Advice Center in Israel in relation to Israel's attack on Lebanon.

Since July 12, Israel has been carrying out a disproportionate and murderous war in Lebanon . It has killed hundreds of innocent civilians, including whole families. It has destroyed much of the infrastructure in the south, creating a humanitarian disaster. Those who suffer most are the workers and the poor. At the same time, the IDF continues to pummel Gaza , here too killing innocent civilians. The goal behind all this destruction is to restore the country's power of deterrence. It needs this power so that it can continue to behave unilaterally––without concessions to the Palestinians or the Syrians.

But Israel too, in the present war, has suffered civilian casualties, both dead and wounded, among the half million or more who live in the Jewish and Arab localities of the north.
The working classes on all sides in the conflict have nothing to gain from this war, no matter what its outcome.

Concerning the Palestinian and Lebanese militias, WAC, which represents the progressive Arab and Jewish workers in Israel , sees no justification for their military actions, which they undertook without consulting their peoples, and which gave Israel a much-desired pretext for showing off its might while exploiting divisions within the Arab camp.

We are concerned about the passive way in which the international community accepts the IDF's exaggerated use of force. We call on political parties and workers' organizations, including the trade unions of the world, to demand a cease fire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces back to the international border.

Israel justifies its massive destruction by claiming that it was attacked first. But if it were truly interested in peace, it could have reached a treaty years ago with Syria , with Lebanon , and, most importantly, with the Palestinian people. All it would have needed to do would have been to withdraw from the areas it conquered in 1967 and recognize the legitimate rights of those peoples.

Without such a comprehensive Israeli withdrawal, there will be neither peace nor stability.
It is time to stop the fighting and begin negotiations on the basis of principles that will guarantee the independence and development of all the peoples in the region.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"It is shameful Tommy, it is shameful"

Sadly the Scottish Socialist Party has suffered very serious damage during the Sheridan libel trial, vindicating the views of those who opposed the issue being brought to court.

Today Tommy Sheridan accused party secretary Allan Green of lying during cross exaination, and Sheridan claimed that the minutes of the executive committee meeting on 9th November 2004 were forged. These are the minutes that Allan McCombes went to gaol earlier this year to keep out of the courts.

Transcript from the BBC:

Mr Sheridan said: "I put it to you the so-called minute is as genuine as a 10 bob note, isn't it?"
"No Tommy, you know it is true," said Mr Green.
Mr Green said: "For you to turn round and accuse the likes of myself of monstrous frame-ups, for any other socialist, never mind one of your standing, it is an appalling thing to do.
"I can hardly believe you are doing this.
"You know that like yourself I have spent a lifetime - my entire adult life - to build up the socialist movement.
"I always carried out to the best of my ability what the party has asked me to do."
He added: "You can lie, accuse me of monstrous frame-ups, none of it the truth. For you to turn round and accuse me of monstrous frame-ups it is shameful Tommy, it is shameful."

Personally I have been very reluctant to draw any judgement about the whole issue, as it is a question for the Scottish comrades to resolve among themselves.

Whatever happens it does not weaken the case for a broad socialist party in Scotland, or the case for an independent, socialist Scotland. Tommy Sheridan and also those he is now accusing of a rather implausible conspiracy against him, have all spent the best parts of their lives, and I’m sure their proudest moments building the SSP.

It is tragic to see those hopes now flapping in the wind due to an egotistical and ill considered court room soap opera. The SSP still represents the best of Scotland, and the example they gave us of left unity, though never perfect, still represents the best traditions of socialist cooperation and solidarity. Whatever happens the comrades in the SSP deserve respect for what they have already accomplished, they deserve solidarity during their current difficulties, and the comrades can count on our continued friendship and support.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Britain Must Act to Secure a Truce in Middle East

Here's a statement by John McDonnell on his John4leader website.

Britain Must Act to Secure Truce in Middle East

We are in danger of witnessing a rapid descent into a widespread war in the Middle East, involving Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iran, unless Britain with other peace allies act swiftly as mediators. Already the loss of innocent lives on all sides in this conflict is mounting hour by hour but the scale of suffering will be immense if the war engulfs the whole region as it now threatens to do.

Following his meeting with George Bush, the Prime Minister seems to be simply following the American line of seeking to blame the current escalation of military action on both Iran and Syria. Whatever the provocation of having soldiers captured, the Israeli response has been commonly acknowledged as totally disproportionate.

In addition the lack of early intervention by the US to seek to restrain the Israeli reaction at the outset leads some to fear that the implication of Iran in the current conflict suits the USA's wider political and military agenda for the Middle East. Britain could play an important role in preventing the further escalation of this conflict and in laying out the terrain for its resolution.

Israel is only influenced in any meaningful way by the US. Britain must now call upon the US administration to make it patently clear that it does not support the present Israeli military action and that consequences for the Israeli/US relationship would follow if Israel persists in its attacks on Lebanon and Palestine.Britain, along with its European peace allies, should now seek a mediating role via the UN. First, to negotiate a ceasefire and subsequently the handing over of prisoners from both sides.There is a possibility that we could assist all parties to this conflict to step back from the brink. But we can only succeed in playing this role if Britain is demonstrably seen to be independent of the Bush administration. Our role on the international stage is diminished by Britain being viewed as a satellite of the Bush administration.

The Ministry for Peace initiative, which I participated in establishing in the UK three years ago, has demonstrated that around the world conflict has been overcome by some very basic techniques of peace making and conflict prevention. It is time that we established at the heart of the UK government a Ministry for Peace, so that we are organised and resourced to assist in preventing any future conflicts like the one we are presently witnessing in the Middle East. You can find out more about the Ministry for Peace at their website.

Marxism 2006

I've survived another Marxism. With help and therapy I can look forward to Marxism 2007 with hope and enthusiasm.

Of course some people have an unambiguously good time at Marxism. Snowball at Adventures in Historical Materialism has a good positive account. The treatment in Socialist Worker is, of course, very positive, but I applaud the opening up of coverage. Rather than a single authoritative voice telling us how good it was, backed up by short snippets of interview, this year they've given the space to several positive but obviously fresh accounts. You can find more critical accounts in Weekly Worker and Solidarity (actually the AWL account is pleasantly honest and balanced), but just as the SWP can come across as having pre-packaged views and conclusions, so can their critics.

Socialist Worker also gives a figure for attendance: 4,100. This is an interesting and positive development for transparency. Before it has always been bigger and better. I treasure the memory of an SWP-blogger last year saying Marxism 2005 was also bigger, but people just weren't necessarily in the meetings. Ah, bless. Last year's Marxism took place in the immediate and disruptive wake of the horrors of 7/7, which must have held numbers down. And last year's Marxism was also the first to be transformed into a long weekend, justified quite naturally by the previous weeks focus on Edinburgh and Gleneagles; however they seem to have decided this is a better format and soon it'll only be the experienced activists who'll remember the dark days of the Tuesday to Friday mornings. In 2004, what with the Respect campaigns in Leicester and Birmingham it was basically only the foreign comrades who gave the thing a semblance of life.

Back to numbers: 4,100. It seemed like roughly the same number as recent years, and that's quite a bit less than the numbers being claimed a few years back. It's harder to judge: the topography of Marxism used to centre it on ULU and the Institute of Education, but it's a bit more dispersed now. The word was that there were unprecdented numbers of young people going: students and school students. Good, but if they've got more first-timers going, those of us not satisfied with the simple bigger and better message have got to ask what about the people who used to go. There's an obvious demographic effect. Despite the wonders of the creche and the obvious effort that the SWP puts into providing this, there's going to be a demographic effect as comrades have children, etc. But there's still an issue: the SWP puts a lot of emphasis on the new, the fresh faces, and very good and invigorating that is too, but political organisation needs to keep the older people with it. Yes, I'm disagreeing with Vladimir 'let the Liberals have the old people over 30' Lenin here. There certainly were old comrades who turned up, partly to meet old friends and comrades, partly to get a political boost; but I was certainly aware of the vast swathes of people who used to go, but no more.

It's interesting to compare Marxism's 4,100 to both the Tolpuddle commemoration with around 10,000 people, but also the far fewer numbers that any other left organisation could muster for a long weekend of political discussion. Please remember this oh worthies of the AWL, CPGB and others. Where but Marxism would the promised introduction to Battle of Algiers by the venerated Giles Pontecorvo be replaced by Saffron Burrows?

What was good about Marxism? Well, the range of non-SWP speakers for one thing. Praise be to Danny 'I'm not in the SWP, I don't shout' Dorling the geographer from Sheffield exposing mythss of segregation in Britain. Paul Gilroy was exceptionally cool in the forum on multiculturalism. The list goes on, imagine my despair at discovering Walden Bello had been replaced by Chris Harman! I missed Bernadette McAliskey, but everyone said how insprinig she was.

Of the non-SWP speakers I think special praise should go to the various Islamic speakers. In the forum on 'Muslims and the left today' the Respect Mayoral candidate in Newham, Abdurahman Jafar was cool and happening, and the other speakers Anas Al-tikriti and Nahella Ashraf (Respect candidate in Manchester) were also excellent: fresh and honest, far away from tired old Marxist rhetoric and convincing in their claim to be part of the left, and that we are at the start of a dialogue and developing relationship. I know this is one of the most controversial issues, but to me its an application of then old principle about revolutionaries being tribunes of the people and that people can and do change in stuggle. Jafar was clear that the engagement with Respect was the start of potential changes.

To continue being heretical I also enjoyed the 'What next for Respect?' 'forum' (yes, okay, rally). Rees and Galloway both gave good rousing speeches, some overlap in their list of positive accomplishments (and I'm sure I was alone in thinking 'if Leicester was so brilliant in 2004, where's Leicester Respect now?'). Both were good on the emphasis on the trade union conference called by Respect in November and even Galloway's hope that Respect could replace Labour as the political voice for working people sounded convincing. Okay, long and difficult way to go, no guarantee of success and lots of reasons for cynicism about both Galloway and the SWP, but good to have 'eyes on the prize'.

Other points: Joseph Choonara on Bolivia gave good background, but clearly wasn't interested in talking about practical solidarity. There seem to be a lot of 'revolutionarytourists' around: the wonders of globalization of course. On the other hand only one comrade made the call for a revolutionary party in Bolivia as necessary for success and that kind of stuck out as a sore thumb. Once upon a time it would have been said in every meeting.

Chris Harman on Cuba: really I went to see if the line had changed, with the firm assumption that if it had, Chris would have been in the rearguard. Well there is a distinct change of emphasis from the old days, a bit more emphasis on the positive and defence of Cuba against US imperialism, but the old underlying criticisms of 'socialism from above' remain - even if 'state capitalism' didn't get mentioned.

There's much more to be said, but let's jump to the downsides. The comrades trying to recruit you are still a pain. Weekly Worker recorded a figure of 121 joining , a bit down from previous years I think, but including two Respect councillors from Tower Hamlets. Good, but how many willstill be members next year? I'm told a firm 'no' puts the recruiters off, but I'm not so sure myself. There's still too much arrogant egotism about the SWP's view of itself. There's still too much triumphalism. There's still a bit too much of people saying the same thing. The rhetoric remains a bit too shallow, 'Neoliberalism' was a bit too much of a mantra. I couldn't face the opening and closing rallies: still expect the level of hysteria to be just too much. But I'd put all these things in the context of what is positive about the event, which remains by far and away the largst and most significant event of its type for the left in Britain.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Tribute to the martyrs

Well. I am just back from camping at Tolpuddle. We took a delegation down from Swindon Stop the war Coalition, and for the third year running we had the only peace movement banner on the march, which is a shame.
What an excellent event the Tolpuddle festival is. Around 10000 people there, nearly all of whom are trade union or left activists. There were also delegations from the Woodcraft Folk. I had my six year old son with me so I was unable to go to any of the political talks, but there were session on climate change and Latin America, and music by David Rovics.
We did a tally of the 40 odd peoplewho came down from Swindon, half of them on the GMB coach, and only 2 of the 40 are in the Labour Party. So although the Tolpuddle march on Saturday is one of the few places where Labour Party banners are out in strength, it is an illusion. The activists in the movement are no longer automatically Labour.
Indeed the huge response to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign stall, and the growing number of Hugo Chavez T-shirts shows that most of the people there are very off message from new labour.

On Sunday I attended the moving wreath laying ceremony at the grave of martyr James Hammett. Peter Hain laid a wreath on behalf of the labour party, and Tony Benn laid a wreath on behalf of socialists. That seemed to sum it up. The red note choir, who are a first class socialist singing group from Bristol, then sang, finishing with a moving version of the red flag. They had adapted the last verse, so it now says Tony has turned our flag blue. This was rapturously received, but understandably there was also a little argument from Labour loyalists.

So this is the conundrum. Those 10000 people are exactly the people who would be the core of any new party to challenge Labour. The Labour Party has driven out or alienated the very people who gave it any meaning. Yet we are as far as we have ever been from offering any alternative that they might identify with. (It is significant for example that there were no Green Party or Respect banners there).

Friday, July 14, 2006

German government supports "collective punishment"

In 1942 Nazi Obergruppenfuehrer Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated in Czechoslovakia. In the next few days, 3,188 Czech citizens were arrested of whom 1,357 were shot. On June 9th armed police surrounded the small village of Lidice, some ten kilometres from Prague and gathered together the entire population in the tiny square. 173 men and boys over 15 were shot, 81 women and children were taken to Chelmno concentration camps and gassed.
Undoubtedly the German authorities would have argued that the caused of this atrocity was the murder of Richard Heydrich. They were merely responding to events.

In 1944, Sturmbannf├╝hrer Otto Weidinger learned that a high ranking German offiecer had been captured by the French resistance, and was likely to be executed. On June 10th, 642 women, men and children were killed as a reprisal in the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane.
Undoubtedly the German authorities would have argued that the starting point for this chain of events was the capture of the German soldier. They would have said the attacks did not start on the German side but on the French side.

It was these events, and other Nazi atricities, that led to Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: Part III : Status and treatment of protected persons #Section I : Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

In response to two israeli soldiers being captured by Helllbollah. (Two soldiers who were being offered for prisoner exchange ands who were not even in personal danger) the Israeli air force last night bombed civilian suburbs of Beirut, or in the pro-Zionist propaganda of the BBC “Israel hits Hezbollah stronghold”. (One can almost imagine Herr Doktor Goebbels desribing the action in Lidice as “hitting a terrorist stronghold”) The BBC admits that the bombing has ”has left more than 50 Lebanese civilians dead since Wednesday”

You would think that the Nazi war crimes would have left some impression on the German government. But today what is German Chancelor, Angela Merkell’s response to the events in Lebanon and Gaza? This is what she said:
“We cannot confuse cause and effect. The starting point is the capture of the Israeli soldiers. ... it must be made clear that the capture [of the soldiers] cannot be tolerated. The attacks did not start from the Israeli side, but from Hezbollah's side. “

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Stop state terrorism

In a news flash a few minutes ago from liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, it was announced that the Israeli Defense Force has threatened to bomb residential districts of Beirut if soldiers captured by Hezbollah are not returned to them. Lst night bridges in Lebanon were sytematicslly bombed, and at 10 childen were among the dead.
The invasion of Lebanon in 1982 by Israel left an estimated 17000 dead.
Is there any wonder that the west becomes the target of terrorism when the British and US governments tolerate military aggression on this scale from the Israelis, while wringing their hands and whining about the need for restraint on “both sides”. The weasel words of that scumbag Kim Howells, speaking for the British government are: "'We urge on the Israeli authorities to respect their obligations under international law and to take all possible precautions to avoid civilian casualties, particularly children. In addition we call for an immediate halt to all rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel.'
What a bold contrast to the language of condemnation that always meets any violence from the oppressed.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Progressive Unionists join Tories?

Back in March the print edition of searchlight reported that Loyalist terror group the UVF was to disband. This month’s edition reports that full disbandment of the UVF seems unlikely, and will certainly not happen before the 24th November deadline for the restoration of power sharing in Stormont.

Earlier this year the UVF were ruled to be in breach of its ceasefire under the Good Friday Agreement, and as recently as the end of May, former North Belfast leader of the UVF, Mark Hancock was shot eight times by the UVF as an internal disciplinary matter. He is a confessed Special branch informer.

So where does this continued violence by the UVF leave the Progressive Unionist Party? The strategic direction of the PUP has been towards community politics, and the PUP has spoken up against racism, and in favour of gay rights, it is oppposed to PFI privatisation. It is worth reading their manifesto..

The last annual conference of the PUP voted to continue the “special relationship” with the UVF. Yet Dawn Purvis, chairperson of the PUP and a researcher at the University of Ulster, has been appointed to the Northern Ireland Policing Board. Even more remarkably, personable PUP leader David Ervine has been invited to join the mainstream Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) group in the reconvened Northern Ireland Assembly. This all seems a bit of a wheeze by UUP leader Sir Reg Empey to gain an extra ministerial post at the expense of Sinn Fein, and ensure a unionist majority in any devolved government. Nevertheless, it has caused all sorts of problem for the UUP, with defections to David Cameron’s Conservative party, including a Down District Councillor, and mutterings against the deal from the UUP’s only MP, Lady Sylvia Hermon.
It is clear what the UUP have to gain, especially as a link up with the PUP gives them a little charisma of menace compared to their bigoted rivals in Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party.

But David Ervine? The PUP are neither fish nor fowl, but there was a bizarre logic in their attempt to articulate the interests of working class people within the framework of wanting the six counties to stay part of the UK. They made great play of the fact that the official unionist parties, the UUP and DUP were all rotary club members in sheep skin coats: Tories in sashes and bowler hats.

I can just about understand why Ervine maintains the link with the UVF, in an attempt to bring the Loyalists in from the cold as part of an inclusive peace process. As the PUP manifesto describes the process: "If we are to achieve a fully functioning devolved democracy all parties will have to embrace the process of transformation. We advocate transformation rather than resolution, as unionism and nationalism are diametrically opposed political philosophies. The manner of how these competing political ideals engage can be transformed to a non-violent one."

But why oh why would Ervine sit with the Tories? It is pure sectarianism, in the literal sense, to keep Catholics out of the government.

missing links

In case you are wondering, the last post on Somalia, sent all the links down to the bottom of the page. I have tried changing font size, and deleting the picture, etc. But can't sort it out.
Something about that posting has buggered up the page format.

Socialist Worker on Somalia

Here is a curious thing. Let us look at two reports about the take over in Somalia by the Union of Islamic Courts. One report from the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) which is an agency of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; and one report from our favourite tabloid Socialist Worker.

From UN Agency the IRIN we read:
The takeover of Mogadishu on 4 June by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) was the most important political event in Somalia in the last 16 years.
It removed a political class of clan-based extortionists and dealers in everything from drugs to people, known as ‘warlords’, which has divided and ruled the country since the collapse of the central state in 1991. Warlordism created one of the world’s most protracted humanitarian crises. In the absence of any significant political, military or humanitarian intervention, Somalia has suffered chronic impoverishment, exodus, displacement and international isolation.
"However, the recent military victory by UIC, triggered by popular revolt against the warlords, achieved what international military intervention and peace talks have failed to accomplish since 1991. Unable to neutralise or control the warlords, the international community ultimately resorted to working with them.

From Socialist Worker we read: “The takeover of the capital, Mogadishu, on 4 June by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) removed a political class of clan-based extortionists and dealers in everything from drugs to people, known as “warlords”. They have divided and ruled the country since the collapse of the central state in 1991.
"The UIC’s military victory, triggered by popular revolt against the warlords, achieved what international military intervention and peace talks have failed to accomplish since 1991.

Unable to neutralise or control the warlords, the Western powers ultimately resorted to working with them. ”

From UN agency the IRIN we read: “Key to the success of the UIC was the fact that it was already an established and accepted presence in local communities, with a demonstrated social welfare policy.
"Apart from bringing security to areas under its control, through its own militia and justice system, it had also set up farms, schools, water points, health clinics and orphanages.

"Although the UIC did not initially have strong popular support, there was a feeling that it upheld moral standards and discipline, and had a unifying and familiar ideology in Islam.”

From Socialist Worker we read: “Key to the military success of the UIC was the fact that it was already an established and accepted presence in local communities, with a demonstrated social welfare policy.
"Apart from bringing security to areas under its control, through its own militia and justice system, it had also set up farms, schools, water points, health clinics and orphanages. Some key businessmen in Mogadishu worked with the Courts.
"Although the UIC did not initially have strong popular support – some were suspicious of its agenda – there was a feeling that it upheld moral standards and discipline and had a uniting and familiar ideology in Islam.”

But the conclusions are different. From UN agency the IRIN we read “In his conversation with chairman Sheikh Sharif, the UN Special Representative stressed the need to respect the ceasefire and to maintain a dialogue.
"He said the chairman had expressed his willingness to work with all parties interested in promoting peace in Somalia. “Dialogue is part of the culture of the Somali people.

I am hopeful that whatever differences exist among the Somalis today can be resolved peacefully. The UN stands ready to assist the peace process in any way possible," he said.”

From Socialist Worker we read the rather different spin; “there is no doubt imperialism has suffered a blow
It is hard to understand this conclusion, there is nothing inherently anti-imperialist about the UIC, any more than the Taliban were anti-imperialist, who after all came to power helped by the Pakistani secret service.

There is no notification in the Socialist Worker article that most of it is lifted straight from an official UN web-site, but it does say: “© Copyright Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original and leave this notice in place

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant

"They made a desert and called it peace" Tacitus, from "Agricola"

A recent report by Human Rights Watch spells out a desperate situation for education in Afghanistan. “Schools are being shut down by bombs and threats, denying another generation of Afghan girls an education and the chance for a better life. Human Rights Watch found entire districts in Afghanistan where attacks had closed all schools and driven out the teachers and non-governmental organizations providing education. Insecurity, societal resistance in some quarters to equal access to education for girls, and a lack of resources mean that, despite advances in recent years, the majority of girls in the country remain out of school. Nearly one-third of districts have no girls’ schools. ”

According to HRW: “The Taliban and allied groups, such as warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami, were responsible for many, but not all, of the attacks on schools and teachers. In other instances, local warlords have carried out such attacks to strengthen their local control. Afghanistan’s rapidly growing criminal networks, many involved in the production and trade of narcotics, also target schools because in many areas they are the only symbol of government authority. "

It is important to note that following the fall of the central Taliban government, the US occupiers deliberately undermined the possibility of a stable replacement government by forming alliances with local warlords, often returning to power narcotics gangsters who the Taliban had driven out, such as Gul Aga in Herat. The security vacuum can be understood by comparing the fact that Afghanistan has one policeman for every 1500 people, only one third the proportion of police in law-abiding Switzerland.

Human Rights watch has described the atrocities: "committed by gunmen and warlords who were propelled into power by the United States and its coalition partners after the Taliban fell in 2001" and who have "essentially hijacked the country". The report describes army and police troops controlled by the warlords kidnapping villagers with impunity and holding them for ransom in unofficial prisons; the widespread rape of women, girls and boys; routine extortion, robbery and arbitrary murder

It is important to remember that the invasion of Afghanistan was carried out on the obscene lie that the Taliban were protecting Bin Laden, even after the government of Mullah Omar had agreed to extradite Bin laden . It is also important to remember that the degeneration of Afghanistan did not occur during the Russian military presence, but in an orgy of destruction by the American backed war lords after the Russians left in 1989, killing more than 50000 in just one year. It was this barbarism that produced the obscurantist Taliban, who managed briefly to impose some stability, but on a society already brutalised.

New Labour politicians spun their webs of deceit to make the invasion seem like a humanitarian intervention, ignoring the proposed extradition of Bin laden that made the excuse for the war hollow. Ignoring the actual track record of the Americans in promoting the killing fields of Afghanistan during the 1990s, New Labour promised that the war would lead to reconstruction. What shabby lies, what betrayal. Nearly five years on, Afghanistan is a post apocalyptic land, the people of Afghanistan, most tragically the women, sacrificed to the sordid ambitions of Tony Blair, who wanted his place in History.

14 October 2001 - John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, said that Britain was determined to "win the peace" in Afghanistan through a massive aid effort and the creation of a democratic, post-Taliban government. Mr Prescott, who was in Moscow for talks on terrorism and the environment, called for the international coalition to be turned into a wider campaign against global poverty once the conflict was over.

05 October 2001 - Jack Straw sent a direct message to the people of Afghanistan promising help from the outside world once the Taliban were overthrown and Osama bin Laden faced justice. In a text broadcast on the BBC World Service, the Foreign Secretary promised generous assistance to provide schools, clinics, roads and secure livelihoods in the future. He said: "Our commitment to the Afghan people is simple and sincere. You have been ill-served by those who made your country a haven for terrorists across the world. … As soon as this stops, the world will work with you to build a better future for you and for your children."

06 October 2001 - Peter Hain "Let's use this great coalition to fight world poverty. The solidarity shown to the US could promote an end to unilateralism and isolationism. The international community must work together to minimise the suffering of the Afghan people and to ensure them a peaceful, stable and free future in their country. That means helping to rebuild Afghanistan after its terrorist bases have been eliminated, not just with food aid but with development assistance for infrastructure, jobs, hospitals, schools and homes."

02 October 2001 - Tony Blair "With every bit as much thought and planning, we will assemble a humanitarian coalition alongside the military coalition "

But in reality, five years after these promises were made, the UN World Food Programme reports that: “over 50 percent of children are malnourished in Afghanistan, while one in three of people living in rural areas are unable to meet daily basic nutritional requirements.”

Monday, July 10, 2006

Water privatisation a disaster in Senegal

Water privatisation has been a disaster in Britain, as infrastructure repairs to fix leaks are given lower priority than shareholders dividends. But this is in affluent Britain. How has water privatisation worked elsewhere?

During the 1980s, the Senegelese government of Abdou Diouf, followed the structural adjustment programmes dictated by the World bank. This fanaticism for privatization reached into even the most strategic state enterprises,and Senegal’s state water company SONES was broken into two and sold off. In the words of African journalist,
Hawa Ba,: “Privatisation, it was said, would be the solution to the well-known dysfunctionality of the sector which was unable to meet populations’ growing needs. But instead of addressing the many well-reported barriers to access to water and electricity, these privatisations only served to render more precarious the position of the most disadvantaged in society. Access to water and to electricity has become more chancy, exacerbated by exorbitant rising costs … … “liberalisation” and “privatisation” fetishised language littered the discourse of decision-makers while at the same time creating a living death for whole populations.”

This is what happened when water was privatized:

Water inequality has increased, with supplies to rural areas being allowed to decline. The state has therefore encouraged discrimination against parts of its own population based upon what was most profitable and conveneient for a private multinational.

Communal fountains under local democratic control that provided free clean water to households, schools and communal facilities have been shut. As a result there was a decline in the use of water for domestic hygiene, and a rise in cholera in Senegal. The communal fountains also played an important social role, and this has been lost.

Schools often have no water now, and children are sent to local houses to get drinks or wash, exposing them to danger, including sexual abuse.

Only 60000 new connections have been made in 6 years, out of a potential of 10 million.

Water quality has declined so that people no longer have confidence that it is safe to drink, and bottled water is now preferred for drinking. Water supplies are frequently cut off for hours or days at a time.

Prices have gone through the roof, with a 40% increase in 2003 alone!

Even the
World bank admits that the business model has been a failure, as private companies have no incentive for providing water to poor rural areas. But their remedy, is even more privatisation and competition, not for the water supplied to be returned to public ownership.

But there is another way. We are fortunate at the moment that Oscar Olivera, who led the revolt against water privatisation in Bolivia in 2000 is on tour in Britain. The revolt prevented the sale of Cochabamba’s water to Bechtel. The tour details can be found

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Defend the Right to Strike

Please send a message of support to 107 members of the Australian union, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) who are facing huge fines or gaol terms for going on strike. Their email contact is

The 107 workers, who are employed on the Mandurah to Perth Rail line are facing fines of up to $22,000 each (£8900), simply for taking industrial action last February. This move opens a new era on industrial relations in Australia, after the new building industry watchdog, an Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), lodged writs in the federal court. The court action is one of the first uses of the savage Industrial Relations legislation recently introduced by John Howard's government, and which saw hundreds of thousands of Australian trade unions take to the streets last year.

Tory prime minister, John Howard, is the most junior partner in the Bush, Blair, Howard alliance who invaded Iraq, and there is clearly a flow of ideas between the three governments. But Australia is also a major regional power, and an important economy in its own right.

The original industrial action was to get their union delegate, Peter Ballard, his job back. Ballard was sacked for seeking to enforce already agreed health and safety conditions. Eighty-two of the 107 face additional fines of $6600(£2700) each.

The charges were made on June 5, follow months of harassment and intimidation of workers involved in the dispute, including interrogations by the ABCC. The remaining 296 workers who stopped work in February still face the prospect of being charged. Since its formation last year, the ABCC has been targeting workers and unions who have taken industrial action over occupational health and safety concerns, in particular, including life-threatening workplace issues.

According to a report in the newspaper, The West Australian, The legal action stems from the workers' 12-day strike, which Contractor Leighton Kumagai said cost it $200,000 a day. The Mandurah railway has at times been paralysed by industrial action, which is partly to blame for the project now running five months behind schedule and forms part of the $200 million in cost overrun claims from Leighton Kumagai against the State Government.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union secretary Kevin Reynolds warned in June last year that the project would be targeted by unions to defend trade union organisation in the construction industry, after some contracts were awarded to a non-unionised firm. Work on the project had also been subject to imaginative unofficial action, so-called "blue-flu" days, where several workers take sick leave at the same time.

Make no mistake, if John Howard's government gets away with criminalising basic trade union activity, then that message will be picked up loud and clear by New Labour here in the UK.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Favourite leftie films

Over the last two or three year’s Swindon Socialist Alliance have had a irregular film night in a local pub. This has been reasonably successful, with us getting more than 70 people to a showing of Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me” for example, and excellent turn outs for documentaries about Argentina, Venezuela and Palestine.

So now we have decided to get a bit more professional, book a series of 6 films in advance, and we have produced 2000 glossy postcards to advertise them.

The next 6 films we are showing are:

Goodbye Lenin
Come and See (Russian film about WW2)
The Edukators
Soy Cuba (Classic 1964 documentary)
Burn! (Marlon Brando film about 19th century slave revolt)
Indefensible DSEi (Indymedia documentary about anti-arms trade protests)

What do you think are the best films for socialists to show, and why?

Labour NEC elections

Ballot papers have now gone out to all individual members of the Labour Party for the NEC elections. This may well be the last election before the next leadership contest, and given Gordon Brown’s enthusiasm for a new generation of weapons of genocide, it is an opportunity for progressive members of the party to give him a slapping.

So it is quite simple. If you are entitled to vote then use it.

As soon as you get your ballot paper vote for Walter Wolfgang. Vice chair of Labour CND, and vice president of CND. It would be brilliant if Walter topped he poll, sending a clear message for no Trident replacement. Wolgang remember was the pensioner bundled out of conference last year for opposing the war!

Then also vote for Mohammed Azam, Ann Black, Gaye Johnston, Chrsitine Shawcroft, and Pete Willsman. Together these make up the Grassroots Alliance slate.

But that still isn’t quite enough, you also need to mandate your conference delegates to vote for Ray Davison (East Devon CLP) for the NCC (CLP section); and for the CAC (General Section) vote John Boughton (T&G).

As I wrote recently, the Labour left seem to have no realistic strategy for advance, but at least these elections give an opportunity to show that even within the Labour Party the hold of neo-liberalism is not complete

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Where to Go for News on Palestine

Here’s where to go for news on Palestine. The last week has brought into sharp focus the inadequacy of mainstream news services for keeping apace with what is really going on in the middle east. The widespread use of the term 'kidnapping' to describe the capture of an Israeli tank gunner manning a military checkpoint betrays the extent to which much of the media are willing to accept the language, the arguments and the versions of event put out by the Israeli government. So where do we go if we want to get good, regular news on the situation in Palestine?

Luckily there are numerous sources that provide very good news, facts and analysis: is probably the best resource on the net. Good news, articles, info, currently a palestine diary happening, excellent analysis of the situation. - likewise an excellent resource. Run by the Israeli organisation Gush Shalom includes a lot of info that you dont get anywhere else about dissidence within Israel and Israeli Palestinian collaboration agaisnt the occupation along with more general news. And contains the brilliant writing of Uri Avneri.

The Palestine News agency ( ). News rather than analysis - updated several times an hour, some irrelevant but a lot that is worth knowing about.

Palestine Red Crescent Society ( ) Not exactly light reading but if you were after light reading you wouldn't have read down this far. Has both current updates and more long term information and stats about deaths, injuries, attacks on ambulances, effect of the wall etc. If you have to speak, right debate on the occupation, this is worth looking at. Reuben

The rise and rise of the SWP bloggers

Given the almost total absence of SWP members on e-mail discussion lists it is an interesting development that there are a few SWP blogs out there. For example; Lenin’s Tomb, Through the Scary Door, Respect blogspot, Dead Man Left and Adventures in Historical Materialism. (apologies to anyone who feels they have been wrongly included or omitted from the list). They are generally of high quality, Lenin’s Tomb is the best and even seems to have semi-official patronage but Through the Scary Door is …. … well, make your own mind up!

So why is there no SWP discussion list, like the successful ones run by
Green Left Weekly or the Labor Party of Pakistan. Certainly the UK Left network can be a badger-pit, but even there sometimes useful discussion occurs – and the Australian and Pakistani comrades show that it is completely possible to run a civilised discussion list. The SWP doesn’t even run an internal list for debate among members.

Going back to 1995, there was once an
IS list. But the central Committee of the SWP issued a prohibition of SWP members using the list after someone posted onto it a shallow critique of the SWP by disgruntled former members. The reasons given at the time were:

i) “Access to the internet, as to any technology, is highly unequal, and conditioned by the bosses' domination of the economy and the state. …. [Internet discussion is] irresponsible gossip by a self-selected and relatively privileged clique” Whether or not this had any substance in 1995, it is clearly less the case now. The pwer of the Internet as a progressive tool can be seen for example by the first class African web-site,
Pambazuka, that has 60000 weekly subscribers.

ii) “Hostile left organisations can … easily penetrate the list and take part in discussions that do not concern them.” All organisations have a right to private debate, but this does not explain the reluctance of SWP members to participate in an open discussion list like that run by Green Left Weekly. The paradigm of the Healy/Grant/Cliff organisations was to provide a self referential closed world where the only information came from official party organs. The Internet has blown that apart, as shown by this weeks copy of
Weekly Worker where some difficulties of Tower Hamlets’ Respect are reported.

iii) “Internet users are, in general, concentrated in universities and in upper-echelon white-collar jobs. Consequently discussions take place on the IS-List from which most comrades are excluded. Debate [should] take place through the party branches and at national meetings and conferences, where all comrades can participate directly or through their elected delegates.” The question of accountability is of course an interesting one, with many SWP members hiding behind ridiculous aliases on blogs, like Morbo, and Rooben. had this argument been valid in 1995, it would still be valid. Indeed the status of the blogs as publications is interesting, because in years gone by members of the SWP have been expelled for starting publications without the permission of the Central Committee (back in the days of ink and paper).

One of the often heard criticisms of the SWP is that there is no debate. I have
argued before that this is a self-serving and generally inaccurate criticism. The emergence of highly successful SWP blogs is in sharp contrast to the fact that the British “kiss and tell sect” the CPGB, who publish the Weekly Worker, and who continually bang on about the SWP’s lack of democracy and debate, do not themselves go anywhere near the blogosphere, and seem to avoid forums for open debate where they lack editorial control.

And yes it does raise questions of accountability. Is “Lenin’s Tomb” an SWP publication? Do Lenin or Meaders speak for the SWP? For example this week “Lenin” renounced in the
comments of Dave Osler’s blog the fundamental principles of the Marxist method, arguing that the dialectic only operates at the level of ideology:
I'm not totally unsympathetic to the idea that a 'dialectical' method could be applied to political economy and that this is in fact what historical materialism involves, but if this is true it … is one in which history is understood as accessible only through language and the dialectical method is one in which a processual perspective is emphasised, and in which bourgeois categories are deconstructed.”

Now I don’t agree with “Lenin” because this seems to mean we would have to reject Marx’s capital. But it is excellent that SWP members are opening up and being prepared to debate. The next step is for the Party to open a discussion list, and for leading members of the SWP to be prepared to debate with others, and without comrades hiding behind silly aliases.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Are the BNP Nazis?

After the local government elections, I wrote an article assessing the current state of the BNP threat. I was hoping this would contribute to the debate about how the BNP need to be combated, and so I was happy that a couple of weeks ago this was reproduced in the AWL’s paper “Solidarity”.

At the
Socialist Unity Network web-site we recently had submitted to us another contribution to the debate, from Andrew McKibben that argues that it is a mistake to describe the BNP as either Nazi or Fascist. As McKibbin describes them, the BNP are “a right-wing populist racist and xenophobic party, of no stable ideological substance beyond that.”

I think that McKibben is correct up to a point. It is certainly possible for people who used to be fascists, like Gianfranco Fini to move into conventional politics. If you actually read the BNP’s publications it is clear that they present themselves as a nationalist and racist party, but not as a Fascist or Nazi party.

However I am not fully convinced by McKibben’s argument, because as I wrote before: “
The programme of the BNP could only be achieved by a huge level of repressive state violence. What is more, the BNP could only gain state power by first removing the obstacles that stand in its way – which would mean physically confronting the trade unions, and BME communities. So the objective direction that the BNP follow is fascist, irrespective of the ideological make up of its membership.”

What is more “any sustained organisation requires a cadre of activists that are motivated by an ideology. The current leadership and cadre of the BNP come from fascist backgrounds, and have the criminal records to prove it. This creates a complex difficulty for Griffin. To turn out the existing cadre to work in elections requires sufficient concessions to them that the BNP is not just a racist, but an active race-hate organisation, which is an obstacle to gaining greater respectability. What is more, the party is unable to have a truly candid debate about the need for a shift without revealing the Nazi ideology of many of its supporters, and even exposing them to prosecutions for incitement to racial hatred.”

In this sense there is still a very clear difference between the BNP and right wing populists like UKIP.

"The Israelis are a thundering nuisance"

Last night, Swindon Stop the War Coalition and CND hosted a public meeting to discuss friendship links with the town of Beit Fajjar, which is a small town of 12000 in the district of Bethlehem. We have a delegation of five going in October to build links.

The speaker was Joanne Moston, who is a health visitor from Cheltenham, and who frequently travels to Palestine to support the Deheisheh refugee camp. The stories she told were truly traumatic. One case she mentioned from when she was in Bethlehem in April this year was of a raid by IDF troops who seized two men, a Moslem and a Christian, saying they were terrorists. Afterwards they said they Moslem man was the one they suspected of terrorism and the other man had been taken by mistake, but both had been killed.

The bodies were not returned for 48 hours, itself an insult, as by religious and local custom they should be buried straight away. But much more shockingly when the bodies were returned the family of the Christian man asked Joanne to come and bear witness to the fact that all his internal organs had been taken, including his eyes, presumably for transplants in Israel, without the consent of the family.

Allan Thipthorpe, a stalwart of the local peace movement, (who has the idiosyncrasy or always wearing his army beret, medals and regimental blazer at peace events) spoke of how when he as serving in Palestine during the late 1940s more than 700 British conscripts were killed by Zionist terrorists. This has never been forgotten by their Veterans Association, and these former soldiers regularly raise money for medical aid for the Palestinian people. Allan made the brillaint observation: "The Israelis are a thundering nuisance".

The media coverage of the Zionist occupation is still extremely biased, and the full scale of Israeli atrocities is minimised by the western media. But Joanne reported how her trips to Palestine have had extensive coverage in the Cheltenham local papers, and even our meeting and planned visit received wide coverage in Swindon and Wiltshire, including GWR radio. Building concrete links at a community level, between organisations, churches, mosques, trade unions, womens’ groups, etc. can provide an important alternative channel for information.

The Palestinians also desperately need the links with the outside world, and the practical assistance we can give. The Palestinian economy has been devastated by closures of the border with Israel, the withholding of $50 million per month of taxes legally owned to the Palestinians by the Israelis, and the wall. The war has also stopped tourism. Not only are links with the outside world vital for their morale, but can also provide outlets for the small scale handicraft production that now sustains their economy. There is a great deal of potential for selling Palestinian craft goods at Churches, Mosques, local fetes and other events.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Jim Jay's new blog

Readers of the Socialist Unity Blog may be interested to learn of the new offshoot, Daily(Maybe) from Jim Jay, who is slightly infamous as the editor of the Socialist Unity Network website.

Jim’s first post is an interesting piece on an anti-corporate action in Cambridge. He raises the issue of whether defending small businesses is progressive. Rather in the spirit we hope to inject into the Socialist Unity Network website, Jim describes the campaign: “The campaign is a clear attempt to re-assert our humanity from a world of commodities and brands. That has shaped the way the campaign has organised itself. Of course, they've done all the usual things - petitions, open letters, every local shop has a poster in the window as well as many houses in the local streets - but there has also been a strong current of let's have fun.”

Jim is not the only contributor to the Socialist Unity Blog to have their own blog as well, for example secretary of Swindon Trades Council Martin Wicks who also edits the trade union activists’ magazine, Solidarity (not to be confused with the AWL’s paper, who pinched the name (I am sure unwittingly))

And I mustn’t forget to mention Mathew’s blog. Which seems to mainly comment on what he has been reading recently, and as he tends to read some very interesting and sometimes off-beat stuff, and has some perceptive things to say about what he reads, is worth checking regularly

I just hope that Jim continues to post in this collective blog as well. Daily? Maybe! :o)

Monday, July 03, 2006

Ex-Sandanista Presidential candidate dies

Nicaraguan Presidential candidate. Herty Lewites, died of a heart attack over the weekend. For those (i.e. most of us) who have not been following Nicaraguan politics recently, it will come as a surprise that there were two Sandanista presidential candidates, former President Daniel Ortega, standing as the officall FSLN candidate, and Herty Lewites, standing for the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista.

It is now 16 years since the FSLN lost power, following the massive US intervention in the 1990 election campaign, that saw the neo-liberal Chamorro elected president, and who then systematically rolled back the Sandanista gains of the 1980s. The FSLN failed to provide firm and principled opposition, and many Sandanista leaders apparently took part in the corporate plunder for personal enrichment. This may seem an outlandish claim, but following the 1996 election of President Arnoldo Aleman, Daniel Ortega entered into a pact with Aleman, to provide personal immunity for any criminal charges against either party leader. This was particularly useful for Ortega as it quashed efforts to prosecute him for the alleged sexual abuse of his step daughter, Zoilamerica Narvaez.

Former FSLN mayor of Managua, and former Tourism minister under Ortega, Herty Lewistes, therefore broke from Ortega last year, firstly challenging within the FSLN for the presidential candidacy, and then when expelled from the party, standing as a “Sandanista renovation” candidate. There is great bad feeling: Lewites has accused FSLN leader Tom├ís Borge of negotiating land deals which will net him close to $4 million and Ortega has labelled Lewites a "Judas" and stated that he will "end up hanged by his own shame."

The US ambassador, Paul Trivelli, was supporting Lewites, and apart from promoting “clean government” Lewites was completely quiet on whether or not he opposed neo-liberlaism. His candidacy was populism without content. As Toni Solo wrote before Lewites’s death: “Here we are a year on in. Lewites programme? No one knows. Would his foreign policy support Cuba and Venezuela? Don't know. What's his energy policy to deal with soaring oil prices? Don't know. What's his agricultural policy? No one can tell you. Health? Education? Um, sorry, no one knows. When the crucial vote came in Nicaragua's legislature on the Central American Free Trade Agreement Lewites refused to clarify his position. Why? Most likely because he supported CAFTA but didn't want to say. When asked about CAFTA just before that decisive vote, Lewites supporters like Victor Tirado and Monica Baltodano refused to answer questions on the issue, as did Lewites himself.”

What is more Lewites party has allegedly received funding from the US body, the the International Republican Institute, to train 5000 party workers for the election. At a recent hustings meeting in Miami Lewites said he would urge his voters to oppose Ortega and vote for the neo-liberal candidate if the election went to a second round.

There has been a great deal of controversy within the North American solidarity movement, with exchanges in Z-Net between Toni Solo on the one hand, andthe Nicaragua Network on the other, over whether the solidarity movement should be supporting a return to government of the FSLN. Whatever the faults of Ortega and however flawed the FSLN there seems very little point in a political solidarity movement that doesn’t take sides between the only credible candidate of the Nicaraguan left, Daniel Oregta, and a neo-liberal ex-Sandanista whose candidacy was promoted by the Bush government, Lewites.

The unfortunate death of Lewites increases the chances of the FSLN returning to power, and opens the possibility of Nicaragua moving politically closer to Venzuela, Cuba and Bolivia.