Wednesday, June 13, 2007


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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tactical victory for Iraqi oil workers'

PRESS RELEASE from Naftana

Dear all,
Below is the full translation of a message received today, Monday 11 June 2007, from Hassan Juma'a, president of the Federation of Oil Union (IFOU) declaring a tactical victory in the ongoing struggle of Iraqi oil workers. On behalf of Naftana, we would like to extend our thanks to all, from across the world, who have campaigned and written to express solidarity with the oil workers and the IFOU. Naftana will continue to relay news ofthe oil workers in their struggle to improve living and working conditions,assert trade union rights and protect Iraq's oil from the proposed oil law,championed by the occupation governments.


Full text of message:

Warm greetings, We would like to inform you of the latest developments in the oil workers strike in the south. Finally the workers have won in in demanding their legitimate rights. That is why an enlarged meeting was held with his excellency the minister of State for the Parliament Affairs lasting five hours resulting in thecessation of all the failings resulting from the conduct of the Iraqi Ministry of Oil and the irresponsible stance of the oil minister.

Most ofthe issues within the remit of the prime minister were dealt with. The meeting was very successful, because the minister represented the prime minister. The activation of the committee formed by the prime minister to deal with the outstanding problems was affirmed.

And after deliberations within our union, the two sides agreed to halt the strike and to use dialogue in dealings to resolve the outstanding issues. On the other hand, all problems were presented to His Eminence Sayyid Sistani, and the Iraqi ministry of oil was reprimanded for its improper conduct.

Therefore, we would like to say to all that the workers will is indestructible. The workers can achieve what they want by the means available to them and their strength. And the oil workers are very strong, because they have a legitimate right. The workers have scored a thirdvictory in demanding their rights.

Long live the Iraqi working class.
Hassan Juma'a Awwad

The Commissar


Last night at our socialist film club we showed the 1967 Russian film, “The Commissar” by Alexander Askoldov. This is a truly great piece of art, but is perhaps slightly inaccessible for those more used to the Hollywood conventions of film making.

The film was a political disaster for Askoldov, being made both on the 50th anniversary of the October revolution, and also completed immediately after the six day war in the Middle East. He was never allowed to make another film, expelled from the Communist party (CPSU), and exiled from Moscow.

Instead of an heroic piece of “Soviet Socialist Realism”, the movie about a Red Cavalry unit during the civil war shows them in a very unglamorous light. What is more it is very sympathetic to the interpretation that the Soviet Union failed the Jews - a politically unacceptable message to the CPSU after Russia's allies in the Middle East had just lost a war to Israel.

Top Russian star, Nonna Mordyukova, plays Klavdia Vavilova a Cavalry Commissar who is pregnant by her lover, another soldier who has been killed in action. Because she has been in the saddle for the last three months, the doctors have told her she is too late for an abortion, so while she has the baby she is billeted on the family of a poor Jewish tailor, played by the brilliant Rolan Bykov.

Suddenly she is taken out of the energetic maelstrom of war, and finds herself in a family leading a slow paced small town life. The movie does not shy away from the fact that the Red Army commandeers a private room for her, as an officer, although this means that three adults and several children of the Jewish family have to share one room.

Slowly she becomes acclimatized to family life, and has the baby – the child birth scenes are especially brilliant and certainly this must be the most imaginative use of cavalry and field artillery in cinema! In her civilian clothes and with her baby she is ashamed to meet her former comrades.

But then the Red Army pulls out of the town, and she must stay behind with the family while they await the advancing white army: the Jews fear a pogrom. As they huddle in the cellar the family keeps their spirits up with the simple pleasures of singing and dancing. But as Bykov asks whether the Jews will ever be safe in the world and can their be an “international of kindness”, Mordyukova replies that the important thing is not the “international of kindness” but a workers’ international that will free humanity not through kindness but through steel determination and discipline. Her words seem like a foreign language to the family.

We then have a flash forward to the holocaust, as the Jews of the town are herded together, and we have a vision of Jews in the uniforms of the Nazi death camps.

Later, the Commissar watches the white armies entering the town, and in a desperately moving scene she abandons her baby so she can rejoin her regiment to stop this rising tide of fascism. The film ends with the Red army advancing across the battlefield, but the abiding memory are the words of the Jewish mother, when they find that the Commissar has abandoned her baby: “What sort of people are they?”

This is not a good film to watch if you want easy reassurance about the Russian revolution, but is a fantastic celebration of the human spirit and parental love. It also shows that war is unspeakable, even when it is just.

It is also worth mentioning the extraordinary score by Alfred Schnittke.

The paradox of the Soviet Union is that such challenging and intelligent cinema came from Russia during this period, but also that the Communist Party would ban such a humane artistic work for being off message.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Panic Attack: art in the punk years

"Wreckers of Civilisation" (Nicholas Fairbairn Tory MP, denouncing the COUM exhibition at the ICA 1976)

Punk kind of passed me by. The social, political and cultural event didn’t have much impact on me as I was around 7 years old and dancing around the living room listening to ABBA (ok, don’t hold that against me….). But having much older siblings who were into the punk scene I was able to witness the changes but memories are still hazy of that period.
So I was interested in the exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery which is celebrating punk and post-punk art (1977-1983). The blurb in the pamphlet talks about it being a tumultuous time with political and social upheavals.

A very insightful book littered with personal anecdotes to read in conjunction with this exhibition is "Left Shift" by John A. Walker.
The first pictures set the scene with the (in)famous iconic artwork of Jamie Reid for the Sex Pistols "God Save the Queen". One of my criticisms of the exhibition is that it’s kinda patchy and lacked coherence. Next to Reid’s work is John Stezaker’s conceptual art ('post-Duchampian art')based on collage and image. Art is this subjective animal and I have to say Stezaker's work never grabs me in anyway. His cut and paste postcards of 1950s London may have been transmitting some radical concept about the metropolis but it just smacked of dressed-up mediocrity but in a new style.

Conceptual art at its height challenged the nature of physical art as a commodity but now I would argue it challenges nothing and fits quite snugly in the bosom of the Establishment where value in terms of financial gain outweighs saying something important. A capitulation to comformity as opposed to radical opposition.
Victor Burgin's work intertwines Freud, Marx and Barthes and I was kinda transfixed by it with his juxaposing text and images (I much prefer his work in this period than his later work as he seems to have flipped over to postmodernism... ).
Though I was fascinated by his photography (UK76 and US77) as he explores urban and human alienation. One picture (Nuclear Power, 1977) is of an ordinary family with this text alongside that challenges the notion of the heterosexual nuclear family and the power dynamics.
What I did find powerful were the images of Stephen Willats, Martha Rosler and COUM transmissions. This is a mixture of video, performance and DIY art. Art that is easily accessible, goes beyond the boundaries, experiemental and is transgressive in its message but also has something to say without sticking rigidly to the usual format and medium. Even now I found their work refreshing and modern.

COUM transmissions - "Prostitution" caused controversy in 1976 and for the ICA 'cos of their performance art that included sexual acts, porn (can porn be subversive art?) and used tampons in their art work. Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti who later became Throbbing Gristle. What gave it the extra kick was photocopies of the newspapers of the day with their “shocked” “utterly shocked”, "moral decline" and “appalled” headlines. Brought a definite smirk to my face.
The issue of alienation is further explored by Stephen Willats in his excellent mixture of collage and DIY photography, "I Don't Want to be Like Anyone Else" (1976) and Martha Rosler's "Secrets from the Streets" (1980).
The lower floors were a mish-mash of work. It was fascinating to see women artists influenced by feminism, Hannah Wilke (So Help Me Hannah, 1979-1985), Barbara Kruger and Linder. The influence of feminism was prevalent in much of the work. Patriarchal norms and subverting the female form using performance art and video. Parallels can be made between the work of German Dadaist Hannah Hoch and Linder as both explored the position of women in society by using collage and photomontage as their medium (Hoch's The Beautiful Girl and Linder's Pretty Girl No. 1 are worth comparing as both depict the many fragmented and contradictory roles women play in this society)

The later post-punk kinda lacked any coherent message again the work of Tony Cragg, Tony Oursler, and graffiti artist of Jean-Michel Basquiat were bunched together without any real analysis. The influence of conceptual art and, for me, the artwork wasn’t saying much and not as clear as previous work. There was this kind of respectability and slickness in its presentation.
Photography of Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman and Robert Mapplethorpe (I like their work a lot) but again what was their significance and how were the pictures chosen? To be able to appreciate their work you need to be able to see a varied collection of work and I do think you really need to see the a lot more of Goldin's "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency" I would be interested to know why these particular photographs were chosen. I can see the logic of including them as they include people who are seen to live on the margins of society, gritty realism, no overly stylised content (a kind of "beauty is in the eye of the beholder") and an exploration of sexuality and sex.

There is a short film directed by Derek Jarman (I saw Jubilee in my early teens and still have a penchant for it) with Jordan (not that Jordan) resplendent in a tutu dancing around what only can be described as a bomb site. A very hazy looking silent film which finishes with the Union Jack burning in the background.
Overall I was disappointed as there was no interpretation of punk instead we were presented with an elastic interpretation stretched beyond belief. Why Gilbert and George were there struck me as strange. On the plus side, I was pleased to see so many women artists.

Where was the graphic design, and DIY stencil art which adorned many punk fanzines and LPs? Where was the fashion or anti-fashion that questioned conformity and identity that was an important part of punk? More questions than answers but if you want to see some interesting art that has something to say then go to this as it makes a change from the stagnating conformity that passes for art nowadays.

Can the forward march of Labour be restarted?


The situation that the left finds itself in after the defeat of the McDonnell bid for the Labour leadership is a complex one. A bit of a debate has broken out about this around a statement issued by Socialist Resistance (SR) This was published on Liam Mac Uaid’s blog :

The key passage is: “McDonnell’s defeat throws the Labour left into serious crisis. No spin can hide it. The project of reclaiming the Labour or the idea that the Labour Party is a fruitful arena for the left to work in have been dealt a devastating blow.

“All this has implication for Respect, which should be taking the initiative to open or re-open a dialogue with those on the left who are currently not in Respect as to how they see the way forward.

“The Morning Star and the CPB are a case in point. They are likley to find it increasingly difficult to cling to a policy of reclaiming Labour. Apparently a new discussion has already opened up on this internally in the CPB. The Morning Star had already called a conference in June on “Politics After Blair” at which the issue will now be unavoidable.

“But Respect needs to be open and flexible in this situation to any new forces from the Morning Star or the trade union left. It should do whatever is necessary to ensure that new forces have space to make their influence felt. If it can do this it could break it out of its current impasse and open up a new stage of development.
“Respect’s task in this process is to turn the tide of politics back towards the left. Rebuild ideological and practical opposition to the market. Work with the left in the unions to build an independent pluralist left alternative alongside the struggle to regenerate the unions and rebuild trade union strength and organisation.”

To which I posted a comment to the effect that SR are making two mistakes: i) in not understanding that Respect is not a vehicle around which left unity can be built; and less explicably ii) that SR seem to completely fail to understand the political perspective of the CP.

I concluded my initial remarks by saying that currently “the building blocks for any serious alternative to Labour are utterly absent, but where the situation isn't hopeless either.”

Given the undemocratic manoeuvrings in and around Respect, the media galavanting of George Galloway, and the dispersal of the layer of left social democrats who had aggregated around the Socialist Alliance in various parts of the country, then I would characterise Respect thus: “Who is Respect? Galloway or the SWP? Anyone else? Will either of those forces play the productive role you are calling on them to play? If there is no actually existing force within Respect who will steer the organisation to play the role you think it could play, then how could it happen?

“Even were the SWP or Galloway to have a damascene conversion, would anyone on the activist left trust them? No-one is going to join Respect, or particularly want to work with them. The whole project is basically an embarrassment now.

“If we are looking for a left unity project, then we have missed the boat. The wave of left activists who left the labour party after Clause IV and over the Iraq war could have been attracted to an organisation that respected labour movement norms of behaviour. But were never going to be attracted to respect.”

SR are utterly self delusioonal if they believe that the CP or any significant left from the unions would touch Respect with a barge. Even were the Political Committee of the CP so minded, and I have no reason to think they are, then the membership would probably not agree to it.

The failure of McDonnell’s campaign has produced unhelpful knee-jerk reactions from Respect and the Socialist Party that the Labour Left should join them in their equally unsuccessful campaigns outside the Labour party. They remind me of the mayor of Amity, swearing that the water is safe. For example Thornett writes: "It¹s right to say to the Labour left, and those like the CPB (and some of the trade union left) who have clung to a Reclaim Labour policy for so long that after the McDonnell collapse the only rational conclusion in the cold light of day is that the Labour left has no useful future in the Labour party. There is no point in saying anything else."

In fact this approach is completely misguided. Instead of looking at whether we can reconstitute the greatly diminished left around already flawed projects, we need to take stock of the current political situation.

The overwhelming features are i) that the right within the Labour Party are utterly triumphant, and their victory is structurally irreversible. ii) The Labour party has failed to make the same shift to the right with its electoral base – the enduring progressive and social democratic attitudes of labour voters was well described recently on the SWP blog, Lenin’s Tomb ; iii) that the far left have failed to break that progressive base away from electoral loyalty to the Labour party; iv) the unions – on the whole - maintain ideological and political opposition to New Labour values, as can be seen by the way the unions make the running in opposing PFI, Academies and private equity. v) the structural problems of the unravelling British state.

So how can we seek to harness the positive aspects of the current situation to strengthen the left?

Alan Thornett has replied to me and asked whether I think Respect’s genuine electoral successes are the “wrong type of voters”. In a sense they are, but not in the sense he implies. Respect has done well particularly with that minority of voters for whom the war is the overriding political issue, but for the majority of the working class that is not the case, and opposition to the war has been subsumed into the general cynicism about politics.

This is where SR’s misunderstanding of the CP’s position is clear, because the CP are talking some sense over this issue:

As Robert Griffiths, the CP General Secretary: recently wrote : “But what is needed now more than ever is for the trade union movement, once again, to take on its historic responsibility to ensure the existence of a mass party of labour. For all the assistance that socialists and communists can render, the unions alone have the human, financial and organisational resources, as well as the class interest, to take the necessary steps.

“Together with the non-sectarian left, they need to work out a political strategy which takes account of current realities. For example, most major unions remain affiliated to the Labour Party and are unlikely to leave it in the near future.
“The first steps in this direction might be for all the major unions to affiliate and participate fully in the Labour Representation Committee. Deals between union leaders in smoke-free rooms to win resolutions at Labour Party conference are not enough. The active involvement of unions and their members in the LRC would be the clearest declaration of political intent.

“The LRC could itself go the extra mile and allow full membership status to socialist organisations including the Communist Party, respecting their right to participate independently in elections in return for an agreement not to campaign for the dismantling of the Labour Party through further union disaffiliations.
“In their relations with the Labour Party, unions should stop all financial, logistical and political support for MPs who consistently vote against key union policies. “

SR are correct to highlight the Morning Star conference as important, not least because the CP still able to punch above their weight, and alongside John McDonnell, we also have Ken Livingstone and Jon Cruddas attending. At the deputy leadership hustings at GMB congress last week Cruddas came out in favour of starting to renationalise public utilities.

The Labour Left were crushingly defeated in the PLP, but the McDonnell campaign has gathered together a nucleus of activists, who are less isolated and more motivated than they were before the campaign. It is as fruitless for us to argue with then that they should leave the party as for them to argue we should join it – comrades need to come to their own conclusions.

The way forward is for all the left, inside and outside the Labour party, to promote the trade unions in exercising their own political voice. By and large, the unions will not abandon their stake in the labour party until they have exhausted its historical usefulness. But currently they are not making enough demands on the party, and so not testing the usefulness of the link.

The Labour Representation Committee could become a vehicle for the unions to exercise collective political voice and if a substantial section of organised labour is to draw the conclusion that a party of labour needs to be refounded, as they effectively did in 1931, then the LRC could be the body around which that debate tales place.

Of course there are serious obstacles, not least of which is the LRC’s requirement for Labour Party membership, which is a serious obstacle to many grassroots trade unions and community activists. But again the way forward is for local trade union bodies to affiliate and open a dialogue about being able to send delegates who are not individual LP members.

In the meantime, we have largely missed the boat in England of building an electoral alternative to New Labour. There may still be a case of standing against Labour, but this can only be done by building grassroots links first, not by building the roof before the walls like Respect and the CNWP have done.

There is serious work that can be done, but the vehicle for that work is not Respect nor the CNWP, the focus remains where it perhaps always should have been, with organised Labour in the mass organisations of our class.


Last Saturday’s
“Enough” march in solidarity with Palestine was a reasonable size, perhaps 7000 or 8000, would have been my judgement based upon comparison with a reasonable home attendance for Swindon Town FC. However, the Morning Star claimed 20000, which seems a bit optimistic, but they may have had a better view then I did. In particular it was good to see banners from a number of twinning groups, showing the gradual spread of very practical solidarity work, supporting Palestinian towns and communities. Just sending the photos of the demo to our twinning partners in palestine helps them know they are not forgotten.

Given the significance of the 40th anniversary of the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights it is perhaps surprising that more emphasis wasn’t put in this demo, but it seem to have become slightly overshadowed by the 24th June demo in Manchester. In the end just eight of us came down from Swindon.

The British left was there in all its farcicality. A naive observer would think that we must be so strong to support such a diverse range of publications.

And London is a weird place

By making my way to a pub in Whitehall, for refreshment after the demo I was in place to see 500 naked cyclists going past, apparently something to do with opposing car use.

Then on the way to Embankment tube station I was privileged to see the bizarre spectacle of an Orange march, with assorted nut-jobs from all parts of these fair islands wearing their bowler hats and sashes, swaggering and beating big drums. When Gordon Brown talks of British values, this is presumably not what he means? But what else is there about Britishness? A fictitious national identity to forge together our island nations into an imperial project of bigotry, conquest and plunder.

We were told off by the police for mocking them, and I was told I could be arrested for pointing at a sweaty middle aged fool in a suit with a union jack clown hat and asking if he was part of the master race. Even under new Labour I am not quite sure what legislation this is against.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Further update on Iraqi oil workers' strike...

Press release from Naftana:
The president of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), Hassan Juma’a has informed Naftana* at about 3.30 PM London time (Friday 8th June 2007) that the arrest warrants against the leaders of the Federation have not been withdrawn, and he made an urgent appeal to world trade unionists and the anti-war movement to step up the solidarity campaign with Iraq’s oil workers and trade unionists.

Hassan Juma’a said “the arrest warrants, issued by the prime minister’s office, are still in force, despite the Federation’s decision to postpone the strike till Monday 11th June to allow for further negotiations.”

US jet planes were buzzing the skies of Basra as he spoke to Naftana on the phone. He added that Iraqi army tanks and other forces were still besieging workers in Sheiba, in Basra governorate, but that the workers will resume the strike on Monday if their demands were not met.
(The pic is of Hassan Juma'a Awad with Ewa Jasiewicz)

Pakistan's "No 1 terrorist" protected by Britain?

There has been remarkably little coverage in the British press of the fact that Imran Khan the former international cricketer, is using the British courts to try to bring Altaf Hussain, head of the semi-fascist Muttahida Qaumi Movement, to justice for the massacre of 42 democracy protestors in Lahore on May 12th. Khan is using the well known human rights lawyer, also called Imran Khan.

According to Pakistani paper, the
Daily Times:

“Three weeks ago, gunmen opened fire on a rally supporting Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, triggering bloodshed that left 42 people dead. Khan along with lawyers, human rights activists and opposition parties accuses Hussain of orchestrating the carnage from his residence in London. “The entire incident was planned. No British citizen is allowed to sit in London while directing terrorist operations abroad, so why is there an exception for Altaf Hussain?” said Khan, describing the MQM as “a fascist movement run by criminals”. “

As Imran Khan has pointed out: “The British government is involved in a war against terror but is giving Pakistan’s No 1 terrorist sanctuary”.

For the past 16 years, Hussain has lived in self-imposed exile in the UK initially as an asylum-seeker and currently as a British citizen. He fled to London to escape from criminal prosecution in Pakistan He is now based in an office block on Edgware High Street in north London, from where he rules his party by phone apparently directing his closest lieutenants in long, late-night conversations.

But Hussain does not fit the media profile of a terrorist neatly enough for the British press, or the British government to be interested. His party, the MQM tries to project an image based on secularism, economic development and support for the “war on terror” since entering a coalition government with President Pervez Musharraf in 2002, himself an Ally of Britain and the USA.

In reality the MQM has always been liked to extortion, gun smuggling and international crime networks, it is also an ethno-linguistically defined supremacist party, representing the Urdu speaking community who fled to Pakistan following partition in 1947.

So why is New Labour, usually obsessed with terror, so quiet? Why is the British press so quiet about a murder gang being allegedly orchestrated from Britain against democracy protestors ?

Could it be because Altaf Hussain’s party is included in President Mussaraf’s government?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Update on the Iraqi oil workers' strike....

Update from Hands Off Iraqi Oil website about the strike:

"Naftana members spoke to IFOU leader Hassan Jumaa Awad today who alerted the support group to an arrest warrant issued by Prime Minister Maliki's office. The warrant names four leaders of the Federation including Hassan Jumaa Awad and demands their arrest for 'sabotaging the Iraqi economy'. The Federation is asking for unions and organisations world wide to support them in their unfulfilled demands and to protect them from repressive measures.

Please send faxes and emails of support for the union to Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and Oil Minister Dr Hussein al Sharastani. There is a model letter on the website".

Hassan Jumaa Awad: "One person from the Ministry of Oil accompanied by an Iraqi military figure came to negotiate the demands. Instead it was all about threats. It was all about trying to shut us up, to marginalize our actions," Awad said. "The actions we are taking now are continuing with the strike until our demands are taken in concentration."

There seems to be a total media blackout about this strike in Britain. We need to show our solidarity with these strikers as there's a strong possibility that brute force will be used to smash the strike by killing trade unionists.

Migrant Workers To Vote on Strike Action at Roadchef Services

Roadchef’s withdraws five times a day staff transport costing £150,000 per annum to M3 service station with motorway only access and no public transport links

Roadchef's withdraws five times a day staff transport costing £150,000 per annum to M3 service station with motorway only access and no public transport links

GMB Southern Region has given permission for an industrial action ballot to be held for GMB members employed by Roadchef on the service station between junctions 8 and 9 north of Winchester. The dispute is over the withdrawal of coach transport to and from the site for staff from June 9th 2007.

The coach travels from Southampton and picks up at Eastleigh and Winchester to the service station north and the service station south and then back to Southampton. It takes an hour to travel from Southampton to the service station south. There is no interchange between the service station north and the service station south and the only access to these two service stations is from the motorway and there is no public transport links whatsoever. The service operates five times a day at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., 2 p.m., 10.p.m. from Southampton and 7 p.m.from service station north back to Southampton. The service is used by over 90% of the 80 staff who are mainly migrant workforce who are mainly from Polandand Portugal. The overwhelming majority of these staff are GMB members. The company has had difficulty recruiting staff to work at this remote service station and had to lay on transport to attract a workforce.

The employers have been threatening to withdraw the service on the grounds that it is costing them too much since February of this year. The staffs have been in a state of uncertainty for almost five months. On the 17th May 2007 the company have given formal notice that the transport service will be withdrawn as of the 9th June 2007. After that date staff will have to make their own arrangements to get to work. Management have offered staff £5.80 a day towards the cost of travelling over 70 miles round trip each day on the motorway. The only way staff can get to work is by road transport and 90% of the staff do not own cars and could not afford to buy and run them since they are low paid workers.

Negotiations between the company and GMB at local level have failed to reach agreement and the union faced with the unilateral withdrawal of the service on 9th June are now proceeding to an industrial action ballot to secure the reinstatement of the essential staff transport. This is because members who are unable to get to work will be deemed to have dismissed themselves.

Gary Cook, GMB Organiser said, "This is a cowardly attack by an already profitable company on some of the most vulnerable workers in the UK on the grounds of reducing the cost of an essential transport service just to boost profits. GMB will defend our members and we will respond to this attack. GMB will get overwhelming support from our members for action to solve their problem of getting to and from work.

GMB want to meet the owners Delek to sort out this problem. We want them to maintain the transport service until we arrive at a solution."

Posties vote for strike.

Postal Workers Back Strike Action
Results announced at the CWU's annual conference in Bournemouth:

Royal Mail Pay:
Yes: 66,064 (77.5%)
No: 19,199

Post Office Ltd (Counters):
Yes: 2740 (73%)
No: 993

Cash In Transit:
Yes: 545 (66%)
No: 283

Postal workers have voted strongly in favour of taking industrial action over pay, in what would be the first national postal strike since 1996. However the union seems to be using the ballot result as a bargaining chip, rather than showing seriousness that they will fight.

According to Deputy General Secretary, Dave Ward: "This yes vote shows absolutely clearly that Royal Mail workers have rejected the company's business plan, the company's leadership and the unacceptable pay offer. Royal Mail leaders say they listen to people; this is the clearest message they have ever had. Royal Mail has to listen and return to serious negotiations."

But he goes on to say: "Because we care about the service there will be no immediate announcement for strike action – we want an agreement – not a strike for the sake of it. So we will give Royal Mail a further opportunity to back-off from their cuts and come back to the negotiating table with a fresh approach."

The dispute is partly about Royal Mail's 2.5% pay offer. A series of walkouts will now be held by about 130,000 CWU members unless new talks can lead to a breakthrough in the dispute. But as Dave Ward points out: "The key issue in this dispute remains the unacceptable cuts in postal services – cuts in postal jobs - and attacks on our members’ terms and conditions. Royal Mail’s plans include 40,000 job losses – later deliveries - reductions in collections – reductions in weekend service. The closure of delivery offices and mail centres – and the destruction of the rural and crown office post office network."

But as I have pointed out before, the underlying issue is whether or not the CWU stands up for the idea of defending Royal Mail as a public service. So-called “liberalisation”, opening up the publicly owned Royal Mail to competition, was introduced in January 2006, as a result of EU legislation, but the free market zealots of New Labour decided to deregulate three years earlier than competitor countries. The response to this from the CWU was revealing. Billy Hayes complained “We all know that postal liberalisation is coming, but the CWU cannot understand why a British regulator [has placed] the nation’s postal service at a competitive disadvantage” (emphasis added)

All along the CWU has accepted that liberalisation and competition could not be opposed, and therefore even if Royal Mail does stay in the public sector, it will be subject to market pressure. So it will be run as a business not as a public service.

The CWU needs to take a political stance against liberalisation, and demand that Royal mail continues to run as a public service. This is a long haul argument, but is one that the RMT has effectively mounted over renationalisation of the railways. The advantage is the not only can we start to turn the tide over the political idea there is no alternative to the market, but it would make the workforce more confident and inspired to fight. It is never a good way to fight, to first concede that your opponent is correct in principle!

The Royal Mail's plans to respond to market forces, "Shaping the Future" were accepted last year by the CWU. But the inevitable consequences of the scheme are now becoming clear.

Given the liberalisation and competition then management will be determined to stand firm. The posties have a real fight on their hands, and the union's leadership needs to show the required determination. If not then the grassroots activists need to prepare to take the lead themselves.

Why we need the boycott

Some of the discussion about the proposed academic boycott of Israel has missed a crucial point. For example, the Guardian reports it as already having started: “The boycott was launched by the UCU, which represents more than 120,000 academics, at its inaugural conference.” But there is no boycott, only a decision to debate whether there should be a boycott.

The motion was passed with a decisive majority at the UCU conference precisely because of the way it was phrased. The motion requires the union to hold a debate about having a boycott in every college and university up and down the land.

Therefore, those who seeking to overturn the motion in the name of academic freedom are in reality seeking to suppress the debate which is being proposed, and disempower the lecturers from debating the question of Palestine.

What is true is that if/when the union does pass a resolution for a boycott the new General Secretary Sally Hunt has pledged she will try to overturn it with a ballot of all members.

That’s a further reason why activists need to ensure the debate involves as many members of UCU as possible. The very process of having the debate with union members is an excellent contribution to raising awareness of the plight of the Palestinians, and puts further pressure on Israel.

The Jewish Week , a New York newspaper, accuses those advocating the boycott of anti-semitism and quotes Nachman Ben Yehuda, dean of the faculty of Social Sciences at Hebrew University in Jerusalem saying: “What does it mean to boycott the Israeli academy? It means to boycott Jewish professors. We need to put this on the table”

But there is not question of academics being boycotted because of their Jewishness, it is the institutions that are being targeted, because of the exceptional nature of the forty year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

According to Asaf Wohl, writing on the Ynet news site says: “One of the official reasons for the boycott on the Israeli academy is the occupation. Isn’t it ridiculous to hear such criticism from the citizens of a country that sends its army to the other side of the earth just to keep under its colonialist patronage two arid scraps of land in the middle of the ocean? From the citizens of a country that refuses to return Gibraltar to its legal owners? Not to mention its soldiers who are fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

However, the occupation of Palestinian lands is exceptional and unique in the modern world because of the question of the settlements. Israel is seeking to illegally annex East Jerusalem despite the fact that international law is now unequivocal that territory cannot be illegally acquired through conquest, and there are half a million colonists illegally living in the new Zionist towns and settlements in the West Bank.

The exceptional nature of these settlements, the land grab that they represent, and the systematic destruction of the Palestinian economy and civil society that they cause require pressure to be brought onto Israel.

The EU and USA have sanctions against the Palestinian Authority freezing funding, because the elected Hamas government does not recognise Israel. The symbolic issue of Hamas's refusal to acknowledge Israel is considered more important that the actualy existing failure of Israel to respect the territorial integrity of Palestine.

As the governments of the west have no intention of pressurising Israel, it falls upon civil society, and particularly the trade unions, to apply measured and targeted sanctions on Israel. As Kamel Hawwash, the only British Palestinian delegate to the UCU conference wrote in a letter to the Financial Times: "The mere discussion of boycotts took the debate on to the next (and in my view) necessary level. ... I am very pleased with this as a British Palestinian academic and I look forward to following the debate over the coming 12 months. I see the decision of the UCU as an opportunity for Israeli society as a whole and not just academia, to come to a historic realisation that they will only achieve peace and security when the Palestinians have their due rights and there is an independent, confident Palestinian state living side by side with Israel and not inside Israel."

The proposed boycott is in the interests of justice,and without justice there can be no peace.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Harriet Harman: still desperately seeking deputy leadership

Lucky old me, I received this morning a leaflet from Harriet Harman's election campaign for Deputy Leader. She plays up her left-wing street cred ("legal adviser to the women in the first equal pay strike" and also "the two-year long union recognition at Grunwick"). And her special pitch is that she is a woman. Well, so is Hazel Blears and neither one will be getting my vote. But the icing on the cake was the quote from Glenys Kinnock:

"It is unthinkable that the Labour Party should elect a deputy leader who isn't a woman. That woman has to be Harriet because she has that empathy with women and families"....

And it was the "empathic" Harriet who abolished the lone parent rate of Child Benefit.....

More cheek by Jowell...

Well, it seems that Tessa Jowell has lied through her pearly whites as the Big Lottery Fund will cut £120m from its programmes. What? A New Labour politician lie... surely not..? Ok, economical with the truth...

So much for the promises she made that the voluntary sector would be “protected” from the effects of the extra £425m contribution the BLF made to the 2012 Olympics. The BLF are making up the financial raids by cutting the funding of two programmes. One of the programmes up for the chop is specifically aimed at disadvantaged young people but hey, this is New Labour and when it comes to young people it is case of victimising, stigmatising and ASBOing the little blighters!

And let’s refresh our memory at what Jowell said in March this year: “we have agreed with the Big Lottery Fund that resources for the VCS would be protected from this transfer. The amount going to the VCS will therefore continue at the levels planned.”

The Big Lottery Fund has declined to confirm or deny the proposed cuts before being discussed at its country committees in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

And I am sure that this level of cuts will continue. But hey, don’t despair as your local community-based organisation goes down the drain due to being cut to the bone, it is all for a good cause…watching a bunch of athletes run round a track.

Money well worth spent indeed, eh Tessa?!!

NB: The new Olympics logo is causing controversy (you can rate it on the BBC website..personally I don't think it deserves the wooden spoon deserves far worse!) and even Ken Livingston has given his tuppence halfpenny on the "catastrophic mistake" which, btw, cost £400,000. This cut and paste garish collage (they coulda bought the materials for a fiver at WH Smith) is about as exciting and stunning as Kate Moss's summer collection (note to Kate: the strappy grandad vests are a real no no and soooh last year...).

My own cut and paste Olympics design would have been a simple drawing of someone flipping their middle finger with the prosaic though good old fashion slogan: "Fuck the 2012 Olympics" and cheap at the price as well.

Dunno, could catch on and maybe indulge in a bit of graffiti art (eat ya heart out Banksy).. Now, where's my spray can..?

Pakistani socialist arrested again

Leader of the Labour Party of Pakistan, FAROOQ TARIQ, has been arrested again by police. This is in the context of a continuing crisis for the government of General Musharraf

Farooq’s lawyer explains the current situation:

•Police has no detention orders (up till now) for him, so we can say the arrest is very illegal.

On MOnday he was initially detained in Hurbancepura police station
from 4:00 am to 10:00 pm. Many civil society activists visited to him
including Joint Action Committee and Pakistan Social Forum's officials.

•At 10:00 pm Tuesday he was shifted on unknown place by the police.

•By a provision of the law, within 24 hours of the arrest police have
to produce the arrestee with the statement of alligation/alligations or some evidences to the duty session Judge. After the arguments by the lawyers and judgment, Judge may send him to jail or retain him with the police for further investigation.

•Now the limit of 24 hours is crucial, to avoid the provision of law
police shifted him to another unknown place before the 24 hours are passed.

•Police officials are denying providing any information or legal status to anybody regarding Farooq.

•A habeas corpus petition against the police by the Lahore Bar
Association is in process.

•To day SHO provide some false statements/allegations verbally before
the Judge and did not produce Farooq as per notice given by the court.

•The Court passed fresh orders to Police Superintend of the region to
produce Farooq tomorrow with the allegations or detention orders by the interior ministry. Now the date 07-06-2007 would be important in this regard.

•All District Bar Associations of Lahore, High court Bar Associations, Media Associations, Political Parties and civil society organizations are in solidarity with us.

Rifondazione row over Cuba

Tensions in Rifondazione Comunista, the Italian hard left party were already high following the support of the party leadership for maintaining Italian troops in Afghanistan, as the price of maintaining the L'Unione coalition in government. As a consequence they have done badly in the recent round of local elections, losing between 20 and 50 percent of their own votes from last year.

Now there is a big row brewing over Cuba.

It started with two articles by Angela Nocioni on the 31st May in the party's daily paper, Liberazione, which attacked the Cuban government, the Five Cubans imprisoned in the US, and Giustino Di Celmo, an old Italian, whose son was killed by Posada Carriles in 1997 in a terrorist bombing in Havana.

This produced a huge response from readers, and on the Internet. For several days running, Liberazione has been publishing entire pages of letters against those articles.

On the 5th June, there was a letter by Marco Consolo, who is in charge of the Latin American desk in the International dept of the PRC, who says that the paper is breaking with the party over the question of Cuba.

However, both the paper editor, Piero Sansonetti, and some party heavyweights like Rina Gagliardi have come out on the side of Nocioni.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Solidarity with striking Iraqi oil workers'

Oil workers in Basra went on strike yesterday. The Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) was set to enter its second day of strike action today. The TUC has sent a message of support to the striking oil workers. There is the EDM 1180 that needs supporting so please contact your MP and also raise the matter of the striking oil workers' in your union.

They need your solidarity at a time when the Iraqi oil is to be ripped off, if the US/UK governments get their way, by the Western oil companies.

Deputy leadership candidates interview

Socialist Campaign Group News has conducted an interview with each of the six contenders for the Labour Party deputy leader.

Jon Cruddas comes over as by far the best candidate, not only in terms of policy content but because he answers the questions clearly without any beating round the bush.

Should the government halt further privatisation in the NHS?
Jon Cruddas: Yes. I’ve called for a moratorium on private sector involvement in the NHS. I think we urgently need to take stock of where we are and what is and isn’t working. I also think that the pace and scale of reform has left the NHS and the people who work in it reeling.

In order to tackle the gender pay gap, do you believe the government should legislate for mandatory pay audits?

Jon Cruddas: Yes. I was disappointed that the Prosser Commission didn’t recommend it. There is an enduring 17 per cent gender pay gap.

Should Trident be replaced by a new generation of nuclear weapons?
Jon Cruddas: No. I voted against Trident. Trident and any upgrade are relics of another era. The events of July 7 2005 demonstrate that we face very different security threats.

Is the government pursuing the correct policy in Iraq?
Jon Cruddas: It is withdrawing troops but I think we need to review whether that is being done speedily enough. My view is that they should be drawing in multilateral forces and using diplomacy to try and find a settlement to the whole Middle East problem.

Should the government reject the hostile campaign of the US administration towards the Hugo Chávez government in Venezuela, which has overseen enormous social progress that has been repeatedly endorsed by the Venezuelan electorate?
Jon Cruddas: Chavez heads a democratically elected government which is doing amazing things for the poor. Any interference by the US or any other state should be rejected.

In contrast none of the other candidates gave a clear answer about privatisation of the NHS. Blears and Benn rather mendaciously redefined the issue as if the NHS cannot be privatised if “treatment free at the point of use” is still supported. Peter Hain defended his us of the private sector in Northern Ireland. Alan Johnson said: “Private innovation and competition can be beneficial”

All of the candidates except Jon Cruddas support nuclear weapons. Benn argued: “In the differently dangerous world we now live in, I don't think we should give up our deterrent.”, and he cheekily said that Trident replacement was necessary because it was a manifesto commitment.

On the question of Chavez, Hilary Benn thinks the real issue is falling into the trap of anti-Americanism; and Hazel Blears lectured the Socialist Campaign Group over the need to stay on the “centre ground” of British politics. Alan Johnson clearly believes that Britain’s relationship with the USA is too important to jeopardise: “Britain's relationship with the US will be led by Gordon Brown, but I will support him in any way I can. Whilst Gordon is wanting to maintain a strong relationship with the US, I firmly believe that he will not shy away from any issue, such as this, in private.”

All the candidates expressed support for extending council housing, but Alan Johnson worryingly said: “Borrowing against an authority's rental income could be a source of funding. ” I have a suspicion that the Brownite right are contemplating allowing local authorities to set up ALMOs themselves that can borrow money at commercial rates – so they will be publicly owned commercial companies.

TUC response to the Freud Review

The TUC has just published their response to the Freud Review, "Reducing Poverty, Increasing Support".

Their response makes two main points:

"Benefit claimants, including disabled people and lone parents, need extra support to help them to get jobs, not the threat of penalties".

"There is no need for privatisation or contracting out of services currently provided by Jobcentre Plus. We pay particular attention to some of the problems that may follow from contracting out to faith organisations".