Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Thank you for the victory!



by New Worker correspondent

“SPASSIBO za pobedu!” (Thank you for the victory” and “Slava geroyam” (glory to the heroes) were the chants that rang out loudly from hundreds of Russian voices in south London on Saturday 9th May.
They were saluting Russian and British veterans of the Second World war at a massive ceremony at the Soviet War Memorial in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park last Saturday, 9th May, to celebrate the victory of the Red Army over the military might of Nazi Germany – and to remember the 27 million Soviet citizens who lost their lives in that titanic clash.
Andy Brooks at the Memorial
This is an annual event but this Saturday was special as it marked the 70th anniversary of the end of that terrible war and coincided with a massive grand parade in Moscow, which included a “March of the Immortals” – hundreds of thousands of people marching through Red Square carrying photographs of family members who had given their lives to defend the Soviet Union against the Nazis.
Most of the crowd came from London’s Russian community but it was a very mixed assembly. There were veterans of that war from Britain and a large party who had come from Russia.
There were local dignitaries and ambassadors from many of the former Soviet republics and this year for the first time a delegation from the embassy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea led by the ambassador Hyon Hak Bong.
There were people from Second World War re-enactment groups in authentic Soviet uniforms.
And there were communist, socialist and friendship groups, including for the first time Alain Fissore and Stefano Rosatelli from the London section of the Italian Partito Communista, CND veteran Bruce Kent – and of course a group from the New Communist Party led by general secretary Andy Brooks.
The event opened with welcoming speeches from the local mayor and the Government, represented by the Admiral Lord West of Spithead, who is Britain’s Admiral of the Fleet, who gave a surprisingly good anti-war speech. “No one who has taken part in war ever wants it to happen again,” he said. And he paid tribute to the achievement of the Red Army in defeating the greater part of the Nazi war machine.
The Russian ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, presented new 70th anniversary medals to a group of Soviet veterans living in Britain and to British veterans of the Russian convoys, including members of the RAF 151 Wing who travelled aboard the first convoy to Russia in 1941.
It was at this point that the cheering and chanting began, loud and strong, in praise of the heroes, thanking them for saving the world from Nazism and it continued at intervals throughout the rest of the ceremony, especially when the veterans laid their wreaths.
A Russian Orthodox Archbishop sang a prayer – supported by a small group of choristers with deep and resonant voices.
Then there was the laying of over 70 wreaths, including by Hyon Hak Bong and by Andy Brooks.
Aksinia Elovik, a student at the Russian Embassy School in London sang a beautiful peace song; there was the Last Post, the Exhortation and the two-minute silence.
The formal part of the ceremony finished then and the Russian Ambassador invited everyone to join him in a toast to victory – at the nearby marquees where vodka, wine and Russian food were waiting.
And that was the start of a party of singing, dancing and reminiscing that lasted for hours.



The struggle against fascism in Greece




by New Worker correspondent

THE HALL of the Marx Memorial Library in central London was packed out on Saturday 9th May  for a meeting on Victory Day and the defeat of fascism in 1945, organised by British Section of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE).
A documentary produced by KKE was shown, recalling the heroic struggle of the ELAS partisans, led by the KKE, which ended in the defeat of German forces, without outside intervention, in October 1944.  It also covered the tactical errors which left the KKE exposed to a brutal onslaught by British and Greek royalist troops in the Battle of Athens in December 1944 and the civil war that raged from 1946-1949.
 Ioli Gkouma of the KKE introduced the evening meeting with a talk which also analysed the role of the fascist Golden Dawn party. A lively debate followed on the lessons of the Second World War in Greece and elsewhere, the rise of Golden Dawn and the resurgence of fascism in Ukraine, eastern Europe and the Balkans backed by US-Nato imperialism. Alex Gordon, chair of the Marx Memorial Library, welcomed the participants to the library and joined in the debate, as did Theo Russell who also brought greetings on behalf of the New Communist Party of Britain.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lutfur Rahman: guilty of protecting Tower Hamlets from austerity cuts




By New Worker correspondent

LUTFUR Rahman received a standing ovation last Thursday evening on his arrival at a packed meeting at the Water Lily conference centre in Whitechapel’s Mile End Road.
The vast conference chamber was packed on 30th April as were a couple of ante-rooms with video links and there was a link to the big Mosque just down the road.
Most of those present were local Bangladeshi residents but there was also a strong turnout from local Black and White residents, trade unionists, anti-fascist leaders and progressive political activists.
They had come to hear Rahman declare his intention challenge a court judgement the previous week that deposed him as Mayor of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets on the grounds of election fraud and using “undue influence” over the local electorate.
Lutfur Rahman centre with other speakers
The judge, Richard Mawrey QC, based his ruling on a very old law regarding “Undue influence: spiritual injury”. This is a law that has very rarely been used for over 100 years. It was framed by the British government to “counter the baleful influence of the Roman Catholic clergy of (largely the southern counties of) Ireland over elections in the late 19th century”.
The British state deemed Irish Catholic voters to be “unsophisticated” and “easily manipulated”. Judge Mawrey argued that this law applies today and not only to Catholic priests but to the Muslim Bangladeshi Imams of Tower Hamlets.
Mawrey says: “Controversial though it may be, and likely to cause offence, it is none the less the clear duty of this court to hold that the participation of the Muslim clerics in Mr Rahman’s campaign to persuade Muslim voters that it was their religious duty to vote for him and, in particular, the Imams’ letter, did, however unwittingly for most of the signatories, cross the line identified by Andrews J between what is permissible and what is impermissible. Sadly, therefore, the court feels it has no option but to find that there was undue spiritual influence.”
Mawrey’s finding are based on just four complaints from local residents, research by journalist Andrew Gilligan and the company Price Waterhouse Cooper – noted for its assistance to one per cent on how to dodge paying their taxes.
He takes a patronising attitude to the Bangladeshi community: “The real losers in this case are the citizens of Tower Hamlets and, in particular, the Bangladeshi community. Their natural and laudable sense of solidarity has been cynically perverted into a sense of isolation and victimhood, and their devotion to their religion has been manipulated – all for the aggrandisement of Mr Rahman.”
But Tower Hamlets contains a huge diversity of ethnic groups who live and work alongside each other very well – and strong support for Rahman comes from all sections, not just the Bangladeshis.
The Bangladeshi community is not isolated, nor is it lacking in political awareness; compared to most white communities in Britain Bangladeshi people are politically well informed and well able to make up their own minds.
Speaker after speaker talked of the benefits that Lutfur Rahman’s mayoralty has brought to the borough. They included leaders and organisers of local community groups and trade unions and some councillors from the local Labour group that threw Rahman out for his left-wing policies.
They spoke of funding found for swimming baths that were threatened with closure, youth programmes, lunch clubs for the elderly saved from cuts, domestic help for the elderly provided free, companies that use blacklists barred from council contracts, zero-hours contracts barred and the Education Maintenance Allowance continued.
Speakers included Andrew Murray from the giant union Unite who brought greetings from Len McCluskey, speakers from Unison and the National Union of Teachers, comedian Ava Vidal and George Galloway and Ken Livingstone, both via pre-recorded video clips. Christine Shawcroft, a local Labour councillor, gave a powerful speech in Rahman’s support and so did Birmingham councillor Selma Yacoob.
Sabby Dhalu of Unite Against Fascism helped chair the meeting and her co-leader of UAF, Weyman Bennett, gave a powerful speech on the joint work against the threat of the Islamophobic English Defence League that Rahman played a leading part in.
Judge Mawrey, in his statement had portrayed the EDL as not a serious threat and accused Rahman of “needing” the EDL in order to “play the race card” and accused right wing Labour leaders of policies that would play into the hands of the EDL.
Three times the EDL sought to march through the borough and three times they were barred by Rahman. Afterwards EDL leader Tommy Robinson admitted that it was their failure to march in Tower Hamlets that broke the EDL.
Before that they had marched in thousands through towns all over Britain, targeting Muslim communities with violent assault and intimidation. Nowadays they have difficulty getting 100 supporters on a march.
The measures Rahman took to protect Tower Hamlets from the cuts have benefited all the citizens of Tower Hamlets regardless of creed or colour. Effectively Rahman, elected as Mayor in 2010, has refused to implement the Con-Dem Coalition cuts – and this is his “crime of corruption”.
The Government knows that more mayors like Rahman would undermine its attack on working class living standards and wants him stopped. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has been tasked with leading the charge against Rahman and against Tower Hamlets. They intend to make an example of him to discourage others.
But this sort of thing has happened before in Tower Hamlets. In 1921 Poplar Council (now part of Tower Hamlets), led by George Lansbury, refused to set rates that would impoverish the people of Poplar and were tried and imprisoned for doing so.
Under the existing financial system for local government, boroughs were individually responsible for poor relief within their boundaries. This discriminated heavily against poorer councils such as Poplar, where rates revenues were low and poverty and unemployment, always severe, were exacerbated in times of economic recession
 On 29th July the 30 councillors involved marched in procession from Bow to the High Court, headed by a brass band. Informed by the judge that they must apply the precepts, the councillors would not budge; early in September, Lansbury and 29 fellow-councillors were imprisoned for contempt of court.
But they inspired other local councils to do the same and Lansbury and the other councillors were released after six weeks. They succeeded in changing the law so the rates did not fall so heavily on the poorer boroughs.
Rahman, in his speech, described himself as “down but not broken” and vowed to appeal against the judgement. He also commended to the meeting a colleague, Rabina Khan, who will be standing in the coming mayoral election in the borough for the Tower Hamlets First group – which was formed when Rahman was expelled from Labour.
Rabina Khan
Meanwhile Judge Mawrey is calling for a change in the law. He is convinced that only four local residents came forward against Rahman because of widespread intimidation. He wants the police to be able to act against an elected mayor without any complaints being lodged, “as a way of protecting democracy”.
“Police forces can and do act when evidence is presented to them of electoral wrongdoing but they do not have the resources to be pro-active and they remain heavily dependent on information supplied by the political rivals of the alleged wrongdoers. The Petition system is obsolete and unfit for purpose. It is wholly unreasonable to leave it to defeated candidates or concerned electors, like the present Petitioners, to undertake the arduous and extremely expensive task of bringing proceedings.”

May Day in London



by New Worker correspondent

at Clerkenwell Green

 THOUSANDS of people assembled in the windy spring sunshine on Clerkenwell Green last Friday for the annual May Day parade and rally organised by the South and Eastern Region Trade Union Congress.
The green was packed with trade unionists of all shades, members of left, socialist and communist parties with the usual big and colourful turnout from London Turkish and Kurdish communities.
A great throng of activists were greeting old friends, catching up with news and debating the coming general election and the need for a revolutionary strategy.
The Marx Memorial Library, in Clerkenwell Green, had opened its doors and offered tours of the historic building, where Lenin, in exile in London, had edited Iskra.
The extensive archives in the basement contain rare and old copies of some of the first ever trade union and socialist publications along with their modern counterparts.
There were strong contingents with banners from RMT, Unite, Unison, GMB, PCS and the Prison Officers Association and a jazz band led the march through Holborn, Archway, and the Strand to the rally in Trafalgar Square.
A meeting of minds? NCP leader Andy Brooks and CPB's Rob Griffiths
The New Communist Party Central Committee banner was there among hundreds of other red banners and flags and NCP comrades made good sales of the New Worker.
One group of RMT members joined the march as it passed the headquarters of the company Sodexo in Southampton Row where they had been holding a protest picket in support of sacked union organiser Petrit Mihaj.
Petrit Mihaj worked for global outsourcing giant Sodexo for 10 years, working in the catering department on Sodexo’s contract with London Underground.
Following a high-profile campaign to organise the workforce, Petrit was subjected to disciplinary action and was eventually dismissed.
The union successfully brought tribunal claims on his behalf, establishing that Petrit had been unfairly dismissed for his trade union activities. Despite the wins in the employment tribunal, union-busting Sodexo refused to reinstate or re-engage.
As the marchers entered Trafalgar Square they were handed paper plates painted red and yellow to represent Van Gogh sunflowers by workers at the National Gallery who are striking against privatisation plans and for the reinstatement of their union rep, Candy Udwin, who has been suspended.
She was one of the many speakers at the rally who included TUC assistant general secretary Paul Nowak, Steve Hedley of the RMT and Onay Kassab from Unite.

50,000 families forced out of capital



MORE than 50,000 families have been quietly shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years by cuts in benefits and soaring rents, according to a report in the Independent based on leaked documents.
The documents reveal an unprecedented number of families who cannot afford to find homes in their local area being uprooted from their neighbourhoods and dumped further and further away from the capital, cut off from their relatives and support networks.
The rise coincides with the Con Dem Coalition’s introduction of the benefit cap and bedroom tax, both of which have made it significantly harder for poor people to afford housing in London.
In 2010 London Mayor Boris Johnson vowed that the controversial welfare reforms would not lead to social cleansing, pledging: “You are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living.”
But official figures, which the authorities have previously refused to publish, show the problem is much worse than campaigners feared. They show that councils are currently moving homeless mothers and children out of their boroughs at a rate of close to 500 families a week, with numbers continuing to rise.
The Independent has uncovered cases of depression, attempted suicide and the miscarriage of a child involving those forced to move many miles away by their councils.
Families are being moved to locations including Manchester, Bradford, Hastings, Pembrokeshire, Dover and Plymouth. In many cases, councils are not telling each other when they move families, leaving vulnerable adults and children without the support they need.