Thursday, June 30, 2005

Gestapo Britain

When Labour was swept to power in the first landslide victory in 1997 “Cool Britannia” was the buzz-word of Blair and his cronies. Blair’s spin merchants crowed about the wonders of “New Labour” that would herald a new age for the British people. Now we see what they really mean and what they really want.
Not content with aligned themselves with the most venal, aggressive and reactionary elements within the British ruling class and in the United States the Blair government is now trying to steam-roller the most reactionary domestic legislation seen for a hundred years.
Identity cards were introduced during the Second World War. Then they were just cards that gave you a unique number and later your NHS number and recorded your date of birth. Public distaste led to their withdrawal in 1952.
The proposed new microchip card bears little resemblance to the old or indeed to any currently used in the rest of the European Union. The biometric information contained – fingerprints, iris or facial scans – is an expensive addition that the people are expected to largely fund themselves with talk of a card, renewable every 10 years, costing the citizen between £70 to £90.
The cost has raised public awareness in recent days following the publication of two adverse independent studies but the real threat is the cost to civil liberties. Though the Government claims that people will not be obliged to carry their ID cards on the street, which is the case in some European countries, it is difficult to see how this can be avoided if the ID card is compulsory. The proposed bill included penalties for those who fail to register and if an ID card is compulsory then the police would have every right to demand to see it, when and if they chose.
The rigmarole of registering with the police every time you change your address which is the only way ID card systems can work has not been spelt out. The link with the Government’s other new obsession – black-box car monitors to enable road congestion charging – is obvious but not discussed. But it is clear that if all these schemes come to pass the police and the security forces would be able track everyone in the country.
The Government trots out the old “only the guilty need fear” line when challenged. But in fact it’s the “innocent” who will be in jeopardy not the criminals, “terrorists”, illegal immigrants and international fraudsters, who will easily find ways of circumventing these cards as they clearly do in countries that already have similar schemes.
It is the innocent who may face the unwelcome attentions of a racist or simply bored cop demanding to see “your papers”. It is the militant trade unionist who will find it impossible to avoid the employers’ blacklist when his ID is demanded. It could be anyone in the future who opposes the government of the day.
“If, 10 years ago, I had gone on the radio and said that within a decade a Labour government would try to do away with jury trial, remove Habeas Corpus, eliminate the presumption of innocence, introduce punishment without trial and put house arrest on the statute book, they would have locked me up,” Tory Shadow Home Secretary David Davis declared in the House of Commons Tuesday night. It’s a pity more Labour MPs didn’t join the Tories and Liberal Democrats in kicking this atrocious Identity Card bill out at its first reading.
Some did take the principled stand cutting Labour’s majority from 67 to 31. This proposal can still be stopped. The labour and trade union movement must mobilise now to fight to ensure that this loathsome proposal never becomes law.

BNP lose Dagenham seat

THE NEO-Nazi British National Party last Thursday lost its only London council seat in the Goresbrook ward of the London Borough of Dagenham & Barking after their councillor, Daniel Kelley, resigned, leading to a by-election.
He resigned because he had found himself totally out of his depth at council meetings; unable to understand what was going on and unable to participate, he had stopped attending.
“There’s meetings that go right over my head,” he said, “and there’s little point in me being there. I’m wasting my time.”
Labour Party candidate Warren Northover won the seat after a campaign in which the Liberal Democrats and Greens stood down in order not to split the anti-fascist vote.
Northover won 1,227 votes while the BNP got 791. The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) took 216 votes while the Tories came fourth with 167. There was a 33 per cent turn out.
In the run-up to the election the local community organisation Barking and Dagenham Together distributed thousands of leaflets against the BNP candidate, Laurence Rustem.


The leaflet exposed the BNP alarmist lies about an alleged “Africans for Essex” programme and quoted local war hero George Heighinton DFC, who wrote: “I was in Germany in 1935, the year of the famous Nuremburg laws. I saw Nazi rallies in Munich and Nuremburg; I soon realised Germany was in the grip of an unspeakable evil.
“What I had seen in Hitler’s Germany spurred me to volunteer as soon as I was old enough to fight. I served in 111 Squadron RAF flying Spitfires.

won’t forget

“I feel a chill when I see the BNP stand here. The phraseology might be different, but the message is the same one I heard in Hitler’s Germany. Thousands of my generation won’t forget their sacrifice.”
The musician Billy Bragg staged an impromptu concert for the anti-fascist leaflet distributors on Saturday 17th June at the Dagenham Labour Club, playing numbers from Woody Guthrie and other left-wing and union songs.
He reminded his audience that Woody Guthrie had spent his life giving similar performances throughout the United States, not to formal concerts but to groups of workers and political activists in “draughty halls” and meeting places, while they were engaged in campaigning. And he remembered that Guthrie had written: “This machine kills fascists” on his guitar.
The anti-fascist distributors were from many different political parties: Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green, Respect and New Communist Party as well as from trade unions GMB, TGWU, Unison and many others.
“Political parties come and go but unions remain the same. They look after their members and they look after their communities,” said Bragg. And he pointed out that this struggle was personal for him. He was a Dagenham boy – born and bred – and he took the BNP incursion into his home territory as a personal affront.

The latest issue of the London Worker is now out. Send a sae to: London Worker, PO Box 73, London SW11 2PQ for your free copy.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The New Worker on sale in London

The New Worker is available in London at:

* Bookmarks, 1 Bloomsbury Street WC1
* Centerprise Bookshop, 136 Kingsland High Street E8
* Housemans Peace Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road N1
* Index Bookcentre, 16 Electric Avenue SW9
* West London Trade Union Club, 33-35 High Street Acton W3
* The Westminster Bookshop, 8 Artillery Row SW1.

Fares Fair – not road pricing

If Blair’s new ID card wasn’t bad enough the Government is now considering a road pricing scheme that would enable the police to monitor everyone who uses a car.
A hidden agenda lies behind this proposal that is clearly linked to the identity card and that is to give the police and security forces ultimate surveillance powers.
Alistair Darling, the Transport Minister, has detailed proposals to replace the current road tax and fuel duties with a high-tech system that is allegedly intended to deal with the growing problem of road congestion. But it can only work if every car is fitted with an electronic satellite tracking device to record every trip made and that is precisely what is intended.
Anyone who lives in any of our major cities knows that congestion is a growing problem though not so much in London, where it has always existed apart from a comparatively brief period following the decline of horse power in the early part of the 20th century. Anyone who uses our motorways knows that the volume of traffic has soared over the past two decades despite the construction of new roads and by-passes over the same period. And increased public awareness of the threat to health and the environment has led to more research into eco-friendly forms of transport that London’s congestion charge scheme favours.
The Darling plan addresses none of these points nor does it seek to solve them except through a scheme that would reduce the volume of traffic by simply making it much more expensive to use the car. Though there’s talk of abolishing the existing road fund license and the colossal tax on fuel there is no firm commitment in the plan floated last week. Even if they were abolished the overall anticipated income from road pricing would have to be far greater to deter motorists. That, after-all, is the declared objective of a plan that would make our road system the exclusive preserve of the rich and add more costs to goods transported by road -- virtually everything these days – which would send prices soaring when the extra charges are passed on to the consumer.
The obvious answer is to get more people and goods onto public transport. Unfortunately that service is no longer “public” but in the hands of grasping private owners concerned only to squeeze the last penny out of people who have no alternative but to use their dubious networks. According to the Department of Transport statistics for 2003 bus and coach fares were 34 per cent higher and rail fares 36 per cent higher in real terms than in 1980 when most of these services were still in public or municipal ownership. In practice people are forced to use their cars because the alternatives are much more expensive and increasingly unreliable.
In 1981 the newly elected Greater London Council under the leadership of Ken Livingstone implemented the “Fares Fair” scheme that made the capital the environmental model for Europe. Bus and Underground fares were cut by a third and it was paid for by a modest increase in the rates. Following the example of Paris London was divided into two zones and season tickets replaced by travel cards that covered all public transport in greater London. Within a year car use in London had dropped by ten per cent. London Transport’s revenue went up by £48 million. Tube usage went up by 44 per cent and bus usage by 14 per cent.
Tory councils moved to kill the experiment in the courts and they succeeded in December 1981. The Thatcher government brought in more controls in 1984 to make sure it never happened again.
“Fares Fair” proved that cutting fares reduces traffic. The re-nationalisation of our rail and road transport companies and the introduction of a new fares fair scheme across the country could easily reduce the problems on our roads and be considerably cheaper than the billions earmarked for the Darling scheme.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Police who shot Harry Stanley arrested

TWO SCOTLAND Yard firearms officers were arrested last week on suspicion of the murder or manslaughter of Harry Stanley in 1999 and attempting to prevent the course of justice.
Harry Stanley, a father of three from Scotland, died after leaving a pub in Hackney carrying a table leg that had just been repaired in a plastic bag. An unknown person had made a call to the police from the pub, claiming he had seen an Irishman carrying a sawn-off shotgun wrapped in a plastic bag.
At the time Harry Stanley was recovering from major abdominal surgery and was unable to move or turn quickly.
The arrests of Chief Inspector Neil Sharman and PC Kevin Fagan follow new forensic evidence which contradicts the evidence given by the two officers about the circumstances of the shooting.
The officers claim they opened fire after shouting: “Stop, armed police”. They had approached Mr Stanley from behind, carrying their weapons drawn.
They said he had turned round and faced them and raised the object they believed to be a gun in a classic gunshot pose.
PC Fagan told the second inquest into the death that he has shouted “drop it” to Mr Stanley but that Stanley then confronted them in a “boxer’s stance”.
Fagan then shot Stanley in the hand while Sharman shot him in the head. A first inquest in June 2002 returned an open verdict.
The second inquest in October last year returned a verdict of unlawful killing, which sparked a fresh investigation into the case by Surrey Police.
The new forensic evidence concerns the positions of the entry and exit wounds, which contradict the account given by the two officers but could strengthen claims by Harry Staley’s family that they believe he was shot in the back.
The family have campaigned since his death for a full investigation and for justice.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Bank workers strike over peanuts

AROUND 3,000 members of the union Amicus employed by the HSBC bank took strike action last Friday in protest over a pay deal that left 10 per cent of staff with no pay rise and another 45 per cent with below-inflation rises.
The union picketed the annual shareholders’ meeting in London on the day of the strike, handing out peanuts to those attending to express their feelings about the pay – and warned there would be further industrial action.
Shareholders turning up at the meeting were offered peanuts by protesting staff, highlighting the derogatory pay deal that has been imposed on them despite record profits of £9.6 billion.
Shouts of “HSBC pays peanuts!” filled the air as Amicus members did all they could to raise awareness of their employer’s actions.
The response from shareholders was varied but many understood the need to reward staff for their hard work.
The shareholders’ meeting challenged HSBC chairperson Sir John Bond about his £3.6 million pay packet. One shareholder said this was like “winning the lottery at the weekend as well as during the week”.
One of the striking members of staff was also a shareholder. He told the meeting: “I hope you [Sir John Bond] can sleep at night because I know people who can’t sleep at night because they can’t pay their bills.”
Among the comments made by various shareholders to the picketing strikers were: “The staff should be paid more and they [HSBC] should also employ more staff in the branches; they’ve made enough money.”
“Staff should definitely receive at least the rate of inflation; they are the ones who make the money.”
“Of course I support the staff, totally.”
Rob O’Neill, Amicus national secretary for HSBC was there to show his support. He spoke out about the impending strike action. “It has become very clear that further strikes could go ahead, we are very reluctant to take this action but we have been left with no other option. The staff work hard for their employers and this deserves to be recognised. The only way to resolve this dispute is through negotiation and so far HSBC have refused to do this.”
The bank tried to play down the impact of the strike, claiming that only 1,471 had taken part in the strike and then in a slip admitted that “thousands” had walked out.
The bank also claimed that none of its branches or processing centres had been closed while Amicus said that a processing centre in Birmingham had been closed, along with branches in Liverpool, Preston, Grantham and parts of Scotland had been closed.
And clearly HSBC was concerned about the strength of the strike because immediately after the shareholders’ meeting Michael Geoghegan, the head of retail operations in Britain, raced to Manchester to talk up morale in local branches.
Other senior staff left to carry out the same mission in South Wales and other areas of union militancy

Liberty challenges Richmond child curfew

THE CIVIL rights pressure group Liberty is supporting the case of an unnamed 15-year-old boy who is challenging a Metropolitan Police curfew imposed on all children under 16 in two areas of Richmond-upon-Thames.
The boy, who lives in one of the areas, claims the curfews make it impossible for him to attend band practice, take the dog for a walk or run errands for his mother.
The Met has designated the areas as “child dispersal areas”, where any unaccompanied child under 16 who ventures into the areas after 9pm is liable to be arrested and escorted home, whether or not they have misbehaved.
The areas cover parks, bus stops, cinemas, railway stations and other public places.
The court was told that more than 400 dispersal areas have been set up in England and Wales under the 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act, giving police sweeping powers to disperse troublemakers and force them to go home.
The boy told the court, in a written statement: “I resent being taken home because I feel I am old enough to be independent. I’m worried about being picked up and taken home by police when I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m also worried that if I am taken home by police other people will see me and think I have done something wrong.”
Javan Herberg, the lawyer representing the boy, said the effect was to create curfew zones which violated the human rights of innocent young people and were an abuse of common law.
Liberty’s legal officer, Alex Gask, said: “There is a real danger of sweeping ‘anti-yob powers’ demonising an entire generation of mostly decent kids.”
Meanwhile probation officers warn that anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) are increasingly being used against prostitutes as a “quick fix” way of clearing them off the streets.
They say that the Asbos have effectively reintroduced jail sentences for offences such as loitering and soliciting – which have not been imprisonable offences for more than a decade. Breaching an Asbo can lead to a five-year sentence.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Defeat the BNP in Dagenham

Goresbrook, Dagenham by-election 23 June 2005
Anti-BNP campaign activities

The BNP is fighting to retain its only council seat in London in a by-election caused by the resignation of Dan Kelley, 11 days after the BNP’s failure at the general election. Barking and Dagenham Together is mounting an active campaign to ensure that the residents of Goresbrook will not be failed again by the BNP.

Kelley won the seat with 51 per cent of the vote last September but, confronted by a well organised and ongoing community campaign against his party, he threw in the towel citing ill health. In his short term of office he distinguished himself only for telling a journalist that he hadn’t got a clue about what he was doing. “There’s meetings that go right over my head and there’s little point in me being there,” he said. “I’m wasting my time.”

The BNP’s new candidate will be Lawrence Rustem, a man notoriously disliked and distrusted by his fellow party members, because he is a half Turkish Muslim. Nevertheless he polled high percentages in by-elections in Village and Valence wards, Dagenham, last year. His campaign in Village ward used leaflets full of lies in a bid to stoke up fear and resentment in the community.

A failure by the BNP to retain Goresbrook would represent a major blow to the party’s plans to fight most of the seats on Barking and Dagenham council next May and any other by-elections that come up across London.

This by-election is very important and we need the help of as many people as possible. Please pass this notice on to all your contacts.

Saturday 4 June and Saturday 18 June
Mass leaflet distribution, from 10.30am

Tuesday 21 June
Targeted distribution of election material, from 6.00pm

Meet at The Labour Hall, Junction of Tenterden Road and Green Lane, Dagenham.
(nearest stations Dagenham Heathway and Chadwell Heath,
buses 5, 87, 103, 150, 173, 175 pass nearby)

Please bring cars wherever possible (especially on 21 June) for transport to designated streets in the ward.