Friday, September 30, 2005

Review:The Balmaidens of Cornwall

by Edwin Bentley

Balmaidens: Lynne Mayers, The Hypatia Trust, Penzance, 2004. illus., pp246, £20.00.

Capitalists don’t delude themselves. They are single-mindedly devoted to maximising profits and keeping down costs. No one can blame them for acting like this; it’s simply what capitalism is all about. That’s the mistake that liberal reformers always make; they believe that if everyone is really nice to one another, all will be well.

This book set me thinking about gender issues in employment. Where do we get the idea that that certain jobs are for men, and others more suitable for women? Given what I said about capitalists, the only real reason for discriminating against women or men in certain jobs is the fact of whether men or women are more productive. Patriarchal families, buttressed by religion, taught that the woman’s place is at home, at least within the property-owning classes, but this was simply an outdated social structure dating back to earlier stages of human development.

The early industrialists in Britain never thought for a moment that a woman’s place was at home bringing up children; they never deluded themselves with the idea that children should be at home with their mother. For them, a woman’s place was in the job where she could maximise profits for the capitalist. Women may not have been able to tackle certain jobs because they simply did not have the physical strength of men, but that really was the only consideration. Engels describes the industrial scene in England as one in which women and children were working in jobs that to us seem completely inappropriate.

The other day I read about a Belarusian footballer playing in this country whose mother was identified as a bricklayer, with the assumption that this fact was either surprising, amusing, or both. A lot of people still feel very uncomfortable about a woman tackling such jobs.

The industrial history of this country is not always one of a progressively increased participation of women in industry, at times it is quite the reverse. The involvement of women in very heavy industry, including mining and smelting, would have been viewed as scandalous in this country in the mid-20th century, whereas 100 years earlier it was the most natural thing in the world. Likewise, gangs of women agricultural labourers travelled the country in the early 19th century.

Bal is the Cornish word for mine, so balmaidens are women who work in mines. Throughout the history of mining for copper, tin, and other minerals in Cornwall, until the slump of the late 19th century, much of the surface work in Cornish mines was done by women. Digging and bringing the mineral ore up to the surface was done by men, but the job of breaking up the ore with sledgehammers, washing and sieving and preparing the rock for smelting could be done more economically by employing women and girls.

Mining was literally the only source of employment for the majority of the Cornish working class in the West of the county. Any woman who felt the need to earn money to support herself or to contribute to the family funds had little option. Lynne Mayers’ book captures the day-to-day drudgery of unavoidable hard manual work, but it also shows how women’s involvement in mining sowed the seeds of potentially revolutionary social change.

Mine work for women was viewed as temporary employment. It filled the years before marriage and children, and offered the chance of a job after the children had grown up. Men had the chance of a career structure, with the opportunity – however remote- of becoming highly skilled tradesmen, even mine captains (managers) or engineers. Women were confined to breaking, washing, and sorting ore, and there was little possibility of other employment.

The unspoken assumption is always that women manual workers are only doing the job to earn a bit of pin money, and there’s no need to take them all that seriously. That was the case in the Grunwick dispute 25 years ago. It is a factor in the current scandalous treatment of women workers employed by Gate Gourmet at Heathrow airport.

When they came together to work for the mine owners, the balmaidens entered into an environment where a large number of workers were organised to maximise efficiency of production. A balmaiden ceased to be a mere individual, and entered into powerful working relationships with all the other women working at the mine. These social relationships, an inevitable consequence of industrial production, are both necessary and dangerous for the capitalists. As soon as the workers see the power they have, as soon as they understand that they don’t actually need the bosses to tell them what to do, the whole class structure can come tumbling down. The women at Grunwick and at Heathrow glimpsed something of that reality, and the idea of these economic disputes becoming political terrified the capitalists, who went to any lengths to defeat them.
Although the balmaidens of Cornwall were at the bottom of the labour hierarchy, there were several occasions during the 19th century when they organised themselves. As early as 1806, balmaidens came out on strike in protest against working conditions and wages.

All theses strikes failed, because the women on strike could immediately be replaced by other workers, and so they were often forced to accept lower wages or increased hours. It’s impossible for us to say if there was any awareness of the possibility of economic issues leading to social change. One strike in 1882, provoked by mine owners trying to force balmaidens to work on Sunday afternoons, did result in victory for the workers, but it’s clear that the absence of trade unions in the mines, the lack of political awareness and agitation, and the ever-prevalent power of Wesleyan-inspired religion hampered the development of class solidarity.

By the late 19th century, when Marxist ideas had spread throughout Europe and the revolutionary spark had been lit, the Cornish mines were sunk in a deep slump that only ended with the First World War.

Mayers’ book is a powerful record of a fascinating chapter of working class life, filled with personal accounts and the small details of everyday life that help us to understand the reality of those who created immense wealth for the ruling class of this country.

TGWU recommends Gate Gourmet settlement

HOPES of an end to the gate Gourmet dispute rose last week after negotiations between the company and the Transport and General Workers’ Union produced a provisional agreement. The workforce has yet to vote on the proposal. Details have not yet been published.
The TGWU issued a statement: “Following intensive talks throughout recent days an agreement has now been reached between the TGWU and Gate Gourmet London Limited with assistance from the TUC to resolve the long running dispute.
“The agreement has to be ratified by the members of the union and the company’s board of directors.
“Details of the agreement will only be released on Wednesday, late afternoon, after they have been fully reported to all concerned on both sides.
“Both the company and the union are pleased that a way forward has been found, and if the agreement is ratified both sides have committed to working together to rebuild trust and confidence after all the difficulties of recent weeks.”

Friday, September 23, 2005

Review: Practical resistance?

by Ray Jones

Resistance in practice: the philosophy of Antonio Negri. Eds Timothy S Murphy and Abdul-Karim Mustapha. Pluto Press, 07453 2337 5. Pb. 272pp. £17.99.

ANTONIO (Toni) Negri had a meteoric rise in Italian academia and at a young age he was a full professor at the University of Padua in the field of State Theory.
In the 1950’s he became involved in militant politics, at first in a Catholic organisation and later in Marxist groups on the far left – outside of the influence of the huge Italian Communist Party (PCI) which was even then on the road of revisionism.
In the late 1960’s Italy, as with other countries, was convulsed by a wave of militancy led, at least at first, by students. But in Italy, with its history of secret organisations and clubs, the experience of resistance during the years of fascism and its weak political structure and economy, this period lasted until the late 1970‘s.
In the confusion of the period and in the ideological vacuum left by the PCI – which was trying to gain a share of government with the Christian Democrats – many leftist groups and movements were spawned believing that the end of capitalism was nigh.
In 1969 Negri was one of the founders of Potere Operaio (Workers Power) and Operaismo (workerist communist movement).
It was a violent period and violence was a factor in the theory and practice of many left groups. It took many forms, from robust stewarding organisations that protected meetings from fascists and the police to the clandestine terror of the likes of the Red Brigades and Prima Linea.
Negri by no means rejected violence but believed that it should be used to further the goals of working class movements, a tool of the movement and not isolated from it, and so he rejected the tactics of the Red Brigades. These beliefs did not stop him being arrested in 1979 on charges which included leadership of the Red Brigades, the kidnapping and murder of prime minister Aldo Moro, plotting to over throw the Government and having “moral responsibility” for violence.
Many of these charges were dropped, no link was ever found between him and the Red Brigades or the murder of Moro, but he was still sentenced to 30 years. Negri contrived to go into exile in France where he stayed, protected from extradition by President Mitterand, for 14 years before returning to Italy to serve the remainder of a reduced sentence.
Negri has remained active and in 2000, along with Michael Hardt (who also contributes to Resistance in practice), published Empire, which puts forward a theory of globalisation that has attracted much interest in some quarters.
Resistance in practice attempts to give an introduction to Negri’s theoretical work and in particular an insight into his ideas on the state, labour, capital and revolution. It’s not an easy task. None of his philosophical work is easy to understand without being immersed in the genre (regretfully he is far from alone in this) and the fact that he has constantly changed his position over the years doesn’t help.
But some things are clear: Negri rejects Leninist ideas on organisation – although he never succeeds in putting forward a plausible alternative; he supports theories of “autonomy” in which workers attempt to separate themselves from the capitalist state and build alternatives and he approves of the “rejection of work”.
Kathi Weeks, chapter five, points to the “rejection of work” as a central concept in Negri’s thinking, but this is not just a matter of supporting strikes and the reduction of working hours but it rejects the whole practice of waged work.
This may be appealing to workers doing long hours on a mind numbing conveyor belt system but it has profoundly reactionary consequences. In withdrawing from paid labour, workers are separated from the immediate conflict with the boss and isolated from the ideological and organisational support of the labour movement.
And it has further implications: socialism needs wage workers too. In essence this concept rejects the first stage of communism and demands a direct leap to full communism. In doing so it rejects the socialist stage and all the socialist states.
The leftist movements in Italy were defeated in the late 1970s and the repression was heavy – countenanced, sadly, by the PCI. But judging by an article in le Monde in 1998 in which he looks back at the period, Negri is uncritical of his own role and there is a danger that the new generation of anti-globalisationists are looking to Negri for theoretical guidance.
It’s up to Marxist-Leninist forces to offer better.

BA moves against Heathrow shop stewards

BRITISH Airways last Wednesday began legal proceedings against three shop stewards who had been involved in the unofficial walkout of baggage handlers at Heathrow last month in solidarity with the workers sacked by Gate Gourmet.
The baggage handlers’ walkout halted all BA flights in and out of Heathrow over a busy weekend at the height of the holiday season.
British Airways said that two of the shop stewards have been suspended on full pay and the other is continuing to work. They are all members of the Transport and General Workers’ Union.

Friday, September 16, 2005

George Orwell: ‘Enigmatic socialist’?

BOOK REVIEW

by Andy Brooks

George Orwell: Enigmatic Socialist: Editor, Paul Flewers, 192pp, £6.00. Socialist Platform, London 2005.

“JUST WHAT the world needs. Yet another book on George Orwell” the editor ironically notes in his introduction but then proceeds to justify this anthology drawn largely from the British Trotskyist press.

The reason, which becomes clear as one reads through these Orwellian essays, is the desire to reclaim Orwell for the “left” following his exposure as a police informer in 1996, coupled with an ongoing desire of British Trotskyists for a literary icon who they can call their own.

Unfortunately for them Orwell, the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair, was and remains an icon of the bourgeoisie whose vicious anti-Sovietism far outweighs the left social democratic principles he claims to uphold.

Though a prolific writer, Orwell’s literary fame rests almost exclusively on his two anti-communist satires Animal Farm and 1984. Without them Orwell’s works would still be gathering dust in libraries along with other forgotten Thirties writers. But these two books rapidly became ideological weapons of the Cold War to be quoted by reactionaries and Trotskyists alike in their denigration of the achievements of the Soviet Union and the Stalin leadership.

Almost compulsory reading in British secondary schools, dramatised and televised, 1984 and Animal Farm are Anglo-American imperialism’s equivalent of the Protocols of the Council of Zion. All are works of fiction.
The only difference is that the Protocols were used by the Czarists and later the Nazis to justify the persecution of Jews while Animal Farm and 1984 was used to justify the anti-communist witch-hunts that swept America and western Europe in the 1950s.

Orwell’s “socialism” is indeed “enigmatic” for Trotskyists because he was never a revolutionary socialist or indeed a follower of Leon Trotsky. Though he fought fascism in Spain and sided with the Spanish Trotskyist opposition, Orwell clearly did not believe that the working class was the engine of change. Workers are either the bleating “sheep” of Animal Farm or the powerless “proles” of 1984 who are bought off with a diet of cheap gin, pornography and rigged national lotteries. Nor does he have much hope for a revolutionary vanguard. The animals’ farm is run by greedy pigs while the “Oceania” of 1984 is led by a cynical and venal “Inner Party” of brutes and psychopaths.

The chief pig, “Napoleon” is clearly meant to be Joseph Stalin but at the farm the Trotsky-like equivalent is “Snowball” who helps himself to the milk and apples with the rest of the pigs when the animals take over. In 1984 Stalin is, of course, “Big Brother” while “Emmanuel Goldstein” fulfils Trotsky’s role though in this case Goldstein’s “book” is apparently a creation of the secret police and his whole underground resistance a honey-trap set up by those dreaded “Thought Police”.

This is not the place for a detailed critique of Animal Farm or 1984 and though the contributors to this book focus largely on these novels their approach is, needless to say given where they’re coming from, one-sided.

So what is the use of this book? Well if you are unfortunate enough to have to study Orwell’s novels for English Literature at school or college this fully annotated book is an excellent source to pillage and plunder. If your teacher or lecturer is not familiar with the authors you might even get away with passing off some of the observations as your own!

Turnham Green Peace Market

by Alan Rogers

SOUTHALL New Communist Party ran its usual stall last Saturday. On the basis of previous experience comrades had produced jars of a variety of jams and marmalades, which attracted some attention from the public.
The weather could have been kinder and the attendance at this year’s market was down.
However a lot of the jams and marmalades were sold, along with copies of the New Worker, Marxist Leninist literature, CDs (quite popular) and other goods.
Some of the conversations were heartening: the young black South African who bought Lenin’s Imperialism; the man (whose father had been a devoted member of Akel) who took part in our discussion with a woman (ex Scottish Socialist Party) who wanted to know what the differences were between the positions of the NCP, the Socialist Workers’ Party, Respect and so on.
And of course we met old friends and made an overall profit of £72.

Gate Gourmet workers’ rally at TUC

WHILE TUC conference was in session on Monday several hundred Gate Gourmet workers staged a rally outside the conference hall. Most of them are members of west London’s Asian community that supplies a large proportion of all the workers at Heathrow.
They held up banners and chanted “we want our jobs back” as they were met by Tony Woodley.
He told them: “Five weeks ago you were unfairly sacked by a ruthless, union-busting employer, but I can assure you that the battle goes on,” Woodley told the crowd.
The American-owned company claims it is losing money and desperately needs to cut costs.
The demonstrating workers won a standing ovation from conference delegates as they entered the conference hall.
Tony Woodley described Texas Pacific, owner of the catering company, as “a renegade venture capitalist company headed by American union-busting bosses”.
He accused the company of “plotting for a year to sack low paid workers” while “secretly recruiting agency labour on still lower rates on the orders of a cowboy capitalist from Texas”.
One of the workers, Umesh Dalal told the crowd outside the conference hall of how he had been sitting in the staff canteen last month when managers told workers they had been dismissed. He said: “I was on my tea break at the time so I was really shocked. We are determined to fight for justice and I want my job back.”
TGWU negotiations with Gate Gourmet have produced an offer to reinstate most workers but the company is still refusing to take back workers it described as “trouble makers”.
The workers are receiving solidarity support from unions in America, representing the workforce of Texas Pacific there.
Some Gate Gourmet workers have travelled to American to take part in rallies in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The rallies are demanding the reinstatement of all the sacked workers and are being organised jointly by the Teamsters, Unite Here and the TGWU.
Across the Atlantic, Gate Gourmet has been seeking unreasonably severe concessions from its US employees. The unions have fought the demands, most recently compelling the company to reinstate health coverage that it had unilaterally revoked.
Jim Hoffa, general president of the Teamsters, said, “We’re inspired by our London brothers and sisters’ determination to fight Gate Gourmet’s outrageous anti-worker behaviour. Labour unions are here to protect workers from unfair employer tactics like those of Gate Gourmet.”

Saturday, September 10, 2005

T&G demands law change after Gate Gourmet

THE TRANSPORT and General Workers’ Union is planning to table an emergency motion at the annual TUC conference in two weeks’ time calling for a change in Britain’s labour laws to outlaw the underhand practices of the airline caterer Gate Gourmet.
The union then hopes to take the struggle forward to the Labour Party conference next month. It is determined to put the Government and current labour law in the spotlight following one of the most bitter industrial disputes of recent years.
Relations between the TGWU and US-owned Gate Gourmet deteriorated last week after chairman Dave Siegel accused 200 of the 667 employees sacked after unofficial industrial action last month of being militants.
At the same time the union claimed the company had backtracked on a deal over redundancy terms. Gate Gourmet is now refusing to reinstate 200 of the sacked workers, claiming that they are “militants” – after the company had agreed to offer reinstatement or a generous voluntary redundancy package to its entire Heathrow staff.
“Siegel’s comments are offensive. It is nonsense to describe our members as militants. Mainly he is talking about middle-aged Asian women,” said TGWU general secretary Tony Woodley.
He also said: “The Gate Gourmet scandal has highlighted a number of important areas where employment law is tilted towards bad employers and against the legitimate rights of workers.
“We are going to be giving the Government no rest until these issues are addressed.”
A TGWU officer said the union’s focus was on two specific areas where it believed employment law was ineffective. First: “We believe that they prepared for and provoked an industrial dispute in order to sack workers.”
He said that were it proved that a company provoked unofficial industrial action; employees involved should have the same protection as workers striking legitimately. Such workers cannot be dismissed for 12 weeks after the action.
The move comes in response to revelations last month that Gate Gourmet had such a plan, and referred to it in leaked internal documents. The company did not deny it had considered the option, but said it had decided against exercising it.
The second area involves drafting in temporary workers on lower pay than full-time employees, particularly when there are plans for redundancies.
This issue could fall under the EU directive on agency labour. A third point covers solidarity action – also known as secondary action – an issue that is raised annually at TUC.
Secondary action is illegal in the Britain but the TGWU believes it is legitimate in some cases where staff at a parent company strike in support of employees providing services to that company via a sub-contractor.
Meanwhile Gate Gourmet is being investigated over allegations that it deceived British Airways about the cost of catering on its flights and operated a tax dodge.
A former supplier to Gate Gourmet has accused the company of making it sign a contract under which it made payments to the company’s European headquarters in Switzerland. Under the contract, Gate Gourmet received a “rebate” of £90,000 for every £3 million it paid to the supplier, Nesco Foods, of Feltham, near Heathrow. Gate Gourmet was allegedly able to take advantage of lower tax rates by receiving the money in Zurich.

Soldiers should not be above the law

by Theo Russell

A NEW campaign to challenge the culture of brutality and secrecy within the British armed forces was launched last Monday at a meeting in London.
The End Impunity campaign is calling for the armed forces to be made accountable for human rights abuses and is supported by a wide range of human rights groups and campaigns, including the families of soldiers who died at Deepcut and other army bases.
Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre in Belfast spoke on the case of Peter McBride, who was shot as he ran away from an army checkpoint in Belfast in on 4th September 1992.
Two members of the Scots Guards were convicted of murder and received life sentences, but then given early release and allowed to rejoin the British Army. One was later promoted despite promises to the Irish government, and both served in the Iraq war.
Many human rights groups and leading lawyers from several countries have backed the demand for the soldiers to be discharged.
Leading human rights lawyer Phil Shiner, who is representing 50 families from Iraq, described how the truth about the abuses at the army’s Camp Breadbasket near Basra, have been glossed over by the Army and suppressed by the media.
He said the abuse was far greater than people have been told, with large numbers of Iraqis rounded up from the countryside, and said it was “open season for squaddies who wanted to give detainees a kicking”.
He gave the example of Baha Mousa, who died with horrific injuries across his body, with the skin on one side of his face taken off. Mousa was one of eight men arrested at a hotel suspected of involvement in a bomb attack, all of whom suffered prolonged beatings and sleep deprivation. One detainee was forced to cut another’s finger off.
Shiner described the court martial at the British base at Osnabruck in Germany as “a complete farce”, with the Iraqi families and himself denied any access. No charges were brought for murder or torture, instead an officer was charged with negligence.
He has sent a report to the Attorney General describing a policy of systematic torture and abuse with no accountability, and calling for a proper system of investigation by an independent authority, and public funds for families to enable them to participate in the process.
The meeting heard a powerful contribution from Jeff Green of the Deepcut and Beyond Families Group on their campaign for human rights, truth and justice.
“We are sick and tired of lies and cover-ups. At Deepcut, Catterick, Northern Ireland and overseas, bullies are getting away with murder. Zero tolerance is not enough – we need prosecutions. The families must be involved – they have no hidden agenda, just a need for closure.”
Leading human rights barrister Mike Mansfield, who has represented the Birmingham Six and the Bloody Sunday relatives, pointed out that the main concern of families was not the truth, but accountability, which he said “cannot be achieved through the ballot box”.
He described the Stephen Lawrence campaign as a major breakthrough, with an inquiry appointed by Labour which for the first time identified institutional racism in the police force.
But he warned the meeting that the same government has now effectively abolished genuine public inquiries in the future. In June Britain broke a commitment to the Irish government and Canadian judge Peter Cory to hold inquiries into four cases in the north of Ireland.
Instead the Inquiries Act was passed on 7th June. The first major change since 1921, this places any inquiry under the political control of the Government and excludes Parliament from the process.
Inquiries can no longer determine civil or criminal liability; the head of the inquiry will be appointed by a minister; restrictions can be imposed on public access and access to official documents. The Government now has power to halt an inquiry – including existing inquiries such as that into Bloody Sunday – or prevent the publication of its report.
Paul O’Connor ended the meeting by calling for MPs to be lobbied and questioned about the Peter McBride and other cases, and in particular to attempt to have the Armed Forces bill scheduled for November to be amended in line with the End Impunity Campaign.
The campaign has produced postcards addressed to MPs and can be contacted by email at pfc@iol.ie and the campaign’s website is at www.serve.com/pfc.

London civil service workers fight job cuts

THE PCS civil service union last week issued ballot papers for a one-day London wide strike followed by discontinuous action over planned Government job cuts in the Department for Work and Pensions.
The ballot papers were sent out last Monday to 10,000 members of the union working in the capital’s jobcentres, benefit offices, pension centres and the Child Support Agency (CSA).
The union is balloting its members as the axe has already fallen on more than 1000 jobs across London, leading to a deterioration of key services such as benefit payments and job broking services which the most vulnerable people in society rely on.
The cuts are part of a government drive to cull 30,000 jobs in the DWP across the Britain and a further 70,000 across the rest of the civil service, with London bearing the brunt of many of the cuts.
The ballot will close on 21st September 2005 and the result announced shortly after.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “We are now seeing the disastrous consequences of arbitrary Government cuts on London’s jobcentres, benefit offices and pensions centres.
“As the jobs go the work remains and damage is being done to services that some of the most vulnerable in society rely on, such as benefits and getting back into work.
“Our members are working in increasingly intolerable conditions seeing the services they care about suffer as a result of crude cuts.
“Strike action is not a step we take lightly and we stand ready to reach a negotiated outcome that meets the interests of the public and staff, but the Government need to take stock of the damage its cuts programme is having and think again.”

Friday, September 02, 2005

Gate Gourmet offers a deal

GATE GOURMET, the Heathrow airline catering company that sacked 675 workers on 10th August after deliberately provoking a walkout in a strategy to replace the existing workforce with a cheaper one, last week started to offer voluntary redundancy terms to all its workers, including those who walked out.
The American-owned company is still seeking a big reduction in the workforce but, under pressure from the Transport and General Workers’ Union, British Airways and unions in the United States, it is now negotiating a deal.
Gate Gourmet says it must reduce costs if it is to survive. But British Airways has offered the company an improved contract with more money to provide in-flight meals.
BA is anxious to be able once again to offer its passengers hot meals in-flight and to avoid further solidarity action by BA employees in support of the sacked gate Gourmet workers, like the unofficial three-day walkout of baggage handlers three weeks ago. This walkout grounded thousands of BA flights at the height of the holiday season.
Both BA and Gate Gourmet have refused to comment on whether it has promised to help Gate Gourmet with the redundancy terms it is now offering. A figure of £7 million was mentioned in the press.
The package on offer is two-and-a-half times the statutory minimum and includes two times the weekly pay for every completed year of service.
The offer is being sent by letter to each worker this weekend.
But the dispute is far from over. The TGWU has warned that there could be wrangles over the treatment of staff who staged an unofficial walkout in protest at the cuts.
Gate Gourmet says it will not take back the most militant staff, while the TGWU is insisting that the 667 sacked strikers and the 1,400 other staff are treated equally.
Both sides said they hoped to resolve the dispute when the level of acceptances of redundancy is clear after the end of this week. The TGWU said that it held no brief to encourage its members to take redundancy.
Meanwhile across the Atlantic the union Unite Here, which represents half a million American hospitality workers, has threatened to take solidarity action if Gate Gourmet fails to reach an honourable deal with the sacked Heathrow workers.
Union president Bruce Rayner said the members would “take every lawful measure” in support of the Heathrow workers.
Unite Here and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters recently forced Gate Gourmet to restore the health coverage rights of its workforce in the US.
Rayner wrote to Gate Gourmet chief executive David Seigel saying: “I write to express Unite Here’s unyielding support for the Transport and General Workers’ Union members negotiating with Gate Gourmet in the UK.
“As you know, Unite Here and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have been negotiating with Gate Gourmet on behalf of 6,000 members working at your US kitchens.
“Let there be no doubt, we consider your assault on the union employees in London to be an assault on union members everywhere. We are outraged by such immoral behaviour and we expect that you will resolve this dispute by reinstating all of the fired workers.
“Failure to resolve the matter in the UK will certainly cause the unrest to spread across the Atlantic as our members will be forced to take every lawful measure possible to support our fellow union members.”

Review: The Facts on the Ground

The facts on the ground

by Robert Laurie

Maqlubeh or Facts on the Ground, London: Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association, 2005 pp. 28. £2.00 available from CADFA, PO Box 34265, London NW5 2WD. The group can be contacted by email at camdenabudis@btinternet.com.

ABU DIS is a small town in Israeli occupied Palestine separated from the old City of Jerusalem by the Mount of Olives. The population is about 10,000 excluding the students of Al-Quds University. Since 2003 it has been divided by the Israeli built Occupation Wall.

In April of this year a delegation of activists from north London visited Abu Dis to learn at first hand what life is like for the Palestinians under Zionist occupation. This pamphlet, written by Nandita Dowson provides a short account of that visit and is sold to raise funds to support the work of CADFA.

This work includes organising a return visit to London which takes place next month. While CADFA campaigns to establish formal twinning links between Abu Dis and Camden it also provides medical and educational aid through its various Links Groups.

The “Maqlubeh” of the somewhat curious title of the booklet refers to a traditional Palestinian dish which is served upside down from the cooking pan. Abu Dis has well and truly been turned upside down by both the Israeli occupation which began in 1967, the more recent construction of the Occupation Wall has made life much harsher.

Even before the 1967 occupation Abu Dis was affected by an influx of refugees following the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians when the Israeli state was founded in 1948 and the severing of links with Jerusalem and the rest of occupied Palestine. The other part of the title, Facts on the Ground, refers to the Israeli policy of rapidly expanding Zionist settlements on Palestinian land in strengthen their hand in any future negotiations over boundaries.

In a series of short chapters the booklet calmly describes the harsh lives of the Palestinians, often contrasting their difficult lives with those of the Israeli settlers. Israeli houses have swimming pools while Palestinians have an unreliable water supply provided by the Jerusalem municipality at extortionate cost. Palestinians are subject to severe and complex pass laws. The worst feature of life in the town is the Israeli built wall which cuts off the town from East Jerusalem. Farmers are cut off from their land, while routine tasks such as attending a hospital app-ointment are fraught with difficulty when the wall has to be crossed.

These difficulties are deliberately designed to persuade the Palestinian population to give up in despair and abandon their homes and farms to the settlers.Education is also disrupted as journeys to and from school are difficult for teachers and pupils alike. also covered are the problems facing young people and the health services.

This pamphlet is well worth buying both for the details of the reality of life under the occupation and to support the links between London and Abu Dis.