NEW COMMUNIST Party leader Andy Brooks and Robert Laurie from the Central Committee attended a celebration at the Marx Memorial Libraryon 10th December to mark the 75th anniversary of its foundation. Prof David McLellan and Dr John Callow both spoke on Marx in London and in the world and a recently donated portrait of Paul Robeson was unveiled on the second floor.
THE PASSING of a comrade is a sad event at any time. It is much, much more so when that comrade’s life is cut short in the prime of her life. Stella Moutafis battled against mental illness for the best part of her life but she struggled against adversity till the end. Stella joined the New Communist Party in October 1990 and she devoted her life to building the Party and the New Worker from the start. She worked as a volunteer at the Party Centre and an activist in her branch and the London District Committee. Every week Stella would join the dedicated early morning team that despatches the New Worker on Thursday, joining in the lively discussion on the news of the day or telling us of the antics of her pet budgie, who we all heard cheeping away in the background whenever we rang her at home. But while the “wrap” was a constant in her calendar Stella also came down from Epsom most Mondays or Tuesdays to help out at the centre or prepare for campaigns in the capital, cheering us all up with her enthusiasm and commitment to the cause. Stella loved to be active in the broad movement as well as the Party working in solidarity with Cuba, Korea and Vietnam, CND, the Marx Memorial Library and the Labour Representation Committee. London District was reorganised following the rule changes in 2003 and Stella played a leading role in developing the Metropolitan Cell’s New Worker Supporters’ Group, the biggest in the country. Stella had a thirst for knowledge, embracing the age of the Internet as soon as free access became available at her local library and then obtaining a home computer to explore the Web and develop her creative writing skills. But she always returned to books. She studied the classic works of Marx and Engels, Lenin and Stalin as well as those on contemporary politics, and took part in many local and national schools. She was always a delegate to Congress and she ably represented the Party at many ceremonial events and embassy receptions over the years. On demonstrations, and there were few she missed in London, she was out there through thick and thin: giving out leaflets, selling the paper or helping the team to carry the NCP national banner. The Party was an important part of her life but it wasn’t a one-way road. She brought her love of the countryside, wild-life, music, science fiction and movies to us and this was reflected in her words. Stella’s letters brightened up the columns of the New Worker, Morning Star and the local Epsom press and her keen observation, humanity and humour were demonstrated in her reviews of the London cultural scene that frequently appeared in our paper. Above all Stella worked to see the Party and the New Worker grow. She was tremendously cheered to see the first colour edition of the New Worker come out in November. Sadly that was the last edition she ever saw. Always modest and unassuming she never fully realised how she touched the lives of all those who had the privilege of knowing her. Stella was a great friend and a great comrade. She will never be forgotten.
Stella Moutafis died on 23rd November 2008. Her funeral, a small private ceremony at her family’s request, took place this week. NCP leader Andy Brooks and Dolly Shaer from the Political Bureau, paid their last respects on behalf of the Party. A New Worker memorial meeting will be held early in the New Year.
TUC GENERAL secretary Brendan Barber last Saturday told the annual Progress conference at TUC Congress House in London that “it’s time to ditch New Labour”. His speech marked a distinct leftward shift for the TUC. It did not reach the point of raising awareness of basic class conflicts and the nature of capitalism but nevertheless indicated a complete rejection of the free market concepts that have dominated Labour and Tory governments for three decades now. He said the global financial crisis had put “the right on the intellectual back foot”. He said: “This autumn, the world has changed. We’ve witnessed a global financial crisis unprecedented in our lifetimes. “In the past few months we have seen the collapse of the dominant neo-liberal consensus of the past three decades. “All over the world, the right is on the intellectual back foot. Its most cherished nostrums – a minimal state, deregulation, privatisation, liberalisation – have been brought into disrepute. “It’s up to us on the progressive left to articulate a compelling alternative. “The TUC welcomes much of what Labour has done since September – a genuinely radical, imaginative response to the downturn. “In particular we applaud the hugely symbolic pledge announced in Monday’s [24th Nov] Pre-Budget Report to introduce a new 45 per cent tax for the richest one per cent of our society. “This is evidence of how far the terms of the political debate have shifted in the past year. Indeed we’ve nothing to fear from being bold – thinking what was once the unthinkable. “Events this autumn have reminded us that where the market has failed, the state can be a powerful force for good. This has profound implications across the policy spectrum; from the way we deliver public services to the way we respond to the housing challenge. “And the election of Barack Obama suggests there is a huge clamour for change among ordinary people. “We believe there is a burning desire for fairness: for fair tax – where everyone pays their fair share; for fair rewards – where hard work takes precedence over speculation. And for fair chances – where everybody is given the opportunity to fulfil their potential. “And at the heart of all of this – what kind of economic settlement we build out of the wreckage of our broken financial system. “Indeed, I believe the single most pressing challenge for progressives is to set out an alternative vision of the global economy. “Avoiding the false security of protectionism, and instead showing how globalisation can deliver for the many not the few. Addressing the real insecurities felt by ordinary people in their workplaces and their communities. “The centre-left should be confident about taking the lead on this – it is natural territory for us.We are freed from having to make an uncomfortable accommodation with neo-liberalism. The new ideological terrain is ours to forge. “So let’s find the ideas to capture people’s imagination and let’s find the language to get our vision across. “Because if there’s one outstanding lesson from the American election, then it’s surely this - people can be inspired by change. “It’s time to ditch the New Labour discourse – of stakeholder partnerships, joined-up Government, outcome-driven policy and all the rest of it – and get our message across by using altogether more inspiring language. “The language of equality, fairness and social justice.” Other speakers at the conference included James Purnell MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; Lord Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform; and Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Also speaking were Hazel Blears, Martin Bright, Chris Bryant, Andy Burnham, Liam Byrne, Charles Clarke, Derek Draper, Caroline Flint, Kate Green, Peter Hain, Tristram Hunt, Tessa Jowell, Peter Kellner, David Lammy, Tony McNulty, Fiona Mactaggart, Alan Milburn, Ed Miliband, Trevor Phillips, plus many more.
THE OUTGOING Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, last week issued a warning to politicians that they must give “breathing room” to senior officers to run their police forces without politically motivated interference. He said that frontline policing was a high-risk business and Scotland Yard must “move on” from its “occasional disasters”. Blair was speaking on his last day in office and said that running the £3.5 billion organisation of some 50,000 employees has been “99 per cent enjoyable”. serious mistakes But he admitted many will focus on the other one per cent, including the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Forest Gate raids and a string of serious mistakes. Blair’s remarks came after he blasted Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson for forcing him to resign after taking charge of the Metropolitan Police Authority. He said standing down was the “only honourable course”, despite retaining the support of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, when Johnson said he did not support him. Blair admitted that the upper reaches of Britain’s largest force have “got a bit like politics” with one side briefing against the other. Speaking about diversity, Sir Ian said the Met had made “extraordinary strides” since the death of Stephen Lawrence in 1993.
THE FALL-OUT from the Baby-P case has begun to hit various officers and staff at the London Borough of Haringey with blame and recriminations being thrown around – and recalling the findings of the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié, also in Haringey. That inquiry painted a clear picture of insufficient numbers of social workers, some of whom were only partially trained and inexperienced in legal child protection work. Staff were dealing with 19 caseloads at a time when 12 was the recommended maximum. Managers then blamed the front line staff for failing to report that they were not coping. The inquiry found that managers were “way out of touch with what was happening at the grass roots and did not really seem to care”. Ms Bradley, a social worker in one of the long-term teams and a Unison representative, described the situation as “conveyor belt social work”. She said that the “ethos seemed to be particularly about getting the cases through the system and meeting the targets, meeting the statistics, getting them through the system”, rather than doing the work that needed to be done. This refrain will strike a chord with most people who work on the front line in various civil service, local authorities and NHS services. And it’s all down to a culture of cuts and privatising services that goes back to the Thatcher years. On the front line staff leave and are not replaced; workloads grow. At the same time a culture of targets is introduced and pressure is put on management to continually “improve” the services with fewer and fewer staff. Those who fail fear they will be among the next round of cuts. The targets cannot really be met so the statistics are doctored to make it appear so; middle managers spend all their time becoming accomplished spin doctors, neglecting all other duties. And upper management levels never hear any bad news from below. They live in a world of sugary optimism and fantasy while oblivious to the crumbling mess that the services are turning into below them.They call this “positive thinking” and wage a continual war against “negative thinking” – or objective reality as the frontline staff and their clients would see it. When cuts and services fall below a certain level in most areas they will provoke a public outcry. Closed schools, hospitals, libraries, parks and playing field will spark local protests. The more middle class the area, the more articulate the protests will be generally. Councillors who wish to be re-elected will spread their limited funding accordingly. There are few protest demonstrations on behalf of the really poor and disadvantaged; the mentally ill, the disabled, the downtrodden, disillusioned and alienated. Abused children are powerless to organise a protest and demand more social workers. So these are the departments that get cut and cut and cut. The media pay no attention until a scandalous tragedy happens. Then there will be outrage in the papers, an inquiry and a plan of action. In a few months’ time Haringey council will report that it has put into action a new plan to improve social services, with targets, deadlines and all the rest. The statistics will soon show the plan has been implemented and is working well – more “positive thinking”. And only the frontline staff and the abused children will know what is really happening. Haringey is not alone. This is happening all around the country and it is a miracle that cases like Baby P do not happen more often. The real answer is to recognise that the narrow bourgeois family is an unnatural institution that isolates vulnerable children and women into tiny cells that can and do go very wrong; that the whole of society has a responsibility to take a share in the rearing and nurturing of children. The wider families of pre-capitalist times, involving umpteen grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to the umpteenth degree are gone and need to be replaced by crèches, child centres, after-school centres, youth clubs, young pioneer palaces and so on where young people can be taught that society welcomes and values them. We need a society that values children and parenthood and is prepared to support both much more closely. We need socialism.
THE LABOUR Representation Committee conference in London last Saturday, attended by hundreds of left-wing Labour Party, trade union and other left organisations, presented a remarkably united front, endorsing 19 out of the record 20 resolutions submitted to it.
Organisations that submitted successful resolutions included the New Communist Party, the Campaign for Socialism, Socialist Appeal, Lambeth and Southwark LRC, the Communication Workers’ Union, PCS Labour Left, Unison North East Essex Mental Health Branch, Branch 558 of the BFAWU bakers’ union, Nottingham NUM Ex and Retired Miners Association and the Socialist Youth network.
Over two hundred delegates packed the Conway Hall for the LRC’s annual conference that was held under the title “The Future of the Left” to discuss the way forward and elect the new national committee.
The only resolution that was defeated, from the Trotskyist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, contained a clause calling for support of “non-Labour socialist candidates” in elections that would have given the Labour Party a legitimate reason to expel all LRC members and supporters.
The current economic crisis and building a united working class response to it dominated the speeches and discussions.
Left Labour veteran Tony Benn delivered the opening speech, pointing out that the people of Britain are now well to the left of the Labour government and questioning Gordon Brown’s decision to cut taxes. “Who does this really benefit?” he asked. “What do they really mean when they say, ‘We will do whatever it takes’.”
He concluded saying: “We need to be confident and people will come to us.”
Ogmundur Jonassen an MP from the Icelandic VG (Left Green) party delivered the first of two international contributions. He explained that the Icelandic people, like the British, were suffering from the effects of a government that has pursued the policies of Friedman and Hayek.
He also made a strong attack on the British government decision to use anti-terrorist legislation to freeze Icelandic assets in Britain when the Icelandic bank Landisbank collapsed.
Jonassen pointed out that the actions of the United States banks and government had done serious damage the British economy but Gordon Brown’s government had not used anti-terror legislation against them.
He said the measures did nothing to benefit the British working people and seriously damaged the welfare of Icelandic working people.
“The people of Britain are not to blame and the people of Iceland are not to blame. It is the unjust and corrupt capitalist system that is to blame,” he said.
The other international contributor was Audun Lysbakken, deputy leader of the Norwegian Socialist Left (SV) party, who also linked the struggles of the working class in his country with those in Britain.
Other speakers included Katy Clark MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Jeremy Dear (NUJ), John McDonnell MP and Matt Wrack (FBU).
Jeremy Dear led the debate on the economy, pointing out that we do not simply want Britain restored to the condition it was in before the crash – that would only lead to the same problems happening again. “There is an opportunity here for a complete transformation of society,” he said. And he called for an end to tax avoidance used by wealthy individuals and corporations.
John McDonnell spoke on the acute housing crisis and the scandal of Government encouragement to buy-to-let landlordism and the shortage of council housing that drove rents up.
He also reminded conference of two million pensioners still living in poverty and of the recession of the 1980s that saw “a whole generation brought up in unemployment”.
McDonnell also spoke of the hardships of the migrant workers in his constituency, with three or four asylum seekers being deported daily.
He spoke of immigration service and police raiding homes in the early hours of the morning and raising work places during the day; of people being dragged away in handcuffs and forcibly put on planes before they had any chance to appeal.
And he reminded conference that “the Government is sending people back to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan”.
The New Communist Party resolution on combating the dangers of fascism and racism was moved by NCP central committee member Daphne Liddle.
The resolution was in two parts, covering the dangers from the British National Party, which is trying to fill a gap in our local communities left by the disappearance of locally active constituency Labour and other parties.
She called for a return to door-to-door canvassing where the lies of the BNP can be properly countered.
The resolution also called for the repeal of unjust immigration and asylum acts, “anti-terror” legislation and an end to the growing “surveillance state” and to private sector involvement in the administration of the state.
Four other members of the NCP took part in the conference including NCP leader Andy Brooks and Michael Fletcher, who successfully moved the motion on low pay and trade union rights on behalf of his Unison N E Essex Mental Health branch.
The LRC is supported by nine Labour MPs, a number of trade unions at national and regional level, and socialist, co-operative and progressive movements, including the NCP, that do not stand against Labour in elections .
ELECTRICIANS employed by EDF Energy working on the London Underground as “tester” technicians staged the first of two 36-hours strikes last Monday in a dispute over pay. The technicians, who are responsible for finding and fixing faults on the network, are members of the RMT transport union, which reported the strike as “100 per cent solid”. And it warned that if employer EDF Energy Powerlink is to avoid a second strike in two weeks’ time the company should negotiate seriously over their claim for pay parity with non-shift colleagues. The union also raised concerns that managers, some of whom have not worked “on the tools” for many years, were being left to deal with power-supply faults on dozens of different types of high-voltage equipment involving currents of up to 22,000 volts. The strike, by 25 highly skilled technicians who voted for action by margins of more than ten to one, began at 17:59 on Sunday night (16th November) and finished at 07:59 on Tuesday 18th November. A ban on working beyond scheduled duties also began on Sunday night. “Our members have shown EDF Energy Powerlink very clearly how they feel about their claim for pay parity, and it is time for EDF to get off its high horse and talk,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.
TORY London mayor Boris Johnson last week announced that several major Transport for London projects are to be scrapped and jobs could be lost as TfL tries to save £2.4 billion over the next 10 years. But Johnson said £39 billion would be spent on projects like Crossrail and Tube improvements. The London Labour Group said he had made a “bonfire” of transport projects. Dropped schemes include a £1.3 billion cross-river tram plan, a £500 million Thames Gateway Bridge scheme in east London, and a £750 million extension of the Docklands Light Railway to Dagenham Dock. Also axed are a £500 million Oxford Street tram scheme, a £170 million Croydon Tramlink extension and public space proposals for a number of areas including Parliament Square and the Victoria Embankment. TfL said it aimed to avoid redundancies but a spokesperson said the organisation was looking at “de-layering of management” and was looking at “reductions in headcount”, which would include reducing the reliance it had on outside consultants. The RMT transport union responded by saying that any threat of forced redundancies will be resisted. The union today said it was alarmed by the announcement that “hundreds” of jobs could be lost across TfL as part of a drive to find £2.4 billion in “efficiency savings”. “TfL has made vague statements about the need to reduce headcount across TfL and that can only cause alarm among our members,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said. “Reducing the use of over-priced outside consultants is all well and good, but there can be no question of any job losses among the people who deliver the services that London depends on. “There is no way that London’s transport workers should be made to pay for the failure of the bankers and privateers whose greed has created the crisis our economy is now in. “The mayor was elected on the promise of bright new ideas, but there is nothing remotely bright or new about wielding the axe on jobs and services. “If the mayor is looking for efficiencies he should find a way of bringing the Tube Lines PPP contracts back in house, because they are still draining huge sums of public money from London’s transport budget. “We thought the Government was going to plough money into public projects to help us through the recession, but first we have had attacks on Network Rail’s essential budgets and now it seems London Underground is coming under attack. “It goes without saying that RMT will resist any forced redundancies among our members,” Bob Crow said.
LAST SUNDAY, in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum, the Soviet War Memorial Trust Fund held an Act of Remembrance which focussed on the Soviet contribution to the defeat of fascism. In his opening remarks Trust Chair Philip Matthews said he hoped that the new American President will have a better understanding of Russian security fears than the outgoing one. The Liberal-Democrat Mayor of Southwark, who comes from Sri Lanka, stressed the global dimension of World War Two and the important role of Black and Asian troops from the then British colonies by recalling that a great uncle of hers was killed in France. The Russian Ambassador Yury Fedotov also spoke stressing the importance of strengthening ties between Britain and Russia. The embassies of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine all laid wreaths as did students from the Russian Embassy School. A number of veterans from the Russian Convoy Club were present. During the war these white-bereted navy veterans undertook dangerous journeys ferrying munitions from Britain to the Soviet Arctic through waters infested with Nazi U-Boats. Despite the high losses sustained the British government has never honoured them with a specific campaign medal, but the Soviet and later Russian governments have done so frequently. This year special tribute was made to the 98 men lost when HMS Goodall was torpedoed in the closing stages of the war on the 29th April 1945 while on convoy protection duty in the Kola inlet in northern Russia. Wreaths also came from the Marx Memorial Library, the builders union UCATT, the New Communist Party , the Communist Party of Britain and several individuals. The Soviet Memorial Trust Fund was founded in 1997 to raise funds for a memorial to the 27 million Soviet War dead in World War Two often forgotten by British Governments that like to airbrush the Soviet role in defeating fascism out of history.
The work of the Trust, which organises similar events to mark the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army on the 29th January and Victory Day on the 9th May can be supported by donating to the Soviet Memorial Trust Fund, 320 Brixton Road, London SW9 6AB.
THE GREAT October Revolution is commemorated by communists all over the world and last weekend London was no exception at the NCP’s traditional celebration of the greatest event of the 20th century. As usual the print shop was converted into a bar while the folding area doubled up for a buffet largely prepared by our own comrades. In the main meeting room, the impact of 1917 was highlighted by our friends during the formal part of the proceedings opened by Party Chairman Alex Kempshall. Michael Chant of the RCPB(ML), John Mcleod from the SLP, Pratyush from Revolutionary Democracy, the Indian communist communist journal and NCP leader Andy Brooks all spoke about the significance of the Russian Revolution and the need for a united working class movement in Britain and the rest of the world. Ill-health sadly prevented our President, Eric Trevett, from coming but he sent a message which was read out along with greetings from the Manchester New Worker Supporters Group and the Juche Idea Study Group. Perhaps the most traditional part of an NCP social is the collection and Dolly Shaer made a rousing call to keep our press going. It certainly had an impact and £2,387 was raised for the Special Appeal!
photo: Andy Brooks, making a point, and Alex Kempshall
MEMBERS of the International Brigade Association, trade unionists and other anti-fascists assembled in the evening on Tuesday 28th October at TUC Congress Centre to celebrate the memory of La Pasionaria and other women who took part in the 1936-38 Spanish war against fascism. The event was organised by Philosophy Football to take place exactly 70 years after La Pasionaria made her most famous speech on 28th October 1938 to the parade of the International Brigades on their withdrawal from Spain. She told them: “Today many are departing. Thousands remain, shrouded in Spanish earth, profoundly remembered by all Spaniards. Comrades of the International Brigades: Political reasons, reasons of state, the welfare of that very cause for which you offered your blood with boundless generosity, are sending you back, some to your own countries and some to forced exile. “You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality in the face of the vile and accommodating spirit of those who interpret democratic principles with their eyes on hoards of wealth or corporate shares which they want to safeguard from all risk. “We shall not forget you; and when the olive tree of peace is in flower, entwined with the victory of laurels of the Republic of Spain – Return!” Many of those attending Congress House last Tuesday had indeed recently returned from a short visit to Spain to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of that war where they had visited historic battle sites, graveyards and memorials. welcomed And they had been warmly welcomed by the local Spanish people. Few were International Brigade members, there are not many of them left now. But the relatives and close friends – members of the IBA – and other anti-fascists are carrying on the tradition, making sure the events of that war will never be forgotten. And they continue to remind the world that if western governments had stood by the democratically elected Spanish Republican government in its fight against the fascist forces of Franco – heavily and actively backed by Hitler and Mussolini – European fascism could have been defeated in 1936 and the Second World War prevented. Two veterans attended last Tuesday’s event at Congress House: Jack Jones, former general secretary of the TGWU and pensioners’ leader and Penny Feiwell (nee Phelps) who, in 1936, was a young nurse who went as a volunteer to help tend the Republican wounded. She worked in makeshift hospitals just three km behind the front lines. There were speeches from Marlene Sidaway, secretary of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, TUC deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady, Sally Alexander, co-editor of Women’s Voices from the Spanish Civil War, Unison’s head of health Karen Jennings and national Union of Students Black Students officer Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy. There was music from Rhoda Dakar and Nick Welsh, folk violinist and singer Eliza Carthy accompanied by Saul Rose. And there was a humorous poetry reading from Jackie Kay. There was also Spanish food and wine.
THE CHILDREN’S Secretary, Ed Balls, last week attacked the concept of a London living wage, which is currently set at £7.45 an hour as the recommended minimum wage needed for survival in the capital. The idea was introduced by former London Mayor Ken Livingstone in recognition that living costs in the capital – especially housing – are significantly higher than in most other places and that the minimum wage level, which at £5.73 is too low anyway, is totally inadequate in London. Livingstone’s successor Boris Johnson has also declared his support for the London living wage and has promised it will be paid to all staff employed by the Greater London Authority and Transport for London. It has already led to the promise of a big pay rise for thousands of cleaners on the London underground from next year.
Now Ed Balls is claiming that it would be “artificial, inflationary” and not “necessary or appropriate”. “An artificial ‘living wage for London’ could distort labour markets and prove poor value for money. Moreover, in seeking to reflect perceptions of the cost of living, this proposal could also raise inflation expectations at a time when increased vigilance is needed on inflationary risks. We do not believe it is necessary or appropriate.” Ball’s stance has attracted criticism from poverty charities, businesses and unions representing low-paid workers for the government’s stance on the London living wage. Mark Donne, the director of the Fair Pay Network said: “It is extremely disappointing, particularly from a children’s minister, yet perhaps not entirely surprising that such senior government figures have taken this view on the living wage. “The London living wage is extremely popular with the London electorate and cities such as Oxford, Norwich and Leeds are keen to follow suit. “In both the moral and business cases, the national minimum wage, and indeed the living wage where implemented have lifted low paid people from poverty and bolstered local economies.” The network represents charities ranging from Oxfam to the Child Poverty Action Group and the TUC. Guy Stallard, the director of facilities for the management accountants KPMG, a company that employs more than 123,000 people, said: “We have found that paying the living wage is a smart business move as increasing wages has reduced staff turnover and absenteeism, whilst productivity and professionalism has subsequently increased.” Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, which represents 1.3million workers in public services, said: “A shocking 40 per cent of London’s children live in poverty, which means that millions of families in the city are struggling to make ends meet. The London living wage is a real opportunity to help these families cope with the high cost of living in the capital – and Ed Balls is only going to make their situation worse with his attack on decent pay.”
A spokesperson for Boris Johnson said: “If the government is serious about tackling the capital’s obscene levels of poverty and deprivation, then it would join me in urging all London employers to accept the London living wage as the basic pay rate. “London is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live and work and it is not only morally right to pay the living wage but also makes good business sense, contributing to better recruitment and retention of staff, higher productivity and a more loyal workforce with high morale.”
THE TUC last Saturday joined the United Friends and Families Campaign (UFFC) to protest about deaths in custody and to call on the Government to give a proper account of the circumstances of these tragedies. The protest assembled at midday in Trafalgar Square for a remembrance procession along Whitehall and to deliver a letter to Downing Street. In a letter to the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “The TUC believes that the state has a duty of care towards the people it takes into custody and a responsibility to be open and accountable when deaths occur. “We believe that an independent public inquiry on deaths in custody should be held to ensure that lessons are learnt from previous deaths and to prevent future deaths.” The UFFC was set up by families who have relatives who have died in police custody, in prison or in psychiatric care. The organisation is campaigning for reforms in the way deaths in custody are investigated. It is asking the Government to hold a public inquiry into deaths in custody to ensure that lessons are learnt from the past and that future deaths are avoided. Families attending include those of Jean Charles de Menezes, Roger Sylvester, Brian Douglas, Mikey Powell, Christopher Alder, Paul Coker and Coker and Jason McPherson. This march, the 10th, also commemorated the tragic death of Pauline Campbell who was in the midst of a campaign for justice for her daughter Sarah.
The economic crisis, the "middle class", the health service and national liberation were looked at in depth at last weekend's NCP weekend school in London. Fifteen friends and comrades from four districts and two supporters' groups took part in the discussions opened by Andy Brooks, Michael Fletcher, Neil Harris and Alex Kempshall in four sessions over the two days. Though most came from London other had travelled from Manchester, Bristol, Colchester and Woking to take part in the last school in the 2008 programme and raise £73 for the New Worker fighting fund.
HUNDREDS of pensioners from all parts of Britain descended on Westminster on Wednesday 22nd October to demand a serious increase in the basic state pension rate and the restoration of the link with average earnings. The mass lobby of Parliament was organised by the National Pensioners’ Convention and 15 separate trade unions and marked the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the old age pension. The protesters say the current promised increase due next April, from £90.70 by £4.55 a week for a single pensioner and from £145.05 by £7.25 a week for a pensioner couple, is not enough. The lobby comes at a time when, for the second time in a decade, hundreds of billions have been wiped off the value of private and occupational pensions, leaving those who had been prudently saving for a comfortable old age dependent on the pittance of the basic state pension. Pensioner poverty has risen in the last year by 300,000, taking the total to 2.5 million older people living on less than 60 per cent of median population income before housing costs, the same number as 10 years ago. disgrace
NPC general secretary Joe Harris said the statistics were a “national disgrace”. “For decades, the policy of successive governments has been to rely on means-tested benefits for existing pensioners and good occupational pension schemes for future generations, as a way of avoiding paying a decent state pension,” he said. “The Government should use the huge £46 billion surplus in the National Insurance Fund and give everyone a pension that takes them out of poverty. It’s not acceptable that there’s billions for bankers, but peanuts for pensioners.” George Henderson, general secretary of the Scottish Pensioners’ Association, said: “At a time like this, pensioners will be disgusted that bankers are being offered up to £500 billion, while our members will get less than a £5 increase in their pension next year. “Every week more and more of our 2.5 million pensioners are facing rising food and fuel prices. Pensioners face inflation rate that is twice the official figures because older people spend a higher proportion of their income on those items with the fastest rising prices. “Pensioners need to see a substantial increase now to help them cope with the current financial crisis.” TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber added that the introduction of the state pension 100 years ago remained “a key achievement” but its value had been diminished by the Conservatives’ decision to end the link with earnings. The protest day began with a demonstration in Parliament Square at 11am, with some lobbyers in Victorian costume, followed by a rally and a parliamentary lobby in Westminster Hall and the Central Lobby.
TWO FARMERS from the West Bank village of Beit Fourik, Fouad and Fhed, are set to spend a week based in south-east London campaigning to raise awareness of the plight of farming communities under the heavy heel of Israeli military occupation. The trip is being organised by the South East London Friendship Link with Beit Fourik (SELFLBF) and builds on a previous very successful visit last November by Fouad and visits by south-east London supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to the West Bank and Beit Fourik in particular. During their visit Fouad and Fhed hope to talk to British farm workers, attend discussion and fund-raising meetings, take part in a nationwide twinning conference and make time for some sightseeing around London. Their SELFLBF hosts have included the British Museum section on Middle Eastern antiquities in their schedule. Sue Phasey and Pauline Collins, two members of the organising committee spoke to the New Worker about the purpose of the visit: “We are trying to highlight the plight of Palestinian farmers in the West bank under Israeli occupation,” said Sue. “We have visited Palestine,” said Pauline, “and seen the dire situation that the people face in their day-to-day lives, in their living conditions, their lack of freedom of movement and lack of access to water. And it’s getting worse – it’s much worse now than it was this time last year.” Sue added: “We want to develop an understanding about the situation and knowledge through linking local communities.” They went on to speak of Fhed and Fouad, farmers from the village of Beit Fourik near Nablus and building the link between this community and people in south-east London where the issue is not well known. The restrictions on movement make it very difficult for farmers to get to their land to farm it at critical times. The check points keep people waiting for hours; if a farmer had a lorry load of tomatoes he has just harvested, they can rot while he is held up for hours at a checkpoint in the blazing sun. A lot of produce gets wasted because farmers cannot water it or harvest it at the right time. This means they are going over to planting only things like wheat that are more resilient to being neglected. In turn this has restricted the diet of the Palestinians to only wheat products and this is taking its toll on their health. The wall is dividing farmers from their land and the opening times of the gates are not compatible with the needs of the farmers. The SELFLBF was formed because members believe that international friendship and co-operation is the most effective way of developing peace and justice across the world. Members have visited Palestine and formed a friendship link with Beit Fourik. The villagers of Beit Fourik feel isolated and “lost to the world” and the Friendship Link has enabled exchange visits to be made between the two communities which addresses this isolation. Members have also been able to support small scale projects for the young people and women of the village. They feel it is important for an urban area such as South East London to be linked with an agricultural area as food security and sustainability is important to us all and we can learn from the agricultural practices, organic nature and sustainability of food production in an area such as Beit Fourik. The village faces a dire situation in relation of the illegal Israeli occupation which denies them freedom of movement due to numerous checkpoints, access to water and constant surveillance. In spite of this the hospitality that members have enjoyed when visiting them is joyful and they extend the hand of friendship to them when they visit south-east London. Gate 56, the statement of Omar, a Palestinian farmer from Jayyus in the West Bank, who has lost his land, illustrates the problems faced by the whole population. He was speaking at a PSC meeting in west London earlier this year and began by explaining issues relating to land and water and how Palestinian farmers are being denied access to their land and their land is being confiscated, olive groves are being burnt and there is Israeli graffiti everywhere. The Israeli occupying forces invoke laws brought in under the Balfour British Mandate which decree that:
* Government has the right to confiscate land for pipe lines, sewage and new communities. * If land is full of stones it can be confiscated. * If land is unsuitable for agriculture it can be confiscated. A lot of the West Bank is mountainous or foothills.
They also invoke laws dating back to the Ottoman Occupation, which say that if farmers do not plant their land for three years their land can be confiscated. The reality for the Palestinians is that some farming is nomadic herding; weather conditions can delay planting; the Israelis use aerial photos to record planting – and farmers get shot if resist and try to protect their land. Omar explained how the building of the giant wall by the Israelis on Palestinian land to separate Palestinians from Israel has added further problems. The wall snakes around to include many Israeli settlements on the West Bank, cutting across Palestinian farming land. This breaks some farms in half and often divides farmers’ homes from their fields.
* Farmers now need permits to go through the wall to farm their own land but permits are given only to primary land holders. So at harvest and other busy times they cannot bring family members to help. * The wall necessitates a 28/26 kilometre walk to our land morning and night to reach gate 25 which allows us through the wall so that we can work our land. * The Wall is eight metres high with barbed wire and a suicide gap. * If anyone in the family is killed or arrested the family loses their permit. Everyone has to pay with the loss of livelihood. * If you belong to Hamas you won’t be able to have a permit. * Many farmers have to walk if they do not have a donkey or a horse. * Many farmers are too tired to work their land on reaching Gate 25 which is the access point for Jayyus. * If they are not able to work land it will be confiscated * Price for crops are so low that they have to be thrown away/ploughed back in the land. * Jewish groups have worked with them on this as well as harvesting. * Checkpoints make it very difficult to get crops to the market in Nablus. * The pattern of farming changing. Permits mean that the traditional ways for example the extended family are not able to help with agricultural work as they have no permits to access their own land. * Crops such as peppers, tomatoes and so on not being grown because of their need for a high water content and the Israelis control the water supply and access. Greenhouses are being dismantled and wheat grown, which requires less husbandry. * Israeli controlled water metres do not supply enough water for personal or agricultural needs. * Industrial zones being developed and workers will be needed for these. Omar then explained what he and other West Bank faming families want: * To be treated as human beings. Stop humiliating us. * A Palestinian State equal with the Israelis but first a Palestinian State; it will be difficult to have a Palestinian Independent State. * We need to be together; it is a crime to separate as we need to be together to develop. * Refugees have keys round their necks for the houses they were expelled from there must be a Right of return for the Palestinian people. The Jewish people have this so why can’t we. * The replacement of 728 olive trees stolen by the Israelis; they were replaced by the soldiers but the settlers uprooted them again. * We need a fair price for our goods so we can afford to take them to market.
He concluded: “Please go away and tell them we have to make a country, one state.” Fouad Hanani, a community representative from Beit Fourik, speaking at a meeting last year, had a similar story: “Being a Palestinian Farmer is a special occupation. There is no financial support for farmers. We collect our olives but after that marketing is very difficult. We need to export to other markets. The prices we get are less than we would get if we could export our produce. We need a good price to support the farmers. Farmers are not encouraged by the Occupation situation to do good work on their land. The local Association Relief Committee for Palestinian Agriculture works with farmers to support and protect them from the Israeli settlements to develop and protect organic farming in order to establish a small community speciality. There is less international support now. To get help from the European Union you have to sign a statement saying you are resisting terrorism. If you are linked to Hamas you lose points. The Palestine Association that supports farming needs foreign solidarity. Our land near the Jordan Valley had good water but these supplies have been taken by Israelis. If we pick olives behind the settlement zones, which is our land, we get shot and lose our land. The settlers can share in the olive harvest with Palestinians but it is Palestinian land the trees and they take half and if we resist they shoot. The industrial zones could be one good way to develop co-operative Palestinian employment, modern farming, marketing and exporting. The Jordan Valley Palestinian Farmers organisation is under Israeli control. There have been border closures between Palestine and Jordan. Israelis want it rich in water and fertile. Israelis prevent Palestinian marketing, exporting.” “It is a good land; we want freedom to make it anything we want to do.”
SELLING the New Worker in Lewisham last week all the regular readers and sellers of other lefty papers were walking several inches above the pavement with beaming smiles. History was happening; capitalism was dying; after decades of unrewarding campaigning, battling to raise class consciousness against the dead weight of inertia, a real point of dialectical change was there. Capitalism was eating itself, without any help from us, dying of internal contradictions. We could dust off our dreams of a real change; hopes were raised – even though we knew the capitalists would probably find a way out and for certain they would do their best to make us pay. We knew there was pain ahead but there was one important change that will endure a bit longer – the myth of the free market had exploded; bankers and speculators had become the least popular people on the planet. It was a breakthrough in popular perception but it was not a revolution. Gordon Brown has nationalised some big banks and other capitalist leaders around the globe have followed suit and the panic in the stock markets seems to have eased. It is not a measure the capitalists wanted to take; they fear democratic control and being made accountable to the people they exploit day-in and day-out. But it was a concession they had to make to survive – they had to make the taxpayers, mostly the working class, foot the truly huge bill for their disaster. They are hoping this is a temporary measure and that in a few years the banks will be restored to the private sector and things will go back to the way they were before the crash. But the real pain is still to come: the job losses, falling consumer spending, cuts in public spending, cuts in welfare, deferred house building and so on. The Prime Minister has had to borrow hundreds of billions to bail out the banks and that will have to be repaid. Keynesian techniques of government borrowing help in the short-term, they get a country out of a crisis and get people back to work and things ticking over again. But the debts have to be paid – with interest. Every time a government borrows and thereby puts more money in circulation, the value of money decreases; there is inflation. Eventually once again a point is reached where a new crisis of overproduction arises and the government has to borrow again. It has to borrow to service old debts. It becomes an expanding cycle as the real debt gets bigger with every turn. In the end there is again a collapse of credit. The collapse we have just witnessed would have happened about a decade ago if Brown, then as Chancellor, and others like him in other capitalist powers, had not urged consumer deficit spending. Ordinary citizens were pushed into taking on as much personal debts – mortgages, credit cards and so on – as they could bear, and more. This was a form of micro Keynesianism with consumers, rather than the government, taking on the strain of debt with interest payments, the long-hours culture and personal misery associated. Meanwhile bankers were trading in hedge funds, futures and other ephemera. They traded in debt, forgetting it was not real money but froth. The froth grew into giant mountains. But when the low paid workers could sustain no more debt and started to default, the bubbles burst and the froth collapsed. It had to happen sooner or later. Now the bankers have come cap-in-hand to the taxpayers. Potentially the working class has some power in this situation but we are still living under a capitalist state machinery. We must use the situation to push for a reversal of public utility privatisations, now that all can see how risky the private sector economy is. We must resist all attempts to re-privatise the banks, indeed we must call for them all to be nationalised. So far a few bankers have lost their bonuses and their jobs. But they are still far richer than we will ever be. They must be taxed to the hilt. We must never allow them to regain the full wealth and power they have grown accustomed to. And we must never allow them to claim they know what they are doing with our economy. We must keep the political momentum swinging against them – and one day we really will have a revolutionary situation.
THOUSANDS of protesters marched through London last Saturday to protest at the Government’s failure to meet its targets on reducing chilled poverty in Britain. The main slogan of the march, organised by the Child Poverty Action Group – a coalition of 120 organisations – was: “Keep the promise”. The coalition’s report published last week said more than a third of children in Britain live in low-income families or families in poverty. It found that of the 13,233,320 children in Britain, 5,559,000 are in families that are classed as “struggling”. The marchers set off from Milbank in carnival mood, in spite of the cold weather, accompanied by bands. Families with children predominated and the event was hosted by EastEnders actor Chris Parker. Also present were pop singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Shameless actor David Threlfall. In 1997 the newly-elected New Labour government promised to halve child poverty by 2010 and end it by 2020. But the coalition report shows that target is as far away as ever. It says the 2009 Budget is the last real chance the Government has to meet its targets. After meeting group members, Prime Minister Gordon Brown repeated a pledge to impose a legal duty on Government to eradicate child poverty by 2020 – an easy pledge to make knowing that, one way or another, he is likely to be out of government by then. Campaign director Hilary Fisher said: “Poverty has an impact on every aspect of a child’s life, health, education and well-being. Now is the time for the Government to turn their commitment into reality and provide that investment which will make that change.” The Government says it has lifted 600,000 children out of poverty since 1999 but a further 2.9 million remain. Speakers at the rally in Trafalgar Square included TUC general secretary Brendan Barber and Unison general secretary Dave Prentis. Prentis said: “One in three children in the UK live in poverty today. That is shameful. And it impacts upon us all.” If the Government was to meet its targets, he said, it would need adequately-funded programmes in place by next spring. And he urged members: “Do join us. Don’t let the Government off the hook – speak up for children in poverty. Together, we can make a difference.” Brendan Barber called on the Government to commit another £3 billion in benefits and tax credits to help families in poverty. He said: “This has got to be at the top of the agenda. At a time when the Government has been able to find tens and tens of billions to support the financial system and the bankers, I think it is time we found the £3 billion to deliver on that commitment.” He said that all jobs should be “decent jobs”, paying fair wages “that can really support a family”. “Let us not forget,” he said, “that the real cost of child poverty is £40 billion – £600 for every man woman and child in the country.” The campaign has three aims: to inform public debate about child poverty, to forge commitments across the public, private and voluntary sectors to end it, and to promote the case to Government and civil servants. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who was joining the rally, said the situation was “shameful”. “Everyone in Britain and all political parties have a duty to do everything we can to end child poverty in Britain for good,” added Clegg, who wants a simplified benefits system to help families.
LONDON Mayor Boris Johnson faced harsh criticism last week from the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and from members of the Metropolitan Police Authority after he forced the resignation of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair without consulting them. Blair during his term in office had been a controversial figure. He was facing possible censure from the outcome of the current inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the young Brazilian electrician who was shot and killed by anti-terrorist police on a Tube train in 1975 after they mistook him for a terrorist suspect. Blair was also facing charges of racist discrimination made against the Met by former assistant commissioner Tarique Ghaffur and an inquiry by HM chief inspector of constabulary into alleged corruption over £3 million of Met contracts awarded to a close friend of Blair. In spite of all these controversies, Blair had the full backing of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone because of his efforts to challenge the traditional reactionary “canteen culture” of the Met; efforts that prompted strong opposition from some internal Met quarters. Some of the worst police officers in London will be glad to see him go. Blair was forced to quit after a stormy showdown with Johnson last Wednesday – thought Johnson has no authority to dismiss the Met chief. Only a Home Secretary can do that and Jacqui Smith responded, saying: “There’s a process in place that the mayor chose not to respect”. And she pointed out that the Met chief is not only involved in London policing but in anti-terrorist policing nationwide. And Len Duvall of the Metropolitan Police Authority expressed anger that Johnson had acted before attending his first meeting as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority. Blair had told Johnson that he would stay in place until a replacement had been found but was told: “We don’t want a successor appointed. We will have an acting arrangement until a Conservative home secretary arrives.” And later, in a letter to Jacqui Smith, Johnson said: “I would counsel caution in moving too quickly to recommending a prospective holder.” And he added that Smith should “consider whether a fairly lengthy consolidation period, under the acting command of Sir Paul Stephenson, might not be for the best.” The clear implication is that Johnson regards the Commissioner of the Met as a political appointment. The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) warned Johnson not to seize political control over the Met. Acpo president Ken Jones said that Johnson had created a damaging precedent that could undermine chief constables nationwide, warning of the “toxic mix” of politics, vested interests and the police. By Monday Johnson had moved on and ordered an inquiry into allegation of racial discrimination within the Met, including the claims of Tarique Ghaffur. The Metropolitan Black Police Association claims that 72 per cent of their members have experienced racism at work and urged black people to boycott all recruitment drives. It said it would “be failing in its duty” not to tell them of the “hostile and racist situation there”. “We will not put up or shut up to racism and inequality.” The Met BPA said the current suspensions of Commander Ali Dizaei and Britain’s most senior Muslim officer, Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, were proof that ethnic minority officers were treated less favourably than white staff. Dizaei was suspended after being accused of misconduct, while Ghaffur was “temporarily relieved of his responsibilities” by then Met Commissioner Sir Ian Blair. On Tuesday Jacqui Smith also ordered an inquiry into racism within all police forces in England and Wales.
Members of the giant union Unite employed at 11 bus garages in London last week joined forces with 3,500 of their colleagues who have already taken industrial action for strikes on Friday 10th and Wednesday 22nd October. The 2,500 Unite members who work for Metroline voted 88.5 per cent in favour of strike action in a recent ballot by the union. Unite submitted a London wide claim to all bus operators in March of this year to challenge the current system whereby drivers (and other grades) performing identical jobs within the TfL regulated industry, receive hugely varying pay and conditions. Bus workers at First Capital East, First Centre West and Metrobus have already been out on strike during September. Unite members at Transdev Sovereign, which covers North and North West London, have just voted in a consultative ballot by 98 per cent in favour of strike action with a full postal ballot now set to proceed. Unite is calling for a single rate of pay for drivers of £30,000 a year, based on a 38-hour week. Currently the 18 London bus companies all operate with different pay structures, with pay inequalities of up to £6,000 a year. Peter Kavanagh, Unite senior regional organiser, said: “There is a startling disparity between bus drivers’ pay in the capital, with rosters in some companies seeing many drivers’ complete nearly 60 hours per week. “Not only is this unsafe, it is unfair to have bus workers across London doing the same job for less money or having to put in much longer hours. “Our members will continue to strike and we will continue to ballot further bus companies until Boris Johnson listens up and engages in serious discussions for equal pay for all London bus workers.”
‘Holocaust denier’ arrested AUSTRALIAN teacher Gerald Frederick Toben was arrested last week in transit at Heathrow airport and held pending extradition on a warrant from the German government. In 1999 Toben was sentenced to nine months in prison under a German law that bans “defaming the dead” – effectively spreading the neo-Nazi claims that the Holocaust was a hoax. He was held under a German arrest warrant which claimed that he had carried out “worldwide internet publication” of material that was anti-Semitic and denied, approved or played down the mass murder of Jews perpetrated by the Nazis during the Second World War.
MEMBERS of the RMT transport union employed by the failed Tube maintenance company Metronet are balloting for strike action after a safety representative was suspended. The RMT said that member Andy Littlechild was suspended earlier this month for not wearing a hard hat. Metronet is responsible for the maintenance of two thirds of the London Underground lines. The union also warned that Metronet signals staff could be balloted in a row over proposed cuts in signals maintenance and changes to working rosters. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “The company says it needs to divert staff for an urgent survey of signals cabling that is half a century old. “But it must be unacceptable to do that at the expense of basic maintenance.”
Canadian steelworkers protest in London
MEMBERS of the giant general union Unite joined with members of the Canadian steelworkers’ union USW in London last week to protest outside the Potash Corporation’s analyst’s meeting. The USW members are in dispute with the Potash Corporation, their employer, and have been on strike since August. The joint union protest was an effort to bring the company back to the bargaining table and reach settlement. The strikers are fighting for a fair share of the company’s enormous profits as a result of the record prices being paid for the mineral fertiliser potash. The steelworkers handed out leaflets outlining PotashCorp’s performance since the strike began and informing analysts and investors about the dispute – placing responsibility on PotashCorp’s President, Bill Doyle and Executive Vice President/Chief Financial Officer Wayne Brownlee, who were at the meeting. On 2nd July USW and Unite announced plans to merge the two unions to create Workers Uniting, a transatlantic global union representing over three million working people from every industrial sector in Britain, Ireland, the USA, Canada and the Caribbean.
FOR THE second time this year Southall New Communist Party set up its stall at the popular Peace Market. The previous week had seen a lot of bad weather and Saturday morning started grey and dull. Comrades were not surprised to find few members of the public at the market and sales were low. But the afternoon brought out the sun and the people. As comrades found at the April market, young people had a lively interest in the Marxist Leninist literature and as the afternoon went on sales of the Communist Manifesto and of Lenin texts such as Left Wing Communism and copies of the NCP booklet The Case forCommunism and Ernie Trory’s Poland in the Second World War were sold. And there were conversations with old and young people. As ever, there were our “regulars” who came to buy our marmalade. All things considered we were satisfied with the £46.90 we took away for the New Worker fund.
INFLATION-BUSTING fare increases are a short-sighted fix that will create more problems than they solve, London Underground’s biggest union said last Monday. As London Mayor Boris Johnson announced increases at one per cent ahead of inflation, RMT called for an end to the colossal waste of public money still being poured into private pockets under the part-privatisation of the Tube’s infrastructure. “If the mayor needs extra cash for the London transport network he should be looking at ways to end the shocking waste still caused by the PPP, not squeezing passengers even more with inflation-busting fares hikes,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said. “Metronet’s catastrophic failure has already cost the public £2 billion and has cast a shadow over the upgrades the network desperately needs by 2012. “But even if Metronet hadn’t collapsed the PPP would still be haemorrhaging huge sums out of the network because it is an expensive scam designed to convert public cash into private profit. “The truth is that Tube Lines, like Metronet, is massively underwritten by the public, and the time to end the PPP is now, rather than waiting for another financial calamity,” Bob Crow said. Inflation-busting fares hikes not the way for the capital, says RMT. Johnson announced rises of 10 per cent in bus and Tube fares last week to be introduced in January. He blamed rising fuel costs after he cancelled the agreement made by his predecessor Ken Livingstone that would have supplied London buses with discount Venezuelan oil. He also cancelled the planned rise in congestion charges for bigger, heavier polluting private cars and the extension of the congestion charge to west London.
NCP LEADER Andy Brooks along with Central Committee members Daphne Liddle, Theo Russell and other comrades from London attended a meeting and social at the historic Lucas Arms in central London on 7th September to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the DPR Korea . The meeting was organised by the Friends of Korea committee and speakers included John McLeod (SLP), Michael Chant (RCPB-ML) and Jang Song Chol from the DPRK embassy in London. The formal part of the meeting was followed by a musical interlude by Michael Chant and Leslie Larkum who performed a medley Korean national songs and In Praise of Unsung Heroes, which was composed by Michael in 2008.
photo: John McLeod, Michael Chant and Jang Song Chol
RE-ENACTORS from the Parliamentary Army of the English Civil War Society carried the Commonwealth’s flag on Cromwell Green at the House of Commons on Wednesday 3rd September to marked the 350th anniversary of the death of Oliver Cromwell, the MP who led the New Model Army and became head of state of the English republic in 1653. The occasion was marked by the Cromwell Association’s annual commemorative service beneath the recently restored imposing statue of the Lord Protector outside Parliament. Conducted by John Morrill, a leading authority on the period, the service included contemporary prayers and hymns. The ecclesiastical business was supplemented by an address by Professor Barry Coward of King’s College London. He gave a necessarily speculative account of what Oliver Cromwell was thinking about his life’s work . While Cromwell’s final illness was worsened by news of the death of his daughter and political divisions among his supporters there is every sign that he retained confidence that he had done the right thing in the eyes of God.
Further details about the Cromwell Association can be found on their excellent website at http://www.olivercromwell.org/. Enquiries about membership, which includes their annual historical journal Cromwelliana should be sent to Gary Barker, 18 Healey Road, Scunthorpe DN16 1HW.
THE GIANT general union Unite last Friday announced that the 24-hour strike at First Capital East Buses and First Centrewest Buses had remained solid. The union is warning that the employer, FirstGroup, faces further disruption unless it returns to the negotiating table with an offer which recognises the hard work of these bus workers and the rising costs of living in London. Unite regional officer, Peter Kavanagh, said: “This strike has been solid. It’s a clear indication of our members’ determination to get a fair deal. It’s time for FirstGroup to return to the negotiating table with an offer that our members deserve. FirstGroup is extremely profitable – it’s only right that these workers should get a fair share of the rewards.” A further 48 hour strike is planned beginning Friday 12th September. Strike ballots are now taking place in most other London bus companies in disputes over pay. The union submitted a London-wide claim to all bus operators in March of this year to challenge the current system whereby drivers (and other grades) performing identical jobs within the TfL regulated industry, receive hugely varying pay and conditions. In many cases the pay disparity for drivers working for different operators can be as much as £6,000 a year.
NEW WORKER supporters, friends and readers enjoyed the first reasonably sunny, warm, dry day for several weeks last Saturday in a south London back garden with the annual New Worker garden party in Charlton. Comrades enjoyed good food and drink and discussion on topics ranging from the early Christian church and the spin-doctoring prowess of the Emperor Constantine, to current events in Pakistan, to home-brewed wine, to football matches and parking. A toddler also discovered that apples grow on trees. The event raised just under £60 for the paper.
MEMBERS of the RMT transport union last week called off a planned 72-hour Tube strike after TubeLine – a private consortium in charge of work on the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines – made an improved pay offer. Around 1,000 RMT members had been set to walk out on strike on Wednesday. The improved offer follows the union warning TubeLine boss Terry Morgan that he should stop throwing petty insults around and get around the table to negotiate a solution to the current pay and conditions dispute. This followed Morgan claiming that the planned strike was “political”. The union was demanding that pay and conditions for TubeLine employees should be raised substantially to bring them up to those agreed by Metronet for people doing identical work. Meanwhile more than 120 RMT cleaners working for OCS on its Eurostar contract will strike for 24 hours from 06:00 on Bank Holiday Monday, 25th August, in their campaign to end poverty pay and win decent working conditions. The cleaners, whose hourly pay is more than £1 an hour below the London Living Wage, returned a 100 per cent vote for action and will not book on for shifts that commence between 06:00 on Monday 25th August 25 and 05:59 on Tuesday 26th August. “Eurostar trades on its ethical reputation and claims to tread lightly on the planet, yet it seems happy for OCS to stamp all over the people who keep their trains and stations clean,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.
Boris loses another top aide
TORY London mayor Boris Johnson last week lost his third senior adviser – one of seven deputy mayors he appointed to help him with the technical aspects of trying to run the capital. Tom Parker resigned as chief of staff for Transport for London after just two months in office, when Johnson told him he would not, after all, be given control of TFL as he had been promised. Parker was appointed as one of the City of London’s most successful private equity businessmen with a brief to restructure the Greater London Authority and then do the same for TFl’s £6.5 billion budget. too political But Johnson changed his mind and decided to take personal charge of TFl and said it was “absolutely crucial” to doing his job effectively. He said the decisions were “too political” for an unelected aide to make. Trade unions had dubbed Parker “the Prince of Darkness” for his ruthlessness and cost-cutting in businesses he took over, like the AA and Kwik-Fit. Former London mayor Ken Livingstone commented: “Tim Parker was supposed to be the cornerstone of Boris Johnson’s administration. His exit after just a couple of months in fact confirms the chaos which has existed in Boris Johnson’s administration since day one”.
ON WEDNESDAY 6th August 1945 the United States Air Force dropped their atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima killing about 100,000 instantly and leaving countless others to die of cancers decades later. Peace activists mark the tragedy of Hiroshima every year and among the commemorations was that organised by CND in central London’s Tavistock Square. The ceremony, established in 1967 by the then Camden Mayor Millie Miller was this year attended by about 200 people young and old. Compered by Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, the Workers Music Association and Raised Voices choirs sang in English and Japanese. The speakers included local Labour MP and former Health Minister Frank Dobson, Camden’s present Mayor Nurul Islam and local vicar Paul Hawkins. CND Chair Kate Hudson, veteran pacifist Pat Arrowsmith and thirteen year old Sonia from Children Against the War also spoke. Pat Arrowsmith said that while it was regrettable that there is still a need for CND half a century after it was founded in 1958 the movement has had a number of encouraging successes such as the non-proliferation treaties and South Africa’s abandonment of nuclear weapons under Nelson Mandela. She took comfort in the fact that leading American politicians, when out of office, condemn nuclear weapons. Tony Benn concluded the ceremony by reminding the audience that the bombing of Hiroshima was the first shot of the Cold War because the incineration of the city was intended to be a warning to the Soviet Union.
The historic victory of the Korean people against US imperialism in the Korean War was celebrated in west London on 26th July at a meeting that included discussions, a musical interlude followed by a barbecue held in the grounds of Saklatvala Hall in Southall. June 25th to 27th July was the month of solidarity with the Korean people. On 25th June 1950 US troops backed by the south Korean lackeys invaded north Korea and started a ferocious war that claimed the lives of millions until it ended with the Americans signing a humiliating armistice on 27th July 1953.
photo: presentation to Cde Jang Song Chol of the DPR Korean embassy in London
SAM RUSSELL, veteran of the war against fascism in Spain, led a crowd of around 300 at the International Brigade memorial in Jubilee Gardens on the South Bank of the Thames last Saturday in the annual memorial event for those who went from Britain, ready to sacrifice everything, to stop fascism in Spain in the 1930s. Other speakers and dignitaries included Paul Preston of the London School of Economics, Tony Lloyd, who chairs the Parliamentary Labour Party, the Spanish Ambassador and International Brigade Association secretary Marlene Sideaway – who delivered La Passionaria’s Standing Down speech from 1938. Paul Preston told the crowd that the war in Spain was “the first part of the Second World War” and that “if people had listened to the International Brigaders the Second World War might never have happened”.
NEW TORY London mayor Boris Johnson has proposed cutting the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) budget by 15 per cent next year. He has said delivering value for money and preventing youth crime were his priorities as he set out the guidelines for his first budget. Both the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) could see increases in their budget for 2009-10. The mayor will issue a draft budget for consultation in December. He will then present the draft budget proposals to the London Assembly in January. Johnson said improving the quality of life for all Londoners was another priority and he has also made it clear new policies must meet his commitment to reduce carbon dioxide by 60 per cent by 2025. His proposals will see no changes to the budgets of the mayor’s business wing, the London Development Agency (LDA) and Transport for London (TfL). So far the sums do not add up but he has not specified where the cuts will fall to meet the 15 per cent budget cut.
IN THE 19th century British imperialism used its might to force feudal China to import opium from the India to offset the cost of imports of Chinese silk, tea and porcelain. China’s defeat also led to other humiliating concessions to Britain including the surrender of Hong Kong. This shameful episode is largely forgotten in Britain but not in China and it’s the theme of a vast piece of concept art now showing at the Barbican Centre in London. Huang Yong Ping is an avant-garde artist who has lived in Paris for over 20 years but his heart in still in China and this new “installation” seeks to convey the meaning of this Victorian drug trade through a series of sculptures that propels the viewer into a 3D abstract painting. It starts with giant pipe cleaners and bowls that lead on to a toppled statue of Lord Palmerston, the architect of the Opium Wars, on an opium bed smoking from a colossal pipe. At the back Huang has recreated an East India Company warehouse packed with crates of drugs and shelves stacked with piles of opium balls. “I consider the opium trade as a forerunner for today’s globalization: melting trade and the expansion of power. Sublimating the mind, while the body declines. Unveiling the violence and hiding the frolic,” Huang says about this controversial work he’s called Frolic after one of the American clippers custom-built to transport opium to China. Huang Yong Ping was born in the port of Xiamen in 1954 and he was one of the founding figures of Xiamen Dada, one of China’s most radical avant-garde collectives in the 1980s. Though he is well-known on the international art scene this is his first solo exhibition in Britain which is part of China Now, the largest ever festival of Chinese culture in Britain.
Admission’s free at the Barbican’s Curve Gallery, Silk Street London EC2 from 11.00 am to 8.00 pm until 21st September.
In July the NCP celebrates the foundation of the Party on 15th July 1977 and this year was no exception. Friends and comrades from home and abroad gathered at the Party Centre in London last weekend to meet and greet comrades that included Jang Song Chol from the DPR Korea embassy in London, Explo Nani-Kofi from the African Liberation Support Campaign Network and Pratyush from Revolutionary Democracy, the Indian communist review. NCP leader Andy Brooks spoke about the NCP’s struggle to build a Bolshevik party over the past three decades and Dolly Shaer made a rousing call for the Special Appeal during the formal part of the social and comrades showed their commitment by raising £1,425.93!
LABOUR MPs last week expressed support for striking cleaners on the London Underground who walked out last Thursday 26th June and called for an end to poverty pay on the Underground. Some cleaners are on pay rates of little more than £5.50 and are demanding a living wage of £7.20 per hour. John McDonnell MP, who chairs the Labour Representation Committee, said: “It is a disgrace that poverty wages are being paid to workers facing substantial increases in their living costs, and who provide an essential service for Londoners. “This level of exploitation of vulnerable workers is barbaric in a so-called civilised society. “Some of the managers and shareholders of the companies employing these workers should try living on these wages in our capital city.” Jeremy Corbyn MP said: “We won the ‘London Living Wage’ under Ken Livingstone to end poverty pay on the London Underground. Where is Boris Johnson on this issue?”
THE INTELLIGENCE agency MI5 last week came into conflict with flood risk experts as it called on the Government to keep secret maps of areas liable to serious flooding if any of the country’s dams were to break, because, they claim, terrorists might use the maps to work out which dams to attack to have maximum impact. Specialists in the Cabinet Office and the Environment Agency are calling for more information to be made public as the risk of major flooding increases with climate change. catastrophic Recently previously secret information revealed that record rainfall at the Ulley reservoir near Rotherham in Yorkshire nearly led to failure of the dam, which would have had catastrophic consequences. MI5’s own London headquarters are on the north Thames embankment close to Lambeth Bridge. Any damage to the Thames Barrier could see their building flooded – along with the Houses of Parliament and most of Whitehall. Meanwhile the Fire Brigades Union is warning that a year after summer floods caused havoc, the safety of rescue crews remains at risk because Fire and Rescue Services remain under resourced to cope with major flooding. Fire and rescue crews still lack even basic safety equipment such as waterproof clothing, boots and life jackets. The warning comes from the FBU, whose members were praised for their key role in rescuing over 7,000 people from floods in June and July last year. It is also urging them to adopt Scotland’s lead and introduce a legal duty on fire and rescue authorities to respond to major floods, backed up with extra resources. The call comes as the FBU publishes a wide-ranging report, Lessons of the 2007 floods – the perspective of fire crews, produced by the Labour Research Department. It draws on the experience, expertise and perceptions of crews involved in last summer’s floods, alongside official reports and Government documents. U-turn The report charts how Ministers performed a U-turn only three months before last summer’s downpours, when they decided not to include response to major flooding in the Fire and Rescue Services (Emergencies) Order for England. The lack of a legal duty means fire and rescue authorities in England are still prevented from applying for new funding for the extra equipment, training and personnel needed to deal with the increased risk of flooding climate experts predict. The Government now faces mounting pressure to make responding to floods a statutory duty as both the FBU and leading fire chiefs say it is needed to prepare for and respond to future flooding. Scotland already has a statutory duty in place.
MEMBERS of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament staged a protest in Whitehall last Saturday in solidarity with protesters – including hunger strikers – in the Czech Republic who are campaigning against American plans to install a massive missile system in their country. A number of leading political and cultural figures have joined a hunger strike in Prague. They are protesting at the Czech government’s continuing negotiations with the US to build a missile defence radar near the city. The hunger strike is being organised on a “chain” basis, with people participating for 24 hour slots – the hunger strikers called an international day of action on the 22nd June to increase pressure on the Czech government. The European Union has not reached an agreed position on the installation of the US Missile Defence system in Europe, despite the risk of the military bases putting Europe on the front line in future US wars. They are essential to US war plans and any future US enemy will attempt to destroy them. Opinion polls show majority opposition to the system across Europe. CND is asking supporters to write to their MEPs to express your opposition and demand a plenary debate in the European Parliament on the role of US Missile Defence in Europe.
THE NEO-Nazi British National Party last week gave its support to new London Mayor Boris Johnson’s decision to drop the main anti-racist theme from London’s annual Rise festival. Richard Barnbrook, the only BNP member of the London Assembly, strongly welcomed Boris Johnson’s decision to cut anti-racism from the Rise music festival funded by the Greater London Authority. And then within a few days Boris was forced to ask a senior adviser, James McGrath, to resign in a race row after he said that African-Caribbean people should go back to the West Indies if they did not like the new mayor. McGrath had been asked in a tape-recorded interview if Johnson’s mayoral victory would trigger an exodus of immigrants from Britain to the Caribbean, he replied: “Well, let them go if they don’t like it here.” McGrath, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff who hails from the north Australian state of Queensland, made the comment in a meeting last month with Marc Wadsworth, a black activist and London-based journalist. Hours after his comments appeared on an internet news site at the weekend, Johnson announced his senior advisor, who played a key role in his win over Labour’s Ken Livingstone last month, had quit. “It is with great regret ... that I have accepted the resignation of my political adviser, James McGrath,” Johnson said in a statement. Meanwhile Boris himself was making blunders by the hour. When interviewed on BBC television’s local London news programme, he seemed unaware that he had banned anti-racism from what has traditionally been an anti-racist festival. He also seemed to be unaware that that he had barred the traditional Cuba Solidarity Campaign stage for being too overtly political. It seems he had delegated the arrangements for the festival to an underling and had little idea of what the festival was or what his officers were doing with it. And he had failed to read a crucial briefing about an agreement that his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, had negotiated with the Government to protect London council taxpayers from having to fund any escalation in the costs of the 2012 London Olympics. Johnson said he was concerned about cost over-runs, but when asked in a BBC interview about the memorandum, he said: “I rather doubt that it exists. There is a doubt the agreement that was struck between the former mayor and the Labour Prime Minister about the exact extent of London’s obligations.” He added: “There is a dispute at the moment between the GLA and the mayoralty and the Government about who is up for over-runs in so far as they may or may not occur. The details are far from clear.” The mayor’s comments in a BBC interview were seized on by Ken Livingstone and the Government who both contacted the BBC to correct his mistake. Livingstone described the comments as “bizarre” as the document is widely available. “I find this bizarre,” he said. “It was published in the House of Commons library, Boris could have seen it as an MP; I gave a copy to every member of the London Assembly. “It specifies in writing, with the Government’s signature and mine, there will be no increase in the council tax and no increase in fares if there are any further cost over-runs.” The Rise Festival started life in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence murder and McPherson Report as the TUC organised Respect anti-racist festival. The idea was taken up by Ken Livingstone when Mayor, who promoted seven annual festivals during his mayoralty. During the Livingstone years the name was changed from Respect to Rise. The changes to the festival have antagonised the major trade unions who have always been involved in the organising and funding it. For the past five years Unite has co-produced a programme of Latin American music and dance at Rise, a close fit with its organising campaigns, working with London’s Latin American community who are often on the margins of the labour market. The Latin American show has gone from strength to strength and is seen as one of the high points of the Rise Festival. Unite’s London Regional Secretary, Steve Hart, has tried to negotiate with the Mayor’s Office to resolve the impasse but has always come up against the same barrier: Unite is welcome to participate but it can’t participate if it involves Cuba Solidarity Campaign as its partner. Steve Hart said: “The ban on Cuba Solidarity Campaign is the direct application of a political pre-condition on Unite in its sponsorship of the Latin American stage at Rise. Censorship is unacceptable to my union. I feel that I am left with no alternative other than to withdraw our intended funding of the Latin American stage at Rise in 2008.” Samuel Tarry, who chairs Compass Youth and is London Young Labour’s anti racism officer said: “The fact that Boris Johnson, the new Mayor of London has already moved to make such a blatant political gesture is indicative of what we will come to expect from the new Tory administration at City Hall. “You would have thought given the accusations of racism levelled at Boris Johnson from the Black and Asian communities in London during the Mayoral election then, he would have made every effort to dispel those ideas. Instead at a time of increased racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism he pulls the plug on the anti racist message of one of London’s biggest free music festivals. “Given the momentum of the BNP at the moment and the fact that they openly backed his run for City Hall he has given them another opportunity to come out in support of his agenda and claim credit for this move”