PRINT workers and anti-fascists gathered last Monday evening at Marx House in Clerkenwell to witness the unveiling of a memorial to printers who gave their lives fighting in the wars against fascism: the war in Spain and the Second World War. The Marx Memorial Library houses a specialist collection of books and memorabilia from the war against fascism in Spain – many volumes being donated by people who went to fight there. It also houses a comprehensive collection of books and memorabilia of the printing industry in Britain and the various print trade unions. The memorial is situated in a tiny garden at the side of Marx House, close to the rooms where the archives of the print unions are kept. Among those present was Mike Hicks, the printers’ union leader during the Battle of Wapping in the mid 1980s between right-wing Australian newspaper magnate Rupert Murdoch and the print unions. Mike was arrested and imprisoned for a short while during that struggle to defend the principles of trade unionism in the printing industry. Les Bayliss, assistant general secretary of the giant union Unite (print section) and a trustee of the Marx Memorial Library, addressed a short meeting before the unveiling, giving a brief history of the print unions and their links with the struggle against fascism. He said the memorial expressed solidarity with the comrades who had fought; they were lost but not forgotten and they had fought for a society built on cooperation, not exploitation.
photo:NCP leader Andy Brooks (left) and Daphne Liddle from the Central Committee (right) at the unveiling ceremony.
LONDON’S historic Marx House in Clerkenwell was once again the venue for the NCP’s triennial congress on the first weekend in December. After welcoming delegates and fraternal observers to the 16th Congress chairperson Alex Kempshall handed over to NCP President Eric Trevett to open proceedings with a summary of the current political situation and the dangers arising from the current recession of cuts in jobs and services. On the international arena Eric warned that we do not know the intentions of the United State towards Iran and this poses great dangers on the Middle East. “Oil is the key to our understanding of what is happening,” he said. Eric spoke of the statistics on the pay of the top bankers compared to average workers and the way the banks had been nationalised – separating the loss making bits to be owned by the state while “privatising the profit-makers”. He also spoke of the need to communicate with young people, who are facing unemployment as the de-industrialisation of the British economy proceeds, saying we had a unique chance to make progress in this situation if we can get through to the youth. Congress paused to remember comrades Arthur Attwood, Herbert Jones, Richard King and Stella Moutafis who had all sadly passed away since the last congress. And after the formalities of electing tellers and the Congress panels and standing orders committees, general secretary Andy Brooks moved the main resolution in a speech covering imperialism, revisionism and the slump of 2009, which was published in full in this paper last week. Andy spoke of the problems now facing imperialism and the successful rebuttals of attempted interventions in Iran, Venezuela, Nepal, Zimbabwe and other places. He pointed out that the document was the product of collective discussion on the Central Committee, the cells and districts over the past 11 months and that the weekend would refine it to make it a fighting programme for the next three years. Professor John Callow of the Marx Memorial Library was a welcome guest at the Congress. He spoke on the history of the building, which dates from 1738 when it was built as a Welsh charity school. By the end of the 19th century it became the premises of the first socialist press in Britain. Lenin worked in the building when he was in London and edited 17 issues of Iskra there. In 1933, 50 years after the death of Karl Marx and at a time when Nazis in Europe were burning Marxist books, the Marx Memorial Library (MML) was founded to conserve the writings of Marx, Lenin and many other communist leaders. “The New Communist Party stood by the Marx Memorial Library when elements were trying to undermine it,” John told the Congress. Now its future is secure and houses a unique and historic collection. A number of fraternal delegates from other communist and workers’ parties brought messages of support from around the world and joined comrades and friends for a reception Saturday evening. These included Nephytos Nicolaou from AKEL (Progressive Party of the Working People of Cyprus) and Luis Marron from the Cuban Embassy. Luis passed on the fraternal message from the Communist Party of Cuba and spoke of the progress that is now being made in Cuba. “The Cuban revolution is alive, healthy and moving forward,” he said. But he added that progress in Latin America is in danger. The United States is building bases in Colombia and Honduras and plans to restore Latin America to “the old order”. He quoted Ian Fleming of James Bond fame who said “When something bad happens once, that is chance; if it happens again that could be coincidence. But if it happens a third time, they are definitely out get you.” Luis also informed the Congress that since Democrat President Obama has come to power “in spite of anything you may have heard to the contrary there has been no change of attitude of the US towards Cuba. When the blockade is lifted; when the Guantánamo concentration camp is closed and when the Miami Five are free, then we will recognise a real change.” Comrade Jiang Song Chol brought the good wishes of the Workers’ Party of Korea as did Isabella Margola of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) who spoke of the KKE’s work in exposing the European Union and the growth in attacks on immigrants throughout Europe, the rise in right-wing nationalism and ideological terrorism. Lorena Jaime Bueno brought the greetings of the World Federation of Trade Unions. She spoke of the particular difficulties facing the NCP and other communist parties in the imperialist heartlands and presented the Party with a WFTU trophy which will be displayed at the Party Centre. And Michael Chant, an old friend from the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), brought the greetings of his party and spoke of the struggles ahead in the current economic crisis. Old friends, like the comrades from the Danish Communist Party, Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain and the Workers League for the Restoration of the Communist Party of Germany could not be with us this time but they sent their messages of support. Other fraternal greetings included those from the Syrian Communist Party, Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB), SUCI (India), Communist Party of Pakistan and a number of others from the international communist movement. NCP delegates made dozens of contributions to discussion throughout the two-day Congress on ideological questions and day-to-day struggle and activity: campaigning or peace, trade union struggles, the NHS, welfare benefits and many other topics. Alan Rogers spoke about the cuts that have happened in the NHS and the further £5 billion cuts that are on the agenda. And he attributed high levels of infection to the rapid turnover of bed occupation. Pete Hendy spoke on the reasons why the NCP calls on people to vote Labour, followed by Ann Rogers who spoke on the same topic. She emphasised that when deciding policy the important thing is to think through what is in the interests of the working class – and that certainly is not a Tory government. Some delegates supported the main line on Labour but pointed out that the New Labour leadership made it very difficult to rally support for that party except as the lesser of two evils. And Alex Kempshall and Andy Brooks who both pointed out that the Party is campaigning for a democratic Labour Party answerable to the union movement that funds it and did not support “New Labour” policies. Mike Fletcher spoke of his trade union work and working with the Labour Representation Committee and the struggles against the BNP and its summer festival in Ripley, Derbyshire. He also spoke of his work in mental health care and the epidemic of stress and depression that is afflicting working people in this country. Pat Abrahams made a strong contribution on the troubles faced by medical secretaries in hospitals: chronic understaffing and growing backlogs of work. She spoke of how this leads to delays in clinic appointments. Appointment times are routinely booked threefold – leaving patients with very long waiting times and clinics overrunning. Added to that are problems of poor building maintenance that leads to flooding of floors – even with sewage. The admin staff have to rescue written records; patients notes get lost, operations are postponed. Many secretarial staff put in long hours of unpaid overtime because they cannot face coming into work next day seeing the backlog mounting and mounting. And, being human, they do not like to see patients being delayed in getting the treatment they need. Neil Harris spoke about the continuing attacks on the principles of health and safety from the Tory leadership. “This is a full-scale onslaught on workers’ rights and conditions,” he said and added that Cameron and Brown are not bothering about the workers but vying for ruling class support. During the closed session delegates discussed the growing work of the New Worker Supporters’ Groups and expanding the sales of our communist weekly. And they showed their support by raising £1,692 for the fighting fund. Delegates voted to endorse the reports of the standing orders and panels committees – thus the new central committee was elected and the main resolution, setting out the NCP’s policy for the next three years was agreed – as amended by the discussion in committee. Winding up NCP leader Andy Brooks stressed the need to raise the profile of the communist alternative across the country. It had been a busy and worthwhile weekend that ended, as always, with a rousing rendition of the Internationale.
photo: Andy Brooks and Alex Kempshall listening to the debate
The annual conference of the Labour Representation Committee in London last Saturday focused on next year’s general election and the need not only to keep the Tories out but to maximise the number of socialist Labour MPs in the House of Commons – as opposed to New Labour who are barely distinguishable from the Tories. The meeting began with Tony Benn, former MP and still a very active campaigner, giving a brief history of the Labour Party from its creation by the original Labour Representation Committee to be a voice for the organised working class – the trade unions – in a Parliament dominated by capitalists and landowners. LRC secretary Simeon Andrews pointed out that the LRC is a meeting point for different trends within the labour movement – those who want to reclaim the Labour Party for the working class and those who see the party now as a part of the capitalist state and the enemy of the workers. And he said the interaction of the two trends is what gives the LRC its dialectical vigour, quoting William Blake’s The marriage of Heaven and Hell:
Without contraries there is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.
Mick Shaw of the Fire Brigades Union gave an account of his union’s struggles against cuts in local fire services and against Yorkshire Fire Service’s attempt to sack all its firefighters and offer them their jobs back on reduced pay and conditions. Though firefighters, and the rest of the public sector, are having a tough time under New Labour, the Liberal Democrats want a public sector pay freeze and the Tories want to ban public sector strikes. John McDonnell MP read the LRC national committee statement. “People want real Labour,” he said, “that’s plain. They don’t want the Tories or the Lib Dems or New Labour. We are a beacon of light in the darkness. “Our job is to put forward that platform; a platform for change that meets the needs of the people.” He called for strategic support for socialist MPs to ensure that after the next general election, no matter who won, there would be strong voices for socialism and working class interests in the House. He warned that the Campaign Group of MPs now has just 25 members and half of them are planning to retire at the next election and they need to be replaced. “After the next election, whether it’s New Labour or whether it’s the Tories, we will have to fight anti-working class policies. “We have no alternative but to build the resistance,” he said. And he called on LRC members and supporters to campaign on the ground, on the doorsteps and on picket lines. “It’s about action in solidarity with those in struggle.” There followed debate on a number of resolutions, most of which were passed unopposed. These included a motion from the New Communist Party on the threat to welfare benefits. One motion that did spark contention was the support for the “People’s Charter”. Though it was carried some delegates found it bland and ineffectual. But supporters argued that its formulation would draw the widest possible support and pointed out that it did call for the nationalisation of the banks and had won the support of the TUC. In the afternoon Cristian Dominguez of the United Confederation of Bolivian Campesino workers gave a rousing speech of the history of his movement “the poorest of the poor” and “the most humble Bolivian people”. They rose up and struggled and marched for a better future and they succeeded in sweeping away the colonial puppets who had ruled Bolivia for the benefit of the imperialists who plundered its natural wealth. “Some people died on that march; babies were born on that march,” he said. The struggle ended with the election of Evo Morales, a native from the oppressed working classes, with 53 per cent of the vote. “They went on to defeat a recall referendum, which ended up endorsing Morales further and on 10th January this year 67 per cent voted in favour of the new constitution, despite strong opposition from the right-wing and fascists. Dominguez stressed that the struggle of the Bolivian workers is the struggles of all oppressed people all around the world. “It is the struggle of the citizens of the whole world; we have a responsibility to take care of our world for our children and grandchildren.” It was a day of debate,and a blend of old and new traditions that will hopefully revive Labour’s fortunes next year. It ended, naturally, with a rousing rendition of the Red Flag.
photo: Cristian Dominguez of the United Confederation of Bolivian Campesino workers.
ALEJANDRO Gortazar is a Cuban photographer who has worked for the past 10 years in the fashion industry and the commercial sector on the island. But he’s best known as a nature photographer who visited protected nature reserves and explored the most inaccessible parts of the island to capture a wild and beautiful environment through the lens of his camera. For him Cuba is a "bastion of struggle, sacrifice, culture, nature and love" and we can now, for the first time, see a selection of some of his finest shots at exhibitions in London and Northampton. Last week Andy Brooks talked to him about his work.
Andy Brooks: Why did you choose to come to London?
Alejandro Gortazar: Well, I met my wife, who is Spanish, in Cuba. But my wife works in London so I felt it was time to spread my wings. I came to London in June and now we plan to spend our time partly in London and partly in Havana.
AB: Why do you focus on the natural world?
AG: My grandfather was a cartoonist and a landscape painter at the time of the revolution. He painted the people and the fields in which they worked. I wanted to follow in his footsteps but I was no good at painting. I soon realised that I didn’t have a natural talent for painting so I took up the camera to do the same thing with the lens and my eye. I don’t really have any limits when it comes to photography but what dominates my eye is light especially at sunrise and sunset. When I see something I want to shoot I’m very particular about technique and timing. I’m trying to show something that is not really there by enhancing the beauty of the image.
AB:What do you want people to see?
I want people to understand light, to really capture light. You can capture that with a lens and through the use of technique you can transform knowledge into an art. In my work I am representing Cuba and in this exhibition I want to show British people that there is more to Cuba than they might imagine. Cuba is a land of absolute beauty and unforgettable landscapes – an island you would never want to leave in your life. I want to show people the wonderful wildlife of the island. This display includes a photo of the bee hummingbird which only lives in Cuba. It is only 5cm long and it’s the smallest bird in the world. I spent over two hours waiting to capture the moment of that bird in flight. I want to show how all life, like that bird, can be so attractive when humankind is good to nature.
AB: Just nature…
AG: Oh no. I don’t ignore people. In fact I’ve got a forthcoming exhibition of shots of Cuban people – 50 images for the 50th anniversary of the Cuba Revolution – as part of a project with Cuba Solidarity which will tour the UK and then go on to France and Spain.
AB: How far does the landscape mould the Cuban character?
AG: People who live in towns focus their lives on everything that urban life represents, like consumerism and technology. But when people are outside, living with nature, they realise they don’t need that many things to live a happy life. They see that nature gives them a lot. They get up early with the sun, work the land and receive its fruit, smell the air and see the sun set. You can see examples here of really proud people whose lives may be simple but who are, nevertheless, really happy…
AB: So you’re aiming at the Cuban audience as well as the world…
AG: Yes, many Cubans who live in Havana and the other towns take the countryside and the nature reserves for granted while many people in the rest of the world just have a tourist image of the island – you know the clichés – beaches, cigars, the crumbling buildings of Old Havana, shoeless children and vintage cars on the streets of Havana… I want to show a hidden Cuba to the Cubans and my first photo exhibition of Cuban landscapes in 1999 proved really popular at home. It was packed out and it continued in that gallery in Havana for two years. I wanted to show the most remote areas of the island to the Cuban people. Now I want to take this hidden Cuba to the world and this is what I’m trying to do with this selection of my work here today. I had a chance to talk about this at the opening of this exhibition in London last week. There were about 50 people there and many of them came up to me afterwards to tell me they wanted to go to Cuba to see what I had seen with their own eyes.
AB: Will your photos be published for a wider audience…
AG: I hope so and the Opus Gallery is considering producing a coffee-table book of this collection here in the near future. This exhibition is going to Northampton and Dublin and some of my works are going to Paris and Chicago. I want everyone to see this other Cuba.
AB: I guess you’re also exploring Britain…
AG: Yes indeed. I can’t spend even one day without taking photos.
Cuba, Treasured Island an exhibition by Cuban photographer Alejandro Gortazar is on at the Opus Gallery until 23rd November. Admission is free and the gallery is at 10-13 King Street, London WC2E 8HN. It then moves to the Lavata Galleria, 228 Wellingborough Road, Northampton NN! 4EJ for a Christmas season from 3rd to 31st December.
THE GREAT October Russian Revolution is commemorated by communists all over the world and comrades and friends gathered at the NCP Centre on 7th November for the Party’s traditional celebrations of the greatest event of the 20th century. Our old print shop doubled up as the bar and buffet largely prepared by our own comrades. In the main meeting room the lessons of Red October and its meaning for communists in the 21st century was highlighted by our friends during the formal part of the celebrations opened as usual by Party Chairman Alex Kempshall. Comrade Cabinda from the RCPB (ML), John Callow, the Secretary of the Marx Memorial Library and NCP leader Andy Brooks all spoke about the immense achievements of the Soviet Union in war and peace and all were confident that we will see sweeping changes in the 21st century across the world and millions upon millions join in the struggle for national liberation, peace and socialism. That was also stressed in a message from young communists from Siberia to the NCP. The youth movement of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation in Novosibirsk said the first victorious socialist revolution had “accelerated the progress of revolutionary and liberation struggle” and “shown the world a way to the socialist future of other countries and nations…on the anniversary of that glorious day, we wish you every success in achieving a splendid triumph of communist ideas in the whole world!”Perhaps the most traditional part of an NCP social is the collection and Dolly Shaer made a rousing call to keep our new colour presses going and comrades responded by raising £600 for the New Worker fighting fund. Friends slowly departed for the last trains but thanks to the night buses the bar chalked up a new record by staying open till 2.00 am!
THE SOVIET Memorial Trust marked Remembrance Sunday with a moving ceremony at the Soviet War Memorial in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum in south London last Sunday. As usual the event was attended by the Mayor of Southwark, local MP Simon Hughes and the ambassadors of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and many other former Soviet states, along with the representatives of many different organisations. Pride of place among these, as always, went to the veterans of the Second World War, and especially to the veterans of the Arctic Convoy Club, whose numbers are now sadly dwindling. There were speeches and the Russian ambassador emphasised the importance of resisting attempts from some quarters to rewrite the history of the the Great Patriotic War against Nazism. After that wreathes were laid by the veterans, local dignitaries, the ambassadors and representatives of other organisations, including the New Communist Party, the Marx Memorial Library and the Communist Party of Britain.
photo: Daphne Liddle from the Central Committee lays flowers on behalf of the NCPB
DON’T BURN IT, a remarkable new film about the Vietnam War, was shown recently during the Vietnam Festival Of Culture 2009 in London. It is based on the diary of a young woman doctor, Dang Thuy Tram, at a field hospital in Quang Ngai province, a National Liberation Front stronghold during the war.
The diary’s discovery by a South Vietnamese Army soldier and his American officer begins a process which changes their lives and reverberates to the present day. In the tradition of socialist war films, the focus of Don’t Burn It is on the effects of war on those caught up in it, rather than the actual fighting. It shows not only the horror and suffering, but the heroism of those defending their homeland and the mental anguish of the occupiers.
Many viewers will be surprised at its portrayal of the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies, who from the outset are shown as thinking human beings rather than evil barbarians.
Quang, the officer who finds the diary, is transfixed when he starts reading it, and hands it to the US captain, Fred, saying “don’t burn it, it already has fire inside it”. As they start translating the diary, Fred begins to understand his Vietnamese enemies for the first time, changing his life forever.
Written in a traditional Vietnamese style, the diary combines daily events with stirring poetry, which greatly increases its impact. Ho Chi Minh famously kept a similar “diary” while imprisoned by the Chinese nationalists as a spy in 1943.
Many years after the war, at the urging of his mother back in North Carolina, Fred (in real life lawyer Fred Whitehurst) hands the diary to scholars at the University of Texas. Eventually it is published, causing a sensation in Vietnam, and a search begins to find Dr Tram’s family in Hanoi. During the film scenes of Dr Tram living and working in the midst of war alternate with moving memories of her family life in Hanoi. One of the most interesting sequences shows a researcher travelling around present-day Hanoi by moped in search of her family.
Don’t Burn It is without doubt a major contribution to war cinema. It combines a hatred of war with admiration for the Vietnamese people’s heroic struggle and culture, and the humanity of which ordinary Americans are capable – a powerful message of peace and friendship.
(Don’t Burn It, directed by Dang Nhat Minh, was released in April 2009. The original book, LastNight I Dreamed of Peace: An Extraordinary Diary of Courage from the Vietnam War, is available in paperback.)
LANCE Corporal Joe Glenton of the Royal Logistic Corps last Saturday led a march of thousands of anti-war protesters through London, even though he faces a court martial for doing so. Glenton is refusing to return to Afghanistan and is calling on Britain to withdraw all troops from the country. He told a rally, at the end of the march in Trafalgar Square: “It is distressing to disobey orders but when Britain follows America in continuing to wage war against one of the world’s poorest countries, I feel I have no choice. “Politicians have abused the trust of the army and the soldiers who serve. That’s why I am compelled and proud to march with the Stop the War Coalition.” He added: “I am marching to send a message to Gordon Brown. Instead of sending more troops, he must bring them all home. He cannot sit on his hands and wait while more and more of my comrades are killed.” So far 223 British troops have been killed in Afghanistan since Nato forces invaded the country in 2001 on the premise that Afghanistan was somehow responsible for the 11th September attacks in the United States in 2001. A recent poll commissioned by Channel Four News found that 84 per cent of people in Britain believe that British and American troops are currently losing the war in Afghanistan. Almost half of the public in this country believe that military victory in Afghanistan is impossible and significant majorities think British troops are not winning the war and should be withdrawn either immediately or within the next year, according to a poll published today. The poll suggests that the public mood is at odds with government policy that Britain and its Nato allies should see through their mission in Afghanistan and keep troops in the country until responsibility for its security can be handed over to home-grown forces in a process known as Afghanisation. Last week, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was ready to send a further 500 troops, so long as they could be properly equipped and form part of a Nato-wide reinforcement with each ally bearing its “fair share”. Joe Glenton was joined on the march by former colleagues and bereaved military families. They included Peter Brierly, whose son Lance Corporal Shaun Brierly was killed in Iraq in 2003. At a recent memorial service in St Paul’s’ cathedral in London Brierly refused to shake the hand of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, telling Blair that he had blood on his hands and would one day have to answer for what he had done. “They are not doing any good while they are over there. They need to leave the country to sort itself out,” he said. “While British troops are there they are actually attracting more insurgents who are coming in to fight.” Also on the march was 104-year-old Hetty Bowyer. She told the crowd in Trafalgar Square: “I march because I can see no reason for further killing. I have walked on every march against us going to war. At my age there is not very much I can do but while my legs can carry me I am going to march.” Jeremy Corbyn MP, vice-chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: “The war in Afghanistan has no clear war aims, is clearly escalating and spinning out of control and can only impact on Pakistan and the whole of South Asia. “Nato forces have been in Afghanistan for eight years and the result appears to be increased drug production, high levels of corruption and terrible losses of life on all sides, civilian and military. “Now is the time to change policy and bring the troops home to prevent Nato involving itself in a Vietnam-style quagmire.”
LONDONERS will get a taste of Vietnamese culture this month with the screening of three major Vietnamese films, including the internationally acclaimed Don’t Burn It [Dung Dot], which has been officially chosen to represent Vietnamese cinema in the best foreign language film category at the 2010 Oscars in Los Angeles next March. Over 40 years ago Vietnam was on everyone’s lips as the heroic Vietnamese people battled against the might of US imperialism to drive the invaders out and reunify their country under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh and the communists. Final victory was achieved in 1975 and the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Though the country still bears the scars of that monstrous imperialist war, Vietnam has advanced to develop a modern socialist economy and a haven for peace and progress in south-east Asia. But while we remember those epic days of sacrifice and struggle we often forget that Vietnam is an ancient land with rich traditions and a thriving movie industry that is now going beyond the confines of Asia to span the entire globe. Some of the best Vietnamese films will be shown in London as part of the
Vietnam Festival of Culturethis month. And the festival kicked off with a gala performance by the country’s top artistes on Monday at Chelsea’s Cadogan Hall, attended by Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, and opened by visiting Vietnamese deputy premier Hoang Trung Hai. Then the hall was transported into the heart of modern and traditional Vietnamese culture as singers, dancers and musicians held the audience spellbound with a selection of traditional and modern Vietnamese music as well as an interpretation of the English folk-song Scarborough Fair and a Hungarian classic Czadas gypsy dance. The Vietnam film festival that follows will be held at the nearby Cine Lumiere, French Institute, in South Kensington from 29th to 31st October. Londoners will have the exclusive opportunity to see some of the most exciting and celebrated films to come out of Vietnam including The BlackForest, Don’t Burn It and The Story of Pao. Two of the films are dramas: The Black Forest tells the tale of a love triangle between an illegal lodger in a northern forest, his fiancé and his second son; The Story of Pao is set amongst the Hmong ethnic minority while Don’t Burn It is based on the true story of Dang Thuy Tram, a young female doctor from Hanoi who volunteered to help the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam working as a surgeon in a battlefield hospital during the Vietnam War and was killed by American troops. The film reflects the profound humanity of the film’s modest and courageous heroine Tram, played by young actress Minh Huong. The film triumphed over 23 other movies to win the Audience Award at the Fukuoka International Film Festival in Japan earlier this month.
Tickets are just £5.00 and further details can be obtained by contacting the Cine Lumiere box office on 0207 073 1350 or checking out their website at http://www.institut-francais.org.uk/
Communists and progressives gathered in London last week for a seminar on the meaning and impact of the Korean revolution to mark the anniversary of the foundation of the Workers’ Party of Korea on 10th October 1945. Organised by Friends of Korea and chaired by Harpal Brar, the guest of honour was a diplomat from the DPR Korea embassy in London and contributors included NCP leader Andy Brooks, Michael Chant of the RCPB (ML), John McLeod of the Socialist Labour Party and Ella Rule of the CPGB (ML) along with Korean solidarity activists Keith Bennett and Dermot Hudson of the British Juche Society. The discussion, held at the RCPB (ML) headquarters in south London, covered all aspects of life in Democratic Korea including the Juche philosophy, leadership and the role of the communist party in socialist construction. At the end of the seminar a congratulatory letter to Korean leader Kim Jong Il was adopted unanimously.
THREE themes came together is Kensington Town Hall last Saturday night – they were Third World Solidarity, the Poetry Olympics and the Muslim celebration of Eid in an event of performance poetry and music. Too often English audiences are deterred from poetry performances by bad poetry badly presented. Poetry is for everyone but like any other art form is requires some thought and effort from the creator and the presenter. I remember a peace rally in 1991 in Woolwich Town Hall that was almost entirely cleared by a recital from veteran peace campaigner Pat Arrowsmith. No one doubted her courage or credentials as a fighter for peace but she was not a wordsmith. She was about to go out to the Gulf and interpose herself between two front lines to try to prevent the impending war. We wondered if her “poetry” was the magic weapon to send both frontlines into rapid retreat. A poet, like a painter or a composer, has inspiration and a message, a thought or a feeling to communicate. But to do justice to their inspiration the artist chooses carefully the right colours and textures of paint and surface; the musician chooses carefully the right notes, rhythms and instruments to give the right tone and texture of sound. Communicating an inspiration into a form that other minds can receive takes some care and effort. For a poet, that means choosing carefully the right words, the rights sounds, rhythms and textures to generate a complete picture in the mind of the listener. Chosen carefully, words are the most powerful tools we have. Words can convey information; they can soothe and comfort; they can encourage; they can humiliate; they can break hearts; they can anger; they can confuse and deceive; they can sell; they can create a god; they can bore; they can make people fall in and out of love; they can satisfy or they can start a revolution that will change the world. There is nothing boring about the study of language. The power of magic spells in superstitious times was entirely in the right choice and use of words. And the performers we saw on stage in Kensington Town Hall last Saturday were absolute masters of language and demonstrated poetry at its very best. And both in content and presentation it was poetry at the service of justice, peace and democracy – the aims of Third World Solidarity. The event was organised by local Labour councillor Mushtaq Lasharie and presented by Michael Horovitz. The first performer was Mahmood Jamal who performed poetry he had translated from the original Pakistani and some of his own. This was followed by Guyanan Keith Waite, who, with the aid of a flute, conjured up the sounds and the atmosphere of the jungle. Patience Agbabi gave us first a fast and vivid hymn of praise to the importance of words, Give me a word, then a well crafted story in rap poem of her life: born in Africa, raised in London and then returning to Lagos to find herself an outsider in both places – a Ufo woman. Oliver Bernard gave us his experiences of life since the 1930s; Steven Berkoff presented a tennis championship final match as a fast and furious battle saga; Eleanor Bron read from an anthology produced by Poetry Olympics and some pieces of her own and Elvis McGonnigal had us laughing out loud with his quick-fire satires on the world of power politics, along with sporadic digs at the pop singer James Blunt, whom he compared to the Orville, the ventriloquist dummy duck. We heard from Moazzam Begg, for four years a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, who wrote poetry to preserve his sanity during those terrible years. He explained how many prisoners, denied access to pens and paper, found a way of writing by using the little finger nails to cut into the surface of Styrofoam cups. The size of the cups limited the poems to just a couple of lines but nevertheless these poems made it to the outside world, smuggled out, often by sympathetic guards and are now published. The works of all these poets and many more are available in print with details from New Departures/Poetry Olympics, PO Box 9819, London W11 2GQ or http://www.poetryolympics.com/
NCP comrades and supporters joined protesters outside the US embassy in London last week to demand the release of five Cubans arrested in 1998 on trumped-up charges of espionage. Some 400 demonstrators took part in an evening candle-light picket of the American embassy in Grosvenor Square on 1st October called by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in support of Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González who are currently serving sentences of between 15 years and life. The vigil was supported by their families, Jeremy Corbyn, the London Labour MP who is also a prominent member of the Labour Representation Committee along with a number of union leaders.
The British National Party’s third highest elected official has been exposed fabricating two murders in a high profile BNP campaign. He has been found guilty of bringing both the Greater London Authority and the Barking and Dagenham Council into disrepute – his lies show the depths the BNP are willing to stoop to in their vile propaganda war. This follows a BNP posting on You Tube which showed Barnbrook claiming there had been three recent murders in Dagenham – a total fabrication.
Hope not Hate campaigners are now aiming to raise £5000 to deliver 150,000 targeted leaflets across London. Because of the severity of his lies, Barnbrook has been suspended by the Council for a month, forced to submit a written apology to the Greater London Authority and made to undertake “training” in ethics in public life. But the Hope not Hate campaigners say this is just the tip of the iceberg – the BNP has been capitalising on fear for years in an attempt to pull our communities apart. But this time is different – this time we have proof in black and white that their campaign is entirely based on fear, falsehood and hatred.
Eurostar cleaners take action
Rail Union RMT last Monday confirmed a further six days of strike action by Eurostar cleaners working at St Pancras International for contractors the Carlisle Group in an increasingly bitter dispute over pay, the introduction of routine staff fingerprinting, redundancies and the victimisation and harassment of RMT union reps. RMT Eurostar cleaners will strike on the following dates: • 05:30 hours on Friday 2nd October 2009 and 05:29 hours on Saturday 3rd October 2009. • 05:30 hours on Sunday 4th October 2009 and 05:29 hours on Monday 5th October 2009. • 05:30 hours on Friday 16th October 2009 and 05:29 hours on Saturday 17th October 2009. • 05:30 hours on Sunday 18th October 2009 and 05:29 hours on Monday 19th October 2009. • 05:30 hours on Friday 30th October 2009 and 05:29 hours on Saturday 31st October 2009. • 05:30 hours on Sunday 1st November 2009 and 05:29 hours on Monday 2nd November 2009. RMT have launched a global campaign in support of the London Eurostar cleaners and their fight for the London Living Wage and against bullying and harassment. So far over 3,000 people from over 70 countries around the world have joined the cyber-picket. Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, said on Monday: “The treatment of cleaners on the Eurostar, our flagship European rail service, is nothing short of a national disgrace. We have demanded that the Government, as the effective owners of Eurostar, step in to stop this scandalous exploitation of cleaners at St Pancras International who are fighting for nothing more than the London Living Wage, dignity and respect at work and the right to organise an effective trade union.”
MEMBERS of the English Defence League – a loose structured group of former squaddies, football hooligans with neo-Nazi views – last weekend tried to attack a London protest march in support of Gaza. Police made no arrests and succeeded in keeping the fascists and the marchers apart. But there were several brief confrontations as EDL activists chanted "We hate Muslims" and "Muslim bombers off our streets". The pro-Palestinian protesters held up banners with slogans including “Justice for the murdered children of Gaza”, “We are all Palestinians”, “Boycott Israel” and “Judaism rejects the Zionist state”. People from a number of organisations and groups throughout the country, both Muslim and non-Muslim, joined the demonstration, held during Ramadan every year. The demonstration's organiser, Raza Kazim, from the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said: "It's in aid of the oppressed people of Palestine in particular, but the idea of al-Quds is more general than that. It's for people who have been oppressed.” Commenting on the EDL, he said that supporters of Israel usually protested but with them, he said, were "the BNP, the EDL, the racists, the extremists – all of this unholy alliance have got together" to say oppression should continue. “We are going to say: 'No, that this is not going to happen'. That is why we are here – to raise our voices against that," he added.
Debt stress costs NHS millions
THE LONDON Health Forum last week reported that treating stress-related ill health in the capital costs the NHS £450 million a year. Around 250,000 Londoners suffer from mental health problems as a result of debt, job cuts and money worries, resulting in 350,000 London GP appointments a year. Stress-related illnesses which could cause high blood pressure and heart attacks are also on the rise, it said. The forum urged councils and primary care trusts to "prescribe early debt advice" to Londoners. The forum's report, London Capital of Debt, said primary care trusts in London are currently spending £1.8bn a year treating patients with mental health issues, which is 26 per cent more than the national average. About one million Londoners suffer from mental health problems, a quarter of whom are worried about debt, the report said. The forum said on average these people make 3.5 visits to GPs, which works out as 350,000 GP appointments sought in London a year. John Murray, director of the forum, said: "The latest figures from the Consumer Credit Counselling Service show a 40 per cent increase in calls from Londoners to its helpline compared to a year ago. "The NHS therefore needs to go onto a preventive footing by getting people to debt advice sooner, using the extensive channels of communication at its disposal."
Poets and singers gave the media a taste of things to come last Friday at the launch of the Poetry Olympics Enlightenment festival that will revolve around shows at the 100 Club in Oxford Street and venues in Kensington and Chelsea. The Poetry Olympics began in 1980 as an artistic response to the philistine stance of the Tory Thatcher government, This year’s gala is being held to mark the 50th anniversary of the poetry magazine, New Departures, to give Londoners the opportunity to hear avant-garde progressive poetry and music from some of the giants of the genre. Kensington & Chelsea mayor Timothy Coleridge and local Labour councillor Mushtaq Lasharie of Third World Solidarity welcomed poets Michael Horovitz, Mahmood Jamal and Molly Parkin along with singer-song-writer Alexander D Great at the launch of the festival which begins with a show at Chelsea Town Hall, King’s Road, on 11th September. More details in the diary column or from the POE website: http://www.poetryolympics.com/
Pic: Mayor Coleridge and Councillor Lasharie and Michael Horovitz discussing the POE programme.
HUNDREDS of climate change protesters, including indigenous people from Alberta in Canada, last week targeted the London headquarters of oil giant BP and the Royal Bank of Scotland over the excavation of thousands of acres of tar sands in order to extract usable oil. The protest was just one of a week-long series of well publicised actions on environmental issues initiated from the climate camp on Blackheath in south London. These included the occupation of the lobby and main entrance of the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Four protesters walked into the reception, two in suits and two wearing goggles and flippers, and wedged a kayak in the main entrance. They occupied the lobby in a peaceful sit-down while their comrades unfurled a banner that said “Climate Emergency: Sink or Swim” and proceeded to hand out goggles to passers-by. One activist said: “We want no more false solutions to climate change and an end to carbon trading, the DECC’s current policies do not go far enough.” On Tuesday activists occupied the head office of the RBS - currently owned by taxpayers. Dressed as construction workers, they used stepladders, locks and superglue to form a blockade at the RBS building in the City of London, unfurling banners which read “RBS: under new ownership” and “Ethical renovation in progress”.
And they carried banners protesting at RBS investing in BP’s extraction of oil from Albertan tar sands. “Tar sands oil is blood oil,” said one banner; “Tar sands oil = dirtiest oil on Earth” said another. They also took this protest to the BP headquarters in St James Square. Here Clayton Thomas-Muller from Alberta opened proceedings with a traditional Sun-dance ceremony and song. He called on his 200-strong audience of protesters and passers by: “When I say ‘BP’, you say ‘criminal’,” and they duly obliged. His comrade, George Poitras of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, added: “We have buried over 100 people since 2000 - our community is in a state of constant mourning.” Their campaign concerns the digging of bitumen from an area they compare to the size of England, in Alberta, Canada. It is big business in the region, with output expected to triple by 2020 with oil firms turning to it as stocks decline elsewhere. In 2007, BP entered a joint venture with Canada’s Husky Energy aimed at producing 60,000 barrels a day from 2014, rising to 200,000 barrels over time. The Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign says the process produces three to five times the volume of carbon dioxide per barrel as conventional oil production.
Separating the tar from sand uses the same volume of natural gas per day as heating 3.2m Canadian homes for a year, the group says, and that is before it is converted to oil. Some forms of extraction also create huge tailings ponds - stores for toxic waste made up of water, clay, sand, residual bitumen and heavy metals. George Poitras claims leaks from these ponds - along with legal effluent release - have a serious environmental impact. “We’re about 250km downstream from tar sands activities, on Lake Athabasca,” he said. “Our traditional hunters and trappers have noticed that water levels have receded and fish are diseased and have blisters or mutations. The taste of animals is different and their flesh is discoloured.” Poitras says his people are increasingly afflicted with cancers. “In a community of 1,200 people, we have buried over 100 since 2000. This is not exaggeration. Our community is in a state of constant mourning.” Last Tuesday BP announced a “giant” new oil discovery in its fields in the Gulf of Mexico. BP is the largest producer of oil and gas in that area, with net production equivalent to more than 400,000 barrels of oil a day. Meanwhile the climate camp broke up on Wednesday and participants went away with plans for a mass invasion of the E.on power station at Ratcliffe in Nottinghamshire. Campaigners are hoping to force the station to close down for a couple of days on 17th and 18th October. “We are doing this because it’s time to imagine a world without coal,” said Charlotte Johnson, protest organiser.
The New Communist Party's Metropolitan cell's annual garden party in Charlton was a success again, with plenty of food, drink and informal debate and general conversation in very pleasant surroundings. A collection raised £77 for the New Worker.
STOP the War campaigners gathered around Lewisham Clock Tower in south London last Saturday to mark the death toll of British troops serving in the futile and illegal war in Afghanistan passing 200. Those present – individuals and representatives of a wide spectrum of progressive organisations – took turns to read out the names of the 206 dead British troops and a similar number of dead Afghan civilians. The casualty rate among Afghan civilians is far higher than among the invading troops but it seems that no one is keeping records and the numbers and names of the dead are hard to find. Most British reporters in the country are embedded with British troops and rarely get to interview the victims of British and American bombing raids. A lot of information has been supplied by a London reporter, Guy Smallman, who has travelled to Afghanistan to make his own independent investigation. Even so information about many of the dead is patchy; some are known only as “Amin’s mother” or “Khan’s baby son”. The ceremony attracted a number of passers by and shoppers who stopped to listen to the list of names being read. The Stop the War campaign is planning a major demonstration against the continuing war in Afghanistan on Saturday 24th October in central London. It will be organised jointly with CND and British Muslim Initiative. And for next months a coalition of trade unions – NUJ, NUT, UCU and PCS – have come together nationally with Stop the War Coalition and other campaigns to call a joint protest at the Labour Party conference in Brighton on 27th September 2009. The continued deployment of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq together with the proposed replacement Trident nuclear programme cost billions of pounds that could be spent on jobs, education and public services for the most vulnerable in society. Stop the War calls on the Government to prioritise spending on public services rather than war or weaponry.
TORY London mayor Boris Johnson last Tuesday declared the performance of the PPP company Tube Lines, contracted to upgrade the infrastructure of the London Underground, as “unacceptable”. The public-private partnership (PPP) deal that was opposed by his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, but imposed by the Government is failing London’s travelling public. Johnson said delays on a major underground railway route were "unacceptable" after doubts were raised that work on its upgrade would not be completed by its end of year deadline. Tube Lines, and its key shareholder Bechtel, are carrying out a £500 million-upgrade of the Jubilee Line under the PPP deal. The line has suffered full or part closures every weekend this year, causing havoc for commuters travelling to the busy Canary Wharf financial district and music-goers attending the O2 arena in Greenwich, south-east London. "Tube Lines must get its act together if Londoners are to benefit from faster, more frequent and reliable services on the Jubilee Line," Johnson said. "I am hugely frustrated at their progress to date, which is simply unacceptable." The mayor appoints the board of Transport for London (TfL), the body responsible for most of the city's transport system. Tube Lines had initially promised to complete the work by June, and despite being one of London's newest Underground lines, it was granted an additional 12 weekends to meet its 31st December contractual deadline, (TfL) said. Then in the summer, Tube Lines asked for another six weekends of closures. One weekend has been granted, but TfL is reluctant to grant the other five, saying it needs an independent review to restore confidence. "Tube Lines' hunger for more Jubilee Line closures has stretched the patience of Londoners and business almost to breaking point," Johnson added. "Before we can consider any more disruption, we must have confidence they will deliver." Financial penalties will kick in if the deadline is missed, adding up to several million pounds a month.
SINN Féin president Gerry Adams and Michelle Gildernew, agriculture minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, were in Westminster at Parliament last week to launch the party’s new initiative aimed at international debate on the question of a united Ireland. Sinn Féin is planning a major conference in London next February and recently held a similar conference in New York. In his keynote address Adams said: “The construction of a new relationship between Ireland and Britain based on equality is the single most important issue facing the people of Ireland and Britain”, and outlined three challenges. “These are: getting the British government to change its policy from one of upholding the union to one of becoming a persuader for Irish unity; getting the Irish government to begin preparations for Irish unity; and engaging with Ulster unionism on the type of Ireland we want to create.” Adams stressed the importance of understanding what Unionists understood about being British and looking at “new concepts and possibilities”, with any new structure based on agreement and respect for diversity. “That means,” he said, “that Orange marches will continue in a united Ireland, if that is the wish of the Orange”. But he also underlined the “the right of the people of Ireland to independence and self-determination” – an aspect often overlooked by observers focusing on the concerns of the Unionist community. Describing Irish partition as “one of the great contentious and divisive issues of Britain’s past,” Adams pointed to the remarkable changes in recent history. “Twenty years ago Margaret Thatcher said that Northern Ireland was ‘as British as Finchley,’ I was banned from the UK mainland, and Northern Ireland was gripped by military and political conflict”. Both Adams and Gildernew emphasised the economic benefits for both jurisdictions of ending partition. Gildernew described Unionist farmers as having “minds which are British, but their cows are Irish” – in other words they wanted freedom of movement for their stock just like farmers in the Republic. She said that swift action in 2007 to close ports, only six weeks after she took office, saved the livestock industry from foot-and-mouth disease, but pointed out that “as a devolved administration Northern Ireland has no powers to stop animals coming from high-risk disease areas”. Adams said Sinn Féin intended to involve trade unions, the business sector, the community and voluntary sector, and the political class, “as well as with those of other ethnic minorities who have experienced a similar history of colonisation and immigration”. He noted that British Labour Party leaders “continue to uphold the union, and some, such as John Reid, have talked of changing the union. But a new type of union – it’s not possible”. In an article in the Guardian newspaper last week, Adams pointed out that unionists make up fewer than two per cent of Britain’s population, and as such “cannot hope to have any significant say in the direction of their own affairs,” while they would carry far more weight as 20 per cent of a united Ireland and be able to “exercise real political power and influence”.
Saturday 4th July saw the International Brigade Memorial Trust hold their annual commemoration of the British volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. In the shadow of the London Eye a number of speakers paid tribute to the volunteers who rallied in defence of democracy in Spain which in 1936 was faced by a revolt by the Spanish army (particularly the Spanish colonial army) backed by Hitler and Mussolini. The British government effectively assisted the fascist rebels by a policy of so called "non-intervention". Two thousand volunteers came from Britain to aid the republican cause, many were communists who fought in the International Brigades while others served in front line medical services. This year the commemorations had an international flavour with speakers representing the Swedish and German organisations of Spanish Civil War veterans and their supporters. A member of the Veterans for Peace from the United States and a representative of the British Jewish Ex-Servicemen's Association both laid wreaths. Official recognition came in the form of the Spanish ambassador and representatives from the Catalonian regional government. In June the Spanish Embassy hosted a ceremony at which the surviving British brigaders were awarded Spanish citizenship in recognition of their efforts. At the July ceremony The Ambassador admitted it was long overdue. One of the veterans honoured, Sam Russell, recalled earlier visits to the Embassy where he protested against executions carried out throughout the Franco years. He stressed it is important to remember that the brutality of the regime, which included executions of republicans by garrotting carried out until his death in 1975. Tributes were also paid to three recently deceased veterans including Jack Jones, the TGWU leader who served as IBMT president.
NCP leader Andy Brooks and Party Chair Alex Kempshall recalled the history of the communist movement in Britain at the NCP's founding day reception last weekend. The Party celebrated 32 years of struggle at the celebration at the Party Centre which raised over £1,700 for the New Worker Special Appeal.
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PELTING Nick Griffin in Parliament Square was good street theatre. The fascist leader and his chief henchman, Andrew Brons, were indeed forced to abandon a press conference designed to gloat over their elevation to the European Parliament. But the British National Party isn’t going to go away under a shower of eggs. Nor can we simply wish them away by pointing at how poorly they did overall in the European elections that, in any case, were largely boycotted by the people of Britain. The BNP vote was a racist vote. The BNP exploits concern over mass immigration and cheap labour from the European Union and beyond to garner votes from working people who feel abandoned by Labour. The BNP tries to tap widespread opposition to the European Union in its favour. The BNP argues for white supremacy, cloaked in the language of a patriotism that existed when the British Empire spanned the globe. The BNP even claims it is a workers’ party though its half-baked corporatist theories would put Sir Oswald Mosley to shame. This is not an exclusively BNP patch and they are not the most successful at it. Parts of their agenda are shared by all sorts of fringe, and not so far-right parties. The maverick Tory UKIP party has been remarkably successful in garnering the anti-EU vote and the English Democrats won the mayoral election for Doncaster last week. The question of Britain’s membership of the European Union, mass immigration and even home rule for England are all part the political debate on the street and it’s a debate that must not be left exclusively to the likes of UKIP to control or the BNP to exploit. In the 1930s fascism represented the programme of the most aggressive and reactionary elements in Europe. Though their leaders like Mussolini and Hitler claimed to represent all classes including the workers, their real aim was to crush communists and socialists; divert workers’ anger against their oppressors to chosen minorities like the German Jews and dragoon the masses for war. The British ruling class has never needed fascism, as Mosley found to his cost when he made his bid for power in the 1930s. But racism was the ideological justification for colonial oppression in the British Empire and the ruling class still uses it from time to time to retain the invisible caste system that operates in Britain and divides the working class. But the BNP are not just racists. The BNP are wolves in sheeps’ clothing. Their leaders pose as racists but they are Nazis. The BNP is run by hardline Nazis who believe that the Holocaust did not happen. Its rule book remains firmly entrenched in the principles of racial superiority and the banning of racial integration. Everyone knows where this all ends up and that’s why the BNP’s leaders are so coy now about their past record. Well we’ve got to make sure that everyone understands exactly what the BNP stands for. We’ve got to isolate, confront and expose the BNP for what it is. There are a number of anti-racist movements in Britain, some more effective than others. Hope not Hate, sponsored by the anti-fascist magazine, Searchlight, has consistently worked to build a mass movement against the British National Party and other racists and fascists. Hope not Hate recognises that people, communities and society as a whole face problems, but the BNP is not the answer and would only make everything worse. It has now launched a new “Not in My Name” campaign that will take this message into every neighbourhood, estate and street in the country. Hope not Hate, along with the other anti-racist movements, must be supported by the labour movement as the struggle intensifies in the run-up to the next general election.
SEVEN veteran International Brigaders last week were honoured by the Spanish government and awarded Spanish citizenship in a ceremony at the Spanish Embassy in Belgravia. They were 96-year-old Paddy Cochrane, Sam Lesser, Thomas Watters, Penny Feiwel, Jack Edwards, Lou Kenton and Joseph Kahn. The ambassador, Carles Casajuana, shook hands with each of the volunteers and handed them Spanish passports. The International Brigade veteran and trade unionist Jack Jones, who died in April, received a posthumous passport, which was given to his son, Mick. Sam Lesser, who recalled how the communist politician Dolores Ibárruri – La Pasionaria – had promised the foreign fighters in 1938 that they would one day return to find a peaceful, republican Spain. "We've taken a while but now we've come home," Lesser, 94, said in – Spanish. "We've come home. But there are those of us who did not come home, who sleep under the sun, the soil and the olive trees of Spain." He quoted the poet Laurence Binyon, saying their sacrifice would never be forgotten: "They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. /Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. /At the going down of the sun and in the morning/We will remember them." This prompted Paddy Cochrane to raise a defiant clenched fist in the air, and to describe how proud he now was of what he had done. Casajuana said that although Spain had changed – "now we settle our differences at the ballot box and not on the battlefield" – the country would never forget those who had given up comfortable lives at home to fight for democracy and freedom. "Your fight was not in vain," he told them. "Your ideals are part of the foundations of our democracy." After the ceremony, Paddy Cochrane sat in his wheelchair; grinning as he inspected the little red booklet he had just been given. "It makes me very proud," he said. "Very proud." Joseph Kahn, reflected: "It's very pleasant to get the passport," he said. "They did offer it to us a few years ago but that was on condition that we gave up our British nationality, which, of course, we refused. I'm very appreciative of the gesture. " He also had an odd sensation as he glanced around the room: "It's the first time in my life that I've felt like the youngest." Mick Jones said his father would, in spite of his principles, have appreciated the granting of Spanish citizenship. "It's a shame that Jack isn't here today but he knew he was going to get it – he'd filled in all the forms," he said. "My father was never very impressed with ceremonies and honours but he would have thought it was about time that Spain recognised the sacrifices made by the International Brigade."
STUDENTS at the University of London’s School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) last week began an occupation of university buildings in protest at an immigration service raid and the arrest, pending deportation of a number of the cleaning staff. The students claim the raid is a repressive reaction for recent trade union activity. Early last Friday morning all the cleaning staff were summoned to a meeting in a hall by the employers, ISS. When they had gathered doors were locked and immigration officers and police wearing riot gear entered and detained all the workers, including one young pregnant woman. They were held in the hall and one-by-one taken to a side room where their immigration status was checked. They were allowed no legal or union representation; many spoke only Spanish but there were no interpreters. A union officer who tried to get in to advise and represent the workers was barred. A number were arrested and nine have already been deported. The students are demanding that SOAS director Paul Webley, write to the Home Secretary calling for amnesty for the remaining detainees. One student said: “Universities should be sanctuaries: places free of violence and aggression. SOAS’s reputation as a university has been tainted today”. Over 20 academics from the university also signed a statement denouncing the School’s management for facilitating the Border Control Agency’s work. “It is a total disgrace that the raid took place at an institution actively recruiting students from around the world on the basis of its reputation as a leading centre for the study of global justice, human rights and racial tolerance,” it said. The recent Living Wage campaign and protests over the controversial sacking of cleaner and union activist Jose Stalin Bermudez, are cited by protestors as motivation for the deportations. Labour MP John McDonnell said “As living wage campaigns are building in strength, we are increasingly seeing the use of immigration statuses to attack workers fighting against poverty wages and break trade union organising. “The message is that they are happy to employ migrant labour on poverty wages, but if you complain they will send you back home. It is absolutely shameful.” The university said that it was “legally obliged to co-operate fully with the authorities”. The company ISS Cleaning and Hygiene Services, SOAS’s cleaning contractor has been accused of using immigration law to keep wages low after strikes by its employees working on tube trains were also followed by deportation of key activists. But ISS strongly denied a link between unionisation and the raids.
Police accused of torture
THE METROPOLITAN Police has suspended or placed on restricted duties six officers after allegations that they tortured suspected drug dealers after a police raid. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is investigating the Enfield-based officers' conduct, according to Scotland Yard. The alleged offences are said to have taken place in the borough during two drugs raids on 4th November last year. The Met said the allegations were serious and raised "real concern". But they said they could not comment on the exact nature of the complaints. But some national newspapers are reporting that the officers used water torture techniques such as ducking a suspect's head under water.
Many of us will have received a letter from Gordon Brown last week laying out Labour’s case at the local and European elections this week. Brown recalls the Tories’ record during the last recession and restates his government’s efforts in the current slump. But he says very little about the European Union, which is after-all what this week’s poll is largely about.
In just two sentences the Prime Minister reduces the EU question to that of trade with “Europe”, which he says means “more jobs at home” while claiming that the Tories “prefer isolation in Europe – even at the costs of jobs in Britain”. That’s one way of looking at it.
In fact neither statement is true. Overseas trade with “Europe” or anyone else in the world means more jobs at home but Brown ignores the strictures of the European Union that have led to the collapse of British manufacturing and the virtual end of the mining industry over the years. Nor is it true to say that the Tories “prefer isolation” in Europe. The Cameron leadership are certainly opposed to the euro currency but they are not, in principle, against the EU or the Treaty of Rome.
None of this has been raised in a campaign overshadowed by the scandal over MPs expenses which is plainly being exploited by the Eurosceptic wing of the ruling class to undermine all the major parliamentary parties to ensure that none of them will be in a position to take Britain into the single European currency after the next general election.
In this EU election the only parties campaigning outright against the EU are UKIP and the fascist BNP while the new left social-democratic No2EU slate argues against the Lisbon Treaty but makes no outright call to tear up the Treaty of Rome. But where are big guns of the pro-EU camp?
Those in the Labour Party clearly have more immediate problems on their plate. But the Liberal Democrats, the torch-bearers of European integration, are simply concentrating on domestic issues. Kenneth Clarke, only recently brought back into the Tory Shadow Cabinet as a sop to the Europhiles, is saying nothing.
The section of the ruling class that wants to align British imperialism with Franco-German imperialism within the European bloc are keeping their heads down because they know that this week’s poll will be another rejection of the European Union. Millions will simply not bother to vote at all. Many of the minority that do will cast their votes for openly anti-EU platforms.
But behind the scenes moves are being taken to discredit the vote even before it’s counted. Mass abstention and the UKIP vote will simply be dismissed as a backlash against the parliamentary expenses scandal while demands for “constitutional reform” – essentially a call for proportional representation – will become even shriller.
All bourgeois elections are the manipulation of the largest number of votes by the smallest number of people. And proportional representation has been the method favoured by all the post-war bourgeois governments in Europe because it enables the bourgeois parties to more equitably share the spoils of office amongst themselves. It will be the chosen method of the pro-European camp to create a coalition government to take Britain into the euro and the European super-state.
We have always been opposed to the European Union and the Treaty of Rome. But the interests of the working class can never be protected by elements of bourgeoisie. Whether for or against the EU they are all defending their own class interests, not those of the workers.
The ruling class as a whole wants to reduce political argument to the divisions within their own ranks as they did in the Victorian era and as they continue to do in the United States of America. Communists must campaign to build a working-class agenda to fight to defend the interests of working people and raise the demand for the socialist alternative.
The farcical European elections take place next week but in Britain hardly anyone knows who their MEPs are or what they do. In fact they do next to nothing apart from draw their colossal wages and expenses for taking part in a charade that is paid for by the workers of Europe. In this election Labour and the two major opposition parties are united, in differing degrees, in support of European integration – the building of a European capitalist super-state revolving around British and Franco-German imperialism. The anti-EU opposition ranges from fringe left parties to the neo-nazi BNP, all scrabbling after the juicy perks that a seat in the EU parliament provides. The most successful is the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), a rabid independent Tory front that is defending its nine British seats and has high hopes of gaining more from the backlash over the Commons expenses scandal. UKIP claims to fight to get Britain out of the EU. But what have UKIP’s nine MEPs achieved over the years? Absolutely nothing apart from drawing their Euros. In Britain there is indifference and often outright hostility to the undemocratic institutions of the European Union. This was shown by the conscious decision of the vast majority of the electorate to boycott the 2004 European Parliament elections. Little more than a third of the electorate bothered to vote despite the blandishments of the media, the appeal of proportional representation to minority parties and the cajoling of the bourgeois parties. In many working class areas the turnout was even lower. The European Parliament, like the Commission, has become a byword for undemocratic practices, corruption, nepotism and waste and fraud on a massive scale. The elections themselves are nothing more than a bogus public relations exercise for a body that possesses no meaningful executive powers at all. They don’t deserve the credibility of a vote at all. Boycott the EU elections in June!
Several hundred demonstrators took part in a march in bright sunshine last Saturday across north London in defence of jobs in higher education and the Civil Service. Organised by PCS and the University and Colleges Union with the support of it marched along Holloway Road where it passed London Metropolitan University, the first main focus of the march. The University is facing drastic cuts amounting to about a quarter of the workforce forced upon it when it was discovered the University had grossly underestimated the number of students on its book. It not only has to pay back Government grants given on the base of these inflated student numbers but faces greatly reduced grants in future years. For once it is not entirely fair to blame the senior managers for these problems. Because LMU has a good record in providing access to university courses for working class students it has a very high and unpredictable drop out rate. This is due to these unfunded students facing financial troubles often having to temporarily or permanently abandon their courses. The march ended with a rally in the park near Archway Tower thus linking up with the struggle of workers at the Tower who are fighting against relocation and job cuts. The Tower houses the Office of the Public Guardian (the government body responsible for administering the financial affairs of mentally handicapped people). Present government plans include either relocating the 500 staff out of London. Additionally the plans include establishing a call centre system which will cut all personal visits to vulnerable people and their carers. Speakers included local MP Jeremy Corbyn who denounced Higher Education Minister David Lammy for speedily backtracked on a pledge given in the Commons to launch a public inquiry into events at LMU and stated that the struggle for jobs a LMU was only part of a wider struggle for access to higher education. Other speakers contrasted the billions being handed out to bankers with the comparatively small sums required to solve all the problems of funding higher education.
South East London Friendship Link with Beit Fourik (SELFBF) has established links with a Palestinian agricultural village in the West Bank and facilitated exchange visits. The group has also been involved in researching the fresh produce supply chain between Israel and the UK, examining particularly trade with illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. They have campaigned with supermarkets and have seen an improved response, and the Cooperative supermarket showing willingness to buy Palestinian produce in future. The Group is hoping to make a visit to Beit Fourik in the autumn to discuss a new trade initiative, and advise on labelling, packaging, and food preservation in order to increase the Village’s product portfolio. Last week Daphne Liddle spoke to Sue Phasey, a researcher and consultant in postharvest science and Technical Advisor for SELFBF about the campaign.
Daphne Liddle: Why are supermarkets now meeting with campaigners?
Sue Phasey: It has been a long term campaign to bring about public and government attention to Israeli trade with the UK in general – it’s not something new. However, it has been more difficult to unravel and even explain the trade with illegal Israeli settlements. It’s only because of dedicated campaigns that this has more recently been taken seriously by supermarkets, the main buyers and retailers of Israeli produce in the UK. The government, and particularly the Foreign Office appear to have warmed towards some of the campaigns’ objectives; it’s not clear whether the government’s stance has altered because it merely wants to recoup lost revenue (though that would be relatively small) or as I would prefer to hope, it wants to take a more moral stand on human rights issues for Palestinians. If the latter is true then it would be good to hear it directly and more openly as such from Miliband’s office. Lawyers have been looking into the legality of trading with illegal settlements and there is a suggestion that legal action could be taken.
DL: Why is Israeli produce in such demand?
SP: The fresh produce supply chain is enormously complex and inter-related. You can divide it broadly into northern and southern hemisphere for the purposes of harvest windows throughout the year. There are also many emerging pressing issues to consider; food transport miles, food security, food quality, packaging issues and waste. One of the problems for supermarket buyers (from their perspective) is fulfilling consumer demands for all year round (AYR) quality produce, and it has done so by procuring produce from all corners of the earth. Israeli produce is in high demand because of its consistency in terms of supply, quality and price; as the UK is probably Israel’s most lucrative market, it will seek to meet the challenges of such a demanding and critical market by expanding its growing areas – for example new crop areas for pomegranate and other ‘fashionable’ produce, also new pepper varieties grown on settlements in the West Bank. The use of the Dead Sea area or the Jordan Valley with a growing season from November to May means that it can cover 12 months a year for supply of key crops.
DL:Why has Israel achieved such status with UK supermarkets?
SP:There’s no denying that Israel boasts good facilities and skills in agriculture. Israel continually innovates scientifically, has excellent plant breeding skills and is well tuned in to what consumers in the UK are demanding. It’s also well established in our markets. It is therefore difficult for other regions to compete with Israel, though there are very good producers in Spain, Turkey and other Mediterranean countries. Investment in up and coming growing areas is the only way to ensure that an alternative is offered for big buyers of fresh produce, otherwise they will stick to Israeli produce where possible. The harvest window for AYR supply using the Jordan Valley & Dead Sea (West Bank) region is probably Israel’s best advantage as well as its own government’s investment in agriculture from the beginning of the establishment of the State of Israel.
DL: What are the problems with Israeli agriculture and why should we be concerned?
SP: Supermarkets must consider the human and environmental cost that such intensive growing systems present – Israel has used up vast amounts of water from natural resources to attain such growth (“blooming of the desert”), remember, these kind of crops are not necessarily native to the region, and has caused the growth of the unforgiving Western Flower Thrips pest in the Jordan Valley – both issues have caused severe problems to Jordanian farmers on the other side of the Jordan River, and particularly for Palestinian farmers, now sadly diminishing rapidly. Growing non-native crops in intensive systems also means that there is a high dependency on pesticides; something that has also caused soil and environmental problems in the region. Most importantly, we have to remember that whilst there is reference to ‘illegal settlements’ supposedly used to describe Israeli settlements on the West Bank/Jordan Valley, all settlements and kibbutz are illegal occupations. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Israel seized a lot of farming land from the very beginning and the passing of time does not legitimise or justify it. The conditions of Palestinian workers, Thai workers ought to be thought about seriously. Imagine yourself as a Palestinian who used to have, or should have, farm land, but it was forcibly taken from you or your family and now you are forced to now work on it for the occupiers as poorly paid workers. This is something we must think deeply about, after all growing such crops for our supply chain on what is essentially stolen Palestinian land is an outrage, a piracy, and something that UK supermarkets’ own Code of Practice should force them to declare in the very least as unethical.
DL: What is the issue concerning labelling of produce in this respect?
SP: I strongly believe that if the public really knew of the true history of the land, how Palestinian farmers are losing hectares of land, and how these foods are grown with little regard to the environment or human rights of Palestinians, then I think there would be a blanket boycott of all Israeli goods. Environmental activists should take up the issues as a ‘cause celebre’. However, we must concentrate on exposing the trade from illegal settlements as a primary concern. It is unlikely that all trade will be forbidden overnight of course, so in the meantime there must be some standardisation on labelling. I would have thought that this directive would come from the FSA (Food Standards Agency), and that supermarkets must consider reaching an agreement and some consistency on what should be on the label for produce that is coming from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. We must also be aware that there are clauses in labelling directives from various Codes of Practice that allow produce which has had postharvest minimal processing operations (e.g., trimming, cutting) to be labelled as originating from that secondary source. This means that Israel could in theory harvest produce on settlements and sends to Tel Aviv for trimming operations and label produce as being sourced from “Israel”. This would be misleading, but it would be difficult for an outsider to prove, though supermarkets should be able to track all produce from farm to fork. Difficulties in this respect also occur on mixed pallets – that is to say, it may be difficult to track all boxes of produce on a pallet. This issue again is a requirement of their own Code of Practice, not to mention as a legal requirement. It’s not sufficient to label such produce as being from “the Jordan Valley” or “the West Bank”; consumers need to have an informed choice, and to make their own decision as to whether they will buy illegal settlement produce.
DL:Where does your campaign focus next?
SP: We are continuing to look at collecting all available information on the sourcing of produce from ‘Israel’, and keeping activists, journalists, lawyers, and supermarkets informed of our findings in future. By unravelling some aspects of the supply chain, we are now working out dates of harvest/supply of key crops coming into the UK from ‘Israel’ prior to their own marketing campaigns so that local activist groups can be alerted and leaflet the public and importers or shopkeepers accordingly. We believe that this might be a more effective and focused method of campaigning than the traditional blanket boycott campaign which, nonetheless, is essential. If any campaign groups are interested in this, they can contact the Secretary of SELFBF, Pauline Collins, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If we really want to hurt the state of Israel then damaging agricultural trade with the UK will go a long way. Remember the South African boycott worked and so will this.