Monday, July 24, 2006

Remembering the heroes who fought fascism in Spain

by Rob Laurie

SEVENTY years ago this month General Franco led a revolt of the Spanish Army against the Popular Front Government elected the previous February. Thus began what is known as the Civil War in Spain – but which is more accurately named the Spanish War Against Fascism – which was to last three years before the fascists triumphed.

This was due to the massive open support of Hitler and Mussolini, to say nothing of the covert support from Britain and other bourgeois democracies.

The Spanish Republic did fight not alone; support came from the Soviet Union and the International Brigades which were formed of volunteers who came from across the globe.

Britain sent 2,100 volunteers to fight against the fascists. Of these 526 died in battle. Today only 24 are still alive.

Contrary to the impression given in the capitalist media the volunteers were not all poets and other gilded youth whose later memoirs greatly exaggerated their role.

The Brigaders were largely working class: among them were Welsh miners, Clydeside engineers and working class Jewish veterans of the struggles against Oswald Mosley in the East End of London.

Last Saturday this heroic struggle was remembered at a ceremony at the International Brigade Memorial under the gaze of the London Eye in south London.

This year the ceremony was important for the first ever attendance of the Spanish Ambassador, Carlos Miranda, which represented a long overdue official recognition by the Spanish government of the efforts made by the International Brigade in the war and afterwards when they campaigned for the political prisoners held in Franco’s jails.

He praised the Brigaders for their role in bringing about Spain’s present democratic constitutional monarchy. While this may not have been the aim of the Brigaders who were largely Communists, they can be credited with encouraging the Spanish people’s resistance to the fascist system which did not long outlive General Franco.

The well attended event was chaired by Jack Jones, former general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, himself a Brigader. Among the seven veterans present was Penny Fyvel who served as a nurse in during the war.

There were three wreaths laid. The Spanish Ambassador laid one; a representative of the Jewish ex-servicemen’s organisation, AJAX, laid another and Connie Fraser laid the third on behalf of the International Brigade Memorial Trust – who organised the ceremony.

Bob Doyle, the last surviving Irishman to fight in Spain was also present to sign copies of his recent autobiography Brigadista. While the main speaker was Rodney Bickerstaffe, the former general secretary of Unison, Sam Russell, another Brigader, recited Cecil Day-Lewis’s poem The Volunteer.

He also called upon the large audience to remember the role of women who served as ambulance drivers and nurses. The meeting also saw the launch of a new anthology of poetry written by veterans and edited by Jim Jump.

Menezes family continue fight for justice

THE CROWN Prosecution Service last week ruled that there was not enough evidence to bring criminal charges against any police officers involved in the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes last July. Instead they decided to prosecute the Metropolitan Police under health and safety laws.
But the family of the young Brazilian, mistaken for a terrorist suspect, who was shot and killed on a Tube train at Stockwell Underground Station on 22nd July 2005, say they will continue to campaign for those involved to be brought to justice. unbelievable
Alex Pereira, a cousin of Jean de Menezes, said the CPS decision was “completely unbelievable”. He talked about the decision with Menezes’ family in Brazil.
“They are shocked about the decision,” he said. “They are completely disappointed about what they heard this morning.”
Another cousin, Patricia da Silva Armani, who lived in London with Menezes, said: “I am very disappointed. I was expecting a negative reply and it is shameful. My cousin was shot; they took his life inside an Underground station. “The authorities, in reality they did not have any shame. I feel sickened by that.”
London mayor Ken Livingstone commented: “Health and safety legislation was simply not drawn up to deal with policing a city facing the terrorist threat of 7th July.
“And it makes absolutely no sense to apply such legislation in the case of such an extreme situation.” got stuck
Meanwhile new evidence has emerged that the police unit involved in the shooting stopped for petrol on their way to Stockwell Tube station and then got stuck in heavy traffic as they were supposed to be following a terrorist suspect travelling by bus towards the station.
The delay led to these officers arriving too late at the station to stop Menezes boarding a train. Since they believed at the time that he was an Arab suicide bomber, they felt they had no option but to resort to a shoot-to-kill policy. The Menezes family is now considering their next step forward in their fight for justice.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Call to close detention centres

PEOPLE held in London’s Colnbrook Detention Centre last month issued a statement calling for the closure of all detention centres and declared a hunger strike in protest against inhuman treatment.
They describe three types of prisoner being held there. The first of these are asylum seekers; refugees who fled their native country, forced to abandon their families to save their lives.
All they want is to survive and live in safety. They have always complied with the conditions given them. They were detained when they went to make their weekly report in the immigration office, and since then they have been at Colnbrook IRC.
They are held for many months in the centre for no crime and are deprived of all contact with their families.
The second group who suffer are disabled asylum seekers who have been unable to earn a living. They suffer particularly because there are no facilities for disabled prisoners and they do not receive proper medical attention. The third group, a minority, consists of those who have committed offences – for example using a forged passport – served their sentence in prison and are then held indefinitely in the detention centre – sometimes for twice the length of their original sentence.
They are in a legal limbo and have no idea what will happen to them. They feel they are being used as political scapegoats.
Some are suicidal. Their statement says: “We have repeatedly called for help and intervention, for an investigation of these crimes against humanity. We have appealed and will continue to appeal to whoever is willing to listen, to come to our aid, and exert some control, and restraint on this organisations.”
They have embarked on the hunger strike to draw attention to their plight. They are asking for an audience with immigration minister Liam Byrne MP; for an independent parliamentary committee to investigate their situation and for temporary work permits in order to earn a living.
But already one of the hunger strikers has been seized and taken from his cell by 20 police officers. He is a married man with a wife and children who have legal status in Britain and his case was due for a judicial review. Now his friends and family have no idea where he is.

Friday, July 07, 2006

7th July Compensation 'hypocrisy'

A LONDON TUBE driver awarded the MBE for his selfless efforts in helping victims of the 7th July bombings at two stations has slammed the “hypocrisy” of ministers seeking to axe compensation to workers injured at work through criminal actions.

John Boyle, a member of the RMT transport union, who was off-duty when he rushed to aid the injured at both Aldgate and Aldgate East stations, received £1,000 in compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) for the serious effects of the trauma he suffered.

But the Home Office has proposed not only that CICA’s minimum tariffs be removed, but that workers injured through criminal actions at work should not qualify for CICA compensation at all.

“The Government’s proposals are just terrible,” says John Boyle. “I was off-duty when the bombs went off, so under these proposals I might still have had a claim, but my workmates and all the emergency services people who did so much wouldn’t qualify at all just because they were on duty.

“How can they say that people injured in the course of duty are different to those injured off-duty, or on their way to work?

“We were all victims that day, and it is appalling that they are trying to find money to pay to people more seriously injured by taking it away from others.

“To call people heroes and then to try to bar them from claiming compensation looks like hypocrisy to me,” John Boyle says.

“Penalising victims of criminal acts is plain wrong and the Government really should just drop these proposals,” said RMT general secretary Bob Crow in Dublin as delegates gathered for the union’s annual general meeting.

“Thompsons, our lawyers, have already made a number of CICA applications on behalf of our members, but people who were affected should get in touch with the union and get a claim in as soon as possible,” Bob Crow said.

Mubarak Inquiry -- 'Institutional Murder'

THE OFFICIAL public inquiry into the racist murder of teenager Zahid Mubarak as he slept in his cell in Feltham Institute for Young Offenders in 2000 ended last week with a list of damning indictments of the prison service.

The family of the murdered youth, who was to have been released the morning after his death, had their own verdict. They accused the prison service of “institutional murder” for placing their son in a cell with a young racist with a long history of violence and mental illness.

The family had to fight for six years and take the Government to court to force a public inquiry, in spite of Government attempts to block it. Family lawyers said they were now exploring the possibility of suing individuals named in the report.

Mubarak’s mother Sajida Mubarak said her son’s death was the result of chronic incompetence. “The Home Office and the prison service, both before and after Zahid’s death, were co-conspirators in a woeful conspiracy of incompetence and indifference,” said lawyer Dexter Dias.
“The prison service had 15 chances to save Zahid from his killer. It squandered them all. The report has convinced the family that Zahid’s death was no more and no less that institutional murder.”

One of the main inquiry conclusions was that either more money must be found for the prison service or fewer people must be sent to prison. It highlighted 186 failings in the prison service that led to the murder.

Mr Justice Keith, who conducted the inquiry, spoke of “a bewildering catalogue of shortcomings, both individual and systemic” and a breakdown in communications between different sections of Feltham which meant that crucial information about Stewart, the young murderer, were not passed on, mislaid or not acted on.

Mubarak had requested a change of cell the day before his death because he did not feel safe locked up with Stewart. But there was plenty of clear evidence that Stewart was so dangerous he should not have shared a cell with anyone.

And Stewart himself had a long record of violence and mental illness, going back to his disturbed childhood, that was never addressed and he never received any mental health treatment. Instead he spent most of his youth in various young offenders’ institutions.
He exhibited bizarre behaviour, including self harm, swallowing batteries, flooding his cell and talking to walls. In an institute near Wigan he met and befriended violent racist Maurice Travis. Two years before Zahid’s murder, Travis was convicted of stabbing a fellow prisoner to death while he and Stewart were both at Stoke Heath Young Offenders’ Institute while Stewart was present.

The prison service missed many warnings, including letters written by Stewart fantasising about racial violence and killing his cellmate.

Mr Justice Keith said: “Because of a dangerous and pernicious cocktail of poor communications and shoddy work practices, prison staff never got to grips with him.”

Stewart was moved to Feltham at a time when it was seriously overstretched and overcrowded. Keith said: “Feltham was being asked to do too much with too few resources. It did not have the number of staff needed to keep pace with its increasing population.”

The prison also suffered from institutional racism and a failure to deal with racism. The inquiry found that the security department was in chaos and that some key staff suffered a lack of initiative and defeatism. The officer who put Stewart into Zahid’s cell was inexperienced in cell allocation. Other members of staff who knew of Stewart’s racist letters failed to raise the matter appropriately. The greatest concern to Zahid’s family is that the overcrowding and lack of resources continue. A similar tragedy could happen again tomorrow.