Thursday, February 22, 2007

Exploring Tate Britain

by Stella Moutafis

THE TATE Britain art gallery is to be congratulated for hosting artist Mark Wallinger’s reconstruction of Brian Haw’s one-man peace vigil. Brian Haw himself has said “They’ve done me proud!” and many peace activists are making the trek to Millbank, London, to have a look.
While you are there, there is much else to enjoy at the gallery. As London art-enthusiasts will know, its remit is British art from the 1500s to the present day.The art is displayed in light and spaceous rooms, and helpful personnel are on hand to give directions.
From the permanent collection, our well-known artists such as Constable, Turner, and William Blake are showcased, and the major eras covered in chronological order. Of particular interest in the Modern section - as it is only here that we see images of how the people – as opposed to wealthy patrons of art – actually lived.
Here one can see The Crowd (Revolution) by John Wyndham Lewis, which though painted in 1915 strangely anticipated the Russian Revolution with red stick-like figures weaving through a maze of lines and structures waving red flags and tricolours.
Another gem not to be missed in this section is a display of wartime paintings by James Boswell (1906-71). A Communist Party member before the Second World War, he was posted to Iraq in the Medical Corps in the 1940s. Boswell was a cartoonist for the Daily Worker and Left Review.
But he’s most widely known for his work in the Artists International Association, which he helped to set up in1933 This was a left wing organisation with members working in all styles of art. And we even see a quote from Karl Marx in the Modern section! Not really interested in art? You might still enjoy a visit.
There are other sights to see in the vicinity. Across the river, outside Vauxhall station, there is a building listed in tourists’ guides as a “government building”.This,in fact, the infamous M16 headquarters. A bulky green and white pile, it no doubt conceals more than it reveals....What a shame they don’t do guided tours!
There are riverside walks to enjoy all around and if you are into modern architecture and design it is worth your while going along just to see Vauxhall Station. A busy interchange of rail, bus,and underground services, it probably doesn’t feature on most tourists guided “must see” lists. But it has a recently-built control centre which is an amazing steel and glass structure. It is more evocative of space travel than transport in London as we know it!
The Tate Britain is, as its literature proclaims, “Supported by BP”. Better make the most of it,then – before BP’s other activities help to make planet Earth “not fit for purpose”!

Tate Britain is at Millbank in central London and the nearest tube stations are Pimlico and Vauxhall. Admission is free apart from special exhibitions and the gallery is open daily from 10.00 – 17.50.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bloody Sunday remembered

by Theo Russell

ACTIVISTS met at the London Irish Centre in Camden on Sunday 28th January to commemorate the 14 protesters shot by the British Army in Derry in January 1972, and to assess the 35-year long campaign for justice.

The meeting was addressed by Barry McColgan, national organiser of Ógra (young) Sinn Féin, Raymond McCartney MLA from Derry, John Kelly from the Bloody Sunday relatives, Alan Brecknell of the Pat Finucane Centre, and John McDonnell MP.

Barry McColgan said the theme of this year’s march in Derry was “Hold power to account”, and called on Britain not only take full responsibility for the massacre but “to ensure that the lies about Bloody Sunday are removed from the history books”.

John Kelly said the relatives had been told by Lord Saville, who chaired the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, that its report would be published at the end of 2008 at the earliest – 10 years after the inquiry opened.

Kelly said: “We have gone 25 years to get the truth, so the families are prepared to wait. We know the truth, but it’s the admittance of the British government that’s important to us.” He said the families also want assurances that they will see the report as soon as it is published, to ensure that “nothing is hidden or deleted,” adding: “Widgery murdered the truth of Bloody Sunday – truth was the 15th victim.” Asked whether the families trusted Saville, Kelly replied: “If he delivers the report we want, then I will trust him.” He also pointed out that because of the new Inquiries Act, the Saville Inquiry “is the last to be held in an open, accountable way”.

John McDonnell MP found time in his campaign for election as Labour Party leader to speak at the meeting, and called on the British government to ensure that elections in the north of Ireland go ahead and “to move towards the re-unification of Ireland”. He also called for support for the Muslim community, which he said was “going through what the Irish community went through 20 years ago”. “People in these communities,” he said, “are beginning to understand the impact of imperialism, both in the wars it wages and their effects here in Britain.”

200,000 civil servants walk out

AROUND 200,000 civil servants took strike action on Wednesday 31st January, bringing courts to a standstill, closing benefit offices, job centres and museums and cancelling driving tests.

The 24-hour strike was organised by the Public and Commercial Services union in its long-running dispute over job cuts, pay and privatisation. “Innovative forms” of industrial action will continue for another two weeks. The union said it expected up to half a million tax returns could be delayed or disrupted because the action was being held on the self-assessment tax deadline day.

Tax offices were closed by the walkout, including those at Southend, Bishops Stortford and Middlesbrough, said the union. Taxpayers were told they will get no extension to the 31st January deadline for returning self-assessment forms, despite the strike.

The trial of six men accused of the 21st July 2005 attempted bombing campaign in London was hit because court ushers, security guards and admin staff at Woolwich Crown Court in south-east London were among those on strike.

The case was switched to the Old Bailey, where legal arguments were heard, not in front of a jury. A courts service spokesperson said: “This is part of our contingency planning for the strike action.”

PCS said that the strike led to the cancellation of 2,000 driving tests, the closures of galleries including the Tate Modern and Tate Britain and the suspension of business in the Welsh Assembly.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The massive show of support today demonstrates the levels of anger and frustration that has built up amongst the Government’s own workforce over below inflation pay offers and crude job cuts that are damaging services. “The people taking action today aren’t the high flying mandarins being bussed around the country in an attempt to keep offices open, but people providing the everyday things we take for granted from cradle to the grave. “With a two-week overtime ban starting tomorrow, the Government needs to give assurances on jobs, services and privatisation as well as addressing pay inequalities and low pay if it is to avoid further disruption.”

Hundreds of strikers attended a rally in Westminster to hear Serwotka attack the Government for the disgraceful way public sector workers are being treated. He said: “Job cuts are not improving services or saving taxpayers money, but they are demoralising the workforce. “What is more efficient about cutting 50,000 jobs, then bringing in consultants on 10 times the salary of a civil servant? “At the same time, we know that top executives are being paid a huge bonus out of savings they have made cutting jobs.”

The strike had backing from other unions, in particular the giant public sector union Unison. “Your struggle is our struggle and we offer our support because our two great unions have so much in common,” general secretary Dave Prentis told striking civil service workers at the Westminster strike rally.

Prentis described being in Westminster for the second time in just over a week as a “sad indication of the state of things”, but, he added that it was “a good indication of the solidarity of the union movement that I can bring a message of support from my members and wish you success in your important campaign, which is very much a part of our fight to protect civil and public services.”

Unison and PCS have “so much in common – members working side-by-side in local government, the health service, the Scottish Parliament and Assembly for Wales, the probation service”, said Dave Prentis, and “we both have proud traditions of looking to secure fairness and justice for those who deliver our vital public services.”

Solidarity with Democratic Korea

COMMUNISTS and progressives met to mark the 65th birthday of Korean leader Kim Jong Il at a celebration in west London last Saturday. Events in honour of the Democratic Korean leader, who was born on 16th February 1942, were held throughout the Korean peninsula and amongst the overseas Korean community this week and they are always joined by friendship and solidarity movements throughout the world. Last weekend was no exception.
Southall’s Saklatvala Hall was immersed in Korean culture at a celebration called by the Friends of Korea, the standing committee set up two years ago to promote solidarity with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The celebration kicked off in the afternoon with the showing of a film about life in north Korea followed by contributions from friends of the Korean people chaired by Harpal Brar. Different aspects of Kim Jong Il’s life and Korea today were reflected in the openings from NCP leader Andy Brooks, Michael Chant of the RCPB (ML) and Ella Rule of the CPGB (ML).
Veteran Korean solidarity campaigner Keith Bennett talked about the direction of the DPRK’s economy and the nuclear crisis and this was followed by representatives from the SLP, British Juche Society and the organising committee itself.
The formal part of the proceedings ended with a report of current developments by Jong In Song from the DPR Korean embassy in London before finally ending with much more informal discussions over drinks and Indian food.

City cleaners' success

HALF THE cleaners who hoover the City’s trading floors and scrub the toilets in the Square Mile have won union recognition, after months of vociferous campaigning.
The Justice for Cleaners campaign, organised by the TGWU union has been demanding a “living wage”, sick pay and pension rights for the cleaners, many of whom do second jobs in their spare time to make ends meet.
Some of the cleaners have already seen their pay rise as a consequence of the campaign, and the TGWU described the victory as a “landmark step in ending the shameful treatment of cleaners in Europe’s financial centre”.
“The past was shameful, with that grotesque contrast between cleaners on the minimum wage and Christmas City bonuses of £8.8 billion,” said TGWU deputy general secretary Jack Dromey. “The future will see fair treatment of workers, employed by reputable contractors, with the clients accepting their moral responsibility.”
Giant contractors such as Mitie and ISS are hired by City firms to provide cleaning services – but the TGWU has insisted companies in the Square Mile can’t shirk responsibility for their cleaners’ working conditions by arguing that they don’t employ them directly.
“We will now focus on the contractors who have yet to engage with the cleaners and their union, as it is vital that no company undercuts those who do the decent thing by their workers,” said Dromey.