Thursday, August 30, 2007

Livingstone apologies for slavery

LONDON Mayor Ken Livingstone last Thursday at the capital’s City Hall on the Thames made an emotional apology for the City’s role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Livingstone was overcome as he read an account of the brutal tortures suffered by slaves in Britain’s Caribbean colonies.
He angrily denounced the role of the City’s corporations in financing the trade. “You can look across there to see the institutions that still have the benefit of the wealth they created out of slavery,” Livingstone said, pointing through a huge window at the skyscrapers across the river.
“As mayor, I offer an apology on behalf of London and its institutions for their role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.”
The Reverend Jesse Jackson praised the statement, saying Livingstone broke important ground with his remarks. The American civil rights leader said apologies should lead to reparations.
Livingstone did not explicitly mention restitution, but his tearful expression of remorse went further than a statement in March by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair on the 200th anniversary of the law that ended the slave trade. Blair expressed his deep sorrow, but did not make a direct apology.

annual day

He used the occasion to call for an annual day of commemoration timed to coincide with the UN’s International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition, held every 23rd August.
London played a central role in the slave trade, outfitting, financing and insuring many of the ships that ferried living cargo to plantations in the New World. Revenue from the trade helped fund the construction of London’s docks.
London is not the first city to apologise for the trade. The port of Liverpool, one of the largest European slave-trading ports, formally apologised in 1999.
Livingstone was joined by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the London Community Gospel Choir, union leader Gloria Mills, Diana Abbott MP, Dawn Butler MP and R&B legend Beverley Knight.
Contributions included readings from the accounts of Oluadah Equiano who was one of the first slaves to produce an autobiography accounting for his life as a slave.
Lee Jasper read the passage that gave details of the way Oluadah was treated as a slave by his slave-masters, as the ship he was held in visited some 15 islands in efforts to offload the slaves to new masters.
Hopefully this event will be the catalyst for other cities and countries to follow suit and hold their hands up in similar style – the tragedy that is the slave trade was referred to as the African Holocaust.
Over a 400-year period, slavery statistics vary from a conservative 15 million slaves up to more realistic quote around 25-30 million Africans trapped and forced into slavery. At least 10 per cent of these people died in transit on the slave ships.

Tfl bids for Metronet

Transport for London is bidding to bring Metronet, the failed private consortium contacted to carry our maintenance on most of the London Underground, back into public ownership.
The Mayor of London’s transport authority last week announced that it had lodged an expression of interest with Metronet’s administrator and would make a formal offer by the end of next month.
TfL said that it “was in the best interests of all parties for an exit from administration as quickly as possible”.
The move follows the collapse last month of Metronet, which ran more than £2 billion over budget on repairs and refurbishments to nine London Underground lines, including the Victoria, District and Circle lines.
TfL would state only that it wanted to take control of the contractor on a “temporary basis”. But sources said that TfL executives were preparing to operate the business for two years, given the scale of inefficiency in the Metronet business and the time they believe that it would take to restore it to full health.
The decision would create a rift between Livingstone and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who pushed through the public private partnership that put Metronet in charge of maintaining most of the Tube infrastructure.
The Government refused to hand control of the Tube network to the elected mayor until after the contracts had been signed.
Livingstone had always opposed the privatisation and was elected on that basis.
When Metronet called in the administrators last month Brown insisted that the PPP was working. He said: “If Metronet pulls out, then another private company will be found to take its place.”
Metronet was four years into a 30-year, £17 billion work programme, split into two contracts. It was attacked for vast cost overruns and a system under which work was handed out among its five shareholders rather than awarded by competitive tender. The latter approach is used by Tube Lines, the other London Underground contractor. TfL set aside £750 million last month to ensure that maintenance and repair work on the Metronet lines did not grind to a halt, putting a further strain on London taxpayers. Tim O’Toole, the London Underground managing director, said yesterday that TfL wanted to put in place a “stable, economic and efficient structure” at Metronet as quickly as possible. He added: “We strongly believe that the best and most effective way to achieve our ultimate goal is for an early exit from the administration process.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fund raising in Charlton

COMRADES and supporters of the New Worker came together last weekend in Charlton, south-east London, for a fundraising garden party.
After two weeks of cool, damp weather the event was blessed with hot sunshine and a good attendance.
The back garden of a political activist receives little human time and attention but provides a secluded refuge for wildlife and a relaxing environment for weary campaigners to enjoy good food, drink and conversation.
Those attending included local members of CND, Palestine Solidarity, Greenwich Council for Racial Equality, the Labour Party, the Red Green Alliance, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and of course the New Communist Party.
A collection raised £76.91, which added to £16 donated the week before, made a total of £92.91 for the New Worker 30th Anniversary Appeal fund.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Metronet workers vote for strike

NEARLY 3,000 members of the unions RMT, TSSA and Unite have voted by massive margins for strike action to defend jobs and conditions at failed Tube privateer Metronet. In the three unions’ ballots, which closed last week, Metronet workers voted by a total of 1,369 to 70 to strike.
The strike votes were sparked by the failure of the bankrupt company’s administrators to provide guarantees that there will be no job losses or forced transfers as a result of the company’s financial collapse.
RMT and TSSA members also voted to strike over the failure to guarantee that there would be no cuts in pension entitlements.
Jennie Bremner, Unite assistant general secretary said: “This ‘yes’ vote gives Unite the mandate to take strike action against Metronet’s shameful plan to cut hundreds of jobs and outsource a further 1,000.
“These proposals come from the same management that were responsible for running Metronet into the ground. Unite is calling on the administrator to take firm action to put the Tube back on track and to cease operating the same policies that led to Metronet being taken into administration in the first place.
“We are available to meet with the company to thrash out a deal that will avoid industrial action. However this vote demonstrates our members’ willingness to take the company on to protect jobs and the future of the Tube.”
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said, “Our members have said with a single, united voice that they are not prepared to be made to pay for the failure of the PPP with their jobs, conditions or pensions.
“The work our members do is crucial not only to the day-to-day operation of the Tube but to the urgent upgrades that are slipping further behind schedule, and any further fragmentation of the workforce is out of the question.
“If we are to have the world-class Tube that London needs in time for the Olympics the only sensible answer is to bring the work back into the public sector.”
TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty said: “Metronet shareholders may be able to walk away from this PPP fiasco but it is our members who are being asked to pick up the bill with lost jobs, transfers and pension cutbacks.
“They have sent a clear message today to the Administrator and the Mayor that they will not stand for it. The long-term solution must be to bring this work back in-house to the public sector.” In the RMT ballot, there were 1,123 (98.3 per cent) votes to strike, with 20 votes (1.7 per cent) against, on a turnout of 51 per cent.
In the TSSA ballot, there were 127 votes for strike action (77 per cent) and 38 votes (23 per cent) against, on a 48 per cent turnout.
In the Unite ballot there were 119 votes for strike action (90 per cent) and 12 votes against (10 per cent).

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Jack Shapiro still going strong!

by Robert Laurie

Last Saturday saw veteran communist Jack Shapiro honoured by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) at a meeting in Southall's Saklatlava Hall chaired by Harpal Brar.

Jack Shapiro was born in 1916 in the middle of the First World War into a Jewish family in the East End of London. His political career began in the Young Communist League. The nineteen-thirties saw the rise of fascism at home and abroad. London's East End was a major battleground. Jack was one of those communists who mobilised the people against Mosley's blackshirts at the 1936 Battle of Cable Street and on many other occasions.

He was also active in the rent struggles of that period sometimes erecting barricades to prevent landlords evicting hard pressed tenants. The housing struggles were an important part of the anti-fascist struggle because by taking a firm class line of opposing all slum landlords equally, including Jewish ones the anti-Semitism peddled by the fascists had a much reduced audience.

His contribution to anti-fascist struggles included assisting with rescuing Jewish children from Europe and taking over the bomb shelters in London's Savoy Hotel to highlight the poor provision for the less well off. Long before it became fashionable Jack supported the rights of the Palestinian people and opposed Zionism. In addition to opposing the British Road to Socialism Jack supported the Chinese side in the Sino-Soviet split of the 1960s. Apart from his directly political work Jack was heavily involved with the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and in promoting the interests of the disabled in China. When the British establishment offered him an Order of the British Empire he rejected it on the grounds that he spent his life fighting to overthrow the British Empire. To this day his letters enliven the correspondence column in the Morning Star.

Jack's life was closely paralleled by his brother Michael who became a Communist councillor in Stepney. During the Korean War he lectured British prisoners of war helping them write letters home. For his pains he was denounced as a traitor in the House of Commons and forced to spend the rest of his life in China where worked for the Xinhua news agency. He also helped translate the works of Mao Zedong.

Appropriately tributes to Jack's work came from the London embassies of both China and People's Korea both of whom presented with small gifts to mark is services to proletarian internationalism.Keith Bennett, a friend of the Shapiro family, praised Jack as an outstanding Marxist-Leninist throughout his seven decades of political activism.

In replying to these well deserved tributes Jack responded by welcoming the growing resistance to United States imperialism even in the most unexpected places. He remained confident that while Britain had the oldest and most cunning bourgeoisie in the world they will be eventually defeated.

photo: Jack Shapiro, Harpal Brar and Keith Bennett

HEATHROW PROTESTS -- Heavy Handed Policing Backfires

by Daphne Liddle

THE GOVERNMENT is planning to use its most draconian anti-terror legislation against a broad coalition of groups – under the umbrella organisation Camp for Climate Action – who are assembling at a campsite close to Heathrow Airport for a massive but peaceful demonstration this weekend.
Estimates of the number of protesters expected from all over Britain and Europe vary from 1,500 to 3,000 – a modest number for a national demonstration. But around 1,800 police will be deployed who have been told by the Government to use powers under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 against the demonstrators.
These powers include stop and search even if police have no reason to suspect a person.
“That’s unbelievably heavy handed,” said camp spokesperson Anna Jackson, “They’re using the most draconian legislation on the statute book, and I hope they can be embarrassed out of it.”
Protesters include members of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, a variety of environmental groups and local villagers whose homes are threatened by plans to expand Heathrow and build a fifth runway.
The camp is supposed to be a model of eco-friendly communal living, with electricity supplied by solar and wind power.
Some papers claim to have infiltrated the campers and have published scaremongering leaks. In particular the London Evening Standard front page carried a banner headline claiming: “Militants will hit Heathrow”.
A Camp for Climate Change spokesperson responded saying: “This story did not contain a single source or even attempt at a source. smear campaign
“We don’t know who is feeding them this stuff and the suspicion is that we are the subject of a smear campaign. We are challenging BAA [the airport operator] to come clean.”
BAA denied planting the scare story but expressed anger that the protesters’ plans might disrupt the airport at the height of the holiday season.
No one yet knows exactly what form the protest will take. The campers assume they are infiltrated and are therefore delaying finalising plans.
Anna Jackson said: “We really can’t say what the direct action will be – there are no leaders in this camp. It’s 100 per cent democratic, run through consensus.
“It will be down to individuals’ judgement as to what they think is the best way to take action.
“It’s inevitable that the authorities are going to be in these meetings, coming into the camp and infiltrating – we can’t stop them coming in. But the camp is a lot more than just mass action.”
Clearly the intent of BAA, the police and the Government is to be as intimidating as possible to discourage people from taking part in the protest.
But this is proving counterproductive as the media – at the height of the silly season and little else to fill news bulletins – has been giving the protest a lot of coverage before it has even begun, ensuring that awareness of the issues involved is being raised all around.
The protesters point out that 20 million litres of fuel are consumed at Heathrow every day and 31.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide are generated there every year. joining
One of those attending will be the chair of Bournemouth and Poole Greenpeace, Richard Hillyard. He says he will be joining the Heathrow campaigners on Friday.
“Heathrow and BAA are being targeted because it’s a major UK airport and campaigning there will get a lot of attention, but it is really a statement against the expansion of many local UK airports, Bournemouth included,” he said.
“If aviation expands at the rate the Government wants, then every other industry would have to be zero carbon, which in reality has no chance of happening.
“Greenpeace is trying to mobilise the focus on binge flying, trying to get the message across that there’s no need to fly internally in this country just because it’s cheap.”
He says public transport needs to be drastically improved to give people a real alternative.
And they hope that this is the message that makes the news, rather than a battle with the police.
But at the same time the state is delivering another message – ordinary peaceful protesters are the real targets of anti-terror legislation.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Horror of Agent Orange

Len Aldis of the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society talks about Agent Orange.The American War on Vietnam was the most devastating war yet known. Although it ended in 1975 it left a terrible legacy which has travelled down the years to the present day for the people, its forests and its land. Despite this the country has made remarkable progress in many fields since and despite the international embargo that ended in 1994. However, it will take many more years of support, and international aid to overcome the legacy of Agent Orange one of the chemicals used in that war.Our campaigns seeking justice for the victims of Agent Orange has led to Len Aldis being invited to speak at a number of universities in the UK and in Vietnam. He has also spoken on the issue at public meetings in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France and Vietnam.In addition, we have shown international award winning documentary films on Agent Orange such as Battle’s Poison Cloud, produced by Tambuti Films of London. Path to Justice, Vietnam Film Centre and in which Len appeared. Another film, Agent Orange, a personal requiem” by Masako Sakata has recently been released as has The Last Ghost of War by an American company, Janet Gardner Group. Mention should be made of the support given by Labour MP Harry Cohen, who has tabled a number of Early Day Motions in support of the Vietnamese victims

London news round-up

High Court bans Heathrow protest

A HIGH COURT judge last Monday granted an injunction to the British Airports Authority (BAA) banning a climate change protest that could have disrupted the working of the airports for a while.
But the Mrs Justice Swift refused BAA’s application for a blanket ban on all protests there and left both sides claiming a victory.
BAA, owned by Spanish construction and services group Ferrovial, went to the High Court in London to prevent up to 5,000 people setting up camp between 14th and 21st August in a demonstration against climate change and a proposed third runway at Heathrow.
BAA was ordered to pay the costs of the three groups who challenged the attempt to impose the most wide-ranging restriction on the right to protest ever used in Britain.
The injunction bans three people – John Stewart of the Heathrow Campaign Against Aircraft Noise (Hacan), Josh Garman and Leo Murray of the anti-aviation group Plane Stupid – from interfering with the running of the airport.
The injunction was also applied to the Plane Stupid organisation and to “anyone acting in concert” with it in any illegal activity.
The umbrella group Airport Watch – which includes the Woodlands Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Campaign to Protect Rural England – was not included in the injunction.
Organisers of the Camp for Climate Action said they would go ahead with the protest camp: “The Camp for Climate Change is not covered by the injunction that was that was granted at the High Court today, and will be going ahead as planned,” they said.
“The final injunction provides no additional powers of arrest, and covers a much smaller geographical area, which will not include the camp. Everyone, including the named injunctees, is therefore free to come to the camp.”
BAA had claimed that a blanket injunction was necessary because of the threat of terrorism. They sought to include not just Heathrow but Paddington Station, Piccadilly and parts of the M25 and M4.
But as she restricted the range of the injunction Mrs Justice Swift said: “Police will be deflected from their ordinary duties, including protecting the public from terrorist attack. There is a risk that a terrorist group might use the disruption by protesters to carry out an attack.”
London Mayor Ken Livingstone opposed the blanket injunction and hired a team of lawyers to be in court for the hearing. London Underground and Transport for London were awarded costs as Mrs Justice Swift said it was “extraordinary” that BAA had not consulted them.
On the same day in a separate court Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips dismissed an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions that could have ended the Parliament Square anti-war protest picket of Brian Haw. The Lords also ruled that the current restriction of his picket were “unclear and unworkable” but they urged Haw to reach an agreement with the police on the limits of his protest.

Justice4JeanFamily Campaign

THE INDEPENDENT Police Complaints Commission report published on 2nd August is a damning indictment against the Metropolitan Police Service, say the family of Jean Charles de Menezes. The young Brazilian was shot and killed by anti-terrorism officers at Stockwell station on 22nd July 2005.
After a distressing two year wait, the family welcomed the fact that the report exonerated Jean of any allegations of suspicious behaviour which had been fuelled by the misinformation circulating in the media from police sources. A spokesperson for the Justice4Jean campaign said: “This report exposes the Metropolitan Police Service to a crisis of public confidence in their honesty and integrity. The report identifies Andy Hayman as having misled the public and the IPCC have said that this is clearly an example of misconduct.
“The IPCC recommendation to merely issue him with a letter containing ‘strong words of advice’ is not the appropriate response – this report has made his position untenable.
“Regarding Sir Ian Blair, the report’s findings make it seem unfeasible that he was not aware that they had killed an innocent man until the next day when so many people, including senior officers, government officials and even the Met Cricket team were aware of that fact. If it is true that he did not know, then it raises serious questions about his ability to be in full command of the Metropolitan police.
“How can he effectively manage the Metropolitan Police if he is not privy to this vital information? His account about not being aware of this information is even challenged by one of his own senior officers. It raises the suspicion that there has been a cover up. This report has also raised very grave concerns about the Metropolitan Police Authority's role in the aftermath of Jean's shooting.
“This brings into question their ability to hold act independently and impartially and to hold accountable those officers named in this report.”
A spokesperson for the Menezes family today said: “After two years, every institution of justice has failed us and we are left with the impression that the police are above the law. We call on Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to meet with us to explain how she will redress this complete lack of a credible investigation.
“This only makes us even more determined to keep fighting for justice.”

Give us toilets or prepare for strike!

LONDON BUS workers staged a series of protests at key London Transport and local government offices on Thursday 23rd August to protest at the lack of toilet facilities on bus routes and in general.
The campaign has taken a new turn with the capital's bus workers, all members of the Transport and General Workers’ Union section of Unite – the union, threatening a full strike ballot if Transport for London (TfL) and London's local authorities don’t act.
In a hard-hitting newsletter to members the bus workers leaders say some drivers have been so desperate for a toilet break they have had to relieve themselves in public places and been arrested.
Three vital issues will be put before London's transport and local leaders:
· Lack of toilets equals lack of respect for drivers and their health
· Serious health problems arise from not being able to go to the toilet when you need to, especially bladder, kidney and prostate conditions.
TfL says it wants to attract more women into the industry. How can it be serious about this when it cannot even provide adequate toilet facilities for staff? Perhaps it expects these women to bring their own bottles to work!

RMT warns another 130 stations face cuts to ticket-office hours

ANOTHER 130 London Underground stations face cuts to ticket-office hours, says the RMT transport union.
London Underground’s cull of ticket offices is far worse than originally feared, as Tube bosses deliberately create longer queues to drive people away from ticket offices, the network’s biggest union reveals today.
RMT has learned that LUL has a hit-list of 130 stations where further "changes" to ticket office hours are proposed, on top of 39 ticket offices already earmarked for complete closure, 32 scheduled to lose some or all weekend opening, 16 to lose afternoon peak services and 13 facing other major hours reductions.
The union has also learned that Transport for London (TfL) has a deliberate strategy to lengthen queues and frustrate people into going elsewhere, and that its ticket office closure plan is based on predictions of the lower future use that it will help to bring about.
RMT has already warned that it will fight the planned cuts, with industrial action if necessary, and is seeking public support for its campaign to maintain station staffing levels and to keep booking offices open.