Thursday, October 11, 2007

The march they couldn't ban

by Daphne Liddle

THOUSANDS of peace protesters gathered in Trafalgar Square on Monday morning to call for an immediate withdrawal of British troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and to defy a ban on demonstrations in Parliament Square.
Police had refused permission for the march, organised by the Stop the War Coalition, to Parliament to mark the first day back from summer recess for MPs and a debate on the Iraq War. To do this they used a law dating from 1839 used to bar Chartists from approaching Parliament.
But as large contingents of students arrived noisily in the Square – from Manchester University Students’ Union, Leeds Nottingham, London and many other places – clearly in an upbeat mood and ready for a confrontation if necessary, the police wisely granted permission for the march just 40 minutes before it was due to begin.
There were many other protesters – all the usual left-wing political groups, peace groups and community groups and a surprisingly good number of trade union banners.
The Communication Workers’ Union was present in force – the striking Royal Mail workers had staged a rally of their own in the Square before the peace rally and many members stayed on to support the Stop the War rally.
A long and powerful line-up of speakers in the Square all emphasised that the police decision to allow the march was based entirely on the weight of numbers who had come – a real demonstration of people-power against Government attempts to restrict civil rights.
Veteran peace campaigner Walter Wolfgang – famous for being thrown out of the Labour Party conference two years ago for daring to heckle Jack Straw – opened the speeches.
Other speakers included Brian Haw, who has maintained a protest picket opposite the House of Commons since June 2001, Stop the War leader Lindsey German, CND general secretary Kate Hudson, MPs Jeremy Corbyn (Labour), Elfyn Llwyd (Plain Cymru), John McDonnell (Labour), Bob Wareing (Labour) and George Galloway (Respect). Campaigning comedians Mark Steele and Mark Thomas were there too, and of course there was veteran campaigner Tony Benn.
Then the marchers set off for Parliament Square. Police had cleared a space on the pavement opposite the House of Commons – but it was nowhere near big enough for all the marchers. The grass area in Parliament Square was completely fenced off.
Eventually College Green was made available and police allowed marchers through from Whitehall, to the pavement opposite Parliament and then to College Green in small contingents – interrupted to allow traffic to pass around.
This led to delays and frustration – and a sit-down protest by some students in an effort to get the traffic stopped. Others began to move the fencing around the grass area. In the end police had to give in to this. People power had prevailed again.
If this march had happened almost anywhere else in the world, for example in Burma, it would have made the front pages of most newspapers and topped television news bulletins in Britain. But it was hardly reported at all. The BBC gave it about two minutes in its early evening local London news but nothing else. The Independent carried a picture with caption but no report; the Guardian website reported it but the paper carried nothing; the Telegraph ignored it.
The march was well reported abroad, with foreign news bulletins carrying much more information than the British.
This is part of a regular pattern that leaves the public in Britain completely unaware of mass popular political activity and serves to deepen a sense of futility and alienation from the political process that discourages hope and involvement.

Celebrating the Workers Party of Korea

by a New Worker Correspondent

THE MARCHMONT Centre in central London was packed on Sunday for a Friends of Korea celebration to mark the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea on 10th October 1945. It kicked off with a film show focusing on Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s work at home and abroad followed by keynote openings on the struggle of the Korean revolutionary movement by NCP leader Andy Brooks and Jong In Song from the Democratic Korean embassy in London.
Andy Brooks charted the history of the Korean communist movement which he said was inseparable from the life of Kim Il Sung, an outstanding communist leader and thinker who will always be remembered by working people all over the world. It began when in the 1920s when Kim Il Sung was the student leader who formed the Down with Imperialism Union. From student leader Kim Il Sung became the guerrilla leader; the ‘Young General’ who took up the gun to drive the Japanese colonialists out of the country. When Kim Il Sung gathered a small band of heroes to form the first guerrilla units to take on the might of the Japanese Army no one could have imagined that this would become the People’s Army that brought the American imperialists to their knees begging for an armistice in 1953.
Comrade Jong talked about the Workers’ Party of Korea, a monolith party based on Kim Il Sung’s thinking that developed Korean style socialism into the Juché idea – which elevates the philosophical principles of Marxism-Leninism as well as its economic theories – and focuses on the development and importance of each individual worker, who can only be truly free as part of the collective will of the masses.
Both spoke of the immense achievements of the DPR Korea under the leadership of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in raising the standard of living for the Korean masses of the north while upholding the banner of socialism at home and in the international working class movement.
Many friends in the audience had been to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and this was reflected in the general discussion that followed. The meeting agreed unanimously to send a solidarity message to Korean leader Comrade Kim Jong Il and then adjourned to relax and enjoy a buffet of Korean food and drink.
Friends of Korea is supported by the NCP, RCPB (ML), CPGB (ML), SLP and friends of the Korean people in the broader labour and peace movement. The society organises regular meetings and socials in London throughout the year and it hopes to hold other events across the country in 2008.
photo: Andy Brooks makes his points

Racism, Apartheid and Palestine today

by Robert Laurie

LAST THURSDAY Camden Trades Council and Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association held a well attended public meeting on “Racism, Apartheid and Palestine Today” at Transport House. The meeting brought together activists from the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa and the ongoing struggle for against Zionist occupation of Palestine.
The first speaker was Bahir Laaptoe a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggles in his native Cape Town and a refugee from South Africa who fled to Britain when he was caught with notes taken at his Marxist study group. While life for the majority black population was grim under apartheid they never had the South African Air Force bombing them as the Israeli Air Force regularly bombs Palestinians. He concluded by noting that the struggle in Palestine was a great inspiration to the struggle in South Africa: the Palestinian hijacker Leila Khalid was much honoured in South Africa by mothers who named their new born daughters after her.
Sami Joseph, a Christian Palestinian spoke next, opening by describing how, in 1948 his family were unable to return to their house when the Zionists invaded their village while they were away visiting a convent. He pointed out that Muslims never mistreated Jews and that before the Balfour Declaration Jews were actively welcomed in Palestine.
The meeting concluded with a recent visitor to Abu Dis graphically describing how the wall affects the Palestinian population. Several deaths of pregnant Palestinian women were caused by Israeli soldiers preventing them getting to hospital.
CADFA is one of many local groups active in promoting links between British towns and Palestine. Abu Dis is a suburb of East Jerusalem presently dissected by the huge wall erected on Palestinian land in order to drive Palestinians from their land to make room for expanding Zionist settlements.
It has organised a number of visits and supports a much needed clinic in Abu Dis. A visit for trade unionists is scheduled for later this month. The traffic has not been all one way: many people from Abu Dis have enjoyed visits to London.
For further details contact CADFA, PO Box 34265, London NW5 2WD email:

Friday, October 05, 2007

Met 'guilty of Menezes shooting'

JURORS at the Old Bailey last week were told that the Metropolitan Police force was guilty of "fundamental failures" in its "duty of care" in the case of the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, an entirely innocent man who was mistaken for a terrorist suspect. The Met denies the charges.
This is a unique case being brought under public health and safety laws after an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It is expected to last around six weeks.
The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to bring charges against any individual. Chief constable Sir Ian Blair will not give evidence and nor will the two firearms officers who fired the fatal shots.
But the office of the commissioner of police is charged with failing to ensure that the public and de Menezes were not put at risk during the surveillance, pursuit and detention of a suspected suicide bomber.
The court can impose an unlimited fine against the Met – and it could be millions – but it will be paid by taxpayers. The case opened on Monday; with the prosecution telling the court that the shooting at Stockwell Tube station on south London on 22nd July 2005 happened because of "fundamental failures" in planning.
Clare Montgomery QC, prosecuting, said the "disaster" of the Brazilian electrician’s death was "not the result of a fast-moving operation going suddenly and unpredictably awry".
"It was the result of fundamental failures to carry out a planned operation in a safe and reasonable way," she said.
"We say that the police planned and carried out an operation that day so badly that the public were needlessly put at risk and Jean Charles was killed as a result."

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bringing the peace message to London

At the Cutty Sark Gardens in Greenwich, next to the fire-damaged veteran tea clipper – now under wraps and under repair – a large group of Peace Cyclists from all over Europe and beyond converged to bring the anti-nuclear message to Londoners.
The cyclists from France, Germany, Estonia, Norway, Georgia, Nepal and many other places were all young doctors or medical students who had ridden around Europe delivering their message against nuclear weapons.
They were greeted by the Lewisham and Greenwich CND with an array of banners and a map of London and the south-east of England. X marked the spot in the centre of Greenwich and concentric circles were drawn to indicate the levels of damage that would be done if a Trident or similar nuclear warhead landed at the centre. fired back
Campaigners pointed out that if Britain is prepared to use Trident missiles, similar missiles could be fired back.
Within the one-kilometre circle all buildings would be flattened; people along with all other living things would be vaporised leaving just a faint dark stain on the bricks.
Within the two-kilometre circle most buildings would be knocked down and people reduced to smouldering lumps of burnt meat, blown into piles by the blast.
Within the three-mile zone there would be some survivors frantically struggling over the bodies of the dead and seeking help. But there would not be any help – emergency services could maybe cope with thousands of casualties but not millions.
Even beyond that up to five kilometres there would still be heavy casualties and building damage. And beyond that millions would be affected by radiation and face a slow, painful death from radiation sickness.
The young cyclists had arrived in London to attend a conference, “Nuclear Weapons – the final pandemic: Preventing proliferation and achieving abolition,” which was organised by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and the Royal Society of Medicine.
A demonstration is being organised by the Stop the War Coalition for Monday 8th October, to call for the immediate withdrawal of all British troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. The demonstration will assemble in Trafalgar Square at 1 pm.Currently the Stop the War Coalition’s proposed march to Parliament is banned by the police.

Rally for Trade Union freedom

THE UNITED Campaign to Repeal the Anti-Trade Union Laws is organising a mass rally and lobby of Parliament for Thursday 18th October in support of the trade union rights and freedoms Bill.
PCS, the civil service union, has been taking a key role in this campaign, and is one of 24 trade unions supporting it.
The campaign aims to repeal all anti trade union laws and bring in better rights and protection for workers taking industrial action.
The timetable for the day is:

• 4.00 - 5.30pm assemble & demonstrate outside House of Commons;
• 5.30 - 7.30pm Rally in Committee Room 14, House of Commons.

Postcards to send to MPs asking them to attend Parliament 19 October to support the Bill and postcards supporting the Bill are available to download from the PCS website.
In 1906, the Trade Disputes Act created for the first time protection for trade unions promoting industrial action to further the interests of their members in a trade dispute.
It is ironic that, 100 years later, the legal restrictions on trade unions’ freedom are not only some of the most severe in the West – but significantly greater than those Parliament imposed a century ago. We now have our best chance in years to start dismantling these laws. Support is growing for a Trade Union Freedom Bill that would restore some of our rights – stopping strikes being banned from trivial ballot irregularities, allowing union members to take action alongside workmates who work for a different employer because of contracting and privatisation.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Qin's Army Rules Britannia

Derick McGroarty stared in astonishment at a 2,200-year-old, life-size standing terracotta soldier. "It's fabulous to see them face to face," says McGroarty at the The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army exhibition that opened at the British Museum in London last month.
"I just can't imagine the sight of thousands of them standing together at their home," says McGroarty, a freelance travel writer from Southampton, England. He finds the different expressions on the soldiers' faces overwhelming and says it is a pity he did not have enough time to go to Xi'an, the place where the terracotta warriors were discovered, when he visited China 15 years ago.
In the dim light of the temporarily converted Reading Room in the heart of the museum, a dozen terracotta soldiers with their chariots and horses stand quietly, while on a huge screen a documentary describes how one of the world's most amazing treasures was discovered. On display are 120 objects including bronze bells, vessels and other artifacts, 12 life-size complete warrior figures and eight complete figures of new finds - acrobats, musicians and bureaucrats.
This is the first time the famous Reading Room is being used as a temporary exhibition space, covering 1,150 square metres.
"Don't you think it's perfect to have the exhibition in the dome-style Reading Room," asks McGroarty's wife Mildred. "It very much matches the mood."
The terracotta exhibition is being hailed by the media in London as the British Museum's most important exhibition in 30 years. A report in The Independent newspaper says the display will electrify the British public as surely as Tutankhamen's golden mask did in the 1970s.
Over the past two months, big posters scattered around the city have been creating an air of anticipation of the terracotta army's arrival from China. The souvenir shops of the museum are filled with mini statues of terracotta soldiers, postcards, albums and other related items.
Nearly 138,000 tickets have been sold for the seven-month exhibition, according to museum sources.
"It's not surprising," says Jane Portal, exhibition curator. "China has become such an important country to the rest of the world. It is growing so quickly, and of course it will be holding the Olympics next year. People are interested in it.
"The China we see today can trace its roots back to around 220 BC, and the reign of the First Emperor."
The exhibition features the largest group of important objects related to the First Emperor ever to be loaned abroad by the Museum of the Terracotta Army and the Cultural Relics Bureau of Shaanxi Province in Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province. "It is the first time that finds at the mausoleum in Xi'an have been sent overseas in large numbers," says Wu Yongqi, head of the Qinshihuang Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum.
Portal says the chance discovery of the terracotta army astounded the world and the exhibition will provide a wonderful opportunity to see these extraordinary objects up close and to learn about an empire which at its height was the rival of Rome and was to prove historically more enduring.
"A face-to-face encounter with these extraordinary objects will give the visitor a chance to understand China's past, its present and possible future," Portal says.
The idea for the exhibition came two years ago, while Portal and Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, were in China as part of official efforts to boost cultural ties between the two countries.
"Neil MacGregor was bowled over by what he saw," recalls Portal who is also an expert on Chinese culture, adding that plans for an exhibition in the British Museum probably took root then.
Wu says China was also keen on the idea, and both museums have worked closely together over the past two years to turn it into reality.
"I hope this exhibition will help the British people learn something about China, about Chinese history, military and art 2,200 years ago," Wu told the media in London.
"So little is known about the First Emperor outside of China and yet he is such an important figure in Chinese history," says Portal. "I hope that people who come to the exhibition will get a sense of the grand scale of his vision - the fact that he wanted to carry on ruling over the universe, even after his death."
Apart from the life-size terracotta soldiers, the exhibition examines the First Emperor's life, his unification of China and his military prowess. It looks at his achievements, the innovations he introduced and the monuments he constructed. The second section of the exhibition focuses on his quest for eternal life.
According to Portal, the exhibition will also explore the myths and mysteries associated with this important historical figure.
During the seven-month exhibition, seminars and talks on Chinese culture and comparative culture studies, involving world-renowned experts and scholars, will be held.
The exhibition, sponsored by Morgan Stanley, will run until 6th April 2008.

China Daily