Friday, February 29, 2008

Pakistan in crisis

by Robert Laurie

A TIMELY London public meeting organised by the New Communist Party and the British South-Asia Solidarity Forum entitled “Pakistan in Crisis: Instability, Imperialism and Resistance” was held last week, just a few days after the recent parliamentary elections in Pakistan.
Both speakers were political exiles from Pakistan and the first, Mukhtar Rana, a former MP in the Pakistan Parliament served five years in jail for his work fight against military rule and currently campaigns on behalf of bonded labourers in Pakistan. The practice of bonded labour, which is little short of slavery, is theoretically banned under the Pakistan constitution, but flourishes in many parts of the country.
Mukhtar welcomed the defeat of the pro-American military dictator General Musharraf and paid particular tribute to the efforts of Pakistan’s lawyers whose sustained efforts forced Musharraf to step down from his military role.
However, he was sensibly cautious about the role of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) which now looks set to form the next Pakistani government. The new leader of the PPP, the widower of the recently assassinated Benazir Bhutto was during her premiership known as “Mr Ten Per Cent” on account of his bribe taking during her spells as Prime Minister.
Mushtaq Lasharie, a Labour councillor in Kensington who was a political refugee from Pakistan spoke next. He was equally unimpressed by the PPP which has became increasingly right wing under pressure from Anglo-American imperialism. It now supports feudal landlords against workers and peasants. Political parties in Pakistan, he stated, are more like supporters clubs for politicians rather than ideologically based movements.
Valuable points were made from the floor of the packed meeting. The Solidarity Forum speaker stated that Pakistan was not in crisis itself, but the external crisis of imperialism was having a dire effect on Pakistan.
Pakistan is a large country with a population of around 170 million. Strategically situated near China and bordering Afghanistan and India it is too big a prize to be left in peace by imperialism.
photo:Mushtaq Lasharie; Neil Harris and Mukhtar Rana

London news round-up

£75,000 payout for sacked bus driver

BUS DRIVER Robert Latimer last week won £75,000 in compensation for being sacked for taking time off to recover from serious injuries after being attacked by a drunken passenger.
Latimer, from Monkwearmouth, Sunderland, was working in London at the time, driving a route notorious for assaults and abuse, according to his solicitors, when an aggressive passenger swung a bag of beer bottles at him.
The 63-year-old said: “I pushed myself against the cab window as far as I could because I knew what was coming, but it didn’t really help.
“He broke my arm in two places and damaged the muscle and ligaments in my shoulder.
“I kicked him in the face and kicked him out of the door of the bus.
“I got his hat and the police did a full DNA scan but he hasn’t been caught yet.”
Robert, who has lived in Sunderland all his life, moved to work in London after the bus bombings because there was a driver shortage and the wages were higher.
After the attack his doctor signed him off work and he sent letters from his GP to his employer, Travel London, but they stopped paying his salary and sick pay.
They kept contacting him to ask why he was not at work, and even though he was back in Sunderland they demanded he attend meetings in London.
Robert put in personal injury and unfair dismissal and disability discrimination claims. He was supported throughout by his trade union, GMB Northern, and their solicitors.
The bus company alleged Robert was the aggressor and attacked the passenger, even though Metropolitan Police reports showed otherwise.
Tommy Brennan, GMB Northern secretary, said: “Travel London has behaved appallingly and have showed complete disregard for the law in treating Robert Latimer in this disgraceful way.
“He was a victim of a serious crime and yet not only did they try to paint him as the aggressor, they refused to talk to the GMB or to give our member the right of a grievance hearing and to appeal against his sacking.”
Travel London has admitted it should have fitted Perspex screens to protect drivers, but refused to admit its failure to do so made it liable.

Science Museum staff dispute

STAFF at the National Science Museum last week have voted overwhelmingly to strike over pay and plans to close the civil service pension scheme to new members.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) working for the National Museum of Science and Industry (NMSI) are furious that a below inflation pay offer has been imposed on them at a successful time for the museum.
Over 85 per cent of PCS members taking part voted to strike and over 70 per cent voted for industrial action short of a strike. Their colleagues who are members of Prospect also strongly backed industrial action in their ballot.
NMSI, which includes the Science Museum in London, also operates a trading company to generate income, and made an operating profit of over £1 million last year, exceeding its target by over 14 per cent.
Staff in the trading company are on worse terms and conditions than museum staff, including having no access to civil service pensions.
Other museums affected are the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford, the National Railway Museum in York, and the Science Museum Swindon in Wiltshire.

Greenpeace protestors target Heathrow

FIVE MEMBERS of Greenpeace last week made their way through security at Heathrow airport last Monday to clamber on top of a newly-landed Boeing 777 airliner and unfurl a protest banner against plans for a third runway at the airport.
The protest continued for an hour after which the campaigners were arrested. But Heathrow authorities were embarrassed about the breach in their “anti-terrorist” security.
Protester Sarah Shoraka said she was surprised at how easily they had breached the airport’s security. She said she and her companions walked on to the taxiway after finding a set of security doors ajar. “The door was broken so there was no security. Once we got to doors and saw that they were partly open, we walked through calmly,” she said.
“Aviation is a huge polluter and yet the Government wants to double the size of Heathrow, which is already massive.”
The protest coincided with a demonstration in Whitehall against plans to expand Heathrow.

Friday, February 22, 2008

London post offices axed

by Daphne Liddle

CAMPAIGNERS, pensioner groups and trade unions last week roundly condemned last Tuesday’s announcement of plans to close 169 London post offices plus 11 Crown post offices in the near future. That is one fifth of all London post offices and is part of a wider plan to close 25,000 post offices nationwide.
The Post Office claims that 90 per cent of Londoners will notice no difference.
Andy Furey, a national official of the Communication Workers’ Union, said: “London is disproportionately suffering from the Network Change closure programme, having already lost 30 per cent of its post offices since 2004.
“If these new closures and franchises go ahead then post offices in London will have been reduced by nearly 45 per cent since 2004. In addition to the 169 Post Offices today proposed for closure, a further 11 Crown Offices are set to close in the coming months at the cost of 170 jobs.
“To claim that these closures and franchising proposals will not affect local services is wilfully na├»ve. Franchising is not a viable option as it undermines the sustainability of the network by placing public service provision in the hands of private businesses.
“We believe the current network is sustainable but it needs investment from Government and a collaborative approach to business plans from Post Office Limited.”
He added: “The Post Office’s accounts, which recorded such heavy losses in the past financial year, have got the fingerprints of ministers all over them.
“The situation is quite clear. Unless the Government accepts it has a responsibility to maintain the Crown office network, the business will seek to make more savings and shut more offices.”
Amicus, which represents post office managers, will call for a review to improve efficiency and productivity. National officer Peter Skyte said: “Without further action by Government and the public, this will be the last post for Britain’s post office network.”
strongly object
A spokesperson for the Greater London Pensioners’ Association told the New Worker: “Obviously we are very much against any closures of post offices. We have not yet discussed this latest round of closures but we would strongly object in principle to any closures.
“If the Government can find £55 billion to save Northern Rock then it should be easy to find the £3 million a week they claim it takes to keep all of the country’s post offices open.”
The announcement of the imminent closures comes after Post Office Limited’s consultations exercise – though the results will not be published until after the May local elections. CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said: “Post office closures is a big political issue. It reduces the footprint of the network and threatens the universal service. The Post Office provides services which are worthy of investment and the current subsidy is a pittance compared to what other institutions receive.
“We don’t think the consultation process is adequate. It appears that even after consulting, POL will close the same number of offices as they initially earmarked.”
Andy Furey also commented on plans to franchise Post Office services to branches of WH Smith.
He said: “There is no evidence of communities anywhere in the country supporting closing or franchising of post offices.
“The closure and franchising programme has led to an abuse of public funds as staff have been offered tempting severance packages, but the reality is that WHSmith don’t want to pay for our members.
“Franchising undermines the sustainability of the network by placing public service provision in the hands of private businesses. If WHSmith were to go bust there is no guarantee that the 70 franchises it has taken on would remain. There appears to be a serious lack of planning in the process which concerns us deeply.”
London Mayor Ken Livingstone also opposes the cuts and has said he will call for a judicial review of the decision.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

London news round-up

China-UK women’s festival for London

THE CHINA-UK Women’s Cultural Festival will further enhance mutual understanding between women of the two countries and draw specific links between Beijing and London on hosting Olympic Games, a visiting Chinese official told the media in London on Monday.
Long Jiangwen, counsel of the International Department of All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF), told a press conference that the week-long festival which started on Sunday is of great significance against the backdrop of the current China-Britain relation, which is now at its best.
An 80-strong Chinese women’s delegation led by Gu Xiulian, president of the ACWF, is the main force of the Chinese part of the festival co-sponsored by the ACWF, London Mayor’s Office and the Organising Committee for China Now, the largest ever Chinese cultural festival in Britain.
Main activities of the festival include a Forum on Women and the Olympics and Paralympics, a Photo Exhibition on Women in China, a popular variety performance called The Same Song-let’s sing together, meeting with Chinese women entrepreneurs, and a Chinese New Year show performed by a Chinese children’s troupe alongside some British children.
The China-UK Women’s Cultural Festival, as one of the highlights of China Now, is expected to showcase the progress of women and children’s care and well-being in China since China’s adoption of the policy of reform and opening-up in 1978.
“We hope the festival will further the understanding between women of China and Britain, fostering a closer friendship between the two peoples,” said Long.
Xinhua news agency

Unite to sponsor major anti-racism carnival

THE GIANT general union Unite last week announced that it will be the main sponsor for the biggest anti-racism event in London for over 30 years.
Unite has joined up with Love Music Hate Racism to mark the 30-year anniversary of the iconic 1978 RAR (Rock Against Racism) carnival and march.
The event will take place in East London’s Victoria Park on Sunday 27th April with Babyshambles to headline. The last seminal event took place on 30th April 1978 with Tom Robinson Band headlining.
Unite which has two million members, campaigns to promote fairness and justice for people in and out of the workplace. Equal rights are a key priority promoting equality of members of every ethnic or national origin.
Derek Simpson, Unite joint general secretary says: “Events like these that bring people together are vital to helping suppress the threat we face from racist organisations. These organisations are attempting to gain votes by playing off people’s disenchantment with politics and their insecurities.
“Unite is proud to support an event which will send out a strong message of unity to 80,000 Londoners days before the Greater London Authority election for London Mayor on 1st May.”

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Making the poor pay

HOW LABOUR hopes to win the next election beggars belief if the new Housing Minister’s latest crackpot idea is put into practice. Caroline Flint, the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, tells us that unemployed council and housing association tenants should seek work or face eviction.
She claims Labour wants to break the link between social housing and long-term unemployment. According to her department half of all households living in social housing and of working age were without work, and three quarters of these are under 25, while new statistics show that the number of unemployed council tenants has risen by 20 per cent to 55 per cent since 1981.
Flint says she wants to “begin a debate” about how to best serve the needs of people who live in social housing. But Flint’s mealy-mouthed concern for the unemployed is matched with venom and contempt for those far less fortunate than herself when she goes on to say: “Social housing should be based around the principle of something for something.”
It is, of course, a meaningless gesture that even the Tories, who normally grab any chance to screw the poor, have pointed out. Grant Shapps, the Tory Shadow Housing Minister who slept rough at Victoria Station over Christmas as a publicity stunt, points out that the Flint plan was meaningless as her proposals cannot be legally enforced.
“Ministers and local councils have a statutory duty to house homeless families with children and so they can’t boot them out of their houses without then providing alternative accommodation,” he said.
So why bother? Well the only obvious explanation is that Flint and her kind believe that this is the way to woo middle-class voters: reinforcing the prejudices of the Tory gutter press by implying that most benefit claimants are work-shy idlers living off the state.
Naturally enough the Centre for Policy Studies, a right-wing think-tank, has backed the housing minister. “We’ve been left with a system that actually traps people on benefits,” they say. But people aren’t trapped by benefits. They’re trapped by class.
Some New Labour leaders certainly would like to bring in what they call a “radical overhaul” of the benefits system. What lies behind these weasel words is “workfare” – where the unemployed are forced to perform menial tasks in exchange for their welfare pittance – commonly used in Australia and the United States. It’s only one stage removed from the despicable workhouse system that existed in Britain until 1930.
The Labour Party was established to represent the unions and defend the rights of working people throughout the country. The great council house estates, the “homes fit for heroes” that went up between the wars, and the new towns built after the Second World War to end the slums of London and our other great cities, were monuments to Labour planning.
Now the campaign to restore powers to councils to build new affordable housing is left to the Labour Representation Committee and pressure groups while Brown & Co try to outbid the Tories by scapegoating people on benefits to get the reactionary vote. It’s an old trick and it doesn’t always work for the Tories either. Labour has no chance. The reactionary vote will go to the reactionary party. Labour needs to win back the masses who swept the Tories out of office in 1997.
It will only do that if it can offer real material improvements for working people in housing, education and health. Labour needs to win the active support of the millions in the trade union movement and that will only happen if the Government ends its policy of job cuts and wage restraint in the public sector and restores free collective bargaining by repealing the anti-union legislation passed during the Thatcher and Major eras. Above all Labour needs leaders who come from the rank-and-file and who reflect the demands of the organised working class. That fight-back begins in the unions at the grass-roots in every factory, office and council estate and above all in building a strong communist movement in Britain.

Part of London's radical past


By Stella Moutafis

A radical history of Greenwich and Deptford by Terry Liddle, Freethought History Research Group, 83 Sowerby Close, London SE9 6EZ. 2007, 24pp, £3.00

EVER LOOKED into the working-class history of your local area?
If, like me, you are not a historian by inclination, you may not have come across much about this subject. Of course, there is information to be had – on the Internet... books on local history at the library... but, maybe, you could do with a few pointers to follow up.
Possibly the easiest way to appreciate the great social changes that have swept society over the centuries is through local studies. Back in the 1960s “local history” research was something left to librarians and 6th form projects but the interest in antiques and collectable “bygones” has been a boon to local historians. Few boroughs are without at least one pamphlet recording local lore. True most don’t go beyond the “yesteryear” of old picture postcards or the past 100 years. But some do delve beyond recording old buildings to tell us how working people lived in the past and how they struggled for a better future.
Well, if you live in the Greenwich and Deptford area in London, you are in luck because this pamphlet by Terry Liddle is most readable, and is wide-ranging.
You will probably agree with the author when he maintains that: “History is not about kings, bishops, capitalists...–but about people in struggle”. It is to the people that he dedicates this study.
This coverage starts at the time of the Peasants’ Revolt of the 14th century, continuing through to the popular resistance to fascist activity here in the 1970s. People and events with a local connection are set in the context of wider national developments. We learn of popular struggles of those working on the land, among seamen and dockworkers, and artisans along with the early development of trades unions and socialist political organisations by local people in Greenwich and Deptford. This short pamphlet is clear and concise and, importantly, annotated.
Rather than summarise the contents of Terry’s pamphlet in this review you would do much better to get hold of a copy and read his own words yourself!
But some brief details on the author and the publisher may be of interest.
Terry Liddle has always lived around this part of London. Educated locally, he has an honours degree in history. And he has practical experience in working class struggle at the sharp end. This includes serving as a branch official in the civil service union CPSA, involved in the Hither Green DSS strike against the employment there of BNP activist Malcolm Skeggs – which went so far as to be himself assaulted by fascist thugs!
He has been active in a succession of left and progressive organisations, from the early 1960s to the present, and has also been involved in the Humanist movement.
Terry is a founder and the secretary of the Freethought History Research Group –who are the publishers of this pamphlet. The aim of the Group is to “encourage interest and research into atheism, secularism, and related subjects”, producing reprints and original works in this field, and an annual journal.
Humanism maintains that humanity’s moral values are a product of our species’ social nature – and do not result from the diktat of some supernatural creator, so, also, this life on Earth is the only one we have.
Some of those readers who have been bombarding the New Worker letters columns with contributions on Jesus would be well advised to take note!

Friday, February 01, 2008

London protest at Gaza siege

London comrades joined hundreds of people gathered in Whitehall last Saturday evening to protest at the continuing Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip, leading to severe shortages of food, medicines, clean water, fuel and electricity.
But the mood of the demonstrators was lightened by the news of the breaches in the wall built by the Israelis between Gaza and Egypt which had allowed thousands of Palestinians from Gaza to pour across into Egypt and stock up on essentials.
Though the Egyptian government is tied into agreements with the United States and Israel to maintain the wall, the ordinary Egyptian people welcomed their Palestinian neighbours and expressed solidarity with their plight.
Even Egyptian troops stood by as Palestinians poured across to enjoy a brief few hours of freedom from Israeli oppression.