Friday, October 31, 2008

Deaths in custody remembrance in London

THE TUC last Saturday joined the United Friends and Families Campaign (UFFC) to protest about deaths in custody and to call on the Government to give a proper account of the circumstances of these tragedies.
The protest assembled at midday in Trafalgar Square for a remembrance procession along Whitehall and to deliver a letter to Downing Street.
In a letter to the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “The TUC believes that the state has a duty of care towards the people it takes into custody and a responsibility to be open and accountable when deaths occur.
“We believe that an independent public inquiry on deaths in custody should be held to ensure that lessons are learnt from previous deaths and to prevent future deaths.”
The UFFC was set up by families who have relatives who have died in police custody, in prison or in psychiatric care. The organisation is campaigning for reforms in the way deaths in custody are investigated.
It is asking the Government to hold a public inquiry into deaths in custody to ensure that lessons are learnt from the past and that future deaths are avoided.
Families attending include those of Jean Charles de Menezes, Roger Sylvester, Brian Douglas, Mikey Powell, Christopher Alder, Paul Coker and Coker and Jason McPherson.
This march, the 10th, also commemorated the tragic death of Pauline Campbell who was in the midst of a campaign for justice for her daughter Sarah.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

NCP Autumn Party School

The economic crisis, the "middle class", the health service and national liberation were looked at in depth at last weekend's NCP weekend school in London. Fifteen friends and comrades from four districts and two supporters' groups took part in the discussions opened by Andy Brooks, Michael Fletcher, Neil Harris and Alex Kempshall in four sessions over the two days. Though most came from London other had travelled from Manchester, Bristol, Colchester and Woking to take part in the last school in the 2008 programme and raise £73 for the New Worker fighting fund.

Pay Pensioners -- Not Fat Cats!

HUNDREDS of pensioners from all parts of Britain descended on Westminster on Wednesday 22nd October to demand a serious increase in the basic state pension rate and the restoration of the link with average earnings.
The mass lobby of Parliament was organised by the National Pensioners’ Convention and 15 separate trade unions and marked the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the old age pension.
The protesters say the current promised increase due next April, from £90.70 by £4.55 a week for a single pensioner and from £145.05 by £7.25 a week for a pensioner couple, is not enough.
The lobby comes at a time when, for the second time in a decade, hundreds of billions have been wiped off the value of private and occupational pensions, leaving those who had been prudently saving for a comfortable old age dependent on the pittance of the basic state pension.
Pensioner poverty has risen in the last year by 300,000, taking the total to 2.5 million older people living on less than 60 per cent of median population income before housing costs, the same number as 10 years ago.


NPC general secretary Joe Harris said the statistics were a “national disgrace”.
“For decades, the policy of successive governments has been to rely on means-tested benefits for existing pensioners and good occupational pension schemes for future generations, as a way of avoiding paying a decent state pension,” he said. “The Government should use the huge £46 billion surplus in the National Insurance Fund and give everyone a pension that takes them out of poverty. It’s not acceptable that there’s billions for bankers, but peanuts for pensioners.”
George Henderson, general secretary of the Scottish Pensioners’ Association, said: “At a time like this, pensioners will be disgusted that bankers are being offered up to £500 billion, while our members will get less than a £5 increase in their pension next year.
“Every week more and more of our 2.5 million pensioners are facing rising food and fuel prices. Pensioners face inflation rate that is twice the official figures because older people spend a higher proportion of their income on those items with the fastest rising prices.
“Pensioners need to see a substantial increase now to help them cope with the current financial crisis.”
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber added that the introduction of the state pension 100 years ago remained “a key achievement” but its value had been diminished by the Conservatives’ decision to end the link with earnings.
The protest day began with a demonstration in Parliament Square at 11am, with some lobbyers in Victorian costume, followed by a rally and a parliamentary lobby in Westminster Hall and the Central Lobby.

Palestinian farmers friendship visit to London

TWO FARMERS from the West Bank village of Beit Fourik, Fouad and Fhed, are set to spend a week based in south-east London campaigning to raise awareness of the plight of farming communities under the heavy heel of Israeli military occupation.
The trip is being organised by the South East London Friendship Link with Beit Fourik (SELFLBF) and builds on a previous very successful visit last November by Fouad and visits by south-east London supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to the West Bank and Beit Fourik in particular.
During their visit Fouad and Fhed hope to talk to British farm workers, attend discussion and fund-raising meetings, take part in a nationwide twinning conference and make time for some sightseeing around London. Their SELFLBF hosts have included the British Museum section on Middle Eastern antiquities in their schedule.
Sue Phasey and Pauline Collins, two members of the organising committee spoke to the New Worker about the purpose of the visit: “We are trying to highlight the plight of Palestinian farmers in the West bank under Israeli occupation,” said Sue.
“We have visited Palestine,” said Pauline, “and seen the dire situation that the people face in their day-to-day lives, in their living conditions, their lack of freedom of movement and lack of access to water. And it’s getting worse – it’s much worse now than it was this time last year.”
Sue added: “We want to develop an understanding about the situation and knowledge through linking local communities.”
They went on to speak of Fhed and Fouad, farmers from the village of Beit Fourik near Nablus and building the link between this community and people in south-east London where the issue is not well known.
The restrictions on movement make it very difficult for farmers to get to their land to farm it at critical times. The check points keep people waiting for hours; if a farmer had a lorry load of tomatoes he has just harvested, they can rot while he is held up for hours at a checkpoint in the blazing sun.
A lot of produce gets wasted because farmers cannot water it or harvest it at the right time. This means they are going over to planting only things like wheat that are more resilient to being neglected. In turn this has restricted the diet of the Palestinians to only wheat products and this is taking its toll on their health.
The wall is dividing farmers from their land and the opening times of the gates are not compatible with the needs of the farmers.
The SELFLBF was formed because members believe that international friendship and co-operation is the most effective way of developing peace and justice across the world.
Members have visited Palestine and formed a friendship link with Beit Fourik.
The villagers of Beit Fourik feel isolated and “lost to the world” and the Friendship Link has enabled exchange visits to be made between the two communities which addresses this isolation. Members have also been able to support small scale projects for the young people and women of the village.
They feel it is important for an urban area such as South East London to be linked with an agricultural area as food security and sustainability is important to us all and we can learn from the agricultural practices, organic nature and sustainability of food production in an area such as Beit Fourik.
The village faces a dire situation in relation of the illegal Israeli occupation which denies them freedom of movement due to numerous checkpoints, access to water and constant surveillance.
In spite of this the hospitality that members have enjoyed when visiting them is joyful and they extend the hand of friendship to them when they visit south-east London.
Gate 56, the statement of Omar, a Palestinian farmer from Jayyus in the West Bank, who has lost his land, illustrates the problems faced by the whole population.
He was speaking at a PSC meeting in west London earlier this year and began by explaining issues relating to land and water and how Palestinian farmers are being denied access to their land and their land is being confiscated, olive groves are being burnt and there is Israeli graffiti everywhere.
The Israeli occupying forces invoke laws brought in under the Balfour British Mandate which decree that:

* Government has the right to confiscate land for pipe lines, sewage and new communities.
* If land is full of stones it can be confiscated.
* If land is unsuitable for agriculture it can be confiscated. A lot of the West Bank is mountainous or foothills.

They also invoke laws dating back to the Ottoman Occupation, which say that if farmers do not plant their land for three years their land can be confiscated.
The reality for the Palestinians is that some farming is nomadic herding; weather conditions can delay planting; the Israelis use aerial photos to record planting – and farmers get shot if resist and try to protect their land.
Omar explained how the building of the giant wall by the Israelis on Palestinian land to separate Palestinians from Israel has added further problems. The wall snakes around to include many Israeli settlements on the West Bank, cutting across Palestinian farming land. This breaks some farms in half and often divides farmers’ homes from their fields.

* Farmers now need permits to go through the wall to farm their own land but permits are given only to primary land holders. So at harvest and other busy times they cannot bring family members to help.
* The wall necessitates a 28/26 kilometre walk to our land morning and night to reach gate 25 which allows us through the wall so that we can work our land.
* The Wall is eight metres high with barbed wire and a suicide gap.
* If anyone in the family is killed or arrested the family loses their permit. Everyone has to pay with the loss of livelihood.
* If you belong to Hamas you won’t be able to have a permit.
* Many farmers have to walk if they do not have a donkey or a horse.
* Many farmers are too tired to work their land on reaching Gate 25 which is the access point for Jayyus.
* If they are not able to work land it will be confiscated
* Price for crops are so low that they have to be thrown away/ploughed back in the land.
* Jewish groups have worked with them on this as well as harvesting.
* Checkpoints make it very difficult to get crops to the market in Nablus.
* The pattern of farming changing. Permits mean that the traditional ways for example the extended family are not able to help with agricultural work as they have no permits to access their own land.
* Crops such as peppers, tomatoes and so on not being grown because of their need for a high water content and the Israelis control the water supply and access. Greenhouses are being dismantled and wheat grown, which requires less husbandry.
* Israeli controlled water metres do not supply enough water for personal or agricultural needs.
* Industrial zones being developed and workers will be needed for these.
Omar then explained what he and other West Bank faming families want:
* To be treated as human beings. Stop humiliating us.
* A Palestinian State equal with the Israelis but first a Palestinian State; it will be difficult to have a Palestinian Independent State.
* We need to be together; it is a crime to separate as we need to be together to develop.
* Refugees have keys round their necks for the houses they were expelled from there must be a Right of return for the Palestinian people. The Jewish people have this so why can’t we.
* The replacement of 728 olive trees stolen by the Israelis; they were replaced by the soldiers but the settlers uprooted them again.
* We need a fair price for our goods so we can afford to take them to market.

He concluded: “Please go away and tell them we have to make a country, one state.”
Fouad Hanani, a community representative from Beit Fourik, speaking at a meeting last year, had a similar story: “Being a Palestinian Farmer is a special occupation. There is no financial support for farmers. We collect our olives but after that marketing is very difficult. We need to export to other markets.
The prices we get are less than we would get if we could export our produce. We need a good price to support the farmers. Farmers are not encouraged by the Occupation situation to do good work on their land.
The local Association Relief Committee for Palestinian Agriculture works with farmers to support and protect them from the Israeli settlements to develop and protect organic farming in order to establish a small community speciality.
There is less international support now. To get help from the European Union you have to sign a statement saying you are resisting terrorism. If you are linked to Hamas you lose points.
The Palestine Association that supports farming needs foreign solidarity. Our land near the Jordan Valley had good water but these supplies have been taken by Israelis.
If we pick olives behind the settlement zones, which is our land, we get shot and lose our land. The settlers can share in the olive harvest with Palestinians but it is Palestinian land the trees and they take half and if we resist they shoot.
The industrial zones could be one good way to develop co-operative Palestinian employment, modern farming, marketing and exporting.
The Jordan Valley Palestinian Farmers organisation is under Israeli control. There have been border closures between Palestine and Jordan. Israelis want it rich in water and fertile. Israelis prevent Palestinian marketing, exporting.”
“It is a good land; we want freedom to make it anything we want to do.”

Friday, October 17, 2008

History was happening

SELLING the New Worker in Lewisham last week all the regular readers and sellers of other lefty papers were walking several inches above the pavement with beaming smiles. History was happening; capitalism was dying; after decades of unrewarding campaigning, battling to raise class consciousness against the dead weight of inertia, a real point of dialectical change was there.
Capitalism was eating itself, without any help from us, dying of internal contradictions. We could dust off our dreams of a real change; hopes were raised – even though we knew the capitalists would probably find a way out and for certain they would do their best to make us pay.
We knew there was pain ahead but there was one important change that will endure a bit longer – the myth of the free market had exploded; bankers and speculators had become the least popular people on the planet.
It was a breakthrough in popular perception but it was not a revolution. Gordon Brown has nationalised some big banks and other capitalist leaders around the globe have followed suit and the panic in the stock markets seems to have eased. It is not a measure the capitalists wanted to take; they fear democratic control and being made accountable to the people they exploit day-in and day-out. But it was a concession they had to make to survive – they had to make the taxpayers, mostly the working class, foot the truly huge bill for their disaster.
They are hoping this is a temporary measure and that in a few years the banks will be restored to the private sector and things will go back to the way they were before the crash.
But the real pain is still to come: the job losses, falling consumer spending, cuts in public spending, cuts in welfare, deferred house building and so on.
The Prime Minister has had to borrow hundreds of billions to bail out the banks and that will have to be repaid. Keynesian techniques of government borrowing help in the short-term, they get a country out of a crisis and get people back to work and things ticking over again. But the debts have to be paid – with interest. Every time a government borrows and thereby puts more money in circulation, the value of money decreases; there is inflation.
Eventually once again a point is reached where a new crisis of overproduction arises and the government has to borrow again. It has to borrow to service old debts. It becomes an expanding cycle as the real debt gets bigger with every turn. In the end there is again a collapse of credit.
The collapse we have just witnessed would have happened about a decade ago if Brown, then as Chancellor, and others like him in other capitalist powers, had not urged consumer deficit spending. Ordinary citizens were pushed into taking on as much personal debts – mortgages, credit cards and so on – as they could bear, and more. This was a form of micro Keynesianism with consumers, rather than the government, taking on the strain of debt with interest payments, the long-hours culture and personal misery associated.
Meanwhile bankers were trading in hedge funds, futures and other ephemera. They traded in debt, forgetting it was not real money but froth. The froth grew into giant mountains. But when the low paid workers could sustain no more debt and started to default, the bubbles burst and the froth collapsed. It had to happen sooner or later.
Now the bankers have come cap-in-hand to the taxpayers. Potentially the working class has some power in this situation but we are still living under a capitalist state machinery.
We must use the situation to push for a reversal of public utility privatisations, now that all can see how risky the private sector economy is. We must resist all attempts to re-privatise the banks, indeed we must call for them all to be nationalised.
So far a few bankers have lost their bonuses and their jobs. But they are still far richer than we will ever be. They must be taxed to the hilt. We must never allow them to regain the full wealth and power they have grown accustomed to. And we must never allow them to claim they know what they are doing with our economy. We must keep the political momentum swinging against them – and one day we really will have a revolutionary situation.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Marching to end child poverty

THOUSANDS of protesters marched through London last Saturday to protest at the Government’s failure to meet its targets on reducing chilled poverty in Britain.
The main slogan of the march, organised by the Child Poverty Action Group – a coalition of 120 organisations – was: “Keep the promise”.
The coalition’s report published last week said more than a third of children in Britain live in low-income families or families in poverty. It found that of the 13,233,320 children in Britain, 5,559,000 are in families that are classed as “struggling”.
The marchers set off from Milbank in carnival mood, in spite of the cold weather, accompanied by bands. Families with children predominated and the event was hosted by EastEnders actor Chris Parker. Also present were pop singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Shameless actor David Threlfall.
In 1997 the newly-elected New Labour government promised to halve child poverty by 2010 and end it by 2020. But the coalition report shows that target is as far away as ever.
It says the 2009 Budget is the last real chance the Government has to meet its targets.
After meeting group members, Prime Minister Gordon Brown repeated a pledge to impose a legal duty on Government to eradicate child poverty by 2020 – an easy pledge to make knowing that, one way or another, he is likely to be out of government by then.
Campaign director Hilary Fisher said: “Poverty has an impact on every aspect of a child’s life, health, education and well-being. Now is the time for the Government to turn their commitment into reality and provide that investment which will make that change.”
The Government says it has lifted 600,000 children out of poverty since 1999 but a further 2.9 million remain. Speakers at the rally in Trafalgar Square included TUC general secretary Brendan Barber and Unison general secretary Dave Prentis.
Prentis said: “One in three children in the UK live in poverty today. That is shameful. And it impacts upon us all.”
If the Government was to meet its targets, he said, it would need adequately-funded programmes in place by next spring.
And he urged members: “Do join us. Don’t let the Government off the hook – speak up for children in poverty. Together, we can make a difference.”
Brendan Barber called on the Government to commit another £3 billion in benefits and tax credits to help families in poverty.
He said: “This has got to be at the top of the agenda. At a time when the Government has been able to find tens and tens of billions to support the financial system and the bankers, I think it is time we found the £3 billion to deliver on that commitment.”
He said that all jobs should be “decent jobs”, paying fair wages “that can really support a family”.
“Let us not forget,” he said, “that the real cost of child poverty is £40 billion – £600 for every man woman and child in the country.”
The campaign has three aims: to inform public debate about child poverty, to forge commitments across the public, private and voluntary sectors to end it, and to promote the case to Government and civil servants.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who was joining the rally, said the situation was “shameful”.
“Everyone in Britain and all political parties have a duty to do everything we can to end child poverty in Britain for good,” added Clegg, who wants a simplified benefits system to help families.

Boris accused of politicising policing

by Caroline Colebrook

LONDON Mayor Boris Johnson faced harsh criticism last week from the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and from members of the Metropolitan Police Authority after he forced the resignation of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair without consulting them. Blair during his term in office had been a controversial figure. He was facing possible censure from the outcome of the current inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, the young Brazilian electrician who was shot and killed by anti-terrorist police on a Tube train in 1975 after they mistook him for a terrorist suspect.
Blair was also facing charges of racist discrimination made against the Met by former assistant commissioner Tarique Ghaffur and an inquiry by HM chief inspector of constabulary into alleged corruption over £3 million of Met contracts awarded to a close friend of Blair.
In spite of all these controversies, Blair had the full backing of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone because of his efforts to challenge the traditional reactionary “canteen culture” of the Met; efforts that prompted strong opposition from some internal Met quarters. Some of the worst police officers in London will be glad to see him go.
Blair was forced to quit after a stormy showdown with Johnson last Wednesday – thought Johnson has no authority to dismiss the Met chief. Only a Home Secretary can do that and Jacqui Smith responded, saying: “There’s a process in place that the mayor chose not to respect”.
And she pointed out that the Met chief is not only involved in London policing but in anti-terrorist policing nationwide.
And Len Duvall of the Metropolitan Police Authority expressed anger that Johnson had acted before attending his first meeting as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority.
Blair had told Johnson that he would stay in place until a replacement had been found but was told: “We don’t want a successor appointed. We will have an acting arrangement until a Conservative home secretary arrives.”
And later, in a letter to Jacqui Smith, Johnson said: “I would counsel caution in moving too quickly to recommending a prospective holder.” And he added that Smith should “consider whether a fairly lengthy consolidation period, under the acting command of Sir Paul Stephenson, might not be for the best.”
The clear implication is that Johnson regards the Commissioner of the Met as a political appointment. The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) warned Johnson not to seize political control over the Met. Acpo president Ken Jones said that Johnson had created a damaging precedent that could undermine chief constables nationwide, warning of the “toxic mix” of politics, vested interests and the police.
By Monday Johnson had moved on and ordered an inquiry into allegation of racial discrimination within the Met, including the claims of Tarique Ghaffur.
The Metropolitan Black Police Association claims that 72 per cent of their members have experienced racism at work and urged black people to boycott all recruitment drives.
It said it would “be failing in its duty” not to tell them of the “hostile and racist situation there”.
“We will not put up or shut up to racism and inequality.”
The Met BPA said the current suspensions of Commander Ali Dizaei and Britain’s most senior Muslim officer, Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, were proof that ethnic minority officers were treated less favourably than white staff.
Dizaei was suspended after being accused of misconduct, while Ghaffur was “temporarily relieved of his responsibilities” by then Met Commissioner Sir Ian Blair.
On Tuesday Jacqui Smith also ordered an inquiry into racism within all police forces in England and Wales.

London newsbriefs

  • Bus drivers take action.
  • Members of the giant union Unite employed at 11 bus garages in London last week joined forces with 3,500 of their colleagues who have already taken industrial action for strikes on Friday 10th and Wednesday 22nd October.
    The 2,500 Unite members who work for Metroline voted 88.5 per cent in favour of strike action in a recent ballot by the union.
    Unite submitted a London wide claim to all bus operators in March of this year to challenge the current system whereby drivers (and other grades) performing identical jobs within the TfL regulated industry, receive hugely varying pay and conditions.
    Bus workers at First Capital East, First Centre West and Metrobus have already been out on strike during September.
    Unite members at Transdev Sovereign, which covers North and North West London, have just voted in a consultative ballot by 98 per cent in favour of strike action with a full postal ballot now set to proceed.
    Unite is calling for a single rate of pay for drivers of £30,000 a year, based on a 38-hour week. Currently the 18 London bus companies all operate with different pay structures, with pay inequalities of up to £6,000 a year.
    Peter Kavanagh, Unite senior regional organiser, said: “There is a startling disparity between bus drivers’ pay in the capital, with rosters in some companies seeing many drivers’ complete nearly 60 hours per week.
    “Not only is this unsafe, it is unfair to have bus workers across London doing the same job for less money or having to put in much longer hours.
    “Our members will continue to strike and we will continue to ballot further bus companies until Boris Johnson listens up and engages in serious discussions for equal pay for all London bus workers.”

  • Holocaust denier’ arrested
    AUSTRALIAN teacher Gerald Frederick Toben was arrested last week in transit at Heathrow airport and held pending extradition on a warrant from the German government.
    In 1999 Toben was sentenced to nine months in prison under a German law that bans “defaming the dead” – effectively spreading the neo-Nazi claims that the Holocaust was a hoax.
    He was held under a German arrest warrant which claimed that he had carried out “worldwide internet publication” of material that was anti-Semitic and denied, approved or played down the mass murder of Jews perpetrated by the Nazis during the Second World War.

Saturday, October 04, 2008



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Thursday, October 02, 2008

London news round-up 3rd October

Strike ballot for Tube workers

MEMBERS of the RMT transport union employed by the failed Tube maintenance company Metronet are balloting for strike action after a safety representative was suspended.
The RMT said that member Andy Littlechild was suspended earlier this month for not wearing a hard hat.
Metronet is responsible for the maintenance of two thirds of the London Underground lines.
The union also warned that Metronet signals staff could be balloted in a row over proposed cuts in signals maintenance and changes to working rosters.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “The company says it needs to divert staff for an urgent survey of signals cabling that is half a century old.
“But it must be unacceptable to do that at the expense of basic maintenance.”

Canadian steelworkers protest in London

MEMBERS of the giant general union Unite joined with members of the Canadian steelworkers’ union USW in London last week to protest outside the Potash Corporation’s analyst’s meeting. The USW members are in dispute with the Potash Corporation, their employer, and have been on strike since August.
The joint union protest was an effort to bring the company back to the bargaining table and reach settlement.
The strikers are fighting for a fair share of the company’s enormous profits as a result of the record prices being paid for the mineral fertiliser potash. The steelworkers handed out leaflets outlining PotashCorp’s performance since the strike began and informing analysts and investors about the dispute – placing responsibility on PotashCorp’s President, Bill Doyle and Executive Vice President/Chief Financial Officer Wayne Brownlee, who were at the meeting.
On 2nd July USW and Unite announced plans to merge the two unions to create Workers Uniting, a transatlantic global union representing over three million working people from every industrial sector in Britain, Ireland, the USA, Canada and the Caribbean.