Friday, March 27, 2009


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London solidarity with Palestine

by Andy Brooks

WE HAVE NOT forgotten the refugees and we will never renounce their right to return. That was the clear message from Manual Hassassian, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom, speaking at a packed meeting in a committee room of the House of Commons last week.
Prof Hassassian called on the European Union to use its influence on Israel to end the impasse in the Middle East. “Israel is not invincible,” he said. “It is a small country dependent on the United States. Israel must understand that there is no way out of negotiations”.
The Palestinian envoy was speaking at a meeting organised by Third World Solidarity (TWS) to report on the current situation in the Gaza Strip after the devastating Israeli onslaught in January and to build solidarity with the Palestinians under the thumb of a ruthless and brutal Israeli occupation.
That call was introduced by Mohammad Sarwar, the Labour member of parliament for Glasgow Central, Britain’s first Muslim MP. Sarwar said the EU should send a very strong message to Israel that if they don’t respond to the latest peace efforts there will be some sort of sanctions from Europe.
This was echoed by Martin Linton MP and Andrew Slaughter MP, both from Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East (LFPME), a forum launched last November to provide a voice for the people of Palestine within the labour movement and to the wider public.
The Labour Party group is committed to a two-state solution with viable and secure Palestinian and Israeli states, but believe this can only be achieved once Israel complies with her international obligations. A LFPME delegation recently visited Gaza with the Britain-Palestine all-Party Parliamentary Group.
Israel must get out of Gaza and Hamas, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, cannot be ignored was another shared view. They had, after all, won the Palestinian elections and this was stressed by the Palestinian diplomat who said: “I speak in the name of all the Palestinians. Hamas won fair and square, the result of the democratic process…but we were ostracised and condemned. Then we set up a national unity government but the ostracism and boycott continued,” Prof Hassassian said.
“Perhaps we should go back to militarisation and dictatorship,” he rhetorically declared. “Israel has to understand it cannot have the cake and eat it too. We will not tolerate another 50 years of occupation”.
Winding up, the chair of Third World Solidarity Labour London councillor Mushtaq Lasharie, called on everyone to redouble their efforts to build links with the Palestinian people and help in the work of TWS for peace and tolerance, helping to resolve conflicts through negotiations and diplomatic means.

London news round-up

Met squad record of abuse

A GROUP of police officers from the territorial support group at the centre of a “serious gratuitous and prolonged” attack on a British Muslim man, resulting in a court award of £60,000 in damages, were last week revealed to have been accused of dozens of other assaults against black and Asian men. Babar Ahmad was arrested in December 2003 as a terrorist suspect; he was punched, kicked, stamped on and strangled during his arrest by officers in the Metropolitan Police’s territorial support group (TSG).
Ahmad lodged a complaint and after six years of legal proceedings lawyers acting on behalf of Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson were forced to admit the abuse charges were true.
But according to papers submitted to the court, four of the officers involved had a record of 60 complaints and allegations of abuse levelled at them. At least 37 of these complaints came from black or Asian men.
The Met has admitted that since 1992 all six officers involved in the Ahmad assault have been the subjects of at least 77 complaints.
When Ahmad’s lawyers asked for details of these allegations the Met said it had “lost” several large mail sacks detailing at least 30 of the complaints.
Scotland Yard has admitted there were concerns about the conduct of these officers. The Independent Police Complaints Authority supervised an investigation carried out by the Met into the assault on Ahmad but none of the officers involved has been disciplined and all but one are still working for the TSG.
The Met claimed that its inquiries had found the complaints against the officers were, with one exception, found to be “unsubstantiated”.
Ahmad’s lawyer, Fiona Murphy, said the number of complaints should have led to a thorough inquiry.
“The horrifying nature and volume of complaints against these officers should have provoked an effective response from the Metropolitan Police and the IPCC long ago,” she said.
In one allegation in March 2007, one of the officers was accused of bundling a man into the back of a van and ordered him to kneel. The main replied: “This is not Guantánamo”. The officer seized him round the neck and discharged his CS gas while continuing to hold his throat. The man was then thrown from the van. The man suffered head, neck and eye injuries. The Met claimed no action was taken because the complaint was “incapable of proof” and so there was “no case to answer”.
Scotland Yard said that all but one of the 77 allegations against the six TSG officers was found to be unsubstantiated because the complainant failed to assist them any further, the complaint was withdrawn or informally resolved, or investigated and found to be unsubstantiated.
And they said the Met Directorate of Professional Standards was investigating the missing mail sacks containing 30 complaint dockets.

RMT strike ballot on jobs and pay

THE TUBE’S biggest union is to ballot nearly 10,000 members across London Underground and Transport for London (TfL) for strike action in two separate disputes centred on jobs and pay. As news emerged that the number of jobs under threat across the Tube and TfL could reach 3,000, RMT said it would ballot all its members at LUL, including former Metronet staff, as well as in the separate dispute at TfL. Balloting started this week and will close on Wednesday 18th April.
On London Underground, bosses are threatening to tear up an agreement aimed at safeguarding jobs, and has refused to rule out compulsory redundancies.
LUL has also refused to budge from an unacceptable five-year pay offer that gives no real-terms increase for four years, and which could even see pay cut, and there have been so many complaints of breaches of disciplinary and attendance procedures they appear co-ordinated.
TfL is also threatening compulsory redundancies as part of a £2.4 billion cuts package, and has so far failed to table any pay offer at all.
“London Underground seems to think that observing agreements is optional, and its plan to cut jobs is simply unacceptable,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.
“After three months of stonewalling LUL has also tabled what is at best a five-year pay freeze which it knows full well could never be accepted, and its managers appear to have been given the nod to unleash a fresh round of bullying.
“LUL’s own ‘Valuing Time’ study acknowledges that our members’ productivity is at an all-time high, with passenger numbers up to record-breaking levels of four million a day.
“We said from the start that our members, whether in LUL or TfL, would not be made to pay for the failure and greed of bankers and privateers, and that any attempt to impose compulsory redundancies would be met with a ballot for industrial action.
“If LUL and TfL want to avoid confrontation they should withdraw their plans to slash jobs and guarantee there will be no forced redundancies, start talking seriously about pay and call off the bully managers,” Bob Crow said.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cypriot heroes who fought for Spain

by Theo Russell

ALMOST 70 years since the end of the Spanish Civil War, around 60 people gathered last Sunday in London for the launch of an important new book on the conflict, Spanish ThermopylaeCypriot Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39 by Paul Philippou Strogos, a second generation British Cypriot whose father, a lifelong AKEL ( Progressive Party of the Working People of Cyprus) militant, fought in Spain.
Photos Kouzoupis, who chaired the meeting, recalled that at that time “Cyprus was a colony of the British Empire, under the military law and dictatorship of Sir Herbert Richmond Palmer the colonial governor”.
The Cypriot people faced acute social and economic hardship and the Communist Party of Cyprus, founded in 1926, had been banned by the British authorities following the “October uprising” in 1931.
Against this background, with a population of only 350,000, the Cypriot contingent in the International Brigades ranks among the highest percentage of volunteers for Spain of any country.
Introducing the book, Paul said that “although the Republic was eventually defeated… the contribution made by the Cypriot volunteers amongst all the estimated 35-40,000 volunteers from 63 countries who served in Spain, has never been forgotten by the people of Spain.”
Those volunteers traveled from Cyprus, Britain, the United States and many other countries. In Britain most were active members of the Communist Party of Great Britain and the League against Imperialism, as well as organising within their own community. “It was a natural progression for them to join the more that two thousand men and women who heard the cry for help that came from Spain,” Paul said.
“Today,” Photos said, “we ask ourselves, why did these young men and women of Cyprus participate in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War?” In answer he quoted Ezekias Papaioannou, a volunteer in Spain and General Secretary of AKEL from 1948 to 1989:
“True to the best traditions of their Greek forefathers, the heroes of the Greek War of Independence (1821), the Cypriots rallied to the support of Spanish democracy and independence, realising that a defeat for the Spanish people would have meant world war. On the Spanish battlefields was being decided the fate of Europe, and with it that of Cyprus. They recognised fascism as the greatest enemy of humanity and volunteered to help crush it”.
Photos also recalled the words of volunteer Michalakis Economides: “Every generation has its challenges. The cry of the thirties ‘Peace is indivisible’ is as true today as it was then. Indivisible also is the rule of law, democracy and above all the territorial integrity of nations. Partition is the filthiest crime of the age. Countries are cut in two to serve the requirements of imperialism”.
Some of the Cypriot volunteers lived to receive honorary Spanish citizenship in 1996, the 60th anniversary of the civil war, but the Republic of Cyprus has yet to recognise this heroic episode in Cypriot history.
“Today with this modest ceremony for the book launching our presence is a minimum respect and tribute to the heroic Cypriot volunteers of the International Brigades of the Democratic Army,” Photos said. Those present remembered those comrades by standing for a minute’s silence.

Spanish Thermopylae, published by Warren & Pell, can be obtained from Bibliagora , price £14.99.
photo:Paul Philippou (centre), Photos Kouzoupis (speaking), and Dr Niki Katsiaouni, Cultural Counsellor of the Cyprus High Commission.

Remembering Karl Marx at Highgate...

ROBERT LAURIE laid flowers on behalf of the New Communist Party by the tomb of Karl Marx last Saturday at the annual ceremony in Highgate Cemetery.
Marx died in his study at half-past two on the afternoon of Wednesday 14th March 1883.
To commemorate his passing the Marx Memorial Library has for many decades held an annual graveside oration at his burial place in Highgate Cemetery in North London at the exact moment of his death.
Prof John Callow gave the oration on behalf of the Library to all who had come to pay their respects to the memory of the author of Das Kapital including diplomats from socialist countries, Library members and a large contingent of Chinese students from Westminster College.

...and celebrating him at the Party Centre

COMRADES and friends gathered at the NCP Centre in south London last Saturday evening for their annual tribute to the co-founder of the modern communist movement. Tributes to Karl Marx were made by Jang Song Chol from the London embassy of the DPR Korea, John McLeod from the Socialist Labour Party and NCP general secretary Andy Brooks.
The NCP leader used a satirical parable from early Soviet literature to make the point that Marx was a practical revolutionary as well as a profound socialist theorist.
Now with the pillars of the capitalist world crashing down around us everyone can see that what Marx foresaw was now coming to pass.
But socialism was not inevitable Andy said. Marx warned that the alternative to socialism was barbarism and our task, together with struggling people all over the world was to work for the revolutionary change that will end all oppression and exploitation for ever. No NCP event can end without a stirring appeal for the fighting fund and the one given by National Chair Alex Kempshall was no exception.
We now have a paper which has jumped technology. We can be proud of our achievements but it all costs money. Alex called for a big collection for the New Worker Special Appeal and comrades dug deep to the tune of £1,298!

photo: Andy Brooks cracks a joke

Newroz in London

THE KURDISH community of London gathered in Trafalgar Square last Saturday to celebrate Newroz, the traditional Middle Eastern spring festival. Newroz has been celebrated for many years in the capital but never before in London’s historic Trafalgar Square.
Stalls served Kurdish and Turkish food as people danced to music from the Kurdish rappers and folk groups performing on the main stage throughout the afternoon.
Kurdish flags and others bearing pictures of imprisoned Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan were flown throughout the event. London Green MEP Jean Lambert and other MPs spoke to the cheering crowd, thanking them for the contribution that the Kurdish people have made to British society and encouraging them to be politically active in supporting candidates that take up the Kurdish cause.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Unions damn welfare reform bill

MEMBERS of the public and union activists lobbied MPs on Tuesday to protest against the Government’s reactionary welfare reform bill organised by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, the biggest civil service union in the country, and backed by the TUC and a number of other unions and pressure groups.

At the same time PCS has released a damning report that shows that public opinion is overwhelming opposed the Government’s plans that will lead to the privatisation of employment services and the social fund; introduce “work for welfare” schemes; abolish income support; cut benefits for single parents and those on long –term illness and require all parents of young children to seek work.

Speaking at the lobby at the House of Commons on Tuesday TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady stated that the Welfare Reform Bill is “the wrong Bill for the wrong time”, and that it will be resisted by unions.

“It’s clear that aspects of the Welfare Reform Bill now going through Parliament are not fit for purpose. This is the wrong Bill for the wrong time: conceived in a boom, about to be implemented in a bust,” he declared.

“The Government’s ideas would be flawed at the best of times; but with Britain deep in recession, these are emphatically not the best of times.

“Just think about the implications. A new regime for jobseekers, limiting the time for job search and retraining.

“Tougher rules for parents, undermining the Government’s pledge to halve and then end child poverty.

“The introduction of sanctions, stigmatising the most vulnerable as villains, not victims, and driving working people into poverty.

“And the privatisation and break up of a world-class public service, with private contractors profiting from joblessness.

“This is the reality confronting us. Why, after the near collapse of free-market capitalism, does the Government press ahead with an agenda of privatisation, marketisation and competition? Why, during the worst economic crisis for generations, is there seemingly one rule for the rich and another one for the rest?

“The contrast could not be starker. Bailouts for the bankers, punishments for the poor - welfare for Wall Sreet, workfare for working people. That is unacceptable; and we will resist it.

the answers

“So what are the answers? How do we create a welfare system that delivers in this downturn? The TUC is campaigning for a change of direction: for policies that give ordinary working people the help they need when they need it. We have already secured some important concessions - not least the welcome scrapping of plans to make disabled people look for jobs or risk losing benefits.

“But we need to go further. That means more generous benefits to stop people falling into poverty, and the TUC has been proud to lead the call for an immediate increase of £15 a week in Jobseekers Allowance.

“That means helping unemployed workers into proper retraining schemes and jobs that pay the going rate.

“And that means giving Jobcentre Plus and the dedicated staff who work in it the resources and the support they need to make a difference where it is needed most.

“Make no mistake: our welfare state has never been more needed than now. It is one of Britain’s greatest achievements. A genuine safety net for everyone: won through the campaigning of generations of socialists, trade unionists and progressive reformers. And we are not about to give up on that legacy now.

“So today let our message go out clearly. We will resist any changes that diminish our welfare system. We will stand up for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society. And that we will continue to fight for what we believe in.”

Seventy nine per cent of people are not confident of surviving on the current rate of jobseekers allowance (£60.50) according to an ICM poll for PCS. The poll also shows that just six per cent of respondents feel ‘very confident’ about the ability of private sector companies to take over some of the work of Jobcentres.

Coming against a backdrop of rising unemployment and government plans to privatise some of the work of Jobcentre Plus, the poll also shows that just one in three think there are enough jobcentres or that there are enough staff in jobcentres to deal with the current economic crisis.

Over the past five years the government has closed over 500 jobcentres and benefit offices.

Commenting, Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: “There is little appetite for the government’s plans to privatise some of the work of jobcentres, with the poll showing a lack of confidence in the private sector’s ability to take over this work.

“The public sector has consistently outperformed the private sector in getting people back into work with jobcentres working flat out and doing a fantastic job in helping the rising numbers of unemployed.

“This poll should be a wake up call to the government which needs to raise benefit levels to alleviate the threat of poverty, ditch its plans for privatisation and start opening Jobcentres to deal with rising numbers of unemployed.”

Friday, March 06, 2009

Making the case for council housing

MORE THAN 200 people including tenants, councillors, officers and trade unionists took part in the House of Commons Council Housing Group’s inquiry at Westminster on 25th February. Fourteen MPs heard verbal evidence from 25 delegations, dozens of local authorities, tenants’ organisations and trade unions have submitted written evidence and many met their MPs whilst at Westminster.
Campaigners from Defend Council Housing are asking everyone to make sure their MP signs the Early Day Motion Council House Building (EDM 355) and joins the Council Housing group at Parliament to show their support.
Delegations called for an end to the “robbery” from tenants’ rents – £1.7 billion this year!
They made a strong argument that Government has to stop charging tenants for “historic debts” that should have been paid several times over from the money government has siphoned out of council housing.
Everyone agreed that rents and receipts should be ring-fenced to fund the management, maintenance, repair and improvement of council housing although there is a debate about whether the national Housing Revenue Account should be maintained.
The Council Housing group intends to produce a report to submit to Housing Minister Margaret Beckett and has asked to meet Gordon Brown.