Friday, May 29, 2009

Boycott the European elections

The farcical European elections take place next week but in Britain hardly anyone knows who their MEPs are or what they do. In fact they do next to nothing apart from draw their colossal wages and expenses for taking part in a charade that is paid for by the workers of Europe.
In this election Labour and the two major opposition parties are united, in differing degrees, in support of European integration – the building of a European capitalist super-state revolving around British and Franco-German imperialism. The anti-EU opposition ranges from fringe left parties to the neo-nazi BNP, all scrabbling after the juicy perks that a seat in the EU parliament provides. The most successful is the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), a rabid independent Tory front that is defending its nine British seats and has high hopes of gaining more from the backlash over the Commons expenses scandal. UKIP claims to fight to get Britain out of the EU. But what have UKIP’s nine MEPs achieved over the years? Absolutely nothing apart from drawing their Euros.
In Britain there is indifference and often outright hostility to the undemocratic institutions of the European Union. This was shown by the conscious decision of the vast majority of the electorate to boycott the 2004 European Parliament elections. Little more than a third of the electorate bothered to vote despite the blandishments of the media, the appeal of proportional representation to minority parties and the cajoling of the bourgeois parties. In many working class areas the turnout was even lower.
The European Parliament, like the Commission, has become a byword for undemocratic practices, corruption, nepotism and waste and fraud on a massive scale. The elections themselves are nothing more than a bogus public relations exercise for a body that possesses no meaningful executive powers at all. They don’t deserve the credibility of a vote at all. Boycott the EU elections in June!

Unions unite against cuts

By Robert Laurie

Several hundred demonstrators took part in a march in bright sunshine last Saturday across north London in defence of jobs in higher education and the Civil Service. Organised by PCS and the University and Colleges Union with the support of it marched along Holloway Road where it passed London Metropolitan University, the first main focus of the march. The University is facing drastic cuts amounting to about a quarter of the workforce forced upon it when it was discovered the University had grossly underestimated the number of students on its book. It not only has to pay back Government grants given on the base of these inflated student numbers but faces greatly reduced grants in future years. For once it is not entirely fair to blame the senior managers for these problems. Because LMU has a good record in providing access to university courses for working class students it has a very high and unpredictable drop out rate. This is due to these unfunded students facing financial troubles often having to temporarily or permanently abandon their courses.
The march ended with a rally in the park near Archway Tower thus linking up with the struggle of workers at the Tower who are fighting against relocation and job cuts. The Tower houses the Office of the Public Guardian (the government body responsible for administering the financial affairs of mentally handicapped people). Present government plans include either relocating the 500 staff out of London. Additionally the plans include establishing a call centre system which will cut all personal visits to vulnerable people and their carers.
Speakers included local MP Jeremy Corbyn who denounced Higher Education Minister David Lammy for speedily backtracked on a pledge given in the Commons to launch a public inquiry into events at LMU and stated that the struggle for jobs a LMU was only part of a wider struggle for access to higher education. Other speakers contrasted the billions being handed out to bankers with the comparatively small sums required to solve all the problems of funding higher education.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Buy Palestinian not Israeli!

South East London Friendship Link with Beit Fourik (SELFBF) has established links with a Palestinian agricultural village in the West Bank and facilitated exchange visits. The group has also been involved in researching the fresh produce supply chain between Israel and the UK, examining particularly trade with illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. They have campaigned with supermarkets and have seen an improved response, and the Cooperative supermarket showing willingness to buy Palestinian produce in future. The Group is hoping to make a visit to Beit Fourik in the autumn to discuss a new trade initiative, and advise on labelling, packaging, and food preservation in order to increase the Village’s product portfolio. Last week Daphne Liddle spoke to Sue Phasey, a researcher and consultant in postharvest science and Technical Advisor for SELFBF about the campaign.

Daphne Liddle: Why are supermarkets now meeting with campaigners?

Sue Phasey: It has been a long term campaign to bring about public and government attention to Israeli trade with the UK in general – it’s not something new. However, it has been more difficult to unravel and even explain the trade with illegal Israeli settlements. It’s only because of dedicated campaigns that this has more recently been taken seriously by supermarkets, the main buyers and retailers of Israeli produce in the UK. The government, and particularly the Foreign Office appear to have warmed towards some of the campaigns’ objectives; it’s not clear whether the government’s stance has altered because it merely wants to recoup lost revenue (though that would be relatively small) or as I would prefer to hope, it wants to take a more moral stand on human rights issues for Palestinians. If the latter is true then it would be good to hear it directly and more openly as such from Miliband’s office. Lawyers have been looking into the legality of trading with illegal settlements and there is a suggestion that legal action could be taken.

DL: Why is Israeli produce in such demand?

SP: The fresh produce supply chain is enormously complex and inter-related. You can divide it broadly into northern and southern hemisphere for the purposes of harvest windows throughout the year. There are also many emerging pressing issues to consider; food transport miles, food security, food quality, packaging issues and waste. One of the problems for supermarket buyers (from their perspective) is fulfilling consumer demands for all year round (AYR) quality produce, and it has done so by procuring produce from all corners of the earth. Israeli produce is in high demand because of its consistency in terms of supply, quality and price; as the UK is probably Israel’s most lucrative market, it will seek to meet the challenges of such a demanding and critical market by expanding its growing areas – for example new crop areas for pomegranate and other ‘fashionable’ produce, also new pepper varieties grown on settlements in the West Bank. The use of the Dead Sea area or the Jordan Valley with a growing season from November to May means that it can cover 12 months a year for supply of key crops.

DL:Why has Israel achieved such status with UK supermarkets?

SP:There’s no denying that Israel boasts good facilities and skills in agriculture. Israel continually innovates scientifically, has excellent plant breeding skills and is well tuned in to what consumers in the UK are demanding. It’s also well established in our markets. It is therefore difficult for other regions to compete with Israel, though there are very good producers in Spain, Turkey and other Mediterranean countries. Investment in up and coming growing areas is the only way to ensure that an alternative is offered for big buyers of fresh produce, otherwise they will stick to Israeli produce where possible. The harvest window for AYR supply using the Jordan Valley & Dead Sea (West Bank) region is probably Israel’s best advantage as well as its own government’s investment in agriculture from the beginning of the establishment of the State of Israel.

DL: What are the problems with Israeli agriculture and why should we be concerned?

SP: Supermarkets must consider the human and environmental cost that such intensive growing systems present – Israel has used up vast amounts of water from natural resources to attain such growth (“blooming of the desert”), remember, these kind of crops are not necessarily native to the region, and has caused the growth of the unforgiving Western Flower Thrips pest in the Jordan Valley – both issues have caused severe problems to Jordanian farmers on the other side of the Jordan River, and particularly for Palestinian farmers, now sadly diminishing rapidly. Growing non-native crops in intensive systems also means that there is a high dependency on pesticides; something that has also caused soil and environmental problems in the region. Most importantly, we have to remember that whilst there is reference to ‘illegal settlements’ supposedly used to describe Israeli settlements on the West Bank/Jordan Valley, all settlements and kibbutz are illegal occupations. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Israel seized a lot of farming land from the very beginning and the passing of time does not legitimise or justify it. The conditions of Palestinian workers, Thai workers ought to be thought about seriously. Imagine yourself as a Palestinian who used to have, or should have, farm land, but it was forcibly taken from you or your family and now you are forced to now work on it for the occupiers as poorly paid workers. This is something we must think deeply about, after all growing such crops for our supply chain on what is essentially stolen Palestinian land is an outrage, a piracy, and something that UK supermarkets’ own Code of Practice should force them to declare in the very least as unethical.

DL: What is the issue concerning labelling of produce in this respect?

SP: I strongly believe that if the public really knew of the true history of the land, how Palestinian farmers are losing hectares of land, and how these foods are grown with little regard to the environment or human rights of Palestinians, then I think there would be a blanket boycott of all Israeli goods. Environmental activists should take up the issues as a ‘cause celebre’. However, we must concentrate on exposing the trade from illegal settlements as a primary concern. It is unlikely that all trade will be forbidden overnight of course, so in the meantime there must be some standardisation on labelling. I would have thought that this directive would come from the FSA (Food Standards Agency), and that supermarkets must consider reaching an agreement and some consistency on what should be on the label for produce that is coming from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. We must also be aware that there are clauses in labelling directives from various Codes of Practice that allow produce which has had postharvest minimal processing operations (e.g., trimming, cutting) to be labelled as originating from that secondary source. This means that Israel could in theory harvest produce on settlements and sends to Tel Aviv for trimming operations and label produce as being sourced from “Israel”. This would be misleading, but it would be difficult for an outsider to prove, though supermarkets should be able to track all produce from farm to fork. Difficulties in this respect also occur on mixed pallets – that is to say, it may be difficult to track all boxes of produce on a pallet. This issue again is a requirement of their own Code of Practice, not to mention as a legal requirement. It’s not sufficient to label such produce as being from “the Jordan Valley” or “the West Bank”; consumers need to have an informed choice, and to make their own decision as to whether they will buy illegal settlement produce.

DL: Where does your campaign focus next?

SP: We are continuing to look at collecting all available information on the sourcing of produce from ‘Israel’, and keeping activists, journalists, lawyers, and supermarkets informed of our findings in future. By unravelling some aspects of the supply chain, we are now working out dates of harvest/supply of key crops coming into the UK from ‘Israel’ prior to their own marketing campaigns so that local activist groups can be alerted and leaflet the public and importers or shopkeepers accordingly. We believe that this might be a more effective and focused method of campaigning than the traditional blanket boycott campaign which, nonetheless, is essential. If any campaign groups are interested in this, they can contact the Secretary of SELFBF, Pauline Collins, by email at If we really want to hurt the state of Israel then damaging agricultural trade with the UK will go a long way. Remember the South African boycott worked and so will this.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Protesters may sue the Met

A GROUP of climate camp protesters who claim they suffered from violent police tactics during the G20 protests near the Bank of England are considering taking legal action against Scotland Yard.
Lawyers acting for the group have put the Metropolitan police on notice that they may launch a Judicial Review of the tactics used to contain demonstrations.
Activists who staged the Bishopsgate climate camp want an explanation of how the Metropolitan Police handled the controversial City of London events last month.
New pictures have added to the wealth of photos taken by demonstrators already published. They show one officer using his shield to hit out at demonstrators, who are sitting in the middle of the road. Another officer is seen apparently hitting out with his fist.
The climate campaigners' legal representatives are also demanding that senior officers provide a legal basis for the practice known as "kettling", where protesters are corralled into tight groups for extended periods of time.

End the seige of Gaza!

By Robert Laurie

THOUSANDS of protesters took to the streets of London last Saturday in a march and rally organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to call for Israel to end its siege of Gaza and to remember the Nakba (massacre) of 1948, when Palestinians were thrown off their land to make way for the new state of Israel.
The march was backed by CND, Stop the War, the British Muslim Initiative and dozens more progressive organisations.
It was a colourful march with plenty of music and dancing along the way as it progressed from Malet Street, by the University of London, through Holborn and Archway to Trafalgar Square.
Speakers at the Trafalgar Square rally included MPs Jeremy Corbyn, Martin Linton and George Galloway; Daud Abdullah, the deputy general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, Jean Lambert MEP, Jenny Tonge MEP, Manuel Hassassian – Palestinian General Delegate to the UK, Alexei Sayle and speakers from PSC, Stop the War Coalition, British Muslim Initiative, CND, Palestinian Forum in Britain, Viva Palestina, Jews for Justice for Palestine, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights and others.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Victory Day in London

by Daphne Liddle

SEVERAL hundred people gathered at the Soviet war memorial in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park in south London to mark the anniversary of the Red Army’s Victory Day on 9th May 1945.
Last Saturday was also the 10th anniversary of the memorial in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum.
The mayor of Southwark, Councillor Eliza Mann welcomed the biggest attendance ever at this annual event, organised by the Soviet Memorial Trust Fund (SMTF) included for the first time three Soviet Navy veterans from Archangel, who had worked alongside the veterans from the Arctic Convoy Club – regular participants at this event.
There was also a very large contingent from the Russian Embassy School in London, showing that the younger generation is very much aware of the sacrifice made by the Soviet armed forces in delivering the world from the threat of Nazi domination.
The usual representatives from the embassies of former Soviet republics were there in force, along with veterans’ organisations like the Arctic Convoy Club, the British Legion, the International Brigade Association, local MP Simon Hughes, Robert Wareing MP from the All-Party British-Russian Parliamentary Group, trade union representatives, and political and cultural groups like the New Communist Party, the British Vietnam Association and the Marx Memorial Library.
Russian Ambassador Yuri Fedotov paid tribute to the work of the SMTF in raising and maintaining the memorial. “We should be building memorials to keep the memory alive for coming generations. Not tearing them down as they are doing in some places,” he said.
After the formal wreath laying, which left the large inscribed stone in front of the memorial completely carpeted with flowers, Polina Baranova, a pupil at the Russian Embassy School sang a haunting Russian folk song, Zhuvrali or the Cranes.
The song dates from the Great Patriotic War and relates the legend that dead soldiers are returning as white cranes. Polina sang unaccompanied with a beautiful voice and a delivery that would be expected of a much older, professional singer. She is only 12-years-old.
Then followed the Last Post and the exhortation “We will remember them”, delivered by a British Legion Veteran and the two minutes’ silence.
These veterans, carrying their banners, marched off to the “stand down” just outside the refreshment tent, where the Russian Ambassador invited everyone to join him in a toast to victory.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Strange Tulip

By our Industrial Affairs correspondent

Some New Labour supporters are backing a new international pressure group called Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (Tulip), that claims to support peace in the Middle East by opposing the boycott of Israeli goods and aiming “to challenge the apologists for Hamas and Hizbollah in the labour movement”.
Tulip was launched last week and it is supported by the leaders of three unions – Paul Howes, National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union; Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (US/Canada); and Michael Leahy, General Secretary of Community, a small British trade union whose major claim to fame is that Gordon Brown is one of its members.
Tulip makes remarkably dovish claims about past Israeli governments and equates the growing boycott Israel campaign with anti-semitism. It was welcomed by Jeremy Newmark of the Stop the Boycott campaign, who said: “Tulip is a practical initiative which shows that trade unions use their power in good ways, bringing Israelis and Palestinians together and improving lives — a contrast with those unions that have adopted divisive boycotts.” But though it has attracted a number of long-standing campaigners for Israel it has yet to gain any meaningful support from any Palestinian organisations.
Comrades from the South East London Link with Beit Furik are convinced this organisation is doing exactly what the Israeli government would want to counter the very effective campaigning that has been going on in Britain by supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, especially in regard to the boycott. It cannot possibly deliver a just peace for the Palestinians and can only prolong the illegal occupation.
Claiming to support peace and to be left wing, this organisation could spread confusion among naïve trade unionists.
One campaigner told the New Worker: “I’m sure this is because we are being so successful. This time last year none of the big supermarket chains would even reply to our letters. Now they are agreeing to meetings.
“We have been pointing out that selling goods produced in illegally occupied land is contrary to international law.
“Now the supermarkets are saying they are willing to stock goods from Palestine, properly labelled with the money going back to the Palestinian farmers.
“And since the attack on Gaza at the beginning of this year they are getting a lot of customer pressure to boycott Israeli goods.”
“I’m not worried about this new organisation. I don’t think many will be taken in by it. It is just a measure of how successful we are being.”

May Day in London and Manchester

By Mervyn Drage

Thousands of working people took the day off on Friday to take part in London’s traditional May Day march and rally. As usual the crowd was swelled by communists from the Turkish and Kurdish community in the capital who marched with the rest from the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell Green to Trafalgar Square to hear trade unionists, pensioners’ campaigners and John McDonnell, the leader of the Labour Representation Committee celebrate international workers’ day and call for socialism.
McDonnell welcomed the victory of the Visteon Ford workers who have now won enhanced redundancy terms after a wave of strikes, pickets and occupations. "The Visteon workers have, through their struggle, achieved a just settlement. They are an example to us all," he said adding: "If we need a general strike to move forward, why don't we call for one? What are we afraid of?"
Manchester’s annual May Day parade, organised by the local trades council and local anti-racist and community groups, took place three days later on the bank holiday and thousands responded to the call turn out with their colourful banners on a beautiful sunny day. Attempts by supporters of the fascist British National Party to disrupt the parade slightly delayed the start but they were escorted away by the police and there were no arrests. The rest of the day was peaceful and the protest took place without any further incidents.
The organisers used the protest to demonstrate against the capitalist slump, to fight for full employment, equality at work and in favour of the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers. The organisers also used the opportunity to bring attention to forthcoming local and European elections, urging people to vote wisely and say no to the BNP.
At the rally in Castlefield, the main speaker was Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communications Workers Union; there were also speakers from: Unite Against Fascism, Asylum Seekers and Migrant Workers Support Groups, several trade unions and unemployed workers. At the Rally there were many trade union and campaign stalls.An excellent variety of free music followed from bands as diverse as: Claire Mooney, Alun Parry, The Score, Toxteth Rebel, Alliance and Sargasso Township.
Geoffrey Brown, Secretary of Manchester Trades Union Council, commented: “This is the deepest recession in 70 years, workers across Britain are angry and concerned. We want the right to work for all, including refugees, migrant workers and people coming to this country seeking asylum”. New Workers were sold throughout and NCP leaflets distributed.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Tolpuddle remembered in London

By Robert Laurie

One hundred and seventy five years ago, in 1834, six farm labourers from the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset were transported to Australia for daring to form a trade union. Mass protests calling for their release took place. One of these was the 100,000 strong "Grand Demonstration" which took place that year from Copenhagen Fields in north London to present a 200,000 signature petition to Parliament before a rally at Kennington Common in south London. The Government bowed to mass pressure and five of the martyrs were released in 1836 and the sixth freed the following year.
An annual TUC sponsored march and festival is held in Tolpuddle in July. But this year commemorations kicked off early with a new festival in London.
It began, last Saturday, near the original starting point of that historic march that launched the campaign which eventually led to the men's release. Following a march to a small community park, Islington mayor Stefan Kasprzyk opened the proceedings before an number of folk singers, including Billy Bragg entertained the crowd.
Local Labour MP Emily Thornberry and TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O'Grady addressed the crowds which enjoyed the warm sunshine. Chris Kaufman, National Secretary of Unite the Union's Agricultural section (pictured) spoke about present day conditions for agricultural workers. While much has been improved, including the abolition of tied cottages, the life of present day agricultural workers is still a hard one.