Friday, March 19, 2010

Solidarity with Democratic Korea

NEW COMMUNIST Party leader Andy Brooks joined a picket outside the south Korean embassy in London on Monday, which had been called to protest against the continuing American and puppet forces’ war games in the occupied south of the country. The military exercises, code-named “Key Resolve” and “Foal Eagle,” began on 8th March and they will run for ten days. Some 18,000 US troops backed by a huge number of puppet forces are taking part in the exercises which rehearse an invasion of north Korea.
The picket, organised by the UK Korean Friendship Association, picketed the south Korean embassy for 90 minutes and then moved on to the US embassy in Grosvenor Square for a similar protest in the afternoon.

Standing by the Palestinians

Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association said goodbye on Thursday 11th March to fourteen Palestinian women from all over the West Bank who had come on a visit to Britain as part of the Stories from our Mothers Project, supported by the Anna Lindh Foundation.
The women, among them students, mothers, academics, women’s centre co-ordinators, came to meet British women and to exchange life experiences on the special occasion of the 100th International Women’s Day.
The visitors met British women in many different ways – in women’s centres, public meetings and skills-sharing sessions when they cooked and sewed together. They split into pairs and toured Britain, meeting groups in thirty different towns and boroughs in England, Scotland and Wales.
The visit has strengthened the network of twinning and friendship links between places in Britain and Palestine that has been building steadily in the past few years.
The high point of the visit was the Stories from our Mothers workshop held on International Women’s Day itself at the School of Oriental and African Studies in Camden. The visitors and others from London told personal stories of their own and their mothers’ lives in Palestine, many of which brought tears to the eyes of the audience.
These included the descriptions by Enass al-Bittar, a student from Gaza in London. She told of her mother’s experiences as one of the thousands of Palestinian refugees in 1948. She spoke of the current experience of people in Gaza living under a siege and of the horrendous experiences of her family during the Israeli war on Gaza in early 2009 when so many people were killed and her own house destroyed.
Rania Arafat from Jerusalem described the huge difficulties created for Palestinians in the West Bank by a system of passes that restrict movement, and the way that she and her family are not allowed by Israel to live in the house that they have built in Al Essawiya village.
I’temad Wahbeh, who lives in Shu’fat refugee camp, showed the audience a picture of her son and described what happened a year ago when he was, while both of them were trying to enter the refugee camp from Jerusalem and her son was shot in the eye by an Israeli soldier.
He has now completely lost sight in that eye.
This was the second Stories from our Mothers workshop: the first took place at the Al Quds University in Abu Dis during a visit of British women to Palestine in November last year.
In the evening, a packed audience attended a special meeting on women in Jerusalem. Dr Fadwa al-Labadi from the Insan Centre for Gender Studies at the Al Quds University explained how Israeli policies are trying to force Palestinians from Jerusalem. Hiyam Elayan from the Saraya Centre in the Old City of Jerusalem and Amal Hijazi from the women’s centre t Shu’fat refugee camp explained the particular pressures on women and children.
Professor Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian Ambassador to Britain, visited the workshop to welcome the women to London.
He spoke about the importance of the work of organisations like Camden Abu Dis and the Britain-Palestine Twinning Network in helping people in Britain to understand what is really going on in Palestine.
The stories gathered by British and Palestinian women will be the basis for a book, Stories from our Mothers. A film about the women’s exchange visits between Britain and Palestine will also be produced in the summer as part of the project

Salute to Marx at Highgate

by New Worker correspondent
A NEW COMMUNIST Party delegation joined other communists and progressives in saluting the memory of Karl Marx at the annual ceremony in Highgate Cemetery in north London.
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 at the exact moment of his death.
NCP leaders Andy Brooks and Alex Kempshall, along with Robert Laurie, Daphne Liddle and Theo Russell from the Central Committee and New Worker supporter Owen Liddle, represented the New Communist Party and the turnout included Library committee members and delegations from the London embassies of socialist countries, including Cuba, People’s China, Vietnam and the DPR Korea, many of whom laid flowers at the grave.
This year the address was given by Alex Gordon, President of the National Union of Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers (RMT) who said: “We are meeting today as monopoly capital and the forces of so-called ‘globalisation’ face yet another deep crisis. Conversely, this has awakened new interest in the ideas of Karl Marx, which have proved much more resilient than the forces of imperialist globalisation have claimed hitherto”.
In a withering attack on imperialism and the European Union, Gordon said: “Imperialist, supranational bodies such as the EU seek to roll back democratic advances achieved in previous centuries. Not content simply to defeat and scatter forces for socialism, modern imperialism seeks not ‘the end of history’, but to reverse history, nothing less than to undo the results of the French and American revolutions. It repudiates the historical significance of the development of modern independent nations.
“Progressive forces must respond to this threat by defending and restoring national democracy. Ultimately, national independence is required for democracy to flourish. The freedom of all nations to develop without external imperialist interference should be the touchstone for our understanding of Marxism in the modern context.”
The union leader concluded with the words of Karl Marx, pointing out: “As Marx said ‘Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society” – by which, I believe, he meant the state. He also said ‘democracy is the road to socialism’. The battle for democracy is yet to be won, but the army of labour is crying out for the battle to be rejoined.”
photo: Marx Memorial Library Chair Mary Rosser with Chinese Ambassador Liu Xiaoming and diplomats from Cuba, Democratic Korea and Vietnam

Honouring Marx at the Party Centre

THE IMMENSE contribution of Karl Marx to the cause of socialism was remembered by comrades and friends at the New Communist Party’s London Centre last Saturday at a reception to mark the 127th anniversary of the passing of the founder of scientific socialism.
The main meeting room and the print shop were transformed for the bar and buffet and during the formal part of the celebrations tributes to the work and struggle of Marx were delivered by Michael Chant of the RCPB (ML), Jang Song Chol from the DPR Korea embassy in London and NCP General Secretary Andy Brooks.
No NCP event goes by without mentioning the work of the New Worker and Dolly Shaer from the Politburo spoke graphically about the struggle to ensure it comes out every week. The comrades responded by raising £769 for the fighting fund!
photo:Dolly makes her point!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Solidarity in Lewisham

by New Worker

DOZENS of progressive activists from a wide spectrum of organisations last Sunday packed into the Albany community centre in Deptford in the south London Borough of Lewisham for an afternoon and evening of debate, discussions, short films and entertainment, presented under the auspices of the local Young Mayor scheme.
The main issues covered were fighting racism and fascism, an eye-witness report from Afghanistan, climate change and solidarity with the people of Palestine.
The event began with an account of 70 years of fighting racism and fascism in Lewisham and a film on Love Music Hate Racism. The presenter, from Lewisham Against Racism and Fascism, stressed the importance in the coming general election of mobilising as many people to vote as possible to ensure that whatever vote the British National Party gets is only a small proportion of the total turnout.
He stressed that the campaign was broad and encompassed supporters of many different political views – united only by their determination to keep the fascists out at all costs. For this reason the anti-fascist campaign does not promote any particular party and there is no place for sectarianism.
Photo journalist Guy Smallman gave a talk with slides of his travels in Afghanistan – completely independent of the imperialist war-propaganda machine – through villages recently decimated by US and British bombing and the tragedy and horrors that he witnessed among farming people who cannot understand why they are being bombed.
He spoke of the habit of British and American troops on the ground, when they are in trouble, to call for air cover. “Whenever there is shelling or bombing from the air there are always civilian casualties,” he said. “That is inevitable.”
And Guy pointed out that every time it happens there are hundreds of new willing recruits to join the Taliban from among the angry bereaved families.
He refuted the claim by the imperialists that they had gone into Afghanistan to help liberate the women there. “They are now far worse off than they have ever been.”
Many are widows but cannot work outside to support themselves and their children. A few women do work behind the scenes in offices and so on but none in public places. They have no recourse but to beg.
In answer to a question from the New Worker, Guy said that the Najibullah era is now regarded by most with affectionate nostalgia as a time of comparative peace and prosperity – although many of them hated the Russians at the time.
He said: “The civil war after the Russians left was the worst time. The Taliban rule was very oppressive and the people there are well aware that the Taliban got its money and support from the CIA. Since the Americans invaded it’s been worse than ever,
“At least the Russian built things. All the main buildings in Kabul were built by the Russians,” he said.
For most people in Afghanistan there are no health services, no hospitals and no medicines – except one that is in bountiful supply: opium. Ruined buildings in Kabul are now full of opium addicts, many of them casualties of the war, or illness or deprivation and opium is the only medicine they can get.But for the friends of the government and the dealers in opium there are still resplendent hotels and shops where you can buy diamond-studded I-pods.
Jim Jepps of the Green Party showed a film produced by American environmentalists which explained effectively how the processes of capitalism are ravaging this planet.
And Leah Levane and Sarah Sturge spoke of their experiences visiting Lewisham’s twinned town of Beit Furik on the West Bank and as part of the food and aid convoy that recently travelled from Britain and, after many difficulties and obstructions, finally delivered the aid to the people of the bombed and beleaguered Gaza Strip.
Leah questioned: “Why do the Israelis make life so impossible for the Palestinians? Why do they make it impossible for them to live in peace? It doesn’t seem to make sense until you realise it’s all about the land. The Israeli government couldn’t care less about the Palestinians and whether they can live or not. They don’t even care about their own people. They just want to keep on taking as much land as they can.”
She called on people to do anything they can to break the isolation that the Palestinians feel. “Whatever you can do will make a difference,” she said, “just send one email or letter a week.”

Rakatan takes London by storm

By New Worker correspondent

CUBAN culture is not hard to find in London these days and for the past month Londoners have been trooping to Sadler’s Wells’ Peacock Theatre to see the return of an amazing dance spectacular that covers the entire gamut of Cuban music from the songs and dances of the African slaves to the mambo, rumba and salsa of the 20th century.
Backed by the voice of Geydi Chapman and the massive sound of a seven-piece band, the dancers stride through nearly two hours of sound and light that is authentically Cuban and internationally acclaimed.
Havana Rakatan was devised by Cuban choreographer Nilda Guerra in 2001 after spending a year teaching salsa in London. She brought together some of the best young dancers of Cuba to interpret the island’s cultural history through rhythm and dance and backed it with a band, Turquino, that is rooted in Afro-Caribbean music.
Formed in the early 1980s by students dedicated to traditional Cuban music, Turquino provides powerful backing to dancers who’ve come from the renowned Escuela Nacional de Arte de la Habana.
They’ve now thrilled audiences in Cuba and all over the world, starting from December 2002, when they became the first Cuban troupe to perform at the World Salsa Congress in Zurich. And they’re no strangers to the British public either, having done three successful seasons in London and winning the Five Stars Award at the Edinburgh Festival in 2006. Catch them next time round!

Cuba through an artist's eye

By New Worker correspondent

WE SAW another glimpse of Cuba through the eyes of famed Cuban photographer Alejandro Gortazar when a new collection of 50 images of the island and its people was launched in London’s Bolivar Hall last week. Alejandro’s eye captures light, people and nature and freezes it with his lens to provide a unique glimpse of life on the revolutionary island and he’s won critical acclaim following his first exhibition in London last November.
The Cuban photographer, who now divides his time between London and Havana, unveiled his collection last Tuesday in the presence of the Cuban ambassador and friends of the socialist island. The exhibition, supported by Unison, the Cuban embassy and Havana Club Rum, will now tour the country.
At the launch, Cuban ambassador René Mujica Cantelar paid tribute to Gortazar’s ability to capture the light and spirit of life in Cuba. He said that the photos captured the essence of the Cuban people, seeing them live and work so positively, despite living under the 50 year old blockade.
The exhibition, supported by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, Unison, the Cuban embassy, OH Parsons Solicitors and Havana Club Rum, will now tour the country.
photo: Alejandro Gortazar and his wife Maria at the launch

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Defend Whittington Hospital!

THOUSANDS of protesters marched through the streets of north London on Saturday 27th February to express their dismay and outrage at plans to close the Accident and Emergency unit at Whittington Hospital.
It was organised by the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition and ended in a rally at the hospital in Highgate.
The hospital may have to merge its A&E with London’s Royal Free Hospital under NHS plans going out for consultation. The departments could be reorganised by the NHS as part of a city-wide review.
Shirley Frankin, from the Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition, welcomed the “phenomenal support” – even though some hospital staff had been intimidates into not attending. She said: “We need our local A&E. People who have never been on a demonstration are here. It’s our hospital. We need those services here.”
The march was supported by local Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and former Health Secretary Frank Dobson.
Corbyn told the rally that the NHS is “the most civilised thing that exists in Britain”. And he added: “Millions have been spent here on the new wing, on doing up the A&E department, on the new wards. We have a top notch, first rate local hospital – and we’re going to keep it that way!”
Dobson spoke of the “dickheads who have decided that they could save money by closing the A&E department here and then building clinics all over to replace it.
“But the clinics haven’t been built and haven’t been approved, even financially. This is a lunatic idea.”
NHS London has revealed plans for more than 100 polyclinics across the capital over the next five years, which, they say, will offer a wider range of services in one place.
Another A&E facing closure is Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup in the London Borough of Bexley, even though A&E services in Bexley and neighbouring Bromley and Greenwich have been “dangerous and deadly” according to a local health campaigner.
John Hemming-Clark, leader of Independents to Save Queen Mary’s Hospital, claims the situation at Queen Mary’s Sidcup A&E department has been “dire and totally unacceptable” as staff struggled to cope with emergencies diverted from other hospitals.
When A&E at the Princess Royal University Hospital (PRU), Farnborough, closed last Thursday because of a norovirus outbreak, ambulances diverted to Queen Mary’s where the A&E remained open all night. Staff from Farnborough had to be drafted in to help.
Hemming-Clark claims on Monday, A&E at Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), Woolwich, was so overrun it had ambulances queuing up, so again patients were diverted to Queen Mary’s.
He claims at one point, five stretchered patients were lined up in Queen Mary’s corridors.
Under A Picture of Health plans, Sidcup’s A&E will close by the end of this year, but Hemming-Clark claims the PRU and QEH will not be able to cope. He said: “When it closes, the events of the past few days prove deaths will result.”
Hemming-Clark says if that happens, his party will take legal action against the South London Healthcare Trust “for a dereliction in its duty of care towards its patients”.

London tenants fight to save homes

MORE than 100 tenants last month protested outside the Crown Estates offices near Regent Street in London as their fight to prevent their homes being sold off to the public sector was raised in the House of Commons.
Their fight continues with meetings and rallies on the threatened estates, including a meeting in Lewisham last Saturday.
Their homes are owned and managed by The Crown Estate – which manages property on behalf of the monarchy – in the boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Camden, Westminster and Lewisham.
The protesters outside the Crown Estates offices waved placards on the pavement which declared “Our homes are not for sale”.
Respect MP George Galloway, whose Bethnal Green and Bow constituency includes part of the Victoria Park Estate, tabled a Commons Motion condemning the proposed sell-off.
Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, backed residents’ opposition, criticised the Crown Estate for failing to give residents enough information, and urged the Crown Estate’s director of investment and asset management to appoint the tenants a legal advisor.
Residents’ protests began after they received a letter from Crown Estates about the proposed freehold sale of the terraces near Victoria Park and four other Crown estates at Millbank in Westminster, Cumberland Market near Regent’s Park and Lee Green in south-east London.
Residents fear that if their homes are sold to a private landlord rents will increase and key-workers – such as teachers nurses and police officers – will be forced out.
Crown Estate director of investment Paul Clark told Meg Hillier that the plans were only a proposal at this stage.
The Crown Estate manages acres of land and commercial property nationwide to a value of over £7.3 billion, which was formerly owned by the monarchy.
The consultation period ends on March 23.
The sale of the 1,300 Crown Estate homes in London is expected to raise about £250 million according to an estimate provided by a potential buyer. The money will ease the finances on a £750 million redevelopment programme already underway at the bottom of Regent Street.
Paul Clark has done this sort of thing before — in 2006 to be precise. Then he was chief surveyor to the Church Commissioners. More than 1,100 south London homes were sold for £150 million to a 50:50 joint venture owned by Britain’s largest residential property company Grainger and the Genesis Housing Association.
It provoked protests at the time, with tenants invading the General Synod.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Prospects for Irish unity

By Theo Russell

THE RECENT conference on Irish Unity in London was an opportunity for over 500 activists, trade unionists, academics and political representatives to take a timely in-depth look at the prospects for ending partition after 89 years.

One of the major changes during the last generation is the economic balance in Ireland. Many in Britain will be surprised to discover that even after the current recession, average (median) weekly earnings in the Irish Republic were equivalent to £532, far outstripping Northern Ireland at £357, and even Britain itself at £397.

As Michael Burke of the Socialist Economic Bulletin pointed out, this is an astonishing change since partition in 1921, when per capita output and income were a fraction of those in the North. Since then, Northern Ireland has fallen behind mainland Britain, while the Irish Republic’s economic growth has raced ahead of both Britain and Northern Ireland.

In 1921 the Republic was almost totally dependent on the British export market, accounting for 98 per cent of its foreign trade. The fact that exporting live cattle accounted for over 95 per cent of southern Ireland’s economy sums up precisely the brutal colonial relationship with Britain.

Today Northern Ireland’s economy is dwarfed by that of the South. Last year the Irish Republic’s exports were €87 billion,,with only 14 per cent going to Britain. In contrast, the North’s “external sales” were a mere £12.5 billion, with over half going to the British mainland. If this is deducted the North’s actual overseas exports were less than £6 billion.

Unlike the Irish Republic, the North is not integrated into the global economy, and is becoming even less so. Hence it is increasingly dependent on Britain, whose own economy has declined relatively on in global terms.

As Burke points out, the boom in the South was not produced by far-sighted economic policies – as he says, “there have been none” – but by foreign multinationals “taking advantage of a well-educated workforce located in a prime conduit for trade between the two major blocs of the US and EU”.

As we have seen recently this means that the Republic is at the mercy of global economic forces, with the government’s purchase of tens of billions of bad loans resulting in a huge transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich.

Both Burke and Patricia McKeown, Northern Ireland secretary of Unison and a representative of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, spoke of the enormous economic problems and inequality facing working people in both parts of Ireland.

Northern Ireland has the highest number of “economically inactive” adults in the UK, and half the workforce is on or below the minimum wage. Unemployment in the North has risen faster than the rest of Britain during the recession, while the public sector, its largest employer, has been cut back.

McKeown said many large foreign investors, including Visteon, had taken millions in government subsidies before moving out. “Invest Northern Ireland,” she said, “has spent £16 billion, with virtually no actual jobs to show for it”.

She said the question for working class people in both parts of Ireland is “will ending partition bring a better life,” adding that “the Good Friday Agreement should not be vehicle for implementing neo-liberal economic policies”.

McKeown described the Northern Ireland Executive’s options as “severely restricted”, with government funding reduced since 1998. In effect, she said, “all they can do is agree how this will be divided”.

Income inequality in both North and South, as in Britain, is greater than in the rest of the EU. As Guardian journalist Seamus Milne puts it: “Any process leading to unity would clearly require far-reaching social and economic reform on both sides of the border.”

The Good Friday Agreement

The conference also assessed the progress and unfinished work of the Good Friday Agreement, with Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy pointing out: ”Britain still has 5,000 troops and a significant MI5 presence in Ireland, and while the British government declares its neutrality in relations with Northern Ireland, in reality it favours the unionist community.”

“The Good Friday Agreement is a settlement, and clearly is not a resolution of the Irish issue”, he said.

Gerry Adams MP outlined the positive benefits since 1998, in particular the South’s multi-million Euro investment in upgrading Derry airport and new road infrastructure in the North.

And as Sinn Féin MLA Mitchel McLaughlin reminded delegates: “The British government, which is not trusted or respected by any constituency in Ireland, has been the common denominator that has subjugated and divided the people of Ireland for generations”.

“The future,” he said, “lies with nationalists and unionists agreeing on their relationships to and with each other in peaceful co-existence on this island without the British government setting the terms.”

Jayne Fisher, Sinn Féin office worker in London, looked at the growing North-South cooperation in many areas, with a significant increase in trade between the two.

She also assessed the changing communal balance in the North, with those declaring themselves Catholic growing from 35 per cent in 1961 to over 40 per cent in 2001, and those declaring themselves Protestant declining from over 62 per cent to 46 per cent. This has been paralleled by a steady rise in nationalist votes and a steady fall in Unionist votes.

This is significant because the Good Friday Agreement provides for a referendum on the border issue. If a majority in the North votes to remove the border, the British and Irish governments are obligated under the agreement to implement re-unification.

But it is clear that ending partition is far more complex than merely holding a referendum, with many other factors involved. If the Conservatives do eventually return to power in London, the Good Friday Agreement itself could be seriously undermined.

Fisher also pointed out that while Sinn Féin has successfully avoided any significant splits in its republican and nationalist base, there has been growing division and instability within Unionism.

The DUP’s power-sharing deal with Sinn Féin led to the break-away of the “ultra-rejectionist” Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), splitting the Unionist camp three ways in the 2009 European election and taking 13 per cent of votes.

The Unionists’ troubles are in turn creating headaches for the British Conservative Party. It has “rediscovered” its Unionist roots and renewed the old tie with the UUP, but has been bogged down by Unionist in-fighting while succeeding in alienating the Nationalist community.

But Fisher pointed to one major and welcome change to the political landscape: “It is clear that there can be no return to the old way of ruling, with unionist dominance and veto.”

This conference provided a detailed and valuable stock-taking of the enormous changes that have taken place in Ireland since partition, especially in the past 30 years. While the Irish Republic has left its economic dependence on Britain far behind, Unionism on the other hand appears to be a spent force.

In spite of all the obstacles, the prospects for ending partition are now better than at any time since the dark days of 1921. At the same time, both North and South are still grappling with the terrible legacy of Britain’s colonial domination – the political and communal divisions and the futile duplication of services and infrastructure.

Reunification would provide a huge boost to overcoming these problems and advancing Ireland’s political, economic and cultural life. And the sooner that day comes, the better!