Saturday, December 18, 2010

Release Shaker Aamer!

By Theo Russell

New Worker supporters joined protesters marching from the site of the new US embassy in London, last Saturday, to call for the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner being in the Guantánamo Bay military prison camp, where he has languished for almost nine years without being charged.
Over 100 people gathered in Battersea and marched to the Battersea Arts Centre where a major rally took place in support of Saudi-born Shaker Aamer.
Aamer had lived in the borough with his British wife and three children, and a fourth child has been born since his detention. At the time of his capture, in Afghanistan, he had indefinite leave to remain in Britain and had applied for British citizenship.
The US government claims he was supporting the Taliban, but Aamer says he was doing charity work. He has written from Guantánamo: "I am dying here every day, mentally and physically. We have been ignored, locked up in the middle of the ocean for many years."
He claims – echoing similar allegations by US detainees and victims of kidnapping and rendition – that he was tortured in Afghanistan, including by US personnel, and while British officials were present.
Ray Silk of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign told the rally: "We are calling upon the UK and US Governments to make arrangements as soon as possible for his release."
Aamer’s case has been raised with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Foreign Secretary William Hague, most recently by Hague in Washington last week, but as yet no release date is in sight.
Following his latest meeting with Clinton, Hague said he had "reiterated our position that we would like to see this gentleman returned to the United Kingdom and that is under consideration by the United States".
In November Amnesty International's UK director, Kate Allen, wrote to Hague asking for him to make a public statement calling for Aamer to either be "charged and fairly tried or released," and for assurances that the UK would be willing to accept him on his release.
Allen pointed out that when the government announced its compensation package for former Guantanamo detainees last week, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said the UK wanted to 'draw a line' under cases involving detention and alleged abuse overseas, “yet Shaker Aamer is still languishing in a cell at Guantánamo".
"Dealing with what the government calls 'legacy issues' in the 'war on terror' must mean ensuring justice for Shaker. William Hague should make it a priority that he is returned to his family in Britain", she said.
The coalition government has made it clear that it wants to avoid lengthy court battles over compensation, which risked putting the role of Britain’s intelligence services under scrutiny.
Steve Bell, head of policy for the Communication Workers Union and national treasurer of the Stop the War Coalition, said at the rally that Barack Obama “issued an executive order to shut Guantánamo, and yet still Shaker Aamer cannot come home. There is no reason at all that he should be held. It is a scandal that he is being denied his basic human rights."
Although small in size, Saturday’s march was highly symbolic and attracted major media coverage, including on the BBC website and from Press TV. It certainly achieved its aim of putting Shaker Aamer’s case firmly back in the spotlight.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Athletes protest at school sports cuts

TOP ATHLETES last Tuesday joined more than half a million schoolchildren, teachers and parents in urging Prime Minister David Cameron to overrule Education Secretary Michael Gove and drop plans to cut funding for England’s 450 school sports partnerships.
Pupils demanded that a minister explain why the coalition has made funding for school sport in England one of the casualties of its cost-cutting.
Tim Loughton, the Children's Minister, faced tough questioning when he met a delegation of students before a protest at Parliament supported by hundreds of primary and secondary pupils and teachers from across England.
Olympic gold medallists Denise Lewis and Darren Campbell also joined the protest. Scores of elite British athletes past and present have written to David Cameron condemning Michael Gove's decision to stop the £162 million-a-year funding for England's 450 school sports partnerships (SSPs) at the end of next March as "illogical" and likely to damage young people's health and fuel childhood obesity.
The schoolchildren, led by Debbie Foote, a 17-year-old pupil from Grantham in Lincolnshire, handed in a petition signed by more than half a million people at Downing Street.
She said: "This is devastating news, not only for young people today, but for the future generations who will miss out on the fantastic opportunities SSPs provide."

London school to house homeless pupils

THE QUINTIN Kynaston School in St John’s Wood is planning to build a hostel for homeless teenagers after discovering that several A-level pupils have been sleeping rough or on friends’ sofas after becoming homeless.
Head teacher Jo Shuter hopes to raise £3 million to fund the accommodation centre for the vulnerable students.
She said: "We have got young people not ready to live independently who need to be looked after and helped into adulthood. They have got nobody else to turn to."
Vincent, 18, one of the pupils, said: "It gets to a point where you think, hang on a minute, three months have gone past and I'm still sleeping in Hyde Park.
"I still don't have a coat; I've lost two-and-a-half stone. What am I going to be doing in a year's time? Will I still be here?"
He is currently living in a hostel.
Another pupil said of her homelessness: "I was terrified – and it's just really lonely."
A statement on the school's website said: "Every year we experience large numbers of sixth-form students who face the prospect of homelessness, and many of whom do in fact become homeless.
"Until recently these young people have been placed in local hostels in central London – unfortunately this is no longer an option for many of these students and they are absolutely desperate for some help."

Thursday, December 02, 2010

New Worker delays

The heavy snow and ice that has swept the country has seriously disrupted the distribution of the New Worker this week and deliveries to bookshops and individual subscribers are likely to be delayed by one or two days.

Students rock London with new protests

STUDENTS staged another day of protests last Tuesday against the proposed trebling of tuition fees and cuts to other education services with events throughout the country. They described it as Day X2, after Day X the previous Wednesday.
And the pressure they are exerting is having an effect on their main target, the Liberal Democrat leadership; Vince Cable has now declared he might abstain in the House of Commons vote on tuition fees.
In central London hundreds of students, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, gathered in spite of snow and freezing winds and brought the whole area almost to a standstill as they defied police efforts to corral them and “kettle” them in one spot for hours.
Once again a police cordon barred them from their targets – Parliament Square and the Liberal Democrat Party headquarters. They made a brisk march ending in Trafalgar Square and then divided into small groups to foil police attempts at kettling.
Police blocked all exits and side roads but did allow students to leave in small groups but many stayed late to put their point across.
There were some heated clashes and a few arrests in and around Trafalgar Square and a total disruption of traffic and transport.
Meanwhile in Birmingham about 50 people peacefully occupied the city council main offices, though there were some scuffles outside.
In Lewisham on Monday evening a large group of students from Goldsmith’s College forced their way into a council chamber during a debate on local council cuts, being pushed through by the ruling Labour group after the government cut its budget by 29 per cent.
All but a handful had been barred from the meeting and they forcefully tried to exert their right to attend this public meeting. There were scuffles and arrests.
In Sheffield on Tuesday students demonstrated near Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's constituency office. About 200 students marched from the University of Sheffield to the Nethergreen Road office, but were moved on by police.
In Bristol more than 2,000 people joined a protest, marching and lighting flares in the city centre. There were clashes with police, including officers on horseback.
Those present included students from the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England.
In Leeds, university and college students were joined by some schoolchildren in a 500-strong march through the city centre. Police prevented marchers entering Victoria Gardens Square, though students could not see any reason for this. Up to 60 pupils walked out of Allerton Grange School in the north of the city in support of the action.Marchers included some students who have been occupying a building at the University of Leeds since last week's protest.
About 30 students entered Oxfordshire County Council's headquarters in the city, while dozens more outside and in nearby Bonn Square chanted and held placards.
About 400 students staged a protest in Liverpool. A small number of students climbed on to the roof of an out-of-use footbridge on the University of Liverpool site.
More than 1,000 students joined a march through the centre of Manchester to a rally in Cathedral Gardens.
In Nottingham, about 150 protesters staged an occupation at the university. Occupations are continuing in a number of other universities, including University College London, Edinburgh, SOAS, Cambridge and Newcastle.
The continuing protests are having an effect. In Wales, the assembly government has announced that its students will pay thousands less in fees than in England.
Business Secretary Vince Cable, who is responsible for universities, said he might now abstain in the vote on fees.
He told BBC Radio 5 live his "personal instinct" was to back the rise but he was "willing to go along with my colleagues" if they chose to abstain.
Labour's Shadow Business Secretary, John Denham, says it would be "extraordinary and appalling" if the secretary of state did not vote for his own proposals.
The students have been winning support from the trade unions and Labour MPs. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the civil service union PCS, sent this message of support to students at University College London: "Students' protests against the attacks on education are an inspiration to the rest of us.
"This is part of a concerted attack by this Government to take away people's rights to education, work, welfare, healthcare, housing and more.
"The question ultimately is: who pays for this crisis caused by the banks? It's clear that students shouldn't pay for it and its clear that public sector workers shouldn't either.
"We should be unified in demanding that those who caused the crisis should pay for it.
"Keep up the fight, we can win."
And veteran Labour MP David Winnick said in the Commons last week: “As far as yesterday's demonstration is concerned it was marvellous and gives a lead to others to follow."

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Student anger erupts in London

By Daphne Liddle

STUDENTS took to the streets again in huge numbers in London and throughout the rest of the country to express their anger at broken promises and Con-Dem plans to raise tuition fees to up to £9,000 a year.
Student marches took place in London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, Cambridge, Liverpool, Sheffield, Bristol, Southampton, Oxford, Leeds, Newcastle, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Glasgow, Edinburgh and other places.
There have been occupations at many universities, including Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, Royal Holloway, Plymouth, Birmingham, London South Bank, UCL, Essex and UWE Bristol.
Thousands of senior school students have also walked out of their classes — it is they who will face the higher tuition fees if they succeed in getting a university place.
They are also protesting about the withdrawal of the Education Maintenance Allowance — a means-tested benefit paid to students aged 16 to 18-years-old who stay in full-time education at a maximum of £30-a-week.
Young people that age are not eligible for jobseekers’ allowance nor are their families eligible for child benefit on their behalf.
It is a benefit that allows students from low income families to stay on and take A-levels and try for a university place rather than be forced to seek work. Without it many students would be denied the opportunity to try to get to university.
Thousands of protesters gathered in and around Whitehall and Trafalgar Square, intending to take their message to Parliament and to the headquarters of the Liberal Democrat Party.
Police were out in force in Whitehall determined to block the students’ route to protest at the Liberal Democrat Party headquarters and prevent it being trashed in the way that the Tory party headquarters were attacked and occupied a fortnight ago. The students targeted the Lib-Dems because of the promises they made before the last election that they would abolish student fees and under no circumstances support them being raised.
‘Why should the next generation have to pay more? The Tories are hitting working families, just like they did with the Poll Tax’.
Students clashed with the police cordon at the southern end of Whitehall and a police van was vandalised and police protective clothing taken from the van. Demonstrators hanged an effigy of Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib-Dem leader. Students tried to deliver a letter to him, which read: “No amount of twisted reasoning from either you or Vince Cable can hide what everyone can see: you have lied to us.
“We call on you to withdraw Lib-Dem support for Conservative cuts to our education system, or face the disappointment and anger of a generation that has been betrayed.”
Around 3,000 protesters in Manchester congregated outside the town hall. The demonstration spilled onto Princess Street, causing traffic chaos in the city centre.
Police had directed the march to Castlefield, but a group broke away towards the town hall, and the rest followed later.
Around 30 officers blocked the entrance to the building as protesters sat down in front of them, chanting against education cuts and the coalition government.
In Sheffield, Nina Fellows, 16, said up to 200 pupils had left her school — King Edward VII, in Broomhill — to join the protest. She said many had brought in notes from their parents to excuse them from lessons.
“We’re going to be going to university, hopefully, in the next couple of years and we’re worried about our future,” she said.
More than 200 sixth-formers from Camden School for Girls attended the London march after sending an open letter to their teachers that began: “Walking out of school is not easy, but we have no other option.”
In London there were a number of arrests for violent disorder and reports that two police officers and 11 demonstrators were injured. Tom Lugg, 23, studying mental health nursing at Kingston University, Surrey, said: “It shows the young people of Britain are pretty angry. I don’t agree with what some of them are doing but we have to empathise.
“Why should the next generation have to pay more? The Tories are hitting working families, just like they did with the Poll Tax.”