Friday, January 28, 2011

Blair sneaks into Chilcot before dawn

by Caroline Colebrook

FORMER Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived for his second session with the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War at around 7.30am in the dark to avoid being confronted by demonstrators who want to see him tried as a war criminal for his role in launching the illegal invasion of Iraq.
Nevertheless some protesters were there to see him and scores more soon joined them, holding banners calling the ex-premier a liar and chanting “Tony Blair – to The Hague”, where war crimes tribunals are held.
One man wore a Tony Blair mask and handcuffed himself to a mock prison cell door to loud cheers from his colleagues.
Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop The War Coalition, said: "Yet again he has sneaked in under cover of darkness, mirroring the way in which he launched his illegal war in 2003.
"Hopefully later today he will be asked to tell the truth about the legal advice he was given by Lord Goldsmith and also be challenged publicly about the contents of his letters to George Bush which he is still keeping secret."
Peter Brierley, whose son, Lance Corporal Shaun Brierley, died soon after being deployed to Iraq, said he was not surprised that Blair arrived early and avoided being confronted by the protest, as he did last time he was questioned by the inquiry.
"He cannot be questioned properly here because he can just walk out any time he chooses. He should face a proper court and be questioned by barristers and lawyers. He should face a criminal investigation because he is a war criminal.
“He killed my son and I will continue campaigning until he is brought to justice."
Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) said it was a “disgrace” that letters exchanged between Blair and former US president George Bush were not being made public.
"If this inquiry means anything then all the relevant papers must be released."
Bruce Kent of CND told the protesters: “Tony Blair must know that the game is up because fellow members of the establishment are now beginning to turn against him.
“What he did was a disaster and he effectively put two fingers up to the very fragile structure put in place to try to save generations from the scourge of war. How many other thugs and bandits around the world are now saying, well if he can get away with it, so will we?"
John Rees, one of the founders of the Stop The War Coalition, said the inquiry was a waste of money which would not get to the truth of the Iraq war.
The coalition said there were growing calls for Blair to face a war crimes tribunal, where all the correspondence between Blair and Bush could be revealed.
Meanwhile a Tory MP has admitted that Britain and the United States have lost the legitimacy and trust necessary to find a resolution to the war in Afghanistan
Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border, said we're making up reasons for being in Afghanistan: “After nine years, the international community needs to recognise it lacks knowledge, it lacks power, it lacks legitimacy."

Students protest in London

Students and trade unionists took to the streets of central London and Manchester last Saturday in a continuation of the protests at rising tuition fees, the abolition of Education Maintenance Allowance and cuts in general that hit the headlines in the last weeks of 2010.
These were the first major demonstrations since late last year, when students occupied Parliament Square in London and attacked a car carrying Prince Charles and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall.
The coalition government plans to cut £2.9 billion of state support a year for universities in order to tackle a budget deficit now at about 11 per cent of national output following the global financial crisis.
In London students gathered in Malet Street in the heart of London University and set a cracking pace – to avoid being “kettled” – to the designated end of the march outside Milbank.
This building, which houses the headquarters of the Tory party, had been ransacked in a previous demonstration. But this time the students swept straight past it and headed on to the Egyptian Embassy, where they joined Egyptian ex-patriates in a solidarity protest with the anti-government demonstrations in Cairo.

Palestinian solidarity

Second anniversary of Israel's war on Gaza

By Karen Dabrowska

Two years after the war on Gaza, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) is trying to build the biggest, broadest coalition of support for the Palestinians.
A major rally in central London last week began with a minute's silence for the 1,400 Palestinians who were killed between 27th December 2008 and 18th January 2009 when Israel attacked the Gaza strip and destroyed the infrastructure which cannot be repaired due to the blockade.
The rally on 18th January, which was organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Stop the War Coalition, the British Muslim Initiative, Friends of Al Aqsa, the Palestinian Forum in Britain and Viva Palestina, attracted 400 supporters.
Hugh Lanning, the Chairman of the PSC, began his opening address with the quote he read out two years ago during a huge demonstration against the invasion in Hyde Park: “They stole my land, burned my olive trees, destroyed my house, took my water, bombed my country, imprisoned my father, killed my mother, took my job, starved us all, humiliated us all and I am to blame. I shot a rocket back.”
Lanning said that Israeli settlers may have been withdrawn from Gaza but in reality there was no change. Israel has tightened its grip on the population, exercising absolute control of who and what goes in and out of the Strip by land, sea and air. The siege continues despite efforts by flotillas to break it and the so-called peace process has been a total failure. London has been described by the Israelis as the hotbed of the resistance and solidarity in support of the Palestinian people.
“We are trying to build the biggest, broadest, coalition in support of the Palestinians and promote solidarity with our movement globally.”
Lindsay German, Convenor of Stop the War Coalition, said that the way in which the Palestinians are being treated has everything to do with the war on terror, Britain's foreign, policy and the oppression of not just the Palestinians but of the Iraqis as well. January 18th marked the anniversary of the beginning of the Gulf War in 1991 when retreating Iraqi troops were massacred and the Iraqis suffered under sanctions and eventually from another war and invasion in 2003. The war in Afghanistan is continuing and more and more people are suffering.
“We are not just talking about the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, we are also talking about wars in Somalia and Yemen. We saw the war in Lebanon in 2006 and we see the threat of war in Lebanon today. We also see the role that Israel plays in trying to escalate the threat of war against Iran”.
German called for Blair to resign from his position as envoy for peace in the Middle East and said that it was not the job of the British or the Americans or any of the Western powers to tell anybody in the Middle East how they should run their affairs.
She concluded that the corrupt, unelected, undemocratic regimes in the Arab world back the USA and Britain. “ I am very glad the Tunisians managed to see off their corrupt, unelected president. The Tunisian people are doing what every people in the Arab world should be doing. There have been demonstrations in Cairo and in Jordan. The future for equality and liberation for the Palestinians lies in what happens not just in Palestine itself but across the Arab world.. Our role here is to provide solidarity with all of these people and to say we have had enough of the West's interference in this region, we have had enough of the imperialism. We need to stand united and maybe even we can stand up to our government which is spending money on wars which should be spent on schools, hospitals and all the other things we need. We should link up all these struggles, we should connect all the different anti-war and solidarity movements and we should remember that our fight is their fight and their fight is our fight”.
Veteran Labour politician Tony Benn (85) said that in Palestine we now have an Israeli state which is an American colony armed with nuclear weapons that has made war on the Lebanon and Gaza and is imposing a blockade on Gaza which is an act of war. It is calling on the British government to bomb Iran because Iran is a developing nuclear power.
Benn emphasised that the situation in Palestine cannot be helped by holding so-called peace talks because the peace talks that are going on barely conceal the fact that the main supporters of the Israelis are the American government. The Americans give more money to Israel than to all the sub-Saharan countries in Africa whose need is far greater.
Benn said that one of the proposals most commonly put forward was a two-state solution with Israel next to Palestine. “Israel is recognised, it is a member of the United Nations, it has all these weapons. The Palestinians have no state. Palestine is not recognised by the United Nations. It has no legal status in the world. It is just pleading for justice against a colonial regime. The answer is a single state where Jews and Palestinians can live together. That is the best hope but to do that you have to dissolve Zionism”.
Rev Garth Hewitt, founder of the Amos Trust, which promotes justice and hope for forgotten communities, referred to a cable released by WikiLeaks from the US embassy in Tel Aviv which confirmed Israel's attitude to Gaza. It said that Israeli officials wanted the Gaza economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis. It said it would keep Gaza's economy on the brink of collapse.
“This is morally unacceptable. We are living in the 21st century and we see a style of siege that we hoped had gone centuries ago and yet it is a siege imposed by 21st century weapons.”
Britain is buying hundreds of drones from the Israeli company Alpit which is making money from occupation. Our troops are being trained to use drones by the Israeli army in Israel. These weapons have a kill ratio of ten to one i.e. For every person targeted to be assassinated in an extra judicial killing ten others die. We must challenge the Ministry of Defence to stop spending money in this way and say 'not in our name'.
The Amos Trust is working with faith communities and urging them to make the campaign for Palestine an integral part of what they are doing. The trust has a campaign called 'A just peace for Palestine', with the added slogan 'this means peace and security for Israelis too'. It encourages the sale of Palestinian products, the boycott of Israeli goods, lobbying of MP's and visits to Palestine. Barry Morgan, the Archbishop of Wales, has just signed up to the campaign. The Christian community in Palestine has produced a document which reminds the world that the Israeli occupation is a sin against God and humanity and talks of the cruel war against Gaza.
Dr Tariq Tahboob of the Palestinian Forum in Britain told the meeting that Gaza is not a nation of beggars. It has the highest literacy rate in the Arab world and probably in the world – 93 per cent. “They don't want food and medicine and charity – what they want is freedom.
Dr Tahboob told the meeting that the Zionists brought five 'd's' to Gaza: death, destruction, debilitation, disease and degradation . But they met their match with the capital 'D' which shapes the future of human beings. That is defiance. To make this defiance work we have to donate, demonstrate, (through a one million march for Palestine) and display (through the use of face book, u-tube and the media).
The rally was also addressed by Farid Bakht of the national executive of the Green Party, Sarah Colborne campaigns director of the PSC and the poet, playwright, musician and hip hop artist Lockie.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

LRC Conference: Don't carry out Con-Dem cuts!

By Caroline Colebrook
LABOUR councils must absolutely refuse to implement spending cuts ordered by the Con-Dem Coalition – even if it means a Government commission stepping in and imposing them. This was the message of resistance that came loud and strong from the annual general meeting of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) that packed London’s Conway Hall last Saturday. It is impossible to oppose the cuts and at the same time implement them.
The LRC was established in 2004 by left Labour Party members, MPs and trade unionists who want to restore the Labour Party to its original socialist roots.
The New Communist Party affiliated to the LRC in 2005 and a number of party members and supporters took part in this year’s conference including NCP leader Andy Brooks as well as Michael Fletcher, Daphne Liddle, Ken Ruddock and Theo Russell from the Central Committee.
The meeting was entitled “Resist the Cuts; Rebuild the Party” and LRC chair John McDonnell MP opened with a fitting tribute to veteran campaigner Tony Benn and a run-down of measures currently going through Parliament.
These include the Localism Bill that will end council housing as we know it and lead to the social cleansing of low income people from being able to live in fashionable areas.
There is also the NHS Bill that will hand control of the finances to General Practitioners – who will in turn hand it to private companies. “This is the privatisation of the NHS,” said McDonnell.
“The rise in tuition fees will mean that education is no longer a gift from one generation to another but a commodity to be bought and sold.
“The cuts in benefits and pensions will be causing impoverishment of the kind we haven’t seen since the 1930s.”
He went on to stress the importance of pushing the TUC and union leaderships into action, mobilising for the big demonstration on 26th March and hundreds of other actions around the country. The 29th January students’ demonstration is now turning into a really big event.
And he again stressed – we must demand “No cuts at all!” – at any level, not to jobs or services.
Many spoke in defence of the postal services and Conference passed an emergency motion backing the fight of the Communication Workers’ Union against Royal Mail privatisation.
Fire Brigades Union leader Matt Wrack, called for unity in the fight against the cuts and against sectarianism of the kind that was mocked in the film The Life of Brian – “We can’t have the Judean Popular Front refusing to speak to the Popular front of Judea.”
He also attacked those who fought cuts by saying, “Don’t cuts us, cut somewhere else”.
“We want no cuts at all, anywhere,” he declared.
After a lively discussion Conference agreed to “actively but critically” support the campaign of Ken Livingstone for Mayor of London as he was “committed to protect Londoners from the effects of economic uncertainty and government cuts”.
Many other motions were debated and passed including one from the New Communist Party, moved by Daphne Liddle, on wages jobs and working hours – as well as one from Left Front Art including the LGBT Community in the fight against the cuts
Only one was rejected that sought to change the slogan from “Rebuild the [Labour] Party” to “Rebuild the Labour Movement”. The argument that the fight to rebuild inner party democracy was essential to winning genuine working class policies and defeating the right-wing opportunists, including what is left of “New Labour” won the vote.
Veteran Labour statesman Tony Benn spoke to a standing ovation in recognition of his lifelong contribution to the working class movement. He spoke of the history of state welfare and the vital role of local government and he reminded the conference that at the end of the Second World War the tax rate on the super rich had been 95 per cent.
In the afternoon Jeremy Corbyn MP put the struggle in an international context, explaining the huge international dimension of the economic crisis.
He explained that the extreme monetarist economic policies pioneered by the fascist regime of General Pinochet in Chile had been the model that imperialism had tried to impose throughout the Third World ever since and was “effectively a recolonisation”.
Corbyn explained that it is this economic policy – giving absolute free rein to the banks – that was behind the sub-prime crash in the United States. Now they are trying to impose a similar economic doctrine in Europe, starting with Greece.
“Will we be carved up like Latin America was in the 1980s, or will we stand up to the IMF and the economic imperialists?
“There has to be the same internationalism in everything we do,” said Corbyn, “if we don’t we are going to be picked off one by one.”
A guest speaker from Tunisia, Mohammed Ali Harrath, brought news of the “revolution” he said was happening there. The exiled Tunisian Islamist leader said “this is our 1917” in his report of the upheaval that had, at last, driven out the hated dictator.
Student leader Clare Solomon, the president of the University of London Union, was another guest speaker, and she stressed the importance of Maintenance Allowance that allows students from low income families to stay in further education between the ages of 16 and 18. It covers their bus fares and other costs but without it thousands of students, however brainy, will not even get a chance at university entrance.
LRC membership has increased by around 25 per cent in the past year and now stands at over 1,000 individual members. The committee is supported by five Labour MPs, a number of trade unions at national and regional level, and socialist, co-operative and progressive movements, including the NCP, that do not stand against Labour in elections.
The increase in membership could be seen by the contributions from delegates from all round the country. There were dozens of significant contributions from the floor from seasoned trade unionists, peace campaigners like Walter Wolfgang and young students new to the movement. It was a day of debate and commitment to the struggle to build a fighting, democratic Labour Party that will defeat the Tory-led coalition on a platform based on union rights, social justice and public ownership. It ended, as always, with a rousing rendition of the Red Flag.

Freedom for Bahrain

By New Worker correspondent

Human rights campaigners and Bahraini exiles held a picket in London last week to call for democratic rights in the oil-rich Arab kingdom that is Anglo-American imperialism’s close ally in the Gulf. The demonstrators brought their message home to the Bahraini ambassador, who was the guest speaker at a lunch hosted by the Middle East Association, a British business lobby based in central London, by picketing the venue and demanding the release of all political prisoners and an end to the use of torture by the police.
During the first session of the trial of 25 Bahraini dissidents last October, all the defendants, except one, complained of various kinds of physical torture. The accused are charged with sedition, anti-regime activities and smearing its reputation abroad. They say they had been held in underground dungeons of the National Security Apparatus (NSA) – the Bahraini government’s agency that controls the Special Security Forces and whose major role, since its establishment in 2002, has been to target human rights activists, political opponents of the monarchy and to infiltrate their organisations.
The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) claims that the NSA was directly responsible for the death of an activist, Ali Jassim Mohammed, in December 2007, as well as suppressing seminars, demonstrations and other protest activities.
The BCHR says the NSA is responsible for the arrest and torture of hundreds of human rights defenders and activists; the fabrication or exaggeration of terror events or plans to justify intensive security measures, running media campaigns to smear the reputation of activists and to justify arrests, unfair trials and extreme sentences against activists considered opponents of the royal family.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Remembering Salman Taseer

By a New Worker correspondent

NCP leader Andy Brooks and other London comrades joined mourners in London on Monday for a last salute to Salman Taseer, the Punjabi governor killed last week by a religious fanatic. Well over a hundred members of the British Pakistani community gathered at the Pakistani High Commission to hear tributes from British and Pakistani politicians including former Labour minister Gerald Kaufman and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of the President of Pakistan.
The governor of Punjab province was a leading member of the social-democratic Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which leads the coalition government and is headed by Bhutto Zardari and his father. Taseer was gunned down by a bodyguard who claimed he was acting to defend Islam.
Reactionary religious leaders had denounced Governor Taseer after he publicly opposed blasphemy laws that the fanatics have used to sentence a Christian woman to death. Hundreds of Muslim clerics are now defending his assassination. But Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said those who supported the killing were “the real blasphemers”.
"Because of you, the message of Islam is distorted in the eyes of the world," said Bhutto Zardari, whose grandfather, the fourth president of Pakistan, was judicially murdered by a military regime and whose mother was killed by religious fanatics three years ago while campaigning for the presidency.
"Those who attack my religion, especially those who corrupt its peaceful message, you are what I call covert blasphemers and you will be defeated," Bhutto Zardari declared. "This will be our jihad”.
Bhutto Zardari further pledged to defend Christians and other minorities from the “dark forces of violent extremism, intolerance and bigotry”.
"We will defend you. For those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit, they will have to go through me first," he said.
The killer and those behind him believe erroneously that they will go to Heaven, Bhutto Zardari said. “But Allah has promised them Hell, and we will send them there,” he vowed.