Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Armed police at NHS protest

by New Worker correspondent

DOZENS of protests took place all around the country last weekend against the Con-Dem Coalition’s flagship Health and Social Care Bill. But the one in Whitehall last Saturday, close to Richmond House, the headquarters of the NHS, attracted the attention of the Metropolitan Police’s notorious Territorial Support Group (TSG).
 The protest was supported by members of the Occupy movement, who assembled in Whitehall for some speeches. They managed to block Whitehall completely for 20 to 30 minutes and then moved off, aiming to picket Virgin Healthcare – one of the private health companies seeking to profit from the changes to the NHS structure.
 The demonstrators twice evaded being kettled – first outside the Ministry of Defence and then in Trafalgar Square – before being brought to a halt in the Strand.
 On Sunday a coalition of 250 doctors – including general practitioners and consultants – launched a campaign to unseat Liberal Democrat and Tory MPs at the next election by standing against them on a pledge to fight to save the NHS.
 The doctors sent a letter to the Independent on Sunday describing the Bill as “an embarrassment to democracy” and stating their intent to stand candidates against those MPs who backed it.
 Nick Clegg and other senior Lib Dem Mps will be specifically targeted as well as those in marginal seats.
 Dr Clive Peedell, who initiated the campaign, said he was surprised at the number of doctors who came forward to take an active part in the campaign.
 The Bill cleared its final reading in the House of Lords on Monday – with some cosmetic amendments.
It was due to become law the next day but Labour succeeded in forcing a Commons debate on MPs can consider planned NHS changes for a final time before an assessment of the potential risks to the health service is published.
  The Government has agreed to a series of changes to the bill and want it to become law as soon as possible.
 The legislation would abolish Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts and ostensibly give much greater control over care budgets and commissioning decisions to GPs and other health professionals.
 But since these people are full time doctors they will not have the time or expertise to also be accountants and managers, so that work, with all the power and control over future NHS budgeting and policies, will be put into the eager hands of the private health companies who are ready to provide that service to the doctors.
 The Freedom of Information Tribunal recently upheld a decision by the Information Commissioner that the NHS transitional risk register must be published. The Government have said they will not do so until the tribunal has explained its ruling.
 The register was drawn up to calculate the risks relating to the implementation of the bill.
 Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said it was “highly unsatisfactory” that MPs would not have an opportunity to consider the information in the register before finally approving the Bill.
 Burnham said: “Parliament has a right to know, before it is asked to make a final judgment that will have huge implications for every person in this country,” he told MPs.
 In the Lords, crossbench peer Lord Owen called for a similar delay to the Bill’s third reading in the Upper House pending the publication of the document. But his motion was defeated by 328 votes to 213.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Students day of Action

Students marched through London last week in a successful Day of Action, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and the National Union of Students to protest at Government plans for higher education.
 They accused the Government of imposing a lifetime of debt on students to repay rising fees and forcing universities into ruthless competition that will see some of them go bankrupt.

Free Bradley Manning!

By New Worker correspondent

Demonstrators gathered outside the US embassy in London last Friday for a protest picket in support of Bradley Manning, the Iraqi war veteran accused of leaking secrets to WikiLeaks. The vigil was organised by Veterans for Peace UK and London Catholic Worker to call for all charges to be dropped against the former US intelligence analyst accused of leaking a video of the killing of civilians, including two Reuters journalists, by a US helicopter gunship in Iraq and passing other sensitive material exposing US war-crimes and those of their mercenaries in occupied Iraq to WikiLeaks.
The demonstration was held to coincide with the second day of a pre-trial hearing at a military tribunal held at Fort Meade in Maryland where Manning faces a total of 23 charges in relation to documents he allegedly handled that were later published by WikiLeaks and other major news outlets including the Guardian and the New York Times. One charge carries the death penalty, others could mean life imprisonment.
Manning was kept in solitary in Iraq, Kuwait and Quantico, Virginia following his arrest in Iraq in 2010. After widespread condemnation of Manning’s conditions of confinement, he was moved to more humane conditions at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in April 2011. Manning says he was tortured when he was held the Quantico US Marine Base. And Juan Mendez, the United Nations Rapporteur on Torture, who has slammed the American authorities for abusing Manning during his pre-trial confinement has repeatedly sought to conduct an unsupervised meeting with Manning in order to investigate these abuses.
“I believe Bradley Manning was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in the excessive and prolonged isolation he was put in during the eight months he was in Quantico,” Mendez  told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last week.
“It’s astonishing that US officials are blocking an investigation into the humiliating and degrading treatment of Bradley Manning, while the Kingdom of Bahrain has just invited Mr. Mendez to conduct a fact-finding mission into their recent abuses of political prisoners,” said Jeff Paterson from the Bradley Manning Support Network.

Stop the killing in Afghanistan!

Mitra Quayoom from Afghans for Peace with Lindsey German at the protest

By New Worker correspondent

New Worker supporters joined protesters outside the Prime Minister’s official London residence last week to call for the immediate withdrawal of all British troops from Afghanistan and an end to the Nato war that has brought death and destruction to millions of innocent Afghan civilians over the past eleven years.
The reality of this pointless war was brought home in recent weeks by the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by a US soldier, the killing of six British troops on 7th March, the deliberate burning of the Koran by the US Army, which provoked outrage throughout Afghanistan, and the pictures of US troops urinating on the bodies of Afghans they had killed.
Speakers at the protest outside Downing Street, London, on Thursday 15th  March included Linda Kemp, the mother of a soldier who has been ordered to go to Afghanistan in November, Mitra Quayoom from Afghans for Peace, Green MP Caroline Lucas, Labour MP and LRC activist Jeremy Corbyn and Lindsey German from the Stop the War campaign.

Syrians defy Nato smears and violence in London

By New Worker correspondent  

New Worker supporters and other peace activists joined several hundred London-based Syrians outside their embassy in Belgravia Square last Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the launch of the Nato-inspired and funded rebellion against the Baathist-led popular front government of Bashar al-Assad. They had come to celebrate the survival of the Assad government in the face of all that the imperialists had been able to throw at it.
            But the rally started in a doleful mood with the news of two car bombings in Damascus that morning by western-back terrorists, which had killed at least 27 civilians and injured many others.
            A wreath in honour of the victims was placed on the rostrum in front of where the speakers were about to address the crowd.
            Similar rallies were being held at Syrian embassies around the world and of course in Damascus.
            A very high proportion of those attending were women, who would have most to lose if the Baathist government fell to the right-wing extremists of the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda-backed “rebels”.
            There were also a number of Syrian Christians – men and women – who told the New Worker that Syria was one of the few places remaining in the Middle East where peoples of different religions could live alongside each other in peace and friendship.
 Assad’s picture was everywhere at the rally but there were even a number of people who had opposing political views but wanted to resolve these peacefully. The last thing they wanted was a Nato intervention with the bloodshed, death, destruction and loss of human rights that these interventions have brought to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
            They wanted peacefully negotiated reforms and were content that Assad has put a process in place towards this end. Their advice to those who opposed Assad was to use their vote against him in elections.
            They were outraged that the Nato-backed terrorists had tried to hijack their political fight, ignoring what the Syrian people really want in favour of what Nato wants to impose on them.
 Some at the rally reported that a well-known leading member of Al Qaeda who had played a role in toppling the Gaddafi government in Libya was now present – with the same Nato imperialist backing – to try to do the same thing in Syria. There are high hopes he will be arrested and put on trial.
            And there were many in the rally who identified Al Qaeda and the extremist members of the Muslim Brotherhood as the stooges of American imperialism – paving the way for imperialist interventions by fomenting internal civil wars in peaceful Middle Eastern countries – albeit many of the rank and file were not aware this was the role they were playing.
 There were a number of speeches, some in Arabic, but one who spoke in English was Lizzie Phelan – a young anti-imperialist journalist who last year reported directly from the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
            She began by noting that it was St Patrick’s Day and reminded the crowd that her country had been fighting against the same enemy, British imperialism, for 800 years.
            Lizzie then quoted from a speech against colonialism and the colonialist mentality, made by Assad’s father, many decades ago, that is very relevant today.
            The old Syrian president had said that their country would be “the rock that colonisation breaks on”, and warned of the distorting media campaigns aimed to undermine Arab confidence in their leaders.
            “And today,” she added, “The greatest enemies of democracy are trying to tell us that they are fighting for democracy in the Middle East.”
            She reported the bloodshed, devastation and destruction that have been wreaked on Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya in the name of “democracy”.
            And Lizzie paid tribute to the anti-imperialist example set by Gamal Abdel Nasser, who led the Free Officer Revolution in Egypt and fought to bring about Arab unity in the fight against imperialism.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Honouring Karl Marx

A Chinese diplomat laying flowers at the tomb
By New Worker

AROUND 200 people gathered last Sunday in the spring sunshine in Highgate Cemetery to pay their respects at the grave of Karl Marx on the anniversary of his death on 14th March 1883.
 They included representatives of the Vietnamese, Cuban and Chinese embassies as well as delegation from the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Tudeh Party of Iran.
            Javier Moreno, President of the Forum for Memory – which seeks to uncover and preserve the history of working class struggles, gave the main oration. He spoke mainly in Spanish, which was translated by Dr John Callow, acting as master of ceremonies on behalf of the Marx Memorial Library trustees of Marx’s grave.
 Moreno spoke of the struggles in Spain to recover the remains of those massacred in their thousands for fighting against the fascist Franco regime and the struggles today against government cuts and unemployment.
            “Marxism gives us the tools to adapt to new historical stages and the effort we have to do is use them,” Moreno declared. “Marxism gave us class consciousness and class pride,”.
            This was followed by a wreath-laying ceremony where representatives of the embassies and political groups present – including the New Communist Party – laid flowers at the grave. The ceremony ended with the singing of the Internationale by all present.

Vigil for dead Afghans

 By New Worker correspondent

PEACE activists gathered in Trafalgar Square on Monday evening for a vigil organised by Stop the War to express their shock and outrage at the cold-blooded massacre of 16 civilians, nine of them children, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on Sunday.
 The imperialist authorities maintain the culprit was a single individual United States sergeant. But freelance photo journalist Guy Smallman, who travelled to Afghanistan a few years ago to report on the effect of the war on the Afghan people, told the Trafalgar Square rally that the contacts he had made there had been in touch and said that there was definitely more than “one rogue soldier” involved.
 And other reports from Afghanistan say there was a group of drunken US soldiers involved going from house to house, shooting people in their beds and then burning the bodies in the middle of the night. There are one or two injured Afghans who survived by pretending to be dead who can bear witness.
 It follows a pattern of official night-time raids – up to 40 a night – on Afghan civilian homes searching for “terrorists”.
 This policy had led to growing anger and tension between the local people and the US occupation troops.
 Lindsey German from Stop the War Coalition said: “It is not one mentally-unbalanced US soldier on a rampage that killed 16 civilians on 11th March 2012, including nine children.  “The US and its allies have been on a rampage in Afghanistan for over 10 years. It is the occupation that causes the endless slaughter in Afghanistan. The only solution is for all foreign troops to be withdrawn now.
 “Afghans don't want us in their country, the US and UK public don't want us there, everyone knows the war is lost.”
 In an interview on Monday she told journalists: “When Obama and Cameron meet in Washington on 13th March, whatever they say publicly, they will certainly be discussing whether they can bring forward the exit date.
 “When historians look back at the end of the Afghan war surely 11 March 2012 will be marked as the day when it finally began to unravel, and when all but the most gung ho supporters of the carnage realised that the game was up.
 “The strategy of Afghanisation – training Afghan soldiers and police to take over from the ISAF troops – had already been stretched thin in the months beforehand.
 “The burning of the Koran by US troops was seen by many as the last straw, triggering demonstrations across the country and a number of assassinations of US troops.
 “The events of 11th March were even more shocking, however.
 “Sixteen people killed, nine of them children, by a supposedly lone gunman, a sergeant who was attached to Green Beret or Navy Seals Special Forces, who shot the victims in their beds and burned the bodies.”
The Afghan puppet parliament has condemned the killings and demanded a public trial, saying Afghans have run out of patience with how the Nato-led coalition forces are acting in the country. The outraged people of Afghanistan would not tolerate any other response from their government, even though it is officially an ally of the Nato forces.
 In the capital Kabul one house painter, Najibullah, told a reporter from the Independent newspaper: “The Americans are not here to assist us they are here to kill us. I hate the Americans and I hate anyone who loves them, so I hope there is no long-term partnership between our countries.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sinn Fein: The lessons from Ireland

Sinn Féin vice president Mary Lou McDonald TD at the seminar 
By Theo Russell

SINN Féin vice president Mary Lou McDonald TD told a seminar in London last week that the new European “fiscal compact” is “an insidious treaty which will institutionalise a regime of hardship overseen by the EU, institutionalise austerity policies and emasculate the political process in Ireland”.
She was addressing a Sinn Féin seminar, “Economic Crisis – lessons from Ireland” at the House of Commons, on the same day as the Irish government reluctantly announced a referendum on the pact. Two weeks ago the EU-IMF “Troika” visited Dublin and warned that if Anglo-Irish Bank bondholders were not repaid, “a financial ‘bomb’ would go off” in Ireland.
Sinn Féin has welcomed the referendum decision and will mount a strong campaign against ratifying the pact. As the only major party in the Republic against the consensus on repaying bank debts and slashing spending, the party’s poll ratings have leapt from 10 per cent at last year’s general election to 25 per cent now.
Dublin is faced with finding €63 billion for recapitalising its main banks and has agreed to issue promissory notes for €31 billion to pay for winding up Anglo-Irish, with the first €3 billion due at the end of March – shortly before the referendum. The total bailout for Anglo-Irish alone including interest is €47 billion, and will take at least the next 10 years to pay off.
McDonald described Anglo-Irish as “a zombie bank propped up by the state” and said: “We need to move away from a position that the banks are ‘too big to fail’, but ordinary people can suffer the consequences.”
She called for a debate on cancelling the debts of Ireland, Greece and other EU countries, and said: “We need to play hardball with the EU Troika to have some sort of structure to bringing the debt down.”
She said unemployment in Ireland was officially 14 per cent, but this excluded many self-employed people, particularly in construction. “Around 6,000 mainly young people are leaving the country every month, and over 100,000 households are in serious mortgage difficulties. We have now seen five austerity budgets in a row, with the latest cutting €3.8 billion in government spending and increasing a ‘flat’ (in other words non-progressive) tax on households.”
Pat Doherty MP re-affirmed the policy of not backing a referendum on Irish unity without first gaining the confidence of unionists. He said a recent Sinn Féin conference on Irish unity in Derry had attracted 200 people from the unionist community, out of a total of 900.
Doherty said: “Working class unionists feel absolutely abandoned and betrayed by the UUP and DUP, and what we are seeing is increasing numbers of unionists coming into Sinn Féin advice centres seeking help and support.”
He highlighted the problems created by the coalition government’s spending cuts and said that what they agreed on spending on infrastructure in the north of Ireland in negotiations for the Good Friday Agreement had now been slashed by 40 per cent.
Doherty backed a review of structures in the north which could see fewer Executive posts, Westminster and Assembly constituencies, and the number of councils reduced from 26 to 11 “super-councils”.
“Sinn Féin’s elected officials,” he added, “only take the average industrial wage, and have had no salary increase in the last five years.”

A tribute to Karl Marx

Alex Kempshall makes a point with Marx's Capital

By New Worker correspondent

KARL MARX died in London on 14th March 1883 and his memory has been recalled ever since by the working class movement throughout the world. And last Saturday his immense contribution to the socialist cause was recalled at a reception at the New Communist Party’s London centre to mark the 129th anniversary of the passing of the man, who together with Frederick Engels, founded scientific socialism.
This is a regular event in the NCP calendar and, as usual, the central meeting room and the print shop were transformed for the bar and buffet. During the formal part of the celebrations tributes to the work and struggle of Marx were given by NCP chair Alex Kempshall, Kumar Sarkar of Second Wave Publications and NCP General Secretary Andy Brooks while solidarity greetings from Dermot Hudson of the Korean Friendship Association were read out.
No NCP event ever ends without a collection and Alex rose to the task with an appeal not just for money but also for renewed study of the works of Marx which are as relevant now as on the day they were written. The comrades responded by raising some £250 for the New Worker special building appeal.

Monday, March 05, 2012

St Paul’s Occupy evicted

AROUND 100 bailiffs backed by 300 riot police moved into the area around St Paul’s Cathedral in the middle of the night last Monday to clear away the Occupy protesters’ camp after all legal procedures to prevent the eviction had failed.
 Most of the campers left peacefully but a few put up a fight and there were over 20 arrests as the bailiffs dismantled the tents and threw them, along with placards and banners into rubbish lorries.
 The Rev Giles Fraser, who resigned as canon chancellor of St Paul's in support of the protesters, said: "This is a sad day for the Church. Riot police clearing the steps of St Paul's Cathedral was a terrible sight."
 He added: "In the past few months, we have all been made to re-examine important issues about social and economic justice and the role the cathedral can play.
 The anti-capitalist encampment began on 15th  October, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement as a protest at the greed and selfishness of the richest one per cent that has caused the global economic crisis and condemned millions of working people around the world to unemployment, homelessness and misery.
 The campers had intended to occupy the London stock exchange but found that barred and settled down instead just outside in the area around the cathedral.
 At first the Church allowed them to stay while the City of London Corporation was determined to evict the camp.
 The campers organised a kitchen, sanitation and waste arrangements as well as a library, debates and classes.
 The Church became internally divided on the issue but was eventually pressured by the City into seeking the eviction of the encampment.
 Meanwhile the camp had attracted not only protesters but homeless people in search of warmth, food and company.
 Women’s refuges, suffering from funding cuts and over filled, in desperation advised women fleeing domestic violence that the camp would be a safe place to be.
 The campers had to extend their role from protesters to become social workers.
 Protesters also occupied some other sites and now have a larger camp at Finsbury Park.
 The Occupy the London Stock Exchange (OLSX) protesters are now considering a Cathedral proposal to host official “general assemblies” on the steps outside the central London building.
 Under the plans, the anti-capitalist group would host debates and meetings on the cathedral’s steps once a week on a Saturday afternoon.
 The debates, backed by cathedral officials, would last a couple of hours but would finish by 5pm in time for evening church services.
 Monday’s eviction came after the movement lost a Court of Appeal challenge to orders to leave the area following a lengthy legal dispute.
 Islington Council, which owns the Finsbury Park site, said on Monday that while peaceful protests were supported, the camp did not have permission for its new camp.
 Mayor of London Boris Johnson said the eviction meant "the law had finally taken its course".

Marking the birth of Kim Jong Il

Dermot Hudson pays tribute to Kim Jong Il

By New Worker correspondent

A HIGHLY successful meeting of the Korean Friendship Association was held last weekend  in London to mark the 70th anniversary of the birth of Kim Jong Il. Dermot Hudson, chair of the Juche Idea Study Group, highlighted Kim Jong Il’s contribution to theory and ideology on his 1982 work On the Juche Idea, in which Kim Jong Il brought together and systematised the Juche theory, and his 1994 thesis Socialism is a Science. He stressed that Kim Jong Il’s strong leadership “averted the very real prospect of another war on the Korean Peninsulaand concluded with the words: “Kim Jong Il is immortal”.
 Dr Hugh Goodacre, a lecturer at London University, described how the Juche theory first emerged in the 1950s to defend the independent nature of Korean socialism when divisions were appearing in the international communist movement. He said Juche was “a new way of looking at social history, in which the masses become the subject of history and the struggle for a new society draws on their intellectual and creative spirit”, which draws on the most advanced ideas including Darwinism and dialectical materialism.
   Shaun Pickford, secretary of the Juche Idea Study Group, recalled the resistance to the Japanese occupation after 1910 and Kim Il Sung’s leading role in the armed struggle, leading to the creation of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army in 1932, which went on to liberate all of Korea in 1945. Kim Jong Il, he added, was a crack marksman and fighter pilot said to be “expert with both the gun and the pen”. A lively discussion followed, looking particularly at the role of the leader in the Korean revolution and the Worker’s Party of Korea.