Thursday, May 31, 2007

A new dawn in posters

by Stella Moutafis

A NEW DAWN came to the Chinese people with the foundation of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949. In the words of Mao Zedong, the people had “stood up” and achieved their independence.
There was - of course - much to be done in building the new socialist state. Artists at that time had work to do in educating and inspiring the working people. At a time of widespread illiteracy in China, the political poster was highly suitable in communicating the aims and ambitions of the people’s government.
From originals in paint or woodcuts these posters were mass-produced and distributed all over the country. The artists would be amazed that these “vintage posters” are still in existence. Their political posters were designed for instant impact and they had not been intended for posterity. But they are not only still around – they’re framed and sought-after by the patrons of up-market art galleries...such as those here in capitalist Britain!
The Chambers Gallery, near the Barbican in central London is currently showing an exhibition of Chinese political posters from the 1950s -70s. Launched in 2004, this gallery specialises in East European and revolutionary art. This exhibition is on show till 15th June and other exhibitions of interest are planned.
The 100 posters on display are described in the catalogue as being not just a collection of propaganda art from a bygone era – but representing a part of history.
The display is certainly impressive. Surprisingly well preserved; they are colourful and bold in style. Composed so as to convey a clear message to a wide audience, the mood is one of determination and optimism in facing the future. Subjects focused on are Mao Zedong and representations of the working people along with resolute opposition to attacks from the imperialist states.
We are given a window on Chinese history over the years. With events such as the 1950-53 Korean War covered and a succession of campaigns in which posters were used to broadcast exhortations to the people on the part of the people’s government.
We can see the enthusiasm for The Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s, and glimpse part of the turmoil during the launch of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution that began in 1966 and continued for another ten years.
All the posters on display are for sale – with price-tags of £300 upwards! So any reader who thinks the may have some Chinese or Soviet posters somewhere at home would be well advised to look them out — especially if in need of a bob or two...and I know of at least one Chinese poster at Party Centre!

The Chambers Gallery is located in the City of London, minutes from the Barbican Station, and is housed in a renovated art deco building at 23 Long Lane, London EC1A 9HL . It is open Monday to Friday from 10.00 am to 6.00 pm and admission is free.

Sack Metronet -- not Tube workers!

THE TUBE’S biggest union will be in dispute with failing privateer consortium Metronet if there is any attempt to cut even one of its more than 2,000 members’ jobs, RMT said last week.
As the troubled consortium announced plans to cut 290 posts under pressure from its bankers, RMT said that Tube workers will not pay the price for Metronet’s failure.
“It is Metronet that needs to be sacked, not our members,” general secretary Bob Crow said.
“Metronet’s death throes should not be allowed to decimate the skilled maintenance workforce that will still be needed long after Metronet is buried.
“If ever there was a case for euthanasia, this is it.
“We warned months ago that the consortium would try to claw back losses from its over-runs by cutting back on work if it failed to wring more money out of the public purse.
“We have already beaten off attempts to outsource jobs on the cheap, and we are telling Metronet today that if even one RMT job is axed we will be in dispute.
“Our members are out there every day trying to maintain and improve the Tube network despite rip-off contracts that have failure built into their very fabric.
“Metronet was handed a licence to shovel taxpayers and fare-payers’ money out of the Tube network by the million, and in return it has delivered failure and delay.
“For the sake of our members’ jobs, for the sake of the Tube and for the sake of London, Metronet must be sacked and infrastructure work brought back in-house under the direct control of London Underground,” Bob Crow said.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Revolution in the Himalayas

by Andy Brooks

Hoist the Revolutionary Flag on Mount Everest in the 21st Century: Second Wave Publications, London 2007, pbk, 43pp £3.50. Democracy, multi-party system and the withering away of the state under proletarian leadership: Second Wave Publications, London 2006, pbk, 88pp £4.00.

IN FEBRUARY 1996 the Nepalese masses took up the gun to end the feudal monarchy that had enslaved them for centuries. The revolt was led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), one of the wings of the Nepalese communist movement that rejected the parliamentary road that had briefly led to two minority communist governments in the 1990s, which proved powerless in the face of the intrigues of the bourgeois parties and the determination of the royal family to retain autocratic power.
The Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army rapidly established popular control over much of the Himalayan kingdom but their fight was largely ignored by the British communist movement partly because the CPN (Maoist) only maintained international links with communists who had a dogmatic and often sectarian attitude to the rest of the movement and largely because so little information about the struggle was available in English.
That all changed last year with the momentuous events in Kathmandu which forced the King to abandon autocracy, at least for the moment, and agree to talks with the Maoists and the other democratic parties of Nepal. Now there is a ceasefire and the Maoists are part of the provisional government and the King is desperately trying to fend off demands for his abdication and the establishment of a democratic republic. But who are the CPN(Maoists) and what do they want? Second Wave Publications has gone some way to answering this by publishing a series of pamphlets on the Nepalese revolution over the past two years.
The latest, Hoist the Revolutionary Flag on Mount Everest in the 21st Century, is an interview with Maoist leader Chairman Prachanda given in 2006 that covers their tactics, theory and practice during the armed struggle.
The second is a collection of theorectical articles by Prachanda and other Maoist leaders on the state and democracy together with two commentaries by Stalin. Both pamphlets are detailed specialist works but they are essential reading to anyone studying the Nepalese revolution.

Some Second Wave publications including Hoist the Revolutionary Flag on Mount Everest are available from Housman’s Bookshop in London. All can be obtained directly from:
Second Wave Publications & Distribution, BM Box 2978 London WC1N 3XX
Please add 50p for postage and packing if ordering by post.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Unions: Cruddas for Deputy PM

by Daphne Liddle

UNION leaders who failed to support John McDonnell in his bid for a chance to challenge Gordon Brown for the leadership of the Labour Party have finally stopped shuffling their feet and whispering in corners and declared their support for John Cruddas’ bid for the deputy leadership.
And the Dagenham MP is definitely looking the most promising of the handful of candidates that include Hilary Benn, renegade former union leader Alan Johnson, Hazel Blears and Harriet Harman.
Cruddas has identified three main, linked issues to campaign on: the shortage of affordable housing, large scale migration flows and the increasing economic insecurity of the working class.
He is the long-standing MP for Dagenham in Essex, lives in his constituency and has a good relationship with his local Labour Party and the voters. He has worked tirelessly in local broad ant-fascist campaigns which have succeeded in minimising the British National Party vote in his part of the borough. Cruddas’s approach is to acknowledge that the BNP in the past have made gains by concentrating on the issues that Labour has neglected – especially housing. He said: “The lack of affordable social housing units is the outstanding public policy failure … For years in our constituency we’ve been arguing that if we had 6,000 extra council units, we could deal with the pressures in terms of housing and transfers.”
Some of his rivals have also just discovered that there is a housing crisis in Britain now and that the working class are suffering because of it. Education Secretary Alan Johnson, who seems to be moving to the left in order to win support, is calling for councils to be enabled to build homes again – a measure that has been ruled out by the Governments of Thatcher, Major and Blair.
Hazel Blears wants cheap mortgages and more private home-ownership – which would push house prices up even more – while Benn is calling for a mix of rented and private homes to be built.
But the housing shortage has not come about by chance or neglect. It is a policy to suit landowners and speculators that pushes up rents, land values and house prices and has led to a boom in new private landlordism. Brown’s economic policies have fuelled this process.
Cruddas blames the policy that forces council to pay millions every year from council house rents into the central government’s housing revenue account. He said: “If central government said the council could retain this rent, we could purchase on the private market buy-to-let properties at a rate of 100 a year, and then we could use the rent money to reinvest and borrow against this stock. So it is not a case of waiting for new build, it is a case of being creative now.”
He rightly condemned the recent remarks by Margaret Hodge, which called for “native families” to be given priority over migrants in the allocation of council housing. This shameful call is a sop to BNP supporters. It divides the working class according to how long their families have lived in Britain and sets one part of the community against another while the shortage of housing is a deliberate ruling class policy that is hurting “natives” and migrants. Cruddas pointed out that the problem was “purely one of supply”.
Cruddas also addresses the issue of migration and accepts that the figures are larger than the Government acknowledges. He blamed both Tory and Labour leaders, saying: Both parties collude in ignoring what is happening … if the population is growing faster than the state finances public services, then you have got a problem.”
He called for an amnesty for illegal migrants “who have become the cornerstone of our flexible labour market” and for the £11,000 that each deportation costs to be invested in improving services. He has also called for a moratorium on new private NHS contracts, in line with the demands of the public sector unions that are backing him.
Derek Simpson, general secretary of the Amicus section of the newly merged union Unite, has said: “John Cruddas’ stated policies mirror our members’ desire for better job security, decent pensions, affordable housing and public services provided by the public sector.
“Jon is unlike any other candidate standing for the Deputy Leadership - he alone is calling for a change of direction in order to reconnect with the Labour Party’s core supporters.”
Unfortunately Simpson then added: “We have the pleasure of being able to announce that our political committee have taken the decision to support Gordon Brown as leader of the Labour Party and Jon Cruddas as Deputy Leader.”
London Mayor Ken Livingstone is also backing Cruddas.

More racist nonsense from Hodge

THOUGH THE LOCAL elections were bad news for Labour we can console ourselves with the fact that the neo-nazis failed to make the breakthrough they had been predicting. The British National Party (BNP) had boasted that it would increase its number of councillors from 49 to 100. It ended up with no net gains at all. This was largely due to the consistent work of the broad anti-racist campaign in the working class estates targeted by the fascists in recent years.
But just when we thought the fascists had their backs against the wall, Margaret Hodge, the worthless Labour MP for Barking, has given them a new lease of life when she blamed immigrants for the housing crisis last Sunday. This isn’t the first time that this Blairite junior minister has played the racist card.
On the eve of the London borough elections in May 2006 Hodge claimed that eight out of ten white working class voters in her constituency would be tempted to vote for the BNP because “no one else is listening to them” about concerns over housing, asylum seekers and jobs in Barking and Dagenham. It was a publicity shot in the arm for the fascists who won 12 seats in the borough.
Britain once was proud of its great council estates and its policy of welcoming refugees seeking asylum. Hodge herself is the daughter of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany who settled in London. Now she tells us that immigrants should go to the back of the queue in the allocation of council housing regardless of need.
To his credit, Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for neighbouring Dagenham has condemned Hodge’s comments as “inflammatory”.
“We’re in danger of racialising arguments over housing allocation rather than concentrating on the need for greater social housing provision,” he said. Cruddas, unlike Hodge, has thrown his weight behind the local anti-racist movement, and that alone makes him the most credible candidate in the race for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party.
Barking and Dagenham is not the capital of the Fourth Reich and the overwhelmingly working class population are not racists or admirers of Adolf Hitler.
In the 1920s the London County Council built the largest council estate in the world in Dagenham. It was a centre for the motor industry, chemicals and small arms. But, like many other traditional working class towns, it has suffered from decades of neglect under the Tory and New Labour governments. The factories have closed. The giant 300-acre Ford plant, that once employed tens of thousands making cars, has largely gone. What’s left just makes diesel engines and gear-boxes.
Barking and Dagenham has a relatively poor, ageing and elderly population and income levels are among the lowest in the capital. Last year Barking and Dagenham saw the largest rise in London for rates of unemployment. Employment rates overall are below the European Union threshold. Many residents are engaged in temporary, low-paid employment outside the borough. All of this makes it fertile ground for the racist lies peddled by the fascists who claim that immigrants and asylum seekers are given favoured treatment for homes and jobs.
There is a housing problem in the borough as most of the stock was sold-off during the “right to buy” frenzy of the Thatcher years, which also saw the imposition of rules that restricted councils’ investment in housing, preventing them from subsidising it from local taxes or reinvesting the money from sales into new housing.
The solution is to lift all the restrictions on councils and allow them to build new affordable and secure council homes for rent with life-long secure tenancy; to allow the right of anyone who needs or wants to rent public housing to do so without time limit or means testing.
photo: Dagenham against the fascists

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cleaners lobby London debate

RMT TUBE and rail cleaners last Saturday converged on the Queen Elizabeth II conference to hammer home their message that the time has come to end poverty pay on the capital’s transport network.
Together with families and supporters, the cleaners lobbied the Mayor’s “State of London” debate.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “The Mayor has called this conference to discuss how everyone can benefit from London’s success.
“A good start would be to end the scandal of poverty pay and ensure that the people cleaning London’s stations and trains get paid at least the London minimum wage of £7.20 and get at least 28 days’ paid holiday.
“The cleaning subbies are parasites who make their money by employing people on rock-bottom rates and awful conditions, and the time has come to give them their marching orders and bring all cleaning services back in-house.
“The unity of our members across the capital has already prevented more than 200 ISS cleaners being made compulsorily redundant, and we will be holding Metronet to the commitment we squeezed out of them to bring their cleaning back in-house.
“No city that tolerates the abuse of workers on poverty pay can claim to be a world leader, and no-one can wash their hands of their responsibility to end the scourge of low pay on the capital’s transport networks.”

NHS beset by bandwagoners and privatisers

by Stella Moutafis

IN EPSOM we have the dubious privilege of always being represented by a Conservative MP and the current MP, Chris Grayling, is well-known locally for jumping on any passing bandwagon – if it looks likely to raise his profile!
So he has been active in the campaigning that is happening here over an issue of major concern across the political spectrum – the future of our local hospitals.
On the 5th May, Grayling joined local hospital staff in a major protest event, organised by the public sector union Unison and local campaigners.
A hospital bed was pushed through the streets from St Helier Hospital in the Sutton area to central Epsom. This was followed by a rally and delivery of a letter of protest to the Epsom General Hospital (EGH) administration.
It was the second such event in the last year, part of a long-running campaign as these hospitals have had an uncertain future for some time.
A plan to close both and build a new super-size hospital has apparently been shelved. But they both face almost certain downgrading, with the controlling Trust planning to axe ever more beds, and possibly up to 500 staff, in a bid to make savings of £41 million!
Unfortunately the turnout was well below what had been hoped for - with the Epsom rally attracting a feeble 200 or so. Geoff Martin of the pressure group London Health Emergency, was one of the speakers.
He said that it is not feasible to cut £41 million from a local NHS budget without cutting services to a “dangerous level”. He also maintained that “politicians are responsive to public pressure”.
It seems more likely, though, in view of his small audience, that local people are weary of having their views ignored! Two of my neighbours, who work at Epsom hospital, were there.
A hospital porter and a secretary in the pathology department – they have been getting increasingly frustrated at the uncertainty – and continual changes at their place of work.
Members of the Residents’ Association, which controls Epsom and Ewell Borough Council, were busy handing out draft letters to the hospital administrators in support of their own pet scheme for EGH.
Local businessman Adrian White has offered to “buy out EGH” and then run it as a joint NHS and private hospital. He is the proprietor of Denbies Wine Estate, near Dorking, which produces quality wine and is a popular local visitor centre.
It could be argued that moving into healthcare provision is a natural progression for his activities – in other words if his hospital can’t make you better, then at least his wine might make you feel better!
But, joking aside, this is an alarming proposal. Are we seriously to consider going back to the dark ages when hospital treatment was only guaranteed to the well-off -- with the rest of the population reliant on charity?
Meanwhile members of the Unite union (Amicus section) who work at the National Blood Transfusion Service took part in a protest demonstration outside the Blood Centre in Birmingham High Street on Friday 11th May and all day Saturday 12th May.They were be protesting over plans to concentrate the work of processing and testing blood into just three centres in England and closing the other eleven centres.
A consultative ballot of Unite members working at the centres showed that 81 per cent are in favour of industrial action.
Kevin Coyne, Unite’s head of health, who attended the demonstration said: “Hundreds of technical and scientific staff jobs are being put at risk and these highly skilled jobs cannot just be recruited or relocated to different parts of the country. The NHS and the nation have invested millions in training these staff and now propose to just dispose of them.
“The blood supply for the Midlands would be put at risk in an emergency as the nearest centre will be in Bristol, depriving the Midlands of blood and the geographical gaps in the service will also mean long delays for the vital testing of blood for many thousands of people.”

Thursday, May 10, 2007

London's political cartoon gallery

by Stella Moutafis

POLITICS – it is a part of life that can be depressing - but can also be amusing. Humour is something humans are hard-wired for - and politicians are generally seen as fair game!
This is often expressed in the form of cartoons - and these can also be a vehicle of political comment. The work of political cartoonists, past and present, offers us insights into popular feeling about individuals and events in the news.
In London we are fortunate in having a gallery dedicated to this artform/political commentary. The Political Cartoon Gallery claims that it’s the world’s only centre dedicated to political cartoons and caricature and it hosts exhibitions and offers original cartoons and related merchandise for sale.
The work of Jimmy Friell (1912 -1997) has recently been the subject of an impressive exhibition here – an exhibition inspired – we are told – by a recent description of Gordon Brown as being of Stalinist ruthlessness.
And Friell was the in-house cartoonist for the Daily Worker for 20 years, joining the paper’s staff in 1936.
He worked under the pseudonym “Gabriel”, which he chose because he wished to ‘herald the end of capitalism”. It seems a bit dubious for a socialist to characterize himself on the basis of a Biblical reference. But to use another Biblical reference Friell “fell by the wayside” when in 1956, he resigned from the paper due to his opposition to its line on the Soviet intervention in Hungary that year!
Unfortunately, that exhibition is over. But it is well worth while considering a visit to see the vast array of cartoons on display and to check out for future events. The displays cover two floors and the gallery has it’s own cafĂ© and well as a shop that offers a range of stock that is probably unique.
There is a selection of books with compilations of the work of various leading cartoonists. Of particular interest is a book published by the gallery itself: Do Cowards Flinch, a cartoon history of the Labour Party byAlan Mumford with a foreword by Neil Kinnock no less which will set you back £19.99 for the hard-back edition.
On a lighter note, along with the predictable mugs and postcards there are bound copies of such highly-esteemed periodicals as Viz and the Beano!
Our heritage of political cartoons over the years is to be cherished and hopefully, one day the New Worker’s own “Boxer” will be duly celebrated!

The Political Cartoon Gallery is at 32 Store Street London WC1E 7BS and it’s open from 9.30 - 5.30 pm Monday to Friday and 11.30 - 5.30pm Saturday. Admission is £1 which you get back if you buy something.

photo:a Gabriel cartoon from 1953 -- how did he feel about it after 1956?

Breaking the chains of capitalism

THE LONDON District of the New Communist Party last week marked May Day with a meeting in Marx House on the topic of “Smashing the Chains of Capitalism”.
The meeting was chaired by Neil Harris, who gave a brief history of the celebration of May Day as International Workers’ Day.
Comrade Tushar from the South Asia Forum spoke on the development of the working class struggle in India and how it has taken 87 years for the Indian Communist movement to realise that it needs its own strategy for revolution.
He said that society in India is divided along four fundamental lines: caste, class, ethnicity and gender and that the communist movement must address these issues.
Comrade Taimur Rahman from the Communist Workers’ and Peasants’ Party of Pakistan (CMKP) spoke of the parallel development of the communist movement in Pakistan and Bangladesh, working for much of the time in conditions of illegality where suspected communists could be arrested, tortured and murdered by the state.
He spoke of the damaging divisions that arose from the split between the Soviet and Chinese parties in the 1960s and how in the end they too concluded that revolutionary strategy must be built on the conditions prevailing in Pakistan rather than trying to copy too closely the example of other parties.
Michael Chant of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) spoke on fight wage slavery and on the illusions of bourgeois “representative democracy”.
NCP general secretary Andy Brooks wound up the speeches with a detailed history of May Day. He recalled the struggles in 1856 for the eight-hour day; the struggles for trade union legality in Toronto in 1872 and the fight in Chicago in 1886 for the eight-hour day, which led to violence, the framing, imprisonment and legal murder of six trade union leaders.
This was followed by informal socialising and discussion and a collection which raised £45 towards the cost of the meeting.
photo: Taimur Rahman makes a point

Rally for migrant rights

THOUSANDS of people last Monday took part in a rally in Trafalgar Square, including trade union and religious leaders, to call for an amnesty for illegal immigrants and the opportunity for them to become regularised citizens. The Strangers into Citizens campaign called for the regularisation of rejected asylum-seekers and those who have over stayed on their visas and who have been resident in Britain for more than four years. The campaign wants them to be given permits to stay and work and the opportunity to work towards full citizenship.
The campaign follows similar events in the European Union and in the United States and highlights the serious exploitation of those who are in Britain illegally – undermining labour protection legislation and the loss of income tax revenue that these people would pay if their situation was regularised.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of the public sector union Unison, said: “These workers already make an enormous contribution to our country, which will grow further when they are allowed to work without fear, pay taxes and make use of the skills and training that they bring from around the world.”
The major trade unions are calling for the promotion of more humane immigration rules, encouraging respect for asylum seekers and migrant workers, tackling racism in the workplace, combating the threats posed by far right groups and developing more cohesive communities.
Many faith leaders were also present to lend their support. The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, who celebrated the special mass, said he was in “no way” intending to encourage future illegal immigration.
But he said many illegal immigrants had already been in Britain for years and “their rights should be protected”.
He continued: “Many of them are married, settled down and so they live in a kind of shadow land. That’s not right and it’s not fair.”
Addressing the rally, he said: “Our Government and the governments all over the world must treat migrant workers with justice and with dignity.”
Others at Trafalgar Square included the Anglican Bishop of Southwark Dr Tom Butler, Labour deputy leadership contender Jon Cruddas, Jack Dromey from the Transport and General Workers’ Union, and Baroness Shirley Williams.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

May Day in London

CIVIL SERVICE strikers were present in large numbers on London’s traditional May Day march last Tuesday, with the Public and Civil Service Union’s open-top battle bus leading the march.
Thousands of marchers took part in the event, including trade unions, political and community groups. London’s international communities were well represented as usual, especially Turkish and Kurdish communist and workers’ parties. NCP supporters gave out a special May Day leaflet and sold New Workers during the march.
The numbers present in the fine sunshine well exceeded most people’s expectations for a week-day march. It was colourful with hundreds of flags, banners and placards as well as bands, choirs and other musicians.
photo: assembling in Clerkenwell Green