Thursday, June 24, 2010

Morning Star conference

Capitalism is the crisis

By New Worker correspondent

“THE GLOBAL financial crisis started in the unregulated finance and banking sector. But now the ruling class is trying to shift the responsibility on to the working class and in particular the public sector,” Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, told the Morning Star conference last Saturday – and his words summed up the theme of the conference.
The conference, at the TUC’s Congress House in London, attracted a wide spectrum of Star readers including union leaders, academics, international guests and activists across the whole spectrum of the labour movement.
Other union leaders who opened discussions included Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke, National Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers and Megan Dobney of the South-East Region TUC.
Green Party MEP Keith Taylor, Sinn Fein northern Ireland Legislative Assembly Member Billy Leonard and former Respect MP George Galloway took part in wide-ranging debates throughout the day while the international perspective of the struggle was stressed in openings from Panos Rentzelas of the Greek Communist Party (KKE), Venezuelan ambassador Samuel Moncada and Carolina Amador Perez. the Head of International Relations of the Federation of Cuban Women.
The conference opened with a session entitled “Star gazing” – a history of the Morning Star and its predecessor, the Daily Worker and the left-wing press in Britain back to the days of the Chartist movement and it included the showing of a special DVD marking the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Daily Worker.
In the debate on the economy Matt Wrack gave his warning on Prime Minister Cameron’s intentions to lay the blame for the economic crisis on the working class and the public sector in particular, with his misleading talk about “gold-plated public sector pensions”, which in reality rarely amount to more than £4,000 to £5,000 a year.
And he accused the Tories of opportunistically using the economic crisis to carry out swingeing public sector cuts that they had always wanted to do anyway.
Speaking of the £900 billion bail out of the banks, he said: “There has been a massive transfer of wealth from the vast majority of people to the tiny clique who rule this country.”
Panos Rentzelas spoke of the work of the KKE in Greece to build unity throughout the workers to refuse to pay the price of bailing out the bankers. The Greek banks received £20 billion in bail-outs and are now making £200 billion in profits.
Panos reported that, following 10 successive national strikes, recruitment to the militant trade union front Pame is soaring. And in the banner that KKE members draped from the Parthenon in March, they reached out to workers across Europe with their message; “Peoples of Europe rise up!”

Many speakers throughout Saturday’s conference said how this sight had inspired them.
“Stopping the capitalist attack is not enough,” said Panos, “we must counter-attack with class coalitions and alliances and prepare to bring socialism to power.”
And he defined socialism as a state under workers’ control, with a centrally planned economy run for the benefit of the people.
He reported that there are growing threats to outlaw the KKE but the party is not dismayed. Working in conditions of adversity would help the KKE to build the beginnings of the organs of a workers’ state.
Panos finished by repeating the message of the iconic banner: “People of Europe rise up; the future belongs to the workers, not the capitalists!”
The Clarion Singers, members of the Workers’ Music Association, entertained everyone in the main lobby during the lunch break with great renditions of traditional working class songs while others went to fringe meetings on LGBT rights and privatisation.
“Where next for Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Rights” was led by Dr Peter Purton, Deidre Costigan and Thierry Schaffauser and chaired by Anton Johnson and the other was a power point presentation from the civil service union PCS on privatisation.
In the afternoon Professor Keith Ewing, Bob Crow, George Galloway and Tony Burke spoke on “Trade union freedoms/the Labour Party: can you have one without the other?” – followed by discussion from the floor.
Crow argued that the Labour Party was dead while Galloway and Burke argued that is was not, citing the surge of working class vote for Labour on 6th May in the traditional inner city Labour seats.
Professor Ewing warned that changes proposed by the new Con-Dem coalition involve cutting the number of parliamentary seats and redrawing constituency boundaries – not to the advantage of the working class.
He also warned that introducing state funding of political parties would outlaw the funding that Labour now gets from the unions and the representation of the working class in Parliament.
“This is a cynical move,” he said and warned: “there may never be another Labour government elected in Westminster.”
In a later session headed: “Life, the universe and everything: the way forward in fighting capitalism” Sinn Fein Assembly Member Billy Leonard spoke of the very sudden impact of the banking crisis on the Republic of Ireland and the swift departure of the “Celtic Tiger”.
There were many stalls at the conference, including one organised by the Metropolitan New Worker Supporters’ Group, which sparked a lot of interest and discussions with the comrades which included NCP general secretary Andy Brooks along with Daphne Liddle and Robert Laurie from the Central Committee as well as Juan Zapata and other London supporters. Pamphlets on, about or by Stalin proved especially popular and the total sales of papers, pamphlets and books raised £102 for the New Worker fighting fund.

photo 1: thoughtful moments for Billy Leonard and Star Editor Bill Benfield
photo 2: Panos Rentzelas and Andy Brooks swapping stories at the New Worker stall

Solidarity with DPR Korea

Solidarity with the DPR Korea

FRIENDS of the Korean revolution met in London last week to discuss the contribution of Kim Jong Il to the world communist movement and the role of Juche-style Party-building in a seminar to mark the anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s starting work on the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Meeting at the John Buckle Centre, the RCPB(ML) headquarters in south London, contributions were made by NCP leader Andy Brooks, Michael Chant of the RCPB (ML), Dermot Hudson from the Korea Friendship Society along with Ella Rule and Keith Bennett from the CPGB (ML). They all stressed the important and in some ways unique tactics of the Korean communist movement in building the resistance to Japanese colonialism that led to final liberation and the establishment of a people’s democracy in the north of the country.
The meeting ended with the sending of message of congratulations to Comrade Kim Jong Il which was adopted by everyone in the room.

photo: Dermot Hudson makes his point

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Turning 'em red at Turnham Green

COMRADES from Southall New Communist Party ran a stall at the annual Turnham Green Peace Market on Saturday 6th June in very hot weather.
They made a profit of £23.90 selling a mixture of political literature and homemade produce – including their highly reputed marmalade.

London to Colchester peace walk

PEACE campaigners are planning to mark Armed Forces Day on 26th June with a Day of Action in London and the next day begin a five-day peace walk from London to Colchester as an act of solidarity with Joe Glenton, the British soldier who is currently in military prison for refusing to return to Afghanistan, which he describes as “an unjust war”.
The Day of Action in London will include protests outside some of the new army recruitment centres, sometimes called the “Arcades of Death”, which are usually located in shopping centres.
These recruitment centres use computer games and the promise of career prospects to lure young people to enlist in the army.
The activists taking part in the London to Colchester march will stay in Chelmsford overnight on Tuesday 29th June and possibly also on 28th and 30th.
In the evenings they hope to hold public meetings with films and discussions.
The events are being organised jointly by people from Peace News, London Catholic Worker, Justice not Vengeance and CND.
They are asking people to join them in the London protests or by taking part in the walk, offering food/accommodation to walkers and by attending meetings.

Building alliances for a living wage

MATTHEW BOLTON of the public sector union Unison last weekend addressed a rally of the London Citizens’ group – of which he is the lead organiser.
London Citizens is the community organising group which has successfully brought together faith groups, schools, community groups and unions to fight for a living wage for some of London’s lowest paid workers. It is part of Citizens UK, which aims to be the national home of community organising.
“We can and will build powerful alliances,” said Bolton. “Unions and communities can and will build powerful alliances that will not just defend ourselves but shape decision-making”, he told local government delegates.
“We face a difficult five years,” he said, “and it is in all of our interests to face it together.”
Bolton said that in five years of organising, the group has won some £40 million in increased pay and conditions for cleaners and catering staff in London.
“I don’t have to tell you about the cuts,” he said. “Up to 725,000 jobs could go in public services in the next five years and public service workers are facing at best a pay freeze at a time when real inflation is running at five per cent.
“And for my own work, my target is to persuade 15 local councils that the living wage rate should be standard in their procurement of contracts at a time when budgets are being slashed.
“How will we meet these challenges? Unison has a membership of 1.3 million. The problem is not the power of your organisation. We have 160 groups that are part of London Citizens. The problem is how we connect the unions with the communities your members serve.”
He encouraged union branches to look at the groups members are already part of and see each of them as “a little pocket of power that could join together to support your campaign”.
He reminded delegates that London Citizens and Unison had worked together in East London to win a living wage for staff in four hospitals and help to recruit and organise the local Unison branches.
But he warned that community alliances needed to be built on trust and common interests and needed to “bring in the moderates, not just round up the usual suspects”.
Unions needed to understand that while individual casework is important for members, “it is not a great tool to build power – to do that, you need to invest your time in building up alliances.
“We aim to spread across the UK. Could your branch be a founding member of a local alliance? Can you see yourselves not as spectators, but as leading the way?”

Bus sale threatens thousands of jobs

THE GIANT union Unite last week made it clear that the current situation facing the East London Bus Group must not impact detrimentally on its 4,500 members.
The large bus company which runs routes in east London, south east London and central London has announced that it will be selling up, as it is facing huge losses.
Unite is concerned that the proposed sale will mean potential job losses, a reduction in services in the city and could lead to a number of routes lost, affecting the travelling public.
Unite is prepared to listen to the company's plan for moving out of the chaos it finds itself in, but 630 Unite members made clear at a mass meeting that they would not be prepared to accept the significant wage cuts and attacks on terms and conditions that the East London Bus Group is demanding.
Unite regional officer, John Griffiths, said: “This is the result of the mayor's tendering policies in the London bus market which is leading to an accelerated and ugly race to the bottom.
“Our members carry millions of passengers everyday and keep this city moving. Why should they be penalised as a result of this anarchic system, and by an operator that has made a fast buck, and is now bailing out.
“Our huge fear is for the many thousands of loyal workers at the East London Bus Group and Unite is calling for a swift resolution to end the uncertainty that our members face.”
Unite is now seeking urgent meetings with Transport for London to seek assurances that jobs and terms and conditions will be preserved.
The East London Bus Group was acquired from Stagecoach by a consortium led by Australian investment bank Macquarie.

McGuinness goes to Westminster

By Theo Russell

MARTIN McGUINNESS, deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, told friends and supporters of Sinn Féin at the House of Commons last week that “the political process and the peace process in my opinion are steadier now than at any time in the past”.
McGuinness was in London for a meeting with David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the first ministers of Scotland and Wales. He pointed out that while abstaining as Westminster MPs, the five Sinn Féin members make a point of visiting England, Scotland and Wales regularly, and meeting MPs and supporters from all parties.
He told the meeting that the message from the Westminster elections was that “politics in the north of Ireland stood firm against what was effectively an attempt return to sectarian community politics”.
In Fermanagh-South Tyrone, where three Unionist parties united behind one candidate: Michelle Guildernew, who won by just four votes, he said: “Voters had looked to the future and not the past,” and that “A section of Unionist voters felt that they couldn’t vote for someone representing the past and a Conservative government which has made its intentions on spending cuts clear.”
But, “The most important outcome was that a very clear message was sent to Jim Allister and the Traditional Unionist Voice (a rejectionist break-away from the DUP) that people were not prepared to return to the past.”
McGuinness said Allister’s campaign was damaged by his TV appearances, including one on Question Time in which “the audience effectively turned against him”.
“The Unionist community has bought into the idea that we have to work together, and it’s clear that they wanted Peter Robinson and I to carry on working together, and that the Good Friday institutions represent the best and only way to move forward,” McGuinness said.
He said it was unfortunate that DUP Peter Robinson had lost his Westminster seat, and encouraged him to continue his work as First Minister, adding: ”Relations between myself and Peter improved dramatically since the Hillsborough agreement.”
He said “Robinson had clearly showed leadership in converting his party from opposing change to supporting change,” to achieve agreement at Hillsborough in February which paved the way for the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Executive, putting the last major element of the Good Friday Agreement in place.
McGuinness welcomed the election of Sylvia Hermon, who he said she was committed to the peace process. Hermon was the UUP’s last remaining MP, but stood as an independent rather than stand under the new UUP-Tory alliance, the UCU-New Force.
McGuinness said: “This alliance has taken place against a backdrop of rumours of secret meetings and attempts to build on the concept of Unionist unity. From our point of view this was an attempt to target constituencies they felt were vulnerable, namely Fermanagh-South Tyrone and South Belfast.”
He said: “After Hillsborough and the setbacks to Unionist rejectionists, the political process and the peace process in my opinion are steadier now than at any time in the past.” He added that the British government was duty bound not to attempt to alter the Good Friday Agreement, and that this had been accepted by Cameron and Clegg.
McGuinness said: “Sinn Féin’s main focus in the Executive is to ensure that the economy is front and centre of our policies, creating jobs and raising living standards for our people, and tackling deprivation in both Unionist and republican areas.
“It’s disappointing for us that we’ve felt the effects of the recession in a society which is still emerging from conflict, and that largely due to the activities of bankers we face punitive times ahead. Our job is to protect the public sector, to protect frontline services and to protect those people who are more socially disadvantaged in society.”
He pointed to a new road from Monaghan to Donegal crossing the north of Ireland, partly financed by Dublin, and planned upgrades to the ports of Belfast and Larne as positive developments.
Rather than cut spending, he said, the British government should look at billions in uncollected taxes, and the costs of the Afghan war and Trident. “I told David Cameron and Nick Clegg that the lives of Nato and British soldiers, and countless number of Afghans were being wasted, and asked them how much was being spent on the war, but received no reply. This is an unwinnable war and money is being poured down a drain.”
He said the new Northern Ireland secretary, Owen Patterson, was prepared to create an enterprise zone in Northern Ireland and was considering reducing corporation tax to match that in the Republic of Ireland, and that an investment conference backed by President Obama would take place in Washington in the autumn.
McGuinness said Sinn Féin remained determined to continue building towards Irish unification. “The path we’re on – the institutions, the north-south and east-west (British-Irish) institutions – is the correct strategy as we move forward.”
Turning to the dissident republican groups, McGuinness said: “They had attempted to convince people in East Tyrone and Mid-Ulster not to vote, but the outcome was that people voted in large numbers and Sinn Féin’s majority went up.”
He pointed to the community outcry against the Real IRA’s execution of Kieran Doherty in Derry, and the defiance of loyalist threats by the Shankill Road community by large numbers of people attending the funeral of Bobby Moffe, as “representing a huge backlash and sending a clear message that people don’t want any more of this”.
Asked about the investigations into collusion by the British government with loyalist paramilitaries, McGuinness said: “There is “a huge challenge to overcome the legacy of actions by the RUC, RUR, British intelligence, the British Army and their collusion with loyalists.”
He recalled that in private talks at Chequers: “Tony Blair admitted that Margaret Thatcher’s approach to Northern Ireland was flawed and that she had turned a blind eye to collusion. But will he ever appear before an international inquiry and say that? Maybe we’ll get a surprise.”

Saturday, June 12, 2010

End the siege of Gaza!

by a New Worker correspondent

NEW WORKER supporters joined thousands of protesters who marched through London to the Israeli Embassy to express their anger at the murder of nine activists by Israeli forces who raided a convoy of ships bringing emergency aid to the blockaded people of Gaza.
Demonstrators in Whitehall carried placards demanding “Gaza End the Siege” and “For Freedom We Sail” and chanted “Stop Israeli piracy”.
Some 20,000 turned out to show their solidarity with the Palestinians in the march organised by groups including the Stop the War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, British Muslim Initiative, CND, Friends of Al-Aqsa, Viva Palestina and Palestinian Forum of Britain.
People from all faiths and cultures expressed their anger against the Israel’s attack on the flotilla on Monday. The attack which happened while the ships were sailing in international waters left nine killed and 54 others injured.
At the rally near the Israeli embassy, speakers said the number of people killed in the Israeli raid was more than nine. Six activists, they claimed, were still missing. Ismael Patel of Friends of al-Aqsa group said the attack was wholly “unprovoked.” “No warning was given,” he said demanding an independent international inquiry.
A number of prominent politicians and activists, including witnesses from the Mavi Marmara – the ship on which nine Turkish aid workers were shot dead at close range – demanded the end of the siege and called for the British government to take an active role in condemning Israel.
Veteran Labour politician Tony Benn said: “The recent killing of innocent aid workers is a catastrophe.”
He compared Israel with South African apartheid, saying: “This is not only the struggle of Palestinians but now a struggle for all of us.”
Recently elected Green Party MP Caroline Lucas demanded justice and freedom for Palestinians. She said: “Gaza is the biggest open air prison in the world. We are here to demand the end of the siege of Gaza and to demand the end of the occupation.”
Amid cheers from the crowd she continued: “The UK government has been complicit in these horrors and this must come to an end.”
She asked people to write to their Members of Parliament and demand action.
Novelist and political campaigner Tariq Ali said the British government needs to go one step further to break off all diplomatic and trade relations with Israel.
“I am calling on David Cameron to end the siege now”, he said.
Jews against Zionism speaker John Rose who has given up his right of return to Israel said: “There is no democracy in Israel.”
He said a number of prominent Israelis including academics such as Avi Shlaim have publicly denounced the occupation and asked for people to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
British hip-hop artist Lowkey called for the British and US governments to stop the 62-year occupation of Palestine. He ended his speech with a rendition of his famous rap Long Live Palestine.
“How many more resolutions have to be violated, how many more children have to be annihilated?” he sang.
Louise Thomas, a civil servant from London said: “I think the events of the past few weeks have shown Israel in its true light. For too long the Israel government has been able to get away with violating international laws and it needs to stop now.”
While the demonstration was happening Israeli forces stopped another aid ship, the Rachel Corrie, from proceeding to Gaza with a ship-load of aid.
This time there was no violence but it was still an illegal act of piracy by the Israeli forces designed to prevent any aid of help reaching the people of Gaza.
Since then the Iranian government has offered a protective escort for future aid ships.
Many of those attending last Saturday’s march were from London’s Turkish community, such as 38-year-old Ali Seylan who said his brother had been on board the flotilla.
“Thank God nothing happened to my brother – if anything happened to him I was going to get my revenge myself,” he told reporters.
“Israel made a big mistake, Israel’s government managed to get all Turkish people the enemy of Israel.”
He said many London-based Turks were joining the march, adding: “Religionists are here, socialists are here, even Turkish drunks are here.”

A new Queer activism

by Anton Johnson

AT ITS AGM this weekend Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Labour passed a motion to engage in outward campaigning work with trade unions and trade councils following the defeat of Labour at the polls last month. Encouragingly the AGM also agreed affiliation to Hope Not Hate/Searchlight. Hopefully this will lead to LGBT Labour re-engaging with grassroots activism.
A great many gains were made under the 13 years of Labour rule for LGBT people – but this has led to a complacency and lack of political debate within the LGBT communities dominated by a large commercial scene. The advances made are potentially at risk from the new Con-Dem government; therefore LGBT communities need to be looking at how to defend our hard-won rights – many of which were campaigned for by the old Labour Campaign for Lesbian & Gay Rights in the 1980s and 1990s.
There is the beginning of a change in this: the agreeing of the motions at LGBT Labour as noted above is a sign of this. In 2009 there was a conference sponsored by the CWU and FBU trade unions initiated by Left Front Art – a network of progressive LGBT activists, artists and academics – to look at igniting progressive debate anchored in the Labour Movement within the LGBT communities and support grassroots activity. That conference has led to Left Front Art organising two public debates in London hosted by Greater London Association of Trade Union Councils, a body that now has a LGBT Officer. The motion passed at the LGBT Labour AGM originated within the Left Front Art network.
Trade unions and trades councils are supporting LGBT grassroots community activism in London, such as the initiative to hold an East London Pride following a vicious attack on a young Trans person and her two gay male friends in Dalston, just a short walk away from the popular LGBT venue, Dalston Superstore.
The organisers of the East London Pride project – OUT East – ran a workshop at the Hackney Unites event, supported by Hackney TUC last Saturday. Queer activists engaging with the wider community and linking up for the battles ahead.
This summer will see Queeruption in Manchester – a gathering of LGBT and Queer community activists and artists running workshops and holding political debates. In London the Queer Invisibility Academy will be running a day school in London – looking at the past of LGBT activism and what a new generation can learn for the future.
Behind Bars – the Queer arts collective that brings performance art and politics together – continues to grow in popularity with its next event on 12th June in south London. Many of the artists who have been involved in Behind Bars have performed or shown their work at the successful SERTUC LGBT Network LGBT History Month events, such as performer Pietro La Hara, visual artist Boxikus and film maker Meerak Meinhog.
These different expressions of activity are welcome and refreshing in re-energising progressive debate and activity in the LGBT communities, with the added bonus of Queers recognising the importance of the Labour Movement and joining trade unions and taking an interest in the value of Trade Councils.
A new generation of Queer activists in the community and Trade Unions is using the mediums of art to communicate ideas. This is important in rebuilding activism and our movement and communities – with activism from the ground up and educating. Memorial and vigils are good as far as they go, what is refreshing – and much needed – about OUT East is that the organisers want to be proactive, celebrate and show strength and confidence.
These positive developments go in hand with raising the visibility of LGBT people in movement, such as Thierry Schaffuser – SERTUC LGBT network secretary leading and addressing the London May Day rally this year, as a confident Queer in drag.
In London there are two events coming up – one an LGBT fringe meeting at the Morning Star conference on the topic of where next for LGBT rights under the Con-Dem government. And on 14th June OUT East will be holding a public engagement meeting at the London Resource Action Centre, Fieldgate St E1, an initiative supported by GLATUC, Hackney TUC and GMB SHOUT!
Those living in Hackney or Tower Hamlets who are interested will be welcome at the meeting and can contact OUT East co-ordinator Simon Leahy at
for more information.

*THE LABOUR Party’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Society (LGBT) were astonished last Saturday when the duty manager at the Greencoat Boy pub in Westminster refused to serve them and said he would not have accepted their booking if he had known they were a gay group.
The pub chain, Punch taverns, has since apologised and suspended the duty manager and the Metropolitan Police are investigating it as a homophobic incident.
James Asser, a member of the group, said: “Everyone involved was shocked and outraged. This attitude is totally unacceptable in this day and age.
“What century are we living in here?
“When you encounter prejudice you have to stand up and be counted – at the very least we expect an apology.
“We also want a demonstration that the pub chain takes this very seriously and will make sure it never happens again.”
Former Labour Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott Tweeted in support of the group, writing: “Forty years ago we campaigned against a Hull pub that banned ‘women and queers’. This is disgraceful.”

photo:Thierry Schaffuser in drag addressing this year's May Day rally

Judge questions Mayor's power

THE CASE brought by London Mayor Boris Johnson in the High Court to remove the peace camp from Parliament Square where it has been since 1st May – along with Brian Haw, the peace activist who has sustained a peace vigil opposite the House of Commons for nine years.
But the judge, Mr Justice Maddison, questioned Johnson’s power to take legal action to evict the peace campers. He said that his provisional view was that Boris Johnson was “likely ultimately to succeed”. But he added there was room for “lively and legitimate argument as to whether or not he does have title to bring these proceedings”.
Whatever happens, the case is going to take a lot longer than Johnson had hoped.
Anti-war protesters, climate change activists and anarchists have been living in the camp, dubbed Democracy Village, since 1st May.
Veteran anti-war campaigner Brian Haw, who has camped at the site since 2001, has previously won legal battles to be allowed to continue his demonstration in the Square.
Johnson said he has a right to bring trespass action against the protesters as the Greater London Authority owns the green space.
He claims the protesters do not have the right to monopolise the green space. But the campers are not preventing anyone else from access to what is, in effect, a large traffic island. They argue that the only person who can take such an action is the Queen.
Maddison said the issue of eviction of “Democracy Village” needed to be “decided at the very earliest opportunity”.
The case was adjourned and is now expected to return to the court on Friday.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Celebrating Vietnam

by Theo Russell

HUNDREDS of people packed the Bolivar Hall in central London last week for an event organised by Trade Union Friends of Vietnam and the Vietnamese Embassy to mark the 35th anniversary of the defeat of American imperialism in the Vietnam war.
Vietnamese ambassador Tran Quang Hoan spoke of the economic achievements which have made Vietnam among the most dynamic economies in the region, with average growth of seven to eight per cent since the adoption of a socialist market policy In 1986. He said the government was “determined to make Vietnam into a developed, industrialised country by 2020”.
Hoan said the industrial sector had grown form 20 per cent to 40 per cent of the economy since 1980, and in 2009 despite of the global financial crisis growth was almost six per cent.
“Living standards are constantly improving, and our growth has contributed to eradicating poverty, with levels down from 75 per cent of the population in 1976 to 13.5 per cent in 2008,” he said.
“The victories of the Vietnamese people took place under the revolutionary leadership of Ho Chi Minh, a great and universal cultural personality and the beloved uncle to his people,” said Hoan, adding that 2010 also marks the 120th anniversary of Ho’s birth and 65 years since the declaration of Vietnam’s independence.
“During those difficult years of war the British people stood side by side with the Vietnamese people,” he said.
Chau Nhat Binh, Leader of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour also spoke of “celebrating the end of the most barbaric war in history waged by US imperialism,” a war which followed 100 years of French colonialism “only to be divided by the Geneva Agreement” in 1954.
“We had to pay a high price for this victory. In Robert McNamara’s words, ‘we owe it to future generations to explain why we mobilised 6.5 million young people to fight and 22,000 factories to supply this war machine’.”
Binh, who joined the Vietnam People’s Army in 1972 and was almost killed twice, recalled that the US had used 80 million litres of chemical defoliants and 10 million tons of bombs, “Yet while spending billions on wars all over the world, the US has given Vietnam only $3 million to clear unexploded bombs.”
“Thirty five years later the scars remain painful,” he said. “Three million people are still affected by Agent Orange, including ex-US soldiers. We call on people around the world to continue the struggle for justice.”
The US defoliant manufacturers continue to deny responsibility, and yet another legal case has now been launched after several previous cases were turned down by US courts.
Minh said the Vietnamese government’s care for disabled people includes treatment and job creation programmes, and many training centres and workplaces specifically designed for disabled people.
Replying to questions Tran Quang Hoan said relations with China were “very good”. “China is our biggest trading partner, although there are still some problems. The question of the Spratly Islands has not been resolved, but we are open to proposals from the Chinese side.”
“We have an open door foreign policy and we aim to be a friendly and reliable partner to all countries on the basis of sovereignty, mutual respect and independence.”
“We don’t forget the past or the crimes which were committed, but at this moment we put the past aside in order to create a better life for our people who have suffered so much.”
Chau Nhat Binh spoke of the challenges and negative aspects the trade unions faced. “Economic growth is not sustainable with poorly trained workers, and our infrastructure is still poor. Since the adoption of a socialist market policy the divisions between rich and poor have widened, and there exploitation and degradation have increased.
“Our priorities today are to extend collective bargaining, especially to non-manufacturing industries, and trade union recruitment. We aim to have two million trade union members by 2013.
“The biggest problem is how to organise workers to protect their interests, and we need to be prepared to deal with the big international corporations which are now moving into Vietnam.”
Binh said healthcare was also a major concern. “Wage earners in the factories usually have health insurance which the employers and government contribute towards, but we need to encourage people in the rural areas, with poverty levels of 65 per cent, to take up health insurance.”
“Children under six receive free healthcare, but the government still has much to do to improve healthcare in Vietnam,” he said.
Len Aldis of the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society pointed to another cruel legacy of the US war of aggression: cluster bombs, often disguised as brightly coloured objects looking like toys, which he said would take 300 years to clear. “Every week there are horrific injuries from cluster bomb explosions, with children especially vulnerable,” he said.
“People are still being born in southern Vietnam with no eyes or missing limbs due to Agent Orange poisoning, often several children in one family. What kind of life will these children be able to live?”

Ken to run for Mayor again

KEN LIVINGSTONE last week announced his bid to be chosen as Labour candidate in the 2012 London mayoral election.
He said that if re-elected he would:
• fight Tory public sector cuts;
• raise the congestion charge for the most polluting cars;
• hold down bus and Tube fares (which have risen by up to a third under Boris Johnson);
• scrap “zany” ideas like a floating airport in the Thames estuary and the new “Routemaster” bus;
• take no pay rise for the four-year term and institute a four-year pay freeze for senior staff;
• restore relations with China and India, which have been neglected;
• reverse cuts to police numbers and guarantee a total of 640 local neighbourhood policing teams;
• press the Government for powers to raise money on the bond markets to build affordable homes, including for rent;
• cut energy bills by improving insulation in every building in London over 10 years.