Thursday, June 30, 2011

End of an era in Greenwich fight against racism

By New Worker correspondent

THE GREENWICH Council for Racial Equality was formally wound up last Tuesday evening at its annual general meeting in Woolwich, after a long and successful fight against racism and discrimination in the area.
And it was still functioning fully until the end, providing services ranging from keep-fit classes for elderly Asian ladies to cultural groups, giving advice and support in discrimination cases at work and in schools, advice in immigration, benefits, health and many other issues – and providing a powerful counter to racist abuse and violence.
Its downfall was a tragedy. An internal audit last year threw up a suspicion of embezzlement. Instead of covering up the matter, as they might have been tempted, the organisation’s officers did the correct thing and informed the local council – GCRE’s major source of funding.
The council immediately suspended funding and undertook its own investigation. In the meantime it instructed GCRE to implement a major structural and management overhaul and advised them to use a consultant to draw up a new business plan.
GCRE did this but the consultant, though very expensive, failed to come up with a new viable business plan. The council agreed that GCRE officers – with the exception of two who have now been formally charged by police – had all acted responsibly and followed the council’s instructions.
But as Con-Dem government cuts policies began to sink in, the mood of the council changed. The suspended funding was not restored. The business plan was rejected out of hand.
And with the investigation in progress it was impossible to seek funding elsewhere.
The organisation soldiered on using reserves to pay staff and running costs until it reached a point where liabilities equalled assets and winding up was the only option.
Now the staff – with a wealth of experience and specialised skills – are all redundant.
It was a sad and shocked meeting on Tuesday night, the end of an era and the end of a powerful campaigning organisation that has fought fascism and racism in the area for decades.
It supported the families of race murder victims Rolan Adams, Rohit Duggal and Stephen Lawrence; it battled with serious racist attitudes in the local police; it led the fight for the closure of the BNP office in neighbouring Bexley and it set examples of how to fight racism in the community that have been followed around the country and internationally.
GCRE officers pioneered the tactic of countering racist attacks and abuse on estates by knocking on doors, talking to people from all backgrounds about their concerns, getting them all together in meetings, introducing them to each other so that black, white and brown could find out that they all had the same problems and that the minority of youths who were carrying out the racist attacks were also responsible for a lot of other anti-social behaviour.
GCRE lawyers won landmark cases against the police over the ill-treatment of young black people while in custody and GCRE officers ended up teaching police officers how to handle racism effectively and build community harmony – not once but over and over again as police officers were re-assigned, moved on and new ones showed up who had to be taught from scratch again.
Recently GCRE officers had been doing pioneering work to end the isolation of elderly Asian women, many of them with poor English, improving their access to health and social care.
The offices were always buzzing. If you visited on any week day there were singing groups, health classes going on all around. GCRE supported small cultural groups from many local ethnic communities and being under one roof enabled them to be aware of each other and build a truly multi-cultural community.
Now that must all go – and at a time when so many other services are being withdrawn and Islamophobia is growing into a serious danger.
But, as ever, the struggle goes on. A new organisation will be formed. It will have no funding at the start. It will only be able to provide a tiny fraction of the services that GCRE provided.
But it will be free to campaign in a much more political way and put pressure on the council, on the police and it will have a wealth of knowledge and experience to do this.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

All Out on 30th June!

HUNDREDS of thousands of teachers and public servants are preparing to take action in the biggest protest so far against the Government’s cuts. And on the day they will be joined by many others who will refuse to cross picket lines. Over a million workers will be taking part in the day of action on 30th June, the biggest since the General Strike and the first massive blow of the union resistance to the Tory-led coalition’s austerity measures, which are driving down the living standards of millions upon millions of working people.
David Cameron’s government claims that it’s ready to negotiate but they’ve made it clear that there’s nothing to talk about accept the timetable for implementing the draconian measures designed to make workers pay for the capitalist crisis.
They claim that raising the retirement age, cutting pensions, reducing welfare benefits, cutting and privatising the health service and the rest of what remains of the public sector is inevitable. But it will only happen if we allow them to get away with it.
While we’re told to tighten our belts and work longer for less pay the rich are getting richer. The wealth of the millionaires has risen by 18 per cent collectively over the past year and the top 1,000 richest people in Britain now have between them over £60 billion more than they had a year ago.
These parasites live the lives of Roman emperors while working people, who produce all the wealth that they plunder, are expected to simply grin and bear it until the supposed “up-turn” comes round.
But the Tories and their Liberal Democrat collaborators have failed to undermine the action with their threat to bring in more anti-union legislation in the future. The bleats of the dregs of the Blairite faction, still in the Labour Party because they’ve nowhere else to go, have been ignored. However the response from the Labour leadership has been lukewarm at the best.
Miliband & Co want the unions’ support and they want they unions’ money but they don’t want to give much back in return. Labour’s “challenge” to the Cameron plan is little more than the feeble social-Keynesianism of the last days of the Brown government, designed to cushion the worst effects of slump with some minor reforms to lessen the worst effects of austerity amongst the poor.
Labour should be defending every existing right that workers possess, including their pensions and welfare benefits. They should be demanding the complete restoration of the “welfare state” and the public sector that Labour built up after the Second World War and which could still be easily paid for if the rich were taxed at the levels that existed in its hey-day in the 1970s.
Rank and file pressure from the millions of affiliated members can change Labour’s direction like the mass movement that has propelled the union leaders into next week’s confrontation with the Government.
But one swallow doesn’t make a summer and one day of action will not stop the Government in its tracks. Everyone must work to make 30th June a successful and massive demonstration of anger and solidarity. But it can only be a stepping stone for future mass co-ordinated strike action to force the Government to back down and if it won’t to force it to stand down and call another election.

Brian Haw

Brian Haw

1949 – 2011

BRIAN HAW, whose lone vigil in Parliament Square made him an icon amongst the peace movement in Britain and across the world, died last weekend.
Brian Haw was an little-known evangelical Christian, motivated by the pacifist teachings of Jesus of Nazareth that are often ignored by many of those who profess to believe in him, who travelled to northern Ireland and Cambodia to preach “love, peace and justice for all” in the 70s and 80s. But he hit the headlines with his one-man protest against the imperialist aggression against Iraq.
He set up his tent opposite the so-called “Mother of Parliaments” in June 2001 to protest against the cruel imperialist blockade against Iraq that preceded the invasion and occupation by Anglo-American imperialism in 2003.
Brian was never short of company. Peace campaigners made a point of visiting his tent in the heart of London to help or spend some time in solidarity with the protest, which grew as Haw decorated the square with his home-made posters and peace banners condemning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This rapidly became an alternative London tourist attraction. But it was also an embarrassment to the Establishment and it soon attracted the unwelcome attention of the police.
For over 10 years Haw maintained his round-the-clock vigil, braving all weathers and violent attacks from thugs and the police. He defied all threats to evict him, including an abortive new law to restrict demonstrations within half-a-mile of Parliament.
Leading left Labour MPs Tony Benn and John McDonnell acted as character witnesses for Brian during his many appearances in court, including some brought by the Metropolitan Police on charges of aggression and assault.
In 2006 the police succeeded in obtaining authority to remove and confiscated Brian’s entire display. Fortunately the 40 metre long display was entirely recreated by the artist Mark Wallinger who won the 2007 Turner Prize for his exact replica of the encampment, entitled State Britain, that was exhibited in the Tate Modern art gallery.
Supporters maintained the protest tent when ill-health forced Haw to seek treatment in Germany, paid out of a fund raised by British supporters. Now there are calls for his memory to be preserved with a permanent monument in Parliament Square.

Brian Haw was flown to Germany for cancer treatment in January and died in Berlin on 18th June.

The legacy of the H-Block hunger strikers

By New Worker

THE LONDON Irish Centre in Camden last Saturday was packed to hear an array of powerful speakers at an event organised by Sinn Féin to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the hunger strikes in the notorious H-blocks of Long Kesh prison.
The hunger strikes saw 10 courageous young men starve themselves to death in 1981 in protest at the inhumane conditions in the prison.
Their deaths caused consternation and won support from all around the world, marking a watershed moment in the struggle of the nationalist community in the occupied six counties of northern Ireland, paving the way for the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process.
Foremost among the speakers was Brendan “Bik” McFarlane, who had been the Officer Commanding of the republican prisoners in the H-Blocks. He had a pivotal role and negotiator and liaison officer between the hunger strikers, the prison authorities, the IRA Army Council, the families and the outside world in general.
He took on the role of OC from Bobby Sands when Sands began his hunger strike – a role he did not want but knew he had to carry.
He told the meeting that the battle over prison conditions began in 1976, when the Labour Home Secretary Merlyn Rees withdrew political status from the IRA prisoners.
“It was British imperialism’s choice of a political basis to fight by pretending it was not a war and that the IRA were ordinary criminals. In demonising the IRA they effectively criminalised hundreds of years of Irish struggle for freedom from Britain.
“In this they were supported by the media, who described the IRA as gangsters and mobsters.”
When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 she continued this policy with a vengeance.
“It was a hard, hard time. Hundreds of prisoners were brought in for interrogation in torture centres,” McFarlane continued. “We had the Diplock Courts, without juries, we had forced confessions. They were trying to crush our power to resist.”
Most of those arrested were very young, in their teens and some as young as 16. Hundreds of families in the nationalist community saw their sons and daughters arrested on almost any pretext.
The prisoners in the H-blocks decided to fight back by resisting criminalisation. They refused to wear the prison uniforms that carried the status of criminal and demanded prisoner-of-war status, the right to association and to conduct their own education programmes within the prison.
The prison authorities responded by stripping them and locking them in freezing cells with nothing to wear but old and dirty blankets.
“The regime tried to physically break people and resistance built up. Increasing numbers became involved – and the brutality also increased. Some pretty awful things happened.
“We decided to go for a hunger strike because the political ramifications of failure for both sides were huge…
“We ended up with a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week lock up. We had no access to toilets or washing facilities.
“So first the urine went out of the window. Then the shit followed. We had no choice. Then they boarded up the windows. So the shit went on the walls. That is the truth of the ‘dirty protest’.
“When Cardinal McPhee visited to see the conditions he was physically sick. He made a hard-hitting statement to the media about the conditions.”
Pressure for reform began to build but Thatcher would not be moved. A first hunger strike by prisoners came to an end when the British government offered some reforms, which in effect turned out to be a lie.
So a second hunger strike was agreed and a number of volunteers came forward and the then OC, Bobby Sands was the first. That is when he passed on his position to Bik McFarlane with some harsh instructions – not to allow the prison authorities to resuscitate hunger strikers who had fallen into a coma.
They decided to stagger the hunger strikes; volunteers began at weekly intervals so their deaths would have maximum impact in the media.
At first the IRA Army Council outside the prison opposed the hunger strikes on a humanitarian basis but the prisoners convinced them there was no other way.
As the prisoners started dying outwardly the British government did not move but behind the scenes informal channels of negotiation began to open, involving MI5, businessmen and Sinn Féin.
The election of Bobby Sands as an MP to Westminster while he was in prison and on hunger strike was another big blow to the British government – it gave the lie to propaganda claims that the IRA were a bunch of criminals with no popular support.
The European Commission for Human Rights started to take notice.
Families were brought in to visit the dying men – and try to persuade them to give up their hunger strikes.
“That’s what pressure is,” said Bik McFarlane. “What sustained us was the example of the lads in the hospital, their courage, determination and their humour. Seeing them up to 60 days into the strike, the change, the deterioration was appalling.”
McFarlane brought them offers of reforms from the authorities that the hunger strikers rejected because they were not enough.
Bobby Sands began his hunger strike on March 1st and died on 3rd May.
As the men died the pressure on the Government grew. On the surface nothing seemed to change but the hunger strikes ended on 1st October 1981. Three days later all the reforms they had demanded were granted.
At enormous cost, the Irish republican movement had forged its way into the political processes of the occupied north of Ireland – from which they had previously been totally excluded.
Other speakers included Bairbre de Brun, Sinn Féin MEP, who had been outside, organising H-Block support committees who spoke of how the nationalist community fought to defend its imprisoned youth and tell the world their children were not criminals.
She also spoke of the rising involvement of women in the struggle – and how they broke the convention that only men could play a role in funerals.
Dr Kevin McNamara was also there. He was a Labour MP during the hunger strikes and Shadow Secretary of State. He played a pivotal role in shaping Labour policy on Ireland.
Francis Wurtz, an MEP from the French Communist Party, spoke of his battles inside the European Parliament to raise the plight of the prisoners in the H-blocks. He attended Bobby Sands funeral.
Jenny McCann, now a Sinn Féin Assembly Member, gave an account of the struggles of women prisoners involved in protests in Armagh and Maghaberry prisons, where she had been imprisoned.
Ronnie Kasrils played a leading role in the freedom struggle against apartheid in South Africa in the ANC’s armed wing, “Spear of the Nation”. He spoke of the impact the news of the hunger strikes had in Africa. He declared that the hunger strikes were “one of the most heroic acts in the struggle for freedom in human history”.
Kevin Ovenden reported that throughout the Middle East and North Africa freedom fighters regard Bobby Sands and the hunger strikers as their own heroes.

photo: Bik McFarlane

Workers protest at Unilever pension betrayal

UNILEVER workers, members of Unite, fighting to save their pension scheme took part in a demonstration last Tuesday 21st June as Unilever began its formal consultation in London over plans to axe the final salary pension scheme for its 5,000 staff in Britain.
The company plans to scrap the final salary scheme and transfer workers to an inferior career average revalued earnings (CARE) scheme from 1st January 2012.
Unilever introduced a CARE scheme in 2008 for new starters, promising that this would safeguard the final salary scheme for all existing workers but this scheme is also under attack, making it an even worse option for Unilever workers.
Unite has slammed this attack on the pensions of its members as a “betrayal” to its loyal and hard working workforce. The union is calling on household giant Unilever to reverse these pension changes that will destroy the retirement plans for 5,000 workers.
Unite nationally is leading the campaign “Unilever – hands off our pensions” to strongly resist this unacceptable attack on the pensions of its members.
Unilever makes such iconic brands as PG Tips, Marmite, Pot Noodle, Hellman’s mayonnaise, Dove, Comfort and Surf.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Stop the War

by New Worker correspondent

MORE THAN 300 supporters of Stop the War attended the organisation’s successful conference in London last weekend, times to coincide with the imperialist invasion of Afghanistan, which triggered the foundation of Stop the War.
There were many international speakers, including Arab Spring activists, students, artists, military family members, historians, and Members of Parliament.
The conference discussed plans to deliver a petition against bombing Libya to Downing Street, along with a number of members of Parliament on 28th June, and they are planning to occupy Trafalgar Square in October on the 10th anniversary of both the invasion of Afghanistan and the creation of the Stop the War Coalition.
Jeremy Corbyn MP, was introduced on Saturday by Stop the War Coalition's Andrew Murray as working with a pack of warlords.
Corbyn agreed; he said that Parliament is made up of war lords and war criminals. He also credited the Stop the War Coalition with helping to prevent an attack on Iran in recent years.
The Labour MP called the idea that more time is needed to finish a job in Afghanistan a "load of tosh." He also pointed out that the two sides fighting in Libya can exchange parts for their rifles, because they both have rifles provided by Britain.
A young woman from Tunisia expressed the sentiment shared by many other Arabs: "Our countries do not want Western intervention, or money! It comes with policies. It's not free or even just with high interest."
A number of speakers argued that a counter-revolution against the Arab Spring is being fought by Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United States, the UK, France, and Nato.
An opposition leader from Bahrain said that what his people want is for the West to stop training troops to oppress and torture.
Author John Rees said that after Tunisia and Egypt took the imperial powers by surprise, they went into Libya and Bahrain as a counter-attack, misusing popular sympathy with the Arab Spring to rehabilitate the idea of war that had been so discredited in Iraq and Afghanistan. Egypt, Rees argues, is still the central struggle, where the new military government is working to demobilise the people and imprison those who demonstrate or strike.
Tariq Ali said that people should be left free to succeed or fail. No one ever proposed that China invade Indochina, he said. Why should Nato invade Libya? Or Syria? Or Yemen? Bahrain didn't ask for intervention, he pointed out, but got it anyway.
Former Respect MP George Galloway was the last speaker on Saturday. He recalled telling Jack Straw in Parliament eight years ago that contrary to Straw's assertion, British troops would not be home by Christmas, nor would they be home 10 Christmases hence.
Straw laughed. But the war will eventually conclude, Galloway said, on the very terms it could have concluded with 10 years earlier.
The BBC, Galloway complained, is denouncing Syria for using Apache helicopters to attack its own people. "I've never understood," said Galloway, "why it is worse to kill your own people than other people's people."
The BBC had cheered a week or 10 days earlier for Apache helicopters used by Britain to kill Libyans.
Galloway said: “The problem with Syria, Galloway said, is not that it's run by the latest Adolf Hitler of the month, but that it harbours Palestinian leadership, supports Lebanese national resistance, and refused to participate in the attack on Iraq.”

Wildcat strike at Royal Mail gets the goods

STAFF at a London delivery office last week took illegal strike action and won the reinstatement of a fellow worker.
Around 90 postal workers at the N1 sorting office took unofficial strike action yesterday in support of a longstanding worker suspended for “wilful delay of the mail”.
After three hours of strike action managers caved in and reinstated the worker.
“It’s a complete victory,” said Mark Dolan, a senior CWU union rep in north London.
The Royal Mail saw more strike action this week as engineers working for Royal Mail subsidiary Romec struck at mail centres around the country. According to union officials, non-union staff refused to cross the picket at Warrington mail centre.
The CWU-organised ballot saw 92 per cent of members voting for strike action on a turnout of 75 per cent. Further strikes are scheduled for Cardiff, Dorset and London on Monday,
The strike relates to imposed changes to shift patterns pushed through without consultation, and which have seen pay docked from workers for non-compliance.
Meanwhile, London postal workers have voted to strike in an official CWU ballot in a dispute arising from the closure of mail centres in Vauxhall and Bow. Thus far, Royal Mail management have refused to rule out compulsory redundancies as a result of the closures. They are expected to result in over 500 job losses. Postal workers voted four-to-one in favour of strike action.

Friday, June 17, 2011

London Slut Walk

By New Worker correspondent

SOME 5,000 Londoners turned out for last Saturday’s “Slutwalk” to rally for women’s rights and protest about sexist attitudes to women and rape. The first Slutwalk was held in Toronto in April, triggered by a Canadian policeman’s comment that women should “avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised”.
He has subsequenty apologised for his remark. But the word “slut” was then taken up by Canadian activists “tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result”. At the first march in Canada the organisers said that “being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work".
Now their call has been taken up in north America and other parts of Europe as a rallying cry against sexist attitudes to rape, victim-blaming and discrimination against marginalised groups of men and women. The protesters, colourfully dressed to affirms the right to wear what one likes, marched from Piccadilly for a rally in Trafalgar Square.
Speakers at the rally also spoke against the Con-Dem Coalition cuts, pointing out that they directly target women both in jobs and in the support services that protect them from domestic and other abuse and take away their independence, leaving them more dependent on abusive partners.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The revolutionary movement in India

By New Worker correspondent

New Worker supporters discussed the problems facing the revolutionary movement in India and Nepal last week at a NCP London District meeting at the Fitzrovia Centre in central London. The discussion was opened by Kumar Sarkar, from the Second Wave solidarity movement, who has recently returned from Nepal and West Bengal. The NCP London district holds a number of meetings in central London while the Metropolitan New Worker supporters group regularly meets at the Party Centre. Check the diary for forthcoming events or contract the Centre directly.