Saturday, 28 February 2009

A warning for Europe

On Wednesday reported that, the day before, "the Haunt of Migrants on Tsamadou Street in Exarcheia was attacked while an assembly of the Association of Conscientious Objectors was taking place inside." The site also published the following statement from the Network for Social and Political Rights,which occupies the same building;
Last night, February 24, at around 10.05 pm “persons unknown” threw a hand grenade at the Migrants’ Haunt at Tsamadou Street in Exarcheia, the same building hosting the offices of the Network for Social and Political Rights). At that time the Haunt was full of people as there was an open meeting of the Association of Conscientious Objectors and the co-ordinating body of our group was also having a meeting. The attack had no victims only due to sheer luck as the hand grenade did not manage to get through the double glazed window, bounced back and exploded just outside the building.
Last night’s fascist, para-statal attack is part of the wider attempt of sovereignty to strike back after December’s revolt. During all this time we have been watching the intensification of statist and para-statist (meaning, undercovers and fascists, often the same people — trans) violence as well as a dirty propaganda campaign against spaces of resistance (”the far Left is to blame for the violence”). The “persons unknown” who threw the hand grenade do not only turn against us but against the social antagonist movement as a whole, against all who revolted in December, against all who actively refuse the dictatorship of the market and the “democracy” of the batton.
It is probably unnecessary for us to say that we shall not make a single step back, it is unnecessary to say that the parastatals will receive the response they deserve.
Athens, February 25 2009
The attack, as stated above, is part of the repercussion that Athenian anarchist and immigrant communities are facing after the mass unrest of two months ago. It also happened to occur on the same day as the appeal of Antonis "Periandros" Androutsopoulos, the deputy leader of fascist paramilitary Golden Dawn, against his conviction for the attempted murder of student Dimitris Kousouris.

The event serves as a timely and worrying benchmark for the rise of fascism, nationalism, and xenophobic sentiment across Europe - and it is not the only one...

In Italy, the far-right government - already engaged in a vicious crackdown on the Roma population - have introduced a slew of anti-immigrant legislation. The new "security package," against which the CGIL union organised a 30,000-strong demonstration in Milan last weeked, allows doctors to "denounce patients without proper immigration documents," justifies the detention of immigrants "without having committed any crime," and "legalises rounding up immigrants." It also authorises "local 'patrols' to assist police by hunting out and reporting on any 'illegal activities' perpetrated by immigrants."

In Austria, the Alliance for the Future of Austria and (to a lesser extent) the Freedom Party have both made gains in the polls. A significant event, given that the election is "the first to put to the test the popularity of the government" during the economic crisis, according to BBC News.

Here in Britain, as I have written about previously, the British National Party have been making significant electoral gains. Most recently, they have won a seat previously considered "safe" by Labour in Sevenoaks in Kent, and are on course to make even more significant gains in Cumbria. This is without mentioning the fact that leader Nick Griffin is confident enough of the party's fortunes to stand as a potential MEP for the North West and to attempt street-activism in Liverpool, a city with left-wing, working class politics ingrained into its culture.

The BNP, to an even greater extent that their European counterparts mentioned above, are capitalising on discontent created by neo-liberal economic policies, a ruling elite in the back pocket of big business, and the ever-widening class chasm created by global capitalism.

More importantly, they are turning ire over this situation towards a more in-reach (and utterly innocent) target - the immigrants and refugees in this country. By doing so, they are giving people an easy answer to their woes, and are increasing their vote exponentially. But, in so doing, are also exacerbating racial and national divides in the working class and turning us against one another.

The real solution to the problems we face ahead is not an easy one, and nor is it one we can achieve solely by putting an "X" on a ballot paper. It involves strong and cohesive working class organisation, at grassroots level - and transcending all artificial boundaries of race and nation - to tackle the ruling classes. Only through direct action and bottom-up organisation can we hope to dismantle the political and economic systems that are the cause of our woes. But the growing presence of hardline nationalism makes it ever harder to work towards this goal.

As Rudolph Rocker once wrote, in Nationalism and Culture, "He who thinks that he sees in all political and social antagonisms merely blood-determined manifestations of race, denies all conciliatory influence of ideas, all community of ethical feeling, and must at every crisis take refuge in brute force ... [n]o better moral justification could be produced for the industrial bondage which our holders of industrial power keep before them as a picture of the future."

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The issue of torture is not dead and buried

After Barack Obama's Executive Order in January that "detention facilities at Guantánamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable" there was a widespread feeling that the worst attrocities of the United States in the "War on Terror" were over. Given the history of US tactics dating back to the 1980s, however, I would hesitate before making such a pronouncement, not least because the Order categorically states that "nothing in this order shall prejudice the authority of the Secretary of Defense to determine the disposition of any detainees not covered by this order" and that amongst those "not covered" are those subjected to "extraordinary rendition" by the CIA to foreign countries where torture is guaranteed.

Whatever the case, it is of importance that we do not forget what went on (and, until the final closure of the facility, perhaps continues to go on) at the hands of the reigning superpower. Which is why I would like to repost the statement issued by Binyam Mohammed, the latest detainee to be released back to the UK, on his experience there;

I hope you will understand that after everything I have been through, I am neither physically nor mentally capable of facing the media on the moment of my arrival back to Britain. Please forgive me if I make a simple statement through my lawyer. I hope to be able to do better in days to come, when I am on the road to recovery.

I have been through an experience that I never thought to encounter in my darkest nightmares. Before this ordeal, "torture" was an abstract word to me. I could never have imagined that I would be its victim. It is still difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next, and tortured in medieval ways – all orchestrated by the United States government.

While I want to recover, and put it all as far in my past as I can, I also know I have an obligation to the people who still remain in those torture chambers. My own despair was greatest when I thought that everyone had abandoned me. I have a duty to make sure that nobody else is forgotten.

I am grateful that, in the end, I was not simply left to my fate. I am grateful to my lawyers and other staff at Reprieve, and to Lt Col Yvonne Bradley, who fought for my freedom. I am grateful to the members of the British Foreign Office who worked for my release. And I want to thank people around Britain who wrote to me in Guantánamo Bay to keep my spirits up, as well as to the members of the media who tried to make sure that the world knew what was going on. I know I would not be home in Britain today, if it were not for everyone's support. Indeed, I might not be alive at all.

I wish I could say that it is all over, but it is not. There are still 241 Muslim prisoners in Guantánamo. Many have long since been cleared even by the US military, yet cannot go anywhere as they face persecution. For example, Ahmed bel Bacha lived here in Britain, and desperately needs a home. Then there are thousands of other prisoners held by the US elsewhere around the world, with no charges, and without access to their families.

And I have to say, more in sadness than in anger, that many have been complicit in my own horrors over the past seven years. For myself, the very worst moment came when I realised in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence. I had met with British intelligence in Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realised, had allied themselves with my abusers.

I am not asking for vengeance; only that the truth should be made known, so that nobody in the future should have to endure what I have endured. Thank you.

This article appeared in The Guardian on Monday 23 February, titled "Worse Than My Darkest Nightmares," and it serves as a timely reminder of what exactly the "War on Terror" - at the time of writing, still ongoing - has actually achieved.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

"CONTEST 2" and ThoughtCrime

In a speech last October, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith declared her intention to "revise our own counter-terrorism strategy, known as CONTEST" in order to enable the Home Office to "be more sophisticated in how we engage openly with the public on our work to counter the threat of terrorism." The spirit of the revised strategy, she insisted, was one of "openness and accountability" in which the government would be "working with and through communities" as well as providing "safeguards" which would "provide a solid legal framework which protects civil liberties."

As ever, though, rhetoric and reality do not appear to match up. The Guardian recently revealed that the proposals contained in a leaked draft of the new "CONTEST 2" strategy would "widen the definition of extremists to those who hold views that clash with what the government defines as shared British values." More specifically, people will be considered "extremist" - and thus "sidelined and denied public funds" - if;

• They advocate a caliphate, a pan-Islamic state encompassing many countries.

• They promote Sharia law.

• They believe in jihad, or armed resistance, anywhere in the world. This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military.

• They argue that Islam bans homosexuality and that it is a sin against Allah.

• They fail to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.

However reasonable it may seem to some at a first glance, these proposals essentially offer the government a way to put ThoughtCrime into the legislature. These points do not cover acts of terror or attrocities, but mere thoughts and beliefs, even if not put into action. I would strongly condemn the view that homosexuality is a sin that should be banned, whether by Islamists or by the numerous Christian fundamentalists holding the same view, whom the code does not wish to take into account. I also stand in opposition to Sharia law and the idea of a pan-Islamic caliphate. However, I would suggest that if we are to fully preserve liberty it must include the right to hold and voice such views. It is dangerous to begin defining which views are acceptable and which are not, especially when it is those in positions of power who draft up those definitions.

Although The Guardian report states that "those considered extreme would not be targeted by the criminal law," there already exist precedents for doing exactly that. The case of the "lyrical terrorist" last June, though eventually overturned, demonstrates the governments willingness to lock people up for nothing more than words, whilst the "extremism toolkit" for schools which came out in October essentially advocates politicisation of education to promote government-defined "values." With the proposals presented in the new code, defined by Ms Smith's declared will to identify "radicalisation and radicalisers" and "tackle them effectively" using the "ability to intercept communications and obtain communications data," it would appear that the government is well positioned to fully realise that precedent.

The implications of such would be wide-ranging. Inayat Bunglawala, head of Engage, a charity aimed at getting Muslims to participate in politics, noted that the code "would alienate the majority of the British Muslim public" and make it easier to "class most Muslims as extremists." An article for UK Indymedia also noted that "such policy would play into the hands of the far right" because "there are no equivalent policies aimed at those who promote hatred and intolerance towards non-white people, promote virulent xenophobia, imperialism and wars to secure resources, and fail to condemn the killing of innocent people in foreign countries."

However, Muslims are not the only group who face being on the receiving end of this legislation. The notion that those "who hold views that clash with what the government defines as shared British values" could be classed as extremists means that any dissenters, but particularly the radical left, could fall victim to its remit. Not only are we to be labeled "extreme" for not sharing the views of the ruling party, we are to face the same label if we dare to support the right of self-determination and freedom from tyranny and imperialism for all peoples around the world.

The fact that, by the definitions of CONTEST 2, George Orwell - the man who popularised the notion of ThoughtCrime - would be labelled an extremist, for supporting armed resistance against Franco in Spain and against the Nazis in World War II, is a sign of just how far we have travelled down the road to totalitarianism.

Friday, 6 February 2009

The BNP and the myth of union betrayal

As I noted in my last article, the British National Party have been attempting to capitalise on the anger that sparked the walkout from the Total Oil Refinery in Lindsey and the country-wide wildcat strikes that followed in solidarity. Now, the party has issued the following statement accusing Unite: the Union of hypocrisy in how they have dealt with the strike;
The snakes running the Unite union have stabbed their members in the back once again by agreeing to recommend that workers at Lindsey Oil Refinery go back to work in exchange for 102 “jobs for Brits” - although those jobs were already reserved for British workers in terms of a plant refurbishment plan scheduled for the middle of this year.

The so-called “deal” to which the Labour Party-supporting union has agreed offers 102 jobs for British workers out of the paltry 200 which the unions originally demanded.

A source inside Lindsey Refinery has provided BNP News with details of a meeting held recently by management at the French owned refinery in which it was stated that the strike would “fizzle out by March” at the latest.

Thereafter, the BNP News source said, management was going to engage in a major refurbishment of the plant (apparently required for insurance purposes) and around 2500 new jobs were going to be created as a result.

Management had agreed to allocate around 700 of the 2000 jobs to British workers as a sop. All the other workers were to be foreigners brought in to undercut British workers.

The deal struck with Unite has now made even this gesture unnecessary, and management is reportedly ecstatic that the number of jobs for British workers can be cut down from the 700 they expected, to just 101.

In terms of the deal, no foreign workers will lose their posts as a result of the dispute at the oil refinery. The major refurbishment will entail employing at least 180 Polish electricians, according to management plans.

In addition, similar contracts will also be negotiated for the smaller proposed overhaul at the Conoco Philips refinery next June along with work to be undertaken at the Lindsey hydrochloric acid facility in September/October.

The recommendation to return to work in exchange for the 102 jobs will apparently be put to a mass workers’ meeting on Thursday.

It will be a tragedy if workers are taken in by this confidence trick deal worked out between the Unite union officials and management.

There is no reason at all why all the jobs could not have gone to British workers in the first place. The fact that the company has now agreed to employ some Brits shows that the issue was never a “skills shortage” at all, as they initially falsely claimed.

To be offered a humiliating 102 jobs - when there are thousands of positions open - is nothing but a massive insult.

Workers will hopefully see through this ruse and demand that the anti-British laws and governments, both Tory and Labour, which have created the situation where foreigners can take their jobs with impunity, be rejected once and for all.

British worker impoverishment is caused primarily by the “free movement” rules of the European Union, into which Tories and Labour have plunged this country.

This tragic situation has been compounded by the treason committed by the trade unions, who are actually in favour of globalisation and giving immigrant workers greater rights than native Brits.

The time has come for radical change. As Scottish Herald writer Ian MacWhirter wrote in his newspaper on February 2: “In the 1930s, the Jarrow Crusade marched on London to demand work; now in 2009 they will be marching to demand foreigners are sent home. The British National Party is finally in from the cold — inheritor of the great tradition of British industrial militancy.”

Although I am, in my own workplace, not only a member of Unite but also a shop steward, I am far from uncritical of the actions and policies of the higher echelons of the union. In particular, I take issue with their continued funding of the Labour Party despite its betrayal of the labour movement to neo-liberal dogma, and (as an anarchist) their belief that political parties and government can be anything but a hindrance in the struggle for workers' rights against the machinations of global capitalism. That said, the above statement by the BNP represents nothing more than a cynical lie aimed at hijacking the labour movement for their own nationalist and racist ends.

Their chief accusation is that Unite are "in favour of globalisation and giving immigrant workers greater rights than native Brits" is nothing more than a bald-faced lie. By the standards of the BNP, anyone who does not agree with their aim of kicking out all migrants and ethnic minorities in order to restore "the overwhelmingly white makeup of the British population," is a multiculturalist, a globalist, and a traitor - an absolutist stance typical of totalitarian movements. Likewise, the party's focus on the clause of "102 'jobs for Brits'" is an absurd strawman argument, claiming that this is all the union is asking for in exchange for a return to work, when this concession is just a small part of the wider redress Unite is seeking.

Below is the full text of Unite's statement on the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute;

Unite joint general secretary, Derek Simpson said, "The workers involved in the unofficial dispute at the Lindsey Oil refinery will vote on a deal tomorrow morning to end the unofficial walkouts. Unite has assisted in attempting to broker a deal.

"We hope this deal will be accepted by the workers at the refinery.

"No Italian worker will lose their job as a result of this deal. Unite officials emphasised the importance of this throughout the negotiations.

Lindsey is part of a much wider problem that will not go away if the unofficial strikers go back to work.

"The government is beginning to grasp the fundamental issues. The problem is not workers from other European countries working in the UK, nor is it about foreign contractors winning contracts in the UK. The problem is that employers are excluding UK workers from even applying for work on these contracts.

"The flexible labour market is a one way street that only benefits the employers. We have seen the backlash as the recession bites. The government must act to level the playing field for UK workers.

"No European worker should be barred from applying for a British job and absolutely no British worker should be barred from applying for a British job."

Unite has proposed a three point plan for dealing he current problems taking place across construction sites in the UK.

1. Resolve the immediate problem that exists at Total's Lindsey oil refinery. Reach an agreement which gives fair consideration for UK labour to work on the contract.

2. Carry out an investigation into the practices of contractors and subcontactors in the engineering and construction industry. Follow by action from the government which will insist that companies applying for contracts on public infrastructure projects, sign up to Corporate Social Responsibility agreements which commit to fair access for UK Labour.

3. Overturn European legal precedents which allow employers to undercut wages and conditions. A European Court of Justice precedent gives employers a license for 'social dumping' and prevents unions form taking action to prevent the erosion of UK workers' pay and condition (see notes to editors).

The current proposals to be put to the workers at Lindsey will mean that 102 additional jobs will be created for UK workers.

Contrary to the BNP's insinuations of betrayal, Unite recognises that the "fundamental issue" is not "workers from other European countries working in the UK" but the fact that "the flexible labour market is a one way street that only benefits the employers" and that, as part of this, "employers are excluding UK workers from even applying for work on these contracts." Thus, whilst rejecting the far-right position by insisting that "no European worker should be barred from applying for a British job" it upholds its obligation to its members by insisting with equal vehemence that "absolutely no British worker should be barred from applying for a British job." It's three-point proposals expand upon this basic principle.

However, the problem that the unions face, of standing up to the obvious injustices highlighted by the walkouts without giving in to the jingoism of the far-right, is only half of the struggle the left faces over at least the coming year. The main parties, in particular the incumbent Labour government, have appeared incompetent, uncaring, and out of touch as the recession has worsened, and many people seeking an alternative are looking even farther right. With the European Parliamentary Elections coming up in June, this could well translate into considerable electoral success for the BNP. With Nick Griffin looking to become MEP for the North West, where I live, my awareness of the problem is particularly acute.

This is why the labour movement must present a solid front that stands up for workers without resorting to the xenophobia or jingoism that the BNP represents. In my last article, I spoke of a "battle on two fronts" that involved both "organising the working class for its own defence" and the need to "rise up and speak out against the moves by the nationalists of the far-right ... [to] draw racial division and resentment out of an issue rooted in class and economics." Fighting off such accusations against the trade union movement straddles both fronts. We cannot ignore the BNP's claims but must confront them head on, as the working class cannot organise effectively if even a few of our number distrust the motives of the organising bodies.