Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Iraq and the spoils of war

Today, according to Reuters, "Iraq regained full control if its towns and cities on Tuesday as U.S. troops pulled back, six years after the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein." The report states that "though some Iraqis fear the first step in a full U.S. withdrawal may leave them open to attack," the "tit-for-tat violence that brought Iraq to the brink of all-out sectarian civil war in 2006-2007 has receded" and Iraq has to "take the plunge" to prove its "fledgling democracy."

The Associated Press is more honest than Reuters when it notes that "violence is already rising and will likely continue after the handover as different factions test the government's ability to manage without American backup." In the run-up to today's withdrawal, the major news agencies were keen to report a "spike" or "surge" in violence in the country. "Bombings and shootings have killed at least 33 people in Baghdad and surrounding areas as violence intensified before a planned withdrawal next week of US troops from urban areas," according to the Press Association. Whilst on 16th June AFP told us that a "US soldier was killed and six people were wounded in violence across Iraq on Tuesday, two weeks before the scheduled American pullout from the country's urban centres."

In spite of this, the Iraqi government remains optimistic. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki called the US withdrawal as a "turning point" for the country and has made today into a public holiday with "National Sovereignty Day," according to al-Jazeera.

Looking beyond the headlines and the soundbites, it is easy to see that the picture being conjured by the media - of a benevolent U.S withdrawal after "liberating" Iraq and restoring "democracy" - is utterly false. The propaganda version of the withdrawal is built upon two major falsehoods - one, that this marks the end of the military occupation, and two, that Iraq is now an independent, sovereign nation.

The supposed end of the military occupation is based on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). But as the think-tank Foreign Policy in Focus notes;

The United States claims it’s adhering to the agreement, known as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), even with so many troops being left in the cities. But the United States is changing semantics instead of policy. For example, there are no plans to transfer the 3,000 American troops stationed within Baghdad at Forward Operating Base Falcon, because commanders have determined that despite its location, it’s not within the city.

The original intent of moving troops out of the cities was to reduce the US military role and send the message to Iraqis that the United States would be leaving the country soon. But troops that are no longer sleeping in the cities will still take part in operations within Iraqi cities; they will serve in "support" and "advisory" roles, rather than combat functions. Such "reclassification" of troops as military trainers is another example of how the United States is circumventing the terms of the SOFA agreement.

The reclassification of troops as "advisors" who are "embedded" with the military in "support" roles, and the redefinition of city borders to allow military bases to continue to function, shows precisely how far the doves of the Obama administration are from the Hawks of the Bush administration. Policies are "disastrous," but basic principles never are, and thus a liberal "withdrawal" is never really anything of the sort.

Near enough the same principle applies to sovereignty. Reuters' use of the term "fledgling democracy" is interesting, as it is exactly how the brutal and repressive US client regimes of El Salvador and Guatemala were described in the 1980s. As they ratcheted up their campaign of murderous terrorism, they too were "plagued" by "insurgents" - i.e. the indigenous population struggling to regain control of their country from a foreign client regime.

The major difference is that, two decades after the United States wiped out secular Arab nationalism and fostered Islamic militancy in keeping dominance of the region out of Soviet hands, there are now more separate factions and rival foreign interests in Iraq than can be counted. This means that, beyond the Green Zone, the Iraqi government's "sovereignty" over the people is near non-existent.

What little control it does exercise, however, is quickly being sold off to the highest bidder. Without irony, even the dovish "liberal" media who opposed the war are calling the Iraqi government's sale of oil and gas fields to major transnational firms "historic." The Guardian is typical in its announcement that although "it will take a great deal of money," the sales will "reverse the decades of war, sanctions and neglect that have left Iraq's oil sector rusting, out-of-date, and unable to leverage enviable resources." The fact that the "decades of war, sanctions and neglect" were the product of western policies with the very goal of "giving oil firms a foothold in a country that may hold some of the world's largest untapped energy reserves" passes unmentioned.

We can know, then, that regardless of whatever repression the government may take to crack down on "insurgents," or how much poorer the people get as foreign investment which generates vast wealth (for corporate bodies) leaves their communities devestated, Iraq will remain a "fledgling democracy" valiantly opposing the "tit-for-tat violence" of "insurgents." Unless, of course, it falls out of favour by following the course of countries such as Venezuela and using its oil wealth to benefit its own people.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

No Borders protesters must defy the media lies and police intimidation

In Calais, this week, anarchists from the No Borders Network have set up a protest camp as part of a campaign to "highlight the realities of the situation in Calais and Northern France; to build links with the migrant communities; to help build links between migrants support groups; and lastly, but not least, to challenge the authorities on the ground, to protest against increased repression of migrants and local activists alike." The Camp's aims are clearly stated;
This camp calls for the freedom of movement for all, an end to borders and to all migration controls. We call for a radical movement against the systems of control, dividing us into citizens and non-citizens, into the documented and the undocumented.
It should come as no surprise, then, that comprehension of this in a media system in the thrall of a "free-market" propaganda model was minimal.

At the "liberal" end of the spectrum, the Independent - supposedly "pro" immigration for supporting a more dovish take on border control - gave the camp only a passing mention. Buried within a story about the "increasingly desperate battle" against "the growing number of foreigners who believe they have a chance of a better life in the UK," based on reports that "the number of illegal immigrants caught trying to enter Britain from the continent has nearly trebled in the past five years," the paper told how "the French town was under siege after hundreds of protesters arrived to demand an end to border controls between France and Britain." That "riot police were on alert in the streets after intelligence reports raised fears of widespread violence" was all we needed to know. The viewpoint, and non-violent intent, of the protesters themselves was utterly bypassed.

The "conservative" press, however, dedicated a lot more space to the protests. The Daily Mail's headline declared with triumph that "police arrest[ed] 17 anarchists threatening to lead swarms of illegal migrants through Channel tunnel to Britain." According to the paper - the Sun reported a similar version of events - "weapons including machetes, metal poles and a spiked club were found hidden by the activists during raids in Calais late on Wednesday." Contrary to the truth, the No Borderites have "pledged to ‘tear down the borders’ stopping migrants getting across the Channel," and "authorities" apparently "said they had received email threats by protesters pledging to destroy wire fences and other security measures around the Channel Tunnel."

As the No Borders Brighton blog points out;
Utter bollocks! What do they expect us to do? Storm the port and commandeer ferries? Hijack a Eurostar train and ask the driver to "Take me to England?" I repeat, utter bollocks.
Whilst the "threats to burn ‘symbols of capitalism’ including local government offices, and even hotels run by prominent global chains" and "tense atmosphere" which "has gripped the port all week,"are contrasted by the fact that "there are currently only 500 people at the Camp against the estimated 2,000 police in the area." The police, of course, are "just waiting for an excuse to wade into the protesters and crack a few heads as they have admitted to local activists on a number of occasions recently." And, contrary to the threats of "swarming" the Channel Tunnel, the activists at the Camp "have specifically told the migrants in leaflets handed out prior to the Camp that we cannot do this." As they explain;
Why would we seek to raise the hopes of people who live for months in conditions that you and I would find it hard to survive by offering to do something we know we cannot hope to follow up on. We don't want to leave the migrants in worse situation after the camp has left than the one they were in before we cam. That is why we are offering no false hopes.
What the article doesn't say is that the locals around the Camp site have been reacting positively to our presence despite the hysteria from the press and local authorities. Some have even been helping in the Camp set-up. Nouchi Pierre, the president of the Union des Métiers de l'Hotel du Calais, has called on its members, the owners of cafes, bars, restaurants and hotels, "not to panic" and to stay open during the week of the Camp. This despite the local paper Nord Littoral stirring things up by suggesting that hotels belonging to the Accor group might be a target after the Strasbourg anti-NATO camp events.
But, of course, such realities are inconvenient. More importantly, they cannot even remotely hope to pass through the doctrinal system of a media that reflects only elite opinion. Over two centuries, some things don't change, and that anarchists remain a bogeyman whom the media refuse to even try and understand is one of them.

None of this should matter. In Calais, the treatment of migrants by the French authorities goes beyond appalling, and the desperate conditions that these people face is beyond imagining. Before the No Borders Camp arrived in Calais, French authorities bulldozed migrant camps and allegations that "the hard-line French riot police, the CRS, had thrown tear gas into their camps, and frequently arrested and harassed them" are constantly re-iterated. Likewise, those migrants who manage to cross the border are greeted by what the group No One Is Illegal calls a "gulag archipelago of immigrant prisons." Conditions are so bad that Libcom has reported mass "hunger strikes and rioting by immigration prisoners" in response.

This brutal treatment of the poorest and most wretched people needs to be challenged by direct action, and the issues need to be highlighted. If this means harrassment by the police and smears and lies from the corporate media, then so be it.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

In solidarity with the people of Iran

Over the past week, the streets of Iran have been aflame. The Iranian elections on the 12th June, after a campaign beset by violence and intimidation - including the torching of the offices of primary challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi and an assasination attempt against former president Mohammad Khatami, who backed Mousavi - saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad consolidate his position for another term.

Immediate accusations by Mousavi supporters and other reformers and dissidents of vote-rigging appear confirmed by the admission from the Guardian Council "that the number of votes collected in 50 cities surpass the number of people eligible to cast ballot in those areas." The near-instant response was massive protests and rioting in the streets. The arrest of over 170 people in the first weekend of the protests, the detention of opposition members, and government threats and censorship have done nothing to halt the unrest.

What follows is a statement made to Libcom by the Vahed Syndicate, an Iranian workers' syndicate involved in the unrest, on the present situation;

Statement of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company about the recent unrest sparked by discontent with the claimed results of the 2009 election
Vahed Syndicate – Any Suppression or threat of civil liberty condemned
In line with the recognition of the labour rights, we request that June 26 Action Day – Justice for Iranian workers – to include the human rights of all Iranians who have been deprived of their rights.
In recent days, we continue witnessing the magnificent demonstration of millions of people from all ages, genders, and national and religious minorities in Iran. They request that their basic human rights, particularly the right to freedom and to choose independently and without deception be recognized. These rights are not only constitutional in most of the countries, but also have been protected against all odds.
Amid such turmoil, one witnesses threats, arrests, murders and brutal suppression that one fears only to escalate on all its aspects, resulting in more innocent bloodshed, more protests, and certainly no retreats. Iranian society is facing a deep political-economical crisis. Million-strong silent protests, ironically loud with un-spoken words, have turned into iconic stature and are expanding from all sides. These protests demand reaction from each and every responsible individual and institution.
As previously expressed in a statement published on-line in May of this year, since the Vahead Syndicate does not view any of the candidates support the activities of the workers’ organizations in Iran, it would not endorse any presidential candidate in the election. Vahed members nevertheless have the right to participate or not to participate in the elections and vote for their individually selected candidate.

Moreover, the fact remains that demands of almost an absolute majority of the Iranians go far beyond the demands of a particular group. In the past, we have emphasized that until the freedom of choice and right to organize are not recognized, talk of any social or particular right would be more of a mockery than a reality.
The Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company fully supports this movement of Iranian people to build a free and independent civil society and condemns any violence and oppression.
In line with the recognition of the labour rights, the Syndicate requests that June 26 which has been called by the International Trade Unions Organization ‘Day of action’ for justice for Iranian workers to include the human rights of all Iranians who have been deprived of their rights.
With hope for freedom and equality,
The Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company
Human Rights Watch has insisted that "the Iranian government should immediately end its nationwide crackdown on opposition activity" and condemned the "violent attacks by police and state-sponsored militias against largely peaceful demonstrators." Their report highlights the extent of government oppression;
Other signs of the nationwide crackdown include attacks by security forces and state-sponsored militias on university student dormitories (a traditional stronghold of opposition protesters), the severe disruption of internet and mobile telephone communications, and restrictions on international and domestic media reporting on the protests against alleged election fraud.
Although it is almost without doubt that the spate of condemnations issued by western governments - particularly the US and UK - have other concerns at their core than the rights of women, unions, and opposition groups, there can be no doubt that the oppression bythe Iranian government needs to be opposed. Even if we cannot engage in active protest like the International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran (IASWI) or the Workers Solidarity Movement (WSM), our solidarity with the working class in Iran must be unequivocal.

Only united can the workers of the world stand up and fight the repression of the state.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Communities must stand up and resist this aggressive racism against the Roma

In recent days, a variety of news reports have highlighted incidents in South Belfast, where racist gangs have driven Romani families from their homes. Foreigners in UK, a news and information website for migrants in the UK, reports that "Romania's consul general has stepped in" and "is holding top-level meetings in Northern Ireland with Stormont's social development minister Margaret Ritchie" in an attempt to resolve the situation.

Over the previous weekend, two houses were attacked and their windowpanes smashed by racist gangs. Youths shouting "Combat 18 slogans" were said to be behind the attack. As a result, twenty Romani families have sought temporary refuge in a local church hall and leisure centre.

The incidents have been condemned by Amnesty International, who have insisted that "racist attacks are unacceptable and illegal. The Roma have every right to reside in Belfast and be treated with respect and dignity as any other citizen of the city." However, these are far from isolated attacks, and Amnesty has pointed to "a growing trend of discrimination against Roma people across Europe." In the Czech Republic, "far-right groups organized a march through the Roma-populated area in Přerov in the Czech Republic" and fascist attacks against Roma are rife and widespread. "In Slovakia, huge numbers of Romani children are denied" the "right to education without discrimination" and "are inappropriately placed in "special schools" or classes for children with mental disabilities, or segregated in Roma-only mainstream schools or classes where they study lower curriculums in virtual isolation from other pupils."

In Italy, where discrimination against the Roma has been official policy since the the rape and murder of an Italian woman by a Romanian immigrant last summer, authorities continue to forcibly evict the Roma from their settlements.

Although there have been expressions of concern from various European leaders over the more recent and vocal acts of discrimination, the fact is that such racism has been near-constant for centuries. And, whilst the aftermath of the Holocaust rightly forced the people of Europe to take action against anti-Semitic discrimination, the plight of the Roma has been ignored. Indeed, they are perhaps the only group of Holocaust survivors it remains permissible to be racist towards. Signs are that, with the recession only increasing the upsurge in the support and power of racist and neo-fascist groups across Europe, the suffering of a people who lost up to 500,000 of their number in the Nazi death camps is set only to increase.

If this is to be the case, then, and the authorities are going to remain passive - if not openly complicit - in violent racism against the Roma, then clearly this is not acceptable. Racists and fascists often try to hide behind a mask of respectability. They claim that they do not deserve to face violent opposition, and if they themselves are non-violent then this is indeed true. But acts of physical intimidation and harassment against minority groups cannot be tolerated. Communities must be prepared to use direct action against the fascist thugs in their midst.

Arguing for the free speech of bigots in suits, who wear the mask of "legitimacy" is one thing. Standing by whilst people are driven from their homes by the true face of such ideologies is quite another.

If the phrase "never again" is to mean anything, then ordinary people must not be afraid to confront this resurgence of fascist and racist violence with physical resistance.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Binyamin Netanyahu and Israeli rejectionism offered as "peace"

Much has been made, in the past couple of days, of Sunday's speech by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu where he purportedly "endorsed a Palestinian state beside Israel for the first time." The United States and Europe have publicly welcomed the speech as a "move towards peace," and this has been reflected in the headlines of the American and British media. All take on some variation of the "Netanyahu backs Palestinian state, with caveats" title used by the New York Times.

But, whilst so much emphasis and focus has been placed on this supposed "endorsement" of Palestinian statehood, not enough has been placed on the "caveats" which negate the prospect almost entirely. Fleeting attention is given to the fact that Netanyahu "seemed to offer little room for compromise or negotiation," but comment or context is lacking, whilst comment from Israeli hawks that the speech was "true and courageous" and "a balanced speech that the coalition can live with" could be found in abundance.

The comment by Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat that the speech amounts to "a series of conditions and qualifications that render a viable, independent and sovereign Palestinian state impossible." Instead, coverage laments the fact that "Palestinian negotiators have long refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state" because of the "contention" that it "would be detrimental to the status of Israel’s Arab minority" and "prejudge the refugees’ demand for a right of return." After this passing mention, the status of minorities and demands of refugees can be dismissed out of hand.

Returning to the issue of "caveats," any serious analysis of Netanyahu's words quickly finds that he does not "accept Palestinian statehood" at all. Rather, the "caveats" turn his purported "acceptance" into what amounts to a demand for near-unconditional capitulation from the Palestinians on every issue. This, no doubt, is why the Council of Foreign Relations declared the speech "unlikely to assuage Palestinians," who indeed rejected it as having "sabotaged all initiatives, paralysed all efforts, and challenges the Palestinian, Arab and American positions," leading the Jerusalem Post to lament the Palestinian Authority's "hysterical, hasty and clearly miscalculated response" to the speech. After all, anything short of full acceptance of Israel's position amounts to "completely rejecting" the peace process.

So, what were the "caveats" that have caused so much contention? In a nutshell, the "state" that Netanyahu will accept must be completely demilitarised, must allow expansion of existing Jewish settlements, must surrender Jerusalem wholly to Israel, and must utterly outlaw Hamas. Only somebody wholly ignorant of the history and politics of the region could even begin to humour these demands as acceptable.

Take demilitarisation. Netanyahu insists that he wants to see the "
solution of a demilitarised Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state." This will secure the "necessary security arrangements" of Israel, who face a "circle of hostility" from terrorists and "huge waves of suicide bombers." The necessary security arrangements of the Palestinians are aptly demonstrated by the blockade of the Gaza Strip, which Oxfam and the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) condemned the brutal siege and "unprecedented level" of poverty it caused. The invasion of the Strip by Israel, after they rejected a renewed ceasefire offer from Hamas, and the quick pacification of the territory by one of the best equipped armies in the world is also a case in point. The United Nations condemnation of Israel for war crimes during the invasion, including the use of white phosphorous, speaks for itself.

To take the issue of settlements and of Jerusalem together, what the Israeli PM's terms amount to is the classic Israeli rejectionist position. Israel gets to have a unified Jerusalem as its capital, and colonise all viable areas of the occupied territories. The Palestinians can call what is left "a state" if they so wish. Netanyahu insisted in his speech that "
we have no intention of building new settlements or of expropriating land in order to expand existing settlements," but added the useful "caveat" that "there is a need to allow the residents to lead normal lives, to allow mothers and fathers to raise their children," essentially an immediate rejection of his previous sentence.

Netanyahu's stance on Hamas, meanwhile, demonstrates aptly what form the leadership of a demilitarised Palestine would take. He has insisted that Hamas's presence in the Gaza strip is an immediate dampener on any potential talks;
Above all else, the Palestinians must decide between the way of peace and the way of Hamas. The Palestinian Authority must impose law and order in the Gaza Strip and overcome Hamas. Israel will not sit at the negotiating table with terrorists who seek to destroy it.
This may seem reasonable. Hamas are a militant Islamic organisation with a commitment to the destruction of Israel enshrined in their charter. But that is not all they are. Hamas gained control of the Gaza Strip in remarkably free and fair elections due to their grassroots social and health programs, and the fact that it dedicates a large portion of its $70 million annual budget to an extensive social services network of relief and education programs, schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues. Moreover, they have repeatedly called for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, with minor and mutual adjustments - the international consensus consistently rejected by the United States and its Israeli client. Netanyahu's comment on the Palestinians' attitude to peace is better applied to his own side;
The closer we get to a peace agreement with them, the more they are distancing themselves from peace. They raise new demands. They are not showing us that they want to end the conflict.
These factors not withstanding, the issue would still remain that one of Israel's prime conditions for "peace" is that the democratically-elected government of Gaza is "overcome" by an opposing force with a weak to non-existent democratic mandate in order to "impose law and order" does not speak well of Israeli intentions. Netanyahu may insist that "
we do not want to force our flag and our culture on them," but his "caveats" speak the opposite. Were the Palestinians to agree to what Netanyahu's speech offered, the inevitable result would be a helpless mass of people controlled by an Israeli client government within Israeli-controlled borders.

Where there has been acknowledgement of this in the press, the mindful question has been how Barack Obama will respond to this "challenge." The Independent commented that Netanyahu's stance on settlements was "a blow to Mr Obama" whose "
more even-handed ... approach" to the situation involved requesting "a halt to such construction."

In fact, as reported by BBC News, Obama declared the speech to be "positive movement." But then, those expecting a radical US President who would make a concerted drive for peace and overtly condemn the illegal colonisation and acts of terrorism perpetuated by the state of Israel were always expecting too much. In September 1993, Bill Clinton got then-Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin to shake hands with Yasser Arafat before the press on the White House Lawn. Dovish US Presidents always make greater overtures towards peace and reconcilliation. Beyond the rhetoric, however, little truly changes.

There may indeed be cause for optimism regarding the peace process. The "second superpower" of public opinion has forced much greater concessions by elites in the past, so anything is possible. But we keep failing to learn the lesson of history - that those in positions of power must be judged by their actions, not their words.

Friday, 12 June 2009

No War but Class War - June 2009

A survey, published on Wednesday by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), has found that 2008 offered yet another dangerous and difficult year for trade unionists around the world. In the foreword to the report, the authors sum up the extent of "the continuous and often massive and harsh violations of fundamental trade union rights;"
Countries where widespread and grave anti-union practices have unfortunately continued include: Colombia, Burma, Belarus, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Iran, Pakistan and the Philippines. Countries such as Honduras and Guatemala should this year be added to this list. In many other countries, where violations are not as outrageous, there is an overall growing tendency to undermine workers’ rights. Interference in trade union activities has been reported in Iraq, Kuwait, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Turkey and Venezuela, among others. Despite some legislative proposals or measures in some Middle East countries and Gulf States, migrant workers are still denied trade union rights in many countries. In addition to that, companies continued to take advantage of poor legislation and weak implementation to undermine workers' rights.
Worldwide in 2008, at least 76 labour activists were killed as a result of their actions for workers’ rights. Latin America remains the deadliest continent for trade unionists with over 66 murdered in 2008. 49 Colombian trade unionists lost their lives (including 16 union leaders, 4 of whom were women), a 25% increase over 2007. Trade unionists were also killed in Guatemala (9), Honduras (3) and Venezuela (4) among others. In Asia, at least 6 murders were reported (Nepal and the Philippines), as well as 3 in Africa (Nigeria, Tunisia and Zimbabwe) and 1 in the Middle East (Iraq).
In countries in every region, trade unions continue to be banned, or their establishment restricted. China still bans independent trade unions. Those attempting to unionise groups of workers or organise protests are often arrested, with some given prison sentences and others condemned to ‘re-education through work’.
Certain categories of workers also continue to be excluded. This includes public servants, agricultural workers, migrant and domestic workers, etc. The right to strike is often unduly limited, with lists of public services in which strike action is restricted going far beyond the ILO definition.
Again this year, several thousand trade unionists and workers were dismissed for participating in strike actions or protests; thousands more were harassed or discriminated against and hundreds arrested. The situation of domestic workers, mostly women and migrant workers in the Middle East and the Gulf States as well as some African and Asian countries, is also disturbing. Outright denial and other violations of labour and trade union rights were common in export processing zones, for example in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Swaziland, Bangladesh, Kenya, Mauritius and Pakistan.
Furthermore, the ongoing globalisation of the world economy coupled with the global financial and economic crisis put inordinate pressure on labour markets, working conditions and workers’ rights everywhere. Workers continue to be threatened by employers with relocation, outsourcing and downsizing, with inevitable negative consequences for the effective exercise of their trade union rights.
The report comes, unfortunately, as little surprise. On May Day, I gave just a couple of examples which demonstrate that the struggle of labour movement is a long way from over. Ever more such incidences crop up every day.

In Cape Town, South Africa, in protest at the escalating housing crisis there and the criminalisation of land invasions and shack-building, the Macassar Village Land Occupation orgainsed by the South African Shack Dwellers Movement has faced police intimidation and seen four people, including a two year old child, wounded by their rubber bullets. Their response was the brave insistence that "if they arrest us again, beat us again, demolish our shacks again and steal our building materials again, we will return to the land and we will rebuild – again!"

In South Korea, unionised workers at the South Korean Ssangyong Motor Company have been on strike since May 21. The company wants to lay off 36% of its workforce due to its status in bankruptcy protection. The union, in response, is demanding that management keep the workforce at its current levels and that the government step in with financial assistance to protect jobs. Management are refusing to negotiate with the unions.

In Egypt, workers at the Tanta Linen textile company have begun an open-ended strike over pay and conditions, including bonus levels, meal compensation, and unpaid commission. This follows on from events in May when, according to Libcom, "strikes and sit-ins [have been] taking place in six different provinces around the countries. [sic]"

In Greece, the battle fought by trade unionists, anarchists, and immigrants against the fascist paramilitary Golden Dawn continue to rage. The report below, also from Libcom, summarises the latest skirmish and the events surrounding it;
On Tuesday 9/06 anarchists in solidarity to immigrants who are being daily terrorised by fascist thugs of the Golden Dawn neonazi party and their local allies in the area of Agios Panteleimonas, moved to unblock the entrance of the local children playground which the fascists want to keep locked in an effort to impose segregation between greeks and immigrants, and "to preserve the blood purity of the white race"...While unblocking the playground the anarchists were attacked by fascists who were soon routed before the arrival of riot police forces who engaged the anarchists in battle with the aim of protecting the fascists. During the clashes one policeman was injured and five protesters were arrested on criminal charges. After the end of the clashes, a local greek father, Mr Tasoulas, defying the reign of terror in the area, took his son to play in the coveted playground. Soon they were surrounded by fascists who blocked the exit of the playground and threatened to linch the father calling him a traitor. After he managed to handle the child to a sympathetic neighbor, the fascists beat the father in full presence of the chief of the local police station. The strong police forces present at the scene then arrested the father and took him to the local police station, where his solicitor, a leading figure of the legal world and human rights activist, was piled with eggs by fascists who threatened her life.
The new tension in the area comes after the euroelection ascent of LAOS, the fascist Popular Orthodox Alarm Party, to the 4th position with 7% of the vote. This in combination with the governing party's landslide defeat, has led the government to endorse the core of the extreme-right wing policies of LAOS, and pledge a mass sweeping operation against illegal immigrants and their greek supporters within the summer. As the concentration camp planned to be built in the old NATO airbase of Aspropyrgos is now deemed impractical, the government has committed several old military camps of disgraceful humanitarian standards around the capital for the purpose of "cleaning the city of foreigners". The measures and discourse comes as little surprise as it comes from a political party famous for wanting to displace homosexuals in desert islands in the late 1970s. Furthermore the "Law and Order" operation of the coming summer is said to also include a mass attack against anarchist squats, and solidarity actions to immigrants by the movement as a whole. This the government hopes to achieve via a virtual military occupation of the center of Athens for the summer months modeled on Olympics 2004, as well as the introduction of a disputed legislation that would eventually render protest marches illegal. Due to the lack of a legislative majority by one MP, the government has resorted to yet another legal trick by increasing the total number of MPs by one, non-elected member of its own liking for the summer session of the Parliament.
The dictatorial rule of the right-wing and the ruthless employment of its parastate agents is increasing the tension across the country. Last week one police station in Athens was attacked and a central tax office was bombed by a Marxist guerrilla group, while a series of luxury brothels frequented by the ruling class were destroyed. At the same time, the movement is on its guard in expectation of next Saturday's Gay Pride parade which last year was attacked by parastate fascist thugs, as well as in expectation of an evacuation of the old courts in down-town Athens which are occupied by immigrants and are a constant target by the bourgeois media who waste no time in supporting the fascists in a most unambiguous manner.
These events should not be viewed as something happening far away over which we have no influence. In the UK, strike action is escalating over cuts to jobs and services, with the upcoming 24-hour strike by Royal Mail workers being just the latest example. And, of course, we face our own battles ahead as far as fascist movements are concerned.

The ITUC report has emphasised that, in the current climate, "workers everywhere have begun to feel the full impact of surging unemployment on their lives and that of their families and communities as decent work and decent jobs disappear" along with the aforementioned "continuous and often massive and harsh violations of fundamental trade union rights" by states, companies, and paramilitary groups. Faced with such a situation, the only just response can be to "stand side by side with workers in their struggle for justice" by showing solidarity internationally and organising against these threats at home.

Otherwise, "continuous and often massive and harsh violations" will not just continue but grow. The cost of complacency the rights that workers have fought and died for over the past 123 years will evaporate before our very eyes.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Fascists flee from yolk

In the aftermath of his European election victory, BNP leader Nick Griffin called an impromptu press conference outside Westminister, surrounded by the untrained, undisciplined heavies the BNP recruits as "security." However, the meeting was soon disrupted by angry protesters with Unite Against Fascism who, according to BBC News, "marched towards him [Griffin] chanting slogans and throwing eggs" "before the BNP leader was bundled into the back seat of a waiting car by his security men."

The event has thrown the BNP into a feral rage over the "violent thugs from the Tory and Labour backed UAF organisation" who "have shown their hatred of free speech and democracy" by utilising their own free speech and democratic right to protest. This proves that the UK has "lipped down the road to Zimbabwe style politics," although of course the BNP "campaigned democratically," as shown by their continued insistence that "links to the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain," automatically discredits an organisation. I support neither fascism nor authoritarian communism, but if one has the legitimate right to exist so does the other. If one can be dismissed by its very nature, then so can the other. Both the NF-style obsession with "commies" and the utter lack of universality in the BNP's "principles" are very revealing.

As for the egg attack, this was not "assault," and certainly not "on democracy itself." This event is on the same level as when protesters gave George Bush II the same treatment at his inauguration, pelted John Prescott with eggs, threw slurry over Robert Kilroy-Silk, or threw green custard over Peter Mandelson. It can even be compared to the events in Luton, in the aftermath of fascist violence by BNP supporters, when the Muslim community routed their own far-right. Attention-grabbing direct action that hurts only pride.

Direct action has long been a part of protest and, no matter how the authorities may classify it as "illegitimate," the fact is that direct action got us everything from the eight-hour day to women's suffrage. Authoritarians bemoan any protest that isn't unseen, unheard, and as a result has no impact. But what, then, is the point of protest?

For real examples of assaults and thuggery, one might consider the tripod-camera attack by Peter Tierey and Steve Greenhalgh on anti-fascist leafleters on 23rd April. Or the February leaflets from Wirral BNP encouraging locals to "coach" Alec McFadden "in a certain direction" by visiting his home, address helpfully provided. Or the woman who "was caught up in the melee" and is filing assault charges against the BNP's hired goons.

But, of course, Griffin's party - in their guise as the defenders of democracy against "violence" - prefer to cry over the egg on their own faces.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

What Nick Griffin's election to Europe means for the North West and the anti-fascist movement

British National Party leader Nick Griffin yesterday secured his first position as an elected representative, just managing to take the last of 8 European parliament seats ahead of Green Party candidate Peter Cranie. Griffin himself, in a statement on the BNP website, called it the party's "defining moment." As with most nationalists, he was unable to resist overloading his words with jingoistic absurdism that means - ultimately - very little at all;
Tonight has shown that the mettle of the men and women who created the British Empire, who fought like lions in the furthest corners of the globe, who sacrificed like titans in Flanders, who endured the Blitz and who stormed the beaches of Normandy, is still alive.

The far left and the Tory types who thought that the British spirit was dead and that they could walk all over 10,000 years of history, tradition, culture and heritage, were wrong. The British lion has awoken, and its roar will now be heard throughout the world.
The reality, however, is that - entirely as predicted - the BNP were able to gain their first European parliamentary seats (there was a second in Yorkshire) due to a low turnout and voter disillusionment with the major parties. The predicted "surge" in support for the far right, in fact, never happened.

In the North West, the increase in BNP support was marginal. They barely upped their share of the vote to 7.96%, just ahead of the Greens' 7.63%. In Liverpool, meanwhile, the locale of the defining moments in their North West campaign - from the arrest of 12 activists for inciting racial hatred in distributing the Racism Cuts Both Ways leaflets to prominent Merseyside BNP members Peter Tierney and Steve Greenhalgh's vicious assault on local anti-fascists - they polled at just 6.4%.

It was the on the day of the protest against the arrest of the "Liverpool 13" [sic] that Griffin decided to stand in the North West. The party spoke of "an almost surreal level of support for the British National Party" in this "traditionally militant left-wing city" whilst claiming that as "the few hostile reactions were most likely from the bussed-in far-leftist outsiders" it was likely they would "retake the streets of Liverpool." On the day, though, thanks both to a concerted grassroots campaign by local people and the city's proud tradition of opposition to racism and fascism, the BNP came dead last. That this occurred despite an incredibly low overall turnout, contrasted with the generally high turnout the BNP pushes for amongst its supporters, suggests that 6% may be an overestimation of BNP support in the city.

Would that the rest of the North West had followed Liverpool's example.

However, the campaign to keep Merseyside, indeed the North West, fascist-free does not begin and end with the European election campaign. This barely-scraped victory, based on but a few thousand votes in Oldham, will no doubt inspire further attempts by the far-right to make in-roads in the North West, and we must be ready to face this challenge.

The Labour government is in meltdown, with "rebel" MPs looking to remove Gordon Brown as head of the party Prime Minister, whilst the Conservatives seek to capitalise in time for the general election. What this overblown squabble between the two sides of the same failed, neo-liberal ideology means for ordinary people is the threat of a drive even farther to the right. With low turnout and overall voter disenfranchisement giving the illusion of greater support for the fascist fringes, the hawks of the mainstream have the perfect excuse to repress the poor and working class, to scapegoat immigrants and refugees for their own follies, and to shore up the interests of dominant elites. All in the name of "populism."

No genuine movement to resist the injustices of the current system can succeed whilst a party representing the fascist extreme of the exact same agenda pushed by the Labour-Tory spectrum is able to present itself as any form of credible "alternative." Thus, any rejection of the dominant system must neccesarily include an equally vociferous rejection of the pantomime fascists waiting in the wings. And a popular movement against the worst elements of society cannot stand or fall with one election.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

June 4th: Merseyside Against Fascism

One common response to anti-BNP and anti-fascist campaigns is the question of alternatives. People are turning to the likes of the BNP because they are disillusioned with the mainstream parties and alienated by their policies, so they do not want to vote for them. In which case, who do they vote for if the BNP are so bad?

The anti-fascist movement is divided on this question. Most are unwilling to give an answer, suggesting that anybody is better than the BNP. This stance, encouraging people to vote against the BNP but refusing to give a political context, is one supported by Hope not Hate and Unite Against Fascism. On the other hand, groups such as the Anti-Nazi League and some sections of UAF are funded by the Socialist Workers' Party, and the SWP regularly have stalls at anti-fascist events to promote their party. The unions still suggest that Labour is the best of a bad bunch, and their historic ties with the working class (as well as the funding they receive from the unions) means that they, unlike other parties, can still be influenced in a positive way. Antifa, meanwhile, take an altogether different line;
Voting is something that allows the State to pretend we live in a democracy, and it is a tactic used by fascist parties such as the British National Party to promote themselves and their policies. While the BNP may be in a position to throw bricks through the windows of a few Asian households, it is New Labour that is locking up refugees and bombing Iraqi civilians. It is ridiculous to suggest that voting helps to stop fascism. This is the sort of insult to working class communities that has allowed the BNP to grow. This is the case whether we are being told to vote for the old Statist parties or opportunist fronts, such as Respect™, which has helped to promote bigotry (sexism and homophobia) in order to further the agenda of its leadership. The problems that allow racism and fascism to flourish will not be solved simply by voting for parties which mask their fascism slightly more cleverly than the BNP, nor for some middle-class tourist standing on a Left-Wing ticket.
To a degree, their assertion is correct. Putting an "x" next to one or other box on a ballot paper will not change the way the country is run, and it will not fix the problems we face in our everyday lives. For that, we need much more. In order to see real change, we need massive, grassroots organisation amongst the working class and to build a large base of activism from the bottom up. We will not see real, substantial change by politely asking our preferred candidate for it by voting them in, but by snatching it from the ruling class through direct action.

However, I would not use this fact to argue that we should not vote. It will not bring about revolutionary change, and "the best of a bad bunch" is still a very poor choice, but it can help us keep the absolute worst of that bad bunch - namely, the British National Party - out of power.

This does not mean I am going to tell you who to vote for. The outcome of this election is based on proportional representation, rather than the First Past the Post system that keeps Labour and the Conservatives embedded in parliament, and so tactical voting is not necessary. The BNP need 8% of the vote to gain their first MEP, so what is necessary is that people vote, and that 93% or more do not vote for them. The higher the turnout, the less likely they are to succeed. Thus, my suggestion is not to "vote for anybody" but rather to go with your conscience and vote for the people you think are closest to your own political alignment. Don't be taken in by the lies of the BNP, but likewise don't think that opposing them means you have to support Labour or the Conservatives.

However you use your vote today, say NO to the BNP in Liverpool!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Is Latin America on the cusp of the unthinkable?

In March this year, Mauricio Funés won the presidential election in El Salvador. The victory is significant in "ending two decades of conservative rule" and "bringing into power a leftist party built by former guerrillas" from the the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), according to William Booth of the Washington Post.

Of course the Post, as a major element of the corporate media, is downplaying the brutal realities of a history that does not reflect well on the United States. Booth is careful to lay down an implicit link between "12 years of civil war, which left more than 70,000 people dead," and the FMLN with considered use of epithets such as "leftist" and "former guerrillas." This is not to mention the prominence given to Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) candidate Rodrigo Ávila's prediction that "the FMLN would transform El Salvador into a hard-left satellite state of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez." Meanwhile ARENA are merely "conservatives," their role in the US-sponsored state terrorism unworthy of mention, like the fact that ARENA founder Major Roberto D'Aubuisson Arrieta, better known as "Blowtorch Bob," was also founder of the death squads which terrorised, tortured, and murdered countless Salvadorans during over a decade of civil war.

As David Kirsch concludes, after reviewing evidence from various sources including death squad testimony;
It is widely accepted, in the mainstream media and among human rights organizations, that the Salvadoran government is responsible for most of the 70,000 deaths which are the result of ten years of civil war. The debate, however, has dwelled on whether the death squads are strictly renegade military factions or a part of the larger apparatus. The evidence indicates that the death squads are simply components of the Salvadoran military. And that their activities are not only common knowledge to U.S. agencies, but that U.S. personnel have been integral in organizing these units and continue to support their dally functioning.
As reward for his role in the subversion of democracy and a campaign of murderous savagery, notably the assassination of San Salvador Archbishop Óscar Romero, he received a plaque honouring his "continuing efforts for freedom in the face of Communist aggression, which is an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere" during "a closed-door dinner for 120 people at the Capitol Hill Club." The Washington Post report on the event quotes Richard Mathias of Young Americans for Freedom, one of the many conservative lobby groups hosting the event, as saying that "death squads have a very negative connotation" which only distracts from Blowtorch Bob's "message of free enterprise, anticommunism, freedom of exports and imports."

The above illustration barely scratches the surface of the terror that consumed Salvadoran society between 1980 and 1992, the legacy of which still resonates strongly in the massive poverty and social unrest that Funés inherits from the outgoing ARENA administration. However, it does quite amply demonstrate that the March election result represents something truly, delightfully, unexpected. Also unexpected, indeed unthinkable, is the response of the White House. The successive Carter, Reagan, and Bush I regimes all funded state repression against the FMLN and the Salvadoran masses, and yet the Obama administration "specifically congratulate[d] Mauricio Funés as the winner of the presidential election" and declared that they "look forward to working with the new government of El Salvador... on our bilateral agenda."

The events in El Salvador are not entirely without precedent. Despite an attempted coup d'etat, orchestrated by the CIA at the behest of the Bush II administration in 2002, and a media strongly aligned against him because of policies that favour the disenfranchised masses, Hugo Chávez maintains a strong democratic mandate and massive public support in Venezuela.

In Nicuragua, Daniel Ortega's Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) returned to power in 2006 after a sixteen year hiatus. Their first term in power followed the overthrow of the brutal Somoza regime installed in 1933 by US Marines after a seven year war to put down Augusto Calderón Sandino's peasant revolt. However the United States, fearful of the consequences for big business of the Sandinistas' attempts at national reconstruction in favour of the poor and disenfranchised masses, funded a CIA terrorist war to overthrow the government. The terrorist war waged by the US proxy forces ("Contras") saw 50,000 casualties and $12bn of destruction (equivalent to 5 million casualties and $25 trillion in the US) before the Bush I administration poured $9m into the opposition UNO in 1990 (the equivalent of a foreign power pouring $2bn into a US election) and the threat of a continued embargo unless Violetta Chamorro of the UNO won saw the Sandinistas leave elected office.

This time, however, there has been no such reaction. The Bush II administration expressed predictable "worries that a re elected Ortega would join forces with Venezuela's Hugo Chávez," according to the Boston Globe, and the Washington Post reported in 2007 of the US's "concern" over "Iranian aid projects." "Despite American warnings," the new Sandinista government has accepted aid "to help finance a new $350 million ocean port and build 10,000 houses" as well as "a $120 million hydroelectric project, to help Nicaragua overcome a power crisis, which has confronted Nicaraguans with blackouts nearly every day." Such troublesome help for the nation's poor from a country "which the Bush administration considers unfriendly" is seen as "problematic."

However, there has been no revival of the US-sponsored terror war that defined the Nicuragua of the 1980s. There has been a similar lack of state and counterinsurgency terror across the region in recent years, perhaps in large part due to the superpower's post-9/11 preoccupation with the Middle East for its re-declared "War on Terror," as can be seen in the growing regional trend towards "leftist" governments. With the Obama administration's declared "bilateral agenda," and Hilary Clinton's recent emphasis on a "new approach to the region," according to the Associated Press, which "recognize that our country is not perfect either," one might well predict a continuation of the trend.

Those who see a departure from imperial ambitions by Washington, perhaps summed up in Clinton's statement that "that some of the difficulties that we had historically in forging strong and lasting relationships in our hemisphere are a result of us perhaps not listening, perhaps not paying enough attention," are mistaken. As ever, what we see is the fabled "change of course" that so often pops up to erase the memories of America's past crimes, and in reality represents nothing more than a change of tactics. The Obama administration's declared goal is "restoring American leadership in Latin America," like many successive administrations that have gone before.

The "change we need," to quote the illusory slogan that dominated the election last November, comes in the form of a shift from sponsoring terror, death squads, and repression, towards "a new era of partnership" wherein the United states shapes the future of the region "through engagement that is strong, sustained, meaningful, and based on mutual respect." In practice, this amounts quite simply to a recognition of Hawkish failure in Latin America and the need for less overt methods of expanding influence.

The first hint of such a position within the acceptable sphere of debate - i.e. what is palatable to the elite interests that dominate political discourse - was in an article on "Latin America's Left Turn" in Foreign Affairs magazine. The article is quick to assert that "there is not one Latin American left today; there are two," and that our reaction to each will define our success. Of these "two lefts," we are told, "one is modern, open-minded, reformist, and internationalist" even though "it springs, paradoxically, from the hard-core left of the past." Meanwhile "the other, born of the great tradition of Latin American populism, is nationalist, strident, and close-minded."

As ever, we must be acutely aware that the use positive and negative descriptors used here do not align with basic facts, but with the utility of each "left" towards the interests of established power. Thus, the "open-minded" left-wing comprises those parties which "rapidly and neatly follow th[e course] of socialist parties in France and Spain and of New Labour in the United Kingdom" whilst the "closed-minded" left has "an almost insurmountable obstacle to its reconstruction on many issues" in the form of "close ties to and emotional dependency on Fidel Castro."

Though, ostensibly, such dovish talk of "understanding" rather than "concern and often more than a little hysteria" is far removed from the aggression of the Reagan doctrine, the basic underlying premise remains the same. The "open-minded" left is so because it "has been able to reconstruct itself" by departing from the "failures" of a past involving "a solid presence in organized labor" and concern for the popular masses and moving instead towards "respect for democracy," which by definition is only possible when "Old-school anti-Americanism has been tempered" and "social policy" fits into "a more or less orthodox market framework."

By contrast, the "closed-minded" left has no such "respect" for "economic performance, democratic values, programmatic achievements, and good relations with the United States," with Chávez as ever the case-in-point. On the front of "economic performance," we are told, Chavez is "driving his country into the ground." However, a paper by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) quickly refutes the claims that Chavez "does very little for the poor of his own country," that "Venezuela's [per capita GDP] shrank by 45 percent," and that "Venezuela's [economy] failed to grow at all." In fact, the country "has experienced very rapid growth since the bottom of the recession in 2003," after which "the economy has grown by a remarkable 87.3 percent," and "the poverty rate has been cut in half from its peak of 55.1 percent in 2003 to 27.5 percent in the first half of 2007."

But, of course, none of this qualifies as the "economic performance" and "programmatic achievements" that are necessary for "good relations with the United States." The real worry is that whilst cutting the poverty rate in half and offering health and literacy programmes for those living in the slums through the disturbing "presence of nearly 20,000 Cuban teachers, doctors, and cadres in Venezuela," Chávez is "making life increasingly miserable for foreign -- above all American -- companies." Therein lies the crux of the matter. Putting the poor before the rich is the exact opposite of the "economic performance" that the United States requires for "good relations."

All that need be said on "democratic values" is that, at all points on the mainstream US spectrum, they align very neatly with the economic priorities of the elite. Thus Chávez, winning the vast majority of the popular vote in free and fair elections despite the open hostility of the media and being restored to power by the people in the face of the 2002 CIA coup, does not share these values. Terror states such as El Salvador do.

"Distinguishing between these two broad left-wing currents is the best basis for serious policy," according to Foreign Affairs, which returns us to the central issue of the Obama administration's policy in Latin America. The "statesmanlike approach," so the magazine insists, is not "working to subvert any left's resurgence" through state terror as past administrations from Kennedy to Bush I have done, but to help foster a "right left." The recommendations that follow display an interesting concurrence with present Obama policy;
This strategy would involve actively and substantively supporting the right left when it is in power: signing free-trade agreements with Chile, taking Brazil seriously as a trade interlocutor, engaging these nations' governments on issues involving third countries (such as Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela), and bringing their leaders and public intellectuals into the fold. The right left should be able to show not only that there are no penalties for being what it is, but also that it can deliver concrete benefits.
Meanwhile, as the "wrong left" already exists and "attempts to displace it would be not only morally unacceptable but [far more importantly] also pragmatically ineffective," "the international community should also clarify what it expects" from it. So, rather than state terrorism to control the reason, Washington should not "bemoan the advent of the left in Latin America" but use its "enormous leverage" to "separate the sensible from the irresponsible," already defined against conformity to US national and business interests, "and to support the former and contain the latter." This conforms to the White House policy declaration that "a new era of partnership with countries throughout the hemisphere" is the best way to achieve "economic growth and equality, our energy and climate futures, and regional and citizen security," already defined in US-friendly terms.

Thus, as I argued above, Latin America is witnessing a diversion by the US from the tactics of state terror, but not a diversion from its policy of imperial and economic hegemony. The "right left" is not the left of the 1980s Sandinista government, which Oxfam described as follows;
The cornerstone of the new development strategy, spelled out by the Sandinista Front some years before taking power, was to give priority to meeting the basic needs of the poor majority... In Oxfam’s experience of working in seventy-six developing countries, Nicaragua was to prove exceptional in the strength of that government commitment.
But the new FSLN government, which "has been able to reconstruct itself" and fit into "a more or less orthodox market framework" is a part of this "right left." Workers' Liberty describes the "rightward shift" of Ortega's new FSLN, which has led many former Sandinistas to denounce Ortega for "persecuting revered revolutionary figures-turned-critics," the Guardian noted in January.

The Obama administration is determined to press its interests through use of a reconciliatory tone and diplomatic influence, and constrained from using state-terror as an alternative both by the military situation in the Middle East and the financial situation on Wall Street. If, then, the "wrong left" is to press for genuine economic equality, political freedom, and an end to imperial influence, there has never been a better time than now.