Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Italy and Libya: a catalogue of injustices against migrants

What follow are two articles from the No Borders Brighton blog. They tell the story of Italian-Libyan cooperation to block the Libya - Lampedusa/Malta migration route. I republish the articles here in full because they tell a story that needs to be heard.

Italy: Abandon Hope All Who Sail Near

This Wednesday saw the publication of a Human Rights Watch report called 'Pushed Back, Pushed Around', based on interviews with 91 migrants and asylum seekers in Italy and Malta since May this year. The report's subtitle sums up the contents well: 'Italy’s Forced Return of Boat Migrants and Asylum Seekers, Libya’s Mistreatment of Migrants and Asylum Seekers', as Italy's new 'push-back' policy operates hand in glove with its complicity in the appalling treatment meted out to migrants it returns to fester in Libya's detention centres and prisons.

The dire living conditions and the routine brutality of prison guards that the African migrant victims of Italy's new 'final' solution to its migrant problem suffer also featured in a Channel 4 News story on the same day, based on smuggled out film footage and interviews and on the extensive reporting sourced from the Fortress Europe blog.

Both highlight an ugly story of people who have been denied due process under the international laws and conventions that Italy has signed up to but which Libya has not. An ugly story of European governments pursuing racist policies and ignoring the consequences visited upon the men, women and children they have abandoned to their fates in one of the most squalid and oppressive immigration detention systems in the world.


"On May 6, 2009, for the first time in the post-World War II era, a European state ordered its coast guard and naval vessels to interdict and forcibly return boat migrants on the high seas without doing any screening whatsoever to determine whether any passengers needed protection or were particularly vulnerable. The interdicting state was Italy; the receiving state was Libya. Italian coast guard and finance guard patrol boats towed migrant boats from international waters without even a cursory screening to see whether some might be refugees or whether others might be sick or injured, pregnant women, unaccompanied children, or victims of trafficking or other forms of violence against women. The Italians disembarked the exhausted passengers on a dock in Tripoli where the Libyan authorities immediately apprehended and detained them." - 'Pushed Back, Pushed Around'

There have been eight 'push-back operations' since the policy was launched in May, in which 757 people had been taken back to Libya. Yet, according to Nitto Francesco Palma, an Under Secretary at the Italian Interior Ministry, "Not a single request for international protection was made during this journey," despite the journey taking 10 hours, "anyone could have asked for protection or informed staff they feared persecution but no one did". Who is he trying to fool?*

These 'push-back operations' are part of an overall deal with the Libyan government to severely limit the number of boats leaving the Libyan coast for Italy as well reaching Italian shores. And the policy seems the be working. In its first week of operation, 500 boats intercepted and migrant landings have decreased by 94 per cent since the 'push-back' agreement came into effect.** At the beginning of the year, the detention centres in Lampedusa held nearly 2,000 people, and migrants were sleeping on the floors, but in early June they were completely empty. Yet Italy still claims to be dealing with more migrants than it can cope with. According to Palma, in the first eight months of 2009 Italy processed 17,203 asylum applications and granted refugee status to 1,246 people. A further 5,418 people received another form of protection while around 10,000 had their claims refused. This compares to the 31,164 new asylum applications received in 2008 (i.e. a fall of roughly 450 applications a month).

However, we have no breakdown of figures for arrivals month by month for that period, so it is difficult to tell how much of an overall effect on numbers arriving in Italy the policy is having (the 757 migrants returned only represents half of the decrease seen during the first 8 months of this year). One thing that is certain however is that the decrease in boat arrivals will lead to a reduction in both in the total number of asylum application granted and in the overall percentage. Part of the reason for this is that 75% of those who arrived in Italy by sea in 2008 applied for asylum and 50% of them received some form of international protection, whereas the overall level of applications granted was lower at about 40%.

A significant contribution to the higher rate of successful applications came from Eritrean refugees. Italy is the main route in to the EU for Ertirean migrants fleeing forced conscription and political and religious persecution, and the vast majority of the 3,000 Eritreans who reached Italy by sea in 2008, and apply for asylum, received a residence permit for international protection. Similarly, many other such arrivals are refugees from conflict zones such as Somalia or Darfur and therefore also have strong claims to be granted international protection. So one can see why the Italians might was to cut this asylum route.


Which brings us to the recent criticism of the 'push-back' policy and the fact that it falls foul of international law. Refoulement is the forced return of people to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened or where they would face a risk of torture, and it is prohibited under numerous international conventions, all of which Italy is a signatory to. This fact was again pointed out to the Italian government by the combined forces of the United Nations Refugee Commissioner, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, the European Commission Vice-President and Human Rights Watch this week. And Italy is deemed guilty not just because the Eritreans risk being returned to Eritrea by Libya but because Libya itself has one of the worst human rights records in Africa. (see Libya: Inside The Detention Centres tomorrow)

Much of this renewed international interest is due to the story of the deaths of the 73 Eritrean migrants en rote to Italy, who drifted for three weeks in the Mediterranean without rescue. The 5 surviving refugees said a dozen fishing boats passed but only one answered their calls, throwing food to them but refusing to board. Previously Sicilian fishing boats were renown for rescuing migrants' boats when in trouble but according to Laura Boldrini of the UNHCR, "with Italy's new law making immigration a crime, they've become too afraid".

Other Developments

In other moves, two Italian public prosecutor's offices have instigated legal challenges to the new Bossi-Fini immigration law, claiming that it violates the Italian constitution and as such should be unenforceable. One case, in the northern city of Turin, involves a nine-month-old baby born in Italy to a Moroccan mother, legally resident in the country, and an Egyptian father without a residence permit. The couple are unable to register the baby either as Italian or Egyptian, while the father, a trained psychologist, is under threat of deportation. This decision on this case, which cites the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child guaranteeing minors the right ''to their personal identity and to citizenship from birth", is expected in early October.

The second case, in the Sicilian city of Agrigento, involves 21 migrants who are being prosecuted for arriving in southern Sicily without papers. The prosecutor's office this time is citing the UN Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air (2000), which they say obliges signatory states to assist and protect migrants in difficulty, not prosecute them. Simply entering Italy without permission or overstaying a permit should not of itself be proof that someone represents a threat to public safety. This case is currently adjourned, awaiting a ruling from Italy's Constitutional Court.

Hopefully the mounting pressure on the Italian government will force them to back-track on this law but, given the high public rating of the Berlusconi regime and the increasing popularity of the blackshirt-style anti-migrant citizens street patrols, it seems highly unlikely. After all, this is not the first time that Italy has had its wrists slapped for something like this***, and it is not just Italy but the whole of the rest of the EU that is relying on policies like 'push-back' and deals with the Libyan regime to cut clandestine migration into Fortress Europe.

* See the Paris Match photos for a typical expulsion.
** Deaths on the Libya - Lampedusa/Malta route have also fallen - there were 339 victims in the first 6 months of 2009, compared with 650 in the same period of 2008.
*** A previous Italian series of collective expulsions towards Libya where condemned in 2005 by the European Parliament and by the European Court of Human Rights.

Libya: Inside The Detention Centres

On May 14 Libya took delivery of three patrol boats of the Guardia di Finanza as part of a deal struck between the Gadaffi and Berlusconi regimes to try and block one of the main clandestine migration routes into southern Europe via Italy. The loan of the three boats, to be followed by 3 more later this year, is part of Italy's new 'push-back' policy that involves the Libyans intercepting boats leaving their coastal waters in addition to accepting migrants that have been intercepted by Italian naval forces and returned to Libya. These returnees are immediately locked up in the numerous prisons and detention centres doted along Libya's Mediterranean coast.

Since Libya 'came in from the cold' in 2004, the EU, and Italy in particular, has been increasingly involving the country in its overall policy of outsourcing its immigration and asylum effort. Deals have been signed and money and equipment handed over, channelled via Frontex and the International Organisation for Migration, in exchange for patrolling Europe's southern border and for increasing the rate of deportation of migrants back to sub-Saharan countries.*

The 3 patrol boats are used to monitor the most popular setting-off point for Lampedusa and Sicily, the sparsely populated coastline between the Tunisian border and Sabratah, a stretch of coast already monitored by a police tent sited on the beach, every ten kilometres. This blanket coverage has been very effective, intercepting 500 boats in its first week of operation and provoking a fall-off in clandestine traffic, with only 400 boats interdicted in the following 8 weeks. Inevitably, migrants will be forced to risk longer and more hazardous sea crossings to try and circumvent the patrols, with the obvious consequence being more deaths.


“There are no refugees in Libya,” Brigadier General Mohamed Bashir Al Shabbani, director of the Office of Immigration at the General People’s Committee for Public Security, told Human Rights Watch. “They are people who sneak into the country illegally and they cannot be described as refugees.” And according to current estimates, there are two million of these "people who sneak into the country illegally" living precarious in Libya.

Unlike Italy and the rest of the EU, Libya itself is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Therefore, if you are not a Libyan citizen or do not hold a valid visa, you are liable to be detained and disappear into Libya's notorious prison system alongside those migrants who have been forcibly returned by Italy. Even if you do manage to avoid the ubiquitous police patrols and survive the 8 months wait for an appointment with the UNHCR, who themselves have only been operating in Libya since 2008, any refugee papers issued are effectively worthless as refugees routinely have them torn up by the police after their arrest. And once inside the prison system, as a diplomatic source in Libya told Human Rights Watch, migrants can be detained for anything “from a few weeks to 20 years.”

Libya's Gulags

There are believed to be at least 28 facilities used to hold migrant detainees. These fall into 3 types: concentration camps, like those of Sebha, Kufrah and Misratah, where migrants and refugees are concentrated waiting for their deportation. Then there are smaller facilities, such as Qatrun, Shat, Ghat, many ols warehouses where they are held for a shorter periods before being sent to the bigger camps. The remainder of these facilities however are the prisons: Jadida, Fellah, Ain Zarah and Kufar. Conditions in them are uniformly bad; foul drinking water, bad food, no chance to wash, overcrowded, constant beatings, often with cattle-prods and many women detainees raped by guards. The exceptions are a select handful of 'show home' prison and even these the Libyan authorities are reluctant to allow organisations such as the UNHCR to visit.

So, when Human Rights Watch came to compile their report, 'Pushed Back, Pushed Around', they were forced to rely on the testimonies of ex-detainees. They found that the migrants returned from Italy to Libya mostly ended up in Kufra detention centre, deep in the desert near the Sudanese border. Ostensibly a state prison, it consists of a courtyard surrounded by 6 large detention rooms, each capable of holding more than 100 migrants. These rooms are windowless, with air holes in ceiling for ventilation. Everyone sleeps on the floor and, if you are lucky, you might share a filthy mattress. Detainees are only allowed outside once a day when guards conduct the prisoner count. There they can grab a breathe of fresh air and they often receive a beating too. The prison, like most other Libyan jails, has no medical staff.

There are also buildings at Kufra that are owned and run by people smugglers, who work hand in fist with the prison guards. They too wear uniforms and it is impossible for the migrants to tell guards and smugglers apart. Once in the hands of these smugglers, migrants have no option but to pay their captors the money for their passage to Italy or they end up dumped in desert to die.** Many migrants also end up coming back to Kufra in what seems like an endless round of 'pay the smugglers, get caught and returned to Kufra', only to have to pay up again. In some Libyan prisons migrants can bribed their guards to buy their freedom. The going rate is $1,000-$1,200, exactly the cost of the boat ride to Europe. In other prisons guards just sell their captives to the smugglers for as little as 30 Libyan dinars, about €18.

This picture is not untypical. In 2006, when Gabriele del Grande visited Misratah prison, 210 km east of Tripoli, he found more than 600 Eritrean asylum seekers, mostly between 20 to 30 years old, and including 58 women and several children and babies, crammed 20 to 4 by 5 metre room, again with no windows. Some detainees had been there for more than 2 years and none had seen a lawyer or the inside of a court.

Fully Culpable

And it is not as though the Italian authorities*** are in the dark about the fate of the migrants caught up in its 'push-back' operations. In 2005, the former director of the Italian secret service (SISDe), Prefect Mario Mori, informed the Italian Parliament that: "Undocumented migrants in Libya are caught like dogs” and that they are put in to prisons so overcrowded that “policemen must wear a dust mask on the mouth because of the nauseating odours". It is clear that the Italian government is fully cognisant of the conditions that it sends the migrants back to and of the fact that it is guilty of serious violations of international law relating to the refoulement**** of refugees.

* It is also not the first time that a 'push-back' policy has been operated by a European country. Italy and Malta have tried it in 2005 and 2006 respectively and it is routine for Greek coast guards to tow boats back to Turkish waters and to sink them there, forcing their passengers to swim ashore.
** Before the guards at Kufra discovered that they could sell the migrants to people smugglers, the migrants were often loaded into the converted container lorries used to transport migrants around Libya and taken out into the desert and dumped with little or no water.
*** Or any other European government, a number of whom have in recent years concluded prisoner transfer treaties.
**** The forced return of people to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened or where they would face a risk of torture.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

On the G20 summit in Pittsburgh

As with London in March, the G20 summit of this past week saw Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, utterly transform. Great masses of people took to the streets in opposition to not just the summit itself but to the destructive economic system that it represents.

Much has changed since the protests in London saw graffiti, broken glass, and the death of an innocent man at the hands of the police. A working class increasingly ready to take direct action against the vicious class war by the rich has established power on the back foot, their greater resort to repression and brutality a sign not of strength but of desperation. In Pittsburgh, this desperation showed itself in a level of repressive tactics utterly unseen in London.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Barry Weiss is typical of the mass media dismissal of the protesters. Quoting the most articulate capitalists and the least articulate anti-capitalists he can find, patronising the protesters as "earnest," and refusing to research the ideas he opposes any further than to insist it is "hard to say" what their message is, it reads more like a paltry attempt at disparaging sarcasm than serious journalism. Perhaps the only saving grace is more subtle than most with his use of the term "anarchists" to generate distrust and ridicule.

For coverage without patronisation, we have to turn to Billy Wharton in Dissident Voice;
Clashes between police and G20 protesters continue into the night in Pittsburgh. A cycle of dispersal and regroupment has been underway since early this afternoon. Police ramped up their aggressiveness after being overwhelmed early at Arsenal Park.
Schenley Park just outside of the University of Pittsburgh, was the scene of some of the most volatile interactions of the day. At first, student onlookers, seemingly not initially affiliated with the G20 protests, challenged riot police and were violently repulsed. Then, protesters massed in the park and marched on the police line. Tear gas was fired, but the wind was with the protesters and blew the gas back on the police themselves. Massive numbers of police then surrounded the park. The protest dwindled as young people, fatigued by a day of being chased by the police through streets of Pittsburgh, retreated in search of food and much needed rest.
There was property damage today, but it was either defensive or immediately quashed by the protesters themselves. A sound and gas attack by police resulted in the overturning of some dumpsters — a futile symbolic act of self-defense not the justification for repression that the mainstream media has reported. Rocks in BMW and Boston Chicken stores were the frustrated outcome of a crowd whose right to assemble had been forcefully revoked. A small band of protesters went further, by smashing ATMs, but they were quickly persuaded against continuing by march organizers themselves.
The police were everywhere. Pinning down protesters, creating confrontations and randomly stopping and searching. Cops came from Ohio, Florida and Arizona. If their numbers were not enough, they employed anti-protest technology. A Long Range Acoustic Device was employed to beam out high-volume sounds and Twitter-journalist visually identified a microwave heat machine which wasn’t used, but stood at the ready to repel demonstrators. Such tools of repression have no place inside a democratic society.
The protesters were brave, standing up against overwhelming repression, policing themselves and sending the message that capitalism has failed them and billions of others around the world. Equally encouraging were the actions of residents of Pittsburgh. Many extended solidarity to the protesters — opening their homes for relief, providing overnight housing free of charge and disregarding work rules to provide a tired demonstrator with a free glass of water or a seat to rest for a moment. Such acts of solidarity offer a basis to think about a different kind of society, one which moves beyond acoustic attacks and tear gas and towards democracy and freedom.
To back up Wharton's report, we have considerable footage of police brutality and intimidation tactics. Such as the use of unmuzzled dogs at the University of Pittsburgh and elsewhere as a form of coercion;

Or the use of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesting students;

Clearly, then, the police in Pittsburgh are living up to the actios of the police in London. It is perhaps only through good fortune or good organisation on the part of the protesters that nobody died. This time.

Inside the summit, meanwhile, nothing has changed at all. According to the Guardian, Barack Obama hailed a "new era of engagement" under which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) "will regularly analyse whether the economic policies of G20 countries are consistent with "sustainable and balanced trajectories for the global economy"." Gordon brown echoed this sentiment by stating that "the old systems of economic co-operation are over," replaced by "a system that can prevent crises as well as deal with them when they occur."

We learn absolutely nothing new, then. In the wake of the London summit, the same paper told us of "the death of the "Washington Consensus" of financial market liberalisation, privatisation and unfettered capitalism promulgated by ... the IMF and the World Bank," because that same IMF will have a "stronger role" in doing what it already does. In London, "unfettered capitalism" "died" before being brought back to life in exactly the same form, only stronger. Just as in the wake of every great financial crises caused by those with capital, who bail themselves out whilst making the poor pick up the tab. All we have now are the specifics.

We can also discern, from both the disproportionate reaction to the protesters outside and from an increasing denial and rollback of workers' rights even though "the IMF is now predicting 3% growth worldwide next year," that the powerful are on the back foot. That those who suffer their successes are paying for their failures doesn't interest them in the slightest. But the possibility that the masses might finally rise up and say "enough" terrifies them.

Let them be scared. As long as people continue to organise and mobilise, to educate themselves and each other, and to stand up on principle against injustice, then the rebellion will grow. Long may it do so.

Friday, 25 September 2009

How the BNP's pro-worker rhetoric is belied by anti-worker actions

Immediatly after writing my last article on the situation facing workers at Jaguar Land Rover, I had my attention drawn to the British National Party website. There, you can find footage of party leader and MEP Nick Griffin, speaking outside the Halewood plant on Tuesday.

In the video he points out, quite rightly, that the government's refusal to bail out productive industry after it has spent billions of pounds bailing out the banks is a scandal. He also, again correctly, draws attention the loss of jobs in the British car industry being down to many companies outsourcing production to factories in the third-world in order to save money. It is fair to say, then, that in this respect his analysis is right on the mark.

However, it is not uncommon for nationalists such as Griffin to make such insightful analyses of the current economic system, whilst twisting them to support their own agenda. When Griffin says that the government should "put British workers first," it is important to look closer into what he is saying and debunk the notion that the BNP in any way speak for the working class.

Despite what their rhetoric may suggest on the surface, the BNP are not in favour of a better deal for workers - even by the reformist and concilliatory standards of the main trade unions. No, what the party wants is for an exploitative international capitalist system to be replaced by a national capitalist system, which would in its turn be as exploitative. The difference, of course, is that the benefit will not be one for international capital, but for the British state. This state, under the BNP, would operate the same corporatist economic system envisioned by Mussolini in The Doctrine of Fascism, whereby "Fascism recognises the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade-unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which diverent interests are coordinated and harmonised in the unity of the State."

This statement quite eloquently sums up the economics of the BNP, which hold to the far-right "third-position" between capitalism and communism. Third positionists in Britain, notably Griffin, were heavily influenced by Italian neo-fascist Roberto Fiore, as well as by the Catholic ideology of distributism. This is why an article in January for the BNP website absurdly tried to claim the worker cooperative as the vision of "British nationalists building on British distributists before them." In fact, the "third-position" is little more than state-capitalism with the occasional concept ripped off from libertarian socialism to appeal to the working class.

But the contempt shown by Griffin and the BNP for the people of the working class is everywhere. In May last year, Lancaster Unity compiled some choice examples;
The BNP is increasingly trying to orient itself as the sole representative of the white working-class. Whether or not it succeeds in doing this is another thing. But, deep down the BNP is riddled with anti-working class sentiment.

Like many racist/fascist parties, the BNP ideologically makes a connection between class and 'race': that that the white race is not just threatened externally by Jews, non-whites, and whites who marry non-whites but, that it is internally threatened by whites who 'genetically' don't make the grade. In other words, the white working-class due to their genetic inferiority (the reason why they cannot progress economically and culturally) threaten to bring the white race down from inside.

I was prompted to write this piece after I was incensed by a recent comment made by the Lee Barnes, the self-appointed 'Director' of the BNP's legal department, about how he sees the trials and tribulations of modern working class life in Britain as a source of amusement and personal entertainment. This is what Lee Barnes wrote:

"The other night when I was laying in bed all I heard at first was the screams from my neighbours having another drunken fight, then the sounds of a baseball bat smashing car windows in the car park. This happens most friday and saturday nights. To be honest its more entertaining than the TV, so I just lay back and listen to the chaos of modern working class lives"

'The Song of the Star Lark'

This sideswipe at the working-class is a recurring theme in BNP utterances. Thus, we read BNP councillor Simon Smith saying:

"White working class scum will be swept away by a future BNP government."

"I'm no apologist for white working class scum"

Also, we shouldn't forget BNP leader Nick Griffin's argument that people who live on housing estates are "scum". So, according to Nick Griffin working-class people are scum. Unfortunately, unlike Nick Griffin, we can't all be born with a silver-spoon in our mouths, raised on Suffolk farms, with a six-figure inheritance from granddaddy and a private-school education rounded off with a third-class degree from Cambridge.

Nick Griffin's former mentor, John Tyndall, the founder of the BNP, went further, stating that inherited wealth "increases the probability that assets come into the hands of those best fitted to use them by virtue of genetic advantage". John Tyndall, like Nick Griffin, also had the benefit of a six-figure inheritance. From John Tyndall's perspective the working-class are both undeserving of financial inheritance and incapable of leaving an inheritance. Tony Lecomber, then a senior BNP officer, articulated this reasoning when he said: "The rich are genetically superior to the poor" i.e. the upper classes are genetically superior to the working classes.

One is then not surprised to learn that BNP members posted on the website of the youth wing of the BNP jokes making fun of working-class people or 'chavs' as they call them. Similarly, I recently came across the Bebo profile of a BNP member/supporter called John Smith (his nickname is the enamouring 'The Michelin Man') who states under the section 'Pure Hatred for':

"I cannot stand chavs or gypsies or sluts and hoes as they fuck me off big time acting like hot shit"


The BNP hierarchy have even deployed the sub-text of class to dismiss any internal dissent. Currently, we are seeing BNP councillor Colin Auty from Kirklees attempt to challenge Nick Griffin for the leadership of the BNP. Some BNP members on the neo-nazi chat forum Stormfront dismiss Colin Auty's leadership challenge by contrasting Nick Griffin's 'education' against Colin Auty's lack of an 'education'. Therefore, we see the juxtaposition between "university-educated Nick Griffin" and "painter and decorator Colin Auty"; and, "capable and competent Nick Griffin" and "not so capable and perhaps incompetent Colin Auty". The sub-textual reading is obvious: how dare a working-class person, stupid and uneducated, challenge an 'educated' man.

The BNP's conception of the 'nation' is both oppositional and hierarchical. Oppositional because externally the BNP defines Britain in opposition to non-Whites and Jews i.e. its vision of Britain is exclusionary. Hierarchical because internally the BNP defines Britain in terms of a hierarchy of class with the white working-class at the bottom as an internal threat who can diminish the purity and strength of the white race from within i.e. its vision of Britain is again exclusionary because it comes from an upper/middle-class vision of Britain which is out of touch with and hostile to working-class life and culture.
More recently, I noted that the Merseyside branch of the BNP's farcical protest against what they see as a gathering of "Anti British Communists [sic]" displayed their true attitude towards working people. Their constant attacks on the unions, on the sole basis that they refuse to divide the working class along racial lines, underline this point.

But what of "putting British workers first," as Griffin demanded outside the JLR factory in Halewood? Well, even that idea (on which the BNP claim a monopoly) goes up in smoke with the recent revelation that the t-shirts sold on the party's merchandise website Excalibur, are made in third-world sweatshops.

A spokesman for Excalibur said, "unfortunately we have been unable to change Britain’s climate and start our own cotton plantations. Hence cotton T-shirt come from where cotton can be grown." However, such an excuse is facile. The T-shirts were manufactured in Honduras, which hasn't grown cotton since the 1800s, and it should not need stating that garments do not require manufacture at the point where the cotton was grown. With Griffin's own North West constituency the home of 1,000 textile firms which employ 38,000 workers, it is clear that the BNP did not lack the ability to live up to their stated concern for the working class, just the will.

The BNP is, demonstrably, a fascist organisation with utter contempt for the working class. Though their leadership are able to polemicise quite eloquently about issues facing real people, the party has no will to live up to their words or to do anything but promote their own agenda and self-aggrandisement. The working class need to reject the distorted arguments and false promises of fascists in order to organise and fight for real change.

Jaguar and an attack on workers shrouded in concessions

Today's Liverpool Echo reports that "Jaguar Land Rover’s decision to build the new low-carbon “baby” Range Rover at Halewood will secure the plant’s future for at least a decade." This news "will come as a relief to workers at Halewood where JLR is about to cease production of the Jaguar X-Type, leaving just one model at the site – the Freelander – and leading to 300 voluntary redundancies."

Workers at JLR factories around the country have faced an uncertain future for over a year, with the company's attempts to weather the recession at the workers' expense inspiring several unofficial walkouts earlier in the year, and this would seem to be the safety net that they have been waiting for.

However, the news was somewhat double-edged. Although the move in Halewood will secure jobs "for a decade" and "800 new jobs will be created at the factory," there are closures ahead as the company "will decide next year whether to close its factory at Castle Bromwich in the West Midlands, which makes Jaguars, or its site at Solihull, which makes Range Rovers." This leaves the future of a significant amount of the firms 14,500 workers hanging in the balance.

Unite the Union, which represents JLR workers, has bitterly opposed this announcement. Although the union "welcomes moves to 'green' the JLR product range, Unite is deeply concerned that an agreement struck with the union barely six months ago will not now be upheld and that the company is seeking to close the final salary pension scheme." According to Dave Osborne, national secretary for the automotive sector, the company has betrayed the promises made to its employees;
Earlier this year, this company and our union agreed a framework agreement intended to support JLR through this tough economic period. Our members said then that JLR could not be trusted to uphold that agreement. Today this has proven to be true.

In April our members agreed to changes to terms and conditions of their employment in order to give the company financial security, but like Oliver Twist they are coming back for more. It appears that the company is making our members pay for their failure to secure government funding.

We recognise the difficult trading environment for JLR, which is why Unite and its members have done more to help JLR during this recession than we have with any other company. But while the company may say that the business cannot sustain further liabilities, the truth is by far the biggest liability is the company's leadership team.

Some of the problems the company faces today exist as a result of past management failures. These failures were at the hands of the same team who today want our members to lose their pensions. Well, Unite's members will not be paying for management's incompetence and we will not stand by while those responsible continue to wreck havoc on this business.
Despite the concilliatory platitudes that public figures in all reformist trade unions have to make towards companies, the sentiments expressed in Osborne's statement ring true. As I have said previously, since the beginning of the recession employers have been looking for every way possible to roll back workers' rights and privileges, and to make them pay for an economic crisis that was thrust upon them. That we are seeing this so vigorously now, and at a company which for a long time has had strong union presence and as a result largely more favourable terms and conditions than most workers enjoy, is a sign of how far this trend has progressed.

Whilst Alastair Darling might tell us that he expects an end to the recession "in months," a very different story is emerging at grassroots level. Economic indicators, stock indexes, and other totems of the faith masquerading as science that is Economics speak of improvements and upturns, but they do so in an economy built on speculation and money that doen't exist. In the real economy, people continue to face redundancies or wage stagnation, and to respond with significant industrial unrest.

It would seem, then, that efforts by the bosses to grind down the workers in a time of uncertainty has barely begun. But then, so has the fightback.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

An update on the plight of migrants in Calais

Since I last wrote on the migrants gathered in Calais, desperately seeking a better life, the "Jungle" of campsites that housed them has been destroyed. What follows is an on-the-ground report published online by No Borders Brighton;
Well it happened as anticipated. The massive PR event kicked off at 7:30 this morning as 600 police officers moved into action. The CRS surrounded the camp, forcing press and onlookers back, and ordinary Gendarmes went in to carry out the actual arrests. Most of the migrants who had remained in the 'Jungle' over the past few days had gathered before dawn around a fire with their improvised banners in English and Pashtu. "We need shelter and protection. We want asylum and peace. Jungle is our home", proclaimed one. They stood in silence as the police arrived. Few put up any resistance and some were even pulled from their beds.

Some No Borders activists and volunteers from the migrant solidarity groups in Calais (A vociferous and passionate group of human rights protesters chanted: "No border, no nation, stop deportation", as the BBC website put it), using a length of rope, had formed a human shield around a large group of traumatised teenage migrants. The CRS cut the rope and rushed them, knocking activists and migrants to the ground and it was then that the injuries seen in all the film and photo coverage occurred. The migrants were then led away to the waiting coaches and the bulldozers fired up to level the camp.

A total of 278 migrants, including 132 bewildered minors, were arrested along with one No Borders activist. The numbers of those injured have not been released yet. The adults taken away are believed to have been taken to various local police stations for processing. Those with take-able fingerprints will be check against Eurodac. If they have been registered in a 'Safe Third Country' (which, for some reason, Home Office ministers continue to call 'safe first country' - safe third country = first country of asylum under international law), they will be removed to a detention centre prior to deportation. If not, they will be offered the alternative of apply for asylum or take the International Organisation for Migration relocation grant bribe (this is paid to a third party, either to provide education in the country of return or as business start-up capital - no money is given directly to the migrant despite what the Daily Mail and BNP would have you believe).

Those without identifiable fingerprints will probably be dispersed to detention centres around the country* and held till their fingerprints can be taken and checked against the Eurodac database. The minors will be sent to the Metz-Queuleu detention centre, notorious for its high attempted suicide rate long before 16-year-old Nabil L. hanged himself in September 2008. In fact the detention of minors in France has become a bit of a cause célèbre in recent months.

So what will happen to those migrants that left the 'Jungle' before it was deforested today? Many have gone to other 'Jungles' and squats and some reports are of a large number near the Tunnel entrance earlier today. Some may well have also been detained during the raids at Grand Synthe and Graveline or have tries their luck further up and down the coast. Some too will no doubt start to drift back into Calais, once the media storm has died down, to find the dunes fenced off with razor wire and set up camp elsewhere. No doubt also the CRS will make every effort to keep them off balance with raids and arrests, but we all know that those migrants, together with the hundreds already en-route, will be there in an ever-shifting underground population as long as the border exists.

Oh, and we've had the usual hypocrisy and cant from British politicians. We've had Alan Johnson saying he was "delighted" that the 'Jungle' was gone, this from a man who has said that Britain would help genuine asylum seekers (as opposed to taking any of the migrants from Calais) knowing that they have little or no chance of reaching the UK's shores and that almost all would have come through Greece and Italy and have next to no chance of being granted refugee status in either country. Woolas was also doing the rounds of the TV and radio studios at lunchtime today, trotting out the old "these people have no right to claim asylum in the UK, in fact I seriously doubt if they are genuine asylum seekers anyway" argument and trying to blame everything on the people-traffickers. Then, to add insult to injury, he smugly trotted out this line: "Don't try to get in unless you are a genuine asylum seeker, which we work with the UN to look after"!

* The norm for mass arrests in Calais has been for the Coquelles detention centre to be used once it has been emptied (with the migrants currently held there being transferred to other centres) . This has not happened this time.
There is little need for further comment on this issue, as my thoughts on the matter have already been summed up much better by others. I will close by quoting at length the joint statement on the matter issued by La Belle Etoile, French Coalition for the Right of Asylum, GISTI, Secours Catholique, C’Sur, Salam, Migrants Fraternity Collective (Angres), Terre d’Errances Norrent-Fontes, Terre d’Errances Steenvoorde, Calais Migrant Solidarity, The Exiles of 10 ° (Paris), The Ligue de Droits de l’Homme (Pas-de-Calais Regional Federation), Medecins du Monde, Cimade, the Greens, NPA Calais, and Amnesty International;
We, associations engaged daily with migrants, are convinced that the government plan to destroy jungles is ineffective and exacerbates the situation.

Smashing the shelters causes the scattering of camps, delivering migrants into the hands of criminal networks and does not settle anything at all . It is persisting in the error of 2002 (the closure of the Sangatte camp).

Since the speech of Mr. Besson at Calais in April, the visible number of migrants in Calais has fallen. Some went to England. Few were those able to apply for asylum in France. Most have fled the Police threats to Belgium and Holland, the others were scattered into nature. Forced to hide, they are more vulnerable than ever, without access to health care and food and delivered, against their will, into the only law of the mafias.

What will happen to those who are arrested in the coming days? Deported to their country of origin? Released into the wild without any information or help? Returned to Italy or Greece where the living conditions of refugees are dramatic?

The government offers assistance for voluntary return to countries at war and dictatorships. How many will agree to return to Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea ... Knowing that in addition either voluntary return or forced return to some of these countries will prove diplomatically impossible ?

The government communicates a lot about the tradition of asylum in France but a small part of migrants had the opportunity to seek asylum. Most are prevented by the European Dublin II Regulation that France applies with zeal, without using the power it has to suspend its application. Since last April, only 170 asylum applications were filed in the sub-prefecture of Calais. Only 50 of them will be processed. The other applicants were sent back to the jungle and can be arrested at any moment and be deported by force, mainly to Italy and Greece where the living conditions of refugees are dramatic. In Greece, access to asylum is virtually impossible.

Mr Barrot, the European Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned the recent failures of EU policy on asylum.

It is necessary that the European states no longer abdicate responsibility to their neighbours. European solidarity must become a reality. The Dublin II Regulation has to change, it traps the refugees in a deadlock and leaves them unprotected.

To break the ‘law of the jungle’, we must put the European asylum system on its feet in stopping the denial of the protection needs of individuals and providing a mechanism enabling them to seek asylum in the country of their choice or where they have family, linguistic or cultural ties. Whatever their choice, we must also ensure their reception conditions consistent with the dignity of people by providing accommodation facilities open to all.
The only way to end mass immigration is to end the systematic injustice and inequality that Western policies create. Until such a thing happens, then we must show solidarity with ever person displaced by that injustice, and protest every act of oppression against them by the very people whose actions brought about their plight.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The time to pay attention to the plight of the Maldives is long past due

On Monday Mohammed Nasheed, President of the Maldives, addressed the United Nations summit in New York. The Times was the only mass media outlet to offer coverage of it;
Once or twice a year we are invited to attend an important climate change event such as this one — often as a keynote speaker. On cue, we stand here and tell you just how bad things are. We warn you that unless you act quickly and decisively, our homeland and others like it will disappear before the rising sea, before the end of this century.

We in the Maldives desperately want to believe that one day our words will have an effect, and so we continue to shout them even though, deep down, we know that you are not really listening.
Unfortunately, he is correct in his assesment. Barack Obama addressed world leaders at the UN with the warning that "the danger posed by climate change cannot be denied — and our responsibility to meet it must not be deferred." He also insisted that "this is why the days when America dragged its feet on this issue are over."However, despite this plea - which Fidel Castro has called "brave" - it is unclear exactly how far the US President is willing to go.

In June, Obama's climate change bill passed through Congress, but the concessions made to win the vote severely weakened it. So much so, in fact, the Greenpeace issued a press release "call[ing] on the Congress to reject this bill and begin immediate and urgent work on legislation that treats seriously the dire threat of climate change." The group also insisted that Obama must "move beyond rhetoric and deliver on his commitments to “restore science to its proper place” and to lead the world in addressing climate change." The reasons for this strong statement are abundantly clear;
As it comes to the floor, the Waxman-Markey bill sets emission reduction targets far lower than science demands, then undermines even those targets with massive offsets. The giveaways and preferences in the bill will actually spur a new generation of nuclear and coal-fired power plants to the detriment of real energy solutions. To support such a bill is to abandon the real leadership that is called for at this pivotal moment in history. We simply no longer have the time for legislation this weak.
At the same time, China, the largest emitter of carbon dioxide after the United States, pledged to curb its emissions by a "notable margin" by 2020. This "prompted hopes" amongst those in political circles, and The australian spoke of how Chinese Premier Hu Jintao "stole the show" from Obama, it remain unclear how Jintao will achieve this "notable margin." There was talk of intensifying "efforts to conserve energy and improve efficiency," of the "vigorous development of nuclear and renewable energy," and of "increase forest coverage by 40million hectares and increase forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic metres." These measures, we are told, will allow the "development of a green, low-carbon economy" and "climate-friendly technologies." To what level the actions will match the rhetoric, admitedly far more concrete than Obama's, remains to be seen.

Even if individual leaders live up to their commitments, however, the threat of climate change looms large. China's target for its green policies is 2020. Europe's is 2050. The US is pinning its hopes on the Senate not watering down the climate change bill even further. However, to avoid the catastrophe feared by the Maldives, emissions have to drop drastically by 2015, perhaps sooner.

And still, among world leaders and in the discourse of the mass media, the "debate" that goes on is one of how to deal with some still far-away disaster. Talk of economics, targets, and the impact on business distracts from the fact that real human beings are effected today. The global food crisis, disease and starvation brought on by extreme weather conditions, and an increasing number of wars over natural resources are the cause of massive suffering worldwide. But this hardly even enters into the discussion.

It is not difficult to discover why. It is, in fact, part of the reason why nothing short of the complete dismantling of the present economic system will suffice to halt and reverse the damage done to the environment. As I wrote on Property is Theft;
In a capitalist society, then, anybody who takes the threat of climate change seriously will quickly be weeded out. Not because there’s a conscious effort to destroy the environment, but because that’s how the system operates. A rival who is unconcerned with long-term environmental effects will quickly undercut the profits of the environmentally conscious capitalist, thus undermining their position and their ability to make such decisions. This is why only those “green” measures that generate short-term profit are acted upon, and addressing the core issue with any seriousness is quickly sidelined.
The same is true of the mass media. Despite James Murdoch's recent, and ridiculous, claims that "the only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit," profit in fact guarantees the same "free market" propaganda system that Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman outlined in Manufacturing Consent in 1988. As long as a for-profit system dominates the world, then only piecemeal, short-sighted measures on the environment are possible, and a media servile to established power will continue to offer these measures as the ultimate solution to a truly global catastrophe.

At the same time, the islanders in the Indian Ocean are faced with extinction. The now-redundant Vestas workers on the Isle of Wight continue to struggle valiantly against the factory's move out of the UK and the government's refusal to see, as the workers do, the neccesity of a shift towards a green economy. The Chinese people protest violently against deadly pollution that makes a mockery of Jintao's "notable margin." And, in the brutal struggle for diminishing natural resources, the Palestinian people are deprived "their fair share of water."

The need to pay attention to these plights is long-past due. We need a genuine global solution, one that puts the health of the people, the workers, and the planet before the interests of profit, now.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The imminent destruction of the Calais "Jungle"

A dispatch from the Associated Press in calais today reports that the "Jungle," the migrant camps in the region, "will be razed by French authorities who see it as a public-health nightmare, a haven for human traffickers and a point of contention with the British, who want the border to their country better sealed." "French Immigration Minister Eric Besson announced plans earlier this year to dismantle the camp" but has apparently "promised to offer options to migrants."

These options, however, are that "they can get a stipend" if "they leave voluntarily," whilst those who "meet the profile" will be able to "demand asylum in France." All others "are to be expelled." The plans affect "some 800 migrants" who, according to Philippe Blet, president of the Calais region, "are all 40 kilometers (24.86 miles) from happiness. That's the real drama."

Al Jazeera adds that "aid groups working in the area said that the closure would not stop the would be migrants congregating in Calais hoping to get across the Channel." Friar Jean-Pierre Boutoille of the C-Sur coalition of aid groups is quoted as saying that the situation is "ridiculous," whilst Besson has insisted that "the closing of the jungle will not be the end of the fight against the underground networks."

This news confirms reports that have been coming in over the past week - mainly through Indymedia, No Borders Brighton, and Calais Migrant Solidarity.

Coverage in the mass media has tended to border on the hysterical, such as the Daily Mail's prediction of "
a repeat of the British humiliation when France closed the Red Cross refugee camp at Sangatte seven years ago" with "the great majority" of those entering Britain "costing taxpayers £100,000 a day in benefits." However, the activists on the ground continue to challenge the reactionary doctrines. No Borders asks, "where is the evidence to back up the constant references to violence from the migrants that has apparently turned calais into a "zone of lawlessness"?" Calais Migrant Solidarity tells of "an escalation of the intimidation" and an inability to get medicine for migrants as there is "nothing open." On Indymedia, they further note the trend of "destruction of squatted houses and further police brutality." All of this goes unnoticed by a mainstream press seeking out every opportunity to paint migrants as caricatures to be feared and despised.

The myths are easily challenged. Activist reports on the ground demonstrate that the migrants camped in calais are the victims, not the perperpetrators, of chaos and violence. One brilliant example of this is offered by No Borders Brighton's "Mailwatch" postings;
In MailWatch #1 we pointed out the the paper's claims that "would-be illegal immigrants are forming human roadblocks to force motorists passing through the French port town to stop. Travellers are then robbed at knife-point by the migrants, who are desperate for funds to help them sneak into the UK" and that the local police had issued a public statement warning "the nine million Britons a year who pass through Calais ... to keep their windows closed and doors locked until they are safely inside the ferry terminal."

Strangely, no confirmation of these claims could be found in either of the main local Calais papers, Nord Littoral or La Voix Du Nord, on the police website or anywhere on any French websites despite exhaustive searches. The local police station denied all knowledge of it and so far the Mail has failed to respond to requests for copies of the statement and their sources for the car-jacking story.

Now, the Nord Littoral itself has waded into the argument with their own article on the veracity of Mail stories, saying that Anne-Sigrid Catton, Deputy Commissioner of Police, denies the Calais police had issued any public warning to UK tourists. Nearby Coquelles detention centre is also quoted as saying that it has no records of any incidents involving migrant violence against tourists.

The Nord Littoral article also goes on to point to other occasions when the Mail also played fast and loose with the truth. On Tuesday the paper alleged that Calais migrants were now squatting empty council houses, quoting one Philippe Bouvard, the president of a Calais association of residents, as saying: "Many families in Calais are furious that homes meant for French families have been overrun with migrants." Except no one at the Office Public de l'Habitat de Calais has ever heard of this person. On top of that, they have only one empty council house on their books and they state that, even if the squatting story were true, it is impossible for the migrants to have illegally reconnecting the utilities as the Mail has claimed.

Now the paper that the Association of Chief Police Officers has in the past accused of misquoting information about immigration and warned that its "racist expressions towards asylum-seekers appear to have become common currency and 'acceptable' in a way that would never be tolerated towards any other minority group"*, likes to print at least one story a day vilifying the Calais migrants or asylum seekers in general. But that day they had two such articles, the second bemoaning the fact that tax payers money was being used to bribe migrants via the IOM assisted returns policy to return home for £1,700 and a free flight.

Another non-story. In fact, this program was originally set up in 2007 and the fact that it was receiving additional funding from the UKBA's Returns and Reintegration Fund and France's Office Français de l'Immigration et de l'Intégration had been announced back in May. Why publish a story about this now? Maybe it was because it "emerged last night that the Government is reconsidering funding joint flights with the French to take failed migrants home." Except this in fact came out of the recent Evian summit at the beginning of the month, not on Monday night.

On Wednesday the Mail took a slightly different tack in that this story was based on fact: 'Calais migrant cried rape as revenge against people smuggler who failed to get her into Britain'. Now we don't mean to minimise the seriousness of any rape allegation, however this one was in fact only 'newsworthy' in the eyes of the Mail's editor because it happened in Calais and involved migrants, conveniently provided another stick to beat them with. Had it not involved migrants, even if it had occurred outside the Mail's own offices, it would not have rated the column inches given this Calais story.

The most amazing Mail story of the week however, and not just because of its length, was 'Bloody siege of Calais: The violent new breed of migrants who will let nothing stop them coming to Britain', by one Paul Bracchi. In it he relates the story of how the Mail's very own intrepid photographer Will Leach was allegedly attacked on 22nd of July by irate migrants using lumps of concrete to smash his car windows; the Mail's reputation obviously precedes it, even amongst the migrants!

Whilst trying to get "dramatic footage" of two "would-be asylum seekers "climbing into the gap between the cab and trailer of a lorry, the sun glinting off the giant telephoto lens of our slumming-it paprazzo appears to have alerted the migrants that yet another bloody tabloid journo was on their case. So they did a Pierce Brosnan/Alec Baldwin/Lindsay Lohan/Hugh Grant/Lily Allen/Robbie Williams/Pete Doherty/Britney Spears/Kayne West/Amy Winehouse [delete as applicable] and saw him off in a less than friendly fashion.

This incident provoked 2,000 plus words of vituperation in response from the paper. Unfortunately, like most of the Mail's diatribes, it was shot through with prejudice and errors. After a little riff on the name of the 'Jungle', "where fights and feuds between rival factions are commonplace", "a godforsaken 'community'" more "akin to the trenches", the article mentioned "a security guard at an American owned company on [Rue des Garennes] was clubbed over the head with an iron bar a few weeks ago." This clearly refers to an incident at the Thioxide plant, also the site of a meeting that the article claims the French immigration minister Eric Besson attended "a few weeks ago to listen to the views of those who work and live near the Rue des Garennes."

The big problem with this is that the meeting actually occurred on 23th of April, with the attack on the night-watchman happening on the 16th of March. That's 14 and 19 weeks ago respectively, hardly "a few weeks" in anyone's book. But this is typical of the Mail's fast and loose way with the facts.

Here's another Mail classic from the same piece: "A single raid by the CRS in April resulted in 194 arrests of suspected people traffickers. In other words, nearly a quarter of those living in this sprawling cardboard and tarpaulin city had possible criminal links." Yes, 194 people were arrested in Calais on 21st of April in raids, which was ostensibly aimed at traffickers, many of them children. However, despite the 194 "suspected people traffickers" being dragged off to police stations in 3 nearby cities, the prosecutor's office in Boulogne-sur-Mer found no one to hold on trafficking charges and almost all were eventually released, a fact that was widely covered in the French press and even made it in to the pages of the Daily Mail!

Further on in the article, after all the babbling about police having "now stepped up patrols" (apparently "not just a story spun by the local council's public relations department." What can he mean by this, even if he and his cameraman "had seen the evidence for themselves"?) and nonsense about migrants willing to "mutilate themselves to conceal their identities" (referring to removing their fingerprints** to avoid detection, which is hardly mutilation), we get some crocodile tears.

Then, having reluctantly conceded that many of the Calais migrants are children (so they are not all money-grabbing 'economic migrants' or even people traffickers), the article tells some of the children's "pitiful stories" and says "equally tragic examples of forgotten youngsters were standing in the long, winding queue for the twice-daily soup kitchen (sic) in Quai de La Moselle". Yet more lazy journalism. The Quai de La Moselle is in fact the site of a food distribution operation at lunchtime run by Belle Etiole, one of two volunteer-run projects in Calais. The second evening distribution however is run by Salam, a completely separate humanitarian organisation, and takes place half a mile away at the Hanger Paul Devot on the Boulevard des Allies.

Now, the incident with the photographer was meant to have occurred on the 22nd, with the article being published on the 25th, but Salam stopped operations on the 17th of July to give their exhausted members their annual summer break (with Belle Etoile stopping on the 31st). So this highly paid and supposedly observant journalist does not seem to know that his "twice-daily soup kitchen" occurs in 2 separate places and that only one was still operating when his and his photographer's skirmish in the "Bloody siege of Calais" was meant to have taken place.

So what are we to conclude from all this? Good old-fashioned stupidity? Genuine mistakes? Lazy mealy-mouthed journalists trying to beat a deadline? Or just the standard yellow journalism we have come to expect from the sort of mendacious hacks that are employed by this tub-thumping right-wing anti-immigration rag? We'll leave you to make up your own minds.

* Which ACPO held was increasing the risk of "significant public disorder."
** Interestingly the Mail has consistently failed to mention one of the most common means of removing fingerprints used by the migrants, sanding them down with glass-paper. But that is far less dramatic than burning the tips of ones fingers. [See also: MailWatch #1]
At the same time, the Mail's claims (I could also cite the Daily Express, Sun, and Daily Star, but - frankly - their particular brands of fear-mongering lies make the Mail look thoroughly reputable) about migrants who make it into Britain are equally fatuotus. Whilst the paper warns of these people "costing taxpayers £100,000 a day in benefits," a more balanced article in the Independent - with no racial axe to grind - reported somwhat differently. In the wake of Sangatte's closure, "migrants were expected to fill job shortages in the hotel, catering and food processing industries," with offers immediately put forward by recruitment firms.

Likewise, a quick scan past the Telegraph's headline in 2006 that "most Sangatte migrants are out of work" reveals that the facts are less concrete. That "four-fifths" of the migrants "claimed Job Seekers' allowance [JSA] at some time since entering the UK" is not the same as them being "out of work" in the present, given that they were openly offered support until they found work. The claim that "a third [of the group] has never been in work" are equally falacious, with the figure on JSA at the time of the article, not neccesarily constantly, was "up to" 25%, with 42% "known" to be working. The rest had, at least by Telegraph standards, "disappeared. This opens the way to speculation that, in the headline, became concrete fact. However, the fact that "they may have melted into the black economy" amounts to working passes the writer by. Apparently, being a victim of gross exploitation on the black economy is the same as not working and a heinous crime based purely on the fact that such virtual slaves are scandalously "paying no taxes." The paper's obvious bias only allows for "a very small number" to "have left the country of their own accord."

What we see, on even cursory inspection, is that tabloid stories about migrant activity are at best based on rumour and speculation. Less generously but more honestly, they are bald lies built up in service to a thinly-veiled racist mythology. At the same time, hearsay and wanton speculation, led by ideological bias, suffices to "prove" that migrants in the UK aren't providing the net economic gain that empirical fact, obviously a tool of political-correctness, unequivocally demonstrates.

It is fair to say, then, that the destruction of the migrant camps in Calais has nothing to do with solving a "public health nightmare" or removing a "haven for traffickers," but with enforcing the rigid ideology of border control. Under this ideology, human solidarity and empirical fact are no match for strong rhetoric or the politics of reaction. No Borders Brighton, then, are not being overly cynical with today's analysis;
In the run-up to the expected destruction of the main 'Jungle' zone on Tuesday morning, Calais is coming to resemble an occupied city by the hour. More and more military trucks have arrived, the CRS presence has increased and the streets are crawling with unmarked police cars (PAF - border police? BAC - Brigade Anti-Criminalité?). The Telegraph has even claimed that the army will use flame throwers. Its beginning to sound more like a re-enactment of the Sands of Iwo Jima rather than the Battle of Algiers in the Zones des Dunes!

And to top it all, Besson is expected in town tomorrow. Its obviously too good a photo opportunity to miss - first over the top come dawn. Or maybe he'll ride into the Pashtun 'Jungle' in the turret of a tank? And no doubt Calais own Iron Lady, Natacha Bouchart, will be up there too, with her headscarf and tin hat à la Thatcher. She has already volunteered to mop-up the all the smaller 'Jungles', the squats in Calais itself, and has already claimed responsibility for the destruction of the Ethiopian squat (le squat Pagniez, where the arrested migrants have returned over the weekend after being released from detention, only to find all their possessions that they had left behind trashed by the CRS).

What ever happens in the next days, one thing is certain, this problem will not go away. Greece, as it has consistently done over the years, will not take any of the migrants that have passed through its territory (as the majority of the migrants in Calais most certainly have), Dublin II or no Dublin II. Which means either large-scale deportation flights or Green Cards all around. France may have deported 17,000 people in the first 7 months of the year, and its aim may be to deport 27,000 over the year as a whole, but they will find it difficult to return many of the migrants given that they come from war zones.

And inevitably the migrants will return, 'Jungles' will spring up elsewhere and the humanitarian associations in and around Calais will be left to pick up the pieces long after the media circus has left. Just as they were post Sangatte. Plus ça change...
If this cycle of repression and degredation, aided by the mass media's perpetuation of dehumanising falsehoods, is to end, it will require concerted action. The migrants in Calais, as well as the activists and humanitarian groups supporting their cause, need urgent solidarity. Those who can join them and help them on the ground should do so. Those who cannot should spread the word and raise awareness in any way possible. Only with continuous pressure and action can we demolish the lies of media propagandists and force a system that thrives on human division, repression, and isolation onto the back foot.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

No War but Class War - September 2009

Although last month saw the end of the worker occupations in Ssongyang, the Isle of Wight, Dublin, and Lewisham Bridge, it by no means saw the end of the struggle against the exploitation of labour by capital.

In Belgrade, five Serbian anarcho-syndicalists accused of international terrorism remain in jail. Despite protesting their lack of involvement with a firebomb attack on the Greek embassy - in solidarity with then-hunger striker Theodoris Iliopolous - the government has condemned them as members of a group called "Black Ilija," which supposedly claimed responsibility for the attacks. Blic, however, reports that anarchists in Belgrade "have never heard before about an organization called ‘Black Ilija.’" Meanwhile B92 has announced that "a group calling itself Anarhosindikalna Inicijativa (the Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative) has announced protests in Belgrade" in solidarity with the five prisoners.

As the group themselves explain;
Wanting to brutally suppress its fierce critics the state, through its mechanism of repression, acts with banal logic and maps as suspects those who explicitly stated their libertarian beliefs, and by their imprisonment ends the case and gives a false picture of its efficiency to the public.
Unscrupulous actions of regime’s organs can be observed from the first moments of arrest, unlawful searches of their apartments, intimidations of their families to extreme charges of international terrorism.
Given the fact that we do not support the acts of now famous anarchist group “Crni Ilija” (Black Iliya) we still cannot characterise what happened as “international terrorism”, because terrorism, by definition, entails threats to the lives of civilians, whereas in this case no one was even hurt and only symbolic material damage was done.
It is clear that this state produced farce is just one way of intimidating anyone who decides to point out the injustice and hopelessness of contemporary society.
September 11th saw solidarity protests held at Serbian embassies around the world. No doubt, as the cause continues, more will follow.

In Greece, meanwhile, there has been no news since I reported on the trend of growing repression there. However, with a snap election due, and the people restless in the face of brutal violence and kidnappings by the authorities, we have not heard the last of the unrest.

Here in Britain, we are now beginning to glimpse the kind of turmoil faced by the working class of Greece, with anti-fascist and industrial struggles now running almost in tandem. The convergence of the two issues became apparent on Sunday, with the Merseyside branch of the British National Party holding a farcical protest against what they see as a gathering of "Anti British Communists [sic]." The party managed to draw out six "activists" to offer their message of division and hatred to the working class, whilst hundreds of socialists, trade unionists, and working class people took to the streets in a "Time to Fight Back" march against the real issues blighting ordinary people.

Inside the conference, the first in Liverpool for 100 years, union bosses made token noises about "an end to bonus culture." Gerry Doherty, general secretary of the transport salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) said, "it's pure greed. This is wrong, it has to stop and it has to come from the trade union movement. Greed has to go and we have to tell the government that." However, whilst the higher echelons of government bureaucracy may be able to voice the opinions of their members, they are much less inclined to act on them. At the same time, Gordon Brown's announcements that he would delay a long-awaited increase in paternity leave and continue with plans to make low paid public sector workers pay for the financial crisis with their jobs met with "concern," but no real opposition.

Indeed, the real battle for workers rights is happening not in the comfortable setting of the TUC conference, but on the streets. There, workers are battling for their livelihoods against corporate and council anti-union measures.

The refuse workers of Leeds are following the example set by their comrades in Liverpool, declaring an indefinite strike over pay cuts worth thousands of pounds per year. Unfortunately, the councils in the two cities are also emulating each other, with Assist-Streetcare providing scabs in both cases. Solidarity will be vital against such tactics, and the picket of Streetcare's Liverpool offices this past Tuesday has to be just the beginning. Yesterday's action in Leeds, whereby "supporters of the Leeds refuse collection strike, dumped several bags of rubbish on the doorstep of council leader Richard Brett" provides a useful indicator of the kind of direct action that will help drive home the level of feeling in support of the workers, and in opposition to the actions of the council, on this issue.

At the same time, postal workers in Swindon have gone on strike in opposition to the Royal Mail's "modernisation" plans, which actually amount to a decimation of the service being offered to the public. As postal workers vote on taking the strike national, it is worth noting what the bleating by the media and Royal Mail bosses about strikes being "damaging" and "hurting customers" really amounts to. Kevin Beazer of the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) is right when he says that although there is "a little bit of pain at the moment but it'll be lot more pain if we don't defend the current service that we've got."

Also worth noting is that, despite the end of the occupation, the campaign to save Vestas continues. Solidarity groups have emerged all across Britain, whilst protesters on the Isle of Wight staged a blockade to prevent blades being removed from the factory, made particularly poetic by the presence of a lone scout perched atop a steel tripod erected for the event.

Workers' unrest in China continues to be far more volatile and violent than elsewhere, perhaps in response to the brutal destruction of the working class that has been in effect there for so long. In response to cases of lead poisoning and other forms of pollution across the country, numerous protests have arisen. Wenping, Hunan, saw 15 people arrested then released after "a recent protest over a lead poisoning incident that was suspected to have sickened more than 1,300 local children." Whilst in Quanzhou, Fujian, "two weeks of protests against a polluting tannery and oil refinery culminated in a 10,000-strong protest." Pollution has now become so bad that, according to CNN, "environmental protection officials from the central government have been dispatched to various locations to conduct factory inspections and environmental evaluations,"whilst numerous factories "will remain closed until they meet official safety standards."

China also saw coal miners in Hunan refusing to sign agreements which will result in a drastic loss of compensation benefits and downing tools over proposed privatisation plans. Libcom reports that "the company had recruited local thugs at 200 yuan per person per day to form a “mine protection corps” to remove strikers from the mine premises by force." Not long afterwards, according to the Epoch Times, "a strike by one thousand workers was curtailed by armed police in the southern China city of Shenzhen." "The workers were employees of the local factory of Philips Respironics, a sleep and respiratory healthcare apparatus manufacturer, headquartered in the U.S." and "were expressing their grievances with the company for changing their work hours, effecting wage deflation through various tactics, and providing inferior quality meals and benefits."

That such discontent and protest could arise so rapidly in as brutal a society as China, that brutality testified to by the equally rapid crackdowns, is something of which we should all take note. Working class resistance against the state continues to mount, but so does state and corporate repression of that resistance. Where strike breaking scabs fail, bailiffs and police forces may succeed. This is a lesson worth remembering.

We are the many, the vast majority of the people on this planet under the yoke of the minority. But that minority has all the instruments of authority and violent coercion at its command. In opposition, our only weapon is solidarity. We must continue to exercise it, making ourselves aware of - and showing our support for - the struggles of all workers across the globe. The association of capital is international. So, too, must be the association of labour.