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3rd December 2017


The myth of social mobility





For many in the UK today a life on benefits beckons


The resignation of Alan Milburn as the government’s so called social mobility tsar, should only come as a surprise to anyone who thinks that the government is even remotely interested in social mobility; hold the front page, they are not!


Milburn has been followed out of the door by deputy chair Gillian Shepherd, Paul Gregg, director for the analysis of social policy at the University of Bath and David Johnston, chief executive of the Social Mobility Foundation.  The departures effectively knock the commission on its head.  Key posts have gone unfilled for years and the number of commissioners has shrunk from 10 to four, suggesting that the writing has been on the wall for some time.

The commission’s swansong was its State of the Nation 2017 report, published last week which, even according to 

its own press release,


“…warns that Britain is in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division and calls on government to increase its proportion of spending on those parts of the country that most need it. Estimates suggest that the North is £6 billion a year underfunded compared to London.”


The move dramatically undermines the proclamations of UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, to be on the side of those struggling to make ends meet, the so called, just about managing.  That the words of Tory leaders are at variance with the reality of their policies and actions should come as no surprise but May has played the caring vicar’s daughter card in an attempt to bolster her social credentials.


In her first speech in Downing Street after taking office, May proclaimed,


“When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few, we will do anything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.”


Those struggling at the sharp end of the opportunity ladder, struggling to make ends meet under the existing benefits regime or awaiting the joy of Universal Credit, were never going to be convinced by May’s warm words.  They probably care little or nothing about the existence of the social mobility commission for that matter but they will worry about paying the rent, getting a job with decent pay and their kids getting a reasonable education.


Commenting on the findings of, what would appear now to be the commission’s final report, Alan Milburn said,


“Tinkering around the edges will not do the trick. The analysis in this report substantiates the sense of political alienation and social resentment that so many parts of Britain feel. A new level of effort is needed to tackle the phenomenon of left behind Britain. Overcoming the divisions that exist in Britain requires far more ambition and far bigger scale. A less divided Britain will require a more redistributive approach to spreading education, employment and housing prospects across our country.”


The reality is that the commission, in spite of its worthy intentions, has only ever skated around the edges of the real core question in relation to social mobility, which is essentially one of class.  Capitalism can extend certain amount of largesse when the system requires it and the economy is capable of sustaining a limited degree of social movement.  Indeed, it is a positive advantage to create the illusion that such movement is possible.  The rags to riches, log cabin to president mythology of the United States is one example of this.  As ever, the UK has presented the question in a slightly more restrained way, but the idea that we live in a meritocracy, rather than a system dominated by the aristocracy, has had traction since the days of Harold Wilson’s premiership.


The limited social mobility enjoyed by some sections of the working class in the post WW2 period was predicated on the need to train a skilled workforce in order to rebuild a shattered wartime economy.  The nationalisation of key sectors of the economy, setting up the NHS and widespread council house building, were all outcomes of this process.


By the late ‘70’s, when capital could not sustain the expansion of social provision in terms which suited it and the labour movement was not strong enough to press for a real alternative economic approach, the Thatcher government began the process of dismantling the post war social gains.  In so far as Thatcher and her cohorts paid any heed to social mobility it was in the form of selling off council housing, private health care insurance and the ‘loadsamoney’ culture of getting ahead before you get left behind.


The demise of the social mobility commission will once again throw some media light on the divisions within the UK and the fact that we live in a deeply divided and unfair society.  However, the fact that it will not gain as much media coverage as the marriage antics of a minor aristocrat and his TV star fiancé, who in spite of living off state benefits will not be living on a council estate, probably tell us as much as we need to know about the realities of social mobility in the UK today.



26th November 2017


Middle East Needs Peace and Democracy, not US Intervention!


Recent events in the Middle East have brought the threat of a wider armed conflict in the region closer than ever.  Jane Green considers the issues and the current balance of forces.




Peace in the Middle East has, for many decades been a rare commodity.  The flow of oil, gas and minerals, which has seen the development of some of the richest states on the planet, has not brought with it a rush of democratic control.  On the contrary, from the controlling input of the oil transnationals under British colonial rule, to the dynastic dictatorships sold to the Western public as ‘royal’ families, the mineral wealth of the region has been ruthlessly exploited to benefit a select few.


Over recent decades the power balance has ebbed and flowed with different allegiances being fashioned to suit the needs of the West, in order to ensure that oil supplies kept flowing and rival economies were kept at bay.  The dictatorship of the Shah of Iran suited the needs of British and US interests in Iranian oil fields in the decades that followed WWII.  The West was quick to back Saddam Hussein in Iraq when it was clear that Western interests could still be protected.  Saudi Arabia, in spite of being a single family dictatorship, is nevertheless fawned over by presidents and princes, keen to keep the oil flowing one way and arms sales the other.


The revolution in Iran in 1979, followed by the unexpected seizure of power a few years later by adherents of a ruthless theocracy, which resulted in the establishment of the reactionary Islamic Republic, was the key point at which relationships began to change significantly. 

 

Not only did the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran marked a significant break in guaranteed allegiances with the West, it also exacerbated differences within the Muslim world between the Shia and Sunni strands of Islam.  The Western inspired Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) was a significant attempt by the West, through backing Saddam Hussein’s attack upon Iran, to restore the pre-revolutionary balance in the region.


Inevitably, as with most efforts by the West in the region, the plan backfired and Iran emerged stronger in the eyes of many looking for a focal point for opposition to Western interference in the Middle East.    That such a reactionary regime could be seen as remotely anti-imperialist is both an irony and a contradiction.  The reality of Iran’s human rights abuses against its own peace activists, political opposition, trade unionists and women should have put paid to any illusions that the regime represented anything progressive long ago.


However, for some Muslims, the alternative Saudi led interpretation of Sunni Islam is regarded as infinitely worse than anything Shia Iran has to offer.  The anti-Western feeling in the region has been heightened by the failure to curb Israeli brutality in Palestine, the post 9/11 invasion of Iraq and interventions in Afghanistan and Libya.  More recent Western efforts to stoke civil war in Syria, as well as supporting the Saudi blockade and bombardment of Yemen, have added to the feeling that the adage, ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’, may have some mileage.


Significantly, much of the military equipment used by the Saudis in Yemen comes from the UK, while the effective Saudi blockade of Yemen’s borders has not been challenged by either the US or the EU.


The recent bizarre resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, can only be understood in the context of the wider power play unfolding in the region.  Hariri was called to the Saudi capital Riyadh where, upon his plane landing, his mobile phone and those of his bodyguards were confiscated.


Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s “Night of the Long Knives” began only hours after Hariri’s arrival in Riyadh and has seen the house arrest of 11 princes, including the immensely wealthy Alwaleed bin Talal.  Four ministers and scores of other former government lackeys have also been arrested along with the freezing of up to 1,700 bank accounts.


The power play by bin Salman in taking out rivals in Saudi Arabia appears to include an attempt to destabilise Lebanon, with the removal of Hariri effectively throwing down the gauntlet to Cabinet partners Hezbollah, backed by Iran.  This is borne out by the fact that Hariri, on Saudi owned TV, has read out a script announcing his resignation as Prime Minister of Lebanon, calling for the disarming of Hezbollah, while accusing Iran of interference across the region.


However much of this Hariri actually believes, the words clearly follow closely the positions taken by bin Salman and appear to announce a new power play in the region from the Saudis.


Over the same weekend Houthi rebels, suffering relentless Saudi bombardment in Yemen, launched a missile attack upon Riyadh airport.  While the Saudis managed to intercept the missile before it hit the ground they have nevertheless proclaimed the attack as ‘an act of war’ by Iran.  Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir, has threatened to take “appropriate” action when the time is right.


Al-Jubeir claims that the missile was made in Iran and smuggled in parts into Yemen, where he claimed "operatives from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah" helped put it back together again and then launch it.

 

The wider context to recent events must also include the 2015 nuclear deal brokered with Iran, which President Trump is keen to tear up, and the repeated position of the US to keep all options on the table when dealing with Iran.  While those options may not necessarily mean a direct attack by the US upon Iran, it seems increasingly likely that a US proxy, such as Israel or Saudi Arabia, could be the conduit for such an action or the orchestration of a regional crisis involving Iran.

 

To suggest that the escalation of such a conflict would be a threat to world peace is no exaggeration.  As the recent years of conflict in Syria have shown, alliances in the region rarely take account of the needs of the people but are geared towards the control of the rich oil and mineral resources the Middle East can still boast.

While the rhetoric of fighting for democratic freedoms will still be deployed when deemed useful, the reality remains that little, if anything, democratic has emerged from Western interventions in the Middle East in the past decades.


There is every prospect that the West however, particularly the Trump White House, may regard intervention against Iran as in some way as necessary.  The defeat of Islamic State forces, across Iraq and Syria, has involved Iranian trained fighters on the ground.  Iran now controls a significant land corridor, running from Tehran to Tartous in Syria, providing an important access route to the Mediterranean.


The Islamic Republic of Iran’s designs on extending its influence across the region aim to ensure that political developments in the Middle East take account of the continued supremacy of theocratic rule.  The Saudi’s and Israel claim that the extension of Iranian influence in the region represents an existential threat.  As unlikely as they may seem as allies, both the Saudis and Israel are backed by the US, itself struggling to retain its hegemonic foothold in the region.


Recent events do not augur well for the people of the Middle East, who are inevitably caught in the crossfire.  The Saudi blockade of Yemen alone, which relies on imports for 90% of its food supply, is creating a humanitarian crisis of major proportions.  The people of Iran continue to suffer under a theocracy dominating all spheres of life from the economy and politics to the social and cultural spheres.  The dictatorship in Saudi Arabia remains a barrier to any form of individual or democratic freedom.


With both the Iranian regime and the Saudis digging in their heels, the need for democrats in the West to put pressure upon their governments not to intervene and not to exacerbate tensions is urgent.  Addressing the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is one area in which pressure can be applied, backing the groundswell of opposition to arms sales to Saudi Arabia is another.


Western warmongering has done much to inflame the Middle East and the desire to protect corporate interests has been behind much of the rhetoric.  Taking the same path will not provide a solution and the people of the Middle East will not thank us for continuing down that route.

   

Jane Green is National Campaign Officer of CODIR, the Committee for the Defence of Iranian People’s Rights and can be contacted at codir_info@btinternet.com.  For further information on Iran visit: http://www.codir.net/

   


19th November 2017

Another budget shambles looms

Chancellor Philip Hammond – skating on thin ice

This Wednesday (22nd November) brings another Tory budget.  No doubt it will be as devoid of ideas or purpose as the many that have preceded it over the past decade.  The only real purpose behind the George Osborne budgets in the ‘coalition’ years was to ensure that the austerity policies cushioned the rich, while making the poor the scapegoats for the gambling debts of the bankers, which led to the financial crash.  No amount of sugar coating can lead to any other conclusion.

George Osborne did at least have a constituency within his own party supporting him.  He also had the backing of his Prime Minister, David Cameron.  It appears that current UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has neither of these things.  He is barracked by the Brexiteers who regard him as too lightweight to deliver on their aims to get tough with the EU.  On the other hand, the Tory Remainers do not regard him as having enough clout to fight their corner in Cabinet and back him only in so far as any replacement may be worse.

It is widely believed that, had she not called an election which reduced her majority and therefore her room to manoeuvre, Theresa May would have sacked Hammond in a post-election re-shuffle.  To suggest that the Chancellor is skating on thin ice is to put it mildly.

Then again, the Tories are collectively skating on ideological thin ice.  The Eurosceptic faction having succeeded in getting Brexit through, the major impact upon the Tories appears to be to have split them in two.  If the referendum outcome itself was evenly balanced, the impact of the outcome has put internal relations in the Tory party on a knife edge.

Boris Johnson is the most obvious indicator of internal dissatisfaction, with regular missives in the Tory press outlining his position on Brexit, part of a naked power play for the leadership.  Jeremy Hunt has been openly critical of investment levels in the NHS while Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, has committed something close to heresy in Tory circles by calling for more investment in public sector housing. 

The antics of former International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, on a so-called holiday in Israel hardly meet the convention of collective Cabinet responsibility.  Michael Gove, it is said, has been stepping well beyond his brief as Environment Secretary at recent Cabinet meetings and making economic pronouncements, in a thinly veiled pitch for Hammond’s job.  Former Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has recently seen a career characterised by selling arms to dictators and supporting NATO intervention in the Middle East, collapse in even greater ignominy.

Nothing Hammond says on Wednesday will put this particular iteration of Humpty Dumpty back together again.

The Labour Party may not be a paragon of unity.  Factionalising against Jeremy Corbyn has gone on ever since he was elected leader and will no doubt continue once he gets the keys to 10, Downing St.  However, the momentum following the election is clearly with Corbyn.  Even the dullest of Labour MPs can see that and will toe the line if only to keep their own jobs.

For the budget on Wednesday Labour Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, is calling for an emergency budget for public services, a budget which will put the needs of the many before those of the few, the poor before the needs of the rich.

There are five core demands at the heart of Labour’s alternative budget:

  • Pause and fix universal credit

  • Lift the public sector pay cap

  • Infrastructure spending to boost the economy

  • Support for public services in health, education and local government

  • A large scale housebuilding programme

 

It is hardly a programme for revolution but it is the basis from which an alternative  economic strategy can be delivered.  Even within the constraints of 21st century capitalism, it is a programme which could at least begin to change the emphasis of economic thinking.  It is certainly the basis upon which Labour could credibly build an election victory.  With the Tories in complete disarray, that opportunity cannot come too soon

12th November 2017

Boris Johnson should go

Today Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in an opinion piece for The Observer, called for the sacking of the UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson.   His argument is reproduced in full below.

 

Beyond a joke – UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson

Theresa May should never have appointed someone as Britain’s top diplomat who had accused Barack Obama of being anti-British because he’s “part-Kenyan”, and notoriously wrote about “flag-waving piccaninnies”.

Now, after 16 months of the foreign secretary damaging Britain’s standing in the world, she should sack him.

With shocking callousness, Boris Johnson caused outrage last month by declaring that the Libyan city of Sirte could become “the next Dubai” once they “clear the dead bodies away”.

Making jokes about people killed in a civil war, (in which the Conservative-led government intervened militarily and which has made us less safe), is breathtakingly crass and was rightly condemned by Tory MPs as well as Libyan leaders.

His colonial throwback take on the world is completely out of step with the reality of our diverse and modern country and the views of our people. We should embrace the 21st century, not hanker after the 19th.

In his first conference speech as foreign secretary, Johnson referred to Africa, a continent of more than 50 states as “that country”. He claimed that life expectancy in Africa “has risen astonishingly” as it “has entered the global economic system”. Sadly, life expectancy has not risen astonishingly across the continent in the last 30 years and has fallen in several countries.

Britain’s top diplomat needs to be a leader in cultural sensitivity, but he repeatedly lets our country down.

He thought a Sikh gurdwara the appropriate place to discuss Indian whisky tariffs. Johnson was forced to apologise when it was pointed out that alcohol is prohibited in Sikhism.

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On an official trip to Myanmar, Johnson was captured on film embarrassing his hosts by reciting a colonial era poem in a sacred Buddhist site. Britain’s ambassador Andrew Patrick was forced to intervene to tell him it was inappropriate. Once again, Johnson showed his nostalgia for a brutal imperial past.

Johnson has not learned how to be diplomatic or represent our country.

And now we have the heartbreaking case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, whose future liberty is under threat because of Johnson’s serial bungling. The foreign secretary should have the decency to say clearly and unequivocally that he was wrong and do everything possible to make sure she isn’t punished for his cavalier mistake.

With growing tensions on the Korean peninsula, we need serious diplomacy and nuclear armed states to re-engage with the process of meaningful multilateral disarmament. Johnson has failed to provide it, ducking our international obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

We’ve put up with him embarrassing and undermining our country through his incompetence and putting our citizens at risk for long enough. It’s time for Boris Johnson to go.

5th November 2017


UN votes 191-2 to end US blockade




At the United Nations General Assembly on 1st November 2017, the world voted with Cuba in support of a resolution calling for an end to the 55 year old US blockade of the island.


The final vote, 191 to 2, saw the United States isolated, as only it and Israel voted against all 191 other member states. Although the vote is non-binding it sends a clear message to the United States government that it stands alone when it comes to its policy of blockade.


In 2016, the US historically abstained for the first time after 24 years of voting against the resolution. In her speech to the UN, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador told the organisation said that they were reversing this decision since the US people had spoken by electing a new president (Trump) who supported the blockade.


She described the debate on the blockade at the United Nations as “political theatre” and said the US delegation was voting to continue the blockade out of solidarity with the Cuban people. Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s chief negotiator in talks with the US, branded these comments as disrespectful to the United Nations and an insult to Cuba.


Nikki Haley’s comments also contradict US public opinion which is in favour of normalising relations with Cuba and ending the blockade. On Tuesday 31 October a group of democratic senators urged Trump by letter to abstain from the vote again. 


“Our failed embargo against Cuba has been repeatedly and publicly condemned by the international community as ineffective and harmful to the people of Cuba,” the senators wrote. “The longer we maintain this outdated Cold War policy the more our international regional credibility suffers.”


Opening his speech to the UN, Bruno Rodriguez, Cuban Foreign Secretary, condemned the “offensive and interfering" statement made by Nikki Haley.


He described the blockade as “a flagrant, systematic and massive violation of the human rights of all Cubans.” “It can be described as an act of genocide”, and “an obstacle to the humanitarian support that Cuba offers to 81 countries of the global South,” he said.


Country representatives from across the globe spoke in support of the Cuban resolution, praising the country for the international solidarity that it provided to many poor nations in the form of medical brigades and training, despite the effects of the blockade on its own economy. They also lamented the deteriorating relations between the US and Cuba following the election of Donald Trump and called on the US to return to the path of respectful relations with the island.


In response to the vote, CSC director, Rob Miller said:


“This is a cynical move by the US government. The Trump administration, in its desperation to appease right-wing politicians, is systematically destroying the last two years of progress in diplomatic relations between the two countries.


“At a time when the island needs materials and equipment to aid its recovery from Hurricane Irma, the US policy appears more vicious than ever. It is vitally important to maintain the international campaign against the US blockade so that the US government receives a clear message that the rest of the world supports the Cuban people in their call to end this cruel and archaic policy.”


30th October 2017


Venezuela votes for progress




Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro


Little media coverage over the past week has been devoted to the outcome of the recent regional elections in Venezuela.  Given how much energy was devoted to the build up to the elections this should be something of a surprise.  It is not though, is it?  Why not?  Because the Venezuelan people did not vote the way in which the United States, the UK and the European Union wanted.


Every effort was made to persuade them.  Right wing groups organised anti-government violence in the weeks leading up to the poll, resulting in 100 deaths.  International media in the West gave the impression of lawlessness and chaos throughout the country.  From the coverage afforded the elections in the West it was evident that President Maduro had little or no chance and was on the brink of being swept from office.


In fact, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won 18 of the 23 governorships up for election.  The opposition lost all three governorships won in 2012.  Overall participation rates were at 61%, up from 54% five years ago, although a disbelieving New York Times asserted that “turnout appeared to be lower” while the international Reuters news agency claimed that voters had been forced to turnout at gunpoint!


Opposition to the newly formed Constituent Assembly did not stop 8 million turning out to vote on the 30th July, giving the government a further significant boost.  For the regional elections held in October the opposition combined their street violence with an exhortation to “vote against the dictatorship”.  Inevitably, given the outcome the only course left for the opposition was to claim that the results were “fraudulent”.


The claims of fraud have no substance and are not upheld by international observers.  Even some defeated opposition candidates have had to concede that the claims have no substance.


In typical fashion, supporting a US leaning opposition, the Trump administration backed the overthrow of the Maduro government, by whatever means.  Having failed to do so by a democratic route the fear is now that the US will resort to increased sanctions against Venezuela or even follow up on Trump’s threat of military intervention.


With clear support from the poor and working class sections of the population, it is crucial that the PSUV maintain momentum in advance of the presidential elections next year.  It would be remarkable if the economic war waged by the US and its allies was not stepped up in the coming months and more remarkable still if there is any let up in the anti-government media campaign.


Like Cuba, with whom the Venezuelan government have close relations, the emphasis of the PSUV has been on investing in the needs of the people through education and healthcare.  With the assistance and solidarity of Cuban medical teams Venezuela achieved nationwide health coverage for its people in April this year, a major success for a developing nation.


Following the recent elections Cuban President Raúl Castro sent a message of solidarity to the government of Venezuela, stating,


“I congratulate you for the results of the state elections. Venezuela has given another great lesson in peace, democratic vocation, courage, and dignity.


The legacy of Chávez is alive. He and Fidel would be very proud of this victory.


You can always count on the support and solidarity of Cuba.”


Sentiments we should all echo and endorse.


22nd October 2017

Dialogue of the deaf

 

Carles Puigdemont – a leader for the people?

The current situation in Spain has been described as a “dialogue of the deaf” by the Communist Party of Spain (PCE) as Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, and Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, look set to go head to head over the question of the legitimacy of the current claim for independence for Catalonia.

Following an emergency Cabinet, Rajoy has invoked article 155 of the Spanish constitution in order to “restore the rule of law, coexistence and the economic recovery and to ensure that elections could be held in normal circumstances.”  This clears the way, pending endorsement by the Spanish senate, to direct rule from Madrid, with the powers of the existing Catalan government being assumed by the relevant ministries in Madrid.

Rajoy has claimed that the intervention will not be a permanent one but is based upon relieving from their duties those who have acted outside of the constitution.  On this basis the prime minister claims that fresh elections in Catalonia will be called within six months.

The mobilisation in Catalonia, which focussed upon the referendum of 1st October this year was a clear expression of frustration that the Spanish state has refused to negotiate seriously to address the concerns of a strand of nationalism in Catalonia.  However, while the pro-independence vote was overwhelmingly in favour, it was only on the basis of a 43% turnout.  It is not clear that independence has majority support across Catalonia.

The reaction of the Popular Party government to the referendum, attempting to stop people voting, arresting nationalist leaders and invoking the Spanish monarchy to condemn the referendum, while failing to oppose state violence from the Guardia Civil, has been widely condemned.  However, as the PCE point out “that cannot legitimise a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) as if it had been a Referendum held in normal conditions.”

There are question marks over the motivations behind the current nationalist push.  The Morning Star (10th October 2017) noted that,

“Puigdemont has dedicated his political life to Catalan nationalism, always showing far more enthusiasm for keeping wealth in the hands of Catalonia’s landowners and business classes than for sharing any of it with the workers and families of either Catalonia or the rest of Spain.”

There is also the apparent decline in support for Catalan independence from a high of 50% in recent years to around 41% a couple of weeks ago.  The confrontational approach taken by the Spanish government may yet buoy those figures.  The almost half a million strong pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona at the weekend suggests that there remains a substantial body of opinion in favour.

The PCE have made it clear that they do not support the actions of the Spanish state and have called upon Rajoy to, “abandon the repression, stop using the Prosecutor's Office as the armed wing of the Government to promote the imprisonment of social leaders and admit that it is necessary to change the constitutional framework to respond to the need to guarantee by law social, democratic rights and allow the different peoples of the Spanish State to decide freely and democratically their future.”

The inflexibility of both Puigdemont and Rajoy is in danger of pushing Spain to the brink of major civil unrest with neither side offering anything which would improve the lot of the ordinary Spanish people.  While nationalism is often seen as the standard bearer of progress, with the plucky little David standing up against the bureaucratic Goliath, it can more often be the standard bearer of a new ruling class looking to carve out their own niche.

In the UK the example of Scotland is salutary.  While the Scottish Nationalist Party struck a radical pose in opposition to weak Labour Party leadership, they are exposed as little more than diluted liberals at best when set alongside the more radical option of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.  It will be interesting to see how far their vote dwindles at the next General Election.

In Spain the PCE continue to call for a federal Spain based on social rights for all and solidarity between the peoples, with the right of national self-determination guaranteed in the constitution.  That also means ditching the reactionary monarchy and returning Spain to being a republic.  How much of such a programme either Puigdemont or Rajoy support would be a measure of how much their posturing is in support of their people or their own class interests.

15th October 2017

Trump calls time on Iran deal

 

President Donald Trump begins the undoing of the Iran deal

The decision of US President, Donald Trump, to de-certify the international deal with Iran has brought condemnation across the world.  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly found that the Islamic Republic of Iran has not contravened the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal agreed with Western powers.  There is no indication from the United States State Department that Iran has not been in compliance with the deal. 

Formally, the 2015 deal is an international agreement, which cannot be undone by the actions of one signatory.  The UK, Russia, France, China and Germany, have all indicated that they remain committed to the deal.  Only the reactionary government of Israel and the dictatorship in Saudi Arabia have endorsed the action of the United States.  However, there is no doubt that Trump’s action sends a clear statement of intent.

Trump’s action passes the question of whether to re-impose sanctions upon Iran back to the US Congress where, it is widely reported, there is unlikely to be an appetite to unpick the agreement and risk fall out with partners in Europe.  However, the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in the past week has made clear its intention to ‘tighten up’ the workings of the 2015 agreement.  This would include a unilateral expansion of the remit of the deal, to cover new areas such as Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its support for allies and proxies elsewhere in the region.

The unravelling of the deal then is already on the radar of lawmakers in the US.  This could mean that the opposition of European powers could soon be undermined and the deal quickly fragmented, in spite of their defence of it in the first 24 hours after Trump’s remarks.

Inside Iran, President Hassan Rouhani does support the deal as a means to free the Iranian economy from the constraints of sanctions and give his government some economic breathing space.  While Rouhani is characterised as a moderate in the West he has done nothing to change the appalling human rights record of the Iranian regime.  However, Rouhani has no interest in direct conflict with the United States and will work to avoid it, in spite of his poor record on domestic issues.

The Rouhani government though is only one player in the Iranian political scene.  The Supreme Leader, Ayotollah Ali Khamenei, wields ultimate power in the theocratic system, with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as the means of enforcement.  There can be no doubt that more conservative elements within the Iranian regime would not be against adopting a more adversarial position with the United States, which could ultimately lead to an escalation of tensions in Iran and the wider region.

For Trump and his backers in the US, undermining the deal is just one element of the wider strategy to tackle Iranian support for Hamas and Hezbollah and to shore up US regional hegemony.  It is also about US pique at the fact that Iranian support for President Assad has helped roll back US and Saudi led intervention to stoke civil war and conflict in Syria.

In the Middle East regional power balance the US continues to back its long standing allies in Israel and Saudi Arabia.  While these two regimes are not comfortable bedfellows in other respects, they are united by their support from the United States and their mutual condemnation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Anything that the US can do to undermine the Iranian regime will be supported in Riyadh and Tel Aviv.  Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was first out of the blocks to applaud Trump’s statement.

Hardline conservatives already control the White House in the United States.  Tightening the terms of the deal and stepping up economic sanctions can only increase the likelihood of hardline conservatives gaining more overt support in Iran.  For the people of Iran and the people of the Middle East these are not good outcomes.  For all its flaws and limitations the existing deal is at least a step in the direction of détente.  For the people of Iran any threat to peace is a threat to the ongoing struggle for democracy inside Iran.  Any threat to the struggle for democracy in Iran is a threat to the stability of the entire Middle East.

 

8th October 2017

Another nail in the coughing

 

 

Theresa May with ironic Conservative Party slogan

 

That the Tories were going to have a bad week at their annual conference in Manchester was widely predicted.  That it could have degenerated into something akin to farce, with the speech by leader Theresa May being the coup de grace, can only be regarded as a bonus.  As May coughed and spluttered her way to a conclusion, being handed a mock P45 en route, her Cabinet colleagues looked on aghast before the stage lettering behind her began to fall apart.

Whatever the headline writers and political cartoonists make of the farrago into which May’s leadership has now slipped, the reality has always been that there has been nothing on offer from the Tories to address the needs of the people of the UK and that fact is becoming increasingly obvious.

The desire to leave the EU is not even a mainstream Tory position but one foisted upon the vacillating leadership of David Cameron by a combination of his own right wing and the BBC backed UKIP.  Theresa May took a position that can best be described as ambivalent during the referendum campaign and, following the defeat of the Remain camp to which she was notionally aligned, became Tory leader largely due to the lack of anyone else appearing to be a remotely credible candidate.

May now retains her position because mainstream Tories are increasingly seeing Brexit as toxic and do not want to get their hands dirty with the nitty gritty of negotiation.  The Boris Johnson’s and Rees-Mogg’s, in spite of the noise they make about Brexit, are incapable of taking the reins because they know that they will not be able to carry the Tory mainstream much beyond the position May is taking.  If they cannot even do that, then they calculate that their chances of winning a general election are even more remote.

It is little wonder that May looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights every time she is interviewed.  She is damned if she stays, while the rest of her party will be damned if she goes.

The only political beacon that has emerged in the last year in the UK is the Labour Party General Election manifesto, For the Many Not the Few, which continues to offer the only credible steps away from the austerity imposed upon ordinary people, to meet the bankers gambling debts, and towards a future that offers young people hope and opportunity.

With the political party conference season over, the coming months will see increased pressure from public sector trade unions to break the cycle of austerity and push for pay rises that at least keep pace with inflation for their long suffering members.    Low pay and low investment in manufacturing and infrastructure continue to be a drain on the economy.  For years the banks have used the excuse of austerity not to lend or invest, now they cower at the uncertainty of Brexit.  These risk takers, these engines of the economy, are a tame lot!

Meanwhile, local councils, straining under the burden of almost ten years of austerity will once again be forced into making unpalatable choices in the coming budget round, which will lead to further service reductions for those at the sharp end.

The national roll out of Universal Credit, widely decried as a debacle in areas where it has been piloted, is scheduled for the New Year.  The prospect of the unemployed, single parents and the disabled having to struggle without access to benefit for up to six weeks has been widely reported but no solution proposed.

Without properly funded options for local authorities to build new council houses the crisis in affordable housing will continue, as Tory dogma dictates that the ‘right’ to buy must continue to be an option for Council tenants, while the private sector know there are no super profits in building houses for the poor.

All of this is on the doorstep of the UK, even before the government take a position on the possible US led conflicts with North Korea and Iran.  Given recent history there is more than an evens chance they will take the line of backing US belligerence.  Given the massive drain upon the UK economy which spending on weapons of mass destruction represents, kowtowing to the foreign adventures of the US gives the UK ruling class the slimmest of justifications for the syphoning of resources away from the NHS, housing and public services which the defence budget represents.

It is ironic that, at its annual meeting later this week, the IMF is likely to call for greater investment to boost education, training and productivity.  Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, has spoken recently about the need for economies awash with cash to “use this moment to invest more in their own economies”, although she is widely expected to be ignored.

Capitalists are not even prepared to listen to each other.  Perhaps deep down it is because they know they have no solutions.

1st October 2017

Opportunity spread thin

 

Theresa May – not spreading much opportunity

The depth of divisions within the Conservative Party are clear, even before a word is spoken at their annual conference in Manchester this week.  Boris Johnson, once again slightly overstepping his brief as Foreign Secretary, has intervened to make clear his position on the Brexit negotiations.  Nothing unusual there, Johnson’s leadership ambitions are as naked as they are well documented.  However, for Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, to be equivocal in his support for Theresa May suggests a far deeper malaise at the heart of the Tory leadership.

Asked by The Observer (1/10/17) whether Javid believed May was the right person to lead the Tories into the next election the interview concludes,

“He waits several seconds, smiles, then stands and offers his hand.  “I think we are out of time,” he says, leaving us to draw the obvious conclusion.”

The trick for May this week is to attempt to paper over the cracks and convince enough of the delegates and Parliamentary Party that she is the person to lead them in Brexit negotiations and into the next election.  Strong and stable anyone?

One influential Tory, Matthew Parris, has already described May as being “in a hostage situation”.  He may have added that she would not get many takers to pay the ransom.  Only Damian Green appears to be prepared to make any effort to bail out the waters from the sinking ship.  Most others look more or less prepared to simply bail out themselves, when the time looks right.

In a desperate attempt to shore things up with younger voters, the conference is set to announce a series of policy initiatives, including freezing tuition fees; upping the earnings level at which students need to begin paying back student loans; and a £10bn expansion of the Help to Buy scheme, presumably from the same money tree used to buy off the Democratic Unionists votes in Parliament.

For May these are “key parts of my plan to spread opportunity and build a better future for our country.”  For most of us they will be seen as a desperate set of too little, too late initiatives, which simply underline how far out of touch the Tories have been with the concerns of many ordinary people and for how long.

The appeal to the young, at least those under the age of 45, is in part a response to a recent poll by the Social Market Foundation, which confirms the outcome of the June General Election that the youth vote is overwhelmingly with Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.  Tellingly, amongst voters in this age group, 76% regard the Tories as the party for “richer people” rather than the less wealthy.

Experience is, as ever, a great teacher.  Whatever rhetorical flourish May gives to her desire to “spread opportunity” the reality on the ground is that opportunity is not being spread.  Many younger people find themselves with crippling student debt.  They find themselves unable to get on the housing ladder.  They find themselves increasingly unable to afford rent or must opt for poor quality accommodation as the social housing market contracts.  Whatever it is that May means by spreading opportunity, it simply does not accord with the lives many young people are forced to live.

The resonance of the Labour message, For the Many, Not the Few could hardly be more relevant.  A positive conference for Labour has seen the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and his keys policies endorsed.  As things stand in the UK at present this is the only flag around which the working class, young people, women, ethnic minorities, those with disabilities and those hoping to change the basis of society for the better, can unite.

The Tories will struggle to keep it together in Manchester this week.  The reality is that the sooner it falls apart, the better for all of us.

 

23rd September 2017

The Brexit Roundabout

 

She’s behind you…Boris Johnson and Theresa May

Pundits, politicians and pollsters love to refer to the summer as the ‘silly season’.  This is the time when Parliament is not sitting, party leaders go on holiday and, short of a national catastrophe, the business of government just ticks over.  This year the silly season featured nothing quite as silly as the talk of Jacob Rees-Mogg MP being a prospective Tory leader.

Rees-Mogg, the self styled representative for the eighteenth century, is the man who regards abortion as morally indefensible, whatever the circumstances.  This includes rape victims.  This is the man whose pretentions to upper class respectability lead him to name his sixth child Sixtus.  As if having Rees-Mogg as a father would not be burden enough in life.

Rees-Mogg, being a dyed in the wool Brexiteer of the right wing Little Englander variety, is a darling of the hucksters running the Leave EU campaign, a thinly veiled excuse for a diatribe against foreigners and a desire to restore the ‘glory days’ of Empire.  Every utterance of JRM, as Leave EU trendily refer to Rees-Mogg, infects the Twittersphere and feeds the myth that the desire to leave the EU is the prerogative of xenophobic fools.

Rees-Mogg’s candle flickered briefly but has been comprehensively snuffed by the return of the big beast in the Leave EU jungle in the form of Boris Johnson.  With his boss Theresa May priming the BBC, and anyone else who cared to listen, that she would make a definitive position speech on Brexit in Florence yesterday, Johnson sharpened his quill and penned a note of his own.  More than a note in fact, over 4,000 words, published by that faithful hound the Daily Telegraph just a week before May’s Florence curtain raiser.

The proverbial Zebedee  to May’s Florence, Johnson suddenly bounced back from his summer perambulations in hurricane hit tax havens, calling ‘time for bed’ on the fragile Tory truce around Brexit.  Not only did Johnson beat loud and hard on the Little Englander drum, he even resurrected the widely discredited claim that £350m a week was being spent on the EU and, upon leaving, this could be diverted to support the NHS, amongst other things.

Clearly a lot of UK taxpayers money is being diverted into the EU and it could be more usefully employed.  Harking back to the £350m per week claim however was a clear provocation on Johnson’s part, purely a piece of internal politics rather than an appeal to the people.  It is no secret that Theresa May’s tenure as Tory party leader is only sustained due to the fact that no one else is currently prepared to take on the dirty work of Brexit.

However, as Johnson knows, the merest slip could change the balance and being in position to step in could give him an advantage.  For many the Johnson brand is toxic, even in some parts of the Tory party, but others may conclude that his high profile may be enough to help the Tories cling to office.

May’s address in Florence attempted to placate the ‘leave at all cost’ lobby on the one hand, while balancing out the demands of British business and capital, to be given more time to prepare for the changes Brexit will bring.  The two year transition period proposed by May sees her please no one, with the hardline leave camp seeing it as too long and many businesses seeing it as being too short.  On this timetable the UK would not fully leave the EU until 2021, five years after the referendum vote of June 2016.

For British capital the EU departure process is one of working out ways in which the City of London and UK corporations can have their cake and eat it.  They want to enjoy the benefits to exploit a captive market, which the EU provides, including the free movement of cheap labour, but not be constrained by the limited social and human rights legislation, which are part of EU law.  The irony is that the fabled social protections of the EU, much beloved of the Remain camp, are built on shifting sands and are uneven across the EU.  The unemployed of the second rank EU states in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland are testament to the EU’s failings.

Outside of the EU, able to determine its own public spending priorities; able to determine an open and fair immigration process; able to set its own trade union and human rights agenda; able to disassociate itself from the aggressive NATO alliance; it is possible to see a different future for the UK based upon socialist values.  Not surprisingly, Theresa May’s speech made no reference to this.  There is no room for such values in the script being prepared by Boris Johnson.  Labour has its own internal struggles in uniting around such a vision but getting the Tories out and seeing Jeremy Corbyn in 10, Downing Street would be a start.

 

 

17th September 2017

 

Hurricane Irma update

 

From Cuba Solidarity Campaign

 

 

 

Thank you to everyone who has donated to CSC’s Hurricane Irma Appeal. An amazing £15,000 has been raised in less than 24 hours, all of which will be sent to Cuba to help with relief and recovery projects.

 

 

The category 5 storm was the worst to hit Cuba in recent history. Unlike previous storms where damage has been limited to specific provinces, Hurricane Irma tore along 800 kilometres of the northern coast, making its impact felt across the entire island.

 

Coastal communities have been devastated by winds and flooding. Many are still without water and electricity as central power stations sustained major damage. Authorities and communities are working around the clock to restore electricity, water supplies and reopen the 400 schools which were also affected.

 

On Wednesday 13 September, power had been restored to 70 per cent of the country, however in the worst affected areas of Matanzas, Villa Clara and Ciego de Avila, up to 70 per cent of buildings were still without power three days after the storm.

 

The storm surge pushed seawater half a kilometre inland in some places, taking rubbish and sewage with it.

 

On Monday Cuban authorities announced that ten people had died as a result of the storm, mainly from collapsing buildings in Havana.

 

Nearly 300,000 hectares of sugar cane plantations have been affected, with nearly 40 per cent of the plants ruined or damaged. Communities have set to work harvesting and collecting what can be salvaged and distributed.

 

The Cuban ambassador to Britain, Teresita Vicente said that solidarity would be important over the coming months, since recovery efforts would be hindered by the impact of the US blockade: “The blockade makes it more difficult to recover but the spirit of the Cuban people is the same as it has been when we face many adversities.”

 

The ambassador reminded people that Cuba was also suffering from “Hurricane Trump” as the US increases its “aggressive policy” toward the country.

 

Just as Irma was about to hit, President Trump quietly extended the blockade for another year by signing the Trading with the Enemy Act.

 

“Political solidarity is very important but also this appeal is vital and will help to alleviate the difficulties faced by the Cuban people.”

 

CSC reiterates its solidarity with the Cuban people in the mammoth task they have ahead to rebuild their communities. We call once again for the US government to end its inhumane blockade of the country so that the Cuban people can access the building materials and equipment they will need to reconstruct their country following this tragedy.

 

You can make donations to the CSC Hurricane Appeal below. 100% of all donations will be passed on to relief work in Cuba.

 

 

Other donations

Cheques should be clearly marked on the back: ‘Cuba Hurricane Relief’. Please make cheques out to CSC and send to: Cuba Solidarity Campaign c/o UNITE, 33-37 Moreland Street, London EC1V 8BB, UK

For credit card or bank transfers call +44 (0)20 7490 5715 or email office@cuba-solidarity.org.uk

 

Further reading

Cuba in Recovery, report from Granma

Ambassador responds to Hurricane Irma Appeal

Trump extends the Trading with the Enemy Act

 

Further updates on hurricane relief and donations will be posted on www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk, our Facebook and Twitter pages and in the October issue of CubaSí magazine.

 

 

 

10th September 2017

Hurricane Irma hits Cuba

 

Hurricane Irma batters Cuba

News that Hurricane Irma has reached Cuba has meant that BBC reportage has had to include the island in its assessment of the impact of the hurricane in the Caribbean.  The progress of the storm to date has focused upon the impact upon Barbuda, the Turks and Caicos Islands, British Virgin Islands and the potential impact upon mainland USA, in particular Florida.

Cuba is vulnerable to hurricanes and its government is famously well-prepared.  Even the United Nations once praised Cuba as a “model in Hurricane risk management” in 2004.  Jacobin Magazine notes that only 35 Cubans have died from the last 17 hurricanes.  Last year’s Hurricane Matthew did not kill anyone in Cuba, although it killed 271 people in nearby Haiti.

As the New York Times noted in 2013, the National Prognostic Centre of Cuba’s Meteorological Institute in Havana is responsible for monitoring the weather there.  Before President Barack Obama resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba, hurricane preparedness was one of the few things American and Cuban officials worked together on.

Despite an older infrastructure, its hurricane preparedness plans that are taught to children in schools have saved countless lives.  Children are even taught to identify at-risk trees and hazards in their neighbourhoods.  During a storm, schools, hospitals and hotels become members of the Cuban Civil Defence force and are responsible for caring for residents.

The Cuban government issues a seven days warning, during which time local communities are given ample opportunity to prepare for the worst.

Local leaders are the protagonists of disaster warning processes based on constant drilling, which takes place under the rubric of “risk-reduction” in every province, city, town and village.

These constant drills are coupled with an integrated response from local fire departments, health, transportation and other vital public services.  Above all, Cuba places tremendous emphasis on educating the population to keep communities and families, particularly the most vulnerable, safe.

While Cuban preparation places less emphasis upon evacuation, but rather focuses on “protection,” which includes reinforcing a local school capable of accommodating local communities and pets, the force of Hurricane Irma means that some evacuation measures have been necessary.  Sources from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign have indicated that in advance of Irma one million Cubans were evacuated to shelters and higher ground for protection.

The Cuban National Defense Council for Disaster Reduction recognises that sea penetration, strong winds and rain will affect the electrical supply in affected territories.  To prevent any distribution to the service, the Cuban Electric Union (UEC) has set up 25 emergency towers to distribute electricity.

The UEC has formed 155 brigades, composed of 1,066 electricity workers, who will be distributed among the most affected provinces.

“The contingents are ready to go out and work on the quick solution of any difficulties that may arise,” noted Jorge Hernández, senior civil defense specialist at the UEC.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Health, in conjunction with the Biotech and Pharmaceutical Industries Group, has organized 67 medical-surgical brigades to ensure medical assistance in difficult-to-access communities, officials reported.

This Ministry has also relocated 177 health system units (pharmacies, clinics, etc.) to solid and safe institutions in the affected territories.

Unlike the people of Texas and Louisiana affected by tropical storm Harvey, all of whom must apply for federal aid, Cubans, despite the country's vastly inferior economic resources, do not feel as though they will be abandoned “no matter what,” nor subjected to market-driven price gouging of vital supplies as witnessed in Texas .

The Cuban approach to prevention policies demonstrate a thoughtful insight into the sheer power of nature and the impact of climate change.  The U.S. philosophy of disaster relief, on the other hand, is more of an afterthought.

In 2005, Cuba, which has suffered over half century of a U.S. economic blockade, offered to send 1,500 medical professionals from the Henry Reeves Brigade to help the people of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  The former U.S. President George W. Bush, swiftly rejected the offer.

Keep up to date with developments at

http://en.granma.cu/cuba/2017-09-09/irma-continues-to-pose-a-threat-to-cuba

28th August 2017

Labour Limbers Up

 

Shadow Brexit Secretary, Kier Starmer, with Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn

The announcement yesterday, that the Labour Party will back continued membership of the single market and customs union beyond the date of Brexit in March 2019, signals the first move in preparation for an Autumn General Election.  Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, writing in The Observer yesterday was unequivocal about the clarification of Labour’s position stating,

“We need a transitional Brexit deal that provides maximum certainty and stability.  Labour will deliver it.  If we are to deliver a deal that protects jobs and the economy, we must be clear about the hard choices that need to be made.”

The failure of the Tory government to come up with anything other than vacuous options papers over the summer, further fuelling the uncertainty about arrangements from March 2019 onwards, has left the door open for Labour to capture the centre ground and stake a clear policy position.

The length of any proposed transition is still unclear but the fact that there will be a period for negotiation, rather than the ‘cliff edge’ scenario proposed by the Tories for March 2019 will give UK business some reassurance.

The Labour position is clearly one that is transitional in every sense, designed to maximise party unity in the build up to the conference season and the return of Parliament.  Key sections of the Labour leadership understand the contradictions of the EU, as a capitalist alliance aimed at shoring up its trading position against the US and Far East, whatever the cost to its weaker economies.

However, a hardline anti-EU position will not mobilise the constituency which backed Jeremy Corbyn at the last election.  While the Labour Manifesto proved massively popular with a wide cross section of the population, not least young people, many of those have still bought into the concept of the EU as positive force.

An elected Labour government, which aims to implement its programme of nationalisation and public sector investment, will quickly come up against EU regulations that will provide barriers.  At that point the struggle for a clear understanding of Brexit, and the right of a Left wing government to implement the programme upon which it has been elected, will open up a whole new front in the understanding of the role of the EU as a protectionist capitalist cartel.

Politically the promise of a transition post March 2019 will aim to keep both the Parliamentary Labour Party and voters on board long enough to see a Labour Government elected.  The situation that government inherits, particularly in relation to jobs and the economy, will determine how negotiations with the rest of the EU proceed and how a transitional period will play out.

The political priority for the coming period is the ousting of the Tory government who will continue with austerity for the many, inside or outside of the EU.  The Tories’ inability to govern, or even give a coherent gloss to negotiations with the EU, is becoming more evident with each day.  It is time to ensure that those days are numbered.

21st August 2017

Cracks in the system exposed

The election of Donald Trump to the US presidency last year was in part due to the failure of the US liberal establishment to produce a credible alternative candidate.  Trump’s characterisation of Hillary Clinton as ‘crooked’ had enough resonance with enough of the electorate to leave the door open for Trump’s particular brand of populism to succeed.  Clinton may still have won 3 million more votes than Trump but the Electoral College system worked in his favour in enough key states to ensure victory.

While the liberal intelligentsia and much of the media in the United States continue to characterise the Trump presidency as dysfunctional, it is becoming increasingly clear that Trump does not acknowledge that being President means playing by the usual rules.  In fact, there is little in the first few months of the Trump presidency to suggest that he gives a damn about the rules.  On the contrary, there is every indication that Trump and those backing him are looking to change the rules entirely and shift the ground of debate in US politics firmly to the right.

The events in Charlottesville, Virginia last week were not, in themselves, unusual in the history of racism and apartheid in the United States.  White supremacists, Nazis and the ideology of the Ku Klux Klan have lurked beneath the surface of areas in the Southern United States for decades.  However, this racism is being met by a new assertiveness, on the part of those from non-white heritage in the US, to address symbols of the nation’s slave owning history resulting in a number of moves to remove public symbols of this past.

General Robert E. Lee, the slave owning Confederate leader, is seen as a hero of the Right.  The decision to remove his statue in Charlottesville is the latest in a range of moves to de-toxify public images and monuments in the United States.  Confederate monuments, statues and images are up for discussion in many US cities including Baltimore and San Antonio, as well as Lexington, Kentucky; Memphis, Tennessee; Jacksonville, Florida.

The response of the Right to defend this legacy has been emboldened by the election of Trump and the initial actions of his administration.  As the Communist Party of the USA has noted recently,

“The Trump policies of mass deportations, voter suppression, Muslim bans, investigating “race-based discrimination” against whites, “law and order”, reviving the “War on Drugs” and encouraging police brutality are all geared at mobilizing a white nationalist constituency and slowing down, stopping and reversing the vast demographic and cultural shifts to ensure permanent white nationalist rule.”

The difference for the Right is that they have a President who is openly prepared to defend their position and publicly attack those who stand up to oppose racism.  Equating those who were protesting against the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville with the racist mob, Trump stated in his press  conference on the issues,

"I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it.  And you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent, and nobody wants to say that, but I'll say it right now.”

While Trump and the alt-Right racists around him attempt to shift the agenda and legitimise racist attitudes, resistance continues to grow.  A so-called “free speech” rally in Boston over the weekend, organised by the alt-Right, was abandoned as over 30,000 anti-racist protesters turned out in opposition.  Business leaders, previously associated with the Republican Party have deserted Trump’s economic advisory councils in the past week, forcing Trump to disband them.

The opposition within the business world is not always a matter of principle but a growing recognition that Trump’s overt racism is bad for business.  The Trump agenda of de-regulation is widely welcomed but fomenting racial unrest is not conducive to business stability.

As C.J. Atkins, writing in the CPUSA People’s World notes,

“Because if he has accomplished anything, it is this: Trump has blown apart the idea that the United States has moved past racism or that discrimination is a relic of our troubled past.  By emboldening white supremacists and fomenting racial animosity on the part of white workers, he has exposed the tactic of dividing working people by race.  The threat for capitalism is that more people begin to put together the pieces and realize that it’s not only Trump who is the problem, but the system itself, which thrives on built-in racial divisions.”

Even the New York Times last week was moved to comment,

“Comparing the Trump administration to the Nazis may be a stretch, but many business leaders are concerned that stirring up deep-seated racial and nationalist animosities could be destabilizing, leading to riots, property damage, and widespread civil unrest reminiscent of the late 1960s.”

On the one hand the liberal establishment is attempting to re-assert itself and stabilise capitalism in the United States.  On the other, the hard core around Trump and his more vociferous supporters in the country remain keen to push the alt-Right agenda, reverse the limited social and political gains of the civil rights era of the United States and move towards a more openly institutionalised form of apartheid.

Neither of these options will meet the needs of the mass of the people of the United States.  Removing an overt racist from the White House is only the first step and the growing demand for his impeachment must be supported. 

However, in order to build a movement which can unite the interests of the working people of the USA, from across the range of ethnic communities, the struggle will need to be seen as something far more fundamental, taken beyond the White House and into the communities of the United States. 

13th August 2017


Locked and Loaded




Locked and loaded.  That was how US president, Donald Trump described the readiness of the US military in  relation to the ‘threat’ posed by North Korea.  It followed hard upon his promise to rain ‘fire and fury’ upon Pyongyang, should they carry out their threat to test inter-continental ballistic missiles anywhere near the US Pacific base of Guam.


To suggest that Trump is proposing to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut is putting it mildly.  The power of the US military, as Trump has pointed out, is more awesome than the weaponry of any empire at any time in history.  North Korea, on the other hand, may have found the means by which a small nuclear war head could be fixed to a missile, which may be able to get beyond its borders.


Any nuclear capability is a potential danger.  Even a small atomic bomb can do untold damage and have consequences lasting generations, as the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can testify.  As ever though, the US bluster is less about defending world peace than bolstering its own position as the world’s policeman.


Ever since its characterisation as one of the ‘axis of evil’ states by US President George W Bush, in his State of the Union address in January 2002, North Korea has been the subject of heightened attention by the US and its allies.


The reality is that US hostility to the efforts of the Korean people to free themselves from outside domination go back to the US led war of aggression in 1950 -  1953.  During that time 20% of North Korea’s population were killed, almost every town in the country burned to the ground and the population driven into subterranean shelters.  The fact that, even after such destruction, the US was unable to impose its will upon the country is at the root of US hostility.


With the defeat of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s, the United States announced that strategic nuclear weapons, previously targeted at the Soviet Union would be redirected towards North Korea.  War games conducted by the United States and South Korea in 1993 prompted North Korea to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and seek to maximise its own defence capability.


Recent provocative activity has included simulated bombing missions by the US along the North Korean border and the deployment of two aircraft carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Ronald Reagan, to the waters between Japan and Korea, described by the Wall Street Journal as “a show of force not seen there for more than two decades.”  These actions barely make the news, compared to the limited weapons testing carried out by the Koreans.


From a North Korean perspective the capacity of the US to destroy regimes it is in disagreement with is evident from its actions over the past 25 years, notably in Libya and Iraq.  The US continues to have designs upon Iran, another ‘axis of evil’ state, and persists in its internationally condemned and illegal blockade of Cuba.  Interventions in Syria and Afghanistan have caused significant destruction in recent years.  Donald Trump has not ruled out military intervention in Venezuela.


North Korea is the most heavily sanctioned state on the planet.  It is an international pariah with the US alliance but also with many on the international Left.  The dynastic approach to leadership change does Pyongyang no favours with those who may otherwise have sympathy with its anti-imperialist position.  Whatever the flaws and failings of the regime however, it is for the people of North Korea to determine how change will come about, not the United States.

It may be difficult for many on the Left to leap to the defence of North Korea but, seen in the context of its wider actions to suppress opposition to its diktats around the globe, there should be much greater concern about the United States.  The increasing militarisation of the leadership around Donald Trump, as more generals find themselves in political office, is a creeping coup d’etat, which puts a lot of power into the hands of men with itchy trigger fingers.  Being locked and loaded may not just apply to the US approach to North Korea.



6th August 2017

While the Western media make great play about recent developments in Venezuela, and the alleged anti-democratic nature of the new Constituent Assembly, an alternative view is offered by Granma the Official Voice of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee.

Ten keys to the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela

The massive turnout for the July 30 vote offers several lessons regarding the complex scenario facing the country and the evolution of events

Author: Sergio Alejandro Gómez | informacion@granma.cu

august 4, 2017 14:08:41

Photo: TELESUR

Nicolás Maduro went for broke. “Come rain or shine, there will be a National Constituent Assembly,” the Venezuelan President stated. And so it was.

July 30, 2017, marked a historic date, not only for the Bolivarian Revolution, which came to power less than two decades ago, but for a nation that has been struggling for its independence and self-determination for over 200 years.

The vote that day offered us several lessons to understand the complex scenario facing the country, and the possible evolution of events:

1. Venezuela has a Constituent Assembly. Despite the boycott declared by the right wing and the international maneuvers against it, the support of more than eight million Venezuelans at the polls endows the constitutional mechanism activated by the Bolivarian government with legitimacy. The opposition’s bid was to prevent the Constituent Assembly by all means and it failed. They now run the risk of being left out of the Assembly that will shape the future of the country, although few doubt that some kind of dialogue is essential to resume the road to peace.

2. The elections were held amid relative calm. The number of people killed during the day varies according to the source.

Most speak of at least ten dead. However, after more than a hundred victims in the past few months, some of them burned alive by opposition extremists, the election day balance sheet was far from the “bloodbath” predicted by some international analysts.

3. The Armed Forces are committed to constitutional order. The plan to preserve the integrity of polling stations, for which more than 230,000 troops were deployed, as well as the extraordinary measures taken by authorities, were key to ensuring Venezuelans’ democratic exercise of the right to vote. In addition, this is a further sign that, unlike in the past, the current Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela are committed to constitutional order and are the main guarantors of the country’s stability.

4. The right has less strength than had appeared. The opposition coalition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), the main instigator of the violence, promised to hold the “mother of all protests” to prevent the Constituent Assembly. Its limited rallying power in the days leading up to the elections, and the impotence of its leaders faced with the popular mobilization to vote, are proof that it overestimated its forces.

5. The mass media were left without news. Venezuela was, until the vote, one of the topics receiving most coverage in the international media. Hundreds of journalists from the most important chains are present in the South American country. However, when the reality was different from the coverage they had prepared (a pitched battle and the beginning of civil war), they offered a revealing silence. Instead, they devoted themselves to reporting minor issues and so far practically no outlet has provided coverage of the massive turnout of eight million Venezuelans, who had to cross rivers or stay up through the night, in order to exercise their right at the polls.

6. The turnout exceeded expectations. Amid the polarization of the country and the instability provoked by the extreme right, the number of Venezuelans who went out to vote was not envisaged by the opposition or their international backers. Even the Bolivarian authorities recognized that the figure was a pleasant surprise. As a means of comparison, the more than eight million votes cast on July 30 exceeded the 7.7 million obtained by the MUD in the legislative elections that gave it control of the National Assembly in 2015.

7. There is a concerted strategy to disregard the democratic process in Venezuela. The United States, Spain, and several Latin American nations, including Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Paraguay, Guatemala, and Panama, did not even wait for the results of the elections before refusing to recognize them and the new Constituent Assembly.

8. The United States is actively working to destabilize Venezuela. Before the elections, Washington sanctioned 13 Bolivarian officials with the aim of intimidating the government in the lead-up to the Constituent Assembly vote. After learning of the results, the U.S. government announced another series of measures including sanctions against President Nicolás Maduro. Some U.S. media have speculated regarding possible sanctions on the Venezuelan oil sector, which has been in the White House’s sights from the start.

9. A significant number of citizens gave Chavismo another vote of confidence. In the midst of the economic war, the decline in international oil prices, and internal destabilization, the popular support received shows just how much the Venezuelan people appreciate the transformations initiated by Hugo Chávez. It is difficult to think of another government in Venezuelan history that would have resisted a similar onslaught.

10. The Constituent Assembly alone can not solve underlying problems such as the economic crisis, inflation, shortages, and violence. However, the constitutional powers with which the Assembly is invested constitute a platform to call for dialogue between the different actors in the country’s political and social life, to ensure justice for the victims of the crimes committed by violent sectors, and to once again put the country on the path to progress and peace.

30th July 2017

Iran Is Next On Trump’s Regime-Change Agenda

 

Recent soundbites from Washington give cause for concern about the prospects for peaceful resolution of conflicts in the Middle East, says JANE GREEN

On May 21 Donald Trump, during his first international trip as President, delivered from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, what was billed as a “speech to the Muslim world.”

It was significant in itself that Trump had chosen the Saudi dictatorship as his first port of call overseas.  It was still more significant that, in a speech that pitched the fight against terrorism as a struggle between good and evil, Trump should play to the Saudi gallery and cast Iran as the regional bad guy.

Trump started his tirade by saying: “Starving terrorists of their territory, their funding, and the false allure of their craven ideology, will be the basis for defeating them.  But no discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three — safe harbour, financial backing and the social standing needed for recruitment.  It is a regime that is responsible for so much instability in the region.  I am speaking of course of Iran.”

He went on to condemn Iran’s role in supporting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, though no mention of the illegal Nato intervention in that country was made.  Nor did the Saudis’ support for Isis get a mention.

Instead Trump played the populist card, appealing to the needs of the Iranian people, saying: “The Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims are its own people.  Iran has a rich history and culture, but the people of Iran have endured hardship and despair under their leaders’ reckless pursuit of conflict and terror.

“Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.”

The sudden conversion of the US to a defender of the Iranian people will come as a surprise to solidarity organisations and human rights activists across the world.

The Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (Codir), along with others, have been fighting a long battle to persuade Western leaders to condemn the human rights record of the Islamic Republic and to bring pressure to bear on the regime to allow free and independent trade union and political activity.

Trump is clearly shedding crocodile tears over the fate of the Iranian people.  Even the 5+1 (China, France, Russia, UK, US plus Germany) nuclear deal — negotiated before Trump came to office — did not place any obligations on the Iranian government to clean up its human rights record.

The US president is on record as saying that the deal is too soft on Iran, therefore, any change he initiates is unlikely to improve the lot of the ordinary people of Iran.

Only three weeks after Trump’s Riyadh speech US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, when questioned at the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, stated: “Well our Iranian policy is under development.  It’s not yet been delivered to the president, but I would tell you that we certainly recognise Iran’s continued destabilising presence in the region, their financing of foreign fighters, their export of militia forces in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, their support for Hezbollah.  And we are taking action to respond to Iran’s hegemony.  Additional sanctions have been put in place against individuals and others.”

More alarmingly, Tillerson went on to explicitly call for regime change in Iran, indicating that the US would directly supporting such action: “Our policy towards Iran is to push back on this hegemony, contain their ability to develop, obviously, nuclear weapons and to work toward support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.  Those elements are there, certainly, as we know.”

Codir has vehemently opposed the Iranian theocratic regime for over 30 years.  We have consistently opposed the imprisonment, torture and execution of political activists, women and trade unionists over that period. However, at no time have we ever suggested that the fate of Iran should be in the hands of anyone other than the Iranian people themselves.

Tillerson’s utterances potentially target Iran to become another Syria, with the West justifying intervention in support “democratic forces” to destabilise the regime.

There is no doubt that the Iranian regime is deeply unpopular among its people.  President Hassan Rouhani is clinging to the hope that the 5+1 deal can be salvaged and a less onerous sanctions regime would help reboot the economy.

In Rouhani’s own propaganda the deal was sold as Iran’s continued opening to the West and necessary for the crippling economic sanctions to be lifted.

While there is opposition to the regime in Iran it is doubtful that it is the kind of opposition the US is likely to support.

It is not implausible to anticipate a scenario in which some manufactured “Free Iran Army” could emerge to become the conduit for Western funding and arms and attempt to bring down the present regime.  The real opposition inside Iran would then find itself having to fight on two fronts.  It may sound far-fetched but the so-called Free Syrian Army provides a template.

Whatever method is finally decided upon, the main objective of US policy is to weaken Iran as a political force in the Middle East, effectively bolstering the position of Saudi Arabia in the Muslim world and ensuring that the Saudis, along with Israel, remain the eyes and ears of the US in the region.

As Nato-led interventions in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Syria have shown, US policy has been a recipe for destabilisation, people’s misery and uncertainty in the region.

Neither the theocratic dictatorship of Iran, nor the Saudi regime, is acting in the interests of their own people or those of the wider region.

The US State Department has recently released a long-awaited “retrospective” volume of documents on the 1953 coup in Iran, which led to the overthrow of Iran’s prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq.  These files confirms what Iranian democrats have known for decades — that the US and British intelligence services have form when it comes to interfering in the internal affairs of Iran. The recent statements of both the US president and the secretary of state indicate that history may be in danger of repeating itself.

Those fighting for peace, democracy and human rights inside Iran undoubtedly need our support.  Through Codir and other international bodies we will continue to give that support.  However, like the Iranian people, we must remain vigilant against outside interference and be prepared to support the real democratic opposition in Iran, not the opposition forces of Donald Trump’s choosing.

  • Jane Green is national officer of Codir and can be contacted at codir_ info@btinternet.com. For more information visit www.codir.net.

23rd July 2017

Overpaid men earn more than overpaid women

 

BBC – still work to do on pay at Broadcasting House

The BBC has been making all the headlines this week, with the news that the overpaid men who work for the corporation, have been massively more overpaid than the overpaid women the BBC employs.  This is a form of inequality.  That highest paid male presenter, Chris Evans, should get £2.2m per annum and highest paid female, Claudia Winkleman, a mere £450,000 is clearly an injustice.

A little more digging by the media, they are real news hounds after all, reveals that it is not only men but white men who fill the top pay bracket, with ethnic minority presenters, of either gender, barely making the BBC rich list.  It will not be much longer before they discover an overabundance of Oxbridge graduates and a paucity of employees from working class backgrounds in the higher echelons of the BBC.  Who would have thought it!

The demand signed by 40 of the BBC’s ‘underpaid’ female presenters, that the BBC address the gender pay gap now, not by 2020 as planned, has been gaining traction.  No doubt the BBC bosses will feel under pressure to redress the imbalance and renegotiate contracts sooner rather than later.

Putting a value on ‘talent’ is always fraught with difficulty, so much is subjective, but few would consider Chris Evans to be five times better at what he does than Claudia Winkleman, or ten times more valuable to the corporation than the many who made the list but still came in at under £200,000 per annum.  The real question is, why does anyone think that any of these people are worth this amount of money?

The argument tends to go that the BBC has to compete in a particular market place and to attract top talent it needs to pay the going rate, or its commercial competitors will poach their stars.

Unless the rules have changed however it remains the case that the BBC is a public sector corporation and, by definition, its staff are public sector employees.  Quite how the 1% public sector pay cap has affected the BBC rich list is not clear, although 1% of Chris Evans’ salary probably beats the annual pay of whoever cleans his office.  

In fact it has fallen to media and entertainment  union BECTU to point out that there are 400 BBC UK employees who earn under £20,000 per annum, some being on less that £16,000 according to BECTU general secretary, Gerry Morrissey, who stated,

“We are talking about people who help to make content who are in the same department that is commissioning the talent.  The BBC is getting £4bn of licence fee payers’ money and it should at least commit to a liveable wage.  We think £20,000 is not extortionate.”

The claim for a £20K minimum salary, first tabled in 2016, remains on the table as talks with the recognised unions - BECTU, the NUJ and Unite - continue on the pay review for 2017/18 alongside an overhaul of BBC terms and conditions. 

The flagrant waste of licence payers’ money on inflated salaries is even more scandalous when set against the fact that top earners at the BBC are also drawing massive salaries from external private sector production companies.  So Television, which makes the Graham Norton Show for the BBC, paid its star £2.6m last year to top up the mere £850,000 which Norton received from the BBC.  Many BBC earners will also top up their salary with appearance fees throughout the year, of between £5,000 - £10,000 a time.

The BBC does not exist in the marketplace in the same way as its private sector competitors.  It is the state broadcaster, its terms of operation are set by Parliament, it does not have to attract advertising revenue to survive.  Some of the BBC top executives, those making decisions behind the scenes, are on salaries in excess of £300,000 per annum.  They should be capable of managing the £4bn gifted to them by licence payers each year more efficiently.  Managers elsewhere in the public sector have been delivering savings and efficiencies for a decade under the national austerity agenda. 

If local communities are being forced to live without essential services such as libraries, swimming pools and other community facilities, if the fire and rescue service and the NHS are suffering cutbacks, then surely the BBC could cope without Chris Evans?  At the very least, the BBC could bring its highest earners into line with the pay enjoyed by Claudia Winkleman.  That would make a start on the gender pay gap at the top.  As BECTU have insisted though, the BBC's commitment to fixing the pay gap needs to reach beyond the top tiers to the rest of the organisation.

16th July 2017

Beyond Brexit

 

In the City – who really benefits from EU membership?

As the Tory government lists hopelessly towards the next round of Brexit negotiations the impact of the last ten years of austerity has been highlighted in recent research by the Resolution Foundation.  According to the thinktank, those with incomes over £275,000 per annum have recovered from the impact of the banking initiated recession in 2008 more quickly than the other 99% of UK households.

Adam Corlett, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, stated,

“The incomes of the top 1% took a short, sharp hit following the financial crisis.  But they’ve recovered rapidly since the very richest households have now seen their share of the nation’s income return to very high pre-crisis levels.  In contrast, for millions of young and lower income families the current slowdown comes on top of a tough decade for living standards, providing a bleak economic backdrop to the shock election result."

The under 35’s have been particularly hard hit, struggling with high rents, a lack of social housing and limited access to the housing market, due to low pay and inflated property prices.

The ‘shock election result’ was based very much upon the life experience of many of those in the under 35 age group and the experience of those on low wages, zero hours contracts, unemployed or struggling with job insecurity, whatever their ages and wherever they live.

The most important common factor, uniting all of those experiencing the sharp pain of austerity under the Tories, is not age or geography but social class.   As the recent disaster at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington illustrated all too dramatically, the poor can co-exist with incredible wealth in a single London Borough.  The extremes in other parts of the country may not be as sharp as in Kensington and Chelsea but the same principle holds true.

The beginnings of a solution to the issues facing those in poverty across the country were outlined in the Labour Party manifesto at the General Election, placing an emphasis upon addressing the needs of ordinary people for healthcare, housing and education.  The ‘shock election result’ was a reflection of the recognition by many that a government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich was not going to deliver to meet those needs.

The Tories blunder towards Brexit in the belief that by exiting the European Union they can improve the lot of their class.  The past decade of austerity is evidence, if any were needed, of the exact opposite.  As part of the European Union the banks and corporations, which were the architects of the financial crisis, have found themselves protected, even to the extent of having their immediate future secured by the state, Lloyd’s and Royal Bank of Scotland being just two examples.

By contrast, those working in the public sector have seen jobs disappear wholesale, pay frozen or capped at a meagre 1% and investment in new technology and infrastructure at a minimum.  Youth unemployment in parts of the EU is in excess of 25% while job insecurity is rife.  As a capitalist club, which acts in the interests of capitalist banks and corporations, the Tories are going to be hard pressed to do any better than the protections offered by the EU, hence the current disarray in their ranks.

It is salutary to note that the core business the Tories are seeking to protect in Brexit negotiations is that of the City of London.  Making sure that the square mile remains the banking heart of European capitalism is far higher up the Tory agenda than any consideration of the rights of workers, or human rights in general.

For Labour the task ahead is also difficult but in different ways.  Many of those attracted to the Labour Manifesto are young people attracted to that alternative based upon their own life experience of capitalism in the UK.  Many of the same demographic have been brought up on the pseudo-internationalism of the EU, pedalled by the Remain camp, suggesting that to be anti-EU is to be anti-European .  Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has committed Labour to following through on Brexit following the outcome of last year’s referendum.  The idea that to be anti-EU is to be anti-European is an association which must be broken if class interests are to prevail over those of geography.

This will not be easy.  The pro-European sentiments of sections of the younger generation are based upon the positive social benefits which being part of the EU has brought for a number of them.  Conversely, the anti-EU sentiments of others is easily fuelled by demagogues quick to hide the failings of capitalism as a system by placing blame upon immigrants, foreign labour or simply those of a different skin colour.

As the Brexit negotiations progress the complexities of the arguments need to be brought out.  The Labour Manifesto will need to be held up as a touchstone that is merely a starting point.  Even that starting point is not one that could be delivered within the EU, with its current limitations on public investment and public ownership. 

As Jonathan White, co-author of Building an Economy for the People, argued recently in the Morning Star,

“Remaining within the single market and customs union would mean remaining subject to the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) free trade treaty, which allows companies to sue governments over any new law or policy that might reduce their profits in the future.”

Presumably public ownership would be such a ‘threat’?  It is becoming increasingly clear that a completely new form of organisation and new approach to the type of society we want to see is required.  It is increasingly clear that the current crisis at the heart of capitalism in the UK goes beyond Brexit.  Arguments in favour of socialism cannot be avoided.

2nd July 2017

Austerity – not one day more

 

Protesters demand an end to austerity – London 1st July 2017

To say that top Tories are revolting is hardly news worthy of banner headlines.  To say that they are in revolt, over the lack of investment in the public sector, is altogether something else.  Following the recent General Election the penny has finally dropped for many Tories that, whatever their views about austerity, it is not a vote winner.  One national Sunday weekly suggests that Tories are joining a “chorus…of demands for a radical state overhaul for public services as Cabinet ministers and senior Conservative MPs backed higher pay for millions of NHS workers, more cash for schools and a “national debate” on student debt.”

The paucity of the Tory manifesto for the election was breathtaking, especially when contrasted with the bold and imaginative programme which Labour put forward, central to which was the message that austerity is not working, is not desirable and is not even necessary.  The outcome for the Tories is that they are in the embarrassing position of having to steal some of Jeremy Corbyn’s clothes.  They may balk at the full wardrobe but will certainly have a close look at anything they think may make them look respectable again in front of the electorate.

Since the election the Tories have stumbled from one crisis to another while the Labour campaign machine has kept rolling on.  Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance at the Glastonbury festival last weekend drew stormy applause from thousands of young people when he proclaimed,

“Politics is actually about everyday life.  It’s about all of us, what we dream, what we want, what we achieve and what we want for everybody else.”

Corbyn demonstrated that the Labour manifesto slogan, “For the many, not the few”, still has resonance.  In London yesterday thousands took to the streets to protest against ongoing austerity.  Not having to comply with its electoral ‘balance’ obligations the BBC appeared not to notice this protest.  They did not report that Jeremy Corbyn described the Grenfell Tower disaster as a “towering inferno in which the poor died in the richest Borough in Britain.”  

The media have been slow to expose the fact that, of the £55m collected in rents by Kensington and Chelsea Council, only £40m was re-invested back into Council housing, something the ring fenced housing revenue account is supposed to guarantee.  More could be made of the fact that Kensington and Chelsea Council have £249m in reserves, more than the annual budget of many Councils in the country.  Perhaps the public inquiry will reveal all.  We shall see.

As ever there are still voices within the Labour Party looking to undermine the unity which the election result should have engendered.  The Chuka Umunna amendment to the Queen’s Speech, which sought to rule out withdrawal from the EU without a deal and “set out proposals to remain within the customs union and single market” was an unnecessary tactical diversion at a moment when maximum opposition to the ongoing austerity crisis should have been the priority.  The shallow posturing of Umunna and those around him is a measure of the extent to which there remains much personal antipathy towards Corbyn beneath the surface with many Labour MPs.

Fighting with one hand tied behind his back however is not new for Corbyn.  The engagement of the wider movement and direct appeal to voters, which has carried him so far, is likely to remain central to his approach.  

The Tory deal with the loyalist thugs of the DUP, and a remarkable ‘money tree’ discovery of £1 billion over two years for Northern Ireland, has gotten Theresa May through a Queen’s Speech and into a summer recess.  For many Tories it is only the lack of an alternative candidate, credible or otherwise, that has got her this far. 

Increasing pressure from the public against austerity could yet make it a long hot summer for the Tories.  The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, organisers of yesterday’s London demonstration, are calling for mass mobilisation at the Tory party conference in Manchester on 1st October, to demand an end to austerity.  It will be interesting to see how close to an election that date is and whether Theresa May will be anything more than a piece of Tory history.

http://www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/

24th June 2017

US blockade is tightened by Trump

 

International Solidarity: May Day Havana 2017

On Friday 16 June, President Trump set back Cuba-US relations and any prospect of ending the US blockade in the near future when he announced his new policy on Cuba.

It is clear that Trump succumbed to pressure from hardline pro-blockade politicians in Florida who have been lobbying to reverse Obama’s Cuba policy for the last two years.

End the US blockade – Join the Cuba Solidarity Campaign today

By choosing to make the announcement in a Miami theatre named after a Bay of Pigs veteran, Trump will further antagonise relations between the two countries and undo much of the goodwill that US and Cuban diplomats have worked hard to build since diplomatic relations were re-established.

The announcement also flies in the face of US public opinion which according to a recent poll shows 65 per cent of citizens in support of improving relations with Cuba.

More importantly, it will be a huge disappointment to the people of Cuba who saw a glimmer of hope that the blockade may end when relations were re-established between the two countries in December 2014.

The aim of the blockade has always been to inflict economic hardship and suffering on the Cuban people to bring about a change in government and these measures are a continuation of this policy.  Reducing the ability of US citizens to travel to the island and limiting the number of Cuban state companies that US businesses can work with is a blatant attempt to damage the Cuban economy and create unrest in the country with the ultimate aim of regime change.

Trump’s actions serve as a reminder to friends of Cuba that the blockade is far from over.  In the forthcoming months it is critical that we maintain pressure on the United States’ government to continue on the path to normalise relations with Cuba, and ultimately to end its 55 year blockade against the island and illegal occupation of Guantánamo Bay.

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The Cuba Solidarity Campaign team

18th June 2017

Grenfell Tower  - the poor pay again

 

Local protestors converge on Whitehall to demand justice

It is always the poor who pay.  It can be a poorly designed sweatshop building in Bangladesh, collapsing and killing many.  It can be the unemployed and underpaid black community in the United States of America suffering shootings and police brutality.  It can be the working people of the UK suffering the slow torture of austerity year after year, as they struggle to feed the kids and pay the rent.  It can be the residents of a high rise housing block in North Kensington who, through no fault of their own, become victims of an approach to housing and an emphasis upon profits which ultimately costs them their lives.

The disastrous events at Grenfell Tower this week once again exposed the weakness and inhumanity of the Tories, personified in their leader Theresa May’s failure to meet victims, until prompted to do so by enraged residents and an astonished media.  Citing security reasons for her actions, the beleaguered Prime Minister’s thin excuse was hopelessly undermined by the visits of the Queen and other Royal Family cohorts, clearly less concerned about security than Theresa May.

The final irony came when May did deign to visit, only to be greeted by protests, boos and jeers from the local community now feeling the shock of events turn to rage.

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was not only in amongst the community hearing directly the stories of grieving friends and relatives, but has been quick to call for the widest ranging inquiry possible into the causes of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

In a letter to Theresa May (16th June 2017), welcoming the decision to hold a full and independent public inquiry, Corbyn states that the inquiry,

“…must be empowered to consider all the steps that were, or were not, taken leading up to and contributing to this most terrible incident.  It must also identify the urgent steps that need to be taken in relation to fire safety standards for other buildings of this nature.

In addition to finding facts, the inquiry must be empowered to make recommendations for the avoidance of any similar future disaster – and in doing so, to consider recommendations arising from previous similar fire-related deaths.”

What happened this week in Grenfell Tower was a tragedy but, more importantly, it was a crime.

Social housing, or Council housing as it was mostly, was one of the cornerstones of the post war Labour government’s drive to rebuild Britain after the Second World War.  Pre-war slums were cleared and a massive programme of house building, under the ownership and control of Councils across the country, gave access to decent modern houses for millions.  Combined with a National Health Service free at the point of use and a comprehensive education system, the opportunity for working class people to improve their situation had never been better. 

Since the 1980’s those building blocks have been systematically dismantled as the ruling class in the UK, through the Conservative Party, have sought to reduce the engagement of the State to support working class people and sharpen its capacity to oppress them.  This has inevitably been presented by the Tories as its opposite, proclaiming such changes as empowering working class communities, giving them the opportunity to get on and improve.

The selling of Council housing was dressed up as the ‘right to buy’, giving everyone the right to own property.  This was linked to the de-nationalisation of key industries and the opportunity to be a part of the ‘share owning democracy’, another branding ploy perpetrated by capitalism under the Thatcher government.  The dismemberment of local education authorities started with the process of local management of schools.  The wanton destruction of comprehensive education is culminating in the academy process, making secondary education little more than a market place.  The real drive behind all of these Tory policies was to eradicate local democratic control, open up opportunities for the private sector and reduce the influence of the state.

Whatever the shortcomings of the Council house system there is at least a clear line of accountability back to locally elected representatives.  Much Council housing is now with external landlords, as at Grenfell Tower, whom the Council will monitor as part of a service level agreement.  They will in turn engage a myriad of contractors to carry out repairs and maintenance work, often with a lack of clarity in terms of oversight and management. 

As Thomas Lane, editor of trade journal Building Design, pointed out,

“There was a time when local authorities had their own architecture departments, some of them quite famous.  Nowadays its all done externally.  You’ve got disparate people, design teams, surveyors, project managers, a whole army of people.”

It is also widely acknowledged that the privatisation of the building inspection regime leads to a race to the bottom, in order to reduce fees and limit the number of safety inspections carried out.

There is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that the external cladding applied to Grenfell Tower was a key factor in the rapid spread of the fire.  It is also the sad culmination of many years of local government underfunding and successive governments settling for cheap accommodation for poor people.

The contrast between the stacked Grenfell Tower block and the empty properties owned by the rich in South Kensington, as part of their property portfolio, should not be overlooked.  It is a symbol of the class differentiation across the UK, brought into sharp relief in one community.  Corbyn has asked for these properties to be requisitioned in order to house those who have lost their homes in Grenfell Tower.  It is a demand that will only grow as the crisis for bereaved families deepens.

In his letter to Theresa May, Corbyn goes on to say,

“It is important that justice is served in as comprehensive and timely way possible.  This must include, of course, ensuring that legal funding is available to support those involved in the inquiry and any inquests.  I would also like to support the request of the Mayor of London for an interim report to be produced which I believe is important for the community to feel as if justice is being done in a timely manner.”

In short, moving swiftly to avoid a cover up is essential.  Working class communities across the country will be watching the government response closely.  When the next election comes, as it will soon, there is no doubt that their voices will be heard.

11th June 2017

Hope

The outcome of the UK General Election has left the media and the Conservative Party baffled.  How could it be the case that a snap election, called to bolster Theresa May’s hand in Brexit negotiations, has resulted in the Tories losing their majority in the House of Commons?  How is it that as a result the Tories will be reliant upon confidence and supply arrangements with the Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the political wing of loyalist paramilitary thugs, to get any legislation through?

There is a school of Tory thought that May simply fought a bad campaign.  That with a better ‘performer’ the Tories would not have suffered such a major setback.  May’s brittleness on TV, inflexibility under questioning and her inability to engage with anyone other than handpicked Tory stalwarts certainly played a part.  It is no doubt soothing to the Tory ego to believe that these are the main factors in their remarkable collapse in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

This belief will soothe Tories further over the summer, when they persuade themselves that, having allowed Theresa May to stay in No 10 for a respectable period of time, they will need to move her out for an alternative candidate.  A new Tory leader could not do any worse, could they?  Based on the premise that this election was purely down to the personalities of the candidates, this Tory daydream may have some merits.  The Theresa May brand was all over the election campaign, with its now wholly ironic ‘strong and stable’ slogan, with any mention of the Conservative Party reduced to the small print.

For those Tories who think that a better ‘brand’ of leader will be the answer to their troubles there is likely to be more grief ahead.  The May brand undoubtedly became more toxic as the campaign progressed.  The greater focus there was upon personality, the less points May scored.  However, the real turning point in the campaign was not the focus upon personality but the launch, preceded by the advance leaking, of the Labour manifesto, For the Many, Not the Few.

The Tory spin machine had fallen victim to the line pedalled by their cohorts in the unholy trinity of the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Express, that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn was on the brink of meltdown.  May’s Chiefs of Staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, persuaded her that a snap election would catch the Opposition on the hop and that all indicators suggested that a landslide was on the cards.  Timothy and Hill are both now looking for other employment, having been forced to resign.

Their miscalculation was twofold.  Firstly, they calculated that May could outperform Corbyn with the media.  Repeating the mantra that she would provide ‘strong and stable government’ in order to lead the UK in Brexit negotiations, was deemed sufficient to keep on board what was regarded as a largely compliant nation.  The fact that the referendum outcome itself was tight and that only 37% of those eligible to vote, voted for Brexit, should have sent out some warning signals.

Corbyn, on the other hand, did not engage in repeating ready made formulas.  He engaged with the issues.  He outlined the concerns of much of the country that the NHS was underfunded, that housing was at crisis levels, both for those renting and first time buyers.  Corbyn identified the crisis in the jobs and training regime in the UK, which requires so many highly skilled jobs to be offered to overseas candidates, as one which needs to be addressed.  Corbyn tapped into the fact that, after seven years of austerity, the majority of the population have had enough of paying off the gambling debts of the bankers and need a positive message of hope for the future.

The second miscalculation of May’s handlers was that the policies which Corbyn was articulating would have no appeal.  The publication of For the Many, Not the Few brought together the key issues Corbyn had already touched upon and codified them into a costed programme, which could move beyond the arid politics of austerity.  The issue in the election was not just about May’s inability to sell the Tory message but that she actually had nothing to sell.  More austerity was hardly a vote winner and for most people Brexit was too abstract to be a real factor in the election.  However, put the case for jobs, health, education and homes in front of people, as Labour did, and they can understand that.  They can see a package of proposals that addresses the real issues that affect them on a day to day basis.  They can see a set of proposals that offers hope.

Combined with a political leader, in Jeremy Corbyn, who has stood for these values, principles and policies throughout his political career, who is not prepared to be diverted according to whichever way the wind blows and you have a factor in politics which the right wing media and May’s spin doctors could neither understand nor handle.

The DUP, apart from their history of supporting terror against the Catholic population in Northern Ireland, are anti-abortion, against gay marriage and are climate change sceptics.  They are essentially a Protestant sect, borne out of the particular configuration of politics in the six counties of Ireland annexed by Britain, in order to prop up the fiction of the so-called United Kingdom.  A United Ireland would not even see the DUP in Westminster at all.  If there was ever a time to reach for the phrase that ‘the tail will be wagging the dog’ then this is it.

Labour are preparing an alternative Queen’s Speech, based upon their manifesto and the expectations of much of the population.  It will be interesting to compare with what a Tory/DUP alliance comes up with.  There is no doubt that hope will be at the heart of the Labour alternative.  If the Tories have learnt anything, they will have to offer some additional funding for the NHS, the police and social care.  In short, they will have to steal Labour’s clothes, a tactic most people will see through.

The General Election date may have passed but the job is still only half done.  Theresa May and the Tories are wounded but not yet dead.  The job is to finish them off.  The struggle continues.

4th June 2017

Running Scared

 

Photo: Theresa May talks tough but says little

The latest terrorist murders in London have resulted in justifiable expressions of outrage from all political parties and resulted in a further suspension of general election campaigning until tomorrow.

In response to the latest outrage UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, offered a four pronged approach to the issue of tackling terrorism.  She suggested defeating the ideology, which preached terror and hate, winning hearts and minds to “pluralistic, British values”.  She suggested that international co-operation to regulate cyberspace was vital.  She suggested that “we need to review Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy to make sure the police and security services have all the powers they need.”

A further element of May’s approach is worth quoting in full, as it plays to a mentality that will not only oppose extremism but opposes anything or anyone who is in any way different.  She said,

“..while we need to deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online, we must not forget about the safe spaces that continue to exist in the real world.  Yes, that means taking military action to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  But it also means taking action here at home.  While we have made significant progress in recent years, there is – to be frank – far too much tolerance of extremism in our country.

So we need to become far more robust in identifying it and stamping it out – across the public sector and across society.  That will require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations, but the whole of our country needs to come together to take on this extremism – and we need to live our lives not in a series of separated, segregated communities but as one truly United Kingdom.”

Quite what May means when she states that there is “far too much tolerance of extremism in our country” is the first point here.  Who tolerated the stabbing of a policeman outside the Houses of Parliament and the killing of innocent civilians on Westminster Bridge in March?  Who has tolerated the murders of 22 innocent people at Manchester Arena last week?  Who is tolerating the stabbings on London Bridge and Borough Market last night, resulting in another seven deaths?

Apart from a few hard core Islamic fundamentalists there is no evidence that anyone across the UK, whatever their race, creed or religion, is tolerant of such extremism.  People of all faiths and none, people of all political persuasions, have united in condemning such actions and condemning extremism of this nature.

Community cohesion is certainly one of the keys to counter terrorism but it has to be a cohesion based upon mutual respect and understanding.  There are a multiplicity of different communities in the UK some of which have become “segregated”, to use May’s phrase, some of which may as a result become prey to extremist ideology.  May’s inference is that those communities are all Muslim but Irish Catholics could be characterised in the same way, Scottish nationalists, Welsh speakers, the disaffected white working class, for example.  Where does it end?

May’s appeal to “one truly United Kingdom” is a pipe dream to play to the Daily Mail readers of Middle England, as a decisive General Election victory slips further from her grasp.  The real issue is that the bigotry, which is an overt part of the UKIP programme, is only just beneath the surface of May’s remarks and the whole tone of the Conservative Party approach.

Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has called upon all communities to come together, emphasising that

“Our strength is the strength of our community unity.  That was shown in Manchester straight after the horrible event there and it will be exactly the same in London.”  

Corbyn has already called for a wider review of the entire foreign policy approach of the UK, in particular to end wars of aggression in the Middle East, and to adopt a more holistic approach to the threat of fundamentalist terrorism.  The bigots in the right wing press and media will caricature this as ‘weak’ and no doubt applaud Theresa May’s call to “say enough is enough.”

However, tough talk, empty rhetoric and a foreign policy tied to the apron strings of the United States and NATO are what have brought us here today.  It is not working, it is time for us all to say “enough is enough.”

Thursday, 8th June presents us all with the opportunity to make that statement loud and clear.  There can be no excuses.  On every level from personal, public to foreign policy the Labour programme lays out clear alternatives.  It offers a vision of a society which offers hope, aims to work towards the resolution of differences and is based upon mutual respect and understanding.

The Tories are running scared because they have nothing new.  They are falling back upon the same old tired ideas of more austerity for the many, more tax cuts for the few and more ways to sound tough, while not keeping the country safe.  Those who do not vote Labour on Thursday, deserve everything they get if Theresa May is back in Downing Street on Friday.

27th May 2017

Tory cynics exploit Manchester murders

 Theresa May talks with Donald Trump at the G7 summit in Taormina, Italy

Partners in Crime: Theresa May talks with Donald Trump at the G7 summit in Taormina, Italy 

It was inevitable that the Tories would, in their ususal cynical way, attempt to gain political advantage from the murder of twenty two people at Manchester Arena earlier this week.  The suspension of political campaigning in the General Election has allowed Theresa May, as Prime Minister, an almost free run in the media to express horror and outrage at the murders.   A G7 summit in Italy this week also gave May a further platform on which to strut on the international stage and garner more media headlines.

Not content with this, with the resumption of campaigning yesterday May, and her key Tory henchmen, have launched an extraordinary attack upon Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for suggesting that UK foreign policy ought to be part of the debate around how to address the prevention of future attacks.

Corbyn was quite clear in an interview with Andrew Neil, when he said yesterday,

“The attack on Manchester was shocking, appalling, indefensible, wrong in every possible way.  The parallel that I was drawing this morning was that a number of people ever since the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have drawn attention to the links with foreign policy, including Boris Johnson in 2005, two former heads of MI5, and of course the foreign affairs select committee.”

Corbyn made it clear that the UK interventions had contributed to the creation of “huge ungoverned spaces” in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

That those spaces have fuelled the rise of al-Qaeda, Islamic State and contributed to the destabilisation of the Middle East cannot be denied.  The unravelling of the Western imposition of borders from 1916 onwards and a policy of supporting a succession of Western leaning dictators across the region, was never going to be easily managed away.  The fact that it has fallen apart so spectacularly is a reflection of the arrogance of Western foreign policy, in assuming that the leaders of the capitalist world could continue to impose leaders in their own image upon the nations of the Middle East.

The people of those countries have, not surprisingly, wanted to choose their own leaders.  However, the exploitation of those countries over the decades by the West has fuelled the rise of fundamentalist politics as the alternative, with devastating consequences.

Western policy has struck a rock in Syria, with the resistance to external intervention by the Assad government continuing to hold off a coalition of US and UK forces, aided by a range of Arab dictators and Islamic State, circling like vultures to carve up the remains of Syria.  The impact upon the Syrian people has been devastating, the migrant crisis which has resulted from the war in Syria continues to impact upon European borders and there can be little doubt that the whole adventure is a foreign policy disaster.

When Jeremy Corbyn suggests that the war on terror is not working these are the realities that he is drawing attention to.  The calamity in Syria did not just happen of its own volition; the migrant crisis did not happen by accident.  These consequences are all tied up with foreign policy choices and actions.  To make this point, to raise this question, is not to be ‘soft’ on terrorism or in any way attempt to justify the actions of those who engaged in murder in Manchester this week.

So, for Theresa May to respond to Corbyn’s comments with such vitriol is either a sign of wilful misunderstanding or an inability to grasp the complexities of international policy.  It could simply be an attempt to muddy the waters in order to reinforce the ‘strong and stable’ message with those voters who will be swayed by the headlines of the right wing tabloids.  In a press conference at the end of the G7 summit May said,

“I have been here with the G7, working with other international leaders to fight terrorism.  At the same time Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault and he has chosen to do that a few days after one of the worst terrorist atrocities we have experienced in the United Kingdom and I want to make something clear to Jeremy Corbyn and to you: there can never be an excuse for terrorism, there can be no excuse for what happened in Manchester.”

Later in the day Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, jumped on the bandwagon with a flurry of trademark rhetorical bluster, stating that it was,

“…absolutely extraordinary and inexplicable in this week of all weeks that there should be any attempt to justify or to legitimate the actions of the terrorists in this way.”

There is no attempt by the Tories to offer any way of addressing the problems of international terrorism, or any hint that considering the bigger foreign policy picture should be part of the debate.  These are not the actions of serious politicians who want to seriously address the issues facing the people of their country.  They are merely the rhetorical rantings of a narrow class wanting to hang onto and defend their privileges.

Behind the Tory cynicism is one crucial reality.  Their campaign is not working.  Labour is gaining in the polls.  The past week has been a hiatus that the Tories are cynically attempting to turn to their advantage.  There is little time left before the 8th June.  We must use that time to make sure that it is still time enough for voters to see through the Tory smokescreen.  The people of Manchester deserve better; the people of the UK deserve better.

http://www.labour.org.uk/page/-/Images/manifesto-2017/labour-manifesto-2017.pdf

21st May 2017

Iranian elections - no chance for change

 

Heralded as a reformer by certain sections of the Western press, re-elected Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani (pictured), has spent four years in office without doing a thing to improve the human rights record of the Iranian regime.  Rouhani has done nothing to support the development of trade unions or advance the position of women in Iranian society.  His neo-liberal economic policies have seen inflation rampant while unemployment has soared.

In spite of this, following the outcome of the 19th May elections in Iran, Rouhani has secured a further four years in office.  He did not be stand on a platform of extending the misery of the Iranian people, though this is a likely outcome, but as the man who delivered an end to international sanctions through the 5+1 deal with the United States and European Union.  The deal, whereby international sanctions will be softened in exchange for Iran accepting strict controls on its nuclear energy programme, was barely bedded in when the US electorate returned Donald Trump as president. 

Trump has been a vociferous opponent of the deal with Iran and, if his foreign policy concerns were not already overburdened, with airstrikes on Syria, bombing Afghanistan and the developing face off with North Korea, rewriting the terms of the deal may have been further up his agenda.  Which is not to say that Trump will not return to the subject of Iran, no doubt he will.  It is likely to form part of the discussions in his current visit to Saudi Arabia.  Rouhani’s second term may well be shaped by how he deals with the US president over the next four years.

The more conservative elements in the clergy fielded little known Ayotollah Ebrahim Raisi as their election candidate.  Regarded by many as a likely successor to Khamenei, but lacking political experience, the presidency was seen as a possible route to paving the way for Raisi to take over as Supreme Leader.  With Khamenei rumoured to be in the advanced stages of prostate cancer the need to locate a successor may come sooner than anticipated.

Raisi as a candidate was however problematic for the regime, bringing his own baggage.  Although little known as a politician, he does have a reputation as a ‘hanging judge’, particularly in relation to the massacre of thousands of the regime’s opponents in an especially brutal episode in 1988.  The commemoration of the executions, known as the national catastrophe, is a significant event, taking place each September in Iran, and Raisi’s role is well known.

Rouhani securing a second term is based on the fact that the Iranian leadership want to continue the normalisation of diplomatic relations and cooperation with the EU and US.  They want to see the sanctions lifted and thus remove an immediate existential threat to the survival of the regime.  A Rouhani administration is considered to be a grouping of mainly able technocrats, many educated in the UK and US, who are best placed to oversee this process of detente.  The attitude of the Trump administration however, remains a potential barrier to this strategy.

One certainty is that there is little hope in prospect for the Iranian people from the election outcome.  Negotiations with the government have been ongoing for some time in order to set a national minimum wage, based upon an agreed basket of goods and services.  Over the last year the cost of the basket of goods and services that could provide an acceptable living standard for workers has, according to the National Statistical Centre, risen from $863 to $924 monthly.

The government committee setting the minimum wage in March determined the rate for the current financial year at $287, based on the argument that the employers and the government were not prepared to accept an increase of more than 14.5% on the previous year’s figure.  The basis of the decision was the official inflation rate.  The employers have said that they will not consider a higher rate, in spite of the fact that the official rate of inflation is widely accepted as being well below the actual rate in the economy.  So, Iranian workers will be condemned to another year of poverty.

The regime has been trying to open the labour market to foreign capital.  They argue that the Iranian worker is educated, skilled and is cheapest in comparison with similar countries.  However, the labour law, one of the few protections for Iranian workers, is an obstacle to inward investment as far as the government is concerned. 

Since his election to the presidency in June 2013 Hassan Rouhani’s government has attempted to persuade the parliament  to change the law.  Trade unions and workers organisations organised a mass demonstration outside the parliament on 15th November as the law makers were due to start their work.  Under pressure the parliament sent back the proposed legislation to the government.  However, given the outcome of the presidential election, there can be little doubt that the government will once again try to reverse one of the few legal protections afforded to Iranian workers.  

The rate of unemployment is a significant factor in generating discontent amongst the people of Iran and in particular the younger population.  While education outcomes remain generally positive in the country the likelihood of finding gainful employment is clearly diminishing.

International factors have no doubt played some part in determining the outcome of elections in Iran.  It may be however, that internal factors will yet play a significant role, as protests against the government become an increasing feature of Iranian politics following the election outcome.

13th May 2017

For the many, not the few

 

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn – thumbs up for a radical manifesto

The leaking of a draft of the Labour Party manifesto has been the main focus of media interest this week.  Much BBC time has inevitably been taken up by the source of the leak and the divisions within the Party that this illustrates.  Fuel to the ongoing BBC narrative.  The real news however is that Labour have come up with a manifesto which puts before the British people the most radical programme for change in a generation.

Whatever the source of the leak, or the BBC spin put upon it, the raft of changes proposed by Labour should be the main message which emerges from the manifesto, which was confirmed at a Labour National Executive meeting on Friday.

While the manifesto will be formally launched next Tuesday it is already clear that Labour will set out some key promises including:-

  • The abolition of university tuition fees

  • A boost to infrastructure investment

  • Renationalisation of the railways

  • Increase in the minimum wage to £10 per hour

  • The creation of local energy providers

  • New Council house building

  • Investment in the NHS

  • Investment in school budgets

  • A comprehensive defence review

 

The main source of funding will be from an increase in corporation tax to 26%, from its current tax haven level of 17%, way below the European average.  Further tax on the top 5% of earners will also help spread the cost of funding public services more fairly and shift the burden from the poor to those most able to pay.  Commenting on the manifesto after the meeting Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn said,

“Our manifesto will be an offer and we believe the policies in it are very popular – an offer that will transform the lives of many people in our society and ensure that we have a government in Britain on 8th June that will work for the many, not the few, and give everyone in our society a decent opportunity and a decent chance, so nobody’s ignored, nobody’s forgotten and nobody’s left behind.”

The Tories and the usual media outlets have wasted no time in attempting to trash the Labour programme, with a particular emphasis upon defence.  In spite of Labour policy being in favour of the renewal of Trident, a significant weak spot in the programme, the media continue to press about Corbyn’s personal antipathy to the use of nuclear weapons.  Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, has even gone as far as to suggest that Corbyn is a pacifist, an allegation which Corbyn refutes and one for which there is no substantive evidence.

As Corbyn himself has pointed out however, if thinking twice about the indiscriminate destruction of the lives of millions of people and the destruction of large parts of the planet because of pushing the nuclear button is an issue, then he would think twice.  

The dynamism and hope of the Labour programme contrasts sharply with the colourless and anodyne approach of the Tories.  Hoping that the “strong and stable” leadership of Theresa May is their best bet, the Tories are stacking all of their eggs in that particular basket, attempting to run a presidential style campaign focussing on personality rather than policy options.

May’s lack of personality and her inability to think on her feet under questioning may yet undermine the Tories approach.  However, they will hope that the media focus on the character assassination of Corbyn  will prove enough of a distraction to take the spotlight from the evident weaknesses of their own candidate.  So far the Tory campaign has been significantly policy light, with “strong and stable” leadership being their main focus and delivering on Brexit their main objective.

Labour’s best platform in decades is not helped by anti-Corbyn elements such as Ben Bradshaw suggesting that the focus of the campaign should be to ensure as strong an opposition as possible, or Deputy Leader Tom Watson suggesting that May is heading for a Thatcher style landslide.

The official launch of the manifesto next week should be the focus for a united push to unseat the Tories and give Labour a chance to begin the process of putting the UK on a different path, one which truly will benefit the many, not the few.

 

23rd April 2017


Make sure the people prevail




Photo: Jeremy Corbyn launches Labour’s election campaign


Ironically, the snap UK General Election called by Prime Minister, Theresa May, last week seems to have caught everyone off guard, except the Labour Party leadership.  In a series of eye catching policy announcements Jeremy Corbyn had already outlined Labour’s position on a range of issues from free schools meals to housing, transport policy to the arts, the NHS to the environment.  An emerging manifesto, just at the right time. 


http://www.jeremyforlabour.com/policies


Corbyn has never equivocated on any of the issues which will no doubt form part of the manifesto once finalised.  An avowed internationalist, peace campaigner and advocate of the rights of the working class, against those of the rich and the monopolies, there is no question that Corbyn will make a strong pitch to put the needs of working people at the heart of Labour’s election campaign.  In his first speech of the campaign Corbyn made clear the scale of the challenge for Labour,


“It’s the establishment versus the people, and it’s our job to make sure the people prevail.”


The extent to which the Labour campaign will be about those on the outside attempting to break the mould of UK politics was further reinforced when Corbyn emphasised the scale of the task faced in tackling both the political establishment and the UK media,


“It is the establishment that complains I don’t play by the rules: by which they mean their rules.  We can’t win, they say, because we don’t play their game.


“And in a sense, the establishment and their followers in the media are quite right.  I don’t play by their rules.  And if a Labour Government is elected on 8th June, then we won’t play by their rules either!” 


In one sense, this is an election that Corbyn cannot lose.  After two years of a war of attrition against the backstabbers inside the Labour Party he finally has the chance to cut loose and put a progressive programme in front of the British people.  As Brian Topping, North Shields succinctly puts it in recent correspondence to the Morning Star,


“For the first time in a generation the Left faces a general election which is not only about keeping the Tories out but is also a campaign for a socialist alternative.


 Jeremy Corbyn's "not playing by their rules" speech may not be a socialist programme but it is in every sense a call for fundamental progressive change.  If the Tories are defeated and Corbyn's approach implemented, mobilization for socialist advance will be on the cards.”


For this generation in the Labour Movement the 2017 General Election is, in many senses, their Miner’s Strike moment.  The historic 1984/85 strike for pits, jobs and communities had the establishment and the media ranged against it.  All the forces of the state were either deployed during the strike, or ready to intervene should the NUM have been victorious.  So far, so predictable.


The real Achilles heel for the NUM however was the weakness and vacillation of sections of the Labour Movement and, in particular, the leadership of the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock.  When the battle was truly joined, and a chance presented itself to inflict a blow against the British ruling class, many on the Labour side not only went missing in action but actively collaborated to undermine the NUM and its leadership.


It may not be politic of Corbyn to say so publicly, as he seeks to maximise Party unity in the campaign period, but he will know that he is facing the same struggle.  Backstabbers in some constituencies have already said they will stand down, in an attempt to create an air of crisis.  All the better for those prepared to take up the fight and provide the bottle needed in the event of a Labour victory.


The Tory line that without Theresa May in No.10 all that will be left is a “coalition of chaos”, constituting the Labour Party and SNP, was trotted out early on and will no doubt be a constant refrain throughout the campaign.  Corbyn’s leadership credentials will be the subject of rigorous vilification and contrasted, no doubt with BBC collusion, with the more ‘statesmanlike’ Theresa May, who will be playing by the correct rules!


However, as Ronan Bennett pointed out last September (The Guardian 16/09/16) Corbyn has shown clear leadership on all of the key questions of the past thirty years.  Corbyn voted against the bombing of Libya, which has resulted in disaster in that country.  Corbyn voted against the deployment of UK air power over Syria, he voted against the disastrous intervention in Iraq in 2003.  As Bennett quite rightly states,


“It is all very well to say, years after the event, that you believed the prime minister when he said that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, or that bombing Gaddafi would bring peace and democracy to Libya.  But what counts is what you do in the moment.  What counts is where your vote goes.  That’s when you get the chance to make the right decision.”


Leadership is not an issue for Corbyn.  He has shown leadership and can stick to his principles.  The issue is for his opponents.  A victory for Corbyn might just make life uncomfortable for them.  That, not their new found love of the people, is their real concern.

 

17th April 2017

Mélenchon – a step forward

 

Photo: Jean Luc Mélenchon – offering hope for France?

The upsurge in support for left-wing candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, in the French presidential election, is an illustration of the fact that so called populism is not the preserve of the right-wing.  In many polls the race is too close to call, with four candidates positioned to be in the final two on 7th May, when first round voting is concluded on 23rd April.  Not long ago the contest was regarded as a straight battle between variations on the right, involving official Les Républicains candidate, FrançoisFillon and far right demagogue, Marine Le Pen of the Front National.

The ground first shifted with the rise of centrist, Emmanual Macron, and his self styled En Marche! movement, initially popular with the middle classes as a pro-EU alternative to Le Pen but increasingly looking like a victory of style over substance.  Macron benefitted from the Fillon campaign having to fight a financial scandal and for a while looked like the best option to stop Le Pen.  A recent Le Monde poll however shows support for Le Pen and Macron neck and neck, at 22% apiece, Fillon on 19% and Mélenchon edging into third place with 20% of the potential vote.

These figures must be seen in the context of one third of the 47 million strong French electorate being undecided and a further 30% claiming such disillusionment that they will abstain.  Mélenchon, the candidate of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), has been able to tap into the disillusionment with the establishment which is common across the EU and communicate policies which appeal to the traditional working class base of the Left. 

Mélenchon proposes to raise the minimum wage and the salaries of civil servants.  He is proposing to limit fat-cat pay by fixing maximum salaries and imposing a 90% tax on those earning over 400,000 per annum.  He is proposing that France quit NATO, quit the IMF and quit the World Bank, all instruments of failing globalised capitalism.  Crucially, Mélenchon is proposing to renegotiate EU treaties and put them to a referendum, aiming to break the power of the corporate and banking grip on the European Union.  The rise of the Mélenchon campaign has been based on a programme of traditional mass rallies across France, attracting thousands, and a bypassing of the traditional anti-left media through a direct blog found at http://www.melenchon-2017.fr/pages/blog-melenchon

This combination of modern and traditional methods of reaching the electorate has seen Mélenchon rise from a written off no-hoper to the only credible option for the left, easily bypassing official Socialist Party candidate Benoît  Hamon, floundering in the shadow of the failed presidency of  François Hollande.  Mélenchon also has the support of the French Communist Party (PCF) thus ensuring additional organisational strength to the campaign.

The outcome of the French election will have a profound impact upon the future of the European Union and Europe itself, as well as France.  A Mélenchon victory could see the beginnings of a progressive future for Europe, released from the corporate grip of the EU and working towards a Europe of the people’s.  Such an outcome will not be achieved without a fight but Mélenchon offers the prospect of taking a small step in the right direction.

14th April 2017

Shadows and Fog

Pic: Trump announces air strike on Syria

Media coverage of international events over the past week has been an object lesson in obfuscation.  Much of what is going on is confusing.  As far as the West is concerned, in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad is the bad guy.  Over the past five years, a loose coalition of NATO and unsavoury Arab dictators, from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, has poured resources into unseating Assad, to no avail.

Quite whom they are actively supporting is not entirely clear.  The West appear to think that there is a Western orientated liberal opposition in waiting, who would step in should Assad fall.  Experience from the debacles in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya would seem to suggest otherwise.  None has achieved any significant degree of stability since Western intervention.  None shapes up as a Western style liberal democracy.  

The Arab dictatorships appear more inclined to arm the jihadi insurgent element of the opposition, whether that is al-Qaeda or Islamic State, as long as they dislodge Assad and minimise the influence of their main enemy in the region, Iran.  Although having one foot in the West, as a NATO member, Turkey would also appear to subscribe to this view of the world.

Then there is Russia, the only foreign power actually to have been invited to intervene in Syria, by the internationally recognised government of Assad.  The Russians have their own agenda, to gain influence in the oil rich Middle East, as well as defeating the medievalism of Islamic State.  Their intervention has seen Islamic State pushed back and the opposition in Syria dwindle.  The main Russian objective is influence in the region which, at the moment, means supporting Assad but he could easily be jettisoned for an alternative, if Russia could maintain its foothold.

With Russian military support, the Syrian government has increasingly been on the front foot in recent months.  Islamic State, in particular, and the fragments of alternative opposition have been pushed back.  Quite why the Assad government would choose such a moment to launch a chemical weapons attack on its own people is a mystery.  It may come down to the assessment of one US diplomat, who stated, “who knows why evil men do evil things?” but international politics is usually more complex.  The Syrians claim that in a legitimate strike against insurgents they hit a chemical weapons dump, which released the gases.

The West rejected this explanation and, without any actual evidence or internationally recognised investigation, not to mention any international agreement or discussion, the United States launched a missile attack against a Syrian air base.  Bizarrely this has resulted in Western liberals vehemently opposed to President Trump on all questions, applauding the US action.  Right wingers such as Nigel Farage have been critical of US intervention, as going against Trump’s stated America First position.

There is a strong body of opinion that the US strike was a one off warning shot, not likely to result in US intervention on the ground.  The fear of a proxy or even direct conflict with Russia seems to be enough to hold the US at bay for now.  Trump has described relations between the world’s two major superpowers as being at “an all time low”, a position it would be assumed that he would want to rectify.

However, given the chaotic nature of policy development in the United States, and the narcissism of its Commander in Chief, anything is possible. 

31st March 2017

Brexit and the dissolving world order

 

Photo: UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, signs up to article 50

It is fashionable in certain circles to think that the UK vote to leave the European Union is the cause of a variety of ills in the world.  The election of Donald Trump as US President has been laid at the door of Brexit, and claimed by right wing apologists, such as Nigel Farage.  The possibility of a Marine Le Pen presidency in France is blamed upon Brexit.  The possibility of Alternativ fur Deutschland (AFD) doing well in German elections later this year is flagged as another example of the spreading Brexit contagion.

The truth however is that Brexit is not the cause; it is one symptom of the changing pattern of alliances in the capitalist world.  It is a consequence of there being no visible alternative model to capitalism, on any significant scale, since the break up of the Soviet Union.  China does present a non-imperialist alternative to post-Soviet capitalism but retains a decidedly nationalist focus in terms of economic development.  Others outside the imperialist orbit such as Cuba and VietNam cannot present economic strength on the scale of the Soviet Union, while North Korea functions as a form of militarist nationalism, which the Chinese have to keep in check.

The emerging threat and opposition of the various strands of Islamic fundamentalism either function as capitalist economies with an Islamic face, such as Turkey, or are more brutal forms of military and ideological dictatorship such as Pakistan and Iran.  The Gulf states such as Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are essentially feudal oligarchies to whom the West can sell weapons while pretending that propping up such dictatorships leaves them without blood on their hands.

In South and Latin America the struggle led by Cuba, taken up by Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, El Salvador and others, to establish an alternative to US post-colonial domination, has been thwarted at various times by US intervention, either directly or in support of reactionary opposition.  The struggle continues but there is no doubt that the tendency of US foreign policy under Trump will once again shift towards the concept of South America being the US ‘backyard’ in political and economic terms.

The narrative of much of the twentieth century in Europe was to move towards greater support, co-operation and understanding amongst people’s, a narrative which had its roots in nineteenth century socialism and the spread of Marxist ideas.  The defeat of fascism in the Second World War meant such ideas were in the ascendancy across much of Eastern Europe with state ownership of key services and industries common.  Nationalisation of key utilities and industries was common in Western Europe too and the establishment of a National Health Service in the UK marked a significant shift in social policy.

The struggle for national liberation across Asia, Africa and Latin America meant that emerging economies were no longer prepared to accept their roles as mineral providers for capitalism but wanted to take control of their own resources.  It is not surprising that many of these economies leaned towards the Soviet model, given the extent to which their economies had been plundered by capitalism.

Inevitably, it was not a smooth ride.  The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was formed in 1948 to give a cover to Western intervention across the globe.  United States interventions in Korea and VietNam, the latter in particular resulting in the US retreating ignominiously, were evidence that imperialism would not give up without a fight.  The CIA backed coup d’etat in Chile, interventions in Grenada and Nicaragua, the UK adventure in the Falklands, were all part of a pattern of capitalist resistance.  Ongoing support for the apartheid dictatorship in South Africa and the propping up of a variety of petty tyrants across the globe were also used to entrench the capitalist order.

The late 1980’s saw the stepping up of pressure from the Reagan administration in the United States, backed by the Thatcher government in the UK, and a weakening of ideological understanding, represented by the doctrine of perestroika, on the part of the leadership of the Soviet Union.  It was a toxic mix.

The defeat inflicted upon the Soviet Union in 1991 was the hammer blow to progressive forces across the world. Support and solidarity, both in economic and military terms, had been an integral part of the relationship of the Soviet Union to its allies and to national liberation movements.  That support, along with the technical and scientific expertise the Soviet Union provided to many emerging economies, rapidly disappeared as the twenty first century came into view.

For the twenty first century, the narrative has shifted significantly.  Individualism, nationalism and xenophobia are gaining the upper hand.  The internationalism and co-operation between people’s, which forms the basis of a socialist world view, has been appropriated in a diluted form by the leaders of the EU, and those in the UK Remain camp, who see the European Union as an internationalist project.  As internationalism goes, it is a pale shadow.  There are those on the Left shedding more tears for the prospect of leaving the EU than they ever did for the defeat of the Soviet Union, an event that many of them applauded.

Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, and all of the associated ills the Remainers wring their hands over, are simply the sound of chickens coming home to roost.  Capitalism will always be inexorable in its efforts to defeat socialism and socialist ideas.  In the process it will fight battles within its own boundaries as competing powers struggle to gain the upper hand and dominate markets.  The process is endemic; capitalism is inherently competitive. To believe that the European Union, or any other coalition or capitalist alliance, could last forever is nothing short of foolhardy.

Unless we cut off its head, the snake will eat itself.  There is no alternative but to go back to basics and renew the struggle to bring the people’s of the world together, not just the leaders of their respective nations.  Until that becomes a realistic prospect, Brexit is neither here nor there.  It is certainly not the cause of the world’s ills.

27th March 2017

Le Pen in Russia – quel surprise?

 

Photo: Marine Le Pen meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin

While the UK media has been tying itself in knots over the meaning of Brexit, and the likely consequences of EU departure, far more sinister developments have been taking place.  The visit to Russia of Marine Le Pen, Front National candidate in the French presidential election, was greeted with howls of outrage by some sections of the media.  Quite why a meeting of right wing nationalists should be a cause of such outrage is an interesting issue, given that the ascendency in Downing Street, the White House and Berlin confirms that this is the political direction of travel in the West at present.

Following the accusations of Russian interference in the US presidential election, currently being investigated by the National Security Agency, the meeting of Putin and Le Pen is seen as an attempt to influence French voters.  It is remarkable that, even in the post-Soviet era, the West’s fear of Russian capacity to undermine liberal democracy runs as deep as ever.  In Soviet times the view was that the illusion of Western democracy would buckle under the weight of its own contradictions.  That is has, for the time being, proved to be more resilient than anticipated is a tragedy of historic proportions.

However, having dispensed with the ‘Soviet threat’ the West does not seem capable of settling with the monster it has created in the form of post-Soviet Russia.  Like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein the West, having finally found the means to give the monster life, cannot exert sufficient control over it.  It turns out to have a mind of its own.  Fortunately, the requirement to have an external bogeyman, against which we all unite, runs as deep as ever and Putin’s Russia is routinely characterised as being as grey, drab and anti-democratic as the picture painted of the Soviet period.

While al-Qaeda, Isis, Iran, North Korea and the Syrian government have all been in contention for the public enemy number one accolade recently,  the Russians still occupy a special place in the Western shop of horrors, due to their nuclear capability, economic strength and latent anti-communism in the West.  None of which prevents Russians from buying up national newspapers, premier league football teams or half of London but then, in the capitalist world, business is business.

Putin’s take on the meeting with Le Pen is interesting, as reported by the international news agency, Reuters,

"We attach great importance to our relations with France, but at the same time we try to maintain equal relations both with the current authorities and with representatives of the opposition," Putin told Le Pen at their meeting.

"We do not want to influence events in any way, but we reserve the right to talk to representatives of all the country's political forces, just as our partners in Europe and the United States do."

No doubt Putin was being just a bit disingenuous in suggesting that “we do not want to influence events in any way” but more interesting still was his assertion that Russia wants to behave “just as our partners in Europe and the United States do.”

There can be little doubt that Putin’s “partners” in Europe and the United States behave in ways designed to “influence events” in a whole range of scenarios across the globe.  Each is locked in a battle to gain the upper hand in a renewed international economic order.  Any prospect that alliances can change and that influence can be shifted will be taken.  This will be no less the case in the actions of the West to undermine the government of Ukraine, than it will be in the case of Putin lending tacit support to Le Pen, as a lever to de-stabilise the European Union.

With Trump in the White House, Putin in the Kremlin and even the prospect of Marine Le Pen in the Elysee Palace, a dangerous new world order is shaping up.  With or without Brexit, the European Union is too weak and divided to put up a great deal of resistance, even if it was inclined to.

The liberal UK press has characterised the moment when article 50 is triggered as Black Wednesday, a moment when,

“…the UK will throw into jeopardy the achievements of 60 years of unparalleled European peace, security and prosperity from which it has greatly benefitted.  And for what?”  (The Observer 26.03.17)

For much of that time the (West) German economy was supported by the United States as a bulwark against East Germany.  West Germany had to fulfil its role as capitalism’s shop window.  The people’s of the former Yugoslavia will hardly subscribe to the glossy brochure version of peace.  Nor will those who have struggled for a united Ireland against UK military and economic occupation.  It was not until the mid seventies that Spain, Portugal and Greece emerged from fascist or military rule  to become the poor economies of Europe, routinely castigated as ‘failing’ by other EU members.

Having supported NATO intervention to undermine Syria, the European Union does all it can to keep the refugees it has created from its door.  The EU is no paragon and never was.  It is not even the best we can do.  The sooner the people of Europe can unite around their class interests for peace, jobs, homes and health care the sooner they can extend their hands to the rest of the world.  Trump, Putin and Le Pen, for all of their so-called populism, will not do that.  Sadly, neither will hanging on to the sinking ship of the EU.

 

18th March 2017

 

 

Tory budget not a barrel of laughs

 

Photo: UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, and Chancellor Philip Hammond find amusement in a dire budget

It is ironic that UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond, chose International Women’s Day, 8th March to deliver a budget that is likely to hit women harder than any other section of the population.  The overall impact upon working families was to leave them, on average, £1,400 a year worse off.  The reality is that for many, the family budget is managed by women, so the impact will be significant.  As primary carers in many family situations women will also bear the brunt of the underfunding of the NHS and the spiralling crisis in adult social care.

Many women are also among the 2.5 million self-employed people who were to be hit by the Chancellor’s proposed rise in national insurance contributions.  However, this is one effect of the budget which will not be of concern as, just a week after being announced, it was scrapped.  The collective outrage of the Tory press, ex-Chancellor Lord Lamont and pressure from the Labour front bench all added up to one of the fastest climb downs in budget history.  At the beginning of Prime Minister’s Questions on 15th March, Prime Minister, Theresa May, confirmed that the planned national insurance increases had been scrapped.

Hammond had announced his humiliation in a letter to Tory MPs stating,

“It is very important both to me and the Prime Minister that we are compliant not just with the letter, but also the spirit of the commitments that were made.  In the light of what has emerged as a clear view among colleagues and a significant section of the public, I have decided not to proceed with the Class 4 national insurance contributions (NICs) set out in the budget.”

Characterised as a tax on “white van man”, seen as natural Tory voters, the NIC backdown was a far easier concession than taking the trouble to address the structural crises in both the NHS and local government, which have been brought on by the enforced austerity agenda of the past decade.

In financial terms the £2bn over four years, which would have been raised by the NIC increase, is not a major dent in the economy.  Hammond, assuming he remains in post, will be able to paper over the cracks.  Redirecting some of the estimated £70bn worth of tax breaks, which the wealthiest and big business will enjoy, may be a start.

Politically however, having the centre blown out of your first budget does not augur well for the wider perception of Hammond’s competence, by either his own side or the opposition.  As the week progressed though Hammond was quickly becoming the least of the Tories worries.  Barely had the Queen filled her pen to give Royal Assent to the government’s Brexit Bill when Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, weighed in with an announcement of plans for a second referendum on Scottish independence.

May’s response has been to state that “now is not the time” for a re-run of the 2014 vote and that, a further referendum will not be considered until after the UK has left the European Union.  Sturgeon described the government position as a “democratic outrage”, going on to suggest that,

“History may look back on today and see it as the day the fate of the Union was sealed.”

Sturgeon is always quick to spot an opportunity to write herself into the history books.  The prospect of Brexit, argues Sturgeon, materially changes the basis upon which the 2014 referendum was conducted.  With Scotland having voted against leaving the EU in 2016 it should not now be forced to do so.

That Sturgeon is a dyed in the wool nationalist is in no doubt and something that she would not deny.  Quite what the advantages are for the Scottish people in trading an unequal union with the United Kingdom, for an equally imbalanced union within the European Union, is not clear however.  The smaller economies within the EU just about keep their heads above water, Greece, Portugal and Ireland being prime examples.  Even bigger economies such Spain and Italy struggle.  Why Scotland would fare better is anyone’s guess.

The UK is as much a fiction as the EU.  Both are based upon and run in the interests of their respective banks and corporations.  The six counties of Northern Ireland have over the years been compelled to be a part of the UK, through a combination of military and economic force.  The Act of Union of 1707 saw the Scots brought into line at the barrel of a musket.

Scottish independence is not the real issue.  Being inside or outside the EU will not make any difference to the Scottish working class if they are under the thumb of the European Central Bank rather than the Bank of England.  Labour taking a harder line on resurrecting class politics, rather than the politics of nationalism in Scotland, would be a start.

Finally, to round off a week of headaches for the Tories, former Chancellor George Osborne was unveiled as the new editor of the London Evening Standard.

As the erstwhile architect of austerity, Osborne is clearly not one for swallowing his own medicine.  On top of his £75k+ salary for being MP for Tatton in Cheshire, Osborne works one day a week for the world’s biggest investment fund, BlackRock, for a cool £640k per annum.  Speaking engagements last year netted Osborne a further £800k.  There is also a £120k per annum stipend from a US thinktank. 

It is not clear how much the Evening Standard job will pay but Osborne has until May to negotiate, when he takes up his post.  It is hard to see how he will make ends meet!  Perhaps some advice from working women running family budgets with £1,400 per annum less than they previously had might come in handy.

12th March 2017

Death in al Ghayil

Women and Children in Yemeni Village Recall Horror of Trump’s “Highly Successful” SEAL Raid

Iona Craig

March 9 2017, 2:00 p.m.

 

Photo: The village of al Ghayil in Yemen where U.S. Navy SEALs, attack helicopters, and drones launched an operation on January 29, 2017.

 

On January 29, 5-year-old Sinan al Ameri was asleep with his mother, his aunt, and 12 other children in a one-room stone hut typical of poor rural villages in the highlands of Yemen.  A little after 1 a.m., the women and children awoke to the sound of a gunfight erupting a few hundred feet away.  Roughly 30 members of Navy SEAL Team 6 were storming the eastern hillside of the remote settlement.

According to residents of the village of al Ghayil, in Yemen’s al Bayda province, the first to die in the assault was 13-year-old Nasser al Dhahab.  The house of his uncle, Sheikh Abdulraouf al Dhahab, and the building behind it, the home of 65-year-old Abdallah al Ameri and his son Mohammed al Ameri, 38, appeared to be the targets of the U.S. forces, who called in air support as they were pinned down in a nearly hourlong firefight.

With the SEALs taking heavy fire on the lower slopes, attack helicopters swept over the hillside hamlet above.  In what seemed to be blind panic, the gunships bombarded the entire village, striking more than a dozen buildings, razing stone dwellings where families slept, and wiping out more than 120 goats, sheep, and donkeys.

Three projectiles tore through the straw and timber roof of the home where Sinan slept. Cowering in a corner, Sinan’s mother, 30-year-old Fatim Saleh Mohsen, decided to flee the bombardment. Grabbing her 18-month-old son and ushering her terrified children into the narrow outdoor passageway between the tightly packed dwellings, she headed into the open.  Over a week later, Sinan’s aunt Nadr al Ameri wept as she stood in the same room and recalled watching her sister run out the door into the darkness.

Nesma al Ameri, an elderly village matriarch who lost four family members in the raid, described how the attack helicopters began firing down on anything that moved. As she recounted the horror of what happened, Sinan tapped her on the arm.  “No, no. The bullets were coming from behind,” the 5-year-old insisted, interrupting to demonstrate how he was shot at and his mother gunned down as they ran for their lives.  “From here to here,” Sinan said, putting two fingers to the back of his head and drawing an invisible line to illustrate the direction of the bullet exiting her forehead. His mother fell to the ground next to him, still clutching his baby brother in her arms.  Sinan kept running.

His mother’s body was found in the early light of dawn, the front of her head split open.  The baby was wounded but alive.  Sinan’s mother was one of at least six women killed in the raid, the first counterterrorism operation of the Trump administration, which also left 10 children under the age of 13 dead.  “She was hit by the plane.  The American plane,” explained Sinan.  “She’s in heaven now,” he added with a shy smile, seemingly unaware of the enormity of what he had witnessed or, as yet, the impact of his loss.  “Dog Trump,” declared Nesma, turning to the other women in the room for agreement.  “Yes, the dog Trump,” they agreed.

According to White House press secretary Sean Spicer, the al Ghayil raid “was a very, very well thought out and executed effort,” planning for which began under the Obama administration back in November 2016.  Although Ned Price, former National Security Council spokesperson, and Colin Kahl, the national security adviser under Vice President Biden, challenged Spicer’s account, what is agreed upon is that Trump gave the final green light over dinner at the White House on January 25. According to two people with direct knowledge, the White House did not notify the U.S. ambassador to Yemen in advance of the operation.

The Intercept’s reporting from al Ghayil in the aftermath of the raid and the eyewitness accounts provided by residents, as well as information from current and former military officials, challenge many of the Trump administration’s key claims about the “highly successful” operation, from the description of an assault on a fortified compound — there are no compounds or walled-off houses in the village — to the “large amounts of vital intelligence” the president said were collected.

According to a current U.S. special operations adviser and a former senior special operations officer, it was not intelligence the Pentagon was after but a key member of al Qaeda. The raid was launched in an effort to capture or kill Qassim al Rimi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, according to the special operations adviser, who asked to remain anonymous because details behind the raid are classified.

Villagers interviewed by The Intercept rejected claims that al Rimi was present in al Ghayil, although one resident described seeing an unfamiliar black SUV arriving in the village hours before the raid.  Six days after the operation, AQAP media channels released an audio statement from al Rimi, who mocked President Trump and the raid.  The White House and the military have denied that the AQAP leader was the target of the mission, insisting the SEALs were sent in to capture electronic devices and material to be used for intelligence gathering.  A spokesperson for CENTCOM told The Intercept the military has not yet determined whether al Rimi was in al Ghayil when the SEALs arrived.

Although some details about the mission remain unclear, the account that has emerged suggests the Trump White House is breaking with Obama administration policies that were intended to limit civilian casualties.  The change — if permanent — would increase the likelihood of civilian deaths in so-called capture or kill missions like the January 29 raid.

To read the full text of this report go to

https://theintercept.com/2017/03/09/women-and-children-in-yemeni-village-recall-horror-of-trumps-highly-successful-seal-raid/

5th March 2017

Anti trade union lies become law

 

The press release issued by the UK  Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on 1st March 2017, announcing the implementation of the Trade Union Act,  was breathtaking in its mendacity.  The title alone was jaw dropping in claiming that “measures coming into force today will protect millions of people from the effects of undemocratic strike action.”

To quote further from the Department’s view of the world,

“The Act will ensure that if strikes do go ahead it will only be as a result of a clear democratic decision from union members thanks to the introduction of tougher ballot thresholds.

From today, fresh ballots will have to achieve at least a 50% turnout of eligible union members, with a majority voting in favour of strike action.  In important public services - including in the health, education and transport sectors - an additional threshold of 40% of support from all eligible members must be met for action to be legal.”

The government determination of “important public services” includes:-

Ambulance services

A&E, hospital high dependency units, intensive care, emergency hospital psychiatric services, emergency hospital obstetric and midwifery services

firefighters and fire control telephone operators

London bus workers

train workers

air traffic control workers

airport security

teachers and head teachers (except in private schools!)

Border Force staff

Notice of industrial action to the employer will double from 7 to 14 days, unless the employer agrees to 7 day’s notice.  Ballot mandates will only last for 6 months, or 9 months if the employer agrees.  After that point a new ballot will be required.  The current situation where industrial action must begin within 4-8 weeks of the ballot but after which further action can be taken at any date as long as the dispute is live, will no longer apply.  A picket supervisor must be appointed and must be identifiable and must provide contact details to the police if requested.

The Act also contains threats to “check off”, where employers deduct union subs directly through the payroll, and union facility time.

Public sector employers will be required to publish information about facility time, for example, the amount of time spent on paid time off for union duties etc.  However, this will need further regulations before it is introduced.  The Act also allows for future regulations that limit the amount and cost of facility time for a particular employer.

Similarly public sector employers will only be able to make check off deductions if the worker can pay their subscriptions by other means, such as direct debit, and the union pays towards the employers’ costs.  Implementation of this will be delayed for 12 months.

All this amounts to a threat to the ability of unions to hold especially large scale national strikes covering 10,000s let alone 100,000 workers such as schools or the health service.  It will allow employers more time to prepare in advance of strikes to reduce their impact.  

The government claim that the Act is necessary in order to protect the public from ‘undemocratic’ practices in trade unions.  The same thresholds however will not apply to elections to Parliament or the election of local councillors, where a simple majority of those voting, however low the turnout, is required to become an MP or local councillor. 

For elections to the European Parliament where a system of proportional representation is applied, there will be no requirement to be elected by a 50% turnout of eligible voters, in order to protect the public from the possibility of the effects of your undemocratic practice.

Strike action can cause mayhem and disruption for the public, that is inevitable.  Trade unions do not take strike action lightly however.  It is always a last resort, when negotiations have failed and employers are unwilling to make any concessions.  The press will always blame the workforce, whether it is junior doctors, airport staff or public sector workers.  The Tories will always side with the employer, under the guise of siding with the public.

The Tory trade union legislation enacted since the 1980’s has had the single objective of constraining the rights of workers and strengthening the hand of the employer.  The present Trade Union Act is no different.  Opposition so far has not prevented the Act becoming law.  With increasing pressure upon workers in a range of sectors, the Act may well be tested over the next couple of years.  When it is, mobilising support for workers under attack from this vicious anti union legislation will be vital.

25th February 2017

Stop the prophets of doom

 

The relentless campaign by the right wing in the Labour Movement to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party continued apace this week, following the outcomes of the Stoke Central and Copeland by-elections.

The media noise around both contests had been building all week with each election characterised as a must win for Labour.  Media prominence was given to the pontifications of Labour has-beens, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, during the week in an attempt to generate an air of crisis as the elections approached.  Blair’s call for a cross party Remain movement appears to be falling on deaf ears, not least due to the lack of desire to engage with a movement of which Blair would be the self-styled leader.

The fact that BBC darlings UKIP were standing leader Paul Nuttall in Stoke Central added extra frisson to the reportage, although even the BBC may be forced to admit that Nuttall was yet another example of UKIPs monumental irrelevance to the politics of the UK.  Much was made of the low turnout which returned the Labour candidate in Stoke but little was made of the fact that turnout was low in the General Election.  The people of Stoke are turning off, not turning on to UKIP and that is the real issue.

The UKIP pitch was based on the fact that Stoke was ‘Brexit Central’ in the EU referendum with over 70% of voters going for the leave option.  All of which goes to show that equating a leave vote with UKIP support has always been a shallow analysis of the referendum outcome.

Needless to say, the past two days has not seen many ‘Labour crush UKIP by-election challenge’ headlines but the news media has been dominated by the ‘Sweeping victory for May in Copeland’ offering.  Gerard Coyne right wing candidate, standing against Len McCluskey for the leadership of the UNITE union and former Labour Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, the renegades’ hope for future leader, have been given prominent airtime to voice their discontent.

UNISON leader Dave Prentiss has suggested that Corbyn takes his share of blame for the by-election defeat, urging him not to “pass the buck” following Copeland, although he was faint in his praise of Corbyn for wining in Stoke.  Prentiss said,

“The blame for these results does not lie solely with Jeremy Corbyn, but he must take responsibility for what happens next.  Nurses, teaching assistants, care workers and ordinary people everywhere need a Labour government.  Jeremy has to show he understands how to turn things around and deliver just that.”

There can be little doubt that Corbyn has a clear vision for the alternative Labour can offer.  The problem remains the backstabbing tendency from within his own party, who simply cannot accept their own internal party democracy, which has resulted in him winning two leadership elections in under two years.

Given that the Copeland seat has been held by Labour since 1935 there can be no denying that the Tories winning the seat was a bad result.  Neither Corbyn nor Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has sought to suggest anything else.  As McDonnell was quick to point out however,

“We cannot have a circumstance again, where a week before the by-election, a former leader of our party attacks the party itself.”

The speeches of Blair, Mandelson and Miliband chime with the approach taken by Tory leader Theresa May, who has raised the old bogey of the hard left infiltrating Labour, in a speech to Conservative councillors in Lincolnshire yesterday, saying,

“Last year, Labour’s deputy leader warned of entryism in Labour by the far left.  This year, even the Stalinists in Momentum are complaining about being infiltrated by the Trotskyites.  But for those of us who remember what Militant did to Liverpool, it doesn’t matter what term you use – we can’t allow Labour to get a foothold back in local government and let them do for local communities what they did to our country.”

The vehemence with which Corbyn is attacked is, in part, a measure of the extent to which his message is feared.  That austerity is not inevitable, that nuclear weapons are not necessary, that immigration is not out of control.  These things stand in stark contradiction to the policies of the Tories.  They stand in stark contrast to the line pedalled by the editors of the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Express.  Fearful of losing their privileged placed as Her Majesty’s Opposition, never mind her loyal government, they are at odds with the career aspirations of many Labour politicians.

In spite of Theresa May’s post Copeland rhetoric that the Tories under her leadership are a government that is, “going to deliver for everyone across the whole country; a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few”, this is simply not true.  Every local government cut tells a different story, every NHS patient languishing in a hospital corridor will tell her differently, every refugee deported will be an indictment.

Labour can change this.  Labour united behind Jeremy Corbyn can change this.  The internal prophets of doom need to stand down.  Fighting the Tories and their media is hard enough.  It is time to let those who want to see real change for the people of the UK get on with the job.

19th February 2017

Stop Arming Saudi

 

Since the Saudi led coalition began its bombing of Yemen in March 2015, the UK has licensed about £3.3bn of weapons to the Arab dictatorship.  Support for the Saudis is part of a bigger picture of UK arms fuelling conflict in the Middle East.  In the years leading up to the so called Arab Spring of 2011 the UK sold countries in the region  £41.3m of small arms, £7m of ammunition and £34.3m of armoured vehicles.  According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) those figures have since risen to an annual average of £58.9m, £14m and £58.9m respectively.  The people of the region may have been demanding democracy, the arms dealers of the West were simply looking to cash in.

The relationship with the Saudi despots is a particularly lucrative one for the UK, with 2015 seeing 83% of all UK arms exports, almost £900m, going to the dictatorship.  By way of return the UK imported over £900m of oil from Saudi Arabia over the same period.  For anyone wondering why the British Royal Family are always keen to kowtow to the Saudis princes this offers something by way of explanation. 

While the Saudis kept the weapons at home, to been shown off as vanity purchases to feed their egos and warn the internal opposition, they have not received much attention.  Using these war toys on the international stage however inevitably brings greater scrutiny and Saudi intervention in areas outside of their borders has been a growing feature of life in the Middle East in recent years.  Stirrings of dissent in Bahrain in 2011, with demands for democracy and freedom of speech, quickly saw Saudi troops dispatched to prop up the flagging Bahraini dictatorship and ensure that no such notions took root on the Arabian peninsula.

As a reliable NATO ‘ally’ the Saudis have played their part in undermining the Syrian regime and fermenting the long running civil war in that country.  The fact that the Saudis have also been covertly fuelling the al-Qaeda elements opposing the government of President Assad adds further irony to the notion that they are policing the region for the West.  For the Saudis an unstable Syria is less of a threat than a stable Syria aligned to their major regional opposition, in the form of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

CAAT is challenging the UK government's decision to continue to licence the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia.  The High Court hearing took place in open session from Tuesday, 7th February to lunchtime Wednesday, 8th February.  A hearing closed to CAAT, the press and the public, was held during the afternoon of Wednesday, 8th February and all day on Friday, 10th February.  CAAT's interests are represented by Special Advocates.

The legal action is a Judicial Review, a type of court proceeding in which the judges review the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body.  In this case the judges will be examining the lawfulness of the decisions made by the Secretary of State responsible for export controls.

The two year long civil war in the Yemen has so far claimed 10,000 civilian casualties.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated that,

“almost two-thirds of reported civilian deaths had allegedly been caused by coalition air strikes, which were also responsible for almost two-thirds of damaged or destroyed civilian public buildings.”

Even the International Development and Business, Innovation and Skills Committee of the UK Parliament acknowledged last October that,

“Given the evidence we have heard and the volume of UK-manufactured arms exported to Saudi Arabia, it seems inevitable that any violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by the coalition have involved arms supplied from the UK.  This constitutes a breach of our own export licensing criteria.”

The momentum behind the CAAT campaign has been gathering, with a petition and significant lobbying of MPs to ensure the issues of arms sales to Saudi Arabia has high political profile.  Owen Jones, writing in The Guardian recently summed up the issues stating,

“While the high court considers the legality of arms sales, the moral case is inarguable.  Thousands of Yemeni civilians are being murdered, and our government shares responsibility. Yemen may seem like a far-away country, whose internal situation is too complicated to understand, and don’t we have enough to worry about here?  But our silence risks being complicity.  Our government is acting in our name.  Yemeni civilians are cowering for their lives, partly because of decisions made by No 10.  Don’t let them get away with it.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/08/britain-role-yemen-bombs-saudi-arabia-civilians-civil-war

Judgement on the CAAT challenge is expected in four to six weeks.  It will be interesting to hear the High Court justification if it is turned down and even more interesting to hear the response of the government if it is upheld.

https://www.caat.org.uk/campaigns/stop-arming-saudi/a-shameful-relationship.pdf

11th February 2017

From mansion block to mews

 

The Conservative attack on the social fabric of society in the UK, which has gone on for over thirty years, is finally bringing home the realisation that some action is required to halt the decline.  Unfortunately, what is on offer may be little more than a sticking plaster to address a gaping wound.  Local authorities are being allowed to add 3% to Council tax bills in order to address insufficient funding for social care provision.   A new housing White Paper sets out plans for more housebuilding in order to boost the rental market.  The apprenticeship levy, which kicks in from April, will see all employers with a wage bill of £3m or more paying in to a central pot for the training of young people.

On the face of it these all appear to be positive initiatives against which it is difficult to argue.  In reality they are all attempted short terms fixes for the social crisis which capitalism has been nurturing for nearly half a century.

The emphasis in relation to housing, on more homes to rent for young people is, in effect, a recognition that the Tory ‘right to buy’ policy, initiated in the 1980’s, has been an abject failure.  The success of post war council house building had been to move millions out of squalid property, managed by unscrupulous landlords, and into homes built to decent standards managed by local authorities.  The so-called right to buy, couched in terms of the UK being a property owning democracy, was little more than a scramble by speculators to asset strip council stock and undermine the infrastructure for social housing in the UK.

The solution proposed in the current White Paper however may well contain the seeds of its own destruction.  The paper argues that greater use should be made of ‘brownfield’ sites and that in urban areas more high density schemes should get the go ahead, stating,

“When people picture high density housing, they tend to think of unattractive tower blocks, but some of the most desirable places to live in the capital are in areas of higher density mansion blocks, mews houses and terraced streets.”

Like the blocks they envisage building, with relaxed regulation on height restrictions in urban areas, the government clearly has its head in the clouds.  The occasional mansion block or mews, housing high salary earning single professionals, with a view of Tate Modern and barges on the Thames, may be a lovely daydream for Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid (pictured), but it is not the reality for most of the poor and struggling in London, never mind the rest of the country.  

High density housing, combined with high density low pay and unemployment, is simply a recipe for high density social unrest.   

The apprenticeship levy to the rescue then?  Young people getting a training which will allow them to get a foot on the employment ladder  and claw their way from the high density poverty of 1960’s brutalist housing and into the 21st century version?  Perhaps.  The levy is aimed at raising £3 billion from employers in order to fund 3 million high quality apprenticeships by 2020.

However, for large public sector employers, struggling under central government cuts, the levy may effectively operate as another tax burden.  With 0.5% of the payroll cost being diverted into the levy many public sector bodies, struggling to meet existing pay bills, will have to divert a proportion of their funds into the scheme.  While they may get some of this back, in the form of young people as apprentices, there is no guarantee of proportionality.  

In effect, large public sector employers could end up subsidising private sector apprenticeships.

Finally, the government allowing local councils to increase council tax bills by 3%, to cover cuts in social care, shows a comprehensive lack of understanding of the extent to which local government services have been decimated.  For most local authorities the 3% increase will barely cover the additional costs of the living wage increase, which private care providers are looking to pass onto local councils as part of their contract arrangements.

The crisis in social care of course feeds back in to the crisis in the NHS, as beds remain occupied due to the lack of provision in the community for older people.  Properly resourced and funded local government services are part of the answer to these problems.  In spite of the rhetoric however, centralisation has been the hallmark of all governments since the 1980’s.  If that is the case then central government needs to come up with a strategic plan to address the crumbling social fabric of the UK.

Supporting a few well paid bankers, in the few well resourced mansion blocks and mews’ of the capital, will not be enough.  

 6th February 2017

Concern over rising US/Iran tensions

 

Solidarity organisation, the Committee for the Defence of Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR), has expressed concern that the Iranian people will be the main losers in the current war of words between the United States and Iran.  CODIR’s Executive Council, which held an emergency meeting over the weekend, has called on labour, peace and democratic forces worldwide to be on the alert against the possibility of a conflict between the two countries.

Recent comments by US President, Donald Trump, and National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn (pictured), that Iran is “on notice” following a ballistic missile test, have raised tension following Trump’s election.  However, concerns have now been increased further by US Defence Secretary, James Mattis, asserting that Iran is the world’s “biggest sponsor of state terrorism.”

The comments of Mattis, made on a visit to Japan, also included the statement that,

"We have seen their misconduct, their misbehaviour, from Lebanon and Syria to Bahrain and to Yemen and it's got to be addressed at some point."

The United States has imposed new sanctions on Iran, against particular companies and individuals, claiming that Iran is in contravention of UN Resolution 2231by carrying out missile tests last week.  This accusation is false. The UN resolution concerns the nuclear agreement with Iran, not other forms of weapons testing.

The tension between the two states has led Iran to respond in kind, announcing restrictions against US companies and individuals, "involved in creating and supporting extremist terrorist groups” or who are “helping in the killing and oppression of defenceless people".

Iran is among the seven Muslim-majority countries included in a controversial US travel ban.US officials have suggested more action could follow.  President Trump has been a vocal critic of the nuclear accord, which saw Iran agreeing to curb its sensitive nuclear activities in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.

CODIR has expressed concern that the real victims of increased tension will be the people of Iran, as renewed sanctions could plunge the already fragile economy of the Islamic Republic into deeper recession.

“This war of words, between the United States and Iran, is in danger of punishing the people of Iran further and destabilising the entire region,” said CODIR Assistant General Secretary, Jamshid Ahmadi.  “There are belligerent voices in both the United States and Iran who have an interest in stirring up tension to suit their own purposes.  Any push towards a conflict between the two countries will have disastrous implications for the Middle East region and most importantly the peace process in Syria.  It will undermine peace.”

CODIR has stressed that the Iranian economy is still suffering from the impact of the previous round of US and EU imposed economic sanctions, claiming that any re-imposition will have a disastrous impact on the economy, working people and social justice in Iran.

CODIR has also expressed concern that the fundamentalist and Islamist radicals inside Iran, who have never been enthusiastic about the nuclear agreement with the West, will exploit the situation.  CODIR fears that this would take diplomatic relations between Iran and the US back to the days before the Obama presidency in 2009.  

“The political atmosphere could create a situation in Iran in which reform and the campaign for human and democratic rights take a back seat,” warned Mr Ahmadi.  “Iranian campaigners for human and democratic rights, including trade union rights, will no doubt suffer.  We could have pro war cliques in the US and Iran, intent on conflict and militarisation, exploiting the situation. This could easily open the way for advocates of discredited US-style regime change to move in and do their worst”

CODIR, which has campaigned for over 30 years to highlight trade union and human rights abuses in Iran, will continue to support the rights of the Iranian people and highlight the grave injustices perpetuated by the dictatorial regime in Iran.

www.codir.net

27th January 2017

Iran nuclear deal on the brink

The election of Donald Trump to the United States Presidency has sent shock waves across the world.  The future of the Middle East was uncertain before the election outcome.  It is even more uncertain now.  In relation to Iran, in particular, the US President has spoken in belligerent terms.  Jane Green assesses the implications for Iran of the Trump presidency and its likely impact on Iranian presidential elections in May this year.

 

During the course of the US presidential campaign Donald Trump regularly criticised the deal arrived at by the United States and other world powers with Iran, over the de-escalation of Iran’s nuclear programme.  In one speech in July 2016 Trump stated,

"They are laughing at the stupidity of the deal we’re making on nuclear.  We should double up and triple up the sanctions and have them come to us.  They are making an amazing deal."

Not wishing to let the subject lie, this was followed by a statement by Trump in August which claimed that as a result of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran would

"..take over parts of the world that you wouldn't believe.  I think it's going to lead to nuclear holocaust."

Ironically this was Trump modifying his position to “police” the deal, rather than “rip it up”, which had been his earlier stance.

Trump’s position is based on his assessment of US negotiators, primarily former Secretary of State John Kerry, as being incompetent and on his stated belief that “Persians are great negotiators”.  While this is ostensibly a flattering statement it is one actually based upon an age old Western stereotype of the ‘not to be trusted’ Persian swindler.  Such an approach to international relations is consistent with the campaign trail rhetoric of Trump, on a wide range of national and international issues, but is hardly a serious assessment of how to tackle deep seated international enmities.  

Knowing Trump’s advisers and the fact that his first phone calls were to the Saudi king, the Israeli premier, the Turkish President and the military president of Egypt, in the first days after his election, does not bode well for the prospects of peace in the Middle East and detente with Iran.

The JCPOA reduces Iran’s centrifuges, the devices used to enrich uranium gas, by two-thirds.  This extends to over a year the so called “breakout time”, that is the time it would take Iran to produce the fissile material needed to build a nuclear weapon, even if it wanted to.  The sanctions relief built into the deal was key to the wider strategy of the United States to re-build influence in the region in order to incorporate Iran into the US New Middle East Plan.

After the imposition of sanctions, Iran was in effect brought to its knees and its economy completely paralysed.  Iran agreed to negotiations in order to get the sanctions removed.  From this perspective, Iran’s position in respect of the US changed fundamentally.  Iran was willing to play the role that the US wanted it to play.  For example, Iran was invited to join the negotiations on the future of Syria despite Saudi disagreement.

While there has been some suggestion that hardline conservative elements within the Iranian regime are not happy with the deal with the US, in reality they have been instrumental in bringing it about.  The negotiations with the US were planned and initiated by the hardliners, two years before Rouhani was elected, during the Ahmadinejad presidency.  The regime was most concerned about a possible social explosion by the poor, the disenfranchised and working class, following the wave of protests, which swept the country after Ahmadinejad’s election in 2009.  The fact that no deal in Iran could be signed off without the agreement of Ayotollah Ali Khamenei, as Supreme Leader, also indicates that Rouhani had the green light to make the deal. 

The first sign of Western investment came in November, with a preliminary $4.8 bn agreement with a consortium led by French company Total, to develop Iran’s giant South Pars natural gas field.  At a ceremony to open three new oil fields in November, Rouhani made clear his assessment of the importance of the sanctions relief stating,

“This means that trapdoors have been opened and fresh air has entered.  Now people will benefit from the new opportunities.  The oil industry has used these opportunities in the best way it could.”

Rouhani added, “After the nuclear agreement, some said it would take ages to reach the goal of 2 million barrels of daily exports.  They also said we cannot return to the pre-sanctions situation.  But [the progress of] our oil industry in just a few months has surprised the world.”

It is estimated however that Iran requires investment in the region of $200 billion over the next five years in order to bring oil and gas production up to pre-sanctions levels.  It will not be possible to achieve such levels without foreign investment.  It is unlikely that the West will want such investment to come from Russia, already seen by the West as making a play for Middle East influence by supporting President Assad in Syria.

The uncertainties being played out across the European Union at the moment also raise questions about where European companies may seek to invest, in spite of the recent Total commitment.  In this context the Trump election adds to the volatility surrounding the economy in Iran and underlines the extent to which the regime is at the mercy of external factors.

At present the ability of the Iranians to trade in US dollars, vital on international energy markets, is limited.  Some restrictions have been lifted following protests by the Iranian government that the constraints were not in the spirit of the JCPOA, following discussions in April last year.  However, even more significant now than it was at the time, is the stated opposition of US House Speaker, Paul Ryan, who opposed any moves to give Iran access to the US dollar, citing concerns about what Tehran would do with any financial access gained in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.

While such opposition could be taken more lightly with the prospect of a Clinton presidency it takes on added weight following the US election outcome.  While Trump and Ryan crossed swords during the campaign itself there can be little doubt that, faced with the prospect of power, they will find that there is more to unite than divide them.

Future relations between the US and Iran may depend upon the extent to which Trump thinks he has  boxed himself in with his position on the anti-nuclear deal.  There is certainly every chance that Trump will attempt to pressurise Iran into more concessions and even more direct cooperation in the Middle East.

Whether Trump will risk both policy incoherence and a major foreign policy setback, if he does not shrink from his campaign promises to trash the nuclear deal, remains to be seen.  As a self confessed pragmatist and deal maker it is possible that the reality of geo-political and business interests will outweigh campaign rhetoric.  Iran's deal with Boeing is in the final stages of completion for example.  How Trump acts on Obama's executive orders, allowing economic transactions with Iran, will disclose a great deal about the course of Trump's Iran policy.

However the politics of the Trump presidency begin to unfold, there remains the issue of the up and coming presidential election in Iran, scheduled for May 2017.  While the JCPOA has been welcomed by the self styled reformist camp around President Rouhani, the deal is not universally applauded.  However, with the main power centres in Iran behind the deal, not least Khamenei himself, the extent of opposition is not significant.

At present there is debate in hardline conservative ranks about the benefit of fielding a strong candidate against Rouhani in the May elections.  There appears to be little advantage to opposing someone the West is prepared to accept as ‘reformist’ by installing a more conservative candidate, who may serve as an excuse to re-introduce sanctions. 

The sanctions regime undoubtedly did weaken the Iranian economy, resulting in economic uncertainty and depressed wages for many.  It is clear that the lifting of sanctions will not, in itself, be sufficient to relieve the suffering of many of Iran’s workers.  Exploitation by domestic capital does not feel any different to exploitation by international capital, for those at the sharp end of the economic changes in Iran.

While the human rights record of the Iranian regime has not figured in any of the negotiations leading to the JCPOA it is nevertheless a factor inhibiting Iran’s development.  The continued imprisonment, torture and execution of political opponents creates a climate of fear and volatility within the country which, if it becomes manifest in the form of street protests as it has in recent years, may act as a deterrent to investment.

Whatever the outcome of the election in Iran, combined with the recent US election outcome, the fate of the Middle East continues to be uncertain.  Until the progressive voices of Iran and the wider region are able to make themselves heard, it will continue to be the case.

For more information go to www.codir.net

22nd January 2017

Protectionism, xenophobia, bigotry….and protest

 

Donald Trump took the oath of office to become President of the United States of America on Friday with all of the grace and gravitas a former bankrupt and star of reality TV could muster.  His speech upon assuming office was a string of rhetorical soundbites, designed to play to the social media mentality he has sought to encourage during his candidacy and the build up to his inauguration.  Any liberal illusion, that Trump the President would in some way differ from Trump the candidate, was given no succour in a speech that effectively declared war on what little the Obama administration has achieved and anything else that Trump would deem un-American.

If Trump’s declaration that,

“When you open your heart to patriotism there is no room for prejudice.”

does not turn out to be one of the great oxymoron’s of our time it will be a miracle.

Trump’s exhortation to put “America First” and the rhetoric of his campaign to  ”Make America Great Again”, which closed his inauguration speech,  have sinister undertones of the 1950’s.  The anti-communist Cold War actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee are the dark shadow of much that has led Trump to this point.  That US jobs are being stolen by Mexicans, that the threat of Islamic fundamentalism must be eradicated, that the ‘swamp’ of the Washington liberal elite must be drained, are all phrases designed to divide.  They are designed to start off with an administration on an ideological war footing.

For those that have sought to sabotage the Obama administration from the outset Trump is the fruit of their labours.  Any efforts, however limited, that Obama has made in the direction of addressing inequalities in American society have been blocked or ridiculed.  Trump’s first action on taking office has been to sign an order which will give power to reverse so called Obamacare, which helped many struggling Americans have health insurance.  Gun control has been high on the Obama agenda but no inroads have been made.  Closing the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp has not happened.

While Obama has failed to lift the illegal US blockade of Cuba, the limited opening up of political dialogue with the symbol of democratic hope in the Caribbean will no doubt be reversed under Trump.  The White House website has immediately seen any reference to LGBT rights and climate change wiped from its pages.  The gains made in the eight years under Obama in these areas were limited but they were at least on the agenda.  Not now.

The sad fact is that the Obama presidency has allowed middle class liberal America to delude itself into thinking that racial prejudice, bigotry and anti-people politics were a thing of the past, that a corner had been turned.  The first African American in the White House with a dynamic and charismatic First Lady, gains that could not be reversed, surely?

Man Booker award winning author Paul Beatty however is dismayed at the shock of liberal white America, stating,

“This is nothing new.  To me that’s the part that feels disingenuous.  When people go, I don’t recognise this place.  And I’m like, where have you been?  That’s the part that bothers me.  With the police violence people are like, oh I didn’t know.  And it’s like people have been putting this in your face for ages and all of a sudden – why now?”

Beatty is right.  Rip the Obama mask from the face of the American body politic and there is a Donald Trump underneath ready to get out.  Police violence against black communities did not stop under Obama, nor did the shooting of unarmed black citizens in the streets.  Poverty amongst black Americans remains at 50%, it is not likely to be addressed under Trump.

However, the opposition to Trump is underway. 

Hundreds of thousands turned out in Washington DC, other cities across the USA and around the world, in protest marches to denounce the Trump presidency yesterday, with demands to acknowledge women’s rights to the forefront of the opposition.

Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO trade union confederation summed up the mood when she declared,

“We’re here not only to march, but we’re here to build a movement.  It’s a movement for paid family leave.  It’s a movement for equal rights.  It’s a movement for workers’ rights.  It’s a movement for immigrants’ rights.  We’re going to march together and stand together in solidarity to make sure our voices are heard.”

There can be no illusions under a Trump presidency.  It is a time to take sides and to make choices.

15th January 2017

NHS crisis gathers pace

 

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK is probably the last remaining vestige of the social democratic ambitions of the post war 1945 Labour government.  A health service free for all at the point of use; comprehensive education; council housing; nationalisation of the key strategic industries and utilities; national insurance and pensions; and full employment as a stated political objective.  These were the collective principles, of support for working class people, which were the touchstones of political debate from 1945 – 1979, when the ruling class decided enough was enough and the Thatcher government began the dismantling process.

The destruction of that legacy has not always been easy or straightforward.  The heroic defence of jobs and communities, which was the impetus behind the Miners’ Strike 1984/85, is the most outstanding example of trying to stem the tide.  Protests against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the tragic waste of resources on Trident nuclear submarines; demonstrations against the poll tax; inner city disturbances triggered by heavy handed policing but often the consequence of austerity and poverty; student protests against tuition fees; trade union action to defend jobs, wages and working conditions; all erupt at different times and require the ruling class to firefight in order to sustain their position.

By degrees though working class votes have been cunningly bought off.  Share buying under the guise of ‘people’s capitalism’ was one trick.  Home ownership through the sale of council housing was another.  Comprehensive schooling has been gradually eroded, to be replaced incrementally by the insidious academy system.  The legal restrictions placed upon trade unions have tied them in knots.  The demonisation of trade union activity by the unholy trinity of the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and Daily Express, aided by TV news media has poisoned the public perception of trade unions.

Local government, which for many years could play some role in mitigating the worst excesses of the Tories in power, is being restricted increasingly to the delivery of statutory services, with little scope for local innovation or diversity.  While the Tories have enforced a programme of austerity upon the victims of the 2008 banking crash, the perpetrators are given tax handouts.  The anti-people politics of UKIP are given unjustified levels of airtime while Jeremy Corbyn, as the official Leader of the Opposition, still struggles to get a hearing on the BBC.

So, in a week when the Chief Executive of the British Red Cross has described the situation in the NHS as a “humanitarian crisis”, and Jeremy Corbyn has declared it a “national scandal” there is clearly an issue to be addressed.  Corbyn has been quite clear, stating that,

"The health service is at breaking point.  But this crisis is not due to an outbreak of disease.  It is a crisis made in Downing Street by this government - a crisis we warned them about."

NHS Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, this week claimed that the Prime Minister was “stretching it” to suggest that the NHS had received the money required to sustain service levels until 2020. 

Stevens told the Public Affairs Select Committee last week that over the next three years NHS funding will be “highly constrained” and that by 2018 spending per person in real terms “will go down.”

While this has provoked the inevitable denials from Downing St, Stephen Dorrell, former Tory Health Secretary and currently the chairman of the NHS Confederation, backed Stevens, saying

“He is obviously a Cameron appointee, he has widespread respect.  We should be looking at the evidence of what is happening.  Simon is not saying 'it is all impossible'.  What he is saying is that if we don't invest particularly in social care but in a range of public services, and if the health service ends up as the only place where the light is on, then it won't meet the demands being placed upon it."

It is widely acknowledged that there is a growing crisis in Accident and Emergency units.

Health service chiefs have acknowledged that in some parts of the country A&E departments are now "very reliant on locums", with most of the trusts needing around 10 to 12 "middle grade" doctors, but only having two or three.  Such medics are junior doctors, who have finished basic training but are still learning specialist skills and have yet to qualify as a consultant.

In November a report by the Commons health select committee warned that A&E departments need at least  8,000 doctors, 50 per cent more than the 5,300 currently employed, to keep pace with the rise in emergency admissions in the last five years.

It is increasingly recognised that the logjam in the NHS is as a result, not only of insufficient funding, but of pressures in social care, which is under strain due to cuts in local government finances.

The population of the UK enjoys increasing life expectancy.  However, living longer is not necessarily the same as living in good health.  Privatisation has introduced the profit motive into care for the elderly, a disgraceful state of affairs and one that Jeremy Corbyn has said he will address.  The lack of social care provision means people cannot be supported in their homes.  Therefore more people have to stay in hospital for longer, slowing down the system. 

Care providers are balking at having to pay staff the recently introduced living wage, wanting to pass the additional costs on to local authorities.  Local authorities are stretched to breaking point and cannot afford the unfunded additional costs.  Recruitment into social work as a profession is at crisis levels.  Care provision is closing because private sector providers, being pushed to improve wages, are now squealing that they cannot make a profit.

The Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing are both saying that the NHS is now experiencing its worst ever winter crisis.

Jeremy Corbyn has accused Prime Minister, Theresa May, of being “in denial” about the state of the NHS.  That is putting it mildly.  Due to the dedication of its staff the NHS might squeeze through this winter but crisis management is no way to run the nation’s health provision.

The Health Service needs to be saved, rebuilt and restored to its rightful pride of place, as one of the truly great achievements of the Labour movement in the UK.  Only Labour have a realistic chance to do that, the alternative does not bear consideration.

14th January 2017

A vicious theocrat right to the end

While the mainstream media has been quick to sing the praises of former Iranian president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died on Sunday, those involved in the long struggle for human rights and democracy in Iran are far from convinced of his reformist credentials.  Jane Green assesses the influence of one of the key figures of the Iranian theocratic state.

 

As a leading figure in the Iranian clergy, Rafsanjani was a key figure in the suppression of the opposition over many years in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Any attempt to suggest otherwise is a mere glossing over of the facts of his time in office as president from 1989-97, and his wider influence upon the shaping of the policies and practices of the Islamic Republic.

Prior to his election as president, Rafsanjani had acted as the commander-in-chief of the Iranian armed forces during the brutal Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 which wreaked havoc and devastation upon both countries and resulted in over one million dead.

As Speaker of the Iranian Parliament from 1980-1989 Rafsanjani played a key role in the selection of Ali Khamenei as Supreme Leader, ensuring that the  reactionary theocracy in Iran was consolidated, over and above the original national democratic aims of the popular 1979 revolution.  This period not only saw the fratricidal war with Iraq but the widespread arrest, torture and execution of leading activists in the uprising against the Shah, who advocated fundamental economic and social reforms and were not prepared to submit to the rule of the clergy.  As the strong-man of the regime, Rafsanjani bore a large measure of responsibility for the mass execution in the summer of 1988 of more than 5000 political prisoners.

The regime suppressed all effective political opposition, forced trade unions organisation underground and presided over a return to medieval values with regard to the rights of women, education and other social issues.  Many activists were forced to flee the country on pain of imprisonment or execution and many of those who stayed were arrested and subjected to a wave of forced confessions and show trials.

Even those who did manage to find refuge beyond Iran’s borders were not safe, with the assassination of political leaders in exile taking place across Europe during Rafsanjani’s presidency.  During this period a number of leading opposition figures were assassinated in Paris, Vienna and Berlin and other cities.  His Minister of Intelligence, Fallahian, was indicted by the German courts for the assassination of leaders of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran in a restaurant in Berlin in 1992.

Having reduced the economy to rubble as a result of the Iran-Iraq War, on assuming the presidency Rafsanjani turned to the World Bank and IMF, in order to secure the means to try and rebuild a shattered infrastructure.  As with any World Bank or IMF deal there were strings attached, such as liberalising foreign trade, privatising key sectors of the economy and further suppressing the wages and working conditions of the Iranian people.   One of his most damaging acts was to amend the labour law and introduce the concept of temporary contracts with no rights guaranteed.

Spurred on by the big business interests he represented, being himself a major landowner and large-scale cultivator and exporter of pistachio nuts with an estimated amassed personal fortune of 1 billion dollars, Rafsanjani embarked upon the task of making friends abroad.  Combined with the need to soften the effects of the economic crisis, Rafsanjani attempted to portray himself as a pragmatic statesman with a pragmatic foreign policy.

However, while peddling a softer image for overseas consumption, Rafsanjani continued to give a free hand to the most vicious groups inside Iran, encouraging the persecution of women resisting demands to wear the traditional ‘Hijab’ (head covering), or attacking demonstrators in Tehran, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Mashad protesting at food shortages and profiteering.  In 1995 he deployed helicopter gunships to suppress a three-day uprising of the poor in the working class town of Islamshahr.

Many media reports have been keen to overlook the brutality of the early years of the Islamic Republic, of which Rafsanjani was a key architect, in favour of the so-called reformist of later years, opposed to the hard-line stance of Ali Khamenei and supportive of Hassan Rouhani’s presidency.

Such distinctions in Iranian politics do not carry the same overtones as elsewhere.

Since the early 2000’s Rafsanjani had developed important differences with Khamenei and the regime’s fundamentalist and hard-line faction on the direction of the economy, foreign policy and how to treat the loyal (Islamic) opposition.  Rafsanjani was pro-Rouhani while Khamenei and the fundamentalist faction favoured the style of governing the country employed during the Ahmadinejad era.

However, despite the Western media promoting Rafsanjani as the moderate voice of the regime, he was a pro free market neoliberal who throughout his own reign ruled with an iron fist.  He was most certainly not a reformer, as starkly illustrated by his treatment of protesters during his presidency.  He was consistent only in his refusal to support any fundamental reforms and in his continual support and loyalty to the tenets of the regime.

There is much evidence from inside Iran to suggest that Rafsanjani held many dark secrets about key chapters in the history of the regime.  Had they ever seen the light of day, these would have caused immense damage.  Khamenei and the regime have breathed a sigh of relief that these secrets appear to have gone to the grave with Rafsanjani.  Hence, Khamenei has gone out of his way to accommodate and appease the Rafsanjani clan following his death.  The funeral, the subsequent three days national mourning and his burial in Khomeini’s mausoleum are all evidence of this.

There were hundreds of thousands participating in the funeral procession in the streets of central Tehran.  However, there are many reports that during the procession, a large section of the mourners were chanting slogans demanding change and freedom for political prisoners.

Pro-reform protesters shout slogans and carry posters at the funeral.

Chants were heard calling for reforms and expressing support for Mohammad Khatami (the former pro-reform president, 1997- 2005) and Mousavi, the main opposition candidate in the stolen presidential election of 2009, who has since been kept under house arrest and incommunicado.

In effect, the opposition found the funeral to be a ready-made opportunity to raise its slogans and make demands openly in the streets of Tehran, knowing that the regime’s hands were tied and that it was not able to openly employ the usual repressive measures.  In essence, the spirit of the 2009 Green Movement and unrest was shown to be very much alive.

While Rafsanjani was not in any formal office in recent years he still played a key role.  He acted as the standard bearer and champion of the forces who favoured economic liberalisation and the strengthening of the private sector’s role in the Iranian economy.  He championed the normalisation of Iran’s diplomatic relations with the US.  He was a close ally of the current president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani.

True to his legacy, Rafsanjani never showed remorse for his role in suppressing democracy and human rights in Iran.  He showed no regret at having been instrumental in establishing a theocratic dictatorship, which continues to oppress its people and deny their basic rights.

Friend of big business, friend of the Islamic dictatorship but no friend of the Iranian people; few tears will be shed for the passing of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani by the ordinary people of Iran.

This article was also published by the Morning Star.  Please see the link below:

A vicious theocrat right to the end 

8th January 2017

Turkey – the new frontline?

Events over the past six months in Turkey suggest that the focus of Islamic State activities is shifting, from their flagging attempts to gain a foothold in Iraq and Syria, and onto the streets of Turkey.  The New Year’s Eve attack in the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, killing 39 people, was the latest in a series of responses by Islamic State to the losses inflicted by Turkish troops inside Syria.  The killings follow on from the killing of 44 people outside an Istanbul football stadium three weeks ago and the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey on 19th December.

While not all of these actions can be ascribed to the activities of Islamic State they all contribute to the sense of political disjointedness inside Turkey, adding to the desire of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to extend the state of emergency, established following the failed coup, on 15th July last year.

The vacillating position of the Turkish government has not helped the situation.  Initially engaged in allowing Islamic State oil supplies to pass through Turkey, thus providing IS with much needed revenue, Turkey has more recently become engaged in the military operations against IS in Syria.  In part, this is cover for its own operations against the Kurdish PKK, who have been engaged in an independence struggle with the Turkish leadership for over 40 years.  It is also part of a wider regional power struggle, in which Erdogan is seeking to position Turkey as a key broker in the region.

Turkey is also in the ambivalent position of both being a member of NATO but being allied with Russia in the current ceasefire negotiations in Syria.  The conflict in Syria has resulted in a massive refugee crisis inside Turkey, with an estimated 3 million refugees having crossed the border from Syria.  Quite apart from the obvious problems this creates in terms of housing, feeding and schooling there is also the suggestion that Syrians are being used as cheap labour, displacing Turkish workers and adding to the already significant unemployment issue.

It is not hard to see how this situation can be exploited by the Islamists, already keen to destabilise Turkey and undermine its secular constitution.  The followers of Islamic preacher, Fethulah Gülen, in self imposed exile in the United States, are already regarded as being behind the coup attempt by the government.  However, Gülen is not trusted by the Left who see him as a tool by which the Islamisation of Turkey may be further advanced.

President Erdogan has taken the opportunity of the 15th July coup attempt to strengthen his grip on the state apparatus and root out any perceived opposition.  Estimates vary but in excess of 100,000 civil servants, journalists and lecturers are said to have lost their jobs, on the pretext of being Gülenist, as Erdogan attempts to silence any opposition.  The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which Erdogan helped found, came to power on the basis that it would be more democratic, more European and more moderate on the world stage.  

Turkey at present hardly fits this picture.

Turkey is at the centre of a struggle between rival capitalist interests, in the United States and Russia, over influence and access to markets in the Middle East.  It is also the flashpoint for the religious intersection of Islamic and secular politics in the region.  Alliances continue to shift as the players shift allegiances to shore up their particular side. 

As ever, the losers are the people of Turkey, and the wider region, who become pawns in a power game which is not of their own making.  The basis of political struggle in the region must move away from geography and religion and onto an assessment of class interests.  Only then will the people of the region, whether from Turkey, Syria, Iran or Iraq, see that they have more in common than that which divides them.  

2nd January 2017

Two state solution in jeopardy

 

The political pundits have packaged away 2016 and filed it under ‘bad year’, in the hope that 2017 is going to be better.  Unfortunately, there is nothing in the political firmament which suggests a more favourable alignment of the planets in the coming year.  The situation in the Middle East; the election of Donald Trump as US President; and the ongoing debate in the European Union, focused upon the outcome of the UK vote to leave, are all auguries of further struggle in the coming year.

The death throes of the Obama administration in the US has thrown up some issues, which Trump will have to deal with upon taking office later this month.  Not least will be the consequences of the United States refusal to use its veto in the United Nations Security Council recently, which resulted in the UN carrying resolution 2334, condemning the illegal Israeli practice of building settlements on Palestinian land.

The Israeli land grab has been going on for many years now.  The wall, which Israel has been building to encompass land which belongs to the Palestinians, has progressed unabated.  The wall functions both as a means to rob Palestinians of land, which is theirs, and also as a means of controlling access to Israel, which is vital for many Palestinians to earn a living.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, reacted furiously to the UN vote.  Given that the resolution, passed on 23rd December, states that the settlement programme constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and that it has “no legal validity”, the response of Netanyahu comes as no surprise.

As The Guardian reported on 24th December 2016,

“The response included the recall of the Israeli ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal, who voted for the resolution, the cancellation of a planned visit by the Senegalese foreign minister to Israel in three weeks’ time, and the cancellation of all aid programmes to Senegal.”

As part of the initial Israeli response Netanyahu  has publicly accused Obama of “ambushing” Israel at the UN with the “shameful” resolution.  He has also accused Obama of proposing and pushing the measure “behind Israel’s back.”  In an almost unprecedented move, Netanyahu summoned US Ambassador Dan Shapiro to seek “clarifications” on the decision to abstain.

The Israeli establishment have expressed further rage at the foreign policy speech by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, earlier this week. 

In his speech, Kerry had the audacity to suggest that Israel comply with international law and seriously work towards a two-state solution to their differences with the Palestinians.  

"The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is the only way to ensure Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state.  That future is now in jeopardy" he said.

Kerry went on to state that,

"The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.  The result is that policies of this government, which the prime minister himself just described as more committed to settlements than any in Israel's history, are leading in the opposite direction.  They are leading towards one state."  

A "two-state solution" is widely accepted as the only realistic way forward to the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is not only the declared goal of their leaders but of many international diplomats and politicians.

The solution would see a final settlement involving the creation of an independent state of Palestine within pre-1967 ceasefire lines in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, living peacefully alongside Israel.  The United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union, Russia and the United States routinely restate their commitment to the concept.

The creation of illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land continues to be an issue of contention between Israel and the Palestinians, who see the settlements as an obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state.  More than 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The response of US President-elect, Donald Trump, has been to suggest that the Israelis should not be treated with “disdain and disrespect” and he has urged Israel to “stay strong” until he assumes office later this month.

France will host an international conference, to lay down the framework for a future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, in Paris this month.  The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said Kerry's speech was "clear, committed and courageous".

The conference in France is scheduled for 15th January, the inauguration of the new President of the United States is set for the 20th January.  Both dates will have significance for all looking towards a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, not least the thousands of displaced Palestinians.