Saturday, January 31, 2009

Defend Jobs - Blame The Bosses Not Foreign Workers

Over the last few days, workers have been walking out of oil refineries around the country in support of their workmates at Lindsey refinery in North Lincolnshire where a contract has been awarded to an Italian firm.

Lindsey, owned by Total, is building a new diesel refining plant. Diesel is cheaper to produce than petrol, but in Britain is more expensive (96p vs 85p ish per litre at present), partly because of lack of refining capacity in this country. There is also a shift from petrol towards diesel at present, with, for example, more diesel cars being produced. Hence, new refining plant needed. The contract for the new plant went to Jacobs, who have sub-contracted to an Italian company, which pre-recruited its workforce in Italy and has allegedly stated that it will not take on British labour (although this may be an urban myth).

I do not buy into the view prevalent on parts of the left - and in my own union's leadership - that all bad things come from the EU, but in this case, the European Court's Viking and Laval rulings have added a poisonous element to the situation. Under these rulings, the contractor is allowed to employ workers in Britain under conditions that would not be allowed under British law (eg. wages below the minimum wage) because it pre-recruited them in another country. It can apply the other country's legal standards if it wishes too ie. if it enables it to pay workers less and rip them off more.

Following a meeting at 7.30 yesterday morning, hundreds of workers walked out of Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland in sympathy with protesting Lindsey workers. Similar walkouts have taken place at several other refineries.

The Grangemouth workers' resentments have some history. Every so often, the refinery has a 'turnaround', the most recent of which was in 2007 and lasted about six weeks. During a turnaround, the refinery is closed down, and loads of maintenance, inspections, etc carried out. Although some of this is done by Grangemouth workers, most is done by contractors. Thousands of workers are needed, with a whole village of temporary accommodation set up for them.

In the past, the contractors have used local labour. However, especially with future turnarounds likely to be longer, there is not enough skilled local labour (partly because many skilled British workers are overseas being 'foreign labour' themselves!), so more and more foreign workers are being used. In particular, there is a shortage of fitters, electricians, plumbers and other skilled labour in the local area. In the 2007 turnaround, resentments had already started about foreign workers "taking our jobs".

Despite the nationalist rhetoric, there is a genuine issue here for workers. They are entitled to fear for their jobs, and the whole system of contracting has a corrosive effect on both wages and conditions, and on unionisation and working-class unity. Employers deliberately use contracting-out, not only to save money, but to divide the workforce into separate chunks, on different pay and conditions and harder for unions to organise. Where contractors are bringing in workers from outside the area, they are often physically separating them from other workers in temporary accommodation and with working conditions designed to keep the union out.

Meanwhile, both the New Labour government and the trade union leaders are reaping what they have sown. Remember that conference speech in which Gordon Brown said the word 'British' how many times? He can hardly complain when workers call him on his word! And the union leaders who have been willing to use nationalist slogans in the past (only recently, we had 'Keep Burberry British') are now allowing jobs to go and recommending wage cuts, hardly inspiring their members' confidence.

None of this, of course, is an excuse for turning workers' anger against fellow workers of a different nationality. We don't want 'British jobs for British workers', we want decent jobs for all workers. We need workers of each country organising co-ordinated action with each other, not making demands against each other. The BNP are salivating over the last few days' events, seeing a nationalist struggle from which they can build their influence and through which they can spread their poison. And the xenophobic element is being played up by the press, who seem to be reporting 'wildcat strikes against foreign workers' rather than actions against contracting out and fear of job cuts.

For socialists, self-organised working-class militancy is the beginning of wisdom. That does not oblige us to support reactionary strikes: the most commonly-cited is London dockers walking out in support of Enoch Powell, and I also seem to remember telecoms workers refusing to work on the Gay Switchboard in the early 1980s for fear of catching AIDS. But although they are showing some unpleasant nationalist, even racist, manifestations, the current refinery walkouts are not straightforwardly reactionary.

There are two ways in which socialists and trade unionists could do a disservice to these walkouts: by cheering them uncritically, or by denouncing them. We need to get in there, and mobilise our support to encourage them in the direction of genuine militancy and international solidarity, rather than down the dead-end of nationalism. For these walkouts to become a rallying point to oppose contracting and defend jobs, they need to turn their back on counter-productive and poisonous nationalism.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Nicky Reilly Jailed For Life

Last October, I reported on this blog that Nicky Reilly had admitted an attempted suicide bombing and discussed the conclusions that people might draw about his actions and his Asperger syndrome. Reilly additionally has a learning disability.

His mum quite rightly pointed out that Nicky ought to be receiving the attention of the caring services rather than the prison service. But today we have the news that he has been sentenced to life in prison for attempted murder, to serve a minimum of eighteen years.

I didn't sit through the court proceedings, and I hold no brief for Islamist bombers and those who excuse them, but we have to ask ourselves Is this the best that our society can do?! If the best that our judicial system can do with someone on the autisitc spectrum and with a learning disability giving him a 'mental age' of ten is to lock him up in a prison for the rest of his life, then something is very very wrong.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Labour and Climate Change

This is a particularly interesting article from a Norwegian trade unionist offering a perspective for trade unionists in the fight against climate change (hat tip: Bruce) ...

Could the trade union movement benefit from measures to tackle climate change?

By Asbjørn Wahl, Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees

Most problems in society are mainly social and political, even if at first glance they seem purely technical or scientific. This is a hard-earned lesson for the labour and trade union movement. For example, workplace technology can be developed to serve different interests: the shareholders, the customers, the workers… In the end it is the actual balance of power which decides the solution and who it will benefit.

The threat of climate change is no exception. The solution of this problem requires, among other things, a huge amount of new technology. But the problem isn’t just about technology, it is a genuinely social and political issue. It is decisive, therefore, that the trade union movement develops its own climate change policies. We have to move from a reactive to a proactive position. In the end, it is a question of what kind of society we want to develop.

Facing up to the issues

So far, much of the trade union movement has hesitated when confronted with the problem of climate change, even though this situation has moved on significantly in recent years. There has been a tendency to deny the seriousness of the problem, and there has been some opposition against taking action as a result of a (fully understandable) fear of job losses.

Our first challenge is therefore to face reality. We have to realise the overwhelming scientific proof that climate change is here, that human activities are crucial factors, and that this can be catastrophic. We must realise that the main reason for the problem is the burning of fossil fuel. This means the success factor of any measure is whether or not it contributes to reducing the burning of fossil fuel. The way we live and work will change radically over the coming years either as a result of action, or of inaction. Not to act, or to delay action, is not an option, but will only make consequences worse.

Failed markets need political control

The Stern Report, which reported to the UK government, concluded that “climate change represents the biggest market failure in history”. The on-going financial crisis represents another huge market failure in history. We cannot rely on those same failed market mechanisms to solve these crises.

Both climate change policies and the financial crisis will need increased democratic control of the economy. That is exactly what we, in the trade union movement, also need for many other reasons. This means that the climate crisis not only represents a threat, but also new possibilities for the trade union movement. The on-going crises, together with neo-liberalism’s current crisis of legitimacy, have actually opened an array of opportunities waiting to be exploited.

Trade unions thus have to prioritise climate change policies, but we have to embed these policies in a broader political context. We therefore also have to overcome the contradictions between specific workers’ immediate, sectoral interests and broader interests of workers as a whole. In other words, we are not only transport workers who face a change in work pattern; we are human beings confronting a potentially catastrophic event.

Redistribution of wealth

One thing is quite clear: there will be far-reaching changes. The question is therefore, how do we meet these challenges? Currently, workers and trade unions are on the defensive. We are under pressure. There is a tendency to individualise responsibility for greenhouse-gas emissions. All of us have to pay for the emissions we cause, it is said, even though those emissions in most cases are effects of the way society is organised and market forces are pushing.

Of course emissions have to be reduced, even radically. This cannot, however, be left to each individual’s responsibility. Neither can it be done by implementing economic restrictions which in practise exempt the rich and wealthy from any change. Why should ordinary people support the necessary climate change policies under such conditions? People will never accept that rich people can continue to pay their way, that corporate interests are protected, while the costs are put on workers, consumers and taxpayers. What is needed, therefore, are collective political solutions in which policies against climate change are combined with a radical social redistribution of wealth. Anything short of that will prevent any solution to the climate crisis.

From defensive to offensive

Environmental organisations tell us we have to make sacrifices to save the climate and our planet. This is both incorrect, and strategically and tactically wrong. Climate change policies are not only a question of sacrifices, but of creating a better society for all. Roger Toussaint, president of Transport Workers’ Union Local 100 in New York, got it right when he, at a climate change conference, stated that: “Going green is not just about job creation, it is about an improved life for working people.”

Serious climate change policies will give us an opportunity for progressive social change. Change will presuppose a more democratically managed economy. it will create millions of green jobs – particularly in public transport and in the production of renewable energy. It will reduce market competition and thereby also reduce pressure at work. It will make it necessary to shorten working hours to reduce the overexploitation of resources and allow a more just distribution of jobs across the globe. It will, if we do our job properly, hopefully reduce consumerism as a way of compensating other unmet needs in our societies, characterised by alienation and powerlessness. In short, social change is a precondition and a solution at the same time to stopping climate change.

Furthermore, reduced greenhouse emissions will also reduce pollution in workplaces and communities. An enormous – and free – transfer of technology to developing countries will be necessary, both to reduce their increase in emissions and to lift two billion people out of poverty. Most importantly, climate change policies will secure the survival of human beings and the planet.

Alliances and social mobilisation

Global summits haven’t achieved social equality, jobs for all, decent working conditions, eradication of poverty, gender equality. It seems unlikely they will solve the problem of climate change either. Instead, we need a social and political mobilisation for alternative solutions built on solidarity, equality and peoples’ needs.

The trade union movement will need to build strategic alliances with the environmental movement, and others. To do that, we have to overcome a couple of important weaknesses. Firstly, we have to ensure the environmental movements understand the role of social power (the class conflict). Secondly, we ourselves need to increase the understanding of environmental problems and the climate crisis in our trade unions. This can only happen if the two movements start to co-operate, exchange views and experiences and develop a friendly and constructive environment for discussion.

An excellent example is the Blue-Green Alliance between the United Steel Workers and the environmental movement Sierra Club in the USA, which “is focused on restoring an additional element to the relationship between public policy and electoral politics … that of movement building … without strong, well-organised social movements mobilising along a society’s basic fault lines, meaningful change is unlikely.”

Our long-term perspective must be to build the social alliances necessary to change society, not the climate. It is ambitious, but necessary and possible – and we will sit in the driver’s seat.

In summary
  • Trade unions have to face up to the reality of climate change now
  • We need to be proactive, not reactive, to deal with the consequences
  • Climate change is part of a broader political context. We should look at the structure of society to find solutions.
  • We have to work with others, especially environmental organisations.
  • Climate change offers many possibilities: new green jobs, a greater role for public transport, less market competition… We must act now to seize these changes and make this a positive step for workers.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Tony Benn gives the BBC what for !

Good old Tony got all stroppy and did his own Gaza appeal on the BBC,very politely saying he wasn't going to be stopped, and he wasn't !

First John McD and the mace, now Tony not doing what he is told, life in the old dogs yet. Keep it up !


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Review : "The Leisure Society" and "Shoreline" at the Komedia , Brighton

One of the things I love about Brighton is being in walking distance of good small live music venues. I'm not one for big stadiums, however much I like a band i’d rather give it a miss.

I like checking out new bands , sometimes they are crap and other times its a find. I do a bit of research , get recommendations or sometimes just take a chance on an interesting write up in the local listings rag.

Now I love loud rock music and at heart am an old punk, but I also like indie, pop, classical , opera and luckily given Dave and his old mans music pretty being much a staple at chez Osler, a bit of jazz and blues. Osler jazz , not Denham Jazz. There is a difference or so i’m told.

As well as being Stroppy I can be a bit soppy and like sad indie music with soaring violins . Yeah an old softy, but that doesn't mean listening to power ballads and what is meant to be ‘romantic’ girlie slush, yuck. Buy me one of those twee love songs CDs for a valentines and it will get chucked out the window. No, its the tragic, doomed, fucked up dysfunctionally sad songs about love I like ... and people as well.

So anyway, to cut to the chase , I thought i’d do posts on bands I see. Yeah Punchie, more lifestyle, look away now.

So last night I pootled down to a small basement venue to watch a line up of acts put on by a local record label and collective . It seems that there is quite an overlap between the membership of their bands and that was the case with the two on last night.

The first act was a woman with a lovely voice , but with songs that made Leonard Cohen seem chipper. Now I like old Leonard and depressing isn’t necessarily a no no, but her songs all sounded the same and a bit dirgey and not in a good Nico way. They drifted over me and then some of the lyrics penetrated and I had to stop the giggles as they were a bit cliched in a sort of sixth form way. I just remember something about holding hands under the water, or it may have been holding someone’s head under. Or was that wishful thinking on my part?

Next on were Shoreline , who describe themselves as alt new folkers. Now folk normally sends me running screaming away, but they were good. There were 8 on stage, instruments including a banjo, double bass, acoustic guitars, flute and violin . I like violins as i have already said , very haunting and sad. All sang, but the main vocalists were Beatrice Sanjust , James De Malplaquet and Jacob Richardson.

Listening to them I could imagine their music as a soundtrack for some quirky indie film, possibly set in the wilds of Alaska, with a doomed love story involving the local misfit kid who dies tragically after finding true love with someone also dying young of some incurable disease who has to look after her aged abusive father.

Musically I was reminded at times of Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and the quieter songs of the Magic Numbers.

Next on was The Leisure Society and there was quite an overlap from the last band, part of the collective ethos.Again a mix of instruments including the double bass, violin (goodie)
cello, flute, mandolin, glockenspiel, and there were nine members . Beatrice joined in for some of the songs, but this time the focus seemed more on a lead singer in the time honoured floppy haired slightly geeky mould, Nick Hemming, who brought a stronger sound .

There are similarities between both bands, especially with very overlapping memberships, but The Leisure Society felt a slightly more finished band, a bit more depth and variety and a stronger sound. Again hints of Nick Cave, less so Leonard Cohen, but also Mercury Rev and The Divine Comedy. There was a bit of wistful 60s pop there as well, perhaps a little Beach Boys circa ‘Pet Sounds’.They describe themselves as alt pop folk. I prefer whistful indie sad songs as a label, if there has to be one.

Overall I liked both of them for when I'm in the mood for sad swooping violins and beautiful harmonies rather than in a loud arsey frame of mind. Yes, I can do quite contemplation sometimes.

If you like this sort of thing , check them out. The Leisure Society are playing a couple of gigs with variations on the other groups from the collective , including on in Stokey and another at Ronnie Scotts.

A you tube from another gig ( I didnt have a good enough view to film):

Leisure Society


250th anniversary of Scotland's Bard

250 years ago - Robert Burns was born in Ayrshire. Around the world people are celebrating the bard's life from the Masons to the Marxists, it was reported that more people will attend a Burn's Suppoer or Burn's Reading this week than was alive at the time of Burns.
Robert Burns poetry, songs and letters tell of the social timeshe was born, in Scotland at the time there was still much upheavel as it was at the time of the Scots diaspora to the colonies, The Scottish Friends were organising against the government and many were tried for sedition and sent to Botany Bay - Thomas Muir being one of them . he escaped and manged to miss out on the misery of deportation. Robert Burn's penned Scots Wha Hae in memory of these famous trails.
If you haven't read Burns - do so now, try the Slave's Lament to start you off, its written in English and the poetry is clear and when you are fu o the drink try and recount what happened to the scallywag Tam O Shanter and his horse Meg who did nae bide by his wife's wishes.
Slave's Lament
It was in sweet Senegal that my foes did me enthral, For the lands of Virginia,-ginia, O:
Torn from that lovely shore, and must never see it more; And alas! I am weary, weary O:
Torn from that lovely shore, and must never see it more; And alas! I am weary, weary O.
All on that charming coast is no bitter snow and frost, Like the lands of Virginia,-ginia, O:
There streams for ever flow, and there flowers for ever blow, And alas! I am weary, weary O: There streams for ever flow, and there flowers for ever blow, And alas! I am weary, weary O: The burden I must bear, while the cruel scourge I fear, In the lands of Virginia,-ginia, O; And I think on friends most dear, with the bitter, bitter tear, And alas! I am weary, weary O: And I think on friends most dear, with the bitter, bitter tear, And alas! I am weary, weary O:
Enjoy a Parcel O Rouges in Nation by The Corries

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Squatters move into the Duke of Westminster's £30million Park Lane mansions

My heart bleeds for him...not.

The Daily Mail is not happy though:

Squatters have taken over two seven-storey houses worth a total of £30million on one of London's most exclusive streets.

The 20 freeloaders - aged between 21 and 45 - took over the townhouses at numbers 94 and 95 Park Lane after they were left empty for a few weeks.

The squatters can enjoy the luxury of taking their dogs for walks in Hyde Park, rubbing shoulders with multi-millionaires.

One of the squatters, who gave his name only as Martin, said: 'The view at sunset over Hyde Park is just magic, especially from the penthouse. I really love it here.'

The neighbours are none to happy either at having such people on their well heeled doorstep :

The emergence of squatters at such a landmark address has already caused consternation among residents.

Ian Brimhurst, a member of the Westminster Homeowners’ Association, said: 'I’m very upset. We don’t want this sort of thing blighting such a beautiful part of London.'

Surely the fact that many people are homeless, sleeping on the street or a mate's sofa , while large properties lie empty is more of a blight ?

As someone who squatted years back , and was homeless as a kid, I support this action but with one concern. There are many homeless people on the streets in London and I would like to see this group of squatters open their doors to them, to try to find people who really need a place to stay.

I'm saying this as I have a feeling that the squatters may not have been homeless or desperate in the sense that many are who sleep rough, that this is perhaps more of a statement (and nothing wrong with that in principle), and I'm sure its nice that

"The group have set up an informal art collective, spending the days playing music and creating installations and paintings, "

But that does make me wonder if it is a group of middle class kids playing homeless who could easily run back to mummy and daddy when the going gets tough, unlike many. Being homeless is not a lifestyle choice .

I hope I'm being unfair and that this includes those sleeping rough and not just people wanting to be rebellious and have a nice view while creating an installation.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Israelis Oppose War on Gaza

This first film is of a demonstration of thousands of Israelis against their state's war on Gaza.

This is a superb display of principle in the face of government warmongering and pressure on Israel's population to support the war. As well as the placards and banners denouncing the war, you might spot a couple of Israeli flags alongside Palestinian flags, and you may hear some criticism of Hamas in the same breath as opposition to the military assault. Quite right. It's a good job that sections of the British 'left' are not there to drive these people off the protest!

The second film is about Israelis refusing to serve in the army, interviewing many of the brave and principled people who are doing so.

Wathcing these two films, it saddens me to hear reports from meetings in Britain purportedly in support of the Palestinians in which people have dismissed Israeli opposition to their government as irrelevant and not worth the effort in publicising or supporting.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

George W Bush , goodbye and good riddance

Before we all start dissecting the Obama presidency, lets just pause and enjoy the moment ...

Bush is no longer President !!

Here are a few you tubes ...


The genius behind Bush

And 8 years summed up


Monday, January 19, 2009

Gender, Race and Class - An Anti-Capitalist Feminist event - 14th February

Received this by e mail:

Join us on Sat 14 February for Gender, Race & Class
The event will run from 10.30am-6.30pm
We hope the event will provide us with a forum to come together, participate in open debate, learn from each other, develop strategies to work towards our common aims, make alliances and inspire each other to build a strong and active feminist movement from the bottom up.

The day will offer 12 workshops which explore the ways in which sexist, racist and capitalist exploitation take place in our society and will look for opportunities to challenge these together. We hope to involve as many women and men as possible in the campaigns that will be at the centre of this event.

The workshop list and practical information about the event are now online. Let us know if you’d like to book a place at the event!

Workshops at the event will include:
• Feminist History
• A woman’s place is in her union?
• Sex work
• Challenging domestic and sexual violence
• International solidarity
• Community organising
• Queer and trans politics
• Prison abolition
• Rape and asylum
• Reproductive freedoms
• Feminism and parenting

Timings for the programme will be published in the next few weeks.

About Us

We are feminists who have come together from a number of groups to organise an event in February 2009. We are excited and energised by the current resurgence in feminist activism in the UK , but we think that the kind of feminist movement we build and the kind of politics it has, matter.

We are committed to an anti-capitalist feminism which sees the interconnections between all struggles against oppressions and against capitalism, and we want to build an event that creates an open space to discuss this and develop our ideas. But we don’t want to just talk about our politics – we want to fight to actually change the material conditions of women’s lives, to fight misogyny and our own exploitation, and to involve as many women and men as possible in the campaigns that will be at the centre of this event.

We want the joint event to provide us with a forum to come together, participate in open debate, develop strategies to work towards our common aims, network, make alliances and inspire each other to build a strong and active feminist movement. We need to unite to challenge women’s oppression and exploitation. We want to fight for the rights of all women - and that includes the rights of sex workers and ‘illegal’ migrants.

We organise using non-hierarchical, consensus-based decision making. We recognise the power structures that exist among us, based on the inequalities of our society, which amplify some voices and marginalise others, and we will actively work to confront them. Decisions are taken at monthly meetings, which are open to feminists of all genders. There’s also the option to work autonomously in self-defined groups (e.g. women-only). We respect the fact that women have a diversity of experience and we see this as positive in that it enables us to learn from each other.

Key issues on which we want to organise include…
• Defending and extending reproductive freedom.
• Opposing rape and sexual abuse.
• Fighting racism and immigration controls.
• Building solidarity between women workers.
• Challenging all forms of heterosexism and increasing our freedom of sexual expression.
• Struggles against capitalist exploitation.

For all other details such as registration, venue etc., go to


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tarting up the blog

I know I have said this before, but I really need to update and smarten up this blog.

One of the things I plan to do is change the picture. I was hoping to get someone to draw me a cartoon 'Stroppy' (sorta punky ), but that has fallen through. One option that occurred to me was to design an avatar and use that. I have a mac and so far can't find an application that does that, well only a head and I want a full body one.

Any ideas ?

Or any budding artists ?


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Housing scandal in Edinburgh

These houses in the Canongate on the Royal Mile of Edinburgh are lying empty and have been mostly for the past 18 months.

Recently in Edinburgh the Evening News had a headline stating that there had been 400,000 bids for 2,700 homes. In Edinburgh those on the council waiting list have to bid for houses that are published online or in local paper.

However in my street there are 18 empty flats, 9 of them are council houses! These are houses that are to be knocked down for a 5 star hotel and conference centre. I have been having a FOI rough and tumble with the council finally they answered - the developer is paying the council to keep the houses empty but no one is paying the council tax because no one is liable.

Last week a Norwich council chief was sacked for clearing out old age pensioners from their homes and putting herself, her lover and her pals in.

In last weeks Sunday Herald it was reported that Mountgrange admitted there is no cash secured to build the residential part of the Caltongate scheme. It looks like as each day goes by that there won't be a development. Yet decent homes lie empty. It really is an outrage! Up until the late 70s the council used to be called Edinburgh Co-0peration now nit is a Corporation for big business.

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John McDonnell does a 'Heseltine' in the commons

Well not quite.

Well done John, but next time swing it above your head and flounce dramatically :-)

More on the campaign and a press release from John here.

John speaking in the debate:

Other links:

John protesting.The cameras seem to be cut near the end.

John explains why he lifted the mace.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Screening for Autism?

Today's Guardian leads with the headline, New research brings autism screening closer to reality: Call for ethics debate as tests in womb could allow termination of pregnancies.

Response number one: every woman should have the right to terminate a pregnancy for whatever reasons she may have. It is vital that the 'ethics debate' that the Guardian calls for does not pit the pro-choice movement against the autism community. It is possible - and very necessary - to defend to right to terminate a pregnancy while also opposing the idea that detection of autism in a foetus means that you necessarily should have an abortion.

The National Autistic Society says that none of its members say that they wish it had been possible to know that their foetus would be born an autistic child so that they could have a termination. That's a heart-warming read, and certainly one that I personally echo. But actually, it's a slightly unfair question. Very few people could look at their kids and say "I wish I hadn't had you" - whether they would have made the decision not to go ahead with a pregnancy before the child was born, before s/he laughed, cried, cuddled you and became part of your life, is another matter.

The NAS also says that some of its members would have appreciated knowing that their child would be autistic before birth so that they could prepare and arrange support. Point taken. However, if society educated the population as a whole about autism, if everyone knew about it and support was readily available to everyone who needed it, then perhaps you wouldn't need to know specifically that your child would be autistic.

One issue not mentioned in the Guardian article is that knowing that your baby is autistic may inform your decision as to whether - or when - to have further children. When we decided to have a third child, we did not know that Joe was on the autistic spectrum, and his younger brother was born when he was two years and one month old. Autism - particularly at the 'higher-functioning' end of the spectrum where Joe's Asperger's lies - is virtually never detected at so early an age. There is no way in the world I would be without my gorgeous Harrison, but I can see a point that other families in similar situations may decide against, or may postpone, having another child if they knew their kid was autistic.

I worry about how these new findings may be used by some to whip up momentum to 'eliminate' autism. But I can not regret the advance in understanding that has apparently been made. Increased knowledge can only be a good thing: it is the interpretations and uses that may be attached to it that may be problematic.

This is all assuming, of course, that the Autism Research Centre's findings are based on credible science - unlike the 'MMR causes autism' nonsense that caused a panic a few years back, led to loads of kids being put through the unnecessary distress of three separate injections, and now has its authors facing GMC charges of serious professional misconduct.

The ARC's research is based on studying the amniotic fluid of the mothers of 235 children, and showing that consistently, the mothers of those kids who showed autistic traits had high levels of testosterone in their amniotic fluid. This dovetails neatly with the much higher incidence of autism amongst boys than girls (it is apparently 4:1 for autistic spectrum disorders in general, 9:1 for Asperger's), and with the idea that autism can be conceptualised as the "extreme male brain". I am not in a position to subject the research to rigorous scientific examination, but some people are, and they most certainly should.

I don't think we have a problem with prenatal screening for disorders. I don't see many socialists or feminists demanding, for example, that amniocentesis be scrapped as unethical because it leads to the abortion of foetuses with Down's Syndrome. A woman should not be forced to have a Down's child who she feels she can not cope with; but equally, a woman who does choose to have a child with Down's should receive full support with her parenting, and the child should receive full support too.

However, there is a further issue with autism. We would generally be in favour, where it is possible, of the elimination of a disability or illness. Not the elimination of disabled people, but of the disability. Where medical science has brought an end to illnesses such as smallpox, where it has made some types of blindness eg. cataracts, curable, that is a good thing. But do we actually want to eliminate autism? Simon Baron Cohen asks a pertinent question in the Guardian article, "What would we lose if children with autistic spectrum disorders were eliminated from the population?"

As we have repeatedly argued on this blog, autism has positives as well as negatives. Perhaps this is more so at the 'high-functioning' end of the spectrum, but the screening will not reveal the autistic child's location on the spectrum, and in any case, as Prof Simon says, "ethically the same issues apply wherever the person is on that spectrum".

If we eliminate blindness, then everyone can see. If we eliminate autism, though, we risk eliminating insights and talents that come with the condition along with the undoubted difficulties.

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Guest post by David Rosenberg - The Left need to keep the bigger picture in view

I am bumping this post up to the top. David kindly wrote it for us and it got a bit lost over the weekend . I hope it will spark a debate about how the left engages with the bigger picture and Gaza.

Thanks to David for writing this guest post for the blog .

While the Israeli bombardment continues unabated wreaking a terrible toll in human lives, there have been important developments on the Home Front too. Justifiable anger at Israeli actions and their total disrespect for civilian lives is being directed at soft targets. There are increasing reports of antisemitic incidents against Jewish institutions and individuals in Britain and France. Meanwhile the self-important and self-proclaimed political heads of the Jewish community – the Board of Deputies and the thoroughly unelected “Jewish Leadership Council“ are swinging into action calling a pro-Israel demonstration for Trafalgar Square on Sunday 11th January the day after the second National Emergency Demonstration of anti-war protesters parades through London.

Individual members of synagogues, most probably, holding a wide range of views on the conflict from acute embarrassment and dismay through to total unthinking support, have received letters from their synagogues demanding their attendance, with no hint that there is anything to debate. They are trying to corral a divided community into an “Israel right or wrong” straitjacket and seeking to present a united Jewish front in support of Israel’s policy to the outside world – a policy which continues to be, as the late Harold Pinter expressed it, both murderous and suicidal. They are in denial. Many Jews supported the anti-war demos in London and other cities last weekend. And the very night that Israeli forces began their ground invasion into Gaza, 10,000 Israeli marched to a very different beat through the streets of Tel-Aviv, damning the war, proclaiming solidarity with the victims and declaring that Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.

There is a depressing symmetry among those who wish to blame any and every Jew for what is happening and those who wish to claim the support of any and every Jew for a war that, as well as taking a huge toll in civilian lives, has managed to make even long-suffering refugees in miserable refugee camps homeless again.

These developments have implications for the solidarity movement with the oppressed and targeted. In the way it politically engages with the conflict the Left has a responsibility to ensure that it does not fall into traps that benefit the Armageddon tendency in Israel and America. And it must avoid taking positions that can weaken those who wish to give maximum support to the Palestinians in the present, and who wish to further their longer-term aspirations for self-determination, statehood and equality.

If the left either by commission or omission does anything to entrench a view that this conflict is essentially one between Muslims and Jews it will only benefit the Israeli warmongers and give succour to antisemites. I was relieved that on the first big demonstration last weekend I only saw one banner proclaiming, "We are Hamas”. This contrasted considerably with the demonstrations around the Lebanon War and the widespread proclamation “We are Hezbollah” aided and abetted by George Galloway, who always chooses his words very carefully though sometimes very stupidly.

I was not Hezbollah and I am not Hamas. Neither are many of the people I know were marching last week. I am though fully cognisant that they are in the frontline of militarily trying to hold back the Israeli war machine. But they are a political tendency and they do not have ownership of the Palestinian people. And when you look at the bigger picture, this war is, in far greater proportion, a war against the Palestinian people and their aspirations than a war against Hamas. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Israel wants to completely destroy Hamas. It likes having a divided enemy, and is certainly keen to maintain, albeit in weakened form, a significant branch of the enemy that will utilise religious rhetoric and fall into the clash of civilizations and its local translation Islam versus Judaism to offset the secular branch of the enemy.

Hamas is a formidable body. They were smart enough to stand against Fatah politically by regurgitating traditional Fatah positions that it seemed to have been retreating from, rather than pose a fundamentalist religious challenge to Fatah’s politics. When Hamas won its election against Fatah (a significant victory in seats though much less so in popular votes) it stood on a determination to resist occupation; the demand that Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails without being charged, are released; the demand that Palestinian refugees have a right to return; and a call for the dismantling of settlements. And they could say it with a radical swagger from the streets that Fatah’s leaders mired in maintaining their own privileged positions could not.

But that does not mean that Hamas has abandoned its reactionary social agenda – homophobic, anti-women’s equality, antisemitic, anti-trade union, anti-left and more. Unlike some elements of the Left who think Hamas is now the only true voice of the Palestinian street, I won’t forget the fact that Israel had a major hand in encouraging Hamas to come into being. Nor will I ignore the reasons for it.

From the 1960s, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction, secular rather than religious demands dominated Palestinian political life. In the late 1970s and early 1980s the “Peace Now” movement emerged within Israel calling for an end to the occupation, and more radical Israeli peace groups were opening dialogue with Palestinian representatives. The “war” camp and “peace camp” could not be divided simply by religion or ethnicity. Israel’s clandestine response, revealed later by former CIA officials, was to encourage the growth of religious groups among the Palestinians as a counterweight to the secular PLO.

Israel allowed funds to be channeled to them from outside, while blocking funds to the secular PLO. It was trying to divide the Palestinian movement. Hamas, which still prides itself today on its rhetorical refusal to recognise Israel, was actually legally registered in Israel in 1978, by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, as an Islamic association called Al-Mujamma al Islami. No doubt many ordinary Israelis see it is a Frankenstein monster, as does a tendency in the Israeli military-political establishment. After all, Yassin was assassinated by an Israeli helicopter gunship in 2004. But Israeli strategists also know that any compromise for peace by Fatah whch will require compromise by Israel too, will be torpedoed by Hamas rejectionists, leaving the status quo unaltered, except for Israel building more settlements and doing more land-grabbing.

Israel cries crocodile tears about towns like Sderot that suffer indiscriminate Hamas rocket attacks while undertaking the very actions in the Occupied Territories that will provide justification in the eyes of those launching the rockets. And Israel will not evacuate the children from the areas that suffer rocket attacks.

Fatah have been a no win situation for several years now and are walking a tightrope where they appear to be acquiescing, but the picture is undoubtedly more complicated and nuanced. They still have the allegiance of many Palestinians and still hold the prospect of a secular, human-rights based, politics for seeking a solution to the wider Israel/Palestine conflict. Instead of playing Israel’s game by accentuating the division between Hamas and Fatah, and in knee-jerk fashion saying “Hamas good, Fatah bad”, the Left should be doing all it can to enable the reemergence of a strong and united Palestinian movement able to resist and move forward while holding together differing and contradictory political tendencies.

Above all the Left needs to stand with the Palestinian people against this wanton destruction that is taking place, and ensure that the anger and political demands of the solidarity movement are focused on the right targets.

Hamas’s tactics of lobbing rockets against Israeli civilians (ironically those poorer Israelis originating in Arab countries treated as second class citizens in Israel) makes little impact in terms of winning back land. In comparison with a few days of Israeli fire power their efforts are pretty pitiful, but they have handed Israel a PR gift for seeking popular support for their war.

The real responsibility though for the carnage, 800 dead in two weeks, thousands wounded, tens of thousands homeless, lies with the Israeli military-political establishment who want to put off for as long as possible the inevitability of coming to terms with the demand for Palestinian self-determination, equality, and dignity. And it lies too with the British and American governments that are supplying the weaponry for the carpet bombings of Palestinians people and the destruction of Palestinian hopes.

That is where we should be directing our anger and our pressure.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

What we must not know to keep prostitution going.

Melissa Farley produced a paper for the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism in 2006 on the harm to prostitutes and those involved in pornography and prostitution. She puts forward that in order for prostitution and pornography to continue the following information has to be culturally, psychologically, and legally denied because to know it would interfere with the business of sexual exploitation.

1. In order to view prostitution as a job, and in order to keep the business of sexual exploitation running smoothly, we can not know that prostitution is extremely violent.

2. In order to consider prostitution a job, and in order to keep the business of sexual exploitation running smoothly, we can not know that racism and class prejudice, like sexism, are intrinsic to prostitution.

3. In order to consider prostitution a job, and in order to keep the business of sexual exploitation running smoothly, we can not know that prostitution, pornography and trafficking meet or exceed legal definitions of torture.

4. In order to consider prostitution a job, and in order to keep the business of sexual exploitation running smoothly we can not know that pornography is action taken against real women, that it is advertising for prostitution, and that pornography is one way to traffic women.

5. In order to consider prostitution a job, and in order to keep the business of sexual exploitation running smoothly, we can never talk about johns or tricks.

6. In order to normalise prostitution in everybody’s culture, postmodern theory helps to keep the real harms of prostitution, pornography, and trafficking invisible.

7. In order to view prostitution as a job, and in order to keep the business of sexual exploitation running smoothly, we can not know that when prostitution is legalized or decriminalised, it gets worse. And we can not know that there are some excellent laws that are aimed squarely at abolishing the institution of prostitution while at the same time supporting the women in it to escape.

To see the entire article in pdf format click here.

To read more about Mellissa Farley's research click here

See video "Not for Sale" from The European Women's Commission click here

To read Cat's other blog check out


The misogyny of New Labour

Again, New Labour trades women for votes... I've been meaning to write about this for some time.

One issue that us feminists must get our myriad acts together on this year is the legal status of prostitution.

In the coming weeks, Jacqui Smith - a politically-expedient goody two-shoes, if there ever was one - provides us with a golden opportunity to unite in favour of keeping all aspects of prostitution legal (and I DON'T include include kidnapping, trafficking, or rape in that catch-all, as you'll see at the end of this piece*).

As many of you will know (debate has raged on a range of great feminist blogs and at the marvellous Shiraz Socialist, where you'll find a comprehensive background) Smith's 2009 wheeze is to squeeze further votes out of the righteous arm of the voting public by tightening prostitution laws at the next readings of the Policing and Crime Bill. Sex workers themselves are opposed to Smith's proposals - they believe, rightly, that criminalising sex work will exclude them from police help, legal recourse and support, and society itself.

It's the flagrant dismissal of women that gets so many of us: women are utterly expendable in New Labour eyes. The English Collective of Prostitutes and the International Union of Sex Workers reported that they weren't even contacted by the Home Office about Smith's proposals.

No surprises there. Sex workers' liberal views on their own working conditions add nothing to Smith's blatantly conservative agenda: tis thus that Smith will be forever happy to throw them to the hounds. This Labour government is prepared to sacrifice all manner of women's rights and protections on the centre-ground altar at which it so slavishly worships.

Smith's proposals include banning anyone (read men) from paying for sex with people (women) who are working for someone else's gain - prostitutes who work for pimps, or who have been trafficked into the trade, and so on.

Smith's frothy - and appallingly unsubstantiated - argument is that the changes will 'make men think twice' about paying for sex with prostitutes - or at least, I guess, will compel men to make sure the girl they've chosen for the evening signs a consent form, or shows an employment contract, current immigration papers, and unforced enthusiasm for the job at hand.

Roll in Smith's proposals to give councils better powers to close down brothels, and make kerb-crawling punishable as a first offence, and you have priggish New Labour at its anti-women, anti-liberal, middle-ground-seeking best. By her own admission, the only reason Smith didn't pursue a full ban on prostitution was that the polls didn't stack up in favour of such a move (I took this to mean that the numbers showed - perversely for Smith - that the Daily Mail-reading middle-roaders who find kerb-crawling distasteful weren't so prepared to dismiss the idea of nights out in warm brothels. In other words, New Labour found that there's prostitution, and there's prostitution, in the conservative electoral mind).

I keep expecting more from Labour. God knows why. This is the same charming party that apparently thought it acceptable to swap debate on better abortion rights for DUP votes on 42 days' detention. It is the same party that so recently, and easily, scuppered the hopes of Northern Ireland women for legal abortion - a once in a lifetime (literally) chance to amend the Abortion Act in favour of women. This is the government that so passionately promotes privatisation of public services, and the horrific impact on women's salaries and working conditions that the private sector inevitably brings.

Which takes me back to my original point - a dialogue needs to be had with feminists who play into the hands of this anti-women government. The marvellous Unity had an excellent piece last year on concerns that a small group of right-leaning feminists had commandeered the review of prostitution law that Smith based her proposals on.

The good news about legal prostitution is ignored by those who find it inconvenient. I draw your attention to the New Zealand experiment: prostitution was decriminalised there several years ago, and a recent detailed review was very encouraging - sex workers report feeling safer, women feel that they can call the police and expect a response if they’re in trouble, and the NZ Prostitutes’ Collective is even talking about employment contracts and proper employment protections for women in the sex trade.

There have been attempts dismiss the New Zealand results (and the southern hemisphere) as irrelevant to a UK comparison - but not by prostitutes' collectives and liberal lawmakers. NZPC founder Catherine Healy was a keynote speaker at a recent House of Commons debate on decriminalising (as was Swedish collective spokesperson Pye Jakobson, and workers themselves describe the New Zealand experience in glowing terms.

*It does not follow that feminists who support the notion of a legal sex trade are indifferent to the crimes that can take place around it - or think, somehow, that protection for victims of those crimes runs second to the rights of sex workers who choose their trade. It is simply that feminists who support a legal sex trade believe that there is nothing to be gained from pushing the trade underground, and know that sex workers say the same thing.

Trafficking is a problem of poverty and too-tough immigration law. And how is the government handling these problems? - well, by slashing the budget for human trafficking investigations and shutting down its leading dedicated police human trafficking unit.

Labour isn't for girls.


Discussion meeting: How can we best support the Palestinians?

I don't routinely post details of AWL events here, but given how much discussion there has been on the Israel/Gaza issue, and the rather spooky amount of blogging on the AWL-CPGB ding-dong about Iran a couple of months back, I thought I'd make an exception for this important one ...

London AWL/Worker-Communist Party of Iraq (UK) forum: How can we best support the Palestinians?

Thursday 15 January 2009

19:00 (note, earlier than our usual meeting time of 19:30)

At: the Social Centre, 39 Clarges Mews, London W1J 5BY (near Green Park Tube)

A public meeting sponsored by Workers’ Liberty and the Worker-communist Party of Iraq (UK).

We are mobilising to oppose Israel’s brutal war in Gaza. But on what political basis?
• What is our attitude to Hamas, and to political Islam more generally? 
• Should we advocate an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel?
• What about boycotts of Israel?
• What is our attitude to the anti-war and workers’ movements inside Israel?

Speakers: Robin Sivapalan (Workers’ Liberty); Muayad Ahmed  (Worker-communist Party of Iraq); activist from a London Palestine solidarity network.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Scottish Palestine Demo

Photo by Eddie Truman

Fantastic demo todayin Edinburgh, I would estimate between 8,000 and 10,0000. It was a vibrant march, marching to the American embassy where some shoe chucking, a young member of the SSP threw a shoe which did hit a police man but she was contrite and cried a bit so was a llowed to go without being arrested, thankfully. I think the shoe throwing bit could have been orgnaised a bit better because unless you were a olympic shot puter to throw the shoes so far and high, anyway a couple of police officers were hurt but there were no arrests. You can read the BBC report here

There are more photos here

After the American Embassy we marched to Princes Street Gardens for the rally.

SSP had a good prescence - lots of banners, comrades and placards. Great day! The anti-war movement is till there and ver angry about what is happening in Gaza.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Support the Tube Cleaners

Press release :


The LRC supports demonstration against victimisation of tube cleaners

The Labour Representation Committee (LRC) supports the RMT TUBE cleaners who will be demonstrating tomorrow (8th January 09) at the Greenwich offices of cleaning contractor ISS against its victimisation of union reps following last year’s successful strike for the London living wage.

One RMT rep has already been sacked and another faces disciplinary charges in vindictive attacks on the union following its historic victory against ISS and other Tube cleaning contractors.

John McDonnell MP, Chair of the LRC, said…

‘Being able to engage in trade union activities is a basic human right.
It is a disgrace that since the strike action in July, large numbers of trade union activists have faced victimisation and disciplinary action.’

'I completely support the living wage campaign led by the RMT tube cleaners - who provide an essential job for Londoners and yet face daily exploitation and abuse.’

Note to editors:

* Some 700 RMT cleaners working for cleaning subcontractors ISS, ITS, ICS and GBM took strike action in June and July last year, winning a commitment to pay the London living wage of at least £7.45 an hour.

* Clara Osagiede, secretary of RMT’s tube cleaners’ group, faces a gross misconduct charge despite being on recognised union duties when she was accused of failing to return to her workplace. Local rep Mary Boakye has already been fired on trumped-up charges of sleeping on the job. Both face hearings on Thursday, and RMT members and supporters will gather at 11 am outside the company’s Greenwich office, Hamilton House, 15 Park Vista, SE10 9LZ.

* John McDonnell MP and Tony Benn, on behalf of the LRC, have written to ISS to express support for Clara Osagiede and Mary Boakye.

* The Labour Representation Committee (LRC) is a democratic organisation with six national trade union affiliates (including the RMT).

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Apologies for the very sporadic blogging at the moment. This is due to a combination of being very busy with work plus trying to get back into writing posts after the hols.

I should write more about the situation in Gaza , but it is probably an area I don't feel too expert in (does that normally stop me you may well ask).

I might do a round up of other posts on the issue, people who are better at articulating the issues. I also have a guest post lined up by David Rosenberg, from the Jewish Socialist watch this space.

I will also post on other subjects. That's not to mean I don't think its important, ( and I was on the demo last Saturday and hope to be on others), its that others cover it better than me .


Monday, January 05, 2009

Jewish Socialists Group on the bombing of Gaza

There were quite a few Jewish groups on saturday's national demo in London. The JSG were handing out a leaflet and Charlie has reprinted it on his blog. I thought I would post it up here for comment:

Jewish Socialists condemn the Israeli siege and bombing of the Palestinian people in Gaza. We express our solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza, and in the occupied territories, and with those Israelis who oppose their government and its war.

We support those young Israelis who would rather go to jail than serve in the armed forces of occupation and war.

We call upon our own and other governments to cease supporting Israel's aggression, and put pressure on Israel's leaders to halt this war, lift the blockade, and end the occupation of Palestinian lands.

The Jewish Socialists' Group has many differences with the politics of Hamas. This war, on a largely defenceless people, is not about Hamas. It was Israeli forces that broke a four-month long ceasefire with a raid killing six Palestinians on November 4. This attack was launched as Hamas and Fatah were agreeing a unified approach. On November 5, Israel stepped up its siege of Gaza, on land and sea, which has brought warnings of human and environmental disaster.

Even so, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told a European parliamentary delegation that Hamas was prepared to declare a long-term truce with Israel, and negotiate for a Palestinian state within 1967 borders. (Amira Hass, Haaretz (November 15)
Evidently, Israeli leaders, including Labour Defence Minister Ehud Barak, were not interested. They had already planned this war. A couple of days after Haniyeh's spech the Israeli navy seized Palestinian fishing boats and crews.

Israel's military-political elite don't care about poorer Israelis, mainly from Arab countries, whom they shoved out to exposed places like Sderot. They have not even evacuated the children. They did not care about captured soldier Gilad Shalit, whose release they could have negotiated long ago, had they and their US backers not preferred a pretext for war, in Gaza and then Lebanon, where Washington wanted to test its latest bombs.

Every people has the right to resist occupation. But the tactic of hitting civilian targets like Sderot is wrong, and the Israeli government has used it to raise public support for war against the Palestinian people. Even so,

*500 Sderot residents petitioned asking the government not to escalate the conflict but to seek peace.
*A majority of Israelis thought their government should negotiate with Hamas or whoever else the Palestinian people elected.
*A majority of people on both sides wanted the cease fire to continue, and would be prepared to share this land in a just peace.

But forty years of occupation have so poisoned Israeli politics that Barak and Olmert are competing with the far-right Benyamin Netanyahu to show who is best at waging war. The Israeli Right has been encouraged by neo-cons and right-wing Christian fundamentalists in the United States, who want Israel to spearhead a major Middle East war.

The majority of Americans, including more than 75 per cent of American Jews, voted for Barack Obama and change. Obama's wooing of the unrepresentative Zionist lobbyists AIPAC, and Hillary Clinton's pledge that if Israel was attacked, America would "obliterate" Iran, suggest change is yet to come. The Israeli forces may have timed their attack before Obama takes office, but he has said only that he "understands" them. EU leaders have urged a ceasefire, but Israel continues to enjoy EU trade privileges and a promised closer relationship".

If we want to help the Palestinian people and those Israelis who want a genuine peace, we have to change our own government's policies. Jewish Socialists, together with our friends in European Jews for Just Peace, and similar bodies in the United States and Canada, are campaigning for this.

Alongside solidarity with the Palestinian people, we have a special job - to challenge leaders who claim to speak for the Jewish community, but subordinate its interests to Israeli policy and its reactionary allies. We say politicians must stop listening to the Zionist Lobby - and stop using it as an excuse!

Jewish Socialists stand for peace, freedom and equality in the Middle East, and for unity to fight antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism and every other kind of prejudice here and now.


Sunday, January 04, 2009

Edinburgh demonstration against teh attacks on Gaza

Demo gathered at the Mound beside the National Art Gallery.

Marching to Bute House, First Minister's - Alex Salmond's -House

Demo starts to march along Princes Street, about 1000 on the demo.

Woman and daughter on the march, just liked this photie

Just before the march starts off

About 1000 on the march in Edinburgh, pleased to see Edinburgh demo was on the Ten O'Clock news. Great demo and a wide and varied participation. Marched to Bute House then the Caledonian Hotel which seemingly is owned by an Israeli company!
It was freezing! so after about 2 hours people started going home but that is fair enough. More activity planned by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Will keep youse updated about what is happening north of the border

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Islington Council Wins Appeal Over Homophobic Registrar

Here's a bit of good news from a couple of weeks ago that I have only just noticed.

Readers will remember that a Christian Registrar demanded the right to refuse to register same-sex civil partnerships, and accused her employer of discriminating against her on religious grounds when it quite reasonably insisted that she do her job. It was a surprise, as well as a disgrace, when she won her Tribunal claim.

The Council appealed, and the good news is that the Council has won its appeal. Here is what Unison has to say about it.

This is possibly an even better outcome than the Council winning the first time round would have been, as decisions of the Employment Appeal Tribunal become case law, whereas initial Employment Tribunal decisions do not.


Saturday, January 03, 2009

Which Placard to Pick?

I didn't make it to today's demonstration against the bombardment of Gaza, but was very much there in spirit. When I did join a protest at the Israeli embassy last week, I had a camera in one hand and a six-year-old boy in the other, so carrying a placard was not an option. This saved me from having to pick from not a great choice.

To start on a good note, here is one that I would wouldn't have minded carrying:

This one's kind of sweet, but a bit, you know, wussy - nice sentiment, but it hardly offers a concrete way forward.

But this one, no.

Firstly, it is just factually inaccurate. The hundreds of deaths caused by Israel's bombardment are terrible, but this is not the same as 6 million fatalities in industrial death factories. The holocaust was unique in history - and, hopefully, will remain so - and its uniqueness should not be diluted or denied.

Secondly, it seems likely that the word 'holocaust' has been chosen because Israel is the state involved. Maybe some people think they can appeal to Israelis to oppose military aggression on the basis of the history of anti-semitic persecution, but in reality, the effect (and for some, the intention) of slogans like this is to wind up many Jews. If, say, Russia bombed Chechnya and killed hundreds of people, would the protest placards read 'no holocaust in Chechnya'? Possibly, but less likely, I'd say. So why prod the Jews about the holocaust, when many of them will have lost family members in the Nazi extermination? If the Palestinian solidarity movement wants to involve a significant number of Jews, it has to avoid offensive slogans like this.

Looks like when I do get to go on a protest with my hands free, I might have to make my own placard.


Friday, January 02, 2009

Israel's Responsibility for the War in Gaza

Happy New Year to you all. And for my first post of 2009, here is an article from the Israeli socialist journal, 'Challenge'. The opening bit is a little hard to follow without seeing the article or the argument referred to, but once you get into the meat of it, it soon starts making sense.


Issue 112, November/December 2008
talking politics
Israel's Responsibility for the War in Gaza

by Yacov Ben Efrat
A Clarification

Yacov Ben Efrat

My article "Israel over Gaza" has aroused, to my surprise, many reactions, including some that disagreed with my placing responsibility exclusively on Israel. In so short a piece, admittedly, it was not possible to present the comprehensive analysis of a war whose roots lie far back in 1967. I had to make do, on occasion, with generalizations that may require a more detailed justification.

According to the conventional wisdom, in 2005 Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, dismantling and destroying all its settlements there. Despite this, Hamas fired rockets on Israeli towns in the Negev. Since it is clear that such a violation of sovereignty demands a response, the present operation is justified, even at the price of massive killing that includes many innocent people.

In addition, those who oppose my position claim that I completely exonerate the Hamas regime, either because I am motivated by hatred of Israel as a conqueror and occupier, or because the Palestinians are so downtrodden that they're not responsible for their actions. Let me state clearly, then, that in placing exclusive responsibility on Israel, I do not overlook the misdeeds of the other side. Since 1993 the Palestinian leaders have committed every mistake in the book. They agreed to sign the Oslo Accords, which did not promise an independent state or dismantlement of settlements. They established a corrupt regime that collaborated with the Occupation. They lost the trust of their people, which shifted toward the extremist religious movement, Hamas.

Hamas, which promotes martyrdom for the sake of paradise, has undertaken a war of total annihilation against Israel. It uses armed struggle as a tool to raise its prestige among the Palestinian people, which has lost all hope, and, in particular, to take over the Palestinian Authority (PA). Hamas sees itself as the spearhead of the Islamic Awakening. It views its takeover in Gaza (June 2007) as a small step in the Muslim Brotherhood's march to conquer the region from Egypt to Jordan, from Syria to Saudi Arabia. The arrogant behavior of its leaders, and their strategic judgments, may appear indeed to be motivated by hatred of the Jews, but Hamas stores an equal if not greater hatred against the Arab secular regimes. It views them as an enemy as deadly as Israel—or deadlier. The cruel violence of the Gaza takeover was evidence of this hatred.

If all this is so, however, why place the blame exclusively on Israel? The reason is simple: It was and is exclusively in Israel's power to prevent what has happened and is happening in Gaza. Its economic and military power is enormous compared to the PA's. During decades of occupation, however, Israel did all it could to thwart Palestinian development. While ruling Gaza, it trampled it into the poverty and backwardness we see today. This is a reality that the use of force cannot improve.

Moreover, Israel used the Oslo Accords as a springboard to strengthen its hold on the West Bank. While negotiating with the Palestinians, it allowed new settlements to spring up, placed outposts on every hilltop, and massively expanded the settlement-neighborhoods around Jerusalem. (In this way it sliced the city off from the remainder of the West Bank while cutting the latter in two.) Without scruple, Israel closed its gates to thousands of commuting Palestinian workers; it did this after decades of flooding their home markets with its own goods, blocking the development of an economy that could employ them. Israel increased unemployment and poverty among Palestinians to a level that rivals the worst of the third-world countries. It has compensated for the missing labor by importing migrants under slavery conditions. In addition, Israel lent a hand to establishing a corrupt PA, through which it could control what went on in the Territories.

This shaky structure, the Oslo "peace," collapsed in late September 2000, after Ariel Sharon made a provocative tour of the al-Aqsa Compound in Jerusalem. Not long after, Israelis elected the same Sharon as Prime Minister. In his new capacity he decided to bring down the PA and place a blockade around its president, Yasser Arafat. The death of Arafat left the PA on the skids. Into the vacuum rushed Hamas, which had paved its way to power by carrying out suicide attacks in Israeli cities. Israel's response was to build the Separation Barrier, which remains a focus of violent confrontation. When all this did not do the trick, Sharon came up with the idea that lies at the heart of the present dispute: unilateral disengagement from Gaza.

Why unilateral? Why was Israel not smart enough to exploit this very significant measure in order to reach a comprehensive agreement with the PA? The answer is that Sharon did not want to negotiate on the fate of the West Bank and Jerusalem. On the contrary, he wanted to get rid of Gaza in order to strengthen his hold on much of the West Bank.

Because of its unilateral character, the disengagement from Gaza in August 2005 had the effect of further weakening PA President Abu Mazen's Fatah movement. Hamas won the parliamentary elections of January 2006. In short, unilateral disengagement—which won the support of all center, left and Arab Knesset members—turns out to have been the opening volley in the present war. Readers of Challenge and its sister publication in Hebrew, Etgar, will recall that we strongly opposed the unilateral approach, seeing where it would lead.

Today Israel's government concludes that once again there is no one to talk to. It has wasted two years in pointless palaver with Abu Mazen, where the two sides sit and sketch the portrait of a virtual Palestinian state. The real purpose of such idle talk is to postpone the day of reckoning. Israeli leaders explain the sterility of the talks in a manner that seems quite logical: Abu Mazen is weak, Hamas rules Gaza by force, and so there is no real partner. We persist, however, in asking our question: Who bears the main responsibility for this state of affairs?

When we raise the question of responsibility, we don't refer only to what Israel could have done and failed to do in the past. We also ask what can be done today, at once, before the tanks break through the fence and sow more destruction. We demand of Israel that it make an express commitment to withdraw from all the territories that it took in 1967, as well as announce its readiness to talk with every Palestinian and Arab factor that is willing to end the conflict.

The moment Israel commits itself in this way, the Hamas regime will lose its public support—unless, of course, it drastically changes. Such a commitment from Israel's side will enable the Palestinians to elect a leadership with a mandate to enter peace talks. The separation barrier will fall, and the distorted relationships between the two peoples will be transformed into normal relations between two states.

However, as long as Israel refuses to commit itself to such a program, as long as it seeks to strengthen its hold by hook or crook on the West Bank and Gaza, as long as it controls the gateways and prevents the establishment of a port or airport, as long as the Shin Beth runs life in the Territories by remote control, Israel has no moral right to massacre Palestinians. It has no right to defend its sovereignty while denying the sovereignty of the people next door. What's worse, the bloodshed is for nothing. As long as the Occupation lasts, resistance will last as well. This is the lesson which Israeli governments have obstinately refused to learn.
02.01.2009, 12:01