Saturday, March 08, 2003

Well, don't I look stupid?

After my confident post yesterday about the Firefighters dispute, It seems that the FBU leadership still want to fight.

Well, What can I say, the FBU leadership are even stupid than I thought (and that was very, very, stupid indeed).

Or to put it another way, the union has simply failed to recognise that they've lost.

Why am I so certain? Because for a union like the firefighters, the threat of strikes, and the beginning of strikes, was the height of their negotiating power- the media interest, the fear generated by the loss of fire cover, division between government and council leaders, all combined to put pressure on the employers to find compromis. Now, after several strikes, most of us are used to fire strikes and don't live in fear, so the FBU can only up the ante by going on all out strike- which when you've been offered a 16% pay rise, would outrage the country.

So what will happen if the FBU go back on strike? The country will yawn slightly, most of their Trade union comrades will quietly disown them, and after a long enough interval, the government will either impose a solution or the FBU will cave.

I maight have been wrong yesterday, but I think I'm right long-term.

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Well, don't I look stupid?

After my confident post yesterday about the Firefighters dispute, It seems that the FBU leadership still want to fight.

Well, What can I say, the FBU leadership are even stupid than I thought (and that was very, very, stupid indeed).

Or to put it another way, the union has simply failed to recognise that they've lost.

Why am I so certain? Because for a union like the firefighters, the threat of strikes, and the beginning of strikes, was the height of their negotiating power- the media interest, the fear generated by the loss of fire cover, division between government and council leaders, all combined to put pressure on the employers to find compromis. Now, after several strikes, most of us are used to fire strikes and don't live in fear, so the FBU can only up the ante by going on all out strike- which when you've been offered a 16% pay rise, would outrage the country.

So what will happen if the FBU go back on strike? The country will yawn slightly, most of their Trade union comrades will quietly disown them, and after a long enough interval, the government will either impose a solution or the FBU will cave.

I maight have been wrong yesterday, but I think I'm right long-term.

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Thursday, March 06, 2003

Remember the firefighters?

It seems an age ago that the firefighters were threatening to bring the country to it's knees, panicky editorials were being written about the winter of discontent and over excited neo-Blairites like myself were saying rather heated things like "We must break the FBU" (I blush to think of it, I really do).

So now we learn that instead of accepting 11% over 2 years, the FBU is likely to accept 16% over three years, with real modernisation included.

"The government-approved offer of 16% over three years followed by a two-year pay formula would be in return for a modernisation package closely tied to Sir George Bain's review of the fire service....the offer included part-time staff given parity with full-time colleagues. In return, employers are said to be demanding an end to the fire service's overtime ban and significant modernisation. The document to be presented to FBU officials is understood to make no mention of job losses or station closures."

If that isn't a defeat for the FBU, I don't know what is. You can't have Bain, Parity, end to overtime Ban and service modernisation without what the employers euphemistically call rationalisation. The only thing that will ease the pill is that a lot of firefighters are about to retire anyway.

I may have got a little over-wrought way back when, but I stand by what I said.

"I hate to say this again, but the FBU are behaving incredibly stupidly. It's lions led by militant donkeys. There is no way that the government can be threatened. There is no way they can pay more without a commitment to reform.

What the FBU should have done is say "OK we accept reform, but our members hate the idea. If we're going to make it happen we need a deal that makes it sellable to our members. What will you offer? How will you sugar the pill?" Instead, they put their head down and charged at the government."

For my actual prediction of the strike outcome from back in November go here . I said a lot less than 16% and modernisation, more radical trade unions and irrelevant Tories- We got 16% over three years and modernisation, which come to the same thing. Make your own mind up on the others.).

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The Curse of Cough

Iain Duncan Smith appears to be cursed. He visited the North East last week. He did two visits, first to Washington, outside Sunderland, where he praised Newcastle United. The local impact is summed up by a Conservative Mackem (a hardy breed, if ever there was one) thus.

But troubles never come in single spies. So a second little problem has cropped up. Iain Dunkin Donut then went to North Tyneside, home of one of the Tories few successes in the North-East, Chris Morgan, a Tory Mayor in a previously safe Labour Council. A real and genuine political victory with a young, telegenic, voter friendly Tory. They visited a local school and posed for pictures with a local schoolgirl. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the Mayor could be arrested for Underage Sex the next week.

Full disclosure: The Mayor denies it, and this sort of thing can happen to any party. But it serves to underline the fact that IDS is an unlucky politician, not merely a bad one.

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Tony Benn online in the Guardian

Tony Benn, grand old man of the British far left, did an on-line chat in the Guardian today. For the uninitiated, an on-line chat is where various nobodies send off questions and the celebrity answers a few of them. The volume and number of questions is such that the real interest often lies in the unanswered questions, since it's easy for the celeb to pick the easiest question to answer.

So it proved today. Mr Benn was online for an hour, and answered not a single question that challenged his point of view. Admittedly, some of the questions were a little harsh, but not to answer a question from anyone who opposed him? The closest he came was his explanation that he

"went to see Saddam Hussein for one purpose only: namely to hear what he had to say before the massive attack upon Iraq took place in which half a million casualties are expected."

In which case, don't do an interview, let him do an Osama and speak into a camera, untroubled by difficult questions. (or would it be rude to bring up that "How can we get rid of you" question?)

When he was interviewed on Channel 4 TV, Tony Benn called a young Iraqi who told him Saddam was murdering and torturing Iraqi's a "CIA stooge". Perhaps that's why he forgot to ask Saddam about the allegations of torture, murder and genocide. Who would want to be a CIA stooge?

To be fair, Mr Benn did at least say what he thought would happen in Iraq. It's good to see someone staking their reputation on an outcome. No, I'm not being sarcastic.

"The UN humanitarian agencies estimate up to half a million casualties, 3 million in danger of starvation because the food rations cannot be delivered, and up to 900,000 refugees. Many of those who die or are injured will be very critical of Saddam Hussein, but that will not save them from destruction. The war could also spread to Iran, as Sharon, the prime minister of Israel wants. And he himself may use it as an excuse to launch a war against all Palestinians.

Saudi Arabia, which is totally undemocratic, may explode and tempt the Americans to invade and occupy that country too. Finally, a war could inject levels of bitterness into relations between Christians and Muslims that could last for centuries just as memories of the Crusades are still alive.

And a war without UN authority could destroy the UN, which in a dangerous world is our best hope for peace"

Full disclosure: I didn't ask any tough questions of Tony Benn

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Back again

Well, I couldn't resist. We live in interesting times. I have a view, who wouldn't want to share it, have it tested, enter debates, have arguments, and perhaps be exposed as either the prophet or fool that you really are? To adapt Juvenal, It's hard not to write a blog.

So where to start up again?

How about this, from the American Prospect. Brendan O'Neill, assistant editor of Spiked (which I have never, ever, read but bills itself as being for liberty, enlightenment, experimentation and excellence, wow.) It is, on the surface a fairly standard list of the failing of the British Military machine in the run up to war. (You know SA-80, Challenger, boots that don't fit). It's unexceptionable for it's type, (though the Telegraph does it much better). However, near the end Brendan says:

"Britain's international standing has been determined not by its political or economic power but by its "special relationship" with the United States. The British government's longtime political and military support for U.S. foreign policy has granted it an international standing disproportionate to its real political clout -- or military prowess. By standing shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. forces during the Cold War years, the Gulf War, the Anglo-American bombings of Iraq in 1998, the Kosovo conflict of 1999, the Afghanistan invasion of 2001 and now the presumed war with Iraq of 2003, Britain has successfully maintained the accoutrements of world power without necessarily maintaining power itself"

This is intended as a condemnation, but I couldn't help but read it as a compliment. In the face of declining power, the UK has managed to achieve power and status beyong it's reach. You know, exacty what France is being lauded for doing on the other side of the channel. Or were we supposed to stop trying to project our policy.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Strange Bedfellows.

Pro Saddam Iraqi politicians, Muslim fundamentalists and anti-imperialist communist revolutionaries. What a swell anti-war party it is.

When millions of people march against war, we tend not to trouble ourselves too much about the organisers. The motives of those who attended, the moderate, middle of the road “demonstration virgins” who featured in the media that Valentines weekend were clear enough. They wanted peace, negotiation, diplomacy and, in the words of my favourite placard, “An end to this sort of thing”.

Father Ted references aside, a demonstration of a million people represents a significant swathe of public opinion. That isn’t to say they are right. Policy is not a numbers game. Outraged that the government is “not listening”? Then presumably you are just as outraged on behalf of the hunters and shooters of the countryside alliance march.

Then again, perhaps you’re not. A Venn diagram of the half million on the Countryside Alliance march and the million on the stop the war rally might produce some rather interesting people, but not, I suspect, that many of them.

In a democracy, we rightly pay attention to the discontent that protest expresses. This popular concern over Iraq policy is understandable and reasonable. We may or may not be about to go to war against a dictator who we know had chemical and biological weapons a few years back.

This concern has had another, unintended, effect. It has catapulted to a position of influence the views of the organisers and leaders of the march. Without us noticing, we now have a new set of political leaders. They are mostly unelected, mostly unknown, mostly radical. The political movement they lead features on the news every night, yet if we were asked to name the leadership most of us would be at a loss.

So what, you might ask? Well, simply this. Some of those directing and organising the anti-war campaign are Muslim fundamentalists, others are Revolutionaries who have been wrong on every major foreign policy issue for a generation. The international platform on which they campaign was decided at a conference funded by “Egyptians that do business with Iraq” and addressed by Saddam Hussein’s ambassadors who boasted of their commitment to democracy and human rights.

This mixture of pro-Saddam apologists, communist revolutionaries and Muslim Fundamentalists should raise eyebrows but not undercut the arguments they put forward.

However, the record of many of these groups undermines the credibility of their argument. I simply wish to set the context in which they are made. If you are repeatedly and publically tolerant of genocidal regimes, and cynical and critical of any action taken against them, we deserve to know your record,

The Socialist Workers party

The Socialist Workers are the dominant force in the Stop the War Coalition. The rival Alliance for Workers Liberty, for whose relentlessly clear eyed reporting of the anti-war movement we should be grateful (and whose reporting provides much of the material for this article), says precisely that about the SWP.

The old SWP motto “Neither Washington, Nor Moscow but international Socialism” is passe now, but it is still the largest, most organised and most visible player in many left wing campaigns. From the Stopping the war in Afghanistan, In the Balkans, supporting the Firefighters, to student grants to Stop the War, the Socialist Workers are the Banners you are most likely to see. Some call this opportunism. To the SWP it is commitment.

So how should a socialist party respond to the dangerous emergence of an Islamic Fundamantalist movement that is prepared to kill masses of innocent workers?

In October 2001, in an socialist worker article which dealt with the death of 3,000 innocent people in the first paragraph, Lindsay German moved on to make clear that the reaction of the Socialist Workers party was instantly to oppose war. It is a perceptive piece. In it, she recognises that the implication of September 11th is that the USA will take military action across the world and forsees trouble ahead for that campaign.

“The alliance put together by Blair and Bush has fantastic difficulties ahead. The internal tensions in regimes such as Saudi Arabia, the intransigence of the Sharon regime in Israel, and the deep scepticism about US motives in waging this war can all help to destabilise it. The fact that the US has no conventional enemy makes it harder. Therefore the contradictions may come to the surface sooner rather than later. But we should not count on it.”

So, ever since October 2001, The SWP has been doing its best to build on the opportunity granted them by the attacks on the world trade centre. Their predictions of the difficult path ahead may have come true, their desire to take advantage certainly has.

The SWP’s struggle with how to deal with military action against dictatorial, repressive regimes long predates Bush, Bin Laden or the dead of the World Trades centre.

How should a Socialist worker have reacted to the realisation that the Cambodian communist government was a genocidal government and that the people of Cambodia had only been saved from further slaughter by a clearly imperialist invasion by a neighbour (albeit a communist neighbour)?

Leading Socialist worker theorists had the answer. First you take no pleasure in the news and then you deny it was as bad as all that.

“The news that the Cambodian regime has been overthrown by forces inspired and armed by Vietnam can bring pleasure only to those who never sympathised with the aims of the liberation struggle”

“The Struggle in Cambodia has very little to do with the interests of the Cambodian masses” Ian Birchill and Alex Callinicos, Socialist Review Feb 1979
(one can only say- except in that less of them were dead.)

Alex Callinicos is much more certain of his stance on Tony Blair however. His recent writing on Tony Blair make clear that the Prime Minister is a tyrant to be driven from office. Perhaps he would even take pleasure in it.

Another SWP stalwart wrote “The Horrors of Pol Pot seemed invented to conceal the even greater horrors of the US military in Cambodia”

“The case (that the Pol Pot regime was monstrous and incredibly violent and destructive) was never convincing, not because the Kampuchean Communist party had anything to do with socialism, but because no social order can be built on consistent and universal violence”Nigel Harris, Socialist Review, Feb 1986

Well, That was a long time ago. It was the cold war. Perhaps the SWP can be forgiven for being unsure about how to respond to a genocidal maniac in control of an isolated totalitarian Asian country.

How about more recent mass murderers? How should socialist react to the difficult question of a European State that persecuted and murdered an oppressed ethnic minority?

Firstly, credit where credit is due. John Rees (who is now a global vice chair of the stop the war movement) certainly understood the trends of the future. Writing a review of Noam Chomsky in 1998 he said

' Hot wars' are no longer pushed to the colonial and former colonial periphery of the system in the way that they were during the Cold War. These conflicts continue, though they are fought less between national liberation movements and colonial or neo-colonial regimes and more frequently between politically independent states which can quickly move from clients of the major powers to 'rogue' or 'terrorist' states if their interests and those of the major powers diverge. Iran, Iraq and Serbia are just the most prominent examples of the last ten years”
His conclusion? “Only the destruction of the imperialist system will stop this carnage.” Not that Iraq, Iran, Serbia are fundamentally vile states and should be reformed or overthrown if possible. (Though I’m sure if pressed he would concede that), but that the Western democracies should be destroyed.

Our friend Mr Callinicos equally knew where blame lay in Bosnia. Looking at the impact of Nato on Bosnia (you know, the one where Muslims were being murdered by death squads), he concludes:

“…one thing is plain. Imperialism as a system of organised military violence which allows the rulers of the richest countries in the world to dominate and trample on every one else is alive and well. It must be fought.“Alex Callinicos, Socialist Review, 1998

But never fear, because the SWP had, in 1997, set out a simple, clear and effective response to the attempted genocide of an oppressed minority in the former Yugoslavia. Charlie Kimber wrote:

“Socialist Review argued throughout the war in former Yugoslavia that however difficult it might be to conceive it happening, the only future was for workers to unite across boundaries and ethnic divisions and that Western intervention would be disastrous.“ Socialist Review

However, there are times when writers in the Socialist review have called for intervention from the west to prevent genocide. In Rwanda, for example, in 1999 Charlie Kimber (the very same!) wrote

“Five years ago at least 800,000 people were killed in the central African state of Rwanda in the space of 100 days. During this terrible slaughter the US government did nothing--or rather it chose to ignore the bloodshed.” Socialist Review

Mr Kimber then goes on to criticise the American government for inconsistency.

In East Timor too, The failure of the West to intervene to overthrow a murderous regime was deplored. Dragan Plavsic reviewed Chomsky on East Timor and said:

With the goal of intimidating the East Timorese into voting against independence or, failing that, making an example of them to deter other secessionists, the Indonesian army, assisted by paramilitaries, brought havoc on a mass scale to East Timor. In the run-up to the referendum in August 1999 and after, they forced some 750,000 people out of a total population of 880,000 from their homes, with 250,000 fleeing to Indonesian West Timor. An estimated 70 percent of the country was levelled, with some 10,000 killed” Socialist Review

The west, as we all know, did little to stop this. (though to be fair, the East Timorese are now independent thanks, in part, to western pressure).

Since Socialist Review had argued “throughout the war” in Yugoslavia that the only route forward was to oppose western intervention this decision in East Timor must have pleased them greatly. The article does not make it clear.

In summary then, In Rwanda, Cambodia and Serbia, intervention by outside was respectively seen as: needed, a tough question and an act of international terrorism. In each case, only outside military action eventually ended Genocide.

The only consistent theme in all of the reaction of the SWP is to blame the west and to insist that whatever action western democracies took, it was the wrong one. This, presumably, is fighting imperialism.

Iraq and the Cairo Conference

One of the declared aims of the Stop the War group is:
- To give no support to the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein's regime.

(Since another stated demand calls for the end to sanctions on Iraq, I am unsure what this means, since ending sanctions would allow Saddam to sell oil to buy weapons, but perhaps they mean some other sanctions)

Not supporting the brutal regime of Saddam? What might this mean?
Well it might mean not attending political meetings with Iraqi ambassadors, for a start.
It might mean complaining vociferously when Iraq uses anti-war meetings to deny that is abuses human rights and has a healthy, vibrant democracy. The leadership of the British leaders of the stop the war movement took neither opportunity.

Last December John Rees of the SWP and George Galloway MP went to the Cairo conference which started the global anti-war movement. Saddam Hussein’s ambassador to the Arab league, Saad K. Hammoundy and the Iraqi ambassador to Egypt, Kamal Nigm, addressed the Conference.

There were protests. The Cairo Times reported that German Journalist Harald Shchumann “created something of a spectacle at the... conference... when after hearing an Iraqi official defend the human rights record in Iraq and boasting of the government's commitment to democracy, he stormed out of the session.
"Schumann says that a condition for his attendance at the event was that it not be used as a podium by the Iraqi government. 'I was promised that no speaker would be connected with the Iraqi regime. In no way do I want to be associated with the government in Baghdad. I am here in Cairo to defend the Iraqi people,'

However, you fill find no mention of the presence of Iraqi diplomats praising saddam in the conference reports filed in the Socialist Worker by the newly elected vice chair of the global anti-war movement, John Rees.

In addition, the people who paid for the conference help prop up saddam.
In response to questions as to how it was funded, the organisers told the Cairo Time that "much of the funding came from Egyptians doing business with Iraq".

Since the position of the Stop the war coalition is so clear on refusing to take any action that will support Saddam, I am surprised that only the tiny Awl seem ready to confront these concerns.

Muslim Fundamentalists

(Much of this section is taken directly from the alliance for workers Liberty website. The Alliance is strongly anti-war, but is also anti-fundamentalist.)

“The (january Stop the war) conference was totally dominated by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and the London Muslim Coalition. I started to feel angry and depressed. Those Muslim organisations have always, openly and proudly, supported Osama bin Laden and his terrorist and criminal activities, and they shamelessly welcomed the 11 September, Bali, Kenya terrorist attacks, and other terrorist practices of Hamas (in Palestine) and Jund Allah (in Lebanon).”Sami Mohammed, Solidarity, 3/23

ACTUALLY, THAT’S NOT QUITE TRUE. The Muslim association of Britain does appear to condemn the attacks of September the 11th. However, it has supported many other attacks, most recently the Mombassa bombing.

“the MAB is open about being part of a political current which aims to establish a state run under Islamic law, with decisions made by a religious elite and the population subjected to drastic rules based on the almost 1,300-year-old Qur’an and re-invented traditions from over a thousand years ago. What this means in practice is demonstrated by an article in Inspire on “Islam and Human Rights”, which states that apostasy from Islam is either “a religious offence punishable by death” or, at least, “an act of mutiny or treason, that is punishable” as such.” Solidarity

“MAB might favour certain democratic rights here and now in Britain, but it is committed, as an overriding aim, to a theocratic state, where god, not the people, exercises sovereignty. This means rule by a religious-political aristocratic elite.”Jack Conrad, Weekly worker

The Muslim Brotherhood, with which the MAB is politically affiliated, is the largest Islamic fundamentalist organisation in Egypt, Sudan and many other parts of the Muslim world. In countries where the Brotherhood has won mass support, it has played a thoroughly reactionary role, hostile to democracy, the labour movement, secularism and women’s rights.

The MAB itself admits that it has only twelve branches (see Inspire) and that its activists are mainly Arabs, ie drawn from a small minority of British Muslims (yet it has the money to produce extremely glossy publications and carry out an extensive range of activities – which raises the question of where its money comes from). The MAB does not and cannot represent the Muslim community in its totality; it is strongly hostile to Muslim groups that disagree with it, eg the Muslim LGB organisation Al-Fatiha.

The MAB’s slogans, easily accessible on its website, are also indicative of its politics. Take “Zionists out of Palestine”. Given that the vast majority of Jewish citizens of Israel consider themselves Zionists, this can only indicate hostility to the very presence of Jews in Palestine (as distinct from opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, or condemnation of the way Israel discriminates against its Arab citizens).

It is sometimes pointed by the MAB’s apologists that it has condemned the September 11th atrocity and disassociated itself from the activities of more radical Islamist groups. Certainly MAB stewards attempted to restrain groups such Al-Muhajiroun on the September 28th demonstration; certainly its politics are not as extreme as those of Al-Qaeda. However, this is not saying very much. An analogy: groups such as the French Front National and the Austrian Freedom Party are not fascist in the same sense that the German Nazis were; there can be little doubt, however, that they are part of the same political milieu. The MAB is at the moderate, reformist end of the Islamic fundamentalist spectrum, but it is part of that spectrum

“We remember the Iranian revolution of 1979. We remember that we got that wrong. Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamist leaders in Iran were canny, like the Brotherhood is now. They talked democratic. We criticised them, but with the assumption that their worst effect would be to blur, slow down, and distract the movement” Solidarity

The central question is: why should the student, labour and anti-war movements help to promote and entrench the position of a right-wing political current among Muslims? By allying with the MAB, the Stop the War Coalition is saying that it is more interested in conservative and fundamentalist Muslims than left-wing and secular ones (and non-religious ex-Muslims).

So there you have it. They've been wrong on every genocide for a generation, they consort with nary a peep with saddam regime and they tolerate Islamic fundamanetalists for their money and organisatiolnal skills. If you're opposed to war, you should still go on demo's, but for gods sake, write your own placard, yyou never know what kind of nonsense you'll be endorsing if you don't/

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