Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: fighter for justice

April 21, 2014 at 10:53 am (good people, Human rights, posted by JD, Racism, RIP, sport, United States)

By Will Campbell of the Canadian Press

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the former American boxer who became a global champion for the wrongfully convicted after spending almost 20 years in prison for a triple murder he didn’t commit, died at his home in Toronto on Sunday.

He was 76.

His long-time friend and co-accused, John Artis, said Carter died in his sleep after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer.

“It’s a big loss to those who are in institutions that have been wrongfully convicted,” Artis told The Canadian Press.

“He dedicated the remainder of his life, once we were released from prison, to fighting for the cause.”

Artis quit his job stateside and moved to Toronto to act as Carter’s caregiver after his friend was diagnosed with cancer nearly three years ago.

During the final few months, as Carter’s health took a turn for the worse, Artis said the man who was immortalized in a Bob Dylan song and a Hollywood film came to grips with the fact that he was dying.

“He tried to accomplish as much as he possibly could prior to his passing,” Artis said, noting Carter’s efforts earlier this year to bring about the release of a New York City man incarcerated since 1985 — the year Carter was freed.

“He didn’t express very much about his legacy. That’ll be established for itself through the results of his work. That’s primarily what he was concerned about — his work,” Artis said.

Born on May 6, 1937, into a family of seven children, Carter struggled with a hereditary speech impediment and was sent to a juvenile reform centre at 12 after an assault. He escaped and joined the Army in 1954, experiencing racial segregation and learning to box while in West Germany.

Carter then committed a series of muggings after returning home, spending four years in various state prisons.

He began his pro boxing career in 1961. He was fairly short for a middleweight, but his aggression and high punch volume made him effective.

Carter’s life changed forever one summer night in 1966, when two white men and a white woman were gunned down in a New Jersey Bar.

Police were searching for what witnesses described as two black men in a white car, and pulled over Carter and Artis a half-hour after the shootings.

Though there was no physical evidence linking them to the crime and eyewitnesses at the time of the slayings couldn’t identify them as the killers, Carter was convicted along with Artis. Their convictions were overturned in 1975, but both were found guilty a second time in a retrial a year later.

After 19 years behind bars, Carter was finally freed in 1985 when a federal judge overturned the second set of convictions, citing a racially biased prosecution. Artis was also exonerated after being earlier paroled in 1981.

Carter later moved to Toronto and became the founding executive director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, which has secured the release of 18 people since 1993.

Win Wahrer, a director with the association, remembers Carter as the “voice and the face” of the group.

“I think it’s because of him that we got the credibility that we did get, largely due to him — he was already a celebrity, people knew who he was,” she said.

“He suffered along with those who were suffering.”

Though Carter left the organization in 2005, the phone never stopped ringing with requests for him, Wahrer said.

“He was an eloquent speaker, a passionate speaker. I remember the first time I ever heard him I knew I was in the presence of a man that could move mountains just by his presence and his words and his passion for what he believed in,” she said.

Carter went on to found another advocacy group, Innocence International.

“He wanted to bring people together. That was his real purpose in life — to get people to understand one another and to work together to make changes,” said Wahrer.

“It was so important for him to make a difference. And I think he did. I think he accomplished what he set out to do.”

Association lawyer James Lockyer, who has known Carter since they were involved in the wrongful conviction case of Guy Paul Morin, remembered how Carter called him just before sitting down with then-president Bill Clinton for a screening of his 1999 biopic “The Hurricane.”

The call was to ask for advice on how to bring the U.S. leader’s attention to the case of a Canadian woman facing execution in Vietnam.

“Even though this was sort of a pinnacle moment of Rubin’s life — to sit at the White House with the president and his wife on either side of him watching a film about him — he wasn’t really thinking about himself,” said Lockyer.

“He was thinking about this poor woman who was sitting on death row in Vietnam that we were trying to save from the firing squad.”

The film about Carter’s life starred Denzel Washington, who received an Academy Award nomination for playing the boxer turned prisoner.

On Sunday, when told of Carter’s death, Washington said in a statement: “God bless Rubin Carter and his tireless fight to ensure justice for all.”

Carter’s fight continued to the very end.

Never letting up even as his body was wracked with cancer, Carter penned an impassioned letter to a New York paper in February calling for the conviction of a man jailed in 1985 to be reviewed — and reflected on his own mortality in the process.

“If I find a heaven after this life, I’ll be quite surprised. In my own years on this planet, though, I lived in hell for the first 49 years, and have been in heaven for the past 28 years,” he wrote.

“To live in a world where truth matters and justice, however late, really happens, that world would be heaven enough for us all.”

— with files from the Associated Press.

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Bill Evans: Spring Is Here

April 18, 2014 at 2:52 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, music, RIP)

It’s a wonderful spring day, and I’m thinking of my friend the pianist Bryn Venus who died earlier this month. He loved this kind of music and could play it to a very high standard:


Bill Evans (piano), Scott La Faro (bass), Paul Motion (drums) Dec 1959

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Peaches Geldof on same-sex marriage

April 8, 2014 at 11:22 pm (Civil liberties, gay, good people, Human rights, law, love, posted by JD, RIP)

 

Peaches Geldof, who died on Monday, had become a serious and thoughtful person, and a very good writer. In her memory, we re-publish this powerful piece that she wrote for The Independent, published on 9 October 2012. Happily, Peaches lived to see this battle won, but her message of tolerance, love and decency is still worth reading, and stands as a fitting memorial:

In the summer of 2003 I was 14 years old, and my best friend was a gay boy named Daniel. He was smart, funny and totally unaware of how beautiful he was. Everyone seemed to be in love with him at some point, but he was in love with his school friend Ben.

Every day after classes ended, Daniel, Ben and I would hang out. For a little bit, they could both be funny, bitchy queens in the most unashamed and wonderful way, and all was right in the world. Time would glide. As the years progressed we three drifted our way through youth, our journeys disjointed but always seeming to connect at significant points along the way.

Daniel came out to his parents two years after he and Ben became serious. He was 16. I was there when he told them, I don’t know if he’d planned on me being there for support, he never told me. I sat hiding at the top of the stairs in his house, listening. His mother laughed, I’d always loved her laugh, it sounded musical, like bells ringing, and I remember that laugh was just full of love in that moment, and she said to him she’d always known and how happy she was that he had experienced love and it didn’t matter who with. His father echoed her sentiments entirely and I heard the intake of breath that always seems to precede a meaningful hug.

Back in his room, his face seemed different somehow. Where once his eyes had seemed to me to be restless and distant at times, now they just shone. His whole face shone, with this pure elation, and in that ephemeral moment I realised how these revelations people make to the ones who mean something to them, can make a person into something great or break them entirely.

Accept and respect

And Dan was made in that moment. He was whole. I remember vividly having this weird image in my head of the old Disney movie of Pinocchio, where the good fairy turns him into a real boy. And looking back I guess Daniel had been exactly that, just wooden, all that time before. I learned that day that all you really need to do to make someone happy is to accept who they really are, and respect who they are.

Weeks passed and Ben still hadn’t participated in the big coming out party. Where once our after-school hangouts had been easy, effortless fun, now they seemed tense. Instead of Ben and Daniel’s relationship becoming more open, it seemed all the more clandestine. They both confided in me in emotional, tearful phone calls and I began to feel like the go-between. I was falling into other interests and felt myself pulled in a different direction, away from these boys that were so much a part of me. I started loathing our meetings because I could see how terrified Ben was of revealing himself to his parents, and how Daniel was pushing him to the point where it seemed inevitable that he would just leave.

What he didn’t understand, having never met them due to Ben’s terror of being caught out, was that Ben’s parents were different to his. His mother was, and always had been, a housewife who had raised him, his two sisters and three brothers seemingly without any help as his father, a Protestant priest, had staunchly archaic views on where a woman’s place was. Weeks, months passed. We grew and changed, summers came and went. It was winter two years later when the ultimatum was issued, and by then too much was at stake, and Ben did come out to his parents. I sat there, on the same patch of grass in Cavendish Square, worn down from our school shoes, and my friend wept as the words left his mouth. I grieved for them, knowing I could never take the words back for him myself.

Devastated

His mother was devastated, his father, in his words, “ruined”. They both told him he was sick and a failure. He left home. How, of course, could he have stayed. I think, after that, Ben hated Daniel a little bit, partly because he had pushed him to come out, partly because he was jealous. But in the end he loved him more, and Daniel’s parents allowed him to move in to their house and live there with him.

Years passed. We had kept in touch by email, but our lives had taken us in different directions and our friendship wasn’t the same any more. It was December, freezing, when I received the invitation to their wedding. They had been living in New York, where gay marriage had been legalised. I was elated. More than that. These boys, who had been such an intrinsic part of my teenage years, were finally getting what they deserved. It was a beautiful moment.

In New York, the snow had covered everything in a soft white blanket, making it new again. As everyone was gathering outside the city hall, I spotted Ben’s parents. They seemed nervous, but they were there. I assumed they had eventually come round to his sexuality, but he later told me they had turned up without telling him. He had sent them an invite, half out of defiance and half out of hope, but had never expected them to be there for him. In that moment I saw how powerful marriage can be.

A nation of dictating pigs

This man, who I loved so much, was marrying his best friend, his soul mate. Taking vows to stand by him until death. And why not? Why, if these two men wanted to be married in the country they were born in, would it only be regarded as a “civil partnership” – a title more insulting than anything else, a half measure. It’s not as if us saintly heteros take the institution of marriage so seriously, is it? A recent study shows same-sex civil partnerships lasting longer than straight marriages, and divorce at a record high.

I have had first-hand experience of how wonderful the introduction of gay marriage has been, and how negative and potentially damaging it is to not allow it, which just breeds more homophobia. For a country and culture that declares ourselves so progressive, our governments, citizens and, of course, our churches, can be small-minded bigots at the best of times. One day we’ll look back on the gay marriage ban as we look back on historical events like apartheid. Because in the end, that’s what it is, pointless, futile segregation. I long for the day when we break free of this Orwellian ridiculousness, a nation of dictating pigs, where “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.

And even if Daniel and Ben’s marriage was a small squeak of opposition drowned out in the roar of prejudice, at least it happened. And it will continue to happen, til death do they part.  

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Noor Inayat Khan

March 25, 2014 at 2:22 pm (anti-fascism, good people, history, india, posted by JD, war)

Honouring an anti-fascist hero and woman of incredible courage:

Noorunissa Inayat Khan, 1st class.

Noor Inayat Khan: 1st class.

The Royal Mail has issued a postage stamp of Noorunissa (‘Noor’) Inayat Khan, World War II heroine, who fought fascism and died in the Dachau concentration camp.

The stamp — part of a set of ten in the ‘Remarkable Lives’ series — honours Noor on her centenary year. Others in the series include Alec Guinness and Dylan Thomas,

“I am delighted that Royal Mail has commemorated Noor with a stamp,” said Shrabani Basu, author of Spy Princess, the Life of Noor Inayat Khan, and Chair of the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust: “it will ensure that her sacrifice will not be forgotten.”

Noor Inayat Khan was born in Moscow in January 1914 to an Indian father, Hazrat Inayat Khan and an American mother, Ora Ray Baker. The couple met in the Ramkrishna Mission ashram in America. Hazrat Inayat Khan was a Sufi preacher and musician who travelled the world promoting Sufism.

Noor was brought up in Paris and the family moved to London when France fell in 1940. Noor joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and was later recruited to the Special Operations Executive, a secret organisation set up by Churchill for espionage purposes.

She was the first female radio operator to be flown undercover to Paris, where she worked for three months under the code name Madeleine. However, she was betrayed, arrested and finally executed in the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.

Though she was interrogated under torture, she revealed nothing — not even her real name. Her last word as she was shot was “Liberte!” She was 30.

(Adapted from an article by Parvathi Menon in The Hindu, March 24, 2014)

H/t: Alan Johnson and Iam Farruk, via Facebook.

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Tony Benn RIP

March 14, 2014 at 8:08 am (AWL, From the archives, good people, history, iraq, labour party, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reformism, Stop The War)

The death this morning of Tony Benn is sad news, and all of us here mourn the passing of an honourable (if sometimes misguided) man who sincerely believed he stood for socialist principles.

In the late 1970s and throughout the ’80s Benn was an invaluable asset to the working class and the serious left. Paradoxically , it was later in his career, when he left parliament to  “concentrate on politics” (in fact becoming a “national treasure”) that his politics went badly off the rails and he fell in with filthy, reactionary “anti imperialist” shysters like Galloway, German and Rees. Workers Liberty wrote this open letter to him in October 2005. Note that despite their gloves-off criticism of his utterly foolish softness on Saddam and Aziz, the authors acknowledge and pay respect to his role “as a fighter after 1979 against the Labour establishment”:

Dear Tony Benn
You have put your name to a petition on behalf of Saddam Hussein’s deputy Tariq Aziz. You have by now probably seen the newspaper reports that Tariq Aziz will give evidence against his old boss at Saddam Hussein’s trial — evidence that, among other things, Saddam Hussein gave orders for mass murder.
Tariq Aziz had to be there, that is, complicit in Saddam Hussein’s crimes against the peoples of Iraq, in order to be able to testify to such things. We will see what happens at the trial. But no-one has to wait for the trial to know who and what Tariq Aziz is. Yet you put your name to Galloway’s petition.

You, Tony Benn, unlike your co-signatories such as George Galloway have in the last 25 years been a man of the serious, class struggle left. Not infrequently we have disagreed with you on important questions.

But, comrade Benn, you are seriously out of place amidst the other signatories on Galloway’s petition on behalf of his friend Tariq Aziz. We say that not forgetting that on the eve of the US-British attack on Iraq you went to Baghdad and interviews Saddam Hussein in such a soft and accommodating way that the result, broadcast on British TV, was a “party political broadcast” for Saddam Hussein. Read the rest of this entry »

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Stuart Hall, ‘Marxism Today’, “Post-Fordism” … and New Labour

February 11, 2014 at 12:18 pm (academe, Brum, culture, From the archives, good people, history, intellectuals, Jim D, Marxism, multiculturalism, post modernism, reformism, RIP, stalinism)

Above: excerpt from John Akomfrah’s film ‘The Stuart Hall Project’

The death yesterday of Stuart Hall, aged 82, robs the British left of a major intellect, an energetic organiser and a warm, charismatic human being. I should declare an interest: in the early 1970′s Stuart was one of my tutors at Birmingham University (where he was director of the Centre for Contemporary Studies) and, together with Dorothy Thompson in the History department, was instrumental in ensuring that I wasn’t chucked out and eventually obtained a degree (albeit an ‘Ordinary’). So I owe him a great deal: I only wish I’d got to know him better and found out, for instance, that we shared a love of jazz (although, I learned from Desert Island Discs, his favourite musician was Miles Davis, so even that might have generated some disagreement).

So I hope it’s clear that I liked and respected Stuart Hall a great deal, and if the articles reproduced below, in his memory, are quite sharply critical of aspects of his politics (particularly his rejection of the centrality of the working class to the struggle for socialism), that’s because serious, honest people can (or, at least, ought to be able to) disagree and still hold one another in high regard.

Paving the way for New Labour

By Matt Cooper (2013)

Cinema documentary has undergone a renaissance in recent years, with fine examples exploring subjects as diverse as sushi in Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) and death squads in 1960s Indonesia in The Act of Killing (2012).

Nonetheless, a film about the semi-Marxist cultural theorist Stuart Hall is unexpected. Hall was born in Jamaica in 1932, went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in 1952 and was the founding editor of New Left Review (NLR) in 1960. This was a journal which explicitly adopted a “third way” approach between Soviet Communism and social democracy, but was ambivalent about the working class and its revolutionary potential.

After resigning as editor of NLR in 1962, Hall became a leading radical academic joining the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University in 1964 and becoming its director from 1968 to 1979. Cultural studies grew out of the New Left interest in the culture of the working class, which had largely been ignored by academia, and was part of a rise in a form of academic radicalism that mixed some real insights in an overly abstract and obtuse theoretical carapace and, like the New Left, often had little relationship with real struggles.

The last phase of Hall’s career commenced after 1979, when, despite his earlier rejection of both Stalinism and social democracy, he was one of the key theorists of bringing the two together. Through the pages  of Marxism Today (the journal of the right wing of the Communist Party), and his own books, Hall argued that Labour needed to form a new progressive alliance in tune with “new times” where the organised working class was a diminishing force.

The problem with Akomfrah’s film is that it fails to address the development of Hall’s thought. It is strongest on his part in the formation of the New Left, and here hints at the weakness of this approach. While Hall’s co-thinkers were well established in Oxford and London, he reports that he was perplexed by an early encounter with the northern working class in Halifax. Like much else in the film, which is straitjacketed by its choice to use only the words from radio and TV appearances by Hall, this is left undeveloped.

Similarly, the film moves briefly over Hall’s work in the 1970s and fails to communicate what was specific about Hall’s understanding of culture — particularly his work on the moral panic over mugging in Policing the Crisis (1978).

Worst of all, the film entirely misses out Hall’s analysis of Thatcherism in the 1980s and his increasingly pessimistic response about how the left should respond to it.

Strangely, the film includes a clip of the 1984-1985 miners’ strike, but there is no reference to any words from Hall to accompany it. Hall, while clearly sympathetic to the strike, thought it the doomed expression of class struggle that could no longer win. Without any clear sense of transforming society, Hall looked only to create a new more progressive ideology removed from such outdated class struggle. Unwittingly, he was preparing the ground for New Labour (which was more enthusiastically supported by many of his Marxism Today collaborators).

Without much grasp of Hall’s place in the movement away from class politics from the 1960s to the 1980s, The Stuart Hall Project ends up with a fragmented kaleidoscope of images without any clear narrative.

It neither does justice to Hall’s ideas nor shows any critical understanding of them.

___________________________________________________________________

“Post Fordism”: collapsing into the present

By Martin Thomas (1989)

Capitalism has changed and is changing. Vast new areas in the Third World have industrialised. The introduction of small, cheap, flexible computers is revolutionising finance, administration, retailing, manufacturing. The majority of the workforce in many capitalist countries is now “white-collar” – but white-collar work is becoming more industrial.

Dozens of other shifts and changes are underway. Which of them are basic? How are they connected? What implications do they have for socialists?

Into this debate has marched the Communist Party’s magazine “Marxism Today”, bearing a banner with a strange device – “post-Fordism”. “At the heart of New Times”, they write, “is the shift from the old mass-production Fordist economy to a new, more flexible, post” Fordist order based on computers, information technology and robotics” (Marxism Today, October 1988). These New Times call for a new politics: in place of the old class struggle, diverse alliances.

There are several issues here. Do the political conclusions really follow from the economic analysis? Is the economic analysis sound? Where does the economic analysis come from? What do the terms “Fordism” and “post-Fordism” mean? Read the rest of this entry »

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A time to be born, a time to die

January 28, 2014 at 9:20 am (good people, Rosie B)

Pace Jim, I like folk music.  I also admire Pete Seeger, a vigorous campaigner on the behalf of many causes and a man with a strong sense of public duty.

So here’s a Youtube clip.

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Pete Seeger’s break with Stalinism

January 28, 2014 at 8:28 am (anti-fascism, civil rights, culture, good people, history, Jim D, music, protest, song, stalinism)

The death, reported today, of Pete Seeger, reminded me that he publicly broke with Stalinism back in 2007 (some say he’d privately broken with it some years previously).

I wrote the following at the time, in a deliberately provocative style intended to infuriate folkies. Nevertheless, I hope it’s suitably respectful towards a brave and principled man:

Pete Seeger changes his tune: finger removed from ear

I’ve never particularly liked folk music, with its whining three-chord “tunes”, its anachronistic and lachrymose lyrics and the sheer musical incompetence of most of its performers – including the famous ones like Bob Dylan.

Having said that, I have to admit that most of the folkies I’ve met over the years have been thoroughly decent people, often stalwarts of left-wing campaigns, strike-support activity and international solidarity. But for some unexplained reason, these admirable people almost invariably turn out to be Stalinists of one variety or another: what is it about the music or the “scene” that brings this about? Delightful, sandle-wearing,  hirsute do-gooders turn out to be apologists for some of the most monstrous regimes and genocidal crimes in human history!

Pete “If I Had a Hammer” Seeger always struck me as the spritual progenitor of the finger-in-the-ear school of folkie Stalinism (the finger being in the ear to prevent the truth about Uncle Joe’s crimes ever being heard): he was (and is) a very good and brave human being, so far as I can judge. Certainly, he had the courage to defy the House Committee on Un-American Activities, rather than betray his friends and comrades, and spent a year in jail as a result. On a less serious note, I’ve also always harboured a sneaking admiration for his legendary attempt to take an axe to Bob Dylan’s microphone cable at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. But still, this admirable figure remained an unremitting, unreconstructed Stalinist [*]…

…Until now. According to Nicholoas Wapshott in the New Statesman, the 88 year-old Seeger says he has “‘been thinking what Woody (Guthrie - JD) might have written had he been around” to see the end of the Soviet Union. In a letter responding to (a) complaint that he had repeatedly sung about the Nazi Holocaust but failed to acknowledge the millions killed in Stalin’s death camps, he (Seeger) wrote: “I think you’re right – I should have asked to see the gulags when I was in (the) USSR”.

So now Pete has written a new song, ‘The Big Joe Blues’, which goes: “I’m singing about old Joe, cruel Joe./He ruled with an iron hand./He put an end to the dreams/Of so manyin every land./He had a chance to make/A brand new start for the human race./Instead he set it back/Right in the same nasty place./I got the Big Joe Blues./(Keepyour mouth shut or you will die fast.)/I got the Big Joe Blues./(Do this job, no questions asked.)/I got the Big Joe Blues”.

According to Wapshott, Pete now acknowledges that, “if by some freak of history communism (I think he really means Stalinism – JD) had caught up with this country, I would have been one of the first people thrown in jail”. So the finger’s well and truly out of the ear. At long last.

Above: despite my prejudice against folk music, I think this is great! Pete with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in the mid-60s

* Addendum: BTL comments (below) would seem to confirm that my statement that PS remained “an unremitting, unreconstructed Stalinist” (until 2007) was incorrect. It would also seem to be the case (sadly) that the story of the axing of Dylan’s electric cable at Newport in 1965 is  apocryphal.

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Labour owes Stevie Deans an apology

January 23, 2014 at 11:55 am (democracy, good people, labour party, law, police, posted by JD, reblogged, solidarity, truth, unions, Unite the union, workers)

By Jon Lansman (at Left Futures, 22 Jan):

Stevie Deans and Grangemouth

Yesterday [ie 21 Jan], the Scottish police confirmed that they had found “no evidence of any criminality” in their inquiry into the activities of Stevie Deans, who was until three months ago full-time convenor at the Ineos plant at Grangemouth (where he’d worked for 25 years) and Chair of Unite in Scotland as well as the sometime Chair of Falkirk Labour Party.

This is the second time, allegations against Stevie Deans have been investigated and dismissed by the Scottish police, the first referral having come from the Labour Party, the second from INEOS. Unsurprisingly, Unite yesterday condemned the fact that “the police’s time has been wasted by vexatious complaints and their attentions diverted from catching real criminals and solving real crimes“.

Labour regards the whole affair as closed, especially now that Karen Whitefield, the former MSP, has been selected as the Labour candidate for Falkirk, but there is no truth and reconciliation process in Labour’s rule book. Stevie Deans may have lost his job, Karie Murphy denied the opportunity to seek the nomination, Tom Watson lost his place in the shadow cabinet, and hundreds of people recruited to the Labour Party denied any participation in the selection, but no apologies are required it seems.

The whole affair was talked up by politicians (including some then in the shadow cabinet) and bloggers associated with Progress, making allegations of ballot-rigging based on nothing more than rumour and speculation, with the express purpose of persuading Ed Miliband to smash what’s left of union influence in the party.

The Labour Party’s investigators failed to speak to Stevie Deans or Karie Murphy who were suspended without a hearing, on the basis of a secret report, and Unite the Union, and its general secretary, were subjected to months of unjustified abuse.

Ed Miliband, on the back of his condemnation of the “machine politics” he claimed was evident in Falkirk, did indeed propose the most radical change in the relationship between the party and the unions, which he continues to seek in some form in spite of the collapse of the justification for doing so.

Stevie Deans and Karie Murphy deserve some apologies.  So do Labour’s affiliated trade unions. And the biggest apologies should come from those associated with Progress. 

What we are shortly likely to get instead from those associated with Progress, whatever appears in the Collins report, is criticism of Ed Miliband for not going far enough to smash what’s left of union influence.

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Mike Kyriazopoulos: “Live life to the fullest, make a better world”

January 22, 2014 at 12:11 am (AWL, good people, love, posted by JD, RIP, socialism, solidarity, trotskyism, truth, unions)

Mike Kyriazopoulos died on Saturday night (18th January) at his home in Auckland, New Zealand. His wife Joanne was at his side to the end.

Here’s what he wrote to friends and comrades in the AWL in April 2013, when he knew that time was running out:

________________________________________________________________________

Early this year I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. It appears as though the “progress” of the disease (oddly Stalinist terminology) is quite rapid. So I wanted to thank all of you who know me for your political guidance, solidarity, friendship and love over the years.

I first came across the AWL at York University Labour Club. But I realised the group was serious when I joined an occupation because Janine Booth was stood on the balcony of the Central Hall with a megaphone, urging students to join the protest against grant cuts.

When I graduated, I got a job on the Post, in line with the group’s policy on “colonisation”, or “inside organising”. Those days were among the most vivid memories of my political life, so forgive me if I reminisce a little. The seven years I spent in the industry taught me heaps of lessons in the sometimes bitter realities of the class struggle. I was thrust in the deep end, finding myself a rep within a few months, because the previous guy had been sacked, and no one else wanted to do the job.

Pretty soon I attracted the attention of management. First they tried to get me to become a governor, then they tried to sack me — twice. Both disciplinaries were related to organising wildcat action. The first time, they stuffed up the process, and I got off scot-free. The next time I copped a final warning and two day’s suspension.

During a week-long wildcat strike involving many London offices, I remember being on a picket line of one. One does not make a virtue or a habit of such a thing, but sometimes it is a necessity. Most of our office scabbed because they were scared of the strike being sold out (which it eventually was). Only a handful of us struck, and one morning I was the only one who turned up for the picket line duty. Some of the strikebreakers implored me to come back to work, because they were convinced I would be sacked, in which case, they assured me, they would go on strike to get me reinstated! I was not sacked.

I was fortunate to be in a left-wing union branch. I joined the branch executive as political officer, where I worked with other socialists to secure the branch’s support for Ken Livingstone and the Socialist Alliance in the London elections of 2000.

The decision was robustly debated at a meeting of rank and file reps. The branch secretary voiced a prophetic word of caution about not knowing how long this alliance would last. Our branch paid a heavy price, having all its funds frozen by an unelected bureaucrat in head office, but they didn’t back down. To me, it highlighted how the Socialist Alliance had begun to build something in the labour movement, only to have that opportunity criminally squandered by the key players within the Alliance.

The greatest success we had at Finsbury Park Delivery Office was winning extra jobs, night duties, following an unofficial overtime ban. Management always intended to claw the duties back eventually, but we managed to hold off the revisions for a good few years.

In retrospect, I was hampered by being isolated in a sub delivery office. I never made much progress towards establishing a rank and file movement. But then, such a movement usually requires a great upsurge in militancy to establish it, so there’s an element of Catch-22.

In 2007, I emigrated to New Zealand, essentially for personal reasons. Comrades, I’m sorry if it felt like I turned my back on you. I never turned my back on the struggle.

I joined the Workers’ Party (now Fightback) because that was the most open and democratic group going. Unfortunately, it was controlled by a clique whose political background was soft Maoist and kitsch Trotskyist. They encouraged a culture of avoiding tricky historical questions. I was remiss in going with the flow, taking the line of least resistance for a while.

Perhaps subconsciously I thought that the insights of Third Camp socialism on the corrosive effects of Stalinism were not so relevant in the 21st century. It was only when the leadership clique abruptly walked out of the party, and retired to the blogosphere, that I did some rethinking.

After some discussions with Martin Thomas I published a number of internal bulletins on Stalinism, the fighting propaganda group, Maori liberation, Third Camp socialism and Maoism. I hope that I have had a positive effect on the trajectory of the group, which now explicitly defines itself as anti-Stalinist.

I do believe the AWL has something precious in its fragmented Third Camp tradition. Not in the sense of a socialist “holy Grail”, or a “historico-philosophical master key”, but as a method of training revolutionaries to think critically.

I don’t need to tell any of you what’s wrong with Michel Pablo. He did, however, have the best motto: “The meaning of life is life itself, to live as fully as you can.”

Comrades, most of you will be blessed with decades of life ahead of you. Live them to the fullest making a better world. Aroha nui (all my love),

Mike

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* Mike’s account of dinner with Tony Cliff and Chanie Rosenburg is also well worth reading.

* Our condolences to Mike’s wife, Joanne.

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