Acker at eighty

January 31, 2009 at 6:43 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, music, wild man)

Bernard Stanley “Acker” Bilk: born Pensford Somerset, UK: 28/01/29

* He’s a thoroughly nice man  (see this Graun interview by Louis de Berniers which for some reason I can’t link to; so here’s the link):

* he’s a better clarinettist than he’s usually given credit for (early in his career he worshipped George Lewis: other influences include Ed Hall and – increasingly these days – Pee Wee Russell);

* the world would be a happier place if we all conducted ourselves like Acker…here he is at the height of his success in 1962 with ‘In A Persian Market’…the pianist who goes over to the drums is Stan Greig (now gravely ill)…


…I resisted the temptation of posting a clip of ‘Stranger On The Shore’ (which is available on youtube in at least two versions): Acker calls that tune “my old age pension” and claims to have played it so many times that he’s forgotten the original tune…but if you must hear it, google youtube for a 1962 concert version and a much more recent rendition in a pub…

…happy birthday, Acker!

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“Distinguish between the slogans and the underlying issues.”

January 31, 2009 at 4:42 am (capitalist crisis, immigration, Jim D, unions, workers)

Leading trade union educator Jack Haslam comments on the present nationalist strike wave. This comment has been taken from our comments box, but we hope to persuade Jack to become a regular contributor. We publish it here as an article because it’s good stuff that addresses the present serious situation:

I think we need to distinguish between the slogans used by the strikers and the underlying issues.

The idea of ‘British jobs for British workers’ is a reactonary dead end. However the issue driving this sudden explosion of militancy is the use by the employers in the engineering construction industry of gangs of contractors sealed off and isolated from the main body of workers. The way one leading socialist militant in UNITE put this was that it shouldn’t be presented as an issue of British versus foreign labour, but of the rights of organised Labour.

Set ups like the contractors in this case have more in common with an organisation like William Collison’s pre ww1 free labour association than they have with a ‘normal ‘capitalist concern that recognises trade unions, or in which workers can organise for recognition. You have a group of workers sealed off from the rest of the workforce and billoted in digs away from contact with workers in the local town.

This kind of thing flows from the Viking and Lavalle decisons (see IER briefing, link below)  and it was inevitable that a protest of this type would emerge sooner or later, given the way that contractor gangs have been used to attack jobs, pay and conditons across a number of industries in recent years.

The way forward is for the labour movement to launch a serious fight for jobs across the economy as a whole. with occupations and work sharing on full pay etc.

We need to point out that nationalism is a dead end, capitalism is international etc. However, we should not oppose the strikes as such, but see them as a spontaneous outburst that has taken the form it has and with the nationalist ideology it has because of the failings of the trade union leaders to prosecute a serious fight on a clear class basis.

I don’t think this is a straightforwardly reactionary strike that should be opposed by socialists, rather we would want to see a more focussed and class based internationalist strategy. If you want to put forward a specific demand it would be for direct labour.

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UK unions must take French lessons

January 29, 2009 at 11:34 pm (capitalist crisis, Europe, Jim D, Racism, unions, workers)

Today saw two contrasting responses to the worldwide economic crisis: in Paris and Marseille the unions gave the lead and the anger was directed against the government and capitalism more generally…

France hit by national strike on 'Black Thursday'  
Arcellor Mittal’s employees demonstrate in Marseille, France Photo: EPA

…whereas  in England and Scotland, with no leadership from the unions or the UK  left,  workers have turned upon their own class in an incoherent outburst against “foreign labour” that will gladden the hearts of the BNP…

Scores of police monitoring the demonstration yesterday outside the refinery. Unions say the protest was joined by supporters from across the country

The yellow line: Scores of police monitoring the demonstration yesterday outside the refinery. Unions say the protest was joined by supporters from across the country

Police were out in force at the Lindsey Oil Refinery at North Killingholme, North Lincolnshire, which was picketed by angry staff. Another mass protest is expected today.

The foreign workers, who are being housed in barges at Grimsby docks, have been hired to build a plant producing low-sulphur diesel.

The tender for the project was won by Italian firm IREM, which angered locals by bringing in the Europeans.

Union officials say they have been hired as a ‘cheaper option’ and reject claims that they are ‘specialists’.

Under EU law the foreign workers are entitled to work and live here.

The protest began with a mass walkout on Wednesday. But the French-owned Total refinery insisted it managed to operate normally (Daily Mail)

Protesters are furious that 400 European workers are being brought in to work on a £300million construction project

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Davos: Erdoğan walks out

January 29, 2009 at 10:33 pm (AK Party, israel, palestine, turkey, Uncategorized, voltairespriest)

Well, no more Mr Smoothie Guy then. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has within the past few hours walked out of the World Economic Forum in disgust, because of having been denied the same amount of time as was given to his Israeli counterpart, President Shimon Peres, when addressing the assembled audience on the subject of the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza. Quoting Gilad Atzmon and Avi Shlaim, he walked away claiming that he will not be returning.

Erdoğan offers his own explanation in this press conference footage, as televised by Turkish news station TRT 2. Amongst other things he expressly denies any enmity towards “the Israeli people”, and also says “I am a Prime Minister, a leader, who has specifically stated that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity”.

The BBC’s initial report on the incident can be found here.

I am not a fan of Erdoğan’s, nor indeed of his Adalet ve Kalkınma (Justice and Development) Party. They are a movement of religious-political roots, and it is difficult to deny that they continue to carry at least some of that legacy, albeit by no means in the same way as openly theocratic groups do. What is more, his willingness to quote from Atzmon does raise questions, albeit that he is not necessarily likely to be aware of the man’s highly dubious political pedigree. Nevertheless it is a highly unusual spectacle to see a national leader who is prepared to break diplomatic precedent in such spectacular style. Erdoğan left to a partial standing ovation.

What this does show is just how damaging the Gaza conflict may prove to have been, to relations between Israel and other nations in the Middle East region. Turkey has historically stood aside from Arab-Israeli hostilities and maintained relatively good relations with Jerusalem. Erdoğan himself had been trying to foster talks between Israel and Syria, with a view to ending a conflict which has festered enen since before the former’s inception in 1948. Indeed, far from being a redoubt of stereotypical anti-Western religious fanatics, Turkey is also a nation with (fading) hopes of joining the EU, which would make it the first majority-Muslim member state. This, indeed, in spite of a number of backward and bigoted responses from prominent EU figures. It is also a NATO partner, and a regional superpower with more than half a million men under arms.

It is one thing to foment conflicts with nations whom one’s allies see as pariah states, such as Iran. It is quite another to offend one of your few friends in the Middle East. This argument may eventually be smoothed over, but it marks the beginning of a realignment. Israeli politicians should take note: one fit of pique on a platform speaks volumes. The days of carte blanche from “friends of Israel” are well and truly over.

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UnionBook: “a powerful tool for our movement.”

January 29, 2009 at 10:19 pm (blogging, Champagne Charlie, internet, unions)

Eric Lee of  Labourstart sends news of a promising new initiative:

This weekend will see the public launch of UnionBook – the social networking site for trade unionists, sponsored by LabourStart.

I wanted to make sure that all our correspondents knew about this in advance, in the hope that you will sign up and spread the word in your unions.

UnionBook, which is located at, offers many features that you and your union will find useful. Among these are:

* Blogs – build your own blog today. Free, with no ads.

* Groups – create a group to support your union and your campaigns. Groups can have discussion forums and shared documents. They can be public or closed. They’re a very powerful tool.

* Post your profile and sign up your friends – just like in any other social network (with certain subtle differences).

We’re adding more features all the time, fixing and tweaking things, but with over 500 users already using our beta version, we think it’s time to go live and to recruit thousands more trade unionists. UnionBook will never be as big as the giant commercial networks like Facebook, but once we have several thousand trade unionists using it, I’m confident that it will become a powerful tool for our movement worldwide.

We’re not telling anyone to stop using other social networks. If you are active in Facebook or any of the others, that’s fine. But use UnionBook for your trade union activities and see how easy it is to build and form groups, and to publish content online.

Please spend some time on and explore the possibilities. And then spread the word — because together, we can create something amazing here.


Eric Lee

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Delusions of relevance

January 29, 2009 at 9:06 pm (cults, labour party, Max Dunbar, parasites, religion, secularism)

Has the pro-faith left made inroads into central government? For today we have financial secretary Stephen Timms appealing to us lefties to stop being so fussy and precious about separation of church and state, minority rights, evidence-based policy and all that middle-class secularist nonsense. Because apparently:

Something important is happening on the left of politics. Faith, often in the past derided as conservative or irrelevant or heading for extinction, is now providing more and more of its energy and leadership.

The challenge to progressive politicians is to show they recognise faith-based perspectives and contributions as valid and mainstream, rather than irrelevant and marginal.

You’d think as a Treasury man Timms would have enough going on, yet he recently gave a speech to the government’s pet think tank on ‘building a politics based on hope.’ That think tank is of course the Institute of Public Policy Research: Timms also plugs their report (which I’ve discussed here.)  And where else is hope to come from but ‘the contribution of Britain’s faith communities’?


I’ve been impressed by the rich stream of hope I find in the faith communities in my constituency and elsewhere. The hope they draw on helps them respond to circumstances now but also motivates their work for the future.

Because faith communities believe in a better, more just world, they work towards it. In doing so they offer a resource of hopefulness, which in progressive politics, we need to tap into.

Obviously to tap into this vast yearning reservoir of positive energy we need to relax the boundaries between church and state.

Many believe you shouldn’t mix faith and politics. I’ve taken the opposite view – believing instead that faith is a great starting point for politics.

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the last three leaders of the Labour party have had faith as the starting point for their politics. Or that Australia has a Labour prime minister who has argued that Christianity ‘must always take the side of the marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed.’ Or that the United States has as its Democratic president a man who learned his politics as a community organiser with churches in Chicago.

Now, trying to claim Obama for the pro-faith left is tricky because in the United States you cannot get elected Dog Location Co-ordinator without professing some form of Christian faith. That’s a big contrast to the days of the founding fathers – the Virginia Statute sounds like The God Delusion when you read it today.

Yet these days no one could stand as an openly atheist presidential candidate. You might as well argue for a return to British colonial rule.

Things are not much different in this country – remember the stir Nick Clegg made when he publicly doubted the sky-god? Could Attlee have been an outspoken heathen? Could Churchill? As Sam Harris said: ‘[N]early every person who has ever trimmed a hammer or swung a nail has been a devout member of one or another religious culture. There has been simply no one else to do the job.’

Of course it’s not Christian politicians per se that are the problem, it’s politicians like Timms who don’t know where faith ends and politics begin. Happily, the new American President is a better and wiser man than Stephen Timms. This is Obama the secularist:

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

As Ophelia recently said: ‘Welcome back to the reality-based community.’

Also: where are these faith communities Timms talks about? Sure I’ve known countless voluntary projects where kids can play football on Friday nights instead of hanging around on the streets, but they tend to be run by hard working individuals who want to improve their estates and don’t need eternal reward to encourage them. There have been incidences of young women from faith communities being immolated because of their sexuality. Presumably this isn’t the better and more just world than Timms meant.

The point is that religious observance is plummeting. So how are we to harness the energies of a dwindling minority? Maybe Timms shares the churches’ barely concealed hope that recession will send the masses stampeding back into the pews.

Or perhaps by ‘progressive politicians tapping into a resource of hope’ Timms means: ‘Let’s give more and more public money, and hand over more and more public services, to dubious-sounding initiatives and companies, as long as they include the words ‘faith-based’ in their bid proposal.’

Fair enough – it’s not like our economy doesn’t have the cash to spare.


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Link to a guest post by Douglas Fox (IUSW)

January 28, 2009 at 3:07 pm (Caroline S, sex workers)

Those who have been following the blog posts about Jacqui Smith’s plans to change the prostitution laws in the UK will surely know the name Douglas Fox, spokesperson for the IUSW. He, as well as the IUSW in general, has faced a great deal of criticism this month from the UK radical feminist bloggers who have been largely inclined not so much to show their support for Jacqui Smith but more to discredit sex worker’s unions.

Douglas has written a post at my blog about the proposals, as well as the misunderstandings, prejudices and preconceptions held by those who no doubt would see themselves as allies – government ministers and feminists. I’m hoping he’ll contribute regularly to my blog.

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Sorry is the easiest word

January 27, 2009 at 8:57 pm (anonymous, anti-fascism, anti-semitism, Max Dunbar)

Interesting email from anti-fascist writer and campaigner Nick Lowles at Searchlight calling on British fascist Nick Griffin to say sorry for his lies about the Holocaust.

If you’re not aware of his views on the death camps, here is Griffin in his own words:

I am well aware that the orthodox opinion is that six million Jews were gassed and cremated and turned into lampshades. Orthodox opinion also once held that the Earth was flat … I have reached the conclusion that the ‘extermination’ tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie, and latter witch-hysteria.

He’s your basic scum denier, even attacking David Irving ‘for admitting that some Jews may have been killed during the ‘holohoax’, accusing him of ‘back tracking on the old gas chamber lie’.’

Lowles writes that an apology is necessary.

This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is based on an important theme – to stand up against hatred. And I’m writing to ask you to join me in doing just that.

Over the past few years, Nick Griffin has made a series of disgusting and degrading statements about the Holocaust. To call him to account we’ve launched a petition to demand that he retracts these horrendous statements.

Only by confronting and defeating this hate can we build a country based on humanity and justice. We must fight his lies and he must be held to account. Please join our campaign to get Griffin to publicly retract these remarks and then invite your friends to do the same.

It sounds fair enough. But we know that the BNP is trying to mainstream itself, with some success. More people are voting BNP and are willing to vote BNP than at any time since its inception.

I’ve been told that Greek society frowns on apologies, because they make you appear servile. But the apology has taken on a massive symbolic value in UK discourse. Tony Blair apologises for slavery so we can forget about human trafficking. The Vatican say sorry for burning Galileo so we can ignore its stoking of the African HIV epidemic.

Say Lowles’s petition does really well, so well in fact that Griffin is forced to make a public apology and retraction of his remarks about the Holocaust. Do you think such an apology would be remotely sincere? Would he have to apologise in front of Holocaust survivors, at a Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony? Can you imagine anything more stilted and awkward?

Griffin’s apology, if it were ever made, would be worthless – both to the survivors and the dead. It would be an obscene lie: an apology for an apology. But imagine that he makes it. And then imagine, ten years down the line, good and brave anti-fascist campaigners taking to the streets against a resurgent BNP, knocking on doors and arguing with people who think that fascism is the answer to your leaky roof or an unfair housing allocation system.

These campaigners will try and remind people who the BNP really are. But then Griffin and his goons can turn around and say: ‘Look. Okay we had some crazy views in the past. The whole ‘holohoax’ stuff, that was a bit nasty, but Nick apologised. Searchlight have it on record. We have put fascism behind us and are now a mainstream democratic party.’

Do you think they will, for one second, mean it?

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Another reason to dislike New Labour (without mentioning Jacqui Smith)

January 26, 2009 at 10:54 pm (Caroline S, labour party)


The extreme porn law comes into effect today.

  • It’s based on an understanding (developed in the 40s and 50s) that suggests the media acts like a hypordermic needle, injecting messages into a passive audience.
  • It is based upon the premise that pornography has more to do with rape than the actual scumbag himself.
  • It neglects to acknowledge that the case on which it was based (Jane Longhurst’s murder) was actually a great deal more complex than Labour gave it credit for; with regard to the Longhurst case, Graham Coutts’s fascination with asphixiation began years before he began to download the materials found on his computer, in fact he didn’t look at material on the internet til a good 5 years after he discussed his fascination with his GP? Also, not that it really matters to this case apparently, he said himself he wanted to kill women since he was 15, even seeking psychiatric treatment, believing his thoughts would one day lead to criminal actions, 12 years before the murder. But whatever, extreme pornography killed Jane Longhurst.
  • What does this mean? Here’s the long version, and here’s the short: You watch porn of adults consenting to violent or apparently violent sexual acts and you, my friend, are a crim.

Labour for the win!

So yeah, destroy your kinky porn my criminally perverted friends, Jacqui’s watching!

(oops, mentioned Jacqui)

Cross posted at my blog and Sex In The Public Square.

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250 years old today

January 25, 2009 at 3:44 pm (literature, music, Rosie B, scotland)

Okay, it’s the man’s 250th birthday and it has to be marked:-

The Tree of Liberty (complete poem here)

Heard ye o’ the tree o’ France,

I watna what’s the name o’t;

Around the tree the patriots dance,

Weel Europe kens the fame o’t.

It stands where ance the Bastile stood,

A prison built by kings, man,

When Superstition’s hellish brood

Kept France in leading-strings, man.

 . . . .

Let Britain boast her hardy oak,

Her poplar and her pine, man,

Auld Britain ance could crack her joke,

And o’er her neighbours shine, man

But seek the forest round and round,

And soon ’twill be agreed, man,

That sic a tree can not be found

‘Twixt London and the Tweed, man.

And of course this has to be played as well:-


There’s a load of nationalist and twee crap around Robert Burns – the corporate hospitality of Burns suppers with their facetious Address to the Haggis, Address to the Lassies, Reply from the Lassies etc.  But the basics – the delicious, perfectly balanced food, the fine drink, the grand poetry – are something to admire.

Here’s the last verse of that mighty poem about equality and fraternity:-

Then let us pray that come it may,

(As come it will for a’ that,)

That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,

Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

It’s coming yet for a’ that,

That Man to Man, the world o’er,

Shall brothers be for a’ that. 

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