The TUC and Israel: dual standards and despair

September 19, 2009 at 3:12 pm (anti-semitism, Champagne Charlie, Congress, israel, Middle East, stalinism, unions, workers)

“I regard it as a kind of psychological displacement activity” a leading TUC left-winger told me: “It’s unions and delegates saying, in effect, ‘we can’t take on the government, we’re pretty crap at defending our members, but we can take a really hard line on Israel’.”

What is certainly true is that if this year’s  TUC is remembered for anything at all, it will be for  just two debates: high heel shoes at work and the call to boycott Israel.

What was finally passed on Israel/Palestine was a typical TUC fudge: the FBU motion, supported by Unison and Unite, calling for a total boycott of Israeli goods and questioning the TUC’s links with the Israeli union organisation Histadrut was overruled by a General Council statement, arrived at after much wrangling behind the scenes, that read: “To increase the pressure for for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories and the removal of the seperation wall and illegal settlements we will support a boycott of those goods and agricultural products that originate in illegal settlements through developing an effective, targeted consumer-led boycott campaign.”

Whilst the statement is less objectionable and dangerous than the FBU’s anti-all things Israeli position, two immediate problems present themselves. Firstly, as the FBU president Mick Shaw fairly pointed out, “these goods do not come with a label which says, ‘These goods are produced on an illegal settlement’.” So, EITHER this will be an impractical, ineffectual gesture…OR it will be turned in practice into an all-out boycott campaign of all Israeli products and links with Israel. The latter is quite clearly what people like the Palestine Solidarity Committee and other professional anti-semites and Israel-haters hope for. As the (Stalinist) Communist Party of Britain’s John Haylett writes approvingly in today’s Morning Star: “…it is important that the popular understanding will be that the TUC is in favour of a boycott of Israel…”

The second point to note is that the statement (like the FBU motion) talks explicitly about a “consumer-led boycott campaign.” In other words the leadership of Britain’s trade union movement is calling upon the general public to do something, but not especially upon trade unionists. If the TUC  and its affiliates (especially Unite) were serious about a boycott, they’d be calling upon workers not to handle, transport, load, unload or sell these goods. Instead, they call for a what will, at best, be an empty gesture devoid of trade union principle, international solidarity or any suggestion of working class unity. I say “at best” because at worst – if it were to take off – the “boycott” call would, inevitably, become an anti-Jewish campaign, directed against all those linked to, and in any way sympathetc to, Israel: ie predominantly Jews. That may not be the intention of most of those calling for a boycott, but it would certainly be the end result of a successful campaign.

Much better a positive labour movement campaign of solidarity with the Palestinans, with the Israeli peace movement, and with workers on both sides. The “boycott” call militates against that sort of working class campaign. It’s actually a council of despair as far as working class politics goes.

But, of course, some of those promoting the boycott are actively opposed to working class unity in the context of Israel/Palestine. How else to explain the calls for a “review” (ie: breaking) of links with Histadrut? ‘Ah, but the Histadrut supported the attack on Gaza’, comes the reply. To which we can only reply in turn that if the TUC broke off links with all unions and union federations that supported their own governments – including over imperialist wars and invasions – then it would have precious few international links at all. ‘Ah but the Histadrut is not really a proper trade union at all, but what Comrade Haylett correctly describes as a “cross between a trade union and an employers’ federation”‘ reply the Israel-haters. Two points to make on that: Histadrut is far from being the only trade union organisation in the world to have class-collaborationist links with employers (and – of course – people like Comrade Haylett always rather approved of Eastern European and other Stalinist unions that were -and in the case of Cuba and China, still are – part of their respective states); secondly, whatever its faults the Histadrut is the collective, representative body of the Israeli labour movement. To write off Histadrut is to write off the Israeli working class. But then, that’s what most of the supporters of the boycott have done already, isn’t it?

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Things Tell Less and Less

September 19, 2009 at 10:30 am (literature, Rosie B)

A few weeks ago there was a discussion on this site about the meaning of the last verse of Larkin’s poem, Toads, which I had always found puzzling.   A passing commenter solved the mystery, as far as I was concerned.

The following poem also has puzzling last lines. Written by Larkin’s friend Kingsley Amis, it was not published in his life time but was found among his papers.

The poem is a melancholy evocation of ageing and how it dulls you, and distances you from the world.


Things tell less and less:
The news impersonal
And from afar; no book
Worth wrenching off the shelf.
Liquor brings dizziness
And food discomfort; all
Music sounds thin and tired,
And what picture could earn a look?
The self drowses in the self
Beyond hope of a visitor.
Desire and those desired
Fade, and no matter:
Memories in decay
Annihilate the day.
There once was an answer:
Up at the stroke of seven,
A turn round the garden
(Breathing deep and slow),
Then work, never mind what,
How small, provided that
It serves another’s good
But once is long ago
And, tell me, how could
Such an answer be less than wrong,
Be right all along?
Vain echoes, desist

Kingsley Amis

The lines I find puzzling are:-

And tell me, how could
Such an answer be less than wrong
Be right all along? 

The answer to the question, which is, what should I live for? was working for another’s good.  All right, that answer worked once, but doesn’t work now that the poet is old.   But what does “less than wrong” mean?  If I say someone’s answer was “less than wrong” I mean he didn’t make head nor tail of the question and was off the point entirely.  So a possible meaning is that although that was the right answer, i.e. it was right to do useful work, if only to stave off angst, no-one was really putting a question and there are no “answers” to how to lead a life in that sense.  But I do find it obscure and difficult.  Amis detested obscure and difficult verse and you don’t normally have to tease out his meaning.  But the poem, unpublished in his life time, may not have been finished.  Another untypical use of language is the last line “Vain echoes, desist”, with the archaic “vain” meaning “useless” or “pointless”.  Amis wasn’t one to use archaisms straight.

I put these lines to a friend, an academic in English literature, and she couldn’t come up with anything that explained them satisfactorily.

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How propaganda works

September 15, 2009 at 8:35 pm (Iran, Max Dunbar, media)

presstvOver at Harry’s Place Lucy Lips links to an article by an ex-Press TV staffer who reveals what it’s like to work for the Khomeinist propaganda channel.

It’s a funny and revealing piece full of gossip about staff Facebook use, prono downloads and something called a ‘Gaza bonus’.

Here’s how the channel handled the major events of the summer.

Interestingly, after the June 2009 presidential election, a handful of anchors and photographers quit their jobs, but the staff largely stayed put. They did not have any problem churning out reports that labeled protesters as ‘terrorist groups’ or purported that Neda Agha Soltan was shot by an MKO assassin instead of being shot by the Basij. Indeed, the majority of the American-Iranian and British-Iranian staffers championed Press TV’s coverage as a counterbalance to what they considered biased warping of the story by Western media. The Khamenei credo, as well as Iranian knee-jerk conspiracy thinking, was embossed in their minds after two years of being immersed in it professionally.

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Banning the fash: the dangers for the left

September 15, 2009 at 6:21 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, fascism, Free Speech, Jim D, political groups, unions, workers)

“The BNP’s message of of hate and fear stands in stark contrast to the values of equality and access for all on which our public services are based.

“It’s not acceptable to be a fascist at the weekend and stroll into work Monday morning and have access to sensitive information about citizens from across our communities.

“They are banned in the Prison Service and the police and should be banned across the public sector.”

What decent person could possibly disagree with those words from PCS President Janice Godrich, seconding a motion at the TUC calling for a ban on BNP members working in the public services?

The call seemed all the more powerful when following the vote on the motion(overwhelmingly carried), delegates held a silent vigil against racism, and were joined by community leaders like Gee Walker, whose son Anthony was murdered by racist thugs in 2005.

And yet some of us are worried, and have serious doubts that such a ban is the right way to combat fascism. Max, in his previous posting on the BBC’s decision to invite the BNP onto ‘Question Time’, has already raised the danger of making the fascists look like persecuted victims, denied free speech by a terrified establishment.

But that’s not my main worry about calls to ban BNPers from employment, in the public sector or anywhere else. Who’s going to implement such a ban? Who decides who deserves to be denied employment (or, presumably, sacked), and who doesn’t? As the policy is posed by the TUC (and campaigns like Unite Against Fascism) it can only be the state and the bosses. Is it really such a good idea to give them the power to deny workers (even fascist scum) employment on the basis of political affiliation? If the state and/or bosses decided to use that power against members of left-wing organisations, how would we argue against that? The precedent would have been set.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all in favour of trade unionists refusing to work with proven fascists and hard-line racists. I think it’s probably right that they’re banned from the police and the prison service. Employees who abuse their position at work to promote racism should be subject to disciplinary action. And I’m certainly not about to propose any sort of campaign to defend the employment rights of fascists. But it’s not an effective way to fight them. And it sets a very, very dangerous precedent, likely (as in the case of the Public Order Act) to be used against the left rather than the far right.

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Indian Summer with the Hawk

September 13, 2009 at 4:29 pm (jazz, Jim D)

What a glorious day it’s been here in Birmingham (UK)! An ‘Indian Summer’ I believe. Where does that term come from? Anyone know?

Anyway, it gives me an excuse to post a little fillumn of the great Coleman Hawkins playing the song of that name (by Victor Herbert, if you’re interested); the pianist is that amazing Jewish pianist (and Cantor) Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith.

Many tenor sax players have come and gone since The Hawk burst onto the scene in the late 1920’s: but he remains the Master:

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Mansour Ossanlu needs your support!

September 13, 2009 at 2:00 am (Civil liberties, class, Human rights, Iran, Jim D, Middle East, unions, workers)

From: Amnesty International
Sent: Saturday, September 12, 2009 8:01 AM
Subject: Mansour Ossanlu: urgent update
protect the human

Jailed Iranian trade unionist urgently needs your help

Dear Supporter,Mansour Ossanlu

Two years ago, when Mansour Ossanlu was at risk of losing his eyesight, your protests led to his transfer to hospital for the operation he needed.

Now he needs your help again.

I’m sorry to tell you that Ossanlu’s health has deteriorated again. And once more he is being denied the specialist care that prison doctors say he urgently needs. The case judge says that he cannot be treated outside the prison.

Send a message to the Iranian authorities to insist that they meet their humanitarian responsibilities to Ossanlu and to call for freedom for all jailed trade unionists.

Two years ago, you backed our appeal for Mansour Ossanlu in your thousands – one of the biggest responses we’ve ever seen. I urge you to do the same again today.

Thank you for your support.


Shane Enright

Shane Enright
Trade Unions Campaign Manager

PS Please forward this appeal to friends and colleagues.


Email the Iranian Authorities

Small actions X Millions = Big change

If you have any queries or feedback about this email or Amnesty’s work, please get in touch with our Supporter Care team on or on +44 (0)20 7033 1777.

Amnesty International UK is a company limited by guarantee. Registered in England no 01735872, registered office


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Lenny the nonner

September 13, 2009 at 12:12 am (blogging, blogosphere, Champagne Charlie, students, SWP, twat, wankers)

Richard “Lenin” Seymour – the most pretentiously-named blogger in the blogosphere –  recently posted this  extraordinary admission (scroll down to #87):

“As someone who has never even been able to join a union, never mind vote in one, I have a couple of questions. ..”

People (including me) have asked Lenny/Seymour what, exactly he means by “never been  able to join a union“, but have received no reply. Surely the SWP requires its members in work, to join the appropriate union? Seymour is, I understand, a lecturer: so why isn’t he in the UCU?

Mind you, his status as a “nonner” does explain his repeated inability to get his head around the most elementary industrial issues.

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70 years on: hysterical Stalinists still lie about their pact with Hitler

September 12, 2009 at 5:38 pm (anti-fascism, Europe, fascism, Guardian, history, Jim D, Russia, stalinism, truth, war)


(Above) Hitler: “The scum of the earth, I believe?”; Stalin: “The bloody assassin of the workers I presume?”

Fact: on 23 August 1939, the  foreign minister of Nazi Germany, von Ribbentrop, signed an agreement with his opposite number in the Soviet Union, Vyacheslav Molotov, pledging non-aggression: what became known as the Stalin-Hitler pact.

Fact: this pact gave Hitler the go-ahead to invade Poland and gave the Nazis a free hand to begin the extermination of the Jews in Eastern Poland.

I am not aware of one single reputable historian who denies these facts. Stalinists have struggled hard over the years to deny, explain away and minimise this shameful nadir in their history, but generally are reduced to shouting “over there!” to avoid serious discussion.

Seventy years on, the Graun‘s pet Stalinist posh-boy Seamas Milne is shouting himself hoarse with cries of “over there!” Geriatric members of the Stalin Society are making identical points  in letters to the Morning Star. The “over there!” line goes something like this: the Soviet Union played a decisive role in the ultimate defeat of Hitler, so to accuse it of having collaborated with Hitler is obviously untrue; the Stalin-Hitler pact was an unfortunate necessity (or “shocking act of realpolitik” – S. Milne), but was forced upon Stalin by the treachery of Chamberlain at Munich and the refusal of the Polish  colonels (no better than the Nazis, anyway)  to agree to allow the Red Army into Poland in 1935; finally, to accuse the Soviet union of collaborating with the Nazis is “revisionist” and downplaying the unique evil of Nazism , so much the same as the present-day ultra-right’s holocaust denial (a truly despicable argument in my opinion – JD).

Posh Boy Milnes’s slippery prose,  ignorance and /or dishonesty is clinically dissected by Prof Norm here and by the historian Orlando Figes (a particular hate-figure for the Stalinists) in a letter to today’s Graun  and here. Figes (whose left-reformist politics I don’t share, but who is a reputable historian and -unlike Milne – an honest man) is particularly incensed at being misrepresented by Posh Boy on the question of the holocaust:

In my piece on the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact for the BBC World Service website I wrote that ‘For the Jews of all those lands [those of the Baltic and Eastern Europe invaded by the German and Soviet armies in 1939-41], the pact was the licence for the holocaust.’ This is historically undeniable – the Germans began their mass killings of the Jews in Polish territories they occupied with Stalin’s agreement; while the Terror in the Soviet zone played into the hands of the Nazis in 1941. But this is not to argue, as Milne suggests I do by omitting the first part of the quoted sentence, that Stalin shared in the responsibility for the holocaust in general.”

Actually, my personal view is that a very strong case can be made for Stalin’s culpability in setting in train the events that led to the holocaust, but that’s not what Figes has argued, and it’s clear that Milne has lied about him – or that the public school educated Milne is so stupid and blinded by Stalinist propaganda that he simply cannot read what people have written without misunderstanding it.

I’ll leave the last word to Leon Trotsky – who might have had Posh Boy Milne himself in mind when he wrote the phrase ‘rotten sophistry'”:

“The German – Soviet pact is a capitulation of Stalin before fascist imperialism with the end of preserving the Soviet oligarchy.

“In all the pacifist masquerades organized by the Comintern, Hitler was proclaimed the chief, if not the only aggressor; on the contrary, Poland was for them an innocent lamb. Now when Hitler passed from words to deeds and started the agression against Poland, Moscow passed to deeds, too…and is helping Hitler. These are the simple facts. It is impossible to escape from them with rotten sophistry.” – ‘The German-Soviet Alliance’, September 1939, ‘Writings 1939-40.’

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Female Film

September 10, 2009 at 8:01 pm (Feminism, Rosie B, women)

The great Kath Pollitt about the film Julie & Julia:-

What I loved most of all, though, was that Julie & Julia is that very rare thing, a movie centred on adult women, and that even rarer thing, a movie about women’s struggle to express their gifts through work. Not a boyfriend, a fabulous wedding, a baby, a gay best friend, a better marriage, escape from a serial killer, the perfect work-family balance, another baby. Real life is full of women for whom work is at the centre, who crave creative challenge, who are miserable until they find a way to make a mark on the world.

But in the movies, women with big ambitions tend to be Prada-wearing devils  or uptight thirtysomethings who relax when they find a slacker boyfriend or inherit an adorable orphan. Among recent films, Seraphine, Martin Provost’s biopic about an early-20th-century French cleaning woman and self-taught painter, is practically unique in its curiosity about a woman’s creative drive.

A commenter says:-

I agree 100%!

The real eye opener is the “Bechdel Test” – to pass this a film must have at least 2 female characters in it who have a conversation about something which is not a man. It’s astounding how few films pass this simple test! If they do they are almost always vapid chick-flicks. I’d go and see way more films if there were more out like “Persepolis“, say – i.e. films with female protagonists that aren’t about shoes.

Off the top of my head I began listing films that passed the Bechdel Test:-

Calendar Girls
The Magdalene Sisters and films about nuns generally eg Black Narcissus
Paradise Road
Heavenly Creatures
Picnic at Hanging Rock
The Accompanist
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Alien and its sequels
The St Trinians series

Silkwood Most on the list are set in all female organisations like girls’ schools (Heavenly Creatures, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, St Trinians); nunneries (The Magdalene Sisters, Black Narcissus); the WI (Calendar Girls); or a women’s prison camp (Paradise Road). So like men in war films, the women are forced to associate only with their own gender.  Six of them, Julia, Calendar Girls, The Magdalene Sisters, Paradise Road, Heavenly Creatures, and Silkwood, are based on true stories.  I would have included Gorillas in the Mist except that the Dian Fossey character talks to gorillas rather than other women. 

Evidently script writers can’t think up stories with women protagonists who do something other than emote over men or the marketing department thinks that films with women that are not chick-flicks or rom-coms won’t sell, like an electric gadget without a mains lead and plug included.

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The limits of no platform

September 10, 2009 at 11:16 am (anti-fascism, Max Dunbar, media)

I admire whoever it was on the staff of the Brussels O’Farrell’s bar that told Nick Griffin that he ‘wasn’t welcome’ there. If only we in Britain had the courage to do Griffin and his supporters the same courtesy, instead of making excuses for the fuckers. 

The principles of free speech and association have limits – free speech doesn’t extend to the right to have articles published in any newspaper you choose or to speak at any institution you like. The BBC has no obligation to give Nick Griffin airtime. 

Unfortunately, having invited Griffin to be a panellist on Question Time, the BBC can’t very well disinvite him now and let the BNP portray itself yet again as the Voice of the People silenced by the Liberal Elite/ZOG.

Probably the BBC should not have invited Griffin on. But their grounds for doing so are reasonable:

A BBC spokeswoman said: ‘The BBC is obliged to treat all political parties registered with the Electoral Commission and operating within the law with due impartiality.

”By winning representation in the European parliament, the BNP has demonstrated evidence of electoral support at a national level. This will be reflected in the amount of coverage it receives on BBC programmes such as Question Time.’

That seems to cover it. There is significant electoral support for racist and fascist politics in this country. You can make excuses about immigration and multiculturalism and political correctness and the victimhood of the white male as much as you like, the fact is that there is support for racist and fascist policies in the UK electorate and you have to face that.

The decision has received massive coverage on the papers and blogs. Chris Dillow says that the show itself is too debased:

QT is not a platform for debate but merely a zoo in which soundbites are vomited into an audience who clap like hyperactive seals.

There’s a danger that Nick Griffin could actually emerge well from such a show.

His imbecile beliefs lend themselves better to cheap slogans than do arguments in favour of immigration – especially as viewers have been primed by the trash media to give credence to such beliefs, and as his opponents are likely to be discredited ministers who lack the courage to make the case for immigration.

Lenny echoes this:

Just to be clear: there is no prospect, whatsoever, of a ‘debate’ of any meaningful kind taking place if Nick Griffin is allowed to be a guest on Question Time. That show is not about debate. It consists of soundbite answers to soundbite questions. Serious matters are discussed, but not in a serious way. In such a context, all that is likely to happen is that the fascist leader will take the opportunity to issue his usual string of coded racist provocations and lies, and hope for enough of them to stick.

I tend to agree – television’s not the best medium for serious debate. If you really want to understand something then books, serious newspapers, journals and even blogs are much more use. Michael Shermer’s attempt to debate a holocaust denier on a chat show whose host had no understanding of the issues should be born in mind here. (He records it, with Alex Grobman, in the excellent Denying History.)

But circumstances for debate are rarely ideal and I have seen good arguments made on QT – Christopher Hitchens’s clash with Shirley Williams is a fine example of this

A Griffin appearance on QT would also have the pleasing effect of exposing the cowardly, corrupt scum in the political class and punditocracy who ostensibly oppose the BNP but agree with much of its worldview, particularly on immigration. It would bring home how far to the extreme right the debate has gone on that issue.

I understand Dillow’s and Seymour’s reluctance to trust mainstream politicians to take Griffin on, but surely there’s room in the format for creativity. Why not buy tickets to the Griffin QT and repeatedly ask questions that highlight the gap between his public rhetoric and his fascist lineage? 

To me a lot of the critical comment stems from a lack of intellectual courage. Are we really so unsure of winning an argument with a fascist?

I like Phil BC’s take on this.

This is the stock response we should expect from establishment anti-fascism. No doubt tomorrow’s press release from Unite Against Fascism will wag its finger at the BBC and ask if the editors know the BNP is a Nazi organisation full of Holocaust-denying freaks and people with criminal records. Nor would I be surprised if the UAF commit itself to picketing future Question Times Nazi Nick has been invited to.

The problem with all this is it plays right into the BNP’s hands. We may not like it but the BNP has successfully built up a semi-stable, semi-localised electoral base who are receptive to what the fascists have to say. A core element of their propaganda is a persecution complex where the BNP are victimised by powerful forces for daring to tell the ‘truth’. This is compounded by anti-fascists attempting to no platform the BNP without offering a rebuttal of their racist narrative. In the minds of casual BNP supporters it looks as though they have the establishment running scared.

Underlying this commitment to a no platformist strategy is a thinly veiled belief the BNP’s target audience – white working class people – have a hard time thinking for themselves. They need shielding from their Nazi lies because there’s a danger at any moment they’ll become slobbering racists.

I for one have much more faith in working class people. If they can see through the bollocks regularly churned out by Gordon Brown and co, they are more than able to see Griffin for the thick prejudiced tosser he is.

That is it. BNP support is predicated on white male self-pity: the myth of the white male being oppressed by liberals/political correctness/immigrants/ZOG. The QT invite takes away that victimology card: okay, we’re treating you like a proper politician, we’re having you on a serious programme, now why can’t you answer serious questions?

I can’t help feeling this has to be better than throwing eggs.


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