Ron Paul: the “left”‘s favourite racist, antisemite and homophobe?

January 22, 2012 at 9:59 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, Asshole, conspiracy theories, elections, insanity, Jim D, libertarianism, populism, Racism, reaction, Republican Party, Troothers, United States)

Congressman Ron Paul poses with neo-Nazi leader and campaign contributor Don Black. (Photo: Ace of Spades)

The grotesque freak-show that is the US Republican Party’s search for a Presidential candidate has already provided us with some almost unbelievable spectacles: a candidate who couldn’t remember his own policies, another who didn’t know where Obama stood on Libya,  Mitt Romney cast as a “moderate,” Rick Santorum taken seriously and Newt Gingrich now tipped as the likely winner. Roll up, roll up: the GOP circus is in town!

But of all the weird and wonderful phantasms to have emerged from the foetid miasma of the Republican Party’s flatulence, none can match congressman Ron Paul. He won’t win the nomination, but in his way he’s making at least as big an impact as the front-runners. That’s in part because he’s outspoken, consistent and colourful. It’s also because, alone amongst the candidates, he’s attracting support from sections of the liberal-left in America and further afield.

The British New Statesman magazine, for instance, recently carried an article by Alec MacGillis (senior editor at New Republic) that suggested “Liberals must grapple with their mixed feelings about Paul.” The magazine’s cover billed Paul as “the left’s favourite libertarian.”

Meanwhile at the supposedly left-of-centre Salon.com, one Glenn Greenwald can scarcely contain his enthusiasm for Paul ; after an ass-covering disclaimer (“I am not ‘endorsing’ or expressing support for anyone’s candidacy”), Greenwold goes on to pen a breathless paean to “the only political figure with any sort of a national platform – certainly the only major presidential candidate in either party – who advocates policy views that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial…alone among the national figures in both parties (Paul) is able and willing to advocate views that Americans urgently need to hear.”

What are these views “that Americans urgently need to hear”? Well, Paul is in favour of immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, opposes “destructive blind support” of Israel, is critical of the “War on Drugs” and…he’s on record opposing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, denouncing Martin Luther King Day as “our annual Hate Whitey Day,” and considers  that “we can safely assume that 95 per cent of the black males in [Los Angeles] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.”

He considers gay rights campaigners to be the “organised forces of perversion,” and that “Homosexuals, not to speak of the rest of society, were far better off when social pressure forced them to hide their activities.”  He has speculated about 9/11 [NB: correction; he was actually referring to the 1993 attack on the WTC -see comments below] being “a setup by the Israeli Mossad, as a Jewish friend of mine suspects…” He believes that there are “tens of thousands of well-placed friends of Israel in all countries who are willing to wok (sic) for Mossad in their area of expertise.”

He has also given practical advice to militias on how best to organise: “You can’t kill a hydra by cutting off it’s head…Keep group size down…Keep quiet and you’re harder to find…Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. If you have more than one rifle, store it in a hideaway spot…Hide your best eggs from prying eyes. Destroy any documents or discs that become unnecessary…Bojangles Robinson ain’t the only one who can tap. Avoid the phone as much as possible…Remember you’re not alone.”

In fairness, it should be stated that these opinions (and many, many more along similar lines) appeared in  a series of newsletters published under his name (“The Ron Paul Report”, “The Ron Paul Newsletter”, “The Ron Paul Survival Guide”) that he published in the 1980’s and 90’s. He doesn’t deny that he authorised the newsletters, or that they generated as much as $1 million dollars per year for him. His defence is (wait for it)…they were written by someone else in his name, and he didn’t bother reading them at the time!

Paul, of course stands in a long-standing US political tradition – one that reached its zenith in the late thirties and early forties: that of Lindbergh. If you think that’s an exaggeration, then listen to what former Paul staffer Eric Dondero says (in an article largely devoted to defending Paul):

“It’s his foreign policy that’s the problem; not so much some stupid and whacky things on race and gays he may have said or written in the past.

“Ron Paul is most assuredly an isolationist. He denies this charge vociferously. But I can tell you straight out, I had countless arguments/discussions with him over his personal views. For example, he strenously does not believe the United States had any business getting involved in fighting Hitler in WWII. He expressed to me countless times, that ‘saving the Jews’ was absolutely none of our business. When pressed, he often brings up conspiracy theories like FDR knew about the attacks on Pearl Harbor weeks before hand, or that WWII was just ‘blowback’ for Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy errors, and such.

“I would challenge him, like for example, what about the instances of German U-boats attacking U.S. ships, or even landing on the coast of North Carolina or Long Island, NY. He’d finally concede that that and only that was reason enough to counter-attack against the Nazis, not any humanitarian causes like preventing the holocaust.”

To get a full handle on how bad Paul’s record and positions are, here is a quick rundown. Ron Paul:

Anyone that still thinks that a “progressive” vote for Paul is a legitimate vote under any circumstances doesn’t know what the word “progressive” means.  And a “left” that has even the tiniest tincture of sympathy for this thoroughgoing reactionary, racist, homophobe, conspiracy-nut and isolationist, is a “left” that has completely lost its moral and political bearings.

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Royal coup de grace

January 21, 2012 at 11:56 am (Free Speech, Galloway, media, Rosie B)

Broadcasting in Britain is controlled by the royal family – and they will force any television channel that criticises them to close down, Press TV revealed today.

Ofcom has revoked Press TV’s licence, claiming that Press TV had not paid the £100,000 fine that had been demanded after it had broken regulations by broadcasting a “forced” confession from a journalist, and also for being controlled from Teheran rather than London. [more here]

Press TV’s scoop:-

Ofcom is said to have close ties to Britain’s royal family. And the cables released by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks show that Press TV’s programs on the royal wedding, which many in the country described as extravagant, angered the royal family.

The CEO of Press TV, Mohammad Sarafaz, is not daunted:-

Sarafraz stressed that Ofcom’s bid to revoke Press TV’s license will not prevent the channel from broadcasting the truth about the British Royal regime.

“It is futile to attempt to conceal the truth from the people of Britain, and those that want to hear our alternative voice will find a way despite your efforts,” he said.

In these internet streaming days, Mr Sarafaz is no doubt right.   Those who are looking for the alternative voice on eg the “Holocaust”, will not be thwarted.

The fair-minded analysis of the brilliant literary stylist
, George Galloway, will still be available.  Lauren Booth will still speak her truths to power about Zionist control of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. and their persecution of the popular intellectual, Gilad Atzmon.

Hireling lackey of the British government and Welsh corgi poodle John Humphrys “covered” the story of Press TV on the BBC’s Today programme this morning (second item from the end).   He interviewed Yvonne Ridley, an employee of the channel.  So afraid was he of any more revelations about the British royal family’s stranglehold on broadcasting in Britain he did not once ask her to enlarge on this exclusive story dug up by Press TV.

Ms Ridley announced that Press TV could not pay the fine as there are sanctions on Iran’s banks.  As for her salary, barrels of unrefined oil are collected by her, Mr Galloway and Ms Booth at London’s docklands where they hawk them in the street.

We at Shiraz demand further investigation into the Royal family’s death grip on the media of this country.

We know that Prince Charles is in the habit of interfering in political affairs – normally on matters of architecture, ecology and quack medicine.   However, if he has been leaning on media outlets who question paying for Royal extravaganzas, that is the end of The Guardian, the New Statesman and letter writers to The Times.  Here’s something that  Carol Ann Duffy, the poet laureate should address:-

Listen matey,
To keep your job,
Act  like mater
And shut your gob

Note from Ofcom:- Guards, take her away. (Clang of dropping portcullis).

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Etta James 1938 – 2012

January 20, 2012 at 8:59 pm (black culture, jazz, Jim D, music, song, Soul, The blues)

Though her life had its share of troubles to the end — her husband and sons were locked in a long-running battle over control of her estate, which was resolved in her husband’s favor only weeks before her death — Ms. James said she wanted her music to transcend unhappiness rather than reflect it.       

“A lot of people think the blues is depressing,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1992, “but that’s not the blues I’m singing. When I’m singing blues, I’m singing life. People that can’t stand to listen to the blues, they’ve got to be phonies” – from the New York Times  obituary

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Scottish labour movement must find its own voice

January 20, 2012 at 12:38 am (AWL, class, Cross-post, democracy, scotland, SSP, Unite the union)

From the Workers Liberty website

By Dale Street

“There are two different forms of nationalism in the referendum. The British nationalism of a ‘No’ vote. The Scottish nationalism of a ‘Yes’ vote. And Scottish nationalism is better for the workers.”

So John McAllion (former Labour MP and MSP, and now a member of the Scottish Socialist Party) concluded his pro-independence speech at a conference in Glasgow on 14 January, organised by the United Left (Scotland) of the Unite trade union.

The Tories and the SNP have clashed over the timing of a referendum, how many questions should be on the voting paper, who should be entitled to vote, what would be the status of the referendum result, and what body should have overall responsibility for the conduct of the referendum.

Both have been motivated more by self-serving calculation than by principle.

The SNP can genuinely argue that it has a mandate for staging a referendum in late 2014. But the real reason why the SNP wants to hold it then is that it calculates (correctly) that it would have a better chance of winning then: around the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn, after the second “Scottish Homecoming” celebrations and a succession of international sporting events in Scotland, and shortly before a UK General Election which could see the Tories returned to power.

According to McAllion, there has been a “genius” element in the British state which allowed it to “mould and change threats, to see off threats to the establishment.”

The Labour Party has been “moulded and changed” by the British state. There is no time to spend another hundred years trying to build a new workers’ Labour Party. But an independent Scotland will open up space for the progressive political change previously stifled by the British state.

Independence for Scotland will also be “a golden opportunity” for the British trade union movement to show how trade unions can operate across national boundaries. In truth it is not the “genius” of the British state which holds back progressive social change, but the idiocy of the Labour and trade union leaders who fail to fight for it.

The weakness of the British labour movement comes from its own political limitations, not from the quirks of British governance (monarchy, House of Lords, etc.), which the movement would have changed long ago if its leaders were combative enough.

Independence would not be “a golden opportunity” for the trade union movement. Right now, despite the changes and political differences resulting from devolution, there is a single British trade union movement. The EIS teachers’ union is the only union of any size which is purely Scottish.

What is the point in that unified trade union movement campaigning for the creation of an obstacle to that unity — another national border — so that it can then show how well equipped it is to overcome it?

Other speakers at the conference claimed virtues for nationalism.

Jackson Cullinane, the Political Officer of Unite in Scotland, argued: “Nationalism can be reactionary or progressive. Examples of the latter are Cuba, Venezuela, and James Connolly and Ireland … There is no conflict between the ideology of nationalism and the ideology of socialism.”

Specific Scottish examples of this supposed lack of conflict between socialism and nationalism were Keir Hardie (who called for Home Rule when he stood as the first independent labour candidate in 1888) and John Maclean (who advocated a Scottish Communist Republic).

But when Keir Hardie advocated Home Rule in the mid-Lanark by-election in 1888 it was an expression of his continuing Liberal political baggage. Until shortly before the by-election Hardie had been a member of the Liberals, and his election slogan was: “A vote for Hardie is a vote for Gladstone.”

There clearly is a conflict between nationalism and socialism. Nationalism is about organising and mobilising people on the basis of their national identity. Socialism is about organising and mobilising people on the basis of their class identity.

Nationalism is a particularising ideology: it divides people up according to their national identity. Socialism is a “universalising” ideology: it unites the working class, the class which aspires to liberate all humanity, across the boundaries of national identity.

Sometimes socialist movements may pursue goals also sought by nationalist movements, like freedom for the colonies of the imperialist powers in the twentieth century.

Even then nationalism as an ideology conflicts with the ideology of socialism. And Scotland’s case is not analogous to the national liberation movements in India or Algeria: hardly anyone argues that Scotland is subject to national oppression.

The third speaker at the 14 January conference was John Foster, for many years the Communist Party’s main theoretician in Scotland.

In the early 1970s, he recalled, the trade union movement in Scotland had begun to take up the question of a Scottish Parliament in response to the initiatives of Communist Party members such as the miners’ leader Mick McGahey. It was the start of the road which eventually led to the creation of a Scottish Parliament some three decades later.

But, said Foster, the hopes of the early 1970s that the Scottish Parliament would be a “workers parliament” had been dashed by the political domination of neo-liberalism. What was needed now was a specifically labour movement form of “devo-max”, involving “redistribution-max” (i.e. redistribution of wealth) and “democracy-max”. If the labour movement fails to shape the Scottish nation, he warned, then reactionary forces will do so.

Foster’s argument cannot be understood outside of the evolution of the Communist Party’s politics.

From the 1930s onwards the Communist Party in Scotland (and elsewhere) pursued “popular-frontist” politics, allying with and accommodating to non-working-class political forces.

In 1972 this “popular frontism”, which by then had come to be known as ‘building a broad democratic alliance’, led the Communist Party in Scotland to push the Scottish TUC to convene the first-ever Scottish Assembly in Edinburgh in 1972 – bringing together trade unions with… local authorities, the Scottish CBI, Chambers of Commerce, and Tory MPs.

“Devo-max” is the demand around which the Communist Party hopes to reconstruct the “broad democratic alliance” which produced the Scottish Assembly of 1972. Logically, after pro-independence and “devo-max” speakers, the final speaker at the conference should have been someone arguing for some version of retaining a larger political unit.

Instead, Lorraine Davidson (introduced as “a journalist” but better known as a former Labour Party spin-doctor) described herself as “a mere observer in this debate, not here to make any political point.”

The Scottish left, or much of it, is confused about the basic difference between nationalism and socialism, and so demoralised that the SNP is effectively to be entrusted to achieve what the labour movement has failed to achieve.

Despite the repeated invocations about the need for the labour movement to have its own distinctive agenda, the best on offer was really a latter-day “broad democratic alliance” of the Scottish people against neo-liberalism.

The 14 January conference was billed as the start of a debate. The debate must be  continued – and shifted onto the grounds of class-struggle socialism.

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When Thatcher dies

January 18, 2012 at 12:27 am (Cross-post, James Bloodworth, left, Thatcher, Tory scum)

By James Bloodworth at Obliged to Offend:

Instead of celebrating when Thatcher dies, the left should reflect on what a pig’s ear it’s made of the past 30 years

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Ever since Margaret Thatcher stopped appearing in public due to poor health, the fit and proper reaction to her eventual exit from the earthly realm has been discussed with increasing regularity by the left.
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That rolling news will gloss over her legacy with the empty platitudes of the obsequious is entirely predictable. Nor will it surprise many to see the leading lights of the Labour Party queuing up to shower the former Prime Minister with praise.
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There are, however, plenty of us who haven’t forgotten the lives she destroyed, the dictators she championed or the unmitigated social disaster set in motion by her particular brand of finance capitalism. We do not feel the need to do what many formerly of the left now do, and parrot the dictum that we are ‘all Thatcherites now’ (just a hint, but when a person says neo-liberal capitalism is ‘inevitable’ what they really mean is that it is desirable). Many of us are not, and never will be Thatcherites, and we will continue to feel no shame in believing that there is more to life than the winner-takes-all capitalism she so unapologetically championed during her lifetime.
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There are of course also those, on the other side of the fence, who view Thatcher’s eventual demise as an opportunity to get one over on her family, her friends, and her supporters in a way that was not possible in an era when her ideas triumphed so emphatically. In this regard, Margaret Thatcher’s death is not only to be greeted with sullen contempt, but is to be actively celebrated.
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The idea of getting back at this almost mythical figure for the numerous defeats she inflicted on the left is strong motivation for those planning to crack open the Champers on learning of her passing. Considering that during her reign she trounced us at every opportunity, revelled in her victories, and then did it again, the desire to see the back of the woman is perhaps understandable, even if the outright celebration of her passing is, to my mind at least, taking things a bit far.
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What we on the left would do well to remember, however, is that the ideas embodied by Mrs Thatcher are not going to be dented, let alone killed-off by the departure of their most famous living embodiment. ‘All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come,’ Victor Hugo once said, and if the left is to recover from the tremendous setbacks it has suffered during the past 30 years, it is the ideas embodied by Mrs Thatcher that must be replaced, not the worn-out figure of an elderly lady.
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Rather than celebrating the death of a human being, even a not particularly endearing one, the left should instead examine with clear-sightedness where it has gone wrong, how it has behaved and how it can do better – and boy, can it do better. Considering the complete failure to make any political inroads since the 2008 banking crash, this should be clearer today than ever.
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Time and energy spent celebrating the deaths of those who popularise ideas we dislike is time that would be better spent popularising our own ideas. With this in mind, morbid celebrations are better left to the psychologically unhinged. The media already does an effective job in portraying us as morally detached from the values of the average person; they certainly don’t need us serving up ammunition on a plate for them.

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McCluskey, Miliband and the Labour link

January 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm (Cuts, Guardian, Jack Haslam, labour party, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Len McCluskey’s article denouncing Ed Miliband in today’s Guardian merely puts into the public domain what the Unite Gen Sec has been saying for some time within the union. McCluskey and the Unite leadership are bitterly disappointed with the man they played such a big role in making Labour leader. McCluskey told a recent Executive Council (EC) meeting that if Miliband gives in to the Blairites, fails to offer a radical alternative to the Coalition and (as a result) loses the next election, Labour will be finished as a working class party and Unite will break its links with the party. He concludes his Guardian piece with a slightly toned-down version of that scenario:

“No effort was made by Labour to consult with trade unions before making the shift [ie – the statements by Balls and Miliband over the weekend, accepting the public sector pay freeze and hedging on Coalition spending cuts], notwithstanding that it impacts on millions of our members. It is hard to imagine the City being treated in such a cavalier way.

This confronts those of us who have supported Ed Miliband’s bold attempt to move on from Blairism with a challenge. His leadership has been undermined as he is being dragged back into the swamp of bond market orthodoxy. And this policy coup may not be the end of the matter. Having won on the measures, new Labour will likely come for the man sooner or later. And that way lies the destruction of the Labour party as constituted, as well as certain general election defeat in my view. It is time for those who want a real alternative centred on investment, job creation and public intervention to end the slump – and a Labour party that will articulate that to get organised in parliament and outside.”

What McCluskey says is undoubtably true and certainly reflects the views of the vast majority of Unite members. But it’s scarcely the dramatic volte face that sections of the media are trying to make out: Unite remains committed to the Labour link for the forseeable future. McCluskey, when he stood for the general secretary’s position in 2010, was outspoken in his defence of the Labour link, though he made it clear that the days when union “representatives” on Labour’s NEC regularly voted against union policy, were numbered. From now on, he told hustings audiences, Unite delegates to the Party would be expected to fight for the union’s policies, and a much more assertive and openly pro-working class stance would be adopted.

McCluskey, an honest reformist, has made some real efforts to put that approach into operation. In December of last year, for instance, the EC overwhelmingly endorsed a document (“Unite Political Strategy”) drawn up by the union’s Political Director, Steve Hart. It opens with the following:

“The aim of our political strategy is clear –

  • Winning Labour for working people
  • Winning working people for Labour
  • Building a broad alliance to defeat the Tories and their policies
  • Winning a Labour government which will govern in the interests of working people and towards a socialism for the 21st  century

“But, for too long, Unite has talked; now we intend to carry through detailed plans to take forward our strategy.

“For several years Unite has, along with others, talked of ‘reclaiming Labour’ for the values of ordinary working people and for policies which advance their interests.  This reflects the fact that the record of the last Labour government was, for the most part, a bitter disappointment for all those, including Unite’s predecessor unions, which had such high hopes in 1997.  Apart from the wider failures, ranging from the uncritical embrace of the City through to the privatisation of public services and the Iraq War, trade unions were generally treated with disdain by the government.  Moreover, trade union-supported candidates found it harder than ever to be selected for parliamentary seats, something which has led to a huge change in the social make-up of the Parliamentary Labour party.

“However, we must acknowledge that for all the talk of ‘reclaiming’ the Party, little progress was made.  This has led to great frustration within the union, the more so since the Party’s requests for financial support from our union and others have continued unabated.  So it is time for a change.

“The times are favourable for a renewed effort to reconnect Labour with the concerns of our members and the working-class more generally.  The crash of 2008 has highlighted the failure of neo-liberalism to almost everyone.  And in Ed Miliband Labour has a new leader anxious to put the ‘New Labour’ years behind us and embrace a new and more radical political approach.  There is also a growing recognition that Labour cannot win again without addressing the loss of at least four million working-class votes between 1997 and 2010. In reclaiming Labour now, we are pushing against at least a half-open door.  The crisis and the Coalition’s reactionary austerity agenda is pushing millions of people to look at politics in a new way, and the ‘Occupy’ movement has caught the public imagination.  On the other hand, forces more-or-less openly hostile to our agenda remain strong within the PLP, and are well-financed outside Parliament by groups like Progress.  The battle for Labour’s future direction is therefore undecided, and it is right that Unite, as the Party’s largest affiliate, should play the fullest possible part in the struggle for Labour’s soul.

 “We are therefore already reinvigorating our political work at all levels after a period in which it was over-concentrated on top-level contacts at the expense of any strategy.  We have initiated the formation, with other unions, MPs and interested parties, of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLaSS) as a think-tank which can develop the new ideas needed to shape a renewed socialist agenda in the 21st century.  We expect it to start producing valuable work in the course of 2012.  We have also made efforts to bring together a group of Labour MPs committed to reconnecting the Party with working-class communities – this has taken its first steps, although progress remains unsatisfactory to date.

 “Now we must do more. Our union needs a comprehensive strategy to advance our political work, reclaiming the Labour Party as an instrument of social progress which defeats the Tory Coalition government at the next general election and then governs in the interests of working people.”

Hart’s document then goes on to outline a quite detailed and practical strategy for extending the union’s influence within the Party, including co-operation with other unions to secure the adoption of union (or “union-friendly”) candidates in winnable seats, making Labour Party work the first item on every Unite Regional Committee agenda, winning 5,000 Unite members to Labour Party membership by December 2012, a regular Party members’ newsletter, ensuring the best representaives for the National Policy Forum and “building alliances with other affiliates and with community organisations and with the CLP’s and appropriate pressure groups to win specific policies.”

The document closes with the following exhortation:
“Unite will always be very clear that winning back the 5 million lost voters, reconnecting with working class voters, ending the crisis of working class representation, winning back Labour for trade union values, are tasks that require profound organisational change by Unite and in our relationship with Labour.

“Winning a Labour government which will govern in the interests of working people and towards socialism for the 21st century is our objective – the strategy outlined here is our best shot towards that aim.”

Hart’s document remains Unite policy, but it has to be said that little has been done to impliment it since it was passed by the EC in December. This has been, in part, because of Unite’s  organisational inertia, its regional autonomy (which severely restricts the extent to which the EC can enforce policy) and – it has to be admitted – a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the Labour Party even amongst activists. As a result more effort has been put into chumming-up with various “left” (and not-so-“left”) MPs in an effort to recreate the Tribune Group circa 1959, than in organising an intervention into the Party. The situation is not helped by the baleful influence of ‘Chief of Staff’ Andrew Murray, an unreconstructed Stalinist and one-time ‘Respect’-supporter who has no alternative to the union’s intervention into the Labour Party, but has no interest in it beyond a wish to see it fail.

Meanwhile, informal negotiations have begun between Unite and the PCS, the non-affiliated civil service union. The prospect of bringing the PCS into Unite (presumably as a distinct Industrial Sector) may also be a factor militating against a more vigorous Labour Party orientation.

What McCluskey has said and written about Miliband and Labour is all true, and needs to have been said. But the truth is, the union has no coherent alternative to a serious orientation to Labour, as outlined in Hart’s document. There is no other realistic prospect for re-establishing working class political representation in the forseeable future. The strategy needs to be implemented as a matter of urgency.

PS: now Kenny of the GMB is threatening disaffiliation.

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Eric Lee on global labour online campaigns

January 16, 2012 at 11:49 am (Cross-post, cyberspace, internationalism, Jim D, solidarity, unions, workers)

From the Global Labour University (GLU) website. Comments are welcome there as well as here.

Global Labour Online Campaigns: The next 10 Years

Eric Lee
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In November 2011, the military dictatorship in Fiji jailed two of the country’s most prominent trade union leaders. Following the launch of an online campaign sponsored by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and run on the LabourStart website, some 4,000 messages of protest were sent in less than 24 hours. The government relented, the union leaders were freed, and the campaign suspended. A month earlier, Suzuki workers locked out in India waged a successful online campaign through the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) and LabourStart. Almost 7,000 messages flooded the company’s inboxes, and after only a few days, a compromise was reached.
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The spectacular success of those campaigns is the culmination of a decade-long process of building up the campaigning capacity of the international trade union movement – specifically that of the ITUC and the global union federations (like the IMF), and the role played by LabourStart in that process.
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This short essay will focus on the rather narrow topic of global online labour campaigning, to see where we have been, where we are now, and to speculate where we go next.
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The global labour movement has been doing online campaigning for a quarter of a century now. The first international trade secretariats (now called global union federations – GUFs) went online in the 1980s and have been campaigning ever since. For about a decade now, we have campaigned using a combination of mass emailing and web-based tools mostly modelled on successful campaigning websites such as Avaaz, MoveOn (USA) and 38 Degrees (UK).
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Today the ITUC and GUFs tend to campaign either using LabourStart, or using a system similar to (and based on) LabourStart’s custom-built software and model. As a result of this, LabourStart’s mailing lists have grown steadily, from just a couple of thousands a decade ago to more than 80,000 today. Those mailing lists of trade union activists are at the heart of online labour campaigning today.  They are what allow us to deliver 4,000 protest messages in 24 hours, as was done with Fiji.
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But the potential is much greater than this. The ITUC, for example, claims to represent 175 million workers in more than 150 countries. The 80,000 names of activists on LabourStart’s lists are a tiny fraction of that number — not even half of one per cent. Other campaigning organizations, which have grown up out of nowhere with no built-in membership base like trade unions, have much larger audiences. For example, Avaaz claims over 10,300,000 supporters world-wide; the UK’s 38 Degrees website claims 800,000 supporters. Unions have been slow to pick up on the importance of online campaigning, and as a result lag behind NGOSs like these.
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Why unions lag behind in the adoption of effective online campaigning technology is complicated, and varies from union to union and from country to country. As the widespread use of social networks like Facebook during the Arab Spring showed, there is no simple North/South divide here.  Some of the most powerful unions in some of the richest countries use the net poorly. And there have been extremely effective net-based campaigns run by unions in places like Brazil and South Korea. The global trade union movement is already experiencing the problems of campaign fatigue and information overload. There is a fear that the campaigning model which has worked well for a decade may be faltering. And there are questions about what comes next.
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What comes next?
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One noticeable trend is a growth in the number of languages we campaign in. For example, in a campaign launched in November 2011 in support of locked-out Turkish metal workers, LabourStart produced versions in 13 languages (Avaaz works in 14 languages). This is far cry from the days when unions would publish online in just English, French and Spanish. Almost all the LabourStart campaigns now appear in Turkish, Arabic, Russian, Chinese and Japanese – hugely important languages for the international trade union movement but ones which a decade ago were rarely seen on global labour websites. We can expect in the next decade to see even more languages used — especially the languages of countries with growing industrial working classes, such as Thai, Tagalog, Korean, Portuguese, Indonesian and Vietnamese. A decade from now, it will not be unusual to see online campaigns running in dozens of languages.
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The more sophisticated (and well-funded) civil society campaigners are increasingly targeting their campaigns, rather than creating one-size-fits-all versions. If you’ve shown interest in a particular subject, or come from a specific country, or speak a certain language, you can be targeted for campaigns you are most likely to show interest in. You can be approached for follow-up campaigns, as we know from experience that one campaign alone rarely solves long-running and difficult issues. At the very least, we will see the creation of extensive databases showing who has supported which campaigns, and global unions will be able to use these to build networks of activists focussed on specific subjects or regions.
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How campaigns are created is also likely to change over the next decade. It’s an oversimplification to say this, but basically we’ve moved through two phases in the past ten years. In the first period, LabourStart would approach the ITUC (and its predecessor, the ICFTU) and the GUFs and suggest an online component to their traditional offline campaigns. But in recent years, it’s been the other way around, with GUFs especially coming to LabourStart with an increasing number of campaigns that need to be promoted online. As the number of campaigns being proposed grows, there are increasingly issues about prioritizing — and even turning down some requests.
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A third phase could include the involvement of the campaign supporters themselves in the process — something which is already done by 38 Degrees. When there are competing issues demanding our attention, we can allow supporters to vote online for the campaigns that deserve promotion. This is admittedly quite a radical idea and one foreign to the traditions of most trade unions. Usually union campaigns are decided upon in head offices, not by a vote on the shop floor. Nevertheless, it seems likely that we will need to move in the direction of grassroots, democratic decision making — and not only because it offers a solution to the problem of prioritization. It also gives participants in the campaigns a sense of ownership, which is important as well.
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The model for today’s global online labour campaigns remains very PC-centric. We imagine thousands of trade unionists working in offices, sitting at their desks reading an email, clicking on a link, opening a website and filling in a form. But a decade from now, and to a certain degree even today, this is not how people will work. A significant percentage of those now learning about a global labour campaign via email are reading that email in a smartphone, such as a Blackberry or iPhone. If they click on a link in the message, the website that displays must render correctly on a very small screen, and the entering of data such as one’s name and email address, must be as simple and easy as possible. Few unions have taken this into account, but it will be essential in the years to come. As a result, it is likely that we will see the rise of small-screen-specific campaigning apps for trade unions. These apps will need to be platform-independent, able to work on all kinds of phones and tablets. And of course the model of email messages pointing to websites is itself fading, as more and more people come to use social networks such as Twitter and Facebook as their models for online communication. Among young people, studies show a declining use of email and an increasing reliance on other tools, including Blackberry Messenger (BBM) and SMS.
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Unions need to take this into account when deciding how to promote their campaigns, and it’s likely that a decade from now, they will need to use simultaneously a wide range of media — including social networks and instant messaging — to reach their members and supporters. Email is likely to remain part of that package, but can no longer be the only way to get the word out.
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A decade from now we will probably discover other things online protest campaigns can do beyond filling up the inbox of employers and governments with protest messages. It’s likely that we’ll continue to do that, but we need to find other ways of putting pressure on governments and employers to respect workers’ rights. One of the traditional trade union tools that has been under-utilized in recent years has been the boycott — and its opposite, the “buy union” campaigns. Both can be done more effectively online and at a fraction of the cost of old-fashioned offline versions. In a hyper-competitive market, if unions can cause a tiny fraction of sales to fall for one company, and to rise for another, this might give us the leverage that we never had in the past.
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And beyond using our power as consumers to reward and punish companies, we can be inspired by the example of the Arab Spring and consider the possibility of using online campaigns not only to apply pressure online, but as a tool to bring people into the streets.
A decade from now global unions will still campaign online, but they will do so in ways radically different from how we work today — and the result will be more powerful and effective trade unions. But to achieve that, we must be open to new ideas, and new ways of working.

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Eric Lee is the founding editor of LabourStart, the news and campaigning website  of the international trade union movement.

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7 February 1812 – 2012 and beyond

January 15, 2012 at 10:49 am (BBC, literature, Rosie B)

I am not a huge Dickens fan. Of the great Victorian novelists I prefer Eliot, Thackeray, the Brontes and Trollope over Dickens. Philip Larkin said it for me:-

I should like to say something about this ‘irrepressible vitality’, this ‘throwing a fresh handful of characters on the fire when it burns low’, in fact the whole Dickens method – it strikes me as being less ebullient, creative, vital, than hectic, nervy, panic-stricken. If he were a person I should say ‘You don’t have to entertain me, you know. I’m quite happy just sitting here”. This jerking of your attention, with queer names, queer characters, aggressive rhythms, piling on adjectives -seems to me to betray basic insecurity in his relation with the reader. How serenely Trollope, for instance, compares. (1)

That crammed, teeming quality of Dickens – the never letting up – along with the melodrama, sentimentality and the coy saint heroines – puts me off reading him. I am happy though that there are so many adaptations. Dickens was a great creator of character and scenes, and his wardrobe of carnival masks makes for a fine Victorian resource, like the converted warehouses and rescued railway stations in British cities.(2)

Like most people I was really taken with the Great Expectations adaptation, especially the first two episodes, which were atmospheric and intense. The third episode was a bit rushed. There were so many plot pieces to bang into place and some, eg that Mr Jaggers’ housekeeper was Estella’s mother, were skimped. All in all though, I found it engrossing, but then I don’t have strong feelings about the book, unlike Howard Jacobson, who complains that they missed out the comedy (which is half of Dickens) and that the whole thing was a travesty of Jacobson’s own interpretation.

It is always risky to watch the potential pig’s ear that someone is going to make out of your silkiest purse.  I remember being furious at a scrappy Daniel Deronda a few years back. If you are not so engaged, though, arguing about how characters and scenes are presented is part of the fun. So I enjoyed Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham (3) and her appearance with the props of an emo video – bridal veil and the wicked fairy quality – a version of Kate Bush jilted. That made her house a place of bad magic, and Pip’s love for Estella an enchantment like that of the palely loitering knight in the thrall of the Belle Dame Sans Merci.  I agree with those who said Estella wasn’t beautiful enough.  You can get away with a moderately nice-looking Elizabeth Bennet, say, or Esther Summerson in Bleak House, as they are women of character and their words and actions make them attractive, but Estella has nothing to say except what a cold-hearted screwed up bitch she is, the kind of a woman a smart guy would not touch with a bargepole. She should be as lovely as a star, able to stagger men, and she wasn’t.

Misshavisham

Ray Winstone as Magwitch the convict. – no, I don’t think he was a ham. If you were going to have anyone menace you in lonely marshes, he’d be the man, and in his later scenes he was given some humour and dignity, which he did well with his little eyes and ugly face. In a work though where the theme is snobbery, they missed the chance that he was in his own way a snob. It’s in this speech in the book:-

And then, dear boy, it was a recompense to me, look’ee here, to know in secret that I was making a gentleman. The blood horses of them colonists might fling up the dust over me as I was walking; what do I say? I says to myself, ‘I’m making a better gentleman nor ever you’ll be!’ When one of ’em says to another, ‘He was a convict, a few year ago, and is a ignorant common fellow now, for all he’s lucky,’ what do I say? I says to myself, ‘If I ain’t a gentleman, nor yet ain’t got no learning, I’m the owner of such.

Also, they didn’t get round the howler that Magwitch could swim from the prison ship to shore with a hefty piece of iron chain around his ankle. Dickens’ contemporaries bathed rather than swam, so they overlooked the impossibility at the time, but there’s no excuse now.(4)

My favourite performance was that of Harry Lloyd as Herbert Pocket, with his sweet, light-hearted decency.

Another BBC shot at Dickens is Radio 4’s Classic Serial production of Martin Chuzzlewit. It’s called The Mumbai Chuzzlewits and set in modern day Mumbai amongst a Catholic community. It works well. The extended family plottiing against each other makes sense in that setting, as does the theme of hypocrisy versus true virtue among church going Christians. The Pecksniff figure (called “Pinto”) (Rajit Kapur) hits the right note, with his little deprecatory laugh, that makes you want to strangle him. The old patriarch, Martin Chuzzlewit (Roshan Seth) is a delight, complaining about being served peasant food (dahl instead of gruel or slops), and angry at his own unjust autocracy which has brought him such sadness. Young Martin (called “Mickey”) goes to Dubai rather than America as in the original and there meets misery among the immigrant workers.

One slight problem – in Victorian novels plots depended on miscommunicating and lack of information, so in this version they had to cobble up a bit of unlikelihood about why Mickey and his sweetheart Mary cannot email or text each other.

The first episode was preceded by an essay on the place of Dickens in India.  In order to make an Anglophonic and Anglophiliac civil servant class, education policy under the Raj included much English literature. It was taught in Indian universities before it got onto the Oxbridge syllabus. Dickens is still taught, still well known there, and his hypocrites, arrogant rich merchants and half-starved underclass in crowded cities are recognisable as part of India.

Another piece of Dickens was Amando Ianucci’s Tale of Charles Dickens. Whatever the thesis – damning the literary critics (why? – there have been brilliant ones) – it did the trick for me by having various people read out chunks of Dickens, and enjoying his inventive imagery. I really was persuaded that I would re-read him some time.

(1) Letters to Monica

(2) The late Christopher Hitchens had evidently not read Dickens recently and slyly makes a virtue out of being a little uninformed about his subject. “You can forget that sense of guilt you have. The one about being not quite sure which character is from which book. None of us really knows, and there is no shame in it. Probably Dickens himself wasn’t certain much of the time.”

(3) Gillian Anderson in very good at embittered Victorian women, whether it’s Lady Dedlock in Bleak House or Mrs Castaway in The Crimson Petal and the Rose. She suggests secret or semi-secret suffering that is deep and unalterable.

(4) I filched this from John Sutherland’s Can Jane Eyre be Happy: More Puzzles from Classic Fiction. Sutherland also points out that although Magwitch as a Lifer returning from the penal colony in Australia was supposed to have committed a capital offence, Pip and his friends aren’t prosecuted for aiding and abetting the offender.

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RIP Rob Windsor

January 14, 2012 at 11:19 pm (good people, Jim D, politics, socialism, Socialist Party, workers)

Rob Windsor speaking at Socialist Party congress 2006, photo Paul Mattsson

It is with very great sadness that we have to report the death earlier today, of Rob Windsor, Socialist Party member and former Coventy councillor.

Rob died a few weeks after a liver transplant operation that he had long awaited with hope and anticipation; he’d hoped it would restore his health and  allow him to get back to living life to the full and campaigning for the politics he had devoted much of his life to. Tragically, that was not to be.

I met Rob for the first and (as it turned out) only time, shortly before the operation, and his excitement and optimism were palpable. My partner and I were immediately struck by what a warm, humourous and kindly person he was.

Rob was councillor for Coventry St Michaels ward between 2000 and 2004, when he lost the seat to Labour, and again from 2006 until 2010. He was one of the Socialist Party’s most prominent members and a close comrade of Dave Nellist’s. He won tremendous respect in Coventry as a champion of issues affecting local people, like opposing the Council’s plans to demolish disabled flats in Swanswell, opposing plans for a city academy and defending the NHS. Until his health began to fail, he was a tireless grass-roots campaigner who spent hours going door-to-door “on the knocker” canvassing working class people in St Michaels.

Our sympathy and condolences go out to all Rob’s comrades, family and friends and especially his wife, partner and comrade, Isla.

Farewell, comrade Rob.

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Mikhail Prokhorov and The Guardian

January 13, 2012 at 8:52 pm (censorship, Cross-post, Free Speech, Guardian, plutocrats, Russia)

By Respresenting the Mambo

I think it’s worth drawing your attention this little tidbit, dear reader.

Yesterday evening [the day before yesterday, now – JD] an article appeared on the Guardian website supposedly written by prominent Russian tycoon and politician, Mikhail Prokhorov. You can read it here if you are so inclined. It is pretty desperate stuff however.

Prokhorov is an extremely dodgy man indeed with longstanding links to the Kremlin and has been guilty of some frankly unbelievable things in his attempts to enrich himself over the years, just check this out, and it is bewildering that he is being given column inches by a publication that claims to be a great believer in democracy and liberal values. The man is a Kremlin stooge and part of a generation of gangsters who enriched themselves enormously at the expense  of ordinary Russians, many of whom were impoverished by the wave of privatizations of the Yeltsin years. His possible candidacy for the Russian presidency next year is fairly obviously a ploy by the Kremlin to deflect liberal anger into a safe cul-de-sac and thus ensure a Putin re-election.

Naturally the article, and the bare-faced hypocrisy of its contents and past record of it’s author drew a rapid, righteous and abusive response on the comment pages. Many valid points were made about his record and the ridiculousness of such a man being given a platform by the Guardian of all people. I joined in with my usual mixture of biting wit and searing political commentary, and made the point that sadly the Russian opposition was fairly weak, and linked to my earlier article on the sad state of the Russian Communist Party.

And then the comment fuction was promptly shut down with no explanation. A large number of the critical comments were deleted. They contained nothing that normally invokes the ire of the moderators, just honest, left-wing political criticism of the man and his appalling record.

Why was this? What were they so worried about?

It was then re-opened the following morning and has been ever since. But instead of being blocked subsequent critical comments have just vanished. I put my comment back in mid-morning (it was a quiet day at work……) and a short while later it had completely gone, along with numerous other comments backing me up. Normally the entry is there but the contents have been blocked. These have just vanished. There is a gap between 1105 and 1305 of no comments at all.

All very mysterious. Why did the Guardian do this? Are they really trying to protect this man from criticism? Have they lost their minds? Or is something else going on here?

It’s sad indeed that even the Telegraph allows basically a free-for-all in its discussions but the Guardian runs a section called “Comment is Free” that is moderated in such a crass and anti-democratic fashion.

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