‘Blacklisted’ review

April 26, 2015 at 6:30 pm (AWL, Civil liberties, class, class collaboration, cops, corruption, good people, Human rights, Jim D, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

This review should appear in the next issue of the AWL’s paper Solidarity, as (I understand) part of a feature on blacklisting:

Blacklisted – The secret war between big business and union activists

By Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain (pub: New Internationalist)

*********************

Trades unionists have known for decades that employers operated blacklists, whereby records were kept on militants and activists (and, indeed, not particularly militant or active trade unionists) in order to exclude them from employment. The practice was especially rife in the construction industry, where simply raising a concern over health and safety could be enough to ensure that you never found work. Countless working class lives were destroyed by the blacklist.

For many years a central blacklist was managed, operated and sold to major employers by an outfit called the Economic League, which in the 1970s employed around 160 staff and was receiving over £400,000 a year in subscriptions and donations. When media exposure (notably the campaigning journalism of Paul Foot in the Mirror) lead to the collapse of the League in 1993, its work was taken over by an organisation called the Services Group (formed by the big construction companies as it became apparent to them that the League might not survive), and then The Consulting Association (TCA), which obtained the Economic League’s database, and expanded and updated it, with files on thousands of workers, including National Insurance numbers, vehicle registrations, press cuttings and comments from managers.

Again, it was construction companies who were the main (but not only) subscribers, using the organisation as a covert vetting operation to monitor job applicants. All the biggest names in construction – Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Skanska, Keir, Costain and McAlpine – made use of TCA information to exclude job applicants and to sack workers already on site.

TCA was eventually exposed and brought down in 2009 following a raid on their premises by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the body that enforces the Data Protection Act. Blacklisting was not, then, in itself illegal, but breaches of the Data Protection Act were. TCA’s database was confiscated and found to contain the details of 3,213 construction workers.

As a result of the raid, the subsequent publicity and dogged lobbying by the construction union, UCATT (and to a lesser degree, Unite), the Labour government finally introduced legislation (the Blacklists Regulations 2010 – an amendment to the Employment Relations Act 1999) making it unlawful for an employer or employment agency to refuse employment, to dismiss, or to cause detriment to a worker for a reason related to a blacklist and provides for a minimum £5,000 compensation award at a tribunal. But this was , at best, a very small step forward and contained at least one major loophole: as it is civil, not criminal, legislation, it can only be enforced by an individual to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal; and (as the Blacklisting Support Group pointed out when the legislation was under consultation), blacklisted workers can only bring claims against the companies that refused to employ them, which will often be small sub-contractors, and not the big companies actually doing the blacklisting.

This scandal is described in meticulous detail in the new book ‘Blacklisted –  The secret war between big business and union activists’ by Blacklisting Support Group (BSG) founding member Dave Smith and investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain.

Perhaps the most fascinating revelations in the book are interviews with HR managers and bosses involved in blacklisting, several of whom claim that they obtained information from officials of UCATT and the EEPTU. It should be emphasised that both UCATT and Unite (the union that now includes what used to be the EEPTU) have cleaned up their acts and now both take a firm stand against blacklisting. However, the book describes a meeting of the Blacklist Support Group in February 2013, at which a BSG speaker, Steve Acheson, was barracked by senior members of UCATT, who accused him of making allegations of union collusion without evidence and demanded he “name names”: in response, Acheson held up a handwritten note from former TCA manager Ian Kerr and said: “If you want me to name names, I will: the name that appears on this note is George Guy” (Guy is a former senior official and acting General Secretary of UCATT: the book notes that he “vigorously denies” the allegation).

This superbly-researched and very readable book was launched in March at a meeting in Parliament at which John McDonnell MP read out a statement from Peter Francis, a former undercover cop who spent four years as part of the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad. Francis’s statement said he infiltrated Unison, the FBU, CWU, NUT and NUS. He had previously infiltrated anti-racist organisations and the Militant Tendency. The Economic League and The Consulting Association may be gone, but blacklisting, spying and dirty tricks against trade unionists and other activists continues – often, it would seem, by the forces of the state.

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Queen’s University censors Charlie Hebdo event

April 22, 2015 at 8:11 pm (academe, censorship, Civil liberties, Education, Free Speech, islamism, posted by JD)

The Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University, Belfast, has cancelled a symposium on the issues raised by the Charlie Hebdo killings. The professed reasons for the cancellation were supposed security concerns and – more worrying in many ways – concern for the “reputation” of the University. Nick Cohen has written a typically good piece about this and other attacks on free speech in higher education,  but the article we re-publish below (from Little Atoms) is by one of the invited speakers, Jason Walsh, and you can tell that despite his measured tone, he’s angry:

Illustration: Fiona Hanley

Illustration: Fiona Hanley

The tragic irony of censoring Queen’s University’s Charlie Hebdo discussion

Censorship by the Vice Chancellor of Queen’s has done far more damage to the university’s reputation than an academic discussion on citizenship after Charlie Hebdo ever could

I hate to break it to you, but there’s a security risk in Northern Ireland. No, don’t stop reading just yet. I promise you it’s interesting. A threat has been issued, apparently, against that most august and liberal of institutions: Queen’s University Belfast. Well, “issued” is perhaps too strong a word. Perhaps we should go for “perceived”. Or “made up”.

No, it’s from not a dissident IRA splinter group; no, it’s not from loyalists demanding the Union Jack be flown above the campus. In fact, we don’t even know who this spectral threatening force is. What we do know, however, is that the “security risk” relates to a symposium where a bunch of academics would sit and talk about the nature of civil society after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

We know about this risk because the office of Queen’s Vice Chancellor Patrick Johnston has cancelled the symposium. He is also concerned about the risk to the reputation of the university. He should be. Now.

The symposium, entitled “Understanding Charlie: New perspectives on contemporary citizenship after Charlie Hebdo”, doesn’t sound to me like a hotbed of radicalism or Islamophobia, so any claim of risk hinges on the threat of violence by whom, exactly? Who could possibly be offended by a good faith discussion of the fallout from such an appalling event? No-one. That’s who.

Among the participants at this conference was to be yours truly, the Ireland correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, the world’s most measured, careful and, critics (with whom I would disagree) would say, stiff newspaper. Other participants included, well, academics. It was an academic symposium, after all. As I was a putative participant there is an ethical conflict in me reporting on the matter. There is no such impediment, however, on me complaining about it, so buckle-up while I take you for a spin around the insanity that is the modern university.

We all know about recent events at universities across the UK: shutting down a debate about abortion because it was between two men; the routine “no-platforming” of radical feminist Julie Bindel, the banning of the Sun newspaper and Robin Thicke’s pop song Blurred Lines. To that we can now add merely talking about the concept of freedom of speech.

There you are: you are not free to speak about whether or not you are free to speak. Honestly, in this case I feel sorry for the organisers of the conference. I have only a faint notion of what the internal politics of universities are like, but this is not an isolated incident in a single institution.

These bastions of liberal education have, over the last few years at least, fallen far short of the measure. Some blame “neo-liberalism”; others “political correctness”. Both views have some merit: the transformation of the student into a consumer is a serious issue and, sadly, more and more things are simply declared unsayable for nakedly political reasons. But I am a mere reporter with pretensions toward the academy so for now I will stick to what is observable and leave the epistemology to my ballooning PhD thesis: the real problem is cowardice.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Open Letter: Save and Free Raif Badawi!

March 9, 2015 at 6:41 pm (blogging, censorship, Civil liberties, Free Speech, good people, Human rights, Middle East, posted by JD, protest, secularism)

Here’s an open letter to Cameron, Miliband etc. on the case of Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger who now again faces possible execution for apostasy.

The organisers are trying to move the campaign from petitioning and desperate pleas – amnesty style – to something a little more substantial. There is a translated letter being used in France and they are trying to get Charlie Hebdo survivors to sign.

We intend to send it end of Tuesday, sending to the press for Tuesday lunchtime. It would be good if we could get some signatures on it from trade unionists and socialists.

We are attaching the letter and signatures as of midday today (also below) but anyone thinking it would be useful to make contacts as well as get signatures please use it. Or obviously if you want to sign….. let us know in the comments below.

Open Letter to be sent to Cameron, Miliband and other Party leaders

Dear….

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is currently imprisoned in a Saudi Arabian jail having received the first 50 of a threatened 1,000 lashes. If Raif survives these floggings he faces another 10 years in jail. His ‘crime’ was to have set up a website that called for peaceful change of the Saudi regime away from the repressive and religiously exclusive regime that it is.

In another shameful act his lawyer Waleed Abu Al-Khair, and other human rights activists were also later arrested. On February 20th this year Waleed had his sentence confirmed as 15 years in prison.

The European Parliament in its resolution of Feb 12th made clear its demands on Saudi Arabia to release Raif, as well as his lawyer Waleed and others imprisoned there for exercising their freedom of speech.

But to free Raif from this nightmare needs more than politicians saying that they disapprove of his punishment.

The total EU trade with the Saudi regime is currently close to €64 billion a year. The UK alone has approaching £12 billion invested in Saudi Arabia whilst it continues to invite Saudi investment in the UK, particularly in the property market. Saudi investment in the UK is currently over £62.5 billion.

As the regime inflicts beheadings and floggings on its people, questions have to be asked about why more cannot be done to promote the human rights of citizens of a country with which there is such extensive business. Particularly questions have to be asked about the morality of providing such a regime with arms, particularly the weaponry and facilities they use in their brutal penal system.

We ask that you make publicly clear your complete opposition to the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and demand the immediate release of Raif and Waleed as the EU parliament has done. We also ask that you make publicly clear what measures you will take as a government to put any trading with this regime on an ethical basis and what conditions you will demand from the Saudi regime if all of that trade is to continue – particularly in relation to weapons that might be used in oppression or imprisonment.

If nothing is done to stop the brutality, beheadings and floggings that are committed there – then any moral stand taken against similar horrors committed elsewhere by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria can only be compromised.

In the spirit of consistency, transparency and humanity we ask you to take action to Free Raif and promote human rights in Saudi Arabia

Yours

Signatories as at Sunday, 8th March, 12pm: Read the rest of this entry »

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James P. Cannon on the separation of church and state

January 22, 2015 at 6:02 pm (atheism, Catholicism, Christianity, Civil liberties, class, Free Speech, From the archives, Human rights, James P. Cannon, Marxism, posted by JD, religion, socialism, trotskyism, United States)

In view of the craven capitulation of sections of the “left” before religion in recent years (and, notably, following the Charlie Hebdo murders), it seems timely to reproduce the views of the great US Trotskyist James P Cannon. This article, entitled ‘Church and State’ originally appeared in the Militant (paper of the US Socialist Workers Party) of November 19, 1951. It was later republished in Notebook Of An Agitator (Pathfinder Press, 1958).

James P Cannon

It’s a fairly safe bet that President Truman didn’t know exactly what he was doing when he announced his decision to send a US. ambassador to the Vatican, nominating General Mark W. Clark to the post. Inhibited by training and constitutional disposition from seeing anything more important or farther in the future than the next election, he probably thought he was just firing off a cap pistol to attract “the Catholic vote in 1952. He didn’t know it was loaded.

But the recoil of the gun and the noise of the explosion leave no doubt about it. The shot heard ’round the country has had results undreamt of in the philosophy of the Pendergastian politico in the White House. A bitter controversy, long smoldering, has burst into a flame that brings both heat and light into American politics. Sides are being chosen for a fight. In my opinion, it’s a good fight worth joining in.

The First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” So reads the first clause of the first amendment to the U;S. Constitution, adopted under the pressure of the people to protect their rights and freedoms. The meaning of this constitutional provision is quite clear to all who have no special interest in muddling it. It is the doctrine of “the separation of church and state.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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The new Charlie cover

January 13, 2015 at 6:18 pm (anti-fascism, Civil liberties, democracy, France, Free Speech, islamism, media, posted by JD, religion, satire, solidarity, terror)

Mahomet en une du «Charlie Hebdo» de mercredi

Comrade Coatesy writes:

Zineb El Rhazoui, a surviving columnist at Charlie Hebdo magazine who worked on the new issue, said the cover was a call to forgive the terrorists who murdered her colleagues last week, saying she did not feel hate towards Chérif and Saïd Kouachi despite their deadly attack on the magazine, and urged Muslims to accept humour.

“We don’t feel any hate to them. We know that the struggle is not with them as people, but the struggle is with an ideology,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The whole magazine, here

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Fraternity with Charlie Hebdo

January 7, 2015 at 12:51 pm (Civil liberties, comedy, Rosie B) ()

We the people declare our inalienable right to take the piss.

B6vm5ORIYAEQbDW

To no person will we deny the right to cock snooks at, give the finger to, take the mickey out of.

FRANCE-ISLAM-RELIGION-WEEKLY

Fraternity with Charlie Hebdo.
schama2

(Crying as I post this.)

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Enemy Intelligence from the Vaults: This is (Auberon) Waugh!

November 15, 2014 at 6:24 pm (Civil liberties, Europe, history, terror, truth)

Above: Aubron Waugh

Robin Carmody writes:

As someone who greatly enjoys your occasional ‘Enemy intelligence’ feature, would it be possible to expand it to include old articles presenting enlightenment from unexpected sources?  In this case, Auberon Waugh, who was undoubtedly fanatically anti-working-class and anti-socialist but when he got it right, he really got it right.  These pieces are both from the Daily Telegraph in September 1995 (first piece slightly edited, second piece complete), and the sadness of both is that they could pretty much still apply today, just with a few names changed:

Saturday 16th September 1995:

(…) Villagers of St Tudy, the small Cornish village near Bodmin, were recently moved to address a petition to Mr Major asking for a referendum on further European involvement.  A senior villager, Vice Admiral Sir Louis Le Bailly, 80, one time head of “intelligence” at the Ministry of Defence, thought the petition would be ignored.  He explained.
“I would not be so naive as to suppose that what St Tudy says today, the Government will do tomorrow.  But at least, before we die, we have done the best we can for our grandchildren.”

If that is the best he can do, it is pathetic.  So is the entire level of political debate in Britain (…)  What these people fail to realise is that we have a much better prospect for resisting change within the protection of a selfish, inward looking Europe than we have when exposed to cultural takeover by the United States and economic takeover by the Pacific Rim.

Terrified and resentful of the tiny changes required by participation in the European Union, Britons miss nearly every opportunity to shape the union to their own advantage.  Instead they mumble their platitudes about British sovereignty, and having fought two major wars to preserve it.

Let them examine the picture of [Paddy Ashdown, Tony Blair and John Major] laughing cruelly about a goldfish.  They are what is left of British sovereignty.

Saturday 30th September 1995:

At the time of the Gibraltar shootings, I remember taking the rather pompous line that if we Brits were to adopt terrorist tactics and start executing people on suspicion, we had no business to pose as upholders of law and order in Northern Ireland.  Those who argued, as they did in every saloon bar, that the only way to deal with outlaws was to give them a dose of their own medicine, were quite simply wrong, or so I maintained.

The three terrorists, two men and a woman, were unarmed, none carried a remote control device to a nearby bomb, nor was there any bomb nearby.  At the time it seemed more likely than not that it was a planned assassination, an illegal execution of three suspects, and that a cock-and-bull story about explosives in a parked car and remote control devices was a limp afterthought for the benefit of the inquest.

Seven years later it seems probable that the SAS were indeed misinformed, and that they genuinely intended to arrest the three terrorists, although there was remarkably little planning for their removal from the scene as prisoners.  What remains slightly frightening is the weight of opinion behind the idea that it is perfectly acceptable to execute suspected terrorists without trial, on the basis of unexamined and highly questionable intelligence information.

One expects this degree of moral crassness from The Sun and from at least some of its sexually confused readers.  The Sun summed up its own reaction to the European Court of Human Rights’ verdict in a sentence: “Terrorists have no human rights”.  That is an attitude people are free to take, but they still have to establish that the people from whom they propose to remove all human rights are terrorists.  You can’t condemn people on a wink and a nudge, or on the untested gossip of an intelligence service which seems to get three quarters of its information wrong.

However we look at the matter, the SAS goofed.  When someone described as a “senior Cabinet minister” talks of the “prompt and courageous action of the SAS” and announces that in response to the European Court’s unfavourable verdict many Cabinet ministers want Britain to leave the Court of Human Rights, I think we should start to tremble.  It is unpleasant enough to have to live surrounded by people of The Sun‘s intellectual and moral calibre.  One does not want to be governed by them.

Let us be thankful for every bit of self-determination we sacrifice under these circumstances.  For my own part, I shall even welcome tomorrow’s arrival of the litre and the kilo.  Those most vehemently opposed to them are just the sort of people who ought to be in prison.

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Jon Danzig on the Tories’ attack on our human rights

October 3, 2014 at 8:09 pm (Civil liberties, Europe, Human rights, posted by JD, reblogged, Tory scum)

 .
In marked contrast the rabid Tory tabloids … excellent commentary and historical context from Jon Danzig:

Home Secretary Theresa May (and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling -JD), with support of Prime Minister David Cameron, wants the UK to scrap the Human Rights Act and leave the European Convention on Human Rights.

Instead, they want a new UK-only ‘Bill of Rights’ giving less human rights to certain humans (mostly foreign ones).

Many (but not all) Conservatives, currently in a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, don’t much like the Human Rights Act, and many (but not all) don’t like the European Union either.  The two are connected, as a commitment to Human Rights is a condition of EU membership.  


The Conservative party, if it wins the next General Election in May 2015, has pledged to scrap the Human Rights Act and the UK’s binding obligation to the European Convention on Human Rights.

It was British war leader Winston Churchill who in 1948 advocated a European ‘Charter of Human Rights’ in direct response to the abject horrors of the Nazi and Soviet regimes and the Second World War.  British lawyers drafted what was later to become the European Convention. The UK was one of the first countries to sign up to the Convention, and leaving it would end 60 years of being legally bound by this first international treaty on Human Rights.   

Read the rest here.

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Some questions about the release of Moazzam Begg

October 3, 2014 at 7:21 pm (Civil liberties, conspiracy theories, islamism, Middle East, Pink Prosecco, strange situations, Syria)

Moazzam Begg,

Above: Moazzam Begg

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

Reactions to the sudden and surprising release of Moazzam Begg, who has been awaiting trial on charges of terrorism since March, have been predictably polarised.

5Pillarz is rejoicing at the news, and wheels out a spokesman from the extremist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir to tell us all how shocking it is that some people associate Muslims with extremism. Puleeze:

“Meanwhile, Taji Mustafa, media representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain said he was pleased to hear about the release of Moazzam Beg, after months of incarceration and separation from his family. He said: ‘Moazzam’s case, along with others arrested for traveling to Syria, has been used to manufacture a climate of opinion that the government will use to further its policies regarding Muslims in the UK, in particular for their support of causes dissenting from British foreign policy.'”

By contrast, The Henry Jackson website rather sulkily reminds its readers that Moazzam Begg still isn’t very nice even if he is innocent of these particular charges.

But some have been asking whether he really is innocent after all. A report in the Times hinted at some shady dealings behind the scenes:

“Neither police, prosecutors nor intelligence sources would comment on whether the sudden abandonment was linked to behind-the-scenes efforts to free British hostages held by Islamic State in Syria.”

This invitation to speculate in a way unflattering to Begg has been picked up very readily by those of an Islamosceptic bent, as a skim read below the line (of the Times article) will demonstrate.

However, although my own views on Begg are much closer to the Henry Jackson Society than to 5Pillarz, there doesn’t seem any evidence that Begg has been let off as part of a deal with ISIS, nor does it seem a particularly plausible theory.

It certainly doesn’t fit with the CPS response:

“The Crown Prosecution Service said that it had reviewed the case after being made aware of material previously not known to the police investigation. A spokesman added: “If we had been made aware of all of this information at the time of charging, we would not have charged.”

He was charged back in March, well before any negotiations with ISIS over hostage release might have taken place.

It’s frustrating that there is so much mystery over Begg’s release – and to note that, in line with the stopped clock rule, 5Pillarz may have a point on this occasion. Here’s part of the Muslim Council of Britain’s statement:

” … we have said time and time again, that the best way to tackle extremism is to work with Muslim communities and have faith in our very British values of freedom, liberty and democracy.

“This means robust, intelligence-led policing that works with communities every step of the way and ensures full judicial oversight of the entire process. We should be proud of our commitment to due process, our tradition of free speech and anything that undermines them will only play into the hands of violent extremists.

“Today is a good day for British justice and the upholding of the rule of law in this case. What remains deplorable is the inclination of some of our political leaders to lapse into populist rhetoric when there are terrorism-related arrests, without waiting for due process.”

In the circumstances, unless some further evidence comes to light, that’s a fair comment. And, as Mary Dejevsky points out:

“At the very least this has been an egregious waste of public money.”

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Lauren Bacall and Hoagy Carmichael: How Little We Know

August 16, 2014 at 1:35 pm (cinema, Civil liberties, Democrats, film, good people, jazz, Jim D, mccarthyism, RIP, song, theatre, United States)

Lauren Bacall (1924-2014) and Humphrey Bogart lead a march to the Capitol in Washington, DC to protest against Senator McCarthy's witch hunt of communists and alleged communists, 1947.

The death of Lauren Bacall (pictured above with husband Humphrey Bogart leading a 1947 march against McCarthy’s witch hunt of leftists and liberals) robs us of the last great star from Hollwood’s ‘golden age’ and a brave liberal – in the best sense of the word. She described herself to TV host Larry King, in 2005, as “anti-Republican and a liberal. The L-word. Being a liberal is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you’re a liberal. You do not have a small mind.”

I can’t resist the opportunity to show you a clip of Bacall in her first film, Howard Hawks’ 1944 ‘To Have And Have Not’, in which she sings the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer number ‘How Little We Know’, accompanied by Hoagy himself at the piano. For many years it was thought that Bacall’s singing was dubbed by the young Andy Williams, but Hawks confirmed (in Joseph McBride’s book ‘Hawks on Hawks’) that although Williams’ voice was recorded, it was not used because he (Hawks) decided Bacall’s voice was good enough.

RIP Betty

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