Joe Hill: executed November 19, 1915

November 19, 2015 at 2:32 pm (history, Human rights, posted by JD, socialism, solidarity, song, unions, United States, workers)

Executed by firing squad 100 years ago today. It seems that his last words were not “Don’t mourn, organize”, but “Fire!” – which makes all the more of a hero.

From the CIO/AFL website:

Joe Hill (1879-1915)

Joe Hill

Joe Hill (1879-1915)

A songwriter, itinerant laborer, and union organizer, Joe Hill became famous around the world after a Utah court convicted him of murder. Even before the international campaign to have his conviction reversed, however, Joe Hill was well known in hobo jungles, on picket lines and at workers’ rallies as the author of popular labor songs and as an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) agitator. Thanks in large part to his songs and to his stirring, well-publicized call to his fellow workers on the eve of his execution—”Don’t waste time mourning, organize!”—Hill became, and he has remained, the best-known IWW martyr and labor folk hero.

Born Joel Hägglund on Oct. 7, 1879, the future “troubadour of discontent” grew up the fourth of six surviving children in a devoutly religious Lutheran family in Gävle, Sweden, where his father, Olaf, worked as a railroad conductor. Both his parents enjoyed music and often led the family in song. As a young man, Hill composed songs about members of his family, attended concerts at the workers’ association hall in Gävle and played piano in a local café.

In 1887, Hill’s father died from an occupational injury and the children were forced to quit school to support themselves. The 9-year-old Hill worked in a rope factory and later as a fireman on a steam-powered crane. Stricken with skin and joint tuberculosis in 1900, Hill moved to Stockholm in search of a cure and worked odd jobs while receiving radiation treatment and enduring a series of disfiguring operations on his face and neck. Two years later, Hill’s mother, Margareta Katarina Hägglund, died after also undergoing a series of operations to cure a persistent back ailment. With her death, the six surviving Hägglund children sold the family home and ventured out on their own. Four of them settled elsewhere in Sweden, but the future Joe Hill and his younger brother, Paul, booked passage to the United States in 1902.

Little is known of Hill’s doings or whereabouts for the next 12 years. He reportedly worked at various odd jobs in New York before striking out for Chicago, where he worked in a machine shop, got fired and was blacklisted for trying to organize a union. The record finds him in Cleveland in 1905, in San Francisco during the April 1906 Great Earthquake and in San Pedro, Calif., in 1910. There he joined the IWW, served for several years as the secretary for the San Pedro local and wrote many of his most famous songs, including “The Preacher and the Slave” and “Casey Jones—A Union Scab.” His songs, appearing in the IWW’s “Little Red Song Book,” addressed the experience of vitually every major IWW group, from immigrant factory workers to homeless migratory workers to railway shopcraft workers.

In 1911, he was in Tijuana, Mexico, part of an army of several hundred wandering hoboes and radicals who sought to overthrow the Mexican dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, seize Baja California, emancipate the working class and declare industrial freedom. (The invasion lasted six months before internal dissension and a large detachment of better-trained Mexican troops drove the last 100 rebels back across the border.) In 1912, Hill apparently was active in a “Free Speech” coalition of Wobblies, socialists, single taxers, suffragists and AFL members in San Diego that protested a police decision to close the downtown area to street meetings. He also put in an appearance at a railroad construction crew strike in British Columbia, writing several songs before returning to San Pedro, where he lent musical support to a strike of Italian dockworkers.

The San Pedro dockworkers’ strike led to Hill’s first recorded encounter with the police, who arrested him in June 1913 and held him for 30 days on a charge of vagrancy because, he said later, he was “a little too active to suit the chief of the burg” during the strike. On Jan. 10, 1914, Hill knocked on the door of a Salt Lake City doctor at 11:30 p.m. asking to be treated for a gunshot wound he said was inflicted by an angry husband who had accused Hill of insulting his wife. Earlier that evening, in another part of town, a grocer and his son had been killed. One of the assailants was wounded in the chest by the younger victim before he died. Hill’s injury therefore tied him to the incident. The uncertain testimony of two eyewitnesses and the lack of any corroboration of Hill’s alibi convinced a local jury of Hill’s guilt, even though neither witness was able to identify Hill conclusively and the gun used in the murders was never recovered.

The campaign to exonerate Hill began two months before the trial and continued up to and even beyond his execution by firing squad on Nov. 19, 1915. His supporters included the socially prominent daughter of a former Mormon church president, labor radicals, activists and sympathizers including AFL President Samuel Gompers, the Swedish minister to the United States and even President Woodrow Wilson. The Utah Supreme Court, however, refused to overturn the verdict and the Utah Board of Pardons refused to commute Hill’s sentence. The board declared its willingness to hear testimony from the woman’s husband in a closed session, but Hill refused to identify his alleged assailant, insisting that to do so would harm the reputation of the lady.

Hill became more famous in death than he had been in life. To Bill Haywood, the former president of the Western Federation of Miners and the best-known leader of the IWW, Hill wrote: “Goodbye Bill: I die like a true rebel. Don’t waste any time mourning, organize! It is a hundred miles from here to Wyoming. Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.” Apparently he did die like a rebel. A member of the firing squad at his execution claimed that the command to “Fire!” had come from Hill himself.

After a brief service in Salt Lake City, Hill’s body was sent to Chicago, where thousands of mourners heard Hill’s “Rebel Girl” sung for the first time, listened to hours of speeches and then walked behind his casket to Graceland Cemetery, where the body was cremated and the ashes mailed to IWW locals in every state but Utah as well as to supporters in every inhabited continent on the globe. According to one of Hill’s Wobbly-songwriter colleagues, Ralph Chaplin (who wrote the words to “Solidarity Forever,” among other songs), all the envelopes were opened on May 1, 1916, and their contents scattered to the winds, in accordance with Hill’s last wishes, expressed in a poem written on the eve of his death:

My Will is easy to decide
For there is nothing to divide.
My kin don’t need to fuss and moan.
“Moss does not cling to rolling stone.”

My body?—Oh!—If I could choose
I would to ashes it reduce
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow.

Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my Last and Final Will—
Good Luck to All of you,

Joe Hill

Permalink 3 Comments

Clive on Paris: “Just some thoughts. No conclusions.”

November 17, 2015 at 8:46 am (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, Cities, Clive Bradley, democracy, Europe, Human rights, imperialism, internationalism, iraq war, islamism, kurdistan, Middle East, misogyny, murder, secularism, solidarity, Syria, terror, turkey)

By Clive Bradley (via Facebook):

For what they’re worth, my feelings about Paris, etc. Friday was personally upsetting because Paris is a city I know quite well: I’ve never been to the Bataclan, but for sure I’ve walked past it. I have friends in Paris. Elia and I have been to Paris for our anniversary in the past. It brings it home to me in a way which – to be honest – other recent atrocities don’t.

The reason for posting now, though, is that I’m frustrated by some of what I’m seeing in social media and in the news about the politics of this. It’s horrific to see the racist, nationalistic, xenophobic nonsense spouted in some quarters. It seems to me the single most important thing we have to do to fight ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh is fight for the rights of migrants and refugees, both because what Daesh want is to stir up Islamophobia and other kinds of hate – that’s the aim of the attacks – and because genuine democracy, equality and freedom are the real weapons in any meaningful struggle against terrorism and religious fascism.

It’s true, of course, as some of my friends have pointed out, that a big factor in explaining the rise of Daesh is Western intervention in the Middle East. Indeed, French colonialism played a particularly appalling role in the Middle East and Arab world more generally (Algeria). If you had to pick a moment when the fuse was lit which led to the current crisis, I think it might have been when the French kicked Faisal out of Damascus just after World War One (the British gave him Iraq as a consolation), thus preventing the independent state the Arabs had been promised in the war against the Turks. (This is one reason among many I won’t update my status with a French flag – or indeed any national flag).

But what events like Paris, and Beirut, and Baghdad (many times) and everything that’s been happening in Syria (and Libya), and so on – and on – show is that Daesh nevertheless has to be fought. Their chilling statement about the Paris attacks – Paris as a den of perversion, and so forth – brings home that I, for instance, am a target of their hate. Everything I stand for and everything I am. How, then, to fight them?

Sadly, they won’t go away just because we don’t retaliate by bombing them. The single greatest victory against them in recent weeks was the retaking of Sinjar by the Kurds (

To fight Daesh/IS, we should give the Kurds, the main military force opposing them on the ground with an agenda of democracy and human rights (ie not the murderous Assad regime), all the support we can.

But the uncomfortable fact is that the Kurds won this battle with US military air support. So maybe not all Western intervention is bad; or at least, if the Kurds want it and need it, shouldn’t we do what they want? And while Western intervention has mainly had disastrous consequences – the Iraq war being only the most obvious example – Western non-intervention in Syria has been pretty disastrous, too. We need to face the fact that this stuff is difficult. I’m not, here, advocating anything, just pointing out the complexity.

And there’s another question to do with Western ‘involvement’ which is harder to tackle. Daesh is the product of Western involvement up to a point; but it is much more directly the product of Saudi Arabia. (…/isis-wahhabism-saudi-arabia…). A big thing the West could do to fight Daesh is break links with Saudi Arabia – but of course this they don’t want to do for obvious reasons, namely oil. The very least they could do is not promote Saudi Arabia as ‘moderate’ or champions of human rights. But in fact, something much more profound in the way the Western world works needs to change (and for sure this will have consequences in my own little bit of it).

Another thing we could do is challenge ‘our’ NATO ally, Turkey, who have been consistently more concerned to subvert the Kurds than to fight Daesh, and whose repression of the Kurds, which of course has long historical roots, is now deepening again. (I posted this the other day:…).
Just some thoughts. No conclusions. Might try to go back to sleep.

Kurds take Sinjar from the Islamic State group

Permalink 15 Comments

An initial attempt at a socialist and humanitarian response to the Paris massacres

November 15, 2015 at 6:29 pm (capitalism, democracy, Europe, fascism, France, Human rights, humanism, internationalism, iraq, islamism, Jim D, Marxism, Middle East, modernism, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", solidarity, terror, turkey, war, workers)

What follows is a statement drawn up by myself. It is based in part upon the AWL’s statement in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I have not discussed it or “cleared” it with anyone. Critical comments are welcome -JD:

To massacre ordinary workers enjoying a drink, a meal, a concert or a sporting event after work, is a crime against humanity, full stop.

What cause could the Islamist killers have been serving when they massacred 130 or more people in Paris? Not “anti-imperialism” in any rational sense — whatever some people on sections of the left have argued in the past — but only rage against the modem, secular world and the (limited but real) freedom and equality it represents. Only on the basis of an utterly dehumanised, backward looking world-view could they have planned and carried out such a massacre. Such people are enemies for the working class and the labour movement at least as much as the capitalist ruling class – In fact, more so.

Modern capitalism includes profiteering, exploitation, and imperialism, but it also includes the elements of civilisation, sexual and racial equality, technology and culture that make it possible for us to build socialism out of it.

Lenin, the great Marxist advocate of revolutionary struggle against imperialism, long ago drew a dividing line between that socialist struggle and reactionary movements such as (in his day) “pan-Islamism” [in our day, Islamism]: “Imperialism is as much our mortal enemy as is capitalism. That is so. No Marxist will forget, however, that capitalism is progressive compared with feudalism, and that imperialism is progressive compared with pre-monopoly capitalism. Hence, it is not every struggle against imperialism that we should support. We will not support a struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism.”

We, the socialists, cannot bring back the dead, heal the wounded, or even (unless we’re present) comfort the bereaved. What we can do is analyse the conditions that gave rise to the atrocity; see how they can be changed; and keep clear critical understanding of the way that governments will respond. This must not be mistaken for any kind of attempt to excuse or minimise this barbarity or to use simplistic “blowback” arguments to suggest that it is simply a reaction to the crimes of “the west” or “imperialism.”

Immediately, the Paris massacre is not only a human disaster for the victims, their friends and families, but also a political disaster for all Muslims, refugees and ethnic minorities in Europe. The backlash against this Islamic-fundamentalist atrocity will inevitably provoke anti-refugee feeling and legislation, attacks on civil liberties and hostility towards all people perceived as “Muslims” in Europe: that, quite likely, was at least one of the intentions of the killers. The neo-fascists of Marine LePen’s Front National seem likely to make electoral gains as a result of this outrage.

The present chaos in the Middle East has given rise to the Islamic fascists of ISIS, and their inhuman, nihilist-cum-religious fundamentalist ideology.

Throughout the Middle East, the rational use of the region’s huge oil wealth, to enable a good life for all rather than to bloat some and taunt others, is the socialist precondition for undercutting the Islamic reactionaries.

In Afghanistan, an economically-underdeveloped, mostly rural society was thrust into turmoil in the late 1970s. The PDP, a military-based party linked to the USSR, tried to modernise, with measures such as land reform and some equality for women, but from above, bureaucratically. Islamists became the ideologues of a landlord-led mass revolt.

In December 1979, seeing the PDP regime about to collapse, the USSR invaded. It spent eight years trying to subdue the peoples of Afghanistan with napalm and helicopter gunships. It was the USSR’s Vietnam.

The USSR’s war had the same sort of regressive effect on society in Afghanistan as the USA’s attempt to bomb Cambodia “back into the Stone Age”, as part of its war against the Vietnamese Stalinists, had on that country. In Cambodia the result was the mass-murdering Khmer Rouge, which tried to empty the cities and abolish money; in Afghanistan, it has been the Islamic-fundamentalist regime of the Taliban. In Iraq the West’s bungled attempts to clear out first Saddam’s fascistic regime and then various Islamist reactionaries, and introduce bourgeois democracy from above, have been instrumental in creating ISIS.

Western governments will now make a show of retaliation and retribution. They will not and cannot mend the conditions that gave rise to this atrocity, conditions which they themselves (together with their Arab ruling class allies) helped to shape. Ordinary working people who live in war-torn states and regions will, as ever, be the victims.

Civil rights will come under attack and the efforts of the European Union to establish a relatively humane response to the refugee crisis will be set back and, quite possibly, destroyed.

These blows at civil rights will do far more to hamper the labour movement, the only force which can remake the world so as to end such atrocities, than to stop the killers.

Public opinion will lurch towards xenophobia. Basic democratic truths must be recalled: not all Middle Eastern people are Muslims, most Muslims are not Islamic fundamentalists, most of those who are Islamic-fundamentalist in their religious views do not support Islamic fundamentalist militarism. To seek collective punishment against Muslims or Arabs, or anyone else, is wrong and inhuman.

The first, and still the most-suffering, victims of Islamic fundamentalist militarism are the people, mostly Muslim, of the countries and regions where the lslamists are powerful.

The only way to defeat the Islamists is by the action of the working class and the labour movement in such countries, aided by our solidarity.

Refugees seeking asylum in Europe do not in any way share blame for this massacre. In fact, many of them are refugees because they are fleeing Islamic-fundamentalist governments and forces like ISIS. To increase the squeeze on already-wretched refugees would be macabre and perverse “revenge”.

We must remake the world. We must remake it on the basis of the solidarity, democracy and spirit of equality which are as much part of human nature as the rage, hatred and despair which must have motivated the Paris mass-murderers.

We must create social structures which nurture solidarity, democracy and equality, in place of those which drive towards exploitation, cut-throat competition and acquisitiveness and a spirit of everything-for-profit.

The organised working class, the labour movement, embodies the core and the active force of the drive for solidarity, democracy and spirit of equality within present-day society. It embodies it more or less consistently, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how far we have been able to mobilise ourselves, assert ourselves, broaden our ranks, and emancipate ourselves from the capitalist society around us.

Our job, as socialists, is to maximise the self-mobilisation, self-assertion, broadening and self-emancipation of the organised working class.

We must support the heroic Kurdish forces who are fighting and defeating ISIS on the ground in Syria and Iraq, opposed by the Turkish government. We must demand that our government – and all western governments – support the Kurds with weapons and, if requested, military backup: but we will oppose all moves by the governments of the big powers to make spectacular retaliation or to restrict civil rights or target minorities or refugees.

Permalink 16 Comments

‘Stop the War’ lie about being “lied about”

November 8, 2015 at 6:46 pm (apologists and collaborators, Free Speech, Human rights, internationalism, Middle East, posted by JD, protest, reactionay "anti-imperialism", solidarity, stalinism, Stop The War, Syria)

Andrew Murray has launched a group supporting pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine

By Eternispring

In response to Stop the War statement regarding Parliamentary meeting event on the 4th November 2015.

Lie No.1: Regarding “Andrew Murray’s support for the Syrian regime”

During the meeting Andrew Murray called for the support of the Syrian Army and the Iraqi Army in the fight against ISIS. This will be on record of the footage that Stop the War Coalition have yet to release of the meeting (unless they choose to edit it).

It should be noted that it is not the person of Assad himself which has caused the destruction in Syria, it is an entire military-security-intelligence apparatus of a fascist (self-defined nationalist-socialist) state. It is not Assad himself who has been dropping bombs every single day for the past 4 years, raped thousands of women and men, or tortured to death thousands of detainees, it an entire state set of apparatuses. Indeed, the long touted “political solution” supported by the International powers since 2012, whereby despite perceptions of “difference” between the US and Russia there has been a consistent unanimity on the necessary retention of the structures of the Syrian state and only disagreement on the fate of the person of Assad, has been rejected repeatedly by the revolutionary Syrian people. They can keep Assad if they think that they’ll maintain his regime. We only need see what happened in Egypt when a figurehead and some of his cronies were removed, only to be replaced by a worse one propelled by a vindictive ancien régime.

Andrew Murray’s support of the Syrian state is beyond dispute, as is wide swathes of the Stop the War coalition. They seek to play on “technicalities” of not directly stating “we support Assad”. Indeed President Sisi of Egypt says exactly the same thing when asked about his support for Assad in Syria, claiming “we must support the Syrian state, its not about the person”. The reader familiar with Stop the War coalition’s writings over the duration of the Syrian conflict, and their mocking writings about the Syrian resistance and existence of non-Assad Muslim “moderates”, will recognise this fact – never mind the absence of a (naive) outright “declaration” (which immediately opens up the movement to criticism as well as historical infamy), which is reserved for the Communist Party of Great Britain and the BNP, Stop the War’s leadership and outlets have (with rare exceptions) repeated close-to verbatim the narratives of the Syrian and Iranian governments.

Their rhetoric of a “sovereign Syria in which Syrians decide their fate”, for example, is taken right off the Russian manuscript. The irony of those proclaiming this maxim being entirely reliant on non-Syrian forces (Iraqi militias, Iranian revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah and now Russia’s airforce), whereby an independent regular “Syrian army” is practically no longer existent, entirely reliant on Iranian-sponsored militias, seems to be lost on those proponents.

Finally, it should be noted Andrew Murray’s (the Chair of Stop the War coalition) declaration of the necessity of supporting the “US-backed” (in fact US-created) Iraqi Army; this is another ironic contradiction for the “anti-imperialist” Stop the War coalition to support “Western-backed” forces in the Middle East, and is one from the few that will be seen in this article. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 20 Comments

Diane Abbott attempts to defend Stop The War’s refusal to hear Syrian voices

November 7, 2015 at 1:45 pm (apologists and collaborators, Free Speech, Human rights, internationalism, Jim D, Middle East, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, Stop The War)

Watch this!
Abbott on The Daily Politics show. A shameful performance – the definition of a “car crash” interview. The young Syrian woman is superb:

h/t Paul Canning

Edited to add: On the Friday the Stop The War Coalition responded with a bizarre post entitled ‘Andrew Neil smears Stop the War’, thus dismissing both the scrutiny from the left and Syrians and denying the facts as ‘smears’. The documented dismissal of Syrian voices is called “organised disruption.” They flat out lie that despite the video, despite the statement’s of both Labour’s Catherine West and the Greens Caroline Lucas, Syrians were not prevented from speaking!

The several reports on the behaviour of the stewards, including their calling the police, is dismissed as a “lie”. Whoever called them the police arrived, so there’s a simple way to find out if it is infact a “lie” that STWC called them – ask the police. Should we do that STWC? Over to you …

Of interest is the fact that the first person they rush to defend (“Lie one”) is their Chair, Andrew Murray. This is because this post’s information on Murray, supplied by Andrew Coates, was raised by Andrew Neil on the BBC in his questioning of Diane Abbott. Again, they flat out lie that Murray’s Communist Party and hence Murray does not regard Assad as “legitimate” and supports the regime’s war, aka ‘bombing’.

In order to back their claim that they solely face “diehard opponents on the left” in their opposition to UK support for civilian protection (rather than, as I have already covered, Syrian civil society and Syrian socialists) they fall back on the presence of a Tory MP

Are they rattled? Time will tell but the post ends in a classic of ‘projection’ – the Soviet and now Kremlin tactic of claiming that others are doing what you’re actually doing – “The lies of our opponents testify only to their desperation.”

Edited to add: Omar Sabbour has published a lengthy rebuttal to STWC’s post. He notes that the meeting was filmed and that unedited footage will show who is right about both the STWC claims on Syrians being allowed to speak and on who called police. It will also show what was said from the platform and Sabbour in his rebuttal goes into detail on why STWC’s arguments (“simply another form of Western narcissism and orientalism”) are so wrong – do go read.

Permalink 8 Comments

Have Stop The War finally jumped the shark?

November 5, 2015 at 9:10 am (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, Cross-post, Human rights, John Rees, Lindsey German, Middle East, Paul Canning, Peter Tatchell, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Russia, stalinism, Stop The War, Syria, war)

By Paul Canning


On Monday night the Stop The War Coalition (STWC) held a public meeting at the House of Commons – Syria: the case against military intervention.

Diane Abbott MP was the Chair. There were the usual suspects as speakers plus Tory MP Crispin Blunt, whose Foreign Affairs Select Committee had just delivered a report against any British involvement in Syria. Plus Alex Salmond and Caroline Lucas. Conspicuous by their absence as speakers were Syrians, the STWC refused to give any a platform.

Salmond’s SNP did give a Syrian a platform, Dr Amer Masri, on stage at their recent conference (many in the audience wept). Praising this, the Syria Solidarity Movement (SSM) noted the STWC refusal this last Monday and that:

Nor were any Syrians invited to speak at Stop the War’s meeting on Syria for the Labour Conference fringe in Brighton; nor were any Syrians invited to speak at Stop the War’s meeting on Syria in Manchester. When Syrian civil society activists wanted to speak at a Stop the War meeting on Syria in London in September, they were told it was “not appropriate”.

SSM were also blocked from speaking at an April solidarity with refugees march – by STWC. This led to an apology from the march’s organisers!

Last month Birmingham STWC dared to invite a speaker from SSM but were forced to withdraw the invitation and were told SSM ‘backs imperialists’.

When SSM leafleted a “overwhelmingly white and middle aged” STWC conference in June they were insulted, and called in language which would make Kremlin propagandists proud “the pro-ISIS lot”.

Yet they do not have an issue with some Syrians. In 2012 STWC platformed a Baathist and in 2013 the controversial nun Mother Agnes – which backfired when no one would sit on the same platform as her.

On Monday at the House of Commons, says Peter Tatchell:

Some Syrian victims of Assad’s brutalities turned up anyway but were not allowed to speak. They eventually shouted out in frustration, turning the meeting into momentary chaos, as they were jeered by some of the audience and as STWC stewards tried to eject them – allegedly threatening that they’d be arrested. The police turned up soon afterwards.

Order was eventually restored.

When it came to questions from the floor, other members of the audience were asked to speak but not the Syrians.

Near the end of the meeting, I personally appealed to Diane Abbott to let the Syrians have their say but she refused and closed the meeting.

Said Omar Sabbour (of Sussex Friends of Syria):

Delores Umbridge

To wind down the clock to stop Syrians speaking, Abbot literally allowed a history lesson by an old man (who said the Arab spring..was a fiction) to drone on, the license given him was so long (initially before panel was challenged only quickfire Qs were allowed) that even the crowd started to scorn, whilst Abbot sat listening with her head resting on her hand with her Umbridge-like smile.

(Dolores Umbridge is a Hogwarts villain in the guise of a respectable middle-class English lady).

Sabbour claimed that STWC had called police, that STWC stewards had threatened him with arrest and that ’emotional’ Syrians and other Arabs told STWC “you have become our oppressors.” The raucousness of the meeting was live Tweeted by the BBC’s Ross Hawkins.

Amr Salahi, an activist from the SSM, told James Bloodworth, Editor of Left Foot Forward:

Clara Connolly, an immigration lawyer and activist with Syria Solidarity UK, later told the STWC they were silent about Assad’s crimes but they didn’t care. I told the speakers they just wanted Assad to keep killing people. Clara kept trying to make the point to the speakers that they had nothing to say about what was happening on the ground. All she got in return was silence. Then some of the organisers went up to her and warned her that if she didn’t be quiet, she would be forced to leave.

Says Tatchell:

I was shocked, surprised and saddened by Diane Abbott’s unwillingness to invite Assad’s victims to express their opinions.  Not listening to victims of Assad’s war crimes is arrogant, insensitive and appalling. It has a whiff of ‘we know best’ and Syrian opinions ‘don’t count’.

You think?

Salahi said:

Syrians are not allowed to have an opinion about their own country. Only Westerners are allowed to talk about Syria.

Yet in an increasingly angry back-and-forth on Twitter with Tatchell later on Monday evening STWC’s Lindsey German flat out denied that any of these events had happened, calling the Syrians ‘wreckers’. She even called the no-platforming of Syrians a, quote, “lie”!

The news from the meeting was the BBC saying that Labour Foreign Affairs Shadow Minister Catherine West (a speaker at the meeting) had promised to consult STWC on Syria policy, later headlined as Labour giving STWC a “veto”. This was untrue, she had been addressing Syrians in the room, as confirmed later by Syrians present and by her in a statement.

But it was highly noteworthy that as she addressed this the Labour PR team directly undermined her by saying that, yes, they would consult outside the party, specifically naming STWC. Labour PR is now run by Seumas Milne, a prominent ally of STWC working for a party leader who used to chair the group.

West was later reported to have spoken to Syrians before the meeting and to have expressed great concern to them that they be consulted by the Labour Party, which she confirmed in a tweet – She clarifies she wants to consult Syrians then Labour PR (Milne) clarifies will talk to STWC. What does that tell you?

Peter adds that it was ‘ironic’ that STWC would put Tory Crispin Blunt on their platform when Blunt has said “he would support military action in Syria in certain circumstances.”

Andrew Coates noted that Andrew Murray, another panelist and STWC Chair, is a leading member of the Communist Party (CPB) who “explicitly do support Russia “bombing” Daesh and backing Assad, explicitly!” Murray reportedly said at the Monday meeting that “only sovereign forces from Syria + Iraq” can defeat ISIS.

(See Andrew’s post on Murray and STWC’s ‘confused’ position on bombing.)

In a lengthy dialogue on Twitter the following day between myself and several others with a STWC treasurer, Stephen Bell, when pushed on why they refused to put a Syrian on their platform he claimed that all the Syrian solidarity groups support bombing, which is not true, and that STWC were within their rights to not give a platform to anyone who ‘supports bombing’.

To which SSM member Mark Boothroyd wryly noted that:

if you haven’t noticed Syria is still being bombed so your “victory” is meaningless for those actually affected.

The “victory” being claimed by Bell, of course, being news reports that Prime Minister David Cameron had delayed a vote on whether the UK would join in with bombing ISIS in Syria. This when Labour’s Catherine West had explicitly stated at the meeting that it was Russia’s intervention which had made the prospect of the UK’s intervention “more remote.”

But Bell’s emotive, deliberately simplistic and repetitive statement that STWC would not give an airing to anyone who ‘supports bombing’ was contradicted not only by the presence of Blunt and Murray but also by Lindsey German herself who in her Twitter exchange with Tatchell said that STWC would not have “speakers who support intervention.”

*Pic actually from German satire website

What ‘intervention’ might mean is, of course, something which the Syrian ‘Stop The War’ movement, Syrian civil society and Syrian socialists have widely discussed. There are a number of proposals, many of which, for blindingly obvious reasons, do not include ‘bombing’.

Yet German could not have been more obvious in saying that STWC does not want to hear any of them and will, in fact, as long experience has shown, use their leading role to silence any Syrian who does not support Assad, whose crimes STWC always cover up. Of course she won’t listen to Syrians when STWC continue to paint all opposition to Assad as Islamic fascists.

In a lengthy explainer – ‘The Syrian Revolution and the crisis of the anti-war movement‘, do go read – Mark Boothroyd nails where the toxic politics which led to Monday’s absurd scenes of so-called peace activists shouting down Syrian refugees comes from:

Too many leading figures in the British anti-war movement chose to view all these revolutions through their relation to the US/UK and its intentions. This approach erased the agency of the oppressed Syrian people engaged in struggle with the regime, and gave no responsibility to the role of imperialist powers like Russia in propping up the dictatorship. It served to obscure the complex reality of the multi-polar world system, split between competing imperialist powers, with no single dominant power overwhelmingly determining the course of events.

Instead of analysing the actual relationships of regional and global powers that were thrown into flux by the Arab Spring, the approach of the anti-war movement was shaped by a framework of Cold War power relations, massaged to fit leftist prejudices and domestic alliances developed during opposition to the “War on Terror” and Iraq War.

Syrian and pro-revolution Arab voices have been marginalised, while outright apologists for the Assad regime like George Galloway have been central to developing it and propagating the position of Stop the War.

Many, through social media, have this week witnessed the ugly true face of the so-called Stop The War Coalition in this rowdy silencing of Syrian voices.

It is to be hoped that this exposure does not get forgotten and that those drawn to them question harder how these people ever became leaders of the ‘peace’ movement. Already, Boothroyd notes, STWC inaction on supporting any solidarity with Syrians has alienated Muslims who have been engaged in humanitarian support.

However the news the following day was that another far-left project, ‘Stand Up To Racism’, which is a front for the Socialist Workers Party, has a ‘Refugees welcome here’ rally in London tonight. Thirteenth on the bill of speakers is a – faceless, nameless – ‘Syrian refugee’.

S/he’s inclusion is surely welcomed but plainly an afterthought.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  • Thanks for input from Peter Tatchell, Andrew Coates and Bob from Brockley.

Edited to add: I checked the timeline of ‘Stand Up To Racism’ after the event and they did not mention the ‘Syrian refugee speaker’ once. Though I did establish that the nameless refugee speaker was infact there, via, ironically, a SWP student tweet.

See also:

Permalink 9 Comments

“We are Raif” campaign for Saudi human rights

October 31, 2015 at 5:28 pm (Civil liberties, democracy, Free Speech, Human rights, islamism, Middle East, misogyny, posted by JD, terror, thuggery)

WARNING: this film contains extremely disturbing images as a Saudi woman pleads for mercy before being beheaded.

By Pete Radcliff

For many decades the relationship between the Saudi Wahhabist dictatorship and the arms, oil and other companies in Britain has been ignored by the media.

Despite Bin Laden’s wealthy Saudi family background. Despite the majority of the 9/11 bombers being Saudi. Despite the Saudi Arabia’s brutal treatment of women and migrant workers. Despite Saudi having been second only to Iran in numbers of executions per head of population (this year it’s likely to overtake Iran).

Despite too, having a legal system run by religious reactionaries who execute people for being gay, an atheist, for fighting back against rapists or demanding democratic change. Despite having the fourth highest military expenditure in the world. Despite its record of imperialist intervention in the Middle East (Bahrain, Yemen). Despite the complete lack of trade union rights or free speech.

The media were no doubt intimidated and told criticism would disrupt profitable and politically influential UK businesses.

But over the last year, this has started to change, largely in response to the growth of Daesh (Islamic State).

For decades Saudi has exported its reactionary ideology through schools, mosques and other institutions they have financed. The aim was to create religious movements and political parties, to penetrate the civil services and state apparatuses of the countries they “aided”.

But the Arab Spring of 2011 shook the Saudi regime. Their allies in the ruling classes of the Middle East were challenged like never before.

The Saudis had to send in what was effectively an occupying army in support of the Bahraini dictators to suppress the revolt. Even in fiercely repressed Saudi Arabia, voices of criticism started to be raised, questions started being asked about how it was that the terror of 9/11 and of Al Qaeda had begun in Saudi Arabia.

Prominent amongst those questioning the Saudi state’s political ideology was a blogger in his late 20s, Raif Badawi.

Al Qaeda started breaking up in 2012 with the emergence of Daesh and the setting up of a geographical “Islamic state”, the centre of a claimed caliphate. This was an even greater challenge to Saudi Arabia’s standing within the international Sunni Islamist movement.

The response of the Saudi rulers was threefold.

Firstly, they reasserted the brutality of their regime in competition with the Daesh. The rate of executions doubled. Intimidation of the Shia minority in Saudi increased with their acknowledged figurehead, Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, sentenced to death. Provocative attacks on Shia were allowed to happen and protests in defence were brutally repressed.

Secondly, they stepped up their military activity in the region — launching a war on Yemen.

Thirdly, they have tried to forge an alliance with fellow Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood and sections of Al Qaeda (itself formed in opposition to the Saudi regime), both militarily and politically. In Syria, with seeming US agreement they have attempted to reorganise non-Daesh Islamist militias.

But their repression and imperialist interventions are not going unnoticed. The start of the lashings of Raif Badawi triggered off protests throughout Europe. It led to a confrontation between the Saudi regime and the Swedish government and their Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström. She described the Saudi’s treatment of Raif as “medieval”. The Swedish government made threats to stop supplying the Saudi regime with arms. The Saudi regime and their close ally in the UAE blocked visas to Swedish people in an attempt to scare Swedish businesses.

However the UK Tory government has proved itself the most loyal of Saudi friends. Not only have they not spoken out against Saudi internal repression, they also helped ensure Saudi Arabia, possibly the world’s largest human rights abuser, was granted the chair of the UN Human Rights Council!

Jeremy Corbyn has demanded Cameron take action against the planned beheading and crucifixion of the nephew of Sheikh Nimr, the young Shia activist Mohammed Al-Nimr. Corbyn also called for the cancelling of the contract between the Ministry of Justice’s commercial arm and the prison system of Saudi Arabia. Parts of the press, particularly Channel 4 News also pursued Cameron on this. But Cameron refused.

There then followed press revelations about the Saudi-UK deal in the UN and the Tories buckled and cancelled the contract.

For months NGOs and campaigners had been campaigning on Raif’s behalf and against the Ministry of Justice contract. English PEN had been holding weekly vigils outside the Saudi Embassy; in June a day of action was held in support of Raif Badawi and his imprisoned lawyer. Parliamentary debates and interventions were organised.

A new coalition has been launched “We are Raif: for Free Speech and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia”. It has brought together many NGOs already active on human rights issues in Saudi Arabia. But it has also got the support of campaigns in protest against Bahraini repression as well as Hope Not Hate, and anti-Islamist campaigns One Law for All and the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

The main practical focus of the campaign is to “end the sales of UK arms and military equipment, including military support packages, to Saudi Arabia” and to “call for an end to any business relations with the Saudi regime…”

Saudi military and political tentacles are spreading across the Middle East; already 5,400 have died as a result of their war on Yemen. Britain is Saudi Arabia’s third largest military supplier.

The Saudi economy has been one of the fastest developing economies in the world, with one million un-unionised building workers. There will be a lot to campaign about.

Permalink 8 Comments

Why an academic boycott won’t help the Palestinians

October 27, 2015 at 4:29 pm (academe, Guardian, Human rights, intellectuals, israel, Jim D, Middle East, palestine, zionism)

The ad in the Guardian
The ad in the Guardian

Today’s Guardian carries a full page advertisement, signed by 343 academics, calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and conferences. The signatories also pledge to refuse to “act as referees in any of their processes.”

It follows pro-boycott motions being passed by a number of trade unions and student unions.

The mood for boycott reflects strong feelings of indignation and outrage against Israel, and a powerful  sentiment that something –anything – must be done to help the Palestinians.

However the main forces behind the “boycott Israel” movement, and several of the signatories of the Guardian ad, want to go further than a just (probably “two state”) resolution to the plight of the Palestinians and an end to the illegal Israeli settlements and occupation of Palestinian lands: they are committed to the destruction of Israel and its replacement by an Arab state in which those Jews who survive the military conflict and its immediate aftermath would have religious but not national rights. (Or, if the destruction is accomplished by Islamist movements like Hamas and Hezbollah and their allies, and “victory” means an Islamic state, maybe not even religious rights). Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 34 Comments

As Tories suck up to Chinese ruling class, Amnesty protests over human rights

October 20, 2015 at 1:05 pm (apologists and collaborators, China, Civil liberties, David Cameron, democracy, Free Speech, Human rights, posted by JD)

Embedded image permalink

As Cameron and Osborne suck up to Xi Jinping, Amnesty International’s Allan Hogarth reminds us of that little matter called “human rights”:

As President Xi Jinping’s plane hits the tarmac he must be excited about the royal welcome that he’ll be getting in the UK – the red carpet has been rolled out, the flags raised and the banquet prepared!

I’m sure he’ll be keen to enjoy the hospitality of his hosts, whilst he and the UK Government get down to business. However, it would appear there is going to be one big elephant locked out of the room – human rights.

There has been lots of talk about China’s economic progress. People talk enthusiastically about progress made for Chinese citizens, better standards of living, economic security, and a growing middle class.

This may well be true and is indeed welcome. But when it comes to human rights we’ve witnessed a marked deterioration since President Xi came to office in 2012.

China is in the middle of its most intense crackdown on human rights for years and the human rights of ordinary Chinese citizens – including that growing middle class – must not be ignored in order to secure trade deals.

David Cameron must remember that China executed more than the rest of the world put together in 2014, often after trials that didn’t meet international standards.

The Prime Minister must ask President Xi about the nationwide operation that, in July, targeted and detained at least 248 lawyers and activists, 29 of whom still remain in police custody.

And what about the seven lawyers and five activists under ‘residential surveillance in a designated place’ – a process in which police are allowed to hold criminal suspects for up to six months outside of the formal detention system? This often amounts to enforced disappearance, a violation of international law.

As Chinese citizens are finding their economic freedom, perhaps Mr Cameron will raise concerns about other freedoms?

In Tibetan areas, there continue to be tight restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The Zhejiang provincial government is waging a campaign to demolish Christian churches and tear down crosses and crucifixes. All unauthorised forms of peaceful religious worship – including Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian house churches – can be subjected to suppression and criminal sanctions.

As President Xi will be staying with the Head of the Anglican Church, perhaps Mr Cameron would find it appropriate to raise these issues with the President?

The space for civil society in China is shrinking when it should be cherished and nurtured. Yet the Chinese authorities appear determined to clamp down on anyone that they deem a threat.

The catch all law of ‘picking quarrels and causing trouble’ allows the government to arrest, detain and silence those that question them.

Recent targets include the New Citizen Movement, a loose network of activists dedicated to the principles of constitutionalism, government transparency and civic responsibility – hardly firebrands?

Add to this that the authorities are considering introducing a ‘Foreign NGO Management Law’ that could put at risk forms of cooperation between UK and Chinese civil society. Mr Cameron must urge President Xi not to pass this law.

Of course, these are all issues that the Chinese will not want raising during the President’s visit.

The Chinese Ambassador has been quick to discourage any mentions of human rights. Any mention (of course) would be ‘embarrassing for the UK’ and offensive to China.

Well I’m sorry Mr Ambassador, but human rights activists actually find your comments offensive. I’m also sure that those brave Chinese activists who languish in your prisons, subject to harassment and restrictions would also be offended if these issues aren’t raised.

It is for these people that David Cameron should raise human rights issues with President Xi. He doesn’t have to ‘offend’ him, he’s a politician and perfectly capable of doing so with in a principled, forceful and specific way, both publicly and in private.

There may be thousands of miles between the UK and China, but the brave human rights lawyers, activists and defenders there are watching developments here.

This is Mr Cameron’s opportunity to show that the UK doesn’t put trade and prosperity above people – and that is why we stand together with the Chinese people in defence of human rights.

Follow @amnestyuk on Twitter as hundreds protest outside Buckingham Palace during President Xi Jinping’s visit

Permalink 7 Comments

Blacklisting bosses “run up white flag”

October 14, 2015 at 6:01 pm (capitulation, Civil liberties, crime, grovelling, Human rights, law, mccarthyism, posted by JD, unions, workers)

Statement from the Blacklisting Support Group:

As you may know Blacklisting was in the High Court on Thursday 8th October and after 6 years of denying everything, that the High Court trial is getting close, the blacklisting wretches have revised their legal defence, finally admitting their guilt. The 8 largest firms have run up the white flag and the ongoing negotiations between the lawyers are now just drawing up the terms of the surrender. The lawyers representing the blacklisting contractors are still huffing and puffing about their desire to go to court to fight the issue of ‘quantum’ and ‘causation’ (ie: how much compensation they need to pay) but this is just for show. The blacklisters will do anything to avoid the spectacle of a High Court conspiracy trial, which is still set to start in May 2016 and last for 10 weeks. BSG position is that we still want to see the directors of these multinational firms being forced to give evidence under oath at the High Court about their active involvement in this human rights scandal. Buying us off with a few thousand pounds is not justice.

The Blacklist Support Group would like to go on record to thank the stirling work carried out by all of the lawyers on our behalf. We could not have done this on our own. But we would like to particularity praise the work carried out by JC Townsend, Liam Dunne, Sean Curren and the rest of the legal team at Guney Clark & Ryan solicitors who have been working on the High Court conspiracy claim completely unpaid since 2009. Without their initial support, hard work and the resources allocated by GCR over the past six and a half years, we would not be in this position today. Blacklisted workers salute you.

Below is the statement issued & written by PR spin-doctors Graylings on behalf of the 8 largest firms:

On 7 October 2015 we, the eight companies that comprise the Macfarlanes Defendants*, submitted a Re-Amended Generic Defence to the Court. In this document we lay out clearly a number of admissions; these admissions are also covered in the accompanying summary which, we hope, will provide interested parties with an easily accessible reference. Both documents contain a full and unreserved apology for our part in a vetting information system run in the construction industry first through the Economic League and subsequently through The Consulting Association; we recognise and regret the impact it had on employment opportunities for those workers affected and for any distress and anxiety it caused to them and their families.

We are making these admissions now as we believe it is the right thing to do; we are keen to be as transparent as possible and to do what we can to simplify the High Court hearing scheduled for mid-2016. We hope that the clarity this brings will be welcomed by the affected workers. Indeed, ever since the closure of The Consulting Association in 2009, we have been focused on trying to do the right thing by affected workers. This was why we set up The Construction Workers Compensation Scheme (TCWCS) in 2014 to provide those who felt they had been impacted by the existence of the vetting system with a fast and simple way of accessing compensation. Currently, we have paid compensation to 308 people who have contacted TCWCS and we are processing 39 ongoing eligible claims.

We remain committed to TCWCS. We are approaching the High Court hearing in the spirit of openness and full transparency and continue to defend the claim strongly in relation to issues of causation and loss.

 – Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Kier, Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine, Skanska UK and VINCI PLC

Permalink 2 Comments

Next page »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 578 other followers