What’s behind Stop the War’s aversion to Syrian voices?

October 19, 2016 at 4:15 pm (apologists and collaborators, internationalism, Libya, Middle East, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Stop The War, Syria)

From The New Arab:

What's behind Stop the War's aversion to Syria voices?

Above: a Stop The War Coalition protest outside Downing Street, 12 Dec 2015 [Getty}

By Joey Ayoub

Date of publication: 17 October, 2016

Comment: The problem with the Stop the War coalition, is that it is fundamentally not anti-war, but simply anti-western intervention, writes Joey Ayoub.

On 15 November 2015, Diane Abbott went on the BBC’s ‘Daily Politics’ show to defend herself and the Stop the War (StW) coalition against a rather odd accusation: that they refuse to give a platform to Syrians when discussing Syria.

It followed a heated exchange just days prior, in which Syrian activists challenged StW’s leadership on the matter during a talk on Syria. They were backed by Peter Tatchell, the veteran anti-war activist who had also been criticising StW for what many perceive as its intolerance towards left-wing, democratic and anti-Assad Syrian activists.

This was not a new accusation. StW has prevented Syrian activists from speaking at their rallies or from taking part in any “anti-war” campaign, while giving a platform to pro-Assad apologists and inviting Assad’s own allies like the Ghouta massacre-denier Fadia Laham, also known as “Mother Agnes”, for years.

This exposes two fundamental aspects of StW today: A de facto tolerance and acceptance of Assad’s tyranny translated as the problem of people “over there” which “we” must not get involved in, regardless of the repercussions, and a hatred for subaltern voices, in this case Syrians, who do not fit the accepted narrative.

This, in turn, works hand in hand with an outdated cold war-era framework, still plaguing much of the western and Arab Left, which romanticises (read: whitewashes) the Kremlin’s politics.

Nineham forgot to ask a single Libyan about the effects of the no-fly zone in Libya

Fastforward to October 2016. Chris Nineham, the Vice Chair of StW, writes an article entitled “Don’t Believe the Start the War Coalition – Ask Libyans About No-Fly Zones” (NFZ). On reading that article, filled with oversimplifications and vague warnings, one notices something fairly obvious: In an article asking “us” to ask Libyans, Nineham forgot to ask a single Libyan about the effects of the NFZ in Libya.

Indeed, the only six mentioned in that article are Andrew Mitchell, Boris Johnson, Hilary Clinton, Joseph Dunford, Emily Thornberry and Jeremy Corbyn (who was also recently heckled by a pro-Syrian activist). Had StW followed their own advice and asked Libyans about the NFZ, they might have found inconvenient answers which challenge their de facto isolationist politics.

Indeed, the NFZ was seen as the lesser of many evils by countless Libyans who rose up against Gaddafi. A 2012 Gallup poll interviewing approximately 1,000 Libyans showed that 77 percent “broadly support several forms of potential assistance from the West, particularly military support”.

The idea of a NFZ seems far more contested among a group of privileged leftists who do not live under a tyranny, than among Libyans themselves

One Libyan activist, Rema Abdulaziz, even recently wrote in The Independent that she and many more are actually grateful for the NFZ. In other words, the idea of a NFZ seems far more contested among a group of privileged leftists who do not live under a tyranny, than among Libyans themselves.

Furthermore, what is often ignored about the NFZ in Libya is that not a single member state of the Security Council, including Russia, opposed it and that it was another Arab country, Lebanon, which officially proposed the NFZ to the Security Council.

To the isolationists, “they” needn’t be asked what they think of their country’s situation, for “we”, as owners of great social capital, know best. To borrow from Bell Hooks, Libyans, like Syrians today, were and are told that “there is no need to hear your voice, when ‘we’ can talk about you better than you can speak about yourself.

No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you, I write myself anew. I am still author, authority. I am still [the] colonizer, the speaking subject, and you are now at the center of my talk.”

This is no mere detail in this story. In fact, it is the central one: If, as leftists, we wish to support revolutionary emancipation regardless of man-made borders, we must make sure we are being useful allies, not useful idiots.

The problem with StW is that it is fundamentally not anti-war, but simply anti-Western intervention regardless of the realities on the ground. This is why it is an isolationist movement, a deeply conservative one at that, and one which has dangerous repercussions in an age of increasing xenophobic nativist rhetoric.

‘They’ needn’t be asked what they think of their country’s situation, for ‘we’, as owners of great social capital, know best

As StW proudly wrote on their own website, they are accused “of having a doctrinaire rejection of western intervention in the Middle East” which, they add, “is correct – our doctrine has been fully vindicated by the consequences of such interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.”

Perhaps the StW is led by people who are not aware of the definition of doctrinaire, namely “one who attempts to put into effect an abstract doctrine or theory with little or no regard for practical difficulties”.

The ‘abstract doctrine’ is anti-western imperialism (not anti-imperialism in itself) and anti-western intervention, of any kind. As for the ‘practical difficulties’, they are nothing less than the aspiration of Syrians who took to the streets in 2011 demanding justice, those same Syrians who were, and are, tortured in their tens of thousands in Assad’s gulags and slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands.

We must make sure we are being useful allies, not useful idiots

As we’ve seen over the past few years, the slogan “Assad or we burn the country” of the Assad regime and its state-sponsored militias known as the Shabiha, is meant literally.

The fact that StW always refers to Iraq in particular as ‘proof’ speaks volumes, given the fact that there was no revolution in Iraq nor is there a western invasion and occupation in Syria remotely comparable to the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation.

To quote the Lebanese Marxist intellectual Gilbert Achcar, commenting on Corbyn being heckled, this reactionary isolationism represents “a national-selfish attitude that doesn’t care about what happens to the rest of the world as long as ‘we’ are not directly concerned and our well-being is not affected – or (the leftwing version) as long as our ‘anti-imperialist’ conscience is not troubled by any of the complexities of the real world.

They’d rather see Benghazi or Aleppo razed to the ground and their inhabitants massacred, than see the UK or any Western government attempt to do something about it, let alone call on them to do something, even when there are no other forces capable of preventing the massacre.

In that balance, one Libyan or Syrian killed by ‘our’ government is more unbearable to our conscience than ten thousand killed by the local despots: this may be a form of ‘anti-imperialism’, but it is as far away from ‘internationalism’ (a leftwing value that seems to have completely vanished) as isolationism is.”

By ignoring a fundamental principle, that “critiquing our own governments and their crimes is a necessary but not sufficient part of the fight for justice”, we end up giving ammunition to a xenophobic rhetoric that is already gaining momentum.

This has been repeated so many times since the beginning of the Arab Spring that no honest observer can claim ignorance. Cynical indifference, however, is always available, and those who wish to adopt it should express no surprise at the continuing rise of nativism and xenophobia within Fortress Europe’s borders and beyond.

Joey Ayoub is the MENA editor at Global Voices as well as a Lebanese researcher from Beirut currently living in London. He is the founder of Hummus For Thought and mostly writes on Syria, Israel-Palestine and Lebanon.

Follow him on Twitter: @joeyayoub

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

See also: Tendance Coatesy

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Immigration: Corbyn’s principled stance shames Socialist Party

October 14, 2016 at 1:16 pm (Anti-Racism, capitulation, Europe, Human rights, immigration, internationalism, posted by JD, reformism, Socialist Party)

Image may contain: 1 person , text

This article first appeared in Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website

One of the best bits of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour conference speech was his defence of migrants.

“It isn’t migrants that drive down wages; it’s exploitative employers and the politicians who deregulate the labour market and rip up trade union rights.

“It isn’t migrants who put a strain on our NHS; it only keeps going because of the migrant nurses and doctors who come here filling the gaps left by politicians who have failed to invest in training.

“It isn’t migrants that have caused a housing crisis; it’s a Tory government that has failed to build homes.

“Immigration can certainly put extra pressure on services… What did the Tories do? They… demonise migrants for putting pressure on services…

“We will act decisively to end the undercutting of workers’ pay and conditions through the exploitation of migrant labour and agency working… And we will ease the pressure on hard-pressed public services – services that are struggling to absorb Tory austerity cuts, in communities absorbing new populations”.

Socialist Party of England and Wales logo.gif

It should put to shame the Socialist Party, which has presented immigration controls as a sort of working-class “closed shop”, thus feeding the myth that migrant workers, and not the exploitation of migrant workers, drive down wages:

“The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days”, declares the SP, “has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.

“It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists”.

Were those sentences a bit of bad writing? An aberration? Not at all. The SP has opposed free movement of labour consistently, in many articles, for instance this one by their leader, Peter Taafe, that contains the following:

“The alleged benefits of the ‘free movement of labour’ are in reality a device for the bosses to exploit a vast pool of cheap labour, which can then be used to cut overall wage levels and living standards”.

“The EU’s free movement of labour rules… have helped the bosses to inflict a ‘race to the bottom’ in wages and conditions, rather than stemming from workers’ interests and a raising of living standards across the board”.

Even conventional academic research has shown that any depression of wage levels which follows increased immigration at a time of diminished trade union rights and inadequate solidarity is confined to particular categories of labour, and is much smaller than the wage gain which would result from stronger union rights and greater workers’ unity.

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Palestinian leftists rebuke Western apologists for Assad

October 13, 2016 at 2:14 pm (Human rights, internationalism, left, liberation, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", solidarity, Syria, terror)

Statement introduced by Alex Rowell, October 12, 2016

A statement signed by over 120 Palestinians condemns “whitewashing” of Syrian regime by “activists whom we once respected”

An activist sprays the Free Syrian flag next to the Palestinian one on the wall built by Israel in the West Bank

Above: the Free Syria and Palestinian flags painted on the wall in the West Bank

Eulogizing the late Samir Kassir forty days after his 2 June, 2005, assassination, the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish lauded the Lebanese-Palestinian-Syrian writer’s wide-ranging “liberation project,” which he said encompassed everything from “the child’s right to question his father, to the woman’s right to divorce her husband, to […] the poet’s right to shed the strictures of rhyme, to […] the right of citizens to change their ruler, to the right of the individual and society to resist both despotism and occupation simultaneously”(italics added).

This was, on one level, an obvious nod to Kassir’s extraordinarily courageous opposition to the Bashar al-Assad regime that cost him his life (“Was it for this that Samir Kassir deserved to be killed?” Darwish then asked rhetorically). It was also, however, consistent with the argument Darwish and other democratic Arab leftists had been making since at least the early 1970s; namely, that long-term liberation necessitated a fight against Arab dictatorships no less than Israeli occupiers.

It’s this crucial chiaroscuro that tends to get missed by the sort of self-styled leftist in the West whose only real use for Darwish and other Palestinians is one-dimensional. In their designated roles imagined as eliminationist anti-Zionist fanatics (the same distortion, ironically, made by the toxic Israeli right-wingers who liken Darwish to Hitler), Arabs are ultimately no more than cameos and extras in a story that has no time for their suffering – not even the slaughter of 500,000 Syrians – if it can’t be made, as Trump might put it, to be about America First.

Not surprisingly, a number of Palestinians happen to not much enjoy their misfortune being appropriated in this fashion. A pair of articles published last weekend by the renowned American Israel critic Max Blumenthal – in which he portrayed the Syrian first-aid volunteers known as The White Helmets, who’ve pulled tens of thousands of civilians from the rubble left by Syrian and Russian air strikes (including the famous shell-shocked 5-year-old, Omran Daqneesh), as sinister agents of American neoconservatism – was evidently a last straw for some. In a new statement titled ‘On The Allies We’re Not Proud Of: A Palestinian Response to Troubling Discourse on Syria,’ over 120 Palestinian signatories state they are “concerned by some of the discourse that has emerged from progressive circles with regards to the ongoing crisis in Syria.”

Calling the “Syrian revolution […] a natural response to 40 years of authoritarian rule,” they directly address Blumenthal by dismissing as “nonsense” the “notion that just because an organization is receiving foreign aid, it must follow then that that organization is partaking in some shadowy Western-backed conspiracy.”

In perhaps their most interesting reflection, they say they regret their past “tendency to heroize those who advocate on behalf of the Palestinian struggle, and we fear that some members of our community may have prioritized the celebrity status of these individuals over the respect and support we owe to those Syrians affected most directly by the war.” They conclude they have “no choice left but to cease working with these activists whom we once respected,” and “encourage others who are guided by similar principles to do the same.”

The full statement (which one hopes will also be published in Arabic) is reproduced below:

We, the undersigned Palestinians, write to affirm our commitment to the amplification of Syrian voices as they endure slaughter and displacement at the hands of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. We are motivated by our deep belief that oppression, in all of its manifestations, should be the primary concern of anyone committed to our collective liberation. Our vision of liberation includes the emancipation of all oppressed peoples, regardless of whether or not their struggles fit neatly into outdated geopolitical frameworks.  

We are concerned by some of the discourse that has emerged from progressive circles with regards to the ongoing crisis in Syria. In particular, we are embarrassed by the ways in which some individuals known for their work on Palestine have failed to account for some crucial context in their analysis of Syria.

The Syrian revolution was in fact a natural response to 40 years of authoritarian rule. The Assad regime, with the support of its foreign financial and military backers, is attempting to preserve its power at the expense of the millions of Syrians whom the regime has exiled, imprisoned, and massacred. We believe that minimizing this context in any discussion of Syria dismisses the value of Syrian self-determination and undermines the legitimacy of their uprising.

We also believe that an important consequence of all foreign interventions, including those purportedly done on behalf of the uprising, has been the setback of the original demands of revolution. The revolution is a victim, not a product, of these interventions. It is imperative for any analysis of Syria to recognize this fundamental premise. We cannot erase the agency of Syrians struggling for liberation, no matter how many players are actively working against them.

Though we maintain that the phenomenon of foreign aid demands thorough critique, we are concerned by the ways in which foreign aid has been weaponized to cast suspicion on Syrian humanitarian efforts. Foreign aid is not unique to Syria; it is prevalent in Palestine as well. We reject the notion that just because an organization is receiving foreign aid, it must follow then that that organization is partaking in some shadowy Western-backed conspiracy. Such nonsense has the effect of both undermining humanitarian efforts while simultaneously whitewashing the very crimes against humanity that necessitated the aid in the first place.

Furthermore, we object to the casual adoption of “war on terror” language. Enemies of liberation have historically used this rhetoric to target humanitarians, organizers, and community members. From Muhammad Salah to the Midwest 23 to the Holy Land Five, our community is all too familiar with the very real consequence of employing a “war on terror” framework. Therefore, we reject a discourse that perpetuates these old tactics and peddles harmful and unwarranted suspicion against Syrians.

Along these lines, it is our position that any discussion of Syria that neglects the central role of Bashar Al-Assad and his regime in the destruction of Syria directly contradicts the principles of solidarity by which we abide. We have reflected on our own tendency to heroize those who advocate on behalf of the Palestinian struggle, and we fear that some members of our community may have prioritized the celebrity status of these individuals over the respect and support we owe to those Syrians affected most directly by the war, as well as those living in the diaspora whose voices have been dismissed as they have watched their homeland be destroyed.

We will no longer entertain individuals who fail to acknowledge the immediate concerns of besieged Syrians in their analysis. Despite reaching out to some of these individuals, they have shown an unwillingness to reflect on the impact of their analysis. We regret that we have no choice left but to cease working with these activists whom we once respected.

We would like to encourage others who are guided by similar principles to do the same.

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Coatesy on Corbyn’s principled immigration stance

September 28, 2016 at 12:52 pm (Andrew Coates, Anti-Racism, Europe, Human rights, immigration, internationalism, labour party)

We share and endorse Coatesy’s view:

Corbyn: Pro-Immigration Against anti-Migrants – of ‘Left’ and Right.

Image result for immigration controls UK

Immigration Controls: from pro-Brexit ‘left’ to Rachel Reeves’ Dire Warnings. 

Nothing illustrates the often artificial divisions between Left and Right in the labour and socialist movement more clearly than the issues of immigration and migration.

On the one side are those like the authors of the recent Fabian publication arguing for a hard-line against immigration,

Three of the MPs – Rachel Reeves, Emma Reynolds, and Stephen Kinnock – explained in articles for the Fabian Society that the party should change tack on migration rights in response to the Brexit vote that won in many of Labour’s English and Welsh heartlands.

Reeves, in quotes reported by The Huffington Post, said: “Immigration controls and ending free movement has to be a red line post-Brext – otherwise we we will be holding the voters in contempt.”

Kinnock added: “The referendum had a clear message: the limitless nature of freedom of movement, despite its proven economic benefits, is not socially and politically sustainable.”

Reynolds said that “no future deal [with the EU] can retain free movement of people in its present form” adding that Leave voters had asked for migration to be cut whatever the economic implications.

They were preceded by the nationalist British Communist Party (CPB) and the Socialist Party (SP),

Robert Griffiths as leader of Britain’s ‘official’ communists in the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, argued against the “the super-exploitation of migrant workers”. Not, you understand, to create a Europe wide (EU) system of raising standards, but raising the drawbridges against the said ‘migrant workers’.

The Socialist party has argued for “local jobs for local workers” – sufficiently often to be noticed by the European Press.

Clive Heemskerk is one of the central leaders of the Socialist Party, has argued “The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle, but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists.” (Socialism Today September 2016.)

In other words immigration controls-  perhaps on the model of the ‘closed shop’?- should form a central part of ‘socialist’ policy.

Far from being a ‘victory’ against ‘Capital’ the principal effect of their ‘Brexit’ on the labour movement has been the rise in calls for ending the freedom of movement of people.

Rachel Reeves has since issued this warning (Independent).

Labour MP Rachel Reeves: Riots could sweep streets of Britain if immigration isn’t curbed after Brexit.

Former Shadow Cabinet minister Rachel Reeves has warned that Britain could “explode” into rioting if immigration is not curbed after Brexit.

The former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary warned that there were “bubbling tensions” over immigration that could spill over into violence if the deal agreed with the rest of the EU did not include an end to freedom of movement.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool on Tuesday afternoon, the Leeds West MP said the party must listen to voters’ concerns.

She said: “We have got to get this right because there are bubbling tensions in this country that I just think could explode.

You had those riots in 2011… If riots started again in Leeds and bits of my constituency – it’s like a tinderbox.”

Ms Reeves, who left the Shadow Cabinet last year when Jeremy Corbyn was first elected leader, rejected claims that she was “Red Ukip” for calling for an end to mass immigration.

She was one of several moderate Labour MPs who campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU but said it should accept immigration controls now that the public had decided to leave.

One wing of the pro-Brexit and pro-immigration control ‘left’, cited above, is going to have a hard time explaining away their support for tougher immigration controls..

The ‘best friends’ of Jeremy Corbyn from the CPB and the SP, and others, who back these reactionary policies, will have to answer this.

Corbyn sets out his stall on Labour’s immigration divide

In his speech to the Labour Party Conference this afternoon, Jeremy Corbyn will reiterate his commitment to liberal immigration policy.

‘A Labour government will not offer false promises,’ he will tell delegates. ‘We will not sow division or fan the flames of fear. We will instead tackle the real issues of immigration – and make the real changes that are needed.’

The party has spent most of its conference week attempting to unite after a summer of acrimony, but on immigration the divides are only getting deeper.

Some, like Rachel Reeves, have taken a hard line on stopping European freedom of movement — she has argued that not to do so would mean ‘holding voters in contempt.’

Chuka Umunna, too, has suggested that ending freedom of movement should be a red line in Brexit talks, even if it means losing enhanced access to the single market.

And many more have danced close to the fence, insisting that Labour must be more attentive to voters’ concerns about immigration, but in a progressive, left-wing way.

With today’s speech, Corbyn is making clear that his pro-immigrant stance has not changed and will not change in the aftermath of the referendum.

This is a tough issue.

I must say I am immensely encouraged by Corbyn’s speech.

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Matt Wrack: make the bosses pay for Brexit

September 13, 2016 at 9:42 am (class, Europe, internationalism, left, posted by JD, solidarity, TUC, unions, workers)

FBU leader Matt Wrack marching in Essex against job cuts in 2012

FBU leader Matt Wrack marching against job cuts in 2012 (Pic: Kelvin Williams)

By Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (This article appeared in yesterday’s Morning Star, but in view of comrade Wrack’s description of Brexit as a “victory for populist demagogy, xenophobes and racists” is clearly at variance with that paper’s pro-Brexit ‘line’).

TUC Congress convenes at an absolutely pivotal time for the labour movement and for firefighters — and the motions tabled by the Fire Brigades Union are intended to reflect that.

The new political situation in Britain is defined by the decision to leave the European Union (EU). The FBU advocated a vote to Remain. Although the EU is a neoliberal bosses’ club, some forget the key role of British governments in driving the neoliberal agenda within Europe.

Austerity in Britain is driven from Westminster, not from Brussels. Europe also provides a common terrain for workers’ solidarity and workers’ rights across the continent.

The Brexit vote was a defeat for the working class in Britain as well as internationally. It was a defeat for internationalism and collectivism. Brexit was a victory for populist demagogy, xenophobes and racists. Brexit has already had detrimental economic effects and worse is likely to come.

Brexit has resulted in a more right-wing government. It means an already difficult period ahead will be even harder for the trade union movement and the working-class communities we represent.

The FBU’s motion is clear that the trade union movement should not blame working-class people for the consequences of Brexit.

We don’t blame workers who voted to leave. We don’t blame migrant workers, they deserve solidarity.

We know two-thirds of Labour voters voted to remain. We don’t blame the labour movement or the TUC — we fought a good campaign to remain and we were right to do so.

Jeremy Corbyn was not to blame for Brexit. Corbyn campaigned from day one to remain in the EU. He was right to advocate Remain while articulating criticisms of the EU. He held scores of meetings and events. He was correct to avoid collaboration with David Cameron and the Tories.

Who do we blame? We blame the Tories. They decided on the referendum. They set the question. They set the timing. It was mostly Tory politicians who fought it out in public. It was mostly Tory voters who voted to leave. They created the mess we’re in. We need to pin the blame for the consequences on them. Every job loss, every cut, every dodgy trade deal, every attack — is their fault. Every example of economic and political turmoil needs to be laid at their door.

The TUC and unions are right to say workers should not pay for Brexit (workers have paid for the economic downturn in countless ways since 2008). But that is not enough. The labour movement has to say who will pay for Brexit. The answer is that the bosses will have to pay.

The wealthy, the ruling class — they have to pay. The money is there — in the banks, in property, in the wealth of the ultra rich — the new Duke of Westminster, Mike Ashley and Philip Green. The government should tax them for what is necessary and by whatever means are necessary.

It follows on from who’s to blame and who should pay, that the labour movement cannot support a partnership approach on Brexit.

In my view, it was wrong for former TUC general secretary Brendan Barber to sign a joint letter with Cameron during the referendum campaign.

We are not all in this together. It is not the job of the trade union movement to act as the tail of British business. It is not our job to accept deals that worsen the conditions of our members so that Brexit can be managed.

The labour movement needs to make itself a factor in the Brexit process. We do that by mobilising our members as active forces capable of shaping our own destiny.

We need to strengthen our links with workers across the world, including within the EU. We will stand in solidarity with migrant workers wherever they are. We need to hit the streets and make our voices heard. We need to speak clearly and act in determined defence of working-class interests.

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The Calais Sessions

August 27, 2016 at 9:41 am (immigration, internationalism, Migrants, music, posted by JD)


“I am happy, like a myna/Life in a caravan, thinking about my friends/Let’s go to the garden,” go the upbeat lyrics from “Khandahar,” a poem first written in English and then translated to Farsi by two Afghan sisters, ages 9 and 12, who were living in a trailer in the migrant and refugee camp in Calais, known as the Jungle.

“Khandahar” is one of 13 tracks on “The Calais Sessions,” a benefit album recorded in the camp involving about 20 refugees and visiting professional musicians. The music ranges from Middle Eastern-inflected pop to Iraqi rap to tunes from the Balkans and Spain. Some pieces are love songs. One mourns the death of a Syrian brother. Others are joyful instrumentals set against a backbeat of traditional percussion.

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Interview with Kim Moody, part 2: labour’s new sources of leaverage

August 17, 2016 at 12:14 am (class, internationalism, posted by JD, unions, workers)


We continue with this important interview with Kim Moody, on the prospects for the class struggle. Part 1 can be read here.

From Labor Notes:

Where’s our economy headed? This is part two of our interview with Kim Moody, co-founder of this magazine and the author of many books on U.S. labor.

Despite the hype about the “gig economy,” Moody argued in Part 1 that the bigger change most workers are experiencing is the rise of the crappy-job economy. On the bright side, he pointed out how just-in-time production has created huge concentrations of workers—and vast potential for organizing.

In Part 2, we ask Moody about corporate mergers, the changing demographics of the U.S. workforce, and what it will take to organize the South:

Labor Notes: Increased competition between corporations has led to massive mergers. What has been the impact on workers?

Kim Moody: It’s in the mid-’90s that this new mergers and acquisitions wave took hold. It was fundamentally different from the big mergers and acquisitions waves of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Those mostly were about conglomeration—companies buying up all different kinds of production, finance, and everything you can get your hands on. Diversification would be another word for it.

The mergers of the mid-’90s forward have gone in the opposite direction. More companies are shedding unrelated divisions. For example, General Electric and General Motors used to have huge financial divisions and they dumped those, even though they were moneymakers.

All these major industries have seen mergers that are creating bigger employers. In some industries the concentrations are huge. If you look at trucking, UPS is this massive employer that it wasn’t 20 years ago. UPS is in every field of logistics—not just in delivery or even in trucking, but also in air freight.

So companies are buying up things that are in their basic core competencies. The structure of ownership has been realigned in a way similar to the first half of the 20th century, when unions, including the CIO, organized these big corporations.

This concentration of ownership along industrial lines means that there are more economically rational structures now in which unions can organize.

So you would no longer see a situation where the union strikes one division but the company has plenty of unrelated divisions that are still making profits.

Right. And when you put that together with the logistics revolution, you begin to get a picture of what I’m calling “the new terrain of class conflict.”

We are dealing with production systems, of both goods and services, that are far more tightly integrated than they used to be, and companies that are bigger, more capital-intensive, and more economically rational.

So unions should be able to take advantage of the vulnerable points in just-in-time logistics and production to bring some of these new giants to heel. The old idea of industrial unionism might have a new lease on life if—and it is a big if—the unions can take advantage of this situation.

My view is that this is going to have to come from the grassroots of the labor movement. Or those who today are not organized, like the people in warehouses. There is a potential that really hasn’t existed in well over half a century.

The consolidation of industry and the whole logistics revolution: these things have only come together in the last 10 or 15 years. When workers and unions in these industries—and many of these industries have unions in pieces of them—look at this situation, it’s something they’re not used to yet.

It usually takes a generation for the workforce to realize the power that it has, and the points of vulnerability. This was the case when mass production developed in the early 20th century. It took pretty close to a generation before the upheaval of the ‘30s.

Another important change has been in the demographics of the working class. Can you talk about what those changes mean?

This bears not only on unions but on American politics. An obvious change that has taken place in pretty much the same period—the ’80s up until now—and will continue on is the change in the racial and ethnic composition of the entire population, but particularly concentrated in the working class.

For example, if you look at what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls the “transportation and material moving” occupations in the ’80s, maybe 15 percent of those workers were either African American, Latino, or perhaps Asian. Today it is 40 percent.

Workers of color now compose a much bigger proportion of the workforce, much of it due to immigration. The biggest growth, of course, is among Latino workers. Workers of color are now between 30 and 40 percent of union membership.

It seems the right is making its own hay out of the changing demographics of the country.

This is happening everywhere in the West. It is much easier to blame immigrants for the lack of jobs or housing or crowded schools than it is to figure out how to deal with the powers that be.

So a lot of people turn towards these self-defeating ideas that they can solve their problems by closing off borders and sending people back, or by keeping Muslims out.

We have the potential to have a phenomenally different kind of labor movement. It is going to be different from anything we have ever seen in the United States, or pretty much anywhere else, for that matter. That is, if we have a multicultural, multiracial labor movement that is larger and is growing and is taking advantage of the new terrain that we just talked about.

A common tactic used by business is whipsawing workers against one another, using non-union areas of the country against union-dense areas. I am thinking of Boeing and South Carolina. Boeing got from Washington State the largest subsidy ever given to a company in the United States. And yet they still sent all those jobs to South Carolina, which also provided them with massive subsidies. How much of a hindrance has the inability to organize the South been for labor?

The answer is massive. This goes all the way back to the end of the Second World War, and the amount of manufacturing value-added that was produced in the South just grew until the ’80s.

The amount produced in the South continues to grow a little, but it has more or less leveled off. I have some ideas why.

If you look at the auto parts industry, for example, in the last 10 or 15 years it has dramatically reorganized, one of the most dramatic reorganizations of any industry that I have seen. You have many fewer companies, and those that remain have gotten bigger.

The bulk of them are in the Midwest and not in the South. A huge percentage of them are actually in Michigan. Of course, they are nonunion.

So I am not saying that the South is not important. You won’t crack manufacturing until the South is unionized. These big corporations do whipsaw. But given the new structure of these industries and the logistics revolution, there is a possibility of counter-whipsawing.

Say you have a union drive at a South Carolina plant and you want to cut off production there, to force management to recognize the union. My guess is that you can find suppliers, if they are unionized or can be unionized, whether they are in the South or Midwest, that can strike and close down that plant.

Given the rise of these tight new logistics systems, unions can counter-whipsaw by closing down suppliers or even the transport links, and thereby starve management at these Southern plants into submission. That would require the cooperation of many different unions—but they have to begin thinking about that if they are ever going to organize the South.

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Turkish union leader calls for democracy, secularism and peace

July 24, 2016 at 2:22 pm (democracy, Human rights, internationalism, posted by JD, secularism, solidarity, turkey, unions)

kani beko

Statement from DİSK Chair Kani Beko on the state of emergency declared in Turkey

The solution is democratization, not a state of emergency!

In the wake of the 15 July coup attempt, a three-month state of emergency was declared all over Turkey in accordance with “suggestions” from the National Security Council.

Declaring a state of emergency following a coup attempt that aimed to completely suspend democracy will solve none of the country’s problems but only serve to realize the system of governance envisioned by the coup plotters.

Turkey is being subjected to a nationwide state of emergency for the first time since the 12 September 1980 coup. Occasional states of emergency were implemented on a regional basis until 2002, but they were synonymous with extrajudicial murders, massacres, disappearances in custody and torture.

For those who proffer that “it won’t be like that this time,” just one look at their record under “ordinary” legal circumstances provides warning as to the grave new threat to fundamental rights and freedoms.

From the government’s pun on the 1980-era catch phrase “Should we feed them instead of hanging them?” in support of capital punishment to the suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights, all the signals indicate that the government is not responding to the coup attempt in accordance with “democracy” and universal values.

Let no one forget that the coup plotters bombed the country’s parliament. The decision to sideline the Turkish Grand National Assembly – which had provided a very pointed reply to the coup plotters’ attacks – cannot be explained with “democracy;” the only term appropriate is a “counter coup.”

It is also clear that workers’ rights are severely threatened by the state of emergency. In an atmosphere in which the quest for all manners of rights has been prohibited, the rights that workers have won could be stripped away without even a cursory hearing in Parliament’s General Assembly.

From the theft of the right to severance to the obligatory individual retirement system, the government will be able to impoverish workers and reduce their employment security without encountering any resistance from workers’ struggles, the courts or the parliamentary opposition. It will be possible to convert the state of emergency into a state of unprecedented exploitation for capital.

One cannot categorize an authoritarian system of governance devoid of any legal foundation as a “struggle against coups” with the legal window dressing of a state of emergency.

Turkey does not need to pick from the least worst of a perfidious bunch of coup plotters and dictators.

Turkey does not need torture, capital punishment and a state of emergency.

Turkey does not need to see its parliament effectively sidelined.

All these violations are part of the aims and goals of civilian and military coups.

What Turkey needs is democracy, secularism and peace and for all of its people to create a country in which all can freely practice their beliefs, express their thoughts and live in dignity.

With its demands in favor of labor, peace, democracy and secularism, DİSK has always stood against all coups and all attempts to impose a dictatorship, and will do so once more against the new state of emergency.

(H/t: Labourstart)

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Neo-conservatism: a lament

July 11, 2016 at 11:27 pm (democracy, Harry's Place, Human rights, humanism, internationalism, iraq war, Middle East, posted by JD, Syria, tragedy)

This post, by Michael Ezra, first appeared at Harry’s Place:

In 2003 I did not just support the Iraq War, I supported an ideology associated with many of the most vocal proponents of that war: neoconservatism. The purpose of this post is not to criticise Tony Blair for his decision to go to war, although one has to admit that Iraq in 2016 is not the liberal democratic paradise of which many had dreamed, but to note that neoconservatism as an ideology is a soiled good.

There is no simple definition of neoconservatism and neoconservative writers have not all sung the exact same tune with the exact same words. In my opinion neoconservatism is about promoting democracy abroad, opposing regimes hostile to American interests, championing American military strength, and not shirking from using that military strength to further these ideals. The dream was a world reshaped in the American image. Neoconservative thinkers believed, as Francis Fukuyama put it, “history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will.” While neoconservatives are interested in more than foreign policy, it is the foreign policy aspect that has dominated discourse. It is that upon which I focus.

The neoconservatives are ideologues. Like other ideologues they believe that their ideology is right in the moral sense. They had, in their own minds, “moral clarity.” George Bush admitted that the book that influenced his view on foreign policy was Natan Sharansky’s The Case for DemocracyBush also recommended his aides read the book.  Sharansky divided the world into two types of countries: free societies and fear societies. He applied a simple test: “Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm? If he can, then that person is living in a free society. If not, it’s a fear society.” (pp.40-41). Sharansky formulated his argument based on his own experiences as a dissident in the Soviet Union. If one lives in a fear society, dissidents are arrested and thrown in prison. Fear societies become repressive and tyrannical. He argued, “There is a universal desire among all peoples not to live in fear.” (p.38) His book is a blue print for overturning every single middle eastern dictatorship, and to do so, if necessary, by force: “The free world should not wait for dictatorial regimes to consent to reform….if we condition reform on the agreement of nondemocratic leaders, it will never come. We must be prepared to move forward over their objections.” (p.278). It is a seductive argument. I was seduced.

With such an ideology, in order to morally justify using force for regime change one does not need a fear society to have Weapons of Mass Destruction that could threaten American interests. Regime change is carried out for the good of the citizens of the living in the regime of fear. Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya informed President Bush that the Iraqi population would welcome American soldiers “with sweets and flowers.”  Yet, one could argue, if intervention for the good of the citizens is sufficient, why pick on Iraq rather than any other country? The Weapons of Mass Destruction becomes a way of selling the military action to the population at home. (I am interested in the ideology, not the legality of the war, so there is no need to get into discussions as to United Nations votes and whether Bush and Blair did or did not believe Iraq had WMDs.)

At the time of the so-called Arab Spring the cracks began to appear. When there were huge demonstrations in Egypt against President Mubarak, the neoconservatives cheered on regime change and democracy. The hawks in the Israeli government, thought by many to be in line with the neoconservative ideal, were of a contrary opinion. They had a more realist view. If democracy led to the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of Egypt, they would prefer Mubarak. The Israelis thought the American neoconservatives hopelessly naïve.

Syria has been no better. While President Assad was busy killing his countrymen by the hundreds of thousands, the neoconservatives clamoured for his removal. They wanted America to provide massive military assistance to the so-called moderates opposed to his rule. However, these “moderates” were not necessarily moderate. Besides, it hardly helps either democracy promotion or American interests if weapons that America provided to these so-called “moderates” end up in the hands of the head-choppers of Al Qaeda and ISIS.

The problem with neoconservatism is therefore stark. Despite the view of the neoconservatives that the vast majority of people would far prefer a free democratic society than a dictatorship, when given a chance for the type of democracy that the neoconservatives have in mind, citizens of countries do not necessarily take it. Moreover, while the ideological position of believing you are right might be fine in theory, the empirical reality might be vastly different. One should not ignore what is patently obvious: neoconservatism is the God that failed. The neoconservatives need to be mugged by reality.

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McCluskey on the EU: “my final appeal is on the basis of hope”

June 22, 2016 at 11:26 am (Anti-Racism, Europe, internationalism, posted by JD, rights, solidarity, Tory scum, UKIP, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Speech delivered 20th June (NB: not the same as his piece in yesterday’s Guardian)

May I start by expressing Unite’s shock at the death of Jo Cox and our deepest sympathy to her family.
We can only hope that the outpouring of grief from across the nation will help Jo’s husband, Brendan and his family in these unbearable times.

Her death places in context what is really important in our lives.
She was, of course, a passionate advocate for the Remain campaign and would surely want political debate to continue.

Brothers and Sisters,
As this referendum campaign draws towards a close, I think everyone can agree on two things.

First, it matters. As we come up close to the moment of decision, this feels like one of the most important votes any of us will cast in our lives.

And second, this is close. The elite complacency of the start of the campaign, that this was just a quick canter to the winning post for REMAIN, has disappeared.

This could go either way.

For those two reasons, I wanted to speak out directly, both to and on behalf of the members of Unite, the biggest trade union in the United Kingdom, also as someone who can legitimately claim to know the hopes and fears of the working-class communities across the country, the sort of community I grew up in and have kept my roots in.

There is no need for a spoiler alert – Unite is fighting all the way for a Remain vote, and for Britain and British workers to build their future in unity with the rest of Europe.

But I have not come here to lecture or to patronise those working people who take a different view. Who can be surprised that in so many industrial areas, voting for the status quo is not exactly a popular option?

I am just asking all those people, including many Unite members, to reflect on their concerns, and whether they would be best addressed by staying in Europe, or by a Brexit.

And I want to flag up what I believe will happen to working people on the morrow of a vote to leave.

Let me turn first to the issue of IMMIGRATION:

Some pundits and commentators, like explorers returning from a visit to the deep unknown, are stunned to find that this has become an issue.

I for one am not in the least surprised. I understand those concerns. They are NOT, for the greatest part, anything to do with racism or xenophobia.

They are to do with the systematic attempt by our greedy elite to hold down wages and cut the costs of social provision for working people.

Let us be clear – what has been done in the last ten years is a gigantic experiment at the expense of ordinary workers. Countries with vast historical differences in wage rates and living standards have been brought together in a common labour market. The result has been huge downward pressure on living standards.

What happens when two hundred workers are competing for jobs where previously only ten did? Wages are frozen or cut.

What happens when workers can move from a country where a job pays £5 an hour to one where the same job pays £20? The answer is that many do so move, and the same job then ends up paying just £12 an hour.

That is why trade unions have never been in favour of a so-called free labour market. Control of the labour supply in an industry or across society has always been the core of our mission, to ensure that workers get their fair share of the wealth they create.

But let me be clear about something else. Pulling up the drawbridge against the rest of Europe is the wrong answer. Read the rest of this entry »

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