Discrimination and Employment Law experts agree: Brexit would be “catastrophic”

January 25, 2016 at 4:39 pm (Anti-Racism, Civil liberties, Europe, Human rights, Jim D, law, rights, TUC, unions, women, workers)

Karon Monaghan

Saturday’s TUC/Equal Opportunities Review Discrimination Law Conference was, as usual, a highly informative event.

The driving force behind this conference (an annual event) is Michael Rubenstein, editor of Equal Opportunities Review and widely regarded as Britain’s leading expert on both equal opportunities law and employment law (he also edits the Industrial Relations Law Reports): unlike a lot of legal people, he makes no secret of his sympathy with the trade union movement.

Amongst the other distinguished speakers was Karon Monagham QC of Matrix Chambers, on ‘Sex and race discrimination: recent developments.’ Anyone whose ever Karon speak will know that she makes no secret of her left wing stance and passionate commitment to anti-racism, equal opportunities and trade union rights – how she ever got to be a QC is a bit of a mystery …

Karon spoke with authority on her subject, concentrating upon:

Karon noted that, “As to recent decisions of the Courts and tribunals, they’re a mixed bag. We have seen some worrying recent case law challenging some of the prevailing orthodoxy around the concepts of equality under the EA 2010 and related matters. We have also seen some progressive case law, in particular in reliance on fundamental rights protected by EU and ECHR law.”

In the course of her presentation, Karon made it clear that the EU Equality Directives, case law from the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, remain potent and effective tools for all those concerned with defending human rights and trade union rights.

In fact, although it did not appear on the agenda, a recurring theme of the conference was the EU and the possibility of Brexit. In his opening remarks, Michael Rubenstein asked “Do you think Brexit and the Cameron government, together, are going to be good or bad for human rights, equal opportunities and trade union rights?” He added, laughing, “That’s a rhetorical question.”

During the final Q&A session, the panel were asked what they though the impact of a Bexit would be on human rights and employment legislation in the UK: Rubenstein replied with a single word: “catastrophic.”

The idiot-left who seem to think that something progressive can be achieved by getting out of the EU need to take notice of people who know what they’re talking about.


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Amnesty marks International Women’s Day

March 8, 2014 at 8:45 am (Civil liberties, democracy, homophobia, Human rights, misogyny, posted by JD, rights, sexism, women)

My body my rights

Being able to make our own decisions about our health, body and sexual life is a basic human right. Yet all over the world, many of us are persecuted for making these choices – or prevented from doing so at all.

A woman is refused contraception because she doesn’t have her husband’s permission. A man is harassed by police because he’s gay. A teenager is denied a life-saving termination because abortion is illegal in her country. Whoever you are, wherever you live, you have the right to live without fear, violence or discrimination. It’s your body. Know your rights. Act now.


Unnecessary burden

Stand with Nepali women and girls to defend their rights.


Tell world leaders: protect sexual and reproductive rights now and for the next generation!

Around 1.8 billion young people worldwide are at risk of having their sexual and reproductive rights ignored. Call on world leaders today.


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Sign Malala’s petition

June 21, 2013 at 7:21 pm (anti-fascism, children, civil rights, Education, good people, Human rights, Jim D, misogyny, Pakistan, rights, UN, youth)

Here’s something I’d hope we can all agree on:

From A World at School/ Stand with Malala

Last October, people across the globe united to send thoughts of hope and love to a brave young girl fighting for her life in Pakistan.

The Pakistani Taliban tried to assassinate Malala Yousafzai because of her strong voice in the fight for women’s rights and youth education. Their gunmen boarded her school bus and shot her in front of her peers – but Malala survived and she hasn’t stopped fighting.

Last weekend we were reminded of the need to continue to stand behind Malala and her cause once again. 14 young female students were massacred as a bus taking them home from university in Quetta, in western Pakistan, was blown up by extremist militants.

On July 12 – less than a year after she was attacked – Malala will mark her 16th birthday by speaking at the UN. She’ll be delivering to the highest leadership of the UN a set of education demands written for youth, by youth.

Join in uniting for Malala – and for girls’ education – once again.

Sign the letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledging your support to her cause.

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Bangladesh factory tragedy: statement from Labour Behind the Label

April 25, 2013 at 5:34 pm (Bangladesh, capitalism, Human rights, internationalism, profiteers, reblogged, rights, solidarity, tragedy, workers)

Bangladeshi soldiers use earth mover during rescue operation at site of factory collapse in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 24, 2013. At least 161 people were killed.

Bangladeshi soldiers use earth mover during rescue operation at site of factory collapse in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 24, 2013. At least 161 people were killed. / AP

Statement from Labour Behind the Label:

Labour Behind the Label today mourns the senseless loss of life, after an 8 story building in Savar, Bangladesh housing 3 clothing factories collapsed this morning (24.4.13). Over 82 workers [now known to be at least 161 -JD] were killed in the wreckage and 800 people injured, with the death toll set to rise as further bodies are found. Labour rights groups and trade unions in Bangladesh and internationally are calling for immediate action from international brands following the collapse.

 The building contained 3 separate clothing factories, which locals say housed around 6,000 workers. Following the collapse, activists were able to enter the ruins and discovered labels from brands including Primark and Mango, indicating that they were sourcing from the factories. Rana Plaza also produced for a host of well known brand names including C&A, Matalan and Wal-Mart.

This collapse follows the Tazreen factory fire in the same district that killed 112 workers five months ago, and the Spectrum Factory collapse of 2005 which caused the death of at least 64 workers. The speed of the garment industry expansion in the Savar area is an ongoing and pressing concern. Savar, just outside of Dhaka, has seen significant growth in garment factories in recent times, with factories being built on swamp land and without proper building regulations in place. Labour rights groups say unnecessary deaths will continue unless and until brands and government officials agree to an independent and binding fire and building safety program.

“It’s unbelievable that brands still refuse to sign a binding agreement with unions and labour groups to stop these unsafe working conditions from existing. Tragedy after tragedy shows that corporate-controlled monitoring is completely inadequate,” says Sam Maher of Labour Behind the Label.

She adds: “Right now the families of the victims are grieving and the community is in shock. But shortly they, and the hundreds injured in the collapse, will be without income and without support. Compensation must be provided by the brands who were sourcing from these factories, and responsibility taken for their lack of action to prevent this happening.”

Labour Behind the Label is calling upon all major brands sourcing from Bangladesh to sign the ‘Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement’ immediately to stop future tragedies from happening. The Clean Clothes Campaign, together with local and global unions and labour rights organisations, has developed this sector-wide program that includes independent building inspections, worker rights training, public disclosure and a long-overdue review of safety standards. This transparent and practical agreement is unique in that it is supported by all key labour stakeholders in Bangladesh and internationally.


Note to political cartoonists: time to revisit and update this:


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Weeky Worker’s ignorant misogyny exposed and denounced

April 7, 2013 at 3:54 pm (CPGB, Feminism, Human rights, Jackie Mcdonough, liberation, Marxism, misogyny, reblogged, revolution, rights, sexism, socialism, stalinism, SWP, wankers, women)

A comrade wrote this to me recently:

“I’ve only just read this article. Really really awful.


And the Weekly Worker‘s extraordinary, ignorant and frankly embarrassing, misogyny (in the name of “Marxism”!) continued:


Now, someone has got their act together and replied. It’s pretty devastating:

The man doth protest too much, methinks….

April 6, 2013 by

Oh dear….

Poor old Paul Demarty. You gotta sympathise with him, he writes a piss-poor article on feminism and the SWP and he’s shocked by the tsunami of criticism. Poor lamb. Though he provides me with much comedy. Alas, poor Demarty, a fellow of infinite jest. Your flashes of merriment were wont to set Comrade Harpster a roar!

There is nothing in feminism as a core set of ideas that contradicts Marxism. Demarty, in this rather over-the-top shtick claims that the relationship between feminism and Marxism has “tortured the far left” since “at least’ the 1970s. No, comrade, it’s tortured workerists who fail to understand feminism. If you take an essentialist view in your analysis, i.e. radical feminism locates women’s oppression in patriarchy, understanding it as a monolithic entity without seeing the relationship between capitalism & patriarchy. There’s a mirror image between what Demarty is arguing and radical feminism… essentialism. Demarty’s essentialism is workerism. Or to use the phrase Barbara Ehrenreich used back in those “tortured 1970s” … Mechanical Marxism.

And Demarty is shocked I say, shocked due to the comments that ranged from supportive to mildly irked, to downright hostile. 

What does he expect?

Demarty is sloppy in his analysis but also dishonest. He fails to understand the power relationships between men and women in a capitalist patriarchal society, which is also reflected on the Left. People are angry precisely because the SWP dealt with a rape allegation appallingly, it also reflects those power dynamics between men and women, it is about the abuse of power. Something that Demarty is incapable of understanding due to his workerist politics.

Just how pathetic and insulting is this statement:  As for “other violence”, the comrades Grahl ought to try selling theWeekly Worker outside the Marxism festival, especially when things are generally tense, as they will be this July. It increases your chances of intimidation and assault a great deal more effectively than merely having a vagina.

Say what, Demarty? Merely having a vagina…

Demarty sez this about Comrade Whittle (er, that’s me): I believe she is playing dumb, but this paragraph is a little needlessly jargon-heavy, so I will spell it out.

Patronising, much?

Demarty wrote in his previous piece: Rape – and domestic violence – are not conducted, by and large, by people who explicitly hold women in contempt, but are rather symptoms of an underlying social psychopathology, a deformed consciousness that does not manifest itself in a way that it can, as the writers of the statement imagine, be “confronted” or “challenged” in a direct way.

Again, I say…  Huh?  I don’t have a clue regarding this. Not playing dumb just don’t have a scooby-do!

Where’s the empirical and rational basis for this? Psychobabble nonsense mixed with this “deformed consciousness”… Where does this fit in with a rigorous Marxist analysis, which I am sure Demarty is keen to display. And it still stands, he can still be accused of “highfalutin’ verbiage” which once picked away you are left with… empty arguments.

Oh, and “safe space” policies… Does Demarty actually understand what is meant by that because I believe he hasn’t got a … clue. Actually does he believe in the opposite, “unsafe spaces”? Safe spaces aren’t just about physical safety but about psychological safety i.e. not demeaned, not being sneered at, not undermined nor bullied. Is that such a hard concept for him to grasp? It should be a safe place where comrades can challenge each others ideas. It’s also about showing solidarity to women who have experienced violence. Again, what is so difficult for him to comprehend?

A reader’s understanding of feminism: “I have always thought of feminism as simply the belief that the liberation of women from oppression is a priority, that this oppression seeps into all the pores of our society and finds expression in multitudinous ways, and that those at the sharp end of that oppression should play a leading role in combating it.

Demarty’s understanding of the above: There are two problems with this definition. The first is that it is at a very high level of generality, which fails to tell us anything useful about what feminism does. A definition of Christianity might be offered – the belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ. No more precise formulation would avoid excluding one group or another of Christians. Not all believe Jesus was the son of God. Not all accept the biblical accounts. There are Trinitarians, Unitarians and all the rest.

Again, let me reiterate, say what? Sometimes you do talk about things in a general level, it’s to be as succinct as possible about a complex and dynamic form of ideas. That’s perfectly acceptable. If you didn’t go into more depth that would be a problem but the reader is giving a general indication of what they believe feminism is about. So far so good. Demarty tries to explain the problems with generalising by using Christianity as an example. It doesn’t work….

Insultingly… On the basis of the actual history of feminism as a movement, more fissile than Trotskyism and Maoism put together, this claim is transparently false, but it is still a serious motive force.

Demarty argues again in an essentialist manner. And with essentialism you hit the skids quickly.

Finally (as to be honest…. reading through this article was like wading for treacle…)

So here is the “line in the sand”. It is necessary for Marxists to fight for the class solidarity of women and men, to oppose all oppression of women and all expressions of sexist ideology, be they religious or secular, explicit or implicit. Failure to do so is a dereliction of duty. Feminists, on the other hand, fight for the unity of women as women. The Weekly Worker is unequivocally on the former side of the line. The two positions are not compatible. There are no doubt many self-described ‘Marxist feminists’ who are also on our side of the line. That is all well and good, but in that case their feminism is adding nothing to their Marxism, and they may as well drop it, for clarity’s sake.

Here we go… feminism and Marxism are not compatible! Demarty and Co. have a real fear of feminism, because it’s alternative power structure, an alternative source of organisational strength. Ooh scary. To explain in simple terms to him and the rest of the anti-feminist WW crew about socialist feminism.

A socialist feminist perspective takes the position that the patriarchy is not a separate or superior form of oppression to class oppression. Rather it is a phenomenon that has developed alongside and intertwined with class society and with class oppression. As political activists we are confronted by the question of what are we going to do about the issues that we face? Do we struggle against oppression or do we shrug our shoulders? Is our cause strengthened by challenging oppression or is it better to decide as the reformists are prone to do which things we can be bothered to face. Historical materialism developed as a recognition that the capacity of things to be changed through struggle. It is part and parcel of Marx’s dicta about our role being to change things as opposed to merely understand them. Patriarchy is based on men perceiving a benefit in, for example, having household skivvies around who are also sexually available to them. Many working class men may decide (very often do decide) that this advantage outweighs the conflicting interest they have in fighting for a society of equals. Is it not to be open to women to organise against such matters?

As Heidi Hartmann argued in her essay, “The Unhappy marriage of Marxism and feminism”, We must understand the contradictions among social phenomena, the sources of dynamism and the likely directions of changes, learning from our inevitable mistakes and keeping on with the struggle.

The forms of struggle that we take must reflect this dynamic complexity or the organisations that are supposed to combat oppression will end up causing it.

Unfortunately most of Demarty’s article is insulting, patronising and offensive to women. And if he wanted an honest debate around feminism he’s scuppered it with his incoherent and nasty rhetoric (you aint winning any points comrade…). Language that says, “great collective shriek” which is no doubt aimed at those “left feminists and their blind rage”…

Boy, Demarty just can’t handle angry feminists. Men.. they can get angry but not women. Yes, there’s a lot of anger around and it’s very understandable. Yet he finds these debates have distinctive features: repugnant, laughable, paranoid and hypocritical.

Bit like Demarty’s writing style….

Finally… and this is the kicker: Given that this all started with a provocative headline, let me end with another provocation: this is all sound and fury, signifying nothing. The trolls scream only because they have nothing to say.

And who are the trolls, feminists perchance?! Well, this troll is unimpressed if this is all WW can muster regarding arguments against feminism.

When it comes to his writings he is no wordsmith, no crafting of any cogent arguments and no elegance. If Demarty was a gunslinger he would take aim yet fire from the hip in all directions, missing his targets in this stream of consciousness manner. He’s no sharpshooting gunslinger. When he shoots from the pistol in his left hand his aim is dictated by the recoil from the shot he’s just fired from the pistol in his right hand. In other words, he can’t carry an argument rather he blunders, blathers and babbles.

Weekly Worker… you are going to have to raise your game.

[NB: the Weekly Worker/ “CPGB” people have collected the responses together and posted it all up on one page. http://www.cpgb.org.uk/home/weekly-worker/online-only/join-the-debate-feminism]

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A right to bear arms?

December 15, 2012 at 9:59 am (children, crime, insanity, Johnny Lewis, libertarianism, mental health, murder, rights, United States)

“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” -Second Amendment, the U.S. Constitution

todays paper

Whatever the merits of such notions about personal and national security (they are, to say the least, highly questionable in this day and age), it is important to note that the only kind of militia the Second Amendment expressly regards as consistent with security is a “well-regulated” militia. One may rationally and reasonably conclude that this applies both to an organized militia and an unorganized one. Otherwise, an armed citizenry consisting of men and women using guns for presumed high purpose according to their respective dictates of personal whim and political fancy is the stuff from which anarchy could result, and in turn the tyranny against which the private possession of guns is supposed to protect Americans.

The right to keep and bear arms (a term that connotes a military purpose) stems from the English common law right of self-defense. However, the possession of guns in the mother country of the common law was never an absolute right. Various conditions were imposed. Britain today has one of the strictest gun laws in the world.

There is nothing absolute about the freedoms in our own Bill of Rights. Freedom of speech is not freedom to shout “fire” in a crowded theater. Freedom of religion is not freedom to have multiple spouses, or sacrifice a lamb in the local park, as religiously sanctioned practices. Similarly, whatever right the Second Amendment protects regarding the private possession of guns, for whatever definition of “militia,” is not an absolute right. It must serve the overall public interest, including (from the preamble of the US Constitution) the need to “insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare.” Whatever right there is to possess firearms is no less important than the right of every American, gun owners included, to protection against the possession of guns by persons who by any reasonable standard lack the crucial credentials for responsible gun ownership.

– From a 1977 article by David J.Steinberg, Executive Director, National Council for a Responsible Firearms Policy:  “Does The Second Amendment Mean What It Says?” 

– Socialists debate gun control here: http://www.workersliberty.org/node/4681

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Chinese labour activist to be released after serving 11 year prison term

May 26, 2012 at 11:34 am (China, good people, Human rights, Jim D, rights, solidarity, stalinism, unions, women)

Some good news for the Chinese working class: Hu Mingjun is about to be released. 

But with so much of the contemporary “left” noticeably keen on China (either as the inevitable future world superpower, or as the only realistic alternative to Western ‘neo-liberal’ capitalism), it’s important to remember that it is a highly repressive, anti-working class state-capitalist regime. The following is from

China Labour Bulletin<!–

Well-known democracy campaigner and workers’ rights activist Hu Mingjun (below) is to be released from prison on 28 May after serving an 11 year prison term for “subversion of state power,” Human Rights in China has reported . He is believed to be in very poor health.

Hu was one of the leaders of the Sichuan provincial branch of the banned China Democratic Party. He was detained by police in early 2001 after offering to help striking workers at the Dazhou Steel Mill in Sichuan. Around 1,000 workers at the plant had earlier organised a mass protest demanding the payment of overdue wages.

Hu was initially charged with “incitement to subvert state power” but the charges were subsequently increased to “subversion.” Hu was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment by the Dazhou Intermediate People’s Court in May 2002.

Hu’s mother told Human Rights in China that after his detention, the family heard nothing from the authorities until months after his trial. She said, “We did not know that he had been sentenced to 11 years until August or September 2002, when the police brought the verdict to his father in a hospital room to get his signature. His father said, ‘I won’t be able to see my son again.’ He passed away a few months later.” She said that Hu Mingjun was suffering from frequent chest pains and nausea, and would faint from the smell of cigarette smoke. According to her, when Hu applied for permission to get a check-up in a hospital outside the prison, it took two or three years before he got the approval. The exam showed that his left ventricle was enlarged and he has needed medications ever since.

Hu was one several activists sentenced to long prison terms in the early 2000s for their role in helping workers seek redress for rights violations during the mass restructuring of state-owned enterprises at the time.

H-t: Patrick Smith

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Tory report proposes abolishing “Unfair Dismissal” rights

May 21, 2012 at 3:23 pm (capitalist crisis, David Cameron, Jim D, law, rights, Tory scum, workers)

Courtesy of the Torygraph (believe it or not): here are the proposals (drawn up at Cameron’s request by Adrian Beecroft, a venture capitalist, in conjunction with government officials and lawyers),  for mor or less doing away with an employee’s right to claim unfair dismissal. This comes on top of  the already enacted increase in the qualifying period of an employee’s service in order to bring an unfair dismissal claim, from one year to two.

 We’re told that Vince Cable the Lib Dems are resisting these proposals, but we all know what their “resistance” is worth.

Beecroft comments on unfair dismissal:

Four approaches are possible. First, the whole concept of unfair dismissal where discrimination is not involved could be removed from UK law (apart from a few provisions where employees are protected from dismissal under the EU-derived rights under the Working Time Directive, Fixed Term/Part Time Directives and T.U.P.E). There is no EU concept of “unfair” non-discriminatory dismissal, so there are no other EU constraints on what the UK can do in this area. Second, the period within which an employee can be dismissed without being able to claim unfair dismissal could be extended beyond two years. The exact period might depend on the size of the business concerned. A longer period could be allowed for smaller businesses that find the specialised processes for dealing with unfair dismissal harder to understand and follow than do larger businesses which can justify employing an HR specialist. Third, the process for proving that an employee is no longer up to the job could be streamlined. The burden of proff on the employer could be reduced, making it harder for the employee to cliam to a tribunal that the process was flawed. Reducing the burden of proof would also address the problem of employees that dismissal was for discriminatory reasons rather than performance reasons since if it is easier to prove that dismissal was for underperformance it is harder to say that it was for discriminatory reasons. The steps currently proposed to change the system, including the obligation to suggest ACAS conciliation, fees for employees starting the employment tribunal process and greater use of cost orders for frivolous complaints are all sensible steps in the right direction.

However if it is felt to be politically unacceptable to simply do away with the concept of unfair dismissal I strongly favour a fourth approach which allows an employer to dismiss anyone without giving a reason provided they make an enhanced leaving payment. New legislation would precribe that it is not unfair dismissal if the employer simply states that he is not happy with the employee’s performance and then consults, gives notice and pays a defined level of compensation linked to the employee’s salary and length of service. I am proposing for two reasons that the compensation should be that speicified in redundancy situations. First, these will typically be higher than those specified in the employee’s contract of employment, thus providing compensation for the no fault nature of the dismissal. Second, if the payments were different from redundancy payments there would be financial incentives for game playing as to which sort of dismissal was chosen. This type of dismissal could be known as Compensated No Fault Dismissal.

As well as this attack on the right to claim unfair dismissal, Beecroft also proposes:

Delaying laws which will force companies to provide pensions for their workers from this autumn. The report states: “It is unclear why introducing from 2012 a measure that will costs employers £6 billion per year, individuals £7 billion per year and government £2 billion per year is sensible in the current economic climate”.

Stopping the planned spread of flexible working to allow all employees to request changes to their standard working week. It recommends a new voluntary code of conduct rather than laws.

A watering down of the TUPE rules that mean that a supplier taking over another’s firm’s contract and workers must respect the existing terms of employment for workers. This is a particular issue when private firms take over roles previously conducted by the public sector.

Scrapping plans for firms to introduce equal pay audits.

Allowing larger firms to make so-called “collective” redundancies where more than 100 workers are dismissed with only 30 days notice. This notice period is currently only available for smaller firms, which means that larger firms have to pay people an extra 60 days worth of wages.

A new online immigration system which allows employers to check a potential worker’s legal employment status. At the moment, firms have to keep paper records for up to two years after an employee has left.

• “A modest amount of one-off work by the Home Office…would eliminate any risk of well-meaning employers fearing or facing prosecution for honest mistakes,” the report suggests.

p. 11


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Gay marriage and the new bigotry

May 18, 2012 at 10:15 pm (blogosphere, Civil liberties, gay, Guardian, homophobia, Human rights, Pink Prosecco, religion, rights)

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

It is pretty difficult I think to make a rational case against gay marriage, and John Sentamu, writing in the Guardian, does nothing to buck that trend.

He begins by admitting that sometimes the church has been a bit tough on homosexuals: “But that baleful history does not diminish the need to speak the truth in love.”  That gives me the same bad feeling I get when reading a comment which begins ‘with all due respect …’   He goes on:

“I firmly believe that redefining marriage to embrace same-sex relationships would mean diminishing the meaning of marriage for most people, with very little if anything gained for homosexual people.”

 Well, it wouldn’t diminish it for me (and I am married) and in fact would make me feel a bit more cheerful.  He concludes that point:

“If I am right, in the long term we would all be losers”: Well, yes, of course – and if you are wrong, we won’t be.

He then starts to argue that society needs to respond “intelligently to differences” rather than treating everyone the same.  That’s true up to a point – if you have a disability and need some adjustment at work for example.  But Sentamu is using the rhetoric of anti-discrimination to justify – discrimination.  He goes on:

“To change the law and smooth out this difference on grounds of equality would force unjustified change on the rest of the nation.”

Why is it that opponents of gay marriage always end up talking as though someone was trying to force them into one?

He eventually meanders back to his anti-discrimination rhetoric:

The question for me is one of justice, and not equality. Justice is the primary category. It does not mean not treating everyone the same way, but giving everyone what they need or deserve.”

Sorry – I fail to see why I need or deserve marriage more just because I am not gay.

Finally: why did Socialist Unity feel the need to reproduce, without comment, this letter against gay marriage?  And why did it attract only two comments?  I suppose it mustn’t be a shibboleth.

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30 years on: some reflections on the left and the Falklands war

April 2, 2012 at 6:51 am (anti-fascism, AWL, history, Human rights, imperialism, internationalism, Jim D, Marxism, political groups, rights, SWP, Thatcher, trotskyism)

By Sean Matgamna (written in May 2007)

The two month “Falklands War” between Britain and Argentina in 1982 was a freak event. It was part of no larger conflict; no issue other than possession of the islands was involved.

Both Argentina and Britain were bourgeois states. Neither of them oppressed, and neither of them was trying to conquer the other, or likely to, as a result of the war.

The Falklands Islands were not a base from which Britain oppressed others in the region, and never had been. The only issue between Britain and Argentina, the cause of the war, was the fate of the Falklands Islands and their inhabitants.

Living 400 miles across the South Atlantic from Argentina, the Falkland Islanders were British. In identity, desired international affiliation, language and culture, they were British. The islands had been British since the 1830s, when the modern Argentine state had not yet emerged.

Argentina’s claim to the Falklands rested on a few years of formal possession by Argentina’s predecessor state, a century and a half in the past, and on their comparative geographical proximity to it.

Against that stood the wishes of the inhabitants to remain British and their no less strong desire not to be subjected to Argentine rule.

Argentina’s rulers were, under General Galtieri, a murderous, unpopular military junta. By invading the islands, they sought to make themselves less unpopular at home and rally the forces of Argentine chauvinism behind them.

Margaret Thatcher and her government, though their political standing in Britain would improve greatly as a result of the war, were at that point very unpopular at home too.

On the merits of the issue, right lay with Britain, defending the Falklanders. To recognise that did not imply support for Thatcher’s war, and we did not support it: indeed, we ran the slogan “The Enemy is At Home” above the masthead of the weekly paper, Socialist Organiser, throughout the war.

On the other side, nothing but Argentine chauvinism could lead socialists, if they were capable of registering what was happening in the world around them, to support Galtieri’s invasion and occupation.

In fact a fantasy “let’s pretend” “anti-imperialism” could and did lead many not only (rightly) to oppose Thatcher’s war but also (wrongly) positively to back the fascistic Galtieri junta. Many socialists, and not only the “revolutionaries”, became honorary Argentine chauvinists for the duration of the war. Why? How?

On the grounds that its opponent was Britain, sections of the left cast Argentina as the hero in a drama that was going on nowhere else except in their own heads. They lost themselves in a delirium of “anti-Imperialist” political fantasising.

The fact that there was nothing “anti-imperialist” in the Argentine seizure of territory 400 miles from Argentina, inhabited for generations by people who did not want to be part of Argentina and had done Argentina no harm, did not faze them at all. Your “Anti-Imperialist”, when desperate for a “fix”, tends to be impervious to reason and arguement.

All the activist left opposed Thatcher’s war. Beyond that, the left divided into two groups. That time round the SWP was on the side of sanity and rational politics. Along with “Socialist Organiser” (what is now AWL), it refused to support Argentina, its military rulers, or the occupation of the Falkland islands.

(Militant (now the Socialist Party/ Socialist Appeal) had a bizarre approach all of its own, declaring that the alternative to the war was “a Socialist Federation of Britain, the Falkland Islands, and Argentina”.)

The other main group in the left consisted of a large part of the softer Labourite left, around Labour Briefing (The Argentinians were fighting Thatcher, weren’t they? What more did we want?); the Mandelite Fourth International, then a sizeable organisation, the International Marxist Group; the Workers Revolutionary Party, crazy as a bed-bug; Workers’ Power; and the other half of the organisation to which the tendency which is now AWL then belonged, the Workers’ Socialist League.

The pro-Argentine part of the WSL was led by Alan Thornett (now of the ISG).

The story of what happened in the WSL, and how Thornett’s section made themselves the pioneers of what today is the “anti-Imperialist” politics of the kitsch-left in Britain, including the SWP, has a lot of light to shed on the current dispute between the “anti-Imperialists” and ourselves.

(Some of the documents of that dispute can be found in Workers’ Liberty 2/3.)

The WSL of 1982 was the result of the fusion, in July 1981, of the forerunner of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, Socialist Organiser, and a group that had separated from the WRP seven years earlier, called the WSL. In the fusion, we took the name Socialist Organiser for the joint paper and WSL for the joint organisation.

After nine months, the unification began to break down around the Falklands war. The organisation divided into warring and, as it proved, irreconcilable, factions.

We all agreed on opposing the war, and at the start all of us had rejected positive support for Argentina and declared ourselves in principle for the right of self-determination for the Falkland Islanders.

Six weeks after the British fleet set sail, the Thornett group decided that we should back the Argentine military junta against Britain. Soon they claimed that backing Argentina was a principle of “anti-imperialism”.

First, without any prior warning, they tried a small coup, changing our position by a vote of five to three on an Executive Committee whose full membership was 12. After the National Committee majority rejected and overturned that, they started to reconstitute the old WSL and counterpose it to the rest of the organisation.

From then on, the new WSL unravelled, and within it the Thornett section itself unravelled even faster, scattering their supporters out of the organisation in all directions.

The late Alan Clinton, a Thornetteite who would become Labour Leader of Islington Council some years later, coined what then became the response of the Thornettites to all talk of the rights of the Falkland Islanders: “The Falkland Islanders? They wouldn’t populate two streets in Islington!” That disposed of their rights!

They denounced us as “pro-imperialists” because our attitude, “defeatist on both sides” implied that we wanted the fascistic military government of Argentina overthrown by the Argentinian workers during the war. They insisted it was the duty of “anti-imperialists” to support the Argentinian military forces against Britain, to be “revolutionary defencists” for “anti-imperialist” Argentina and its military dictators.

I responded to their bizarre solicitude for the Argentine military with the statement that I’d be happy to see the whole military apparatus of the Argentine state, whose sole function in history — apart from extirpating the native Amerindian population of the country — has been internal policing, sunk to the bottom of the South Atlantic. They went into shock; and when they came out of it some of them denounced me as “an agent of British imperialism”.

We on our side of the common organisation, thought of the Thornettites as hopelessly disoriented people, politically drunk on foolish, self-indulgent fantasy politics; and as people who were shamefully ignorant of the Trotskyist political tradition in which they claimed to stand.

“Revolutionary defencism” for Argentina was political nonsense; but leave that aside. They understood it to mean that socialists should “subordinate” class struggle within Argentina to the potential good effects of an Argentine victory, “even if it strengthens Galtieri”, on “the international balance of forces”. That had nothing to do with Trotskyist politics or the Trotskyist tradition.

Trotsky, for instance, being entirely on China’s side against the Japanese invaders in the 1930s, advocated a war of national defense. Nonetheless, he advocated a working class revolution against the Chaing Government, during that war.

Their joke-shop, buffoon-fantasy “anti-imperialism” was no harmless bit of inconsequential nonsense, though: it led them to an all too real support of the foul Argentine regime and its mini-imperialism in the Falklands.

Today the biggest forces on the left, in the first place the SWP, have the politics, or very close to them, that the Thornettites had then. Their “anti-Imperialism” is no less empty.(Alan Thornett can rightly claim to have been the Copernicus of this sort of anti-imperialism”, and for all I know, he does!)

They don’t just oppose our own government – they back some of the foulest regimes on Earth, on the sole criterion that they oppose the British and US governments.

The SWP’s descent into such politics did not start with Iraq. It started with their switch in 1987 to support Iran in the Iran/ Iraq war, on the grounds that the USA was backing Iraq. (It had been doing that for the previous seven years.) Until then, the SWP had opposed the Iran/ Iraq war on both sides.

The SWP’s descent from Marxist-socialist politics first reached its present level of political dementia in the Balkans War of 1999. They tried to build an “anti-war movement” in support of a Serbia which was engaged in attempted genocide against the people of its “internal colony”, Kosova. Serbia’s activity in Kosova was the sole issue in the war, which stopped when the Serb Army withdrew from Kosova.

The SWP learned nothing from that experience. Then came 9/11.

The New Anti-Imperialism identified itself, so to speak, to the kitsch left by Bin Laden’s great blows for human liberation in New York and Washington.

There was a new and vigorous “anti-Imperialism” loose in the world.

But this was a comprehensively reactionary “anti-Imperialism”? It was not “anti-Imperialism” in any sense in which socialists and consistent liberals are anti-Imperialist? Don’t be silly, comrade!

Nothing is or ever could be more reactionary than America, Britain and their allies and stooges. History moves in strange and unexpected ways. The Islamic clerical fascists are against America, and that’s all that matters now.

This was a stark change for the SWP in more ways than one. In the mid-1990s, when Muslims in Bosnia were being butchered, the SWP kept strictly aloof from any hint of supporting them, or denouncing the international arms embargo which hindered them in defending themselves.

They were still remiss in their Islamismophilia during the Balkans war, when they sided with Serbia, which was slaughtering and driving out Muslim Albanians.

Then came 9/11. In the Afghan war the SWP jumped “on board” — and with all the shamelessness of old-time Stalinists shuffling when their “line” switched.

In the Afghan war, Socialist Worker went so far in “supporting” the enemy of our British and American enemies as to attempt to explain away the horrendous treatment of women by the Taliban regime (Socialist Worker, 6 October 2001).

At the heart of all such thinking is the syndrome where the left defines itself largely in negative terms – by what we are against, not what we are for.

The moral, political and intellectual crisis of the left today takes the form of a comprehensive collapse of positive norms. But it is cumulative. It has been going on a long time. The Falkland War is now a quarter of a century in the past.

You can trace the present state of the left back to the attitudes which the once-very influential Stalinists, and some of the “orthodox Trotskyists”, cultivated towards the USSR and other Stalinist regimes. They were unconditionally on the side of those regimes against “Imperialism”, by which they meant the advanced capitalist countries of the west.

I was shocked into the awareness of something qualitatively new during the Balkans war of 1999. We did not support NATO, but we emphatically refused to do or say anything which implied support for or complaisance towards the primitive ethno-imperialism of the Serbian regime. Serbia had launched a genocidal drive in Kosova which NATO – in its own way, for its own interests, and after over a decade of complaisance towards Serbian imperialism – was attempting to check for the sake of regional stability. (See the dossier on Kosova in Workers’ Liberty 2/3).

Yet the kitsch-left and in the first place the SWP created a one-sided “anti-war” campaign which in fact was so designed as to give maximum support to Serbian imperialism.

“Anti-war”? The Serbian government could at will have “stopped the war” by withdrawing from Kosova (as eventually they did). If NATO had abandoned its action without Serbia withdrawing, then war would have continued – one-sided war by Serbia against the Kosovars.

The SWP indulged in a fantasy of anti-imperialism as bizarre as, and greatly more irresponsible than, that of poor old Alan Thornett when he passionately championed the anti-imperialism of the murderous Argentine junta in the Falklands war.

Or take another measuring rod. Repeatedly in articles and speeches over many, many years, I have used an incident in the history of the French Communist Party to illustrate the moral and political degeneracy of Stalinism.

In 1938, the leader of French Stalinism, Maurice Thorez, publicly proposed that the catchment-area of the “Popular Front” should be extended to include “patriotic”, that is anti-German, French fascists.

I can still recall how shocked I was when, young and naïve, I first read about this.

The PCF never achieved a popular front with patriotic fascists. I have lived to see people who say they stand in Trotsky’s political tradition realise something very like it – the SWP’s “popular front” in the “anti-war” movement with the obscurantist authoritarians of the Muslim Brotherhood – MAB – who advocate the creation of Islamic dictatorships all across the Muslim world.

You could quibble that they are not quite fascists, but it would be only a quibble.

They rightly opposed the 2003 war, but did it by lining up squarely with the Saddam Hussein Regime. They used Saddam’s long-time British Stooge, George Galloway, as the face and voice of the pro-Saddam “Anti- war” movement.

They have given abject and uncritical support to the Sunni supremacist and Jihadist “resistance” in Iraq against the bourgeois-democratic — more or less — forces in Iraq.

This “Left”, this kitsch-left, is far gone in political corruption, disintegration and decay.

In this situation, the first responsibility of honest socialists is to tell the truth. Describe things as they are. Only in that way can socialists prepare the future.

File:The Sun (Gotcha).png

The Sun’s (in)famous headline after the Belgrano sinking: all the serious left opposed Thatcher’s war, but that shouldn’t have meant  supporting Argentina’s military rulers or the occupation of the Falklands.

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