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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Cable Street: They Did Not Pass!

October 6, 2016 at 5:23 am (anti-fascism, history, London, posted by JD, solidarity)

Above: Ghosts of Cable Street (music by The Men They Couldn’t Hang)

Ruah Carlyle looks at the 4 October 1936 Battle of Cable Street, where anti-fascists stopped the police clearing a route for Oswald Mosley’s fascist march in East London.

In 1936 Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists turned its attention to East London, and there built the only truly mass base fascism ever built in Britain.

The East End branches of the BUF became, by spring 1936, the centre of BUF activity. Why? What was it about East London that focused BUF attention? The Jews of the East End provided the fascists with a unique target. East End Jews were concentrated in small areas: in 1929, 43 per cent of the national Jewish population were concentrated in Stepney alone.

East London had been an immigrant gateway for centuries. In the 17th century, French Protestants, Huguenots, sought refuge there from Catholic persecution. The mid 19th century saw a big influx of Irish immigrants. After 1881, when systematic pogroms set Russian and Polish Jews to begin their exodus to the west, large numbers of them settled in the East End, first in Whitechapel then fanning out towards Stepney and Mile End.

Anti-Jewish agitation, loud or muted, active or latent, had existed in the East End since the time of the first large Jewish settlements.

It was against this background that, in September 1936, Mosley announced that the BUF would march through the East End on 4 October. It was to be the biggest show of fascist strength ever, in this their strongest area. It could have developed into a pogrom.

On 4 October, the thousands strong Blackshirt march was to begin in Royal Mint Street, pass along through Gardiners Corner (now the top of Whitechapel Road) and on to four separate street meetings in Shoreditch, Limehouse, Bow and Bethnal Green. It never even got going! The march was stopped dead. As many as a quarter of a million people, East Londoners and outsiders, jammed Gardiners Corner. Only an army would have cleared the way for the Blackshirted thugs. An army of police tried and failed.

Tram drivers abandoned their vehicles in the middle of the road. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Phillip Game, had drafted in a third of the London police force, 6,000 policemen, the whole of the mounted division, and had a primitive helicopter, a gyroscope, flying overhead.

Despite these forces, which made numerous charges at the anti-fascist crowd, breaking many heads, no throughway for the fascists could be cut.

The Police Commissioner then proposed a diversion through the dock area around Wapping, and along Cable Street. There a virtual war was fought between the police and the defenders of the anti-fascist barricades. British, Irish and some Somali dockers fought the police. The anti-fascist barricade was constructed of furniture, paving stones and a lorry.

Pretending to retreat, the anti-fascists lured the police forwards, and took up positions behind secondary barricades while from the upstairs tenements on either side of the street other anti-fascists threw bricks, stones, bottles, marbles for horses’ hooves, and boiling water down on the bewildered police.

While the outnumbered and powerless fascist heroes waited in vain for a path to be cleared for them, the police faced chaos. Rare in British street battles, stray policemen were taken prisoner by the barricaders. For those moments the rule of the British state in East London was suspended.

At about 5 p.m., after a three hour battle, the Commissioner said to Sir Oswald Mosley that he would not longer be held responsible for the safety of the fascists. Speaking as one knight to another, he said: “If you go ahead sir, it will be a shambles!” The beaten police cancelled the fascist march, and sent them off to the Embankment. They did not pass!

Cable Street coincided with the siege of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War. The anti-fascists, overwhelmingly working-class, painted the slogan “No Pasaran” (“They Shall Not Pass”) all over East London, linking Mosley’s march with Franco’s rebellion in Spain. They took the workers of Madrid as their model and inspiration.

A Stalinist myth surrounds the Communist Party’s role in the Battle of Cable Street. The CP had a grand anti-fascist reputation, but an increasingly spurious one.

Up to 1934, the CP had been in the throes of the Stalinist policy known as the “Third Period”, when, so they said, revolutions were just about to happen everywhere. This was nonsense, and in Germany led the CP to play into Hitler’s hands, but it had meant that the British CP was willing to throw itself physically into fighting fascism, perceived as the last-ditch defenders of a dying capitalism.

By 1936, this view had changed dramatically. Stalin was pursuing a policy of creating a “democratic anti-fascist front” of the USSR with the capitalist powers France and Britain against the German Nazis; the British CP, like CPs everywhere, was now advocating a Popular Front. This meant allying with non-working-class organisations opposed to German fascism, and in Britain by the late 1930s this would include “progressive Tories”.

The British CP was trying to gain respectability, aping mainstream politicians in the hope of allying with them. As a result, the CP did not always oppose Mosley militantly, because they feared that continued militancy would make it impossible to ally with “respectable” politicians.

By 1936, they were shying away from physical confrontations. Abandoning class politics, they more and more attempted to compete with the fascists as British nationalists, and even as protectors of religious freedom against “compulsory idolatry” in Germany. They were loudest in demanding blanket police bans on the fascists, and counterposed campaigning for bans to organising on the streets. That was their initial approach to what became the Battle of Cable Street.

The CP only threw their considerable weight behind the East End anti-fascist mobilisation when it was clear three days before that they had lost control of their own local members and sympathisers, who would follow the Independent Labour Party’s call on workers to block the route of the fascist march.

At first they told workers not to oppose the fascists in the East End, and instructed CP members to go to the Embankment and then Trafalgar Square instead.

Joe Jacobs, a local CP branch secretary who later broke with the party, was instructed by his superiors four days before the fascist march not to get involved and instead to build for a demonstration, miles away in Trafalgar Square, in support of the Spanish Republic against the Spanish fascists.

His instructions were clear: “Keep order, no excuse for the Government to say we, like the BUF, are hooligans. If Mosley decides to march, let him. Our biggest trouble tonight will be to keep order and discipline.”

In his posthumously published autobiography, Jacobs explains the reason for the eventual change of line very clearly: “The pressure from the people of Stepney, who went ahead with their own efforts to oppose Mosley, left no doubt in our minds that the CP would be finished in Stepney if this was allowed to go through as planned by our London leaders.”

The Labour Party and the trade union movement were against the fascists, but they also opposed direct action — physical force — to stop their activities. Like the Liberals, they instructed people to rely on the police to prevent disorder.

But unlike the establishment the labour movement feared destruction at the hands of the Nazis, not just discomfort. Even those who opposed direct action helped arouse the working class. The Labour Party and TUC research department published many pamphlets and leaflets which compared the BUF to Italian and German Fascism. In this climate, the militant “actionist” opponents of fascism gained support for physical opposition, even from normally non-militant Labour Party and trade union members.

The Independent Labour Party, not the CP, was the most consistently confrontational anti-fascist force in the East End and beyond.

The ILP had been one of the early constituent organisations of the Labour Party. It had split from the Labour Party in 1932, moving to the left. By 1936, the ILP, though it was still a hybrid political formation, in which bits of reformism, pacifism, and revolutionary socialism were confusingly mixed, was much nearer to being a communist party in the old sense of the word than the official “Communist Party” was. Some of its members were Trotskyists.

The ILP broke up fascist meetings by way of massing opposition, heckling and fighting. They barred fascist processions, organised petitions, and defended Jewish areas — particularly in the East End — from attack.

The Jewish Board of Deputies vehemently opposed the fascists, but it told the East End Jews to rely on the police. On no account should they oppose the fascists physically; that, the Jewish leadership insisted, would only add fuel to the fires of anti-semitism.

To many young Jews, political or not — and large numbers of Jews were members of the Communist Party, the Independent Labour Party, the Labour Party, and of Jewish left-wing groups like Hashomer Hatzair and the Workman’s Circles — the proper response to fascists marching through Jewish areas was simple: don’t let them!

The Jewish community had its own ex-servicemen’s anti-fascist militia, the Blue and White Shirts. British Jews, branching out from their orthodox background, were often attracted to revolutionary politics, many joining the CP. There were also many smaller, local anti-fascist bodies.

Cable Street entered working-class legend. It is rightly remembered as something the working class and its allies won against the combined might of the state and the fascists.

The Battle of Cable Street led directly to the Public Order Act. Rushed through the House of Commons, it became law on 1 January 1937. The Public Order Act is often and falsely seen by reformists as a significant hindrance to the fascists, and by some as the thing that finally killed off Mosleyism.

That is an illusion. The Act banned political uniforms, gave the police added powers to ban marches at will, and strengthened laws against racist abuse. Though it was an annoyance to the fascists, the Act did not cripple them and did not ”finish them off” as some too legalistic interpretations of its effect seem to suggest.

Even after the defeat at Cable Street, the BUF achieved and sustained a mass base of support in East London which, if repeated elsewhere, would have given them major political weight and at least the possibility of power. Not until the Second World War was the BUF really finished off, when fascism abroad became the universal enemy, and the BUF was increasingly viewed publicly as merely a satellite of the Nazis.

The POA was a broad blanket measure, designed more to help the police control left-wing opposition movements, for example the hunger marchers, than to suppress the BUF. For decades after Mosleyism had vanished down the great sewer of history, the POA was being used against the labour movement.

The POA did nothing to stop anti-Jewish harassment (despite a few prosecutions). It did not even stop the large-scale violence. On 3 October 1937 there was great violence when the Mosleyites, no longer Blackshirted, tried to march through Bermondsey, South London. Despite appeals by Doctor Salter, the much respected local Labour MP, to let the fascists pass and “protect their free speech”, local people erected barricades and there was serious fighting, not far from the scale of Cable Street.

The Public Order Act did not quell the BUF any more than the banning of nazi uniforms at one point quelled Hitler. If it appears so in retrospect, that is only because the BUF went into decline soon afterwards. The POA played at best a secondary and conditional role in that decline.

The fundamental determining factors in the BUF’s eventual failure were that economic conditions and the political relations built on them did not favour a radical counter-revolution in Britain.

Yet it was not “objective conditions” that stopped the police forcing a way for the British Hitlerites into Jewish East London: it was a quarter of a million workers massing on the streets to tell them that they would not pass, and making good the pledge by erecting barricades and fighting th BUF-shepherding police. A year after Cable Street, it was the working-class and the socialist movement which again put up barricades in Bermondsey to stop the fascists marching.

The great lesson for today is that the determination of the labour movement and Jewish community limited the effects of BUF terror and opened the prospects of defeating the BUF, irrespective of what the establishment did, including the labour movement establishment.

• This is an abridged version of an article in Workers’ Liberty 35

* Cable Street 80 official site  (events, etc)

*March and rally: Sunday, 9th October

Assemble 12 noon @ Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel Road, London E1.
March to a rally @ St George’s Gardens, Cable Street. Speakers before and after the march include: Max Levitas (Cable Street veteran), Jeremy Corbyn MP, Rushanara Ali MP, Frances O’Grady (General Secretary, TUC), Unmesh Desai (GLA member, City and East London)

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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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Support the junior doctors!

September 2, 2016 at 7:35 am (health service, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

We have received this message from a junior doctor:

Junior Doctors have announced a week of strike action starting 12th September, with further strike action called in October, November and December.

Current plans are for 8-5 full walkouts of all junior doctors. Aim is to prevent imposition of this contract and return to negotiations about the ‘heads of terms’ of future negotiations. It is a plan to halt the government’s attempts to bleed NHS staff dry through demanding 7 days resources from 5 days of services.

It is an incredibly bold plan, which has understandably been greeted by outrage from the right and nervousness from many.

Please be as publicly supportive of junior doctors as you can be. Please engage with prominent voices in your areas and ask them to be publicly supportive of junior doctors.

We are going to need all the help we can get.

Updates here:

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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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Unite votes to stay a union: defence workers and McCluskey give ‘Marxists’ a lesson in Trade unionism

July 13, 2016 at 8:38 am (class, Johnny Lewis, Marxism, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Johnny Lewis reports from Unite’s policy conference:

The first big debate of Unite’s conference concerned Trident: conference was confronted with a number of motions, calling for scrapping Trident now and an Executive Statement which argued for opposition in principle to nuclear weapons but; “Unite does not and never will advocate or support any course of public policy which will put at risk jobs or communities. Although in favour of defence diversification “Until there is a government in office ready, willing and able to give cast-iron guarantees on the security of the skilled work and all employment involved, our priority must be to defend and secure our members’ employment”. This Statement was passed overwhelmingly and with it the motions calling for trident to be `scrapped now’ fell.

For the union leadership and the defence workers this debate was not really about trident but the very character of the union, it is fair to say this character was encapsulated in the Statement and in particular no support for policies which `… put at risk jobs or communities’. The resolutions opposing the Statement with their demand of ‘scrap now’ violated that idea of a union’s function. If such a resolution had been passed, while it would not have materially effected defence workers’ jobs, it would have signalled support for a policy which put jobs at risk, and the union would, to use the words of one of the speakers, have “abandoned us”.

Although victory for ‘scrap now’ would have had no material impact on jobs it would have had a very real impact on the union’s unity. Large numbers of defence workers would have left and at best joined the GMB (at worst joining Community or leaving the movement altogether), and who in their right mind could blame them? I don’t think those arguing to ‘scrap’ got the implications for the union – until McCluskey spelled it out in his closing remarks.

With one or two exceptions those opposing the Statement were white collar, from outside manufacturing and from London, while supporters of the Statement were largely manual workers from the industry and from outside of London. This division mirrors Brexit and has been observed within the Labour party. While it is clear the vast majority of the ‘scrap now’ support can be characterised as Corbynistas it is not possible to clearly pigeon hole those supporting the Statement except to say they saw themselves as trade unionists rather than political animals and a majority would not see themselves as Corbyn supporters.

The main problem for the ‘scrap now’ speakers was how to argue a position which if passed would have meant the union’s abandonment of the Trident workers. Unable or unwilling to confront this conundrum they ignored it, speaking in general terms and in equal measure about diversification and the need to support Corbyn – of course the most zealot Corbynistas where those outside the party.

Both these points were easily dealt with by the defence workers: on diversification they pointed out that the ‘scrap now’ advocates were substituting the potential to develop diversification which had been opened up by Corbyn’s victory with the present situation where there are no diversification blueprints and even if these existed the Tory Government is not going to implement them. The diversification argument existed simply as a prop to enable scarp now to avoid arguing there real position `scrap regardless’ of the impact on members or on the union.

The Corbyn argument was of a different order: here the ‘Marxists’ came into their own, and the broad sweep of history and grand strategies alighted on the shoulders of the Unite conference.

Their line of argument went something like this: Unite supports Corbyn; failure to support ‘scrap now’ would be a failure to support him and so give a hostage to Labour’s right. On the other hand supporting ‘scrap now’ would be a massive boost to Corbyn’s struggle in the party and by default the movement which has gathered around him. Needless to say, this missed the mark by some many miles.

If the Corbynistas are a broad socially liberal movement, the self-proclaimed ‘Marxists’ within it should want to move beyond liberalism and build a class-based movement which by definition must include the defence workers. Indeed, building a class movement will largely depend on how far the left wing of the Corbynistas can turn it outward and proselytize among workers such as those in the defence industry. The supposed ‘Marxists’ in this debate provided a master class in how not to build that movement. Most striking was the unintended consequence arising from combining ‘scrap now’ with the Corbyn struggle in the party: the effect was to reduce defence workers to pawns to be sacrificed in the great game that is the left vs right battle within the Party.

That approach illustrates the complete failure of these ‘Marxists’ to recognise the division between the economic and political, and within this division that unions are primarily economic entities. A consequence is these people continually push unions to adopt programmatic demands appropriate to a party rather than a union. In this instance asking conference to supress the union’s core function of defending member’s terms and conditions in pursuit of a political goal, the only possible result was to further repel the defence workers from the left and Corbyn.

The real tragedy in this vignette is that until now the only serious work undertaken on defence diversification has been that of defence industry workers. Now a Corbyn labour party can build on that work harnessing the workers in the industry, their unions and party to formulate diversification blueprints. This approach was central to the Statement:

“Unite commits to campaigning to secure a serious government approach to defence diversification… and urges the Labour Party to give the highest priority to this aspect in it considerations.”

We have then a platform which can not only develop diversification policies but also a process where defence workers will be exposed to the ideas of the left opening the possibility of winning them over to socialism.

Apart from the decisive victory the debate itself was well run and a joy to watch as the defence workers and McCluskey, provided the ‘Marxists’ with a lesson on what is a trade union and how it should function. I hope (but doubt) they will have learnt their lesson.

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The irrelevance of Chilcot and the real issues at stake over Iraq

July 6, 2016 at 1:19 pm (apologists and collaborators, fascism, Galloway, imperialism, iraq, iraq war, Jim D, Middle East, reactionay "anti-imperialism", solidarity, Stop The War, SWP, Tony Blair, tragedy, war)

The Iraq Inquiry commitee

The long-awaited Chilcot Report is – understandably – of immense concern to those who lost family members in this ill-conceived adventure. But it was never going to deal with the crucial political issues at stake, nor help socialists develop a worthwhile programme for Iraq (the Worker-communist Party of Iraq made a serious attempt at this back in 2004).

Like many readers of this blog, I was on the massive anti-war march of 15 February 2003, and I’ve never had cause to regret it. But I don’t share the self-righteous preening of tyrant-lovers like Andrew Murray, and the loathsome, misnamed, ‘Stop The War Coalition’ (STWC) Even at the time, I was sickened by the refusal of the SWP, Galloway, Murray, etc to address the human rights issues and their systematic, deliberate, whitewashing of Saddam (Galloway, of course, being the most grovelling and egregious Saddam fan). A little later, their support for the fascistic gangs who were murdering Iraqi trade unionists alienated me once and for all. The subsequent degeneration of the STWC into a shrivelled Westphalian excuse-machine for vicious dictators and tyrants everywhere has only served to confirm my worst expectations.

Ian Taylor, an unrepentant marcher and anti-war campaigner, put his finger (in the New Statesman) on the central weakness of the ‘line’ of the SWP/Galloway leadership at the time, though he naively ascribed it to a lack of political imagination rather than a lack of political will:

“In my opinion, what we needed more than anything else was an answer to the dilemma of what should have been done about Saddam Hussein and the appalling human rights abuses that were undoubtably going on inside Iraq. Questions about this came up a great deal at public meetings, when leafletting the high street and in letters to local and national newspapers from supporters of the war. When asked about Iraq now, Blair always plays this card because he knows that opponents of the war don’t have an answer to it. If being on the left means anything, it ought to mean standing up for the oppressed. It shouldn’t have been beyond the wits of those speaking for the movement to have woven an answer to the problems of human rights abuses by non-western regimes into the fabric of their anti-imperialist principles. My view is that, just as we had weapons inspectors in Iraq, we should also have had human rights inspectors there. That would have done a lot to wrong-foot Blair et al.”

I can remember, in 2003, stumbling across the following searingly honest ‘Letter to an unknown Iraqi’ that pretty much summed up my own feelings at the time. I circulated it on the local STWC email list, where it didn’t go down terribly well. The issues it raises are still the crucial ones neither Chilcot nor the STWC are able to address:

The Urge to Help; The Obligation Not To

By Ariel Dorfman (February 28, 2003)

I do not know your name, and that is already significant. Are you one of the thousands upon thousands who survived Saddam Hussein’s chambers of torture, did you see the genitals of one of your sons crushed to punish you, to make you cooperate? Are you a member of a family that has to live with the father who returned, silent and broken, from that inferno, the mother who must remember each morning the daughter taken one night by security forces, and who may or may not still be alive? Are you one of the Kurds gassed in the north of Iraq, an Arab from the south displaced from his home, a Shiite clergyman ruthlessly persecuted by the Baath Party, a communist who has been fighting the dictatorship for long decades?

Whoever you are, faceless and suffering, you have been waiting many years for the reign of terror to end. And now, at last, you can see fast approaching the moment you have been praying for, even if you oppose and fear the American invasion that will inevitably kill so many Iraqis and devastate your land: the moment when the dictator who has built himself lavish palaces, the man who praises Hitler and Stalin and promises to emulate them, may well be forced out of power.

What right does anyone have to deny you and your fellow Iraqis that liberation from tyranny? What right do we have to oppose the war the United States is preparing to wage on your country, if it could indeed result in the ouster of Saddam Hussein? Can those countless human rights activists who, a few years ago, celebrated the trial in London of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet as a victory for all the victims on this Earth, now deny the world the joy of seeing the strongman of Iraq indicted and tried for crimes against humanity?

It is not fortuitous that I have brought the redoubtable Pinochet into the picture.

As a Chilean who fought against the general’s pervasive terror for 17 years, I can understand the needs, the anguish, the urgency, of those Iraqis inside and outside their homeland who cannot wait, cannot accept any further delay, silently howl for deliverance. I have seen how Chile still suffers from Pinochet’s legacy, 13 years after he left power, and can therefore comprehend how every week that passes with the despot in power poisons your collective fate.

Such sympathy for your cause does not exempt me, however, from asking a crucial question: Is that suffering sufficient to justify intervention from an outside power, a suffering that has been cited as a secondary but compelling reason for an invasion?

Despite having spent most of my life as a firm anti-interventionist, protesting American aggression in Latin America and Asia, and Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, during the 1990s I gradually came to believe that there might be occasions when incursions by a foreign power could indeed be warranted. I reluctantly agreed with the 1994 American expedition to Haiti to return to power the legally elected president of that republic; I was appalled at the lack of response from the international community to the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda; I applauded the Australian intervention to stop the massacres in East Timor; and, regarding Kosovo, though I would have preferred the military action to have taken place under the auspices of the United Nations, I eventually came to the agonizing conclusion that ethnic cleansing on such a massive scale could not be tolerated.

I am afraid that none of these cases applies to Iraq. For starters, there is no guarantee that this military adventure will, in fact, lead to a “regime change,” or peace and stability for your region.

Unfortunately, also, the present affliction of your men and women and children must be horribly, perversely, weighed against the impending casualties and enormous losses that the American campaign will surely cause. In the balance are not only the dead and mutilated of Iraq (and who knows how many from the invading force), but the very real possibility that such an act of preemptive, world-destabilizing aggression could spin out of control and lead to other despots preemptively arming themselves with all manner of apocalyptic weapons and, perhaps, to Armageddon. Not to mention how such an action seems destined to recruit even more fanatics for the terrorist groups who are salivating at the prospect of an American invasion. And if we add to this that I am unconvinced that your dictator has sufficient weapons of mass destruction to truly pose a threat to other countries (or ties to criminal groups who could use them for terror), I have to say no to war.

It is not easy for me to write these words.

I write, after all, from the comfort and safety of my own life. I write to you in the knowledge that I never did very much for the Iraqi resistance, hardly registered you and your needs, sent a couple of free books to libraries and academics in Baghdad who asked for them, answered one, maybe two, letters from Iraqi women who had been tortured and had found some solace in my plays. I write to you harboring the suspicion that if I had cared more, if we all had, there might not be a tyrant today in Iraq. I write to you knowing that there is no chance that the American government might redirect to a flood of people like you the $200 billion, $300 billion this war would initially cost, no real interest from those who would supposedly liberate you to instead spend that enormous amount of money helping to build a democratic alternative inside your country.

But I also write to you knowing this: If I had been approached, say in the year 1975, when Pinochet was at the height of his murderous spree in Chile, by an emissary of the American government proposing that the United States, the very country which had put our strongman in power, use military force to overthrow the dictatorship, I believe that my answer would have been, I hope it would have been: No, thank you. We must deal with this monster by ourselves.

I was never given that chance, of course: The Americans would never have wanted to rid themselves, in the midst of the Cold War, of such an obsequious client, just as they did not try to eject Saddam Hussein 20 years ago, when he was even more repressive. Rather, they supported him as a bulwark against militant Iran.

But this exercise in political science fiction (invade Chile to depose Pinochet?) at least allows me to share in the agony created by my own opposition to this war, forces me to recognize the pain that is being endured at this very moment in some house in Basra, some basement in Baghdad, some school in Tarmiyah. Even if I can do nothing to stop those government thugs in Iraq coming to arrest you again today, coming for you tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, knocking once more at your door.

Heaven help me, I am saying that if I had been given a chance years ago to spare the lives of so many of my dearest friends, given the chance to end my exile and alleviate the grief of millions of my fellow citizens, I would have rejected it if the price we would have had to pay was clusters of bombs killing the innocent, if the price was years of foreign occupation, if the price was the loss of control over our own destiny.

Heaven help me, I am saying that I care more about the future of this sad world than about the future of your unprotected children.

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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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Unite to Remain!

June 16, 2016 at 6:23 am (campaigning, class, Europe, internationalism, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, Unite the union)

Text of a speech by Jim Kelly, London & Eastern Region Chair of Unite, at a Norwich meeting  “What future for the Left in Europe?” making the case for trades unionists  to vote and campaign for REMAIN in the EU referendum.

Above: Jim Kelly


Unite is the largest private sector manufacturing union in the UK, with around half a million members employed in manufacturing. We are clear that a vote to Remain will be better for our members employed in British manufacturing than the chaos and uncertainty that will follow a Brexit. The same applies to the public sector, where TU membership is far stronger.

Unite research shows that Brexit will have a disproportionate impact on exports to the EU in industries where membership is strong, Aerospace, 54%,
Transport, 44%, Finance, 44%, Food manufacturing, 53% and the Chemical industry 54%. This will have a devastating impact on union membership.

Within TUC affiliated unions the overwhelming majority, in terms of membership support Remain, with only three small unions, RMT, ASLEF and the
Bakers Union supporting exit.

Unite’s position on the referendum issue was agreed overwhelmingly at the 2014 Policy Conference.

“That on balance of advantages at present Unite would argue for a vote to stay in the EU while also campaigning against a neo- Liberal agenda being
promoted from Brussels”

We went on to agree we should be addressing the need for hope & solidarity: developing A new vision based on the values of social justice;

This was a continuation of the decision of the 2012 conference to reject a Brexit position. It was recently decided at the April EC to join the Remain
campaign, as a “permitted participant” but not to work with the Tories but to support “Another Europe Is Possible” and urge our members to vote

Unite is all too aware that some of our members, like many working class people across the UK have been influenced by the right wing and its supporters in the media. Some on the Left are also advocating Brexit.

*Those on the Brexit left wishing to leave the EU need to be able to positively answer two questions; that exit will benefit unions and workers,
and their campaign will help develop worker’s consciousness *

Why these two questions are fundamental is because Unions can only progress member’s interests in two ways; industrially and through legislation. As unions’ industrial power has declined so the importance of pro-union legislation has increased. Seen as a totality such legislation creates a floor below which unions and workers’ rights cannot fall: with two major exceptions (TU recognition and the minimum wage) all such post 1980 legislation originates from the EU.

In the UK our floor of rights is weaker than many other European counties, a cumulative effect of the way European laws have been introduced in the
UK, with UK governments using their rights to Opt Out to water down EU legislation.

While we may blame many things on the EU, the majority of problems unions have with EU legislation is a consequence of how successive UK governments have enacted that legislation.

Let’s look at two cases:

First; The recent steel crisis caused by dumping of cheap inferior steel on the world market by China. It was the UK government which vetoed the right of the EU to impose tariffs to keep foreign steel out of Europe. Also other EU members have state-financed steel plants – for instance in December 2014 Italy did this 2014 to prevent a steel plant closure. EU law didn’t ban bailouts for British Steel – after all, Gordon Brown part nationalised a number of banks in 2008 – Sajid Javid and the UK Tory Party simply wasn’t interested in supporting tens of thousands of workers due to the UK Tory government’s free market dogma.

Secondly, The Posted Workers Directive: this has frequently been cited by some as an example of legislation which divides workers and undermines pay. In reality the Directive gives member states latitude to determine what constitutes the minimum rate of pay. The Blair Government set the rate at the National Minimum Wage (thereby creating a two tier workforce) while in Ireland they linked the Posted Workers rate to the ‘going rate’ set by collective bargaining: meaning far less room to drive down wages and divide workers.

A much higher level of workers’ rights in Europe applied across the EU would ease some of the pressure whereby employers exploit free movement of
labour to accelerate the race to the bottom, exploiting both UK and migrant workers.

However weak the present floor of rights may be, post-exit would see the government dismantle it, further eroding unions’ abilities to defend members and further worsening workers’ terms and conditions:

· Priti Patel (employment minister) has called them a “burden” and said she would like to “halve” them.

· Boris Johnson said it was “very disappointing” that Britain had not made “changes to employment law”, complaining that we “need to weigh in
on all that stuff, all that social chapter stuff”. Boris at his most articulate!

· Chris Grayling, when asked what European “red tape” he disliked, he referred to health and safety laws.

The consequence of this pulling apart of the floor of rights could also accelerate a European wide race to the bottom. What possible benefit can unions and workers derive from such a development?

Unless, of course, someone wished to contend the floor of rights was irrelevant or believed the Tories will leave it intact (as some people on the anti-EU left sometimes, incredibly, appear to do).

The Press has made much of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership during the referendum. My view is that Jeremy’s strategy of presenting a “warts and all” argument focusing on worker’s rights, consumer protection and democratic reform while strengthening European solidarity to fight against austerity is absolutely correct.

The issue here is not Jeremy but in many cases the UK media sucking up to Farage, Gove and Johnson and making the divisions in the Tory party the main focus of their reporting

Although it is impossible to say what level of destabilisation would result if we Brexit on 23rd, we can say with certainty it will have a detrimental impact on all unions and their memberships.

Moreover, the impact of a serious downturn caused by Brexit is likely to have precisely the opposite effect to what the Left Leave advocates believe will happen: rather than helping the fight against austerity, attacks on unions and workers will be intensified while the labour movement will be divided and unable to respond as a direct consequence of the political chaos an exit victory will cause within our ranks.

In truth such chaos will not be down to the left’s intervention, rather an exit victory will boost an insurgent populist right and it is that which our movement, including the Labour Party will have to contend with.

Across Europe and North America globalisation is causing a rising level of hopelessness among large sections of the working classes who are being
galvanised into activity by the programme of the populist right, whether Farage, Le Pen or Trump. The common denominator across all these movements, and what roots them in worker’s consciousness is the appeal to their respective nationalisms and a sense of alienation. This referendum should not be seen solely as being about “in” or “out”: it is also a key episode in the formation of this populist right-wing.

For many workers supporting exit, the referendum is a lightning rod for hitting back against the causes of their social problems, whether it is about politicians not listening, their growing impoverishment or their belief that exit will reverse Britain’s decline; not least by stopping immigration.

In voting for exit many workers, clearly including many of our members, will not have been influenced by the arguments of the left, rather they
will cast their vote bound hand and foot to Johnson, Gove and Farage and the hard-right leadership of the Out campaign.

Once the impact of destabilisation on the working class is grasped and the wider political impact on working class politics understood, it should be obvious that our enemies’ enemy, in this instance UKIP and the hard-right of the Tory Party, is not our friend.

The above is not to endorse the EU as it is today – far from it. Those who advocate leaving are right when they speak about its undemocratic nature and we on the left know what to do about its shortcomings: our problem is we have not done it.

Organising industrially and politically is our answer = it is our answer to the limitations of the Posted Workers Directive; it is our antidote to blaming foreign workers; and on a pan European level it is our answer to the present democratic limitations of the EU. For those of us who wish to remain we need to use the existing European-wide trade union and political institutions and networks to campaign not only to democratise the EU but also to fight for our Europe – a social Europe.

Our starting point, however, must be to ensure we stay in.

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Ukraine and the EU – London meeting organised

June 1, 2016 at 9:18 am (campaigning, Europe, Human rights, liberation, Paul Canning, solidarity, Ukraine)

By Paul Canning (cross-posted from his blog)

London will have an opportunity June 10 to hear and question a prominent Ukrainian journalist on the European Union and Ukraine.

Co-founder of Hromadske International and and 2016 fellow at FCO’s International Leaders Programme Maxim Eristavi will be discussing if we are prepared for Ukraine’s arriving into Europe “whether Europeans want that or not.” Eristavi will debunk popular misconceptions about Ukraine and Eastern Europe and expose the shortcomings of European policy towards this region.

Ukraine has become an issue in the EU Referendum campaign as a number of leading ‘Brexiters’, such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, have claimed that the Union is somehow responsible for the war in that Eastern European country. The latter is also a popular narrative used by ruling elites in Russia.

When Johnson’s remarks hit the headlines last month I got so angry at the rubbish I was seeing on social media about Ukraine that I did a tweet series and Storified it.

This event provides an opportunity to hear from someone who was there during Ukraine’s ‘Revolution of Dignity’, as Eristavi documented in ‘What happened on the Maidan in Kiev?‘ (video after the jump).

Eristavi on the Maidan

The event is at 7pm, June 10 at the London Ukrainian Club, 154 Holland Park Ave, London W11 4UH.

You don’t need to register – just turn up!

Google Maps:,-0.2108675,15z *NOTE* The nearest underground station, Holland Park, is closed at the moment. Use Shepherd’s Bush or Notting Hill Gate.

Maxim Eristavi biography

Civil rights advocate, media professional and writer. Co-founder of Hromadske International.

One of the most famous English-speaking journalists and civil rights advocates working and based in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, He specializes in new media expertise, politics, breaking news coverage and civil rights advocacy.

Featured as contributor to:

BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera America, HuffPost TV, CTV, ITN News, the Daily Beast, Fusion, CJR Magazine, Reuters, Politico, The New Republic and Foreign Policy.

Essential Twitter source for Ukraine, according to Mashable, Bild, CTV and The New York Times.

He is the only openly gay journalist in Ukraine and has been an outspoken voice in raising civil rights issues of the region abroad. In October 2015 he was featured among 10 most prominent LGBTI people in Ukraine during the first ever queer project at the country’s biggest modern art center, The Pinchuk Art Center.

Eristavi is a 2015 Poynter fellow at Yale University with a focus on informational wars and pan-regional LGBTI civil rights movements. He is also a 2016 Fellow at International Leadership Program, UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office and a 2016-2017 fellow at Millennium Leadership Program, Atlantic Council.

See also:

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