ISIS at the gates of Baghdad

Patrick Cockburn’s latest article in The Independent is a sobering wake up call as to the extent of the collapse of the Iraqi Army against ISIS and the very real prospect of the group entering Baghdad sooner rather than later.

If they do the ensuing bloodbath would be of a magnitude we haven’t yet seen in this part of the world, which given its recent history is saying something.

The West of course bears overwhelming responsibility for pushing Iraq into the abyss, with the likes of Tony Blair and George W Bush men whose crimes and imperial arrogance will still be written about many years hence.

1916 was the year the Middle East was divided up among the imperialist powers and 2014 is the year it unravelled. The suffering and chaos that has swept this part of the world over the years in between is impossible to describe with sufficient accuracy, but it has been biblical both in scope and duration. It promises to get much worse before it gets better.

The West’s response to ISIS has been inept, wrongheaded, and lacked either cohesion or wisdom. Not only have we set the region on fire, we have fanned the flames in a classic example of forging a disaster from a crisis.

At a time like this we are reminded of the stark choice presented by Rosa Luxemburg to a Europe engulfed in the fire of the First World War – the choice between socialism or barbarism. There is zero prospect of socialism in Iraq or anywhere else in the region anytime soon. Barbarism on the other hand is upon us.

The road to Damascus

Paradoxically, it is unusually difficult in a democratic society for politicians to oppose wars. I know that it is hard to envisage an elected government lying to take a country to war unlawfully, but this really did happen when President Polk invaded Mexico in 1846.

The war stood in stark contrasts to the ideals of the American republic, and the Whig party opposed the war. Indeed Whig Congressman Abraham Lincoln from Illinois brilliantly exposed the lies and inaccuracies that the government had used to hoodwink the public. Consequently, despite his manifest talents, he lost his Illinois seat at the next election, and its opposition to the war deeply weakened the Whig party, contributing to its extinction not long after.

British participation in a war against the soi-disant “Islamic State” is undoubtedly popular. It is also undoubtedly legal, as the Iraqi government has asked for military assistance within its sovereign territory. Even were the war to extend into Syria, this could be legally justified if it were to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe; and it could be argued that IS operates only in areas where the writ of sovereign authority of the Syrian government does not hold.

It is also true that only military action can contain and defeat ISIS. I have written before that it is a warlord polity, that has grown into a vacuum where the sovereign states have lost their monopoly of the use of armed force. As a warlord polity it has no civic infrastructure, and a coalition of interests holds together a military force through momentum, patronage and charisma. Military reverses may well see the whole structure collapse. (Historically, warlord polities have also sometimes been ended through absorption back into the state – but sectarian Jihadi ideology, global ambitions and political unacceptablity means that this simply cannot happen with ISIS)

However, this does not mean that British military action is right nor appropriate, nor that the US led coalition is going to succeed. There are real dangers in entering any war where the military objectives are open ended, and the political objectives are unclear.

General Lord Richards, former head of the UK military, today said that ISIS cannot be defeated without ground forces. Indeed, a global coalition of air power arrayed against ISIS, including the Western powers may enhance the “lost cause glamour” and defiant rebel charisma of the terrorists; unless ISIS can also be defeated on the ground.

But whose ground troops would they be, and what would their objective be? The US led coalition includes states like Qatar and UAE who themselves have backed Islamist movements, and many of the military allies assembled may regard the Damascus government of Assad as a greater enemy than ISIS. Would Turkey be happy to see ISIS defeated by Kurdish forces in northern Syria?

The USA has entered into a war that will almost inevitably be shaped by the regional aspirations of its allies; and the tail will wag the dog, as the US gets embroiled in the complexities of civil war in Syria and embroiled again in confessional division in Iraq.
It was a mistake for the British government to make an open ended military commitment without any pre-defined criteria for success, and no exit strategy. ISIS does need to be defeated, but that can only be done by first agreeing a regional political framework, and agreed military and political objectives; and this cannot be done by pretending that the Syrian government of Assad does not exist.

Not for the first time, Peter Oborne at the Telegraph has been a beacon of common sense.

The literal-minded Americans are determined to destroy ISIS, and are ready to make the necessary compromises. This is why they have opened up unofficial lines of communication with Assad through intermediaries in Damascus and elsewhere. However, Saudi Arabia (which carried on backing ISIS up to the early spring of this year, almost certainly with the tacit approval of Britain and America) remains preoccupied with the destruction of Assad. 
[... ...]

For [ISIS], the Saudi role in this week’s air attack gives fresh credibility to [ISIS leader, Al Baghdadi's] claim that the regime in Riyadh is a catspaw of the United States. No wonder that the Saudis contributed only four F-16s to the attack. Meanwhile, Qatar (owner of the Shard and the Olympic Village, host of the 2022 World Cup and all-round friend of Britain) deployed its Mirages, but dropped no bombs. Turkey has done its best to remain on good terms with all sides, including ISIS. Meanwhile, Israel is reported to be cooperating with the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra against Assad, thus consolidating its quiet alliance with the Arab states. (The shooting down of a Syrian plane by the Israelis should probably be seen in the context of this unlikely friendship.)

Amid this military and political shambles, one central fact is obvious: the coalition has no reliable partner on the ground. Three armed groups have proved themselves capable of confronting ISIS on the battlefield – the Syrian army; Hezbollah; and the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia. America and others are not prepared to work openly with any of these, because doing so would destroy the alliance with Saudi Arabia, and hence the anti-ISIS coalition.

There is a terrible logic here that air war will lead to ground war, and that ground war extending into Syria will involve conflict against Assad’s forces, and further chaos, war and destablisation.


Gimme Gimme Gimme a much better contract

wincanton van small

wincanton van 2 small

GMB held a Further Protest At Wincanton’s Swindon Depot today In a Pay Dispute

A promised meeting with Wincanton over workers paid £2 per hour less did not take place and GMB will not take this lying down.

200 GMB members at the depot are paid £2 per hour less pay than the warehouse staff employed directly for Wincanton. The depot is operated for a major UK retailer.
Click to continue reading

Left Unity – who holds the leaders to account?

The Left Unity project was dissected last year by “Michael Ford”, who pointed out that:

Social weight – deep roots in society – is the missing element which has sunk every previous initiative of its kind (SLP, Socialist Alliance, SSP, Respect, TUSC) generally sooner rather than later, and which Left Unity does not address. The fact is that despite these varied appeals over the last twenty-odd years to desert Labour at the ballot box, the masses and their organisations have not moved, and have held true to their previous engagements, even with a diminished enthusiasm reflected in an increasing rate of electoral abstention.

It is a reasonable question to ask, not only how organisations set up to challenge Labour at the ballot box might aspire to the mass votes necessary for electoral success; but also, should they actually get those votes, then how would these organisations resist the social pressures that affect successful electoral parties.

The Labour Party not only has 3 million trade union members affiliated, but also the historical legacy of social democratic attitudes by its voters; these are real social forces that provide ballast inhibiting the party from ever fully capitulating to the values of capitalism.

Wags have often said that while far left organisations split over ideology, far right organisations split over money. The more recent experience is that far left organisations struggle to deal with issues of leadership accountablity.

As reported in the Independent, Bianca Todd, one of the principle national speakers of Left Unity was found by an Employment Tribunal to have refused to give her staff a contract & to have refused to pay them sick pay and holiday pay.

The Harborough Mail reports:

Holiday money and unpaid wages from the Christmas period were owed to both Mr Brooks and Lisa Frederick.Andree Yarrow was owed sick pay and also owed wages from over the Christmas period.Mrs Yarrow said they had been told by Miss Todd that the company would close for two weeks during December but that they would be paid for that time.Mr Brooks, Mrs Frederick and Mrs Yarrow all said they had not received payment for that period in spite of assurances received from Miss Todd that they would.Mrs Yarrow also said that she did not receive any sick pay from the company when she had to take time off for an operation.

Recording a verdict, Mr Goodchild judged that Mr Brooks was entitled to £197.65 of unpaid wages, £177.90 in unpaid holiday and £296.50 because no contract was given.Mrs Frederick was awarded £197.65 in unpaid wages, £177.90 in unpaid holiday and £296.50 as again she was given no contract.Mrs Yarrow was awarded £300 in unpaid sick pay, £237.20 in unpaid wages and £296.50 as no contract was in place.

Click to continue reading

Carillion rapped by Swindon NHS Trust report

A damning NHS Trust report completely vindicates what GMB has said about Carillion since the union was first approached by staff in 2011.

GMB, the union for staff at Carillion at Great Western PFI Hospital in Swindon, commented on the report considered on 25th September by the Board of the NHS Foundation Trust which details significant concerns about the one star food hygiene rating, the cleanliness issues identified by the CQC last year and ongoing employee relations issues.

Kevin Brandstatter, GMB Regional Officer, said “”GMB call on Carillion to heed this chorus of criticism from the NHS Trust and to talk to us to settle the dispute and get on with delivering the service they are paid to provide.

“The Trust is well aware of the industrial relations issues on site and must be concerned by the high number of discrimination claims lodged with the Employment Tribunal, which are damaging to the reputation of the Trust.

“The report drives a coach and horses through the notion that private companies such as Carillion should have any role to play in the health service and is a damning indictment of the Private Finance Initiative.

“Great Western Hospital in Swindon is just one of 150,000 properties around the world where Carillion provide facilities management and support services. Even if the top managers are very good they cannot properly look after that vast number of buildings. Carillion’s main aim from the very start has been to line their pockets with cash from Swindon Hospital.

“As soon as it can, the Trust should end its relationship with Carillion and take these services in house to be run by directly employed and properly accountable staff in the interests of patients and not in the interests of profit.

“What we are seeing in Swindon is the same high-handed arrogance that gave rise to 224 construction workers from around the UK being blacklisted by Carillion. They have yet to apologise for this or compensate their victims”.
Click to continue reading

Is RMT tilting back to the mainstream?

The RMT general secretary election result was interesting, giving the more mainstream Mick Cash a commanding lead over the other candidates; and Alex Gordon, the most left wing candidate, and the most associated with the No2EU and TUSC policies of the RMT getting the lowest vote.

An RMT official confided to me that he was hoping that the result would mean an end to what he described as “student union politics”. It has been clear for a while that RMT is able to exert far less influence over transport policy than either TSSA or ASLEF.

It will also be interesting to see whether Mick Cash is able to change the culture of the RMT, which for example, despite a reputation for being a progressive union, still has no female full time officials.

Scotland’s lessons from Quebec

By Ian Drummond

The future of Scotland and the rest of our island now hangs on a knife-edge. The SNP have, not for the first time, brought us to a pass where the smallest swings of chance in a very specific and abnormal time may lead to epochal changes for the worse for working people, on both sides of the border they so ardently wish to revive. Given their form in this matter, it is no wonder that Time and Chance was the title James Callaghan, perhaps our last real Labour Prime Minister, chose for his memoirs, for the SNP would make him and the majority of Britons who never voted for Thatcher’s Tories rue the terrible timing and feckless, drunken, almost chance nature of their treachery.

In 1979, with the winter of discontent over, the British economy improving on all fronts, and the Conservatives hampered by an alienating, extremist leader, all serious commentators expected Labour to win a historic third election in a row if it could just make it to the end of the year. And with the likes of Tony Benn and Michael Foot still in government, and the IMF loan having served its purpose even in the eyes of the Labour right, there was absolutely nothing inevitable about the radical shift of wealth and power in favour of the rich which eventually occurred, and much potential and pressure for a very different course. But on the 28th of March, in a fit of pique over the controversial failure of the first devolution referendum, the SNP MPs, “Scotland’s first 11”, first tabled their own motion of no confidence in the Labour government, then trooped into the lobby for Thatcher’s own, turkeys voting for Christmas as Callaghan said, triggering an election at the last point Thatcher could win it. The last real Labour government, ushered in by a victorious, all Britain miners’ strike, was thus ushered out by petty Scottish nationalism, and no-one tempted by such nationalism now, or who suffered the dreadful consequences for Scotland and the rest of deindustrialised Britain of the SNP’s shameful act, should forget it.
Click to continue reading