Ferguson, Missouri is only the latest chapter in an old story

usa-missouri-shooting-protestsThe social unrest that has engulfed the small town of Ferguson, Missouri in the United States – in the wake of the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer – is as predictable as it is horrific. It refutes more than any amount of academic research ever could the notion that words such as justice, freedom and democracy accurately describe the reality of life for millions in a country that likes to represent itself as the land of the free.

Racism continues to poison social relations in America, with black people in particular regarded as an enemy within by police departments and the reactionary system they represent all across the country. This is especially the case in the South, where though African-Americans are no longer forced to live on plantations they might as well be given the brutality they regularly endure at the hands not only of the police but also the judicial system and a political class that has all but reduced them to the status of subhuman. The evidence in this regard is irrefutable.

According to statistics published by the FBI in 2012, black people constituted 51.1% of homicide victims and 53.4% of homicide offenders, an inordinate number when you consider that blacks make up 14% of the total population. Further, a white police officer killed a black person on average twice a week in the United States over a seven year period up to 2012.

Crime, given the socioeconomic factors involved, cannot be divorced from the poverty and inequality that gives rise to it. And it is here where black people in America fare worst. The website Black Demographics reveals that

  • 28.2 percent of black families are living in poverty, compared to 11.8 percent across all races
  • 23.8 percent of black people over the age of 18 are living in poverty, compared to 13.9 percent across all races

It also reveals that blacks are

  • three times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than whites
  • more than three times more likely to be handcuffed
  • almost three times more likely to be arrested

When it comes to incarceration, the Washington Post revealed last year that the US prison population had reached a staggering 2.4 million people. Out of this number – which accounts for a full quarter of the entire world’s prison population – 38% of them are black. Compare this to whites, who make up 35% of the US prison population while constituting 78% of the population at large.

These and other social indicators leave no doubt when it comes to the plight of black people in the United States. It is a plight which the election of the country’s first black president in 2008 has failed to arrest.

When Barack Obama swept into the White House on the back of his talent for soaring rhetoric, accompanied by the hopes of millions of poor and hitherto disenfranchised people of all races, Americans allowed themselves to believe that the ‘change agenda’ which the nation’s first black president espoused throughout his election campaign would translate into the kind of action that would transform their lives and at last release them from the chains of poverty and social exclusion they have suffered for generations.

It has not. Indeed, if anything, Obama’s record in office proves that his presidency has been nothing more than old wine in a new bottle where social and economic justice is concerned, which in the US is inextricably linked to race.

Another factor in this current crisis, caused by yet another killing of a young black man by a white police officer, is the militarisation of the police. Rather than serving the public, especially in low income black communities, the focus is self evidently on intimidating them with overwhelming force and the sort of firepower associated with a warzone rather than the streets of a small town. The mindset involved as a consequence is one of confrontation rather than cooperation, coercion rather than consent, with young black men in particular demonized as gang members and criminals even if they are neither.

As the world watches this latest crisis unfold in the streets of an American town, the words of Martin Luther King ring as true today as they did when he spoke them four decades ago: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

Young black men in America are not only unheard in 2014, they are brutalised and killed with impunity.



ABBA join GMB members for protest at Wincanton HQ

asbo small format

The GMB says that the words of Mamma Mia perfectly sum up the position of Agency workers employed by Tempay at the Wincanton warehouse in Swindon – “I’ve been cheated by you since I don’t know when, So I made up my mind, it must come to an end”

GMB members employed by employment agency Tempay mounted an ABBA themed protest outside the headquarters of Wincanton Logistics in Chippenham today, and were joined by Clare Moody, the newly elected Labour MEP for the South West.

At a Swindon distribution depot in South Marston, operated by Wincanton on behalf of a household name retail giant, the majority of permanent warehouse staff are employed through an agency called Tempay. Many of these staff have been working at the same site on permanent assignment for several years, but using Section 10 of the Agency Workers Regulations these staff are guaranteed only 7 or 8 hours work per week, and are paid only minimum wage. This is nearly £2 per hour pay than the warehouse staff employed directly for Wincanton.

GMB members handed a giant “corporate ASBO” into the Wincanton HQ , to draw attention to the unethical use of the Swedish Derogation. Placards read “Wincanton takes it all” and “The Swedish Derogation is unethical”

GMB consider that Wincanton are unethically using Section 10 of the Agency Workers Regulations (AWR) to avoid giving effect to Section 5, relating to equal pay. Since the Agency Workers Regulations came into force in 2011, agency workers are guaranteed no less favourable treatment for terms and conditions and working conditions after completing a qualifying period of 12 weeks. However, a legal loophole under section 10, also called the Swedish Derogation, allows employers to pay less, if they guarantee a small payment between assignments.

Andy Newman, Wiltshire GMB branch secretary, said “We have around 200 GMB members out of 280 permanent staff with contracts with Tempay.

“Many members have told me that due to their Swedish Derogation contracts they can be working for 37.5 hours one week, and then the next week can be cut back to 7 hours. This leaves them feeling very precarious, and you can see how this would lead them to be reluctant to assert their rights

“GMB calls upon Tempay to pay our members the rate for the job, and for Tempay to go back to their client, Wincanton, and ask them to cease the unethical use of Section 10 of the AWR”.

Labour MEP Clare Moody joins protest against Swedish Derogation with GMB Abba

Labour MEP, Clare Moody, joins GMB protest against the “Swedish Derogation”

Open letter condemning Guardian ad by supporters of Israel

The Guardian newspaper has published an ad by supporters of the apartheid State of Israel, which among other things smears the Palestinian resistance as ‘child killers’. Given that Israel’s latest massacre of Palestinians in Gaza has up to now involved the slaughter of 400 children, this is beyond parody. The right wing Times refused to carry the ad, while the supposedly progressive Guardian published it.

Stop the War Coalition have produced an open letter condemning the ad and the Guardian for publishing it. They are asking people to sign and share it.

Please do so.

The ad and more on the story can be found at Electronic Intifada.



Israel’s slaughter has started again: Let’s make tomorrow’s demo massive.

New Gaza 'buffer zone' - land stolen by IsraelThere’s a demonstration tomorrow, 9th August, in central London – details are below. Let’s turn out in huge numbers.

As you’d expect, the ceasefire negotiations have produced nothing. Hamas, the legitimate elected government of Gaza, has said that a ceasefire which leaves Israel’s control as tight as it was is no ceasefire worth having – to go back to where we were a few months ago means constant shortages of medicine, constant threat of power shutdowns, constant drones flying overhead, frequent assassinations, continued destruction of the tunnels which are vital for getting food, animals, medicines and resistance weapons in (because, as Obama said, no country would tolerate missiles railing down on it, and would have the right to defend itself).

Israel and Egypt won’t give any ground. Literally, they are taking ground. Israel has snatched several more kilometres more of Gaza as a “buffer zone”.

As I write this, Israel’s slaughter campaign has restarted. Friends in Gaza are once again hearing the screams of children in their homes.

So we need to put more pressure on.

Contact your MP and make it harder for Cameron to do his “do not criticise Israel in public” nonsense.
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The Yes campaign for Scottish independence: seeking an escape hatch from the real world

RT and Morning Star

With six weeks to go before people in Scotland go to the polls to decide the future of the United Kingdom, the referendum campaign has by now settled on the political arguments being articulated on either side of the debate.

Over the past year or so I have written a number of articles putting the case for No. The basis of my argument is that uniting working people on the basis of class rather than separating them on the basis of any other factor, be it nationality, ethnicity, gender, religion, and so on, is the non-negotiable cornerstone of any progressive politics which has as its objective social and economic justice.

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GMB calls off industrial action, as Babcock withdraws proposed pay cut


Members are delighted the Babcock’s management have removed the proposals for annualised hours contracts says GMB.

GMB members employed by Babcock Land, working at the Warminster Garrison in Wiltshire for MOD, have accepted new proposals from the company and have called off planned industrial action. All these members employed by Babcocks are drivers for the MOD. They do an incredibly difficult job, often sleeping overnight in a tent on a freezing Salisbury Plain.  They frequently go above and beyond what is required of them.

Last month GMB members voted for industrial action in a dispute over pay cuts. The vote  was an overwhelming 100% yes, on a very high turnout.

Carolle Vallelly, GMB Regional Officer, said “GMB members are delighted the Babcock’s management have removed the proposals for annualised hours contracts. The solidarity shown by the members with their overwhelming vote for industrial action has demonstrated the strength of their feelings and we are pleased the management have listened and acted in response to this.

“GMB has been resisting these changes since last year when the Company wanted to invite all employees to move on to the new contract, which was structured in such a way that they would have no home life, and would be continually at the beck and call of their employers.”




Warsi was right to resign

andy-newman-labour-party-in-corsham-high-street-chippenham-summerAs the Labour Party’s parliamentary candidate for Chippenham, it is not often that I have praise for the actions of a Conservative, but I was impressed by the act of personal integrity by Baroness Warsi, who recently resigned from the government over the inadequacy of David Cameron’s response to the slaughter in Gaza. The military actions of the Israelis have been disproportionate, and in their disregard for civilian life, I believe criminal.

I visited Palestine in 2006, and even though I had read about the occupation before hand, the reality of the suffering of the Palestinian people was worse than I expected. Gaza itself is a huge open air prison, whose borders and trade are controlled by Israel.

As with any conflict, there is good and bad on both sides; but as the economically and militarily far stronger power, greater responsibility lies with Israel to remove the obstacles to peace. Israel needs to lift the siege of Gaza, and discontinue illegal settlements on the West Bank to allow Palestinian life to return to normality, and to thereby provide the conditions for a just and lasting agreement that will be to the benefit of all the people in region.

Labour and the Great War

The First World War was an unmitigated catastrophe, leaving over 9 million dead, countless millions more invalided, orphaned, widowed, displaced or impoverished. It destroyed an estimated £208 bn of capital value, and caused economic devastation much greater than that. It plunged much of Europe into political instability, and the lowered threshold to solving issues through violence contributed to the growing experience of political terror from the black and tans in Ireland through to the Nazis and Stalin’s purges.

Few in 1914 predicted the duration or destructive power of the war, though expert students of military science as diverse as Frederick Engels and the chief of the Imperial German armed forces, Helmuth von Moltke had been ominously prescient. The scale of the war was a result of a number of factors. Firstly, military technical developments were in a transitional phase with enormous destructive capacity not yet counterbalanced by advances in communications or transport.

Secondly, the nineteenth century had seen the birth of a new paradigm of industrial society, and concepts of national community that hugely broadened the social base of war. In the eighteenth century there had been decades of global war between the European powers, but the fighting had been largely confined to small professional armies, and the political governing elites were unconstrained by democratic interference over concluding peace treaties. These limited cabinet wars were those described so insightfully by Carl Von Clausewitz in his classic work Vom Kriege , who famously described the interplay of war and diplomacy as twin mechanisms of achieving state objectives. It is revealing that the Prussian Conservative Party, the political expression of the military Junker caste, had opposed the mass expansion of the army.

Thirdly, the intervention of the British Empire on the side of the militarist and revanchist French Republic (the power which paradoxically in 1914 also represented the greatest threat to British imperial interests), and their unstable and autocratic Russian ally ensured that the balance of military and economic power would lead to a prolonged and global war.

Britain in 1914 was the most democratic of the European great powers. It is necessary to appreciate the difference between the formal deficiencies, the House of Lords and the limited franchise, with the strengths that Britain was unique (with the later exception of the USA) in there being substantive political debate whether or not to join the war: in the Cabinet, in parliament, in civil society, in the newspapers, in academic circles, and of course in the Labour movement. In contrast, in Germany, despite universal male suffrage, and that following the 1912 election the socialist SPD was the largest party in the Reichstag, the decision to go to war was taken by a close circle of generals, overriding even the reservations of the Kaiser. Indeed the three Caesars in St Petersburg, Vienna and Berlin all vacillated as they looked over the abyss.

When discussing how politics operated in the past it is important to understand the distinction between the different intellectual disciplines of politics and history. The political actors of 1914 did not have the benefit of hindsight. It may seem disingenuous that politicians of the British Empire were squeamish of the actions of Imperial Germany, but that was indeed the case. While Bonar law’s Conservative Party were fully behind the idea of war with Germany, on instrumentalist and unsentimental grounds of imperial self interest (a massive misjudgment given the actual result), the tipping issue which put Britain into the war was the German invasion of Belgium, that persuaded wavering Liberals like David Lloyd George and Labour politicians like Arthur Henderson.

Given that we now know that British military planners were also planning to breach Belgian sovereignty to impose a naval blockade even if Germany did not invade, then this seems extraordinary chutzpah. However, this would not have been generally known, even in the cabinet. The contemporary understanding of colonialism in Britain at that time must also be understood, for example, Keir Hardy’s writings exhibit a mixture of paternalism, naivety and optimism, that show even a progressive Labour politician saw the British Empire in broadly benign terms.

The German Empire was not perceived in the same way in Britain, where German colonial rule was seen as both more savage and more amateur. Indeed, it is arguable that the deliberate genocide of the Herero and Nama peoples in German South West Africa in 1905, (which also saw the world’s first extermination camp at Shark Island) had no direct analogue in Britain’s own imperial legacy. The continuity between the Kaiser’s colonial policy, hardly distinguishable from more mainstream European expereince and the later Nazi exterminations had a number of notable aspects: the first civilian governor of Hereroland, Dr Heinrich Goering, was the father of the Germany’s number two fighter ace in the first war, Hermann Goering; surplus brown uniform shirts from the African Schutztruppe were adopted by Hitler’s fledgling group of street fighters; and General Ritter von Epp, an important military figure in the early Nazi party, served in the Herero campaign.

Most importantly, the German invasion of Belgium turned colonial practices tolerated when used against “uncivilized” peoples onto Europeans. Some 5500 Belgian civilians were murdered in the first few weeks after the German invasion; and the declaration that annexation of Belgium into the Reich as a German principality was a war aim, was seen as outrageous in Britain; which overlapped liberal support for the war with more traditional concerns of national defence, as Britain could not afford the Kriegsmarine to use Belgian harbours.

Politicians work with highly imperfect knowledge, and without the benefit of hindsight. It is also a mistake to over-emphasize the significance or novelty of political ideas in their original context because they later had greater influence. The works of Lenin and Bukharin, and even of the more mainstream Hilferding, on imperialism were virtually unknown in Britain. However, a remarkably similar thesis by H.N. Brailsford, the author of the 1914 work War of Steel and Gold was of widespread influence in both the UK and America, influencing the foreigh policy of the Labour Party. Brailsford argued that the driver for war was the growing power of finance capital, and that what he called “vast aggregations of modern capital” were engaged in struggle to partition the world.

Arguably, Brailsford (and Lenin’s) argument was demonstrably refuted by events. The main imperial threats to British trade interests came from France and Russia, not Germany. Siding with the Entente against the central powers was more a continuation of traditional English policy to intervene to avoid any continental power becoming predominant. While the increasing role of finance capital did go hand in hand with the growth of militarism, it did not play a determining role over specific foreign policy, where Labour politicians, and leading trade unionists, were swayed by liberal opinion. Union general secretaries of the era tended to be MPs, and were influenced by that milieu, but the majority of trade union members were also – at least initially – swept up in the war fever.

When war broke out, the Labour Party found itself divided, but did not divide. The parliamentary party and the trade unions broadly supported the war but prominent leaders of the party, like Macdonald and Snowden, opposed the war, along with ethical socialists and Christian pacifists, and Labour Marxists like James Maxton. Macdonald resigned as party leader in protest at the war.

Keir Hardie was a broken man, deeply privately opposed to the war, but equally unwilling to publically oppose it, at the cost of potentially dividing the labour movement, and conscious of the imperative of national unity in the face of external threat.

Largely, the labour movement agreed to disagree, considering that their disagreements as an internal matter for the Labour Party, and within unions; and that any political truce during the war was temporary and contingent. As party chair, G.J. Wardle told the 1917 party conference.

“[Labour] still remains a separate party. Partnerships can be dissolved, arguments can be revived, fighting can be resumed, each in its proper place, each in its proper time”

Arthur Henderson, the party leader since 1914, joined the cabinet in 1915, and the inner war cabinet in 1916. But demonstrating the independence of the party, he resigned from the cabinet in August 1917 when the government refused to allow him to attend the Stockholm conference. The conference had been organized by the Russian leader, Kerensky, to include the socialist parties of all belligerent powers on both sides, seeking to find a path to peace.

This was a bold move by the Russian government, who knew that the Czar had financed the war almost entirely by borrowing, and the state was therefore mortgaged against the imagined spoils of victory. Russian withdrawal from the war could only be achieved by defaulting on those debts, and economic isolation, a cost that the Mensheviks knew would result in social disaster.

In Britain, labour’s achievement was to stay united, and hold together a political force – the Labour Party supported by the trade unions – who were able to replace the Liberals as the main party of opposition, laying the foundations for the future reforming Labour governments who transformed Britain for the better.