The liberation of Auschwitz

Auschwitz was not the first Nazi death camp liberated by the Red Army. That dubious honour belongs to Madjanek just outside Lublin, which was liberated on 24 July 1944. However Auschwitz, liberated 70 years ago on 27 January 1945, deservedly occupies a special place in history given its size – 40 square kilometres – and the industrial scale of the slaughter that occurred there. It is here, in this place in the middle of the twentieth century, where humanity descended into an abyss that continues to invite incomprehension.

The camp began life in the late nineteenth century as a cavalry barracks. It was taken over by the SS in 1940 and put into operation as a camp for Polish prisoners. This initial camp was known as Auschwitz I. It was here, in September 1941, that Zyklon B was first tested on Soviet and Polish prisoners.

Auschwitz II (Birkenau) began operation at the end of 1941. By March 1942 prisoners were being gassed there. By May the extermination of inmates was well underway, though given the primitive nature of the facilities used for the task at the outset, a new system of gas chambers and furnaces was built that winter.

The location of the camp ensured easy access by rail. This made it an attractive proposition for industrial use. The German chemical giant IG Farben established a factory there, utilising slave labour to produce synthetic rubber. Himmler was eager to capitalise on the idea, and by the summer of 1941 construction was underway to extend the camp in order to meet the needs of industrial production. Huge numbers of slave labourers were required, and the SS leader arranged for 10,000 Red Army prisoners to be handed over by the Wehrmacht with this in mind.

Forced labour on starvation rations ensured a high mortality rate. It was only the beginning.

Approx 1.1 million people were murdered at Auschwitz, ninety percent of them Jews. The camp was liberated by troops of the 60th Army, part of Zhukov’s 1st Ukrainian Front, during the Vistula-Oder Offensive between 12 January and 2 February 1945. One week before the Red Army reached the camp, the SS sent 58,000 inmates on a forced march west, most of whom perished in the process, while an unsuccessful attempt was made to destroy and/or remove evidence of the camp’s operation. The infamous Dr Mengele packed the records of his barbaric medical experiments on hundreds of camp inmates and left for Berlin, while executives of IG Farben destroyed records in their section of the camp (Auschwitz III).

Though orders were given to kill the remaining surviving inmates who were too weak to be moved, the SS managed to kill just a couple of hundred out of the 8000 who were left before the camp was liberated.

Red Army officers, upon reaching Auschwitz and seeing the scale of the horror it contained, immediately ordered all of its medical staff in the area to the camp to treat the survivors. They set up field kitchens and a hospital, through which they successfully saved many who otherwise would have died.

Primo Levi survived Auschwitz to become one of the most profound and eloquent chroniclers of the Holocaust and a literary giant of the twentieth century. His biographical account of his experiences as an inmate – If This Is A Man – is a must-read, made more powerful by the clarity and simplicity of his prose.

As Levi writes: “It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”

Cameron’s new MEP, Amjad Bashir, revealed as unprincipled carpetbagger

The UKIP MEP who jumped from Nigel Farage’s party to join the Conservative’s is revealed as a liar about his political past.

Amjad Bashir denies that he has ever had anything to do with the Respect party but an application form he filled in and is still held by the party proves that isn’t the case. The new Conservative MEP gives his date of birth on the form as September 17, 1952. But he also claims on the form that in the 1970s and 1980s he was a Labour party member and helped the then Bradford West MP Marsha Singh (now deceased). He also claims to have been heavily involved, and led a membership drive in Bradford, for Imran Khan’s Pakistan party the PTI (Party of Justice).

For Labour Bashir claims: “I attended ward and regional meetings, I carried out door to door canvassing on election days…I also carried out telephone campaigns.”

Respect’s Bradford West MP George Galloway hit out: “Not only has this man not got a shred of principle, his acquaintance with the truth is distant to say the least. He joined Respect, now he’s lying about it. I don’t know if what he is saying about Labour and the PTI is correct but his denial that he joined Respect, was selected as a candidate and then de-selected, is a shameful and damning untruth. If the Tories are prepared to embrace this man then I think it says even more about them than it does him.”

Galloway would not reveal why the party had decided to drop Bashir. “But probably for the first time ever I have to agree with Nigel Farage that there are grave concerns about things in this guy’s past.”

He added that not only was the application form in the party’s hands but at least five witnesses, who were part of his interview panel, were prepared to confirm that he had joined the party and then been sacked as a council candidate for Bradford Moor.

Congratulations to SYRIZA Party

Exit_poll1

Exit poll from Greek reporter.

Congratulations to the left-wing,anti-Austerity party, who have won a stunning victory, and have a mandate for government, but they have a hard road ahead of them, in extremely difficult circumstances.

Exit polling showed SYRIZA getting 36.1% of the total vote, New Democracy 28.1%, Golden Dawn is third at 6.3%, “To Potami” at 5.9%, the Greek Communist Party (KKE) at 5.5%, PASOK at 4.8%, Independent Greeks (ANEL) at 4.7% and KIDISO at 2.5%. These figures may be revised slightly when all the votes are counted. [updated here]

Former Prime Minister George Papandreou’s Democratic Socialists Movement (KIDISO) fails to win any seats.

GMB members in mass meetings to discuss campaign against exploitation by M&S.

tempay meeting 2

Around 200 GMB members employed by the agency, Tempay Ltd, attended mass meetings on Saturday, to discuss how to resist exploitation in the Marks and Spencer distribution centre in Swindon.

One of the most disturbing changes in British society over the last few years has been the increasing abuse of Employment Agencies. Even household name companies, like Marks and Spencer, use Employment Agencies in their supply chain to push wage costs down, and inhibit staff from asserting employment rights. The loophole may be an infringement of EU law, contrary to the intention not only of the Agency Worker Regulations (AWR), but also contrary to the original intention of the Swedish derogation itself. M&S claim to be an ethical employer but use deliberate avoidance tactics to thwart the AWR in their UK distribution chain.

Sadly the culture of abusing agency worker status has led to employers treating their staff as commodities, breaking the moral contract that hard work should be rewarded. Low pay and precarious employment means workers on these contracts feel like second class citizens, unable to get a mortgage or be granted hire purchase or loans, and unable to even feel secure that they can pay the rent or feed their families.

For example, workers at this Marks and Spencer warehouse have 7 hour per week contracts, but are given rotas for 37 hours. If they are not available for every day of rota they are disciplined for absenteeism, but employer can cancel work days with no notice, and even send them home as soon as they arrive for work. A non-reciprocal arrangement reminiscent of bonded labour. One GMB shop steward in the Marks and Spencer distribution centre in Swindon has been issued a written warning for absenteeism, even though he had worked more than his contracted hours during the relevant period. Agency staff are in the position of needing to be available for work, so they cannot take employment elsewhere, but are not guaranteed an more than 7 hours per week.

The abuses are reminiscent of the culture of the nineteenth century sweatshops. Staff, including pregnant women, have turned up to work at 6:00am on a Sunday for a shift they had been required to attend by the rota, having needed a taxi to get to the site, to be immediately sent home without pay as they are not required, meaning they actually lose money.

There is a bewildering nest of contracts. The Distribution Centre is owned and 100% dedicated to M&S, who contract DHL (previously Wincanton) to run the Distribution centre, who use a recruitment agency, 24-7 Recruitment to provide agency workers, who are given employment contracts with another company, Tempay Ltd. Tempay shares the same registered business address as 24-7. Staff don’t even have the dignity of knowing who they work for. Staff working for the agency are even issued inferior PPE compared to staff working for DHL. Staff working for the agency are not issued with warm clothes for outside work in winter compared to staff working for DHL who are issued with warm clothing.

Many of the Tempay staff have worked on the same assignment, at the same site for several years. Over 75% of non-managerial staff are agency workers, but agency workers are not used to deal with fluctuating work volumes, but to lower staffing costs of effectively permanent employees. Such long permanent assignments are contrary to the intention of the derogation, and indicate clearly that this is an avoidance tactic.

M&S claim to be an ethical employer. And according to their website, are signed up the living wage: . Workers for Tempay earn the minimum wage of £6.50 per hour, the living wage in the UK is £7.85.

Labour MEPs demand EU action over “modern slavery” conditions for agency workers

GMB in brussels

I have been in Brussels for the last couple of days, accompanying a delegation of GMB shop stewards who work in the Marks and Spencer distribution centre in Swindon. Domingos Dias and Rosseby Carvaho are seen above at the meeting chaired by Siôn Simon MEP, where they addressed a senior EU Commission official for Employment, Social Legislation and Social Dialogue leading on Agency worker legislation. Also at the meeting was the West Country MEP Clare Moody, and the leader of the Labour Party Group, Glenis Willmott, and German MEP Jutta Steinruck.

As a result of the meeting, Labour MEPs have called for the EU to take urgent action over the pay and conditions of agency workers, after hearing first hand from workers and trade union representatives of the dreadful conditions hundreds of agency workers have been subjected to.

Our shop stewards gave testimony regarding the Agency Workers Regulation and in particular the so-called ‘Swedish’ derogation, which allows agencies to opt out of equal pay if the individual is permanently employed by the agency. The TUC raised a complaint with the European Commission over a year ago – however the Commission admitted this week they had not yet reached a final decision.

Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in Europe, said:

“The Agency Workers Regulation was intended to protect agency workers from exploitation and ensure they are treated the same as permanent workers.

“However, unscrupulous employers are using loopholes in the law to avoid treating agency staff equally.

“I was appalled by what I heard. The workers reported pregnant women turning up for work at 6am and being turned away, while others said they had been subjected to racial abuse and intimidation.”

The agency workers are employed by a recruitment agency called Tempay Ltd, who complete work on behalf of Marks and Spencer. The agency staff are contracted to only a seven hours per week contract, even though they can be expected to complete a 37-hour rota. If they are not available for every day of the rota they can be disciplined for absenteeism.

The agency staff are not entitled to the same pay as their permanent counterparts, who, for example, receive double the hourly rate on a Sunday. It is a common occurrence for employees to be turned away from their work on a regular basis and not provided with travel costs. This means some individuals have ended up out of pocket by the end of the week.

Siôn Simon MEP, European Parliament spokesperson on employment, said:

“Supposed agency workers are having their wages depressed and their rights and dignity abused. Companies such as Marks and Spencer should be ashamed of this use of modern slavery.”

The GMB have accused Tempay Ltd of using the Swedish derogation in the Agency Workers Regulation as a way to pay a huge amount of staff a lower wage than their permanent colleagues. Some of the employees have worked in the same role on the site for eight years and are still not in a position to be able to take out a loan, ask for a mortgage or even book a holiday due to the precarious nature of their work.

Clare Moody MEP, Labour MEP for the South West, said:

“I have been working closely with the GMB on this issue in my constituency and have met with various agency employees from Tempay Ltd. What these workers have been going through is completely unacceptable.

“There is already a complaint regarding the UK not giving employees the rights they should have through European law. The Commission must make sure that UK workers get the same rights that other EU workers get through this legislation.”

Domingos Dias, GMB shop steward, said “I believe that the MEPs and commission officials were shocked by the evidence we gave them of the exploitation of agency workers at our site through use of the so-called Swedish derogation of permanent contracts with the agency. MEPs made clear to the EU Commission officials that they want to work with them to sort out this loophole quickly before the exploitation spreads to other countries”.

Carole Vallelly, GMB Regional Organiser, said “we are very pleased that our members were able to give their evidence to the MEPs and EU Officials about the real world of insecurity, poverty and anxiety due to avoidance of equal treatment rights by misuse of the Swedish Derogation.

GMB has offered to provide further written evidence to the EU Commission and European Parliament to assist with the assessment of possible infringement of rights under the agency workers directive by means of this derogation.

American Sniper

imrs.phpThe swamp of moral depravity in which America is sinking is illustrated by a movie glorifying the exploits of a racist killer, American Sniper, receiving six Oscar nominations, while a movie depicting the historic struggle against racism led by Martin Luther King, Selma, has been largely overlooked.

American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, tells the story of Chris Kyle, a US Navy Seal who served four tours of duty in Iraq and was credited with 160 confirmed ‘kills’, earning him the dubious honour of being lauded the most lethal sniper in US military history.

Played by Bradley Cooper, in the movie Kyle is an all-American hero, a Texas cowboy who joins the military out of a sense of patriotism and a yearning for purpose and direction in his life. Throughout the uber-tough selection process, Kyle is a monument of stoicism and determination, willing to bear any amount of pain and hardship for the honour of being able to serve his country as a Navy Seal – America’s equivalent of the Samurai.

The personal struggle he endures as a result of what he experiences and does in Iraq is not motivated by any regrets over the people he kills, including women and children, but on his failure to kill more and thereby save the lives of more American soldiers as they go about the business of tearing the country apart, city by city, block by block, and house by house.

If American Sniper wins one Oscar, never mind the six for which its been nominated, when this annual extravaganza of movie pomp and ceremony unfolds in Hollywood on February 22, it will not only represent an endorsement of US exceptionalism, but worse it will stand as a grievous insult to the Iraqi people. In the movie they are depicted as a dehumanised mass of savages – occupying the same role as the Indians in John Wayne Western movies of old – responsible for their own suffering and the devastation of their country, which Americans such as Kyle are in the process of civilizing.

Anything resembling balance and perspective is sacrificed in American Sniper to the more pressing needs of US propaganda, which holds that the guys who served in Iraq were the very best of America, men who went through hell in order to protect the freedoms and way of life of their fellow countrymen at home. It is the cult of the soldier writ large, men who in the words of Kyle (Bradley Cooper) in the movie “just want to get the bad guys.”

The ‘bad guys’ are, as mentioned, the Iraqis. In fact if you had just arrived in the movie theatre from another planet, you would be left in no doubt from the movie’s opening scene that Iraq had invaded and occupied America rather than the other way round.

Unsurprisingly, the real Chris Kyle was not as depicted by Clint Eastwood and played by Bradley Cooper. In his autobiography, upon which the movie is supposedly based, Kyle writes, “I hate the damn savages. I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.”

It is clear that the movie’s director, Clint Eastwood, when faced with the choice between depicting the truth and the myth, decided to go with the myth.

But should come as no surprise, given that the peddling of such myths is the very currency of Hollywood. Over many decades the US movie industry has proved itself one of the most potent weapons in the armoury of US imperialism, helping to project a myth of an America defined by lofty attributes of courage, freedom, and democracy.

As the myth has it, these values, and with them America itself, are continually under threat from the forces of evil and darkness that lurk outwith and often times within. The mountain of lies told in service to this myth has only been exceeded by the mountain of dead bodies erected on the basis of it – victims of the carnage and mayhem unleashed around the world by Washington.

Chris Kyle was not the warrior or hero portrayed in American Sniper. He was in fact a racist killer for whom the only good Iraqi was a dead Iraqi. He killed men, women, and children, just as his comrades did during the course of a brutal and barbaric war of aggression waged by the richest country in the world against one of the poorest.

They say that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. In the hands of a movie director with millions of dollars and the backing of a movie studio at its disposal, it is far more dangerous than that. It is a potent weapon deployed against its victims, denying them their right to even be considered victims, exalting in the process, when it comes to Hollywood, those who murder and massacre in the name of ‘Rome’. With this in mind, it is perhaps fitting that Chris Kyle was shot and killed by a former Marine at a shooting range in Texas in 2013.

“Man was born into barbarism,” Martin Luther King said, “when killing his fellow man was a normal condition of existence.”

Carillion suffers another defeat in court over Swindon hospital dispute

NEW RULING THAT ALL CLAIMS BY GMB MEMBERS AT SWINDON HOSPITAL FOR DISCRIMINATION AGAINST CARILLION CAN BE HEARD AT EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAL

Now that the ET has agreed that these claims are about serious issues of race discrimination we look forward to the opportunity for our members to tell the real story in court says GMB

A decision in favour of 51 GMB members employed by Carillion at the Great Western PFI Hospital in Swindon on claims for race and religious discrimination has now been handed down by Judge Harper of the Bristol Employment Tribunal (ET).

The hearing to consider applications to amend various claims in this case took place at the Bristol Employment Tribunal on 16th December 2014. This followed an Order for remission from a successful victory at the Employment Appeal Tribunal in September 2014.

This ET decision means 51 GMB members at the hospital will now be able to pursue their claims before the employment tribunal and hold Carillion to account for race discrimination, bullying and harassment and victimisation.

GMB members involved in this long running dispute work as porters and housekeepers in catering and cleaning and other support roles at the Swindon PFI hospital. GMB members originally voted overwhelmingly in December 2011 for strike action in protest against bullying and discrimination at the hospital. GMB members demanded that Carillion management act to stop the culture of bullying on the contract and for an end to discrimination in the application of pay and conditions on the contract.

GMB members took 21 days of strike action but the company was not prepared to uphold any of the grievances of the staff. As a consequence GMB filed discrimination claims on behalf of the members at the Employment Tribunal (ET). There was a preliminary hearing in ET which was held on during December 2012 and January 2013. GMB appealed against the ET decision on 13 March 2013, The Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that the issue should go back to the ET in September 2014.

The remitted claims sought amendments relating to allegations of direct and indirect discrimination because of race and/or religious belief and harassment related to race and religious belief which were originally refused by Employment Judge Harper at a Preliminary Hearing in January 2012. Judge Harper was asked to reconsider whether various amendments to the claims should now in fact be allowed.

In the judgment handed down by the Tribunal on 8th January Judge Harper has now allowed more than 170 of the proposed amendments excluding one which related to allegations pre-dating the original claim.

This means 51 members in Swindon Hospital will now pursue their full claims including complaints of direct and indirect discrimination because of race and/or religious belief, harassment related to race and religious belief, breaches of Working Time Regulations, unlawful deductions of wages and detriment on Trade Union grounds, before the Employment Tribunal and hold Carillion to account.

In a separate dispute GMB is taking Carillion to the High Court seeking compensation and is calling for them and others firms to be excluded from tendering for any further public sector contracts until they compensate workers that they blacklisted. The next date for a hearing is Feb 2015. See notes to editors 2 for details of Carillion blacklisting.

Maria Ludkin, GMB National Officer for Legal and Corporate Affairs, said “GMB members have consistently claimed they suffered race discrimination, religious discrimination and other detriments at the hands of Carillion managers at Swindon Hospital. Carillion has consistently fought to have these claims reduced. Now that the ET has agreed that these claims are about serious issues of race discrimination GMB looks forward to the opportunity for our members to tell the real story in court.”

Shazia Khan, Partner at law firm Bindmans LLP, said “This Judgment is a significant victory for our clients who continue their fight for justice. We are now looking ahead to the final hearing, it is clearly in the public interest that allegations of scandalous and prolonged extortion by managers in a multinational company Carillion Services Ltd are examined by the Tribunal in their entirety.”

Charlie Hebdo

One of the sadder consequences of the Charlie Hebdo massacre is the way it has given a platform to a chorus of right wing, reactionary crackpots to spout their bigoted anti Muslim and anti immigrant poison.

Being against extremism, whether committed in the name of Islam or whether it’s carried out in the name of Western democracy, which is increasingly exposed as nothing more than organised hypocrisy, is essential if our aim is to break what has become a perpetual cycle of misery and human despair. The West has been fanning the flames of this barbarism for years in places like Libya, Iraq, and Syria, yet it’s only when it explodes in our midst that we pay attention. When Syrians and Libyans are being massacred and butchered in the name of the same barbarism responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the voices that we are now hearing expressing anger and outrage the loudest are notably silent.

The vast majority of victims of Islamic extremism are Muslims. The vast majority of victims of Western extremism are also Muslims. Only when we apologise for decades of imperialism, colonialism, occupation, and brutal military interventions should Muslims have to apologise for the monster it has inevitably created.

The French government has been a major sponsor of the chaos and carnage that has engulfed Libya and Syria in recent years, as has the British government. We are also a close ally of the Saudis. We sell them weapons and train their security services. Members of our so called Royal Family are never done visiting the place. All this despite the fact we are talking about an obscurantist gang of potentates who have been funding and fomenting extremism across the region and beheading more people than ISIS over a number of years now.

Nothing can condone the kind of butchery and cold blooded murder that has just taken place in Paris. But let’s not play holy here. If we are to condemn it when it erupts in Paris, we have to condemn it when it takes places in Libya and Syria, when it is unleashed on the people of Gaza in the name of democracy.

Extremism begets extremism. When will we ever learn?