Aylan Kurdi ends our right to consider ourselves civilised

CN5VtdsUsAAr02TNo words are adequate to describe the heartwrenching picture of Aylan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach. What we can say without any equivocation is that this dead 3 year old Syrian boy symbolises the cruelty and inhumanity that underpins what passes for civilisation in the West.

Denying sanctuary to human beings desperately attempting to escape war and chaos can be described as many things, but justice is not one of them. To those deserving of the hand of friendship we offer the fist of fury. To those crying out for help we turn away. The result is the suffering of children such as Aylan, whose death as a consequence is tantamount to murder.

There is much to be said about the conflict and chaos that has engulfed the Middle East, where the majority of the refugees desperately seeking sanctuary are from. But the idea that we are blameless can only be the product of mendacity or ignorance. We have helped to create and foment crisis and chaos as far back as Iraq and on into Libya and Syria, evidence that we are governed by machine men and women whose conception of politics and the West’s role in the world begins with callous indifference to the human suffering it continually unleashes. Indeed only those who have had their humanity surgically removed could possibly fail to have been moved by the plight of these people on our TV screens over the past few weeks.

A refugee crisis that is now biblical in scope has met thus far with an obdurate refusal by governments across Europe to budge from a refusenik position of denying them refuge. This is no surprise, as aided by a complicit right wing and reactionary media the discourse across the West on immigrants and asylum seekers has plumbed the depths of moral repugnance and disgrace. When they haven’t been dehumanised as ‘economic migrants’ they have been smeared as constituting a ‘swarm’ by the likes of British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Vying for the worst of the many examples of this poisonous narrative was the idea promoted by the UK far right anti-immigration party UKIP that Britain only accept members of Syria’s Christian minority as refugees, asserting that Syrian Muslims can go to other countries in the region.

What kind of sick and twisted morality is this? From here we are only a few short steps away from making Muslims among those fleeing put on an armband with a crescent on it in order to separate them from their Christian or non-Muslim counterparts. UKIP’s position moves them beyond the truth that a little knowledge is dangerous to confirm that it is even worse to be crippled with pig ignorance and be afforded a platform from which to continually prove it.

Meanwhile back in the world occupied by people with a heart and a conscience, the outpouring of rage at the image of Aylan Kurdi allows us to hope that his death may not be in vain. The fact that he died along with his mother and brother only adds urgency to our demand that Britain and Europe come together to implement a cohesive humanitarian reponse to this growing humanitarian crisis. Notably, at time of writing cohesion across Europe remains a forlorn hope.

There have been exceptions to the intransigence that has dominated the issue across the EU. Germany and Sweden have managed to salvage something resembling solidarity in Europe. Merkel in particular, in fact, has been immense, helping to create an atmosphere in Germany that has seen thousands of refugees overwhelmed with kindness from welcoming committees upon their arrival at German train and bus stations.

Who would have thought that the German Chancellor, only recently responsible for punishing Greece with austerity, would be the one to shame other EU leaders on their lack of humanity by comparison?

Aylan Kurdi’s death poses the question of what we are prepared to do in response? Are we going to continue to deny these people refuge or are we going to help them? Upon the answer hinges our right to continue to claim the moral high ground against barbarism.

These people are not migrants. They are not even refugees. They are our brothers and sisters, flesh of our flesh, and denying them help at their time of need is a crime. Lying dead on that beach, Aylan reminds us that a child is the most precious thing in our world. Thus, the need to do whatever it takes to protect and nurture them transcends borders, nationality, ethnicity, religion or any other factor. Whether as a nation, society or culture, we are diminished by his death. Worse, we are culpable in the tragic manner of it.

However at this point words of anger and sentiments of grief are not enough to deal with the disaster unfolding. Surveying the contours of a humanitarian crisis that shows no sign of abating, we see that the EU has unraveled in the face of it. Rather than unity it is disunity that defines it – to the point where it is paralysed with inaction, its member states driven not by a common European agenda but by multiple domestic agendas, none of them progressive.

Consequently, it is now up to the United Nations to step into the breach. Urgently required are the resources, organization, and infrastructure necessary to alleviate the suffering taking place and to ensure that these people are properly cared for, prioritizing their wellbeing and dignity as human beings in the process.

Our enemy is not and never has been those seeking refuge from war and conflict. Our enemy is and always will be those who would deny them.






Sign the petition calling for Netanyahu’s arrest when he visits the UK

CNf3DU7WIAAsX4c CNf3DU7WIAAsX4cIf you haven’t signed the petition please do so now and join the over 90,000-plus who have thus far.

At 100,000 signatures the petition will be considered for debate in Parliament.

Even if it doesn’t make it to Parliament, it is still crucial to record the widespread and growing opposition to the Israeli Government’s brutal and barbaric treatement of the Palestinian people.



Is the Labour purge a right wing witchhunt?

Stop-the-Labour-Purge-653x653-2The Labour purge of new supporters, denying an untold number a vote in the leadership election, has brought the party into disrepute. Many are convinced that it is a right wing witchhunt of socialists and people with left wing views.

Whatever its motives, it has exposed a culture of incompetence within Labour that will do little to arrest its perception as a party in decline among the wider public.

The confusion being wrought is widespread. Take me, for instance. I have been a member of Labour since November last year. I have never attended one Labour Party branch meeting or one event organised by my local branch since. Not one.

Moreover, I did not vote Labour in the general election. I voted Green in the general election. Why? Because my constituency Labour candidate accepted a campaign donation from Tony Blair. The idea that any socialist or progressive could vote for anyone who accepts money from a man responsible for the carnage visited on the Iraqi people is beyond belief.

My loyalty is not and never has been to a political party. My loyalty is to working class communities and oppressed people here and abroad. If Labour stands up for working class and oppressed people I will support it. If it attacks working class and oppressed people, as it did under Blair and Blairism, I will oppose it. What’s more, I suspect many on the left feel the same way.

I cast my vote for Corbyn online and have yet to be told it has been rejected.

When they deny people a vote with the words, “We have reason to believe that you do not support the aims and values of the Labour Party,” they are clearly suffering from a lack of historical perspective.

What aims and values are they referring to? Is it the aim of full employment and the values of the welfare state, NHS and social and economic justice that informed the party’s founding principles and the policies of the ’45 Labour government? Or are they referring to the aims of Blairism with the values of the free market, big business, the City of London and illegal wars and imperialism?

To ask the question is to answer it.

This outrageous filtering of votes and people who signed up under the rules set up by the very leadership that is now busy purging hundreds of people from the party is a disgrace. It is an example of the very vote rigging we have long been invited to associate with Robert Mugabe. It is also a studied insult against Jeremy Corbyn, illustrative of their view of him as an incorrigable outsider of mere second class status.

Corbyn will likely win regardless of this process . However who would bet against them attempting to have the election annulled on the basis that it has ended in the ‘wrong’ candidate being elected?

Blair, Mandelson, Brown, Straw, Campbell – a rogue’s gallery of opportunists, war mongers, and liars; men for whom principles in a political leader are like wings on a horse.

A stake is about to be driven through the heart of New Labour and it is not before time.











Better 1983 than 1931

The defeat of Labour in the 1983 General Election has clearly entered into folklore for many in the party, and simplistic, mono-causal explanations are common. It is an interesting phenomenon, and not one confined to the Labour Party, that historical events of great complexity are shoehorned into the confines of contemporary, factional disputes.

But let us look at the argument advanced by many Progress supporters, and others on the centre right of the party, that we need to win elections from the centre ground, and then move the centre ground once in office.

Firstly, the whole concept of a “centre ground” implies a managerial approach to government where there is an incremental gradation between left and right. There can be no stable “centre ground” when two incompatible political or economic theories are being contested.

Much is said of the way that both Attlee and Thatcher created a paradigm shift that resulted in a new political consensus. However, those political sea-changes were a result of both changes in the actually existing political-economy, and the consequence of shifting intellectual debate outside of the small world of electoral politics, and neither Attlee nor Thatcher won from the centre ground.

It is surely incontrovertible that the greatest Labour government was that resulting from Clement Attlee’s general election victory of 1945. But the prelude to 1945 was the long recovery from the melt down of the  second Labour government in 1931.

Those of us who grew up in traditional Labour supporting families in the 1960s and 1970s will have been immersed in the folkloric betrayal by MacDonald and Snowden in 1931. In the face of the Great Depression they proposed cutting unemployment benefit and reducing public sector wages.

Neither of them were bad men, nor were they on the political right. MacDonald was a former Marxist who had opposed the First World War. Snowden, who had been an inspiring speaker about the future socialist utopia, afterwards became a Keynesian and abandoned his support for MacDonald. They did however consider themselves at the time to be prisoners of political moderation and economic orthodoxy. The Labour Party’s own economic theory in the 1920s had been based upon an underconsumptionist model that failed to account for the 1929 crash, and they were under massive political and establishment pressure to maintain a balanced budget to stay on the gold standard. This was a position of such overwhelming orthodoxy, and with such massive public support, that for the Labour government to defy the expectation would put themselves outside the pale of establishment opinion.

The opponents of MacDonald and Snowden in 1931 were hardly firebrand impossibilists. JR Clynes and Arthur Henderson were both former leaders of the Labour Party. Clynes was a former senior official in the GMWU (now GMB), and Henderson an official of the Iron Founders Union, who advocated social partnership. They had the impeccable “moderate” credentials: both had supported Britain’s involvement in the First World War, and Clynes as Home Secretary had refused permission for Leon Trotsky to enter the UK.

However, they did know the difference between right and wrong. They did know that a Labour Party that aspired to build a fairer and more equal society had to side with the victims of an unjust and exploitative economic system, and not simply accept the self-serving economic orthodoxy of the rich. Their instinctive solidarity with the poor was informed by their own personal experience. They had become MPs not as part of a career plan, but because they had arisen out of the working class as able fighters for their fellow workers, their neighbours, families and communities.

The 1930s were difficult times for the Labour Party, and Labour were punished in the 1931 General Election, before recovering in 1935. However, had it not been for the strength and courage of the MPs, and their trade union backers, who refused to vote for cuts to unemployment benefit in 1931, then the Labour Party would have ceased to exist.

In circumstances far more difficult than today, the Labour Party carried out a moral and intellectual rearmament during the 1930s, embedding itself in communities as the centre of opposition to ruthless Conservatism, and developing practical but radical policies that would transform Britain. It was this process which meant that Labour was ready to return to government in 1940 and to win an outright election victory in 1945.

I hadn’t seen Ann Pettifor’s article on a similar theme when I wrote this. You can see Ann’s article here

British Jews slam McCarthyite smear campaign against Corbyn

images-2Morning Star

DOZENS of Jewish campaigners sent an open letter to the Jewish Chronicle yesterday blasting the paper’s “McCarthyite” smear campaign against Labour leadership favourite Jeremy Corbyn.

The group of 47 people — including poets, actors and university lecturers — accused the newspaper of branding Mr Corbyn an “anti-semite” by touting supposed links to Holocaust deniers.

“Your assertion that your attack on Jeremy Corbyn is supported by ‘the vast majority of British Jews’ is without foundation,” said the letter.

“We do not accept that you speak on behalf of progressive Jews in this country. You speak only for Jews who support Israel, right or wrong.”

“There is something deeply unpleasant and dishonest about your McCarthyite guilt by association technique,” it added.

It follows an article published by the Chronicle the week before listing seven “concerns” that Mr Corbyn “must answer” in relation to attending events and sharing platforms with groups such as the Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR) campaign and Palestinian resistance group Hamas.

Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard — also a Daily Express columnist — told Channel 4 News: “I think there is a deep sense of foreboding in the Jewish community about some of the people Jeremy Corbyn associates with.

“I’m not accusing him of being an anti-semite. What we want to know is answers to the question ‘why have you associated yourself with some of these people?’”

Self-confessed Holocaust denier Paul Eisen and cleric Raed Salah — who was jailed for accusing Jews of using children’s blood to make bread — founded DYR.
Mr Corbyn told Channel 4 that he once made a donation around 15 years ago for the village of Deir Yassin — where zionist paramilitaries murdered at least 600 Palestinian people — but said claims that he “put his chequebook on the table” and supports the founders are wrong.

In Monday’s interview C4 hack Cathy Newman badgered the Islington North MP by repeatedly asking questions he had already answered.

He warned her against “putting an awful lot of words into [his] mouth” after she kept asking him whether it was a “misjudgement” to throw money in a collection bucket — despite him having made it clear that there was no evidence the founders were anti-semitic at the time.

He told Ms Newman: “I have no contact whatsoever now with Paul Eisen and DYR. I did attend a number of events concerning DYR some years ago.
“The only donation, if I made any, would have been in the collecting bucket when it went around the room.”

He went on to say: “Holocaust denial is vile and wrong. We have a duty to oppose racism wherever it raises its head, in whatever form.”

Ms Newman — who was exposed for misleading her Twitter followers with claims of being “ushered out” of a mosque earlier this year — was criticised on social media for her interviewing style.

People called for Channel 4 to dismiss her for attempting to “manipulate” viewers during the “attacking interrogation.”

On Your Unsuitability for High Office

On Your Unsuitability for High Office

“you loved me as a loser, but now you’re worried that I just might win”,
Leonard Cohen           

for J.C.

The minute they realise
you might succeed in changing
more than the occasional
light bulb in the new
old community centre,
where the anti-apartheid
meetings used to happen;

the late Lord Lambton
climbs out from between
two prostitutes and into
the next available issue
of the Daily Express
to urge votes for anyone
but you; Earl Haig

gets up from his grave
to bang the table and tell us
you’ve not successfully
organised enough death
to properly understand
Britain’s defence needs
in the twenty first century.

The Telegraph mutters
into its whiskers about your lack
of experience – how you never once
so much as successfully destroyed a bank;
as former comedians gather
in darkest Norwich and Lincolnshire
to speak of your beige zip-up jackets.

LBC Radio exclusively reveals your plan
to give each failed asylum seeker,
and anyone who’s ever
taken an axe to a child,
their own seat in
the House of Lords;
the same day, The Spectator
gives retired General
Franco space to expose your
long term associations
with known vegetarians
and Mexican importers
of fair trade coffee.

While on Radio Four’s Women’s Hour
the former editor of the News of The World
and Dame Myra Hindley agree:
the last thing this country needs
right now is you.



Exposing the Corporate Hypocrites

20150807_100728A key concept in modern marketing is that of Brand Promise: the commitments made by a company that seek to align it to the expectations and preferences of its target market, to provide competitive advantage.

In particular, some companies seek to position themselves as “ethical”, whether in relation to avoiding controversial business sectors, such as guns, tobacco and alcohol; or by making commitments to avoid exploitative abuse of workers, either their own direct employees or in their supply chain.

Of course, any employer should be congratulated and encouraged in treating its employees with fairness and respect, and in ensuring that similar fairness and respect is observed in its supply chain. However, all too often we see the phenomenon of companies masquerading as ethical, while actually tolerating exploitation and abuse of workers, either by its own managers or by its contractors and sub-contractors.

In my personal experience one of the worst at pretending to be angels while actually behaving like sharks is Marks and Spencer. GMB has issued an open letter to M&S CEO, Mark Bolland over the issue, and we await his response. A recent BBC Radio Four  programme (17 minutes 40 seconds in) exposed the abuse of the so-called Swedish Derogation at M&S’s Distribution Centre in Swindon. This legal loophole allows employers to avoid their obligation under the Agency Worker Regulations (AWR) to give equal pay to agency staff. The legislation derives from the EU, and member states have legally binding treaty obligations not to allow avoidance techniques, and Britain’s implementation of the AWR is already subject to a formal complaint to the EU commission that it promotes such avoidance. As such, no genuinely ethical employer would push down costs in their supply chain by contracting out their distribution chain to companies who exploit agency workers through use of such a contested loophole. Yet that is exactly what M&S do in the UK, and GMB is currently assisting 240 members in taking cases through Employment Tribunals, all of whom work in M&S’s supply chain.

Another particularly pernicious example of a company hypocritically claiming to be an ethical employer, while actually acting in an exploitative manner is the Nationwide Building Society, and GMB recently staged what will be the first of many protests outside Nationwide high street branches.

The Living Wage campaign admirably seeks to ensure that employers pay a sufficiently high wage to allow their workers to live in dignity, which is calculated to be £7.85 per hour outside London. Nationwide Building Society advertises itself proudly as one of the Principle Partners of the Living Wage Foundation. Yet cleaners and security staff at Nationwide, who work for Carillion, have been refused the living wage, as Nationwide declines to provide the necessary uplift to the contract to allow their contractors to pay the living wage. In fact, these workers are paid little more than the national minimum wage of just £6.50 per hour.

Stephen Uden, Nationwide’s Head of Corporate Citizenship, who cut his teeth at Microsoft, wrote in 2014 “In lots of companies there are these almost invisible staff who serve you a coffee in the morning or the cleaner I see when I get into the office at 7am. And it is those people that work for Nationwide that we feel should be appropriately rewarded whether they are directly working for us or not.

Let us be clear: Nationwide is accredited as a Living Wage company, but does not in fact pay the Living wage to those who do not directly work for it. They advertise themselves as a Living Wage employer, and consumers would therefore be misled into thinking that Nationwide has no employees – direct or indirect – earning less than the Living Wage.

Nationwide makes a weasel argument that in the small print of the Living Wage Foundation code of practice, employers have three years to introduce the living wage for contractors after signing up for it. Nationwide follow the letter of these rules and  yet act completely outside the spirit, because they could afford to pay the living wage to contractors, and yet they simply choose not to. (It is also worth questioning the “ethical” stance of Nationwide in even employing Carillion as a contractor, who are a company who have been up to their necks in the scandal of unlawful blacklisting)

Surely the Living Wage Foundation should not allow any employer to misleadingly claim to be a Living Wage employer until they actually are paying the Living Wage? Surely consumers would be surprised that an employer can proudly advertise that it is a Living Wage employer, and pontificate about the plight of “invisible” workers, while still choosing not to pay those same workers the Living Wage for a whole three years?  In fact declaring themselves to be a Living Wage employer, but not extending that to contractors, was arguably a largely empty gesture by Nationwide, as I am informed that the overwhelming majority of their directly employed staff were already paid that amount, or more.

This also raises the question of what role trade unions should play in bodies that support companies in claiming ethical credentials. For example, Marks and Spencer subscribes to the Ethical Trading Initiative, which also includes international trade union bodies, and at this year’s GMB Congress I successfully moved a motion that GMB would seek – through its own international affiliates – to challenge the possible misuse of companies like M&S of so-called ethical endoresments to provide a rubber stamp, while their actual activities may be questionable.

The TUC also sits on the Living Wage Foundation advisory council, alongside Stephen Uden of Nationwide. While it is important that trade unions encourage companies who seek to act ethically, trade unions also need to ensure that we are not co-opted into what becomes a whitewash industry, and that means that we need to be prepared to act independently and call out hypocritical employers.

Corbyn is the antidote to Scottish independence

scotland_2715100bScotland has been the glaring and conspicuous omission in the predictions of doom and disaster being offered by a parade of New Labour voices in the event that Jeremy Corbyn ‘dares’ win the Labour leadership election. In fact so glaring is this omission you would think that Scotland had vanished from the map.

The reason Scotland has been so conspicuously absent from the shared analysis of doom being proffered is of course because Labour’s dire predicament north of the border utterly refutes it.

For it is in Scotland, specifically in former Labour heartlands, that the appellation Red Tories is now firmly attached to the party and its members and supporters. From once holding a position north of the border so dominant it was said that Labour’s vote was weighed rather than counted, it is now a brave Labour canvasser who dares chap a door in a typically Scottish working class community, knowing they are more likely to receive verbal abuse than a smile.

And little wonder, as Labour in Scotland is currently a pale shadow of the party it was, a consequence of Blair and his New Labour project driving a stake through the heart of its founding principles in an abject surrender to Thatcherite free market nostrums. Welfare reform, PFI, a minimum wage which became entrenched as a de facto maximum wage, deregulation of the banks, failure to deal with the housing crisis, and crippling inequality – this is New Labour’s legacy in Scotland, and this is without even mentioning Iraq.

The consequence in 2014 was a referendum on independence that came perilously close to ending the union, followed by a general election in May of this year that saw Labour decimated, leaving them with just one MP at Westminster where just five years earlier they had 41. With the SNP taking 56 out of Scotland’s total of 59 constituency seats, the over-used word ‘historic’ not only applied to Labour’s decline in fortunes and the SNP’s corresponding surge in support, it was an understatement.

Ed Miliband found himself caught between two competing nationalisms as a result of the Tories’ successful ploy of whipping up fear in England of Sturgeon and the SNP pulling the strings at Westminster in the event of a Labour minority government coming to pass.

A rise in English nationalist sentiment followed, benefiting the Tories and also UKIP, both of whom took votes from Labour south of the border. This is why the idea that Labour’s defeat under Miliband was due to it being too left wing is completely fallacious.

On the contrary in ceding ground to the Tories on the causes of the financial crash, Ed Miliband found himself struggling to combat their attacks on Labour’s economic record, forced to emphasise the importance of bringing down the deficit via cuts, albeit less draconian than those of his opponent, while to his left he came under pressure to resist the rise in support in Scotland for the SNP with their astute positioning on anti austerity, forcing him here to emphasise more progressive policies on tax, investment, and wealth redistribution.

A mixed message and the lack of a clear and convincing direction of travel was the result, leaving Labour mired in the worst of both worlds with the disastrous denoument there for all to see.

Jim Murphy’s leadership of Scottish Labour was an additional factor in its demise. The party had already made the terrible decision to join with the Tories in the Better Together campaign against independence and afterwards desperately needed a leader who could restore a semblance of credibility among thousands of former Labour supporters who had voted Yes in order to break from Westminster.

That leader was not Jim Murphy, who at once embarked on a woeful rebranding of Scottish Labour as Scottish first and Labour second, completely or conveniently misreading the support for independence as a resurgence of Scottish nationalism as an end in itself rather than a means to an end.

This is where Jeremy Corbyn comes in. He is real Labour in the 21st century, leading a movement committed to shifting the priority of the party and a future Labour government away from the rich, big business, and the City of London over to the needs of ordinary working people, those who’ve been forced to pay the price of an economic crisis caused by the greed and excess of the banks and financial sector and not by the spending of the last Labour government on welfare and public services.

Corbyn also calls for the scrapping of Trident, with the billions saved to be spent on investment in manufacturing, housing, and improving public services. In addition he advocates an end to the scourge of poverty pay, foodbanks, and an exploitative private rental housing market. And he stands for a foreign policy underpinned by diplomacy and the universal application of international law rather than might is right.

In so doing he will reverse the trend of separating working people across the UK on the basis of nationality and instead unite them on the basis of class, making a Labour Party led by him the antidote to Scottish independence.

Socialism or barbarism. Too many people and communities across the UK already know what barbarism looks like. Given the growing and unstoppable momentum of Corbyn’s campaign, they are more than ready for a little socialism.