Public Meeting on Ukrainian crisis

What's behind the crisis?

6.30pm, Tuesday 15 April
The Wesley Hotel, Euston Street, London NW1 2EZ

The crisis in the Ukraine continues, with tensions between the big powers growing day by day. There are several factors militating against war in the immediate future, including Russia’s nuclear arsenal and trade links with EU countries. But as the establishment think-tank Stratfor has argued, it would be naive to rule out a conflagration.

Already NATO air drills are taking place over the Baltics, and the UK and US are sending extra jets to patrol the skies. Poland has requested 10,000 NATO troops to be stationed on its territory and MPs in Kiev have voted to hold joint military exercises with NATO. In the medium to long term, NATO is looking at establishing permanent military bases in Ukraine.


Swindon Borough Council adopts tough anti-blacklisting stance

Moved and seconded by Labour, passed with Conservative support last Thursday:

Swindon Motion – Opposition to Companies that Operate Blacklists

“That Swindon Council deplores the illegal practice of blacklisting and requests that the Lead Cabinet Member and Officers seek a way to ensure that any company tendering for construction and civil engineering contracts to be awarded by Swindon Council will be asked to provide information that they have not conducted any “grave misconduct” by way of blacklisting. This will include questions in relation to:
1. Membership of the Consulting Association.
2. Employment of individuals who were named contacts for The Consulting Association.”

This follows the successful motion passed through Wiltshire:

‘That Wiltshire Council deplores the illegal practice of “Blacklisting” within the Construction& Civil Engineering Industry and will ensure that any company tendering for Construction & Civil Engineering contracts by Wiltshire Council will be asked to provide information that they have not conducted any “grave misconduct” by way of blacklisting. This will include questions in relation to;

1. Membership of The Consulting Association.
2. Employment of individuals who were named contacts for The Consulting Association.
3. Identifying the steps taken to remedy blacklisting for affected workers.
4. Identifying the steps taken to ensure blacklisting will not happen again’.

Chippenham radical history

jeremy corbyn in chippenham

Jeremy Corbyn MP, originally from Chippenham, pictured on Saturday with Andy Newman and Pete Baldrey, the Labour parliamentary candidates for Chippenham and North Wiltshire constituencies.

Saturday’s radical history event in Chippenham, organised by the White Horse Trades Council was a spectacular success, with around 100 people attending to hear talks about Dame Florence Hancock, (the leader of the 1913 Nestles strike in the town, and later a woman organiser for the Workers Union, and later the TGWU, before becomming president of the TUC), about Angela Gradwell-Tuckett, (an indefatigable Communist, who was also one of the country’ first women solicitors, a folk singer and concertina player, and who played hockey for England, famously refusing to give a Nazi salute in 1935 at an international match in Berlin, and who later settled in Swindon).

Jeremy Corbyn spoke powerfully about his parents and childhood in Chippenham, and about his lifelong desire for social justice. Other talks were given on the role of hangings and the gibbet in Hanoverian Wiltshire, and about West Country rebels.

The speakers alongside Jeremy Corbyn were Melissa Bartlett from Chippenham Museum, Rosie MacGregor, chair of the South West TUC, Nigel Costley, Regional Secretary of the SW TUC, and Steve Poole from the University of the West of England. The mixture of professional academicians, trade unionists, politicians, and local historians proved as potent as the earlier event organised in Bradford on Avon in 2011; not only drawing in diverse audiences, but also fusing contemporary political debate with a sense of history and geographical content.

The organisers will be arranging a third event probably in Melksham in the future.

Venezuela: coup attempt foiled

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro announced yesterday that three generals of the Venezuelan Air Force have been arrested, after they were denounced by lower-ranking officials for their involvement in alleged coup plans. “Last night we captured three Air Force generals that we had been investigating thanks to the powerful moral force of our National Bolivarian Armed Forces: three generals that aimed to rise the Air Force against the legitimately constituted government,” he said. Maduro argued that those arrested “have direct links with the opposition, and said that this week was decisive”.

According to the president, the alleged coup plot involves creating “psychological” chaos through attacking electricity and other services, and then striking against the government. The three generals are now under custody and will face an investigation.

The announcement was made on the same day that foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) arrive in the country to support dialogue efforts between the government and opposition.
Venezuela has been subject to a wave of opposition protests, riots and roadblocks since early February. The violence has left 35 dead, including National Guard officers, opposition activists and government supporters. Several hard-line opposition leaders openly call for the government’s resignation.

In his speech Maduro asked the country and UNASUR to support the Truth Commission established by the National Assembly last week to investigate the recent acts of violence. Opposition parliamentarians have not yet decided if they will participate in the commission, which would have five pro-government and four opposition legislators as members.

It remains to be seen whether the presence of UNASUR ministers will encourage the opposition to join peace talks, which have been underway between the government and business, religious, and a few moderate opposition politicians since last month. So far the majority of the opposition leadership has refused to dialogue, stating that political concessions, or “conditions”, must be satisfied first.

“We hope that in its 48 hour visit the UNASUR commission can reach conclusions that help Venezuela strengthen the climate of peace and defend democracy even more, and likewise to collaborate with the people so that they can consolidate all mechanisms of social and political dialogue,” Maduro stated.

* Text based on an original article by Correo del Orinoco, translated and edited by Venezuelanalysis.com. Additional information added by VA.com.

The break-up of Yugoslavia

Fifteen years ago NATO launched an air war against the remaining territory of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia without either the approval of the UN Security Council or any basis in international law. Nineteen NATO member states were involved in a bombing campaign lasting 78 days. The Serbian Government estimated that 2,500 people were killed, with around 12,500 injured, while Serbia’s infrastructure was decimated after schools, hospitals, airports, bridges, and other civilian targets were attacked from the air by F17 and F16 military aircraft and from the sea with cruise missiles.

The war was launched in response to Serbia’s refusal to allow foreign troops on its territory on the basis of a decision taken at the Rambouillet Peace Conference in Paris prior to the bombing campaign in 1999. The conference had been organised to resolve the conflict between Serbia and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which led to the secession of Kosovo from Serbia and its eventual establishment as an independent state in 2008.

To understand the West’s role in this conflict, the most brutal in Europe since the Second World War, it is important to understand something of the history of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and why its destruction was so important to the Western powers.

The six Balkan republics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia were brought together after the Second World War in 1945 to form the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito, a Croat who led the communist partisans against the Nazi occupation of the Balkans and the old monarchist kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Between 1960 and 1980 Yugoslavia enjoyed a period of sustained economic growth that funded its commitment to social and economic justice. Free health care and education was provided as a right for all its citiziens regardless of ethnicity, as was the right to work, a living wage, affordable housing and utilities, while most of its economy came under state ownership.

As a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement of nations that refused to be subsumed into either the Soviet or Western blocs during the cold war, Yugoslavia had influence and prestige on the international stage.Tito was an astute and a respected leader committed to the principle of self determination and to the forging of alliances with the world’s developing nations for mutual advancement.

Yet despite Tito’s refusal to be subsumed into the Soviet bloc, Yugoslavia remained safe from capitalist penetration while the Soviet Union existed as a countervailing force to US-led imperialism. As soon as the Soviet Union collapsed, however, this protective cloak was removed and the die was cast.

Fuelling the economic growth enjoyed by Yugoslavia during the ’60s and ’70s was its decision to borrow heavily from the West in order to invest in industry and the production of both export and consumer goods. This proved a disastrous course, as it rendered Yugoslavia’s economy vulnerable to the fluctuations of global markets. As a result of the world recession of the 1970s, export markets contracted with the result that Yugoslavia’s export production dried up along with its ability to service its debts. In response the IMF demanded a restructuring of Yugoslavia’s economy to prioritise debt repayment. Stuck between the hammer of indebtedness and the anvil of continued borrowing in order to subsidise its commitment to the provision of education, health care, housing and social security for its citizens, by the late 1980s, the Yugoslav economy was in free fall.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, central banks moved in at the behest of policy-makers in Washington, London and Bonn. Determined to break up the last socialist country in Europe, they threatened to institute an economic blockade unless the Yugoslav government agreed to hold separate elections in each of its six republics. The passing of the US Foreign Operations Appropriations law 101-513 in 1991 contained a section relating specifically to Yugoslavia, stipulating that all loans, aid and credits would be cut off within six months unless elections were held.

Given the extent of US control over the IMF and the World Bank, this legislation was a de facto death sentence for the Yugoslav federal republic.

The most devastating provision of the law stipulated that only the forces within Yugoslavia deemed democratic by Washington would now receive loans from the US. Various right-wing factions in each of the six republics benefited directly from this provision and became the recipients of US largesse. It was a measure designed to bring to the fore and exacerbate differences along ethnic lines throughout the six republics that made up Yugoslavia and, in a climate of economic hardship, it was a measure which proved successful.

Germany recognised the secession of Croatia in 1991. Civil war ensued. It lasted for the next eight years until a three-month NATO campaign of air strikes against the recalcitrant Serbs, who’d refused from the outset to toe the line and acquiesce in the break-up of the federal republic, brought it to an end.

Led by Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian people were demonised for their refusal to bend the knee, with accusations of genocide and Nazi-like atrocities being levelled against their military forces and against their government. It should be noted that during the Second World War more Serbs were killed per capita than any other nationality fighting the Nazis.

After the war ended, Milosevic was arrested and charged with war crimes and genocide. As in any war, and certainly in fratricidal civil wars, atrocities are committed by all sides involved. Certainly, Serbian military forces did commit war crimes, most notably with thesiege of Sarajevo and the massacre of Srebrenica in 1995, and it was right that those responsible were held to account. However the Serbian people found themselves on the losing side and as such at the sharp end of victors’ justice relative to the justice received by various other factions and military forces involved in the fighting, particulary the KLA.

During Milosevic’s trial in The Hague evidence of genocide against his government was never produced. This was despite the scouring of the countryside and towns and villages by international investigators searching for evidence in the form of mass graves and witnesses willing and able to corroborate such allegations. In fact, before his premature death, which remains shrouded in mystery, Milosevic had managed to turn proceedings in the International Criminal Court into a trial of his accusers, successfully exposing their role and culpability in the break-up of his country.

As for the former Yugoslavia, with its collapse came the inevitable shock therapy in the form of the privatisation of public services, utilities and state-run industries and, like a pack of rabid dogs feasting on a carcass, the arrival of global corporations. As night follows day, this resulted in severe economic hardship and the scourge of unemployment, which led directly to the dislocation of communities, mass migration to the West and, on the back of all this, the rise of criminal gangs involved in people trafficking, the sex and drugs trades and other illegalities.

Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 completed the process of the break-up of a nation founded as a vision of brotherhood, peace and unity in a region of the world traditionally beset by war and strife.

 

For those not in favour

In Budget week Mark Perryman welcomes a new book that demolishes the Austerity myth.

Against AusterityWhen the Con-Dems ushered in the bright shiny new era of coalition politics with a tripling of student tuition fees the wave of anger this provoked seemed to suggest almost anything opposition-wise was possible. Prominent student leader Clare Solomon described the moment, with co-author Tania Palmieri, in her book Springtime as :

“There is a new anger that melts the snow. All hail the new, young student Decembrists who challenged complacent government and simultaneously fired a few shots across the bows of an opposition and its toadies in the media, all still recovering from a paralytic hangover, a consequence of imbibing too much Nouveau Blair.”

Students occupying the roof of the Tory Party’s Millbank HQ was a glorious spectacle of revolt, occurring on the eve of the Arab Spring, militant resistance in Greece and Spain, the beginnings of Occupy in the USA. We really did seem to be on the edge of a movement for change.
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