Malaysian passenger aircraft tragedy shouldn’t blind us to where responsibility lies for prolonging the Ukrainian conflict

The downing of a Malaysian passenger aircraft over eastern Ukraine is a terrible tragedy. Almost 300 people have been killed in the most awful circumstances and though it is self evident that a full and thorough investigation must follow to find out what happened, its conclusions will be scant comfort to the families and loved ones of those who perished.

That said, the mind boggles that a civilian passenger aircraft should be flying anywhere near a war zone, especially one in which fighter jets, military aircraft, and military transport aircraft are playing such a key role in hostilities.

The alacrity with which Washington and its allies have sought to exploit this tragedy to attack Russia is as unedifying as it’s despicable. Whoever was responsible for downing the Malaysian passenger jet, it was clearly an accident. Moreover, the underlying causes of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, despite efforts to argue otherwise, is the toppling of the last legitimate democratically elected Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovich by an armed mob in Kiev in February, in which avowed fascists and neo-Nazis played a key role. Those fascists now occupy ministerial offices in the regime led by Petro Poroshenko and are prevalent in the violence that has been visited on the people in the east of the country, who have risen up in resistance to Kiev and its sponsors in the West.

The need for a political solution to the conflict is beyond dispute, and has been for some time now. The Russian government has been calling for a de-escalation in hostilities since the ill fated Geneva peace conference back in April, and has shown remarkable restraint in holding back from mounting a military intervention in response to the Poroshenko regime’s brutal military assault on Ukrainian citizens across its western border with tanks, artillery, fighter jets, and attack helicopters.

Let’s be clear: if Russia decided to deploy its military forces against those of Kiev it would crush them in a matter of hours. Sadly, though, when it comes to the US and its allies restraint when it comes to war and conflict is anathema. Indeed, the very word has been stricken from the dictionary where they are concerned. Consequently, Russia’s restraint has been taken for weakness, evidenced in a ramping up of the conflict since Poroshenko’s election as President of western Ukraine in May.

The recent signing of an association agreement between the EU and the regime in Kiev has brought the EU into disrepute. Just think about this for a moment: the EU has entered a state into its ranks which is bathed in the blood of its own citizens.

The pressure being brought to bear against Russia, exploiting this tragedy as a pretext, shouldn’t blind anyone as to the role of the West in fomenting and prolonging the ongoing military conflict for its own geopolitical interests. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Palestine – their crimes would shame all the devils in hell.

Only when Washington and its allies understand that their days of uncontested hegemony and unipolarity are over will there be a chance for a new global framework in which respect for national sovereignty and international law is returned to prominence and upheld as the non negotiable arbiter of international affairs and foreign policy. The alternative is more conflict and more of the chaos we are witnessing today.

 

 

 

 

The proposed ceasefire offered the Palestinians of Gaza nothing

Gaza demo, London, July 19 2014Many people are under the misconception that Hamas turned down the offer of “peace” by rejecting the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, influenced by the Middle East peace envoy himself – Tony Blair. It is therefore vital to understand why this so-called ceasefire is bogus

  • The Sisi-led junta in Egypt has been murdering, imprisoning and torturing Hamas’s political allies. They are no friends of Hamas. They have, however, been in discussions with Israel over military co-operation. Hamas has no reason to trust Egypt.
  • Egypt did not even contact Hamas before announcing the ceasefire offer. It wasn’t a serious offer. If you were in dispute with someone, and someone else simply announced to the world “I want them to both stop fighting, and I’m not going to even discuss it with them”, you wouldn’t take them seriously.
  • A ceasefire is not some magical potion. Israel routinely and regularly breaks ceasefires. One thing the Palestinians are good at is meticulously documenting Israeli attacks. All this time when you hear about rockets from Gaza, the documented truth is that Israel has drones in the sky firing missiles at people it doesn’t like. This goes back decades. The invasion of Lebanon by Israel in 1982 happened because the PLO adhered to the ceasefire and Israel created pretexts for breaking it.
  • What would this proposed ceasefire mean in practice? It would mean the existing air attacks by Israel would stop. But in the few weeks before it started, Israel was still shooting Palestinian children, Gaza fishermen etc. Israel has just arrested 6,000 Palestinians and re-arrested all those who had been freed during previous ceasefires. This is what Israel, the Egyptian government, and Tony Blair expects the people of Gaza to revert to. It would not be a ceasefire under the commonly understood meaning of it. It would be “a slight reduction in how many children Israel kills”. Why would Hamas accept it? Any negotiation, even negotiations while children are being killed, has to be serious. Not just “we’ll agree to anything if you’ll just stop killing us!”
  • It would not provide Hamas any diplomatic room in which to improve a status quo of siege, embargo, and immiseration. The brutal truth is Israel will only stop killing Palestinians with impunity when it is forced to. We are talking here about a state that is already in massive violation of the UN Charter, chemical weapons conventions and the Geneva Conventions.
  • Just a few days ago, Netanyahu announced that Israel has no interest in a ceasefire. That was about 12 hours before Egypt offered it and Israel accepted it. What changed? Did Netanyahu receive assurances from Sisi and Blair that the ceasefire on offer gives Hamas nothing in return but is more an exercise in alleviating the growing international condemnation of Israel’s brutal military assault whilst ending the rockets being fired from Gaza in a pitiful and desperate attempt at resistance?
  • Rather than concoct a bogus ceasefire, why hasn’t the Egyptian government opened the Rafah crossing? Their refusal to do so, except to allow Egyptians and other foreigners to leave Gaza, makes them complicit in Israel’s assault. lf they expect Hamas to take them seriously, they would have opened the Rafah crossing to allow people to escape and the injured to be evacuated by now.
  • THERE WAS ALREADY A CEASEFIRE. Israel is violating it right now. I know enough about Hamas to be able to say with confidence that if Israel offered to adhere to the original ceasefire, Hamas would be willing to talk. What they actually want is a ceasefire that means something, that starts negotiation on prisoner release and on the loosening/ending of the siege – so that medicines can flow in, cement can be imported etc. Israel doesn’t allow these ‘luxuries’, leaving resistance as the only option.
  • Hamas is a social organisation as well as a political one. It has roots in every part of Gaza society. I am not a supporter of Hamas. But Hamas has a better idea of what Israel’s aims and motives are, and what the people of Gaza want it to do to resist them than anybody looking on from the safety and privilege of the West ever could.

The reality is that Egypt wants to carry on crushing the Muslim Brotherhood, which Hamas is a part of. This ceasefire was a diplomatic gift from Egypt to Israel. Israel always intended to carry on attacking Gaza – but they wanted the diplomatic victory which this fraudulent ceasefire gives it.

The ceasefire was and is a lie.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Following the publication of this article, which was mostly speculative analysis based on recent history & experience, Haaretz published an article which pretty much proved what I was saying here.

Let’s make this huge: Demo in support of Gaza, Saturday 19 July, London

Gaza demo, London, July 19 2014On SU we don’t publicise a lot of events – it’s a full-time job to keep track of the amazing array of events in the fight for social justice, against racism, against attacks on the disabled, the elderly, the young, Muslims and so on.

This one’s vital though. The mainstream media is complicit in Israel’s crimes against the people of Gaza, as is the government. The silence is part of Israel’s power. We have almost no power to do anything to stop this, but one thing we can do is take to the streets in huge numbers, to try to break through the wall of silence, to try to shame our government – and to show our sisters and brothers in Gaza that the people of the world are with them.

With that in mind, please, please try to get to this demo. It’s on Saturday, the weather looks like it’ll be amazing. It’s our chance to show our anger at our government, which gives diplomatic and military support to Israel no matter what crimes it commits. William Hague has given full support to Israel. But as we’ve asked, and had no reply to, how many children should the people of Gaza put up with being killed before the British government will make the same statement, declaring that Palestine has the right to defend itself against attack?
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Did Israel really think Hamas would turn the other cheek?

This is another good article by Gideon Levy, locating things the way any honest journalist would: it’s not ‘Israel the victim’, it’s Israel, pushing again and again and again, and Hamas hitting back.

Israelis in Sderot - they watch for explosions in Gaza and cheer when they see and hear them. That's what Israel has becomeFollowing the kidnapping of three teenaged Israelis in the territories and their murders, Israel wildly arrested some 500 Palestinians, including members of parliament and dozens of freed prisoners who had no connection at all to the kidnapping. The army terrorized the entire West Bank with a dragnet and mass arrests, whose declared aim was “to crush Hamas.” A racist campaign raged on the Internet and led to a Palestinian teenager being burned alive. All this followed Israel’s punitive campaign against the effort to establish a Palestinian unity government that the world was prepared to recognize, its violation of its commitment to release prisoners, a halt of the diplomatic process and a refusal to propose any alternate plan or vision.

Did we really think the Palestinians would accept all this submissively, obediently, and calmly, and that peace and quiet would continue to prevail in Israel’s cities?
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Our wretched Jewish state

By Gideon Levy

Haaretz

The youths of the Jewish state are attacking Palestinians in the streets of Jerusalem, just like gentile youths used to attack Jews in the streets of Europe. The Israelis of the Jewish state are rampaging on social networks, displaying hatred and a lust for revenge, unprecedented in its diabolic scope. Some unknown people from the Jewish state, purely based on his ethnicity. These are the children of the nationalistic and racist generation – Netanyahu’s offspring.

For five years now, they have been hearing nothing but incitement, scaremongering and supremacy over Arabs from this generation’s true instructor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Not one humane word, no commiseration or equal treatment.

They grew up with the provocative demand for recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state,” and they drew the inevitable conclusions. Even before any delineation of what a “Jewish state” means – will it be a state that dons tefillin (phylacteries), kisses mezuzot (doorpost fixtures with prayer scrolls), sanctifies charms, closes down on the Sabbath and keeps strict kashrut laws? – the penny has dropped for the masses.

The mob was the first to internalize its true significance: a Jewish state is one in which there is room only for Jews. The fate of Africans is to be sent to the Holot detention center in the Negev, while that of Palestinians is to suffer from pogroms. That’s how it works in a Jewish state: only this way can it be Jewish.

In the Jewish state-in-the-making, there is no room even for an Arab who strives his utmost to be a good Arab, such as the writer Sayed Kashua. In a Jewish state, the chairman of the Knesset plenary session, MK Ruth Calderon (from Yesh Atid – the “center” of the political map, needless to say), cuts off Arab MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al), who has just returned all shaken up from a visit to the family of the murdered Arab boy from Shoafat, impudently preaching to him that he must also refer to the three murdered Jewish teens (even after he did just that).

In a Jewish state, the High Court of Justice approves the demolition of a murder suspect’s family home even before his conviction. A Jewish state legislates racist and nationalist laws.

The media in the Jewish state wallows in the murder of three yeshiva students, while almost entirely ignoring the fates of several Palestinian youths of the same age who have been killed by army fire over the last few months, usually for no reason.

No one was punished for these acts – in the Jewish state there is one law for Jews and another for Arabs, whose lives are cheap. There is no hint of abiding by international laws and conventions. In the Jewish state, there is pity and humane feelings only for Jews, rights only for the Chosen People. The Jewish state is only for Jews.

The new generation growing in its shadow is a dangerous one, both to itself and its surroundings. Netanyahu is its education minister; the militaristic and nationalist media serves as its pedagogic epic poem; the education system that takes it to Auschwitz and Hebron serves as its guide.

The new sabra (native-born Israeli) is a novel species, prickly both on the outside and the inside. He has never met his Palestinian counterpart, but knows everything about him – the sabra knows he is a wild animal, intent only on killing him; that he is a monster, a terrorist.

He knows that Israel has no partner for peace, since this is what he’s heard countless times from Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. From Yair Lapid he’s heard that they are “Zoabis” – referring dismissively to MK Haneen Zoabi (Balad).

Being left wing or a seeker of justice in the Jewish state is deemed a crime, civil society is considered treacherous, true democracy an evil. In a Jewish state – dreamed of not only by the right wing but also by the supposed center-left, including Tzipi Livni and Lapid – democracy is blurred.

It’s not the skinheads that are the Jewish state’s main problem, it’s the sanctimonious eye-rollers, the thugs, the extreme right wing and the settlers. It’s not the margins but the mainstream, which is partly very nationalistic and partly indifferent.

In the Jewish state, there is no remnant of the biblical injunction to treat the minority or the stranger with justice. There are no more Jews left who marched with Martin Luther King or who sat in jail with Nelson Mandela. The Jewish state, which Israel insists the Palestinians recognize, must first recognize itself. At the end of the day, at the end of a terrible week, it seems that a Jewish state means a racist, nationalistic state, meant for Jews only.

What today’s strikes are about

gmb strikersWhile David Cameron bleets about the alleged lack of a mandate for today’s strike, it should be remembered that the turnout in strike ballots would be a lot higher if the current legal requirements were sensibly adapted to allow, for example, workplace balloting, and internet and phone voting. In any event GMB members voted 3:1 in favour of industrial action in response to the local government employers derisory pay offer of 1%, which is a convincing mandate for industrial action, and my experience as a GMB branch secretary is that in schools particularly there is a strong appetite for action and school support staff have been joining GMB specifially in order to take part.

The first stage of this action will be a 24 hour strike on Thursday 10th July, and this will be only the opening salvo n a long campaign unless the employer and the government enter meaningful negotiations.

Up to the last minute the joint trade unions have sought meaningful discussions with the government, the employers response has been at best bizarre as they criticise the unions for seeking talks to avert strike action:

The unions have also offered to go to arbitration at ACAS which has also been rejected by the government. Trade union members therefore have no option but to take strike action.

The pay offer is for a 1% increase for the majority of local government workers with some larger increases (up to 4%) at the lower end of the pay scales – where members are barely above the minimum wage. This still does not bring these members pay up to the living wage. These members have had a total of a 1% pay rise since 2010. Not only do over half a million people in local government earn less than the Living Wage (£7.65, or £8.80 in London), but during 2015 the national minimum wage is set to overtake the lowest local government pay scales

A decent pay rise is necessary for these hard working, caring workers because a 1% payrise is inadequate when RPI inflation is running at 2.5% this year. RPI is the most important measure of inflation for pay settlements. Set against inflation, and taking increased pensions contributions into account, local-government pay has been cut in real terms by 18% since 2010.

The employers say they are holding down pay to save jobs and services. But pay has been held down for years, and jobs and services have still disappeared! Almost half a million jobs have been lost in the sector since the coalition came to power.

Public services under attack – international austerity and the fight-back

Speaking to the Global Labour Institute’s 2014 International Summer School Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International, gave an account of the struggles public service workers are facing. This article draws on her speech to delegates in Tuesday’s opening plenary.

Public service jobs used to be considered the gold standard in much of the world. Well paid, good pension, decent holidays and solid trade union rights. In an era of neoliberalism however, these previously ‘most formal of formal workers’ are facing the kinds of attacks previously only associated with the most ruthless companies.

International Struggles

There’s an ideological background to this. Labour market and union ‘reform’ has been factor in almost all post-crash countries. In South Korea, the government has recently initiated the most violent attack on public services – derecognising unions in each sector. Privatisation of the rail industry and the mass firing of union activists have turned the country into what one delegate called ‘a war zone’ for workers.

Public Services International, the Global Union Federation for public service workers, is used to privatisation battles – organising in industries which are often publicly funded and subsidised, but increasingly privately owned.

In the US, the Supreme Court last week ruled that there’s no obligation for care workers to pay union dues to unions collectively bargaining for them. These workers often work alone. They are now even more isolated – especially if their unions become toothless in the face of the court decision.

And internationally, at the last ILO conference, for first time delegates couldn’t reach a conclusion on the centrality of the right to strike – despite convention 87 of the ILO convention deeming it fundamental – because employers were so strongly against. It’s a frightening turn for workers of all sectors, as that is one of the only legal bases unions have on the global scale.

But there is some good news. The UN Women’s organisation recently recognised the role of unions as key to addressing the problems of women.

Moreover, until recently trade unions were previously not allowed to participate in UN discussions on migration. Now, after years of struggling from PSI and others, they can. With migration becoming a vehicle for new kinds of slavery, it’s an important milestone.

For public service workers, the water campaigns in the UN are equally important. In 2010, water was deemed a human right, providing the legal background for the massive 2013 struggles in Europe for water to be publicly owned – many of which won, in Paris and elsewhere.

And in the IMF, Christine Lagarde has recently said austerity is creating more injustice and poses a threat to democracy.

A turning point?

The ruling class, then, is getting scared. We are at critical point of class conflict. In response to a global ruling class, unions must likewise organise internationally, not just in one workplace. The welfare state wasn’t won in one shop floor but by the entire working class.

Multinational capital has a strategy. Unions can’t afford to navel-gaze. Whether in care homes, railway stations or outsourced water plants, public service workers in today’s climate of privatisation, cuts and union-busting know this better than ever.

Josiah Mortimer is reporting on the Global Labour Institute’s third International Summer School for trade unionists at Northern College this week. You can follow all of the conference online on the GLI site, through Union Solidarity International, and on Twitter, using the hashtag #ISS14. This article draws on the plenary ‘The Fall & Rise of Labour?’

How workers can win

There’s a question every trade unionist must stop and ask at some point: what am I organising for? For Kirill Buketov, international campaign officer of the International Union of Food and Allied Workers (IUF), the central driver behind is fundamentally that ‘we are dissatisfied with the way the world is run.’ Putting this into positive action means being political – and possessing a few vital qualities.

Buketov raises some examples. In Moscow under the Soviet Union ‘what really shook the system is when workers went on strike.’ But to be successful took organisation and leadership. At first, workers struck without any idea what they wanted – state officials simply sent them back to work until they had some demands. It was only when they had a strategy that change began. In contrast, the Occupy movement was unsustainable and didn’t last because it lacked organisation.

For Buketov, every conflict is at root the same – ‘you need organisation, strategy and commitment to win – to fight until the very end’. He points also to the Kazakhstani oil workers’ struggle in 2011 when 26,000 workers walked out for six months. It was brutally crushed and achieved nothing.

Why? They decided not to have organisation, changing their negotiators every time. There was no strategy or organisation.
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