Syriza fights for all of us

Already, after just two weeks in office, the Syriza-led coalition government in Greece has put every other government in the EU to shame.

Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis, the country’s new Prime Minister and Finance Minister respectively, have reaffirmed our faith in politics as a way to transform and improve people’s lives – specifically the lives of those crying out for transformation and improvement. For far too long we have been accustomed to politicians as machine-men devoted to upholding a status quo of gross inequality and the interests of the rich over those of the poor and ordinary working people.

In the UK we are into the fifth year of a coalition government that has extended itself in crushing the lives of the least well off beneath the wheels of the juggernaut of austerity. In the same period the rich have seen their wealth increase, the banks continue to operate as before, and all is well in Toryshire.

In Greece this assault on the poor and working people has been even more extreme, threatening the very fabric of society, unleashing the ugly recrudescence of fascism in the shape of Golden Dawn, a party with a penchant for demonising and attacking immigrants and people with skin darker than their own. Does this ring any bells?

Syriza’s historic election victory came as a last gasp of hope in a valley of despair, the voice of a proud and ancient people summoning the collective will to defy the forces unleashed against them in the name of fiscal responsibility. A spirit and soul-crushing attack on the very foundations of a civilised society, which had been criminalised by the powerful in service to an ideology that holds human beings as the means to the end rather than the end in itself, had been rejected. The question now became: who rules Greece? Is it the people through the ballot box or the Troika?

The evidence of the disaster unfolding as a consequence of the terms attached to a bailout package to meet Greece’s crippling debt is irrefutable. Its economy contracted by 25% in 2014 alone, resulting in a spike in unemployment, homelessness, and poverty. Greece’s healthcare budget was decimated, the impact measured in an increase in infant mortality, untreated infections, and suicide.

No matter, the Troika of the IMF, European Commission, and the European Central Bank had tried and convicted Greece and its people in the court of high finance and neoliberal orthodoxy, and only the most egregious and exemplary punishment would do. The description of this punishment as “fiscal waterboarding” by Yanis Varoufakis was witheringly accurate.

The scenes of joy and jubilation that met Syriza’s recent election victory in Greece were consistent with a country and society that had just been liberated from an occupation. A seminal moment in Greece’s long history had arrived, with hope replacing despair and optimism in place of the oppression that had reduced life for millions to a struggle for survival.

The media followed Yanis Varoufakis as he toured European capitals economy-class in the immediate aftermath of his appointment as finance minister. His objective was simple: cooperation, compassion, solidarity, and common sense. Dressed in leather jacket and open-neck shirt rather than the contrived stiff suits of his counterparts, Mr Varoufakis epitomised someone come to do battle and fight in the interests of the common man.

The short shrift he received was entirely predictable. However in the process he succeeded in drawing a clear ideological line between the haves and have nots, the one percent and the ninety nine percent. Since the economic crisis crashed on top of our heads seven years ago, this line had been increasingly blurred as political parties and voices emerged which diverted attention away from the one percent, inequality and the concentration of wealth and power as the locus of the problem, turning our guns instead against immigrants and immigration.

Alexis Tsipras and the newly installed government he leads will back down, commentators predicted. And it was hard to argue, given the commitment made to servicing the debt and to remaining within the EU and the Eurozone, despite the fact the political capital allowing him to default and withdraw from both the aforementioned was his.

But, no, it seemed Mr Tsipras had only boxed himself in, as his attempt to gain respite and a restructuring of the debt was rebuffed. Worse, it was followed by a move by the ECB to tighten the screws with the decision to cancel the facility allowing Athens to use government debt as loan collateral, thus opening the door to a run on Greek banks.

But so far the Greek government is holding fast. Alexis Tsipras has pledged to raise the minimum wage, re-employ public sector workers, maintain the current retirement age, and various other reforms with the objective of reintroducing aggregate demand into the economy.

The defiance demonstrated by Tsipras and Varoufakis in face of huge pressure to back down is a breath of fresh air. Their message that it doesn’t have to be this way, that there is an alternative, is not meant per se for the ears of Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, or David Cameron. It is meant for the masses, not only in Greece but also throughout Europe and the Eurozone, in response to an economic crisis that has morphed into a humanitarian crisis.

A struggle is now underway for the future not only of Greece but every country in Europe currently labouring under the iron heel of austerity and austerity governments and parties.

What happens in Greece does not stay in Greece. Syriza fights for all of us and we must fight for them.

Prince Charles: British-Saudi venality and hypocrisy

By Nu’man Abd al-Wahid

Churchill’s Karma

Before flying out to pay his last respects to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the last time Prince Charles jetted out to the Kingdom was on Tuesday, 18th November, 2014 to bring a ceremonial end to a long running business saga by literally dancing to the tune of the Saudi-Wahhabi clan. The first in line to the British crown, dressed in the traditional military regalia of the Saudi nepotistic despots, helped to seal yet another military deal which will burnish the bottom line of Europe’s largest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems. The price for 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets was finally agreed to by the Saudi clan.

The deal, aptly and Orwellianly named “Salam” (i.e. Peace), is worth £4.5 billion (equivalent to roughly $7.1 billion) and according to a report in the Times of London, is part of the notorious and corrupt £40 billion “Yamamah” (i.e. Dove) deal.

Furthermore, the hundreds of millions of pounds newly “wringed” from the Saudi clan will underpin thousands of jobs in the North West of England “and around the British defence supply chain” added the Times.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), an organisation which monitors the arms industry, claimed that the United Kingdom sells more weapons to the Saudis than any other country in the world. On the day of the Prince’s arrival to Saudi Arabia, a CAAT spokesman urged him to “disassociate” himself from the “despotic regime” so as not to confer legitimacy on it. They also urged Charles to raise the issue of human rights abuses in the Kingdom.

The following day, CAAT was more forthright and condemned Prince Charles for securing the Typhoon deal with the ruling clan. The spokesman once again reiterated the organisation’s contention that the deal primarily lends “legitimacy” to the Saudi repressive regime.

On the other hand, an analyst at the investment bank, RBC Capital claimed that with “Salam cash coming in, this should give BAE more flexibility for cash deployment moving forward.”

From Saudi Arabia, the Prince travelled to the only other Wahhabi kingdom in the region, its neighbor Qatar, where there are currently military bids on the table for (coincidentally!) 72 fighter jets. One of the bidders is surprise, surprise, BAE Systems — but amazingly Prince Charles seems to only have had time for his favourite hobby horse, global environmental degradation. Naturally he commended the work done by Qataris in addressing the environmental challenges faced by the principality then merrily flew back to Blighty.

It is all very well for CAAT to argue the UK and its wondrous Prince Charming are conferring and bestowing “legitimacy” on the Saudis, but if it wasn’t for the Saudis and the other Arabian despots of the Persian Gulf who else would be purchasing arms from BAE Systems or for that matter bankrolling the British economy?

In the past decade, Saudi Arabia and the Arab statelets (i.e. Kuwait, UAE, Qatar) — created by British Imperialism during the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the late nineteenth century — have been pumping billions into the British economy, keeping it afloat in these financially difficult times. Each of the statelets have highly dubious human rights records and none are democracies in any sense of the word.

Qatar recently purchased Harrods, the world famous store, and built the tallest building in western Europe, the Shard in London. The opulence and waste behind the Shard was partly justified as Qatari “confidence” in London’s economy. Sainsbury’s, a national UK supermarket chain has been kept afloat by the ruling Qatari al-Thani family as well. London’s Olympic Village is under Qatari ownership after a deal worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Recently, it was announced that £10billion is on the verge of being invested by Qatar in British infrastructure projects.

Kuwait, on the other hand, has already invested half of that on these projects in the UK. The Little Chef, a UK roadside diner was bailed out by a Kuwaiti company and the British national lingerie retailer La Senza was saved from bankruptcy by another Kuwaiti company.

The Gulf statelets have also invested heavily in British sports events through sponsorship and even purchasing football clubs such as Manchester City or Nottingham Forrest. UAE helped to build Arsenal Football Club’s stadium. Cricket stadiums built by British companies, a sport which has little traction for Arabs, are multiplying in the Gulf. The UAE and Qatar ruling families also possess a soft spot for British race horses, spending millions on these animals while indigenous Arabs in the hinterland of the Arab World scrape a living and Palestinians continue to endure occupation, theft and ethnic cleansing.

Furthermore, Qatar and UAE have a combined 48% stake in the London Stock Exchange. When Barclays Bank was on the verge of collapse during the recent financial crises, its Chief Executive travelled to Qatar for financial assistance.

Is it really a contradiction that the world’s main harbingers and supporters of jihadism, al-Qaida and the theology that spawns these violent trends is also the main and largest customer of Great Britain’s ultimate merchant of death, BAE Systems?

More so, when Prince Charles complains about the ‘tragic plight’ of Christians in the Middle East isn’t he just exposing his own and Her Majesty’s Government’s hypocrisy knowing full well that this plight is caused by the ‘sugar daddies’ of the British economy, i.e. the Gulf states, in their support for jihadis in Iraq and Syria?

It is all very well for CAAT to bemoan Prince Charles’s visit to the Kingdom and insist he redeem himself by advocating for secular human rights, but the British have been dependent on the Gulf despots for a long time.

In the late 1950’s Harold Macmillan, a former British Prime Minister, stated that without the oil of the Arabian peninsula the British nation would be “lost” and the whole structure of the British “economy would collapse.”

“Without oil,” Macmillan noted, “and without the profits from oil” the UK will not be able to survive. [1]

The late Prime Minister’s opinion is probably more true today than it was back in the 1950’s when Great Britain was still renowned for its (now greatly diminished) manufacturing industry. Indeed, the very status of BAE Systems as a leading manufacturer would very much be in question without the “profits from oil.”

In conclusion, CAAT’s notion the Prince should be preaching human rights to the Saudi, Thani or any other Gulf Kingdom that British imperialism brought into existence misses the point. Venality and doing business with despots, is the latest economic strategy in a long line of total and inexcusable immoral policies rooted in British imperialist history. Doing business with the Saudis and the other Gulf nepotistic despots today is just as important to British prosperity as piracy, the slave trade, imperialist military conquest and colonialism was in the past.

Notes

[1] Alistair Horne, “Macmillan 1894-1956 Volume 1 of the Official Biography” (London: Macmillan, 1988) pg.411,422 and 429 respectively.

GMB gains trade union recognition with “umbrella company” in M&S supply chain

Ballot result: 383 YES, 8 NO, 2 spoilt, 76% turn out.

GMB union members working at a Marks and Spencer distribution centre have voted that they wish to be represented by GMB for collective bargaining. Although the Distribution Centre is owned and 100% dedicated to M&S, they contract DHL (previously Wincanton) to run the Distribution centre, who use a recruitment agency, 24-7 Recruitment to provide agency workers, who then are given employment contracts with yet another company, Tempay Ltd. Tempay shares the same registered business address as 24-7.

Siôn Simon MEP, Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on employment, recently 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.”

Umbrella companies provide an employment contract for workers supplied by an employment agency to a company acting as a hirer. So instead of their being two parties the employer and the worker, umbrella arrangements usually involve four parties – the worker, the hirer, the agency and the umbrella company. Instead of working for the company whose name is above the door, umbrella companies create a maze of paperwork to stand between workers and their legal rights.

Workers for Tempay Ltd 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 shop steward, Domingos Dias, has been issued a written warning for absenteeism, even though he had worked more than his contracted hours during the relevant period. This lack of mutuality of obligation means that the contract bears the hallmarks of bonded labour.

Many of the Tempay staff have worked at the same Marks and Spencer 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 Swedish derogation, and indicate clearly that this is an avoidance tactic.

The actual employer, Tempay Ltd, although it employs 2500 people has only two administrative staff for payroll, it has no managers, no HR department, and no internal structure for governence. It is a paper company that seemingly only exists for legal avoidance. Employment through these so-called Umbrella companies has spread like wildfire though distribution and construction sectors. Household name companies, including Marks and Spencer, use Employment Agencies in their supply chain to push wage costs down, and inhibit staff from asserting employment rights. 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.

I am delighted that we have made a significant first step in organising in this difficult environment, and we will not stop until we have achieved justice.

The birth of a new trading block?

Interesting development reported by Sputnik:

China offered to establish a free trade zone with the Eurasian Economic Union in the future, Russian Ambassador to China Andrei Denisov told RIA Novosti.

Eurasian Union: the Birth of a new Giant
“Chinese partners were very careful in regard to this integration in the beginning. They simply needed to make sure that it works. Now they show interest in increasing cooperation not only with the separate countries – Kazakhstan, Belarus, Russia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan in the future, but with the union as such. And as far as I know they even proposed to us, the members of the union, to think about creation of a free trade zone in the future,” Denisov said.
Denisov added that both sides are already discussing mechanisms to cooperate in the future.
The Eurasian Economic Union, which includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, came into force on January 1. Kyrgyzstan’s membership, agreed to in December 2014, is expected to come into force in May.

Read more: http://sputniknews.com/politics/20150209/1017989809.html#ixzz3RFLVAPTZ

The campaign of demonisation against George Galloway constitutes incitement

The latest edition of BBC Question Time from Finchley in north London was a low point for the flagship show. The treatment meted out to Respect MP George Galloway was a disgrace, made more so by the fact his car was attacked as he was leaving the venue, despite a police presence outside.

The ugly events witnessed by millions began in the weeks leading up, as soon as his appearance on the panel in Finchley was announced. An orchestrated campaign of intimidation and provocation was waged through the media, designed to intimidate both him and the BBC. But as George said, the idea that someone who has been an MP on a near uninterrupted basis since 1987 should be prevented from speaking or appearing in any constituency in the country is an attack on democracy. The Conservative MP for Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer, played a key part in instigating this media campaign, which given that the Respect MP was physically assaulted in the street just a few months ago by a fanatic wearing an IDF t-shirt, is surely grounds for Mr Freer to be held to account.

During the show, the question directed at Galloway re the rise of antisemitism in the UK should have been censored. It straddled the line of defamation, not to mention taste, and brought the BBC into disrepute. It was an organised attack, involving an audience in which an array of hate mongers were given free rein. Even the gentleman who reminded the audience of Galloway’s past record in correcting antisemitism when it arised on his Press TV show Comment, went on to assert that antisemitism was directly related to the number of Muslims living in Europe.

Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian’s statement, “the resumption of violence in Gaza”, during his attack on George was a studied and cowardly attempt to minimise one of the most barbaric military operations against a civilian population the world has witnessed. That he could not bring himself to acknowledge this, when we consider the 500 Palestinian children who were slaughtered during this massacre, was suggestive of a man who has had his humanity surgically removed.

The free speech ‘merchants’, those who were so up in arms over matters related to the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, who use free speech as a sword rather than a shield, would like nothing more than to silence one of the only voices in the country’s national life who dares challenge the demonisation of Muslims and the Muslim community, establishment support for the apartheid state of Israel, and a political status of quo of military intervention overseas and social and economic injustice at home.

That George is a polarising figure is beyond doubt. But the reason they hate him because he knows them, knows what they are and consistently and tirelessly exposes their hypocrisy and double standards. Consequently, it would be a huge reverse if he fails to get re-elected as the MP for Bradford West in May. Fortunately, though, given the disgraceful lynch-mob-audience on Question Time, and the orchestrated campaign of incitement we have seen rolled out against him, his re-election is now more likely than ever.

Someone tweeted last night after the show ‘Je Suis George Galloway’. It is hard to argue with that sentiment after the attempted political and public lynching of the Respect MP on Question Time.

Churchill

Fifty years ago saw the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. Here I reproduce an article that I first wrote in 2009, after appearing on George Galloway’s Talksport radio show, discussing the Second World War. During the course of the programme, George had raised the interesting question of what attitude socialists should have to Winston Churchill, and George himself pointed out that Churchill was a rather more complex figure than he is often given credit for, who at various times supported progressive legislation and causes, alongside his rather better known career of being an intransigent defender of Empire.

Indeed, my mum tells me of being quite shocked as a young woman from a left wing background in Scunthorpe at meeting people for the first time at the end of the war who had anything good to say about Churchill. Among working class communities and in left circles, Churchill’s reputation as a right-winger from before the war had left a deep legacy of resentment against him.
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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.
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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.”
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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.