Brown govt: peaceful protest OK in Burma, but not in England

[Sunday]

Simply shocking. Well, not that surprising. But still…

Thousands of demonstrators planning to march on Parliament to call for the withdrawal of troops from Afrghanistan and Iraq have been told that their protest has been banned.

The Metropolitan Police told organisers of the Stop the War Coalition that no march would now be allowed “within one mile of Parliament” while MPs were in session.

The organisers, who are expecting thousands of people to turn up for the protest march from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square, said that this was a “totally different” interpretation of the regulations, and accused Gordon Brown of reneging on a pledge to liberalise the laws on demonstrations.

“One moment the Prime Minister is supporting the right of Burmese monks to demonstrate in Rangoon, and yet here in London we’re being stopped from marching on Parliament. It’s hypocrisy,” Lindsey German, convener of the Stop the War Coalition, said.

She added: “The rules covering Parliament have never been interpreted in this way before. In fact, the police have always tried to be as flexible as possible. This is a new development and threatens our democratic rights.”

Please sign the online petition in protest, ta.

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A terrorist the media isn’t interested in?

[Friday]

Can we expect a media flurry over this story?

Perhaps not, as the terrorist in question was not motivated by foreign policy, but rather by domestic policy.

Miles Cooper was convicted yesterday, and has been sentenced today, but I have yet to hear any of the news reports use the word “terrorist”.

A primary school caretaker found guilty of carrying out a letter bomb campaign in which eight people were injured has been given a 10-year sentence.

Miles Cooper, 27, from Cambridge, sent seven letter bombs to addresses in England and Wales earlier this year, five of which exploded.

Judge Julian Hall said Cooper must serve four years and 149 days before being eligible for parole.

He told Cooper: “You are a terrorist, there can be no mistake.”

True enough, but is he the right kind of terrorist for state and corporate media?

Cooper did not contest that he sent the letters but denied intending to cause injury.

An admission as lame you would expect from Bush or Blair…

He told Oxford Crown Court that he had been “concerned about the direction my country was heading in”.

He said that his aim was “ultimately to highlight my cause” and denied charges related to the seven letter bombs sent in January and February.

The targets were three forensic science laboratories, a computer company, an accountancy firm, the DVLA and a residential address.

Since he admits his actions “ultimately to highlight my cause” why the hell did he do it?

His actions will perhaps only lead to more of a surveillance state because you can’t blow up a social relationship.

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CPB to drop support for Labour Party?

[Thursday]

The following article by the CPB’s general secretary was printed in The Morning Star on Monday and is now available online at the Scottish Committee’s site. The implications of the article are discussed by Liam Mac Uaid, who concludes:

“The defeat of John Mc Donnell’s campaign, the upcoming likely fights around public sector pay and the amputation of what remained of Labour Party democracy are obliging the CP and its supporters to re-assess their traditional support for Labour. This is one more stage in the process of making the socialist party to replace it. Now who is going to start organising the spaces where these debates can be had?”

It is worth noting that when Respect was initiated, the CPB debated joining the nascent coalition. Alas, a majority voted to stick with Labour. Times have changed, as Liam notes, but there would be obstacles to the CP signing up to Respect – the Mayoral elections, the fact that Respect does not operate in Scotland, etc.

I think Griffiths is right to try to open a debate within the CPB, and the Labour left, about the representation of working people. Though they might be considered by the CPB as part of the sectarian left, the Socialist Party have been campaigning for a new workers party for a while now and the SWP make up the majority of Respect – The Unity Coalition.

(Respect is going through some internal wrangles at the moment, which can be used to attract the Labour left and might give the CPB pause for thought: I cannot view John Rees’ recent statement in isolation from the recent debates and last Friday’s hit-piece by Newsnight: “Labour not only wants to avoid having rows in the media but it wants to avoid having any debate at all.” Rightly, Respect refused to talk to Michael Crick, who cut his teeth witch-hunting Militant in the early eighties, but unfortunately the debate was not carried out openly within the party. In future, I suspect that things will be different.)

Whilst holding the “reclaim Labour” position, the CPB have stood candidates in elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and in England as part of Unity for Peace and Socialism, the development of which is still being considered. The Socialist Campaign Group has failed to challenge the leadership at Westminster or Edinburgh and is haemorraging members: the latest loss was Bob Wareing who has been deselected as MP for Liverpool West Derby, a position he has held since 1983.

The stark reality behind new Labour’s plans for conference
Wed 26 Sep 2007

ROBERT GRIFFITHS highlights the stark reality behind new Labour’s plans for conference.

OVER 100 years ago, the TUC initiated the steps which led to the founding of the Labour Party.

This was a great political leap forward for working people and their families. They had seen through the Liberal Party’s claims to speak for labour, to represent the interests of workers as well as those of factory owners, coal barons and shipping magnates.

Although many delegates to the Labour Representation Committee were still wary of socialist ideas, the resolution adopted at the committee’s second conference in 1901 urged trade unionists to unite on an independent political platform for:

“(1) The defence of the legal rights of combination.

“(2) The passing of such laws as will put an end to a system under which the producer of wealth has to bear an enormous burden in the shape of rents and profits which go to maintain large classes of non-producers.”

Millions of working-class voters subsequently elected Labour governments in 1924, 1929, 1945, 1951, 1964, 1966, 1974 (twice), 1997, 2001 and 2005.

They did so not because they believed that it would lead to a socialist society. Most people long ago realised that Labour Party leaders “played the game” to win votes and not upset the Establishment too much. Compromises came to be expected from Labour governments in office, some sellouts even.

But all Labour regimes tried to redistribute wealth, improve social and welfare provisions for workers and their families, defend and enlarge the public sector, extend democratic rights, oppose overt forms of racism and, in international affairs, uphold the League of Nations and the United Nations in the face of naked military aggression by one sovereign state against another.

Labour often fell a long way short. The Communist Party in Britain was formed in 1920 to mobilise workers and people generally to fight for progress and socialist revolution. Communist attempts to stay in and then affiliate to the Labour Party were rejected by right-wing Labour leaders, despite at times winning substantial trade union support.

Nevertheless, a large section of the working class has stayed loyal to Labour. The Communist Party has long recognised this reality, working in alliance with others on the left to improve Labour’s policies rather than try to replace it as the mass party of the labour movement.

But the “tectonic plates” have been shifting in ways which the trade union movement and the left can not ignore.

In its first term, the new Labour government honoured commitments to a national minimum wage, increased employemnt and trade union rights and devolution for Scotland and Wales. But, since 2001 in particular, new Labour has governed primarily in the interests of big business.

Wealth has been redistributed, but to the richest one-tenth of the population, who now own 71 per cent of Britain’s vast wealth, while the poorer half of the population own just 1 per cent, down from 6 per cent when new Labour first took office.

The basic state pension has been continuously devalued and future workers will have to get to 68 before qualifying for it.

‘Transforming Labour’s annual conference into half big business seminar, half Nuremberg rally will do nothing to make it “more democratic”.’

Unlike those trade union delegates in 1901, Gordon Brown and new Labour believe that our anti-trade laws should remain as repressive as they were 100 years ago, and that the real wealth producers in our society are the multimillionaire City fat cats, PFI pirates and private equity tax dodgers.

New Labour has indulged in an orgy of privatisation and contracting out. The profiteers have been given a red carpet into our state education and health services. PFI repayments will cost more than £100 billion over the next 12 years.

Our civil liberties have been curtailed to a degree unknown in peacetime, with internment without trial and expensive ID-card “dog licences” on the way. Incessant government attacks on asylum-seekers and migrant workers have stoked up racism, turning the BNP into the most successful fascist party in Britain’s history.

Blair – with Brown’s shameful acquiescence – has locked us into the foreign policy of the most reactionary circles of US monopoly capitalism. The United Nations has been treated with contempt. Hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers have died so far in Afghanistan and Iraq, while the giant US energy, construction and armaments corporations have reaped the benefits.

Now, Prime Minister Brown is ripping up international disarmament treaties by committing Britain to the US Star Wars project and a new generation of nuclear weapons.

We do not have a Labour government in any social democratic sense. Brown’s latest proposals to abolish contemporary motions at the Labour Party annual conference will complete the anti-democratic, anti-trade union drive begun by Partnership in Power.

His claim in last Saturday’s Guardian to want “every member to have an equal say from the start of the policy process to the end” would make a cat laugh.

Completing the transformation of Labour’s annual conference into half big business seminar, half Nuremberg Rally will do nothing to make the Labour Party “more open and democratic.” Nor will giving members a plebiscite every four years or so on the basis of take it all or leave Labour without an election manifesto.

If Brown really is keen to “show members – and future members – that what they say counts,” when will they get an opportunity to vote for a referendum on the EU constitution – sorry, reform treaty – for public ownership of the railways, for withdrawal from Iraq, against replacing Trident or for fair taxation of the super-rich?

One wonders how and why trade union representatives on Labour’s national executive committee fell for such tosh last week.

As experienced negotiators, would they go back to their members in a workplace and say: “The boss and his management team have asked us not to table proposals at the annual pay negotiations in future, because it embarrasses them. So, we have agreed that our ideas will instead go direct to a joint policy forum which may, after a year or two, put unamendable proposals to a future annual meeting.”

What has been conceded in return? “The boss has promised to listen more as he continues to cut our pay, raid our pension fund, outsource our jobs and spend our taxes on new weapons of mass destruction.”

And what if he doesn’t listen? “We will review the situation after two years and ask him to restore our right to table proposals.” And if he doesn’t hear you or refuses? “We’ll table a resolution.”

Sharp-witted Morning Star readers may now be spotting a flaw in the logic.

Trade unions, the Communist Party and the non-sectarian left must do all in their power to combat the most reactionary new Labour policies, despite this latest feeble cave-in by union representatives.

The Left Wing Programme provides a unifying, coherent and progressive alternative with its proposals for a wealth tax on the super-rich, a windfall tax on banking and oil superprofits, public ownership of transport, energy, banking, armaments and pharmaceuticals, an end to privatisation, equal pay audits and a huge programme of council house-building.

But we can no longer ignore the elephant in the room, which is that the Labour Party in the grip of new Labour.

Some unions have already disaffiliated and more may regretably follow as their members have enough of attacks on their jobs, pensions and living standards.

Individual membership has more than halved – from 407,000 in 1997 to 182,000 today – and millions of former Labour voters have deserted the Labour Party at the ballot box.

The trade unions and the people of Britain need a mass party of labour. If, as in the US, we all agreed that we do not have one, we would be united in trying to create one. Opting out of the struggle to reclaim or re-establish a mass political party of the labour movement offers no solution.

From this Labour Party conference, every trade union, whether affiliated or not, and every socialist organisation has a responsibility to outline its proposals for reclaiming or re-establishing Britain’s mass party of labour.

Internment again; snap Gordon; clear blue water

[Wednesday]

The so-called “balancing act” begins again:

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said the time has come to look again at extending the 28-day limit on holding terrorism suspects.

She told a fringe meeting at Labour’s party conference prevention of terrorism outweighed any potential damage to community relations.

But Ms Smith ruled out extending the controversial period to 90 days.

Why’s that then? Is it because it reminds people of the lobbying by police chiefs, only for the Met Commissioner Sir Ian Blair to admit the figure was arbitrary? What happens if the police say that evidence suggests 90 is the number of days needed?

I predict another doubling of the time limit, but only after the election. This is Smith getting us used to the idea of more intrusive and arbitrary policing, and at the same time she’s sending out a signal to the Tories that Labour plans to fight the next election on “toughness”.

When will Brown make the call? Word is, pretty soon.

A snap election could give New Labour a victory, but only if Brown can deal with the EU consti-treaty, perhaps by caving into demands for a referendum on the issue, and he will face embarrassment in Scotland and Wales, where the Labour parties are starting to accept the realities of devolution, though their Westminster MPs can not.

New Labour’s moves against the leadership of the Welsh party are getting more blatant:

An MEP says Welsh Labour must change its strategy of putting “clear red water” between itself and the UK party.

Eluned Morgan made the call at a fringe meeting at the Labour conference while beside the policy’s architect, First Minister Rhodri Morgan.

She said the assembly election showed it was not enough to win key marginals and urged Labour to look past its core vote and appeal to the middle ground.

Morgan is staring power with Plaid Cymru is a decidedly centre-left coalition. Not to the liking of the neoliberal extremists and the “Britain, Britain, Britain” brigade of New Labour. The hostility of Welsh Labour MPs and MEPs to the coalition has been open from the start but there is a risk (for New Labour) that a snap election will push the Welsh party to be more independent-minded and compete/co-operate more with the nationalists.

My bet is that there will be a poll early next year and that this will be announced by Brown as Labour’s conference comes to an end.

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Tony Benn demands EU consti-treaty referendum

[Monday]

I think if Brown is to call a general election within the next year he’ll need to kick the issue into the long grass, so Benn is right that a promise of a referendum can again be won from New Labour.

The full article is from Auntie:

Tony Benn has made an impassioned plea to Gordon Brown to give the British people a referendum on the EU treaty.

The veteran left-winger said it was the “most bureaucratic, terrifying system in the world and it’s being imposed on us on the grounds it’s tidying-up”.

“If tidying up involves tearing up the British constitution, it’s a very interesting definition,” he added.

Mr Benn told a Labour conference fringe meeting he thought Mr Brown would eventually cave in to calls for a vote.

“I think we have a good chance of winning this because the public are with us and you cannot deny the public forever”, said the former Labour MP.

The prime minister has repeatedly rejected calls for a referendum on the EU treaty, arguing it is not the same as the constitution rejected by voters in France and Holland, on which a vote was promised in Labour’s 2005 manifesto.

Earlier this month, the trade unions joined calls by the Conservatives and UKIP for a referendum.

‘Hitler’

Two national newspapers have also launched campaigns for a vote, with The Sun earlier devoting its first four pages to the subject, claiming Mr Brown would gain a 17% advantage at the polls if he agreed to hold one.

Speaking at a Labour Euro-safeguards campaign fringe meeting, Mr Benn said he did not want to retreat into the “old nationalism” as it led to too much bloodshed.

But he said the “absolutely undemocratic” EU should be reformed and power handed back to nation states and elected politicians.

“Even if I believed in it, I think this system will end up with the break-up of the European Union and I do not want that to happen either,” said Mr Benn.

“It terrifies me that Germany did not allow its own people to have a referendum on whether Germany should enter the European Union and have a treaty.

“And, you know, before the war, Hitler wasn’t exactly a democrat. And that practice of everything being decided at the top has been carried on.

“France had a referendum, defeated it, and now Sarkozy is trying to bypass it. We live in a continent where increasingly power has gone to a group of people who are not elected, cannot be removed and don’t have to listen to us.

“I mean [European trade commissioner Peter] Mandelson is a very powerful man. He wasn’t even elected by the House of Commons.”

‘Death of democracy’

Mr Benn warned: “If this goes through Gordon Brown will not be the prime minister of Great Britain, he will be the mayor of the Greater British Authority”.

He said power should be restored to nation states to opt out of the treaty if their people wanted it.

He said he feared the “death of democracy” in a wider sense – with the increasing dominance of unelected bodies such as the World Trade Organisation and multinational corporations.

Even Labour’s own conference, which has voted to end emergency motions proposed by delegates and trade unions, had stifled democracy, he added.

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Another union to join in postal strikes?

[Monday]

Last week we learned that the postal dispute was back on.

Today, news that another union, is warning that it may ballot its members this week:

Unite said as well as scrapping final salary pensions, it feared Royal Mail would increase its retirement age. […]

A Royal Mail spokesman said it would consult with staff before any pension changes came into effect. […]

CWU members are due to walk out again for 48 hours from 5 October and 8 October.

At the centre of the CWU’s dispute is Royal Mail’s 2.5% pay offer and modernisation plans.

The union claims the shake-up plans will put about 40,000 jobs at risk.

Royal Mail counters that without dramatic reforms it will not to able to survive in a liberalised mail market.

As always, the bosses are given the last word.

And their claims are rendered absurd when you consider some of the changes Royal Mail has made and plans to make are to enable a “liberalised market” – that is to say it is helping competitors by making it easier for private companies to compete. One example of this is later delivery times.

The logic of competition is that you try and beat your rival, not give him a helping hand!

But of course, what’s happening at Royal Mail isn’t about “greater competition” or “consumer choice”, but reducing workers’ living standards to profit the ruling class…

Unite’s fears that the management might be about to carry out “the great mail robbery” stem from proposals for pension reform contained in a letter sent to senior representatives:

It has been estimated that Royal Mail could reap £1.5bn from just one of the proposed changes.

Unite will meet with Royal Mail on Moday 24th September to discuss Royal Mail’s proposals to change the scheme. The union anticipates that during next week Royal Mail will inform employee’s of the changes to their pension scheme.

One of the expected proposals is to ‘bank” the current benefits, which could cost the members of the scheme up to £1.5 billion. That’s £1.5 billion that would have been paid out in the future to members and their dependants.

The union believes the proposals could include;

* Closing the scheme to new employees.

* Raising the normal retirement age to 65 in 2010.

* From 1 April 2008 replace the current final salary pension schemes with career average schemes.

* “Banking” current benefits (past service benefits) and indexing them to RPI or 5%.

Unite National Officer, Paul Reuter says, “We call upon Royal Mail to honour their commitment to preserve the past service benefits that have been built up and paid for by our members. We also call upon Adam Crozier to honour his commitment given on 7 February 2007 to safeguard the final salary schemes going forward.”

“Failure by Royal Mail to respond positively will leave Unite with no option other than to ballot its’ members for strike action.”

Iraqi resistance ‘not bad people’ says head of British Army

[Saturday]

Yes, it’s General Sir Richard Dannatt, again. This time he’s calling on us to support the armed forces like the Americans, but admitting – unlike his American counterparts – that the Iraqi Resistance is primarily nationalist, motivated by human needs and not extremist ideology.

Dannatt’s speech is completely mistaken. Leaving aside his description of the UK as a nation – it is a multinational state, and one that is slowly coming apart, partly as a result of recent conflicts – he implies that the majority of people actually want the armed forces to be fighting wars of conquest for big business in the Middle East. He makes it sound as if we begged them to go in the first place, and are now indifferent to the predicament of returning service personnel.

Of course, we are not indifferent, and we do care – proof of this is the majority of people who want the troops to be brought home.

If you want to show your support for the troops, why not take to the streets?

On 8 October MPs return from their long summer break. No such luck for the 5,000 British soldiers stuck in Iraq as part of the catastrophic occupation.

British troops have been withdrawn from their last base in Basra City. The Basra Palace base has been the target for continuous attack over the last months. Downing Street has tried to spin the withdrawal as ‘part of the process of handing over power to the Iraqi government’. In fact this is an ignominious defeat for both the army and their political masters.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq has been one of the great crimes of recent times. The remnants of the British forces in Iraq are now hunkered down at Basra airport where they have no real political or military role except to provide target practice for the Iraqi insurgent groups and to give George Bush political cover.

What is essential now is that the troops are brought home as a matter of urgency and are no longer part of the continuing American occupation of that country.

The Stop the War Coalition says it is time MPs got the message. On 8 October we want them to hear it from thousands of people as they return to the Commons.