Saturday, January 31, 2009

Broon's Vague, Vacuous Speeches

Back in 2007 Gordon Brown harked on about "British jobs for British workers". That probably made every BNP blackshirt smile.

On a charitable interpretation Broon may have been saying that workers in Britain need education and training so they can compete for the jobs of the future. Only thing is, most people took it at face value. And at face value it reads like a BNP slogan.

Now that employers are laying off workers and construction sites have contracts with European companies there's a clamour to give those jobs to Broon's "British workers". This is now becoming a campaign, and recruiting, point for the BNP.

Now I read an SWP article, and stand back in amazement, I almost agree with it.
But these strikes are based around the wrong slogans and target the wrong people

It’s right to fight for jobs and against wage-cutting. It’s right to take on the poisonous system of sub-contracting that is used to make workers compete against each other.

It’s right to demand that everyone is paid the proper rate for the job and that there’s no undercutting of national agreements. And we need militant action, including unofficial action, to win these demands.

But these strikes are not doing that – whatever some of those involved believe.

The slogan accepted by many of the strikers is “British jobs for British workers”. That comes directly from Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour Party conference in 2007. And it has been encouraged by many in the higher levels of the Unite union. Derek Simpson and others at the top of Unite have done nothing to encourage resistance to job losses, or a fightback against repossessions or against the anti-union laws. Instead they go along with a campaign that can divide workers.

But it lets the bosses off the hook and it threatens murderous division at a time when we need unity in action to fight back.

It’s not Italians or Poles or Portuguese workers who are to blame for the attacks on British workers’ conditions.

Construction workers have always been forced to move far from home for jobs, whether inside a country or between countries. How many British workers (or their fathers or brothers) have been forced to work abroad from Dubai to Dusseldorf?

When workers are divided it’s the bosses who gain. Total Oil, who manage the Immingham refinery, make £5 billion every three months! Jacobs, the main contractor which has then sub-contracted to an Italian firm, made £250 million in 2007.

These are the people workers should be hitting, not turning on one another.

Those who urge on these strikes are playing with fire. Once the argument is raised it can open the door to racism against individuals. Already in some supermarket warehouses the racists are calling for action against workers from abroad.

We all know what will happen if the idea spreads that it’s foreigners, or immigrants or black or Asian people who are to blame for the crisis. It will be a disaster for the whole working class, will encourage every racist and fascist and make it easier for the bosses to ram through pay and job cuts. Already the BNP are pumping out racist propaganda supporting the strikes.

Everyone should ask themselves why Tory papers like the Express and the Sun and Mail – which hate union power and urge on privatisation – are sympathetic to the strikes

Right wing ideas gain a hold among workers when they see their lives being torn apart and the unions offer no lead. No doubt some in Unite think it’s easier to get a fight around a slogan like “British jobs for British workers” which sets people apart than one that brings people together like “Workers should not pay for the bosses’ crisis”. That’s a doomed strategy.
Do people really stand back and wait for a lead from unions? But that's not the point. The point is to change the strategy of the strikes to an inclusive one of attacking the employers and the practices of sub-contracting and low-wages.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Democracy and its Application

Israel has decided to ban two Arab political parties from standing in the forthcoming elections.
Members of the the new Meretz alignment reacted angrily to the decision.

"Labor and Kadima's position is a declaration of war on Israel's Arab citizens," a party member said. "Do Barak and Livni really prefer blocking Israel's Arabs' right to parliamentary activity and driving them to street demonstrations?"

"Every time a clear statement to ensure basic civil rights of the Arab minority is required, Labor and Kadima choose to side with the radical right wing for populist motives, to deprive the Arabs of their fundamental democratic rights," party chairman Haim Oron said.

Arab lawmakers Ahmed Tibi and Zahalka, political rivals who head the two Arab blocs in the Knesset, joined together in condemning yesterday's decision.

"It was a political trial led by a group of fascists and racists who are willing to see the Knesset without Arabs and want to see the country without Arabs," said Tibi.
Isn't one of the marks of a democracy allowing any qualified person freedom to stand for election? Banning political parties that claim to represent a vital demographic of the country is anti-democratic and verges on the authoritarian. It's just a wrong thing to do.

*** UPDATE ***

The ban has now been overturned. There is more information here. But there will probably be appeals and counter appeals at least until the election.And that should be the end of the matter.

Thanks to Will.


Thanks to the commenter formerly SIAW.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gaza Blog

There is a new blog concentrating on the recent conflict in Gaza. It is produced by Israeli Human Rights Groups including B'Tselem. It is also available in Hebrew at

Update for 18 January '09, morning (GMT+2)
Gaza: at least 1,205 killed, of them at least 410 children and 98 women. More than half those killed since the ground incursion began (580) are women and children. Over 3,520 injured, of them over 350 severely (Palestinian Ministry of Health figures).
Israel: 13 killed, of them 1 woman and 10 soldiers. Over 82 civilians injured, of them 4 severely injured, not including those treated for shock , and 113 soldiers injured, of them one in critical condition and 20 suffer moderate or severe injuries.
And so it goes.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bankers will be Bankers

It seems that banks and building societies are ignoring bonuses when assessing mortgage applications.
Melanie Bien of broker Savills Private Finance says: "It's basic salary only. We had a client who works for one of the big investment banks, who earns £140,000 per year in basic salary plus a bonus of £1.3m a year for the past three years. But Woolwich would only take the basic into account."
So this banker has had £3.9m over the last three years *AND* still wants a mortgage. Where did the money go? Can you drink almost £4 million in three years? Can you snort almost £4 million in three years?

The only thing I can assume is that this banker donated almost £4 million to orphanages for children in Uganda and kept it quiet. Is that likely? Maybe.

What would you have done with almost £4 million over three years? I can be damn sure even with my level of financial illiteracy I would not now be applying for a mortgage.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Late news

B'Tselem report on Gaza on New Year's Eve 2008.
Since the beginning of the military operation in the Gaza Strip, on 27 December 2008, the army has bombed dozens of houses, public buildings, and other structures throughout the Gaza Strip.

The principle of distinction, one of the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, states that all parties engaged in combat must distinguish between civilian objects and military targets, and are forbidden to intentionally attack civilians and civilian objects. The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions establishes two conditions that must be met for an object to be considered a legitimate military target: it must effectively contribute to military action and its total destruction or partial neutralization offers a clear military advantage.

Despite this, other statements made by Israeli officials in recent days raise the suspicion that the army is not maintaining the requisite distinction in its attacks in Gaza. Prime Minster Ehud Olmert stated that, “Israel is not at war with the Palestinian people but with Hamas, which has dedicated itself to acting against residents of Israel. Accordingly, the objects attacked today were selected with the emphasis on the imperative to prevent harm to innocent persons.” In an article published in yesterday’s Washington Post, a senior military official was quoted as follows: "There are many aspects to Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel." Major Avital Liebowitz, of the IDF Spokesperson’s Office, told the correspondent that the army had indeed widened its target list in comparison to previous operations, saying Hamas has used ostensibly civilian actions as a cover for military activities. "Anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target," she said.

These comments suggest that the operation in Gaza is aimed against every person and entity tied in some way to Hamas, even if they are not engaged in military action against Israel. An examination of the sites that were bombed in recent days raises questions regarding the legality of targeting many of them.

For example, the military bombed the main police building in Gaza and killed, according to reports, forty-two Palestinians who were in a training course and were standing in formation at the time of the bombing. Participants in the course study first-aid, handling of public disturbances, human rights, public-safety exercises, and so forth. Following the course, the police officers are assigned to various arms of the police force in Gaza responsible for maintaining public order.

Another example is yesterday’s bombing of the government offices. These offices included the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Labor, Construction and Housing. An announcement made by the IDF Spokesperson’s Office regarding this attack stated that, “the attack was carried out in response to the ongoing rocket and mortar-shell fire carried out by Hamas over Israeli territory, and in the framework of IDF operations to strike at Hamas governmental infrastructure and members active in the organization.”

These are just examples of what appear to be clear civilian objects attacked by the army. On the face of it, the activity carried out in these places is not military activity aimed against Israel, and the IDF spokesperson does not even make this claim. Clearly, then, they cannot be considered military objects in accordance with the provisions of international humanitarian law – they do not make an effective contribution to the military activity against Israel and the attack provides Israel with no militaryadvantage whatsoever, and certainly not a clear militaryadvantage.

Hamas is certainly responsible for missile fire at Israeli civilians, which constitutes a war crime. However, as the entity effectively governing the Gaza Strip, it is also responsible for maintaining daily life. As such, it supervises the activity of all civilian frameworks in Gaza – among them the welfare, health, housing, and legal systems. Hamas must also ensure public order and safety by means of a police force. Therefore, even if Hamas is a “hostile entity” whose principle objective is to undermine the existence of the State of Israel, this does not lead to the conclusion that every act it carries out is intended to harm Israel and that every government ministry is a legitimate target.

The argument that striking at objects of this kind is consistent with international humanitarian law is untenable. Such an interpretation, which relates to these bodies as military objects, stretches the provisions of international humanitarian law in a way that is inconsistent with the articles cited above, and contravenes the principle of distinction that lies at the foundation of international humanitarian law. An intentional attack on a civilian target is a war crime.


As you may have gathered I have been away visitng family over in New Zealand.

I have now returned with bad jetlag. I do not know when to sleep or when to go to work or when to just be.

Onwards. It will pass.

If you're in the vicinity of the Otago Peninsula I can recommend Penguin Place as an opportunity to see some endangered, anti-social, yellow-eyed penguins. These yellow-eyed penguins are cute but they evolved before other species of penguin and have a trait of not flocking for protection or warmth, preferring their own family for comfort. I think that makes them proto-Thatcherite (no such thing as society) penguins. If he knew I think Steve Bell would be annoyed.