Issue 285 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published May 2004 Copyright © Socialist Review
|A strike with national ramifications Pic:Duncan Brown|
For eight weeks over 4,000 nursery nurses have been on all-out strike across Scotland. This is the latest action in a fight for decent pay that has been going on for over two years. Prior to the strike the top rate of pay for a nursery nurse was £13,800. Despite ever increasing responsibilities, they had not been regraded for 16 years. Crucially the strike also became a battle for national pay and conditions after the association of local authorities in Scotland (Cosla) told nursery nurses that new deals would have to be settled with individual councils.
The strike action has been incredibly solid. The determination, spirit and creativity of the strikers has been a real inspiration. They have sung their way round demonstration after demonstration. Over 4,000 marched in Glasgow at the beginning of the strike. Over 2,000 demonstrated at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. When Cosla refused to come to the negotiating table to discuss a national deal, over 2,000 nursery nurses marched, with a table, to the Cosla offices. Over 1,000 marched through Ayr in the Easter holidays. In Glasgow there have been lots of unofficial demonstrations where strikers have been joined by parents and supporters.
The majority of parents have refused to cross picket lines and many have got involved in picketing or raising support. There have been big donations from many unions. In Glasgow these include thousands of pounds donated and collected by the FBU, £1,000 donation from the EIS teachers' union, which is the biggest donation that union activists can remember being given to any dispute.
A handful of strikers in Glasgow were able to organise over 250 nursery nurses to turn up to lobby first minister Jack McConnell at the Scottish TUC conference at less than a day's notice. Strikers across at least six councils have been involved in writing and distributing a weekly united left strike bulletin which helped counter rumours and misinformation and spread stories of solidarity.
Nursery nurses have spoken at meetings in London (including 2,000 people at a Libertines gig), Birmingham, Leeds and elsewhere. In Manchester they raised £4,000 in less than two days. Dundee nursery nurses alone have raised over £20,000 from delegation work.
While the rank and file strikers have grown in strength and confidence during the strike, their resolve and courage have not been matched by their own leadership. Many of the strikers had to battle their own branch leadership from the beginning. In Angus, for example, the strike was called off before it began and the nursery nurses had to fight for a vote to rejoin the strike. In Fife and elsewhere branch officials have tried to stop nursery nurses organising support and collecting. Unison has blocked calls for a national Saturday demonstration. Most disgracefully of all, Unison nationally has reversed its position of fighting for a national deal without even allowing nursery nurses or their delegates a vote. It announced to the press that it would be negotiating local deals before telling the strikers. At mass meetings Unison leaders have simply told strikers that this is the new policy. Nursery nurses have been stunned and angered by this about-turn. Forty strikers lobbied Unison's industrial action committee in Glasgow demanding to know why they had not had a vote on abandoning the fight for national pay.
As we go to press it remains to be seen exactly what sort of deals the nursery nurses will get. Unison has set a bottom line which means that local deals will be better than previous pay and conditions. Since Unison's about turn several mass meetings have rejected local deals, and in Fife 150 nursery nurses held a demonstration at the council offices where they all handed back their local offers. Networks of rank and file activists have emerged which can lay the basis for fighting for the best possible outcome and preventing future sell-outs.
Esme Choonara and Donna Borokinni
BETWEEN THE LINES
A Brazilian advertising agency has not let good taste get in the way of publicising the Iguazu waterfalls. It seems the head of Al Qaida used to holiday there: 'When he's not blowing up the world, Osama Bin Laden enjoys his days at Iguaza Falls,' boasts the ad. Clearly this is a disgrace--Tony Blair, who posed at the falls in 2001, is much better suited to the role.
Taxpayers' subsidies of £200 million a year to arms manufacturers come at the expense of 30,000 jobs, reports one of John Prescott's former advisers. Paul Ingram told a select committee last month that the money would create far more jobs if spent on hospitals and schools. The Treasury's response? A likely £2 billion more in arms subsidies.
God help the Guiding Light Church in Alabama, which has employed Richard Scrushy to teach classes in starting a business. The former chief executive of HealthSouth is charged with inflating profits by $2.7 billion. According to the local bishop, 'He's the most competent and qualified one to teach this class.'
Guess Who's Not Coming to Dinner?
French fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen's visit to England was not the success hoped for by his BNP hosts. The National Front's leader was chased away from Manchester, scared off from visiting Birmingham, and ended up in BNP Führer Nick Griffin's ample backyard. The reason was determined and organised resistance from Unite Against Fascism.
Le Pen's press conference in a hotel in Altrincham was held to the sound of a cacophony of protest. After a rally of more than 200 demonstrators--including Labour, Liberal and Respect members, a local clergywoman and a Holocaust survivor--discovered his location, Le Pen's plush entourage faced a lively sit-down protest to block in his chauffeur-driven car. This was then covered with rubbish to match its contents. Griffin's besuited thugs--organised by former Combat 18 yob Warren Bennett--showed their true colours as they lashed out at protesters.
Le Pen would have received an equally warm welcome in Birmingham, had he had the courage to turn up. But over 1,000 Unite supporters celebrated to music and speeches in the city centre when it became clear that his £50 per head fundraising dinner for the BNP had been ruined. The venue had relented to public pressure to cancel the event, and no one else would take him.
It was vital that Le Pen was met with such a response. This was his first visit to Britain since 1991, and was an indication that the BNP's recent electoral successes mean it is no longer viewed as the embarrassing cousin of continental Eurofascism. Griffin told the press conference of the 'nationalist' ambition to get 16 MEPs from five countries in order to create a bloc with speaking rights in the June elections. Thus the BNP's plan to get a mask of legitimacy to promote its hateful filth is part of a wider project across the EU. With the BNP believing that it can gain an MEP (most likely in the north east or north west) and a representative on the London Assembly, no further warning should be necessary for anti-fascists.
Indeed, Unite is beginning to mobilise real forces to match the resources being provided by the trade union movement. Six hundred thousand leaflets warning people not to swallow the BNP's poison were delivered to homes around the country on Unite's first day of action in April. Those taking part far exceeded the ranks of existing activists--for instance, in Leeds 140 people leafleted on the day.
When the Nazi National Front tried to march in Newcastle, 350 people gathered at 36 hours notice to chase them off the streets. Among the Unite contingent that day was Frances O'Grady, the deputy general secretary of the TUC. The BNP's 'family fun day' in Essex was also a flop when 150 anti-fascists broke up their planned cavalcade.
With every major trade union affiliated to Unite, as well as 180 Labour MPs, the potential to be tapped in the further days of action on 2 May and 6 June is huge. The NASUWT teaching union alone has ordered 250,000 leaflets to distribute. At the NUT conference 250 delegates packed into a Unite fringe meeting. CWU general secretary Billy Hayes has told branches that have not yet affiliated to Unite that they will be named and shamed. Activists should therefore approach trade union stewards and reps for support with the utmost confidence. As well as the mass leafleting, there is a series of carnivals planned for the run-up to the June elections, including two huge events in London and Manchester to feature major chart acts.
The evidence is already stacking up that a united, national campaign is the most effective weapon we can use against the Nazis. There is still much to do to ensure that they don't make their hoped-for electoral breakthrough in June. Raising the turnout will be vital in achieving this--the prerequisite for which will be confident, mass campaigning that celebrates the diversity of life in Britain.
|Mordechai Vanunu celebrates his release from prison|
Sabby Sagall and Hilary Westlake were part of an international delegation which travelled to Israel to greet Mordechai Vanunu on his release from jail. Here they recount their experiences.
We are gathered, over 200 international and Israeli supporters of Mordechai Vanunu, outside Ashkelon prison, waiting for his car to emerge through the gate. But before he leaves the prison, he gives an impromptu press conference, calling on Israel to give up its nuclear weapons and insisting that whatever information he had is 20 years old and well out of date. We had hoped that he would come across the road to greet his supporters but there is a right wing counter-demonstration, so his car speeds off as we call out 'Hero' and toss flowers onto the car.
Mordechai's freedom is qualified, however. He can choose his city of residence but cannot leave it without police permission. He must not talk to foreigners including those resident in Israel. Worst of all, he is denied a passport for one year. These restrictions can be renewed indefinitely. It is clear to us that the Campaign to Free Vanunu must continue until he is granted unconditional freedom.
That evening we travel from Jaffa to Jerusalem's St George's Cathedral, where he has been given sanctuary. Vanunu's life has been threatened: a right wing group even asked, 'Who will be our Jack Ruby?'(the man who killed Lee Harvey Oswald, accused of Kennedy's assassination in 1963). As a special concession, we are allowed to meet him.
Over 50 of us are waiting in the reception area when suddenly he appears. After years of campaigning, he moves among us, embracing each in turn. After the hugging, he makes a short speech. He is well dressed, relaxed and composed, betraying no sign of almost 18 years of incarceration, nearly 12 in solitary. The Israeli authorities have failed to break his spirit. In a firm voice Mordechai Vanunu calls for an ever more vigorous struggle against nuclear weapons and for justice for the Palestinians.
We arrive in Abu Dis, a small West Bank town close to Jerusalem, once mooted as a possible Palestinian capital. We are met by our host, Salah Ayyad, chair of the Water Society, who introduces us to his friends. They escort us around the area, showing us the new checkpoint that impedes Bethlehem residents from reaching Abu Dis--students attending classes at Al Quds University and people getting to their workplaces. We are then taken to the apartheid wall. A French protester has scrawled, 'This is a wall of hatred.' It has split the community, separated children from schools, people from hospitals, farmers from their lands, workers from jobs, husbands from their families. The group we met--a teacher, a journalist, a hotel manager and an electrician--had previously worked in Jerusalem, but since the wall all have lost their jobs. There is no work in Abu Dis: shops and businesses have closed down, cut off as they now are from Jerusalem and given the unwillingness of people to invest in such an insecure environment.
Families have been split up. Abdulwahab Sabbah graduated in marketing and management. Since the wall he has been recategorised as a West Bank resident, with the result that he lost his job in a Jerusalem hotel and now drives a van in Abu Dis. He cannot live with his wife and children because they are classified as Jerusalem residents.
Nearly everyone in Abu Dis has lost land. The wall has invaded Abu Dis territory, which the Israeli authorities have simply confiscated. Land, which is now on the Israeli side, is declared 'absentees' land' and simply taken over. Legal challenges always fail. 'Families who have tilled their land for centuries, who have devoted their entire lives to planting and tilling, overnight have nothing.' There have been many demonstrations against the wall throughout the West Bank. Many Palestinians have been killed by the army.
As a result of the assassinations of Sheikh Yassin and Abdul Aziz Rantisi, Palestinians are even more determined to fight back. 'The Israelis want to break our spirit but new leaders always emerge,' says Salah.
Hamas has grown, not because of religion but because they lead the resistance, are not corrupt and provide essential social services: schools, healthcare and housing for the families of martyrs and prisoners, whose houses have been demolished as a collective punishment. On a recent Palestinian Authority poll, 35 percent supported Hamas and only 27 percent Fatah (President Arafat's party).
It is clear, say Salah and Abdulwahab, that the reason for the wall is not security but stealing more Palestinian land. The Israelis want to corral the Palestinians into an ever narrowing territory. The residents of Anata Camp find themselves on the wrong side of the wall. Currently with Jerusalem ID, it is a matter of time before they are redefined as West Bankers.
As Salah and Abdulwahab see it, the Israelis hope to make life so miserable, so intolerable for the Palestinians that they abandon their rapidly diminishing country, moving perhaps to Jordan or Syria, leaving their land available for the expansion of the Zionist state. But as Salah says, 'Resistance is the only choice.' And as Yussuf Asfour from Jaffa put it, 'The Palestinians will never leave their land--they will always fight back.'
The point of no return?
The liberal media were 'surprised', or 'astonished', when Bush recently endorsed Sharon's latest twist of the knife into the Palestinians. By the 'agreement', Israel is to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. Sharon (who has referred to Gaza as a 'morass') needed the US to endorse this 'bold' move, but on condition that they also give permission to extend, and legitimise, the vast settlements in the West Bank.
Leaving Gaza is a cheap price for Israel to pay for the West Bank 'prize'. Gaza is a virtual prison, with 70 to 80 percent unemployment and unimaginable poverty, and is unsurprisingly a fertile recruiting ground for the resistance. It is of no value to Israel, and is costly to police--checkpoints, fences, walls, armed watchtowers, prisons, tanks, air surveillance and the like. For example one Gaza settlement, with 60 families, requires the 'protection' of an entire Israel Defence Force battalion.
The 7,500 Israeli 'settlers' in Gaza, securely separated from over one million Palestinians, will be resettled in the larger, equally heavily 'protected' West Bank settlements. These will be expanded, taking yet more Palestinian land. All Israeli 'settlements' (which double as military bases) have been strategically built on hilltops, carved out of Palestinian land well inside the 1967 border, and surrounding Palestinian cities. Special roads for these 'settlers' only (and for the military) connect them to each other and to Israel. By every international standard, these 'settlements' are illegal. Since 1967 Israel has intended to 'annex' these vast swathes of land and nearby resources, especially water, and use them to divide Palestine into tiny non-contiguous 'cantons'. Israel may be pressured in the future to recognise these disconnected and ungovernable units (whose entire economy will continue to be under complete Israeli control) as a 'state'. The much-debated 'two-state solution' could arrive at this Bantustan outcome.
No one should be surprised by Bush's latest endorsement of Sharon's plan. The US has given a nod, wink and a nudge--as well as massive aid and weaponry. The US has also vetoed every UN Security Council resolution critical of Israeli policy, including its recent assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Gaza. The recent agreement also nullified Palestinians' long-cherished, and UN-supported, 'right to return' to land taken from them in 1948 and 1967.
But resistance in Palestine is still proud, determined and defiant. Every day villagers in their hundreds, supported by international and Israeli peace activists, are teargassed and shot as they contest the construction of the 'security' wall intended to divide them from each other and from their land.
Support for Palestinians is growing. We urgently need to build a solidarity movement on the scale of those against South African apartheid and the Vietnam War in the past.
Watch for the googly
Many people who work in computing find the fact that millions of people continue to use Microsoft's ubiquitous email service Hotmail a constant source of frustration and surprise. Not only does it seem particularly prone to spam, but it has limited storage capacity and Microsoft has been accused in the past of passing email details onto other companies.
However Microsoft's near monopoly almost guarantees people will use its email service, and if they don't Microsoft makes it hard for them. The only type of web email that Windows' built-in email reader Outlook Express can automatically configure is--you guessed it, Hotmail.
All this means that the computer industry got very excited that the internet's most successful search engine, Google, would soon release an online email service, Gmail. Google plans a number of features not seen before in online email services. But the biggest attraction is plans for huge online storage capacity--far more than is offered by Hotmail or even its closest rival, Yahoo!
Gmail could well offer relief to millions of Hotmail users fed up with overflowing in-boxes and spam. But Google isn't doing this out of charity--rather it plans something completely new, but something that will be recognisable to anyone who has seen Minority Report or other Philip K Dick inspired science fiction--personalised advertisements.
Software will scan your email for particular words and insert text advertisements at the end of the email based on the contents. The idea is that if you compose an email about your favourite films, adverts might be inserted offering you discounted DVDs.
These plans have caused outrage among privacy watchdogs. Already it looks as though Germany's privacy laws might outlaw such activity, and the online magazine Register has reported Privacy International filing a complaint with the British government.
A bigger concern is that it will be possible for email information to be matched up with searches made using the Google search engine. Google will even retain your emails after you close your account. Who knows what will happen to that information one day, but it's not something any of us should be happy with.