AUGUST IS traditionally part of the 'Silly Season' when the press scrabbles to find serious news to fill its pages. This year things have been very different. The Hutton inquiry into the death of the scientist David Kelly has ensured that Iraq and the scandal over weapons of mass destruction have remained in the media spotlight.
Tony Blair will return from his three week long luxury holiday in Barbados this week. He faces a deep political crisis. He is due to go before the Hutton inquiry to give evidence next week. The chaos in Iraq and the absence of weapons of mass destruction are only one side of the story. Blair faces trouble at home as well.
Most workers in Britain face low pay and stressful jobs. For millions of people life is becoming tougher. Simply meeting rising living costs is a constant battle. People are working longer hours with increased workloads. Jobs are increasingly insecure. A recent report shows that 129,000 workers in manufacturing industries have been sacked in the last year. People are forced into temporary and part-time work. Many are forced to work two jobs to make ends meet.
While Blair jets off to Barbados some 40 percent of British people cannot afford to take a holiday of more than four days away from home. Bosses across Europe are attacking pension rights, threatening more people with poverty in retirement.
It is no wonder that stress has now become the leading cause of sick leave in Britain with claims for stress rising 51 percent since 1995 according to the Unum insurance group. There is a feeling of discontent among people. But the level of strikes is still low in Britain compared to many countries in Europe.
Trade union leaders and the anti-union laws have bottled up workers' anger. But it can break out among groups of workers as shown by the magnificent unofficial walkout by check-in workers at British Airways last month. Some groups of workers are starting to take action over low pay and increasing pressure.
Most crucially of all, next week will see a national strike ballot of 160,000 postal workers over their poverty pay. Activists need to connect this mood with the anger against the war. The People's Assembly in central London next Saturday and the national demonstration in London in five weeks will give ordinary people the opportunity to hold Blair to account.
As many workplace groups as possible should be organising to mobilise for these two events to make them a mass, democratic alternative to this government. If the issues of war, and pay and conditions at work begin to spill over into action things could get very nasty for Blair indeed.
West backs Africa's butchers
THE OBITUARIES of Idi Amin of Uganda, who died last week, rightly said he was one of Africa's most brutal dictators. Amin's reign of terror from 1971 to 1979 saw at least 100,000 people murdered. He also expelled some 30,000 people of Asian descent.
The obituaries did not say that, as with so many butchers in Africa, none of this would have been possible without backing from Western powers. In Amin's case it was Britain.
Amin came to power in a military coup which deposed Milton Obote. Obote had angered the British government by denouncing prime minister Edward Heath for arms sales to apartheid South Africa. He nationalised some British firms. Amin, a leading military figure, had been trained in the British army. His bloody coup was encouraged, assisted and welcomed in Whitehall.
An enthusiastic Foreign Office official wrote, 'General Amin has certainly removed from the African scene one of our most implacable enemies in matters affecting Southern Africa. Our prospects in Uganda have no doubt been considerably enhanced.'
The day after Amin's death a Channel 4 programme showed in horrifying detail the scale of suffering in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The conflict, which has led to 3.5 million deaths, is rooted in the years under another Western-imposed dictator, Joseph Mobutu.
Among those guilty of fuelling the carnage today are the Ugandan and Rwandan regimes. These governments have at various times been showered with praise by the US and Britain. With this record nobody should believe that the US and its allies will bring peace and democracy to Liberia or anywhere else in Africa.
Protesters 'welcome' spin master
Around 40 protesters picketed Alastair Campbell when he gave evidence at the Hutton inquiry on Tuesday of this week. The crowd was ecstatic. The chants came at the top of our voices. He tried to smirk the picket off, but the man can't even deliver a convincing smirk, let alone a case for war.