Ex-Labour leader in Walsall says ‘Leave party. It has let you down’

Posted on: December 2nd, 2023 by Daire Cumiskey
Two Muslim women protesting on Saturday 25 November in central London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

There’s widespread rage at Labour’s backing of Israeli war crimes (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Until 16 November Aftab Nawaz was the leader of the Labour group on Walsall Council in the West Midlands. Now he’s preparing for a “social justice” challenge to Labour at forthcoming elections, including the general election. And he is talking to others across Britain about a wider electoral effort.
The trigger issue was Keir Starmer’s refusal to call for a ­ceasefire in Gaza. But that focused a deeper ­disillusion. He says he concluded that the Labour Party “was about management rather than trying to improve people’s lives”.
Aftab says it was a “wrench” to leave Labour after being a member for more than two decades. He says, “I did a lot of campaigning and a lot of work. And I stood as a paper candidate on several occasions—to keep the red flag flying, as we used to say.”
“And then I was elected as a ­councillor in 2014, and the ­councillors’ group chose me as the leader in 2019. But in the end, I got to a stage where I felt quite voiceless.
“I felt that even though we were speaking up for Palestine in our positions as leaders of Labour groups, the party itself as an institution, not just the leadership, was not interested in our views.
“We were just there to ensure that parliamentary elections were won. Since I and others became Muslim leaders of the Labour group in Walsall, we’ve had absolutely no support from the higher levels.
“It felt at times that the regional office was working against us. Slowly and incrementally, we found that the party was getting out of touch with people like us. And more importantly from the ­communities we represent. 
“And that’s not just about Muslims, it’s wider than that—grassroots communities where people are living their lives in a very difficult time.”
Then came Gaza, and Starmer’s backing for Israeli murder. “We’re not naive,” says Aftab. “We know if Keir Starmer got up and said he backed a ceasefire, it wouldn’t immediately change the situation.
“But it’s about moral courage and a reason to be in the Labour Party. If the leadership of the party can’t understand how big an issue this is to those communities who have been loyal to the Labour Party over many, many years, then they’ve lost their right to have us support them and vote for them.”
Aftab emphasises that in the past Labour might have been wrong but there was a chance for the left and others to be part of a genuine debate and have their say.
 But that’s gone now. “There are still a lot of people within the Labour Party who have a huge amount of sympathy and support for the Palestinian cause,” he said. The difficulty many of them face is that they feel scared—terrified actually—of bringing up the issue and being accused of antisemitism.”
Labour is a toxic party for Muslims and an unwelcoming party for anyone who has a different opinion to the leadership. Aftab has now decided it’s not possible to change Labour for the better. “All the parties, and Labour in particular, have left their roots behind,” he said.
“MPs used to come from people who had done normal working class jobs. Now you have people whose parents are politicians or top media people or in thinktanks and the higher levels of universities.
“They went to private schools then they were employed with MPs as their first jobs because their parents are involved in that business. They have no idea what our lives are like, the struggles that many of us face. There are some good ones. But not many.
“My father was an immigrant who worked in metal-bashing industries. I went to a comprehensive school and then worked for chemical firms before going into the council.”
Aftab adds that many people are “absolutely supportive” about his decision to leave Labour. “We’ve had mosques get in touch, and individuals ringing us up—people on the left as well as Muslims.
“People are excited. But I’m ­disappointed and a bit upset by the attitude of former colleagues in Labour who have just cut us off. I thought they were friends and what we find is that the only interest they had in this was that we were winning elections.
“They were happy with that. We were OK then. We’re looking at standing as independents in the local elections next year. We will give the opportunity to the people who are enraged at the moment over Gaza and other things to have their say. I hope people will be courageous enough to take the opportunity and leave behind those parties that have let them down.”
Aftab is also looking to the ­general election, expected within 12 months. “We’ve been talking to many people,” he says. “We’ve had many approaches as well from, political parties.
“We’re also having conversations on a national level with people of a similar background who left the party and want to put forward international solidarity with causes such as Palestine.”

Leave Labour but prioritise struggle
The some 60 councillors who have resigned from Labour stand in stark contrast to the Labour left figures who have stayed.
Some of these MPs, who voted for a ceasefire in the Commons on 15 November, have spoken at the great marches for Palestine. But none have skewered Keir Starmer, or called for anything more than internal pressure on him.
The crucial arena for struggle is the movement on the streets and in workplaces, not elections. The bigger and stronger that movement, the easier it will be for electoral alternatives to be possible—and for them to be more than a Labour party mark two.
The cowardice of the Labour left MPs, and their refusal to confront Starmer directly, act as a shield for his pro-Israel policies. They prioritise their positions rather than developing the revolt across the whole of politics over Palestine.

Thousands on the streets in Britain as Israel continues bloody assault on Gaza

Posted on: December 2nd, 2023 by Charlie
Protest for Gaza in Edinburgh. Raging students led by person with a megaphone.

The student section was very lively on the Edinburgh march

Thousands of people marched or rallied across Britain on Saturday against the Israeli assault on Gaza and in solidarity with the Palestinians. 

The biggest march was in Edinburgh where 8-10,000 took part. Lorna reports, “This was the largest Palestine demonstration in the city since 7 October by far. It was twice the size of the previous biggest one.

The student section was “absolutely huge,” she adds, with groups from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee on it. A Stop the War block was also lively and had trade union banners.

A big demonstration in east London saw marches merge with 500 from Newham and 300 from Barking, Redbridge and Dagenham. 

Some 400 turned out in Lancaster. Eugene said, “It was the biggest protest we’ve had so far. 

“The fact that people have carried on is important. There have been meetings every week too and everyone is doing stuff—new and old activists. Lots of people want to be active and there’s lots of wider support. Banners are still up from a previous banner drop.

“Today was very good—a lot of Palestinians joined. It was very lively and angry. People spoke about the importance of solidarity and want to keep turning out.”

In Bristol, where around 1,000 took party, Aimee said the march was “the angriest one we’ve had”. “It was great to see—it was the loudest too. We marched around the city. We walked past the BBC and chanted shame on them, the same when we went past the university too.

“At the end two Palestinians spoke, it was very emotional. One read a letter from a doctor in Gaza about the horror.”

In Oxford, 400 people joined a march through the city centre. City councillors voted unanimously this week to support a ceasefire. “We had a really good response in the streets from people,” Shaun reported.

“Both people who want a prolonged ceasefire and those who want a more radical solution were angry. And the placards that read ‘From the river to the sea’ were extremely popular”.

Gaza protest in Hounslow. People with giant Palestine flag

Protesting in Hounslow

In Leeds, up to 500 people joined a static protest. And in Coventry, some 300 people joined a march.

Protester David reported that the “really lively” demonstration marched through the city centre to a rally at the cathedral. “It was really diverse with a lot of people from the local area as well as students.

“Trades councils and the Unison union also backed the protest.  The main chants were for a ceasefire, and people were clear we need to keep up the support.”

Around 150 people also marched in York. The Labour-led council refused to even discuss a motion on calling for a ceasefire. Julie said, “The protest felt radical. A group of retail workers also sent a statement.

“The chants and placards saying ‘From the river to the sea’ went down the best. Police were asking people what that slogan meant to them.”

In Liverpool, 120 people joined a protest outside Barclays to draw attention to the bank’s funding of arms sales to Israel. John reported, “A new group called this and it’s the first time there’s been action outside the bank.

“So many new activists are trying to put demos and things together, and older activists have been reinvigorated too. Some who came had never been on a demonstration before.

“There was a lot of discussion and debate about the ceasefire, arms sales, the US’s role and what more people can do today and going forward.

“There was a vigil the night before held by health workers, and people are keen to keep up days of action.”

In Sheffield, 250 attended a rally that was boosted by eight feeder marches. “All the marches were organised by local people,” protester Collette said.

“A lot of young people said that in schools they’re not able to ask questions about Palestine so were grateful for the opportunity to get educated. There’s also been meetings, fundraisers and events—this rally was one of at least five things happening in Sheffield for Palestine today.”

Around 400 people attended a Stop The War (STW) rally in Tower hamlets, east London, in the afternoon. Andrew Murray from STW said, “We oppose the Israeli government but our main enemy is at home—the British government. Their policy is endless war—ours is end the war.” 

Apsana Begum, one of the Labour MPs in the borough, said “I’ll keep raising my voice in Parliament and on the protests.” She told the audience to, “Keep joining the protests.” 

Sean Vernell is a UCU university and college union member and STW trade union network activist. He said, “100 different workplaces had actions last Wednesday and there will be another workplace day of action Thursday next week”

Jeremy Corbyn finished the rally saying, “The message has got to be—it’s up to us to do more and more for the Palestinian people.” 

There were also protests in smaller places such as Cromer and Haverfordwest.

The protests came as Israel relaunched its attacks on Gaza which have so far killed almost 300 Palestinians after the end of a seven-day truce with Hamas.

The Israeli army said on Saturday that it hit more than 400 targets overnight, including in the Khan Younis area in the south, to which tens of thousands of civilians evacuated over the past month.

“Hell on Earth has returned to Gaza,” said Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN humanitarian office.

The US has made some hypocritical calls to limit civilian deaths. But the Wall Street Journal reported

Gaza protest in Southampton. 30 people with large banner "Stop war crimes"

Protesting in Southampton against the assault on Gaza (Picture: Guy Smallman)

that the US has sent Israel some 15,000 bombs and 57,000 artillery shells since 7 October, including 2,000-pound “bunker buster bombs”.

“The Israeli occupation continues to expand its targeting of civilians and has left not an inch of the Gaza Strip without bombing,” Gaza ministry of health spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra said on Saturday.

Across London, Palestine supporters gathered at a total of 14 borough-wide protests. Hundreds gathered in each of Hackney, Camberwell, Lewisham and Tottenham. In Islington, reports Paul, “There were around 400 at the town hall with speakers from City University Palestine Society, Stop the War, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Islington Palestine Solidarity, two councillors, and local trade unionists.

“They focused on the unfolding horror of Gaza and the West Bank and the need to build support for the walkouts for Palestine on Thursday and Saturday’s national demo.”

Everyone must build that demonstration. But there also have to be bigger numbers joining action and walkouts at workplaces, schools, and universities.

The push for that won’t come from the trade union leaders or the Labour left—still less from Keir Starmer who continues to refuse calls for a ceasefire.

The people rightly raging on the streets now have to be ambassadors and organisers of wider and more militant revolt.

Hundreds of angry protesters in east London had a message for local Labour MPs and politicians. The front of one protest, which began in Forest Gate in Newham, had a banner which read, “No ceasefire, no vote.”

Anger at Labour in east London 

Hundreds of angry protesters in east London had a message for local Labour MPs and politicians. The front of one protest, which began in Forest Gate in Newham, had a banner which read, “No ceasefire, no vote.” 

Up to 500 protesters chanted it as they marched to Plashet Park in East Ham, where they joined up with around 300 demonstrators who’d marched from Redbridge. Shabana told Socialist Worker, “We feel abandoned. 

“I don’t think I could vote for any candidate who voted against a ceasefire. I think I’d have to really think about voting for Labour again.” 

Education worker Khadija added “I don’t think any politicians are really listening to us properly. Labour isn’t Labour anymore— and, of course, the Tories are always bad.”

At the end of the march, people chanted, “Lyn Brown, shame on you”—the West Ham Labour MP who abstained in the ceasefire vote in parliament.  

When a protester defended East Ham Labour MP Stephen Timms—who did vote for a ceasefire— another protester hit back saying he should go further. They argued that Timms should have been at the demonstration. 

Protester Samira added that she thinks that the movement must keep going even if there is a permanent ceasefire. “To me the seven-day pause wasn’t really a ceasefire,” she said. “How can it be when really one side, Israel, has all the power? They’ll still attack the Palestinians in other ways even if they stop bombing. 

“Of course I want the bombing to end. But we need to keep fighting for Palestinians if that does happen because the violence won’t end even if there is a ceasefire.” 

Khadija added, “We need to keep up the protests. They need to be in every school and workplace.” 

Luton student campaign forces break with arms-maker

Student action has forced a college in Luton to “suspend” links with a military firm that suppliers Israel. But the campaign continues for a total break with this company and any others involved in similar work.

Luton Sixth Form College, which teaches over 3,000 16 to 18-year-olds, released a statement this week announcing it would cut ties with Leonardo. This is an Italian engineering firm that manufactures aircraft parts used by Israel.

The move follows a student campaign including a walkout by hundreds of students on 17 November. This was the day school students in several areas took action in protest at the bombing of Gaza.

Last week, the student council sent an open letter to the college leadership team demanding it cut its partnership with Leonardo “immediately”.

College bosses then issued a statement that said, “Leonardo attends career fairs for schools and colleges in Luton to offer work placements to students and has been in attendance at our Job Fairs and has offered work experience opportunities to some of our students.

“That is the extent of our relationship with Leonardo and we are currently reviewing our position with them in conjunction with Luton Borough Council and other schools and colleges. All further activities with Leonardo will be suspended until further notice.”

While making this declaration the College management disbanded the student council, which organised the pro-Palestine protests. It has and announced plans to invite a group called Shout Out UK on campus. 

Shout Out UK also posted on its social media pages that it had been invited to visit the college to provide a series of lessons on media literacy and “prevent radicalisation and extremism”.

Hassan Sajjad, who chaired the student council, told Middle East Eye website, “We’re going to continue placing pressure till the college cuts ties with Leonardo and ensure that the college has transparency in its decision”

Sajjad said the head of the college had told him that he planned to speak to Leonardo representatives to hear their perspective, “so nothing is concrete at this time”.

Sajjad added: “The decision to disband the student council was done behind closed doors without informing them of whether or not they want to finish this year’s session early. So we want that element of student input to be stronger within the college.”

In June, the Israeli ministry of defence selected Leonardo to supply the Israeli army with air surveillance and radar technology. The company has also previously supplied the Israeli Air Force with warplanes.

AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Leonardo, makes components for Apache attack helicopters used by Israel in Gaza.

Earlier this month, activists from Palestine Action occupied the roof of a Leonardo factory in Southhampton to oppose its involvement in Israel.

What’s next

Demonstrations on Sunday 3 December

Portsmouth: assemble at Victoria Park, 1.30pm

Slough: Assemble in the Town Square SL1 1DD (opposite the former Empire Cinema), 1.30pm.

Woking: Commercial Way, 1pm-3pm

  • The next national demonstration is in a week. Saturday 9 December, assemble 12 noon, Bank Junction, London. Details here 
  • Workplace day of action for Palestine, Thursday 7 December. Details here Online meeting to build for the workplace day, and the national demonstration, on Tuesday 5 December at 6.30pm. Details here

The First Intifada 1987-1993—when Palestinians rose up

Posted on: December 1st, 2023 by Isabel
December 1987 in the Gaza Strip during the First Intifada

December 1987 in the Gaza Strip during the First Intifada

What was the First Intifada?

The Intifada began on 8 December 1987 and lasted almost six years. It was a great uprising that involved almost every Palestinian family in Gaza, in the West Bank and inside of Israel. It was an incredibly democratic revolt led from below that included every layer of Palestinian society. Women’s committees blossomed during the Intifada.

Strikes became integral to the fightback, with workers in areas of the Occupied Territories refusing to work for days on end. Desperate Israeli bosses had to appeal to the government to find a new source of labour to run hotels and restaurants and to pick fruits.

The Intifada’s energy and vitality showed that it was possible for Palestinian resistance to have an alternative leadership, different from the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). The great uprising began when an Israeli driver drove into Palestinian cars, killing several people.

Three of those killed were from the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza. It was there that the uprising took root and began to spread across Gaza and then into the West Bank. Just two days into the revolt, protests and action had effectively closed down Gaza. An international aid worker described that Gaza was “totally closed”.

“The roads are blocked. The streets are strewn with debris. The black smoke of burning tyres hangs over the city,” they said. The leadership was a new generation of Palestinian youth who fought back with stones. These new leaders had known nothing but the humiliation, poverty and violence that the Israeli state had imposed on them.

They were prepared to fight back in any way they could to change that. An article written by the Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post captured the period when it wrote, “It is a situation of our 20 year olds (Israelis) battling their 20 year olds (Palestinians). Ours use armour and helicopters, and theirs use clubs, rocks and primitive Molotov cocktails.”

What was the context of the First Intifada, and why should new activists know about it?

Firstly, they should know there is a long tradition of Palestinian resistance to colonialism. No one should forget the wave of Palestinian resistance from 1936-39, which battled both the Zionists and the British. Extreme levels of violence suppressed this resistance. The Palestinians haven’t forgotten this struggle. For them, this period was another Intifada in itself. 

But it wasn’t just Israel’s brutality and violent oppression that made the Palestinians rise up in 1987. It was also about economic pressure and poverty. For more than two decades following the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel had occupied Gaza. The Israeli state turned Gaza into what was essentially a Bantustan—similar to the areas that white apartheid rulers in South Africa set aside for black inhabitants.

Thousands of workers from Gaza worked in Israel and were seen by the Israelis as a convenient and cheap form of Labour. By 1981, 110,000 labourers were travelling from the Occupied Territories into Israel. High rates of unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza helped to ensure that the Israelis could get away with keeping Palestinian workers’ wages low.

In 1987 the wages of Israeli workers were ten times higher than Palestinians. This rage at an oppressive system set up by the Israelis to starve Palestinians in every way meant the revolt spread with enormous speed. The ferocity and tenacity of the Palestinian resistance shook the Israeli state to its core.

Why did it take so long for Israel to suppress the Intifada?

During the 1948 Nakba, which marked the creation of the state of Israel, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee their homes. Some settled in neighbouring countries like Lebanon or Jordan. Here, they set up their own resistance organisations, including the PLO.

In 1982 Israel invaded Lebanon to try and crush the PLO, which had become politically influential in the country. During the invasion, Israel’s allies, the Lebanese Kataeb, murdered 2,000 Palestinians in Beirut. The Israelis believed that they had managed to crush the Palestinian national liberation movement. But they were wrong. 

It wasn’t fatally damaged. Instead it had been transformed into a mass struggle inside of Palestine itself. The guerrilla struggle waged by groups like the PLO against the Israelis throughout the 1960s had been brave, but hadn’t succeeded. But in 1987 tens of thousands of young Palestinians felt a sense that they were fighting in a new way. The experience energised them. On the other hand, the Israelis were only accustomed to battling guerrilla fighters.

They were unprepared for a democratically run mass movement of civil action from below, encompassing strikes and massive demonstrations. After a year of revolt Israeli deputy chief of staff General Ehud Barak was forced to admit the Intifada was having an exhausting effect on the Israeli state. He revealed that 10,000 Israeli troops were deployed in the West Bank and Gaza, and 3.5 million working days had been “invested” in putting down the Intifada.

Israel still tried to crush the resistance with repression, and during the years of the Intifada, it jailed around 30,000 Palestinians. The Israeli defence minister at the time Yitzhak Rabin had brought in the policy he called the “Iron Fist”. This attempted to crush Palestinian nationalism in 1985, which included deporting Palestinians.

It was used extensively by Israel for the next four years, but on its own it didn’t manage to stop the Intifada. If there’s one thing we must take from this Intifada, it’s that resistance in Palestinian society will never be extinguished. In the same way that Palestinians rose up against oppression and violence during the revolt, Israel’s latest assault will lead to more revolts for years to come.

Why did the First Intifada end?

Eventually, brute repression from the Israeli state did take its toll on the Palestinians, who after almost six years were exhausted. However Israel also relied on the leadership of the PLO to put an end to this wave of resistance for it. Leaders of the Fatah faction of the PLO, Yasser Arafat and others, wanted control over the movement that had risen up.

They did this in the hope that Israel would hand them an independent Palestinian state. They entered so-called peace talks, known as the Oslo Accords. The mass movement ended in September 1993, and what followed was a process that ended up being a lie and a deception. The peace talks allowed the Israelis to continue to operate a process of colonisation in the West Bank and turn Gaza into a prison zone. 

Ultimately, the agreement led to the creation of the Palestinian National Authority, which had partial control over the West Bank and Gaza. But it didn’t take long for Palestinian people to realise this deal was a fraud and abandon their support for the PLO and Arafat. In 2006, in free elections, Palestinians in Gaza instead voted for Hamas. The Israeli state initially wanted to facilitate the development of an Islamist group like Hamas as opposed to the secular PLO.  

It licensed the building of mosques in the Gaza Strip. Israel was happy that Hamas was, initially, primarily an organisation based on providing welfare, funding schools and nurseries and charity work. But that didn’t last. Hamas turned from a counterweight to the PLO. Today Israel is reaping what it sowed.

Did the First Intifada inspire revolt elsewhere?

The Intifada inspired movements across the Arab world from Lebanon to Jordan, North Africa, and the Gulf States. The character of those movements was important. People in the Arab world understood that this was an anti-imperialist fight. They knew they weren’t just demonstrating in solidarity with Palestinians—they were fighting against their own governments as well.

One example of this was in Egypt, where mass demonstrations in universities were joined by workers from textile mills in Mahalla al‑Kubra. Workers walked out and led a march in support of the Intifada while also raising slogans against the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. 

Opposition to their rulers at home made solidarity demonstrations very dangerous. There were sustained efforts in Arab states to crush solidarity movements. In this, we see a pattern that goes back decades and highlights the cynicism of the Arab regimes. And across the world those who identified with the struggle against imperialism saw that a mass movement of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation meant that even the most oppressed in society could fight back.

Today the same is true. The Palestinians are still fighting and inspiring struggle across the world. For all of Israel’s imperialist backing and funding, it has still not been able to destroy the collective will to resist.

What was the reaction from the Arab ruling class outside of Palestine?

The Intifada and every other high point in Palestinian resistance has always agitated the Arab ruling classes because it often leads to resistance from below. But, when this happened, the PLO was there to come to the rescue of Arab rulers. Arafat developed a policy of no interference in the politics of other Arab states in the 1960s.

He assured Arab rulers that the PLO would not interfere with their domestic policy in exchange for money and weapons. The PLO’s message to all those inspired by the Palestinian struggle in other Arab countries was to go home and go back to work. It separated the struggle of the Palestinians from the struggle of the wider Arab working class.

A key lesson it’s important for us to learn is that the Palestinian struggle has always prompted solidarity across the Arab world. But the Palestinian leaders, especially the PLO, have never expressed that this could be a key to liberation.

Instead they have isolated Palestinian nationalism and isolated the Palestinian struggle more broadly. To win this strategy must be rejected. The Palestinian movement is always at its strongest when it fights together with the Arab working class.

Take to streets for Palestine after Israel restarts onslaught

Posted on: December 1st, 2023 by JC
Big palestine flag being carried by protesters on the protest against Israeli terror

Up to 300,000 joined the march for Palestine last week (Picture: Guy Smallman)

The Israeli state resumed its massacre of the Palestinians on Friday after a seven-day pause in bombing. Israeli bombs flattened buildings in the Jabalia refugee camp and in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip

Israeli forces had killed over 100 people by Friday afternoon. Ibitsam lives in Deir al Bala in central Gaza. In the hours before the pause ended, she told Socialist Worker she was terrified about what fresh horror the Israeli state would rain down on the Palestinians. 

“Everybody is worried that the coming round will be tougher and fiercer,” she said. “All people are tired and stressed out and not ready for more. Basic necessities are very low—especially salt, flour and cooking gas. Despite the ceasefire, when aid could enter, the amount was insufficient.”

Hamas pushed for Israel to allow food and fuel into Gaza as one of the terms of the pause in fighting.  Israel did not keep its side of the deal. And now that it’s resumed bombing, trucks filled with aid have been unable to cross into Gaza through the Rafah crossing. 

On Friday Israel dropped leaflets warning Palestinians in southern Gaza to evacuate their homes near the town of Khan Younis as it was about to become a “battle zone.” The Israeli state had originally told Palestinians that Khan Younis was a “safe” place to go to. Israel bombed it on Friday.

The leaflet told them to shelter in the Rafah area, which is close to the border with Egypt. Hamas said that the Israeli state refused to make deals because it wants to continue to massacre as many Palestinians in Gaza as possible. 

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said, “Every day in the past seven days of the temporary ceasefire, Israel was acting in a way to undermine the whole process. Yesterday night we were talking about extending the temporary ceasefire.

“We were very clear about some options which were suggested by the mediators—we accepted three suggestions, but all those were rejected by the Israelis. We were and we still are positive about all the efforts, but the Israelis are refusing them.”  

He added, “The Israeli occupation did not view the temporary truce as an opportunity for a permanent ceasefire, but rather viewed it as an opportunity to reposition itself to kill the largest number of civilians.”

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu revealed Israel’s murderous plans. He tweeted, “Our forces are charging forward. We continue to fight with all our strength until we achieve all our goals—the return of all our abductees, the elimination of Hamas, and the promise that Gaza will never be a threat to Israel again.”

Rishi Sunak expressed “disappointment” that Israel’s assault on those in Gaza had continued but, of course, wouldn’t condemn the actions of the Israeli state. 

Everyone should get onto the streets this weekend and build walkouts and protests to rage against Israel—and its Western backers.

‘There will be more train crashes’—rail worker blows whistle on maintenance cuts 

Posted on: November 30th, 2023 by TTE
rail strikes: Group of 12 rail strikers in hi-vis jackets, some with raised fists, and a large banner about striking for safety

Rail workers pickets in Sheffield last year (Picture: Phil Turner)

Rail bosses’ maintenance cuts are threatening a major disaster and loss of life.

Jim, who works on rail maintenance, told Socialist Worker, “Managements are obsessed with cutting costs so that they can make more for the firms that run the system. And the government stand with them.

“They wanted to cut the ticket offices, they wanted to make us all ‘flexible’, they wanted to take away the specialist knowledge that specialised teams develop,

“It’s not just us working harder, it means safety flies out the window. I’m telling you now, there will be more crashes soon, and I really fear there will be corpses lined up. Then everyone will say there has been a bad culture. Well, take action now before it happens.

“I don’t know how the company executives can just gamble with people’s lives. It’s scary for us all, it’s seeing a crash coming and not being able to stop it.”

The crisis is particularly clear in the south west of England. This week safety fears saw trains between London Paddington and Reading disrupted after workers found a broken rail. The defect was in the Hayes and Harrington area in Greater London at a crucial point where trains transfer from one track to another.

 It was one of six damaged rails on the Great Western Railway’s main line from London to the south west of England and Wales within just eight days.

 Workers, inspectors—and random members of the public—discovered other cracks in Slough, Bourton near Swindon, Iver in Buckinghamshire,  Charfield in Gloucestershire, and Heath High Level on the Cardiff Valleys line.

 One railway worker told the BBC that passenger trains would have been travelling over the cracks at about 125mph. “This is how trains come off the rails, putting lives at risk,” they said.” The one at Bourton wasn’t noticed until a member of the public who lives nearby noticed a change in the sound of the train.”

Just a few weeks ago, the TSSA union warned of “wholly unnecessary safety risks” on the railways as Network Rail announced a cull of almost 500 jobs. 

Network Rail is cutting back on plans to renew rails that have reached the end of their expected safe limits in order to balance the books. Most of the anticipated track renewals will now be deferred for at least five years, increasing the likelihood of catastrophic rail failure due to unaddressed metal fatigue.

The cuts will affect the High Output Track Renewals Team, which replaces old rails and sleepers, using specialist machinery. Network Rail is also drastically cutting its fleet of High Output Ballast Cleaner trains, which replace and replenish the stone ballast that tracks rest on.

In February, the RMT union said Network Rail was slashing the amount of maintenance work in half to support its Modernising Maintenance programme. It meant 1,850 maintenance jobs would go and maintenance slashed in half. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said the plans were “a recipe for disaster”.

He added, “Broken rails are already being picked up by chance where inspections have been slashed. Critically, Network Rail is hellbent on ramming through these changes at pace despite the significant safety risks.” 

At the time, Andrew Haines, chief executive of  Network Rail said the cuts followed a lack of available work.

“We have this maintenance that doesn’t need doing,” he said. Haines added Network Rail wanted to optimise the maintenance teams it has, to work more efficiently and to avoid giving workers contracts with hours that cannot be guaranteed.

 That means squeezing every drop of work from maintenance staff and leaving no spare capacity. Network Rail’s schemes came in response to the government’s demands for £400 million “cost savings”.

The cuts have been part of the pay talks with the unions. Network Rail chief negotiator Tim Shoveller said, “The RMT has a track record of ‘crying wolf’ over non-existent safety fears whenever progress and new technology or techniques are on the horizon that threaten their archaic and out-of-date working practices.

“On the contrary, our proposals to modernise the way we carry out maintenance will only improve the safety of our railway for all its users.”

The damaged and dangerous rails give the lie to that claim. Rail worker Jim said, “It shows why we can’t negotiate away conditions and jobs.” 

RMT members working for the train operating companies have just accepted a below-inflation pay deal offered by train operating companies after 18 months of on-off strikes. Bosses now intend to ram through cuts company by company. Train drivers in the Aslef union return to strikes on Saturday. 

How cracked rail caused Hatfield disaster 

 The rail cracks now are a chilling echo of the lead-up to the rail crash in October 2000 at Hatfield, Hertfordshire. It was caused by a metal fatigue-induced derailment, killing four people and injuring more than 70.

Speed restrictions and emergency track replacement works caused disruption on a majority of the national network for more than a year.

Bosses at Railtrack—the privatised, national railway infrastructure company—used outsourcing to cut costs.

Management knew about the problem at Hatfield before the crash. Railtrack subsequently went bankrupt and Network Rail replaced it. In 2005, a court found both Railtrack and the contractor Balfour Beatty guilty of breaching health and safety laws.

The judge dismissed manslaughter charges against the firms’ executives before a jury considered them.

Do you have further information on this story or want to tell us about other areas where this is happening? Please contact [email protected] or [email protected]  We can keep all sources anonymous if necessary. Speak out before there’s a disaster.

Did Cop 28 president use climate conference to make oil deals?

Posted on: November 30th, 2023 by JC
Mr. Simon Stiell, UNFCCC Executive Secretary (CL), H.E. Sameh Shoukry, President of COP 27/CMP 17/CMA 4 (C) and His Excellency Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, COP28 President (CR) attend the UNFCCC Formal Opening of COP28 during the UN Climate Change Conference COP28 at Expo City Dubai

Cop28 opens in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Picture: COP28 / Christopher Pike)

The Cop28 conference could be the biggest climate cop-out yet. It sounds made up that the president of a global summit on tackling climate change is the head of an oil company. 

But Sultan al-Jaber—chair of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) national oil company—is the president of Cop 28. He welcomed delegates in Dubai on Thursday, saying he’d made a “bold” choice to “proactively engage with oil and gas companies”.

The day he was forced to deny allegations that he’d used the conference to make oil deals. “These allegations are false,” he protested to reporters. “Not true, incorrect, not accurate. It’s an attempt to undermine the work of the Cop 28 presidency. 

Leaked documents showed the Cop 28 presidency had meetings with other governments that included “talking points” about al-Jaber’s company selling oil and gas. A group of journalists from the Centre for Climate Reporting obtained documents.  

It was met with fury from climate activists. Alice Harrison, the fossil fuel campaign lead at Global Witness, said, “The international climate process has been hijacked by the oil and gas industry. 

“This leak must be the final nail in the coffin of the long-debunked idea that the fossil fuel industry can play any part in the solution to the crisis that it created.”

The problem goes far deeper than one corrupt Cop president. The overwhelming message from world leaders so far at Cop is the lie that it’s possible to burn fossil fuel, meet emissions targets and reduce temperatures. 

This year temperatures reached record-breaking highs, and scientists gave their final warning that world leaders must take decisive action to stop climate change. 

Earlier this month, the UN released a report that found that states, including the US, India, Russia, Canada, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, were planning a massive expansion in the use of fossil fuels. It found that no state that had pledged to meet net-zero plans by 2050 had committed to even drastically reducing fossil fuel production. 

On Thursday, Rishi Sunak said that Britain’s role at Cop28 was to “set the tone and show political will”—but he has also signed off on new fossil fuel projects. In September the Tories permitted bosses to start the Rosebank oil field in the North Sea. 

An Extinction Rebellion (XR) statement said it’s essential to rage against our leaders here and abroad. “Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says Britain is a ‘world leader’ on climate,” it said. 

“But he has vowed to ‘max out’ Britain’s oil and gas reserves, and has approved the development of the Rosebank oil field. Its output will generate emissions equal to the annual emissions of the 28 poorest countries combined.” 

It added, “We won’t let a tiny club of leaders and industrialists in wealthy countries ramp up fossil fuel production while lecturing the rest of the world on climate action.” 

Meanwhile, world leaders have tried to clamp down on solidarity with Palestine at the conference. Mesiah Burciaga-Hameed from  the Indigenous People’s Caucus, told the conference, “As Indigenous people of the world, we are heartbroken to see the genocide and ecocide in Palestine. There is no climate justice without human rights.”

The organisers cut out Asad Rehman, director of the charity War on Want, when he called for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza over a video link at the conference. 

After another year of climate and imperialist horror, no one should have any illusions about what the Cop process is really for. Our hope lies in mass and militant action from below that can take on the profit system driving us to disaster. 

Henry Kissinger 1923-2023: war criminal loved by imperialism dies

Posted on: November 30th, 2023 by Isabel
Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger

Henry Kissinger enjoyed wire-tapping phones and dropping bombs on innocent people (Picture: US National Archives)

Detestable war criminal Henry Kissinger has finally died. Aged 100, his long life contrasts with those of his victims. Many of them died before reaching adulthood. The former US secretary of state and national security advisor to president Richard Nixon had a hand in coups, murder, bombings, kidnappings and genocides.

When he and Nixon entered the White House in 1969, the US was on the brink of political collapse. The “world’s greatest superpower” was losing its war in Vietnam and was increasingly fearful of one at home. Rebellion against ­military conscription and endless bombing campaigns combined with growing demands for radical change.

Kissinger’s task was to restore US imperialism, which would he believed would return order to US streets. But despite the hell he unleashed on the world, America lost most of the ­battles he entered them into. And that only hastened the sense of an empire in decline.

Since the early 1960s, the US had invaded, bombed and pillaged Vietnam as part of its mission to “stop the spread of communism” and cement its own control. But it soon became clear that the puppet government the US backed had little popular support—unlike the resistance that fought against it.

Despite Vietnam ­becoming a running sore, Kissinger and Nixon feared pulling out troops would make the US look “weak”. Instead, they escalated the war to countries that neighbour Vietnam—Laos and Cambodia—in a bid to isolate the resistance.

During the Cambodian ­campaign—named “Operation Menu”—the US dropped over 25,000 bombs in each of six areas and killed an estimated 500,000 civilians. The real figure is probably higher. The National Security Assistant approved each of the 3,875 bombing raids between 1969 and 1970.

Kissinger kept his bombing ­campaign secret from the US Congress because he feared it would block the move. After the plans were leaked to the New York Times ­newspaper, he ordered FBI agents to wiretap the phones of the National Security Council to find out who was responsible.

The war in Cambodia ­decimated the already desperately poor country and US generals gloated that they had bombed the country “back to the stone age”. At least 600,000 Cambodians died before the US-backed regime was finally toppled in 1975. From these ashes, the Khmer Rouge rose to power. In the genocide that followed, the regime murdered up to 2.2 ­million people it designated “class enemies”.

Kissinger was also behind the carpet-bombing of North Vietnam in 1972. In total the 17-year war took the lives of some two million Vietnamese civilians, over 58,000 dead US soldiers—and cost $843.63 billion (£673.73 billion). Talks in 1973 led to a ­ceasefire in Vietnam. And despite being drenched in blood, Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Latin America is another ­continent where people remember the bloody trail he left. The Chilean military coup in 1973 was one of the US’s 81 “interventions” in other ­countries’ elections. Chilean socialist presidential candidate Salvador Allende won the 1970 election with 36.2 percent of the vote. The US panicked because of his left wing, pro-Cuban politics. 

“I don’t see why we have to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people,” Kissinger said. After a failed coup in June 1973, general Augusto Pinochet, the army’s commander-in-chief, tried again in September. He surrounded the ­presidential palace with tanks, helicopters and infantry and fired on it. Allende died in the fighting—but whether he was shot or shot himself is contested.

The new US-backed junta began a reign of ­terror. The military took over the country’s main football stadium to house 12,000 leftists they had rounded up. In total, the regime killed up to 30,000 people, with many more tortured or driven into exile. After hearing the news of Allende’s overthrow, Kissinger complained about the lack of recognition the US had received. Nixon replied, “Well, we didn’t—as you know—our hand doesn’t show on this one.”

The coup was part of Operation Condor—a US-backed regime of political repression including assassinations, coups and intelligence operations in South America from 1968 to 1989. In Argentina between 1974 to 1983, the US backed a military junta that had fought a “Dirty War” to oust a left-wing government and repress popular dissent. The US gave the junta $50 million (£39 million) in military aid to help it clear out the radicals.

In June 1976 Kissinger gave the junta a “green light” to begin large scale repression. He told Argentina’s foreign minister Cesar Augusto Guzzetti that the US backed them, but to “get back to normal ­procedures” before the US Congress reconvened. During the period of state terror an estimated 30,000 people were killed or disappeared without explanation.

Assassinations were carried out via mass shootings, or people were drugged, rounded up and dropped naked and semi-conscious into the Atlantic Ocean. The state imprisoned some 12,000 prisoners without trial and created more than 400 secret concentration camps. Today the people that died are known as “The Disappeared”.

Kissinger and Nixon were to leave their mark on Asia too. The US supported Pakistan’s military dictatorship and its bloody campaign in 1971 in what was then known as East Pakistan, but is today Bangladesh.

At the time of the ­fighting, Pakistan was one country split between east and west wings. The military regime in Islamabad, in West Pakistan, had political control over both territories but there was ­rebellious resistance in the East. Bengali nationalists wanted to run their own country and to separate from West Pakistan.

The military junta in Islamabad tried to smash them and this led to civil war in the East. The US backed the regime in West Pakistan because they feared an independent Bangladesh would align with India—and India was at least partially aligned with the Soviet Union. Pakistan’s military bombed, murdered and raped their way through the East.

It was intent on wiping out not only Bengali independence fighters, but also all those who sympathised with them. And in the Pakistani ­soldiers’ hands were US-made weapons. Kissinger ignored the first telegram from the US consul Archer Blood in East Pakistan that informed him of “a selective genocide”. When a second telegram again described it as a “genocide”, Kissinger had him sacked. 

During negotiations to end the war, Kissinger called Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi a “bitch” and said “the Indians are bastards”. When this was made public in 2005, he blamed the now dead ex-president saying, “The language was Nixon language.”

Nixon and Kissinger’s reign of terror reached its end with the Watergate ­scandal in 1972. Five burglars were caught breaking into the Democratic Party National Committee in the Watergate office-apartment hotel in Washington. Members of Nixon’s ­re‑­election committee were in the offices to tap the phones—but the bugs failed.

They later made a second attempt with new microphones but were caught wiretapping the phones and stealing documents. Nixon promised he had ­nothing to do with the scandal and was re-elected as president in November 1972. He paid hush money to the burglars and ordered the CIA to clamp down on the investigations into the affair.

The burglars went to trial and pleaded guilty. But one, James McCord, wrote a letter to the judge that said the White House was behind the break-in. A Senate Committee began investigations, and discovered that all conversations in Nixon’s Oval Office were recorded. The president resisted handing over the tapes but eventually gave up some but with many missing or damaged. By summer 1974 he was forced to hand them all over.

By then it was clear that the president had full knowledge of the Watergate operation and that phones were illegally wiretapped on his orders. While Nixon was distracted by the scandal, Kissinger enjoyed free reign on foreign policy.

He survived as secretary of state until the Republicans lost the 1976 presidential election and has since advised US governments on their attempts at conquest in Iraq, Iran and Ukraine. Kissinger shouldn’t be remembered as a great diplomat or functionary. He is the embodiment of murderous US imperialism.

Workers and students stage protests for Palestine

Posted on: November 29th, 2023 by JC
Healthcare workers walkout for palestone at st georges hospital

Healthcare workers at St George’s Hospital rally for Palestine

Several thousand workers and students across Britain joined protests and walkouts for Palestine on Wednesday.

It was the second workplace day of action called by Stop The War, one of the organisers of the London marches.

Over 100 workers and students protested outside Westminster Kingsway College in central London. UCU union members and students at City and Islington College, north London, protested to demand, “Ceasefire now.”

And around 100 held a lunchtime protest outside Tower Hamlets college, east London. Speakers defended the chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”—which supporters of Israel smear as antisemitic.

Workers at Stoke Newington School in Hackney, east London, protested outside with Palestinian flags. And NEU union members at the BSix sixth form college in the same borough held signs demanding, “Ceasefire now,” outside.

NEU and Unison union members at a south London nursery school protested outside at the start of the day.

Up to 100 people, mainly college students, attended a STW lunchtime meeting on Palestine in Bury, Greater Manchester. And workers at Bradford college rallied at lunchtime with their UCU union banner.

Around 300 Edinburgh students walked out of lectures for Palestine—the eighth week of walkouts at the university. Members of the EIS, UCU and Unite unions and Edinburgh trades council joined the protest.

A UCU union rep left a staff meeting to join the protest—and gave a speech calling for workers and students to step up action.

At Glasgow university students crashed the graduation ceremony and chanted, “Glasgow uni, shame on you, you have blood on your hands too.”

There was a “die-in” at the London School of Economics (LSE) where students wrapped the university Christmas tree with a massive sign that read, “Ceasefire now.” Students had marched from KCL and SOAS universities to get to the die-in.

Around 150 students walked out of lecture theatres and marched in Birmingham, and another 200 took part in a demonstration at Cambridge university. There were also student walkouts at Leicester and Warwick universities.

Around 25 workers at St George’s Hospital in south London protested outside with Palestinian flags and placards. One health worker, who organised the lunchtime protest, said Israel’s bombing of Gaza is a “crime against humanity and not an act of self-defence”. “We’ve picked our side to stand with the oppressed,” he said.

Health workers at Dorset County Hospital protested at lunchtime alongside supporters of the Islamic Centre and Dorset Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. Workers at Royal Stoke Hospital staged a lunchtime gathering inside, waving a Palestine flag. Staff at the Homerton in east London showed their solidarity with Palestine.

Postal workers in the CWU union at Stansted Airport held up posters that read, “Ceasefire now”.

Around 200 culture workers gathered outside the Southbank Centre in south London. Organisers had stressed the action was “a walkout, a withdrawal of labour and a downing of tools.” And around 30 people attended a protest organised by the PCS union outside the Houses of Parliament.

Some 30 students and workers from the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moore’s university held a protest in university square. Jewish anti-Zionist Saira Weiner—the UCU Left candidate for UCU general secretary—called for union leaders to build the movement for Palestine.

Around 200 students from the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan and Salford universities protested in the city centre. UCU members also joined the protest. Students called out the property company Fisher German, which rents buildings out to the Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems.

The day of action could have been much bigger if the union leaders had pushed for it—but they have been slow at best, an obstruction at worst, over Palestine.

It’s right to take action now and put pressure on the unions to do much more. Everyone should push for whatever action they can win in their workplaces, whether that’s holding up signs inside or a lunchtime protest. If you held up signs inside your workplace this time, can you go further next time? Start talking to people about it now.

And use what action you can get to build support for the more militant action we need—walkouts that defy the anti-union laws and take on Israel’s backers in Downing Street.