Labour’s call for an ‘immediate humanitarian ceasefire’ shows Starmer’s scared of the Palestine movement

Posted on: February 20th, 2024 by TTE
People hold up a sign that says Starmer shame illustrating a story about the Labour ceasefire amendment

A protest against Starmer in London last November (Picture: Guy Smallman)

The Labour Party—rocked by mass protests, internal splits and the threat of electoral punishment—has changed its language about a ceasefire in Gaza. But it is still refusing to go against Israel’s genocidal assaults. 

In advance of a parliamentary vote set for Wednesday, it put out a new line on Tuesday. Labour still won’t back the Scottish National Party’s motion for an immediate ceasefire. Instead, it tries desperately to move away from its overt support for the killing while sticking with the Israeli state.

Labour’s amendment backs “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, which means an immediate stop to the fighting and a ceasefire that lasts. But it makes this conditional, “noting that Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence and that Israelis have the right to the assurance that the horror of 7th October cannot happen again.”

So there could be a ceasefire so long as the Palestinian resistance surrenders and there is no longer opposition to Zionism.

It admits “an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah risks catastrophic humanitarian consequences and therefore must not take place” but immediately “condemns the terrorism of Hamas who continue to hold hostages”.

As well as the pressure from the millions-strong movement for Palestine, another factor weighing on Keir Starmer will be a shift from president Joe Biden. 

The resilience of the Palestinians, the scale of the global movement and the fears of wider revolt in the Middle East have shaken his administration. It is now using the word “ceasefire”. 

The US has drafted a UN Security Council resolution that calls for a “temporary ceasefire” in Gaza “as soon as practical” and based on “all hostages being released”. It also warned against what it described as a “major” ground offensive in Rafah, “under the current circumstances”.

That’s not a pro-Palestine motion, but where the US leads loyal supporters of imperialism—such as the Labour Party—follow.

As Starmer is on the defensive, it’s time to increase the pressure. Let’s drive home the confusion and the fear on the other side.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign said on Tuesday, “The Labour Party leadership has tabled an amendment seeking to water down the SNP motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. 

“This amendment seeks to dilute the clear call for an immediate ceasefire by handing the Israeli government a veto over whether or not a ceasefire should happen, at a time when Israel is on trial at the ICJ for the crime of genocide. 

“Labour’s amendment amounts to asking for another pause—allowing Israel the option to continue with the slaughter unless its preconditions are met. 

“Pointedly, the Labour amendment removes all reference to the collective punishment of Palestinians —a crime under international law. 

“This is not an accident. While some shifting of the Labour position is testament to the hundreds of thousands who have campaigned for more than four months for an end to the killing of Palestinians by Israel, this amendment indicates that the Labour leadership is still trying to excuse Israeli war crimes and not willing to put pressure on Israel to end its atrocities. 

“It is grotesque to play parliamentary word games with the lives of Palestinian people. All MPs should vote for the SNP motion clearly calling for an immediate ceasefire and against this and any other amendment that seeks to weaken this urgent demand.”

Pressure from the streets makes a difference—let’s have more of it.

  • Join the demonstration to demand a ceasefire now, Wednesday evening, 5pm, Old Palace Yard, Parliament, London

‘This is real democracy’—Goldsmiths students occupy for Palestine

Posted on: February 20th, 2024 by JC
Students occupy Stuart Hall at Goldsmiths university

Students occupy Stuart Hall at Goldsmiths University in London

Students have occupied university buildings as part of a day of action for Palestine. At Goldsmiths in south London, students occupied the Stuart Hall building on Tuesday to demand action from management over Palestine.

Elsewhere students at Leeds university occupied their university union building. And in central London, students from UCL and Soas marched, chanting, “Shame,” and calling out management’s complicity and silence over Israel’s genocide.

Students at City and Queen Mary universities in London also walked out and held protests. From the occupation at Goldsmiths, student Samira told Socialist Worker, “We are officially in occupation. 

“We had a walkout earlier and a teach out. And now we want our demands to be addressed by Frances Corner, our university’s warden.

“It’s really exciting being here. It’s real action and democracy. Our university has shut down discussion about Palestine. But we’ve taken over a building to say we need to have the space to talk about winning liberation for Palestine.”

Samira said that after the walk out, security almost didn’t let the students back in. “We made sure that didn’t happen,” she added.

“We stayed in the building and those that were still here voted to occupy. Our demand is that we’re addressed by Corner here in our occupation.”

Students, along with UCU union members and other outside speakers, organised the teach-out. It included discussion on Palestine, apartheid, violence against women and Western imperialism in the Middle East.

Over 30 students are now in the occupation, and many more joined the action earlier in the day. During the walk-out students chanted, “Goldsmith students it’s our time, shut it down for Palestine.”

“We’ve put a call out for support and more students to join us,” Samira said. “The UCU members are also putting a call out, and we’re asking for support from local unions and activists.” 

The students have also asked for solidarity in the form of food, bedding and supplies. “We’re now drafting a statement to get students and staff to sign. We’re not leaving until our demands are met,” she added.

The occupation follows students storming a management meeting last Wednesday chanting, “Free Palestine”. They called-out management’s hypocrisy—and promised to escalate action if management didn’t respond.  

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“We received a response, which was a victory. But all it did was call for a humanitarian ceasefire—no mention of a genocide, the university’s complicity or protecting students. It wasn’t good enough—so we escalated,” Samira said.

Samira says that the scale of Israel’s violence requires militant escalation from students. “The situation in Rafah means all actions need to be more radical and more militant.

“As students at a university that is meant to represent social justice, we need to call out its hypocrisy and shut it down. It’s been four months and there’s been complete inaction from management—we need to for their hands.”

More occupations, militant action and joint student and worker action is crucial in the fight against Israel and its backers.

Galloway is not the answer for Rochdale

Posted on: February 20th, 2024 by Isabel
Marching in London for Palestine in November

Marching in London for Palestine in November (Picture: Guy Smallman)

If George Galloway wins the Rochdale by-election on Thursday next week it will be because of his support for the Palestinians. It will be a searing judgement on Keir Starmer and the Labour Party’s backing for genocide. But there are strong reasons why Socialist Worker can’t call for a vote for Galloway.

He is focusing the movement for Palestine around the rotten politics of the Workers’ Party of Britain (WPB). It peddles the reactionary “for the workers not the wokers” line. This spurns many battles that are part of the working class fight, such as oppression and environmental collapse.

The WPB says, for example, that it “offers a migration policy that reflects the anxiety felt among the working class about an influx of migrants which appears to be out of control”. It adds, “People are not wrong to worry about undue burdens being placed on local services and about the cost of hosting escalating numbers of asylum seekers.”

It’s a party against “apocalyptic Green hysteria that floods our media”, will “keep an open mind” about the reality of climate change and says there is “no need to be rushed” into a green economy. It denounces “increasingly unhinged identity politics”—by which it means struggles for full trans rights.

As for crime, the WPB warms the cops’ hearts when it says, “We are not soft-hearted liberals who believe everyone is capable of redemption.” We need a much better expression of Palestinian freedom than Galloway’s party.

Radio programme captures the spirit of revolt against racism

Posted on: February 20th, 2024 by Sophie
racism anti-racism Southhall radio

The National Front organised in Southall in the 1970s (Picture: Socialist Worker)

During the 1970s the fascist National Front (NF) party grew at an alarming rate. 

A new Tory party leader Margaret Thatcher was tapping into the NF’s growth, talking about “alien cultures”.

A general election was called for May 1979 with the James Callaghan-led Labour government sinking in the polls.

The NF decided to stand local Nazi Ernest Pendrous in the staunchly Labour Southall constituency — by then a predominantly Sikh working class community within Ealing borough.

In their obsession with St George’s Day the NF got permission to use its small town hall on a Monday the 23 April for a general election meeting.

Ealing’s Tory council granted them permission with the backing of Labour Home Secretary Merlyn Rees. 

Deep community anger required sharp organisation so that on a wet windy morning buses didn’t leave the Hanwell garage. Factories and stores closed and supporters came from across London to stand with the locals.

That day, the NF were met with furious protests from community organisations, trade unions and willing political parties.  

A new play by writer Satinder Chohan, whose family lived close to where the meeting was held, is a drama about the events of that time period. 

“I wanted to write a drama that marked the 45th anniversary of these events somehow,” she explained to Socialist Worker. 

“I wanted to reignite memories for those who were there or who might remember fragments. But I also wanted to offer a sense of it to those who might know nothing at all about a really pivotal moment in the birth of a multicultural Britain. 

“I thought this would work best as a coming of age story because Southall ‘79 really felt like such a moment for our town. 

“It was when black and Asian residents really began finding their strength, solidarity and voices in a fractured Britain on the cusp of Thatcherism.

“There’s no way an hour can capture all the voices, memories, and stories of that day. At the very least I hope it evokes the spirit of resistance that shaped that day. 

“It features bursts of a banging reggae, punk, bhangra—it’s a late 70s soundscape.”

Turning Point—Uprising by Satinder Chohan Available on BBC Sounds until 9 March

Turn solidarity for Palestine into action

Posted on: February 20th, 2024 by Isabel
Young protesters marching for Palestine

On the 250,000-strong London demonstration for Palestine (Picture: Alamy)

The movement for Palestine can’t trust those at the top of society to bring freedom and justice. What we do now matters more than ever. At the start of this week the resilience of the Palestinian resistance, the scale of the global movement and the fears of wider revolt in the Middle East had shaken Joe Biden.

In an effort to look less signed up to genocide, his administration is now using the word “ceasefire”. The United States drafted a UN Security Council resolution that calls for a “temporary ceasefire” in Gaza “as soon as practical” and based on “all hostages being released”. It also warned against what it described as a “major” ground offensive in Rafah, “under the current circumstances”.

That’s not a pro-Palestine motion, but where the US leads loyal supporters of imperialism could follow. And that might include Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer. Socialist Worker went to press before the ceasefire vote in parliament this week. But even before Biden’s move, Labour was altering its position because of its own fears of splits and rebellion.

We can guarantee that whatever Labour does will be too little and too late. Their version of a ceasefire won’t mean that Biden, Sunak or Starmer have broken from Israel. We need total liberation for the Palestinians. We want them freed from the grips of an apartheid state that has brutalised and oppressed them for more than 75 years.

The movement for Palestine needs to escalate. The nine national demonstrations in London have been a spectacular success and so have many others in Scotland, Wales and local areas of England. The 250,000 on the demonstration in London last Saturday were a sign of how strong the movement remains. It needs to stay active and militant.

Campaigners, for example, need to be on the streets next weekend. The fact that it’s the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s (PSC) annual general meeting should not mean there isn’t a huge day of protest—particularly if the bloodbath in Rafah goes ahead. It’s too long until 9 March for the next scheduled national demo.

There also must be a deepening of actions within workplaces, schools, colleges and universities. The 8 March day of action needs to build on the positives of the last workplace events. More walkouts, strikes and protests can deepen and strengthen the movement.

And we need more militancy—big marches, mass mobilisation at the firms who supply the apartheid state, more occupations and efforts to make Britain ungovernable. The rage at Israeli terror has not subsided. Let’s keep turning that anger into action.

Don’t wait for Labour victory

Posted on: February 20th, 2024 by Sophie
Labour Starmer Keir Tories

Keir Starmer speaks at a Labour Friends of Israel event at the party’s conference (Picture: Keir Starmer/Flickr)

Rishi Sunak reeled from a series of reverses last week, although the full sting of his setbacks was partially obscured by Labour’s chaos over the Rochdale by-election.

Sunak lost two by-elections—and the Tories will be further humiliated in Rochdale on Thursday next week.

In Wellingborough, a contest triggered by the recall of Peter Bone MP after findings of bullying and sexually inappropriate behaviour, Labour overturned a Conservative majority of 18,540. It was the second biggest Tory to Labour swing since 1945.

In Kingswood, Chris Skidmore MP resigned in protest at the issuing of new oil and gas licences. The swing stood at 16.4 per cent as a Tory majority of 11,220 disappeared.

These devastating losses for the Tories aren’t the first and won’t be the last. They show that people have had enough over issues such as government favours to the rich, failure to hold down prices and the NHS crisis.

They have lost ten by-elections since the 2019 general election—six with Sunak in Number 10.

Despite this, Sunak said his “plan is working” and that midterm elections “are always difficult”.

Reform UK came in third in Wellingborough with 13 percent of the vote. It took over 10 percent in Kingswood. The racist right wing party came out of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

The Tories now face a wider battering from Labour at the general election, as well as some of its voters heading off to Reform UK. But there’s no great enthusiasm for Labour.

Both turnouts were low—37.1 percent in Kingswood and 38 percent in Wellingborough. While dissatisfaction with the Tories is high, the urge to show up for Starmer is low.

In Wellingborough, the Conservatives suffered the largest fall in its share of the vote in by-election history—38 percent. In Kingswood it plummeted by 21 percent.

The rise in Labour’s share was around half this level—19.4 percent in Wellingborough and 11.5 percent in Kingswood.

The political crisis in Britain, the sense that nobody speaks for millions of ordinary people, whether on Gaza or gas prices, sees the Tories in a death spiral.

The main internal opposition to Sunak screams for ever more right wing measures, deepening the government’s racism. Sunak and chancellor Jeremy Hunt had talked of tax cuts in the budget on 6 March. 

But right wing newspapers last week said Hunt has shelved plans for a 2p cut to income tax as it was revealed the economy had entered a recession (see page 17).

The Labour left’s insistence that Keir Starmer could not win elections has proved false.   The Tory demise is so great and so relentless that Labour is most probably heading to be the next government.

But the real issue is not just whether Starmer will be prime minister but what sort of government he will head. It will be one that promises only the most meagre change.

And it’s not just Starmer. Deputy leader Angela Rayner’s article in the corporate Financial Times newspaper last week was headlined “Labour promises to work with business”.

Rayner wrote, “The impact of this government’s dismissive approach to business—doing seemingly everything it can to turn away investment and disincentivise companies from setting up in the UK—has been dangerous.”

What’s clear is that ordinary people’s demands, from rising wages and trade union rights to more money for the NHS, are not on Labour’s radar.

Unless there is a real fightback, it will be a much worse government than the rotten Tony Blair one that took over in 1997. It will come to office with a howling economic crisis and committed to “balancing the books”—stabilising capitalism by squeezing workers.

In that situation there will either be a resurgence of struggle or a growth of struggle of racism and the far right.

It’s right to rejoice at the Tories’ long-deserved demise. But waiting for Labour—and relying on change through the ballot box—cannot be the alternative.

Climate activists face Tory repression in court

Posted on: February 20th, 2024 by Isabel
Climate activists outside JP Morgan in September 2021

Climate protesters outside JP Morgan in September 2021 (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Three trials began this week which are designed to further criminalise environment protesters and rip away a legal defence of their actions. Five Extinction Rebellion supporters face charges of criminal damage for breaking glass at JP Morgan’s European HQ in September 2021.

Cops arrested them for putting stickers on JP Morgan’s building that read “in case of climate emergency, break glass” and going on to damage windows. JP Morgan is the largest funder of fossil fuel expansion in the world since the Paris Agreement in 2016.

Eight Insulate Britain supporters are accused of public nuisance for stopping traffic on the M25 motorway in September 2021. And five Just Stop Oil supporters are charged with conspiracy to cause a public nuisance for occupying tunnels close to Grays oil terminal in Essex in August 2022.

These trials come as the government tries to undermine trials by jury and increase the punishments given to people taking part in direct action. On Wednesday this week the Court of Appeal was set to consider whether the last remaining legal defence of “belief in consent”, should continue to be available to defendants. This defence is that the property owner would have consented to the damage if only they truly understood the effects of climate change.

The Tory attorney general, Victoria Prentis, announced last year she had asked the Court of Appeal to undertake a review. That’s due to the high number of recent acquittals by juries in these cases, In other words, too many protesters are winning support from juries so the law has to stop them being able to acquit.

Of about 160 verdicts tracked by campaign group Plan B involving climate protesters since 2019, three-quarters resulted in either not guilty verdicts or hung juries. That included jurors finding six XR activists not guilty for criminal damage to Shell’s headquarters even after the judge ruled that five of them had no defence. 

As part of the criminal justice bill presently going through parliament, the government is adding even more repressive measures. Police will be given powers to arrest protesters who wear face coverings “to threaten others and avoid prosecution”, and “pyrotechnics” will be banned at protests. Everyone who has marched for Palestine should oppose all these attacks on the right to protest, including the assaults on environmental campaigners.

Met police tries to criminalise Palestine protesters

Three people accused of displaying images of paragliders at a pro-Palestinian march were convicted of showing support for a terrorist group. That’s despite the judge saying they hadn’t. But the right wing media are now aghast because the judge did not jail Heba Alhayek, Pauline Ankunda and Noimutu Olayinka Taiwo.

The accused argued they were carrying the image of a standard “parachute emoji”, and that such images were common in Palestinian art as symbols of “liberation and peace”. Under cross-examination, the Met’s acting Detective Sergeant Michael Beskine admitted his team had not done any research into possible alternative meanings.

Instead they accepted the interpretation of the right wing social media account Harry’s Place which first posted photos of the trio. Alhayek is a Palestinian author who grew up in Gaza and was granted asylum in Britain because her family were critical of Hamas. Deputy senior district judge Tanweer Ikram told the three, “There’s no evidence that any of these defendants are supporters of Hamas.”

He gave them each a 12-month conditional discharge. The right wing Spector magazine said Ikram’s decision “suggests he might hold a grudge against the police”. It contrasted this with his jailing of a cop for sharing racist WhatsApp memes mocking George Floyd.

Workers produce wealth, and the rich then steal it

Posted on: February 20th, 2024 by Sophie
Workers strikes Mark theory

A woman worker in a wartime factory, 1914

Ray Charles sang, “Them that’s got are them that gets” and so they do.

So 148 of the world’s biggest corporations grabbed £1.5 trillion in net profits in the year to June 2023, a 52 percent jump from the year before. For every £100 of that profit, rich shareholders trousered £82. And as Charles pointed out, “If you gotta have something, before you can get something. How do you get your first is still a mystery to me.”

People are told that hard work and a good job means you can earn your way to prosperity. The truth is the most important factor to becoming wealthy is inheriting loot.

The other myth is that you can be a “wealth creator” like the vampires on Dragons’ Den sitting in large chairs next to piles of cash. But where does wealth come from? Wealth under capitalism appears as a collection of stuff — commodities.

These commodities are goods produced specifically for exchange in a market. This process is a relationship between people, not a relationship of things.

The ruling class controls what the revolutionary Karl Marx called the “means of production”—factories, offices and so on. Often they own them privately. Sometimes nation-states own them. The majority can only make a living if they work for someone else in return for a wage or salary. They produce the goods and services society needs— in workplaces they neither own nor control.

As the US socialist Eugene Debs described, “The capitalists own the tools they do not use, and the workers use the tools they do not own. The capitalists, who own the tools that the working class use, appropriate to themselves what the working class produce, and this accounts for the fact that a few capitalists become fabulously rich while the toiling millions remain in poverty, ignorance and dependence.”

So workers are actually key “wealth creators”. And as every slave knew, being a “wealth creator” doesn’t make you wealthy. The goods and services that workers produce belong not to them but to their bosses. 

In the very process of producing things, the working class also reproduces the wealth of the capitalists. The worker only gets enough value to allow them to come back to work. An extra portion of value beyond the wage—Marx calls it “surplus value”— is taken by capitalists.

That’s what exploitation means. Workers produce vast surpluses, which end up in the hands of those who rule over them. The more they work, the richer and more powerful their exploiters become. There are layers of society to enable the robbery—from managers to cops.

Factory owners, heads of multinationals, and big farmers don’t exploit workers just because they are “bad people”. They do it because they are capitalists.

Firms regularly change owners. Bosses and managers are frequently fired and replaced. Yet the way they operate doesn’t change. What drives them is a systemic drive to produce wealth. “Accumulate, accumulate — that is Moses and the prophets,” as Marx described it.

Each capitalist does this. But every other capitalist is doing the same thing. While they might join together against workers, they are always competing with one another.

The system as a whole is driven by these two forces — the need to accumulate and the competition between capitalists. That creates instability. What is a constant is that those who own and control the wealth always want to make more profit.

New technology—looms or computers—can speed up production, and give one capitalist a temporary advantage over another. But what really makes the difference is the amount of work that can be squeezed out of each worker over and above what that worker has to be given to survive.

This means pushing workers to do longer hours and harder shifts while keeping down pay. The system is built on the labour of the working class. But the way it exploits that labour makes class conflict inevitable.

This is the first in a series of columns that discuss What We Stand For, the Socialist Workers Party statement of principles, printed every week in Socialist Worker (see page 12). Use the hashtag #WhereWeStand2024