A film about youth, puberty and period poverty

Posted on: May 21st, 2024 by Daire Cumiskey
Zafreen Zairizal stars as Zaffan in new film—Tiger Stripes

Zafreen Zairizal stars as Zaffan in new film—Tiger Stripes

Growing up is hard enough without realising you are turning into a monster.

But for 12-year-old Zaffan, played by Zafreen Zairizal, the protagonist of new Malaysian film, Tiger Stripes, this is just the predicament she finds herself in.
After having her first period, free-spirited student Zaffan is confused and angry and finds herself increasingly isolated.
Her mother, who discovers blood on her sheets, proclaims that she is dirty now. Zaffan is inevitably distraught.
It’s all the more heart-breaking for the viewer to see it when it’s so clear that Zaffan is still a child.  She still wants to play in streams, press multi-coloured stickers on trees, and do TikTok dances. 
In many ways, she isn’t ready to act like an adult. But when her period comes, she is both simultaneously shunned and expected to grow up. 
Even before her first period, it is made clear that Zaffan is seen as different at her school. She’s messy, and her friends are neat. She’s loud and boisterous.
It’s interesting how quickly the other girls start to associate all of these traits with being sexually promiscuous. They start to throw insults at her and call her terms like “slut”. 
Getting her period only works to widen the gap between her and her peers.
After her friends start to show her the cold shoulder, she notices some terrifying changes to her body and a demon that won’t leave her alone. These changes are beyond what most of us experience in puberty.
She loses her hair, grows claws and eventually gains a tail.
The concept feels slightly ridiculous at times, but for the most part, it’s well done. Zairizal really does shine as Zaffan. 
Any actor would find it intimidating to play a girl who is turning into a tiger, but she does it so naturally. Her ability to switch from anger to vulnerability to confusion in her performance is what really grounds the film.
There has been some criticism of the film and its director, Amanda Nell Eu, for presenting Malaysian society, which is a majority Muslim country, as regressive.
This story is about a young woman who feels constrained by societal expectations of her—so much so that turning into a monster becomes the only way out. 
The issue of period poverty is also featured heavily in the film. Zaffan’s friends warn her to wash her disposable pad thoroughly before putting it on again. 
In another scene you see Zaffan desperately scrubbing a sanitary towel in the shower. 
While some themes seem universal, Nell Eu draws on events that have happened in Malaysia. In 2021 Malaysian media reported that young women were subjected to period spot checks. 
Students reported that prefects had been using Q-tips, pencils or pens to discover if young women were bleeding. 
This kind of surveillance and shame about periods is present throughout the film. 
To make Tiger Stripes eligible for an Oscar nomination, Nell Eu had to edit and censor the film so it could be shown in Malaysian cinemas.  
She spoke about how it felt like cutting was an insult to the story she was trying to tell. 
“We were celebrated and selected for the Oscar entry,” she said.
“They said you make Malaysia proud, but don’t show this to Malaysians. It’s almost comedic. Painful and comedic at the same time.” 
On every level Tiger Stripes is a film about how, in a sexist society, women are made to feel shame about their bodies.
Censorship, of course, doesn’t help the problem.
  • Tiger Stripes is now out in cinemas in Britain

Netanyahu is guilty—and so are his backers

Posted on: May 21st, 2024 by Isabel
United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defence minister Yoav Gallant

United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defence minister Yoav Gallant (Wikicommons/ Chad J. McNeeley)

Extermination, murder, starvation of civilians, wilfully causing great suffering and intentionally directing attacks against civilians. These are the crimes levelled at Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and defence minister Yoav Gallant by Karim Khan (see right).

He is the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Khan said that he has “reasonable grounds to believe” that both Israeli ministers “bear criminal responsibility” for war crimes and “crimes against humanity” committed in Gaza. They used acts of starvation, murder as a war crime and intentionally directed attacks against civilians “as part of a common plan” to “collectively punish the civilian population of Gaza”.

Khan is now seeking an arrest warrant for Netanyahu and Gallant. The list of crimes won’t be a surprise for many. We’ve seen the evidence of Israel’s genocide for more than seven months, even if our leaders have tried to ignore them. But the charge of war crimes by the ICC is still a devastating blow for Israel.

The ICC is the only permanent international court that can prosecute war criminals for crimes against humanity. And its actions have enraged the West. Khan revealed that “a senior leader” told him the ICC “is built for Africa and for thugs like Russian president Vladimir Putin”—not for the West and its allies.

Predictably Netanyahu repeated slurs about antisemitism. He said that Khan was “callously pouring gasoline on the fires of antisemitism that are raging across the world”. The outrage against Netanyahu is stacking up, even if the ICC will not punish him for all his crimes.

To show “balance” Khan said the court would also push for the arrest of three Hamas leaders. But the ICC accusing Netanyahu of war crimes is a big moment. It will make it easier for pro-Palestine activists to argue in workplaces, schools and universities that the Israeli state is guilty of genocide. 

And by implication the ICC’s charges are also an indictment of Israel’s Western allies. If Netanyahu is guilty of murder, extermination and deliberate starvation of civilians, so are those who arm and fund Israel. That includes Joe Biden, Rishi Sunak—and Keir Starmer. And for all their recent claims to be holding back the Zionist state, the West has rushed to defend Netanyahu.

President Joe Biden said, “The ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous.” He added that what is happening to the Palestinians “is not genocide”. Then he said, “Whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence—none—between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.” 

Biden is an apologist for murder. But he is right that there is no equivalence between the Israeli state and Hamas. Hamas hasn’t levelled vast sections of Israeli cities with bombs. It hasn’t closed off checkpoints and border crossings to intentionally starve civilians to death. It hasn’t systematically tried to destroy all healthcare infrastructure or targeted health care workers.

It hasn’t held Gaza under siege for 17 years in an open-air prison. And Israel has—so far— murdered at least 35 Palestinians for every Israeli that Hamas killed on 7 October. The Palestinian resistance is fighting in reaction to the brutality that Israel has used against their people for more than 76 years. There is no equivalence between Israel—the oppressor— and Hamas—an expression of an oppressed group fighting back.

Michael Gove smears SWP as antisemitic because we oppose Israel

Posted on: May 21st, 2024 by TTE
Tory communities secretary Michael Gove. (Picture: Simon Walker)

Tory minister Michael Gove claimed the SWP and other socialist groups were antisemitic (Picture: Simon Walker)

In a desperate effort to slur the Palestinian movement—and in advance of new attacks on the right to protest—the Tories claim that socialist groups are antisemitic

Michael Gove said on Tuesday that “the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party and the Revolutionary Communist Party” are antisemitic in the mould of the fascists.

It’s a disgusting smear. Being against Israel does not mean you hate Jews. Large numbers of Jews in Britain and elsewhere have joined the marches in solidarity with Palestine in recent months.

Anti-Zionism—opposing the racism of the Israeli state and its genocidal actions—is opposition to colonialism and imperialism. It is a recognition that liberation for the Palestinians requires an end to a state-based on ethnic cleansing and murder.  

If Gove wants to find real antisemites, he should look to himself and his colleagues. The Hungarian government of Viktor Orban pushes antisemitic conspiracy theories. The Tories welcome Orban to Downing Street.

Far right supporters of Donald Trump marched in 2017 chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” Trump supported them—and yet the Conservatives rolled out the red carpet for Trump and most of the cabinet hope Trump will be president again.

And Gove has a long track record of Islamophobic views and associations. This includes leading the government’s role in the Trojan Horse affair, when it was falsely alleged that an extremist takeover of schools in Birmingham was under way. 

He wrote a book called Celsius 7/7 in which he highlighted the “threat of Islamism”’. And he was a founding member of the Henry Jackson Society, a pro-imperialist and Islamophobic outfit. 

The mass movement for Palestine is shaking ruling classes everywhere. They sense that Israel is now exposed to hundreds of millions across the world as guilty of genocide. They fear that their Zionist watchdog in the Middle East is on increasingly shaky foundations.

Whenever Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu is under attack, he peddles the vile lie that the criticism is antisemitic. The Tories are now doing the same. They confected the same fakery against Jeremy Corbyn when he was Labour leader. 

Socialist Worker and the SWP are proud to be anti-Zionists—and to fight antisemitism and all forms of racism.

The best response to Gove is to keep building the movement for Palestine, to escalate the protests, student encampments and workplace actions, and to argue for a revolutionary socialist solution to capitalism and imperialism.

School workers teach fightback

Posted on: May 21st, 2024 by Isabel
On the picket at Byron Court primary school

On the picket at Byron Court primary school in Wembley, north London (Picture: Twitter/ NEU)

Local school strikes show the mood of education workers to hit back at their bosses. Strikers at The Blue Coat School in Liverpool heard this week that the chair of the board of trustees has stepped down with immediate effect.

The dispute is over several grievances with management including claims of an “unmanageable workload”, “safety concerns” and “ineffective mechanisms for negotiation and consultation”. Strikes by around 70 NEU union members began last week and more were set for Tuesday and Thursday this week and then 12 and 13 June.

NEU union members at Byron Court primary school in Wembley, north London, planned strikes this week against joining the Harris Federation academy chain. The union said workers fear attacks on jobs, pay and conditions.

Action began last Friday, with further walkouts set for Tuesday and Wednesday of this week and on June 4 to 6. Local Labour MP Barry Gardiner says the Ofsted inspectorate’s downgrading of the school from “outstanding” to “inadequate” last November was wrong.

NEU national executive member Jenny Cooper says the union will “not accept privatisation of our schools through a politicised process”. Teachers at Leytonstone School in Waltham Forest, east London, were set to strike on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

The NEU says there are some teachers who should have gone up the pay scale but have not advanced. The union has discovered that across the borough 76 percent of women who should have moved from the main pay scale to the upper pay scale have not advanced.

And 44 percent on the upper scale have not moved up. Workers at Sir Francis Hill Community Primary School in Lincoln were set to strike on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. NEU and Nasuwt union members first struck in April over allegations of bullying and harassment by management.

NEU members at Allen’s Girls School in Southwark, south London, were to strike on Wednesday this week over removal from the teachers’ pension scheme. And NEU members at King Edward V Lordswood School for Girls, Birmingham, planned a strike on Thursday this week over removal from the pension scheme.

Ready for action over the cuts at London university

London South Bank University (LSBU) had its biggest UCU union branch meeting in 30 years on Wednesday of last week. Members voted overwhelmingly to launch a vote of no confidence in the vice-chancellor and his senior management team.

UCU will approach Unison and GMB union members to build the vote across the three unions. The meeting followed management unveiling plans to shed 55 permanent academic staff and 100 hourly-paid lecturers. A further 36 low-level managerial staff, such as heads of departments, are at risk, along with 33 administrators.

In total 297 staff are at risk of redundancy. LSBU is the latest in a long line of universities to announce big job cuts. The university funding model racks up huge debts for students but can’t support decent pay for staff. If the cuts go through, those keeping their jobs will face huge workload increases. In some subject areas lecturers are already at maximum teaching hours.

In areas where cuts are proposed staff are being told to compete with their friends and colleagues for fewer jobs. The overriding message from the animated and angry meeting was, “We should not pay for a crisis of management’s making”. As well as organising the vote of no confidence, the branch is starting the process of balloting for strikes. UCU nationally needs to link the struggle against job cuts to protect higher education.

An LSBU UCU member

Industrial round-up: Call the strikes now in PCS union

Posted on: May 21st, 2024 by Isabel
PCS members on 15 March national strike (Picture: Guy Smallman)

PCS members last year on 15 March national strike (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Civil servants in the PCS union have voted 83.7 percent whether to strike for an inflation-proofed pay rise and pay restoration in 171 civil service areas. But in most government departments, including DWP and HMRC, less than 50 percent of members voted, so they didn’t beat the anti-union law threshold.

The employer groups that beat the 50 percent threshold include DVSA, HM Land Registry, DEFRA and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. It was right to call that strike ballot, but it was far later than it should have been.

PCS conference, that is taking place this week, should agree that all the departments that exceeded the threshold be called out on strike as soon as possible. There also need to be re-ballots of all the bargaining areas that failed to meet the threshold.

The Democracy Alliance fraction, mainly made up of Left Unity members, has lost its majority on the National Executive Committee. The Coalition for Change, which now forms the majority on the NEC, believes that members have voted for them because there is a mood for radical change. We need to see that change in practice.

Steve West

United strikes over pay could go nuclear

Up to 500 workers at the Urenco nuclear site in Capenhurst in Cheshire have voted to strike. The members of the GMB union rejected bosses’ offer of a 5.2 percent pay rise. The GMB, Unite and Prospect unions represent workers at Urenco. The GMB said that all unions would come together to discuss when workers should strike.

Bosses bottle a Norwich pay offer

More than 100 workers at the Berry factory in Norwich are on strike over bosses’ 3.5 percent pay offer. The pay increase was due last October when RPI inflation was at 6.1 percent. The workers walked out last Sunday for three days.

They are set to walk out from Tuesday next week for three days, as well as two days in June. The Unite union members produce caps and lids for cleaning, personal hygiene, medicinal and food and drink products.

Strike while the warehouse is hot

Over 100 Unite union members employed by GXO Logistics in Feltham, west London, were set to walk out on Monday this week. The workers planned action until 7 June, but will now start strikes on Tuesday next week until 18 June instead. The new dates, the Unite union says, include weekend shifts. Warehouse workers take home just over £12 an hour, which is below market rate.

Canteen workers cook up a pay win

Canteen workers at Drax power station in North Yorkshire who work for BaxterStorey have won a 19 percent pay rise, according to their Unite union. The strikers walked out for six weeks at the beginning of December last year. The workers secured an additional £1 per hour site bonus, on top of winning the real living wage from January this year.

Bus workers’ strikes are just the ticket

Bus controllers working for Transport UK in south London won a pay rise of 12 percent. This is an 8 percent pay rise backdated to January 2023 and 4 percent for this year.

The 40 strikers control the bus routes, instruct drivers on traffic jams or accidents and ensure safety on the routes at Battersea and Twickenham bus garages. They walked out for eight days in May, as well as two in January and four in February

Refugees face horrors inside Driscoll House

Posted on: May 21st, 2024 by Arthur T
Driscoll House, manged by Clearsprings Ready Homes (Photo: Stephen Craven)

Driscoll House, manged by Clearsprings Ready Homes, houses refugees in awful conditions (Photo: Stephen Craven)

“Tomorrow anything could happen to me, maybe I’ll get sent back, or maybe I’ll die.

“It’s really difficult. People get sick thinking too much about what’s going to happen to them.

“And an £8 a week allowance is nothing. There’s not many words to describe this situation.”

“It’s not good for people. We don’t need five-star housing, but we need to feel like we’re human. We don’t feel like that here.”

Ibrahim lives at Driscoll House in south London. It has roughly 100 rooms for around 400 refugees.

“They should close it,” Ibrahim told Socialist Worker. “Water drips down onto your head from the ceilings. Even when the building has been cleaned, it still feels dirty.

“There’s only two washing machines. And you can hear rats

too. We’re not animals, we shouldn’t have to live like that.”

Ibrahim says the house is “old and run down”. “There’s cracks and holes in the walls, and they try to cover them but it’s not good enough.

“We also can only eat until 5pm… Sometimes we get old fruit or food that’s mouldy.”

Most of the refugees sleep on metal frame bunk beds, with thin mattresses.

“We get told that where we come from we’d never get anything like this,” Ibrahim added. “The staff say we should be grateful.

“It makes me laugh because none of them understand my position, or would live in my situation.”

Staff are supposed to leave toiletries in the accommodation, so anyone can take what they need.

“But they only do this when someone important like the Home Office or organisations come,” Ibrahim said. “Otherwise the stuff we need isn’t there.”

The house has one medical room and for most people rooms and facilities are shared. Each floor has a toilet and shower, and around 20 rooms.

“People are not happy, they’re disappointed. They’ve already come from a bad situation,” Ibrahim explained.

“Now they have to deal with sharing a room, bad food and accommodation that was built a long time ago.”

Ibrahim thinks that refugees are kept there because it’s cheap. “People still have some hope when they come here to study or work and be active,” he added.

“Then after all that they could be refused or transferred to Rwanda. I don’t understand why. They should be given a chance.”

“We wait for months for documents, and even cards and ID. It feels like we’re always waiting—we’re patient but it’s annoying.

“It’s not a good feeling. People are also scared to speak out. I never think about tomorrow. I live for the day, I have no choice.

Driscoll House has seen two protests against removals to the Bibby Stockholm in Dorset. Ibrahim said the barge would be “a prison”.

“And Rwanda is just so dangerous, it’s not fair. Where is the humanity? It’s all about the media attention for the government.

“When people go to the immigration centre in Croydon they get scared that they’re not going to come back. But if they don’t go, they could lose their asylum claim.

“Where I live some people have started to run away because they don’t feel safe. We don’t know where they go—and no one in charge cares.”

  • Ibrahim is a pseudonym. Join Stand Up To Racism’s national protest in London on Saturday 29 June against the Rwanda deportation scheme go to standuptoracism.org.uk for more details

Joe Biden trapped by multiple crises

Posted on: May 21st, 2024 by Sarah
US president Joe Biden

Joe Biden is fighting on several fronts (Picture: Flickr/ European Parliament)

The trouble with being a global empire is that you may face crises in several regions simultaneously. A declining British imperialism struggled in the 1930s. The US faces the same problem today, but under president Joe Biden it has chosen to go on the offensive on several fronts.

First, there’s Israel and Palestine. Paradoxically, the early weeks of the Israeli forces’ murderous assault on Rafah have confirmed that they have lost the war. It’s a cliche that a guerrilla army that survives has won.

Hamas has demonstrated its survival by attacking Israeli forces in northern Gaza, forcing it to divert resources from Rafah in the south. Meanwhile, Israel has become “the polecat of the world”, as South Africa was known at the height of apartheid.

The Biden administration, having backed Israel to the hilt until recently, is applying increasing pressure on prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to call off the Rafah offensive.

He’s resisting but is facing open opposition from the Israeli military’s high command and the ex-generals in his war cabinet. But even if Netanyahu were replaced by a more compliant prime minister, the US will face an uphill task restabilising Gaza, with, it hopes, corrupt Arab rulers.

The second front—in a very literal sense—is Ukraine. Russia is using its superiority in personnel, munitions and airpower to push the Ukrainian forces back, most recently close to the northern border above Kharkiv. Already its forces have taken more territory than they lost during Ukraine’s failed offensive last year.

The US is now rushing to Ukraine the weapons that until recently were blocked by pro-Trump Republicans in Congress. Secretary of state Antony Blinken also made a surprise visit to Kiev last week. Absurdly, he performed a cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” in a bar.

This kind of Cold War posturing doesn’t alter the reality that Russia now has the advantage in the bloody slugging match over Ukraine.

This is panicking Europe’s rulers. Rishi Sunak and assorted Tory ministers and retired generals continue to talk up the idea that we’re in a pre-war situation. French president Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly said he might send troops to Ukraine.

But the US and Germany, the two dominant states in the Nato alliance, would almost certainly block such folly. This war will probably end in some kind of negotiations. Both sides are squandering Ukrainian and Russian lives to gain the best possible deal.

The third front is with China. Happily, there’s no fighting here—yet. Nevertheless, China, because of its size and centrality to the world economy, is the biggest threat to US hegemony. Its ability to limit US power was underlined by Vladimir Putin’s state visit to China last week.

Western economic sanctions against Russia have been largely undermined by China buying Russian energy and supplying the hi-tech components needed to continue the war in Ukraine. Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping issued a lengthy joint statement denouncing US “hegemonism”.

Biden had got in his retaliation first, but in the economic domain. On Tuesday last week he announced huge increases in the tariffs on Chinese hi-tech imports. This included up to 100 percent on electric vehicles, 50 percent on semiconductors and solar cells and 25 percent on lithium-ion electric vehicle batteries.

The administration accuses the Chinese government of “unfair competition” because it subsidises investment in these technologies. This is gross hypocrisy since Biden’s 2023 Inflation Reduction Act offers huge subsidies for precisely the same sectors.

Electoral politics is involved in this move. Biden is running for re-election against Trump, who started the trade war with China back in 2018. Biden, already on the defensive because inflation has cut real wages, wants to show that he is defending blue-collar jobs against Chinese competition.

But the tariffs are also part of the struggle for hegemony. Both the US and China want to dominate the so-called “green transition” that is supposed to reduce capitalism’s reliance on fossil fuels. These rivals are fighting over who will shape our future.

New novel turns Huckleberry Finn on its head

Posted on: May 21st, 2024 by Yuri
the cover of the hardback edition of Percival Everett's James

The cover of the hardback edition of Percival Everett’s James, which is out now

James escapes slavery in the Southern united states and heads down the Mississippi river on a raft. He fled after overhearing that he was to be sold without his wife and family, and he is determined to free them.

He is accompanied by a white teenager, Huck—on the run for his own reasons. They crisscross a wild country inhabited by rogues, dangerous misfits and occasional allies.

Black American author Percival Everett takes the plot for his novel from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn first published in 1885. But Everett shifts the viewpoint to Huck’s companion Jim. But now Jim demands the right to be called James.

Twain intended his book to challenge racism, though some of it makes uncomfortable reading now. Black people are almost exclusively referred to by the n-word, and all speak in a thick “lawdy, massa” dialect. But their language never shows the playful wit of later dialect books by black writers. And the presentation of Jim as superstitious and credulous is patronising, no matter how heroic his behaviour.

Everett has enslaved people talk this dialect when whites are about. But as James explains to his children, “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them.” And Everett bends the stick the other way, sometimes making his black characters sound like university lecturers.

One comments on a drunken white, saying, “When we see him staggering around later acting the fool, will that be an example of proleptic irony or dramatic irony?”

Though several scenes directly follow and comment on passages in Huckleberry Finn, you don’t need to know the earlier novel to enjoy it. And the original’s rather forced ending is moved in a much more satisfying direction.

Throughout the book the ability to read and write is central as James constantly searches for paper and most poignantly a pencil. He had taught himself to read in his owner’s library and has dreams of debates with Enlightenment philosophers. Here he exposes the hypocrisy of their talk of liberty that so often includes a justification for slavery.

Readers experience the dehumanising powerlessness of being enslaved and the horror of being whipped or enduring the worst kinds of abuse without a murmur. But James also shows the intelligence and resilience it takes to survive and resist.

The power of the weather and the river are always present. As houses are swept down the Mississippi and in the claustrophobic climax, James is trapped below deck on a sinking riverboat.

Everett has written more than 20 novels and is a literature professor. He often takes a satirical and ironic look at the way black people are perceived in US culture. Issues of identity—assumed or imposed—abound.

Huck disguises himself in female clothes for a while and elsewhere James encounters an enslaved girl dressed as a boy. The fugitives travel with a blackface minstrel troop, whose leader claims to be against slavery—though not an abolitionist.

The bizarre practice of making black people apply blackface to appear on stage as black people would become a reality, after the civil war. Norman, a black man passing for white, can never get over the fact that white audiences never spot that the cakewalk dance was devised by slaves to laugh at the awkward way that whites danced.

He ponders, “It’s never occurred to them that we might find them mockable”.