A real life fairy tale, where the trees move for the rich

Posted on: January 21st, 2022 by Nick No Comments
A single tree is propped upright on a floating barge

An ancient tree on its way to the garden of former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili

The image of a giant tree floating in the sea seems like an act of magic—something from the pages of a fantasy novel.

And as one resident of a coastal village in Georgia remarks, “It’s like a fairytale.” Yet this film is a documentary—Taming the Garden by Salome Jashi.

It’s the story of an elusive buyer of century old trees.

Accompanied by a dog with a little red ribbon, he scouts out the oldest and most magnificent trees across the coast of Georgia for the private garden of former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Once a special tree has been selected and the owner paid off under the promise of improved local infrastructure, the heavy machinery moves in. It feels as though we are witnessing a collective trauma.

A chasm leaves the earth bare where villagers once grew up underneath the branches of “the beauty of our district.”

Yet the filmmakers are careful to maintain a detached relationship, plugging the gaps with superfluous still shots of the sea and close-ups of machinery.

The most interesting scenes come from the conversations between the workers and those of the families affected.

An elderly woman broods over the line of trees which shelter her home from strong winds.

The workers need to cut them down in order to make way for the main prize.

They’re not quite attuned to her hesitancy as she recounts how she planted them when she was 25 years old. A gathering of curious residents, some teary and others cheery, say goodbye to their oldest and most ­special of trees.

Our farewell is quickly cut short as we’re suddenly jolted into a park with flamingoes and other wild birds in the background.

Is this it, the villain’s lair? Concrete paths wind between manicured grassy mounds, and workers on lawn mowers are dotted around.

An impressive collection of century old trees stand on top of the mounds as an automatic sprinkler system feeds their roots.

But knowing what we already know, there is a distinct feeling of unpleasantness.

Every tree appears to be supported by a black cable, as if they cannot support themselves anymore. Taming the Garden is a quietly evocative film.

Its resonating sadness taps into the familiar loss of our natural world and the sense that we’re never fully in control of our own surroundings.

Meanwhile, the superrich uproot and claim ownership to whatever it is they so happen to desire.

Taming the Garden is in cinemas from Friday 28 January

How capitalist competition threatens new Ukraine war

Posted on: January 21st, 2022 by Nick No Comments
A line of soldiers in Ukraine stand with rifles in the snow. The soldier in the foreground wears a Ukrainian flag on his shoulder

Ukrainian soldiers during a training exercise with US soldiers in 2019 to improve cooperation with Nato

Rivalry between the US and Russia threatens a devastating war in Ukraine for the second time in less than a decade.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has amassed 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s border. While the US remains the world’s strongest imperialist power, it is weakened and Putin hopes a military build-up will force it to the negotiating table.

He wants president Joe Biden to make assurances that the US’s military alliance Nato won’t expand any further eastwards. Biden has ruled out military action in Ukraine, but is determined to maintain US dominance against Russia.

While neither side wants a prolonged war, it could easily happen. That’s because the Ukraine crisis is a product of imperialism—a global system driven forward by competition between the big capitalist states. When tensions run high, a small spark can set off a wider war.

Ukraine is at the centre of a much bigger site of imperialist rivalry between the US and Russia and many other regional powers. This fault line starts in northern Europe on the border between Russia and the Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.

From here, it cuts down into Ukraine, goes through the oil-rich Caucasus region on Russia’s southern tip, and then extends into central Asia.

Tensions are rising right along it. The US is determined to defend its position in the world while other states see its relative decline as an opportunity to jockey for position. US imperialism’s defeat in Iraq signalled it was possible for weaker powers to assert their interests against US wishes. Russia is one such power.

In 1991 the Soviet Union split apart into Russia and 14 other republics along its borders, including Ukraine.

For much of the 1990s, it was a shadow of its former power. But a combination of high oil prices and Vladimir Putin’s iron hand strengthened the Russian state. It began asserting its imperialist interests in what it calls its “near abroad”, the republics that used to be part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine—industrially developed, and a buffer between the West—was one of the most important.

After the Cold War, the US broke its pledge not to expand Nato into eastern Europe. In 2008 Nato agreed that Ukraine and Georgia should join. Russia invaded Georgia to prevent this happening.

There’s also an economic side to the rivalry. The European Union (EU)—a wannabe imperial power aligned with the US—tried to get Ukraine to join it in 2014. Russia had set up the Eurasian Customs Union (ECU) to compete with the EU and strengthen its hand against China in central Asia.

In 2014, Ukraine looked to align more closely with the West. In response, Russia took over the Crimea region from Ukraine and supported separatist militia in the south east. This conflict rumbled on since and has now flared up again.

How should socialists respond? Firstly, we should have no truck with US or British hypocritical claims to protect Ukraine from Russian aggression.

The revolutionary Vladimir Lenin argued that “in every country preference should be given to the struggle against the chauvinism of the particular country, to awakening hatred of one’s own government”.

So, in the West, socialists’ main job is to unite around opposition to our ruling class’s drive to war.

Second, this doesn’t mean that “my enemies’ enemy is my friend”—that the West’s rivals are in any way anti-imperialist. As Lenin went on to say, socialists also had to “appeal to the solidarity of the workers of the warring countries, to their joint civil war” against the warmongers’ system.

We build opposition to our own rulers—but as part of a struggle against the system of imperialist rivalries that causes war.

Israeli land grabs fuel Palestinian resistance

Posted on: January 21st, 2022 by TTE No Comments
Protesters carry a huge Palestinian flag on a pro Palestine demo in London

Tens of thousands protested in solidarity with Palestine in London last May

From the streets of Jerusalem to the desert of the Naqab, Israel’s drive to snatch Palestinian land is sparking new battles between protesters and the state.

In the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah—where last year’s Palestinian uprising began—Israel forced a family out onto the streets then demolished their home.

And in the Naqab desert—known by Israel as the Negev—thousands of Palestinian Bedouins fight heroically to stop Israel forcing them from their land.

At 3am on a cold, wet January morning, Israeli counter terrorism and riot cops stormed the house of the Salhiya family in Jerusalem last week. After arresting five of the family, the cops evicted the rest of the large household.

Then they bulldozed the building, leaving the Salhiyas with nothing. It was an abrupt, violent end to a decades long struggle by the Salhiyas to stay in the home they’d lived in since 1948.

“My father was asleep when they took him. They didn’t let him put a jacket or shoes on,” Yasmin Salhiya told the Middle East Eye website. “They separated everyone that was there and started beating the young men before detaining them in the jeeps and taking them away.

Meanwhile in the Naqab, just a few miles south, more Israeli cops have used rubber bullets and teargas-dropping drones on protesters. They have arrested at least 140 people there in the past month—almost half of them children.

Israel wants to get rid of entire Bedouin villages there so that it might build new military and industrial infrastructure there, and grow the Israeli population. And it has enlisted the help of the Jewish National Fund (JNF)—a charity with close ties to the state.

It funds the building of new Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. And through innocuous sounding tree planting projects, it takes hold of and transforms Palestinians’ land, erasing their presence.

When the JNF began planting trees on land Bedouins use for farming, thousands of Palestinians marched to stop it.

In both cases, Israel is using the discriminatory laws that form the fabric of its system of apartheid and force Palestinians from their land.

In Jerusalem, the Salhiyas are victims of the “absentee law,” which allows the state to confiscate the land of Palestinians who fled when Israel was created in 1948.

In the Naqab, Israel says the Bedouin villages are simply “unrecognised” settlements on state land. By denying Palestinians the right to live where they want, the state hopes to push them into ever smaller enclaves.

So, in both cases, there’s also a direct link to the Nakba—the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 that Israel was built on.

The Salihyas actually arrived in Sheikh Jarrah in 1948, after fleeing their home in the west of Jerusalem.

But Israel says the house is on land that once belonged to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem—and that it took the right to confiscate it after invading east Jerusalem in 1967.

So, as Human Rights Watch put it, the Salhiyas’ eviction “turned them into refugees twice.”

In the Naqab Israel demolished Palestinian villages in 1948—erasing any trace of them—as part of its efforts to ensure Palestinians would be a minority in the new state.

Now the JNF says explicitly that its goal is to establish a stronger Israeli presence in the desert.

On the JNF’s website introducing its Negev blueprint, it outlines a plan to settle 500,000 people from elsewhere in the region.

“The Negev Desert represents 60 percent of Israel’s landmass but is home to just 8 percent of the country’s population,” it wrote. “And in those lopsided numbers, we see an unprecedented opportunity for growth.”

That’s why the Palestinians in both Jerusalem and the Naqab see their battles as part of a long struggle against ethnic cleansing.

“We will go back to our home. No matter what they do to us, we will go back,” said Yasmin. “Our message to everyone is stay in your homes. Don’t leave it. Don’t sell it. We’re losing Palestine bit by bit.”

Boris Johnson relies on more lies and blackmail to cling on

Posted on: January 20th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
Boris Johnson wearing a mask

Boris Johnson raises another glass (Picture: Flickr/Number 10)

Things are going from bad to worse for Boris Johnson—who has now been accused of blackmail. Senior Tory MP William Wragg claimed on Thursday that party whips were “threatening to withhold investments from MPs’ constituencies that are funded from the public purse”.

Wragg is chair of the House of Commons public administration and constitutional affairs select committee. He has advised other Tory MPs to take complaints of blackmail by ministers, whips and advisers to the police, who so far have refused to investigate Downing Street lockdown parties.

Wragg also claimed that “members of staff at Number 10, special advisers, government ministers and others” were involved in a smear operation against Johnson’s opponents.

He said they were “encouraging the publication of stories in the press, seeking to embarrass those they suspect of lacking confidence in the prime minister”. Wragg added this seemed to him “to constitute blackmail”.

The revelations are another sign of the crisis engulfing the Tories as Johnson’s supporters try to protect him from a vote of no confidence by his own MPs.

Many Tory MPs are now waiting for the outcome of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into the parties before making a move. She was given the task by Johnson himself.

Gray’s report on the parties will delve into “drinking culture” in Number 10 and Johnson’s knowledge about parties including the “bring your own booze” party held in his own garden in May 2020.

Johnson denied any real wrongdoing in the House of Commons, believing “implicitly” it was a work event. He “categorically” said that nobody told him that any of the gatherings he attended broke his own rules.

To force a vote of no confidence 54 Tory MPs—15 percent—would have to submit letters to the backbenchers’ 1922 Committee.

In an attempt to save his own skin, Johnson is ready to sack all the officials and advisers involved in the parties held during the first lockdown in 2020. And health secretary Sajid Javid said he was “looking forward to disciplinary action” being taken against those involved.

Johnson—and all the Tories—should go. The defection of Bury South MP Christian Wakeford to Labour shows the Tories sense anger against the government and are desperate to keep their seats. Wakeford said party whips told him he would lose funding for a new secondary school in his constituency if he did not vote in line with Johnson.

It also shows the lengths Labour will go to in order to appeal to the right and establishment—by welcoming Tories but expelling socialists. Indeed, Wakeford said he was a “centrist… just wearing a different rosette”.

Meanwhile, the cost of living crisis is mounting for ordinary people. Working class people cannot just wait for Johnson to fall at the hands of Tory MPs—or for a Labour Party that offers no alternative.

Yet the union leaders sit on their hands. The TUC union federation emptily demanded the Tories “come forward with a plan to tackle the cost-of-living crisis” when the new inflation figures came out on Wednesday.

Every trade unionist and campaigner should build solidarity for workers’ struggles that are taking place, such as the all-out strike at Chep UK. And they should fight to raise the level of struggle by fermenting strikes in their own workplaces. 

The UCU university union leaders should call hard-hitting action that can become a focus for wider resistance. 

Taking to the streets, and pressuring union leaders to act, to demand Johnson leaves now will set the tone for whoever takes his place.

The whole establishment is in crisis—we need resistance and to put forward socialist solutions. 

Solid picket lines as NewVic college strikers keep up action

Posted on: January 20th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
A group of strikers at NewVic college

NewVic workers are fighting for students too (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Workers at Newham Sixth Form College (NewVic) in east London are upbeat as they continue strikes against academisation.

NEU union members rounded off a three-day strike with a rally on Thursday—and are set for further walkouts. 

Workers’ mood hasn’t dipped since the start of the strikes last December. Union rep and teacher Rob told Socialist Worker, “The NEU has seen solid picket lines and education workers at the college remain determined to win.

“We have taken eight days of action so far and have seen support from NEU branches around London and from the unions—the UCU, PCS and Unite.

“Messages of support have been coming in from around the country strengthening workers’ resistance.

Strikes will continue at NewVic, we are taking action over unfair management practices, workload and academisation.”

Picket lines are lively, attended by dozens of workers, parents and local activists. And workers from Oaks Park High School in the neighbouring borough, Redbridge, have joined the pickets previously.

Some placards read, “Principles not CEOs,” “Teaching over testing,” and, “Accountability, not accounting.” Workers chanted, “No academies.”

Union membership increased to 100 during the pandemic in the lead up to the strikes. All but one department is participating in the strike, forcing management to continuously cancel planned events.

The workers are determined to win all their demands around workload and a culture of bullying. And they regularly point out that winning around these issues would benefit students.

NEU president Daniel Kebede said, “Fighting to defend NewVic from privatisation and keep it a community college will benefit all of Newham.” 

Rob encouraged everyone to attend their picket lines and rallies. One school or college turning into an academy can open the flood gates to more.

Every trade unionist should build solidarity for the NewVic workers’ fight in their union branches and workplaces.

Messages of support to Rob Behan at [email protected]

Former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg to take legal action against Home Office

Posted on: January 19th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
Moazzam Begg speaks at a demo

Moazzam Begg has fought for justice (Picture: Garry Knight on Flickr)

Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg is planning to launch legal action against the Home Office to restore his British passport.

Moazzam’s passport was first revoked after his release from Guantanamo, the US prison camp on Cuba, in 2005. It was then taken from him eight years ago—and taken again at the end of last year just weeks after being reinstated.

In Guantanamo, Moazzam was held without trial or charge and tortured for three years. Since his release, he has been harassed by British spooks, the Home Office and government.

Moazzam told Socialist Worker his experience has been “unbelievable”. He slammed the Tories, saying they’re either “lying, or deeply incompetent, or both”. “I’ve had my passport revoked three times in the past 15 years,” he said.

“I’ve been put in three military prison camps and been arrested by anti-terror police three times.

“I’ve not had my day in court, I’ve not been convicted of any crime.”

In fact, Moazzam has been declared innocent of crimes that led to his passport being taken.

Moazzam, who works with advocacy group Cage, was arrested in February 2002 in Pakistan and given to US forces. While held in the prison, British and US officers interrogated him. He was released in 2005.

He then travelled to Syria in 2012 and 2013. Before his second visit, Moazzam was told by M15 spooks that he was free to travel.

Yet his passport was again taken in December 2013 after returning from South Africa.

Moazzam applied for a new passport in 2019. It was issued in September 2021 and revoked weeks later. His treatment, Moazzam says, is the government “doing more of what it does—harassment and disruption”.

The letter informing Moazzam that his passport had again been revoked was incorrectly addressed to a woman in northern England. She had been convicted of passport fraud.

“It’s highly incompetent, vindictive and malicious,” Moazzam said.

Moazzam thinks he is being treated this way because he’s been attempting to hold the state to account for over 15 years. “MI5 were involved in my torture,” he said.

“But having given evidence to the police about the role of the US and Britain in the torture of prisoners, there has been no accountability.

“The government has avoided any prosecution and accountability. Anyone who seeks to hold them to account is punished.

“I’ve been put through the worst they could—they physically, racially and religiously abused me. They beat people to death in front of me. But I keep trying to hold them to account.”

So fighting for his passport, Moazzam said, “Is a relative walk in the park.”

Moazzam’s lawyers sent a letter to the Home Office and Passport Office with notice of the legal action. With no reply, he will launch an application for judicial review if the government doesn’t act.

“Criminal behaviour is not just on the streets,” he added. “It happens within governments, among leaders, prime ministers and cabinet ministers. When they act criminally, they should be held to account.

“They try to use the concept of people not adhering to so-called ‘British values’. One of their own values they repeatedly flaunt is the rule of law.

“Torture and false imprisonment are crimes. Clearly the government doesn’t believe in the rule of law—otherwise there wouldn’t be a set for them and one for everyone else.”

“It doesn’t matter to them I can’t attend the marriage of my daughter or do investigations that show clearly the government was involved with war crimes. Which I intend to continue,” he added.

“The tide is with us. The mood is you can’t trust people in power.”

Donate to Moazzam’ s crowdfunder 

Decades of poverty and plunder make Tonga disaster worse

Posted on: January 19th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
A devastated coastline on Tonga

A glimpse of the devastation on Tonga (Picture: NZ Defence Force)

Tonga is still reeling after an underwater volcano erupted 40 miles off the coast of the Pacific country’s main island on Saturday.

The full scale of the destruction remains unknown. But it will have been made worse by decades of inequality and policies that have benefited the island’s royals and rich, multinationals and imperial powers.

The eruption of Hunga Tonga caused huge tsunamis. A series of waves battered the capital, Nuku’alofa, where a majority of the country’s 104,000 population lives and works.

At least three people have died—and many more are reported missing.

Tonga’s 176 islands—36 of which are inhabited—remain covered in ash and many cannot communicate with other islands or countries due to a near-total power blackout. Phone lines and internet services are damaged and down.

Aerial images show entire villages have been wiped out.

On Mango Island, where 36 people lived, at least 20 buildings have been destroyed and one elderly woman died. An evacuation effort is in progress.

On the island Atata, most buildings have been destroyed and holiday resort workers are believed to be missing.

Elsewhere, the US reported flooding in its Pacific territories and Japan experienced waves as high as three metres.

In Peru, two women drowned in Lambayeque, in the north as two metre high waves submerged a truck. 

The devastation will hit ordinary people hard. Many tourism workers have been struggling to hold jobs as the government failed to provide support during Covid-19. And farm and industrial workers will now have to rebuild their workplaces and start anew. 

Some 27 percent of the population is deprived, living in low income households, and youth unemployment stands at 40 percent.

Wages remain incredibly low—the average annual income was just £3,452 according to the World Bank.

Money made from tourism rarely remains in Tonga as multinational companies soak up the majority of the profits and pay poverty wages. On average, a hotel concierge earns just £181 per month. 

But the royal family and business-owning elite live in luxury. 

As money is concentrated in the hands of the few, much of the disaster relief is left to charities or the people themselves.

Meanwhile, imperialist powers will try to use the crisis for their own advantage as aid comes with strings attached.

Tonga already receives aid from the US—both economic and military—in exchange for supporting US wars and interests. But that doesn’t benefit ordinary people on the islands.

Further eruptions are likely and Tonga can expect more natural disasters.

More investment into monitoring systems, emergency response programmes and better infrastructure is needed. And there needs to be a reckoning with the elite and its imperialist backers that hoard the money for themselves.

Oxfam slams ‘economic violence’ of rich—struggle to beat their system

Posted on: January 18th, 2022 by Sophie No Comments

Wincanton B&Q workers in Worksop on the picket lines

Wages in Britain are falling amid rapidly surging inflation. Official figures released on Tuesday showed basic pay rose 3.8 percent in the September-November quarter. 
On Wednesday the government’s preferred measure of inflation soared to 5.4 percent, its highest rate since March 1992. And the more accurate RPI figure is 7.5 percent. That means workers’ wages fall unless they win a rise of 7.5 percent or more. 
In another set of statistics, there was news of Covid’s terrible toll.  There has been a big increase in the number of people who are not available for work, particularly people over the age of 50. 
A rise in long-term sickness is the driving factor. For many of the lowest paid and people on benefits, poverty is already hitting hard. And from April, when the energy price cap soars upwards, it will be much worse.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said this week that low income families could spend 18 percent of their wages on energy bills.  
Single-adult households on low incomes could be forced to spend 54 percent of their income on gas and electricity. This is not some minor shift. It has to be an urgent call to arms. 
The TUC union federation has called for bigger wage rises. But it will take much more than its requests that “ministers must give unions more power to go into workplaces and negotiate better pay and conditions”.
Change will come through union action and struggle, not hoping for the Tories to have a change of heart. 
Capitalism is failing in Britain—and internationally. A new report by charity Oxfam, coinciding with the start of the Davos conference of the rich, branded the choices made for the wealthy as “economic violence”.
The ten richest men have doubled their hoard of money during the pandemic, while the incomes of the poorest people have taken a hit.
Since the pandemic began a billionaire was created every 26 hours. 
Yet at least 160 million people have been pushed into poverty during the same period. The 20 richest people are estimated to emit 8,000 times more carbon than the billion poorest people.
The report says that we are headed towards a society “in which billionaire wealth booms, in which millions of people are killed, and billions of people are impoverished due to inequality, in which we burn the planet and our future human existence on the altar of the excesses of the rich.”
Working class people everywhere face one deadly system. The task is not to patch it up but to destroy it.
As we battle to drive out Boris Johnson and the Tories, that revolutionary change has to be part of our answer.