Israel’s new terror assault against Gaza

Posted on: August 8th, 2022 by Sam No Comments
Palestine protest in London

Protesters in London demand the freedom of Palestine on the anniversary of the Nakba—the permanent displacement of Palestinians—in May. (Picture: Alisdare Hickson)

Israel launched a major offensive on Palestinians crammed into the Gaza Strip last weekend, killing over 40 people, including at least 15 children.

A missile fired by Israeli warplanes struck a group of people east of Khan Younis early last Saturday, killing 24-year-old Tamim Ghassan Abdullah Hijazi and 27-year-old Osama Abdulrahman Hussein al-Suri, according to Gaza-based human rights group Al-Mezan.

Hours later, Israeli ­warplanes fired three missiles at the three-storey home of a family of 40 south west of Gaza City, where mostly women and children lived. In the northern Jabaliya area, Israeli warplanes struck a group of Palestinians on Saturday, killing 28-year-old Hasan Muhammad Yousef Mansour and severely ­injuring another person.

Israeli warplanes also hit a group of Palestinians, mainly women and children, who were getting in a car to go to a family wedding. Al-Mezan said the attack killed the groom’s mother, Naamah Talbat Muhammad Abu Qaidah.

Simultaneously scores of Israeli ultra-nationalists stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday morning. They were protected by heavily armed Israeli forces.

The Tories, US ­government and European Union all issued statements defending Israel’s bloody actions. Liz Truss, the foreign ­secretary and favourite to be the next prime minister, said, Britain “stands by Israel and its right to defend itself”.

An uneasy ceasefire agreed late on Sunday was holding at the beginning of this week. But it could break down at any time because Israeli politicians think bloodshed will boost their prospects of ­electoral success.

About 2.2 million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Since 2008 Israel has waged four wars on the area, killing thousands of people, most of them civilians.

Israeli military strategists talk of regularly “mowing the lawn” in Gaza—repeated wars to blunt resistance. It’s a figure of speech that treats people like grass.

During Israel’s offensive on Gaza last year, its forces killed at least 261 people, including 67 children, and wounded more than 2,200 according to the United Nations. Israel tightly restricts movement of people and goods in and out of the enclave and imposes a naval blockade.

Israel stopped the planned transport of fuel into Gaza shortly before it launched its attacks last Friday. This virtually shut down the territory’s only power plant and reduced electricity to about four hours a day.

Hospitals were among the key services hit by power shortages. “The Israelis are attacking civilians, they are attacking premises, ­residential areas. “Nobody knows what will happen in the coming hours,” said Dr Medhat Abbas, director at the Gaza health ministry.

“There’s a shortage of electricity. We will rely in the hospitals on generators. Generators consume half a million litres every month. We do not have this fuel right now,” he added.

The latest Israeli assault began on Monday last week, when Israeli forces arrested Bassam al-Saadi, an Islamic Jihad resistance group ­commander in the occupied West Bank. Al-Saadi is a former ­prisoner who spent many years in Israeli jails. Israel killed two of his sons during its large-scale invasion of the Jenin refugee camp in 2002.

Al-Saadi was seized during an Israeli raid in the city of Jenin, during which an Israeli soldier shot and killed 17-year-old Dirar al-Kafrini. A few days later Israel killed Tayseer al-Jabari, the Islamic Jihad commander in the north of Gaza.

Then last Sunday the ­resistance group said Khaled Mansour, its commander in the south of Gaza, had also been killed in an Israeli raid. Islamic Jihad did not immediately retaliate for the arrest of Al-Saadi. But, as Israeli forces knew, it had to when Israel started to ­slaughter its leading figures. It fired some largely ­ineffective rockets that killed nobody. By the beginning of this week there had been no significant injuries on the Israeli side.

Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid had stated last week, attacks on Gaza “will take as long as it needs”. This latest war underlines the need to fight the Israeli apartheid state and for a single democratic Palestinian state with the right of return for all refugees.

  • Rally for Palestine—end apartheid, end the occupation, stop arming Israel. Wed 10 Aug, 6pm, Downing Street, London, Called by Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Red Valkyries: Feminist Lessons From Five Revolutionary Women by Kristen Ghodsee

Posted on: August 8th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
Picture of Red Valkyris book cover which is a mix of red cream and black by Kirsten Ghodsee

Kirsten Ghodsee links the fight against capitalism with women’s liberation

Red Valkyries tells the stories of five outstanding women. Kristen Ghodsee’s aim is to puncture the overwhelming narrative of liberal feminism with the tradition of socialist women, who’ve been systematically ignored by mainstream historians.

She argues that liberal “lean-in feminism” only works for wealthy women. And, moreover, it relies on poor working class women—often from the Global South—to do the house work and bring up their children.

Ghodsee selected the five women to show it is possible to combine the fight against capitalism with the fight for women’s liberation. They are Alexander Kollontai, Nadezhda Krupskaya, Inessa Armand—leading women in the Russian Revolution of 1917—and Ludmila Pavlichenko and Elena Lagadinova.   

Kollontai was an extraordinary woman who broke with her aristocratic background and conventional morality, and devoted herself to socialist revolution and transforming the lives of working class women. She had studied Frederick Engels’ and August Bebel’s works on the roots of women’s oppression.

She understood the need to socialise the work of women in the household through collective provision of child care and communal eating, as well as developing alternative ways of living.

Kollontai wrote extensively about sexual relationships, and the need to create strong networks of relationships based on solidarity and comradeship. At key turning points in her revolutionary journey from 1914 to 1917, she sided with the revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. In 1917, she became the minister of social welfare in the revolutionary government. She led the changes in the legal codes that put Russian women’s legal rights years ahead of the rest of the world, and worked tirelessly to implement her ideas. 

Nadezhda Krupskaya is often portrayed simply as Lenin’s companion, focusing on the indispensable role she played in supporting him build the Bolshevik party. But Ghodsee centres Krupskaya’s own achievements. She wrote a pamphlet, The Woman Worker, encouraging women workers to join the revolutionary struggle.

Her passion was education and transforming ways of teaching. She believed in child centred pedagogy, combining learning with activity. Krupskaya’s guiding principle was, “The most important distinguishing feature of socialist schools should be ……the child’s fullest possible and most comprehensive development.

“They must not suppress his individuality but only help develop it. Socialist schools are schools of freedom in which there is no room for regimentation, rote learning and cramming.”

After 1917 Krupskaya became the deputy minister in charge of adult education, supervising the creation of public libraries and organising campaigns to eradicate adult illiteracy.

Iness Armand was a lively personality, musical and multilingual. She did numerous translations for Lenin and often represented the Bolsheviks at congresses. After the revolution, Armand was elected to the Moscow Soviet (workers’ council) and was in the All Russian Central Executive Committee, the highest body in the new workers’ state. She taught in party schools and organised conferences for working women.

In 1918, Kollontai and Armand jointly organised a national congress for working women attended by 1,200. Armand was part of the leadership of the Zhenotdel, the Women’s Section of the Bolshevik Party and chaired the First International Conference of Communist Women in July 1920.

Her vision was, “Until the old forms of family life, domestic life, education and child rearing are abolished, it is impossible to obliterate exploitation and enslavement, it is impossible to create the new person, impossible to build socialism”.

Armand herself had led a complicated personal life with five children, the last by her young brother in law. She was probably, briefly, with Lenin. After her tragic death from cholera, Lenin and Krupskaya subsequently adopted her two youngest children.

Neither Lyudmila Pavlichenko nor Elena Lagadinova were revolutionaries. They came in the horrors of Joseph Stalin’s counter-revolution, which represented a break with 1917 and built a brutal state capitalist regime.

Pavlichenko was a first rate Russian sharp shooter during the Second World War. She was sent by dictator Joseph Stalin on a delegation to the US to win more support for the Soviet Union’s war effort.

Elena Lagadinova, at the age of 11, was the youngest female partisan in Bulgaria in the Second World War. Afterwards she became a geneticist in Bulgaria until Stalinist president Todor Zhivkov appointed her to run Bulgaria’s Women’s Committee because birth rates were plummeting.  

Lagadinova concluded this was the result of the “second shift” women worked in the family after coming back from work. She became a well known contributor to international conferences, speaking on the role of women in officially “socialist” societies. She attained an important position in the United Nations Institute for Training Women. After the collapse of Stalinism in Eastern Europe in 1989, Lagadinova was forced into retirement.

Bulgaria was an oppressive, state capitalist country modelled on the Soviet Union, the result of the imperialist carve-up of Europe in 1944 between Stalin and Winston Churchill.

There had been no socialist revolution led by the working class, unlike Russia in 1917 Zhivkov, who appointed Lagadinova, was a vicious nationalist responsible, amongst other things, for expelling Muslims to Turkey.

Lagadinova undoubtedly had women’s interests at heart, but she in no sense shared the revolutionary practice and vision for liberation of Kollontai, Krupskaya and Armand. She embodied “socialism” and “women’s liberation” from above.

The richness of the three chapters about the revolutionary Red Valkyries is marred by Ghodsee’s merging of the Revolution in 1917 and Stalin’s counter revolution.

Unfortunately, Ghodsee reflects a top down Stalinist version of socialism. She can idolise leading Bolshevik women alongside women who worked for state capitalist dictatorships. So read—with a critical eye—the chapters about Kollontai, Krupskaya and Armand.

From P&O rout to rail strikes—are new forms of workplace activism emerging?

Posted on: August 8th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
picture of people protesting the job cuts at P&O with placards which read resist all P&O job cuts

P&O workers and their supporters march in Dover in March 2022 (Picture: Guy Smallman)

There is a very welcome rebirth of activism in the trade union movement, inspired by the RMT union’s confrontation with the rail bosses and Tory government.

The three days of rail strikes in June were immensely popular, with one poll showing 58 percent of people thought they were “justified”. They inspired solidarity on the picket line from other trade unionists and campaigners, and marches, protests and rallies in towns and cities across Britain. And, in some places like Liverpool, we brought together a solidarity network of rail workers and trade unionists from across the city.

Alongside the rail and BT workers’ national fights over pay, we’ve also seen wildcat strikes at Amazon, Cranswick Continental Foods in Greater Manchester and Alufix in Clapham, south London.

This resurgence of confidence among activists makes it important to understand unions’ industrial power and their limitations in the face of employer offensives. And, we have to look at the role of the trade union bureaucracy in disputes.

Why is it important to understand all the dynamics of the trade union? Because how we understand them has consequences for how activists orient themselves in the industrial battles happening now, and in those ahead of us.

There is, for example, still a yawning gap between the RMT and CWU strikes and any potential industrial action by other large groups of workers in the autumn. And, within the rail and BT disputes, there are questions about what would constitute a victory on pay as inflation soars near 12 percent. The union bureaucracies have suggested below-inflation pay rises could be acceptable—not something rank and file members should accept.

The rout of the unions in the P&O Ferries dispute earlier this year—which also involved the RMT—is useful to understand the dynamics of trade unions.  

P&0—the battle that never was

The sacking of 800 P&O ferry workers on 17 March sent a shock throughout the British trade union movement. Bosses summoned crew members on board ships to watch a pre-recorded video of HR director Andrew Goode. He said they’d be made redundant with immediate effect, and notified them of the company’s plans to replace them with low-waged agency crews.

The workers were given until 31 March to sign a severance deal. This included a gagging clause preventing them from ever talking about having been employed by P&O Ferries, along with a financial settlement.

The following day emergency protests saw hundreds marching at each of the English ports in Hull, Dover and Liverpool. In Hull protesters banged on the doors at the P&O Ferries terminal, demanding to confront company managers. Later in the day, others gathered outside the London offices of DP World.

RMT union general secretary Mick Lynch and Nautilus union general secretary Mark Dickinson told sacked workers to remain on the ships.

A call for solidarity went out via the International Transport Workers Federation (ITWF). At the Rotterdam Europort, Dutch dockers refused to load freight onto the Pride of Rotterdam. At Hull, dockers refused to release the Pride of Hull. Hundreds marched at the ports again on 19 March.

There was further anger when handcuff-trained security staff arrived at the ships. Crew on The Highlander at Cairnryan in Scotland were sworn at and told they had ten minutes to disembark. A few days later, sacked workers from The Pride of Kent coming to collect their personal belongings found them in bin bags next to skips. Protests continued periodically over subsequent weeks. On 23 March at the Liverpool Port, activists briefly blockaded the gates causing lorries to back up within minutes.

Despite this wave of anger, over the following days the two unions put out no wider call for solidarity beyond the port protests, important though these were. It soon became clear there would be no strike ballots, let alone any immediate industrial action.

Instead, the RMT and Nautilus International would be taking legal action against the company. Given the company’s deliberate disregard for labour law, the futility of this strategy for saving jobs was plain. So was the hollowness of the rhetoric from the unions’ national officials.

By the 31 March deadline, all but one of the sacked workers had signed the company’s redundancy agreement. They took the financial package to soften the blow of sudden unemployment given the absence of any major trade union response. It was not so much that the fight was over—rather it had hardly begun.

A spokesperson for Nautilus International summarised the situation perfectly, “P&O has gotten away with it. There’s no fine, there’s no legal action, there’s only words and hot air”.

What might have been different?

The industrial paralysis of the two trade unions involved in the P&O Ferries debacle was bewildering to activists. Nautilus International, founded in 2009 with members in Britain, the Netherlands, Holland and Switzerland, wasn’t known for its militancy. However, more might have been expected from the RMT.

Quite possibly, events might have unfolded differently. Large protests could have been called every day at each of the P&O Ferries terminals at Hull, Liverpool, Dover, Cairnryan and Larne. With an appeal to all unions for solidarity, such protests could have led to sustained port-gate blockades.

Sympathy action by dockers could have been sustained. The sacked workers—encouraged by the movement at the ports, and in constant social media contact with the protesters outside—might have continued occupying the ships.

International protests and sympathy action would also likely have grown at Calais, Rotterdam and Dublin. The unions could have encouraged this through the ITWF, Nautilus International’s membership in other countries, and the RMT’s links with the CGT union federation at the French ports and the SIPTU union at the Irish ports. 

Just as in the 1993-96 Liverpool dockers’ dispute, international maritime solidarity could then have had an important impact.

Furthermore, a national demonstration called by the TUC union federation would have brought huge numbers of trade unionists and supporters onto the streets. This is what happened in 1992 over pit closures and in 2011 over austerity.

All this is not fanciful speculation. In the weeks following the sackings, a campaign by the unions along these lines could have been successful. The Tories were on the back-foot, and the courts would have been unable to act—for a time at least. During the last two weeks of March, the unions had the upper hand for this kind of action.

It was an advantage they threw away—and were always going to. Why is this? And what would an alternative strategy have required?

What are the union officials afraid of?

At root, union leaders’ inaction flows from a drive to compromise. Understanding the social position of the bureaucracy is key to understanding its conservatism. The union bureaucracy is removed from the workers it represents and officials are neither bosses nor workers.

In Marxism and Trade Union Struggle, socialists Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein explained that the bureaucracy “is a distinct, basically conservative, social formation” and called union bureaucrats “managers of discontent”.

Their job is to negotiate between capital and labour and reach a settlement in disputes. The union laws brought in during the 1980s were designed to take power out of the hands of the rank-and-file, empowering union officials.

Trade union behaviour in Britain is shaped by many pressures. There are two that are directly relevant here, and are structural to our problem.

First, there is a plethora of restrictive controls over balloting and time-frames for industrial action mandates. It is underpinned by the threat to union finances and assets, premised upon the liability of national officials. This bolsters union officials’ caution of their members, who may breach statutory requirements in the anti-union laws in actions that run out of their control.

Such breaches can require the national officials to explicitly “repudiate” the actions of members if they’re to avoid legal sanctions blocking official industrial action, and possible financial penalties. Indeed, union leaders tend to be wary of the potential for a court injunction against industrial action even where there are no actual grounds for it. This often results in an exaggerated wariness of the law and a tendency to “play-safe”, remaining well within the legal limitations for industrial action.

Second, where ordinary members of a union take unprotected action reacting to a provocation, they may lose their jobs, and be thrown into an unforgiving employment environment and a vicious benefits system.

This makes union officials cautious for their members, and careful not to lead them into taking such risks.

Once, in an earlier industrial relations era, a gesture from the official would be enough for workplace stewards and reps to lead unofficial walk-outs and go-slows. But these structural changes mean there is no place anymore for that type of surreptitious communication. The “nod-and-a-wink’ has disappeared from the world of British trade unionism. 

However, we need to look at something else to understand contemporary trade union behaviour.

While successive governments have been pushing the door closed against strikes, they have been opening another for the unions. Finding the “strike option” increasingly fraught with risk, trade unions have resorted to alternatives laid out for them by legislation introduced since the 1990s.

The most relevant to the P&O Ferries is the TULCRA (1992) law, introduced by John Major’s Tory government. This obligates employers to “meaningfully” consult with trade unions in redundancy situations. They have to demonstrate efforts to avoid redundancies, reduce the number of redundancies and mitigate the effects of redundancies. Where they are in breach of these requirements, trade unions may pursue legal action to exact compensation for their members.

For 30 years, TULRCA (1992) has given union leaders an instrument for their strategies of “legalism” as an alternative to sustained strike when faced with redundancies. This act has served the British state well as a regulator of both employer and trade union behaviour in major company restructures, involving the mass shedding of jobs.

Until now. The P&O sackings destabilised these industrial relations arrangements, which were stacked in favour of bosses and against the unions. It meant there was worry among some within the establishment, alarmed at what this maverick employer behaviour might ignite.

Prime minister Boris Johnson’s and transport secretary Grant Shapps’ condemnations of senior management were strange to witness. Entertaining too was the sight of Natalie Elphicke, Tory MP for Dover being howled down. She turned up at the port and tried to speak on behalf of the sacked P&O Ferries workers.

Less entertaining was the hope of Nautilus International and RMT national officials that politicians’ warm words might provide some leverage against the company. Obviously, as the danger of workers’ action passed, the Tories did nothing. Indeed, within weeks the government was once more signing new contracts with the company.

Informal activist networking—organising at the base 

There is a type of informal trade union activism—this is the “geographical industrial network” (GIN). While its prominence has varied over time, it has never entirely disappeared from the British trade union movement.

There are historical examples of GINs that have been decisive in delivering large-scale worker actions and victories. The Barnsley Miners’ Forum, for instance, involved many left-wing activists. It played a vital role in the unofficial Yorkshire coalfield battles of 1969 and 1970, and in the great strike of 1972 against the Tory government and the National Coal Board.

There are no working class formations today that compare to the combines and liaison committees of the 1960s and early 1970s with their mobilising power and industrial leverage. The background to the GINs of that era were pit and shop-floor victories.

But informal activist networks can also emerge from crises in the trade unions, and frustration with the ineffectiveness of official national leaderships over crucial issues facing ordinary members.

Looked at in this way, a survey of the British labour movement reveals some interesting developments. There are currents of worker activism—born of necessity, and filling the vacuum of leadership created by the failures of the official unions. They are producing new and effective types of organising. These arise from the impasse reached within a union when activists can see no way forward via its official and formal processes.

One example is the health workers’ activist network Nurses United. Emerging from a crisis in the official leadership of the RCN union following a misleading national pay deal, the network went on to involve members of other unions. As part of the wider NHS Workers Say No, it organised the #NHSPay15 mobilisations in towns and cities across Britain in the summer of 2020.

The following year pay, safety and anti-privatisation protests involved a range of activist groups—NHS Workers Say No, Health Campaigns Together, NHS Voices, Nurses United, and Keep Our NHS Public. 

Despite health workers’ anger at their appalling treatment by the Tories during Covid, the government imposed the 3 percent pay deal in England. The union leaders did little more than put out consultative ballots, but with no serious argument for industrial action.

Meanwhile, in the winter of 2021, midwives organised their own protests via the #MarchWithMidwives network. They were campaigning over pay, safety standards and service funding. 

Another example of informal activism is the Sparks (electricians) and their No to ESO (Unskilled Labour) campaign. These activists mounted actions, such as company office occupations and blockades. It was against the introduction of the Electrical Service Operative grade for electrical engineers at the major construction companies Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey, and at Atomic Weapons Establishment, Burghfield. This grassroots campaign prevented the deskilled grade becoming established within the construction industry.

The small, but dynamic unions such as UVW, Caiwu and the IWGB are also significant. They have attracted activists who’ve become frustrated with the more established unions. Unison and Unite union members at the University of London joined the IWGB in 2017 after a disagreement over how to fight for improved conditions for cleaners.

Their strikes and direct actions were successful against the agency employer, Balfour Beatty Workplace. Subsequent strikes achieved the cleaners’ jobs being brought back in-house by the university.

These unions recruit large numbers of workers who have never been in a union before. And they have brought vibrant campaigning styles and direct-action methods into the labour movement. They have been involved in a string of successful fights over union recognition, sick pay, working conditions and pension rights.

However, the new unions do not wholly avoid the problems of bureaucracy and sectionalism, particularly as they grow and become more established.

Meanwhile, there have also been strongly membership-controlled disputes leading to victories in recent years.  

Examples include the highly successful strikes last year over pay by Bexley refuse workers, which involved networks with other bin workers in neighbouring boroughs.  

Another is the six-month UCU union’s jobs fight at the University of Liverpool that involved internal and external solidarity networks. It saw daily morning strike meetings over the majority of the action—more than 90 in all, regularly of around 200. The strikes successfully prevented every compulsory redundancy.

The grassroots organising within these strikes and campaigns show the difference networking can make.

A further example is the UCU Solidarity Movement. It has brought together activists in the long-running battles in higher education over pensions, pay, inequalities, workloads and casualisation. It made possible crucial discussions about strategy and coordination across branches, despite a national leadership that worked hard to undermine industrial action.

The UCU strikes in 2018 also show how activist networks can create “rank-and-file moments”, which affect outcomes in dispute situations. This occurred over 12 to 13 March 2018.

Activists in 40 branches coordinated across their strike meetings—each of hundred—via the #NoCapitulation Twitter hashtag. They fought to reject a rotten deal, before it had even been formally presented by Acas conciliation service negotiators for consideration by the union’s higher education committee.

Social media communications and new organising tools means workplace activists typically can be in contact with tens and even hundreds of others. This can take place in various overlapping types of solidarity networks, and across many unions and campaigns in their towns and cities. Up until very recently, they might have known only a handful within their own trade union branches.

The RMT strikes, for instance, inspired some local support groups to spring up. On Merseyside a group of more than 100 trade unionists and community activists came together within days through WhatsApp. They organised picket line support and called a solidarity rally.

They published a public statement in the local press backing the RMT with 160 signatures— including five Liverpool and Wirral Labour MPs, and many trade unionists – all ahead of the commencement of the strikes.

This group has developed into a broad strike solidarity coalition, adding union activists by the day. It coordinates picket line visits, shares information between unions, and organises union recruitment fairs in Liverpool’s main shopping area. Activism, it seems, has never been so networked—making possible rapid, intensive and geographically-focused forms of industrial organising.

The inability of national officials to deliver over problems that require an immediate response can mean that workers, pushed beyond their limit, act on their own. The dozens of Covid-19 health and safety walkouts of March and May and then October and November of 2020 showed how this can happen.

There have also been more recent examples. They include the unofficial walkout by refuse collection, recycling, and grounds maintenance staff in Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council. It was against someone they say is a sexist, racist and bullying manager. There’s the unofficial action over payment issues at the Ineos refinery at Saltend in Hull by workers employed by Altrad. And the wildcat strikes over pay by maintenance workers employed by TotalEnergies and Bilfinger UK on oil rigs in the North Sea.

New orientations of struggle?

Confronting the Tories and bosses requires us to think about new forms of worker activism and new types of networks. They can bring together activists in local solidarity actions across different groups of workers in a town or city.

These need to include lay officials who are prepared and able to reject demands to “repudiate” unlawful worker actions. And they must include activists who are working deliberately towards a culture of rapid response to sudden employer attacks.

We need many more organised socialists, who look to workers’ self-activity, in the unions. What a difference a few more socialists—arguing for occupations—could have made on board the P&O Ferries.

Socialists have to bring politics into the workplace and workers’ struggles, not just agitate on the economic issues.

Political radicalisation and movements outside the official channels of the labour movement can build confidence for workplace struggles. For example, in 2019 the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) movement in France helped energise union activists in France, leading to militant strikes.

We are still a long way from what we need in terms of rebuilding worker organisation. However, there are trends towards informal activist cultures and signs of new formations. The question is, can we maximise solidarity, increase activist numbers, and build worker confidence as they emerge?

Powerful play thoroughly debunking racist myths

Posted on: August 8th, 2022 by Sam No Comments
As British as a Watermelon

Zimbabwean writer and performer Mandla Rae confronts racism, homophobia, trauma and asylum.

Boris Johnson’s racist remark about black Africans having watermelon smiles epitomises the ideology of Britain and empire, then and now.

So a glimpse into the mind of a refugee makes for a powerful piece of theatre, debunking racist myths. We’re told, “My name is Mandla. It means power. I gave it to myself.” 

Over the next hour racism, homophobia and murder are a few of the themes explored in a riveting solo performance. Mandla Rae is a gay Zimbabwean writer and actor, using the pronouns they/them.

A three page set of notes of “house rules” for watching is given to audience members to read beforehand. A shadowy square space with white lights defines the stage. The edge of a frame represents a door. In the middle is a table, with various tools, a stool and several watermelons scattered around the space.

Mandla mumbles a prayer and admits to being “a little bit psychic” and “risen from the dead.” And maybe a bit of a liar.

As the stories unfold the watermelons are smashed or cut to pieces with tools and bare hands, sometimes the juice rubbed into the face. The audience is drawn in with clever word play and funny moments. But the loud banging on the door off stage betrays deep fears of what we only can imagine as the “hostile environment” towards those seeking asylum.

There are more questions than answers. How do you know that you’re gay? Why stay in a country where you have suffered so much or why love the English language?

Chopping up melons becomes a metaphor for pent up anger at a world of hurt and lies. Mandla provides a clear message of compassion and humanity. 


A fierce tale against British oppressors

The Telugu language action film RRR is unashamedly revolutionary, the title is an acronym for Raama, Roudra, Rushitam (Rise, Roar, Revolt).

It’s very loosely based on the lives of the real life revolutionaries Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem. Raju and Bheem led uprisings for independence against the British Raj in the 1920s. 

The story opens in 1920 in a village of the Gond people in Adiabad. While the monstrous British administrator Sir Scott Buxton amuses himself slaughtering wildlife, his sadistic wife Catherine takes a shine to young child Malli.

Buxton abducts the child, imprisoning her in his imperial fortress where she must entertain the British occupiers. But Malli’s brother, Komaram Bheem, is the protector of the Gond, and he vows to rescue her.

The British send their undercover agent Raju to take him out. In one scene Raju beats a crowd of hundreds.

The scene where Bheem attacks the Viceroy’s garden party with a menagerie of wild beasts is worth the price of admission alone. The film’s depiction of the British Raj as the work of heartless, racist monsters warmed my anti-imperialist heart.

The credits are played out to a brilliant song and dance routine celebrating and calling for revolution in which the whole cast and the director take part. While they dance, pictures of heroes of the anti-British colonial struggle come up behind them.

One was the socialist revolutionary and anti-colonialist Bhagat Singh. You don’t get that in Marvel post-credit sequences.

Sasha Simic

  • RRR directed by S. S. Rajamouli, on Netflix and in selected cinemas now

Letters—Fresh mood of resistance infuses recent picket lines

Posted on: August 8th, 2022 by Sophie No Comments
UCU strike picket lines

UCU strikers at King’s college London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

My union, UCU, has been on strike several times in the last four years. I’ve been on picket duty in Milton Keynes and Cardiff and, despite some gestures of real support from other groups of workers, it’s been hard work. 

It’s a sign of the historically low level of class struggle that before this last two months I hadn’t visited any other picket lines in six years. That picket line was about 20 people who were desperately resisting the closure of the small factory at which they worked. 

They were, on the whole, grim and pessimistic. And they lost. These last few weeks have felt like living on another planet. The picket lines are very public, they are very confident and they are also prepared for a long fight. 

They want to talk politics. Again and again people talk about having so much in common with other groups of workers.  The attitude to the present leadership of the Labour Party is somewhere between disillusion and contempt.

What is also very noticeable is the level of public support. We organised some support and solidarity leafletting in Exeter city centre on 30 June.  We gave out hundreds of leaflets and had just one negative response. And it’s not just good wishes. It’s not just toots on the car horn and waves while driving past. 

So we’ve started to organise a network of trade union activists across the city.  This is so that each future strike gets quick practical support from other working people.

We are building the start of a serious resistance. We are now planning a rally, both to celebrate the activity so far and also to organise for the autumn. Because when we say we’re all in this together, we mean it. Not like the bosses and the millionaire Tories.

Richard Bradbury

Exeter


Justice for Noah

There was widespread outrage across Northern Ireland after new Tory Secretary of State Shailesh Vara signed off a Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate.  The PII is a block to the release of vital information at the inquest into the death of 14 year old Belfast schoolboy Noah Donohoe. 

Noah went missing two years ago and his naked body was discovered six days later in a storm drain. Noah’s family have consistently claimed that the police did not take the search for him seriously.

PII certificates were widely used to protect information about police informers, especially among paramilitary groups, during the Troubles. But this is now being used in a case of a missing schoolboy. 

There have been claims in the media, including an account from a former prisoner, that a cellmate had confessed to being involved in Noah’s murder.  The cellmate also said he was helped in disposing of his body by others in a predominantly Loyalist area of North Belfast. 

Police collusion with Loyalist gangs had been repeatedly exposed in investigations in the North. Now Vara, like all his predecessors, has colluded in the police cover-up. 

Hundreds have attended demonstrations outside police stations across Northern Ireland to protest against the decision. 

You can support the Donohue family by signing the petition – bit.ly/NDonohoe

Colm Bryce

Glasgow


Socialists shouldn’t call people bastards

In the Socialist Workers Party pre-conference documents, it was stressed that we should avoid using comments like “I am mad” or “I feel stupid”. This is because this language can cause distress to some people.

A comrade has raised with me their concerns about the cartoon in edition 2815 (Socialist Worker, 27 July) with the description of the Tory party candidates as “bastards”.

Using this term in this way did cause distress and I fear that Socialist Worker fell short of its high standards. I hope some form of apology will be printed.

Ralph Tebbutt

Kent

Does Socialist Worker have to resort to language of the gutter press when talking about the Tories? 

When you call them “bastards” you’re debasing our cause and sound like The Sun.

Marie Agathi

By email


Solidarity—put money where mouth is

The rail and telecoms strikes have been an inspiring example of workers fighting back. They’ve been a revelation for thousands of people who haven’t felt sure about how to fight.

But CWU and RMT union members don’t get strike pay. That means every day of action they take, strikers are losing money against the backdrop of the cost of living crisis. 

We need these strikes to win because their victory will give confidence to all working class people. And that means we need a serious campaign of collections and solidarity in Britain. 

If your union branch donates to the local strike fund, that’s fantastic. It’s not enough on its own. We need to see solidarity actions with workers and trade unionists and socialists going out into the communities to shake buckets and raise money for the strikes. 

We’ve seen the way that the arguments of the CWU and the RMT have resonated across the working class. Now we have to drive those arguments deeper into working class communities to ensure strikers can take the kind of action that can win. 

Tom Kay

Sheffield


A thought on Taiwan 

Although claimed as part of China, any reunification would crush Taiwan democracy. The slow strangulation of Hong Kong’s truncated democracy would no doubt be repeated. 

Taiwanese independence would give way to a huge militarisation of the island by US imperialism. Short of a proletarian revolution in China, perhaps the maintenance of the status quo would be the least worst option?

John Curtis

Ipswich


Unbelievable price gouging

The people who run the energy industry in this country are criminals. Companies are raising prices to astronomical levels. 

And now the Ofgem regulatory body is saying prices will be updated quarterly, rather than every six months.

Now firms have more chance to squeeze us. 

Janet Dyer

East London


Pass football to the girls

Whatever your position on the England win at the Euros is, I’m sure everyone agrees that girls should be given the same opportunities as boys to play sport. 

Yet only 44 percent of secondary schools provide equal football lessons for both boys and girls. This disagreful statistic is the collision of sexism and years of cuts to education. 

Sadie Green

Newport


Netflix and…mortgage?

I notice that some 800,000 people have cancelled their subscriptions to Netflix and Amazon, as the cost of living crisis begins to take hold. 

I wonder if all those people will now be able to afford to buy houses? The right wing myth suggests it was buying frivolous items such as streaming services that was stopping them.

Bridget Alderton

By email

Indian liberation was won through ferment of revolt

Posted on: August 8th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
Ghandi on a march along side muslim protestors in a non violent fight for indian independance

Indian independence was fought and won by the people of India

Indian independence is often trumpeted as one of the great achievements of the 1945-51 Labour government, up there alongside the creation of the NHS.  

Indeed, prime minister Clement Attlee is often celebrated as the man who liberated India. Yet the Labour government that came to power in 1945 was absolutely committed to maintaining both the Empire and Britain’s position as a world power.  Keeping control of India and its resources was vital if this was to be achieved. 

Attlee and his government intended to create a weak federal regime that would undermine the Congress movement for independence, and one which British could still dominate. A problem for Attlee was that hostility to continued British rule dramatically increased in the post-war period, fuelled in part by serious economic crisis. 

During the war, some 20,000 Indian prisoners-of-war had been recruited by the Japanese into the Indian National Army (INA), to fight the British for Indian independence. As far as the British were concerned, these men were traitors. But as far as a growing number of Indians were concerned they were heroes. The British proposed to put the leaders of the INA on trial, provoking fierce protests. 

On 21 November 1945, there were student protests against the trials in Calcutta. The police opened fire, killing two protesters. 

The response was a city-wide general strike which saw barricades going up. “Order” was only restored after two days of fighting and after another 33 people had been killed. There were militant protests in many other towns and cities. There were more protests in Calcutta the following February, culminating in another general strike, and half a million people marching through the streets.

What was decisive, however, was the mutiny of Indian sailors that began in Bombay harbour on 18 February 1946 with the mutineers taking control of 22 warships. They demanded an end to the trials, withdrawal of Indian troops from Indonesia and the same pay and conditions as British sailors. 

A general strike was called in their support, with some 300,000 workers walking out and barricades going up. The mutiny spread to other ports and there was considerable unrest in the army and air force as well. 

Strikes also a played a key role. In 1946 there were 1,629 strikes involving some 2 million workers and in a number of cities the police walked out on strike as well.

While the Labour government was still determined to keep India subordinate, the military commanders advised them that this was no longer possible. The level of unrest was rising and the naval mutiny had shown that the Indian military could not be relied upon. As far as the generals were concerned the only choice the British had was to leave peacefully now or be driven out violently.

Foreign secretary Ernest Bevin said Britain should keep control of India for another 15 years if necessary until a reliable puppet government could be installed. But the decision was taken to pull out of India as soon as possible. Lord Mountbatten was charged with this and he plunged the country into horrific communal violence that left over a million people dead. 

The consequences for Britain were soon felt. 

When the Labour government sent soldiers to Korea to fight in the US’s war in 1950, the newly independent Indian government absolutely refused to send troops. From this time on, the British ruling class was forced to reluctantly accept that it could only protect its interests by subordinating itself to the US. 

Attlee and the Labour government did not liberate India. The Indian people liberated themselves.

‘We’re turning our backs on Labour—after Labour turned its back on us’

Posted on: August 7th, 2022 by Nick No Comments
Hundreds of Coventry council HGV2 bin workers behind a banner reading "Labour councillors, stop union busting".

Coventry HGV2 drivers, betrayed by Labour, on strike earlier this year (Picture: Unite West Midlands)

As Keir Starmer responds to a rising tide of strikes by accelerating his shift to the right, trade unionists and even party members are increasingly turning their back on him too.

For workers and union activists, Starmer’s demands that leading MPs stay away from picket lines—and his refusal to back above inflation pay rises—is a betrayal. Meanwhile, many Labour members, and those who have recently left, question what the party is even for.

For HGV2 drivers in Coventry, their eight month strike against the Labour council was a sign of things to come. While they fought for—and eventually won—a pay rise, the Labour council, backed by Starmer, set out to break them.

 “We had the door slammed squarely in our face by the council who made up lies, suspended our rep and provided scab labour,” Unite union convenor Haydn Jones told Socialist Worker. “The intention was to intimidate and bully us to show they have the capability to make other strikers fall in line.

“Labour needs to hang its head in shame—it’s a party of despair for workers and it will never be united. Anybody that says Labour is there to represent working people is absolutely delusional.”

Haydn ripped his Labour ­membership up on the picket line. None of the 73 strikers were members by the end of the dispute. He thinks Starmer wants to prove that Labour is not a party that represents workers or unions.

“I’ll never forget eight months of being sneered at by Starmer,” he said—pointing to how Starmer laughed at the idea that Unite could cut its ­funding for the party over the dispute.

Labour MPs were cautious about joining Coventry’s picket line, including the left wing Zarah Sultana. “She chose to be a Labour MP rather than standing up for our rights,” Haydn said.

“They don’t stand by their convictions. For me there’s little or no hope for the Labour Party. That’s been demonstrated by the vicious barrage of lies and attacks on us.”

Haydn added that Starmer is “forgetting how Labour was set up through subs and donations of workers.” “It takes millions from hard working people through union affiliation fees,” he said.

“Unite must disaffiliate from Labour and there’s a strong urge for this. No more payments should go to Labour.”

Labour activists are also starting to question whether the party deserves their money and support. Alex joined the Labour Party just before the 2017 general election, encouraged by previous leader Jeremy Corbyn’s promise to abolish student debt.

“I joined because it was not just about being against the Tories, it felt like something I could actually get behind,” he told Socialist Worker. Yet Alex’s enthusiasm started to dip as the Labour right attacked and defeated Corbyn’s leadership in the run up to the 2019 general election.

When Starmer replaced Corbyn and the pandemic hit, Alex let his membership expire. “Going into the Covid lockdowns Starmer backed up the Tories,” he said. “Meanwhile capitalism collapsed in on itself and couldn’t cope without being backed up by workers—that radicalised me.”

Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP John McDonnell shake hands with RMT assistant secretary Eddy Dempsey on a picket line

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell joined picket lines last week—but can they lead an alternative? (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Is an alternative possible—and what would it have to do to be different?

For the thousands—or tens of thousands—who’ve left Labour under Starmer, the big question is what fills the gap, and where to place their activity. Many feel that an alternative party to Labour—one that matches what they hoped for under Jeremy Corbyn—would be a step forward.

Haydn has called on Labour’s left MPs to quit the party and join a new parliamentary organisation representing workers. “We need a new party that believes in socialism to make things fair and equal for all,” he said. “We need to gather around people such as Corbyn.

“And we need a majority within parliament to change rules. I think a socialist government could run the country quite successfully, and they would have to make people pay their fair share.”

With the funding pulled from Labour, Haydn says this should go towards sponsoring Unite members and socialist councillors. “Starmer has changed the rules so much that it’d be impossible to get anyone that resembles Corbyn in,” he said.

“But we have two years to do something.” He added, “We need a process—that I hope isn’t too slow—of getting socialist councillors elected then supporting them as MPs.”

Yet even a new party would face the same difficulties as Labour under Corbyn. His MPs didn’t rebel against him simply because they were right wing. It was because they hated that his leadership didn’t look like what they call a “responsible party of government.”

That’s a party that promises to manage the economy and the British state in a way that ensures bosses’ profits. So Labour MPs pushed Corbyn into compromise.

The experience dispirited many activists such as Alex. “There was such fundamental contrast in the party that meant Corbyn couldn’t put his platform forward,” Alex said.

“It showed me even if he was in power, Corbyn would’ve had to compromise. Not even because of public pressure, but because his own party would’ve imploded.”

Constant compromise isn’t just the great failure of Labour—it’s the nature of parliamentary politics to fall into the demands of the right and big business. A new party would have to face up to that challenge, as well as the pressure to fall in behind Labour in parliament against the Tories.

Any alternative mustn’t simply try to repeat the Corbyn project—but build a new one that puts the power of struggle and resistance, not parliament, at its heart.

New film raises questions about legacy of Holocaust

Posted on: August 7th, 2022 by Sam No Comments
A still from the animated film 'Where is Anne frank' views two girls sitting on a bed facing each other. The girl on the left is wearing a green jumpsuit and has red hair, the girl on the right has dark black hair and is wearing a red shirt and brown skirt with a diary in hand

Where Is Anne Frank animated film directed by Ari Folman

Where is Anne Frank imaginatively retells the well-known story of the teenage girl who wrote a diary while in hiding from the Nazis in occupied Amsterdam from 1942-44. 

Anne Frank’s diary, published in 1947, and the story of her and her family, humanised the immense human cost of the HolocaustIt was a period that saw six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. 

Anne and her family hid for two years in the attic of Otto Frank’s office. They were eventually discovered and taken to Auschwitz and then Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. There Anne, her mother and her sister were killed. 

Where is Anne Frank retells Anne’s story through the eyes of Kitty, her imaginary friend who she often addresses in her diary. Kitty is reanimated in contemporary Amsterdam and finds herself in the Anne Frank House museum as ­tourists and security guards poke through it. 

She begins a search for Anne through the streets of Amsterdam. Through flashbacks of Anne ­speaking with Kitty we relive the creeping persecution faced by Jewish people following the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

We see the effect this had on Anne, a popular and social young girl, as her family were forced out of most parts of public life until they were hidden completely. 

The film is pitched for children and young adults with elegant animation and simple dialogue which enables the depiction of Anne’s lively character to shine through. Anne’s world in the attic is shaped by her imagination, her relationships and the increasingly scary news of Nazi-occupied Europe and extermination camps. 

The petty grievances and conflicts with those that she shares close quarters with while in hiding give dimension to the stuffiness and tragedy of her captivity. 

Anne’s interest in film and popular culture form her imagination. There’s a memorable dream sequence where an army of Greek gods and film stars—including Clark Gable—go into battle with Nazi armies.

Kitty’s journey through the ­contemporary world attempts to draw similarities between the ­persecutions faced by Jews in Nazi Germany and the persecution being faced by refugees in Europe today. 

Dutch police round up shivering families of refugees on the snowy streets outside the museum and bundle them into the back of border patrol trucks. The friends that Kitty makes while searching for Anne are poor youths who’ve been repeatedly arrested for stealing food and other means of subsistence. 

The film powerfully asks if Anne’s memory and lessons of the Holocaust has changed the world for the better when racism, poverty and injustice are still so much a feature of contemporary Europe.