Friday, 13 November 2009

Out With the Bad Mercenaries, In With The Equally As Bad Ones

As people may work out from my political views, I'm not a reader of FHM. However, on spotting a copy of the December 2009 issue which featured an article on mercenaries, I grabbed it a scribbled down a few notes from the issue, the following piece is what I've gleaned from it.

The most famous currently existing mercenary company (or civilian contractors as they prefer to be known) in the world today is probably Blackwater, responsible for the Nissour Square shootings and numerous other incidents in Iraq which propelled them into the spotlight. Such was the turmoil, that they have now changed their name to the more corporate Xe and are supposed to be being ejected from Iraq (although they have had certain contracts extended such as $20m aviation contract and are getting new contracts in Afghanistan) and replaced by other firms.

A review of the Jeremy Scahill book on Blackwater will shortly be appearing on this blog, so I won't go into too much depth on them. But the article provides interesting information on how Blackwater's fromer head, Erik Prince, has dealt with some of these incidents - for example redeploying men who had been sent home for steroid abuses, claiming that sending them home was weasting company money, or the rumour that they (Blackwater) were "...offing anyone who tried to alert the authorities about Blackwater's (allegedly numerous and ongoing) war crimes."(pg193)

However, the US are gradually handing Blackwater's contracts to other groups, mainly DynCorp. Although the coalition troops themselves are being deployed from Iraq, the article states that mercenaries hired by the US increased from 10,743 in March to 13,232 in June. Moreover, DynCorp's reputation isn't any better than Blackwater's.

The article lists a whole load of alleged shady goings on that the company have been involved with such as that,

"Two DynCorp employees seperately alleged that the company was running a sex-trafficking business during the Bosnian war in the 90's. Teenage girls were traded as slaves between DynCorp contractors. They were brought in from Romania and Russia thanks to collaboration with the Serbian mafia"(pg194)

"Meanwhile their cavalier attitude to crop-spraying while combatting the South American drug trade meant that ordinary crops got destroyed and children died..."(pg194)

"DynCorp has also being accused of sexually exploiting the local womenfolk in the Middle East. A subcontractor was killed in 2003 by a bullet penetrating the unprotected car he was riding in. Where was the armoured DynCorp car that he was meant to have? Ferrying prostitutes between DynCorp hotels in Kuwait and Baghdad, according to another subcontractor testifying at a Senate committee this year."(pg194)

The final thing that I picked up from the article was a contradiction within it. Towards the end of the article it argues that the US government finds it cheaper to pay contractors $60k-70k a year rather than the $100k it costs for a soldier in training, food, salary, healthcare, pensions etc. Yet at the same time, it talks of these mercenary contractors massively exceeding their budgets, such as DynCorp exceeding its Iraq budget by 51% and overbilling the government by $13.3bn. I'm not sure I understand the economics of mercenaries and I will have to come back to this issue at a later point.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Review: The Everlasting Staircase: A History of the Prison Officers’ Association 1939-2009

From the September 2008 issue of Socialism 2008.

By David Evans with Sheila Cohen, Pluto Press, 2009, £15

Reviewed by Iain Dalton

WHEN PRISON officers went on their first ever nationwide strike two years ago, it propelled their organisation, the Prison Officers Association (POA), into the spotlight as, ironically, their leaders were threatened with imprisonment if they did not call off the action. Yet the history of trade unionism within the prison service goes back way further than this action or even the formation of the POA in 1939. Until now, it has been a relatively unwritten story, so the publication of a fairly comprehensive history is most welcome.
David Evans begins his narrative with the coming into being of the modern prison in the late 19th century and the attempts of the newly-created salaried gaolers to resolve their grievances. While a few attempts were made to form a trade union organisation in the early 20th century, it was not until the setting up of the National Union of Police and Prison Officers (NUPPO) in 1913 and the Prison Officers Federation (POF) in 1915, that this was achieved. Both unions were illegal, as a Home Office standing order was interpreted by then home secretary, Winston Churchill, as meaning that prison officers should be treated like the police, soldiers and sailors and banned from organising a union.
However, the NUPPO-organised walkout of the Metropolitan police in August 1918 over pay changed everything, with the government verbally backtracking over pay, conditions and the right to form a union. The apparent success of the action led to NUPPO and the POF merging. Yet, within a year of this apparent success, the government felt strong enough to pass the 1919 Police Act which once more took trade union rights away, at the same time attempting to buy off police officers with a substantial pay increase. NUPPO organised strike action in protest, but this was badly undermined with only a small number of police officers coming out as well as a few prison officers in Birmingham and 70 from Wormwood Scrubs. All those who took action were dismissed. The additional disillusionment following the failure of the 1924 Labour government to reinstate the strikers severely disappointed many who had been involved with NUPPO.
Instead of trade union rights, prison officers were left with an ineffectual representative board and, for the next 20 years, pay and conditions deteriorated, steeling the determination of prison officers to secure trade union rights once again. Despite the earlier association with police officers and the fact that the Police Act was used by the Home Office to designate prison officers as having police constable status and so banning them from forming a trade union, the struggle for union rights in the prison service has more in common with those of civil servants. Indeed, it was two leaders of the Civil Service Clerical Association who assisted in spearheading the POA’s right to exist and represented the fledgling POA in negotiations.
The newly-formed POA quickly reached a very high density of membership within the prison service, covering all prisons in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It quickly expanded in 1942 to win rights to represent staff at special hospitals such as Broadmoor. The period after the second world war saw a massive expansion of the prison population, almost doubling between 1945 and 1950. Prisons became overcrowded, with prison officer numbers failing to keep up with the increased population which, when combined with reforms improving prisoners’ conditions, began to breed resentment.
As Evans explains, it was not because prison officers were fundamentally reactionary, as some would claim, but that many of the improvements in conditions came without increasing staffing levels to ensure the safety of both prisoners and staff. This is not to say that the POA did not support improvements in prisoners’ conditions. For example, the POA was instrumental in ending ‘slopping-out’ and forcing the prison service to invest in integrated sanitation. But the overcrowding and extra duties imposed on officers led to the situation in the 1970s and 1980s where prison officers were required to do massive amounts of overtime just to keep prisons functioning.
The period from the late 1960s to the late 1980s was full of POA disputes and struggles which there is not the space to go into here. Importantly, however, this was when the POA discovered one of its most potent dispute tactics: refusing to admit prisoners above the Certified Normal Accommodation (CNA) limits, which highlighted both prison overcrowding and understaffing. There are also other interesting points that Evans raises, such as how prison officers treated the Pentonville Five dockers imprisoned for trade union activities, for instance, by leaving their cell doors open.
But it was the confrontation with the Tory government of John Major in the early 1990s that shaped the major concerns of the POA in recent years. Continued overcrowding of prisons led in 1993 to refusals to accept more prisoners at Hull and Preston, the latter already operating at 200% of the CNA. The Home Office went to court to seek an injunction against this action, and the judge, as well as ruling the action illegal, went further than the Tories in declaring that the POA was not a trade union. This was formalised by the Tories in the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which instituted the infamous section 127 which criminalised calling for prison officers to take industrial action.
Combined with this was the beginning of prison privatisation. Even the Thatcher government thought this was a step too far. But, in the early 1990s, starting with Wolds remand prison and court escort services, the Tories began opening up prisons and related areas to privatisation as well as privatising any new-build prisons. Not only did the privatised prisons attack the pay and conditions of staff, they also refused initially to recognise the POA. Instead, they recognised the scab Prison Service Union, which had been set up by disgruntled ex-POA officials, in ‘sweetheart’ deals. Faced with the market testing of public-sector prisons, the POA decided to organise within privatised prisons and fight for their return to the public sector. The POA’s campaign has been partially aided by some privatised prisons returning to the public sector after private mismanagement, as well as the embarrassing failure of any private-sector tenders to run Brixton prison when it was market tested.
Despite assurances from New Labour in opposition that it would fully reinstate prison officers’ trade union rights and reverse privatisation of the prison service, the POA has been let down on both counts. This led to the POA general secretary, Brian Caton, tearing up his Labour Party membership card at the 2009 POA annual conference. Trade union rights were partially restored on condition that the POA signed up to a no-strike agreement. However, such were the appallingly low pay offers that prison officers were receiving (even compared to other public-sector workers) that the POA pulled out of the agreement and undertook national strike action in 2007. The Ministry of Justice then reinstated the Tory legislation banning strikes by prison officers. This has led to the POA calling for the TUC to organise general strike action against the anti-union laws, as well as bracing itself for the possibility that the courts will be used against it if the POA is forced to take action to defend its membership.
Overall, the book is a very detailed history of the POA. However, there are several areas where more detail on particular issues would be welcome, as well as some areas which are not commented on, such as the alleged influence of the National Front in prisons and the POA in the 1970s. Also, on some points, the narrative is a little confused, jumping backwards and forwards in time rather abruptly. This is partially due to having to cover the specific intricacies of the issues the POA was dealing with in Northern Ireland and Scotland. But these criticisms should not put off anyone who is interested in the POA from reading this well-researched book.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Interview with POA leader Brian Caton - Fighting for the right to strike

Below I have reproduced an interview with POA General Secretary, Brian Caton from this weeks issue of the Socialist. Whilst I think the article is very interesting generally, it does also answer some of the questions I raised in the book review published recently in Socialism Today (which will be published on here at the end of the month).

Socialist Party industrial organiser Bill Mullins recently interviewed Prison Officers Association (POA) general secretary Brian Caton. Brian has recently decided to join the Socialist Party, after being a member of the Labour Party for many years.

How did you get into the Prison Service?

I come from a family of nine. I was brought up in Barnsley, my Dad worked as a collier. I was always a rebel at school. In fact I've got a school report which says: "If Brian doesn't improve his behaviour he will end up in prison."
My Dad was a union official when he was 16 and active in the 1960s. He was a very principled man.
I was in the army for 12½ years and I saw at first hand how devious governments of any colour can be.
My intention when I left the army was to be a probation officer. I was interviewed to be an assistant probation officer, then they scrapped those jobs.
They offered me a job in a rehabilitation hostel for drug offenders and alcoholics. But I just couldn't live on the wage. I was living in a council house but I had one child and my wife was heavily pregnant.
I passed the entrance exams for the police, prison and fire services. And because I'd been at Wandsworth prison as a potential probation officer I thought I'd go there.
I was a prison officer for 19 years from 1977. I started at Wandsworth and then went to Wakefield.
I was on the POA national executive, then in 1996 I left the Prison Service to become an assistant secretary.

What do you think about the privatisation of prisons?

Britain is the current leader in the world in having private prisons. In fact, per head of population, Wales is the world leader in private prisons. All of these have been built in the last 20 years.
Most of the companies involved with running prisons have got very long contracts. The public sector was never allowed to bid for them, the Tories just privatised them.
Justice Minister Jack Straw said there would be a level playing field for the running of prisons but then he said he's opening private prisons that the public sector will not be allowed to bid for.
We are not even allowed to bid for the transportation of prisoners. Public servants used to do all of this work.
The idea of Titan prisons - massive warehouses - was checked fully and was scrapped. But many Category C prisons have already got 1,500 prisoners, as big as Titans.
Straw is also pulling prisons together in clusters. The biggest travesty for us concerns Blakenhurst prison in the midlands, which we won back from the private sector.
Straw clustered it with Hewell Grange and Brockhill prisons, which were close to it. Now it's come up for retendering. So the other two which have never been private are now involved in a compulsory tender. He said he wouldn't do that, once again misleading the POA.
Birmingham, one of the biggest prisons in the country, has been named for potential privatisation. There is quite an active POA branch there and they took action in August 2007. So the threat of privatisation is Straw having a kick-back at us.

What do you think of the government's 'modernisation' plans?

We're not opposed to modernisation but the modernisation they are putting forward is dangerous for prison staff, dangerous for prisoners and dangerous for society.
We had the biggest turnout in a ballot ever in our history that rejected that modernisation. We're not allowed to take lawful strike or industrial action, so we go to the negotiating table at a disadvantage. They listen to what we say and then they ignore it.
We rejected workforce 'modernisation' in a ballot and now they're trying to impose it on us. This is alongside pushing forwards this market testing and privatisation. So we are in conflict with them.
I've been fortunate in having Colin Moses to work with. He's one of the few elected black trade union leaders in the country. We're both socialists and have very strong trade union beliefs. We both believe in trade unions doing the job for the members.

How do you deal with members of far-right organisations like the BNP in the union?

We have thrown BNP members out of the union, about six people. We were able to get the Prison Service to say they would sack any prison officers who were known to be members of far right organisations. In order to achieve this we constantly bombarded the Prison Service with the fact that we'd thrown people out for being members of the BNP but they were keeping them employed as prison officers. We got the Prison Service to make a declaration that if they found anyone in those organisations they would sack them. This applies to everyone who works in the Prison Service. This is part of a motion at the TUC this year.
If you get sacked for being in the BNP, if you're a POA member we won't support you.
We couldn't live with the thought of anyone with racist or fascist leanings having a key with a black person behind the door. We discussed it a lot and we decided to throw them out of the union. If we find any more we will throw them out. It's in the union rules.

Why did you leave the Labour Party?

I'm sick and tired of people saying that just because you're a prison officer you're right wing. I had three gold brooches for the amount of prison officers I have recruited to the Labour Party. I'm sad at having to leave the Labour Party but I couldn't stay in it with Jack Straw being politically dishonest to me.
I have respect for some Labour politicians and I have lots of friends in the Labour Party. Lots of my executive are still members of the Labour Party.
But being the general secretary of a union means you get face to face with people and you can ask questions that others can't. I asked questions and got waffle when I expected to be treated with respect and given honest answers.
I left a meeting at our conference with Jack Straw and made a presentation to him of a decanter from the POA to say thank you for coming to the conference. I also gave him a book entitled The Right To Strike and I said: "I've got you a third gift. You can have my Labour Party card after being a Labour Party member for 40-odd years."
I got a standing ovation.
He asked me what I was going to do now politically. I said I'll join the workers' party.
He did say that his father had been locked up for being a conscientious objector. I asked him what the founding fathers of the Labour Party would think of him now - fighting illegal wars and privatising prisons. I got a standing ovation for that as well.

What's happening now in the Prison Service?

From 1 September they're bringing in prison officers at £14,000 a year - £6,000 less than the proper rate. This will mean conflict. We've taken them to arbitration but it's all on the back of our members refusing the modernisation.
They want to scrap the principal officer grade and run prisons with people in suits. We're not up for modernisation if it means cost cutting, cutting our wages and conditions, and the conditions for prisoners.
If prison officers can't rehabilitate, all they can do is confine. That looks like what they really want us to do.
When we send those prisoners back into society under those circumstances, they will rape, rob and murder again. If we can't attempt to rehabilitate them or tackle their mental health problems, drug or alcohol problems then we're wasting our time sending them to prison.
We've said let's have an integrated system where prison officers and probation officers work together. Where non-custodial sentences deliver the same programmes as in the prisons but out in the community. But we can't do that with overcrowded prisons, filling them up with people who are mentally ill.
These things are part of the POA's policies. We argued these points with Labour in opposition. They said they would talk to us when they got into power but 12 years later they haven't done anything.
Cameron's lot will cause a massive increase in crime. They will lock people up for longer, try to cut the prison budget and privatise.
One of the things about the day's strike that we took was that we said: "You push us too far and we'll strike." No law will stop working people saying I will withhold my labour.
My members don't want to break laws but we don't want bad laws either. I'll be arguing at the TUC that for any union to be able to bargain properly with the employers, the union membership must be able to withdraw their labour.

Brian Caton is speaking at the Socialist Party's Socailism 2009 event.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Upcoming Attractions

Right, now I've setup the new blog (see its time to figure out what to do with the old one. Should I delete everything non-crime and criminology related? Should I just post my own stuff or do some reposts on it off other articles that I think are interesting on this subject? Who knows, I'm gonna mull that question over for a while.

What I do want to do is get some new material up on the blog. Posts perhaps aren't gonna be all that frequent (maybe once a week on average), but I have got some things I did want to post.
For example, I came across a few pieces by James P Cannon in his book Notebook of an Agitator on crime which I want to post some commentary on. I want to post up some more material on Haiti as well as examining 'humanitarian' intervention in some other places too.
One piece that is finished and will be posted up at the end of this month is a review I have written for the current issue of Socialism Today ( The book is a history of the Prison Officers Association called The Everlasting Staircase by David Evans with Sheila Cohen. If you're interested you can get a copy of this months issue from the website above or your local Socialist Party branch.

Friday, 4 September 2009

New Blog

I've done it - I am going to split this blog in two. I'm still in the process of figuring out how that works completely, but from now on this blog will just feature posts on crime, criminal justice and other related issues.
For everything else, please see my new blog - And Now For Something Completely Sectarian

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Some Thoughts On Blogging

Like an idiot I have once more left the review I was going to post here on my laptop - so instead I originally quickly plugged some new blogs by Socialist Party members.

But then I got thinking about the blog. When I started the blog, I did want to write criminology posts, but also to comment on stuff around me. Both of which I think are dead useful, but of late, I feel a compulsion to keep churning out posts, some of which I know aren't that good quality at all and also I tend to frequently repost stuff too.
The problem I find is that often a lot of the crime related stuff tends to be more polished stuff that is intended for publication somewhere, whereas often I like to rant about other things, yet I feel that sort of thing lets the blog down. So I'm toying once more with the idea of splitting the blog into one which is to do with me, and a more specialised one on crime. We'll see in the next few days if I go through with it

Anyways, back to the blog plugs

First off there is Grinning in Your Paradise - written by a comrade who describes himself as hopping between Sheffield and Cambridge.

Then there is Everyones' Favourite Comrade - this one is written by a comrade in Cardiff who has set up the blog "for several reasons which include, to more orientate and structure my rants, to encourage my to write and read regularly as I get distracted easily and generally to get my specific views out there!"

Finally, I just wanted to once more plug again Proper Tidy - if you're looking for socialist analysis of the key issues in North East Wales look no further!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Meme: Political Firsts

I was gonna post up a review of the Naomi Klein based documentary last night, but I've left it on my laptop at hom :( So instead, I'll do this meme I've been tagged in.

First political experience: Would have to be the 1997 General Election. Unlike the other versions of this meme I read, we had no mock polls and my parents aren't of any particular political persuasion (in fact as far as I can tell they vote for whichever candidate of the main 3 parties lives nearest to them). I do remember the children of our local Labour councillors who lived round the corner from me going out chanting Vote Labour!, but I kinda didn't see any difference between either Labour or the Tories.

First vote: 2004 European and council elections, given this was not long too long after the invasion of Iraq, I voted for the parties standing that appeared to be most against the war. So I voted for RESPECT in the European Elections and the Lib Dems in the council elections. By the time of the following general election I'd found my political way a bit more and voted Socialist Alternative.

First demo: To my shame rather than participate in the walkout on Day X i stayed in college cos I was screwing up so much in Maths. However, I did go to an anti-war gig on my birthday in early March 2003 and then went on a later and much smaller protest in Huddersfield where I did a little rant on a megaphone about the invasion of Iraq being all about oil.

Last vote: Would have been the European elections where I voted for No2EU: Yes to Democracy and contributed to us winning 1.1% of the vote. This was the first time that Socialist Party members in North West Wales have ever campaigned in an election - if you exclude student union ones.

Last political activity: I've just come back from a Troops Out of Afghanistan demo which we called off halway through cos it was raining. Apart from Socialist Party stuff, I guess the last other stuff has been selling papers outside Billy Bragg and Mark Steel gigs in Caenarfon (including to the artists themselves!).

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Lockerbie: cynical actions of capitalist governments exposed

From the website of the International Socialists, Scottish scetion of the CWI (

The release from Greenock prison of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing which killed 280 people, has provoked a storm of political protest. US president Barak Obama called the decision a “mistake”, the Director of the FBI Robert Mueller accused the SNP’s Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill of giving “comfort to terrorists”, US family members of those killed in the bombing have condemned Megrahi’s release and some Republican senators in the US have called for an economic boycott of Scotland in protest.

The recent debate in the Scottish parliament saw leaders of all the main opposition parties attack the minority SNP government and MacAskill for allowing the terminally ill Megrahi to leave Scotland on compassionate grounds for Libya after spending eight years in prison. A vote of the Scottish parliament on the issue is likely next week. Megrahi was welcomed back to Libya by the Libyan leader, Colonel Gadaffi. In Libya Megrahi is widely seen as having been a victim of a miscarriage of justice. Gordon Brown has so far refused to make any comment on the decision to release Megrahi

Philip Stott

The mood in Scotland generally, and amongst the UK relatives of those killed in the bombing is more mixed. Normally, the idea of releasing an individual who was responsible for the murder of 280 people, even if he was terminally ill with cancer, would be overwhelmingly opposed. However, the fact that many of the UK relatives and others believe Megrahi was not responsible for planting the bomb and that the reality of what happened in 1988 has been deliberately covered up has produced a much more muted opposition to Megrahi’s release amongst some and significant levels of support for his release among others.

1988 – the Lockerbie bombing

Pan Am flight 103 left London Heathrow on December 21st 1988 at 6.25pm for New York’s JFK airport but blew up just after 7pm over Scotland killing all 269 people on board. When the wing section of the plane hit the ground at over 500 miles an hour 11 people in the town of Lockerbie also lost their lives as their homes were vapourised in the intense heat. Debris was found over an 81 mile distance. This was and still is the biggest terror attack ever carried out in the UK. It was also the biggest loss of US lives in a terrorist attack until the events of 9/11 2001.

Forensic investigators found that the bomb had been put into a radio, placed in a suitcase and had been set to go off while the plane was in the air. Despite the eventual accusations made against Libya – that their intelligence agents were responsible for the bombing – the initial focus of the investigations were aimed at the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP – GC), who were funded by Iran and headquartered in Syria. The PFLP – GC had carried out attacks on Israel during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

For more than two years it was this line of enquiry that the FBI, the Scottish police and other agencies followed. The suspicion was that the PFLP – GC had been paid to carry out the bombing in retaliation to the shooting down of an Iranian Airbus by the warship USS Vincennes in July 1988. 270 people most of them pilgrims heading for Mecca died in the attack. The Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini vowed the skies would ‘rain blood’ in revenge and offered a $10 million reward to anyone who ‘obtained justice’ for Iran.

Suspected PFLP-GC members had been arrested in Frankfurt two months before the Lockerbie bombing with Semtex explosive devices concealed in Toshiba radios. It was the fragments of a similar radio device that was found to have contained the bomb that blew up Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. German federal police provided financial records showing that on 23 December 1988, two days after the bombing, the Iranian government deposited £5.9 million into a Swiss bank account that belonged to the arrested members of the PFLP-GC.

Imperialist interests

However, in the run up to the first Gulf War following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 when the US were looking for support from Iran and Syria (Syria joined the US coalition) the PFLP-GC investigation was stopped. The economic and strategic interests of US imperialism in its intervention in the Middle East were almost certainly the key factor in the decision to abandon the pursuit of the PFLP-GC and the connection with the Iranian and Syrian regimes.

Attention shifted to the Libyan dictatorship of Colonel Gadaffi, who had given support and resources to terror organisations in the past including the IRA and the Abu Nidal Palestinian group, who had carried out horrific attacks on civilians at airports in Vienna and Rome. The US under Ronald Regan and supported by Thatcher had bombed the Libyan capital Tripoli in 1986. In 1999 after years of threats, and economic sanctions Libya agreed to allow two of its intelligence agents, one of whom was Megrahi, to stand trial for the bombing in Zeist in the Netherlands where a Scottish court would sit. In 2001 Megrahi was found guilty by three judges of the bombing. He was eventually sentenced to 27 years in jail in Scotland.

During the trial it was alleged that Megrahi had placed the bomb in the suitcase in Malta, where he had also bought clothes to conceal the bomb in, fragments of the clothing were claimed to be found among the debris at Lockerbie. The suitcase was supposedly then flown to Frankfurt and then to Heathrow where it was transferred onto Pam Am 103. The key witness who claimed to have sold Megrahi the clothing in Malta, Tony Gauci, was paid $2million for his evidence - probably by the CIA.

There was widespread questioning over the outcome of the trial in 2001. Robert Black QC, an emeritus professor of Scottish law at Edinburgh University, was one of the legal architects of the original trial in Holland commented, “No reasonable tribunal, on the evidence heard at the original trial, should or could have convicted him and it is an absolute disgrace and outrage what the Scottish court did.’

An unnamed senior British police officer – known to be a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS), which implies that his rank is assistant chief constable or higher – has testified to Megrahi’s defence team that crucial evidence at the trial was fabricated.

Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the Lockerbie bombing, has long believed Megrahi was not responsible for the bombing and has campaigned for a public enquiry made a telling point about Margaret Thatcher who was prime minister at the time of the Lockerbie disaster. “She refused even to meet me, as a representative of the families, to hear our request for a public inquiry. And then, in 1993, in her memoirs, she writes that after she backed the US bombing of Tripoli in 1986, Libya never again mounted a serious attack on the West. How can she write that if she believed Libya was behind Lockerbie two years later? Unless she knows something she is not saying.”

In the meantime the geo-political situation had changed markedly. Following the decision to allow Megrahi to stand trial in 1999 and the attacks on the Twin towers in New York in 2001 the Libyan leadership let it be known they were prepared to engage with US imperialism. Gadaffi agreed to abandon a nuclear weapons programme and following Tony Blair’s visit to Libya in 2004 the last of the economic sanctions imposed on Libya by the UN and the EU were lifted.

Profits to be made

Moreover, British and US imperialism were licking their lips at the prospects of the enormous profits to be made from contracts with Libya, including its large oil and gas reserves. BP, with its many links to New Labour, has signed a $900 million gas exploration contract to build 17 wells in Libyan territory. The Sunday Herald newspaper reported that: “The Libyan British Business Council, a group whose motto is "building bridges with Libya", advertises its services as making introductions to "high-level" decision-makers, government officials and potential partners.

“The LBBC's chairman, Lord Trefgarne, was Mrs Thatcher's former defence procurement minister, while the group's director general, Robin Lamb, was a one-time Foreign Office diplomat in Tripoli. Oliver Miles, the LBBC's deputy chairman, is the UK's former ambassador to Libya, while board member Sir Richard Dalton is a former British ambassador to Iran. The group's membership list also reads like a who's who of British business, including BG International, British American Tobacco, Barclays Bank, Wood Group and HSBC.

“A LBBC-led delegation to Tripoli in May focused on investment opportunities in Libya's financial institutions, while in June Prince Andrew co-hosted an event at St James' Palace in London with the chairman of the Libya Africa Investment Portfolio. Next month, the group stages an event to discuss the multi-million pound water and desalination contracts the Libyan government is expected to hand out. “

British companies are queuing up to cash in on the opening up of contracts in the financial, defence and energy sectors of Libya.

Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown have claimed there was no trade deal to allow Megrahi to be released but it is clear that the interests of big business played a key role in the unfolding of these cynical events. Including the signing by Tony Blair of a UK/Libya prisoner transfer agreement in 2007, clearly aimed at Megrahi as he was the only Libyan prisoner in a UK jail at the time.

Scottish legal system in the dock

Megrahi lost his first appeal but the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission found in 2007 that a second appeal should be allowed as there were 6 grounds to suspect that a miscarriage of justice had been carried out. These included evidence, not made available to the defence that indicated four days before Tony Gauci in Malta picked out Megrahi in an identification parade he saw a photograph of him in a magazine article linking him to the bombing, undermining the reliability of his testimony.

Other material that would have come out in court included the US intelligence documents that discounted Libyan involvement and blamed Iran in response to the shooting down of the Iranian commercial airliner by the USS Vincennes, a US warship, five months before the bombing. The US Defence Intelligence Agency papers suggested that Tehran sponsored the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), headed by Ahmed Jibril – a former Syrian army officer.

Megrahi dropped his right to a second appeal just days before he was released. The suspicion is that he was told this would speed up his return to Libya. Had Megrahi won his appeal, it would have been a disaster for the Scottish legal system and exposed the cynical actions of US imperialism. As Robert Black commented: “There was strong pressure from civil servants and Crown officials to bring the appeal to an end”

The SNP, Kenny MacAskill and the Scottish legal establishment together have a common interest in protecting the standing of a so-called “Scottish institution”. As a report in the Sunday Times revealed “an anonymous email sent to a SNP MSP, purporting to come from a justice department official said that Megrahi’s appeal was an “an almighty headache” for the criminal justice system concerned about flaws in the case against Megrahi and vulnerable to accusations that the Crown withheld crucial information from his defence team.

“The priority for the SNP has been to uphold the integrity of the Scottish judicial system, whether it deserves it or not,” said the SNP MSP. “It fits in with the general strategy of the SNP that you don’t rock the boat.To make matters worse for those, and especially the relatives of those victims of the Lockerbie disaster who want the truth the Foreign Secretary Labour’s David Milliband has slapped a Public Interest Immunity Certificate to ensure that “secret” documents on the Lockerbie bombing cannot now be released.

End the cover up

The 270 victims of the Lockerbie bombing and their relatives have and are been treated like pawns in the manoeuvres carried out by successive governments to protect big business interests, imperialist influence and to preserve the “integrity” of a biased and class based legal system here in Scotland.

All documents and evidence related to the Lockerbie events and the legal process must be opened to public scrutiny by democratically elected representatives of the families, their representatives and wider society. This could mark a step towards a real accounting of who carried out the atrocity and into those who have sought to cover up, obscure or divert attention away what really took place.

As Jim Swire whose daughter died on December 21st 1988 has said: “The whole process was a political stitch-up from start to finish, which is something that needs to be gotten to the bottom of.”

The Lockerbie disaster and the events surrounding it underline the need to build a mass socialist alternative to the horrors of war, terror attacks and imperialist domination of our world. The International Socialists and the parties and groups that make up the Committee for a Workers International are fighting for socialist change internationally. We believe that a socialist world would lay the basis for an end to imperialist conflict, terrorism, corrupt dictatorships and the exploitation of the world’s peoples by big business interests.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Review – Guilty and Proud of It by Janine Booth (2009)

There are certain struggles of the British working class that modern day socialists should make themselves aware of. Amongst those struggles are the 1984-5 Miners Strike, Chartism, 1926 General Strike, but there are also localised struggles that are worth our attention, and the struggle of the Poplar councillors is one of them. Booth, who writes for the blog Stroppyblog and is also a member of Workers Liberty, has done a service by bringing these events to a new audience including myself.
During the huge growth of the Labour Party in the aftermath of the first world war, Labour councillors began to be elected in ever larger numbers to local councils and even began to win control of some of them posing the question of what such councillors should do with their new found powers. After all, what local councils basically do is administer certain aspects of the capitalist system in a given area – should labour councils try and do this in a more humane manner or should they challenge the status quo by attempting to provide local services to meet the needs of the population?
As Booth demonstrates, the Poplar councillors chose the latter, demanding the money to be able to provide higher council wages (including equal pay for males and females!) and pay unemployment benefits without sending people to the dreaded workhouse. Their tactic in this campaign was to withhold the rates that they paid to all London bodies, demanding that rates should be equalised across London to pay for the larger welfare services needed in poorer boroughs, for this action they were imprisoned.
This section of the book is very well detailed, with a very good contrast between the actions of the Poplar councillors and the neighbouring councillors in Hackney which Labour also controlled who pursued the former policy mentioned above under the guidance of Herbert Morrison. One other important thing Booth notes is role of the paper, the Daily Herald, edited by the leading figure of the Poplar councillors, George Lansbury in terms of explaining the councils policy and actions.
Yet I feel the book has several points where I feel it falters. Firstly, whilst being excellent on the background to the struggle all the way up the imprisonment and release of the councillors, the book fails to portray a coherent reason for the eventual failure of the councillors struggle to spread further – certain points are raised, the role of the London Labour Party under the reformist Herbert Morrison, Lansbury being forced to sell the Daily Herald, the defeat of the 1926 General Strike etc. Yet the way these are discussed is like a list rather than explaining how these factors interlinked with each other. The role of different tendencies within the movement, apart from the divide between the councillors and the likes of Morrison, is also not explored with the detail needed to understand fully their roles in the struggle, although there is more detail in this respect within the movements of the unemployed.
A final gripe is in the final chapter dealing with the long-term aftermath of the struggle, whilst this chapter is brief in the events it deals with that is necessarily so, it is a book about Poplar and not everywhere else! Yet I feel it is to brief in dealing with the similar situation in Liverpool in the 1980s – this dispute is just lumped in with the others of that time, but Liverpool was significantly different, firstly it won concessions from the government in 1984 and secondly for the role of organised Marxists within the council. Whilst the author does refer to two books for further reference I do not feel that this does the comparisons between the two struggles enough justice.
In summary the book is well worth reading, despite the above mentioned drawbacks the depiction of the core of the struggle of the councillors around the non payment of London wide rates is excellent, and that after all is the main topic of the book.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A Reply From Ed Miliband

Recently I sent a message of protest to Ed Miliband about the loss of jobs at Vestas - this is his reply.
However, as readers of the Save Vestas blog may have noted Skykon, a company that bought one of Vestas other plants in Scotland that they were also attempting to close are putting forward different arguments about the wind turbine market in Britain, saying it is in quite good shape and that they are expanding that particular factory at the present time. He also ignored my original point about nationalisation, so I would imagine this is a standard reply that is being sent out

Thank you for your email about the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight.
I am very sorry for the people who are losing their jobs. When I met the Vestas management a few months ago, to see how we could help, and when I have spoken to them since then, I have wanted to do all I can to try to find a solution that could help the workforce.
Vestas have made clear that the issue for them was not subsidies from government. The factory makes a different sized blade to the ones used in Britain, so each one it makes is shipped to the US. They wanted to have their production in America to cut some of that journey.
As part of global reductions in their workforce, they are not at the current time converting the Isle of Wight site to make turbines for the British market.
Their biggest difficulty is with planning objections to onshore wind turbines, which have slowed down the growth in the UK market. That is why we are reforming the planning rules and are arguing strongly that people need to see climate change as a bigger threat to the countryside than the wind turbine.
Vestas are keeping a prototype facility at the factory on the Isle of Wight and we are currently considering an application from them for support of an offshore blade testing and development facility, which will employ 150 people initially, and is expected to grow in the future.
Government policy is having a positive effect. Next year alone, the renewable electricity industry will get £1 billion of support because of government action, and the amount of power from onshore wind grew by a third last year, and the amount of offshore wind power grew by 67% - so Britain now has more offshore wind power than any other country in the world.
It is to enhance the prospects for green jobs that we have made available 120 million pounds for offshore wind manufacture in the UK and 60 million pounds for marine development. I recently visited a factory in Wales that employs 800 people and exports solar panels across Europe. The week before I saw a factory that is producing buses that produce fewer emissions, helping climate change and local air quality. Research suggest there could be half a million jobs in renewable energy by 2020.
I believe that to be ready to pursue these opportunities, we must invest in the skills, research, and the infrastructure to help clean energy companies grow – and we are making those investments.
There is government action for different industries and areas of the country, which you can read about at
In the end, making sure the transition happens as quickly as possible will need government action, it will need dynamic companies, and it will also need us to win arguments around the country that renewable power should have a bigger role in the country’s future.
Thank you again for writing to me.
Ed Miliband

Monday, 17 August 2009

Anglesey in crisis

Taken from Proper Tidy ( - I hope to do a post about the trials and tribulations of Anglesey County Council at some point soon

You may recall that I have written previously about Anglesey Aluminium, here.

On Thursday of this week, it was inevitably confirmed that a further 250 jobs would go as of September 30th, leaving a workforce of just eighty at the plant. At the turn of the year, Anglesey Aluminium employed 540 workers.

I could, at this stage, point out that Anglesey Aluminium are owned by a hugely profitable parent company; that Anglesey will be left decimated by the closure of one of the largest employers in the region; that Rio Tinto declined a public money grant of nearly £50 million in compensation for the loss of cheap energy from Wylfa; that consent was granted for the new Wylfa B nuclear power plant on the basis that it would preserve jobs at Anglesey Aluminium; and that this is a clear strategy of Rio Tinto’s to use the cover of recession to switch production to low wage economies, irrespective of the vast profits their existing plant has created for them and the devastating effect the closure will have on the island. But I have already covered this, previously, and there seems little point in going over old ground.

I should, perhaps, point out that the closure of Anglesey Aluminium will also have a significant knock on effect for what little industry is left on Anglesey; that many more workers are indirectly reliant upon Anglesey Aluminium.

David Hughes, operations manager at hauliers LE Jones in Ruthin, told the Daily Post: “A loss of a major factory like this is a major blow for the haulage industry in North Wales and it will impact on our company.

“They were one of our biggest customers and this will affect us. We don’t know how badly yet but it will impact.”

Another firm affected by the impending closure is Grays Engineering, which carries out welding work for the company. They employ 17 people.

Spokeswoman Karen Lewis said: “Workers are already on short time and this will put jobs under threat. We are very low here today and very concerned.

“They are our biggest customer and we have worked for them for 20 years.”

Graham Rogers, North West Wales regional organiser for Unite, said there was great anger at the plant.

“There is dismay, disappointment and anger at the decision. There is a feeling from workers they have been strung along through this and then let down at the end.

“The impact on the community is massive. It will impact on all types of businesses from shops to garages. In the long term you could quadruple the jobs that will be lost.”

Former Anglesey Aluminium worker Jeff Evans, now manager at the JE O’Toole Centre for the unemployed in Holyhead, said: “The impact on the Holyhead and Anglesey is devastating, it is a huge blow. The workers and the whole community has been left in the mire by the company. They have made vast profits over 40 years from this loyal workforce, they could have accepted some temporary losses over this recession but have showed that profits come before people.”

I’ve not got much more to add to the above, other than to say that this is a clear example of the callousness and greed not only tolerated but encouraged by neo-liberal capitalism. The workers of Anglesey Aluminium and the people of Anglesey have been let down; by big business; by the Welsh Assembly Government; by local New Labour mouthpiece Albert Owen; by the system. This is an island with a highly skilled workforce but with one of the lowest average wages in the UK. Unemployment is well above the national average, and those lucky enough to be in work are often employed in seasonal trades, such as agriculture and tourism, or in unskilled and poorly paid sectors such as retail and low-end production. That the people of Anglesey will now have to cope with the loss of such a key employer is nothing short of a tragedy, and the self-serving greed of Rio Tinto and Kaiser Aluminium, combined with the ineptitude, incompetence, and indifference of the WAG and Albert Owen MP is an insult to the workers of West Wales and beyond.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Support the Vestas Workers - Bangor and Wrexham Public Meeting

Organised by North Wales Socialist Party

The Harp Inn, High Street, Bangor


Barracuda Bar, Wrexham

All welcome!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Protest Against the Eviction of Vestas Workers

I repost below a message from Vestas workers,

Dear friend,

An eviction notice has been served on the occupation at Vestas IoW. The eviction is due to take place tomorrow, Friday 7 August, at 12 noon.

Please get to the Island if you can. The workers want support tomorrow. There is a minibus leaving London tonight. Email if you want to be on it and we will forward your number to the driver. If anyone else can drive or offer transport, please let us know. We can post details on the blog or put you in touch with people seeking transport.

If you can't go, please organise a protest in your town or join one of those already planned. Protests we know about are
-tonight, 6pm outside Department of Energy and Climate Change, 3 Whitehall Place, London
-tonight Bristol: demonstrate 5.30pm Bristol fountain
-tomorrow Manchester: demonstrate 5pm in Piccadilly Gardens, tel Hugh 07769 611320

Let us know if you are organising something and we can advertise it.Please contact Climate Change and Energy Secretary Ed Miliband now. and tell him to step in to save wind turbine blade production at Vestas, IoW, for the sake of renewable energy, green jobs and his credibility as a politician. His phone number in his Doncaster constituency is 01302 875 462, and at Westminster, 020 7219 4778. And on Twitter

Please forward this email to contacts or post up on your blogs/website.

Thank you,Save Vestas

Monday, 3 August 2009

Vestas Occupation – Socialist Party Bulletin Number Two

Nationalise to save jobs!

Now entering the second week of occupation, working class people across the UK are looking towards the lads occupying Vestas as a source of inspiration for how to stand up and fight in defence of jobs. In the face of a viciously anti-union employer, Vestas workers have stood firm and stared down management. Is it any wonder, however, that Vestas workers are compelled to struggle? There are 625 jobs on the line at Vestas and currently only 124 job vacancies on the entire island! The economic crisis that greedy bosses and pro-market politicians have helped mold means this fi ght is more critical than ever. But Vestas workers have got the employer on the back foot; the adjournment of the court hearing to obtain an injunction doesn’t just represent Vestas management’s incompetence but also the popularity of the occupation – which has made New Labour hesitant to use the courts against it. The support of the local transport union – RMT – and their commitment to provide legal support for the court hearings has been a huge boost to the occupiers; now, Saturdays demonstration in St Thomas’s Square is an opportunity for trade unionists from across the island and further afi eld to express solidarity with Vestas workers – we need to build mass action to bring Vestas bosses to their knees and force the hand of the weakened New Labour government!

Vestas diet plan

Prisoners in Camp Hill get three hot meals a day, yet Vestas bosses have been allowed to try and starve out occupying workers! When Luke was forced to leave the occupation on Thursday, he was pale and shaking and paramedics found his blood sugar levels to be unusually low. How can Vestas bosses sleep at night when they know that they have sanctioned a brutal siege? We need to make sure that vital supplies get to the occupiers – not through short-term stunts, but by mobilising hundreds of people, occupier’s families, trade unionists and others to put pressure on everywhere we can. The employers have dragged Vestas workers to the courts for occupying; we should drag them to the courts for starving people! This, alongside mass action, could force supplies in.

Mass action for victory

If attempts are made to physically remove the workers from the factory a massive trade union
demonstration outside the plant should be immediately organised in their support. The workers movement in Britain should learn the lessons from South Korea, where more than 800 workers have been occupying the Ssangyong car plant since May. Despite riot police storming the plant, the occupation has continued. The Korean Congress of Trade Unions has called a two day general strike to support them. There are differences in the situation, but any moves to clamp down on the occupiers would have deep reverberations. The trade union movement needs to be prepared to harness the anger that any moves against Vestas workers would create, including organising industrial action in their defence.

Nationalise to save jobs & the environment

If this factory goes, what does the future have in store? Occupiers who’ve been separated from their families for over a week now fighting for a decent future would be forced to up sticks and leave the island. To find work and support a family there’s no other option, and even then nothings guaranteed. Vestas management have callously made it clear that they have no interest in keeping the plant open when its easier and cheaper to screw workers in the United States. In that context, appealing to the government to increase subsidies, as Green MEP Caroline Lucas has, makes no sense – Vestas have already said they don’t care about the subsidies! We have to be clear about it – this plant should be nationalised to ensurea future for workers on the Isle of Wight and the environment.
Across the country, over 80% of people support wind power – but none of us want unemployment in our back yard! Yet the government, and Tory local councils, are allowing a very small minority to block turbines being built. Contrast this to their attititude to nuclear power stations, which endanger local peoples health, but the government just impose.
Brown and Milliband might make the occasional green noise, but they’re so wedded to the ‘free market’ that they’re desperate to avoid further nationalisations. But this economic crisis has shown that the market doesn’t work and New Labour have been forced to nationalise – Northern Rock, RBS,the East Coast rail line; the list is getting longer and longer! As the lads in the occupation have put it: “If the government can spend billions bailing out the banks – and even nationalise them – then surely they can do the same at Vestas.” The governments hand can be forced, and we need to be clear that this is what we’re demanding. Of course, what happened at RBS and the like wasn’t genuine nationalisation –we’ve taken the risks off the bosses for them. What we really need is socialist nationalisation – where working people have a direct say in how companies are organised and run. Vestas needs to be retooled for the British market – who knows how to organise that best? The workers on the shop floor or managers whocan’t even fill in an injunction application properly?

Workers need a political voice

None of the establishment parties support the action that Vestas workers have been forced to take – a Labour MP in Pompey has refused to even sign apetition supporting them! This is hardly much toask. Workers at Vestas have waged a heroic struggleand shown their strength on the industrial front. Butimagine how much easier the fight would have been if a political party with a national profile had thrown its weight clearly behind them. Criminally, there isn’t a mass political party in Britain that stands in workers interests! Rather, New Labour helped push through the liberal employment laws that make it legal forVestas to dump workers in the Isle of Wight and move to the States without a bye-or-leave. That’s why the Socialist Party along with others, including the RMT, who’ve played an important role in this dispute, participated in a list of working class candidates in the European elections. We’re hoping to get a workers list together for the General Election when it happens, so workers have candidates who stand in their interests to vote for. This could be an important step towards the sort of mass working class party that could play a decisive role in struggles like this in the future.

“People on the island have realised that the reality is, if this places shuts down, a lot of small businesses can go under too. And there’s also the environmental side of it – which is massively important.
I’ve got two small children, twins, and we’re doing this for their future as well. The government needs to step up and act now, not 2012 or 2020 or whenever – something needs to be done now, not when they set their stupid deadlines.”
Sean, Vestas worker

Vestas workers demand:

• Immediate union recognition.
• No to job cuts – Keep the factory open.
• Nationalise the factory under workers’ control – power to the shop fl oor.
• Make the plant a building block for a new publicly owned green sector to provide more jobs.

Demo outside court hearing

Tuesday 4th August, 9:30am
Newport Magistrates Court, Quay Street, Newport

Socialist Party Meetings

Sunday 2nd August, 3pm + Tuesday 4th August, 2pm
Wheatsheaf Hotel, upstairs room, St Thomas Square, Newport

Solid Rallies

Outside the plant every day at 6pm

For more information contact Ben Norman on 07957 505263 􀁑 0208 988 8777 􀁑

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Review – Teamster Rebellion by Farrell Dobbs

I have to say, that when I recently read this book it was not for the first time, rather this book is one that I hold in great regard and wished to re-read it to clarify in my mind some of the issues that the 1934 Minneapolis Teamster strikes raises.
These strikes which the book covers marked the beginning of an upsurge in union activity in the United States that eventually led to the formation of the industrially based CIO. Moreover it was really the first serious labour dispute that the Communist League of America, part of the International Left Opposition, became involved in. The book depicts these strikes in a very easily readable format whilst pointing out the steps taken, tactics chosen that the union local took and why they were taken. To my mind this is a book that all militant trade unionists should read.
But one thing I want to focus on is the way that the defence of the pickets from police attacks and brutality during the strike was organised. Unlike some on the left who seem to cry for workers to be given arms at any occasion as if the main issue is some desire to beat up the police (or at least this is the impression that can often be given), Dobbs is rather more sane as he explains why the strike committee deemed it necessary to arm pickets against attacks from the police as well as from the employer-organised special deputies.

“Up to now the workers had gone about their activities bare-handed; but they found that attempts to exercise their right to peacefully picket were being repressed with police clubs and blackjacks. They decided to take steps to enforce their democratic right to prevent scabs from grabbing their jobs. It would have been a tactical blunder for members of an isolated vanguard to attempt measures such as the strikers were about to take; they would only get themselves clobbered by the police. In this case, however, the means used in self-defence had their origin in a spontaneous mass mood that had been generated by capitalist repression. Since these means were appropriately limited in the given situation to matching the police club for club, the tactics employed were completely valid.”(pg.81)

Later on in the book he deals with the run-up into the third strike, when workers were making preparations for this and the question was raised again.

“At the first strike committee meeting, chaired by Kelly Postal, the question of ‘picketing equipment’ was put on the agenda. For the first time since the truce at the end of the May strike, the bosses would be trying to operate trucks in defiance of the pickets. The last attempt had been stopped when the pickets won a pitched battle with the cops, fought club against club. At this new juncture many pickets were inclined to start where they left off in May, again arming themselves with clubs. In the changed circumstances, however, this would have been tactically inadvisable. It would have given the cops a pretext for immediate violence against strikers who were trying to peacefully picket; and the union would have lost the tactical advantage of reacting to police violence under defensive slogans.”

And finally he discusses the question again in the aftermath of the police shooting at the strikers and killing two whilst injuring several others.

“In the meantime Local 574’s pickets were reacting to the police assault in full keeping with their magnificent fighting spirit. After the shooting, many who had escaped injury dropped from sight briefly, only to return soon armed with various kinds of weapons. They now had shotguns, deer rifles, revolvers, hunting knives, and various types of souvenirs from World War I, which the veterans among them had brought back from France. Having bested the cops club-against-club in May, the strikers were now prepared to face them gun-against-gun. Although their cause was just and their courage admirable, it would have been a grave tactical mistake to attempt to go through with such an undertaking.
“The situation was now qualitatively different from what it had been during the earlier battle with clubs. Despite the fact that a club can kill, it is not usually classified as a deadly weapon. By virtue of that fact, self-defence of the kind used in May could be sustained tactically for several reasons: it was carried out by a massive body of pickets who had widespread sympathy within the city as a whole; for reasons described previously, Governor Olson found it difficult to use the state militia against the union; and due to the insular nature of the conflict and the local politics involved, President Roosevelt had little inclination and no ready pretext to intervene with federal troops. Consequently the fighting in May remained confined to a showdown between pickets and the local cops.
“As matters stood after Bloody Friday, however, the situation was entirely different. Being so deadly, their use in self-defence against the gun-toting cops could have been twisted around by capitalist propaganda into the appearance of an ‘insurrectionary offensive’ by the strikers. The bosses would have screamed bloody murder, claiming proof of their contention that our aim was not to build a union but to make a revolution. At the first armed skirmish between strikers and police a clamour would have been raised for Olson and Roosevelt to send in troops against the union…
“Local 574, against which such military repression would have been directed, was engaged in an isolated local action. Nationally, our struggle was paralleled only by two other similarly isolated conflicts… Hence, it could not have withstood the heavy military pressure; the strike would have been broken and the union crushed.
“This was a situation in which the central strike leadership had to act swiftly and decisively. Otherwise impulsive pickets, looking for a showdown with the cops, could have done irreparable damage to the union’s cause while the policy question was being debated. The pickets had to be disarmed forthwith, and the central leaders had to do it on their own responsibility…
“…Once again, Local 574’s incomparable soldiers went out barehanded to face cops with riot guns.
“Our action was promptly reported to a meeting of the strike committee, and the reasons were given for the policy we had followed. After considerable debate the committee approved the course taken, issuing picketing orders accordingly. The orders, which were published in The Organizer, contained a deliberately obscure formulation: “All pickets are hitherto instructed to continue tactics of peaceful picketing as hitherto. They are, however, to defend themselves against any attacks.” Since we hadn’t troubled to let the cops know whether or not the pickets were armed, they weren’t sure what permission to ‘defend themselves’ meant and being aware of the strikers’ anger, the cops weren’t in a hurry to find out.”

As these quotes amply demonstrate, at each stage the strike committee measured the objective situation facing the workers and prepared themselves accordingly. The task was not to repeat demands for arming of the workers but to act in a manner that sought to defend the interests of the workers at each stage in response to the course the struggle took. It is a lesson that some ultra-lefts who repeat demands blindly should do well to note.

Friday, 24 July 2009

North Wales suffers in Race to the Bottom

From Socialist Party Wales website -original with references can be read Photo is of Anglesey Aluminium.

Dylan Roberts (Socialist Party, North Wales)

Historically, the economy of the north west of Wales has been based upon agriculture and tourism; the economy of the north east of Wales upon heavy industry and manufacturing. However, over the past few decades, we have witnessed the death of heavy industry, and an agricultural sector decimated by the globalisation of food consumption. In both west and east we have watched as steelworks, collieries, quarries, and agricultural smallholdings have disappeared, to be replaced by unskilled manufacturing and service sector jobs which are inherently low paid and insecure.
The end result is that North Wales is one of the most highly skilled yet poorly paid regions of the UK, and which has witnessed rapidly increasing unemployment in recent times. According to the 2008 figures from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) report from the Office of National Statistics, the average annual wage in Wales is around 13% lower than the equivalent wage for across the UK, with the UK average wage sitting at £25,123 per annum in 2008, compared to £21,831 per annum for Wales. The reality in north Wales is likely to be even lower again. (1)
North Wales has been heavily hit by the capitalist crisis in 2009. We have already witnessed the loss of a vast number of jobs in the region, with major employers such as JCB, Indesit, Deep Stream Technologies, Corus, Marshalls Cement, and many others, either laying off staff or closing altogether. Many other employers have frozen pay, reduced working hours, terminated the contracts of temporary and fixed term workers, or are threatening to take such measures in the near future. In the past month we have seen a number of key employers undertake job cuts or site closures in both the west and the east of the region.
Air Products
On June 30th, Air Products, an American owned multinational, announced their site in Acrefair, Wrexham, would close, with the loss of around 200 jobs. Air Products are switching production to China. While the loss of 200 jobs in a relatively under populated area is reason enough to be concerned, the Air Products case is worthy of further comment for a number of reasons. Air Products’ Acrefair plant opened in 1950, at a time when the bulk of the workers of Wrexham were employed in heavy industry. However, in the modern day, Air Products was one of very few remaining employers of skilled manual labour in the area. The fact is that the skilled workers at Air Products will struggle to find similar work anywhere within this region. This means they will potentially face a long period of unemployment, and when they do find employment it is likely to be low paid and insecure work within unskilled manufacturing or the service sector. The alternative is, like many before them, to leave the region.
But why is Air Products closing their site? Well, naturally management blamed the recession, citing a drop in profits in the first quarter of 2009 and “on-going cost pressures and the changing demand for our products, which is shifting to other parts of the world, notably Asia". (2) Yet Air Products are not struggling, and neither was the Acrefair plant unprofitable, as management conceded at the beginning of the consultation period in April. Indeed, in 2008 they recorded a global turnover of £11 billion pounds, with profits of nearly £1 billion. Whilst they have seen a downturn in profits in comparison to previous years, it is nonetheless evident that they remain extremely profitable.Indeed, in the first quarter of this year they turned a profit of US $189 million, which equated to more than US $60 million a month, or in even starker terms, more than US $2 million a day. Less profit than they were used to perhaps but hardly a struggling company. (3)
What they are doing is using the cover of the recession to move production to where labour costs are lower, in order to squeeze the profit margin some more. Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru AM for north Wales, described it as a "betrayal" of a workforce that had been "consistently profitable" for Air Products. (4)
Air Products had announced a consultation period in April, which of course meant that the decision had already been made. The workforce and Unite had put forward an alternative strategy that would have saved jobs and kept the plant alive, whilst conceding to some of Air Products' demands. Whilst offering concessions – job cuts – isn’t necessarily the right path to take, nonetheless this would have preserved some jobs and retained a much needed employer of skilled labour in the area. Air Products, however, were not interested.
As unpalatable as this is, it might not be quite so devastating if it was an isolated incident. Unfortunately, it is anything but.
Anglesey Aluminium

Anglesey Aluminium is, along with the Wylfa nuclear power plant, a major employer on the Isle of Anglesey, and in fact one of the largest employers in north Wales. It is estimated that the firm amounts to around a third of the entire economy of the isle of Anglesey. (5)

Anglesey Aluminium, a joint venture between Rio Tinto (who own 51% of shares) and Kaiser Aluminium (49%) announced in early July that they would be offering voluntary redundancy to 140 workers, with the remaining jobs almost certain to go in September when the plant ceases production. Anglesey Aluminium intends to retain only 80 workers from the 500+ strong workforce. The effect that the closure of Anglesey Aluminium will have on the island cannot be emphasised strongly enough. The north west of Wales is an overwhelmingly rural area with an over reliance on tourism, and the loss of such a significant employer will have long term consequences for many generations of workers on the island.
The plant is closing due to the end of a contract for cheap energy supply with Wylfa, with management citing this as the primary motivation for the closure. The only way the 400 jobs due to go in September could be preserved is if Anglesey Aluminium obtains another source of subsidised energy, which seems highly unlikely.
The closure of Anglesey Aluminium had been on the cards for some time. The closure of Wylfa was announced back in 2006, with the nuclear plant expected to close in 2010. However, earlier this year the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) announced that they may extend the lifetime of the existing Wylfa plant (Wylfa A), with a second nuclear plant (Wylfa B) having been proposed back in 2006. One of the reasons given back in 2006 for the creation of Wylfa B was for the need to continue the supply of energy to Anglesey Aluminium, although this would no longer be at the reduced rate.
The proposal for the second generation nuclear plant, Wylfa B, was voted through by Anglesey County Council, following a propaganda drive by the council and local Labour MP Albert Owen, who heralded the proposal for Wylfa B as a boon for the island and claimed that 1,500 jobs would be at stake if Wylfa B didn’t go ahead.
Iain Dalton, of the Socialist Party Bangor branch, has written previously about Wylfa. On 6th February 2006, Iain noted that:
“They claim that without it, the island will lose 1,500 jobs. This figure has been inflated by Wylfa taking on temporary workers, and by including 400 jobs at Anglesey Aluminium, which the company has publicly stated will not be threatened by closure of Wylfa, although they may use it as a pretext to move production to a lower wage economy. However, a new nuclear station would employ far fewer people than the current station due to new technologies, and that is before cost-cutting practices of the new station's private owners (Wylfa is presently publicly run).” (6)
Indeed, Iain’s words have been borne out. Despite the claims of Albert Owen and Anglesey CC, the fact that the proposal for Wylfa B has been given the go ahead has not prevented Anglesey Aluminium from using the end of the discounted energy supply as an excuse to close the plant, with Rio Tinto and Kaiser Aluminium exploiting the situation in order to switch production to cheaper labour markets.
The Welsh Assembly Government (WAG), in conjunction with Westminster, offered a financial package of £59 million over four years to compensate for the loss of the discounted energy supply, which amounted to an astounding £1 million a month state subsidy. 7
However, management at Anglesey Aluminium, Rio Tinto, and Kaiser Aluminium rejected the deal, claiming that they would need at least double that figure in state subsidies to retain production on Anglesey. Yet Anglesey Aluminium has been extremely profitable in the 36 years it has been on the island. Furthermore, both Rio Tinto and Kaiser Aluminium are vast multinationals turning huge profits.
Rio Tinto, which owns the controlling stake, recorded record profits in 2008, delivering net profits in the first quarter of 2008 of an astronomical US $2.94 billion. They have not faired quite so well in the first quarter of 2009 but that still equates to US $1.6 billion in net profits between January 1st 2009 and March 31st 2009 – or US $177 million per day! 8
Yet again, we see private enterprise demanding that the losses are nationalised while the profits remain private.
As with Air Products, it is evident that the crisis of capitalism and rising production costs are being used as a scapegoat, for attacks on pay and conditions and the switching of production to non-unionised plants in low wage economies, in order to drive these obscene profit margins up yet further. In both cases, there is no pressing need to switch production; it is simply another case of profits coming before people.
As Iain pointed out, and as has been borne out by the impending closure of Anglesey Aluminium, the claim that a new second-generation nuclear facility on Anglesey would not only retain existing jobs but also create new jobs has been proven to be false. As Iain pointed out in the same article:
“Local campaign group Pawb (People Against Wylfa B – Pawb means ‘everybody’ in Welsh) are arguing for an alternative employment plan for the island. Much of this lies around the potential for harnessing renewable energy sources, as the island has near ideal conditions for several technologies including tidal, wind, solar and wave. Additionally, based on the experience of decommissioning Trawsfnydd in nearby Gwynedd, decommissioning the current Wylfa station will provide at least 500 jobs for at least fifteen years.”( 9)
Local politicians such as Albert Owen have argued that building a renewable energy plant on the island would not have been viable, as such a project would take many years, and would therefore leave the skilled workers of Wylfa and Anglesey Aluminium without employment. Yet as Iain points out above, decommissioning the existing Wylfa A plant would have provided significant employment for the next decade and a half, and a new renewable energy plant would have created both long term employment for the people of Anglesey, and shorter term employment as the plant would need to be built. Instead, it appears that Anglesey will retain a nuclear power plant, with all the inherent environmental dangers and impact that come with that, but will still suffer from mass job losses as Anglesey Aluminium ceases production and Wylfa inevitably cut jobs due to new technologies.
The ideal opportunity for a clean, green, environmentally sound mass source of renewable energy has been missed, in addition to the vast number of jobs in the beleaguered construction industry that could have been created by building such a plant.
We can also see further evidence of the short-termist attitude to the construction sector elsewhere in north Wales.
Hanson Cement
Hanson Cement – formerly Castle Cement – in Padeswood, near Buckley, Flintshire (north east Wales) announced on Tuesday 7th July that they had entered a 90-day consultation period, with a view to 96 redundancies. 56 production jobs and a further 37 in distribution are under threat, which would leave only a skeleton staff of 46 at the plant. This is despite promises made by Hanson that there would be secure work for 110 workers. The plant is home to the most modern cement kiln in Europe. (10) Job losses at the plant in Flintshire have been on the cards for some time, with Hanson prepping the turf back in 2008. (11) The threatened job losses have been blamed on the stagnant construction industry, with a spokesman stating that the plant was "reducing output to a minimum in light of the continuing downturn in the construction industry."
This follows the closure of Marshalls Cement, not far from Hanson Cement, in Llay, near Wrexham, which shut down in may with the loss of 55 jobs. (12)
In both cases, management has cited the stagnation of the construction industry and the resultant drop off in demand for cement as the primary reason for the job cuts and closures.
Hanson Cement (and Marshalls) does differ from both Anglesey Aluminium and Air Products, in as much as the capitalist crisis has undoubtedly had a severe effect on construction. Hanson are not switching production; rather, they are ceasing production, at least at the Flintshire plant.
It does, however, seem ridiculous that we are currently seeing massive job losses in the construction industry across the UK when housing remains such an issue, with the BNP in particular using pressure on limited social housing stock and an absence of affordable housing to gain political capital. Whilst the news that the New Labour government intends to undertake a programme to build 3,000 council houses and 20,000 affordable houses over the next two years is to be welcomed, in as much as it is better than nothing, it remains evident that this does not go far enough. (13) A programme could be adopted to build new social housing stock and affordable housing on a mass scale, which, combined with the termination of the right to buy programme, would serve to alleviate the huge pressure on limited existing stock, provide employment for the hundreds of thousands of threatened construction workers in the private sector, and cut off the BNP and the far right's main source of oxygen by providing employment and housing on a vast scale.
Likewise, a similar large scale construction project on Anglesey could have not only provided work for the beleaguered construction workers, but also delivered an environmentally beneficial source of renewable energy, which would have sounded the death knell of nuclear power in the UK.
In addition, key employers such as Air Products and Anglesey Aluminium (Rio Tinto) should have been prevented from switching production to non-unionised plants in low wage economies given that the levels of profits of both multinational companies, and the continued profitability of their north Wales plants, demonstrates their viability.
Both companies should be made to open their books, and if necessary both sites should be nationalised to ensure there are opportunities for skilled workers in the already decimated local economy of North Wales. However, it appears that while the government, and indeed the capitalist establishment as a whole, are more than happy to bail out the bosses and the bankers, there are no such plans to bail out the workers.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

BNP get police to arrest socialists

From this weeks issue of The Socialist.

On Tuesday 14 July I was arrested, along with two other Socialist Party members, on alleged public order offences following a complaint made by local members of the fascist-led British National Party

Dylan Roberts, Wrexham Socialist Party

The BNP's allegations were entirely without substance, and were a poor attempt at intimidation. The complaint related to campaigning on Saturday 30 May, when we were running a stall in Wrexham town centre.
We were promoting the No2EU-Yes to Democracy European election challenge and campaigning against the BNP. We had spent two hours campaigning prior to the local BNP mob arriving and setting up a stall a few yards away from us.
The BNP outnumbered us, but we did not rise to their deliberate attempts to provoke us. A member of the BNP approached us and made a number of racist comments, while another BNP member filmed us for several hours.


One Socialist Party member was arrested at his home on 14 July at around 9am. I went to the police station of my own accord at around midday, where I was arrested. The third Socialist Party member went to the station after finishing work at 5pm, and he was also arrested.
We were detained for up to two hours each. We were asked to provide a statement, and then subsequently to provide fingerprints and DNA, and we were photographed. We also spent time in the 'custody suites'.
North Wales Police (NWP) treated us courteously, and the arresting officer behaved in a very professional manner. Nonetheless, the police had no evidence whatsoever, which leaves the question of why NWP chose to arrest us for what was evidently a fabricated charge.
We were bailed unconditionally, to appear back at Wrexham police station in August. The following morning we were contacted by the arresting officer, who advised us that there would be no further action.
We had to spend a fair amount of time in custody, and our DNA will be retained for 12 years, despite not being charged.
We were told that we had been arrested because NWP had a duty to investigate the complaint, and that the only way in which the police could investigate was to arrest us. It is not acceptable for the police to detain socialists and anti-fascists simply for campaigning against the BNP.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

CWI Summer School 2009

I was one of around 350 members of the CWI who met in Belgium this week for our annual European school. Despite having been a member for a while now I’ve never managed to get along to one of them before. And I have to say I feel really stupid for not doing so because if it has been anything near as good as it has been this year then I have really being missing out.
The school was split up into several discussions with big plenary sessions on the situation in the world, one focussing in more detail on the situation in Europe and one on building the Committee for a Workers’ International. There were also several sets of commissions on various topics and for the contents of all of these sessions I would direct people to the excellent report on the CWI website
I went along to the commissions on Africa, Marxism & Science and Racism & the far-right and I have to say the debates in these were excellent. The one thing that really stood out in all of them was how many really capable young members we have in all the various sections, for example:
In the Africa commission there were several contributions on the finer points of countries that I’ve never discussed before such as Algeria as well as some really interesting points made on the role of China in Africa. In the Marxism and Science discussion some important points about dialectics were discussed and in the Racism and the Far-Right session the bravery of the comrades in Northern Ireland in defending Roma families in Belfast was discussed as well as the equal bravery of the Swedish section in defending our members against around 11 attacks in the last year and a half.
But the week was also an opportunity to relax and I’m proud to say I was on the winning team of the yearly football match, with England & Wales & Irish sections beating the rest of the CWI 5-1. And most of the school had a good laugh when a senior member of the CWI managed to lock themselves in the lavatory.
On a more serious note the school showed the tremendous progress being made by the CWI, obviously one of the main highlights was the election of Joe Higgins to the European Parliament which is already leading to the further development of the Irish section of the CWI as well as allowing us the ability to work more closely with other left groups in Europe. The growth in the England and Wales section also shone through, particularly as a result of our recent leadership of several important industrial disputes, with the recruitment of important layers of workers and trade unionists. The fusion between the former CWI section and another group in Brazil to form the new CWI section Liberdade, Socialismo, Revolucao. The growth of the CWI in new areas, especially Malaysia was also discussed. Even where we are experiencing a really difficult objective situation at the present time in Sri Lanka due to the civil war, we are still managing to function despite state harassment and death threats against our members.
If this sounds like I’m mostly going on about how great the CWI is then you are right. One of the points raised in the discussion was how quite a lot of the times we are too modest about the work we do around the world, of course we publicise what we do, but there’s also a lot more that goes unreported. I have to agree, I think I have underestimated how important the CWI is until this week. Due to the history of our organisation in Britain and with England & Wales being the largest section to a certain extent I think I thought of the International as sort of tagged on to our section. But this week has shown me that we make a serious difference to the lives of ordinary working class people in many areas of the world and it has made me really want to commit myself to living up to example that members of the CWI are setting around the world.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

A British Prison in Nigeria?

Note: I'm going to be away for a week or so, so don't expect any posts until next saturday at the earliest.

The government has announced that it is in negotiations with the Nigerian government over proposals to upgrade the prison infrastructure in that country to allow them to forcibly transfer around 400 prisoners back to Nigeria.
The current UK prison service policy is to offer foreign national prisoners a transfer back to their country of origin where a treaty for such a course of action exists with that country. Such prisoners would then serve out the remainder of their sentences in their country of origin. However, given the appaling prison conditions in many countries around the world it is somewhat unsuprising that many imprisoned foreign nationals do not take up this offer. Even with the governments Facilitated Returns Scheme, with the 'incentive' of giving prisons who opt for a transfer £46 in cash (the equivalent of the amount that all prisoners receive upon release from prison to pay for any immediate needs) has not upped the return rate significantly.
The new plans are similar to a scheme that the prisons service has previously funded in Jamaica, where a prison was partially funded to help speed up prisoner transfers. In both Nigeria and Jamaica prison conditions are notoriously bad, Nigeria's prison system has been condemned by Amnesty International. Over 65% of those in Nigerian prisons have not being convicted of any crime, with waits of up to 10 years for a trial and as a result the prison system there is notoriously overcrowded.
The proportion of foreign nationals imprisoned within the UK prison system has grown largely over the past few decade or so, yet according to the Prison Reform Trust the overwhelming majority of these are first time offenders from some of the poorest countries in the world who have been convicted of drug trafficking. This means that rather than a wave of immigrant violence as some of the press have tried to paint these figures, the rise in foreign national prisoners is mostly down to increases in sentences handed out for drug related crimes, especially given that 4 in 10 male foreign nationals and 8 in 10 female foreign nationals in UK prisons have been convicted of drug offences.
In criminological theory, imprisonment is said to be justified on several grounds, either of incapacitation of those likely to commit crimes or of deterrence of people from committing future crimes. But it is not the people who are getting caught in these cases that are the serious criminals, those at the top of the drug cartels can simply sit back as the capture of another expendable mule means nothing to them. It is the criminological equivalent of chopping off the head of the weed but doing nothing about the roots.
A British funded prison will not do anything about the underlying problems within Nigerian society that lead people into the desperation of becoming drug mules, in particular the rape of the oil wealth by the Nigerian state and capitalist class which has led to poverty for the masses. Incidentally this is the same Nigerian government which has been backed by the British government despite widespread claims of fraud in the most recent national elections. So small are the hopes for even under this scheme convincing Nigerian prisoners to even transfer to a specifically built prison, as being proposed, that the government as part of the proposals is aiming to convince the Nigerian government to change its constitution to allow forcible prisoner transfers.
Schemes like this are only being proposed as a result of years of hiking up the prison sentences for crimes that are either trivial or are committed by those who would be unlikely to re-offend anyway as a repsonse to populist pressure for 'tough' action against crimes. Such prisoners are easily convicted and allow government bureaucrats to present figures that show they are 'winning the war on crime', yet do not tend to represent genuine steps towards seriously dealing with major crime problems. Removing the corrupt, theiving Nigerian ruling class and replacing them with democratic committees of workers and other oppressed layers and giving them control of the countries resources to alleviate the widespread poverty in the country would represent a serious step towards reducing the numbers of Nigerian drug traffickers, far more than any of the prison services schemes. But such a step would never be advocated by the UK government who rely on the Nigerian regime to support the interests of British capitalist companies in the country. Hence why only socialists can seriously solve the criminal justice crisis and under capitalism we see high crime rates and an escalating prison population.