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.