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Friday, 31 July 2009

Bob Crow at Vestas




Video here of a speech given by Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT, outside the Vestas factory in the Isle of Wight. The RMT, who are not affiliated to the Labour Party, are one of the most campaiging and radical trade unions in this country. The Vestas workers were not unionised, indeed at a public meeting last week in London we were told that they were intimidated from joining a union by the company and given a workers' council instead, which is a pale shadow of a real union - and that was only because the company had to under EU labour laws.


The RMT are now paying the legal costs of the Vestas workers and have ensured the support of many transport workers in the area. RMT workers are themselves threatened with job losses on the railways where the private rail companies are intending to introduce thousands of redundancies because of the downturn.
It is good to see a major union supporting green jobs and the fight for workers rights. Could be something to do with the fact that they broke the link with Labour and are fighting for their own members rather than following the dictates of the Labour Party, who could not even deliver on the two Warwick Agreements reached with the trade unions in recent years.

Vestas - the struggle continues


Well the workers occupying the Vestas factory in the Isle of Wight have been given a reprieve, the company were so disorganised that they could not identify the occupying workers and the judge refused to serve an injunction on 'persons unknown'. In the meantime the campaign has gathered speed and messages of support are coming in from all over the world. I heard the other day that a group of Palestinian children were photographed on the West Bank holding up signs saying 'Support the Vestas Workers'. The RMT union has been supporting their stuggle and Climate Camp and many of those who intended to go to the Big Green Gathering are on their way down to the Isle of Wight. Many of my colleagues from Green Left are also going, as are Green Party activists in the area. But this is a broad based campaign being supported by a range of trade unions and political groups. It is truly appalling that the government's rhetoric on averting climate change is being shown up as so much hot air by this action.


Latest news is that Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MEP for the area, has come up with an idea whereby the factory and the jobs can be saved.

Dr Lucas's submission, which offers a practical and sustainable solution to the current dispute over the proposed closure of the plant, will be delivered today at 4pm to Cllr David Pugh by Brian Lucas from Isle of Wight Green Party and a representative of the workers at the Vestas plant.
Under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, councils and communities have the opportunity to put forward proposals on sustainable improvements to local economic, environmental and social wellbeing.

Once established, individual councils' proposals are sent to the Government via the Local Government Association. The deadline for current submissions to the LGA is 31st July 2009.
In a last ditch attempt to keep the Vestas plant open, Dr Lucas will call on the IoW Council to ask for Government support under the terms of the 2007 Act to ensure that:
- The workers of the wind turbine company Vestas are permitted to form a Workers' Cooperative, and are supported in doing so by the government.
- Financial support (at the very least unemployment benefit) is paid to the workers of Vestas until such time as the proposed Workers'
Cooperative is financially viable.


This is an excellent initiative but there are two obstacles. Firstly, will the local Tory council have the gumption and the political will to send this request to the government? Here we will see the first test of Tory policy on climate change - if they cannot act here then, like New Labour, it is all empty posturing. Secondly, will Ed Milliband and the government react positively to the request? If they don't then they have blown away any credibility they had on green jobs and combating climate change. The Greens have thrown down the gauntlet, now we will see how the two main parties react to the challenge.


In the interim the Green Party Trade Union Group are sending a contribution to the Vestas workers, which I am coordinating as Treasurer. If anyone wants to contribute to this then please contact me or send cheques payable to ‘Ryde and East Wight Trades Union Council’ to Ryde and East Wight TUC, 22 Church Lane, Ryde, Isle of Wight, PO33 2NB.

Honduras - Interview with President Zelaya


Much of Latin American is watching developments in Honduras closely. The last few years have seen the election of a number of leftwing and radical governments in the region and much of this was not to the liking of the USA, which regards Latin America as its backyard and source of cheap resources and labour. Now with the election of Obama, the question is has US foreign policy changed towards Latin America?


On the surface it appears to have done and the pronouncements by Obama and Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State on the coup in Honduras, suggests that the US is supporting the democratically elected president, who is an ally of Chavez and other leftwing Latin American leaders. Zelaya has attempted to enter Honduras several times since the coup and there have been large popular demonstrations in his support. But so far the junta which seized power is refusing him entry. Here President Zelaya gives an interview where he sets out who the coup supporters are and the fact that the Neocons in Washington, many of whom remain in the apparatus of the US administration, are backing it.


What are Zelaya's chances of success? A lot depends on the people of Honduras, but also on sanctions and other external pressures on the Honduran regime. This is a test case for democracy in Latin America. Latest news is that Zelaya is forming a resistance movement in Nicaragua on the Honduran border, albeit an unarmed one. There are many Honduran refugees in the border area. All of this is being viewed with some concern by the authorities in Nicaragua. There still remains also the possibility of a war between Honduras and Venezuela on the issue. Zelaya is determined to reclaim his presidency and seems to have the support of the poor in Honduras.



Giorgio Trucchi’s interview with Hondura’s President Manuel Zelaya Rosales (pictured above) was conducted on July 19 in Managua, Nicaragua, as an exclusive for Sirel-UITA (Regional Latin American Secretariat of the International Union of Food, Agriculture and Hotel Workers World Wide). The English language website of the UITA is at http://www.iuf.org/www/en/. The interview only appears in Spanish at the Latin American website based in Montevideo, Uruguay, at http://www.rel-uita.org/.

This translation is by Felipe Stuart Cournoyer, July 22, 2009. Words within square brackets [like this] are the translator’s additions made for the sake of clarity.
* * *
By Giorgio Trucchi
When the Managua press conference of the constitutional president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya Rosales, ended I was able to get into the president’s vehicle along with his minister of the presidency Enrique Flores Lanza to go to an interview with international media. In just a few days -- or perhaps hours -- President Zelaya was to set out on his return trip to Honduras. In the intimacy of the vehicle we began this exclusive interview for Sirel.

Giorgio Trucchi: In the last few days you’ve announced your intention to return to Honduras, no matter the cost. Is this a definitive decision?
Zelaya Rosales: This is not a question of something that goes against the stability of the country; rather it is a solution in the search for stability. We hope that this will be the best way to undertake an internal dialog that solves the conflict and end the repression under which the Honduran people are suffering.

Dialogue with whom?
With the people because the people command in a democracy . The power-sectors who have taken up arms are repressive groups and they have to give up the exercise of command that the people have not granted them. What has most saddened you about this coup against your person and your government cabinet?
What pains me is that the country is being destroyed. Society is suffering, and they are trying to destroy the progress we have achieved and the efforts of so many generation through the use of arms.

The de facto government is totally isolated on the international plain and is facing a strong and tireless internal resistance from grassroots movements. Despite that, it is carrying on with a totally intransigent attitude. The question arises -- is this just a matter of insensitivity, or are they placing their confidence in support from foreign actors?
They are like wild animals from the jungle who cling to their food. They think Honduras is their personal ranch. They’re a group of ten families who want to consolidate their economic wealth and privileges. Their fear is groundless because no one is trying to get at them. Nevertheless, they believe that democratic development will [badly] affect them and so do not accept democracy.

In the press conference you said that sectors of the United States extreme right supported and continue to back the coup. Are you convinced the involvement of those sectors?
These people have made public demonstrations of their support to the coup, including US senators and members of Congress. Mr Otto Reich is the former Under Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere and he came out in support of the coup. Many people in the United States have done the same. Hence, there is proof and evidence that ex-president George W. Bush’s hawks are behind this coup.

What importance has the grassroots, social, and union movement had in blocking the progress of the coup?
The are protagonists in defence of democracy because the think that democracy is an instrument that enables them to make social conquests. They are combating the coup and won’t give up until the effects of this attack against the Honduran people and against democracy is ended.
The coupsters are defying the world and we have to set a precedent before it is too late.

UITA [International Union of Food, Agriculture and Hotel Workers] has been following events from the optic of grassroots movements, before, during, and after the coup? For those sectors there are two elements that cannot be negotiated: rejection of amnesty for the coupsters, and going ahead with having a fourth ballot box [in the coming elections that would consult voters about whether or not a constitutional reform process should be undertaken], and the installation of a constituent assembly. What do you think about those points?
It would be ridiculous to award a prize to the coupsters for carrying out a coup. I think the position of the social movements is to seek a solution to the conflict, but without any prizes or pardons for committing penal and common crimes. At the same time, I think that the seven points put forward by [Costa Rica’s] President Oscar Arias speak about political amnesty but not for ordinary and penal offences.
Regarding social reforms, I think that finding a new strategy to carry on with these reforms must be part of a broad process of discussion throughout Honduran society. Social reforms should not be ended, nor should the peoples’ rights to participation [in political decisions] be blocked because they are constitutional rights. In that sense, Oscar Arias’s points were not discussed in their breadth because the coupsters do not accept restitution of a democratic system. They want a de facto regime that is lawless; they want to maintain it with violence. We cannot accept that.

It’s been said that there are two basic elements in trying to find a solution to the conflict: the position of the United States and the role of the armed forces. What’s your opinion on that?
Today we sent a letter to President Barrack Obama, respectfully asking him to stiffen measures not only against the repressive state, but also against those individuals who conspired and carried out the coup. We hope a quick response so that the measures undertaken will really restore a system based on law and order. If that does not happen we are all in a precarious situation, not just myself -- a victim of a coup for defending society’s rights -- but the whole population. I believe that President Obama not only has diplomatic mechanisms to exercise pressure, but also has other strong resources that I hope he applies; and also other countries in Latin America [should do the same].
Regarding the armed forces, if they are going to be used to carry our coups, then logically we have to evaluate their role. However, I believe that, in this case, it was the high command that ordered the coup. The officers and the new generation that is going to receive blood-stained armed forces do not agree with this coup.

Is it getting close to the moment of your return to Honduras? Aren’t you afraid of being arrested or assassinated?
I have no fear. But I am taking precautions and being careful. When life demands, you have to live with a sense of effort and of its rewards. Sometimes sacrifice is necessary to bring about social conquests, and I am ready to make the effort for people’s liberty, democracy, and peace.

Did you ask the media to accompany in your attempt to return to the country. Are you really proposing to go back?
I’ve asked them to accompany me. I am going to risk everything and the world is taking the same risk with my return. I’ve said that if there is an assassination General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez will be responsible for my death.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Vestas Demo at Dept of Energy and Climate Change


At my request, as I was attending the demo for Vestas last night outside the ironically named 'Dept for Energy and Climate Change', where one speaker commented that the only thing they had done on the latter was add new signs to the entrance, Southwark Trade Union Council passed a motion of support for the Vestas workers and is also writing to Ed Milliband to support them.

Jean Lambert MEP gave a speech and the new Green Party Trade Union Group banner was on display. Martin Francis's placard was photographed extensively - he was the recent Green Party by election candidate in Brent. Pictures on Indymedia below. It would be a good idea if others can get local Trade Union Councils to pass motions of support.



An RMT speaker said that they were paying for the legal costs of the court case today in the Isle of Wight and that thousands of rail jobs were also on the line following recent meetings with the rail companies. Expect a lot of publicity today from the court case.



Tuesday, 28 July 2009

PCS Union Assistant General Secretary to visit Vestas plant on Isle of Wight


Just had this news via the Green Party Trade Union Group. PCS is one of the best unions on these issues and Chris Baugh spoke last Friday at the Vestas support meeting in ULU where I also spoke. He is now en route to the island. Vestas workers need all the support we can give them.


28 July 2009


PCS Assistant General Secretary Chris Baugh is today visiting the Isle of Wight where he will meet members in government offices as part of a campaign to defend jobs on the island.

To show PCS support for renewable energy and green jobs,

Chris will also be visiting the Vestas wind turbine plant on the island in Newport, which is facing closure at the end of the week with the loss of 600 jobs.


Commenting on the planned closure of the Vestas plants, Chris Baugh said: “PCS members’ jobs in government offices on the Isle of Wight are under threat too, so we are showing solidarity with the Vestas workers and actively supporting their campaign to save their jobs.“The government has just announced plans to create 400,000 green jobs over the next five years and a huge expansion of renewable energy. Yet it seems unwilling to step in to save 600 jobs at Vestas, the only wind turbine plant in England. We are calling on the government to intervene to save jobs on the Isle of Wight.“We are also encouraging our members and branches to support the workers at Vestas by sending messages of solidarity and support.”



Notes for editors1. Vestas offices in Newport have been occupied by some of the workers since Monday 20 July in a fight to save jobs at the plants which are due to close at the end of this week.2. The action has attracted support from trade unionists - including support nationally from PCS and RMT - and green groups such as Greenpeace. Messages of support have also been flowing in from around the world, helping to boost the morale of the workers occupying the Vestas offices. 3. Vestas is applying for a possession order to end the occupation - the case will be heard at Newport County Court on Wednesday 29 July.4. Vestas says it is closing the plants because there is lack of demand in the UK for the type of onshore wind turbine blades they make and it is cheaper to produce them in the US where there is a market for them.5.
More information about the campaign to save the Vestas plants is at http://savevestas.wordpress.com/

Vestas Protests


This is a historic campaign uniting Red and Green - trade unions, socialists, climate change activists and Greens. It should be fully supported by all who care about climate change and jobs.



Save Vestas Rally

Tuesday 28th July , 6.30 pm

Outside the Department of Energy and Climate Change, No 3 Whitehall Place (off Whitehall, Charing Cross tube)

Called jointly by the Campaign against Climate Change and the RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers)

Speakers include Vestas worker and Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London.

On Wednesday 29th the case goes to court for Vestas to take out an injunction to evict the occupiers of the plant in Newport on the Isle of Wight.

Hence the need for a show of support Tuesday evening – there will also be a big demonstration outside the court on the Isle of Wight on Wednesday morning.

Just when we need a huge expansion in renewable energy they are closing down the only wind turbine factory in the UK. The government has spent billions bailing out the banks, and £2.3 billion in loan guarantees to support the UK car industry– they can and should step in to save the infrastructure we are really going to need to save us from climate catastrophe.

Messages of supportto the Vestas campaign can be sent to savevestas@gmail.com

and for anyone in the North West, also

TOMORROW (Tues) Greater Manchester Meeting - Tuesday 28th July

Called by the Campaign Against Climate Change and supported by Manchester Trades Council

Tues 28th July, 7pm

The Mechanics Institute, Major St, off Princess St, Manchester with speakers from Vestas, RMT, Campaign against Climate Change and the Trades Council

===

Martin Empson

Treasurer, Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union group
079 585 35231
swpmre@yahoo.com

Flu and Health Spending


As I posted last week, I have had a long term interest in this subject (flu) and am meeting with the Director of Public Health for London later today with a delegation from the Patients Forum. I will report back from that meeting in due course but I remain concerned about how the NHS is approaching the issue, or at least how mixed messages are being sent out. I also remain concerned about the nuts and bolts of distribution of drugs etc. The Green Party has issued the press release below.


On a related topic, I watched Newsnight last night where most of the programme dealt with the prospect of cuts in the NHS. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00lxwdb/Newsnight_27_07_2009/


This is certainly what I am hearing from NHS managers and that the current service reconfiguration - polyclinics etc - is mainly driven by the need for a really slimmed down NHS after 2011. A number of options were presented on the programme, many of which I would find totally unacceptable. It is interesting that when the public is surveyed about the NHS, and this came out on Newsnight, that they are overwhelmingly opposed to cuts to the NHS frontline services but not to cuts at managerial level, where room for trimming is accepted. It is undoubtedly true that the Labour government has poured a lot of funding into the NHS but how much of that funding has been for the spectacularly disastrous PFI programme and for armies of consultants? This has left the door open for those arguing for cuts in the NHS and wholesale privatisation. It must also be admitted that only in the last few years has health spending in this country reached the EU average and it must be kept at that level.


Although the Tories are arguing that NHS spending will be ringfenced, they are also calling for an emergency budget immediately after the general election. And what will emerge from that? With an aging population it is essential that health spending is maintained. The real question is how health education can be improved so that the nation's health can be improved. A ban on fast food would be a start.

Put people ahead of GDP when managing swine flu

The Green Party is calling for Labour to put people ahead of GDP in their plans for managing swine flu.

Joseph Healy, the Green Party's parliamentary candidate for Vauxhall, and the deputy chair of the London Ambulance Service Patients Forum, said:

"In a meeting with the flu planners for London -- which the London Ambulance Service Patients Forum had over two years ago -- we were told that large scale public events would not be closed down because of the economic impact. The chair of the Forum, Malcolm Alexander, and I are due to meet Dr Simon Tanner, the Regional Director of Public Health for London, later today (the 28th of July), when I will be raising more of these issues."

Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, said: "Leading experts are saying that school closures may stem the spread of the disease. If health experts tell us it is time to stop gathering in large crowds, we must heed their advice." (1)
Lucas continued: "If it means that sports fixtures are affected or business conferences don't go ahead, then so be it. The economy may well have to take a temporary hit to stop unnecessary deaths."

The Green Party also wants the government to ensure that people get clear and consistent messages about what they should and shouldn't do during the swine flu epidemic.
Lucas remarked: "The government, by issuing contradictory advice to pregnant women on staying away from crowds was at best unhelpful. If public information is still in a muddle and mess in the autumn, it could lead to many excess deaths."
--
Notes to Editors:
(1) Dr Simon Cauchemez and Prof Neil Ferguson, both of Imperial College's department of infectious disease epidemiology, were quoted in the Lancet, August 2009, saying that a study of the 1918 flu outbreak in America and Australian cities indicated that shutting schools, in tandem with closing churches and improved hygiene, could have reduced the death toll by between 10% and 30% overall (and by as much as 50% in some cities at the height of the outbreak).

Monday, 27 July 2009

Afghanistan - the true costs




True costs of the Afghan War – really staggering. This does not take into account, of course, the so called 'collateral damage' in Afghanistan itself, the destruction of the infrastructure, the countless lives and the huge numbers of refugees living in Pakistan and elsewhere. Also when you see the Daily Mail and the New Labour ministers fulminating against illegal refugees etc - many of whom are from Afghanistan and Iraq, perhaps they should be asked to indulge in some 'joined up thinking'. Remember that phrase from the days when Blair's government was supposed to be the government of all the talents and everything from transport to welfare policies was supposed to be interconnected. That did not last long. Much the same as having an ethical foreign policy - ask Craig Murray about that one.


I attended a meeting the other week in parliament concerning the Iraq War Inquiry, which is due to start its deliberations in September, over six years after the start of the war. What are the bets that in 2015 we will be discussing the Afghan War Inquiry? By that time how much money will have been spent on arms and how many Afghans, British and others will be dead? And as for making the streets of the UK safer from attack - nothing could be further from the truth. The war continues to criminalise the Muslim community and to stoke up hatred and resentment.


It has now been confirmed that the Green Left fringe on the War in Afghanistan will be on the Thursday evening (September 3rd) of Green Party conference in Hove – the debate on the motion will be the following day.


Stop the War Coalition will have a stall at conference and will be attending our fringe. We are fortunate to have Jeremy Corbyn MP as one of our speakers at the fringe – a Labour MP who has consistently spoken out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our other speaker will be our own Farid Bakht, who gave a short presentation on this issue to the AGM and is the Parliamentary Candidate for Bethnal Green & Bow.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Vestas Meeting and Milliband's Excuses







Down at the Vestas demo on Tuesday night outside the Dept of Energy and Climate and a host of various organisations were there including the reps of several trade unions. I spotted some of the UNISON officers from SOAS, who had been campaigning on the migrant workers
occupation etc a few weeks ago. One of them informed me that all of the migrant workers have now been deported - another achievement of Labour's caring, sharing government.

Andy Hewett, Secretary of Green Left, read out a statement of support from Hugo Blanco, the Peruvian activist for indigenous peoples rights and ecosocialist and we also sold copies of the Green Left pamphlet on the economic crisis by Sean Thompson, which seemed apt under the cicrumstances.

Seamus Milne has written an excellent piece in the Guardian on the issue and Ed Milliband's response is one of the lamest I have ever seen from a government minister, even a Labour one. Apparently everything will be ok once the planning laws are changed next April, in the interim the government can do nothing to save Vestas. It is interesting though how the issue has drawn together trade unions and green activists and this is a pointer to some of the campaigns which lie ahead, and where Green Left and the Green Party should be seeking to build the alliance between Green and Red. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/23/vestas-wind-turbine-plant-closure






Seamus Milne is speaking at a meeting tonight on the Vestas issue, which I am going to go along to. Some pictures from Tuesday's demo above.


"SAVE VESTAS, SAVE THE PLANET:

Support the Factory OccupationSpeakers: Vestas Worker, Chris Baugh (PCS Ass. Gen. Sec, pc), Seamus Milne, Jonathan NealeFriday 24th July, 6pm, ULU Malet Street, London WC1E 7HY

Called by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group"

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Flu Pandemic


With the news that Labour's candidate in the Norwich North by-election may be suffering from swine flu http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8161065.stm it is important to consider where things are now with this serious illness and where they are likely to go. Several weeks ago I attended a meeting with a senior NHS official for London about a number of health issues in the capital. One of the questions I asked was why the Flu Line was not up and running. He came out with some sort of half hearted response but basically it was put down to it taking time to put things in place. Well, the NHS has had since April to sort this out and has had a flu pandemic plan in place for several years. I attended a meeting with the main flu planning group from the NHS over two years ago. The real reason for the delay it appears is infighting in the NHS and between various departments.


In my role as Vice Chair of the Patients Forum Ambulance Services (London) I am meeting with Dr Tanner, the Regional Director of Health for London, on the 28th of this month to discuss progress on this issue. The advice also keeps altering. First it was only pregnant mothers who were to avoid crowds, now it is also people with compromised immune systems. If we observe what is happenign in the Southern Hemisphere, where the flu season is already in full swing, it is clear that Argentina and Chile in particular have been very affected. Restaurants and theatres in Argentina have closed down and there has been a real dip in the economy. My concern is that economic motives are driving the health agenda here and that crucial public health advice is not being issued because of concerns about its economic impact.


I have long had an interest in this subject as my great grandfather and granduncle both died in the pandemic of 1918 within 48 hours of catching the virus, leaving my grandfather as the sole survivor. It is interesting that the lessons of that pandemic are only now being taken on board by the authorities. People knew a lot less then about the virus but one of the main pieces of public health advice then was not to go to crowded places. Now it appears that similar advice is being issued today http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul/21/swine-flu-pregnant-women-advice


In 1918 the second wave of the flu in the autumn was the most serious and the indications are that this will be the case again. I would strongly urge the health authorities to follow the advice of the more farsighted of their predecessors and cancel all large scale public events at the height of the pandemic - football matches, theatres, all large scale gatherings. We do not fully understand yet how severe the flu will be in the autumn but preventitive measures should be taken. Better safe than sorry.

Support for Vestas Occupation


Last night workers at the Vestas plant for manufacturing wind turbine blades in the Isle of Wight occupied the factory. The plant was due for closure after the government refused to intervene. It is the only factory of its kind in the UK.



I have sent the following appeal to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Milliband:


Dear Mr Milliband,

Now is the chance for you and your government to turn hot air into reality. The workers at the Vestas factory are fighting for their future and that of this country and the planet. Your government’s policies are to increasingly rely on renewables, yet at a time when unemployment is mounting, creating untold hardship and poverty, you are allowing the only factory in the UK producing wind turbine blades to close down. This will result in these turbines being produced in other countries, such as China, thus reducing UK manufacturing further. This is the economics of the madhouse.

Your government was able to intervene and prop up the banks after the recent crisis, yet this factory which is making a significant contribution towards preventing climate change is receiving no assistance whatsoever. I am calling upon you to step in and nationalise the Vestas factory. Not only would this save the jobs of many workers but would also play a significant role in helping create the ‘Green New Deal’ which this country so badly needs, i.e. the creation of millions of new environmentally friendly and sustainable jobs.

The Vestas workers have shown the way. It is now up to your government to help them or to answer for it to the people in a few months time.

Dr Joseph Healy
Treasurer Green Party Trade Union Group
Parliamentary Candidate for Vauxhall

Monday, 20 July 2009

Green MEPs call for a halt to mass deportation plan

Another shocking indication of Labour's disregard for human rights and the workings of international law, when it is inconvenient. As Caroline Lucas states - many of these refugees stem from the impact of the UK's policies in Iraq and Afghanistan.


UK GREEN MEPS URGE HALT TO ‘INHUMANE’ MASS DEPORTATION PLAN FOR AFGHAN & IRAQI REFUGEES IN ‘JUNGLE’ CAMP

- British and French governments’ plot to deport asylum seekers breaks EU human rights law, say MEPs in letter to European Commission

In an urgent letter to the European Commission today, UK Green MEPs Caroline Lucas and Jean Lambert have called for an immediate suspension of plans to deport around 1,800 individuals from the so called ‘Jungle Camp’ in Calais back to Afghanistan and Iraq next week [1].

Writing to Justice, Freedom and Security Commissioner Jacques Barrot, the Green MEPs warn that the planned action, which is being taken jointly by the French and British authorities under the Evian Agreement, would be in direct breach of EU and international law on human rights and refugees.

Thousands of refugees and migrants from countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia are currently camped outside Calais in a squalid tented area known as ‘The Jungle’. Around a fifth of them are thought to be children, living in desperate and dangerous conditions, where people are forced to sleep rough with little access to sanitation or resources.

In a joint statement, Caroline Lucas MEP and Jean Lambert MEP said:

“We urge the Commission to take immediate action to prevent next week’s deportations – and to ensure that the French authorities fulfil their responsibilities under both EU and international law, including improving conditions for those living in the camps at Calais.

“The threatened mass deportations ride roughshod over the European Convention on Human Rights, the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Geneva Convention. And given that so many of those facing expulsion are children, the plans may also breach the terms of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“The vast majority of refugees in ‘The Jungle’ have had no contact whatsoever with official authorities since entering the EU. We are deeply concerned that there is a risk of deportation before these individuals have been interviewed in order to determine whether they are seeking asylum and are, therefore, protected by EU asylum law.”


Caroline Lucas, Green MEP for the South East of England, commented:

“Many migrants into France and the UK are fleeing from the consequences of the West’s foreign policy mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given this reality, you might imagine these governments would take their responsibilities to the international community more seriously.

“It is unacceptable that vulnerable people from some of the most troubled countries in the world be treated so inhumanely on European soil. Many residents in the camps are genuine asylum-seekers and not illegal immigrants. It is important that those people fleeing persecution and war have free access to the correct information so that they know they can make a genuine claim for asylum.

“At present, these individuals are at the mercy of ruthless traffickers who make impossible promises for significant profit. The presence of hundreds of children in the makeshift refugee camps is particularly distressing. Yet the French authorities would rather pretend they did not exist.”

Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London, said:

“The situation at Calais is a mess and short-term solutions won’t work. At the very minimum, we must provide dignity and health care to those in need, creating the space to look at more long term solutions. These solutions must be anchored in human rights and respect for international conventions.”


ENDS

Notes to Editors

[1] A previous attempt at a mass deportation was overruled by the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that the operation would contravene the European Declaration on Human Rights, as well as the trilateral agreement signed in 2002 by UNHCR with the Afghan and French governments, which stipulates that "the return of Afghans who do not enjoy protection... will be carried out in a gradual, ordered and humane way.

Contacts

Melissa Freeman, Press Officer for Caroline Lucas MEP
Mob: 07950 382 149
carolinepress@greenmeps.org.uk

Georgina Bloomfield, Press Officer for Jean Lambert MEP
Tel: 0207 407 6280
Mob: 07988 790 889
media@jeanlambertmep.org.uk

The Canker is making its way to the Core


The following article by Salma Yaqoob appeared in today's Morning Star. I fully endorse what Salma is writing here. One needs only to look at what has happened in Italy to see the dangers of making Fascism 'respectable'.


The Canker is making its way to the Core.




The election of two BNP MEPs has removed the cover on a political sewer that should have been sealed for all time.
Nick Griffin, a man with a history of antisemitism and Holocaust denial, now calls for "chemotherapy" against the Islamic "cancer" in Europe. The echoes of the past are deliberate. The choice of words is chilling.
Griffin's election has given the BNP unprecedented access to the media, and he is using it to promote the most vicious racism.
His genocidal rantings towards Muslims followed his call for the sinking of ships carrying migrants from Africa to Europe - in other words, the premeditated murder of men, women and children on a desperate voyage to escape poverty and oppression.
We should remind ourselves that almost one million people voted for the BNP in the European elections. If there is a cancer in Europe, then it is the cancer of racism.
Yet the response from the political establishment to Griffin's remarks has, so far, been less than overwhelming.
Defensiveness and political compromise has marked the response of mainstream parties to the rise of the BNP. It should be clear enough by now. This is not a temporary blip before we return to business as usual.

Ignoring the BNP or playing down their successes will not make them go away. It is time for the anti-fascist movement to go on the offensive.
Griffin's nazi-style outbursts cannot be dismissed as an irrelevant excess by a marginal figure.
He knows what he is doing. He wants to make legitimate what was once illegitimate. He aims to shift the centre of gravity of political debate sharply to the right.
He knows that his more extreme rhetoric is in tune with his party's membership and large swathes of his voters.
But he also knows that, every time mainstream politicians bend to his agenda in an attempt to occupy ground he is staking out, the racist argument is strengthened.
It is a pattern we have seen all too frequently in recent years.

Faced with a rise in racism, politicians seek to ride both horses at once - deploring racism while conceding ever more political ground to the far right.
Isn't this exactly what Gordon Brown was doing when he called for "local homes for local people?"
"It is not legitimate to blame immigrants for rising unemployment. They did not close our factories and devastate our manufacturing base"
Concerns about housing are undoubtedly genuine. There are too few affordable homes. But that is because successive governments have relied on the market to provide what it patently cannot do.

Tackling this policy failure would provide affordable homes for all those in need.
Furthermore, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has revealed that nine out of 10 social housing residents were born in Britain, giving a lie to the BNP myths bout "local people" losing out to immigrants and asylum seekers.
Instead of focusing on these realities, voters are told that their prejudices are justified and that the government will do what the BNP cannot.
It is a tactic that is both cynical and ineffective.

Let us be clear. The response to Griffin's call to "sink the boats" cannot be one of pledging to do everything possible to keep out immigrants short of launching missiles at defenceless people.
His call for "chemotherapy" against Muslims must be met with robust challenge and not by conceding that fears of Islam in Europe are justified.
The alternative is to accept that ever more extreme and dangerous fascist rhetoric will define the nature of political debate in our society.
Those who promote fear and hatred of African immigrants knocking at our door, or of the Muslims already within the gates of Europe, have to be openly and directly confronted. Their arguments have to be dealt with head on.

It is not legitimate to blame migrants or refugees for the recession. They were not the ones who became rich beyond anyone's dreams while gambling away our economy.
It is not legitimate to blame immigrants for rising unemployment. They did not close our factories and devastate our manufacturing base.
It is not legitimate to blame "outsiders" for the housing crisis. They are not the ones who passed legislation that strangled the ability of local councils to build new housing on the scale we need.
And it is not legitimate to scapegoat Muslims, who represent just 3 per cent of the population, for any supposed threat to British identity.

The recent Gallup poll on Muslim integration revealed that, while only half the UK population very strongly identifies with being British, 77 per cent of Muslims did so.
And only 17 per cent of British Muslims wanted to live in an area consisting mostly of people of the same religious and ethnic background as themselves, compared to 33 per cent of the population as a whole.
This is the positive side of our multicultural society. Being "different" is not a sign of alienation from society as a whole.
Yet, while Muslims increasingly identify with Britain and value its mix of people and faiths, more and more people conclude that Muslims are a breed apart. There is a gulf between the reality of our lives and the perception that is created by a constant stream of horror stories.

Today, it is anti-Muslim racism that is at the cutting edge of the fascist strategy. It is effective because it feeds on the suspicion and prejudice that is the theme of so much mainstream discussion of our lives as British Muslims.
Its consequences are real. Already, there are signs that attacks on mosques and individual Muslims may be rising. The police are warning of the danger of far-right terrorism.
And, earlier this month, we saw an openly racist provocation in Birmingham city centre, under the guise of a protest against "Islamic extremism"- a label that the organiser made clear applied to all Muslims.

We, as British Muslims, have a direct and immediate interest in defeating this fascist threat. The anti-fascist movement must reach out to Muslim communities who are at the sharp end of BNP attacks.
But the rise in racism is not only a threat to Muslims. The BNP may be playing down their anti-Semitism and anti-Black racism in order to drive a wedge between Muslims and the rest of society.
But to the BNP we are all "racial foreigners." Our very existence as British people is denied.
Our task is not only to unite all those targeted by the BNP, with every possible ally who rejects racism and fascism.

We have to also positively assert our multicultural and pluralist society. It is a message of hope that is in tune in an increasingly interconnected world.
It is a source of strength and vibrancy. We are one society and many cultures. And we will only remain so if we are prepared to stand up and be counted.

Salma Yaqoob is councillor for Birmingham Sparkbrook, Leader of the Respect Party and chair of the Birmingham Stop the War Coalition.

Visit to Green Party Executive


Went along this Saturday to GPEx, the national executive of the Green Party, meeting at Birkbeck College. I had gone to discuss Stop the War Coalition, but in the event, after a short report from the International Committee, the issue did not arise. There were a number of nitty gritty organisational matters discussed dealing with staffing issues, expenditure, membership databases etc, much the same as at any management meeting. The good news is that there has been a big increase in membership, especially over the European election period, but it is often the case that elections mobilise people and they decide to join up. At least the trend is in the right direction, whereas the trend in the Labour Party is steadily downwards for example. Not sure how the others are doing, although there is always a tendency for some people to join the party which is expected to be in power next, so it might be illuminating to compare figures for the Lib Dems and Conservatives. The general trend though is for the membership of all political parties to decline.


The other piece of good news is that the party will have a new office by the autumn. This move has been long overdue and I have been campaigning, along with the current and previous Disability Spokespersons for a fully accessible national office. I flagged this up again on Saturday in relation to the new premises, wherever it will be. It is simply not acceptable years after the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act for the issue of disabled access to be left further down on any list of priorities. The new office will be somewhere central and accessible by public transport in central London. There are also lots of new people joining the staff team and the membership database is finally being replaced - another task long overdue and something which I voted in favour of when I was on last year's Executive, and which will assist considerably the hardworking staff at party office.


One of the intriguing questions at present is if the Electoral Commission's recommendation that the £500 deposit for general election candidates is dropped. This would make it far easier for a small party like the Greens, in a country without state funding for political parties, and without the corporate sponsorship of the big three, to stand candidates in the forthcoming general election. Brown's government has claimed that they intend to introduce major reforms to the workings of the body politic, but this is a fairly small reform and would improve democratic involvment in the politicial process so much. Personally I am in favour of the state funding of political parties, which is the system in most of the EU, including the Irish Republic and I supported a motion on this at party conference last year. This should be accompanied by rigorous rules banning corporate sponsorship. In this way a level playing field would be created and a lot of the sleaze and corporate lobbying would come to an end. With only months to go before a general election it really is important that this last hurdle to electoral involvement is removed.


Nominations for GPEx are in full swing and it is important that good and capable people stand for these positions, as well as being people with a political vision. Doing the job seriously and professionally does take a great deal of time and energy, and we owe people who do it a debt of thanks as these are unpaid positions. I look forward to seeing this year's nominations.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Postal Workers ballot to disaffiliate from Labour

On Friday I went to the rally organised by the CWU, Communication Workers Union re the postal strike that day and handed out leaflets outside the rally at Westminster Hall for the Green Party Trade Union Group. I had a chat with one of the national officers of the CWU, who is involved in publishing their magazine about the current political situation. He was of the view that it was still too early to write Labour off in the general election.

I decided to attend the rally, so together with hundreds of postal workers and a handful of journalists I listened to the various speakers. First came an Executive member of the RMT who sent fraternal greetings and made the point that the unions can only be effective by standing together and that the London Underground was also going through a period of industrial action. He gave his union's full support to the CWU.

Then the Regional Secretary of the CWU in London spoke about the deliberate attempts by Royal Mail management to smash the union and their attempts to introduce ever more "casualisation". He warned that if the union lost this struggle that the jobs of thousands of postal workers would be on the line. But the biggest response came when he promised that the London region would be starting balloting for disaffiliation from the Labour Party within the next few weeks. This produced rapturous applause and one postal worker beside me shouted out "two years too late mate!". There was clearly a real feeling of anger and disillusionment with the Labour government.

Kate Hoey MP, who is sponsored by the CWU, was also on the platform. She welcomed the decision of the London region to hold the ballot and said that there was no point in the union paying Labour a big fat cheque every year and receiving nothing in return. She attacked the appoointment of an unelected European bureaucrat (Peter Mandelson) to run the government's policies on Royal Mail and she said that it would be a shame if the Labour government only left behind the ruination of one of the country's best public services as its memorial. She went on to say that she was ashamed of the Labour government. Well, all of this is true, but it begs the question - why stay with the Labour Party? The trade unions must realise that they are being sold down the line by Labour. The Green Party is committed to abolishing the anti-trade union laws and keeping the Post Office public. I await with interest the result of the CWU ballot.

Friday, 17 July 2009

The Good War?


I attended a meeting on Wednesday night in the House of Commons about the Iraq War Inquiry, which will probably start in September - leading members of the Stop the War Coalition were there, along with John Mc Donnell MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP. We discussed how to go about presenting evidence etc to the Inquiry. All of us were incredulous as to how Blair could be nominated to be President of the EU by the current government after all his war crimes. There was a time when Iraq was also sold as "the good war" - the war to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein and when we were told that weapons of mass destruction were everywhere there, but it all turned out to be froth. Now is it supposed to be conveniently forgotten?


The journalist Seamus Milne from the Guardian, who opposed that war from the beginning, now gives his view on the latest war in Afghanistan here http://stopwar.org.uk/content/view/1358/27/


And if people want to hear what life is like in Afghanistan on the ground, then why not hear it from the lips of an Afghan MP? I will certainly be going along to hear what Afghans feel about NATO's and the UK's largesse in dropping bombs on them every day.


PUBLIC MEETING WITH AFGHAN MP MALALAI JOYA

The Afghan MP and campaigner for women's rights Malalai Joya
will be launching her new book Raising My Voice at a Stop the
War public meeting in London on Thursday 23 July.

Malalai Joya is often called "the bravest woman in
Afghanistan". Elected to the Afghan parliament in 2004 as the
youngest MP, she soon became a very vocal critic of the
warlords and criminals that dominate the parliament and the
widespread corruption in prime minister Karzai's government.

There have been several attempts on her life and the continual
death threats mean she needs constant protect from bodyguards.
In 2007 she was suspended from the parliament. (SEE
http://bit.ly/Bveth)

Early booking for this meeting is recommended. Tickets cost £4
/ £2 concessions and are available online: http://bit.ly/mWOzk

Total Politics Best Blogs Poll 2009

Total Politics are running the following competition and have asked all of us political bloggers to mention it, so details below. You have until the end of this month, that is two weeks from now, to send in your nominations.
Email your ten favourite blogs (ranked from 1-10) to toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com
It's that time of year again, when Total Politics asks you to vote for your Top 10 favourite blogs. The votes will be compiled and included in the forthcoming book, the Total Politics Guide to Blogging 2009-10, which will be published in September. This year the poll is being promoted/sponsored by LabourList and LibDemVoice as well as our publisher Iain Dale's blog.
The rules are simple.
1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and ranks them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).

2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.

3. You MUST include ten blogs. If you include fewer than ten your vote will not count.2. Email your vote to toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com3. Only vote once.

4. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents are eligible or based on UK politics are eligible.

5. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name

6. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2009. Any votes received after that date will not count.

If you have your own blog, please do encourage your readers to take part. Last year, more than 80 blogs did so. We hope this year it will be far more than that. BUT, DO NOT list ten blogs you think your readers should vote for. Any duplicate voting of this nature will be disallowed. If you do not wish for your blog to be voted for please email katy.scholes@totalpolitics.com. You will see a list of the blogs who have chosen not to be included in the comments shortly.

There are many ways of measuring a blog's popularity. Wikio and Technorati have complicated logarithms which measure the importance of incoming links and traffic. Google Analytics does it by measuring how many people visit. But our poll gives blog readers the opportunity to vote for the ones they like and visit most often. It's not scientific. It's impossible to achieve 100% balance and we don't pretend it's perfect.

The results of the poll will be published in the forthcoming book the TOTAL POLITICS GUIDE TO POLITICAL BLOGGING IN THE UK which will be published in mid September in association with APCO Worldwide.
So, go to it. Email us your Top Ten Favourite Blogs

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Lambeth Country Show


Every summer the country comes to Lambeth in the form of Lambeth Country Show. The Show which is held in Brockwell Park is attended by thousands of people from across South London and is one of the most successful summer events. I hardly ever miss going and it does actually have a green angle. Many organic growers show up there to sell their produce and there are even vegetable and cake display tents, much like the sort of shows which one would expect to encounter in the West Country or Sussex. For many inner London and ethnic minority children in Lambeth who live in high rises without a garden or much contact with nature, this is a real experience and there are frequently farm animals and displays by sheep dogs etc.


The weather, of course, is an essential ingredient, but when the sun shines it is heaven. Brockwell Park is one of the most pleasant parks in South London. I will be there on Sunday afternoon, after having bought some herbs and plants, on the Lambeth Green Party stall, together with our councillor, Becca Thackray, giving out information on what the party is doing locally and on how people can assist with our campaigns. The recent European election campaign in London saw many new people join the Green Party and hopefully more people will do so at the Show on Sunday. I will also be bringing along a few of my old books to contribute to the stall and its fundraising activities.

The War comes to Downing Street


Last night at the height of the evening rush hour, officers of Stop the War Coalition, attempted to deliver a letter of protest to Downing St about the war in Afghanistan calling for the withdrawal of UK troops. The gates to Downing St remained barred however, and the authorities refused to accept the letter. Earlier, together with members of Green Left and with the London Green Party banner, we had been positioned on the pavement opposite Downing St protesting against the war. The police had obviously decided, in view of recent events in London, and the sensitivity of the issue, to be very lighthanded with this demonstration. There was a surreal moment when an old fashioned type 'friendly' sergeant came over to speak to us and asked one of us if "you have any friends or relations over in Afghanistan", obviously under the impression that we were from military families or something. General police behaviour there gave me the impression that there was some sympathy for the demo and this bears out the findings of many recent opinion polls and articles in the popular press.


Hundreds of us then crossed the road and protested loudly outside the gates of Downing St. The police merely 'requested' us to move back across the road but then gave up. Lindsey German, Convenor of Stop the War, gave a speech about the war and confirmed that she would be appearing that night on Newsnight, together with several military types (one of whom turned out to be a Tory MP) debating the war. Indeed, the whole programme was given over to the war in Afghanistan and included an interview with the Armed Forces Minister, who was floundering all over the place. I spotted Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn at Downing St, and we were joined at one point by a rather strange man kitted out in a full traditional Irish dancing costume, who proceeded to do a dance for peace to the accompaniment of Irish celil music. The demonstration lasted two hours and a number of Arabic and Iranian TV stations were interviewing various people. I spoke briefly to the Arabic correspondent of one of the Iranian ones. Many commentators and experts on the region have predicted that this war will be another Vietnam and will suck masive resources both militarily and financially into Afghanistan for years to come with no end in sight.


Last night's Newsnight also included the ever sensible Rory Stewart, the Director of the Carr Center on Human Rights Policy at Harvard, who lives in Kabul. Stewart pointed out to the military heads that the whole mission was flawed and that the type of democratic government which they were professing they wanted, would take decades to develop in Afghanistan. The military types had to admit that the military mission was being followed and that they, as officers etc, were "following orders" but did not quite understand the political point of the war.


In a recent article entitled "The Irresistible Illusion" (July 9) in the London Review of Books, Stewart criticises the current US and NATO plan for Afghanistan. Obama has so far committed to building an Afghan army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000. McCrystal (the US Commander in Afghanistan) now appears to be pushing for what some US generals have earlier spoken about wanting: a combined Afghan army-police-security apparatus of 450,000 soldiers. Such a force would cost $2 or $ 3 billion a year to maintain; as Rory Stewart points out, the annual revenue of the Afghan government is just $600 million. "We criticize developing countries for spending 30 percent of their budget on defense," Stewart notes, and "we are encouraging Afghanistan to spend 500 percent of its budget."


The criticism of the war mounts as the bodies return home, but what of the thousands of Afghans being killed daily in this conflict? As Lindsey German pointed out last night, there is no mention of them in the news reports. No doubt the arms manufacturing industry is pleased. Digby Jones gave the game away on a recent 'Politics Den' session on Newsnight when he rejected someone's scheme for defence cuts on the grounds that it would seriously impact on the UK's arms manufacturing industry. The true voice of Moloch as the bodies are fed into the mincer!


I have recently been approached by some German Greens in Munster, where many British troops are stationed, to support a German and Pan European 'Friedens Initiative' (Peace Initiative) and to call on the German government to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. Germany faces a general election this autumn and the issue could be important, especially if the summer NATO 'push' grounds to a halt. Their website is here http://www.gruene-friedensinitiative.de/


Sunday, 12 July 2009

LGBT Veterans meet at the Bishopsgate Institute


As I blogged on Friday I went along to the 30th anniversary celebrations for GALHA and the 40th anniversary event for CHE. My Green Party colleague, Peter Tatchell, gave a speech as did the Labour MEP, Michael Cashman. I was pleased to meet an old friend, Sean Mc Gouran, now in Respect, with whom I worked on the Northern Irish LGBT magazine 'Gay Star' in Belfast in the early 80s. He now lives in London and is involved in a number of political activities. It also appears that we know a few people in common. The archives of GALHA have now been accepted by the Bishopsgate Institute near Liverpool St station and are in good hands. Apparently they have some very interesting archives there, which I must get around to having a look at some time. I still have not visited the Hall-Carpenter Archives, which are the most important and extensive LGBT archives in the UK, if not in Europe. A picture of the Institute and Library above.


Below is an account of the event posted by GALHA.


GALHA NEWS RELEASE-FOR IMMEDIATE DISTRIBUTION.

CASHMAN AND TATCHELL LEAD GAY HUMANIST 30TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATIONS BUT WARN "GAY PEOPLE TOO OFTEN THINK THAT RIGHTS, ONCE WON, CAN NEVER BE TAKEN AWAY."

Over 120 people crowded into London's Bishopsgate Institute on the evening of 10th July to celebrate the 30th birthday of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA).

PETER TATCHELL praised GALHA as "a voice of reason and evidence-based thought" in the face of bigotry and fundamentalism, and warned that "Religious fundamentalism is now the single biggest threat to women's rights and LGBT rights around the world".

He urged the community to try to recapture some of the energy and idealism of the Gay Liberation Front, which was inspired both by the Stonewall Riots and by the early law reformers.

"Collectively and cumulatively, we have moved mountains thanks to these efforts."

"The GLF never argued for mere "equality". Our agenda was about changing society, for the benefits of gays and straights alike."

"We challenged traditional notions of masculinity and femininity, and of the patriarchal nuclear family."

Stressing that direct action could achieve results alongside traditional lobbying, Tatchell also highlighted the importance of solidarity: "Gays and Lesbians should support all oppressed communities, even when they don't always return the favour."

MICHAEL CASHMAN asked the question "Why are we still fighting for gay and lesbian rights in 2009, and why will we still be doing it in 2029? It is because hatred never goes away. It merely shifts its focus."

Cashman also warned that "Gays and lesbians too often think that rights once won, can never be taken away." He pointed to the struggle that was going on to secure human rights across Europe, and the key role of the European Parliament, for example in requiring all EU members to respect rights for minorities including LGBT people.

He pointed out that, often as not, this opposition was religiously motivated. He insisted that "Unless we can separate religion and politics, we will never advance." He also left the audience with the thought that "Religion and faith are perhaps the most private experience that any of us can ever have, apart from an orgasm that is."

The event also saw the presentation of the first CHE/DEREK OYSTON AWARD IN CONJUNCTION WITH GALHA for services to the gay community, sponsored by the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) in memory of Derek Oyston. Journalist and CHE Vice President RAY GOSLING presented the award to SUE SANDERS "in recognition of her outstanding work for 'School's Out' and for establishing and maintaining 'LGBT History Month'". Sanders spoke of the enormous strides that had been made since the days when teachers could be sacked simply for being gay and commented. "I can't tell you how much it means to receive an award like this from the community". She also paid tribute to the work of the late Paul Patrick and to other members of the organisation.

GALHA Events Secretary DEREK LENNARD paid tribute to the group's founders, including GEORGE BROADHEAD, ROY SAICH and JIM HERRICK, and also praised the contribution of TERRY SANDERSON who was furthermore the world's longest standing gay columnist.

Messages of congratulation and support were read out from the British Humanist Association, the National Secular Society, The South Place Ethical Society, the Council of Ex Muslims, and from GALHA Vice President Dr Evan Harris MP.

STEFAN DICKERS of the Bishopsgate Institute, expressed the Institute's delight at receiving the GALHA archives, and how they would contribute to the institute's ongoing work. An exhibition on GALHA's history, which Stefan had helped to compile, was a major feature of the evening. The GALHA archive can be viewed at the Institute, along with many others.

ADAM KNOWLES, as GALHA's youngest committee member, saw much hope in the younger generation, too often dismissed as "disconnected", or even "apathetic".

"Democratic, rational, questioning and fundamentally optimistic, in many ways they are already humanists in all but name. Our job is to go out and recruit them."

GALHA Vice President BARBARA SMOKER also spoke, expressing her admiration for GALHA's work and her delight at its continuing success.

The evening concluded with the ceremonial cutting of GALHA's birthday cake, and with a wine and canapé reception.

GALHA Secretary David Christmas commented.

"This wonderful event highlights what we have already achieved but also that there are so many more battles to be fought and won all over the world. This in turn shows why there is still likely to be a need for organisations like GALHA in another thirty years time."

END

NOTE TO EDITORS:

GALHA provides a voice for the many non religious in the LGBT community in the United Kingdom and elsewhere and promotes a rational approach to LGBT Rights as human rights. For its 30th Anniversary in 2009 GALHA is holding a series of special public meetings and events including an exhibition of its work in Central London .

http://www.galha.org/ <http://www.galha.%20org/> 0792 1188329.

A DVD of the event is being prepared. Please contact info@galha.org if you are interested

Photos are also available from the GALHA Press Office: galhacommunications@live.com


The Blood Price in Afghanistan


Not a day goes by without more news of the mounting casualties in Afghanistan. The MOD spin merchants go into overdrive. It was George Orwell who once wrote: "Something is not necessarily a lie just because it is published in the Daily Telegraph." I thought of this when I read a recent article in the Daily Mail, not a paper I usually read. However, this military writer's analysis of Afghanistan really hit the nail on the head. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1198976/Who-guts-pull-out.html


As the Green Party's delegate to Stop the War Coalition I will be at this demo. So should anyone who cares about the increasing loss of life, both British and Afghan, as Gordon Brown and the top brass seek to play Britain's increasingly out of tune imperial hymn on a cracked gramaphone record.



EMERGENCY PROTEST DOWNING STMONDAY 13 JULY 5-7 pm.


Fifteen British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan in the last ten days, bringing the total to 179 and surpassing the number of UK deaths in Iraq. The troop "surge" which was meant to pacify Helmand province has become a nightmare for the British army.This unwinnable war must stop now. All British troops must be withdrawn to prevent any more futile deaths, and to stop the carnage suffered by the Afghan people.Stop the War has called an emergency protest at Downing Street on Monday 13 July, 5-7 pm. Please spread the word now.*


JOIN THE PROTEST, DOWNING STREET, MONDAY 13 JULY, 5-7 pm

* SIGN THE TROOPS OUT NOW PETITION: http://bit.ly/ft6BP

Friday, 10 July 2009

GALHA and the demise of the Pink Paper


Tonight I am off to celebrate two anniversaries - the 30th anniversary of GALHA and the 40th anniversary of CHE (Campaign for Homosexual Equality) both are being celebrated at the event listed below. Our national icon and Green Party Spokesperson on Human Rights, Peter Tatchell, will be speaking and the veteran broadcaster Roy Gosling will be receiving an award. Peter will also speak about the other main LGBT organisation from that period - GLF (Gay Liberation Front) which he has been writing about in Comment is Free etc recently in the Guardian.
But while it is good to celebrate these veteran organisations which campaigned for LGBTIQ rights in the dark years of the 60s and 70s, and indeed GALHA continues to do, it is also important to mark an important departure. The Pink Paper, which was one of the most serious and political LGBTIQ publications has gone into liquidation, leaving a large hole in the pink press market. Yes there are clubbing and scene publications such as QX and Boyz, with G Scene in Brighton and Attitude etc, but the Pink Paper played an important role in being a free paper available at many LGBTIQ venues and consistently covering serious issues, including politics and the arts.
Perhaps its collapse reflects the general collapse of the printed press - many newspapers are now in desperate straits. And many in the LGBTIQ community seek their information now on the net or via new media. However, many older LGBTIQ people, and one is my friend in his 70s who was a founder member of CHE and is going along tonight, do not necessarily have access to the internet and sometimes cannot afford it. For them the demise of the Pink Paper will be a real loss. Perhaps something else will rise from its ashes? I hope so, as the rest of the publications tend to concentrate on the clubbing fraternity and one can only admire so many pecs before becoming slightly jaded. In its absence there are some reliable websites such as Pink News.



GALHA 30th Anniversary Event
The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA) invite you to join them for their 30th Anniversary Event. GALHA was formed in response to the Gay News blasphemy trial of 1979. Campaigner Mary Whitehouse complained at the time about these appalling atheist homosexual groups polluting British society. She was wrong as no such groups existed, but she unwittingly encouraged one to be formed. That’s why GALHA is said to have been ‘born of Mary’.

The evening will look at the history of this unique organisation with an exhibition of reflections and recollections of GALHA’s founder members, and talks exploring the historical context of LGBT campaigning. Speakers will include human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, and GALHA Vice President, Michael Cashman.

This event is organised by GALHA in partnership with Bishopsgate Institute.

Patients Forum Ambulance Services (London) and the National Patient Safety Agency

On Monday night I was re-elected Vice Chair of the Patients Forum Ambulance Services (London) and heavily defeated for the post of Chair , which I expected, as I was standing against the almost full time national health activist Malcolm Alexander. I had agreed to stand against Malcolm in order to have a democratic election as Malcolm had stood unopposed for the previous two years. But the Vice Chair position was strongly contested, one of the candidates being the Chair of the London Older People’s Forum. There are two Vice Chairs elected and the other successful candidate was a Nigerian nun who has currently been made homeless by her bishop because of her radicalism! I shall not comment here on the hypocrisy of established religion as I would have too much to write.

The Forum is still the only pan-London body for patients and public, although there has been one meeting of a London wide LINk and elections are being planned for this body soon. However, reports are filtering back that the Dept of Health is doing everything possible to destroy both NALM and the London LINk and clearly perceives them both as a threat to its hegemony. It has gone so far as to instruct Host organisations not to co-operate with NALM. More information about this can be gained from Malcolm Alexander, who is NALM Co-Chair.

The issue of Mid Staffs hospital came up at Monday’s meeting and I said that in a recent BBC News report the main campaigner there had said that she had no confidence that the new Mid Staffs management had learnt anything from the disaster, and neither had the NHS. Malcolm, who has attended a number of meetings there, said that when the authorities investigating the situation there tried to get in touch with the local LINk, nobody knew where they were or how to contact them. This is an indication of the built in weakness of the current patient involvement system and the fact that their development has been shambolic in many areas. I believe that the Mid Staffs situation is also worthy of an emergency motion at Green Party conference as the NHS is strongly resisting any calls for a public enquiry and many in the area believe that nothing has really altered.

The National Patient Safety Agency addressed our meeting and gave us some fascinating stats on reporting of incidents. The NPSA does not deal with individual cases but collects examples of bad practice from various NHS bodies and then uses them in a central database so that such incidents are made known throughout the NHS and the practice ceases. They seem to get all of their reports from acute trusts and the rep said that there is almost nothing from ambulance trusts or GPs. Only 0.4% of reports come via GPs. She said in her presentation that low reporting usually denotes a problem at a trust, so I asked her if this implied that the ambulance service in London was problematic. She quickly denied this and said that she had not inferred that and that primary care and ambulance trusts just had history of low reporting. Nick Strang, from the Polyclinics Group at London NHS, picked up on this and said that he would report it back to be built into the polyclinic model – i.e. that GPs were not reporting.

The other interesting fact is that all the reports come from nurses. I asked why this was the case and was told that traditionally nurses have done but that this is gradually changing. The speaker suggested that it was part of the hierarchical structure of the NHS. She was a former nurse herself. She gave as a positive example of what the NPSA had achieved as being the ending of the ‘whoosh test’. This resulted from a number of deaths of children who were being fed by a gastro nasal tube but the tube had been implanted into their lungs instead of their stomachs. After several such cases being reported it was realised that it was the test method which was at fault and they replaced it, as this test had been the standard one used before that. The NPSA has an interesting site where much of this information can be read. They are actively encouraging whistleblowing but reassuring staff that most patients only want an apology or an explanation rather than compensation or legal action. They base this on a survey of patients carried out several years ago. Their site is here http://www.npsa.nhs.uk/

The next meeting of the Forum will be on Monday 7th September @ 5.30pm at the London Ambulance Service HQ in Waterloo and all are welcome. We get a wide range of health activists and organisations from across London and beyond.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Palestine Solidarity Campaign - National Conference in Birmingham

Palestine Solidarity Campaign —National Conference in Birmingham
Justice for the Palestinians —the moral issue of our time

Saturday 11 July 2009

Registration from 10amStart: 10:30am to 4:30pmCarrs Lane Church Centre, Birmingham B4 7SX

Getting there: www.carrslane.co.uk/travel

Speakers include:Prof Manuel Hassassian • Dr Karma Nabulsi • Dr. Rita Giacaman • Richard Burden MP • Samia Botmeh • Daniel Machover • Victoria Brittain • Betty Hunter • Prof Haim Bresheeth • Hugh Lanning (DGS PCS) • Salma Yaqoob (B'ham Councillor)

PSC is pleased to announce a unique opportunity to hear speakers on the key issues on Palestine including:• 1948 and after — ethnic cleansing and the refugees• The Reality of Occupation: Politics, Economy and Health• War Crimes and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement• Lessons from the Anti Apartheid Movement• After Gaza — getting active on campus — student activist networking session• Taking solidarity action

Israel’s massacre in Gaza shocked millions of people worldwide, who came out on the streets to show their anger and commitment to supporting the Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice. We have seen a massive growth in support for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, with people across the country joining one of the fastest-growing solidarity movements today.This conference will discuss not just the roots of the Palestinian struggle, but also the current political crisis, and the tasks facing the solidarity movement. Join us for a day of discussion, education and engagement.

In conjunction with HALLO JERUSALEM, Friday 10 July, 7:30pm at The Drum Theatre in Birmingham, to celebrate Jerusalem Capital of Arab Culture 2009. More info: www.the-drum.org.uk
Registration information
Entrance fee: £10 (£7 unwaged), includes lunch.
There are several ways you can register in advance for the PSC Conference:• Online via PSC website• By phone: 020 7700 6192www.palestinecampaign.org

Obama in Moscow


President Obama has made a ground breaking visit to Russia to discuss nuclear disarmament and other issues with President Medvedev. They agreed to reduce the nuclear arsenals of both states and that should be welcomed. However, the thorny issue of the missile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, which are bitterly opposed by most Czechs and is judged to be one of the main reasons which brought down the last Czech government, has still not been addressed. Last night on 'Newsnight' a Democrat policy advisor to the administration was saying that he personally felt that the Star Wars missile sites in Central Europe should be shut down as they were neither cost effective or proven to be militarily effective. His Republican counterpart from one of the hawkish defence institutes argued that Obama was selling the pass and leaving the US naked and unprotected against its enemies. For this hawk, there was simply no sense in the Russians objecting to these sites and if they did, then they should be ignored. But this is a big issue for Russia and the continuing expansion of NATO, including possibly Georgia and Ukraine causes a great deal of resentment in Moscow.


Today Obama gave a speech to the New Economic School in Moscow where he outlined his thinking on a new international order. Details here http://www.youtube.com/user/EUXTV#play/uploads/3/qpGr69m-vZ4

Several points immediately come to the fore from this speech. It is clear that Russia has given permission for NATO forces to convey war materials for the Afghan war across Russian territory. Obama also spoke about the "20th century theory of the balance of forces and the 19th century theory of spheres of influence" as being both outdated. He emphasised this last point by stressing his views about democratic governments and the rule of law and saying that although the President of Honduras was not pro-US that he should be restored to office as he was the democratically elected president and admittted that the US had often got it wrong in the past. He also, of course, spoke about the nuclear weapons threat from North Korea and Iran and the need to have an international system for weapons control.


His views on spheres of influence clearly address Russian concerns about Georgia and Ukraine and the prospect of NATO enlargement. But one must ask if the US would feel comfortable about a Russian led alliance having members up against the US borders? Obama tried to address this by stating that NATO should be collaborating with Russia rather than confronting it. However, there is a deeper question here. What is the purpose of NATO? Russia has offered a completely new defence architecture for Eurasia, which would stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific and this was rejected by the US and NATO. And there are several NATO member states in Europe which still have a hostile position towards Russia.


Furthermore, the EU report on last summer's war in the Caucasus is widely expected to point the finger of blame at Georgia, a fact which is deeply concerning to Georgia's increasingly dictatorial president Sakashvili and there are indications that there could be another conflict this summer in the region, mainly, according to the growing opposition movement within Georgia, to deflect attention away from last year's events and attempt to focus attention on the common enemy - Russia.


So while Obama's speech and the words to the Russian students do contain many points which should be welcomed and indicate an increased willingness to treat Russia as an equal and to accept the fact that the US must live in a multipolar world, there is still a need for the US to demonstrate more willingness to recognise Russia's concerns and those of many people in the European peace movements - including the majority of Czechs. A first demonstrable step in this direction would be an agreement from Washington not to build the Star Wars missile sites in Central Europe. This would start a real process of trust between the two former Cold War adversaries and a signal that the US is prepared to listen to Russian concerns.


Monday, 6 July 2009

Free Gaza 21 Deportees arrive at Heathrow

For immediate release: July 6th 2009

‘Freegaza21’ deportees to arrive at Heathrow 13.30 hours Monday 6th July’Press conference: 16.00 (4 p.m.) at the Renaissance Hotel, Bath Rd. Heathrow TW6 2AQ (opposite the Marriot)


On Sunday 5th July the six British crew and passengers of the Spirit of Humanity were moved to detention cells at Ben Gurion Airport, following a court hearing at which the orders for their deportation from Israel were made. The captain of the Spirit, Denis Healey, and the other five British human rights activists, are expected to be put on El Al flight LY315, from Tel Aviv, tomorrow, Monday 6th July 2009, due to arrive at Terminal One, Heathrow at 13.30 p.m.Friends and family of the six are travelling to Heathrow airport to welcome them and to hear for the first time direct accounts of the forcible boarding by Israel of the Spirit of Humanity, which carried aid and reconstruction supplies, as it travelled from Cyprus towards the port of Gaza on June 30th 2009.

Two of the British deportees, were on board the first Free Gaza boat which, in August 2008, became the first international boat to sail to Gaza in forty two years, since the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip began. The Spirit’s captain also captained the Free Gaza boat the Dignity, which was rammed by Israeli warships during a previous attempt to reach Gaza in December 2008.

The deportees also include documentary film maker Ishmahil Blagrove, Director of the film Blood Diamonds. Ishmahil was travelling to Gaza to film the lives of the Palestinian people under siege. Theresa Macdermott, Alex Harrison and Aide Mormesh all planned to remain in Gaza to undertake human rights monitoring and to report on the impact of the continuing blockade.

Press conference: 16.00 (4 p.m.) at the Renaissance Hotel, Bath Rd. Heathrow TW6 2AQ (opposite the Marriot)www.freegaza.org Hilary Smith (UK) 07818040982Greta Berlin (English)tel: +357 99 28 41 02/ friends@freegaza.orgRamzi Kysia (English)Tel: + 357 99 08 17 67 rrkysia@yahoo.comCaoimhe Butterly (Arabic/English/Spanish):tel: +357 99 80 96 37 / sahara78@hotmail.co.uk