Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Basra, Bombs And Books

Today's news that the final procedures are in motion which will lead to the withdrawal of British Troops from Iraq, takes me back to my own military service in Basra.

I was undertaking my National Service and I arrived at our Movements Unit on the banks of the Shatt-el-Arab river in February 1955, leaving 20 months later in October 1956. I was there in a peaceful period and only ever heard one shot fired in anger. A prisoner escaped from the surrounding Iraqi Army Camp and was pursued by Iraqi Troops. When he dived into the river to escape, a shot was fired at him. Luckily it missed.

It was only as I was leaving Iraq and was in transit via the then RAF camp at Habbaniyah that troubles emerged. This resulted from the build up to the Suez Crisis which came to involve Britain playing a key role in the invasion of Egypt.

But in the earlier peaceful conditions which I experienced one of my greatest joys was a weekly visit to the centre of Basra when I invariably went to an English Bookshop run by a bookseller from India. I would collect from him my regular order of the New Statesman in its Air Mail edition published on rice paper, plus dated copies of the Observer and Reynolds News which had arrived by sea.

He had a collection of Rationalist Press Association books from which I made regular purchases. I would find plenty of other works to purchase such as "War and Peace" and the Complete Works of Shakespeare. I also ordered books from him that had captured my interest; especially those by James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw. The only disappointment I had was when I ordered a copy of Karl Marx's "Das Kapital" and he told me the following week that the local Chief of Police had vetoed the purchase.

Many Iraqis have a great love of books and my own experiences with books in Basra make me particularly attracted to a modern true story which is written and illustrated for children of all ages. It is about Alia Muhammad Baker, the librarian who saved 70% of the books in Basra's Library from the bombs. See her photo on the right along with that the author and illustrator Jeanette Winter. Full coverage of the work (whose cover is pictured above) can be pursued via the link here and (better still) downloaded here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Iraq's Teachers Are In Urgent Need Of Your Help

Here is an important message from Labour Start

In the last few minutes LabourStart has been asked to launch a major international campaign in defense of the Iraqi Teachers Union which faces the threat of a government takeover.

The teachers are demonstrating tomorrow in their thousands in Baghdad.

Today, they're asking all of us to take just a minute and send off a message of protest.

Please click here to do so - and forward this message on to other members of your union.

Thank you.

Eric Lee, Labour Start

Here is an explanation of the situation. AND HERE IS AN UPDATE VIA LABOUR START.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

League Table Of Shame

Click onto the above to enlarge and read the statistics of judicial murders.

Amnesty has published its report on "Death Sentences and Executions in 2008" stating - "Last year 2,390 people were executed in countries around the world. This represents a significant increase since 2007 with more countries in Asia using the death penalty than anywhere else. Amnesty’s annual death penalty report also reveals that at least 8,864 people were sentenced to death. The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Beheadings, electrocutions, hangings, lethal injections, shootings and stonings have no place in the twenty-first century."

China carried out at least 1,718 executions, 72% of the global total — the actual number (as in many other countries) is believed to be much higher. But if the populations of the 15 countries that carry out the most executions are taken into account, Iran and Saudi Arabia emerge as more zealous employers of capital punishment than China. At the top appears the hideous league table for executions per million for the "top" nations executions.

Hat Tip : Iraqi Mojo

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Final Straw

Craig Murray (left) has posted a key item today. It starts as below and needs to be pursued.

"Justice Secretary Jack Straw to be Accused on Torture in Parliamentary Inquiry

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has agreed to hear my evidence on torture on Tuesday 28 April at 1.45pm. Many thanks to everyone who helped lobby for this.

I am delighted, as I have been trying for over four years to lay the truth about British torture policy before Parliament. I will testify that as British Ambassador I was told there is a very definite policy to accept intelligence from torture abroad, and that the policy was instituted and approved by Jack Straw when Foreign Secretary. I will tell them that as Ambassador I protested formally three times in writing to Jack Straw, and that the Foreign Office told me in reply to my protests that this was perfectly legal.

I will prove my evidence with documentation.

Here is the written evidence I will speak to" - click here

Craig Murray's evidence needs to be seen in relation to his compelling book "Murder in Samarkand" which I reviewed here and which I list amongst my favourites.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Much More Than Arthur

Arthur's Castle : NUM Offices at Barnsley

Here is a link to a video showing the fine NUM Council Chamber at Barnsley. I went there yesterday to hear Arthur Scargill and others address a meeting organised by the Yorkshire Area of the NUM. The room was packed with some 400 people attending. Many of them standing.

The meeting was held as a Memorial Lecture to David Jones and Joe Green who were killed when picketing at Ollerton Colliery 25 years ago today.

In talking in detail about the Miner's strike, Arthur essentially covered the case he recently presented in this article in the Guardian. But it was a tour-de-force reminiscent of the old days.

For me there was an extra attractions about the meeting. It was held in the Council Chamber which I attended annually between 1966 and 1986 and remember with affection.

I was appointed initially as a temporary Assistant Lecturer in Industrial Relations and Political Studies at the Sheffield University Extramural Department in 1966. But before I was yet on the pay roll, it was suggested that I should participate in a Saturday morning selection conference that was held in the Council Chamber at Barnsley.

The purpose of the conference was for the Extramural Department to meet with Yorkshire Miners who wished to attend a course they ran. As there were often 100 to 200 applicants for a class of 20 places (which was later expanded to two classes covering 40 places), a selection process had been devised.

The pattern was for the Miners to initially engage in a note-taking exercise. One lecturer would explain what was being looked for. Another lecturer would give a talk which fitted in with the pattern that had been explained. Time was then given for the applicants to write their rough notes up as had been suggested.

What this did was to give the lecturers an idea of whether anyone had any serious difficulties with written work. A preliminary course on Student Skills was held in Barnsley in the Miners own time on a Saturday morning for those we felt had potential, but needed extra help with their written work. Many of these were later selected for the full course and produced some of our best students.

We then divided the applicants up into discussion groups. Each group would discuss a couple of topics. One topic was on the mining industry and the other was on politics. We had 8 tutors teaching our full range of courses and we were joined by trusted helpers if there was a particularly large group of applicants.

Our job was to chair the discussion groups, swapping to a second group after the initial discussion. We needed to ensure that everyone got a fair crack of the whip and that the debate did not get diverted. Otherwise we were on the look out not just for potential but for people we felt could work together. The tutor running the selection conference moved from group to group, to gain an extra impression of what was happening.

In 1966 as a novice lecturer, I initially chaired a group of eight or so miners who were sitting on the platform of the Council Chamber. When I heard the high quality of the discussion I was taken aback. I thought "crikey, I will have my work cut out keeping up with these".

After the applicants had departed, the lecturers would meet together to collate their impressions and check on the results of the note-taking exercise. The tutor in charge of the course would also understand that some additional factors needed to be taken into account. The successful applicants would be given a day off work a week with their wages still being paid by the Coal Board and the course fees would be paid by the Yorkshire NUM. It wasn't, therefore, feasible to take three electricians from the same pit in one go. Each pit would also need to be given as fair a crack of the whip as possible (at least in the long run). We held fuller information on those who re-applied and had earlier attended a preliminary course. Then if others were repeat applicants, it indicated their keenness to attend.

By I arrived the word was also out that attending the course wasn't just a day off work. Students were expected to apply their minds to what they were studying and to work on reading and essay work in their own time. The few who misjudged this and found their way onto the course, usually packed it in in the first few weeks. But they were the exceptions.

The Yorkshire Miners attended classes which were held at Sheffield University. They came for a day a week over a 24 week period, for three years. Initially they studied Student Skills and Industrial Relations. In the second year they studied economics, and politics in the third year. Classes started with 20 attending and often ended with 16 or so still being in regular attendance.

These courses were unusual in the University in that they attracted Government Inspectors. One of these regularly attended the selection conferences at Barnsley. Not because there were any problems, but because she found them to be so stimulating.

There were no exams nor qualifications at the end of the Industrial Day Release Courses. I shared the teaching of the class which we selected on that first day of mine at the Council Chamber in 1966. It included students who went on to hold the following positions - Terry Patchett MP, Norman West MEP, Ron Rigby Leader of the Council at Barnsley, Jack Wake NUM Branch Secretary at Cortonwood.

The standard of debate in Yorkshire (and Derbyshire) Miners Day Release Classes and in other Trade Union and related classes I taught upon was normally superior to that I later experienced in parliament over 18 years. But then participatory education is about judgement and precision and not about persuasion and press-releases.

In 1984-85 I taught two classes of Yorkshire Miners during the Miner's Strike. Despite being on strike they still attended the classes. One of the students was absent for four weeks as he had to spend time in Lincoln Prison, convicted for a picketing offence. So he then addressed the class and we discussed his prison experiences. One of the finest students was Bob Genders, who a year after the end of the strike was killed in an accident at Rossington pit.

Above there is a photo of Bob Genders taken during the Miners' Strike. Yesterday's meeting was about much more than Arthur.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Joseph Stiglitz the former Chief Economist at the World Bank and author of "Globalization and Its Discontents" and other readable books on what used to be called political economy, puts the case for nationalising the American Banks. Listen here.

Hat Tip : An Unrepentant Communist

Monday, March 09, 2009

More Shameful News From Iraq

Widows and children beneath a photograph of their husbands inside a trailer at Al Waffa. Among Iraqi women aged 15 to 80, 1 in 11 are estimated to be widows. Only about 120,000 widows receive any government aid. Photo by Johan Spanner. Source and above comments from the New York Times. See here.

Read this important report and see the attached video about the current plight of the huge number of widows in Iraq. A failure to assist bulks of these and a massive cut in the overall budget serving their interests has led to the resignation of Nawal al-Samari the Iraqi Minister of Women's Affairs.

Hat tip : Nadia

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Iraqi Government Latest Attacks On Trade Unions

(Chair TUC Iraq Solidarity Committee)

The TUC has called for protests to be aimed at the Iraqi Embassy in London over attempts by the Iraqi Government to seize control of the Iraqi Teachers' Union (ITU). The Iraqi Embassy can be contacted via this link.

Urging trade union members to email their protest to the Iraqi Ambassador, Sue Rogers the Chair of the TUC Iraq Solidarity Committee and Treasurer of the Teacher Union NASUWT said:

'The Iraqi Government is acting like Saddam Hussein, treating unions as the property of the state. Iraqi trade unionists and teacher trade unions around the world are outraged at this latest attempt to seize control of our sister union.The Government has demanded that the union hand over the keys to its buildings, its membership lists, and is demanding that the existing leaders stand down or face jail sentences of three to seven years despite doing nothing wrong. This is a breach of fundamental human and trade union rights. The Iraqi Government must not be allowed to act in this dictatorial way.'

Sue Rogers is leading a TUC delegation at a workshop in Erbil, Iraq for trade union leaders from all over Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Yesterday Iraqi trade unions issued a joint statement of solidarity with the ITU, who have angered some in the Iraqi administration by securing substantial pay rises for teachers after a series of strikes and demonstrations last year.

The statement, signed by the leaders of the main Iraqi trade union confederation and the two Kurdish confederations, as well as the Kurdish Teachers Union and the powerful oil unions of Southern Iraq, appears below.

ITU President Jasim al-Lami, who has been invited to the NASUWT conference this April, was yesterday travelling back from the workshop to meet with Ministers in Baghdad. Mr al-Lami was jailed for six years in Abu Ghraib under Saddam Hussein and says he is ready to face jail again to defend his union.

Protests by global trade unions have already been lodged with the International Labour Organisation which last year censured Iraq for its anti-union laws, some of which have been left over from Saddam Hussein. The TUC has also written to Ministers in the UK.

Erbil Declaration of Solidarity with the Iraqi teachers' union

We, the leaders of the trade union movement throughout Iraq - including Iraqi Kurdistan - meeting with our international colleagues in Erbil, condemn the harassment and threats directed at the Iraqi Teachers' Union and their democratically-elected leaders.

This action is an attack on fundamental human rights and contrary to your Government's obligation to uphold the ILO core conventions, including Convention 87 on Freedom of Association.

We call on the Iraqi Government to respect the right of the Iraqi Teachers' Union to decide its own leadership in accordance with its own rules. We call on you to withdraw your threats to imprison Iraqi Teachers' Union leaders and to desist from your attempts to seize the assets, membership lists and documentation of the Iraqi Teachers' Union.

We reject your attempt to seize the union and express our solidarity with the membership and leadership of the Iraqi Teachers' Union.

Failure to respond positively can only result in a major campaign - across Iraq and around the world - to highlight your Government's appalling action.

We are copying this letter to the President and Prime Minister of Iraq and making it public.

Signed by

General Federation of Iraqi Workers

Kurdistan Workers Union

General Workers and Crafts Syndicate Union of Kurdistan

Kurdistan Journalists Union/Iraq

Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions

Kurdistan Teachers Union/Iraq

There has also been an additional attack by the Iraqi Government on the operations of the Iraqi Agricultural Workers Union as shown here. Add your protests on this to your email to the Iraqi Embassy.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A Blessing From Margaret?

Support and encouragement from a Socialist Campaign Group hardliner for a Labour Government Minister is not to be missed, see here. Alan Simpson's fine article appeared in yesterday's Morning Star and seeks further action from Margaret Beckett on the Council Housing front. Here are my links (trawl down) around Council Housing and Margaret.