Tuesday, December 18, 2007

From Islamophobia to Islam

Using concepts of Islamophobia as grounds for alliance with religious fundamentalists is not the sole prerogative of the SWP. In Denmark the red-green alliance, which once boasted that it was doing so well that it might well put forward a socialist platform in the next elections, decided that the way to show solidarity was to stand a Muslim candidate in the November elections. They decided on no half measures and selected as a candidate Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, a young Muslim woman who wears the hijab and avoids contact with people of the male persuasion to the extent of refusing to shake hands with them. The Danish press had a field day, expressing dissatisfaction with her answers to questions on the death penalty and religious fundamentalism.

It is true that Denmark has a history of racist provocation against Muslims and it is the duty of socialists to oppose that provocation, but how it leads an organisation claiming a link with socialism to stand a religious zealot as their candidate is a little hard to follow.

The supporters of the Red-Green alliance found it hard to follow also. In fact they didn’t follow it to the extent that the alliances’ vote was cut from 3.4 % to 2.17 % of the vote, the worst result for the alliance since it entered parliament in 1994. In case the RGA was in any doubt about cause and effect, the opinion polls went through the floor as soon as they announced their candidate. Any remaining doubt was removed when former voters left the polling booth declaring that they no longer supported the group on the basis of Asmaa’s candidacy.

To rub salt in the wounds, the left reformist Socialist Peoples Party (SPP) more than doubled its votes from 6 % to 13 % on the back of worker’s radicalisation based on big mobilisations defending the welfare system.

We are far from seeing a revolutionary movement in Denmark. Neither the Red-Green alliance nor the SSP come close. But certain things are clear-cut. Socialists should oppose imperialist wars. They should defend Muslims from racist prosecution, but a socialist programme is aimed at the working class, rather than some confused liberal alliance with religious fundamentalism.

Mind you, Denmark isn’t the only part of the globe where leftists have given up on the workers and embraced alliances with quite reactionary forces. These miniature Denmarks are likely to go the same way as the Red-Green alliance.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Stormont leaders pay homage to Bush

As an exercise in sycophancy and cretinism the visit by Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness to the US plumbs new depths (even by Irish standards). They resembled a pair of wide eyed first century provincial peasants who suddenly find themselves in Imperial Rome. Given the relationship between the US and Ireland, this is a very appropriate analogy.

The ostensible purpose of the trip was to drum up support for an investment conference that is to take place in Belfast early next year. This mission was therefore very much in line with the current economy strategy of the Executive which identifies foreign capital (particularly US) as the main engine of development. As a means of attracting US companies to the north the Executive is busy diverting funds from the health and housing budgets to create incentives (publically funded handouts) for them to locate here. All this is summed up in the breezy phrase “Northern Ireland is open for business”; a phrase regularly repeated by various minsters.

This is the essential message that Paisley and McGuiness brought to the New York Stock Exchange as they addressed an audience of company chief executives at its Wall St headquarters. Paisley tried to ingratiate himself by describing himself as “a businessman of God.” However, he was soon turning his attention to more worldly matters in a meeting with billionaire property developer Donald Trump about locating a golf course on the Antrim coast. This came on the back of Aberdeenshire Council rejecting a similar proposal for the west coast of Scotland. Trump’s plans to rip up a stretch of the coastline to create a Disneyland style had provoked understandable hostility from locals. However, no such objections crossed the mind of Paisley, he was all for it. Such enthusiasm should not be surprising given his associations with north coast property developers. Maybe he envisaged Trump linking up with Seymour Sweeney to create a course that incorporated the Giants Causeway! More likely Trump was playing him for a patsy to put pressure on the Scottish Executive to overturn the local planning decision and approve his proposal.

That Trump’s golf course was the main talking point of the visit to New York demonstrates the lack of substance to the mission. They won no firm investment commitments from any US companies’ only promises to attend a conference. Yet the conference itself is actually a cover for the lack of investment that has taken place. For the promised economic peace dividend, which envisaged billions of dollars of investment flowing into the north, has not materialised. There has actually been a flow of capital out of the north, with foreign owned companies such as Seagate moving to even lower cost economies. With the US economy now on the edge of a recession the prospect of major investment is even more remote.

Having paid homage at the seat of economic power Paisley and McGuinness rounded off their trip with a visit to Washington DC- the seat of political power. Here they were granted an audience with Emperor (President) Bush. They also managed to fit in a photo opportunity with Hillary Clinton; no doubt designed to boost her flagging presidential campaign. Paisley and McGuinness were at their most obsequious when meeting Bush, laughing at his lame jokes and praising him to the heavens. Paisley thanked the President and said that he looked “forward to good dealings between our little country and yours”. Not to be outdone in the crawling stakes McGuinness said he was “delighted and overjoyed” to meet Bush and expressed his “deepest thanks and appreciation to you and your administration”. They should have just prostrated themselves on the floor before Bush.

This was a truly sick making performance from the pair. In fawning over Bush they were lending credibility to a political leader loathed by people all over the world, including in the US itself, for waging war, destroying civil rights, whipping up racism and attacking the poor. They even offered support for the war in Iraq with Paisley mentioning that Royal Irish Regiment soldiers were stationed there, and McGuinness agreeing to take part in further talks with Iraqi leaders to sell the US plan for the pacification of the country. For his part Bush got to wash his hands in the cleansing waters of the Irish peace process.

It should come as no surprise that Ian Paisley should engage in kow towing to Bush. After all Paisley is a pro-imperialist, right wing bigot; he and Bush are political bedfellows. The most severe condemnation must be reserved for Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein who are still claiming to be of “the left” and “anti-imperialist”. How empty such rhetoric appears when set against the images of McGuinness with Bush and the neo-liberal polices being pursued by the Stormont Executive. The more they get integrated into the settlement the more right wing Sinn Fein become. That this settlement now has the endorsement of Bush is surely a clear indicator of its rottenness.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Unions combine with employers to halt strike

The Nipsa classroom assistants’ strike suffered a major blow when the other unions, Unison and the GMB, voted to accept the latest offer made by the education and library. This decision came at a meeting of the negotiating council involving unions and employers at which the offered was formally tabled and voted upon. With Unison and the GMB for, Nipsa against and the T&GWU abstaining a technical majority of the classroom assistants have voted to accept the offer. The employers will now contact each classroom assistant individually to ask them whether they want to accept the offer.

In the wake of the vote Nipsa announced that it was suspending its latest round of strike action (a two day strike each week). It claimed that its final strike day was in protest at the manner in which the offer had been accepted. Throughout the dispute employers had demanded that Nipsa ballot its members on the latest offer. In the days prior to the meeting of the negotiating council Nipsa had agreed ballot its members. This is after arguing against such a move on the basis that its members had already clearly rejected the offer. To concede to this demand was a major retreat which only emboldened the employers to press ahead with imposing it. It smacked of a desperate attempt to forestall the inevitable stitch up.

Yet in some ways this outcome helped the leadership of Nipsa. It enabled them to end the strike and absolve themselves of responsibility for the debacle. They could claim that they, like their members, were the victims of the other unions’ treachery. This does contain an element of truth. At the start of the dispute all the unions had a formal agreement to defend current pay and conditions of classroom assistants’. But following the slightly improved offer, the GMB, Unison and the T&GWU, immediately broke ranks. They made misleading public statements about the nature of the offer and denounced Nipsa for taking strike action. There are also suspicions that ballot they conducted on the offer were manipulated, with some members not being consulted and others who were not classroom assistants being balloted. It is doubtful whether the unions who voted for the offer actually do represent the majority of classroom assistants. In working hand in glove with employers to put down the strike they have played a thoroughly reactionary role.

However, divisions and treachery while important factors, do not in themselves account for the defeat of the strike. Nipsa leaders, while appearing to be the most militant, operated within the framework of respecting the sovereignty of the other union leaders. No attempt was made to challenge classroom assistants from other unions to support the strike. Nipsa leaders failed to support the claims by some its members that the Unison and GMB ballots on the offer were rigged. Most fatally Nipsa, along with the other unions, totally supported the Executive and Assembly. They perpetuated the myth that Stormont could deliver a just settlement, despite the fact that every party, Sinn Fein in particular, denounced the classroom assistants and did their upmost to bring the strike to an end.

The defeat of classroom assistants strike sends an ominous warning. Despite having a clearly just case; despite having public support; and despite their own determination (17 says on strike in total), they went down to defeat. This strike has demonstrated starkly that the working class in north is in no state to defend itself against the intensifying attack on its living standards.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Support your local Sheriff!

At the bottom of the Glen Road in West Belfast a large sign has been erected reading “No bail for Killers”. At one level this represents a call for vengeance from a local family against young thugs accused of the murder of a local shopkeeper, and in many parts of Britain and Ireland would be totally unremarkable.

At another level it is a totally astounding statement, representing an astonishing collapse of political consciousness by the republican base in the area and more generally across the North. This is a community that for three decades organised and fought against a whole series of repressive laws, that saw the judicial and state apparatus as the enemies of freedom, that suffered internment, torture and random killings by the state forces and their paramilitary supporters. Now this community not only looks unthinkingly to the state and judiciary to protect it, it calls for the state to have more repressive powers and for the rights of defendants to be restricted.

There is of course a third level that helps explain the others and that rests in the cynical manipulation of Sinn Fein. The sign was not written by the bereaved family or by the community at large. It was written by those responsible for most of the signs and proclamations in the area – the local Sinn Fein cumann.

The Provos, having cynically justified their support for the police on the ludicrous claim that they would “put manners” on them, have no choice but to justify their turn by offering unconditional support to the state and to become the party of law and order, bringing forward the police and repression as the solution to the social ills arising from the failures of their own struggle and the social decay they left behind. Their shift to the right is best illustrated by their proxy paper, the “Andersonstown News”. Following weeks of centre-page interviews with the local RUC/PSNI, the paper picked on a hapless local hood, gave him front page status and demanded that the police “do something” about him, crowed victory when the cops came up with an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) and then urged their readers to inform if their target was seen outside in curfew time. One reader obliged and the hood ended up behind bars. No-one complained that the ASBO system is a way of jailing people without having to prove that they have broken the law.

Any examination of a standard capitalist society will tell you very quickly that the police, still less the RUC/PSNI, are very definitely not there to protect the working class. The reason they continue to attract support is that shoring them up and demanding that workers kow-tow to them is one of the primary duties of capitalist politicians and the institutions of the state. The Sinners are doing their job – supporting the local sheriff, Its up to socialists to demonstrate the futility of their reactionary politics.

Rud eile.

Just when you thought the Andersonstown News couldn’t get any worse, their columns fill with reactionary denunciations of striking classroom assistants. Did I mention the role of the capitalist media in the protection of property rights and the suppression of the workers?