Saturday, 27 June 2015

Tunisia murders

Islam is a religion that preaches peace, as is Christianity.

However, contained within the Koran and the Bible are tracts that can be perverted by a willing mind to ‘justify’ violent acts.  The 23-year-old engineering student who yesterday walked onto an idyllic Tunisian beach and murdered 39 innocent people was, apparently, one of those whose understanding of the teachings of Islam had been perverted to such an extent that he believed his cowardly and horrific act was his God’s will.

He may have believed he was striking-back at the West, at countries that have invaded predominantly Islamic nations and killed innocent Muslims, but there is nothing that can justify the further slaughter of innocents.

The killer did not care that those he callously murdered were not responsible for US or UK foreign policy: they may even have opposed the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the long occupation of Afghanistan.  However, even if individuals sitting on a beach in Tunisia did actually back military action as proposed by the governments of America and Britain, those beliefs do not carry a penalty of summary execution.  There is no justification for killing innocent people.

I marched in 2003, opposing plans to invade and occupy Iraq.  I frequently am a critic of US and UK foreign policy.  I am on public record calling for British forces to be brought home from Iraq once the war started.  Despite this, I could easily have been one of the westerners sitting yesterday on that Tunisian beach, and just as easily I could have been murdered by a young man carrying an AK47 assault rifle, a young man who actually didn’t care about my beliefs or those of people simply trying to relax during their holiday in the sun.  This was not a reprisal attack on western governments because of their actions in predominantly Muslim countries – it was callous, brutal, cold-blooded, cowardly murder.

Those who pervert the teachings of Islam and persuade individuals to carry-out atrocities against innocent people are not carrying out their God’s will: they are not valiantly avenging perceived sleights on Islam or the Prophet Mohammed.  In fact, they are nothing more than murdering gangsters hiding behind a holy book that, actually, condemns their actions.

 Innocent people were slaughtered as they dozed in the North African sun: it is understandable that many in the UK will be shocked and angry over what happened yesterday.  As usual, the flames of anger, even hatred, will be flamed by the right-wing media in Britain, but we need to apply some perspective to how we react to the Tunisian killings.

Despite claims by Islamic State, the murders were not carried out in the name of Islam.  To blame every Muslim, every believer in the teachings of Mohammed, would be like blaming every white American for last week’s murder of black people in a South Carolina church.

Islamic State believes in a sick perversion of the teachings of Islam.  The terrorist organisation uses aggressive US and UK foreign policy to persuade many Muslims that they and their religion are under attack from the West and that, therefore, all westerners are legitimate targets.

We need to understand what motivates Islamic State and we need to be aware of the reaction they want to their terrorist actions.  They want us to turn on Muslims who live peacefully in our communities.  They would then hope to ‘radicalise’ more young impressionable Muslims and turn them into deluded, cold-blooded, murdering cowards, like the young man who yesterday wandered onto a beach in Tunisia and slaughtered 39 innocent holidaymakers.

We need to acknowledge our country’s role in creating the situation that has led to UK citizens becoming targets of terrorists.  We need to understand that Islamic State does not represent the peaceful religion of Islam.  We also need to recognise that the young man who yesterday took an assault rifle onto a holiday beach in Tunisia is not a martyr; he is not a defender of Islam or of Muslims in states attacked by the West.  He is nothing more than a coward who brutally attacked and murdered unarmed, innocent people.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Austerity isn't necessary, it's ideological

This week, a friend had to ‘sign-on’ after he lost his job.

He told me staff at the local Jobcentre were very friendly and helpful.  He also said that if UK Government statistics showing falling unemployment are correct, such apparent good news has not yet filtered through to the jobs-market in North Ayrshire – the ‘buroo’ being the busiest place in Saltcoats town centre.

It’s been a long time since my friend had to seek public support and he was advised he must now submit a claim for Universal Credit, which has replaced Jobseekers Allowance and Housing Benefit.

Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory Work and Pensions Secretary responsible for Universal Credit, says the new ‘benefit’ merges claims into one single payment, which is paid once a month.  This, claimed Duncan Smith, will teach benefit-claimants how to budget their ‘income’ and how to pay rent and other outgoings.  Clearly, Iain Duncan Smith believes the unemployed have never worked and therefore have no experience of receiving wages and paying bills.  Only someone completely removed from reality could hold such a patronising view.  Mr Duncan Smith lives in a luxurious home, located on the Buckinghamshire estate owned by his father-in-law, the 5th Baron Cottesloe.

As my friend ‘signed-on’ (apparently claimants do not actually have to ‘sign’ for their benefit now, but must still attend the Jobcentre on a fortnightly basis), Iain Duncan Smith told newspapers that he “welcomed” foodbanks, because they showed “decent people” were looking after those in need. 

Foodbanks exist to prevent people from starving, a situation caused largely by the policies of Iain Duncan Smith and the UK Tory Government, the very uncaring politicians who are causing the need to which foodbanks are responding.  Certainly Duncan Smith and his Conservative colleagues will never fall into the category of ‘decent people’.

Also last week, Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed his Tory Government will inflict a further £12bn of cuts on the ‘welfare’ budget.  Cameron didn’t go so far as to explain exactly who will be hammered by these new cuts, but it will almost certainly be some of those who are already the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

Let’s not forget that the same Tories have slashed the amount of taxation paid by the richest people in the country.

Of course, David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith and the UK Conservative Government tell us these cuts to ‘welfare’ are necessary in order to reduce Britain’s debt.  In fact, this is a lie.

The national debt has continued to grow – currently by £5,170 per second - as a result of Cameron’s government borrowing from the international money markets.  That’s how capitalism works and the Tories are nothing if not staunch advocates of the capitalist economic system.

In order for capitalism to work, the poor must be exploited by a small ruling elite in order to generate ever-greater profit for the already-rich.  That is why wages have been driven-down, working conditions have been eroded, and those in need of social security are demonised as lazy spongers not worthy of a ‘decent’ standard of living.

Austerity is not necessary, it is ideological.  Austerity is what Tories do.  Sadly, the Labour Party now also endorses policies of austerity.  Even if the capitalist system had not collapsed in 2008, creating the latest economic crisis, the Tories would still be imposing cuts to benefits, driving-down wages and attacking the working conditions of ordinary women and men.  The economic crisis is simply a convenient cover for the Tories.

Currently, the British national debt stands at more than £1-trillian, which represents around 80% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product – the monetary value of all goods and services produced by the UK).  This, according to the Tories, is why government spending must be reduced.  This, according to the Tories, is why the poorest in society must be made even poorer, including those already on poverty-level benefits.  This, according to the Tories, is why wages must be driven-down and why workers should be denied the right to defend their interests through taking the ultimate sanction of withholding their labour.

Contrast the current financial position of the UK with the one faced 70 years ago.  Back in 1946 Britain was emerging from having led the fight in a World War.  The country had just seen unprecedented levels of spending in order to fund the war.

In 1946 the UK national debt was 250% of GDP (against the current 80%).

Despite the much-worse situation faced 70 years ago, the Labour Government elected after the war – a real, socialist Labour Government that will never again be seen in Britain – introduced far-sighted legislation that rebuilt the country and created ‘decent’ living standards for the general population.

Between 1946 and 1948, the Labour Government implemented the following legislation:

The Family Allowances Act, which introduced Child Benefit; the National Insurance Act, which created a comprehensive system of social security; the Industrial Injuries Act, providing compensation for workers injured or disabled as a result of work-related accidents; the National Assistance Act, which established a social safety-net for those who did not pay National Insurance Contributions, such as the homeless, the disabled and single-mothers.

At the same time – and remember, against a national debt standing at 250% of GDP – the government also created the National Health Service and embarked on the biggest-ever social house-building programme, including introducing the New Towns Act, which saw the development of towns like Irvine, Cumbernauld and East Kilbride.

Industries, like coal-mining, transport and telecoms, and utilities (gas, electricity and water) were nationalised and operated in the public interest.

Alongside these progressive policies and developments, the UK national debt was brought under control, partly by forcing the rich to pay their fair share in taxation.

The Tories and right-wing newspapers tell us there is no alternative to capitalism and austerity, but that is a lie.  Punishing the poorest members of society through devastating cuts to benefits, wages and public services is not necessary, it is ideological.  It’s what Tories do.

Now, remind me again, how is it that the Conservative Party, with just one MP in Scotland, can impose its brutal austerity programme on Scotland?

Friday, 12 June 2015

Never forget what the miners faced in 1984

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has decided it will not conduct an enquiry into violent clashes between police officers and striking miners at the Orgreave coking plant in Yorkshire during the 1984/85 miners’ strike.

One of the reasons cited by the IPCC for taking no action is ‘the passage of time’, that the horrific violence happened 31 years ago.

The decision not to investigate was welcomed by Neil Bowles, chairman of South Yorkshire Police Federation, who said, “We’re talking about 31 years ago.  Where do we draw the line?  Do we investigate something that happened during the Second World War next?”

Well, the answer to your question, Mr Bowles, is ‘Yes’, we should investigate crime.  The fact perpetrators have evaded justice for 31 years does not give them a free-pass or immunity from prosecution.

Of course, no-one within the mining community expected the IPCC to order an investigation into what happened at Orgreave in 1984.  Despite having the word ‘independent’ in the organisation’s name, the IPCC is widely seen as part of the establishment and a body that covers the back of senior police officers and politicians.

What happened during the miners’ strike was pivotal in the re-structuring of the United Kingdom: it is vitally important we remember what the British government was prepared to do in order to defeat the legitimate aims of the working class.

The article, below, was first published in 2009, marking the 25th anniversary of the date on which the miners’ strike began.

The British establishment wants us to forget, and the decision of the Independent Police Complaints Commission is part of that process.

We must never forget.


The Miners’ Strike

By Campbell Martin

I should probably declare an interest before we go any further.  In fact, I should declare two interests: firstly, I loathe and despise Margaret Thatcher and everything for which she stood; secondly, for generations members of my family were coal miners.  So, don’t expect a dispassionate account of the Miners’ Strike of 1984-1985.

The strike was begun to save 20,000 miners’ jobs, which the Thatcher Conservative Government was prepared to see lost in its drive to close what it considered was 20 ‘uneconomic pits’.

There probably was a case to be made for rationalisation and modernisation within the coal-mining industry, but that was never more than a passing consideration for Thatcher and her government.  The Tory prime minister’s motivation was two-fold: the short-sighted belief that closing pits would save money (the long-term cost of dole money and reduced tax revenue apparently never registered) and her determination to take-on and break the power of Britain’s trade unions.

History now shows the Thatcher government had planned in advance for a prolonged strike by Britain’s miners: some coal-burning power stations were converted to burn oil, coal was stock-piled for months before plans for pit closures were announced, and the transporting of coal was moved away from unionised British Rail to non-unionised independent road-hauliers.

It was also significant that the government finally provoked the miners into industrial action in spring 1984, with the prospect looming of better weather and reduced demand for coal to heat the nation’s homes.

Arthur Scargill, then the leader of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), has been proven to have been exactly right in what he said at the time - that Thatcher’s actions were designed, not to improve the mining industry in Britain but to destroy it. Scargill warned that the 20 pits earmarked for closure would be just the beginning, and what Thatcher wanted was for every British pit to be closed, with the country’s needs being met by cheap imported coal from mines where health and safety issues were not serious considerations and where miners were paid a pittance.

However, while Scargill called it right in relation to what lay behind the government’s actions, he was to play into Thatcher’s hands in terms of public relations with his refusal to call a national ballot to endorse strike action.  Instead, Scargill argued that a series of regional ballots, endorsing strike action at a number of local pits, amounted to a national legitimisation of the miners’ industrial action.

The ‘regional ballots’ argument was portrayed in Britain’s right-wing media as the NUM being afraid to consult its own members and, therefore, that the strike had no legitimacy and was illegal.

Allowing the conflict to be driven by Thatcher’s agenda also meant the miners were called out on strike at a time when the government knew it had stockpiled enough coal to last for a year.  Again, Scargill played into the hands of the Tories.

That said, there can be no doubt that the miners were right to defend, not just their jobs but their very way of life and the continued existence of their communities.

Anyone who was around at the time will never forget the scenes at picket lines around the country, and how Thatcher politicised the role of the police.  No-one who witnessed mounted officers riding into groups of striking miners with batons flailing could ever again look at the police in the same way.  Obviously, miners retaliated, but the police, by their actions, were seen to be firmly on the side of the Tory Government.

There were many instances where police officers removed their identification numbers so it would be extremely difficult to pinpoint individuals responsible for assaults on miners.  Pickets were also goaded by some police officers waving their pay slips - the message being that the police were enjoying inflated wages thanks to the overtime they were getting from policing the strike, while miners and their families were living on the meagre rations provided from the union’s strike pay and public donations.

Meanwhile, Thatcher increased the tension by referring to striking miners as “the enemy within”.   Just two years after Britain had fought a war against Argentina in the Falkland Islands, Thatcher went on national television and said, “We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty”.

Then, on the day after some of the worst clashes between police and miners, at the Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire, Thatcher made a speech in which she said, “I must tell you that what we have got is an attempt to substitute the rule of the mob for the rule of law, and it must not succeed. It must not succeed. There are those who are using violence and intimidation to impose their will on others who do not want it.”  She was right, but it wasn’t the miners who were using violence and intimidation to impose their will on others, it was the police, acting on the orders of the Thatcher government.

With no pits existing in the local area [North Ayrshire] by the 1980s, the immediate impact of the strike on local people was limited, but I do remember miners’ wives setting up a stall in Dockhead Street in Saltcoats on most Saturdays throughout the dispute.  Local people showed their support by throwing money into buckets and making donations of food, such as tins of soup and bags of tatties.

I also remember going with a few of my friends to join miners picketing at the Hunterston ore terminal, where British Steel was bringing-in coal and transporting it by road to the Ravenscraig steel plant.  Dockers - my father included - had supported the miners and refused to unload imported coal, but Hunterston was a non-unionised port.

The clashes at Huntertson were not on a par with those at many picket lines in England and Wales, but there were still hundreds of arrests.

Years later, in conversation with Colin Fox, now co-convener of the Scottish Socialist Party, we discovered that we had both been part of the picket at Hunterston.  We hadn’t known each other at the time, but it was amazing how our recollections were so similar - including sunbathing on the grass embankments in-between attempting to stop the convoys of lorries going into and out of the Hunterston site.

Today, I still can’t see a Yuill & Dodds lorry without feeling an almost overwhelming sense of loathing.  For me, and so many others, the haulage company will forever be the scabs that moved the coal for Thatcher.

Of course, history now tells us that, after a very long year of bitter disputes, violence and communities torn apart, Thatcher won and the miners were forced back to work. However, the reality is that no-one won.  The miners returned to work with dignity, but Scargill’s prediction was to be fulfilled and, ultimately, the British mining industry was destroyed.  Look at the decay and social decline that now exists in virtually every former mining community across the country and tell me that Britain benefited from the miners being defeated.

Police forces across Britain would also never be the same in the aftermath of the miners strike.  The police had been politicised and had been used as a tool of the state.  The general public had seen the police use excessive levels of violence against ordinary working class people: the result of which was that the public image of the police would never be the same again.

Thatcher claimed victory and was buoyed by the conflict, which saw her go on to implement the right-wing, free market agenda that decimated manufacturing industries in Britain.  Thatcherism destroyed so many lives and communities, and introduced the financial spivs and speculators that now, 25 years later, have brought the country to its knees.

There were no winners from the 1984-1985 strike, but the miners at least fought for a worthy and honourable cause – the right to work, to earn a wage and to support their families.  They were decent men and they deserved better than to be made pawns in the ideological crusade of a despicable woman who, if the place exists, will certainly rot in hell.

Friday, 5 June 2015

This is Britain. It's not what I want.

It is no longer any secret that the BBC is biased in its political coverage.

Anyone who lived through last year’s Independence Referendum will be aware of just how much the British Broadcasting Corporation contributed to retaining the British Union.  I know, we shouldn’t be surprised: the clue, after all, is in the name.

Night after night, scare-stories based on unsubstantiated claims were reported as fact, just so long as they were anti-independence.  Stories asserting the benefits to Scots of re-taking the power to govern their own country were usually not reported.  Those that did make it into news bulletins were often so misreported they became yet more scare-stories warning of the certain cataclysm that would befall Scotland if the country voted to take control of its own affairs.

Of course, the BBC denies it was and remains biased.  The broadcaster claims it is impartial.

This is not a case of the BBC being in denial: those in positions of editorial control know the corporation’s news and current affairs output is not impartial.  They know the BBC is biased.  Quite simply, the denial is issued because the charter of the publicly-funded broadcaster demands impartiality, and because those in the ivory tower of Broadcasting House just don’t care what the public think.  It is Westminster politicians who decide whether or not to renew the BBC’s charter: the public just picks-up the bill.

Last month’s UK Election saw the political tectonic plates shift by epic proportions in Scotland.  No fewer than 56 of the country’s 59 MPs now represent the Scottish National Party.  The result means the SNP is now the third-largest group of MPs in the House of Commons.

The SNP is also the UK’s third-largest political party in terms of membership.

However, the BBC does not seem to have noticed the seismic change in not just Scottish, but UK politics.

Actually, that isn’t true.  Of course the BBC has noticed the rise of the SNP; they just choose to ignore it, as much as possible.

Yet again on last Thursday’s edition of the broadcaster’s flagship political programme, Question Time, there was no representative from the SNP, while a fringe party, the Liberal Democrats, with just 8 MPs across the whole of the UK, were featured on the panel.

Also there was a member of the Labour Party, which has one MP in Scotland; a Tory, another party with one MP in Scotland; a former director of a right-wing think-tank formed by Margaret Thatcher; and a freelance journalist who writes a column for the Daily Mirror, a newspaper that sells just 15,000 copies a day in Scotland (by comparison the Daily Record sells 195,000 and the Sun 232,000).

No-one was giving a Scottish perspective to the issues raised by the Question Time audience.  No-one was giving the view of the third-largest group of MPs in the House of Commons.

Actually, I didn’t watch the whole of Question Time.  It’s becoming a regular occurrence with me and the show.  I begin watching it, quickly find myself shouting at the telly in response to contributions from panellists, and then have to turn over the channel when politicians start blatantly lying.

I’ve gone onto the BBC iplayer to check how far into the most recent programme I got before the lies were too much – it was 11 minutes.

A member of the audience addressed a question to the Tory representative, Justine Greening MP, the Minister for International Development.  The woman in the audience explained her friend suffers from Myotonic Dystrophe, a disease affecting muscles, the heart, eyes and speech.  The desperately ill woman is just 34-years-old.

Ms Greening was asked, “How can you justify what the Tories are doing to her and everyone like her who is disabled?  Your government has taken so much money away from our local council that her carers can’t visit her for more than a couple of hours a week.”

The Tory Minister replied, “I don’t accept that, and in relation to how we are ensuring that the most vulnerable people in Britain are taken care of...”

At that point, the audience-member’s voice could be heard saying, “You’re not.  You’re not taking care of them.”

Justine Greening ignored the woman and continued, “It’s a really important question about how we take care of disabled people in our local communities.  But it’s one of the reasons why we are improving social care.”

The camera cut to the woman in the audience, who simply said, “You’re not.”

Justine Greening was lying.  She knows the Tory Party has slashed funding for essential services needed by so many people like the young woman with Myotonic Dystrophe.  Ms Greening also knows the Tory Government last week announced a further £12billion of cuts to social security budgets, which will impact still further on the most vulnerable members of society.

The Tory Minister knew she was lying when she said, “we are improving social care”, but she said it anyway.

The BBC regularly misrepresents the truth or simply does not report it.  Members of the UK Government, appearing on BBC programmes, simply lie about the effect of Westminster’s social and economic policies.  The third-largest political party in the House of Commons and in terms of membership – the main party arguing against further austerity at the UK Election - is excluded from the panel on the BBC’s flagship political programme.

Politicians lie and the BBC reports the lies.

This is Britain.  It’s not what I want.