Tory budget not a barrel of laughs

18th March 2017


 Photo: UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, and Chancellor Philip Hammond find amusement in a dire budget

It is ironic that UK Chancellor, Philip Hammond, chose International Women’s Day, 8th March to deliver a budget that is likely to hit women harder than any other section of the population.  The overall impact upon working families was to leave them, on average, £1,400 a year worse off.  The reality is that for many, the family budget is managed by women, so the impact will be significant.  As primary carers in many family situations women will also bear the brunt of the underfunding of the NHS and the spiraling crisis in adult social care.

Many women are also among the 2.5 million self-employed people who were to be hit by the Chancellor’s proposed rise in national insurance contributions.  However, this is one effect of the budget which will not be of concern as, just a week after being announced, it was scrapped.  The collective outrage of the Tory press, ex-Chancellor Lord Lamont and pressure from the Labour front bench all added up to one of the fastest climb downs in budget history.  At the beginning of Prime Minister’s Questions on 15th March, Prime Minister, Theresa May, confirmed that the planned national insurance increases had been scrapped.

Hammond had announced his humiliation in a letter to Tory MPs stating,

“It is very important both to me and the Prime Minister that we are compliant not just with the letter, but also the spirit of the commitments that were made.  In the light of what has emerged as a clear view among colleagues and a significant section of the public, I have decided not to proceed with the Class 4 national insurance contributions (NICs) set out in the budget.”

Characterised as a tax on “white van man”, seen as natural Tory voters, the NIC backdown was a far easier concession than taking the trouble to address the structural crises in both the NHS and local government, which have been brought on by the enforced austerity agenda of the past decade.

In financial terms the £2bn over four years, which would have been raised by the NIC increase, is not a major dent in the economy.  Hammond, assuming he remains in post, will be able to paper over the cracks.  Redirecting some of the estimated £70bn worth of tax breaks, which the wealthiest and big business will enjoy, may be a start.

Politically however, having the centre blown out of your first budget does not augur well for the wider perception of Hammond’s competence, by either his own side or the opposition.  As the week progressed though Hammond was quickly becoming the least of the Tories worries.  Barely had the Queen filled her pen to give Royal Assent to the government’s Brexit Bill when Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, weighed in with an announcement of plans for a second referendum on Scottish independence.

May’s response has been to state that “now is not the time” for a re-run of the 2014 vote and that, a further referendum will not be considered until after the UK has left the European Union.  Sturgeon described the government position as a “democratic outrage”, going on to suggest that,

“History may look back on today and see it as the day the fate of the Union was sealed.”

Sturgeon is always quick to spot an opportunity to write herself into the history books.  The prospect of Brexit, argues Sturgeon, materially changes the basis upon which the 2014 referendum was conducted.  With Scotland having voted against leaving the EU in 2016 it should not now be forced to do so.

That Sturgeon is a dyed in the wool nationalist is in no doubt and something that she would not deny.  Quite what the advantages are for the Scottish people in trading an unequal union with the United Kingdom, for an equally imbalanced union within the European Union, is not clear however.  The smaller economies within the EU just about keep their heads above water, Greece, Portugal and Ireland being prime examples.  Even bigger economies such Spain and Italy struggle.  Why Scotland would fare better is anyone’s guess.

The UK is as much a fiction as the EU.  Both are based upon and run in the interests of their respective banks and corporations.  The six counties of Northern Ireland have over the years been compelled to be a part of the UK, through a combination of military and economic force.  The Act of Union of 1707 saw the Scots brought into line at the barrel of a musket.

Scottish independence is not the real issue.  Being inside or outside the EU will not make any difference to the Scottish working class if they are under the thumb of the European Central Bank rather than the Bank of England.  Labour taking a harder line on resurrecting class politics, rather than the politics of nationalism in Scotland, would be a start.

Finally, to round off a week of headaches for the Tories, former Chancellor George Osborne was unveiled as the new editor of the London Evening Standard.

As the erstwhile architect of austerity, Osborne is clearly not one for swallowing his own medicine.  On top of his £75k+ salary for being MP for Tatton in Cheshire, Osborne works one day a week for the world’s biggest investment fund, BlackRock, for a cool £640k per annum.  Speaking engagements last year netted Osborne a further £800k.  There is also a £120k per annum stipend from a US thinktank.

It is not clear how much the Evening Standard job will pay but Osborne has until May to negotiate, when he takes up his post.  It is hard to see how he will make ends meet!  Perhaps some advice from working women running family budgets with £1,400 per annum less than they previously had might come in handy.

Death in al Ghayil

12th March 2017

Women and Children in Yemeni Village Recall Horror of Trump’s “Highly Successful” SEAL Raid

Iona Craig

March 9 2017, 2:00 p.m.


Photo: The village of al Ghayil in Yemen where U.S. Navy SEALs, attack helicopters, and drones launched an operation on January 29, 2017.


On January 29, 5-year-old Sinan al Ameri was asleep with his mother, his aunt, and 12 other children in a one-room stone hut typical of poor rural villages in the highlands of Yemen.  A little after 1 a.m., the women and children awoke to the sound of a gunfight erupting a few hundred feet away.  Roughly 30 members of Navy SEAL Team 6 were storming the eastern hillside of the remote settlement.

According to residents of the village of al Ghayil, in Yemen’s al Bayda province, the first to die in the assault was 13-year-old Nasser al Dhahab.  The house of his uncle, Sheikh Abdulraouf al Dhahab, and the building behind it, the home of 65-year-old Abdallah al Ameri and his son Mohammed al Ameri, 38, appeared to be the targets of the U.S. forces, who called in air support as they were pinned down in a nearly hourlong firefight.

With the SEALs taking heavy fire on the lower slopes, attack helicopters swept over the hillside hamlet above.  In what seemed to be blind panic, the gunships bombarded the entire village, striking more than a dozen buildings, razing stone dwellings where families slept, and wiping out more than 120 goats, sheep, and donkeys.

Three projectiles tore through the straw and timber roof of the home where Sinan slept. Cowering in a corner, Sinan’s mother, 30-year-old Fatim Saleh Mohsen, decided to flee the bombardment. Grabbing her 18-month-old son and ushering her terrified children into the narrow outdoor passageway between the tightly packed dwellings, she headed into the open.  Over a week later, Sinan’s aunt Nadr al Ameri wept as she stood in the same room and recalled watching her sister run out the door into the darkness.

Nesma al Ameri, an elderly village matriarch who lost four family members in the raid, described how the attack helicopters began firing down on anything that moved. As she recounted the horror of what happened, Sinan tapped her on the arm.  “No, no. The bullets were coming from behind,” the 5-year-old insisted, interrupting to demonstrate how he was shot at and his mother gunned down as they ran for their lives.  “From here to here,” Sinan said, putting two fingers to the back of his head and drawing an invisible line to illustrate the direction of the bullet exiting her forehead. His mother fell to the ground next to him, still clutching his baby brother in her arms.  Sinan kept running.

His mother’s body was found in the early light of dawn, the front of her head split open.  The baby was wounded but alive.  Sinan’s mother was one of at least six women killed in the raid, the first counterterrorism operation of the Trump administration, which also left 10 children under the age of 13 dead.  “She was hit by the plane.  The American plane,” explained Sinan.  “She’s in heaven now,” he added with a shy smile, seemingly unaware of the enormity of what he had witnessed or, as yet, the impact of his loss.  “Dog Trump,” declared Nesma, turning to the other women in the room for agreement.  “Yes, the dog Trump,” they agreed.

According to White House press secretary Sean Spicer, the al Ghayil raid “was a very, very well thought out and executed effort,” planning for which began under the Obama administration back in November 2016.  Although Ned Price, former National Security Council spokesperson, and Colin Kahl, the national security adviser under Vice President Biden, challenged Spicer’s account, what is agreed upon is that Trump gave the final green light over dinner at the White House on January 25. According to two people with direct knowledge, the White House did not notify the U.S. ambassador to Yemen in advance of the operation.

The Intercept’s reporting from al Ghayil in the aftermath of the raid and the eyewitness accounts provided by residents, as well as information from current and former military officials, challenge many of the Trump administration’s key claims about the “highly successful” operation, from the description of an assault on a fortified compound — there are no compounds or walled-off houses in the village — to the “large amounts of vital intelligence” the president said were collected.

According to a current U.S. special operations adviser and a former senior special operations officer, it was not intelligence the Pentagon was after but a key member of al Qaeda. The raid was launched in an effort to capture or kill Qassim al Rimi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, according to the special operations adviser, who asked to remain anonymous because details behind the raid are classified.

Villagers interviewed by The Intercept rejected claims that al Rimi was present in al Ghayil, although one resident described seeing an unfamiliar black SUV arriving in the village hours before the raid.  Six days after the operation, AQAP media channels released an audio statement from al Rimi, who mocked President Trump and the raid.  The White House and the military have denied that the AQAP leader was the target of the mission, insisting the SEALs were sent in to capture electronic devices and material to be used for intelligence gathering.  A spokesperson for CENTCOM told The Intercept the military has not yet determined whether al Rimi was in al Ghayil when the SEALs arrived.

Although some details about the mission remain unclear, the account that has emerged suggests the Trump White House is breaking with Obama administration policies that were intended to limit civilian casualties.  The change — if permanent — would increase the likelihood of civilian deaths in so-called capture or kill missions like the January 29 raid.

To read the full text of this report go to

Anti trade union lies become law

6th March 2017


The press release issued by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on 1st March 2017, announcing the implementation of the Trade Union Act, was breathtaking in its mendacity.  The title alone was jaw dropping in claiming that “measures coming into force today will protect millions of people from the effects of undemocratic strike action.”

To quote further from the Department’s view of the world,

“The Act will ensure that if strikes do go ahead it will only be as a result of a clear democratic decision from union members thanks to the introduction of tougher ballot thresholds.

From today, fresh ballots will have to achieve at least a 50% turnout of eligible union members, with a majority voting in favour of strike action.  In important public services – including in the health, education and transport sectors – an additional threshold of 40% of support from all eligible members must be met for action to be legal.”

The government determination of “important public services” includes:-

Ambulance services

A&E, hospital high dependency units, intensive care, emergency hospital psychiatric services, emergency hospital obstetric and midwifery services

firefighters and fire control telephone operators

London bus workers

train workers

air traffic control workers

airport security

teachers and head teachers (except in private schools!)

Border Force staff

Notice of industrial action to the employer will double from 7 to 14 days, unless the employer agrees to 7 day’s notice.  Ballot mandates will only last for 6 months, or 9 months if the employer agrees.  After that point a new ballot will be required.  The current situation where industrial action must begin within 4-8 weeks of the ballot but after which further action can be taken at any date as long as the dispute is live, will no longer apply.  A picket supervisor must be appointed and must be identifiable and must provide contact details to the police if requested.

The Act also contains threats to “check off”, where employers deduct union subs directly through the payroll, and union facility time.

Public sector employers will be required to publish information about facility time, for example, the amount of time spent on paid time off for union duties etc.  However, this will need further regulations before it is introduced.  The Act also allows for future regulations that limit the amount and cost of facility time for a particular employer.

Similarly public sector employers will only be able to make check off deductions if the worker can pay their subscriptions by other means, such as direct debit, and the union pays towards the employers’ costs.  Implementation of this will be delayed for 12 months.

All this amounts to a threat to the ability of unions to hold especially large scale national strikes covering 10,000s let alone 100,000 workers such as schools or the health service.  It will allow employers more time to prepare in advance of strikes to reduce their impact.

The government claim that the Act is necessary in order to protect the public from ‘undemocratic’ practices in trade unions.  The same thresholds however will not apply to elections to Parliament or the election of local councillors, where a simple majority of those voting, however low the turnout, is required to become an MP or local councillor.

For elections to the European Parliament where a system of proportional representation is applied, there will be no requirement to be elected by a 50% turnout of eligible voters, in order to protect the public from the possibility of the effects of your undemocratic practice.

Strike action can cause mayhem and disruption for the public, that is inevitable.  Trade unions do not take strike action lightly however.  It is always a last resort, when negotiations have failed and employers are unwilling to make any concessions.  The press will always blame the workforce, whether it is junior doctors, airport staff or public sector workers.  The Tories will always side with the employer, under the guise of siding with the public.

The Tory trade union legislation enacted since the 1980’s has had the single objective of constraining the rights of workers and strengthening the hand of the employer.  The present Trade Union Act is no different.  Opposition so far has not prevented the Act becoming law.  With increasing pressure upon workers in a range of sectors, the Act may well be tested over the next couple of years.  When it is, mobilising support for workers under attack from this vicious anti union legislation will be vital.


Stop the prophets of doom

26th February 2017


The relentless campaign by the right wing in the Labour Movement to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party continued apace this week, following the outcomes of the Stoke Central and Copeland by-elections.

The media noise around both contests had been building all week with each election characterised as a must win for Labour.  Media prominence was given to the pontifications of Labour has-beens, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, during the week in an attempt to generate an air of crisis as the elections approached.  Blair’s call for a cross party Remain movement appears to be falling on deaf ears, not least due to the lack of desire to engage with a movement of which Blair would be the self-styled leader.

The fact that BBC darlings UKIP were standing leader Paul Nuttall in Stoke Central added extra frisson to the reportage, although even the BBC may be forced to admit that Nuttall was yet another example of UKIPs monumental irrelevance to the politics of the UK.  Much was made of the low turnout which returned the Labour candidate in Stoke but little was made of the fact that turnout was low in the General Election.  The people of Stoke are turning off, not turning on to UKIP and that is the real issue.

The UKIP pitch was based on the fact that Stoke was ‘Brexit Central’ in the EU referendum with over 70% of voters going for the leave option.  All of which goes to show that equating a leave vote with UKIP support has always been a shallow analysis of the referendum outcome.

Needless to say, the past two days has not seen many ‘Labour crush UKIP by-election challenge’ headlines but the news media has been dominated by the ‘Sweeping victory for May in Copeland’ offering.  Gerard Coyne right wing candidate, standing against Len McCluskey for the leadership of the UNITE union and former Labour Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, the renegades’ hope for future leader, have been given prominent airtime to voice their discontent.

UNISON leader Dave Prentiss has suggested that Corbyn takes his share of blame for the by-election defeat, urging him not to “pass the buck” following Copeland, although he was faint in his praise of Corbyn for wining in Stoke.  Prentiss said,

“The blame for these results does not lie solely with Jeremy Corbyn, but he must take responsibility for what happens next.  Nurses, teaching assistants, care workers and ordinary people everywhere need a Labour government.  Jeremy has to show he understands how to turn things around and deliver just that.”

There can be little doubt that Corbyn has a clear vision for the alternative Labour can offer.  The problem remains the backstabbing tendency from within his own party, who simply cannot accept their own internal party democracy, which has resulted in him winning two leadership elections in under two years.

Given that the Copeland seat has been held by Labour since 1935 there can be no denying that the Tories winning the seat was a bad result.  Neither Corbyn nor Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has sought to suggest anything else.  As McDonnell was quick to point out however,

“We cannot have a circumstance again, where a week before the by-election, a former leader of our party attacks the party itself.”

The speeches of Blair, Mandelson and Miliband chime with the approach taken by Tory leader Theresa May, who has raised the old bogey of the hard left infiltrating Labour, in a speech to Conservative councillors in Lincolnshire yesterday, saying,

“Last year, Labour’s deputy leader warned of entryism in Labour by the far left.  This year, even the Stalinists in Momentum are complaining about being infiltrated by the Trotskyites.  But for those of us who remember what Militant did to Liverpool, it doesn’t matter what term you use – we can’t allow Labour to get a foothold back in local government and let them do for local communities what they did to our country.”

The vehemence with which Corbyn is attacked is, in part, a measure of the extent to which his message is feared.  That austerity is not inevitable, that nuclear weapons are not necessary, that immigration is not out of control.  These things stand in stark contradiction to the policies of the Tories.  They stand in stark contrast to the line pedalled by the editors of the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Express.  Fearful of losing their privileged placed as Her Majesty’s Opposition, never mind her loyal government, they are at odds with the career aspirations of many Labour politicians.

In spite of Theresa May’s post Copeland rhetoric that the Tories under her leadership are a government that is, “going to deliver for everyone across the whole country; a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few”, this is simply not true.  Every local government cut tells a different story, every NHS patient languishing in a hospital corridor will tell her differently, every refugee deported will be an indictment.

Labour can change this.  Labour united behind Jeremy Corbyn can change this.  The internal prophets of doom need to stand down.  Fighting the Tories and their media is hard enough.  It is time to let those who want to see real change for the people of the UK get on with the job.


Stop Arming Saudi

19th February 2017


Since the Saudi led coalition began its bombing of Yemen in March 2015, the UK has licensed about £3.3bn of weapons to the Arab dictatorship. Support for the Saudis is part of a bigger picture of UK arms fuelling conflict in the Middle East. In the years leading up to the so called Arab Spring of 2011 the UK sold countries in the region £41.3m of small arms, £7m of ammunition and £34.3m of armoured vehicles. According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) those figures have since risen to an annual average of £58.9m, £14m and £58.9m respectively. The people of the region may have been demanding democracy, the arms dealers of the West were simply looking to cash in.

The relationship with the Saudi despots is a particularly lucrative one for the UK, with 2015 seeing 83% of all UK arms exports, almost £900m, going to the dictatorship. By way of return the UK imported over £900m of oil from Saudi Arabia over the same period. For anyone wondering why the British Royal Family are always keen to kowtow to the Saudis princes this offers something by way of explanation.

While the Saudis kept the weapons at home, to been shown off as vanity purchases to feed their egos and warn the internal opposition, they have not received much attention. Using these war toys on the international stage however inevitably brings greater scrutiny and Saudi intervention in areas outside of their borders has been a growing feature of life in the Middle East in recent years. Stirrings of dissent in Bahrain in 2011, with demands for democracy and freedom of speech, quickly saw Saudi troops dispatched to prop up the flagging Bahraini dictatorship and ensure that no such notions took root on the Arabian peninsula.

As a reliable NATO ‘ally’ the Saudis have played their part in undermining the Syrian regime and fermenting the long running civil war in that country. The fact that the Saudis have also been covertly fuelling the al-Qaeda elements opposing the government of President Assad adds further irony to the notion that they are policing the region for the West. For the Saudis an unstable Syria is less of a threat than a stable Syria aligned to their major regional opposition, in the form of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

CAAT is challenging the UK government’s decision to continue to licence the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The High Court hearing took place in open session from Tuesday, 7th February to lunchtime Wednesday, 8th February. A hearing closed to CAAT, the press and the public, was held during the afternoon of Wednesday, 8th February and all day on Friday, 10th February. CAAT’s interests are represented by Special Advocates.

The legal action is a Judicial Review, a type of court proceeding in which the judges review the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body. In this case the judges will be examining the lawfulness of the decisions made by the Secretary of State responsible for export controls.

The two year long civil war in the Yemen has so far claimed 10,000 civilian casualties. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated that,

“almost two-thirds of reported civilian deaths had allegedly been caused by coalition air strikes, which were also responsible for almost two-thirds of damaged or destroyed civilian public buildings.”

Even the International Development and Business, Innovation and Skills Committee of the UK Parliament acknowledged last October that,

“Given the evidence we have heard and the volume of UK-manufactured arms exported to Saudi Arabia, it seems inevitable that any violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by the coalition have involved arms supplied from the UK. This constitutes a breach of our own export licensing criteria.”

The momentum behind the CAAT campaign has been gathering, with a petition and significant lobbying of MPs to ensure the issues of arms sales to Saudi Arabia has high political profile. Owen Jones, writing in The Guardian recently summed up the issues stating,

“While the high court considers the legality of arms sales, the moral case is inarguable. Thousands of Yemeni civilians are being murdered, and our government shares responsibility. Yemen may seem like a far-away country, whose internal situation is too complicated to understand, and don’t we have enough to worry about here? But our silence risks being complicity. Our government is acting in our name. Yemeni civilians are cowering for their lives, partly because of decisions made by No 10. Don’t let them get away with it.”

Judgement on the CAAT challenge is expected in four to six weeks. It will be interesting to hear the High Court justification if it is turned down and even more interesting to hear the response of the government if it is upheld.



From mansion block to mews

11th February 2017


The Conservative attack on the social fabric of society in the UK, which has gone on for over thirty years, is finally bringing home the realisation that some action is required to halt the decline. Unfortunately, what is on offer may be little more than a sticking plaster to address a gaping wound. Local authorities are being allowed to add 3% to Council tax bills in order to address insufficient funding for social care provision.   A new housing White Paper sets out plans for more housebuilding in order to boost the rental market. The apprenticeship levy, which kicks in from April, will see all employers with a wage bill of £3m or more paying in to a central pot for the training of young people.

On the face of it these all appear to be positive initiatives against which it is difficult to argue. In reality they are all attempted short terms fixes for the social crisis which capitalism has been nurturing for nearly half a century.

The emphasis in relation to housing, on more homes to rent for young people is, in effect, a recognition that the Tory ‘right to buy’ policy, initiated in the 1980’s, has been an abject failure. The success of post war council house building had been to move millions out of squalid property, managed by unscrupulous landlords, and into homes built to decent standards managed by local authorities. The so-called right to buy, couched in terms of the UK being a property owning democracy, was little more than a scramble by speculators to asset strip council stock and undermine the infrastructure for social housing in the UK.

The solution proposed in the current White Paper however may well contain the seeds of its own destruction. The paper argues that greater use should be made of ‘brownfield’ sites and that in urban areas more high density schemes should get the go ahead, stating,

“When people picture high density housing, they tend to think of unattractive tower blocks, but some of the most desirable places to live in the capital are in areas of higher density mansion blocks, mews houses and terraced streets.”

Like the blocks they envisage building, with relaxed regulation on height restrictions in urban areas, the government clearly has its head in the clouds. The occasional mansion block or mews, housing high salary earning single professionals, with a view of Tate Modern and barges on the Thames, may be a lovely daydream for Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid (pictured), but it is not the reality for most of the poor and struggling in London, never mind the rest of the country.

High density housing, combined with high density low pay and unemployment, is simply a recipe for high density social unrest.

The apprenticeship levy to the rescue then? Young people getting a training which will allow them to get a foot on the employment ladder and claw their way from the high density poverty of 1960’s brutalist housing and into the 21st century version? Perhaps. The levy is aimed at raising £3 billion from employers in order to fund 3 million high quality apprenticeships by 2020.

However, for large public sector employers, struggling under central government cuts, the levy may effectively operate as another tax burden. With 0.5% of the payroll cost being diverted into the levy many public sector bodies, struggling to meet existing pay bills, will have to divert a proportion of their funds into the scheme. While they may get some of this back, in the form of young people as apprentices, there is no guarantee of proportionality.

In effect, large public sector employers could end up subsidising private sector apprenticeships.

Finally, the government allowing local councils to increase council tax bills by 3%, to cover cuts in social care, shows a comprehensive lack of understanding of the extent to which local government services have been decimated. For most local authorities the 3% increase will barely cover the additional costs of the living wage increase, which private care providers are looking to pass onto local councils as part of their contract arrangements.

The crisis in social care of course feeds back in to the crisis in the NHS, as beds remain occupied due to the lack of provision in the community for older people. Properly resourced and funded local government services are part of the answer to these problems. In spite of the rhetoric however, centralisation has been the hallmark of all governments since the 1980’s. If that is the case then central government needs to come up with a strategic plan to address the crumbling social fabric of the UK.

Supporting a few well paid bankers, in the few well resourced mansion blocks and mews’ of the capital, will not be enough.


Concern over rising US/Iran tensions

6th February 2017


Solidarity organisation, the Committee for the Defence of Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR), has expressed concern that the Iranian people will be the main losers in the current war of words between the United States and Iran.  CODIR’s Executive Council, which held an emergency meeting over the weekend, has called on labour, peace and democratic forces worldwide to be on the alert against the possibility of a conflict between the two countries.

Recent comments by US President, Donald Trump, and National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn (pictured), that Iran is “on notice” following a ballistic missile test, have raised tension following Trump’s election.  However, concerns have now been increased further by US Defence Secretary, James Mattis, asserting that Iran is the world’s “biggest sponsor of state terrorism.”

The comments of Mattis, made on a visit to Japan, also included the statement that,

“We have seen their misconduct, their misbehaviour, from Lebanon and Syria to Bahrain and to Yemen and it’s got to be addressed at some point.”

The United States has imposed new sanctions on Iran, against particular companies and individuals, claiming that Iran is in contravention of UN Resolution 2231by carrying out missile tests last week.  This accusation is false. The UN resolution concerns the nuclear agreement with Iran, not other forms of weapons testing.

The tension between the two states has led Iran to respond in kind, announcing restrictions against US companies and individuals, “involved in creating and supporting extremist terrorist groups” or who are “helping in the killing and oppression of defenceless people”.

Iran is among the seven Muslim-majority countries included in a controversial US travel ban.US officials have suggested more action could follow.  President Trump has been a vocal critic of the nuclear accord, which saw Iran agreeing to curb its sensitive nuclear activities in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.

CODIR has expressed concern that the real victims of increased tension will be the people of Iran, as renewed sanctions could plunge the already fragile economy of the Islamic Republic into deeper recession.

“This war of words, between the United States and Iran, is in danger of punishing the people of Iran further and destabilising the entire region,” said CODIR Assistant General Secretary, Jamshid Ahmadi.  “There are belligerent voices in both the United States and Iran who have an interest in stirring up tension to suit their own purposes.  Any push towards a conflict between the two countries will have disastrous implications for the Middle East region and most importantly the peace process in Syria.  It will undermine peace.”

CODIR has stressed that the Iranian economy is still suffering from the impact of the previous round of US and EU imposed economic sanctions, claiming that any re-imposition will have a disastrous impact on the economy, working people and social justice in Iran.

CODIR has also expressed concern that the fundamentalist and Islamist radicals inside Iran, who have never been enthusiastic about the nuclear agreement with the West, will exploit the situation.  CODIR fears that this would take diplomatic relations between Iran and the US back to the days before the Obama presidency in 2009.

“The political atmosphere could create a situation in Iran in which reform and the campaign for human and democratic rights take a back seat,” warned Mr Ahmadi.  “Iranian campaigners for human and democratic rights, including trade union rights, will no doubt suffer.  We could have pro war cliques in the US and Iran, intent on conflict and militarisation, exploiting the situation. This could easily open the way for advocates of discredited US-style regime change to move in and do their worst”

CODIR, which has campaigned for over 30 years to highlight trade union and human rights abuses in Iran, will continue to support the rights of the Iranian people and highlight the grave injustices perpetuated by the dictatorial regime in Iran.

Iran nuclear deal on the brink

27th January 2017


The election of Donald Trump to the United States Presidency has sent shock waves across the world.  The future of the Middle East was uncertain before the election outcome.  It is even more uncertain now.  In relation to Iran, in particular, the US President has spoken in belligerent terms.  Jane Green assesses the implications for Iran of the Trump presidency and its likely impact on Iranian presidential elections in May this year.

During the course of the US presidential campaign Donald Trump regularly criticised the deal arrived at by the United States and other world powers with Iran, over the de-escalation of Iran’s nuclear programme.  In one speech in July 2016 Trump stated,

“They are laughing at the stupidity of the deal we’re making on nuclear.  We should double up and triple up the sanctions and have them come to us.  They are making an amazing deal.”

Not wishing to let the subject lie, this was followed by a statement by Trump in August which claimed that as a result of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran would

“..take over parts of the world that you wouldn’t believe.  I think it’s going to lead to nuclear holocaust.”

Ironically this was Trump modifying his position to “police” the deal, rather than “rip it up”, which had been his earlier stance.

Trump’s position is based on his assessment of US negotiators, primarily former Secretary of State John Kerry, as being incompetent and on his stated belief that “Persians are great negotiators”.  While this is ostensibly a flattering statement it is one actually based upon an age old Western stereotype of the ‘not to be trusted’ Persian swindler.  Such an approach to international relations is consistent with the campaign trail rhetoric of Trump, on a wide range of national and international issues, but is hardly a serious assessment of how to tackle deep seated international enmities.

Knowing Trump’s advisers and the fact that his first phone calls were to the Saudi king, the Israeli premier, the Turkish President and the military president of Egypt, in the first days after his election, does not bode well for the prospects of peace in the Middle East and detente with Iran.

The JCPOA reduces Iran’s centrifuges, the devices used to enrich uranium gas, by two-thirds.  This extends to over a year the so called “breakout time”, that is the time it would take Iran to produce the fissile material needed to build a nuclear weapon, even if it wanted to.  The sanctions relief built into the deal was key to the wider strategy of the United States to re-build influence in the region in order to incorporate Iran into the US New Middle East Plan.

After the imposition of sanctions, Iran was in effect brought to its knees and its economy completely paralysed.  Iran agreed to negotiations in order to get the sanctions removed.  From this perspective, Iran’s position in respect of the US changed fundamentally.  Iran was willing to play the role that the US wanted it to play.  For example, Iran was invited to join the negotiations on the future of Syria despite Saudi disagreement.

While there has been some suggestion that hardline conservative elements within the Iranian regime are not happy with the deal with the US, in reality they have been instrumental in bringing it about.  The negotiations with the US were planned and initiated by the hardliners, two years before Rouhani was elected, during the Ahmadinejad presidency.  The regime was most concerned about a possible social explosion by the poor, the disenfranchised and working class, following the wave of protests, which swept the country after Ahmadinejad’s election in 2009.  The fact that no deal in Iran could be signed off without the agreement of Ayotollah Ali Khamenei, as Supreme Leader, also indicates that Rouhani had the green light to make the deal.

The first sign of Western investment came in November, with a preliminary $4.8 bn agreement with a consortium led by French company Total, to develop Iran’s giant South Pars natural gas field.  At a ceremony to open three new oil fields in November, Rouhani made clear his assessment of the importance of the sanctions relief stating,

“This means that trapdoors have been opened and fresh air has entered.  Now people will benefit from the new opportunities.  The oil industry has used these opportunities in the best way it could.”

Rouhani added, “After the nuclear agreement, some said it would take ages to reach the goal of 2 million barrels of daily exports.  They also said we cannot return to the pre-sanctions situation.  But [the progress of] our oil industry in just a few months has surprised the world.”

It is estimated however that Iran requires investment in the region of $200 billion over the next five years in order to bring oil and gas production up to pre-sanctions levels.  It will not be possible to achieve such levels without foreign investment.  It is unlikely that the West will want such investment to come from Russia, already seen by the West as making a play for Middle East influence by supporting President Assad in Syria.

The uncertainties being played out across the European Union at the moment also raise questions about where European companies may seek to invest, in spite of the recent Total commitment.  In this context the Trump election adds to the volatility surrounding the economy in Iran and underlines the extent to which the regime is at the mercy of external factors.

At present the ability of the Iranians to trade in US dollars, vital on international energy markets, is limited.  Some restrictions have been lifted following protests by the Iranian government that the constraints were not in the spirit of the JCPOA, following discussions in April last year.  However, even more significant now than it was at the time, is the stated opposition of US House Speaker, Paul Ryan, who opposed any moves to give Iran access to the US dollar, citing concerns about what Tehran would do with any financial access gained in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.

While such opposition could be taken more lightly with the prospect of a Clinton presidency it takes on added weight following the US election outcome.  While Trump and Ryan crossed swords during the campaign itself there can be little doubt that, faced with the prospect of power, they will find that there is more to unite than divide them.

Future relations between the US and Iran may depend upon the extent to which Trump thinks he has  boxed himself in with his position on the anti-nuclear deal.  There is certainly every chance that Trump will attempt to pressurise Iran into more concessions and even more direct cooperation in the Middle East.

Whether Trump will risk both policy incoherence and a major foreign policy setback, if he does not shrink from his campaign promises to trash the nuclear deal, remains to be seen.  As a self confessed pragmatist and deal maker it is possible that the reality of geo-political and business interests will outweigh campaign rhetoric.  Iran’s deal with Boeing is in the final stages of completion for example.  How Trump acts on Obama’s executive orders, allowing economic transactions with Iran, will disclose a great deal about the course of Trump’s Iran policy.

However the politics of the Trump presidency begin to unfold, there remains the issue of the up and coming presidential election in Iran, scheduled for May 2017.  While the JCPOA has been welcomed by the self styled reformist camp around President Rouhani, the deal is not universally applauded.  However, with the main power centres in Iran behind the deal, not least Khamenei himself, the extent of opposition is not significant.

At present there is debate in hardline conservative ranks about the benefit of fielding a strong candidate against Rouhani in the May elections.  There appears to be little advantage to opposing someone the West is prepared to accept as ‘reformist’ by installing a more conservative candidate, who may serve as an excuse to re-introduce sanctions.

The sanctions regime undoubtedly did weaken the Iranian economy, resulting in economic uncertainty and depressed wages for many.  It is clear that the lifting of sanctions will not, in itself, be sufficient to relieve the suffering of many of Iran’s workers.  Exploitation by domestic capital does not feel any different to exploitation by international capital, for those at the sharp end of the economic changes in Iran.

While the human rights record of the Iranian regime has not figured in any of the negotiations leading to the JCPOA it is nevertheless a factor inhibiting Iran’s development.  The continued imprisonment, torture and execution of political opponents creates a climate of fear and volatility within the country which, if it becomes manifest in the form of street protests as it has in recent years, may act as a deterrent to investment.

Whatever the outcome of the election in Iran, combined with the recent US election outcome, the fate of the Middle East continues to be uncertain.  Until the progressive voices of Iran and the wider region are able to make themselves heard, it will continue to be the case.

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Protectionism, xenophobia, bigotry….and protest

22nd January 2017


Donald Trump took the oath of office to become President of the United States of America on Friday with all of the grace and gravitas a former bankrupt and star of reality TV could muster.  His speech upon assuming office was a string of rhetorical soundbites, designed to play to the social media mentality he has sought to encourage during his candidacy and the build up to his inauguration.  Any liberal illusion, that Trump the President would in some way differ from Trump the candidate, was given no succour in a speech that effectively declared war on what little the Obama administration has achieved and anything else that Trump would deem un-American.

If Trump’s declaration that,

“When you open your heart to patriotism there is no room for prejudice.”

does not turn out to be one of the great oxymoron’s of our time it will be a miracle.

Trump’s exhortation to put “America First” and the rhetoric of his campaign to  ”Make America Great Again”, which closed his inauguration speech,  have sinister undertones of the 1950’s.  The anti-communist Cold War actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee are the dark shadow of much that has led Trump to this point.  That US jobs are being stolen by Mexicans, that the threat of Islamic fundamentalism must be eradicated, that the ‘swamp’ of the Washington liberal elite must be drained, are all phrases designed to divide.  They are designed to start off with an administration on an ideological war footing.

For those that have sought to sabotage the Obama administration from the outset Trump is the fruit of their labours.  Any efforts, however limited, that Obama has made in the direction of addressing inequalities in American society have been blocked or ridiculed.  Trump’s first action on taking office has been to sign an order which will give power to reverse so called Obamacare, which helped many struggling Americans have health insurance.  Gun control has been high on the Obama agenda but no inroads have been made.  Closing the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp has not happened.

While Obama has failed to lift the illegal US blockade of Cuba, the limited opening up of political dialogue with the symbol of democratic hope in the Caribbean will no doubt be reversed under Trump.  The White House website has immediately seen any reference to LGBT rights and climate change wiped from its pages.  The gains made in the eight years under Obama in these areas were limited but they were at least on the agenda.  Not now.

The sad fact is that the Obama presidency has allowed middle class liberal America to delude itself into thinking that racial prejudice, bigotry and anti-people politics were a thing of the past, that a corner had been turned.  The first African American in the White House with a dynamic and charismatic First Lady, gains that could not be reversed, surely?

Man Booker award winning author Paul Beatty however is dismayed at the shock of liberal white America, stating,

“This is nothing new.  To me that’s the part that feels disingenuous.  When people go, I don’t recognise this place.  And I’m like, where have you been?  That’s the part that bothers me.  With the police violence people are like, oh I didn’t know.  And it’s like people have been putting this in your face for ages and all of a sudden – why now?”

Beatty is right.  Rip the Obama mask from the face of the American body politic and there is a Donald Trump underneath ready to get out.  Police violence against black communities did not stop under Obama, nor did the shooting of unarmed black citizens in the streets.  It is not likely to be addressed under Trump.

However, the opposition to Trump is underway.

Hundreds of thousands turned out in Washington DC, other cities across the USA and around the world, in protest marches to denounce the Trump presidency yesterday, with demands to acknowledge women’s rights to the forefront of the opposition.

Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO trade union confederation summed up the mood when she declared,

“We’re here not only to march, but we’re here to build a movement.  It’s a movement for paid family leave.  It’s a movement for equal rights.  It’s a movement for workers’ rights.  It’s a movement for immigrants’ rights.  We’re going to march together and stand together in solidarity to make sure our voices are heard.”

There can be no illusions under a Trump presidency.  It is a time to take sides and to make choices.




NHS crisis gathers pace

NHS.png15th January 2017

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK is probably the last remaining vestige of the social democratic ambitions of the post war 1945 Labour government. A health service free for all at the point of use; comprehensive education; council housing; nationalisation of the key strategic industries and utilities; national insurance and pensions; and full employment as a stated political objective. These were the collective principles, of support for working class people, which were the touchstones of political debate from 1945 – 1979, when the ruling class decided enough was enough and the Thatcher government began the dismantling process.

The destruction of that legacy has not always been easy or straightforward. The heroic defence of jobs and communities, which was the impetus behind the Miners’ Strike 1984/85, is the most outstanding example of trying to stem the tide. Protests against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the tragic waste of resources on Trident nuclear submarines; demonstrations against the poll tax; inner city disturbances triggered by heavy handed policing but often the consequence of austerity and poverty; student protests against tuition fees; trade union action to defend jobs, wages and working conditions; all erupt at different times and require the ruling class to firefight in order to sustain their position.

By degrees though working class votes have been cunningly bought off. Share buying under the guise of ‘people’s capitalism’ was one trick. Home ownership through the sale of council housing was another. Comprehensive schooling has been gradually eroded, to be replaced incrementally by the insidious academy system. The legal restrictions placed upon trade unions have tied them in knots. The demonisation of trade union activity by the unholy trinity of the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and Daily Express, aided by TV news media has poisoned the public perception of trade unions.

Local government, which for many years could play some role in mitigating the worst excesses of the Tories in power, is being restricted increasingly to the delivery of statutory services, with little scope for local innovation or diversity. While the Tories have enforced a programme of austerity upon the victims of the 2008 banking crash, the perpetrators are given tax handouts. The anti-people politics of UKIP are given unjustified levels of airtime while Jeremy Corbyn, as the official Leader of the Opposition, still struggles to get a hearing on the BBC.

So, in a week when the Chief Executive of the British Red Cross has described the situation in the NHS as a “humanitarian crisis”, and Jeremy Corbyn has declared it a “national scandal” there is clearly an issue to be addressed. Corbyn has been quite clear, stating that,

“The health service is at breaking point. But this crisis is not due to an outbreak of disease. It is a crisis made in Downing Street by this government – a crisis we warned them about.”

NHS Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, this week claimed that the Prime Minister was “stretching it” to suggest that the NHS had received the money required to sustain service levels until 2020.

Stevens told the Public Affairs Select Committee last week that over the next three years NHS funding will be “highly constrained” and that by 2018 spending per person in real terms “will go down.”

While this has provoked the inevitable denials from Downing St, Stephen Dorrell, former Tory Health Secretary and currently the chairman of the NHS Confederation, backed Stevens, saying

“He is obviously a Cameron appointee, he has widespread respect. We should be looking at the evidence of what is happening. Simon is not saying ‘it is all impossible’. What he is saying is that if we don’t invest particularly in social care but in a range of public services, and if the health service ends up as the only place where the light is on, then it won’t meet the demands being placed upon it.”

It is widely acknowledged that there is a growing crisis in Accident and Emergency units.

Health service chiefs have acknowledged that in some parts of the country A&E departments are now “very reliant on locums”, with most of the trusts needing around 10 to 12 “middle grade” doctors, but only having two or three. Such medics are junior doctors, who have finished basic training but are still learning specialist skills and have yet to qualify as a consultant.

In November a report by the Commons health select committee warned that A&E departments need at least 8,000 doctors, 50 per cent more than the 5,300 currently employed, to keep pace with the rise in emergency admissions in the last five years.

It is increasingly recognised that the logjam in the NHS is as a result, not only of insufficient funding, but of pressures in social care, which is under strain due to cuts in local government finances.

The population of the UK enjoys increasing life expectancy. However, living longer is not necessarily the same as living in good health. Privatisation has introduced the profit motive into care for the elderly, a disgraceful state of affairs and one that Jeremy Corbyn has said he will address. The lack of social care provision means people cannot be supported in their homes. Therefore more people have to stay in hospital for longer, slowing down the system.

Care providers are balking at having to pay staff the recently introduced living wage, wanting to pass the additional costs on to local authorities. Local authorities are stretched to breaking point and cannot afford the unfunded additional costs. Recruitment into social work as a profession is at crisis levels. Care provision is closing because private sector providers, being pushed to improve wages, are now squealing that they cannot make a profit.

The Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing are both saying that the NHS is now experiencing its worst ever winter crisis.

Jeremy Corbyn has accused Prime Minister, Theresa May, of being “in denial” about the state of the NHS. That is putting it mildly. Due to the dedication of its staff the NHS might squeeze through this winter but crisis management is no way to run the nation’s health provision.

The Health Service needs to be saved, rebuilt and restored to its rightful pride of place, as one of the truly great achievements of the Labour movement in the UK. Only Labour have a realistic chance to do that, the alternative does not bear consideration.