A Bangladeshi woman survivor is lifted out of the rubble by rescuers at the site of a building that collapsed on Wednesday 24 April in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh.
In Greece, where unemployment has hit 27 percent, the fascist Golden Dawn party is helping to divert popular anger against capitalism into divisive xenophobic hatred of ‘foreigners stealing our jobs’.
When some 200 migrant agricultural labourers, mostly from Bangladesh, came to demand unpaid wages going back six months or more, at least 28 of them were shot and injured by gun-wielding thugs. Three of the foremen at the strawberry plantation in Nea Manolada where they worked are being blamed for the murderous assault.
This racist violence is the most recent in a string of similar attacks against Asian and African workers in Greece.
And as if to clarify what might drive Bangladeshis to leave their homes and expose themselves to such racist poison in the first place, the true face of imperialist superexploitation has been on shameful display in Bangladesh itself, with the death of over 1,000 textile workers, mostly women, when the Rana Plaza complex in which they worked collapsed.
Some 3,000 people were estimated to be working there at the time of collapse, despite the fact that only days earlier large cracks had been detected and reported. Workers in the building were told to continue coming in to work on pain of dismissal.
Back in November, similar disregard by factory owners for the lives of their workers had been shown in the Tazreen factory fire. On that occasion workers were told it was a false alarm and ordered back to work. When they tried to escape, they were blocked by a locked fire door. That fire claimed 112 lives.
The grim conclusion is that whether Bangladeshi workers stay at home or travel abroad, the end result is the same: superexploitation at best, and at worst an early grave. The immediate owners of the collapsed factory may be justly pilloried, as may the thugs in Greece who shot the strawberry-pickers, but in neither case will the real criminal be called to account – capitalism itself.
Whatever happens to the local factory bosses, we can be sure that the monopoly capitalists running Primark and Matalan will not be required to answer for the lives of those who died stitching their garments. At least, not yet.
Bectu members received the following email from their union today:
I am writing to let you know about EXPOSE, a new campaign of media workers and students – journalists, technicians, designers, musicians and actors – that is dedicated to exposing the British National Party as the racists, homophobes, anti-Semites, women-haters and fascists that they are.
BECTU are working with our colleagues from the NUJ to support the launch of ‘EXPOSE’, a campaigning group set up to provide well-researched information and background briefings for reporters, news editors and others in our industry in order to challenge the BNP’s statements and spokespersons, and the racism and criminality at the heart of their organisation.
Below is how one member responded:
It’s not the BNP, but the Labour party that needs exposing. Everyone knows what the BNP is about. And it is Labour’s racism that has created the conditions in which the BNP has grown and thrived.
Labour has dehumanised and massacred millions of innocent people in the Middle East. Labour has demonised British muslims. Labour has built concentration camps for immigrants. Labour has brought in ‘anti-terror’ legislation that it uses against peaceful demonstrators and the entire muslim community. Labour has dismantled British civil liberties. Labour has given billions to the failed banks, while encouraging working people to believe that it is immigrants who are to blame for the lack of health care, child care, education, jobs, pensions and houses. Labour continues to use anti-trade union legislation to crush working peoples’ attempts at resistance to cuts in their pay and conditions.
All these things have helped the BNP to grow. Labour has the blood of millions on its hands and yet our unions try to tell us that voting Labour is the only option if we want to ‘keep the Tories out’ or ‘keep the BNP out’. This campaign has less to do with exposing the BNP, who are already fairly well exposed, than with trying to save the electoral chances of the current government of Labour war criminals. Meanwhile, the side effect is that you will give lots of publicity to the BNP!
The fact is that the capitalists are more than happy for people who feel abandoned by and disillusioned with Labour to turn to the BNP, since the BNP further encourages racism and division between working people. This division is the very thing that keeps workers weak and at the mercy of big corporations and the state. As far as the capitalists are concerned, the BNP is a perfectly acceptable ‘alternative’ vote, since it doesn’t threaten their ability to continue to plunder and exploit at home or abroad. They see it merely as a safety valve in times of economic crisis, when people are becoming more militantly disaffected.
But, despite all the publicity it receives, and the recruiting work that the Labour party and corporate media does for it, the BNP is not currently anywhere near to power. The real threat to working people right now is the Labour party. And the best way to explain that, and to keep people away from the BNP too, is to ditch Labour and become part of a real workers’ movement against the failed system of capitalism and for socialism - the only system that is capable of abolishing all forms of inequality and putting workers’ interests and needs first.
With the bank crisis fresh in people’s minds and the prospect of a fresh assault on workers’ jobs, houses, pay and pensions after the election, no matter which party of capital wins, there has never been a better time to get involved in the real struggle for workers’ rights: the anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist struggle for socialism. On the other hand, there is no better way to reveal our uselessness than to go flogging the same old dead horse of trying to bring people back into the Labour party fold, and tie them to the system that has created all the problems we see today: economic meltdown, a gap of 100 times between Britain’s richest and poorest, criminal genocidal wars, stealth privitisation of essential services, spiralling unemployment, racist and anti-immigrant hysteria, the increasing criminalisation of protest, etc.
As media workers, we should be looking a bit closer to home in our battle to fight all this. The propaganda that fuels support for criminal wars and anti-terror and anti-immigrant legislation and demonisation couldn’t be put out without our members’ cooperation. Journalists write this rubbish to order. Technicians print and broadcast it. How about a campaign to stop helping the capitalists to make us complicit in their crimes?
As capitalism descends deeper into crisis, the ruling class are getting more aggressive in their efforts to push the burdens of the slump onto workers’ backs. In these circumstances, the working class needs to be hard-headed about (a) just what they are fighting for, and (b) what grounds there are for confidence that their struggles will meet with success.
It would be comforting simply to hail the militancy of the striking construction workers, whose recent bold initiative in taking unofficial action over jobs has put the bosses and the government on the back foot, as winning a decisive victory for the British working class – comforting, but wrong.
It would be comforting to pretend that the battle lines coincided neatly with the struggle of labour against capital, and that the strikers and unions involved were free from the taint of “British jobs for British workers” chauvinism – comforting, but wrong.
It would be comforting to nod along with the New Communist Party’s line in the New Worker of 13th February 2009, under a headline blaring “Victory in Lindsey dispute”. How cosy it would be to nod sagely as Derek Simpson of Unite tells us that the Lindsey deal “establishes the principle of fair access for UK workers”, as the first stage in the battle against “employers who are excluding UK workers from even applying for work on construction projects”. How comforting it would be to pretend that the crucial issue confronting workers is not the failure of capitalism to guarantee employment to all workers but the failure of government to reserve a quota of the dwindling jobs pool for British workers.
In short, it would be far more comfortable all round to believe that workers really do now have the opportunity to unite behind the existing trade union leadership, guided by the political perspectives offered by the “left” of the Labour party and their sundry hangers-on, and that the only racist blot on the horizon is the fascist posturing of the British Nationalist Party (BNP) on the far fringes of “respectable” political life. Such illusions must indeed be comforting – but are completely false.
The BNP feeds off the racial prejudice sown amongst workers over a very long period by a labour aristocracy which has been specially groomed for this task by their imperialist masters. The natural habitat of this privileged layer of workers has throughout been the Labour party and the TUC which that party dominates. The emergence of “New” Labour has simply exposed the essentially bourgeois orientation of the party, now largely stripped of the protective colouration once provided by its proletarian membership.
The purpose of sowing racism amongst workers has been to divide and weaken organised labour. In the 19th century the scapegoat was the “Irish navvy”. In the 1930s it was primarily the “wandering Jew”, in the 1960s it was the West Indian and in the 1980s it was the “Paki”. Right now the scapegoats include migrant workers from Eastern Europe (their former socialist homelands now enduring capitalist meltdown), refugees from underdevelopment and war (both a consequence of imperialism), and just about anyone who is, or might conceivably be mistaken for, a Muslim.
This divide-and-rule use of racism is not just some random tactic happened upon by imperialism. By keeping the labour movement tied to the neo-colonial oppression meted out by the ruling class, the imperialist Labour party stands on guard on the exploiters’ behalf, ever ready to undermine the anti-capitalist efforts of the proletariat.
In the course of the latest “British Jobs for British Workers” furore, the bourgeois propaganda campaign has continued to play out through a very familiar division of labour. Whilst the angry victims of unemployment are persuaded to wrap themselves in the Union Jack and demand a “fair deal for Brits”, the “great and good” of the “left” Labour establishment present themselves as the guard dogs of “respectable” politics. On the one hand these gentry strive to pen the “wildcats” back within the legal pale, on the other they pretend to identify the BNP as the sole chauvinist threat.
By posturing as defenders of democracy against the BNP, apologists for the Labour party seek in practice to bind workers yet tighter to social democracy – the real pimp for fascism. Job done, these hypocrites can wash their own hands of any responsibility for the chauvinist panic they have helped to unleash, leaving it to the hysterical tabloids to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s in this cautionary tale of “dirty foreigners stealing our jobs”.
Meanwhile, of course, the Labour party in government is free to go on building concentration camps for asylum seekers and their children, implementing racist immigration controls, criminalising trade union resistance and stacking ever higher the “anti-terror” legislation – purportedly against “Muslim terrorists”, but in reality a gun aimed at the working class if and when it decides to kick off. BNP, eat your heart out! With social democratic friends like this, who needs fascist enemies?
So what does “victory” look like in these times of crisis, and what does “defeat” look like? “Victory” may be claimed when a deal is cut with management whereby the workforce agrees to stomach a wage cut or short-time working in exchange for a promise of no more redundancies – yet. Or “victory” may be a deal cut with management to guarantee a quota of “British” jobs. However, jobs “defended” by such means can only demoralise the work force, pit one group of workers against another – and in any case pave the way for further retrenchment and defeats. To trumpet such deals as “victories” can bring only false comfort to workers in struggle, ill preparing them for yet tougher battles still to come.
The TUC and “left” Labour riposte runs as follows:
1. The recession is inevitable. If it’s anybody’s fault it’s the bankers, so we need a few heads to roll and a bit more regulation.
2. The best “we” can all do is sit it out and share the pain out a bit more “fairly”, helped along by a dose of Keynesian anaesthesia.
3. Anyway better times are round the corner, and it’s probably time we stopped “our” spendthrift ways and welcome a brave new world of virtuous austerity, ushering in a “greener” Britain.
By this logic, workers need to demand a “fair” distribution of wage cuts (you shave off a percentage of your fat cat bonus and we’ll swallow deteriorating pay and conditions) and a “fair” distribution of the rapidly diminishing jobs supply (with first place in the queue reserved for white British – otherwise the BNP will get in!).
The crisis is indeed inevitable – that much they have got right. But the scale of the crisis is at least on a par with the two great crises of the 20th century, each of which convulsed world society, spawning wars and revolutions. What workers need to be hearing is not soothing advice on how to collaborate with capitalism so that “we British” can weather the storm together. What workers need to hear is the truth: that their class interests are in open and direct contradiction with those of the exploiters; that organisation is the only weapon the proletariat possesses in its fight against capitalism; that everything which disunites workers also blunts that weapon of organisation; that complicity with oppression abroad and racism at home are the single most potent threat to the unity of the working class; and that the single most important task with which imperialism entrusts its social democratic gendarmes is to enforce that complicity upon the British working class.
So what does “victory” or “defeat” look like in these crisis days? To trample over the union-bashing laws, say “sod the ballot” and walk off the job – that is a most welcome proof of the continued fighting spirit of the working class. But to walk off the job and into the arms of the chauvinist TUC and Labour party – that is to court the most dangerous political setbacks for the whole class.
Victory must increasingly be measured in terms of the political gains workers win for themselves. Victory must be measured by how far workers can get out from under the disorganising influence of social democracy, how far workers can draw on their reserves of class militancy to challenge capitalism itself. Along this path, many tactics and many forms of organisation may present themselves. The workers in Waterford and elsewhere have refreshed memories on the potential of the occupation and work-in as tactics in the class war. Sooner than accept the capitalist’s plaint – “the order book is empty chaps, what can I do about it?” – the workers can demonstrate that it is the commodity market that is satiated, not the consumption needs of those who labour.
Attempts to rebuild militant organisation within the unions through initiatives like the National Shop Stewards Network – itself a logical development of the RMT’s own organisational break with Labour – will only thrive to the degree that they are able to cut loose from the false comfort offered by the “old hands” of “left” Labour and get serious about uniting the class to challenge the whole system of wage slavery.
As the working class learns to break the link with the Labour party, there are excellent reasons for anticipating a victorious outcome for its struggles. It is this message, not the false comfort offered by the “left” Labour swamp, which should command the attention of class-conscious workers.
Via The Guardian
Under the banner of the EU, and without parliament’s consent, the Home Office is taking data from children entering the UK.
Two months ago, the UK Borders Agency began fingerprinting foreign
children over six years old, from outside the European Economic Area and resident in Britain. At the time Jacqui Smith was congratulated for her tough line on issuing identity cards to foreign residents and no one, not even parliament, noticed that the biometric requirements applied to children of six. And parliament didn’t know because it was never asked to approve the policy.
Nowhere in the world are you more powerless than at a border. As a foreigner you also enjoy far fewer rights than locals. Do you think these children or their parents dare to speak up against the bureaucracy of the UK Borders Agency? In fact, no one has called the Borders Agency to account. Home Office officials I have talked to outside the agency were shocked that official government policy is now to fingerprint children.
When asked why (question 226407), the Home Office itself offers a much more solid defence: that the EU requires it. What it does not admit is that the British government is almost alone in pushing the EU to ensure that the age when fingerprinting can start is so low. Home Office officials pushed the EU to establish a standard age of six, despite opposition within other European governments. The next time you hear a government official support the EU, it is not just because it is a vehicle for “peace, prosperity and freedom”, but also because it is a vehicle to push through policies that the UK government would prefer not to pursue through the legislature at home.
The Bush administration rejected the contemplation of fingerprinting children, even within the controversial US-VISIT program that fingerprints visitors to the United States. The Department of Homeland Security is prohibited from fingerprinting children under 14, though it may well consider lowering it.
The Bush administration and the UK government have both pushed bad
policies through international bodies over the last eight years. The UN was compelled by the UK and the US to adopt shared standards to monitor foreigners and travellers around the world. In turn, when the government wanted to justify ID cards, it pointed to the international obligations to adopt biometric passports. When it collects information about British citizens’ travel habits, it will use “international standards” as a justification.
The bitter irony is that when the Bush administration tried to do exactly what these international standards propose – through collecting all travel information and other data about individuals to develop a risk score that they cannot correct – there was international condemnation. When the UK government wants to push exactly the same measures, and in fact collect even more data than the US, there is absolute silence because everyone in Britain thinks the UK government is just following international obligations.
Even if the Obama administration reverses course on treating entire populations as suspected criminals, the UK government will continue to hawk bad surveillance policy. Yet some of its most invasive practices and plans will never be reviewed by parliament. Just as Britons are powerless at the border of another country, they are also powerless within their own country.
Paradoxically, the European parliament pushed back against the European governments’ attempts to lower the fingerprinting age of citizens for their passports to six years old. Instead, the European parliament gained a “victory” recently by getting the standard raised to 12. So now the EU is requiring that teenagers across the EU be fingerprinted for their passports. Indeed, the UK government will now probably argue that it has to follow suit. The government has promised, however, that ID cards (which are based on passports, which are in turn based on EU “obligations”) would only be issued to people aged 16 or over. Will that pledge hold? Or will the fact that foreign residents in Britain have been forced to accept it and international standards, of course, be used as an excuse to issue children with compulsory ID?