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Year 2001 No. 138, August 8, 2001 ARCHIVE HOME SEARCH SUBSCRIBE

US Administration Threatens Boycott of World Conference against Racism

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US Administration Threatens Boycott of World Conference against Racism

Newham Social Workers Step Up their Action

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US Administration Threatens Boycott of World Conference against Racism

The US government has threatened to boycott the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, to be held in Durban, South Africa from August 31 to September 7. The threat comes as the final meeting of the conference Preparatory Committee, which is drafting an agenda and a draft declaration, takes place in Geneva from July 30 to August 10.

According to a White House spokesman, the US would not attend if the conference if its organisers "equate Zionism with racism in the agenda leading up to the conference or if they look backward at the very tangled question of reparations and slavery". The EU has said that it will also not endorse any text criticising Zionism or demanding reparations for colonialism and slavery. Other members of the US delegation have also made clear that they will object to any attempts to "paint Israel as an imperialistic, colonial suppressive, brutal regime". The Israeli government has also voiced its opposition to paragraphs in a draft conference declaration which refer to "foreign occupation founded on settlements, its laws based on racial discrimination, with the aim of continuing domination on the occupied territory". The draft document, which apparently does not name Israel, concludes that such policies represent "a new kind of apartheid, a crime against humanity and a serious threat to international peace and security".

The US, backed by the EU, had earlier opposed a proposed a declaration prepared by African governments which described the slave trade as "a crime against humanity" and which demanded an "explicit apology" and compensation for the "lasting economic, political and cultural damage to African peoples" resulting from slavery, colonialism and apartheid. The US has now said that it would not use the word "apology" as this could be the legal basis for future claims for compensation, but has proposed a statement on slavery expressing "deep regret and profound remorse for the terrible suffering caused". The EU proposes an "apology" which states: "We profoundly deplore the human suffering caused by slavery and the slave trade… We recognise that some effects of colonialism, which still persist today, have caused immense suffering." Britain and other colonial powers are strongly supporting an approach that implies that only some aspects of colonialism were damaging.

According to reports, the British government has been opposed to defining slavery as a crime against humanity since prevailing international law at the time did not recognise slavery as illegal and therefore it cannot retrospectively be viewed as a crime. In this connection, the British government is stressing that the international community cannot afford to be diverted from the fundamental responsibility of dealing with the problems of contemporary racial discrimination. Minister of State at the Foreign Office, John Battle, has said he hopes the conference will not overlook the concerns or daily problems of diverse ethnic communities who face racial discrimination today, adding that Britain wants the World Conference to address real present issues as well as looking forward to new future relationships. But the British government is using the pretext of looking to the future in order to divert from the issue of making a complete break from Britain’s colonialist and imperialist past, and hence not settle scores with the source of racism and racial discrimination in the present.

The US has been particularly strongly criticised in South Africa for its attempts to dictate what may or may not be discussed at the UN sponsored conference. The US did not participate in the UN conferences against racism in 1978 and 1983 because of its collaboration with the apartheid regime in South Africa. The ANC condemned the US government for the boycott threat, while the Congress of South African Trade Unions issued a statement condemning US bullying and blackmail and "the attempt by the Bush Administration to hold the whole world to ransom".

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Newham Social Workers Step Up their Action

A day of action has been announced by over 100 social workers employed by Newham Council for next Monday, August 13. They also plan to back up their campaign of one-day walkouts with a work to rule. Recently the social workers staged their second 24-hour walkout since July. Their latest action will include a picket of Newham Town Hall on Barking Road from 11.00 am and a Rally.

The workers are challenging the council’s decision to create divisions amongst social workers by awarding higher payments to a differentiated tier of staff. Managers are being awarded £3,000 pay rises, £1,000 is being awarded to a number of the social workers while the majority of staff are to get nothing. It is reported that between 2000 and 2001, 22% of social work staff left their posts. In this situation, front-line staff, working with the most vulnerable sections of the community, have been awarded lower payments than management colleagues. Furthermore, recruitment advertisements have been placed for a children’s central assessment team whose new members will be given extra payments of up to £2,000, compared with existing workers caring for the same children.

UNISON Branch Secretary Irene Stacey recently said, "If management don’t listen then we will not hesitate to step up our action." She added, "Newham council should have got round the negotiating table – this refusal to negotiate is typical of the arrogance of New Labour."

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