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Year 2001 No. 193, November 12, 2001 ARCHIVE HOME SEARCH SUBSCRIBE

Successful Birmingham Anti-War Meeting

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

Successful Birmingham Anti-War Meeting

September 11 and the Law

Dangers of the Government’s Stance

The Responsibility of the Trade Union Movement

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Successful Birmingham Anti-War Meeting

Recently, an anti-war meeting was held at Frankley in Birmingham. It was attended by 30 people, including stewards and ex-stewards from Longbridge and local people from the Frankley area. Speakers included Salma Qaqoob from the Coalition against the War, Muff Sourani, an MSF trade union organiser, who spoke in a personal capacity, Adrian Ross, an MG Rover Convenor at Longbridge, and Ron Dorman from the Campaign against Euro-Federalism. The meeting was chaired by Ken Knapman of RCPB(ML).

Some of the main points made by the speakers were concerned with:

Interventions from the floor raised how the factory closures and redundancies were being blamed on September 11 and how this is suspicious. For example, Rolls Royce and Jaguar have been put on short time, and further cuts at Goodyear have been announced, not to mention the British Airways situation. However, the fact is that the crisis was deepening before September 11. Some other important questions which came up for consideration and were discussed at the meeting were: What would have been the situation at Longbridge if the announcement by BMW of its closure and its subsequent change of hands had happened after September 11? What if the announcement were made again – would the consciousness of the workers and the way they organised be different? Other interventions raised the issues of the political role of the working class and the need for the class to have its own independent press.

A committee was set up to work on developing the movement amongst the workers against the war.

In this issue of WDIE, we are reporting on some of the points raised in the speeches at the meeting on November 4.

Article Index

September 11 and the Law

In his speech, Ron Dorman, CAEF National Organiser, said that the September 11 attacks on the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington were acts of terrorism that are condemned by everyone that has a spark of humanity. CAEF extends its sympathy to all the families of the victims of that crime including the firemen and policemen who died trying to save the lives of those in the buildings, he said. About one thousand of those who died were trade unionists. The people responsible for the atrocity must be brought to book before an international court of justice but not by war, which can only make matters worse.

Ron Dorman said that if force is ever required to bring the culprits to justice, the aims and objectives of such action must be clearly defined and limited by the one body that could reasonably make such a decision – the United Nations General Assembly. The UN Security Council is not appropriate as it often acts as a tool for American policy, he said. This is clearly shown by the recent UN Security Council decision to call on Israel to pull its troops out of the West Bank towns it had re-occupied. The decision came after months of deadlock because the US suddenly dropped its opposition to suit its current wider Middle East policy aims.

Certainly, the continuous bombing of Afghanistan with cluster bombs and now carpet bombing cannot be justified as a response to what happened on September 11, the speaker said, even though Jack Straw maintains there is no equivalence between the deaths on September 11 and those in Afghanistan. Let him come clean and state how many Afghan lives he thinks are worth one of those that died on 11 September!

The immediate problem is to end the bombing the Americans have unleashed against Afghanistan, Ron Dorman said. This is not appeasement, or pacifism for that matter. It is a matter of observing the international law we are all supposed to uphold; we cannot be selective about implementing the law. It is also a matter of opposing an unjust war, if war it can be called, when the richest and most powerful country in the world with the most sophisticated weaponry attacks one of the world’s poorest countries.

Ron Dorman pointed out that so far the rules of international law have not been observed, neither has the law of innocence until proved guilty. What we have seen, he said, is George Bush with his gung-ho approach talking of taking out bin Laden dead or alive and bombing Afghanistan. This country has already suffered 20 years of war and severe droughts and aid organisations estimate as many as five million people will starve this winter unless food supplies are rushed into Afghanistan before the onset of winter very shortly.

Ron Dorman also pointed out that America is one of the few countries that refuse to call for an international court of justice. On January 20, 2000, Republican Senator Jesse Helms, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told an extraordinary meeting of UN ambassadors that "unlike the Europeans, Americans are moving away from supranational institutions and wanted no part of utopian international arrangements including an international criminal court". Helms went on, "If the UN respects the sovereign rights of the American people and serves them as an effective tool of diplomacy, it will earn and deserve their respect and support. But if the UN seeks to impose its presumed authority on the American people without their consent begs for confrontation, and I want to be candid, eventual US withdrawal". In other words so long as the USA can use the UN against other countries, fine, but not if the UN wants to sanction the US!

Ron Dorman pointed out that so far no proof of either Bin Laden’s or Al Qaida’s guilt for the September 11 attacks has been produced. Indeed the Taleban government of Afghanistan has nevertheless made the reasonable request three times to see the evidence against bin Laden and Al Qaida before extraditing him as Bush demanded. There is nothing abnormal about the Taleban request; rather it is normal procedure as shown by the protracted extradition proceedings over the extradition General Pinochet a year or so ago.

Lure of oil and gas

Ron Dorman then went on to raise that the Central Asian countries such as Turkestan, Kazakhstan and the Caspian Sea area have huge untapped oil and gas reserves that American transnational corporations would like to get their hands on. Unocal and the Chevron Corporation are already there. It is equally well known that the Bush family is tied into US oil interests as is Dick Cheney the Vice President of America. It is also well known that American oil interests did all they could to get Bush elected US president. "Is there any relationship between these facts?" he asked. The facts suggest there is a direct link between the Bush administration’s policy, the oil companies, the oil and gas reserves and the bombing of Afghanistan, he answered. Afghanistan lies on the only route out of the area where the oil reserves are situated that does not run through countries the Americans would wish to avoid such as Russia or China. The oil reserves are estimated to be worth $3 trillion.

The Tony Blair roadshow

The CAEF National Organiser referred to Tony Blair as now a travelling salesman with his own roadshow for Bush and less obviously for the EU. He travels round the Middle East and parts of Asia trying to sell his shoddy goods with high pressure salesmanship, Ron Dorman said.

The speaker drew attention to the fact that not only is the coalition falling apart abroad but at home people are beginning to question the morality of the bombing of Afghanistan and whether British servicemen’s lives should be needlessly placed in danger by sending them to Afghanistan.

The EU actor

Ron Dorman also warned about being caught unawares by oppressive measures that are being introduced throughout the whole of the EU against civil rights. These are being introduced under the cloak of the "fight against terrorism", he said. The EU is introducing very dangerous measures designed to curb protests.

A special report by Statewatch, a European network drawn from 12 countries encouraging investigative journalism and critical research in the fields of state, civil liberties and openness, cites the following EU plans to combat future protests at EU and international meetings in Europe:

* give control of operations to the newly-created EU "Task Force of Chief Police Officers" which has no legal basis for its activities;

* create mechanisms for "operational" co-operation for which there are no legal powers;

* legitimise the ongoing surveillance by "police and intelligence officers" (internal security services) of persons or groups likely to pose a threat to public order and security;

* create national databases of "troublemakers" based on suspicion without any legal standards or data protection and allow the unregulated exchange of data;

* allow EU member states to pass laws to prevent people from going to protests in other countries if their names have been recorded as "suspects" or if they have been convicted of minor public order offences (i.e. obstructing the highway).

What these measures mean, Ron Dorman pointed out, was amply demonstrated at the demonstration against the meeting of the G7 countries in Genoa in June when police fired on demonstrators and killed one of them. It is easy to see that these measures need not be limited to demonstrations at international meetings, he said. They could be used to stop peace demonstrations, those against privatisation of public services and industrial protests as jobs disappear due the economic crisis that was apparent before September 11 but has been made worse by events on that day. Also, he said, extradition laws are being harmonised which means they will get more oppressive and ID cards are going to be introduced for asylum seekers instead of the voucher system. This may prove worse than vouchers at the end of the day, he said. Once there are ID cards for asylum seekers it becomes easier to introduce them for everyone. These cards would contain information people themselves will not be able to read. It should be noted, he said, that introduction of these measures has long been the aim of the EU; they arise from the Schengen Convention and were incorporated in the Amsterdam Treaty in 1992. If all EU countries ratify the Nice Treaty, future home affairs measures will be taken by QMV (qualified majority voting) which means the measures could be imposed on Britain even if we had a government opposed to them.

Stopping the war

Ron Dorman emphasised that if we are serious about stopping the war in Afghanistan, we have also to protest successfully against these measures. It is vital the people and in particular the labour movement takes a stand; it is a stand we must take whatever propaganda spin they throw at us.

Those who can remember the Suez crisis, the speaker said, will remember the great demonstration in Birmingham Town Hall that overflowed into Victoria Square when Harold Wilson spoke against British intervention. That and similar meetings nation-wide created uproar in the country. The movement soon brought the war to an end. Ron Dorman drew attention to the fact that as most MPs were elected by the votes of no more than 25% of the electorate, they have no right to make decisions fraught with such grave possibilities without consulting their constituents.

The speaker pointed out that the CWU, RMT, ASLEF, TSSA, BFAWU, Unison and NATFHE want the bombing of Afghanistan stopped and the FBU successfully moved a resolution at this year’s Labour Party Conference calling for the crisis to be resolved through international, diplomatic and humanitarian measures rather than military action. The CWU is calling on other unions to follow its example.

Ron Dorman said that to stop the bombing would be an act of solidarity not only with the Afghan people but also with the New York trade unionists who want the bombing stopped. That includes the firemen who are insisting work is carried on to retrieve the dead bodies of their comrades still lying under the rubble of the twin towers but opposed by the authorities, he said.

Ending the bombing of Afghanistan can lead on to tackling the roots of terrorism, the speaker said. Ending the bombing can pave the way for self determination for the Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghans, that is the right to rule themselves free from external intervention. It is a right we should also claim for ourselves so that we can ensure money presently spent on arms can be more usefully spent on jobs, education, hospitals and care for the elderly, he concluded.

Article Index

Dangers of the Government’s Stance

Longbridge convenor Adrian Ross spoke about the immoral stance that has been taken by the government in response to the attack on the World Trade Centre where thousands of workers sadly lost their lives. The reaction seems to be, he said, "Well, we think we know who has done it, but we can't get at him. So we are going to reduce this rubble to further rubble and at the same time try and take out a part of the world that is a thorn in our side."

The speaker accused Anglo-US imperialism. He said that when Bush talks of America's interest abroad it means the interests of US capitalism abroad. He said that during the Cold War, US imperialism called the Soviet Union the evil empire. But capitalism has been an absolutely evil system from top to bottom from the day of its conception, he said.

Adrian Ross said that the war is an excuse, a way for the West to flex its muscles and try and put people into line. He said that the position of Muslims is fraught with all sorts of dangers. He accused the British media of whipping up racial hatred. He said that at Longbridge the works committee took a position that all the stewards had to be vigilant. The speaker related how an awareness had been raised amongst the workforce, and accused the government of doing nothing to counter the way the press is covering the issue of race.

For a government to say that they are morally justified in this war and then not do anything to counter the rubbish that is being put about in the press is absolutely disgusting, Adrian Ross said. He pointed to the dangers that lie ahead if the government’s stance continues.

Article Index

The Responsibility of the Trade Union Movement

Among other things, Muff Sourani of the MSF union, who is Kurdish and was born in Iraq, said that the trade unions need to fulfil their obligation to protect working conditions and especially argue for a safe world to work in and to live in.

He said that we are at a crossroads for the interests of multinationals and Western interests in particular that is going to determine life in the future. There is within the trade union movement and the mass movement, he argued, an obligation to channel decent thinking. We must start from our branches, from our committees and from there build the movement whereby we can argue for decency, he said, including even having facts before us and not relying on some secretive report which leads to the bombing of a whole nation.

Muff Sourani condemned the dangerous Thatcherite position of the "clash of cultures". He suggested that the justifications for the bombing of Afghanistan could be carried over to other parts of the world. He said that lines of battle have been drawn up to destabilise the peace of the planet. His view was that international capitalism is becoming more aggressive because world politics have changed. The United Nations is ignored or the Security Council is used to rubber stamp the Anglo-US actions. The speaker referred to the bombs dropped on Iraq and the deaths of over a million people in Iraq, half a million of whom are children, which the former US Secretary of State said was a price worth paying.

The speaker thought it would be well advised to argue for the removal of the causes of terrorism. He said that the big powers are creating more havoc and causes for terrorism. He argued that if any action against terrorism were to be sanctioned, it had to be under the auspices of the United Nations. It would have to have a legal instrument and it would need to be massively backed by an argument for justice. He said that to stabilise the Middle East the atrocities that have been committed against the Palestinian people have to be redressed.

The speaker referred to the argument that the aggressive actions are being carried out in "self-defence". He said that the use of armed force in self defence is justified in international law only when the armed attack is so sudden and extreme that the need for action is instant leaving no choice of means or no moment for deliberation. But, he said, we have a lot of time to debate the causes of terrorism and the causes of injustices. The retaliation against the Afghan people is not self-defence, he said. They are using weapons of mass destruction against the defenceless, poor and ageing people of Afghanistan. They ignore the defence of human rights and democracy. The speaker said he could not but help thinking that the US and Britain would not bomb the Afghan people if they were not Asian and if they did not have a dark skin.

Muff Sourani said that instead of pinning the blame for the causes of atrocity on Afghanistan, Palestine or Iraq, which is blaming the victim for the problems, it is much better to establish dialogue. The present government is continuing to be the spokesman for American aggression, the speaker said, and it is continuing with its unashamed action in the name of the labour movement. Labour voters should not keep quiet about the injustices and double standards that are operating, he said.

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