All posts by Saleh Mamon

A long march to freedom

The Myanmar coup shows that the military is an existential threat to democracy in many nations

Protestors in Yangon

The latest overthrow of a democratically elected government in Myanmar on February 1st, 2021 shows dramatically how the military can set back democracy. The Myanmar military, known as Tatmadaw, has declared a one year “state of emergency” and taken full control of the country’s government and infrastructure. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Chairman of the State Administration Council, is now exercising supreme power over the country.

Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and several dozen other senior officials were arrested in early morning raids in the capital, Naypyidaw. The charges laid against Ms Suu Kyi allege that she illegally imported and used communications equipment -walkie-talkies -found at her home in Nay Pyi Taw. The military repeatedly claims that there was fraud in the elections of November 8th 2020 which the National League of Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide.

The party backed by the military, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) performed dismally. Given that the military holds a quarter of all seats in both the House of Nationalities and House of Representatives in accordance with the 2008 constitution devised by the military, giving the military a veto over any change, the claim of fraud is contrived. The deeper reason is the anxiety of the military that its monopoly of political, social and economic power has come under serious threat by the electoral popularity of NLD and the demand for constitutional reform.

Suu Kyi’s pact with the military has unravelled. The youngest daughter of the Burmese father of the nation, Aung San, assassinated in 1947, her rise began on the back of the 1988 democracy uprising when she became the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD). When the NLD won a landslide victory in the 1990 elections, the military nullified the results, and kept her under house arrests off and on for 15 years from 1989 to 2010. She became an international icon and won many awards including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

When Myanmar opened up to liberalisation, there was a protracted move to democracy and the NLD won the 2015 elections when she assumed the post of State Counsellor (equivalent to Prime Minister). Her image was tarnished when she appeared before the ICC to deny the allegations of genocide against the Rohingya by the military.

In Myanmar, people have been protesting against the coup in large numbers. The response has been water cannons and rubber bullets and even live ammunition. Amnesty’s crisis evidence centre has reported that there is evidence of use of machine guns and live fire on protestors. The first victim of police shooting was a young woman, Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, shot on February 9th. On February 20th, reports came that security forces opened fire on protestors wounding 40 and killing two in Mandalay. A large number of people have been arrested and detained.

So far the protestors are not deterred. All sections of civil society have joined in civil disobedience to demand the restoration of democracy. What is significant is that workers have taken action. Rail workers, civil servants, bank workers have come out on strike against the coup. Unions have taken a leading role in organising the strikes.

The coup is poised to deliver a major blow to the $6 bn garment industry reeling from the pandemic which has reduced working hours. Garment workers have joined protests. Front line health workers in more than seventy medical facilities have walked out in response to the coup. It has cut off telephone lines and internet connections across a large part of the country to stop protestors from communicating for organising and also with the outside world. Witnesses describe the level of violence as ‘a war zone’ in Mandalay and other locations away from the main city Yangon where most embassies, the UN and international journalists are based. The general strike on Monday the 22 shut down businesses in defiance of the military’s threat of violence is a harbinger of the coming heightened struggle between the masses and the military.

At this stage it is hard to say how severe the military repression will be and what will be the costs to civil society. The military has a history of terrible violence in1988, during the massive democratic uprising known as 8-8-88 (acronym for August 8,1988), when thousands of protestors were massacred and again in 2007, when protests were suppressed with killings and arrests. In 2017, the military unleashed violence against the Rohingya with more than 600,000 fleeing to safety in Bangladesh.

Our hope should lie with the mobilisation of the people united in a common front. The demand for democracy must include the Rohingya in the North West of the country if there is to be meaningful democracy for all. The ethnic cleansing must stop and those who sought refuge in Bangladesh must be allowed to return.

We have to go back to Burma’s colonial period to understand how modern Burma developed as a nation. British colonisation of Burma began in 1824 and after three Anglo-Burmese wars spanning over 60 years, it consolidated the annexation of Burma in 1888, sending the last king of Burma, Thibaw Min, into exile in India. Of those years, George Orwell who spent five years in Burma, wrote in 1929 that that the British were robbing and pilfering Burma quite shamelessly. They seized the mines and the oil wells, controlled timber production and acted as all sorts of middlemen, brokers, millers and exporters, making colossal fortunes from rice without the peasant producers getting anything out of it. The get-rich-quick businessmen make their pile from rice, petrol etc., and sent the money to England, rather than investing it in the country.

Secondly, Orwell said that the British government was at pains to give the people only summary instruction, merely sufficient to produce messengers, low-grade civil servants, petty lawyers’ clerks and other white-collar workers. They were unwilling to develop a well-educated Burmese class which could assume the leadership of the country in the future.

The Second World war was a turning point. Burmese independence fighters set up a Burmese Independence Army (BIA) to free the country from British rule. They initially forged an alliance with Japanese forces to obtain training and weapons. The British, on retreating, followed a scorched earth policy to thwart the Japanese advance. They destroyed the major government buildings, oil wells and mines for tungsten, tin, lead and silver to keep them from the Japanese. When the Japanese occupied Burma and refused to give independence, the BIA switched allegiance to the British and rebelled against the Japanese by deploying its units across the country. It became the first truly national organisation in Burma which is still honoured by its people.

Myanmar was bombed extensively by the Allies. At the time of independence, the country was in ruins with its major infrastructure completely destroyed. Independence began badly with many of its best leaders assassinated. Over the next decade, the fragile democracy struggled to rebuild the country, a task that should not be underestimated in an underdeveloped colonial country where there was no Marshall plan to reconstruct it.

The military guns first crackled in 1962, when Gen. Ne Win overthrew a fragile government. The Revolutionary Council centralised state power, established the Burmese Socialist Programme Party with anti-communism as its motto and banned all other parties. Myanmar also turned away from the outside world when it came to economic policies. During the military’s 49-year direct hold on power, the country declined economically until it opened up to liberalisation in 2011.

In the wake of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, the UN set up an independent fact-finding mission to assess the economic interests of the military in Myanmar with a view to recommending how these needed to be brought under the control of civilian authorities. In its report in 2019, the mission revealed a business empire is so vast and secretive that there is no transparency and accountability over the military budget. The Tatmadaw uses its web of commercial interests, established through military-linked companies and subsidiaries, relationships with state-owned enterprises and private crony companies, to secure financial resources to support its activities and personnel.

Furthermore, there were reasonable grounds to conclude that China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Israel, the Philippines, Russia, and Ukraine allowed arms and arms- related transfers and assistance to Myanmar which posed a direct and foreseeable threat to human rights to the people of the country. The military that were the champions of independence have become parasitical, treating the country as their fiefdom.

There has been a swift international response against the coup. The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution calling for support for Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials, and to refrain from using violence on people protesting against the military coup. The US government has imposed sanctions on some military officers but it remains doubtful if that would provide key leverage for change. What is needed is corporations investing in Myanmar to begin to pull out their investments. That would worry the military deeply because it holds substantial shares in its joint ventures with corporations. However this response at its best has been rather timid. It is hampered by a legacy of seven decades of impunity when the international community failed to take any significant action when the military was violently repressing the minorities like the Karen and expelling the Rohingya muslims.

When the Burmese military took power in 1962, neo-fascist military dictatorships were in power South Korea, Guatemala, Iran, Nicaragua, Brazil, the Philippines, Indonesia, Zaire and Thailand among many others. Through the cold war period until 1979, the USA supported these regimes, generally viewing them as promising stability in an unstable Third World. These regime intensified the use of organised terror in the name of ‘modernisation’.

American policy changed when the Shah’s dictatorship in Iran, installed after he coup against Mossadegh in 1953, was swept away by the Islamic revolution in 1979. It encouraged a new wave of democracies, albeit managed in its client states through electoral manipulations. However this promotion of democracy is not consistent as we saw in Egypt, after the uprising of 2011, when the first elected government of President Morsi was overthrown and replaced by one of the most brutal dictatorships under General Sisi, fully supported by the USA and many regional powers.

Liberal news and editorials in the media have rightly condemned the coup in Myanmar and demanded the return of democracy. It’s a pity that they have not been consistent over the decades and even today condone other neo-fascist and authoritarian governments across the world. Myanmar’s strategic position in the region puts it at the mercy of Chinese and American interests.

Western intervention in the name of freedom, human rights and democracy has been a dismal failure across the world. Progressive movements have rarely been supported by the dominant powers. In fact these powers have done everything possible to destroy such movements and have supported reactionary forces. The war on terror launched almost 20 years ago erased the boundary between terrorism and freedom struggles, hence all resistance movements across the world were labelled terrorists.

Military coups are not aberrations but integral to the imperialist system. Geopolitical interests play a significant role in the turn of events in any nation. Military aid by the most powerful countries create a class of privileged military officers with guaranteed pensions and business investments. They are linked to the dominant countries. They are a marked feature of uneven development when the gap between the highly developed countries and the undeveloped countries is so vast that it drives some classes to believe that a strong authority will lead to development. That is why the military remains an existential threat to democracy in many nations.

Military leaders are trained in the ethos of control, regimentation, discipline and order. They are not able to foster participation, negotiations, consensus and accountability necessary for democracy. The takeover by a strong man promising social order attracts many who fear chaos, including the rich who wish to keep on making money. That is why, when the military assumes power over society it represses politics and people and distorts society. It ends up in a mire of corruption and in the long term fails dismally. Myanmar is no exception.

Progressive forces should never disregard the power of nationalism and the role the military plays in the suppression of democracy. The illusion that the military in any country is a neutral force politically must be shed. Mass movements for political change need to be firmly based on popular participatory democracy, racial and ethnic equality, gender equality and an economy linked to ecology, to be developed for the good of all. This is going to be a long march to freedom for many people in the world including the people of Myanmar to whom we should extend unreserved solidarity.

First published in The Labour Hub on February 24 2021- link below

African economic migrants show up the failure of capitalist globalisation for the continent

Towards the end of 2020, nearly 20,000 economic migrants from West Africa made their journey across the Atlantic to the Canary Islands. This is an eightfold surge from the numbers who arrived in 2019. The routes the migrants take are less than 100 kilometres from the Moroccan coast, anywhere up to 450 kilometres from the Western Saharan coast but about 1,500 kilometres from Senegalese coast. They come in small fishing boats. The crossings are perilous. Hundreds have lost their lives.

With the route to Europe blocked off through the militarisation of the Mediterranean crossing, these migrants are risking their lives to find an alternative. Just as the crossing across the Mediterranean has become a graveyard for thousands of migrants, the Atlantic crossing is increasingly becoming a watery burial site for many migrants.

This reminded me of the Mati Diop’s haunting film Atlantique, where young labourers in Senegal whose wages have been held by the property mogul decide to board a flimsy boat and make the dangerous journey across the ocean to Spain hoping for a better life. They lose their lives but their spirits come to haunt the rich through their girlfriends and their memories.

Young men from Morocco, Senegal, Mali and many other countries along the West African coast are trying to escape the dire, unending poverty. There are no jobs that would bring an income for them. Some of them face a life of precarious low-paid employment without any prospects. There is no economic development that could absorb their labour. The Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated their situation further by decreasing economic growth significantly.

Some of them who eked a living out as stall holders have lost their livelihood. Those who have trained say as electricians do not have any job opportunity to use their skills to earn a living wage. Agriculture is also under strain because drought and the threat of desertification due to climate change haunt the hinterland of these countries. The rising sea levels have also displaced coastal communities. The depletion of fish stocks due to overfishing – largely by European and Chinese vessels – has depleted stocks off the Senegalese coast and has led to sharp cuts in incomes of fisherman and fuelled the wave of migration.

Furthermore, in the hinterland of these countries civil conflicts have become endemic. On the grounds of fighting terrorism and extremism across the Sahel, Western powers over the last decade have intervened militarily to manage national security and governance. The United States has deployed special forces commandos across the continent especially in Sahel to counter Boko Haram, and ISIL. This has enhanced regional instability with a long term impact on public security, trade and economy.

The poverty in Africa has deep historic roots. Since the 16th century, Africa was turned into a warren for slave hunting. The abduction of the youth across the continent to be ferried by tortuous slave ships across the Atlantic and set to work in death camps of plantation slavery left African societies fragmented and depleted of the life-blood of youth to maintain and develop the productive forces of their societies. Western countries accumulated their social wealth through the exploitation of African blood and sweat at one pole and left Africa poor and underdeveloped at the other. Walter Rodney’s arguments of how Europe underdeveloped Africa remains true today.

As slave uprisings and abolitionist movement in the mid-19th century, followed by the American civil war, led to the gradual end of chattel slavery, at the Berlin Conference of 1884, the imperial European powers carved up Africa with arbitrary boundaries to further their trade and exploitation. All resistance by the African continent was crushed with overwhelming military force including air power. Such resistance has been erased in the Western narrative of history, which lauds the opening up of Africa by David Livingstone, and noticed in passing when Gordon was slain in Khartoum followed by the much celebrated massacre of the Mahdi army with machine guns.

White racial supremacy led to the horror of the extermination of ‘inferior races’, notably the Herroros in German South West African territories and the indigenous people of the Congo under Belgian King Leopold’s rubber monopoly. These were reflected across the continent where African life was considered cheap and forced African labour was widespread. There was no civilising mission in the continent. The ‘civilising’ mission was to drag the continent through mud and blood to a capitalist extraction of as much wealth as possible. Christianity spread by well-organised and well-funded missionary societies turned out to be a subtle tool for pacification. Co-option and collaboration by traditional leaders with colonial powers became embedded.

White settlements in South Africa, Rhodesia, Kenya followed, through the dispossession of Africans from their lands in climes favourable for Europeans. Throughout the continent, apartheid was embedded in one form or another. Both World Wars I and II saw regional wars between European powers in Africa and a great loss of African life. The quest of Africans for democracy and trade union rights emerged but was quashed. It was after the WWII, that the liberation struggles across the continent emerged strongly. The decade-long Algerian revolution resulted in the removal of French power at a great cost. The Mau Mau revolt in Kenya against settler domination was defeated with massive military force and methods using torture, disappearances, and concentration camps.

Across the continent, the colonial powers ushered in neo-colonial administrative regimes with national flags but without a fundamental change in the social and productive relations. Where imperialism was challenged by radical African leaders, the assassination of political leaders like Patrice Lubumba and the installing of pro-Western military regimes was favoured. Other revolutionary anti-imperialist leaders who wanted to change their countries to serve their people, such as Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, Samora Machel, Steve Biko and Chris Hani, were among many who were also assassinated crushing the hopes of the continent.

Even moderate leaders like Nkrumah were toppled. Only right wing conservative leaders accommodating to imperialism survived. Counter-revolution was the extreme manifestation of Western policy during the Cold War. Military dictatorships were fostered unreservedly. Where there were modicums of elective democracy, the elites preferred a one-party state. The encroachments of Soviet Union in a few countries ended up in the cul-de-sac of military dictatorships.

The Francophone countries in West Africa are even today in the monetary grip of the French Treasury which controls their reserves and their currency, limiting their autonomy to decide on investments. The late Portuguese decolonisation after the revolution in 1974 led to proxy wars fomented by the apartheid South African regime and the United States. These devastated Angola and Mozambique for over a decade and left a million dead. The fall of the nationalist regime in South Africa in 1990 after 70 years of Western powers’ support, leading to a non-racial democracy led by Nelson Mandela, did not fundamentally alter the class relations within the country.

Over the last three decades, the imposition of neo-liberal policies from the 1970s onwards, led by the trio of International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation, reinforced the underdevelopment of most African nations. These Least Developed Countries (LDCs) of the world, locked into a dollarised economic system, became heavily indebted during after the 1973 oil crisis. The IMF swooped across the continent, insisting on structural adjustment in return for any loans. Structural adjustment demanded deregulation of their economies, allowing free movement of capital, imposing domestic austerity, cutting back on public sector investment and exporting primary produce to earn dollars. The Ebola outbreak showed how West African nations had lost their primary health network to protect their people because of these policies.

The ties of the African economy to the metropolitan powers were deepened after decolonisation. Africa’s mineral wealth across the continent was extracted with profits taken out through devious methods. A War on Want report by Mark Curtis in 2016 documented how 101 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange — most of them British — have mining operations in 37 sub-Saharan African countries. They collectively control over $1 trillion worth of Africa’s most valuable resources. Under the guise of the UK helping Africa in its economic development (a mere continuation of the colonial paternal narrative), $134 billion has flowed into the continent each year in the form of loans, foreign investment and aid. However, the British government has aided and abetted the extraction of $192 billion from Africa, mainly in profits by foreign companies, tax dodging and the cost of adapting to climate change.

Such huge sums flowing out of the continent have left it underdeveloped. Not that there is not economic development – there is. Cities and towns have grown but the top one percent are the beneficiaries.

But the surplus produced by African countries is sucked out by imperialist corporations. Economically, it is imperialist relations that determine that African currencies decline in value and their purchasing power. These interventions ensure that the oligarchy which rules across the continent salts away the gains in partnership with the imperialist centres. This self-enriching pact, well analysed by Andy Higginbottom, has kept Africa underdeveloped. Of late, China’s encroachments in Africa have become of concern in the West, but currently the dominant corporations are on the whole Western, with deep colonial roots.

All demands from social movements, dissidents, or political parties are met with repression, dismissal and hostility. Protestors are met with police gunfire and detentions. The oligarchy cements its hold by cultivating religious, ethnic and tribal sectarianism as foreseen by Franz Fanon. Yet people across the continent are yearning for popular democracy and rebellions continually break out against oppression. One day there will have to be a reckoning.

Too often, economic migrants are treated with casual dismissal, meaning they have no rights to migrate into other countries when compared to refugees and asylum seekers. But this is not defensible, because such migrants are also seeking a better life from poverty which is no less deserving than those seeking refuge from war and conflict. Both poverty and conflict have been fuelled through exploitation, toxic trade deals, dodgy debts, land grabs and climate change for which rich countries, including Britain, bear great responsibility.


As a recent report by Global Justice Now for freedom of movement argued so trenchantly, “It cannot be right that the place you are born dictates whether you will live a life of poverty or plenty, of freedom or imprisonment. It cannot be right that while the richest, at least in normal times, move around with ease, the poorest are imprisoned in geographical poverty.” To accept the current situation is to endorse a form of apartheid on a global scale. African migrants are harbingers calling for an end to this apartheid.

First published by Labour Hub on 28th January 2021

EXCLUSIONS LEADS TO CRIMINALISATION OF LONDON BLACK WORKING CLASS

It has been common knowledge for decades that black youth are disproportionately excluded from school permanently. No significant progress has been made to significantly change this reality in spite of many reports. The most recent data show that black pupils are nearly four times more likely to be permanently excluded than their school peers.

The London case study by Jessica Perera of the Institute of Race Relations is ground breaking. It shows that exclusions and criminalisation of black working class youth are not isolated issues that should be confined to school level without relating them to wider social and political developments over five decades.

In response to the media and commentators who deliberately sensationalise serious black youth crime by projecting black youth as a menace and racialising it, Perera reviews the evidence thoroughly to present a more nuanced view. Although black youth are disproportionally over-represented in serious youth violence, it is only a small cohort of less than 1% of black youth that are involved in such violence.

Evidence from many studies show that ethnicity is just one factor, while other socio-economic factors also contribute to youth violence. The most recent research by the Institute of Health Inequity demonstrates that the systematic dismantling of vital social services over the past decade has exacerbated the levels of youth violence. London has the highest rate of child poverty of all the English regions and 800,000 children live in poverty with one in three growing up in persistent poverty. Being a perpetrator or victim of crime is closely associated with deprivation and exclusion. Several reports over the past few years have drawn a direct connection between school exclusion, knife crime and youth imprisonment.

The 1970s and 1980s were decades of radical ferment with campaigns for social and racial justice which were influenced by the struggles of the black community outside school. Many organisations, campaigners, community activists and teachers made significant progress towards the inclusion of multiracial and anti-racist education material into the curriculum. Schools and teachers had greater autonomy in the choice of materials and methods. The Inner London Education Authority was at the forefront of such curriculum initiatives and teacher development.

Every major inner city saw periodic youth uprisings since the 1970s sparked by sus laws, attacks on the black community by the National Front, police shootings, racism and poverty. However, no administration in power enquired into the root causes of such uprisings. The lived experience of the black communities of resistance was just ignored by those in power, who saw black struggles and anti-racist education as subversive. In fact, every uprising was followed by legislation to assert British values, culture and school discipline.

Perera recounts the history of key education policy ideas and legislation pursued by subsequent governments, beginning with Thatcher from 1979, to help us to understand how we came to the present situation. The New Right launched a vigorous political campaign which aimed to roll back the progress made in multi-racial and antiracist education, to sow the seeds of common sense conservatism within the working class and to weed out progressive ideas and people. The process of restructuring education away from the egalitarian 1944 Education Act and comprehensive education accelerated after the inner city rebellions of 1981. Thatcher’s dictum was that ‘people must be educated once more to know their place’. The passing of the landmark 1988 Education Reform Act set out the technocratic and monocultural National Curriculum, with emphasis on the core subjects (English, Maths and Science) and foundation subjects with a testing regime. The Inner London Education Authority was abolished. Furthermore, the pressures on schools to perform well in league tables led to putting pupils ‘off-roll’ and permanently excluding those who would perform poorly. Local Management of Schools provided the wedge to ease schools out of Local Authority control and finally to move towards privatisation. The era of teacher autonomy and curriculum innovation was over, with the overwhelming demand for compliance by school management and teachers with the whip hand of school inspections.

Elected in 1997, Blair reinforced and expanded the neoliberal pivot of the Thatcher era and continued the market policies of choice and diversity. The smaller dispersed rebellions in northern England, including in Oldham and Bradford in 2001, sparked by far right attacks and the launch of ‘war on terror’ after 9/11, were attributed to lack of ‘community cohesion’ within poor multiracial communities which were seen as not sharing the same ‘British values’ by people leading ‘parallel lives’.

This was to be corrected by the Education Act (2002) laying the foundation of ‘Fundamental British Values’ which evolved into active promotion of ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs’ through ‘citizenship studies’ over the decade. On the contrary, as Sally Tomlinson has argued, the failure by New Labour to develop a curriculum for a multi-ethnic society contributed to an increase in xenophobia and racism, with no educational policies to deal with the increased hostility towards young Muslims. Home Office policies targeting refugees and asylum seekers encouraged racial hostility towards their children.

To remake the large multiracial communities in London, New Labour commenced state-led gentrification with crackdowns on anti-social behaviour, in the belief that the close proximity between middle and working classes would lead to the imparting of middle class social and cultural capital to the working classes. This led to an extensive expansion of the academies project and the simultaneous development of Pupil Referral Units (PRU), both open to private sector management. Perera concludes that “It was New Labour that fired up the exclusion engine and firmly established it as an essential cog in the state’s neoliberal education machinery”.

Academies, unlike state schools, were exempted from financial penalties for excluding pupils. Perera finds the legacy of the academy project as profound and New Labour’s manifesto pledge that ‘we send a clear message – every child has a right to a good education, but no child has the right to disrupt the education of other children’ prophetic, resulting in “the academy programme and PRU system have continued to work hand in glove, producing de facto race and class segregation between schools.”

The Conservative-Liberal coalition passed the Academies Act (2010) which saw a mass privatisation of local authority-maintained schools, removing democratic accountability and exempting Academies and Free-Schools from following the national curriculum, to provide market choice. In the aftermath of the 2011 inner city rebellion, David Cameron asserted, “We need an education system which reinforces the message that if you do the wrong thing you’ll be disciplined.” Soon the Education Act (2011) was passed, focusing on behaviour, discipline and exclusions. Overseen by Gove, a network of military-style state schools recruited ex-army veterans to manage disruptive youth.

The Act gave ministers powers to close PRUs deemed inadequate — and outsource them to new private sector providers. Such Alternative Provision, and Free Schools in particular, were seen a route for new voluntary and private sector organisations to offer high-quality education. Of course, for these schools to be viable, there must be a constant stream of young people being excluded. “The idea of private investors profiting from vulnerable young people deemed ‘disruptive’ in a competitive market was no problem for the education secretary,” says Perera.

The Johnson government has made a priority of ‘good behaviour’ in schools and established a regime of ‘zero tolerance’ for poor behaviour. It boosted investment in Alternative Provision to provide an enclosure for excluded students. Schools began setting up ‘isolation booths’ where disruptive pupils are made to sit in silence for hours without any consideration of risks to mental health.

The low achievement of black working class youth is still attributed to the dysfunction of black families, the lack of fathers, the prevalence of single mothers, etc. In the 1970s there was a manufactured moral panic about black ‘muggers’ and decades later this panic shifted on to knife crime and gangs. Following the declaration of the ‘war on terror’, Muslim communities became ‘suspects’ with a panic about radicalisation and extremism of Muslim youth.

The racialisation of gang culture, knife crime and radicalisation has led to the securitisation of schooling. Pupils are the subject of risk assessment, to work out the threat they pose to the stability of the social order. In tandem, it brings into being a continual surveillance of black youth using video cameras in schools. Face recognition technologies, finger identification, palm vein and iris scanners are being used to monitor children in Alternative Provision. The call for stricter disciplines has led to School Based Police Officers (SBPOs) and the employment of ex-military officers as teachers. All these strategies can be seen as a continuum with the prison-industrial complex embedded in the criminal justice system.

Adapting the concept of ‘Schools to Prisons Pipeline’ (SPP) which is widely used by community activists in the US, Perera puts forward the concept of a ‘PRU to prison pipeline’ (PPP) specifically for UK. According to this framework, PRUs are run for profit and are pathways not for education but trajectories for future incarceration. The HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales found in its annual report for 2017-2018 that a staggering 89 per cent of detained (or ‘imprisoned’) children and young people aged 12-18 reported being excluded from school. Perera convincingly argues that the system that has emerged in inner city London has led to ‘educational enclosures’. Black working class youth are excluded from mainstream education into ‘enclosures’ of PRUs and Alternative Provision where they are assimilated into a monoculture focusing on Fundamental British Values. They are thereby torn away from the collective history and experiences of their communities while being subjected to continual surveillance.

Drawing on her research on gentrification in London where she found that regeneration projects severed working class family networks by displacing them and pricing them out of upmarket amenities, she sees a strong parallel in the new emerging education market for ‘gentrifiers’ which similarly decants poor working class youth from mainstream schools into PRUs and Alternative Provision, on the grounds that they lower standards. Academies and Free Schools have been found more likely to permanently exclude pupils than maintained schools. Perera says that the result is we have a “two-tier state education system: academies for the aspirational and pupil referral units for the defiant and apathetic.”

Instead of improving the prospects of black working class youth, the last five decades have damaged them. In creating a highly competitive system largely run by private providers to the advantage of the middle classes, black youth have been marginalised. Academies of all kinds with combined assets of £60 bn have not created more educational opportunities for working class children. Although the case study focused on London, it would be surprising if its findings are not applicable to the rest of the country.

We need to act to stop this ever-expanding exclusionary system that is damaging the future of so many working class pupils. This report is a powerful tool in the hands of campaigners against exclusions, giving them an analytical perspective of the underlying social and political drivers of the system. Perera’s voice in defence of the right of poor black working class Londoners to a good education is a passionate call against injustice. It echoes the demands of Black Lives Matter against the criminal justice system resulting in impunity for police brutality and connects it with the structural injustices of the educational system which normalises the exclusion of black youth.

The key issue we face is whether the transformation of education under Conservative governments is so deeply embedded that it is irreversible. This is a practical question of resistance by the black community to mobilise a coalition with other groups against the system. This would aim to put the issue on the political agenda to challenge these policies which have led us to exclusion and segregation in education.

Such demand for change should not be for schools merely to go back to Local Authority control, but to create a new vision where schools will be democratically accountable to the communities they serve. One transformative policy could be that schools are governed by Community School Trusts (CST). Such CST schools would be inclusive and abandon exclusion as an instrument by considering their duty to educate every child no matter how difficult. They will put in place conflict resolution, mediation and targeted support to ensure that pupils who have behavioural difficulties are supported.

Following the precedent that Academies and Free Schools are exempt from the National Curriculum, such CST schools would also be free to design their curriculum that would take into account the multi-ethnic and multicultural society we live in. The destructive competition of testing and league tables would be abolished. There would be lines of accountability with the trust governing bodies elected by the community that the school serves. Parents, teachers and students would have greater involvement in the running of schools. This might sound utopian but we need to transform our educational system to remove it from the grips of private unaccountable organisations as a wider agenda for democratisation.

Published on November 9, 2020 by Labour Hub

No to double standards on human rights

In the last month there has been comprehensive coverage in newspapers, TV and online on the violations of human rights by China concerning the Uighur nationality in the Xinjiang province in North West China. The allegations range from the detention of Uighurs, mostly young men and women in the so called re-education facilities, to the forced sterilisation of women. The highlight of this was the grilling of the Chinese ambassador on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday 9th July. The audience was shown a video clip of blindfolded individuals rounded up by uniformed Chinese forces. The Chines ambassador had the default answer that China had faced terrorism in the province and was responding to a security threat. Furthermore, that the Uighur and Chinese peoples lived in harmony in the province. These allegations are extremely grave and China needs to be held to account.

Consider Kashmir in India. It is one of the most militarised regions in the world. For decades there has been a long record of human rights violations in the region. The abuses range from mass killings, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual abuse to political repression and the suppression of freedom of speech.

The west has never held India to account for these violations. As usual the Indian government is using the same trope that there are terrorist activity and security threats to justify its policy and actions. The Indian army have a ‘free pass’ in the Armed Forces Protection Act which gives all its soldiers total immunity.

In 2015, Prime Minister Modi was welcomed in London, over a decade after the Gujarat massacre in 2002. He was accorded the honour of speaking in Parliament by PM Cameron and signed deals worth £9 bn between British and Indian firms. He visited Trump in the US and Trump in return visited India in 2020 with much fanfare. At that time mobs attacked the Muslim community in the north east of Delhi. At no time, Trump has ever expressed any concerns over India for its criminalisation of Muslims by vigilantes given a free licence by the BJP government. It is the only country in the world where Muslims are lynched. Human rights defenders are locked up and some journalists critical of the government have been killed.

Moving west first to Pakistan, its army has been involved in a counterinsurgency campaign in Balochistan. This involves treating the entire Baloch population as terrorist suspects. Disappearances of individuals and killings are common. Afghanistan’s long war has been mired with human rights violations with missiles targeting wedding parties, night time raids by US and British forces killing innocents, incarcerations and so on.

These violations are rarely reported in our media compared to the focus on Iran which is always subject to intense criticism on human rights. During the invasion of Iraq from 2003 and its subsequent occupation, the US and British forces committed gross violations of human rights – the murder and rapes in the town of Haditha, the torture and humiliations in Abu Ghraib, the repeated bombings of Fallujah and many other towns where civilians were killed and displaced. All these have now been erased from history and displaced by the horror of the Islamic State.

Similarly, Syria has come under relentless criticism for its violations of human rights and war crimes. But it is rare to see Turkey being criticised for ravaging cities and towns in its southeast using the alibi of fighting Kurdish terrorism. Its occupation of parts of North East Syria has led to widespread displacement of civilians and ethnic cleansing. Similarly Egypt under Sisi, who took over after the uprising in 2011 and the brief rule by Morsi, where imprisonment, torture and show trials are common place.

Finally, Israel. There has a long record of the Israeli defence forces’ and security services’ involvement in torture, killings, imprisonment, bombings and the collective punishment of families with their homes being demolished. These include night raids to round up children, forcing confessions from them and the imprisonment of children without any legal representation.

Following 9/11, following a resolution by the UN Security Council, all governments rushed to pass draconian anti-terrorism laws which were used to suppress dissent and opposition. Internationally there was a complete failure by the Security Council to ensure that these terrorism laws would not violate the provisions of international human rights law.

There is a desperate need to strengthen international human rights across the world. This should be done consistently in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1948. Past experience since World War II shows that for decades human rights have been used for geo-political interests.

During the Cold War, Western governments and the media highlighted the violations of human rights in the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries, while ignoring widespread abuses of human rights in Latin American countries under military dictatorships with close relationship with the United States.

Noam Chomsky has consistently exposed these double standards over decades. Such double standards have seriously undermined the upholding of universal human rights across the world. It is high time that we spoke out boldly against them and demand that such double standards are abandoned.

All countries which violate human rights law should be held to account stringently. Our media have a key role to play in this and are failing because of their compliance with British foreign policy. The alternative media and social platforms should take up the banner because that it is the morally right thing to do.

Minimal moral integrity requires that not only should China be held to account for violating human rights, but also all the Western allies who commit human rights violations. The main stream media should stop condoning the violations of human rights by India, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt and Israel forthwith.

Published by Labour Hub 24 August 2020

Much for the hypocrisy about the exploitation of garment workers

When Sunday Times on 5 of July published its investigation on the horror of exploitation of garment workers in Leicester, the sensational press like Daily Mail joined in the chorus of condemnation. This news made into Reuters, the billionaire magazine Forbes and many other mainstream outlets. Workers at a Leicester-based producer of clothes destined for sale on Boohoo were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour an amount significantly less than the £8.20 national minimum wage.

In June, Mind the Label, an organisation which has been campaigning for fair deal for garment workers across the world published a damning report which found an alarming situation in Leicester not only for low wages but their theft, denial of benefits, modern slavery conditions and poor health and safety conditions under the COVID-19. The garment sweatshop remained open during the lockdown and the social distancing rules and face masks were ignored contributing to a higher infection in Leicester. Small-batch orders with a quick turnaround — common requests from fast-fashion brands such as Boohoo — encourage unauthorized subcontracting as suppliers race to meet deadlines. Urgent actions beginning with suspension of all Boohoo sales and production pending an investigation.

Priti Patel expressed anger saying that she will not tolerate sick criminals forcing innocent people into slave labour and a life of exploitation”. These sick criminals are probably the millionaires donors of her party. The Tories in power since 2010 have done little on the exploitation and enforce the minimum wage for all workers, as the records show.

As far back as 2014, a report by the University of Leicester found systemic abuse, with wages as low as £3 an hour, an almost complete absence of employment contracts, excessive and underreported hours, sometimes gross health and safety violations and limited enforcement of labour regulations and standards.

In 2017, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights chaired by Harriet Harman made a special point to visit Leicester where they got briefings from researchers and had heard many witnesses. Whilst the government has produced an Action Plan in response to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and introduced some legislations including the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the committee expressed disappointment on the ground over its modest scope and lack of new commitments.

It called on the government demonstrating the same level of human rights commitment within its own procurement supply chains that it expects from companies, with expectations on all government suppliers to recognise trade union membership. Furthermore it asked for legislation that imposes a duty on all companies to prevent human rights abuses, and making it a criminal offence if they fail to do so, including in lower levels of the supply chain. It wanted stronger role for UK enforcement agencies in tackling poor practices, particularly in UK garment manufacturing.

To tackle the supply chain accountability issues, Baroness Young of Hornsey tabled the Modern Slavery (Transparency in Supply Chains) Bill, which would rectify some of these problems. However the bill tabled did not make beyond first reading after the 2017-2019 Parliament proroguing the bill. The matter was not subsequently taken up by the Tory government.

Dispatches, a Channel 4 programme, sent a worker undercover into various factories in 2017 and reported that workers were paid well below the minimum wage. In May 2018 Sarah O’Connor of the Financial Times wrote an in depth investigation into the “dark factories” of Leicester. In some factories workers were paid as little as £3.50 an hour and no one was being held responsible. After the decline of the garment industry in Leicester from 2001 because of capital outsourcing to poorer countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka etc, new market forces had fuelled the revival of industry after the financial crash of 2008 with unbridled competition and super exploitation.

Many organisations including community groups, trade unions and Ethical Trading Initiative member brands have worked hard to address these issues over the years. However no significant progress has been made in resolving reports of illegal activities because of lack of support from central government or regulatory bodies.

The super exploitation in garment factories has been an open secret for years. This is government of millionaires who does not care a jot for the working classes and bent on deregulating under the banner of cutting down the red tape and is at ease with rabid exploitation and low health and safety standards. It is more interested in chasing illegal workers in the garment factories than enforcing decent labour standards. The number of labour inspectors in Britain is much lower than in comparable economies and the risk of effective inspection is clearly too low for businesses that are willing to undercut standards.

For capitalists in this sector, there is a reservoir of labour especially women to be exploited across the world. Just visit clothes chain stores and examine the labels where these apparels have been produced- Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam etc. So the garment workers in sweatshops and homes are in the heart of our cities with the same production model and lack of accountability seen in the global south. If Leicester, then why not Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford, London and elsewhere. This is a national problem.

And from the party of Labour, the Labour Party, there is no significant intervention from Keir Starmer or any shadow minister. A vacuum has enveloped the party. They have chosen not to speak out against the terrible exploitation of the garment workers and hold the government to account.

The TUC estimates that several million UK workers cannot enforce their basic rights with the companies for which they are ultimately working. Often the TUC appeals to the government to enforce the law. But inevitably this falls on deaf ears.

It seems that by and large, trade unions have abandoned the lowest strata of workers. They have let the fragmentations of the working class to take its course under neo-liberalism. They have not brought together the employed, the unemployed and the lower strata of workers together to taken on the market forces that are unleashing the most intolerable conditions on the poorest workers. The latter are in no position to organise because any such move would would lead to them being fired by the employers.

The unions have not come up with new strategies to ensure that we do not move to a de-unionised workforce of the American way. This is unltimately the aim of the British capitalist class and the Tory party. The Trade Union movement should reach out to the communities of these workers, conduct research, establish an outreach and help them to become union members so that they can fight for better conditions.

Published by Labour Hub

COUNTERING DISINFORMATION

At this moment in time, I really miss the wisdom of Mike Marqusee whose wrote in his essay ‘SUCCESS, FAILURE AND OTHER POLITICAL MYTHS’ (Red Pepper, December 2013),

“There are worse things than failure, and while failure is nothing to glory in, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You can learn more from a failure than from success- if you recognise it as such. But if the only lesson you draw from failure is never to risk failure again, you’ve learned nothing at all. 

“Needless risks should always be avoided. We don’t have resources to squander. But the elimination of risk is impossible if you’re contending with power. Without risks all that can be done is to reproduce existing social relations. There is no truth, no beauty without risk, because these things can only be secured in the teeth of resistance, against institutions and habits of thought. To succeed in any way that matters, you have to take your place in the republic of the uncertain, when you risk yourselves, not your stake in other people’s labour. It’s the action taken in the full knowledge of the possibility of failure, and its consequences, that acquire leverage.”

The winter election of 2019 was a great risk for Labour. The outcome was affected by many factors – Labour’s bipolarity on Brexit, the civil war within the party, Jeremy Corbyn’s distorted image, the tsunami of disinformation by the right wing mass media, the smears of antisemitism, the undermining of Labour by Tony Blair and his acolytes, amongst others. None of these factors are isolated from each other, but they intersected to undermine Labour’s campaign.  Jeremy’s public perception was determined by the mass media which began his vilification since he entered the leadership contest in 2015. 

There can be little doubt that the mass media plays a significant role. Newspapers and TV are more powerful than armies. We lost the battle for hearts and minds because we did not have the means to counter the vast campaign of disinformations and propaganda. Every means available was used against the Labour party and its leadership. 

In a prescient observation more than a 150 years ago, Marx observed that those who own the means of production also own the means of information enabling them to produce and regulate the production and distribution of ideas. The control of the means of information central to influencing public opinion was missing in the original Clause IV. From our experience, the most important lesson we need to learn is, that to win the battle for ideas for the public good and social ownership, we need to have adequate control over the means of public information and have a strategy followed by concrete actions to counter disinformation

To this day, Chomsky and Herman’s analysis on the role of the media in shaping public opinion in a democratic society remains unrivalled. The selective filtering of news by the media, the setting of the political agenda and the confinement of public discussion within narrow limits is all the more powerful with the TV channels playing a significant role in moulding public perception.

Empirical analysis of media bias as we approached the election day showed that press hostility to Labour in 2019 was more than double the levels identified in 2017. By the same measure, negative coverage of the Conservatives halved.  For Granville Williams, editor of Media North which monitored the press closely, “It was a disturbing experience, reading what can only be described as undiluted  propaganda day after day in the bloc of avid Tory-supporting newspapers which worked closely with the Tory HQ election campaign to maximise the assault on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’s election policies.”

We need to be cautious in adopting the term ‘fake news’ that has become a popular media reference, on grounds that it tends to frame the problem as isolated incidents of falsehood and confusion. Rather the public is subject to systematic disinformation which can be defined as intentional falsehoods spread as news stories or simulated documentary formats to advance political goals.

The choice for us is to accept this and succumb to this enormous pressure to win an election by tilting to the right, abandoning socialist politics and accepting neo-liberal norms just as Tony Blair did with his pact with Rupert Murdoch.  Or we work out imaginative ways in which to counter the disinformation.

Jim Ring in his article ‘BLAST FROM THE NORTH’ (Labour Briefing February 2020) put the challenge succinctly:

“We have one great disadvantage in this fightback campaign- we have no public voice of our own. It is time for the unions to delve into their vast pockets and sponsor a professional media service-combining television outlets, newspapers and social media facilities- to get our message across to everyone.”

The techniques used by the mainstream media spring from the ideas of the Public Relations pioneer Edward Bernays who considered stereotypes as influential in shaping public opinion. The media created a range of stereotypes of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. The response to these was a public relations disaster for the party on all the issues such as antisemitism, extremism, electability, economic management, etc. What is urgently needed for the party is to have a Public Relations team with visible and identifiable voices who would rebut disinformation with boldness immediately.

The idea of community organising is getting traction now and should be taken forward urgently. CLPs should also prioritise community engagement and create Community Engagement Officer posts on their Executive Committees. Simultaneously, the provision of adequate financial resources to constituency parties is needed so that they can publish a quarterly newsletter through the year for every home in the constituency. Such a newsletter would be not replicate the party leaflets but could be a vehicle to tell local personal stories about the impact of universal credit, homelessness, housing crisis, transport, pollution, hospital trolley waits, mental health, cuts affecting services, etc. The production and distribution of such newsletters would be the responsibility of local activists in the campaign committees. This would complement the growing use of online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram amongst others.

Monopoly control of the whole media is by a handful of billionaires and global corporations with just three companies controlling 83% of the newspaper market and just two individuals – Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere -dominating the national press. Serious discussion on how wider control of and access to the media can be put in place for a democratic political order is urgently needed with a view to incorporating fundamental media reform into the next Labour manifesto.

Published in Labour Briefing https://labourbriefing.squarespace.com/blog/2020/2/12/countering-disinformation

Double Injustice: Media Racism

Good reminder in the times of ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’ of the relevance of the film ‘Injustice’ about black deaths in police custody.

Trinketization

Back in 2003 Imogen Bunting, whose birthday it would have been today, wrote this on the film INJUSTICE by Tariq and Ken. To date the film still has not been shown on UK television, despite all the awards and media acclaim and THE RELEVANCE OF IT STILL TODAY.

Originally posted 2006

MEDIA RACISM

This piece was written by Imogen for a possible book on the film Injustice. We approached 19 publishers for the book, but while screenings do occur now, because the film was banned/threatened for so long by the court injunctions of the Police Federation, no publisher seemed able to risk a publication. As you can see from below, the failure of the publishers (some respected left wing houses) was not because of the quality of the writing – here as ever Imogen was on the case.

Media Racism:
Reporting black deaths in the British press: Injustice and…

View original post 3,354 more words

What value do we place on life and work?

The COVID-19 crisis is a mirror that vividly reveals what value our society places on the life of the elderly and the work of health and social care workers.

There has been so much spoken written about the COVID-19 crisis that it would be pointless to repeat the arguments from every side of the spectrum. Boris Johnson and his ministers have had free play in dominating the political agenda. Right from the start, Johnson used a 15 second soundbite crafted by his spin doctors to capture the evening TV newscasts and the next day’s front pages. The daily briefings have become an instrument of political propaganda where a numbers theatre was enacted and the politics of fear embedded.

How did our society value human life during this crisis? It is not up to an individual to measure the worth of lives. Neither is it a matter of a mere economic calculus. We can tell how lives are valued by the action we as a society take based on the policies that are put in place.

Right from the beginning, the slogan was ‘Save the NHS’.There was a political calculation, based on the anxiety of the government, that the NHS would be overwhelmed given its current capacity which had been reduced drastically over the last 10 years of austerity. The NHS had lost 17,000 beds and tens of acute hospital services had been closed through mergers. There was also a staffing crisis with 10,000 doctor and 40,000 nurse vacancies. For the party which had set upon dismantling the NHS with the landmark Health and Social Care Act of 2012, it was a bit of a cheek now to ‘Save the NHS’. Of course the slogan worked well because the public at large still believes in the NHS.

So right from start, care homes were excluded. They were not part of the NHS but the responsibility of local councils which are required to outsource them to provide providers. Nonetheless, if the national priority was to save lives, then the residents of care homes and their staff should have been given the highest protection since it was well known that fatalities were the highest in those over 80 years old.

Care homes were quarantined so that the vulnerable could not receive appropriate medical care, let alone GP visits. To free up NHS beds, the elderly were often returned to care homes without being tested for the COVID-19 infection. This led in some cases to infection of others. The staff were not supplied with appropriate PPE and were them selves vulnerable to the infection and if infected likely to spread it.

The deaths in care homes were not counted from January to nearly the end of April and not included in the numbers at the daily briefings which focused on hospital deaths. This was a scandal. Besides COVID-19 deaths, many elderly people have died because of lack of medical care for other critical conditions.

There are attempts to rewrite history by politicians who suggest that there was a protective ring around care homes. Nothing can be further from the truth. Everything points to the fact that the lives of the vulnerable in care homes were of little value.

When reports began to emerge about health workers, doctors and nurses dying because of COVID-19 infections, the government was not collating information on such deaths. It took some time before those who died were named by the press. Initially, ministers were reported questioning whether doctors who died got their infection in a work related situation.

When health workers reported that they did not have full PPE protection, the government launched a drive using military logistics to ensure that hospitals received the supply. Yet it was found out that the stockpile that was set up in 2009 for a possible pandemic had not been replenished and thousands of items were beyond their shelf life. Best before dates were relabelled with the government claiming that they were retested without making the results public. The government then launched an emergency operation to purchase the necessary PPE from countries such as Turkey. Items purchased were later found not to meet the standards.

Weeks went by when the frontline workers were not getting PPE at the required level. This was a failure that caused unnecessary deaths. A government which cared for the lives of frontline health workers would have never put their lives at risk. It was doctors and nurses who were at risk, not the managers in the offices running the hospitals.

Does our society value the work of junior doctors, nurses, support staff and care workers? Just look at the way junior doctors were treated over their contracts back in 2016 when new working arrangements were imposed on them ignoring many issues of safety and stress on the pretext of providing a 7-day service.

Nurses have been the victims of a decade of ‘efficiency savings’ in the NHS with their pay frozen pay for 10 years. The replacement of bursaries by loans has left many of them in debt. Hospital cleaners were outsourced to private companies 30 years ago. The companies often pay them barely a living wage.

Care workers have been described as ‘unskilled’ when they have to look after the varying and complex needs of the elderly. They are employed by private providers who pay them low wages and fail to give them appropriate training. Those care workers supporting the elderly in their own homes work under immense stress, with employers applying time and motion methods.

The last thirty years of the hegemony of neoliberalism has always emphasized ‘value for money’ and ‘added value’ with an utter determination to reduce everything to monetary value. How under these conditions can we expect individuals and society to think in terms of the value of human life?

Many of the questions raised here cannot be answered by words but only by action, by creating a more humane society in which health and care services will be fully funded and publicly owned and run.

Published in Labour Briefing 6 April 2020

https://labourbriefing.org/blog/2020/6/4/what-value-do-we-place-on-life-and-work

The long war of attrition against Iran

It is time the British government abandoned its double standards on human rights and denuclearisation.

When the House of Commons returned after its unlawful prorogation on Wednesday September 25th, the debate following the statement by the Foreign Office minister, Dominic Raab on Iran was instructive. It demonstrated that the established US narrative in the corporate media on Iran is deeply embedded in the perceptions of both sides of the Commons.

His statement had two key elements. First, that in the wake of the attacks on the eastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia which cut oil production by half, Iran had become a destabilising force in the region. Hence, in his words, “Iran must never begin access to nuclear weapons and that is why the UK remains committed to the 2015 joint comprehensive plan of action, notwithstanding US withdrawal.” Secondly Iran was in breach of human rights, particularly in detaining dual citizens.

To be credible, the defence of human rights must be universal. It is right that Iran should be criticised over its detention of dual citizens and right to demand their release but also to insist that due processes of law in Iran are transparent. However, defending human rights should not be selective and opportunistic. There are horrendous violations of human rights on a daily basis by Israel which are condoned consistently by our media and our politicians. So, too, in Egypt under Sisi, Turkey under Erdogan and Saudi Arabia amongst others. The violations of human rights by Western powers are egregious. Drone attacks killing civilians are indefensible. There is no place for double standards in applying international human rights standards. Attacking the alleged enemies of Western powers for breaching human rights whilst turning a blind eye when the allies breach them, undermines human right norms internationally.

Tensions in the region were ratcheted up when Trump decided to withdraw from the nuclear agreement and imposed sanctions on Iran. The nuclear agreement reached by the five powers, backed by the security council, was to contain Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium and prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. After Trump’s decision, the European powers have tried to maintain the nuclear agreement. For its part, Iran has pressurised them to protect it from US sanctions. As yet European powers have not able to come up with a mechanism to assist Iran overcome the impact of US sanctions.

The condition that the Foreign Secretary laid down for engagement with Iran is that “it should show the respect required for the basic principles of the rules-based international system”. Members of the United Nations are bound by the Charter, Articles One and Two of which affirm the right of all peoples to self-determination, the sovereign equality of states, the prohibition of the use of force and of economic or political interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. Yet these fundamental principles of international order continue to be grossly violated by the US, the UK and other European states. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was probably the most serious violation of the Nuremberg Principles, a supreme crime of war of aggression.

Iran has in modern time not invaded any sovereign state. On the contrary, the US and UK successfully overthrew the democratically elected government of Mossadegh in 1953 and imposed a dictatorship under the late Shah until 1979 when a landmark revolution led to the establishment of the Iranian Islamic Republic. Since then the western powers and their allies have conducted a war of attrition against the Iranian people under the pretext of stopping it developing nuclear weapons. The lifting of sanctions under the nuclear treaty was a short respite. Trump’s assertion to the UN General Assembly that Iran was spreading terror across the region cynically inverted the reality. It is the US, its allies and proxies which have in the last three decades invaded and slaughtered innocents and destroyed countries across the region from Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. This has led to millions of displaced and refugees. There is little acknowledgement that wars lead to widespread displacement. Blockading a country economically through sanctions so the civilians cannot obtain the means of life and life-saving medicines is economic warfare. Iran is subject to severe sanctions by the US whose aim is to reduce its oil exports to zero. Locking Iran out of the system of exchange and trade is causing immense economic hardships and lack of availability of life-saving medications. These sanctions are an act of war. How long can the US quarantine a population of 100 million?

Dominic Raab’s statement that “we need a longer-term framework that provides greater certainty over Iran’s nuclear programme and, as the attacks on Aramco demonstrate, we must also bring Iran’s wider destabilising activities into scope”, indicated that the UK government has moved towards the US position. So have the European powers gradually. Many had predicted that the nuclear agreement would collapse following the withdrawal by the US because European powers and corporations could not circumvent US sanctions. It is likely that this will happen in the near future.

The underlying problem here is that the western powers are not prepared to address the issue of denuclearisation in the region. This would require that the only power that possess nuclear weapons in the region, Israel, is brought into consideration. An agreement to denuclearise across the region would mean the inspection of Israel’s nuclear weapons capability. The US and Israel do not want this to happen. The shadow of Israeli nuclear weapons hangs across the Middle East. Here we confront again the stark double standards that western policy applies in its dealings with the nations in the region.

The fall of the Berlin wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, did not lead to the rhetorical peace dividend. It led to the strengthening of US hegemony, controlling the destiny of the world in a way similar to the emergence of British domination of the world after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. With no checks and balances, the US resorted to extreme actions of regime change in the region, reshaping it with its allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hopefully, there are signs that this era is coming to an end with the US failing to carry out regime change in Syria.

This demonstrates that we still live in an epoch of imperialist system within which a hierarchy of highly developed nations led by the US are able to subject other nations to their dominations, using a variety of means from economic sanctions, blockades, to low intensity wars and invasions. Changing this system will require a sustained resistance by peoples across the world and within imperialist countries. However much we disagree with Iran, it is vital that we oppose not only war against Iran but economic sanctions as well.

In his speech at the Labour annual conference, Jeremy Corbyn said “Have we learnt nothing?” and advocated the need for diplomacy to solve problems. He has been principled in pursuing peace his entire life and has opposed all the wars in the Middle East. It is time the country listened to him. A government led by him would bring a paradigm shift in UK foreign policy.

Countries in the region will take generations to reconstruct. This they cannot do on their own but only with significant international assistance. This has hardly begun. We need foreign forces to move out of the region and regional powers to come together to establish peace and security. The wounded have to be healed, people need to be fed, the displaced need to be housed, the young need to be educated and jobs need to be provided for the youth. The economy must serve the people with good infrastructure providing clean water, electricity and transport links. Democracy needs to be embedded so that those who exercise power are accountable to the people.

The hidden Economic War on Venezuela

Financial sanctions, trade embargo and blockade of Venezuela by the United States pose the gravest of threats to the well being of the civilian population

The US and its allies are strangulating Venezuela without any humanitarian consideration

The political right has monopolised the conversation about Venezuela in print and on TV. It case is well rehearsed and follows the party line of the United States that President Maduro is a cruel illegitimate dictator and his corrupt government has mismanaged the economy to sink the country into a humanitarian disaster. The left has countered this by defending the gains of the Chavista revolution and puts the current situation to the steep fall of oil prices and the US sanctions.

This confrontation was well captured by Andrew Neil’s This Week political review when Ken Livingstone valiantly defended the gains of the Chavez revolution whilst Andrew Neil put the opposite case with the assistance of Alan Johnson and Esther McVey. Regrettably Ken Livingstone was rinsed by Neil because he could not answer how the sanctions had affected Venezuela or which sanctions were imposed when, whereas Neil with his selective briefing notes pointed out the oil sanctions were recent and reinforced the US line on the mismanagement by the Maduro government. Kenan Malik in The Observer   castigated Livingstone for ‘bullshitting’. This was instructive to those on the left-if we are going to defend Venezuela, then we need to be armed with facts and be well briefed.

The starkest glimpse of US sanctions policy is Eisenhower’s memorandum in 1960s  that stated “a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

Over the last four decades, with the micro-electronics revolution, the world economy has become more integrated. With the dollar as a reserve currency and a monopoly over world financial system through bank credit and clearance, the US is the nerve centre of monetary power in global commerce. Jack Lew, the former Secretary of Treasury during the Obama administration, declared that“economic sanctions have become a powerful force in service of clear and coordinated foreign policy objectives—smart power for situations where diplomacy alone is insufficient, but military force is not the right response.  They must remain a powerful option for decades to come.”  

The legal cover for intensifying economic warfare on Venezuela began with the passage of Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act passed by the US Congress on the 18 of December 2014. The Act directed the President to block assets and apply exclusion sanctions to any person, including current and former Venezuelan government officials who are involved in violating human rights, curtailing civil freedoms and hindering democracy in the country. The Act was extended further from the end of 2016 to 2019 under the Trump administration which intensified sanctions on Venezuela.

Within three months of this enactment, on March 8 2015, the Obama administration issued the new Executive Order 13692, declaring a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by Venezuela.  It also empowered the Treasury Department to set in place surveillance of Venezuela’s financial transactions in the United States. Even though the executive order deceptively stated that there was no intent to target the people and the economy of Venezuela, by blocking the personal and business accounts of seven Venezuelan officials, it fired the first shots for the imposing constraints on Venezuelan individuals and businesses operating in the US financial system.

Concurrently the major financial rating agencies ranked Venezuela as a high risk country akin countries in armed conflicts in spite of the fact that Venezuelan government had been making regular debt repayments. This aimed to push the country towards default by preventing debt restructuring , creating disincentives for international investments and provided a pretext for impounding Venezuelan assets.

The banks and financial institutions took their cue, and they stopped extending credit to Venezuela state and institutions. Over the following year well into 2016, Venezuela accounts were shut down by the major US banks. Banks across Europe followed suit. This diminished the capacity of Venezuela to make payments in dollars and added costs when making payments by other means. Russian firms and Chinese banks also baulked at carrying out contracts because of the pressure from the US securities and exchange commission.

The hammer blow was struck by Trump on August 25, 2017 by the issue of Executive Order 13808 which prohibited new financial dealings with the Venezuelan government and its oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA). In the following twelve months, there was a dramatic decline in oil production. The loss of credit prevented PdVSA from obtaining finance for investing in or maintaining the oil industry infrastructure.

Perhaps even more important was a letter of guidance issued by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCen) on September 20, 2017, warning financial institutions that “all Venezuelan government agencies and bodies, including SOEs (State Owned Enterprises) appear vulnerable to public corruption and money laundering” and `red-flagging’ several transactions originating from Venezuela as potentially criminal . Fearing that it was too risky to participate in money laundering inadvertently, many financial institutions proceeded to close Venezuelan accounts. Venezuelan payments to creditors got stuck in the payment chain, with financial institutions refusing to process wires coming from Venezuelan public sector institutions. 

The US has been engineering the collapse of the Venezuelan currency, the Bolivar, for years, firstly by preventing the inflow of dollars to Venezuela and secondly by facilitating the outflow of dollars. The shortage of dollars drives up the value of the dollar and pushes down the value of the Bolivar. The prices of imported goods (medicines, critical food commodities, business commodities, spare parts ) rise rapidly. Domestic businesses cut back on production leading to mass layoffs and lower wages which in turn led to collapse of consumption. For several years, US policy has been to ensure that US businesses in Venezuela repatriate their dollars back to the US or divert them to their subsidiaries elsewhere. It has also encouraged richer Venezuelans to bank their dollars in Miami or to invest them in financial vehicles set up in Colombia. With shortage of dollars, black market thrives. The manipulation of exchange rate by publication of pernicious exchange rate not grounded on factual purchase and sale transactions using a website in DolarToday based in Miami has been used to artificially drive inflation levels since 2010. Taking all this together, not only the foreign exchange market is affected but also the price levels in the economy, leading to the loss of purchasing power and distorting production and marketing of commodities.

Venezuela is a gold producer and exporter. Gold is a substitute for dollar and to stop Venezuela using its gold reserves, in November 2018, the US imposed sanctions on the gold sector of the Venezuelan economy. The Bank of England was asked and complied by freezing Venezuelan gold deposit worth $1.2bn. Countries like Abu Dhabi where gold is traded globally have been asked to stop trading Venezuelan gold.

On 28th January 2019, the Trump administration imposed further wide ranging and stringent sanctions on the oil sector of Venezuela which exported $12bn of crude oil and oil products to the US in 2018. US companies are prohibited from buying and selling any oil products from and to Venezuelan PdVSA or any entities it has a majority stake in. At a single stroke, this move deprived Venezuelan of a major source of foreign exchange revenue leaving it at risk of not being able to import vital food and medicines.


Venezuela does not have any capacity to refine the oil it produces to enable it to have economic independence. The oil refineries owned by the state owned CITGO Petroleum Corporation are in the southern US gulf coast. This leaves it at the mercy of US oil companies and the US government. The recent seizure of CITGO by the US blocked assets worth $7 billion deprived the government of dollars which could be used to import food and medicines. Furthermore Venezuelan crude requires diluents such as Naphtha which the PdVSA imported from Houston based subsidiaries of the Indian Reliance Industries. This has now been halted.

The cruellest move in all this is the deliberate blocking import of vital medicines and equipment that are a matter of life and death for many patients in Venezuela. In July 2017, Citibank refused to process Venezuela payment for the import of 300,000 insulin doses. In October 2017, the entry of vaccines to the country was delayed for four months because the US blockade made it impossible to make payments in the Bank Swiss UBS. In November 2017, to tackle a Malaria outbreak, Venezuela made a payment to purchase primaquine and chloroquine, to the BSN laboratory Medical in Colombia. The Colombian government blocked the dispatch of tai-malarial drugs. In the same month, the European company Euroclear, founded by JP Morgan, seized $1.65 billion that were destined for the purchase of food and medicine. The following year in May 2018, the payment of $ 9 million was blocked for the acquisition of supplies for dialysis equipment.

According to a Latin American Geopolitical Strategic Centre (CELAG) study, US economic war on Venezuela since Maduro’s April 2013 election through 2017 cost the country $350 billion in lost production of goods and services. If Maduro received international financing from the IMF Venezuelan GDP growth from 2013 – 17 would have exceeded Argentina’s This hidden war of monetary imperialism has seriously damaged Venezuelan economy. The shortage of essential food commodities and medicines has led to an economist aligned to the opposition, Fransisco Rodriguez to call for a oil-for- food programme similar to that for Iraq in 1990s. Readers may recall that sanctions on Iraq led to an estimated death of a 500,000 infants.

The economic warfare on Venezuela is worse than what was done to Iraq and a portent of the shape things to come for those countries which are in US cross-hairs such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Iran unless countervailing forces develop to contain US hubris. The unity and the resistance of the working class, the rural classes and the military against the oligarchy backed by the US will determine the outcome of this struggle. International solidarity in challenging the corporate media’s narrative for regime change and the Tory governments sanctions policy is vital in this struggle.