Sunday, March 23, 2008

150 at protest to defend Mehdi Kazemi

Over 150 people turned out on Saturday 22nd for a protest against the deportation of Iranian gay 19-year-old Mehdi Kazemi. Even though the Iranian regime has already executed his boyfriend, Mehdi is in limbo, with the Dutch government and the UK Home Office refusing to let him stay. The protest also highlighted the cases of Pegah Emambakhsh - an Iranian lesbian woman - and Jojo Yakob - a Syrian gay man - also under threat of deportation.

This turnout was particularly pleasing in that it came despite snowy weather and bitter cold. Dozens of activists came from outside London, including groups of students from Edinburgh, Leeds and Manchester.

Speakers such as Sofie Buckland (NUS NEC and Feminist Fightback) and David Broder (Middle East Workers' Solidarity) highlighted the inherent racism of the immigration system and called for the abolition of borders. Similarly, demonstrators chanted slogans including "No borders, no nations, stop deportations!" and "Mehdi must stay!"

They furthermore pointed to the homophobia of people like George Galloway who call themselves left-wing but have refused to back Mehdi Kazemi, instead leaping to the defence of Iran's theocracy. Opposing war does not mean we have to whitewash the Iranian regime - the anti-war movement needs to be honest if it is to deserve support.

Other speakers at the demonstration opposite Downing Street included Peter Tatchell, Scott Cuthbertson (NUS LGBT), Chris Strafford (Hands Off the People of Iran) and Dave Landau (who advertised next Saturday's conference of trade unions against immigration controls)

Middle East Workers' Solidarity will continue to defend Middle Eastern asylum seekers from deportation and highlight the issue of immigration controls, as well as opposing war and supporting unions and social movements in the region. Visit for more info.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Anti-war doesn't mean pro-repression!

Respect Renewal MP George Galloway has been far from sympathetic to the case of Mehdi Kazemi, instead choosing to spew homophobic bile and defend the Iranian regime. Showing his complete contempt for human rights and democracy, he has levelled the ridiculous accusation that people campaigning against the deportation of Mehdi Kazemi are “the pink contingent of imperialism” – even though the protests are against our own government.

The controversy started on 13 March on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff chat show, where Galloway said that the papers’ coverage of Mehdi’s story amounted to “demonisation of Iran”, even though Mehdi is himself Iranian. What Galloway did not like was the criticism of the Iranian regime.

Denying that you can be executed for being gay in Iran (thousands of dead suggest otherwise), Galloway claimed that Mehdi Kazemi’s boyfriend was executed for “sex crimes against young men”. Not even the Iranian government has made this claim, but the contortions of Galloway’s rhetoric do not have much time for little matters such as fact or evidence. By all accounts, the “sex crime” in question was “sodomy”, a term Galloway himself used on his Talksport radio show to describe homosexuality.

After an outcry and an angry statement in the papers by gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Galloway made another appearance on Channel 5 – only to dig himself even deeper. Accusing Tatchell of being a “pink” cover for imperialism (which is both untrue and deeply homophobic), Galloway said that it was pointless to criticise homophobic laws in Iran since there is homophobia everywhere, from Tehran to Tunbridge Wells. At a meeting at SOAS, he reiterated the point, claiming that people who criticise the Iranian regime’s homophobia do not seem concerned by anti-LGBT discrimination elsewhere, such as in US ally Saudi Arabia.

Not only is his allegation totally untrue, but we can also note that Galloway himself does not protest against homophobia anywhere else. For example, there was a demo at the Saudi Embassy when the Saudi king visited Britain in winter, but Galloway did not attend. In fact, the Respect manifesto has in the past always omitted reference to LGBT rights, which neatly complements Galloway’s homophobic remarks on his radio show.

Galloway’s position, at its most ‘rational’, appears to be that we should defend the Iranian government absolutely, because it is under threat of war and sanctions, which would make everything worse in Iran by far. Of course, it is true that any sort of western or Israeli attack on Iran would be an absolute disaster for the people who live there, and indeed that sabre-rattling against Iran will invariably strengthen nationalism in that country and allow President Ahmedinejad to posture as “anti-imperialist”, buttressing his regime. We are opposed to all sanctions, bombing “raids” or war.

However, it does not follow that we should whitewash the Iranian regime, which in the here and now is meting out death and destruction against its own people. The anti-war movement will not deserve a hearing if it does not tell the truth, and clearly Galloway cannot have it both ways – he is claiming both that opponents of Mehdi Kazemi’s deportation are just a left cover used by British imperialism, but also that we are wrong to protest against the British government for threatening to deport him!

Furthermore, the left will be failing (and currently is failing) in its solidarity effort with Iranians if it does not also support them in their struggle against the theocracy. Practical solidarity with workers’, women’s, student and - to the extent that they can exist even underground - LGBT organisations in Iran is an extremely important task for socialists at this time of great struggle inside Iran..

Of course, Galloway is not really a socialist. Never on the left of the Labour Party when a member, he displays no interest in workers’ struggle and social movements, but instead places his sole political focus on apologetics for various third world regimes which take his fancy, including Iran, Syria and Cuba. As I was keen to point out to him when he spoke at SOAS, he is a Stalinist and a homophobe who has nothing to do with the kind of left we need. We need a working-class set of politics which takes up liberation issues and democratic questions, not support for this or that Islamist regime which spouts rhetoric against US imperialism.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

No deportations to Iraq

The first two weeks of March saw dozens of shootings, roadside bombs, car bombs and discoveries of mass graves in Iraq. Five years into the war, the country remains torn apart by sectarian violence, which marks its toll not only in bodies but also in destroyed basic infrastructure, power and supplies shortages and a grave lack of hospital beds. Yet on March 13 it was revealed that the Home Office now considers Iraq ‘safe’, and will therefore give 1,400 Iraqi asylum seekers an ultimatum – go back, or stay in Britain but with no benefits and no home. They have three weeks to make up their minds.

The claim that Iraq is safe is highly troubling, and displays the government’s complete lack of concern for the people it expels from the UK. As if to underline the stupidity of their assertion, the government will also ask them to sign a waiver form which says that the Home Office will take no responsibility for what happens to them or their families once they return to Iraq.

Of course, as everyone knows, millions of Iraqis have been forced to flee from their homes by the invasion and civil war, either to find solace in another community in Iraq among their co-religionists, or to seek refuge in neighbouring Jordan or Syria. The UN estimates that 2.2 million people have escaped from Iraq since 2003 –few of these millions, so desperate as to have to leave their country, would corroborate the government’s claim that Iraq is safe.

This is not the first time the British government has deported people to Iraq, although previous flights carrying asylum seekers have headed for the Kurdish north - which except the recent Turkish invasion has been relatively stable – rather than southern Iraq itself. We also strongly condemned those removals, since they are nothing other than part of the Home Office’s racist demonisation of immigrants and their constant effort to pander to far-right prejudices against people of Middle Eastern background, no matter how worthy their asylum case.

Indeed, even the 1,400 Iraqi asylum seekers concerned had in 2005 been refused the right to stay in Britain and were only spared deportation because it was impossible to find a plausibly safe route back. They were therefore only entitled to the meagre "section four” state support which includes basic "no-choice" accommodation, three meals a day, vouchers for essential items and utility bills.

No matter whether the government needs to pretend for its own reasons that Iraq is safe and free, we are unconditionally for the right for anyone who so pleases to make the UK their home. We furthermore demand that all immigrants have the same welfare rights as anyone else who lives in this country, and are absolutely opposed to racist two-tier benefits system which keeps people in poverty just because they were born abroad.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Action to defend Mehdi Kazemi March 22nd

Middle East Workers' Solidarity

On Saturday March 22nd at 2pm Middle East Workers' Solidarity will be staging a protest opposite Downing Street in defence of Mehdi Kazemi, a gay Iranian asylum seeker who the British government plans to send back to Iran on the grounds that if gay Iranians are "discreet about their sexuality", they will not get in trouble.

In fact, Mehdi Kazemi's boyfriend in Iran has already been executed for being gay, and the regime knows about Mehdi Kazemi and will likely kill him if he returns. We are demonstrating to demand that he should not be sent to his death in Iran, and that he should be allowed to stay in Britain if he so chooses.

Saturday March 22nd, 2pm, Downing Street. Nearest tube Westminster/Charing Cross

Friday, March 7, 2008

US dockers call for strike to end occupation of Iraq

Middle East Workers' Solidarity

A motion passed by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union conference


WHEREAS: On May 1, 2003, at the ILWU Convention in San Francisco
resolutions were passed calling for an end to the war and occupation
in Iraq; and

WHEREAS: ILWU took the lead among labor unions in opposing this bloody
war and occupation for imperial domination; and

WHEREAS: Many unions and the overwhelming majority of the American
people now oppose this bipartisan and unjustifiable war in Iraq and
Afghanistan but the two major political parties, Democrats and
Republicans continue to fund the war; and

WHEREAS: Millions worldwide have marched and demonstrated against the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but have been unable to stop the wars; and

WHEREAS: ILWU's historic dock actions,

1) like the refusal of Local 10 longshoremen to load bombs for the
military dictatorship in Chile in 1978 and military cargo to the
Salvadoran military dictatorship in 1981 and

2) the honoring of the teachers' union antiwar picket May 19, 2007
against SSA in the port of Oakland stand as a limited but shining
example of how to oppose these wars; and

WHEREAS: The spread of war in the Middle East is threatened with U. S.
air strikes in Iran or possible military intervention in Syria or the
destabilized Pakistan;


That it is time to take labor's protest to a more powerful level of
struggle by calling on unions and working people in the U. S. and
internationally to mobilize for a "No Peace No Work Holiday" May 1,
2008 for 8 hours to demand an immediate end to the war and occupation
in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U. S. troops from the
Middle East; and


That a clarion call from the ILWU be sent with an urgent appeal for
unity of action to the AFL-CIO, the Change to Win Coalition and all of
the international labor organizations to which we are affiliated to
bring an end to this bloody war once and for all.

Submitted by:

ILWU Local 10

passed overwhelmingly after thorough debate

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Israeli jets bomb Palestinian trade union HQ

Middle East Workers' Solidarity

On the night of February 28th Israeli jets levelled the five-storey Gaza headquarters of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)with three heavy F-16 missiles.

The "Folk House building" in Gaza City had been used for union-administered health care as well as organising. But this fresh Israeli atrocity has changed all that.

The complete destruction of the building not only means severe hardship for Palestinian trade unionists, but the death of one Palestinian and 37 other casualties, many of them children. It badly damaged numerous homes, and destroyed the area's electricity and water supply.

The attack came as part of Israel's continuing "collective punishment" of Gaza, which in one four-day period killed one hundred and ten Palestinians, one third of them children.

"The occupation doesn't need any justifications to commit crimes against Palestinians," said Nabil al-Mabhouh, acting head of the PGFTU in Gaza. But the building was targeted because "we at PGFTU are supporting the rights of tens of thousands of Palestinian workers."

The PGFTU has put out a call for solidarity, commenting "We call for an appropriate and effective response from the international trade unions and the International Labour Organisation to put compel Israel to compensate the PGFTU for the destruction of the Folk House in Gaza."

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Solidarity and "troops out now"

Among other issues the upcoming Alliance for Workers' Liberty conference will debate our position on Iraq and Iran. This piece is intended to contribute to that discussion and explain some of the views of minority comrades.

Within our organisation there is a substantial minority grouping critical of the leadership's attitude to the occupation of Iraq. We argue that the only principled line on the conflict, and only chance to build independent working-class forces, is to stand sharply opposed to US-UK intervention in the region as well as Islamism. In contrast, the majority argue that we should acquiesce to the occupation of Iraq, since if we demanded that the troops leave and they did, Islamist militias would win out and crush democratic space in Iraq.

All of our comrades say they are for solidarity with Iraqi workers, and the debate is normally posed in terms of what slogans we should add to this position - demands like "troops out now", "troops out" or just a general sentiment "against the occupation". But is apparent that there is more to the disagreement than superficial differences in wording. The real divide is between those who believe that US 'globocop' actions are progressive but that socialists shouldn't "give them any credit in advance", and those who think that this misses the point of how to build an independent "third camp" of working-class forces which can stand on its own two feet.

My own differences with Martin Thomas's conference document for the majority are only partly about analysis of what is going on in Iraq. While I have stressed the idea that the Mahdi Army - backed by the Iranian regime - and sectarian militias are increasingly integrated into the occupation government already, and deny that the imperialist troops protect Iraqi workers (the Iraqi government's Decree 8750 renders unions semi-illegal and gives it the right to confiscate all of their funds; the US Army have attacked trade union offices; while all of the British troops are safely ensconced near Basra airport, since Brown is too embarrassed to remove them even though Moqtada al-Sadr already controls the streets), Martin focuses on what would happen if the troops left. I do not deny his assertion that if all the troops magically "disappeared" and the Iraqi government collapsed, the consequence would just be the victory of the best-armed militias. I do not say “troops out now” because I want that to happen. But nor can I accept Martin's terms of argument.

In his only reference to the idea that we should call for "troops out now" he writes,

"...if "troops out now" were somehow to happen, the result would almost certainly be full-scale war between different sectarian clerical fascist militias and then the destruction of the labour movement; the chopping-up of the country; the probable liquidation of any chances of Iraqi (or Arab-Iraqi) national self determination; and the destruction of any elements of democracy (free press, etc.)
"Solidarity with the Iraqi labour movement against both the US/UK occupation and the sectarian militias remains the indicated policy for socialists internationally. We reject negative slogans like "troops out now" which the actual balance of forces would fill with a reactionary political content".

This kind of schematic logic is no good. Marxists understand that social forces and classes do not exist in the abstract, isolated from one another, but instead that they are in struggle, and the subjective factor of political struggle can change the "balance of forces", which is neither fixed nor controlled by some ethereal hand of history. Martin's reference to "if "troops out now" were somehow to happen" makes no sense - in reality slogans do not mysteriously "happen" out of the blue, but are demands raised and fought for by real people. What interests us here is the slogans of the international workers' movement, the forces to which we are aligned and hope to influence.

Our politics, our programme and the slogans which crystallise them are agitational, designed to organise the working-class as well as forces such as women's, LGBT and student movements for struggle. If the workers' movement raised the demand "troops out now", it would not be some magic wand to make the troops "disappear", but a basis for the working class to organise in sharp hostility to US-UK imperialism as well as confronting Islamists and Iranian regional imperialism intervening in Iraq. As Sean Matgamna has written,

"One makes all kinds of educational agitation and propaganda demands, despite knowing that they will not be implemented immediately or precisely. Agitation, the spotlight of the steady beam of propaganda, is seen as preparing the way. The implementation of the demand presupposes a whole series of changes, which the raising of the demand will help to bring about. As strength is built up it becomes possible to act, to plan.”

“Troops out now" is not merely a radical posture. Clearly, we do not raise the slogan because we are comfortable in the belief that we are so weak that the demand will never be realised and so it doesn't matter what we say. Yet we also know that if we ever did organise enough workers around our demands to force the troops out, then the balance of forces would have changed and so the consequences of withdrawal would be different to the troops just "disappearing" tomorrow.

The problem with "troops out", i.e. missing out the word "now", is that in the context of the world we live in it would be seen to deliberately avoid saying "now" and give free rein for the troops to stay indefinitely. This looks like a variant of the majority view that we should accept the presence of troops until the trade unions do not need their protection. But the whole point is that the workers' movement will never grow to be in that position if it takes sides with the occupiers. While we may approve of some democratic side effects of the occupation, "refusing to grant it political support" at the same time as you go round telling people that you also "refuse to demand that the troops leave" is tonally and operationally nothing other than fostering illusions in the democratic credentials of the occupiers.

In the case of the majority, this is worsened by clumsy formulations which, for all of the qualifications and equivocation which surround them, imply taking sides with US imperialism. Martin, whose conference motion presented to National Committee on 1 March avoided any reference to sanctions and the threat of "surgical" air strikes in Iran, had written in October that although plans for war against Iran were "crazy", it was possible to imagine that "if it were possible to imagine some "surgical" operation that would stop Iran's hideous regime acquiring nuclear weapons, and take out the foul Ahmedinejad, it would be good", which is precisely the wrong argument to be making at a time when US threats strengthen the hand of the Iranian regime against our comrades, since it is able to appeal to nationalism and portray itself as "anti-imperialist".

The same goes for the argument that we should not call ourselves "anti-imperialist" since clerical reactionaries have adopted the label too. Firstly, if everyone followed the AWL's majority line, the result would be to buttress sectarian Islamist militias by allowing them to present themselves as the consistent opponents of the US Army, and by saying nothing about the need for Iraqi-Arab self determination we would concede an enormous amount of political territory to Islamists who claim that self determination should mean a patchwork of statelets run by clerical fascist mafias. And secondly, just because the words have been dragged through the mud is not a reason to abandon our politics - why should we not also dispense with the word "socialism", which for most people means something between Harold Wilson and Joseph Stalin?

The question of working-class agency is of vital importance for the minority. Articles by comrades such as Daniel Randall and myself have stressed the need for a working-class anti-war movement demonstrating that only the workers' movement - and not Iranian regional imperialism and Moqtada al-Sadr - can fight for both democratic rights (including national self-determination) and social liberation. Rather than imagining that occupying troops will protect the working-class, we should be calling for the arming of the workers and supporting efforts at community self-defense.

Also important here is working-class action at home - while actions such as those of the Motherwell train crew and the Italian dockers who refused to transport weapons for use in Iraq are occasional and receive little coverage in the Guardian, we must vocally propagandise about them as a means to undermine the war effort, and argue that they are necessarily the same struggle as oil workers in Iraq who strike against the looting of the country's oil by Halliburton. While in the lead-up to conference the majority have co-opted some of that point into their position, it does not sit well - if you think the occupiers' democratic war effort is the only hope for the Iraqi trade unions, how can you also be in favour of attempts to sabotage the troops carrying out that mission?

To refuse to call for the withdrawal of troops is to refuse to pose yourself sharply against the occupation, and so weakens efforts to organise anti-war workers' action. The majority's position reflects an unwillingness to take on this important question and acquiesces to US imperialism as a guarantor of democracy for a supposedly eternally weak working class. In contrast, the minority argue that we must struggle for a strong and independent third camp, with the international left and workers' movement organising around the slogans "Solidarity with Iraqi workers against the occupation and Islamism. Troops out now".

Monday, March 3, 2008

World Against War rally

Hezbollah were among the organisations represented at the 'World Against War' rally in Friends' Meeting House, London on 25 February, with the Stop the War Coalition seeing fit to give a platform to the clerical fascist Lebanese militia. Reflecting the StWC's eclecticism, this utter reactionary was speaking alongside Tony Benn, who gave his usual upper-class liberal speech about why the United Nations should be stronger and why we should learn from the Bible's lessons of contrition.

Introduced by Communist Party of Britain commissar Andrew Murray to rapturous applause from the 250-strong audience, the Hezbollah speaker Ibrahim Mousawi shied away from the Shia-supremacist, misogynistic, homophobic, anti-semitic and anti-trade union rhetoric which his organisation peddles in the shanty towns of Beirut. Instead, he told us that Hezbollah are oh-so reasonable - "why do the Americans ignore the real terrorists at the expense of us, the bridge-builders?". Hezbollah are not led by a bunch of gangsters, but "engineers, lecturers and people from all walks of life".

Indeed, Hezbollah are fully willing to arrange a lash-up with the rest of the Lebanese ruling class, for example the pro-Western parties behind Prime Minister Siniora, to resolve the political crisis which has seen the country without a president for three months. Mousawi said that all Hezbollah want is to be able to veto anything the government tries to do - isn't that reasonable? Along with this, Hezbollah are strong proponents of Lebanon's sectarian political order, whereby seats in parliament are distributed according to religious group and politics is staged at the level of horse-trading between the leaders of competing faith and ethnic communities.

Crashing full frontal into Bond villain-esque self-parody with his long leather coat and black shirt, Mousawi - editor of a Hezbollah newspaper and former manager of a TV station which put out soap operas about the Jewish World Conspiracy - claimed that the problem in his country was the lack of a strong government, and argued that since the Lebanese government cannot be relied on to keep order and stand up to the Israelis, Hezbollah have every right to arm themselves and patrol the streets. At pains to deny that he hated the Jews (the western Trots don't really like that kind of thing, but it's fine for Lebanese TV), he appealed to "a man's right to protect his family" from Zionism.

The other speeches were rather less spicy. Lindsey German, the Socialist Workers' Party candidate for the London mayoral election, gave a dull talk about the hypocrisy of the British establishment and echoed much of Benn's liberal sentiment. For example, she talked at length about the "dodgy dossier" used by Tony Blair to make the case for war, and why he should be "taken to a war crimes trial in the Hague". But who does she think polices "international law"? Last time I checked, the United Nations was a cartel run by the imperialist powers victorious in World War II. Making no reference to socialism or workers in the Middle East, she did however attempt a 'radical' pitch - "Those who support the right of Hezbollah and Hamas to fight back are characterised as extremists. If opposing the government is extremist, then we're all extremists".

The only person on the platform whose views were worthy of respect was Hassan Jumaa, leader of the militant Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions which has waged several strikes against privatisation and looting of Iraq's major resource, demonstrating the potential of the working-class movement despite nightmarish circumstances. Although the union is non-sectarian and organises all oil workers, Juma'a is influenced by the soft-Islamist Shi'ite Fadila group, and so said little about the workers' movement's opposition to clerical reaction in Iraq.

Instead, he focused on the question of the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the destruction the US and UK have unleashed. He commented that "the Iraqi workers will win victory for the oppressed Iraqi people" - given that the American mission's success is reliant on stable control of Iraqi resources, strikes represent a significant challenge for the occupiers. Indeed, Jumaa's attitude to the troops was stark, "you should not be taken in by those who say that the withdrawal of troops will bring death and destruction. The longer they, the source of death, stay, the worse it will get", and said that at the last two May Days the union had raised a call for the troops to leave Iraq. Without doubt, this was an optimistic characterisation of events, but Jumaa's understanding of the situation is certainly worthy of our attention.

Unfortunately, the audience was not allowed to ask any questions or make any comments, so we could not find out more about Jumaa's support for political Islam or how workers organise against the home-grown bourgeoisie. After all, in the eyes of the Stop the War Coalition and its SWP and Stalinist leadership, letting activists talk to the leading trade unionist in Iraq is not as exciting as giving a platform for a fascist to rant in defence of Hezbollah. It seems that for these "socialists", the workers' movement is just one part of the cross-class spectrum of "The Movement", and so giving a token ten minutes to someone like Hassan Jumaa is sufficient to cover their left flank.