BREAKING: NUJ Scotland condemns extreme right wing attack on TV boss in Ukraine

National Union of Journalists Scotland National Organiser, Paul Holleran accused the Ukrainian Svoboda Party of showing “classic fascist behaviour,” after three of their MP’s attacked a TV boss at the national broadcaster today.

Footage from the internet shows the MP’s, one of whom is ironically deputy head of the committee for “freedom of speech,” assaulted Mr Panteleymonov and forced him to resign, accusing him of being “Moscow trash.”

Mr Holleran said: “TV footage of the assault by a far right Svoboda MP on a senior broadcaster in the Ukraine highlights the dangers of blind support for the new Ukraine government. This was classic fascist behaviour caught on camera and should be condemned by everyone who believes in a free media.”

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is expected to make a statement on the incident tomorrow.


Protesters lobby Wolverhampton Council over 2000 job losses

Protesters lobby Wolverhampton Council over 2000 job losses

Anti cuts campaigners lobbied Wolverhampton council on Wednesday night, urging them to reverse a planned 2,000 job losses.

The protest led by Black Country People’s Assembly and the Wolverhampton Trades Union Council saw councillors have to run a gauntlet before being able to take their seats in the chamber.

Earlier this month, councillors agreed to go ahead with the job losses and service closures, blaming central government funding cuts amounting to £147 million.

President of Wolverhampton TUC, Marie Taylor said: “The decision on the budget set by Wolverhampton Council is deeply disappointing.

“It is clear the cuts stem from central government but the implementation by the council is deplorable.

“Surely it is beyond the line in the sand when they are planning to undermine national collective bargaining.”

The Labour led council has argued it has no choice but to push through with the cuts or risk being declared bankrupt and be taken over by central government.

But Ms Taylor added: “No Tory appointed auditor could implement measures that could be any worse to a loyal workforce service users and Wolverhampton citizens.”

Several Labour councillors were keen to express their regret at the job losses.

On his way into the chamber, Bushbury North Councillor, Ian Angus said: “I’m glad we have people who care and are out on the streets campaigning.

“Laying off 2000 people is not what I came into politics for.

“We are being forced into this.

“We have been making the case in our wards, for people to contact their MP and voice their concerns at what the government is doing.”


Wolverhampton Council cuts: What are the alternatives?

Wolverhampton council cuts: what are the alternatives?

Wolverhampton – the home of the once mighty Wolves football team and the former workshop of the world in manufacturing, has been dealt a crushing 21st century economic body blow.

Council bosses revealed to their stunned workforce this month that 2000 of them will almost certainly be made redundant following the latest round of cuts to council spending.

They will join the 10,000 plus seeking work in the city. The claimant rate amongst the city’s working population stands at 6.6 percent, more than double the national average of 3 percent.

But trade unionists and anti-austerity campaigners are not taking the situation lying down.

Tonight Unison members and the campaign group the People’s Assembly will lobby the council to change its mind and reverse the cuts.

Wolverhampton Trades Union Council secretary Nick Kelleher, said if the 2000 jobs are lost it will push not only those workers into poverty but have a knock on effect on already struggling local businesses.

He said: “Their loss of income will mean shops and local business will also suffer making many rely on benefits which means loss of tax revenue for the country increased housing benefit going to landlords and for those who end up in part-time or even lower paid jobs, increased in-work benefits which subsidise employers who pay their workers less than is needed to live on.”

He added that a consultation for an industrial action ballot by Unison will go ahead if the council pushes through with cuts to national terms and conditions.

The city has been punished severely by central government cuts, amounting to £147 million pounds over four years.

Public sector workers stand to lose secure jobs, vulnerable service users from the elderly to the mentally ill, face the possibility of their services being cut or being outsourced to private companies and the social security bill further increased as the newly unemployed join the job seeking ranks.
Despite being opposed to government austerity, Leader of the Council Roger Lawrence insisted there was no other choice.

He said: “It is painful and difficult, but it is unfortunately necessary. We will manage through these difficult circumstances; we have no choice but to take these measures in order to produce a legal and balanced budget.

“More job losses are hugely regrettable, not just for the individuals who face losing their livelihoods but also for the city because many of these people live here and spend their money here.”

So who is to blame – the council or the government? And aside from moral indignation and protest, are there any practical alternatives?

Wolverhampton University Professor Roger Seifert thinks it is a bit of both.

He said: “The cuts are clearly the responsibility of the coalition government and its false economy packages under the umbrella of austerity. That said the Labour council has some blame attached as well … indirectly through its association with the last Labour government and support for their public sector reforms and move to privatise; and directly as the employer.”

He suggests Labour councils should band together and expose the government agenda.

He added: “The council has known of the cuts for some time and should have and it should have consulted more fully with the unions, made common cause with other Labour councils to really fight against the cuts rather than going along with the economic logic of deficit reduction.”

Andrew Fisher, Coordinator of the Left Economic Advisory Panel – a group of leading alternative economists, agrees that Labour councils should join up with other councils facing austerity.

But controversially he argues drastic action such as setting illegal budgets should be considered.

He said: “In principle I support calls for setting an illegal budget and forcing Pickles to either give more money or send in officials to set a budget if, and only, if it comes in the context of a local struggle that involves the local community, local government unions and led by a politically united Labour group.”

Whatever the answer, government reliance on apathy and public acceptance of austerity is a risky strategy.

If lions lie in slumber, it is best not to wake them.


Bob Crow: 1961 – 2014

Bob Crow: 1961 - 2014

It was just another average afternoon as a news reporter. I’d bagged a good story and was now waiting for the train back home.

Suddenly I see Bob Crow along with other RMT activists waiting to board the same train.

He’d only met me on a handful of occasions but he still knew me by first name.

Immediately he asked if I wanted to travel with him and his colleagues.

I accepted and the next hour and a half flew by, with a mixture of hardnosed union politics, two beers each and laugh-out-loud comedy, much of it provided by Bob with his colleagues getting in a few friendly digs along the way.

That was the measure of the man: politics infused with humanity.

The eloquent tributes from his members and even his enemies put pay to the totally ridiculous mass media depictions of him as a thug or some two dimensional dinosaur only interested in members interests.

There is of course nothing wrong with defending members and advancing them when they are paying and mandating you to do just that.

But Bob was a passionate advocate of public transport (he didn’t own a car), a committed socialist and internationalist.

He was soft spoken in conversation, never dogmatic, always keen to explain what he meant in a small amount of words.

In 2011 as the only nationally published journalist to report from the RMT AGM in Fort William, Scotland, I saw that on many issues, Bob was a moderate within his union.

And although charismatic, he was not a one man show and didn’t want to be.

None of the major nationals or press agencies were able to see the real issues that affected transport and maritime workers during that week.

Of course, plenty was being written about the RMT and particularly Bob himself at the time.

The main issue was the gripping fact he’d gone out to dinner with his work colleagues in the week leading up to the conference and spent some money.

Shock horror.

During the week in Fort William, the owner of the community hall where the conference was taking place reported to the RMT that journalists were ringing up asking how much the union was spending on booze and food during the conference, with seemingly little interest in the actual conference proceedings.

Being able to report on the conference was a lesson in union democracy, with active encouragement from the top table for delegates to disagree debate and not fear controversy.

That culture which Bob played an enormous role in building will hopefully be maintained following his untimely death.

Although the tributes from his political enemies have been highly respectful so far, attempts to dilute what Bob Crow was are being promoted in two areas: that Bob was an effective yet solely “sectional interest” union leader and that he will be the last of his kind.

The tributes from Ireland to the USA, from Portugal to Pakistan, from Venezuela, Cuba, South Africa and Palestine, show Bob Crow was a fighter for justice, in the best traditions of internationalism and peace.

His major role in taking the RMT into the World Federation of Trade Unions with its emphasis on “class orientated trade unionism” was a highly politically significant act.

Will he be the last of his kind? Only time will tell. But as he said when he addressed the Transport Workers Union of America’s conference last year: “Organised labour vs. organised capital. It is as simple as that brothers and sisters. Either we are stronger than them or they are stronger than us.”


Chavez: Mass Media distortions and legacy

Chavez: Mass Media distortions and legacy

- This is my article the day after Hugo Chavez passed away last year. 

“Chavez had not stolen an election. He didn’t have to. And now he is gone, we will never know if he ever would have done.”

One of the more bizarre and unintentionally funny comments by otherwise respected C4 journalist Jonathan Rugman sums up the absurdity of the anti-Chavez rhetoric currently being dumped across the media highways.

For the last 3 hours, I have submerged myself in the full spectrum of opinion on offer over the premature death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

For supporters and admirers which I happily admit to being one, the message largely is one of sadness, defiance and retelling of the achievements so far of the Bolivarian revolution.

Detractors on the other hand have cruelly taken to social media networks to either openly gloat at the President’s death or to rubbish his economic record with the usual barrage of pro-free market solutions which have clearly worked out so well in the Western “democratic” world.

No doubt these people are of the same ilk as the private media owners in Venezuela who repeatedly had “journalists” and broadcasters calling the elected president a “monkey” on live shows and calling on people to launch another coup de tat.

Of course they say there are two sides to every story.

But following Chavez’s death, there seems to be a strange “middle” of the road commentator who plays the role of moral arbiter, a kind of liberal compass that lets us know that: “Chavez did some good things but at the end of the day he was really deep down a despot.”

I can imagine this moral arbiter writing “Rest In Peace Chavez” on Twitter but deep down thinking: “Glad you are gone and oh – here is my chance to have a dig so no one follows your practical example again.”

Well known “liberal” critics of Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution, talk about his “dark side” and of human rights abuses quoting organisations like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch who have never had a good word to say any country taking a “socialist” path.

When you look at the detail of the claims, if indeed that is the unvarnished truth, they pale into practical insignificance next to well-known Western backed Latin American dictatorships of the past and the forced disappearance of tens of thousands under those regimes.

Reading between the lines of some of the comments, there is even a perverse pleasure being showcased around Chavez’s difficult death, with anti-Chavez commentator Rory Carroll saying: “No one imagined it would end like this. A ravaged body, a hospital bed, a shroud of silence, invisible.”

“Hugo Chavez’s life blazed drama, a command performance, and friend and foe alike always envisaged an operatic finale.”

There is of course nothing wrong with reasoned criticism and President Chavez like any public figure is not immune to this.

But what is the context of this criticism?

Where is it meant to lead?

And what narrative does it hope to inspire?

In short whose class interests does it serve?

Given the political and economic pressure on Venezuela from the US, Chavez’s measures to protect the revolution and his constitutional duty to those who elected him were mild by historical standards.

He made alliances with many leaders of many countries some of whom have a totally opposed view on social justice.

This was for trade, geo-political defence and a mutually respectful foreign policy based on diplomacy rather than military might.

It doesn’t matter to this liberal “moral arbiter” that the Bolivarian revolution wiped out illiteracy in Venezuela, gave women increased participation and rights, new labour laws and vast improvements in living standards.

All these things he can take for granted because he has never struggled, never fallen on hard times, believes he never will and likes things just as they are.

But beyond Chavez’s real identifiable achievements, regardless of any short term economic problems in Venezuela as a result of the global downturn, the legacy of Hugo Chavez is immeasurable.

He is and will be remembered by millions in Latin America and millions of other poor and dispossessed peoples throughout the world as their class warrior, someone who wasn’t afraid to offend the King of Spain, to make a fool of George W Bush and to laugh sing and joke with people.

More than likely he will achieve iconic status in the years to come and be mentioned in the same breath as Lenin, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara when people are struggling for better living conditions, and revolutionary change.

None of this will matter to the “liberal” commentator of course who will continue to watch the world go by, supping on his Starbucks, denouncing the worst excesses of neo-liberalism but always ready to lend a hand to keep uppity workers and their allies in check if they dare one day present a real challenge to it.

As the ironic song, “Love me, I’m a liberal” by folk singer Phil Ochs goes: ”I attend civil rights meetings but don’t talk about revolution. That’s going a little too far.”


World Peace Council and Non Aligned Movement stand with Venezuela

World Peace Council and Non Aligned Movement stand with Venezuela

Over 100 countries joined international calls for an end to violent protests in Venezuela and respect for the country’s Bolivarian democracy today.

The Non Aligned Movement (NAM), which represents 120 developing countries said the organisation reaffirmed, “its commitment towards peace, stability and development, as well as its respect for sovereignty, the rule of law, non-interference in the internal affairs of states, territorial integrity, and the self-determination of peoples.

“We take note of the efforts undertaken by the Government of Venezuela to promote a broad national dialogue with a view to finding solutions to the country’s common challenges and to continue its way towards development and well-being.”

The statement comes after the UN recognised NGO, the World Peace Council (WPC), denounced the demonstrators and their “imperialist” backers who are helping to economically “sabotage” the country.

Protests against President Maduro’s democratically elected government are receiving huge levels of international media coverage but are confined to the affluent areas of the Latin American country.

In a statement, the WPC secretariat said:

“The World Peace Council denounces the ongoing plans and actions to destabilize the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela by reactionary forces and groups with the support of imperialist forces.

“The recent violent orchestrated events in Caracas and other regions of the country show clearly the intention of the local oligarchy and its foreign supporters which are aiming in putting obstacles to the efforts of the elected government of the country to empower the people and to solve social problems and needs.

“The economic sabotage in multiple ways, the violent provocations and intimidation of the people are going hand in hand with the nostalgy of the old establishment which is loosing power and privileges and therefore is acting subversively against the efforts of the Bolivarian revolution and its forces.

“The WPC expresses its full-hearted solidarity to its member organisation in Venezuela, the COSI (Committee for International Solidarity), to the anti-imperialist forces of the country and to the Venezuelan people.

“The World Peace Council and the peace loving people all over the world are confident that the Venezuelan people will win this battle on the road to become masters of their fortunes, with sovereignty and dignity.”


Disability protesters target Atos benefit test centres

Disability protesters target Atos benefit test centres

Disability campaigners laid siege to Atos assessment centres up and down the country today, in a bid to increase public pressure on the government to end what many see as a war against disabled people.

Union activists, Disabled People Against Cuts and Black Triangle targeted 144 assessment centres where people are told whether they are able to work and if they are still entitled to benefits.

The government argues the system helps millions of people off benefit and back into work. But campaigners have pointed out that the government’s own figures show 10,600 people died within six weeks of being declared ‘fit for work’ by Atos, last year.

Unite the union assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: ‘This alone should have set alarm bells ringing that the assessments were not fit for purpose. We are calling on the government to stop this degrading policy and introduce a fairer transparent system that restores dignity to the sick and disabled.’

Over 40 per cent of cases where people have been deemed fit to work have had their appeals upheld. However the appeals process can take months or even years while some of the most vulnerable disabled are plunged into poverty.

Leading Wolverhampton trades unionist Nick Kelleher knows all too well about this issue. From a protest early this morning in the city he told Red Pepper: ‘I know people who have appealed a decision by Atos have been waiting a year. They have no benefits and are relying on food banks.’

He said the government was intent on cutting the benefits bill but insisted it was small percentage of overall spending. He added: ‘They should be going after big companies that don’t pay their fair share of tax.’

Many campaigners are eager to see people with disabilities genuinely helped back into work, if they are able to. But they say the onus doesn’t just lie with the individual.

Bob Williams-Findlay, a university equality training officer, said: ‘The system used by Atos only measures certain aspects of someone’s capability to work. Some people with disabilities like me can work but only when a good employer addresses their needs.

‘Atos is making huge profits. The system needs changing, not the welfare state.’

Another union backing the campaign against Atos today, the PCS, would be a major union in representing workers assessing disabled people if the service was brought back in-house.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘It is a scandal that the likes of Atos are profiting from this government’s cold and calculating assault on sick and disabled people. The demeaning tests should be scrapped and the work to provide the kind of professional and caring support that disabled people need and deserve should be brought back in-house.’

Today marks an important escalation in the campaign and through social media, rather than the mass media, this injustice being heaped on the disabled and sick will not go unnoticed.

- This article originally appeared in the Red Pepper Magazine: