Friday, November 25, 2005

Boycott Coca Cola

A trade union organiser from the Colombian Food and Drink Workers' Union (Sinaltrainal) came to speak in York yesterday about his union's campaign for an international boycott of Coke. He's also a production worker in a Coca Cola factory.

He told us of the campaign of intimidation, kidnapping, torture and murder which right wing paramilitaries, working in collusion with Coca Cola, are directing against workers who dare to involve themselves in union organising. He told us that 22 members of Sinaltrainal have been murdered (10 of them Coca Cola workers) and many more have been abducted, imprisoned, tortured and some have been forced to flee the country. Hundreds live in daily fear of their lives - the unionist who spoke to us is aware that his name appears on a death list published and circulated by paramilitaries. It is clear that Coca Cola management works closely with Colombian death squads. At least one of the murders occured inside a Coca Cola factory - armed men entered the factory, identified a union leader, and executed him on the factory floor in front of all the other workers. The intimidation and murder of Sinaltrainal and Coca Cola workers, it is worth remembering, is only a small part of a much wider campaign of terror against the Colombian labour movement - hundreds of trade unionists are murdered in that country every year. The terror, of course, is allowed to happen by a particularly corrupt state which, at best, turns a blind eye to right-wing paramilitary activity, and, at worst, actively assists in this process.

I was very moved by what this man said and the way in which he said it - unassuming, modest and yet determined. This is a man who continues to struggle for what is right, even though doing so puts his life (and the lives of his family) in great danger. He doesn't have to do it - yet he does. It is amazing that large numbers of people like him (in Colombia and beyond) continue to fight under such circumstances. I don't think that I have ever met a more dignified or a more courageous human being.



Pilger in Green Left Weekly:

I was dropped at Paradiso, the last middle-class area before barrio La Vega, which spills into a ravine as if by the force of gravity. Storms were forecast, and people were anxious, remembering the mudslides that took 20,000 lives. “Why are you here?”, asked the man sitting opposite me in the packed jeep-bus that chugged up the hill. Like so many in Latin America, he appeared old, but wasn’t. Without waiting for my answer, he listed why he supported Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: schools, clinics, affordable food, “our constitution, our democracy” and “for the first time, the oil money is going to us”. I asked him if he belonged to the MVR (Movement for a Fifth Republic), Chavez’s party. “No, I’ve never been in a political party; I can only tell you how my life has been changed, as I never dreamt.”

It is raw witness like this, which I have heard over and over again in Venezuela, that smashes the one-way mirror between the West and a continent that is rising. By rising, I mean the phenomenon of millions of people stirring once again, “like lions after slumber/In unvanquishable number”, wrote the poet Shelley in The Mask of Anarchy. This is not romantic; an epic is unfolding in Latin America that demands our attention beyond the stereotypes and cliches that diminish whole societies to their degree of exploitation and expendability.

To the man in the bus; and to Beatrice, whose children are being immunised and taught history, art and music for the first time; and Celedonia, in her seventies, reading and writing for the first time; and Jose, whose life was saved by a doctor in the middle of the night, the first doctor he had ever seen, Chavez is neither a “firebrand” nor an “autocrat”, but a humanitarian and a democrat who commands almost two-thirds of the popular vote, accredited by victories in no less than nine elections.


All over Latin America, Chavez is the modern Bolivar. People admire his political imagination and his courage. Only he has had the guts to describe the United States as a source of terrorism and Bush as Senor Peligro (Mr. Danger). He is very different from Fidel Castro, whom he respects. Venezuela is an extraordinarily open society with an unfettered opposition — that is rich and still powerful. On the left, there are those who oppose the state, in principle, believe its reforms have reached their limit, and want power to flow directly from the community. They say so vigorously, yet they support Chavez. A fluent young anarchist, Marcel, showed me the clinic where the two Cuban doctors may have saved his girlfriend. (In a barter arrangement, Venezuela gives Cuba oil in exchange for doctors).

At the entrance to every barrio there is a state supermarket, where everything from staple food to washing up liquid costs 40% less than in commercial stores. Despite specious accusations that the government has instituted censorship, most of the media remains violently anti-Chavez: a large part of it in the hands of Gustavo Cisneros, Latin America’s Murdoch, who backed the failed attempt to depose Chavez. What is striking is the proliferation of lively community radio stations, which played a critical part in Chavez’s rescue in the coup of April 2002 by calling on people to march on Caracas.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Snowball has an interesting post about the significance of the current proliferation of blogs - and on the importance of political blogging in particular. He draws an interesting parallel between political blogging and Eighteenth Century 'Grub Street' pamphleteering.

I don't really agree.

However, have a look for yourself.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

New Look SUN Website

No not the website of the grubby little right wing 'newspaper'. I'm referring to the Socialist Unity Network website. They've had a rather nifty looking lime green make-over.

Have a look - it's a good site.

Monday, November 14, 2005

'The People Versus Jeremy Clarkson'

There's an amusing article in the Independent today (free view) in which Britain's leading professional arsewipe, Jeremy Clarkson, is accused and found guilty of various crimes. The sentences dished out by this impromptu court are not severe enough for my liking (after all Clarkson's a hang 'em and flog 'em man and it's the only language he understands).

We've been seeing rather too much of that chauvinist, lowest common denominator, boor recently - he's popped up on QI ( is it me or is that show just irritating? - Its theme tune alone even outdoes University Challenge and Call My Bluff in the insufferable twee-ness stakes) and Have I Got News For You in the last week. On both occasions Clarkson was given a very easy ride by the liberals and leftists on the show. Is Clarkson becoming TV light entertainment's favourite pompous reactionary? Bigger than Davidson - mark my words.

Friday, November 11, 2005


I spent a few days at my parents' house last week. My dad showed me an old photograph I'd never seen before of my grandad, taken in April 1917 at Vimy Ridge. The picture must have been taken a few days (perhaps only a few hours - we're not sure) after the end of the extremely nasty battle there. It's a tiny photograph, but incredibly sharp and clear. It shows my grandfather standing with three other men in a kind of semi-circle facing the camera. They're out in the open in the mud and behind them are several tall tree trunks. At first glance it looks like the photo must have been taken in the middle of winter because the tree trunks are skeletal, blackened and with few branches - dead looking. In fact, it's mid April in the picture and the trees look wintry because the land on which they stand has been pounded for a week by the heaviest artillery barage ever seen in history up until that point. My grandfather clearly hasn't shaved for a long while and is casually (sloppily even) turned out in khaki trousers, long sleeved vest unbuttoned at the neck and braces - no jacket, no hat. He has his arm slapped around the shoulder of the man standing next to him and is grinning. My grandfather wasn't a small man, but he's dwarfed by the three men with him - big strapping Canadians. My grandfather was British and we're not sure what he was doing at Vimy Ridge (the battle was fought by fresh Canadian troops, newly arrived at the front), but it's probable that he was sent up to the ridge with other low ranking British officers (he was a Captain by 1917) to help clear up, or perhaps simply to replace the many dead and wounded Canadian officers. The Canadians with him are surprisingly smart looking - freshly shaven, straight backed, clean-ish uniforms. You wouldn't know that they had just been through one of the most intense battles of WW1 in which much of the fighting was done at close quarters - hand to hand bayonet and grenade fighting in the woods (or what was left of the woods).

It's a startling photo in a way that only a sharp focused and well preserved picture of people all (presumably) long dead can be. It's a bit of cliche to say, but it really does look like the picture could have been taken yesterday and the faces of the men all look like the faces of young men you might see in the street on your way to the shops. It's not like the grainy, faded newsreel pictures you see on the TV, the moving pictures shot at a distance (so you can't really see the faces of the men running, firing and falling) - this one looks breathtakingly real. I couldn't help wondering how many of those three Canadians survived the next 19 months of war (my grandfather did of course, or I wouldn't be here). What happened to them? Did they live to have a family like my grandfather? Did they end up face down in a trench? Did they become one of those poppy petals which will fall over Central London in the Remembrance Sunday parade?

I haven't worn a red poppy for the last two years. I'm not wearing one this year either. Every year I wonder whether I should, and the sight of this picture made me think about this question perhaps a bit harder than in previous years. The reason I'm not wearing one is not because I can't be bothered, but because I refuse to. It's right to remember the dead - especially those who died in an awful war like the WW1 and I've got absolutely no time for people who say that we should forget all about it - that it's 'ancient history'. But you can remember the dead without wearing a red poppy and without turning out for a military parade. What I object to about the Poppy thing and about Remembrance Sunday celebration is the way in which the millions of dead are marshalled by the state and by the military for their own purposes. Remembrance Sunday does not so much signal the awfulness of war (the utter injustice, waste and terror of WW1 especially), it's not so much a lament for the dead - their suffering and pain - as it is an exercise in the incorporation of the practice of rembrance of the dead and their suffering into the structures of the political and social status quo. It's a chance for heads of state to look solemn for a bit, for the generals and field marshals to dress up in their most romantic uniforms and for the ordinary people to salute the flag, re-affirm their patriotic commitment to 'the nation' and doff their caps to military power. Thank you Ma'am for being our Queen - we know you feel their pain. Thank you General Sir Marmeduke Sebag-Smythe for protecting us with your million pound armour piercing, ball-baring packed missile warheads. Thank you for being prepared to send more people to kill and die for you, should you find it necessary for the preservation of British rates of profit... I mean our freedom.

This is not the kind of remembrance that I want to take part in. Especially seen as many of those at the front of the national parades are responsible for the ongoing slaughter in Iraq. Wars are terrible things - as long as they were a long time ago. Our wars today aren't like that now. So Tony Blair will look solemn, maybe his lip will tremble slightly as he lays a wreath and bows with a pained look on his face, and then he'll walk slowly back to Whitehall for an update on military operations in Basra.

One of the most affecting things I have heard about the First World War - from veterans interviewed on TV or in the papers, or just in books is that for many soldiers in the trenches there was no feeling of hostility towards the 'enemy' troops in the other trench lines. Time and again you will hear the old men say that they didn't hate the Germans - that in fact they felt a strange kind of common bond or brotherly identification with the enemy. After all, they were men like them, conscripted to fight a war they hadn't made themselves, standing in the same mud, seeing their dead comrades chewed by the same rats, experiencing the same horrors. After a while at least, patriotic feeling ceased to stir many of the men in the trenches - they didn't go over the top for 'King and Country'. After months standing in water logged trench such nationalism must have seemed utterly ridiculous. What kept them going was a sense of identification with their mates. They stayed in the trenches and, when they had to, they went over the top because they simply didn't want to let their friends down. That was the reality. Bollocks to all the flag waving.

If only that sense of a common bond with the 'enemy' conscripts had been allowed to develop a bit further - if that sense of fierce solidarity that soldiers in the trenches had for their mates (the one that kept them in the trenches) had spread a bit wider and had started to bond German and Briton, Frenchman and Austrian. There were glimpses of this of course in the various Christmas truces and on the Eastern front in late 1917. Then they might have done away with the war, and the only corpses left lying in the mud would have been those of Haig, Kitchener, Ludendorff, Hindenburg and Petain - shot by their own men.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Harry's Teeth Grinding Frenzy

Over at Harry's Place, there's an alarming story about Harry's recent anti-social behaviour. I realise that things haven't been going Harry's way over the last couple of days, but this is surely an over-reaction:

He chewed the table, he chewed the chair. He chewed a hole in the end of the couch big enough to stick his head in (and believe me I was tempted). He chewed the trim off the wall. He shredded any book, magazine or newspaper he managed to get a hold of. In the yard, he chewed on fallen branches, pine cones and even rocks.

He pulled the television cable loose and chewed through it, blacking out the TV. It didn't matter, though, because he had already shredded the TV Guide, so we didn't know what we were missing.

In a chewing frenzy, he tore the plastic bags off all our McDonald's collector's edition Beanie Babies, which at the time were thought to be quite valuable. I yelled at him for that and I still feel bad about it.

Rather than let the tensions escalate, we set to work to come up with a viable anti-chewing strategy. Some supposedly knowledgable people recommended locking him in his crate when we weren't home, but that seemed like pretty cruel thing to do... We opted instead for a three-pronged approach.

Firstly, we reduced the opportunity for destruction by moving anything remotely tempting out of little Harry's reach. That wasn't hard, seeing as he's not too tall. Then we liberally coated all the furniture and chewable bits of the house with a bitter apple spray designed to make them less palateable.

Not to deny Harry in his forté, we provided him with an abundant supply of fine chewables. We made it clear that these things were his to chew to his heart's content, but that he better darned well leave the furniture alone.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

French Riots, State Torture and Socialist Sci-Fi

I don't have much to say about the current situation in France which hasn't been said elsewhere in the lefty blogosphere. So, it seems rather pointless to go into it. Here, via ZNet, is an excellent article by Doug Ireland. Via the Tomb, here's a statement (on The Red Pepper site) 'from various trade unions, left political parties and civil liberties groups in France.'

Ken MacLeod has an excellent (and terrifying) post on his site focusing on the US's secretive 'torture flights' - the secret service kidnaps people suspected of terror connections (often on the slenderest of 'evidence'), bundles then onto unmarked jets and flies them to one of a number of 'ghost prisons' around the world (Guantanamo is the tip of the iceberg) or to countries such as Syria so that they can be interrrogated under torture. It's frightening and it's happening.

Ken MacLeod is a socialist sci-fi writer and he's interviewed here about his work. I read one of his books, The Star Fraction, a while ago and was very impressed. The interview points out that MacLeod's books are often very scathing about the Green movement, and this was very much in evidence in the book of his I read in which the Green militia fighters of his utopian/dystopian near-future are presented as regressive barbarians. I suppose I agree with him up to a point, but I was rather uncomfortable with some of the anti-Green sentiments in the book. I also got the impression that MacLeod is highly sympathetic to ultra-libertarian arguments - and again, I felt rather uncomfortable with this. MacLeod's presentation of a futuristic ultra-libertarian, ultra-free market principality (Norlonto) - think Robert Nozick's ultimate wet dream - suggested substantial authorial approval, but seemed, in many respects, rather nightmarish to me.

I'm sorry, by the way, that this post is so badly written. I'm having one of those days when you can't write in anything other than horridly bad sentences. I'm going to stop now.


If you don't believe it, there was a chilling article in the Observer (the liberal bombers' favourite - wonder how that one slipped through), detailing America's 'Ghost Prisons' across the world and showing how the CIA deliver abductees to regimes such as Egypt and Syria for interrogation under torture. See also, these articles (pay per view) in the Indie.

Intermission Status and Mouldy Horrors

Right. I know I said I was going to have to shut the blog down for a while and that I then went and blogged a post (is that the correct terminology? Sod it, I'm going to live life on the edge) within 7 days and that I am now blogging another one. I am still horridly busy, but I think that I was possibly over-reacting when I decided that I should have to 'shut the blog down'. After a sober assessment, it now seems to me that the situation is as follows: I shall only be able to blog once a week to once a fortnight until Christmas time, after which I may well be able to blog more frequently.

While I'm in a self-indulgent and narcissistic mood (like you, dear reader, give a little mouse's poo about the frequency of blogging here), I may as well tell you about how horrid my life is (relatively speaking of course - I don't live in Falluja or North Korea). My house and most of my stuff in the house is rotting. Sort of. The mould on the walls (mentioned in passing in a previous post), has grown rapidly in the cold, damp weather of the past couple of weeks. To my horror, I found, a couple of days ago, that my winter coats (packed away in the wardrobe for the summer) have all gone mouldy and that there are nasty green vegetable growths behind desks and tables, on the inside of my curtains and on the backs of my stereo speakers (!). I don't know why I hadn't seen it before - all I can say is that moulds are cunning bastards and grow in places where you don't normally look until too late. I tried to clean some of it off today with a mildew and mould remover spray and ended up taking much of the paint off my bedroom walls and nearly poisoning myself in the process - it's nasty stuff. My room now smells like a swimming pool changing room - you know, that almost overpowering chemical stench. Needless to say I am feeling rather sorry for myself, and am quite keen to move out of this house asap. As misfortune would have it, however, I signed another 6 months tenancy agreement about a 2 weeks ago. Bollocks.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Master Race? You're having a Laugh!

That was one of the cheekier chants thrown at the fash at the UAF demonstration today. Over a thousand anti-fascists - young, old, black, white, asian - confronted a pathetic 100 - 150 Nazis outside Leeds Crown Court. My God they looked fucking ridiculous. I had a good look at (what passed for) their crowd across the 20 metres gap or so which separated the two groups -they were an extremely unimpressive bunch. The vanguard of the British 'master race' appears to consist of a few thick-necked, shaven-headed men trying to hold in their beer guts and look menacing (think 'Al Murray Pub Landlord'), a few weirdos in wide brimmed hats (what all the fascist fashionistas are wearing this autumn), a few white haired old men in blazers and ties, a bloke in a multi-coloured wig (how humourous)*, a couple of disturbed looking young men with Waffen SS haircuts and a small number of pursed-lipped women (one of whom stood for the entire time at the front of the fash lines proudly holding up the front page of a copy of the 'Daily Mail' - much to our amusement).

The thing which really made us laugh, however, was the presence - amongst the Union Flags, St George's Crosses, devotional pictures of the Fuhrer, placards screaming something about 'Treason', and scowling fascist faces - of a large banner with a George Orwell quotation plastered across it. It was this one:

"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act"

The fucking cheek! Clearly, the fash thought they were being rather clever. They couldn't be allowed to get away with this. After initial incomprehension at the sight of a nazi banner quoting Orwell, the UAF crowd responded by loudly reminding the fash that 'Orwell killed fascists' - not sure if this is exactly true, but of course he certainly shot at several Spanish fascists with the intention of killing them.**

The BBC report 'clashes' at the demonstration. There were no significant (physical) clashes, as far as I saw. When Griffin made a run for it into the Court entrance (heavily flanked by police, completely covered by a jacket or blanket or something) an open plastic bottle of water, an egg and perhaps a bag of flour was tossed from the crowd - that was it. Not exactly a 'clash'. At one stage there was some very minor pushing and shoving between the police and the front rank of the UAF crowd - which lasted for no longer than 30 seconds. As far as I could make out there were four or five isolated idiots at the front of the crowd who wanted a bit of a shoving match with the police more than they wanted to demonstrate their opposition to the nazis (although, to be fair the police did seem to be pushing us back rather aggressively). They were quickly reprimanded by the majority of the UAF crowd.

After the demonstration there was a rally outside the Art Gallery. All the speakers were good, but the last (impromptu) speech by a union rep from Newcastle was absolutely electrifying. One of the nazis was brave enough to come over and throw insults, but was quickly seen off by the crowd before being led away by two coppers.

All in all a very pleasant day. The key thing I will remember about the day was the contrast between the fash and antifascist demonstrators. The small number of nazis looked like a miserable, pathetic, isolated, and cretinous bunch of racist obsessives - the 'worst dregs of society' as speaker after speaker pointed out - while the antifascist demonstration was large, colourful, high-spirited, confident and ethnically and socially diverse. All of those many passers by who stopped to look at what was happening must have been impressed by this obvious contrast.

* Many of the late-coming nazis had to walk past the UAF demonstrators in order to reach their own people, including multi-coloured wig man. Most of these arseholes were informed, in no uncertain terms, that they were 'Nazi scum' as they passed us by - but multi-coloured wig man, the BNP jester, only warranted the cry of 'You wanker'.
** As I remember, Orwell writes in A Homage to Catalonia that he's not sure if he actually hit anyone with any of the shots he fired at fascist lines.

Bat informs me there's a report on the demonstration and rally here.

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