Solidarity 071, 14 April 2005

Refugees and gypsies scapegoated in a race-hate election

By Rosalind Robson

For some months now the Tories and Labour have been trying to win votes by competing to see who can be the most “hardline” against asylum seekeers. More recently the Tories have added gypsies and travellers to their list of “undesirables”.

Michael Howard has probably beaten Tony Blair with his nasty populist election campaign. Now he is “out on the stump” spewing out his message — “It’s not racist to want to control immigration”; and “Let’s clamp down on illegal traveller sites.”

Ugly contest in East London

By John Bloxam

The Respect coalition’s electoral prospects on 5 May are increasingly focussed on George Galloway, who is standing in Bethnal Green and Bow, east London. The electoral “breakthrough” that the Galloway-SWP alliance have been predicting for their “radical fourth party” has now narrowed to getting Galloway, a sitting MP with a high public profile, elected in a seat with a 50% Muslim vote. “Imagine the impact if Respect wins a seat…” (Socialist Worker, 9 April, emphasis added). Respect’s footsoldiers, the SWP have made this seat their priority.

Workers occupy a dozen farms

Members of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST) have occupied 12 farms in the state of Pernambuco, to try to pressure the government to speed up land reform. More than 5,000 families from the MST have moved on to the farms.

The MST say the Lula government had failed to live up to its election promises to have settled 400,000 families by 2007. The government has settled less than a quarter of that number. The land reform budget has been in order to repay debts.

Ballot-rigging in Birmingham

By Dave Jessop

Six Birmingham Labour councillors have been found guilty of corruption and a systematic attempt to rig the 2004 city council elections.

The Election Commissioner, Richard Mawrey QC, said he was in no doubt that there had been a city-wide campaign by the Birmingham Labour Party to use thousands of bogus postal votes to counter the adverse impact of the Iraq war on Muslim communities in inner city wards.

Union activist jailed following convention

Dharmananda Panta, chair of a branch of the GEFONT trade union in Nepal, has been imprisoned for 90 days for trade union activity.

The authorities allege that his views had “hurt friendly relationships between neighbouring countries and disturbed peace in society”.

Army assassinates agricultural workers

The Colombian army has assassinated three members of the agricultural workers trade union FENSUAGRO, from the town of San Juan de Sumapaz on the outskirts of the Colombian capital Bogotá.

On 18 March the men were travelling to another town to inspect some cattle, when they went missing. Some days later the Colombia media reported that the army had killed three guerrillas in the area and, on 27 March the families of the three men identified their bodies.

160,000 strike over new laws

Around 160,000 members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions took industrial and protest action on 1 April. Some 120,000 workers at 231 workplaces struck for four hours.

The protest was over two new laws which the KCTU argue will clear the way for accelerated casualisation of Korea’s workforce. Some 60% of all Korean workers are now employed on “temporary” or “irregular” contracts.

Iraq: tide turning? And which way?

By Colin Foster

According to the Independent, probably the major newspaper most sharply critical of the US/UK military in Iraq, “the tide is turning”.

Patrick Cockburn writes: “American forces are on the retreat throughout Iraq.

“Slowly, the great American adventure in the country, which started with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, is coming to an end.” (Independent, 12 April)

Jonathan Steele, in the Guardian, takes the opposite view:

Defend your pension!

London Underground Pension Fund is considering putting up the minimum age for early retirement from 50 to 55, and they are considering other changes, such as abolishing Additional Voluntary Contributions.

This follows hot on the heels of Metronet and TubeLines stopping new recruits joining the LRT Pension Fund and making them join a new, inferior scheme instead — and TfL trying to prevent some of its staff joining the Fund until they have worked for the company for a year.

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