Ukraine: workers organise at the grass roots

September 28, 2015

PAVEL LISYANSKY, founder of the Eastern Human Rights Group and lawyer for workers in eastern Ukraine, gives his view in this guest post of efforts to strengthen the labour movement at a time of military conflict and attacks on workers’ rights.

In 2015 breaches of Ukrainians’ social, economic and labour rights are becoming sharper and sharper. Politicians from oligarchic clans have started shouting about a social and economic revolution. And really, we have had two political revolutions – the “Orange revolution” [of 2004] and the “revolution of dignity” [of 2014] – but there has been no social and economic revolution.

In Ukraine there is a huge potential for protest, due to the widespread breaches of labour rights. There is a great need for new trade union and working-class organisations. Since Soviet times the trade union movement

Svetlodarsk meeting

Workers’ meeting at Svetlodarsk hospital

has not modernised itself. Trade unions have remained as they were: “distributors of holiday vouchers” and “lobbyists for the employers” in workplace collectives. [Translator’s note. During the Soviet period, up to 1991, workplace trade union organisations functioned as a branch of management, ensuring collaboration with labour discipline. Workers appreciated them only for distributing vouchers for holiday trips and canteen meals, and other minor benefits.]

So far, the grass-roots trade union organisations are not numerous, and can not offer the sort of resistance to the oligarchs that is needed.

And there is an attack on workers’ rights along all fronts: the adoption of a Read the rest of this entry »

Wear the white poppy with pride

September 21, 2015

The UK’s right wing press poured scorn on Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour leader, after he failed to sing God Save The Queen at a commemoration of
white_poppythe Battle of Britain (1940) on 15 September. But some people liked him for it.

“My mum has become a total Jeremy Corbyn fan after he didn’t sing the national anthem”, said a young colleague I have been working with. “It sounds like your mum has good instincts”, I replied. “I have never sung that song in my life.”

Labour parliamentarians queued up to criticise Corbyn in newspaper interviews. “You have to show respect”, Sadiq Khan MP said, implying – quite falsely – that Corbyn did not. (Corbyn, who presumably didn’t sing Read the rest of this entry »

We’ll turn Shahrokh Zamani’s death into a banner of workers’ solidarity and unity

September 20, 2015

This statement was put out by workers’ organisations in Iran after the suspicious death on 12 September of Shahrokh Zamani, a trade union activist who was in the fifth year of a prison sentence. Iranian friends are asking that it be circulated as widely as possible.

Shahrokh Zamani, a brave and tireless fighter for the Iranian workers movement, has died in Gohar Dasht prison. The news was received by all

Shahrokh Zamani

Shahrokh Zamani. Photo from Iranwire.

with total disbelief and utter shock. In our view, whatever reasons the authorities may give, the responsibility for his death lies completely with those who have imposed conditions of slavery on the workers of Iran and have taken away their rights to organise and struggle for a better life, and with those who Read the rest of this entry »

Jeremy Corbyn strikes a blow at Blair-ism. And now what?

September 13, 2015

I hardly ever watch the TV news, but I did last night. The faces of defeated Labour right wingers, listening to the announcement that Jeremy Corbyn is the new party leader, were a sight to see. Seven of them quit the Shadow

Jeremy Corbyn posing for a photo with Alexis Tsipras of Syriza. It was an old campaign leaflet, but not more recent ones

Jeremy Corbyn posing for a photo with Alexis Tsipras of Syriza. This photo was used on an old campaign leaflet, but not more recent ones

Cabinet straight away. Ha ha ha. Margaret Beckett, David Blunkett and other pro-austerity monsters who served in Tony Blair’s governments growled at interviewers.

(Note to non-UK readers. Corbyn, 66, who won the leadership election with 59.5% of the votes, has been a Labour MP since 1983, opponent of the right wing on key political issues (austerity, NATO membership, nuclear weapons, etc) and chairman of the Stop the War coalition.)

As the Weather came on after the news, I fantasised about Blair, who with George Bush sanctioned the murderous assault on Iraq in 2003, being put Read the rest of this entry »

How the Paris Communards made their lives luxurious

July 28, 2015

In her new book Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune, Kristin Ross argues that a rich legacy of ideas and practices developed during the Commune – the workers’ democracy

Demolition of the Colonne Vendôme by Paris Communards, 16 May 1871. The 44-metre-high column, which had a statue of Napoléon in Roman dress at the top, was rebuilt under the Third Republic. (Contemporary drawing, reproduced on UC Press site.)

Demolition of the Colonne Vendôme by Paris Communards, 16 May 1871. The 44-metre-high column, which had a statue of Napoléon in Roman dress at the top, was rebuilt under the Third Republic. (Contemporary drawing, reproduced on UC Press site.)

that ruled Paris for two-and-a-half months in 1871 before being violently suppressed –needs to be recovered for the twenty-first century. Here she discusses the book with Gabriel Levy.

Gabriel Levy: You urge the readers of Communal Luxury to look at the Paris Commune not as a precursor to the Soviet Union, and not as a precursor to the Third Republic in France. If it was not those things, what was it?  

Kristin Ross: Extricating the Commune from those two stories is an enormous challenge, in part because those two histories were the principal ways we had of understanding the Commune. They were the histories that claimed it. In each of these narratives the Commune was made to play an essentially edifying role, as though the Communards were martyrs to state socialism or martyrs to the French Republic. If you stop seeing what the insurgents did in this way – if you stop seeing them as martyrs, sacrificing themselves to the future – then suddenly a
whole new vista becomes available and you can begin to see their self-emancipation at a daily level. You are radically in their present. If you dislodge the event from those two historiographies, you are back in the day-to-day of the Communards, and it becomes possible to see, perhaps for the first time, Read the rest of this entry »

Revolutions and rose-tinted spectacles

July 27, 2015

In this guest post, ANTI-WAR points to the history of radical intellectuals embracing “revolutionary” regimes, and cautions against repeating those mistakes today

In the second year of the Great Leap Forward famine – in which perhaps 30 million died – Herbert

Herbert Read

Herbert Read

Read visited China on an official delegation. Read’s acceptance of a knighthood for his literary achievements had already discredited him amongst many anarchists. But, at the time of his visit in 1959, he was still the most prominent anarchist in Britain and his published writings had considerable influence on, amongst others, Murray Bookchin.[1]

Read’s “Letters from China” show how easy it is for a radical intellectual to get it completely wrong. The nearest comparable episode was in 1967 when Noam Chomsky used phrases such as ‘mutual aid’, ‘popular control’ and ‘nonviolence’ while referring to Mao’s collectivisation policies. (Later, in 1977-79, Chomsky was also reluctant to acknowledge the full horror of Pol Pot’s version of these policies. See “Chomsky on Cambodia” and here and here.)

These extracts are a timely reminder to be sceptical of any account that claims that the new Read the rest of this entry »

Free Sergei Ilchenko! Free speech!

July 14, 2015

UPDATE – 28 JULY. Sergei Ilchenko has been freed! He is now in Kishinev with his son Nikolai. In a brief post on the “Free Sergei Ilchenko” facebook page, he thanked everyone who supported the campaign for his release. (Report from Odessa Daily here, Russian only.)

14 July. Trade unionists and media freedom campaigners are seeking international support for Sergei Ilchenko, a veteran journalist detained on trumped-up charges by the authorities in the Transdniestr republic.

Ilchenko was arrested by the Committee of State Security (KGB) on 18

Sergei Ilchenko

Sergei Ilchenko

March, after he participated in an opposition rally in Tiraspol – and refused to delete a report and video footage from it.

He has been detained for nearly four months, awaiting trial on charges of “public incitement to extremist activities”, which carries a prison sentence of up to five years.

Ilchenko’s colleagues believe that the security forces resorted to provocation, posting fabricated texts on social media and claiming they were authored by Ilchenko. On the day before Ilchenko’s arrest, he told colleagues that his social media accounts had been hacked.

Ilchenko writes for Moldovan, Russian and Ukrainian media. He is also a left-wing political activist and has been involved in the activities of various Read the rest of this entry »


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