The Silvertown tunnel reinforces deadly climate doublethink

August 16, 2022

London mayor Sadiq Khan has lashed out at opponents of the Silvertown tunnel project, who are calling on him to pause and review the major infrastructure project at the eleventh hour.

Khan has filed a complaint against Newham mayor Rokshana Fiaz, after she shared on social media a claim by the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition that City Hall had used “lies and half-truths” to justify the scheme.

The complaint has gone to Clyde Loakes, Labour chief whip for London Councils, which brings together the leaders of 21 Labour-led councils in the capital.

The “banshees” street theatre group protesting against the tunnel project, July 2020. Photo by Ben Darlington / SSTC web site

The tunnel project has no discernible local support. Greenwich, Lewisham and Hackney councils are opposed, along with Newham, as are climate scientists, transport researchers, trade unions, community groups and thousands of local residents who have turned out on protests.

Yet preparatory work is already underway, and contractors working for Transport for London (TfL) are lowering pieces of the biggest tunnel boring machine ever used in the UK into its chamber. So political pressure to rethink is peaking.

If the £2.2 billion scheme goes ahead, it will exacerbate dreadful air pollution problems locally, boost road transport, and undermine efforts to tackle dangerous climate breakdown.

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Belarusian ‘railway partisans’ face death penalty

July 18, 2022

The Belarusian regime is threatening “railway partisans”, arrested for sabotaging signalling equipment to disrupt the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the death sentence.

From left: Dzianis Dzikun, Aleh Malchanau and Dzmitry Ravich. From the Viasna site

Criminal investigators have passed a file on the first three cases – Dzmitry Ravich, Dzianis Dzikun and Aleh Malchanau of Svetlagorsk – to court prosecutors.

The state Investigations Committee says they could face the death penalty, although lawyers say there is no basis for that in Belarusian law.

On Saturday 23 July, Belarusians will protest at their country’s embassy in London, in support of the Svetlagorsk defendants and eight others arrested on terrorism charges.

Ravich, Dzikun and Malchanau were detained in Svetlagorsk on 4 March this year – a week after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine – along with Alisa Malchanau, Aleh’s daughter, and Natalia Ravich, Dzmitry’s wife, who were released a few days later. 

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Ukraine: the ‘Russian world’ is militarising children

July 12, 2022

Thousands of children, some as young as eight, are being recruited to “military-patriotic clubs” in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, a report published this month shows.

“The Kremlin intends to bring up a generation hostile to Ukraine and its people, making it always possible to provoke social-political conflicts, that can grown over into military ones”, concludes the report by the Eastern Human Rights Group.

Children at Yunarmia oath ceremony in Sevastopol, Crimea, 25 October 2019. Photo from sevzakon.ru

The report, “Militarisation of Children in Occupied Donbass”,[1] details the clubs’ activity in the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics”, in the year leading up to Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine in February.

The Young Guard Youth Army (Molodaya gvardiya Yunarmiya) is the largest such club, with 5000 members in Luhansk. The Donetsk Youth Army claims a membership of 2500, between the ages of 8 and 35, grouped in more than 100 local organisations.

The Youth Army’s activities include: survival training in extreme conditions; field exercises including orienteering; physical training; arms training; and military tactics.

In both Donetsk and Luhansk, the Youth Army and other clubs were set up on the authorities’ initiative. In Luhansk, they are supplemented by cadet classes and corps in schools, in which more than 1600 children were registered as of December last year. Their curriculum includes physical and military training.

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Durham and Ukraine miners: historic links of friendship

July 6, 2022

Republished, with permission, from the programme for the Durham Miners Gala on Saturday 9 July. By Simon Pirani

From the moment the Russian army pushed deeper into Ukraine on 24 February, Ukrainian and international trade unions started ferrying humanitarian aid to cities and towns under siege.

Mineworkers’ and railway workers’ unions, and others, organised deliveries of food and medical equipment. Bullet-proof vests, diesel and welding machines for use at the front soon followed.

Delegations from the Italian Labour Union and Progetto Sud, an Italian humanitarian aid charity, who delivered aid to Ukraine. Photo from the CFTUU

There was a general call-up to the army, and union organisations have reported the deaths of mineworkers in uniform at the front.

The Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine (ITUMU) is prominent among providers of humanitarian aid. The regional organisation in Western Donbass – which has a friendship with the Durham mineworkers going back to the 1990s – has been especially active.

In the first weeks of the war, the ITUMU in Western Donbass organised shelters at Pavlograd for people displaced by the fighting, and raised 100,000 hryvnia (about £2600) for volunteer territorial defence forces that fight alongside the Ukrainian army.

Aid from international trade union organisations, including the Italian Labour Union (UIL) and the US-based Solidarity Centre – who have worked with the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine – has also reached working-class communities that are under attack.

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Ukrainians face forcible deportation and conscription by Russian forces

June 27, 2022

Ukrainian activists in the Eastern Human Rights Group are using social media to build up a register of people forcibly deported from Russian-occupied areas.

A bot has been launched on Telegram (see @come_back_to_ukraine_bot) to contact citizens removed to Russia.

Men awaiting mobilisation by the Donbass “republics”. Photo from Eastern Human Rights Group

Deporting people against their will is a war crime. International and local human rights organisations, and the Ukrainian government, say there is mounting evidence that Russia is doing so on a large scale.

The Russian defence ministry said on 18 June that more than 1.9 million people, including 307,000 children, had been evacuated from Ukraine to Russia since the full-scale invasion on 24 February. Ukrainian activists deny Russian claims that all evacuees have left Ukraine voluntarily.

“If we don’t find how to help them, Russia will erase the Ukrainian identity of these children”, Oleksandra Matviichuk of the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Liberties responded.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group in April protested against a scheme to resettle residents of Mariupol in the most inhospitable and distant areas of Russia.

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Why is Ukrainian resistance invisible to you?

June 27, 2022

An appeal to supporters of the Stop the War Coalition

Here are notes I made for a talk at an on-line meeting of the Stop the War Coalition’s Brent (north-west London) branch tomorrow (28 June). I was due to speak alongside Lindsey German, national convenor of the STWC. But last week it turned out that she had an unavoidable clash, no-one else was available, and the event was cancelled.

Ambulance workers who rescued civilians from Mariupol. See “About the photo”, below

I wrote to Brent STWC to say that I thought the cancellation was “a shame, politically speaking”, because there have been “precious few meaningful exchanges of views between those in the UK labour movement who have a broadly ‘plague-on-both-your-houses’ view, such as Lindsey German, and those who believe support should be given to the Ukrainian resistance, such as myself”.

An opportunity for discussion has been missed – while the biggest war in Europe since the middle of the last century rages.

I sent these notes to Brent STWC last week (as a pdf, downloadable here), and suggested discussion in spoken or written form. Obviously I don’t care if that’s in Brent or elsewhere. Please, engage with the arguments. Simon Pirani.

=

Hello, thank you for inviting me.

I will start with a confession. When approached about this meeting, I was asked, as someone who has been travelling to both Russia and Ukraine for a long time, whether I could put Brent Stop the War in touch with a suitable Ukrainian speaker. I said I could not think of anyone, but that I could do it. In fact, I would have felt embarassed, even ashamed, to ask a Ukrainian friend to speak here.

I imagined Ukrainian friends, who daily witness the most horrendous violence against their country, looking at the coalition’s web site. I thought that they would feel that here was an organisation utterly removed from Ukrainian reality. An organisation that – unlike some significant Russian anti-war organisations – is interested neither in Ukrainian communities’ suffering, nor in those communities’ response to that suffering. An organisation that seems uncritically to accept, and even repeat, Russian government propaganda.  

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Ukraine: ‘We are surviving, but not living’ under Russian occupation

June 13, 2022

Women in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine demonstrated last month against the forced conscription of men into the armed forces of the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics”.

A banner, stating “We are surviving, but not living” was pictured by the Eastern Human Rights Group – which has supported workers’ movements and civil society organisations in the “republics” since they were founded in 2014 – on its facebook page.

“We are surviving, but not living”. From the Eastern Human Rights Group facebook page

The chaotic situation in the Russian-controlled areas, including a reshuffle of the puppet government of the “Donetsk people’s republic”, is described by Ukrainian activists in this series of facebook posts, reproduced with permission.

Forcible conscription provokes protests

By Vera Yastrebova, 18 May

On Monday and Tuesday, 16-17 May, women protested near local military recruitment offices in Debaltseve (Donetsk), Krasnoe Luch and Perevalsk (Luhansk). Women demanded to be given information about the whereabouts of their men who had been forcibly mobilized by the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). In Anthracite and Rovenky (Luhansk), women organised a collective march to address the heads of the occupation administrations of these cities and to demand information.

Women also wrote numerous letters of protest to the authorities of the Russian Federation, demanding an end to the forced mobilisation of men and students in the DPR and LPR. However, in almost all cases, their grievances were dismissed, or they were recommended to approach the Luhansk and Donetsk administrations.

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Greenwashed Silvertown tunnel pollutes, trashes the climate, and steamrollers democracy

June 13, 2022

London’s Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is pushing ahead with the Silvertown tunnel project despite evidence that it will worsen already chronic air pollution problems and undermine chances of meeting climate targets.

Campaigners opposed to the £2 billion-plus project, to build a new tunnel under the Thames between Newham and Greenwich in east London, gathered on Saturday at a Health Summit to hear researchers explain the project’s harmful health effects.

This article is based on a talk at the start of the meeting by SIMON PIRANI, about why, even at this late stage, the project can and should be stopped, and about some of the campaigners’ achievements.

The Silvertown tunnel, like all road-building projects, has to be considered in the context of transport policy as a whole.

Attendees at the Health Summit on Saturday. Photo by Clive Carter

The only arguments in favour of the tunnel are that it will reduce traffic jams at the Blackwall tunnel. These arguments isolate the problem of these jams from all other problems in the world.

Supporters of the tunnel ask us: “What will you do about traffic jams?”

We say: reduce the total number of cars on the road. Which we need to do anyway, to address the appalling levels of air pollution and the danger of global warming.

If you read the London mayor’s transport policy of 2018, it looks as though this is the plan. It has big headlines about non-car transport modes. But the small print, the reality, is very different. The reality is that road transport in private cars is subsidised and supported, and support for other modes is being eaten away.

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‘The Russian empire is failing in its own way’

June 1, 2022

A conversation between Simon Pirani and Anthony McIntyre about the Russian war on Ukraine. Reposted, with thanks, from The Pensive Quill

Anthony McIntyre: You have a long-time immersion in Left politics. We know each other almost forty years. On my first trip to London in 1995 you and I visited the grave of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery. I have always held to the descriptive potency of Marxism while finding it prescriptively impotent. I distrust the doctrinaire. Whatever about any differences that may exist in our respective outlooks, we continue to view the world broadly through a Marxian lens, which should help anchor the following exchange in Leftist ground. 

Kharkiv, after the Russian assault. Photo from Ukrainska Pravda

You have been writing and commenting a lot about Russia’s war on Ukraine. TPQ runs two or three pieces weekly from People And Nature in the hope of informing the debate and I suppose to some extent shaping it. We would both agree that the Russian offensive war is the supreme international crime. Yet, we have some on the Left – we expect it from the Right – claiming neutrality, adopting the Kissingerian posture during the Iran-Iraq war that it is a pity both sides can’t lose. I suspect in many cases that is a form of cover for their real sympathies probably lying with the Kremlin. They tend to be old tankies who subscribed to the Brezhnev Doctrine and for whatever convoluted reason think this is the same doctrine served up in a modern dish.

Eric Draitser describes much of this as the “fraudulent narratives of the Kremlin disinformation army on the Left.” How do you feel upon observing people on the Left opting out of supporting Ukrainian society in its struggle to essentially survive in face of a military onslaught from a right-wing capitalist authoritarian state?

Simon Pirani: I used to think that the western political establishment blamed the “Kremlin disinformation army” for things that were really its own fault. For example, it blamed Russian cyberwarfare for Hillary Clinton losing the 2016 US election to a quasi-fascist clown – whereas that was largely the result of decades of class warfare by the Democratic Party against working-class people, and blacks in particular, in the US, which eroded what electoral support it had from them. The war in Ukraine has made me rethink this, partly because this “disinformation army” is much closer at hand for me.

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Two enemies, one fight: climate disaster and frightful energy bills

May 16, 2022

Two clouds darken the sky. A close-up one: gas and electricity bills have shot up since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and millions of families are struggling to pay. And a bigger, darker, higher one: the climate disaster, and politicians’ refusal to tackle it.

Ultimately, both these threats have a single cause: fossil fuels and the systems of wealth and power that depend on them. We need social movements to link the fight to protect families from unaffordable bills with the fight to move beyond fossil fuels, and in that way turn back global warming.

Here I suggest ways to develop such a movement in the UK, starting by demanding action on home heating.

Two linked crises

Since the government lifted the price cap on energy bills on 1 April, the average energy bill for 18 million households on standard tariffs rose to £1971 per year, from £1277. Another 4.5 million households on pre-payment schemes are paying an average of £2017 per year. And in October, bills could well rise above £3000.

There are now 6.3 million UK households (including 2.5 million with children) in fuel poverty, meaning that they are unable to heat their home to an adequate temperature. The End Fuel Poverty Coalition says that could rise to 8.5 million by the end of this year.

The main fuels for UK homes are gas, and electricity produced from gas and nuclear power. Retail prices have been driven up by a rise in gas, oil and coal prices on world markets – which started rising last year, as economies recovered from the pandemic, but shot upwards faster from March, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The war, and sanctions on Russia by western powers, could keep fossil fuel prices high for years. They have also driven global food prices upwards. This is the biggest bout of inflation worldwide since the 1970s.

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