Ukraine: trade unionists and communities oppose Donbass rail blockade

March 13, 2017

Trade union activists in eastern Ukraine are working with local communities to demand an end to a blockade of coal shipments organised by populist politicians and military veterans.

The blockade began last month, preventing anthracite coal from mines in the separatist-controlled areas from being moved by rail to power stations in other parts of Ukraine.

The parliamentary deputy Semen Semenchenko from the nationalist Samopomich faction, speaking for the blockaders, has said that they want a law passed that will define the separatist-controlled areas as occupied by Russia and cease trade with them. The government and the majority of parliamentarians oppose this.

In Ukraine, many people think that the blockade may reflect clashes between the country’s powerful business oligarchs. The anthracite mines, and the power stations supplied by them, are mostly owned by DTEK, an energy company controlled by Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man.

Disruption to the energy complex hurts Akhmetov, and may also hurt the government and president Petr Poroshenko, an oligarch in his own right.

But communities in eastern Ukraine point out that the blockade hurts them too: power cuts are in prospect, as are factory shut-downs and lay-offs. This in a country devastated by two years of military conflict and economic slump.

Pavel Lisyansky, director of the East Ukrainian Human Rights Group – who has played a role in supporting workplace organisation in the area since the military conflict began in 2014 – has spoken out against the blockade.

“This action is putting many industrial workplaces in danger of being stood down, or permanently closed”, Lisyansky said in an email. “Those in

Demonstration on 6 March. The posters read “stop the blockade”

danger include the Kurdiumovskii clay pits, the Zarya chemical plant, the Nikolayevskaya heat and power plant, and the Alchevsk steel works.”

Workplace representatives formed an initiative group to seek an end to the railway blockade by peaceful means. When a press conference was held, Read the rest of this entry »

“The street has already spoken, gentlemen.” The Russian revolution, replayed in real time

March 10, 2017

The Russian revolution is unfolding in real time on its centenary, via Project 1917, an on-line serial set out like a social network.

The Russian version of Project 1917 has attracted more than a million subscribers since its launch in November last year. The English version started up last month.

All the material on Project 1917 – from diary entries, articles and letters, to photos, paintings and recordings – has been sourced from archives by a team of Russian journalists and historians. It “includes not a trace of invention”, the “About” page states.

This week is 100 years since the first revolution, triggered by women workers demonstrating on international women’s day. (That is, the February revolution, so-called because the tsarist empire was on the Julian calendar, 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere). And things are hotting up.

The entries for yesterday, 9 March, included ones from:

Alexander Spiridovich, a police general in the imperial guard, who wrote: “They sing revolutionary songs. Chants of ‘Down with the government!’, ‘Long live the republic’, ‘Down with war!’ can be heard.” As the police fought demonstrators, Cossack troops – who had always previously been loyal to the empire – stood aside, he noted. “The police are infuriated. One phrase was passed around among groups of dispersing workers: ‘the cossacks support us, the cossacks support the people!’.”

Maurice Paleologue, the French ambassador to the empire, who wrote: “This morning the excitement in industrial circles took a violent form. Many bakeries were looted, especially in the Viborg Quarter and Vassili-Ostrov. At several points the Cossacks charged the crowd and killed a number of workmen.”

■ And the Social Democrat (Menshevik) Nicolas Chkeidze, who would within days become the chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, who wrote: “Disregard of streets is a feature of government and many among us. But the street has already spoken, gentlemen, and this street is now to be reckoned with.”

Project 1917 was set up by the journalist Mikhail Zygar, who is nobody’s puppet. Between 2010 and 2015 he was chief editor of Dozhd TV, one of the last outposts of opposition in Russian broadcast media and the target

Demonstrators in Petrograd (St Petersburg) during the February revolution. Photo: Project 1917.

of Kremlin-friendly witch-hunters. Before that he co-authored Gazprom: the New Russian Weapon, an account of political influence over Russia’s biggest company. His latest book All the Kremlin’s Men, about president Read the rest of this entry »

We need to talk about the Anthropocene

January 16, 2017

Working out the time-scale of the Anthropocene epoch can not be left to natural scientists, a group of researchers argued in Nature journal last month. Historians, anthropologists and others who study human society need to be brought in to the discussion, they said.

“The Anthropocene” is a now widely-used term, signifying that human welcomeactivity is changing the natural environment so profoundly that it has brought a new geological era into existence.

Among scientists, it is accepted that any precise definition would best be
rubber-stamped by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, an organisation of geologists that has overseen definitions of all geological eras.

It has an Anthropocene Working Group that has since 2009 coordinated discussions of the issue among scientists. In August last year, the group reported to the 35th International Geological Congress that it collectively Read the rest of this entry »

‘Tyrants across the world know now they can maintain power through mass slaughter’

December 16, 2016

Interview with Leila al-Shami for Open Left

Leila al-Shami, co-author of Burning Country, a writer who has worked with human rights movements in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, gave this interview to Ilya Matveev and Gabriel Levy on 29 November (before the fall of Aleppo to the government forces). It also appears on the LeftEast site, and will soon be published in Russian on OpenLeft, as part of a transnational discussion between activists.

Gabriel Levy (G): What is the situation right now?

Leila al-Shami (L): The situation in Aleppo is absolutely critical. And the voices which can be heard from there are just showing how much panic and fear there is in rebel-held East Aleppo. People have been trapped in

A picture of Bashar al-Assad riddled with holes on the facade of the police academy in Aleppo, after it was captured by Free Syrian Army fighters, March 4, 2013. Photo Reuters/Mahmoud Hassano)

A picture of Bashar al-Assad riddled with holes on the facade of the police academy in Aleppo, after it was captured by Free Syrian Army fighters, March 4, 2013. Photo Reuters/Mahmoud Hassano)

East Aleppo since late August. There are tens of thousands of people under siege and there’s no way for them to get supplies in, there’s no way for them to get out. So they are effectively in an open-air prison. They are being subjected to extremely heavy bombardments and airstrikes. Gas has been fired at people. Hospitals are being deliberately and systematically targeted. Fuels are running out, there is no water. Civil defence structures have been targeted. People are now using carts to try to Read the rest of this entry »

Kazakhstan: state threat to shut down independent trade unions

December 14, 2016

Kazakhstan’s main independent trade union confederation is fighting for its life, as a court reviews a “justice” ministry bid to have it shut down.

The legal onslaught on union organisation comes after a four-year drive against opposition political parties and independent media. Nevertheless,

Workers at Emir Oil, Kazakhstan, display a banner protesting at the legal attack on independent trade unions. Photo by KNPRK.

Workers at Emir Oil, Kazakhstan, display a banner protesting at the legal attack on independent trade unions. Photo by KNPRK.

the workers’ movement is not beaten: strikes, even where organised outside the law, are forcing employers and state authorities alike to back off.

The Justice Ministry’s case against the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK) opened in Shymkent, in the south of the country, on 5 December.

The ministry is also urging the liquidation of industrial affiliate organisations representing mine workers, medical staff and domestic workers. The KNPRK (formerly the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Read the rest of this entry »

Syria: voices from Aleppo

December 14, 2016

Aleppo is being drowned in blood. The Assad regime’s armed forces and Iranian-supported militias are doing the killing, supported by Russian air power and armed with Russian weapons. The “great powers” are standing by and letting them get on with it.

This is a disastrous setback for the popular uprising that started in Syria in 2011, although even now that movement of social liberation has not been completely defeated.

These are some facebook posts from Aleppo and elsewhere, shared by Syrian friends.

From Raed Fares on 12 December.

Doomsday in Aleppo
The people of Aleppo have gone to sleep
The people of Aleppo have died
Now, finally, the world will be blessed with a deep, uninterrupted sleep
As power in the US is transferred from a failure to a racist, Putin and Assad are murdering 150,000 civilians in Aleppo
The entire world can finally have some peace and quiet as the screams of Aleppo’s residents will be forever silenced
But their corpses, the corpses of Aleppo, will turn your dreams into nightmares

Aleppo. From Raed Fares.

Aleppo. From Raed Fares.

◊◊◊◊◊ Read the rest of this entry »

Afghanistan: pictures that are worth thousands of words

December 13, 2016

The photos in Guy Smallman’s book The Displaced speak for themselves, writes NADINE BALLANTYNE

A Pakistan government programme to force refugees out of Pakistan and back to Afghanistan is causing extreme hardship, as the majority have no home to return to, no family and no way to make a living. As a result the situation for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Afghanistan is deteriorating rapidly.

Things were bad enough prior to Pakistan’s action. A recent report by Amnesty International stated that the number of IDPs in Afghanistan has doubled to 1.2 million in the past three years, as increasing violence and poverty continue to push people from their homes.  According to Amnesty, “those internally displaced live in horrific conditions, on the brink of survival, with little access to food, education or health care”.

The photographer and activist, Guy Smallman, started going to Afghanistan regularly in 2008, when he first visited the Char-e-Qamba camp for IDPs in Kabul. He documents some of the children living in the camp in a beautiful and moving new book of photographs, The Displaced.

Apart from a short introduction, and captions at the end, Guy doesn’t put

Boys at the Chamn-e-Babrak camp playing football in the car park of a semi-completed but long abandoned housing development (2014). By Guy Smallman.

Boys at the Chamn-e-Babrak camp playing football in the car park of a semi-completed but long abandoned housing development (2014). By Guy Smallman.

words to the images. No description or opinion is needed, as they are powerful and full of the realities of the children’s lives without any need of Read the rest of this entry »