Weekly News Review


4th October, 2003

Dockworkers mobilise against EU plans to destroy their jobs


On Monday, as Members of the European Parliament and EU Council of Ministers prepared to for an evening meeting to hammer out a compromise on the proposal on “Market Access to Port Services”, dockers took action throughout Europe. While those who could not travel struck, distributed leaflets and lobbied political leaders, thousands converged on Rotterdam, the city with the largest European port, in an action called by the European Transport Workers Federation  (ETF, the European branch of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, ITF).  Workers came from the Netherlands itself, from Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, the UK, Cyprus, Romania, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Portugal. In addition, five dockers from the USA participated, not only out of solidarity, but because, as an ETF spokesperson put it, “this matter is being closely followed by port workers’ unions all over the world, as they know that whatever is adopted at the European level, the Commission will try to impose internationally through the WTO negotiations.”


A solidarity message jointly signed by the Japanese Seamen and Dockers unions said: “…EU Port Directive will not only take away jobs from dockworkers who have been maintaining safe ship operations and safe cargo handling, but also will overturn the common practices and criteria on dockers’ work in the world, will undermine safe operation of ships and cargo handling and will extend its bad effects beyond Europe to the world”.


Later in the day left Euro-MP Erik Meijer, of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands, who lives in Rotterdam and was present at the demonstration, took the two hour train ride to Brussels to participate in the Conciliation.


“It resulted in an unworkable compromise”, Mr Meijer told Spectre.  “This plan will lead to still more unrest in European ports.”


The European Parliament decided earlier in the year, under pressure from actions by port workers, to hold back from support for “self-handling”, i.e. allowing work to be done by unqaulified people. Parliament added a compulsory permit requirement and demanded that portwork be protected by strong national laws.

Erik Meijer, who participated in the negotiations as part of the European Parliament delegation, expressed disappointment over the agreement reached.  “Precisely the points which were forced on to the agenda by the earlier actions and political pressure, have been thrown out as part of this compromise, which will become a continual course of conflict.  Industrial strife, which we had a foretaste of in Rotterdam on Monday, will grow, because people’s livelihoods are being seriously threatened.

The agreement will now go before the whole European Parliament which, later in the year, will take a definitive decision. Mr Meijer would like to see the majority vote against this unworkable proposal. It that happened, the whole Directive would be thrown out. This is not impossible, as the Parliament appears to be split down the middle. 


UK pro-euro campaign abandons hope of early poll


The UK’s pro-euro campaign has abandoned its push for an early referendum on British entry into the single currency. A spokesman for Britain in Europe said that they had to start accepting reality. "There is no point in talking about things that make us look irrelevant," he said, adding that BiE board members had written off any hope of a vote before the next general election, which has to take place by the summer of 2006.


Britain in Europe's admission of defeat is an embarrassment for Tony Blair, who only a few weeks ago insisted he had not ruled out a referendum before the next election, provided the economic conditions were right. Asked in the Commons to confirm that Sweden's rejection of the euro had reduced the chances of a British referendum before the next election he said, "No, I certainly won't confirm that". He added, "We should keep our options open because the right test to apply is whether it is in the economic interests of the country. We will return to that issue again next year". In his speech this week at the Labour Party Conference the Prime Minister mentioned the euro only once.


Meanwhile, the latest opinion poll carried out for bankers Barclays Capital shows that anti-euro sentiment hardened in September. In a reference to Gordon Brown’s famous purported conditions for abandoning the pound, 53 percent of respondents said they would not accept a government recommendation to join the euro that was based on the Five Economic Tests having been passed. This is the highest level of opposition in the survey's three year history and a 7% increase since May. 63% said that if a referendum were held today they would vote against joining the euro.


Thanks to the UK No campaign for this report.


UK group formed to demand referendum on proposed EU Constitution


A group of UK activists led by “Metric Martyr” Neil Heron has launched a national campaign to force the government to concede that there should be a referendum on the proposed European Constitution.

“We are a non-party organisation working in association with organisations, groups and individuals that support our single aim,” Mr Heron explains. “The government is proposing to sign up to the European Constitution in 2004. Such a decision will have monumental consequences regarding our democracy and right to self-governance. A change of such magnitude must have the consent of the British people and must therefore be decided in a referendum.”


If you want to support the campaign, or just read more about it, go to www.referendum04.co.uk


Left MEPs attend Israeli show trial

In apprehending, detaining and torturing Marwan Barghouti, Israel has violated a number of provisions of international law, not to mention fundamental human rights. Mr Barghouti’s arrest was illegal, as it took place in Ramallah, which under the Oslo Accords falls under Palestinian legal jurisdiction; as an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council he is entitled to parliamentary immunity; there is convincing evidence that he has been subjected to physical and psychological abuse at the hands of the Israeli General Security Service, including sleep deprivation, being forced to stand in uncomfortable positions for long periods, and intimidating threats; his transfer from the Palestinian Territory to the territory of the occupying state is in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention; his legal counsel has yet to be officially notified of any charge, contrary to his rights under Articles 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)


It was to protest these abuses, and express their solidarity with the Palestinian people, that a delegation of the European United Left / Nordic Green Left Group (GUE/NGL) went last week to Israel and Palestine (see last week’s WNR for a report of their meeting with President Arafat).

It was a peace message that Marwan Barghouti wanted to send out at the last session of his trial in Tel Aviv. Reaffirming his commitment to a solution based on the "two peoples, two states" formula, Mr Barghouti transformed his trial into a trial of the illegal Israeli occupation, forcing the Sharon government to face its responsibilities for the relaunch of the peace process.

Mr Barghouti stated in particular that "in 4 or 5 years, either we will see two independent states side by side, or we will see only one state for all Israeli and Palestinian citizens since the occupation is destined to fail".

The delegation of the Group of the European United Left / Nordic Green Left denounced the inhuman conditions of Mr Barghouti's detention, imprisoned in total isolation in Beersheba accompanied only by rats and insects which were most dangerous for his health. The delegation recalled the illegality of the trial brought against this Palestinian MP, kidnapped in Palestinian territory and judged in Israel, in obvious violation of international law: this is a political trial of one of the principal Palestinian leaders. A delegation of the Group will also be present at the final verdict to be announced in a few weeks.

The Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Ala informed the Members of the European Parliament that the composition of the new Palestinian government will be announced as soon as possible and that its first effort will be to build consensus among Palestinians and then to propose to the Sharon government the suspension of military hostilities within the framework of international support for the Palestinian institutions and within the framework of a revival of the "Road Map". Mr Abu Ala also wanted an international force to be deployed between Israelis and Palestinians, as was already the case in several countries of the region.  


Read more about Marwan Barghouti’s case at http://www.freebarghouti.org/case.html

NGOs call on Commission to stop watering down Chemicals policy

Environmental and consumer NGOs have reacted strongly to leaked European Commission ‘interservice’ legislative texts on the new EU Chemicals Policy, known as REACH. The documents reveal that the European Commission plans to make far-reaching concessions to industry, granting businesses new and excessive confidentiality rights, with automatic anonymity to any company that registers its chemicals; cutting back the duty to provide safety data for two-thirds of all chemicals. This is a major reduction in the safety information required for chemicals produced in quantities of less than 10 tonnes per year (around 20,000 of the 30,000 chemicals on the market); excluding chemicals in consumer products from any effective control; continuing to allow the use of hazardous chemicals even when safer alternatives are available. Small changes to improve substitution have been made, but a gaping loophole remains.

The organisations – BEUC (the European Consumers Association), the European Environmental Bureau, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and WWF – are calling on the European Commission to stand up to industry pressure and take the necessary measures to protect European citizens, wildlife and the environment from harmful chemicals.


Charlotte de Roo of BEUC, the European Consumers’ Association, said:

“Chemicals play a major part in everyday consumer products; for example in clothes and cosmetics. Today we do not know what influence these chemicals have on our health and our environment. With this new text we won't know in the future either. Unfortunately the Commission seems to be more occupied with business interests than with consumer health and safety. It is crucial that REACH covers all consumer products to ensure a sound chemical legislation for the benefit of the citizens.”

Stefan Scheuer from the European Environmental Bureau said: “An internal Commission study puts occupational health benefits at up to 54 billion Euro. Overall benefits have been estimated to reach 260 billion. The direct costs are very small in comparison: 3.6 billion Euro for registering 30,000 chemicals. This represents only 0.1% of the chemical industry’s annual turnover. By trying to cut these comparatively low costs even further, Enterprise Commissioner Liikanen sacrifices protection of public health.”

Friends of the Earth’s Mary Taylor commented: “It is quite possible that the new text is against the provisions of the Commission's regulation on access to its own documents and the Aarhus Convention, to which the European Community is a signatory.”

Michael Warhurst of WWF said: ‘WWF asks the European Commission to table  a robust REACH law for the decision-makers to debate. If the Commission does not have the courage to do so we will be looking to the European Parliament to reinstate the necessary provisions to protect humans and wildlife from harmful chemicals.”

Jorgo Iwasaki Riss of Greenpeace added: “The new text would allow industry to continue using chemicals that accumulate in breast milk, reduce fertility and cause allergies. Such chemicals are currently used in children’s toys and many other widespread household goods. Instead of forcing industry to substitute hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives the loophole in this proposal encourages irresponsible business as usual.’

In 1998 the EU identified the need to reform the existing chemicals laws. In 2001 the European Commission published a White Paper on a Future Chemicals Policy stating: ‘There is a general lack of knowledge about the properties and the uses of existing substances. The risk assessment process is slow and resource-intensive and does not allow the system to work efficiently and effectively. The allocation of responsibilities is inappropriate because authorities are responsible for the assessment instead of enterprises which produce, import or use the substances … Final risk assessments have … only been completed for a small number of substances. The European Parliament and Council supported the Commission’s original  proposals and requested strengthening provisions to protect human health and the environment. The Commission after heavy industry pressure launched in June 2003 an Internet consultation on a draft regulation. Currently the Commission is finalising its proposal to be adopted on 29 October.

This week is “Keep Space for Peace Week”

Oppose the Star Wars Program and war in Iraq


On October 4-11 the International Days of Protest to Stop the Militarization of Space will be held worldwide. Currently, protest events are planned in 10 nations and at over 61 locations. Many of the actions will also call for the U.S. to end the war and occupation of Iraq.

The October 4-11 Keep Space for Peace Week is being organized by the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space (GN) in conjunction with affiliates around the world.

"The U.S. war in Iraq shows that the use of violence to resolve human conflict only creates more hatred and more killing," said Bruce Gagnon, Coordinator of the Global Network. "Instead of moving toward building more global stability through multilateral arms control agreements and

economic justice, the U.S. is now moving toward 'control and domination' of space that will give it the military capability to literally win all wars on the Earth. This is being viewed by most nations in the world as a dangerous unilateral step that in the end will create more global chaos."

The recent war in Iraq was totally coordinated by space technology. The Pentagon maintains that by "controlling" space and "denying" other nations access to space, the U.S. will control the Earth in order to protect the interests of multi-national corporations. According to GN Board member Regina Hagen in Darmstadt, Germany, "The picture is becoming clearer all the time.

'Missile defence' is the Trojan horse - the foot in the door - the way to sell Star Wars as a defensive system. Then, once missile defence is deployed by George W. Bush, offensive systems would be put into motion that would give the U.S. the ability to "negate" the space assets of other

nations, including the European Union's. In the end, hundreds of billions of dollars will be wasted in order to help the U.S. become the 'Master of Space'. Now is the time for people around the world to act in order to keep space for peace. Weapons in space will mean more war on the Earth below."

To find out whether there’s an action within transporter distance of you, go to http://www.space4peace.org


Biometrics - the EU takes another step down the road to 1984

Biometric documents are to be required for visas and resident third country nationals. This will be introduced by 2005. Biometric passports/documents for EU citizens will follow. The system will involve compulsory fingerprints and facial images. Data and personal information will be held on national and EU-wide databases. Read all about it at here

Life after Cancun

“The collapse of the WTO meeting in Cancún represented a victory for people throughout the world. The coalition of developing countries that emerged at the summit (Group of 21) is a new development that could alter the global balance of forces. The group found a natural ally in global civil society, whose challenge now is to redouble its efforts to dismantle the structures of inequality and to push for alternative arrangements for global economic co-operation that would truly advance the interests of the poor, the marginalised and the disempowered.”Read the rest of Walden Bello’s analysis at http://www.tni.org/archives/bello/cancun2.htm


Once Strip-Mined, Twice Shy


“It used to be that if there was one thing you could count on in matters of international trade, it was the desperation of the poor. No matter how bad the deal, it was always better than nothing.  But all of a sudden, poor countries are busting up trade rounds, standing up to the International Monetary Fund, and turning down foreign investment. What's going on? Is it possible that when you've lost enough, desperation turns into defiance?”  Naomi Klein answers her own question with a case study of what happened to Esquel, in Patagonia, Argentina. Read the rest of her Dissident Voice article at http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Articles8/Klein_Esquel.htm

A Lesson That Will Not Die, A Vision That Cannot Fail


“Humanity. Genius. Passion. Curiosity. Eloquence. Talent.

All of these words, and so many more, aptly described Dr. Edward W. Said, the brilliant scholar and tireless advocate for justice who left us a week ago today. The special quality and unique amalgamation of traits that made this man both an indomitable debater and a compassionate friend were rooted not only in his considerable talents or his remarkable intelligence, but even more so in his deep and abiding courage.” Many readers will have shared our sadness at the news of the death of  Edward Said.  To read the rest of  Laurie King-Irani’s moving obituary, go to http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0930-06.htm


Green Left Weekly, Australia's socialist newspaper latest Issue features “Bush's war on terror - a cruel hoax” :  “As the illegal Anglo-American occupation of Iraq now unravels, the  forgotten disaster in Afghanistan, the first `victory' in the `war on terror', is perhaps an even more shocking testament to the use of imperial power. In this issue of Green Left Weekly, John Pilger explains how the declarations of concern for the oppressed people of Afghanistan and Iraq were cruel illusions that prepared the way for the conquest of these countries.  Read this, as well as extensive coverage of Australian and international affairs, at http://www.greenleft.org.au


Terrorism: The EU has issued an updated list of "terrorist organisations and persons". See: http://www.statewatch.org/news/2003/sep/08terrlists.htm

Stop the War! Finally, there’s an inspoiring collection of photos of last weekend’s anti-war demos at http://lmno4p.org/