Weekly News Review

16th July 2004

Sinn Fein joins European Parliament United Left Group

Irish republican party Sinn Féin, which last month for the first time succeeded in winning seats in the European Parliament, has opted to join the United Left Group/Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL). Speaking earlier this week prior to their departure for their first trip as MEPs to the European Parliament, Sinn Féin MEPs Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald said "Sinn Féin's priority is to represent our constituencies, to advance the peace process, build for Irish unity and work for equality in Ireland and across Europe."

Speaking to the media in Dublin on Tuesday they said:

"This is a very exciting and challenging time for Irish republicans. We are the third biggest party in Ireland with more than 342,000 voters. For the first time we have representatives elected to the Dáil (Irish parliament), Assembly (elected chamber representing the people of Northern Ireland), Westminster (British parliament), Local Councils across Ireland and the European Parliament. The work and priorities of all of these elected representatives are the same

"We enter the European Parliament as Sinn Féin MEPs mandated to deliver on our agenda for change and to deliver for Ireland. This means working effectively both inside the Parliament and in Ireland.

"In Europe we will work through the European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group (GUE/NGL) - this is a very effective and progressive group within the Parliament, which does not operate a whip system ensuring that for us it is Sinn Féin's and Ireland's priorities which will come first. We will also continue to engage with the widest possible range of MEPs and groups across Europe to advance our agenda for change on EU matters, the peace process and Irish unity and independence. In terms of committees our priority are those dealing with employment and industry, agriculture and rural regeneration, human rights and equality.

"In Ireland we will continue with the extensive outreach work with which we have been engaged for some time now with local communities, women’s groups, trade unions, voluntary organisations, business sector, farming organisations and justice groups. Our emphasis will be on communicating and consulting. We want to demystify the role of MEPs and to develop mechanisms whereby that position can be used as a conduit to empower local communities.

"We also want to see all 16 MEPs elected on the island working together in the interests of all of those who elected us. And in the Dáil and the Assembly we will work with Sinn Féin TDs and MLAs (members of the respective institutions) to ensure that European matters are discussed and scrutinised. It is essential that the British government’s suspension of the Assembly is ended immediately.

"Sinn Féin stands for change in Ireland and the EU. Our campaign slogan in the election campaign was 'an Ireland of equals in a Europe of Equals" - the changes we want at EU level are no different from those we are pursuing here in Ireland.

"We have a vision for an EU that respects the democratic rights of the people of each member state. We want an EU that promotes equality among people and nations. An EU that works for the just and peaceful resolution of conflicts in Europe and beyond. We believe that the enlarged EU must adopt a new set of priorities including the elimination of poverty within its borders and the reform and strengthening of the United Nations to advance justice and peace in the wider world.

"We also want the EU to become a partnership of equal states. We oppose current attempts to turn the EU into a superstate or a military and economic superpower because we value Irish sovereignty and Irish neutrality. We know that the EU reflects the political agenda of the big States, the unelected Eurocracy, and big business. But it can be changed, and it should be changed. As part of this we will be engaging in widespread debate on the EU Constitution in the time ahead.

"Over the next five years we will:

Advance the peace process

Build for Irish unity and independence

Work for a reformed EU that gives power back to the people

Campaign for Irish neutrality and a demilitarised Europe

Promote an all Ireland approach to economic and social issues with the active assistance of the EU

Work to revitalise Irish agriculture and rural communities on an all Ireland basis

Seek new priorities for EU policy including the elimination of poverty and support for public services

Campaign for all EU law and policy to respect and promote equality and human rights

Campaign for the Irish language to be recognised as an official and working language in the EU

Build political alliances with like-minded parties and civil society in Ireland and across the EU to advance these goals"

EU member states turn down proposal for committee to advertise “benefits” of proposed Constitution

A proposal by former Prime Minister Costas Simitis, sponsored by his successor, Costas Karamanlis, for the formation of a special EU  committee to advertise the benefits of the European Constitution in all member states was rejected by Union members yesterday.

Mr Simitis, who according to press reports would not be adverse to assuming an office within the European Union, had tabled his proposal in a letter last month to Irish PM Bertie Ahern, when Ireland still held the rotating EU presidency. The former social democrat PM had implied that he

would like a seat on the committee "of personalities."

EU permanent representatives meeting in Brussels earlier this week, however, rejected the

notion as unworkable and likely to further turn EU public opinion against the Constitution. Fifteen delegates came out against the idea, nine offered no opinion and only Greece backed it.

France: Left welcomes referendum decision

The decision announced this week by President Chirac to hold a referendum on the Constitution has been welcomed by the French Left. Pierre Caudron, MEP a former member of the Socialist Party who in 2002 left to join the European Parliament's United Left Group (GUE-NGL), said "We can express our clear satisfaction at this announcement. It remains only to provide the means of having a true debate amongst the citizens. This will undoubtedly be the last chance for a long time for the French people to be consulted as to what sort of Europe they would like to see." Mr Caudron declared that although he was for a Constitution in principle, "I can't support a plan which largely ignores social, cultural  and citizenship issues and instead privileges a liberalised economy and its instruments at the expense of all other considerations."

Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) leader Alain Krivine, MEP also welcomed the announcement. "We demanded that a referendum be held and are therefore of course pleased that this will happen. We have also proposed to the other forces of the left that we work together in a common campaign for a 'No' vote on left grounds. We very much hope that they agree to this."

Left MEPs angered by new attempt to liberalise docks

Left Euro-MPs are up in arms over renewed attempts by European Commissioner Loyola De Palacio to liberalise and deregulate dockwork in European harbours. Under the proposals, unqualified workers would be allowed to do jobs currently reserved for properly trained employees with recognised qualifications. Aside from anger at the proposals themselves, MEPs are furious that a new proposal should be brought forward less than a year after the Commission's last attempt to impose dock liberalisation failed. On that occasion sustained pressure from dockers and their unions, including mass demonstrations in Rotterdam and Brussels, supported by sympathetic MEPs, led to the proposal's eventual rejection at a dramatic meeting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Dutch Socialist Party MEP Erik Meijer, who was in the forefront of the "parliamentary wing" of this campaign, said that he did not understand why Commissioner De Palacio has put a measure which was so recently rejected back on the table. "The Parliament clearly voted to reject it. This way of going about things is extremely undemocratic. It surely isn't right that, if you're defeated democratically, you can then, and such a short time afterwards, bring almost exactly the same proposal forward for a second attempt."

Mr Meijer has no doubt that this renewed attempt will lead to a wave of indignation amongst dockworkers. "The attitude of the harbour workers was clear, and thi will lad to further resistance, resistance which my party will support both within and outside the Parliament."

All unquiet on the western front: Unifying Europe not lining up behind the US

Norman Birnbaum, Professor Emeritus at Georgetown University Law Center and a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC, has recently published an interesting commentary on EU-US relations. "The founders of the modern American empire, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson," writes Professor Birnbaum, "believed that other nations would benefit from American moral superiority. Opposition to our imperial advance was evidence of envy or resentment, the thinking went. If ephemeral, it could be dismissed as a temporary aberration. Persistent, it showed that the miscreants deserved the severest punishment.

'Why do they hate us?' is not a new question. T.R. and Wilson, however, thought of the northern Europeans as first cousins if not siblings. The scholars of their generation, as useful to the powerful as their contemporary descendants, conveniently provided proof that democracy and good government came from the Germanic forests and the English countryside.

"Today’s American elites are not all descendants of northern Europeans. Gonzales, Powell, Rice, Wolfowitz have no distant ancestor who signed the Magna Carta. The Europe they confront had two terrible wars, revolutions and tyrannies, and then recovered to achieve economic prosperity, the welfare state and the creation of the European Union.

"The citizens of the European Union, however, present a very special problem for the large number of Americans who think of the rest of the world in imperial ways. The Europeans have cast off their post-war dependence and insist on their autonomy. For a half century there were European neutralists (including Pope John the 23rd) and advocates of what seemed like a utopian vision of a united Europe. Remember DeGaulle and his project, 'one Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals.'

"The European Union’s frontiers are now a considerable part of the way there. When DeGaulle first spoke, the Iron Curtain was a couple of hours’ drive from Alsace. European emancipation from American tutelage is impossible for our foreign policy makers to ignore. They cannot now plausibly dismiss Chirac, Schroeder and Zapatero as only making gestures in opposing the war in Iraq, although that was the standard line on the opinion pages a few months ago. A refusal to take orders from the U.S. is a fundament of European politics: it isn't a matter of tactical political gestures but of authenticity."  Read the rest here


UK: Anti-migrant roar ends in whimper


Earlier this year, the right-wing British “newspaper” the  Daily Express dedicated numerous front pages to the threat of  '1.6 million Gypsies' who were 'ready to flood in' to Britain on 1 May, when the European Union was expanded. This week an article on page eight of the shoddy little rag admits that only 10,000 actually arrived. Read Arun Kundnani’s comment on the racist hysteria of the UK press here  By coincidence, a newly-published report by the British government’s International Development Select Committee has found that it is a myth that Britain faces a 'tidal wave' of immigrants and that migrants have benefited the country and should not be treated as a 'problem'. Read more here

UK: Common Sense takes over from Eurofanaticism at Local Government Association

  T he disastrous Blairite performance in the recent local elections is likely to make things even worse for those people living in areas which have fallen under Conservative control, but it has at least brought about one small improvement. Now that the Local Government Association (LGA), the body through which local authorities talk to each other, is under Tory control, senior Conservatives have called on local authorities across the country to resist Government pressure to crackdown on traders who fail to comply with EU metric rules. These rules not only insist that weights and measures be displayed in metric units – a reasonable requirement in a country which is in practice ‘bimensural’  – but they forbid its display in Britain’s traditional Imperial units. This is the only system the majority of the population understands, and forbidding it is comparable to Belgium passing a law banning labels in Dutch. Even more bizarrely, there are exception: beer must (not may!) be sold in pubs in traditional pint and half-pint measures. Try selling it in centilitres and you will be open to prosecution, as the hapless Austrian landlady of a theme bar in Winchester discovered recently. She was trying to recreate an Austrian-style bar and therefore naturally wanted to sell beer in half litres etc. She had reckoned without the combined forces of Eurocrats and British “jobsworths” and was duly prosecuted as a menace to public order. Proving that they are not a bunch of sadsacks with an atavistic attachment to rods, pecks and bushels, the Metric martyrs took up her defence, a splendid opportunity for them to publicise the absurdity of the law.

As there have only been four prosecutions in four years since the introduction of the EU-imposed Metrication Regulations and despite many millions of criminal offences committed daily, it appears as though an 'unofficial moratorium' has been achieved.

Responding to the LGA announcement, Neil Herron, Campaign Director of the Metric Martyrs Defence Fund states, " It is great news that there will now be resistance in the LGA to the advice given recently, when Labour held the Chair, to begin a new offensive under the Metrication Regulations. At a time when Local Authorities are suffering bad press and increased scrutiny over financial matters I am sure that they will breathe a collective sigh of relief. It is not seen by the vast majority to be 'in the public interest' to bring traders before the courts and attempts at prosecutions would simply land more negative publicity on the doorsteps of local councils. Perhaps now Trading Standards Officers can concentrate their limited resources on consumer fraud and safety issues."

The strangest aspect of this whole sorry tale is that there is an obvious solution. Allow labels to carry both codes, with the metric being obligatory. That way, foreign firms importing their wares would not be forced to use a separate label for the UK market. And exempt traders selling loose goods, as nothing touching upon unlabelled produce can possibly interfere with the single market’s rules.

New EU states want UK budget rebate scrapped

Poland and the Czech republic have joined "old" net-paying member states such as Germany in their calls for an end to Britain's EU budget rebate.  Read all about it here

Central Europe may host US missile defence

Washington is said to be in talks with Poland and the Czech Republic to position the biggest missile “defence” site outside the US in central Europe. Go here

Bush Junta planning second coup d’état?

"... Credible reporting indicates that Al Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in  the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process...

"This is sobering information about those who wish to do us harm... But every day we strengthen the security of our nation." (DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, 8 July 2004)

Does this last announcement by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge entail a code red emergency scenario of "closing down the country" (prior to the November elections) as conveyed by Secretary Ridge in a previous statement:

"If we go to [code] Red ... it basically shuts down the country," (22 December 2003)

Homeland Security and the White House no doubt have several "scenarios" in mind to "win" the presidential elections in November. (See Steven Moore, here Recent developments suggest that Homeland Security is indeed contemplating a code red alert. (See here ).

At the same time, the Bush Administration is also manoeuvring cautiously behind the scenes, with a view to embedding formal "guidelines" into federal election procedures, which would allow for the cancellation or postponement of an election in the event of a terror attack.

Read the rest of Michel Chossudovsky examination of whether – and if so how – an illegal regime is planning to break the law and ride roughshod through the Constitution in order to stay in power here

In Colombia, murder is cheaper than negotiation

A thorough study by the International Commission for Labour Rights (ICLR) has concluded that in Colombia it's quicker, cheaper and less risky to kill trade unionists involved in an employment dispute than it is to use legal civil procedures to solve the dispute and that the Colombian government is to blame for the death squad assassination campaign against workers' representatives.

In 2002 the death toll was 184, in 2003 there were 90 murders. In recent years, 75% of trade unionists murdered as a result of their activities have been Colombian. Alongside the murders came countless death threats, kidnappings, torture, arrests, and attempted assassinations.

In respect of almost 4,000 murders of trade unionists since 1986 there has been almost 100 percent impunity - there were just five convictions for these murders between 1986 and 2002.

In the last week of March 2004 ICLR sent a mission of legal experts to Colombia to investigate violations of the right to life and liberty of trade unionists, the crisis of impunity that surrounds these violations and the systemic and systematic failings in the Colombian justice system that allow the violations to continue. The participants were: Teodoro Sánchez de Bustamante of the Labour Lawyers Association in Argentina; Sarah Lucy Cooper of the Bar Human Rights Committee in UK; and Efren Sandoval of UNSITRAGUA, Guatemala. After a careful revision of the information collected, the ICLR has drawn the following general conclusions:

As the Colombian Government fails to guarantee the full enjoyment and protection of fundamental rights, the conditions required for the full exercise of Trade Union Freedom do not exist, and accordingly, there is a constant direct and indirect violation of Conventions 87, 98 and 154 by the Colombian Government.

The situation in which trade unionists find themselves in is extremely concerning as whilst the Colombian Government accepts that they are being targeted, the virtual total impunity in which the cases of murder remain means that there is no real deterrent for the perpetrators of the killings.

The sad reality is that it is probably quicker, cheaper and less risky to murder trade unionists involved in an employment dispute than it is to use the civil procedures laid down for the resolution of such disputes by arbitration or litigation.«

Welcoming the ICLR report, the leader of the USO oilworkers’ union Gabriel Alvis said that Colombia's trade unionists would continue to risk their lives and liberty in defence of their jobs and democracy.

Thanks to Maria Engqvist of ANNCOL for this report

Saddam's Labour Laws Live On

Congratulations to US journalist and photographer David Bacon, whose work has appeared a number of times on spectrezine, and whose cover story in the December 2003 issue of The Progressive has been chosen as one of 25 stories highlighted this year by Project Censored, a media research group at Sonoma State University in California.   Project Censored compiles an annual list of 25 news stories of social significance that have been overlooked, under-reported or self-censored by the major national news media in the US.

David Bacon’s story exposed the ban on unions in Iraq by the US occupation authorities, and the plan to privatize most Iraqi factories and workplaces.  The story began:

“Most Iraqi workers hoped the fall of Saddam Hussein would liberate them, enabling them to recover their lost rights. Chief among them was the right to an independent union. In 1987, the regime of Saddam Hussein reclassified most Iraqi workers--those who labored in the huge state enterprises that are the heart of the country's economy--as civil servants. As such, they were prohibited from forming unions and bargaining.


“The occupation, however, didn't lift this decree. It is still in force, as privatization looms like a sword of Damocles over those workers and the factories on which they depend for survival. And while keeping in place the ban on unions, the occupation authorities have kept wages low and unemployment high.”

For Iraqi workers, the signal could not be clearer: The overthrow of Saddam did not bring liberation.” To read the rest, go here