Archive | January 24th, 2018

Birmingham history: Eden Jessie (McCulloch)

NOVANEWS

https://twitter.com/StarBirmingham?lang=en

The Real Jessie Eden and Peaky Blinders

With the appearance of Jessie Eden as a main character in Peaky Blinders, as the biographer of the real Jessie, I find myself being asked about the real Jessie.  You can find out more by attending the cultural debate and entertainment event in Birmingham on January 13th, which I will be speaking at: 

https://twitter.com/StarBirmingham?lang=en

Although I’ve only watched a few episodes of the show, I accept that historical drama can be difficult to treat as if it is an academic exercise. When it first came out, I found the series’ cinematography attractive and its charismatic performances appealing,. It is to be commended for revealing British working class history, which is rarely explored on television.  Actually, it compares well with the BBC’s very biased output on the centenery of the 1917 revolution!  But I’m aware of a number of innacuracies that perhaps only bother the expert, though it was one of the reasons I stopped watching as the series progressed. I understand that the historical advisor to the series was an expert in Tudor and local history and may have been a little irked at the stretching of some detail for plot needs.

But, if you want to write about Communist trades unionists in history, I would say – ask a historian of Communist trades unionists! 

I’m aware of these flaws, it would be interesting to hear of others from readers; if you have comments, email: graham_stevenson@yahoo.co.uk

Here’s my list: 

POLITICALLY

1. It has the Causasian state of Georgia as a Tsarist hold-out, whereas it had been Menshevik, and had been conquered by the Bolsheviks before the time of the story. 

2. Winston Churchill wasn’t Home Secretary in 1919 but had been a decade before.

3. Stories around the IRA, which appear to be sourced from a number of pieces I have written about Harry Emery and others who actively supported the War of Irish Independence from Birmingham and Coventry are more true of the 1970s than 50 years before but do not take into account the position that Communists took in each instance. See: 

http://www.grahamstevenson.me.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1425:emery-harry&catid=5:e&Itemid=20

4. Jessie wasn’t a mass leader in 1926, merely a shop steward of a small group of unionised women, hugely out-numbered by 10,000 non-unionised women at the Lucas factory. She was never a professional paid official.

5. Her greatest achievement was virtually founding mass trades unionism for women by leading all those women into the union and out on strike in 1931. It is doubtful that the TV programme will cover this, or her even more extraordinary achievement in bringing 45,000 Birmingham council tenants out on rent strike in 1939 – and winning.

SOCIALLY
1. It’s highly unlikely these gangsters ever used razor blades in their caps and that the name probably just came from the peaked hat, which could hurt if you were poked with it.

2. Peaky Blinders was probably, like Teds in the 1950s, a name for a style of youth dressing, which may have been popular with gangs, but which was most certainly important as many as three decades before the series is set.

3. The source for the series is a novel from four decades ago not contemporary records.

4. I can’t see a young woman during the 1920s going into a gents toilets for any reason at all other than life or death.

 

Graham Stevenson

Please note: community and charity media organisations are welcome to utilise any material here, so long as an acknowledgment of this site, which is not a commercial entity, is provided. Commercial organisations should however consult the appropriate National Union of Journalists guide before making approaches:

https://www.nuj.org.uk/documents/nuj-guide-charging-digital-imaging-editorial-photography/1guide-to-digital-costs.pdf

 

Jessie Eden (later McCulloch)

Jessie Eden, later McCulloch, was born Jessie Shrimpton on the 24th February 1902 at 61 Talbot Street, then listed as being in the All Saints sub-district of Birmingham. Her mother was also named Jessie (nee Evans). Aged just 17 at the time of the birth, she had herself been born in Birmingham in July 1884 and would become a munitions worker during the First World War. 

Jessie Junior’s maternal grandmother was Elizabeth Evans, nee Norton, and her maternal grandfather, Thomas Evans. Her father was William (Richard) Chair Shrimpton, who gave his residence as ‘Back 138 Well Street’ and his occupation as ‘jeweller journeyman’ on Jessie’s birth certificate, her birth being registered on April 17th 1902. Jessie was the oldest of three girls born to William and Jessie, Senior, the others being Nell and May. By 1911, they were living at 32 Court 2 House, Bridge Street. William was now a “wireman” aged 27, a year oldr than his wife, Jessie Senior.

Jessie Shrimpton married Albert W(illiam) Eden (b 1896) in Kings Norton in the summer of 1923. This is the only Shrimpton-Eden marriage ever that fits the dates and genders, though both families had a massive extended presence in early 20th century inner-city Birmingham. Jessie later mentioned to her daughter-in-law, Andrea, the folly of being married to someone who did not share her interest in politics and her political views. It is presumed that this was the case with Eden, whose role in Jessie’s history seems to have faded very quickly; he died in 1961, apparently unknown to Jessie and her family. Not only was there seemingly a lack of political synergy, it was a childless marriage. Indeed, Jessie believed that she had herself been subject to a difficult birth in 1902. Later in life, she told her daughter-in-law, Andrea McCulloch, that she believed that it was damage to her at birth that had left her unable to bear children herself.

But she and Albert adopted a son, Douglas (Douggie to his fiends) who was, according to family members who spoke after his sudden and early death in 1977 a blood relative, although it was said that he had never known this. Douggie, who was sadly to become something of an alcoholic, openly made comments in his final years about his own parentage being from an unwed mother and sometimes implied mysterious circumstances. 

Jessie would, in due course, become, during the 1930s and 1940s, a mass leader of women workers, a Moscow Metro builder, a tenants’ leader and a pretty sucessful Communist election candidate. Her first known foray into the world of militant unionism was in 1926. The Birmingham Post interviewed Jessie as part of its 50th anniversary coverage of the General Strike in Birmingham; she was then described as being 74 years old. Breathlessly, its reporter opened the story with: “When policemen laid hands on trade union tomboy Jessie McCulloch (her later final married name) at a workers’ meeting in the old Bull Ring during the 1926 General Strike they pretty soon realised they had made a mistake.

 “One policeman put his hands on my arm. They were telling me to go home, but the crowd howled … `Hey, leave her alone’ … and some men came and pushed the policemen away. They didn’t do anything after that. I think they could see that there would have been a riot.” It was the only instance that Jessie could recall of anything coming near to what could be called violence. “I was never frightened of the police or the troops because I had the people with me, you see; I don’t know what I’d have felt like on my own,” she said.

By this time, she was living at Sparkbrook with her parents and sisters (the 1911 census recorded May, born in 1903, and Nellie, born in 1904). But there was no mention of Albert, a mere three years after their marriage. Jessie was already working at Joseph Lucas’ motor components factory, where she worked filing shock absorbers and already a shop steward for the Transport & General Workers Union. The probability is that hers was the only section or one of a few sections of women workers unionised in the entire plant; nonetheless, as with most factories in the city, AEU toolmakers came out en – masse at Lucas in 1926, thus effectively closing the plant.  Right from the start of the strike Jessie herself marched out of Lucas, taking all the women in her section with her. Her father was also on strike and her mother, in a mood of semi-festive support, hung a red flag from the front window of their home.

It was a time of massive working class protest; the evening of the traditional May Day march on the streets of Birmingham saw 25,000 in procession and 100,000 spectators ; it may have been this event that Jessie recalled in her interview with the Post. She said that: “In Birmingham there was very little fighting and that sort of thing. As the strike went on more and more people were joining in. We used to take our turns picketing or join the big meetings in the old Bull Ring, which was much larger then. Sacrifices had to be made. We had practically no meat during the strike. We lived on bread, jam and marge and my mother would try to make us a milk pudding if she could.”

Of the well-to-do students and others who staffed the about 10% of buses, trams and trains running in Birmingham, Jessie recalled: “They wouldn’t stand it for very long. You could get a crowd together in a matter of minutes — you didn’t have to go looking for them — and they would round on the blacklegs and call them names or just stop the buses operating by sheer numbers … The longer it went on, the more people supported you, Even middle-class people, who were much more reluctant to join with the working classes in those days, recognised our argu­ment.”

Thus, from a class conscious family and herself an established trade union activist, Jessie was in a strong position to lead all of the women of Lucas when the time came that they were ready for action.  The T&GWU was very weak at Lucas but there were Communists amongst the AEU members, with whom she would have been in contact in the late 1920s. 

In January 1931, Jessie went down in history by leading ten thousand women out on a week’s strike, an extraordinary thing to do in those times. It eventually led to a mass movement towards unionisation amongst women and young workers in the newer light industries of the English Midlands, which lay the basis for mass trade union membership in major plants over the next four decades and the strong industrial roots that the Communist Party once had in the region. 

It started when, one day, Jessie saw someone standing behind her when she was filing some components and she asked what was going on. Andrea McCulloch says: “I can imagine her being the quickest worker at Lucas; even in later life she was a swift-moving, neat, precise, very tidily dressed woman.” Jessie later recalled that company officials “said they were timing me … the fact was that I’d always worked quickly … they obviously wanted to set the time by me and the others would have to keep up with it.”  Already, complaints about being timed on toilet visits were especially offensive to female workers and this was the final straw.

Jessie went to the AEU, but it did not then admit women into membership, so she went to the TGWU. Union officials, she said, “looked at me amazed when I brought the application forms filled up”. Most of the women joined the T&G but the union was largely irrelevant to what happened next.  A rank and file committee of forty, representing ten shops, was set up and lunchtime meetings outside the factory built up from a few dozen to several hundred and the women simply walked off the job in their thousands. 

Faced with a complete stoppage, the Lucas directors backed off. A notice was issued discontinuing the system. “VICTORY! BEDAUX SYSTEM SMASHED!” ran the headline in the Daily Worker on 29 January 1932. One of the Communist engineering workers in the factory who had encouraged Jessie was raised on the shoulders of the masses of workers at a dinner hour celebratory meeting.  So jubilant were the women that normal working was almost impossible that day and they poured out of the factory, “released from work shortly before the usual hour”, singing their hearts out as they went. 

After things calmed down and during major cut backs at the firm, Jessie was victimised by the management at Lucas and lost her job. She spent some time trying to get and keep other employment. But she received victimization pay from the T&G and the TUC’s organising and recruitment gold medal from Ernest Bevin. More solidly, having joined the Communist Party during the strike, she was sent by it to Moscow. In later years, she was to tell her daughter-in-law: “I went there but I couldn’t tell anyone where I was going; nobody knew where I was for two years.”

What seems to have happened is that she was sent to help rally Soviet women workers in the construction of Moscow’s Metro. Although she was a tiny woman, she was quite strong physically, so it was not a device for show. Such interventions, based on the notion that the work ethic of British and other foreign workers would somehow rub off, did not really pay off, largely due to language difficulties as much as anything else.

It seems that Jessie also gravitated towards the Comintern’s Lenin School for cadre development in Moscow, initially in her spare time but eventually permanently. Although she does not appear, at least in her own name, in an archival list of attendees at the school, being classed as a day attendee.   

The first line of the Moscow Metro was built in three stages; the preparatory and organisational stage covered 1931 to 1932; the second period, which included the actual start of construction, began in 1933.  The third and decisive construction period started in 1934 and it is likely that this was the period when Jessie was a volunteer worker in Moscow. At the end of 1934, with the Severnoye depot still under construction, the first two metro cars were delivered and the first trains ran the following year. That the Metro was up and running just four years after construction began in 1931 and was such a stunning architectural achievement is even now a lasting monument of socialism. The unique designs of the stations are often palatial and they were also designed to double-up as bomb shelters.

In total, she worked in the Soviet Union for two and a half years and was elected a shock worker at the Stalin automotive plant, later renamed ZiL Automotives.   

Back in Birmingham, Jessie returned to an element of normality. Sometime around 1937, her adopted son Doug Eden joined the Navy and Jessie’s life partner now came into her life. Fellow Communist Party member Walter Baxter McCulloch, Jnr, was the oldest of four sons who had moved from Glasgow’s Gorbals district to Birmingham in the Depression. Like his brothers Alex (born in 1908) and Andy (born in 1920), also Communists, they spent the rest of their lives in England. See separate entry for Alex: http://grahamstevenson.me.uk/index.php/biographies/m-o/m/385-alec-mccollough

The brothers played a significant role in the 1939 mass rent strike and in the Communist Party in Birmingham over the years, whilst Jessie was the “inspiring” Vice-President of the Central Tenants Association. Some 90% of all of Birmingham’s tenants withheld their rents for ten weeks, even though the struggle was intense, with raids by bailiffs on rent strikers. Some 8,000 women were mobilised for one mass procession.

Writing of the impact of this on her own Party branch at the time, the Kingstanding branch, Jessie revealed that “during the campaign I personally visited a large number and approached them to join the Party, with the result that 35 joined.” Jessie’s prestige was such that achieved this in a mere ten days but it was not all her; as she wrote: “The Kingstanding branch—as a branch—has played a leading part in the Municipal Rent

Campaign which has involved 49,000 tenants during the last four months, and produced a petition of 35,000, a march of nearly 10,000 women, and a ballot run on the lines of a municipal election, which polled 41 per cent of the votes as against 18 per cent to 20 per cent for municipal elections. This agitation has been very near to the people. The Kingstanding branch recognised the meaning of this agitation from the very commencement of the campaign…

There are the following interesting features about these recruits:- They did not need long arguments as to why they should join. They all, without exception, immedi­ately filled in a form when it was given to them. One woman went out and came back with five neighbours, who all joined up.

     1. They wanted to know what they would do in the Party.   They did not want to become passengers.

      2. A number of them have distinguished themselves as leaders in the tenants’ fight and have displayed con­siderable originality.

      3. The point is that there are many more that are ready to join if approached and followed up. The same can be done in other branches. Saltley branch, for example, has recruited 33 members—12 at the recent Crusade meeting and 21 at a Rent Crusade Party meeting.

She had become such a self-taught expert in the housing problems of tenants that, when she toured the country during the war, speaking at massive CP public rallies, she was frequently billed as “Jessie Eden, the Tenants’ KC”, the equivalent today being, of course, “QC”. At one rally in Nottingham, reported by the local press there, her approval of cabinet changes as being for the better was breathlessly reported as being central to “Unity for Victory”. 

Having moved to 143 Heathfield Road, Handsworth, Birmingham, Jessie was a key promotor of the visit of the wartime Ambassador for the USSR to Britain, along with his wife, to the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company in Handsworth (the BRC&WC, now defunct – the site of which is a supermarket next to the West Brom football ground). This was Ivan Mikhailovich Maisky (1884-1975), who was also the Soviet’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Maisky’s boss was Vyacheslav Molotov, perhaps only second to Stalin in the then line up. Maisky came to Birmingham to symbolically collect the first Valentine tank off the production line before it began its hazardous route to the Scond Front via the Murmansk Convoys. Given Jessie’s attendance at the Lenin School, it is inconceivable that she was not key to the hosting of this event. A contemporary picture shows a large group of workers withlenchefists raised in a manner reminiscent of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War and it is known that a very large Communist Party branch existed there during the war.

Jessie was certainly very much to the fore in pro-Soviet war time activity. In this 1942 picture, below, Jessie is third left, holding the bouquet. It marks the occasion of a tribute to the women of Kiev by a delegation of Birmingham women to the Soviet Embassy in London. They presented to Madam Maisky an address and gave a bouquet. Jessie is clearly the leader of the delegation, holding the bouquet of roses to present to Madam Maisky. The picture is marked on the rear, thus: “Mrs Jessie Eden, Mrs E L Hobson, Miss Gladys Pontin (wearing what seems to be a busworkers’ uniform), Mrs J Strong, Mrs L Fearn, Mrs C Bechtin, and Mrs A E Leanard, JP.”

Jessie contested the August 1945 general election in the Handsworth constituency, winning 1,390 votes, or (for a Communist) a respectable 3.4%.  Living in Handsworth, her slogan was `Elect a Handsworth woman for Handsworth’. Only a few month’s later, in the November 1945 municipal elections, Jessie did stupendously well – not enough to become elected a councillor – but she more than doubled her vote, polling 2,887 votes in a single ward. Two other Communist candidates in Birmingham also polled well but Jessie was way out ahead. Sam Blackwell polled 1,968 votes, and Dr Mollie Barrow (see separate entries) 1,796 also as Communist candidates. [Daily Worker November 3rd 1945]

Left: Jessie portrayed in the Daily Worker in 1945

As we have seen, Jessie and Walter McCulloch had become life partners. In the summer of 1948, they married. By this time, they lived at 361 Walsall Road, Perry Barr, a short distance only from their previous residence but a more pleasant aspect. Their marriage certificate of September 2nd 1948, when she was 46 and Walter 43, gives her profession as ‘Housekeeper’. By this time her father William must have been newly retired, his occupation being given as ‘Railway Checker’.

It is probable that the move was partially connected to the fact that, in 1950, Walter and Jessie adopted a 5-year old from an orphanage in Bromsgrove, which was run by a fellow Communist Party member. One of the many ‘G.I. babies’ of WW II, Jessie viewed his adoption as being something of a social duty. Her adopted son, Douggie was still in the Navy at this time, but  maintained contact with his adopted mother.

Jessie’s role in the 1950s and 60s became that of wife and mother, although like Walter, she maintained a deep political awareness.  Walter retired in 1970 from his occupation as a building inspector; one of his last jobs had been to inspect the retirement flat in Hob Moor Road, Yardley that he and Jessie would occupy. Originally a time-served carpenter, Walter’s skills now became most especially useful in the building of the Midlands Communist Party’s Star Social Club and its accompanying Key Books from 1969-1971.  This was a valuable asset lost to the movement when the CPGB liquidated its assets.

Jessie’s sister, May, who had long ago moved to Scotland and had family there, predeceased her, dying around 1975.  Also a Communist Party member to the end, and a car worker, Douggie Eden died in 1977.

Jessie (carrying bag) and Walter (in glasses), both in the front centre of the picture, lead a march in Birmingham against America’s war in Vietnam c 1969; Walter’s brothers, Alex and Andy are to his right (thanks to Andrea for the pic). 

Alex died on July 14th 1991 and Noreen outlived him by nearly 20 years, playing a role as Treasurer of the Birmingham branch of the Communist Party of Britain. Both has been key figures in the Northfield branch of the Party, which was strongly resistant to the revisionist undermining of the Communist Party in the 1980s. Alex always had a piano in his home and enjoyed playing it. An across the road neighbour was Crossroads actor Paul Henry (the legendary ‘Benny’).  One day, Paul sprinted across in a panic – he’d been sent some sheet music for a novelty Christmas single he was supposed to be doing and couldn’t read music. Alex sat down with him and they spent the morning at the piano trying to work it out. For some reason, the record wasn’t made, so Alex’s chance to have a role in pop history was lost!

In late 1976, both Jessie and Walter were very ill, Walter with the lung cancer that was to kill him in April 1977 and Jessie with a badly infected hand from a minor cut. This hospitalised her for several weeks. Despite their illness, they warmly welcomed Andrea, who married into the family in September 1976. Having met Jessie in these years, Andrea, considers that she was “certainly was a fiery personality”.  Jessie’s sister-in-law, Noreen McCulloch once told Andrea that Jessie “reduced her to tears as a young woman when she accused Noreen of flirting with Walter at a Party meeting”. This was a most unlikely accusation, since both Walter and Noreen were highly principled persons but shows how fierce Jessie could be in fighting for what she believed was right. She was wrong on this occasion though: “Walter was some 15 years older than Noreen, born in May 1905. She thought of him as an ‘uncle type’, not the type of man you fancied. Noreen joked to me that when she married widower Alex, Jessie must have thought `Hmph- she got a McCulloch at last.’ ” 

   

Jessie pictured in December 1976.

She began to show early signs of dementia at this time and the loss of Walter hit her hard. By the time her grand-daughter Trudi was born in 1978, she was struggling to remain in her own home.  Less than a year later, despite heroic support from her brother in law Alex and sister in law Noreen, she was in a nursing home and unable to respond to friends or family – probably due more to drug treatment than dementia. 

The last years of Jessie’s life were spent in hospital, with her once pin-sharp faculties now completely lost. She died in Birmingham on September 27th 1986, aged 84, with the cause of death being given as heart failure and dementia. Jessie’s other sister, Nell, was still alive at the time of Jessie’s death in 1986 and also still living in the Birmingham area, as did her family.

Jessie Eden, as she was still commonly called amongst older Communists, was still revered by them, when she died, as a towering figure of the pre-war Party. She now became remembered by her Party as a heroine of early Communist mass leadership at a local level. Mainstream historians are only now just beginning to grasp the essential importance of her role in the 1930s.

Jessie was a real history-maker and her life and personality deserves to be better known. The so-called `new industries’ of the 1930s (producing luxury goods for the middle class) used a lot of female labour and the unions weren’t really interested in organising them. The CP thought otherwise and so too did Jessie. The dispute she led was the first real success in women’s unionism since 1918 and without it unions and then employers wouldn’t have been capable of mobilising women in the Second World War. For the surge in women’s unionism that followed grew stronger and stronger.

A lot is said about British espionage or American money winning the war. Not enough about 28 million dead of course but less well known is the significance of the difference between the productivity of British women factory workers and land girls contrasted to the slave labour used by Germany (Nazi ideology forced women to stay in the home). Without the success of the Lucas girls, arguably little of this incredible muscle power could have been harnessed.

Sources: Andrea McCulloch (who contributed text on personal and family details); Party Organiser May 1939; Birmingham Post April 28th 1976; Frank Watters’ oration at Walter McCulloch’s funeral; Morning Star 3rd october 1986; GS personal knowledge; Communist Review article “From the Lucas girls’ joy” to “we won’t pay” – the fight against Bedaux to the rent strike: Birmingham Communists in action in the 1930s’ by Graham Stevenson (see elsewhere on this site in the Miscellany Section) 

Jessie, below, when she was interviewed on the 50th anniversary of the General Strike.  

 

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Jeopardizing Livelihoods: Carillion Collapse Shows the Urgent Need to Democratise Social Services

NOVANEWS
 

Carillion’s failure has been compared to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, but what the Lehman case shows is that you can engage in behaviour that puts millions out of work, and destroys the hopes of a generation, and not pay any price, or significantly change your behaviour. Lehman was emphatically not a ‘watershed’: no one has paid a significant price for the greed, irresponsibility and criminal behaviour that was exposed when Lehman went bust. The challenge is to ensure that the Carillion moment will be different: that the ideology that has led to companies like Carillion fleecing the public and jeopardizing livelihoods finally gives way to a new common sense about how Britain must be run.

The collapse of Lehman Brothers showed that financial capital was out of control and had gambled with the livelihoods of everyone in the world – and lost. What has the collapse of Carillion shown? It has certainly shown up the dangers and fallacies of outsourcing, and of the use of private finance initiative (PFI) for public infrastructure: the unbelievable greed of today’s company directors, and their often almost equally unbelievable incompetence; the incapacity, or reluctance, of the government and other public bodies to enforce the fulfillment of contracts, especially when it will show how irresponsible the government was to entrust essential services to any private company; the conflict of interest of corporate auditors, and their consequent complicity in corporate wrongdoing; the fact that risk remains in reality with the public, even though a large element in the cost of contracts is to allow the private provider to insure against risk; and so on.

But these are not the issues we should be focusing on if Carillion is to become a watershed. They can be dealt with by piecemeal reforms. After Carillion no one – perhaps not even Theresa May’s perilously weak government – will be keen to propose new PFI infrastructure projects; and even defenders of public service outsourcing agree (perhaps belatedly) that it needs to be drastically curtailed: it should only be done, they now say, if “there is a market in the service [i.e. there are enough providers competing to provide it]; the difference between good and bad performance can be measured; and the service isn’t integral to the purpose and reputation of government.”

Neoliberal Myths

And the Labour Party is joining in this sort of discussion, proposing that outsourcing of services should only occur if a public service has ‘failed’, and only after public consultations. But this buys into the world view of neoliberalism and its myths and dogmas. It was not because hospital catering services were failing that Margaret Thatcher forced the NHS to outsource them, and while privatizing them may have made them cheaper it has not made them better; and how many people still think public consultations are anything but formal rituals before the implementation of decisions already made?

Source: The Bullet

More seriously, this response implies a future in which we will still be contemplating privatizing public services, rather than resourcing them adequately, and making them democratically accountable. It misses the point about Carillion, and the opportunity: instead of making Carillion a watershed moment, debating it on this level means getting bogged down in arguments within the existing framework of neoliberal thinking.

The Carillion debacle needs instead to be seen not in its details but in its essence, as yet another predictable product of an entire, discredited political project that we must unambiguously move beyond. Not just outsourcing, not just PFI, but the whole doctrine of ‘the market knows best’, of the downsized state, of allowing only corporations to plan, of abandoning the boundary between the civil service and the private sector. Yet – and this is still more important – even a categorical rejection of all that will not make Carillion a watershed moment. People will not abandon the existing policy regime simply because it leads to even such massive disasters as Carillion (and the collapse of the care home provider Southern Cross, the PIP, Libor, and foreign exchange scandals and so many other failures and crimes). Our lives are now so intimately attuned to the neoliberal model that unless we are directly injured by its failures we are liable to shrug fatalistically – unless something clearly better is on offer.

Democratizing the State

That something else can only be a rebuilt, democratized state. Rebuilding the state means not only restoring its capacity to plan, which has itself been outsourced (to management consultancies and corporate-funded think tanks), but also its capacity to provide public services. And it means rebuilding not only central government, but also local government, and giving it significant resources and autonomy.

This will require more revenue. We are now among the lowest tax jurisdictions in the EU; UK tax revenues are just 33% of GDP, compared with 40-45% in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Norway, and Sweden (Germany and the Netherlands are 38 and 39% respectively). No wonder the performance of the UK state is a litany of failures. A state capable of reorganizing the UK economy, protecting people from damage by market forces and empowering them to rebuild wrecked communities, will cost money. Market forces do not produce decent societies. Decent societies can only be created by governments with serious resources and strong public support.

And strong public support can only be earned by democratizing the state. No one now seriously pretends that the UK state is democratic. There is strikingly wide agreement that this very fact has led to Brexit: people seized the only chance they felt they had ever had to actually influence policy, however much the result is likely to be yet another disaster. What replaces the defunct neoliberal model must above all rest on new forms of democratic input and accountability at every level of government.

All this doesn’t mean saying little or nothing about Carillion itself, but what is said needs linking to the new progressive project for government that Labour has to develop, and could even do some immediate good. For example the National Audit Office (NAO) has just pointed out that the cost of buying out existing PFI contracts would be prohibitive. But Labour could make it clear that under a Labour government corporate shareholders in existing PFI projects would get no further government contracts of any kind unless they were willing to renegotiate the existing contracts to make them less unfavourable to the public. As a study from the Centre for Health and the Public Interest notes, just eight companies have major equity stakes in 92% of all 125 NHS PFI projects: in other words, there are companies a large part of whose business is in public sector contracts. Serving notice that they will not have a future in this business unless they are willing to give up drawing excessive profits from it now might well lead to a change of attitude to renegotiation.

Labour could also make it clear that with some exceptions, such as in relation to national security, under Labour public service contracts will be published in full, and that providers will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act in respect of all aspects of their performance of the contract – i.e. they will be treated like public providers of public services. This sounds simple, but it is largely the lack of transparency and accountability that has made outsourcing profitable, at the expense of service quality and the pay and conditions of employees. When this immunity is removed, the alleged efficiencies of private provision are likely to look much less plausible.

But while such specifics might help clear a small path for the new, progressive governmental project that is needed, the work of fleshing it out has hardly begun. If Carillion is to become a historic watershed this is the urgent task.

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A New US Decision to Go to War in Syria

NOVANEWS

Featured image: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei (Source: author)

Behind a façade of continuity, the deployment of U.S. armed forces in Syria for the purposes that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described in a speech this week represents a departure from what such forces were originally sent to Syria to do. The Trump administration is having U.S. troops participate indefinitely in someone else’s civil war, for reasons that are quite different from the original stated objective of helping to quash the so-called caliphate of the Islamic State (ISIS or IS). The new reasons do not stand up to scrutiny in terms of defending any threatened U.S. interests. The administration has in effect made a decision to immerse the United States in yet another foreign war.

The territorial presence—the mini-state—that IS created in Iraq and Syria provided the occasion for the use of military force to go after the group. Many terrorist groups do not present good military targets. This one, because of the mini-state, did. But the mini-state is no more. Tillerson himself correctly said,

“Today, nearly all territory in Iraq and Syria once controlled by ISIS, or approximately 98 percent of all of that once United Kingdom-sized territory, has been liberated, and ISIS has not been able to regain one foot of that ground.”

IS can still cause trouble as a more traditional terrorist group and as an inspiration for jihadist violence. But as a military target, it has lost. The appropriate U.S. response to that defeat, given what was supposed to have been the mission of U.S. forces in Syria, would be to declare victory and go home.

Tillerson tried to make a case for an extended U.S. mission, partly by resurrecting the now-familiar assertion that the United States had made a “premature departure” of its troops from Iraq several years ago. As with the other times this assertion has come up, the secretary did not mention that the group that became IS did not exist prior to any U.S. troops entering Iraq, and that the group emerged as a direct result of the U.S. invasion and the ensuing internal war. Nor did Tillerson address how a continued modest troop presence could have done what an earlier U.S. military presence in Iraq of 160,000 troops could not do. Nor did he address how the George W. Bush administration, which negotiated the troop-withdrawal agreement, could have done anything substantially different in the face of strong Iraqi government resistance to extending the U.S. military presence.

Of course, the Syrian government has never agreed to the presence of the U.S. military. As the Russians never tire of reminding people, this makes the U.S. military presence different from that of Russia or Iran, and it means that the U.S. presence has no basis in international law.

Tillerson also tried to retain an IS-relevant basis for extending the U.S. presence by linking the Syrian regime to the group. It is true that in earlier stages of the Syrian civil war the regime was fighting less against IS than against other Syria opposition groups, mostly as a reflection of geography and of who posed an immediate threat to the more heavily populated regime-controlled areas in the western half of the country. And the regime was happy to make the propaganda point that it was a bulwark against such an abhorrent terrorist group.

But that was then, and now is something different. The Assad regime and IS are on the opposite ends of any political or religious spectrum imaginable. They are enemies. To the extent that IS still threatens to have an impact in Syria, the Syrian regime has at least as much of an incentive as anyone else to eliminate that threat.

The persistence of an IS threat in Syria will be less a function of a continued Assad regime than of a continued Syrian civil war. It was the war that gave IS a big boost a few years ago. It is the war that continues to breed the conditions that an extremist group—whether IS, al-Qaeda, or some other—can exploit. The U.S. policy course that Tillerson described, which includes not only the direct U.S. military presence but also the building up of a client militia, is a prescription for continuation of the war. The secretary said what one would expect the chief U.S. diplomat to say regarding the importance of resolving the conflict, but U.S. diplomacy has been playing at most a backseat role.

New Objectives

The U.S. military expedition in Syria is now, according to Tillerson’s own words, aiming at three things other than IS or terrorism. First, the notion of regime change lives on. Tillerson was explicit about that, saying that stability in Syria “requires post-Assad leadership” and that the United States will discourage every other nation from having any economic relationship with war-torn Syria until Assad has gone. Nowhere did the secretary explain why the end of a regime that, under Hafez as well as Bashar al-Assad, has been in power for 48 years should suddenly have become such a U.S. objective. Nor did he explain how, given that Assad, with the help of his Russian and Iranian supporters, has clearly shored up his regime’s position, what Tillerson prescribes will mean anything other than prolonged instability and confrontation in Syria.

Second, as with anything the Trump administration mentions about the Middle East, there is always the bogeyman of Iran. And as usual, Iran is described in general pejoratives—the lead adjective on the subject in Tillerson’s speech was “malignant”—without addressing exactly how Iran’s position in, and relationship with, Syria threatens any U.S. interests. Nor was there any recognition of the inconsistency of justifying a U.S. military intervention that was supposed to be about opposing IS by talking about malignancy on the part of a regional power that itself has been opposing IS, in Iraq and well as Syria.

Third, whenever there is a U.S. mention of Iran, the government of Israel cannot be far away. And indeed, Tillerson said,

“Iran seeks dominance in the Middle East and the destruction of our ally, Israel. As a destabilized nation and one bordering Israel, Syria presents an opportunity that Iran is all too eager to exploit.”

Of course, the United States and Israel have no mutual assistance security treaty. Nor did Tillerson suggest anything the United States would get out of doing Israel’s desired work in Syria. He also did not mention that Israel has the most powerful military in the Middle East and that any thought of Iran trying to achieve the “destruction” of Israel, from Syria or anywhere else, is something between folly and fantasy.

Other Problems

Besides helping to prolong war and instability in Syria, the course Tillerson describes is a prescription for increased trouble within real alliances. He said, “We must have Turkey’s close cooperation in achieving a new future for Syria,” without mentioning how the client-arming scheme in northern Syria is anathema to the Turks. So now Syria may become the theater for a proxy war between two members of NATO.

The administration’s new policy is launched with disregard for the role of Congress in authorizing the overseas use of military force. For the past decade and a half, U.S. policy through three administrations has stretched the applicability of congressional resolutions centered on countering terrorism. Notwithstanding Tillerson’s words about a continued concern with IS, the new objectives in Syria turn the stretch into a break. The United States is putting its forces at war overseas to try to overthrow one Middle Eastern regime, to confront a second one, and to do the bidding of a third. None of those objectives involves combating terrorism, and none of them has been authorized as a mission for U.S. armed force by Congress.

It’s not clear exactly how this posture on Syria evolved and who had leading roles constructing it. But it is a far cry from the impression candidate Trump once gave that he favored contracting missions for U.S. armed force overseas rather than expanding them.

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Afghanistan: Declassified Documents

NOVANEWS

We should be questioning government more but we should also be challenging the mainstream sources of ‘news’ and ‘information,’ which are actually keeping people in the dark or, even worse, pulling the wool over our eyes.

Social and alternative media is very encouraging – this is where people should be getting more and more of their information, bypassing mainstream sources.

Documents

‘Memorandum of Conversation, “Summary of the President’s Telephone Conversation – Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, 28 December 1979’ (National Security Archive)

‘US embassy cables: Nato commander criticises British anti-drug strategy’ (US Embassy, Afghanistan, 6 April 2007)

‘US embassy cables: Karzai questions UK effectiveness’ (US Embassy, Afghanistan, 21 December 2008)

‘US embassy cables: UK “not up to task” of securing Helmand, says US’ (US Embassy, Afghanistan, 9 December 2008)

‘US embassy cables: Helmand governor criticises UK military strategy’ (US Embassy, Afghanistan, 20 January 2009)

‘US embassy cables: “UK military want to leave Sangin because of lack of popular support”’ (US Embassy, Afghanistan, 14 January 2009)

Articles

1980s – mujahideen

Mark Curtis, ‘Training in terrorism: The Afghan jihad’ (Extract from Secret Affairs, 2010)

‘Secret UK Papers on Afghanistan Reveal Parallels With Syria War Tactics’ (Sputnik News, 24 August 2016)

Afghan militants trained in a barn in rural Sussex’ (Telegraph, 4 September 2011)

‘UK discussed plans to help mujahideen weeks after Soviet invasion of Afghanistan’, (Guardian, 30 December 2010)

‘Britain agreed secret deal to back Mujahideen’ (Telegraph, 30 December 2010)

Since 2000

‘A Dubious History of Targeted Killings in Afghanistan’ (Der Spiegel, 28 December 2014)

‘A triumph over secret justice’ (Daily Mail, 19 October 2013)

‘WikiLeaks cables expose Afghan contempt for British military’ (Guardian, 2 December 2010)

‘Afghanistan war logs: 90,000 classified documents revealed by Wikileaks’ (Telegraph, 26 July 2010)

‘Afghanistan war logs: Civilians caught in firing line of British troops’ (Guardian, 25 July 2010)

‘Detainee-torture allegations spread to Britain’ (Globe & Mail, 19 April 2010)

‘Blair, Musharraf Pledge to Fight Terror’ (Associated Press, 28 September 2006)

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Big Pharma Fails to Disclose Antibiotic Waste Leaked from Factories into the Environment

Featured image: Pharmaceutical waste in Hyderabad, India by Christian Baars

Many of the world’s leading drug manufacturers may be leaking antibiotics from their factories into the environment according to a new report from a drug industry watchdog. This risks creating more superbugs.

The report surveyed household-name pharmaceutical giants like GSK, Novartis and Roche as well as generic companies which make non-branded products for the NHS and other health systems.

None of the 18 companies polled would reveal how much antibiotic discharge they release into the environment, according to the independent report from the not-for-profit body, the Access to Medicine Foundation. Only eight said they set limits for how much could be released in wastewater.

Only one disclosed the name of its suppliers – a move which is seen as important as it would make companies accountable for their environmental practices.

Commenting on the report, Dr Mark Holmes, a veterinary scientist at the University of Cambridge, said:

“Antibiotic resistance is complex but if we are to deal with this challenge every sector must do their bit. The pharmaceutical industry has been a key player in improving public health but a failure to address environmental impacts of antibiotic pollution could undo much of their good work.”

Changing Markets, an NGO which has campaigned on the issue of pharmaceutical waste, added:

“Pharmaceutical companies have a clear responsibility to tackle pollution in their supply chains, not least because of the considerable human health impacts associated with untreated waste from pharma manufacturing, prime among the creation of drug-resistant bacteria. From our own research in India and China, where most of the world’s generic drugs are made, we know this is an ongoing problem and that very little progress is happening on the ground.

“As the report also highlights, there is a crying lack of transparency about pharmaceutical supply chains which means that we know practically nothing about where our drugs are made. This is a scandal and pharmaceutical companies will face increasing calls to do something about it.”

Antibiotic waste from pharmaceutical manufacturing leaking into the environment is a neglected driver of antimicrobial resistance – or AMR – according to a global report published in 2016 by ex-finance minister Lord Jim O’Neill. This is because residues of antibiotics in the environment expose bacteria to levels of the drugs that fuel the emergence of resistance. The ‘superbugs’ that form as a result can spread all over the world. To tackle the problem, Lord O’Neill called for regulators to set minimum standards around the release of waste and for manufacturers to drive higher standards through their supply chains.

AMR has been described as one of the greatest health problems facing the world. Without effective antibiotics, infections become more difficult to treat and common medical procedures like joint replacements, C sections and chemotherapy care for cancer – which rely on the drugs to kill infection – could become too risky to carry out.

Last year the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported on a study which revealed ‘excessively high’ levels of antimicrobial drugs – as well as superbugs – in waste water from a major drug production hub in the Indian city of Hyderabad. The quantities found were strong enough to treat patients, scientists said. This followed an earlier report by the i and the Bureau of resistant bacteria in the wastewater of a factory there which supplies the NHS with antibiotics.

Table shows which pharmaceutical companies have a strategy to minimise the environmental impact of antibiotic discharge from manufacturing; whether they audit their own plants, third party suppliers or external waste treatment plants which they use to dispose of their waste; and whether they set limits for the amount of antibiotic discharge is released into wastewater (either at their own plants or across external suppliers and external waste treatment plants). It shows only eight companies have set limits for antibiotic discharge, and in the majority of cases these do not apply across their entire supply chains. Antimicrobial Resistance Benchmark Report 2018 by the Access to Medicines Foundation

The Antimicrobial Resistant Benchmark 2018 report – released today at the World Economic Forum conference in DAVOS – evaluated how a cross-section of the pharmaceutical industry are responding to the threat of AMR.

It found none disclosed their actual discharge levels – information the authors said is ‘valuable and vital’ as it could allow governments and researchers to understand the relationship between discharge and the development of superbugs.

Three generic drug companies – Cipla, Lupin and Sun Pharma – did not show any evidence of a strategy to minimise the impact of their antibiotic manufacturing on the environment, the report found, although Cipla promised to develop one this year.

Of particular concern were external companies that work for the main drug companies. Third-party companies manufacture and supply most drug firms with the key components of antibiotics, known as active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs); and external waste treatment plants, which many drug companies use to process their discharge from antibiotic manufacturing. Some companies have on-site wastewater-treatment.

Only eight companies set discharge limits for antibiotic waste, and for half the companies these limits only apply to their own sites, rather than their suppliers’ too. Only two companies  – GSK and Novartis – require their external waste treatment plants to follow their limits. Sanofi and Roche, for example, do not monitor the discharge made by their external waste treatment plants, the report notes.

The Medicines Company was the only one willing to identify its third-party manufacturers, a move the report said would enable governments and researchers to assess the impact of individual manufacturers on antibiotic resistance. The report notes that pharmaceutical companies that sell antibiotics “may be able to exert considerable influence over the environmental risk management of their suppliers.”

The large pharmaceuticals polled were GSK, Johnson and Johnson, Merck & Co, Novartis, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi, Shinogi. The generic companies were Aspen, Aurobindo, Cipla, Dr Reddy’s, Fresenius Kabi, Lupin, Macleods, Mylan, Sun Pharma and Teva.

Access to Medicine is an Amsterdam-based NGO that receives funding from the UK Government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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Washington’s New Defense Strategy: Keep Russia, China Down

NOVANEWS

One thing can be said about the new Pentagon National Defense Strategy document just released under the name of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It is honest about what the target of US military policy is going forward. Washington military policy is explicitly aimed to keep China and Russia from developing any alternative counter-pole to unchallenged US military and political supremacy. The new document lays this out in no uncertain terms. The details are notable and show the disarray that is Washington today, as its once-firm grip on world power disintegrates.

The document is worth careful reading. In the declassified public version it states at the very introduction,

“Today we are emerging from a period of strategic atrophy, aware that our competitive military advantage has been eroding. We are facing increased global disorder, characterized by decline in the long-standing rules-based international order—creating a security environment more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory. Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security.”

To refer to the period as one of strategic atrophy is not entirely accurate for the power that has waged wars non-stop, direct and surrogate, from Asia to the Middle East to covert regime change operations around the world since it invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. Honest is the statement that the US strategic competitive military advantage has been eroding. This erosion, however is a direct consequence of the erosion of the US economy and the increasingly desperate efforts of Washington to dictate to the world according to their wishes and not respecting sovereignty of nations or peoples.

The key phrase is “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.” What is this “inter-state strategic competition” that relegates the so-called war on terrorism to the back seat in priority? It is, simply said, the emergence of significant economic, technological and military powers and alliances that feel strong enough to assert their own national interest. For the Pentagon, which operates under the 1992 Wolfowitz Doctrine, strategic rivals to US sole superpower dominance, is not to be.

In 1992, Pentagon policy unofficially became what is called the Wolfowitz Doctrine. During the administration of President G.H.W. Bush as Washington was engaged in the looting and destruction of the former Soviet Union, using a CIA-asset named Boris Yeltsin as the vehicle, when Dick Cheneywas Defense Secretary, Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, authored the Defense Strategy for the 1990s. One of the original statements of that read:

“Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere… to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia.”

Undercutting the ‘Rules of the Road’

The new Mattis strategy document continues,

“China and Russia are now undermining the international order from within the system by exploiting its benefits while simultaneously undercutting its principles and ‘rules of the road.’”

This suggests that in the eyes of Washington for other nations to abide by the rules of the present system, including of the UN, to “exploit” its benefits for their gain, is a heinous or criminal act. The terminology suggests that Washington feels China and Russia are driving their role in the world today at a speed that is not to the liking of the Sole Superpower.

It gets even more interesting, as the US strategy paper calls China, “a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea.” And for its part, it states,

“Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors.

Mattis goes on to accuse China and Russia of wanting to, “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.” The veto authority is clear reference to repeated China and Russia UN Security Council vetoes of US resolutions that would have long ago utterly destroyed Syria for purposes of a Washington re-carving the Middle East to its advantage. Mattis goes on to declare that,

“China is leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific region to their advantage.

Predatory economics? The choice of adjective creates the emotional image without explanation. The Pentagon document omits the history of decades of Washington “predatory” economics in which the US wrote the international trade “rules of the road” for WTO, for finance, for competition to the unique advantage of US-based multinational corporations. That they call “free market.”

Then, in what is a clear reference to China’s major Belt, Road Initiative, its new Economic Silk Road, the Pentagon policy document attacks China as that country “continues its economic and military ascendance, asserting power through an all-of-nation long-term strategy.” It would be a major positive development were Washington itself to pursue a comparable infrastructure investment and an “all-of-nation long-term strategy.” That kind of national infrastructure investment to rebuild the huge deficit of lack of domestic USA investment does not seem to be on Washington’s agenda beyond the level of vague campaign promises about “making America great again.”

For its part, the Pentagon accuses Russia of seeking, “veto authority over nations on its periphery in terms of their governmental, economic, and diplomatic decisions, to shatter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and change European and Middle East security and economic structures to its favor.” The Pentagon insists, “The use of emerging technologies to discredit and subvert democratic processes in Georgia, Crimea, and eastern Ukraine is concern enough, but when coupled with its expanding and modernizing nuclear arsenal the challenge is clear.

Conveniently omitted is the fact that it was Washington in 2014 that created what has been accurately called “the most blatant coup in US history” to install an anti-Russian regime of oligarchs and neo-Nazis in Ukraine and in Georgia, or that a citizen referendum in Crimea saw a vote of 93% to ask to become part of the Russian Federation, not of Ukraine. The idea Russia is out to “shatter” NATO conveniently omits the reality that Washington in 2003 broke solemn promises made in 1990 to the Russians that NATO would never expand eastwards towards Russia as a precondition for Moscow allowing German unification.

And it was Washington that in 2007 announced the destabilizing placement of US missiles in Poland and other NATO states aimed at Russia in what was euphemistically termed US “missile defense,” in reality preparation for a US nuclear First Strike potential aimed at Russia. Moreover the CIA and State Department created color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine in 2004 in a vain effort to bring NATO to the doorstep of Moscow.

In sum the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the Pentagon is a de facto declaration that the US superpower, bankrupt and ailing as it is, will do everything imaginable militarily to block the upbuilding of Eurasia around the peaceful emergence of the Russia-China economic cooperation in terms of energy, financial cooperation, infrastructure as well as defense cooperation and anti-terror activities.

The Mattis paper is honest in naming China and Russia by name as the central threat to a continued USA sole superpower hegemony. The consequences in terms of growing US military confrontation against both China and Russia, however, may present an economically-declining USA with the similar dilemma which the British Empire faced on the eve of World War I. US debt levels, deteriorated economic base and eroding support internationally for a President who acts like a petulant school brat, are not the most favorable backdrop to “make America great again.”

*

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The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery?

NOVANEWS

From our archives. This incisive and carefully researched article was first published by Global Research in March 2008.

Human rights organizations, as well as political and social ones, are condemning what they are calling a new form of inhumane exploitation in the United States, where they say a prison population of up to 2 million – mostly Black and Hispanic – are working for various industries for a pittance. For the tycoons who have invested in the prison industry, it has been like finding a pot of gold. They don’t have to worry about strikes or paying unemployment insurance, vacations or comp time. All of their workers are full-time, and never arrive late or are absent because of family problems; moreover, if they don’t like the pay of 25 cents an hour and refuse to work, they are locked up in isolation cells.

There are approximately 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the country. According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.”

The figures show that the United States has locked up more people than any other country: a half million more than China, which has a population five times greater than the U.S. Statistics reveal that the United States holds 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s people. From less than 300,000 inmates in 1972, the jail population grew to 2 million by the year 2000. In 1990 it was one million. Ten years ago there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, there are 100, with 62,000 inmates. It is expected that by the coming decade, the number will hit 360,000, according to reports.

What has happened over the last 10 years? Why are there so many prisoners?

“The private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisons depend on this income. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce. The system feeds itself,” says a study by the Progressive Labor Party, which accuses the prison industry of being “an imitation of Nazi Germany with respect to forced slave labor and concentration camps.”

The prison industry complex is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States and its investors are on Wall Street. “This multimillion-dollar industry has its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and mail-order/Internet catalogs. It also has direct advertising campaigns, architecture companies, construction companies, investment houses on Wall Street, plumbing supply companies, food supply companies, armed security, and padded cells in a large variety of colors.”

CRIME GOES DOWN, JAIL POPULATION GOES UP

According to reports by human rights organizations, these are the factors that increase the profit potential for those who invest in the prison industry complex:

  • Jailing persons convicted of non-violent crimes, and long prison sentences for possession of microscopic quantities of illegal drugs. Federal law stipulates five years’ imprisonment without possibility of parole for possession of 5 grams of crack or 3.5 ounces of heroin, and 10 years for possession of less than 2 ounces of rock-cocaine or crack. A sentence of 5 years for cocaine powder requires possession of 500 grams – 100 times more than the quantity of rock cocaine for the same sentence. Most of those who use cocaine powder are white, middle-class or rich people, while mostly Blacks and Latinos use rock cocaine. In Texas, a person may be sentenced for up to two years’ imprisonment for possessing 4 ounces of marijuana. Here in New York, the 1973 Nelson Rockefeller anti-drug law provides for a mandatory prison sentence of 15 years to life for possession of 4 ounces of any illegal drug.
  • The passage in 13 states of the “three strikes” laws (life in prison after being convicted of three felonies), made it necessary to build 20 new federal prisons. One of the most disturbing cases resulting from this measure was that of a prisoner who for stealing a car and two bicycles received three 25-year sentences.
  • Longer sentences.
  • The passage of laws that require minimum sentencing, without regard for circumstances.
  • A large expansion of work by prisoners creating profits that motivate the incarceration of more people for longer periods of time.
  • More punishment of prisoners, so as to lengthen their sentences.

HISTORY OF PRISON LABOR IN THE UNITED STATES

Prison labor has its roots in slavery. After the 1861-1865 Civil War, a system of “hiring out prisoners” was introduced in order to continue the slavery tradition. Freed slaves were charged with not carrying out their sharecropping commitments (cultivating someone else’s land in exchange for part of the harvest) or petty thievery – which were almost never proven – and were then “hired out” for cotton picking, working in mines and building railroads. From 1870 until 1910 in the state of Georgia, 88% of hired-out convicts were Black. In Alabama, 93% of “hired-out” miners were Black. In Mississippi, a huge prison farm similar to the old slave plantations replaced the system of hiring out convicts. The notorious Parchman plantation existed until 1972.

During the post-Civil War period, Jim Crow racial segregation laws were imposed on every state, with legal segregation in schools, housing, marriages and many other aspects of daily life. “Today, a new set of markedly racist laws is imposing slave labor and sweatshops on the criminal justice system, now known as the prison industry complex,” comments the Left Business Observer.

Who is investing?

At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons. The list of such companies contains the cream of U.S. corporate society: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more. All of these businesses are excited about the economic boom generation by prison labor. Just between 1980 and 1994, profits went up from $392 million to $1.31 billion. Inmates in state penitentiaries generally receive the minimum wage for their work, but not all; in Colorado, they get about $2 per hour, well under the minimum.

And in privately-run prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they call “highly skilled positions.” At those rates, it is no surprise that inmates find the pay in federal prisons to be very generous. There, they can earn $1.25 an hour and work eight hours a day, and sometimes overtime. They can send home $200-$300 per month.

Thanks to prison labor, the United States is once again an attractive location for investment in work that was designed for Third World labor markets. A company that operated a maquiladora (assembly plant in Mexico near the border) closed down its operations there and relocated to San Quentin State Prison in California. In Texas, a factory fired its 150 workers and contracted the services of prisoner-workers from the private Lockhart Texas prison, where circuit boards are assembled for companies like IBM and Compaq.

[Former] Oregon State Representative Kevin Mannix recently urged Nike to cut its production in Indonesia and bring it to his state, telling the shoe manufacturer that “there won’t be any transportation costs; we’re offering you competitive prison labor (here).”

PRIVATE PRISONS

The prison privatization boom began in the 1980s, under the governments of Ronald Reagan and Bush Sr., but reached its height in the 1990s under William Clinton, when Wall Street stocks were selling like hotcakes. Clinton’s program for cutting the federal workforce resulted in the Justice Departments contracting of private prison corporations for the incarceration of undocumented workers and high-security inmates.

Private prisons are the biggest business in the prison industry complex. About 18 corporations guard 10,000 prisoners in 27 states. The two largest are Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) and Wackenhut, which together control 75%. Private prisons receive a guaranteed amount of money for each prisoner, independent of what it costs to maintain each one. According to Russell Boraas, a private prison administrator in Virginia, “the secret to low operating costs is having a minimal number of guards for the maximum number of prisoners.” The CCA has an ultra-modern prison in Lawrenceville, Virginia, where five guards on dayshift and two at night watch over 750 prisoners. In these prisons, inmates may get their sentences reduced for “good behavior,” but for any infraction, they get 30 days added – which means more profits for CCA. According to a study of New Mexico prisons, it was found that CCA inmates lost “good behavior time” at a rate eight times higher than those in state prisons.

IMPORTING AND EXPORTING INMATES

Profits are so good that now there is a new business: importing inmates with long sentences, meaning the worst criminals. When a federal judge ruled that overcrowding in Texas prisons was cruel and unusual punishment, the CCA signed contracts with sheriffs in poor counties to build and run new jails and share the profits. According to a December 1998 Atlantic Monthly magazine article, this program was backed by investors from Merrill-Lynch, Shearson-Lehman, American Express and Allstate, and the operation was scattered all over rural Texas. That state’s governor, Ann Richards, followed the example of Mario Cuomo in New York and built so many state prisons that the market became flooded, cutting into private prison profits.

After a law signed by Clinton in 1996 – ending court supervision and decisions – caused overcrowding and violent, unsafe conditions in federal prisons, private prison corporations in Texas began to contact other states whose prisons were overcrowded, offering “rent-a-cell” services in the CCA prisons located in small towns in Texas. The commission for a rent-a-cell salesman is $2.50 to $5.50 per day per bed. The county gets $1.50 for each prisoner.

STATISTICS

Ninety-seven percent of 125,000 federal inmates have been convicted of non-violent crimes. It is believed that more than half of the 623,000 inmates in municipal or county jails are innocent of the crimes they are accused of. Of these, the majority are awaiting trial. Two-thirds of the one million state prisoners have committed non-violent offenses. Sixteen percent of the country’s 2 million prisoners suffer from mental illness.

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Anti-Semitsm: Reality or merely statistics?

NOVANEWS

Anti-Semitsm and Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Gilad Atzmon writes:

Last weekend the Israeli press gave the impression that a new global pogrom is going to burst any minute. “Hike in worldwide anti-Jewish incidents” was Israel’s Ynet News headline.

Early on 21 January the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs released the “2017 Anti-Semitism Report”, which showed a “substantial increase in racist incidents against Jews in Europe, especially in the western parts of the continent”.

According to the report, “2017 saw a 78 per cent increase in incidents of physical violence against Jews in the UK and a 30 per cent increase in all anti-Semitic incidents in the country”. We learned about an increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Germany. A study of Central and Eastern European countries revealed that “20 per cent of the respondents did not want Jews in their country and 30 per cent did not want Jews as neighbours. In addition, 22 per cent of Romania’s citizens and 18 per cent of Polish citizens were interested in denying the right of Jews to citizenship in their country.”

Reportedly, Diaspora Jews are shaken by the alleged rise in anti-Semitsm. Ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the World Zionist Organisation revealed that 83 per cent of those surveyed reported that they were exposed to anti-Semitism on the internet and on social media, 59 per cent believe that the politicians in their country are anti-Semitic at least to some extent and 51 per cent of respondents said they were afraid to wear Jewish symbols in public.

I will try to help Naftali Bennett and his Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. If you are genuinely concerned about anti-Semitsm and the high percentage of Eastern Europeans who do not want to live in proximity to Jews, you may want to also try to find out what percentage of Israeli Jews are happy to live next to Arab neighbours.

Now, let me assure you, I do not buy any of the above. I am not impressed by Zionist statistics and I am not alone. In Britain, for instance, the Crown Prosecution Service is sceptical about the validity of the above statistics. But let’s assume for a moment that all these figures are factually valid and statistically accurate. The article still fails to ask the six million dollar question: Why? Why are Jews once again hated?

Naturally, the Palestinians are available to be blamed. “It further claimed that there is ongoing anti-Semitic incitement by the Palestinian Authority: Systematic use of religious and other anti-Semitic narratives to foster hatred of Israelis and Jews among its citizens.” If you are bewildered by the above statement wait till you read the “rationale”. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is quoted as saying the following during a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Central Committee: “Israel is a colonial project that has nothing to do with the Jews.”

Abbas’s statement may be right or wrong. It is, however, the opposite of anti-Semitic incitement. It absolves the Jews of the crimes committed by the state that calls itself “The Jewish State”.

I will try to help Naftali Bennett and his Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. If you are genuinely concerned about anti-Semitsm and the high percentage of Eastern Europeans who do not want to live in proximity to Jews, you may want to also try to find out what percentage of Israeli Jews are happy to live next to Arab neighbours. Try to ascertain the percentage of “Diaspora Jews” in New York’s Kiryas Joel or London’s Golders Green who are willing to live alongside goyim [gentiles]. Before minister Bennett complains about the Poles who don’t want Jewish citizens in their country, he should share with us his personal views regarding the prospect of Israel becoming a “state of its citizens” as opposed to “The Jewish State”.

Perhaps when Bennett, the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and other Jewish institutions are brave enough to reflect upon these questions, anti-Semitsm might evaporate and, more importantly, Jews might stop being fearful of their neighbours. They won’t have a reason; at last they will love their neighbours and be loved in return.

Posted in ZIO-NAZIComments Off on Anti-Semitsm: Reality or merely statistics?

Testing Zionist Mohammed bin Shalom Pledge to Return S.A to American Islam

NOVANEWS
Testing Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Pledge to Return Saudi Arabia to “Moderate Islam”
  

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vow to return his kingdom to a moderate interpretation of Islam could be put to the test by a draft bill in the US Congress that would require the secretary of State to submit yearly reports about whether Saudi Arabia is living up to its promise to remove intolerant content from its educational materials.

The bill would also increase pressure on Saudi Arabia to introduce freedom of religion in a country that bans all worship except for those that adhere to its long-standing strand of ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim Islam.

The bi-partisan bill submitted by Republican House of Representatives member Ted Poe and Democrat Bill Keating reflects long-standing criticism of Saudi textbooks that use hateful and incendiary language; foster supremacism, intolerance, and anti-pluralism; and, according to many critics, incite violence.

The texts describe alternative strands of Islam such as Shiism and Sufism in derogatory terms and advise Muslims not to associate with Jews and Christians who are labelled kaffirs or unbelievers. They also justify the execution of ‘sorcerers.’ Saudi Arabia, moreover, has legally defined atheism as terrorism. The textbooks are used not only in Saudi schools but also in many educational and cultural institutions funded by the kingdom across the globe.

To be sure, Saudi Arabia has for more than a decade pledged to revise its educational materials and has made significant progress in doing so. The progress falls, however, short of a 2006 US-Saudi understanding that the kingdom would “within one to two years… ‘remove remaining intolerant references that disparage Muslims or non-Muslims or that promote hatred toward other religions or religious groups.’”

Human Rights Watch survey of religion textbooks produced by the Saudi education ministry for the 2016-2017 school year, while acknowledging Saudi efforts, concluded that “as early as first grade, students in Saudi schools are being taught hatred toward all those perceived to be of a different faith or school of thought.” The survey was part of a larger study of hate speech adopted by Saudi officials and Islamic scholars.

Saudi revision of textbooks has taken on added significance with Prince Mohammed’s pledge last October to return Saudi Arabia to a vaguely defined form of “moderate” Islam. The pledge heightened expectations created by social reforms introduced by the crown prince that include lifting a ban on women’s driving, a residual of Bedouin rather than Muslim tradition; granting women access to male sporting events; allowing various forms of entertainment, including cinema, theatre and music; and stripping the religious police of its right to carry out arrests.

In outlining his vision, Prince Mohammed said Saudi ultra-conservatism had been an uninformed response to the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Even though Saudi association with ultra-conservatism harks back more than two centuries to the teachings of 18th century Islamic scholar Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhabi, Prince Mohammed asserted that

“we are simply reverting to what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions.”

Among objectionable texts in schoolbooks, according to Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle, are markers by which one can recognize the approach of the Day of Resurrection, that include the assertion that “the Hour will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews, and Muslims will kill the Jews.”

The assertion is not dissimilar from evangelist belief that Christ’s second coming is linked to the conversion of Jews to Christianity prior to the Day of Judgement and the prediction of a Holocaust for all those who refuse. Evangelist support for Israel and US President Donald J. Trump’s pro-Israel policy is rooted in that belief. Moreover, influential Premillennial Dispensationalists argue that Israel’s creation signalled the nearing of the end of days and that thousands of Jews will die on the Day of Armageddon.

Mr. Coogle noted that Prince Mohammed has remained conspicuously silent about hate speech in textbooks as well as its use by officials and Islamic scholars connected to the government.

The bill introduced by Messrs. Poe and Keating, dubbed The Saudi Educational Transparency and Reform Act, would increase pressure on Prince Mohammed to act more forcefully in a bid to halt mounting criticism in Congress of Saud Arabia that is driven by perceptions of linkages between Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism and political violence and the kingdom’s ill-fated invasion of Yemen. The bill could also persuade the crown prince to act in an effort to prevent further tarnishing of the kingdom’s image.

The bill further puts Saudi Arabia’s continued violations of freedom of religion in the spotlight. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has identified Saudi Arabia since 2004 as a “country of particular concern.” The designation constitutes the Commission’s harshest condemnation of violators of freedom of religion.

A 1998 law calls for the sanctioning of violators but allows the president to waive penalties if he decides that it would enhance the chances of achieving adherence or be in America’s interest. US presidents have issued a waiver for the past 12 years. Messrs. Poe and Keating’s bill would step up the pressure by requiring the secretary of State to regularly justify a waiver.

The bill, if passed, could push Prince Mohammed to clarify whether his call for a moderate form of Islam means a clean break with the teachings of Ibn Abdul Wahhab or whether he simply has a polishing of the rough edges of the scholar’s ultra-conservatism in mind.

Ironically, the model for an upgraded, more friendly form of Wahhabism, is Prince Mohammed’s nemesis, Qatar, the world’s only other Wahhabi state. Saudi Arabia leads an alliance that last June imposed a diplomatic and economic boycott on Qatar to force it adopt policies aligned with those of the kingdom.

The contrast between Qatar and Saudi Arabia could, however, not be starker. Prince Mohammed’s reforms such as women’s’ driving, entertainment, and freedom of religion have long been standard practice in Qatar.

That is not to say that Qatar does not have its share of supporters of ultra-conservatism and controversial clerics, including Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, one of the world’s most prominent living Islamic scholars, who spew hate speech and issue religious edicts that have justified suicide bombings.

Said former Qatari justice minister and prominent lawyer Najeeb al Nauimi, speaking some 16 years ago:

“Saudi Arabia has Mecca and Medina. We have Qaradawi — and all his daughters drive cars and work.”

Posted in USA, Saudi ArabiaComments Off on Testing Zionist Mohammed bin Shalom Pledge to Return S.A to American Islam

War in Syria: The US, a Wounded Predator, Spreads Chaos in Middle East

NOVANEWS
 

U.S. imperialism’s deteriorating position in the Middle East was confirmed on Jan. 17, by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s bold assertion for U.S. plans in Syria. The arrogant statement was followed, within hours, by almost immediate backpedaling.

Tillerson’s talk at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University confirmed that the only hope of maintaining U.S. domination is another desperate attempt to close all borders and dismember the entire region. But the latest plan has also created a rupture in NATO, the oldest and largest U.S.-commanded military alliance.

Meanwhile, Turkish planes bombed 100 positions in Syria of U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG forces (the Kurdish acronym for People’s Protection Units) on Jan. 21.

As the war in Syria stretches into the seventh year, Tillerson grandly announced the U.S. military will remain in Syria indefinitely. The newest U.S. plan is to create and train a military border force of 30,000 soldiers. The Secretary of State also arrogantly restated the U.S. demand that has met with failure for seven years: the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the overthrow of the Syrian Arab Republic government.

This was not the first mention of new U.S. plans there. General Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, said on Dec. 24 that a training program was being established for Kurdish and Arab fighters to become a permanent U.S. occupying force in Syria. Votel declared,

“What we don’t want to do is leave a mess.” (us.pressfrom.com, Dec. 24)

In fact, U.S. long-term plans are to permanently divide Syria and Iraq and expand their imperialist “mess” into Iran.

Since Jan. 14, news reports around the world reported U.S. plans to create a new “border force” in Syria on the borders of Turkey and Iraq. This U.S. plan would separate the oil-rich northern region from the rest of Syria, create a mini-state and close the borders.

Washington said it would help Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of militias in northern and eastern Syria led by Kurdish YPG militias, to set up a new 30,000-strong border force.

A flurry of other U.S. statements drew out this plan more explicitly.

The coalition’s Public Affairs Office said:

“The base of the new force is essentially a realignment of approximately 15,000 members of the SDF to a new mission in the Border Security Force as their actions against ISIS [the Islamic State group, IS] draw to a close.” (Reuters, Jan. 14)

Before the announcement of a new U.S. plan to occupy and divide the region, numerous commentators described an unprecedented development with the defeat of IS – open borders among Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. The whole region has been divided since the 1991 U.S. war to recolonize and divide Iraq.

Turkey immediately slammed this new plan of a permanent U.S. occupation through an alliance with YPG Kurdish forces in Syria. Turkey warned of military action against the U.S.-armed and -protected YPG forces.

In the face of Turkey’s fierce opposition, Tillerson claimed, “That entire situation has been misportrayed, misdescribed, some people misspoke. We are not creating a border security force at all.” (aljazeera, Jan. 18)

The Kurdish Nation

Turkey’s great fear is that a “border force” of U.S.-armed Kurdish militias will siphon off advanced U.S.-supplied weapons, including anti-aircraft missiles, to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) forces in Turkey.

Although there are 1.5 to 2 million Kurds in Syria, there are almost 20 million nationally oppressed Kurds in Turkey. Making up 20 percent of population, they are the majority population in southern Turkey, bordering northern Syria, Iraq and Iran.

For decades the Pentagon has armed Turkey and aided in the brutal repression of the Kurds, who resisted under the leadership of the PKK.

But imperialism sees an opportunity to use the smaller Kurdish population in Syria, where they are 5 percent to 8 percent of the Syrian population, as a way to divide Syria. The Kurds in Syria are under the leadership of the Democratic Union Party (PYD); their armed units are the YPG. These are the main units of the U.S.-armed Syrian Democratic Forces.

U.S. imperialism used a similar scenario to impose a division on Iraq. This is imperialism’s divide-and-rule strategy for the entire region. Using the Kurds’ national aspirations for a temporary U.S. military or political advantage, and then cynically dropping them, dates back to Henry Kissinger.

The Kurds are a historically oppressed nation with a distinct language and culture, numbering over 30 million people. They are the largest nation without a state. They live in the underdeveloped, mountainous region spanning four countries: southern Turkey and northern Iraq, Iran and Syria.

Some 72 Turkish jets bombed U.S.-backed Kurdish militias in Syria on Jan. 21. The Turkish news agency Anadolu reported that jets bombed more than 100 targets, including an air base, in the first day of air operations against YPG militias. The operation targeted YPG barracks, shelters, positions, weapons, vehicles and equipment.

Each U.S. maneuver has created greater destruction, but the U.S. has been unable to consolidate its position in the region or gain stable allies.

U.S. divide-and-destroy tactics

Since 2011 the U.S. has covertly armed a whole series of conflicting militias and mercenaries.

With a wink and a nod from U.S. forces in the region, which were arming numerous extremist militias, Saudi Arabia and Turkey armed the fanatical IS army. This became an excuse for open U.S. bombing of Syrian infrastructure.

The U.S. military command pulled 19 other NATO and Gulf countries into the war in Syria. This military onslaught was totally uninvited by the Syrian government.

The Syrian government appealed to Iran, Russia and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon to aid them in defeating IS and the Pentagon-funded militias and mercenaries. This forced Washington to change tactics, but not its objective — the recolonization of the region.

U.S.-imposed sanctions against Iraq and then Syria were an effort to destroy all forms of normal economic exchange and to shut down all commercial and social life. The U.S. occupation of Iraq divided the country into walled-off mini-states with checkpoints and inspections. All borders were closed. U.S. intervention in Syria was designed to do the same thing.

U.S. wars in the region have displaced more than 10 million people and decimated the region. They have created animosity and suspicion on every side, divided the corrupt and a brutal feudal Gulf state regime aligned with imperialism, and are now dividing the oldest U.S. military alliance — NATO.

But after seven years of war and 15 years of sanctions, U.S. imperialism has still not succeeded in destroying the sovereign government of the Syrian Arab Republic.

Posted in USA, SyriaComments Off on War in Syria: The US, a Wounded Predator, Spreads Chaos in Middle East


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