Monday, February 24, 2014

If you were...

Here is a question from a friend:

If you were organising a Labour Movement Film Festival, what films would you show, and why?

I've got some ideas, but I'll see what you say first. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The house of Assad and the house of Rumour

The House of Pheme [Rumour]
Johann Wilhelm Baur, Edition 1709, Ovid, Met. XII, 46-45
In Metamorphoses, Ovid describes the house where Rumour dwells, at “the middle of the world, between the zones of earth, sea and sky”: “Crowds occupy the hallways, a fickle throng that come and go with myriad rumours, circulating confused words, fiction mixed with truth… This is the haunt of Credulity, rash Error… unreasoning Fear, impulsive Sedition.” At its heart, Rumour herself, her scrutiny ranging the whole universe.

The perfect description of the internet?

A couple of days ago, I tweeted something by the Washington Post’s Liz Sly, on the sheer number of barrel bombs dropped  by Assad’s Damascus regime on the Syrian city of Aleppo, a city inhabited at least three millennia before Ovid was born. Sly documented how, even as Assad’s representatives sat in Geneva ostensibly debating peace, neighbourhoods dominated by the opposition were being decimated. The story is filed from the Turkish border, based on the testimony of refugees, who describe the fear of seeing the barrels unleashed from the warplanes, waiting for them to open up and disperse their deadly cargo; stories of human remains scraped from the rubble, of neighbourhoods depopulated, a city left without life. “The only people left are the poorest of the poor, and they are just waiting for death.”

In the second week of February, 215 bombs, 36.6% of them in Masaken Hanano, 22.7% of them in Industrial City. The bombs have killed hundreds, among the 3,400 estimated to have been killed as Geneva 2 stuttered along. The regime’s calculation is simple: no people in the neighbourhoods = no support for the opposition.

In my view, what is going on probably constitutes a genocide, though the victims are Assad’s “own” people.

Liz Sly retweeted my tweet, so it circulated more widely, and it got more retweets, but also a few hostile replies. I have no particular desire to single out, let alone pick an argument with, the individuals who replied to me. But I found their responses disturbing and instructive.

One, a Dutch tweeter describing himself as “Anarchist” and “Pro-Palestina”, replied “Viva Assad…he s killing AL-CIADA”. A second, apparently a lawyer, said “Maduro’s Venezuela appears to be next in line for this, sadly.” A third, apparently a blonde Giants fan, launched a barrage of tweets, containing links to pro-Assad sources, with messages like these: “You #Vichy urinalists won’t be happy till Syria’s totally destroyed. #Truth” and “#Vichy urinalists see what the #war criminals want them to see”.

In this world, anarchists and libertarians play point for dictators. Pro-Palestinians laud the government that has killed thousands of Palestinians, in Yarmouk and elsewhere. The architects of 9/11 are seen as the creatures of American imperialism. Embattled and under-armed resistance fighters are equated with the Nazi occupation. The victims of industrial-scale slaughter are seen as war criminals. And the testimony of refugees is seen as propaganda while totalitarian state PR machines are hailed as telling the truth.

A quick scan of the three tweeters’ timelines finds a number of shared obsessions. They describe themselves as “conspiracy realists”, with several tweets about chemtrails and GM food. Kremlin and Tehran news sources such as Russia Today and Press TV are used heavily, while the Western “mainstream media” is never trusted.

And again and again, usually with hashtag and a capital T, the word “Truth”.

Having had the scales taken from their eyes, the Truth believers are utterly credulous before any source that says the mainstream media is lying. The denizens of this fickle throng are like kids frozen at that moment in adolescence when they first catch their parents lying and so believe that nothing their elders say can be true. The dispatch of a professional veteran warzone reporter passing on the words of survivors is not trusted, but a blurry YouTube video, which could be from anywhere or anytime, is a first-hand glimpse into “the Truth”.

Where Rumour dwells, the greatest enemies of the truth – and thus of hope for change and peace – are those who speak in the name of #Truth.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

The Killing of Bob Crow by the Coward Boris Johnson

This is a ballad by Rob Palk, who blogs (infrequently) here and tweets (frequently) here. The ballad was originally posted as a series of 32 tweets, each stanza (is that the right word?) a separate tweet. At the bottom of this post, I've added some links about the real life industrial dispute this refers to. If you want to sing along, I guess you can use the tune of "The Ballad of Hollis Brown". 

The Killing of Bob Crow by the Coward Boris Johnson
By Rob Palk

Bob Crow he lived on the outskirts of town
Bob Crow he lived on the outskirts of town
traveled where he wanted on the Underground

They said he was like Castro, they said he was like Mao
but he stuck up for the workin' man, don't even ask me how

Now Boris he lived in old Islington
spent his days carousin' and a'havin' so much fun

Drinkin' wine from a goblet that was made of gold
didn't give a cuss about the lies he told

Now Bob said to Boris, “boy, your days are through
the people are a'hungry and they're gettin' tired of you

There's going to be a layin' down of underground machinery
you'll have to go by bus, my friend, enjoy the scenery”

When Boris heard Bob's message he began to quail
Said, “you London Transport Workers, you are bound to fail

I'll get me up a scab Army, I'll set the tabloids awn yer
You should count yourself lucky that I even warn yer”

The tube men put down all their tools, they gathered into ranks
Boris wasted all his time with sucking up to banks

We need a revolution boys, we need ourselves a fight
Bob said, “come on you workin' men, you know our cause is right”

Boris strode down to the picket line with his fat cigar
Said “betray your leader boys and then you will go far

This Crow he is a sucker, he really is a rube
Thinks he can control me like he controls the tube”

The union men heard what he say'd and talked amongst themselves
Rememberin’ Bob Crow's warnings about trusting men of wealth

These rich folks love to rob yer, with a fountain pen
And many rich folks love to harm the union men

He saw that they was listenin, he saw he'd made some strife
Boris saw his chance for takin' Bob Crow's life

He said meet me in the morning in Islington town
Swore the next fine mornin' he'd lay Bob Crow down

Now Bob he turned up early, he wasn't ever late
Traveled up to Islington upon the 38

Looked around for Boris, till at last he saw
Boris stood there leanin' at his own front door

"Come into my terrace" he said, "I think you'll find its Georgian,
I've been up late drinkin', carousin' and a-gorgin'.

You know Bob I do respect you, admire you as a rival.
Come into my house Bob, but leave outside your rifle"

Bob walked into the terrace, eyes wide as could be
The house was full of riches, stuff you'll never see

Treasures like something out of a Persian saga,
they had a pig’s head cookin' right ontop the Aga.

"Now Bob, I have to ask you, will you prevent this strike?
I think that I can help you Bob, is there something that you'd like?

Is your weakness women? Or is your weakness wine?
Tell me what it is Bob, we haven't got much time"

But Bob he stood up mighty straight, looked Boris in the eye
He said "Bob Crow never told a lie

It's written in the scriptures, written down by scribes
Honest Bob Crow never took a bribe"

Boris smiled now to himself, lookin' so innocent
But he had an evil plan and he would not relent

He said "I do believe you Bob, you never told a lie
But honest Bob Crow must surely die"

Bob reached for his rifle, rememberin' too late
That Boris had insisted he leave it by the gate

They say the sky turned a sicknin' red
When B Johnson took out his gun and shot Bob in the head

Gather round you orphan children of the underground
Gather round you lost ones waitin' to be found

Never forget what happened to Bob Crow
The coward Boris Johnson laid our leader low


To keep up with what's going on in the Tube strike, follow the RMT's Every Job Matters page, RMT London Calling, the AWL Tubeworker bulletin and blog, Hands Off London Transport, and the TSSA union's campaign page. Some Twitter accounts to follow: RMT London Calling, AWL Tubeworker BulletinRMT official tweets, TSSA official tweetsRMT Bakerloo branch, and RMT activists Janine Booth and Alex Gordon.

Two comments from me. First, I think the "revenue strike" is a brilliant strategy: keeping the tubes running, hurting the management, keeping commuters and onside, and showing how important ticket staff are to us. 

Second, the arrest and draconian bail conditions against RMT picket Mark Harding are a massive attack on the right to strike and right to protest. Here's the Facebook page of the campaign to defend him.(If you're not on Facebook, the HOLT page is the best start.)