Monday, April 30, 2018

Stephen Lawrence, the police and the state

SUNDAY 22nd April marked the 25th anniversary of the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence in Eltham, south east London. Stephen and his friend Duwayne Brooks were attacked whilst waiting for a bus by a gang of at least five youths for no other reason than that they were black.
The long and bitter fight put up by Stephen’s parents, Doreen and Neville Lawrence, for justice for their son is now part of British history. At first police made little effort. They assumed the stabbing was due to a fight between two black boys over drugs. They could not conceive that black youths out at night were not criminals — even when local residents and Doreen Lawrence came to them with evidence and a list of names of five local white youths notorious as racist thugs who had been seen about on that night of 22nd April 1993.
Only when Nelson Mandela, visiting Britain, met the Lawrences and expressed support for their cause were the five young thugs arrested — long after they had had time to destroy evidence. They were released again almost immediately for lack of evidence.
Throughout the whole long saga, including a failed attempt to bring a private prosecution, the message of the police and the state towards the Lawrences was: “You can’t win. Go home and forget about it.”
In 1999 the New Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw instigated a public inquiry into the police handling of the case and the racist attitudes of the police, their reluctance to take the case seriously was made public. And so was the link between one of the police officers and the father of one of the suspects.
For thousands of British people, it was a shocking eye-opener to the realities of our police force. Apologies and changes were demanded. The McPherson report had a huge impact.
The force was forced to admit its failings and to make an effort to root out racism. It was now not possible for police to be openly racist and an effort was made to recruit more black police officers. Other public services and arms of the state were also forced to take stock themselves and root out racist bias in their delivery of service. On the whole these efforts had more success where there was a strong trade union presence amongst the workforce.
But it did not take long for things to slip back within the police force. Many young police officers regarded ‘race awareness’ as just a tick box on their career path. They paid lip service and then forgot about it. Liaison workers from the Greenwich Commission for Racial Equality (GCRE) would work hard with local police to introduce them to the local ethnic communities, only to find those officers posted elsewhere and to have to start over again with a new squad. The GCRE has since fallen to the cuts like many other similar local authority funded groups throughout the country.
The 11th September attacks in the USA and the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich have fuelled a rise in Islamophobia, and the gains in anti-racism within the police are being eroded. Just ask any of the growing ‘family and friends’ campaigns of those who have family members killed in police custody or prison.
It is a fight that needs to be sustained constantly. Racists and fascists are always drawn to join the force, where they can wear a uniform and bully members of the public. And they have learned the right words to say to escape detection. The police force is a coercive arm of the state and deeply ingrained prejudice against certain groups is its default position. But at least now they can no longer be overtly racist.
And now, after two of the suspects have been jailed for the murder of Stephen Lawrence, there are still unanswered questions about the other suspects and about police corruption. Prime Minister Theresa May and Metropolitan Police chief Cressida Dick appear on TV praising Doreen Lawrence for her courage and determination in her fight for justice. But the message from them is still: “You have done all you can; now go home and forget about it.”
But perhaps the biggest legacy of the Lawrence case is the change in attitude amongst the black and minority ethnic communities. They are no longer cowed and intimidated. They will challenge racism wherever they see it, loudly and proudly. There are hundreds of black and minority ethnic people taking up the struggle for justice and ready to fight on

Friday, April 27, 2018

A recipe for resistance

By New Worker Film Correspondent

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)
Director: Mike Newell; Starring: Lily James, Michiel Huisman, Glen Powell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Courtenay, Penelope Wilton, Katherine Parkinson, Matthew Goode.
12A cert, 124 minutes.

The name of the film is of an imaginary society established in occupied Guernsey as a means of getting around the occupation curfew laws. Most of the film, however, is set in 1946. Subsequently I was initially disappointed, expecting tales of resistance to the Nazi occupation. The subject of resistance was raised but it only played a small role in the film.
Resistance on the Channel Islands was not on the same level as in occupied France, the Soviet Union or the Balkans. This could be explained by large numbers of men of military age leaving islands when war broke out. Also, the limited strategic importance of the islands may have reduced their interest to the Special Operations Executive (SOE). This is not to deny that resistance took place. Many islanders sheltered escaped slave labourers, who were used to build fortifications, and at least seven islanders died in concentration camps.
The film centres around Juliet Ashton, played by Lily James (Downton Abbey, War and Peace); a best-selling author who feels a degree of guilt about the limited role she played in World War Two. Lily finds herself travelling to Guernsey to discover more about this wartime reading and improvised food group. In one scene she tastes piece of potato peel pie and discovers that it tastes like, well – soil.
Lily discovers stories about wartime resistance, collaboration and the confiscation of livestock during the occupation; which explains why islanders were forced to live off food waste. Severe hardship came after the Normandy landings when the islands were cut off from both Britain and now liberated France.
Intertwined within the film is the story of Lily’s relationship with her American fiancé; as well as a love interest between her and Dawsey Adams, a Guernsey pig farmer/builder and a member of the society.
The film contains elements of well thought out symbolism; for instance, the Dakota transport plane landing on a beach arguably represents the power of US imperialism in the post-war era, as well as informing us that Guernsey did not have an airport at that time. Another scene when her fiancé straps her into the seat of the aircraft tells us all we need to know about her fiancé's over-bearing nature.
The film contains a star-studded cast including Penelope Wilton and Jessica Brown-Finlay (both previously from Downton Abbey). Another criticism of the film is that Ms Brown-Finlay’s role in the film is heavily underused, along with stories of resistance. The Guardian review for the film described it as “Downton Abbey subject to Nazi occupation”. However, is it correct to judge the film by the cast’s previous roles? There are numerous examples in both film and television of actors who have previously worked together reappearing in another production. They are, after all, actors.
Tom Courtney, who has played numerous roles since 1962, stars as the somewhat elderly post-master. The film also contains scenes of humour as well as posing complex questions about life under occupation. In the occupied Channel Islands women who had relationships with members of the occupying forces were referred to as “jerrybags”. The film raises the question – was it as simple as that?
Although I was initially disappointed with the film, it did raise a number of thought provoking ideas. Namely the ability of cinema to take us to times we will never be able to experience or relive; or to take us to places we may never visit. This can be seen in well created scenes of post-war Britain as well as Guernsey’s wonderful scenery.
It also contains an amusing scene of Tom Courtney’s character throwing up over a German soldier’s jackboot. If you view the film as a post-war coming of age drama, rather than simply about the wartime occupation of the Channel Islands, you will be less disappointed.

Reculver’s stormy past

Reculver's twin towers
By Carole Barclay

Back in the 1960s Reculver was a tourist haven, with the biggest caravan park in the country. Although most of the caravans have gone, visitors still throng the village at weekends and holidays to see the ancient ruins, or wander along the nature reserve and the coastal footpaths  that surround Reculver.
In Roman days Reculver was a thriving port and garrison town, the home to a coastal fort called Regulbium. Under the command of the Count of the Saxon Shore, it was part of a chain of defences that the Romans built to safeguard the south-east coast of Britain.
Storms and coastal erosion have long since swept the Roman town and half of the fort into the sea, but part of Regulbium’s sturdy walls can still be seen surrounding the lofty towers of what was once the major church in this part of north Kent.
The Saxon kings of Kent, who took over after the Romans, left the redundant fort to the Christians who built a church dedicated to St Mary inside the walls in 669. King Eadberht II of Kent was buried there in the 760s.
In medieval times Reculver thrived as a bustling port and market town, before rapidly declining because of the silting of the waterways and the advance of the sea. Storms accelerated the collapse of the cliffs, and by 1809 the church and most of the village was abandoned. St Mary’s was largely demolished and only the twin towers were spared to continue as a navigational aid for passing ships.
These days the towers and the ruins of what was left of the church still dominate the village as a reminder of a long-forgotten past whilst the sea recalls the secret tests of the ‘bouncing bombs’ of Dambusters’ fame that were carried out in 1943 along the Reculver coast.
Kent used to be a Tory bastion but the times are certainly changing. Canterbury went Labour at the last general election and Labour has begun to challenge the Tories, even in sleepy Reculver, through the efforts of the Momentum activists in nearby Herne Bay.
Reculver is well worth a visit. There’s an historic pub and a couple of cafes in the village, and entry to the ruins and the nature reserve are free.

Reculver is on the north Kent coast, and it is best approached by car because the nearest train station is four miles away at Herne Bay. The Canterbury to Herne Bay bus route also stops at the village.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

European Communist Initiative meets in Brussels

by New Worker correspondent
Andy Brooks and Peter Hendy at the meeting
The New Communist Party took part in the annual meeting of the European Communist Initiative (ECI) that met in Brussels on 12th April. NCP leader Andy Brooks and Peter Hendy from the Central Committee took part in the extended plenum of the anti-European Union communist committee that reviewed the work of the ECI over the past 12 months.
Important initiatives had been taken such as the ECI in Berlin commemoration of the Great Antifascist Victory of the Peoples in Berlin as well as the recent EC! Solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people Mission to occupied Palestine. On the basis of the complex developments in the sharpening of the competitions that aggravate the rivalries of imperialist war, the increasingly bellicose stance  of the US, NATO and the EU and the intensification of the anti-labour attack by capital,  the EU and its governments, a meaningful discussion was held and valuable experience was exchanged.
At the same time, a correspondingly ambitious programme of action was laid out. 

A plan of action over the next period was proposed that included:

·       The systematic monitoring of the development and intensification of the struggle against imperialist wars and interventions so that the struggle against NATO, the EU, foreign military bases, and the participation of the armed forces of our countries in missions abroad, will take on a mass character.
·       Preparation of actions against the NATO Summit in Brussels next July and a mass condemnation of the Common Security and Defence Policy of the EU.
·       An escalation in the struggle against anti-communism and the assessment of the possibilities of organising a joint event in 2018, where the historic contribution of the communist movement, the achievements and gains of socialism in the Soviet Union and the other socialist countries will be projected.
·       Creation of a plan to develop the work of the communists in the workers’ trade union movement, strengthening of our intervention in workplaces.
·       A continuation of internationalist solidarity with the Palestinian people and a mass condemnation of Israeli occupation.
·       Independent work and participation in the action of the class movement for Workers’ May Day.
·       Highlighting of contemporary popular needs for Health and Education.

On the basis of the proposals made by the parties of the Initiative and the positive discussion that took place, it was decided the European Communist Initiative would build relationships with communist parties outside of Europe with which, to one degree or another, there is agreement on the struggle against the EU,NATO and every imperialist union, and a convergence in ideological and political positions which have a clear orientation and struggle against capitalism and for a new socialist society. This can be done on the basis of the work of  many parties in the ECI that already have built and developed such relations with communist parties outside Europe.
Additionally, proposals were adopted by the Plenary for:

·       The organisation of a special meeting on the exchange of experience concerning the struggle of the communist parties in every country.
·       An event on the historic contribution of the communists, concerning important junctures in the class struggle in the century that passed and the projection of historical truth that is defended by communists.
·       Finally, it was decided that the composition of the Secretariat of the Initiative would remain the same which consists of the Communist Party of Greece, the Workers’ Party of Ireland, the Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain, the Communist Party Italy, the Socialist Party of Latvia, the Hungarian Workers’ Party, the Communist Party of Slovakia, the Communist Party of Sweden and the Communist Party of Turkey.