Thursday, 20 December 2007

Respect goes West: Mikes letter from America #2

Earlier this month, I attended my first demonstration in the USA. 200 of us braved the snow to protest about a recent incident where a series of hangmen’s nooses were discovered in a classroom on the Central Michigan University (CMU) campus. The hanging of nooses, the tool of the lynch-mob, is of course, widely recognised as an act of racist provocation. The demonstration called for the local public prosecutor to take action against the culprit, and more generally for the issue of racism to be taken more seriously by the authorities. To date, over a month after the incident, nobody has yet been charged.

Going on a demonstration in the US, especially among African-American civil rights activists, was rather different from anything I’ve experienced in the UK. The feeder march from the university to the prosecutor’s office began with everyone joining hands in a prayer, reflecting the involvement of church groups in coordinating the rally. Several speakers were church ministers, and they brought an evangelical fervour to the event. The presence of US flags on the march was also unexpected. In part, the use of the flag on demonstrations reflects the timidity of American liberals who fear being branded unpatriotic, but it also has a progressive element in the context of an anti-racist march, sending out the message that ‘we are Americans too’, and demand equal treatment. This is why the flag was so prominent on the marches of the Civil Rights movement in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Unlike the Union Jack, the US flag was once a banner of revolution, and was carried into battle by black and white soldiers fighting to end slavery in the Civil War. Significantly, one of the flags was flown upside down, signalling protest or distress. Two of the speakers were military veterans, who made the point that they had not served their country in order to be treated as second-class citizens.

The appearances of nooses at CMU is the latest of a series of such incidents across the country since the Jena incident in Louisiana, when African American students who attempted to desegregate their school premises by sitting under a so-called ‘White Tree’ where greeted with a set of nooses hanging from its branches. It would be easy to dismiss this as a throw-back to the days of segregation in the conservative south, except that some of the ‘copycat’ incidents that have followed occurred in the ‘liberal’ north. In one incident, a noose was found on the door of an African-American professor at Columbia University, an Ivy-League school on New York. Michigan, like New York, is a ‘blue’ (that is, mainly Democrat) state, with a large minority population, and a tradition of anti-racism stretching back to the ‘Underground Railroad’, the secret network that smuggled escaped slaves to Canada, but this has not stopped a recent rise in racism.

The right (which, sadly, appears to include the CMU student newspaper) has responded by trying to minimise the significance of the noose incident. The perpetrator confessed (anonymously) on-line, claiming it was a ‘prank’, and that he had not known the significance of nooses as a racist symbol. This is hard to believe, given the publicity surrounding the Jena and Columbia incidents, but if true, it reflects the extent to which the assault on ‘political correctness’ has succeeded. The dominant consensus in much of the media and popular culture today is that racism isn’t really a problem anymore, and that anti-racists are hypersensitive about ‘jokes’. The reality, of course is very different: African-Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed as their white compatriots, and if they are fortunate enough to find work, are paid on average about two-thirds the salaries of whites. However, the backlash helped the passage in last year’s elections of Proposal 2, a measure which bans the state of Michigan from promoting affirmative action programs that assist women and minorities. Needless to say, Proposal 2’s supporters did not say how they would end the affirmative action system that promotes idiot white male sons of ex-presidents to the highest job in the land.

Against his background, it was good news to hear about Oxford anti-fascists’ successful demonstration that stopped Nick Griffin and David Irving form speaking at the Oxford Union. And it’s even better news to hear o split sin the BNP. This just shows the effect that mass opposition to racists can have, and it’s a lesson and inspiration to us fighting racism in the USA.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Oxford Respect Xmas Curry

Over twenty people came along to the Oxford Respect Xmas Curry night at the Mirch Masala on Cowley Road this Friday. Oxford Respect would like to thank the restaurant staff for an excellent evening and send seasonal greetings to all our members, supporters and friends.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Local activists join climate protest

Members of the local CWU branch (left) were amongst a coach load of people from Oxford who joined the Campaign against Climate Change march in London this Saturday.

The march was part of a global protest in more than 50 countries demanding that governments meeting for Climate talks in Bali establish a strong and binding treaty to cap Co2 emissions.

The London protest was addressed by, amongst others, Tony Kearns from the executive of the CWU union. Trade union involvement in the Campaign against Climate Change is to be strengthened by a special conference in February, a flyer is avaialble here:

For a BBC report of the protests see here:

DWP strike solid across Bucks and Oxfordshire

A strike by civil service workers in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) brought job centres, benefit offices, the Child Support Agency and call centres to a halt on Thursday, the first day of a two-day strike.

The PCS union members are striking against Gordon Brown’s below inflation pay offer.
The two-day stoppage adds more pressure on a government already surrounded by controversy.

The strike was triggered by a pay offer imposed by the DWP which will see approximately 40 percent of staff receiving 0 percent pay increase next year.

“An estimated 70,000 PCS members supported the first day of the two-day strike over the imposed below inflation pay offer,” said a PCS spokesperson. “Many reps reported a better turnout than the excellent national action in May.”

Kate Douglas, joint branch secretary of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire PCS, reports that the strike has been well supported across the region. “The strike was very solid at the Oxford job centre where I work,” she said.

“We were also really pleased to hear that there were strong pickets at both sites in Aylesbury. Milton Keynes, where there are about 250 DWP workers, also had an excellent turnout for the strike."

The strike ends on Friday at 7pm and will be followed by a two-week overtime ban.

Some info on the strike:

Why are civil servants on strike?
The Government have insisted that pay rises for public sector workers are below inflation increases. But for staff in DWP the limit is to be capped at 1% per year over the next 3 years, with no increase at all for many in 2008.
Meanwhile inflation is over 4%.

DWP management have just imposed a 3 year pay offer despite it being rejected by a 3 to 1 majority of PCS members. Now they are refusing to even talk to the unions about this.

DWP staff perform vital jobs in getting unemployed people into jobs and paying pensions and benefits to millions. Every citizen uses the DWP during their life. The staff who work there should be valued for this work.

I thought civil servants were well paid?
Civil servants in DWP are on very low wages. Over half of DWP staff are paid less than £17,700. Some are on as little as £12,500 a year. Thousands have to rely on tax credits to make ends meet. It is a national scandal that the government stands back and lets city workers get £8 billion in bonuses while saying that civil servants must accept paltry pay raises to keep inflation in check.

The pay might be poor but aren't civil service jobs for life?
Not any more. In DWP alone we have lost over 25,000 jobs in the last three years, with still more cuts planned by the government. Hundreds of our members are currently under threat of compulsory redundancy and face an uncertain future. Management have refused to rule out compulsory redundancies, even though there is no real need for any in DWP.