Notes from the front – of the week 25/6/2015

Corbyn’s anti-austerity leadership campaign storms social media

Having secured a place in the Labour Leadership election, Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign is galvanising the left within Labour and beyond.

Well received by the audience at the 17 June Newsnight hustings, Jeremy got the loudest applause, particularly for urging Labour to move on from the mistakes of Blair and the invasion of Iraq.

On social media Jeremy outstrips his Leadership opponents with more positive mentions than any other candidate. In just one week his name cropped up 245,500 times on social media. His recently created Facebook page Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader has (on 24 June) 29,300 ‘likes’, that is more than the other three candidates combined and theirs are longstanding Facebook pages not recently created. Yvette Cooper has 12,600 ‘likes’ and Andy Burnham has 11,200. The Blairite Kendall has only 3,100 on her official page, whilst a recently established spoof page, Liz Kendal for Conservative Leader, already has 2,400 ‘likes’.

Jeremy addressed the End Austerity Now 20 June demonstration and his speech can be watched here.

Three trade unions have so far endorsed Jeremy’s campaign for Labour Leader, ASLEF and BWAFU, plus the Fire Brigades Union which disaffiliated from Labour in 2005. Other unions are yet to decide who they officially support, but TSSA did call on MPs to ensure he made it on to the ballot paper and there is significant support for him within Unite.

In London Labour’s Mayoral candidate selection Diane Abbott, like Jeremy in the leadership contest, is the only anti-austerity candidate. Jeremy is supporting Diane’s campaign. Diane is one of the five Labour MPs who in January voted against the Tories’ Budget Responsibility Charter which commits the government to £30 billion cuts of public spending.

Diane also spoke at the End Austerity Now demonstration, having helped build the event on social media and by emailing 40,000 London Labour Party members to encourage them to attend.

The Blairite in this contest, Tessa Jowell, is running the most right wing campaign London Labour has seen in years. Failing to challenging Tory policies, it is encouraging an anti-union and Islamophobic agenda as mentioned in this report here. This reactionary campaign is directed against Sadiq Khan, a Muslim MP who has backing from trade unions. Jowell’s campaign is making much use of the slogan ‘One London’ whilst simultaneously promoting this most divisive of politics.

Both Jeremy’s and Diane’s campaigns leafleted the anti-austerity demonstration. The left, both inside and outside Labour, are encouraging people to register their support for Labour to participate in the elections. Those unwilling to join the Labour Party, because its policies are so right wing, can instead become registered supporters, as long as they agree with Labour’s aims and values and do not support any organisation opposed to Labour. It is hoped that many will register and pay the necessary £3 to vote for Jeremy and for Diane also in London.

NATO steps up pressure – but Russia is not buckling

NATO defence ministers met on Wednesday 24 June, accompanied by a series of announcements setting out increased military deployments against Russia.

The US is sending tanks, heavy artillery and other equipment to central Europe and the Baltic states. A full US brigade’s worth of gear; 250 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and self-propelled howitzers plus 900 other vehicles and equipment, is heading to six countries; Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.

Another US initiative, also announced, is the creation of a 5,000 strong NATO ‘rapid reaction force’ able to initiate speedy military interventions around Russia’s borders, for which the US is providing fighter jets, drones and some commando units.

There are currently about 65,000 US service members permanently stationed in Europe, primarily in Germany, Britain, Italy and Belgium.

These new plans, to store heavy weapons near Russia’s borders and to create a new force that can intervene fast, will be the biggest increases in US forces in Europe since the Soviet era. The deployment of heavy weapons will contravene the promise made by NATO in the 1990s not to place bases in former Soviet states.

Norway’s announcement this month that it will play a role in the NATO ‘missile defence’ system has further increased the threat to Russia. The US already has three ships stationed in Europe to intercept intercontinental missiles, and will be sending a fourth, while radar and other missile defence equipment is currently installed in Poland, Romania, Spain, Turkey and the Czech Republic. The US is also pressing Denmark to join the ‘defence’ shield.

NATO unbelievably continues to claim this system on Russia’s western border is designed to intercept missiles from Iran and North Korea.

Additionally a record number of NATO troops has recently been participating in a slew of military exercises and war games across Poland and the Baltic states.

Russia has no option but to strengthen the forces that defend its western front, including its deployments in Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave bordered by Poland and Lithuania, and in the former Soviet republic of Belarus. It is also having to relocate the ballistic missiles and nuclear bombers that the new US missile ‘defences’ are targeted on neutralising. Otherwise it becomes vulnerable to a US nuclear first strike which it cannot retaliate to.

Meanwhile the Pentagon is training Kiev’s forces to attack the People’s Republics in Ukraine’s east.

The West’s capacity to increase its military pressure is constrained by its own economic weakness. Sluggish US growth and stagnation in Europe are continuing to require military budget cuts. Overall spending by NATO countries fell by 1.5 per cent this past year.

The Russian economy is also slowing down with GDP expected to contract in 2015, as the fall in the oil price and capital outflows have hit growth. There is undoubtedly increased hardship as living standards fall, but there is no pro-Western popular shift.

Russians’ support for President Putin has soared. This is largely due to Putin’s defence of the Russian population in Ukraine and Crimea. In May 2013, a little less than a year before Crimea rejoined Russia in March 2014, Putin’s approval ratings stood at 64 per cent. Now Putin’s approval rating has rocketed to 86 per cent.

The US is making no progress in breaking Russia away from pursuing its independent foreign policy.

Yemen – Saudi Arabia does not want peace

The UN sponsored Geneva talks on Yemen broke down on 19 June with no agreement. The Saudi aligned forces around former President Hadi are calling for the Popular Committees to withdraw from the areas they control. The Committees are backed by Ansarullah (Houthis).

Ansarullah and allies want a ceasefire agreement, and the formation of a transitional government before withdrawing from the areas they control. In addition they are demanding a humanitarian truce for the month of Ramadan, a halt to Saudi military action, and the delivery of humanitarian aid across Yemen. Because of US/UK support for the Saudi led coalition, Hadi’s supporters believe they need make no substantial moves to restore a political dialogue.

The Saudi military action continues to devastate the country. UN latest estimates are 2,600 killed and 11,000 wounded since 19 March. The UN has appealed for $1.6 billion to help 21 million people in need of aid in Yemen. The World Health Organisation estimates that there are 8.6 million people in need of ‘urgent’ medical aid.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence has now confirmed that it is providing technical support and arming Saudi Arabia during the war. This includes providing ‘precision guided weapons’. On 24 June documents leaked by Edward Snowden indicate that GCHQ has been involved in tracking targets for US drone strikes in Yemen in 2012.

The Stop the War Coalition has organised a briefing on Yemen and Saudi Arabia on 18 July at 2.15 in Conway Hall, London including speakers from Yemen and Bahrain.

Black lives matter – the growing struggle

In the wake of the racist murders in South Carolina the Black Lives Matter movement is back at the centre of US politics.

On 17 June nine black people were shot dead at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston by a white supremacist who wanted to start a race war.

The nearby North Charleston is where on 4 April an unarmed black man Walter Scott was shot fatally several times in the back by a police officer..

Since ‘Black lives matter’ became a rallying call last year, for demonstrations against the on-going protection of police who kill black people, some concessions have started to be won.

The norm in the US is that police officers involved in killing unarmed black people never face criminal charges. This past year, despite the protests, those responsible for killing Michael Brown in Ferguson, Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Eric Garner on Staten Island, were not charged.

But huge political pressure for some basic justice, encouraged by the nation wide protest movement, is making some gains. On 8 June a grand jury indicted the police officer, who gunned down Walter Scott, on a murder charge. Plus on 9 June the policeman who recently brutalised African American teenagers at a pool party in Texas was forced to quit his job.

President Obama is going to South Carolina to give a eulogy for the reverend killed in the attack.

The Charleston murders have spurred moves to delegitimise the Confederate flag – widely associated with support for slavery, racial oppression, Jim Crow and the public lynchings that continued to the 1960s.

In South Carolina and Alabama the state governors have called for the removal of the flag from the state’s Capitol buildings. Walmart, Sears, eBay, Amazon and Google are removing all Confederate flag merchandise from their websites. ‘Black Lives Matter’ graffiti is appearing on Confederate memorials across the US.

Following the Charleston church shootings, Black lives matter protests in several US cities have generated further momentum in this growing struggle against the brutal treatment of black people across the US.

Meanwhile minority left pressures are continuing to emerge in Democrat Party politics. There has been the election of some left wing Mayors, most notably Bill de Blasio in 2013 in New York. Now Senator Bernie Sanders, who describes himself as a socialist, is challenging Hilary Clinton for the Presidential candidate nomination.

These are indications of a shift in the class struggle, with the black population at the forefront.