Notes from the front – of the week 12/11/2015

Maximise Labour’s vote in Oldham – by opposing austerity and racism

The first parliamentary by-election since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour Leader takes place on 3 December. The seat of Oldham West and Royton became vacant following the death of the staunch left-wing Labour MP Michael Meacher. It is important for Labour’s new leadership that this electoral contest is won decisively.

The main political parties in the contest will be Labour, UKIP and the Tories, which secured respectively 54.8 per cent, 20.6 per cent and 19.0 per cent vote shares at the General Election in May this year.

Labour needs to convince voters it is the best alternative to the Tory government, that its policies defend and improve living standards and that UKIP’s racist campaigns are simply diversions to create scapegoats.

The local Labour campaign against Tory austerity has got off to a good start, pointing out that UKIP in parliament voted for the Tory cut to tax credits and ‘that’s £1,300 from 7,300 working families in Oldham West and Royton’.

UKIP is prioritising its usual racist script, denouncing so called ‘mass, uncontrolled immigration’, with a candidate who claims ‘we’re importing organised crime, unchecked from overseas’.

To maximise its vote, Labour needs to sustain its attacks on Tory/UKIP votes to cut living standards through to the by-election and also robustly respond to UKIP’s racism.

It is essential Labour arms up voters with arguments repudiating UKIP’s campaigns against migrants and Muslims. Not responding, or worse conceding, to racist myths, would undermine Labour support. Additionally, with one quarter of the constituency’s population being Muslims, of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage, Labour needs to demonstrate unequivocally it stands up to racism.

Amnesty should not defend the exploitation of women

Controversially, in August 2015 the leadership of Amnesty International voted in favour of a policy advocating full decriminalisation of the sex trade – including brothel keeping.

The safety from violence, trafficking and exploitation of those working in the sex trade, prostitutes and others selling sex is a legitimate concern. But the best route to deal with this is strongly contested and extremely polarised. Unfortunately Amnesty International, a weighty human rights organisation, has come down heavily on one side of this debate, and the position they have adopted has nothing to say about the role of brothel keepers and pimps in prostitution.

Amnesty’s position pays lip service to the notion that it is about decriminalising ‘consensual sex work’, but does not address the fact that many women (and young men) are forced into sex work through economic, emotional or other personal circumstances that they may not describe as coercion but are nonetheless a reflection of coercive and oppressive social relations.

The problems with Amnesty’s policy began to unravel when, in October 2015, it was revealed that the Vice President of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), a key an organisation cited in the drafting of Amnesty’s policy, was in fact a pimp, actively involved in coercing trafficked victims into the Mexican sex trade. She was convicted of sex trafficking in March this year and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

The key prosecution witness, a young woman who had been trafficked to Mexico City when she was 19 years old, described precisely the social relations that can cover actual coercion with apparent consent. She explained how her trafficker ‘wooed me, made me fall in love, and I believed everything he told me. That I would go live with him, that he was going to marry me…’.

The same organisation had also been appointed Co-Chair of the UNAIDS ‘Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work’, which authored an influential section of a UNAIDS report advocating the decriminalisation of pimping and brothel keeping.

Unfortunately this exposure does not appear to have made Amnesty think again about the dangerous blanket policy that it has adopted.

Defeat for Portuguese right

The pro-austerity PaF government in Portugal has been unable to cling onto power undemocratically after it lost a key vote in Parliament. The government had been installed by the President despite having lost the recent general election.

The combined vote of the Socialist Party, the Left Bloc and the CDU, a coalition of the Communist Party and the Greens, is enough for an overall majority. They have been working on building a broader coalition and it is widely expected that they will form the next government.

This is a clear victory for the anti-austerity forces and a defeat for the right, which had effectively mounted a parliamentary coup in trying to overturn the election outcome. It also represents a victory for the entire anti-austerity left in Europe, which has not been crushed by the defeat in Greece and the re-imposition of the Memorandum there by the Troika.

New challenges lie ahead, even if the resistance of the President is overcome and a new government is formed. A list of 51 measures has been agreed by the parties covering wages, pensions, employment, tax, social security, the civil service, public holidays and other matters.

However, Greece shows that even the mildest reforms will be fiercely opposed by the Troika and the recent history of the Socialist Party does not suggest it is thoroughly committed to opposing austerity. These are considerable hurdles. But the Portuguese left has inflicted a defeat on the right, and each new experience in government provides fresh encouragement and new lessons for the entire left throughout Europe.

Both the West and ISIS hope Sinai plane crash will deter Russia

The Russian Metrojet passenger plane which crashed in Sinai Peninsula on 31 October was most likely the result of a bomb. The Egyptian government has launched a formal enquiry.

The tragedy is a reminder that Russia is seriously trying to impose a defeat on ISIS, al Nusrah and their allies in Syria. The rebel fighters and their Western backers hope the jet crash impacts upon the Russian government policy in Syria. But with Putin’s most recent approval rating being a record high of 89.9 per cent (reported on 22 October) a change of course is unlikely.

The attack will, however, impact very strongly upon the Egyptian economy. 6 per cent of Egypt’s economy is made up of tourism, with 1.3 million jobs involved. 14.7 million tourists visited Egypt in 2010. The waves of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary mobilisations reduced visitor numbers to 9.9 million in 2014. Egyptian tourist agency sources are estimating that the incident will lead to a 50 per cent reduction in tourism revenues in Sharm al Sheikh and South Sinai.