Notes from the front – of 24/2/2016

Tories attack democratic rights

The Tory government is increasing its efforts to curb legitimate protests, aimed in particular at the movement in support of Palestinian rights and freedom. Last week the Tory government published a Procurement Policy Note which directs public contracting authorities not to utilise boycotts in procurement except where restrictions have been put in place by the UK government.

This is part of a Tory policy, following initiatives in the US, to halt the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Although not entirely clear, the Note is liable to deter public bodies from taking part in BDS initiatives. Alongside this, the government has begun a consultative process to limit the rights of local government bodies to engage in pension divestments for ethical purposes.

This will impact upon Palestinian campaigners. But it would also cover issues of the arms trade and the fossil fuel industry.

Taken together, the Note and consultation proposals represent a significant attack upon democratic rights.

A broad based campaign to defend local democracy and the rights of peaceful campaigns is necessary to fight these moves.

The US Black Lives Matter movement is advancing
– so step up the fight here

In response to the violent institutional racism in the US the movement for Black liberation is continuing to grow and win new support.

#BlackLivesMatter, the movement campaigning against the indiscriminately killing of Black people particularly by the US police, has recently received high-profile public support from figures in politics and popular culture, notably Bernie Sanders, Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar.

Last year (2015) US police killed more than 1,000 people. Amongst these, young Black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by a police officer. So despite making up only 2 per cent of the total US population, African American males aged 15-34 comprised more than 15 per cent of all those killed by police officers in 2015.

The oppression of Black people is institutional across the whole criminal justice system, including the imprisonment of disproportionately huge numbers of Black people. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Black people are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white people. African-American and Hispanic prisoners comprised 58 per cent of all those incarcerated in 2008, though the two groups only make up a quarter of the US population.

There are more African American men incarcerated in the US than the total prison populations in India, Argentina, Canada, Lebanon, Japan, Germany, Finland, Israel and England combined.

The privatised US prisons supply this disproportionately Black prison population as a labour force to corporations across a range of industries including agriculture, mining and manufacturing. For what is effectively forced labour prisoners earn pennies per hour, if anything at all.

The US-wide Black Lives Matter movement surged into activity following the acquittal in 2012 of the person who shot dead 17 year old Trayvon Martin in Florida.

In early February this year the internationally famous ‘superstar’ Beyonce took to the stage for the Super Bowl Halftime Show to perform her new single ‘Formation’ accompanied by all Black women backing dancers wearing black berets in the style of the Black Panther Party. The backing performers also formed an ‘X’ on the field – reported as being a reference to Malcolm X.

Beyonce’s music video for ‘Formation’ refers to the Black Lives Matter movement, racist police violence across the US and also reflects back on the US authorities’ racist response to the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

The rapper Kendrick Lamar followed this up with a sensational performance at the Grammys, where he made a powerful statement about Black incarceration with and referred to the Black Lives Matter movement and the racist killing of Trayvon Martin.

Meanwhile Bernie Sanders, who has been speaking out against Black deaths in custody, has been endorsed for President by Erica Garner in a moving video. Her father Eric Garner died in 2014 when police placed him in a ‘chokehold’. His last words, which have since become a campaigning slogan, were ‘I can’t breathe’. In the video Erica says:

‘My dad’s name is Eric Garner, No one gets to see their parent’s last moments. I was able to see my dad die on national TV.

‘They don’t know what they took from us. He wasn’t just someone. He was loved dearly… I’m just trying to get the truth out to tell his side of the story. He was murdered. I never want the world to forget what happened to my dad.’

Erica goes on to explain why she is backing Bernie Sanders for President:
‘I’m behind anyone who is going to listen, who is going to speak up for us. I think we need to believe in a leader like Bernie Sanders.

‘People are dying. This is real. We need a president that will talk about it.’

The growth of this US anti-racist movement has been an inspiration in Britain, where there have been protests in solidarity with the US’ #BlackLivesMatter.

Black people in Britain also come up against deadly institutional racism in the criminal justice system. Since 1990 153 Black people have died in police custody, 441 in prison plus more than 40 immigration detainees have died since 2004. Since 1990 there have been ten unlawful killing verdicts from inquests and a public inquiry, but none has resulted in a successful prosecution.

Progressive people should support the fight against racism and mobilise for this year’s UN anti-racism march in London.

* Stand up to racism & fascism – National Demo Saturday 19 March Assemble 12 noon London

Bolivian referendum
– another setback for Latin America’s left

The 21 February referendum proposal to allow President Evo Morales to run for re-election has been defeated. At the point when 99.7 per cent of votes had been counted, Morales’ bid to change the constitution had failed, by 51.3 per cent against and 48.7 per cent in favour.

The plebiscite is the only national poll Morales has lost, but it means he can not run again in the 2019 election.

Morales is Bolivia’s first ever indigenous President. He was first elected in 2005 (by 54 per cent) and since also won two further Presidential elections (64 per cent in 2009 and 61 per cent in 2014) defeated a recall vote in 2008 (with 67 per cent). He also changed the constitution.

As the left advanced across the continent during that period, their governments took advantage of the commodities boom, which was boosting growth, to institute a ‘revolution in distribution’.

In Bolivia the nationalisation of hydrocarbon extraction also added to the government’s resources, a key radical policy.

As a result, in Bolivia, the number living in poverty was cut by 25 per cent and in extreme poverty by 50 per cent. Between 2005 and 2012 the minimum wage rose by 87.7 per cent and the government health care budget rose from $195 to $600 million US. Rates of infant and maternal mortality have fallen dramatically. Education has been expanded and literacy programmes implemented.

The Constitution was changed to ensure indigenous representation in parliament and self-government for indigenous peoples.

Bolivia’s economy relies on natural gas and minerals exports, so when the commodities boom ended exports fell, economic growth slowed and government revenues shrunk. For the last two years the government has gone into deficit to maintain its spending.

The US intervenes heavily in Bolivian politics. Since 2005 its La Paz embassy’s clandestine activities led to the expulsion of several US officials including one ambassador. Also the National Endowment for Democracy has been dispensing millions of dollars supporting opposition parties and movements. In the run up to this referendum the US embassy directly funded campaigns.

Bolivian capital, in particular large landowners, merchants and elements connected to the former private hydrocarbon industry, was the main local force behind the ‘No’ campaign.

This setback in Bolivia follows the right wing’s victory in Argentina’s recent presidential election, Venezuela’s legislative elections, and the attempts to impeach Brazil’s President.

The huge redistributive achievements of Latin America’s left governments have benefited the majority of their populations. But unfortunately when confronted by negative world economic trends the governments have not been able to sustain strong growth. There has not been a ‘revolution in production’ to match their ‘revolution in distribution’ – an issue it would be beneficial to address.

The new Argentinean government is currently reversing the previous redistribution programmes and returning to neo-liberalism. A similar fate faces the populations in Bolivia and Brazil if they lose their left governments.

Since the loss of legislative elections in December the offensive against the Venezuelan revolution has intensified and the Chavistas are fighting back.

Now is the time to step up international solidarity.

* To find out more attend the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign Dayschool High Stakes in Venezuela & Latin America – Saturday March 5, 11.00am (tea, coffee and registration from 10.30am), ITF House, 49-60 Borough Road, London, SE1.
Invite friends on Facebook here
Register online