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Refugees from the Spanish Civil War, new film


This 2017 video says about itself:

Trailer: Un exilio: película familiar (In exile: a family film)

The wrongly-termed Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) left more than a million dead and over 500 thousand refugees, of which some 20 thousand are taken in by Mexico. Among them were the filmmaker’s grandparents, parents, aunt, and some of their friends. A tragedy of epic dimension that turned into the eventful stories of survival and venture the protagonists lived through and recall, intertwined with the shared history of Spain and Mexico in the XXth century –and beyond.

By Kevin Mitchell:

In Exile: A Family Film—Refugees from the Spanish Civil War

23 June 2018

Directed by Juan Francisco Urrusti

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), which ultimately resulted in the victory of Francisco Franco’s fascist forces, claimed the lives of over 1 million people and turned 500,000 more into refugees. Of these half a million, some 20,000 found refuge in Mexico under the left-nationalist government of Lázaro Cardenas. As the far-right gains strength in Europe and refugees scour the globe in search of asylum, the lessons of these past historical experiences today take on fresh urgency.

From Mexican documentarian Juan Francisco Urrusti (born 1954) comes In Exile: A Family Film, which traces the story of his grandparents and parents as they live and fight during the Spanish Civil War and later become political exiles in Mexico. It is an engrossing work, combining family home movies and photos with newsreel footage and contemporary interviews with the director’s family and their milieu in modern-day Mexico and Spain.

The viewer is left with an indelible portrait of not only the times but of the human beings who fought fascism and strove to create a better world in the first several decades of the last century. Though not without significant limitations, In Exile is a powerful reminder that the great questions of war and authoritarianism that defined the 1930s and 1940s are alive and well today.

In Exile starts with an overview of Spain in the early 20th century. In the words of one interviewee, “the heinous Spanish clergy” controlled everything. Heinous and wealthy. In the midst of the opulence of the clergy and the ruling elite as a whole, however, the vast majority of the Spanish population lived in extreme poverty. One interviewee observes that in Spain the rural proletariat “toiled in the fields from dawn till dusk.” In the factories, 12-hour shifts were commonplace.

By the 1920s Spain was ruled by Miguel Primo de Rivera, a right-wing general who dominated the country as a dictator. His authoritarian rule helped discredit the Spanish ruling class, and other figures and parties began to contest for power. We see footage of Francisco Largo Caballero who was the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and later prime minister of the Second Spanish Republic.

Unfortunately, much more could have been said about these political figures and parties, and the viewer is largely left to fill in the blanks. What is one to think when one of Urrusti’s interviewees says “I believe the Socialist Party back then was a lot different from the Socialist Party of today”? This (under)statement is true enough when one considers the extreme right-wing trajectory of the PSOE, but, unhappily, there is no elaboration.

Also problematic is the use of the term “liberal democracy” to describe Spain’s Second Republic, which came to power in 1931 after the collapse of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship and the exile of King Alfonso XIII. Spanish capitalism, under the impact of the Great Depression and the fall of the dictatorship, faced a fiercely militant, socialist-minded working class. All the objective conditions existed for a massive social transformation.

In early 1936, the Popular Front, an alliance of the … Communist Party of Spain, radicals, anarchists, [Catalan and Basque] nationalists and liberals, narrowly won the national election.

In Spain, following the 1936 election, the landowners and other reactionary elements immediately begin sabotaging the Republic and carrying out repression. In the province of Seville, in southern Spain, trade unionists were rounded up and shot, as were people who simply didn’t go to church.

Franco and his fellow military leaders plotted against the Republic. A military coup was scheduled for July 18 (it actually broke out a day earlier). …

We see footage of popular militias. The working class in Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia spring into action against the military and the fascists, blocking the coup from victory. …

Urrusti’s grandfather was in the Republican army and asked the militias to spare the lives of fascist troops. One interviewee explains that his father, a government telegraph operator, was shot for refusing orders from the fascists, and two of his uncles perished in this way.

A veteran of the International Brigades is also interviewed. This force was made up of 40,000 volunteers from 50 countries committed to the defense of the Republic, but was heavily composed of left-wing fighters … “At first there were only foreigners” in the brigade, a man tells the camera, “but as casualties mounted, they stopped coming.” We see the graves of the volunteers from England, America and elsewhere. …

With the Non-Intervention Pact, the Western “democracies” abandon the Spanish Republic, In Exile tells us. Even the League of Nations refuses help. For the uninformed viewer, this again needs elaboration, or correction. The bourgeois democracies were far more terrified of the Spanish working class and the possibility of social revolution than they were of a fascist victory.

Mexico and the Soviet Union were the only countries that provided any aid to the Republic, but this paled in comparison with the assistance, in the form of thousands of troops, modern military equipment and air power, that came from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy for Franco’s army.

The infamous Condor Legion, made up of German air force and army personnel, along with the Italian Legionary Air Force, bombs the town of Guernica, on a Sunday morning in April 1937 when the market is in full swing. Urrusti’s family members recall how they barely survived the bombing, in which some 50 tons of explosives were dropped in three hours. One interviewee remembers how “my mother was hanging clothes”, and the next moment, “she comes in with blood over her face.”

Urrusti’s mother is interviewed and she recalls her family’s flight into France. Hundreds of thousands of Spanish refugees would remain in what were essentially French concentration camps. While the authorities mistreated them, Urrusti’s mother remembers how “[French] people would bring us gifts, and adopt children.”

Urrusti’s family embarks on the ship Sinaia, bound for Mexico. Despite the perilous conditions, the exiles establish a daily newspaper on the ship and organize a band and dances to keep their spirits up. When they arrive in Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico, they are greeted with open arms by the local population, although demagogues, with ominous parallels to today, agitate against the “plague of Spanish refugees.”

With the fall of the Spanish Republic in April 1939 and the victory of Franco, the stage was set for World War II. Thousands of Spanish Republicans joined the French Resistance movement to fight the Nazis.

The first military units to liberate Paris were made up of Spanish Republicans, who expected to march on to their home country and overthrow Franco, but the Allied powers prevented them and ordered them to stay 150 kilometers from the Spanish border.

Urrusti’s mother remarks bitterly “I cannot forgive the liberal, democratic countries” for this treachery. With the advent of the Cold War in the 1950s, Franco’s Spain was regarded as an important bulwark against Communism and the US provided aid to the regime in return for military bases in the geostrategically critical Iberian peninsula. We see photos of Franco surviving into old age, posing with French president Charles de Gaulle and US presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

The Spanish people endure the bestial Franco dictatorship until 1975. Baltasar Garzon, the jurist who investigated Franco’s crimes and is today the head of Julian Assange’s legal team, observes, “The tragedy of Spain is that Franco’s trial and execution is still waiting.” …

In any case, the current political situation looms large in the conclusion of the film as we see Syrians in a refugee camp. Urrusti narrates, “As years go by, humankind becomes dehumanized and immigrants and refugees become marginalized, but this has always been a right-wing effort.”

The images of Urrusti’s family and their comments are especially moving. They strike one, especially by today’s standards, as personalities of substance. Urrusti’s achievement is that he attempts to place these individuals and their fates in an overall historical perspective. The film ends by dedicating itself “to the victims of fascism” and to those who “resist” it today.

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French teenager in Trump’s jail for jogging


Cedella Roman

United States President Donald Trump’s war on immigrants does not only cause much injustice at the United States-Mexican border. Also at the United States-Canadian border.

From Heavy.com in the USA:

Cedella Roman: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

By Paul Farrell

June 22, 2018 at 5:12pm

Cedella Roman is the French teenager [who] was held by U.S. authorities for two weeks after she accidentally jogged across the U.S.-Canadian border. In an interview with the CBC, Roman, 19, said that she was jogging along the beach on May 21 in White Rock, British Columbia, when she was forced off the beach due to the tide. After going on to a dirt path and stopping to take a photo of the coastline, Roman says, “An officer stopped me and started telling me I had crossed the border illegally. I told him I had not done it on purpose, and that I didn’t understand what was happening.”

Roman is a citizen of France and was in British Columbia to visit her mother in the town of North Delta. Roman told CBC that she didn’t have any documents with her during her jog. She said, “I said to myself, well I may have crossed the border — but they’ll probably only give me a fine or they’ll tell me to go back to Canada or they’ll give me a warning.”

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Roman Was Held in the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center, Over 120 Miles From Where She Was Arrested

Roman told CBC in her interview that she was taken to the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center, some 120 miles from where she was first taken into custody. Roman said, “They put me in the caged vehicles and brought me into their facility. They asked me to remove all my personal belongings with my jewellery, they searched me everywhere. Then I understood it was getting very serious, and I started to cry a bit.”

The Tacoma Northwest Detention Center is a privately run immigration prison that is run on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security.

2. Despite Roman’s Mother’s Attempts to Get Her Daughter Back, the Teenager Spent 2 Weeks in Tacoma

Roman’s mother Christine Ferne told CBC that she immediately went to Tacoma as soon as she learned her daughter had been arrested. Ferne brought her daughter’s passport and Canadian student visa documents. Ferne said that officials in Tacoma told her that she must go to Immigration Canada to ensure that Roman was permitted to be brought back to Canada. Ferne told the network, “It was just unfair that there was nothing, no sign at the border. It’s like a trap … anybody can be caught at the border like this.” The CBC report says that Roman was released on June 6 and Roman’s family don’t know if she will ever be able to return to the United States.

3. Roman Says on Her Facebook Page that She Is From a French Town that Is Right on the France-Italy Border

According to her Facebook page, Roman says she lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. On that profile, Roman says she is originally from the town of Briancon, France, in the south-eastern part of the country, north of Nice and close to the Italian border.

The story on Roman’s ordeal published in the Bellingham Herald, a newspaper based on the U.S. side of the border in Washington state, begins with the words, “The moral of the story is when you go out for a run, walk or hike, know where you are – exactly where you are.”

4. U.S. Officials Say Roman’s Treatment Was Done ‘Accordingly’

In a statement quoted in the CBC story, a U.S. Customs spokesperson said that Roman was “processed accordingly.” The teen’s treatment was in keeping with the policy of detaining and processing people who are deemed to have crossed the border at non-entry points. The spokesperson is quoted as saying, “This applies regardless of whether or not the individual claims to have inadvertently crossed the border.”

5. The Canadian-U.S. Border ‘Isn’t Marked in the Traditional Way’

This 2018 video is called Why the U.S.Canada Border Is The Most Bizarre Border in the World…

According to the Province, the Canadian-U.S. border “isn’t marked in the traditional way.” Areas of the border include “no-touch zones”, an 18 foot area that separates the two countries.

I myself have been in United States territory once: the ferry from Vancouver island to Vancouver city in Canada goes for a few minutes through United States territorial waters. Trump was not president yet. So there was no United States navy stopping us. I saw only killer whales. If the trade war between Trump and the Canadian government will escalate further, will United States warships then attack that ferry and arrest all the passengers and crew?

Dragonflies, other insects in city center


This video is called [Female] Green-eyed Hawker – Aeshna isoceles – Vroege glazenmaker / Schoten – Belgium / June 2015.

According to Leids Nieuwsblad weekly, 21 June 2018, green-eyed hawker dragonflies are among insect species seen in the Kruidentuin garden in Leiden city center. Others are hummingbird hawk-moth, European wool carder bee and hornet mimic hoverfly.

Grenfell activist Delaney against London Review of Books smears


This 14 June 2018 video from Britain is called LOWKEY ft. KAIA – GHOSTS OF GRENFELL 2 (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO).

By Alice Summers in England:

Grenfell fire: Local resident Joe Delaney speaks out against attack by Andrew O’Hagan on those seeking justice

23 June 2018

In its June 7 edition, the London Review of Books published an almost 60,000- word article, “The Tower,” on last year’s Grenfell Tower inferno by journalist and novelist Andrew O’Hagan. The essay marked one year since the devastating fire that claimed 72 lives. It coincided with the opening days of the official inquiry during which fire survivors and relatives of those who died gave moving tributes to their loved ones.

O’Hagan’s piece is characterised by vicious and dishonest misrepresentations and inaccuracies. It demonizes local activists, residents and firefighters, while offering up hymns of praise to the local Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) council. World Socialist Web Site writer Alice Summers reviewed O’Hagan’s essay here.

The following is an interview conducted by Summers with Joe Delaney, who was one of the people interviewed by O’Hagan. Delaney is a local resident who, years before the Grenfell Tower fire, established a record of fighting for the right to decent and safe housing. He has sought justice for the victims and survivors of the Grenfell fire, earning him the respect of the entire local community in the North Kensington area of London. Having lived in a flat adjacent to Grenfell Tower, he was evacuated after the inferno that left behind a toxic and burned-out shell. Forced to live in hotel accommodation for months, he has only recently been temporarily rehoused by RBKC.

Alice Summers: O’Hagan’s piece came out almost exactly a year after the fire, and at the same time as the opening of the inquiry, where survivors and family members were giving moving tributes to their lost loved ones. What do you think of the timing of this essay?

Joe Delaney: I think the main issue with the article is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. It’s caught halfway between an article and a book. If this had been a series of articles, with the first one coming out at the start of the inquiry and being about the victims, that would have gone down quite well. Then I don’t think people would have felt so hurt about the subsequent parts had they come out in subsequent weeks.

O’Hagan seems to take the opinion of whomever he happens to be with at the time. It seems that, unfortunately for us, the last people he spoke to were the council workers. That’s the opinion he’s left with at the end, and that’s the opinion that seems to have framed his whole argument, the whole direction and tone of his piece.

I can give you a very good example [of O’Hagan’s bias towards the views expressed by the council staff]. In one part of O’Hagan’s article he writes about how those who had lived in the tower were receiving £5,000 in the period immediately after the fire, and those who lived nearby were receiving £500. One of the phone calls I shared with O’Hagan was from the chap who lived next door to me [on the Lancaster West estate, adjacent to Grenfell Tower]. He went to pick up his £500 and the council said to him that he would only get £270, because he was a single person and the £500 was only for families.

I spoke to the council about this, pointing out that on the council website it says that people will be getting £500. After telling me that giving only £270 was the new policy, I asked the council worker where this was written down. He responded that it wasn’t. I asked him if this “policy” perhaps had something to do with the fact that my neighbour doesn’t speak English very well, as I came to the council the same morning and got my £500 without problems. Other neighbours of mine who were also single people also got their £500. This smacked of equalities issues to me.

I had to browbeat the council worker into giving my neighbour the correct amount of money. I shared this call with O’Hagan specifically, as this confusion and arrogance typifies the council’s response. It even goes against what central government was telling them to do: the leader of the council [Nicholas Paget-Brown] was standing next to Prime Minister Theresa May when this policy was announced. It’s on their website that we get £500; it’s on the central government website that we get £500. But yet somebody in their finance department just decided that he wanted to do things differently.

You can even see it from the way council staff speak in O’Hagan’s piece; “Of course we care about these people, we’re not horrible”, etc. It’s this paternalistic and patronising attitude. “Just be quiet, we know what’s best, we care for you.” But they were never treating people as equals; they were always treating the local residents as people that had to be managed. That’s where the big problem is and that’s what all of us have had, and still have, issues with. That’s why the name of the Housing Management Group became the Tenant Management Organisation: originally it was an organisation managed by tenants, and in the end its design was to manage the tenants and keep them quiet.

AS: From reading O’Hagan’s account you would not get that impression of the council. On multiple occasions in his essay he writes about times when council staff went out of their way to help survivors and local residents. In “The Tower ” he writes that these staff received a lot of abuse and ingratitude. O’Hagan presents council officials as the real victims in this story. What do you think of O’Hagan’s portrayal of the interactions between local residents and council employees in the immediate relief effort?

JD: On the ground council staff weren’t the one’s being blamed. It wasn’t like there were lynch mobs when on the ground council staff were seen out and about. We have always understood that they are not the ones who make the decisions. It was organ grinders that we were interested in, not monkeys. O’Hagan makes out that there was this mob mentality, this mob rule that was dictating all of our decisions. It is completely unfair to us and totally mischaracterises the area. It makes all of us seem like we were just money grabbers looking for handouts.

People weren’t housed in hotels the first night. Many people had to bed down on the grass in that area. I was lucky as I was able to stay with a friend of mine. I had never seen the area that busy even during the [Notting Hill] Carnival. Another example of council mishandling is the fact that when it came to 5 p.m. that night [the day after the fire], all calls were handed over to a call centre in the North of England, which had no idea what it was doing when it came to Grenfell-related matters. They were dealing with people as standard homeless applications so many were told they didn’t qualify for help. They were just treated as standard homeless cases.

AS: O’Hagan ends his account with the stories of two former Grenfell residents who have now been successfully re-housed. But he neglects to mention the fact that more than half of those who were made homeless by the fire still haven’t been given permanent homes. What do you think of the fact that so many families still haven’t been properly re-housed a year after the fire and of the fact that O’Hagan completely ignores this?

JD: It’s just not the case [that the housing problem has been resolved]. If you are not in permanent housing, then there’s still no stability for you and there is always this nagging worry that’s always at the back of your mind. Are we going to be moved out any time soon? Where are we going to be moved to? When will it all finally be settled?

I was offered one place in all the time I was in the hotels. The first place I was offered is the one I’m in now; I took it straight away. I know that all the other survivors and local residents are like this too. After some people did accept offers it then turned out that the accommodation was substandard. Some properties have to be modified, decorated, or otherwise had to be brought up to decent home standards.

There were numerous other issues. For one person who moved into a new place, that place then burnt down. It was shown on the “Panorama” [BBC] piece that came out a few weeks ago. He had barely been in his place a week when it burnt down. The properties the council was offering us were hardly brilliant flats. The “luxury block” that was mentioned in the media had balconies that weren’t properly fitted: the panels were loose and in some places you could easily fit a child’s head through them.

AS: O’Hagan’s account turns reality on its head. He tries to make out that the real victims of the fire were the senior council members who ended up losing their jobs, rather than those who lost their homes, their family members or even their lives in the blaze. He speaks about council leader, Nicholas Paget-Brown, and deputy leader Rock Feilding-Mellen in glowing terms. What do you think of the contrast between the way he presents the senior councillors and the way he presents local residents and survivors?

JD: These are people who should have lost their jobs in the months and years preceding the fire, because of the way they were treating people in the local community. They ignored issues that the community raised. [Grenfell Action Group member] Edward Daffarn and I would not be in the position that we are now—where councillors will not dare to take part in an interview or discussion with us—if they didn’t know that we can bury them with facts.

I’m not just going to launch into a personal invective attack on these people; the worst I have done was jokingly compare a councillor to a character from Harry Potter—this is hardly serious or damaging, but they have not been so gracious towards us. We can prove that on certain dates they said that things would happen, but then in subsequent weeks and months that the complete opposite happened. Can they not see that it is this shoddy attitude towards public consultation that led to this disaster?

AS: O’Hagan is very critical of the Grenfell Action Group in particular. He tries to portray them as a lying and unpopular group. But he also mentions in his essay that the Grenfell Action Group didn’t raise concerns over the flammable cladding, only over other issues such as exposed gas pipes and the proximity of the new school to the tower. We know that these issues were also very significant in allowing the spread of the flames and the smoke and in inhibiting the firefighters’ rescue efforts. But O’Hagan tries to present the Grenfell Action Group’s safety concerns as paranoid complaints that had little relation to the actual disaster.

JD: When it is the council’s side of the story that he presents, he writes that they weren’t building experts so how could they possibly know that this fire was going to happen. But when it comes to the victims, he writes that they didn’t know what they were talking about because they didn’t predict exactly how the fire was going to happen. It’s a ridiculous contrast that is completely unbalanced. Anyone who was actually affected by the fire is presented as a screaming maniac for taking a risk-averse attitude, whereas when it comes to everyone who had the power to actually make the necessary change, it is completely understood why they risked the lives of their constituents.

But it is their jobs to know these things. The burden of proof, the burden of being absolutely right, the burden of due diligence of care, or even of just being risk adverse is all on the victims in O’Hagan’s view, not the council which has the resources and legal obligations to be so. When I’ve worked in the public sector, I often had troubleshooting roles or responsibilities as part of my job, but even when this isn’t the case, if it is clear that something will not work or go wrong then I would always speak out. I’m not an expert in social services or education, any more than I am an expert in building control or planning, but you still try and apply a logical head to these issues.

The Grenfell fire was a perfect storm of problems. They were warned that the lack of fire access was going to cause problems, and it did. They were warned that the way that the building works were being undertaken, leaving exposed gas pipes, was going to be an issue, and the gas pipes were. There were so many different issues; the cladding is just one part of it. Maybe if the cladding had been the only issue in that building, this wouldn’t have happened.

We were told that we couldn’t have sprinklers in Grenfell Tower because they’d be at risk of vandalism. So while we couldn’t have pipes of water exposed in the building, pipes of gas were perfectly acceptable. The impact and likelihood of risk wasn’t being properly considered; this is what GAG [Grenfell Action Group] and others were highlighting. The incentive behind the job to undertake risk assessment and due diligence was completely the wrong way ’round. It’s very easy to decide to take a chance of a risk if you’re not the one who is actually going to face the consequences of that decision.

AS: O’Hagan also blames the fire brigade for the causing of all those deaths on June 14 by not responding in an adequate way and by sticking to the “stay put” advice. But he ignores the fact that the “stay put” policy would have worked had there been working fire doors, had there been proper compartmentalisation in the building.

JD: O’Hagan claims he went into this with an open mind and wanted to present a fair and balanced argument, but that is neither fair nor balanced. The landlords had a legal responsibility to ensure that its doors were adequate and could survive the correct amount of time under the circumstances of a fire. But they blatantly did not. Who else’s fault is that? Also, could the firefighters on the ground decide to ignore “stay put” themselves? Blame those responsible for the policy, not those forced to implement it.

There were also many times that the council was told that the [Kensington and Chelsea] Tenant Management Organisation [KCTMO] were doing things in such a slipshod manner that their reports saying that the building was safe clearly can’t be trusted. What due diligence did the council undertake to verify the information they were being given? Where there should have been decisions by the council to err on the side of caution, if it wasn’t politically or ideologically convenient to do so, then they were sure as hell not going to do that.

AS: O’Hagan’s article took him a year to write. Why do you think he dedicated so much time to slandering the North Kensington residents and exonerating the local council of any guilt?

JD: Like I said earlier, he has a very fair weather attitude: his opinion is the opinion of the last person he spoke to. It’s disappointing. This piece is going to be remembered for a very long time. I certainly would not want my name to be associated with authoring it. I wouldn’t have wanted to pre-empt things in the way O’Hagan has. It also contradicts the government’s own findings.

Even the Grenfell Taskforce has condemned the council. And that’s not a party/political matter; it was written by civil servants. The report from London Councils is even more scathing. Besides, it was a Conservative government that hung a Conservative council out to dry. What does that say about your bedfellows if that’s what they do to you when you’re under hassle?

The truth will start to really come out, about the way facts were ignored at the council, the way they didn’t follow up on issues, corners were cut and decisions were taken about gentrifying the entire area. It’s the same problem everywhere. And it’s not just a Conservative issue. Gentrification and [lack of] affordable housing are a Labour and Conservative issue. That’s why I have condemned both sides.

AS: O’Hagan himself makes reference to the fact that, like the Conservative-run Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Labour-run councils have also made cuts, have reduced their stock of social housing and have used the same cladding that was used on Grenfell Tower. But he turns this around to suggest that because other councils are also similarly criminal, it somehow reduces the guilt of the RBKC council.

JD: “What-aboutism” is no justification for what happened. It’s a ridiculous argument to put forward: “everyone was doing it at the time so it’s not fair that we are the ones who are punished.” It’s the “tobacco argument”: “it was legal to sell so we did so and we had no duty to consider or publish proving that it causes cancer.”

There were loads of issues raised regarding building standards. Even the standard terms and conditions of contracts that RBKC gets suppliers to sign state that contractors are under obligation to follow the law, and that any decisions where there is any kind of risk should be brought to the council’s attention so they can decide an appropriate course of action. They can’t now say that it wasn’t their fault. Either their procedures were inadequate then or they’re lying now. Either way, it’s self-serving: it always suits the narrative they want to serve.

For RBKC to wail that it is not fair for them to be punished for this when councils everywhere did the same is utterly contemptible. No pun intended but RBKC are the ones who got their fingers burnt first. There’s no use crying now.

O’Hagan clearly says he’s not an expert on these matters, but neither are we. But locals, especially GAG, were still right about what was going to happen and the extent of damage that would occur. Just because he didn’t like the message, the way it was presented, or by whom, is not a justification or reasonable excuse to shoot the messenger. Since the fire, I have often felt guilty because I wonder if events might have been different if I had complained louder or longer beforehand; I know others have felt the same way. Goodness knows how guilty we would feel if we hadn’t even tried to put a stop to these problems given the tragedy that occurred.

The way O’Hagan tries to present local residents, it’s as if being seen as too ignorant means you’re not allowed a position and therefore not allowed to argue back, but equally if you seem articulate and educated you’re not supposed to be there so you shouldn’t have a position and don’t have the right to argue back. It seems to me that his real motive is that he just doesn’t want people to argue at all. It’s a paternalistic and patronising attitude: “We know best, so just hush. You let the grown-ups do the talking and be grateful for what’s dished out to you.”

This attitude suits the council very well as they can use it to avoid scrutiny and remain unaccountable. Either locals are a feral mob who are too aggressive and uncouth to engage, or they are “agitators” from privileged backgrounds who have a wider agenda, which is served by unfairly bashing the council.

The fact that O’Hagan refers to me as “a politician” in his piece shows this attitude clearly. I grew up on a council estate in that area, don’t have a university education, and come from an Irish Traveller background—the most “political” I have ever been is voting, and my only agenda is to see the facts of this issue come to light to protect others and so those civilly and criminally liable are held properly accountable.

AS: At one point in his essay O’Hagan compares Grenfell Tower to Dickensian England: “In the eyes of some, the tower blocks are the continuation of the old habit of keeping minorities poorly housed. But, as always, it depends how you measure it. If the yardstick is the white people’s mansions on Elgin Crescent, then yes. If it’s Victorian pigsties, however, then improvement has definitely occured [sic], albeit too slowly and for too few.” What do you think of that?

JD: Exactly. “You’re better off than people were 150 years ago, so what are you complaining about?” It beggars belief. Instead of looking at the gap between the rich and the poor, we should actually be looking at the gap between the poor and the really poor instead—and those at the bottom are inconvenient, ungrateful and unreasonable if they dare do otherwise.

This attitude is ridiculous and leads to inequalities not just of wealth, but in other areas too—we’re back to the deserving and undeserving poor described by Dickens. This attitude was evident when the risk posed to the people who lived in Grenfell Tower was decided by ideology and convenience rather than reason or safety, and decided by people who would no doubt have demanded far higher standards had they lived in Grenfell Tower themselves as they “deserved” better.

British sexually abusive police spies and Lush cosmetics campaign


This Lush company video from Britain says about itself:

#SPYCOPS

1 June 2018

Undercover officers have infiltrated the lives, homes, and beds of activists since 1968. Their roles were to infiltrate political groups and collect ‘intelligence’ about planned demonstrations and the individuals involved.

An Undercover Policing Inquiry is taking place, but many campaigners have a complete lack of confidence in the public inquiry’s approach. We’re standing with them to put pressure on the UK government to make the Inquiry more effective, and we’re asking you to join us.

Find out more and get involved here.

Read more here.

By Margot Miller in Britain:

UK: Lush workers oppose attempt to gag campaign against police undercover operations

23 June 2018

UK cosmetic retailer Lush recently held a poster campaign against undercover policing in the face of intimidation of its staff by former police officers, encouraged by the Conservative government’s Home Office.

Lush is particularly popular with young people for its aromatic, hand-made cosmetics and hair products, which are not tested on animals. In 2007, it began donating to environmental groups.

… It has also campaigned for the release of Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer to the UK and has backed anti-fracking campaigns. Following the Grenfell fire, Lush stepped in with funding when the Conservative-run Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council did not provide translations of vital information for the tower’s survivors.

The high street chain began its latest campaign in conjunction with Police Spies Out of Lives campaigning support group and the Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance. Posters in its windows featured a male model dressed as both a policeman and activist with the slogan “PAID TO LIE”, and fake police tape printed with “POLICE HAVE CROSSED THE LINE”, Slogans on the posters included the words, “SPIED ON FOR TAKING A STAND” and #SPYCOPS INQUIRY: TRUTH OR COVERUP.”

The campaign aimed to highlight the decades-long infiltration by undercover police into political, environmental and animal rights groups and to express dissatisfaction with the ongoing inquiry into undercover policing. Such was the scale of infiltration by police agents that a number of them entered into relationships with activists and had children with them.

But within a week of beginning the campaign in early June, Lush was forced to pull down its posters in its 104 stores, declaring it needed to protect its staff from harassment. Staff reported ex-officers going into shops and intimidating them into removing the posters. The campaign continued on Lush’s website, featuring a long statement, “Exposing the spy who loved me” and inviting visitors to sign a petition.

Criticism of the campaign was led by Conservative Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who claimed it was anti-police and damaging to officers who were not part of the alleged wrongdoing. He condemned it as a “public advertising campaign against our hardworking police.” Also attacking Lush was Ché Donald, the vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales. The right-wing media did its utmost to vilify the campaign, with a Daily Mail front-page article headlined, “High Street Chain’s vile slur on police.”

This week, in an interview with the Guardian, two of Lush’s founders, Mark and Mo Constantine, stated that after the initial poster campaign, which began in 40 stores, shop staff “were followed home … and attacked on Facebook. The newspaper reported that “One uniformed police officer came to a shop and said they were going to organise an anti-Lush campaign.” Outside a shop in Leeds, two police officers on horseback stayed outside the store for a period.

However, such was the favourable response from the public, opposed to censorship in general, and the support of its employees for it, that the window campaign was relaunched. In a Lush branch in London and in other areas, including Northampton, staff held discussions and took votes to continue the campaign.

The following week, a new campaign poster was displayed in all its shops. This time there was no photograph but text pinpointing how undercover police spied on 1,000 political groups while “infiltrating the lives, homes and beds of citizens for 50 years.” It criticised the inquiry for being “increasingly secret and going nowhere.”

Police surveillance and infiltration of political and campaigning groups began in earnest in the 1960s and 1970s, a period of intense class struggle internationally, initially against anti-Vietnam War and anti-apartheid groups.

In 2011, at the instigation of eight litigants, a police investigation called Operation Herne was set up into the activities of the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), which operated in London between 1968 and 2008. The outcome was an apology and compensation of £425,000 paid to one woman who had been duped into having a relationship with Special Branch detective Bob Lambert and had his child, while he was working as an undercover cop.

More women reported that partners, with whom they had long-term relationships and even children, had in fact lied about who they really were—police spies. When confronted, some of the men confessed. Environmental activist Mark Stone confessed his real identity as Police Constable Mark Kennedy. An unknown number simply disappeared, after having informed for years on those closest to them.

In the words of Carolyn, a Police Spies Out of Lives campaigner, “You don’t have to do very much to end up on a police file, and potentially be labelled a domestic extremist.”

The police spies embedded themselves into the lives of their hapless victims, working undercover for five years on average. They harvested information from grieving families campaigning for justice after the death of relatives in police custody, for example. This included the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.

One of the victims, known only as Andrea, expressed the extreme hurt and trauma suffered by what was nothing less than “state sponsored abuse.” She had been deceived in a five-year relationship with police officer Mark Jenner. Not only did the officers steal and adopt the identities of dead children, but they stole the lives of their partners, who had assumed they were in a genuine relationship.

The evidence gathered from the work of the spies was used to form a blacklist to deprive socialists or militant workers of a living. The Metropolitan Police Service admitted they provided names from the blacklist to the major construction companies. In 2016, construction leader Sir Robert McAlpine paid out £75 million to 771 blacklisted building workers.

Unable to keep a lid on the scandal, in 2015 then Home Secretary Theresa May launched an inquiry into the activities of the SDS and also the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), which operated between 1999 to 2010.

Last year, the inquiry revealed that 1,000 organisations had been infiltrated and spied on. Their names, however, were withheld but the Pabloite International Marxist Group was one of the few groups identified. The inquiry has since released some of the cover names of spies and the organisations they infiltrated, including the Socialist Labour League and Workers Revolutionary Party—the predecessor organisations of the Socialist Equality Party (UK).

Like so many other inquiries—including the Aberfan and Hillsborough disasters, and the ongoing inquiry into the Grenfell fire—the purpose is to conceal the truth and protect the guilty.

After three years and at a cost of £10 million to date, the inquiry is still in the evidence gathering stage and not a single piece of substantive evidence has been heard in public due to police legal applications for anonymity. Hearings to examine evidence will not begin until next year and the inquiry, due to end this year, is not expected to conclude until 2018.

While the inquiry has identified, though not named, 171 members of the SDS and 84 members of the NPOIU, it is likely that Judge Sir John Mitting, chair of the inquiry, will receive their submissions in private.

Core participants have written to both previous home secretary Amber Rudd and Savid Javid conveying their concerns about the inquiry but have received no reply. In March, 60 campaigners expressed no confidence in the inquiry by walking out. Judge Mitting conceded their demand for a panel to join him but refused their other demands. They are calling for the inquiry to investigate operations in Scotland and abroad, and full disclosure of police files on individuals and all environmental and political groups as well as the undercover names of the spies. Without the latter it is impossible for all the victims to identify themselves or give evidence, and a cover-up is inevitable.

The attempt to silence the Lush campaign is of a piece with the evisceration of democratic rights in Britain by the government, police and intelligence agencies—epitomised most cruelly in the politically motivated incarceration of WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London these last six years.

The attempts to silence Lush take place as Google and other Internet conglomerates, backed by government of all political stripes, step up their censorship of anti-war, left-wing and socialist websites. Among their main targets is the World Socialist Web Site.

Noting the moves of governments to censor any dissenting voices, Lush states on its website, “Across the globe, governments are instructing Internet service providers to restrict Internet access, particularly to social media.”