Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

A Victory for the Maruti-Suzuki Workers

A Victory for the Maruti-Suzuki Workers


Delhi, 17 June 2011: The New Trade Union Initiative wholeheartedly congratulates the united workers of the Maruti-Suzuki Manesar plant for their victory early this morning in striking a 4-points Settlement with the management of Maruti-Suzuki India Ltd (MSIL). Through their unbreakable stand, the striking workers have asserted that the Freedom of Association and the Right to Organise are inalienable rights of all workers.

The Marutis-Suzuki Employees Union (MSEU) member and have bravely and consistently resisted the pressure to withdraw the registration application for their union, while facing intimidation and coercion not only from the MSIL management, but also from different avatars of the Government of Haryana itself.

The settlement’s terms that the terminations on the eleven terminated workers would be withdrawn and the workers will be taken back with no immediate punitive wage cut beyond 13 days of no-work is a leap forward for the workers struggle in the region. In the history of industrial disputes in MSIL no workers were ever taken back when terminated. This marks a new trend in the belt, and the MSEU will be remembered for making history.

The determination shown by the united workers in ensuring a final outcome where the no victimization clause is applicable to all workers in the plant, beyond permanent workers including contract, temporary, trainee and apprentice workers, is key to the success of this battle and of the battles to come.

And the struggle continues
The management is already declared that it would not allow workers to choose their representatives freely, by stating that it will not accept outsiders. In line with its shameless backing of MSIL’ management the Haryana Labour Department has declared that it will not accept the application for the registration of MSEU. The Government of Haryana will continue to act in collusion with the MSIL management to violate the Constitutional right of the Maruti-Suzuki workers, but workers in the belt will be ready to again stand united for the next round of this struggle for the recognition of their rights.

Building a new leadership of young workers
The young leadership that has emerged from the Maruti-Suzuki strike will be central to ensure that the trade union movement in Gurgaon will deepen further, taking the queue from the unconditional support provided by the Maruti-Suzuki Solidarity Committee. The battle to come will require a militant struggle in the entire auto belt and further into the region combined with a legal battle for the recognition of the legitimate MSEU.

FBI escalates witch hunt against antiwar activists

FBI escalates witch hunt against antiwar activists

David Bernt
 In an escalation of their McCarthy-style witch hunt of antiwar and trade-union activists, on May 17 the FBI and Los Angeles County Sheriffs raided the home of veteran Chicano activist Carlos Montes. Sheriff SWAT teams broke down the door of Montes’ house at 5:00 a.m. Sheriff’s deputies rushed into the house with automatic weapons while Montes was asleep. The deputies and FBI agents then proceeded to ransack the house and seized computers, phones, documents, photos, and other records of his political activity. Montes was arrested on one count of possession of a firearm. Carlos Montes is an active supporter of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR), a nationwide coalition that was formed last September in response to FBI raids on the homes of activists in Minneapolis and Chicago. The FBI was investigating the activists’ trips to Colombia and Palestine, where they had traveled to witness efforts to resist repression by U.S.-backed regimes. The government subpoenaed 23 activists to appear before a grand jury, and all have refused to do so. U.S. Attorneys claim they are investigating the activists’ support of “terrorist” organizations. In reality, the government is attempting to send a chill throughout the social justice movements, sending a message that if you get involved in challenging U.S. imperial policy you could be next. Supporters organized pickets in cities around the country. On May 25 in Chicago, 30 activists gathered for a press conference and picket line outside the federal building. Jesus Guillen, a leader of the Moratorium on Deportations Campaign, spoke in defense of Montes and the 23 subpoenaed activists: “We cannot stay quiet; we have to demand the return of all property taken from Montes; that all charges have to be dropped against him and against all those who have been subpoenaed for fighting for justice in the U.S. and abroad.” Alejandro Molina of the Boricua Human Rights Network noted that government repression of activists and immigrants is on the rise. “Under Obama’s administration, there have been more attacks on dissidents and more deportations than under Bush. Also under President Obama, the parole for Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera has been denied.” The raid in Los Angeles comes on the heels of another escalation of the attacks on activists. Palestinian community leader Hatem Abudayyeh, one of the 23 subpoenaed activists, learned on May 6 that his accounts with TCF bank had been frozen. Bank managers refused to say why the account was frozen, and told Hatem Abudayyeh that he could not release any of his assets. Supporters from across the country called the offices of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control demanding the return of their money and an end to the harassment. On May 10, TCF notified Hatem that they no longer wanted to provide banking services to him and that they would write him a check for the value of his accounts. His attorney, Michael Deutsch, said, “In my opinion, the bank did not act out of the blue. I suspect that the FBI and U.S. Attorney investigation caused the bank to overreact and illegally freeze the Abudayyehs’ banking accounts that had been there for over a decade.” The following week CSFR released a cache of FBI documents that was accidently left by agents in the apartment of Mick Kelly and Linden Gawboy after the Sept. 24 raid of their home. The documents reveal that agents were instructed to bring assault rifles and consider Kelly and Gawboy as dangerous, and that paramedics were on hand in the event of casualties. The FBI documents contained a series of questions related to travel in Colombia and Palestine and specific persons they had met. Fifty-seven of the questions were related to the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, a group that some of the subpoenaed activists support. Bringing back memories of the McCarthy era, the document instructed agents to ask, “Are you a member?” “How many members are there?’’ “Who are the leaders?” At a May 18 press conference another subpoenaed activist, Jess Sundin, said, “The documents confirm what I have been saying since Sept. 24 about this case: I am being targeted for who I know and what I believe, specifically for my work in solidarity with Colombia, work that has always been open, public, and legal. None of this is about ‘material support of terrorism,’ as any normal person would understand it. None of us have ever given money or arms to any of the groups on the government’s list. Instead, this about criminalizing antiwar and international solidarity activists for practicing our rights to speak out and organize.” > The article above was written by David Bernt and first appeared in the June 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.

Socialism and the future

Socialism and the future

Ernest Mandel Print
[From International Viewpoint. This is the text of a speech delivered to the third meeting of the Sao Paulo Forum of left parties, held in Nicaragua in July 1992.]

Since the mid-1970s a deterioration of the balance of forces between the classes has taken place on a worldwide scale. The main reason has been the onset of a long-lasting depressive wave in the capitalist economy with a continuing increase in unemployment. In the imperialist countries, unemployment has increased from 10 to 50 million people; in the Third World it has reached 500 million. In many of the latter countries, this means that 50% or more of the population find themselves without work.

This massive rise in unemployment, and in the fear of unemployment among those who have jobs, has weakened the working class and facilitated the worldwide capitalist offensive aimed at increasing the rate of profit through pushing down real wages and cutting social and infrastructural costs. The neo-conservative offensive is only the ideological expression of this social and economic offensive.

The large majority of the leaderships of the mass parties who claim to be socialist have capitulated before this capitalist offensive, and have accepted austerity policies; this has been seen in countries as diverse as France, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Venezuela and Peru. This has disoriented the working class and, during a whole period, has made it more difficult for the masses to undertake defensive struggles.

This capitulation of the Social Democracy has been coupled with the ideological and political impact of the crisis of the systems in eastern Europe, the ex-Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China and Indochina, which is fomenting a profound and near universal crisis of the credibility of socialism.

In the eyes of the great majority of the population of the planet, the two principal historical experiences in constructing a classes society - the Stalinist/post-Stalinist/Maoist and the Social Democratic - have failed.

Of course, the masses understand very well that this is the failure of an overall radical social objective. But that does not imply a negative assessment of the important concrete changes in social reality in favour of the exploited that have taken place. In this latter sense, the balance sheet of more than 150 years of the activity of the international workers' movement and all its tendencies, remains positive.

But this is not the same as a belief by millions of workers that all immediate struggles will increasingly lead to the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and the advent of a classless society without exploitation, oppression, injustice or mass violence. In the absence of such a conviction, immediate struggles are fragmented and discontinuous, without overall political objectives.

The political initiative is in the hands of imperialism, the bourgeoisie and its agents. This is clear from what is happening in eastern Europe where the fall of the bureaucratic dictatorships under the impact of broad mass struggles has led not to a political initiative in the direction of socialism but rather, towards the restoration of capitalism. The same thing is beginning to happen in the ex-Soviet Union.

The masses in Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Union, not to mention countries like Cambodia, identify the Stalinist and post-Stalinist dictatorship with Marxism and socialism, and they reject all of these equally. Stalin murdered a million Communists and repressed millions of workers and peasants.

This was not the product of Marxism, socialism or of the revolution; it was the result of a bloody counter-revolution. But that the masses still see these things differently is an objective fact that bears heavily on international political and social realities.

This crisis of the credibility of socialism explains the principal contradiction of the world situation at a time when the masses are fighting in many countries, often on a larger scale than ever before.

On the one hand, imperialism and the international bourgeoisie are not capable of crushing the workers movement as they did in the 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s in the big cities of Europe and Japan and in many other countries. But, on the other, the working masses are not yet prepared to fight for a global anti-capitalist solution. For this reason we are in a period of worldwide crisis and disorder in which neither one of the principal social classes is capable of assuring its historical victory.

The principal task of socialists and communists is to try to restore the credibility of socialism in the consciousness of millions of men and women. This will be possible only if our starting point is the immediate needs and concerns of these masses. Any alternative model of political economy must include these proposals. Such proposals must give the most concrete and efficient aid to the masses to fight successfully for their needs.

We can formulate these in near biblical terms: eliminate hunger, clothe the naked, give a dignified life to everyone, save the lives of those who die for lack of proper medical attention, generalise free access to culture including the elimination of illiteracy, universalise democratic freedoms, human rights, and eliminate repressive violence in all its forms.

None of this is dogmatic or utopian. Although the masses are not ready to fight for socialist revolution, they can wholly accept these objectives if they are formulated in the most concrete way possible. They can unleash broader struggles in the most diverse forms and combinations. For this we must try to be as concrete as possible in our propositions. What type of food production is possible? With what agrarian techniques? In which places? Which materials can be produced? In which localities or nations on the largest international scale?

But when we examine the conditions needed to achieve these goals, we arrive at the conclusion that such a program implies a radical redistribution of existing resources and a radical change in the social forces that hold the decision making power over their use. We should be convinced that the masses who are struggling for these objectives will not abandon the struggle when reality demonstrates these implications.

Herein lies one of the historical challenges facing the socialist movement: to be capable, without prior conditions, of leading the broadest mass struggles to achieve humanity's most pressing current needs.

Is such an alternative model possible in today's society without a short or medium term goal of taking or participating in concrete power, in the short or medium term? I believe that this is the wrong way to put the question. It is clear that there is no way of avoiding the problem of political power. But the concrete form of the struggle for power and, above all, the concrete forms of state power, must not be decided beforehand. Above all, the formulation of concrete objectives and concrete forms of struggles for definite needs must not be subordinate to objectives realisable on the political plane in the short term.

On the contrary, the objectives and forms of struggle must be determined without any political prejudices whatsoever. The formula must be that of the great tactician Napoleon Bonaparte which was repeated many times by Lenin: "on s'engage et puis on voit" (we join the battle and then we'll see).

This is how the international workers' movement in the period of its most impressive mass activity conducted its campaigns for two central objective: the eight-hour working day and universal suffrage.

Cannot imperialism today or, more accurately, imperialism allied with big capital, impede the realisation of these same objectives in the countries of Latin America? Cannot imperialism block the influx of capital and the transference of technology even more than is already being done through the pressures of the IMF and World Bank?

Again, I believe that posing the question in these terms can lead us into a trap. The truth is that nobody can give an answer to this beforehand. In the final analysis, all depends on the balance of forces. But these are not predetermined and are constantly changing.

Furthermore, the struggle for realisable, precise objectives by mass action is precisely one way to change the balance of forces in favour of the workers and all the exploited and oppressed.

It must not be forgotten that imperialism is undergoing a profound crisis of leadership. While consolidating its military dominance, Yankee imperialism has lost its technological and financial dominance. It is no longer capable of imposing its will on its principal competitors, Japanese and German imperialism. Neither can it control the possible reactions of the masses in the United States nor on an international scale.

Under these conditions there are many possible forms for a successful struggle for the immediate cancellation of payments on the foreign debt. It is highly unlikely that the Latin American governments and those of the Third World will take any such step. But if a country like Brazil in the event of a PT [Workers Party] victory were to do so, we cannot beforehand predict the reaction of imperialism. They could impose an economic blockade, but it is far more difficult to blockade Brazil, the most developed country in Latin America, than smaller countries like Cuba, not to mention Nicaragua.

And Brazil has the capacity to respond with a political offensive, with a politico-economic Brest-Litovsk and to lead many countries and masses of all countries by saying: Do you agree that our people are being punished for wanting to eliminate hunger, sickness and violations of human rights? The answer of the working masses of the world is not a foregone conclusion; it could be insufficient, it could be positive. But it is a great battle that could change the world political situation. It could allow a further change in the balance of forces; it could help restore faith in a better world.

These themes are the fundamental methodological approach of Karl Marx: the struggle for socialism is not the dogmatic and sectarian imposition of some pre-established objective on the real movement of the masses. It is only the conscious expression of this movement out of which the constituent elements of a new society can grow out of the seeds of the old.

We can illustrate these themes in relation to the central problems of today. Multinational companies exercise a greater and greater domination over ever larger sectors of the world market. They represent a qualitatively superior form of the international centralisation of capital. This leads to a greater internationalisation of the class struggle.

Unfortunately, the international bourgeoisie is much more prepared and coherent in this sense than the working class. In a fundamental sense there are only two possible answers for the working class to the actions of the multinationals: either it retreats into protectionism and defence of so-called national competitiveness, that is, class collaboration with the bosses and the government of each country against "the Japanese", "the Germans" or "the Mexicans"; or solidarity with the workers of all countries and against all national and international exploiters.

In the first case, an inevitable downward spiral of cuts in wages, social protection and labour conditions in all countries would occur, because the multinationals could always exploit a country with lower wages, transfer production there or blackmail the worker's movement into giving concessions beforehand.

In the second case, there is at least the possibility of a rising spiral that can steadily raise wages, increase social protection of the less developed countries and reduce differences in living standards in a positive direction.

This second possible response is not at all opposed to economic development or the creation of jobs in the Third World. It implies, rather, another model of development which is not based on the exporting of low wages, but rather, on the growth of the national market and the satisfaction of the basic needs of the people.

The struggle for this internationalist response to the offensive of the multinational companies requires immediate common concrete initiatives on the union level, especially between delegates; and independent and militant rank-and-file initiatives in all the factories of the world that work for the same multinational or in the same industrial branch. This has already begun in a small but real way; the North American Free Trade Agreement, the attempt to transform Mexico into a vast maquiladora [low- wage "free economic"] zone, opens the road to this response and can be extended to all of Latin America in opposition to the so-called Initiative for the Americas.

At the same time, the so-called new social movements merely reflect the anguish of large social layers abandoned by the dynamics of late capitalism. This dynamic involves the danger that these layers will increasingly depoliticise and could constitute a social base for right- wing attacks, including neo-fascist ones, against democratic freedoms. Any policy of "social peace" or of pseudo-realistic consensus with the bourgeoisie produces the impression that there are basically no other political options, and thus makes the danger worse. This is why it is vital for the workers' movement to establish structural alliances with the " underclass", the unorganised, and help them organise, defend themselves and achieve dignity and hope.

In all of these instances, this must be done in a non-dogmatic way, free of the attitude that one possesses all of the truth - the definitive answer. The building of socialism is a huge laboratory of new experiences which are still undefined. We must learn from practice, especially from these same masses. For this reason, we must be open to dialogue and fraternal discussion with the entire left, with all firmly defending the principles of their current and organisation.

In a larger sense, we must take into account the fact that the stakes in the world today are dramatic: it is literally a question of the physical survival of humanity. Hunger, epidemics, nuclear power, the deterioration of the natural environment: all of this is the fundamental reality of the new and old capitalist world disorder.

In the Third World, 16 million children die of hunger of curable diseases a year. This is equivalent to 25% of the deaths of the second world war, including Hiroshima and Auschwitz. In other words, every four years, there is a world war against children. This is the reality of imperialism and capitalism today.

This inhuman reality produces inhuman political and ideological effects. In north-east Brazil, the lack of vitamins in the diet of the poor has produced a new species of pygmies, of men and women who have undergone physical changes that make them 30 centimetres smaller than other people in the same country. There are millions of these unfortunates, called by the ruling class and its agents "human rats", with all the de-humanising implications of such terms, reminiscent of those developed by the Nazis.

With the gradual restoration of capitalism in eastern Europe and the ex- Soviet Union, everything that is barbaric and socially retrograde is beginning to be reproduced. The privatisation of the large enterprises could produce up to 35-40 million unemployed and a 40% fall in workers' earnings. Socialism can regain its credibility and validity if it is ready to totally identify with the struggle against these threats. This supposes three conditions:

1. The first is that under no circumstances does it subordinate its support for the social struggles of the masses to any political project. We must be unconditionally on the side of the masses in all their struggles.

2. The second is that we carry out propaganda and education amongst the masses for an overall socialist model that takes into account the experiences and new forms of consciousness of recent decades.

We must defend a model of socialism that will be totally emancipatory in all areas of life. This socialism must be self-managing, feminist, ecological, radical-pacifist, pluralistic; it must qualitatively extend democracy, and be internationalist and pluralist - including in terms of multiparty system.

But it is essential that it emancipate the direct producers, which is impossible without the progressive disappearance of the social division of labour between those who produce and those who administer.

The producers must hold the real decision making power over what they produce and receive the best part of the social product. This power must be exercised in a completely democratic manner; that is, it must express the real aspirations of the masses. This is impossible without party pluralism and the possibility of the masses to choose between various concrete variants of the central economic plan. It is also impossible without a radical reduction in the daily and weekly work load.

More or less everyone agrees about the rising level of corruption and criminalisation in bourgeois society and the disappearing post-capitalist societies. It is utopian and unrealistic to hope for the moralisation of civil society and of the state without a radical reduction in the importance of money and market economies.

A coherent vision of socialism cannot be defended without systematically opposing selfishness and the pursuit of individual gain in spite of their consequences for society as a whole. Priority must be given to solidarity and cooperation. And this presupposes precisely a decisive reduction in the importance of money in society.

3. The third condition is the total renunciation on the part of socialists and communists of all substitutionalist, paternalist and top-down practices. We must reflect upon and transmit Karl Marx's principal contribution to politics: the emancipation of the workers will be the work of the workers themselves. It cannot be done by states, governments, parties, supposedly infallible leaders or experts of any kind. All of these are useful, even indispensable, for the struggle of emancipation. But they can only help the masses to free themselves; they cannot be a substitute for them. It is not only immoral, but impractical, to try to secure the happiness of people against their own beliefs. This is one of the principal lessons that can be drawn from the collapse of the bureaucratic dictatorships in eastern Europe and the USSR.

The practice of socialists and communists must be totally consistent with their principles. We must not justify any alienating or oppressive practices whatsoever. We must, in practice, realise what Karl Marx called the categorical imperative: to struggle against all conditions in which human beings are alienated and humiliated. If our practice is consistent with this imperative, socialism will once again become a political force that will be invincible.

Sharp Drop in Groundwater Levels Around Coca-Cola Bottling Plant

Sharp Drop in Groundwater Levels Around Coca-Cola Bottling Plant

Community Demands Closure of Plant as Summer Begins in India

For Immediate Release
April 25, 2011


New Delhi: In yet another shocking incidence of groundwater depletion as a result of Coca-Cola's bottling operations in India, government data has confirmed a sharp drop in groundwater levels in Mehdiganj near the city of Varanasi since Coca-Cola began operations in the area in 1999.


The latest groundwater data, obtained from the Central Groundwater Board, validate community concerns that Coca-Cola's operations have resulted in the community being deprived of water, and strengthen their resolve that the Coca-Cola bottling plant must be shut down.


Groundwater levels in Mehdiganj have dropped 7.9 meters (26 feet) in the 11 years since Coca-Cola started its bottling operations in Mehdiganj, from 2.05 meters below ground level (mbgl) in 1999 to 9.95 mbgl in 2010.


In the 11 years prior to Coca-Cola beginning operations in Mehdiganj, groundwater levels had actually risen 7.95 meters, from 1988 (10.00 mbgl)) to 1999 (2.05 mbgl).


Coca-Cola has effectively nullified all the groundwater gains made in Mehdiganj, primarily due to community efforts, prior to its arrival.


The groundwater conditions in and immediately around the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj - surrounded by farms - is even more critical.


The company claims that it does not measure groundwater levels at the point of extraction - an irresponsible move by a water guzzling company - if indeed it were true. Official Coca-Cola documents filed with the government, and obtained by us, however, confirm that groundwater levels at the bottling plant is one of the most critical in the entire area - 23.75 mbgl in 2008 according to Coca-Cola itself.


Mehdiganj is suffering from acute water shortages which have been particularly severe in the last two years - 2009 was officially declared as drought affected, and 2010 witnessed significantly lower than normal rainfall.


Water shortages for the community are most acute in the summer months - exactly when Coca-Cola reaches peak production, and as a result, exponentially worsening the water crisis.


"Coca-Cola must shut down its bottling plant in Mehdiganj as the summer season has started in India," said Nandlal Master of Lok Samiti, the primary community group spearheading the campaign against Coca-Cola. "It is abundantly clear that Coca-Cola and water scarcity go hand in hand, and we will increase our efforts to close the plant in order to ensure that the villagers have water for drinking and farming."


Mehdiganj is the latest in a series of community led campaigns across India that have accused the company of exacerbating water shortages and pollution.


In Kala Dera in the state of Rajasthan, groundwater levels fell just 3 meters in the nine years prior to Coca-Cola's bottling operations. However, groundwater levels have dropped 22.36 meters in the nine years since Coca-Cola began operations. A Coca-Cola funded study has recommended the closure of the Kala Dera facility.


One of Coca-Cola's largest bottling plants in India, in the village of Plachimada in Kerala, has been shut down since 2004 as a result of community opposition. The community led campaign has succeeded in passing state legislation holding Coca-Cola accountable for $48 million in damages caused as a result of its operations.


In response to the continuing campaigns against Coca-Cola in India, the company has announced ambitious water conservation measures, the vast majority of which have been outsourced to foreign NGOs in India.


Critics have dismissed such announcements from Coca-Cola as primarily public relations efforts to deflect attention away from the legitimate and provable allegations of water depletion and pollution.


Amazingly, Coca-Cola has also announced that it has become water neutral in India, a claim they have not been able to substantiate. The idea that the Coca-Cola's operations in India have a "neutral" impact on water resources is preposterous.


Coca-Cola has chosen one of the most water stressed countries in the world - India - to announce water neutrality. And yet, it has not been able to become water neutral in relatively water-healthy countries such as Canada, Norway and Sweden. Critics dismiss Coca-Cola's actions as fantastical with no basis in reality.


"The confirmation of the sharp groundwater decline in Mehdiganj and elsewhere runs counter to the messages being sent out from Coca-Cola's public relations department that the company respects communities where it operates. Shutting down the Mehdiganj bottling plant is the only socially responsible action that Coca-Cola can take. Anything else will continue to subject the community in Mehdiganj to thirst and loss of livelihoods, courtesy Coca-Cola," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning group.


For more information, visit www.IndiaResource.org


Nandlal Master, Lok Samiti +91 94153 00520
Amit Srivastava, India Resource Center +91 98103 46161 (India) +1 415 336 7584 (US)



FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. India Resource Center is making this article available in our efforts to advance the understanding of corporate accountability, human rights, labor rights, social and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

POSCO : Solidarity is Urgently Needed


Villages Dhinkia, Gadkujang, Nuagaon; Erasama Block, Jagatsinghpur District, Odisha


Women, Children Beaten; Thousands Assembled on Village Border to Resist; Betel Vine Farms Illegally Destroyed, District Administration Threatening People Over Loudspeakers

Today, following two weeks of illegal land grabbing on the fringes of the POSCO area, the administration has announced it will begin the attack on the main area tomorrow, namely the gram panchayat of Dhinkia, containing more than 2/3rds of the land for the project. Seventeen people - eight men, four women and five children - were arrested and beaten up today for opposing the illegal destruction of their betel vines in the village of Noliasahi, on the coast. The administration is now sending loudspeakers on vehicles around the area, threatening people with the use of force if they do not consent to the destruction of their farms within 24 hours. More than 2,000 people have assembled on the border of Dhinkia panchayat to defend their homes and lands and more are joining. The attack in the other villages is also expected tomorrow. 

The sheer criminal, corrupt venality of this government is shown by the fact that these children, women and men were arrested even as the case filed by villagers was scheduled for hearing in the High Court today. The matter did not reach and is now posted by the 8th. It is clear that the government intends to try to use maximum force to complete the task before the 8th and present the court with a fait accompli. 

The Congress at the Centre and the BJD in Odisha have shown their true colours. Shedding crocodile tears in Bhatta Parsaul, talking of anti-corruption while breaking every law to favour corporates, putting up "green Ministers" like Jairam Ramesh whose only job is to cover up crimes; all these lies stand torn to shreds in our lands today. Even after official committees, anti-corruption activists, and protesters from Dhinkia to South Korea to New York have exposed the evil of this project, our people are facing the guns of the police for doing nothing except upholding justice.

We will fight to the last. Our fight is not just for our lands but for the future of our country, to save it from the criminal cabal who extract the blood of our people, our lands and our forests to sell it to the highest bidder. We call on all citizens who care for India to join us in our fight for justice and real democracy in this country. 

Prashant Paikray, Spokesperson, 09437571547

Resurgence of Working Class Struggle in the USA

From International Socialist Review

The lessons of Wisconsin’s labor revolt

Lee Sustar looks at the impact of the Wisconsin uprising on the U.S. labor movement

WITH THE mass labor mobilization in February against anti-union legislation in Wisconsin, the U.S. working class showed a fighting capacity unseen in decades and joined the worldwide resistance to the austerity agenda pushed by governments worldwide. Despite one of the biggest illegal job actions in decades, labor lost this battle as the direct result of union leaders’ refusal to use the strike weapon at the decisive moment.

Nevertheless, the Wisconsin uprising highlighted the extent of working-class radicalization under the impact of prolonged economic crisis and ceaseless attacks on wages, benefits, working conditions, and union rights. The U.S. labor movement, used as a punching bag by Republicans and a passive cash cow by Democrats, was suddenly and undeniably alive and kicking, with a creativity, flair, and militancy that inspired similar protests in neighboring states and solidarity protests across the United States. The mainstream media, which typically parrots the politicians’ attack on “overpaid” public sector workers, was forced to acknowledge that the Wisconsin demonstrations are evidence that the “sleeping giant” of U.S. unions has awakened.

In fact, the Wisconsin protest didn’t come out the blue. The nationwide solidarity for workers under attack recalled the 1997 UPS strike, and the broad array of unions demonstrating in the streets resembled the 1999 protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization. The sweep and scale of the working-class mobilization brought to mind the enormous May Day immigrant rights protests of 2006, which unions also had to scramble to keep up with.

But there was something qualitatively different about the Wisconsin mobilization. It was a sense that being a worker wasn’t something to be ashamed of, but, rather, a point of pride. While there was of course a range of political views among the workers involved, there was also a basic shared sense that big business and the Republicans had pushed too far—and that there was no choice but to fight. And while Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker won this round, the workers involved will never be the same—and they’re already debating how to win the next time.

In the near term, the momentum remains with the politicians and employers who are intensifying Corporate America’s 35-year war on labor. Walker ultimately pushed through a plan that effectively eliminates meaningful collective bargaining for public sector workers and imposes sharply higher employee contributions to health care and pension funds. The new law, which appeared to clear legal challenges as the ISR went to press, has only encouraged anti-labor forces across the United States. Education Week reported on March 30 that, “Bills to eliminate or curtail collective bargaining, do away with teacher strikes, or curb union-dues deductions are advancing in more than a dozen state legislatures.”

With this wave of legislation targeting public sector unions, the anti-labor forces have come full circle. Thirty years ago, President Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization—PATCO—who were federal employees. That move accelerated the attack on private sector unions, which now represent just 6.9 percent of workers, compared to a 36.2 percent unionization rate in the public sector. With public sector workers now accounting for a majority of union members overall, the attack on their unions is bound to accelerate.

Thus in Ohio, Republican Governor John Kasich pushed through another bill targeting public sector unions that is in some ways more restrictive than its Wisconsin counterpart, as it limits collective bargaining for police and firefighters as well. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill that allows him to appoint emergency financial managers to oversee local government bodies and tear up union contracts. Big labor protests in those states—modeled on the demonstrations in Wisconsin, but not on the same scale—failed to stop that legislation.

With Walker, Kasich, and Snyder playing the role of bad cop, Democratic governors can pose as a more reasonable alternative, even as they push their own attacks on public sectors. Thus, in California, Governor Jerry Brown used the Republican minority in the state legislature as a bogeyman to pressure state employees’ unions to take concessions beyond the $400 million they accepted last year. “I tell my union friends, you’re going to have to make some changes now, or much more drastic changes later,” Brown said.

In New York, Democratic Andrew Cuomo is demanding $450 million in union concessions or threatens that he will lay off 9,800 state workers—and he’s got the support of a business group that raised $10 million to conduct a political campaign against the unions. In Illinois, the Democratic state legislature is set to pass sweeping education “reform” that guts Chicago teachers’ right to strike and dramatically weakens tenure rights and the seniority-based layoff system.

In Michigan, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, a Democrat, is demanding a new round of concessions from city employees. Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager for the Detroit Public Schools, declared April 15 that he “fully intend(s) to use the authority that was granted” by Governor Snyder’s new law in order to cut jobs and compensation of Detroit teachers. And it was none other than President Barack Obama who signaled open season on teachers unions by requiring states to pass anti-union legislation to qualify for $4.3 billion in the federal Race to the Top education fund and, more recently, by announcing a two-year wage freeze for all federal employees.

It was this political climate that emboldened Scott Walker to try and destroy public sector unions in the state where they first won formal collective bargaining rights. While much is made—rightly—of Walker’s connections to the billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch, the fact is that the Wisconsin governor is simply the sharp end of a very long sword that’s being used to attack organized labor in general and public sector unions in particular. But in Wisconsin, Walker provoked a rebellion that caught everyone by surprise—even those who initiated the resistance.

The struggle—anchored by a four-day statewide teachers sickout, a dramatic occupation of the state Capitol, and a series of mass protests—had the potential to win. Even in defeat, the Wisconsin rebellion highlighted the potential not only to revive U.S. unions, but also to put organized labor at the forefront of the struggle to defend all workers against relentless attempts to slash their standard of living. Solidarity was the watchword, not just between different sections of unions that rarely stand together, but between union and nonunion workers, too. The self-organization, creativity, and dynamism on display during the three-week mobilization were in sharp contrast to the choreographed rallies and constricted “messaging” typical of the “mobilization model” used by many unions. This time, rank and file union members led the way. Their leaders had to run to catch up.

The transition from protest to mass movement came February 17, when teachers from around the state swarmed into the Capitol and took up positions outside the Senate chamber, alongside large delegations of high school and college students. Thousands more teachers jammed the three balconies beneath the Rotunda, and, after a noontime rally, delegations of workers streamed in, with firefighters in the lead. Meanwhile, activists were blockading Democratic state senator’s offices to prevent law enforcement from physically forcing them to be present in the Senate to provide a roll call.

Since activists were unsure whether the Democrats had made it out of the building, they moved to tighten their blockade of the Senate chamber. The students blocking access had as their ally a large man in a Steelworkers jacket, who blockaded an elevator near the door. All the while, constant chants from the crowd—“This is what democracy looks like!” “People power,” “Union power”—meant that people trying to converse had to shout themselves. There were no organized speakers that day. Instead, the crowd improvised communication through signs, banners and cheers.

The loudest roar came, like the previous day, when members of the Wisconsin Professional Fire Fighters Association marched through the rotunda. Another big hit was a sign carried by a bearded man in his 20s that read: “I Went to Iraq but I Came Home to Egypt.” There were many other signs with the same theme, such as “Walker, Pharaoh of the Midwest,” and depictions of Walker alongside ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak.

In the days that followed, the Capitol turned into a liberated zone, both an organizing center and a symbol of popular defiance to Walker’s highhanded methods. Building trade union members delivered bratwurst, students staffed information tables, and organized areas for sleeping, study and children’s play. And of course, the constant meetings and debate brought people out of relative isolation and into a heady new mix of union members, community activists, social issue campaigners and more. And on the days of all but the last of the massive Saturday rallies of 100,000 and more, workers from around Wisconsin, the Midwest and across the United States were able enter the Capitol to get out of the cold and into the center of debate, while tens of thousands more marched in the streets around the building in a kind of giant picket line.

Thus workers in Wisconsin captured the imagination—and won the support—of workers around the United States and internationally. From the delegations of union members from as far away as Los Angeles to the workers in Cairo who bought Ian’s Pizza for delivery to protesters, it was clear that Madison was seen internationally as a key test of labor’s resolve in the face of anti-worker attacks and part of an international rebellion against overreaching leaders. And the workers in Wisconsin saw themselves that way, too.

It would be a mistake to overstate the Egypt-Wisconsin parallels, of course. The anti-democratic excesses of a right-wing hack like Walker, even when bolstered by superrich capitalists like the Koch brothers, obviously can’t be compared to a 30-year U.S. backed dictatorship where all unions are state controlled. But it would be a much bigger error to ignore the connections between the struggles. Both were the result of accumulated grievances over many years, and a product of an intensifying class struggle internationally in the wake of the world economic crisis. And certainly the two-week occupation of the Capitol took Cairo’s Tahrir Square as a reference point. As in Egypt, protesters used the space that they had appropriated to debate how to take the movement forward. In this way, they attempted to overcome the lack of basic organization that had existed prior to the struggle. Suddenly, firefighters, teachers, students, highway workers, ironworkers, steelworkers, retail clerks—were discussing and strategizing as activists in a common movement, not just members of individual unions.

But perhaps the most memorable—and important—thing was the conversations and debates—whether one-on-one in an impromptu gathering on the street or as part of an hours-long strategy discussion about what to do next to maintain the occupation of the Capitol or how to organize a general strike. Suddenly, problems that had seemed to be individual burdens to bear—lousy pay, a lack of job security, rising health care costs—were seen in class terms. Conversations that began from countless starting points moved toward the same conclusion: The bosses and the politicians on their payroll are to blame for our problems, and we have to stand our ground and fight back—together.

The spark that lit the Wisconsin rebellion was industrial action. After members of Madison Teachers Inc. had a sickout February 17 and turned out en masse at the Capitol, leaders of their parent union, the 98,000-member Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) called upon its entire membership to skip work and come to the Capitol. Tens of thousands more union members managed to come on a regular basis, some also calling in sick or using vacation days. The building trades unions, whose members are being hammered by prolonged mass unemployment in the construction industry, were strongly represented from the outset.

The teachers’ sickout and blockade of the Senate chambers was an implicit but unmistakable confrontation between workers’ collective power and the norms of electoral politics—that is, in Marxist terms, bourgeois democracy. But union leaders, still devoted to partnership with employers and committed to safe political solutions to their problems rather than risky industrial conflicts, predictably recoiled from that battle. By Tuesday, February 22, almost all teachers were back at work, and the balance of forces immediately shifted in Walker’s favor. By the following Monday, the occupation of the Capitol was over when, according to the top police official in the building, the unions had agreed to drop their support for the action. For their part, the Democrats spared no effort to disorganize and demoralize those committed to the occupation. On February 27, Democratic staffers and their supporters took control of the open mic to call for leaving the building, and Wisconsin Rep. Brett Hulsey called for activists to follow him out the door. Hulsey’s efforts fizzled when socialists, student activists, and firefighters’ union leaders convinced a large contingent to stay for the night.

From the beginning, the union leaders’ aims were as narrow as possible: the preservation of collective bargaining rights and the automatic deduction of union dues from workers’ paychecks. Union officials who addressed the crowd rarely made explicit commitments to fight the other atrocities included alongside anti-union legislation in Walker’s so-called “budget repair bill.” These attacks included severe cuts in Medicaid and BadgerCare, the state health program for low-income people, and the privatization of the University of Wisconsin’s flagship Madison campus.

Union leaders didn’t even challenge Walker’s claim that the state budget deficit required workers to take concessions. “We are prepared to implement the financial concessions proposed to help bring our state’s budget into balance, but we will not be denied our God-given right to join a real union,” said Marty Beil, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 24, the umbrella organization for workers employed by the state of Wisconsin. “It’s not about the money,” he said, adding, “We will not—I repeat, we will not—be denied our rights to collectively bargain.”

AFSCME Council 24 offered to take not only economic concessions, but also floated the idea of a two-year “freeze” on collective bargaining—as long as the unions could continue to collect dues through payroll deductions. In short, union leaders were prepared to see members take what will amount to a 7 percent pay cut and be without effective representation for two years in exchange for the flow of dues that cover union officials’ own pay and benefits. Instead of standing their ground and insisting that the budget shortfall could be easily made up by rescinding the tax cuts Walker had pushed through for the state’s wealthy, the union’s not very inspiring proposal was that labor fight to maintain collective bargaining in order to bargain everything away.

While offering economic surrender, the unions tried to raise the political pressure on Walker by pouring resources into mass protests while 14 Democratic state senators fled the state to block action on budgetary issues. But Walker was unfazed by protest, and union leaders, who had dropped all calls for protests after a mass rally February 26, seemed paralyzed. It was left to the Madison area building trades unions to call a protest for the following Saturday as top officials groped for a strategy. Finally, the union officials announced a plan: labor would organize for the recall of eight Republican senators to deprive Walker from control of the state legislature. A mass rally was set for March 12 to mark the end of the protest phase and the beginning of the recall effort. It wasn’t necessary to counterpose the recall campaign to escalating action. But the union leaders consciously and systematically did exactly that.

In any case, just two days before the final labor rally, Walker’s allies in the state Senate rammed through the anti-union legislation by detaching it from budget, thereby eliminating the requirement of a quorum for the vote. The question was posed point blank: Would the massive March 12 rally, estimated at 150,000, be a springboard for labor action that could stop the bill, such as a general strike? Or would it remain the electoral rally that union leaders wanted?

For union officials, further industrial struggle was out of the question. As it became clear that Walker would move to push through the anti-union legislation, AFSCME and WEAC, the teachers’ union, began pushing members to ratify contracts with local governments and school boards as quickly as possible. To entice management into making these agreements, the unions agreed to virtually all of Walker’s economic demands. But by extending contracts, the union leaders were able to delay the effect of the new anti-union laws—and keep the dues money flowing.

Yet these terrible contracts are only a stay of execution for a couple of years unless Walker himself is recalled (which could happen in 2012) and the law is overturned—a long shot at best. Nevertheless, union leaders were unwilling to take the one action that had the possibility of winning—public sector strikes, which are illegal under state law. Their caution flows the conservative nature of the trade union bureaucracy: The union officialdom functions as a mediating layer between workers and employers.

In the United States, the union bureaucracy is particularly conservative, preferring to cling to the illusion of a labor-management “partnership” it established in the boom years of the 1950s and 1960s. That arrangement always favored the bosses. But employers abandoned partnership more than 30 years ago in favor of a one-sided class war—one that has been escalating in a bid to destroy public sector unions, one of the remaining redoubts of union strength. Unfortunately, union leaders from the United Auto Workers to AFSCME prefer to preside over decline and maintain control over weak and shrunken unions rather than take the risky confrontation necessary stop the employers’ attacks and rebuild the labor movement.

Was there an alternative? Certainly groups of activists pushed for more militant action—extending the occupation of the Capitol, other protests, job actions, and more. The idea of a general strike, usually discussed by labor history professors and socialists, was discussed from day one of the struggle. The difficulty was that the low level of politics and organization in the unions prior to the movement made it difficult for militants who favored such a strategy even to find one another, let alone organize themselves to challenge the strategy of union leaders. And given the dearth of strikes over the past several years, it’s not surprising that an electoral strategy seems a more realistic strategy to many.

But the operative word here is “seem.” The trial run for the electoral approach was the April 5 election for a State Supreme Court justice in which a liberal Democrat challenged a Republican incumbent. Last-minute electronic ballot-box stuffing in a Republican county seems to have maintained the seat for the Republicans. But even if the vote was stolen, the question remains: How, given the scale of the sustained labor protests, could the unions’ candidate lose in a statewide election?

The answer can be found in the nature of electoral politics itself. At the ballot box, we are expected to make our choices of candidates (limited, of course, in advance by party hacks) as individual citizens. We are bombarded with advertisements and news coverage as individuals, and are expected to make our final decision in the privacy of the ballot box. Finally—and crucially—the unions seek to replace the Republican senators not with independent labor candidates, but with Democrats, members of a party that is also carrying out anti-union attacks. In fact, Walker’s Democratic predecessor as governor, Jim Doyle, boasted that he carried out the largest cuts in state workers’ compensation in the state’s history.

It is collective struggle by workers, not voting, that opens the way to more effective action and still greater involvement by larger numbers of workers. It was the teachers’ sickout that powered the first phase of the Wisconsin protest and inspired hundreds of thousands more to get involved. Walker and his counterparts across the United States have made it clear that even the biggest protests won’t deter their attack on unions. Ultimately, workers’ power lies in their ability to withhold their labor. Unless and until mass protests are combined with a readiness and a willingness to strike, the attack on public sector unions will continue.

For now, in Wisconsin, activists are dividing time between recall efforts and forging the links between groups targeted by Walker. For example, a group of labor and community activists launched the Kill the Whole Bill coalition, since renamed Wisconsin Resists. The impetus for that organization, as well as a “No Concessions” meeting February 27 hosted by National Nurses United, was the widespread sentiment for a broad movement that could unite all working people, union and non-union, targeted by Walker’s bill.

Nationally, however, union leaders are content to use Wisconsin to promote the image of a revived labor movement, rather than taking the kind of action necessary to accomplish that goal. For example, the AFL-CIO day of action April 4—timed to coincide with the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King—was impressive in the number of protests involved, but most stressed elections rather than the kind of action necessary to stop the union busters. The notable—and impressive—exception was International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, which shut down the port of Oakland and surrounding areas that day despite the inevitable employers’ lawsuit filed against them. (A defense committee for the local has since been formed.)

More Wisconsin-style attacks on the public sector are coming—the bipartisan anti-labor crusade will make sure of that. That’s why it’s important that every union activist—indeed, everyone who supports labor, or is interested in organizing their workplace—initiate discussions about the Wisconsin rebellion and prepare for those fights before they happen. That means preparing rank-and-file organizations that are clear about the stakes of these struggles and that are prepared to take the initiative when union leaders are unwilling or unable to do so.

Developing a strategy to stop the attack on public sector unions, whether from Republicans like Walker or Democrats like Brown or Cuomo, means reviving the strike as a weapon. In Wisconsin, the Madison-area South Central Federation of Labor voted to endorse a general strike if other labor bodies called one, and assigned an education committee to prepare for such an eventuality. But top labor officials squelched any official discussion of such action even as Walker dropped the pretense that his anti-labor law had anything to do with the budget and pushed it through without Democratic support.

Union leaders will no doubt deem as unrealistic public sector strikes at the local or state level, let alone general strikes, as unrealistic. But it is they who live in a fantasy world. The blitz against public sector unions and labor in general will not end unless and until labor is powerful enough to stop it. That means taking strike action, despite the injunctions, fines, and strikebreaking that the employers will use to defeat it. If union leaders are unprepared to take the necessary steps to meet that challenge, rank-and-file union members will have to take the initiative themselves. Such a struggle seemed far-fetched not long ago. But the Wisconsin uprising showed that U.S. workers are ready and able to step up the fight. The one-sided class war is over. And our side has the power to win.

Feminism and the soul of secularism

Feminism and the soul of secularism

Rahila Gupta


Secularism, as a concept, appears to be in danger from both the left and the right. Among feminists, it tends to be only some minority women scrambling for the soul of secularism. It is time for all feminists to muck in, says Rahila Gupta

Marieme Hélie-Lucas, founder of Women Living Under Muslim laws (WLUML), speaking at a conference on ’Secularism, Racism and the Politics of Belonging’ organised by the University of East London and Runnymede Trust in January [1], posed an important question: in the face of so much discrimination, why do women of migrant Muslim-descent still choose to support secularism? She was, of course, speaking about the the North African community in France, particularly Algerians, who had fled the rise of religious fundamentalism at home. However, it is no less valid a question to pose about minority women in the UK despite their very different histories. It is also important because it shifts the focus from those women who use their religio-political identity to challenge racism to those who recognise the dangers of that strategy.

As much of state policy constructs minority communities in terms of their religious identity, it is a question of particular interest to Southall Black Sisters (SBS) who have resisted religious categorisation in their provision of a secular service to women escaping domestic violence. Their new report, Cohesion, Faith and Gender [2] which will be launched on 16 March explores precisely this question through in-depth interviews with women of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian backgrounds who use the centre. For those who associate secular ideals with Western values, it may come as something of a surprise that all but one of the women did not want religious authorities to shape their lives. Whilst the majority of women were believers, they wanted a clear separation of their spiritual needs from their social needs. Most felt a primary loyalty to their gender identity and found that any attempt to assert their rights had met with the disapproval of religious leaders. They welcomed an inclusive and secular space such as the one provided by SBS because they carried memories of the gendered, caste-based and religious discrimination they had faced in their countries of origin.

To some extent public policy is influenced by the public debate. Secularism, as a concept, appears to be in danger from both the left and the right. The growing popularity of the term, secular fundamentalism, an oxymoron if ever there was one, is part of the continuing attempt to discredit it. Although secularism was traditionally the preserve of the left, some on the left have abandoned this territory, in the face of rising anti-Muslim racism and the state’s War on Terror, and developed an anti-racist politics that gives succour to religious extremism rather than challenging it. The marches against the war in Iraq, for example, that were organised by the Stop the War coalition in which the major partners were the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Muslim Association of Britain, often used slogans like ‘We are all Muslims’. Rallies started with prayers from the podium! This is not the way we tackle ‘islamaphobia’, certainly not by squeezing our public secular spaces.

Similarly, the alliance of anti-EDL (English Defence League) forces in June 2010 in Tower Hamlets, which included Respect, SWP and the East London Mosque , illustrated very neatly the capitulation of the left to the fascists within while organising against the fascists without. When a member of Women Against Fundamentalism challenged one of the organisers, an ex-Respect member, on the make-up of the alliance, he dismissed her reservations as a counsel of perfection. The only threat that he could see was from the white fascists, he was not interested in the complex and complicated way in which Islamic fundamentalist forces were vying for power and for the leadership of the anti-racist/anti fascist movement in Tower Hamlets.

There are also attempts by academics to chip away at the theoretical basis of secularism. Haleh Afshar, an ex-Marxist, Muslim feminist academic and member of the House of Lords, wants to ‘problematise’ the notion that secularism is ‘an avenue towards equality’ [3]. She believes that adopting it in order to be inclusive has not worked because ‘people of faith feel excluded by the faithlessness of society’. This is a particularly enervating construct of ‘people of faith’ and does not reflect the lived reality of the women who come to SBS. In any case, people of faith are likely to be at greater danger from each other i.e. from different faiths rather than the faithless and would therefore benefit from a level playing field. Secularism is not about hostility to religion but about not privileging faith over non-faith.

Further constraints on secularism are placed by those who argue that religion is not a matter of choice but should be considered to be as primordial a part of one’s identity as ethnicity; a position that was articulated by AbdoolKarim Vakil of King’s College at the UEL conference. If religion is not a belief system, chosen freely, but seen as an embedded part of one’s identity, then any critique of it becomes offensive and is collapsed into the same category as racism. As Haleh Afshar puts it, ‘If what you say belittles me, if what you say disempowers me…then we can’t be equal, we can’t have the same rights’. But there’s an unacknowledged substitution of ‘me’ for ‘my beliefs’.

Vakil also questions the neutrality of the secular space as a way of undermining it: because ’it is basically the way the state regulates a space in which the differences that are acceptable can manifest itself and differences that are unacceptable are excluded’, and because that entails ’the disciplining of certain subjectivities and their acceptability for the public space’ he argues that it cannot be neutral. But does it matter? Especially if it means discipling of certain subjectivities such as misogyny or homophobia. He appears to further condemn ’the secular as a thickened state that’s already a sedimentation of our relations, including over the very conceptualisation of what is religious, what is secular, what is political.’ But as these concepts are continually contested, it is a dynamic process, a churning and not a setting.

At the far-right end of the spectrum, secularism has been hijacked as a way of asserting national identity. In France, a constitutionally secular country, Bloc Identitaire, to the right of Le Pen’s National Front, embraces secularism as a way of ’othering’ Muslims. Marieme Hélie - Lucas reported that in parts of Paris where Muslims pray on the streets outside their mosques, the Bloc holds provocative picnics with wine and pork on the same streets. In the UK, the Stop Islamification of Europe (SIOE) group also seems to be supporting secularism when it argues that,’SIOE wants all religions to be treated in law the same way as politicial parties, with no special legal protection.’ However, their secularism is implicitly and explicitly defined as an Islam-free space, a position shared by the more sophisticated though equally racist EDL. A similar attempt to assert national identity by the BNP and the English Democrats takes them down the opposite route: identifying with Christian values in Britain, constitutionally a Christian country.

With the resurgence of religion, secularism is bound to be contested territory. The women who come to SBS to rebuild their lives testify to the importance of secular spaces. One woman said, ‘I would like my views represented by women, not by community and reigious leaders...If religious leaders bring their laws where can we run to? There will be more suicides, depression, castaways, conversions. It would be the biggest disaster.’ Among feminists, it tends to be only some minority women scrambling for the soul of secularism. It is time for all feminists to muck in.

8 March 2011


] http://www.uel.ac.uk/cmrb/news.htm

] http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/

] http://www.uel.ac.uk/cmrb/audiovisu...