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NATO Parliamentary Assembly Meets in London:

Trying to Find a Role while Liberal Democracy Is in Crisis

Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis

NATO Parliamentary Assembly Meets in London:
Trying to Find a Role while Liberal Democracy Is in Crisis

People's Movements:
Extinction Rebellion Protest about the Silence of the BBC

Legal Challenge to State Pension Age:
State and High Court Attack Women's Rights

Workers' Forum:
Postal Workers Ballot

International News:
Kashmiri People Persist with their Demands for Self-Determination

NATO Parliamentary Assembly Meets in London:

Trying to Find a Role while Liberal Democracy Is in Crisis

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is meeting in London from October 11-14[1]. This meeting takes place in the 70th anniversary year of NATO, which will also be marked in London in December.

As the Westminster Parliamentary website explains: "The United Kingdom has 18 seats in the Assembly, which are filled by a cross-party delegation from both Houses of Parliament appointed by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The distribution of places to political parties reflects the composition of the House of Commons.

"The UK delegation represents the UK Parliament, not the Government, and plays an active role in the activities of the Assembly, through membership of its Committees and groups and participation in plenary meetings.

"The delegation attends the two plenary sessions of the Assembly each year, which take place in the autumn (the Annual Session) and the spring. At the plenary sessions, the Assembly's Committees debate and agree reports on various subjects and meet government officials and policy experts to inform their work.

"The plenary meetings allow Members to debate topical security issues, hear from and ask questions of national and international leaders, including the Secretary-General of NATO, and agree policy recommendations. The policy recommendations are distributed to governments of member states and receive a written response from NATO's Secretary-General.

"In between the Assembly's plenary sessions, the Committees meet to discuss their reports and be briefed by officials and experts in their areas of competence."

The present president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly is Labour MP for Bridgend, Madeleine Moon. She was elected to the post at last year's meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

The website of the Parliamentary Assembly describes its origin as follows:

"The idea to engage Alliance Parliamentarians in collective deliberations on the problems confronting the transatlantic partnership first emerged in the early 1950s and took shape with the creation of an annual conference of NATO parliamentarians in 1955. The Assembly's creation reflected a desire on the part of legislators to give substance to the premise of the Washington Treaty that NATO was the practical expression of a fundamentally political transatlantic Alliance of democracies.

"The first 'Conference of Members of Parliament from the NATO Countries' was held at NATO Headquarters at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris on 18-22 July 1955, bringing together 158 parliamentarians from 14 NATO nations. The conference elected Senator Wishart McL Robertson of Canada as its President, and agreed to establish a Continuing Committee - the precursor of the Standing Committee - consisting of the elected officers of the Assembly (the President and its three vice-Presidents) and one representative from each delegation. It also decided to appoint a small, part-time secretariat, initially based in London until it moved to Paris in 1960.

"Committees were established during the second conference in 1956. In 1958, the number of Committees was set to five - Economic, Cultural Affairs and Information, Military, Political, and Scientific and Technical. Although committee titles and terms of reference have evolved over the years, this basic structure remains today.

"In 1966, the 12th Conference unanimously agreed to rename the organisation as the North Atlantic Assembly (NAA). Following France's withdrawal from NATO's military structure in 1966, NATO moved its headquarters from Paris to Brussels. The Assembly headquarters moved to Brussels in 1968.

"The foundation for co-operation between NATO and the NAA was strengthened in December 1967 when the North Atlantic Council (NAC) authorised the NATO Secretary General to study ways to enhance co-operation between the two bodies. As a result of these deliberations over the following year, several measures were put in place to strengthen the working relationship between NATO and the Assembly. These included in particular regular addresses by the NATO Secretary General to the Assembly, and written responses by the Secretary General to the recommendations and resolutions adopted by the Assembly in its Plenary Sessions. In 1974, the leaders of Allied governments, in their Declaration on Atlantic Relations, recognised that "the cohesion of the Alliance has found expression not only in co-operation among their governments, but also in the free exchange of views among the elected representatives of the peoples of the Alliance." This declaration essentially endorsed the work of the Assembly without mentioning it directly.

"In 1979, the Assembly decided to begin holding two plenary sessions each year. With the introduction of a spring session, the pattern of Assembly activities was set to remain largely unchanged until the end of the Cold War."

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the bipolar division of the world, the NAA worked to integrate the countries of Central and Eastern Europe into its structures, with a view to establishing in those countries the cartel party system, the market economy and the conception of rights based on private property. The NAA became actively involved in championing NATO enlargement, and its name change to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in 1999 was meant to signify the high point of that transformation.

It is interesting that this year's annual meeting is taking place at the Queen Elizabeth Centre in Parliament Square when the British Parliament is in such disarray and XR and others are demonstrating their lack of confidence in the existing political institutions which in reality do not favour their interests.

In concrete terms, there is no unanimity on the Parliamentary Assembly's role, reflecting the serious divisions in NATO itself. Any sense of urgency is directed towards Russia, and to some extent China. But even here deep divisions exist among the countries that the delegates represent. Even the identity of Europe is called into question, since such divisions exist within even the European ranks, particularly over the military rise of Germany. Britain itself, of course, is veering towards implementing US policy, though Madeleine Moon herself was one of the Labour MPs that voted against implementing Article 50.

In addition, of concern to the participating delegations is what is referred to as "hybrid warfare" in relation to the so-called "Russian threat". This relates to the disinformation and fear-mongering about alleged foreign interference in elections, as though otherwise elections are free and fair.

In the face of the demands of the people for peace, freedom and democracy, including safeguarding the future against the despoliation from the oligarchies which maraud throughout the world, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly attempts to give respectability to the warmongering of the NATO alliance. Nevertheless the crisis of its values are such that it cannot provide any justifications for a united front around its warmongering.

For Your Information

[1] The NATO Parliamentary Assembly has 266 delegates from parliaments of the 29 NATO member states. It defines itself as follows:

"The Assembly's principal objective is to facilitate mutual understanding between parliamentarians from NATO countries and promote debate on key security challenges."

In addition, the Assembly defines its aims as:

"to provide NATO and its member governments with an indication of collective parliamentary opinion;

"to provide greater transparency of NATO policies, and thereby a degree of collective accountability;

"to strengthen the transatlantic relationship;

"to assist in the development of parliamentary democracy throughout the Euro-Atlantic area by integrating parliamentarians from non-member nations into the Assembly's work;

"to assist directly those parliaments actively seeking Alliance membership;

"to increase co-operation with countries which seek co-operation rather than membership, including those of the Caucasus and the Mediterranean regions; and

"to assist in the development of parliamentary mechanisms, practices and 'know how' essential for the effective democratic control of armed forces."

Article Index

People's Movements

Extinction Rebellion Protest about the Silence of the BBC

Two weeks of action, co-ordinated globally, began on October 7 under the umbrella of Extinction Rebellion. It was profiled as a coming together of movements against the threats of militarism and climate emergency. The XR Peace component was supported by Trident Ploughshares, Nukewatch, CND, Scottish CND, CND Cymru, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Stop the War, and War Resisters International.

On October 11, an XR protest took place outside the BBC to demand that the Corporation tell the truth in their reporting of the XR actions.

Here are some photos of the protest:

Article Index

Legal Challenge to State Pension Age

State and High Court Attack Women's Rights

Women campaigning to defend their pension rights lost their legal action on October 3 to reverse the state-organised theft of their claims seized through the rise in state pension age and the manner in which this rise was enacted.

The Backto60 group had brought a judicial review against the Department of Work and Pensions to demand "the return of their earned dues". The group is seeking repayment of all the pensions people born in the 1950s would have received if they had been able to retire earlier.

The complementary campaign Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) is calling for a "bridging" pension to cover the gap from the age of 60 until their state pension is paid.

An estimated 3.8 million women are being disproportionately affected, particularly those with years of lost payments having taken time out of work to care for children, and on average having been paid less than men. Representing the women, Mike Mansfield QC told the High Court that some would lose up to £47,000 as a result.

Up until 2010, women received their state pensions at the age of 60, but since that time, the government has been raising the pension age. The result has been that some women who thought they would retire and receive a state pension at 60 found that they would have to wait longer, over five years for some, with continually-moving goalposts. The retirement age for women rose from 60 to 65, in line with men, and will go up to 66 by 2020, and to 67 by 2028. An exacerbating factor has been the lack of proper information, and the lack of time created for people to prepare for the changes.

This has led to financial hardship for many women. All women born in the decade after April 6, 1950, are potentially affected, with those born from April 6, 1953, especially so.

"There was no direct discrimination on grounds of sex," said the High Court judges in summarising their decision, "because this legislation does not treat women less favourably than men in law. Rather, it equalises an historic asymmetry between men and women and thereby corrects historic direct discrimination against men."

To pose the issue in this way is to turn truth on its head and is deeply divisive. Posing the question of equality in the abstract ignores the context, the actual concrete conditions, in which a rise in the pension age has been imposed as an attack on the rights of all, and has disproportionately affected women given the circumstances of real life.

A livelihood in old age is a fundamental right. Yet the rightful claim of people to a decent pension is increasingly denied, while the claims of the monopolies on the social product is prioritised. This situation is leading to a pensions crisis, where as many as one in six pensioners now live below the poverty line, according to a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last December.

The crisis is made one of "affordability" as "people are living longer". The perspective is both capital-centric and anti-human, that pensions are a cost, and that the problem is the length of human life. The general policy of successive governments has been withdrawal of state pensions and forcing pensioners to fend for themselves, as pensions are increasingly reduced to a personal matter and made a question of individual savings.

The pension age is directly an issue of well-being and the state and those that represent it have abdicated their responsibility. The government is supposed to look after well-being and security when it assumes the authority to rule in the name of the people.

"The wider issues raised by the claimants about whether the choices were right or wrong or good or bad were not for the Court," argued the judges. "They were for members of the public and their elected representatives."

But as things stand the government does not represent the people in any direct sense, but rather the sovereign power of the state itself and the powerful interests behind it. Like every serious issue at the present time, such outdated notions of how decisions are made are exposed. A solution is required in which people no longer authorise a sovereign representative to speak in their name, but instead speak in their own name and are empowered themselves, so that their interests are given direct expression.

The abstract legalism of the High Court also abdicates responsibility, this time from the judiciary, and raises serious questions as to what role the Court plays regarding human rights.

For women, the fight goes on. Joanne Welch of WASPI said outside court: "Where do we go from here? Well, where will the government go from here is the better question."

She referred to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's pledge during the Tory leadership campaign to look at the State Pension Age issue with "fresh vigour", adding: "We will be holding you to that undertaking." In other words, populist promises are not acceptable, and promises will not be allowed to be treated like pie-crusts, only to be broken.

Joanne held the position and ruling of the Court to ridicule. She said she was "rather puzzled" by the court's ruling, but added: "We can take this, we've got broad shoulders." With a shrug, the campaigners instilled confidence in themselves and maintained the high ground.

Women have not accepted the ruling and judgment. They have already said that they are standing firm and are aiming to push it forward to a favourable conclusion. What is clear is that women are not only scrutinising the existing decision-making process but are empowering themselves by strengthening their outlook, proving in the heat of the struggle that the right to be the decision-makers belongs to themselves.

Article Index

Workers' Forum

Postal Workers Ballot

Over 100,000 postal workers in the CWU union are voting in a ballot that closes on October 15. The ballot concerns whether to take strike action over job security, terms and conditions of employment, and a culture of bullying by Royal Mail.

Royal Mail has stepped up its attacks on the rights of the postal workers since the "Four Pillars" agreement between Royal Mail and the CWU was reached last year. The CWU said that Royal Mail was "following their own agenda that will have long-term detrimental effects on our members' terms and conditions of employment, job security and the future of Royal Mail Group as a whole".

The Four Pillars agreement was one of the final acts of the former chief executive, Moya Greene, covering pay rises, pension proposals and moves to reduce working hours from 39 to 35 a week by 2022, subject to productivity improvements. The CWU has said that labour relations have worsened since Moya Greene was succeeded by Rico Back, who picked up a £6m "golden hello" for taking over at Royal Mail. Rico Back came from GLS, a parcel company that has had a history of non-unionised workers and low pay.

Royal Mail under Rico Back has attempted to disregard the Four Pillars agreement, itself a response to the privatisation of the postal service and the mantra of competition which puts the maximum profit in command, rides roughshod over the rights of the workers and ignores the public well-being. Negotiations were concluded under the Four Pillars, and a balloted agreement was reached on pay, pensions, shorter working week in a legally binding agreement. Amongst other things, Royal Mail is now proposing to hive off Parcelforce as a separate business against the agreement.

Andy Hopkins from the Postal Executive Council of the CWU said in an interview that part of the Four Pillars agreement that is being reneged on now by Royal Mail was about changing the culture in the workplace. He said, "Since Rico's tenure, this has taken a drastic turn for the worse. The spontaneous walkouts by members over managerial behaviour is commonplace at present. The culture needs to change. Working together with the unions has taken a backwards step and is affecting progression of many major technological improvements."

The postal workers are determined to defend their rights and protect their livelihoods against the attacks by Royal Mail.

Article Index

International News

Kashmiri People Persist with their Demands for Self-Determination

The Pakistani authorities blocked thousands of protesters who began a march to the de facto border which divides Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, known as the Line of Control (LoC).

Activists from the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and other supporting organisations began the march on October 4, but are now facing police barricades which aimed to prevent them from reaching the LoC. In addition, according to an Associated Press report, sniper fire from the Indian side killed a woman outside her home in the border village of Abbaspur on October 6.

The march was reported as reaching the LoC on October 6 but Pakistani authorities are blocking roads five miles from the frontier. According to JKLF sources, the march was stopped at Chakothi, a village near the LoC in Azad Kashmir, on October 6 by the authorities. It has become a sit-in since then. There are three demands. These include: removal of the road block and letting the march proceed across the LoC to Srinagar. Or the authorities must bring the special representative of the UN Secretary General, and representatives of the permanent members of the UNSC based in Pakistan, to meet the organisers at Chakothi to receive the charter of demands. Thus far the demands have not been met and the sit-in continues.

The JKLF are demanding the freedom of Kashmir from both India and Pakistan. It must be stressed that the Line of Control is not recognised internationally as a state border.

Tensions in Kashmir have ramped up since August 5 when India abruptly changed the semi-autonomous nature of India-controlled Kashmir, imposing a media lock-down and a curfew. The move has been met with widespread international criticism. The Indian government had previously enacted the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in 1990, which had been invoked to arrest, search and destroy property, and kill with impunity. The Kashmir people themselves have been asserting their right to self-determination for many decades, dating back to the partition of India in 1947, in which the British state played such a nefarious role.

Article Index

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Brexit Shambles and the Need for Democratic Renewal

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