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Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
Government's Legislative Programme:
"Bill of Rights" Completely at Odds with a Modern Conception of Rights
Fighting for an Anti-War Government:
Anti-War Protest against US Nuclear Weapons Coming to RAF Lakenheath in Britain
Rishi Sunak's Package Does Nothing to Assist Working People Attain Financial Security and Amounts to a Further Pay-the-Rich Scheme
Railway Workers Vote for Biggest Strike Since Privatisation
Hail African Liberation Day!:
Victory to the Fighting Peoples of Africa! Imperialism, Out of Africa!
Government's Legislative Programme:
A recurring theme of Conservative manifestos and Queen's Speeches has been a so-called "Bill of Rights" to replace the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, using Brexit as impetus and framing the issue in a chauvinist manner as a matter of "British sovereignty", though the Convention is not an EU matter as such. The latest Queen's Speech, which set out a legislative programme characterised by rule by police powers , appears to have put this onto the agenda to actually be enacted this parliament. The new Bill will replace the Human Rights Act with legislation that aims to "ensure our human rights framework meets the needs of the society it serves". The back-to-front manner in which this poses matters itself exposes its intent. Rather than society being organised to provide objectively-existing rights with a guarantee, it sets out to define "rights" according to the demands of a society based on privilege.
Balancing rights, responsibilities and rule by police powers
At essence, the Bill is to implement the 2019 manifesto pledge to "ensure there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government," and follows a consultation stage that ran from December 14 at the end of last year to April 19 this year, just prior to the Queen's Speech .
The "balance" dogma is characteristic of successive governments, of whatever party, that are simply unwilling and unable to conceive of security lying with defence of the rights of all. But further, the present Bill is motivated by pragmatic deliverology, what the government calls "effective government". The interests of society lie with the government delivering on its decisions unimpeded, getting on with the job without rights getting in the way.
The Executive Summary of the consultation document states that "we will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society".
The government alleges that there has been a "growth of a 'rights culture' that has displaced due focus on personal responsibility and the public interest," and that "public protection" has been "put at risk by the exponential expansion of rights".
One might be forgiven for wondering where this "exponential expansion of rights" is to be seen. Regardless, "the increasing reliance on human rights claims over the years has, however, led to a culture of rights decoupled from our responsibilities as citizens, and a displacement of due consideration of the wider public interest."
Individual rights may need to be "qualified" by this need for "balance against the public interest", runs the argument. "Everyone holds human rights whether or not they undertake their responsibilities," says the government. "Nonetheless, the government believes that our new human rights framework should reflect the importance of responsibilities." What this means is that, under the Bill, courts could be required "to give greater consideration to the behaviour of claimants and the wider public interest when interpreting and balancing qualified rights," emotively asserting that "human rights claims have been brought by many people who have themselves showed a flagrant disregard for the rights of others." The groundwork here is being laid for arbitrary refusal to recognise one's rights on the basis that past behaviour has disqualified them from being able to claim such rights.
So the government states its intent to introduce a permission stage for human rights claims: "in the application of the qualified rights, the government believes that Parliament should authoritatively determine what is necessary in a democratic society. In addition, it should be clear that, when a court is considering the proportionality of an interference with a person's qualified rights, it will consider the extent to which the person has fulfilled their own relevant responsibilities."
Not only does the argument invoke a balancing act between rights, personal responsibility and the public interest, but also between parliament and the courts.
As the Noble Lord Judge remarked in the debate in the House of Lords: "I thought the words were going to be, 'Her Majesty's Ministers will restore the balance of power between the legislature and the Executive', because that is the relationship that needs to be addressed. [...] I just do not like a Minister by statutory instrument being able to revoke primary legislation, let alone secondary legislation. As for skeleton Bills, I find it absolutely extraordinary that we ever pass them. We say to ourselves: 'Let us give the Minister powers before the Minister has the slightest idea how he or she is going to exercise them.'"
The idea put across by the government is that parliament is being disempowered by the courts - the balance has been tipped in favour of the judiciary away from the executive and legislature.
According to the government, the existing Human Rights Act "requires the courts to alter the meaning of primary legislation in order to make it compatible with the Convention rights... diverting the courts from their normal function in the interpretation of legislation into straightforward judicial amendment."
The conception of this Bill of Rights, then, is nothing like setting out fundamental law through which other legislation is to be measured. In fact, it is the opposite: it aims to prevent any such barrier to rule.
In particular, the enforcement of the police powers must be unencumbered, as must military intervention. "We want to support those public services, from the police to our armed forces, who are dedicated to protecting the public," says the government. More plainly: "We want to protect our armed forces from human rights claims for actions taking place overseas."
A modern conception of rights and constitution
By invoking the notion of a "Bill of Rights", the government is trying to claim that their constitutional changes are in the historic tradition of liberal, representative democracy. It is this very thing - the form and content of representative democracy, and the class system on which it is based - that is in crisis. All that remains of liberal democracy is rule by police powers.
The notion of a bill of rights has a history. In Britain, its main reference point of relevance is the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688, which was to draw a line under the period of the Civil War and instability from the beheading of Charles I up to that point. Representative democracy was aimed at resolving the contradictions between sections of the ruling classes, the conflicting interests of the rich and powerful, while keeping the masses of the people, the "mob", out of power.
It important in this regard that the definition of "rights" that the Bill will contain is not a product of any general discussion amongst the population. It is not the product of the people themselves creating a new society. The definitions are imposed; the Bill will define rights for a certain end, and is itself an act of the police powers.
It is not an issue of upholding the existing set-up: the very conception of rights implicit in the Human Rights Act is itself out of step with the times. It does not start from the principle that people have inviolable rights by virtue of being human which must be provided with a guarantee, as well as having particular rights, also inviolable, by virtue of being part of various collectives, such as being women, workers or national minorities. These are rights that exist objectively; a modern definition of rights stresses that society must recognise their existence and guarantee them. Both the current situation and the new Bill of Rights all point to the fact that it is the fight for a modern conception of rights that must be taken to its conclusion. The working class must turn things around in their favour, become an independent organised force in its own right and vest sovereignty in the people.
1. "Queen's Speech: A Programme of Rule by Police Powers and Politicising Private Interests", Workers' Weekly, May 21, 2022
2. "Human Rights Act Reform: A Modern Bill Of Rights, A consultation to reform the Human Rights Act 1998", Presented to Parliament by Dominic Raab MP (Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice), December 2021
On Saturday, May 21, several hundred people gathered at RAF Lakenheath, a US air force base, to protest against US nuclear weapons and nuclear bombers once again being brought to Britain. In its statement CND  said: "The return of US nuclear weapons to Britain - along with the upgrading of its nuclear weapons across Europe - constitutes a further undermining of prospects for global peace. The US is the only country to locate its nuclear weapons outside its own borders and this major increase in NATO's capacity to wage nuclear war in Europe is dangerously destabilising. Their return will increase global tensions and put Britain on the front line in a NATO/Russia war."
Speaking at the rally in front of the base, Tom Unterrainer, CND Chair, said that US nuclear weapons are being brought to Britain with no discussion in the Westminster Parliament, or any other institution. He said that "when the government was asked to comment on these developments the reply was very clear as to who is calling the shots over these nuclear weapons". It was the US calling the shots in the relationship between the United States government and the British government, the United States military and the British military, because the answer from James Heappy, the government Under-Secretary of State for Defence, was that "the British government does not comment on United States spending". Tom Unterrainer continued that "never mind that the US spending on this site at Lakenheath is part of a $380 million redevelopment of the nuclear storage sites across Europe". He said that the governments of states belonging to NATO "welcome these nuclear arms with open arms and keep their mouths shut when they are asked to account for their actions". He said that "this is why CND is opposing nuclear weapons and being very clear sighted about Britain's relationship with the United States and what that means in terms of what NATO represents as a military threat to us all". He said, "We are not alone in facing these US nuclear bombs; in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Turkey similar arrangements are in place. In many of those places just like here high-tech fighter bomber aircraft are to be stationed all the better for raining, death, destruction and genocide on people's heads and in all of these places they will soon be receiving new US nuclear bombs."
He concluded that CND of course opposes all nuclear weapons wherever they are but in particular, "we oppose Britain's Trident weapons system and we also sharply oppose the alliances, the treaties, the secret arrangements and secret deals that mean that this country is tied to an international network of nuclear armed states". He said that CND must continue its work in dangerous times and "the return of nuclear bombs to Lakenheath must be resisted in an ongoing campaign".
As mentioned, the British government refuses to confirm or deny that US nuclear weapons are to be stationed at Lakenheath as the base is classed as US land over which the US claims sovereignty on the soil of Britain. This in itself is outrageous. It makes Britain as criminal as is the United States in its warmongering, and tied to it. It appears that both the US and Britain are prepared to break the taboo on nuclear weapons and their use, and promote the thinking of the unthinkable. Their pretext is that, on evidence which is questionable, Russia is prepared to wage a first strike with tactical nuclear weapons. The US and Britain also cite the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in this context.
It is vital that the anti-war movement stop Britain hosting the US preparations for nuclear war on British soil with the nuclear bombers at Lakenheath and other bases in Britain, as a component part and escalation of opposing NATO aggression, of which Britain is an enthusiastic champion. There is also a vital necessity to stop Britain's warmongering role and its refusal to stand for peaceful solutions to conflicts in the world, whether in Ukraine, Somalia, Yemen or Palestine. The anti-war movement opposes Britain's role as the main ally of the US and its drive to expand NATO to militarise Europe, Africa, Asia and the East Pacific. Like the protests at Lakenheath, people all over the world demand an end to this participation in global warmongering and stand for peace. This is the nub of the matter.
1. Stop US nukes coming to Lakenheath!
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on May 26 a package of household support allegedly to combat the cost of living crisis, including a windfall tax on gas and oil companies, which he says is worth £15bn. The government has been forced to make the U-turn from its position that nothing could be done due to the widescale opposition from all sectors of society. The Chancellor himself said that the government had been forced to take further action to help the British public because the pressures on household bills have "got more serious" in recent months.
Rishi Sunak announced a temporary 25% windfall tax on the "extraordinary profits" of gas and oil companies in what he called a "targeted energy profits levy". It does not appear clear what the Chancellor deems "extraordinary", and in any case he said that the tax is to be phased out when profits return to "normal" levels. What has perhaps not received so much attention is that at the same time he announced a new tax allowance for the energy companies. According to the government, "The new 80 per cent Investment Allowance will mean businesses will overall get a 91p tax saving for every £1 they invest - providing them with an additional, immediate incentive to invest. This nearly doubles the tax relief available and means the more investment a firm makes, the less tax they will pay."
The Chancellor's statement indicated that £400 is to be paid to every household this year. This is not a solution to the cost of living crisis. It is known that the current fuel price inflation is not going to be matched by these handouts. Exploitation by energy companies will continue. Furthermore, this grant will go straight to the energy companies to settle customers' bills. The "price cap" on these bills is set to rise even further. Thus overall the scheme amounts to a pay-the-rich manoeuvre to ensure that the prices set by energy companies and the regulators are met.
Commenting on the government's package, TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said, "Unions have repeatedly called for an Emergency Budget to help families, and a windfall tax on energy companies." She continued: "While today's intervention is badly needed, we should have never been here in the first place. Years of attacks on wages and universal credit have left many households on the brink. The government still doesn't have a plan for giving families long-term financial security. With energy bills rising 23 times faster than wages we urgently need to get pay packets rising and to pay universal credit at a permanently higher rate - not just a one-off boost. That's the best way to protect livelihoods and to support the economy."
The fact is that absence of those representing the interests of working people in positions of authority means that problems affecting workers, such as price inflation, are dismissed as impossible to solve. Even worse, broad problems in the social and natural conditions are allowed to fester and deteriorate. In these conditions, the fight for higher wages is crucial and must be supported by all. Ultimately, there is a need for a new direction for economic and political affairs, an alternative, so that a way out of the crisis is accomplished. This requires a determined opposition from the workers to the status quo of paying the rich and refusal to invest in social programmes.
Railway workers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action in the struggle over jobs, pay and conditions across Network Rail and the train operating companies, in the biggest endorsement for industrial action by railway workers since privatisation. RMT members working for Network Rail and 14 out of 15 of the train operators voted for "strike action and action short of strike". 71% of those balloted took part in the vote with 89% voting in favour of strike action and only 11% voting against. The result was announced within four hours of the ballot of more than 40,000 railway workers.
The RMT said: "Railway workers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action across Network Rail and the train operating companies, in the biggest endorsement for industrial action by railway workers since privatisation."
The RMT union will now be demanding urgent talks with Network Rail and the 15 train operating companies that were balloted to find a negotiated settlement to the dispute over pay, jobs and safety.
The train operators whose RMT members voted to strike include Avanti West Coast, Greater Anglia, GWR, LNER, Northern and South Western Railway.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch: "Today's overwhelming endorsement by railway workers is a vindication of the union's approach and sends a clear message that members want a decent pay rise, job security and no compulsory redundancies. Our NEC will now meet to discuss a timetable for strike action from mid-June, but we sincerely hope ministers will encourage the employers to return to the negotiating table and hammer out a reasonable settlement with the RMT."
Eddie Dempsey, Assistant General Secretary of the RMT, told BBC Today: "Some of our members are in the third year of a pay freeze. Most of our membership is on around £24,000. We kept this country moving during the pandemic. We don't think it's unreasonable to say RPI is at 11.1 per cent, we want a pay rise."
May 25 of this year is the 59th anniversary of African Liberation Day. It marks a historic convergence of the peoples of Africa to have their sovereign nation-building projects and exercise decision-making based on their own experience and thought material, and to rid themselves once and for all of the enslavement, colonialism and imperialism of foreign powers.
African Liberation Day was born out of the consciousness of the peoples of Africa that their liberation was their own act and part of the worldwide struggle against imperialism and of the united front of the working class and peoples to end the exploitation of persons by persons. It was initiated at the first Conference of Independent African States held in Accra, Ghana, on April 15, 1958, and attended by eight independent African heads of states . That day was declared "Africa Freedom Day" to mark the ongoing progress of the liberation movement.
This conference was significant in that it represented the first Pan-African Conference held on African soil. It was also significant in that it represented the collective expression of African People's disgust with the system of colonialism and imperialism, which brought so much suffering to African People. Further, it represented the collective will to see the system of colonialism permanently done away with. The Talking Drum states about this conference:
"After 500 years of the most brutal suffering known to humanity, the rape of Africa and the subsequent slave trade, which cost Africa in excess of 100,000,000 of her children, the masses of African People singularly, separately, individually, in small disconnected groupings for centuries had said, 'enough'! But in 1958, at the Accra Conference, it was being said in ways that emphasised joint, co-ordinated and unified action.
"This conference gave sharp clarity and definition to Pan-Africanism for the total liberation and unification of Africa. It also laid the foundation and the strategy for the further intensification and coordination of the next stage of the African Revolution, for the liberation of the rest of Africa, and eventual and complete unification."
In 1960, seventeen African states gained their sovereignty marking it as the "Year of Africa".
On May 25, 1963, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was founded in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with more than 1,100 people representing 31 African states, 21 African liberation movements and hundreds of supporters and observers in attendance . The OAU (today known as the African Union) proclaimed that May 25 would from then on be celebrated annually as "African Liberation Day". Up to the present, African Liberation Day is an occasion to highlight and carry forward the aspirations of the peoples of Africa for freedom, sovereignty and a new society.
Today, while nearly every country in Africa has nominally achieved its independence, the peoples' fight to block imperialist dictate and ongoing exploitation of their countries' human and natural resources continues. Not a year goes by without the revanchism of the imperialist powers and powers of old Europe rearing its ugly head. Britain, France and the US are increasing their aggressive military operations throughout the continent, particularly in north, east, west and central Africa.
As of November 2021, the U.S. Defence Department says it has 6,000 troops, Defence Department civilians and contractors in nearly 30 bases across Africa. The British Army states that its largest deployments are currently training or on operations in Africa, without giving a figure. British troops are based in Djibouti, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Somalia. There are five bases in Kenya. The British Army is conducting "training" in 22 African countries. France had 4,500 troops in West Africa, in Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania until recently. The current government of Mali rejected the presence of French troops, which withdrew in February 2022, reducing French troops in Africa by half. Other non-African governments have troop operations in African states such as Tunisia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, and the Republic of South Sudan.
A heinous example is that of the destruction of Libya, whose government was overthrown by the US-led aggressive military alliance NATO and its proxy forces in 2011. This was the most cynical revenge by the imperialists against the Libyan people and their leadership which fought to defend Libya's interests and would not kowtow to imperialism. One particular consequence of the NATO bombing campaign was the racist terror inflicted on Libyans of Sub-Saharan African origin, many of whom were killed brutally and whole towns such as Tawergha were emptied. The NATO powers and their monopoly media went to great efforts to spread lies of "African mercenaries" specifically targeting Black Libyans for attack.
The aftermath of "regime change" in Libya widened instability, lawlessness and terrorism not only in that country but throughout north Africa and West Asia. The countries responsible include all the old colonial powers and others. These countries must be held to account and reparations made for this crime and all the historical crimes and those of the present against African peoples. The US and NATO are planning more such tragedies which must not be permitted to pass.
In the countries of southern Africa, many of which waged glorious and heroic Liberation struggles throughout the 1960s to 1980s against the colonial powers and racist apartheid rule, the people are displaying the same heroism as they confront the problems of nation-building today. A major problem they are confronting is the continued control of important sectors of the economy by racist monopoly capital, whether foreign or coming from the legacy of racist minority rule. The peoples of countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa and Angola which delivered strong blows against imperialism have worked staunchly to ensure that this legacy does not have the upper hand.
The question of the land and its historic theft from the peoples remains of utmost importance and land reforms and redistribution have been an historic step to ensure the people have an economic base which can guarantee their livelihood and development.
The British working class and people must oppose and condemn the British government for its participation in imperialist aggression against African countries, and demand that foreign relations be based on mutual respect and benefit with the countries of Africa. They must stand as one with the peoples of Africa and support their struggles, rejecting all attempts to justify Britain's colonialist legacy and its Commonwealth and Empire. A completely new chapter is required, which is favourable not only to the peoples of Africa and their projects in building their future free of imperialist intervention, but favours also the working class and people of Britain. The day will come when those today who continue the colonialist and imperialist legacy, and continue to commit crimes against the peoples of Africa are charged and punished for these crimes. Let us further inform ourselves and others regarding the developments taking place throughout Africa today. The exploitative relations and intervention in the affairs of Africa and its peoples must be ended.
On the occasion of African Liberation Day, Workers' Weekly sends militant revolutionary greetings to all the peoples of Africa fighting to exercise control over their lives, countries and economies so as to guarantee a bright future for themselves and their children. We salute their achievements and contributions to the worldwide movement for national liberation which are second to none and that have uplifted all of humanity.
Long Live African Liberation Day!
1. It was attended by representatives of the governments of Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, the United Arab Republic (which was the federation of Egypt and Syria) and representatives of the National Liberation Front of Algeria and the Union of Cameroonian Peoples.
2. By then more than two thirds of the continent had achieved independence from colonial rule.
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