Archive for April, 2011

Don’t follow leaders: Bob Dylan in China and Vietnam

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Bob Dylan.

This article has been published in Solidarity.

Bob Dylan recently performed in China and Vietnam for the very first time, prompting critics to denounce him for “selling out” – and not for the first time.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd led the charge. In a recent column she denounced the singer, ending with these powerful lines:

Maybe the songwriter should reread some of his own lyrics: “I think you will find/When your death takes its toll/All the money you made/Will never buy back your soul.”

Strong stuff indeed.

But of course Bob Dylan wasn’t writing those lines about “protest singers” who had betrayed their values.

He wrote them about the arms industry, the merchants of death who profit from the world’s wars, in his song “Masters of War.” (more…)

A political earthquake in Canada?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Jack Layton.

A political earthquake is taking place in North America – and it’s completely off the radar of the mainstream media in most countries.

In another week, it is entirely possible that Jack Layton (pictured), a democratic socialist, will be elected as Prime Minister of Canada.

Polls this week have been showing the New Democratic Party, traditionally Canada’s third party, pushing the Liberals into third place in an election likely to be won by the incumbent, the Conservative Stephen Harper.

But the very latest polls which show the New Democrats taking as many as 100 seats in the 308-seat Canadian House of Commons — which is nearly three times the number they have today — indicate the possibility of a coalition government led by the NDP, with the Liberals as junior partners.

As recently as a week or two ago, such a scenario would have been dismissed as nonsensical.

The NDP — successor the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation — has always been at best a third party, sometimes a fourth. Its best-case scenario for several decades has been to hold the balance of power, something it has done from time in time.

Its best result ever was 23 years ago when the popular Ed Broadbent led the party to win over 20% of the vote and capture 43 seats. But in the following election, only five years later, the party had plummeted to less than 7% of the vote and only nine seats. It has been a long climb back, and Layton has now led the party through three elections, nearly doubling the number of seats it held.

What has happened now is a sudden and unexpected surge in popularity that may require the party to consider, for the first time, who would be its ministers in a federal government. (more…)

A Passover story

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Every year, Cindy asks friends and family to say something at the Passover seder she hosts at her home – something about Passover, about what it means to them.  This is what I said this year.

A good Passover story should always involve cakes.

Austrian baker Manfred Klaschka is the subject of this year’s story. (more…)

UNISON: Don’t break ties with Histadrut

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011
This article appeared in Solidarity 3/201 (20 April 2011).
One litmus test of whether one is engaged in reasonable criticism of Israel or simple anti-Semitism is whether you think anyone in the Jewish state is a legitimate partner for discussions.
If you think everyone in Israel is somehow complicit in the occupation, that every Zionist is a racist, and so on, you will not want to have anything to do with Israeli peace organisations or the left.
In the trade union movement, this is expressed through the question of relations with the Histadrut, Israel’s national trade union centre.
Most unions in most countries have no problem with the Histadrut. In fact, at its congress last year the International Trade Union Confederation representing some 176 million organised workers elected Histadrut leader Ofer Eini as one of its vice presidents.
But in some unions, there are those who call for a severing of relations with the Histadrut. One of those unions has been Unison.
(more…)

New website maps strikes in China

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011
The following article appeared in Solidarity on 6 April 2011.
Manfred Elfstrom, a PhD student at Cornell University in the United States, has produced an extraordinary resource for the trade union movement.
It’s a website called China Strikes and is essentially a map of China with red dots representing strikes.
Elfstrom is taking this quite seriously and is producing some interesting results. For example, he’s categorised the strikes not only by region, but also by sector.
Some of this will not be surprising — for example, he finds 15 strikes at electronics factories, such as the infamous Foxconn.
There are another dozen strikes reported in auto factories.
But click on “sex workers” and you’ll read about a surprising protest by prostitutes in Wuhan in August 2010. (more…)