Fighting anti-semitism the old fashioned way: I send an actual letter to Facebook

stampAs I reported a couple of days ago, Facebook is hosting a page that promotes the “blood libel” against Jews in breach of its own Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) and, probably, British and European law.

My attempts to complain using their online system failed.

So today I’m trying something new: I’ve sent them a letter.

By post.

With a stamp on it.

I promise to report back if they respond …

Facebook promotes the oldest anti-Jewish libel

I learned this morning that Facebook has a page devoted to “Jewish ritual murder” which I found hard to believe — so I checked and found it’s true.

So, as one does, I used Facebook’s complaint procedure to formally report harassment.  After all, I do feel harassed — as a Jew and a human being — by people promoting vile anti-Jewish propaganda.

It took Facebook 32 minutes to respond, which is great.

Good to see that they care about racism and antisemitism and are as keen as I am to … wait a minute … here’s a screenshot of their response:

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10




Just in case you can’t read that, here’s the essence of it:

You reported Jewish ritual murder for harassment.
Status    This page wasn’t removed
Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the page you reported for harassment and found it doesn’t violate our Community Standards.

When I went to look at the Facebook “Community Standards” here’s what I found under “Hate Speech”:

Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.”

So, Facebook, how is a page promoting the oldest anti-Semitic slur, the infamous “blood libel”, not hate speech?


Turkish trade unionists on trial

KESK leaders standing outside the main courthouse in Istanbul last week.

I was in Istanbul for three days last week to attend the opening of the trial of Turkish trade union leaders.

My articles on what I saw have begun appearing in a number of places:





French language:

  • Andy Funnell has translated one of the articles for LabourStart’s French language blog, here.

South Korea: rail workers, repression and resistance

My first article for – click here to read and feel free to post comments there.

The mainstream media struggle to understand Korea. Throughout December, global news coverage focussed on the latest purge in North Korea, a former basketball star’s visit to the Communist state, and rising tensions between both Koreas and Japan, following the visit of the Japanese prime minister to a controversial war memorial. But CNN, the BBC, Sky News, Al Jazeera and others had absolutely nothing to say about a strike in South Korea that has shaken the society profoundly—culminating in mass actions involving hundreds of thousands of people on the last weekend of 2013. Continue reading

North Korea’s Great Terror

Andrey Vyshinsky - prosecutor of the Stalinist show trials.
Andrey Vyshinsky – prosecutor of the Stalinist show trials.

The downfall of Chang Song-thaek, once considered the second most powerful person in North Korea, is a lesson in history for a new generation – and not only in Korea.

The parallels to Soviet history are so striking that one almost wonders if Kim Jong-un read Robert Conquest’s “The Great Terror” – the classic history of the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s.

That’s not an entirely rhetorical question either, as Kim was educated abroad and may well have had access to history books denied to ordinary North Koreans.

In any event, the regime he now heads openly reveres Stalin and is perhaps the only one in the world that does so.

Fidel Castro has criticized Stalin, but also says “He established unity in the Soviet Union. He consolidated what Lenin had begun: party unity.”

People with only a passing acquaintance with Soviet history may be surprised to discover that nearly all the victims of Stalin’s massive purge which peaked in 1937 were not, in fact, oppositionists. Continue reading

ახალბედა პროფკავშირული მოძრაობა საქართველოში

My first article to appear in Georgian — on the website of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC).

ავტორი: ერიკ ლი

ნოემბერში, ორი დღის მანძილზე, საქართველოს რკინიგზაში დრამა გათამაშდა, რამაც მშრომელთა მოძრაობა საუკეთესო მხრიდან წარმოგვიდგინა.ეს მოხდა იმ პატარა ქვეყანაში, რომელიც შავ ზღვისა და კავკასიის მთებში მდებარეობს.

Continue reading

Проблема сталинизма и движение трудящихся сегодня

The Russian language version of my presentation on Stalinism and the Labour Movement to a conference in Kiev in November.

Эрик Ли (главный редактор веб-сайта международного профсоюзного движения LabourStart, Лондон)

В своем выступлении я не буду рассматривать происходящее на постсоветском пространстве – например, в России или Грузии, – а сосредоточу внимание на проблеме сталинизма и сталинистского наследия в движении трудящихся за пределами данного региона. Я буду опираться на опыт Великобритании, где живу.

Ключевое слово здесь – наследие.

Сталинизм, в определенном смысле доминировавший в международном движении трудящихся на протяжении десятилетий, оставил после себя ряд идей, которые сохраняют свое влияние на это движение и левых даже сегодня, через шестьдесят лет после смерти Сталина.

Continue reading

Per SMS zum Arbeitskampf

Der israelische Gewerkschaftsbund Histadrut feiert große Erfolge, während Gewerkschaften anderswo gegen sinkende Mitgliederzahlen kämpfen.

Anfang November kündigte Ofer Eini nach acht Jahren seinen Abschied von der Spitze des israelischen Gewerkschaftsdachverbands Histadrut an. Das Ende der »Ära Eini« ist ein guter Anlass, um an einige der außergewöhnlichen Erfolge zu erinnern, die die Histadrut in den vergangenen Jahren erzielt hat, vor allem darin, einst für »unorganisierbar« gehaltene Beschäftigte zu organisieren. Dass diese Erfolge außerhalb Israels so gut wie unbekannt sind, ist auf die Feindschaft einiger Gewerkschaften gegenüber dem jüdischen Staat zurückzuführen, die auch die israelische Gewerkschaftsbewegung trifft. Continue reading

Israel’s Histadrut wins big victories as unions elsewhere struggle to grow

This article appears in German in Jungle World with the headline “Per SMS zum Arbeitskampf” and also on Talking Union, the blog of the Democratic Socialists of America Labor Network.

In early November, Ofer Eini announced the end of his 8-year stint as the head of Israel’s national trade union center, the Histadrut.

The end of the “Eini era” is a good moment to reflect upon some of the extraordinary successes the Histadrut has had in the last couple of years, particularly in organizing workers previously thought of as “unorganizable”.

That these successes are largely unknown outside of Israel is due to the blind hostility shown by some trade unionists to the Jewish state – a hostility that extends to the Israeli trade union movement. Continue reading

In Georgia, a newly-emboldened labour movement emerges

This article appeared today in Equal Times, which is the online magazine supported by the 175 million-member International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).  It also appeared on the website of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC).

Over the course of two days in mid-November, a drama played on the Georgian railways that showed the world a newly-emboldened labour movement in this small country wedged between the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains.

Over 6,000 railway workers went on strike when management at the Georgian railways refused to negotiate on overtime pay, bonuses and other entitlements.

Vitali Giorgadze, Chairman of the Georgian Railway Workers New Trade Union (GRWNTU), told Equal Times: “We had been trying to start collective bargaining negotiations with the administration for about a year. It was due to these struggles that we decided to use every legal action we were granted by the labour code to speed up the process.”

Desperate to reach a compromise, union leaders not only gave the railway management the legally-required 21-day-notice for the strike, but they also gave the administration an additional 10 days.

But to no avail. At 10am on 14 November, 2013, the GRWNTU called a strike. Just six hours later, however, following a flurry of national and international solidarity, Georgian Railyways management called the unions to the table to start negotiations. By 3am that morning, an agreement had been reached.

It was a moment to savour for the Georgian trade unions which has been battling a repressive labour code and some of the most difficult working conditions in Europe.

But Georgia has a long tradition of working-class struggle.

Georgian labour and social democratic leaders punched far above their weight in the Russian Social Democratic Party and the Second International in the years up to 1917.

Until the Russian Revolution of that year, Georgia was a province of the tsar’s empire.

But for three short years starting in 1918, Georgia’s democratic socialists had the chance to show the world the possibility of a new, fairer and more democratic society in stark contrast to the dictatorial regime then being established by Lenin in Russia.

Among the features of their independent state were a multi-party democracy, a free press, a powerful cooperative movement, and strong and independent trade unions.

But Georgia’s experiment with democratic socialism ended abruptly in early 1921 when the Red Army invaded and for 70 long years, the Georgian people knew nothing of independent and democratic trade unions.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and Georgia’s independence in 1991 was meant to bring about a new era of freedom – but for the Georgians, it brought on an era of instability and dictatorship that lasted for more than a decade.

During this period, unions were first crushed by President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who they had dared to oppose.

But his overthrow by former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze a year later did not make things much better.

It was only following the ‘Rose Revolution’ in November 2003 and the assumption of power by Mikhail Saakashvili, that things began to change.

However, change did not come immediately.

In fact, the Saakashvili years were marked by some major struggles as unions faced increasingly intransigent employers and one of the most restrictive labour codes around.

As Gocha Aleksandria of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) put it, Georgian workers have had to endure: “Policies that focused on exploitation of the labour force, lack of governmental labour market institutions and a legal code that fought against the practice of social dialogue.”

The most famous example was the Hercules Steel struggle in 2011, when the local governor and police in Kutaisi, one of the country’s largest cities, broke a strike with a campaign of repression.

The railways were also the scene of attempts at union-busting.

An attempt by the railway workers’ union to convene a congress in early 2011 were disrupted in several places by employers and their agents trying to prevent delegates from attending.

“The employing companies were motivated into thinking that they were exempt from punishment if they practiced bad employment policies,” said Aleksandria.

“However, the union has been fighting against these circumstances and the sense of solidarity is high with the members.”

Though Saakashvili was anything but a friend of the unions, and was widely seen as a promoter of neo-liberal reforms that made it harder than ever to build trade unions in the country, it was under his rule that unions and government negotiated changes in the country’s labour laws that finally produced positive results.

The new labour law, announced in the summer of 2013, was far from what the unions wanted.

It was a watered-down version of the one the unions had earlier agreed to, and it was weakened in part due to pressure put on by the American Chamber of Commerce in the country.

But as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) conceded, the new legislation “provides some protection against anti-union discrimination, increases paid leave for people in hazardous occupations, prohibits dismissal of pregnant women and increases the duration of temporary disability provisions.”

There are now signs – such as the recent railway strike – of a new vigour among the Georgian trade unionists.

The GRWNTU’S concerns – overtime pay, increased wages and bonus system based on experience, as well as a return of the 13th month pay system – will be familiar to workers in many countries.

The union called for a nationwide strike to begin on Thursday, 14 November, 2013 but the railway company did all it could to disrupt the strike and prevent its spread.

While in the capital Tbilisi the strike was solid, in western Georgia, it ran into strong resistance from the employer.

Some key union leaders were uncontactable, and in reports that are reminiscent of the attempts to block the railway workers’ congress in 2011, they said that threats were made against them.

The GTUC put out an appeal for help, and got a quick response from the ITUC.

In a strongly worded statement to the Georgian authorities, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow expressed her grave concern “regarding the on-going pressure and defamation exerted by the management before and during the strike.

“Instead of negotiating, the management interfered in the union internal affairs and in particular its right of assembly. When the notice of the strike went public, the management started to threaten workers of reprisals in case they joined the strike. To mislead public attention, GR management also tried to slander the railway union and GTUC by speaking of blackmail and sabotage as well as by accusing the GTUC leadership of masterminding the process.”

But the employer’s efforts to break the strike only made it stronger.

Within a few short hours, the GTUC issued a statement saying that: “Following six-hour talks, a consensus has been reached regarding all three issues raised by the Georgian Railway Workers New Trade Union.

“The just fight of the railway workers has been successful and the outcome meets the interests of the railway workers. The Georgian Railway has now resumed its operation in a usual mode.”

For the workers’ movement in Georgia, this victory – sweet though it is – is only the beginning.

Unions will need to make the most of the new labour law to organize many thousands more workers and reverse years of declining membership.

And they’ll need an improved labour law, one that really does fully comply with International Labour Organization (ILO) core conventions.

To get that, the occasional organisation of a successful strike will not be enough.

The Georgian unions of the 21st century, like their predecessors a century ago, will need to become much more engaged politically to challenge the neo-liberal agenda in their country.