PCS/war On Want Rally Supports Palestinians And Chagos Islanders

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International speakers at the PCS conference: French trade union leader Christian Grolier (left), Palestinian student Khaled Al-Mudallal (centre) and Hengride Permal, chair of the Chagos Islands Community Association (second from right)
International speakers at the PCS conference: French trade union leader Christian Grolier (left), Palestinian student Khaled Al-Mudallal (centre) and Hengride Permal, chair of the Chagos Islands Community Association (second from right)

THE PCS civil servants union held a 70-strong international rally at its annual conference in Brighton last Wednesday evening where it launched a joint PCS/War on Want initiative ‘Global Problems, Public solutions’.

Hengride Permal of the Chagos Islands Community Association was given a warm welcome and told the meeting: ‘The Chagossian people, especially those from the biggest island of Diego Garcia, were forced out from our island without our belongings, put on a boat and sent into exile to Mauritius and the Seychelles islands.

‘It is 40 years we have been fighting to return, and we are still fighting!’

She added: ‘On June 30th the government is appealing to the House of Lords against the High Court decision that allows us to return to our outer islands.

‘There is a division in the government, as the Foreign Affairs Select Committee is recommending that we return and to discuss how we can do so.

‘We have submitted our position to this committee, as we believe all Chagossians must be consulted and involved in this decision.

‘We do not want this decision to be taken by the British government, the Mauritian government or by any businessmen that believe our islands can be turned into a private holiday paradise.

‘The British government has fought three appeals to stop our return, which is a disgrace.

‘This is why we believe the trade union movement should support our case and make sure British workers right a terrible wrong that was done, and is still being done to the Chagossian people.’

She concluded: ‘We demand the removal of the US military nuclear base from Diego Garcia which has been used to attack countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and others and is also used to hold and torture prisoners illegally like Guatanamo Bay.

‘The Chagossian people support all people fighting for their rights and we would like you to support us in our big campaign to return home.’

War On Want chief executive John Hilary welcomed the joint initiative with the PCS to end privatisation of public services.

‘Over a billion people still living in crushing poverty, two billion without any access to proper sanitation and these kind of things mean we cannot have “business as usual”.

‘Because “business as usual” up until now meant one thing: privatising public services; opening up markets so that the big western companies can come in and make profits; and laying off hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in country after country across the world.

‘We know that privatisation has led to higher fees, higher costs in basic services, whether it be health, education or water. These services have been priced out of the reach of poorer people.

‘So you get families who are no longer able to send their kids to school or get essential health care for their children.

‘In Iraq, immediately the American government installed the coalition authority under Paul Bremmer, the first thing he did was to privatise all of the state-owned enterprises making it possible for 100 per cent ownership by foreign companies, a 100 per cent profit repatriation to take all of the money out of Iraq and back to the US and UK.

‘Now they are trying to push through an oil privatisation law to make sure they have the whole Iraq crown jewels into the bargain.

‘Our government has produced its own economic “road map” for Palestine which is to get rid of all the public sector jobs that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians depend on for their livelihood.

‘When you make education free in developing countries, overnight you get millions of children being enrolled into primary schools, and this is the same when health care is made free.’

Husam Zomlot from the Palestinian General Delegation to the UK brought greetings from the Palestinian people.

‘Last week coincided with the 60th anniversary of Naqba, the catastrophe which Palestinians associate with exile, with uprooting and ethnic cleansing when more than half of the population of the time were uprooted at gunpoint.

‘The Naqba has been a reoccurring incident which has not stopped at one point in time.

‘Three words that describe the Palestinian experience for the last sixty years are ‘exile’, ‘exclusion’ and ‘isolation’.

‘We have had to put up not with an ordinary, normal classic form of colonial occupation, but with a very new form of an ideology that is aimed not at controlling you, not particularly being a hegemony power for economically trying to subdue you, but is aimed at replacing you altogether and denying you your sheer existence.’

On the situation in Gaza, Zomlot said: ‘What is happening there is beyond any description; this not just at the level of some political dispute.

‘This is a matter of literally liquidating an entire nation . . .

He added: ‘According to the UN, in just the month of April, 155 Gazans were injured, 70 deaths (one woman, 22 children.’

He continued: ‘Between 1997 and 2000 there was not one Israeli killed as a result of the fierce Palestinian security apparatus to curb any attempt to attack Israel.

‘In these same three years, Israeli settlements, colonies, inside the West Bank doubled.

‘They then said it was not about security, it was about Yasser Arafat who was the obstacle to peace. As far as many Palestinians are concerned, they did remove him physically.

‘Then they said it was not about Arafat, it was about democracy

‘Then we conducted one of the most free, transparent elections in the entire region and they said “no, you voted the wrong way”.

‘Then it was about reform and not democracy, it goes on and on and on.

‘Should we recognise their thinking of a Palestinian state, that is bantustans under an apartheid system?

‘The crux of the matter, the mother of all evil, is that it is the Naqba strategy.’

He concluded: ‘Ensure that the Palestinians are not alone; that the logic that Israel is beyond international law and accountability is not true.

‘This can be shown by not only the carrot is used but also the stick.

‘I call on our friends in the trade unions to serously start using the stick, such as in South Africa.

‘It can only happen with an international boycott and sanctions campaign.’

Palestinian Khaled Al-Mudallal said: ‘After seven years of hard work and study in the UK, I decided to visit my family and bring my wife to spend our honeymoon in the UK.

‘I found myself trapped in a big prison called the Gaza strip.

‘In June 2007 the Israeli military closed all the seven borders, not allowing a single Gazan or even goods to enter or leave the strip.

‘I was struck by the collective punishment on my people, and I was also a victim of the siege which resulted in losing my final academic year at Bradford University and my job.

‘I had to suspend my education and hoped to start next September. During those six months I fought for my right of movement and my right to an education. This was not possible without the help and support of my friends and UK organisations who believed in my rights.

‘Due to all this support and the vast media coverage on my case, I won a very unique appeal through the Israeli Supreme Court which I placed against the Israeli government for not letting me and hundreds of other students out of Gaza.

‘I left Gaza, and left behind me 1.6 million people suffering, dying every single day from the Israeli occupation, the Israeli terrorists. We have been accused of being terrorists, but this time we have to clarify this to everybody that the real terrorism is in the Gaza strip and in Palestine.’

He concluded: ‘I call for the end of the Gaza siege and for the freedom of Palestine.’

Christian Grolier, general secretary, of France’s Driving Examiners and Supervisors for Driving Licence and Road Safety (SNICA-FO) told the rally: ‘Now we are facing a new kind of public service because of a new president, Nicolas Sarkozy. This new kind of public service means the end of job guarantees and, welcome to precariousness.

‘Sarkozy wants to manage civil servants as private sector workers.

‘In France, it is revolution. All the trade unions reject his new law. On the 15th of May we called the workers to go on strike against this law. The strike was successful, but currently the government is still following its destruction plan.

‘The Parliament will vote this law next June; so, I can tell you that there will be a new strike action in June.’

He added: ‘But the privatisation of public services is not only a French problem. All over the European Union people and workers feel the impact of anti-social reforms and the rise in the cost of living.

‘If public service is replaced by private companies with the single aim of making profit only those with enough money will be able to access health care, education and so on.’

Grolier demanded: ‘The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) should appeal to all the unions for a general strike; if we wait, it will be too late. Together, European workers and unions have the responsibility to make this a better world for our children.’

International officer and PCS deputy general secretary Hugh Lanning, said that trade union action to support the Palestinians was ‘long overdue’.