Wednesday 9 May 2018

Disabled court victory

My son lives in Cornwall and, aged 45, has been disabled since he was six months old after a vaccination precipitated Salaam epilepsy. In hospital, he contracted meningitis and started a life of physical and, more recently and courtesy of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), mental hardship.
Today his eyesight is poor and the right side of his body has atrophied and shortened. He often falls and has to use a stick.
After a recent scan on his right ankle which was causing him discomfort, he was given anti-inflammatories and painkillers. His doctor is currently helping him with a request to be given an electric wheelchair.
He has never been able to hold a full-time job, but occasionally picks up small bits of income working as a DJ and running an online radio station from his home. I have to include all this biographical/medical information so that you can better understand what follows.
For 20 years, he received a Disability Living Allowance (DLA) of £80 per week and £108 per week working tax credits, a weekly income of £188.
Because his mobility was worsening, he contacted the DWP to request assistance with his housework. He could only stand for a short time without pain. “Their answer was to tell me that my benefits had been assessed and that I would lose them.” says Ben. “As a result, my weekly income fell from £188 to £67. They said I could apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which had replaced DLA. I did so, but my application was rejected. It was a massive blow and has left me with a huge shortfall. It’s crazy because my disability means I have to take five tablets twice a day as I’m in constant pain.”
He appealed their decision and the DWP then carried out an ‘assessment’ on Ben’s condition which concluded that their original decision to cut his benefits was the correct one.
The assessment was carried out by a private firm, Atos, one of two companies (the other is Capita) who between them earn more than £125 million a year from the taxpayers for their work. Work which doesn’t actually involve any face-to-face assessments at all. I have been unable to find out whether they employ any medically-trained staff.
The Guardian gives a figure of 80 suicides a month by disabled people refused their benefits. “Before our eyes,” writes Frances Ryan, “ the principle of a benefit system is being reduced from opportunity, respect, and solidarity to destitution, degradation and isolation”.
Those resilient enough to continue their lives and, as with my son, lucky enough to have strong family and friendship support, have been pressing their cases on to a final court-based Tribunal appeal.
Of these about 60% are successful. Ben is one of them so here’s the story of his court hearing on Tuesday 8 May at Truro Magistrates Court.
I am there as a witness for Ben which took place in front of a judge, a GP and a disability professional. It was an eye-opener to me that once the government is not present, (one of the Tribunal members said, ‘you will be pleased to know that the DWP are not represented here”), then everyone can and does start behaving as human beings.
The questions dealt with the reality of my son’s life and not with assessments carried out at the other end of the country and without anything being assessed. So it came down to ‘how do you peel potatoes?’, ‘how often do you pause when you are walking?’, ‘what are your pains and what medicines do you take?”
Ben’s cousin Peter had put together the papers for the Tribunal and when he asked to speak critically on the DWP’s assessments, was told by the judge, ”Don’t bother with that. We don’t take them seriously.”
Sir Patrick McLoughlin, former Chairman of the Conservative Party, said ministers had to view the funding for people with disabilities in the context of a wider need to reduce the UK’s budget deficit and that “as far as supporting disabled people, I think overall we do very proudly in this country.”
Scope called on the chancellor Philip Hammond to withdraw his “totally unacceptable and derogatory comments” after he said Britain’s sluggish productivity could partly be blamed on more disabled people in the workforce.
This Tory government and their devotion to weakening the already weak are beyond contempt, but their policies have a logic which is both cruel and unjust.
They take place in the context whereby the richest 1% of the global population is receiving 82% of the newly created wealth worldwide. Oxfam claims this is brought about by tax evasion, erosion of workers rights and continuing social benefit cost-cutting in countries such as the UK.
Back in Truro we were sent out of the court while the panel deliberated and after a short time, we were called back. The judge was smiling as he told us not to bother to sit down. Ben had won his appeal. The panel then told him that he would now be receiving enhanced benefits.
As we were leaving the room the judge’s final comment was “serves the DWP right”. The Truro Trio were giving a massive finger to the DWP and the government.

Friday 4 May 2018

Haunted by the Ghostly Ghouly

What a day. A blog I wrote at the beginning of yesterday morphed into this one by the end of the day. A bad day and three coffees ended as a good day and three glasses of wine.
I have spent most of my life believing that socialism would never come via a vote in Parliament. I will never forget the start of a march on Westminster against the 1970s anti-union laws and agreeing with the speaker who recommended we don't go there as he didn't believe in disturbing the dead.
And on the Labour Party I took Ralph Milliband's words seriously when he wrote: “Pious references to the Labour Party being a ‘broad church’ which has always incorporated many different strands of thought fail to take account of a crucial fact, namely that the ‘broad church’ of Labour only functioned effectively in the past because one side – the Right and Centre – determined the nature of the services that were to be held, and excluded or threatened with exclusion any clergy too deviant in its dissent.”
But Jeremy Corbyn changed all that for me and I have now joined the Labour Party. I am probably one of the few geriatric members of Momentum. Because of illness, I have been unable to join in party canvassing and have chosen instead to write articles which I hope can serve as ammunition in the struggle. And I have Jeremy to thank for now believing that perhaps radical change can come about with a Left social democratic party.
That process started when Jeremy won the leadership, but it is a struggle in every sense of the word.
On the morning of 4 May I woke and turned on the radio to hear the Right wing MPs, Jess Phillips and Chuka Umanna, demanding an enquiry because the Labour Part had done so badly. I am not supposed to drink coffee, but was now on my third and it was only 8 am.
Why wasn't Jeremy being interviewed or, at least, a shadow minister who would speak truth to this nonsense.
As the day went on it became obvious that Jess of the Ubershrills and Chuka Themoaner were blatantly lying. The BBC's own figures settled on the following.
Labour won 2,323 seats - up 62
Conservatives won 1,330 - down 32
Lib Dems won 536 - up 75
The Greens won 39 - up eight
UKIP won three - down 123
What in heaven's name is their definition of 'badly'.
There is no way the right wing of the Labour Party will tolerate Corbyn and his challenge to the consensual tweedle-dum, tweedle-dee politics of the last decades.
At the heart of this is the neo-liberal agenda of austerity for the many and riches for the few, privatisation and war.
Labour's right wing MPs have and will actively continue to oppose any moves to the Left in their party and seem happy to sabotage a Corbyn leadership which has gathered together ½ million members. As even the 'corporate' media have recognised, any successes from the 3 May local elections have been attributed in no small measure to the dedication of Momentum members.
The ghostly ghouly Blair sits smiling on the shoulders of Tess and Chukaa and the other right wing MPs who are ably backed by their non-recall salaries and their invitations to the front pages of the right-wing media and the comfortable sofas of BBC chat shows.
Elections and their results are important – Jess, Chuka and the BBC understand that well - which is why election results are misinterpreted, but we now need to stress that a socialist Labour Party is not just about elections. We must not return to the days of incumbency in place of insurgency, church politics in place of non-conformist dissent.
The Labour Party needs to return to the mass rallies we saw at the beginning of Corbyn's ascendancy. Be present on picket lines and demonstrations. Stand with and lead popular protests on Grenfell and Windrush. Fight for and with the disabled and the welfare-robbed poor. Defend the NHS from the privateers. Be central to the anti-war movement and alert to those in their own ranks who have taken us to war in the past and likely to do so again - and soon! Support those, often Jewish and Black 'anti-semites' driven out of the Party and shout back at those fabricating 'evidence' against them.
Meanwhile I will keep writing and be on the streets once I have stopped using my stick. Or perhaps I will continue to have it with me just in case!

Wednesday 2 May 2018

Three Jewish Tailors from Stepney

In July 1936 three Jewish tailors from Stepney, East London, set off for Barcelona. Nat Cohen, Sam Masters and Allick Sheller cycled there to witness the People’s Olympiad. Six thousand athletes from 22 nations registered after the games had been hastily organised. 

This was the Spanish Republic's response to the racism and propaganda being spewed out by the Nazi regime as a build-up to the Berlin Olympics, due to open six days after the end of the People's Olympiad.

When the tailors entered the city, there was a feeling of euphoria. 20,000 tourists had come to Barcelona to see the 'alternative Olympics'. They arrived to witness a vibrant city in turmoil: the dockers were on strike, anarchist demonstrators were in the streets and walls were plastered with political slogans, alongside bright posters advertising the games. 
But the tailors never got to see the People's Olympiad. The city's euphoria was replaced with fear about a possible military coup. On their first morning in Barcelona, the tailors woke up to gunfire and sirens. The Civil War had begun. They decided to stay in Spain and join the resistance to Franco's fascists. 
6,000 to 8,000 of the 40,000 International Brigades' volunteers are estimated to have been Jewish, including nearly half the Poles, over one-third of the Americans and around 20 per cent of the Britons. They came from 54 countries to fight in what was to become ‘the first battle of the Second World War’. 
The leadership of the International Brigades considered forming an entirely Jewish battalion but, because the Brigades were used as shock troops with high casualties, this idea was rejected. A Jewish contingent, the Naftali Botwin Company, was set up within the Polish Palafox Battalion.

Gerben Zaagsma, author of Jewish Volunteers, the International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War, claims the motivations of Jewish fighters were complex, especially as the situation of Jews in Eastern Europe was considerably different from those Jews in Britain or the United States. But as one recruit from the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, the unit of American volunteers, wrote, ‘I am a Jew and that is the reason I came to Spain. I know what it means to my people if fascism should win.’

Like the three tailors, George Nathan was a working-class Jew from the East End of London. He had joined the Brigade of Guards in the First World War, but left the army in disgust during the General Strike of 1926 after hearing fellow officers discuss shooting ‘dockland scum’. 
As Major Nathan, he became a much-respected Chief of Staff to the commander of the XV International Brigade. He died fighting in July 1937 during the battle of Brunete, alongside the men of his British battalion. Gold-tipped swagger-stick in hand, Nathan was hit by shrapnel and buried beneath olive trees on the banks of the Guadarrama River.

William Herrick, born William Horvitz, was among the first US recruits to fight in Spain. As his train left the Gare de Lyon in Paris bound for Barcelona, the recruits sang “The Internationale” and “Hatikvah”. His parents had fled Tsarist Russia and covered the walls of their apartment with pictures of Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky. In his youth, Herrick had been active in the Young Pioneers and had helped organise unions amongst black sharecroppers in the Deep South. 
Herrick was wounded and returned to the US to write his book, Hermanos! which has been described as ‘the fictional counterpart to Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia'. Later he went on to write Jumping the Line: The Adventures and Misadventures of an AmericanRadical.

Moishe Stern, a Ukranian Jew, arrived in Spain with a forged Canadian passport. He adopted the name Emilio Kléber and became second-in-command to André Marty, the International Brigade’s commander. When Madrid was surrounded on three sides and expected to fall into Franco's hands in November 1936, Kléber led the XI International Brigade’s heroic efforts to save the Spanish capital. Initially feted in Soviet propaganda as the ‘Saviour of Madrid’, he later became a victim of Stalin's paranoia and died in a Soviet Gulag. 
Nat Cohen, one of the tailors who'd set off for the Olympiad, took part in the failed attempt to liberate Majorca from Franco's forces. He was also responsible for assembling the Tom Mann Centuria, the first effort to bring British volunteers into one unit.

The Spanish Civil War was a defeat for those who bravely stood up against fascism. It marked the start of a wider world war. The victory over Hitler and fascism involved great suffering until the bitter end. In the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto the Jewish resistance leader, Marek Edelman, was following in the footsteps of Jews who had fought in Spain from 1936 - 1939. Together, the vision, hopes and struggles of these freedom fighters centred on the liberation of all mankind through socialism. 
Their sacrifice was a far cry from the pernicious nationalism of those they had fought against and the Zionists who today falsely claim them as their own.

David Wilson & Anne Aylor