Year 2000 No. 83, May 15, 2000

Britain’s "Commitment" to Sierra Leone Is One of Sordid Self-Interest

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Britain’s "Commitment" to Sierra Leone Is One of Sordid Self-Interest

Pensioners' Parliament in Blackpool

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Britain’s "Commitment" to Sierra Leone Is One of Sordid Self-Interest

Britain’s continued armed intervention in Sierra Leone has no justification and must be condemned.

The British armed forces have had their mandate "extended" for a month after they were deployed under the signboard of protecting the lives of British citizens in Sierra Leone. There are currently some 700 British military personnel on the ground in Sierra Leone. The immediate pretext is that of assisting the build-up of the UN armed forces, the UNAMSIL force (United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone). In the latest move, the Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Charles Guthrie, arrived in the capital Freetown yesterday, still protesting that British forces would leave as soon as possible, and insisting that there are no plans to land the Marines’ "Four Two Commando", at present on HMS Ocean and at least five other British warships at anchor off Freetown, nor deploy the 13 Harrier fighter jets. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is continually insisting on the form of words that British troops are not there as "combat troops", nor as part of the UN forces. But once more it is evident that Britain is pursuing an armed intervention in a sovereign country under the pretext of humanitarian motives and moral duty, with no international authorisation and with ulterior motives. It cannot be ruled out that the US and Britain have deliberately engineered this situation, since it was they who insisted that the leader of the RUF whom they had been instrumental in overthrowing became chairman of the Peace Commission while freeing the "rebel leader" Fodoy Sankoh from sentence of death to be brought into the government to be put in charge of the diamond mines.

Britain’s role of interfering in the internal affairs of Sierra Leone has been extremely sordid in the recent past. Robin Cook is hoping that democratic people in Britain will have short memories and forget the Foreign Office’s involvement in the Sandline International affair, the flouting of the UN embargo on fuel and arms to bring Sierra Leone’s President Kabbah to power, the plunder of diamonds, gold and mining concessions by financiers as an integral part of the counter-coup against the army junta in March 1998, the Legg Report and the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee Report which accused the Foreign Office of operating to its own agenda and the Foreign Secretary of arrogance, all of which the government attempted to brush aside as irrelevant.

It should also not be forgotten that Britain was the colonial power in Sierra Leone from the 18th century until 1961. Its colonial legacy to the African country was of impoverishment, division, attempted destruction of its culture, and a continuing plunder of its mineral and other natural resources. Of course, the British government now claims that it is following an enlightened course, while it fosters the most horrific stories against the "rebel" RUF forces, born of the most repugnant racist and chauvinist outlook – a contemporary equivalent of the imperialist philosophy of the "white man’s burden".

The intervention has also to be seen in the context of the new "scramble for Africa" which the big powers are engaged in, as well as, in particular, Britain’s attempts to bring about arrangements in its old colonial possessions in Africa which bring them into line with Britain’s dreams of empire and as part of those countries who toe the line and follow Anglo-American and Eurocentric values. This is the case in Zimbabwe, where it has not fulfilled obligations to fund land reform agreed at the time of independence and is now engaging in a vituperative campaign against the Zimbabwean government and attempting to impose conditions and interfere in that country’s democratic process. It has of late been lauding its relations with Zambia as "a partnership of equals, not one reflecting old colonial relationships" as it pushes for further privatisation according to the IMF’s neo-liberal agenda for that country while stepping up British investment in Zambia.

Not only has Britain’s colonial legacy in Africa not been overcome, but the government is pursuing a policy of stepping up its penetration of Africa in the manner of 19th century colonialism. This is precisely what is causing disaster, conflict, war and further plunder and enslavement on the African continent, and is being utilised by Britain and other big powers as pretexts to intervene. At the same time, the big power chauvinism promoted by the government around these questions among the workers’ and people’s movements in Britain is a component part of the block to the workers taking up their own independent programme and boldly affirming their rights.

The British working class and people must demand an end to these sordid relations of exploitation pursued by the government on behalf of the monopolies, and call for an end to the government’s intervention and interference in Africa and throughout the world. Furthermore, the British government has itself the moral duty to render reparations for the plunder and destruction of lives, cultures and economies that it has been and continues to be responsible for.

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Pensioners' Parliament in Blackpool

The following report has been sent in to WDIE from a pensioner who attended this year’s Pensioners’ Parliament in Blackpool, which was held on May 9, 10 and 11. The Parliament was preceded by a National Pensioners March.

On a bright, sunny day in May, something like 1,000 angry pensioners, from all over Britain, assembled on the promenade at Blackpool. Representing 10 million or more older people, and led by Jack Jones, former general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, now president of the National Pensioners’ Convention (NPC), and accompanied by other officers of the NPC, they marched with banners and placards flying to the famous Winter Gardens Conference Centre where they joined with 2,000 others – filling the vast hall to capacity.

They were to have been addressed by Jeff Rooker MP, Minister of State for Pensions. However, Mr Rooker was unable to attend because of a 3-line whip in the House of Commons. On the other hand, most if not all of the assembled pensioners had not really come to hear him tell them the same old sorry story, but for him to listen to them.

Consequently, after the Mayor of Blackpool had officially welcomed the pensioners and opened the conference, Rodney Bickerstaffe, general secretary of public sector union UNISON, addressed the Parliament.

Rodney Bickerstaffe, who has been widely tipped to take over as leader of the NPC after he stands down at the end of the year, in his own renowned and inimitable witty way, emphasised, to a huge round of applause, that he was willing to take up the cudgels on behalf of older people.

The first debate of the three-day parliament – on Community Care – was presented by Evelyn McKewan who said: "Community Care is the Cinderella of the welfare state. Considerable public concern has been shown about conditions in hospital and access to medical care and the NHS gets more money and rightly so; the plight of people struggling to care at home has received very little publicity. There are tens of thousands of vulnerable older people who are unable to receive the services they need to live with dignity independently in their own homes, and their spouses and children who worry desperately about how they can cope and what the future will bring."

She said that Tony Blair has spoken that some elderly people "are not shown the respect or given the comfort they deserve" when in hospital. But she said, "We must show the public and the government, that social services often deny this respect to elderly people at home. They deny it frequently because the resources available are too limited to provide the help that is needed. Too often people are turned away without help"

On the second day of the Parliament, Jeff Rooker did address the assembly. But he received a slow handclap from delegates because he claimed that the government was improving pensions. Instead the Parliament backed the action of the London and South-East Pensioners’ day of action on May 17 for the demand for a substantial rise in the basic pension and the restoration of the link of pensions to earnings. The Parliament also called for a national march to highlight the worsening conditions of Britain’s pensioners.

On Tuesday evening, a well-attended fringe meeting was organised which was addressed by a number of activists in the pensioners’ movement. Joe Simmons, President of the British Pensioners and Trade Union Action Association, gave an address. He said New Labour was intent on destroying the welfare state. It was not a question of where they are going but where they are coming from, he said, and it sums up as the ruling classes coming to power and managing to survive on the backs of the working class. He asked, "Isn’t it about time we started really going about getting what should be, rather than saying what should be?" He called on the National Pensioners’ Convention to lead and said that "the organised pensioners’ movement has a unique opportunity to stimulate the rest of the labour movement and to influence the move to a socialist society which would considerably help ourselves as well as workers everywhere".

(The NPC day of Action starts at 1pm on Wednesday May 17 with a lobby outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, which is off Parliament Square in London, followed by a demonstration between 1.45 and 2.30pm outside the Department of Social Security, Whitehall.)

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