Greece protests update

Just a short post for now. I may write a more in-depth one later when I have a chance.

BREAKING NEWS: Greek parliament has passed the austerity measures, bowing to the will of the financial collective but ignoring the wills of the protestors who have been demonstrating for months on end. Violence is continuing on the streets. As the Guardian reports:

  • There have been running battles between riot police and protesters outside the Greek parliament again as its MPs prepared to vote on whether to pass the austerity bill demanded by international lenders. The trouble flared after some protesters surged through metal barricades outside the parliament building. Police once again fired volleys of teargas. Some demonstrators hurled projectiles at officers but many fled the square as teargas filled the air.
  • Greece’s parliament approved the five-year austerity plan with 155 votes in favour and 138 votes against.

    Only one member of prime minister George Papandreou’s socialist party voted against the law and the speaker of parliament announced he had been immediately expelled from the party. One deputy from the conservative opposition cast a vote in favour.

    RT @thesspirit: #Syntagma sqr now (4.26pm) People are NOT leaving #25mgr #greekrevolution #28jgr


    I was in Syntagma Sq last night and it was an incredibly volatile situation. Teargas and fire crackers were thrown all over the place. One was even deployed into the middle of a group of people having a calm debate, which was totally uncalled for. There was of course a violent element (seemingly a lot of teenagers from what I could make out) who were just basically running around smashing things up, looting the kiosks and having running battles with the police.

    The police were pretty disgraceful (as usual) throwing rocks at groups of protesters (not ‘anarchists’ people of all ages) and generally lashing out and trying to ‘kettle’ protestors into smaller side streets so they could then throw the tear gas at them. Their ‘orders’ were clear.

    The problem is, this was before the measures are voted for. What happens if they pass? The place looked like a warzone and was so fraught the mood would change in a split second. I really wonder what the way ahead is. It doesn’t seem like there’ll ever be a satisfactory one.

Live updates of Greek protests can be found here.

Latest images from Greece protests (Part 3)

Riot police scuffle with a demonstrator during a protest outside the parliament in Athens June 29, 2011. (Reuters)

People run away from tear gases during a protest at Syntagama square in Athens June 29, 2011. (Reuters)

Teargas swirls in the air during a protest at Syntagma Square in Athens June 29, 2011. (Reuters)

A wounded protester is being led away from clashes with riot police as protesters tried to prevent deputies from reaching the Greek parliament in central Athens on Wednesday, June 29, 2011. (Thanassis Stavrakis)

Demonstrators embrace after being overcome by tear gases during a protest in front of the parliament in Athens June 29, 2011 (Reuters)

Strikers chant slogans during a protest in central Athens, on Tuesday, June 29, 2010. Public services shut down across Greece Tuesday as workers walked off the job in a new nationwide general strike that disrupted public transport, left hospitals operating on emergency staff and pulled all news broadcasts off the air. (Alkis Konstantinidis)

Latest images from Greece protests (Part 2)

Public Power Corporation employees hold a banner which read in Greek " We Resist," during a protest in Athens, on Monday, June 28, 2010. Hundreds of Public Power employees protested Monday outside the Greek Finance Ministry (Petros Giannakouris)

Riot police take position outside the Greek Parliament prior of a demo in Athens on Tuesday June 28, 2011 (Dimitri Messinis)

A protester shakes the hand of a riot policeman during a demonstration in Athens on Tuesday June 28, 2011. (Petros Giannakouris)

A protester kicks a tear gas canister thrown by riot police during a demo in Athens on Tuesday June 28, 2011. (Petros Giannakouris)

Protesters shout slogans as riot police stand in Athens' Syntagma square, Tuesday, June 28, 2011. (Thanassis Stavrakis)

A television van burns after been set on fire by protesters during a demo in Athens on Tuesday June 28, 2011. The graffiti reads "Mass Media of deception" (Thanassis Stavrakis)

Secret cables reveal US opposed paltry minimum wage rise in Haiti despite hunger and rising cost of living

    Recently released Wikileaks cables show that the United States worked to aggressively oppose a ‘paltry’ minimum wage rise for Haitian assembly zone workers.

The US embassy worked closely with factory owners contracted by Levi’s, Hanes, and Fruit of the Loom to block a wage rise, according to secret US State Department cables obtained by Haiti Liberte and The Nation magazine.

The factory owners refused to pay $0.62 an hour, or $5 per 8-hour day, as decreed by a measure unanimously passed by Haiti’s parliament in 2009. The cables show that, in the background, the factory workers were backed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US embassy in Haiti.

The minimum daily wage before the rise was a mere $1.75 a day. Haiti is already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and also one of the most unequal. The CIA ‘world factbook’ recognises that “Poverty, corruption, and poor access to education for much of the population are among Haiti’s most serious disadvantages,” though it also states that Haiti “enjoys the advantages of low labor costs and tariff-free access to the US for many of its exports.”

The factory owners opposed to the minimum wage increase told parliament they were willing to accede to a paltry 9 cent per hour pay rise for workers (totalling a mere $0.31 per hour) as they toiled in factories making T-shirts, bras and underwear for US clothing companies.

The US State Department stepped in, urging the then-Haitian president Rene Preval to intervene.

In a June 10, 2009 cable to Washington, US ambassador Janet Sanderson said: “A more visible and active engagement by Preval may be critical to resolving the issue of the minimum wage and its protest ‘spin-off’ — or risk the political environment spiraling out of control.”

A mere two months later, President Preval negotiated with Parliament to secure a deal to introduce a two-tiered wage rise: one for the textile industry at $3.13 a day and another for all other industrial/commercial sectors at $5 a day.

Despite the two-tiered proposal, the US embassy was still not satisfied. Deputy chief of mission David Lindwall said the $5 a day minimum wage “did not take economic reality into account”, but was a populist measure aimed at appealing to the “unemployed and underpaid masses”. Haitian supporters of the minimum wage rise stated that, actually, the rise was necessary to keep pace with inflation and rising costs of living.

As stated, Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere and many struggle with hunger and poverty. The CIA ‘world factbook’ website states that Haiti is already: “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty” – so why did the US intervene so aggressively, opposing the minimum wage increase? Their own intelligence agency plainly states on their website that they recognise that Haiti struggles with such levels of poverty.

According to a 2008 Worker Rights Consortium study, a working class family of one working member and two dependants requires a daily wage of at least $13.75 to meet normal living expenses – and this was in 2008. 3 years later, Haitians are describing the difficulties in meeting the rising cost of living.

In response to a request for a statement regarding these cables and alleged US intervention, the US embassy’s Information Officer Jon Piechowski told Haiti Liberte: “As a matter of policy, the Department of State does not comment on documents that purport to contain classified information and strongly condemns any illegal disclosure of such information. In Haiti, approximately 80% of the population is unemployed and 78% earns less than $1/day – the U.S. government is working with the Government of Haiti and international partners to help create jobs, support economic growth, promote foreign direct investment that meets ILO labor standards in the apparel industry, and invest in agriculture and beyond.”

The Haiti cables also reveal how the US embassy closely monitored pro-wage increase demonstrations and how there were worried about the political impact of minimum wage increases. UN troops were called in to quell student protests, sparking demands for the end of the UN military occupation of Haiti. Does this suggest that the UN was working on behalf of US interests, ignoring the interests of the poverty-stricken Haitians?

Due to the fierce protests of workers and students, sweatshop owners and Washington won only a partial victory in the minimum wage battle, delaying the $5 a day minimum for one year and keeping the assembly sector’s minimum wage a notch below all other sectors. In October 2010, assembly workers’ minimum wage rose to $5 a day, while in all other sectors it rose to $6.25.

The Haitian Platform for Development Alternatives said in June 2009: “Every time the minimum wage has been discussed, [the assembly industry bourgeoisie in] ADIH has cried wolf to scare the government against its passage: that raising the minimum wage would mean the certain and immediate closure of industry in Haiti and the cause of a sudden loss of jobs. In every case, it was a lie.”

Outcry from civil liberty groups as Police buy digital tracking software

One Nation Under CCTV

Image by tj.blackwell via Flickr

The Metropolitan Police have bought a security programme which can track suspects and their associates in the digital world, prompting a backlash from civil liberties groups and privacy campaigners, the Guardian reports.

The Met, Britain’s largest police force, has its hands on Geotime, a security programme used by the US military. It can collate digital data and can be used to generate a three-dimensional graphic,  showing an individual’s movements and communications with other people. It can collect the information from social networking sites, satellite navigation equipment, mobile phones, IP logs, and even financial transactions.

Given the contention with the Met’s policing of the recent demonstrations, it is natural that there would be an outcry against such a purchase. It is emerging that the Met has been keeping tabs on “domestic extremists” – ordinary citizens who attend peaceful demonstrations or affiliate with activist groups. A recent example has been that of John Catt, an 86 year old man, who has had his presence at peaceful protests and demos logged in secret by police units over four years. He is currently attempting legal action against the police. He has no criminal record, yet has been systematically stalked by police units.

There has also been an outcry against the infiltration of green activist groups by undercover police of late. Civil rights and privacy campaigners and lawyers are expressing concern at how the software could potentially be used to monitor innocent parties, in breach of data protection legislation. As their current track record is not immaculate, these concerns are potentially very valid.

Alex Hanff, the campaigns manager at Privacy International, said: “Once millions and millions of pieces of microdata are aggregated, you end up with this very high-resolution picture of somebody, and this is effectively what they are doing here.”

“We shouldn’t be tracked and traced and have pictures built by our own government and police for the benefit of commercial gain.”

Sarah McSherry, a partner at Christian Khan Solicitors, which represents several protesters in cases against the Metropolitan police, said: “We have already seen the utilisation of a number of tactics which infringe the right to peaceful protest, privacy and freedom of expression, assembly and movement. All of these have a chilling effect on participation in peaceful protest.”

“This latest tool could also be used in a wholly invasive way and could fly in the face of the role of the police to facilitate rather than impede the activities of democratic protesters.”

The Met has confirmed that Geotime has been paid for, yet has declined to give a figure. Several possible uses for the software are being assessed, yet there has been no comment on whether the software might be used during investigations into public order offences.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Met stated: “We are in the process of evaluating the Geotime software to explore how it could possibly be used to assist us in understanding patterns in data relating to both space and time. A decision has yet to be made as to whether we will adopt the technology [permanently]. We have used dummy data to look at how the software works and have explored how we could use it to examine police vehicle movements, crime patterns and telephone investigations.”

Alongside the Met, the Ministry of Defence is also examining Geotime. A spokesman said: “The MoD is assessing Geotime as part of its research programme but it is not currently being used on operations.”

Video footage of police man-handling disabled protestor

Video footage has surfaced of a disabled protestor being pulled from his wheelchair by police, dragged along the pavement several yards and then dumped on the curb of the pavement. Sympathetic protestors attempt to save the man from the police but to no avail. One police officer is then seen to be aggressively pulled to the side by a fellow officer! Evidently due to the fact that he was too heavy-handed and thuggish in his actions towards a handicapped protestor. Each day more footage and imagery are coming to light showing the police brutality in the recent demonstrators – many with no identifying numbers on their lapels meaning no accountability! Watch the video for yourself and make up your own minds, however. (Warning – some strong language is used by the shocked witnesses)

The BBC interview with Jody McIntyre, the disabled protestor in the video above, can be found below. It must be said that the BBC interview seems slightly biased and accusatory, but I will leave it up to you to form your own opinions. Leave comments below to share your view. Big respect for Jody McIntyre and much sympathy for him and his cause.

Talbot Campus on #dayx3*

The cold cuts deep despite the sun’s subtle warmth. A young girl pulls her coat tight around her, shivering in the bitter air as she makes her way to the warmth of Poole House. Shelter.

Inside, the canteen marks a departure from the desolate barrens of the outside world – conversations compete for attention as students sit nursing hot drinks, discussing the ebbs and flows of existence. Despite the chatter, however, many seats are empty; the abandoned tables contrast with the hub of activity that the canteen usually brings. The cashiers wear Christmas hats, trying to invoke some festive spirit. A tiny Christmas tree sits atop a counter, looking forlorn. Today, we mourn.

Today is the day that Parliament votes on the proposals for the rise in tuition fees; today is the day that our government votes to condemn future generations to a lifetime of debt. Perhaps this is the reason Talbot Campus is so empty, so unwelcoming – a taste of things to come. I head out of Poole House and make my way to the AUCB campus, to see if the atmosphere is any different. As I step onto AUCB soil, the rays of the sun hit me in the face, blinding me. The campus, however, is also deserted. A stack of abandoned goods lay strewn on the side of the path – chairs, desks, planks of wood, a TV. As I make a right and head down the path towards the courtyard, I see a few students wandering aimlessly, some sitting on benches smoking cigarettes in the bitter cold as a bulldozer makes its way towards a construction site, scattering a few students who look lost. The atmosphere here is no different from Talbot Campus; it is empty, uninviting and desolate. Today the whole of Bournemouth University appears to be in mourning, the outcome already pre-empted by the few who walk the twin campuses with no real purpose. I depart. A small procession of students passes, some carrying placards, making their way to the SUBU coaches bound for the London protest. Some have not given up yet, imbued with a fighting spirit and a sense of optimism. They are chatting amongst themselves, laughing. It inspires hope in me.

In the circle courtyard outside Poole House, a banner reads: “Bournemouth University against Education Cuts”. The courtyard itself is empty. Work is still commencing on the newest “state-of-the-art” lecture theatre, the construction site fenced off. Who knows whether it will ever be filled once the cuts start to bite? I head back into Poole House, into the warmth. Grabbing a coffee, I sit down and mull over the scene before me. Suddenly, Christmas music pipes up, lifting the bleak mood. BU language society members stand in a line, enacting the songs in sign language for those who sit attentively. People clap. I chuck a few pence into the donation pot and make my way out, hands in pockets, deep in thought.

*#dayx3 is the twitter hashtag for the third day of student demonstrations which took place on the actual day that Parliament voted on the proposals to raise tuition fees. I wrote this feature on dayx3, as I walked around Bournemouth University’s Talbot Campus. It was a cold winter morning, and the campus was fairly quiet, perhaps an indicator of things to come, I wondered. I filed this under Comment as well as Fiction>Stories, as it is also a piece of creative, journalistic writing.