Columnists

Not So Awkward Now

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Why some union leaders have buckled over the occupation of Iraq.

Watching the major trade union leaders at this year's Labour Party conference, I was reminded of a Socialist Worker editorial discussion a few years ago. We were discussing the 'awkward squad' - the union leaders elected to office on policies critical of Blairism from the left. We all agreed that these leaders could not be crudely equated with the Blairite figures they had replaced. Their combative language reflected a wide feeling for more struggle among hundreds of thousands of union activists.

The Monster at the Door

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Avian flu could cause an epidemic far more catastrophic than many politicians are prepared to admit.

As in a classic 1950s sci-fi thriller, our world is imperilled by a terrifying monster. Scientists try to sound the alarm, but politicians ignore the threat until it's too late. Indifference ultimately turns into panic.

The monster is H5N1, the lethal avian flu that first emerged in 1997 in Hong Kong and is now entrenched in half a dozen South East Asian countries. It has recently killed scores of farmers and poultry workers who have had direct contact with sick birds.

Watch Out, Oughton's About

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The Treasury's money saving schemes hide the real public finance leaks.

It should become clearer this month how much substance there really was in the deal brokered between leaders of the main unions and New Labour apparatchiks at Warwick before the Labour Party and TUC conferences. On Guy Fawkes Day, the vast majority of the country's 350,000 civil servants will take part in a day of action over government plans to slash anything between 80,000 and 130,000 posts from key departments.

Some Mother's Son

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'Cocky, aloof and arrogant' was how the Guardian described him. 'A preening male chauvinist pig' was the opinion of the Independent on Sunday's editorial. A Tory columnist summed him up in just four letters that sadly never made it onto Radio 4.

And if Sir Mark Thatcher's contemporaries shed no tears at the news of his recent pyjama-clad arrest, or for the theft of his shoes, jacket and mobile phone from his prison cell, how much more the rest of us laughed. How sweet it was to hear of just a little discomfort experienced by someone who is not just the heir of the most vindictive prime minister in living memory, but who has repeatedly traded on that ruthless reputation for his own enrichment.

Moore Fact Than Fiction

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Film websites are becoming venues for heated political debates.

If you look closely at the billboard advertising any latest US blockbuster movie, you will often notice a web address hidden among the credits. Occasionally the film studios will tie their film into some other advertising and sales deal - so the official website may well be hosted by the Sun newspaper, for instance. However, with more controversial or political films the web can become more of a battleground.

Poor, Black and Left Behind

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Hurricane Ivan highlights US rulers' contempt for the black and poor - a contempt echoed by John Kerry's campaign

The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Ivan saw affluent white people flee the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less - mainly black - were left behind in their below sea level shotgun shacks and ageing tenements to face the watery wrath.

The Thaw Sets In

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The anti-capitalist and anti-war movements of the last five years show enormous similarities with the movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But there is, so far, one big difference.

The years 1968-74 saw a huge increase in the level of industrial struggle in many countries. There has so far been nothing on that scale this time round, despite big one-day general strikes in several countries (although, unfortunately, not yet in Britain). The wave of demonstrations and strikes among French teachers in the summer of last year has been the exception, not the rule.

The Joker Returns

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Deep inside Silvio Berlusconi's batcave, did the demon Bliar really imagine that all he needed to do was to round up a few other cartoon baddies like Milburn and Mandelson to startle the nation and, with another whirl and spin, the rest of us would forget all about the war in Iraq?

Or that we would all be bamboozled by his nauseating, ever so humble performance at the TUC - which in every previous year he had always treated with absolute contempt?

A few years ago a speech from the PM would still have generated a polite ovation. Not any more. For the most part, delegates sat in stony silence and, as the BBC's Nick Assinder reported, even when promised that the government would not renege on pledges in 'the Warwick agreement' made in June, 'they were far from overcome with excitement or gratitude'.

A Ring and a Prayer

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Forget Glastonbury, the Olympics and the Edinburgh Festival: the real event of the summer had no need for sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

The Silver Ring Thing, the virginity cult born in the Bible Belt of the US, recently came to sermonise to British kids about the evilness of sex. Because obviously none of our self-appointed moral guardians have thought of that before.

The Truth That Can't be Spinned

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On 1 September 1934 millions of cotton spindles stopped spinning.

Across the Southern Piedmont mill whistles blew, but workers didn't come to work. The most exploited industrial workforce in the US - the 'lint heads' of the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama - was on strike.

As mill owners appealed frantically for injunctions, teargas and the National Guard, a vast peaceful army of textile workers demolished the image of Southern labour as culturally servile and unorganisable. With voices honed to spare beauty in the choirs of mountain Baptist churches, they sang powerful hymns of solidarity instead.

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