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Fire Down Below

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The pressure for strikes is rising and could lead to major confrontations with the government this autumn.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), with 55,000 members, is in the middle of a deadly serious pay fight, which is set to lead to the first national strikes in the service for 25 years. A series of big FBU demonstrations in the summer--12,000 in London, over 5,000 in Glasgow, over 1,000 in Swansea, 2,000 in Belfast--were marked by a spirit of confidence and determination. A special FBU conference on 12 September was due to agree a ballot for national strike action.

Put the Politics Back into Pride

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The future of London's annual gay and lesbian Mardi Gras is in doubt. Organisers claim it lost nearly £450,000.

They are now talking about selling the Mardi Gras to another company. This should come as no surprise--they did consider the idea of copyrighting the word 'Pride' a number of years ago.

This year's gay and lesbian Pride demonstration was one of the smallest for many years. Ten thousand marched in central London in July while 27,000 attended the Mardi Gras festival at Hackney Marshes. It was only five years ago that 50,000 marched and over a quarter of a million attended a free festival at Clapham Common.

Anti-capitalism - Out of the Bars and Onto the Streets

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One minute past midnight, 20 June in Seville, and we were witnessing something strange. Some 200 young activists were marching round the packed old town waving red and black flags, chanting that the general strike had started, and demanding the bars close. Many landlords obeyed, shutters slammed down, and drinkers went out onto the streets with a smile.

In the morning almost everything was shut. Most had stickers or posters proudly displayed in the window saying 'Closed for the general strike'. At 5am there were 50 pickets at our local bus garage, barricading the entrance. By 7am there were 300 pickets outside the main Seville hospital. The streets were littered with strike leaflets. By midday strikers and supporters were gathering for the strike demonstation.

Media Ownership: The Sky's the Limit for Broadcasters

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'Culture' minister Tessa Jowell's new media bill, released last month, lets the market rip through the television industry, with Rupert Murdoch set to benefit.

Jowell launched the bill just as her previous free market prescription for our screens, digital television, collapsed, leaving behind bad debts, and the bad memory of Johnny Vegas and his monkey.

Jowell's new bill is trumpeted as 'a significant deregulation in media ownership to promote competition'. The deregulation lets Rupert Murdoch bid for a free to viewer television station, Channel 5, to add to his satellite and newspaper empire. It also allows regional television firms like Granada and Carlton to merge.

Between the Lines

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Nigerian electricity company begs for calm - Far right Colombian paramilitaries launch complaints website - Nasa advertises on internet for space shuttle spare parts

Nigeria's privatised power company, the National Electric and Power Authority (or NEPA, referred to by Nigerians as Never Enough Power Anywhere), has placed advertisements in newspapers begging for calm in the event of power failures interrupting World Cup games. 'If you go on an orgy of destruction simply because there was a failure during a match, you will not be helping matters,' it pleads.

Civil Servants: A Very Uncivil Coup

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In the trade union equivalent of a right wing coup, Barry Reamsbottom and his 'moderate' cronies on the PCS union national executive (NEC) are attempting to sack the democratically elected general secretary, Mark Serwotka, and prevent the president, Janice Godrich, from carrying out her duties.

It is worth reminding ourselves of the events that led to Mark Serwotka being elected.

The 2000 PCS conference voted to hold an election for general secretary. This was endorsed both by the NEC and a ballot of all members. On a high poll the ballot recommendation was supported by 62,296 to 2,766. Reamsbottom, together with Blairite Hugh Lanning and Mark Serwotka, signalled their intention to stand. Unfortunately for Reamsbottom he failed to get the 50 branch nominations required to stand (he got a pathetic 19).

Colombia: Darling of the Death Squads

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Some 54 percent of the 24 million registered voters stayed at home in Colombia's presidential election last month.

Colombia's new president is death squad darling Alvaro Uribe Velez. Son of a prominent mafia boss, Uribe Velez won a decisive first round victory in Colombia's elections. The high abstention rates left Velez with just 5.8 million votes--24 percent of eligible voter preferences.

The low turnout signified a growing disenchantment with a political system that has failed to address the nation's ongoing death squad violence and a severe economic crisis.

The Budget: Not Very Taxing on the Bosses

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A terrible squealing and squawking has been set up by the ruling class and their experts as they pretend to be 'shocked' by Gordon Brown's Budget.

Stephen Radley, chief economist at the Engineering Employers Federation, set the tone when he told the 'Financial Times' on 19 April of 'widespread anger' among his members. 'Some of them feel they have been shafted by the government,' he whined. Ian Fletcher, head of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, was equally furious. He complained that the rises in National Insurance contributions for the poor and the workers were to some extent 'cushioned' by tax credits for families with children, while tax cuts for 'business' had been 'overshadowed by the scale of the tax rises'.

'Halte au fascisme, halte au capitalisme!'

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They came in their tens of thousands, young and old, black and white. Within hours of the news that Le Pen had come second in the first round of the presidential election, the boulevards of central Paris were filled with protesters.

Many were in tears of shock and emotion. One young woman had painted 'J'ai honte' ('I am ashamed') on her forehead.

I was on a feeder demonstration that marched first to the Place de la Republique on its way to the traditional gathering place for protesters, the Bastille. As we passed metro stations and cafes people responded to the call 'Dans la rue!' ('Onto the street!') and joined the march. Demonstrators hugged each other as they found friends in the crowd--they were on their mobile phones--'We're going to the Bastille. You must come'.

Elections: A Left Response to Europe's Right Turn

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Four years ago it all looked so different. Social Democratic parties had swept to office in all but three European Union states, in some cases, as in Britain, putting an end to over a decade of right wing rule.

Now Le Pen's success in France has underlined the failure of those governments and the bitterness they have created. His breakthrough in the first round of the presidential election comes after a series of successes for fascist and far right forces in Europe.

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