Internationalism - helping our future generations to remember

Over the next few weeks I expect there will be significant activity around pay discussions and the response by the Government to the Justice Select Committee report into Transforming Rehabilitation. I intend to bring you news of developments on both fronts as soon as I can, and members would do well to look out for accurate and timely information via our regular mail outs to your preferred email addresses and our website and printed versions of Napo Magazine.

I am also picking up news as I write of high profile resignations in the Government and confirmation that Labour’s Review of Probation will be headed by the indomitable Lord Ramsbotham. I am sure that our members will be delighted to hear that the Front Bench Justice Team followed through on our suggestion that ‘Rambo’ was the right person for this job.

Into Europe

It’s as good a time as any then, to report on other work that I have been involved with over the past month or so where I have had the privilege of representing the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) of which Napo is one of 26 affiliates, on two separate visits to Europe. The first was a day trip to the European Parliament in Brussels where I formed part of the UK Trade Union delegation to the Peoples Standing Committee on Turkey and the Kurds.

The event saw the delivery of a verdict from a distinguished panel of International Judges following an earlier hearing of evidence into alleged atrocities by the Turkish Regime around the city of Afrin over a defined three-year period.

We will publish more in the Napo Magazine shortly, but it was pretty damning; even when taking into account the fact that in addition to the death and destruction being suffered by the Kurdish community and Syrian people in Aleppo, there are other regional conflicts taking place simultaneously across the globe. It’s also a not well publicised fact that levels of slavery today match those which were prevalent centuries ago.

Whether it be Syria, where a number of nations seek to establish geographical hegemony as they test their latest state of the art weaponry in so called ‘real time’ military conditions or the perennial Israeli and Palestinian troubles or those occurring in Yemen, the first casualty of such wars is usually the truth followed by the innocent.

It was ever thus of course, and never more so in the country that I have been visiting this week alongside members of the GFTU Executive Committee. Our trip to Poland was organised by one of the three umbrella bodies (similar to the UK TUC) who seek to unify the staggering 26k trade unions operating across the public and private sectors.

We have learned much about the social and economic issues which are blighting our respective nations and we had much in common around the difficulties of engaging with our respective members who are leading busy family lives in addition to trying to cope with huge pressures at work. The challenges of encouraging younger people to step up to the plate and represent others is also something that we spent some useful time discussing. There will be a full report of the exchanges by the GFTU over the summer, but news that Poland is seeing an increase in the use of ‘Hate Speech’ in its communities was profoundly disappointing, given the turbulent history of this proud nation and the persecution of its people over many centuries. The return of such a casual attitude to racism sadly mirror those in Britain.

Lessons we must never forget

A stay in Warsaw would not be complete without a journey to the Polin Museum which celebrates the contribution of the Jewish people to Poland’s rich cultural history, but also marks the terrible pogroms waged against them, long before contemporary history provided us with photographic evidence.

Most adults over the age of 40 will have a good understanding of the crimes waged against Poland by the Nazis and Russians before and during the Second World War, the failure of the Allies to come to their aid at critical times in that conflict and the infamous ‘Yalta’ sell out.

These facts were brought into sharp focus by a visit to the Warsaw Uprising Museum, a moving memorial to heroism and resistance against oppression,overwhelming force and treachery.

Even in my formative years there was a wealth of irrefutable evidence about the Nazi atrocities that had taken place in the extermination camps where millions of men women and children who did not fit the ideals of the ‘Master Race’ were subject to unspeakable horrors prior to  becoming the victims of  regimented mass murder.

To be honest, I am finding it tough going to articulate my emotions from having actually stood in places today where helpless human beings were destroyed or suffered permanent physical and emotional damage forever, even if they were lucky enough to walk away from such carnage.

The best thing I can say is that perhaps those who espouse racism and discrimination as an acceptable part of their lives ought to see the likes of Auschwitz and Birkenau for themselves and think long and think hard about what it is they actually believe in.

I hope that my grandchildren and those that will follow them make that same trip one day to also pay their respects to the fallen; and that they too will appreciate the message, that if we fail to heed the lessons of history we are doomed to repeat them.

Blog type: 
General Secretary's Blog