Having joined New Internationalist in 1998 as distribution manager, Jo moved into the editorial team in 2008, where she tries to keep her colleagues in order. Failing that, she edits, proofs and commissions pieces for the magazine and website and waters the plants when she remembers.

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Jo Lateu is the editorial co-ordinator at New Internationalist.

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A word with Kati Hiekkapelto

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Kati Hiekkapelto ©

Who or what inspires you?

I am inspired by nature: birds, plants, light, sea, wind and forests. Nature is the essence of my being. I could not live without the touch of the Earth and the wild. I sometimes think that I am some kind of an animal. I love walking barefoot, lying on the surface of our planet, swimming in its waters, wandering in its woods. I am also inspired by good-hearted and wise people. I am lucky to have a profession where I can meet interesting and inspiring people and find soulmates all around the globe.

Your university dissertation was on racist bullying in Finnish schools. To what extent is racism a problem in Finnish society?

Hate crimes, hate talk... hate is increasing all the time. It is a huge problem not only in Finland but everywhere. Extreme rightwing populism is brainwashing people. Many immigrants can’t get work, or apartments; they fall out of education.

Do you know what the Finnish government’s response was to the refugee wave Europe is facing? They decided that Somalia, Iraq and Afganistan are ‘safe countries’ and refugees can be returned there. It’s an easy solution, isn’t it? It reveals the extent to which laws and regulations can be used as tools for power and oppression. Just like in Germany in the 1930s.

What are the particular problems immigrant children face?

It’s a disaster for immigrant children to lose their mother tongue. They cannot learn another language well if the foundations of their mother tongue are fragile. And if you don’t have proper language skills, you risk dropping out of education and work. This naturally causes exactly those problems immigrants are accused of creating: crime, packed suburbs and other social problems. Immigrant children are also over-represented in special education in elementary schools. It can be seen as an attempt to help them, of course, but also as marginalizing and labelling them by society and its institutions.

These are only a few of the problems they face. There are many more: bullying; living between the pressures of home culture and the surrounding Western culture. Young girls are guided towards traditionally low-paid ‘female jobs’ by school councillors and not encouraged to study to their full potential.

Anna Fekete, the hero of your novel The Exiled, is an outsider – living in Finland but from Serbia’s Hungarian minority. What role do identity and the feeling of belonging play in our sense of self?

That’s a big question. The short answer is simply that identity and belonging are everything! Humans are pack creatures. Every single person needs roots, family, friends, a strong sense of self and belonging to something to feel alive, to live happily. Why do we so often and so strongly want to forbid this for some individuals or groups?

Who would you like to banish from the earth and why?

No-one in particular, other than the whole human race, because we damage ourselves, each other and our planet. I don’t think that the Earth needs us for anything especially.

As well as writing, you are a punk singer and performance artist. To what extent do you use these different art forms to put forward a political message?

I don’t write to deliver a political message. I write because writing is my passion. I’m a storyteller, that’s all I want to do. There’s a political message in my writing, for sure, but it is completely up to the reader to take it or leave it. Punk is different, of course. Punk is my political instrument but also a way to have fun, do crazy things, be creative in a lyrical format, or with short poems, and to allow my angry and aggressive side to come out.

Most of my performances I do alone in nature. I like the idea of nobody watching or recording. It is happening in the moment, in peace and quiet. n

The Exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto (Orenda Books) is out now.

The Unreported Year 2016

South Africa rhino

© Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Africa

(above) South Africa

Gently does it: at a farm outside Klerksdorp, workers lower a tranquillized black rhino to the ground before dehorning it in an effort to deter poaching. A sign that this measure is working is borne out by the fall in poaching. In the first seven months of this year, 702 carcasses were found compared to 796 in the same period in 2015, but a review by the Department of Environmental Affairs revealed that elephant poaching has increased. Between January and July 2016, 414 alleged poachers were arrested.

Fernando Del Berro

(rght) Morocco

An elderly woman crosses the border from the tiny Spanish enclave of Melilla into Morocco – one of thousands who each day carry on their backs up to 80 kilograms of goods for sale. For them the border is porous, allowing them to carry out irregular trade and avoid paying tariffs (it is legal to carry packages as long as they are ‘personal baggage’). But for refugees the border is nearly impossible to cross. In 2016 Spain stepped up security to prevent asylum seekers gaining access to the European Union via its North African enclaves. Melilla is now enclosed by 10-metre fences and moats protected by guards.

Edward McAllister/Reuters

(above) Gabon

Déjà-vu? In a repeat of events that followed the 2009 election, anti-government protests broke out in September after incumbent Ali Bongo retained the presidency by a margin of less than one per cent of the votes. The charred interior of the parliament in the capital, Libreville, was all that was left after clashes between the police and supporters of opposition candidate Jean Ping. Three people were killed and over 1,000 arrested. International observers criticized the election and said that Bongo had benefited from preferential access to money and the media.

Europe & Central Asia

Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

(left) Belarus

Children undergo physiotherapy in a rehabilitation and health centre on the outskirts of Minsk, an area left contaminated after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident. According to UNICEF, children born in Belarus since the disaster are more susceptible to thyroid cancers and a range of other health issues caused by the radioactive fallout. As the country marked the 30th anniversary of the disaster, controversy raged over the construction of a new nuclear power plant on the border with Lithuania, with politician Mikalai Ulasevich telling the press that the government ‘are building a crematorium’.

Cagdas Erdogan/Majority World

(above) Turkey

In April, militants took to the streets of Gazi, a mainly Kurdish and Alevi district of Istanbul. The area holds regular demonstrations against the government’s treatment of ethnic minorities. President Erdoğan’s 2016 security crackdown has seen him take a harder line against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. In May he stated that the stalled peace negotiations, which he opened up in 2012 in an attempt to bring to an end more than 30 years of armed struggle for Kurdish autonomy, would not restart. Military operations, he declared, would continue ‘until the very last rebel is killed’.

Alex Masi

(above) Ukraine

Children at a summer camp in Azov hold their arms across their chests as they chant: ‘Ukraine, holy mother of heroes, come into my heart... You, holy of holies, are my life and my happiness.’ As the war between government forces and pro-Russian rebels continues, the next generation of fighters is being prepared for battle. In August, 50 youngsters aged 8 to 16 attending the camp were taught how to shoot and handle weapons. They also received survival training and tactical knowledge of combat scenarios. The total number of deaths in the conflict reached 9,700 in November.

Americas

Vlad Sokhin/Panos

(above) United States

A young resident sits on an elevated boardwalk in the indigenous Alaskan village of Newtok, July 2016. The permafrost – frozen ground which covers most of the US’s northern outpost – is melting because of climate change. The ground sinks as it thaws, causing damage to roads and buildings and releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases. Newtok’s 350 inhabitants were due to be relocated in 2013 but the programme was halted due to local political disputes. The village’s highest point – the local school – could be under water by the end of 2017.

Carlos Jasso/Reuters

(left) Cuba/Costa Rica

A Cuban migrant couple rests inside a tent at a provisional shelter in Paso Canoas. Some 8,000 Cubans were trapped in Costa Rica at the beginning of the year, waiting for Nicaragua to let them continue their journey to the United States. US law currently allows Cubans the right to remain if they can reach the country, but Donald Trump is likely to challenge this once he gets into office. In February he told a reporter that allowing Cubans special access under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act is ‘wrong’. Within days of Fidel Castro’s death in November, he had also threatened to reimpose sanctions on the Caribbean island.

Carlos Vera/Reuters

(above) Chile

A demonstrator looks a riot police officer in the eye during a protest to mark the anniversary in September of the country’s 1973 military coup. This photo went viral on social media, with some commentators likening the girl’s defiance with that of the man who stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square in China in 1989. But Chileans took to the streets for many other causes too in 2016, including students calling for educational reforms; taxi drivers protesting against on-demand car service Uber; the fishing community wanting government action after a ‘red tide’ algal bloom that made seafood toxic; and hundreds of thousands to voicing their anger about the pension system.

South Asia

Mahesh Kumar A/AP/Press Association Images

(above) India

A rag-picker collects reusable material from a garbage dump in Hyderabad, October 2016. That same month, a stand-off between city officials and legislators halted refuse collection in Vijayawada, leaving rubbish piled high in the streets. But this represents just a small part of the country’s garbage crisis: India generates 140,000 tonnes of waste every day, much of which ends up in landfill. Only 83 per cent of waste is collected, and only 29 per cent of that is treated. In January, a fire at a landfill site in Mumbai, which has rubbish piled 18 storeys high, was so large that its smoke was visible from space.

Danish Ismail/Reuters

(right) Kashmir

A man injured in clashes between Indian police and protesters in July sits inside a Srinagar hospital. Kashmir experienced a summer of heightened violence and unrest following the killing by Indian security forces of Burhan Wani, a leader of Kashmiri separatist group Hizbul Mujahideen. In the aftermath of the murder, widespread protests led to 85 deaths, with 13,000 protesters and 4,000 security personnel injured, according to The Times of India. The Indian-controlled region was put under curfew in July, with the restrictions continuing into November in some areas.

G M B Akash/Panos

(left) Bangladesh

Moin Miah, aged 75, holds on to a banana-palm stem as he floats in flood water looking for his lost belongings. Millions were affected by monsoon floods that hit northern and central Bangladesh in July and August. At least 250,000 homes were damaged, and 17,000 were washed away completely. According to the 2016 World Risk Report, which calculates disaster risk by multiplying vulnerability with exposure to natural hazards (cyclones, droughts, earthquakes, floods, and sea-level rise), Bangladesh is the fifth-riskiest place to live, after Vanuatu, Tonga, the Philippines and Guatemala.

East Asia & Pacific

Vlad Sokhin/Panos

(above) Solomon Islands

On Guadalcanal island in the Ontong Java Atoll, inhabitants of Lord Howe Settlement gather on the beach. The settlement is vulnerable to storm surges and rising sea levels, and its population is now considering relocation to the capital, Honiara. But with only 2,400 people speaking the local Ontong Java language in a country with 69 indigenous languages (plus the official English, spoken by just two per cent of the population, and Solomon Pidgin, its lingua franca), community leaders are concerned that their Polynesian identity and tongue will be lost as a new generation grows up in a location with no link to their ancestral land.

Eranga Jayawardena/AP/Press Association Images

(right) Sri Lanka

Conservation workers carry mangrove saplings for planting in Kalpitiya, as part of an ambitious plan to protect 15,000 hectares of mangrove forests. The seawater-tolerant trees help protect and build landmasses and absorb carbon to mitigate the effects of global warming. They can also reduce the impact of natural disasters, as was seen when the Asian tsunami hit the island’s eastern coast in 2004. Since then, mangroves have been protected areas, and cutting the trees down is punishable by law. In July 2016, President Maithripala Sirisena opened the country’s first mangrove museum.

Jorge Silva/Reuters

(above) Thailand

A harsh regime: inmates working out in a yard inside Klong Prem high-security prison in Bangkok in July. In October 2016, Thailand’s prison population was just under 300,000, or 443 per 100,000 people in the country (Canada has 114 per 100,000; the US 693). They were squeezed into 144 jails with an official total capacity of 217,000. The country’s Justice Minister, Paiboon Koomchaya, admitted in July that the government’s draconian drug laws were failing and said he wanted to downgrade methamphetamine from a Category 1 substance, thus reducing prison terms for dealers or those caught in possession of the popular drug.

Middle East

Ali Hashisho/Reuters

(above) Lebanon

A snail sits atop rotting oranges following much-needed rain in southern Lebanon in November. A report released by NASA in March revealed that the eastern Mediterranean drought, which began in 1998 and continues to affect Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey, is the worst in the last 900 years. Scientists studied tree rings – which are thin in drought years and thick in years when there is plenty of water – to see if the current drought is unusual. Their conclusion, said lead author Ben Cook, was that it ‘had some kind of human-caused climate change contribution’.

Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

(left) Yemen

A woman looks through a tent flap during a March gathering of Houthi loyalists protesting against Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. In September, a Houthi source told the Al Arabiya News Channel that the first women’s militia unit had been formed. Women in Yemen have long faced discrimination and violence, but the civil war has made them more vulnerable: the UNFPA reported that there were 8,031 recorded incidents of gender-based violence between January and September 2016, with the real figure likely to be much higher given the social norms that discourage women from reporting such abuse.

Mohammed Salem/Reuters

(right) Palestine

Ninja style: a Palestinian youth in the Gaza Strip jumps with a sword as he demonstrates his skills in front of the remains of buildings that were destroyed by Israel in 2014. The teenagers, who have been receiving martial arts training at local clubs for the past two years, have decided to form a team to hold regular shows, in the hope that the publicity generated will eventually lead to them being invited to participate in international contests. With youth unemployment in Palestine at 42 per cent in 2016, many youngsters face poverty and frustration.

A migrant’s story

01-09-2016-migrant-workers-590x393.jpg

by iStock/Thinkstock

❛The hospitality sector is made up almost entirely of migrants, and there is a high turnover because of the terrible pay and working conditions. We travel long distances to work in the city centre, and when we get home we’re too tired to do anything. We’re not machines, but all we do is work and rest. Many hospitality workers have physical problems – bad backs, aches and pains. They take painkillers to get them through their shifts, or turn to alcohol to unwind and sleep, or drink lots of energy drinks to get them through the day.

Migrants will put up with a lot because of what they’ve left behind. What they are experiencing now may be luxury compared to the environment of recession or poverty or repression that they come from – and employers know that. They say: “Put up or get out” because they know there are lots of others available to replace them.

Migrants just want to start a new life, a life without trouble, but they don’t understand the language or the system. There are no locals on hand, colleagues who can give advice on how things work here.

There’s not much solidarity between the workers. There are language and cultural barriers. And people want to keep their privacy; they may not trust each other. It’s hard to build up trust with your colleagues when there is such a high staff turnover.

Uniforms are not replaced regularly because of cuts in hotel budgets. Some staff – on a minimum wage – end up buying their own shirts or suits just to feel comfortable at work and proud of their appearance.

For women migrant workers there may be cultural or religious issues. I noticed one housekeeper putting her headscarf back on at the end of a shift. She had been told that she wasn’t allowed to wear it at work, and didn’t know that it was illegal for her employer to force her to take it off.

Unions aren’t even on people’s minds; they don’t know about them. I’ve told people that I’m in a union, but it’s hard to talk to them about it. Some fear trouble if they join. They fear what their managers will think (to whom they may have a sense of loyalty), which creates a sense of guilt. They are worried about the cost of membership fees. And they fear victimization and losing their job.

Migrants will put up with a lot because of what they’ve left behind

We’re campaigning for union recognition in the workplace because that would allow union organizers to talk to staff at work, rather than having to hang around at the back door like a mistress. There are CCTV cameras around the hotel exits, which makes staff feel they are being watched.

Real strength will come from workers seeing the union as a collective environment, but we’re far from that. Most still see the union as a way to secure their individual rights rather than their collective rights. We do service their personal problems through regular “surgeries”, but we need access to the workplace so that we can train workers to help themselves.

Being in a union helps people to understand their rights, but getting them into the union in the first place is what’s hard.

It’s also important for the union to give us migrant workers a voice, to listen to our experiences, and to give us agency. It’s our union, after all.❜

Afrika spoke to Jo Lateu.

Still standing or standing still?

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by ImageZoo/Alamy Stock Photo

A cheer goes up every time a taxi driverhonks his horn in solidarity. Passers-by stop to sign our petition and ask questions. A couple of well-heeled women hurry towards the hotel entrance, averting their eyes from the cluster of hospitality workers waving flags and chanting: ‘What do we want? Fair tips and a union! When do we want it? Now!’

We’re here on a busy London street, as the evening rush hour gridlocks the city, to support Robert, a Hungarian waiter at the luxury five-star Melia hotel, who has been sacked. His crime? To question the restaurant’s unfair practice of sharing tips – on which waiters depend to top up their low wages – between senior managers as well as waiting staff.

Robert had joined the London Hotel Workers branch of Unite, Britain’s largest trade union, and through its support found the courage to speak out. There is a lot to speak out about, because the capital’s hotels and restaurants are getting away with murder, exploiting the fact that most hospitality workers are migrants, desperate for jobs and unaware of their rights. ‘Hotel workers in the Philippines have more collective bargaining rights than those in London,’ says an exasperated Dave Turnbull, Unite regional officer.

Over 1,000 kilometres away in Barcelona, undocumented street vendors from Senegal are also fighting for their rights. As illegal migrants they cannot join an established union, so they have come together to create one for themselves: the Sindicato Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes (Popular Union of Street Vendors). Its activity, concedes Clelia Goodchild, whose documentary film El peso de la manta features Barcelona’s street vendors, is chaotic, because it has no experience, no contacts and often fails to communicate with its members properly – but it is a start. And it has already had some success, with the city council recently offering five street vendors the opportunity to attend a fishing course, which will then lead to papers and a regular job.1

Organizing and collective action – whether with the backing of a national union, like Robert, or the support of a handful of co-workers, like the Senegalese street vendors – is a must in the 21st-century fight-back against rapacious employers and neoliberal governments. But it is not easy. In many countries of the Global South, trade unionists put their lives on the line every day to fight injustice, and many are murdered.

Public-sector workers in Argentina staged a one-day walkout in February – 21,000 state employees had lost their jobs in the two months since President Mauricio Macri took office in December.

Matias Izaguirre/Le Pictorium/Alamy Stock Photo

The power of transnationals is increasing, thanks to free-trade agreements signed behind closed doors by governments either in cahoots with the companies or lacking the political clout or will to object. The globalization juggernaut, in which profit is king and to hell with the workers, is dragging down industries from manufacturing to healthcare in a race to the bottom: zero-hours contracts, outsourcing, privatization and sub-contracting are all weapons in the transnationals’ armoury. Previously hard-won workers’ rights – gains we in the West take so much for granted we barely register that they were fought for at all – are being shot to bits.

Though trade unions have been standing up for workers for nearly 200 years, it’s fair to say that they have been on a roller-coaster ride. There have been highs: winning an eight-hour day and a five-day week; the golden age of the 1930s and 1940s, when employees’ rights were enshrined in law in the US and Britain. But there have also been lows. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher systematically dismantled trade unions in a full-scale attack on workers’ rights, as part of their neoliberal free-market agenda. Australia’s John Howard followed suit, introducing draconian legislation at the turn of this century which resulted in many unions losing half their membership.2

Trade unions also have a proud history of international solidarity. In the 1860s, Lancashire cotton workers supported the unionists in the US Civil War. In 1997, dock workers in 27 countries struck for a day in solidarity with the Liverpool Dockers, who had been on strike for two years. But there have also been moments when corruption, poor leadership and infighting have risked bringing the whole movement into disrepute.

These days, the lows seem to outnumber the highs. Trade unions, it would appear, have their backs to the wall just when we need them most. Governments continue to pass anti-union laws: between 1982 and 2012, 200 restrictive labour laws were passed by federal and provincial governments in Canada, and after 9/11 the US used the ‘war on terror’ as an opportunity to deny many federal employees the right to unionize – threatening to invoke anti-terrorism laws to stop strikes.3,4

But all is not yet lost. After a period of introspection in the 1990s, when the battered and bruised Western trade unions mutated into little more than a mediation service between employer and employee, offering member benefits such as cheaper insurance on the side, the movement has begun organizing again. There is a new sense of urgency and optimism among many unionists, who have dusted themselves down and are ready to resume the fight. But which battles? And with which weapons?

David – or Goliath?

There is little doubt that the movement needs to adjust to a new reality. Just as the world of work has been transformed, so, too, must trade unions adopt new tactics in order to take the fight to the frontline. In recent decades, one method of shoring up worker power has been for smaller unions to join forces, creating ever-larger unions and federations. A century ago, for example, there were 1,300 unions in Britain; by 2005, there were just 226, with the biggest 11 sharing three-quarters of total membership.5 This route is still advocated by those who believe that there is power in numbers. It’s the Goliath option: bigger is better.

But another way has also emerged, via the example of grassroots social movements. Rebuilding trade unionism from the bottom up provides an opportunity to create smaller, more agile units. As David discovered, victory can be secured through a series of well-placed slingshots.

Advocates of this approach argue that power comes not from numbers, but from consciousness. Unions are wasting their time and money if they use their resources simply to recruit new members. What they should be doing is talking to workers and non-workers about local, national and global issues that affect everybody, and which are rooted in social, economic and environmental injustice. Unless workers believe that unions are relevant to them and their communities, they won’t join one or commit to paying their dues from their oft-meagre wages. So the first challenge is to educate – and that means talking politics.

This is nothing new for trade unions, which from the early days understood the importance of a working class educated in political matters. The GMB union in Britain contested school-board seats as early as the 1890s. Karl Marx, speaking to the International Workingmen’s Association 150 years ago, stated that it was the duty of the working classes ‘to master themselves the mysteries of international politics; to watch the diplomatic acts of their respective governments; to counteract them, if necessary, by all means in their power; to combine in simultaneous denunciations, and to vindicate the simple laws or morals of justice’.

Politics, however, is not always seen as a sexy subject and is frequently tarnished by the self-serving behaviour of politicians. The young, who have enough on their plate paying their rent and clearing their debts, are particularly hard to convince. ‘Young people don’t see much relevance in trade unions,’ explained one student at a political education event at Ruskin College in Oxford in June. ‘And they are as cynical about unions as they are about political parties.’ But with an ageing and declining membership, trade unions desperately need to reach young people; it is this generation who arguably most need union support.

Look at grassroots movements across the globe agitating for climate justice and democracy or against austerity, and it is evident that young people are engaged, and they do care about the future – their own, and the planet’s. So why are they turned off from what is, after all, the biggest social movement in the world?

Part of the problem is that workers in their teens and twenties may doubt their concerns will be taken seriously by unionists twice or three times their age. But there are other reasons, too. Phoebe, a young worker at McDonald’s and member of the Bakers’ Union, says that getting the opportunity to talk to her peers about unions is ‘almost impossible’. ‘It’s exhausting trying to recruit people,’ she explains. ‘We’re not even allowed to say the word “union” at work.’ Shift work and a high staff turnover don’t help. Yet Phoebe won’t give up. Having experienced sexual harassment by her manager, she says that ‘the union has given me a voice to speak out about these issues’.

'Young people are as cynical about unions as they are about political parties’

So the second challenge is for trade unions to meet young people where they are: out on the streets, at their places of recreation, and online.

New and emerging technologies offer an opportunity for today’s trade unions both to engage a younger audience and to increase international co-operation and solidarity. Social media is a cheap and quick way to mobilize and educate workers. In New York, an app has been developed by the Precarious Workforce Initiative with input from migrant workers to provide basic labour-rights information and enable workers safely to report wage theft and abusive employers.6

News of victory in one country can travel quickly via the internet and social media, with workers taking inspiration from international successes in their own sector. In New Zealand/Aotearoa, the government recently passed a law banning zero-contract hours, thanks to pressure from Unite NZ, which backs workers in the hospitality sector. For Robert and his colleagues in London, such victories offer hope that their own struggle may not be in vain.

Infighting and image problems

While putting the world to rights, trade unions also need to work on their image. Simply put, they have a branding problem. They don’t get much media coverage, unless they have called out their members on strike, in which case they are usually portrayed as a nuisance and have to tread a fine line between raising awareness and keeping public opinion on their side (as the junior doctors succeeded in doing in Britain recently). Union leaders in the West often fail to reflect the membership – the ‘male, pale and stale’ stereotype of white, middle-aged men on union executives still holds true far too often, despite some efforts to address the problem. Workers living with disabilities, or those from ethnic minorities or the LGBT community, often struggle to find anyone from their background on the executive that purports to represent them.

Infighting within and between unions has also taken off some of the shine. Between 2008 and 2010, unions in the US spent $140 million fighting over structure, membership, organizing strategies and leadership. So busy bickering were they that they missed an auspicious moment in history – Barack Obama entering the White House – when a concerted, joint effort could have made a real difference to workers’ rights. And discrimination is still rife within unions. According to The Center for Union Facts, US labour unions faced 13,815 charges of abuse of equal-opportunity rights in the first decade of this century, including 4,248 related to race and 3,386 related to age.7

Time to listen

From the Seattle anti-globalization protests to the Occupy movement, and from the Arab Spring uprisings to the climate-justice demonstrations at the UN talks, a new generation has been mobilizing from the grassroots – trade unions would do well to listen to their experiences.

‘We’re worth it!’ Members of the German ver.di trade union make a noise ahead of wage negotiations in April.

dpa picture alliance/Alamy Stock Photo

A new form of activism is moving into the space between grassroots campaigning and traditional trade unionism. It has taken off recently in North America and is now spreading to other Western nations, but it has its roots in the Majority World, where workers have for decades been on the frontline against the sort of political, social and economic injustice not seen in the West for centuries (though now beginning to make a reappearance). Many trade unions in the Global South were born of the struggle against colonialism, slavery or apartheid. Their current fight against global capital means they are well placed to instruct Western trade unions on how to organize, particularly in strategic sectors such as shipping and logistics. They are also bearing the brunt of climate change, a subject that trade unions in the Global North have been studiously ignoring for years, especially those representing workers in the fossil-fuel and nuclear industries. But a just transition to green jobs is finally being addressed.

In the West, early trade unions were active in social and community issues. Before the advent of the welfare state, British unions helped provide education, housing and healthcare for workers and their families. In the Global South today, trade unions have a similarly broad approach, seeing their members as ‘whole people’ and tackling issues in and out of the workplace. They may not even call themselves trade unions: the Honduran women’s collective CODEMUH, for example, refuses to define itself in this way because its focus is women’s issues in their entirety, not just women’s workplace issues.

Being the change

There is a new sense of urgency and optimism among many unionists, who have dusted themselves down and are ready to resume the fight

If the trade union movement is to flourish in the 21st century, it must draw on the best of its traditions and history but also discard dated beliefs and outmoded structures. This means learning from grassroots social movements and joining forces with them on issues of mutual concern. It means engaging in local issues of importance to workers and non-workers, while at the same time putting collective pressure on governments and corporations through targeted, international campaigns. It means overcoming its own problems of corruption and power imbalance while also addressing these same issues in our global economic system. It means being a ‘political watchdog, not a political lapdog’, and it means believing that another world is still possible.8

Robert’s story has a happy ending. Following pressure from the London Hotel Workers, Melia agreed to give him his job back, and to enter into talks about workplace union recognition. Though he will need courage to return to work and face his bosses, for Robert, having the backing of a powerful union has made all the difference.

We know what we’re against. But what are we for?

Trade unions defend workers against the worst excesses of a free-trade neoliberal global economy. But why stop there? One alliance from the Global South is pushing for a fairer economic world order.

As the forces of globalization squeeze labour rights around the world, resistance cannot stay localized. That was the internationalist vision of the Southern Initiative on Globalization and Trade Union Rights (SIGTUR), begun in the 1990s by South African trade unionists who dreamed of a new style of democratic trade unionism.

As it grew (SIGTUR now has affiliates in 35 countries across four continents), its leaders began to realize that solidarity actions across the shipping and logistics sectors could seriously disrupt trade in the just-in-time global economy.

Similarly, solidarity between employees from different countries working for the same transnationals led to a cross-fertilization of ideas and more fighting power. The Centre of Indian Trade Unions, for example, has worked closely with the Korean Council of Trade Unions to block attempts by the Hyundai Motor Corporation in both countries to put its employees on casual contracts.

Challenging the worldwide market system requires an analysis of its power structures, contradictions and weaknesses. But on its own this isn’t enough. SIGTUR realized it needed to focus on the alternatives as well.

Its participating unions had fought long and hard against the current economic system without articulating what they were struggling for. So in 2010 it established a Futures Commission to develop a grassroots alternative to neoliberalism.

The commission, which met most recently in March, is considering such issues as tax justice; moving from free trade to fair trade; transformation of the public sector; and a just transition from fossil-fuel capitalism. First steps in a long march to freedom from the tyranny of the free market.

Rob Lambert

sigtur.com

  1. For more about the film, see otoxoproductions.com

  2. The Civil Wars in US Labor, Steve Early (Haymarket, 2011).

  3. ‘Unions Matter’ report, Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights, 2013.

  4. Why Unions Matter, Michael D Yates, Monthly Review Press, 2009.

  5. ‘British Unions: resurgence or perdition?’, The Work Foundation, 2005.

  6. The Worker Institute, nin.tl/migrant-app

  7. The Center for Union Facts, nin.tl/union-discrimination

  8. Quote from John J Sweeney in A New Labor Movement for the New Century, ed. Gregory Mantsios, Monthly Review Press, 1998.

‘Politics is the battle of remembering over forgetting’

Mark Thomas outside the Red Shed

© Tracey Moberley

Tell us about your new show and your links to the Red Shed.

The Red Shed is a socialist shed in Wakefield and as a student at the nearby Bretton Hall College I first went there when I was 19. I did my first public performances in the Shed. Friends of mine and I would write shows for whatever campaign was going on and perform in the Shed to raise money for the campaign. We became fixtures and fittings there.

I often go back. Some of my closest friends are there and I have campaigned, performed and, indeed, recorded at the shed on and off for 34 years.

The show is about celebrating working-class stories, the North, Labour, the miners’ strike, memory, art, that politics is the battle of remembering over forgetting, Brexit and beer.

What message are you trying to get out in your new show?

Come and see it and then you’ll see!

You interviewed lots of people with connections to the Red Shed in preparation for the show – are there any characters or stories which have particularly stuck in your mind?

The ones that stick in my mind are the ones that end up in the show. As usual I have way, way too much material. What is brilliant about the Red Shed is that it is full of people who are ordinary people but have done something amazing. There is a fantastic bloke in the Shed called Vic who is on the committee and often helps collect the pots. Every time I see him he tells me not to forget the builders’ strike of the 1970s. One night I said: tell me about it – and sat with him and a recorder. Amazing. Amazing man who had been part of an incredible struggle.

The club steward when I first went to the club fought the Nazis in Greece and the Generals and helped unionize the merchant seamen. This was the bloke pulling the pints! So there are way too many stories to fit in the show – but every single one informs the show.

You were born and grew up in South London, moving to Yorkshire in the 1980s as a student. How did Wakefield differ from the life you were used to back home?

The South London I grew up in was one full of self-employed builders who had no interest in unions. The ethos was of acquisition and individual financial betterment. Harry Enfield hit the nail on the head with [his character] Loadsamoney, his brash mouthy cockney builder of the 1980s.

Wakefield and the north in the 1980s felt much more about community. People had to rely on each other at work and that sense of mutual dependence was palpable. Betterment was not just an individual endeavour but a communal one; the idea of solidarity was not just a notion – it was real. We all stick together to improve or we will all fail.

And going back to Wakefield now, more than 30 years later... what was that like? What has changed? What has stayed the same?

I have been back to Wakey off and on for years and I suppose the thing you notice most is the old pit villages are still the most deprived areas in the area. This is an open sore and wounds still run deep.

I was shocked when I was talking to an old miner, who I have known for years, who told me that he had only just got ‘straight’ with his finances after enduring the year-long strike.

You notice that some (not all, but a significant number) are frightened of joining the union where once it used to be the first thing you did. Although you get the feeling of a challenge to this, it is changing slowly, or at least not as fast as I would like.

Working with the Bakers’ Union has been an inspiring journey and seeing their organizers work and the support given to Kumaran Bose (more still needed) has been really exciting.

Other work places fight it hard not to let the union in the door. Unemployment may be lower but the types of jobs – part time and zero hours – have created chronic job insecurity in places.

The most obvious thing that has changed in the Red Shed is the beer; it is a real ale club and wins awards every year.

Labour clubs were a significant part of community life in the mining districts of Yorkshire. But the mines have all gone – do labour clubs still have a future?

See above. Real ale and real politics. The places that are surviving are the imaginative ones – Trades Club in Hebden Bridge for example – but it will always be about beer and community. I love the fact that the Red Shed is a place where the Derby and Joan meet to play bingo and anti-fracking meets after and you might be joined by a real ale group.

The age of austerity seems to be driving a wedge in community/social cohesion; funding for ‘non-essential’ council services has been scrapped, people are losing their livelihoods and struggling to keep their heads above the water. How can communities stick together at such times and build resistance?

Well, first of all, we have no other choice. We have to stick together.

I feel Left activists need to be working in community projects and not just organizing demos and protests. We must come up with community solutions. Refugees Welcome and We Are Wakefield are wonderful examples of this, working to fight racism here and support refugees in Dunkirk and Calais.

You’ve had a long and successful career as a comedian and activist. Of your many achievements, what are you most proud of?

Still performing for a living after 31 years – and whatever the next project is.

What do you think you still have to achieve?

I always wanted to bring about the downfall of international capitalism – oh well, still on the bucket list!

Look out for the September 2016 issue of New Internationalist on Trade Unions: rebuild, renew, resist.

Mark Thomas: The Red Shed at the Edinburgh Fringe:

VENUE: Traverse 1 – The Traverse, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
TIMES & DATES: 6 August @ 2:30pm / 7 August @ 6:15pm
9, 13, 16, 20, 25 August @ 1:15pm / 10, 14, 17, 21, 26 August @ 4:15pm
11, 18, 23, 27 August @ 7pm / 12, 19, 24, 28 August @ 10:30am
PRICES: £20.50 / £15.50 standard concession / £8.50 other concession
TICKETS: 0131 228 1404 / www.traverse.co.uk

Mark then takes the Red Shed on tour around the UK. For details, visit:
markthomasinfo.co.uk/tour-dates/

markthomasinfo.com / TWITTER: @markthomasinfo

Have your say!

Front cover of New Internationalist May 2016 issueFor over 40 years New Internationalist has been covering the issues that matter, bringing to life the people, the ideas and the action in the fight for global justice. But maybe we’ve missed something... or is it time to revisit a particular topic? Let us know! Share your ideas with us and other readers by using the ‘comments’ function at the foot of the page, or email your suggestions to Jo by 24 June – and we’ll look at all the suggestions at our editorial meeting in July. Please keep your outlines to a maximum of 200 words.


*To revisit some of the topics we’ve looked at in the past 40 years, visit our interactive timeline or browse our back issues.

A word with Shazia Mirza

Shazia Mirza

© Martin Twomey

What’s your earliest memory?

When I was seven, I invited all my friends from school to my birthday party, which my parents didn’t know about. I had all these girls knocking at my door and I had to tell them to go home. When they asked why, I said: ‘I’ve had to cancel the party because my mum forgot to buy the jelly.’

Who or what inspires you?

People that have the courage to speak the truth, no matter how unpopular that makes them, or if it puts their life in danger. And people who are brave enough to oppose a majority. Often the majority is considered to be right, just because there are more people supporting that view; but that doesn’t mean they are right, the best, or have a right to power. I’m inspired by people like the German women who stood up to the Nazis to protest for the release of their Jewish husbands; by the Muslims today who oppose ISIS despite their voices being drowned out by people who prefer to believe a different view; and people like Bhekithemba Makhubu, the magazine editor in Swaziland who was imprisoned for writing about the royal family, yet continues to write.

What are you politically passionate about?

People who use the name of religion to justify committing the most heinous crimes for their own personal gain. Raping women, killing children, beheading anyone that doesn’t agree with what they believe. Any intelligent, rational person with a drop of common sense can surely deduce that God wouldn’t dictate this. The essence of any religion is peace, love and forgiveness. People that commit these crimes need to be distanced from the name of any religion. It’s a flimsy excuse for these people to practise the evil that they are.

Can comedy be a force for social and/or political change?

All art is useless. It doesn’t feed the hungry or clothe the poor. You can go to a comedy gig, laugh non-stop and then walk out and not remember a thing that was said, or what it was that made you laugh. But one small thing in a comedy show can inspire a thought or an idea, and it’s a thought that starts everything.

Who would you like to banish from the earth, and why?

Donald Trump. It might put a few hairdressers out of business, but this man needs to be fired. He breeds hate faster than Angelina Jolie breeds kids. What he forgets is that all his wives are eastern European gold-diggers.

What’s your biggest fear?

Of being as poor as I was when I was a child. Children brought up in poverty never really get over it; it stays with you forever. I never buy expensive clothes, I just can’t justify it. I think it’s a waste and I think long and hard before spending large amounts of cash.

Tell us about your most memorable stand-up performance.

Performing to 1,000 people – old men, old women, young boys and girls – in a huge tent in Lahore, Pakistan. A lot of them had never been to a live gig in their life. There was so much excitement and they laughed like mad at all the things they can’t really say. I was mild to start with, until they all started shouting, ‘Go further, go further!’ and when I went really overboard, it was like bonfire night.

What’s your current show, ‘The Kardashians made me do it’, about?

ISIS and jihadi brides. The first part is about political correctness and offence, and incidents that have happened to me relating to this. The second part is all about ISIS and why I think young girls are going to join them. I said to a good friend of mine, for a joke, that I was thinking of becoming a jihadi bride and he said, ‘Has your mum not found you anyone yet?’ He thought I was serious, and then questioned me further, so I used all his questions as a starting point for my new show.

Shazia Mirza is on tour in Britain with her latest show, ‘The Kardashians made me do it: illusion and seduction in Iraq and Syria’, until the end of May. Visit shazia-mirza.com for full tour details.

‘Acts of solidarity are what make us human’

thank you teachers

rochelle hartman under a Creative Commons Licence

Teachers in England and Wales could have been forgiven for concentrating on matters of immediate concern to their profession at this weekend’s National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference in Brighton. After all, they are facing an unprecedented number of challenges, from the proposed forced ‘academization’ of all schools, to austerity-justified job and resource cuts, to the ever-increasing pressure (on both teachers and pupils) of a treadmill of standardized testing driven by ‘educational’ businesses whose interest lies not in supporting the growth and development of children but in the growth of their own bottom lines and pay packets. Not to mention the fact that teachers are now being forced to spy on their own pupils in the name of anti-terrorism.

Of course, the delegates did want to discuss these things. As Jessica, a teacher from Lambeth, said: ‘we are working in a climate of fear.’ There is real anger at what is happening in our schools, and the impact this is having on the mental and physical health of teachers and students. Some speakers were so upset as they talked about their pupils (as young as four) being put through test after test after test and being told time and again that they ‘were failing’, or who had attempted suicide because of exam pressure, that they were reduced to silence, or tears.

Yet many of the discussions at this year’s conference have focused on wider educational and social issues, in Britain and abroad – from support of the NHS junior doctors’ strikes to a call for Bahraini activist and teacher Abu Dheeb to be freed from prison; from demands for more housing for low-paid workers in London to support for disability rights.

‘Acts of solidarity are what make us human,’ said one teacher, part of an NUT delegation that has been over to the refugee camp known as the Jungle in Calais, to give lessons to asylum seekers. She will be heading back there tomorrow to spend her school holiday helping those left after the camp was cleared. ‘Equality, solidarity, generosity – that is what unionism is about,’ said David, another delegate. As NUT President Anne Swift said in her inaugural address on Friday evening, the trade union movement is the largest global solidarity group.

‘The trade union movement has a proud history of raising the consciousness of its members,’ said Kayleigh as she spoke on racism and migration. This proud history’s latest chapter was in ample evidence in Brighton. One motion put to the delegates (and approved) sought a change of policy to allow the NUT to support officially LGBT+ asylum seekers, even if they are not teachers. Until now, the NUT could only officially offer solidarity for LGBT+ asylum seekers linked to the teaching profession. But, the motion’s proposer argued, the union should strive to be outward looking and to care about what its members care about. The conference agreed.

‘Linking the fights against racism, homophobia, islamophobia, transphobia – that is being a true internationalist,’ said Michael, a teacher from Redbridge. As Anne Swift called the conference to action – ‘We must not procrastinate, we must activate’ – it is worth remembering that trade unionists are fighting not just for themselves, but for the rights of us all.NoNonsense Rethinking Education

Look out for the September 2016 issue of New Internationalist, which will focus on trade unions.

NoNonsense Rethinking Education is published in April.

Brandon Astor Jones – time is running out

19-01-16-Brandon-Astor-Jones-590.png

Brandon Astor Jones by Georgia Department of Corrections

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UPDATE, 3 February 2016

It is with great sadness that we learned this morning that Brandon Astor Jones was executed by the State of Georgia last night. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. His death was delayed by several hours following a flurry of appeals by his lawyers, the Guardian reports.

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An execution date of 2 February has been set. Please write to the State Board of Pardons and Paroles to appeal for clemency.

Regular readers of New Internationalist magazine, and of our website, will be familiar with the name of Brandon Astor Jones. He has been an occasional contributor for many years. Nothing surprising in that: many of our contributors are longstanding, and many of them have become friends. What is unique about Brandon, however, is that for the many decades we have known him, he has written for us from a prison in the US state of Georgia.

Convicted of killing a store clerk in 1972, Brandon, now nearly 73 years old, was sentenced to death in 1979; of his 36 years in prison, nearly 20 of them have been spent on Death Row. He is the state’s oldest Death Row inmate and, following the failure of his latest appeal, is due to be executed at 7pm on Tuesday 2 February.

Georgia executed five people in 2015, including one woman.

In 2008, at a time when Brandon believed his execution was near, he wrote an article for us which contained what he called ‘my last will and testament’. You can read it in full here: newint.org/features/2008/01/01/death-penalty. In it, he writes:

I am under sentence of death here in the American Southland. Over a period of many years I have stretched and tested the limits of the so-called ‘appeals process’. I am very likely to be killed in the near, as opposed to the distant, future. When New Internationalist gave me leave to write whatever I chose about the death penalty, I decided to take an unusual approach. I respectfully request that the reader absorb this more as my last will and testament than a mere essay.

Brandon’s association with New Internationalist predates my own by a long way. I have worked here for 18 years, yet this is just half the amount of time that Brandon has spent in prison. Over the past few years, while working on our blogs, I have had the pleasure of communicating with Brandon, and getting to know him through the pieces he has written for us. Through the blogs, he has exposed the reality of life in a high-security prison: the racism, the power struggles, the terrible conditions, the fear of enemies and the unwavering support of friends.

One of those friends contacted me earlier this week with the news of the execution date. She has provided details of who to write to ask for clemency:

Address your letter to:

State Board of Pardons and Paroles
2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive SE
Suite 458, Balcony Level, East Tower
Atlanta, Georgia 30334-4909

and email it to Katrina Conrad at katrina_conrad[at]fd.org

Clemency letters can also be faxed to Katrina Conrad, she will personally deliver clemency letters received to the State Board of pardons and paroles this week.

Fax #: 404-688-0768 (from outside the US, add your country dial-out code and then a 1, eg from the UK, fax: 00 1 404 688 0768)
Attn: Katrina Conrad
Ref: Urge to grant clemency for Brandon Astor Jones

A full list of Brandon’s more recent contributions to New Internationalist can be found here: newint.org/contributors/brandon-astor-jones

The Unreported Year

32_Liberia.jpg

Africa

(Above) LIBERIA Sunshine ladies. In Liberia, women solar engineers assemble, install and maintain solar lamps in their communities. Many villages are not connected to the electrical power grid, much of which was destroyed during the country’s 14-year civil war, which ended in 2003. In 2009, a National Energy Policy set a target of 30-per-cent renewable power generation by the end of 2015. The sunshine ladies, by sharing their knowledge and promoting renewable solar energy, are making their own contribution to these targets. Women currently make up 54 per cent of the labour force in the West African country. Photo: Thomas Dworzak/Magnum

(Above) BURUNDI A protester wears grass around his face to obscure his identity during a protest against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term. The unrest, which led to 100,000 people fleeing across the border into Tanzania, began in late April when Nkurunziza announced that he would stand in the June presidential election, despite this violating the constitution and the 2006 peace deal that ended the 13-year civil war. A failed military coup followed the announcement and the opposition then boycotted the elections, which eventually took place on 21 July. Nkurunziza accordingly won comfortably with 69 per cent of the vote. Photo: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

(Above) KENYA A pupil at Langata Road primary school in Nairobi holds up a placard brought by activists during a protest against the closure of the school’s playground. When pupils arrived at school on 19 January they found the playing field had been fenced off by a developer. Children and protesters were dispersed by police, who threw teargas canisters at them. At least 10 pupils were injured and The Law Society of Kenya announced it would undertake legal proceedings against the police officers involved. The disputed land is in a prime location near a hotel and the airport. Photo: Brian Inganga/AP

Europe & Central Asia

(Above) BULGARIA Taking the plunge: men dive into the icy waters of a lake on the day of Epiphany, 6 January. Whoever manages to grab the wooden cross will, it is believed, be rewarded with health and prosperity. Bulgaria was twice called to order by the European Court of Human Rights during 2015 for its failure to protect citizens’ rights to religious freedom. In February, the ECHR ruled that a police raid at the home of a member of the Word of Life church violated her rights; a month later, the state was condemned for failing to protect Muslim worshippers attacked by a far-right group at a mosque in the capital, Sofia. Photo: Stoyan Nenov/Reuters

(Right) LIBERLAND The inauguration of the world’s newest mini-state, Liberland, on 13 April saw people queuing to sign up for citizenship. The so-called Free Republic boasts a seven square-kilometre patch of isolated swamp land between Serbia and Croatia, making it smaller even than the Vatican or Monaco. Despite an impressive website containing both a draft constitution and the justification that the land (part of the ongoing Croatia-Serbia border dispute) was ‘unclaimed’, Liberland and its president Vít Jedlička still await official recognition. The number of actual inhabitants is unknown. Photo: Darko Vojinovic/AP Photo

(Below) RUSSIA Frozen food: a man fishes on the Yenisei River, Siberia, in November. With annual food price inflation running at 20 per cent, Russians were outraged at a Kremlin announcement in August that banned Western food imports were to be destroyed. From burning bacon to bulldozed cheese, the televised images of wanton waste were condemned by the church and even by some Kremlin allies. The number of Russians living below the poverty line hit 23 million in the first quarter of 2015, up from 16 million in 2014. Photo: Ilya Naymushin/Reuters

Middle East

(Left) LEBANON A statue in Martyrs’ Square, Beirut, seems to float on a sea of plastic water bottles.The country’s largest landfill site was closed in July – despite the government failing to agree on an alternative location. As rubbish built up in the streets, protesters vented their anger and blamed corrupt and incompetent politicians for the mess. In late August, the cabinet held an emergency meeting and agreed to allow local municipalities to take control of waste disposal. Photo: Jamal Saidi/Reuters

(Above) BAHRAIN Making a meal of it: a cat snacks on scraps tossed by a butcher at a meat market. At the start of the year, Bahrainis were warned that a meat shortage was imminent when the government clamped down on subsidized imports. But in October, realizing that low oil prices were worsening its budget deficit, the government decided to cut meat subsidies entirely. As a result, prices doubled and people stopped buying. Photo: Hasan Jamali/AP Photo

(Right) PALESTINE A protester uses a sling to return a teargas canister fired by Israeli troops during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Bet El, Ramallah, in November. Though teargas is considered a ‘non-lethal’ weapon, it can cause severe injury and death; in October an eight-month-old baby was reportedly suffocated by teargas inhalation in a village near Bethlehem. The use of teargas during warfare is forbidden under the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention. Israel has signed but not ratified the agreement.Photo: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

South Asia

(Left) MALDIVES Standing guard ahead of Republic Day in the capital, Male’. The 11 November celebration was overshadowed this year by the arrest in late October of the country’s vice-president, Ahmed Adeeb, on a charge of high treason related to a plot to kill President Yameen Abdul Gayoom. The President was not harmed in the explosion on the speedboat carrying him and his wife back from the airport after a trip to Saudi Arabia, but he declared a state of emergency. Adeeb was stripped of his vice-presidency on 5 November. Photo: Sinan Hussain/AP Photo

(Below) PAKISTAN Feeling the heat: a man cools off under a public tap after filling bottles during intense hot weather in Karachi. The devastating heatwave in June killed more than 800 people in Sindh province, in the south of the country. Paramilitaries set up emergency medical camps in the streets as temperatures soared to 45˚C (113˚F). Prolonged power cuts worsened the situation, with residents unable to use air-conditioning and fans. Local authorities were accused of aloofness and failure to deal promptly with the crisis. Photo: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

(Right) NEPAL An activist in Kathmandu shouts slogans during a protest in January against the new constitution, which denies women the right to pass on their citizenship to their children. On 17 September, the constitution was approved, leading to further accusations that its articles would reinforce gender inequality. Of particular concern to campaigners are clauses which suggest that a child born of a Nepali mother but unknown father will not get citizenship. ‘The state just does not acknowledge the existence of single mothers,’ said Deepti Gurung, co-ordinator of an alliance of people unable to pass on citizenship in the name of the mother. Photo: Niranjan Shrestha/AP Photo

East Asia & Pacific

(Above) VANUATU Marina Kalo and her family consider the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam to a house in Pang Pang village. The tropical storm hit the Pacific island nation on 13 March, and is considered one of the worst natural disasters to affect the country. Winds of up to 270 kilometres per hour caused widespread damage to houses and infrastructure and destroyed 96 per cent of food crops. However, a combination of traditional construction using lightweight materials, improved communications technology and disaster preparedness was credited with the relatively low death toll of 11. Photo: Vlad Sokhin/Panos

(Right) JAPAN Fukushima fallout. Around 5.5 million black sacks containing radiation-contaminated soil blight the landscape in Fukushima province, as the government continues clean-up operations following the 2011 nuclear disaster. Hundreds of square kilometres remain off-limits due to radioactivity. Though thousands of tonnes of topsoil have been removed and bagged up, there is a lack of suitable storage facilities for the radioactive material. The number of sacks could reach 20 million by the time clean-up operations end in 2017. Photo: Andrew McConnell/Panos

(Below) NIUE/NEW ZEALAND Two who stayed: government worker Foag Kaiuha and his wife Nera live on the Pacific island of Niue. But around 90-95 per cent of the population – some 20,000 people – have moved to New Zealand/Aotearoa, where there are more jobs and better opportunities, leaving just 1,500 as permanent residents. To bolster its population, the government has invited immigrants from neighbouring Tuvalu, which is under threat of rising sea levels caused by climate change. In 2015, the New Zealand foreign minister announced a NZ$7.5-million investment in the expansion of a resort on the island, saying that tourism was key to putting Niue ‘back on the path to self-sufficiency’. Photo: Vlad Sokhin/Panos

Americas

(Above) PERU A boy and his dog framed by a smoke-filled sky following a police operation to destroy illegal goldmining camps in Mega 14, a zone in the southern Amazon region of Madre de Dios. Police razed dozens of illegal camps in July, part of a renewed bid to halt the spread of unauthorized goldmining. Peru is the world’s fifth-largest producer and exporter of gold, and illegal mining, which makes up around 10 per cent of the total, has destroyed more than 50,000 hectares of rainforest. Photo: Janine Costa/Reuters

(Above) ARGENTINA Clowning around. A new law passed in May in the province of Buenos Aires makes it obligatory for children’s hospitals to provide specially trained clowns as part of their healthcare facilities. ‘Clown doctors’ are not required to hold a medical degree, but member of congress Rubén Darío Golia, who introduced the legislation, believes they will complement the medics’ work. ‘When we laugh, the brain emits the necessary information to activate the secretion of encephalin, which possesses similar properties to morphine, with the capacity to alleviate pain,’ he explained. Photo: Natacha Pisarenko/AP Photos

(Above) UNITED STATES Newly revealed by water sinking, sandstone sculpted by water and wind erosion is seen in a slot canyon, one of hundreds that surround Lake Powell near Page, Arizona. A severe drought in recent years, combined with withdrawals that many believe are unsustainable, has reduced the lake’s levels to only about 42 per cent of its capacity. According to the US Drought Monitor, 38 per cent of the US was suffering drought conditions by November 2015. Meanwhile, a report released in the same month warned that, by the end of the century, the US West would suffer its worst drought for 1,000 years. Photo: Rick Wilking/Reuters

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