Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Picket, Regional Council then Strike rally

Busy day. Started off 7.30 on Picket line outside East Ham Town hall. Newham UNISON are on strike for the day over the discipline hearing that will take place tomorrow against Branch Chair Michael Gavan.

Then off to London Regional Committee and Regional Council. As usual the Council meeting was inquorate. It is just silly that we have 4 “mini” regional conferences per year (my personal view). UNISON activists I think are just too busy to come to such meetings.

This was the first Council meeting to be Chaired by Gloria Hanson (left: also Newham UNISON) following Alan Jarman decision to step down after taking redundancy from his employer. As usual the invited speakers to the meeting made their contributions despite it being inquorate.

Speaker Alan Tate from the CWU gave a very honest and level headed review of the recent strike action.

John Burgess; Carmel Reynolds and Lango Gamonya (Strikers) gave an emotive speech in favour of the Freemantle Strikes. They were very well received.

David Eggmore (Camden and Local Government Executive) spoke about the recent strike ballot on pay. Since there was such a close result (51%-49%) and a relatively low turn out (24% as well as the T&G and the GMB agreeing to deal beforehand) there will be no strike action and the pay deal will be accepted (watch out next year NJC).

There was also a very interesting and useful presentation on the problems facing the Union from the equal pay legal actions.

Jeremey Corbyn MP gave a Labour Link Parliamentary report.

Next was a lunchtime rally at Stratford Church which was very well attended (I arrived late).

Tomorrow Michael will face a gross misconduct hearing which could result in him losing his job. I won’t go into the details of the allegations made against him. Not least because the underlying facts are under dispute.

However, put it like this, its is absolutely vital that if a union member wants to speak to their rep (such as me) in private, about a union matter, they would not expect that rep to run off to management and tell them all about their meeting. We are not talking about child protection issues or anything like this. This is such silly and dangerous anti-trade union rubbish.

Newham Council should remember the golden rule of management (and of life) – Rule Number 1 – if you are in a hole – Stop digging!

UPDATE: Michael's hearing went on for most of the day. Then it was adjourned until November 19.

Its a Rip Off - Women's Pay

Yesterday Fawcett and UNISON declared was “Women’s No Pay Day”. The pay gap between men and women is such that compared to men, women work free from October 30th to the end of the year. Part time women earn on average 40% less than men.

Let me illustrate this point. My misses has just completed a two year full time diploma to become a teaching assistant. On Monday she started her first TA job at a local primary school. She is really enjoying the work and it seems a smashing school. Most of her time will be spent with kids who have special needs.

However, her pay is only £7.41 per hour (remember this is London) and “term time” only. Less than £10,000 pa? Her school is quite large however; there are no other male TAs (and only 1 male teacher in total).

Has her pay anything to do with this ratio? Surely not!

I remember last year dragging her along to a London Labour Party National Policy forum. Tony Blair was speaking and the organisers wanted local people who worked in front line public services to attend. I promised her that she would not have to speak nor that we would sit in the front of any meeting (as is my usual trick).

She is an outwardly reserved soul who I suppose has enough on her plate being married to me. Anyway, at the forum, we were lead into a focus group meeting. Cabinet ministers Patricia Hewitt, Alan Johnson and various local MPs (Lyn Brown) came in and Patricia immediately made a beeline to my better half. Once Patricia found out she was training to be a TA, she was obviously really pleased to find a “real” person.

Everyone is very proud of the Labour government record in pouring money into schools and education. However, when my misses talked to the ministers about the prospect of low pay that she faced when she qualified, everyone went a little quiet. One person present even said “we pay our office cleaners more (damn right - they also deserve more) and they don’t have to undergo 2 years training”. There were vague promises of future reviews about pay and uncomfortable gestures.

I refuse to believe that a male dominated sector or industry would accept such low pay and conditions. Until this issue is adequately addressed we will never have true equality.

Of course at the end of the event we were led into the main hall, and were placed in reserved seats right in front of TB making his speech and his Q&A. Strangely enough she won’t go to any more meetings with me.

Thinking about it, with regard to institutional sexism are we really that much more superior to the Saudi’s? (Yes but no but)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hazards at Work

"Organising for Safe and Healthy Workplaces". The 2007 edition of the TUC safety "Bible" is now out. I have used it tonight to help me make trade union comments on my employers revised safety policy on "lone working".

It is really useful book published every 2 years. I would recommend it to all serious safety reps.

It cost £18 (£45 for non-TUC) to buy. Order here but check (and double check) with your branch beforehand that they will pay it. If you are doing a recognised TUC safety course the college may supply it cheaper.

Photo Hat tip thingy to the Hazards Magazine advert in the back of this years edition.

Monday, October 29, 2007

They are the same Nazi – Never forgive nor forget

Yesterday morning I was sent an article describing the last letter that 17 year old Communist French Resistance fighter, Guy Môquet sent to his family before he was shot. Guy was executed with 35 comrades in cold blood by the German Army on the 22 October 1941 near the waterfall in the Bois de Boulogne.

The letter is a huge issue in France since the new President, Nickolas Sarkozy, announced that all French high schools should read this letter out to their students each year. There has been justifiable criticism that Sarkozy is using this for political advantage. However, I think that the letter is so powerful that this does not really matter.

I have received few comments on this blog from people who claim to support the Nazi BNP even though they think that the BNP are not Nazi just misunderstood nationalists . At the risk of sounding like some middle aged patronising berk, most of these comments appear to be from young people. I have argued against these views. However Guy’s death and final letter may be more persuasive.

My dearest Mother, my beloved little brother, my beloved father.

I'm going to die! I'm asking you, especially Mother, to be brave. I am being so and I want to be just as brave as those who have gone before me. Of course I would have preferred to live. But what I want with all my heart is that my death serves some purpose. I haven't had the time to embrace Jean.

I embraced my two brothers in arms Roger and Rino. Alas, I wasn't actually able to embrace my real brother. I hope all my things are sent back to you, they will be of some use to Serge, who I trust will be proud to wear them one day.

Dearest Dad, although I've given you and Mum lots of troubles, I send you one last greeting. I hope you know that I have done my best to follow in your footsteps.

A last farewell to all my friends and to my brother who I love a lot. He should study hard so that he becomes a man later on.

17 and a half. My life has been short, but I have no regrets apart from leaving you. I'll be dying alongside Tintin and Michels. Ma, I'm asking you, and I want you to promise, to be brave and get over your pain.

I can't write any more. I leave you, Mother, Serge, Dad, embracing you with all my young heart. Be brave.

Your Guy who loves you.


Hat tip to Col Roi.

No Strike Action over Local Government Pay

A direct lift from the UNISON website.

Local government workers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland have slammed this year’s below-inflation annual pay award, but stopped short of outright industrial action at this stage, putting employers and the government in the ‘last chance saloon’ over pay.

"Members have told employers that this critically important issue won’t go away," UNISON head of local government Heather Wakefield said after a narrow majority of members voted in favour of action in a ballot which saw a 24.4% turn-out.The ballot closed last Friday, 26 October, and saw 144,719 valid ballot papers returned, with 74,631 members (or 51.6%) voting for action and 70,088 (48.4%) voting against. The ballot result was considered by the union's NJC committee and local government service group executive today.

The NJC committee welcomed the majority vote in the ballot by members for strike action in the current pay dispute.But it overwhelmingly voted for a statement which read: "However, in all the circumstances, including the narrowness of the majority and the size of the poll, this result does not constitute the basis for viable industrial action to break the government’s pay policy."

The NJC committee therefore agreed to:

conclude the 2007/8 pay deal as soon as possible based on the offer made on 24 August;
co-ordinate with other public-service unions regarding over the 2008 pay round ;
to start a campaign for 2008 based on securing fair pay and conditions improvements for and defeating plans to attack national conditions and negotiating machinery.

"Members have told employers that this critically important issue won’t go away," said Ms Wakefield.More than 69% of those affected by the award earn just £15,825 or less a year - around £8,000 less than the national average. These include home care workers, teaching assistants, environmental health officers, park and street wardens, housing officers, librarians, refuse collectors, school cooks and many other unsung workers.

And these poorly paid staff face steep living cost rises that have far outweighed their annual pay awards of well under 3% during the past three years. "This is effectively our members’ fourth consecutive annual pay cut and they have decisively put government and local authority employers into the 'last chance saloon'. "Since 2003 local council workers across the UK have seen their pay packets falling further behind the rise in living costs, and thousands of low-paid staff suffer chronic financial hardship.

"Our members are not the faceless pen pushers some would have you believe. They are our community champions – the legions of people that deliver vital services to our neighbourhoods, often in high pressure and even hazardous circumstances. "Now they have resoundingly warned employers’ to value them more."We will shortly be submitting our claim for the 2008 pay round. Next year, we expect the employers to end their bargain-basement treatment of our members once and for all."Scottish local government workers are in the final year of a pay deal which runs until the end of March 2008.

A claim for 2008, which will be submitted to employers at a meeting of the Scottish Joint Council on 14 November.

(I think in view of the acceptance by the GMB and Unite of the pay offer, the low turn out in the UNISON ballot and such a narrow majority in favour that this decision is the correct one under the circumstances. JG)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Why we don’t want pensions paid by the blood of the Burmese People

This afternoon I appeared on the BBC The “Politics Show” (London Region slot) to be interviewed with Cllr James King (who was on behalf of LAPFF) about Council pension schemes who invest in companies that trade with Burma. Cllr King was arguing that it may be appropriate for pension funds to invest in companies who trade with Burma, if they engage with these companies to influence and change their behaviour.

While I was arguing that we should pull out of all investments in Burma. I need to carry out more research but I suspect that a majority of all pension and investment funds in the UK have some investment exposure to Burma. This is not just a local authority issue. You can see the interview again, here. Just click on the “latest programme” button and it is about 13 minutes into the London show after the interview with Lord Coe.

It was the first time I have been interviewed on television (apart from on demos) and I will post about the experience another time. However, investing in Burma is a complex as well as an emotive issue. We only had 4 minutes to tackle the arguments. I’ll try now to spell out the 3 main arguments for disinvestment (pulling out of all investments) in Burma and why it is also in the best financial interests of the pension funds that they do so.

Firstly, there is the Citizen Investor argument, which is quite clear and relatively simple. If you have any investment savings or contribute to a pension; there is a risk that you are a part owner in companies that benefit from forced labour and military repression in Burma. I believe that trade unionists and the majority of people with such savings do not want their pensions or life assurance policies paid by the blood of the Burmese people. I don’t think that I have to persuade people about the hideous nature of the Burmese regime. If you do need reminding check out the Burma Campaign UK web site.

Then there is the call for International solidarity. Burmese trades unions as well as democratic political organisations are calling for disinvestment. They say that only the regime benefits from commercial ties with the country, and that the isolation of the regime is the most effective help that can be given. UNISON is affiliated to the Burma Campaign UK and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) which also calls for disinvestment and has a register of 427 companies who have trading links with Burma, including household names such as Rolls Royce and GlaxoSmithKline.

Finally, there is a Capital Stewardship argument that that there is in fact an unacceptable financial risk to funds from investing in Burma. For example, many funds will have shares in Total the French oil and Gas Company simply due to its size. . It is the 6th biggest in the world. It is part of a consortium which has invested $1.2 billion in an off shore Burmese gas field and pipe line. This field is of course pouring hundreds of millions of dollars each year into the hands of the Junta in taxes. This money is partly used to buy the guns and bullets for the Burmese military.

However, whether or not you think it is right or not to disinvest, you should be concerned that if European sanctions were tightened and Total is compelled to sell off its Burmese investments, it would have to be a discounted “fire-sale” price. This would mean huge losses to Total which would depress its share price and value of funds investing in it.

There is also a huge reputational risk. Belgian prosecutors recently reopened an inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity by Total in Burma. Total faces the risk of lawsuits in the US. It has also been subject to growing media criticism, political pressure, consumer boycotts, and even demonstrations at its offices and petrol stations. In fact there have been demos and blockades of Total garages in London and Cardiff in recent weeks. The Northern Rock fiasco is not a direct comparator but does demonstrate what can happen to a share price and investments in it when a company’s reputation is at risk.

What can you do about it? Write to your pension’s administrator, contact your pension’s trustees, and write to your insurance company or savings plan requesting that they:-
1. Consult with scheme members about Burma
2. Identify if they hold stock on your behalf in any of the 427 companies
3. Actively engage with these companies and insist that they immediately cease all investment and commercial activity in Burma and report back to members.

"Please use your liberty to promote ours" Aung San Suu Kyi

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Wreckers and Splitters – Split

It’s happened, and it is just such a shame. Completely unexpected of course and very sad. Diss-Respect has split. Check out the East London Advertiser. The 4 SWPers (ish) Respect Councilors in Tower Hamlets, the home of respect, have left the other Islamic Extremists and resigned the whip.

The four include Oli Rahman (PCS activist – who’s actually got a sense of humour, how on earth did he ever got involved with this shower?) Respect’s first councillor in 2004. The others are Lutfa Begum, her daughter Rania Khan (keep it in the family) and Ahmed Hussain.

There are a number of rumours that they have now been expelled from Respect (of course they should be). But I suspect this is mischief making, since it would be amazing if Respect could organise it self to do anything so quickly.

Workers Weekly has a long (as ever) account of rows, fights, threats and recriminations. Probably mostly true. I love Galloway description of the SWP as Russian dolls. (I never thought I would say such words).

The anti-SWP “socialist unity Blog” is scenting blood and after years of claiming that Galloway is the equivalent of a trot Antichrist, are now crawling all over him asking to be their leader and for them to become the next victims of his Stalinist abuse. Good luck to them I say!

Hat tip thingy to Nedlud for the photo montage (he’s used a few of my blog pics – I’ll let him off)

Update: Jerry Hicks the trade union activist sacked by Rolls Royce has resigned from the SWP over their lies.

Health and Safety Questionnaire

Last week was European Health & Safety Week". On Wednesday it was "National Inspection Day". So I carried out a workplace inspection and this is a copy of the Health and Safety Questionnaire that I have distributed. I amended it from a TU survey. You may be able to adapt it for your own workplace?

Health and Safety Questionnaire

I am the UNISON Health and Safety representative. I would be grateful if you could spare a few minutes to fill out this important survey and return it to me: -
PRIVATE & CONFIDENTIAL – TRADE UNION, John Gray, UNISON, All staff (regardless of trade union membership) are invited to complete this questionnaire.

Please circle your answer Y/N when appropriate

1. Do you feel that you are stressed by your work? YES/NO

2. Is the level of stress unacceptable or causing you harm? YES/NO

3. Do you feel that you have control over work? YES/NO

4. Do you have enough resources and support to do your job? YES/NO

5. Have you felt ill due to your working conditions? YES/NO

6. If you have felt ill, what are the symptoms? (For example frequent headaches, depression, anxiety attacks, sleeplessness, indigestion, constant tiredness)


7. Did you report this illness if so, was anything done?………………………………...


8. Do you have regular team meetings when health and safety is discussed? YES/NO

9. Do you have regular “one-to-ones” with your manager? YES/NO

10. Do you have a copy of your risk assessments? YES/NO

Any other comments? (Please include your name and telephone extensions if you are interested in finding out about joining UNISON). However, you do not have to since this survey is entirely confidential


Please return to me by Monday 12 November 2007. Many thanks in anticipation

Thursday, October 25, 2007

West Ham New Capitalists

Last night I was the “guest” speaker at West Ham Labour Party CLP General Committee (GC) at Stratford, Newham, East London, E15.

I had actually agreed to speak on “New Capitalism and a Labour Party Forum” at last months GC, but had completely forgotten to check that this clashed with Labour Party conference. The Political officer and the CLP Executive Committee kindly agreed for me to speak this month instead.

I pretty much gave the same spiel that I gave to East Ham CLP Manor Park & Little Ilford wards in July. To summarise my (and many others) arguments, it is that in Britain ordinary people own a majority of the voting shares of companies listed on the British Stock Exchange and significant other equity markets across the world. These are small investors in pensions schemes, insurance policies, other collective investments and individual share holdings. It is completely wrong, both morally and financially that these investors do not exercise not only their rights of ownership but also their responsibilities as owners for their investments.

If owners do not do this (by and large they do not) then it is vital that within the Labour Party there is a forum to engage and debate this issues and bring them to the attention of the Party.

I hope this post will encourage similar levels of discussion as my last post. Also that Harry Barnes latest grandchild is doing well and he can now rejoin the fray!

Being before an audience of Politicalised East Enders there was of course a fairly lively debate in the Q&A. They were very gentle with me, no doubt because I was also a West Ham GC delegate! However, there was a good debate on my points. Delegates brought up whether this was just a repetition of “1960’s utopianism? or was “New Capitalism” just a reflection that the state does not feel able to regulate or control companies anymore? Were we just following Thatcher’s arguments? Were my facts simply wrong? Is this a repudiation of Anthony’s Crossland’s belief that ownership of capital is not as important an argument as its equitable distribution of income? Financial interests will never give up real power to worker’s capital; workers are just not interested in their superann contributions past pay day etc. There was also a sharp observation that Newham Council appeared to be “back pedalling” on this is issue corporate governance in its staff pension fund. This was repudiated by the pension fund chair.

Good questions: My answer to many of these questions was that while I am personally very optimistic about what we can achieve via “New (or Workers) Capitalism” I recognise that it will be very difficult and that New Capitalism is not the answer to all problems and should be seen as complimentary not an alternative to traditional politics.

However, at least we can try to ensure that our money, our savings, our pensions are not invested in companies that do harm. That companies we own take their responsibilities seriously and do not employ child labour, do not persecute trade unionists nor recklessly pollute the environment in order to maximise short term profits.

That’s a start.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Danes take on Burmese Military collaborators

It was good to receive a welcome email today via the International Trade Union Confederation and Committee Workers Capital. The Danish pension fund ATP, which every working person in the country has to pay into (3 million people in 2005 with assets around 50 billion EURO) - has just announced that it will dis-invest from all oil companies that deals directly with Myanmar Oil, including Total. As well as any other companies that fail to comply with EU sanctions. Apparently this is 100 million EURO of shares.

I can’t find any link to confirm yet but it seems genuine. Check out Tom at Labour & Capital who has been following the British “dirty 32” who have trading links with Burma.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Go “walkabout” this Wednesday - National Inspection Day 24 October

We have got ourselves in a right mess over health & safety in this country. The right wing dismiss practically all safety concerns as just “unnecessary nanny state meddling”. If people die at work then that is just bad luck. These things “happen”.

Likewise, there are also people in our great trade union movement, who consider health & safety not to be a “proper” union issue. Yes, they will use it to recruit and wind members up but… “What! work with the bosses? Fill out their forms? Write reports? How will this further the revolution?”

Even pretend left wing journo's such as columnist Simon Jenkins in today’s Sunday Times, unconsciously uses the same arguments that Victorian supporters of Child labour and opposers of the early nineteenth century Factory Safety Acts made. For example “Risk Assessments”, Jenkins describes today as “one of the most useless generators of red tape and maladministration ever invented”, actually save lives and protect people in vulnerable jobs.

Middle class berks such as Simon who live and type, in their protected privileged cloisters, inhabit a world a million miles away from those who actually do real work for a living.

Anyway, as previously posted this week is European Health & Safety Week. Each year there is a different campaign, the 2007 campaign is called ‘Lighten the Load’ and is targeted at supporting employers, workers and safety representatives to prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs – back and muscle injuries). A million workers per year are affected by MSD.

Also on Wednesday it is "National Inspection Day" when all trade union safety representatives are asked to inspect their workplace. So this Wednesday, even if you have not been trained as a safety rep, then at the very least walk around your workplace with your manager looking out say for obvious slip, trip and fall hazards. Better still; also contact your union branch, regional office or the TUC about being trained as a trade union safety rep.

Jenkins can also go walkabout …down the plank!

Galloway to SWP “F*** off, F*** off the lot of you"

The only MP for the political party, formally called “Respect”, sends a meaningful fraternal message to his comrades in the SWP. This outburst was at the end of a branch meeting in Tower Hamlets on Thursday over the “election” of delegates to the (definitely diss-) Respect National Conference on 17 & 18 November. Hat tip to Harry's Game.

The SWP are trying to seize control of this conference with their own delegates. They have been wreaking selection meetings up and down the country in order to do so.

George Galloway turned up at the Tower Hamlets meeting and spoke against the attempt of the mainly white middle class SWP members to take over their delegation even though the overwhelming majority of Respect members are not supporters of the SWP. The SWP Central Committee had even sent one of their chief thugs, Shaun Doherty, to try and intimidate people.

There appeared to be a good old row at the meeting. There was a vote at the end where George appeared to win by one vote. Interestingly he only had Bangladeshi supporters voting for his motion. However, the vote will be probably challenged by the SWP as unconstitutional. So watch this space.

As previously reported, Respect is disintegrating. It has always had tensions due to its inherent contradictions. How can you have a coalition of Stalinist opportunists (George & co), middle class toy town revolutionaries (SWP), extremist Muslim fundamentalists (Jamaatis) and naive but sincere anti-war New Labour refusniks.

The SWP of course, provide the experienced political foot soldiers and much of the dosh for Respect (although no doubt, knowing of George there will be other funding – we just need to check the taxi receipts). Incredibly they believe that Respect will be their vehicle of bringing about revolution (yeah).

The Respect Muslim business men who control the local communal politics power base (in East London and Birmingham) have told George that they do not support socialism, women’s equality or gay rights and that he will have to sort the SWP out or else he will not get their support to run as MP in the next general election.

Bloggers generally tend to believe that they are more important that they actually are – the average weekly local newspaper is read by far more people than any blog (I think?). However, the reporting of the self destruction of Respect is being led by blogs and other on-line reports.

The disintegration of respect was always inevitable but it will have been aided by all the “leaks” by all sides to political blogs. No other political faction that has faced problems in the past would have had to cope with letters, accounts and even minutes of controversial meetings being published widely “on-line”, sometimes within minutes of the meeting ending.

Roll on digital democracy. But the sting in the tail is that unfortunately George will survive the destruction of Respect – that is until Jim sorts him out at the next general election that is!

Picture is of the Gorgeous One with John “trot-meister” Rees and his misses Linsey German playing happy families before the fallout. Thanks to Colonel Roi.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Birthday Night Out at Matchmakers

Last night we went out to celebrate George Woznicki’s birthday with beer and a curry. Sadly, George, who was a good comrade and fellow trade unionist, is no longer with us.
We started off with a toast to George (see below) at the Matchmakers in Roman Road, E2. The pub is named after the huge Bryant and May factory which is just a few hundred yards away. This was the scene of the famous “Match Girls strike” of 1888. The strike was about appalling health & safety, poor pay and excessive “fines”. By coincidence on Monday it is the start of European Health and Safety Week (I’ll post separately about this). At the time it was a famous victory. The socialist reformer Annie Besant lived locally and helped support the strike. There is a nice housing estate near by named after her.

The Bryant & May buildings have now been turned into expensive flats, a so called “gated community”.

I doubt that many of its modern day residents frequent the “Matchmaker” on a Friday night, which is a pity since its cheap prices make for an interesting cliental.

Eventually we finished off in the Bengal Classic in Westferry, E14 – top nosh. George would have loved it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Join Diss-Respect by Tomorrow

An old comrade reports: - "The SWP know they are heading for a kicking at the Respect Conference. Here's their national organiser's plea for help":

The Respect annual conference is going to be very important this year.We are urging comrades do the following:You can only get delegated to Respect conference if you are a registered member.

You MUST be a paid-up member by THIS FRIDAY, 19 October. Deadline for resolutions is Friday 19 October. Deadline for the election of delegates is Sunday 4 November.

Once again we are urging as many SWP members as possible to get elected to the Respect Conference. If you have any questions please contact John Rees or the SWP National Office. Martin “thug” Smith SWP National Organiser

(and - a letter to Tower Hamlets Respect members from the other side of the coming split:)

To all members of Tower Hamlets Respect

A very well attended branch meeting of Tower Hamlets Respect took place this evening at the Club Row offices.The meeting, unfortunately, was systematically undermined by the behaviour of a minority of members, mainly of the SWP.

The consequence was that we were unable to take a vote on a number of matters including the selection of delegates to conference. There were repeated procedural motions for us to vote, but the minority prevented the chair from putting two sets of proposals for delegates to vote on at the meeting. The chair did manage to get the support of the meeting for a proposal to:

a) give delegated powers to the Tower Hamlets Respect committee to resolve all the outstanding matters from this evening. The outstanding matters being principally, the delegates to national conference and motions to national conference.

b) that the Tower Hamlets Respect committee meeting be held for that purpose on Thursday 18 October at 7.30pm at Club Row.c) there was also a proposal from the floor from Cllr Ahmed Hussain for the Committee to resolve its internal problems and this can also be addressed on Thursday.

Rumours have circulated that a small minority of people, mainly members of the SWP, remained behind after the meeting had closed and the vast majority of people had left. The rumours are that this group purported to be continuing the meeting that had closed and went on to vote through one of the two sets of proposals for delegates to conference in the absence of the majority.

We wish to make it clear that if such a gathering took place it has no constitutional or legal status and that any opinion expressed at that gathering has no authority.There is one Respect in Tower Hamlets. There is one Tower Hamlets membership. There is one committee.That committee is meeting on Thursday, as agreed by the properly constituted branch meeting this evening, to resolve all the matters on the agenda this evening.

Azmol Hussain co-chair Tower Hamlets Respect, Lotif Khan, Farhana Zaman, Awlad MiahAna Miah, Tipu Miah, Ezaz Ali, Beauty Akhtar Lily, Goyas Uddin, Shamsul Sayed Islam, Naser AhmedAbrar Khan, Ansar Mirza, Sebul Ismail Hussain, Abdul Kahar Chowdhury, Cllr. Abjol Miah, Cllr. Mamun Rashid, Cllr. Abdul Munim, Cllr. Dulal Uddin, Cllr. Harun Miah, Cllr. Fozol Miah, George Galloway MP.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Celebrating the NHS on 3 November

The TUC, UNISON and other trade unions are arranging a march and rally in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 3 November to celebrate and defend the NHS.

Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary said in a statement “The NHS remains a service largely owned and run by the public. The system still aspires to be a universal service, free at the point of use and funded by direct taxation. For this we should be thankful. Access to the National Health Service is a defining aspect of UK citizenship and the NHS remains the national institution that the country holds dearest”.

Next year the NHS will be 60! On the 3rd November NHS employees and supporters will gather on the Embankment from 11am, and at noon will set off for a march to Trafalgar Square.

“The 3 November event is being billed as a celebration of the core values of the health service and founding principles of the NHS. As the NHS heads towards its 60th year next year, the founding principles remain as important today as they were in 1948. To keep true to its name, the message to the Government is to keep competition, markets and profits out of the NHS… En route to the Square, the NHS staff, supporters and their families will be accompanied by bands and colourful street performers. Once at the rally - which ends at 4.30pm - they will hear from a variety of speakers and entertainers.” (TUC).

Sounds fun – see you there!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Petition: Don’t hold an Election Until 2010

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Not Hold a General election before 2010".

"In order to have the time to fully implement its manifesto commitments and fulfil its electoral mandate the Prime Minister should consider waiting until 2010 before holding a general election".

In response to Tory spam on this blog (and others) to sign the Petition at the 10 Downing Street site calling for a “general election in 2007”, I have created the above petition. It was rejected once for being “political” and having “duplicates” so I have had to change it. It was approved this afternoon and so far it has one signature on it – Me!

and the answer to the question is no, I haven’t got anything better to do…..

Monday, October 15, 2007

End Prohibition? Legalise Drugs..

On the way home tonight I heard on the radio a defensive Richard Brunstrom, maverick Chief Constable (& blogger)of North Wales Police, argue for possession of all drugs to be decriminalised.

Once again I am personalising things (not usually a good thing in Politics) but today at work I heard about yet another resident being “banged up” for several years and losing his home for stupid drug offences. I have absolutely no sympathy with drug dealers, and if “prison works” and actually dealt with illegal drug abuse in this country then I would not bat an eyelid at such consequences. However, now I feel that this is just another waste of a life.

Brunstrom’s argument was that we have lost the war against drugs and like America in the 1920s; we should recognise that Prohibition against drugs is an unwinnable war. For example, despite draconian criminal sanctions we can only stop an estimated 10% of heroin from being imported each year. The rest gets in and floods the market, often impure and untested, ultimately only benefiting low life drug dealers. He also points out that he did not want a “free for all”. I suppose there would need to be severe sanctions of dealers who for example targeted children. But the big mass of dealers who we see driving around our big cities in flash cars and covered in bling, setting a completely wrong example to young people, would be put out of business in a single stroke.

He also argues, I think persuasively, that we are pretty much near the limit of what democratic societies subject to the rule of law can actually do. If long mandatory sentences and fortitude's fail to stop criminals dealing then what do we do next? Hang ‘em high? While no doubt that does have an effect, it still hasn’t got rid of the problem in China, Singapore or even Cuba. Personally I don’t want to live in a quasi-fascist Police State simply because of dipsticks who enjoy rotting their brains for a quick fix.

Okay, I am ignoring my potentially very harmful consumption of my legal “drug of choice” - a glass of red wine that is staring at me beguilingly as I type (but, it’s organic, taxed and from Tesco’s, so it must be alright!)

Over the years I have seen what drug abuse can do to individuals and families. The filth and squalor is sometimes simply just beyond belief. Society as well suffers, not only the drug fuelled violence, muggings, burglaries and petty thefts that junkies get up to but the massive cost to the taxpayer of the criminal justice system that is needed to deal with addicts. If the present policy does not work. Something needs to be done. Something radical?

I won’t even mention the destruction and misery that prohibition causes in poor countries such as Colombia and Afghanistan. Where drug production and dealing fuels terrorism and gangsters. If we legalised drugs, these gangs would collapse.

Fundamentally, we are supposed to have a “joined up” government that is evidence based and looks at what works? If we cannot stop drug importation and abuse in this country then why do we enrich dealers with such huge amounts of money when we could simply legalise the supply, maybe require GP prescriptions, tax it very heavily and use the money to educate people on its dangers. The dramatic decline in smoking is surely a real indication of what can be done to combat drugs if it is legalised. Everything we have tried so far has simply failed.

Remember if there is nothing we can effectively do about the supply of illegal drugs by prohibition then what have we really got to lose by trying decriminalisation?

Paradise Lost: SWP Purge

Following on last nights post on the very sad situation that Galloway and the SWP find themselves. I woke up today to find that the SWP central committee have expelled 3 senior activists for siding with George and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Nick Wrack, who is likely to be the new Respect National organiser, Kevin Ovenden and Rob Haverman have all been expelled for going “native” and supporting Galloway against the orders of SWP bosses John Rees and Lindsey German. This is all such a terrible shame.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Respect: Pantomime amidst Hand to Hand Combat?

Time to have an update on what is happening to our comrades in diss-Respect. My last post on this subject in September featured the SWP slagging off Gorgeous George and his Muslim fundamentalist allies for being anti-gay and practicing "Communal politics".

George had demanded the resignation of the SWP secretary of Respect, John Rees, and his own people to take charge of the Party. The expected bloodbath was postponed due to the prospect of an impending General Election. So we had the farcical performance of George saying he would not stand as a Respect Candidate in Poplar and Limehouse, only to be then “persuaded” by a grovelling plea from the SWP to stand! Now the immediate prospect of a general election is off, things are beginning to return to form.

The Tower Hamlets “Respect” blogger Nedlud (who appears to be a functional human being) latest report is titled “Combat corps-à-corps de Respect, apparemment” (which I think if my CSE French is correct, means that there is hand to hand fighting in Respect, apparently) speculates on reports that Tower Hamlet Respect Councillors will split.

The small number of SWP believers, led by nice but led astray, Oli Rahman, will be kicked out by the Muslim Brotherhood, head honcho, (and Council opposition leader) Abjol Miah.

While I love the recent Workers Liberty (AWL) “open letter” to the SWP in which they allege that “your association with Galloway is demeaning and befouling? ….Do you now find yourselves suddenly realising what you have got into, with the shock of someone who wakes up to the realisation that he has been sleep-walked into a disease-ridden stream of sewage?... pissed on secularism….”

I couldn’t possibly comment.

Meanwhile former long term SWPer Nick Bird who recently resigned, is interviewed by the infamous “Worker Weekly”. The SWP is exposed as a flock of sheep controlled by Napoleon’s sheep dogs.

While anti-SWP critic Mac Uaidhas rejoined Respect and has decided that since he has taken George’s shilling he must defend the indefensible. Poor chap.

Meanwhile Galloway himself, in the middle of the mother of all battles for the soul of “respect” has decided to commit himself to his many East London constituents in Blackpool to hold (according to his official web site) “You'll laugh! You'll cry! You'll rage! Know why? Because George is launching the Mother Of All Talk Shows annual convention in Blackpool on Friday, November 9 and Saturday November 10. There will be a cabaret, competitions, prizes, a late-night disco on Friday, an all-day conference and on the Saturday night his talkSPORT radio programme will be beamed live from the venue - with audience participation. We might even chuck in a stick of Blackpool rock. And only £25 a ticket!”

Pass the sick bag

Friday, October 12, 2007

Support Your Local Postal Workers

This lunchtime at work, one of the reception staff came up to my desk with a bunch of leaflets. They told me that striking Posties had come in and asked them if there was a union rep in the building, who could put one of their leaflets on the union notice board and distribute the rest.

I went down to the reception but they had already left. I saw that they had put the same flyers on all car windscreens parked all along the Roman Road. It was a pity that I missed them. They only left 5 leaflets. These flyers were very good. The title was “A message to the public” and explained in simple direct terms the Posties’ case and what people could do to help.

I was pleased that when I went back to my desk and gave people copies of the flyer that it generated a discussion with work colleagues on the strike, the impact that it was having and what people thought of it. Only a few people joined in but others listened. It was pretty favourable, even those who were unsympathetic about strikes (“them and the bloody railway union are always on strike”) had a “good” story about their favourite Posties, past and present. It is of course, one of the last personal “door to door” services that most working people grew up with and still cherish. Even though nowadays most people buy stuff at the supermarket or online rather than on the doorstop (milk, newspapers, rent, insurance, savings etc) because it’s cheaper and suits them more.

I think that people were interested in the leaflet since it explained that the strike was about “proper trade union issues”. For example; opposing pay cuts and the slashing of their pensions. As well as being sent home early one day, and then expected to work longer hours whenever management needed them, without notice or extra pay. One working Mum present said she couldn’t do such a job when her kids were small since she had to have regular hours to pick them up from school. The prospect of letters being delivered at 4pm and the ending of Sunday collections didn’t go down very well either.

Our local East End sorting office in Bromley- by-Bow is on a “Wildcat” unofficial strike. I have just heard on the radio that a high court judge has granted an injunction banning next week’s “official” strike action. Don’t know what the reason is but I can guess.

By coincidence I was late getting into work this morning and heard the first 15 minutes of “Desert Island Discs”. The guest was former Postie, Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Health. Alan of course was the former General Secretary of the Posties Union, the “Communication Workers Union”. Alan and the CWU have “fallen out” since. This is a shame. Alan gave a very moving account of being brought up in poverty amongst very difficult family circumstance in London during the 1950s. Not the usual picture of life in the 50s of happy, smiley families who left the front door unlocked, but one of extreme poverty, cold, hunger, overcrowding and common place violence. However, when he was asked how he coped with modern pressures as health secretary he said he was used to it. When as General Secretary of the CWU, he was in charge of 160,000 trade union members who were on all out strike action, he soon learnt to cope with pressure. I suppose Billy Hayes is learning fast too.

UPDATE - 00:15 BBC 24 report a "deal" - strike settled?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Health & Safety Sponsors Conkers

Now a serious subject for a change: Conkers. I applaud the Institute of Safety & Health IOSH (of which I am a member) brilliant decision to sponsor this year’s World Conker Championship which will take place this weekend at Ashton in Northamptonshire.

For too long the “health & Safety” lobby in this country has been on the defensive against wholly inaccurate and frankly dishonest myth making by much of the media - such as the “HSE bans conker playing in schools” etc. The usual suspects are at work e.g. Daily Hate, The Torygraph and the Daily Pornography).

This is also a key political issue where we have “clear blue water” between the Tories and Labour. John Redwood MP in the recent so-called "competitiveness report" announced that the Tories would get rid of the vitally important “Health & Safety at Work Act” and “The Working Time Regulations” if they won the next election.

Check out the HSE site health & safety myths

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Bigot is Not Guilty

It seems that even the Fundamentalist Far Right can be unfairly treated by the Courts and the Police. On the face of it, the quashing of the conviction on appeal of Newham Christian Peoples Alliance (CPA) Councillor, Simon Ademolake (very far right), of assault on Police and Court bailiffs, is somewhat surprising. Especially given that the judge in the original trial clearly expressed the view that Ademolake was lying and that this Christian Councillor choose to evidence without swearing on his bible?

However, the legal system has decided that he is not guilty and can leave the court “without any stain on his character”. So he is obviously sweetness and light.

I’m not going to comment about the circumstances about this case (Court admin cock-up?) but I think that anyone with slightest bit of honour would actually resign as a Councillor over this issue (no matter what else - he clearly broke the law of this land and failed to pay his fines when he should have).

However, his CPA leader (they have 3 seats on Newham Council), Alan Craig, is obviously keen to keep Simon on in order to continue his crusade against non fundamentalist Christians, gays, Muslims and rest of us who have stone hearts that need ripping out.

What on earth did Newham do so wrong as to deserve having both Alan Craig’s Fundamentalist Christian and George Galloway’s Fundamentalist Muslim bigots as opposition Councillors? I blame Thames Water?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Boris the Bear

Yesterday, while out walking in the English countryside and woods in Bedfordshire I saw a black bear. The bear looked very much ill at ease, unsure of what to do and which way to turn. It moved slowly and awkwardly, stumbled from left to right, it was unkempt, overweight and bumbling and even at a distance of 100m you can sense a far from pleasant aroma. I kept my distance.

In the excitement of last week, my “better half” had insisted that since she was likely to become an “election widow” that we go off for a long walk on what could have been our last free Sunday for a while.

On the drive there we listened to Parkinson on Radio 2. Poor old Gordon was getting a bit of undeserved stick over the postponed election. In his honour Parkie played “It’s lonely at the top” by Randy Newman.

Admittedly the 8 mile circular walk (No 23 “one of the great classic walks in Bedfordshire”) was through the public footpaths that crisscross Woburn Abbey. Home of the famous Safari Park and 3000 acre deer park, golf courses, racing stables and farmland. The Abbey and Park are still owned by the latest descendant of the famous Russell family (currently led by the 15th Duke of Bedford).

It does stick in your throat that one family could own just so much land, you can walk for hours and hours and still be on the family estate. However, to be fair the deer park is well looked after and gorgeous, at least they haven’t turned it into an upmarket Country hotel and conference centre like they have with Brocket Hall.

For part of the walk the footpath goes alongside the Safari Park. To try and see the animals you have to recreate your own Kinder Scout trespass and leave the public footpath and cross over the road, the final perimeter fence is a further 50m away. Beyond the fences there is the bears and wolves reserve. Safari parks are much better than Zoo's but still not suitable for wild animals. Animals as well as Tory game show hosts should also keep to their own natural environment.

There we saw our bear. We just had to call him Boris. GLA elections May 2008. In London and elsewhere the battle continues.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Prudence says No

So it’s off. My home Virgin media broadband connection crashed yesterday afternoon, then while trying desperately to work out whether or not it was my PC or Virgin at fault (it was of course Virgin), I got a text from a normally “very reliable source” saying “there will be no general election”. I switched on BBC 24 and it was confirmed that Gordon had told Andrew Marr that there will be no immediate election.

I had simultaneously a profound sense of relief and disappointment.

I think that since the Labour Party is in Government and can constitutionally remain in power until at least 2010, then the prospect that we volunteered to go door knocking and delivering leaflets before we had to, during cold dark damp winter evenings, was somewhat discouraging. Especially since opinion polls can be wrong and the predicted margin of victory was pretty narrow (or indeed off beam if today’s polls about the Tories being ahead in marginals are correct).

On the otherhand, any election is energising to any real activist. I admit that I have political scores to settle (mention no names). The opinion polls may have been a little flaky but it is almost unprecedented for a fourth term British government to be ahead in polls. I don’t know for certain but I imagine that Gordon would have instinctively wanted to hold an election as soon as he became PM to establish his authority. The awkward squad on our own side will no doubt make problems over policies they want to grandstand over in the near future.

There again, they would probably do this anyway if they were re-elected on a Brown manifesto.

Anyway, Prudence has spoken. Remember this instinctive caution and intellectual analysis is one of the reasons why this son of the manse was re-elected unopposed. Yes, Gordon probably wanted to hold a snap election soon after he took over to give him a clearer mandate; yes, there appeared to be an opportunity too good to dismiss after Tory disarray during the summer and deft handling by Gordon of critical events.

Yes, I did think that he was going to hold an election and it is clear that he was seriously considering it. However, upon reflection he decided against it.

Is there anything really wrong with that? Isn’t this something we should encourage politicians of all Parties to do a little more thinking and being susceptible to arguments before making a final decision? It’s a good thing in my book.

Remember with Gordon, WYSIWYG and if Gordon decided after shifting through all the evidence, this was not the best time to hold an election then we can expect nothing less than for him to say "No".

Friday, October 05, 2007

An audience with Keith Hill MP

“Should I stay or should I go?” I doubt if Gordon Brown is listening tonight to the 80’s punk rock band “Clash”, while making up his mind about whether or not to go to the country. There again, I haven’t heard his “Desert Island Discs” selection, so who knows.

Yesterday, we had the unexpected pleasure of former Housing Minister and PPS to Tony Blair, Keith Hill MP, (Streatham CLP) giving a Parliamentary report to UNISON Labour Link London regional committee. UNISON has a new Constituency Development Plan with Streatham CLP.

It was a “tour de force”, by a naturally “larger than life” retiring MP (he has announced he is going to stand down at the next election – whenever that may be) who until very recently had been at the very heart of government and was now obviously enjoying his new found freedom after years of purdah.

The topical bit was Keith’s view on whether or not there should be an election at this moment (Thursday AM). That Labour was “poised at the cusp of a possible general election but it was not a foregone conclusion” was no surprise.

Nor was his view that Brown will consider the mixed bag of 3 public opinion polls that were announced this morning (for example “The Guardian” with the Tories on level pegging with Labour) but also that there are influential private Labour Party polling data available to the Party only at the same time.

A good reason to have an election now could be to circumvent the flood of Ashcroft money that the Tories have planned to pour into marginal seats over the next two years. Keith says that Ashcroft believes that this money alone would make a huge difference to the election result.

Against this is the fear that the public may feel that they have been unfairly manipulated (or Mugagbe-ised as he put it) into an unnecessary Parliamentary contest and the Tories could play on this. Let’s wait and see.

I must admit that being a housing bod, I had been rather unmoved with Keith’s stuff while as a Housing minister. Check out this weeks “Inside Housing” for a flavour. However, once we moved off the speculation about the election it was a treat to be meet someone who could “walk and talk” at the same time (OK he was sitting down – but you know what I mean).

In response to questions about present day “difficulties” between the Unions and the Labour Government, Keith reminded us that before he was an MP, he had been a Labour Party adviser who had been present at the last NEC meeting that Harold Wilson had attended in 1976. Later he was the parliamentary advisor to the forerunner of the RMT for 16 years (obviously before Bob). He’s been about.

His view was that despite present day difficulties (more style than substance in his view) that the present day affiliated unions had actually more contact and influence over the Party than the Union barons in the 1970s. In the 1970s the unions were dismissed and ignored, while nowadays with the Warwick agreement there is actually unprecedented involvement and co-operation.

He also suggested that the Labour Party National Policy Forum (which has taken over many not all of the functions of conference) may well not work effectively for grass roots Party members but gives the unions the opportunity to exercise real and unprecedented influence. I agree on the opportunity bit.

I remember asking PM Tony Blair a question at a Labour Party National Policy forum last year about the relationship between the government and the trade unions and he replied that actually it was better than at any time in the history of the movement. Every other Labour Government including Atlee’s had been stricken by bitter and self destructive industrial disputes. I’m not sure that this is totally fair but I can see the argument. No doubt the CWU will have a different view.

There was a good debate over pensioner incomes. Keith believes that average Pensioner incomes have actually gone up by more that if the earnings link with wages had been introduced in 1997. He was very proud that 1.1 million pensioners had been brought out of poverty with a 73% increase in real income.

This was the first time that I had heard a coherent argument about Labour’s housing policy. OK, Probably my fault for not listening but maybe not. Keith explained that due to the failure by the Tories to invest in maintenance and supply during their 18 years of power, Labour in 1997 faced a massive dilemma that they could not afford to improve homes as well as improve supply at the same time. They decided that the priority was to improve homes to a “decent standard” which took £25 billion to do so and are now on tract to be completed. This is why now, Gordon is going to spend significant amounts on new build to make up supply.

Keith also described “Early Day Motions” (EDM) as a “debased currency”. There used to be only 400 odd per year, now there are over 2500. Instead of asking your MPs to support an EDM congratulating Oldham Athletic, you should ask them to write personally to Ministers on particular issues. Makes sense if they will do it I suppose.

I didn’t agree with everything Keith said but it was a pleasure to engage (lovely New Labour term) with a charming, relaxed, cheerful and enthusiastic real human being.

If there is a general election, and of course there will be a Labour Party victory, I hope that Lord Hill of Streatham (or whatever) is invited back to our committee to give his next parliamentary report.