Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy Hogmanay and Blwyddyn Newydd Dda

Tonight I will be at the traditional grayee family outdoors BBQ (don’t ask). The temperature will fall to –4C tonight. Derek, my resourceful brother-in-law has an old oil drum which we use as a burning brazier to keep us “menfolk” warm while we burn the meat. So I will be seeing in 2009 on my very own mock “picket line”.

Frankly, I think we would all rather be warm indoors with the “women and children” but its “tradition” and I think the women enjoy watching us freeze and get a great deal of pleasure waving at us through the window.

It’s also traditional at this time to reflect on the past year and muse about the future one. I’ll do that another time.

I’ll just wish all my true comrades in the Branch, UNISON and the Labour Party (and everyone else) all the best for 2009. Rest assured that I will be toasting you all A guid New Year to ane an' a' and mony may ye see.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

BCC Scrooge call on Minimum Wage

Bah humbug! - The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has called for the minimum wage not to be increased until "economic situations had significantly improved". The minimum wage for employees over 21 increased by 3.8% in October 2008 to £5.73 per hour. It is £4.77 for workers aged between 18-21 and £3.53 for staff aged 16-17. Obviously a huge and unaffordable amount of money!

They claim that a rise in minimum wage would not help firms hold onto staff and would simply add to unemployment

David Frost, British Chambers of Commerce (Minimum wage goes up to £5.73) said : "We're not opposed to the minimum wage going up when employment is high and the economy is doing well, but when jobs are being lost daily and a recession is in full swing, it makes no sense to increase it."

I notice that he hasn't called for restraint by Executives on the money and perks they award themselves? Surely the more the minimum wage is increased then the more likely that the economy will get moving again since those on NMW are more likely to spend and increase much needed demand?

Remember the rubbish predictions that the employer representatives made about likely job loses when the NMW was first announced? See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/35036.stm

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Martyrdom of St. Leon the Loser

The actual "Trot Pick" on a Mexican radio show.

The blogger, Exile, appears to be based in Mexico and has visited the actual site and museum.

He obviously has strong opinions, on which I couldn’t possibly comment.

Christmas Past, Christmas Present & Christmas Yet to Come

Christmas 2008 is different from what I remember in my childhood, but in other ways reassuringly similar.

Yesterday we went out for a family meal in honour of a visiting Auntie from South Africa at my cousin’s home in Berkshire.

The highlight of the evening entertainment was afterwards everyone enjoyed taking part in SingStar which is a karaoke style game on Playstation 3. Two people compete against each other by “singing” into microphones to a music video. You are marked and ranked by the machine for hitting the correct notes and repeating lyrics in time. The programme will also post comments, such as you are doing “Awful” “Bad” or “Cool” “Good”.

The technology is very different from the black and white video table tennis “ping pong” that I can remember enthralling us in the past.

But I also remember everyone in my childhood Christmas gatherings playing “charades” and having singing competitions while listening to vinyl “Sing-along” records. So things are not all that different.

Sharing and enjoying Christmas with family is the common thread. I suspect and hope that the youngest family members present, 18 month twins, Matthew and Emma, will experience similar Christmas Yet to Come.

Of course modesty would have normally prevented me from revealing the real singing star of the evening. However, for some reason the machine obviously was not working property and my family all beat me rotten! Fix...!

Picture is an overlapping collage of my little sister (UNISON member) and her daughter singing their hearts out.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A message back to Ahmadinejad

I’m moving rapidly into rant mode. I agree with the post on the ToUChstone blog that it was an absolute disgrace that so-called “President” Ahmadinejad of Iran was invited to give the Channel 4 alternative Christmas message.

So Channel 4 wants someone controversial? So next year we will have someone from the Paedophile Exchange or the BNP to give the message?

Ahmadinejad is a President of a regime that does beat up, wrongly imprison and even torture trade unionists. He also presides over the judicial murder of kids for being gay and the stoning to death of women who have been raped. Iran is the cradle of civilisation for crying out loud, so how on earth has such a moron come to power who can’t even string an argument together in his own language? This holocaust denier dipstick even wants to have nuclear weapons?

Come, friendly bombs and fall on Ahmadinejad and his works. Please...the earth will exhale.

Lyn Brown MP Coffee morning at the Chandos Centre

I’m still catching up on things. This constituency development meeting took place in the Chandos Centre in Stratford, London, E15 2 week ago. The Chandos is a well run and locally regarded purpose built community centre. It has it’s own bar (Closed!) and you can see the main hall is decorated for Christmas/New Year parties.

Lyn (2nd left) writes to residents who live in the area inviting them to come and meet her and discuss local issues. She holds such meeting all over her West Ham Consistency. Recently the main focus has been on local health services. There was with her a team from the local PCT offering free health MOT checks. A senior executive of the trust was also present.

Local Councillors are also present to take on any Council case work. I had my usual high powered job helping out as Tea/Coffee maker and biscuit provider (and sampler).

Friday, December 26, 2008

Living Wage for London – a huge step forward at last

I first picked this up from Peter Kenyon post about the early Christmas pressie for many Tower Hamlet Council workers and contractors.

The Council had just passed a motion calling for the London Living wage to be implemented not only for all directly employed workers but also for all contractoring staff. It also calls for Best Value contracts to apply a London living wage when they are up for renewal. The current Living wage level is £7.45 per hour (minimum wage is only £5.73 for over 22 year olds).

The Council free newspaper East End Life covers it here . There are some woolly bits in the motion that are a little worrying about “encouraging” contractors to adopt a living wage.

But I am really pleased. This is potentially a huge advance. I went into a Tower Hamlets “Idea Store” (merged library and life long learning centres) and spoke to some people I know. There are agency staff on only £6ph so this will make a huge difference to people’s pay. I know that the Council ALMO Housing agency caretakers are only paid NMW as well. I have posted here and here on this issue in the past. In the past, when I was a member of the local UNISON branch I have also attended a number of meetings with various Tower Hamlets Council leaders on this issue. We were always listened to sympathetically but were always told that it was not legally possible to implement a London Living wage.

The really interesting thing is whether or not similar motions will be passed in the other London boroughs and how effective they are in “encouraging” other employers to pay the same. I have recently asked my employer to carry out an audit about how many workers receive less than £7.45 (mostly office cleaning and security contractors).

I know of some housing organisations that have lost Local authority Supporting People contracts by being undercut by those who pay just above the NMW.

It was good to see that there was cross party support for this in Tower Hamlets, but I seriously doubt anything will happen in Tory boroughs. Peter Kenyon sees this as a return to basic Labour values.

Well done to the new Labour Council Leader Lutfur Rahman (seen in photo with successful candidate Rachel Saunders at the Mile End East By-election).

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Uncle Joe’s Seasonal Greeting

This is the second unusual card I have received this Christmas.

Apologies to anyone who did send me a card and got nothing in return. This year I’ve decided to make a donation to Charity rather than send any. This is of course a wholly principled decision based on a genuine desire to save the environment and give practical help to others.

It is not at all because I was too lazy and disorganised to buy, write and send cards this year. No, not at all.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Housing matters

Some stuff I’ve nicked from the latest editions of Inside Housing. Last week it reported here that the new regulator the TSA is to probe the increasing salaries of housing association CEO’s. Have they become a self fulfilling prophecy? About time too. See here.

While here they report that many Housing association executives are not taking their bonuses due to the economic downturn. hmm? Good – leadership at last?

Why do so many MP’s hate us? (Or something like that). Barbara Thorndick, the Chair of Place Shapers Group says here that Housing associations are “the good guys”. She is introducing a report the group had commissioned that concluded that HA’s need to improve their reputation among MPs (and I would say among many Councillors and Assembly members!). I must admit that I have come across a number of MPs who have no time whatsoever for “dreadful” Housing associations – not just the “usual suspects” either.

Here we have the news that six HA’s on the TSA “at risk list”. Whose CEO, Peter Marsh , said there were four “presenting factors” – stand alone interest rate swaps, only 6 months bank funding, write downs on land banks and wrong assumptions about shared ownership sales. No doubt that some of these six will be suffering from all four factors.

The maddest story of all time must be here about Home housing group sacking a sheltered warden who may have saved a dying resident with an non-procedural “out of hours” visit. An employment tribunal found she had been unfairly dismissed and should have been congratulated not sacked. Think about it – if HA’s treat staff in such a “totally irrational” way then how do they treat their residents? Resident associations and housing unions ought to work together more closely.

Saddest story here is that landlords are freezing recruitment and cutting jobs due to economic downturn. This is bonkers that we are laying off specialist development staff when we have an absolute housing crisis and an economy that needs reflating. Hello? what’s happened to joined up thinking?

Credit Crunch Christmas




I thought I better post something seasonal...and it's a nice and catchy tune.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Home help spanks Stefan Cross

An early crimbo pressie for those of us who for some reason, aren’t all that keen, on Porsche owning rich solicitors, who make massive amounts of money from low paid women workers.

The Daily Record here reports that thousands of Scottish Council and NHS workers could be in line for a tasty refund of charges that Stefan Cross levied for representing them on a “no win no fee” basis!

Newcastle based Cross, charged a Scottish Council worker, Jacqueline Quinn, £500 for taking on her equal pay case. The Scottish Court has ruled that this is unlawful and unenforceable. According to the Daily Record Cross may have to pay back £10,000 to other workers.

Cross (very cross – sorry I could not resist it) is quoted as saying "I am not aware of any ruling on this. The unions are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.

"When we were contacted about Mrs. Quinn's debt we decided to write it off as it was two years old anyway."

UNISON's Scottish secretary Matt Smith said: "The unions have always warned against the false allure of commercial solicitors who claim that they can deliver compensation more effectively or quickly than a trade union."

Is he a Greedy ambulance chaser or crusader for justice and equality? (Times) Personally I would leave this judgment to ordinary workers like Jacqueline to make.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

X-Factor “Song for Heroes”



Hat-tip thingy to respect’s Mac Uaid of all people. Not being an X-Factor type of person I was unaware that the 12 finalists had issued a Christmas single to raise money for wounded British Servicemen and women. The song and the message are really good. The record is probably going to be number one and is the faster selling chart record of the decade. The Chancellor has removed VAT from the sale. Check out the British Army website for more information on the worthy charity Help for Heroes and there is a link to Play.com where I bought the down load of the record for £1.25.

It was interesting to read said Mac Uaid’s despair about the success of the single. It says “something very depressing about the state of anti-war consciousness. No song opposing the imperial intervention has had even a fraction of the success”.

He would appear to think that all British servicemen and women (check out the video he is plugging) are murderers and torturers who got what they deserved. Thanks to the bravery of the same service personal it is a free country and he can say what he thinks. But he fails to realise the utter contempt that the overwhelming vast majority of the country thinks of such views. Especially the working class who he claims to represent.

You can attack the decisions and politicians who made those decisions but to denigrate those who wounded and disabled?

When are the Ultra left going to wake up and realise they are just wasting their entire lives with such nonsense? Mind you, you have to be completely and utterly off your head in the first place to think that you are helping your cause by such observations.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Worse Tories in Britain – Hammersmith & Fulham Council

Stephen Cowan, the Labour Group Leader at Hammersmith & Fulham Council (H&F) writes a very good blog (The Cowan Report) about the goings on at the now Conservative run Council.

In particular I thought his post here about what happens to staff when Labour loses control of Councils to Tories is very apt. H&F switched to the Tories in the last local elections in 2006 after decades of control by Labour. Since then front line staff have had their wages reduced by up to 50% while at the same time Senior Tory Councillors have increased their bonuses by 14-18%. Council services have been “dogmatically” transferred out to private contractors. Over 4,000 staff are being dismissed and re-engaged on inferior terms and conditions. There will be a reduction in maternity pay, dependency leave and extended working hours.

Like Stephen I do still meet La La land Council workers who also claim that there is no difference between Labour and the Tories. Tell that to the UNISON members in H&F who are currently serving out their redundancy notice.

I also posted recently here about the attempt of H&F to build a major housing development with no public (social) housing. This is the Tories gerrymandering at the expense of the poor and vulnerable.

Recently I met up with a local Labour Party member and trade union activist who is normally very critical of the Party and many of its policies. However, he reminded me that he still strongly believed that even on its worse day a Labour government or Council was far better than a Tory one on its very best day. Some people need to remember this.

Mind you are H&F Tories the worse in Britain? There is one heck of a lot of competition.

The Blood Donor

A NHS comrade has sent me a reminder that UNISON blood branches (yes, we do refer to them in this way) are supporting appeals by the National Blood service to donors that they should not forget to their appointments. There is a seasonal drop at this time of year.

The service has also been hit by the large numbers of donors being struck down by Flu and is running short of blood especially “O” Negative (see chart below).

Click on the Blood website and you can see how to make an appointment and the total stock levels of blood currently held.

Showing my age but if I remember rightly didn't Tony Hancock try to get out of his "duty" to be a blood donor by saying he would be a lollypop man or join the Young Conservatives?

Do your bit folks.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Newham Greenway - Vote Early (Vote Often?)

I’m reluctantly supporting one of Boris’s daftest ideas. Voting on-line in a “referendum” to decide which 10 London parks should receive up to £400,000 for improvements. You would have thought that it was the job of elected officials to make considered judgements on which Parks should have the funds for which they could then be held accountable.

Nope – Boris is letting it all hang on Internet voting. So that’s okay then. How very fair, transparent and of course not open to any abuse.

Still, if you can’t beat ‘em – Vote here for Newham Greenway. It’s a real life green lung for East London. For years I have walked, cycled or jogged to work and back along this route. I’ve been too lazy recently but I can feel yet another New Years Resolution about getting fit and losing weight in the air.

From the Greenway in Bow you could see the Chris Evans “Big Breakfast” cottage (I use to wave at him on the lawn as I cycled past) and a short detour leads you to the original “Big Brother” house at Temple Mills. Also close by is the impressive memorial here (and main photo) in Three Mills Green to 3 workers who tragically died trying to save the life of a work colleague. I have helped organise Workers Memorial Day remembrance ceremonies there in the past.

To vote you only have to type in your post code and put in a name. I voted twice from the same PC (purely in the interest of investigative blogging), the second time using the name Boris Johnson and the Newham Town Hall post code. The website accepted the 2nd vote.

Ends 29 January 2009.

Nice one Boris!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Sinking SWP Ship

Last night Socialist Unity posted a confidential internal SWP pre-conference report by Party member, Neil Davidson. It is a typically Ultra left unreadable dirge.

These people take themselves so-so seriously. If they could communicate ideas on one page of A4 they may have made a lasting impression.

Instead this supposedly Trotskyite Revolutionary vanguard teamed up with a Stalinist ego maniac, Islamic fascist fundamentalists and rich anti-gay, anti-women local businessmen. A marriage of conveniences made to last? Yeah...

Now it doesn’t mean that some decent people were not sweep up in this farrago. Many of whom have now realised that they have been “had” - good and proper.

I enjoyed Davidson’s attempt to justify the SWP by posing the question “What would British society be like if the SWP had never existed? What would we see if the guardian angel of revolutionary parties could show us a United Kingdom where the ship bearing Ygael Gluckstein to these shores in 1946 had sunk with all on board?” Ygael Gluckstein was of course the SWP prophet, Tony Cliff, who I met shortly before he died. I’ll post on this weird and rather surreal meeting another time.

I’m not that sure that the obvious answer Yes you bloody fool why even ask? is actually true. Since if the SWP did not exist then no doubt another bonkers ultra left organisation would have rapidly filled the void. As Cliff’s SWP replaced the gap caused by the implosion of the rapist Healy’s WRP, which use to be the leading Trot Party beforehand.

It now appears likely that the SWP will split, not least because they need to witch-hunt someone for their failure to gain any power or to even seem like contenders. But no doubt another equally useless lot will take their place. My current “comrade at arms”, Dave Osler, as usual provides a more eloquent explanation for what is going on here.

I wasn’t born in 1946 so I couldn’t have possibly sunk Ciff’s ship. However in 2009 as you would expect, I will of course be trying to do my best to fly over the modern SWP wreck and machine gun any survivors....so I’ll leave you with these happy, happy thoughts (sorry Charlie for not being more “critically supportive”).

Thanks to Col Roi for his updates.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A letter to: Langdale and Ambleside Mountain Rescue

A wonderfully moving letter from the Guardian.

We had seen you in action before. One sunny afternoon last year we parked by the drystone wall at the top of the pass and scrambled up Side Pike with the kids. We could see your white Land Rover parked across the valley floor. We enjoyed a stunning view of the rescue helicopter hovering by the Stickle Tarn cliffs.

My dad was there too, and we peered at your website on his laptop later to read about that call-out. There was a nasty rockfall and a broken leg, it seemed, and the rotors buzzed a hapless walker off to the hospital.

You in the mountain rescue team didn't get the chopper ride, I'm sure. I bet you had to walk. To your families asking, when you got back, why so many weekend and summer evenings were broken up by you disappearing.

A few months later, we met close-up. My father wasn't there with us to watch that time or to point out the names of the peaks, or the route of the climbers' traverse across the screes. But you were there, and you came to say you had found him.

Thank you for coming to the house at midnight to say in the gentlest way you could that your team had found my father's body. You had done your job already on the fells. You know you could have left this news to the policeman, and gone home to bed.

So, thanks.

Thank you for telling the newspapers how experienced he was on the mountains, and patiently explaining that he was well-equipped for the wintry conditions. And thank you for coming to the inquest, and for saying those things again.

For bringing out your detailed notes and GPS coordinates and explaining what you found - the rucksack, ice-axe, mp3 player and him. "An accident in its purest form," the coroner concluded, and my father dead long before you found him in that snowy gully.

You gave him dignity in his death, and you were, in a sense, his last companion. Sometimes, in the middle of something, I remember that my father died quite alone. A sudden noise may have rung out from high on the corrie wall, 1,000ft above the road, but only the Herdwick sheep and the frost were there to hear. Each of our warm bodies will cool one day, and his was chilled to the temperature of the snow in the shadow of the setting March sun when you arrived. Thank you that he did not stay there alone.

Thank you for the effort you made to bring him down.

That was a night of international phone calls and a long drive through the dawn. A night to change my bearing. A night to start to weigh the family in new units.

I wonder how you remember that gloomy Easter night. The empty car in the layby. Your dog scenting out on the fells. Quartering the icy outcrops and scree, until one of you saw something dark that wasn't rock and a shout called out on the hill, and the team could stop at last.

I was glad that you came to the funeral too. My dad had moved to live among those mountains, and now his body lies within the glacial sands and stones that underlie the churchyard at the foot of the fells. "In His hands are the depths of the earth; the peaks of the mountains are His," says the headstone.

And you'll be on those peaks somewhere. Some of you are probably up there now, searching.
You didn't achieve your aim that night; no one could have done so. But your work magnifies the beauty of the hills.


Thank you.

Chris Pyle

A great tribute and a lovely memorial. My own father died 6 years ago around Easter while on a long distance walk from Leeds to Liverpool. Like Chris’s Dad, he lived and died for his walking. He suffered a heart attack rather than an accident. In the past while out walking together, my father and I had also witnessed mountain rescues and we were always very grateful for these brave and selfless volunteers.

My Dad’s ashes were scattered over Snowdon rather than buried. He was a lifelong atheist so while he would not have agreed with any biblical sentiments behind “In His hands are the depths of the earth; the peaks of the mountains are His” but I think he would have liked the idea that the peaks of the mountains are still his.

Leo Pyle (father of Chris) was also in real life a really decent bloke who even helped protect dissidents in South American fascist regimes. Check tributes here and here.

You can support Langdale and Ambleside Mountain Rescue here

Hat-tip Col. Roi

Update: It is a small, small world.  I have found out that a good friend of mine from 1980's Leeds University co-wrote a book with Leo.

GLA Labour Group Reception

Busy day on Monday. In the evening after work I went to the Christmas reception laid on by the GLA Labour Group in City Hall.

The event was on the 9th floor “Living Room”. There is an outside balcony with simply fantastic views over London and the river Thames.

Ken Livingston was there looking far more healthy and relaxed than I ever saw him as Mayor (watch out Boris). The last time I was here on the 9th floor was I think for the May Day reception in 2007.

The GLA Labour Assembly members were very hospitable and friendly. Nicky Gavlon who chairs the Planning and Housing committee agreed to come (if diary allows) and speak at my Housing Association Branch AGM. I was also speaking to people about a possible London Labour housing network?

Len Duvall, Leader of the GLA Labour Group and of the London Party (& UNISON member), gave a short and to the point speech asking us to enjoy ourselves but reminding us of those Londoners who are having a tough time at the moment. We are the only Party who really cares about people and has the ability to change things. Next year will be really important for the London Labour Party and we must all work hard to win Council by-elections, fight off the BNP in the EU ballot and build up our capacity for the General election.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

UNISON Housing Seminar at House of Commons

Yesterday morning I was present at an early UNISON seminar on responses to the Housing Crisis.

There was a pretty wide range of speakers. Heather Wakefield (Head of UNISON Local Government), John Cruddas MP, Cllr Tony Newman (LGA), Allan Riddell (Old Ford HA), Mark Thomas (Shelter) and Toby (forgot surname from Compass). It was chaired by UNISON Labour Link Steve Warwick in his capacity as a UNISON NEC Policy committee member. I was there as a London UNISON representative who works in housing.

UNISON is the largest Housing union in the UK. We have members in Council housing departments, ALMOs, Registered social landlords (Housing associations) and the supported housing sector. But also our 1.4 million members are either homeowners or tenants themselves or in need of affordable housing.

Some things I found interesting:

Heather – “Good Housing is the rock of social well being in our society”.... the BNP are the only ones to benefit from poor and adequate housing...many housing organisations up and down the country are getting rid of staff...our members should not be forced to buy”

Mark – “the government has to be bold”....need to increase grant rate....rethink tenure and the risks of homeownership.

John – need to “rebuild the mixed economy in housing”...the government target was for 240,000 properties per year....3 million in total...last year only 170,000 built, this year 100,000 – next year who knows? Need for state to step in and take the strain. Relationship between state and economy being fundamentally redrawn...not a great issue in ideology but a change in relationships...question of political will rather than economic...he is “optimistic” ...need to keep up the pressure.

Toby – reminded us that at current rate of new build each home will have to last 1200 years...it’s not possible to return to previous housing model...there was a housing cartel of private house builders who restricted supply to keep prices high...

Tony – Need a change in housing finance...there could now be cross party consensus in the LGA for Councils if they wish to start building again in partnership with RSL’s

Allan – New Housing Development used to subsidise management. Due to recession RSLs will face pressures due to increased rent arrears...there is still in London a £60-80,000 funding gap between the cost of new build and grant. Picture of Allan (bottom right) making everyone laugh is when he reminded everyone that RSLs do not want to buy the “off the shelf” new developments currently being offered to them by private builders because many of them are indeed “crap”!

There was a good Q&A. I asked the panel with my Housing Association Branch officer hat on whether it was a premature that some Housing associations are laying off development staff since everyone agreed there was a housing crisis and most thought that the government will have to provide extra funding soon? Much of the panel were very supportive and the words “crime”, “insane” and “short-sighted” was used to describe the sacking of specialist development staff. Some pointed out if they are unable to actually develop currently then they are in very difficult place.

On the Inside Housing web site here there is a piece on the seminar.

Afterwards while scoffing House of Commons “bacon and cheese” croissants (delicious but should be served with statins and aspirin) there were some very good ideas discussed about campaigning and what to do next.

I just might be, repeat, might be, finally understanding how housing development finance works.

Strictly Gone Dancing

Guest post by Comrade Mercader following the sad news that Heenal has left Lambeth.

Is this the sort of thing they teach you then in expensive Boarding school?

A fast fox-trot of some sort no doubt.

Some Pension Sense

Tom publishes this rebuttal by the GMB of the rubbish being put about Public sector pensions.

"Naomi, the GMB's pensions supremo(!), has produced this rather good list of points of why public sector pensions do not eat babies....

Public Sector Pensions – The Source of All Known Ills

“Oh no they’re not” I hear at least half of you cry as everyone gets ready for panto season. You’d be right of course, but in light of the hideously one-sided press coverage of the issue here are ten facts you won’t have read about in the press:
1. Public sector pensions potentially keep 12million people from reliance on state benefits in retirement.
2. Public sector pension schemes, in particular the funded Local Government Pension Scheme, generate billions of pounds worth of investment in the UK economy.
3. Public sector pension schemes encourage retirement saving among 5.75m public sector workers – 85% of public sector workers are members of a pension scheme (compared with 40% in the private sector).
4. Lack of retirement saving in the private sector will lead to more poverty and significant pressure on state benefits in the future.
5. Greater poverty in retirement resulting from inadequate company pension provision in the private sector will lead to greater pressures on the NHS and local care services.
6. All workers pay for everyone’s retirement income. The price of goods and services includes the cost of private sector pension provision, just like tax levels include the cost of public sector pension provision.
7. State benefits are funded by national insurance and taxation paid by everyone and used more by those with lower incomes e.g. those with inadequate pension savings due to poor private sector provision.
8. Public sector pensions account for about 20% of public sector workers’ remuneration packages.
9. Public sector pension schemes are good quality and rightly so, the country needs private sector schemes to be as good. Lower pensions for all means poverty in old age for all.
10. ‘Apartheid’ was the official policy of racial segregation formerly practiced in the South Africa, involving political, legal, and economic discrimination against non-whites; it is not an appropriate description of occupational pension provision.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Robert Shiller: The only one who saw it coming

Better late than never, but a couple of weeks ago I went to a lunchtime seminar at the “Work Foundation” to see a presentation by the Robert Shiller. In his book “Irrational Exuberance” published 8 years ago he predicated the current financial crisis. The book was an international best seller but was of course largely ignored and he got a lot of stick at the time as being some sort of doom and gloom merchant. Now he is the hero of the hour.

There were a number of heavy duty hitters at the seminar from the City and even Downing Street. The seminar was hosted by Will Hutton who has written about Shiller here. Tom at Labour & Capital has also an excellent report here on the seminar. So I’d just mention some things that particularly struck me.

The first thing is that Shiller’s presentation on why the bubble was predicable was so absolutely convincing that even with the benefit of hindsight you wondered why he was ignored? I asked my usual question about the role that poor governance of companies played in the crisis but he responded by saying that it was not an area he had looked into.

At the end I bought a copy of his new book “The Sub-Prime Solution - How Today’s Global Crisis Happened and What to Do about it”. I asked him to sign it which he did, reassuringly putting down the wrong month which he apologised for while quizzing me on the origin and pronunciation of my surname. After all no-body gets everything right.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Newham Young Labour

This is a plug for its first meeting this Tuesday 16 December 7.30pm in the Golden Grove Pub in Stratford, E15. All Labour members who live in Newham are invited. “Young at heart” members are also welcome (but don’t worry I won’t be there to spoil the fun).

You can also join their Newham Young Labour “facebook” group. Ellie who is the West Ham CLP Youth and Student officer (and hopefully a future Newham Councillor) is helping to organise the event with her East Ham counterpart David.

The Picture is of young (and not so young) Newham Labour Party members “on the knocker” during the London GLA elections in May. Young activists worked their socks off for the Party and helped significantly increase the Labour vote – see details here

Old and New - The pub is only a few hundred yards away from the Old Stratford Town Hall, from whose balcony overlooking the main road, Keir Hardie, was proclaimed as the first ever Labour Party MP in 1892.

A Christmas Tale

video

A Christmas message from Comrade Mercader.

50,000 Visitors since Feb 2007

Well, its bit of a milestone I suppose. Time to take stock and think about the way forward and possible improvements. 667 posts so far.

The readership is tiny compared to some other blogs but as long as I enjoy posting I will keep it up.

I admit that I do indulge myself from time to time (see next post). Some think I am being divisive, others think that I pull too many punches.

But there is room in the “bloggersphere” for a centre left Labour movement blog that offers critical support to the Party and commentates at times vigorously on trade union, political and economic issues. This is my aim anyway.

I will try and post shorter single issue posts (as suggested by Richard on Thursday). I’ll still do my reports on meetings and conferences but I will try and break them up to make them snapper and hopefully more interesting.

I don't think I need photos for every post. I do agree that often a picture is worth a thousand words but sometimes I think that a photo is unnecessary and not worth the effort.

The message of course should remain more important than the medium.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Labour Bloggers Beer & Sandwiches at TUC

I am just back from a very good evening out. First stop tonight was a seminar on trade unions and blogging, organised by the TUC. I had been beforehand at an interesting meeting in the UNISON Headquarters on Pensions and Capital Markets (which I hope to post upon). I had got the TUC event timings wrong so I arrived late for the seminar and missed most of the speakers.

It was aimed at TUC affiliated union's communication and policy officers. It was very well attended (about 25 people). I had missed the presentations by Tom P (Labour and Capital) and Paul Evans (Never Trust a Hippy). I came in during the middle of Richard Murphy's (Tax Research UK) talk about his blog. Some useful points he made was that you should always make posts very short. You need to recognise that there is a different writing style with blogs compared to traditional journalism or report writing. He also recommended that that you make links and post comments on sites that you find things interesting to support them, since with blogging you can feel isolated at times.

The excellent informal TUC blog Touchstone was discussed and explained. There was a general recognition that blogging helped you keep your edge, it made you think about your views and what are your politics. “I don’t know how I think until I write it down”. Labourstart blogger Eric Lee was there as well and he made a fair point that there was a lot of rubbish blog's out there and we must not get forget other media mediums (and that not enough time to ask questions at this workshop!).

Afterward we went off to the TUC Christmas Communications and Media party. I met up with Paul Smith again, the deputy Labour leader of Islington Council Labour group who does IT work for unions. The event was a busy and buzzing with media people. We did note that many newspapers and media groups did not have any “industrial correspondents” anymore. News regarding trade union issues is often presented along with “business news” and usually portrayed unions in a poor and negative light.

Picture is of Tom, Paul, me and John W (Johninnit). We couldn’t find Richard.

Afterwards some of us had a beer or three at a local hostelry and put the world finally to rights.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Why Europe is Important to Trade Unions

Claude Moreas, London MEP was the second guest speaker at our London Region Labour Link meeting last week.

Claude has been a UNISON/NALGO member since 1987 and his Mum is still a UNISON steward! Claude gave a very relaxed but at times hard hitting speech about his experiences as a BME London Labour MEP in Europe.

In June next year there will be the European elections. Claude argued convincingly (to me anyway) that it was not only important for the Labour Party to win these elections but also especially important for trade unions and their members.

Due to the enlargement of the European Union (EU) the number of MEPS per country has been reduced. London is losing 2 MEPs (from 10 to 8). The EU legislative assembly is now really important over a wide range of core trade union issues. For example the Agency Workers Directorate which will protect workers with 12 weeks employment with “comparable rights” to permanent staff. This is a huge advance despite some problems. Next month there will be a debate and vote over the working time “opt out”. If we got rid of this opt out, it would be a huge advance in protecting vulnerable workers from exploitation.

However the socialist and progressive majority in Europe is razor thin. If not enough Labour MEPs are elected then the assembly could fall into the hands of EU “Conservatives” and this will mean the end of such progressive policies. It is also critical for the unions to support Labour MEPs so they can oppose the dark side of the EU legislative regime, such as the “Services Directorate” which could result in the forced privatisation of local government and NHS care services.

Claude also warned that the likely collapse of the UKIP (due in part to their corruption scandals and the behaviour of their maverick MEPs) could result in the BNP getting 7% of the vote in London and gaining a MEP.

Claude reminded us that there were according to his calculations (Germany and France are opposed to monitoring of MEP’s by ethnic or other origin etc) 3 times the number of fascist/far right MEPs than black MEPS. He wondered what will happen when the new USA president, Barack Obama, who has been invited to address the Assembly, turns up. He will not only be addressing an assembly whose elected members do not accurately reflect the diversity of the EU.

Barack (this is my thoughts) will be standing directly opposite neo-Nazis and fascists who will no doubt consider him as sub-human. I would love to see how they will cope with this.

The bottom line is that the EU is really important especially to all our trade union members who have benefited from greater protection at work. Unless we mobilise and get out our vote in June this progress could be undermined or even reversed.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Boris and his Monday Morning Tea Meetings.

A little late but here is my first report on the UNISON London Labour Link committee held last week. We had double bubble this meeting with a presentation by GLA member, Joanne McCartney and London MEP, Claude Moreas.

I’ll report first on Joanne. Please note my usual disclaimer about relying on hurried scribbled notes for this post.

UNISON member Joanne told us how the assembly is still waiting for a vision from Boris. He talks about “value for money” but what is his plan? What will be his “way to go”?

His cuts to the Thames Gateway transport system will stymie regeneration. Stopping the Cross London and Croydon Tram link has even upset local Tories who were not consulted and cannot now commit to regeneration programmes for their own boroughs. With Housing, it is plain that Boris is expecting Labour Councils to pick up the bulk of social housings. With regard to youth policies he flies any number of kites but so far no coherent strategy. There was the infamous policy compelling kids to join the scouts. When the scouts protested that they would not accept kids who didn’t want to be there and Boris was quizzed on this, he simply denied that there was any plan to compel. Obviously he doesn’t read his own policy statements.

His apparent breach of confidence as the Chair of the Met Police Authority with regard to Damien Green is very worrying. He had agreed to slash funding of a joint GLA/Police domestic violence unit then once Labour GLA members had made a fuss he again denied it had ever happened and claimed that funding to the unit will be increased.

The most entertaining story that Joanne had heard from more than one source was that apparently there is a weekly “tea” meeting every Monday morning at City Hall with Boris and his advisers. The advisers dread this meeting because every week Boris sails into the get-together with lots of jolly good ideas and wheezes that had occurred to him over the weekend. They have no idea what to expect from week to week.

There was a good Q&A afterwards during which I told Joanne that across London many (not all) Housing Associations were cutting development teams and making staff redundant when we still have a desperate need for new public housing. What could the GLA do to bring forward plans for new build and refurbishment (at social and market rents) to keep people in jobs and build new homes? Joanne made some very constructive and non-partisan suggestions which I will follow up.

Picture above is of Boris desperate to raise money due to the ending of the £25 gas guzzler charge, at one such meeting trying to sell off the London underground system to the yanks.

Christmas Truce 2008?

An unexpected Christmas card arrived the other day.

I wonder if Dave and Alex got one?

I for one will not be playing football in no-man’s land.

Monday, December 08, 2008

“Housing bosses received ‘grotesque’ pay increases”

Former Head of Shelter and retiring Board member, Chris Holmes, of the now defunct Housing Corporation attacks housing association bosses for not only their pay but also for initiating mega mergers solely to further their own careers.

He thought that they only got away with this because the Corporation was “too soft”.

He doesn’t think that the market justifies any salary above £200,000 per year. The Corporation tried to speak to some associations about pay but was ignored. Maximum pay levels he thinks should be set depending on size and if these are ignored the association should be put under supervision.

Possibly even more incendiary than this attack is his assertion that in a significant minority of stock transfers, new housing association boards were almost totally made up with white males unrepresentative of their communities.

He finally attacks housing associations for “unnecessary and hugely wasteful” corporate hospitality.

Personally I think even £200,000 per year is too much. Hazel Blears, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government receives £137,000. The Prime Minister himself (for crying out loud) earns less £200,000 (£188k). A maximum cap for pay would be a good start. The highest paid CEO is at union busting Anchor Trust where he got a staggering £327k!

It should be possible for the new Housing Regulator the “Tenant Services Authority” (TSA) to verify the claims on the unrepresentative make up of boards.

By coincidence I contacted the TSA on Friday about a union matter and so far have been pleased at their efficient and courteous response.

Check out my previous posts on excessive housing chief pay here and the original interview with Chris this weekend in Inside Housing.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Subprime Crisis for Dummies



I've gone into the movie business. Well, sort of....this is what I have posted on Youtube about the causes of the subprime crisis. The reason for the current financial crunch. It it is based on a powerpoint presentation from the States.

This is what happens when regulators, governments and owners fail to do their jobs properly. It's also of course about individual and corporate thievery and fraud on a grand scale.

Language is a little too fruity for some. Headphone or speakers on.

UPDATE: apologies - this hasn't worked out very well. There is a problem with timing and making out the words on the cartoons. I'll try and think of another way.

Speilberg is safe - I'll better stick to my day job.

UPDATE 2: hopefully sorted problems, See what people think. No sound for now.

UPDATE 3: Nope this didn't work - will try Youtube again rather than blogger.

UPDATE 4: Youtube - not perfect but I think you can read and timing is better. No music.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

La Pasionaria and the Homecoming

On Wednesday I posted on the 70th anniversary (now tomorrow - Sunday) of the return of the British Battalion, International Brigade. A good comrade has sent me original newspaper accounts and photos of their famous farewell parade in Barcelona and their greeting in Victoria Station.


"THE FAREWELL
On Saturday October 29 1938 the International Brigaders held their farewell parade in Barcelona, an event deeply etched in the memory of all who were present.

In the presence of many thousands, mainly women and children, Dolores Ibarruri,"La Pasionaria", one of the most beloved of the leaders of Spanish democracy, spoke for the Spanish people when she said:

"Comrades of the International Brigades! Political reasons, reasons of state, the welfare of that same cause for which you offered your blood with boundless generosity, are sending you back, some to your own countries and others to forced exile. You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy's solidarity and universality. We shall not forget you, and when the olive tree of peace puts forth its leaves again, mingled with the laurels of the Spanish Republic's victory comeback!"

THE RETURN OF THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADE
Wednesday 7th December 1938. From News Chronicle, December 8 1938

When it was all over and the station was almost quiet again, the oldest porter to be found was asked if he had ever seen anything like this. "No", he said, "I saw nothing like it even at the end of the last war" Replying to speeches of welcome to the returning Brigaders, Sam Wild, Commander of the British Battalion said:

"We intend to keep the promise we made to the Spanish people before we left — that we would only change our front and continue to fight in Britain for the assistance of Spain "These extracts from "newspapers of the time convey the atmosphere as the Brigaders returned home:

From the Daily Worker, December 8, 1938
At last the train steamed into Victoria Station;, and from its windows there waved the flags of fifty-two nations. Even before it stopped, mothers and sons, wives and husbands were re-united.

As they left the train, headed by Battalion Commander Sam Wild, Political Commissar Bob Cooney and Quartermaster "Hookey" Walker, they were welcomed by Mr Attlee, leader of the Labour Party. With him were Will Lawther of the Miners Federation, Mr William Gallacher, M.P., of the Communist Party, Mr J. R. Squance, Railmen's Union Leader, Sir Norman Angell, Lord Strabolgi, Sir Stafford Cripps and Tom Mann."

From the evening paper Star December 8 1938
Led proudly by their wounded comrades, the men marched into London. With them marched the spirit of Byron, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Chartists, Keir Hardie ... Britain's bravest fighters for liberty through the centuries. Behind and around them marched twenty thousand British democrats- Men as well as women wept and cheered alternately; It was no political affair for all parties were represented, both on the platform and in the crowd.

It was British democracy spontaneously expressing its abhorrence of Fascism and its appreciation of bravery.

These men have made history, by forming part of the greatest international democratic army the world has ever known. They have inspired the world by their example.

Something of this seemed to enter into everyone who was at Victoria last night, and the memory of it will never be eradicated".

Friday, December 05, 2008

Being Sued for Libel by a Disrespectful Tory

Alex Hilton at Labourhome first brought this to attention, then yesterday, Dave Osler, in this post here spilled the beans good and proper about an attempt to sue us all for libel.

Now, I am convinced that the case against us (and "Private Eye – now “settled”, The Labour Party – kicked out with costs awarded against the claimant and “Der Spiegel” – just coming up to speed) is frivolous and vexatious (also just plain nonsense). That is my opinion. However, I am not sure what the Court thinks about reporting actual details of the case so I will have to keep Mum for the moment.

I think that the law needs to be changed. This is in one way a truly fascinating and amazing experience but on the other it is in my view a colossal and tragic waste of Court time and money. Since there is no “Court” costs awarded in English libel cases, the costs to the public purse so far (which cannot be claimed against claimants or defendants) must run into thousand and thousands of pounds. What a disgrace. Please note how this money could have been better spent elsewhere.

I do think that with regard to Alex and Labourhome that it is just absolutely outrageous that they are facing any such legal action. I posted the original article on Labourhome and accept responsibility for it. Sue me if you must. If this legal action was to be successful then there would be no Labour, Conservative or whatever blogs which allowed un-moderated comments or posts. Even moderated blogs would be under threat since the law allows spurious claims to be made which cost £1000's to defend.

I hope all bloggers will pause for a moment and put aside sectarian interests (only for a moment of course) and realise that “there for the grace of god” argument applies to our little problem and any support you can offer in our common cause will be greatly appreciated.

Dave and I are defending ourselves in person but Alex has employed solicitors - so click on his post on Labourhome to donate to his costs and support the call for real on-line freedom of speech and expression for all.

Please note that for very obvious reasons I will have to delete any comments which may relate to the claimant or the case. You can email me privately via my blog profile (left).

(I've updated this post to take account of my Labourhome one)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Lobby Legal Commission Service on Cuts to Advice Services.

On Monday 8 December 12-2pm there is a lobby outside the Legal Commission Service (LCS) headquarters in Victoria, London. This has been called by my Voluntary sector trade unions colleagues in UNITE.

The LCS is accused of cutting the funding arrangements for independent legal advice services such as local Law centres and national organisations such as Shelter.

There was a recent very bitter and damaging strike in Shelter over cuts made due to changes in LCS funding. I have also met Law Centre volunteers who have been spitting blood at the new policies. An old friend of mine who works for the LCS loyally defended the cuts and changes of providers as just getting rid of old fashioned and inefficient providers to ensure “value for money” for taxpayers.

But what this means in practice is that legal advice services have had to cut the terms and conditions of staff who are not highly paid in order to stop “private” companies from winning contracts on price by cutting wages, extending hours and getting rid of decent pensions.

There must be a level playing field. We must ensure that those who protect the vulnerable are not themselves exploited

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

70th Anniversary – The Return of the British Battalion

On Sunday 7 December it is the 70th anniversary of the disembarkation at the Port of Newhaven of survivors from the British Battalion XV International Brigade (also known as the Clement Attlee Brigade).

They had fought in Spain during the civil war against Franco and the fascists. Of the 2,300 who went to Spain 526 were killed. 7 surviving brigadiers, brigadiers families and supporters will gather at Newhaven Fort to dedicate a bench which will overlook the harbour and be a memorial to those “who remain under Spanish soil”.

Brigade veteran and former trade union leader Jack Jones (see photo) who was wounded in the fighting will also be in attendance. Check out further details here and here.

On 7 December 1938 the Brigade then went off by rail to London where they were greeted at Victoria Station by supporters such as Clem Attlee and Stafford Cripps. There is an obvious link with the arrival a few days previously in Liverpool Street station of the first train full of Kindertransport children fleeing Nazi persecution on 2 December 1938. See this post.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Letters of the very Last Resort

On the way home from work tonight I listened to “The Human Button” on Radio 4. It was a fascinating programme.

It was not necessarily a report into the pros or cons of the British Nuclear deterrent but a short history of those who job was (and still is) to carry out nuclear Armageddon if ordered and the politicians who would have had to make the final decision.

One of the first tasks that Gordon Brown would have carried out when he became Prime Minister would have been to have written in long hand letters to the commanders of the 4 British nuclear armed submarines.

In these letters (called "last resort")he would have ordered them what to do if he was dead and the country had been destroyed by an enemy nuclear strike. These letters are secret and destroyed when a new Prime Minister is appointed.

The programme carried interviews the only two British politicians who have indicated how they would have responded. Denis Healey made it clear that he would have not had ordered nuclear retaliation since deterrence had obviously failed and the deaths of 20 million Russians would have changed nothing. While Jim Callaghan indicated he would have probably done it but never forgive himself for doing so.

You might have thought that the famously aggressively minded Healey would have been the one to support retribution rather than “Sunny Jim”. Maybe we also ought to be cautious about politician's memoirs? But I suspect that with Denis it was always bluster and that he would not have done it. Jim would have because he would have thought it was his duty to have done so? Who really knows? I do wonder what Gordon Brown has written?

The modern day Royal Navy Commander of HMS Vanguard the Trident armed submarine on patrol in the North Sea as we blog made it perfectly clear that he would follow orders and launch an immediate strike if properly ordered to do so.

Here is also a visual slide show with excerpts from the programme. The programme is repeated on Sunday and available on the “listen again” facility for the next 7 days.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Lansbury Estate 1951 - It's what Labour Council's do

An excellent post here about this famous Tower Hamlets housing estate. Check out the paragraph about the three-piece. I don't think that you will get such stuff in modern day Co-op press releases:-

"The Lansbury Estate in Poplar was one of the largest post war municipal housing schemes undertaken by the Labour controlled London County Council (LCC) and later the Greater London Council (GLC).

The Estate was named after the great Poplar Labour Councillor and MP George Lansbury.

The first building began in December 1949 and was built on a site North of East India Dock badly bomb damaged during the blitz in World War II.

The first tenants Mr & Mrs Albert Snoddy and their two children moved in on the 14th February 1951 at a rent of £1 and nine shillings a week (rates included)

It was a showpiece estate, built as it was based on "neighbourhoods" and of a good standard. The first phase formed the basis of the Live Architecture Exhibition, part of the Festival of Britain of 1951.

Lewis Mumford, the great American writer on urban planning, was enthusiastic about Lansbury Estate, writing in the New Yorker, he stated that Americans 'might profitably consider this masterly effort as a guide to our thinking' on public housing.

LONDON CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETY

The 1951 Festival of Britain Architecture Exhibition

Furnished Flat Landsbury Estate - Poplar

The object of the London Co-operative Society in furnishing the Show Flat, Lansbury Estate, has been to choose schemes of decoration, furniture, fabrics and fittings to make the most of available space.

The selections have been made in close collaboration with the Council of Industrial design. The furniture has been specially designed and made at the C.W.S. factories and combines hard-wearing qualities with beauty of line and reasonable price. Most of the articles shown are tax free.

Mrs Grace Lovat Fraser has designed the colour schemes and interior decoration and as selected furniture and fabrics in consultation with members of the staff of the London Co-operative Society Ltd.

The treatment of a room depends on its aspect and the amount of money available, and both these factors have been taken into consideration when planning the interior decoration and furnishing of the rooms.

The living-room is colour washed in peach, the woodwork being of a deeper shade. The two armchairs and settee are covered in leather cloth with contrasting cushions in an attractive colour.

The three-piece is of entirely new design, consisting of a settee, one armchair, intended for the man—comfort being the key-note—and the other for the woman, which gives firm support to the back and ample elbow room for sewing, knitting and the other spare-time occupations which fall to the lot of the housewife.

The carpet is a seamless chenille Axminster with a fawn ground featuring a contemporary design of detached leaves in brown with off-white spots. The curtains are of rayon and cotton fabric in a woven plaid pattern, green and beige predominating with a black and red thread running through; they are lined with casement for extra strength.

The television set is a "Defiant," as is the table radio shown above, This model is not included in the flat, but is illustrated, as television is not yet everybody's choice.

The dining suite is made in natural mahogany with semi-matt finish, and is mahogany lined throughout. This method of finishing modern furniture has a twofold purpose—to bring out the full beauty of the wood and to prolong the " good looking " life. Unlike highly polished furniture, surface dirt can be easily cleaned off and scratches, abrasions and other marks are not so noticeable.

The chairs are upholstered in a soft fabric of pleasing colour. The lines of the suite are clean and uninterrupted by meaningless decoration and, therefore, will not date. The drawers in the sideboard have rounded corners and sides which prevent the collection of dust and dirt.

The group of crockery shown below has been selected from the Utility range made at the C.W.S. Potteries at Longton, This is available from time to time at all L.C.S. stores the keynote of simplicity is maintained and effect is achieved by placing the plain white pottery on a coloured table-cloth.

The earthenware has a full white colour and the design ensures maximum stability combined with good line and shape.

The dinner service consists of six meat plates six dessert plates, six cheese plates, two vegetable dishes and two meat dishes. the fruit set has a large round bowl and six small bowls which can be used for soup or individual sweets. The tea set comprises a teapot, six cups and saucers, six plates a bread and butter plate, milk jug and sugar basin.

Striped Australian walnut is the wood chosen for the principal bedroom suite which consists of a double bed, fitted wardrobe and dressing table is lined mahogany throughout. The built-in cupboard dispenses with the large wardrobe.

The same simplicity of line is observed and the job of cleaning has been anticipated—all the pieces are lifted from the floor. The grey carpet is a made-up hair-cord, which gives a sense of luxury at a comparatively small outlay.

The curtains are of blue and white printed spun rayon lined with blue casement and reflect the colour of the ceiling. The bed-spread is made from blue and white woven cotton in a honeycomb design, topped by a blue covered quilt. Walls of pale lavender grey and ivory woodwork complete the restful colour scheme, the dash of contrasting colour being introduced in the chair seat which is a pastel shade described as dusty The pillow slips, sheets and blankets are utility Maryland brand.

The household linen with which the flat has been equipped has been taken from ordinary stock. Each bed has an interior spring mattress and two pillows, one pair of sheets, two blankets, two pillow slips (the double bed four), a quilt and bedspread.

In the bathroom are two hand towels, a bath towel and bath mat. There is a rubber mat on the floor and one fitted with rubber suction pads in the bath.

The kitchen is equipped with floor cloths, dusters, hand towel and six glass cloths.

All the curtains have been made in our workrooms and most of them are lined with casement for added strength and wear. The colour arrangement of patterns of the textiles gives a key to the types of fabric, and the other illustration gives a good idea of the draping qualities of the materials.

An original note has been introduced in the bathroom by the use of ordinary hand towels as curtains. This innovation has much to recommend it as they are easily washed and do not deteriorate in the heat and steam.

Moreover the wearing quality is extremely good and the price comparable with curtain material. Colour schemes have been chosen for the kitchen which are cheery and gay, as a great deal of the time of the housewife will be spent in this room. Ivory walls and woodwork with skirting, window frames and door frame in signal red, shelves lined with thick turquoise American cloth with a small white star, and curtains lined with cream casement of gaily flowered cretonne, make the kitchen a room that is far removed from the drab routine "workroom" of so many houses.

A contrast is made by the red floor covering in coir matting, which is easily lifted for cleaning. As the cooker is electric, the aluminium saucepans are heavy duty with ground bottoms. Having catered for the grown-ups we now turn to the child's room. This has been planned to be equally suitable for a boy or girl.

Walls and ceiling are washed a clear sunny primrose and the woodwork is of ivory. The predominating colour in the printed linen curtains is dark pink on white with the sprigged pattern picked out in brown and lime green. The bedspread is of pink and white woven cotton and rayon, the same colour being repeated in the quilt.

The furniture is light oak, wax polished and is specially designed to hold the belongings of a teenager. The floor covering, which is a made-up square of coir and sisal matting in a chevron pattern, is easily rolled up for cleaning and allows for plenty of hard wear.

A team of craftsmen and designers has been working at the various C.W.S. factories producing the furniture for the Festival. Flat. Facsimile suites are on show at some L.C.S. showrooms, where it is possible to study these fine examples of workmanship in greater detail and with more leisure.

All the cupboards in the kitchen are fully stocked with non-perishable foodstuffs, Domestic equipment and cleaning materials comprise a refrigerator, a Co-Op Society carpet sweeper, broom, wall brush, soft and hard hand brush, scrubbing brush, set of kitchen cutlery, a half set of table cutlery, carving knife, fork and steel, wooden spoons, sieves and .strainers, mincing machine, scales, oven wear, pressure cooker, sauce-pans, frying pans and full range of waxes, cleaners and polishes.

The packets, jars, bottles and tins which stock the kitchen are familiar to Co-operators and are a reflection of their own larders and cupboards. The Council of Industrial Design has approved the outside, and 1,000,000 members have expressed satisfaction with the contents. A price list of the articles is given on the loose leaf, and these are the prices at the time of going to press.

CO-OPERATIVE DEPARTMENTAL STORES ACCEPTING ORDERS :-
54, Maryland Street, STRATFORD
42, King Street, HAMMERSMITH
la, High Street North, EAST HAM
19, Junction Road, HIGHGATE
159, Upper Street, ISLINGTON
54, Southchurch Road, SOUTHEND-ON-SEA
277, Hoe Street, WALTHAMSTOW
638, High Road, TOTTENHAM
220, High Road, ILFORD, Essex
33/35, South Street, ROMFORD, Essex
353, Fore Street, EDMONTON
23, Staines 34a, High Road, KILBURN
202, High Road, WILLESDEN
1, Falcon Road, BATTERSEA
The Broadway, BURNT OAK, EDGWARE, Middx,
High Street, CAMDEN TOWN
High Road, WOOD GREEN
High Street, ACTON
High Street, UXBRIDGE
High Street, WALTHAMSTOW

Issued by:

The Public Relations Officer. 54, Maryland Street, E.15 Tel.: Maryland 42011

Lansbury Council House co-operative price list July 1951

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Gordon at Progress Conference

Registration for the annual Progress Conference started at 9:00 yesterday morning at Congress Hall, TUC. The first keynote address was due to start at 10:00. As usual, despite my very best intentions, I was running late and I arrived at about 9:45 and went straight down to get a coffee in the TUC lower hall.

To my surprise the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, came down the stairs and started to shake everybody’s hand he came across including my own. I could only think at the time of saying “Hello Prime Minister”. Now of course I can think of all sorts of profound and convincing statements to say to him. But at the time it was only “Hello”. I couldn’t find my camera either to take a photo - but there you go.

It is only when you are up close to him that you realise that he is literally such a “big bloke” with a barrel like chest and rugby playing shoulders. His famous “big clunking fist” would indeed deliver quite a knock out punch. Light weight Tory leaders and egg throwers beware.

Gordon was the surprise keynote speaker and had not been on the original agenda. As soon as he entered the main hall there was a spontaneous standing ovation for him. Most of the audience didn’t have a clue that he was going to be there. He took over the platform for a confident and far reaching 20 minute speech, delivered without any obvious notes or screens (how do these people do it?).

I felt he was very buoyant but wanting to appear very calm. I think that the current financial crisis “extraordinary times need extraordinary solutions” is bringing out the best in him. It is “the biggest New Labour Project...it falls on us to deliver...We live in a global financial system where there is no global supervision" It’s personal as well, he talked about a women who wrote to him who had invested her savings in an Icelandic bank and could not any reassurance about her money. She had not slept for the previous 4 days. "We need to apply lasting values to new circumstances... Labour is the greatest force for fairness in our society. ..The lesson is that only progressive forces work”.

He also importantly, I think, gave an impression of optimism, not all is doom and gloom and in the long term we will come out of this. I managed to ask a question about the role that Governance failure in Banks, fund managers, accountants, actuaries etc, played in the current financial crisis and whether the concept of citizen investor will help prevent future failures. Gordon was I thought a bit wary in his answer but he assured us that once the crisis was under control there will be significant and wide reaching regulatory change in the future to prevent such things happening again. Fair enough.

In the last Progress conference I attended in 2006, Tony Blair was the keynote speaker. This was also in the same hall in Congress House. Tony had recently “agreed” to resign and delivered a blinding farewell speech. Later on I saw Gordon speak in this same location during the London trade union hustings for the deputy leadership election. He was very well received by that audience. Gordon left the Progress stage yesterday to another standing ovation.

I’ll post later on the rest of conference.

Future of Health & Safety Enforcement.

I attended this conference organised by the Centre for Corporate Accountability (CCA) on behalf of London UNISON regional Health & Safety Committee. It took place at the NUT headquarters in Hamilton Place, Kings Cross in its main hall and it was full. The CCA is a charity concerned with promoting worker and public safety.

The first speaker was Judith Hackitt, the Chair of the Health & Safety Executive Board. On the same panel was Graham Russell who is the Chief Executive of Local Better Regulation Office and Louise Adamson from “Families Against Corporate Killers” (FACK) see photo left. Louise gave the most impressive and emotive speech I have ever heard on the real importance of effective safety enforcement.

Judith spoke first and welcomed the new tougher sentencing that will come into force in January 2009. Fines have been significantly increased and many health & safety offences will now be punishable by imprisonment. She thought that the HSE have done a good job and that there had been a 70% reduction in deaths in the last 30 years. Britain has amongst the very best health & safety record but is not complacent. There are still 200 deaths each year, 28,000 seriously hurt and 2 million workers hurt. Asbestos kills 4000 per year. Work related ill-health is a major problem. What is needed is refinement and improvement but not radical overhaul. There should be a common sense approach based on common goals. Whilst I think that it is true that since the Health & Safety at Work Act in 1974 there have been huge improvements in safety, because we no longer have a large industrial manufacturing and mining sectors anymore then a significant reduction in deaths would have happened anyway.

Graham spoke next; I must admit that I had only been vaguely aware of the “Local Better Regulation Office”. Putting aside any comparisons to “Yes Minister” and its fictional “Department of Administrative Affairs” its aim is to advise ministers on reducing “unnecessary” regulations. There are some 200 British and EU regulations on safety. Many people present at the conference are naturally suspicious that this could result in voluntary rather than statutory regulation of health & Safety. Graham claimed this is not so and that the aim was better regulation of high risk employers not “light touch” deregulation. Companies also currently waste around £140 million per year on advice from health & Safety consultants which they could have got for free from the HSE/Local Authority Inspectors.

Louise spoke movingly about the death of her brother in 2006 who was electrocuted at work. I would urge everyone to read her speech here at the CCA site. Several times during her very eloquent message she struggled to contain her emotions but she carried on. It was also a hard hitting; factual account about inadequate and inappropriate enforcement, unacceptable delays a judicial process which often resulted in derisory penalties. Somebody wiser than me once said: “the world is a dangerous place, not because “those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” So, we call upon those responsible for enforcement to stop looking on”.

Sitting next to her was of course Judith Hackitt. Sitting next to me was a Mother and Father who had also lost their son while at work.

During the Q&A I asked Judith why she said that an 80% success rate for HSE prosecutions was “about right” and if it was more than this it would mean that the HSE was being too safe. While Graham had said that Local Authority prosecutions had a 95% success rate. Didn’t this indicate that the Local authorities were too safe and not taking enough prosecutions? Apparently not, HSE and Local authority prosecutions of the same law are in someway “different” (hmmm).

There was an interesting discussion about the IOD/HSE guidance for Directors. It is a voluntary code but the key actions are legal duties.

After a rather hostile question was put to Judith and Graham, a national safety officer from GMB (I didn’t hear his name) did thank Judith for turning up to such a meeting, to face the music which I thought was a fair point and pretty much everyone agreed.

After coffee we had Tory MP Andrew Selous, Shadow Minister, Work and Pensions. He thanked the CCA for being the only NGO that monitors workplace deaths. He attacked the false allegations made against the HSE by the tabloid press. To my astonishment he even attacked the “Daily Torygraph” for printing an untruthful story about choir boys being banned from pancake races for health & safety reasons. He then called the paper “shameful” for refusing to print a rebuttal. Andrew pointed out that there had been a crossbench consensus on Health & Safety and that it was a Tory government that brought in the 1974 Act. He supported the recent Health & Safety offences bill not least because he did not want decent companies undercut by rogue firms. He expressed concern about the reduction in the number of HSE inspectors and put forward a suggestion that companies should be forced to publish information relating to the health & safety record in their annual accounts.

Well, I never....however, before getting too carried away with this new generation of One Nation Tories I should have reminded Andrew of the bile that his own leader David Cameron came out with during his recent conference speech attacking the "health and safety and human rights culture". Same old Tories?

Next was Neil Hope-Collins from the trade union Prospect who is the HSE branch Chair. Neil is a HSE inspector but was speaking (in front of his boss) in a union capacity.

He quoted Gordon Brown from his 2003 speech that “Safety at work, is, as it should be, the mark of a civilised society” then “judge not by your words but by your actions” (from 2005 Batman film – who said inspectors don’t have a sense of humour). He thinks that the HSE “model” as set up by Robbins in 1972 still “works” but Neil is rightly concerned about the rock bottom morale at the HSE. A large number of staff has left, leading to fewer investigations and pro-active inspections. Low pay means that there is a skill gap in the HSE since so many experienced inspectors have left. It takes 5 years to become a fully trained inspector. Enforcement is needed to challenge employer’s indifference and apathy. Good intentions are useless. Safety reps should be the “eyes and ears” of the HSE.

The final morning speaker was Steve Tombs, who is the Chair of CCA. Steve is a former butcher and construction worker who is now a Professor of Sociology in Liverpool. Steve takes no prisoners. He’s not all that keen on Geoffrey Podger, the HSE CEO. Now in the past I have had a few differences of opinion myself with “Geoff”. So I can understand where he is coming from.

Steve spoke about a recent report called “A Crisis in Enforcement”. How people were in fact more likely to suffer “violence” (as in physical harm not from physical assault) while at work rather than violence or harm outside work. He believes that there is an employer accountability gap. Despite this problem there has been a huge fall in HSE inspectors and enforcement action. Investigations into reported injuries are also down, with many serious injuries not being investigated.

It is inconceivable to imagine that if someone lost an eye or a limb in a fight or traffic accident in Liverpool city centre that the Police would refuse to investigate it. Yet if someone loses an eye or leg in a work related “accident” usually the HSE will not investigate.

Steve argued that “targeting” sends out the wrong message and risk based regulation leads to less regulation for business and less protection for workers.

After lunch we had an unexpected lively and interactive presentation from the Greater Manchester Coroner, Nigel Meadows. He is not what you expect a Crown Coroner to be. I completely failed his video quiz on what witnesses see or don’t see in a game of basketball (I say no more).

Unite national officer Rob Miguel and CCA director David Bergman presented reports that comprehensively showed that many (if not most) local authorities are failing to carry out their health and safety responsibilities.

Solicitor Colin Ettinger reported on research that examined fatalities amongst migrant workers and was able to demonstrate disproportionate death rates, particularly of Polish construction workers.

Hugh Robertson, the TUC (and formerly UNISON) senior health & safety advisor (& HSE Board member) reminded everyone that we should be concerned not only about safety but ill-health at work. Often if someone loses their hearing during the course of their employment it is obviously difficult to record and pin down this serious injury as an “accident”. Funny enough today, in Forest Gate I noticed a workman making a repair to the road using a really loud hammer drill using no obvious ear protection at all. He was a young bloke who will probably be deaf or hard of hearing by the time he is 50. What should or could I have done about this?

The conference finished with presentations on Corporate Manslaughter by Steven Summer from the Local Government Employers and Julian Topping from NHS employers. It would seem that both groups of employers are finally getting their act together with regard to health and safety.

We will wait and see. But interestingly my interpretation of their presentations is that greater management interest and involvement has been driven by the threat of enforcement action against them personally. The Corporate Manslaughter legislation has not worried them as much as the prospect of personal imprisonment due to the upgrading of health & safety offenses from fines to porridge. I think it is early days but there is a message somewhere.