Monday, August 31, 2009

Forest Gate Labour News

The latest Forest Gate North Labour Party Newsletter from our indefatigable ward secretary (and Joint Chair of Newham Young Labour) Ellie.

Highlights:- the local leaflets we have been delivering on Council achievements such as the

..."Mayor’s Town Show and Playdays, free school
meals for all primary school children and freezing of the Council Tax....

...Next week Under the Stars will be taking place at Central Park from Thursday 3rd– Sunday 6th Sept. with fireworks and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on the last night...

...meeting with Lyn Brown MP on the 1st October, it should be very interesting as it will be just after Labour Party Conference....

...barbeque on Sunday September 13th with...
John Biggs AM, Mayor Robin Wales...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Centre stage at the Llandudno Plalladium.

Off message - but last week a family visit to North Wales meant spending the day and night in the picture post card perfect "Queen of the Welsh Resorts" Llandudno. This kicked off with a lovely walk along the pier and then enjoying a cup of tea while taking in the views of the purpose built Victorian promenade and the limestone "Great Orme" headland. Glorious warm sunshine helped - of course it never rains much in North Wales.

There was predominately English accents about - Liverpool, Manchester and West Midlands - whose families may have holidayed in Llanddudno for generations.

That night we went for a meal and a few sherbets and ended up inside the recently restored Edwardian built "Llanduno Palladium". Alas, not restored as a musical hall any more but now a pub run by the ubiquitous Wetherspoon chain. The restoration does seem to have been done well and to a high standard. I sat on a table on what would have been the site of the theatre stage drinking beer in front of the stalls which in previous times the ancestors of those on the Pier would have been sitting enjoying live music and theatre.

The Palladium was quiet that night. Just people chatting and occasional pearls of laughter. It is also ironic that Wetherspoon is one of the few pub chains that doesn't usually have any bands, juke boxes or any background music playing.

BTW - The chain also apparently claims that many of its features "such as quiet bars and reasonably-priced lunches, are influenced by George Orwell's essay The Moon Under Water, in which Orwell described his concept of the perfect pub. Several Wetherspoons-owned pubs bear the name "The Moon Under Water".

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Letter to a MP - former staff at Orchard Lodge Children's Home

(This is a copy of a letter being sent by former employees made redundant by Glen Care to their local MPs. I hope any public authority or organisation that is thinking of dealing with Glen Care will take note. Some names have been changed for obvious reasons).

"On Friday 31st July 2009, Orchard Lodge, the only Secure Children’s Home in London was closed down by its owners Glen Care.

Orchard Lodge Resource Centre was previously run and managed by Southwark Council, however in 2005 the Council sold Orchard Lodge to Glen Care, a privately owned company specialising in adult mental health services. Existing staff jobs were protected under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006.

We (staff) were led to believe that Glen Care was a highly respected company with a great deal of expertise within the care sector. Unfortunately, we have found that this does not seem to be the case. As time elapsed, they showed little or no insight into the legalisation and regulations governing the running of a Secure Children Home.

This raises serious questions about Southwark Council’s intention and duty of care to the children and employees of Orchard Lodge; as well as concerns about the decision making process and selection criteria used in awarding the sale to Glen Care.

My name is ***** and I am a former employee of Orchard Lodge with over ***** yrs experience.

I wish to bring to your attention the disgraceful and callous manner in which I and my former colleagues had been treated by Glen Care.

Within the first few months of the takeover, the workforce was drastically cut, with further losses occurring within the next year and half so that the Centre was reduced , from140 to 70 staff, with the loss of some of our most experienced staff. The depletion of the Mental Health Team in particular was extremely worrying as this greatly affected the quality and service we were able to offer to some of the country’s most vulnerable young people within our care.

Glen Care made no effort to get to know the workforce and communicated through critical and threatening memos and instructions via Orchard Lodge Management. Staff training and development was minimal and as such staff morale was greatly affected.

On 26th March 2009, Orchard Lodge was made aware that the Youth Justice Board refused to award a new 3 year 18 bed contract, as part of their tendering process. Glen Care is currently in the process of appealing this decision, which is being heard at the Royal Courts of Justice. The existing contract expired on 30th June 2009 and consequently Glen Care Group claimed that they could no longer afford to keep Orchard Lodge open without income from the Youth Justice Board.

The staff were told to work on as part time basis and paid weekly as opposed to monthly in direct breach of our contracts. Despite the knowledge of closure, Glen Care made no attempt to provide the staff with assistance and guidance on dealing with unemployment.

On 31st July 2009 at approximately 3.00pm the Centre Manager received a phone call from Glen Care Group instructing him to close down the Centre by 5.00pm, with all staff off the premises by that time.

In protest, staff refused to leave the Centre and staged a peaceful demonstration until they received a written confirmation of the termination of their employment. A Glen Care Director arrived on the Centre at approximately 10.00pm and handed out formal letters of redundancy to the staff, highlighting insolvency as the reason for the closure. The proposed redundancy package that many of us had been promised was not going to be paid This has caused great distress and anxiety to us all, as many of us had worked between 10 to 20 years. To date, Glen Care has not started insolvency proceedings and do not appear to be in a hurry to do so. As such, my colleagues and I are unable to claim statutory redundancy. The action of Glen Care Group and Mr Phillips in particular is causing extreme hardship to many of us.

As my local Member of Parliament, I would like to seize this opportunity to request that you seriously consider the issues highlighted in this letter and possibly raise it in the House. If there is anything you could do to assist or any advice you could offer, I would be immensely thankful. Unison is currently representing staff on this matter.

Yours Sincerely

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009


Posts will be a little irregular during the next week or so.

Apologies for not responding to any comments as well.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nassim Taleb: Prophet or Publicist?

Nassim is a controversial figure and following my recent post I was contacted by an American across the pond who is not at all a fan of his and who made some quite damning accusations. Check out the row here, here, here, here.

At the seminar itself I may have missed the remark about being a "climate change denial" but Nassim did make it clear that as a derivatives trader in the past he did find ways around regulations and did think that (non global threatening) economic crashes were a good thing that he was in favour. He now appears to deny this.

Nassim has taken a lot of stick while in the UK and this should be worrying to his co-panellist Cameron. My American hat-tip thingy person thinks that with regard to appearing with Nassim that “Perhaps Cameron doesn’t read FT Alphaville, which caters to the financial community, but had he done so, it might have given him pause”.


Friday, August 21, 2009

UK to US: The Truth About the NHS!

The British health care system isn't perfect, but we would never trade it for the one in the US.

Yet conservative US politicians and greedy insurance companies are pushing lies about the NHS as a way to scare the American public off national health care - risking Obama's whole movement for change and threatening his majority in Congress.

Sign the petition below and tell friends - huge numbers of us will cause a stir in the US media and affect the debate, and Avaaz will deliver our message to wavering US Senators this month before they cast their vote in Congress.

To the US Congress and the people of America, We urge you to ignore the myths about health systems in our country and others that are being pushed by US healthcare companies. Our national system of public healthcare works very well and enjoys extremely high levels of public support. We wish you a healthy and honest debate about healthcare in the US.

This request to support this campaign and petition the US Congress was emailed me via the TUC so I assume it is legit. It certainly makes sense to me.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Valley in Spain called Jarama

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Spanish Civil War.

Hat-tip thingy to Forward

Nassim Taleb and the Black Swan Cameron

On Tuesday I went to a breakfast seminar at the Royal Society Arts to hear Nassim Taleb (left) speak for the first time recently in London about the current worldwide economic crisis. He was here 30 months ago when he ridiculed by some for his predictions of a pending financial meltdown. Now of course he is the “hero of the hour” (as was Shiller).

Nassim is “Mr Interesting” personified. Check out his website “fooledbyrandomness”. He has a very high opinion of himself and a somewhat lesser opinion of those who don’t totally agree with this former opinion.

The panel comprised of Nassim, chair Danny Finkelstein from the FT and David Cameron - Conservative Party leader (check out Tuesdays post).

Nassim was very good value – provoking, entertaining and very personable - who spoke without any notes. His most famous work is “The Black Swan” which he explains is about “high-impact but low probability events”. Wikipedia explains further:-

The term Black Swan comes from the 17th century European assumption that 'All swans are white'. In that context, a black swan was a symbol for something that was impossible or could not exist... The main idea in Taleb's book is not to attempt to predict Black Swan events, but to build robustness to the negative ones, while being able to exploit positive ones. Taleb contends that banks and trading firms are very vulnerable to hazardous Black Swan events and are exposed to losses beyond that predicted by their defective models.

Nassim described himself as being in the “preventive business not emergency care” so he was uncharacteristically uncertain about what do next in the UK. He did convincingly argue that the big banks and financial institutions that are “too big to fail” must be broken up or they will just eventually repeat the same mistakes since they know that the authorities will not allow them to go bust. Check out similar argument here.

He also suggested that there is too much specialisation in financial services and too much debt. We need more generalist institutions which should have greater levels of deposits and lend less. (Not rocket science then?)

His solution to the current mortgage debt crisis is that Banks should stop sending “hate mail” to those in arrears and instead offer to reduce repayments in exchange for equity in these properties (good idea which is starting to happen in the UK). If there is cancer in the housing sector you don’t just offer pain killers.

Nassim actually likes economic crashes – he thinks they are good thing but they should not be big enough to be able to threaten the entire economic system as has recently happened.

He is very skeptical of “regulation” - he pointed out that he was a derivatives trader for several years and when he was a trader, give him a regulation, he would just find a way around it.

Regulations only benefit regulators and lawyers (workers capital argument?).

The bonus system in Banks definitely needs reforming. If Bankers are fooled by the randomness and give loans to black swans then they should not get any bonuses. (But who and how will they enforce this?)

I thought that Nassim ideas were really interesting. I was not able (despite trying) to ask my usual question to Nassim and Cameron about the role in the economic crisis that poor governance of workers capital played. Which is a pity - but there you go.

On the night before I read about Nassim’s proud boast that he always replies to short emails from people so I emailed him the question “Did Gordon Brown save the World”. He didn’t respond to this but to be fair he did actually email back and ask “Are you john Gray the author, my friend, or another one? “ I responded that “we are all Spartacus” but I was in fact “another one” to which he did not reply.

I suppose I hope he meant the highly regarded philosopher John Gray as a mate rather than the “Mars and Venus” John Gray. But somehow I have my doubts.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Say on Pay

I’m having a bit of a “row” with Sunny Hundal at the moment over on Facebook about his support for a “High Pay Commission”. I think the idea is probably well meaning but just barking up the wrong tree.

A genuine review (or even call it a commission if you must) of the best way to tackle excessive executive pay would be welcome - but as soon as people started suggesting that this may result in maximum wage regulation ratios, 90% taxation and a national “incomes policy” - it is simply a non-starter and even a distraction.

By co-incidence PIRC and the Railway Pensions fund are holding this “Say on Pay” event next month on UK’s experience of shareholders vote on remuneration (trends in Executive Pay both pre and post company AGM votes, level of shareholder opposition to remuneration reports).

There is actually currently no legal reason why we cannot get real independent shareowner representatives on Company boards and remuneration committees.

Personally I feel that we can only really tackle excessive pay when we have effective industrial and shareowners democracy. Don’t forget that employee representation on Company Boards is relatively common in many parts of Europe. Why aren’t we talking about this issue?

There also needs to be better regulation and fairer taxation but a High Pay Commission as currently spun will achieve nothing and set us back. IMO.

I’m not suggesting that Tom P agrees with me on this issue but I like his blog “about me” statement

I'm interested in getting the labour movement and the Left to understand the capital markets properly. There's plenty that needs fixing, but we need to get beyond simplistic anti-City and anti-business rhetoric to do it”.

The “left” have got to stop retreating to their “Bash capitalism” comfort bunker whenever financial policy comes up.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

David Cameron and the Labour Trade Union blogger

Picture is from this morning’s breakfast seminar at the RSA. The main speaker was Nassim Nicholas Taleb author of “Black Swans” who famously was one of the few to “see it coming” and predict the current economic crisis. David Cameron was also part of the panel. I will post separately on this seminar which appears to have picked up quite a lot of negative (and inaccurate) comment.

I thought it was really interesting even if the dastardly chair Danny Finkelstein from the FT didn’t choose me to ask a question (not from my lack of trying).

Now this is the first time I have ever seen “Just call me Dave” up front and I will admit I am just a teeny, tiny bit biased against him, but I honestly didn’t think he came over that well. He seemed to me to be a little tense and even very, very slightly annoyed all the time. Not that he was at all rude or abrupt, just a little testy. It is ironic that to me he comes over well on the national TV but in such a relatively small gathering (75 of us?) he is a bit, well, plastic. While “our Gordon” comes over as a person much better in similar gatherings.

There seems to be some discussion why he was there and was it some attempt at the rebranding of his image as an intellectual heavyweight?

To be fair as I came out of the RSA he was chatting to people (aka being lobbied) as he was getting in his car. I went up to him and said “David I am not a supporter but could someone take a picture with the two of us”. He immediately agreed and for the first time that day gave a lovely relaxed tanned smile for the camera... Such is the prospect of appearing on John’s Labour blog!

I know I am setting myself for some stick by publishing this photo - but why not, it is after all the silly season.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dave Smith – “Blacklisting safety reps kills people. Full Stop”.

"It creates an atmosphere where workers are afraid to raise safety concerns because they're scared they will lose their jobs. So even when everyone on the site knows that the bosses are cutting corners to save money, people just keeps their head down. The result is the worst fatality rate of any industry in the UK”.

Building union UCATT safety rep Dave Smith telling us as it is about his victimisation as a trade union safety rep on building sites and how this kills people. Dave was blacklisted as a trade unionist by the now infamous “Consulting Association” who unlawfully held records on Dave and thousands of other union activists. The recent £5,000 fine on the owner of this site who earned hundreds of thousands over the years from selling this information to building companies is just plainly ridiculous.

Dave was sacked several times by building companies and also often refused work. There was a 36 page dossier on Dave alone (see picture). Over 3000 construction workers were on this totally illegal employment register/blacklist. This did not stop key construction companies such as Balfour Beatty, John Mowlem Ltd, Costain UK Ltd, Laing O’Rourke, Crown House Technologies, Kier Ltd, Bam Construction and Vinci plc paying for this information and therefore becoming criminal and gangster employers. (I need to check the shareholder register on my pension fund against these names then ask our fund maangers to ask the question why and who).

Why are "only" some of them facing improvement notices when clearly they should be all punished for this deliberate and premeditated crime? Someone in each firm must have signed off and approved "Consulting Associations" contracts and invoices?

Check out this completely shocking report in “Hazards” magazine here (for once such a hyperbole description is real).

By co-incidence I have met Dave a number of times over the years and as well as being a proper top trade unionist he is also a really nice and genuine bloke. I can remember him telling me how once he handed a safety rep report about serious potentially fatal safety issues to a building site manager who didn’t even look at it but simply crumpled it up in his hands and just threw it into the bin.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

“‘elf & safety gone mad” – leading by example and debunking the myths

Check out this website of UNISON members who are also Council Environmental Health Officers that are carrying out a 400 mile Polar challenge next year.

Their goal is “ to change the public definition of the phrase “health and safety gone mad” so that it is associated with an eccentric endeavour rather than a shorthand term of derision – underpinned by the serious message of ‘real’ health and safety”.

This is all great stuff and I wish them all the Best of British. These are Health & Safety professionals who are putting themselves potentially at risk in a dangerous environment for a good cause. By applying the basic principles of good safety management to their own expedition they are demonstrating what they preach - that you can take controlled risks in life - safely. You just need to properly assess the risks beforehand, consult and take appropriate control measures.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

“A day in the Life of Joe Middle Class Republican” by John Gray

I first posted on the original article by my name sake (no none relative) here. I have a google alert which brought this YouTube clip by US radio presenter Thom Hartmann.

Bearing in mind what is going on over the pond in the States at the moment over Obama’s health reforms I thought it will interesting to post this new recital. As well as the justifiable fuss being made over here about this.

Hat-tip thingy to Desert Beacon

My 1000th Post - How time flies when you enjoy yourself.

So Gordon Brown did Save the World

On Thursday evening there was Tower Hamlets Council Investment panel immediately followed by Pension committee.

There was an interesting and important discussion about the state of the economy and our economic future.

Our pension scheme is currently worth just under £600 million. I asked the scheme professional advisors if equity investments are still “king” and whether the current economic recession is yet another painful short term market correction which we eventually come out of ...or is it the end of capitalism itself!

This provoked a lively debate during which the professional advisors were pretty adamant that this was a short term correction which we will come out of eventually.

One advisor did admit though that during the crisis most of the big banks were at one point very, very close to total collapse and if it was not for Government action to intervene and save them then this might have meant the end of capitalism as we now know it (or something like that). Scary or what?

To which I quipped “So Gordon Brown did save the World then”. This caused broad amusement all around and no agreement amongst all of the Committee members present I hasten to add – Conservative and Labour Councillors as well as Chief Officers. (Franks West GMB and myself were staff side reps).

A certain senior unnamed Councillor suggested that I would use this quote as a title for my blog...and I suppose - why not.

I am writing a full report for the trade union JCC which I will later post.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Save Our Homes!

Surrey County UNISON Branch are working with residents to save local care homes. Their slogan reminds me of the Tower Hamlets Housing Strike in 1999 which was "Save Our Services"!

This was the unanimous message from the 40 plus people who attended a public meeting on Wednesday 5th August at Molesey Football Club. The meeting was called by the Elmbridge Care Homes Campaign to defend The Summers and Langdown in Molesey and
Rodney House in Walton. Residents, their relatives, staff from the homes and members of the public gathered to hear about the campaign.

These three care homes are owned by the Kingston and Wimbledon YMCA, who have decided to sell them off. A previous attempt to sell them fell through earlier this year. The campaign has been told that a new buyer is now interested in the two Molesey homes but not Rodney House, which will have to be sold separately. Paul Couchman, Chair of the campaign and Branch Secretary of Surrey County UNISON (the trade union which represents workers at the three homes) said at the meeting:

“We know that this is an uphill struggle. We know that SCC has no intention of buying back the homes, but we have a duty to tell the truth and to campaign for what is right”. ” We are told that the homes have to go ‘on the market’. These are people’s homes, their lives – not pieces of meat or pairs of socks.” He also gave examples of how the private sector puts profits above care quality and how some private companies have slashed wages and terms and conditions of workers after they have been transferred from the public sector.

Sandra Ayliffe, UNISON Representative at The Summers gave a personal account of what life has been like for staff and residents during all the uncertainty about the future. Katie Foster-Holt, a resident at the Summers for many years heaped praise on the “care and dedication” of staff and told the meeting how worried she was about the future of her home. Surrey County Council still employ the staff in the homes but have not recruited any new staff for nearly two years – whittling down the service to the bare minimum in preparation for a sale, relying on agency staff to fill the gap. SCC have also stopped placing people in the homes, leading to the ridiculous situation where 20 beds are vacant at The Summers, costing the council 100,000 pounds every month.

The campaign has now organised a lobby of the Full Council to let our elected members know the community’s strength of feeling. These three homes have been living with a sword above their heads for the past two years while the Council continues to waste 1.2 million pounds a year for nothing in return - money which could be used to secure the long-term public future of these three homes.

Surrey County Council must buy these homes NOW!

Katie Foster-Holt and Sandra Ayliffe address the public meeting Sign the petition Signatures on our petition are needed now more than ever. Please make sure that you have signed it, and encourage your neighbours, friends, workmates, and everyone else you know to sign too!

Sign online - you can also download the paper version to print and sign Get a paper petition call 020 8541 9091 or email
Sign over the phone call 0203 355 9561 and leave your name, address and email.
(Calls are charged at standard network rates and should last no longer than 90 seconds)

Our homes!

Our say!

the summers • langdown • rodney house

Justice for Pleural Plaques

I received this email from TULO late yesterday– It a very good campaign but it is about time that the Government woke up and sorted this issue out PDQ.

"I've just been contacted by a colleague about Pleural Plaques and I knew I had to act. I'm writing today because I need your help in getting justice for victims of this terrible disease. I've just launched a petition calling for victims of Pleural Plaques to be fairly compensated for their injuries - you can sign it here:

Pleural Plaques are scarring of the lungs caused by heavy and prolonged exposure to asbestos. Until a few years ago, sufferers of the disease were able to claim compensation. Crucially, this meant that companies were liable if they exposed their workers to asbestos. But in October 2007, the Law Lords outrageously scrapped this precedent - meaning that thousands of people with Pleural Plaques would not be entitled to a single penny, whilst insurers profited to the tune of £1.4BN.

My petition calls on the Government to do the right thing for victims of Pleural Plaques and restore compensation. The Scottish Parliament and the devolved administration in Northern Ireland have already done this - and with your help we'll get Whitehall to stop dragging their feet and get this sorted in England and Wales too.

You can sign the petition here: Employers have long known about the dangers of exposure to asbestos. But instead of providing the protection required to safeguard their staff, many simply decided to hope they could get away with it.A truly disgusting decision and a real abdication of duty.

Now thousands of men and women suffer from an entirely avoidable disease, and those who are diagnosed today aren't even entitled to compensation.The Law Lords' decision that the lung scarring caused by asbestos isn't worthy of compensation is clearly wrong. In fact, the whole process was dubious - with one lawyer on the payroll of the employers' insurance companies having the audacity to claim that pleural plaques were a "good thing." This couldn't be further from the truth.

Pleural plaques are a sign of deep scarring to the lungs. Real physical injury, caused by long-term exposure to asbestos. And it causes significant mental anguish as well - Pleural Plaques victims have a dramatically higher chance of developing Mesothelioma - a lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.Many victims describe this as a ticking time bomb that infects their lives with fear - imagine living with the knowledge that your lungs had been irreversibly damaged by asbestos. Tragically, we know of at least one sufferer who couldn't live with the fear and took their own life.

Together we can make a difference. We want to see the government take action to reverse the Law Lords' judgement and make this unjust situation right. All we're asking for is justice for the people who need our help.Please sign our petition - and then get your friends to sign it as well. we'll send a powerful message to the Government - justice now.

Byron Taylor

Thursday, August 13, 2009

We Love the NHS

The understandable fuss over the lies and smears made against our NHS by senor Tory MEP Daniel Hannan reminds me of the UNISON “We Love the NHS” march and rally in 2007. See here.

People need to face up to fact that the Tories will destroy, repeat, destroy the NHS if they are elected next year. The privatisation of the NHS is unfinished business to them. See the massive support that Hannan gets from grass roots Tories.

Things are not as you would always hope with Labour but at least they are not ideologically opposed to the principal of a NHS free at the point of use funded by progressive taxation. Which, lets face it, most Tories are.

We have to rally around the Labour Party to save the NHS - the choice is really quite stark.

Dave Osler on “Russian Interests”

Jogging around Wanstead flats this morning listening to the “Today” radio programme on my headphones, I was pleasantly surprised to hear my fellow blogger, member of the “Gang of 3” and East London Labour Party stalwart Dave Osler.

Dave whose grown up job is that of a journalist on Lloyds List was being interviewed over the bizarre news story about the missing Russian cargo ship. Dave reckoned that it is probably a dispute between "Russian interests" and in fact similar things happen worldwide every couple of weeks. It is only that it is “August” and the silly season that this is being widely reported. This left presenter Evan Davis speechless for once! Well done Dave!

Check out his interview here.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

HSE Stress Enforcement Notice: The Triumph of Experience Over Hope

Positive news for a change in the Health & Safety at work world. An improvement notice has finally been issued by an HSE inspector against Hope University in Liverpool for its continual failure to carry out adequate workplace risk assessments over occupational stress.

At long last the HSE is actually enforcing the law of the land with regard to this serious subject. All, repeat, all, organisations with more than 4 employees have to carry out and write suitable and sufficient assessments of all significant risks. Occupational stress is obviously a significant risk. In 2007/08 according to the HSE 442,000 Brits reported that they had been made ill by work related stress.

Arguably since the 1974 Health & Safety at Work Act and certainly since the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations in 1992 these assessments should have been done. Well done to the HSE for finally taking action but note that it has taken at least 17 years to do what they have always been legally required to enforce. Congratulations to the local trade unions that were forced to complain to the HSE to get meaningful change. The HSE now need to start banging heads together.

Senior Directors are potentially personally at risk of imprisonment or massive fines from this failure. So why on earth do they not do what they are supposed to do?

I suspect that the main reason is simply that the HSE have not enforced this legal requirement in the past. Q.E.D.

No excuses then. It is a criminal act not to properly assess workplace stress risks. Senior managers not only need to ensure that it is done and done properly but maybe it would be a good idea for them to set a good example and declare that they have carried out their own such assessments for the senior management team and consult with their safety reps upon this?

I would love to know how many of the G15 top housing associations fully comply with their lawful responsibility in this regard.

I’ll “hazard” a guess it’s a big round figure.

Check out Health & Safety Professional and HSE Enforcement site

(Apologies for the very weak puns – such things are one of my trade union de-stressor control measures)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

SPEW ist das Opium des Volkes

The modern day Opium of the People is now apparently called SPEW - the Revolutionary Party formerly known as militant tendency now called the Socialist Party of England & Wales. Who are taking UNISON to court this week in order to prove that Trotskyism is a religious cult and they (and I suppose from their “logic” the Nazi BNP and NF?) are protected under British State religious discrimination laws.

Comrade Mercader investigates this and finds stunning new video evidence.

Dog attacks Housing officer – 30 stitches to her face.

This is a pretty horrific BBC report about a Welsh Housing officer who was bitten in the face for no reason by a tenant's dog. I had meant last week to post on the Post office Union CWU campaign to change the law to make dog owners responsible for attacks on private property.

Personally I think that there is no such thing as a bad dog – only bad owners. Who should be brought to account for their failure to train or control their dogs.

Another thing I ought to do is to check our caretaking and visiting officers risk assessments.

Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON, said: "Most dog owners are responsible but dangerous dogs need to be brought under stricter legal control. It is appalling that district nurses, utility workers home care and social workers among others, run the risk of being attacked by these animals when visiting clients at home. Dog attacks can result in serious debilitation and disfiguring injuries and can also be the cause of high levels of stress.

"It is time to update the Dangerous Dog Act so the law applies everywhere, including private property which is where so many workers get bitten. This would lead to better protection for our members and more rigorous enforcement of the law."

BBC report "A housing officer who needed 30 stitches in her face after being bitten by a Staffordshire bull terrier has spoken about her ordeal. The 47-year-old woman, who works for Bron Afon Community Housing in Torfaen, was attacked while standing on a tenant's doorstep in Blaenavon. She has since returned to work after being off for five weeks.

The owner was banned from having dogs at the property for 12 months but the dog was not put down. The victim, who does not want to be named, said: "I was just carrying out my work as a housing officer and had called at the property - I had been there many times before.

Anybody who went to the door that day would've been bitten "Because she knew me, she opened the door wider and the dog just shot out. I didn't really know at first that the dog had bitten me. "I felt my mouth and my lip was hanging - there was blood everywhere. I was in a bit of a shock really." She required 30 stitches to her mouth which has left scars which she hopes will fade in time.

She said that although she was a dog lover, she now felt "more wary" around them. "I've never had a fear of dogs in my life before but I would definitely think twice now about going in a garden or something if they were there," she said".

UPDATE The South Wales Argus reports here that the moronic owner of this dog wants it back in the same house! Bron Afon Community Housing will find it difficult to get injunctions forever. But how can they possibly allow any of their staff to visit this property if the dog is returned (never mind the fact that this poor dog is still liable to attack anyone who calls at its present address). What about kids who would climb into the garden to get their football?

This whole situation is a farce and the law must be changed to protect all of us going about our lawful duties. A Dangerous Dog is a dangerous dog and must be treated as such whether on private or public land.

Justice for All

I received an email with this link today from SERTUC. I know a few trade union tribunal members and they all find it really interesting.

Dear Colleagues
Further to previous e-mails, the Employment Tribunal Service has now launched a
website containing details of the recruitment process, details and a link are contained in the box to the left.

The ETS is keen to raise awareness of the recruitment campaign and to attract applications from individuals with relevant experience for the employee side. They are particularly keen to encourage applications from groups who are currently under-represented on employment tribunal panels, including women, and members of the black and ethnic minority, disabled and LGBT communities.

Please distribute this and future information to any individuals whom your unions would like to encourage to apply to become lay employment tribunal members.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Tower Hamlets Housing Strike 1999 – Bill Wakefield

This is my 2nd self indulgent post on the 10th anniversary of this strike. See previous post here.

Pictured standing in full flow addressing a strike meeting in Jack Dash House is Bill Wakefield (white shirt). Now Bill was (is) let us a say a strong minded and passionate East End Labour movement activist.

He was a former Tower Hamlets Council NUPE branch secretary; then a Labour Councillor (then after the inevitable fall out - an independent Councillor), he was defeated as an independent Councillor but still remains as an active Resident rep and Pensioner activist.

Bill is very much a “marmite” person – you either love him or loath him. Most of us love him.

It was really important that during the strike we had the support of residents and their leaders. Slashing the number of local housing offices would affect jobs but also access to services. Our success during the strike I think was down to this united front of workers and residents arguing together for the same thing. Bill as a residents rep was a very vocal and practical supporter of the strike. He could also get away with things as a retired tenant rep that employees could not.

Bill is very much a local character, he is a real proper East End “face” (in the true sense of the word), who would do what he thought was right, usually regardless of any opposition. For example he was a strong supporter of the late Queen's Mother, Queen Elizabeth and use to write to the local newspaper, the East End Advertiser every year on her birthday to thank her for her support in the East End during the Second World War. This use to upset some folk, however as far as I am aware, no one ever had the bottle to openly challenge him on this.

I still bump into Bill from time to time in the Roman Road Market. Bill will always say hello and have a friendly chat. A few years ago I remember someone describing Bill as a “genuine East End Gent”. I for one would not disagree.

UPDATE: sad news Feb 2011

Saturday, August 08, 2009

...a fundamental lack of trust in senior management...

Our research highlights a fundamental lack of trust in senior management among many employees, largely due to the lack of meaningful consultation and effective communication during major change such as redundancy programmes and restructuring”.

I’ll guess now some folk would have ignored this quote by assuming it is from some "dinosaur" producer interest trade union having a dig at the CBI or IOD.

But there is more -

The impact of redundancies on the dole queue is well documented. But there could be a nasty hangover for employers too. Survivors of redundancy programmes left 'punch drunk' by the process may not have the levels of motivation and commitment needed for their employers to capitalise on any recovery. Many disillusioned employees will vote with their feet and leave as soon as the labour market picks up”

And finally...
The survey also highlights the dissatisfaction people feel with the rewarding of failing senior executives. Failing chief executives and directors should not be financially rewarded when they leave organisations when their leadership has contributed to poor business performance. 'Rewards for failure' are contributing to a deep-seated sense of unfairness amongst employees who feel they've been less well treated. This needs to be addressed if trust in senior leadership teams is to be rebuilt”.

To my surprise this is actually from a press release sent out by “The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)”, which was based on a recent YouGov Survey of 3,500 people.

I think that the analysis is spot on and there is massive mistrust between many senior management teams and the wider workforce. Interestingly the relationship between line managers and workers is usually (not always of course) pretty good which also reflects my experience.

I would occur with the solution proposed that there must be meaningful consultation and effective communication. What too often happens is so-called “consultation” only takes place after the decision has already been taken and on a “like it or lump it” basis. To me by definition real consultation can only take place via the trade unions. This should take the form, first and foremost, by meetings between trained and supported local trade union reps and managers/HR that have the actual clout to agree things.

As suggested “Rewards for failure” is not the only thing currently wrong. The pay gap between the highest paid and the lowest paid generally is far, far too high. Workers deeply resent this and may feel that there is caste system in their organisation which results in them feeling that they do not belong.

This has to change.

I have not been overly impressed with the CIPD in the past due to their views on the “rights” of agency workers however I think with regard to this issue we are singing from the same song sheet.

Of course locally as a trade union rep - things have always been sweetness and light between me and HR CIPD members over the years. Long may it remain so.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Nice One Lawson!

Was I the only one to have his commute into work ruined this morning by listening to this idiotic interview on Radio 4 Today with Compass’s Neil Lawson and Tribune’s Chris McLoughlin?

The interview was supposed to be about an article by David Miliband (of all people) published in Tribune which was interpreted as supporting the idea of a Totnes style MP selection process.

Now I suspect that many Labour Party activists including myself would have reservations about this but it is an interesting idea – what was simply unforgivable in my view was Lawson using the occasion to grandstand and attack his own Party as “Dying” a Party “that doesn’t believe in anything” where members have “absolutely no rights and no say whatsoever”.

Not only that but it is a Party that apparently “doesn’t believe in a different or better society” or has any vision and suggested it was just being run by careerists and opportunists.

With friends like this? ....What really annoys me about this is that we have less than a year to a general election? Yes, there are things wrong with the Labour Party and its internal democracy which need changing. Did this interview actually contribute to changing things or did this ex-lobbyist self publicist just achieve in getting real activists backs up?

The interviewer Jim Naughtie noted pointedly that Lawson refers to his opponents as “they” as if they are from a different party and that ordinary voters will notice this.

What I also found unforgivable is that these two self professed lefties never even bothered to discuss the only really different and radical suggestion by Miliband (again of all people) about a new possible role in the Party for the 3 million trade union political levy payers.

No, no mention of this at all – rather it was just the usual self-indulgent moans and whines by the excluded wing of the self appointed Party Intelligentsia which no doubt gets a sympathetic hearing at dinner parties and first nights.

These people self-evidently don’t give a real damn about the prospects of the Party if they are not the ones in charge. Frankly following this morning's farrago they have only succeeded in making even Hazel Blears seem an ultra Party loyalist.

Wonderful Women of Whitechapel

Double click above to bring up details

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Neighbourhood Watched: Keeping the Peace – Episode 1

I’ve just watched on BBC IPlayer the excellent new Reality TV documentary on the working lives of “front line” Housing Association staff in North West England. It is interesting that “Inside Housing” describe the staff as being “Front Line”. I must admit it is a term that I catch myself using as well but I don’t think is really that appropriate a term. Housing staff are not “at war” with their residents. Even though admittedly it can seem like that at times.

The first part of the programme must have driven the image conscious Press & Media teams of the Housing Associations featured to despair. Since it was a very bleak and dispiriting account of endless and mindless anti-social behaviour. Aggressive yobs and their massive fighting dogs; a seemingly completely hopeless textbook dysfunctional family who are surely bound to be evicted; a sudden death; fly tips with the obligatory decomposing dead rat as well as the stereotypical (pardon the pun) young “heavy metal fan” who thought that playing music “24/7” in his flat at a level that needed TV subtitles to make out what he was saying - was somehow “normal”?

However as the programme progressed the real stars of the show helped turn it around. The “ordinary” housing officers dealing with extraordinary and difficult situations with incredible calm determination and perseverance. The foul mouthed threatening thug with the dogs was forced to move his animals (I hope he was reported to the Police for public order offences towards Julie – I suspect probably not), the “family from hell” were cautioned but ended up helping out with an estate gardening project and I think the wannabe “bat out of hell” is now listening to his music on headphones after being most severely told off. Local residents being prepared to publicly “tell us as it is” reminded me why people are pro active on policing and very tough on crime in housings estates. Since it is ordinary working class people not the rich or the middle classes who by far suffer the most from crime and disorder. We should never ever forget this.

This is the first of 4 programmes – you can see this programme on BBC I Player (this is the first time I have used this service and was most impressed how easy it was and how good quality the service was) until the next episode which is on Tuesday 11 August 22.35 (not Northern Ireland or Wales).

I do hope that the programme in the future will include the back office “stars” of housing services that provide the often unnoticed crucial call centre, admin and reception services. Without them supporting us we can’t do nothing.

Burston Strike School Rally. 6 Sept 2009

11am to 4.30pm, Church Green, Burston, nr Diss, Norfolk

Join us at Burston to commemorate the longest strike in history, and to celebrate the people who continue to fight for trade union rights, working class education, democracy in the countryside, and international solidarity.

In April 1914, Kitty and Tom Higdon, loved and respected teachers at Burston Village School, were sacked for their socialist and trade union views.

The pupils walked out in support and from then until 1939 the villagers and the Higdons, ran the 'Strike School', providing an education for local children.

Times change, but the struggle in rural areas for economic and social justice continues.

This year at Burston we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, with music, speakers, and special children's activities.
Speakers include Tony Benn, and Luis Marron (Cuban Embassy)

Burston Strike School - the longest strike in history.

Organised by Unite with the support of
SERTUC, Thompsons Solicitors and the Burston Strike School Trustees.

Least we forget

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Missing. Have You Seen This Man?

Bethnal Green & Bow Residents are asking for your help in identifying the whereabouts of George Galloway.

He was last seen wearing a pink leotard and white fluffy bunny slippers in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran, Beirut, North Korea, Syria and on top of a red bus in Proctor Street, Holborn; he was also known to be posing as an illegal immigrant in Canada.

His height and weight is known to be dodgy, his hair grey and balding, moustache grey and grizzled, eyes grey and dilated, it has been known to be red in the morning.

If anyone has information of his whereabouts please do not approach him, he is known to be dangerous and armed with an offensive mouth.

Contact Details Office: Disrespect Party Office
Location: Shifty Road

Hat-tip thingy Facebook Group

Tower Hamlets Housing Strike – 10th Anniversary 1999-2009.

Today (5th August 2009) is the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Tower Hamlets Housing Strike. During which some 300 UNISON members of the borough Housing department went out on all out strike for a month in protest at proposed cuts to the number of local housing offices and the threat of 100 redundancies.

I was the chair of the strike committee.

Eventually we hammered out a compromise with management. Instead of the proposed reduction in the number of local estate based offices from 24 to 8 sites – 16 would remain open and that there would be no compulsory redundancies.

Check out this early on-line report here

All in all it was a very demanding but fascinating experience which helped shaped my politics and understanding of trade unionism - which of course I will share with you as I post various pictures from the “dispute” during the next 4 weeks.

Current picture (1) is our totally legal picket line outside the Salmon Lane office, Poplar, E14. We were really not very good at counting past 6.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Comrade Mercader says...

(Guest Post from Comrade Mercader on the “gathering” outside UNISON HQ last week. This was over the outcome of an internal discipline investigation into a leaflet published at the 2007 conference. This has now resulted in 4 members being barred from holding UNISON officer posts for 3-5 years. I would like to make direct comments but since I assume that there is an appeal pending against the outcome it would be best not to comment on the original complaints)

Following on from disputes in this blog's comments, here we see photographic evidence of the 'mass protest' staged by The Monkey Trial 4 and their Socialist Party supporters outside UNISON HQ on Thursday 30th July. The picture was taken at 12.14pm - almost a quarter of an hour after the protest commenced. What do you think? 25 people? 30? (Don't forget the caretaker of the UNISON offices is amongst the crowd monitoring the situation for health, safety, and security reasons. Oh, and there's a community police officer in there too to control the masses.)

Before anyone says that rain dampened the turnout - a truly shocking downpour it has to be said -it arrived bang on midday, i.e. after the handful of protesters arrived, almost as if someone up there wanted to dampen the enthusiasm of these protesters.

Maybe if Socialist Worker had shown solidarity by actually publicising the demo, things might have been different?

Interesting to note further over on the Socialist Unity blog that some of their 'socialist' supporters confuse the chair of the Standing Orders Committee (Clytus Williams) with the newly-appointed West Midlands Regional Secretary (Roger McKenzie).

One wonders if the confusion arises because they is both black? Tut tut.

Monday, August 03, 2009

...I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty...

The photo is of my Facebook “Friend” Tareq Chowdbury (3rd left) at his British Citizenship ceremony last month. Tareq had to memorise this oath of Allegiance to the Queen

“I, Tareq Chowdhury, do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that on becoming a British Citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law. I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfill my duties and obligations as a British citizen”

He also had to memorise and sing the national anthem and be tested on facts about Britain.

At last year’s UNISON conference I entered a prize draw competition and took the written British citizenship test which I failed miserably. I doubt that unprompted I know all the words of even the first verse of the national anthem.

Today there has been an announcement that Citizenship will be made even more difficult. Being an active trade union steward will however, apparently make it quicker.

I will admit to being unsure whether these tests and ceremonies are a good thing or not? Are such public announcements and flag waving essentially “un-British”? I did recently meet someone who was very proud to become a British citizen but had put it off for years since he was a committed republican and could not bear to take an oath of allegiance to a heredity monarch. He did eventually but it was I assume a meaningless occasion to him.

Tareq and his friends who commented on it did not feel this way and everyone was genuinely warm and obviously pleased with the ceremony. I am reminded of those surveys that show that immigrants often feel more British and patriotic than the average Brit. It is also tragically ironic that I think it was in the last Council election in Barking and Dagenham that research found that up to 7% of the BNP vote came from members of the local BME community who thought from the name that they were voting for a “British” patriotic Party rather than a bunch of Nazi goons.

I think on balance such ceremonies are a “good thing” and that a public declaration of your loyalty to your state is important for the individual involved and the wider community. Who knows, despite being very proud of being Welsh/Scots should I face facts and recognise that I have now spent most of my life in England. Should I start calling myself English? (God forbid)

Tareq is a member of Newham Labour Party and a local solicitor. I actually met him properly for the first time last week at the Labour Party headquarters in Victoria (in somewhat unusual circumstances). Typically neither of us “Facebook Friends” recognised each other. According to his latest Facebook posting he is currently on holiday in Spain. Now how British is that!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Orchard Lodge - Union Occupation of Secure Children’s Home

This shows how the worst private contractors fail to deliver services to the most vulnerable users and how little respect they have for public service.’ UNISON Regional Organiser Daniel Peppiatt

I am picking up on reports about the occupation on Friday by UNISON and NASWAT members at Orchard Lodge, South London. On that day the 71 staff had been told that they were all dismissed with 2 hours notice and would not be paid or given contractual redundancy pay.

The staff occupied the site (the children had been taken away by then) but eventually the company agreed to pay its statutory commitments and the occupation ended at 10.30pm on Friday. Negotiations about actual figures are still continuing.

Orchard House is (or use to be) a 24 bed “secure” home for boys. It had belonged to Southwark council until 2006 when it was bought out by the private company “Glencare”. Many of whom are young offenders accused or convicted of serious offenses.

All the other 19 secure units for children in the UK are run by local authorities. Early this year the Youth Justice Board had decided that it would close since they wanted to reduce the national number of secure beds.

Now, I am not sure about the why this decision was made and why they decided to close the only secure unit for boys in London? But the actions of the company regarding their staff are simply shocking. Sacking the staff with only a few hours notice and telling them that the company will not pay them redundancy payments?

I’ve tried to goggle GlenCare to find out who owns the group but no luck. The Orchard Lodge website they refer to on in their press release appears to be defunct.

Whatever is the sorry tale that will come eventually come out it would appear to be yet another disastrous venture into sensitive social care by private companies. Please remember that these companies are out to make money. Their primary fiduciary duty is to their shareholders. On the one hand they try to claim the moral high ground by claiming “lives would be put at risk” (in their press release) if the service is withdrawn? Then they go on to try and wash their hands of all responsibility for the well being of their staff by not honouring their pay? Hmmm?

Crazy, crazy, crazy – and despite this local councils and the government still don’t really understand why the unions hate the idea of private “for profit” companies taking on what should be public service contracts?

Photo and Guardian report.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Skin Cancer and Outdoor Working

Quite rightly last week there was a lot of media coverage about the link between the use of sun beds and cancer. Coincidentally I met up with a branch member who had just been diagnosed with facial skin cancer.

He has been an estate based housing caretaker for the past 15 years. If paying 50p per minute to lie on a sun bed is “carcinogenic to humans” and “on a par with smoking and exposure to asbestos” then sweeping and cleaning outdoors in the sun for several hours a day is obviously a matter of concern.

As the branch health & safety officer I have asked to see if the caretaking risk assessments cover this danger from skin cancer. This is mandatory under the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR). I suspect it does not and will be sending a note to all our safety reps to ask their housing organisations for sight of their risk assessments and to make sure that they properly protect not only caretaking staff from this risk but any other members who spend their time predominantly outside – direct repair staff, enforcement officers, gardeners etc. I think that organisations are also legally obliged to check that sub-contractor staff they use also has such risk assessments in place.

Of course fine sounding risk assessments that are written by consultants and just sit on shelves unread are useless. Risks assessments need to be written by trained line manager and fully consulted upon with employees and trade union safety reps and then implemented and monitored.

Risk assessments should include protective measures such as suitable clothing (broad brimmed hats and a uniform which has high sun protection and is “breathable”); supply of fresh water; rest breaks; regular health screening; awareness training and provision of sun block (at least factor +15). Maybe even consider sun glasses? As this is under the Personal Protective Equipment Regulations (PPE) it should be provided free of charge to all employees.

Although the basic principle of health & safety at work is to try and design out the risk whenever possible and use PPE only as a “last resort”. So the top preventive priority should be a change to working practices. For example during summer ensure that only the minimum amount of exposed outdoor working takes place when the sun is at its highest i.e. 11am-3pm. During this time caretakers could sweep and clean internal stairs and furniture or check communal lights. In the early morning they should sweep and litter pick outdoor areas.

Obviously staff that are known to be vulnerable will also have specific assessments (done in co-operation with advice from occupational health?).

This is a good web site recommended by HSE.