Monday, December 31, 2007

Scariest Prediction for 2008

David Cameron ends 2007 on a high, but must now prepare his team for government, pruning dead wood and giving new talent front bench experience. He and Samantha should also start checking out local schools in Westminster - somewhere nice and handy for Downing Street.Daily Torygraph (Saturday 29.12.07) Hat tip Col Roi

Hope I haven’t spoiled your festive fun. Wishful thinking on their part methinks. Everything still to play for! lots of work to be done.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Oona King Diaries: House Music

Finally, while on holiday I got round to read her autobiography “The Oona King Diaries: House Music” (£9.09 from Amazon) by the former MP for Bethnal Green & Bow.

I’m still trying to plough my way through Alistair Campbell’s “The Blair Years”. Oona’s book is a much better read and far more entertaining. It’s a pity about that the libel laws and Galloway’s deep pockets preclude more of her views on what she really thinks about him. So, as she suggests, we will probably have to wait for him to pop his clogs before the real story can come out.

This is not really a book about political ideas nor about the notorious “Mother of all Battles ...the Battle for Bethnal Green” rather about the nitty gritty of modern day politics, how tough it is to become an MP and then even tougher to deal with a inner city case load. There is also a lot on her family and early life. At the risk of appearing to be an insensitive sexist prig there was perhaps a little too much detail about IVF and marital problems?

It is useful to have something to counter the inaccurate and damaging comments that I have come across in the past such as that she was “imposed” on the seat by the Labour Party (she was short listed by the NEC and won a selection meeting by giving an outstanding husting speech).

Ironically it is clear that while she was a so-called “Blair Babe”, she was never promoted due to her independent thinking (and occasional “foot in mouth” media comments).

It is interesting for me to read a book where you know (mostly not that well) many of the people mentioned. She also mentions a lot her beloved home in Bow, which use to be a traditional East End pub. I use to work in the local housing office about 200 yards away. Many years ago we had a Christmas drink after work and we ended up in this pub. I was somewhat “worse for wear” and when I came across a “spread” of food in the pub I thought that it was a freebie, so I was happily tucking into this spread, when I came aware that I had suddenly become public enemy number one. The food was for a private party. I had to be grabbed and bundled out of the pub very quickly by the local head caretaker Montrose M (who ironically later became a member of respect! now thankfully lapsed) from some very irate customers. For obvious reasons I never returned.

If anything Oona played down the difficulties she encountered in the 2005 election. She didn’t mention when Jewish Second World War veterans and herself were stoned by Respect supporters at a war memorial ceremony. Nor the gangs of youths that were deliberately organised by local drug dealers, who hated for professional reasons, “New” Labour” anti-social behavior laws, to follow, scream abuse and physically intimidate Labour canvassers and try to drive them off the estates.

In short this is an excellent book and I hope that Tower Hamlets residents who didn’t vote for Oona read it (and weep).

The picture above is of Oona after she had been a guest speaker at our branch “Labour Link” meeting in April 2005. “Despite” our support she lost the following month. Some superstitious members claim that she suffered from the “Curse of the Tower Hamlets UNISON Labour Link” since we had a habit of inviting political leaders who we would support to the rafters and who would then suffer defeat. The following year we had Michael Keith, the council leader to speak to us, a month before he lost his seat in the 2006 elections. What nonsense..... (Fingers crossed of course)

Actually one reason why Oona did not win could have been that while she was really good “on the knocker” you had to almost physically drag her away from people while canvassing. Even with the mostly absolute vile middle class tossers, who lived in their luxury gated communities and paraded their armchair support of the “Gorgeous one”. Despite the fact they had made it perfectly clear that they were not going to vote for her, she would still politely chat and talk to them for ages about national and local issues. When if we could have got her in front of enough genuine floating voters then she would have made a really positive impression on them.

Still, I don’t think we have heard the political last of Ms King. Can't wait!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ill wind from the Canaries

Back in the early hours of this morning from a festive break in Gran Canaria. Left the warm sunny Isle and arrived over Gatwick amidst a very rainy, windy and bumpy squall. After the plane landed safely the passengers burst out in applause!

When we started the holiday the previous Friday the first thing I saw as we left the aircraft and queued to get into Las Palmas airport was an A3 poster with individual pictures of the 6 “most wanted” ETA terrorist suspects. They all looked very young. Also, unlike “wanted” posters I’ve seen in the UK where often the pictures had come from police custody records and the person is usually scowling at the camera and looking very shifty. These photos I assume mostly came from ID or passport applications since the pictures were of people smiling nicely into the camera (probably trying not to giggle – as you do). It was very strange. Not sure whether this is an argument for ID cards in the UK or not?

We stayed at a hotel in the Playa Del Ingles. This was the first time we had visited Gran Canaria so we were not too sure what to expect. As our transfer bus arrived in the town (about 22.00) I saw a young northern European male get out of a taxi while enthusiastically swigging from a full bottle of wine. However, the resort was fine, clean, with marvellous sandy beaches, dunes and only a few “Costa del tacky” bits. It is a sunbathers and wind surfers' paradise. In the hotel there were mostly German guests and it was refreshing to be amongst people who had as little foreign languages skills as we had. People would speak to us in German and would be astonished that we could not understand them. I think it is a bit of a myth that everyone in Europe can speak English.

We had a fantastic all day walk up to the mountain village of Artear, walking back along a desolate barranco (“ravine”). It felt as if you were in a “Wild West” film set.

On Friday morning I had the shock of seeing the headlines in newspapers for sale in the supermarket about the murder of Benazir Bhutto.

While in the airport waiting to come home there were more of the posters of the 6 wanted ETA suspects. In the some of the posters the bottom 2 of the pictures had been cut out? So I don’t know whether that means they have been captured or not. At the airport you could see military hangers with Spanish air force planes. In 1936 the future Spanish dictator, General Francisco Franco had been “transferred” by the republican government away from his Foreign legionnaires to Gran Canaria, they were justifiably suspicious of his intentions. According to Lonely Planet (3rd edition). The pro-government commander of the Las Palmas garrison died in “mysterious circumstance” on July 14. Franco then seized control of the Canary Islands and flew out of this airport to Morocco on July 19 1936. The rest is history.

The latest “permanent ceasefire” by ETA has broken down. A bomb killed 2 passengers in Madrid airport last year and 2 unarmed policemen were shot dead early this month. While I have no time for terrorists who attack Parliamentary democracies (no matter how flawed) and I suspect (hope) that eventually ETA will give up their pointless “armed struggle” and disarm. However, I can’t help agree with the conclusion on Wikipedia that the roots of ETA support lies in the attempt by Franco to destroy Basque nationalism because many opposed him during the civil war. Franco banned the Basque flag, celebration of holidays, speaking the language publically or teaching it and even the baptism of children with non-Spanish names

You can play with history “what if ...” all the time. However, if Franco had never left this island in 1936, if he had been arrested or the plane crashed on route then perhaps the kids in the wanted posters might been on holiday with their friends in Gran Canaria surfing or playing beach volleyball. Rather than been hunted down like animals across Europe?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda

“Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”.

Anyway, I’m planning to take a break from blogging until after Crimbo. So, apologies if you post any comments and there is no immediate response.

I may of course...weaken in my resolve.

In the meanwhile I have been “elf-ed” by the former Mayor of the London Borough of Crayford, Senior Shop Steward and future Branch Secretary, Trevor D - you may want to amuse yourself with clicking on the link and sending your own “elf” (repeat “may”).

Have a nice one.

(picture - British and German troops taking part in the Christmas Truce 1914)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Let them eat ...Lobster

Another enjoyable short that speaks for itself - it’s about a story in Tuesday’s Guardian .

That morning I was running around to get to work (late as usual) when BBC news announced that they would be running a News item later on “Lobster Eating” in Germany. I thought at the time “what’s that about?” But never got to hear it.

Turns out that Sahra Wagenknecht a “photogenic MEP for Germany's Left party” was photographed at a resturant eating lobster. She later thought that this may harm her media image, so she gets her assistant to lie and get hold of the camera to delete these pictures. She claimed she did this not because she was embarrassed but because she disliked the photos!

"I don't do anything that I say others shouldn't do," she told the daily TAZ.

"On the contrary, I'm fighting for a society in which everyone can afford to eat lobster."

Lovely stuff.

Hat tip Vino Political

BNP Fight Night in Leeds

Brilliant first hand account about the master race representatives on earth and their current internal “difficulties” in searchlight. A must read link.

However, usual health warning about not getting complacent for next year’s local elections.

Rats have a habit of surviving sinking ships.

Hat tip to The Virtual Stoa

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

“Best Christmas present”....Justice 4 Pensioners

...and so say all of us (quote about best crimbo present from TUC Brendan Barber).

A little late (as was the announcement by the government) but excellent news on Monday about the rescue plan for pensioners whose final salary pension schemes have collapsed. This £2.9 Billion package will help an estimated 140,000 people.

The Labour government financial commitment to supporting failed pension schemes is now worth £12.5 billion. The real hero’s are the pension action groups, the unions and the TUC for lobbying and keeping up the pressure.

Most pension and many trade union or political meetings I have attended in recent years have had well organised pensioner pickets outside the venue (and co-incidentally it was one of my first posts). Well done also to respected pensions minister Mike O’Brien.

Of course, the Labour government has not covered itself in glory in its handling of this affair (until recently that is). However, I think that this type of intervention is “clear red water” between the Labour and Conservative Party’s.

The damage done to ordinary working people during 18 years of Tory misrule, particularly over pensions was colossal. We are still paying the price today and so will future generations.

The Tories failed to properly regulate pension’s scheme and to set up any protection for employees if their sponsor companies failed. This was due to a blind, dogmatic and misplaced trust “in the market”.

This week a close friend who suffers from serious health problems remarked that he was pleased that when he joined the company it was compulsory to join the pension scheme. If it had not been a condition of employment (bringing up 4 young children) he wouldn’t have joined. He pointed out that nowadays many people choose not to join the scheme despite its benefits and asked why did the government (Thatcher) change the law?

The only honest answer is again this fundamentalist belief in the “invisible hand” superiority of the individual against any form of collective action. Personal pensions were an absolute disastrous “choice” compared to company pension schemes.

The personal Pension accounts and its quasi-requirement for compulsory contributions from employers is a step in the right way. More please Gordon, more.

Galloway sticks knife in over SWP sleaze

Further to yesterday’s post on the ongoing row over Respect/SWP leader John Rees accepting foreign donations from Tory “privateers”.

George Galloway (of all people) puts his oar in with a letter sent to the Secretary of the now tainted “Organising for Fighting Unions”, published last night on Socialist Wreakers & Splitters (use to be known as Socialist Unity).

Saint George, who of course, is that well known purveyor of truth and probity accuses Rees of being misleading, disingenuous, unaccountable, reckless, being obfuscation etc. Utterly unlike the gorgeous one himself.

Red Marie posted a comment yesterday about “schadenfreude”?

18 December 2007

I have been sent a copy of a letter to you from John Rees, distributed by email to SWP members, along with an apology from the SWP Central Committee concerning the donation to OFFU of £5,000 from Dubai.

I think it would be appropriate for me to give you my side of this unfortunate story as John Rees’s letter is misleading. When a cheque arrived in January at the Respect Office made out to Respect from a person I did not know but who was clearly a foreign national who said he admired and supported me, I took the position obvious to everyone involved in these things, except perhaps the Labour Party’s former General Secretary, that we were grateful for the offer but we had to refuse it on legal grounds.

When John Rees suggested an alternative organisation for the money to be donated to, my assistant Kevin Ovenden had a discussion with him and with Elaine Graham-Leigh saying this might be potentially difficult with the Electoral Commission but that, if such a proposal were to be made, an obvious organisation to suggest was the Stop the War Coalition. This organisation had no formal links with Respect, pre-existed Respect and was an organisation, given the likely nature of the support of the individual concerned, which he might be happy to donate to. The Stop the War Coalition also has robust structures and would have been able to come to a collective decision over whether it might accept such a donation. Kevin, on my behalf, categorically argued against the suggestion by John Rees and Elaine Graham-Leigh that the cheque be reissued payable to OFFU.

There was no further communication between me or my staff and John Rees about this matter until the end of August. In particular, I and my office were unaware that John Rees had written back soliciting the donation for OFFU. He did not circulate that letter to me, to the officers of Respect, or, it seems, to the OFFU committee.

It is utterly disingenuous therefore to say that neither I nor John Rees knew of the company connections of the individual concerned when the donation was made to OFFU in June. I did not know the donation had been made to OFFU. It also seems to be the case that the committee and officers of OFFU were not told that a £5,000 donation from Dubai had been accepted in their name. A Google search after I did learn of the donation, in late August, established the unfortunate links which have caused so much embarrassment.

I did not include this issue in my letter to the Respect National Council in late August as I wanted to resolve matters concerning this donation as quickly as possible and without any possibility of it embarrassing either Respect or OFFU. It was however part of the my opening remarks at a meeting with SWP Central Committee members John Rees, Lindsey German, Chris Bambery and Alex Callinicos on 4 September. These remarks were made in the context of my accusation against John Rees of his lack of accountability and his recklessness on this and another matter. However, they were dismissed by John Rees as being a cover for a right wing attack on the left in Respect. At a meeting of 250 London SWP members later that week, Alex Callinicos referred to my having spent 25 minutes going on about an obscure cheque.

Despite this, I continued to deal with John Rees and Elaine Graham-Leigh on a confidential basis with regard to this cheque. I insisted on referring the matter to the Electoral Commission on the grounds that the donation might still have been illegal and, in any case, to demonstrate that we were complying with our obligations of transparency. However, my best efforts met with resistance and obfuscation all the way down the line by both Rees and Graham-Leigh.

I raised the connection between the Dubai donation and the Interserve privateers in an email to John Rees, Elaine Graham-Leigh, Alex Callinicos, Lindsey German and Chris Bambery three months ago – on 10 September.

John Rees breezily dismissed these concerns in an emailed response on 13 September. He wrote:
“…this was an individual donation not a corporate donatation (sic). Many people work for firms that do bad things~but accepting money from them as individuals does not imply either that they endorse the actions of their employers or that we endorse the actions of the firms. Consequently, the whole ‘anything in the world can be connected by six degrees of separation’ argument falls at the first hurdle.
“More broadly, why should any labour movement body not accept a bit of the profit coming back to the workers so long as there are no strings attached.”

I continued to press John Rees and Elaine Graham-Leigh to refer this to the Electoral Commission until finally I felt obliged, not least for my own reputation, having been the victim of a genuine witch-hunt over donations from the Middle East to the Mariam Appeal, to refer the matter myself. The Electoral Commission are currently looking into the matter.
Given how widely the SWP leadership raised this issue in their own organisation, it was only going to be a matter of time before the issue got into the press, and so it has proved. I am sorry that it has taken press exposure to bring the necessary action to bear on this issue, although I note that John Rees’s letter does not actually suggest the return of the donation, which is the recommendation of the SWP Central Committee.

It would certainly be my view that the cheque should never have been solicited for OFFU for two reasons. Firstly, OFFU was set up as a result of a decision by the Respect Officers’ Committee, its National Council and resolution of the Respect Annual Conference. Its leading officers were members of Respect and one of the signatories to the bank account was an employee of Respect. Respect employees were engaged more or less full time in arranging OFFU’s only conference thus far, a conference which lost £5,000. These are connections to Respect which made the donation to OFFU potentially illegal and certainly potentially politically embarrassing. The second reason is, of course, the fact that the major shareholder in the Dubai company is leading PFI privateer Interserve – a connection which is far from “tenuous”. The Stop the War Coalition might have felt able to accept that money – I cannot see how a body of trade union militants would.

I am very sorry that this embarrassment has occurred for all who are involved in OFFU in good faith, but it entirely vindicates my criticisms of the way in which John Rees has operated both with respect to Respect and OFFU.
With best wishes,
George Galloway MP

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

SWP Rees-pect apologises for PFI Tory donation

“Incredible”, “amazing”, “unbelievable”..... These are some of the astonished comments of SWPers following the unprecedented apology by John Rees, Respect (non-Jammaat) National Secretary and member of SWP central committee.

This apology was published in SWP notes and it is almost unheard of for any senior member of the central committee to admit to making a mistake and to say sorry. This apology was published in this weeks secret (ish) internal “SWP notes”.

Earlier this month, Ted Jeory, at the “East London Advertiser” had broken the news that Rees had solicited money for the SWP/Respect “Organising for fighting Unions”, and then accepted, a $10,000 donation drawn on a company cheque from the Dubai construction company, Khansahed Civil Engineering. This is owned by in the UK by Interserve, who is a leading Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contractor, chaired by Tory Peer and former Head of the John Major’s policy unit, Lord Norman Blackwell.

See the letter from Rees

12 December 2007

To the secretary, Organising for Fighting Unions


We spoke recently about the article in the East London Advertiser
regarding George Galloway’s accusations about the source of the donation made to OFFU by a Dubai businessman last June.

As you know the donation was originally sent to Respect last January but was returned to the donor because it is illegal for a political party to accept foreign donations. I did, however, in returning the donation suggest it might instead be made to OFFU as a campaigning organisation which has supporters from a number of different political parties within it and which is separate from Respect.

At the time that the donation was eventually made to OFFU last June neither I nor George Galloway knew of any link between the donor and a company involved in PFI schemes in Britain. It remains the case that the donation is an individual and not a corporate donation even though it is drawn on a company account.

I do however regret not having researched the link, tenuous though it is, between this individual, his company and the company to which it is connected in Britain. I hope this oversight on my part has not caused OFFU any embarrassment and I apologise if this is the case.

Yours fraternally,

John Rees,
Respect national secretary.

Is this his “swan song”, will he be the SWP fall guy and forced to confess and accept the blame for the "respect" disaster? I suspect that Lands End will soon have a new “Socialist Worker” newsvendor.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Myth of the month: if in doubt - just stick up a sign

The “Myth” of the month from the Heath and Safety Executive (HSE) is “Every possible risk needs a safety sign”. This is of course nonsense. This is what the HSE really say about it.

“The reality –Using too many signs just guarantees no one will read any of them.

Safety signs are useful when there’s a significant risk which can't be avoided or controlled in any other way. But that doesn't mean you should add a sign for every possible risk, however trivial.

Where there are serious risks in your workplace, don’t just rely on signs - take practical steps to deal with them. If you do need a sign, make sure it has the right symbol and is clearly visible”.

I think there is a genuine problem that in some organisations signs are inadequate, out of date or even non-existent! However, some employers seem to think that if they put up a “warning sign” this “covers” them and they don’t have to do anything else about the risk.

A good example is the workplace where the fire evacuation route has signs but they rarely test equipment, never practice fire drills or evacuations nor have suitable or adequate risk assessments.

Friday, December 14, 2007

2nd Newham Council Strike

Further strike action in support of sacked UNISON Branch Chair, Michael Gavan, took place yesterday in Newham. On the way into work I stopped off at the picket lines at the Council Folkestone Road depot and later outside the Town hall to show my support.

I was a bit late since I drove all the way to Tower Hamlets to give someone a lift to the picket. I forgot their exact address and the mobile phone didn’t wake them up! Pretty frustrating at 6am in the morning, but such is life.

It was very cold, dark and foggy. Pickets joked that that it was a pity that the Council couldn’t wait until the summer to sack Michael. Despite the cold and the early start people did seem in genuine good spirits. The London Regional Convener, Gloria Hanson (who is the Newham Branch treasurer) and the Regional Secretary Linda Perks were at the depot, while Vicki Easton, the Head of Local Government was outside the Town Hall.

Tom Nixon, the T&G Unite branch secretary was also at the depot with a number of T&G members who had refused to cross the picket line.

I was surprised how many agencies staff the Council and their contractors employ? Most were very sympathetic and a few did refuse to cross the picket but many said that they had been told they would be sacked if they did not turn up to work (illegal in my view if UNISON members but...).

There were also the usual weird and wonderful excuses offered by the (relatively very few) scabs over their behaviour, such as “I’m going to work since the unions don’t collect money for charity....”I am a member of unison because in case I get myself in trouble not to go on strike” (very ironic considering Michael’s circumstances) and the best was .....”I didn’t realise there was a strike on and I can’t go home since I have driven all this way”. One of them said they will get me arrested for speaking to them! Hmmm?

Michael himself was incredibility polite, softy spoken, courteous and even shaked hands with some (not all) of the strike breakers!

I couldn’t make it to the lunchtime rally but I have heard that it went really well. On Monday the branch executive will meet up to discuss what next. Check out the Newham UNISON website for further details.

On Wednesday the West Ham Labour Party Executive Committee agreed to invite Newham UNISON branch committee member, Bill Turner, (a Newham Council striker and Tower Hamlets Labour Party Councillor) to the General Committee meeting as a guest speaker to discuss “industrial relations in Newham Council”.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

George Galloway: My part in his downfall

Yesterday I received a couple of jolly emails from comrades, who told me that the blog site Socialist Unity, had a post by its editor, Andy Newman, suggesting that “Dave’s Part” and “John’s Labour blog” are responsible for the current split within diss-respect!

Apparently the SWP Central committee are claiming, that one of the major reasons for the split, is that SWP members (who “had gone native” and supported George Galloway) in early September 2007, had “leaked” very sensitive information to the deputy editor of the East London Advertiser, Ted Jeory. This is why they expelled a number of long standing SWPer's and led to a complete and utter breakdown of trust between the Central Committee and the Gorgeous one

The Socialist Unity post refers to a draft article being circulated by a SWP Central Committee member, Chris Harman (who apparently who was the model for a character in a play by Tariq Ali called “Nutty Shardman... who menaces others on the left with whom he has theoretical disagreements” – yep, this figures).

“Nutty” Harman implies that the leak was by the now expelled SWP member and Respect national officer, Rob “where has the money goneHoverman.

If true, then of course this would have significantly contributed to the breakup. However, “Socialist Unity” is now a “born again” fervent supporter of the Gorgeous one. They claim that the pure and honest Hoverman did not leak the information; Ted Jeory got it instead from my blog and Dave Osler’s.

Ted [the journalist who wrote the article] confirmed that he had picked up the letter on two websites, one run by sad sectarian Dave Osler and the other by right wing Tower Hamlets New Labourite John Grey (moi?). Ted had also read comment on the letter on those websites and the key paragraph five was based on what he had read there”.

I think my post that he is referring to is “Respect is cursed; moribund; weak; exhausted; amateur, mismanaged; unhealthy, irresponsible…says Galloway 2 September 2007
No further comment on the sources of this post.

Of course, I personally would have been very pleased to have contributed in anyway to the break up of diss-respect. I have been told that I will be awarded the Order of the “Silver Ice Pick" for some old reason?

However, the duplicitous old rogue Galloway is still a MP for now. I still think he is doomed politically. He may have got rid of the SWP and got some new “useful idiots” such as “Socialist Unity” for now. However, I think that he will just “use and abuse” them and they will eventually, just like the SWP, retire hurt licking their wounds. I know this is really political “la la” land, but just check out the posts at Socialist Unity even a few months ago about Galloway, when they all hatred him. Now (1984-ish) he is their hero.

For example... “Even were .....Galloway to have a damascene conversion, would anyone on the activist left trust them?.

It’s equally ironic and enjoyable to see Andy Newman “defending” Rob Hoverman. When in the past Andy (bravely to be fair) published this very personal retort from Rob about him.....

Andy....."You were a complete tosser the last time you flickered on to my radar and clearly nothing has changed. Now flicker off.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

East End Celebrations – real life rich tapestries

Last night I went to the Tower Hamlets UNISON branch crimbo meal at the Mez restaurant in the Isle of Dogs, E14. It was also a “surprise” 60th Birthday celebration for Branch Secretary, Jean Geldart, who is also the Chair of the UNISON Local Government service group.

Jean is due to retire next year and has worked for Tower Hamlets Council (I think) since she left university. She is also the daughter of the Phil Piratin, who was famously elected as a Communist Party of Great Britain MP for Mile End in 1945. Now, Jean and I, have not always seen “eye to eye” about various things (especially blogging) so I hope she doesn’t mind me mentioning her!

The branch had somehow persuaded the restaurant to play “The Internationale” as they bought in the birthday cakes. At the same time everyone stood up and most raised their arms in a red salute and sang along to the song (see photo). I politely stood up and raised my glass and of course took pictures. I’m not that sure what the mostly city clientele thought about this but they didn’t seem to mind (or perhaps comprehend?). Our table also didn’t really care.

The restaurant is built on the site of the old traditional docker's pub the “Queen” (also known as the “Queen of the Isle”) which was knocked down in 2004. I never went into it but was reliably informed by someone who should know, that it was the sort of pub that you would be out of place if you had two whole ears.

Earlier that day I had been to another crimbo Party, at an “elder persons block” in Bow. There was a singer/guitarist and an unbelievably impressive spread. As well as the usual wide range of different sandwiches, coat-tail sausages, meats, prawns, samosa, salad, ham and egg pie, dips, crisps etc. There was a massive tray of traditional jellied eels (sorry, I may have lived longer in the East End than any where else but please don’t ask me...) as well as fiery hot chicken curry.

The residents all appeared to be having a good time (I won’t say “a right old knees up”). Well done to the staff and volunteers.

In all a good day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

InFidelity comes over all coy while “bonkers” Caledonia joins Tory investors club

Labour & Capital blogger, Tom P, has had a reply from Fidelity Investments to his letter to them about their donations to the Tories (£95k this year alone). Tom and his wife pay into a Fidelity ISA towards paying off their mortgage and are very unhappy that they are indirectly contributing to Conservative party funds.

Click on the link to read about the frankly empty response that Fidelity gave to his letter. Keep up the pressure Tom!

It was also interesting to note that Tom also reports that Caledonia Investors has given the Tories £60k. Caledonia still has very strong links with their founders, the old money Scottish Tory lairds, the Cayzers. Read the “Scotland on Sunday” account about the “stark raving bonkers” family feud that the almost liquidated the trust in 2003. It makes UNISON conferences seem like “a walk in the park”.

While you are at it check out Fidelity Out of Sudan.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Further Strike Action in Newham over sacked Michael Gavan

On Thursday there will be another strike by UNISON members in Newham, East London over the sacking by the Council of their branch Chair, Michael Gavan.

Amazingly Michael was dismissed for representing his trade union members in disciplinary hearings (and in doing so “not acting in the best interests of the Council”) and convening a stewards meeting over privatisation without permission.

The branch is asking for supporters to join the picket lines before work on Thursday. There will also be a lunchtime rally in the Hartley Centre, next to the Bingo Hall in 267 Barking Road, E6.

There is also a rally at the House of Commons tomorrow (Tuesday) evening to support Michael, as well as the Unison strikers at Fremantle, Barnet, and Karen Reissman, sacked Unison activist from Manchester. This is at 7.00 p.m. in Committee Room 9, House of Commons (Westminster tube). If you're going, allow time to get through the House of Commons security

More information from the Newham branch website - or telephone 020 8555-9351.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The “absolute nightmares” Where should they live?

“Authorities’ secrecy puts staff in peril” For the 2nd week in a row, Inside Housing magazine has had a front page story on staff safety. Talk about London buses – you wait for ages then you get one after another! I posted last week on their survey that found that 73% of front line staff have feared for their safety while at work. They printed a letter from me this week on the importance of an effective safety management system.

However, this week’s story actually has a wider appeal than just being of interest to hard pressed Housing association (or RSL’s) staff and their safety at work. The article claims that many Council’s deliberately withhold details of violent and dangerous applicants from housing associations, because it is feared that the RSL would turn down the application if they knew about their history.

One RSL only found out that one applicant was an arsonist “they must have known would be an absolute nightmare” by a chance warning by the local Police. Others complained that female staff are sent out by themselves with applicants to view properties, unaware that the applicant is a convicted sex offender.

Personally I would doubt that a Council would usually deliberately withhold information. Rather in my experience they will not have gathered the information properly in the first place. In most Council's you find that Housing, Education and Social work departments will not know or share information with each other about known potentially violent service users. Never mind giving this information to outside bodies such as RSL’s. This is despite the murder of staff in the past by violent offenders, who were known to pose risks, but the system did not pass the information down.

Many RSL’s do not even ask Council’s if they know of any risks and there are no guarantees that even if they are told the information that this is given to the front line staff that need to know.

The whole situation is a mess. Usually management will try to blame “Data Protection Act” (DPA) or “client confidentiality”. When there are in practice, clear exemptions in the DPA for protecting staff and providing information is securely passed over and retained, there should be no inappropriate breach of confidentiality.

Making safety an absolute priority and having in place a rigorous safety management system will resolve the issue of staff safety.

However, the “Inside Housing” article is actually based upon some very interesting research on “Problematic tenancies” by Bristol University on behalf of Shelter, the Local Government Association and the National Housing Federation. They are probably a little upset with “Inside Housing” since the report is only a “draft”. However, it is obvious that there are really serious problems to be addressed.

It appears quite clear that in many parts of the country, RSL’s are refusing to house applicants with a history of anti-social behaviour. Perhaps this is understandable, however while a Council may have transferred all its housing stock to a RSL it still retains the legal responsibility to re-house someone if they are found to be “statutory homeless”. 80,000 families in England alone last year. A tiny but not insignificant minority of whom will have members who have “challenging behaviour”.

There are other issues such as due to what’s called “section 106” agreements, residents who have paid substantial sums for their homes are living next door to RSL tenants who need support (and often won’t get it) so they will complain about them. Also, a RSL had built a new block of 12 general needs flats and found out that the Council was planning to offer 8 of them to applicants who had known alcohol abuse problems. Think about it.

If RSL’s are refusing to house people that Councils have to re-house by law then what is the answer? Do we go down the Frank Field MP route of “sin bins” under motorways?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Going to work can make you sick

As already mentioned I was off for most of last week with the dreaded lurgy. However, I used some of the time to catch up on my reading of the “Safety and Health Practitioner”, which is the house mag of IOSH. Read a very interesting article (July 07) by researcher Zara Whysall that “Presenteeism” at work is a “larger drain on productivity than either absenteeism or short-term disability”. “Which can have potentially catastrophic effects on both individual and organisational health”! So much for “Sick note Britain”

It concludes that it is better for the individual (as well as the organisation) to stay at home and recover rather come into work and infect everyone else (and I suppose anyone sitting near them on the buses or train). They also tend to recover more quickly at home.

Fair enough this seems common sense– most of us have come across the saying “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases...” (This was first put on public information service posters in World War Two)

Controversially, she also thought that research showed that workers who come into work despite being unwell may mean that their illness is unnoticed and is allowed to become more serious. Research into male civil servants showed “.....those that did not take any sick leave over the three year study period were more likely to experience serious coronary events than those unhealthy employees with moderate levels of sickness absenteeism”.

You can imagine this happening in practice. Someone who is so worried say about losing their job if they are sick, would come into work and ignores chest pains and other early signs of heart disease. Instead of getting the condition controlled by timely treatment they carry on working and they have a serious attack.

Organisations which have too harsh sickness policies could actually being making things worse not only for their staff but also their own bottom-line.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Letter about Tory political infidelities

My apologies for not posting this link sooner - an excellent post from Labour & Capital about the investment fund managers Fidelity, who unlike all other major British managers are significant financial contributors to the Conservative Party. Over £320,000 in the last three years.

Tom P (the author) and his wife, have an ISA investment account with them. He has written this letter asking why they are donating money to the Tories, are they planning future contributions and do they disclose these donations when they bid for business in Conservative controlled Council pension fund authorities?

I would argue that they should disclose this fact before bidding for business for any local authority not just ones with a Tory majority? A Council pension scheme panel will probably still have Tory members present even if they do not control the authority. I am sure that they will not want to be put in a potentially compromising position. Also, vulnerable without any such declaration of interest by Fidelity would be any Council officers present or their professional advisors if they themselves are Conservative Party members or supporters? Actually I’m sure this information will be gratefully received in the Labour heartlands.

Anyone who has an investment or personal pension plan with Fidelity should consider sending the same letter. Also check to see if your insurance or pension scheme employ Fidelity as their fund managers. If so, you should consider writing to your plan administrators or trustees asking them about the wisdom of employing such partisan managers.

Tom and wife point out that if Fidelity continues to give money to the Tories they will move their savings. However, usual health warnings about taking appropriate advice before you actually change any such investments apply.

A letter to Fidelity

The letter below has gone in the post this morning. My wife and I have been with Fidelity for about 6 years now. We have an ISA we set up to help pay off our mortgage, so we were intending to stick with them for the long run. We are therefore both really p***ed off that we may have to go through the hassle of changing fund manager because the one we chose prioritises making partisan political donations over the concerns of its customers. I hope they reply saying they are going to halt the donations. But if they won't stop doing it we feel we have no option but to move our savings elsewhere.

Fidelity International,
Oakhill House,
130 Tonbridge Road,
Kent TN11 9DZ

My account Number: XXX My Adviser: XXXI

I was concerned to learn from the Electoral Commission website that Fidelity International has donated £95,000 to the Conservative Party so far during 2007. I am not a Conservative Party supporter, but I do not believe that a fund management business like Fidelity should make donations to any political party.

As you are no doubt aware most institutional investors will vote against resolutions at companies’ AGMs where authority is sought to make party political donations. Indeed party political donations are rare amongst listed companies these days.

It is therefore somewhat surprising to see an institutional investor make such donations itself.

As a long-standing Fidelity customer I am very concerned by these donations. I would therefore be grateful if you could answer the follow questions.

1. What is the rationale for making donations to the Conservative Party?

2. Does Fidelity intend to make similar party political donations in future?

3. Does Fidelity disclose these donations when this is a potential conflict of interest (ie when presenting to Conservative-controlled local authority pension funds)?

I also wish to make clear that if Fidelity does intend to continue making partisan political donations I am likely to move my family’s savings to another fund manager.

Yours sincerely

Thursday, December 06, 2007

PFI firm run by Tory Peer fund SWP "Fighting Unions"

Just when you thought that fact could not get any stranger than fiction with regard to the Diss-respect farrago, it appears that their general secretary, John Rees (pre-split) accepted a dubious $10,000 company cheque from a Dubai construction company, Khansahed Civil Engineering.

This is owned by Interserve, who are a leading Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contractor, chaired by Tory Peer and former Head of the John Major’s policy unit, Lord Norman Blackwell.

It was I suppose pretty amazing was that this cheque had been previously been sent back by Galloway (unheard of him to refuse money!). However, apparently he suspected a “sting" by an undercover reporter.

The money was later used by Rees to cover a £5,000 loss made by the SWP/Respect backed “Organising for a Fighting Trade Union”. There may have been nothing “illegal” about this payment but it is particularly shameful of the SWP who have constantly jeered at the Labour Party and other democractic political partes who have dug themselves into big holes over funding. For them to now deliberately take money via a company cheque made out by a foreign construction company on behalf of trade unions? A company who in the UK openly makes money out of privatising British schools and hospitals?

I wonder what it is like to be a member of the SWP at this time. Their activist's excuse may be that they are “Lions led by Donkeys” but in reality are they just “Sheep being led to Slaughter”?

Another Hat tip to Ted Jeory at the East London Advertiser

“A bad day for Rights at Work”

No Justice for agency workers I’m afraid. The European Union “Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council” (also known for some reason as Europe’s Social Affairs council) met yesterday. I posted on Wednesday about media reports that a deal had been struck.

Apparently enough member states had agreed to finally give agency workers in the EU employment rights and to put an end to a two tier “terms and conditions” workforce. Agency staff would be on broadly similar terms as permanent staff. There is majority voting on this issue.

However in a classic EU fudge – the decision has been put off again (I quote) “Having in mind the fact that this proposal is still very recent, as well as the sensitive nature of these directives to some member states and the importance of exploring all attempts to reach an agreement as large as possible before final decision, the Council agreed that the best option at this moment was to postpone a decision, in order to further pursue the dialogue”.

Naturally TUC General Secretary, Brendon Barber is furious “'This is a bad day for rights at work across Europe, but especially in the UK.'

It is very disappointing that there has been no progress on the agency working Directive. There is real anger among unions today that the UK Government played the pivotal role in blocking progress today on this modest measure to improve workplace justice. '

Contrary to business scare-mongering, this Directive would not stop agencies providing temporary staff to employers who need them. What it would have done was both make it more difficult for employers to undercut wages and conditions and help slow the growth of a two-tier workforce. But unions will not give up the campaign to deliver justice for agency workers......"

The next Council meeting is not until I think February next year. The T&G Unite have a good site on this matter.

OK we need to think on the next step forward. Agency workers rights is still a "Warwick agreement" and Labour Party manifesto commitment. How to lobby and pressure the government to do the decent thing next year?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"Arrogant superior young toffs...”

“The arrogant, superior young toffs who lead the Conservative Party, neither of whom have done a serious day's work in their life... David Cameron was executive at Carlton Television which lost over a billion pounds while he was there. I take no lectures from that young man about business competence. ...Nor can we blame Gordon Brown for the sub-prime disaster in the United States of America or the recklessness of bankers.”

This was my crimbo present come early from Paul Myners on BBC1 Question Time
last week. According to today's Professional Pensions the Tories have now made an official complaint about Paul’s comments. He is the Chair of the government’s “Personal Accounts Delivery Body” PADB.

This is actually one of the most important governmental bodies you have never heard of – hopefully, soon up to 10 million Brits will be members of this “National pension scheme” which for the first time will oblige firms to contribute to their workers pension future (there are the usual “get out” clauses). The PADB should result in millions of people being brought out of poverty in retirement.

This is a really vital body and I suspect (hope) that while Paul was a probably a little unwise in his comments, as Chair of the PADB it will soon blow over. Part of his charm is that he is a bit of a maverick at times.

To me it shows how sensitive the Tories are to the justifiable accusation about Cameron that he is a “out of touch toff”

Hopefully, at worse Paul will just have his knuckles rapped. He is probably one of the most respected businessman of our time - chairman of the Guardian Media Group, the Low Pay Commission (which sets the minimum wage and advises the government on its implementation), and chair of the trustees at the Tate; a member of the Court of Directors of the Bank of England. Previously been Chairman of Marks & Spencer, and an Executive Director at NatWest; Trustee of the Brownite think tank The Smith Institute and has been dubbed "Gordon Brown's favourite businessman"; He is also part of the management team put together by US private equity house JC Flowers which is bidding to take control of Northern Rock.

He has written to the Tories pointing out he appeared on the programme in a personal capacity.He wrote: "I should also add that you make no reference in your letter to two other occasions on the same programme when I was deeply critical of government policy and actions. No mention was made of PADA or pensions in my description or during the programme."

I have meet Paul at various pension conferences and reminded him that Tower Hamlets pension scheme had sacked him (he was head of Gartmore Fund Managers at the time) in the past. Which he took in good part and described that occasion as the “worse day of his life” (joke). Of course being a staffside observer and not allowed to be a full voting member of the scheme I was able to blame everyone else for this decision!

NB - I thought Labour Employment & Welfare Minister Caroline Flint was very,very good at QT


Hat tip to East London Advertiser Deputy Editor, Ted Jeory, in his “Trial by Jeory” Column last week.

I couldn’t possibly comment.

“ALTHOUGH better now, Tower Hamlets council's press office has, over the years, developed a well-earned reputation for control-freakery.

But judging from the following tale, they're 'little angels' compared to their cousins at Newham.

John Gray, a Tower Hamlets Unison official who lives in West Ham, runs an excellent and thoughtful blog site. Last Thursday, he
posted a comment attacking Newham council for sacking his union colleague and Respect member Michael Gavan.

To illustrate the comment, he included an image of Newham council's extremely dull logo.

Within days, Ian Tompkins, Newham's communications chief, fired John the following email: "We've noticed on your blog site there is a reproduction of our council logo. I cannot trace any request from you for permission to use this so would ask that you remove it immediately."

In his reply, John
expressed "surprise that senior managers spend time scouring the blogsphere on the lookout for errant Newham council logos."

He added: "I am not sure that this is a good use of my council tax.

"I have replaced the offending logo with a photo taken from a public place. I assume that this is OK? If not please let me know."

As they say, good work fella!

Just to update about Michael - there will be a hearing at Stratford Employment Tribunal on December 14 to hear UNISON solicitors argue for what is called “interim relief” for Michael. What this hearing will be asked to decide is “whether or not” there is a case to answer, that Michael was sacked due to his trade union activities. If the tribunal decide there is - then Newham Council will have to continue to pay his wages until there is a full tribunal hearing on the matter. This could be a year or so.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Justice for Agency Workers?

Good to read in the Times On-line today that exploited agency workers may finally be given some protection under an EU directive and no longer treated as 3rd class citizens.

Details are a little unclear but I suspect that “The Times” is scaremongering as usual over the suggestion that agency workers will be getting “full rights” after only 6 weeks. It takes a year for permanent staff to be given protection from unfair dismissal so I can’t see agency staff being given greater rights than permanent.

I hope that it is intended to put an end to a two tier “terms and conditions” workforce and that agency staff should be on “broadly similar” terms as permanent staff. I cannot for the life of me work out why anyone apart from agency bosses would be opposed to this? We gave part time and long term directly employed temps the same rights years ago. The world did not end. The harsh facts of the matter are that many agency workers are treated like dirt by their employers and something simply needs to be done about it.

Also, we see the CBI are up to their usual dirty tricks by claiming that up to “250,000” workers will lose their jobs if this directive is implemented! Yeah, just like the millions of jobs they forecast will be lost if there was a minimum wage.

It is, to say the least, “disappointing” that the Labour government is apparently trying to delay the changes. I can understand why they feel that they have to keep up this “Fairness not Favours” balancing act on employment issues. Labour wants (and needs) the support of “middle England” as well as the unions. However, this is 100% a fundamental fairness and social justice issue. Many agency jobs are not on real “temporary” assignments. They are just cheap and easy to get rid of. Millions of vulnerable British workers having to put up with low wages, no employment tenure and no sickness or pension benefits. The exchequer is being robbed out of billions in lost PAYE taxation and national insurance payments from bogus so-called self employment. In Tower Hamlets Council most of the housing caretakers are agency staff on minimum wage, no sick pay, no overtime rates, no employment protection and of course, no pensions. How on earth can anyone survive on £5.52 per hour in inner London?

To be fair to the government they say they are committed to bringing in rights for agency workers (its also I think an outstanding commitment from the Warwick agreement?) but say they “are worried” that the current proposals are badly written and could harm employment. I think these worries are overdone and exaggerated.

Maybe this is a vision thing for Gordon? It is also electorally clear “red water” that we ought to exploit for all its worth. The Tories are of course opposed to any such change.

Millions of agency workers could see tangible real benefits from a Labour government – pounds in their pocket, money if they become ill and money towards a pension for when they grow old. Genuine, real short term employment needs and flexibility will not suffer and no doubt there will still remain a large agency sector.

However what we can get rid of is 19th century Dickensian employment practices that have no place in a 21st century that should be led by principals of fairness and social justice (and BTW – a century of Labour Party governments with clear majorities?)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Unionlearn – TUC Education on-line

Tonight, despite a bad case of the lurgy I’ve started (a bit late) the TUC Pension “On-Line” training course. I haven’t really done any on-line education beforehand so I am interested to see how I get on. I have always been fan of traditional learning techniques (“face to face” classes). However, things change and I probably wouldn’t have the time to do such a course if it wasn’t on line.

The course has two parts. There is firstly a compulsory module on “Getting ready for E-Learning”. Which will bring us up to speed on how to “learn on the net” Then the Pensions course will start in January. There seems a good mix of other students and my email inbox has been quite busy. The course is being run by the Merseyside Trade Union Education Unit.

There is a range of information about trade union courses (traditional classroom, distance learning and “online”) at the unionlearn website.

Many trade union activists including myself see workplace education and in particular union learning representatives as being key to the future of the movement. This is what even HR thinks of learning reps potential.

I’ll see how things pan out. So far so good.