Sunday, August 31, 2008
A spokesperson for the airline is quoted as denying that there are any safety concerns. However, the spokesperson then goes on to describe its own airline pilots who brought up these concerns (anonymously for obvious reasons) as “clowns”!
Check out the International Transport Workers website (and the “Dispatches” video) before you decide to fly with the “irresponsible face of capitalism” in the future. Also Ryanair Campaign site (one very unhappy former customer)
Picture of Ryanair CEO, Michael O'Leary showing us what he thinks of his staff and customers generally.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
The abuse and latent discrimination of overwhelmingly female classroom assistants by many schools and local education authorities is a national disgrace.
Unlike this report from The Times – fully qualified teacher assistants (with a two year diploma) can start on as little as £9,500 per year (not £15,000). Surprise, surprise very few men can afford to become assistants and schools rely on women who are desperate for jobs that fit in with their care commitments.
Check out the UNISON argument on BBC news
This is of course “guidance” so when schools inevitably ignore this (as they have to date all previous guidance), the Government will "of course" move in and legislate (please do so Gordon).
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
I think that this carping every August has gone on for too long. In recent years it seems to have become increasingly nasty and snobbish. It is also used as shorthand for an attack on comprehensive education by those who support academic selection and privilege.
Personally, I think that while there are still many problems to be overcome we have the best education system for the majority that we have ever had in this country.
An anonymous (naturally) commentator in this post claims “…GSC pass rate is an improbable 98.4%. Trying to suggest that this is the result of hardwork and excellent teaching is equally improbable. Most knowledgeable commentators working in education know this to be true. This is not to detract from the effort of many students but the sad fact is that the examinations have become a lot more predictable and therefore easier. Whereas 20 years ago in a modern history exam you had to study 200 years of history and could be asked questions across a wide range..now you know that there will always be a question on the origin of the First world war etc - makes the revision easier to target and the result predictable".
Right, let’s take this statement apart. I went to a large secondary modern turned comprehensive (Elfed High School) and took my “O” levels, CSEs (now combined as GCSEs) and "A" levels in the early 1980s. Which were apparently some sort of long lost halcyon days of high exam standards?
What rubbish, there has always been a very high “pass” rate for O/CSE/GCSEs, that is if you consider a grade D and E to be a “pass”. Rightly or wrongly, most employers don’t. In my day it was very rare for anyone to get a fail (or “unclassified”) since if you were expected to do that badly then you were not entered or didn’t turn up. I expect this is still true today.
Don’t for one moment fool yourself that we didn’t spend at least the last 2 terms before our exams going through old exam papers. You could predict questions in the same way then as today. Take history, you always knew you would get some version of “was the American War of Independence inevitable” or “was the industrial revolution really a revolution”. My British Constitution teacher “guaranteed” everyone on the course, if they were not an idiot, turned up for class, did the home work and concentrated on the questions he thought would be on the paper – we would get at least a “C”. He was right.
The quality of teaching is nowadays is superior to the 1980s. That is not to say that there were not inspirational teachers at my school then, there were, but we now have a graduate teaching staff. Pay has also risen. Since 1997 we have 172,000 more teaching assistants, many of whom are now trained. Staff also now have ongoing professional training and assessments.
During the last 10 years under Labour funding for pupils has doubled, over 36,000 more teachers in England alone; 274,000 more support staff/teaching assistants; over 1,100 new schools and over 1,300 Sure Start children's centres. This has made a huge difference.
But to me the greatest improvement in education in this country is still comprehensive schools. That nowadays it is not the norm to write off working class kids and let them leave school at 16 with little or no qualifications. My high school was in a largely working class area. There was on one level still an unspoken expectation that the best you could get in school is to leave at 16 and get a “good” apprenticeship if you were a boy or a secretarial job is you were a girl. This was a hangover of the secondary modern days. I can remember career teachers droning on about apprenticeships at the local steelworks or textile factories. I was always completely useless and kack handed at either metal work or woodwork so from an early age I realized that I had to find an alternative. Very luckily I had supportive parents who didn’t expect me to leave school as soon as possible, find work and hand over my wages to them to help support the family. This is what happened to them at that age.
At 16 I was astonished at the number of pupils who I knew to be far cleverer than me who left school and did not go on to further education.
It’s topical at the moment to muse upon the selection by Barack Obama of Joe Biden as his vice presidential candidate. Joe’s own chance of standing for the Presidency in 1988 was scuppered when he supposedly plagiarized Neil Kinnock’s famous speech to the Welsh Labour Party conference in 1987
"Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because our predecessors were thick? Does anybody really think that they didn't get what we had because they didn't have the talent or the strength or the endurance or the commitment?
While the talented miner’s son in the 1950s was able to use the Grammar School path to go to University, Neil would be the first to admit that he was one of the very lucky ones of his generation.
At the end of my primary school I had a pretty poor assessment and I am sure that I would have failed the 11 plus if there was still selection. If that had been the case I would not have been the first in my family to go to university.
The BBC has an excellent article by Mike Baker where he examines the results from a survey of 17,000 children born in 1958 that have been tracked ever since. This survey found that class sizes for these children were very large (37) and by age of 33 only 14% of males and 11% of females had obtained a degree. Graduates would earn on average £332,000 more over their lifetime than their peers who left school with no qualifications.
Nowadays the great majority of kids stay on at school until aged 18 and 40% go on to university.
Mike also reminds us that there was no such thing as a “golden age” of apprenticeships. Only 15% of those left school to take one up (nearly all male) and a third failed to complete. This generation also had poor basic skills. Aged 37, a sample tested revealed almost half had 'very poor' numeracy skills and 6% had difficulty with reading. So much for the CBI constantly moaning about the poor basic skills of the current generation of job seekers.
Okay, I fully accept that a relatively small number of our schools are failing their communities and a minority failing badly. Action does need to be taken. Despite being in a knowledge based economy, there does need to be a greater vocational emphasis on education and training. But we need to make decisions on future improvement based on facts not make believe or nostalgia.
Mike sums it up very well by saying what we do not want is to “return to a past system which served the few very well and the majority poorly”.
Caption is of circular 10/65 which marked the end of many Grammar Schools and Secondary Moderns.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
UNISONTV have posted this clip about the Scottish Local Government Strike last week over pay. In Scotland the employers have offered a below inflation rate of 2.5%. After the Strike the employers have called for further talks.
The Scottish pay offer is (a whole) 0.05% more than the rest of the UK and is also tied into a 3 year deal.
In Scotland all 3 Local government unions (UNISON, Unite and GMB) struck which I am sure made a difference to the overall impact.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
I wasn’t too sure what to make of the fighting between Russia and Georgia at first. I thought though, like many people, that something quite important is happening. Better to see what pans out before wading in? (there is a first time for everything).
The TV pictures of massed Russian tanks and armoured vehicles pouring into Georgia have rightly unsettled many people’s perceptions of modern day global politics.
It also brought back to me, almost forgotten memories of my youth, when for several years I was a member of the “Territorial Army” (the “Terries” or TA) whose chief role in those days was to support the regular “British Army of the Rhine”. In the event of a war their job was to smash and turn back the armoured divisions of the Red Army from sweeping across the German plains into the West.
I seem to remember that most of us, including our instructors and senior officers, were pretty pessimistic about our chances of actually stopping them. This may just have been traditional British self-mockery. On exercises in Germany, I was often “dug in” a muddy farmer’s field in the pouring rain with my trusty 7.62 SLR (rifle) and “training only” 66 anti-tank rocket launcher. To kill (unlikely) or disable (somewhat possible in theory) a main battle tank with a 66, the idea was that you had to get really, really close, preferably from behind and while it was stationary. When you managed to fire at the damn thing there was a very bright projection flash to the rear of the 66, which brightly illuminated you to everyone on the battle field. So if I was in a middle of any mass tank attack I didn’t really fancy my chances.
Seeing the TV pictures and photos of heavy artillery barrages, mass rocket attacks (grand-daughters of Stalin’s Organs) and air bombing in Georgia reinforces this view. Generally, our idea was to slow the Soviet advance down long enough to give peace talks a chance before NATO started to go nuclear.
I think that most Brit’s sympathys will naturally be with the Georgians. So far the Russians have not produced any evidence of any massacres or systematic ethnic cleansing by Georgian troops in their abortive attack in South Ossetia. I think in any case that Russia is flexing its muscles as a world power after a long period of internal turmoil and weakness. It is bullying its smaller neighbours in a traditional Russian way.
But things are very different from the “Cold War” era. Firstly, the Russian tanks are now thousands of miles further east than they were. Secondly, there is no longer an ideological black hole between the West and the Soviet Union (which to me it was always “Russia” to all intents and purposes). There are of course huge differences inbetween Parliamentary and one Party authoritarian “democracies” – but nothing compared to the past.
Personally, even in the bad old days I didn’t really believe that the Red Army would ever invade the West even if they did have theoretically superiority in numbers of tanks, artillery, troops, attack aircraft etc. Barring a mad, bad dictator taking charge, I was pretty sure that the prospect of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) would have stopped any real attack. After all the Russians did "really love their children too".
But, I don’t think my youth was entirely mis-spent. If there had not been a creditable conventional military defense by NATO during the “cold war” I think that the Soviets (Russians) would have engaged in dangerous military adventures short of all out war. The sort of stuff that they appear to be carrying out in Georgia, since they would have correctly calculated that NATO would not have risked MAD over such issues.
The BBC report today that a Russian commander in Georgia, General Nogovitsyn, said “Russia was not the Soviet Union or the Evil Empire”.
Yes General, I agree, but Russia will do whatever it thinks is good for Russia. The famous quotation from Churchill (in full not just the memorable first bit) in 1939 is as valid to day as ever before.
"I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest."
Thursday, August 21, 2008
The Health and Safety Executive myth of the month picks up on the nonsense put out by our ugly tabloid press about traditional “Punch and Judy” shows being required to have “risk assessments”. Yeah.
They report the actual truth of the matter “A Punch and Judy man received a standard letter from an event organiser asking him to submit a health and safety risk assessment. However when he questioned the need for it, they 'backed-off' and no paperwork was required. It sounds like wires got crossed somewhere and perhaps the standard letter was sent in error.
HSEs guidance is clear: if there is genuinely no significant risk, nothing needs to be written down.
If a written assessment is needed – keep it fit for purpose, and crucially: act on it. Paperwork without action does no one any good.”
These so called “newspapers” would also be the first to scream and shout if the HSE failed to enforce a regulation and someone then got hurt.
Monday, August 18, 2008
This policy regarding “commitment contracts” was “floated” by housing minister, Caroline Flint, in a speech at the very beginning of her appointment and caused understandably quite a lot of fuss.
I can understand Caroline’s motives for bring this subject up, but I think it was unworkable and unwise to even suggest that tenants will lose their homes if they do not apply for jobs or training courses.
The policy forum concluded that access to housing should be emphasised on need and they were concerned that if social housing was too highly regulated, then less fortunate tenants could end up in the private sector. Fair points I suppose.
I always understood that Caroline really wanted to float ideas in order to start a debate. We have to think long and hard on how we can incentivise the overwhelming majority of unemployed tenants who are desperate for help on how to work or train their way out of poverty.
The minority who are not interested in bettering themselves are part of a wider problem that is not only a “social housing” issue and it is wrong to label it as so.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Last week I commented on Boris’s decision to allow Tory Council Hammersmith & Fulham to approve a major new housing scheme to be built without any social housing provision.
"Inside Housing" now reports from an unnamed “London Labour Party” source that if Boris intends to “dump” all new social housing in the east of London then he was “lining up for a fight”.
I don’t think the term “dumps” is particularly helpful, social housing has enough negative connotations as it is – but I think everyone takes the point. I think that I can guess who made the remarks.
Boris has made a specific manifesto commitment that he will enable 50,000 new social housing homes by 2011. The government has agreed to give him (or rather the Mayor) the funding. However, it is becoming clear that Tory boroughs don’t want social housing tenants not least because as with Lady Porter in Westminster, they tend not to vote Tory.
Another article quotes Andy Slaughter, Labour MP for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush, said: ‘[Mr] Johnson’s rejection of his own professional officers’ advice shows that party politics, rather than housing policy, are determining decisions at City Hall.
The government needs to think again and take back the powers given to the mayoral office over planning and investment. Boris is clearly incapable of standing up to the Tory boroughs.
If these homes are not to be built where they are needed in London Tory boroughs then you are likely to get them concentrated in Labour boroughs. The strongest Labour Boroughs are of course in East London. Apart from the political “gerrymandering” that is going on, East London will have enough with its own problems of trying to house people in need without being expected to house and support people that the richer boroughs want to “cleanse”.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Check out this site which reports on a Glasgow to Barcelona Cycle ride by the National Clarion Cycling Club (1895). This is to remember a similar cycle ride made by two members of the Clarion Cycling Club in May 1938 to raise money to support the victims of the Spanish Civil War.
They are out there now and hope to finish next week.
The blog is entitled “Socialism, Cycling and Sunny Spain”. On route they visit important historical sites in the UK and Spain linked to the war.
Click on the poster to read the details.
Hat tip to Col. Roi.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
People have come to work genuinely excited and pleased at the British sporting successes to date.
Personally, I am only vaguely interested in watching the actual races and competitions. I am more concerned with China and its human rights record, while fascinated with the interaction of the female Russian soldier who won gold in the shooting event (of all things) and the Georgian who gained silver.
I am somewhat pleased when Brits do well but the prospect of actually watching the stuff fills me with horror.
I live within walking distance of the London Olympic site and have volunteered to “help out” at the 2012 games. But this support is really because of the massive regeneration benefits that I hope East London will gain from hosting the Olympics.
Perhaps this is genetic? My lovely eldest sister is a professional gymnastics coach who I know to my cost will be glued to her telly for the next few weeks. Amongst my earliest memories are of fighting with her to turn off tennis on the TV in order to try and watch cartoons (she won). She happens to be my half-sister since her biological Mum died when she was a toddler.
Or is it “environment”? At school it was definitely an advantage to be “good at sports”. I have also come across many people who when you first meet them will ask as a matter of course which football team do I support. When I reply, “none” they are genuinely flustered about what to say next. Why do certain countries with small populations such as Austrialia do so relatively well?
Is the love of sports the new “opium of the people”? I have come across arguments from the “left” attacking sports because of this. However, many seriously religious folk and loads of “far left” are equally in awe of “Sport”.
I was put in my place this morning by a work colleague who had been up since 3am to watch the live Olympics. She responded to my stated incomprehension on “why” by stating “John it must be very similar to your love of trade unions – when you go on about such things I just don’t get it. But I just love watching the Olympics as much as you love your unions”.
So maybe it’s not genetic or environmental perhaps it’s just me?
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Tonight I was going to post on serious political issues, things which deserve a wide and meaningful debate. I was also going to make reasoned replies to all those who have taken the time to post worthy and considered (mostly) comments.
However, I was tempted into watching “West World” on cable and everything else has gone to pot.
What a simply brilliant film. How can anyone forget the sound of Yul Brenner’s cowboy spurs echoing along the corridor, as he chases his human prey? Unforgettable.
Monday, August 11, 2008
It refers to the decision by Boris’s deputy mayor, Ian Clement, to let Tory Council Hammersmith & Fulham approve a new large development with NO social housing at all. This was only just weeks after the GLA’s own planners branded it “unacceptable”. This is in White City, which is an area of massive waiting lists and housing need. The Council even owns the land.
In order to alleviate overcrowding developers are usually required to set aside a percentage of new build properties for social housing. The Tories reckon that the area already has enough social housing in that area so bringing in 100% private ownership will for example reduce “housing benefit” claims.
I am sure of course that this has nothing to do with past Tory Westminster Council “gerrymandering”. Obviously reserving this development for only private homebuyers has nothing to do with any attempt by this newly elected Tory Council to get rid of pesky social housing tenants? Who might even (God forbid) vote Labour in local elections? Of course not!
Labour minister Herbert Morrison was condemned for supposedly saying, while the leader of the pre war London County Council (LCC) that he would “build the Tories out of London”. He always denied actually saying this.
Never mind, it appears that this generation of Tories are prepared to exploit the human misery of housing need to further their own “Lebensraum”
(poster above is for what came to be known as a "Morrison Shelter")
Sunday, August 10, 2008
£327,000 per year - what on earth is going on here? No wonder the sector has such a bad reputation for this sort of thing. Anchor is supposed to be a “not for profit” organisation, it employs 10,000 workers and has 50,000 clients.
What is the average salary of a worker compared to the CEO?
In the words of the former head of M&S, Paul Myner, do we have the same problem in the social housing sector with “the self appointed managerial elite are raping the resources of companies”. So called “independent” external advisers on executive pay are called “Ratchet, Ratchet and Ratchet”.
It just makes you despair. It is also a pity we have a new housing minister or I would have reminded her about this pledge.
“The chief executive of one of the UK’s largest housing associations raked in nearly a third of a million pounds last year following a huge pay hike.
John Belcher of Anchor Trust was paid £327,000 – up 32 per cent on the previous year. He is the first housing association boss to pocket more than £300,000 on salary and bonus alone.
Mr Belcher’s salary has more than doubled in seven years, from a more modest £162,000 in Inside Housing’s 2001 salary survey.
Last year’s pay packet included a car allowance of £15,000 and a massive £72,000 bonus.
Including £32,880 in pension contributions and £1,000 in medical insurance, his entire package is worth £360,880.
In 2005 Places for People boss David Cowans picked up £314,000, but this was partly due to an historic pensions underpayment.
Clare Miller, director of regulation at the Housing Corporation, said salary increases ‘should be proportionate and linked to organisational performance’.
Ms Miller, who received a 15 per cent salary increase herself in 2007/08, added that salary rates were a decision for each housing association. ‘We accept that leaders of large organisations need to be remunerated appropriately to reflect the nature of the challenges they face and their success in meeting these challenges,’ she said.
Michael Gelling, chair of Tenants’ and Residents’ Organisations of England, said Mr Belcher’s wage was ‘unjustifiable’. ‘The people they are serving are on the breadline – how can you justify being paid that much?’ he asked.
Anchor Trust said Mr Belcher’s compensation was high because half the association’s work was in care services instead of housing provision, a sector where the main competitors are private sector companies such as BUPA.
Saturday, August 09, 2008
BEST wishes from UNISON's furthest flung member on the Thai/Burma border: Check out http://www.amnesty.org.uk/events_details.asp?ID=778
However, when I googled “Burma Campaign”, I found the sponsored advert top left hand corner was for a travel agency advertising for “Beautiful Burma” (see fittingly in red).
Check out the Burma Campaign page on the tourist boycott of Burma. Money from tourism directly and indirectly supports the military regime there, resorts have been built with forced labour and “ Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has asked tourists not to visit Burma.”
Or will I have to consider boycotting my own blog?
Friday, August 08, 2008
I think the real major reason was that Councils were generally perceived as poor builders and landlords. I will admit that I have some sympathy with this view. Today, by coincidence I was chatting with a trade union member who told me that his Mum tried to buy her Council flat a few years ago but the building society refused to give a loan to any flats in her “system built” block. They would give some loans to blocks built via this construction method but only depending upon the (private sector) company used to actually build the block.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Book early to guarantee your place at this exciting event by contacting James Butler on 020 7729 6682, or alternatively e-mailing: jimbodotbutleratgmaildotcom .
Labour Party members only.
Date: Tuesday 26th August
Time: 7.30pm – 9.00pm
Location: Gallery Café, 21 Old Ford Road, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9PL (nearest tube station is Bethnal Green)
Free entry; any donations are welcome, Light refreshments available, Raffle/Prize Draw
Printed and promoted by James Butler on behalf of Tower Hamlets Labour Party, 349 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, E2 9RA.
I thought that folk may be interested in attending this event. Labour Party members only - Book first with Jim or you will not be allowed in!
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Following my post last week on why the RMT union is so “stroppy”.
Top UNISON steward, Paul Mcc has sent me secret photographs from his mobile of who he thinks are the 4 managers responsible for the threatened victimisation of trade union members.
He is not sure obviously, but thinks they fit the general description.
Anyone got any other clues or ideas on putting "names to faces"? They must be pretty distinctive?
last spotted in Chelmsford.
(remember libel laws apply folks!)
Boris promised the meeting that if elected as Mayor he would only allow the promotion of hotels and restaurants in the official “Visit London” website in the run up to 2012 Olympics, to those who pay their employees a “London Living Wage”.
Despite London being one of the richest cities in the world this “Living Wage” is only £7.45 per hour, or just over £13,500 per year.
Boris being Boris, Tories being Tories – now he has been elected he firstly tried to deny that he ever promised such a thing. Then Catersearch.com sent him a copy of the video where he did indeed make a public pledge.
So he now comes out with a revised letter saying that:-
“During my election campaign, I supported a list of proposals on the living wage that included this idea. However, further work in this area has made it clear that a positive approach of partnership with business to promote the London living wage is more appropriate, and likely to be more effective in achieving the key goal of the wider implementation of the living wage.”
Which means in Boris speak – “sorry poor people but my pay masters have spoken so get stuffed" –They should not rely on his tips either!)
Check out the London citizens website and video (lower right hand side of web page – about 6 mins 35 seconds in for the magic words, but before he started he did agree formally to all their pledges regarding a living wage).
I hope that those Labour party “supporters” who simply slag off the Party at every opportunity will stop and think for a mo about the best way to stop Boris’s best school mate from being elected on similar bogus promises. Not the 1983 manifesto please!
BTW - Early on in the video, someone heckled Boris and shouted out “tell the truth” – yeah.
(Hat tip thingy to comrade Colonel Roi)
Yesterday I went with computer geek, comrade Matty, to the massive PC World at Tottenham Court Road to look for a new one. Naturally I didn’t intend to buy one from the store direct, but used it to “window shop” (pardon the pun). It’s normally cheaper to buy or order on-line.
I think that I am in the market for a medium range Dell via the internet.
To my surprise back home I was able to get my laptop working (after nearly 18 months of problems) and am now back “on-line”.
I googled the error message and for once, found a solution in an IT forum where I actually understood what they were going on about and was able to follow their instructions on how to fix the problem. Comrade Matty will be amazed.
I better get a new PC before I mess it up again. So far I reckon it is a score draw.
Computers 1 John 1
(Thanks to Tom P for the practical advice and support in my hours of need - Not!)
Sunday, August 03, 2008
Apologies for the lack of posts and not replying to comments. Still having PC problems.
I’ve crashed the computer so many times before finding out about the memory issue that the hard disk has been corrupted.
I will try to format and reinstall one more time – if this doesn’t work then I’ve had enough and I’m off to buy another before it drives me even more potty!
It was in the afternoon so they may have had a long liquid lunch. However, my contact was astounded to hear these managers openly discuss how they will get rid of the RMT (the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) members in a forthcoming reorganisation. They boasted about how they will be sitting on the interview panels and ensure that RMT members will not be successful in getting jobs.
Now, I may not be over impressed with the RMT Leadership over various issues, but this does make you think about the reasons why the RMT are militant. If their managers are so arrogant that they feel they can openly boast about sacking people on the basis of their trade union membership then faced with such rubbish no wonder the RMT believe that they have to be so stroppy. I think this is called “Cause and effect”?