Friday, October 24, 2008


Taking a few days off from blogging. Apologies if you post a comment and I don't reply for a while.

Barking Young Voters

What a great event on Tuesday at the Attlee rooms in the House of Commons. Over 200 young people who had become 18 and were registered on the Barking electoral register were invited by local MP Margaret Hodge and turned up.

There was a series of events in the hall organised by local young socialists to engage with these young people around equality, voting participation and democracy.

UNISON Labour Link bought them all a free drink, which of course went down quite well! A number of Labour MP’s arrived to help out and speak to everyone and afterwards, there were free tours of the House of Commons.

I can’t wait to help organise something similar for West Ham CLP. Thanks to Gloria Hanson and Louise Couling from Labour Link for helping to recruit people to the union and the Party.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

United Left Surrender position?

I can’t resist either posting this web picture of my old mucker, NEC member and Bromley Local government branch secretary, Glen Kelly, at the recent United Left Trotference in London.

What is Glenn on about I hear you say?

Is he surrendering to the forces of light and progression?

Is he indicating the trade union density you need to start a revolution?

Or is he referring to the average number of votes that SPEW (Socialist Party of England & Wales) get at each seat they contest at a general election?

I thought SPEW had Left United Left?

I think we should be told? If you have any other ideas no doubt you will let me know.

Hat tip to Comrade Mercader

Shared ownership mortgages for bail out money

Inside Housing report that the Halifax (HBOS) has had to provide shared ownership mortgages in order to get its £37 billion of taxpayer’s capital.

Good, there is a role for a Command economy in a crisis! Perhaps one of the unintended positive consequences of this current crisis is that a flexible shared ownership model will overtake “outright sale” as the preferred housing tenure model for many?

Our Brit fetish for supposedly 100% home ownership is out of line with the rest of the real world. Many people in insecure employment or who are otherwise vulnerable were persuaded to "buy" (mortgage to the hilt) their homes. Many are now possibly going to be evicted and lose everything. Shared ownership is not perfect and should not replace an option of secure tenancies at a fair rent but it is a far more socially just and equitable than outright sale.

What we need to do as will is persuade the middle classes to take part and create real mixed and sustainable communities. That is the next big problem. Any ideas Howard?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

London UNISON Policy Day

Yesterday I attended our annual Policy day held in University of London Union (ULU). Its agenda may sound rather dry but this is the sort of thing that trade unions need to do more of, we spend too much time fire fighting and reacting rather than thinking, being reflective and foreward planning.

All Regional Council officers (including myself as Finance Convenor), chairs and vice chairs of lay committees, London NEC members and most full time staff are invited. Firstly, there was a review of our regional plan for 2008 and our objective and priorities for 2009. London currently has 127,000 UNISON members who are paying subs. We need to recruit 13% more members each year just to stand still.

There was a big debate over “Recruitment and Organising”, then before lunch we discussed “The Bargaining Agenda”. These involved future strategies around Pay, Pensions, building our profile in education, strategies for private contractors and companies, health and procurement. I’m glad to see that Capital Stewardship is being given the recognition that it deserves.

After lunch we had our first guest speaker, UNISON NEC member Bob Oram (seen in picture with London regional convenor Gloria Hanson, who chaired the meeting). Bob is chair of the UNISON Staffing committee and spoke on “Meeting the Organising Challenge”. UNISON is trying to deploy more staff out of regional and national offices to directly support branches with recruitment and case work. The aim is not just to recruit members but build a sustainable structure to support them. This is absolutely vital to the union’s future. Our union density levels in many employers are so low that we simply cannot function as a trade union. (I’ll post further on my “Plan B” as soon as the Scottish Local government pay strike is settled).

After lunch, a presentation and discussion on equalities, then a simply superb presentation by GMB regional secretary, Richard Ascough. Now, at times in the dim and distant past I never thought I would ever say anything positive about a senior official of the GMB! Richard talked about joint union working and gently teased the “elephant in the room” (is, should, will - UNISON merge with the GMB?). One theme he stressed again and again is that there are so many workers who are not members of unions that we should not be fighting or poaching from each other.

I gave my view that it is just a complete nonsense that we don't have single sector unions but these things are difficult to dare I say "organise", since rightly I suppose, members prize their unions independence, its local identity and historical traditions. But to survive we need to move on.

I helped end the meeting by boring everyone silly with a briefing on the “budget planning process”.

I then went to the Fair Pensions AGM, a meeting of “Struggle” (which I will love to post upon but can’t at the moment) at the House of Commons, then another event in Portcullis House - an absolutely fantastic Barking CLP “Young Voters” event sponsored by Margaret Hodge MP (and her team) and UNISON Labour Link which I will post about tomorrow.

"Untie" – The New Unions?

I’m sure that comrades at the trade union Unite will enjoy their new nickname that scurrilous folk at other unions have dreamed up.

I am sure that a split will never happen, mind you, I enjoyed this press release about the “warm personal friendship” between joint General Secretaries Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson.

Reminds me of what Dave Prentis said at this year’s UNISON conference (it was a joke BTW).

National Inspection Day

Today is National Inspection Day. Part of European Health & Safety Week. I have just finished inspecting my workplace with the office manager and safety advisor. I'll write up the report later. UNISON and the TUC have plenty of advice and support materials on their web site.

Of course if you don't have time to do an inspection today - you can always do it another time. I know activists are busy - but regular safety inspections should be a key trade union activity and frankly a priority.

Prevention is much, much better than cure.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Housing Bosses pay: “continue to power ahead of those at bottom”

Will the widespread negative public and political reaction to excessive executive pay reach the Housing association establishment?

I have posted my disquiet (to say the least!) on the “bumper” pay rises enjoyed by Housing association chiefs.

This new survey published today in Housing Newsreveals that senior employees continue to power ahead of those at the bottom of the organisation, with average basic pay increases for chief executives of nine per cent and for directors of 7.4 per cent.

Clerical and care staff averaged rises of 4.6 per cent”
Clerical and care staff have an average basic salary of £17,113, while clerical supervisors and senior care staff have an average £20,995”.

The highest paid Housing Association CEO earned £327K!

I do not know how people can survive and bring up families on £17k per year?

The social housing sector is in danger of bringing itself into the same disrepute as City Financiers and the Banking sector over their disproportionate salaries and the lack of government regulation.

I am also interested in who were the staff who actually got 4.6% since this seems to be a far higher average (although if true very welcome) than the pay settlements that I am aware of in the sector?

Start of European Health & Safety Week Today

Today marks the start of European Health & Safety Week. The poster to the left is from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work which is co-coordinating activities across Europe.

In Britain the Health & Safety Executive is taking the lead (see here). The theme for the next 2 years is risk assessments.

Don’t forget that this Wednesday is National Inspection Day – inspect your workplace for hazards.

The advice below is from the UNISON web site safety pages on risk assessments.

No one should be put at unnecessary risk at work. UNISON believes that work related deaths, injuries, ill-health, and “accidents” are not acceptable.

Your employer has a responsibility to ensure that your work does not cause you harm. Not only is it the right thing to do – it’s the law.

UNISON is campaigning to ensure that every employer carries out proper risk assessments and keeps those risk assessments under review and up to date. The safety of staff, visitors and the public depends on it. So we’re taking part in this years Health and Safety Campaign, are you?

Health and Safety Week 2008

This years Health and Safety Week and will part of a two year campaign on risk assessment. The campaign is aimed at a wide range of stakeholders, including: employers, workers and safety reps; and is intended to promote the benefits of completing and implementing a risk assessment. The campaign seeks to demystify the risk assessment process to show that risk assessment is not necessarily complicated, bureaucratic, nor a task only for experts.

The campaign also aims to raise awareness on this issue, provide information and practical advice, encourage activities that have a positive impact in the workplace, and identify and recognise good practice.

Whilst the campaign is a rolling programme, the European Health and Safety Week for 2008, when much of the focus will take place, begins on 20 October.

Risk Assessments are the foundation to health and safety – so get involved!

UNISON encourages all branches to take part in this campaign to ensure that risk assessments are in place to protect all workers. Risk assessments are the foundation to health and safety, so start thinking about how your branch can get involved. What hazards cause concern in your workplace? Are there risk assessments in place, are they any good, and are they applied? Does the accident, sickness absence, or occupational health statistics suggest otherwise? What tasks haven’t been assessed? Consider asking your employer to jointly review the risk assessments, and/or conduct new ones.

Alternatively, you may want to organise workplace safety inspections or conduct a series of risk and body mapping as a first step towards identifying areas where a review of risk assessments might be needed. Once you’ve identified a source of concern, UNISON produces a range of topical information which give guidance on various hazards and how they should be tackled.

Of course, if you’re aware of a serious health and safety concern now, don’t wait until October. Raise the issue with your local safety rep now.Resources There are a number of materials and resources that will be of use to branches. UNISON has guidance on risk assessments; workplace safety inspections; risk and body mapping.

You can access all of these and our A-Z list of topical guidance from the dropdown menu on our homepage.The latest issue of our newsletter for safety activists, Health & Safety Organiser, Issue 57 takes a detailed look at the campaign and what UNISON branches and safety activists can do. It's out now to all UNISON safety activists.A new campaign poster and leaflet for members and non-members will also shortly be available - watch this space!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

“Workers of ???? Unite – Competition.

I can’t resist posting this recent leaflet and asking you all to guess what are the occupations of the horny handed sons (or daughters) of toil that were behind it.
Clearly according to the poster, all real strikers are stocky white male manual workers. No role for black or female workers in the great struggle I suppose?

So let’s try and guess the occupations of the actual authors: -

Let me see, are they

1. Coal Miners?
2. Steelworkers?
3. Dockers?
4. Textile workers?
5. Car Mechanics? (see spanner left)
6. Agricultural workers?
7. Middle class London local government admin officers?

I think we should be told and that no-one should guess and use the term “bankers” in case of any possible misunderstanding and resulting offense.

Kick Fascists out of Trade Unions

One worrying thing that I picked up yesterday at SERTUC was that soon the House of Commons will be debating a clause that would make it very difficult to expel fascists from trade unions.

Section 18 of the Employment Bill was originally brought in by the government following the success of ASLEF in the European Court over the expulsion of a BNP member. The House of Lords have amended the section to such an extent that many fear that fascists would not be able to be expelled. Fascism is clearly incompatible with trade unionism.

On Saturday Unite pleaded with all unions who have parliamentary influence to lobby MPs to make sure that this amendment is knocked back. The measure may be debated as early as this week apparently.

Check out the Hope Not Hate website here where you can download a template letter to send to your MP.

Harry’s Place: Big Day Out

This is from “Harry’s Place” – An account of a guided tour last Sunday with local historian David Rosenberg, around the “radical Jewish East End”. Posted by Mira Vogel.

It looks like I missed a treat!

Late afternoon last Sunday - which was unbelievably warm and golden - a group of 35 or so Harry’s Place people and their sympathisers strolled companionably through the Radical Jewish East End on a tour led by East End Walks guide David Rosenberg.

We met at Gardiner’s Corner (Gardiners, like so much of the old East End, is no more) where an anti-fascist tram driver had marooned his tram to disrupt Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts during the
Battle of Cable Street, October 4th 1936. Above us was an assertive-looking wall-mounted Star of David held aloft by a couple of proud lions with cutlasses. It was the sign of the now-no-more Jewish Daily Post. I’ve been walking up and down Whitechapel High Street for years and never noticed that - that’s why you go on things like this with people like David.

We proceeded to Manningtree Street, former location of the Popular Cafe, local meeting spot and one of many communication points for the Battle. Here David sketched Mosley’s veering political development from Conservative, when at 21 he had been the youngest MP in the Commons, to the disaffection over Ireland which propelled him to stand as an Independent and - via the Fabians, the left of the Independent Labour Party, and his own imaginatively-named New Party - to found the British Union of Fascists in 1932. Despite early support from the Mirror and Daily Mail, in David’s assessment the BUF was defeated by Mosley’s inability to build support as well as its own reputation for thuggery and antisemitism. He noted the debate about whether the antisemitism was a central policy plank or something borne out of desperation. Naturally, Mosley denied any antisemitism - if he targetted Jews, he said, it was because of what they were doing rather than who they were.

Next we heard about the different communities living in the area in the early 1900s - English, Irish, Somali, Chinese and the 120,000 or so Eastern European Jews taking refuge from pogroms back home. David described the difficulties this new community experienced in getting the growing Fascist threat recognised by the more established and prosperous Jewish community which had set up its institutions further west. Since East End Jews couldn’t gain adequate representation in this establishment, they set up a number of specifically East End institutions including the Workers Circle and Jewish People’s Council (David told us the Jewish Chronicle eventually embedded a journalist after which the editorial line shifted somewhat but, along with the Labour Party, the Jewish Board of Deputies still advised staying home on October 4th - a recommendation which was widely ignored).

We sat on railway sleepers opposite dinky Fieldgate Street Synagogue which nestles up against the East London Mosque. Guests from a nearby wedding milled around - it was an exquisite evening, perhaps the last of the year.

At this juncture David drew another of several books out of his bag (I think this one was ‘Our Flag Stays Red’) and introduced us to the radical Jewish East Ender Phil Piratin.

Next was Tower House, former hostel where Stalin stayed in a tiny room while attending an important Russian Communist get-together. Then we went to look at Paragon Mansions where the Communists had managed to blow a hole in Fascist support by organising a highly disciplined, successful and historically important campaign for better housing conditions. We heard how Irish Catholic and Eastern European Jewish women, prominent in the campaign, cooperated on their day-to-day jobs to help each other meet their picket commitments during the rent strikes. Then we moved on to Nelson Street, location of the last synagogue to be built in the East End, and heard about young Charlie Goodman, arrested for shinning up a lampost to urge on the anti-Fascists and, later, veteran of the Spanish Civil War.

Coming to Cable Street we imagined the scene - the mattress barricades, overturned truck and swarms of Irish dockers, Jews and Communists shouting the Spanish Civil War slogan “No Pasaran” as they confronted the Blackshirts and their mounted police escort (brought down by marbles!). And they succeeded - the Fascists didn’t pass. We ended at Dave Binnington’s enormous mural of the Battle, literally and figuratively a riot of people, missiles, banners, chamberpots and their contents, trampling horses and cossack-like policemen. Vandalised by the far right soon after completion in 1982, the mural now has a special easy-clean coating. Round the corner local fighters in the Spanish Civil War are commemorated by a fading plaque.

I’ve missed out a lot but David runs this tour regularly so you can go and see for yourself. My friends and I very much enjoyed the way he mixed historical account, vignette and undogmatic socialist commentary - the characters and their adventures, the connections he made between workers’ solidarity and anti-racism, the oppositions between newcomer and establishment, and the implicit debt of rememberance to those who fought Fascists at Cable Street and in Spain. Particularly impressive was his dignification by the Former Leader of Tower Hamlets Council in a drive-by shout of thanks (unrelated to his tours, but nevertheless).

The walk ended in balmy twilight and on David’s recommendation a good few of us went to eat at Aladin’s on Brick Lane. It was all fun.

You were missed - come with next time

Saturday, October 18, 2008

SERTUC Regional Council – “Nationalise Liabilities, Profits remain Private”

This morning (Saturday) I attended the Trade Union Congress, Southern and Eastern Regional Council (SERTUC) as a UNISON delegate with my fellow Greater London Regional Council Officer, Gill Brown, who is our Equalities convenor.

The TUC is divided into regions and each region will hold quarterly Council meetings of affiliated union and trade council delegates. SERTUC meets every 3 months in Congress House, London. There were 76 delegates present. I will not pretend that this post is a full report on this meeting but I will mention bits and pieces I thought interesting.

The Council President, Martin Gould, in his introductory presentation referred to this anomaly about the current financial crisis, that while we have nationalised the liabilities or risks, the ability to take any profits from this nationalisation remain in private hands? A fair point I think. Martin made a number of other good points although I didn’t agree with everything (of course!). He brought up the fairly widespread view that the current problems had effectively destroyed the “Private Good, Public Bad” argument. We now have people who beforehand continually attacked the “nanny state” now begging and pleading for state aid. He also pointed out that it had been claimed that a public sector pay claim of over 2.5% would be inflationary. However, it appears that pumping £500 billion into the economy is not??? Martin argued that it was time for a “new approach”. To overcome a recession we need to increase demand by increasing pensions and pay. A wealth tax on energy to help pay for the renationalisation of utilities. To address rising unemployment he referred to Lenin’s “what is to be done”, which is the first time in recent times that I have ever heard that “name” mentioned in the hallowed grounds of the TUC!

We also had a minutes silence for 5 comrades who are no longer with us. Including John Onslow, who was Tower Hamlets GMB steward and member of SERTUC executive. John was a trade union and Labour party stalwart. He was old School labour movement from fingers to toes. He lived only 100 yards from where I work and we use to bump into each other from time to time. He is one of the very, very few activists that I have never heard a bad word against. RIP Comrade.

However, Martin came back to earth by saying that if we can’t get socialism during this crisis then we should at least take a step in the right direction and demand “Social Justice”. The creed of Greed, Parasites and the pursuit of profit at all costs has been shown wanting. The trade union movement needs to provide leadership. There can be no partnership with the multinationals. The door is open for change; all we have to do is push it.

The new regional secretary of the PCS (whose name I did not catch – apologies) reported on future strike action over pay. Interestingly he claimed that there were 52 billionaires in the UK and that 32 paid no tax last year. I think he meant income tax? He also spoke about united strike action in the public sector over pay. I’m afraid that I am not holding my breath.

My former Tower Hamlets JCC colleague (with John Onslow), Alex Kenny, from the NUT, spoke about their strike ballot over pay and united strike action. He criticised the supposedly independent teachers pay review board as being under the control of the government and exercising pay restraint.

The SERTUC regional secretary Megan Dobney reported that the new Mayor of London, Boris had agreed to meet SERTUC representatives next year in January, May and September. That should be fun.

Adrian Weir from UNITE reported on the House of Lords reversal of a section of the Employment bill which means that trade unions cannot expel Nazi’s. I will do a separate post on this important topic. All unions should use any influence they have with MP’s to overturn this measure.

Steve Hart, the regional secretary for UNITE gave a presentation on the finance and banking sector (75,000 members) and how they are coping with the financial crisis. Steve is someone you should listen carefully to and take note. He pointed out that UNITE not only have members facing problems in the financial sector but their members in UK car and van factories now face short time working after years of 24/7 shifts and unlimited overtime. Many building sites are now being shut up and moth balled. One good thing from this present crisis is the collapse of the neo-liberal fantasy. It is now important to have Keynesian measures in place. It is a “patriot duty” to increase wages rates to increase demand to prevent recession. He prased the chancellor for bringing forward big public building projects. Protect home owners from eviction by taking over their properties and renting it back. Take over insolvent private sector builders. Tax the rich. “The moment is here”. He finished by reporting back on the London bus dispute for pay parity across the capital which has run into problems with the Royal Court of Justice Judges (tell me about it).

During questions I did my party trick and reminded Council about the role that workers capital can play in preventing the misuse of our money and savings in the future.

Karen Livingstone gave a good presentation on the East of England development agency.

Finally, Chris Green from the White Ribbon campaign to end male violence against women gave a cracking presentation. 89% of domestic violence is by men against women. A woman is seriously injured by a man in this county every 10 seconds. After every football game that the England football team plays there is an increase in violence against women – won or lose. The 25th November is their action day. It is really positive to see men taking responsibilities for their actions. Their aim is to change attitudes, especially amongst young men. Mind you a speaker did point out in this country there were only 300 refuges for women facing domestic violence while there are over 2,000 sanctuaries for animals. Makes you think...

Friday, October 17, 2008

On the "dog and bone" for Labour in Mile End

Of course we will all vote Labour in the election. Tony Blair, when he was Prime minister did wonderful, wonderful things for our country. We will always support the Labour Party”. This is something that Labour Party canvassers don’t hear all that often I suppose.

However, this is what I heard last night from the first person I was able to actually speak to last night during a Labour Party telephone canvass session.

We were phoning electors from the Mile End East ward in our sister CLP (Constituency Labour Party) in Tower Hamlets. There is a Council election on 20th November 2008. Rachel Saunders is the ace Labour Party candidate for the election.

We were physically at the West Ham Labour Party headquarters in Stratford where we have a useful tele-canvass bank. This was set up with the help of our MP Lyn Brown, West Ham CLP and London UNISON Labour Link.

Picture is of West Ham CLP secretary and UNISON Labour Link officer for Walthamstow Local Government, Alan Griffiths, fighting the good fight by asking Mile End electors to support Rachel. Tele-canvassing is not as bad as you might think. In the majority of calls that you manage to speak to someone, there is some sort of positive outcome. I don’t think you can replace "door to door" canvassing (on the knocker) but telephone canvassing is very important if properly done.

The canvass went really well. I will make a very minor admission that the lady I was first able to speak to was Lithuanian and this was the “country” she was referring to when she was talking about the “great things” that Tony Blair had done. I’m not that sure what Tony did to please Lithuanian voters but I am sure it was something very positive.

We will continue with the tele-canvass for the rest of the campaign. If you want to help out check this post.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

VAT Man to the rescue

I subscribe to a free daily e-newsletter from “Housing News” and today (here) I saw a headline “VAT CHANGES THREATENS HOUSING JOBS”. I quickly clicked on the story and come across this complete and utter dross of a story.

The removal of a VAT concession on the wages of temporary housing staff will cost social housing organisations £135m and lead to major job losses at a time when the sector can least afford it, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and Procurement for Housing (PfH) have warned.

The Treasury is due to remove the tax concession granted in 1998 to recruitment agencies supplying temporary workers to the social housing, charity, social care and health sectors.

The measure, which will take effect next April, means that social landlords will pay VAT on full invoice amounts for temps, rather than just agency commission, a tax that many housing organisations can’t reclaim.

In a meeting with HMRC and the Treasury earlier this month, the REC and PfH again called on Government to reconsider removing the tax concession, explaining that the rapidly worsening economic outlook is now really starting to bite in the jobs market with temporary appointments dropping swiftly. PfH surveyed its member housing organisations to measure the impact of imposing VAT on the wages of temporary workers.

Over 80 per cent of respondents confirmed that they could not reclaim the tax on all interim staff as they are not VAT registered. Other social landlords reported that they have subsidiaries with charitable status, meaning they are zero rated for VAT purposes, so some temporary workers are tax-exempt and others are not.

The survey revealed that each housing association and ALMO estimated they would have to pay an additional £108,000 per year, a cost of more than £70m to PfH’s 650 members alone. The REC estimates that the overall cost, across all sectors, will be £400m....

Do I live in a parallel universe from REC/PfC? This long overdue measure will not “threaten” any real Housing jobs. Instead it will help stop the exploitation of agency workers in the Housing and voluntary sector. This will encourage organisations to employ permanent staff and long term temporary staff on proper terms and conditions. It should not cost a bean more; in fact it may well save money since employers will not have to pay massive agency fees.

I am absolutely amazed that I did not know that this pretty disgraceful “concession” was in force in the first place! Why on earth was it ever granted? One thing is clear is that we must all try and do whatever we can to support the phasing out of this "con" next April.

There is an important role for short term agency working due to sickness cover or special “one off” events even though I think many large organisations could run their own “in-house” temporary work banks.

Many agency workers themselves wrongly believe they are “better off” working as temps. When you sit down with them and work things out they realise that this is wrong. A tiny minority of agency staff in high demand jobs may arguably be better off but they are definitely the exception that proves the rule.

Thankfully the Government has recently agreed to partial “parity” for temps in the future. But agency workers will still (probably – the details are still to be decided) lose out with regard to pensions and sick pay.

Exploitation of agency workers, who nearly always get paid less, who have only the statutory minimum sickness, pension and holiday provision and practically no employment protection against bullying and unfair treatment is pure and simple a national disgrace. It is a stain on our society.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

AWL master debaters v CPGB flankers

Mac Uaid describes the comradely and progessive debate on Sunday between the AWL and the CPGB. As advertised on this post! I like the bit about "far left.... freak show".

"Sensible souls made the most of the early autumn sunshine on Sunday. Others went along to an exchange of views between the Alliance For Workers Liberty’s Sean Matgamna and respected anti Zionist Moshé Machover. Here’s a pretty biased account of what happened which goes some way towards explaining why the far left is regarded as a bit of a freak show. A very rigorous interpretation of the comments policy will be enforced for this post.

The “debate”, which lasted the worst part of four hours, was a waste of time. In the course of the evening, Moshé was repeatedly denounced by AWL members for “Stalinism”, “imperialist economism”, “demonising Israel and Zionism”, “being in bed with political antisemitism” , “smirking” and “not knowing the history of the conflict”.. This about a man who was one of the founders of
Matzpen; who was expelled from the Israeli Communist Party in 1961 for criticising the party’s slavish submission to the Soviet line and for demanding internal party democracy; who wrote the classic text The Class Nature of Israeli Society. To describe him as a Stalinist ignorant of the history of the conflict is so grossly offensive an insult that it alone discredits anything else his critics said.

Although the title was “Israel, Iran and the left”, and was sparked by Matgamna’s article effectively calling for an Israeli nuclear strike against Iran, in his opening half-hour speech Matgamna did not even mention the word Iran, instead devoting his time to attacking a pastiche anti-Zionist position which he ascribed to the rest of what he calls the “kitsch left”.
Moshé described this as “Verbiage you would expect to hear from Melanie Phillips, not from a socialist”, while from the floor later Ilana Machover commented that an Israeli would be ashamed to offer such an analysis, and that if they brought a speaker from the Israeli embassy we would have heard the same position presented with greater sophistication.

After the opening speeches, AWL members tried to argue that comments should only be accepted from members of the AWL and the CPGB, since this, they claimed, was a debate between the two groups. They then denounced the CPGB for not debating with them, but rather “hiding behind” Moshé, who of course is not a CPGB member. The AWL’s ridiculous demand was rejected; after this, their members proceeded to heckle and shout down all anti-Zionist speakers, including Moshé. Although some CPGB speakers also heckled, they were on the whole, better behaved. They also, for the most part, discussed the issue; much of the AWL’s contribution consisted of attacks on the CPGB for refusing to debate them, for lying about them, and for threatening to “drive them out of the labour movement”.

The discussion achieved little, since AWL speakers persist in denouncing positions which they would like their opponents to hold, not with what they actually say. As usual in discussions with them, every Jewish speaker presented an anti-Zionist position; which did not stop the AWL from attacking anti-Zionism, and even opposition to two states, as “antisemitic” , since it appears that in their view all Jews do, or should, support Israel. Moshé correctly noted that this was the real antisemitic position.

“Building Stronger Unions – Organising the Future”

I will admit that I am not always over impressed with Labour movement conferences. While they are mostly pretty important, some are worthy but boring, educative but dull and insular.

On the bright side, I normally feel much rejuvenated while I queue up at such events to register alongside other delegates. Looking around me I suddenly feel comparatively younger, slimmer and that my hair isn’t really that grey after all.

This conference was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the TUC Organising Academy as well as debating the development of organising in UK trade unions.

However, yesterday at Congress House, as soon as I walked down the stairs into the lower hall area I could see something was different, as the place was absolutely packed with predominantly young trade union organisers. Maybe with its Organising Academy, the TUC has finally found a solution to the age old argument in trade unions about the role of organising and servicing, and there again maybe they haven’t. But this conference surely pointed a way forward at long last.

As well as being predominately young there were also many women delegates. Not so many black delegates but a great start.

There was definitely a modern US rally “feel” with activist speakers on the main platform telling “my organising story” as well as loud stirring music and on screen video clips.

I’ve taken notes about speakers and hopefully I will post further on what I thought was useful or topical. Below is a short snapshot of stuff I found interesting from some of the main speakers.

TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady – there are 3 million employees in workplaces which are covered by collective agreements who are not trade union members, 2/3 report that they have never been asked to join. Organising makes the difference between “Begging and Bargaining” “Winning or Losing”.

Christine Blower, NUT Acting General Secretary on a very similar theme “United we Bargain, Divided we Beg”.

Jack Dromey, UNITE general Secretary believes in “Strong, self confident, self sustaining workplace power”. With regard to unions fighting each other over recruitment he did not want UNITE to “Out UNISON, UNISON in care homes” (interesting). In relationships with employers he wanted unions to be “Partners not Pussycats”.

More to follow about this conference in future posts.

An excellent conference. It has given me a number of good ideas about organising within my employer. Let’s get busy, lets organise!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Assemby Life Under Boris

Below is the latest Consistency report from Labour London Assemby member, John Biggs - on City Hall summer chaos; the sacking of Met Police chief Sir Ian Blair; Crossrail and various other London bits and pieces.

It has been an eventful summer at City Hall, with chaos in Boris Johnson’s administration, and a sense of drift only slowly lifting as the Autumn has approached. To the wider world this largely sat hidden, as his political honeymoon continued. Inside City Hall, the politics were somewhat surreal with confusion about who was in charge and where we were going. All of this has of course happened as a mere sideshow to the emerging financial crises. Is Boris in the waiting room for greater things or a true servant of London? And are the two linked? Meanwhile, Labour and other opposition members are slowly finding a target on which to focus.

Who is in charge?

In my last report, I explained how Boris was building a team with grand job titles, and a multiplicity of Deputy Mayors. He was basing his leadership on widespread delegation of his powers, a bit like an emperor presiding over a disparate empire. He had already lost one deputy Mayor (Ray Lewis) and an adviser (James McGrath). Vultures were circling over Sir Simon Milton, torn between his role as a Mayoral adviser and his job as leader of Westminster Council and Chairman of the Local Government Association- arguably the law stopped him from working for one authority while leading another. Tim Parker, a wealthy businessman, was the ‘First Deputy Mayor’, and Chair of TfL, and very much in charge, and busy writing the blueprint for the next four years. This would be partly guided by the Wheatcroft Report, a ‘Forensic Audit’ panel of Tories appointed to dig into the LDA and find smoking guns, which was about to be published and which would both uncover the dreadfulness of Ken’s reign and shine a light into the future……

Things have changed quite a lot since then.

First, the Wheatcroft Report proved to be a disappointment. It found no scandals and made a number of rather general proposals about structures, savings and priorities that have since been largely ignored. Boris quickly moved to claim that it was only an advisory piece of work from which he would pick recommendations as he saw fit. More accurately, his new team of advisers were hardly likely to have their freedom constrained by a bunch of outsiders on the basis of a quick and superficial report.

Second, the long-awaited ‘100 day review’ never really happened. This was promised in his manifesto. Sometimes Boris claimed it was the Wheatcroft Report, in which case his disavowal of it rather negated its purpose. Other times he said it was Tim Parker’s blueprint, or ‘Direction of Travel’ document, due initially in mid-July but then promised in mid-August. Assuming this was the case, mid-August came and went and nothing appeared until it was announced that Mr Parker had resigned as ‘First Deputy Mayor’ (although he stays on the TfL board). Formally, he had left because the Mayor had decided after all that he wanted to chair TfL and this left Tim without enough to do. Privately, we all know that there had been a falling out in the Mayor’s office and Tim had to go. The other Mayoral advisers were impatient with his style and alarmed that a man who was good at re-engineering private companies (that’s how he made his fortune in private equity) knew nothing about how public services work. In parallel with Tim Parker’s departure, Simon Milton finally resolved his conflicts by agreeing to stand down from his local government roles to concentrate full-time on City Hall. He has now effectively become the new First Deputy Mayor, although, the Mayor realising that titles don’t actually get the job done, and reflecting his new and more hands on style, the title has been abandoned and he is a mere Deputy Mayor, like all the other ones.

This is all a bit technical but in essence what has happened is that Boris Johnson has realised that he has to offer greater leadership. So he has taken the Chair of TfL, taken back his responsibility for planning decisions, and surrounded himself with a team who appear to be able to work together and to have a better idea of how things work. I predict that one or two further advisers will go soon but that we will now enter a period in which the political desires of the new administration will become clearer.

Emerging changes to Style of leadership
The Mayor is now Chair of TfL, of the London Waste & Recycling Board and of the Police Authority. He has reversed his delegation of planning decisions so now makes these himself. He has in other words moved from a very laid back to a more hands on administration. He has also built a team with strong experience of London politics, and largely rejected the Central Office Tories initially placed in his office. He is also asserting a more clearly London-focussed approach and beginning to use City Hall as a platform for his promotion around London issues. I think he has found it quite a revelation moving into London politics, and will find that his natural fairly right-wing instincts need to be modified for the heaving multicultural city. Leaving aside ideological differences we may have, this is a welcome development. London will change him.

Emerging Themes
Boris has continued to make fairly minor but eye-catching announcements, such as to fund street trees, abolish the Londoner newspaper and Venezuelan oil deal, and extend free travel to injured war veterans. He has begun to make more far-reaching announcements, for example issuing budget guidance, the key element of which is a freeze on the GLA Council Tax precept.

At the recent Tory Party conference he made a number of other announcements, in particular to fund 10 City Academy schools in London. As the budgets of the different parts of the GLA emerge in the next couple of months, and as their boards begin to assert themselves, we will begin to see other clear policy departures from the previous Mayor. For instance, we expect a number of transport schemes, such as the Cross River tram, to be axed. We will also, I think, begin to see pressure on police numbers – since extra police were funded through the Council Tax, a freeze on Council Tax at a time of economic pressure is not sustainable without, in the end, cuts in services.

Strangely, however, for a Mayor trying to give a ‘low tax’ signal, he has just increased fares by above the rate of inflation. A slightly confusing signal.

There are a whole number of other emerging issues. These include his adoption of an increased Living wage, announcement of a restructuring at City Hall (although less far-reaching than the headlines suggest), and a continued emphasis on a less interventionist relationship with Boroughs. At the same time evidence mounts that in a number of areas this is unsustainable. For example, a growing tension over affordable housing – how will he meet his manifesto target of 50,000 homes in 3 years while letting boroughs determine their own targets? There is also the question of what he actually means by affordable housing, with evidence that this is more about home ownership than renting, and the effect this will have on supply and on waiting lists. There's also an inevitability that he will want to spend more in the suburbs and West End and less in the poorer parts of London. And of course a new emphasis (this is Tory Party policy but has arguably not been very well thought through) on involving the not-for-profit sector in providing services. It will be an interesting time.

Ian Blair
Having assumed the Chair of the Police Authority on Wednesday 1st October, the date when new statutory powers allowing this to happen came into force (and prior to which Labour’s Len Duvall was the Chair) the Mayor almost immediately proceeded to ‘sack’ the Commissioner, Ian Blair. Strictly it wasn’t a dismissal, because he has no power to do that and the Commissioner could have put up a fight, but it was a forceful assertion of his new power. Crime and community safety was the most important issue in his campaign and now he must deliver on it. Interestingly, the assertion of personal power is a two-edged sword, and it could hurt him because, regardless of the constitutional details, he is now absolutely clearly identified as the person responsible for delivering a safer London. It will be fascinating to observe progress in this area.

For the record, my view is that it is unlikely that Ian Blair would have lasted a long time with Boris or (although he was particularly hated by the Tories) quite likely under any Chair. He had, in spite of much good work, become a controversial figure because of his outspokenness and other events, particularly, but not only, the de Menezes shooting. I think London’s policing is better for his time here, although it may take a while before this is recognised across London.

Other emerging issues

It appears that the new administration is no less determined to build Crossrail than the old one, which is welcome. However, there is a far greater anxiety (and economic developments help to fuel this) about the pressures on funding this and as a result I expect a number of other ‘pipeline’ transport investments to be pushed back or dropped. This will become clearer in the next three or so months.

PPP: Metronet & Tubelines
The two PPP contracts to fix the tube are about to enter their 7½ year reviews. This is provided for in the contract but the bottom line is that it means they will cost at least £1.5billion more each than budgeted over the next 7½ year period of the 30 year contracts. The Government says there is no more money (would they have said the same to Ken? – probably?).

One contract, Metronet, which fixes the subsurface and three of the deep tube lines, has of course gone bust and been transferred to TfL, who have as a result far greater scope to reduce the amount of work being carried out (although not massively so, as otherwise the purpose of the PPPs, to put the tube in good order, will be defeated). There will be inevitably a reduction in station works. In the case of Tubelines, which fixes the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines, there will be negotiations and maybe some changes to make the contracts more affordable. Whatever happens, however, there will be tough spending decisions in order to fund the tube repairs.

Local issues:-

City Airport
London City Airport has just been given permission for roughly a 50% increase in flights. The Mayor has no veto over this but did indicate that he felt this took flight numbers towards the limit and that a proposed second increase of about 50% would be excessive. This may become an issue, although current economic developments suggest this will be less urgent than it might have been.

Blackwall Tunnel/Thames Gateway Bridge
The Mayor continues to grapple with his proposal to re-introduce peak-time contraflow into the Blackwall Tunnels. My hunch is that he will in the end decide that he cannot, for safety reasons, but I may be wrong. One of the reasons he wanted to do this was as a part of his opposition to the Thames Gateway Bridge, with his manifesto hinting that he might well scrap the plans. There has been intense lobbying, and as a result we think a decision on whether to go ahead with the promotion of the bridge, or to scrap it, will be announced in the next few weeks. I believe that there is a chance that, with a sufficient clutch of fig leaves, he may reverse his decision and proceed. Let us see…..

Other Local Issues
Our new Mayor dominates in this report. A supplementary report contains a more detailed account on a range of constituency issues that I have been involved in since my last report. In summary, this includes grappling with the inconvenience caused by Bank/Monument Station repairs and partial closures, whether Tower Gateway DLR Station might re-open sooner, East London Line replacement services (we managed to get a service re-routed, making big journey time savings), DLR replacement bus services, the DLR extension to Dagenham Dock (will it now happen?). Bus matters include the S2, 488 and D3 services in Tower Hamlets, 101and 474 in Newham and other local routes in Barking & Dagenham. I have continued to work with the Bethnal Green Memorial campaign, and on Barking-Gospel Oak matters. I have been meeting with a number of faith and community groups in Barking and Dagenham. I have also been talking to some residents about a London-wide approach to licensing entertainment venues.

John Biggs AM, Member for City & East London City Hall The Queens Walk SE1 2AA Email: johndotbiggsatlondondotgovdotuk 020 7983 4350/6(w), 07974 918322(m)

Blog lost in Lambeth - Please return, no questions asked

I have been contacted by worried Comrades about the fate of my 2nd favourite UNISON Local Government Branch who appear to have lost their blog!

Click on the link and this message comes up (left).

Starting the day without checking the pearls of wisdom on Lambeth UNISON blog is of course unthinkable! Is there anything I can do to help?

Anyone know what’s going on? Has the dastardly MI5, who are based just across the river, been up to their usual dirty tricks by trying to thwart the Branch Revolutionary cadre from using the current crisis in capitalism to achieve their historic mission?

I think we should be told!

We are the Masters Now

Okay, slight exaggeration. Neither did Gordon Brown “Save the World”, but now that the dust is settling on yesterday’s part Nationalisation of the Banks – the “commanding heights of the economy” (or Reverse Clause 4 Moment as Tom P puts it so aptly) we can see that there has been a massive failure of capitalism.

Don’t get out the barricades yet comrades, as I am certain that the economy will recover – it always does. Spectacular collapses in markets is after all the nature of the beast. Whether it’s Tulips, South Sea shares or toxic sub-prime mortgages, its meat and drink to capitalism. Of course who knows in Politics, maybe something else is happening, I doubt it, but this is one of the reasons why it can be exhilarating at times.

But I think that the pendulum has shifted. The relatively unfettered and deregulated “anything goes” free market capitalism has had its day! What we need to do is examine what went wrong, why it went wrong and would needs to be put in place to try and stop it happening again. In the long run this is probably a worthy aspiration rather than an achievable goal. But the scale of the current disaster was not inevitable.

My thoughts for what it’s worth are that we’re all at fault. To a lesser or much greater degree. Small savers in this country via their pensions and insurance policies own a majority of shares in this country. However, despite being owners we allowed incompetent executives to be appointed to run our major financial institutions into the ground. Huge bonuses were paid in return for short term gain regardless of long term sustainability. Hugely complex financial products which practically no-one understood were developed and bought by managers on our behalf without any awareness of the risk. This is what happens when our fund managers act as traders not investors.

Regulators allowed credit agencies to give companies AAA scores even though they were being paid by those companies to do so. Government’s of all political persuasions allowed a flawed economic and regulatory framework.

Now the ideological model has crashed we can pull away from Reaganomics and Thatcher's "big bang" to re-establish meaningful checks and balances. Let the pendulum swing back. Workers capital can play its role. We must change the governance arrangements of the companies that we own to make sure that the interests of its real owners is pursued. No longer should our capital be used as vehicles for speculators to risk our money to make them massive bonuses.

Gordon may have not saved the world, but well done. I think that the way the government has decisively responded may well help save its bacon at the next election. Cameron and his team have appeared to have no substance to them and their deregulatory free market credibility is in pieces.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Rachel Saunders selected for Mile End East

A Good news story: Rachel was selected yesterday as the Labour Party candidate in the Mile End East Council by-election. She works for UNISON as a national Equalities officers and is very hard working and dedicated local Party activist.

She will make an excellent Councillor. Seen left with Cllr Motin Uz-Zaman. By co-incidence I was in the same canvass team as Rachel in Mile End last month (see here).

This is from the Tower Hamlets Labour Party Web site

"The by-election was called after Labour Councillor Rupert Bawden resigned due to health reasons.

Speaking after her selection as the candidate, Rachael Saunders said: “I am honoured to be chosen to represent the Labour Party in the forthcoming by-election. Rupert was a first class councillor and will be a tough act to follow.”

She added: “There are some serious issues facing the residents of Mile End East. Crime and anti-social behaviour is an issue across the ward, there are areas where parking needs be sorted out, and residents on the British Street Estate have talked to me at length about some of the issues they have with the contractors carrying out the refurbishment of the estate. Residents need and deserve a committed councillor to work with them to tackle these issues.”

Rachael said: “There is clear blue water between the Conservative vision for Tower Hamlets, and what residents and Labour want. The Conservative Mayor for London is proposing to close Limehouse Police station; I will lead the fight against this Tory cut. Across London, Conservative Councillors are slashing grants for voluntary organisations; I will oppose this. Conservative councils charge for the telecare alarm service for pensioners; I strongly support the Labour council’s recent decision to provide this service free of charge.”

Printed by Tower Hamlets Labour Party. Promoted by Graham Taylor on behalf of Rachael Saunders, All at 349 Cambridge Heath Road, London, E2 9RA.

If you can help out there are canvass teams out every week day evening - 6pm meet outside Mile End tube. Also there will be weekend canvassing. Call at the Labour Party campaign HQ at 349 Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9RA or Call 020 7729 6682 if you can help at other times.

National Personal Safety Day - Monday Oct 13

Today is "National Personal Safety Day. Sponsored by the "Suzy Lamplugh Trust".

Check out their website .

How about asking your employer today for a copy of your risk assessment regarding safety? Or thinking whether your way into work is safe during the winter months?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bartering Blogging

The other day I got this offer via email offering to place a link for John’s Labour blog on in exchange for me placing a link for this site on my blog.

From: David Webb
Sent: Monday, October 06, 2008 6:08 AM
Subject: Link Exchange

I saw your website and have a simple proposal for link exchange. Your link will be placed on a related pr4 page inside our links section. Our homepage is currently pr5 (expected to be pr6). The site has huge traffic with an average of 240,000 unique visitors per month.
My link details are: Url: Title: free live footy Description: Tune in to watch live football online on your pc with instant access payments.

Should you decide to place our link, please reply to this email id with your own link details. We will add your link within 48 hours of receiving your email, exempting weekends.
I await your favorable response.


Now, I don’t take adverts (see “Buy a Blogger”) but I am curious about how this works. I emailed the site to see if they would mind if I blogged on this issue. I got this reply back.

Hi John,
Thanks for the email.Yeah your proposal would be great. Let me know when you make the post so I can have a read.

Is such “bartering” a way forward for blogs or is such requests just unwanted “spam”.

Of course the fact that I wouldn’t watch football even if it was free...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Celebration of the 1888 "Matchgirls" Strike

Next Saturday 18 October 2008 the GLATUC are holding an event at Congress House to mark the 120th anniversary of the 1888 Bryant & May “Matchgirls” Strike.

“In July 1888 1400 women and girls walked out on strike at the Bryant & May factory in Bow, East London. The demands of these female workers included the reinstatement of a fellow worker, higher wages, a proper dining room and the freedom to form a trade union...the strikers marched to the House of Parliament where they met MPs; they gained support for their grievances. Public pressure and the falling price of Bryant & May’s shares encouraged this bullying employer to meet the women’s demand in full....The strike gave a massive boost to trade unions organising in London and across the country” (pdf flyer).

I have posted on the strike briefly before - here and here. I work very close to the old factory where the strike took place and walk or drive past it most days (Fairfield Road). The factory itself was rebuilt in 1911 and is now converted into expensive private flats (a so-called gated community). This is a shame but it is still quite an inspiring historical monument to the birth of trade unionism and also the suffragette movement.

Diary of a Wartime Artist & Sniper

Amazing story of First World War War Artist and sniper, Len Smith.

The Guardian "By day, Len "Smithie" Smith was to be found hunkered down in a shell hole in no man's land with his trusty pad and pencil. Or perhaps poking his head out of a British trench, risking a bullet from a German sniper to make a quick sketch. Later, in a candlelit cellar, he would painstakingly produce detailed images that were designed to help the top brass plan their war strategy, but would not have looked out of place as works of art on a general's drawing room wall.

The remarkable story of Smithie, who drew and fought in northern France in the first world war, is being told for the first time after his diary, complete with hundreds of vivid illustrations, was published yesterday.

Smith's journal recalls daring missions, such as when he produced a detailed sketch of an oak tree just six metres from enemy lines so engineers could produce an exact copy - with a built-in observation post - that was swapped for the real thing.

But it also describes more ordinary but moving tasks he was commissioned to undertake, including painting the names of fallen comrades on simple wooden crosses or scrubbing out German street names in northern France and replacing them with the French originals. The most remarkable aspect is that even in the heat of battle he produced work that was not merely functional but beautiful.

Before the war, Smith, from Walthamstow in east London, had a fledgling career as a commercial artist and enjoyed some success designing a poster advertising Crosse and Blackwell jam. At the age of 22 he enlisted as an infantryman. He hid his notebook and pencils in his leggings and kept an illustrated diary.

Smith started off sketching his friends. He drew his pal Sam reading the letter informing him his son had been born. He sketched caricatures of friends after the regimental barber had shorn their hair. And he made less sympathetic drawings of those he did not take to - such as an officer nicknamed "Murphy the Menace".

Smith also produced images of British and German equipment. On one page a rudimentary British grenade - explosive packed into an old jam tin - is juxtaposed with the much more professional German equivalent.
He lovingly drew pictures of steaming pots of Irish stew, baguettes strapped to a backpack, a friendly black pig he came across. Smith also records an extraordinary episode when British and German soldiers organised an unofficial truce. They exchanged gifts and had a snowball fight - until one "bright villain" thought to hide a bomb in a snowball.

Calmly and accurately, Smith wrote of the horror of war. Of one bombardment he wrote: "The sky seems a mass of flames - the air is drenched with fumes and smoke and all is chaos." But even these pages are lovely to look at, shot through with images of fire and explosions. On another page a missile whizzing through the night sky looks more like a shooting star, and to his artist's eye even mortars were "huge toffee apples sailing out rather slowly".

Smith's skill with the rifle and the pencil were noticed after a year and he was made a sniper and an observer. Delighted at no longer having to hide his pencils and paper, Smith spent whole days hidden away in no man's land making sketches and taking notes until the evening mist fell and he could crawl back home.

In 1916 Smith was ordered to make a detailed sketch of the German lines at Vimy ridge in northern France. Despite constant shelling from the Germans he produced a two-metre-long image of the enemy's position.

"I had to scramble all over the shop making rough pencil notes," he wrote. "Real risky work." The brigadier-general was clearly impressed with the work's artistic merits as well as the strategic benefit. Smith recalls that he declared it "very cleverly executed ... but above all infinitely useful".

After a bout of trench fever Smith was transferred to the special branch works park, where his talents were used to help camouflage troops and equipment.

One job was to camouflage guns. He would draw patterns on them and, just like a child's paint-by-numbers kit, mark the different areas with a figure corresponding to a colour so the gunners could finish the job off themselves.

But his most startling job involved sketching an oak tree stump that stood within the barbed wire six metres from German trenches. Engineers then produced a copy of the tree in iron and steel, complete with ladder running up through the hollow centre. "Scene shifters" removed the real tree and replaced it with the fake one by night, "praying that Jerry will not tumble the game". They didn't and, amazingly, a man was able to scramble through tunnels to the tree and observe what the enemy was up to.

War ended, and Smith's final sketch is of a one-way ticket back home that reads: "Blighty route. Single to England-home-beauty."
After he returned, Smith had a successful career as a commercial artist. He never spoke about the war but tried unsuccessfully to get his diary published. He died in December 1974 at Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, at the age of 83, believing his diary would languish for ever in a cupboard.

But his great-nephew, Dave Mason, has finally published it by putting the collection online at

Thursday, October 09, 2008

End of lifelong tenancies?

Social housing tenants to face eviction if they get a well paid job or their children leave home? This is pretty revolutionary for the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIOH) although not wholly unexpected.

Inside Housing web site (see here) reports that an institute paper has been published which calls for all new social housing tenancies to be “regularly reviewed” on need. This apparently includes even vulnerable and elderly tenants.

If a tenant no longer “needs” social housing then the logical conclusion of this review is that they should face eviction. Traditionally assured or secure tenants have enjoyed life long tenancies provided that they pay their rent and keep to their tenancy conditions.

Ending this "Right" will (and has – look at the comments on the web site) quite rightly caused an enormous row.

This proposal is also just bonkers. A madness no doubt born out of desperation by housing providers about meeting demand for homes for desperate families. However, in the future will I have to stand bye while bailiffs bash in doors of elderly tenants whose kids have left home, because they are deemed to be “under occupying” bedrooms?

Will this encourage the long term unemployed to enter training courses and learn new skills if they fear that the end result will be a Certificate together with an eviction warrant from the County Court?

Do we really, really want social housing estates to be only populated with young unemployed or disabled families with no-one in work nor any Grannies, Grand-dads or grown up sons and daughters living in the locality?

Is this future a recipe for disaster or what? Why is it completely normal in most European countries to rent secure high quality homes from public or private providers regardless of whether you pay your rent with the help of benefits or not?

There is plenty that could be done to reduce under occupation of family sized homes that is just not done. We still don’t have a workable national mutual exchange scheme, the payments and encouragement for elderly tenants to move to smaller dwellings is woefully inadequate. Successful communities are mixed tenured communities, socially and economically. We should not ghettoise our so-called “Undeserving Poor”.

This idea needs to be knocked on the head.

It is as daft as when I first got really involved in housing issues when I lived in Edinburgh in the 1980’s. I remember being at a meeting of a housing campaign group when the Labour Party Convenor of the City Council Housing committee came late into the meeting really excited and pleased. She proudly announced to the meeting that for the first time in the Council’s history as a landlord the previous year they had evicted NO tenants – this was as a matter of Council policy.

Now as a local Welfare Rights advisor at the time, I was very pleased that the Council was not “eviction happy” however, I knew that the Convenor was aware of some pretty bloody awful “problem tenants” that were causing an absolute misery to their estates, who frankly should have been evicted. Believe me comrades, despite the insistence of the Daily Hate, anti-social behaviour is not a modern phenomenon.

We’ve now gone full circle. Enough is enough. Time to pull back and realise that the “talibanisation” of the housing profession has just got to stop.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Call to Arms in Mile End (2008)

Today I received an email from my CLP secretary (a good UNISON member) about a future by-election in the Mile End East ward of Tower Hamlets, East London.

The Labour Councillor, Rupert Bawden had resigned for health reasons. So there will be a by-election in early November. The local ward will pick a candidate on Sunday.

Tonight at the West Ham EC we discussed what help we can offer our sister borough in “fighting the good fight”.

If you can help out call 020 7729 6682.

This should be a safe-ish Labour seat but with the ‘orrible George Galloway sniffing about, no-one should take anything for granted. A Respect Councillor was elected last time due to community links. This Councillor famously jumped ship from Respect to the Conservatives early this year. In the process ripping up his membership card of the SWP! The other two ward members elected were Labour.

I checked out the local newspaper ,The East End Advertiser and found out they were running by coincidence a feature (see here) on the “SIEGE OF SIDNEY ST—AMAZING STREET BATTLE IN MILE END”.

Now I think that the Mile End East campaign will not end up with a gun fight between foreign anarchists and the Irish Guards - see photo. (would the present day Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, borrow a rifle from one of the Guardsman to take pot shots at the SWP – whoops, I mean anarchists, like Churchill did in 1911? Who in return had a bullet go through his top hat – Churchill is highlighted in photo). Anyway the ward boundaries are nowadays different.

The 2008 Mile End East campaign will still be tough, as all Tower Hamlets elections are (and should be so)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

World Day for Decent Work: Think Global Act Union

Today is the World Day for Decent Work (WDDW) which is a new designated international trade union campaigning “Day” to promote the concept of decent work.

I went to a series of workshops at the TUC, Congress House. There were events in over 100 countries today.

At Congress house we had international trade union representatives from all over the world, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber (speech here); TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O'Grady (speech); TUC General Councillor Paul Talbot (and Unite Assistant General Secretary) (speech) and many others.

There were loads of NGO’s speakers and stalls as well.

This is what the WDDW website had to say about the day:-
As every person should be able to have a job that enables them to live a good life in which their basic needs are met, decent work is the focus for World day for decent Work (WDDW). This is an opportunity for trade unions and organisations to join a broad global mobilisation involving a large number of people and a wide range of activities. The activities can be connected with three major themes: Rights at work, a theme dealing with the rights of working women and men; Solidarity, a theme focused on practical action involving cooperation between affiliates on a bilateral or multilateral basis; and Ending Poverty and Inequality, a theme emanating from the new globalisation”.

I have made some notes and will try and post later on about the workshops I attended. Some very good stuff.

I also met for the first time face to face (as opposed to virtual) top “UK Labor geek” TIGMOO and Johninnit blogger John W, who was rushing around organising a WDDW event on “Second Life”.

I’ve stolen the slogan (and main picture above) “Think Global Act Union” from the “Professionals Union” Prospect. Sue Ferns (head of research) used it at the “Decent Work and Human Rights” workshop. There were jokes made by other panel members that they will also “appropriate” this slogan since it is so absolutely encapsulates the spirit of international trade unionism.

After all if property is theft.....

Don’t let this be the end of Tribune

A message to readers from the editor - There is a crucial meeting today with the trade union owners of Tribune - fingers crossed.

AS SOME readers may have seen or heard, Tribune is in trouble. After more than 70 years as a voice for independent social democratic thinking, Tribune is in imminent danger of becoming silent. Next week, the magazine’s trade union owners will be faced with a decision that could cease publication within weeks.

Yet the current political situation – not to mention the domination of the British media by right wing proprietors – absolutely demands the continued existence of Tribune. With neo-liberalism in crisis, the Thatcher-Reagan consensus about the triumph of markets and the minimal role for the state is now at an end.

Governments are now intervening decisively in the economy. But what is needed is a narrative which explains to people just how this situation has arisen and which provides an analysis for Labour activists of the current situation. Equally, tens of thousands of trade unionists need a campaigning newspaper to press the Government to protect the interests of working people as the current economic crisis rolls out.

All of these tasks will be made so much harder if Tribune ceases to exist.

Readers who have remained loyal for many years, as well as the increasing numbers of new subscribers and those who have returned to the fold deserve an explanation of how we reached this point. That is what I seek to do here in as fair and factual a way as possible.

The present phase of Tribune’s often-parlous history began with a rescue plan which resulted in a consortium of trade unions – Unison, Amicus, Community, ASLEF and the CWU taking ownership in January 2004. The T&G joined the board later.

In the past three years under the present internal management, Tribune has been transformed from a terminal decline, with rising costs and falling circulation, into a position of rising circulation, reduced running costs and a significantly reduced monthly loss. We are not yet in the position we aspire to, but we have achieved a better product with greater relevance to the labour movement and beyond. It has done so thanks to the goodwill and dedication of its staff. Since its heyday, Tribune has never been in a better position to build on its potential and move toward a financially stable future and a bigger audience engaged in the debate which Tribune is uniquely placed to lead. Achieving a breakthrough required investment, to ensure sustained growth and development and allay the ongoing burden of historic debt.

To that end I called on the board last March to decide whether Tribune should survive as a commercial enterprise, which would entail investment obligations, or should be closed, if that were the board’s wish, in as orderly manner as possible. The hope was to obtain agreement for the necessary funding. But if that were not an option, then a clear decision should be made on closure to avoid running the magazine into the ground and an enforced closure by debtors. The second option was tabled precisely to avoid the crisis in which Tribune now finds itself and to give it time to find a new owner if the unions were no longer committed. The board decided that closure was not an option and that a plan should be drawn up by the internal management based on investment in a promotions campaign to increase subscriptions, widen use of the Internet site and broaden Tribune activities. Unfortunately, no decision has been made to date and in the interim debts have mounted.

The last decision of the board – at a meeting which took place at the TUC in Brighton – was to refer the issue, with a request for help, to the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation, the umbrella and funding organisation for Labour supporting unions. It agreed to grant a small amount of short-term financing, for which we are grateful, and for a longer-term solution to be examined in time for a meeting in November. However, it is unlikely that Tribune will survive into November without support from its owners, the trades unions. So the next meeting of the board on October 7 must decide its fate.

It will cost up to £170,000 to close Tribune. It currently costs £50,000 to run it for a year with no promotions budget. The Business Plan called for £200,000 over two years with a break-even target and increased growth beyond. This is a small investment when the present and future roles of Tribune are examined.

While Tribune is justly proud to look back on its past – founded by Nye Bevan as a unifying force against the march of fascism in Spain, early opposition to the appeasement of Hitler, a rock in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the championing of freedom and trade union rights in eastern Europe, its literary and editorial brilliance under editors such as George Orwell and Michael Foot – we can be proud too not only of our unique place in British journalism and the labour movement but also, and even more importantly, about its future potential.

But we do not rest our case on our past. International capitalism is once more in crisis. Socialists know from our history that whenever this occurs, the masters of our globalised world unleash attacks on public services, on levels of employment and on the standards of living of ordinary people. The country, and above all working people who are represented by our owners the trades unions, absolutely need a sane voice on the left speaking out fearlessly in the coming struggles. In its name and what it stands for, in its intellectual property and archive material, its capacity to expand nationally and globally in the online world, Tribune should be considered as an exciting vehicle for promoting and championing issues on the left and those affecting not just the labour movement but reaching out to those fragmented groups and individuals who share a left perspective and concerns but are outside organised parties.

Tribune has huge potential to grow in stature, influence and importance by linking debate, experiences and analysis instantly and globally among democratic socialists, trade unionists and single-issue groups and individuals engaged in political, economic or industrial struggle and human rights.

Tribune remains the most ardent independent supportive voice for the labour movement in Britain and stands for its founding internationalist principles. The political cost of losing Tribune, for want of a comparatively small investment, would be incalculable. This is no time to lose it.

Chris McLaughlin

hat-tip thingy Col.Roi

Monday, October 06, 2008

“World Capitalism in Crisis!”

" So lets hold a debate about something else"

Resolutions not Revolution?

Hat-tip thingy to Comrade Mercader

Myners to sort out City Fat Cats?

I found the appointment of Paul Myners to become Minister for the City and to serve as an advisor on the New Economic Council particularly interesting. Tom P saysgreat news I reckon – he knows what he’s talking about and isn’t afraid to be radical”

The Times calls the Chair of the Guardian Media Group, Land Securities, Chair of the Low Pay commission and ex-Chair of Marks and Spencer’s a “respected figure in the City”. While The Telegraph has called him “controversial which I think is nearer to the mark.

Many on the left will be most upset that he was a director of a hedge fund that made money out of the collapse of Bradford & Bingley. He also gave £12,700 to Gordon Brown’s leadership campaign.

However, there is more to him for those who want meaningful change in our financial systems that may at first appear. He is not at all easy to pigeon hole.

I first came across Paul many years ago when he was a senior fund manager with Gartmore investments. I was a relatively new trade union rep on my pension fund investment committee. The fund had decided to sack Gartmore for poor short term performance. Paul came to a meeting and gave a typically impassioned presentation to our committee about why we should not dismiss Gartmore due to its recent performance and that things will improve in the long term. The Chair of our investment committee however, had already decided Gartmore had to go...... and I went along with things. I don’t think that the replacement fund manager did that much better and has since been replaced anyway, but such is life. It did seem strange to me at the time (and since) that long term investors (pension funds) paid so much attention to short term performance.

I’ve heard Paul speak at a number of events since and he has always shown an edge as a City outsider with an appetite for controversy. Of course he is probably best well known for the Myners report on investment principals.

While I loved his appearance on BBC Question time last year where he saidThe 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.”

At the RSA early this year I heard Paul declare that he spoke “ as a trade unionist” and “someone who wouldn’t join the Labour Party because it is not sufficiently left wing for my taste” but who urged that stamp duty on shares ought to be increased to 5% in order to encourage long term ownership (not short term trading). I assume he is now a member of the Party.

He also advised the unions to concentrate their campaigning on the disparity in Executive pay “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”. His distaste was clear.

Today we learnt that the former head of failed Bank Lehman Brothers, Richard Fuld, (see picture above right) “earned” $300 million in the last 8 years.

So once the present crisis is over (which eventually it will be) shall the new City Minister take steps to tackle the abuse of executive pay and short termism – and help prevent the next “Great crisis”? We’re wait and see, but I feel that if anyone can have a go .....