Thursday, December 30, 2010

John-Boy's Labor blog

I've been having some further fun with the "blogger" Stat counter.    In October I posted on "Giovanni's Lavoro blog" and puzzled over the large number of hits on this blog apparently from Italy. 

During the last week or so as you can see (right screenprint) most of the hits have been coming from America.  1,966 compared with 868 from the UK.  I can't think of any obvious reason for this.  In fact most of my recent hits seem to be about the UNISON Labour Link Link Forum 2009 (see below screen print).  Which was very good event but I thought it's appeal to most American's would be somewhat limited. 

We had a very good delegation meal in a Turkish restaurant; I spoke in a Forum debate on defending Public Sector pensions; Ed Miliband spoke well, so did our General Secretary Dave Prentis and Harriot Harman MP gave a good speech...but?

Any of my cousins from across the pond care to enlighten me on the reasons for the apparent interest?  Or is there any other reason?

I'm curious about the 141 Slovenia hits as well.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Labour Link with Unions?

I'm not really sure what to make of the story in today's Independent about Ed Miliband supposedly severing "big money" ties with affiliated trade unions.  It is all pretty unclear and confusing.  This is after all the winter silly season. 

The idea of having a 4th estate of Labour "supporters" (define?) to vote in leadership elections seems particularly daft and impractical. 

The state of the Party finances means it is hardly in a position to contemplate getting rid of any financial sources never mind trying to pass controversial rule changes at Conference. 

I'm not at all sure what impact this would have on an affiliated union such as UNISON which has its own separate political fund called (hint, hint) "UNISON Labour Link" paid for by voluntary levy payments by individual members of much, much less than £500 per year.  In fact I think changes could indeed strengthen the link between the Party and its unions. 

I do like this great quote (para 354) by former Labour Party General Secretary Peter Watt “...I think the relationship between the party and trade unions, people misconstrue it, it is not a relationship we have with them, they are of the Labour Party, they formed us, they are members of. People talk about the trade unions and the Labour Party, we are the same institution in terms of the Labour Party, they are fundamentally in our DNA from top to bottom, and that cannot and will not change, and the party gains huge political strength from that and I think could gain more".

Hat tip UNISONactive

Monday, December 27, 2010

Telling Cameron No - to Postal Service Privatisation

The CWU are organising a rally and demo in Witney, Oxfordshire on January 9th.  Witney is the Constituency seat of Mr Cameron!

I would suspect that the privatisation of Posties is a live political issue in such a predominantly rural and agricultural area.  I'm pretty sure the Post Office does not make any money here from running an universal service.

Interesting to see how they get on.

See source of Cameron's picture and a previous reference to Whitney here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Newport and Debden Boxing Day Walk 2010

Another great country walk.  The snow, ice and light was fantastic.  Only 6.5 miles but absolutely gorgeous from beginning to end. 40 minutes away by car from Newham.  It is even relatively hilly - for Essex.   Only fell over (spectacularly of course) once due to ice.  Lots of crunchy snow for most of the route.  Check out Pathfinder Essex Guide (Walk 20).  The last time we did this walk was only 2 days after the 2005 7/7 London bombings.  I wrote at the time "lovely to get out to beautiful, peaceful countryside".   Posted other photos of walk on Facebook.

Flyer for March in March

Some top arguments that we must never forget and never stop putting forward.  "Investment in growth creates jobs; reducing benefits spending and increasing taxation income"

"The public sector deficit has been higher than today for most of our lives including in 1948 when we
built the NHS"

"Government plans make the poorest and most vulnerable pay...children didn’t cause the global banking crisis: bankers’ greed did"

"We will spiral into economic disaster with millions out of work... like Ireland is doing".

Hat-tip SERTUC.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Epping Forest Crimbo Walk 2010

Superb Christmas day walk around Epping Forest.  Started off at the Warren Pond car park opposite the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge (below left). 

I once worked right next door to the Hunting Lodge in a telesales call centre "selling" water filters.  I left as soon as I found out it was a complete and utter con job.  Unsolicited mail sent from Eastern Europe saying that you have won a prize (top prize a car) and to claim it you should ring this number!  Yeah right.

It was completely dishonest and criminally fraudulent.  It was openingly recognised and laughed at that no-one who replied would win the car.  Yet the managers appeared to believe that this was a completely legitimate business - ripping off the elderly and the vulnerable. Norman Tebbit was the local MP at the time.  No surprises there.  Red raw capitalism - don't you just love it?

The walk itself was lovely and I recommend a stroll to anyone who lives locally.  Pictures on Facebook

Time to Say Goodbye to Political Bloggers?

Political bloggers say goodbye from Political Scrapbook on Vimeo.
A Great video set to my favourite all time recording.  Hat-tip Tim.  I don't think that these new departures  necessarily means anything.  People come and go in all things.  Same with political blogs.

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda

Bow, East London.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Watch something different this Christmas

An excellent guide to films about trade unions - by the CWU. Go down to your local video store and watch something different this Christmas!

"Fed up with the usual Christmas films? How about watching a modern classic, comedy or blockbuster film with a trade union-angle? Over the years, trade unions have featured on the big screen and the latest is Made In Dagenham. CWU Head of Communications Kevin Slocombe reviews a group of films looking at how trade unions have been portrayed over the years and how it can affect the work place, including Made In Dagenham, Billy Elliot, Hoffa, On the Waterfront, Brassed Off, Wall Street, and even a Carry On film".

Merry Communist Christmas!

This Youtube video is now a Christmas tradition on this blog!  Hat-tip Stoppyblog

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winter Solstice Over: Roll On Summer

Off message but I thought I will cheer folk up by posting this glorious old railway poster for Colwyn Bay in North Wales.  

Yesterday was the shortest day so despite the cold and the ice from now on it will get lighter and eventually warmer.

I use to live in Old Cowlyn and I suspect that this painting could have been made from the top of the Mynydd Marian near my sisters house in Llysfaen.

Well worth a visit.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More Bangladeshi Garment Factory Fire Deaths

"On Tuesday there was yet another factory fire in Bangladesh, killing at least 28 workers and leaving many more injured. This factory made clothing for Gap, Abercrombie, JC Penney, Phillips-Van Heusen  and other brands...

2011 marks the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, a pivotal moment in the movement for labor rights. In 1911, 146 garment workers, mostly girls and young women, died in the fire as a result of abusive labor practices.

...Labor rights abuses are still rampant throughout the world. In Bangladesh, garment factories have been ravaged by a series of fires and building collapses that have killed hundreds of workers.

In February 2010, a fire at the Garib & Garib sweater factory killed 21 workers who died of smoke inhalation because of heavily sealed windows and locked exits". (ILRF)

This has gone on long enough.  Not only deadly fires but factory collapses.  When I worked for Tower Hamlets Council, we use to raise money from the sale of purple Remembrance ribbons on Workers Memorial Day. In 2005 we gave the money raised to support the relatives of the 64 dead and those injured in the Spectrum disaster.

In the UK we have access to very cheap clothes often produced at the expense of other peoples misery.  British Retail stores and pension funds needs to take responsibility for not only financial outcomes but for the human inputs.

Check out International Labour Rights Forum and Asia Times.  Hat tip Ruby Cox, Chair of London UNISON International Committee.

The CUTS Factor: Vote for 2010 Worse Spending Cuts

I voted for "Deprived areas: Local Authority Funding weighted unfairly. Just select your own "worse cut" and click on "submit". Hat tip TUC Touchstone

Monday, December 20, 2010

Kaschke Blogging Libel Update

The legal saga and complete waste of Court time and public funds continues. Please bear with me while I try to set the scene and explain - since it is just a tinny weeny bit confusing.

In 2007 Tower Hamlet's own SPD turned Labour Party turned Respect turned CPGB turned CPB turned Labour and finally Conservative Party blogger, Johanna Kaschke, sued for libel Labour bloggers Dave Osler (Dave's Part), Alex Hilton (Labourhome) and myself.  In September 2010 Kaschke's ludicrous case against Dave had been finally and completely thrown out of court for abuse of process.  She is still as you can see threatening him with some sort of legal action.

In July 2010 her case against Alex and I was struck out also for abuse of process (pending appeals). Last week, Kaschke lost a written appeal against the decision to strike out her claim (see copy of order left) despite her "lengthy arguments". However she is still allowed to have a oral hearing requesting an appeal.  This will now take place at the Royal Court of Justice on 2 March 2011. 

Alex and I are being ably assisted by Assistant Solicitor of the Year" (2010) and The Times "Lawyer of the week" Robert Dougans and top legal blogger, David Allen Green, (aka Jack of Kent).

I am of course pleased that Ms Kaschke, who obviously as a personal libel litigant is concerned about reputational damage has decided to withdraw her incisive, intellectual masterpiece post "John Gray is a Fat Ponze".


UPDATE: but I have been reminded that she still posts here "Incumbent Labour Councillor Worships Machinegun wielding hero".

Picket line at the Birmingham Fleet & Waste Management depot

This picture was posted live from the picket line via Facebook and the Blackberry of Graeme Horn. 

Graeme is joint branch secretary of Birmingham UNISON Local Government branch.

The first message posted was around 7am "Good morning from the picket line at the Bham Fleet & Waste Management depot in Lifford Lane. Nothing going in. Minus 9 degrees. No to pay cuts".

I'll link to full story later.

UPDATE: check out BBC report here

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wanstead Winter Wonderland

Off message.  Winter walk started at Joseph Fry memorial in Forest Gate then through centre of Wanstead Flats into Wanstead Park.  Coffee and Cake at the Temple.  Then down to River Roding and along to the City of London cemetery path and back into the Flats, past Golden Fleece Pub and home. 

I loved the local kids building the biggest London Snowman and igloo ever!

Fantastic walk.

Update: I have posted pictures from walk on Facebook here

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Normblog on train travel

Sound coaching "Returning south yesterday after completing on the sale of our house in Manchester, I arrived at Piccadilly station just in time for the train about to depart for Euston, and so got on the first carriage I saw with an empty seat. It was Virgin Trains' Coach N - the 'noisy coach'. I assumed that the 'noisy' in this designation was permissive rather than mandatory, and settled down quietly to read, while all about me a terrible racket prevailed. One guy was calling across the length of the carriage to a friend of his at the other end; they were bewailing the poor fortunes of Liverpool FC. Opposite me a young person was listening to music that leaked out of her earphones. And in the seat next to mine a man was speaking into his mobile thus: 'Daphne, hi, it's Nick. Please set up a meeting between me, John, Tracy and Attila - for next Thursday. I want to scope out a proposal.' Despite my difficulties in concentrating, I read my book. But not for long. I soon discovered my mistake. Noisiness in Coach N isn't an option, it's an obligation. In no time half the people there were shouting at me to stop being so quiet. 'Who the bloody hell do you think you are? Make a noise, will you.' At first I demurred; but the conductor was soon called and he made it plain to me - loudly - what my duty was. What's more, he said I now owed the other customers an apology.

This I uttered, or rather muttered, but evidently too quietly. A woman in red shouted back at me, 'In Coach N a quiet apology is no apology.' So, raising my voice, I repeated, 'I'm very sorry'. 'Louder,' they all cried. 'SORRY!' I yelled now at the top of my voice. I was evicted from Coach N. My yelled apology, though loud and noisy enough at last, was held by the assembled shouters not to count, since though it met the noise-requirements of the coach, it wasn't any longer in the proper spirit of an apology, since an apology loses its persuasiveness (as genuine) once yelled. Readers, imagine my humiliation. Evicted.

I did the only thing I could in the circumstances and made my way to Coach Q, the 'quiet coach'. Here, to my horror, there was no less noise than in Coach N. One guy was berating another for snoring in the quiet coach and a woman was shouting into her iPhone, 'Hello Nick, yes it's Daphne. Attila can't get there on Thursday; he's making sausages. He asks if it's OK for Cecily to stand in for him - well, sit in.' I became more and more irritated. When Bearded Bob pulled out a guitar and started to give his rendition of 'Never On Sunday', I in my turn demanded an apology - for so much noise in the quiet coach (ha ha ha). No apology was forthcoming. My fellow travellers, if such they can be called, all insisted - decibels flying - that an apology from them was bound to be worthless because, if quiet, it would not be heard, and if noisy, it wouldn't be in the true spirit of an apology.

I reflected on the perils of train travel and from then on kept my own counsel, but noisily enough to avoid getting into further trouble".

Brill. Been there Norm as well and got tee shirt.  Mind you sometimes (when younger) I've been one of the noisy ones.

Another 2010 Christmas Carol

Carol is a single mum with three small children who works in the kitchen of the Executive dining room of a British FT100 listed company in East London. She earns £13,000 per year for an average 40 hour week (the national minimum wage of £5.93 per hour is £12,334). She prepares food and cleans the dishes of people who earn up to 100 times what she is paid. She does not work directly for the company but is employed by a subcontractor on rolling 3 month temporary contracts.

Since her wages are so low she receives working tax credits from the government to supplement her income. She also has housing benefit to help her pay the rent and Council tax benefit at her two bed Council flat. Her children receive free school meals. All of this desperately needed support is paid for by the British taxpayer.

She of course does not receive any company pension or any sick pay. Despite the state benefits Carol and her children live hand-to-mouth and she has to rely on moneylenders to pay for emergencies as well as her children’s birthday and Christmas presents.

It is already pretty well known that the marginal rate of tax for the very low paid is far less than the extremely well paid executives that Carol serves and cleans up after.

But what is less well known that both the company who employs her and the FT100 Company she works at also outsources its revenue and profits abroad and pays the British Government relatively little in taxes.

Therefore the financial supplement to Carol’s meagre wages is being paid for by British taxpayers yet both companies who benefit from paying her poverty wages are avoiding paying taxes to the British government. Double bubble exploitation?

Why should British taxpayers subsidise miserable pay and conditions while at the very same time letting these same Scrooge employers avoid paying their fair share of British taxes. Surely this is not right?

Remember before feeling too outraged and smug that you probably have pension and insurance funds that invest in both these companies and make money out of them. Your future pension could be financed by other people’s personal misery.

Hat tip Fair Pensions. Watch out for their next campaign on a Living Wage for all top FT100 employees and their contractors. 

Check above Picture and the other Christmas Carol

Newham Homes ALMO returns to Council

Good news! "Newham Council have agreed that housing services should be brought back under direct control of the council in order to save money and continue to deliver good housing services.

The council's Cabinet agreed on Thursday (December 16) that an agreement with the arms length management organisation, Newham Homes, be ended from next April.

Newham Homes has received £225m of Decent Homes programme funding over the past five years. However, many of the advantages of having an arms length management organisation (ALMO) have now disappeared. The council can now bid for decent homes funding directly from the government and it will be cheaper for the council to deliver housing management services directly.

Consultation with tenants and leaseholders was carried out in November. Some 56 per cent of those consulted supported this change with only nine per cent against.

Councillor Andrew Baikie, executive member for housing, said: "It is simpler, more efficient and more effective for the housing management service to be returned to the council. Significant savings are likely to arise which can be used to fund service improvements.

"We can cut duplicate costs - and the biggest benefit for tenants and leaseholders would be that customer services, neighbourhood management and community safety would be provided by one organisation."

Discussions are under way with staff at Newham Homes and trade unions about the transfer. In the meantime, business continues as usual. Services to tenants and leaseholders should not be affected and the transition of services back to the council should be seamless.

Newham Homes was originally set up in 2005 to access government funding to improve council housing and deliver the Decent Homes programme. A bid for additional decent homes money will be submitted to the government in January". (topical seasonal picture from Newham Story of Newham Homes Repairs depot in Abbey Road).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Join us against government cuts to London

"Following the Local Government Finance Settlement it's clear London has suffered a raw deal, with its councils facing average cuts of 11.25 per cent. The average for the rest of England is 9.93 per cent. So much for Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson's claim to have mounted a ‘Stalingrad like defence' of funding for London.

We must be clear - the size and the speed of these cuts are a choice the Conservative-led government is making. Councils in London are being forced into making the heaviest cuts in the next year because of the decisions taken by George Osborne and Eric Pickles, damaging frontline services and putting jobs and the recovery at risk.

Our first responsibility is to protect the communities we serve, pressing the government to abandon its course and minimising the pain of the government's cuts for residents. However the scale of the cuts in funding for councils is so big that in many cases this will not be enough to protect many vital services.

There is little doubt that local government cuts of this size, imposed this quickly and frontloaded in the first year will hit many of the important frontline services families and communities rely on. Roads already damaged last winter could go unrepaired this year too. Potholes could go unfixed, pavements unswept. Streetlights will be turned off. Youth clubs will close. Libraries will shut down. As more people than ever need help with social care, fewer will find their local council able to help.

Whether from local government, Parliament, City Hall, the trade unions or local Labour parties, London Labour's approach will be based on uniting everyone in London opposed to the way the government has handed these cuts to councils and focusing our campaign where it deserves to be focused - on the government.

We urge the government to carefully reconsider the serious impact of policies on the quality of life of millions of Londoners, rethink the settlement and give the capital a fair deal."

Yours sincerely (this email signed by every leader in London Labour)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Result: Spitalfields and Banglatown ward by-election 2010

The result of Spitalifelds and Banglatown Ward by election 2010 is:-
Labour 553
Respect 666
Independent 28
Lib Dem 33
Tory 128
Green 52
Shame - A Labour defeat but is actually not as bad as I thought it would be given the circumstances.  This is not a victory for "Respect" but for "Community Politics" and certain rich local businessmen.  This seat will return to Labour at the next full election. 

Picture of a very, very cold but positive Labour Party canvass team working the Spitalfields and Banglatown by-election this evening in Tower Hamlets.  Including West Ham CLP members and our local East London Assembly member, John Biggs (right).  It was snowing at first but then stopped.  It remained bitterly cold.  Our job was to call at identified Labour supporters and "remind" them to go out and vote.  Picture in Whitechapel Road. 

This evening confirmed my view that being "On the knocker" is not a winter sport.

UPDATE: apparently a 16% turnout and yes - 666 is the number of Gorgeous George the beast.

Get your facts right about the Local Government Pension Fund says UNISON

"UNISON, the UK’s biggest union, with more than 600,000 members working in local councils, today called on consultants and government ministers to get their facts right on local government pensions.  

The call follows a claim by John Balfe, so-called “independent” pensions consultant, that the scheme’s liabilities had increased to £100 billion.  The Communities and Local Government Minister, Eric Pickles, managed to muddy the waters even more by unsubstantiated claims that  ‘town hall pensions are now costing over £300 a year to every household paying council tax."

Heather Wakefield, UNISON Head of Local Government, said:

“Another week, another attack on the local government pension scheme. These so-called independent pensions consultants and government ministers should get their facts right before they resort to crude scare-mongering.

“Eric Pickles is plain wrong. Less than 6% of council tax payments fund pensions. More than 50% is made up of employee contributions and investment returns.

“The local government pension scheme is in good shape, and is a vital way of allowing mainly low paid workers to save for their retirement. A report out this year confirmed that the scheme could cover all its liabilities for the next twenty years, without a single penny more in contributions. What’s more, the scheme invests hundreds of billions in UK stocks and shares every year – a huge boost to our economy.

“With pensions, its vital to take a long term view. It is totally misleading to take an assessment of the schemes liabilities now and make claims for the future that don’t stack-up.  All investments have taken a knock thanks to the financial crisis, but given time they will recover.”

Key facts on the local government pension scheme:

-       The average local government pension is £4,000 per year, for women this drops to just £2,600, or less than £40 per week.

 -       After intense negotiations, a new pensions agreement in local government was introduced in 2008, setting out terms that include workers paying 6.4% of their salary into the scheme.

-       Local councils get most of their revenue from business rates and from central government grants. In reality, less than 6% of council taxpayers’ rates goes towards funding the pension scheme. More than 50% of the cost is met by employee contributions and investment returns.

 -       Research in 2006 showed that if the LGPS did not exist - based only on current pensioners – it would cost the taxpayer £2bn a year in increased means tested benefits and loss of tax revenue. It would also fuel increased take up of NHS and council care services.

 -       Often overlooked is the huge investment power of the LGPS fund. In 2008 the total value of combined assets in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, were £143 billion - 60% of which was invested in equities or shares, in UK and global stock markets. In the same year, more than £1 billion was invested in each of the top four FTSE companies. If the scheme were to close, and this investment was withdrawn, it would have a huge impact on the UK economy.

-       The LGPS is in better shape than a most other schemes. Even in the depths of the recession, investments provided nearly £3bn for the LGPS in England, accounting for nearly one third (27%) of the scheme’s overall income. Year on year, the scheme takes billions more in contributions and investments returns than it pays out in benefits. Last year, income from member contributions to the scheme in England alone increased by 15% - outstripping expenditure by £6 billion.

-       An Audit Commission report in 2010 stated that the LGPS could pay out all pensions due for the next 20 years without any further contributions.

More information from UNISON Press Office on 0207 551 1555".

(Hat tip UNISON press release)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Letter to Newham Recorder

Dear Editor
East Ham Tory Chair, Neil Pearce,  is entitled to criticise our West Ham MP, Lyn Brown, for what he apparently believes to be her “politicising” of Remembrance Sunday (letters 1 Dec).  But does he really have to use such personal language?  He describes her comments as  being “disgusting”  and “really sickening” and then makes a series of partisan political points himself? 
Let us remember that Lyn was suggesting very gently in her column that those who choose to wear the poppy in a very political way - in China of all places (The Prime Minster David Cameron during his recent visit) should at very least pay the war widows what they deserve - because war widows and the rest of us are going to suffer for the cuts they are imposing on benefits and public services. She was adding her voice to a campaign to protect the vulnerable, those who have already lost so much, and get the Government to pull back from their policy of below inflation increases for war widows and others in receipt of pensions. Mr Pearce would be better engaged in assisting in that campaign.

Can I suggest that if in the future he or anyone thinks that Lyn has got something wrong that they write to her first pointing out their concerns.  If they are not satisfied with her response then by all means they could bring it to the attention of a wider audience without hopefully making Remembrance Sunday itself a focus for petty political abuse and a failed exercise of point scoring
Your faithfully
John Gray
West Ham Labour Party Agent
(published 15 December 2010)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Coalition Council Cuts: Robbing the Poor to pay for the Rich

Highest cuts:-
LB Hackney 8.9%
LB Tower Hamlets 8.9%
LB Newham 8.9%
Manchester MBC 8.9%
Rochdale MBC 8.9%
Knowsley MBC 8.9%
Liverpool MBC 8.9%
St Helens MBC 8.9%
Doncaster MBC 8.9%
S Tyneside MBC 8.9%
Blackburn with Darwen UA 8.9%
Halton UA 8.9%
Hartlepool UA 8.9%
Hull UA 8.9%
Middlesbrough UA 8.9%
NE Lincs UA 8.9%

Lowest cuts:-
Poole 0.97%
Hampshire 0.95%
West Sussex 0.65%
Wokingham 0.63%
Richmond-upon-Thames 0.61%
Buckinghamshire 0.60%
Surrey 0.31%
Dorset +0.25% (yes, that is a plus - an increase not a cut)

Hat Tip to Luke for above information.  Some are arguing that Pickle's figures are wrong and the cuts will be even more drastic and the actual reduction could be up to 9.9%! 

So the leafy Royal Borough of Richmond loses 0.61% and my inner city borough Newham 8.9%.

These reductions are just vile and show that the poor and vulnerable are being penalised for not voting Tory or Lib Dem. Even worse than that they are being used to pay for the excesses of the rich bankers and financiers.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Trot on the Pull

Enjoy! Hat tip Hilary via Facebook

UPDATE: Mrs Stroppy Osler has shared this and linked to my best mate ever, Dave Osler, and his posts on Top Ten Trotskyist chat up lines here and here.

Hopemas Party 2010

"Philosophy Football's Christmas party on Friday 17 December. Just a few handfuls of tickets left, just £8.99 and each ticket is a £5 OFF voucher on shirts on the night so combine the evening with your Christmas shopping!

Our Hopemas Christmas party celebrates Hope not Hate victorious campaign against the BNP in Barking and generously supported by the PCS trade union. Its a superb line-up! Featuring the superb poetry of Lemn Sissay . Performing a special version of her hit Edinburgh show 'Afroblighty' (on nationwide tour in 2011) the supremely talented comic Andi Osho. Rap mixed with comedy from Doc Brown opens the night.. And filling the dancefloor into the early hours, music from the Melstars sound system.

With contributions from Zaiba Malik author of the August R4 book of the week We are a Muslim,Please, Nick Lowles, editor of Searchlight magazine, Owen Hatherley author of the recently published book A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, PCS National Executive Member Zita Holbourne, and Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty.

At our usual party venue 'Offside' 271 City Road London EC1V 1LA in Islington, completely refurbished and renamed the 'New Red Lion'.

Book either at Philosophy Football or call 020 8802 3499". 

Hat tip Mark.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Beatles - Hello Goodbye

Check out this post. 14 Million people have watched this video...and we think we have a drug problem nowadays?

Say Goodbye

This song is by Chris Brown.  The right time for Nick Clegg to say Goodbye is now of course. I will freely admit that this music is not my era but this I did appreciate reading the lyrics and recognising its poetry.

Check out reasons for this post.

"Time to Say Goodbye"

See here and here for the "rational".  Mr Clegg, it is "Time to say Goodbye". But this is a simply beautiful song but best heard I think - not seen. 

"Say Hello, Wave Goodbye"

It's Saturday night and I'm staying indoors.  I'm not that interested in "Strictly" so instead I am doing a trawl of my favorite YouTube music videos that refer to saying "Goodbye" in honour of this Party Election Broadcast.  Firstly a blast to my past and Soft Cell with "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye". 


Saying Goodbye to Broken Promises?

Once upon a time a fresh faced Party leader called Nick Clegg spoke eloquently about “broken promises - there have been too many in the last few years; too many in the last 30 years in fact; our nation has been littered with them; a trail of broken promises ....I think it is time to do things differently ....I think it is a time for promises to be kept “ .

These are the opening lines from the Liberal Democratic Party Election broadcast 13 April 2010. Check out on Youtube before it disappears. Hat tip Tom.

Meanwhile, talking about “promises” ...."page 39 of the 'Liberal Democratic Manifesto 2010' states " We will scrap unfair fees for all students taking their first degree, including those studying part-time, saving them over £10,000 each. We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years, so that the charge is affordable even in these difficult economic times, and without cutting university income. We will immediately scrap fees for final year students” Hat tip Three Score Years and 10.

Finally the BBC reports that the new “Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has insisted that plans to charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year to students in England represent a "fair and progressive solution to a very difficult problem".

Nuf said?

Call Mr Robeson: Early Spring Tour 2011

"Paul Robeson is a great and famous actor, singer and civil rights campaigner.  When over the years he gets progressively too radical and outspoken for the establishment’s liking, he is branded a traitor to his country, is harassed, and denied opportunities to perform or travel.  Just as physical, emotional and mental stress threaten to push him over the fine line between genius and madness, he is summoned to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee, to give the most difficult and important performance of his career.

Call Mr. Robeson is a roller coaster journey through Robeson’s remarkable and eventful life, and highlights how his radical activism caused him to be disowned and disremembered, even by the leaders and descendants of the civil rights movement.  It features some of his famous songs and speeches, including a dramatic rendition of Ol’ Man River.  It features some of his famous songs"

January 4 - 23 (not 10, 17 or 24): London. THEATRO TECHNIS, 26 Crowndale Road, NW1 1TT 7.30pm (Tues - Sat) 3.00pm (Thurs, Sat, Sun) £10/£8. (2 for 1 on 4 - 6 and 11 and 18) 0207 387 6617.
January 25: Darlington. DARLINGTON ARTS CENTRE,Vane Terrace, DL3 7AX 8pm. £10.50 (discounts available) 01325 486555
January 26: Bury. THE MET, Market Street, BL9 0BW;
8pm. £10/£6 0161 761 2216 www.themet.biz0161 761 2216
January 27: Salford. THE LOWRY, Salford Quays, M50 3AZ 8pm. £10/£8 0843 208 6010
January 28: Derby. THE GUILDHALL THEATRE,Market Place, DE1 3AH 7.30pm. £10/£8 01332 255 800
January 29: Goole. JUNCTION, Paradise Place, DN14 5DL 8pm. £8/£6 01405 763 652
February 4: Peebles. EASTGATE THEATRE & ARTS CENTRE, Eastgate, EH45 8AD 7.30pm. £13/£11 01721 725 777
February 5: Inverness. EDEN COURT THEATRE, Bishops Road, IV3 5SA 8pm. £12/£10 01463 234 234

SUPPORTED BY UNITY THEATRE TRUST Double Award Winner Ogeyinka Merit Awards for
Excellence, London, October 2010 Angel Award for Artistic Excellence & Best Male Performer.
Brighton Festival Fringe, May 2008  D E S I G N : W W W. H O L D E N A N D S O N S . C O . U K  
(hat tip SERTUC)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Nobel Peace Prize Winner 2010 Liu Xiaobo

A brave and good decision by the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Committee to ignore the childish and immature bullying by Peking CPC clowns

Bearing in mind its history - China has an absolute right to be sensitive to other countries criticising its own internal affairs.  However this gormless, goon like response to entirely legitimate international concern, about it locking up a genuine non-violent poet and democratic, just makes it look like a nasty, brutish and real mafiosi state.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Joy of the London Commute

Off message but I thought I’ll share my journey this morning to remind non-London folk that life is not all fun and games in our great metropolis.

I missed the 08.07 rail overhead train to London Liverpool Street so I waited for the 08.23 (big gap for rush hour?). It arrived on time but you could see from the front coaches as they passed that it was packed to the gills. I managed to get on and stood cheek by jowl with other travellers. So squashed that we could not move or even turn around.

Such is life in London but since most of us expected to change to the Central Line at Stratford in 4 minutes we thought we will put up with it.

Before the train set off the driver did announce on the PA that passengers should not obstruct the doors and that there was another train right behind us. If I could have got out then I would have done and waited for the next train. But I was stuck solid in the crush.

After 2 minutes the train stopped at Maryland station and somehow even more people got on to our carriage. Big mistake. Our carriage doors closed but our train driver kept reporting on the PA that there was a fault because people were obstructing the doors. He next announced that there was a fault with the doors which could be serious. He went out and walked along the train (some 15-20 carriages) testing each door to fix the fault. He came to our doors checked them from the outside then walked down to the next. It was by now beginning to get quite unpleasant and claustrophobic in the carriage. Passengers were mostly quite calm but some of them were beginning to be rather distressed. The train driver came to our door again and appeared to check it then walked away. It was very hot in the train since we were all wearing winter clothing. We asked people seated near the windows to open them and I asked people standing in the isles to move up and give us some room and take pressure away from the doors. There wasn’t a very particularly good response to this but the windows were opened and we had some fresh air.

After about 15 minutes in total the driver announced that due to passengers obstructing the door there was a fault which he could not fix and he would have to take the train out of service so everyone would have to leave the train. I think at that stage people were just relieved to know they could get out of the train. However, the doors were still closed. We could see people coming out of the train elsewhere and walking out of the station. Our carriage doors would not open. Passengers near the door pressed the open buttons but nothing happened. Some people began to get distressed. Others were asking us standing near the emergency handle to use it to open the doors. I thought about this and asked if anyone is feeling ill? To which an elderly lady replied that she was feeling very faint and asked me to use the emergency handle so she could out of the carriage quickly. There was no sign of anyone coming to open the doors from the outside so I pulled off the plastic cover and pulled down the emergency handle to open the doors. Nothing happened. I pulled the handle down again more forcefully and an orange light went on and the doors opened. Everyone streamed out and the lady who was ill thanked the Lord for being “rescued”.

Most of us had enough of trains for a while and we all walked to Stratford station (only about 5-10 minutes from Maryland). What was interesting is that everyone seemed to know the short cuts through the housing estates to Stratford station. So this sort of experience for commuters is not unknown. At Stratford I got on a peak hour Central line train which wasn’t that badly crowded but within 30 seconds we were deep underground for that long boring stretch from Stratford to Mile End.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

West Ham Labour Party increase membership by 194

Good news at this evening's West Ham Labour Party Executive Committee meeting (EC).  Our membership has increased by 194 compared to this time last year.

I suspect that this will grow much, much further as the Coalition cuts begin to be felt and the penny actually drops how the Nasty the Nasty Party are when in power (with their new wannabe Nasty Orange Book allies).

West Ham is a solid Labour Seat and arguably the birthplace of the Labour Party. 

After the vital post EC analysis at The "Goose" in Stratford (draught pilsner larger and cast bitter at £1.49 per pint - not bad for London) I came home and checked the Party "Membersnet" and it confirmed we now have 623 members. Fantastic news.

(picture by Dan McCurry of West Ham CLP Chair Cllr Conor McAuley and Ed at West Ham leadership hustings

"Why cuts are the wrong cure"

This is a great video produced by the new "there is alternative to cuts" website "False Economy". 

This is what it says about the site "False Economy came about through discussions between on-line activists, campaigners and trade unions. Out of this a small working group was formed to guide the creation of False Economy. The site was built by Clifford Singer, who developed MyDavidCameron and runs The Other TaxPayers’ Alliance. Initial funding has been provided by the TUC and other unions. We are now seeking further funding, and will soon be able to receive donations online".

Hat tip to Col. Roi. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Orange Clegg and Saint Vince are Janus

"FURTHER UPDATE: Labour's Kevin Brennan, as mischievous as ever, asked if Speaker Bercow could confirm that it would be in order for MPs to walk through both the Aye and the Noe lobby if they want to register an abstention.

He said that Lib Dems who wanted to claim they had voted both for and against tuition fees could therefore satisfy different audiences".

Hat tip Col. Roi.

"Going Dutch – how to double the value of British pensions"

Hat tip Touchstone by TUC Nigel Stanley "Earlier today I spoke at the launch of  Going Dutch – how to double the value of British pensions.  This is a new report by David Pitt-Watson for the RSA that argues that the UK’s DC pensions could deliver much better pensions for the same contributions.
It’s an exemplary report - succint, well-written and carefully argued. I would urge anyone with a passing interest in pensions policy to read it.
The report argues that the DC schemes in which most people with pensions now save are extremely inefficient. There are two main areas of potential gain.
  • Making schemes much bigger and ensuring that they are run by trustees in the interests of their members can deliver one lot of savings. Charges dramatically eat up investment gains – up to 40 per cent of potential pension – and if you can reduce charges through efficient management and economies of scale then you can deliver seriously better pensions for the same contributions.
  • Making DC schemes collective so that members pool their resources and share risk can deliver a further increase in benefits. This would mean schemes provising their own pensions rather than compelling people to buy annuities....."

Voluntary Sector Union Growth

Check out this article in yesterday's Guardian.  UNISON grow by 50% in last 5 years in voluntary sector and now number over 60,000.

22% of employees in sector are union members - a growth of 12% in one year.

Send A Christmas Card to IKEA about Unions

IKEA is stopping American trade unions from speaking to its US work force and refusing to discuss a collective agreement.  The local union is asking shoppers to help workers and send the CEO a suitable Christmas Card!

Check out the "DIY Guide to Management" here and send off an electronic version.

(this is a clever union campaign - I have not seen anything quite like it this side of the pond?)

Hat-tip thingy Labourstart

Monday, December 06, 2010

LAPFF Conference 2010: Roundtable on UK Corporate Governance Code.

Shareholders were asleep at the wheel before the financial crisis” Phil Triggs (Warwickshire LGPS) agreed with Lord Paul Myners that this was true. Other members of this panel were Alan MacDougal (PIRC) and Cllr Neil Fletcher (NE Scotland LGPS). My notes are not great on this session so I will report what I found interesting and not attribute to individuals.

It was agreed that very few pundits predicted the crash beforehand and many say they did now only with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight.

Check FRC site for further information on the Code. “The UK Corporate Governance Code (formerly the Combined Code) sets out standards of good practice in relation to board leadership and effectiveness, remuneration, accountability and relations with shareholders.

All companies ...of equity shares in the UK are required report on how they have applied the Combined Code in their annual report and accounts.... The Code contains broad principles and more specific provisions...companies are required to report on how they have applied the main principles of the Code, and either to confirm that they have complied with the Code's provisions or - where they have not - to provide an explanation...the FRC issued a new edition of the Code which will apply ..on or after 29 June 2010”.

A problem with this Code is that it is addressing yesterday problems not what we will face in next 5 years? How can we really hold the directors of banks accountable and make sure that their oversight in the future is far more effective?

There is some controversy about how much the “bonus culture” was to blame for the financial crisis? There is evidence - such as the bonus problems within UBS for example. But how do you determine outcomes of behaviour?

There is an increased focus on below board level remuneration as being more important. Many employees in financial institutions are paid far, far more than the Board. Issue of the importance of Board oversight. Do they understand what is going on in their companies? The importance of Board diversity. Lot of evidence that dissent and challenge is good. Get any group of people together and you find if there is an extreme view challenging the consensus this results in a better outcome. Not enough boards challenge in this way.

Can having more women on boards change this? There is no hard evidence. But there are clear different styles of operation when you have more women on Boards. It does result in a change in the “group think” amongst men.

We constantly ask fund managers about their best practice but what about shareholders best practice?

Consensus that the Codes do work and have changed behaviour and practice. Nowadays there is no real discussion about whether or not you need to have independent executive directors for example. There are now very few now dominant CEO’s who don’t brook any opposition. But in the US this consensus does not exist.

Issue of “Governance imperialism” – the UK may be a world leader on good financial governance but is it just a modern form of imperialism for us to tell other countries (particularly ex-colonies) how to run their affairs according to our western norms and values? This is likely to be increasing issue in the future.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Vote Lib Dem and Get Conned?

CLP's can get free copies of this great leaflet from Membersnet.

LAPFF Conference 2010: Sir John Parker, The role of the Chairman in the New Environment

Caption is from The Independent who described Sir John Parker as a British superhero Clark Kent! He is the Chairman (not Chair?) of FT100 National Grid and former Chairman of Anglo American. Ian Greenwood introduced him with the comment “if the light go out during his speech we know who is to blame”.

Sir Parker believes “always leave things better in any new company”.

Health and safety is his number 1 agenda item (together with Environment). Employees come to work each day and should go home safely to their family and those who use our products should do so safety.

Non-Executive directors must prepare for meetings. Nothing makes him more angry than those who do not. Non-Executives should challenge courageously but support when necessary. They must find out more about the company. Not be arrogant. Those who are arrogant at their 2nd or 3rd only meeting push the seeds of their destruction. They need to be effective and independent minded. Stop the company taking unnecessary risks.

What relationship should a Chair have with a Chief Executive Officer (CEO)? He once took one of his new CEOs out in his 40 foot yacht. This CEO had no experience of sailing. It was rough weather and he told him that he was now going down below to get a cup of tea and that he would let him get on with it. He will only interfere if he asks for help or if he as Chair judges it absolutely necessary.

The only time he will actively intervene is to “turn around” a company in trouble. But there is nothing worse than a Chair who will not let go. Who has a high leadership profile at the expense of the company. Who is too dominate, too dictatorial, too argumentative. A poor listener who ignores the collective wisdom of the board. The Chairman who burns up all the oxygen in the boardroom. Personal conceits are most dangerous. Leave your ego at home. Keep in touch with advisors. Have a good feedback with shareholders. Not only formal but informal. Make it clear that the golden rule for any CEO is “do not surprise me”. It is not nice to watch when the Chair/CEO relationship breaks down. The oversight of executive development is key. The succession planning of the CEO is one of the most important things you do.

(JG: funny enough most of above applies also to the Labour Movement IMO)

Companies have a corporate identity. But you must ensure that the long term interests of the beneficial owners of companies are properly represented on modern day boards. Actively monitor action plans. Remember the Japanese word kaizenDoing things better tomorrow than we did today”.

(JG) I thought this was very interesting but in the following Q&A I didn’t think he answered some questions as fully as some. There was a good question about his comments on the importance of having competent board but why was there such an imbalance in the number of female directors (never mind Chairs or CEO’s). He acknowledged that there were such problems and pointed out that the organisations he has chaired are making progress in this area.

I asked whether in light of recent cuts in the pay of senior executive in the public sector whether the private sector should follow. Bearing in mind that the pay ratio differential from lowest pay to the highest pay in the private sector was so vast? He at first appeared to blame such differentials on remuneration experts “I hope there is none in the audience” but he agreed that more has to be done. Pay had been affected by what had happened in Banking. As a member of the Bank of England committee for 5 years one of the worse jobs he has done was dealing with the consequences of the banking crisis. (I’m not sure what he meant by this? Perhaps though it is my note taking)

In another question regarding risk he explained how his company at the time didn’t plan at all for the Swine fever outbreak. A risk that they simply did not consider beforehand as needing a plan. They couldn’t lay pipelines or enter farms due to restrictions. This turned out to be a huge risk that they did not capture.

A question from another trade union rep praised him as being a breath of fresh air on safety issues but asked how does he ensure that his positive views goes beyond the boardroom? Sir John answered that one way was that his company board individually considers every single “near miss” safety report from all their company operations all over the world.  Which is pretty good.  In in my experience many employers don't even bother to discuss actual accidents at work which result in injury never mind "near misses".  Rock on Superman!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Save Our Services: March next Saturday in Woking

"Saturday December 11th, 12.15pm at Gloucester Square, Woking MARCH TO SAVE OUR SERVICES IN SURREY and HANTS

Labour and Trade Unions Against the Cuts. Organised by Surrey Labour Party.

This is the best opportunity for Labour and the trade unions locally to publicise our position against the cuts. Make a stand with us as the cuts will cause unfair suffering to the poor and disabled, the sectors least able to help themselves. Also, the scale and speed of the cuts is ideologically driven and threatens to bury, not rescue the economy.

Assemble in Gloucester Square at 12.15pm. Parking is just over the road in Brewery Road car park (may be full so get there early) or more car parks 80 yards further on up the ramp JUST past the new Victoria Theatre into the multi-story. Allow 15 minutes to park and get back to assembly point. Woking Station is a five minute walk - make for the Town Square and go 50 yards beyond to the assembly point in Gloucester Square. The March finishes at 1.15pm.

Press and local radio releases will give further speakers as they confirm. Harriett Yeo, Labour Party National Executive and TSSA will speak at 12.30 at the assembly point.

Send this on to other supporters as soon as you can. Let's see what support we can raise and help to make the March a great success.

STOP PRESS ..........
More speakers and marchers are being promised every day and the Rally and March is growing fast. TSSA and FBU leaders will speak at 12.30 before the move off at 12.45. Other unions are coming too, including UNITE, Unison, CWU, with students from Woking Guildford and Godalming.

Murray Rowlands SCLP Chair
Surrey Labour Party Steering Committee"

Hat tip SERTUC

(JG) Off message but the train home from the LAPFF conference yesterday stopped breifly at Woking. The only other time I had ever been at Woking was 28 years ago when a friend and I went looking for a mate, Neil T, who had suddenly disappeared overnight while at Leeds University. His family ran a newsagents near the station. We found out from them he had dropped out to join the Parachute Regiment of the French Foreign Legion. He later deserted, rejoined after a spell in military prison then deserted again (by foot through a South American jungle).  Modern day students seem far more sensible.

LAPFF Conference 2010: Stewardship Code: Putting it into practice

Tom Powdrill (PIRC) led a panel discussion about putting the Code into practice. David Murphy (NILGOSC), Tony Little (Gartmore) and Iain Richards (AVIVA). The Code came out of the Walker Report and is a response to the financial crisis. Not a fluffy “feel good” report but an attempt to try and prevent a future financial crisis. Can shareholders control companies? If shareholders cannot then look at Ireland were due to voluntary failure there is now a regulatory approach to governance.

David spoke first about his scheme. There are 204 employers, over 80,000 members and £3.6 billion assets. They support the idea that they are asset owners; they are the ultimate owners and should take responsibility for what has gone on in the past. They believe in co-operation and the importance of disclosure. They vote in all markets and report back on investment policy. Be open and transparent.

Tony explained that Gartmore are mainstream investors in 2,500 equities around the world. He was struck by the difference between this report and the UK governance report Cadbury which said this is what good practice looks like and others should aspire to it. The Stewardship Code “horse trades”. This is what you should be doing. Will see what good practice eventually looks like. The EU intervention has been negative rather than positive. They have forced the pace. They want to regulate. His role often is to be candid friend.

Ian said there may be over blown expectations of the Code. It was to resolve the “absentee landlord” problem in the run up to crisis. But there is an issue of resources. They have 7 in his team but this is still limited. Conflicts still exist; there are still misaligned incentives, short term structural problems. There are differences of objectives in engagement. In the UK 13% of shares are owned by pension funds and 13% by insurance funds. But it is only 26% of market. 40% of UK now owned by overseas investors. Concern around the role of the ISS.  An unaccountable organisation who admits looking after its primary audience - US investors. An awkward question is what do fund managers do? They have already signed up to the Stewardship principles. Is it transparent to have such long policy statements? Principle 7 (reporting on what they do) is the most important. There is a poisonous view that all you have to do is delegate everything to fund managers – and job done. This leads to apathy.

Next Q&A. I asked a question about how the new Code will not last be last word on governance and will evolve and change. Panel members have hinted at things that could be done better. What one significant improvement would each of the panel members want to see in any future review?

Tony: it needs to be redrafted and made clearer. The FRC next time should engage more about what is good practice. Iain: that it should be extended across to Europe. Especially with Funds tied to banks. David: he is against further regulation. He is happy with “comply or explain” approach. But it does need to be fleshed out. It’s a bit vague. Not only would he like it extended to Europe but wouldn’t it be nice to have in the US although that is “pie in sky”.

Tom asked does the Code make a RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) less likely. Tony: No but... Ian – more cynical. Nothing much changed. No evidence that in 5 years time the world will have changed. David: We don’t know what will happen next.

The largely negative response to this question supports my own view that the Code (although an welcome improvement) is just sticking plaster and not the root and branch reform that is needed to stop another Fred the Shred.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Seasons Greetings from UNISON Greater London (Happy Crimbo)

Happy Crimbo everyone!

On behalf of UNISON Greater London Region Linda Perks, Regional Secretary and Gloria Hanson, Regional Convenor
and the Regional Council Officers
Conroy Lawrence, John Gray,
Lyn Bentley, Monica Hirst
and Emma Rolland

Send you Seasons Greetings and very best wishes for the New Year.

Public Services. Don't wait till they've gone to defend them.

Join the TUC national demonstration against the cuts on Saturday 26 March 2011

To join UNISON visit or call 0845 355 0845

Thursday, December 02, 2010

LAPFF Conference 2010 - Stewardship: New Strategies for Corporate Governance.

The Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) is an association of 52 UK based public sector pension funds who manage over £90 billion of assets.

LAPFF exists firstly to protect local authority pension investments. It also uses members shareholdings to promote corporate social responsibility and corporate governance in the companies that we part own. LAPFF hold an annual conference in Bournemouth every year.

There were over 150 Councillors, pension fund officers and the investment fund industry representatives registered. I was there with other LGPS trade union reps. I last came 4 years when I took part in a panel debate on governance.

Despite the heavy snowfall most delegates and speakers were able to get here in time. I’ll try and post on some of the highlights and things that I thought interesting. Please note the usual disclaimer about the literal accuracy of all my hurried note taking.

Chair of LAPFF Ian Greenwood (Leader of Bradford Council) started the conference with an Actuary joke (specialist financial advisers to pension funds). An Actuary dies and goes to heaven. At the pearly gates St Peter asks the Actuary what he had done in his 127 years on earth to justify going to heaven? The Actuary replies he is only 84 years old not 127? St Peter replies “No, you must be 127 I have seen the hours you have charged” (Well, I thought it was funny).

I’ll post on the speakers and debates later.