Saturday, November 30, 2013

IKEA "blacklisting" and spying on customers who complain

Check out this article in New York Times on IKEA in France up to no good. While far worse has gone on the UK where thousands of trade unionists had been "blacklisted" this is surely a first that a major company has allegedly been bribing police and hiring private eyes to spy on customers who dare to make a complaint! Amazing.

Hat tip SERTUC.

West Ham Ward and the Cost of Living Crisis

Last Saturday I was out canvassing in my ward with local West Ham members (and Labour Candidates 2014)  John Whitworth and  Julianne Marriot.

The weather was dry with blue skies but it was noticeably cold.

It is strange how there tends to be particular topics that dominate a canvassing session. That day it was the Cost of Living.

At the one of the first houses I called at a young mum with two toddlers running around her legs gave me an ear bashing about Council tax bills. How some months her salary just runs out and there is no money to pay for food for the kids and the Council tax. She works for the civil service and has had just a 1% pay rise in the past 4 years. While bills and the cost of living has gone up and up.

After getting a summons last month from the Council for non payment she had to run up and down the high street to get £100 payday loan to prevent being taken to Court. I tried to explain that in Newham Council tax was low and there had not been an increase for a number of years.  Due to Government cuts it was vital that we get in as much Council tax as possible in order to pay for the local services. After a difficult start we left on fairly decent terms.

Getting an ear bashing from time to time for something you have little control over is good for anyone in an elected position.

Next difficult conversation was with a resident who had voted Labour in the past but was unsure next time. He wouldn't say what had changed his mind but did say he needed to support a Party that would increase his income the most. I gave him the Labour leaflet on the promise to freeze energy bills if elected. He said that is fine but he wants help now - not in 2015. We eventually came to a sort of agreement that despite mistakes, Labour was still the Party for ordinary working people while the Tories favoured the better off.

I'm not sure he was that convinced but at least we had a conversation on who can deliver for the majority and not the minority.

A little while later I met a pensioner who was worried about paying his electricity and gas bills. He was waiting nervously for his winter fuel payment. He was more impressed with the Labour promise to freeze energy prices but since he was wearing several layers of warm clothing and a woolen hat indoors it meant he needed help now as well. The fact that it was cold that day made you realise the important of heat. According to this report there are 5 million households in the UK in fuel poverty.

Roll on 2015.

Should Labour follow the Housing Policies of Europe’s most successful Conservatives?

Fascinating post here by Steve Hilditch on Labour Housing Group blog "Red Brick" about Housing policies in Germany. There is a long tradition of rent controls in what is arguably Europe's most successful capitalist society.  The new Government coalition led by Chancellor Angela Merkel have agreed further powers for new developments to restrict rents.

Steve contrasts the German experience with the almost total opposition in the UK by our Conservatives to practically any form of rent regulation. Unless of course, David Cameron makes yet another "U" turn.

Friday, November 29, 2013

115th company signs Bangladesh safety accord

Good news from Stronger Unions Last "Tuesday, Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM) - which runs stores across Great Britain under its own name and as Peacocks – finally signed the union-sponsored Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord, becoming the 115th company to do so. It was a big win for months of campaigning by unions and NGOs, including another push planned for this weekend, the first anniversary of the Tazreen Fashions factory fire which killed over a hundred people....."

Song for Sectarians

Tonight's Friday Sectarian comes from my best ever mate (and fellow Labour Party member) Dave Osler Facebook page. Anyone know the tune?

Teaching assistants - A Class Act!

"UNISON is celebrating teaching and classroom assistants this Friday, 29 November.

Teaching assistants (TAs) and classroom assistants (CAs) carry out a huge variety of tasks, working with teachers to help our children learn and develop to be the best they can be.

They provide one-to-one support for children who need additional help, which cannot always be provided by a teacher delivering a lesson to a full class. With the right training, they even deliver lessons to whole classes under the direction of a qualified teacher.

TAs adapt resources for disabled students and support children with special health, medical and learning needs. They supervise classes for absent teachers, manage other classroom support staff and prepare learning materials. They support pupils’ social and emotional wellbeing; and monitor, assess and record pupil data, working with outside agencies when necessary.

TAs also supervise children on out-of-school activities, run breakfast and after-school clubs, invigilate exams and supervise lunch and play times.

Imagine a School Without Teaching and Classroom Assistants.

Yet the role of teaching assistants and classroom assistants is being undermined. Earlier this year, it was reported that the government asked the teachers review body to look at teachers' contracts - with a view to them taking on duties currently performed by teaching assistants. Recently, an influential think tank report questioned the value of teaching assistants.

To find out just how important TAs are to our schools, UNISON spoke to staff at Pakeman Primary School. Watch the video here, and see what they had to say.

The Benefits System: EXPOSED

"The TUC tackles some of the media and political myths about the benefits system, with the aid of a talking dog".

Great Video. Hope everyone shares it with work colleagues and family. Need to expose the Tory myths about benefits.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Abbey Gardens Frost Fair Saturday 7 December 2013

"Dear friends,

Thank you to all of you who helped make this season another milestone year for Abbey Gardens
We registered as a Charity in January, ran over 100 free gardening sessions, attracted over 200 people to our Summer event and Harvest Festival, secured additional funding to built a composting toilet, a cooking area.. 

Our gardening sessions ended last Saturday to a bumper crop of sweet potatoes, which sealed a year of amazing harvest...

But the season would not be complete without our Frost Fair on December 7th from 4 - 6pm.

The event is free, so come out, enjoy warm Winter drinks and home made soups and sing along with members of All Saints Chorus.  There will be a wreath making workshop, chutney tasting and of course, our ever-popular cake stall.

Attached is the event flyer - please feel free to share with others.

I look forward to seeing you on Saturday 7th !"

(hat tip email from Friends of Abbey Garden which is in West Ham ward, Newham, London)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Class Action and Pensions funds

Last week I attended a presentation by US Law firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP on "Class Action".

In the US it is possible for British Pension funds to take part in "no win no fee" civil legal action in the Courts if they have suffered loss due to fraud.

So if a Pension fund invested in a company quoted on the US stock exchange and due to fraud they suffered a loss (the share price crashes) then they can sue that company without paying any costs or damages if they lose.  The lawyers take all the risk and of course they share in the rewards.

This law firm has so far claimed back for shareholders $80 billion. They recovered $7.2 Billion from the Enron debacle alone .

They openly admit that they like to act on behalf of Pension funds since it makes them more credible with the Courts (e.g. pensioners, widows and orphans) than retail clients.

More has been paid out by companies in compensation by companies than in fines by Courts or Regulators. Large compensation payments also tend to improve overall Corporate governance since it is those companies who act in an irresponsible manner who pay out the most. They have also pursued the ill gotten gains of crooked senior executives and made them pay personal compensation.

There has been problems in the past about corruption due to the huge amounts of money involved (see my post from 2008 here).  We also tend to be terribly British about "going to law" and have a well founded cultural fear of UK justice such as Jarndyce v Jarndyce.

Yet I cannot really see a downside to exploring this option for any pension fund. Obviously trustees should take advice from their advisers about who they use and how much of a success fee is claimed but since they do not face any financial risk - what do they have to lose? If your fund has suffered loss due to financial fraud then you have a clear duty as a trustee to seek compensation.

(the painting above is not something you would see in any US "no win no fee" legal literature but is based on the iconic photograph of the Red Army planting the Soviet flag on the roof of the Nazi German Reichstag in Berlin 1945. Now that is what I call "Class Action")

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Save The "Old Spotted Dog" Pub Benefit Night - Friday 29 November 2013

Hat tip West Ham MP Lyn Brown. It use to be a great pub to stop off and have have a beer (or more) after evening meetings at work.

The pub dates back to the 16th Century and was reputed to be the hunting lodge for King Henry VIII. It has laid empty for the past 10 years. 

Check out web site to book tickets here. 

"Ok folks – it’s benefit time again.
We’ve spent all the money we raised last year on leaflets, website hosting and setting up a trust to attempt a bid for the pub, so we’ve organised another exciting benefit gig.

The superb (and generous and supportive) songwriter John Ellis has agreed to play for us again, as have superb jazz duo Jeff Green(Stephane Grapelli & Nigel Kennedy) &  Mike Edmonds and brilliant  local singer/songwriter Chris Tymkow. We’re still finalising the other elements of the evening but we know you’ll love it.

The Second Save The Old Spotted Dog Benefit will take place at The Red House (St Anthony’s Catholic Club) from 8pm on Friday November 29th.

Tickets are on sale now at £8 (any remaining tickets will be sold on the night at £10), which is an absolute bargain! Click the ‘add to cart’  button on your left and follow the instructions to be sure of your tickets. (we sold out very quickly last year so – in the words of Fred Pontin – book early!)

Just a note – the email receipt you get from PayPal will be your ticket. Please print a copy off to bring on the night".

Saturday, November 23, 2013

West Ham TULO: Living wage update; Royal Mail, Bangladesh Accord, Equalities & Save NHS

On Tuesday we had had our 2nd meeting of West Ham Labour Party TULO. Chaired by our TULO officer, Kim Silver. Kim is also an UNISON London NEC member and Convenor in Newham Local Government branch.

Royal Mail CWU activist (and Labour Party Councillor candidate 2014) Idris Ibrahim gave us an update on the dispute in Royal Mail following privatisation. The strike has been postponed pending talks (which are still ongoing this weekend).

Idris thanked us for our offer of support if there is a dispute (Solidarity actions on strike days, stalls, petitions and leafleting). 

Kim gave an update on our campaign for Fair Pay for all in Newham. Our motion from West Ham CLP has been sent to Newham Local Campaign Committee for support. If it is passed at the LCF then it will be sent for consideration to Newham Council Labour Group.

I raised the issue of the TUC backed campaign in support of UK retailers who source clothing from Bangladesh to sign the international Accord on Fire and Building Safety. This Accord is trying to stop the slaughter of textile workers that we have seen in the Tazreen factory fire and the Rana Plaza collapse. There will be independent funded professional safety inspections, training of Union safety reps with the right to stop work if there is an imminent danger without loss of pay.

Only a few British based Companies are refusing to sign the Accord. The TUC are organising a protest on Saturday 23rd November and are calling on supporters to download and deliver a letter of protest to all Edinburgh Woollen Mills stores (EWM - Parent company of Peacocks, the high street retail chain).

We agreed to  send a West Ham TULO delegation to deliver the letter of protest to the Newham Green Street and Stratford Mall Peacocks stores on Saturday.This will coincide with local Labour Canvassing campaigns.

Next BECTU member (and Labour Party candidate 2014) Sue Masters briefed us on the Save Our NHS campaign in Newham. There is a heavy Labour Party presence on this campaign which is led by patient representatives and independent clinicians. It is a non party political organisation and all West Ham TULO activists are encouraged to support.

Winston Vaughan (local Cllr and retired CWU activist) is also the West Ham CLP Equalities officer and he raised with us how Union activists feel he could promote the issue of equalities in the CLP.

Reminder that at next West Ham General Committee  Phil Wilson MP will be the Guest speaker and that we will be discussing the trade union link with the Labour Party. All CLP members can attend the GC as visitors. There is also a motion from West Ham Ward on retaining the link. The special Labour Party Spring conference on the link will take place at Newham Excel on Saturday 1 March 2014.

Under AOB we agreed to add the important issue of the public ownership of the railways to our  objectives.

Next meeting will be 7.30pm on Tuesday 21 January 2014 at West Ham Labour HQ, 306 High Street, E15.

UPDATE: success - EWM have signed the Bangladesh Accord!!! the action on 23rd has been called off (for now)

How could the House of Commons work better? Lisa Nandy MP & Katie Ghose Electoral Reform Society

This should be yet another interesting debate organised by Newham Compass and Fabians on Tuesday 10 December 2013 at 8pm in West Ham Supporter's Club, Castle St, London E6 1PP.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Sectarian: "Peoples United Front of Judea and UK"

"United Left

I understand that the departure of the led officer/activist for the United Front, Jon of the Rogers, means that the 'organisation' is searching for a new name. 

So I am suggesting that the Peoples United Front of Judea and UK could be an alternative? Call me old fashioned but more people will then be able to identify with them and join when they have very little else to do?" 

Hat tip Nick on his view on battle for Ultra left permanent revolution slate for London UNISON Regional Council elections 2014. SPEW & LRC V SWP/PR/AWL and the various other bonkers extremists.

The Evil Ones - 1 down 4 to go: Bench, Bank Fashion, Republic and Mexx.

On Tuesday I posted here on the campaign by the TUC "Going to Work" website about handing in letters of protest on Saturday (tomorrow) to branches of Peacocks about the refusal of their parent company, Edinburgh Woollen Mill to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building safety Accord.

This Accord is trying to stop the senseless slaughter of garment workers in Bangladesh. See here, here and here.

West Ham Labour Party TULO had agreed on Tuesday that trade union activists will hand in letters of protest to Stratford and Green Street Peacock stores before and after Labour canvassing sessions.

Great news! We have now been told that after months of refusing EWM have now signed the Accord!!!! So the protest tomorrow is called off although we are still pressing EWM to pay compensation for workers injured in the horrific Tazreen factory fire.

The pressure will now be on the 4 "evil ones" retail stores "Bench, Bank Fashion, Republic and Mexx" who are still refusing to sign the Accord. I hope that "Going to work" will be asking us to do similar stuff with this irresponsible mob in the near future.

(hat tip picture Banksy)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why the NHS is still our religion?

Check out this report on the quality and cost effectiveness of health services. The UK NHS in 2010 comes 2nd overall to the Dutch model. The US model comes last and costs nearly 3 times as much. While our NHS is not always perfect it has been judged as providing amongst the best, safe, efficient and effective health care in the world (or did in 2010 - something happened that year?).

Nuff said?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Our Money, Our Business: Building a more accountable investment system

Yesterday evening I went to the launch of two new reports by ShareAction at the Nuffield Foundation in central London. Chaired by their CEO, Catherine Howarth.

Christine Berry from ShareAction presented on the reports "Our Money, Our Business: Building a more accountable  investment system" and "Engaging savers with stewardship and responsible investment".

Christine argued that in light of pension auto enrolment we need to revisit ideas such as those expressed in the book by David Pitt-Watson, "The New Capitalists", since there will now be a huge expansion of share owners. However, at the moment share owner governance is a "dead duck" and we need to reassert the legitimacy of shareholders as owners. We also need to counter the idea that no one is really interested in what happens to their savings.

Research by the Pension Trust (whose chair Sarah Smart was sitting in the same row as me) suggested that its members were not that interested in whether their fund was invested in the traditional "sin stocks" (such as tobacco) but were interested in environmental issues and labour rights.

The first speaker was Mark Fawcett from NEST who pointed out that in modern day Direct Contribution (DC) schemes, savers are exposed to all the risk then it is likely that members will have to take a more active interest in their savings (whether they like it or not).

Roger Urwin from advisers, Towers Watson, was concerned that the reports were important but maybe heavy on aspiration and light on what could be catalysts to bring about change.

Charlotte Black, from high net worth private investor manager, Brewin Dolphin, thought this was an important issue and could show the good side of capitalism but her 120,000 investors had never used the proxy share voting system she had put in place.

My question to the panel was that we need to have better and stronger representative democracy by a elected trustee based model. Advisers are very important but they do not have the fiduciary duty or mandate that elected member nominated trustees will have. Saying that, trustees do have to raise their game and become better trained and more assertive but they do need support.

(good luck to Christine who is soon leaving ShareAction for a new job.)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Top Bosses Rip Off Workers (and Shareholders) 14% pay rise FFS!!!!

"Commenting on the latest FTSE 100 director’s pay trends published today (Monday) by Income Data Services – which show that median total earnings of FTSE 100 directors increased by 14 per cent last year – TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Britain’s top bosses are back to their old tricks as their pay is growing 20 times faster than the average worker.

“It’s one thing replacing bonuses with long-term incentive plans, but FTSE 100 companies are simply exploiting this change to make their fat cats even fatter.

“The time has come for legislation to put ordinary workers on the pay committees of companies. This is the only way to bring some sanity to the way in which directors are paid.”

Can you believe how greedy these people are?  When most workers in this country have had their wages cut in real terms for the last 5 years? Their pensions and insurance policies are also being reduced to pay for what I can only assume to be in the majority of cases - simple fraud and embezzlement

Enough is enough. The British people are not powerless in this. Parliament is sovereign and in 2015 vote Labour and demand they do something about our broken market economy.

Remember if you don't vote you have no right at all to moan about this.

Edinburgh Woollen Mill / Peacocks: 23 Nov Day of Action on Bangladesh

I got this email this morning from the TUC website "Going to Work". I have printed off the letter and will be popping into my local Peacocks store on Saturday.

I hope many others will do the same. We will be discussing this at the West Ham TULO meeting tonight as well.

"Dear John,
On Saturday 23 November, the day before the anniversary of the Tazreen fashions fire, in which over a hundred people lost their lives, we are calling out Edinburgh Woollen Mill and their subsidiary company Peacocks for their continued inaction on their deadly factories in Bangladesh.

Please help us to take the message right into their branches near where you live by printing out and signing a letter, and delivering it in person. We need them to join the overwhelming majority of their competitors in signing up to the fire and building safety plan for their factories in Bangladesh, and to pay compensation to victims of the Tazreen disaster.

Retailers are always concerned about their image locally, and getting a lot of letters passed over the counter around the country, on an important Christmas trading date, will send a very strong signal to the company that their customers won't let them just brush people's lives under the carpet.

To make this a bit easier, we've mapped their branches online, and there's likely one near you. Choose a branch in your area, and click to visit the store. We'll give you a letter to download and print out.

First step is to choose a branch that you could visit on Saturday 23 November...

NB: This action is supported by the TUC, War on Want, People and Planet, Labour Behind the Label,, SEAD, STUC and WTUC, so you'll be in good company!"

UPDATE: Great news - EWM have signed the Accord!!!!! check out here

Sunday, November 17, 2013

SERTUC Health & Safety Seminar 2013

I arrived late and then had to leave early from this excellent health and safety seminar organised by SERTUC (South Eastern Trade Union Congress) which took place the other week at Congress House.

When I arrived Gerard Stilliard, a partner at trade union solicitors, Thompsons (seen
at London UNISON safety committee earlier this year) was speaking about the removal by the Government of Civil liability therefore returning workers protection to that of pre-1878 and the need to prove negligence. He finished his speech by thanking the audience and wishing us all "Good luck" in the future since "we will need it".

Next to speak was  Mike Wilcock, Head of Operations in the South East Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Mike (see picture above) became interested in health and safety because he trained as an industrial chemist and got blown up in a factory in France. He was unimpressed that the French safety inspector looking into this incident was more concerned about going to lunch with the factory owner.

He is very proud of the work of the HSE and concerned that due to reductions in the number of his staff, they now have act more as Policemen and are not "here to help". Real health & safety is not about banning conkers, its about stopping people being killed and injured. Regarding the recent reviews of safety legislation, he accepts that simplification and clarity is good. We must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. In Qatar 40 workers have already been killed building the 2022 World Cup stadiums. In the UK we had no deaths when building the Olympics. 

He can now only send inspectors into the highest risk employers. Those who kill and injure the most.  But what and who fills the gap? It has to be the professional safety advisers and trade unions safety reps. Use to have 70% proactive inspections now 70% plus are reactive. HSE will now charge employers £122 per hour if they have to write to them or issue a notice.

In Q&A I asked if trade union safety reps were being expected to help fill the gap caused by the reduction in HSE Inspectors, they should be given the power to issue provisional improvement notices? (PINS) This would give reps greater credibility. Martin disagreed and said that safety reps are already credible and often are better trained than managers. He also didn't think it was at all likely in the "current landscape".

Next speaker was Dr Jenny Harries,  Regional director South of England for Public Health. For her  good health is good for business and the workforce. Public health is everyone's business. See the Marmot Review. Clear link with good employment and good health.  Poor employment and unemployment with poor health.  The affluent tend to retire without disability and live longer.

Stress is still the biggest cause of sickness. Companies with higher levels of staff engagement have 13% lower staff turnover, they have less than half the UK average sickness absence rate and consistently outperform on the FTSE 100 (reference Sunday Times : Best companies to work for in the UK).

I then had to leave for another meeting which is a shame since as a union safety rep I want to know more about "well being" at work as well as avoiding direct injuries and diseases. It is an area that I don't think the unions or the employers do anywhere near enough on.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Payday loans v Bank loans - between a rock and a hard place?

Following this post about Ed Miliband attacking the "wonga economy", I have been having the really important debate below via Facebook private chat with a UNISON member struggling to bring up her kids and pay the bills.

I think it is really important that we don't demonise people who in the real world feel forced to take out pay day loans and instead concentrate more on getting the Banks and credit unions to raise their game.

Name has been removed. Permission given to post.

"Hi John: Hmm ... just
had to pitch an alternative view before Milliband and all do anything stupid with payday loan companies ... of which Wonga is only one! Last month a friend went over her overdraft limit with her Bank by £61 for about 5 days a letter and have been charged £61!!!! Same amount with a payday loan company would have been approx £15-£30!

And yet we're told payday loan companies are taking advantage? Really?! I feel strongly that the focus is being put that payday loan companies are the bad guy in this. Actually they're filling a gap that has been forced between banks and loan sharks. There is no middle ground. You're either using banks or your not. Once you cross the line it's very hard to get back into 'main stream'.

Many of the people making these judgements probably have never been in a place where they can't use the bank, don't have access to easy credit. What happens when you contact your bank to tell them you've been made redundant and ask them for help. Redundancy money is due but won't be in for a few weeks. Their response is far from helping you ... instead they remove your overdraft of £500 with no notice, your mortgage is due out, .. you have £10 in the bank. Your credit card has a couple of hundred left on it. You call them and ask if you can bump up your limit and get told no. .... what are you going to do now? Where can you get money? You have to pay the bills, you need fuel in the car.

You may choose to skip a payment to make ends meet ... now your credit rating is at risk. But choice of food or concern of credit rating? You take the food. But then you start to get on your feet. People now won't lend to you because you're a credit risk. Then your car has a major malfunction. You need it to get to work. It's going to cost £300 to fix. Then you start to look for the alternatives ...

There's a chap down the pub who buys jewellery ... there's a pawn shop in town ... there's a payday loan who can give you £300 now ... it's in the bank in 20 mins and you can pay the bill. It'll cost you about £70 but if you bounce your bills instead each dirct debit will cost you £25 (minimum), if you go over your overdrawn that'll cost you £25 or more ... so actually now £70 sounds quite reasonable.
Instead of painting pay day loans as the enemy they should be being praised for providing a service that the banks aren't prepared to.

Banks are rigid, unhelpful and quite often patronising. They charge massively compared to payday loans ... check out £100 overdrawn /over limit compared to £100 with a payday loan ... it's CHEAPER to use a payday loan (source - Banks vs Wonga). The banks are nothing but bullies who abuse customers because they know we have no choice but to use them. you have to have an account to get salary paid in, to pay direct debits ... they restrict life and cost more than most payday loans.

It really makes me cross that nobody is challenging the banking structure before suggesting whipping the lifeline of payday loans away from people who are using them quite happily and responsibly. Yes Pay Day loans are expensive ... but they're not exploiting people. Loan Sharks and Banks are really the abusers - Pay Day loans offer a lifeline when everyone else would watch you drown. I know some people use them and get into trouble - but there are many thousands of people who use them for the purpose designed.

It's them who would be penalised if regulation is tightened too much - and I am one! you'd be as good as putting the noose around my neck ... I couldn't cope without that occasional help and support from the payday loan companies. I have nowhere else to go ... and if you make it too strict and force credit checks I would be in enormous trouble. I don't know how I would cope. Please help and don't let them strangle the life out of me.

Credit unions are touted as the alternative ... but you have to save with them to build credit ... and even then its normally to a max of £200. They are not a good comparable. Much better would be for banks to offer to clear pay day loans by taking on the debt, help people learn to budget, and a manageable way to reduce the spiral. But while they remain fixated on 6 year out of date credit history that bears no reflection to where you are today banks are nothing but a patronising hindrance for anyone with a poor credit rating. Sorry John but this one makes me SO cross ... people are slating Wonga ... why not the others too? And yet Wonga got me out of a huge mess, no hassle, no patronising, and the highest level of customer service. Banks vs Wonga ... I'd go Wonga everytime. Just had to share a different view xx

John Gray: Hi,  Yes, banks are pretty rubbish as well but they want to lend long term and do set stupid short term rates for customers who fall foul. But Pay Day loans can charge up to 4000% per year 4000% - credit unions do not have a £200 limit? but they do have some restrictions but please, please join one and while you may have to take a pay day loan out don't think anyone is having a go at you, blame the company and the society that forces working families to feel they have to do so in order to survive. Good to hear from you again. Take care. John 

Hi John; Yep apr on pay day loans is mad ... but for a month is often cheaper than bank overdraft or charges. .. banks hide this info away and thats my issue with people attacking pay days. Makes me cross to hear politicians saying ahhh the apr is terrible ... but not looking at what else could be done. The reason pay days get away with it is because there is no practical solution or alternative. I looked into credit union and they genuinely couldn't help me as I couldn't afford to save with them first. They'll only lend a multiple of what you regularly save with them ....and only when you've made several payments. Or that's what it was when I investigated it before .... might have changed since.

I don't feel I'm being blamed for using pay days but I am terrified there will be a knee jerk ban on them. Haven't needed them for a while but they are my security blanket against problems ... to know that in 20 mins I can get no hassle no questions cash boost is reassuring. Sorry this has hit a nerve as you can tell ... I think paydays are greedy on their apr ... but I prefer their open style and approach. They don't judge me. I know what it will cost and its a grown up clear way of borrowing money. Rather than the banks who I find appalling to deal with now I have a bad credit rating ... they patronise, and make me feel like the lowest of the low. I Lol ah bet you've missed by little rants and outbursts really haven't you. Hope you're keeping well. xx

John Gray Hi: I have missed your rants! keep them up! I think we are both right over this. Pay day loans suit some folk but most people would be better off without them. Wonga makes over 50% of its profits from fines and roll over loans. If workers had a fairer share of the income cake and decent pay rises then they would not need such loans in the first place! 

Hi John: Lol ok agree to disagree ... but try not to let them be taken away without a viable alternative being put in place. Eg if banks offered a guaranteed acceptance loan to convert off so people can get off the hamster wheel. Otherwise people will suffer ... and when they're struggling already turning off a source of coping ... even if its far from ideal ... would be catastrophic for some people and families. Keep in touch ... I do keep up with your blogs and posts xx

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sing-a-Long Friday Sectarian: 57 Varieties (The Chicken Song)

We’re a small Trot sect
With a small red student base
But we dream one day
That we’ll rule the human race
People laugh at us
But we’ll show the world they’re wrong
Overthrow the State
While we sing this left wing song

Build a Workers’ Front
Sell a paper to your gran
Have a fuse then split
Be as wacky as you can
Caucus in a letter box
Change your name another time
Turn to industry
And then alter all your lines

There’s fifteen of us
We’re the vanguard of our class
With a dialectic task
Met this bloke in Greece
Now an international’s formed
Like the Bolsheviks
When the Czar’s Palace they stormed

Have a faction fight
Write polemics by the score
Purge your tendency
And reduce your ranks to four
Call for unity
Say the enemy is Benn
Liquidate in Workers Power
And then do it all again

Become entryists
Utilise the bourgeois courts
Launch an armed struggle
Try and build a base in Shorts
Call a general strike
Like Possadas look to the stars
For you never know
Perhaps there’s a loony Trot in Mars

Hat tip Michael Ezra - purists may claim this is the wrong Chicken Song video but comrades surely the ends justify the means :) Update - the Central Committee insist on the other version.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jon Cruddas MP "George Lansbury's Legacy for the Labour Party"

Last Thursday evening I went to the inaugural lecture of the George Lansbury Memorial Committee in Queen Mary's, Stepney, East London. The speaker was Labour MP Jon Cruddas.

George Lansbury was a former leader of the Labour Party in the 1930's and at the time a very poplar politician in East London. But he is not that well known nowadays.

Jon described him as a man of ethics, principle and character.  A great servant of the people. Born 1859 (to a Welsh Mother) he was a MP 1910-1912 and 1922-1940. In 1921 he was Labour Mayor of Poplar and led the Poplar Rates rebellion which resulted in him and 30 councillors being imprisoned for 6 weeks. He was leader of the Labour Party 1932-1935.

Jon believed that Lansbury by his example saved the Labour Party following the treachery and its near electoral annihilation in 1931. He was a supporter of the suffragette and trade union movements. A teetotal Christian socialist pacifist who despite their differences, laid the way for the great reforming Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee.

Lansbury was courteous to all but would bend down to none.  He was a patriotic, free born Englishman in the romantic tradition of William Morris. Not backward or anti-technology.

He was not a scientific socialist or transactional rationalist like Morrison, Dalton or Gaitskell. He believed in human virtue and the power of transformation. The need to motivate people and lead by personal example. Tell a story that speaks to hopes and dreams.

He hated the workhouse and refused to accept the concept of an undeserving poor. He wanted to gain power only to give it away ‘to chain down misery and set happiness free’.

The Labour Party went on to believe more in transactional politics than transformation. Jon argues that Labour's current "One Nation" politics is a return to such transformation beliefs.  This is Lansbury legacy to the Labour Party and in 2015 as in 1945 we will win power and recover from defeat.

There was a wide ranging Q&A chaired by local MP Jim Fitzpatrick. I was able to mention that I was the former Estate officer for George Lansbury House which is a Council Housing building in Bow which is built on the site of his former home.

My question was is (Labour Leader Ed Miliband's promise) to fix broken markets "transactional" or "transformational"? Jon grinned and said it is both.

You can check out the full transcript of his speech at New Stateman. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Daily Mail caught out lying again & turning into your Dad

When I was growing up my father banned newspapers from our house. He said that they were all biased and we should get our news from the BBC TV at 9pm. He knew that the BBC (bless it) was not perfect but he was satisfied that they meant well and usually got their reporting right most of the time.

I disagreed and use to love reading newspapers. As a teenager I worked in a Newsagents and in the school holidays would try and read every paper in stock. I found it fascinating how different papers would report the same story. Over the years I have become more and more disenchanted with newspapers and have now pretty much stopped buying them.

The latest example of lies and smears published in the Daily Mail last week about Gordon Brown MP just beggars belief (see rare retraction above). You would have thought with the current phone hacking criminal trial and unease about the proposed press regulation charter they would have been just a little big careful about what they publish?

The broadsheets are better but not that much better.  Leaving aside the Sunday Times which I don't believe anything it says anymore. They all seem to be aimed at wealthy middle class elites who obsess over super expensive cars, Waitrose cooking ingredients and exotic holidays in the Seychelles. I exaggerate slightly to make my point and I do on occasions read something interesting and well written but I usually get bored reading them and end up throwing most of it away unread.

Provocative and opinionated stuff you can nowadays get very easily on the Internet. 

I will still read the local press and specialist weeklies but I find myself in yet another way, turning into a slightly updated version of my old Dad. I have decided not to buy daily or Sunday papers and rely on the BBC for my main news.  Now of course largely via their website and PC, tablet, laptop and smartphone.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A History of Housing 1918 to 2012

Check out this excellent post at Red Brick about a new report on the "Politics of Housing" by the National Housing Federation.

As part of this report there is an interactive timeline on the history of housing from 1918-2012.

It is hard to believe that there was ever the time that both Labour and the Conservative pledged to build 500K homes per year if they were in Government!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Remembrance Sunday & Armistice Day

Yesterday morning I went to the Remembrance Sunday Service at West Ham Parish Church of All Saints. This is in my Council ward  and at 1,000 years is one of the oldest buildings in Newham.

The Church is currently undergoing a major programme of restoration with scaffolding everywhere but it still retained its solemnity and dignity.

The Revd Stennett Kirby led the service and our local MP Lyn Brown gave a Bible reading. Following Reveille, the Kohima Epitaph was given by an elderly veteran whose slow, deliberate rasping voice made all of us think of those who gave their today for our tomorrow.

Wreaths were laid with respect by the dignitaries, British Legionaries, serving soldiers and cadets. The most touching was the last which was laid by a little girl of 3 or 4 who had to "persuaded" by her Mum and encouraged by others, to go up and lay her little wooden cross with a red poppy on it.  But what was lovely is once she had finally done this, she turned round and skipped her way back to her Mum across the Church.

The address was made by Rifleman Franklin Anolue, 7 Rifles, G Company, West Ham who was in his Army Battle dress.  Franklin had recently served in Helmond Province in Afghanistan with his regiment. He told us he had always wanted to be a soldier ever since he saw the film "Saving Private Ryan". He was a student studying engineering and a part time soldier with the Territorial Army. He hadn't told his Mum he was going to Afghanistan until he was there, since he knew she would try and stop him! He had gone to Remembrance services before he went on his tour of duty but it is only now that he can really understand why it is so important to remember all those who put themselves in harms way for their country.

Remembrance Sunday takes place on the 2nd Sunday of November every year. This morning I went to the out door Armistice Day Service at the Central Park Cenotaph in East Ham which takes place at the anniversary of the end of World War One, at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th Month.  This was another very moving service. What was particularly important to me was the number of children from local primary and secondary schools who attended and participated in the service.

Also the emphasis on the "forgotten" Commonwealth and the absolutely vital role played in the First and Second World War by Africans, Asians and Caribbeans who defended our country and our freedoms.

The picture above is of my Taid (Welsh for Grandfather) in the trenches during the 1st World War.  He is sitting on the left and I think the picture was taken in Gallipoli where he served in Hawk Battalion, Royal Naval Division. This is a smashing photograph of my Taid. Dan Filson on FaceBook thought he looked like a 1950's teddy boy! Which I am not that sure about but having "attitude" may explain why he survived being on the front line in Gallipoli, Flanders and the Somme for 3 long years. He won the Military Cross in 1917.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ed Miliband and the Cost of Living Crisis

On Tuesday I went to Battersea Power Station (for the first time) to listen to Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, launch his latest attack on the "Wonga Economy" and the cost of living crisis in this country.

I assume that that this iconic London venue was chosen to reinforce the argument about the on-going rip off by the privatised energy companies of the British public?

There was a mixed audience of ordinary local Labour Party members and the media. Below are some of what I thought were his key points.

Ed spoke about meeting "Pay Day" loan victims, who are in absolute dreadful state, being bullied and exploited by these companies (many of whom I would point out finance the Conservative Party).

"...In this country a few at the top do very well, while everyone else struggles. Growth without general economic prosperity is not enough. Ordinary families are doing worse on pay while Chief Executives have up to 7% rises! Need to restore link between living standards and growth. This government is wedded to a race to the bottom. Supporting poverty wages and insecure zero hour contracts.

...Exploiting migrants as well as British workers. But they won't do nothing since they don't believe in intervening "in the market". But all markets have rules and if these rules are broken or allow exploitation then the government needs to intervene....

This government regularly intervenes into the market to reduce employment rights and therefore decrease wages..... 

We have the slowest "Cameron" recovery in 100 years. New jobs tend to be low paid, part time and insecure. The government thinks we have to compete with India and China by cutting wages to their levels....

Working Britain needs a pay rise! One in five workers live in poverty on less than a living wage. Most children who live in poverty in this country have parents who are in work......

If we pay more to those in work then we the taxpayer will pay less out in benefits. Labour will fix markets when they broken. The Tories use to know that they had to do this. Battersea Power Station was built by Tories who knew that the energy market at the time was broken and they had to intervene....."

Ed's ended his speech by making it absolutely clear that a future Labour Government will intervene in "broken markets".

In the Q&A I asked the first question to Ed about the role of employee representatives on company remuneration committees in tackling unfair pay, as they do in nearly all our competitor countries in Europe. Ed confirmed that the Party in government does intend to make sure that there is such representation. Employers wanting unfair pay rises for themselves should have to look their employees representative in the eye when asking for this. 

The media were on the whole pretty awful during the Q&A. They ignored the issue in hand and were obsessed with Falkirk and the role of Unite the union. Their questions to Ed were mostly puerile and sneering. One so called journalist asked him how scared he was of Unite on a level 1-10? How pathetic.

While I am very proud of our tradition of free speech and a free press in this county I wish more people could see how ugly and ignorant these people are.  There was plenty of possible hard and difficult questions on what Ed had just spoken about but they were just too lazy to think of them.

Anyway, I think this speech is really significant and is part of the repositioning in politics by Ed and the Labour Party, as it resumes its historic mission to save capitalism from itself.

You can watch the speech here on Youtube or read it here on Labourlist. 

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Canvassing David Lee Point & Remembering Gunner John Henry Carlile

This afternoon it was raining so we decided to canvass the tower block, David Lee Point in Leather Gardens, West Ham ward.

In the block lives one of our oldest Labour Party members, Gerry Carlile (see picture top right in white shirt).

Gerry invited us in for a rest and a chat. On his wall is the picture of his elder brother John (see left) who was killed in action during the Second World War. He had volunteered to serve as a Gunner on a merchant ship which was later sunk by a German U-Boat in the brutal "Battle of the Atlantic". Below is the stark details on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

"CARLILE, Gunner, JOHN HENRY, 1797607. 3/2 Maritime Regt. Royal Artillery. 7th December 1942. Age 21. Son of John Henry and Margarett Cathrine Carlile, of Stratford, Essex".

I believe that John was on the SS. Peter Maresk, which was sunk during 7 December with the loss of all 67 crew. On that same day at least 3 other ships were sunk with a total loss of another 751 lives. I think only 4 men survived.

I imagine that on walls and mantlepieces, up and down the country, there are similar photos surrounded by red poppies. Over 800 lives were lost on that day in just one part of the War. A sobering thought.

Tomorrow, I will be paying my respects and remembering John and the millions of others who lost their lives defending our country. If you live in Newham Click here for details of the commemorations taking place tomorrow.