Wednesday, 25 February 2015

WAY OF THE RAMBLER - Kate Ashbrook wants more access to footpaths

This article is taken from the unite Landworker magazine of Spring 2015. 

Known for her tireless countryside campaigning, Unite member Kate Ashbrook is the Ramblers’ President and general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, Britain’s oldest national conservation body. 

A riding holiday in the early 1970s brought Kate, aged 10, into contact with Lady Sylvia Sayer whose impassioned defence of Dartmoor included later snubbing the Prince of Wales over his plans to allow continued military use on the South Devon moorland. 

“She was 50 years older than me but became my role model. I thus went to public enquiries as a youngster and was never afraid to speak out on the need to protect vital wild country that is great for recreation and creates feelings of freedom and renewal.” 

Kate was just 22 when she became general secretary in 1984 of Open Spaces, a membership based charity formed in 1865 and which campaigns to protect local common land, town and village greens, open spaces and public paths.

Over the years, Kate has successfully stopped the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Keith Richards closing off footpaths to the public. 

Following a lengthy campaign she used bolt cutters in 2003 to unlock gates in East Sussex. These had been unlawfully fastened by a company associated with real estate magnate Nicholas van Hoogstraten, who had called ramblers the ‘scum of the earth.’  Walkers’ access to a path that had been blocked for 13 years was finally achieved. 

“I enjoy getting paths opened and often you need to campaign to make this possible. Some people accuse campaigners of always saying no, but I’d contend that much of the landscape we enjoy is still free, beautiful and open because collectively we have saved it,” said Kate, who at aged 27 was the youngest person ever elected onto the Ramblers’ national committee.

Naturally delighted by the passing in 2000 of the Countryside Rights of Way Act (CROW) that the Ramblers’ Association had long sought, Kate remains frustrated that not all uncultivated land is covered by the act. Labour’s need to get its legislation through the House of Lords meant it was prepared to concede to Liberal Democrat demands that access should be denied to land that had been improved or semi-improved. This meant that when the Countryside Agency undertook its defining process the result was a number of anomalies.

“I live in the Buckinghamshire village of Turville. This is located in the Chiltern Hills, a chalk escarpment of outstanding natural beauty that the public has only part access to even though there appears to be no difference between places we can and can’t walk. 

“At this current time the access maps are frozen. But when the government does finally get round to keep to the commitment of a review that was promised after ten years of the act then it must be conducted on different terms,” said Kate. 

Whilst public spending cuts have delayed the CROW review they have thankfully not blocked the opening of the Wales coastal path and the ongoing construction of the England Coast Path. 

Last year, the then environment minister Richard Benyon sparked anger when he referred to “expensive” schemes inherited from the previous Labour government, adding, “the Coastal Access Bill was a sledgehammer to miss a nut.” A vigorous campaign by the Ramblers and other organisations soon had the government back tracking. 

“What has been won in England is remarkable. We have coastal access down to the sea and inland to the nearest coastal boundary. Just recently we obtained a commitment from Nick Clegg that all the works should be completed by 2020. This is recognition that this is important for people’s health and many local economies. It is another example of what can be won by campaigning.” 

Kate’s work inevitably brings her into regular contact with politicians. She has no problems with “needing to cultivate relationships with decision makers. If you are a campaigner you have to work out who is going to make decisions and seek to influence them. Sometimes that is not easy.” 

As we move towards the May general election there will be many organisations that are seeking to get policy commitments from the major parties that may form the next government. 

The Open Spaces 2015 Manifesto wants the next Westminster government to ensure authorities take action against unlawful works on common land, protect village greens and make landowners grants conditional on all public rights of way on their land being unobstructed. 

The organisation also wants to ‘promote and protect people’s right to enjoy open spaces close to their homes, as well as our splendid commons and network of public paths.’ It believes citizens should have access to good-quality public open space within five minutes walk of their home. 

Interviewed before addressing the Peak and Northern Footpaths Society that promotes the interests of public footpath users across a huge area, Kate said, “We are concerned about major local government cuts for footpaths. 

“Cutting off this investment does not save money as footpaths help keep people healthy and deteriorating access paths in the countryside inevitably means people do not visit and this thus reduces spending by visitors in these areas. We need a change in direction under the next government.” 

Kate’s busy work schedule, including speaking engagements virtually every weekend, means she has not attended any of the massive anti-austerity demonstrations in London at which the Ramblers have been well represented. She has though been a trade unionist for many years as, “I believe in unions and equality and ensuring everyone has proper rights.” 

Union branches who might welcome a speaker from the Open Spaces Society can make contact on 01491 573535 and at 

With Banners Held High daytime programme for 7 March 2015

The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign is holding a major event in Wakefield on 7 March 2015 and I will
chairing the workshop on Surveillance at 2.05pm 

Tory peer estate admits to killing two young people

The Tories have slashed the Health and Safety Executive budget and have restricted safety inspections across many sectors of the economy. Now, the estate of a Tory Peer has pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety regulations, resulting in the deaths of two young men. 

On 18 February 2013, two young men Scott Cain, 23, and Ashley Clarke, 24, were discovered unconscious in an apple store on the 2,500 acre Hampshire Blackmoor Estate owned by the Earl of Selborne, John Palmer. 

The pair were collecting apples when fumes in a building that is kept cool by a system that uses nitrogen to regulate temperature, oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity overcame them. 

Under the Control of Substances Hazards to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) then if hazardous substances are present in a workplace then the employer should assess the risks and put in place control measures to prevent exposure and where this is not possible put in place control measures to minimise the risk.

Blackmoor Estate was established in 1920s and has a long-standing reputation for its apples, pears and plums that are also used to produce ciders and juices. At 2,500 acres it is one of the largest estates in Hampshire, a county in which just 307 landowners own 36% of the land with the other 1.6 million people the rest. 

In January, Estate’s legal representative Ben Compton pleaded guilty to three of four health and safety charges relate to inadequate emergency plans and risk assessments against the firm. Sentencing agains the estate has been adjourned until after June when Andrew Stocker, 57, from Bordon, a former manager at the estate, will be standing trial on two counts of gross negligence manslaughter. He is pleading not guilty.

Reconnecting people - Unite open Farsley Community Centre

Taken from website at:-

New Unite Leeds centre is working to reconnect community
Mark Metcalf, Monday, February 23rd, 2015 

The Unite North East, Yorkshire and Humberside (NEY&H) region opened its third community support centre on February 11, in Farsley, Leeds.

And while the first two were in conjunction with the National Union of Mineworkers the bright new premises will be shared with the local Labour prospective parliamentary candidate Jamie Hanley.

This will also mean Unite can “reconnect Labour with the concerns of our members and the working class more generally,” said Unite regional political officer, Mark Fieldhouse.

The centre will be open on Wednesdays and Thursdays (10am – 3pm) offering professional individual and community support particularly around welfare problems.

These are rising fast as the government closes it eyes to wealthy tax dodgers while stepping up its cruel use of benefit sanctions. In response, Farsley will introduce ‘benefit buddying’ that will offer peer-to-peer support for vulnerable people facing benefit claim difficulties.

Successful initiatives at the Barnsley and Durham community centres will be replicated at Farsley with courses in reading and writing, CV and job applications, computer classes, public speaking, graphic design and social media. So in addition to helping people improve their chances of finding work the centre will give users the skills for campaigning activities alongside Unite workplace members.

Four Unite Community members – Andy Hiles, Callum Stanland, Caroline Isle and Gerry Lavery – have volunteered to staff the centre. Professional welfare rights’ training is being undertaken.

“I live locally and feel I can help deliver an advice service to people while also campaigning on issues we will be dealing with here such as the bedroom tax and debt,” explained Gerry Lavery, a retired university lecturer who expressed his pleasure at hearing Jamie Hanley speaking so passionately about trade unionism.

Force for good

“As I set off for my first day at work I was told by my dad to ‘join the union.’ I have been a member of TGWU/Unite ever since and chaired my workplace branch at Morrish solicitors.

“Trade unions are a force for good. I am delighted to be working closely with Unite,” said Jamie. He is standing for the second time in the Pudsey constituency against the sitting Tory MP Stuart Andrew whose 1,659 majority clearly makes him vulnerable if labour movement activists get heavily involved in campaigning for Jamie.

“I want trade unionists involvement and we will have trade union campaign days as part of my election campaign,” said Jamie.

“The Tories have lots of money for what is the most important election in a generation. Make no mistake if they win then Cameron will complete Margaret Thatcher’s job by massively undermining the ability of working people to be represented at work,” he added.

Dick Banks, chair of the NEY&H regional industrial sector committee, said, “I am delighted to see this eye-catching centre being opened in such a prominent location. The successes at Barnsley and Durham can be replicated in Farsley especially if one of our members was the local MP after the general election.”

To contact the centre: Farsley Unite Community Support Centre, 90-92 Old Road, Farsley, Leeds LS28 5BN, 0113 257 5221

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Plaque dedicated to Merseyside anti-apartheid seafarers

Taken from Rebel Road project of Unite education department. All photographs are copyright Mark Harvey of ID8 photography. 

The entrance to Jack Jones House, Liverpool is the location for a Liverpool City Council plaque dedicated to Merseysiders whose spirit of international solidarity saw them risk their lives in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Internal resistance there in the forms of strikes, demonstrations and acts of sabotage encouraged international solidarity. 

Seafarers and dockers have long been the most successful at organising international solidarity. Gerry Wan, deceased, was a black Liverpool-born seaman who was a chef on the Union Castle Line that sailed to South Africa. According to Roger O’Hara, the Merseyside Area Secretary for the Communist Party (CP) of Great Britain in 1970, Wan delivered post, propaganda literature and parcels of money to places in Durban. These materials were hidden within ships’ cargo holds before departing from Britain. 

Another CP member George Cartwright, deceased, was charged with collecting a crew together to navigate a yacht, the Avventura, from Somalia to close to the coast of South Africa where 19 ANC guerrilla fighters, fresh from training in the Soviet Union, arms and ammunition would come in on two dinghies. Seagoing engineer, Pat Newman, deceased, was one of those who agreed to join the mission. Ex-seaman, Eric Caddick, formerly a professional boxer, was another. He was a local black member of the CP. His father was from Barbados and his mother was from Liverpool. 

Alex Moumbaris, who on a later mission was caught and sentenced to prison for twelve years, for which he served 7.5 as he escaped (1), was in charge of the landing with Bob Newland whilst there was an alternative beach where Bill McCaig and Daniel Ahern were waiting in case something unforeseen happened. In the years leading up to the proposed landing, Ahern and McCaig had worked clandestinely in South Africa on surveying beaches that were suitable for the operation. 

Unfortunately, just off the coast of Kenya, the yacht, which had broken down on its initial journey, developed faults in the cooling system and a lack of spare bearings meant the mission had to be eventually aborted. Sadly, later attempts to get the young men over land into South Africa saw them captured and shot by the security forces.  

McCaig had earlier been involved in propaganda work in South Africa in which he had distributed booklets around cargo holds for South African dockworkers to pick up when they unloaded ships. He was given similar material to be posted within South Africa when he sailed there as a merchant seaman for the Union Castle Line. Later he worked permanently on Durban’s docks where he constantly moved around to try and spot opportunities for bringing in people without the port authorities knowing. He later had to leave South Africa quickly when it became apparent the South African police had become aware he was part of an underground network.

Bill McCaig 

McCaig details his work in South Africa in an excellent book LONDON RECRUITS – The Secret War against Apartheid. This tells the story of a small unit of white anti-racist activists operating out of London that assisted the liberation movement, which found it very difficult to escape police surveillance after the Rivonia trial of Nelson Mandela and other leaders in 1963-64, to rebuild its capacity inside South Africa.

Moving in and out of South Africa, the recruits began by circulating banned literature through the postal system. They then become more audacious by showering leaflets from city rooftops and unfurling ANC banners and later they employed firework-type ‘bucket bombs’ for discharging leaflets at busy public venues whilst simultaneously blaring out tape-recorded speeches from such as Nelson Mandela. 

Security police were baffled that an organisation they had virtually destroyed had quickly regained its capacity to act whilst the subversive activities inspired the oppressed with many young guerrilla combatants later recalling that the first time they had encountered an ANC message was through such propaganda coups. 

Fortunately the vast majority of London recruits were not caught by the South African Authorities, as the penalties were severe if you were. After a series of successful operations, Sean Hosey was caught in 1971 taking passbooks and money to South African comrades in Durban. He received a physical battering and had to endure solitary confinement and interrogation before he received the mandatory five years in prison for breaching the Terrorism Act that was an effective catchall for anything that threatened white supremacy. Hosey was in Liverpool when the Liverpool City Council plaque to the five Merseyside men was unveiled on Friday 30 January 2015.

Their actions were praised by Obed Mlaba, the South African High Commissioner and ANC member: “We will never forget the overseas friends of our struggle. We thank them for the wonderful, vital job they did during the hard times we experienced. We look forward to working to continuing to work with British trade unionists.”

Obed Mlaba 

Liverpool-born Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said; “I was an anti-apartheid movement member. All praise for the comrades who risked their lives supporting our ANC members. It is appropriate that the plaque is mounted alongside the one bearing the names of Merseysiders who sacrificed their lives fighting for democracy in Spain in the 1930s. Both are great examples of international solidarity.”

  1. Inside Out – Escape from Pretoria Prison by Tim Jenkin (Jakana Education, South Africa, 2003) and also at 

London Recruits – the secret war against apartheid is published by Merlin Press at £15.99 post free. 

Peterlee - the only UK town named after a trade unionist

Peterlee, County Durham is the only UK town named after a trade unionist – PETER LEE, the celebrated Durham Miners’ leader during the 1926 General Strike. Built as a new town after the Second World War, Peterlee was seen as antidote to the squalor of some of the local mining villages. New housing was to be accompanied by new industrial estates. The closure of all local mines means the latter are even more important today with the likes of Caterpillar and Walkers Crisps (*) providing employment opportunities.

Peter Lee (1864 -1935) was born in nearby Trimdon Grange and began colliery work at aged ten. Ten years later he returned to the classroom and learnt to read properly before heading for the US where he worked underground for two years. On his return he became Wingate miners pit delegate before again setting off on his travels this time to South Africa and from which he returned as a committed Christian. He was elected as a local parish and County Council member and after returning to work at Wheatley Hill Colliery he became an agent for Durham Miners’ Association and President of the Miner’s Federation of Great Britain. 

* Where I worked and was a shop steward and safety rep in the 1970s and 1980s when it was Tudor Crisps.  

Thursday, 12 February 2015

City’s ‘extraordinary level of corruption’

From the Big Issue in the North magazine. Please buy a copy when you see a seller.
The best-known international ranking under-estimates the level of state corruption in the UK, according to campaigners.
The annual Corruption Perceptions’ Index (CPI) survey of 175 countries rests on expert opinions of public sector corruption. It ranks states from least to most corrupt. In 2014, the UK was ranked twelfth with Switzerland in fifth. North Korea and Somalia finished in the bottom two. The survey is compiled by Transparency International (TI).
The Tax Justice Network (TJN) began life at the World Social Forum in Portugal in 2003. It maps and analyses tax evasion, avoidance, competition and havens.
Tax havens
According to TJN executive director John Christensen: “The CPI index, by focusing
on bribe-taking, fails to convey how corrupt practices generally involve several players. These include sophisticated financial and legal intermediaries who facilitate the hiding of large sums behind offshore structures, typically in secret jurisdictions.
“Additionally, CPI is perceptions-based, drawing on the business community and related thinktank opinions. Not surprisingly they take a rather a narrow view. Switzerland, a notorious tax haven, features among the least corrupt.”
TJN publishes a Financial Secrecy Index (FSI) of the friendliest locations for tax evaders, money launderers and the financially corrupt.
In its latest table, covering 82 jurisdictions, Switzerland pips Luxembourg for top spot as the most corrupt while the UK is at 21, one spot behind the British Virgin Islands and well down on ninth placed Jersey.
According to TJN, the UK ranking is based on a combination of its secrecy score and a weighting derived from its 18 per cent share of the global market for offshore financial services.
Of the 82 jurisdictions identified in the FSI, almost half are connected to Britain, including Jersey. Financial secrecy, low or zero tax, tolerance of criminality and lax financial regulations are identified across many of the jurisdictions.
TJN says the UK has claimed to be clamping down n corporate tax avoidance yet still promotes the use of British-linked tax havens by multinational businesses.

“Tax dodging has become endemic through much of the corporate sector. Yet the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) budget has been cut,” claims Christensen.
The executive director of TI in the UK, Dr Robert Barrington, responded to Christensen’s views, saying: “We are not stating the CPI index snapshot of affairs is perfect and we would always urge people to look at a wide range of different sources to get a really good picture. However, I don’t think anyone would quibble that the quality of life of the average citizen in North Korea or Afghanistan is severely undermined by corruption.
“I think public sector corruption in the UK is low compared to other countries. But it’s also true the UK has been too complacent about corruption.
“TI is concerned that the UK has become a safe haven for corrupt capital and rich individuals from around the world using stolen money to buy property here, including football clubs.
“We are very worried that the SFO budget has been so significantly cut. If the government fails to tackle corruption the UK could slip down the CPI.”
‘Blatant criminality’
Christensen believes that, whoever wins the next election, there is no immediate possibility of any UK government tackling the “extraordinary degree of corruption in the City of London that has demoralised people while also wrecking the economy and capturing the political processes, leaving us all with the sense that our politicians are impotent to act against blatant criminality”.
He added: “We have reached a moment when radical steps are needed to restore our confidence in democracy.”