Thursday, 24 April 2014

Join the Kinder Scout trespass celebrations this Saturday in Sheffield

Today is the eighty-second anniversary of the Kinder Scout Trespass in which trade unionists such as Bernard [Benny] Rothman were highly prominent.
Thanks to Mark Harvey for this photograph

Born on 1 June 1911 it wasn’t until Benny acquired a bike in his teens that he discovered life outside the crowded, squalid environment of working class Cheetham in north Manchester. He soon became a keen rambler and spent his 16th birthday climbing to the summit of Snowdon.

Following the end of World War I in 1918 returning British soldiers had been promised by Prime Minister Lloyd George a “Land Fit for Heroes.” Landowners, represented in Parliament and the House of Lords by the Tories, were intent on ensuring that didn’t include the right for those soldiers and others to roam Britain’s mountains and moorlands.

So it was that on a sunny Sunday 24 April 1932 Benny Rothman, a lifelong activist within the Amalgamated
Copyright Mark Harvey 
Engineering Union (AEU), found himself as the leader of more than 400 Kinder Scout Mass Trespassers.

Together in opposition to a line of gamekeepers, they successfully crossed the Derbyshire Peak District’s ‘forbidden mountain.’ Stung by this deliberate defiance of the law the police arrested five of the trespassers. If however the authorities felt this would be the end of the matter they miscalculated by sending four to prison for up to six months. The public outrage that followed helped bring the issue of countryside access to the fore.

Benny Rothman, who in 1990 he was given the AEU’s highest award, the Special Award of Merit, died aged 90 in 2002. This was fifty-one years after the Peak District became the first designated National Park under the 1949 National Parks and Access to Countryside Act. An Act that Lewis Silkin, the Labour Party Minister of Town and Country Planning said at the time was “a people’s charter for the open air, for the hikers and the ramblers, for everyone who loves to get out into the open air and enjoy the countryside. Without it they are fettered, deprived of their powers of access and facilities needed to make holidays enjoyable. With it the countryside is theirs to preserve, to cherish, to enjoy and to make their own.”

This Saturday in Sheffield at the Town Hall there will be held a Spirit of St Kinder Day, which will celebrate Sheffield’s vital role in the Mass Trespass. The event starts at 2.30pm. 

Scientists challenged over health claims against weedkiller

From the current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine. Please buy a copy when you see a seller. 
An agricultural scientist has challenged research claiming a chemical widely used in weed killers is making people seriously ill.
Glyphosate weed killers are sprayed by farmers, local government and gardeners, and also on some imported GM crops used as animal feed. Monsanto is the biggest producer of glyphosate, selling it under the brand name Roundup.
Glyphosate has been approved for use as a herbicide in the Europe Union (EU) since 2002. The approval expires next year but the EU is conducting tests to see if it can be extended.
Health hazards
A group of German scientists have independently studied glyphosate residues in humans.
They found levels were significantly lower in those who ate an organic diet compared with those who ate a largely conventional diet.
They also discovered that chronically ill people had significantly higher glyphosate residues in their urine. The study also found that glyphosate levels in the urine of dairy cows raised in GM-free areas were significantly lower than amongst those fed conventionally.
The scientists fear glyphosate residues have massive potential health hazards for both humans and animals.
They want to see greater studies and believe “the global regulations for the use of glyphosate may have to be re- evaluated”.
But Charlie Clutterbuck, an agricultural scientist from Ribble Valley, disputed the German scientists’ conclusions.
He said: “Although it is not surprising that more glyphosate residues are found in humans and animals who are eating plants given glyphosate, that does not mean higher concentration levels are associated with chronic illness.
‘Heavily regulated’
“This is not a causal relationship but a casual relationship in the same way that there is an increase in obesity levels corresponding to increased mobile phone use but the two are not causally related.”
James Mills, the National Farmers Union combinable crops adviser, added: “We are confident that the rigorous testing procedures adopted by the EU for all chemical products ensures they are not damaging to humans, animals, agriculture or the environment.
“The use of glyphosate on farms is heavily regulated and the industry also takes responsibility itself under the 2001 voluntary initiative designed to minimise the environmental aspects of pesticides.
“Whilst we should always be interested in new research this one report should not lead to more testing within a registration process that is currently working well.”

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Doctors badly treated in counter-terrorism fight

Taken from current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine, please buy a copy when you see a seller. 
Government plans to force GP practices to appoint someone responsible for counter-terrorism in order to receive extra funding have been condemned by doctors as bureaucratic and a threat to their ethical responsibilities.
Three years ago, the Home Office asked doctors and other health professionals to identify patients viewed as “vulnerable to radicalism” as part of counter-terrorism strategy Prevent.
NHE England has now told clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) that GPs seeking extra funding to provide enhanced services – such as extended hours, violent patient schemes and support for people with dementia – must also name a member of staff to take a lead on Prevent.
According to an NHS England spokesperson: “Prevent seeks to respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism to prevent individuals being drawn into terrorism by ensuring they get appropriate advice... The health sector needs to respond to these risks and enable healthcare workers to identify and provide support for those vulnerable to radicalisation.
‘Wastes time’
“Given the importance of the agenda and the role that healthcare staff have to play in protecting vulnerable people, Prevent is now part of the standard NHS contract.”
But one GP, who wished to remain anonymous, questioned whether the requirement was a late April Fools’ joke.
“This just wastes time,” she said. “Primary care faces an escalating workload, demoralised doctors, nurses and support staff and a constantly shifting set of performance targets, some of which seemto have little bearing on direct patient care. So this does not surprise me.
“How we are supposed to act if we feel a patient is ‘at risk’ is unclear and there are questions about how objective assessments by clinicians can be. After all, there will be no physical signs and there are real risks that hamfisted allegations are made by inexperienced clinicians focusing on certain ethnic minorities.”
The GP’s comments were endorsed by the British Medical Association, which represents over 150,000 doctors. Its spokesperson said: “GPs’ primary job is to ensure patients get the best possible care and not to undertake roles they are unqualified for and which could interfere with their ethical responsibilities. We also do not need another cumbersome, bureaucratic requirement when there is rising patient demand and falling resources.”

The Prevent programme was established after the 2005 London bombings as part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy to prevent Muslim radicalisation. Organisations such as the Institute of Race Relations believe the programme has been used to establish an elaborate system of surveillance.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Review of Liberty's Dawn by Emma Griffin

A People’s History of the Industrial Revolution
Emma Griffin

Published by Yale University Press 

By digging into 350 published and unpublished autobiographies of working people who experienced the Industrial Revolution then Emma Griffin has produced a very interesting, highly readable book. However, to state this makes her work “an alternative account of labour and the historical revolution” is a grandiose claim that the author fails to substantiate.

According to Griffin, far too little attention has been given to the benefits working class people, especially adult males, derived from the Industrial Revolution.

Griffin thus challenges accounts that include Friederich Engels 1845 book: The conditions of the Working Class in England as well as the many, often highly statistical, reports from the nineteenth century not forgetting books written many years later, the most famous of which is EP Thompson’s 1963 classic The Making of the English Working Class.

Before the Industrial Revolution people earned their living largely from their own labours. Radical changes meant that by utilising coal to power increasingly sophisticated machines a whole range of new products could be manufactured and brought to market and sold. The profits generated helped fuel further expansion. The subsequent increasing demand for additional labour resulted in an exodus from country to town, a process often accompanied by the expropriation of  common land and the forced eviction of the rural poor from their humble lodgings.

Amongst those who experienced the Industrial Revolution are a number who wrote their autobiographies. Griffin consulted over 350 of these unique records that are stored in local County Record Offices across England. These are highly fascinating but for Griffin to argue that they are “the only way to examine the working lives of working people during a critical epoch in world history” cannot be justified. 

It could (wrongly, in the opinion of the author of this article) be suggested that Engels, a communist, and Thompson, a radical socialist, had ulterior political motives in writing negative accounts of the Industrial Revolution. The problem for Griffin is that their views were supported by numerous accounts – such as the Factories Inquiry Commission Report (1833) – from the period that were written by those that passionately supported the new developments that helped turn Britain into the Workshop of the World. 

By far the vast majority of the autobiographies are written by men and when they are compared to those written by women it is clear, according to Griffin, that: “the patches of sunlight certainly shone more brightly on men rather than their wives and children.” In particular, the latter, are not well served by the Industrial Revolution. 

Men are better rewarded than women and they also earn – often considerably – more than their rural counterparts. Writers coming towards the end of their lives were often at pains to stress how much better their own had been compared to their parents and grandparents.

Improvements in income meant workers enjoyed a greater degree of independence from their employers. In turn this led to the development of a wide range of clubs and societies that gave working class males a part and a say in their organising. The new skills that were acquired from such activities helped fuel the development of the Chartist movement. This was the first truly working class political movement ever seen. When it threatened to turn the Industrial Revolution into one in which all of mankind benefited it was ultimately ruthlessly suppressed by a combination of capitalist and aristocratic forces. 

Griffin fails to explain why it was that if so many people were having their lives improved by the Industrial Revolution that there was the development of Chartism. This would require a much longer book in which Griffin would need to challenge the likes of Engels and Thompson in a much more rigorous fashion in order to try and prove the Industrial Revolution really was ‘Liberty’s Dawn.’

Support Palestinian farming unions

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) organised a successful Sainsbury’s Day of Action on 1 March. PSC want the giant supermarket chain to follow the Co-ops lead in not engaging with any produce supplier from Israeli settlements that are built on stolen Palestinian land and are illegal under international law. Palestinian farming unions have called for campaigns against Israeli export companies.
Sainsbury’s sources fruits, mangoes, date and other fresh produce from companies such as Mehadrin and Edom.  Protests were held at Sainsbury’s stores in more than 30 UK towns and cities and over 2,500 people wrote to the Sainsbury’s Chief Executive who has since replied defending the company’s actions. for more information.

Clegg shakes hands with the bloodstained hands of Colombian President

Columbia. remains the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. Last year 78 human rights defenders were killed; mainly by paramilitaries and state security forces. 
Each day the human rights situation is worsening for social and political activists and on 22 February, the peasant farmer activist Jorge Eliecer Hernandez Blanco was shot dead by the Colombian Army. Peasant farmers are often killed for their land, which is then sold off by the Government to multinational companies.
None of which prevented a smiling Nick Clegg shaking the bloodstained hand of Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos when he led a delegation of over 40 British businesses to the country in February. The Liberal Democrat leader ignored appeals to visit members of civil society groups as he sought to increase trade with a regime in which 40% of MPs have direct or indirect support from illegal armed groups who are killing trade unionists and political activists.
Despite the slaughter the Colombian people are fighting back. There was a remarkable uprising last summer in which hundreds of thousands of small and medium scale farmers, miners, students, lorry drivers, teachers and health workers bravely organised a 3 week national strike that included road blocks, mass marches and noisy protests. Agricultural workers on strike were angered by free trade agreements with the US and European Union that flooded the market with cheaper, heavily subsidised, agricultural products.
The army and police killed 12 individuals before the protests ended when the government promised better prices for agricultural products and greater access to loans. With the government having not kept their commitments a conference on the problems in the Columbian countryside was held in Bogota in March and preparations are being made for another strike in May. Keep up to date with developments in Columbia

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Tom Mann - a great trade unionist

Tom Mann, 1856-1941 

Tom Mann, who was one of the three main union leaders of the 1889 London Dock Strike, is one of Britain’s greatest trade unionists. 

After a year working as a miner, ten year-old Mann began a seven-year engineering apprenticeship and after which he moved from Coventry to London to find work. He joined the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and published his pamphlet on the eight-hour day. In 1887 Mann moved to Newcastle where as the Social Democratic Foundation’s organiser he helped form the North of England Socialist Federation. Having read the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Mann became a communist who aimed to overthrow the capitalist system.

Back in London, Mann helped Ben Tillett, John Burns and Cardinal Manning to organise dockers when they struck in 1889 for 6d (2.5p) an hour and a minimum of four continuous hours of work. With the employers aiming to starve the 10,000 plus men out on strike the arrival of £30,000 from trade unions in Australia helped maintain the struggle and after five weeks the employers conceded defeat by granting all the dockers’ main demands. 

Mann became President for the new General Labourers’ Union but in 1897 he helped form the Workers Union, which after a slow start blossomed in the decade prior to World War One. The WU eventually merged with the Transport and General Workers Union in 1929.

In December 1901, Mann emigrated to Australia and where he was active in trade unionism and politics and suffered imprisonment for sedition. On his return to England in 1910, Tillett as an organiser for the Dockers Union employed Mann. He played a crucial role in the successful 1911 transport workers strike in Liverpool and was also heavily involved in the unsuccessful Dublin ‘right to unionise’ strike of 1914. 

Mann, a religious person throughout his life, was strongly opposed to workers slaughtering each other during the First World War. He was a firm supporter of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917 when for a brief period the working class took control of its own destiny. He retired from full-time employment in 1921, but remained actively involved for many years afterwards and he was sent to prison in 1932 after he criticised cuts in poor relief during a speech he made in Belfast. 

When it was decided in 1936 to develop a volunteer international legion to fight on the side of the Spanish Republican government the Tom Mann Centuria became one of the first International Brigades formed. 

Tom Mann died in Leeds on 13 March 1941. He is buried in Lawnswood Cemetery in Leeds, where Leeds Trades Council has placed a plaque in his honour.

Many thanks to Alan Mann (no relation), the secretary of Friends of Lawnswood Cemetery, for this photograph of the Tom Mann plaque.