Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Miners' Strike Memorial Sculpture, Hanley, Stoke



North Staffs Miners’ Wives Action Group (NSMWAG) campaigned and fundraised for two years to make possible a magnificent sculpture dedicated to Joe Green and David Jones, two Yorkshire miners who were killed on picket lines during the year-long 1984-85 miners’ strike. In neither case were those behind the deaths found or held responsible. 
The sculpture was the work of Frank Casey from St Albans and was unveiled by David Jones family at the Potteries Museum, Hanley in 1991. 

the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike Memorial Sculpture is at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. Bethesda St, Stoke-on-Trent ST1 3DW. Admission is free. 




NSMWAG have produced an hour long DVD on their fight against pit closures and the creation of the coal sculpture. Proceeds go to the National Justice for Mineworkers Campaign that continues to raise money to alleviate hardship among victimised families. 

For more details contact Brenda Procter at brenda.procter2@ntlworld.com
For more information on North Staffs Miners’ Wives Action Group see:- 
For more details on Frank Casey see: - https://sites.google.com/site/frankcaseysculptor/gallery

Many thanks to Brenda Procter, Fred Hughes and Clare White for the photographs and information which appears here. 

Monday, 25 August 2014

Would buying back PFI hospitals save public funds?

Taken from Big Issue in the North magazine of last week. 

There is a need to calculate the costs of returning hospitals built under the private finance initiative (PFI) to public control, according to a local MP.
Linda Riordan’s call comes after Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust recently bought out Hexham General Hospital. The hospital was built by private contractors and the new deal is estimated to lead to savings of about £3.5 million annually over the next 19 years.
The Labour MP’s view is not though backed by the shadow health secretary or the government and has received a mixed response from a prominent health campaign. Conversely, one of Britain’s best- known health finance specialists has offered her backing.
Initiated by John Major’s government in 1992, PFI uses private money for major public sector capital projects. Private companies build and own the facility, which is leased back to the state for a regular fee. PFI was massively expanded under Labour and remains popular with the current government, because the money owed is not calculated as part of the national debt.
Hundreds of new hospitals have been built under PFI. But it remains controversial because it costs more for the private sector to borrow money than the government. The result is that the new facilities cost taxpayers much more when the additional borrowing costs are included in the leasing fee.
Repayments
Treasury data released in 2012 revealed that the 118 NHS PFI projects had a capital value of £11.6 billion. The total sum of repayments to private contractors was to be £79.1 million. This figure is now greater because at the time a further 39 PFI projects were being procured at a capital value of £5.36 billion.
Hexham Hospital was opened ten years ago by then pime minister Tony Blair. A consortium including Bank of Scotland and Bovis Lend Lease called Catalyst would run the hospital for 32 years after building it for £54 million.
Two years ago the then Lib Dem leaders of Northumberland County Council proposed lending the local NHS trust the money to buy out the PFI. Councils have access to loans for capital projects through the Public Works Board.
When Labour became the largest party on the council last year it continued negotiations and in June reached an unpublished agreement reported to save the trust over £67 million in the next 19 years.
Trust chief executive Jim Mackey said: “We are delighted that we are able to progress this agreement, which delivers real value for money for taxpayers and saves millions of pounds, which will be directly reinvested in patient care.”
The move has been generally welcomed – although a number of health campaigners have also called for an investigation into how much consortium members have profited from their investments.
Riordan is MP for Halifax. Calderdale Royal Hospital in her constituency was one of the country’s first PFI hospitals and opened in 2001. It was built by Catalyst. Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust oversees its clinical services.
Vigorous campaign
Earlier this year the trust said it wanted to axe the accident and emergency (A&E) department at the hospital. Since then there has been a vigorous local campaign to get the decision overturned, backed by Riordan. Constituents have voiced concerns that the department’s closure would leave patients facing a seven-mile trip to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary for treatment.
Riordan said: “The number one priority is ensuring the A&E is saved but 13 years after it opened it would make sense to look again at the money that is tied up in Calderdale Royal.
I would not want to buy out the PFI scheme at the expense of much needed investment in health services but we should look at the long-term options.”
It is a view echoed by Allyson Pollock, professor of public health research and policy
at Queen Mary, University of London, who said: “There needs to be much more research undertaken into the impact of PFI hospital projects, including how much might be saved by buying out projects.”
If elected at the general election next May, Labour has promised to repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012, under which the NHS has been extensively reorganised. such that access for private service providers has multiplied.
But according to Labour’s shadow health spokesperson, Andy Burnham, the party is not looking to calculate whether buying out PFI projects would reduce the public purse, as “the priority would be to spend money on patient care”.
Parliamentary question
The Socialist Health Association, which was founded in 1930 to campaign within the Labour Party for a NHS, is also cautious about whether buying out PFI contracts will save money. One of its central council members, Dr Richard Bourne, said of the moves in Northumberland that he “suspected all figures bandied around about PFI”.
He added: The £3.5 million claim will rest on a whole raft of assumptions that may or may not be valid... there may be some cases where the buyout is worth it but I suspect not many. The big gain is getting control back over a significant expenditure stream.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said it had not calculated whether the NHS might benefit financially if PFI projects were bought out. The department introduced changes to the PFI processin 2012 because of concern over whether earlier deals represented good value.
“This speeds up decision- making, makes the process more transparent, whilst also adding greater scrutiny around proposals taken on by each trust,” said the spokesperson.

According to Riordan’s office the MP is intent on asking a parliamentary question on what potential savings there may be to the taxpayer of buying out NHS PFI projects.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Join the march to save the NHS

Anyone living near the historic 1936 Jarrow March route is being urged to join a protest walk in the next three weeks over the privatisation of the NHS.
Lorry driver Craig Farlow seeks to use Nye Bevan's classic book to
change David Cameron's mind.
All photographs copyright Mark Harvey of ID8 photography. 


The People’s March for the NHS began in Jarrow on Saturday and the core 50 marchers will arrive 300 miles south in Westminster on Saturday 6 September. Rallies and meetings are being held at the 23 stop off points en route. 





A group of Darlington working mums, known as #darlomums on social networking sites are behind the initiative. They acted following the passing of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act. This removed from the health secretary responsibility for citizens’ health whilst giving him powers to close even well performing local hospitals. 

The act also requires commissioners to tender out everything that can be provided by private contractors and following which private firms won 70% of contracts for England’s NHS services between April-December 2013.  

This fragmentation, marketisation and privatisation of health care provision is opposed by UNITE the union because it costs more, decreases service quality, creates health inequalities, fragments services and generates a race to the bottom in staff terms and conditions.

Founded by a radical, reforming post-war Labour government the fear is that unless large numbers of people are mobilised in its defence there will be no NHS. 

Lorry driver Craig Farlow is determined to prevent this. The UNITE DHL workplace rep has taken three weeks holiday to complete the walk to London and “tell the government we want all health services to be publicly funded, run and accountable. The NHS should look after people from the cradle to the grave and not discriminate against anyone for lack of money.” 

Joining Craig for much of the walk is Barbara Campbell, a UNITE member working as an endoscopy nurse at North Tees Hospital, and who is concerned that “even I, a political person working in the NHS, has been recently taken aback at discovering how many services are being privatised. I do not trust the government to maintain the NHS.” 

But will Labour be different if they win the general election next year? 

“Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has said that private sector deals in the NHS should end until after the election and Labour has promised to repeal the 2012 Act. We need a proper Labour Party in government and the more people who back this the better as we can then sweep away these Tory policies currently crushing this life saving institution,” said Barbara.

The march leaves Darlington on Tuesday 19 August

Judith-Kirton Darling, Labour Euro MP for County Durham 

Many Labour MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates (PPC) back the march and its aims.  As it set off from Darlington on Tuesday the local Euro MP Judith Kirton-Darling was alongside Fiona Dent, the Windsor PPC, and Louise Baldock, a UNITE member who is Labour’s PPC for Stockton South, who said, “the NHS is key to the next election.” 

“It is great they are here,” said UNITE community member David Connor, who suffering from depression often relies on the NHS, “and it would be marvellous if thousands of UNITE members joined them. Please come and join other members of the public and walk with us as it is in your best interests to do so.” 


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Peterloo - Britain’s Tiananmen Square commemorated


On Sunday 17 August 2014 a 200 strong crowd marched significant distances to descend on St Peter’s Square, Manchester. They were commemorating there the 195th anniversary of the 1819 Peterloo massacre when the cavalry slaughtered at least 15 pro-democracy campaigners. 
All photographs copyright Mark Harvey of ID8 photography 

Demonstrators want a fitting permanent memorial mounted for the Peterloo bicentennial in 2019. Richard Lease, Manchester City Council leader, has just commissioned its design by artist Jeremy Deller, who will meet Peterloo Massacre Memorial Campaign (PMMC) members next month. 

In 1819 only 2% of people could vote and there was widespread poverty, due mainly to the corns laws that artificially inflated bread prices. On 16 August 1819, contingents from across the Manchester region marched in disciplined fashion to St Peter’s Field to support parliamentary reform and listen to radical speaker Henry Hunt. The crowd was at least 60,000, half the population of the immediate Manchester area. 


Banners demanded REFORM, UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE AND EQUAL REPRESENTATION and NO CORN LAWS. Those in a government representing their own needs wanted no such things and sought to arrest Hunt and disperse the crowd. 

Wielding sabres, Manchester and Salford Yeomanry galloped into the unarmed, peaceful masses. Two-year-old William Fildes was the first casualty when a late arriving trooper knocked him from his mother’s arms. Fifteen people, at least, were killed and 600 to 800 injured.  

Ex-soldier John Lees, who fought at the Battle of Waterloo, died of his injuries on 9 September. He told a friend: “At Waterloo there was man to man but at Peterloo it was downright murder.”

Peterloo became a mocking reference to Waterloo at which soldiers were viewed as genuine heroes. In recent times Peterloo has become compared with the slaughter of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989. 

Not content with their killings the authorities in 1819 cracked down on reform with Hunt sentenced to 30 months in gaol. However, liberty could not be suppressed and demands for economic and political justice multiplied. The great Reform Act of 1832 meant Manchester, previously unrepresented in Parliament, elected two MPs. Sweeping democratic changes followed slowly but surely. 


Manchester has numerous magnificent statues and commemorative monuments. Peterloo has just a small red plaque. UNITE members from Bolton, who carried their branch banner twelve miles from Bolton Socialist Club – England’s oldest independent socialist club – seek change soon. 

“We followed the footsteps of ordinary working people who marched into Manchester and pushed our system towards democracy. They deserve a monument that is distinctive, respectful and informative”’ said Martin McMulkin, UNITE shop floor convenor at JOST, manufacturers of vehicle connection components. 


Martin McMulkin 


That prospect has improved now Jeremy Deller is to come up with a design. Manchester’s deputy mayor, Paul Murphy, said after the rally which concluded events “this matters to me and fellow Mancunians, whose forefathers led a struggle for emancipation which needs a fitting memorial. Peterloo should also be taught in schools.”

A view supported by ten-year-old Grace Poyning: “Most my friends like history and Peterloo helped give people some rights.”


Grace, Nichola and Bernie Boyning 


Grace was accompanied by her mother, Nichola, and grandmother, Bernie. They heard actress Maxine Peake read out Shelley’s classic poem The Masque of Anarchy (*) which concludes as follows:-

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many - they are few



Maxine Peake reading out Shelley's poem with Councillor Paul Murphy
(wearing ceremonial badge) amongst those listening attentively 


Summing up a good day, PMMC representative Martin Gittins said, “The fact that many people have combined to walk from the surrounding areas of Manchester and thus create this healthy attendance is brilliant. It boosts our plans, which include schools work and encouraging greater public involvement so that we have, at least, 6,000 people in 2019. Meeting Jeremy Deller will be good and hopefully there will be a public consultation about the memorial.” 


* Described by the late Paul Foot as “the greatest political poem ever written in English.” 








Monday, 18 August 2014

Q&A with author of DECEPTION IN HIGH PLACES

Deception in high places: a history of bribery in Britain's arms trade - Nicholas Gilby
Pluto Press, £15.99 

In his new book Nicholas Gilby reveals how the profits of Britain’s arms companies rely on acts of bribery and corruption that are overlooked at Westminster and can damage the living standards of developing nations.
What impact can corruption have in countries where officials and agents are bribed to ensure a British arms company obtains a major contract?

It amounts to theft, by elites, of the resources of their country. If the country is poor, that means fewer or no resources for basic health or educational services, which means worse life chances for the population. In richer countries what this means is that the precious and finite natural resources they have are not deployed for the country’s development.
When dubious payments were revealed at Lockheed in the US and Associated Electrical Industries in Britain? How did the countries deal with the issue differently? 

In Britain the government successfully worked with AEI to hush the matter up, and Britain’s inadequate anti- corruption laws remained intact (until 2010). In America there was a major investigation by Congress, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and a presidential task force was set up. Ultimately Congress passed the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1977.
Is it a case of British governments ignoring, facilitating or encouraging corruption or a mix of all three?

In the past British governments certainly did on occasion actively facilitate corruption. Their failure to do anything about it encouraged companies to use corrupt practices. Undoubtedly they have done their best to ignore it, and still try and do so.
Has there been any difference between Labour and Tories in office when dealing with corruption?
No. Neither party has shown much enthusiasm for being at the forefront of international action against corruption in global trade. The recent passing of the tough Bribery Act 2010 only occurred after the BAE Systems scandal and serious criticisms from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
How did the British government act when faced with an investigation into suspected corruption by BAE to secure contracts in Saudi Arabia?

They made three attempts to persuade the Serious Fraud Office to terminate the investigation. In November 2006, shortly before it ended, they warned that if their investigation continued the Saudis might cease counter- terrorism co-operation with Britain, and that “British lives on British streets were at risk”.
What role did Britain play when the US attempted in the 1970s to establish an international agreement against corruption in the arms trade?

They submitted the proposals of the Americans and other governments to very searching scrutiny and tried to water them down, but had no constructive proposals of their own to put forward.

Has the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and OECD Anti-Bribery Convention helped clean up corrupt practices by British arms firms?

Until the factors encouraging the payment of bribes are tackled the answer must be probably not... There have been a few convictions of companies and individuals under Britain’s old anti-corruption laws, but the real litmus test will be whether the Serious Fraud Office can convict companies under the Bribery Act 2010.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Book review - STRIKING A LIGHT: the Bryant and May Matchwomen by Louise Raw

STRIKING A LIGHT: The Bryant and May Matchwomen and their place in History 
Louise Raw
Published by Bloomsbury 

This book demonstrates that the 1888 strike by 1,400 matchwomen and girls at Bryant and May should rank with the similarly successful strikes by Gasworkers’ and Dockers’ the following year in changing forever the face of British trade unionism, which until then had tended to be craft unions only. Now, unskilled and poorly paid workers had the confidence to organise themselves and engage in collective action. Trade union membership doubled to over 1.5 million by 1892 and rose to over two million in 1899. 

The women, who were  employed at a factory on Fairfield Road in East London, were poorly paid. Average pay was around 8 shillings (40p) a week with some earning less than 5 shillings. This was for a seven-day working week that started at 6.30am in the summer and 8am in the winter and which ran till 6pm with half an hour off for breakfast and an hour for lunch. Half a day’s pay was lost if they were late for work and there were also a series of illegal fines and deductions for materials such as glue and brushes. Many workers were confused about how their wages were calculated. They were also badly bullied by domineering foremen some of whom were not averse to handing out physical punishment.

Matches were essential in Victorian homes for lighting candles or gaslights and where coal fires provided heat and hot water. Although portable devices to produce a flame had existed for centuries it was the discovery of phosphorus in 1669 that paved the way for mass production of matches.

In 1831, the introduction of white phosphorus by French chemist Charles Sauria made matches much easier to strike by increasing their toxicity. Within a few short years it was well known that phosphorus poisoning affected workers in match manufacturing.

Safer alternatives were to be ignored for decades with Bryant and May, the largest match manufacturer in the UK, who persuaded the government to veto the proposed banning of white phosphorus internationally. Workers at Bryant and May were forced to take their meal breaks at their workstations, thus increasing the risk of contracting ‘phossy jaw’ in which the jawbone rotted producing evil-smelling pus that made it almost impossible for anyone to remain in the sufferer’s presence. Death, often very painful, was not uncommon. Bryant and May failed to report illnesses and fatalities and sacked any worker exhibiting any symptoms.

Bryant and May became a limited company in 1884 and they expanded overseas and bought out the smaller matchmaking companies in Britain, with their dominant position allowing the company to force down wages in the industry.

Workers at the factory took strike action to try and raise wages and improve factory safety with walkouts in 1881, 1885 and 1886. With no union organisation or funds these failed but demonstrated workers were aware of the need to collectively fight for their rights. This was also demonstrated by matchwomen throwing red paint over a statue of Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone that had been erected by Theodore Bryant who illegally deducted a shilling from their wage packets to help pay for it.

Bryant and May’s shares had more than tripled in value since they were issued in 1884, leaping from £5 to over £18. Twenty per cent dividends were standard and amongst those to benefit were a number of prominent clergymen and Liberal politicians.

On 15 June 1888, after Henry Champion had drawn attention to low wages at the company, members of the Fabian Society resolved not to use any matches made by Bryant and May and called on others to also boycott the firm. Annie Besant was keen to investigate further and swiftly visited Fairfield Road where she – and possibly other Fabians who accompanied her - approached a small number of women as they left work to get accounts of their working conditions. They confirmed what Champion had said and she wrote an article for The Link that was published on 23 June.

By heading her work ‘White Slavery in London’ Besant made the point that it would cost Bryant and May much more to look after a slave than it paid in wages to its workers. The article did not however call for strike action, which, in general, Besant disapproved of during her life.

For well over a hundred years it has been assumed that Besant was the leader of the strike - with few historians questioning whether well over one thousand very poorly paid workers really would go without pay under the leadership of a middle class women they hardly knew – Louise Raw very capably demonstrates this was not the case. The key to this was a re-examination of Besant’s own writings and the newspapers of the day along with Raw’s finding and interviewing grandchildren of some of the strike leaders. Besant’s role in the strike was important but she was not its leader and to suggest so has meant the inspiring story of the matchwomen’s courage has remain hidden whilst the ability of working class people to successfully organise collectively in defence of their needs has been underplayed.

Besant’s article did though push the company on to the defensive and after denying all the charges Bryant and May sought to discover who had spoken with Besant. To ensure there were no such further attempts to exercise free speech workers were asked to sign forms stating they would remain silent about their working conditions.

Exactly how many refused to sign is not known but on 2 or 3 July at least one woman and possibly two more were dismissed. The company denied this had anything to do with any failure by a worker to sign the distributed forms and they cited a lack of trade and some disciplinary problems for the sackings. None of the remaining female workers believed this and suspecting foul play they downed tools and marched out of the factory.  The small number of male workers who mostly worked as dippers joined them.

Ignoring company reinstatement offers the women widened their demands to include other conditions, including the ending of illegal deductions. The women immediately organised an effective, noisy picket line and felt confident enough to send a deputation of six matchwomen to meet company directors. When the discussions were not to their satisfaction they resumed their strike.

On 6 July around one hundred strikers marched to the offices of Besant near Fleet Street and where three of them informed her of developments and asked for her assistance. The following day, Besant wrote a further article for the Link in which she expressed her dismay at the action the women had taken but continued to call for a boycott of Bryant and May’s products.

On 11 July, a friend of Besant’s, Charles Bradlaugh MP raised questions in Parliament and a deputation of 56 women who marched there to meet him brought parts of central London to a standstill as onlookers starred at the appearance of so many poor people. Newspaper coverage of the strike was intensified and for the first time it was reported that embarrassed shareholders were pressuring management at Bryant and May to come to a compromise with those refusing to work. The Star and Pall Mall Gazette began collecting donations from its readers and on 14 July the first strike pay was distributed. It was also reported that the women themselves had been collecting funds across East London.

On 16 July 1888 the company’s directors met with a deputation of matchwomen and two days later the company ceded to all the strikers’ demands. These included abolition of all fines, ending deductions for paints and brushes, all grievances to be taken straight to the managing director without the intervention of the foremen, the provision of a breakfast room to allow for meals to be eaten away from work stations and the formation of a union so that any future disputes could be officially laid before the company. The Union of Women Matchworkers, which was then the largest union of women and girls in the country, was formed, with Besant taking the role of secretary for the next few years. One of her first engagements was to speak to 5,000 Tilbury Dockers who in October 1888 unsuccessfully took strike action over a pay increase.

The Star newspaper had no doubt about the importance of the outcome:

The victory of the girls……is complete. It was won without preparation – without organization – without funds……a turning point in the history of our industrial development……

Even in 1923 every person at the Fairfield Works was believed to be a trade unionist.

The victory by the matchwomen would undoubtedly have raised morale amongst working people in East London. The factory on Fairfield Road was less than two miles from where the 1889 Dock Strike began. Strikers and dockworkers lived cheek by jowl; many were related to each other, including plenty with Irish backgrounds, whilst there are also strong indications that amongst both sets of workers there were some with a strong interest in radical politics.

During the 1889 Great Dock Strike its leaders such as Tom Mann, Ben Tillett and John Burns regularly made reference to the matchwomen as they recognised that what had been achieved demonstrated that the previously unorganised could combine and win improvements in pay and working conditions. The Dockers’ were to prove this was now a fact of life with a  famous victory that further threw open trade unionism to all workers whatever their skills.


Louise Raw must be congratulated for her persistence over many years to try and discover what really happened at Bryant and May in 1888 as she has produced a book of vital importance.


Mark Metcalf 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

English workers now left behind as Supreme Court backs a Welsh Agricultural Wages Board

The UK Supreme Court has decided the Welsh Assembly can establish a dedicated Welsh Agricultural Wages Board. (AWB) The decision is a blow to the UK government’s attempted impoverishment of farm workers but a significant success for the Labour led assembly. 

The ruling leaves workers in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales covered by an AWB that has powers to raise wages and establish minimum terms and conditions for overtime, sick pay and training and skills. By only being covered by national minimum wage legislation then English farm workers are worse off than those in other parts of Britain after the UK government abolished the England and Wales AWB last year. 

This caused the Welsh assembly to pass the agricultural sector (Wales) Bill giving Welsh ministers powers to establish their own board. Dominic Grieve, the attorney general, challenged the bill in the Supreme Court on the grounds that it referred to employment law that has not been devolved to the Welsh Government, which in turn argued the bill fell under agriculture, which is a devolved issue.  

Five Supreme Court justices unanimously backed the Welsh Government. The result may prove constitutionally significant, as it is the second time the UK Government has unsuccessfully attempted to block legislation passed by the assembly. 

The court appears to have extended the assembly’s powers over decisions in key areas of the economy. This pleases Labour’s Mick Antoniw who - with UNITE fully supporting him - led the AWB retention campaign and who said: “the UK Government has been told to let devolution work. Consequently, we can confidently explore using things like public procurement in our business contracts to promote the living wage and improve conditions.” He criticised the large legal fees wasted on the ill-conceived challenge.

Antoniw was always confident of victory and now visualises an improved Welsh AWB being established that, “can extend its vital remit on protecting wages and conditions for 13,000 agricultural workers into developing a progressive training and education programme that encourages young people to seek careers in farming and land based industries. We need them for our future food production. The standards we create can also help towards ensuring a living wage in rural areas, where many workers are poorly paid.” 

Antoniw wants to see the English AWB restored very quickly and he attacked the Tories for failing to protect English farm workers. Patriotism for Cameron clearly does not extend to ensuring English workers are properly rewarded for their efforts! 

UNITE Wales regional secretary Andy Richards hailed the Supreme Court decision as “vindication for the close work undertaken by the Welsh Government with the trade unions. Cameron’s attack on our democracy has been rebuffed and we have strengthened protection for agricultural workers.”