Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Launch of Betty Tebbs booklet goes well

Myself, Tony Burke, Maxine Peake, Pat Pilling and Jim Mowatt

Book launch: Betty Tebbs - a radical working class hero 

Bury born Betty Tebbs was a working class socialist, trade unionist, internationalist, equals rights champion, Peace activist and a class fighter for all of her 98 years. The 64-page biography of a remarkable woman is based on much of Betty’s own writings and is published by Unite the union. 

5pm on Tuesday 5 November 2019 at the Mechanics Conference Centre, Manchester 

Speakers - Tony Burke,  Unite assistant general secretary, Pat Pilling, Betty’s daughter, Maxine Peake, Jim Mowatt and author Mark Metcalf  

Born in 1918, Betty became an activist in one of Unite’s legacy unions, the National Union of Printing, Bookbinding and Paper Workers, which later became SOGAT and eventually the GPMU. 
As a young woman Betty worked in the East Lancashire papermaking industry where shocked at unequal pay rates she began her work as a union activist, eventually becoming a highly respected Mother of the Chapel (Senior Shop Steward). 
During WWII she worked as a crane driver at the engineering munitions factory Mather & Platt. During the war her first husband was killed fighting fascism.
After 1945 she became politically active in the Communist Party and a committed peace campaigner having seen the devastation caused by the atom bombs dropped on Japanese cities. Betty eventually joined the Labour Party and became a hard working Labour Councillor. 
Betty also worked in different jobs becoming an activist in the shop workers union, USDAW. On returning to the papermaking industry she voluntarily took a job at the ‘worst organised company’ in her branch. She successfully organised all workers at the company into the union. 
She was a delegate to SOGAT conferences where she campaigned for equal pay.  She attended many international conferences campaigning for world peace. She was awarded SOGAT’s Gold Badge. 
She was also a founder member of the National Assembly of Women and secretary of her local CND branch. At aged 89 she was arrested on a demonstration at Faslane in Scotland and was honoured by Manchester City Council receiving the Elizabeth Gaskell Women’s Award. 
I was proud to speak alongside Betty at the 2016 Labour Party Conference at a packed Unite-Daily Mirror Fringe Meeting. Even in her 90’s she was a marvellous speaker and received a long and rousing standing ovation following her speech.”   Len McCluskey 
“Betty Tebbs was a great friend and comrade. I am therefore delighted that Unite has published this biography by Mark Metcalf of Betty’s remarkable life. 
When comrades became disheartened Betty always gave the same answer: “We have to carry on the struggle. It is up to us.” For Betty it was the only answer. Her story is a guiding light for all of us in that struggle.”  Maxine Peake.  
For more details:- Mark Metcalf on 07392 852561 

Tony Burke, assistant general secretary at Unite on 07831 659939

Listen in to my interview on Pheonix radio - football and politics


Flying illnesses linked to organophosphates

Union takes action for 51 affected airline staff

The father of an airline steward whose dead body contained organophosphates has accused the airline industry of evading questions that toxic fumes circulating within airlines are causing serious illnesses and deaths among staff. 
The views of Charlie Bass, a former aircraft engineer in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, are supported by a pilot who has retired early due to ill health and who is now part of a group action on toxic air. 
Matt Bass died in 2014. The 34 year old, who worked for BA, had been unwell for some years and was suffering from severe fatigue. Tests failed to reach a diagnosis. He died soon after returning from a long-haul overnight flight to Ghana. The coroner’s office failed to identify the cause of death. After taking advice from aviation experts, his parents spent £5,000 on tests, which revealed their son had suffered organophosphate (OP) poisoning of his brain and nervous system – in particular the nerves that connect the heart and the lungs to the brain. 
Deadly poisons 
However, the inquest concluded Matt’s death was due to him having drunk four times the legal limit for drink driving. The coroner did say he was not ruling out exposure to OPs entirely and that he intended writing to the chief coroner to ask him to consider alerting other coroners to the possibility that toxic air syndrome might play a role in someone’s death. 
OPs were diagnosed in 1951 by Solly Zuckerman, the UK’s chief scientific advisor, as deadly poisons. They can accumulate in the body and attack the nervous system and brain cells. Symptoms can include memory loss, depression and psychiatric effects. 
Soldiers who served in the First Gulf War and many farmers have claimed they have suffered from being forced to use OP products. OPs were present in the chemical sprays used on tents where soldiers were billeted, and in sheep dip. 
OPs are present in aircraft engine oils, which can enter the cockpit and passenger cabin because of faults with engine seals. With airlines deciding not to install detection systems it is difficult to verify whether a contaminated air event has occurred, unless smoke can be seen. But when growing numbers of airline crew began to believe that their long-term health problems were the result of breathing in unpleasant-smelling air the Aerotoxic Association was born at a parliamentary meeting in 2007. 
Union action 
Since then many more crew have been raising their concerns. The union Unite is currently pursuing 51 court cases involving pilots and cabin crew working for EasyJet, BA, Virgin Atlantic, Jet4 and Thomas Cook. Unite has established a fume incident register. 
Dave*, a former pilot, claimed to have suffered several fume events before quitting work with chronic fatigue. After a lengthy struggle with the medical profession he was eventually diagnosed as suffering from OP poisoning. He started pursuing a case for medical damages. He believes that if the group action is successful it could play a role in forcing the civil aviation industry to act “as it could cost the companies huge sums of money in compensation”. 
He said: “I am grateful to Unite for taking on my case. I had a great life. I loved taking control of large airplanes, I was very well paid and have seen much of the world.” 
“Understood to be unlikely” 
Airline companies are also being hit by other costs on this issue. On 5 August a BA flight from London Heathrow to Valencia was evacuated after fumes filled the aircraft. It has been reported that the plane had previously been grounded following two similar incidents. 
Dave said: “Former colleagues report the incidents are increasing. More planes are being grounded with passengers being accommodated overnight. EU regulations means companies are fined 600 euros per passenger if there is a three hour delay and so the costs are rising. Companies should start by admitting there is a problem and then fixing it.” 
Big Issue North sent BA, EasyJet and the former Thomas Cook Group a lengthy series of questions asking if the companies were confident staff and passengers were not being made unwell by aerotoxins and what measures they were taking to prevent toxins entering the aircraft. Would they be considering installing fume detectors in their planes? Statistical information on fume incidents was requested along with crew sickness statistics. 
BA was also asked if it intended responding to staff requests for risk assessments under the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and specifically those relating to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health. 
BA did not respond while the other two provided short statements. EasyJet said: “Incidents are extremely rare of smell events... which we try to prevent where possible using preventive engineering solutions.” 
Questions to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) brought the following reply: “Long term ill health due to any toxic effect from cabin air is understood to be unlikely, although such a link cannot be ruled out...a recent study commissioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency... concluded that the air quality they tested was similar or better than that being observed
in normal indoor environments.” 
The CAA added: “Public Health England (PHE) are responsible for the enforcement of Health and Safety legislation on board aircraft, not the CAA.” 
“Evasive on the issue” 
In response to this a spokesperson from PHE said the organisation “has no regulatory responsibilities in this area”. 
Big Issue North then sent questions to Grant Shapps, transport secretary, plus the CAA chair and chief executive. No replies were received. 
Charlie Bass said the failure to answer Big Issue North’s questions was typical of the industry’s evasiveness on the issue. “Similarly, with regard to the CAA telling you it is the responsibility of PHE to enforce health and safety legalisation, this is yet another statement from them that is designed to avoid answering your questions,” he said. “They have done the same to me on numerous occasions. 
“The Health and Safety Executive has told me very clearly it is the CAA who has responsibility for health and safety.” 
*not his real name 


Suicide in farming

Industry called on for mental health support 
Brexit is named as one source of stress 
Farmers have highlighted the need for support for people in the industry suffering from poor mental health. 
Financial worries and the isolation some face are two major factors that have led to one suicide a week in farming. 
Their responsibilities towards the environment and Brexit are said to have added to farmers’ concerns. 
Denys Fell, a farmer from Hornsea, Humberside, who has suffered depression himself, promotes the East Riding Rural Stress Initiative and the Farming Community Network, which help farmers suffering from poor mental health. He wants to ensure more farmers in need are aware of the help available to them. 
Fell and his wife Mary manage a 270 acre farm that grows mainly wheat and look after up to 200 sheep. Fruit and nut trees, potatoes and flowers are also harvested. 
He suffered from depression after the foot and mouth crisis of 2001. Two farmers he knew took their own lives. 
“For three years I could see no way out of it,” said Fell. “I was taking medication and very frightened. I needed help and fortunately my local doctors were excellent. They helped me to change the way I thought and behaved. I was keen to make sure that other farmers received similar help.” 
Isolation and pressure 
He said isolation was a particular problem for farmers now financial pressures have cut the workforce. 
“Years ago most farmers would have employed staff and had time to go to market, where they would meet people,” he said. “Many now spend most of the time alone. They have to be independent and hard working and, once they lose motivation, which is easy enough if you see a crop you’ve grown being wiped out overnight, then this can become a problem that can quickly escalate and get out of hand. It helps to be able to share problems. 
“Anything that can highlight the problems and signpost farmers to specialist care people is a good thing.” 
Paul Wright, a Lancastrian farmer, agreed, but added that farming has the highest percentage levels of workplace deaths, with around 18 per cent of all deaths in an industry that employs just 1.4 per cent of the workforce. “This is also a problem that needs tackling,” he said. 
Wright also fears that some farmers diagnosed to be suffering from mental health problems are actually medically unwell. He had to quit farming after finally being diagnosed
with organophosphate (OP) poisoning. He attributes this to dipping sheep using products with OPs, which as long ago as 1951 were found to produce a range of symptoms including memory loss, depression and psychosis among people exposed to them. Zuckerman recommended that OP products be labelled deadly poisons. 
This advice was ignored. In the 1970s sheep farmers were legally required to tackle sheep scab by using products containing OPs. No protective clothing was offered. 
Later, Littleborough shepherd Brenda Sutcliffe, herself an OP victim, campaigned to highlight
the issue. She had a list of over 1,000 farmers who she considered had committed suicide over a 10-year period because of OP sheep dip. Sutcliffe died in 2017, by which time the law had changed so that anyone dipping sheep must obtain a safety certificate and wear protective clothing with a separate air supply. 
“Brenda was a lone voice for many years,” said Wright. “I dipped sheep as a teenager and for many years after.” 
Often unable to cope mentally, Wright has on four occasions attempted to take his own life. “I now visit a psychiatrist and it helps,” he said. But he remains unconvinced about the safety of current sheep dip procedures. 
“It is only the one on top of the dip that must wear equipment,” he said. ‘When the sheep emerge from the dipping they are then put into pens to dry off and you can see the steam rising up. The animals also have to be handled afterwards. 
“The public authorities should examine suicide rates among sheep farmers and undertake medical examinations to see if they have been affected by OPs. Bodies that are offering farmers advice on mental health issues should also be raising this as something to be explored.” 
In 2008, Fell opened a community care farm on his land. Students with disabilities, learning difficulties and mental health issues attend. 
Fell believes similar initiatives elsewhere could prove doubly beneficial for farmers. Firstly, as a social enterprise the care farm generates income and employs 12 people. It also breaks down isolation for the farmer. 

“We feel that working in the countryside, engaging with nature and building friendships with others at the farm can be enormously beneficial for students,” he said.