Tuesday, 6 April 2021


 Big Issue North article - 29 March 2021 


Government accused of 1,400 “pushbacks”

 Human rights groups and MEPs speak out


The Greek government has been accused of pushbacks of refugees arriving on its shores. A human rights group has compiled a report claiming that nearly 1,400 people were pushed back over a border in March-July last year, undermining their right to claim asylum. And a group of MEPs has written to the European Commission urging it to make clear their concerns to the Greek government.


Fleeing conflict

The figure of 1,400 is likely to be an underestimate, according to Vasilis Tsarnas of the human rights group Greek Helsinki Monitor, which compiled the report that has now been sent to the Greek supreme court, naval court and military appeals court.

 “Clearly we cannot get to know of each incident in which refugees are being denied the right to arrive in Greece by state forces,” said Tsarnas, who claims that NGOs and journalists are being denied access to the Greek islands nearest to the Turkish shore where many people are being turned back.

An Athens bookshop worker, Tsarnas volunteers for Greek Helsinki Monitor, which was founded in 1993 to support human and minority rights, and to campaign against discrimination.

“We record incidents and send them to prosecutors, who generally fail to act by enforcing current legislation,” he said. “It thus requires further efforts to put public and political pressure on state authorities. Where necessary we apply to take cases to the European Court of Human Rights and send reports to the UN in Geneva.”

Thanks to its monitoring, Greek Helsinki Monitor assisted the ruling last year in which the neo-fascist party Golden Dawn was found guilty of running a criminal organisation as it became prominent during the country’s financial crisis, when it systematically targeted migrants and leftwing critics. Former Golden Dawn MPs have now been imprisoned.

Since 2015, most entrants to Greece are refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. They arrive via Turkey. Some Greek MPs have accused the Turkish government of attacking the country by sending refugees.

In February, Aegean Boat Report, a Norwegian NGO, reported that 13 people from Afghanistan – including three women and five children – were removed soon after arriving at a Greek statefacilitated refugee camp in Lesbos. They were forced into a container by four men wearing unmarked dark uniforms, beaten with batons, and the women were assaulted. A van transported the 13 to a port and forced them on to an inflatable life raft that was towed out to sea. They were abandoned without life jackets and picked up by the Turkish coast guard off Behram early the following morning.

“Greek Helsinki Monitor is now representing eight of the illegally deported Afghans, who should be allowed to return to Greece and apply to stay,” said Tsarnas.

“We are pleased that a number of MEPs have written to Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs.”

In their letter the MEPs state: “The Greek government’s claims that they are complying with all international laws and obligations are highly questionable… we urge you to address this level of pushbacks in the European Union as a matter of priority.”

According to Tsarnas supporting refugees forms part of defending human rights for all. He believes the indifference of many members of the public and politicians to the desperate plight of those seeking to reach Europe through Greece is allowing the police and other state forces to increasingly act violently towards other groups, including workers and students.

“It is inevitable that there will be deaths of people who are risking everything for the prospect of a better life,” he added.

Shot at the border

Between 1993 and 2020, 40,555 refugees and migrants have died after coming to Europe, according to United for Intercultural Action. They include Fatma, a Syrian woman, who was shot by a Greek border guard as she and her husband and six children sought to cross into Greece via the Evros river near Edirne last year. Other Syrian refugees were also shot dead by border guards around this time.

Nearer to home, deaths among migrants and refugees seeking to cross the English Channel included a family of three children who perished in October 2020. Britain has since left the EU. Nevertheless, said Anya Edmond-Pettitt of the Institute of Race Relations: “The UK cannot abandon all those trying to reach here. International conventions still apply, like the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, requiring safe and legal family reunion routes for children.

 “Maritime search and rescue of vessels in distress at sea is accepted the world over. We must pressure the government and all parties to uphold these lifesaving measures.”

An ongoing list of podcasts - personal and Unite the union


Podcast lists


1)      Lifelong trade unionist and socialist Martin McMulkin was, until he retired, the Unite convenor at Jost in Bolton for many years.

In 2019 he became a Labour councillor in Bolton but he was unwilling to simply facilitate cuts in local services.


2)      Charlie Clutterbuck https://markwritecouk.files.wordpress.com/2021/03/charlie-clutterbuck-interview.mp3


In this half hour audio interview, Charlie Clutterbuck – author of the 2017 book Bitterwseet Brexit: the future of food, farming, land and labour – seeks to examine how his predictions in it are working out following Britain’s exit from the EU.

The labour and trade movement activist explains the massive forthcoming changes in farming that will put out of business many small farmers, recalls why the EU sought to develop farming policies that ended European countries dependence on US food imports, touches on the massive imbalance in land ownership at home and how the pouring into the UK of a lot of cheaper, poorly produced food will further raise obesity levels and put further pressure on the NHS and social services.

Clutterbuck notes that it is a US company, Tate and Lyle, that was the first to benefit from the Government’s removal of tariffs on imports, literally handing millions from British taxpayers to American shareholders. Money that could have been used to subsidise better-paid jobs in land-based food producing occupations that would boost incomes in rural communities.

As a soil scientist, Clutterbuck investigates the Government’s plans for those that work on the land and finds a total absence of any detail. How ideas for greening the land in which big grants may be used to lever in private finance for projects that might possibly provide an initial job creation boost through rewilding and tree planting projects are not going to revive rural communities.

The interview ends with Clutterbuck exploring how to create a direct link using food credits between producers of high-quality food and the poorest in society.

The interview was conducted by Mark Metcalf


3)      Peterloo 1819: Halifax 1842


Most people know of Peterloo 1819 when eighteen people died after cavalry charged into a crowd of around 60,000 people who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.

Far fewer know of similar tragic events in Halifax in August 1842.

This was when, at the very least, five local people were slaughtered and dozens badly injured – by the military and special constables – whilst they were participating in a nationwide general strike that combined demands for better pay with an extension to those allowed to vote. 


4)      Blood Suckers – how PFI sucked the NHS dry




Catherine Howe, author of the Halifax 1842: A Year of Crisis book is also recording a 7-minute piece that examines the deaths and injuries suffered by people on 16 August 1842.


Unite oral history podcasts




What does it mean to be a shop steward? https://open.spotify.com/episode/0knSTX9sNaGc6tsTqQB4vx

Being a safety rep.


The miners strike’ of 1984 and the Battle of Orgreave


Organising the 1980 truckers’ strike


Organising workers behind the Iron Curtain



Fighting the Poll Tax



The Miners Strike by A. Daykin



Organising workers on zero hours contracts – part 1


Part 2



Saturday, 3 April 2021

Leeds against the Police Bill events on Easter Friday

 Photos that follow are courtesy of Mark Harvey of ID8 photography and are copyright and not to be reproduced without written permission. 

A crowd of close to a thousand took to the roads of Leeds City Centre yesterday in protest against the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. (Police Bill)  

'Kill the (Police) Bill' 

This followed a rally in Millennium Square in which the speakers included trade unionists and political activists from a range of organisations including Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Extinction Rebellion Families. (XR)

The events formed part of a series of similar occasions being organised across the country over the Easter weekend.

As is in the current climate where the police may choose, as they did at the Sarah Everard vigil in London on 13 March, to rigorously apply laws relating to tackling the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has been badly handled by the Conservative government, the rally and march were called by unidentified persons and organisations.

As the sun filled Millennium Square in central Leeds the first speaker was Jane Aitchison, President of Leeds Trades Union Council (LTUC) and a longstanding activist within the PCS union.

She received a warm round of applause from amongst a crowd that included just a handful who were displaying trade union flags and whilst the LTUC banner was displayed there was no other trade union banner on show. There was no obvious Labour Party presence and no Labour MP spoke. The largest political party clearly present was the SWP but their numbers were small.

Aitchison, who was unsuccessful when she stood as a Labour candidate in Pudsey at the 2019 General Election, when Jeremy Corbyn’s party, sabotaged from within in the previous years, lost badly.

The Tory Government now has whopping majority and has introduced a series of draconian bills – such as the SpyCops Bill, the Overseas Operations Bill and now the Police Bill- that will if enacted send Britain on a dangerous path towards increased authoritarianism. Labour has abstained on the first Bill, voted against the second and was set to abstain on the third until the police behaved viciously at the Sarah Everard vigil.

Aitchison spoke of the long history of trade union struggles in Leeds including the successful gas workers’ strike of 1889 that led to the setting up of what is now known as the GMB union and physical opposition to Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirted fascists of the 1930s. She appealed to anyone present not already in one to join a trade union and contended that “Together we are strong, together we can win.” Let’s hope so.

Steve Johnson, who is active in Unite Community, spoke on behalf of People Before Profit. He also drew on previous historical struggles referring to 7 people who were slaughtered by the Yeomanry in 1758, the significant backing locally for the French Revolution in 1790 and the Luddite and Chartist movements that sought to give working people control over workplace practices and a vote at elections.

As Aitchison had highlighted earlier, Johnson remarked that the new piece of legislation would make it increasingly difficult for anyone to organise effective opposition against unpopular government laws or, for example, cuts in wages, jobs and services by employers. “Attending demonstrations and protests is one of the few ways of getting your voice heard, “ he remarked and was cheered by the crowd that clearly agreed with him.

 Marvina of BLM then got a large cheer when she proclaimed that ‘All lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter.’

Whilst Liz of XR Families felt that even before the new legislation had been given the go ahead by Parliament there had been an increasing attempts by the police to criminalise some protestors. So,  “we must get louder… to fight all forms of injustice… as we need radical change.”

Emma Hewitt from Leeds Disabled People’s Association not only spoke of how Direct Action by disabled people led to the first Disability Discrimination Act in 1995 but also of how since then many rights for disabled people have been eroded because of austerity.

Denetta Copeland of Stand up to Racism argued that there was “no choice… (but to oppose the Bill)…. as without the rights to protest then you can’t extract change…”

She drew great applause when she, rightly, remarked “you don’t need to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, this is your shoes.”

Woody of Youth Strike felt that Priti Patel was terrified of young people using their voices to seek change and that the global school strike for climate on selective Fridays since 15 March 2019 had successfully altered many people’s views on the need to prevent climate change.

'This is what democracy looks like' 

The crowd then made their way on to the nearby road. In the presence of a number of police officers, some of whom were unnecessarily videoing those taking part, the majority of whom were under 30 years of age, the marchers made their way through the City Centre, which was largely deserted. The police assisted the walk, which was lively throughout with drums, music and songs, top of which was ‘this is what democracy looks like’, of around a mile by stopping any traffic.

On the return to Millennium Square there were a number of additional speakers before the crowd dispersed after what had proved, as is the case on most political events, including large marches, to be an entirely peaceful occasion.

Whilst it had been a good day it is obvious that unless many more people and organisations get actively involved then the Bill will eventually become law. Once that happens it will be doubly difficult to legally organise to reverse what will be a severe damage to our rights.

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Two responses to the interview with former Labour Councllor Martin McMulkin


Interview with Martin McMulkin

Lifelong trade unionist and socialist Martin McMulkin was, until he retired, the Unite convenor at Jost in Bolton for many years.

In 2019 he became a Labour councillor in Bolton but he was unwilling to simply facilitate cuts in local services.



Really interesting interview with Martin McMulkin .. mirrors pretty much what is happening in Sunderland .. only worse here. Most Sundays I get a home cooked dinner delivered from a big ex mining family who held out during the strike .. and are still bitter against scabs .. yet such is their disillusionment with the towns Labour group they and former militant shipyard/industrial workers will be voting Tory/anyone but Labour, in May .. desperate situation. But all is not lost; I agree with Martin McMulkin .. fighting progressive Independent Cllr's can reconnect with the disillusioned and left behind and outwit corrupt government.

Former seafarer. 


Mark, Individual martyrs are people with courage, principle and
commitment. In 1972 "WE" (me in CP) got a Labour Conf policy condemning
the Housing Finance Act. ClayCross and London Boro Camden with partial
support from one or two other Councils interpreted the policy of non
implementation. A strong mass movement had proceeded the actions, with
communities in the respective areas supporting their Council's (note
not individual Cllrs) actions in refusing to put up rents. 

Though the
National L.P. refused to support or endorse the 2 Councils actions,
which was disgraceful, nevertheless, it was mass action, it was not
putting responsibility on an individual. For us to gain change, it’s not
for as many individuals to stand up, but rather collective Party and
mass action. This has to be worked for, note the Anti Poll Tax campaign.
Yes, then individuals did stand up, with jailing's, but then we had
mass support for those individuals and the campaign throughout the
country.  Those individuals actions complementing the protest movement
outside the jails caused and created change. 

In 72 the CP from the East
Midlands mobilised for the election in Clay Cross to give maximum
support. The five Skinner Bros (David -  I did an interview with, for
the CP) paid a very heavy price, all Cllrs surcharged, bankrupt, unable
to stand for Cllr again, etc. I note you want our Cllrs to stand up and
refuse implementing the Tory Cuts. Of course, this should be our aim and
campaign. Before asking Cllrs to individually take the stand, we must
first mobilise the movement, so their subsequent action is meaningful.

Of course where individuals with personal principles, do take action
now, to not implement the cuts, we need to support their individual
action. But I would stongly argue that just as important, at the same
time,  is the need for the mass campaign. History teaches us that though
its full of individuals, where real socialist change occurs, it comes
from heightened workers consciousness which gives rise to mass movements. 

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Peterloo 1819: Halifax 1842 podcast

Most people know of Peterloo 1819 when eighteen people died after cavalry charged into a crowd of around 60,000 people who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.

Far fewer know of similar tragic events in Halifax in August 1842.

This was when, at the very least, five local people were slaughtered and dozens badly injured – by the military and special constables – whilst they were participating in a nationwide general strike that combined demands for better pay with an extension to those allowed to vote. 

Listen in to this 8 minute podcast to find out more:- 


Brief report on Manchester Kill The Bill event on Saturday 27 March 2021


Note - all photographs are courtesy of Mark Harvey of ID8 photography and are not to be reproduced without written permission. 

Over 350 people today (Saturday 27 March 2021) attended the Kill the (Police) Bill event in Manchester that was called by persons unknown. Most of those who assembled in St Peters square, location of the famous Peterloo massacre in 1819 when, at least, 15 demonstrators were butchered by cavalry who charged into a crowd of 60,000 who had gathered to demand parliamentary reform, were well under 30. There were two labour movement banners – one UNISON and one USDAW. Later 7 striking bus workers at GNW who are members of Unite arrived but chose not to take up an offer to speak. This seemed more a case of inexperience that anything else.

As the crowd assembled outside Manchester’s Central Library, the opening speaker stressed the need for people to maintain suitable social distancing and, in general most did. There were a number of speakers and many in the crowd responded with warm applause to a series of points on, amongst other topics, racism, sexism and police violence.

The Greater Manchester Police (GMP) had a number of officers sitting in vans close to the unofficial rally but did not intervene. The event took place with Legal Observers present. There was a convivial atmosphere and it was clear that those who had turned up felt it was a worthwhile experience.

After an hour or so the crowd moved off to hold an impromptu march through Manchester and demonstrators took to the roads and on a number of occasions blocked off, by sitting down, traffic, which was very light, and a main tram junction. The amount of disruption was minimal. Amongst the chants was ‘whose streets, our streets’ (and they certainly were as there was very few people around) and, to the tune of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’, ‘Oh Johnson’s a wanker.’ The crowd swelled to around 500 at one point.

The march proceeded to a mural of George Floyd and where the crowd took a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time that one of four American police officers who arrested him knelt on the African American man’s neck and killed him in Minneapolis in May last year.

The crowd then proceeded back through Manchester City Centre and I myself left at 4pm  when the event was still going on and at which point there had been no arrests or antagonism between demonstrators or GMP officers.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

An interview with a NUM activist about the 1984/5 strike and the Battle of Orgreave


As of March 2021, Richard Horsfield is a Unite trade union tutor who for many years was the Unite senior steward/convenor at Wavin near Holmfirth.

On leaving school in 1979, Richard worked for the National Coal Board and was active in the National Union of Mineworkers for over a decade during which he experienced the 1984/85 miners’ strike and the brutality of the police at the Orgeave coking works. This is Richard’s short story of his time as a coal miner.