Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Let's picket

A striker gives his personal views on his first picket. 

7.45am - Arrived at Halifax Connexions office and joined colleagues Judy and Mick. After 34 years as a public services worker this was my first experience of picket duty. We were all apprehensive as we knew that all other Connexions offices were closed in Calderdale and Kirklees. We had also been told that workers who wanted to work were being directed to Halifax so that this office could stay open. 

By 9.00am we were wishing that we had brought a brazier as the temperature wasn't much above freezing. However, our cause was warmed by shoppers and people on their way to work who stopped to offer support:-

Fiona - explained that her husband is a refuse collector and there had been problems with their strike ballot and the fact that the refuse collection service has been privatised further complicated things. She felt that her 18 year old unemployed son was suffering as there were very few prospects at present. She said they were struggling with finances and that she hoped the government would take notice of the strikers.

Tammy and Jess - fellow strikers and administration workers from Northgate House offered to get us hot drinks if we needed them. They said around 30 workers had crossed the picket line where they were.

Stan - a former rent collector for Halifax MBC said he was pleased to see us demonstrating. He felt that someone needed to stand up for the futures of his children and grand children. He said that all people should have decent pensions.

Catherine - a teacher from the King Cross area of Halifax said she was behind our cause and hoped  that we didn't get too cold. 

At 9.30am the first worker turned up who wanted to cross the picket line. He wasn't in the union and didn't contribute to the pension scheme. Fifteen minutes later another 2 workers and a manager appeared. Thankfully only 3 workers were willing to cross the line and the centre stayed closed. At 10.20am we left for the demonstration in Huddersfield. 

After over 2 hours on the picket line I had received no abuse and had met over a dozen supportive members of the public. I have been heartened by the experience and will be willing to do the same again if necessary.

See link below for photos from Halifax and Huddersfield.

The TUC Day of Action in Yorkshire and Humberside has been a big success

The TUC Day of Action in Yorkshire and Humberside has been a big success. Picket lines have largely been respected and the four [*] major rallies in Bradford, Sheffield, Hull and Leeds drew a combined total of 25,000 people to listen to a range of speakers from the 29 unions on strike. If the Government were hoping that public sector workers would refuse to stand up and fight for their pension rights then they will have been disappointed.

Picketing started early at many workplaces. At Kirklees Building Services the atmosphere was lively with Jan Grabowski, Unite deputy convenor reporting that from a total staff of around 600 “less than 20 had gone into work.”

Directly opposite members of UNISON at Street Scene and Housing were doing their best to keep out the cold. They may have had the youngest picket in Edward Williams who at just three months had joined his engineering dad Robert in protesting about changes that will leave both of them worse off. No wonder then that Kirklees UNISON had 61 newly completed forms from non-members this week as people from all occupations begin to understand just how important being in a trade union is.

Less than half a mile away members of UNISON and NAPO were unlikely to remain cold for long as they danced up and down and urged passing motorists to honk their horns in support. Plenty were willing to oblige as Natalie Atkinson, NAPO steward, explained "They just wanted to get over the message that we are not just against pension cuts but are for good public services that everyone needs and relies upon. Also it is not right that a crisis caused by unregulated financial banking should be paid for by working people.”

In nearby Leeds some of the pickets were on strike for the first time in their lives. At St James Hospital these were multi-union and they’d even gathered the support of a local pub owner who had provided sandwiches and light refreshments.

Suitably refreshed, and buoyed by news that even those who had been forced to work - in order to rightly provide emergency cover - were intending to join them at the end of their shifts they joined thousands of their colleagues from right across the public sector in converging on Leeds City Centre. With the Leeds Trades Union Council and University and College Union banners at its head a demonstration led the way. 

By the time the rally on the steps of the Art Gallery kicked off then there were an estimated 9,000 people present.

Bill Adams, secretary of Yorkshire and the Humber TUC said he was “proud to be amongst them” as he introduced the speakers. They were to draw warm applause with Hugh Lanning, the PCS Deputy General Secretary saying, “It has been a great day and if the government thought the public services were a soft touch they probably don’t now. But make no mistake the Tories never had a plan B and they are just using the financial recession as a cover for what has always been their political and ideological objectives. But we can fight and win.” 

Kate Mayer, a GMB education steward pointed out that all “pension funds are in surplus” and called for tax avoidance loopholes to be closed in order to raise an “annual £123 billion that could easily fund decent pensions for everyone in the public and private sector.” She said she was proud to have participated in the largest public sector strike since 1926.

Karen Reay, Unite Regional Secretary asked, “What will happen to young people, who want to work, if we force those who want to take a deserved break to work much longer? They are expecting nurses to work into their sixties, which will not only impact on their own health but will impact on the level of service members of the public can expect.”

Celia Foote of the NAS/UWT said it “was the government which wanted to put children’s education at risk and not teachers. Public sector pensions are affordable and it’s not just our pensions that are under attack as can be seen at Unilever where workers have voted for action.” Noting that it was the unions who had forced the Government to the negotiating table she called on “people to stick together in a battle we must win.”

At the end Bill Adams summed up the day’s events saying “this great turnout has been matched elsewhere across the region and we should all be proud of our efforts.”

Sheffield had 10,000 people at the closing rally
Thanks to Ralph Dyson from Rawmarsh School for photo 

  • Rallies were also held in 8 of the regions smaller towns and cities with an estimated total attendance of close to 8,000.

Power to the pickets
Thanks to Ralph Dyson for photograph. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Leveson Inquiry

The Leveson Inquiry - Culture, Practice and Ethics of the Press

I’ve only been working as a Journalist/writer for a small number of years and certainly wouldn’t consider myself important enough to appear at the Leveson Inquiry, especially as I haven’t done much work for the national papers that set the tone for the press industry.

There are though three events worth recalling. In 2002 a young Iranian refugee, Payman Behmani, was stabbed to death in Hendon, Sunderland. It wasn’t much more than a few hundred yards from where I then lived and I contacted the Guardian newspaper and provided much of the copy that was filed on the story by their Northern correspondent Martin Wainwright.

Not too long after an asylum seeker in Sunderland was also stabbed in Hendon and taken critically ill to the hospital. I re-rang the Guardian and asked if they wanted me to file some copy and was told by the then Deputy Editor [whose name I can’t recall] they would only be interested if the man died. Fortunately he survived.

In the autumn of 2003 I also wrote a number of articles [potentially 3 of around 1,000 words each] for publication in the popular regional newspaper The Journal. I had already written a number of pieces that had been published in the Morning Star about gulf war syndrome affecting British servicemen who had served in the first Gulf War a decade earlier. I’d followed this up with other pieces on how badly members of the military have always been treated if they fall sick, or are left injured or invalided as a result of their service. The pieces in the Journal were to have a similar focus, but with a more human touch with interviews with local ex-servicemen.

The articles were to go out on a Saturday, starting with September 20th. The night before I was rang by the paper and the final content was read down the phone to me. Next morning – nothing and none of them were ever to appear. On the Tuesday I rang the deputy editor I had been working with and was told he had left his post. I never did manage to speak to him to confirm exactly why but I was told by someone who wished to remain anonymous that “he had quit in disgust” when following a call from the Ministry of Defence the paper had decided to drop all the articles. To matters even worse I got not a penny for my work.

Three years later I was alerted to the fact that Arsenal’s new multi-million pound Emirates Stadium was not up to scratch when it came to facilities for disabled fans. In a nutshell helpers had their seats situated behind the fans, thus when assistance was needed they were forced to stand. Many were doing so throughout the whole match, and as Arsenal were at the time throwing out other supporters for doing just that then the Gunners had a potentially bad news story on their hands.

I worked with the Sunday Express reporter in the North on standing up the information and we had a good piece written and ready to run in the paper. Again it never appeared and the reason was that alerted to the story - by asking them to comment - the North London club had contacted the paper and promised them a couple of major football exclusives if they dropped it. In this case I did get well paid and I was subsequently able to alter and have the piece published in the Big Issue in the South magazine. Arsenal though had avoided national publicity over their new Stadium - and to their credit
they did alter the seating arrangements at the Emirates subsequently.

Monday, 28 November 2011

GMB fears care homes rescue could be storing up future problems

One of Britain’s biggest unions believes that the rescue of 30 threatened care homes in the region may simply be storing up future problems.

When Southern Cross, the UK’s largest home care operator, went bust earlier this year there were fears that thousands of its 31,000 residents could find themselves on the streets.

Thankfully, that has proven not to be the case with the company transferring its 750 plus homes in the UK to over 30 existing operators. One of these is Four Seasons Health Care Group that by being registered in Jersey does not post accounts.

On October 31st its subsidiary company Four Seasons Healthcare assumed control of the final wave of 139 homes being transferred to it. Of these 22 are in the North West with a further eight across Yorkshire and Humberside. The moves brought the total number of homes under the care of the company to over 500.

Four Seasons homes are rated highly by the Care Quality Commission; the body that oversees standards in care homes, with 88% rated as good or excellent. Nevertheless the company has experienced financial difficulties in recent times.
In 2009 its creditors agreed to write off half of the group’s £1.6 billion debt. Previous owners Qatari Investment Authority, a private equity company walked away having lost their entire investment and ownership was transferred to its creditors, the main one being the Royal Bank of Scotland who took a 40% share. The maturity – repayment - of the remaining debt of £780 million is set for September 2012.

The GMB, Britain’s third biggest union after Unite and Unison, is worried that Four Seasons may not be able to pay it especially as in 2010 the subsidiary company itself posted a £12.1 pre-tax loss. They’ve suggested that ‘If Southern Cross was the original motion picture, Four Seasons are the sequel, and they’re coming soon to a town near you’ whilst also querying why just over a quarter of the £31,800 income earned per occupied bed in 2010 was spent on rents and interest payments.
In response a Four Seasons spokesperson accused the union of “singling us out for attack after we had declined voluntarily to give them collective bargaining rights or deduct union subscriptions from staff pay.” He denied GMB claims that  Four Seasons was anti-union and pointed to the single agreement the group has covering one of its homes.
The spokesperson said “we are well able to manage our debt and are very confident we will be able to refinance it before it becomes due next year. The company has recently been valued at £950 million, much greater than our debt. Southern Cross was a private sector problem that has been resolved by the private sector, thus saving a massive burden falling on local authorities or the public purse. We’ve taken on operating homes that were marked for closure, will be investing in them and working with 7,300 transferred staff to improve the quality of care in homes.”
None of which has reassured Jon Smith, GMB organiser in Yorkshire and North Derbyshire who said, “that for nearly two years we warned that Southern Cross’s business model was fundamentally flawed. We feel the same model is being adopted by Four Seasons and that concerns us greatly.”
Also worried that Four Seasons could prove to be short-term custodians of the three care homes they taken control of in his Blackley and Broughton constituency is Graham Stringer, MP. He said; “I was appalled by the financial arrangements around these care homes and I think it brings into question whether or not care homes providing a public service for vulnerable people should ever be in the private sector.”
Asked to provide an alternative to the transfer of Southern Cross homes  Smith said “they could have been brought under direct local authority control or transferred to not for profit providers. 80% of funds for these homes comes anyway from the taxpayer via local authorities and the NHS and such a move would cut out the costly middle men.”

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sunderland 1 Wigan Athletic 2

Sunderland 1

Wigan Athletic 2

With four of their next five matches against Champions’ League challengers this was a vital win for Roberto Martinez’s side. The victory took Wigan off the bottom and within touching distance of a Sunderland side plummeting fast. It’s now just two homes win in sixteen for manager Steve Bruce who was roundly booed at the end and urged to go by the home crowd. With games against Wolves and Blackburn next on the calendar finding someone to put the ball into the net is a priority, as otherwise Sunderland will be relegated.

The Wearsiders should have wrapped the game up in the first half an hour. They took the lead when Ali Al Habsi spilled Nicklas Bendtner’s shot and even though the keeper then did well to block Kieran Richardson’s follow-up shot he had no chance when the ball ran loose to allow Sebastian Larsson to score his fourth League goal of the season. Credit must go to the Wigan custodian who then put his mistake behind him to produce a good performance saving neatly from Richardson, performing heroics to keep out a Wes Brown header and touching away John O’Shea’s header before half-time. An unmarked Phil Bardsley, the Sunderland fullback blasting high and wide from eight yards out should then though have beaten him.

This proved a costly miss as on the stroke of half-time Wigan drew level when Larsson stepped a little too close to Victor Moses and from the resulting penalty Jordi Gomez gave Wigan’s 200 travelling fans something to cheer.

The away side improved in the second half and for much of it their better passing had them in control. Yet it was Sunderland who carved out the only real chance but Richardson failed to direct a lovely Jack Colback cross home. However in added time Wes Brown was guilty of failing to clear quickly enough and suffered when substitute James McArthur nudged him off the ball and then squared it for Franco Di Santo to push home into an empty net. This was the queue for huge celebrations amongst the Wigan staff and fans.

In comparison the home fans – rightly – hurled abuse at their manager who appears to believe that the on-loan signing of Bendtner will somehow prove good enough to replace the centre-forwards he’s lost in recent years such as Kenwyne Jones, Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan. The big Dane though appears to have no appetite for a challenge and rarely appears in the box. As regards some of the other signings then one of the worst is John O’Shea who simply left Larsson all afternoon to deal with Moses, can’t pass accurately over 15 yards and generally went missing for most of the match.

In the middle of midfield Bruce seeks to play two holding players in Colback and Lee Cattermole, neither of who has yet to score a goal for Sunderland. In the summer the Wearsiders allowed Jordan Henderson to depart to Liverpool, a figure of £20 million apparently being too much to refuse even though in reality the sum received was £14 million as Sunderland had to then spend £6 million replacing the departing youngster with Craig Gardner, who has hardly started a game. Without Henderson Sunderland lack pace and enthusiasm and his going had been a very big loss.

That wouldn’t be the case if Bruce also departed. When he was appointed Niall Quinn said that the former Manchester United man was “perfect’ for Sunderland as he “understood the northeast.” It was a view I found difficult to equate because if really true then as a Newcastle lad he wouldn’t have taken the job, and when he later said he had never watched a local Derby match between the sides then it was clear Quinn’s statement didn’t stack up.

If he ‘understands’ then why does Bruce suggest we should somehow be grateful for the fact that he took us to tenth in the League. Sunderland has won the League six times, it might be a good many years ago but it’s still a fact. A decade ago we finished seventh twice in a row, and Peter Reid’s side was a lot better than anything Bruce has assembled. Just because we’ve had shit sides for many years does not make him some sort of Messiah, and he was just lucky as I still maintain that Sunderland were ‘only five minutes’ away from going down last season as if Wigan had held on to their 1-0 lead for five more minutes at the Stadium of Light in March then they would have won the match and sent Sunderland into free fall. That is conjecture, what is not is the ridiculous comments earlier this week from Phil Bardsley, a full-back of limited talent who suggested that the criticism Bruce – and the team – have endured was because Sunderland fans feel we should see our side challenging for the Title or a Champions League place. It would certainly be nice to see us do so – and after all we are the only ‘big’ club never to qualify for Europe by finishing high enough in the League to do so – but I’ve not met any Sunderland fan that believes what Bardsley was suggesting.

However we do expect - given the resources the club has at their disposal to see better players than the likes of Bardsley playing for Sunderland, and O’Shea and Bendtner, Cattermole, Richardson. So do us a favour Phil and take a trip back to your beloved Manchester United with Mr Bruce and take O’Shea and Richardson with you.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Can coal be made 'clean'?

Taken from Big Issue in the North magazine. Please buy the magazine as it is a good read and helps out people who are working to improve their lives. 

The abandonment of a carbon capture project at a Scottish power station
could finish coalmining in the north, increase unemployment, create chaos in energy supplies and make it more difficult to cut CO2 emissions. That’s the view of Bill Adams, secretary of Yorkshire and Humber Trades Union Congress that represents trade unionists in the Region.

Longannet, in Fife, was set to trial technology aimed at removing or capturing
emissions in coal or gas burning power plants. After processing they would then be transported by pipeline for sub-sea rock burial.

One billion pounds of public money through the Department of Energy and Climate Change [DECC] was available, but according to Keith Anderson, chief corporate officer at Scottish Power, one of three companies  behind the project, they required a sum 50% greater and one that in the current climate the government was unwilling to advance.

The decision is a further blow to any hopes of developing clean coal technology in a long-running saga that stretches back to the 1980s. At that time the National Coal Board’s Coal Research Establishment [CRE] was, according to Dave Feickert, head of research for the National Union of Mineworkers between 1984 and 1993, and who now advises the Chinese Government on mine safety, “the world leader in developing clean coal technology, particularly the pressurised fluidised bed power plant at Grimethorpe. We also had supercritical boiler technology that burnt coal at high pressure but reduced CO2 emissions by at least 20% though increasing thermal efficiency.

CRE had 200 engineers, scientists and technical staff and the electricity industry had its own labs as well. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and then John Major shut them down and made everyone redundant. Many went to work abroad.”

No one knows for sure - and in 1987 New Scientist magazine was already casting doubt on whether coal could ever be made ‘clean’ -  what might have been achieved if research had continued. What is though certain is that Britain, like much of the rest of the world, currently still needs a significant amount of coal to keep the lights on. Around 30% of the nation’s electricity is generated from 19 coal-fired stations and five are, as a result of European legislation aimed at cutting CO2 emissions, due to close by 2015.

With coal mines across the north having been closed after the Miners year-long strike in 84-85 then 70% of the 51 million of tons coal currently used in  power stations comes from abroad. Yet there are billions of tonnes of coal reserves underground. 

Adams was hoping to see a lot more of them being used in the future. Like Feickert he accepts that carbon capture and storage “is not a proven technology.” Making him keen to see established a project aimed at de-carbonising one-sixth of the output at Longannet, the UK’s second largest coal power plant.

Now despite Anderson calling the engineering study already undertaken, at an estimated cost of in excess of 20 million pounds “a huge success” it has been abandoned.

“It’s very disappointing” says Adams.  “If we can’t develop this technology then the jobs of miners such as the 800 or so at Kellingley are under threat. We could also extract the coal we have beneath our feet. A successful test could also see new power stations being built, bringing contracts for local suppliers and creating skilled, well-paid work.” 

He’s pleased to see that David Cameron and energy secretary Chris Huhne have promised that £1 billion is still available for new projects but wants “things to move quickly.” Peterhead gas-fired power station in Aberdeenshire is believed to be the most likely site for any future project.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature [WWF] this would avoid
trialling the new technology on a newly built coal plant currently being proposed at Huntertston in Scotland. Its spokesperson said “ the work at Longannet has significantly improved our understanding of the technology. It’s testing should continue, but at an already existing site where we can, at the very least, know that during testing it will reduce our green house gas emissions.”

Britain is committed to reducing such emissions by 80% by 2050 and Adams believes that target and keeping the lights on can only be met by pushing ahead on carbon capture and storage. He argues that “the development of renewable energy isn’t going to be quick enough, especially in the next decade or so, to prevent energy shortages and simply switching from coal to gas powered stations isn’t going to reduce emissions. “

The WWF is also keen not to see a switch to gas but believes that much more has to be done to push ahead on renewable sources of energy, which in its wake it argues could create 4.4 million jobs across Europe. Its recently released report ‘Positive Energy’ argues that the 60-90% of the UK’s 2030 electricity demand could be met by renewables, but only if the government sets a legal target at no less than 60% for renewable energy generation to ‘provide certainty for investors.’ Failure to do so argues the WWF would mean ‘dangerous levels of climate change and high energy prices.’

“Both of which I’d like to see avoided” says Adams. “But in a world where coal production is expected to jump from today’s seven billion tonnes to ten by 2030 then I’d like to think we can push ahead on getting this technology right so that we can protect and create jobs here before exploiting what would be a valuable export market.”

Monday, 21 November 2011

New report lifts lid on Stoke's racial violence

A new report on racism in Stoke is worth reading. Written by the Institute of race Relations it’s short, simple to read and makes its key points succinctly.

Now Stoke has never been my favourite place. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had bother – sometimes, major, very violent, bother – when going to see Sunderland play there. As such it’s now the only place I won’t go for a pre-match drink.

So it didn’t surprise me to read there’s plenty of racial violence meted out to local black, Asian and migrant people in a City that has been left devastated by the closure of much of its once thriving manufacturing base – pottery, coal, steel and their supply chain industries.

As a result many inhabitants and/or the grand\children have been forced to follow Norman Tebbitt and get ‘on their bikes’ to find work. Not doing so has often meant being long-term unemployed or having to get by on part-time, irregular, poorly paid work.

As people move out then the overall numbers living in Stoke has dropped considerably. Meanwhile the arrival of a smallish number of family relatives from the Indian sub-continent and higher birth rates have increased numbers in the Asian community. Which combined with new Labour having introduced, at the start of the millennium, a dispersal programme away from the South East for asylum seekers has meant that the numbers in the black and ethnic minority communities has risen both in real terms and % wise. Up from 3% to 7% in the twenty years up to 2009.

Reading the report it’s clear that far too many of Stoke’s white working class population have been conned into believing that their current woes are somehow connected/caused by a pretty small increase in the numbers of black people living locally.

No surprise then that the fascist British National Party have done their worst to convince them that’s so, and until relatively recently receiving in return for all their campaigning a healthy electoral reward in terms of a high number of elected councillors.

But as the report shows the BNP’s success was only in part a result of their own poisonous politics. Just as importantly was ‘new’ Labour’s willingness to placate its media allies by constantly attacking the rights of asylum seekers and refugees arriving from holiday ‘hotspots’ such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, the Congo, Zimbabwe…

Failing to explain – never mind defend – why people are being forced to travel thousands of miles for the ‘chance’ to live in a previously disused house in a run-down part of Stoke - or Sunderland where I lived in 2002 and witnessed the despair after an Iranian refugee, Payman Behmani, was stabbed to death less than 300 yards from where we lived in Hendon – could only help create the impression that new arrivals were up to no good and should be viewed with alarm…….or even attacked?

Then there was Blair’s need to support US President George Bush in his ‘crusades’ to Afghanistan and Iraq. And even though close to 1.5 million marched in London in March 2003 to oppose the latter adventure that didn’t stop the Government pushing forward on its plans to put the Muslim community - the vast majority rightly angered by the invasions, but playing no part in the terrorist outrages that have followed in Britain –under surveillance whilst also having their residency questioned in the papers, and by politicians, for failing to ‘support our troops.’ 

Is it any surprise therefore that attacks multiplied? And whilst the BNP have now had their presence on the local council wiped out that doesn’t appear to have lessened the numbers. The statistics presented in the report are worrying. Not least because they’re taken only from official sources and so are likely to be an underestimate – especially as there are a good number of quotes indicating people who are or might be attacked view the police not as friends but as “part of the problem.”

And, sadly, there’s not much indication that things are going to get significantly better. Having won control of the council there are indications that Labour want to create an impression that with the BNP gone then the problems will go away themselves – so youth workers have been told not to distribute anti-racist leaflets or attend rallies.

Meanwhile cuts in local services and planned redundancies in the public sector are going to further economically damage the City, and with the Tories intent on using the world economic crisis to attack/finish off the welfare gains made at the end of the Second World War there is no chance of an economic revival that could create work for the thousands that desperately need it.

All of which means that in some localities black people are becoming better organised to resist the attacks. That’s good and very welcome – especially as the English Defence League recently marched through Stoke – but what’s also needed is a society in which everybody has a future with a well paid job, proper well-funded public services and a decent place to live……it doesn’t look too likely at the moment…….

To view the report New Geographies of Racism visit

Death rates down but incinerator impact ignored in Kirklees

There was good news last week when it was revealed that fewer babies in Kirklees - comprising Huddersfield, Batley and Dewsbury - are dying before their first birthday.  Death rates have dropped from 6.1 per live births to 5.5 per thousand in the last couple of years. 
That’s still, though, above the national average of 4.7 per thousand. According to health professionals it’s all down to obesity, smoking, drinking during pregnancy, poor diet and genetic closeness to parents.
Which whilst clearly important means that no examination or tests have been undertaken to see if the locally sited incinerator might just play a part, especially as the cluster of wards where death rates are highest are downwind.
See map from Michael Ryan.
And, of course, as Michael has shown in other much more affluent areas where incinerators are sited such as Chingford, North London, the death rate is also above average downwind.
Now surely, somebody or say an organisation such as the Health Protection Agency should be investigating?
See earlier article on this blog dated August 22nd titled - Doubts grow on promised health study on incinerators impact
Articles on recent reports on birth mortality rates in Kirklees.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Just two wins for Sunderland in 15 at the Stadium of Light

Sunderland 0

Fulham 0

The smallish number of fans who chanted “Bruce Out” would surely have grown considerably if Clint Dempsey hadn’t pulled his late shot wide when left with only Keiren Westwood to beat. Not that Fulham deserved to win, neither side doing enough to justify all three points in a match that confirmed both could go down at the end of the season.

Early on Westwood had kept his side level with a fine save from Mousa Dembele before twice Sunderland, through a Kieran Richardson header and Jack Colback left foot effort, had struck the woodwork. That was about it in terms of goalmouth action until late on Lee Cattermole headed Dickson Etuhu’s header off the line, Dempsey screwed wide and Stephane Sessegnon saw his shot deflect off Philippe Senderos to produce a great feet saving save from Mark Schwarzer.

Next week are at home to Steve Bruce’s old side Wigan Athletic. The crowd at the Stadium of Light, an amazing 38,000 for a side that has won just two out its last 15 at home, is quickly running out of patience for a manager who has had plenty of money to spend. Defeat to the bottom club and expect things to turn really nasty. 

Friday, 18 November 2011

Teesside steel set to roll again

There will be some post-Christmas celebrations on Teesside when steel making resumes at Redcar on January 6th.  Previous owners Tata mothballed the plan in February 2010 before it was bought for £291 million by Thai firm, SSI this March.

Dorman Long founded Teesside steelworks in 1917 and the steel produced was used to build the Sydney Harbour and Tyne Bridge’s. Over the years thousands have relied on the works for a living, whilst it’s estimated that for each job on site another three people are employed in supply chain companies. 

Unite, in conjunction with the other unions on site, therefore fought hard to keep it open. A large demonstration was organised, leaflets were distributed in there thousands, politicians were lobbied and House of Commons visits organised. Expert help was employed to look for new customers and buyers, and a constant stream of press releases and appearances on the television kept the issue alive and helped bring it to the attention of potential purchasers.

Unite convenor Kevin Cook, who has worked in the Teesside steel industry for over 35 years is looking forward to seeing steel slabs again role out of the plant and says’ “It’s like a rebirth of the area, we’ve been informed there are around a thousand new jobs and then, hopefully, we can find additional customers to secure a long term future for Teesside Steel. “
Sadly the chairman of the multi-union committee that helped make all this possible won’t be there on January 6th.  According to Cook, 43 year-old Geoff Waterfield of Community had become regionally known as, “That bloke from the works on the TV! But to those who knew him he was an inspirational leader who had put aside his own personal ambitions to fight for the whole employee population, their families and the future employees of this area. His high profile approach ensured Teesside Steel was rarely out of the news keeping hopes alive of a future for so many in the local community and prosperity for the area. He will be remembered in these parts for many years to come.” Waterfield died on August 31st.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Independent schools show a shocking lack of care in asbestos survey

The recently released results of the Health and Safety Executive’s inspection initiative targeting asbestos management arrangements in randomly selected schools outside local authority control revealed a shocking lack of effective controls. 164 schools were visited and following which the HSE issued improvement notices to 28 schools including a quarter, 17 out of 59, in the independent sector.

It was discovered that over a third of schools had no written plan on how to manage asbestos, putting in doubt the long-term health of pupils, teachers and parents. Britain has the highest death rate in the world from Mesothelioma at 2,100 a year. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer almost always caused by exposure to asbestos dust. The development of the disease can take many years and can be caused by only small amounts of exposure.

Meanwhile 117 people were killed at work in the six months starting in April this year. They included five men killed in separate mining accidents at Gleision Colliery in Wales and Kellingley Mine in Yorkshire. In the former case the pit manager, Malcolm Fyfield, 55, was questioned on suspicion of gross negligence manslaughter before being released on police bail as South Wales Police continued their investigations.

Agriculture accounted for 17 of the deaths, which whilst down on this time last year, is still close to 1/6th of those killed in an industry that accounts for just 1/60th of those at work.

Construction accounted for 22 of those killed, and of these 7 died after falling from a height, with two young men both aged 21  – Jon Valbuena and Bradley Watts – being electrocuted to death.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Race and the British media - One week in the Yorkshire Post

Newspaper coverage of race – some observations
1] A study of the Yorkshire Post from November 7th to 12th 2011.
Defining itself as ‘Yorkshire’s National Newspaper’ the Yorkshire Post has a daily circulation total of just under 40,000 in a region [Yorkshire and Humberside] of close to five million. [4,964,833] Harrogate, with daily sales of 1569, is the town that buys the most copies, although Pateley Bridge Rural Area with sales of 270 has the highest household penetration of sales at 11.24%.
Owned by Johnston Press the paper was first published in July 1866 when it declared itself firmly committed to ‘Conservative principles’ and up to the 1960s its owners used to be known as Yorkshire Conservative Newspapers Limited. In the recent past the paper was stridently opposed to the ban on foxhunting.
7.3% of the population of Yorkshire is classified as ethnic minorities, with the majority living in West Yorkshire [including close to 1 in 5 of the population of Leeds, home to the offices of the Yorkshire Post] and to a lesser extent South Yorkshire. Approximately 10.7% of the UK’s population is from ethnic minority backgrounds.

News themes
In addition to the ongoing economic [and political] crisis across the world, and specifically in the euro-zone, the Yorkshire Post had a large number of articles on events surrounding Armistice Day on November 11th. [*]
There were also a number of articles about the [possible] discovery of Christopher Alder’s body in a Hull mortuary ten years after the former black paratrooper’s funeral.  
Alder died after choking to death in the local police station in April 1998. This led to an unsuccessful prosecution against five police officers for manslaughter and misconduct. They had been caught on CCTV laughing and joking as Alder died within feet of them, but were cleared of disciplinary charges in 2003 even though the Independent Police Complaints Commission [IPCC] later found the conduct of four of them amounting to “unwitting racism” and a “most serious neglect of duty.”
Now it appeared the body returned to his family for burial might have been that of a 77 old black woman Grace Kamara, with Christopher’s body being discovered when Grace’s body was finally due to be released for burial more than a decade after she had died.
Considering the background to the case, and knowing how many black people have died in police custody without any officer doing time, then I think a journalist covering this story might just consider that this isn’t any ordinary ‘mistake’, that just perhaps there might be some racial element to this whole affair? That someone is taking ‘revenge’ on the family and friends for the long fight they put up for Justice and a successful prosecution? Well if anyone on the Yorkshire Post did consider such a possibility it didn’t make it into the paper as no probing questions appear to have been asked of anyone in authority. [If they were then the answers haven’t made it into the paper]

The coverage of the discovery of Christopher Alder’s body is at odds with much of the reporting in the rest of the Yorkshire Post where there is a noticeable absence of black and Asian people, certainly locally. You certainly wouldn’t be able to guess that 7% of the region is black and ethnic minority or 10% of the UK’s population is.
But where they are covered then these are the issues that were raised: -

1] A trial in which it is alleged that sham marriages were being arranged in which Slovakian and Pakistani’s are deeply implicated. Reports on this appeared on three days.

2] Two reports in which the word Muslim appears in the headlines – ‘Seven killed as Muslim festival hit by suicide bombers’ and ‘Muslim sect attacks kill more than 100.’ Muslims it appears are either being killed or killing others if this is typical of the YP’s coverage of a very large number of people, both locally and [inter] nationally.

3] Immigration – this was the week in which Home Secretary Theresa May was alleged to have ‘loosened’ border controls and quite naturally many papers, including YP, covered the affair. The paper chose to use it as the background to one of its Daily News Poll asking Is the UK Border Agency fit for purpose? whilst also warning the Government that it ‘needs to be far most robust’ in its leader columns. In its letter columns there were 2 letters during the week, one of which was headlined ‘immigration is increasing’ and there were three small articles that taken together would suggest Britain is in danger.
[a] A ‘border officer gave false visas to non-EU residents’ and
[b] ‘Forced marriages - spouses under 21 given right to enter UK’ 
[c] Most English think country ‘crowded’ indicating ¾’s of Britons are concerned about population projections suggesting the UK will reach 70 million within 16 years. [A figure the UK would have reached back in the 1980s if not for the fact that until the last few years it has been a net exporter of people for over 150 years]
In terms of positive coverage of events where black people were involved there were just two/three during the week.

The first was a picture of Prince Charles meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa.
Second was the accompanying picture and quote by Prudential Chief Executive Tidjane Thiam declaring ‘we will do better than our rivals, predicts Prudential.’
In addition there was a lengthy piece written by Nick Ahad on Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. Ahad’s photograph accompanies the article and it would appear from reading the rest of the paper that this is the only article written in six days by a writer/journalist from an obvious ethnic minority background.

[*] And whilst this piece isn’t about war its worth noting that none of the YP’s articles offered any suggestion that those who died did so – especially in the First World War – for very little or that those currently sacrificing themselves on the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan are doing so for oil and to further Britain’s imperialist ambitions. War it would seem is good.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Chesterfield's b2net Stadium lets down disabled fans

Chesterfield's 18 month old stadium has far superior facilities to previous home Saltergate but like the grounds at Morecambe and Brighton it appears to have few facilities for disabled fans, with all vantage points pitch side.

Home of Chesterfield United 
No vantage points for disabled fans above pitch height
Torquay United fans celebrate their sides third goal in a 3-1
FA Cup first round succcess 
Chesterfield United 1 Torquay United 3
A fair reflection on the balance of the game. 

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Slaithwaite co-operatives go from strength to strength

Slaithwaite, is the only village in England with a canal running along its front street.  Now such  uniqueness has been added to by the opening of a café run by a workers co-operative that has already won a number of awards for its baking products. And as it’s also situated just a few hundred yards from a co-operative grocers owned by its customers then it’s clear that despite its small size  Slaithwaite, situated in the Colne Valley near Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, is big on ideas when it comes to maintaining essential services in rural locations.

Passionate about producing food in a sustainable manner the handmade bakery was the brainchild of Johanna and Dan McTiernan. Following the birth of their son four years ago they were both seeking to move away from  careers in the media and bring to an end the time, not to mention cost, it was taking to commute to work in either Leeds or Manchester.

Whilst neither had any previous experience of setting up a business “we knew we wanted one run along democratic rather than hierarchical lines” says Finish born Johanna.  That wasn’t so difficult at the start of the venture in February 2009. After all the two-baker worker directors were themselves! Now however there are six of them, all with a  £1 investment and earning £8.50 an hour.  It means “decisions can take a bit longer to make” says Johanna.

This doesn’t appear to have had any adverse effect as two months ago the bakery moved just along the canal path to larger premises. This has allowed for the opening of a café that has boosted sales of bread and cakes as well as increasing the space in which the co-operatives highly successful bakery courses are taught.

Expansion was made possible through the launch of the Bread Bond under which local people investing £2,000 for a minimum of three years get one loaf a week, the equivalent of a 6% return per annum. For those living further afield - and thus unable to turn their dough into dough - an investment of £1,000 secures a place on one of the School of Slow courses that include artisan bread basics, wild yeast baking as well as one on how to start your own community bakery.

“We think people should regain the skills and joy of baking bread at home which is something everyone used to do. Our bread takes 20 hours to make and this makes it healthy because people are then abandoning industrially produced bread that is packed with additives and preservatives” says Johanna who was delighted when the business picked up a national co-operative award last year and also made it through to the Final of BBC Radio 4’s food and farming awards.

Sharing in the joy was Graham Mitchell, a passionate advocate of co-operatives and one of the founders of the Southampton based graphic design co-op Total Coverage that’s now more than a quarter of century. He’s currently the chair of the board of shareholders at the nearby Green Valley Co-op, one of the main outlets for the handmade bakery’s products.

Green Valley was established in July 2009 after Graham and friends organised a successful local public meeting. At this £10,000 investment in a community share scheme was raised from people who were asked not to put in any more than they could afford to lose and were also informed that no dividends would be paid in the first three years. With the funds it was possible to purchase the fittings and furnishings at a greengrocers that had seen better times and was now closing down, the aim being to prevent other shops following suit and also encourage local food producers to sell their wares there.

Boosted by the community support it now enjoyed then once the shop re-opened it soon went from strength to strength. As a result turnover of £800 a week has leaped to over £3,000. Nine local people, mainly on a part-time basis, are employed. The business has benefited with free advice from a number of agencies - including the Plunkett Foundation that helps rural communities. All of which means that according to Graham “it’s now possible for co-operatives to be established everywhere, especially as there are also some funds available from different sources.” 

Monday, 7 November 2011

Book review - WHITE CARGO – The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America Don Jordan and Michael Walsh

WHITE CARGO – The Forgotten History of Britain’s White Slaves in America

Don Jordan and Michael Walsh

In the seventeenth and eighteenth century over 300,000 Britons became slaves in all but name in Britain’s American colonies, living and dying in bondage. Urchins were swept from the streets, criminals were transported and sold like livestock on arrival, brothels were raided to provide ‘breeders’ for Virginia, hopeful migrants were duped into signing their lives away as indentured servants. Political opponents of the aristocracy and the ruling classes were also dragged overseas in chains.

Jordan and Walsh demonstrate through letters, diaries, court and government archives that the brutalities associated with black slavery alone were perpetrated on whites throughout British rule in America.

Why did you write this book?

Because the period and events we cover comprise a fascinating, important and forgotten part of our history and that of the United States; one that has sometimes been deliberately distorted by some who would use history as propaganda and draw a veil across unpalatable aspects of the founding of modern America or of Britain’s treatment of its citizens in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The latter wanted to offload its poor, its criminals and its political and religious troublemakers and the colonies required cheap labour.

Doesn’t WHITE CARGO demeans the experiences of millions of black slaves in the America’s by putting forward arguments that the experiences of a relatively few white people amounted to slavery?

Piffle! Slavery takes many forms and the experience of even one individual should surely not be thought any the less of on the grounds that many more came after. The black slave trade in America was founded upon the very system the English colonists designed to enslave the unwanted from around the British Isles. In the words of the eminent African-American writer Lerone Bennett Jr: ‘When someone removes the cataracts of whiteness from our eyes, and when we look with unclouded vision on the bloody shadows of the American past, we will recognize for the first time that the Afro-American, who was so often second in freedom, was also second in slavery.’

What was Oliver Cromwell’s part in sending slaves to the America’s?

To quote the great Victorian historian TB Macauley on Cromwell: ‘In a few months he subjugated Ireland….so that great cities were left without inhabitants, drove many thousands to the continent, shipped off many thousands to the West Indies, and supplied the void thus made by pouring in numerous colonists…’

As we say in White Cargo, ‘Native Irish could be deported to feed the voracious labour market in America while making room in Ireland for planters from England.'

How were the white slaves bought and sold and then treated whilst at work?

Many unwittingly sold themselves into slavery by signing on as indentured servants with a merchant to pay for passage to the New World. On arrival, plantation owners who exercised absolute power over their human purchases usually bought their indentures. Along with convicts, paupers and dissidents from England they were advertised for sale along with other goods. In the early days half were dead inside a year, some literally worked to death. Whipping and branding were standard punishments.

Did many resist their fate and what were the results?

Some white slaves were pushed into suicide, some into murdering their masters. But, as with black slaves, the most common form of resistance was flight. Huge numbers tried to escape their plantations and risked brutal punishments for “desertion”, which at one stage included death. Slave uprisings were recurrent features, too, culminating in a mass revolt in 1676 when a slave army of blacks and whites briefly took over much of Virginia and almost ended British rule 100 years before the Declaration of Independence. The results of this uprising were profound. The planters deliberately drove a wedge between white and black slaves. Blacks lost the few rights they had and were totally degraded. Whites gained a few rights, and were told that they were a superior people. Racial divide and rule began to shape America.

Could you explain the unique role of Anthony Johnson in establishing slavery in Virginia?

Johnson was one of the earliest Africans enslaved in Virginia. Like all slaves in the colony at this time, white and black, there was a term to his servitude – it was not for life. This meant that if Johnson lived long enough he would eventually be freed. Johnson not only secured his freedom, he became a successful planter with black and white slaves of his own. One of his black slaves eventually demanded his freedom but Johnson objected and persuaded a local court that the man was his slave for life. It was one of the first cases of lifetime slavery being imposed in North America - precedents that saw millions of Johnson’s fellow Africans enslaved in perpetuity, their children included.

Why did slave owners eventually abandon the transportation of white slaves in favour of black?

Economics. Changes in the status of black and white slaves meant that blacks could be enslaved for life while whites could usually only be held for a set period of years (anything from 3 to 18). It became far more profitable to buy whole-life slaves from Africa than part-life slaves from Europe.