Monday, 30 July 2012

Champagne on ice in battle to save public forest estate

Unite forestry workers’ committee chair, Robert Beaney has welcomed the Independent Panel on Forestry final report recommending that the public forest estate in England remain in public ownership. 
Robert Beaney and Alan McKenzie of
PCS union. 
The champagne remains on ice however because the government is slashing 400 jobs, around a quarter of those employed. Meantime, the report also proposes structural changes, without outlining how forestry research would be accommodated within them, which concern Beaney.
The Forestry Commission was established in 1919, when Britain had 5% of its original forest cover left. Now it’s about 12%, and if the figure was raised to the European average of 30% this, experts estimate, would lock up half the nation’s predicted carbon emissions by 2050. 
The countries biggest land manager costs the public 38p a year each, with which it manages some of Britain’s most spectacular landscapes, provides outdoor recreation facilities for millions and also harvests timber to supply domestic industry. Add in regenerating Brownfield sites then it’s no wonder that when the then newly elected coalition government announced they intended selling it off there was public outrage.
A petition – Save our Forests – organised by 30 degrees, and supported by Forestry Commission unions received over half-a-million signatures. Rural Tory MPs had their surgeries taken over by angry constituents. An embarrassing climbdown saw the Government establish an Independent panel of experts, headed by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend James Jones, to examine future policy. 
Massive benefits 
In January Beaney met the panel. Now “he’s pleased they have undertaken the first estimate of the benefits the public forests bring to the economy, people and nature, showing £400 million is recouped from spending just £20 million.” 
The remit for the panel did not extend to commenting on the government’s decision to slash jobs. Beaney believes “the public may be faced with parking charges and the closure of paths where due to a lack of front-line staff there is no maintenance. “ Public confidence could be undermined.
Beaney is also concerned that the recent plans put forward by the Welsh Assembly to take greater control of woodlands in the country will reduce the Forestry Commission’s overall effectiveness. Separate commissions for England, Wales and Scotland were established in 2003. 
“I think this will lead to England and Scotland going their own ways, making it difficult to co-ordinate research at a time when there is a rise in diseases and pests in forests” says Beaney.
It’s a fear left unresolved by the panel, who have not commented on how research would be organised in the future, but who have raised the possibility - which Environment Minister Caroline Spelman appears to support by telling Parliament “we need a new model that will draw in private investment” - of splitting the Forestry Commission into two with a new Trustee management structure that cuts the directly accountable link to the Government. 
“We still have a major struggle ahead if we are going to ensure that the Forestry Commission can continue to provide services and facilities that the public clearly enjoy and want to retain,” said Beaney.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Rural transport cuts were unnecessary

The huge heartache resulting from the coalition government’s cut back on funding for rural buses in 2011-12 was unnecessary. 
That’s the view of the all-party Commons Transport Committee after it was announced that the Department for Transport has ended up with a £543 million under spend that is being handed back to the Treasury. It’s a figure that is believed to exceed the total reduction for the whole of the English bus industry over the 12-month period.
No wonder then that Louise Ellman, the committee’s chairwoman said: “This is quite extraordinary. The department got its sums wrong and the cuts to bus services did not need to happen.” 
The Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside backed her colleague’s call for expenditure on transport to be spent on transport and not handed back to Chancellor George Gideon Oliver Osborne. Fat chance, and now further cuts to rural bus services will continue to Break Britain in 2012-13.  
It was in October 2010, that the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition cut local council budgets by 28 percent, with a reduction in spending of 7.1 percent in local government funding each year until 2014. In a drive to save money, local councils have slashed budgets with subsidised public transport routes taking a real pounding. 
Conservative Cambridgeshire County Council simply ended its £2.7 million funding for subsidised buses and although this led to a successful Judicial Review - undertaken by Milton village resident Jo Green who needs her local bus for transporting her son to hospital – only £1 million is now available to fund ‘Cambridgeshire Future Transport’, a project that will draw heavily on volunteer involvement.
In rural Norfolk, the cuts meant 31 buses were withdrawn or had their schedule’s cut. In Cumbria the figure was 16 such that according to Helton resident Edith Edwards “Any visit to Penrith, our nearest town, is now Saturday’s only. In the rural community we have very few services of any kind and this cut is unfair and divisive.”
According to Lancashire Campaign for Better Transport supporter, Aidan Bishop-Turner the cuts in the County’s bus services, especially on a Sunday, means “inevitably there are no services on Bank Holidays so that potential tourist destinations are inaccessible on days when local businesses are looking to boost their incomes.” He’d like to see European Union subsidies given to large landowners to set aside land redirected into supporting local services such as public transport. 
If the loss of over 1,000 bus services nationally in 2011-12 isn’t bad enough then more are on their way. The Bus Service Operators Grant refunds some of the fuel duty incurred by operators. It’s being cut by over 20% by 2015. Higher fares are certain, making then unaffordable for many people.
In the Vale of Glamorgan, 27% grant cuts this year mean seven services are to be axed. Further north, in Anglesey a petition is aiming to stop the intended destruction of 34 services. 
In Scotland even a rural bus service, for the elderly and disabled, that is largely staffed by volunteers is threatened, Moray Council being able to donate only half the £30,000 funds needed to keep the service running. 
Users fear it won’t be sufficient.  
Aidan Bishop Turner is also worried and he sees “Cuts in rural transport being linked to the degeneration of the rural economy which is apparent from the closure of post offices, clinics, shops, pubs, schools and other services.” DON”T BREAK BRITAIN. 

Exhibition tribute to photographer Martin Jenkinson kicks off this weekend

I was fortunate enough to be able to work with Sheffield photographer Martin Jenkinson over the last few years. As a latecomer to the world of journalism and writing I have learnt a great deal from Martin, whose company and dry sense of humour I always enjoyed, and I was very sad when he died recently. 
Now a tribute exhibition of his work will be on display at a café in Sheffield over the next month. I’d urge people to get along and see it. 

A former steelworker, who used his redundancy pay to turn his hobby into an occupation, Martin, aged 64, died of cancer in June. This was just days after agreeing to a first showing of his striking images that capture some of the most dramatic scenes of industrial and community action in the northern region since the early 80s.

Jenkinson also documented Yorkshire’s changing industrial landscape and leaves behind a lasting legacy of photographic work of the lives of ordinary people at work.

Commissioned by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) during the year-long strike against pit closures in 1984-85, Martin captured the arrest outside Orgreave cokeworks, near Sheffield on 30 May 1984, of NUM president Arthur Scargill. The arrest came a day after police had used riot gear against pickets for the first time since the strike had started in March. Fifteen years later a portrait he took of Scargill was chosen for the National Portrait Gallery exhibition Faces of the Century.

Orgreave turned coal into coke for use in steel production and the NUM were determined to hit British Steel’s output. After train drivers and seamen refused to supply Orgreave, the police deployed huge numbers to ensure lorry drivers did so. I was present (although certainly not at the front line as the moment I arrived I knew it was a set-up and until then most Miners did not realise just how brutal the police can be) at Orgreave on 18 June 1984, a day when Martin photographed miner Geordie Brearley wearing a toy policeman’s helmet as he inspected a battalion of police officers lined up against pickets.

Following the end of Britain’s bitterest ever dispute, Martin subsequently worked for several unions and many community organisations. This helped provide unique access to many workplaces in industries such as coal, steel, wool and cutlery that are no longer.  Last year Martin and I worked on a Big Issue article in which we revisited some of these locations in order to reveal significant changes in Yorkshire’s industrial landscape over the last three decades. We had discussed turning the idea into a book and it may still come about in the future. 

Fellow photographer and long-term friend, Mark Harvey: “Martin was a private, humble man. In photography there is a lot of bravado, as we have power over our subjects. Martin wasn’t like that, he worked under the radar and sometimes people would see him as bumbling around. What he was doing was being observant and his visual literacy was very good. He was against exploiting people he captured on film. All these qualities and skills helped relax people and get a good photograph.”

According to Mark it was his friend’s reluctance to exploit people that prevented him giving the go-ahead for an exhibition until just two days before he died.

“It’s being held in a café where a group of photographers have met for many years. Martin’s friends and family have selected the photographs and whilst visitors will recognise some of them, there are also lots never shown before. They are good quality photographs that document the history of our times,” said Mark Harvey.

Martin Jenkinson – a photographic tribute, will open on Saturday 28 July at the Harland Café, 72 John Street, Sharrow, Sheffield S2 4QU. 0114 273 8553 for details.
Monday – Friday 8am – 5pm, Saturday 9am – 5pm, Sunday 10am – 4pm. Runs to August 29. 

Friday, 20 July 2012

Wot, no workers?

Wot, no workers?
It appears that for the ‘charity’ arm of the Countryside Alliance the countryside runs itself. 
The Countryside Alliance Foundation front page states: ‘Many children and young people  know little about the countryside and rural way of life. Our programme of educational initiatives will introduce them.’
Fortunately they stay clear of showing some defenceless fox being chased for miles before being ripped apart in the name of ‘sport.’ 
Instead of which there is the COUNTRYSIDE INVESTIGATORS website.  None of which, of course involves looking at why so much of the Countryside is owned by so few people. The Foundation hopes that the young will ‘find it an exciting and informative learning resource in and outside of the classroom.’ 
Visitors to the site can find out how a farm, village, woodland and countryside estate are operated and run. Down on the farm it’s about ‘producing our food.’ This involves only the farmer, farm vet and gamekeeper.  
Best not let the young know about the tenant farmer or the (migrant) worker who picks -  for next to nowt - the crops, or the likes of the 30 employees who were killed on Britain’s farms last year when looking after the cattle or sheep. All easily disposable in the minds of those descendants of William the Bastard (Conqueror) who for too many years have controlled the Countryside. 

Of course, this removal of the rural labourer is not unique in the history of the ruling class in the countryside. 
Even 18th century landscape painter, Gainsborough said “Damn gentleman, there is no such set of enemies to a real artist in the world as they are!” His favourite of all his paintings was ‘The Woodman’ , an old labourer standing beside a bundle of faggots. Such paintings didn’t sell and his heavy debts meant he would have found it unwise to ‘stray from the happy peasant’s cottage door to its wet and squalid interior.’ (the Long Affray by Harry Hopkins) 
Gainsborough stuck to the rich and their habitats, all suitably bathed in light. This at a time when more than 50% of the population of England lived in the countryside, and from which the wealth of the nation was ultimately founded. In the Netherlands, Van Gogh showed the faces of these people - the yokels, clod-hoppers and bumpkins - but not in England as to do so would threaten to reveal the naked weapon of class rule in the countryside. 

Support Remploy strikers

Attending the picket line at the Remploy Wythenshawe print works, Manchester yesterday was a worthwhile experience. All 14 Unite members were out on strike, keen to stand up for their rights in a last-ditch fight to get the government to change its mind on the closure programme. More realistically the hope also was that, at the very least, the redundancy offer would be increased to match that paid to those who left the company two and five years ago.
All 54 Remploy factories are earmarked for closure over the next year to 18 months. A total of 2,800 people, of which around 2,400 are disabled, will be losing their jobs. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that finding another job won’t be easy, and the strikers I spoke to all fear what will happen to them in the future. Most fear never working again. Over the road from where they work is a factory that has now stood empty for six years. 
The stated rationale behind the closure programme is typical of this current government. Firstly it pitches one group of (this time) disabled people against another, by suggesting that the money spent subsidising jobs at Remploy should be directed towards supporting other disabled workers seeking jobs and providing funds for employers to recruit them. It wouldn’t, of course, need to be a case of one or the other if they collected the taxes owed by the super rich in tax avoidance schemes. 

Secondly they try and pretend they are helping the people they are making redundant by putting it around that Remploy segregates disabled people from the able-bodied. I’ve not met on my visits to Remploy factories and picket lines over the last few years any worker who believes that to be true and all want to go on working for the government owned company that was established 68 years ago. 
Thirdly its argued that many of the factories have little work, thus deliberately ignoring the fact that this is the result of the wrong management decision, admittedly made under pressure from the previous Labour Government, to downgrade private sector work and look to win public sector contracts under EU legislation. At Wythenshawe they lost orders worth £1 million overnight. Finding new orders might be difficult, but it won’t be as hard as Remploy staff trying to find work.
Some of the staff at Wythenshawe wanted to keep the print works open and make it into a workers co-operative. The Sayce report that has been used to shut down Remploy had offered potential buyers a chance to ‘express an interest.’ They did that at Wythenshawe, but just like no-one wants to listen to disabed people saying they don’t feel segregated working at Remploy, nobody bothered to get back to them with any advice. 
Nobody has also bothered to reply to the considered letters of Jean Ashlan, whose disabled son, Omar has proudly worked at Wythenshawe for 15 years. After attending the consultation meetings in September last year she spent days writing to Marie Miller, the disabled minster, Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron. Only when she complained to her local MP last month about not having heard anything did she finally get back what she describes as “a standard, fobbing off letter that did not answer the main points i made.”
Remploy workers are on strike again next Thursday (26 July). If you get the chance get along to their picket lines and show support. They need it as an Injury to One is an Injury to All. Victory to the Remploy strikers. 
And thanks to everyone on the Wythenshawe picket line who made me so welcome. 

Monday, 9 July 2012

Flight safety compromised

A shortened version of this is in this week's Big Issue in the North magazine. 

High levels of ill health amongst airline crew, including pilots, are compromising flight safety, according to the former British Airways cabin supervisor who is behind a comprehensive survey into crew health.

Dee Passon, who retired on ill-health grounds last year, believes many of the symptoms reported are the consequence of toxins released into aircraft during flights. It is a view that both the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Department of Transport (DoT) dispute. 

Open to crew from all major airlines, Passon’s on-line international survey was conducted anonymously in March 2009. Still then working, she feared being dismissed from her £50,000 a year post. Today she is forced to get by on 80% less income after failing to recover from what she claims was “chronic low level exposure from toxic or contaminated air containing engine oils or hydraulic fluids that have been heated to high temperatures and pressures within the aircraft engine or Auxiliary power unit and which enter the cabin with the air supply.” 

A doctor’s diagnosis that Passon was suffering from aerotoxic syndrome was accepted by BA as grounds to pay an ill-health pension to the 54 year old, but she later dropped her legal case for compensation against the company saying, “it’s very difficult to prove an exact link between the cause and effect as the airlines refuse to install detection systems and so unless there’s smoke then detection relies on the crew’s smell.”

Passon’s analysis of the results of the first 1020 surveys  – including 50 from pilots -  completed by currently employed crew members from 24 countries was published recently in the Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry. 
She also presented them at the Cranfield University seminar on ‘Inhalable Toxic Chemicals on board aircraft.’ 

23% of respondents reported they had taken no time off work due to illness. This figure was matched by those having taken time off for depression - this is more than double the national average. One-seventh had suffered from Crohn’s disease, with one-eighth reporting high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. A tenth suffered from eczema, and similar figures were recorded for insomnia and migraine. 

60 people - ten times higher than the UK National Average, reported Cancer. Sarcoidosis of the lungs was reported by two people; considerably greater than the UK average of 1 in 10,000 people. Meanwhile 380 of those surveyed reported symptoms of numbness and pins and needles in face, hands and feet. 

A workforce concerned about their working environment was apparent from the accompanying comments including  ‘being constantly sick’, ‘constant tiredness and lack of co-ordination’, ‘less stamina and needing prescribed antidepressants’ and ‘living in a state of constant confusion.’ In total 45% said they suffered from confusion, 50% had difficulty concentrating and 40% suffered from memory loss. 

Passon concluded: “not only is crew health being adversely affected as a consequence of their occupational working environment but flight safety is being compromised.”

She wants chemical detectors fitted to all flight decks.  Passon also wants all airlines to follow Icelandair by switching to a Nyco oil with lower toxicity. This would avoid the use of organophosphate (Ops) chemicals diagnosed as long ago as 1951 by leading British scientists as poisonous. Ops have been blamed for the high level of suicides amongst shepherds and for Gulf Way syndrome amongst soldiers who served in the first Gulf War.

The DoT and CAA, which regulates all aspects of aviation in the UK, disagree with Passon. A CAA spokesperson said: “Whilst noting the survey’s results, our view is that it has not been conducted in a scientific manner and that research to date has not identified evidence of exposure to chemicals that could potentially lead to long-term health affects.”

Both Government bodies pointed to a 2007 report from the Committee of Toxicity, composed of toxicologists from various universities.  A DoT spokesperson said the study “concluded that the evidence available did not establish a link between cabin and pilot ill health, without ruling out one.” 

Further research on five different aircraft types and undertaken by Cranfield University and by the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh had said the spokesperson “shown no evidence for target pollutants occurring in the cabin air levels exceeding available health and safety standards.”

Furthermore, only 207 contaminated air events had been reported to the CAA out of 1.12 million cargo flights by UK carriers last year. Few passengers had reported becoming ill, with only 244 written medical complaints in the last ten years. Filters were unnecessary, as it was not known what particular substance needed to be filtered out, said the spokesperson.

The studies appear to have convinced a previously sceptical opposition Conservative Party. Four years, Theresa Villiers, now transport secretary, called for “a full public enquiry to ensure the air we breathe in aeroplanes is truly safe.” That demand has now been dropped.

Former airline pilot John Hoyte, who retired seriously ill aged 50 in 2005 and later established the Aerotoxic Association at a Parliamentary meeting in 2007, criticised the Cranfield research.

“It was funded by the airline industry itself and it failed to release data of any fume event that they created which exceeded health and safety limits.” 

Hoyte referred me to a passenger who had taken a family holiday in Tenerife last year. Karen Isherwood of Lowton, Warrington, a business coach and mother of three children, has since struggled to complete her part-time MBA and plans to launch a new business have been put on hold.

She reports being healthy on boarding the outward plane, only to find herself feeling dizzy on landing and “hearing voices as if I was coming round from anaesthetic. I had a really racing heart and I felt like things were going off inside my head. I kept saying I was all right before I got on the plane.”

A local doctor diagnosed her with having had mini-seizures of the brain, but when the medication he diagnosed failed to provide any relief she was admitted to hospital where a brain scan led to a consultant telling Karen the nerves in her brain had been damaged and that recovery would take six months. Since returning to Britain, Karen has visited a neurologist and a cardiologist. Both have been unable to offer her a diagnosis.

Karen is now “Feeling a lot better, but only when not doing a great deal. Any stress and I again feel I am having these mini-seizures in my head. I am firmly convinced that my illness was due to something on the plane.”

As is Dave, not his real name, an experienced pilot from the North West who is facing retirement on ill health grounds. From an early age he had wanted to be a pilot, describing it as “a highly skilled job which I love as there’s a real sense of achievement in handling a machine that weighs over 200 tons at take-off and in which you have 300 people sitting in the back.” Further rewards were a six-figure salary and a chance to visit most places in the world.

“As a pilot you have a rigorous health check annually but I visited my own doctor to see if I was showing the first stages of Alzheimer’s.

 I wasn’t but since when my condition has not improved and I often forget things and people’s names” explains Dave, whose doctor signed him on the sick without offering a diagnosis. 

Having seen his doctor’s report the CAA is currently not issuing Dave with a licence and he expects never to return to work. Fortunately he worked for one of the biggest airline companies in the world and will receive a generous retirement package that is not available to pilots employed by the low cost jet companies. 

Dave recalls an incident a decade ago when the aircraft he was flying had to be aborted on takeoff as it filled with fumes. However he feels his own problems may have been caused by the walking visual inspections he was required to undertake on landing.

“It was usual to see smoke burning residual oil out of the engines. You could not avoid breathing at least some of this in,” said the pilot.

It is a problem he believes has worsened as airline companies, desperate to cut costs by using less fuel, use more oil to run engines at hotter temperatures.

Dave won’t be making a fuss for “fear of damaging my chances of getting compensation, as I know that if I say this has anything to do with aerotoxins the company will deny it as it may lead to passengers coming forward with claims.” He does however intend bringing the condition to his doctor’s attention and he worries about having met other pilots with similar symptoms.

Which way forward for Britain's roads?

An edited version of this article is in this week's Big Issue in the North magazine 

When Home Secretary and Blackburn MP Jack Straw opened Junctions 1a to 6 of the M65 on 18 December 1997 he required a heavy police presence as protesters threatened to bring a halt to the proceedings.

The new tarmac, which shortly after had to be relaid because the amount of noise it generated prevented local owls from foraging effectively, meant East Lancashire residents had quicker access to the M6 and M61.  Local eco-warriors were though not convinced that its construction was worth the environmental damage or the increase in car fumes. They built tree-houses in the nearby woods and there were regular stand offs between construction security and protestors.

Similar scenes occurred in many other parts of the UK during the 1990s and early part of the twenty first century leading The Economist to declare “That protesting against new roads has become a truly populist movement drawing supporters from all walks of life."

Today, the squeeze in public finances, which saw £3bn cut from the budget for new road schemes, means there is no chance of the protest movement recapturing the headlines, as there are not going to be anything like the number of new roads being planned or built. 

None of which has led to a meeting of minds between those who see them as the driver for economic regeneration and sceptics who fear they lead to greater road use, pollution and environmental damage, which they believe can be only be prevented through the development of alternative forms of transport.

The idea of a bypass round Lancaster has existed for decades. A western route was rejected in the 1990s by the Government but Lancashire County Council are now proposing a northern route that would link the M6 to the port of Heysham and improve access to Morecambe. The 4.8km of dual carriageway will cost £123 million of which the County Council has committed £12 million and guaranteed to underwrite any cost overruns. The scheme is just one of twelve major infrastructure projects that has been accepted for examination by the Government’s National Infrastructure Planning programme.

According to a spokesperson for the council this and “the benefit of existing planning permission granted by the Secretary of State means the prospects of the road now being delivered are very high.” The council predicts it will bring significant economic benefits with a minimum increase of 900 new jobs, and a reduction in travel times worth £6 a week to residents with fewer accidents as well. Serious traffic problems in Lancaster would be overcome and businesses in Morecambe would be boosted by increased tourism.

Lillian Burns is director of TravelWatch North West and also convenes the voluntary organisation North West Transport Activists roundtable that is linked with the Campaign for Better Transport. She disputes the council’s claims and points to a 1998 report produced by the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment’s, which said ‘the available evidence does not support arguments that new transport investment, in general, has a major impact on economic growth in a country with an already well-developed infrastructure.’

Burns feels most new roads help “people to spread their lives and that far from bringing jobs make it easier for people to travel longer distances to find them. New roads mean we have less land to grow food on and usually involve removing vegetation. At Heysham miles of hedgerows will be torn down and biological heritage sites will be destroyed. The additional car journeys also increase greenhouse gases, thus threatening greater environmental damage in the future.”

She believes not enough is being done to encourage alternative forms of transport. She would like to see more children encouraged to walk or bicycle to school, 20mph speed restrictions, increased car sharing and car clubs, more cycle lanes and better parking facilities at train stations in order to encourage greater rail use, arguing that “put together they can make a major impact.”

According to Burns it’s “very often easier to build a road as very big public transport projects are really hard to deliver. I’d like to see the equivalent of the Highways Agency being established that can pull together different pots of money to deliver such projects.”

 Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle agrees that “transport authorities should be thinking how best to support and integrate different modes of transport, not just roads.” The Labour MP for South Liverpool and Heywood would like to see them being given greater powers and wants  “decision making over local services devolved to partnerships of local authorities which would enable them to be planned alongside bus services with stations developed as proper transport hubs including better provision for cyclists.”  Projects such as the M6 –Heysham link would be forced to seek their funds from such a body.

Labour, whilst supporting road budget cuts, has meanwhile criticised the Government for cutting investment in rail and has not backed David Cameron’s ideas for private companies to run motorways and A-roads. This will see a new feasibility study, which may well see a system of tolls on many roads. The country it seems has still yet to decide the direction of travel when it comes to new road building.

Keep the fox hunting act

The League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) believes that if a vote to repeal the Hunting Act 2004 was held in Parliament tomorrow it would fail. However the organisation is warning the vote ‘would be very close’ and has stepped up its Keep Cruelty History campaign in an aim to get electors to lobby their MPs.

It was after more than 700 hours of parliamentary debate that the activity of hunting wild animals for sport became illegal under the Act on 18 February 2005. Labour was forced to use the Parliament Act after the House of Lords rejected the legislation.

Countryside Alliance (CA) campaigners claimed that the new law would lead to massive rural job losses and was unworkable. Seven years on and with only one hunt forced to close the impact on jobs has been minimal and the number of successful prosecutions, including in May three members of the Crawley and Horsham Hunt, has risen above 200.

LACS have acted after Agriculture Minister Jim Paice claimed on a specially arranged visit to a hunt kennels in Peterborough that the Act “simply doesn’t work” and David Cameron penned an article in the CA’s quarterly magazine re-affirming his opposition to the hunting ban and promising ‘a free vote among all MPs on repeal in this parliament.’
This, of course, may turn out to be a bluff. The Government is already seen by many as being ‘out of touch’ and with opinion polls regularly showing a massive majority in favour of keeping the hunting act then the Tories may be risking backing a vote loser as the next election gets closer. Nevertheless the LACS campaign is surely worth backing and details can be found on their site at

Friday, 6 July 2012

Blacklisted building workers fight back

A GMB report has revealed that two-hundred and twenty four building workers have been the victims of blacklisting by construction giant, Carillion, the builders of the DW Stadium, Wigan and the St Pancras Channel Tunnel Rail Link. 
BLACKLISTING - illegal corporate bullying: endemic, systemic and deep-rooted in Carillion and other companies lists more than 40 companies in the construction industry that used the Consulting Association (CA), an organisation that held a blacklist of 3,213 workers variously described as “extreme troublemaker”, “politically motivated” and “active in dispute.” 
Listed workers were “not recommended for employment.” 
The Information Commissioner’s Office closed down CA in 2009 and its owner, Ian Kerr, was found guilty of breaching the Data Protection Act 1998 and fined £5,000.
The names in the report first emerged at an Employment Tribunal earlier this year in which engineer Dave Smith claimed he was blacklisted by Carillion. In support of his compensation claim he presented a file from the CA showing extensive personal details, union safety representative’s credentials and newspaper cuttings on him. 
Carillion had secretly passed on this information after Smith  became an elected union safety rep, a role with legal rights to represent workers with the employer and investigate possible hazards. 
According to the Department for Business (DOB), safety reps annually save society over £600 million by preventing occupational injuries and work-related illnesses. They do though cost companies money by pushing them to increase spending on health and safety. 
Smith became a rep after a number of workplace incidents, including one where a young worker fell three floors from scaffolding lacking a safety handrail. More people - 50 in 2011 - are killed each year in construction than in any other industry.  
A married man with a family to support, Smith subsequently couldn’t secure any work during the early noughties construction boom. Carillion admitted supplying damaging information on him to CA, who subsequently provided it to other construction firms. 
 Smith’s tribunal application failed because he was not employed directly but via an employment agency, but the tribunal chair  Anthony Snelson expressed his “regret that the law provides him with no remedy.”  Despite this there are currently no plans by the DOB to close the legal loophole. 
Smith uncovered information on himself after a Manchester tribunal in 2006 ruled electricians Steve Acheson, Tony Jones and Graham Bowker had been unfairly dismissed when employed as subcontractors on the Carillion-organised Royal Manchester Infirmary site. 
Crucial to their success was Alan Wainwright, a former Carillion Human Resources Manager, who revealed the company had provided CA with information and also paid for it. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – charged with ‘data privacy for individuals’ had then raided CA’s offices in 2009. One year later the Government legislated to ‘make it unlawful to compile, use, sell or supply a blacklist.’ 
One of Britain’s biggest unions, the GMB, says Carillion checked 14,724 names against the blacklist between 1999 and 2004, paying £2.20 for each search. GMB official Justin Bowden also claims “ Carillion were still using the services of Kerr up until the ICO raid.” 
The union wants a public inquiry, fearing blacklisting has continued within the construction industry and seeking to ensure that such illegal activities are not replicated elsewhere in the economy. Michael Meacher, the Oldham West and Royston MP, has written to the Government asking for one, but David Cameron has said, “If there is any accusation of wrongdoing, the police can investigate.”  This is despite the tribunal testimony of ICO Investigation’s Manager David Clancy who said some information in blacklisted workers files “could only have been supplied by the police or the security services.” 
Smith viewed the unredacted blacklist at his tribunal and in June 2012 he revealed to the Scottish Affairs Select Committee that elected politicians had been on CA’s files. He named senior managers and construction firm directors he claimed had personally engaged in blacklisting workers, including Liz Keates at Carillion Health.
He accused “Carillion and major building firms of conspiring against building workers concerned about safety. Consequently they have had their lives ruined by being denied employment.” Smith and over 100 workers intend taking legal action against some of the companies. 
A Carillion spokesperson said threatened legal proceedings made “it inappropriate to comment but Carillion does not condone or engage in blacklisting. We are not against unions and recognise them for some of our workforce.”



Unite members in Greenwich Libraries have celebrated a famous victory following two days of strike action.

Earlier in the year, the Council made the decision to transfer the service to Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL). The Unite branch launched a huge public campaign, linking our fight to defend pay and conditions with the fight against privatisation of the service. Public work included regular stalls outside libraries on Saturday mornings, leading to over 700 people signing and returning our campaign postcards.

Meanwhile, the report that went to Cabinet made clear that GLL would undergo a harmonisation process after the transfer. This would lead to cuts to library workers pay and conditions. A ballot for industrial action returned a huge majority in favour of strike action. Two days of strike action were extremley well supported by the Unite members and messages of support began pouring in from residents and from trade unionists across London. In response, GLL launched a legal claim that would require a reballot. Knowing that GLL did not really want strike action post the transfer, Unite took the opportunity to press for negotiations. 

The result was that GLL agreed that there would now be no harmonisation exercise, thereby removing the immediate threat to pay and conditions.

This is a huge victory for our members in libraries. They have shown that by standing together and being prepared to fight, we can win.

Danny Hoggan, Greenwich branch sec 

Monday, 2 July 2012

A LIFE TOO SHORT - The tragedy of Robert Enke

From the current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine 


The tragedy of Robert Enke

By Ronald Reng

German national goalkeeper Robert Enke was just 32 when he stepped in front of a passing train in November 2009. Award winning writer and friend Ronald Reng attempts to understand why.

1. What motivated you to write this book?
Robert was a friend and I carried with me that longing that through the book something of him could remain. I also hoped that my research would make it easier to understand what had happened to him. And there was that silent wish that, maybe, just maybe, reading about his case could help other people suffering from depression.

 2. What sort of man, and sportsman, was Robert Enke?
Very sensitive; in the best and in the worst sense. He could be extraordinarily empathetic with other people, like when he phoned up Sven Ulreich, a young Bundesliga goalkeeper with Stuttgart, who he did not really know, but who he had seen on TV suffering after a mistake. On the other hand lots of times he could not come to terms with his own mistakes. He locked himself in for a week after he gave away a soft goal at the age of 17.


3. Why might being a ‘goalkeeper’s goalkeeper’ have counted against Enke?
His goalkeeper’s style was understated; he was looking for the perfect positioning rather than for the spectacular save. So, particularly in Germany, the land of big show-man goalies like Oliver Kahn or Jens Lehmann, the wider audience did not cherish his class. Robert sometimes felt he had the whole nation against him in his quest for Germany’s number one spot. 

4. Why would Toni Madrigal, the man who scored three times against Enke, when Spanish Third Division side FC Novelda beat Barcelona in the Spanish Cup, believe that ‘one evening marks the keepers life’?
A goalkeeper can make breath-taking saves, but in the end he is always measured by his mistakes. What do you remember when someone mentions David Seaman? Nayim from the halfway line, I suppose. From the night, Barcelona lost to small-town club Novelda, Robert Enke was the goalkeeper, who lost it in Barca’s biggest Cup embarrassment. He blamed himself so much for it that he drifted into his first clinical depression.

5. Was it just the extreme experiences of high-performance sport that affected Robert Enke?
Football was quite often the trigger for his depressive mood. But would he never have suffered from the illness if he had worked as a journalist, a clerk or a hotel manager? We can’t answer that question seriously, but my fear after all my research into his life is: he would have been hit by depression anyway. It seems he was prone to the illness.   


6. Why did Robert and his wife Teresa wait to make his friends aware he suffered from depression?

Most people suffering from depression are ashamed of their illness. That shame is actually part of the symptoms. They feel that urge to hide. In Robert’s particular case he was aware that going public would mean losing his role as Germany’s number one goalkeeper. He felt to open up on his condition would throw him into a big black uncertainty: Would he ever be accepted as a professional footballer again?

7. What lessons should football clubs draw from your book?
Since Robert’s death their clubs have helped several German footballers that have suffered from mental problems or even tried to kill themselves because of their depressions. Markus Miller announced last autumn that the black dog haunted him. He was then given as much time as he needed for the appropriate treatment by his club, and was back in the team three month later without any suspicion or malice. Miller is a goalkeeper - at Robert’s old club, Hannover 96.