Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Letter to Hope Not Hate on events in Bradford on 12 October

From Mark Metcalf 
07952 801783 

To: Paul Mezaros,
Hope not Hate 

Reference – Scabbing 

Dear Paul,

I am a subscriber to the Hope Not Hate magazine. I have also been an active anti-fascist for all my adult life stretching back to the mid to late 70s. My support for trade unionism stretches back even further to when I was at school. I therefore write to express my deep concerns at the language you employed in events surrounding the EDL demonstration on Saturday 12 October 2013 in Bradford, which living in Halifax is literally next door to me and where I have a number of friends. 

Three years ago I was in Bradford when the EDL also organised a demonstration and there was a decent sized protest against them with a clear intent that the fascists would face physical opposition if the police attempted to allow them to march. I am sure you know this tactic, as No Platform and I believe it has historically proved to be the only effective one against fascists. I was, of the opinion, that Hope Not Hate believed that also to be the case. I think events in Bradford proved that is not so.

When I discovered that Hope Not Hate were playing a major role in organising events in Bradford on Friday 11 October I was concerned enough to write to one of your colleagues accusing your organisation of abandoning the principle of No Platform.
He was good enough to pass on my messages of concern and also to send me your replies which not only indicated that Hope Not Hate were not intent on mobilising opposition on the actual date of the EDL demonstration but were extremely critical of those who were – in particular, UAF, who I am not and never have been a member of. (Incidentally the UAF organised a peaceful protest on the 12th of October)

This correspondence degenerated into you accusing people (in an email dated 8 October) who intended attending on 12 October of scabbing – you were actually asked to clarify that is what you meant as the word was originally spelt inaccurately and you did so. I find the use of such a word to be a disgrace in this instance, as I do not believe you cannot be aware of its significance. It is a deliberate slur and one you need in my view to retract. I appreciate you may wish to make a distinction between the UAF and others like myself, but not only do I feel you should not accuse the UAF (which includes a good number of active, decent trade unionists I am happy to work with on a number of projects) of scabbing but I feel by implication you have accused everyone there on October 12th of scabbing. That is not something I personally will take lying down. 

The decision not to try and mobilise people to oppose the EDL in Bradford sets a very dangerous precedent in my view. It also allows the state to impose increasing restrictions on anti-fascists and just for standing on a street corner around 500 yards from the EDL I was threatened with being arrested under section 14 of the Public Order Act. On a number of occasions the police attempted to ‘kettle’ the small group of friends I was with even though it was pretty clear we were hardly a bunch of street fighters and I am now fast approaching 54 years of age. Groups of Asian youth – who rightly came out onto the streets of their hometown - were constantly harassed. Even the possibility of giving some verbal abuse to the fascists was to be denied. 

History shows that – and I am happy to demonstrate this to you if you are unfamiliar with it – the state cannot be relied upon to deal with the fascist threat. Oswald Mosley’s planned march through the east end of London in October 1936 would have gone ahead if the state and the police had had their way. Fortunately, thousands were mobilised and the fascists suffered a rout that helped defeat them long-term. 

I ask you to apologise for your use of such language. I am intending making this letter public on my blog at www.writemark.blogspot.co.uk and I am happy to make available all correspondence on this, including any reply you may wish to make. The issue is too serious to just leave it. 

In disgust,

Mark Metcalf

Thursday, 24 October 2013


Self-employed people running small land-based businesses face losing out when Universal Credit begins to replace the Tax Credits system, including housing benefit, from October onwards.

Those on low income are going to be subject to the ‘minimum income floor’, where they will be deemed to be earning the equivalent of the minimum wage - for working 35 hours a week - of £938.82 a month If someone earns less than this then they will have to make up the shortfall themselves. Writing in The Land magazine, Cathy Ashley, outlined that ‘A beekeeper losing 60% of his bees due to poor weather claimed Tax Credits, but under Universal Credit this safety will not exist. Those in need will be the very people penalised for earning too little.’

Meantime, with only 23 of 601 Jobcentres located in rural areas, the problems all claimants face in accessing what will be a wholly internet-based application system (only in exceptional circumstances will face-to-face applications be allowed) for Universal Credit is worrying many rural organisations. 

According to Sioned Hughes, policy director at Community Housing Cymru, a majority of their tenants are not online and the figure rises even further in rural Powys, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. Adding to the problems that claimants are facing is that the radical changes are being introduced when funding cuts have reduced the number of charitable centres, which help claimants apply for benefits.

There is a free Universal Credit and the Self Employed briefing paper available by emailing cathyj.ashley@googlemail.com or send a SAE to 10 Magdalene Close, Totnes, Devon TQ9 5TQ 

Wales fights on to protect Agricultural Wages Board

It appears the heartlessness of the coalition Government towards those workers who harvest our food knows no bounds. Not content with scrapping the protection of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) for English workers the Con-Dem’s are intent on blocking moves by the Welsh Assembly to set-up a Welsh AWB to safeguard pay and conditions for more than 13,000 farm workers.

The Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly have voted to retain their AWB’s and earlier this year workers in both countries were awarded an annual pay increase.

So when the UK government formally abolished (from 1 October) the England and Wales AWB the Welsh Assembly passed the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Bill to give Welsh Ministers powers to establish their own board. Without one then Welsh farmworkers will join their English counterparts in being paid less than those in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Welsh Rural Affairs Minister Alun Davies said the bill, “would help ensure a prosperous future for Welsh agriculture, encourage new entrants into the industry and help retain important skills.” Support for retaining the board was said to be “vital” by the Farmers’ Union of Wales.

The Bill though has been now blocked by Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, on grounds that it was not within the Assembly’s legislative competence. It will now be left to the Supreme Court to rule in December whether it can become law or not.

By including the AWB abolition in the enterprise and regulatory bill the UK government had aimed to avoid a debate or vote on something which they themselves have calculated will result in a loss of £24 million a year for farmworkers. It was left to Labour’s Mary Creagh to use one of the opposition days to ensure there was anything approaching a proper parliamentary debate. Although 215 MPs voted to retain the board they were outvoted by the Tories and Liberal Democrats. It means that more than 90 years of protection has ended. The result is that 150,000 rural workers are going to be left to negotiate their own pay and conditions including overtime rates, holiday entitlement, flexible worker grades and sick pay schemes.

Gary (which is not his real name as he does not want to place his friends in danger of being sacked/disciplined) is a former Home Counties farmworker who had to quit the agricultural industry after he was poisoned by organophosphates. He believes “it will be almost impossible for the many farmworkers I know to negotiate with their employers, many of whom treat them terribly.

“Farmworkers are often called in during their holidays to do spraying, they are asked to do jobs which they are not properly trained to do and being off work sick is viewed with great suspicion.

“All too often the isolated nature of the work means that a falling out with an employer involves moving houses and schools. Even workers not in tied houses will accept their lot rather than upset their employers. A very good friend recently visited a solicitor after being threatened with the sack. Although it was clear his employer was acting illegally he was so scared of what might happen if he complained that he left without daring to obtain legal representation.

“I believe the National Farmers Union (NFU), this time in conjunction with the large UK food manufacturers; have once again used their considerable influence over the Government to increase the profits of their own members by removing the AWB. The NFU might find they struggle to find dedicated workers capable of operating and maintaining increasingly expensive and complex machinery and livestock systems.

“The NFU doesn’t deserve a decent caring workforce and rather than scrapping the AWB the government should be ensuring that part of the massive public subsidies that farmers get from Europe is allocated for better pay for farmworkers.” 

New regulations on ammonium nitrate

Marking out the dangers

New regulations on marking ammonium nitrate mixture sites have been introduced. Under the Dangerous Substances (Notification and Marking of Sites or NAMOS) Regulations it will become a requirement to inform the local enforcing authority for health and safety (either the HSE or local authority) and the fire and rescue service (FRS) of any site with over 25 tonnes or more of the dangerous substance.

There is a further requirement for the FRS to be informed if the site holds more than 150 tonnes. Relevant ammonium nitrate fixtures are defined as when the nitrogen content exceeds 15.75% of the weight of any mixture.

The use of ammonium nitrate fertiliser is considered safe when stored properly, but can explode at high temperatures and when it reacts with other substances. There have been a number of high-profile disasters involving ammonium nitrate including in West Texas in April this year when an explosion killed 15 people there. The West Fertilizer Company had stored 270 tonnes of mixture on site.

The HSE has a self-help checklist for the storage and handling of ammonium nitrate fertiliser that requires checking to see if the building it is stored in is combustible, contains other flammable liquids or combustible materials such as straw or hay. Are housekeeping standards up to date? Act now if you have concerns and want to be sure your name is not on the list of those killed in the agricultural industry as one thing is for sure, this government doesn’t care either way. 

Support the Forestry Commission Unions

The Forestry Commission has provided Great Britain with a lush rich tapestry of woods and forests that have been enjoyed by the public since 1919. Now, the Forestry Commission (FC) Trades Unions (FCTU) have launched a campaign to see the organisation go beyond 100 years and to secure its future.

Public pressure in 2010/11 stopped the planned disposal of England’s public forest estate. (PFE) However, it has not prevented the coalition government continuing to deny the FC the resources and staff they require to maintain a much valued public service. It’s one that for just 38 pence per person per year provides harvest timber, access to spectacular landscapes, recreational, educational and welfare facilities.

The government has slashed hundreds of jobs and closed seven regional offices since 2010. Now following recommendations, made by the panel it established following its climbdown, it is moving forward with its plans to break up the current FC, which comprises FC England, FC Scotland, Forestry Research and Corporate and Shared Services.

The UK Government is working to replace - before the next election - the PFE with a  PFE Management Organisation (PFEMO), a statutorily-based Public Corporation operating at arm’s length from government but managed by their appointees. It’s a move condemned by the campaign group Save Our Woods: “Won’t this make our forests even more vulnerable to politics, asset squeezing and privatisation in the future?”

FC staff that are transferred to the PFEMO will lose their civil service status, terms and conditions, rates of pay and other benefits. It seems almost inevitable that experience and expertise will be lost and as a result the high costs of this restructuring will only result in a poorer service being offered to the public.

The functions of the Forest Services Directorate also face being limited following a separate Government review – announced in July - that concluded this was necessary. FCTU’s fear the tiny organisation that would remain would be vulnerable to a takeover or future government bonfire. Unions are also concerned that the potential loss of valuable research facilities may lead to future problems in the health of many forests. There are further concerns that cross-border functions under any future plans may not be strong enough to prevent disease.

The FCTU are lobbying DEFRA and Ministers to get them to explain why the current FC structure needs to be broken. They have issued a statement saying: “We need your assistance in this endeavour. Show your support for all the FC staff and campaign alongside us in securing the long term future of this much respected organisation.” They have launched an e-petition at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/53057 with the aim of securing the future of the FC beyond a century.

One of those backing them is Labour MP Dave Anderson, whose Blaydon constituency includes a number of FC sites and staff there. The former miner believes the decision by the government to send their original decision for review has strong parallels with 1992 when following a massive public outcry over planned pit closures the Major government did just the same. Thirteen weeks later they came back and closed 31 pits.

“Whilst the panel sat the FC was losing staff and its structure. As it isn’t broke then why try and fix it? I believe a future Labour Government should commit to a publicly owned arm of the forest estate. I’m convinced this would be very welcomed by thousands of ordinary folk who forced the government to backtrack in the first place. I’d urge people to sign the petition,” said Anderson.

Book review - the Assassin's Mark

The Assassin's Mark – David Ebsworth
£9.99 SilverWood Books

Dave Ebsworth - who in real-life is former TGWU regional secretary Dave McCall - has written a highly enjoyable and very descriptive novel set in the final year of the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War. With the elected Republican government in disarray a confident General Franco has opened up the bloody battlefields along the country’s north coast to invite tourist’s to celebrate his successes and turn a blind eye to the atrocities he – and his Italian and German Allies - has committed.

Peace-loving, naïve left-wing reporter, Jack Telford, is asked by his employer to spend two weeks travelling by bus with a group of visitors that on the surface he has politically little in common with. It’s a journey of great heartbreak but also great beauty and Ebsworth brings both skilfully alive. The author provides vivid descriptions, especially of the architecture and social atmosphere, which helps transport the reader back 75 years.

Finding himself drawn to a right-wing female journalist, Telford can’t help but grow fond of many of his fellow tourists. Especially when the group is captured by Republican guerrillas and rescued by Franco’s forces in the days before a planned meeting with the general when Telford faces being betrayed.

David Ebsworth is the author of The Jacobites’ Apprentice, which was critically reviewed by the Historical Novel Society, who deemed it “worthy of a place on every historical fiction bookshelf”. For more information on Dave’s work visit www.davidebsworth.com

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Rugby League World Cup and Kevin Sinfield

From the current issue of the Big Issue in the North magazine 
Kevin Sinfield is preparing intensively to lead England in the forthcoming Rugby League World Cup. But as Mark Metcalf discovers, that hasn’t stopped the Leeds star from generously giving his time to those just starting in the game
The 14th Rugby League World Cup kicks off this Saturday when the co- hosts, England and Wales, line up against Australia and Italy respectively at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Fourteen sides will take part in the competition, which Australia is favourite to win. Yet when it was last held in 2008 the New Zealanders created a major surprise by beating the Aussies 34-20 in the final at Brisbane.
Third favourites this time are England and a side led by Leeds Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield will be hoping to emulate their 1966 football and 2003 rugby union cousins by winning the World Cup for the first time. England have twice reached the final but will need to raise their game considerably to enjoy success. In 12 matches between England and Australia, the former have won once and also drawn another game. When the pair last met two years ago the Australian side won 30-8.
Sinfield is though confident of an upset. “We understand the challenges in front of us but there is a belief we have the players to do it,” he says. “We need to start well and ensure we give the Australians lots of problems in the first match.
“Beating them would be great, but New Zealand didn’t do it when the pair clashed early in 2008 and managed it in the final later. So whilst a good start is important it’s where you finish at the end that matters.”
Sinfield has form in this respect, as in 2011 and 2012 he led a Leeds side that finished in fifth place in the league to victory in the Super League play-offs that decide the rugby league title winners.
This is only the second World Cup tournament in 13 years. Australia easily won the trophy in 2000 and the crowd for the final, which was played at Old Trafford, was just 44,329 – 30,000 less than Manchester United attract for their league games there. A series of mismatches in the early stages did not help and neither did including a Lebanon side composed entirely of Australians of Lebanese heritage. A number of matches were played in regions where rugby league had hardly any previous following and crowds suffered accordingly, with Wales taking on Lebanon before just 1,497 people in Llanelli.
In 2013 the tournament organisers have taken a less experimental approach and have concentrated most matches in the northern heartlands with odd exceptions such as the game between Australia and Ireland, which takes place in Limerick.
Attracting people who have never previously seen a rugby league game is one of the objectives. World Cup communications manager Martin Johnston says: “Sales figures already mean we are guaranteed this will be the best attended World Cup ever. Pleasingly 18 per cent of our tickets have gone to people who have never bought a ticket for rugby league before.”
Sinfield feels newcomers will “enjoy watching the games, especially as in the 13 years since the World Cup last took place in Britain the gap between top and bottom has narrowed. I have little doubt there will be a couple of upsets as there are lesser fancied teams with some players who play their club rugby at the highest levels of the game. England must make sure we are not amongst one of the upsets.”
In addition to playing Australia, England play Ireland and Fiji in the group stages. Eight sides will then compete in the quarter-finals.
In 2008, Sinfield was a member of the England side trounced 52-4 by Australia. It was a dark, depressing day. In the aftermath the England rugby league set-up was restructured by new coach Steve McNamara, with training camps throughout the year and a “Knights” squad to shadow the first team.
Sinfield believes the outcome “is the best environment I have been part of internationally. People have sacrificed a lot and we hope to reap the rewards. I am very proud to captain my country, but the squad also includes a number of other leaders.”
The squad includes three Burgess brothers – Sam and younger twins George and Tom. A fourth, Luke, almost also made it. All play for the same club: the Rabbitohs of south Sydney.
The Wigan star Sam Tomkins has just joined a growing list of English players moving south by joining the New Zealand Warriors of the Australian National Rugby League (NRL). His salary is rumoured to be £400,000 a year, double what a top player might earn in England.
Rugby league followers in this country are worried about the long- term impact that the loss of stars such as the Burgess brothers and Tomkins will have on the game’s long-term future. Johnston was guarded when asked if England needed to win the World Cup to ensure that Super League retains its priority amongst players born here. “The world’s best players are split between Super League and the Australian NRL. England look very well prepared for the World Cup and have a chance of winning it.”
Whether or not England can capture the trophy when the final takes place at Old Trafford on
30 November, Sinfield is convinced that judging its success must include making a profit.
“We are a professional sport and must make money to pay people properly and ensure there is re- investment in the game at every level. We need to attract good attendances and produce a product that entertains those watching in the grounds and on television.”
Sinfield has previously expressed an interest in becoming a club chief executive when he retires from playing and is doing a masters degree in sports business. His busy schedule has not though prevented him continuing to charm anyone he meets. Talking to a volunteer at Bradford Northern last weekend I was told that on meeting a couple of talented rugby-mad youngsters a few days earlier the England captain had taken them to a local café to discuss their long-term ambitions, leaving with a promise to keep in touch. Here’s hoping the good guy really does come first on 30 November.
Tries as they might
Fourteen teams will compete in the competition, with Italy and the US both making their first appearance. Only two of the entrants – Australia (nine wins) and New Zealand (one) – have previously captured the trophy, although before England and Wales entered separately Great Britain were victorious in 1954, 1960 and 1972. England would appear to be the only side capable of stopping Australia or New Zealand – the last winners in 2008 – of capturing the trophy. The tournament starts on 26 October and games take place all across the north.
New Zealand 
The defending champions will surely make it to the final four. Coach Stephen Kearney pulled off the all-time shock of the World Cup when he inspired his side to beat Australia in the 2008 final. Two years later this success was repeated at the 2010 Rugby League Four Nations tournament. Can New Zealand now create a third upset? Playing in black, the Kiwis are sure to entertain the crowd prior to kick-off by performing the haka – the traditional Maori war dance.
Having had their dominance ended by New Zealand in 2008 the Australians will be keen to re-assert themselves by winning the tournament for the tenth time. They have the best league in the world and in fullback Billy Slater possess arguably the greatest player in the game today and player of the tournament in 2008. Slater will line up alongside captain Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk, his teammates at Melbourne Storm, current World Club Champions.
First played in the tournament in 1975 and have twice lost out to Australia in the final. The Lions are ranked third in the world and coach Steve McNamara, who has chosen three brothers – Sam, George and Tom Burgess – in his squad, will be under pressure to ensure England do considerably better than in 2008 when they were thrashed 52-4 by hosts Australia.
Papua New Guinea 
Rugby league is the country’s most popular sport and many local players leaving to pursue careers in Britain, Australia and New Zealand have boosted the national side. Unlucky last time to be placed in
a group containing the three best sides in the world, there is genuine hope that they can make it to the last eight by finishing second in a group containing New Zealand, Samoa and France. Captain Paul Aiton plays his club rugby for Wakefield Trinity.
Cook Islands
Despite being able to name 24 players, head coach David Farleigh has chosen to opt for just 22 players. Three – Wigan’s Anthony Gelling, Bradford’s Keith Lulia and Zeb Taia from the Catalans Dragons – currently play in the British Super League. This will be only the second time they have appeared at the World Cup and in 2000 they lost to Wales and New Zealand before drawing with Lebanon.
The Wolfhounds are participating in their third tournament and have included four players – Brett White, Rory Kostjasyn, James Hasson and Api Pewhairangi – from Australia’s NRL competition in their squad. They will be joined by ten players from the Super League, including winger Pat Richards, who has just ended an illustrious Wigan Warriors career on a high by scoring a try in the 30-16 defeat of Warrington in the recent Rugby League Grand Final.
This is the fourth time the Polynesian state has competed at rugby league’s top level. National coach
Charlie Tonga had a wayward youth and spent time in jail for assault. A chance meeting with pastor Noel Gallagher helped him rebuild his career and he later became a pastor himself. Tonga trounced Scotland 48-0 in 2008 to finish in seventh place and, with ties this time against Italy, Scotland and the Cook Islands, will surely make the quarter finals at least.

Second behind England in the European rankings the French should improve on their tenth place in 2008.
The only team outside England to currently play in the Super League are Catalans Dragons and their success is boosting the popularity of rugby league. Olivier Elima will lead his country with the aim of matching second-placed finishes in 1954 and 1968, a period when France played an attacking brand of rugby that is still fondly remembered by followers of the game today.
Wales failed to qualify for the 2008 World Cup but under coach and former player Iestyn Harris
the game has made big progress in recent seasons. Home advantage and games against the USA, Cook Islands and Italy should help the Dragons progress to the last eight. In Rhys Williams, Craig Kopczak and Elliot Kear they have some talented players.

Possibly the weakest of the 14 sides, but captained by Sydney Roosters fullback Anthony Minichiello, whose younger brother Mark is also in the squad. Watch out too for Terry Campese, the nephew of rugby union legend David Campese.
This is the second time the Pacific Islanders have qualified for the World Cup. In addition to players from the Australian NRL and the Super League, coach Matt Parish will include at least two who play at home. Parish will also include a Samoa-based assistant as part of a long-term plan to develop rugby league in Samoa.
The shock successes of the 2008 tournament, finishing in fourth place. Much of that squad has now retired from playing. Petero Civoniceva, who moved to Australia and played 45 times for his adopted country, captains the side. Coach Rick Stone is confident his side will do well. He said: “Most of the players in the Australian and New Zealand squads, our boys play them week in and week out so they know how to play the big boys.”
There are just six teams in the USA Rugby League and yet no player from champions Philadelphia Fight has been selected for a squad containing 10 born in America. Much will depend on how captain Joseph Paulo, who plays in the Australian NRL for Parramatta Eels, can inspire a squad also containing his brother, Junior Paulo. Clint Newton has played for Melbourne Storm and Hull KR.
The Bravehearts will again largely consist of second and third-generation Scots. Danny
Brough, 2013 Man of Steel – the rugby league player of the year – will be joined by three NRL players in Kane Linnett, Peter Wallace and Matt Russell. But much will depend on the outcome of the first game against Tonga.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Picket to demand public inquiry into Orgreave

On 14 November a picket of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) offices in Wakefield at 1pm will highlight the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC) demand for a public inquiry into policing at Orgreave coking works on 18 June 1984. The date marks the first anniversary of South Yorkshire Police’s referral of itself to the IPCC to decide whether there should be a full investigation and there is currently no indication as to how long it will take the IPCC to examine all the police files.
95 miners were arrested at Orgreave near Rotherham after thousands of police officers – many dressed in riot gear, with others on horseback - brutally assaulted miners participating in a year-long strike aimed at defending jobs and mining communities.
However when the subsequent court cases took place all of the charges – which included, in many cases, riot – were abandoned when it became clear that the police’s oral and written evidence was unreliable. Each prosecution had been supported by two police officers making near- identical statements.
Later, South Yorkshire Police (SYP) paid out £425,000 in compensation to 39 pickets in out of court settlements. Nevertheless, no police officers were disciplined for misconduct or charged for the injuries they caused to those they attacked.
In April 1989, SYP went on to doctor the statements of police officers present at Hillsborough, when 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives due to the force losing control of operations on the day. It took 23 years for the campaign by Liverpool fans for the truth to emerge and following which SYP referred its officers’ conduct to the IPCC, who are currently conducting the biggest ever review of the police.
Following which the OTJC was established in November 2012 to seek ‘truth and justice for all miners victimised by the police at Orgreave Coking Plant, South Yorkshire, on June 18th 1984....We call for a full public inquiry, to take place as soon as possible.”
TV and press coverage further increased the pressure on SYP and the force subsequently referred itself to the IPCC to decide whether there should be a full investigation into what happened at Orgreave on June 18th and in the earlier picketing at the plant in May and June 1984.
However, one year on there is no indication of how long it will take for the IPCC to examine all the police files and the OTJC remains concerned that no officers will face charges of assault, perjury, perverting the course of justice and misconduct in a public office.
The OTJC will therefore by holding a protest outside the IPCC offices in Wakefield on 14 November at 1pm. The address is:- IPCC Northern Echo, Pioneer House, Woolpack’s Yards, Wakefield WF1 2SG
Details:- orgreavejustice@hotmail.com or ring 0114 2509510 http:// otjc.org.uk/ Photograph courtesy of Edwina Jenkinson

Friday, 18 October 2013

Julia Varley OBE (1871-1952) – trade unionist and suffragette

Julia Varley OBE (1871-1952) – trade unionist and suffragette 
Judged by any criteria, Julia Varley was an extraordinary woman who devoted her entire working life  to fighting for better working conditions for women and men employed in a range of trades and industries. She was also an ardent campaigner for women’s right to vote and was twice sent to Holloway Prison for her activities on this.

Born in Bradford in 1871 she followed her father by becoming a woollen mill worker at aged 12. Three years later she became secretary of the Bradford branch of the Weavers and Textile Workers Union and soon after also joined the Women’s Trade Union League and National Federation of Women Workers (NFWW) as she fought to organise ‘sweated labour’ where men and women worked long hours, were poorly paid and endured terrible working and welfare conditions. 

Julia moved to Birmingham after Edward Cadbury invited her to establish a NFWW branch at 
Cadbury’s Bournville Factory. The new branch Julia Varley set up became affiliated in 1909 to Birmingham Trades Council (TC) and soon after she  became the first women to be elected to its executive committee. 

Within the TC she was very involved in a series of major campaigns, including a fight to limit the hours of bakery workers and to introduce a minimum wage. In 1910  she was one of the leading organisers of the historic Cradley Heath women chainmakers’ ten-week strike that attracted international attention and resulted in a famous victory for the NFWW, resulting in the payment of a minimum wage.

Although she retained a focus on working women, Julia Varley became a Midlands organiser for the Workers’ Union in 1912. This had been formed on May Day 1898 with Tom Mann, who achieved fame in 1889 as one of the leaders of the London Dock Strike,  prominent in its initial development. 

The paper for the union - The Record - was clear why she had been appointed: ‘we wish that more working women had the experience of Julie Varley of mill work.’ 

The WU organised both men and women. In 1913 Varley was a key part of the strike by Cornish China Clay workers that helped lay the ground for trade union development in that region of the country. (see Unite book of the month on this at http://www.unitetheunion.org/growing-our-union/education/bookofthemonth/august/ Julie was also heavily involved in many disputes in Birmingham and the Black Country right up until the First World War, during which she particularly worked to organise the increasing numbers of women finding themselves in paid work. 

Julia occupied her post with the WU until it amalgamated with the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) in 1929 at which time she became the TGWU’s Women’s Officer. She also served on the General Council of the Trade Union Congress throughout the 1920s and chaired its Women’s Group. In 1931, Julia Varley was awarded an OBE for her services to public work. She retired in 1936 and died in Bradford in 1952 at the age of 81.

A plaque in Julia’s honour was unveiled by the Birmingham Civic Society on 24 May 2013 http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/birmingham-suffragette-julia-varley-honoured-3862243

Chartist mural destroyed by Labour Council

A 115 ft-long mural that depicted Newport’s historic role in democratic reform has been pulled down. The destruction was called ‘absurd and tragic’ by actor Michael Sheen – www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/absurd-tragic-michael-sheen-criticises-6203409 

The mural depicted the November 4th 1839 Newport Rising, the last armed rebellion in Britain when led by John Frost more than 3,000 marched to Westgate Hotel in the town to demand the release of several Chartists held there. Twenty-eight soldiers inside the hotel were ordered to open fire on the crowd, at least twenty of who were killed and fifty wounded. Frost and other leaders of the match were subsequently found guilty of high treason and transported for life. 

Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform that existed between 1838 and 1848 and which took its name from the People’s  Charter of 1838. This had six basic reforms to make the political system more democratic:
1) A vote for every man over the age of 21 
2) A secret ballot for elections
3) No property qualification for members of Parliament
4) Payment for MPs (so poor men could become one)
5) Constituencies of equal size
6) Annual elections for Parliament

The artwork for the mural was completed in 1978 and consisted of 200,000 pieces of tile and glass at the entrance to John Frost Square in the centre of Newport. Artist Kenneth Budd created it and took four months to research the rebellion story before completing his designs. 

Labour led City Council has now pulled down the mural, cowardly doing so unannounced in order to prevent local people from physically opposing them. This has led to angry protests internationally. It will make way for a £100 million shopping centre. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Latest safety figures for agriculture are no cause for celebration

News that fatal injuries in agriculture fell to 29 in 2012-13 is no cause for celebration after the latest HSE figures reveal that six people were killed in the industry in April and May 2013. If the rate of killing continues this will push agricultural deaths in 2013-14 back up to 36, the precise average for the industry from 2007-08 to 2011-12.

Amongst those who died in May was 63-year-old Hungarian national Jozsef Pinter, who fell though a roof whilst working at a farm in Warlaby, near Northampton in North Yorkshire. Ronald Rudd, aged 53, was killed when he was struck by a moving vehicle when working on a farm outside Berwick-upon-Tweed. The pair’s deaths and those that – sadly – will inevitably follow will undoubtedly mean that the most dangerous working sector will remain the agricultural one with around 20% of all deaths occurring amongst just 1.4% of the UK’s workforce.

Not that this government appears too bothered. It has downgraded agriculture as a sector not worthy of proactive inspections by the HSE and also allowed the HSE Board to withdraw the HSE approved code of practice which had slashed by two-thirds the numbers of children killed on farms from the time it was introduced in 1998.

All of which reinforces the need for Unite roving safety representatives that would have rights to visit agricultural workplaces to represent the health and safety interests of workers. Although these reps would inevitably reduce deaths and injuries the government has shown little enthusiasm for their introduction.

It means the current carnage will continue.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Book review - The First League Season by When Saturday Comes

This is the review by When Saturday Comes of my book on the 1888/89 season.  

In 1888, during the early years of professional football, clubs began to look for a way to secure regular income beyond that generated by occasional cup-ties and friendly matches. It was Aston Villa director William McGregor who proposed the solution, suggesting that “the most promising clubs in England combine to arrange home and away fixtures each season.” As the Football League celebrates its anniversary 125 years later, Mark Metcalf’s extensively researched book examines the inaugural season of the game’s oldest league competition.

The Origins of the Football League opens with a brief but useful primer on the state of football in 1888. It was an evolving game in which there were no penalty kicks or goal nets, and goalkeepers could handle the ball anywhere within their own half. But growing interest and attendances allowed the League’s 12 founder members to flourish. Indeed, 11 of the 12 still play League football today – the exception is Accrington (not to be confused with Accrington Stanley), who folded in 1896.

The book traces the 188-89 season via a series of match reports, many of which are taken from contemporary newspapers. These early reports have, as Metcalf puts it, “a certain symmetry to them”, typically detailing the weather and pitch conditions, while studiously recording who won the toss before presenting a fairly perfunctory account of the play. “The visiting right made an attack that was cleared by Bethell,” reads an opening-day report for Bolton Wanderers v Derby County, “and in two minutes from the start Kenny had scored a fine goal for the Wanderers. A protest was made in vain.” That Kenny Davenport goal was, the author reveals via some detective work involved kick-off times, the first League goal.

Without wishing to spoil the book’s ending the story of the 1888-89 season is also the story of Preston North End’s ‘Invincibles”, who won the League without losing a game. “The feat North End have accomplished, gaining 18 victories and four draws [is] a record for which no comparison can fairly be found,” one reporter wrote. Preston also beat Wolves 3-0 in the FA Cup final to claim the first football “double.” That was hard lines for the fearsome Preston full-back Nick Ross, who missed the triumph by moving for a single season to Everton.

Ross is profiled in the book’s comprehensive gazetteer, alongside hundreds of other players ranging from the well known, such as Johnny ‘All Good” Goodall, who scored 21 goals in 21 games for Preston in that first season, to the mysterious W Mitchell, who played one game for Blackburn Rovers, scored two goals and was never heard of again.

The comprehensive nature of the Origins of the Football League may be both a blessing and a curse. For the casual reader, a book that contains hundreds of consecutive match reports, many of which are relatively inconsequential, might not represent much of a page -turner. But as a book to dip into – and as a reference work – it’s a valuable and timely record of the birth of one of football’s most important influences.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Salvador Allende, Revolutionary Democrat - author q@a

Salvador Allende, Revolutionary Democrat 
Pluto Press (£11.50) 
Author Q&A: Victor Figueroa Clark
This eloquent biography of socialist Salvador Allende offers an insight into the man – as a reformer and Marxist – who was president of Chile until he was ousted by General Pinochet in a US-backed coup in 1973. Figueroa Clark also provokes wider discussion on his legacy and global politics.
Why did you write this book?
I’d like Allende to be better known for his life and his Popular Unity (PU) government rather than for the manner of his death. I think his ideas may contain the seeds of how we can strive to achieve a transformation of our own society.
Was there anything in Allende’s formative years that made him a socialist?
Coming from a relatively privileged background, Allende saw the poverty of the mass of the population and was exposed to revolutionary ideas early on. He also had a family tradition of political radicalism and it was a time of revolutions worldwide. He became a medical student and an assistant in a psychiatric hospital, witnessing the brutal effects of inequality and exploitation.
Why did Allende favour the electoral road to socialism over guerilla warfare?
Allende believed Chile had the political structures and culture to enable an unarmed road to political power.
But he was not a pacifist and died defending his government with an AK in hand. His reforms were aimed at transforming society, the economy and the state away from dependent capitalism and towards socialism, not just providing material improvements to the poor.
What measures did Allende’s 1970-73 government introduce to improve the position of the poor and working classes?
The PU legally recognised the trade unions by bringing them into government and the management of nationalised industries. He provided half a litre of milk
to every child per day, vital in reducing malnutrition. A large-scale public housing programme was instituted and public services were extended to the vast shantytowns. His government nationalised the copper industry which continues to provide the bulk of Chile’s income.
Why did Allende commit suicide in 1973?
Allende confronted a violent, illegal military rebellion that was largely stoked and planned in the US. He fought out his last hours in an indefensible position understanding the powerful symbolism of defending the presidential palace and Chilean democracy.
What lessons might his life have for today?
The world remains plagued by poverty, injustice and exploitation. The richest countries still invade and subjugate the poorest. Inequality is growing. Allende said that since governments across the world had failed to deal with these issues, they must be caused by capitalism. Allende and his generation proposed to move away from capitalism. This is something I feel we ought to return to today if we want to overcome the immense challenges facing the world.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Modern day Britain.......

Whilst out walking the dog I had the chance to chat to some people of working age on Sunday. This is no scientific survey but what follows I would guess is not unusual. I have not used the proper names of anyone in this piece but these are true stories.

Dave is in his late 20s and works in a manufacturing factory. He has had the job for just over six months and earns a few pence over the minimum wage. There is no trade union at work and speaking to him indicates he knows very little about unions or their aims. He is keen to keep his job but has been told by other workers there that the company has let go a number of people for ‘undefined reasons’ even though there was ongoing work. Dave has a regular shift pattern but he can also be called into work at short notice - on some occasions within an hour - if there is anyone off work on an earlier shift. Dave says that the management at the factory are ‘not too bad and generally speak pretty well to you.’ He believes that the conditions he experiences are similar for many other people in West Yorkshire.

Sarah and Gary are both in their 20s and work at MacDonald’s. It is Sarah’s first job as she spent a long time - right through her teenage years - looking after her mother, who was unwell. Sarah now regrets not having taken up advice from an advice worker to claim a carer’s allowance for her caring of her mother, believing at the time that she shouldn’t claim for something ‘I would do anyway.’ She has only recently started work at MacDonalds and is enjoying it. Both young people said they were happy with working for the company and Gary had - to my surprise - heard of the McLibel case in which the company sued Dave Morris and Helen Steel in the late 90s for a leaflet they had distributed criticising the company.

Stan is a single man in his 40s who is employed at a factory via an agency. He has been there - on and off - for close to a year, but does not expect to ever been taken on full-time at the factory as it would appear there are workers with longer employment records who are not considered permanent. The wage is a couple of pence an hour over the minimum wage and although he has been in a union previously - and speaks highly of them - he feels pretty sure that if he began chatting to people about joining one that he would find himself out of work. He knows of many people who are in a similar situation to himself and he speaks critically of how the ‘bosses want everyone on zero hours contract.’ 

Barry is a skilled craftsman who some years ago was badly injured due to poor health and safety at his workplace. He did not receive any compensation after he was badly advised by what he feels was a ‘bent solicitor.’ He has been working on jobs right across the Midlands and northern England for the last 2-3 years and in particular for one firm. He was earning £130 a day plus he was paid his expenses. His employer in the last six months has had him training workers from Poland and now he finds himself out of work as the new workers are prepared to work for £84 a shift and from which they pay their own living expenses. Barry had tried to persuade the Polish workers not to agree to work for such a low wage, but he was unsuccessful. He understands why workers from Poland have come to England and displays no negative attitudes towards them blaming the employers and convinced they are ‘loving this recession in order to add more profit to their bank accounts.’ 

Friday, 4 October 2013

'Dirty tricks' on Fiji

Workers on the paradise island of Fiji are accusing hotel chains of taking advantage of its military dictatorship to cut wages and conditions.

The Fiji National Union of Hospitality Catering and Tourism Industries Employees (NUHCTIE) claims it is facing “obstacles to collective bargaining in the hotel industry, resulting in below poverty line wages for part-time workers increasingly employed on casual or temporary contracts”.
In August 2011, Daniel Urai, general secretary of NUHCTIE, was arrested and charged with unlawful assembly for holding a union meeting with hotel workers to prepare them for collective bargaining. Later that year he was arrested on returning from a meeting in Australia and charged with “inciting police violence by urging to overthrow the government”. An international campaign secured his release from prison but he is barred from foreign travel and has yet to go to court in either case.
History of coups
The union’s claims have been contested by Accor, which operates over 4,200 hotels worldwide and has four in Fiji.
Graeme Ham, director of human resources for the company in Fiji, said: “We are not aware of any issues restricting the freedom of employees in the tourism and hospitality industry. We support any Accor employee to exercise their right for union representation and all four hotels have registered collective agreements in place.”
NUHCTIE’s concerns have attracted support in India, with demonstrations outside the Fiji embassy in Delhi as part of a campaign aimed at restoring workers’ rights.
Fiji became independent from the UK in October 1970 but has a history of military coups. The last one seven years ago saw Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama take over and dissolve parliament.
In 2009, Bainimarama issued a decree outlawing collective agreements in the public sector and the police broke up several trade union meetings.
No legal redress
Urai said: “All union general secretaries are no longer able to bargain on behalf of public sector workers, who have not had a pay rise since the coup and have no legal redress.”
A new constitution was announced this month but Amnesty International says it does not respect “basic human rights, a free press, the rule of law and freedom of expression.”

Halifax hero Ralph Fox

Part of the Rebel Road series at Unite education 

Ralph Winston Fox 

There is a memorial bench for Ralph Fox (30-03-1900 to 27-12-1936) in his hometown of Halifax. It is located in the Piece Hall, around five minutes walk from the train station. The journalist, novelist and historian was killed fighting Franco’s forces in Spanish Civil War. He was a well-known member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and wrote biographies of the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin as well as Genghis Khan.

Fox studied modern languages at Oxford University, where he was drafted into an officers’ cadet regiment only for the First World War to end before he saw active service. On his return he became active in efforts to half the British blockade to overthrow (Lenin’s) Bolshevik government which had assumed power following the Russian Revolution of 1917. In 1920, Fox travelled to the Soviet Union and returned convinced of the need to overthrow capitalism. After successfully completing his studies he later began work for the CPGB and completed his first major book. He later worked for the Daily Worker as a columnist and wrote several books for the Communist press. 

In 1936, Fox joined the International Brigades in order to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. These were military units composed of volunteers from different countries and who travelled to Spain to help defend the Second Spanish Republic between 1936 and 1939. The Brigades base was in Albacete and where Fox received training before being assigned to the XIV Brigade. He was sent to the front  during one of the first operations in which the Brigades were involved and died at the Battle of Lopera in the province of Jaen in late December 1936. 

For Unite members interested in finding out more about Ralph Fox see:- 

Micky Fenn - trade unionist and anti-fascist

Part of the Rebel Road series at Unite education. It was a privilege to have met Micky Fenn. 

Micky Fenn (11-01-1938 – 28-7-1996)
Michael Fenn was one of the most influential trade union and anti-fascist activists of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. At an early age, Micky was heavily influenced by his experiences on National Service in the Middle East during the Suez crisis where Britain wrongly entered the war on Israel’s side. He remained an anti-imperialist for the rest of his life.
When Micky became a docker in 1965 he joined the ‘blue’ union, the National Association of Stevedores and Dockers (NASD), which, unlike the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), allowed Communists to be members. Consequently, Jack Dash -a Communist Party of Great Britain member - who was heavily vilified by the conservative press in the same manner as Arthur Scargill heavily influenced Micky.
Dash and Fenn were key participants in the founding of the unofficial National Port Shop Stewards movement that united NASD and TGWU dockers in 1967. The following year when dockers at Tilbury marched out in support of Enoch Powell’s inflammatory speech that demanded a ban on black immigration, Micky was one of the few shop stewards (workplace representative) to speak out. He later described it as “the worst day of my life.”
In 1972, Micky was one of the London dockers’ leaders that led industrial action when five shop stewards were imprisoned in July for refusing to obey a court order to stop picketing an East London container depot. The Edward Heath government totally misjudged what would happen next. Although many workers were on holiday, hundreds of thousands of workers took unofficial action and with many more set to join the dispute the Trades Union Congress announced a date for a General Strike. This never took place as within a week the five were released. Micky was particularly involved in picketing out Fleet Street, where most national newspapers were printed at the time.
Micky said afterwards: “It wasn’t really a dockers’ victory, but a victory for the trade union movement.”
The following year, Micky left the Communist Party and joined the International Socialists (which would later become the SWP) and where he became heavily involved in the Anti-Nazi League but soon began a series of clashes with the leadership over the need to physically confront the fascists. This was to eventually lead to him quitting the ANL and he later become involved with Anti-Fascist Action. Micky’s politics on this were described by him in a BBC Open Space programme in 1992 and which is available online atwww.blowe.org.uk/2010/10/mickey-fenn-on-fighting-fascists.html
In 1982 the NASD and TGWU merged and by which time Micky was working at Tilbury docks and where he was a leading steward. In 1989 when Thatcher abolished the National Docks Labour Scheme – designed to eliminate casual dock labour – Micky was one of many dockers who organised 11-days of unofficial strike action. He was devastated when he discovered that many ports had already surrendered and in the aftermath he was one of 152 Tilbury dockers sacked. Three years in industrial tribunals produced a successful outcome but rather than get their jobs back the men were awarded compensation. Micky did not work again, but remained active and was the chair of the London support group for the sacked Liverpool dockers in the mid 1990s. The plaque in the CASA club in Liverpool is therefore a fitting tribute to a great man who died at aged 58.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Row over 'toxic' wood dust

Taken from the current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine, please buy a copy when you see a seller. 

Complaints by residents about the possible health impact of wood dust emissions from a recycling plant have been dismissed by the Environment Agency.
People living near Mossley in Greater Manchester fear dust generated by the processing site is affecting their health, but the agency is satisfied the plant is safe. The decision could make it easier for firms to gain permission to recycle waste wood into pellets for electricity generation at biomass power plants.
Supporters claim these plants divert material from going to landfill and reduce reliance on imported energy.
Under the Renewables Obligation Scheme, the government is committed to seeing 14 per cent of the UK’s total energy needs being generated from renewable sources by 2020. The current figure is close to three per cent but there are numerous new plants on the cards, including the Barton Renewable Energy Plant in Trafford, which gained planning consent this year.
Plevin, a major biomass processor, is currently building a £5 million plant on a 50-acre site in Hazelhead, South Yorkshire. This will predominantly produce wood chips for E.ON’s £120 million renewable energy plant near Sheffield.
Dust and noise
Hazelhead will process up to 150,000 tonnes of waste wood a year – 50,000 tonnes less than is processed at Plevin’s Mossley site. There, members of the Mossley Environmental Action Group say high levels of wood dust are damaging their health. Residents also complain of being kept awake by noise from delivery wagons.
The action group has filmed dust being released into the air when woodpiles that are stacked outside are grabbed and broken before being scooped up and taken inside for processing into wood pellets. Sixty people took part in a demonstration against the plant in 2011, and the results of a door-to-door health survey they conducted are currently being scientifically analysed. The group wants the Environment Agency to urgently conduct tests on the dust.
Carcinogenic agent
Resident Donna Liley moved to a house around 200 metres from the plant six years ago. She said: “Within a year I had horrendous headaches, constant nausea, malaise and a general feeling of being unwell. I have had six chest infections since living here, have a constant streaming nose and endure numerous migraines.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies wood dust as a Group 1 carcinogenic agent, which means it is directly involved in causing cancer. UK standards allow a particulate matter concentration of up to 25 micrograms per cubic metre but the WHO is concerned about the safety of levels over 10 micrograms.
The Environment Agency tested dust samples at Mossley between September 2011 and January 2012 and found they averaged 8.8 micrograms per cubic metre. No chemical tests have been carried out on the dust but Liley believes these are vital. She said: “[The Environment Agency] tested in the months when it is much wetter and we want them to conduct all year round tests. In addition, we want tests which include finding out what chemicals are in the dust as the recycled wood comes from former industrial plants and could include cadmium, lead, copper, zinc, chromium and arsenic.”
An Environment Agency spokesman said it had worked with partners including Public Health England and the NHS. “They are satisfied there have been no negative health effects in the local population as a result of the site’s activities. If any evidence to the contrary comes to light we will take appropriate action,” he said.
He confirmed that no risk assessment had been needed for the plant and there is no requirement for activities to be undertaken inside the building.
Mossley Environmental Action Group is not convinced. Liley said: “We feel we are the victims of the government’s need to boost renewable energy and we worry that other people right across the UK will suffer the same fate in the near future.”