Wednesday, 25 February 2015

WAY OF THE RAMBLER - Kate Ashbrook wants more access to footpaths

This article is taken from the unite Landworker magazine of Spring 2015. 

Known for her tireless countryside campaigning, Unite member Kate Ashbrook is the Ramblers’ President and general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, Britain’s oldest national conservation body. 

A riding holiday in the early 1970s brought Kate, aged 10, into contact with Lady Sylvia Sayer whose impassioned defence of Dartmoor included later snubbing the Prince of Wales over his plans to allow continued military use on the South Devon moorland. 

“She was 50 years older than me but became my role model. I thus went to public enquiries as a youngster and was never afraid to speak out on the need to protect vital wild country that is great for recreation and creates feelings of freedom and renewal.” 

Kate was just 22 when she became general secretary in 1984 of Open Spaces, a membership based charity formed in 1865 and which campaigns to protect local common land, town and village greens, open spaces and public paths.

Over the years, Kate has successfully stopped the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Keith Richards closing off footpaths to the public. 

Following a lengthy campaign she used bolt cutters in 2003 to unlock gates in East Sussex. These had been unlawfully fastened by a company associated with real estate magnate Nicholas van Hoogstraten, who had called ramblers the ‘scum of the earth.’  Walkers’ access to a path that had been blocked for 13 years was finally achieved. 

“I enjoy getting paths opened and often you need to campaign to make this possible. Some people accuse campaigners of always saying no, but I’d contend that much of the landscape we enjoy is still free, beautiful and open because collectively we have saved it,” said Kate, who at aged 27 was the youngest person ever elected onto the Ramblers’ national committee.

Naturally delighted by the passing in 2000 of the Countryside Rights of Way Act (CROW) that the Ramblers’ Association had long sought, Kate remains frustrated that not all uncultivated land is covered by the act. Labour’s need to get its legislation through the House of Lords meant it was prepared to concede to Liberal Democrat demands that access should be denied to land that had been improved or semi-improved. This meant that when the Countryside Agency undertook its defining process the result was a number of anomalies.

“I live in the Buckinghamshire village of Turville. This is located in the Chiltern Hills, a chalk escarpment of outstanding natural beauty that the public has only part access to even though there appears to be no difference between places we can and can’t walk. 

“At this current time the access maps are frozen. But when the government does finally get round to keep to the commitment of a review that was promised after ten years of the act then it must be conducted on different terms,” said Kate. 

Whilst public spending cuts have delayed the CROW review they have thankfully not blocked the opening of the Wales coastal path and the ongoing construction of the England Coast Path. 

Last year, the then environment minister Richard Benyon sparked anger when he referred to “expensive” schemes inherited from the previous Labour government, adding, “the Coastal Access Bill was a sledgehammer to miss a nut.” A vigorous campaign by the Ramblers and other organisations soon had the government back tracking. 

“What has been won in England is remarkable. We have coastal access down to the sea and inland to the nearest coastal boundary. Just recently we obtained a commitment from Nick Clegg that all the works should be completed by 2020. This is recognition that this is important for people’s health and many local economies. It is another example of what can be won by campaigning.” 

Kate’s work inevitably brings her into regular contact with politicians. She has no problems with “needing to cultivate relationships with decision makers. If you are a campaigner you have to work out who is going to make decisions and seek to influence them. Sometimes that is not easy.” 

As we move towards the May general election there will be many organisations that are seeking to get policy commitments from the major parties that may form the next government. 

The Open Spaces 2015 Manifesto wants the next Westminster government to ensure authorities take action against unlawful works on common land, protect village greens and make landowners grants conditional on all public rights of way on their land being unobstructed. 

The organisation also wants to ‘promote and protect people’s right to enjoy open spaces close to their homes, as well as our splendid commons and network of public paths.’ It believes citizens should have access to good-quality public open space within five minutes walk of their home. 

Interviewed before addressing the Peak and Northern Footpaths Society that promotes the interests of public footpath users across a huge area, Kate said, “We are concerned about major local government cuts for footpaths. 

“Cutting off this investment does not save money as footpaths help keep people healthy and deteriorating access paths in the countryside inevitably means people do not visit and this thus reduces spending by visitors in these areas. We need a change in direction under the next government.” 

Kate’s busy work schedule, including speaking engagements virtually every weekend, means she has not attended any of the massive anti-austerity demonstrations in London at which the Ramblers have been well represented. She has though been a trade unionist for many years as, “I believe in unions and equality and ensuring everyone has proper rights.” 

Union branches who might welcome a speaker from the Open Spaces Society can make contact on 01491 573535 and at 

With Banners Held High daytime programme for 7 March 2015

The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign is holding a major event in Wakefield on 7 March 2015 and I will
chairing the workshop on Surveillance at 2.05pm 

Tory peer estate admits to killing two young people

The Tories have slashed the Health and Safety Executive budget and have restricted safety inspections across many sectors of the economy. Now, the estate of a Tory Peer has pleaded guilty to breaching health and safety regulations, resulting in the deaths of two young men. 

On 18 February 2013, two young men Scott Cain, 23, and Ashley Clarke, 24, were discovered unconscious in an apple store on the 2,500 acre Hampshire Blackmoor Estate owned by the Earl of Selborne, John Palmer. 

The pair were collecting apples when fumes in a building that is kept cool by a system that uses nitrogen to regulate temperature, oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity overcame them. 

Under the Control of Substances Hazards to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) then if hazardous substances are present in a workplace then the employer should assess the risks and put in place control measures to prevent exposure and where this is not possible put in place control measures to minimise the risk.

Blackmoor Estate was established in 1920s and has a long-standing reputation for its apples, pears and plums that are also used to produce ciders and juices. At 2,500 acres it is one of the largest estates in Hampshire, a county in which just 307 landowners own 36% of the land with the other 1.6 million people the rest. 

In January, Estate’s legal representative Ben Compton pleaded guilty to three of four health and safety charges relate to inadequate emergency plans and risk assessments against the firm. Sentencing agains the estate has been adjourned until after June when Andrew Stocker, 57, from Bordon, a former manager at the estate, will be standing trial on two counts of gross negligence manslaughter. He is pleading not guilty.

Reconnecting people - Unite open Farsley Community Centre

Taken from website at:-

New Unite Leeds centre is working to reconnect community
Mark Metcalf, Monday, February 23rd, 2015 

The Unite North East, Yorkshire and Humberside (NEY&H) region opened its third community support centre on February 11, in Farsley, Leeds.

And while the first two were in conjunction with the National Union of Mineworkers the bright new premises will be shared with the local Labour prospective parliamentary candidate Jamie Hanley.

This will also mean Unite can “reconnect Labour with the concerns of our members and the working class more generally,” said Unite regional political officer, Mark Fieldhouse.

The centre will be open on Wednesdays and Thursdays (10am – 3pm) offering professional individual and community support particularly around welfare problems.

These are rising fast as the government closes it eyes to wealthy tax dodgers while stepping up its cruel use of benefit sanctions. In response, Farsley will introduce ‘benefit buddying’ that will offer peer-to-peer support for vulnerable people facing benefit claim difficulties.

Successful initiatives at the Barnsley and Durham community centres will be replicated at Farsley with courses in reading and writing, CV and job applications, computer classes, public speaking, graphic design and social media. So in addition to helping people improve their chances of finding work the centre will give users the skills for campaigning activities alongside Unite workplace members.

Four Unite Community members – Andy Hiles, Callum Stanland, Caroline Isle and Gerry Lavery – have volunteered to staff the centre. Professional welfare rights’ training is being undertaken.

“I live locally and feel I can help deliver an advice service to people while also campaigning on issues we will be dealing with here such as the bedroom tax and debt,” explained Gerry Lavery, a retired university lecturer who expressed his pleasure at hearing Jamie Hanley speaking so passionately about trade unionism.

Force for good

“As I set off for my first day at work I was told by my dad to ‘join the union.’ I have been a member of TGWU/Unite ever since and chaired my workplace branch at Morrish solicitors.

“Trade unions are a force for good. I am delighted to be working closely with Unite,” said Jamie. He is standing for the second time in the Pudsey constituency against the sitting Tory MP Stuart Andrew whose 1,659 majority clearly makes him vulnerable if labour movement activists get heavily involved in campaigning for Jamie.

“I want trade unionists involvement and we will have trade union campaign days as part of my election campaign,” said Jamie.

“The Tories have lots of money for what is the most important election in a generation. Make no mistake if they win then Cameron will complete Margaret Thatcher’s job by massively undermining the ability of working people to be represented at work,” he added.

Dick Banks, chair of the NEY&H regional industrial sector committee, said, “I am delighted to see this eye-catching centre being opened in such a prominent location. The successes at Barnsley and Durham can be replicated in Farsley especially if one of our members was the local MP after the general election.”

To contact the centre: Farsley Unite Community Support Centre, 90-92 Old Road, Farsley, Leeds LS28 5BN, 0113 257 5221

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Plaque dedicated to Merseyside anti-apartheid seafarers

Taken from Rebel Road project of Unite education department. All photographs are copyright Mark Harvey of ID8 photography. 

The entrance to Jack Jones House, Liverpool is the location for a Liverpool City Council plaque dedicated to Merseysiders whose spirit of international solidarity saw them risk their lives in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Internal resistance there in the forms of strikes, demonstrations and acts of sabotage encouraged international solidarity. 

Seafarers and dockers have long been the most successful at organising international solidarity. Gerry Wan, deceased, was a black Liverpool-born seaman who was a chef on the Union Castle Line that sailed to South Africa. According to Roger O’Hara, the Merseyside Area Secretary for the Communist Party (CP) of Great Britain in 1970, Wan delivered post, propaganda literature and parcels of money to places in Durban. These materials were hidden within ships’ cargo holds before departing from Britain. 

Another CP member George Cartwright, deceased, was charged with collecting a crew together to navigate a yacht, the Avventura, from Somalia to close to the coast of South Africa where 19 ANC guerrilla fighters, fresh from training in the Soviet Union, arms and ammunition would come in on two dinghies. Seagoing engineer, Pat Newman, deceased, was one of those who agreed to join the mission. Ex-seaman, Eric Caddick, formerly a professional boxer, was another. He was a local black member of the CP. His father was from Barbados and his mother was from Liverpool. 

Alex Moumbaris, who on a later mission was caught and sentenced to prison for twelve years, for which he served 7.5 as he escaped (1), was in charge of the landing with Bob Newland whilst there was an alternative beach where Bill McCaig and Daniel Ahern were waiting in case something unforeseen happened. In the years leading up to the proposed landing, Ahern and McCaig had worked clandestinely in South Africa on surveying beaches that were suitable for the operation. 

Unfortunately, just off the coast of Kenya, the yacht, which had broken down on its initial journey, developed faults in the cooling system and a lack of spare bearings meant the mission had to be eventually aborted. Sadly, later attempts to get the young men over land into South Africa saw them captured and shot by the security forces.  

McCaig had earlier been involved in propaganda work in South Africa in which he had distributed booklets around cargo holds for South African dockworkers to pick up when they unloaded ships. He was given similar material to be posted within South Africa when he sailed there as a merchant seaman for the Union Castle Line. Later he worked permanently on Durban’s docks where he constantly moved around to try and spot opportunities for bringing in people without the port authorities knowing. He later had to leave South Africa quickly when it became apparent the South African police had become aware he was part of an underground network.

Bill McCaig 

McCaig details his work in South Africa in an excellent book LONDON RECRUITS – The Secret War against Apartheid. This tells the story of a small unit of white anti-racist activists operating out of London that assisted the liberation movement, which found it very difficult to escape police surveillance after the Rivonia trial of Nelson Mandela and other leaders in 1963-64, to rebuild its capacity inside South Africa.

Moving in and out of South Africa, the recruits began by circulating banned literature through the postal system. They then become more audacious by showering leaflets from city rooftops and unfurling ANC banners and later they employed firework-type ‘bucket bombs’ for discharging leaflets at busy public venues whilst simultaneously blaring out tape-recorded speeches from such as Nelson Mandela. 

Security police were baffled that an organisation they had virtually destroyed had quickly regained its capacity to act whilst the subversive activities inspired the oppressed with many young guerrilla combatants later recalling that the first time they had encountered an ANC message was through such propaganda coups. 

Fortunately the vast majority of London recruits were not caught by the South African Authorities, as the penalties were severe if you were. After a series of successful operations, Sean Hosey was caught in 1971 taking passbooks and money to South African comrades in Durban. He received a physical battering and had to endure solitary confinement and interrogation before he received the mandatory five years in prison for breaching the Terrorism Act that was an effective catchall for anything that threatened white supremacy. Hosey was in Liverpool when the Liverpool City Council plaque to the five Merseyside men was unveiled on Friday 30 January 2015.

Their actions were praised by Obed Mlaba, the South African High Commissioner and ANC member: “We will never forget the overseas friends of our struggle. We thank them for the wonderful, vital job they did during the hard times we experienced. We look forward to working to continuing to work with British trade unionists.”

Obed Mlaba 

Liverpool-born Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said; “I was an anti-apartheid movement member. All praise for the comrades who risked their lives supporting our ANC members. It is appropriate that the plaque is mounted alongside the one bearing the names of Merseysiders who sacrificed their lives fighting for democracy in Spain in the 1930s. Both are great examples of international solidarity.”

  1. Inside Out – Escape from Pretoria Prison by Tim Jenkin (Jakana Education, South Africa, 2003) and also at 

London Recruits – the secret war against apartheid is published by Merlin Press at £15.99 post free. 

Peterlee - the only UK town named after a trade unionist

Peterlee, County Durham is the only UK town named after a trade unionist – PETER LEE, the celebrated Durham Miners’ leader during the 1926 General Strike. Built as a new town after the Second World War, Peterlee was seen as antidote to the squalor of some of the local mining villages. New housing was to be accompanied by new industrial estates. The closure of all local mines means the latter are even more important today with the likes of Caterpillar and Walkers Crisps (*) providing employment opportunities.

Peter Lee (1864 -1935) was born in nearby Trimdon Grange and began colliery work at aged ten. Ten years later he returned to the classroom and learnt to read properly before heading for the US where he worked underground for two years. On his return he became Wingate miners pit delegate before again setting off on his travels this time to South Africa and from which he returned as a committed Christian. He was elected as a local parish and County Council member and after returning to work at Wheatley Hill Colliery he became an agent for Durham Miners’ Association and President of the Miner’s Federation of Great Britain. 

* Where I worked and was a shop steward and safety rep in the 1970s and 1980s when it was Tudor Crisps.  

Thursday, 12 February 2015

City’s ‘extraordinary level of corruption’

From the Big Issue in the North magazine. Please buy a copy when you see a seller.
The best-known international ranking under-estimates the level of state corruption in the UK, according to campaigners.
The annual Corruption Perceptions’ Index (CPI) survey of 175 countries rests on expert opinions of public sector corruption. It ranks states from least to most corrupt. In 2014, the UK was ranked twelfth with Switzerland in fifth. North Korea and Somalia finished in the bottom two. The survey is compiled by Transparency International (TI).
The Tax Justice Network (TJN) began life at the World Social Forum in Portugal in 2003. It maps and analyses tax evasion, avoidance, competition and havens.
Tax havens
According to TJN executive director John Christensen: “The CPI index, by focusing
on bribe-taking, fails to convey how corrupt practices generally involve several players. These include sophisticated financial and legal intermediaries who facilitate the hiding of large sums behind offshore structures, typically in secret jurisdictions.
“Additionally, CPI is perceptions-based, drawing on the business community and related thinktank opinions. Not surprisingly they take a rather a narrow view. Switzerland, a notorious tax haven, features among the least corrupt.”
TJN publishes a Financial Secrecy Index (FSI) of the friendliest locations for tax evaders, money launderers and the financially corrupt.
In its latest table, covering 82 jurisdictions, Switzerland pips Luxembourg for top spot as the most corrupt while the UK is at 21, one spot behind the British Virgin Islands and well down on ninth placed Jersey.
According to TJN, the UK ranking is based on a combination of its secrecy score and a weighting derived from its 18 per cent share of the global market for offshore financial services.
Of the 82 jurisdictions identified in the FSI, almost half are connected to Britain, including Jersey. Financial secrecy, low or zero tax, tolerance of criminality and lax financial regulations are identified across many of the jurisdictions.
TJN says the UK has claimed to be clamping down n corporate tax avoidance yet still promotes the use of British-linked tax havens by multinational businesses.

“Tax dodging has become endemic through much of the corporate sector. Yet the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) budget has been cut,” claims Christensen.
The executive director of TI in the UK, Dr Robert Barrington, responded to Christensen’s views, saying: “We are not stating the CPI index snapshot of affairs is perfect and we would always urge people to look at a wide range of different sources to get a really good picture. However, I don’t think anyone would quibble that the quality of life of the average citizen in North Korea or Afghanistan is severely undermined by corruption.
“I think public sector corruption in the UK is low compared to other countries. But it’s also true the UK has been too complacent about corruption.
“TI is concerned that the UK has become a safe haven for corrupt capital and rich individuals from around the world using stolen money to buy property here, including football clubs.
“We are very worried that the SFO budget has been so significantly cut. If the government fails to tackle corruption the UK could slip down the CPI.”
‘Blatant criminality’
Christensen believes that, whoever wins the next election, there is no immediate possibility of any UK government tackling the “extraordinary degree of corruption in the City of London that has demoralised people while also wrecking the economy and capturing the political processes, leaving us all with the sense that our politicians are impotent to act against blatant criminality”.
He added: “We have reached a moment when radical steps are needed to restore our confidence in democracy.”

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Ellen Strange commemoration date will be 29 November 2015

Trade unionists and domestic violence campaigners in the northwest will hold a special event on Sunday 29 November 2015 at what is thought to be the oldest site in the world to commemorate a victim of domestic violence. 

Ellen Strange (Broadley) was murdered by her husband, John Broadley on Holcombe Moor near Ramsbottom in January 1761. After which Ellen’s family and/or local people raised a pile of stones (a cairn) in her memory. This was called ‘Ellen Strange’ on the first Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1844-47. Yet by which time the true story had become clouded in the belief that a lover had committed the murder. One of the reasons for this was because of the practice - still common today in parts of Lancashire – to refer to married women by their maiden name. 

Other facts, including that the murderer had been convicted and executed, had also been replaced by fiction. Then in 1989; local author John Simpson published (*) the results of his exhaustive research into events on the desolate moor over 200 years earlier. 

John and Ellen Broadley were a very poor couple who led an itinerant life. Prior to her wedding, Ellen lived at Ash Farm in Hawkshaw with her parents. It appears almost certain that Ellen, hoping to take advantage of the full moon, was making her way to the family home when Broadley murdered her shortly after midnight The couple had been seen together at a nearby local pub in the hours before Ellen died. 

When Ellen’s strangled and badly disfigured body was discovered her husband was arrested and indicted for her murder. At his trial a number of witnesses were called but as it was not the practice to write down such evidence then we will never know what they said. What we can be sure of is that their evidence was insufficient to convict Broadley. Forensic evidence had not yet been identified and the charged man pleaded ‘not guilty.’ It is almost certain that there were no eye-witnesses to the actual attack. 

Since 1761 the practice of adding stones to the Ellen Strange cairn has continued. Late last year a small number of trade union members and domestic violence campaigners from the PAWS for Kids support project for women and children experiencing domestic violence walked to the cairn and placed their own stones. 

Photograph copyright Mark Harvey 

“It has been a real privilege to do this as we are also in the middle of a two week awareness campaign around domestic violence. It would be good if there could be erected a nearby noticeboard as many more people could then add a stone and remember Ellen,” said Linda Birchall, a Unite member at Marks and Spencer in Wigan. 
Copyright Mark Harvey 

“I did not know anything about this until very recently when it was suggested that the site should feature on the REBEL ROAD online education project. I am sure that Bolton Trades Union Council will now want to organise a proper commemoration visit and help make people aware of this important site,” said Martin McMulkin, Unite shop floor convenor at Jost, manufacturers of vehicle connections components in Bolton. 
  • ELLEN STRANGE -  a moorland murder mystery explained by John Simpson was published in 1989 by the Helmshore Local History Society.

Stop press

An initial organising meeting for the event on 29 November was held at Bolton Socialist Club in January 2015. The date was chosen because it comes within the Domestic Violence Awareness Fortnight and is also close to 25 November, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. There will be a wreath laying ceremony and some speakers followed by a social occasion afterwards. The cairn is around 400 yards from a nearby footpath. It is not accessible for anyone in wheelchair or anyone with very limited mobility. 

Plans are being made to organise transport from West Yorkshire and Bolton. 

Meanwhile, John Simpson has agreed to rewrite his booklet and this will be re-launched on or around 29 November.

Funds are going to be needed to pay for the booklet and the events on 29 November. Bolton Trades Union Council has agreed that its bank account can be used for cheques payable to Bolton TUC.  BTUC, c/o Bolton Socialist Club, Wood Street, Bolton BL1 1DY.

More details to follow. 

Monday, 9 February 2015

Should the UK government look to Wales on the badger issue?

With the public fully backing it, the Welsh Labour Government is continuing to pursue its successful programme to tackle bovine tuberculosis (bTB). 

For the second year running, Labour has invited grant applications from privately delivered vaccination projects for badgers, which have been blamed for cattle contracting the disease. 

The badger vaccination grant covers half the costs incurred by any farmer, landowner and others. Wales began vaccinating badgers in 2012 and within 12 months over 1,400 badgers were trapped and vaccinated. In 2013 there was a 23% drop in new bovine Tuberculosis herd incidents and the numbers of cattle slaughtered fell by a third. This success has encouraged other organisations to adopt a similar approach with the Sharpham Trust educational charity adopting a 3-year programme last summer. 

No wonder the Welsh Government has appealed to the UK Government to look across the border but the Tories appear determined to push on with their highly contentious culling programme. This is despite a 10-year scientific study between 1997 and 2007 that found culling made no difference and might even spread the disease by forcing badgers to flee. 

A trial cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset in 2013 proved to be disastrous with just over a third of the intended 5,000 badgers shot at an estimated cost of £4,121 each, far more than it costs to trap and vaccinate the animals. The standard set to declare the culls humane were exceeded. 

A humiliated environment secretary Owen Paterson was forced to announce that the planned national roll out was being abandoned but also chose to dig a bigger hole by agreeing to continue the cull trials in the two counties in 2014. 

The Badger Trust and Humane Society International then sought to prevent the futile exercise but in November 2014 the Court of Appeal rejected their appeal that no independent expert panel had been appointed to oversee the killings.

The results of the cull were announced by Defra in December. They showed that 341 badgers were killed in Gloucestershire, well short of the 615 minimum. In Somerset the minimum target was 316 and 341 were shot. Taken together the minimum target in both counties was missed by 249. 

Despite this further failure, Paterson’s successor, Liz Truss, who was appointed in July 2004, has announced that the government “is determined to continue with a strategy that includes culling.” 

In comparison, Labour’s shadow agricultural minister, Maria Eagle, has confirmed, “Labour will put a stop to these inhumane, ineffective badger culls.” Labour is backed by the vast majority of electors as when the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild commissioned a poll they found 70% opposed culling and 89% of those who expressed an opinion wanted the UK government to adopt the Welsh vaccination programme. 

Fox hunting victims fear a future Tory Government

Victims of anti-social behaviour at the hands of hunt members are concerned by the news that only their lack of MPs is preventing the Tories scrapping the foxhunting ban.

In September 2014, the environment minister Liz Truss, a hunt supporter, confirmed the Tories were abandoning their 2010 manifesto pledge to hold a free vote during their term of office on repealing the 2004 Hunting Act. Clearly the prospect of being seen to support ripping foxes apart in the lead up to the general election is seen as a vote loser. Indicating that the current moves are a tactical retreat, Truss said, “We need to wait until we have the votes before we put the vote for repeal before Parliament.”

Truss’s comments preceded the League against Cruel Sports (LACS) releasing a YouTube video HUNT HAVOC – the other victims of illegal hunting. This features numerous small country landowners criticising local hunts for failing to keep their hounds off their land.  Disturbingly, when the victims approach the police for support they are often ignored.

In West Wales, Teresa and her daughter Zoe run a small 57-acre farm located over two plots situated 2.5 miles apart and on which they have horses, chickens and All Packers as well as wildlife.

They have been regularly invaded by packs of hounds chasing foxes and when they have requested that the hunt remove the dogs then according to Teresa, “We have faced threats, been pushed over and hurt and had guns pointed at us by people who are brutish and unstable. The animals we keep get very upset and wildlife has been slaughtered. The police simply tell us that the dogs have no boundaries.”

A South West farmer who did not want to be named claims, “Whilst many hunts claim they are laying trails it is complete nonsense as basically they don’t control their packs and they divert on to live fox scent. In effect they are hunting.” 

It is illegal to hunt foxes with dogs and 527 hunters have now been prosecuted under the Hunting Act. Many more illegal acts though are not being picked up by the police. To overcome this, LACS wants to see a commitment to strengthening the Hunting Act included in all political parties manifestos at the general election.

Clearly the Tories won’t be making such a commitment whilst Truss’s comments were criticised by Teresa, who said, “Scrapping the Hunting Act would be very dangerous as it would give the green light to hunters to roam wherever they want. Those who don’t want that would increasingly find themselves intimidated.” 

Friday, 6 February 2015

Why Jack Jones House?

The Jack Jones House Unite building in Liverpool is named after a trade unionist who dedicated his life to improving ordinary working people’s lives.  

Born into poverty in 1913, Jack Larkin Jones followed his father into Garston docks. He quickly became a Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) shop steward and delegate on the National Docks Group Committee of the union. One of his early achievements was when he was awarded the TUC Tolpuddle Medal for union recruitment. At the same time he constantly faced the danger of victimisation and found himself engaged in running battles with full-time union officials who disliked his militancy. 

On his days off work from the docks, Jones took part in demonstrations against the scourge of unemployment. He also distributed anti-fascist leaflets produced by the International Transport Workers Federation about the worsening political situation in Germany. 

When Jones was elected as a Labour Party councillor for the Croxteth Ward in Liverpool he pressed the case for slum clearances. He then volunteered to fight with the International Brigades in Spain where a democratically elected progressive government had been attacked in 1936 by a right-wing movement headed by General Franco that enjoyed Hitler and Mussolini’s backing. 

Whilst serving with the International Brigades, Jones was seriously injured at the Battle of Ebro in 1938. Although he survived other Merseyside men were not so fortunate. Jack Jones House entrance bears witness to their sacrifices with a plaque bearing their names and which was unveiled by Merseyside County Councillor Edith Lawrenson and Jack Jones himself in 1985. 

On his return from Spain, Jones married Evelyn Taylor and the couple were to enjoy more than 50 years of married life together before Evelyn died in 2006. The couple had two sons, Jack junior and Mick.  
Jones was then appointed to the post of Coventry District Organiser for the TGWU. “Here, I felt was my opportunity to prove that the union really could work for its members…..the key to developing organisation was to find and cultivate the enthusiastic shop steward……whilst I knew I had to develop confidence and a strong sense of solidarity among the workers.” (*) 
Jones also faced a major task to break down non-unionism in numerous factories where low pay was endemic. Many meetings were held outside these plants and once Jones had succeeded in building up membership he threatened strike action in order to get pay talks going. Each success encouraged more workers to join the TGWU.
At the same time, when the Second World War was started, Jones was determined to see production maintained and even increased across a city that was being bombed heavily.

“I saw the workforce as the soldiers at the rear, a major factor in winning the war against Fascism.” When experienced men were needed for aircraft production he helped organise transfers across factories. When his members were asked to work seven days a week, Jones also did so. 

As increasing numbers of women were drawn into the war effort, Jones recruited heavily whilst other unions stood aside wrongly believing the women would return back to their homes when the war ended. As membership levels continued to rise he was able to successfully negotiate for improved terms and conditions. Trade unionism grew without any detriment to the war effort. 

The election of a radical Labour Government after the successful conclusion of the war was greeted with joy by Jones and the labour movement in general. Not so the employers who were keen to see a return to their pre-war dominance. Times though were a changing and the TGWU and the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU) secured a major breakthrough in mid 1946 with an agreement with the Standard Motor Company to introduce a five-day week of 42.5 hours, the first five-day week agreement in the engineering industry with the added bonus of a 4.5 hours cut in the working week. A national five-day week followed in 1947. 

Jones though faced problems not only from management but from TGWU general secretary Arthur Deakin. “In those days he always appeared to be on the side of management……..Deakin did not like my support for the shop steward system.” The pair had constant battles but in 1955, Jones strengthened his role within the union by being appointed Engineering Group Secretary for the whole Midlands region. The election of Frank Cousins to replace Deakin proved crucial to Jones’ appointment. 

In 1956, Jones was able to persuade management at the British Motor Company of the need to allow shop stewards to undertake trade union education in works’ time. This was to ultimately pave the way for similar agreements nationally. 

In 1963, Jones was appointed as TGWU Assistant Secretary and moved to London. “I insisted that each full-time officer must be accountable for his results.” He also planned a massive recruitment campaign whilst building a closer working relationship with the AEU and its leader Hugh Scanlon.  Jones called for the introduction of a 35 hour working week with three weeks’ paid holiday a year and later, as an elected member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee, he opposed Harold Wilson’s proposed prices and incomes policy on the grounds that it would hit the lowest paid workers the hardest. 

Meanwhile, Jones maintained his life long opposition to racism by speaking out at many, often heated, workplace meetings following Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech about immigration. 

When Frank Cousins stood down from his role, Jones was elected in December 1968 to replace him. In his role as TGWU general secretary he soon found himself at odds with Edward Heath’s Conservative Government at the start of the 1970s. 

The Industrial Relations Act 1971 imposed limitations on legitimate strikes and twice the TGWU was fined for contempt over its refusal to comply. Opposition eventually coalesced in 1972 around the Pentonville Five TGWU dockers whose imprisonment was greeted with outrage and solidarity strikes amongst trade unionists. With a General Strike in the offing, the Official Solicitor intervened to obtain the men’s release. 

Jones:  “One thing a free trade union movement cannot tolerate is the imprisonment of its people.” 

When Labour returned to government in 1974, Jones was one of the authors of the Social Contract. This persuaded trade unionists to a sign up to a programme of voluntary wage restraint in order to allow the Chancellor Denis Healey to introduce policies designed to control inflation and public spending. In return, Labour was expected to maintain price and dividend controls, improve pensions and introduce planning agreements with companies benefiting from Government aid. The ultimate collapse of the Social Contract agreement was to lead to the Winter of Discontent in 1978-79. 

By then Jones - who in a January 1977 Gallup opinion poll was voted the most powerful person in Britain - had retired in 1978 from his role as TGWU general secretary although not before the union reached a membership total of more than two million people. 

As he said: “More and more people were coming to rely on the weapon of trade unionism as represented by the TGWU.” 

In his retirement, Jones maintained his involvement in the labour movement. He served as Honorary Life President of the National Pensioners Convention and President of the International Brigade Memorial Trust. At the 2003 Labour Party conference he received a special award in recognition of his service to the trade union movement.

Jack Jones died at aged 96 on 21 April 2009. Later that year the TGWU building Transport House in Liverpool was refurbished by the newly formed Unite. It was reopened as Jack Jones House.

Tony Woodley unveils a plaque to Jack Jones 

The building was rededicated on 30 January 2015.  Tony Woodley, former Unite general secretary, undertook the re-dedication by unveiling a plaque. He told the large crowd “It’s a privilege to remember possibly the greatest trade union leader of our times. Jack never forgot his roots and practised what he preached – workers first.” 

Twelve members of the great man’s family were in attendance. Granddaughter Jane Jones said, “We are really proud of granddad and thrilled Unite continues to remember him.” 

Ricky Tomlinson and members of Jack Jones' family 

On the same day as the rededication another new plaque for the entrance to Jack Jones House was unveiled. This is dedicated to Merseysiders whose spirit of international solidarity saw them risk their lives in the fight against racial segregation in South Africa. 

As a great internationalist himself and one who in 1973 persuaded dockers in various UK ports to support black seamen in South Africa - and thus raised their wages from £38 to £87 a month - Jones would no doubt have been thrilled.

* All quotes in this piece are taken from JACK JONES - UNION MAN - an autobiography that was published by Collins in 1986. 

All photographs in this section are copyright Mark Harvey of ID8 Photography

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Review of Protest, Politics and Work in Rural England, 1700-1850 by Carl J Griffin

Protest, Politics and Work in Rural England, 1700-1850
Carl J Griffin 

Palgrave Macmillan.

In 2012, Carl J Griffin’s book The Rural War: Captain Swing and the Politics of Protest superbly revealed that England’s biggest rural uprising was more organised, widespread and politically motivated than previously thought. 

Starting in August 1830, riots swept England. The rural poor smashed threshing machines, torched farm buildings, assembled in large numbers and sent threatening letters from the mythical Captain Swing. Demands for higher wages were bloodily suppressed, hundreds were transported and nineteen executed.

In his second highly informative book, Griffin, shows Swing was part of an extensive range of resistances that were deployed by rural labourers to defend their livelihoods and communities against rapid social change. 

Between 1700 and 1851 the percentage of England’s workforce engaged in agriculture dropped from 55 to 30. Simultaneously, whilst output per acre rose remarkably real wages fell as food prices soared. Meanwhile the landed gentry had, by enclosing common land for such as grazing livestock, swept away a second income stream for labourers. 

Previously the rural poor could assert, often by bread riots, Christian principles that the rich had a responsibility to them. This forced magistrates to regulate the food market. Now though the economic philosophy of Adam Smith was that interfering in the market was unnecessary. This was ideal for landowners who had seen the cost of poor relief quadruple from 1776 to 1813. The 1834 Poor Law discouraged the public provision of relief to anyone refusing to enter workhouses.

In response to such major changes, the rural dispossessed sought other income streams including poaching, smuggling, wrecking and coastal plunder. Enclosures were levelled with even football games utilised to trample crops. The brutal suppression of food riots in 1795 demonstrated that traditional ways of highlighting demands were impossible. When protests resumed it was through machine breaking and incendiarism, with the latter reaching epidemic proportions in the 1840s. 

Landlords and farmers, blamed for poor wages, were the main targets but Poor Law administrators, including magistrates, many of them pastors, were also picked out. 

Whilst none of these acts represented a revolutionary challenge they demonstrated a breakdown in social relations. They were thus a challenge to the emerging capitalist state’s primary motive of defending private property. The response was a vicious series of property laws and by 1819 there were 223 capital crimes in this field. Although many people were executed, imprisoned and transported these deterrents failed to prevent new, impoverished volunteers coming forward. 

It was only when rural constituencies analysed that their actions were not producing results – because the landowners simply no longer believed they had a duty to the poor - that they switched track. 

This meant that starting in the 1830s there began more direct challenges for power through the organising of political and workplace unions that combined demands for greater Parliamentary representation with collective organisation at work. The book thus ends by looking at the Chartist Movement and the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

New study 'vindicates' Hebden Bridge residents fears

Residents of a West Yorkshire market town believe a new University study  ‘vindicates’ their belief that burning of wet, peaty blanket bog by grouse shooters is facilitating flooding of local properties.

Situated in the Upper Calder Valley, Hebden Bridge has been hit hard by flooding in recent years. Businesses have been destroyed and jobs lost. 

Local businessman Richard Bannister though has been doing well. In 2012 he obtained £2.5 million of public money towards his upland Walshaw Moor Estate (WME) where to facilitate grouse shooting for pleasure there is regular burning of blanket bog. This is despite Natural England (NE) having earlier declared ‘blanket bog can reduce flood risk downstream.’ 

Funds were awarded after NE’s planned prosecution of WME on 43 grounds of unconsented damage were dropped, a decision that has caused a dissatisfied RSPB to submit a formal complaint to the European Commission. The Moorland Association (MA), mainly grouse shooting owners, had lobbied hard to block restrictions on moorland burning that generates young heather growth for shelter and food for grouse. 

Campaigning to prevent further burning, Hebden Bridge residents formed Ban the Burn and have monitored activities on WME since. The group has also surveyed the water catchment area locally and found many field drains, pathways and tracks need improving if water flow is to be reduced. With only 5% of the area wooded a map showing how tree planting could quadruple the figure has been constructed. New woodlands would help mitigate flooding and by capturing carbon dioxide help counteract pollution.

The Effects of Moorland Burning on the Ecohydrology of River basins project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, is the first authoritative study on the subject. Leeds University geography department examined ten Pennine moors and found that burning lowers the water table. This causes peat to dry out, thereby releasing carbon and stored pollutants such as heavy metals. Peatlands are the UK’s largest natural carbon land store. 

Although the study qualified its conclusion by stating some ‘catchments may be naturally flashier’ it overall found ‘river flow in catchments where burning has taken place appears to be slightly more prone to higher flow peaks during heavy rain.’

A Ban the Burn spokesperson said about the report, “It vindicates our views. There is major carbon loss and burning destroys the blanket bog that slows down water during heavy rain when even holding back a small amount might make the difference between a property being flooded or not. Burning blanket bog should be banned not subsidised.”  

Leeds University findings are similar to those by Making Space for Water researchers  who last summer presented evidence gathered over five years of monitoring peat stabilisation works. This concluded ‘Revegetation and gully blocking resulted in significantly slower stream run, and for larger storms peak flow was reduced by approximately 30%.’ 


The rise of mass poverty
Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack 

Oneworld publications 

This review is for the book of the month section of UNITE

This highly readable book is a devastating critique of how poverty levels that have increased right across the UK since the 1980s are the result of successive governments political choices that urgently need reversing.

Breadline Britain was the title for a 1983 TV series. By measuring the public’s perception of contemporary needs then for the first time public opinion was established as the central determinant of minimum living standards across the nation. This approach was refined in subsequent surveys in 1990, 1999 and two in 2012. The findings showed that the public accept that minimum living standards need to reflect present not past standards of living. 

Needs are seen as extending beyond basics such as food and shelter. People are poverty-stricken when their income falls so far beyond that of their community that they cannot participate in it. As such, the percentage of households lacking three or more items or activities rated as necessities has doubled to 30 in 2012 from 14 in 1983. The latter was the year in which Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told Norman Tebbit “we should neglect no opportunity to erode union membership,” as she fully understood that organised labour was the primary obstacle blocking her economic objectives that included allowing inequality to grow. 

The likes of Thatcher contended that greater inequality had become a drag on economic dynamism and that poverty could not be eradicated by a narrower gap between rich and poor but by growth. What counts is the size of the cake not how it is distributed. 

The worldwide experiments ever since of deregulated, unequal capitalism and greater inequality, boosted by massive tax cuts for the wealthy, have though miserably failed to bring, except for a modest number of people, the promise of a bigger cake. 

In truth it never was going or intended to. The International Labour Organization has shown how nearly all large economies are ‘wage’ not ‘profit’ led and they experience slower growth when an excessive share of output is colonised by profits and how with less going to wages then purchasing power inevitably drops. The political solution adapted to this was to allow private debt to rocket, rising from 45 per cent of incomes in 1981 to a staggering 157 per cent in 2008. Meanwhile, the UK’s corporate cash piles stood at £166 billion in 2013, up a third in just five years. Internationally, wealth held offshore and hidden from the authorities is believed to be between $7.6 and $21 trillion. The rich are hoarding the money they’ve made from lower wages rather re-investing it in productive enterprises. 

Poverty levels have thus leaped, especially amongst those at work. In 1983, one-third of those in poverty were in a household where the ‘head’ was working full or part time. Today it is 60 per cent. Bad jobs, zero hours contracts is currently further squeezing pay. Meanwhile, with the Tories dropping the human face they paraded when out of government, benefit levels have been cut and made even more restrictive. The New Policy Institute has identified that 63 per cent of families affected by the coalition’s cuts were already below the poverty level. 

The result has been an increasing reliance by many people on borrowing from high interest loan companies and food banks, with the latter increasingly becoming a substitute for a uniform system of decent state support. 

According to Lansley and Mack, a radical government programme is needed to prevent poverty rising further. With no advanced economy achieving a low rate of poverty without social investment in education, training and the provision of universal childcare then paying for all these will require boosting tax receipts by, amongst other initiatives, increasing the current 45% top rate of tax paid on annual earnings over £150,000. 

Although the post-war welfare state was introduced on the assumption that there was a commitment to full employment and decent pay it has become the case that the benefits system has been used to step in to compensate for market failures to deliver decent livelihoods and housing opportunities. The growing housing benefit bill that has jumped from six to 22 billion £s in 20 years is the result of runaway house prices and a lack of affordable, socially provided housing. 

Increasing the minimum wage and upping the numbers on the living wage should be part of policy objectives that include a commitment to full employment. Upping women's pay in order to cut the 19 per cent pay gap between men and women is required. 

Cutting the 19 per cent gap in pay between men and women
would reduce poverty levels 

Restoring the bargaining power in favour of the workforce back towards the 80 per cent covered by collective bargaining in 1979 rather than the current 25 per cent would be highly effective. Evidence consistently shows that the higher the level of trade union membership in a society the lower the degree of inequality. The erosion of trade union strength has also encouraged British employers to move down a low pay and productivity road with few incentives to improve workers skills, invest in research and development and introduce more productive processes. 

With record corporate cash balances being held by large companies then a wage rise across many parts of the British economy is certainly feasible and it would have the effect of further boosting spending. 

Many UNITE members reading this would undoubtedly agree with Lansley and Mack’s analysis and their objectives of slashing poverty as part of an economic package that will boost the economy as a whole. What the book lacks though is some understanding of how this might be achieved. They point to how the number of employers agreeing to pay the living wage has risen and how all the main political parties favour a modest hike in the national minimum wage. They illustrate how grass-roots pressure groups such as the Living Wage Campaign have launched high profile campaigns. They show how even the IMF head Christine Lagarde has warned that economic stability relies on a “more equal distribution of income.”

What is sadly ignored is the need to encourage all workers to become active trade unionists. No one pretends that this will be easy. But it is really only when workers are organised within their workplaces that they can achieve decent pay and conditions, not forgetting exerting greater power on politicians for radical economic and social changes.

These criticisms aside this book is very definitely worth reading. Lansley and Mack are to be congratulated in assembling in relatively few pages a wealth of information. It is to be hoped that their work helps encourage a debate on poverty at the forthcoming general election.