Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Agricultural women workers in Pakistan start to get unionised

Agricultural women workers in Pakistan start to get unionised

The wages and working conditions of millions of agricultural workers globally is often depressingly grim and especially for women. Great therefore to hear that the first union of women agricultural workers, Sindh Haryani Union, has been launched in Pakistan. It has over 500 members, who are engaged in planting and harvesting crops such as wheat and sugar cane, from several rural districts in the Sindh province. At the founding conference members spoke about the impact of climate change, which has made insecure seasonal work even more uncertain. With assistance from the International Union of Food (IUF) workers, the new union is set to start an education and awareness programme on health and safety in agricultural work and on maternity rights. 

No celebrations

Unpublished piece that was submitted to Landworker magazine.

Georgina Downes, the person who has done most to highlight the dangers to rural residents of being exposed to cocktails of poisonous pesticides when crop fields are sprayed, was in no party mood at the New Year. 

This was because the Honour's List, long associated with rewarding obscure celebrities, Tory sponsors, dodgy businessmen and outright failures, included an MBE for Paul Hamey. Be honest you've never heard of him. Yet according to the HSE he got the award for "developing a harmonised European guidance... that will increase protection for those who come into contact with potentially harmful pesticides.”

But as Downes points out Hamey, and the regulators who have followed him globally, has relied on a model of a short term few minutes exposure of just one pesticide. This means pesticides, of which around 2,000 are currently approved in the UK, get nodded through without any serious assessment of the health risks for those living in  sprayed areas. The truth is that exposure for rural residents is long-term, chronic, cumulative, and involves innumerable mixtures of pesticides being used on crops.

When Downes took the Government over its policies to court - where she revealed how numerous residents had suffered major health problems that cost the NHS billions of pounds to try and alleviate - it was Hamey who represented DEFRA. 

Downes said it was " reward an official directly involved in a flawed policy...It sinks the Honours list to a new low." She hopes that in time Hamey will be stripped of his award and asks "how can officials be rewarded in the first place?"

Book review: A Rural Revolution by David R Roberts

Standard of Freedom pub in Halifax has some real history

Benny Rothman and Kinder Scout trespassers saluted

A plaque that went up in Hayfield in 2016. Photograph courtesy of Mark Harvey of ID8 photography and not to be reproduced without permission. 

Workers forced to pick cotton against their will in Uzbekistan

Unite Forestry rep? More needed..

Friday, 22 July 2016

Aircraft crew pursue claims on fume events

Cabin leaks blamed for ‘aerotoxic syndrome’ 
Health insurer accepts claim of work accident 

Taken from Big Issue North magazine - please buy a copy when you see a seller. 
A former airline captain has welcomed the recent successful law suit by a German flight attendant who became seriously unwell after an acrid odour occurred in the cabin of a Lufthansa Airbus flying from Frankfurt to Munich in 2013. 
The airline captain, Lee Trenchard, a former trainer and examiner pilot who has been unfit for work for almost five years, is launching his own legal action over claims that he was frequently exposed to toxic cabin air and now suffers from “aerotoxic syndrome”. 
In most modern aircraft unfiltered bleed air from jet engines supplies the cabin. However, faults with engine seals and seepage can – in an estimated one in 2,000 flights – lead to fumes containing organophosphates (OPs), which are present in the engine oils, entering the cabin. This is known as a fume event. 
Deadly poison 
OPs can lead to them accumulating in the body and attacking the nervous system and brain cells. 
This can produce symptoms including memory loss, depression and other psychiatric effects. As long ago as 1951 agricultural OPs be labelled as deadly poison. 
Soldiers who served in the First Gulf War and many farmers have claimed they have suffered from being forced to use products that contain OPs. OPs were present in the chemical sprays used on tents where soldiers were billeted, and in sheep dip. 
With airline companies choosing not to install detection systems it is difficult to verify whether a contaminated air event has occurred, unless smoke can clearly be seen. But when growing numbers of airline crew began to conclude that their long-term health problems were the result of breathing in unpleasant-smelling air the Aerotoxic Association was born at a parliamentary meeting in 2007. 
John Hoyte, an experienced pilot who left the industry due to ill health, said: “Suddenly I was meeting many other victims and despite our brain damage we slowly constructed the logic behind our dirty secret. We have made enemies with the government, Labour and Tory, oil companies, air manufacturers and airlines but we have made progress by widely publicising our concerns, such that today there are far more reports of planes that are forced to land because of fume incidents.” 
Last year a Dorset coroner said that fumes in planes posed “consequential damage” to the health of crew following the death in 2012 of British Airways pilot Richard Westgate at the age of 43. His report said: “Testing of samples taken both prior to and after death disclosed symptoms consistent with exposure to organophosphate compounds in aircraft cabin air.” 
Airlines, the Civil Aviation Authority and some medical reports say OPs are not present in dangerous quantities in cabin air. 
According to the Aerotoxic Association the fume problems on aircraft can be solved in four ways: an air filtration system; building the aircraft upwards to include an air pressurisation system that does not use air from the engine systems; using non- toxic oil; or installing a crude detector that alerts pilots to leaks. All four incur an additional cost for airlines. 
Poor memory 
Trenchard, 55, from Stockport, was a pilot for 23 years. In 2009 he claims to have suffered from a fume event when flying a large passenger aircraft to Melbourne. “I submitted a report on the incident in 2009 but when no one in the company seemed interested I did not bother recording two similar incidents. 
“Within a couple of years I went from being a very fit, healthy person to always being extremely tired. I was clearly unfit to fly as my memory became so poor that I would scare my co-pilot
by asking them if we had received instructions to land less then 20 seconds after the control tower had issued them. I started getting strange looks.” 
Following a flight of just 20 minutes in January 2012, Trenchard found it difficult to breathe and needed to stay away from work.
When he visited his GP he was unable to obtain a diagnosis. The doctor at his company also could not explain his illness. He sought support from the Aerotoxic Association. 
Dr Jenny Goodman, an expert at Biolab Medical Unit, and aviation medic Dr Michel Mulder both diagnosed Trenchard with aerotoxic syndrome, a term first employed in 1999. Trenchard was instructed not to fly at all. 
He is currently in dispute with his employer because he claims not to have been paid since then and is also seeking medical damages. 
He is working with six other pilots who are set to launch similar actions. Some are dependent on the income they receive from their former companies 
Trenchard said: “I admire their bravery as they run the risk of finding themselves left without any money by these companies.” 
Legal success 
The trade union Unite is pursuing legal claims on behalf of a further 61 cabin crew, with reports that more are to follow. 
Trenchard welcomed the German attendant’s legal success. The attendant became seriously unwell after the June 2013 flight, with symptoms of poisoning, and was off work for six months. 
The German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation (BFU) did not regard the incident as serious and did not investigate after it received reports from the attendant and crew, and obtained the aircraft’s technical details. 
The attendant filed a lawsuit against BG, the statutory health insurance scheme provided by his employer. In May, BG agreed the incident was a work accident and the court case was cancelled as a result. 
The BFU has yet to comment on whether it will now open a full investigation into the accident. 
“Some airline staff who have been diagnosed with aerotoxic syndrome have been paid an ill-health pension,” said Trenchard. “This is the first time though that the airline industry has admitted an employee has been made unwell because of aerotoxins. 
“That is great news because it could be that forcing airline companies to pay substantial compensation might be the only way to prod them into rectifying the problems caused by contaminated air, which results in aircraft being piloted by people who are allegedly unfit. This may place passengers lives at great risk.” 

Taken from Big Issue North magazine 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Robert Kett led an army of 20,000 Norfolk farm labourers in early July 1549

Robert Kett (1492 -1549) led an army of 20,000 Norfolk farm labourers against the fencing off of common man by large landowners in the summer of 1549. 

Many small holders depended on this land to graze their animals. 

After drinking plentifully at the annual fair in Wymondham (where Kett lived) on July 7 many of the locals pulled down the fences around common land in nearby Morley and the following day at Hethersett. Here the landlord pointed out that Kett had also fenced  around land in Wymondham and they should pull that down as well. 

Kett (a tanner by trade who had bought some local church land in 1540 that had been seized during the dissolution of the monasteries) surprised everyone by offering to pull it down himself and lead the protest further afield. 

The following day he addressed a crowd under an oak Wymondham (where Kett’s Oak now stands) and demanded "that all bond men may be made free, for God made all free with his precious bloodshedding"  - echoing the words of John Ball in the 1381 peasants revolt. 

They then marched towards Norwich and set up camp outside the city at Mousehold. It  took 2 military attacks before Kent and his men were defeated. He was imprisoned in  Guildhall, Norwich and executed at Norwich Castle on December 7. 

In 1949 a plaque was placed at the castle entrance honouring Kett as “a noble and courageous leader.” 

Front cover of Fred Spiksley book - out on 5 September

Monday, 4 July 2016

Unpublished article on EU referendum

This was an article I wrote for Unitelive that did not get published.

An advisor to the last Labour Government who has spent his life fighting on behalf of workers' rights has spoken in favour of Britain voting to stay in the European Union (EU) when the referendum is held on 23 June. 

Lancashire soil scientist Charlie Clutterbuck, who served for many years on the TGWU/UNITE agricultural workers national sector committee, was speaking on Tuesday at the EU Referendum: a spotlight on food and farming seminar in Manchester. This was organised by the Kindling Trust and the Food Ethics Council, who fear that food and farming has barely featured in the debate so far. 

The event took place a day after the National Farmers' Union (NFU) in England and Wales backed Britain remaining in the EU. The decision was a blow to the current farming minister George Eustice who supports the leave campaign. 

Clutterbuck is no NFU fan. He has regularly crossed swords with the organisation including when it successfully opposed plans in 2006 by the EU to introduce a soil framework directive, which had the potential to improve soils. Clutterbuck also condemned the NFU's support for the last coalition government's scrapping of the Agricultural Wages Board that protected farmworkers wages and conditions. 

Clutterbuck's support for remaining in the EU is therefore not because of the NFU's position. 

"Far from it, my concern is for workers' rights and protecting the soil so we can feed ourselves. I feel the British State is not interested in either. The main political forces driving BREXIT in the UK is towards 'freer market capitalism' and 'laissez faire economics'.  I agree with the Tenant Farmers Association who have stated that British Governments of all colours would have taken a much less supportive approach to farming than they have been forced to take as members of the European Union".

However, despite Clutterbuck's desire for Britain to remain in the EU he still wants to see major changes in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that currently accounts for 40 per cent of the entire EU budget. Clutterbuck has mapped out the Ribble and Calder Valleys in Lancashire and Yorkshire to highlight how the land there could be used to grow more fruit and vegetables. He has also supported many small, local projects aimed at boosting food production. 

"Much of the £50 billion spent annually on CAP produces no food at all as it goes to large landowners. I want much of the £15 billion available in England under CAP over the following seven years going to local producers who are establishing local food chains to ensure people eat fresher, locally produced, food, which is better for them," said Charlie.

Clutterbuck's critical support for staying in the EU is in line with Len McCluskey's. The Unite general secretary wants to build a Europe based on "solidarity" amongst its 28 member states, stating "leaving will speed up the rush to beggar-my-neighbour economics and anti-refugee brutality. The referendum campaign is an opportunity to make the case for broader and deeper solidarity across our continent." McCluskey said that despite the temptation to undermine David Cameron, whose party is deeply fractured over Europe, "it falls to us in the labour movement to behave in a more statesmanlike way, and look at the bigger issues".

Clutterbuck, who is currently an associate lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University was joined on the platform at the seminar by Peter Ritchie, of Nourish Scotland, who unfavourably compared the low level of debate in the current referendum to what occurred during the Scottish Independence debate in 2014. Agricultural scientist Steve Webster also spoke to say that EU regulations provide a necessary baseline on animal welfare whilst Anne Selby, of Lancashire Wildlife Trust, commented on how EU legislation has helped protect wildlife in some of the battles they have had with major companies. However, like Clutterbuck, Selby expressed concerns over the current workings of CAP and how its support for intensive farming has often worked against the interests of wildlife. 

Over 50 people attended the event.


BIG ISSUE NORTH 4 - 10 JULY Please buy a copy when you see a seller 
Manchester housing schemes unaffordable 
Council says social housing is “unviable” 
Manchester City Council has defended approving two major new private renting housing schemes – including one in which it is a development partner – even though neither includes any social or affordable housing. 
More than 800 private rented apartments have been approved by the council’s planning committee in the two schemes. 
But although there are 14,000 people on the council’s housing waiting list and homelessness is on the rise, none of them will have rents capped at an affordable level – usually defined as 80 per cent of the normal market rent. 
Patrizia UK will now create a 624-apartment complex on the First Street site, already the location of new offices and the Home arts centre. 
Inappropriate share 
On the other side of the city, Manchester Life Development Company – a joint venture between the council, Manchester City FC owner Abu Dhabi United Group and Blossom Iron Developments – will be building 62 one- bedroom, 116 two-bedroom and seven three-bedroom apartments along with 14 ground-floor townhouses on a 1.8 acre site in Ancoats. The development has benefited with an investment of £7.9 million from the Homes and Communities Agency. 
Affordable housing is created through negotiations between house builders and local authorities when planning approval is sought. In the case of the Ancoats and First Street schemes, a Manchester City Council spokesperson told Big Issue North there was no affordable housing specified because “the schemes would be unviable and would not have reached development stage should an affordable quota be attached to the planning approvals”. 
When asked how these developments might assist those on its waiting list, Bernard Priest, deputy leader of Manchester City Council, said: “Our key priority is to build more homes whilst balancing the city’s housing provision to suit as many people as possible. In Manchester, one in three properties are social rent – which we believe is the appropriate share – and a significant amount are what are considered affordable properties compared to many other large cities. 
“The fastest growing sector is private rented and we are engaged in ensuring high quality development to meet the needs of the city’s population growth and to protect the interest of residents.” 
However, the new developments have been criticised by campaigning body Defend Council Housing, whose chairperson Eileen Short said: “They aren’t going to bring down the waiting list or reduce homelessness. Many people can’t afford private renting costs and buying is a dream. 
“Councils and the government are continuing to get rid of council and housing association housing when we need more of it. The Housing Act will make things worse as housing associations are going to start selling off some of their properties. 
“We need councils to sit down with their tenants, those on the waiting list and housing campaigners to work out how we are going to resist the government – and not do their dirty work for them.” 
Blame Thatcher 
Andy Burham, the MP for Leigh who hopes to be Labour’s candidate in the Greater Manchester mayoral elections next year, said: “The seeds of this housing crisis lie with Margaret Thatcher and her selling-off of council houses in the 1980s and 1990s whilst prohibiting the use of the proceeds to build more homes.” 
He said he was concerned that the mayor’s £300 million Housing Fund was intended to pay for similar schemes to the First Street and Ancoats ones. 
“My top priority will be to encourage a substantial increase in council and social housing in all 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester,” he said. “The majority of the Housing Fund should be used to provide loans and guarantees to our councils and housing associations to expand the public housing stock and build the affordable homes for rent that we need.” 

According to a Patrizia statement: “Manchester is one of the most sought-after cities in the UK for property investment. There is a particular appetite for PRS [private rented sector] development, driven by a lack of good quality private rental accommodation, a thriving employment market, and a city council focused on the benefits of regeneration.” 

Air pollution and sudden infant death syndrome

Air pollution and SIDS 

Two major studies have been stalled 
Taken from Big Issue North, 4 -10 July. Please buy a copy when you see a seller. 
It remains unclear when the findings of two major studies into unexpected deaths in infancy will be published. 
Public Health England (PHE) first promised a study on the impact of municipal waste incinerators (MWI) on infant mortality rates in 2003. Led by a team from the Small Area Health Statistics Unit (SAHSU) at Imperial College London, it began in 2011. Preliminary results were envisaged in 2014 but last year PHE announced they were likely to be released in early 2016. 
Regional mortality highs 
The PHE study has examined 22 MWIs, including those in Bolton, Grimsby and Kirklees – districts where infant mortality rates are higher than regional or national averages. 
The Lullaby Trust, which aims to prevent unexpected infant deaths and provides support for bereaved families, funded Birmingham University in 2012 to undertake research on the role of ambient air pollution in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) mortality. Initial findings last year indicated that “ambient air pollutants were associated with increased SIDS mortality”. But the full report remains unpublished. 
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has found that mortality rates were highest amongst groups in routine and manual occupations, indicating that deprivation is the main reason behind infant mortality. Other factors cited are poor parenting and cultural practices. 
But the results of both reports will be eagerly studied by Michael Ryan, who first became concerned about air pollution when he lost two of his children, one at 14 weeks, and considered their deaths could be related to having lived downwind of an incinerator. 
Michael Ryan lost two children 
When he examined London wards around MWIs he found that, even in affluent areas such as Chingford Ward Green in Waltham Forest near the Edmonton incinerator, death rates were above average. 
In Bolton five of the top six wards with the highest infant mortality rates border the incinerator in the Great Lever ward. 
Ryan’s research is supported by a major study in Japan in 2004, which found “a decline in risk from distance from MWIs for infant death”. 
Dr Ovnair Sepai from the PHE toxicology department said: “The unanticipated complexity in gathering data has delayed the project but it is expected that papers from the work will be submitted
by SAHSU to peer reviewed journals this year, and it is likely to be a few months after submission for the papers to be published.” 
He stressed that PHE continues to believe that MWIs are not a significant risk to public health. 

A Lullaby Trust spokesperson said: “Our study has been submitted for publication to the Scientific Reports journal. It is being peer reviewed and if it accepted it will be published online at some point this year, when the Lullaby Trust will publish its response.” 

Friday, 1 July 2016

REDEMPTION SONG Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties

Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties 

Mike Marqusee
Second edition 2005 

Muhammad Ali was viewed by the time of his death with great affection by the American establishment. 

Yet for several years in the 60s he was unchallenged as the most reviled figure in the history of American sports. Why this was the case is sharply analysed in this book by the late Mike Marqusee, a white American who permanently left the US in 1971 to live in England. 

Ali's important social and cultural impact would not have been possible if he had not been a truly great boxer. Fighting as Cassius Marcellus Clay, he won Gold for the USA at the 1960 Olympics before becoming World Heavyweight champion in 1964. 

He was then given a new Islamic name of Muhammad Ali by Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam that Ali had joined two years earlier. This great honour helped direct Ali away from Malcolm X, the man who had originally recognised his leadership qualities, and who was to be assassinated in the very month, February 1965, when the US upped its involvement in North Vietnam by launching its Rolling Thunder air war. By the time of the eventual ceasefire in the conflict eight years later, US planes had dropped three times the tonnage of bombs unloaded on all of Europe, Africa and Asia throughout World War II. 

The conflict in Vietnam was to be the first American war in which the mood amongst black people was oppositional. Previously it had largely been the case that black involvement was viewed as a way of pressing claims in times of peace for equality, long denied in a country built on racial segregation. In 1963, Malcolm X had become one of the best known black people to condemn America's meddling in Southeast Asia. 

In early 1966, a time when opposition to the war was still limited, Ali was told he had been drafted and would have to fight in Vietnam. In an era when revolutionary movements against colonialism were being constructed — and undermined by US imperialism - Ali replied: "Man, I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” He made clear he was not going to fight even if it meant he went to prison. He was pilloried as sports commentator's rushed to claim he had been 'duped' and didn't understand what was taking place in Vietnam.  His forthcoming fight with Ernie Terrell in Chicago was ruled by the Illinois attorney general as illegal on grounds that he had not used his 'correct name' of Cassius Clay on the contract. Other possibles venues refused to host the fight.

When the US then moved to prosecute Ali for his public opposition to the war and the draft the boxer refused to surrender his beliefs, which were now inspiring many others to refuse to fight. Ali was sentenced to five years in prison but released on bail pending appeal. As he continued to fight his case in the courts, he was stripped of his titles for over three and a half years. It was a time when he was arguably, as asserted by Hugh McIlvanney, taking boxing into new territory and was at his physical peak. 

In 1971, Ali successfully overturned his conviction for draft evasion in 1971 and returned to the ring in what Marqusee describes as "a triumph over the system." Ali was to go on and defeat Joe Frazier in 1973, George Forman in the 'Rumble in the Jungle' in 1974 and Leon Spinks in 1978, thus becoming the only man to become World Heavyweight champion on three occasions. Ironically the Forman fight was bankrolled by dictator Joseph Mobutu who, with US support, had in 1960 overthrown the (only) democratically elected Congo President, Patrice Lumumba, who was subsequently assassinated. Prior to the fight, Ali, wistfully remarked, “I wish Lumumba was here to see me.” 

Marqusee shows how by the mid 70s, Ali was being embraced by the American establishment. This peaked in 1996 when, with support from advertisers, backstage lobbying by NBC Sports saw Ali chosen to light the torch at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia before a sell-out crowd of 83,000 people paying $600 a ticket. Ali's international standing amongst the masses was being cynically used by capitalists to sell the Games and its spinoff products. Ali had mellowed and his value to the American establishment thereafter was precisely because he had spectacularly defied them in the past, risking jail in the process. 

Nevertheless, as Marqusee notes: “Between 1964 and 1975, Muhammad Ali spoke to the world as a defiantly unofficial ambassador for a dissident America…….Ali’s real heroism lies in actions we can all emulate: in placing solidarity with human beings in remote lands above loyalty to any national government, in setting conscience before personal convenience.” 

This is a truly great book about a truly great man.