Thursday, January 25, 2007

Public sector workers rally in London

PUBLIC sector workers from all over Britain last Tuesday set out for Westminster to lobby their MPs to protest about the Government’s privatisation policies – and the attacks that slander the workers and undermine these services in order to justify the “reforms”.
The protest was a response to the Number Ten strategy unit discussion paper. The TUC countered it with a paper, Reform, not Permanent Revolution, saying that minister should stop claiming that reform is necessary because public services are failing. This damages morale and causes resentment, especially at a time when the Government is trying to keep public sector pay rises below inflation.
The TUC listed measures the Government should put in place to achieve real improvement, not quick fixes:
• reducing top-down performance management targets and instead giving services flexibility about how they meet service standards;
• accepting that the public sector ethos cannot be safeguarded by writing terms and conditions into contracts with private suppliers;
• rejecting the use of market mechanisms and accepting that a plurality of suppliers fragments public services, replacing collaboration and partnership with competition;
• rethinking the approach to giving users choice in public services, so that users are given the choices that they want to exercise rather than using choice as a quasi-market-mechanism to pit providers against each other; and,
• strengthening the capacity of public services to improve by boosting the skills of the workforce and involving staff in change.
The general union Amicus has produced a glossary of buzzwords that the Government uses to disguise the gradual privatisation of public services, including choice, consultancy, contestability and partnerships.
The union says there is no evidence that the Government’s reforms are improving services or providing an efficient use of public money. And it adds that as well as costing many millions of pounds the involvement of the private sector in public services is compromising public accountability.
Amicus general secretary Derek Simpson said: “There is a fundamental conflict of interest between profit and providing the best service to people but the problem is not simply a matter of cost and evidence.
“These policies take for granted a set of values that idealise competition and see public services as consumer goods. no evidence
“There is no evidence that profit-driven privatisation provides better services or improved value for money. In fact privatisation is often more expensive and detrimental to service delivery and creates significant inequalities.
“Our public services have wider benefits than simply economic and individual gain. They contribute to an enriched, participative and socially engaged society and help build solidarity and compassion. In other words public services are a good thing and worth paying for.”
The GMB general union concurred with this view, saying that some things are just too important to be driven by profit. Not just things like healthcare, education and criminal justice, but all the vital public services that protect people, bind the nation together and boost our prosperity.
The union supported Tuesday’s mass lobby, to tell MPs that public servants want to serve the public, not shareholders or company owners.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Brian Haw at the Tate

ARTIST Mark Wallinger has filled the Duveen galleries of the Tate Britain art gallery with a reconstruction of the array of flags, placards and posters that peace protester Brian Haw has displayed for years now in Parliament Square.
Haw’s display has been a thorn in the side of the Government for years and many attempts have been made to have it removed. Parliament even passed a law banning unauthorised demonstrations within a mile of Parliament specifically to target Brian Haw’s static protest.
But this failed because it applied to demonstrations from the date it was passed and Brian Haw’s demonstration began long before that and has been continuous ever since.
Nevertheless the authorities have now managed to restrict the size of Haw’s display to just three metres, which once took up a whole side of Parliament Square.
Now the surplus placards and banners are given full space inside the art gallery – which is within the one-mile radius of Parliament. Visitors are warned that some of the photographs on display are “disturbing”; they include pictures of children born with birth defects in Iraq and Afghanistan after their home districts were contaminated by depleted uranium weapons.
Wallinger said: “It kept being described as an eyesore when it was in the square. I don’t know that Baghdad is in comparison. I did feel the need to do this quite badly. I thought of it some time ago, before I was asked to do something for the Duveen galleries but it needed a really large space. When we measured I was amazed to find that it would fit perfectly.”
He has recreated the original display exactly but with the addition of black tape on the floor, to mark the boundary of the exclusion zone.
Brian Haw commented: “They’ve done me proud.”

Friday, January 12, 2007

Dagenham BNP rally flops

by Caroline Colebrook

THE BRITISH National Party spent four weeks delivering leaflets in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham in the run-up to their first public rally for years in December in a local park.
The BNP attracted around 60 – many of them regular BNP stalwarts from outside the borough.
Meanwhile an anti-fascist protest rally organised by Unite Against Fascism attracted around 500, who marched from the local civic centre and arrived in Central Park before the BNP were due to start.
The anti-fascists, separated from the BNP supporters by an iron fence and a large police presence, drowned out the BNP speeches with chants and jeers.
Slogans shouted included: “Nazi scum off our streets” and “Can you hear the fascists sing? We can’t hear a f***ing thing”
And the anti-fascists did succeed in calling out local supporters, including trade unionists, students and many others.
Unions represented and with banners included public sector union Unison, PCS civil service union, transport union RMT, the Transport and General Workers’ Union, the lecturers’ union UCU, the Communication Workers’ Union and the GMB general union.
Speakers at the anti-fascist rally included Steve Hart from the TGWU, Linda Perks from Unison, Paul Mackney from the union UCU and Michelle Emerson of the CWU. Also on the platform were Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and Lee Jasper, who represented London Mayor Ken Livingstone.
Local BNP leader Richard Barnbrook struggled to make himself heard, even with the help of a microphone, from the back of a Landrover in a small car park on the edge of Central Park.
When he asked for questions it emerged that not all of the small crowd in front of him were supporters of BNP policy.
After about 40 minutes he gave up and the BNP and hurried away from the park, surrounded by police vans for their own safety.
The event was such a flop the BNP did not even report it on their website, nor the Stormfront site.

a mistake

But it would be a mistake to be complacent about the strength of the BNP. Their rally was supposed to be about housing, crime and local services. Since last May when they gained 12 councillors they have delivered three leaflets around the borough, moving into wards they had not previously targeted.
Some BNP councillors have been appalling – two have been arraigned for housing benefit fraud – but others have been working hard.
Meanwhile support for Labour – the only party with a realistic chance of keeping them out at the ballot box – has been falling.
Labour activists, many of whom are very disillusioned with their leaders, have done little since the election.


The BNP is targeting the two constituencies – Barking and Dagenham – for the next general election and hope that if they work solidly over the next three or four years they may win a parliamentary seat.
Currently the BNP has 12 councillors in Barking and Dagenham. In last May’s elections the BNP averaged 40 per cent of the vote in the wards it contested compared to a Labour vote of 34 per cent.
In the previous local elections in 2002 the Labour vote in many of these wards was around 60 per cent.
Last month the Guardian newspaper carried revelations from journalist Ian Cobain, who had infiltrated the BNP. He described the advice than BNP leader Nick Griffin gave to door-to-door canvassers.
Cobain wrote: “I should take a copy of the local electoral register, he says, to avoid wasting time knocking on the doors of black or minority ethnic people. ‘You want to have the register in front of you, and you say, “Oh we’ll skip this door, it’s Mr Omonga Bonga”, or whatever; it’s more efficient that way.’
“There is more advice to be found in the BNP Activists and Organiser’s Handbook, which informs me how to deliver leaflets without being attacked; how to deal with ‘screamers’ – people who object loudly to having BNP literature stuffed through their letterboxes – and what to do if arrested.”

Anyone interested in getting actively involved should contact the website

London news round-up

Thames watermen warn of de-skilling danger

A NEW SYSTEM of licensing boat workers on the Thames came into force last week, sweeping away a 450-year-old system of five-year apprenticeship in the twists and turns, tides and currents of the river.
The Government has replaced this with a two-and-a-half-year training scheme leading to a boat-master’s licence, in line with European Union standards. But the Thames watermen say they fear this will lead to increased dangers of accidents.
The new licence will allow people who have qualified on other rivers to take charge of a commercial boat with no experience on the Thames at all.
Tug-boat Captain Bert Andrews explained that Thames watermen navigate using tiny details. For example, four steps showing above the waterline at Wandsworth tells him the tide is low enough to pass with his tug and loaded barges under the fourth arch of the Battersea road bridge.
He said: “There is no way that someone who’s worked on another river can come and gain sufficient experience to be in control of people’s lives within six months, but that is what is going to happen.”

Protest at plans to cut Tube cleaner jobs

THE RMT transport union last Monday called an emergency lobby of the Greater London Authority at City Hall to protest at what it described a “an obscene, unnecessary and potentially dangerous” cull of more than 200 ISS cleaning jobs on the London Underground.
The 204 job cuts were ordered by fat-cat London Underground contractor Tube Lines are more than a quarter of that company’s cleaning staff. Tube Lines says it is “refocusing resources” for station cleaning.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone has said there is “no reason” to cut the jobs. “I do not see how they can maintain standards of cleanliness by cutting staff,” he said. “Given the profits that the infrastructure companies enjoy, there is no case for reducing these cleaning jobs.”
He also pointed out that under their contract; Tube Lines was responsible for cleanliness.


RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “Our members are stunned and absolutely furious at the scale of job losses that ISS casually let slip just before Christmas.
“It was bad enough when we were led to believe that up to 100 jobs were under threat, but the true scale of the damage Tube Lines is doing to our members and their families and to London Underground is obscene, unnecessary and potentially dangerous.
“Tube Lines has made nearly £160 million in profits in just three years, but that is clearly not enough for them because now they want to squeeze even more profit out of the people who already do the dirtiest jobs for the lowest pay.
“We are asking the Mayor and London Underground for urgent discussions to see what can be done to force Tube Lines to reverse this decision.
“There is no way that levels of station and train cleanliness can be maintained on the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines with a loss of 27 per cent of the cleaning workforce.
“But there are also serious safety and security issues involved in cutting cleaning staff, not least at a time when tons of newsprint are being dumped in stations and on trains every day.
“RMT will use every means available to stop these job cuts, but it is time for the Mayor, Transport for London and London Underground to tell Tube Lines that it cannot impose this massive cut.”