Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Firefighter lobby against cuts

FIREFIGHTERS from all over the country assembled in Westminster last Wednesday to lobby their MPs against further cuts in frontline services.
The cuts implemented so far to frontline services have already eroded the ability of fire and rescue services, to respond to emergencies.
The firefighters, organised by the Fire Brigades Union, told the MPs they have delivered the previous administration’s “modernisation agenda”.
Their reward has been cuts in the number of frontline firefighters to dangerously low levels, a pay freeze that amounts to a pay cut; and further attacks on pension rights and conditions of service.
They said that “modernisation” has produced a worse service and those senior Government officials and local politicians have misled the public.
Fire authorities are using a downward trend in dwelling fires and dwelling fire deaths to justify cuts in emergency response and are hiding increased response times from the public.
The firefighters explained that comprehensive research has established that quick response times matter and they believe there is a link to the record number of firefighter deaths suffered in the last five years and the year on year record insured fire losses.
FBU executive council member Jim Parrott said: “Over the last six years, the fire authorities in the south east have produced so called ‘integrated risk management plans’ that are nothing better than glossy promotion brochures.
“They have misled the public hiding cuts behind average response times and promoting a downward trend in dwelling fires and fire deaths as a fire service success. Our members demand an honest approach with standards that the public understand.
“Our members want a robust and rigorous approach to emergency planning that allows them to get on with their job as safely as possible”.
A large contingent of FBU members came from the North West of England, where regional fire chiefs are quoting the Government’s austerity measures to justify plans to cut frontline firefighter jobs.
Many of the proposals being hurriedly prepared will see corners being cut in standards of fire and rescue services and will mean those who dial 999 will have to wait longer for more thinly stretched fire crews to come to their rescue but will carry on paying the same for the service.
This will put the lives of the public and the safety of firefighters at increased risk. It will also increase the cost of fire losses, increasing insurance premiums, and could leave businesses unable to recover, further exacerbating the loss of jobs.
A national YouGov poll released in September shows the public oppose cuts to their fire and rescue service; 85 per cent of those polled oppose Government plans to cut funding in the fire and rescue service; 95 per cent of those asked thought that despite the economic crisis, we need to keep at least the same number, or employ even more firefighters and 95 per cent agreed that a rapid response to fires should be a high priority.”
Kevin Brown, FBU regional secretary said: “Plans are being drawn up to significantly change the front line fire and rescue service in every one of our brigades. The Government has said it will protect the front line of public services and lets face it, you don’t get much more front line than the emergency 999 service our members deliver.
“The reality is that over the past decade the number of firefighters has been squeezed whilst the bureaucracy has grown year on year and extremely top heavy corporate empires have been created to justify the high levels of pay enjoyed by a precious few.”
The North East region FBU was also well represented. Pete Wilcox, FBU regional secretary said: “Already, with our employers offering no pay rise this year, the Government’s two-year public pay freeze coming in next year and the potential for a three per cent hike in pension contributions announced last month by the Chancellor, firefighters are certainly paying a heavy price for the failure of speculating bankers.
“We know that social deprivation caused by recession goes hand in hand with increased risks of fire and we will not stand back whilst the poorest and most vulnerable in our society are compromised by these cuts.
“Cuts cost lives, it is as simple as that but it seems those who are in favour of these cuts are those least likely to need the fire and rescue service. We are calling on our local MPs and our fire chiefs to stand up for the fire service, to stand up for the public we serve and to stand up for the brave men and women who deliver our service on the frontline.”

Friday, November 19, 2010

Remembrance of Red Army heroes

By New Worker correspondent

DOZENS of people gathered on Remembrance Sunday at the Soviet War Memorial in Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park in Lambeth to remember the millions of Soviet citizens who died as a result of the Nazi invasion of their motherland and the Red Army heroes who smashed the invaders and delivered the world from the menace of Nazism.
Representatives of the embassies of former Soviet states laid wreathes, as did the local mayor, local MP Simon Hughes and representatives of veteran organisations.
These included members of the Arctic Convoy Club, the International Brigade Association and the British Legion.
Other organisations laying flowers included the Marx Memorial Library and the New Communist Party. The event was organised by the Soviet Memorial Trust.

Standing by the Seoul workers

By New Worker correspondent

NEW WORKER supporters joined others outside the south Korean embassy in London last Friday to condemn the puppet regime for its ongoing repression in the occupied south of the Korean peninsula.
Called by “Smash G20” the picket was called in solidarity with the workers who are defying police terror in south Korea to demand civil rights and an end to the American occupation.
For several hours they stood in solidarity with south Korea’s political prisoners and the protesters who had taken to the streets to condemn the puppet regime during the G20 summit in the south Korea capital last week. There was a heavy police presence outside the embassy and one protester was arrested for refusing to move away from the entrance.

The spirit of the Aurora

By New Worker correspondent

THE GREAT OCTOBER Russian Revolution is celebrated by communists all around the world and every year friends and comrades gather at the NCP Centre to take part in the Party’s traditional celebration of the greatest event of the 20th century. Guests included comrades from the RCPB (ML), Socialist Labour Party, UK Korean Friendship Association and Left Front Art and, as usual, the old print shop was transformed into a bar and buffet for the event.
NCP chairperson Alex Kempshall kicked off the formal part of the evening of tributes to the achievements and sacrifice of the Soviet people throughout the 20th century. Veteran communist Ernie Hunt from the RCPB (ML) spoke of the struggle against revisionism in the old CPGB; John McCloud of the SLP talked about the role of scientific socialism in the 21st century and NCP leader Andy Brooks recalled the sacrifices of the past, the need for struggle today and the certainty of victory tomorrow. Naturally, no NCP event can ever take place without mention of the New Worker and Daphne Liddle’s appeal for support, raising over £200 for the fighting fund.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Third tube strike brings bosses to the table

ELEVEN THOUSAND London Underground workers walked out on strike last Wednesday 3rd November for 24 hours in their fight against job cuts that threaten passenger safety.
This was the third strike so far in this dispute and after it London Underground bosses agreed to meet union officials for negotiations.
The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has agreed to the talks but the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) is not taking part.
Union leaders have offered to lift the threat of disruption over Christmas.
Workers walked out on the Tuesday night in protest at plans to axe 800 mainly ticket office jobs, which they say will threaten safety.
A fourth strike is planned for 28th November but union leaders have said they have no plans to disrupt services over Christmas and the New Year.
Gerry Doherty, of TSSA, said: "It will not be my intention to disrupt festivities. I will not be recommending to my members that they strike over Christmas and the New Year."
RMT's Bob Crow agreed but went on to say that could change if workers wanted to strike over Christmas.
Talks are to be held at the conciliation service Acas but TSSA said until it has consulted staff about a further 1,200 planned job cuts it would not be taking part.

Tories seek to cut London fire service

DURING the recent Fire Brigades Union strikes in London the fire service withdrew 27 fire engines from service and hid them away for use by the strike-breaking company AssetCo during the strikes.
But the last scheduled strike was called off a week ago, just before 5th November, for talks but the 27 fire engines have not been restored and remain at a depot in Ruislip.
Now the fire authority chief Brian Coleman is claiming that the absence of those 27 engines has made little difference to the level of service so they might as well by cut to save money.
Each fire engine in service has four shift crews of five firefighters so in total 540 jobs would be lost along with the 27 engines.
Coleman said the FBU action — during which the capital's emergency fire cover was provided by 700 AssetCo scabs using 27 fire engines — had highlighted an apparent surplus of equipment and firefighters.
The brigade has also been operating with FBU staff refusing to work overtime as part of their action against the threat of mass sackings if they do not accept proposed shift changes. London has about 5,500 frontline firefighters and 169 engines.
Coleman said: “We are really grateful to the FBU for showing us that there are possible efficiencies. The union has banned overtime for two to three months and London doesn't seem to have come to a halt.”
Brigade officers are due to report within a fortnight on the savings. The brigade is facing a 25 per cent cut in government funding — which makes up 60 per cent of its budget — over the next four years. It is understood that 260 firefighters are able to retire immediately, having completed 30 years' service. Other posts would be cut through two years of “natural wastage” and a continued recruitment freeze.
Mike Tuffrey, a Lib-Dem member of the fire authority, said: “In the very same week that the fire union and management are finally sitting down and talking it is truly extraordinary that Brian Coleman should produce this rabbit out of the hat' proposal. His badly-timed proposal will only fuel the worst fears of the workforce.
“The Mayor must overrule Brian Coleman and make it crystal clear to Londoners that next year's budget will not see any ill thought-out cuts to front-line fire services.”
A union spokesman said it vindicated their claims that cuts were at the heart of the firefighters' dispute and could result in up to 500 posts being axed.
Ben Sprung, of the FBU, said: "Coleman has denied our dispute had anything to do with cuts in the service for Londoners.”This proves that has been the agenda all along. He seems willing to put his vendetta against firefighters above the safety of London."
Coleman’s risk assessments are totally flawed and risk leaving Londoners in serious danger in the event of a major emergency. Like the fire extinguishers in most homes and workplaces, they may not be used for many years but when they are needed they must be there and in working order.
The FBU had already complained to Coleman about the failure to restore the 27 fire engines. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Government ministers and the London Fire Brigade abused us for proposing a strike on bonfire night. We cancelled that strike, and now they are withholding 27 fire engines from London firefighters and the people of London. It’s disgraceful and hypocritical.”
The 48-hour strike planned for 5th and 6th of November was called off at the last minute after the fire service management agreed to postpone – but not cancel – its threat to sack 5,000 firefighters and re-employ them only if they signed the new contract.
Since then negotiations have been under way but the threat to permanently cut the 27 engines and their crews makes a successful outcome unlikely.

Student anger at cuts erupts

By Daphne Liddle

VIOLENT protest against the cuts came to the streets of London last Wednesday as angry students broke into the headquarters of the Tory party in Millbank and set placards on fire outside, saying this was the only way they could force the Con-Dem government to take their protest seriously.
Around 40,000 students, lecturers and their supporters had filled the streets of London on Wednesday as they protested at the Con-Dem government’s plans to raise the cap on university tuition fees from just over £3,000 to £9,000 – and a list of other less well publicised cuts to adult education.
The march started in Whitehall near Horse Guards, went past Parliament for a rally on Millbank near the Tate Britain museum. Some marchers carried on to the Tory Party headquarters and succeeded in breaking in through the glass-fronted atrium.
Reporters from the bourgeois media pressed the organisers to condemn the violence, which they did but said they understood the anger.
Students came from colleges and universities across England to protest against the tripling of university fees, cuts to university and college funding and plans to scrap the educational maintenance allowance (EMA).
This means-tested benefit is paid to students between 16 and 18 from low income families to encourage them to stay in education and is paid as a maximum of £30 to the students. No child benefit is paid to any families in respect of children over 16. EMA allows the children of low income families to stay in education to take their A levels and seek entrance to higher education.
Many of the slogans and speeches on the march targeted the Liberal Democrats in the coalition because the Lib-Dem leaders had promised emphatically before May’s general election they would not under any circumstances support the raising of tuition fees.
Some students plan to try to use the mechanism for recalling Liberal Democrats contained in planned changes to the voting system, if they vote in favour of the rise in tuition fees.
Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), warned the Liberal Democrats they would lose the support of a generation of young people if they continued to back the tuition fee hike.
He also said: "We are taking to the streets in unprecedented numbers to tell politicians that enough is enough. We will not tolerate the previous generation passing on its debts to the next, nor will we pick up the bill to access a college and university education that was funded for them."
"This Government is abdicating its responsibility to fund the education and skills provision we desperately need just as every other country is investing in its future. We cannot and will not accept that miserable vision for our future.
"We will fight back against attempts to dismantle the funded education system we desperately need for economic recovery, social mobility and cultural enrichment. The Government's short-sighted and self-defeating cuts to colleges and universities must be resisted and that resistance begins now."
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the union had hired hundreds of coaches from across the country, describing the protest as "a very significant event".
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “The past few weeks have really brought home just how angry staff, students and the general public are with the Government’s plans for education. They can see past the spin and they don’t accept the need for such punitive measures.
Slashing taxes for big businesses whilst telling the public we’re all in this together exposes the Government’s true agenda.”

Vietnamese art comes to London

by New Worker correspondent

MODERN Vietnamese art is seldom seen in Britain so it was a pleasant surprise to see works from contemporary Vietnamese painters in a London gallery this week. But though the technique may be modern the theme of this exhibition, Spirit World, was largely traditional.
Works by eight of Hanoi’s most exciting and renowned artists are being displayed by Modern Art Vietnam at the West Eleven gallery in Notting Hill, just a stone’s throw from the Portobello Road, this week. Vietnamese art is little known and seldom understood in Britain and this selection, themed on traditional Daoist and Buddhist concepts, was specifically chosen to appeal to British collectors and the growing Vietnamese community in London.
Modern Art Vietnam is family run company established specifically to promote Vietnamese artists with the help of the Vietnamese Embassy in London, the British Council and the Fine Art Museum in Hanoi. Though the company has only been going for ten months it held its first successful exhibition of Vietnamese art in June and it has already established itself as a leader in what is fast becoming a new focus of interest amongst the Western art world today. Sadly the exhibition closes at the end of this week but Modern Art Vietnam promises to bring even more Vietnamese arts and crafts to London in the near future. Check it out on their website:


Spirit World: Contemporary Vietnamese Art is at the West Eleven Gallery, 5 Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill, London W11 2EE from 9th – 13th November. 10.00 am to 6.00 pm. Admission free.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Unaffordable London

THE HOUSING charity Shelter last week warned that the Con-Dem Coalition plans to cap housing benefit at £290-a-week for a two-bedroom property or £400-a-week for the largest homes will mean many people on low wages or unemployment benefit or income support will no longer be able to live in London.
Housing benefit is claimed not only by the unemployed, pensioners and the disabled and sick – it is also claimed by thousands of Londoners in low waged jobs. And with benefit capped at £290-a-week most two-bedroom flats in the capital will be unaffordable for them.
Some Tory London councils are already warning councils outside the capital to prepare for a migration of low-income people arriving and seeking affordable accommodation.
Campbell Robb, the head of Shelter, said the cap meant claimants faced getting into debt as they would have to subsidise rents themselves.
The cuts were being done too quickly and could change the “very nature” of London.
Even the Tory Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, accused his own government of risking “Kosovo-style” social cleansing in London.
Ministers say the housing benefit bill has got out of control and people will still be able to claim a maximum of £21,000 a year – which they say is “more than the equivalent of what most working families have to spend on their housing costs”.
That is a lot of money but they forget that the money does not end up in the claimant’s pocket but in the landlord’s. The cause of the high housing benefit bill is greedy landlords who are raking in taxpayers’ money.
The answer is to cap rents, not benefits. Bring back the Rent Act.
Labour says it will force a vote in Parliament on the plans.
Campbell Robb referred to a study on the impact of housing benefit changes on London, commissioned by Shelter from the University of Cambridge.
It examined the impact of the cap, due to come in from April 2011, as well as other changes to the way rates are set.
He said early analysis had confirmed fears many London boroughs would become “largely unaffordable” for people on housing benefit from 2011, and a “significant further amount” would do so by 2016.
The research assumes rents will continue to rise by 3.6 per cent a year – and does not include all proposed changes affecting private tenants on housing benefit.
Robb said: “It is absolutely clear from what they are saying, is that over the next few years a whole swath of London, a whole series of properties – two-bed properties and bigger – will just become more unaffordable for those on housing benefit.
“In effect what will happen is the rents will be higher than the housing benefit that people get, so they would have to find their own money to meet the costs of rent before they have even started thinking about clothes and children and all those kinds of things.”
He said he was concerned the cuts could change “the very nature” of central London, and other cities – and “could mean tens of thousands of households forced from the centre, creating concentrations of poverty and inequality”.
And he said suggestions rents would come down if housing benefit was reduced were an “heroic assumption” when they had steadily risen over the past few decades.
A separate report issued by the TUC and the Fabian Society, based on a YouGov survey showed that more than half of tenants cannot absorb a housing benefit cut.
Forty-nine per cent in private rented housing and 66 per cent in social housing – would face financial difficulties if their income fell, such as through a cut in housing benefit, according to the poll.
While the government is cutting housing benefit and mortgage support, more than half the population want to see greater support from Government for renters and mortgage payers who get into difficulties with housing costs or who face losing their home.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “It is no wonder the housing benefit cuts are causing such difficulties for the Government, even within their own parties.
“Ministers want us to believe that housing benefit is going to what they would call work-shy scroungers, yet in reality only one claimant in eight is unemployed. The rest are mainly low-income working households, pensioners or the disabled.
“Then they tell us that people can absorb a cut in their housing benefit. This poll shows that most cannot. One in three renters already says that the stress of keeping up their rent payments has hit their performance at work.
“Thousands of people will have to uproot and move out of homes where they may have lived for years and have settled lives. Children will have to move schools.
“Lone parents carefully juggling work and child-care will lose support networks and have to give up work.”

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Scabs injure FBU pickets

By Daphne Liddle

THREE Fire Brigade Union pickets were injured, two of them seriously, by scabs who deliberately drove vehicles at them at speed while Management is spreading smears to gutter press accusing pickets of intimidation, wanting to “stop firework night” along the usual claims of the high-life for senior FBU officials
The attacks happened last Monday during the second London one-day strike in a dispute over threats to sack more than 5,000 firefighters if they don’t sign a new contract on shift arrangements..
The first incident happened in Croydon fire station when a picket was knocked down and seriously injured by a speeding car driven by a scab.
Fire Brigade Union president Mick Shaw, who was there, described what happened: “A fire engine returned from an incident and drove into the fire station, its crew refusing to wind down their windows and talk to the pickets. But at least it drove slowly, at the brigade maximum of five mph, so that the pickets could get out of the way before they were mown down.
“It was followed by a car driven by the officers, and as the pickets tried to talk to the driver of the car, it accelerated suddenly and one of the striking firefighters was thrown up and into the windscreen, then several feet in front of the car.
“We asked the AssetCo employees who had control of our fire station for the first aid kit and some blankets, but they would not give them to us despite the obviously serious nature of the injuries.
“An ambulance was called at once, and the ambulance crew asked for an air ambulance. Our member was not able to move during the 25 minutes between being hit and being taken away in the ambulance.” The scab, a non-union manager, has been arrested.
The second incident happened in Dagenham when firefighter Graham Beers held his hand up at the side of a road to signal to the crew of a fire engine returning to the fire station that they should stop and speak to him.
“The fire engine swerved towards me and hit my hand” said Beers, who suffered a sprained and badly bruised hand.
In the third incident a fire engine was deliberately driven into the FBU London representative Ian Leahair, at Southwark fire station. This happened more than two hours after the strike ended.
There was a huge police presence at Southwark, and most FBU members were held in a police pen on the opposite side of the road. Just eight pickets were allowed.
When the scab fire engines started to return, the permitted eight pickets, in the midst of dozens of police officers, stood in front and asked the drivers to stop while they spoke to them.
The first two fire engines stopped for a couple of minutes but the third didn’t stop. It just kept coming. As the pickets fled before it, the fire engine actually picked up speed, and hit Ian Leahair and then one of the police officers, before the police finally persuaded the driver to stop.
By then, Ian Leahair’s legs and half his body were underneath the fire engine and he was clearly in pain.
FBU pickets yelled at the driver to reverse, but he would not do so until instructed to do so by the police. The policeman suffered a bruised leg. Ian Leahair has injured ribs. He was pulled out and helped to the side of the road.
After that, the police handled the arrival of the rest of the fire engines very differently. Police officers themselves stopped the fire engines, gave the pickets their couple of minutes, then cleared the way for the engines.
The police, in effect, began to protect the pickets from the strike-breakers.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “This has been a day of shocking violence directed at London’s firefighters.
“An incredible pattern seems to be emerging. It looks as though the private company hired to do our work has instructed its drivers to drive fast through picket lines. We ended the day in the extraordinary situation where the police had to protect striking firefighters from recklessly speeding vehicles, which were driven by those paid to break the strike.”
The shocking behaviour of the LFB management will only increase the resolve of the firefighters and win them the support of Londoners and all trade unionists throughout the country.