Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Tom Mann - a great trade unionist

Tom Mann, 1856-1941 

Tom Mann, who was one of the three main union leaders of the 1889 London Dock Strike, is one of Britain’s greatest trade unionists. 

After a year working as a miner, ten year-old Mann began a seven-year engineering apprenticeship and after which he moved from Coventry to London to find work. He joined the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and published his pamphlet on the eight-hour day. In 1887 Mann moved to Newcastle where as the Social Democratic Foundation’s organiser he helped form the North of England Socialist Federation. Having read the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Mann became a communist who aimed to overthrow the capitalist system.

Back in London, Mann helped Ben Tillett, John Burns and Cardinal Manning to organise dockers when they struck in 1889 for 6d (2.5p) an hour and a minimum of four continuous hours of work. With the employers aiming to starve the 10,000 plus men out on strike the arrival of £30,000 from trade unions in Australia helped maintain the struggle and after five weeks the employers conceded defeat by granting all the dockers’ main demands. 

Mann became President for the new General Labourers’ Union but in 1897 he helped form the Workers Union, which after a slow start blossomed in the decade prior to World War One. The WU eventually merged with the Transport and General Workers Union in 1929.

In December 1901, Mann emigrated to Australia and where he was active in trade unionism and politics and suffered imprisonment for sedition. On his return to England in 1910, Tillett as an organiser for the Dockers Union employed Mann. He played a crucial role in the successful 1911 transport workers strike in Liverpool and was also heavily involved in the unsuccessful Dublin ‘right to unionise’ strike of 1914. 

Mann, a religious person throughout his life, was strongly opposed to workers slaughtering each other during the First World War. He was a firm supporter of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917 when for a brief period the working class took control of its own destiny. He retired from full-time employment in 1921, but remained actively involved for many years afterwards and he was sent to prison in 1932 after he criticised cuts in poor relief during a speech he made in Belfast. 

When it was decided in 1936 to develop a volunteer international legion to fight on the side of the Spanish Republican government the Tom Mann Centuria became one of the first International Brigades formed. 

Tom Mann died in Leeds on 13 March 1941. He is buried in Lawnswood Cemetery in Leeds, where Leeds Trades Council has placed a plaque in his honour.

Many thanks to Alan Mann (no relation), the secretary of Friends of Lawnswood Cemetery, for this photograph of the Tom Mann plaque. 

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Britain’s health and safety laws are a joke, but only the employers can laugh.

Self-employed bricklayer Robert Wilkin, 70, of Lincoln has been left paralysed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life after breaking his back in two places after he fell from faulty scaffolding. His wife, Jane, has had to give up her own work in order to care for her husband. 

Builder Rodney Foyster had constructed the scaffolding and employed Wilkin to use it when fixing a warehouse wall damaged by a lorry. Foyster, however, is not trained in scaffolding and had failed to check it was safe for use and also failed to bother checking the safety of workers once it was in use.

Nevertheless, Foyster was handed a suspended 18 month sentence and ordered to carry out only 200 hours of unpaid community work when he appeared before Lincoln Magistrates Court in February and was found guilty of breaching Section 4 (1) (c) of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. Foyster was also ordered to pay a total of £3,381 in costs. 

Incredibly, HSE inspector Martin Waring said after the case was concluded: “I think this is a fair outcome to this case, the magistrates’ agreed that this was a very serious breach of the health and safety legislation.” 

Leeds united in opposing bedroom tax

500 people marched through Leeds on Saturday 5 April to show their opposition to the divisive bedroom tax. The event was organised by Leeds Hands Off Our Homes and sponsored by Unite, many of whose local Community members turned out on the day. Marchers enjoyed a warm reception from the watching shoppers as they passed through the city centre.

Around 9,000 households in Leeds have been hit hard by the bedroom tax, which has reduced housing benefit by between 14 per cent and 25 per cent for those in social housing if they are deemed to be ‘under occupying’. Whilst some people have been successful in obtaining discretionary housing payments from Leeds City Council these payments are temporary and new applications need making each year.

Research by the National Housing Federation (NHF) has found that two thirds of households affected by the bedroom tax cannot find the money to pay their rents.

Meantime, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations has questioned the coalition government claims that the tax is saving the Chancellor money. It believes the reforms are pushing up costs for social landlords because of the resulting rent arrears and the extra expense involved in assisting tenants. It believes this will push up rents, increase the housing benefit bill and result in the government realising very little savings.

The NHF also believes that by forcing people out of social housing and into smaller properties in the private sector, where rents are higher, this will increase the overall housing benefit bill whilst resulting in more people having insecure tenancies.

The government has claimed that people who cannot afford to pay the tax should seek smaller accommodation but in many areas of the country this is simply impossible as there is not the housing stock to ‘allow’ people to downsize. ‘Only’ around 6% of social tenants affected by the bedroom tax have moved.

Leeds tenant and Unite community member, Carol O’Keefe has been looking to find a smaller property for almost 14 months. After an eight-month period as a homeless person she was “delighted” to be given a 2-bedroomed high rise flat by Leeds City Council in January 2012. With help from family and friends she was able to furnish the property only to be left shocked when she received a leaflet through the door informing her she was going to be liable for the bedroom tax, which in her case was to be £9 a week

She fought a long battle that ultimately helped her obtain a discretionary payment to cover the £9 but this ended at the end of March 2014. She is now back to fighting to obtain the same relief in 2014-15. Carol was unable to pay her full rent whilst she fought to obtain a discretionary payment and she admits this impacted on her “mental welfare”. She is in contact with many people who did not obtain any support and they have told her how they have cut back on food and heating their properties. “I help organise a food bank and the numbers requiring help has jumped considerably,” says Carol.

The Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has said: “If we win the next election, I will scrap the bedroom tax.” However, in the meantime, councils, including Leeds, which are controlled by Labour, are administering the tax.

Susan, a Unite community member who was one of the organisers of the demonstration, said: “Ed Miliband’s promise might be too late for many people in the city. We feel that as in other locations Leeds City Council could find ways of blocking the legislation rather than relying on the money they get from the government for discretionary housing payments”.

In Scotland, Unite was at the forefront of the successful campaign that saw the Scottish Government forced to agree to pay the full funds needed to cover the Con-Dem cut. Appeals against room size, over occupancy and room usage had made the bedroom tax almost unworkable before the Scottish Government stepped in to clear up the mess.

“We are marching to remind people that the tax is unjust and needs scrapping. I think our fight has been aided considerably by having Unite on our side. The unemployed, the unwaged and disabled people need the backing of a union. You can’t do things on your own, collective organisation is the only way to win and I am proud to be a Unite community member who is fighting for a better future for everyone” said Carol.

Astronomers ask to be kept in the dark

From the current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine, please buy a copy when you see 
a seller. 
Viewing the stars is becoming easier due to technological advances and the needs of local councils to cut costs by reducing street lighting. The developments are delighting astronomers who are campaigning against light pollution and for natural, starry – or dark – skies.
Retired office worker Tony Higgins of Leeds has a lifelong interest in the stars. He has been a member of the local astronomical society since 1973 and is regional spokesperson for the Campaign for Dark Skies. (CfDS).
“The last century saw the gradual disappearance in many areas of the starry sky,” he said. “Light pollution has contributed to the increasing barrier between the human race and our natural surroundings.
“Seeing the stars can make people feel good and capture their imagination when they realise there is so much more than just what we can see on earth.
Natural sky
“It’s about ensuring as much artificial light created shines downward as possible. People are blocked from seeing the sky by street and outdoor security lighting, much of which is badly designed, shines up and in some cases can be seen from miles away.”
To save money and reduce carbon emissions local councils are increasingly turning off street lighting. A 2013 survey of local authorities found that 81 had turned off or lowered the brightness of 750,000 lights.
Critics of the moves have argued it could lead to increased crime, less personal safety
and more road accidents. The CfDS is pleased that councils are not afraid to switch off but recommends control of lighting, not no lighting.
Bob Mizon, CfDS national spokesperson, said: “The Institution of Lighting Professionals has asked us to help write its training course on lighting and the environment. Lighting Journal is the voice of the UK lighting industry and its pages show only downward- directed lights nowadays.
“Technological progress can help allow people to view the natural sky at night whilst maintaining safety and security in their homes, on the streets and roads.”
Astronomers are also heartened by the December 2013 decision of the International Dark Skies Association to grant gold tier dark sky park status to the Northumberland Dark Sky Park.
Discovery sites
There are five dark sky protected areas in the UK, the largest number in the world after the US. A low level of air pollution means Northumberland retains England’s largest extent of starry skies.
The new status could increase tourism and benefit nocturnal wildlife. Dark sky discovery sites will be created where people can admire the sky.
The Peak District National Park has meanwhile installed star information panels at two of its car parks beside the High Peak Trail. The national park’s dark skies can be up to 15 times darker than nearby towns and cities, and visitors should find it easier to see planets and meteor showers.

“I am optimistic that the future is not brighter as it will mean we can see much more of the natural dark starry skies,” said Tony Higgins.


A shortened version of this is in the current issue of the Big Issue in the North magazine, please
buy a copy when you see a seller. 


Camilla Schofield 

Cambridge University Press

Enoch Powell was one of the most influential and divisive political figures of the post-war period in which Britain was forced to withdraw from its Empire and become a junior partner to the USA. Best known for his explosive rhetoric against black immigration, Powell was loved by many of his political generation. Camilla Schofield analyses why in this highly informative book. 

  1. What is the book’s theme?
It is ‘biography meets social history’. It tracks Enoch Powell’s political ideas from the 1930s onwards. It seeks to understand Powell’s popular appeal by analysing some of the thousands of letters he received in the years after the ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968. The letters are packed with popular racism. But they also reveal working people facing dramatic social and political changes, due to housing shortages, economic uncertainty and imperial decline.    
  1. Why did Powell hate the US?

This is key to Powell’s understanding of international relations and his strident US criticism meant he was sometimes accused of being a Soviet spy! He attacked ‘Cold War’ America for simply dividing the world into ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. In contrast, he felt the British Empire, at its best, respected the diversity and uniqueness of different peoples. American imperialism was, therefore, far more threatening to national cultures. He read post-war internationalism—like the United Nations and human rights law—as new forms of empire that profoundly threatened national sovereignty and political survival. 

3) Why did Powell suggest Britons read the histories written in the two generations before 1880? 

He felt an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ could be found in those years, which had been dampened by postwar economic controls. More importantly, in 1965, amidst talk of British decline, he insisted Britain must put the ‘imperial episode in parenthesis’. Preoccupation with the history of empire just doomed British national culture to a state of decline. 

4) What motivated Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in which black immigrants wrongly became transformed into hostile invaders? 

Its immediate cause was the 1968 Race Relations Act, which made it a civil offence for private businesses, like pubs or boarding houses, to refuse to serve individuals because of their ethnic background. At the time, Sikh bus-drivers in Powell’s town of Wolverhampton were demonstrating for the right to wear a turban and beard to work. Powell viewed this as a threatening example of ‘communalism’ that would be strengthened by the Act’s legal protection of minorities.

Additionally, two weeks prior to the speech, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. African-American protest and unrest was at its height at that time. In 1967, Powell had travelled to the US soon after Detroit witnessed one of the deadliest riots in US history. This cast a shadow on Powell’s understanding of race in Britain and contributed to his apocalyptic visions.

5) How was Powell’s supporters’ concept of the welfare state reinforced by a belief in upper class obligation?

Britain remained a class-bound society in 1968. We see among Powell’s supporters a respect for tradition, social deference and—partially—an acceptance of the ‘natural’ rule of the upper classes. Clearly any community’s understanding of government power—or state legitimacy—comes from a vast array of beliefs and traditions. Among Powell’s generation, understandings of the welfare state contained a complex, contradictory mix of beliefs. Welfare services could represent the expansion of social rights and egalitarian principles, but could also be seen as part of a traditional, charitable relationship between social classes.

6) Did Powell’s  ‘enemies within’ speech - in which he attacked ‘organised disorder’ by students and union militants, the liberal media and clergy - assist the Tories to win the 1970 General Election? 

Powell thought so—and those who have studied the election have tended to agree. There were major swings to the Conservative party in areas that showed support for Powell’s views. This is when he clearly articulated an anti-liberal populism. Right before Margaret Thatcher’s 1978 statement that Britons feared being ‘swamped’ by newcomers, she had been reading a book that argued that it was Powell who had won the 1970 General Election.

7) How did Powell help make the electorate more receptive to Thatcher’s radical politics?

Powell’s apocalyptic visions of racial violence profoundly contributed to fears of revolution in the 1970s and to the notion that Britain’s very existence as a nation was  threatened. According to Powell, the liberal ‘enemies’ of the nation were everywhere—on television, in the Church, in the unions, and even within the Home Office. These liberal enemies had, among other things, failed to protect working people from the ‘unarmed invasion’ of black immigration. Like Powell, Thatcher adopted the argument that the liberal establishment had grown too powerful and could not be trusted. With all this, Powell offered a holistic way of seeing the unrest and economic uncertainty of the 1970s—and called for radical political solutions. 

Friday, 4 April 2014

OTJC holds lively picket of IPCC

The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC) mobilised a hundred people for a picket of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) offices in Wakefield on March 28.

The OTJC is disappointed over the time it is taking the IPCC to decide whether to launch a full investigation into the activities of South Yorkshire Police (SYP) at Orgreave coking works near Rotherham in 1984. 

On 18 June 1984, 95 miners were arrested at Orgreave after thousands of police officers many in riot gear, with others on horseback - brutally assaulted miners participating in a year-long strike aimed at defending jobs and mining communities. 

However when the subsequent court cases took place all of the charges which included, in many cases, riot were abandoned when it became clear that the polices oral and written evidence was unreliable. Each prosecution had been supported by two police officers making near-identical statements. Later, SYP paid out £425,000 in compensation to 39 pickets in out of court settlements. Nevertheless, no police officers were disciplined for misconduct or charged for the injuries they caused to those they attacked.

It was in November 2012 that SYP referred itself to the IPCC to decide whether there should be a full investigation into what happened at Orgreave on 18 June and in the earlier picketing at the plant in May/June. 

Over sixteen months later the IPCC appears to have undertaken a very limited investigation into events at Orgreave. Much of the information it now possesses has been supplied to it by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and radical solicitor Gareth Pierce. The OTJC therefore remains concerned that no officers will face charges of assault, perjury, perverting the course of justice and misconduct in a public office. 

Amongst the demonstrators was Kevin Horne, a former miner who was arrested on 18 June 1984. Charged with obstruction this was later upped to the more serious charge of unlawful assembly before being dropped. “Orgreave was a rotten experience. Especially on 18 June when we were faced with huge columns of police, some with dogs and others on horseback. I saw some terrible injuries.”

Horne is now a Unison member and employed by Doncaster Care UK. He is amongst the 100 workers there who have taken two seven-day strikes in protest at having their terms and conditions slashed when Doncaster Labour-led council handed the Supported Living Service Contract to the lowest bidder rather than continue with the NHS. Doncaster Care UK bid for the work was £6.4 million, £2 million below the previous budget. “It is clear all concerned must have known that the new contract would lead to an attack on workers’ terms and conditions” said Kevin.

The Yorkshire area NUM banner was on display at the picket. Also in attendance was the NUM general secretary, Chris Kitchen, who said: “The IPCC needs to decide whether it can investigate or not. They are afraid that the trail will lead back to 10 Downing Street and prove that the strike was orchestrated from there with the intention of demolishing trade unionism and socialism in this country. 

"Our strike still has strong resonance today when workers facing unemployment and wage cuts will be forced to take strike action to defend their quality of life and rights. They should not have to fight the state when they do so.

"What happened at Orgreave also has importance to what occurred at the Hillsborough football tragedy in 1989. The links must be investigated.” 

Kitchen welcomed the recent call by the Labour Party for the government to set out all the details of the interactions between Margaret Thatcher’s government and the police during the 1984-85 miners’ strike. Labour also wants a ‘proper investigation’ into Orgreave. 

OTJC secretary Barbara Jackson said: “The turnout has been really good and there has been some inspiring speeches. The IPCC has said they will make an announcement on their intentions before 18 June. Whatever decision they take will not deflect us from continuing our fight for a public inquiry into Orgreave.”

Thursday, 3 April 2014

FC United fans show support for Orgreave Campaign

On Saturday I was privileged to be able to speak about the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC) to around 100 FC United fans prior to their match with Matlock Town. I spoke for around 20 minutes and there was a question and answer sessions afterwards. The event went well.

The OTJC banner was then displayed alongside some other greater banners inside Gigg Lane and a number of fans had their photographs taken in front of it. Many people expressed their best wishes to myself, my son and the campaign.

FC United Manchester are intending organising transport to the Orgreave picnic on 14 June and it will be great to see fans there.

I would especially like to thank Chris Ayton, Tony Howard, Mike Turton and Simon King for their kindness and assistance. It was also great to meet my old friend, Mickey Farrell and to again see the best football photographer, Stuart Clarke.

My son also had a great time playing football with a lot of youngsters at the front of the stand and has already said he'd like to go to another FC United game - mind you he never watched any of his first one, which FC won 2-1 before a passionate crowd. It is very tight at the top of the Evo Stick League but hopefully FC can finish top and avoid the dreaded play-offs.

Thanks to Tony Howard for both photographs