Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Doctors badly treated in counter-terrorism fight

Taken from current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine, please buy a copy when you see a seller. 
Government plans to force GP practices to appoint someone responsible for counter-terrorism in order to receive extra funding have been condemned by doctors as bureaucratic and a threat to their ethical responsibilities.
Three years ago, the Home Office asked doctors and other health professionals to identify patients viewed as “vulnerable to radicalism” as part of counter-terrorism strategy Prevent.
NHE England has now told clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) that GPs seeking extra funding to provide enhanced services – such as extended hours, violent patient schemes and support for people with dementia – must also name a member of staff to take a lead on Prevent.
According to an NHS England spokesperson: “Prevent seeks to respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism to prevent individuals being drawn into terrorism by ensuring they get appropriate advice... The health sector needs to respond to these risks and enable healthcare workers to identify and provide support for those vulnerable to radicalisation.
‘Wastes time’
“Given the importance of the agenda and the role that healthcare staff have to play in protecting vulnerable people, Prevent is now part of the standard NHS contract.”
But one GP, who wished to remain anonymous, questioned whether the requirement was a late April Fools’ joke.
“This just wastes time,” she said. “Primary care faces an escalating workload, demoralised doctors, nurses and support staff and a constantly shifting set of performance targets, some of which seemto have little bearing on direct patient care. So this does not surprise me.
“How we are supposed to act if we feel a patient is ‘at risk’ is unclear and there are questions about how objective assessments by clinicians can be. After all, there will be no physical signs and there are real risks that hamfisted allegations are made by inexperienced clinicians focusing on certain ethnic minorities.”
The GP’s comments were endorsed by the British Medical Association, which represents over 150,000 doctors. Its spokesperson said: “GPs’ primary job is to ensure patients get the best possible care and not to undertake roles they are unqualified for and which could interfere with their ethical responsibilities. We also do not need another cumbersome, bureaucratic requirement when there is rising patient demand and falling resources.”

The Prevent programme was established after the 2005 London bombings as part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy to prevent Muslim radicalisation. Organisations such as the Institute of Race Relations believe the programme has been used to establish an elaborate system of surveillance.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Review of Liberty's Dawn by Emma Griffin

A People’s History of the Industrial Revolution
Emma Griffin

Published by Yale University Press 

By digging into 350 published and unpublished autobiographies of working people who experienced the Industrial Revolution then Emma Griffin has produced a very interesting, highly readable book. However, to state this makes her work “an alternative account of labour and the historical revolution” is a grandiose claim that the author fails to substantiate.

According to Griffin, far too little attention has been given to the benefits working class people, especially adult males, derived from the Industrial Revolution.

Griffin thus challenges accounts that include Friederich Engels 1845 book: The conditions of the Working Class in England as well as the many, often highly statistical, reports from the nineteenth century not forgetting books written many years later, the most famous of which is EP Thompson’s 1963 classic The Making of the English Working Class.

Before the Industrial Revolution people earned their living largely from their own labours. Radical changes meant that by utilising coal to power increasingly sophisticated machines a whole range of new products could be manufactured and brought to market and sold. The profits generated helped fuel further expansion. The subsequent increasing demand for additional labour resulted in an exodus from country to town, a process often accompanied by the expropriation of  common land and the forced eviction of the rural poor from their humble lodgings.

Amongst those who experienced the Industrial Revolution are a number who wrote their autobiographies. Griffin consulted over 350 of these unique records that are stored in local County Record Offices across England. These are highly fascinating but for Griffin to argue that they are “the only way to examine the working lives of working people during a critical epoch in world history” cannot be justified. 

It could (wrongly, in the opinion of the author of this article) be suggested that Engels, a communist, and Thompson, a radical socialist, had ulterior political motives in writing negative accounts of the Industrial Revolution. The problem for Griffin is that their views were supported by numerous accounts – such as the Factories Inquiry Commission Report (1833) – from the period that were written by those that passionately supported the new developments that helped turn Britain into the Workshop of the World. 

By far the vast majority of the autobiographies are written by men and when they are compared to those written by women it is clear, according to Griffin, that: “the patches of sunlight certainly shone more brightly on men rather than their wives and children.” In particular, the latter, are not well served by the Industrial Revolution. 

Men are better rewarded than women and they also earn – often considerably – more than their rural counterparts. Writers coming towards the end of their lives were often at pains to stress how much better their own had been compared to their parents and grandparents.

Improvements in income meant workers enjoyed a greater degree of independence from their employers. In turn this led to the development of a wide range of clubs and societies that gave working class males a part and a say in their organising. The new skills that were acquired from such activities helped fuel the development of the Chartist movement. This was the first truly working class political movement ever seen. When it threatened to turn the Industrial Revolution into one in which all of mankind benefited it was ultimately ruthlessly suppressed by a combination of capitalist and aristocratic forces. 

Griffin fails to explain why it was that if so many people were having their lives improved by the Industrial Revolution that there was the development of Chartism. This would require a much longer book in which Griffin would need to challenge the likes of Engels and Thompson in a much more rigorous fashion in order to try and prove the Industrial Revolution really was ‘Liberty’s Dawn.’

Support Palestinian farming unions

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) organised a successful Sainsbury’s Day of Action on 1 March. PSC want the giant supermarket chain to follow the Co-ops lead in not engaging with any produce supplier from Israeli settlements that are built on stolen Palestinian land and are illegal under international law. Palestinian farming unions have called for campaigns against Israeli export companies.
Sainsbury’s sources fruits, mangoes, date and other fresh produce from companies such as Mehadrin and Edom.  Protests were held at Sainsbury’s stores in more than 30 UK towns and cities and over 2,500 people wrote to the Sainsbury’s Chief Executive who has since replied defending the company’s actions. for more information.

Clegg shakes hands with the bloodstained hands of Colombian President

Columbia. remains the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. Last year 78 human rights defenders were killed; mainly by paramilitaries and state security forces. 
Each day the human rights situation is worsening for social and political activists and on 22 February, the peasant farmer activist Jorge Eliecer Hernandez Blanco was shot dead by the Colombian Army. Peasant farmers are often killed for their land, which is then sold off by the Government to multinational companies.
None of which prevented a smiling Nick Clegg shaking the bloodstained hand of Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos when he led a delegation of over 40 British businesses to the country in February. The Liberal Democrat leader ignored appeals to visit members of civil society groups as he sought to increase trade with a regime in which 40% of MPs have direct or indirect support from illegal armed groups who are killing trade unionists and political activists.
Despite the slaughter the Colombian people are fighting back. There was a remarkable uprising last summer in which hundreds of thousands of small and medium scale farmers, miners, students, lorry drivers, teachers and health workers bravely organised a 3 week national strike that included road blocks, mass marches and noisy protests. Agricultural workers on strike were angered by free trade agreements with the US and European Union that flooded the market with cheaper, heavily subsidised, agricultural products.
The army and police killed 12 individuals before the protests ended when the government promised better prices for agricultural products and greater access to loans. With the government having not kept their commitments a conference on the problems in the Columbian countryside was held in Bogota in March and preparations are being made for another strike in May. Keep up to date with developments in Columbia

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.