Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Robert Tressell - A Life in Hell by Ian Hernon The biography of the author of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

The biography of the author of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists 

Preface by Len McCluskey and supported by Unite


ISBN: 978-0-9932183-2-3

Ian Hernon has done a great job in uncovering the bitter first-hand experiences and observations that led house-painter Robert Tressell to write the labour movement classic novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (RTP), which Len McCluskey describes as "one of the great books everyone should read if they want to know about the world of work." Over a million copies of RTP have been sold. 

Hernon, who is deputy editor of Tribune and author of nine previously published history books, has traced the life of Tressell,  born in 1870 as Robert Croker, from the turmoil of late Victorian Ireland and South Africa to Edwardian Hastings and, finally, Liverpool where he died in 1911. 

In the 1930s biographer Fred Ball interviewed many of Tressell's workmates, many of whom recognised themselves in RTP. Now, Hernon has skilfully combined their thoughts alongside his painstaking decades long research, which has uncovered many previously undiscovered firm facts about Tressell's life, to tell 'a straightforward story of a remarkable man' who always insisted that every incident in RTP happened before his very eyes.

Thursday, 10 September 2015



1-4pm on Saturday 24 October at Bradford TC, 17-21 Chapel Street, Bradford BD1 5DT
Refreshments from 12 noon. 

Especially since the defeat of the Miners’ Strike in 1984 the left has been unable to articulate its own positive vision of the future. 

The history of banners, songs and slogans that powered generations of working class activists seems to have disappeared along with the lefts claims to ideas like Freedom, Solidarity and Progress. 

At the same time the ruling class has proved itself much more capable of articulating practical examples - there is mobile phone contracts called "freedom", bars called "revolution" and advertising hoardings featuring cartoon characters with raised fists.  

In the light of the failure of the anti austerity movement, and the rise of corbynmania, it's more pressing than ever for us to find a way to communicate what we are for, rather than what we seek to defend. Join us for a series of workshops and discussions as we seek to name the future.
Speakers/workshop leaders currently being confirmed.

More details from Mark Metcalf on 07952 801783 ( and and Javaad Alipoor on 07730 145122 (

Sports Direct: pressure is on Unite spearheads nationwide protests outside SD stores

Mark Metcalf, Wednesday, September 9th, 2015 

Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley has often appeared invincible by using the massive profits he has generated from forcing his employees to endure low wages and zero-hours contracts to knock out his competitors.

Today (September 9) that began to radically change as Unite threw down a challenge to the billionaire by organising a record number of protests outside his stores, leafleting the thousands working at Sports Direct (SD) giant warehouse and logistics centre and co-ordinating a series of tricky questions at the company’s AGM.

In Derby city centr,e over 20 Unite members from the local Community branch handed out leaflets and spoke to the public before entering the store as a demonstration of solidarity with the staff. Unite is seeking to ensure that SD pay the living wage of £7.85 an hour to its employees, 90 per cent of whom are on zero-hours contracts. Similar events were held in 40 other nationwide locations from as far apart as Bridport to Inverclyde.

“Unite Community members are leading the campaign in the UK against precarious work, in which Sports Direct is the biggest culprit,” said Derby Unite Community branch secretary Jim Griffiths.

At SD’s massive warehouse and logistics centre at Shirebrook, where over 3,000 are employed, Unite members dressed as Dickensian workers and holding aloft THIS IS A WORKHOUSE NOT A WORKPLACE placards and banners, distributed union literature. Leaflets in Polish included details of free Unite ESOL classes for migrant workers.

Unite regional officer Luke Primarolo stressed that “Unite exists for every worker”.

“We have negotiating rights at SD but only for around 200-300 full-time permanent staff,” he said. “The majority – and the numbers employed demonstrates there is permanent work here and at SD stores – are on zero-hours contracts that strip workers of holiday and sick pay and provide no guarantee of work or pay from one week to the next.

“We are leafleting because we want significant numbers to join Unite,” Primarolo added.  “Then we would expect SD to stop using weak employment legislation and begin negotiating with us over a pay increase we have submitted for the living wage, the introduction of permanent full term contracts and a trade union presence amongst the staff.”

Shirebrook, which is near Mansfield, is Sports Direct’s headquarters, which today hosted the company’s AGM. Former police chief Keith Hellawell chaired the meeting and reported on another year of healthy profits at £313.4 million.

Even so, the Scottish Affairs Select Committee earlier this year accused Hellawell’s board of running the company like a “backstreet outfit” after evidence emerged of sharp business practices following the collapse of fashion chain, USC, which was owned by SD.

Hellawell was unsuccessfully called upon to resign by the Trade Union Share Owners (TUSO) coalition that includes Unite and whose £1.5bn assets includes SD shares. Unite Community members Colin Hampton, John Dunn and Val Graham each asked a question at the AGM.

In doing so they raised the need for decent wages and the mounting evidence of poor working conditions at Shirebrook; including staff having to wait 25 to 45 minutes unpaid to be searched at the end of each shift and the huge proportion employed by agencies rather than being taken on as permanent employees.

The company has not yet responded positively to proposals that they commit to working constructively with Unite to address these issues. But Hampton was “glad to have had the opportunity to put some pressure on the board.”

“And it’s not as if Unite is going to be going away,”he added.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

75 years on - No British city suffered more from Luftwaffe bombs than Hull.

‘I would spend whole evenings shaking with fear’ 
No British city suffered more from Luftwaffe bombs than Hull. 
Seventy (five) years after the Blitz began, residents tell Mark Metcalf about life and death in the city 
This is an article from Big Issue in the North magazine from 2010. 

It may be 70 years ago but Betty Harrison is still unable to share her childhood experiences in Hull at the start of the 1940s. “It’s just too sad and painful,” she says with her body shaking and tears welling up. 
Harrison, 82, however was one of the lucky ones, surviving the fearsome assault from above by Hitler’s Luftwaffe that started on 19 June 1940 and killed over 1,200 people over a four-year period, reducing much of Hull and surrounding areas to rubble. Per head of population, no British city suffered more, with over 86,000 of its housing stock of 92,000 damaged and 152,000 people forced to find temporary accommodation, some more than once. 
Stan Clappison, now 85, recalls being bombed out three times. “The first time we were sheltering downstairs when the upstairs roof was blown off and we were showered with rubble. With nothing left except the clothes on our back we were given bread and sandwiches at a local church by the Women’s Voluntary Service, whose mobile canteens somehow got round the city despite obstructions and shell holes in the roads. 
“The third time we had to move it was to a house down by the docks – the very spot the Luftwaffe were trying their best to put out of operation. As we walked there I couldn’t believe where we were going and when we turned the corner – amazing! We were bombed out that night, after which the family was evacuated, although with my dad working and acting as a warden he remained behind.” 
In total 6,500 people served as wardens during the war, with numbers peaking at 3,900 in 1941. According to Clappison: “They did a fantastic job. They were out all night in dangerous conditions ensuring that curtains were drawn and helping 
Hilary Edmunds was only six in 1941 but recalls: “We still went to school the following day. My parents, like many others, decided to initially stay in the city when evacuation took place at the start of the war.” 
Only 30,000 people chose to be evacuated in 1939 – less than a third of the places available. “I think it was a case of ‘we live or die together’ but they also did their best to ensure I didn’t see any dead bodies. Yet I could work out that many people were being killed as I would walk out to Barmston Drain and watch the planes come in dropping dozens of bombs. You could see the pilots as the planes were very low and the searchlights would seek them out to make it easier for the anti-aircraft guns to shoot at them.” 
With many people made homeless in 1941 the numbers evacuated from the city rose, and by the end of the war it totalled close to 93,000 – although many returned before the war ended in 1945. “I was delighted to leave as my nerves were in tatters,” says Sykes. 
1942 was to be much quieter, although on 19 May the biggest bomb ever dropped on the city killed 50 people and flattened the densely populated Scarborough Street area. Over a year later, on 14 July 1943, the last heavy attack on the city by enemy planes saw 24 killed and 72 injured. From then on, rather than actively target the city, German bombers returning from raids across West Yorkshire and Lancashire offloaded remaining bombs before hitting the North Sea and flying home. 
“My dad died many years ago but I am still proud of him, and those like him, for what was achieved in Hull during the war,” says Clappison. 
“It was not a good time but during that period people showed some of their best qualities by working flat out to protect others, sometimes at the expense of their own lives. I think they deserve to be remembered.” 
Death toll of the Blitz 

Hull was bombed more than any city other than London in the Second World War but other northern cities suffered heavily as well. 
Between November 1940 and February 1941 Sheffield, Liverpool and Manchester were heavily bombed. 
On 12-15 December, Sheffield, with its steel and armament manufacturing factories, came under attack and 660 people were killed. 
Determined to maintain morale the authorities and media played down the bombings. The Daily Mirror of 14 December reported: “Sheffield, walking to work yesterday morning, picked its way through damaged streets and smiled grimly at the Berlin claim that the German bombers ‘accurately aimed their bombs at the important armament factories of Sheffield.’” Deaths, continued the paper, “were amazingly low considering the length and ferocity of the attack”. 
A week later over 300 Liverpudlians lost their lives. They included 166 who were killed when their shelter in Durning Road was directly hit. Over 700 Mancunians failed to see Christmas when the following two nights saw the city massively attacked. Hundreds of buildings were destroyed and damaged, including Old Trafford. This forced Manchester United to play their home league games at Maine Road after the war, and it was there that the club had its record home gate of 83,260 against Arsenal in January 1948. 
With no indication that the attacks were to end, the Ministry of Home Security on 1 January 1941 set out plans to establish firebomb fighter parties in every street in the country. Locating unexploded bombs and putting out fires was to be everyone’s affair. 
In early February 1941 German attention was switched to the seaports. Liverpool continued to be heavily hit, and by the end of the Blitz – a shortened form of the German word “Blitzkrieg”, meaning lightning war – over 4,000 Liverpudlians had been killed. But winning the war meant work had to continue. By 1945 the Mersey’s ports and its dockers had played a big part by handling over 90 per cent of all war material brought in from abroad. 
Hull, Sunderland and Newcastle were pounded. Barrow-in- Furness was targeted for its shipbuilding and 83 of the town’s inhabitants were killed from above. Early May 1941 saw thousands across the north killed. 
But with Germany intent on attacking the Soviet Union the Luftwaffe was now needed elsewhere. Whilst attacks were to continue throughout the rest of the war, the levels never reached anything like those suffered in 1940 and 1941. 

The official figures are that 43,000 people, split evenly between Londoners and the rest of the country, were killed during the Blitz. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015


From the current issue of Big Issue in the North magazine. 

Hertfordshire Police give powers to G4S 
Volunteers enlisted to be support officers 
Government cuts for policing will result in a patchwork service reliant on volunteers and providing only 999 emergency assistance and some neighbourhood policing, says a police union official. 
Ben Priestley, Unison national officer for police staff, was responding to the decision by Hertfordshire Constabulary to grant four G4S security guards police powers under the national Community Safety Accreditation Scheme, which allows forces to give limited powers to employees of other organisations. The guards will now be allowed to confiscate alcohol from under-18s and obtain the names and addresses of people breaking the law. 
The new arrangements were backed by Neil Alston, chair of Herts Police Federation. “It is not a new thing and there are now numerous individuals who have been given these powers,” he said. 
But when the issue was reported in UK Police News a number of anonymous police officers heavily criticised the scheme. “This is law enforcement going back to pre Sir Robert Peel’s policing set up!” said one officer. 
‘Operational needs’ 
According to Steve White, the Police Federation chair: “The decision to grant police powers should be based on operational needs only and should not be used as a replacement for falling numbers of police officers.” 
Police constable numbers have fallen by over 16,000 (11.5 per cent) since 2010. The number of office and police staff fell to 209,362 last year from 244,497 four years previously. 
Although the exact figures are unknown it has been reported that police forces can expect to have their 2015-2020 budgets cut, as in the last five years, by 20 per cent. 
Priestley has witnessed major changes in policing this century. “Since Labour introduced the Police Reform Act in 2001 there has been a steady increase in officials with quite extensive police powers,” he said. “They include police community support officers (PCSOs), local authority and housing association staff, and employees of private companies. 
“Last year, after major cutbacks everywhere in the numbers of paid PCSOs, Lincolnshire Police introduced volunteer PCSOs. Now we are finding that increasing numbers of police forces are starting to use volunteers to replace key staff. We are currently working with the College of Policing on a proper appraisal of what’s happening and remain concerned.” 
Policing by consent 
Modern policing – a full-time, professional, centrally- organised police force underpinned with policing principles – began with Sir Robert Peel’s creation of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. Similar bodies were then established across Britain. 
Although they were initially unpopular in many locations the police successfully overcame much of this hostility by seeking to police by consent, such that each police constable was seen as a citizen in uniform. 
But high-profile miscarriage of justice cases, deaths in police custody and events such as Orgreave in the 1984 Miners Strike led many people to question whether police officers were accountable to the law. 
‘Chipped away’ 
According to Dr Graham Smith, a senior lecturer in regulation at Manchester University and a policing expert: “This has reduced the effectiveness of bodies such as the Police Federation to defend the services they provide during a period when the government is seeking to slash public expenditure. 
“I am not sure if politicians have a long-term strategy but you can bet the private security companies have and are putting together cost saving plans for the future that are likely to see more parts of the police service being chipped away, like is happening with Royal Mail. 
“The result may be a two-tier service, one for the rich – many of whom do not really require the police because they live in gated communities and can use new technology to protect their assets such as cars – and the poor.” 
Priestley said: “The huge cuts will leave forces unable to police the streets and volunteers being sought to help try and provide what should be a professional service. I don’t think the public yet realises that the police service will become basically 999 only, combined with a limited neighbourhood policing role. In many locations, policing will be delivered by a private security guard or a well meaning amateur. 

“What is also worrying is that as more individuals are given policing powers they are not accountable for their actions as they are not covered by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.” 

Sunday, 30 August 2015


Taken from Big Issue in the North magazine 
Right to buy given to social housing tenants 
Market rents may force some out of their home 
Government plans to extend the right to buy for tenants of social housing have been widely criticised. 
Social housing consists of homes provided by councils, housing associations and registered social landlords. 
Nearly a fifth of Britain’s homes are social housing, and demand for it remains high, with 1.8 million households on waiting lists. 
Giving tenants the right to buy was a flagship policy of the Thatcher government and maintained by subsequent administrations. It resulted in a large reduction in council housing stock. 
Although the full details have yet to be revealed, David Cameron’s government now aims to extend the current right-to-buy discounts for council tenants, which start at 35 per cent after a tenant has been in a house for three years, to housing association tenants. During the general election campaign, Cameron claimed the policy showed the Conservatives were the party of “working people, offering you security at every stage of life”. 
Housing associations will also see their income drop after they were instructed to reduce rents by 1 per cent annually for the next four years. The government has told councils they must sell their most valuable properties to fund the new right-to-buy discounts. And from 2017 social housing tenants will be forced to pay market rents to remain in their homes if their annual household income exceeds £40,000 in London and £30,000 elsewhere. 
Barry Faulkner from Liverpool is among those set to be affected. He moved to Pyrford Village near Woking – not classed as part of London – to live with his partner and her severely disabled daughter, aged 10, who requires constant attention. They live in a specially adapted three bedroom council house that they rent from Woking Borough Council at £545 a month. 
‘Entire income’ 
Faulkner earns over £30,000, his partner has a £61 a week carers allowance and the family also has funding for  a vehicle with a lift in the back. Market rents locally for similar properties are a monthly minimum of £1,800 and average £2,000. 
“There is no way we can afford to pay anything like such sums, which are equivalent to my entire income,” said Faulkner.
“I may have to move out as clearly we cannot disrupt where my partner’s daughter lives because it is specially adapted for her needs. 
“We are hoping for some form of remit around disability and a heavily tapered rent increase based on income. Better still if the policy was scrapped.” 
Chancellor George Osborne announced in the budget a new £9 an hour national living wage from 2020. This will mean that a couple living outside London and both working 34 hours a week would be classified as higher income and liable for the market rent. Any surplus from a market rent must be paid back to central government by councils. 
These plans are set alongside the freezing for the next four years of working- age benefits, as well as the cap on benefits that can be claimed by a family to £20,000 outside London. This will cut the incomes of many families in social housing and may threaten their ability to meet their basic needs. 
‘Administrative nightmare’ 
Yorkshire Housing (YH) is a registered social landlord providing more than 18,000 homes. YH’s social rent tenants in a typical two bed property in Halifax pay just over £350 a month rent – around a third less than local market rents. YH also builds homes for sale on the open market and rents out homes at market rates. 
A YH spokesperson said it was “concerned” about charging higher rents to tenants earning over £30,000 “as we have no mechanism
to know what tenants earn, feel it will affect only a small number and may prove an administrative nightmare costing more than it generates in extra rent”. 
YH is waiting to see if it will be paid full compensation by the government when tenants buy their homes at a discounted rate. 
“Whilst supporting tenants’ home ownership aspirations we don’t want it to undermine our housing association business model as we want to continue providing good quality affordable rental housing for those who need it,” continued the spokesperson, adding that rent reductions would cut its income and hit reinvestment. 
According to the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, nationally they will lose £3.9 billion under the policy. In some cases tenants may find it cheaper to buy the property rather than paying market rents, further depleting social housing stock. 
Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP for Durham City and shadow housing minister, said charging market rents for households with incomes above £30,000 could prove a “disincentive to people to work more hours or secure promotion”. 
She added: “Also extending right to buy to housing associations risks making the housing crisis worse. Housing experts have criticised the plans as unworkable and uncosted and, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, they risk adding £60 billion to public debt. 
“The government does not understand the scale of the housing crisis and their policies will deepen, not ease, it.” 
Radically different 
Despite the concerns of many experts and tenants, NHF chief executive David Orr said: “Given the scale of the housing crisis it is understandable that the government is looking for higher earners to pay what they can afford for housing. Housing associations would like to work with the government on its plans... and can do much more to help people, including our own tenants, into home ownership.” 
The NHF’s A Plan for Homes aims to build 120,000 homes annually – half for sale and half for letting at market or affordable rent levels. “Affordable homes” is a relatively recent housing term that is increasingly replacing social rent, where rents would be set at around half local market rents. Affordable rents are set at 80 per cent of the local market rent. 
A radically different approach is offered by Defend Council Housing (DCH), which argues for direct public investment in council housing with lower rents and secure tenancies. 
DCH spokesperson Eileen Short claimed the introduction of market rents and right to buy were designed to force people into buying, whether or not they could afford it. 

“It will line the government’s pockets while destroying social housing by reducing it to housing of last resort – just when millions are in desperate need of secure and really affordable homes to rent,” she said. “We will be fighting to put council housing back where it belongs, as
part of the answer to Britain’s growing housing crisis. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Mark Jenner - police spy

I contributed heavily to this excellent piece of research on police spy Mark Jenner:-