Thursday, 31 March 2011

Is this the future for football?

Being asked to pay £46 if I want to watch [*] Sunderland's final game of the season away at West Ham United has got me thinking how things might be in ten years time. * Watching is a loose description if your an away fan at West Ham as you can't even see the far touchline and in some cases the seats are virtually at ground level. 

Today sees the start of the 2021 Tesco Premier League, the World’s greatest sporting competition designed specifically to have plasma viewers glued to their big screens. Fourteen modern day giants will battle it out across eight months with the top six earning the right to compete in the Grand Championship Play Off Final’s in China over Christmas and the New Year. 

Last season provided a real shock with sixth placed Beckham Dons taking the Grand Trophy with a last minute penalty winner denying top placed Arsenal in the final. The Beckham Dons success provided justification for former Manchester United and England superstar David Beckham’s decision to invest approximately ½ a billion $’s in buying out the Milton Keynes Dons franchise.

MK Dons Stadium - home of the most hated club in the English Football League? 
Following which he moved the former Wimbledon club back “towards its roots” by installing them in the former Olympic Park Stadium left empty after fans of its tenants, West Ham United, deserted the side in despair at the lack of atmosphere during matches held there.

Beckham, who as owner, was allowed to come on as a last minute substitute to take the penalty said: “scoring was the most magical moment of my long career.” After being selected from thousands of applicant’s dozens of Dons fans were amongst the elite crowd who had paid from $10,000 to $100,000 a ticket. Premier League spokesperson Loti Cash said this showed that “this competition is not just for those who can afford to pay the premier prices we need to charge to ensure we can recruit the best players in the world.”

For Arsenal defeat was another harsh blow. Having moved from their ancestral home Highbury in 2005 to the purpose built library known as The Emirates the Gunners have constantly played exciting, thrilling football without winning the trophies many believe they deserve.

Now registered in France, a move the club denies was undertaken to prevent it falling foul of the rules requiring clubs to have at least six British home grown players, Arsenal under new man in charge, Cesc Fabregas, are determined to go one better this season.

Previous season’s winners, Chelsea Mastercard, are though once again the favourites to collect the Diamond studded Trophy. They will start however without star man Jordan McDonalds. He’s yet to recover from an operation designed to improve his looks as the club and player seek to cash in on the lucrative image market.

Manchester United’s new owners Shell Oil have revived the fallen giant after its huge debts, accumulated during the ill-fated Glazier period, saw the once Old Trafford based club fall into administration. With neighbours Manchester City having purchased United’s former ground at the knock-down price of $40 million, then Gary Neville’s side will once again play the majority of their home games at Wembley.

Old Trafford 

United will start their season at Poole United. The Premier League’s newcomers, have replaced Sunderland after Tesco decided that with the north-east still to recover from the economic crisis of a decade ago it would be better for football’s long term financial future to play top games in an area where fans can enjoy paying premier prices to watch live football.

Formed two seasons ago, with the financial muscle of former England manager Harry Redknapp behind it, Poole have invested heavily during the summer to bring in some of the world’s best players. Critics though have pointed out it will take time for the players to become familiar with each other, but with a guaranteed six-season franchise in the top flight there should be no immediate concerns.

Stadium of Light, Sunderland 

Demoted Sunderland, who last season finished in 13th place, have promised to re-apply for Tesco Premier League status at the end of the season but even Chief Executive Niall Quinn admits “it will be tough as we don’t have the right type of fans, making it difficult for sponsors seeking to maximise sales at the ground.” Considering that at least a third of Sunderland’s $200 million a year in receipts was needed to pay their entry fees to the Premier League they had done remarkably well to remain competitive on the pitch. A drop down to the lower leagues has therefore come as a body blow to followers of the famous club.

The Wearsiders worries have had the fans of near neighbours Newcastle United dancing deliriously. ‘The Toon’ have had little success in recent times and the decision to relocate the players and the training and administrative sections of the club to the Channel Islands has never enjoyed the support of the Newcastle@StJamesPark faithful. However with significant tax advantages the move has boosted the bottom line of the company’s accounts. This has enabled owner Mike Ashley to compete financially when it comes to attracting players, even if as happened last season star striker David Sony exceeded, because of his court case for assault, the eighty day limit in the UK under which a player can enjoy tax-free status.

City of Manchester Stadium 

Now the only Manchester based club City are looking to get back amongst the top six this season. Its now nearly fifty years since they last won a major trophy, and having decided to re-introduce their youth policy four seasons ago its time believe City fans for the youngsters to deliver.

No one though can be exactly certain how the sons of Arab Royal families will perform on the big stage. This could therefore be another season of transition for a club that has finished at the bottom of the league for the last three seasons. However those cynics who feel City have only been allowed to remain in the Premier League because of the entry fees guaranteed to it by their owners have been dismissed by Loti Cash who said “it was only right we seek to bring on the game in Manchester.”

Just along the M62 Everpool struggled last season and are expected to do so this. Having been informed that their once former glories and crumbling Anfield and Goodison Park grounds were not attractive enough for the plasma screen Liverpool and Everton were forced back to the period before 1892 where only one club represented the city on English football’s highest platform.

With finance from the City Council, the Premier League and a, as yet unidentified backer, the merger of the clubs was the right one but sparked fury amongst Reds and Blues alike. So much so that when the Asda Super Stadium opened six seasons ago many boycotted it and even today Liverpool and Everton fans are divided within the ground by metal fences. At least though the situation whereby joint managers were in charge has now ended with former Everton and Liverpool legend Peter Beardsley taking over the reins.

St Andrews, Birmingham City 

One side also looking to revive their fortunes are Microsoft Villa. With neighbours Birmingham City having gone out of business almost a decade ago for failing to pay the Inland Revenue, and a whole host of debtors, The Villa are now England’s second city only club. They are still smarting from the power cut that denied them a place in the play-offs. This prevented the computer technician in charge of the final game with Newcastle United at St James’ Park from being able to see on his monitor that home man David Carling was in fact offside as he netted a last minute equaliser.

Leeds United is another side that fancy their chances of the play-offs this season. It will require them to step up their play in the final two quarters of each match, records showing that up to 22 and ½ and 45 minutes the Yorkshire club are the best in the business, but their form falls off considerably in the third and fourth quarters. Coming to terms with the three ten minute breaks that facilitate advertising opportunities would make Leeds serious contenders this season.

Whether they can do much however to prevent viewers constantly voting against them when it comes to deciding on penalty awards could be more problematic. Last season there were eight occasions involving the Whites where the computer technician was unable to decide on a penalty award. When this was put to a vote, with supporters of the televised teams prevented from taking part, Leeds lost out on every occasion. As a result chairman Ken Bates has called for the system to be ended and radically has even suggested returning to pre-2017 when referees on the pitch were in sole charge of affairs. 

Opening Day’s Fixtures

Stevenage Hotspur - Arsenal

Poole United - Manchester United

Manchester City - Newcastle@StJamesPark

Microsoft Villa - Everpool

Chelsea Mastercard - Beckham Dons

Leeds United - Crawley Town

Thames Valley Royals - Venky Rovers

Ewood Park 

Monday, 28 March 2011

No fools them - when kids took strike action in defence of their teachers.

The 1914 – 1939 Burston School Strike

Burston is a small and scattered hamlet in south Norfolk, yet it was here that two of the most remarkable people of the last century waged a struggle against injustice that lasted over 25 years. .

Tom and Kitty Higdon arrived in Burston in January 1911 to begin teaching at the local school after being dismissed from their previous post at another Norfolk village, Wood Dalling. This had been the result of a vicious victimisation campaign against the pair, waged against them by the local rector, school managers, landowners and farmers.

The causes of this consisted of Tom Higdon's work over nearly a decade in organising the farm workers of the county into union branches, the result of which was improved wages and conditions, not to mention much greater self-respect amongst farm workers. This resulted in the farm workers seeking political representation and they captured, for the first time, the local Parish Council, where they proceeded to spend money on improving and carrying out long overdue repairs on local tenants' cottages. Tom Higdon was the chair of the Parish Council.

At the same time Mrs Higdon, the Headmistress, waged a highly successful campaign to force the Norfolk Education Committee into improving conditions at the school, and it was virtually re-built at a cost of £400 to £500. This made the school a much better place for local children to be educated in. It prospered and Government inspectors approved it.

The Higdons had refused to conform to the expected norms of behaviour for
teachers in rural areas at that time, which was to be respectful to the point of subservience. They stood in awe of no one and considered no one their 'better' by reason merely of birth and station.

All of this was too much and there were regular conflicts between the Higdons and the managers of Wood Dalling School. In 1910 the farmer-chairman of the school managers complained to the Norfolk Education Committee that Mrs Higdon had called him and another farmer-manager 'liars' at a managers' meeting. There were a number of witnesses to prove otherwise, but an enquiry was held and the Higdons were sacked. As it subsequently transpired there was uproar amongst local villagers and a petition signed by nearly every adult was duly drawn up. It was probably this which led to the Education Committee deciding to transfer them to the Council School at Burston, where they hoped no doubt never to hear of them again. There was little chance of that.

When he arrived in Burston there was no local Agricultural Labourers' Union branch. Tom Higdon quickly rectified this. His urging for workers to take matters into their own hands by capturing political power on Parish, District and County Councils again bore fruit when he led the labourers in a takeover of the Parish Council. They improved footpaths and bridges.

Mrs Higdon went on speaking her mind at managers' meetings. The local vicar who served on the committee of school managers, was a fierce opponent. He expected deference from his parishioners. The Higdons would not attend his Chapel.

Early in 1914, the vicar, by now chairman of the managers, accused Mrs Higdon of unjustly caning two Barnardo's children at the school. This was vigorously denied and easily proved to be untrue. However, another inquiry by Norfolk Education Committee was organised. Whilst the charges remained unproven other matters were introduced and the Higdons were, once again, dismissed.

This time neither the parents nor the children would accept the situation. A Mr George Durbridge, an avowed Tory, helped organise a meeting on Burston Common on March 31" 1914. He was convinced a great injustice had occurred. The mass meeting unanimously agreed that 'parents not to send their children to school before justice was done'. This was just as well, because the children themselves had already organised their own meeting and without seeking their parents' approval had agreed not to go in to the school on April 1st. No fools them!

The following morning, the children gathered together and marched up to the school gates. Some of the school managers and the police were standing there and  threw open the gates. The children marched past them singing:-

"Come, cheer up, my lads, 'tis to glory we steer
The prize more than all to an Englishman dear:
'Tis to honour we call you, not press you like slaves
For who are so free as the sons of the waves"'

The Higdons were evicted from the school, but continued teaching in the open air on the village green, in the flowery lanes, and in a tiny vacant cottage, coalsheds and anywhere space could be found to do so. 'A Strike School' had now been set up, in direct competition with the council school, the latter having replaced the Higdons with two new members of staff.

Meanwhile, in order to force the parents into making sure their children returned to the council school, fines were imposed on them. At first these were relatively small, totalling £2 and 5 shillings [£2.25 in today's currency] on  April 7 1914, but rose to £8 later the same month. Some parents had wanted to refuse to pay, and to go to jail. However, collections amongst supporters at rallies on the village green raised the money, and fearing they would inflame the situation further the council stopped issuing summonses. In the early days of the dispute up to 1,500 people are reported to have assembled on the village green.

This was not the end of the matter though, schoolboys were to be assaulted by the local policeman and the parson, and there were brutal attacks in which sticks were used. The policeman did not charge or prosecute himself! Others also faced victimisation; the caretaker at the council school was threatened with dismissal for refusing to send his children there. Fortunately, the threat was not carried out. The vicar attempted to evict some of his tenants who were supporting the strike.

Official Inspectors were sent to visit the strike school, which by this time was more 'permanently based' in the Old Carpenter's Shop. In general, they approved of the conditions in which the children were being taught and the quality of education being received. It is probably just as well, because the parents and children were determined to support the strike. Demands for re-instatement, and the re-establishment of the Principles of Freedom and Justice continued to be proclaimed.

Desperate attempts by opponents to get soldiers, recruiting locally, into harassing the Higdons turned into a farce when the soldiers met them and refused to engage in any campaign against them.

Agricultural Labourers' Union and the National Union of Railwaymen [NUR] rallied to the Higdons' cause and so too, eventually, did the National Union of Teachers, who provided financial support, back-dated to the time of their dismissal. Meetings were held over a wide area of Norfolk by the Labourers' Union and in London by the NUR. Teachers and children appeared at all of them. Funds were raised from all over country. Money even came from abroad, a remarkable achievement considering there was a World War going on.

In 1917 a new school was built on the edge of Burston Green and opened with great enthusiasm. There were 50 pupils; the council school had less than half the number. The Strike School prospered over the next ten years. In addition to the normal subjects, the Higdons brought new and invigorating ideas to the children, teaching them about Christian Socialism, Internationalism and the meaning of trade unionism. Children were taken to trade union meetings as part of their education.

The Strike School was also used to host meetings on a whole range of political issues of the day, including Land Reform. The School only closed when Tom Higdon died in 1939, his wife lived on until 1946 and the two are buried side by side in the churchyard of the village they served so well.

Meanwhile, the Strike School still stands on Burston village school. It remains a symbol of working class people's struggles against authority and injustice and, it must also be said, for the rights of children to be properly educated by teachers they respect and love.

Outfoxing the hunters.

This is a slightly revised article of the one that was published by the Big Issue in the North magazine dated March 28th 2011. 

It's six years since foxhunting with dogs was outlawed. Today, supporters of the legislation are employing undercover methods to determine whether opponents are remaining within the law. 

It's a cold, wet, miserable Sunday morning but Paul Tillsley, operations manager for the League Against Cruel Sports, is in a remarkably cheerful mood. He's travelled hundreds of miles and is not going to be put off by a “bit of rain”, especially when his task involves preventing acts of cruelty to animals. 

The Forest of Bowland is an area of barren gritstone fells, peat moorland and deep valleys. There’s a touch of irony that getting to it is made easier by the road signs depicting a hen harrier, the poor bird being almost extinct locally following its decimation to make way for the profitable ‘sport’ of grouse shooting. Much of which is organised by the Duke of Westminster from his 19,000-acre Abbeystead estate.

As an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty many tourists, walkers and cyclists keen to pit themselves against some of its rugged terrain visit it.  Locals too are regular visitors. Including, between November and March, Hodder Valley Foxhounds who each year are granted a license to ‘prevent foxes doing serious damage to livestock.’ Paul and his three colleagues from the League Against Cruel Sports [LACS] have turned up to see if in doing so those involved keep to the conditions imposed by the landowners, the Forestry Commission. 


Tillsley, now in his eleventh year with LACS, is armed with just a notebook and a small easily hidden video camera. This is perfect for monitoring on foot, whereas on some occasions he and the team under his direction will observe activities from miles away using state of the art long-range camera equipment.

With two or three field visits each week he’s monitored almost 500 hunting events since Labour, against strong opposition from the Conservatives, outlawed hunting with dogs in England and Wales from February 18th 2005 onwards.  On only one occasion can he recall a hunt clearly staying within the law by laying a trail in advance. He estimates that in at least “six out of ten cases the law is flouted and rules ignored.” 

Monitoring and recording the breaches requires courage. Living in Exmoor he largely ignores the pubs after abuse from locals involved in the many deer and fox hunting groups that exist there. His photograph, as has that of Ed Shephard, LACS investigations officer, been posted on sites that would like to see the Hunting Act repealed.

Not so the other two men on this operation, all of who have received covert surveillance training similar to that provided by RSPB and RSPCA. Their aim is to get close enough to see the action whilst remaining inconspicuous enough not to be identified and challenged. It doesn’t always work out that way and both reported being attacked last year. Keen to protect their anonymity neither was willing to be interviewed.

The four, all motivated by a desire to prevent animal cruelty, had however travelled a long distance using hire cars, LACS taking its employees safety very seriously. Staying locally for the weekend they’d avoided telling anybody the reason for their visit.

Paul first got involved, as a volunteer, more than 25 years ago. He reports it’s a role more young people are willing to consider. There was a gap ten years ago when many people felt that proposed legislation would be enough to end the foxhunting practices they found objectionable. Feeling it hasn’t, and with the majority of Conservative MPs known to be in favour of repealing the legislation, Paul says that more people are now coming forward to get involved.

Not everyone could do the role of a monitor. “They need to be fit as on some days you end up walking 20 miles. They must also be able to remain calm and understand our role is not one of intervention but monitoring.  Anyone interested would need to speak to our head office first,” said Paul who estimated that the weekend’s work would cost LACS around £2,000. It’s a hefty sum for an organisation that relies on donations and bequests on a person’s death for funds.

It was a lack of money that forced a change in direction four years ago, LACS abandoning the private prosecution route that was costing a minimum of £60,000 a case. Instead of which they now collect evidence to submit to the Police and Crown Prosecution Service to consider legal action in the most serious cases. Whilst even if there is little likelihood of a prosecution LACS will report any possible breaches of the Hunting Act to the authorities.

The local police will also be telephoned. The response can vary. Each force has a wildlife crime officer. Yet with wildlife well down the list of priorities it’s often undertaken by a volunteer, most doing any work in their spare time. Paul reported that most are sympathetic - either on animal welfare grounds or because they don’t admire lawbreakers - but he’s also met some who admit to being keen hunters themselves. He’s aware that whilst opinion polls regularly indicate a majority opposed to fox hunting it’s still not the case that it’s socially unacceptable. He knows of, amongst other senior public figures, judges, barristers and high-ranking police officers that still regularly get involved. 

In an ideal world he’d be happy to be made redundant as it would mean every hunt was remaining within the law. As they don’t he’s pleased to gather evidence for a successful prosecution. Last year Alistair Robinson, a terrierman with the Ullswater Foxhounds, Cumbria, was found guilty of breaching the Hunting Act by illegally hunting a wild mammal in October 2009.
Video evidence collected by LACS showed Robinson digging out the fox from underground, beating it to death and then trying to hide the horrifically injured animal. Robinson was fined £250 and ordered to pay £900 in costs. 
LACS Chief Executive, Douglas Batchelor, said: “This was a vicious attack on a wild animal which would have gone unnoticed had it not been for League evidence. The guilty verdict is yet another example of how vital the League’s work is in assisting the police with ensuring the Hunting Act is effectively enforced.”

Approaching the designated area where permission for controlling foxes had been granted to Hodder Valley Foxhounds Paul was keen to see if any of the conditions imposed by the Forestry Commission had been flouted. Just recently he was left shocked when he witnessed a gunpack in the south that was using a busy public footpath to shoot from and over. Thankfully, things didn’t turn out as dangerous this time.

It was immediately clear though that there were no signs up warning people that shotguns were being employed in the vicinity. Also if there was any ‘marshalling at an appropriate level to exclude access to the area by people other than participants’ it was difficult to see where and when I asked if it was safe to enter a shotgun barer admitted “he wasn’t sure.”

As a ‘guest’ I stayed outside. Keen to see if the hunters might have ignored other terms of the 2004 Hunting Act, especially the one making it a requirement for a fox flushed out of its hiding place to be shot quickly before it can be torn apart by the hounds, two monitors entered looking for dead foxes.

We’d heard a number of shots. In the event if anything had been hit or killed it was never located. If there were deaths these should be recorded in an annual, written report that must go to the Forest Management Director no later than March 21st.

Whether this report will also include what was a fairly blatant breach of conditions that impose a maximum use of just two dogs will be interesting. With at least eight times as many clearly visible they ran off to continue the chase on land well away from the designated hunting areas.

In their wake trailed around half the hunting pack of eight people, most openly carrying their shotguns. This could well contravene section 19 of the Firearms Act 1968, whereby it is an offence to carry a firearm in a public place. Cyclists, emerging from tracks through the forest, blinked in confusion as they sped on by.

With the rain now chucking down the sanctity of a warm car and a change of clothing came as a welcome relief. Contemplating a long journey home, before being back out on operations in Somerset the following morning, Paul Tillsley was already compiling his report that I understand the LACS legal team is still examining.

The Forestry Commission though is content that nothing irregular took place, with its Head of Estates Mark Thornycroft replying to a series of questions by saying “We do expect any permit holder to comply with terms of the permit regardless of the activity, and where firearms are involved compliance is essential.  The conditions on this permit were significantly tightened this year because of recent concerns, and we were given assurance that these would be fully complied with.  On this occasion, and having operated a reasonable level of monitoring we have no evidence of transgressions.”

Convictions under the 2004 Hunting Act last year rose to 57. This is a significant jump on the previous figure of 33, and is something, which encourages Ed who said, “every conviction in court is really sending through a strong message that the Act works. We are making progress against a good number of people who are determined to break the law.” 

Sunday, 27 March 2011

London demo

Went like hundreds of thousands of other concerned citizens to London yesterday. No idea how many were there as it took about two hours of waiting to get to the starting line and another two hours plus to reach Hyde Park where the speeches had long since ended. Fair play to Tim from the Access Committee from Leeds whose blindness wasn't going to prevent him walking the whole way.

There was a bit of trouble but considering the economic and social damage being done by Cameron and Clegg, big business and the banks it was only to be expected. The media are doing their best to suggest that those involved were viewed with hostility by the majority of the peaceful crowd. That's not how it seemed on the demonstration, I think most people view them as 'awkward cousins' who wouldn't be their  first guest at a party but they'd still get an invite as they liven up proceedings.

Lots of photos from John Harvey of the march in this gallery showing the cross section of people taking part:-
TUC March 26 2011

Fair play to UK Uncut for occupying Fortnum and Mason

Thursday, 17 March 2011

On the right track? Interview with Andy Boyack of the RMT.

Interview with Andy Boyack of the RMT.

Britain’s biggest rail union is the National Union of Rail Maritime and Transport Workers [RMT] that represents close to 50,000 rail workers. Despite coming under frequent media attack the organisation has, through its defence of workers terms and conditions, increasingly attracted more workers into becoming members, with levels up by nearly a third in the last decade.

Andy Boyack, a Scotsman with a passion for Dundee FC, works in the unions Liverpool headquarters and was good enough to answer some questions outlining the RMT’s views on current developments on the railways.

Newcastle Central Station in 1974

How concerned is the RMT that the safety levels on Britain’s railways are not as good as they might be?  

Very concerned, as the widespread use of poorly regulated Contractors continues on the Infrastructure and the drive for shareholders’ profit dominates the policy of the Train Operating Companies.

 Wouldn’t an integrated publicly owned railway only be of benefit to railway workers and not passengers and taxpayers? 

The answer is largely within the question; in the organisation of transport, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that Integrated out performs non integrated every time.  As does publicly owned and accountable as opposed to a system that is designed to take public money out of the railways and into the pockets of shareholders who don’t actually contribute anything. 

 How damaging do you feel the break up of Network Rail might be?  

It will leave an already fragmented railway in pieces and even less able to meet the needs of business and the travelling public.  Furthermore, it will take us back to the days and dangers of Hatfield [*] and other avoidable rail disasters.

18 miles - £6.40
 Why are rail fares in this country so much higher than across Europe?  

Largely because a significant percentage of taxpayer’s investment ends up being siphoned off by the fat cats, with rail passengers being used as share dividend cash cows. Clearly the road lobby is running Britain’ transport policy and the benefits of proper rail investment as demonstrated in France, Spain and Germany, for example, is ignored by successive governments.

Would the RMT accept that in these straightened economic times the forgoing of an annual wage increase by railworker’s is necessary to help with Britain’s economic recovery? Wouldn’t holding back on a wage increase also help protect people’s jobs?

The nature of this question is insulting to working people whether they work on the railway, or in schools, hospitals or factories; it also ignores economic reality; When RPI is in excess of 5% a 4% pay deal is in fact a reduction in earnings. Why should workers pay for the Iraq war and Banker’s bonuses? Amongst our members are cleaners, catering and security staff whose pay is often little more than the minimum wage and getting a pay increase is absolutely vital to them and their families.
What needs to be done to get more freight off the roads and onto the rail network?

The political will would be a start.
Some people might argue that the RMT should stick to representing workers and keep its noses out of political affairs, how might you respond to such a point?

Ah so we shouldn’t be negotiating “wage increases” for our members, nor seeking to represent their political interests?  The vast majority of our members support and respect the role the RMT plays as a democratic, campaigning and fighting trade union. 

How concerned is the RMT about the political direction of the coalition government?  

The Condem Coalition is driven solely by right wing political dogma and a hatred of working people, organised labour and education. Wouldn’t you be concerned?

The Government intends spending billions on a new high speed rail link between London and the Midlands - is this something the RMT welcomes or does it feel the money might be more wisely invested elsewhere?

Our worry is that this line is being constructed not for the benefit of the travelling public or industry, but to further enhance the profits of the Train Operating Companies.
Why is the RMT supporting rail workers who want to go on strike?

The right to collectively withdraw one’s labour is enshrined in international law and human rights; the RMT has a record second to none in pursuing the aspirations of members and in improving their pay and conditions – we are NOT one of the corporate unions.
Why did the union recently mount a legal challenge to the laws on striking?  

We not only mounted the challenge, but also won on all three counts, also securing costs from the employer (Serco) who had sought to deny RMT members the basic right to strike.  We will support our members every time in this type of situation. 

 [*] The Hatfield disaster occurred on October 17th 2000 and resulted in the deaths of four passengers when a GNER Intercity 225 bound for Leeds was derailed at Hatfield by a broken track. Infrastructure operator Railtrack, the company founded under the privatisation policies of the Conservative Government of 1979-1997, had previously been heavily criticised after fatal accidents at Southall in 1997 and Ladbroke Grove in 1999.

Having allowed multiple maintenance contractors onto the tracks Railtrack’s rail maintenance records were shown to be inadequate or non-existent. With the company unable to say whether similar disasters were just around the corner the result was a speed restriction on many parts of the rail network. With its share price falling and, with compensation claims to settle, Railtrack recorded massive losses and was placed into administration by Transport Secretary Stephen Byers in October 2001.

A year later Network Rail was established, a ‘not for dividend’ private company limited by guarantee. According to Andy the RMT’s relationship with the company is “an uneasy one”, because whilst the union would prefer the railways to be re-taken into public ownership they prefer Network Rail to a “fully privatised company.”

Network Rail has since its formation steadily taken on more maintenance duties itself, a move the RMT supports and one it hopes the newly elected coalition government will not tamper with in the near future.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Burnley 2 Coventry 2

Burnley 2

Rodriguez 19, 79 

Coventry City 2

Jutkiewicz 61, McSheffrey 75

A fine second half performance by Coventry City should calm any Sky Blues fans fears of relegation, whilst for Burnley they will need to play a lot better than this if they are to feature in the end of season play-offs.

Both sides managed to score a goal of real class with man-of-the-match Jay Rodriguez on 19 minutes cushioning the ball round Richard Keogh before beating the Coventry defender for pace and coolly lobbying the ball over the advancing Kieran Westwood from the edge of the area to give Burnley a just about deserved half-time lead.

Gary McSheffrey’s effort was even better. The former Birmingham man had been wrongly denied a first half penalty when referee Mr Naylor decided Chris Eagles rash challenge on him just inside the box had occurred outside it. However there was going to be no stopping him on 75 minutes. Because after taking the ball round three home defenders McSheffrey curled his shot from 15 yards beyond Lee Grant into the far corner of the net and send the small posse of away fans behind the goal dancing with joy, especially as it put their side 2-1 up.   

Having enjoyed almost total domination of the ball in the second period the away side had drawn level when Lukas Jutkiewicz, after heading Carl Baker’s cross beyond Grant, followed up to make no mistake when the ball bounced back into play off the crossbar.

Having lost 3-0 at home to Millwall on Saturday another defeat would probably have ended seventh placed Burnley’s chances of finishing in the top six, and courtesy of a powerful header by Rodriguez from a Danny Fox corner they drew level on 79 minutes.

With big man Chris Iwelumo on as a substitute the home side pushed forward in search of the winner but it was City who had the best chance with McSheffrey’s drive across the penalty area flashing narrowly wide. 

Saturday, 12 March 2011

All fenced in - the Liberal Democrat Sheffield Conference

Around 4,000 people were on the march in Sheffield today in protest against the coalition government's cuts package. A noisy protest was held outside the Liberal Democrat conference at the City Hall that was  ringed by 8' high fences and protected by hundreds of police officers drawn from right across Yorkshire.

Good on the kids

Amongst the demonstrators was Unite steward Tony Wood, a worker at Hallamshire hospital where it’s clear that David Cameron’s pre-election poster pledge to ‘protect the NHS’ hasn’t lasted a year with plans to shut five of the hospital’s 26 wards. Bad news therefore for Sheffield residents with patients being pushed through so quickly that many are later being re-admitted. So good to see that it’s not being taken lying down with the launch of Sheffield Save Our NHS - to give organisational muscle to people’s efforts.

Joining Wood on the demo was Altaf Arif from Bradford angry at “the coalition government’s willingness to attack the most vulnerable in our society whilst turning a blind eye to billionaires who are avoiding paying their taxes by moving their money abroad. “

People like Philip Green, who despite running the Arcadia group behind High Street stores such as Top Shop and Burton is still legally entitled to list it in his wife’s name in Monaco. As a result of which when he awarded himself £1.2 billion in 2005 an elaborate system of offshore accounts helped Green save £300 million in tax.  

The fact that Cameron and Clegg are not going to move against the likes of Green whilst cutting back on public services and slashing welfare benefits is a clear demonstration that we are ‘not all in this together.’ Now the fight is on to stop the coalition government from destroying the, admittedly not perfect, welfare state that was created at the end of the Second World War

And that's the truth

Friday, 11 March 2011

14,000 dead and nothing said

Although 14,000 have died since 1993 you are unlikely to see any words of sympathy for them. Certainly no one will be raising funds to commemorate their lives - especially as the vast majority have died anonymously in desperate circumstances. Because these are the refugees and economic migrants who are the real victims of immigration laws designed to keep them out of Europe. 

The list of deaths from the Amsterdam based UNITED for Intercultural Action aims to reenact the stories of the people behind the numbers to give them new visibility. It’s been compiled from documented sources such as newspaper reports, radio and TV stations, government bodies and the likes of the Institute of Race Relations.

It makes grim reading - even from the start with Liberian Gerry Johnson listed as dying of exhaustion/exposure when he was found in a rail container in Feldkirk in Austria on January 1st 1993. The fact that his name was known gives hope that his family and friends would have heard about his death, giving them a chance to mourn his passing rather than be left wondering for years why he had never contacted them after setting out for Europe.

But what of the 26 men who drowned trying to cross the Strait of Gibraltar from North Africa in September 1997, or the Kurdish man crushed to death under the wheels of a lorry leaving Dover in January 1999 or the 19, all believed to be under 17, who drowned early last year after their boat crashed and sank 20 metres from the Lanzarote coast? Or the 25-year-old African man found frozen to death close to the Turkish border on January 8th this very year?

UNITED, which is the largest European anti-racism network of over 500 organisations from 46 countries; believe there are a variety of reasons why people are trying to enter Europe. Many are asylum seekers and refugees fleeing conflict, persecution and violence but the majority are economic migrants for whom said a UNITED spokesperson: “ leaving their homes, families and lives, perhaps forever, is never an easy choice, but often a necessary one. It is an act of survival for the migrants' families, a great sacrifice with unknown rewards or failures. People are prepared to risk their lives because it represents a chance of a better future. Failure is not an option, and governments, despite all their efforts, will not be able to stop them.”

This being the case she felt that it was inevitable that the list of deaths would continue to grow until public pressure was large enough to force politicians to rethink European Immigration policies. Sadly, especially in a week when we  discover that Barnardos are willing to assist with the incarceration of children whilst the UK Border Agency arranges to deport them and their parents, that looks a long time away.

Britain's green killing fields

Agriculture claimed the lives of sixteen people, including two youngsters aged nine and ten, between April and July last year. No parts of Britain escaped the carnage, such that despite making up only 1/60th of the working population, the industry accounted for close to a quarter of the overall total of 67 deaths.

Those who died, with ages and locations, were as follows -

Simon Whittaker [aged 40] from Pyworthy, Linda Weir [58] Dumfries, Richard James [41] Kidderminster, Peter Coutts [53] Cumbria, Peter Cornish [59] Kent, Robert McAlister [9] Isle of Bute, Phil Gordon [48] Leicester, Peter Jones [68] Taunton, Peter Brian [44] Wimbourne, Jack Simpson [10] North Yorkshire, Philip Whiting [47] Cambridgeshire, Neil Abercromby [70] Perthshire, Malcolm Dobson [59] Hull,  Grzegorz Krystian Pieton [26] Norfolk, Ronald Clarke [58] Llandysul, Thomas Postlethwaite [81] Cumbria.

Of those killed six were classified as self-employed, four were members of the public and six were employees.

Falling from a height accounted for three of the deaths; whilst seven involved vehicles including Jack Simpson, of whom it was reported in a local newspaper was ‘helping out’ by driving a tractor. The Prevention of Accidents to Children in Agriculture Regulations [PACAR] 1998 makes it clear that a child [under 13] is not permitted to drive a tractor while it is being used in the course of agricultural operations or is going to or from the site of such operations.

Jack Simpson’s death follows that of sixteen-year old Jordan Orris from Cornwall in March this year, when the tractor he was driving went into a slurry pit. There were no witnesses. PACAR 1998 makes clear a young person aged 13 to 18 should not be permitted to drive a tractor unless a responsible adult closely supervises them.

Tories - no friends of the countryside

Despite his family owning a fair chunk of Berkshire and also being married to the daughter of an aristocratic mob with estates in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire it’s clear that Prime Minister David Cameron [*] is no friend of the rural areas.  
First he followed in Margaret Thatcher’s steps, of selling off the family jewels in the form of nationalised industries and public utilities, by trying to flog the nation’s forests. Massive public outrage thankfully put paid to that sad idea for the moment.

Now, together with his multi-millionaire chums in the cabinet, he’s drawn up plans to make everyone pay for the economic crisis - except those who caused it. Plans that will devastate communities right across Britain. Public services and the welfare state are to be dealt a mortal blow, and none more so than in the countryside.

So going in Northamptonshire are all existing rural bus services in a County Council cull intended to save £1.4 million, £300,000 less than the cuts planned by Cumbria County Council that will devastate the 109 rural bus services programme they currently fund.

Meanwhile further south in Somerset the County Council’s running of 70% of the local bus services will be cut by half. No wonder the Campaign for Better Transport has set up a Save Our Buses campaign. 

If getting around is to become more difficult then so too is finding free legal advice and representation for anyone facing unemployment, ill health, family breakdown, domestic violence and spiraling debt levels.

People in rural communities already face longer journeys than their urban counterparts to get advice. Now the number of solicitors firms able to offer legal aid is being decimated - down from 2,400 to 1,300. A system established after the war to ensure everyone can access justice wherever they live is to be demolished.

Add in the fact that many local authorities being forced to make cutbacks will certainly cut support to places such as the CAB then no wonder many people are backing the Justice for All campaign whose spokesperson admitted they “were especially worried that many rural areas will be left without any places for people to get advice when they get into difficulties.” 

Informal places for young people to get advice are also vulnerable, with a leading CYWU activist who didn't wish to be identified saying: "With many authorities still deciding where to make cuts then youth workers are waiting anxiously, like thousands of other workers elsewhere, to hear what sort of service they will be able to provide in the future for young people already struggling to find work or places to study.”

There also appears to be worrying times ahead too for many rural community schools that currently have fewer than a hundred pupils. Hertfordshire has just proposed a 25% cut in its small schools budgets.  And with the Conservatives rowing back on their elections commitments by refusing to publish figures showing how well such schools do at the Key Stage 2 level the National Association of Small Schools are concerned, with their spokesperson Barbara Taylor saying ‘that there will be a large number of rural schools facing closure.’

·   The Sunday Times Rich List estimated in 2007 that the combined wealth of David and Samantha Cameron was £30 million plus. Compiler Philip Beresford said: “Both sides of the family are extremely wealthy.”