Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Battery cage ban fails to boost hens’ welfare

This is an article from the current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine. Please buy a copy when you see a seller. 

The government and farmers have defended new “enriched cages” for hens from criticism that they are little better than the battery cages they replace, which were banned two years ago.
The new cages typically hold between 60-80 hens, considerably more than the conventional battery cage of four to five hens. Under the new system each hen must be provided with at least 750 sq cm of cage area, of which a fifth is for a nest box. The overall total is just 50 sq cm more than before, equivalent to the size of a beer mat. Around half of the UK’s 33 million laying hens are kept in cages, with the rest equally divided between barns and free-range.
Stressed
Animal welfare groups claim that hens in the new cages are unable to move freely, can’t flap their wings or lay eggs without being stressed by the presence of other birds. Campaigning organisation Animal Aid recently filmed undercover at one of Britain’s biggest egg producers, highlighting what it claimed are row upon row of crowded unhealthy chickens living in conditions where the birds compete to use the nest box and the enrichment is a small plastic scratching mat covered in faeces.
‘Token gesture’
Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler said: “What could have been a major improvement in the quality of life of the UK’s egg-laying hens has been reduced to little more than a token gesture.”
An RSPCA spokesperson said: “Enriched cages are cruel. Scientific evidence shows they don’t adequately satisfy some of the laying hens’ basic behavioural and physical needs.”
However, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs disagreed. A spokesperson said: “Both the European Commission and the Farm Animal Welfare Committee recognise the welfare benefits of enriched cages.”
The spokesperson added: “Welfare inspections are regularly carried out and any breach of welfare laws can lead to prosecution.”
Natural room
The RSPCA believes most consumers want hens to be free range rather than caged.
When it became compulsory in 2004 for shoppers to be informed about how hens were kept this sparked a switch in sales towards cage-free eggs. In 1997, 90 per cent of hens were kept in battery cages but the figure today is less than half that.
A spokesperson for the National Farmers Union said: “UK farmers have spent over £400 million converting their sheds to enriched colony cages, which promote natural behaviour and have much more natural room than the barren battery cage. All the UK systems for egg production are high welfare and it is important that we give consumers a choice.”


Monday, 24 March 2014

PICKET THIS FRIDAY OF IPCC TO DEMAND PUBLIC INQUIRY INTO ORGREAVE

PICKET OF IPCC TO DEMAND PUBLIC INQUIRY INTO ORGREAVE

The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC) is holding a second demonstration at the Wakefield office of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), Pioneer House, Woolpacks Yard, Wakefield WF1 2SG  on Friday 28 March at 1pm.  

OTJC members are disappointed at the length of time it is taking for the IPCC to come to a conclusion as to whether they will launch a full investigation into the criminal activities of the 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 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. 

The same force that caused the tragedy at Hillsborough that killed 96 Liverpool fans in 1989 is determined to evade its responsibilities and recently prevented Barnsley football fans from displaying the OTJC banner at the home game against Nottingham Forest on the 30thanniversary of the start of the year long miners’ strike in 1984-85.
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. 

The IPCC has thus had over a year to conduct an investigation exercise. Sadly, the organisation appears to have undertaken a very limited amount of work in collecting and collating information on events at Orgreave. Much of the information it now possesses has been supplied to it by the NUM and 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. 
In recent years a number of prominent individuals and organisations have described the IPCC as not fit for purpose.’ The OTJC has not – as yet – drawn the same conclusion but our demonstration is intended to remind the organisation that we will not back away from campaigning for our primary demand, which is a full public inquiry. If the IPCC can help in this then they need to get a move on or if not then move aside as quickly as possible.
The OTJC meantime welcomes the decision by the Labour Party to launch its Justice for the Coalfields Campaign and calls on Ed Miliband to confirm that in the event of a Labour Government being elected in 2015 it will order a full public inquiry into events at Orgreave in 1984.  

The OTJC protest will start at 1pm on 28 March outside the IPCC offices IPCC, Pioneer House, Woolpacks Yards, Wakefield WF1 2SG .      Details:- orgreavejustice@hotmail.com or ring 0114 2509510 http://otjc.org.uk/    

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Undercover but within sites

This is a slightly revised version of an article from the current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine 

The government has just ordered an inquiry into the role of undercover police spies. Mark Metcalf, who first revealed the activities of one spy in The Big Issue in the North three years ago, reveals more about his activities and asks whether the inquiry will go far enough.

Campaigners for blacklisted building workers have called for the new public inquiry into undercover police spying to be widened to include police collusion with blacklisting. 

Two weeks ago the home secretary, Theresa May, ordered the public inquiry after two reports found that the Metropolitan Police had spied on the family of Stephen Lawrence, victim of a racist murder.

The reports – one by the Metropolitan Police and the other commissioned by May – examined the role of a police unit, the Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), in using undercover spies in the Lawrence case and in infiltrating groups of political activists, with spies in some cases conducting sexual relationships with members of the groups.

May said the findings were “deeply troubling” but the Blacklist Support Group (BSG) condemned the police report, stemming from the Operation Herne inquiry, as a whitewash because it described police discussions with blacklisting organisations as driven by “civic duty”. 

For over four decades, 44 companies paid the Consulting Association (CA) to vet 3,213 potential new recruits in the construction industry. 

Many of those listed were active trade unionists involved in raising safety concerns in an industry with the highest death rate in the UK. They were often “not recommended for employment” but for years remained unaware they had been victimised and left unable to earn a living. The CA was closed down by the Information Commissioner’s Office in 2009. 

Peter Francis, an SDS officer who claimed last year he was instructed to find information on the Lawrences, has also said that he supplied information on trade union activists to a blacklisting agency 
The Independent Police Complaints Commission has also said it is “likely that all Special Branches were involved in providing information” that resulted in many individuals being refused work by some of Britain’s biggest construction companies. 

Mark Jenner was an SDS member who posed a building worker named Mark Cassidy between 1995 and 2000. Jenner was unmasked when his partner Alison*, gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry last year into undercover policing.  

Jenner met Alison when he became actively involved with the Colin Roach Centre in Hackney. This was an unfunded political centre known for its work in uncovering corruption amongst the local police. Centre members also participated in industrial disputes. This gave Jenner ample opportunity to collect information on construction workers involved in disputes. 

As an activist myself at the centre in that period, I first revealed some of Jenner’s activities in The Big Issue in the North in 2011 and later in 2013. More can now be brought to light.

In October 1995, plumber Terry Mason and bricklayer John Jones were sacked after they refused to be transferred from Southwark Direct Labour Organisation (DLO) to private contractor Botes. Jones feared that as a workplace representative he would be victimised by a company that had refused to recognise trade unions, and Mason supported his colleague. 

A picket was mounted at the DLO to persuade workers not to go into work and Jenner, like myself, was a regular on it for nearly four weeks. At one point he was brave enough to stand up to a strikebreaker on a motorbike waving a metal chain as he forced his way into work. Mason and Jones did not, however, win back their jobs, although both later won compensation for unfair dismissal. 

Jones was a member of the Building Worker Group (BWG), a rank and file body of activists within the UCATT building trade union independent of full-time officials. Jenner joined the BWG. 

In 1996, amidst a rising tally of workplace deaths, the BWG agreed to picket construction sites where workers had been killed. Members felt that only by stopping production and hitting employers in the pocket would companies ensure better safety on sites. But this was in defiance to anti-trade union laws and was opposed by building unions fearful they would face legal action by employers.

Jenner, an outgoing character who had few problems in engaging with people, was present on at least one picket, close to the Old Bailey, where he had plenty of opportunities – if he wished – to gather information on anyone involved.  He participated on a number of early morning visits to sites to sell the BWG newspaper and also attended a number of UCATT branch meetings, although he appears not to have joined the union. 


Jenner had identified himself as a building worker when he joined the Colin Roach Centre in 1995. He maintained this fiction by convincing Alison that when he left their home early each morning he was using his van to go to work. Some time after his sudden disappearance in April 2000, Alison rang the company he claimed to work for. She discovered he did not have the employment status with them that he had led her to believe and they had no contact number for him. 

In 1997, a campaign with links to the Colin Roach Centre was formed to defend BWG secretary Brian Higgins after he became the first trade unionist ever to be served with a writ for libel by an official from the same union, UCATT. Dominic Hehir’s ill-fated attempt to silence Higgins failed but had the effect of taking activists away from the picket line. 

The Brian Higgins Defence Campaign drew support from many parts of the trade union movement. As campaign secretary Mark Jenner had opportunities to collect information on trade unionists corresponding with the campaign. According to Brian Higgins, the CA file on him has a page of known associates from the 1970s and early 80s as well as a large number of articles on his case from the magazine that the Colin Roach Centre printed in the 1990s. 

In July 1999 Jenner was prominent in supporting a successful picket in support of construction workers employed by Dahl Jensen and whose pay cheques had bounced for three weeks but, despite all his union activism, his name does not appear on any of the blacklisting files seen by the BSG. 

A CA member has told the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, which examined blacklisting, that his organisation had no link to the police. A Special Branch officer also told Operation Herne that “the information was purely one way” – from the CA to the police – and that it was driven by a sense of “civic duty”. 

None of which gives a clue as to why a serving police officer would pose as a building worker. Or why he joined other building workers – who were not committing any crimes – who were struggling to improve their terms and conditions.

The BSG remains concerned at what role undercover police officers may have played in helping deny a number of building workers the chance to work and support their families. 

In a statement the organisation said: “We want a fully independent inquiry into the extent of police links with corporate spying in order to expose undemocratic shady practices. Any public inquiry should not be narrowly focused on the Lawrence case but should include officers’ sexual relationships with female activists, Hillsborough, environmental and anti-racist campaigners, blacklisting and police collusion with big business.”


* not her real name

Friday, 14 March 2014

Images of the past: the miners' strike book review from Tribune magazine


Images Of The Past: The Miners’ Strike is a largely-pictorial record of the untold story of life at the sharp end in the pit villages. The black and white pictures by Jenkinson, official photographer for The Yorkshire Miner (who tragically died of cancer two years ago) capture poignantly the joy, the tears, the police violence, the suffering and the self-help society of the mining communities. It brought tears to these old eyes.

Martin’s extensive image library of the labour movement is being managed by his daughter Justine. He collected graphic evidence of what life was actually like on the picket line, in the soup kitchens and on the dolorous day of the return to work. My favourite is a grainy shot of a commemorative march in the snow in Moorthorpe to the two pickets who lost their lives, David Jones and Joe Green. 

But all the pictures are enlightening and the story of the strike is told intelligently and with passion by Metcalf and Harvey. If you want to know about the miners, buy this book.  


Images of the Past - THE MINERS’ STRIKE 
 
Martin Jenkinson, Mark Harvey and Mark Metcalf
 

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Help ensure a permanent memorial for Mary Barbour in Glasgow

Mary Barbour, 1875 – 1958

The conference suite at the Pearce Institute in Govan, Glasgow is dedicated to the memory of one of Govan’s great working class heroes Mary Barbour. A suitable plaque adorns the suite. Now there are plans to organise a permanent memorial to her, in time for the centenary of the 1915 Glasgow rent strike in which she helped lead tenants to victory.


 
Greedy landlords sought to take advantage of the increased housing demand that was the result of men pouring into Glasgow to work in the shipyards and munitions factories. Where sitting tenants could pay a higher rent they were replaced by anyone that could. With many men away at war, the property owners reasoned the women at hone would be a soft touch, even though the accommodation provided was poorly maintained.
 
Mary Barbour had political experience as a member of the Co-operative Women’s Guild and the Independent Labour Party. She joined other women in forming the Govan Women’s Housing Association. Meetings were held at which it was agreed to pay the pre-war rent whilst also campaigning for decent municipal housing. When fellow tenants were threatened with eviction, women rushed to prevent the sheriff’s officers throwing anyone on to the streets. Soon the strike spread across Glasgow and to other British cities.
 
On 17 November 1915, landlords sought to take some tenants to court for unpaid rent and at which point Mary Barbour helped to organise one of the biggest marches ever seen in Glasgow. Men from the shipyards and munitions factories joined women heading for court. Frightened court officials rang the munitions minister, David Lloyd George, who instructed them to let the tenants go. Within weeks, Lloyd George pushed through a Parliamentary Bill restricting rents to pre-war levels. This was the first legislation of its kind anywhere in Europe.
 
Mary Barbour also campaigned against the war and often spoke at public gatherings in Glasgow Green. In 1920, she became one of the first two female Labour councillors after women over 30 were granted the vote. She battled for baths and wash-houses; child welfare centres and play parks. Better housing was a key demand and she was successful in organising a family planning centre, no easy task in a city where the church was strong and many in her own party opposed her. She also fought for many other basic welfare services.
 
Yet as Maria Fyfe, the former Labour MP for Govan Maryhill, says, “the name of Mary Barbour is not widely known, even in her own city.” That could be about to change as a committee has been established to raise funds for a permanent memorial to a woman who inspired others to demand decent living standards. Support is growing with backing from the Scottish Parliament, Glasgow City Council, East Renfrewshire District Council – her birthplace – and the Scottish Trades Union Congress.
 
For more information see: - www.remembermarybarbour.com
Donations to the fund are needed, however small. Send them to STUC (Remember Mary Barbour), 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow G3 6NG.
 
The Pierce Institute is over a century old and is 840-860 Govan Road, Glasgow G51 3UU.

Welsh AWB decision awaited


From the current edition of Landworker magazine. 

A hearing at the UK Supreme Court starting on 17 February will decide whether the Welsh Assembly can establish a dedicated Welsh Agricultural Wages Board. (AWB)

Last year, after the UK government formally abolished the England and Wales AWB, assembly members passed the agricultural sector (Wales) Bill giving Welsh Ministers powers to establish their own board.

In addition to Unite, the Farmers’ Union of Wales, and Wales Young Farmers endorsed the proposal as they recognised the Board is the most effective and fair method of determining wages and conditions within the agricultural industry.

The attorney general, Dominic Grieve, referred the bill as he argued that the law was outside the Assembly’s legislative competence as rather than the issue being about agriculture it concerned employment issues that had not been devolved to Cardiff. The Supreme Court, which rules on all matters relating to devolution in the UK, will now decide.

Unite criticised Grieve’s decision with Wales regional secretary Andy Richards saying “at a time when we are seeing devolution making a direct difference to our members, it’s disappointing that the UK government has obstructed the Welsh Assembly’s plans.

Wales’ case is strengthened by Scotland and Northern Ireland both having AWBs, thus enabling workers in both countries to continue to enjoy an annual pay increase and retain minimum standards for such as overtime rates, holiday entitlement and skills development. Their English counterparts are worse off as only the national minimum wage covers them.

Just as at Westminster, the fight in the Welsh Assembly to retain the AWB in Wales has been led by the Labour Party. Mick Antoniw, who was elected in Pontypridd in 2011, previously represented agricultural trade unionists on personal injury cases when he was a solicitor with Thompsons solicitors.

At the start of last year he wrote a detailed report on why the AWB should be retained, and in October 2013 he led a debate on the subject in the Assembly. As an internationalist he is disappointed at being unable to help English workers retain the AWB. He has little hope that the cold-hearted Tories and Liberal Democrat MPs at Westminster will see “sense” and reverse their attack on English agricultural workers.

 In Wales, Liberal Democrat Welsh Assembly Members are in favour of retaining the AWB. Not so the Tories, whose spokesperson, Antoinette Sandbach, has foolishly argued that scrapping the AWB in England could lead to such higher wages that Welsh workers will be racing over the border to take up employment!

Mick Antoniw is passionate in his defence of the AWB, saying, “It sets wage levels and establishes minimum terms and conditions for overtime, night premiums, accommodation deductions, sick pay and training and skills. Rural poverty is a major problem and the AWB prevents a race to the bottom by employers.

“I am confident of victory in the Supreme Court. The AWB has always been under the agriculture portfolio because it is crucial to the importance of the future wellbeing of the industry. It is not an employment terms matter. Agriculture is a fully devolved matter - how can you possibly be responsible for its future without considering the role and well being of those who work in it?”

According to the Unite Wales Secretary Andy Richards the fight by the Welsh Assembly to retain the AWB in Wales “is extremely welcome and at a time when we are seeing devolution making a direct difference to our members it is disappointing that the UK Government has taken this issue to the Supreme Court.” 

The poor had no lawyers – who owns Scotland (and how they got it)


GIVE US OUR LAND BACK

The poor had no lawyers – who owns Scotland (and how they got it)

By Andy Wightman, published by Birlinn

This is an absorbing book that investigates the impact of the imbalance of Scotland’s land ownership pattern with a handful of families owning the vast majority of land. Andy Wightman also shows how there is nothing ‘natural’ about why this is the case. By doing so he leaves the way open for land to be more equitably distributed if there is the political will to do so. No wonder, Wightman is so despised by Scotland’s still powerful landowners and the Conservative and Unionist Party that continues to form the base of their political power.

The whole of England and Wales had feudalism imposed on it by the Norman invaders of 1066. William the Conqueror took control by military means. But, he was also careful to then confiscate land legally before he granted it to his knights and those local lords and earls willing and able to do his bidding.

Establishing feudalism in Scotland was less easy. Outside eastern Scotland the ancient indigenous aristocracy, the church and peasant proprietors, who possessed small bundles of freehold land, remained largely intact up until the Reformation tore asunder western Christianity in the 16th century.

James IV began to exploit Church appointments by placing his own family in Church office. Offering to protect the bishops, the nobility followed suit and once established they simply robbed the Church of their treasures and gave away its land to friends and family.

As larceny was even back then a crime it was felt necessary to establish a legal precedent to entrench this process of redistribution.

In 1617, the Scottish Parliament established a committee of landed proprietors. The legal articles they developed went through without debate. Heritable rights conferred the title of land to those who had owned it for just 40 years. It mattered not how people had got any land.

The Registration Act 1617 further allowed landowners illicit gains to be legally recorded. Keeping large estates intact thereafter meant maintaining the principle of primogeniture in which the eldest son inherited everything on the death of his father.

An ever-confident sixteenth-century aristocracy also moved quickly in the Highlands by requiring chiefs there to prove they owned their lands and forcing them to send their sons to the Lowlands to be educated. Without the support of their local chiefs a powerless peasantry could eventually be exiled - or forced into factories during the industrial revolution - when sheep were considered more profitable.

Before the final capture of land had taken place when Scotland’s commons were taken away from the poor by landowners’ asserting they were barren wastes. Wightman demonstrates this was far from the case. The commons satisfied a huge variety of household goods and services including timber for roofing, peat for fuel, fertilisers, berries and a reserve of arable land.

Control of common land was entrusted in new councils. With the electorate consisting of a handful of rich people then this lack of democratic scrutiny made it easy for already bloated landowners to fence off common land and claim it for their own.

All of this has meant that, despite the loss of some great estates from the late 1930s to the 1970s, Scotland still has the most concentrated pattern of landownership in Europe. Fewer than 1,500 private estates have owned most of the land for the last nine centuries.

Great houses such as Buccleuch, Airlie, Roxburghe, Montrose and Hamilton still own huge acreages. Newly arrived merchant bankers and pop stars have tended to buy the land that has previously been sold in the past.

All of this clearly annoys Wightman, and he questions why rural landowners have been able to secure abolition of all taxes on land and, despite professing to be rural businesses, they don’t pay business rates.

Wightman laments that 30% of Scotland remains occupied by tenant farmers; whereas most of their European counterparts are owner-occupiers of the land they farm.

By owning so much land, large landowners can also largely control the price. Consequently, at least 40% of the cost of a new house is for the price of the land. Slums could be relegated to the past if there was a political will to tackle the problem. Wightman shows there are few Scottish politicians willing to take up the struggle.

It’s true that community organisations - and to a lesser extent conservation bodies - have taken control of more of Scotland’s land in the last two decades. However, the amount is generally pretty small. Wightman notes the distinct lack of enthusiasm shown by Alex Salmond’s SNP government on the land question.

He urges more people to understand that something more fundamental needs to be done if land reforms are to be introduced that would ensure land is returned to common ownership and used for public good and not private profit.






Monday, 10 March 2014

Forestry Commission members: get involved call


From the current edition of Landworker magazine of Unite. 

This year will be key in the fight to preserve the Forestry Commission (FC) and the great work it carries out. The retirement of a number of key activists means there is an urgent need for more local union representatives – including safety and union learning reps - within the organisation.

Union density also needs increasing right across the FC in both England and Scotland, within Forest Research and in Silvan House. Forms are available to help recruit anyone who is not yet a union member.

FC Trade Unions (FCTU) have waged a well-organised campaign to maintain an integrated and sustainably resourced Forestry Commission for the Future. A nationwide series of members’ meetings last year attracted over 500, many of whom vented their frustration about how high level decisions have been taken without considering the effects they have on individuals.

The FCTU subsequently raised, in a series of meetings with management, members’ concerns. These include fears about the government plans for the Public Forest Estate (PFE) to be replaced by a PFE management organisation (PFEMO); a statutorily based public corporation operating at arm’s length but managed by their appointees; FC staff transferred to a new body will lose their civil service status; terms and conditions; rates of pay and other benefits.


Defra lawyers are currently putting together a requirements document which is the first stage in drafting new legislation. On 29 January, the FC announced that it had reviewed the principles, which would underpin the new organisation.

They include a number of concessions, including a Charter that would be renewed every 10 years specifying the public benefit and statutory duties of the organisation. The previously proposed limiting of the functions of the forest services directorate has been abandoned after the FCTU expressed concerns that only a tiny organisation would remain and be vulnerable to a takeover or a future government bonfire.

There is currently no formal Parliamentary timetable as to when legislation relating to the PFEMO will be in the Queen’s Speech and the decision to go ahead will rest with the cabinet.

 All of which means the fight to retain the FC as a non-ministerial government department is far from over, making it vital that people come forward as elected union representatives. “I’d appeal to Unite members to consider being elected as workplace representatives,” says Julia Long, Unite’s rural national officer.

“Also, anyone who is not currently a union member should join as soon as possible, and I’d also urge union members to persuade colleagues of theirs to sign up as members. Meantime we must keep up the struggle to preserve the FC in its current form.”

Worries for rural services voiced


 The Rural Services Network (RSN), in its fourth annual State of Rural Public Services report, has highlighted the uncertainty facing public transport, post offices and health services in rural England.

Over 200 organisations are members of the RSN, including local authorities, public bodies, charities and voluntary groups, and it provides support to the all-party Parliamentary Group on rural services.

The group’s latest report drew on a range of research and statistics, an online survey with councils, interviews with specific sub-groups and a major conference. With ‘rural’ defined ‘as any settlement of less than 10,000 people’ then 18 per cent of the population in England live in a rural setting.

The RSN backed the government’s new guidelines requiring all public sector departments to consider the rural impact of their policies. Using a formula based on per head of population it advocates for a ‘bigger, fairer share’ of government funding.

Rural communities certainly could do with additional support, and the rural communities debate in Parliament on 9 January 2014 heard many MPs express concerns that cost of living increases are seriously hurting their constituents.

The RSN examination of public transport in rural areas makes for grim reading. The department for transport stated in 2012 a desire to attract more people onto buses, and there have been some noted improvements in connecting buses with rail transport. Community transport schemes in which volunteers play a prominent role have also increased.

Car sharing schemes have multiplied. But the combined impact of all the above has been massively underscored by huge public sector cuts, including a 20% cut to the bus service operator grant. Consequently, the proportion of rural households with an accessible regular bus service has fallen dramatically as demonstrated on the Campaign for Better Transport’s interactive website map.

Unlike public transport, the decline in Post Office numbers has been slowed in recent years. Under Labour much of the network was closed with 840 closures alone between 2008 and 2009. The RSN is largely supportive of plans to create 2,000 Post Office Locals, where the post office service is integrated into another nearby retail outlet. The organisation is though concerned that these changes may lead to longer waits and less privacy.

Health issues are another worry. In an urban environment, 100 per cent of residents live within 4kms of a GP surgery. But, in a rural area, the figure drops to 65 per cent. Anyone without a car faces difficulties in accessing a GP or hospital, especially when public transport is being cut.

Rural locations receive significantly less per head of population towards health care. The RSN believe the imbalance should be reduced, especially as rural areas have more elderly people, a trend set to increase. The RSN is also concerned that the phasing out by 2021 of the minimum practice income guarantee, under which small GP surgeries are subsidised, will hit rural practices hard.

You can view the report at:- 

Old pub to new co-op: Fox and Goose, Hebden Bridge


From the current edition of the Landworker magazine of Unite. 

The Fox and Goose in Hebden Bridge has become West Yorkshire’s first co-operative pub. The historic pub, where ale has been sold, originally illegally, for over 700 years, was threatened with closure until pub regulars raised over £130,000 to keep it safe.

Co-operative ownership is becoming an increasingly recognised solution to UK pub closures, currently running at the rate of 18 per week. Although many rural pubs are at the centre of the local social network, and contribute to people’s quality of life, they are being hard hit in the current economic climate.

Hebden Bridge is a Calderdale market town of 4,500 inhabitants.  It lies on the Rochdale canal, and is a popular location for outside pursuits such as walking, cycling and climbing. Situated in a steep valley it frequently gets flooded and, as a result, a number of businesses have closed. The Fox and Goose was set to join them when the deteriorating health of the landlady threatened ‘last orders.’

Some 250 pub supporters quickly rallied to the pumps and, in the summer of last year, they raised the funds to buy the traditional real ale pub and to cover essential refurbishments. 

Supporters were able to buy shares from a value of £100 up to £20,000.  Co-operative pubs operate on a ‘one member one vote’ democratic basis to ensure each investor has an equal say in the running of them.

Drew Magiera, who has worked part-time at the pub for almost three decades, was delighted to become the first shareholder as he was born in Rochdale, which was the birthplace of the modern co-operative back in 1844.  There are now an estimated one billion co-operators as members of 1.4 million co-operative societies worldwide. There are specialist support programmes that can help communities to establish co-operative pubs and help them thrive.

Drew is ‘very confident’ the Fox and Goose can enjoy a long future “as the efforts made to save the pub shows its importance to the community.

“We will improve the pub facilities and d├ęcor but we will retain the character. The open log fire is the first thing people see when they open the door and we have no piped music or TV. An increasing range of microbreweries supplies our real ale. Everyone who comes through the door is assured of a friendly welcome.”

The new owners of the pub have guaranteed each employee – currently three but due to rise to five – the Living Wage of £7.65 an hour and it has been agreed that the much-loved former landlady can continue living there by renting the flat upstairs.

Julia Long, Unite’s rural national officer, has said she is “pleased to see so many communities rallying to save their local pubs. Good luck to all of them.”

Will there be a free vote to repeal the Hunting Act?


Sadly, lack of space meant this article failed to appear in the current edition of the Landworker magazine. 

Opinion polls show the public is firmly opposed to any change.  So will the coalition government keep to the agreement they made when they took office to give MPs a free vote on repealing the 2004 Hunting Act? 

It took more than 700 hours of parliamentary debate to outlaw hunting wild animals for sport. Labour was forced to use the Parliament Act after Tory peers in the Lords repeatedly rejected the legislation.

The Countryside Alliance (CA) claimed the Act, which bans the hunting with dogs of all wild animals, and all hare coursing, would be unworkable and would lead to massive rural job losses. Yet with only one hunt subsequently forced to close the employment impact has been negligible. The number of successful prosecutions under the Hunting Act has in the meantime risen steadily each year and is approaching 300 in total.

It’s perhaps, therefore, not too surprising that the public overwhelmingly believe that fox and deer hunting belong firmly to the past. In December 2013 a poll by IPSOS Mori showed that over 80% of people – with no divide between rural and urban inhabitants – want these barbaric practices to remain outlawed.

Research by the League against Cruel Sports has also revealed that only a minority of MPs would like to repeal the law. There is even a Conservatives against Fox Hunting organisation with a number of MPs as members.

With the next election certain to be a tight run affair would it therefore be wise for any party to be seen to support hunting and the redcoats who engage in it? Votes in marginal constituencies could be lost to Labour, whose MPs overwhelmingly support the Hunting Act.


All of which, however, presents some problems to the coalition as when they combined in 2010 - to begin forcing through their austerity package - also promised, during their term in office, MPs a free vote on repealing the law. Two years later, David Cameron, re-affirmed his personal opposition to the Hunting Act and confirmed there would be a vote before the general election in 2015.

If the Conservatives fail to keep these promises they risk losing the votes of CA members, 90% of who voted for the party in 2010 and are now considering switching to UKIP.  Nigel Farage, the leader of the foreigner bashing party, which has nothing to say on saving the NHS and won’t even back calls to curb bankers’ bonuses, is pro fox-hunting.

On Boxing Day, Farage was photographed shaking hands with Mark Bycroft from the Old Surrey Burstow and West Kent Hunt. A fortnight earlier the huntsman had launched a pre-meditated attack on Martin Randle, 24, from Brighton during an anti-hunt protest.

Bycroft was cautioned for common assault. As he has a number of previous convictions for assault then Bycroft appears to have been dealt with very leniently by the police. None of which concerned a smiling Farage in his battle with leading Tories to turn the clocks back to a period when the countryside was viewed by the wealthy as their playground. 

Flood flight


Taken from the Landworker magazine, the voice of the rural worker

With vast swathes of our rural farmland and countryside, especially in the south west, currently lying abandoned underwater, with no end to the seemingly constant deluge in sight, there are many questions the government and environment agency need to answer.

Recent years have shown flooding is a real and frequent risk – and those in power must take responsibility and appropriate action. In West Yorkshire, local people have published a report showing how changes to the landscape could reduce the severity.

Understanding the Hebden Water Catchment is the result of a campaign – Ban the Burn – in which people living in Hebden Bridge expressed concerns that the destruction of blanket bog on a local upland moorland estate was helping cause flooding in the town. In recent years, Hebden Bridge has regularly flooded, resulting in some businesses permanently closing.

In 2012, Ban the Burn joined the RSPB in complaining to the European Commission (EC) at the decision of Natural England (NE) to drop plans to prosecute the Walshaw Moor Estate (WME) on 43 grounds of uncontested environmental damage, including converting a stream to a track.

Local businessman Richard Bannister owns WME. Under his 12-year stewardship the increased facilitation of grouse shooting has resulted in a significant removal of blanket peat bog. This forms over thousands of years and can, according to NE, ‘help reduce flood risk through slowing hydrological pathways.’

With the EC decision not expected till later this year, campaigners began mapping the 59 sq km circling Hebden Bridge. A number of local reservoirs are often close to capacity and therefore are of little benefit in preventing flooding.

Many field drains were found to be unmapped or in poor condition. In some cases, new housing had been built over old drainage routes. Establishing ponds could have wildlife benefits and also help cut run-off. Regularly moving cattle from one location to another can reduce the impact of erosion and increase the depth of soils.

Pathways and tracks are great at encouraging walkers but can become water channels in floods and the report suggests adapting them to guide floodwater away from properties. 1950s manmade drainage channels called grips also need monitoring, and in some cases removed, to reduce water flow.

The Forestry Commission ‘Woodlands for Water’ project is aiming to identify areas where creating new woodlands can mitigate flooding. Only five per cent of the Hebden Bridge water catchment is wooded and its residents have now drawn up a map showing potential areas for tree planting, which, if successful, would quadruple the figure to 20%.

The burning of peat bog to create a habitat for grouse breeding, feeding and raising chicks for the shooting season is not only a flooding concern. Burning releases carbon into the atmosphere and affects water quality, with the increased costs for treatment being added to water bills.

The report also offers some simple suggestions including ensuring drains are kept unblocked, flood wardens are recruited and old river structures are repaired

Understanding the Hebden Water Catchment is well worth reading and can be accessed online at http://www.treesponsibility.com/

Dangerous dip to be finally phased out?

A sheep farmer whose health was affected by organophophate poisoning has welcomed the decision by the British Wool Marketing Board to end sheep dipping courses.
Without a recognised certificate new entrants to the industry will be forced to adopt different methods of tackling sheep scab, such as the use of injections and pour-on treatments.
Although the government’s chief scientist warned as long ago as 1951 that organophosphate pesticides (OPs) were dangerous and could be absorbed through the skin or by inhalation, their use in sheep dip became compulsory in the late 1970s.
Farmers’ suicides
Farmers were given instructions on using protective clothing. Those that became unwell – symptoms included feeling acutely tired, weak and nauseous, memory loss and blurred speech and vision– initially found it almost impossible to be diagnosed by their doctors.
One of the victims, Brenda Sutcliffe, a Littleborough sheep farmer, faced a wall of silence when she began researching the hazards of sheep dip. She eventually used the US Freedom of Information Act to uncover evidence that some products caused impaired memory and concentration, nightmares and confusion.
She claimed there was a link between OPs and a large number of suicides among sheep farmers. She calculated that in ten years from 1995 more than 1,000 shepherds ended their own lives.
Health warnings
Sutcliffe and other campaigners forced the Health and Safety Executive to issue health warnings and instructions on the use of OPs and bring to an end the compulsory order on sheep dipping.
In 1993 farmers could only continue using OP dips if they gained a training certificate in their use.
But the products remained on the market. Critics noted that the body that continued to approve them contained 11 members – from 17 – with financial or other links to companies that manufactured them. Farmers were not told OPs were a health risk.
Government officials have continued to insist that there is no “definitive” link between OP use and ill health. But OPs have been blamed for Gulf War syndrome among soldiers,
and some former airline crew members believe their ill health is the result of OPs within toxins released into aircraft during flight.
Some passengers have also expressed concern. The Big Issue in the North last year reported on the case of Karen Isherwood from Warrington who became unwell after travelling by plane to Tenerife.
Isherwood’s MP, the shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, is organising a parliamentary meeting and has invited Sutcliffe and another constituent, Margaret Percival.
Percival has been a farmer for over 50 years but temporarily quit in 1989 when she became “too exhausted to work”, after having dipped sheep for many years. She was diagnosed with OP poisoning.
Percival said she was “delighted” that the British Wool Marketing Board would no longer be offering sheep dipping courses, which could hasten the end of the use of OPs in farming.
Chemical companies
Colin MacGregor, British Wool Marketing Board training manager, said: “We will no longer be offering sheep dipping courses. This is due to two reasons. There is a low level of interest. Secondly, there is the controversy that the products concerned are causing, and our increasing knowledge of the health concerns that are coupled with the products involved.”
Percival said: “We are still seeking justice for those like myself whose health has been affected by OPs. We have proved these are dangerous products and the very fact that the chemical companies have never sued us – even though we have damaged their sales – proves that to be the case.

“There has been a mishandling of this affair with the government, public health bodies, chemical companies and even solicitors who were supposed to be helping us involved. I’d really like to see some people prosecuted for their roles.”

Edible? It's incredible!

A slightly revised version of this piece appears in the current edition of the Landworker magazine of the trade union Unite. 

Having started in Todmorden, the Incredible Edible network - which is alll about growing healthy, local food - has topped 200 groups worldwide in just six years. Community growing plots, linking up with schools and children, and backing local suppliers, form the background of the movement.  

Planting by volunteers of public spaces within the West Yorkshire market town began in 2008. With significant rainfall throughout the year, Todmorden is not ideal for growing food. Yet these urban ‘propaganda gardens’ soon had edible things germinating right across the town. It was a sure demonstration that food does not have to travel thousands of miles to land on our plates. 

Following these successes, two social enterprises were established in Todmorden, the Incredible Edible AquaGarden and the Incredible Edible Farm.

The latter occupies a one-acre site in a valley by the Rochdale canal. It is inhospitable territory …but today you can see salad being grown in the winter, fruit trees flourishing and hens and geese living off the land. 

“We started because people need to be able to feed themselves by growing decent food and raising poultry. This is the way forward if people want to eat healthily and cheaply,” says Nick Green, the farms’ chair of directors. 

“Landowners can see that under-utilised land can be cultivated. Products they grow can be sold to local shops and schools.”  

The AquaGarden involves three different growing methods, aquaponics, hydroponics and soil growing. With Aquaponics, the by-products from accumulated fish waste acts as nutrients for plant growing. Hydroponics is the growing of plants using mineral nutrients in water without soil.
Todmorden is leading experiments that could radically change food production techniques. 

Tomatoes, beans, salad crops and herbs will be grown on the AquaGarden building at Todmorden High School, where pupils are studying BTEC agriculture and horticulture studies at the AquaGarden. All eight Todmorden schools are linked in with the Incredible Edible projects and developing agricultural educational and career opportunities for young people is central to every other sister project globally. 

Keen to develop the local food growing skills base, the AquaGarden has employed two agricultural apprentices. These include 29-year old Danny Haymonds, who is “learning some new skills that I can use to obtain employment once I complete my 18 months training.” 

The official opening last year of the AquaGarden premises was undertaken by Myles Bremner, head of the School Food Plan, under which head teachers will be supported to improve food in schools. This initiative is being combined with £1 billion pounds to provide a free school lunch for all state infant school pupils starting in autumn for the next two years. 

Bremner has supported Incredible Edible initiatives from the start. Aine Douglas, development manager at the AquaGarden, believes he “will help link up all the local food growing and educational projects like ours with local schools. “


Charlie Clutterbuck, Unite  agricultural workers national committee and a board member at the Incredible Edible Farm, is delighted. “The progress being made across the Incredible Edible network is fantastic.” 

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

St Pauli are a unique football club

Why would a group of football fans from Yorkshire make regular trips to Hamburg to watch a club that doesn’t even play in the top league? It’s to do with St Pauli’s commitment to fighting racism, sexism and injustice. 
With the German football season once more underway after its mid- season break, a group of Yorkshire football fans have resumed their backing for one of the most radical clubs in the world.
The Yorkshire branch of the FC St Pauli fan club was formed two years ago and membership numbers are approaching three figures. The group organises regular visits to home games at the Millerntor Stadium in Hamburg’s St Pauli district, an area that was heavily squatted until relatively recently and which has a number of social problems. The nearby Reeperbahn is one of Europe’s most infamous red-light districts. The football club was formed in 1910. It has yet to win any major German competition and has generally played most of its football in the second league – with occasional appearances in Bundesliga 1 – but is currently among a group of sides battling for promotion.
Despite playing in Bundesliga 2, St Pauli regularly attract capacity crowds of 28,000. St. Pauli’s growth is the result of the club turning its location to its advantage by building an alternative fan scene in which racism, sexism and homophobia are opposed and refugees are welcomed. The fans’ adoption of the pirate skull and crossbones symbol was to show they were a poor club. This was so successful it is now the official club symbol.
Such radical politics has not only attracted more Germans to follow St Pauli but has helped the club build an international following. There are over 500 supporters branches and an estimated eleven million fans across the world. One of the most active is the Yorkshire St Pauli branch.
As an example of the Yorkshire fans’ commitment, late last year some of them attended the Sandhausen game that finished 0-0 and was the backdrop to celebrations amongst home fans about their club’s involvement in a campaign against homophobia and sexism.
The following night the English visitors joined other St Pauli fans to watch United Glasgow FC play Lampedusa, a side composed of Libyan refugees who have taken sanctuary in a local St Pauli church and are fighting for the right to stay in Germany following a boat trip across the Mediterranean to Italy. Yorkshire branch members also took part in a demonstration in support of the refugees and they have shown the
“We agreed at the start of the season that part of our subscription would be donated to the Leeds-
based organisation Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (PAFRAS) and so far we have donated £500,” says Scott Stubbs, a one-time regular at Leeds United who has no regrets leaving behind what he feels is a sterile atmosphere at Elland Road for the more lively and cosmopolitan terraces of downbeat Hamburg. Fellow Leeds fan Mick Parker agrees – both welcome the opportunity to back a side with “good politics”.
Parker says he is “disgusted by the contempt English clubs show for their fans – and the price they charge to watch games is astronomical”. Neither St Pauli fan is too worried – except in the local derby match against Hamburg SV – about how well their side do. Stubbs, like thousands of other fellow fans, stayed drinking and enjoying himself for an hour inside Stuttgart’s ground when his side were beaten 3-0 there last season in the German cup.
Another Yorkshire-based fan, Nicole Cunliffe – who retains a strong affection for Barnsley FC – says: “I couldn’t believe how friendly St Pauli was when I first went there.
I also found that male supporters had serious conversations with me about the football and that doesn’t usually happen at English football grounds.”
The organisation of German football is more democratic than England’s, where foreign billionaires now own many of the major clubs. Clubs must be majority-owned by club members and there are also tight regulations on the use of debt for buying players. Even for the very top matches, ticket prices are well under half that paid for similar games in England and the continuing use of terracing ensures an atmosphere that is much superior.
More money is also spent on youth academies and this has continued to ensure a regular stream of talent is available for a national side whose record is second only to Brazil’s in the history of the game.
St Pauli nevertheless remain unique in German football as consultation and the everyday involvement of fans is very much part of the club. It is not unusual to see players stay on the pitch after a match and discuss with fans the events they have just witnessed.
The fans have ensured that once the current redevelopment of the club’s stadium is completed it will not – unlike Manchester City or Arsenal – be named after a corporate giant. Such a decision inevitably impacts on St Pauli’s revenue stream and makes it more difficult to compete against the likes of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, the two German giants.
Fans also have their own punk bar, the Jolly Roger, which on a number of occasions has needed defending when right-wing fans from visiting clubs have attempted to gain entry to smash it up.

With a neat historical twist, the Yorkshire St Pauli branch fanzine is called the White Rose, but this is also the name of an anti-Nazi resistance group based in Munich in early 1942. They included Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans. All had been shocked to receive a letter from Sophie’s boyfriend, soldier Fritz Hartnagel, in which he recounted atrocities being committed by Germans on the Eastern Front, including the mass killing of Jews.
“When anti-Nazi leaflets calling on Germans to passively resist were produced and distributed by the group it quickly led to their arrest. Sophie, Hans and their friend Christoph Probst were found guilty of treason and beheaded. As St. Pauli fans we are proud to associate ourselves with these brave German young people,” says former regular Rotherham United fan Rob Carroll.


A new book about the club, Pirates, Punks & Politics, by Nick Davidson, has just been published by SportsBooks