Thursday, 26 March 2015

High-tech trade union banner commemorates historic sacrifices

Keeping the fight alive

High-tech trade union banner commemorates historic sacrifices
Mark Metcalf, Thursday, March 26th, 2015 
Taken from 

The growing connection between Unite’s community and industrial members saw the unveiling of the world’s first dual-purpose trade union banner by the Derby Unite Community branch last week (March 19).

Historical images of a Derby strike pre-dating the Tolpuddle Martyrs have been combined with a 21st century communication Quick Response (QR) code. When scanned by a mobile phone this leads people to a website which will encourage them to get involved by informing them of the nature of the protest.

Anyone scanning last week on the Unite National Day of Action against Benefits Sanctions was taken to Unite Community’s website detailing the day of action.

Many thanks to Mark Harvey for the use of this copyrighted photograph. 

The cost of the banner has largely been paid for by the Rolls-Royce manufacturing branch of Unite. It has been designed by local Unite community member Jim Griffiths and beautifully created by Ed Hall, Britain’s leading manufacturer of marching banners for trade unions and other campaign groups.

The banner states We Honour the Derby Silk Workers 1833-34 and will be carried on the annual commemorative march organised each weekend before May Day by the Derby Trades Union Council.

Honouring the sacrifices made by early trade unionists, the banner pays tribute to a moment in history when up to 2,000 Derby silk workers left work in November 1833 to June 1834. Following the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824, the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union, in which Robert Owen was prominent, was established with an important branch in Derby that included weavers, iron workers, builders and silk thrusters.

When silk manufacturer, Mr Frost, discharged one of his employees, his fellow workmates walked out in support. Within a week 800 people, in a town of 24,000, were affected. When many local employers then declared they would not employ trade unionists, another 500 walked out and by February the numbers had leaped to 2,000. Attempts to persuade strike-breakers imported from London led to many strikers being imprisoned.

The strike continued for many months but eventually collapsed as starvation set in. Many strikers were subsequently victimised and never worked in their trade again. Nevertheless, in late 1834, the Dorchester Agricultural Labourers at Tolpuddle took up the struggle for trade unions, which only exist today because of the sacrifices made by the likes of the Derby silk workers, Tolpuddle Martyrs and London Dockers of 1889.

Many thanks to Mark Harvey for the use of this copyrighted photograph.

Helping to unveil the banner, Paul Bickerton, who in addition to being an elected workplace rep is treasurer of the local Rolls-Royce Unite branch, said:

“Our members back the local Unite Community branch that is doing great work in defending the welfare state and helping prevent a split between those in and out of work. I’m keen to see the banner on the annual march, which rightly keeps alive the silk worker’s fight, and pleased to know Unite is leading the way in modern up-to-date methods of communicating with the public.”

“We would like to thank Rolls Royce Unite members for their financial support and look forward to working closely with them in the future in opposing austerity,” said Derby Unite Community branch chair Cecilia Wright.

Politics and unions

Tune in to Bradford Community Radio at

Go to Listen Again for the 3-4pm show today (Thursday 26 March) and there's lots on Julia Varley,
trade unions, football, Unite education, women's rights and all things politics.......

Friday, 20 March 2015

£1,600 already raised to commemorate first publicly recognised domestic violence victim

More on Ellen Strange for an event on 29 November that may turn out to be quite special...

Ellen Strange commemoration date will be 29 November 2015

Trade unionists and domestic violence campaigners in the North west will hold a special event at 11am on Sunday 29 November 2015 at what is thought to be the oldest site in the world to commemorate a victim of domestic violence. (*) The date was chosen because it comes within the Domestic Violence Awareness Fortnight and is also close to 25 November, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. There will be a wreath laying ceremony and some speakers followed by a social occasion in a local venue afterwards. 
A facebook page has been set up on which we will post further details as they are finalised
The cairn on Holcombe Moor near Ramsbottom, Bury is around 400 yards from a nearby footpath. It is not accessible for anyone in a wheelchair or anyone with very limited mobility.
Meanwhile, John Simpson has agreed to rewrite his 1989 booklet on Ellen Strange and this will be re-launched on or around 29 November. Funds are going to be needed to pay for the booklet and the events on 29 November and so far around £1600 has already been raised from contributions from Unite North West region, Unite Bolton branch and Bolton Trades Council. Bolton Trades Union Council has agreed that its bank account can be used for cheques payable to Bolton TUC.  BTUC, c/o Bolton Socialist Club, Wood Street, Bolton BL1 1DY.
Martin McMulkin
Secretary Bolton & District Trades Council

A true union daughter - Julia Varley

Fighting grotesque benefit sanctions on

Go to:-

All photographs below are copyright Mark Harvey.

Outside Chesterfield Job Centre.

Outside Chesterfield Job Centre. 

Slow death march through Chesterfield Town Centre market. 
Colin Hampton tells the public that anyone can become ill, disabled or redundant
and therefore might face benefit sanctions. 

Proud members of Derby Unite Community Branch along with
Rolls Royce Unite branch treasurer Paul Bickerton. 
The stall was well supported by the local public. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Bradford Industrial Museum reveals how unsafe mill work was.

Bradford Industrial Museum is sited in Moorside Mills that was built around 1875 as a small worsted-spinning mill by John Moore. 

Bradford Council bought the property in 1970 to create an innovative museum that opened in December 1974. It contains permanent displays of textile machines; steam power, engineering, printing machinery and motor vehicles. There is also a regular exhibitions programme. Mill-workers’ terraced houses and Moorside House where the mill manager lived can also be viewed. 

The experiences of these mill workers are charted in the display boards on the walls and you can get a real feel for just how dangerous the jobs they did were. 

Entry is free and donations are welcome. 

Address: Moorside Mills, Moorside Road, Bradford, West Yorkshire BD2 3HP
Open: Monday to Sunday. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Orgreave inquiry: yes or no?

The organiser of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign is “alarmed” that the Independent Police Complaints Commission will not indicate whether it will conduct a full investigation into events outside the Orgreave coking works during the Miners Strike in 1984.
Orgreave, near Rotherham, is one of the most contentious issues in the year-long dispute between members of the National Union of Mineworkers and Margaret Thatcher’s government. From late May, an attempt to prevent the movement of coal into the plant and coke coming out was mounted by pickets who were met by police forces from across Britain.
On 18 June that year, 4,500 police, many in riot gear, met 8,000 striking miners. In the clashes that followed 95 miners were charged with riot and unlawful assembly. But the trial of the first 15 in 1985 collapsed due to the unreliability of police evidence.
Each prosecution was backed by two officers making near identical statements.
All subsequent charges were dropped and South Yorkshire Police (SYP) paid out £425,000 in out of court settlements.
But no new investigation was ordered and no officer was disciplined in what Michael Mansfield QC, who represented three miners, said was “the biggest frame-up ever”.
Police misconduct
Since 2012, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has been running an initial investigation. Following a November 2014 meeting with IPCC chair Dame Anne Owers the OTJC was anticipating an IPCC announcement early this year on whether or not it would be holding a full investigation.
However, the IPCC has now indicated that it will not make an announcement until
it has taken legal advice and consulted with its Hillsborough investigation team, which is examining events at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final in which 95 Liverpool fans died. SYP doctored the statements of officers at Hillsborough and is now at the centre of the IPCC’s biggest investigation ever into alleged police misconduct.
Strike action
The IPCC has agreed to give advance notice of the decision to the OTJC so it can organise a press conference the next day. But although it has made its decision, it has yet to inform the OTJC what it is – an omission that has “alarmed” OTJC organiser Barbara Jackson.
“Following the November meeting we did not believe there might be any problems holding up the announcement for any considerable time,” said Jackson, who herself took strike action in 1984-85 as an administrative officer for the National Coal Board. “It has already taken over two years for a scoping exercise. Meanwhile the miners who were so badly treated are older and frailer.
“We intend making Orgreave an issue at the forthcoming general election and now
fear that no announcement might be made until after the Hillsborough inquests have concluded – and that might be another year or more.
Legal advice
“We want the IPCC to make an announcement very shortly even if it means we must wait until after the Hillsborough inquests hearings that started on 31 March 2014 are concluded.”

An IPCC spokesperson said: “We are awaiting the result of our consultation with our Hillsborough investigation team and legal advice from our barrister before we can proceed further. We appreciate the concerns about the delays, but we cannot comment further at this stage.”

 Author Q&A: Dave Smith

(New Internationalist, £7.99)

Big Issue in the North magazine 
Dave Smith collaborates with investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain to tell the explosive story of the illegal strategies used by construction companies to deny union activists employment – abitter struggle, in which collusion with the police and security services resulted in victimisation, violence and unemployment. Smith, a blacklisted union activist, explains more.
Why write this book?
To expose the scandal, to name and shame the senior managers, company directors and police spies who systematically orchestrated the undemocratic attack on trade unions. Essentially, to give a voice to blacklisted workers who were repeatedly sacked, suffered years of unemployment and whose families suffered financial hardship.
What was on a blacklist file?
Virtually every file is about an individual being a member of a trade union or being involved in a work dispute. Honest, hard-working people who complained about unpaid wages or raised concerns about safety issues. Most files record the person’s name, address, NI number and the big companies referred to these files to carry out name checks during site inductions. If your name came up on the list then you were sacked.
Has evidence of blacklisting brought legal redress?
Hundreds of claims were submitted to employment tribunals (ET) and virtually every single case was lost. Most were thrown out before getting to court because
the judge decided the claims had been submitted “out of time”. In my ET the company, Carillion, provided a written statement that their managers had blacklisted me because I was a union member who had raised safety issues on their building site. I still lost the case.
Comparisons have been made between phone tapping and blacklisting. So why has the authorities response been different?
We are not celebrities. Working class trade unionists are not considered important by politicians. Also, the police involvement in phone hacking was illegal corruption while blacklisting was standard operating procedure – senior officers actually gave PowerPoint presentations at the illegal meetings. Any public inquiry would inevitably raise the question of why undercover secret political police units were infiltrating trade unions.

What must be done to ensure blacklisting companies make amends?
Companies need hitting financially hard by being denied publicly funded contracts, including within the NHS. Blacklisted workers deserve compensation for loss of earnings, defamation and human rights. Crucially, they deserve jobs. A few quid means nothing if union members continue to be blacklisted. For real justice, the company directors who secretly orchestrated this conspiracy should face prison sentences.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Is all fare in charity sector?

Why are charities using forced labour in their shops? Mark Metcalf investigates 

Workfare programmes involving charities do not help unemployed people find work and exploit those forced on to them. So say welfare rights campaigners and benefit claimants who worked on them.
Workfare – where people are forced to work in return for benefits – has a long history in Britain, with workhouses lasting from 1834 to 1948. Workfare was re-introduced by the last Labour government and has been hugely expanded by the current government, with all three major parties committed to more expansion if they occupy 10 Downing Street after the May general election.
Critics of workfare claim it punishes claimants, forces down wages and replaces paid employment. The rise in workfare has been accompanied by huge sanctions against claimants for breaching benefit rules, with over 918,000 claimants sanctioned between April 2013 and March 2014.
Since June 2011, around 1.6 million people have taken part in workfare programmes. Many of these have undertaken community work placements with national and local charities, including the Salvation Army, YMCA and Mustard Tree.
Three claimants who have been required to undertake unpaid work with charities are Ray, Barney and Tom (not their real names – they fear they may face sanctions if identified). Ray worked as a chef for a decade before returning to college and completing a computer qualification just prior to the 2008 financial crash, following which he was unable to find work for over three years.
Ray was told he would have to take part in a mandatory scheme, the Steps 2 Work programme — now known as Steps 2 Success. Aware of his catering experience, a training agency placed him for nine months in the kitchen of Age Concern’s day centres. He was one of seven workers, of which four were paid. When he complained that rather than using his catering skills he was restricted to washing dishes he claims a supervisor threatened him.
“I got changed, walked back to the Job Centre and made a formal complaint,” he says. “I was removed from the Steps 2 programme but had to make a fresh benefits claim, which took two weeks to process. I had to borrow money from a relative to pay my rent and bills. The Department for Work and Pensions later dismissed my complaint.”
Barney has had numerous experiences of workfare. He has kept a detailed record in order to ensure that if he is threatened with the loss of his benefits he can appeal. This is what he did in September 2014 after the Job Centre told him it doubted he was actively seeking employment. He overturned this in 10 days by submitting a Mandatory Reconsideration request consisting of ten pages of documentation listing job searches and applications.
“I was placed with a training agency in 2008 that could not even help me set up an email account despite me being with them full time for 13 weeks,” says Barney. “In February 2009 I began 13 weeks of unpaid work with a charity-funded furniture shop. I unsuccessfully applied to many other places for paid work. With just two weeks of my placement left I was receiving hints that I might get a warehouse supervisor position as the previous one had left. I carried on volunteering for the next year – I was basically doing the supervisor post. I eventually realised I was being exploited and there never was any real prospect of the charity trustees paying me.”
Since leaving, Barney has had calls from training agencies asking if he has found a job – if he has they get a fee of £2,000. “These agencies are hopeless and should not be getting a bonus if I find work as they have been of no use,” says Barney.
Tom agrees. Unemployed for six months, the experienced personal assistant was shocked by his experiences when he was instructed by his Job Centre to attend the offices of Seetec, a workfare provider. “The agency employee was half an hour late and there were 40 claimants, including a scaffolder, a baker and a hairdresser, in a room not big enough for 20. It was clear that no attempts had been made to match any individual’s skills and experience with the placements that we were told would start the following morning at local charity shops.”
The two managers were helped in running the charity shop by a team of volunteers. Tom claims that when he arrived at the shop the assistant manager said to the manager: “There’s another one of them here.”
There were three workfare placements at the shop, including one who had previously worked as a professional animator and another as an IT manager. Tom could not see how performing a shopworker’s duties, lugging around heavy bags of rubbish and sweeping up, was helping any of them. When one had an accident outside work hours his A&E visit prevented him reporting at the appropriate time and he missed a day at the shop. He was sent packing the following day. Claiming back travel expenses was to be done during lunch breaks but the training agency only paid out at 3pm-4pm.
Tom was sacked in his second week. “The paid staff and volunteers did not want those of us on workfare in the shop. I was accused of stealing some stock and although I managed to calm everything down and get the manager to admit nothing had been taken I was informed later the same evening by Seetec that I had been dismissed for theft. My Jobseekers Allowance was sanctioned for three weeks as a result.
“I did apply later for a charity shop manager’s job but at the interview I was told my lack of previous experience of management in a retail setting counted against me. So much for learning new skills to help me back into employment!”
Boycott Workfare is committed to “ending forced unpaid labour for people who receive welfare”.
The organisation has condemned charities that participate in workfare. Recently it organised a demonstration outside Manchester-based homeless project Mustard Tree for its involvement in the Mandatory Work Activity Scheme for jobseekers, lasting up to 30 hours a week over a four-week period.
Boycott Workfare accuses Mustard Tree of participating in a system that contributes to homelessness and “actively supporting a regime of forced labour that punishes and starves those who choose not to be involved”.
Adrian Nottingham, chief executive officer for Mustard Tree, has defended the organisation’s involvement, saying: “Many of those who join us from this particular scheme are not ready for employment and would fail to hold down a regular job... We believe that many of those who have been with us have felt their lives enriched by the opportunities made available.”
Many charities and voluntary organisations are opposed to workfare and 514 have signed
up to an agreement that states: “Volunteering is where people independently give their time freely to help others... Workfare schemes force unemployed people to carry out unpaid work or face benefit sanctions. We believe in keeping volunteering voluntary and will not participate in government workfare schemes.”
A Boycott Workfare spokesperson says: “It is great that so many charities understand that compulsory work placements backed by the threat of destitution should have no place in their sector. We believe Mustard Tree should join them and we hope other organisations who deal with the charity will be making clear their objections.”
FC United of Manchester, the community football club, holds an annual collection for Mustard Tree at one of its games. Members of the club are to consider a motion next month to sever ties with it but hope it will voluntarily give up workfare beforehand.
“No charity should have any involvement in any mandatory work placement as it is forced labour that shames everyone involved without doing anything to help people obtain properly paid employment,” says Ray.

Charities respond
A YMCA spokesperson said: “We have read media reports of bad experiences through workfare but we find it difficult to condemn any scheme that carries the potential to help individuals gain new skills or prepare for future employment. Anecdotal evidence reveals many people on our projects have progressed into paid roles within YMCA or in other organisations. We cannot provide any figures as YMCAs are independent charities.”
A Salvation Army spokesperson said: “We have seen first hand the positive benefits people gain from being in work, volunteering or taking part in a work- experience placement, becoming part of a community where you are building your confidence, job skills, and discovering new things about yourself.
“As a locally-based church and charity, we offer support to help people become job-ready, to get a job and to stay in work. As such, we are involved in the Work Programme, helping people furthest from employment, or who have been unemployed for a long time, through every step of their journey to be job-ready and to stay in work. Many people we support have complex needs.
“In some of our charity shops and centres we offer one-month work placements (MWA), which give people a chance to gain some work experience and a reference they can use when applying for jobs. We realise these placements undertaken by people whilst on benefits are controversial, but we have found that they give people confidence and new skills.

“We have declined to take part in Community Work Placements that are targeted at people coming off the Work Programme to undertake unpaid work for six months. We don’t feel that this longer period helps people overcome the barriers they are facing in getting a job. We do make our views known to government and expressed our concerns about Community Work Placements to a government minister last week.”

Trucking hell: driver shortage

From current issue of the Big Issue in the North magazine. 
Chancellor George Osborne will meet the Road Haulage Association following criticism that the government has failed to tackle a growing shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers.
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) claims the industry has a 45,000 driver shortfall that will increase to 60,000 within 12 months. According to RHA chief executive Richard Burnett: “The UK has under-invested in HGV driving skills and become too reliant on drivers from Eastern Europe... and if the UK doesn’t have enough people able to drive the trucks the economy will not be going anywhere.”
Drivers are aware more are needed. Grantham’s Chris Crooks is an experienced HGV driver working on farm collections.
Boost training
“All the agencies supplying drivers tell me they can’t fill the positions,” he said. “Overseas drivers have returned home frustrated at being unable to save much as wage rates aren’t great, whilst local people are restarting factory work.
“No youngsters are entering the industry as lessons are expensive. Starting out, my employer paid for these. Not all businesses can afford to do this but clearly something needs doing to boost training.”
Adrian Jones, national road transport officer at the union Unite, said: “More money is needed for training but there also needs to be a career path that includes decent pay rates, more holidays and a pension.”
The RHA calculates it costs companies around £3,000 per driver for training and is asking for government funding to train people living in the UK.
‘Relentless lobbying’
However, according to a Department of Transport spokesperson: “The government already supports the logistics industry, including providing £17 million to boost skills and introduce logistics apprenticeships. We are exploring ways to tackle the shortage of HGV drivers.”

Osborne has agreed to meet the RHA later this month. An RHA spokesperson said: “We are pleased our relentless lobbying has finally resulted in an invitation to meet at HM Treasury.”