Monday, 30 November 2009

Greater Manchester serves-up Festive Season of Demons of Anarchy to go with the Angels of Anarchy

While the Manchester Art Gallery has an exhibition on 'The Angels of Anarchy' representing the female artists that contributed to the Surrealist movement; down at the Bury Met Theatre, this Wednesday night, at 7.30 pm, the notorious band Chumbawamba is teaming up with the radical theatre group - Red Ladder - to put on the 'Adult Panto': RIOT, REBELLION AND BLOODY INSURRECTION (see promo video at the bottom on this post).

The anarchist credentials of Chumbawamba are solid and the anarchist lead writer on Northern Voices says they performed a benefit for him when he was editor of 'Libertarian Education'. They did much more than that: at the Brit Awards they famously threw water over the then Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, and his wife. The Manchester Evening News journalist, Kevin Bouke, claims that 'in that late Nineties ... the band turned down a reported $1.5million from Nike to use the song Tubthumping in a World Cup advertisement.'

The great thing about this performance is that it features a series of mostly one night stands at various venues only in the North of England (apart from one date in Somerset):

Wednesday 2nd December, 7.30 pm, - Bury Met, in Bury
Thursday 3rd & Friday 4th December, 7.30 pm, - The Viaduct, Halifax.
Saturday 5th December, 7.30 pm - Bradford Playhouse.
Monday 7th & Tuesday 8th December - Holmfirth Picturedrome.
Wednesday 9th December, 8.00 pm - Barnsley Civic.
Thursday 10th December, 7.30 pm - Oldham Coliseum.
Friday 11th December, 7.30 pm -  Sheffield Greentop Circus.
Saturday 12th December, 8.00 pm - Kirkgate Centre, Cockermouth.
Monday 14th December - Irish Centre, Leeds.
Tuesday 15th December - Balne Lane Working Men's Club, Wakefield (phone 01924 212335 for tickets).
Wednesday 16th December, 7.30 pm - Art Centre, Washington
Thursday 17th December, 7.30 pm - The Mart, Skipton
Friday 18th December, 7.30 pm - Queen's Hall, Hexham
Friday 4th January, 7.30 pm - The Octagon, Hull
Saturday 5th January, 8 pm - Pacific Road Arts Centre, Wirral
Monday 7th January - Bridgwater Arts Centre
Tuesday 8th January - Civic Theatre, Oswaldtwistle
Wednesday 9th January, 8 pm - The Sage, Gateshead

Friday, 27 November 2009

Blacklist: is the Employment Tribunal the proper arena?

On Monday 23rd, November, some 30 supporters of the blacklisted building workers and applicants at the next day's Employment Tribunal attended a meeting at the Mechanic's Institute on Manchester's Princess Street. Chaired by Colin Trousdale for the Manchester Campaign Against the Blacklist and Dave Smith for the Blacklist Support Group, it attempted to make people aware of the issues that would be dealt with at the Employment Tribunal's Case Management Meeting on the 24th, November. The barrister for the applicant workers, Nick Tongue, and another solicitor, outlined the probable procedures and legal issues involved. Mr Tongue warned the meeting not to expect the legal profession to bring about social transformation or political change through these cases; social change, he said, could only come about, as ever, through human solidarity and community action via organisations such as trade unions, and recourse to the law was no substitute for this. Asked if the Employment Tribunal was the proper arena to get justice in these blacklist cases, he cautioned against people expecting too much from the civil courts, such as the High Court; judges in the High Court, he said, could be 'conservative' and unsympathetic to trade unionists, as had been shown in some of the decisions of the civil courts in recent times.

The meeting questioned the apparent involvement of AMICUS officials (now part of Unite the Union) in the past enforcement of the blacklist as indicated in The Guardian, last Saturday, by Phil Chamberlain. It was suggested that there should be an internal inquiry into this by Unite the Union. Derek Pattison, President of Tameside TUC, asked about the evidence of the 'blacklist merchant' Ian Kerr's involvement with state intellegence agancies such as MI5. Mick Abbott, an applicant in a Blacklist case and leader of the Campaign for the Shrewsbury Pickets, addressed the meeting and suggested that these two campaigns be linked together.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Meeting to commemorate 25 years since the start of the Miner's Strike

The metaphor that comes to my mind is that Arthur Scargill and the British miners in their strike of 1984-85, have come to increasingly resemble Napoleon and the French at the Battle of Borodino, just before entering Moscow and their historic retreat.  The historic fact is that Arthur Scargill, the brilliant tactician and skilled orator with an overwhelming media presence, made possible one of the greatest retreats the British labour movement has ever experienced. A retreat that, in its length, now rivals that of the one that followed the General Strike. One would have thought such a debacle, such a disaster, in its magnitude would render itself as valuable lesson from which to draw conclusions on how to proceed in future, but the emotions surrounding this dispute are still raw and make this, even now, a difficult endeavour.

A meeting to launch a book edited by the journalist Granville Williams about this miners' strike given at the Working Class Movement Library on the 21st November, demonstrated this dilemma.  It was well attended but full to bursting point with nostalgia, sentimentality and self-righteousness about how the police are brutal, the judiciary unjust and the Tory politicians deceitful.  It was as if Boxer, the cart-horse in Orwell's Animal Farm, had been reincarnated to shout:  'We must work harder Comrades!'  Nobody seemed willing to ask themselves if there was something systematically wrong in the British trade unions and on the Left that led to our failure beyond implying that we were cheated and swindled by the boss-class.

Blacklist Case Management Meeting

In Parsonage Square, Manchester, on Tuesday 24th, November 2009, there was a scene that would have delighted Charles Dickens. About 30 solicitors, representing over 40 firms accused of blacklisting workers in the British building trade, trooped like rats on a treadmill between the windswept shrubs wheeling their portfolios behind them, to attend a landmark Case Management Meeting at the Manchester Employment Tribunal.  The unions UCATT and Unite were represented at the hearing by the barrister Nick Tongue for some of the applicants, others, perhaps non-union members, were employing their own solicitors and the odd ones were representing themselves. The indications are that these cases will weigh heavily upon the Tribunal system in 2010: last Tuesday, in a day-long trudge through the 20-odd separate cases to find a common legal locus on which to focus against over 40 employers, stretched the minds of these lawyers to breaking point as they twisted and turned to find simple solutions and engineer test cases. In the end, it seems, there will be no test cases as most of the cases have unique qualities and it will prove too unwieldy to run them together as one.

Such was the legal gravy train that has now been set in motion, that it seems some of the employers' solicitors ended up arguing with each other as to who was representing whom. On the applicants side if they start calling for Dave Clancy of the Information Commissioner's Office to be asked to bring the 'unredacted' copies of Ian Kerr's files to the Tribunal: that would be dynamite given that the names of some of the spies and informants would become visible for all the see. Northern Voices understand that before this hearing one firm; the Swedish company Skanska, has said it used the information from Ian Kerr's database to get health and safety information because they didn't want to end up employing 'drug addicts' and the like.

It is likely that most of the cases won't be heard before April 2010, but Steve Acheson's recent case against BMS is set for February 9th, 2010.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

How much is Amicus implicated in Blacklisting?

Phil Chamberlain's report in The Guardian on Saturday 21st November contained an item from Ian Kerr's blacklist database:
Mick Anderson, 40, married with 3 children, from Kerry, Ireland.
Submitted 250 job applications and took courses to keep his electrical training up to date but was out of work 16 months... His file includes this extract:
'Information received by 3271/81 site manager at Heathrow T5 that the above is "not recommended" by amicus.'
If officers in Amicus, now merged with the Transport & General Workers' Union in Unite the Union, have been involved in informing on individual electricians this is a serious matter and one that deserves to be investigated. Up to now Tommy Hardacre, a national Unite the Union officer and formerly from Amicus, has asked those fighting the blacklist to 'name the names' of those involved, but, as he knows, the names of the Amicus informers in Ian Kerr's blacklist data files have been blacked-out by the Information Commissioner's Office acting under the data protection laws. Rather than hiding behind the fig-leaf of data protection, Tommy Hardacre should now be more concerned to clear the good name of the Unite the Union by launching an investigation to expose those inside the union who may, in the past, have been guilty of trading in names for Ian Kerr's blacklist.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Today's Guardian - Boys From The Blacklist

Following up on his original story of over two years ago that brought the blacklist in the British building trade to widespread public attention, today investigative journalist, Phil Chamberlain, splashed another report across the front of the 'WORK' insert of today's Guardian.  In it he quoted Bacup electrician, Colin Trousdale, who has only had eight weeks work since last December and is now on the dole, as saying:  'I can only think [it is] because I've raised health and safety concerns - and remember this is an industry in which 53 people died last year - I'm affecting profits and they don't want me doing that.'  Colin Trousdale is a highly qualified spark with one fatal flaw in that he comes originally from Crumpsall, in Manchester, and in common with folk from round there has a habit of speaking his own mind.

Will the likes of him get more protection under the new laws against discrimination at work now being proposed by Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary?  Research by Professor Keith Ewing, from the Institute of Employment Rights, suggests he may still be struggling:  such as under the proposed new law he, and others, will still have no right not to be blacklisted as it does not make blacklisting a criminal offence and it puts the onus on the victim to bring a case; also the definition "trade union activity" is tightly drawn in so far as spying information data on other actions could be lawfully collected and held.

The building union UCATT, that commissioned Professor Ewing and is supporting the Campaign Against the Blacklist demo outside the Manchester Employment Tribunal at Alexandra House in Parsonage Gardens on the 24th, Nov. at 9am, through its own blacklisted General Secretary, Alan Ritchie said:  'The regulations need to be stronger in order to eradicate blacklisting'.  He added:  'For example, many of those blacklisted were due to health and safety issues, therefore the regulations should cover all activities associated with trade unions.'   Alan Ritchie told the Guardian:  'These scandals have thrown into sharp focus that the UK construction industry is not fit for purpose in the way it operates.'  Mr Ritchie also claims:  '...many of the biggest blacklisters were multi-national corporations, and their international boards have been shocked at what was happening... we are seeing personal changes at senior level and different approaches to work because of the scandal.'

Meanwhile, Colin Trousdale declared to the jounalist Phil Chamberlain:  'I am not interested in the money, I am just interested in getting back to work.'

NB - you can read Phil Chamberlain's blog about the article and the wider issues here, and all of his blogs on the subject of blacklisting here.

Colin Trousdale, who has long been an avid reader of Northern Voices, has agreed to do an interview with us in our next issue in the New Year.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Booklet on Spanish Civil War and its Aftermath: The Snobbery & Elitism of Professional Historians

In 2006, Tameside Trade Union Council and other North West trade unionists brought out a booklet to commemorate the kick-off of the Spanish Civil War: now in its 3rd edition [Oct. 2009] the book has been extended from 20 to 28 A4-size pages and has a Preface that uses Noam Chomsky's essay 'Objectivity & Liberal Scholarshipto challenge Professor Paul Preston's work 'The Spanish Civil War'.  This 3rd edition booklet by trade unionists defends Orwell's 'Homage to Cataloniaand the value of primary sources, and eye-witness accounts, against the glossing interpretations of professional historians like Preston.  It draws upon the observations, in interviews, letters and journal-form of the foot-soldiers, such as Ralph Cantor, Pedro Cuadrado and Orwell, mocked by Professor Preston.  Preston in the 2006 edition of his own book 'The Spanish Civil War' belittles other historians for being partisan, but makes it clear that he himself has an axe to grind.  This trade unionist 3rd edition booklet of 'The Spanish Civil War - The Aftermath', also includes an interview by Richard Porton with Ken Loach, the director of the film 'Land & Freedom' and a 1995 interview with Jim Allen, the screenwriter on the film.

Further reading - Manchester's Radical History has interviews with Spanish Civil war veterans Sam Wild and Bessie Berry & Bernard McKenna (all Communists)

Spanish Civil War booklet 3rd edition:  Price £4.60/€5.00 post included, cheques payable to 'Tameside Trade Union Council' from c/o 46, Kingsland Road, Rochdale, Lancs.  OL11 3HQ.

To read comments received about this publication, please click through the 'Read more' link below:

New Year 2010 - Northern Voices 11 preview

Contents include:

'Six o' Best: Northern Tea Time Treats' by Chris Draper:
Eccles Cakes from Salford or maybe, Hebden Bridge; Fat Rascals from Harrogate; Sad Cakes from Burnley;  Chorley Cakes from North Lancs.; Bakewell Tarts from Derbyshire; Turd Tarts from the West Riding of Yorkshire; Singing Hinnies from Newcastle and Yorkshire Parkin.  Which is going to be the best that the North has to offer?

Municipal Motoring by Chris the Clippy on the disappearance of the North's regional buses and their unique colour schemes.

'Can tha' keep a secret?: An old Yorkshire tale of class war, conspiracy, murder' by Christopher Draper;  a history of Ned Ludd in the West Riding of Yorkshire.

'On the banks of the River Roach, Jacky Brook, Healey Dell in Rochdale & the Cheonggyecheon in Seoul' by Brian Bamford.

Price £1.50 [£2.00 post included] cheques payable to 'Northern Voices' obtainable from c/o 52, Todmorden Road, Burnley, Lancashire BB10  4AH.

And on sale at a large number of newsagents in Greater Manchester, Rochdale, Tameside, Salford, Swinton, Eccles, Burnley and bookshops in other areas such as News From Nowhere in Liverpool, Bob's Bookshop in Oldham and Bookcase in Hebden Bridge. Northern Voices is also on sale in Glossop at Bay Tree BooksGeorge Street Books and Bestsellers in the Market Arcade.

Buenaventura Durruti 1896-1936

This youtube video celebrates the life of Buenaventura Durruti,the Spanish anarchist revolutionary. A legend within the anarchist movement, Durruti, symbolised the spirit of Spanish anarchism and the feelings and goals of the Spanish anarchist workers who took up arms to resist Franco and Fascism in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).

Northern Voices contributors have taken part in the publication of a booklet commemorating the Spanish Civil War, and you can read more about it here.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Protest lobby against building trade blacklist

A protest lobby against the blacklist in the British building trade is being called by the Greater Manchester Campaign Against the Blacklist and the London based, Blacklist Support Group:  it will be held outside the Employment Tribunal at Alexandra House, opposite Parsonage Gardens in Central Manchester near Deansgate.  This protest lobby coincides with the start of the Case Management Meeting to deal with a large number of tribunal claims by building workers from all over Britain: solicitors for members of Unite the UnionUcatt and members of no trade union, will be presenting their arguments on how their cases for justice should proceed against some of the biggest construction companies in the land.

Brian Bamford, former electrician, Secretary of Bury Unite the Union and Secretary of Tameside Trade Union Council, states:

'I believe that the blacklist is the unacceptable face of the British building trade.  It is like something out of a 19th century novel by Charles Dickens sent to haunt us.  It is a repugnant phenomena; in the same way as slopping-out was a repugnant activity in our jails until recently.  It ruins lives and domestic harmony, and it persecutes people for their honestly held political beliefs and trade union activities.  It has no place in a decent society in the 20th Century.'

This whole matter of blacklist is now the subject of an Early Day Motion promoted by Michael Clapham MP, and now Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, is considering legislation to deal with blacklisting.

For more information contact either Brian Bamford (Secretary of Bury Unite the Union NW 6/353 Branch) on 01706  861793 or Colin Trousdale (EPIU Greater Manchester Contracting Branch - Unite NW 6/1400) on 07792  358697.