Friday, 23 December 2011

From Blacklisting to BESNA!

HVCA are employing an individual called Steve Quant who used to work for SCANSKA. He was apparently sacked by SKANSKA because he was involved in the blacklisting of construction workers. It is reported that he later became employed as 'Ian Kerr's right-hand man': Mr Kerr, who set up the now disbanded firm The Consulting Association in the Midlands, pleaded guilty to keeping an illegal data base in 2009 in the Knutsford Crown Court and was fined £5,000 plus costs. Steve Quant is now reported to be involved in promoting the new controversial BESNA proposals for electricians in the British building trade.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Say No to plans to give Thatcher a state funeral!

In today`s Daily Telegraph, there was an interesting piece by the journalist/writer Peter Oborne about secret plans which are being made to give the 'milk snatcher' Margaret Thatcher, a state funeral.

In the last 200 years, only four British prime minister's have been awarded a state funeral - Wellington, Palmerston, Gladstone and Churchill. The proposal to give her a state funeral did not originate from the Conservative 'Monday Club' as many might think, but was the brainchild of Gordon Brown, the former New Labour prime minister.

According to Oborne, secret discussions have been taking place without public debate to give Thatcher a big public send off at the taxpayers' expense, at a time when public services are being cut along with state benefits and people losing their jobs. Though Oborne admires Thatcher, he argues against giving her a state funeral which he believes would insult "many honest patriotic people".

Many abhor Thatcher's memory and I include myself among them. Yet there is one thing she said that I entirely agree with. Thatcher was once asked what she felt was her greatest legacy to the country and she replied, "Blair and New Labour."

A number of petitions have been set up including "No state funeral for Thatcher" which when I last checked had attracted 6,638 signatures. It can be found here.

In Oborne's article he refers to a letter from David Farham, a former miner who wrote to his local newspaper 'The Shields Gazette'. It is worth quoting:
"I am proud to say I was on strike for 12 months in the 1984-85 strike, when Thatcher used the full might of the state to defeat us. I would stand on a picket line now if it would prevent her having a state funeral. She had a near-pathological hatred of trade unions, and referred to us as the 'enemy within', but what did we do that was so treacherous? We struck to prevent pit closures and to protect jobs, with disastrous consequences. Look at the former pit villages which she left devastated."

In his 'a history of MI5', Christopher Andrew, says that Thatcher took greater interest in the intelligence community than any other prime minister since Winston Churchill and demanded prompt action to deal with the 'wreckers' in British industry. He also says that Thatcher demanded that M15 identify all the 'wreckers' even though this contravened their so-called 'Charter'.

Although the 'Iron Lady' (a name she acquired due to her hatred of trade unions), left office in 1990, she continues to receive allowances from the taxpayer under the 'public duties cost allowance'. Despite her mental and physical infirmity, she has received £535,000 from the taxpayer since 2006 for costs incurred from public duties.

To give the woman who was one of the most divisive leaders in modern times, who destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of British working people and who admired, the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a state funeral, would be an outrage to public decency. Say no to a state funeral for Thatcher the milk snatcher.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Europe Bans Blacklist


YESTERDAY in Strasbourg, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) passed a law to make the blacklisting of workers in the European Union illegal. Labour M.E.P's Stephen Hughes and Glenis Wilmott, were the main movers according to the Blacklist Support Group.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

How To Pervert The Course Of Justice?

Did Bury Council's H.R. Division Act In Bad Faith?

YESTERDAY Bury Council's Human Resources & Communications Division (HR) held an 'Investigation Interview' to discuss the following allegations of:
* Threatening & intimidating behaviour

* Contravention of the Dignity at Work Policy

against a Unite Safety Representative at Bradley Fold Waste Depot near Bury in Lancashire.

Ought a person, who may later be called as a witness in relation to an alleged event, be properly used by H.R. as an investigator in an 'investigatory interview' into the same event? A legal opinion sought by the trade union Unite claimed that it would be 'a breach of natural justice' for Bury Council's H.R. Division to use the potential witness Mick Morris, Senior Cleansing Manager at Bradley Fold Waste Depot., as an investigating officer into the case against a Bradley Fold Safety Representative, who is facing a complaint of 'Threatening & intimidating behaviour' as well as another separate allegation of 'Contravention of the Dignity at Work Policy'. Ursula Skinner, Senior H.R. Advisor at Bury MBC, brushed aside the legal challenge that Mick Morris may be called as a witness, arguing that she had sought the advice of her 'line manager' and had been told that it was irrelevant to the process. Ms. Skinner, on being asked as to who her 'line manager' was, failed to illuminate.

In correspondence with the Safety Representation who is under investigation, Ursula Skinner wrote: 'You have the right to be accompanied during the interview by you trade union representative or a work colleague who should not be involved in the investigation.' In this case Julie Burgess, the Unite Regional Officer, was allowed to represent the accused Safety Representative facing these charges, but his Bury Branch Secretary, Brian Bamford, who offered to observe and take notes was twice denied entry to the process of investigation by Ursula Skinner on grounds that are still unclear. And yet, Bury Council's Human Resources & Communications Division brought in Mr. Morris as in investigator, who has admitted to speaking to the accused around the time of the incident. When the union Unite made it clear that Mr Morris had a conflict of interest because he was likely to be a witness 'involved in the investigation' in one of the allegations against the Safety Representative under investigation, Ms. Skinner dismissed this as being irrelevant. The Regional Officer of Unite asked that both the banning of Mr. Bamford and the union's misgivings about the presence of Mr. Morris be minuted.

Does this represent a perversion of the course of justice by Ms. Skinner on behalf of the Human Resources Division & Communications at Bury Council?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Trade Union Protest at Ashton Town Hall

ON TUESDAY NIGHT, delegates from Tameside Trade Union Council (TUC) and their supporters, including a few blacklisted local electricians, held a protest outside Ashton-under-Lyne Town Hall in Tameside. They were complaining at the failure of the Council Leader, Kieran Quinn, to answer questions from both the Tameside Reporter and the Secretary of Tameside TUC about his role in awarding contracts to Carillion, a global giant accused of being affiliated to firm trading information for money: including the names, national insurance numbers and activities of trade unionists in the British building industry. A local electrician from Denton, Steve Acheson, is one such person who has appeared on this unlawful data base and has been a leading figure in the campaign against this unsavory business described as blacklisting, for which a case is now being prepared by a firm of London solicitors for presentation in the civil courts.

Yesterday's protesters aired their concerns about about the recent transfer of a local authority department of Tameside Estates & Facilities to the private sector under the management of Carillion. This move was at the time of the transfer met with dismay from staff at Tameside Metropolitan Council, who are obviously unaware of the more murky history of Carillion in their recent labour relations, and also to critical comment in the columns of the Tameside Reporter.

Leaflets carrying the Email address of Tameside TUC were distributed at both entrances to the Council Chamber. There was some sympathetic reaction from some of the councillors, and some didn't even realise that Carillion had been linked to a company accused of blacklisting trade unionists. Councillor Quinn, is still presumably a member of the Communications Workers' Union, and who in the past has successfully sought the support of Tameside TUC to support strike pickets of postmen in Greater Manchester, has more recently been accused of arrogance and supercilious behaviour in his dealings with trade unionists and the Trade Union Council.

In reality, it seems that Councillor Quinn since he has donned the robes of high office in the Town Hall following a successful coup against Roy Oldham, now thinks that he can snub his fellow trade unionists shamelessly. He would do well to proceed with more prudence and caution because rumours reaching Northern Voices suggest that he is not so adept as Roy Oldham in covering himself.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Tameside Hospital appoint 'Turnaround Director' costing £1000 per day!

The annual Hospital Guide published by Dr.Foster Intelligence, which was released at the end of November, has 'red-flagged' Tameside Hospital for its mortality (death) rate for 2010/11. According to the Guide, the hospital's death rate could be as much as 17% above the average hospital death rate.

Using the 'Summary Hospital-level Mortality Indicator'(SHMI), which measures deaths in hospital and deaths within 30 days of leaving hospital following hospital treatment, Tameside Hospital is ranked the fifth worst in the country for its SHMI.

The report criticises the hospital for its failure to operate on 40% of patients with hip fractures within two days. It also recommends that the hospital cease performing Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms, due to an increased death rate. The hospital was also found to have had 136 deaths following surgery in the same period:

"which could indicate problems with patients developing complications or could raise questions about whether some operations should have taken place at all."

The hosptal's Medical Director, Tariq Mahmood, said that Tameside Hospital took the findings seriously but pointed out that the Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratio (HSMR) of 101.1 for the hospital was well within the normal range. However, the hospital's critics have suggested that the fall in the HSMR at Tameside Hospital, has more to do with the improved recording of clinical data by management than any improvements in patient care.

The Dr. Foster report is the latest in a series of damning judgements made against the hospital this year. In November the local coroner, John Pollard, criticised the hospital for a 'lack of urgency' in the care of a 13 year old boy who died. He also criticised the hospital for its treatment of a seven month old baby who having been discharged from hospital with a diagnosis of a tummy bug, died shortly after, of meningitis.

Although her leadership abilities have been criticised and the hospital given a 'Red Rating' for lack of governance by the official regulator 'Monitor', Christine Green, the C.E.O. of Tameside Hospital, is not the type to brook opposition and she refuses to quit her post.

In a report which was published last year, a senior consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the hospital, Milton Pena, who is also the Chairman of the Senior Medical Staff Committee, wrote of a "culture of bullying and intimidation that pervades the Trust" and of hospital employees being afraid to ask critical questions.

We also understand that in August, Jack Markovic, the assistant head of Human Resources at Tameside Hospital, was escorted off the hospital premises by security staff after having attended a meeting. Despite our own inquiries, we have been unable to ascertain why the hospital took this action against him.

Health campaigner, Paul Broadhurst, from Dukinfield, is well known for his outspoken criticism of the management of Tameside Hospital. A member of the 'Local Involvement Network' (LINk), he writes regularly to his local newspapers. In September, quite unexpectedly, he received a letter from HEMPSONS solicitors in Manchester. The letter stated:

"We have been instructed by Tameside Hospital NHS Foundation Trust who have consulted us as a consequence of your persistent abuse of the hospital's premises to conduct a campaign to discredit and harass those employed in the management of the hospital. You have previously been invited to express any concerns that you have through legitimate channels. We understand that although you had initially taken up this opportunity you have now reverted to your former behaviour which has been captured on CCTV footage and this is totally unacceptable.

When you come to the hospital you do so on license i.e. by virtue of permission granted to you by the hospital to enter their premises. If you persist in using Trust premises to display or distribute your campaign literature or attempt to disrupt the day to day running of the hospital the license granted to you will be withdrawn. You will become a trespasser and we will unfortunately have to take steps to escort you from the premises.

We do hope that such steps will not be necessary and that you will take advantage of the legitimate channels open to you to discuss your opinions or concerns about the way in which the trust is managed. We confirm the Trust do not seek to exclude you from attending the hospital for the purposes of seeking emergency or planned treatment..."

At the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Tameside Hospital which took place in September, Paul Broadhurst thanked Christine Green for the letter he'd received from the hospital solicitor "warning me off". Despite the invitation for Mr. Broadhurst to express his concerns using "legitimate channels", we understand that his e-mails to the hospital now go unanswered as well as his letters.

Although it was announced at the AGM that the hospital had a £1.39 million deficit and had made saving of £4.2 million by August, we understand that earlier this year, the cash-strapped hospital, appointed a 'Turnaround Director' costing in excess of £1000 per day. With consultants now running many NHS hospital's, one does wonder why we need hospital C.E.O.'s like Christine Green, who now receives more in salary £147,000 than the Prime Minister £142,000,(Tameside Advertiser 22 September 2010). Clearly, her enormous salary is not related to performance.

Sparks report on actions today, 7th December


We are inside the town hall addressing the mp's at the full council meeting as to whythey have awarded the contract of Manchester town hall and library to baileys the blacklisters and one of the party of 7 who wish to impose a 35% pay cut and de skilling of our industry. Please forward to everyone you know.


Shut Blackfriars this morning good tear up with rozzers 1 lad nicked. Then bb hq victoria, then grattes victoria. Blackfriars again tonight to stop nightshift going in at 6 pm.

Hartlepool Demonstration

At least 200 and closer to 300 assembled at the Vic Dock entrance to Heerema. Then a march to the Greenland Road entrance of the company.

About 8:30 we decided to march back to our starting point at Vic Dock. Initially the police were unhappy about us marching back on the main road but relented after arguments. Because of the police being argumentative the march accidentally split into two so that we marched in both directions round a roundabout of the main road into Hartlepool. There was a bit of a traffic jam but had the police listened to us in the first place there would not have been any disruption to traffic.

On the way to Vic Dock the police instructed us to march on the pavement but after discussions while marching the police agreed we could march on the road. Then almost at the end of the march the police in display of wanton aggression decided to block our route and started using force to stop us marching any further. One lad was grabbed and manhandled by 2 or 3 cops. Instinctively people went to his rescue and he was released. We then marched through the police lines to our destination about 200 yards further on. Why the police should want to display such gratuitous and reckless behaviour was beyond the belief of everyone.

Then a police sergeant told us that while the demonstration was generally peaceful and good natured the march he said was unlawful and there were he told us some antagonistic elements amongst us.

Heerema has been told that as long as they employ a cowboy outfit like Balfours they will NEVER get industrial peace. We are going to demonstrate at their front door week after week and if need be every day. Indeed if Balfours continues on its reckless union busting adventures we shall be forced to occupy Heerema to have discussions with the management.

Conoco and Corus should not think they are immune to such behaviour either. These employers also will never get industrial peace while they welcome the likes of Balfours.

Monday, 5 December 2011

'Selling England by the Pound' - The rich get richer and the poor get poorer!

A recent report by the 'Bertelsmann Foundation', a German think-tank based in Berlin, revealed that one-in-nine people in Britain are now living in poverty.

The report which is based on the latest data from the 'Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD), also says: that there are high levels of earning inequality in the UK; that young people have poor prospects in the labour market; that educational opportunities for children in this country, depend considerably on their social backgrounds.

Other studies into social mobility such as the one published by the Sutton Trust in November, also show that British children's achievement, is more closely linked to parental status than in most developed countries.

Though the language of 'classlessness' may be fashionable nowadays, the social class that one is borne into, seems to determine a persons destiny more today, than it did fifty years ago. Indeed, the front bench of the Con-Dem Government, is packed with multi-millionaires and old boys from the top public schools.

In terms of incomes, there has been a widening of income inequality in the UK over the last three decades. Although GDP has doubled since 1978, only the top 10% have seen their incomes grow at, or above that rate, which has been twice as fast as the median, and four times faster than the bottom 10% of income earners. While incomes for the majority have stagnated or fallen, pay for the rich has soared.

According to the independent "High Pay Commission", Britain's bosses have awarded themselves more than a 4000% pay increase over the past thirty years. Last year, the richest people in Britain, saw their combined fortunes rise by 30% to £333.5 billion.

While the Prime Minister, David Cameron, believes in a scorched earth policy for the poor, cutting benefits and public services and freezing tax credits, there has been a massive shift in wealth & power from the majority in this country to the top 10%. Britain has been dubbed 'Richistan' because it has become home to a global elite of foreign billionaires and multi-millionaires. For the rich living in Britain, there is no recession, no benefit cap, no obligation to work, and in many cases, no taxation, even though the Chancellor George Osborne, tells us "We're all in it together."

Offshore Trusts like Bernie Ecclestone's 'Bambino Holdings' held in his ex-wifes name, allow the rich to avoid paying billions in tax. Deregulation, government handouts and subsidies to the rich, PFI deals, have seen the rise of the corporate welfare state with resources transferred to the rich and the burden of paying off the deficit, shifted onto the shoulders of the most vulnerable, those on low incomes and benefits.

One of Britain's wealthiest men, with an estimated fortune of £500 million, is David Harding a Conservative Party donor who is the C.E.O. of 'Winton Capital', the world's largest hedge fund. Although Winton Capital have made billions of pounds out of the financial crisis through speculation, last month, Harding told the 'Financial Times':

"I am surprised to the degree to which the Treasury and the Financial Services Authority'(FSA), act as lobbying organisations for the financial services industry."

As one of London's biggest speculators, Harding has given qualified support for a European 'Tobin' tax on financial transactions which is supported by Angela Merkel the German chancellor and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams.

Though Cameron's coalition Government oppose this 'Robin Hood Tax' on financial transactions, he nevertheless tried unsuccessfully, to stop an EU directive from becoming law which improved employment rights for agency workers and he now wants to challenge the rules, on the National Minimum Wage(NMW), Statutory Sick Pay(SSP), and the 'Working Time Directive'.

Under a plan put forward by Adrian Beecroft, a Conservative Party donor, the Government also wants to allow some employers to fire workers 'at will', on a whim, with no right of appeal to an employment tribunal. Though some business leaders have been wildly enthusiatic about this return to Victorian values, Nick Clegg, the Con-Dem deputy leader, fears that it will make English workers feel even more insecure about their jobs and will depress consumer confidence even further.

As George Monbiot pointed out in a recent article in 'The Guardian', though Cameron opposes the 'Robin Hood Tax', he does not oppose the EU's 'Common Agricultural Policy'(CAP) which accounts for half of the EU's spending and costs the British taxpayer £3.6 billion a year. According to a Government database, the entire CAP budget of £47 billion a year, is shared between 16,000 people or businesses. Under the CAP, the biggest landowners receive the most support from the State. Earlier this year, a House of Commons committee demanded that the agricultural subsidies under the CAP be sustained. The Government have also demanded that the EEC drop a proposal that would limit the amount a landowner could receive on the grounds that it would impede the 'consolidation of landownings'. In Britain, 69% of the land is owned by 0.6% of the population and it is this group who are the major beneficiaries of the CAP payouts.

According to Monbiot, it is the aristocrats and utility companies who reap the benefits of the CAP. For example, the Vestey family received a subsidy of £1.2 million for their Thurlow estate. Seemingly, the previous owner Edmund Vestey, who died in 2008, was so adept at managing his business affairs that he paid in one year, just £10 in tax. When asked for a comment on his tax contribution, he remarked:

"We're all tax dodgers, aren`t we?"

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Blue Plaque Tribute to Ashton hero who died fighting for freedom

Friday, 25th, November 2011, saw over fifty turn up to a packed gathering in the atrium between what is now the Tameside Central Library & the Local Studies & Archives Centre in Old Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, close to where James Keogh spent many hours studying world affairs. The event was the result of Tameside Trades Union Council's decision to nominate James Keogh, a local hero who died in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, for a Blue Plaque. This plaque is the 80th Blue Plaque awarded in the Borough of Tameside and pays tribute to seven other volunteers who went to fight in Spain in the Spanish Civil War and was reported in the local media including the Manchester Evening News on Monday 28th, November 2011.

Councillor Jackie Lane, Tameside Council's Assistant Executive Member for Heritage & Tourism, declared: 'I am proud that Tameside is recognising their sacrifice, and specifically that of James from Ashton.' Mike Harrison, James Keogh's nephew, spoke about the contribution of James to the fight against Fascism in the 1930's and Brian Bamford, Tameside Trade Union Council's Secretary, addressed the issues contained in the commemorative booklet on James Keogh's correspondence, which was circulated at the event: see reports below. James died in March 1938 at the age of 22, when he was hit by tank fire after his battalion met Italian troops near Calaceite in the Spanish province of Aragón. James, an apprentice tailor, went to fight in Spain in May 1937, after telling his family that he was going for another job in Leeds.

The nomination of James Keogh for a Blue Plaque had been initiated by Tameside TUC, but had been particularly supported by Father Kenneth Leech of Mossley, Charles Jepson of the National Clarion Cycling Club (1895) North Lancs. Union and the International Brigade Memorial Trust in Greater Manchester. A large contingent from James Keogh's family were present as well as the Tameside Civic Mayor; affiliates from Tameside TUC and many local trade unionists attended including several local blacklisted electricians from the Unite union, and a number of libertarians from the Northern Anarchist Network in the North West.

James Keogh's nephew explains why James went to Spain

MY name is Michael Harrison and James Keogh was my uncle but I never knew him personally for he was cut down in his prime trying to stem the tide of Fascism. I know him from the stories told by my family and I think to understand him better, we have to cast our minds back to the 1930's.

The Wall Street crash had taken place in October 1929 and in Europe the collapse of the Austrian Bank 'Creditanstalt' in 1931 had turned a recession into a depression. This also resulted in the strengthening of the anti-democratic Fascist and Nazi movement in Austria and Germany. Of course, Benito Mussolini had been in power in Italy since 1922, and then in 1936 fascism raised its ugly head in Spain and both Hitler and Mussolini had pledged support for Franco.

James was 21 year-old in 1936, a young man from a working class family who made a living from tailoring. He wasn't a member of a political party and yet, he and others from the borough set off for Spain a year later to fight Fascism with the International Brigades. It may have seemed like quite an adventure but it wasn't going to be a picnic. So, why would an inconspicuous young man like James join in somebody else's war? I believe that he hated Fascism, having witnessed an Italian Fascist State and then in 1933, Hitler was appointed as Chancellor of Germany. He must have felt it was now time to do his bit to stop the spread of Fascism and preserved democracy in Europe. He was a very confident young man, who wrote home from Spain:

'The Government troops along with the Internationals are going to very soon drive the Fascists out of Spain for good. We have up-to-date tanks, machine guns etc. and a huge airforce that can stand against the enemy.'

He armed himself with knowledge, much of which he obtained at this Library and he grew in confidence. It is, therefore, fitting that the Blue Plaque be placed here. Having taken a great interest in the events of his day, he saw the danger from another European country becoming a Fascist State. He felt that the time for action had arrived but he had to keep his decision quiet from his family, who only found out what he intended to do when they received a postcard from Marseille, where he was to board the ship known as the'Cuidad de Barcelona' (City of Barcelona) was torpedoed and sunk by the Nationalist submarine, 'General Sanjurjo' off the coast of Catalonia near Malgrat. More than a hundred volunteers perished in the attack and the survivors had to swim ashore at Malgrat, where they were offered assistance by local people.

James' war came to an end in March 1938 near the town called Calaceite in Aragón, when his column ran into Italian tanks and troops. I visited Calaceite in 2007 but could not find any graves for the fallen of the International Brigades. There were many British casualties in Spain and their valiant struggle could not prevent Franco from taking power. The rest, as they say, is history.

I see this Blue Plaque as a testimony to the courage of the brave volunteers from this borough and I would hope that it will also serve as a beacon to all, that there are brave men and women who will stand up to defend freedom and democracy, as did so many more when the World War II broke out in 1939. I don't think that we are finished with Fascism and we should be on our guard. Perhaps we should remember what Mussolini had to tell us:

'Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of State and Corporate power.'

James and the other volunteers understood that danger and I am pleased that their sacrifice is now being recognised. I would also like to thank all those who made today possible. Your hard work and your desire to see just recognition for the sacrifice made by others is a credit to you. Although, the Spanish Civil War took place more than 70 years ago, it isn't something that should be confined to the history books, but rather be a reminder of the many dangers that could threaten our way of life. Let this Blue Plaque be another testimony to the bravery of the people of Ashton and the wider borough.

The James Keogh Commemoration

Adapted from the speech by Brian Bamford, Tameside TUC's Secretary's speech, given at Tameside Central Library Blue Plaque Event on the 25th, November 2011:

ON this day Ashton's Spanish Civil War hero, James Keogh, the humble son of a local binman, becomes 'A Giant among Pygmies'!

Tameside TUC believes that like Thomas Hardy's 'Drummer Hodge' in the Boer War that James Keogh of Ashton-under-Lyne in the Spanish Civil War was 'Thrown to rest' and lies 'Uncoffined in the ground'. He was left 'just as found' somewhere in the hard hills and mountains in the bitter landscape of Aragón.

As Thomas Hardy might well have said:

'James Keogh's homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.'

I came across the poem of 'Drummer Hodge' on a wet weekend in the English Lakes on a DVD of Alan Bennett's 'The History Boys': in that film the tutor Hector tells his student that before the Boer War that we wouldn't have been aware of the name of 'Drummer Hodge'; he would like millions before him have disappeared off the historical radar as an unknown soldier.

Thus so, it would have been that 'Drummer Hodge' and Jimmy Keogh's names and identities would have been lost forever on some foreign field.

Two years ago in 2009 James Keogh's sister, Clare Jackson, who passionately supported this application, and who sadly died earlier this year, told me that: 'After all these years and now, at last, people are talking about James.'

James Keogh was unaffiliated,
Uncoffined in the ground,
And until this day uncommemorated.
And yet, in Spain he will be forever a part of the 'Memoria Historica': the historical memory.

This booklet, produced by Tameside Trade Union Council is simply a rendering of James Keogh's intervention in the Spanish Civil War. The artist's impression on the front is by The Guardian artist Clifford Harper and he told me that the hills in the background may be seen both as representations of the Pyrenees of the Iberian peninsular where James' died and as the Pennine chain round here where James' was brought up.

Now I'm not a historian, I'm an electrician with a background in sociology and anthropology, but this booklet produced by Tameside TUC that pays tribute to James Keogh on the unveiling of this Blue Plaque is simply a rendering or an impressionistic account of James's intervention in the Spanish Civil War. We should also remember that history itself is not an exact science: it is not an exact science and nor should it pretend to be so.

As one of the students in Alan Bennett's film 'The History Boys' said: 'If I may speak plainly; History is just one fucking thing after another!' So if I may speak honestly this here booklet from Tameside Trade Union Council is merely a narrative, a rendering by me and Mike Harrison of what we see as James Keogh's contribution in the Spanish Civil War. This has been done by basing it on the limited evidence we have in the letters to his Mum and brothers, and the odd newspaper clipping, the information gathered from the Kew Record's Office; the MI5 files and the material of James in the Moscow Archives. It is not going to be the whole truth and nothing but the truth and it is certainly not going to be the last word on James Keogh. Indeed, if owt this is going to be the Genesis; the kick-off; the starting-gun in what promises to be a fascinating piece of research.

Thus, in unveiling this Blue Plaque Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council is leading the way, setting the trend for other towns in Greater Manchester. What we have here in the story of James Keogh is both sublime and ridiculous in the display of the tension between a working-class mother and her son: that is so typical of our North of England culture. It this we can instantly recognise things in our own lives and our own family experiences. The letters herein from James to his mother show a thirst for news from home and a deep love for his family, especially his mother.

Nobody would understand these affections better than a Spaniard and we see something similar in the poems of the Spanish Civil War poet Miguel Hernandez. Miguel Hernandez, who was born in the region of Valencia, worked as a goat herder and was, like James Keogh, mostly self-taught. But unlike James, Hernandez survived the War only to be captured by the soldiers of General Franco. In 1942, Hernandez died in the prison hospital in Alicante, near to what is now the Costa Blanca not far from tourist Benidorm.

Carlos Figueroa of the Spanish trade union the Confederación General del Trabajo, CGT (General Confederation of Labour), sent me and Tameside TUC a few poems especially for this unveiling event. One of these poems was the 'Lullaby of the Onion', which is about the mother and son relationship; it describes the feelings of Miguel Hernandez on hearing that his wife Josephina is only surviving on onions and bread:

'My little boy
was in hunger's cradle.
He was nursed on onion blood.
But your blood is frosted with sugar,
Onion and hunger.'

'I woke up from childhood:
Don't you be, waking up.
For I have a frown:
Keep to your cradle, defending laughter
Feather by feather.'

'Fly away, son, on the double
moon of the breast:
It is saddened by onion,
You are satisfied.
Don't let go.
Don't find out what's happening,
Or what's going on.'

The tragedy of James Keogh and Miguel Hernández is our tragedy, it is the tragedy of growing up and of knowing too much about the world and ultimately dying as a consequence. The others who to our knowledge went to Spain, surviving the war, from this borough include:

Daniel Albert Boon of Taunton Road, Ashton-under-Lyne.
Patrick Brady of Droylsden.
William Aubrey Brown of 60, Victoria Street, Ashton-under-Lyne.
Albert Godwin of Albert Street, Dukinfield, Ashton-under-Lyne.
James Greenwood of Gerard Street, Ashton-under-Lyne.
William Matthews of Lenford Road, Denton.
J. Russell of 25, Oxford Street, Stalybridge.
Dr. Taylor of Hyde, Cheshire.

Book Review: Syndicalism Compared!

Ralph Darlington: 'Syndicalism and the Transition to Communism: An International Comparative Analysis' Ashgate, 2009, 323pp.ISBN: 978-07546-3617-5 (hbk) £60.00

Reviewed by Sheila Cohen

SYNDICALISM has not enjoyed a good press over the decades. Frequently conjoined with 'anarcho-', it shares the status of a number of other 'isms' - economism, workerism, fundamentalism - repudiated by the left. So this new, and impressively comprehensive, treatment is all the more welcome.

After all, what is syndicalism? As this book shows, the meanings of the term are many and various, ranging from 'workers' control' through union amalgamation and industrial and 'revolutionary' unionism, to a healthy dose of anti-parliamentarianism and a still healthier suspicion of the union bureaucracy.

One good place to seek more precision is within etymology, and here comes a first surprise. Rather than syndicat meaning 'union', the French term actually translates as 'local trade branch', or, in Darlington's explanation, 'basic unit of organisation which united workers…employed in the same trade or industry in a certain town' (p121). In other words, something close to the Workers' Councils which sprang up across the different national movements surveyed by Darlington and were close in their organisational form to the revolutionary soviets in Russia.

However, the origin of the term 'syndicalism' is not the only 'surprise' in this book. Another is the paradoxical failure by many syndicalists to clearly understand the nature of union organisation. While most critiques of syndicalism focus on its politically naïve dismissal of the state, Darlington's detailed analysis demonstrates that the lack of conscious awareness of the contradictory nature of trade unionism played an even more destructive role.

Thus, although the Unofficial Reform Committee within the South Wales Miners' Federation produced a 'devastating critique of union officialdom' with its 1912 pamphlet The Miners' Next Step, the practical strategy of the group was not so much to guard rank and file independence as to attempt to influence the union bureaucracy, particularly its left wing. As a result, the URC was itself 'not immune from the problem of bureaucracy' (p224). In time-honoured fashion, fire-breathing militants like the URC's Noah Ablett 'ceased', in the words of one contemporary critic, ''to be revolutionary, except in words…'.

The crucial failure by many syndicalists to recognise the internal dynamic of bureaucratisation continued to weaken and dissipate their influence. As late as the Second Congress of the Comintern, Willie Gallacher was forced to report that 'Every time we succeeded in making one of our own comrades an official of the trade unions, it turned out that…the trade unions corrupted our own comrades too…' (quoted p224).

However, the Comintern's own slogan 'Conquer the Unions' demonstrated that the young Communist Party had itself failed to get the point. The Comintern's strategy of 'revolutionary unionism' crucially failed to recognise that 'unions' are not monolithic units but contradictory organisations created out of the struggle against exploitation which, in the process of that struggle, may generate either quasi-revolutionary or, more often, repressive tendencies.

Yet by the time of the First World War the shop stewards' committees of the period were beginning to arrive at a much clearer recognition of the need for rank and file independence from the bureaucracy, as captured most clearly in the famous statement by the 1915 Clyde Workers' Committee: 'We will support the officials just so long as they rightly represent the workers, but we will act independently immediately they misrepresent them.'

This conscious awareness of the need for class independence was carried into the postwar period. As Darlington recounts, 'After the war…the stewards extended the concept of rank-and-file independence to the idea of the seizure of state power by the Workers' Committees, which were now conceived of as embryonic "soviets"…'. Disappointingly, however, this potential 'was quickly undermined by the collapse of the movement after the war…' (p229n)

Yet the 'collapse of the movement' was not the only factor. A key player in the class struggle scenario was, of course, revolutionary Russia itself - and, as Darlington's account demonstrates, its role was not entirely constructive. The Comintern's determination to rapidly create Communist parties in all the key European nations vitiated a more complex awareness of the specific conditions and possibilities of the still highly revolutionary post-war period.

Although the Comintern advocated the formation of factory committees, 'there was no detailed exposition or consideration of how this could be done, let alone any serious integration of the experience of the syndicalist-influenced British shop stewards' movement…' (p231).

For its part, the Leninist leadership chafed at the 'exclusive orientation on the industrial struggle and denial of "politics" ' seen as characteristic of syndicalists (p234). For conscious revolutionaries, 'although syndicalism clearly represented a significant step forward from parliamentary reformism…the exclusive emphasis on the industrial struggle meant that in practice it represented the mirror image of reformism, with its separation of economics and politics' (p245).

Most of all, this 'separation' was revealed in the syndicalist failure to fully recognise the issue of state power, as indicated in the widespread syndicalist strategies of 'workers' control of industry' and the 'revolutionary general strike'. As J.T. Murphy pointed out long afterwards, '…"workers' control of industry" without "workers' ownership of industry" is utterly impossible', and Darlington adds, 'Only if the general strike progressed to the level of an insurrection to seize state power could it prevent an inevitable counter-attack…' (p250).

And yet, and yet…The organisational form which could and should have overcome these contradictions was, once again, the soviet. The Comintern itself 'argued that it was these democratic workers' organisations, rather than the trade unions, that needed to take power from the capitalist class…' (p254, reviewer's emphasis).That this did not transpire, in Britain or elsewhere, marks the tragedy of the post-war failure of revolutionary promise.

In many ways Darlington's study of syndicalism is an extended analysis of the vexed question of party and class. 'Class' influenced 'party' in that '…the revolutionary Marxist tradition was itself refined as a result of the influence of syndicalism, notably with the placing of trade union struggle at the very core of the communist project', while 'party' criticised 'class' in 'pointing to a number of crucial limitations within the syndicalist tradition, including…the insufficiency of unions compared to soviets as the chief agency of revolution…' (p279, author's emphasis). Yet both, it emerges in Darlington's powerful and comprehensive account, faltered over the simple, yet decisive question of how to understand that central class organisation - the trade union.

Sheila Cohen is a Visiting Lecturer in Industrial Relations and a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Research in Employment Studies, University of Hertfordshire. She is the author of Ramparts of Resistance: Why Workers Lost Their Power and How to Get It Back (Pluto Press 2006) as well as numerous articles and pamphlets on trade unionism, working-class activism and the nature of work. She is an activist in and supporter of the National Shop Stewards' Network.

Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico

The Zapatista communities in the Mexican State of Chiapas have survived since 2003 despite intense state repression. The indigenous communities organise from the base up and cordination takes place within the Carocoles (regions) in which are situated the Juntas of buen gobierno. These councils are delegate bodies which rotate their members on a very regular basis. All decisions are taken through a process of consensus and this model of social organisation reflects anarchist ideas and ethos. The origins of Zapatismo can be traced back to the writings of the Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magón who had close links to Emiliano Zapata from Moreles during the Mexican Revolution from 1910 onwards.

Thursday, 1 December 2011


Bossism Beckons in the Mancunian Metropolis!

FROM Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the North East to Bristol-upon-Avon in the South West, in 2011 Northern Voices (N.V.) has been welcomed and embraced as a regional publication of note, value and something to be sought after at anarchist & other bookfairs. Among the Cockneys in the capital, London Town, at their famous Anarchist Bookfair at Queen Mary & Westfield College in October our sales held up, and scores of Northern Voices have been sold at the Manchester People's History Museum which, by chance next Saturday, is to be the venue hosting this year's Manchester & Salford Anarchist Bookfair: indeed sales of Northern Voices in Greater Manchester is well into the hundreds and our readership nationally is in the thousands. And yet, despite all this, Northern Voices (N.V.) is persona-non-grata at the very place where it at present sells the most. Both Northern Voices and the Northern Anarchist Network (NAN) have not been offered a stall at this event, being unwelcome in this, their own territorial domain.What's worse, we have not been offered a chance to put our case in an appeal to the organisers, and have not been given an indication whether or not the ban applies to this or subsequent years events.


We must note that what these two snubbed organisations have in common is the word 'Northern' in their titles and those on the bookfair organising committee objecting to their presence are members of Manchester appendages of national organisations that, some may say given this recent conduct, seem to take the name of anarchism in vain. It has been said that 'Northern Voices is the mouthpiece of the Northern Anarchist Network (NAN)' but this is a false allegation: indeed some in the NAN are critical of N.V. and the editorial panel of N.V. has always had members who would not describe themselves as anarchists. It would be better to say that the editorial panel of N.V. belong to an affinity group that exists alongside the NAN. The NAN itself contains a loose number of affinity groups and individuals spread across the North and it has no specific affiliated membership; indeed, at times, the national affiliated groups, the Solidarity Federation and the Anarchist Federation, some of whose Manchester members are now objecting to the presence of both bodies - the NAN & N.V. - at this Saturday's bookfair have freely participated in the forums of the NAN.

We have discussed the snubbing of both the NAN and Northern Voices with the person facilitating this Saturday's event: he makes it clear that it basically comes down to two influential individuals from Greater Manchester who have recruited a few local backers in the nationally affiliated bodies of the SolFed and A.F. to oppose the inclusion of NV and the NAN. In doing this, they have fallen foul of the certain sacred tenets of anarchism and adopted the trashy standards of every bossist tendency that marches to the tune of authoritarianism. Cast out with no right of representation or reply, welcome everywhere but at home, it's a sorry state of affairs for Northern Anarchism.

Blue plaque honour for Ashton's Spanish Civil War local hero!

James Keogh, from Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, was only a young lad of 22 years when he killed near the small town of Calaceite, in the province of Aragon, in the north of Spain. As a member of the 15th International Brigade, he was one of a number of people who were killed in March 1938, when they ran into a column of Italian tanks and infantrymen, who opened fired on them, as they made their way to assist General Lister. Like many other people who died during the Spanish conflict, we know little about what happened to James, or where he lies buried.

James lived at 105 Wellington Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, and was the eldest son of James Keogh and Clara Howard. After leaving school, he started work as an apprentice at 'Pikes' Tailors on Stamford Street, Ashton-under-Lyne. We know that James was not a member of a trade union or a political party and that he was one of a number of local people, who volunteered to go and fight to support the legally elected Republican government in Spain, against the nationalists led by General Francisco Franco, who sought to overthrow the elected government with the support of the Fascists dictators Hitler and Mussolini.

Apart from an article that appeared in the Ashton Reporter in June 1937, which shows the only extant photograph of James Keogh, there remains very little physical evidence today of James, apart from family memories, a few hand written letters, and a picture postcard sent from Marseille, where he sailed to Spain on the 'Barcelona', which was sunk by a submarine which resulted in the loss of many lives.

Having sacrificed his life at a young age, fighting for democracy on foreign soil, members of the Tameside Trades Union Council, nominated James Keogh for a blue plaque which was unveiled by Councillor Jackie Lane, on Friday 25th November at Tameside Central Library, Old Street, Ashton-under-Lyne. Attending the ceremony was his sister Joyce Harrison and other family members.

Those who spoke at the ceremony last Friday, were Mike Harrison, a nephew of James Keogh, Councillor Jackie Lane, Assistant Executive Member for Heritage and Tourism, and Brian Bamford, Secretary of Tameside Trades Union Council and Charles Jepson, of the National Clarion Cycling Club. Members of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, were also present.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Tameside libraries facing closure as spending cuts start to bite!

Many of the borough libraries in the one party state of Tameside in Greater Manchester, could be facing the axe as the council seeks to cut its £3.5 million annual spend on its library service by a minimum of £900,000.

The Labour controlled council currently runs 13 libraries and a home library service. Though the council says that no decision to close libraries has been taken, a report submitted to the Executive Cabinet in November, says:

"It is likely that the number of libraries we provide will need to be reduced."

Libraries which are most risk, are those like Dukinfield, where the report says that customers "are most likely to use another library", whereas, customers using Droylsden and Mossley, are thought to be less inclined to use another library.

While the council have already cut staffing levels in libraries, resulting in savings of over £200,000, the report says:

"It is likely to be necessary however to decrease staffing further in future years and every opportunity will be taken to achieve this through the natural turnover of staff."

Other cost-cutting measures outlined in the report, involve using volunteers to run libraries in place of paid library staff and using community groups, to run libraries from their own buildings. Sharing buildings with other public and private sector providers, to provide a library service, is also one of the other alternative models under consideration.

Plans have already been made to relocate Hattersley library to the new Tesco superstore being built on Hattersley. In addition, reducing library opening hours is also considered an option as well as the use of technology to reduce costs. The report says that the use of e-books and e-reader would reduce costs significantly as well as the greater use of the internet, to access library services.

The role of customer service officers, who work in libraries and offer advice and help with enquiries, is also under review. In a letter to all customer service staff, Adam Allen, Assistant Executive Director for Cultural & Customer Services, says:

"It is recognised that telephone and web based interactions are significantly more cost efficient than face to face contact and are becoming the contact methods of choice for some customers. In order for the service to be affordable going forward, it is necessary to maximise the opportunities to steer customers to use these channels of contact."

The letter says that though customer services staff will be situated at the most convenient location, Ashton Customer services will be the central hub for face-to-face contact and that this will only be provided to those that need it. Also, an appointment system will be introduced as well as a call centre to deal with a range of enquiries from customers.

Kieran Quinn, the leader of the council, is keen that people should have their say about cuts in services and this week the council launched 'The Big Conversation'. However, when it comes to having a conversation with the public about cutting the number of Tameside councillors and their allowances in order to save public money, it's noticeable how he turns a deaf ear to the issue. Perhaps this is understandable when one considers that both himself and his wife Susan, who is the Mayor, last year claimed £67,917.96 between them. His deputy leader, Councillor Taylor, has also claimed £234,810.34 in allowances over the last eight years.

Across the country, campaigners are taking action to stop library closures. Recently, the High Court ruled that the decision by Gloucester and Somerset council's to close libraries was unlawful because they failed to assess the impact library closures would have on the poor, elderly and disabled. In Suffolk, proposals to close libraries were withdrawn following action by protestors.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Rank & File demo gets the goods at Unite offices in Newcastle?

An Electrician & Unite member writes about this morning's demonstration outside the Unite offices in Newcastle: At 7:30 a.m. this morning, about 12 of us demonstrated at the Unite offices in Newcastle. Shortly after we started on the megaphones Tim Bush, a Unite official, came out to speak to us.

We told him we wanted printing of our leaflets done, we want union offices used as resource centres where people can meet and plan actions. We want phone and email, we want transport to places of actions. We want up to date contact lists of all construction workers. We want to see that Unite officials are on our side.

Tim Bush said the union could not be seen to back or organise any form of unofficial demonstrations calling for strike action or any other unlawful actions. We understood and agreed that the union had to protect itself, but there were lots of things it could do anonymously in the background.

One such thing we said could be for the union to hire a mini bus to go to various actions. Tim Bush attacked us for cancelling the bus Unite officials had organised to go to London on the 9th November. The official union bus was to get to London for 11 a.m. to hear speeches from the union full time officials. We had to remind Tim Bush that we organised our own transport to get to London for the 7 a.m. demonstration at the Pinnacle because the union had refused to do what we wanted.

We then wanted to know about using the union offices as a resource centre where we could have meetings and do printing. He wasn't hostile to these suggestions, but he said printing leaflets could be problematical, he had to discuss what we wanted with "others". So we then invited ourselves inside the union offices for tea and coffee. We went to the top floor into a wonderful sort of canteen with settees and armchairs and all mod cons. Ideal for what we wanted as a place to meet other activists. Tim wasn't too sure about this because he said the room was used by staff who operated the union national computer system.

After a fairly friendly, certainly not antagonistic, meeting we agreed to send him our list of proposals that we would like the union to agree to.

These are the brief notes made of what we would like from the union the full list or any amendments would be made after talking to people on Teeside after the demonstration at Conoco:

1 Printing & communication resources
2 Meeting room
3 Minibus
4 Meetings with recallable Rank & File delegates
5 An unofficial presence of unite officials on demos/pickets
6 A continuing updated list of new construction sites and date when they start
7 A national demonstration to be called on Teeside at say Conoco, Corus or Heerema
8 Provide up to date contact lists of ALL construction workers

One thing that came out of the meeting was that the union had to appeal to members and to those who were not members that the union was on their side, it was not remote and that it would defend their jobs, their wages and their terms and conditions.

Also a VERY big thank you for the Unite members and all the others who turned out. None of us were particularly happy about taking part in a public demonstration against our union but we all felt that it had been a worthwhile exercise. We also hoped there would be no need for it to be repeated.

Monday, 21 November 2011

ARBEIT MACHT FREI - Government scheme for the unemployed, condemned as slavery!

The disgraced former MP for Stalybridge & Hyde, tory boy, James Purnell, is the scoundrel who introduced forced labour for the unemployed when he was Secretary of State for work and pensions, during the last Labour government.

Under the guise of work experience, the unemployed are now being dragooned by the Con-Dem Government into working unpaid for supermarkets and budget stores for up to two months in return for their dole money. The work experience programme exempts young jobseekers from the national minimum wage (NMW) for up to eight weeks when undertaking placements of up to 30 hours per week, without pay, which must be completed if they are to keep their Jobseekers Allowance (JSA). Although the scheme is voluntary and allows claimants a one week 'cooling-off' period, a person undertaking work experience, loses their benefit if they fail to complete the scheme after the first week.

Yet young people who have participated in the scheme, have told The Guardian that they were told by the Jobcentre that the scheme was mandatory and they have complained that they were kept in the dark regarding the one week cooling-off period. Many also confirmed that they were doing 30 hours unpaid labour and had to be available, between 9.00am and 10.00pm in return for their £53 a-week JSA.

The Department of Work & Pensions(DWP), have confirmed that jobcentre staff can force the unemployed into taking a placement once they have "expressed an interest" and that a person, will lose their JSA if they pull out after completing one week.

Many major high-street stores are participating in the scheme. Sainsbury, Argos, ASDA, Tesco, Poundland, Primark, have all offered no pay, work-for-your-dole placements, with no guarantee of a job at the end of it.

Cait Reilly (22), who graduated last year with a BSc in Geology, told The Guardian that she had been working for her benefits stacking and cleaning shelves for Poundland in South Birmingham, with five other claimants. Cait said:

"It seems we were being used as free labour in the run-up to Christmas."

Although she told her jobcentre that she didn't want the placement, Reilly says she was told it was mandatory and that she would lose her benefit if she didn't take it.

In Warfield, Berkshire, James Rayburn (21), spent seven weeks stacking and cleaning shelves for Tesco, unpaid, and sometimes worked the night shift. He says he was given little instruction or support but was told by his jobcentre that he would lose his benefits if he did not work without pay. He also confirmed that he was not told by the jobcentre that he had one week to refuse the placement.

While some might call this type of forced labour, slavery, which is providing big business with a pool of unpaid labour, Tesco told The Guardian that they were under the impression that the placements were voluntary and added:

"These placements are not a substitute for full-time employees."

No doubt, young Mr. Rayburn, would beg to differ. He told the newspaper:

"I reckon they should have paid me...I was basically doing what a normal member of staff does for Tesco."

Though Tesco told the newspaper they would not be offering placements over Christmas, in August, they told The Guardian that they were -

"co-operating with jobcentres to provide 3,000 four-week placements this year, and Poundland rather brazenly said that taking on unpaid benefit claimants 'doesn't replace our recruitment activity but adds to the number of colleagues we have working with us.' Neither of them, nor the equally placement-friendly ASDA, answered a question about what 'work experience'actually involves, though the clue is perhaps in the title, Work?"

Though the DWP say they do not know how many hundreds or thousands of benefit claimants are working without pay, employment minister Chris Grayling, told the newspaper:

"Our work experience scheme is proving to be a big success with over half of young people leaving benefits after they have completed their placements. It is not mandatory but once someone agrees to take part we expect them to turn up or they will have their benefit stopped."

Other government schemes such as 'mandatory work activity', and the 'work programme', also involve claimants undertaking forced labour for companies. Solicitors from 'Public Interest Lawyers' in Birmingham, who are acting on behalf of two clients involved in the 'mandatory work activity' programme, are seeking a judicial review of the scheme. They maintain that their clients were forced to work against their will, which amounted to a breach of their human rights under article
4(2)of the Human Rights Act which states:

"No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour."

Forced labour is something which one normally associates with totalitarian regimes, like NAZI Germany and not so-called free and open liberal societies, like Britain. Despite this compulsion, and the fact that these government work-for-dole schemes clearly pose a threat to people in paid employment or those seeking employment, due to the potential for displacement and substitution of dole labour for paid labour, there has been barely a squeak of opposition from the trade unions.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

An escalating struggle on Teeside against the BESNA

Unite the Union rank and file members demonstrated on both Monday and Wednesday this week at Corus on Teeside against the Building Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA). Here are some more words from the frontline from electricians and siteworkers about their experiences, thoughts and feelings about this week, and the escalation of the dispute:

"Monday the 14th of November during another excellent demonstration by the north east rank and file at Corus steel in Redcar. 18 SPIE employees and 50 Balfour employees voted to withdraw their labour in support of the lads at the gate. With the rank and file present there was around 180 sparks across both gates.

Word soon spread to Conoco Philips in Seal Sands, Billington: 20 SPIE men who had cabined up in solidarity then voted to withdraw their labour, word spreading to other SPIE sites. 34 men then removed their workforce followed by 9 men at Sabic chemical site in Wilton, Redcar.

By mid-day Sabic in North Tees another 11 men walked off the site, the 4 lads at Dawsons yard in Middlesbrough walked prompting lads on small 2-man gas board local gas board jobs to walk. Although some of these numbers are small it is still 100 percent of the work force on each site. Maybe next time the Balfour and SPIE lads at Lindsey Oil will follow?"

"The two actions that we had at Corus on Monday and Wednesday of this week were hugely successful.

Our actions are spreading, becoming more generalised politically and, more importantly, involving different groups of workers and others in the trade union movement.

However the Wednesday action did show up weaknesses of organisation, a lack of real discussion between different workers subject to JIB and NAECI, shortcomings in advance planning of demonstrations and a lack of post action discussion.

We have come a long, long way from our first action at the RVI but as we get bigger and more effective weaknesses in organisational matters are beginning to show. Paradoxically this is good sign because it shows things are moving along at a speed that we are struggling to keep up with.

Just about everything we have done so far has been a success that we have achieved BY OURSELVES without ANY official union help, support or encouragement. It looks like this state of affairs will continue. We have to step up to the mark or we are lost."

Monday, 14 November 2011

In their own words: Electricians shut down Corus at Teeside this morning

The words of electricians on the demonstration at Corus on Teeside this morning:
"We have has a great day, 200 sparks and their supporters blocked both entrances to the Corus Steel works, over 50 Balfour Beatty sparks walked, some of them refusing to cross our picket, the lads were tooting horns as they turned their cars round, this was just one gate, the 200 sparks split to cover both entrances and there was more success, the traffic was tailed back some 2 miles with the average wait to enter the site for those not involved in the dispute of 1and a half hours. The lads employed by Mathew Hall did not cross either The police became so frustrated at this that they arrested one of our number; X was later released without charge. We will be back on Wednesday for some more and this time we want 300 plus on the gate."

And another voice with longer thoughts:

"We had 200 demonstrators at Corus steel today. This really was a magnificent turnout. All the sparks either walked off the job or didn't turn up for work.

There were HUNDREDS of cars waiting on the very busy dual carriageway approach roads to the steelworks while we talked to people going in to work.

X, one of our demonstrators, was arrested for obstructing traffic. Immediately we formed ranks on the main road and blocked the traffic. We demanded to know from the police inspector why X had been lifted. He promised X would be released in half an hour without charge. We therefore left the road and sure enough X was released without charge.

All of these demonstrations the rank & file have organised are slowly reinforcing the lessons of trade unionism – stick together and fight the employer, the employer is the enemy. These lessons learnt over many years of struggle were lessons that employers, New Labour and full time officials had hoped were lost for good.

BUT, to emphasise that these basic lessons are not lost we have heard that lads at Ratcliffe walked out in support of SPIE and Balfours walkouts at Corus.

This fight to protect national agreements IS WINNABLE if we stick together and focus on and target the employer. Some may not like this to be said but the full time officials will not help us. In fact they will sabotage us at the slightest chance. We have to continue OUR demonstrations that WE the rank and file organise. It is these rank and file demonstrations that forced the full time officials to organise a national ballot and the demonstration in London last Wednesday. Without us, the rank and file, taking unofficial action we would probably be on £10 an hour or been sacked.

If the employers can get away with abolishing the JIB agreements then they will do the same with all other national agreements such as NAECI. Therefore THIS Wednesday we plan to go back to Corus to support the NAECI agreements and to tell the employers to back off from abolishing NAECI or else.

So be there for another dawn Corus this Wednesday at 6:30 am"

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Sparks day out in London, 9th November 2011

No words needed here, just watch this superb 12-minute film of the Electricians roving demonstration last Wednesday 9th November.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Remembrance (or the Triumph of Selective Memory)

This week’s furore over poppies on football shirts has a vein of irony running through it and not only in the fact that some of the most vigorous moral outrage came from the English Defence League (who mounted a roof top protest at FIFA’s Zurich headquarters).

The less obvious irony here is that England’s opponents in Saturday’s game are Spain. Why? Because in a 1986, Spanish Republican veterans (who had also fought with the British Army from 1939-1945) asked to join the Remembrance Day commemorations in London.

In a gesture that one might assume would be met with mutual respect on the part of Britain’s noble and esteemed veterans, the Spanish asked to lay a wreath in Republican colours with the dedication:

To the memory of the Spaniards who gave their lives in the fight for freedom 1939-45.

The British Legion refused permission and the group had to lay their wreath the following Sunday.

Unlike the British Legion, FIFA have reversed their decision after a slew of ‘authority figures’ and ‘celebrities’ frantically asserted that the poppy is not a political symbol but an innocent gesture of remembrance - a gesture that appears to be less a matter of freedom of choice every year.

What this poppy cult actually represents is a very specific kind of remembrance or, rather, the remembrance of specific things but not others. ‘Lest we forget’, Spain was forced to endure fascism for another 30 years after the Allies apparently defeated it, but even when it was over, there was to be no remembrance just a ‘pact of forgetting’.

History may well be written by the victors but in a world where we have access to information on any subject at our finger tips, there is no excuse for the annual act of collective denial that Remembrance Sunday has become. The poppy is absolutely a political symbol not least because a State that actually cares little for the welfare of its cannon fodder is also able to imply a moral imperative in subscribing to the yearly exercise in selective memory it represents.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Binman Suspended at Bradley Fold Depot of Bury MBC

Manager, Neil Long, 'made decision to suspend'

ON WEDNESDAY management at the Bradley Fold Waste Depot of Bury MBC suspended a binman, a member of Unite and a Safety Representative, under the apparent pretext of the 'Dignity at Work Agreement'. No details of the grounds for the suspension were provided to the binman or to his representative, but as this action by management preceeded a workplace meeting today over safety at work and raised bin lids, which the suspended worker had long expressed concern it was suggested that this suspension was as a consequence of the man's trade union activities. The individual, Jason McKenna, has been particularly vocal on issues of safety with regard to bin lids, especially since a binman down South in Dorset was killed as a result of one such incident with a raised bin lid.

The manager, who is reported to have demanded Jason McKenna's suspension under the exotic title of 'Dignity at Work', is Neil Long: though Mr. Long was not present at yesterday's meeting suspending Mr McKenna, one of his colleagues there said that it was his decision. It may be recalled that Mr Long last Summer, at a packed meeting of binmen and including the local Unite branch secretary, informed the men that all bin lids should be totally closed for purposes of safe collection.

Health and safety has long been a concern among the binmen at the Bradley Fold Depot of Bury MBC and a serious incident in which a vehicle was set on fire was reported on this Northern Voices Blog last year. Other issues at Bradley Fold have been complaints of 'nepotism' and 'favouritism' with regard to some of the lower middle management decisions. Even more serious perhaps has been the weak survival rate of trade union representatives at Bradley Fold Depot.

It may be recalled that a few years ago one binman shop steward at Bradley Fold, was dismissed together with two colleagues after management used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to film them all while going about their duties. This later led to a charge that they had been taking bribes; in that case a bottle of Strawberry Volvic, and they were dismissed. Later there was an out-of-Court settlement in with all three got payments from Bury MBC, amid widespread publicity in the media. Next January, the case of another dismissed Bradley Fold shop steward is schedule to take place at the Manchester Employment Tribunal: that hearing will include Dismissal for Trade Union Activities, and Unfair Dismissal.

The colourful history of labour relations at Bradley Fold and Bury MBC looks set to continue judging by the indications in the current 'Dignity at Work' case.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Joys of Writing to your local MP

Chi Onwurah MP: 'I don't want to hear of this class-war nonsense'

Among trade unionists in the building trade it was recently suggested that people should ask their local MPs for help and support over the current problems in the construction industry. Reports suggest that a few people did this without too much success. Below, a union activist, Ray Smith, writes of the experience of one such optimist who tried to contact his own MP, Chi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle Central. Ms Onwurah is a graduate of Manchester Business School and she clearly knows her stuff about the trials and tribulations of businessmen trying to make ends meet in the current difficult economic climate. She seemingly can do little wrong in the eyes of what passes for the chattering left-wing political classes of England these days:
'I received an email tonight from someone who had contacted his MP Chi Onwurah, the MP for Newcastle Central. He recived a reply a from a Tony Bone, her PA I believe. Like all the others he, apart from various blandishments, never received any support at all from the MP. I give my reply to this spark who contacted me: I met both of these two (Chi Onwurah and Tony Bone) at the Monument last week at the anti-capitalist demonstration by the tent people. I asked Tony Bone why he hadn't passed on my messages to Chi Onwurah. He said she had a lot of work on and he didn't think she could spare the time to investigate everything that went on. When he was saying this she was standing next to us and I would guess overheard everything that was being said. She said nothing. So I asked her what her opinion was and she replied that if employers couldn't make a profit they wouldn't employ people. Basically what I inferred from what she said was that you should feel lucky to have a job – plenty don't. As we all know this argument about loads on the dole is one weapon employers use to drive down wages, terms and conditions. We had a bit of a discussion and she went off saying she didn't want to hear any more class war nonsense. Then Tony Bone told me that she, that is Chi Onwurah, was liaising closely with Unite and the regional TUC about this dispute. I did ask but he declined to tell me what was being liaised.

'Then Chi Onwura came back and so I invited her to the demonstration in Ashington. "What for?", she said, and anyhow she had to be in parliament doing important work. So make of this little exchange as you will but I concluded that the local MPs, Unite and the Northern TUC have decided to cast us adrift. I think we are just too much of an embarrassment to the Labour Party and the unions. WE bankroll the Labour Party and people like Miliband are scared stiff of being accused of being in the pay of the unions. Not like the Tories and big business.

'Just go away and do as you are told', I seem to hear the unions and Labour say. But when you think about it we are told to warmly embrace the free market economy we live in. One consequence of this free market economy is that WE (not the bosses or the financiers) have to pay for everything and if you don't get what you pay for then demand your money back or get what you pay for. Yet when we start to demand value for money - nothing.

'Has anybody else any stories to tell of any encounters with MPs or the TUC?'

Blacklist Report Clears Unite Officers

Gail Cartmail: 'No evidence of collusion by Union Officers'

THE Report and investigation into 'alleged Officer collusion in Blacklisting in the construction sector' conducted by an Assistant General Secretary of Unite, Gail Cartmail, has concluded that: 'Despite considerable effort I have not discovered evidence against officers' of the union. She writes that while 'I accept that this may disappoint some activists, who are justifiably angry and who have suffered ... great injustice arising from Blacklisting', she urges that 'workers officials of the union are also entitled to dignity at work and in the absence of any proof I trust that such allegation of collusion (in Blacklisting) will now desist.'

Gail Cartmail in her section entitled 'Alleged collusion by union officials' seems to place great stress on the allegations of one man Mr. James Simms, who was a former employee of a predecessor union and has since been employed by Beaver Management Services Ltd and has claimed to have a 'CD-ROM with the names of union officers on it complicit in the Blacklisting of members'. Gail Cartmail reports that 'Mr. Simms did not offer a CD-ROM ...' and described her investigation with Mr. Simms as though she was extracting teeth; she concludes that in his behaviour with her he 'obviously demonstrated a far more cautious approach to disclosure than that apparently promised to activists in the industry.'

Despite this, the report clearly shows that much is left unanswered. Reports of the goings-on at a London Contracting Branch meeting in September 2007, was found in the Blacklist file of one militant and it was noted that several union officials had been present at the meeting. An application to the ICO for full disclosure of the 'Blacklisting' Consulting Association's files by UCATT under the Freedom of Information Act had been turned down, but this is now subject to an appeal. This report did not investigate the earlier allegations by the whistle-blower Alan Wainwright, and his attempts to warn senior officers in Amicus of what was going on.

In all these circumstances the wish of Gail Cartmail that she hopes 'that such allegations of collusion will now desist' is unlikely to be heeded by anyone but the most gullible, if only because despite her best efforts this matter has been allowed to fester too long.

Monday, 31 October 2011


Saturday 11.30am to 5pm on November 5th, 2011
The Bridge Hotel,
Castlegarth, Newcastle

Free Event: Books, good chat, drinks (alcohol & non-alcoholic).

For details and a stall call: 07931 301901.

Local & general history, shipyards, unemployment, Environment, football & other sport, culture, railways, mining, Marxism, social science, economics, Anarchism, international relations, socialism, trade unions and more, stalls from various groups.

To be followed the next day on Sunday 6th November by the Northern Anarchist Network meeting starting at 12 noon until 4 p.m.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Northern Anarchist Network: Newcastle, November 2011: a note from Martin

How can we best contribute to the growing interest in anarchist thought and action? It would be good to see that we are being listened-to in our localities, due to actions following such attention. This is not a criticism asking “what is the NAN for?” or a plea for vanguardism (like saying “we are the only syndicalists/anarchists).

I live in a fairly isolated place and very much appreciate company. Some present to-day also rarely see a friendly anarchist face. NAN has never been a “talking shop” as much as I love them. The breadth of discussion material we have covered over the years has been impressive. I am only hoping for a bit more active participation, to convey our messages, maybe find some new comrades to help our very basic organisation. Also to give some sense of our co-ordinated thought and continuity of decision making. As a bare minimum we need some agreed number of people running the blog in regular contact (of some form) with each other, like an editorial board.

What organizational examples can we take from the Anarchist Federation (AF)? Over the years they have increased their active participation on a very wide front. Some of our attenders claim that they are neo-Marxists whom fetishise the working class, ignoring their authoritarianism, the vast gradations in material possessions; and strong identification with the middle class rather than less fortunate people. I do not suggest that we become a floating AF, SF, change our name to The Bamford Column or The Gas Light and Coke Company.

But there are now millions suffering roughly the same economic conditions. This suggests a potential for isolated (if highly significant) actions. For example the destruction of Police property in August this year is a long way from building a mass resistance movement. Such actions, however admirable are “the menu not the meal”, only a starting point. Possibly, that furious energy will burn itself out in the daily slog of community and work place struggles. What are such activists going to do for an encore, in what ways should we help out??

Seeing our Network with its breadth of values and visions (in spite of personality clashes) might be a contribution to those who are new to our thoughts and actions.

Martin S. Gilbert

Friday, 28 October 2011

Wednesday's building site disputes across the country

AT least 5 van loads of workers and many deliveries refused to cross picket lines at the Balfour Beatty Carrington Paper Mill site in Manchester on Wednesday this week.

Protests also took place in Liverpool, Govan and Newcastle.

In London, sparks protested outside Balfour Beatty Blackfriars Station site before blocking roads through the centre of The City and arriving at Cannon Street and invading the Gratte Brothers site, where they unfurled a banner proclaiming 'ALL POWER TO THE SPARKS'.

When it was pointed out to the Site Agent that pay rates were being cut from £16 to £10 an hour, he replied 'I'd put the scumbags on £1 an hour if it was up to me.' So guess where the demo's going to be next Wednesday at 7am?

Police have informed the union that if the London action continues, they will issue Section 14 Notices under the Public Order Act - which would effectively make any gathering illegal and allow for pickets to be arrested if they continued to protest after the Notice has been served.

There was a journalist and a photographer from the London Evening Standard at the protest on Wednesday morning - but not a single word in the paper. Nine weeks since it started, there is a complete mainstream media black-out on this story - wonder why?

ALL OUT on Wed 9th NOV. Construction Industry National Day of Action - LONDON,
7am Pinnacle (near Liverpool Street).

We already have reports of 200 workers from 1 construction project voting to walk-out that day, with coaches already booked. We are expecting thousands.

How knee-jerk politicians got riots wrong!

OFFICIAL statistics now suggest that leading politicians were wrong in their initial attempt to blame gangland culture for the August riots. Of those arrested only one in eight were gang members and even where police identified that gang members were present, most forces now believe that they did not play a 'pivotal role'. Further, it has been argued on Radio Four's program 'More or Less' that the arrest statistics could themselves be biased and not give an accurate indication of the typical participants in the riots, because police methods of arrest by their nature tend to target people with previous convictions and prioritise gang members.

Outside London, the majority of police forces identified fewer than 10% of all those arrested as being gang members. Even in London the vast majority of those arrested at 81% were not identified as being members of gangs. This week's latest report by the Home Office and Ministry of Justice stresses the poor educational and socio-economic background of those arrested in the riots and states: 'It is clear that compared to the population averages, those brought before the courts were more likely to be in receipt of free school meals or benefits, were more likely to have had special educational needs and be absent from school, and are more likely to have some form of criminal history.'

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Yesterday's North East demo by the Unite union at Ashington School

SIXTY people started the demonstration well before dawn. The site is off a main road and to get to it you have to go down a fairly narrow pathway just wide enough for traffic in one direction. The site is Kier, and Balfours is the electrical contractor. At the start the site manager was very unhappy at us demonstrating on private land that we did not have permission to be on. He complained that we were causing a traffic jam on the main road outside the site. Nevertheless we stayed our ground to put our case to those going into work. Twenty electricians walked off from the site.

Then the police arrived but were fine especially when we had a talk with them about their terms and conditions being undermined especially by the employment of special constables who did the work on a voluntary basis. These police seemed to understand though they did not say so that they were facing the same attacks as every other private and public sector employee. After an hour or so senior national mangers of Kier and Balfours arrived. These people were not happy at being stopped by and then forced to drive through a very noisy demonstration but by the time they got onto the pathway into the site they couldn't turn round. After a while we saw them skulking around the site not looking too happy. We all considered this was a very good demonstration especially as it was in a fairly isolated place, it buoyed people up quite a lot.

Although we have still not seen ANY full time official from Unite at ANY of our demonstrations, we will continue to invite them at our next demonstration planned for the very future. So we live in hope that we might see a North East full time official Unite. Does anyone know why the North East regional office of Unite appear to refuse to its members any help, support or encouragement?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Northern Anarchist Network Newcastle Conference, November 2011

The next NAN takes place on Sunday 6th November 2011 at the The Bridge Hotel, Castle Square, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear, NE1 1RQ. Click here for a Google Map.


12.00 noon: Jimmy Warne, President of the Newcastle Central Branch of Unite, will address the meeting on the blacklist in the construction industry, the development of a rank & file movement & the recent attack on wages and conditions of trade unionists and other workers by several main stream construction companies. Invited Chair: Dave Douglass.

1.30 pm: Dave Douglass to speak on subject of his choice. Invited Chair: Ray Smith.

2.30pm until 3.00 pm: Refreshment Break.

3.00 pm until 4.00 pm: Speaker from 'British-Libyan Solidarity Campaign' on the 'Arab Spring' and the involvement of elements the British political class, such as Tony Blair MP, in the perpetuation of the Gadaffi regime. Chair: Barry Woodling.

Venue for NAN:
You need to head for Nicholas Street, you will see it leads on to an unmarked bridge, which is the High Level Bridge, the Bridge Hotel stands on the north side of the river tyne, directly under the Keep (The Castle, as in Newcastle) is perhaps the most famous landmark in Tyneside.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Hartlepool Unite Union Meeting with the notorious union boss Bernard McAuley

THE meeting on 10th October 2011, was hosted by Hartlepool Construction branch. It was chaired by Tom Geach the chair of the Hartlepool branch. With visitors and supporters there were about 70 there. Bernard McAuley gave a pretty factual account of the situation that most people probably knew. He listed the main changes that the employers were seeking to impose:

1/ cut wages by at least 25%

2/ working day to be determined by the employer.

3/ employers want NVQ Level 2 rates of pay. All trades would be at this grade after 2 years

4/ employers to offer training by the company BEST.

5/ employers to decide who gets NVQ qualifications.

6/ the employer to decide what trade you would be employed as.

7/ employers want lists of union members.

8/ employers to decide if you get travelling and lodgings allowance.

9/ employers to be allowed to lay off people and put workers on short-time working.

Pre-empting questions about a ballot for strike action Bernard McAuley said this was difficult to organise because he had to obtain an up to date list of members and this was very difficult but by Tuesday of next week (18th October) at the latest he would be in a position to let people know what was happening. There was to be a shop stewards meeting in London. We can't he said allow just anybody in. To obtain credentials to attend people had to apply to their regional officials or regional secretary. Bernard McAuley also said:

1. agencies would be instructed by employers to recruit 'electrical improvers'. These were trades at the lowest possible rate because this would be the rate that employers would quote for contracts.

2. people should work together by addressing problems on a site by site basis as individuals.

3. a good tactic was to work to rule.

4. the only time results have occurred was following unofficial action.

5. the union had organised the demonstration in Oxford Street.

Bernard McAuley spoke for about an hour in complete silence. He then sat down to a stony silence. Not a single person said a single word until the chair called for questions and contributions from the floor. The main demand was for a national ballot NOW for all out strike action. The next demand was for unofficial strike action and picketing of all sites. Many times Bernard McAuley told us that the first was difficult to organise and the second was impossible because of anti trade union legislation. Several people said the union never placed any real pressure on the Labour government to repel these laws. Bernard McAuley also said following calls by Siteworker to email him he had received at least a thousand emails calling for a national ballot. He had or would reply to every single one. Bernard McAuley was also informed that Bill Green had said the advice of the union NOT to sign the new agreement but if people refused and were sacked the union would be unable to help. Bernard McAuley said nothing. Mention was made of the email sent in Bernard McAuley's name regarding a 'cancerous cell'. The intention of this said Bernard McAuley was in the context that everybody had to work together for the common good. It had rattled cages he said but he had also been hauled over the coals for it by McCluskey.

There was a lot of frustration in this meeting. People it seemed had attended expecting Bernard McAuley and the union generally to offer real solutions to the problems posed by the employers onslaught but there was nothing of any real substance except the union has your best interests at heart and calls to recruit to the union. There were calls for a committee like the one on Tyneside to coordinate and plan actions but this was left to be decided on another day. However after the meeting there was an unofficial meeting of a group to possibly organise unofficial actions.