Monday, 28 February 2011

Painful Paradoxies: Hitler praises 'Socialism', Bob Crow backs 'Socialist' Party - Black Jesse Owens kisses Nazi Leni

JUST OVER 75 years ago on the 8th, December 1934, Chancellor Hitler took sharp issue with his Minister of Economy Dr. Schacht in a speech in Nuremberg on the occasion of a celebration of the centenary of the German railways which, as he pointed out, 'is now state-owned and has developed along "Socialist lines".' That was the same week in December last year, that Bob Crow, Secretary of the RMT, threw in his lot with the 'Socialist' Party against the syndicalists, anarchists, SWP and other independent socialists on the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN).

It will be 40 years next year since the black athlete Jesse Owens kissed the 'old Nazi' photographer/ film-maker Leni Riefenstahl at the 1972 Munich Olympics, according to Leni: 'As Owens hugged and kissed me, we were both near to tears. Several guests began to clap, then the applause grew louder, intensifying into a storm. Confused and embarrassed, I left the reception.'

With these kind of painful paradoxies in mind I sent the email below to Bob Crow, National Secretary of the RMT union, who is linked to the 'Socialist' Party through his personal support for the political body Trade Union Socialist Coalition (TUSC) explaining my resignation from the National Shop Stewards Network that Bob's union helped to establish.

Dear Bob, 
Last week I gave in my resignation from the NSSN (National Shop Stewards Network). Normally I would not consider doing such a thing and would have just allowed my involvement to quietly lapse, because normally I wouldn't regard myself as that important in the way of things. This time, following Lynda Taaffe's (NSSN Secretary & Socialist Party leader) assurance that you had not been misled when you gave your backing to the Socialist Party, I have decided to join with the others in making a fuss and a statement. I do this because of nature of the immature takeover of the NSSN by the Socialist Party and having studied the policies of the TUSC and listened to Alex Gordon (President of the RMT union) at his Industrial Society talk in Manchester in December with his reference to exchange controls and British sovereignty, I fear that what you may end up with is national socialism without the racism. I say without the racism, but I think an unintended consequence of your position and that of Alex Gordon - with its nod to 'Little England' - could be a drift to the encouragement of xenophobia in this country. I know that TUSC has an etc. clause here & there that is internationalist in intent, but the underlying policy is reactionary and 'Little England'. I also heard Steve Headley at the special conference criticise Dave Chapple for 'taking his ball home': well does that mean that if we were in Germany in 1933 at the time of Hitler's triumph at the elections there we should behave like good Prussians and accept the result? Far better to behave like good Spaniards and Catalans in 1936 and be the first to confront the Fascists... 
Kind regards, 
Brian Bamford

The German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, in his speech in 1934, supported nationalisation, and the policy of TUSC is as follows: 'Stop all privatisation, including the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and Public-Private Partnerships (PPP), and the immoral privatisation of prisons. Bring privatised public services and utilities back into public ownership under democratic control.' The form of 'democratic control' is not explained, there is no evidence here that it would differ much from Herbert Morrison's model as established in the 1940s.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Tameside Council approves £35 million of cuts!

THERE WERE NO PROTESTORS outside Ashton Town Hall last Tuesday, when the leader of Tameside Council, Kieran Quinn, took an hour to deliver his budget speech to a full council which ultimately told us next to nowt about where the £35 million cuts, this year, were going to be made to public services in Tameside. The bankers were to blame for the crisis and the Brown government was wholly innocent of any deficit or debt. The Con/Dem government was cutting too deeply, too quickly and there was much description of the dangers to our services - including the fire service - owing to the national government's cuts. The local unions, meaning Unison, had been hugely helpful in identifying where the axe would fall. He told the council:
"The Trades Unions bring massive expertise, working with them, we have already cut 400 jobs and reduced management by 25%." 
But as he pointed out, a further 600 jobs will still need to go.

In their budget report which includes some details, the council says that it is seeking to rationalise the way services are delivered rather than carry out massive cuts. This will be achieved the report says, by streamlining services and by forming partnerships with neighbouring authorities to deliver services such as refuse collection and parks maintenance. But it is clear from the report that some front-line services will be cut or closed. The number of luncheon clubs are to be cut and amalgamated. As regards libraries, the report says:
"It is likely that library functions can be delivered with fewer buildings."
The report says that the Arts & Events programme will be reviewed and there will be a reduction in the current arts and events programme, including, ceasing capital spend. Also, more than £1.5 million will be cut from the budgets of District Assemblies who are responsible for such things as street cleansing. The report also says that capital expenditure will be cut by 58% and that volunteers, will be used to run countryside visitor centres and to provide other council services.

Unlike councillor Jim McMahon, the leader of the Labour Group on Oldham council, who recently proposed a 10% reduction in councillors allowances, councillor Quinn, did not take the opportunity to propose a cut in the allowances for Tameside councillors. But he did tell us: "We`re reducing management costs and Steve (Steven Pleasant the C.E.O. of Tameside Council) has had a reduction of 16% in his salary." The unfortunate Mr. Pleasant, is now struggling to make ends meet on only £166,929 per year, which is £24,000 more than the Prime Minister receives. But it wasn`t all bad news on the night: councillor Quinn`s wife (Susan), was elected as the next Mayor and this will add, another £25,000 to the family coffers.

When it came to the turn of the Tameside Tories, to respond to the leaders' budget speech, we listened in bewilderment, as John Bell, the leader of the Tory Group, rambled on discursively about Greater Manchester fire service, as a labour councillor shouted out: "Is this a fire service budget speech." Although the Tory leader nodded in approval at the council tax freeze and the budget, he did argue that these measures ought to have been introduced two years ago. Regarding council spending, he said that there had been money wasted and extravagance such as £36,000 for software data for a 'virtual Town Hall', which very few people had visited and the £30,000 which had been spent on staff 'lifestyle' schemes including, £4,995 paid to a private firm to teach council employees and councillors how to walk safely. What he didn`t mention was the £20k he receives for being the Vice-Chairman of the Greater Manchester Fire Authority or the £27 grand he received last year, for being the Conservative leader. While referring to an article in the Daily Mail, the Labour opposition started to laugh, as councillor (Wag) Taylor, the deputy leader, shouted out: "I thought you read the Sun newspaper."

Sitting in Ashton Town Hall last Tuesday, watching this bunch, was like sighting a shoal of grey mullets - the shit fish - on the high seas' of economic catastrophe from which we must eventually emerge.

Student occupation at Manchester University

Manchester autonomous students re-occupied the Roscoe Building at Manchester University on Wednesday February 23rd. The aims of the occupation are to build for the 26th March demonstration in London against the ConDem cuts, develop alternative education courses, and support the international movements for human rights and social justice particularly in the Middle East in the light of the current protests there against authoritarian regimes.

Unlike previous occupations a consensual decision making process is operating which is best illustrated by the banner inscribed with the words "Really Open Occupation". Everyone is welcome at the occupation and a number of events including films and workshops are being planned. Community activists and trade unionists are especially welcome and outreach work and networking are key priorities of the occupation.

Manchester autonomous students consists of anarchists, libertarians, non aligned socialists etc and is a completely inclusive body. You can contact the Occupation at;;

Barry Woodling
Northern Anarchist Network

Friday, 25 February 2011

Anarchy in Action - Spain 1936

I remember watching this excellent documentary about the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) many years ago. During the war the anarcho-syndicalists and anarchists,members of the Confederation of National Labour (CNT),collectivised much of the economy in Catalonia and established agricultural collectives under workers control. In Barcelona, the trams, factories, cinemas, department stores, were run by the workers themselves. Even the Ritz hotel in Barcelona, was turned into a canteen for the workers serving cheap meals.

What the Spanish workers sought to do was to create their own society, without church, state or capitalism. As the anarchist Josep Costa says in this video: "We felt that now is the time to destroy all that has been oppressing us." For those that think there is no alternative to capitalism, Labour managerialism, or the socialist/communist authoritarian regimes of the Left, watch this video and be inspired.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Libya: The Manchester Connection?

ONLY last Sunday I was chopping a sweet onion very fine when who should come on the phone but 'Johnny L' - our man in Benghazi - he was just ringing to say 'anything I could say would be trivial as it's over two years since I was there'. I threw the onion in the Moroccan Tagine with Fruit & Honey and said 'Johnny tha' knows more than tha's pretending or than tha' realises'. He insisted that he didn't see any guns in the homes of the people he knew over there and he said he wondered about how much the reporters from Egypt really knew of what was going on and how much was conjecture on their part. But he none-the-less reported to NV as follows:
'Just been talking to a Libyan (from Benghazi) in Leeds, he seemed very agitated, excited by the events and he says that even the army are handing over their tanks in Benghazi, mentions 80 dead and he says that Derna is in the hands of the protesters. But I don't know if he can be completely trusted based on some of his other general conversation about Libya ... a tendency, I think, to believe what he wants to ... he also says that there is a media shutdown in Benghazi including phones and internet so I don't know how he is getting his info - it doesn't do to question too closely - can seem a bit impolite if you interrogate too closely.
'Libya needs to be understood as two entities, the East being where the main anti-Gadaffi sentiment is based. And I wouldn't be surprised if the West doesn't know much of what is going on. I have not one email in my inbox from Libya.
'I am really not the person to do any blogging. For a start no-one in Libya is going to want to talk to me on phone or internet, even if they are able to, too dangerous ... I am not familiar with the newer media of Twitter and Facebook. I am by no means sure of what the situation is, as my conversation today was only the third time a Libyan has spoken openly with me about the politics in Libya. What about Aasadin? I have his telephone number if you need it.'
Two years ago 'Johnny L' and Aasadin addressed a meeting of the Northern Anarchist Network in Wellington, Shropshire. Aasadin is from Manchester and was on the demos in London last weekend. Last week, Saif Gadaffi blamed, among others, Libyans in Manchester for what has happened in Libya in recent weeks.

Bury Council Leader Disgusted with Unite Union Boss

LAST NIGHT Bury Council's leader, Councillor Bibby, said that he was disgusted with Unite union leader Brian Bamford's suggestion that the Bury Chief executive be 'dismissed', saying: 'I find it disgusting that a union official should call for the dismissal of a man (the Chief Executive) for doing his job'. This angry reply followed a question from the Branch Secretary of Bury Unite which was as follows:
'Given the recent concerns and utterances of the Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, over the high payment to Chief Executives (Bury MBC Chief Executive is on a pay scale of between £147,822 and £160,284 up to 2011) and press reports this week of soaring allowances to local councillors (Councillor Bibby alone in 2009/2010, received £36,087.39 for his basic allowance; Special Responsibilities, Travel & Subsistence): would it be more economical to dismiss the Chief Executive or return to a situation pre-1972, in which councillors were denied the stipend of councillors allowances?'
Councillor Bibby also defended his own stipend and allowances saying that he believed the Bury Branch Secretary of Unite was on more than he was. Regarding councillor's allowances he said that these were set Nationally by a 'remuneration panel'.

The Labour Party offered an amendment to the governing Tory budget that made some token gestures to the demand of Bamford and Bury Unite: this included 3 days surrender of councillor's allowances to fit with the decision to lockout staff for three days at Xmas and a suggested saving by reorganising the Chief Executive's office. The Labour amendment was later rejected but an amendment from the Lib/Dems was accepted: this included a proposal for extra bin collections at Xmas and Passover.

A protest of perhaps 200 people took place before the Council meeting: this was called by Unite the Union and Bury Action Against the Cuts, though later, inside the Council Chamber, the Bury Labour Party tried to claim it was their protest.

Not So Discrete Survival of Building Site Blacklisting


7am Tuesday 1st March

ENFIELD based electrician Frank Morris has been sacked from working on the prestigious Media Centre at the Olympics after blowing the whistle on the use of an illegal blacklist on the construction project.

Frank's dismissal by Daletech Services followed weeks of intimidation and threats of violence by members of senior management after Frank Morris had raised concerns about the dismissal of a co-worker. The co-worker was dismissed from the Olympics Media Centre being built by Skanska and Carillion after his name appeared on a blacklist of trade union members. Frank raised concerns about this illegal practice and was victimised, bullied, threatened with violence by senior management to the point that Frank had to call the police for his own protection before finally being dismissed.

The protest is outside the prestige Olympic Media Centre site - the Skanska site where the blacklisting took place - which is in Pudding Mill Lane - adjacent to Pudding Mill DLR and in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium.

Skanska and Carillion were two of the major building contractors exposed for using an illegal blacklist of trade union members following a raid on the premises of the Consulting Association by the government's Information Commissioners Office in 2009. The Consulting Association collated a secret database of trade union members on behalf of 44 multi-national construction firms who funded, supplied information and directed the workings of the blacklist. The Consulting association database was declared illegal following a successful prosecution in 2009. Invoices seized during the raid show that Skanska alone paid over £28,000 a year to use the blacklist. Skanska have conceded that 30 of their senior managers participated in the Consulting Association operation. There are currently numerous Employment Tribunal cases against Skanska, Carillion and Daletech because of the blacklisting scandal.

John McDonnell MP called the Consulting Association scandal "the worst case of organised human rights abuse ever in the UK". It seems that the illegal practice is still alive and well on the most high-profile building project in the world.

Below are Frank Morris' own words on the matter:

'When I started August 2010 at the Olympic I was overjoyed, I secured a job at the Media Centre for Daletech Services who were contracted to Skanska with Carillion being main contractor. I brought into the Olympic dream and proud that I could be part of building of it. I was also guaranteeing myself a reasonable weekly wage in the worst recession since the great depression which was a lifeline to me and my family.

'Late last year, a fellow electrician was dismissed from site, this worker had an impeccable work record; 100% attendance and punctuality, he was earning a productivity bonus which meant he was achieving over and above his daily work target and he had an impeccable disciplinary record. I was in complete shock the project was in mid flow we were all looking at a minimum of at least 6 months work and the contractor we were working for seemed to have plenty of work in the pipeline for 2011.

'Later that same day, I was speaking to my electrical supervisor and asked what was the reason behind the dismissal. The reply was astonishing, he stated he was dismissed because his name has come up on a list that he was a union man and a known troublemaker. My electrical supervisor confirmed this again the following day. The other electrician had previously been a shop steward on another London construction project.

'I passed on this information to the sacked electrician and his trade union, so he could understand the real reason for his dismissal. During the subsequent appeal hearing, the name of the electrical supervisor in question and the conversation I had previously recalled was divulged. That was the end of my Olympic experience.

'I was immediately removed of site and transferred to Belmarsh Prison extension still working for Daletech Services with Skanska this time were the main contractor. I was forced to work in isolation (in contravention of the main contractors health and safety procedures), site management waged a campaign of intimidation and bullying against me. On 16th December 2010, I had to call the police and ask for protection as a senor electrical engineer threatened me with violence; he said was going to follow me off the site and assault me. I tried my best to resolve the issues using the company grievance procedure. For the next 6 weeks, I suffered daily examples of intimidation by site management. If I could of found another job at any time, I would of resigned: the fact was, I could not afford to leave.

'On 14th February 2011, the management told me to attend a disciplinary hearing and I was sacked. I had previously worked on numerous railway projects and was represented at the hearing by Steve Hedley (RMT union official). I was not sacked because of poor workmanship or lateness but because I raised concerns about the use of an illegal blacklist. My union is representing me in an Employment Tribunal claim. I am now unemployed.'

Steve Hedley RMT Official says:

'In over 25 years representing workers, I have never seen such a blatant stitch up victimisation and even threats of violence to a union activist who's only "crime" was to expose an illegal blacklist operating on the Olympic site. The disciplinary hearing was a farce with management dismissing a threat to our member made by his site manager of "come outside and sort this out man to man" despite the manager putting these very words in his own witness statement.'

Contact info. to follow up story:

Frank Morris 07779 782904
Steve Hedley (RMT) 07545 530526

More information on

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Did anyone predict?

THIRTY YEARS AGO TODAY Antonio Tejero's military men invaded the Tribunal del Congresso in the Spanish Parliament in Madrid to stage a Coup D'Etat. That act, because it failed, had the unintended consequence of both cementing the Spanish democracy and preserving the Spanish Monarchy. Who would have predicted that? This week, we received a letter from Laurens Otter disputing George Orwell's claim (see 'Political Prediction, Egypt & the Arab World' below) that 'so far as I am aware no intellectual on the Left' predicted the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939: Laurens claims: ' was not as rare as all that for people to have predicted the Stalin-Hitler Pact (though obviously not the precise date).' It is our intention to publish Laurens's letter in full later but mindful of what been said in the comments below about the failure to predict the French revolution let's consider what Karl Popper said in his essay 'Prediction & Prophecy in the Social Sciences'. Popper in an address to the International Congress of Philosophy in Amsterdam in 1948 said: 'It is a fact that we can predict solar eclipses with a high degree of precision, and for a long time ahead. Why should we not be able to predict revolutions? Had a social scientist in 1780 known half as much about society as the old Babylonian astrologers knew about astronomy, then he should have been able to predict the French Revolution.'

It's a cute idea and the Marxists and others have pinned their faith in it and they think that once these predictions can be made, knowing what is about to happen their job is easy and they and their parties can operate like midwives lessening the 'birthpangs' of the new society about to be born. If only it were so easy, it just doesn't seem to work like that, for both the Marxists and the U.S. intelligence community seem equally flummoxed by each new social revolution and development such as the current 'Spring in the Arab World'. Every move that they make seems fraught with unintended consequences.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011


Yvonne Carty & her giant fist
In recent weeks employees working for Tameside Council have received letters from the council inviting them to apply for voluntary redundancy. Around 800 staff are facing redundancy as the council seeks to make savings of £100 million over the next four years.

But the council have recently been criticised for squandering thousands of pounds of tax payers money on a barmy scheme to teach council employees how to walk safely. Although libraries, swimming pools and museums could be facing closure in Tameside, several days ago, the Daily Mail Online reported that the council had spent money on a scheme which gave guidance to staff and councillors on how to walk as part of the council`s 'wellbeing strategy'.

Responding to a FOI request made by a member of the public, the council said that since 2006, £30,000 had been spent on staff 'lifestyle' schemes including £4,995 paid to a private firm called 'Urbanwalks' for leaflets which identified 6 routes which council employees could walk along. A further £450 was spent over two years on 'singing for health and enjoyment' sessions at lunchtime. Money was also spent on training for two staff to become 'walk leaders'. When asked what the training involved, the council replied:
"The course comprises of theoretical study including health and safety implications of leading a walk as well as a practical element where an example walk will be undertaken by all course participants." 
It is also understood that the council have appointed 16 'Wellbeing Champions' who promote wellbeing.

We understand that two individuals who have made inquiries about taking voluntary redundancy, are Ashton-under-Lyne Town Centre Manager, Frank Travis, and the GMB union representative, Yvonne Cartey. Both Ms. Cartey and Mr. Travis (the husband of Tameside councillor, Lynn Travis) have also, we believe, expressed an interest in becoming Tameside Labour councillors after they leave the council with their severance payments.

Mr. Travis, recently failed to win the nomination to succeed councillor Jack Davies, in St. Peter`s ward after securing only two votes. Councillor Davies, who we believe his standing down for health reasons, is to be replaced by councillor Denise Ward`s husband, who will stand in the May elections. Yvonne Cartey, we understand, is keen to replace councillor Bill Harrison, in the St. Michael's ward.

Originally from Milton Keynes, Ms. Cartey, a soroptomist ("best for sisters"), fled to the north some years ago,when she was offered the job of Tameside Council`s Trades Union Liaison Officer. As one might expect in the incestuous world of Tameside Labour politics, she turned out to be the live-in lover, of councillor Philip Wilkinson who was also a Tameside councillor. In 2006, Ms. Cartey, was savaged by a mad dog while out canvassing for the Labour party. She told the Tameside Advertiser"It locked its jaws around my hand and bit my index finger." We understand that the dog was later inoculated for lockjaw.

As the council divests itself of more and more responsibility by getting rid of its council housing, old peoples homes and leisure facilities, people are beginning to question whether we need all these Tameside councillors which cost the tax-payer over £1 million per year. Despite this, cronyism and jobs-for the-boys, seems as rife as ever within Tameside.

NB: Northern Voices was recently contacted by Ann Winstanley, the Ashton Soroptomist Website Manager, stating that our use of this photograph to illustrate the story (which features Yvonne Carty on the left) was subject to copyright (despite the fact that copyright has not been asserted on any of the images on their site). We are happy to replace the image with one that seems more apt to the storyline.

Will Unison join Bury Cuts Protest Lobby?


UNCERTAINTY REIGNS today over a Bury cuts protest set for tomorrow as Steve Morton, Secretary of Bury Unison, keeps his cards close to his chest. No-one knows if Steve will urge his members to support a lobby of the meeting of Bury MBC tomorrow to decide on how to apply a policy of cuts in local services. At present Bury Action Against the Cuts and Bury Unite the Union Branch are backing the lobby to protest the expected cuts.

A letter to members of Unite, circulated this morning to the binmen at the Bradley Fold Waste Depot before they set off on their roundsm was well received. Reference in the letter to the pay scale of the Chief Executive at between £147,822 and £160,284 in the current period created excitement and interest among the binmen. As did comments by the Unite Branch Secretary, Brian Bamford, to the allowances to Councillor Bibby the Tory leader of Bury Council. The binmen and members of the public are particularly concerned because of the threat of management to move from weekly to fortnightly collections of household rubbish; while at the same time the manager of the waste depot has sworn that he will not make any cuts in his office staff.

Earlier this morning Brian Bamford in his capacity as Unite Branch Secretary asked 'Ann', a spokeswoman for Bury Unison in Steve Morton's office, if Unison would be supporting the protest. He was asked to wait 'while I ask Steve', then she returned to say: 'I'm sorry but it's between Steve (Morton) and the branch'. Mr Bamford then asked: 'So can we say that you've not decided yet?' to which she replied: 'Yes!'

With the protest planned for 6pm tomorrow and the Council Meeting scheduled for 7pm, Steve Morton and Bury Unison are certainly cutting it fine. Makey mind-up time!!!

Monday, 21 February 2011

'La hora de los cambios': The hour of change in the Arab World?

'THE REVOLTS in Tunisia and Egypt reached Morocco yesterday' said an editorial in the Spanish newspaper, El Pais, today. Meanwhile, an article in the same paper showed a picture from Manama in which a protester is holding a placard with the pictures of Ben Ali (Tunisia's former President) and Hosni Mubarak (former Egyptian President) with 1 & 2 under each and then a space with a big question mark and 3 underneath (see cropped version above).

The front page article says that the protest marches in Rabat and Casablanca had been peaceful but that the confrontations in Tangier and Marrakesh had resulted in conflict with the police. One placard said: 'The people reject a Constitution for Slaves!' In an analytical column Javier Valenzuela writes: 'There is good reason for yesterday's protests in Rabat and Casablanca: the country needs more democracy. Morocco is not as oppressive as Tunisia, the Libya of Gaddafi or the Syria of Bachar Asad, but it needs to offer its citizens more liberties and rights.' Another photo showed a lad in Tangier with a poster saying the people need 'bread & soup'.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Catalan Chef & fierce critic of avant-garde dies

WHILE I was complaining about the 'Herby Fishcakes' at the 'delifonseca' in Liverpool and elsewhere about 'vanguardism' on the Left in Britain, Santi Santameria, a major Catalan critic of the 'avant-garde' in Spanish cuisine, a chef and restaurant owner died of a heart attack in one of his restaurants in Singapore last Wednesday. He was 53.

Mr Santamaria was the first Catalan to run a three-star restaurant and he help draw international attention to Spanish and Catalan food in recent years. He was the enemy of those who followed Ferran Adria's style of fancy cooking and champion of the avant-garde kitchen at the El Bulli restaurant also in Catalonia, and three years ago he launched a bitter attack on him and others who practiced laboratory techniques in their kitchens. He claimed that they were poisoning the public playing with chemicals and emulsifiers that he insisted didn't belong in a decent kitchen. English readers will know of this kind of theatre of cuisine through Heston Blumenthal.

Mr Santamaria's argument is put in his book 'La Cocina al Desnudo' (The Kitchen Laid Bare): in it he promotes the use of natural and seasonal ingredients to make Mediterranean dishes. Santamaria became a bit too legalistic for anarchist tastes when he called on the Spanish authorities to investigate the safety of additives like liquid nitrogen, used by some chefs for instant freezing, and methyl cellulose, a gelling agent.

Santamaria claimed he was not jealous of Adria and the others of his ilk, but concerned by the loss of traditional cooking and its passion for local and organic food. Mr Santamaria was born on July 26th, 1957, in the Catalan town Sant Celoni. He became recognised in the 1980s when he opened a modest place in his family's farmhouse, El Raco de Can Fabes, which eventually got a Michelin star in 1989. He was awarded Spain's National Gastronomy Prize in 2009.

Friday, 18 February 2011

UK Uncut 'Big Society Bail-In' tomorrow

The latest set of nationwide actions by UK Uncut takes place tomorrow, this time (at last) targeting perhaps the most hated institutions in the UK, the banking industry, and in particular, Barclays. UK Uncut say that the plan isn't to close down the Banks, but to 'open them up' and make them more socially useful, calling these actions the 'Big Society Bail-In'. Examples of actions announced include "live stand-up comedy shows, libraries, and a mothers' breakfast club".

This week, Barclays announced profits of £6 billion, of which £3.4 billion is to be used as bonuses; the same figure is half the amount currently being cut from local government. Barclays Chief Executive Bob Diamond took home a bonus of £9 million. This is the same scumbag that said of the Banking Crisis the other week that "the time for apology and remorse is over".

Rather than listing the action in the North as we have done previously, we have embedded a Google map of actions at the top of this post. You can zoom in and out, click on the labels for more info. Alternatively, a list of actions is available on the UK Uncut website here.

National Shop Stewards Network:

  Resigning in slow motion!
THE clock is ticking, and with the next steering committee of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) called by the national committee overwhelmingly dominated by the Socialist Party under secretary, Linda Taaffe, scheduled for next Sunday, some NSSN dissidents are certainly taking their time at formally handing in their resignations. Formal resignations are now into double figures on the steering committee of 60+, but probably less than one would expect at this stage given the level of feeling among the Socialist Party's opponents on the steering committee after the NSSN conference on 22nd January, at which it was generally agreed that the Socialist Party pocketed the ball.  The anarchist fortnightly, FREEDOM last week claimed that 'the majority of NSSN/Shop Steward Network national officers - all of those not in the Socialist Party - resigned their positions.'  The officers may have resigned their posts but as yet not all non-Socialist Party members of the NSSN steering committee have resigned and the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) members have said that they will stay in until at least till next Sunday's meeting before making a final decision.

At the time of this post it may be that not all the syndicalists and anarcho-syndicalists have resigned. From those who have resigned, including Dave Chapple (Chair), George Binette (Treasurer), Bob Archer (Publicity), Becca Kilpatrick (NSSN Affiliation's Officer) Pete Firmin, Brian Bamford, Keir Lawson, Stu Melvin, Glyn Harries, Emy Castlelao, Jamie Beamont, Chris Leary, Helen Steel, Gerry Downing, a statement is expected shortly.

Freedom in its report said: '(Those) 89 who voted against the (Socialist Party) walked out of the meeting and reconvened in a nearby pub where discussions were held on the next step, deciding unanimously to continue the work of trade union activists' solidarity on an organised national basis, with syndicalists, rightly, insisting that any new network would never again fall under the leadership of a single political party.' 
In fact, there may have been more than 89 at this post-conference meeting because some at the conference didn't have delegate status and were present as observers. Some of the syndicalists met in Birmingham two weeks ago to consider the position and it is expected that a general meeting of all opponents of the Socialist Party will be pondering the options in the near future.

Deaths on building sites: 'Justice' & a mother's love

Craig Whelan 23 years old (left) & Paul Wakefield (right) killed on 23rd May 2002 in a fire in a chimney at Carnaud Metal Box in Bolton.

By Linda Whelan, mother

I want to tell you how my son Craig died to show you the risks workers face and the injustice families face when someone is killed at work.

Craig worked for a company called Churchill’s Ltd in Nottingham, which won a tender to demolish a chimney at Metal Box (CMB) in Bolton on the basis of cost and not safety. His company offered to do it for £9,000, but other local companies, who had worked on the chimney in the past, were aware of the flammable residue inside the chimney and the dangers of using hot cutting gear and tendered for the demolition on the basis of only doing the work using cold cutting gear and taking the chimney down from the outside.

Because of the amount of equipment needed their prices for the job were between £20,000 and £30,000. Metal Box chose Craig’s company – the cheapest tender, doing the job from the inside using hot cutting gear.

Craig and his work mate Paul Wakefield were the steeplejacks sub contracted to demolish the chimney at Metal Box and they were murdered at work on 23rd May 2002.

Three company representatives issued a hot work permit for Craig and Paul to go inside the chimney and cut it up using hot gear.

These company representatives knew there were dangerous flammable chemicals on the inside of the chimney and that it was recommended to be demolished from the outside using cold cutting gear. They had confirmation of this in an e-mail from the manufacturers of the chemical, but they withheld this information from the contract company Craig worked for and from the two steeplejacks themselves.

When Craig and his colleague carried out the hot cutting work, they were engulfed in a fireball. My son and his colleague were murdered. Craig was 23 years old.

The Crown Prosecution Service prosecuted the three representatives for manslaughter, but due to some poor case preparation, this charge was dropped. The company representatives then pleaded guilty to a lesser offence of breaching Health and Safety Legislation on all the same counts for which they had originally been charged with manslaughter. This company is a large profitable organisation, which is being allowed to get away with murdering Craig.

On Wednesday 12th June 2004 the three men were convicted under the Health and Safety at Work Act on all counts, which they had originally been charged with, for manslaughter. They pleaded guilty to knowing the content of the chimney were unsafe and failing to pass the information on regarding the e-mail they received to either the company, Craig or Paul and to sending the two men back into the chimney and therefore to their deaths. They were fined a few thousand pounds for the lives of two men. In their last statement they said that they said that they had not had sufficient training in Health and Safety. I ask: what training could these men have been given that would have helped them to pass on the information stating ‘WARNING the contents of the chimney is flammable and toxic’?

In all cases of death by industrial incident, individual directors should be prosecuted.

Because of the lack of government intervention to ensure that the law is changed to force employers to be responsible for the health and safety of their employees, my son suffered a horrendous death that could have and should have been prevented.

Because the court case collapsed, my family never got to hear all the details of how Craig and his colleague were killed. We hoped that an inquest would allow us this opportunity. However, the coroner consulted with all the parties involved and decided there was no need for an inquest, rejecting any Human Rights implications. This has left us all devastated and still not sure how and why my son came to die. Appeals to the HSE to put out special warnings to steeple jacks doing this sort of work also came to nothing, but I am going to fight on for other families, so they do not have to go through the heartbreak that me and my sons have suffered.

Linda Whelan, Craig’s mother.

Thursday, 17 February 2011


MANY front-line public services in Tameside (Greater Manchester) face being cut or closed down as the council seeks to make savings of £100 million over the next four years.

Next week (Tuesday 22/2/11), the leader of Tameside Council, Kieran Quinn (pictured), will announce this year`s budget and the cuts that the council are proposing to make to public services. Already, it has been revealed in the local press that libraries and culture could be hit hard by savage cuts. The council have already announced that they are proposing to cut the culture budget by more than £3.36 million or (40%) of the total budget. Museum and countryside centres could be closed or sold off. Libraries are also facing budget cuts of £0.9 million which could see branch libraries closed and staff replaced by volunteers.

Other proposals involve cutting concessionary bus passes for children;cutting the number of lollipop ladies; reducing the number of pensioners' luncheon clubs; reviewing community centres and moving activities to schools and cutting the budget for road repairs.

Of course, over the years, while many council employees have seen their wages cut and their jobs made redundant, quite the reverse seems to have occurred when you look at the pay and allowances of the top dogs and councillors who run many of these councils. According to recent press reports, thousands of local councillors have seen their allowances soar in the last five years. Over the same period, Town Hall payouts have risen by up to 150% to a total cost of more than £200 million. Figures taken from local authority accounts also show that a substantial number of council leaders such as Richard Leese, of Manchester City council, claim more than £50,000 a year in allowances. The average councillor's allowance can now be more than £20,000 a year.

In Tameside, over £1 million a year is spent by the tax-payer on councillor's expenses and allowances. Councillors`s are even entitled to claim a £250 Broadband Allowance. Ten of the top executive officers who work for Tameside Council, earn more than £100,000 a year. The Chief Executive of the council, Steven Pleasant, tops the list with a salary of £166,929 which is over £24,000 more than the Prime Minister receives. Research undertaken by the Tax Payers' Alliance in 2007, revealed that Tameside councillor`s had the 9th highest average allowance per councillor in the country.

Last May (2010), the council enlarged its Labour cabinet system to include 12 cabinet members and 9 assistant executive members. Almost half of the Labour group of 47 members are now in paid cabinet posts with fancy titles claiming in excess of over £30,000 a year. The cost of running this cabinet system in Tameside has been steadily increasing since 2003 when £232,180 was paid out in special responsibility allowances. In 2010/11, the cost had increased to £326,859.

We should not forget that not so long ago, being a councillor was a voluntary job.  Local councillors were not paid until the 1970s. Expenses for attending meetings were introduced by the Heath government in 1972 and in 1995, the Tory government under John Major, allowed council`s to set up their own payment schemes for councillors allowances. In 2003, councillors were given another perk when they were given membership of the pension scheme for local government workers. The effect of these reforms has been to create full-time well paid fuctionaries and a culture of jobs for the boys.

At Tameside Council`s meeting on Tuesday, don't expect the leader of the council, Kieran Quinn,(his wife Susan is also a Tameside councillor) to announce in his budget speech that they will be cutting councillors allowances and expenses and the wages of the top executives in order to save public money. It is more than likely that it will be the librarian and lollipop lady who are facing the chop. While Richard Leese at Manchester City Council claims his £52,000 a year allowances, the council has just announced that it will be closing all its public toilets bar the one on Mount Street, which the public will now have to pay to use because the council says it has got no money. Perhaps if we got rid of some of these mendicants (politicians), more money could be spent on front line services.

Restaurant Review: The Price of 'Herby Fishcakes'

MACK-THE-KNIFE GOES TO 'delifonseca' on Stanley Street, Liverpool:

THEY SAY, or rather some folk from Manchester say: 'You can never trust a Scouser!' I never really understood that saying and yet, in the last year, I have felt diddled by two establishments in Liverpool: both times it was an issue of a false description on a menu. The first was last Summer when I was in John Lewis cafe across from the Liverpool Tate and I ordered tea and a scone priced lower on the menu that at the till. When I queried it the staff were rude and ungrateful that I'd made them aware of what is after all an offence under the Trades Descriptions Act. But as I had my camera with me I snapped the menu before they changed it. Returning to sip my tea I was approached by a manager who after an explanation offered me another drink for free.

More disturbing was our experience last Friday at the highly recommended (in the Telegraph) 'delifonseca', where we had two main courses from the chalked-up Blackboard and a bottle of Tynant sparking water from the drink list. The water was £3.35 for a 750ml blue bottle and served with ice and lemon. I had Sausage & Mash at £8.25, not cheap but nice - the cafe is in the Moorfield area and has certain pretensions. The three pork sausages were delightful and I couldn't fault the quality of the dish or the gravy. More or a problem was my nearest & dearest's 'Herby Fishcakes': there were two of them with potato wedges and some pickle. The waiter Angus had said: 'The fishcakes are Haddock today!' The verdict was that the fishcakes were more like potato cakes and that it was hard to detect any fish in them.

The bill came and I duly paid it on my credit card, minutes later my partner spotted that the price of the fishcakes had transformed to £10.45 on the bill while the same thing was clearly £9.75 on the big Blackboard before us. Wearily, I approached the waiter by the bar and asked for an explanation of the discrepancy? Quick as a flash he said: 'It's wrongly described up there - the Chalkboard refers to Fishcakes containing Coley, not Haddock - I ought to have told you that!'

My partner who prides herself on knowing the Trades Descriptions Act said: 'That's very naughty you!' To which Angus replied 'I'm sorry I just haven't had time to change the price on the Blackboard.' By the it was 3.30pm in the afternoon. Alas I had no camera this time.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Political Predictability, Egypt & the Arabs

JAMES PINKERTON, a northern social thinker in the last half of the 20th century, used to say: 'Revolutions* often happen when folk least expect them'. He would also say; perhaps echoing Colin Ward, that the social philosophy of Anarchism ' always on the cards'. In this respect his view has been born out by events in Egypt and Tunisia, where few pundits until recently seem to have predicted 'revolutionary' outcomes.

This is not just because of the problem as George Orwell perceived it: 'of the countless people hugging quite manifest delusions because the truth would be wounding to their pride', but because political prediction is harder than those who use cookbook analysis like to admit. Orwell, in 1944, talking about the absence of 'reliable political prediction' asked us to consider 'who foresaw the Russo-German Pact of 1939?' He admits that a 'few pessimistic Conservatives foretold an agreement between Germany and Russia, but the wrong kind of agreement, and for the wrong reasons.' Orwell then writes: 'so far as I am aware, no intellectual of the Left, whether russophile or russophobe, foresaw anything of the kind.' Indeed, Orwell goes on: 'the left as a whole failed to foresee the rise of Fascism and failed to grasp that the Nazis were dangerous even when they were on the verge of seizing power.' He claims they failed for the simple reason that 'the Left would have had to admit its own shortcomings, which was too painful; so the whole phenomena was ignored or misinterpreted, with disastrous results.'

Recently the British Left, which is 'vanguardist' almost to a man (or woman), would have been hard put to predict any kind of social or political revolt in places like Egypt or Tunisia, because of their addiction to the idea of the need for a party or movement to lead it. Hence, the most vital ingredient in the left-wing cookbook recipe was lacking: to them it would be like baking a loaf and expecting it to rise without introducing yeast. Recent events would seem to undermine the Leninist or even some Bakuninist** accounts of social revolution. Last Saturday, after the fall of Mubarak, a girl in Tahrir Square declared that: 'There was no government! We didn't need a government or police, as we policed ourselves in the Square and without street cleaners we cleaned-up after ourselves - it was wonderful!'

This Monday, the International Herald Tribune reported: 'In an outburst of civic duty, youthful volunteers swept the streets, painted fences and curbs, washed away graffiti that read "Down with Mubarak," and planted bushes in a square many want to turn into a memorial to the uprising.' Was this what David Goodway at the latest Northern Anarchist Network Conference and in his book that extolled the anarchist, Colin Ward, called 'The Seed Beneath the Snow'?

We don't know yet what all this portends but what we do know is that in the simple terms of overturning a dictator a revolutionary party is unnecessary. But it does show that reliable political prediction is tough. This is clear in the groans coming from the U.S. national intelligence community where last Thursday the national intelligence director sought to defend himself against criticism that they had failed to warn about the coming crisis in Egypt. 'We are not clairvoyant,' said director James R.Clapper Jr., at a hearing of the House intelligence committee. Mr Clapper and the head of central intelligence, Leon E.Panetta, said it would always be difficult to know precisely when a potential critical situation would turn explosive. Unpredictability is built into the human condition and it is impossible to know when a frustrated merchant in Tunisia would set himself alight, to mention an event that went on to feed into the Egyptian crisis. Mr Clapper speaking on worldwide threats to the United States said: 'Specific triggers for how and when instability would lead to the collapse of various regimes cannot always be known or predicted.'

Last night, an Arab commentator said that what is happening now is like what happened in Europe in 1848; it involves the 'disenthralling' of the Arab people with their rulers. Mr Panetta speaking to the House committee, outlined the problem; 'There's always been a feeling that the military ultimately could control any demonstration in any regime' but now 'the loyalty of the military is now something we have to pay attention to, because it's not always one that will respond to what the dictator may or may not want.'
These are all issues that must now engage those of us who crack-on to be 'social scientists' or political pundits.

* I am treating the word 'revolution' here as a verb - meaning something in the process of transformation, even as I write, rather than as a noun as something accomplished.

** I refer here to Bakunin of the Masonic secret groups; another version of Bakunin would be Bakunin's notion of 'spontaneous combustion' this version would be more appropriate in this 'season of discontent' in the Arab World.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011



BEFORE Linda Taaffe could say 'Easy-Peasey!', or 'Higgledy-Piggledy!', or 'Hop-Skip-and-a-Jump!' Big Bob Crow had jumped into bed. Or so say some of the 'malas lenguas' - foul mouthed folk on the left who don't take a shine to the Socialist Party. Within a day of issuing an open letter to the National Shop Stewards Network and Socialist Party urging the 'maximum possible unity' and insisting 'there can be no question of any political party or organisation seeking to assume leadership of this struggle or setting up a new national organisation that would create disunity', Bob Crow seemingly went to bed with the Socialist Party. That is what his critics are now saying.

Readers must decide for themselves but on the 12th, January 2011, a statement was issued in the name of Bob Crow (RMT general secretary), Alex Gordon (RMT president), Bill Mullins (Socialist Party & co-organiser of the NSSN) and Linda Taaffe (Socialist Party and secretary of the NSSN) in which it was announced that 'Bob Crow and Alex Gordon agree with the proposal of the NSSN steering committee of 4th, December 2010 to launch an anti-cuts campaign...' That proposal was the motion that the Socialist Party and only the Socialist Party supported on the 4th December: all other parties, the syndicalists and those of no party opposed this motion preferring to avoid the process in which the NSSN became just another protest group or rent-a-mob.

What does this mean? It means, if the Socialist Party's critics don't resign, that the NSSN will become a junk shop for every fashionable fancy that the Socialist Party wants to use it for; and the other parties - the SWP, Permanent Revolution or the syndicalists - will serve the purpose of providing a fig leaf for a smelly little orthodoxy that has its roots in some distasteful politics on the left. Witness the recent perjury conviction of Scottish Tommy Sheridan, on behalf of whom Nancy Taaffe, daughter of Linda, shamelessly strode up to the NSSN rostrum on 22nd, January to uphold as a 'victim of capitalism' when what he seems to have done is roam around the downtown suburbs of Swinton with a woman journalist from the News of the World or offer himself as a copper's nark after the poll tax riots in the early 1990s. Or take Derek Hatton in Liverpool a prominent figure in the Militant Tendency, the forerunner of the Socialist Party, now there's a fine specimen of political rectitude for you. This is the unsavory politics which the Socialist Party is knee deep in. The only reason we had owt to do with them on the NSSN is because we thought they may have grown out of it. But alas, it seems we were wrong!

Where does Bob Crow stand on this and why did he turn a somersault overnight and line up with the Socialist Party knowing that it would lead to divisions? In the week following the 4th, December 2010 NSSN steering committee meeting at which the Socialist Party had asserted its control over the other groups on a vote of 21 to 17, I discussed the outcome in Manchester with Alex Gordon, President of the RMT, and he indicated that he was in touch with Linda Taaffe and disapproved of some of her critics. Alex Gordon, some will remember was formerly a member of the Direct Action Movement in the 1980s: an anarcho-syndicalist organisation linked to the Spanish CNT. I had a distinct impression then that he would side with the Socialist Party.

Bob Crow for his part has veered from taking a tactical position close to anarchist type direct action proclaiming a belief in civil disobedience and Swampy during last September's TUC Congress, but later on Radio 4's 'Any Questions' denouncing 'anarchist-style' actions at Millbank when it was raided by the students because it 'only benefited the insurance companies'. The Millbank attack was later shown to be a spontaneous student action. Now it seems with local elections looming in May, that Brother Crow is focused again on ballot box politics and that means the candidates of the Trade Union Socialist Coalition (TUSC). In the TUSC the Socialist Party is the dominant force and the current conflict in the industrial NSSN must now be an irritation if not a distraction.

When TUSC was formed in January 2010 the blog 'A Very Public Sociologist' asked: 'can TUSC break down the awful sectarian culture of the far left, and does it constitute a step toward a new left alternative'?

By provoking a vexatious conflict in the NSSN over the issue of anti-cuts the Socialist Party is closing down a culture of unity and creating resentment. The syndicalists which represented the fastest growing group on the NSSN steering committee - increasing from 3 or 4 to 14 in twelve months - have conducted themselves well in this dispute thanks in no small part to the skillful leadership of Dave Chapple (Chairman of the NSSN, Secretary of Bridgewater TUC and member of the CWU).

VOTE, VOTE, VOTE for the People's History Museum!!!

Let's stuff the southerners!

Northern Voices, along with the TUC, invites its readers and supporters to consider voting for the People's History Museum which is now on the long list for the 2011 Art Fund Prize. See below for an appeal from Tom Mellish of the Organising and Recruitment Team of the Trades Union Congress:

Dear Colleagues

My apologies if you have received this message from elsewhere already but I know we all support and have a great affection for the People’s History Museum in Manchester. The TUC and the union Movement has a long association with the museum and its predecessor, the National Museum of Labour History. The museum had some brilliant news last week – it’s on the long list for the 2011 Art Fund Prize. This is the UK’s largest arts prize with a prestigious £100,000 award for the winning museum.

For further information about the award, if you’re interested, please use the links below:

- Link to the news story on the museum’s website about the Art Fund Prize

- Link to the Art Fund Prize website with the list of the judges for 2011

- Link to an article on the Guardian website by Charlotte Higgins (one of the judges) -

But most importantly, please consider voting for the museum in the online public poll, and you might want to encourage your friends and contacts to do so too.

- Link to the online poll to vote for PHM – You also have the opportunity to sing the praises of the museum on the polling web page

The PHM is up against the mighty British Museum, and similar establishments, so it needs all the support it can get. Winning this prize will not only enable the PHM to develop its work and raise its esteem in the worlds of art and academia but it will also significantly raise its profile with the public generally, many of whom have no real knowledge of trades unions or their own history.

Thank you.

Tom Mellish
Organising and Recruitment Team,
Trades Union Congress,
Great Russell Street,
London, WC1B 3LS
tel no 020 7467 1380

Monday, 7 February 2011

Ragged Trousered Philanthropists: Is it the Workers' Bible, a working-class Vanity Fair or just a bloated 750-page novel?

LAST month Northern Voices published Chris Draper's review of Howard Brenton's adaptation of 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' that showed at the Liverpool Everyman last summer. In it he denounced the lack of interest of the current trade unions concluding: 'A 100 years after Tressell's death, on 3rd, February 1911, local trade union officials tell me that "there are no plans to mark the centenary as there are no funds"! Tressell must be turning in his pauper's grave.'

In last Saturday's Guardian Review Howard Benton himself wrote a tribute to Robert Tressell. In it he he payed tribute writing: 'It became known as "the Socialist Bible" and was even credited with winning the general election for the Labour party.' Is it the great working-class novel or 'Vanity Fair'?

Chris Draper in his Northern Voices review says the cut-down version by its first publisher was best because while 'at its best the novel uniquely captures aspects and idioms of working class life ... Tressell couldn't resist the temptation to over-egg the pudding.' He completed 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' in 1910, but the original handwritten 1,600-page manuscript was rejected by three publishers.

Was it a 'Socialist Bible' or was it as Draper says too big and bloated? How does it measure against the Manchester/ Wakefield writer George Gissing's portrayal of a down at the heal journalist in 'New Grub Street' or Conrad's description of the peasant in 'Nostromo' or Henry James's insight into political activists in 'The Princess Casamasima'.

'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' is seen as a rare British working-class novel, but what is meant by a 'working-class novel'? Is a novel written by a workingman (or woman) or is it a novel that depicts the working-classes? Howard Brenton describes Robert Tressell, whose real name was Robert Noonan, thus: 'Robert Noonan was born in Dublin in 1870, the illegitimate son of Mary Noonan and a police inspector.' He wrote that he and his daughter moved to Johannesburg where he made his way as a skilled artisan, a scenic painter and sign writter' and that he 'became known as a political activist: he was a member of the Johannesburg Trades & Labour Council...' Coming to England to live in Hastings (Mugsborough in the novel) in 1906 he became a member of the local Social Democratic Federation, which Brenton describes as 'a small leftwing party whose founding members included William Morris.' Morris later left this party regarding it as too dogmatic and narrow.

Howard Brenton describes Tressell's book as 'the working-class Vanity Fair' and he argues that: 'In the 1900s the two paths socialism could take were already mapped: revolutionary and parliamentary.' Tressell took the revolutionary road of the Social Democratic Federation, which ended in the 'disaster of the Soviet Union'. But he writes: 'the reformist path taken in Britain has led ... to the watering down and sluicing away of all socialist aspirations by New Labour.' Yet he concludes optimistically arguing: 'Tressell's wonderful book convinced me that it's time to begin the struggle for the co-operative commonwealth all over again.' Draper in NV 12 was more pessimistic entitling one subheading: 'The long march (downhill) of socialism'.

But it seems that Chris Draper was wrong in his conclusion in NV12 that 'there are no plans to mark the centenary (of Tressell's death)' by the trade unions, as Manchester Trade Union Council has helped to organise an exhibition at the Working Class Movement Library, at 51, The Crescent, Salford until 10th March between 1pm and 5pm Mondays to Fridays.


Majority of NSSN Officers resign en-bloc

AT A MEETING immediately following Saturday 22nd January's NSSN anti-cuts conference, the majority of NSSN/Shop Stewards Network national officers-all of those not in the Socialist Party- have resigned.

This is the statement of four of these officers: Dave Chapple, Bob Archer, George Binette and Becca Kirkpatrick:

“1.We are all NSSN national officers. We have decided that we cannot continue to be activists in an organisation that, following the conference decision on 22nd January, is now controlled by the Socialist Party.

The NSSN was established to become a strong independent organisation of trades union activists, with trades council and trades union branch affiliates.

Its meetings cannot function as independent voting bodies if all major decisions are to be taken beforehand by the Socialist Party.

None of our trades council or trade union branch affiliates can continue to be linked to the NSSN on that basis.

2. 22nd January’s NSSN conference decision to set up a separate NSSN-led anti-cuts campaign-the third such organisation that exists-is a major strategic mistake for our part of the trade union movement.

It makes unity of the national anti-cuts movement harder not easier.

The essential NSSN anti-cuts task, of stiffening the resolve of the trades unions, locally and nationally, to fight cuts through co-ordinated strike action, will be set aside or de-prioritised.

It will ensure that the regional and local SSN groups-already weak and struggling in the main- will wither as they transfer time and energy to establishing-or duplicating-local anti-cuts campaigns.

At the Steering Committee of December 4th, six national officers and EVERY NON-SP STEERING COMMITTEE MEMBER voted against this proposal, yet the Socialist Party has ignored this feeling despite our further appeals, knowing full well that our continued participation in the NSSN would be intolerable.

3. Ninety NSSN activists met after the end of that Saturday's conference and unanimously decided to continue the work of trade union activists' solidarity on an organised national basis. Please get in touch."

Dave Chapple, NSSN Chair; George Binnette, NSSN Treasurer;
Bob Archer, NSSN Communications Officer; Becca Kirkpatrick, NSSN Affiliations Officer

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Taming the Trots: Anarchism’s Sisyphean Task

I think Bammy’s earlier ‘Eat Me ...’ commentary and trademark artistic flourish regarding the NSSN is pretty spot on but still misses the wider issues somewhat (we might also do without his recent fetish for dubbing people ‘schoolmistresses’).

I only went to one NSSN meeting – in Leicester some time ago – and generally, I thought it was quite positive (aside from the quasi-nationalistic posturing of the ‘No to EU’ bods). However, the fact remains that this grouping has once again descended into authoritarians vs. libertarians with the former employing force of numbers to dominate and the latter forced to withdraw. I think we all know that it won’t be long before the SP get bored and hop onto another bandwagon (likely taking the SWP with them whatever the current situation) but a shame that they’ll suck the life out of the NSSN before they do.

As I said in my talk at the last NAN (see ‘A Question of Degrees’ elsewhere on the blog), I think we’ve got to break our own boom and bust mentality and also, move on from this idea that we’ll somehow be able to guide the Trots or at least, use their recruiting skills to bring workers/students over to the ‘side of the angels’. As I further noted at the NAN, I also think it’s a mistake to assume that people will automatically see us a different from the Trots and other authoritarian leftists.

Elsewhere on this blog, Bammy identifies the miners’ struggle as militant but not radical and that’s just the position we keep putting ourselves in – protesting about the current system but not giving people any REAL alternative. And let’s face it, we shouldn’t have to work too hard to come up with something more appealing than the prevailing mainstream, whether it happens to be wearing its capitalist or ‘socialist’ clothes.

Of course, the reality is that we do have to work hard, both in the literal sense and the wider social/political sense, and workers are often tired and disillusioned - not just by work but also by constant attempts to mould us into model citizens of a present (capitalist) or future (state socialist/capitalist) authoritarian state. It’s hardly surprising that a majority seem so easily seduced into the ‘aspirational’ consumerist apathy of the wage/welfare slave even though the legacy of those home-owning, savings-laden, consumption-addicted baby boomers has proved not to be one of continued and equal affluence for all. In fact, the so-called ‘cultural revolution’ was less about class equality and more about transforming ‘workers’ into ‘consumers’ and ‘human resources’ - a programme of Friedmanite rebranding that reached fever pitch under ‘Blatcherism’ and must surely have reached its pus-infested end with the Con-Dems.

I really believe that making people aware that they can actually do things for themselves is the real heart of this issue and this starts with opting out of capitalism/nationalisation/state socialism via independent community energy, water, food and education schemes. I don’t mean the Greenpeace way of making grand individual gestures like fitting an expensive and essentially pointless wind turbine to the side of your house, or buying organic beans air freighted in from Africa, but community micro-generation schemes involving biomass (wood and waste), free water supplies/better waste management, local food schemes/networks and free (in all senses of the word) education for all.

Instead of lauding the Spanish anarchists for what they did all those years ago, we should be taking their example and abandoning the Greenpeace way for what might be called, with a perhaps hint of cliché, ‘the Durruti way’ – ‘not afraid of ruins ...’ and all that!

Utopian? Perhaps. But the point is that fighting the current system by trying to make IT change isn’t working – the SWP/Respect/the Stop the War Coalition are still lauding 2 million out on the streets against the war but that was 2003 and Iraq is a bigger mess than ever, Afghanistan more so and life for you average Jo looking pretty bleak in the rest of the world too.

Like the miners, we won’t win by just being militant, we’re only going to win by being radical as well. What have we got to lose? We keep going into these party-orientated collective endeavours and convincing ourselves that things are going to be different but they never are and it descends into the same old People’s Front of Judea/Judean People’s Front crap. Come on, it’s not like a precedent for this wasn’t set years ago when Marx and Bakunin went handbags at twenty paces.

Very few of us shirk from proclaiming ourselves anarchist, libertarian communist or the many other labels we have adopted to distinguish ourselves from the four legs good, two legs bad/better’ herd but maybe this obsession with labels is starting to weigh us down as much as our obsession with history, taming the Trots and internal squabbles might be said to have done. Whether we like it or not, anarchism has been bastardised to represent all that the brainwashed masses find scary about daring to question whether they need government and the labour market to survive.

The Trots et al like to portray anarchists as a minority, which in the big scheme of things we probably are but so are they, as are Tories, Liberals, Labourites, Greens or whatever. Most people aren’t politically active or affiliated to any particular party or ideology and perhaps that’s because politics and ideology often appear disempowering by their very nature, i.e. they generally suppose that one person is more qualified that another to decide what is socially and perhaps more worryingly, ‘morally’, acceptable.

In her response to Bammy and the dissident NSSNers, Linda Taaffe talks of mud slinging, taking the ball home and proclaims that:

’A few stones hurled at us by those with bruised egos will not deflect us from this course.'

Accusations that dissenters within the NSSN have opened themselves up to by getting drawn into the same tired old tit-for-tat formula with the vanguardists yet again.

But perhaps this isn’t just about the need to distance ourselves from the insidiousness of the vanguard, whether it be elsewhere on the left or the pseudo-egalitarianism of mainstream civic culture and ‘Big Society’ – perhaps we also need to distance ourselves from labels, ideologies and ‘politics’ to some extent too. Ok, we shouldn’t feel compelled to stop calling ourselves anarchists because it offends the delicate sensibilities of other leftists and the misinformed mainstream but if we’re not prepared to actually show people, with practical examples, what makes us different, we might have no other choice.

To my mind, there’s nothing wrong with slinging mud and throwing stones when the target is legitimate (although Linda Taaffe should surely know that under anarchism the ball would be a communal asset and couldn’t, in theory, be taken home) but it might now be high time that we used the stones and mud at our disposal not for throwing but to build a real alternative.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Socialist Party Supremo Answers Her Critics

Linda Taaffe is defiant:
'A few stones hurled at us by those with bruised egos will not deflect us from our course'


'I want to clarify some matters that are circulating regarding the outcome of the NSSN Anti-Cuts Conference on January 22nd.

It seems that some people, who are not “independents” but themselves have their own various political affiliations, have taken umbrage at the result of a democratic process. This was conducted on the basis of their prior negotiated agreement and consent about all the procedures to be followed at the Conference. Now, instead of taking up the real issues they prefer to throw mud at the Socialist Party comrades on the Steering Committee.

This is what happened

1) Two motions were brought to the Steering Committee on 4th December. After more than three hours of discussion one proposed by myself to set up an NSSN Anti-Cuts Campaign, was passed; the other recommending throwing our lot in with Right to Work and Coalition of Resistance was defeated. Our view was that we did not want to dissolve the NSSN into either of these organisations, but would work with them as and when.

2) Despite this vote we proposed putting the two motions AGAIN to the Anti-Cuts Conference. A procedure was negotiated. Equal time was given to each motion both in moving it, and in speaking from the floor. Two chairs decided on each side’s speakers. In all 15 from each side were heard. There was a credentials committee with one person from each side should there be any problems. Equal numbers of tellers, who were paired, counted the votes. Apart from a few, but important, introductory speakers the whole day was devoted to the discussion.

In the end the Majority Motion won 305 – 89. The vast majority of delegates who were real “independents” supported the majority motion. This is called democracy. As one delegate pointed out, it is a sad day when trade unionists, who lose the vote, threaten to take their ball home.

However, some have not only taken their ball home, they have also spread lies and misconceptions. Even before the Conference took place some tried to turn left general secretaries against the NSSN. This backfired.

Just today the Socialist Workers Party have published a statement saying that they will attend the next NSSN Steering Committee to “call on the Socialist Party to step back from their decision and work to re-unite the NSSN”. Yet the SWP members who are Officers have already taken the decision to divide the NSSN by resigning from the NSSN Steering committee.

This so-called “Majority of NSSN Officers” now complains about the influence of the Socialist Party. Yet I cannot think of any important initiative that was even suggested by these individuals. All the events, conferences, demonstrations, lobby of TUC etc were largely proposed and worked for by Socialist Party members on the Steering Committee. Some Officers whose first allegiance was to the Right to Work or Coalition of Resistance constantly sniped to undermine the integrity of the NSSN.

From the moment the NSSN was set up - as the result of a resolution of RMT - initially of only 12 members, its composition has always been made up of all shades on the left. From 2006 up to the present we have managed to work together. As a broad and inclusive Network there was freedom to organise in whatever way activists found useful.

At the time of the Conference there were 11 Officers, 5 in the Socialist Party, 2 in RTW/SWP, 2 Syndicalists, 1 in a small sect Permanent Revolution and 1 ex-WRP. It reflects very badly that these 6 people cannot accept a democratic vote.

The NSSN Steering Committee aims to continue with the work we have been doing, and which has won recognition from many in the trade union movement. Note how the FBU publicly praised the NSSN for our work in their strike, and at the same time condemned those in RTW for their denunciations of their leadership. We hope to intensify our efforts to help strengthen trade union organisation on the ground and prepare for the coming battles.

A few stones hurled at us by those with bruised egos will not deflect us from this course.'

Linda Taaffe

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


LAST MONDAY, The Sun in an editorial entitled 'War on anarchy' warned: 'Anarchists, prostitutes and assorted nutters hope to wreck the Royal Wedding on April 29th'. Shortly the Oscars will be awarded and Colin Firth is widely tipped to win one for Best Actor for his role in 'The King's Speech' as the soon to be George VI. Also nominated for Best Actor is Javier Bardem, who played the part of a gangmaster on the streets of Barcelona in the film 'Biutiful'. The blurb in the Manchester Cornerhouse's program describes his 'stunning central performance' that 'tells the compelling story of one man's struggle to find spiritual redemption in morally bankrupt Barcelona.'

It is curious that both The Sun of Murdoch and anarchist critics, like Professor Chris Knight, should have such an obsession about Royalty, which I suppose is itself very British. The Spanish film is focused on serious social issues like bent coppers, Senegalese street people selling drugs on the Ramblas, and Chinese illegal immigrants being used as cheap labour on Catalan building sites. In 'The King's Speech' Colin Firth grapples with his own stammering and his fear of public speaking as the abdication of his more articulate brother Edward VIII looms in 1937, just at the time the Spanish Civil War is at its height. Coincidentally, Colin Firth's next role is reported to be that of George Orwell in 'Homage to Catalonia' and Javier Bardem in 'Biutiful' is the son of an anti-Francoist who just 'couldn't keep his trap shut' and fled into exile in Mexico. Perhaps typically 'The King's Speech' is psychological and cultural, while 'Biutiful' is very Spanish in dealing with social issues.

Last Saturday, the critics on Radio Four's 'Saturday Review' declared that 'Biutiful' shows the Barcelona that the tourists don't see in a very gritty light. My partner thought that on this showing Javier Bardem should get the Oscar for Best Actor - he got the Cannes Best Actor award; but Nigel Andrews in the FT called it 'two hours of bloated messianic attitudinising'. In 1963 I wrote a piece on the shanty towns in Barcelona for World Labour News - journal of the Syndicalist Workers' Federation - that later appeared in the newspaper of the Spanish Youth Federation (FIJL) as 'Donde las touristas nunca fui': 'Where the tourists never go'.