Sunday, 31 July 2011

John Mortimer's biography

Valerie Grove wrote a fascinating biography of the "champagne socialist" and renowned libertarian John Mortimer which contained many revealing anecdotes. It was entitled "A Voyage Around John Mortimer"

One relates to the genesis of the TV series Rumpole of the Bailey created and written by Mortimer. There was an Old Bailey Trial in which Mortimer defended the Mile End Boot Boys - football hooligans - who killed an innocent bystander at Charing Cross Station. He was assisted by James Burge QC (defender of Stephen Ward of the Profumo affair). Burge told Mortimer at the start of the trial "As a matter of fact I am an anarchist. But I dont think even my old darling Prince Peter Kropotkin would have approved of this lot." "There I had Rumpole" Mortimer thought. The original title suggested by John Mortimer was "My Darling Prince Peter Kroptkin", but this was vetoed.

The second anecdote concerns Lord "Boofy" Arran and may not be strictly PC. Arran introduce 2 bills in the House of Lords, one to reduce the age of homosexual consent to 18 and the other for the preservation of badgers. "I cant understand it" said Boofy as he lay dying, "Hardly anyone showed up for the badgers Bill. When we passed the buggers bill the place was packed". "Have you considered" he was asked, "there are very few badgers in the House of Lords".

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Beer in the evening. 'The Ash Tree' in Ashton-under-Lyne. Is this the worst Wetherspoon`s in the country?

For the last several weeks, the pub chain J.D. Wetherspoon, have been running their first-ever national summer (2011) cider festival. At value-for-money prices, twelve excellent festival ciders have been on sale including 'Sheppy`s Farmhouse Draft', 'Devon Scrumpy' 'Weston`s Cider Twist' and the award winning, 'Black Dragon' from Glamorgan. It is to be hoped, that this is the first of many cider festivals to come.

In recent years, Wetherspoon`s have also organised a number of real ale festivals which have proven to be extremely popular with customers. They also sell on a regular basis, a variety of cask real ales and have a policy of supporting local micro breweries. With the average price of a pint now standing at £3.05, you can get a pint of real ale in many Wetherspoon outlets for around £2.20 or less, but prices do vary, between Wetherspoon pubs.

Though I rarely buy the food, which is served all day, the meals are popular (including the curry nights) with many customers and are sold at a reasonable price. There are facilities in many places for indoor and outdoor drinking, hotel accommodation, TV and Wifi provided, and children are allowed in with families, when buying a meal. At a time when many pubs are closing (1,300 last year), and pub beer sales are down due to huge tax increases, the Wetherspoon pub chain, have continued to expand and are opening more pubs.

Of course, there are some people who would not choose to drink in a Wetherspoon pub even though it is cheap. The pubs themselves can be noisy and overcrowded and the swearing in some places, can be atrocious. Similarly, in some pubs the standard of service can also be atrocious, but this varies from pub to pub. However, over the years, a common complaint about Wetherspoon`s, is that it suffers from poor service.

Certainly, the worst Wetherspoon pub that I have been in, is 'The Ash Tree' in Ashton-under-Lyne. On the entrance to this pub, they ought to inscribe in big letters: "Abandon hope all ye who enter here", so bad is the service. Rarely have I seen bar staff, so ignorant, clueless, and miserable, as in this place. In this establishment there is an attitude among some staff that proclaims: 'we couldn`t give a toss.' The staff are also inclined, to ignore customers that they take a dislike to, as well as, those who complain.

A friend of mine, told me recently that he`d been speaking to someone who`d bought a meal at 'The Ash Tree'. On being served his meal, he`d noticed that the waiter had his thumb in the gravy and he told him, that he didn`t want it. When asked by the waiter why he didn`t want the meal, he told him that his thumb had been in the gravy, whereupon, the waiter replied: "Would you prefer my two fingers?" Speaking personally, I once bought a meal in this establishment and found greasy fingerprints all over the plate. That was the last meal I purchased in 'The Ash Tree.'

Judging from comments left on websites such as 'Beer in the Evening', I'm not the only one who has a low opinion of this drinking establishment. Each drinking establishment is given a rating out of ten and 'The Ash Tree', scored 2.5/10. A comment left on site in April 2011, says this of 'The Ash Tree':

"Pub has improved since I was last in. Some of the staff show willing but those who have been there a while, are still lazy and ignorant...Speaking to some of the regulars, who told me of this establishment closing early on the whim of the staff."

A comment posted in January 2011 says: "If you`re not in 15 minutes before the last orders bell, there`s a good chance they wont serve you. keep an eye on your watch, as often the bell is very gently rung, as one or two staff seem to delight in saying you`ve missed last orders - hopeless...I go in less and less these days, it seems the management are determined to drive customers away."

In July 2010, a disgruntled customer says: "Staff seem to be going through the motions, seem irritated by customers. Bottles chucked into the bottle skip every two minutes, shattering.

In June 2010, another disgruntled customer says: "Worst Wetherspoon`s in the country and its on my doorstep."

Other comments left on the site, refer to "staff bone idle and ignorant", "Surly and ignorant bar staff", "Service still crap and staff ignorant as ever", "The staff are absolutely ignorant and lazy", "The staff just couldn`t care less."

Unlike 'The Ash Tree' which wont be winning any awards for customer services, 'The Cotton Bale' in Hyde, is listed in the Good Beer Guide (2011) published by the Campaign for Real Ale'(CAMRA). The pub which was rated 4.4/10 by the 'Beer in the Evening' Website, offers up to 12 handpumped real ales. On my visits to this establishment, I have always found the staff friendly and polite and the beer in excellent condition.

In Stalybridge, 'The Society Rooms', the Wetherspoon`s pub on Grosvenor Street, was rated 5.6/10 by 'Beer in the Evening'. A comment left on the website in February 2011 says:

"Ten handpumps all in use...service was fast and friendly. Quite a decent Wetherspoon`s - a lot better than 'The Ash Tree' in Ashton. Good cask ales at excellent prices. Service can be slow at busy times."

On my visits to this establishment, I`ve always found the standard of service excellent and the staff friendly and polite. Until recently the pub did sell Millstone beers but I`ve not seen any on sale for a while which is a pity. Nevertheless, there are always a good range of cask ales on sale for £2.10 or less, if the ABV is below 5%.

The chairman and founder of J.D. Wetherspoon, New Zealander, Tim Martin, is what you might call a hands-on type of bloke. He can often be seen in one of his many pubs chatting to staff and customers, with his notebook in his hand and his mullet-style haircut. Perhaps on one of his next trips to his rapidly expanding empire, he should pay a visit to 'The Ash Tree' and while he`s there shake the staff up a bit, or better still, transfer some of them to one of his pubs in Outer Mongolia, where they will find life, far more agreeable.

Police turn up at Tameside picket

THIS morning, the picket at Denton Community College on Corporation Road, Denton was visited first by Tameside Council's security police at 8.30 a.m. The Council's security men asked the picket's spokesman, Steve Acheson, to take their banners off the trees as they were on Council property. Mr Acheson then began to quote from the relevant case law and decisions by Lord Denning in the Appeal Court on the right to protest on the highways of England, whereupon the security guards were so taken aback that they withdrew for a conference with their employers.

This picket is part of a national campaign by building workers and electricians against the blacklisting of workers and trade unionists in the construction industry. Carillion, the main contractor on this site, has been accused of being part of a major racket by British building firms to create data bases of workers' names and to enforce them, so they can't find any work. This has been described as an attack on family life.

Later this morning at about 10.30am the Northern Voices' office received further reports of community police being brought to the site to question the pickets. In the end a compromise was worked out and the pickets agreed to put their banners on the company fence instead of the trees which 'belong' to the Council.

Northern Voices rang the site's Construction Manager, Joseph Hammerton, at about 10.45am while the police were still present, but as soon as I said I was from Northern Voices, the phone went dead. When I immediately redialled the number the answer phone was activated, saying that Mr. Joseph Hammerton was not available and asking me to leave a message. I promptly did so, leaving the details of Northern Voices and saying we were doing a story on blacklisting in the British construction industry.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

James Keogh's Sister Clare: a Stalybridge neighbour pays her respects

by Julie Aney

This year it is the 75th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War. In November, the Arts & Events Department of Tameside MBC will be awarding a Blue Plaque to local lad James Keogh for his part in volunteering to fight in the Spanish Civil War along with others from the Tameside towns. James Keogh died in March 1938, fighting for freedom and democracy with the International Brigade in Spain. His younger sister, Clare Jackson, was born on 27th June 1932 and died on 11th July 2011,  and was assisting Tameside Trade Union Council in its campaign to get her brother James a blue plaque until the end of her life. It is a tragedy that she did not survive to see it installed. Below, a neighbour of Clare's, Julie Aney, gives her appreciation.

Clare Jackson, reading Northern Voices
I HAVE been a neighbour of Clare & Arthur [Jackson] on Moorfield Avenue my whole life, almost 27 year! Moorfield Avenue is one of those rare places which houses [no pun intended] a real community spirit; we look out for each other and are not only neighbours but many of us would call ourselves friends. It's for this reason that I have many memories of Clare; some which I'll share now.

Moorfield Avenue didn't need Home Watch with Clare around; she was our eyes and ears, no matter what time of day or night! We'd get weekly update of who'd been where, who had had what delivered and the details and full description of any mysterious callers! More often than not she'd know where we were before we did; quite often I'd hear the words 'you were out last night' or 'have you not been to work today, I saw your car up the drive?'. We always said nobody would get away with having an affair or truanting from work or school with Clare around!

But, on the flip side of the coin, her curiosity was what made Clare a wonderful neighbour; if we were at work she'd look out for the postman to take in any parcels to save us going to the sorting office and she'd keep an eye on the houses to make sure they were kept safe whilst we were out. She would bring a weekly magazine delivery to our house which she continued to do during her illness and during her days at Kerry Foods, we would get food and toiletry deliveries too! Her kind and caring nature will be missed by so many.

Clare loved a drink and one of my favourite memories is Boxing Day get-togethers at Clare and Arthur's with all the neighbours. Arthur and Clare were so generous and would organise drinks and food for us to celebrate the festive season. Anyone who had the pleasure of being invited would find the drinks flowing and I'm sure I speak for many when I say Boxing Day evenings was usually feeling the effects!

Clare never lost this sense of humour, even when she was very poorly and indeed my last memory of Clare is one of laughter. My Mum, me and Clare's friend Nell spent a Friday evening with her and were given some of the biggest measures of alcohol you've ever seen; this was straight from work before I'd eaten and needless to say we ended up in fits of laughter at some of Clare's stories. This memory will stay with me forever and is how I will remember Clare!

Clare was fiercely independent and fought her illness with the courage of a lion. Never once did she complain about being unwell and would always insist on making the drinks whenever we visited regardless of how poorly she was. Her fighting spirit and character will be missed from Moorfield Avenue for many years to come.

Wherever she is now, no doubt she will have a whisky in her hand so there's only one thing left for me to say and that's 'Cheers Clare - it's been a pleasure.'


AT 7.50am this morning, pickets put up banners calling on British construction companies to 'Stop Victimising Trade Union Workers' outside the Denton Community College in Denton, and protesting at Tameside Council for harbouring and encouraging a firm accused of blacklisting: that firm is the construction company Carillion. Carillion was named together with more than 40 other building companies as being affiliated to the Consultancy Association; the director of the Consulting Association, Ian Kerr, pleaded guilty to compiling an illegal database without a proper license at Knutsford Crown Court. Tameside MBC is currently Labour controlled, and since Roy Oldham died, has been led by Kieran Quinn, a Droylsden East councillor, who is a member of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and a former postal worker: according to this biography. Councillor Quinn has outside interests in bodies like New Charter Building Company and he is a member of the Commission for the New Economy.

Today's pickets outside the Denton Community College are disgruntled members of Unite the Union who regard themselves as being blacklisted by companies like Carillion. Carillion won a contract for £300 million in Tameside in 2008 for a joint venture project on schools in the borough when Roy Oldham was still the Executive leader of Tameside MBC. At the time that Carillion won this work to build and rebuild schools in Tameside, Councillor Oldham was quoted as saying: 'Tameside will be the envy of other cities and towns across the country.' If Carillion turns out to be a big-time blacklister this may yet come back to haunt Tameside MBC and it is understood that Tameside Trade Union Council is writing to councillor Quinn to question his role in continuing the local authority's business links with Carillion, given that it has been accused of blacklisting.

Northern Voices was told in April that Tameside MBC had set up Local Education Partnerships and was actively out-sourcing work to Carillion. Local Education Partnerships give work on schools: both building and maintaining schools. As part of a Local Education Partnership, Carillion don't have to tender for other work such as catering in schools, cleaning across the Council, caretaking, security in schools and council buildings. Reliable sources close to the Council suggest that Carillion want to take over Dukinfield Town Hall to use as a flagship for weddings and functions, and possibly a hotel. Currently, the Town Hall is used as a Registry Office and for administrative purposes.

Given that Carillion has well and truly got its feet under the table with the Council in Tameside, it will be highly inconvenient if a bunch of whingeing local electricians who claim that they are being blacklisted get in the way. These kind of anti-blacklist campaigners have trodden the streets of Manchester for the best part of a decade and don't seem to want to go away. If they start doing regular pickets in Tameside they might damage the commercial prospects of Carillion: I'd better sell my shares in the company!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Spanish Revolution 75th anniversary: Meeting Report

Big meeting for 75th Anniversary of Spanish Revolution 1936 –39

The Radical History Network of North East London (RaHN) kicked off again last Wednesday with a well attended meeting to celebrate the Spanish revolution of 1936. The military invasion by General Franco, aided by Hitler and Mussolini, sparked off the immediate resistance of much of eastern Spain. Everyone took to the streets, disarmed the troops, stormed the barracks and prisons then occupied their workplaces in factories, depots, mines and the land. It took nearly three years of civil war to dislodge them, aided even so by the so-called helpers of the communists who also turfed out occupiers. People paid tribute to the International Brigades who went to the country to defend the people’s action. In the end, the fascists won, and this became a curtain raiser for WW2 a few months later.

The speaker, Brian Bamford from Manchester, gave an interesting discourse on the events, covering various historical sources and views. Speakers from the floor emphasised what was – and still is – the greatest mobilization of ordinary people fighting to control their lives. There were people at the meeting from the Haringey Solidarity Group, some visitors from Walthamstow and two Spanish students who were able to add details about the recent big demonstrations all over Spain.

There was a good supply of literature available including Alan Woodward's recently published booklet on workers control in this period and a pamphlet on the war from Manchester. A reprint of a booklet on Women in the Spanish Revolution had been made. The RaHN blog was publicized which has had many hits on this subject . Housmans of Kings Cross supplied a bookstall.

The forthcoming RaHN programme was announced :

14 Sept: The Closure of the Post Office. After one and a half centuries when the PO finally replaced private structures, we now face reverting to this absurd and expensive method. Local resident Rowland Hill introduced the national system. Merlin Reader, a union rep for the Communications Workers Union, keeps us up to date with the history and the current struggle.

12 October: Joe Jacobs. To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the famous Cable Street events of 1936, we remind people that Joe’s magnificent struggle against the fascists is recorded in detail in a working class classic Out Of the Ghetto. Alan Woodward has written up the second half of his life after 1940 and introduces his booklet.

22 October:  Anarchist Bookfair, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London, E1
4NS . All day Saturday, 10 am to 7 pm. We have a stall.

9 November: to be arranged

14 December: The Luddites Remembered. It is 200 years since the clothing workers smashed up the machinery that was destroying their jobs. Many regard modern technology as similarly destructive, but a better way is needed to deal with it this time round . We examine the prospects .

Report, 21 July 2011-07-22, Any reply to ;

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Before Christie:


LONG BEFORE the Scottish Anarchist, Stuart Christie, went to Spain to aid a plot to assassinate General Franco in August 1964, indeed years before he was even born, the campaign of military sedition by a group of Spanish Generals that eventually installed Franco as the Caudillo of Spain began in Africa. Today's International Herald Tribune reports:

1936 Spanish Army Seizes Morocco:

The Spanish army in Morocco rose in revolt late Friday night and by yesterday morning [July 18] it was in control of the whole of Spanish Morocco. Fierce fighting broke our between the insurgents and the civil element of the Spanish population, causing heavy loss of life. Arab natives are not taking part in the movement. Late last night rebel troops were said to have landed in southern Spanish ports to carry the revolt into Spain.

The third edition of our Spanish Civil War booklet is still available: price £4.60/€5.00 post included, cheques payable to 'Tameside Trade Union Council' from c/o 46, Kingsland Road, Rochdale, Lancs. OL11 3HQ.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Statistics, Official Statistics & Reports:

Doubt & uncertainty from the BLACKLIST FILES to the SPANISH CIVIL WAR RECORDS...

LAST night, just before the meeting of Tameside Trade Union Council in Ashton-under-Lyne, I and Derek Pattison - President of Tameside TUC - were handed the recently released MI5 files on the 4,000 or so British volunteers who have been recorded as going to fight or work as medical aid in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. On top of the pile was George Orwell's file which read as follows:

Reference: PF 62,162.

Name: BLAIR, Eric. ORWELL, George.
Address: 77, Parliament Hill, N.W.
Born: 25.6.02. Motihari, Bengal.
Occupation: Journalist and author.

General History.
30.4.37. Member of the I.L.P. (Independent Labour Party) fighting with the International Brigade in Spain. (cutting from "The New Leader".) 1938. Was one fo (sic) the signatories to a Joint Peace Manifesto, issued by the P.P.U., No More War Movt., etc. Resigned from the Indeian (sic) Police, and when in Paris took an interest in the activities of the French C.P. (Communist Party)
21.1.50. Died.

This is immediately recognisable as an inaccurate record in so far as all the evidence shows that George Orwell never joined the International Brigade in Spain and that he fought with the POUM militia as a member of the I.L.P. He resigned from the Indian Imperial Police as from 1st, January 1928 and went to Paris in the spring of that year. According to Peter Davison in his book on Orwell 'Facing Unpleasant Facts: 1937-39', Orwell 'is said to have "paid a membership subscription to the Peace Pledge Union (PPU)" in December 1937.' Davidson believes that '... the evidence he (Orwell) joined the PPU is based on a misreading of a receipt in the Orwell Archive.' It seems this misreading is based on an acknowledgement of a 'receipt for 2s 6d, dated 12th, December 1937, from Mrs E. Blair - Eileen, not Eric', and Davison thinks that she was buying pamphlets for her husband. No mention in Davison's book of Orwell signing the Peace Manifesto, though he may well have done so even if he had not been a member of the PPU.

The moral of this is that we should approach all these documents with caution. Whether it be the dodgy blacklist files of the unlicensed data bank of Ian Kerr's Consulting Association, the MI5 files and official records, the contents of the Moscow Archives, the lists of volunteers in the Marx Memorial Library or the oddly assembled booklet, written by Bernard Barry, 'From Manchester to Spain', published in 2009 by the Working Class Movement Library. Ian Kerr's blacklist files on the workers and trade unionists in the British building trade were full of errors; the current MI5 records on Spanish Civil War volunteers are at times speculative and flawed; some of the material in the Moscow Archives is 'bitchy' about people from Tameside like Lillian Urmston and James Keogh; and Bernard Barry's 2009 booklet on the local volunteers from Greater Manchester has a poorly categorised and misleading 'Roll of Honour'. The ethnomethodologists urge us to study how lists, files, Rolls of Honour and official statistics are assembled by the people collecting the data. One consideration should be the motives of the data collectors in these cases, whether it be the blacklister, Ian Kerr, or Bernard Barry on behalf of the Working Class Movement Library, or the spies snooping on their comrades fighting in Spain to send stuff to Stalin and the Moscow Archives, or the agents employed by MI5 counting how many went to Spain and who was in the Communist Party: all of these parties may have an incentive to exaggerate and inflate their figures.

In the light of the recently released MI5 new data and the fact that Tameside TUC may have been misled by the 'Roll of Honour' in Bernard Barry's booklet 'From Manchester to Spain' to include people in the 3rd edition of our booklet commemorating the Spanish Civil War who did not qualify for recognition, it ought now to be revised in the production of a 4th edition later this year.

Blacklist Support Group: how to help fight the Blacklist

We reproduce the latest from the Blacklist Support Group below:

Stephen Hughes MEP and Glenis Wilmott MEP are taking up the issue of blacklisting in the European Parliament. You can support the campaign and make it more likely that new EU wide anti-blacklisting legislation is introduced by spending just a minute or so doing the following:

1. Contact your MEP

It would be useful to mobilise other MEP's. If you don't know the name of your own MEP's you will be able to find them on the European Parliament's website:

2. Tell your MEP

Whether you arrange a face to face meeting (this is best) or send an email / letter, keep it short and to the point - MEPs receive a lot of correspondence.

Highlight the European nature of the problem - The companies involved are often based in many EU countries - Skanska (Sweden), Bam (Netherlands), Vinci (France), Laing O’Rourke (Ireland), Sir Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, Kier, Costain, Carillion (UK)

Stress the health & safety issues around blacklisting of safety reps which impedes the proper implementation and enforcement of EU safety laws

Also make it human, give a specific, typical example of someone blacklisted - the reason for blacklisting, the periods of time denied work, the sort of intrusive information gathered, the infringement of basic rights and so on.

3. Ask your MEP

Ask your MEP's to demand action to end blacklisting by writing to both:

Commissioner Laszlo Andor, responsible for Employment and Social Affairs
Vivian Reding, Commissioner for Justice and citizenship

Monday, 11 July 2011

Tony Blair: 'I had a friend called Faust ...'

YESTERDAY, The Mail on Sunday ran a headline declaring 'Blair Bid To Silence MP Who Exposed Murdoch' followed by an article claiming 'Tony Blair urged Gordon Brown to persuade the Labour MP [Tom Watson] who led the campaign to expose the News of the World phone-hacking to back off ...' It is reported that Gordon Brown refused to do this, but in a two-year long struggle Tom Watson MP, by employing parliamentary privilege, has played a crucial role in challenging Rupert Murdoch's company News Corporation over its use of phone-hacking at the News of the World. The Mail on Sunday further alleges: 'Mrs [Rebekah] Brooks begged Blairite ex-Cabinet Minister Tessa Jowell to help "stop this madman Tom Watson" - and also sought help from her friend, Mr Blair.'

In the paperback version of his autobiography 'A Journey', published last month, Tony Blair writes: 'In June 1995 we had further outraged sensibilities by accepting an invitation ... to address Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation conference on Hayman Island in Australia ...' Mr Blair explains his decision to accept Rupert Murdoch's offer thus: '... the country's most important newspaper proprietor, whose publications have hitherto been rancorous in their opposition to the Labour Party, invites us into the lion's den. You go, don't you?'

Of Murdoch, Blair wrote that he found him to be an 'enigma' and that the more he got to know him the more he felt this. Blair's judgement of Murdoch was that '[i]n the end ... I came to have a grudging respect and even liking for him.' Blair concludes that although he does not share Murdoch's views on Europe, social policy or gay rights, he he admired his 'balls' and 'outsider' attitude to the Establishment.

Curiously, after these comments on his early experience of Murdoch on pages 96, 97 and 98, and despite what we now know of the intimate relationship between Blair, his New Labour government and Murdoch and his acolytes, there is surprisingly little further reference to Murdoch in Blair's autobiography until we get to page 655, and the time of Blair's departure and Gordon Brown's coronation. On page 655 Blair writes: 'There was no contest for the leadership ... John Reid could have stood, but the Murdoch papers, I fear at Rupert's instigation, just wrote him off ...' Blair considers: 'This is where Gordon's strategy of tying up Rupert [Murdoch] and Dacre [editor in chief of the Mail Group] really paid off - any likely contenders didn't get a look-in; they got squashed.'

'Fear and Loathing' in Staly Vegas. The towns night life is killing business, says Councillor!

On their way home after a heavy day boozing, two Dukinfield yobbos (pictured), decided to end their birthday celebrations by launching a vicious and unprovoked attack on an helpless young man who they found sleeping in a bus shelter in Stalybridge, also known as 'Staly Vegas', the popular night spot in Tameside, Greater Manchester.

David Hayward, a 26 year old labourer from Astley Street, Dukinfied, and unemployed 27 year old Dane Simms, from Inverness Road, Dukinfield, brutally attacked their victim punching him about the head and body and then kicking him in the face. Having rifled his pockets, stealing his wallet, mobile phone and cigarettes, they then scurried off like two rats up a drainpipe.

Giving evidence at Minshull Street, Crown Court, Manchester, their victim said:

"The attack was brutal. I didn`t stand a chance."

The court was told that the incident took place in February of this year when Simm`s, had been out celebrating his birthday with Hayward who has a partner and three year old son. The court was also told that the partner of Simm`s, had been forced to take two jobs in order to support him.

As usual in these cases, 'intoxication' was put forward to explain their actions. Shirlie Duckworth, defending' said:

"Hayward was very intoxicated which isn`t an excuse but is perhaps the only way to explain why a young man who`s ordinarily a hard-working family man behaves in a way completely out of character."

Defending Simm`s, Carolyn Smith, said: "that her client had committed one of the biggest mistakes of his life."

Sentencing both men to two-and-half years imprisonment, Judge Michael Blakey, told them:

"This was a horrifying and sickening, prolonged attack, on a defenceless man who was in drink and was clearly afraid of you. One of you held him while the other punched him, kicked him and kneed him in the face. One of you was seen to kick him in the face. This offence is so serious that only immediate custody is justified..."

Nowadays, scenes like this would be commonplace throughout many towns and cities across the country. As in this case, alcohol is often cited as the underlying reason for why many youths resort to this kind of mindless street violence. While there may be some truth in this, I nevertheless, consider it a poor excuse. Surely, it`s not the drink that causes the problems but the burk who`s doing the drinking, that causes the problems. Even when sober, some people are not safe out on the streets.

Some argue that Britain`s boozing culture has got worse since the introduction of 24 hour drinking in 2005, but anyone acquainted with a smattering of English history, would know, that drunkenness has been rife in this country throughout the ages. We have even invented colloquialisms to describe this practice of over indulging in alcohol - 'on the razzle', 'going on a bender', 'a blow out', 'out on the piss'.

Undoubtedly, cultural influences play a part in all of this. Britain`s boozing culture is often compared unfavourably, with the way in which alcohol is consumed by people in the Mediterranean countries, who consume alcohol with food and are less interested in getting drunk. Yet it is argued, that in Northern European countries, consumption of alcohol is often characterised by heavy bouts of prolonged drinking, followed by periods of abstinence. In Britain, not only do many people drink with the intention of getting drunk, but drunkenness, is more or less accepted. This equally applies when the British go abroad. The popular fly-on-the-wall TV documentary, 'Boozed Up Brits Abroad', is about British youths who take advantage of cheap flights to visit European cities, to go on drinking binges.

We know that people`s perceptions about street violence (real or imagined), can have devastating consequences for local economies. The nearby town of Ashton-under-Lyne, has never really recovered from the spate of street killings (four murders in three months) that took place in the town in 2002. This once lively and busy Lancashire town, is now a shadow of its former self, with many pubs and shops now closed. But opinion varies as to why many of our northern towns appear to be in terminal decline.

Cllr. David Sweeton, executive member for business and community development at Tameside Council, believes that Stalybridge suffers because of its 'Staly Vegas' tag as the town struggles to cope with the recession. The town`s night life he believes, is decreasing the town`s status and has affected the town`s daytime business, because people`s perceptions of crime in Stalybridge, puts them off from shopping in the town and also puts off investors. In an interview with the Tameside Reporter, in June, he said:

"We were a thriving community when we had had the 'first generation' bars like the Pavillion and the Millpond. It was like cafe' culture. They had new exciting ideas which attracted the right kind of people, but the recession has hit... We want to attract nice, well mannered people. We`re trying to work with bar owners to stop this 'happy hour' mentality where alcohol is sold at a low price and at an alarming rate. It is unacceptable and is decreasing the town`s status."

To blame low price alcohol, perceptions of crime, the Staly Vegas tag, and the vulgar rabble who drink in the town, for a downturn in the towns economy, does seem to be like clutching at straws and is somewhat disingenuous. One does wonder how often Cllr. Sweeton visits Stalybridge for a night out? Since reading the interview, I have searched in vain for a bar in Stalybridge town centre that does a 'happy hour' where "alcohol is sold at a low price and at an alarming rate." Alas! I have yet to find such a place. As for violence, Stalybridge, doesn`t seem to be any worse than many towns and might be considered better than most. I gather that Yorkshire Street, in Oldham, is known locally as The Gaza Strip, because of the amount of violence on the street at weekends.

Anyone who visits Stalybridge town centre during the week, on an evening, would be aware that the town is dead. Apart from fast-food outlets, and a couple of restaurants, many pubs only open for the weekend. A spokesman for the Warfsteiner pub told the newspaper, that:

"Business was now scarce and that Stalybridge was a ghost town."

Certainly this is an exaggeration, but the town like many other northern towns, has been badly hit by the recession. However, there may be other reasons why people choose not to shop in the town. If you`re looking for a butchers shop you wont find one. The last family butcher closed down a while ago. Indeed, in terms of shopping, there isn`t a great deal on offer. But if you`re into gambling, you wont find it difficult to place a bet: there a now four bookies on one street in the town. No wonder they call the town Staly Vegas.

Some people complain about the influence of TESCO on the town. Since the store came to the town, many local shops have struggled to cope with the decline in customers and many shops have now closed. Others, complain that there are too many pubs, too many bookies, and that the town needs a facelift. Responding to this criticism, Cllr. Sweeton, told The Reporter:

"Licensing legislation does not allow us to say 'no' when it comes to restricting the number of bars and bookies in the area... shopping at TESCO is more convenient, and we need a product that will encourage people to come into the area."

A recent study by 'Simply Business', predicts that 10,000 shops in the UK will close this year. One-in-six high street shops now stand empty as many stores struggle to compete with supermarkets and larger chains. What is on the increase on our high streets, are poundshops, bookies and pawnbrokers. Real wage levels are falling as pay fails to keep up with the rise in the cost of living and people spend less, which leads to business failure and more unemployment. While pay for the rich has soared, incomes for the rest, have stagnated. A survey by the TUC, published in May, showed that pay for middle income workers in Britain, has gone up by 56% since 1978 even though GDP has risen by 108% over the same period. For the low paid, the results are even worse. Their income has risen a mere 27% over the last 30 years. The only group to have seen their incomes rise in line the GDP, are the highest paid 10%.

Britain is now one of the most unequal societies in Europe. Serious social deprivation now exists in many northern towns, including Tameside. In South Shields (one of the poorest town`s in Britain), some households haven`t seen a wage packet in twenty years. The seaside resort of Blackpool, has the highest level of alcohol related deaths in England and the highest population of heroin and crack addicts.

In May, The Guardian, reported that North Yorkshire police had recently advertised 60 jobs and had received 300,000 applications. Some have suggested that Britain is becoming a nation of ghettos and what we are witnessing, is a 'pandemic disease of working-class poverty'( Peter Dunn - The Independent 5/5/11). If this is so, the future looks bleak for many.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Latest: Blacklist goes to Europe

LAST Thursday, 30th June 2011, a delegation of blacklisted trade unionists and safety representatives from the Blacklist Support Group held private talks in Brussels with László Andor, European Union Commissioner with responsibility for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion to discuss potential EU wide legislation to outlaw blacklisting. The delegation declared: "the genuinely positive response from Commissioner Andor exceeded all our expectations"

During the 45 minute meeting, Commissioner Andor was presented with documentary evidence from Brian Higgins, Steve Acheson and Dave Smith in the form secret blacklist files kept about their activities as union safety reps in the UK construction industry. The files were compiled by the Consulting Association and provide damning evidence that major multi-national building firms systematically dismissed and victimised workers who raised concerns about health & safety issues or unpaid wages (see Editors Notes).

The secret blacklist files (up to 49 pages long) contain appalling levels of personal intrusion with sensitive information including; names, addresses, national insurance number, work history, medical history, press-cuttings, union meetings attended, speeches made, political affiliations. Many entries on the blacklist files are supplied by senior Industrial Relations managers from major construction firms relating to when an individual had spoken to their site managers about safety breaches such as asbestos or poor toilet facilities. The information in the blacklist files was circulated amongst multi-national building firms and used to deny workers employment on major construction projects. For many blacklisted workers this resulted in repeated sackings and long-term unemployment merely because they had raised concerns about safety on building sites.

Brian Higgins (blacklisted bricklayer - Secretary Northampton UCATT) said after the meeting:
'The Blacklist is an economic, social and political prison. I have served a life sentence and other workers continue to be imprisoned. In cases like my own, the Blacklist effectively takes the form of house arrest because of its effect on a person’s social life. My wife was also deeply affected and badly scarred. More often that not, she was forced to financially support me, and our two children, on her low wage as a care worker. This has had a devastating effect on our standard of living. To her great credit my wife supported me and our family unstintingly. She held us together when things got really tough – which it did quite often. We kept our dignity intact and just managed to keep our heads above water by almost completely sacrificing our social life. My wife had to take out loans, which we could not afford, since my credit rating was zero due to very long spells of unemployment. All of this is the direct result of the building employers deliberately using the Blacklist, time and again, to deny me the right to work and to earn a living.'

The construction companies identified as participating in the blacklisting operation include household names based and operating across Europe including: Skanska (Sweden), Bam (Netherlands), Vinci (France), Laing O’Rourke (Ireland), Sir Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, Kier, Costain, Carillion (UK) to name but a few. (See Editors Notes)

The right to join a trade union and not be be victimised because of it is enshrined in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights but lack of any specific EU wide legislation against blacklisting of individuals for safety reasons means that thousands of workers have suffered appalling financial and family hardship because of the covert actions of multi-national building firms.

Steve Acheson (blacklisted Electrician - Secretary Manchester Contracting Branch - UNITE) said:
'We have been victimised by these firms just because we have stood up for safety issues; a cabin to dry wet clothes, asbestos, holiday pay, basic electrical checks. For many of us this conspiracy has meant years on the dole and family strains. But we are not just fighting for ourselves. This evil practice is almost certainly taking place in other industries and in other countries across Europe. I refuse to sit in my front room at home and turn into an old man, instead I choose to campaign on behalf of young workers in Poland, Spain, Greece, Ireland and any workers in Europe who are prepared to stand up for their basic human rights.'

Also attending the meeting was Professor Keith Ewing from Kings College London (a leading academic in international law and human rights issues) who presented possible legislative options open to the European Union highlighting the fact that many of the companies involved in the blacklist were European based. He also drew attention to the fact that blacklisting violates many provisions of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and that the EU had the authority and responsibility to respond to this major violation of health and safety standards.

The meeting was arranged by Stephen Hughes MEP and Glenis Willmott MEP (Labour’s Leader in Europe Parliament) who are taking up the issue in the European Parliament.
Stephen Hughes MEP said:
'Blacklisting is a genuine issue which affects all member states and I will work with colleagues to address this serious concern and apply parliamentary pressure to trigger action.
This meeting is the beginning, not the end, of a process. Once we have planted the seed with Commissioner Andors, we will follow up with action in the European Parliament's Employment Committee and the full Parliament. It will take time but we don't give up easily!'

Notes to Editors:
1. For individual interviews with the delegation about the talks with EU Commissioner Andor & their personal experience of blacklisting contact

2. Attached photo shows (Left to Right): Professor Keith Ewing, Brian Higgins, Stephen Hughes MEP, EU Commissioner László Andor, Steve Acheson.

3. The blacklisting of trade unionists in the construction industry was only exposed after an investigation by the Information Commissioners Office (UK data-protection watchdog) in 2009. The companies identified by the Information Commissioners Office as using The Consulting Association secret blacklisting are all household names including:
Amec, Amey, B Sunley & Sons, Balfour Beatty, Balfour Kilpatrick, Ballast Wiltshire, Bam Construction (HBC Construction), Bam Nuttall (Edmund Nutall Ltd), C B & I, Cleveland Bridge UK Ltd, Costain UK Ltd, Crown House Technologies, Carillion, Tarmac Construction, Diamond M & E Services, Dudley Bower & Co Ltd, Emcor (Drake & Scull), Emcor Rail, G Wimpey Ltd, Haden Young, Kier Ltd, John Mowlem Ltd, Laing O’Rourke, Lovell Construction (UK) Ltd, Miller Construction Limited, Morgan Ashurst, Morgan Est, Morrison Construction Group, N G Bailey, Shepherd Engineering Services, Sias Building Services, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, Skanska (Kaverna / Trafalgar House Plc), SPIE (Matthew Hall), Taylor Woodrow Construction Ltd, Turriff Construction Ltd, Tysons Contractors, Walter Llewellyn & Sons Ltd, Whessoe Oil & Gas, Willmott Dixon, Vinci PLC (Norwest Holst Group)

4. Blacklist Support Group was set-up to act as a support network on behalf of the 3216 individuals on the Consulting Association database following a meeting held at the House of Commons in June 2009 organised by John McDonnell MP. The Blacklist Support Group has led the campiagn against blacklisting by organsing fringe meetings at union conferences, entered submissions to proposed legislation, organised direct action, produced campaign video's and is currently involved with a variety of legal challenges.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Death of Salford Class War Veteran - Ken Keating!

The following obituary for Salford Class War Veteran, Ken Keating, appeared on Ian Bone's blog earlier this week:

Just received sad news from Sean Keating from Salford:

R.I.P KEN KEATING. 24/01/38 - 28/06/11, Legend, Friend, Father, Grandad. My dad Loved by many, hated by authority but respected by all. Safe journey to mum old timer x

Ken was the prime mover in Ordsall Class War in the 1990s and i think it would be safe to say none of us had ever seen the likes of Ordsall Class War! There are others who knew Ken far better than me and I hope to be publishing their thoughts when they are ready. In the meantime best wishes to Sean and family.

See picture of Ken and his ‘Grasswatch’ van here.

What did Ken think about the Lowry Arts Centre:

Oh yeah in an interview with Ken Keating I asked him about Lowry: He gave me a contemptuous look and said “Lowry he was just a f******g rent collector.”

Here’s an account from Practical History of Ordsall Class War in July 1992:

On the Ordsall Estate in Salford (near Manchester), in the space of several days in the first week of July, fires were started at a council neighbourhood office, a housing office, a careers office, a Department of Health office, a MacDonald’s restaurant, and several other buildings. Shots were fired at police vehicles and a petrol bomb thrown at a police station. Also in Salford, eight people in balaclavas attacked a police car that they had lured into an ambush by setting off an alarm. Local youths complained of police violence, with one saying: “There’s people who can’t pay for electricity. And they’re at home in bed, in the dark, and the door’s kicked in and all they can see is big torches coming up the stairs and the Bill [the police] is saying ‘Stay where you are or you’ll get your heads blown off’”. Another said: “It’s just like Belfast. The police don’t relate to the kids. Why are they dragging them in, beating them up?”

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Scab Labour - which Northern Labour MPs heeded Red Ed's call to cross picket lines this week?

Following Ed Miliband's call for his MPs to cross PCS picket lines at the Houses Parliament this week, the Labour Partisan blog has done some research to find out which MPs took place in Parliamentary debates on that day, and therefore did cross picket lines. We thought we'd filter from that list MPs from the North and highlight any particular past & present affiliations they have to trade unions. Here's the list:

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham)
Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) - ex-BECTU & GPMU member, ex-Labour Party Trade Union Liaison Officer
Mary Creagh (Wakefield) - GMB member
Jamie Reed (Copeland)
Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) UNISON member
Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) ex-NUS National Executive member
Ivan Lewis (Bury South)
Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) - ex deputy branch secretary of SOGAT
Helen Jones (Warrington North)
Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) ex-NUS National Executive member
Lindsay Hoyle (Deputy Speaker; Chorley)
Edward Balls (Morley and Outwood)
Denis MacShane (Rotherham) ex NUJ president, ex International Metal Workers' Federation policy director
Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)
George Howarth (Knowsley)
Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton)
Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) ex NUS president, patron of Workers Educational Association
Nicholas Dakin (Scunthorpe)
Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North)
Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford)
Kevan Jones (North Durham) ex GMB officer

Friday, 1 July 2011

Who fought in Spain and how many really fought?

Earlier this week, both I and the President of Tameside TUC, received the email below from Joe Bailey, a trade union activist and delegate from Manchester Trade Union Council on the Greater Manchester County Association of TUCs, declaring:

'More people from Britain and Ireland fought in the Spanish Civil War than previously thought, according to documents at the National Archive. James Cronan of the National Archive and Ken Loach, director of Land and Freedom, discuss[ed] (on Radio4) why Brits were so intent on fighting for the republic.'

In an interview on Radio4, Ken Loach said that he was not surprised that the figures of those going to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War had been underestimated because the authorities always do this on protests and demos. It may well be that the numbers have been underestimated, even by those who participated, but it may be worth considering the possibility of list inflation in some cases. A book written by Bernard Barry, published in 2009 by the Working Class Movement Library in Salford and entitled 'From Manchester to Spain' concluded with a Roll of Honour purporting to show those who fought in Spain in the 1930s. Several of those listed on that Roll of Honour were later found by Northern Voices to be listed elsewhere on an 'official list' as deserters, turn-coats, shirkers and unfit to serve. It may be that even these recently released National Archive documents and the MI5 files should be approached with some caution.

Brian Bamford: Secretary of Tameside Trade Union Council