Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Tameside libraries facing closure as spending cuts start to bite!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 21 November 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 17 November 2011

An escalating struggle on Teeside against the BESNA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 14 November 2011

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

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

And another voice with longer thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Sparks day out in London, 9th November 2011

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

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Remembrance (or the Triumph of Selective Memory)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 4 November 2011

Binman Suspended at Bradley Fold Depot of Bury MBC

Manager, Neil Long, 'made decision to suspend'

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Joys of Writing to your local MP

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

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

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

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

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

Blacklist Report Clears Unite Officers

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

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

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

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

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