Friday, 24 February 2012

Building bosses defeated by unofficial Direct Action by militant electricians!

For the last six months militant electricians have been waging a campaign of direct action against eight major construction company's who have sought to pull out of the JIB national agreement by imposing deskilling and pay cuts of up to 35% on electricians working in the construction industry.

The campaign which saw building company's targeted by workers, led to some companies pulling out of BESNA (Building Engineering Services National Agreement)when faced with the direction action tactics of the workers. On 17th February Balfour Beatty announced that they were pulling out of BESNA after they failed to obtain a court injunction to stop a strike. Other company's then announced that they would also be pulling out.

This excellent video shows how workers taking militant direction action can win!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Government work-for-your-dole scheme in disarray. More firms pull out!

It really is hilarious watching the beleaguered government employment minister, Chris Grayling, jump about like a blue arsed flea, trying to defend the indefensible. While firms pull out of a work-for-your-dole scheme out of fear that they may be accused of using slave labour and of exploiting the unemployed, he accuses critics of his so-called work experience scheme, of being 'job snobs', 'modern-day Luddites' and 'anti-capitalist extremists'.

As the government's work-for-your-dole scheme falls apart at the seam with firms like Argos, Superdrug, Sainsbury`s and Matalan, announcing that they want nothing more to do with a scheme that compels unemployed youngsters into forced labour, government ministers are trying frantically to shore up the scheme with the help of Tory hack journalists in the right-wing press and the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, telling us: "This is not slave labour, it's not compulsory."

Part of the problem for the government, is that they say one thing in public and do quite the opposite in private. The so-called 'work experience' scheme aimed at 18-24 year olds, is only one of a number of different government schemes that are being foisted on the unemployed. Although the scheme allows the unemployed a one week trial period, giving them the option of leaving a placement early if they're dissatisfied without losing their benefits, some Jobcentres appear to have been telling the unemployed that the scheme is mandatory and that they will lose their benefits if they fail to take up the placement. One dissatisfied 'customer' Cait Reilly (22), is now suing the government under the Human Rights Acts, which prohibits forced or compulsory labour.

Though Nick Clegg, as leader of the Liberal Democrats, professes to believe in the liberty of the subject and doesn't like slave labour, one of his government's schemes for the unemployed, is called 'Mandatory Work Activity'(MWA). With MWA the government also seems to have got itself into a pickle. At times it seems as though their left hand doesn't know what their right hand is doing.

Until recently the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), were insisting that while 'voluntary' work experience took place in high street stores, MWA placements were always of 'community benefit'. In the 'Sunday Telegraph' Grayling wrote:

"Where we use mandation in our policies, it will be useful work on community projects. We will never mandate anyone to work for a big company. They wouldn't take it if we did."

An official tweet from the DWP also stated: "The DWP only mandates people for community work # Workfare." But when the private company 'Seetec', who have been awarded two government contracts to run MWA in London and the East of England, told the Guardian that 'community benefit' also covered work for private companies, the DWP did a volte-face and confirmed that private companies could be included in the definition of work for 'community benefit'. What a shambles!

Now Tesco's decision to offer 1500 unemployed youngsters who sign-off, a 4 week paid placement of around £175 for a 25 hour week and the guarantee of a job if they prove satisfactory, looks likely to undermine the government's work-for-your-dole scheme even further and will make unemployed youngsters even more reluctant to work for nothing which many say, makes them feel insulted and demeaned. The Tory MP, Harriet Baldwin, seemed flummoxed when BBC2 Newsnight presenter, Jeremy Paxman, repeatedly asked her during a recent interview: "Do you understand why people find these schemes offensive?"

Though Chris Grayling insists that his work-for-your-dole scheme is not slave labour and has been 'over subscribed', and tells us that half of people going through the scheme, come off benefits very quickly or find jobs with the company that they had work experience with, the DWP is nevertheless keeping schtum, about where these mainly young people end up who pass through the scheme.

According to recent reports, A4e - who have been awarded government contracts to run the 'Work Programme' when the company is being investigated by the police for alleged fraud - sent A4e jobseekers to work in two of its own offices without pay, which some people believe, presents a conflict of interest. Nor does there seem to be any real training on offer.

After being unemployed for 18 months, Alison aged 25 (not her real name), was referred to the Work Programme in Leicester. She told the Guardian newspaper that after her intial signing-on session with A4e (who received a £400 fee), she heard nothing for three months. A course in "interview skills and structured job searching" was then arranged for her which entailed: "attendees being herded into a computer room and told to search for five jobs. The adviser then left the room and we were unsupervised for the remainder of our time there."

Though work-for-your-dole schemes were introduced by the former Work & Pensions Secretary, James Purnell, under the last Labour government, there has been barely a squeak of opposition from British trade unions to this form of modern day slavery which provides a pool of taxpayer-subsidised free labour to many British companies that does have the potential, to undercut the jobs and wages of existing employees. The same criticism might equally be levelled at many political groups on the British left, who until recently, have held aloof from what is one of the most flagrant abuses of human rights involving the exploitation of the unemployed in recent years.

It is hardly surprising that out of 27 EU countries, only Estonia has a higher level of poverty among the unemployed than this country. This is because unemployment benefits paid in this country, are among the lowest in Europe. Over the last 40 years, unemployment benefit has been cut by 50% as a proportion of average earnings, to just 10%. Needless to say, experience and training can be invaluable to getting a job, but much of this welfare-to-work provision is simply about getting people to sign-off the dole or take-up unpaid placements and low paid jobs,or to harass people, into chasing work that simply doesn't exist.

Public opinion can be very fickle and is likely to be influenced by the latest headlines. Anxious that they might be losing the argument, the government have wheeled out the former boss of Marks & Spencer, Sir Stuart Rose, who has called on firms to show some backbone and to stand up to the so-called 'anti-capitalist extremists' who are trying to undermine the government's work-for-your-dole scheme. To bolster their argument that shelf stacking in a supermarket is good for you, we've been told how Sir Stuart, over forty years ago, started his working life as a shelf-stacker and floor sweeper and how the former Tesco CEO, Sir Terry Leahy, also stacked shelves and washed floors. However, what they have omitted tells us, and this is the crucial difference, is that both of these individuals, got paid for working and weren't forced into it, by threats of having their benefits stopped.

Strong Stomachs & Narrow Minds

Intellectually & Morally Bankrupt: British Left

IN the January issue of Freedom, the anarchist paper, Dave Douglass a former miner wrote: 'Sunday 6th November 2011 I am confronted out of the blue, by a political development in anarchism which has knocked me off my feet. Surrounded by comrades in a fairly well attended meeting of the Northern Anarchist Network (NAN), and the North East Anarchists last Sunday at The Bridge Hotel Newcastle I listened with my jaw dropping to the item on the agenda marked Libyan Solidarity Campaign.' He added: 'The Support NATO bombing tendency is how I would roughly designate it ...' and he went on to claim that Ian Bone’s blog was the origin 'of this absurd and reactionary viewpoint'.

As I write this the shells of the security forces of the Syrian army fall on Homs for the 19th consecutive day of a bombardment that activists say has claimed the lives of hundreds of trapped civilians. Meanwhile, at CND and Stop the War meetings white skinned and left-wing militants on these islands of ours, urge that there be no intervention despite the bloodshed. One supporter of the NAN even told me that we must always oppose our own British forces no matter what the cause.

If anything could illustrate the utter moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the British left these conflicts in Syria and Libia bring it into focus. Dave Douglass admitted that Gaddafi's agents may have marched with Stop the War supporters in London last year but claimed that he understood why they were there.

To support his argument Dave Douglass quoted from the Morning Star: 'The Morning Star Thurs Nov 10th (p13) reported on the Al-Qaida flag flying over the main Benghazi Courthouse, not that having the flag flying next to the new ‘official’ Libyan flag of the former kind, demonstrates the level of political support, but the fact no-one dared take it down might.' Dave trusts the Morning Star as his authority, but Barry Woodling who spoke at the Northern Anarchist Network conference last November has taken the trouble over the last few years to contact Libian exiles and address this matter empirically. He may still get it wrong, he may still develop a faulty analysis, it may be that Libya could turn out to be another tragedy but at least he is doing some homework which is more than I can say for Dave Douglass and those cookbook politicians in the Stop the War movement.

Postal subscription: £5 for two issues (post included)
Cheques payable to 'Northern Voices' at
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The next issue of Northern Voices, NV13 out in February, will include an interview between Barry Woodling and a member of the Libyan community in Manchester: this Libyan lad has now returned to Benghazi to participate in the unfolding events there.

Also in the Northern Voices 13 will be an article by the Jim Petty on the militant pacifist Philip Morrell, MP for Burnley 1910-1918, who almost alone in the House of Commons opposed the First World War forcing a debate.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

People's Historian, Ronald Fraser, Dies

TODAY's International Herald Tribune announced the death of Ronald Fraser the oral historian whose most influential book was 'Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War' . Tariq Ali, a mate and colleague reported his death but gave no cause of death. He was 81. Fraser used the oral historian's main tool of transcribed interviews to write his books chronicling the life of the working-classes, Spanish village life and even his own life.

Last July, because he was ill, I stood in for him to give a talk on the 75th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War to the Radical History Network of North East London at Haringay Labour Club. I tried at that time to follow the ethnographic approach recommended by Fraser arguing in favour of first-hand accounts and contrasting this with the narratives of professional historians like Paul Preston. But even Paul Preston, who seems to make his living out of writing books on Spain, commenting in The New York Times Book Review has described Fraser's 'Blood of Spain' as 'tak(ing) its place among the dozen or so truly important books about the Spanish conflict.'

Fraser admitted that oral history by itself can't properly explain the broad historical currents, but suggested that it could render a deeper understanding of the social 'atmosphere'. Fraser, who lived in Spain from 1957, did 2 years of interviews for his book on the Spanish War, compiling 2.8 million words and selecting just 10% of them for publication.

Ronald Angus Fraser was born Dec. 9th, 1930, in Hamburg, where his English father worked for a shipping company. In 1933, the family fled Hitler and used Ronald's mother's fortune to buy an estate in the English countryside. He was troubled by what he called his parent's dissolute lifestyle and he found solace in friendships with the family's eight domestic servants.

A4e offices raided by Fraud Squad. MP's call for government contracts with A4e to be suspended!

Last Friday, detectives visited the offices of 'Action for Employment'(A4e), in Slough, Berkshire, and demanded that staff hand over documents and computer files.

This is not the first time that A4e has been investigated for alleged fraud.
In 2008, after an investigation by officials from the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), it was discovered that documents at the firms Hull office, had been falsified and signatures forged, by two employees at the office in order to trigger commission payments from the government.

A4e are one of 18 mainly private organizations that have been contracted by the government to deliver its controversial 'Work Programme'. Despite being awarded contracts by the government, there have been complaints that the company has had an 'abysmal' record in delivering 'welfare-to-work schemes.

According to reports in the Daily Mail, the police are investigating allegations that A4e claimed 'generous fees' from the taxpayer for finding jobs for clients which in some cases, lasted no more than 24 hours and ordered people attending their courses, to sign blank timesheets. A dossier of allegations also says:

"Others complained of being forced to waste hours doing nothing in a 'chaotic, unorganised ' course instead of being allowed to look for gainful employment."

A construction worker, the newspaper says, complained that he'd spent 13 weeks on a course run by A4e in order to renew his forklift operator's license but had 'received no training at all'.

To people acquainted with government welfare-to-work schemes, this will all sound very familiar. A lack of due diligence and proper scrutiny, means the system is wide open to abuse by providers.

Ministers are now asking for 'urgent reassurances' that there has been no systematic fraud of taxpayers money. Margaret Hodge, the Labour chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, is also calling for government contracts with A4e to be suspended while allegations of fraud are being investigated.

Founder and majority shareholder of A4e, the multi-millionaire, Emma Harrison, has come under a great deal of criticism recently for awarding herself an £8.6 million dividend from the company which derived all of its UK income, from government contracts. In December 2010, she was appointed as the government's 'Families Tsar' by David Cameron who hailed her "as an inspiration in his campaign to help the unemployed."

Mrs Harrison (48), has done extremely well out of the British taxpayer by getting payments off the State. Delivering welfare-to-work contracts for successive governments, has given her an estimated fortune of £70 million. Married to husband Jim, she lives in the 100 acre Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire which she bought in 2002, for £5m. The house which is shared with other families - which Harrison describes as a 'posh commune' - contains a bar, nightclub, pool and spa and according to reports, "wild boar roam the woodland."

The government have also come under a great deal of criticism lately concerning its 'Work Programme'. Some have suggested that with 2.67 million officially out of work and little economic growth, the unemployed are being forced into looking for jobs that aren't there. Even the National Audit Office (NAO), says that estimates of how many people will get jobs under the Programme are 'over optimistic'. Though David Cameron says that the government's 'Work Programme' is the biggest welfare-to- work scheme since the 1930s, others such as the Guardian columnist Zoe Williams, have concluded:

"All it amounts to is a set of large payments from the government to 18 companies that are contracted to harry people into jobs that don`t exist" and she adds:

"The BBC compliments the latest figures with a 'How to get a job in retail' guide - I can give you the short answer: accept one third of the minimum wage and let them pretend you`re an apprentice."

This explains in part, why many Britsh employers now prefer to employ foreign workers. They are prepared to work hard and accept lower wages than British applicants.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Firms pull out of CONDEM Government forced labour scheme!

The government is desperately trying to 'shore up support' for its work-for-your- dole scheme which according to the latest figures available, has seen some 34,000 unemployed people taking part in forced labour during January and November last year. It is not known how many of these have obtained jobs since taking part.

Under the guise of 'work experience', the unemployed are now being forced to work (unpaid)by government Jobcentres in placements for up to 30 hours per week, for up to 8 weeks. The companies benefiting from this taxpayer-subsidised labour include many major UK stores who are under no obligation to offer employment to an unemployed person.

Although the government recently announced that it was extending the scheme to more than 100,000 unpaid placement a year, some companies responding to adverse criticism about the legality of the 'work experience' scheme and allegations of 'forced labour', have decided to withdraw from the scheme. On Saturday, it was reported in The Guardian that 'Waterstones', 'Sainbury's and 'TK Maxx' had all pulled out and that "other major high street chains are reconsidering their involvement'. According to a report in the Daily Mail, the charities 'Oxfam' and 'Shelter' have also pulled out as well as the clothing retailer 'Matalan'.

Tesco who are participating in the scheme, were said to have "felt uncomfortable" about their involvement in a scheme which was seen as compulsory and have asked Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) officials to make the scheme voluntary after;

"thousands of angry customers wrote in and posted messages on Twitter and the company's Facebook site accusing the company of profiting from hundreds of thousands of hours of forced unpaid labour."

It was reported that the retail giant has become 'increasingly jittery' after its Westminster branch was forced to close by protesters after it advertised for "workers in exchange for expenses and Jobseekers' Allowance." The company who made £3.8 bn in profits last year, said they wanted the "scheme to be free from any sort of sanction."

Officials for the DWP, said that reports that firms were thinking of withdrawing from the scheme, was 'overheated nonsense'. Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, described critics of the scheme as 'job snobs' and added that the DWP would do all it could to "assuage Tesco's concern" but that it was too early, to say whether the threat of losing benefits would be removed.

Jim Duffy from Public Interest Lawyers in Birmingham, who are suing the government under the Human Rights Act, said he welcomed Tesco's move but called for the government to scrap the schemes and replace it with "individualised tailored approaches" which get people into work and keep them there.

Though this form of modern day slavery (work-for-your-dole), was introduced by the former Work and Pensions Secretary, James Purnell, under the last Labour government, Labour employment spokesman, Stephen Timms, said: "The scheme had lost confidence of both young people and business."

Balfour Beatty Back Out of Bid to Slash Pay

AFTER construction giant Balfour Beatty lost its bid to block a strike by Unite workers, it pulled out of a scheme involving several building companies to dilute wages through forcing workers to sign a new contract. The union UNITE had been targeting Balfour Beatty with the threat of strike action and a recent ballot had shown a 2-to-1 majority for industrial action against the new contract proposals. Other companies such as Shepherd Engineering, Matthew Hall and N.G. Bailey Building Services are considering their position.

Ray Smith, Secretary of the Newcastle Central Branch of UNITE told the Newcastle Journal, last Saturday, that: 'This is fantastic news ... Balfour Beatty is the biggest company and I think the others will cave in.' Balfour Beatty was one of seven firms accused of seeking to tear up long-standing agreements and impose semi-skilled grades. UNITE has said that the new terms would result in pay cuts of up to 30% and poorer terms and conditions for key construction staff.

A meeting has been called by UNITE's General Secretary, Len McCluskey, for today, but some militants fear that the union bosses may settle for something not much better that the bent deal the building bosses had on offer in the first place. Nationally electricians and other workers by organising a series of weekly actions, have been resisting the controversial contract that the core building companies had been trying to force them to accept.

Now some trade unionists in the North East and North West fear that some dodgy deal will be cooked-up between the union bosses and big building companies. There are some good reasons for concern and distrust among building workers because there has long been stories, backed-up recently by information gathered by the Information Commissioner's Office, that some paid union officers - formerly in Amicus - may have been actively encouraging firms to implement a blacklist against members of of other unions in order to gain advantages for their own members..

Monday, 13 February 2012

Who are the real welfare scroungers? The 'Poverty Pimps' on the Government's work experience programme?

In a recent interview about the Government`s 'Work Programme', Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, had this to say:

"What we have tried to do is create a situation where our interests and the interests of providers are really aligned. They (the providers), can make shed loads of money by doing things we would absolutely love them to do."

Undoubtedly, over the years, some poverty pimps who have been involved in delivering government schemes for the unmemployed have made 'shed loads of money' out of the taxpayer, but to what extent, has this been value for taxpayers money?

One of the 18 mainly private companies that has been contracted to run the Government's 'Work Programme' is 'Action for Employment' (A4e), whose majority shareholder, is the multi-millionaire Emma Harrison.

At a recent session of the House of Commons 'Public Accounts Committee', it was claimed that A4e had an 'abysmal' record of delivering government programmes and the committee asked why the company had been awarded contracts to provide the 'Work Programme'. Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, wanted to know why the government had awarded new contracts to companies with such a poor track record and she added:

"It seemed rather surprising to me that you didn't have regard to the past performance of contractors. Why not?" she asked the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) permanent secretary, Robert Devereux, and added: "A4e...their performance on (Pathways-to-Work) was abysmal."

Richard Bacon, a committee member then pointed out that A4e, only got 9% of clients into employment in the 'Pathways-to-Work' programme when 30% had been expected.

Mr. Devereux told the committee that because other companies who had bid to run the 'Work Programme' had not got previous experience of running welfare-to-work schemes, it would not have been possible to look at their previous performance. He then told the committee that most of the welfare-to-work providers who had run the previous scheme, had underperformed.

In an attempt to discover where public money paid to A4e ended up, Andrew Dutton, the chief executive of A4e, told the committee that all the companies UK turnover last year, of between £160m and £180m, came from government contracts. He also added that of the £11m paid in dividends to five A4e shareholders, 87% (£9,570,000), went to Emma Harrison. Dutton told the committee that the dividend paid to the five company shareholders reflected their personal risk and pointed out that some shareholders, had effectively "put their own homes and mortgages on the line."

Despite all this talk of personal risk, delivering welfare-to-work schemes for the government, has delivered 'shed loads of money' for Emma Harrison if not jobs for people on the 'Pathways-to-Work' programme. In 2002, this former steel workers' daughter, bought the 100 acre Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire for £5m. As one former A4e employee once told me, it was a joke amongst company staff that the company logo, A4e, really stood for, 'All 4 Emma'.

As regards the 'Work Programme', the Government have decided that they will not release figures concerning an analysis of the scheme, until the scheme has been running for 18 months, in October. But the 'National Audit Office' claims that the Government's calculation of the number people who will obtain work, is 'over-optimistic'.

Lawyers acting for Cait Reilly, the 22-year-old geology graduate from Birmingham, -who is suing the Government because she claims that by forcing her to do unpaid work for her dole money, it breached the Human Rights Act (HRA), - have written to a number of companies demanding to know whether they intend to continue participating in the government-led 'work experience programme'. The letter which was leaked to the 'Daily Mail' newspaper, says that the "schemes are unlawful and go beyond the Government's powers." The letter also points out that Ms. Reilly, considers that the work-for-dole schemes, breached the prohibition of compulsory labour set out in the HRA. Among the firms that have been sent the letter and are getting unpaid free labour, are: Tesco, Boots, Holland & Barrett, Sainsbury's, Argos, Asda, Matalan, Primark, McDonald's and Burger King. The letter also says that the book seller 'Waterstones' have recently withdrawn from the work experience scheme.

Though the DWP say that this is an attempt to deny opportunities for young people and helping them into work, Phil Shiner, of 'Public Interest Lawyers' said:

"By filling jobs with unpaid workers, there are fewer jobs available for Britain's 2.6 million unemployed. The letter was sent to encourage employers to consider the 'moral and legal principles' of unpaid work experience. It is not a threatening letter."

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Pay Rises for Link4Life Bosses Who Sacked Staff

Rochdale's Touchstone Challenge Protest Group leader: 'Absolutely Furious!'

CRAIG McAteer, Link4Life managing director, and his deputy, Peter Kilkenny, have had a pay rise of around £20,000 apiece: we can't be precise because we're not dealing with straight-forward folk. Chris Jones, in an exclusive story for the Rochdale Observer (28/01/2012) writes: 'Linki4Life's official financial records for the year ending March 2011 show Mr McAteer's wage jumped from the £100,000 to £110,000 bracket to the £130,000 to £140,000 pay band.' Mr Kilkenny's pay may well have risen from about '£80,000 to £90,000' to the region of '£110,000 to £120,000' according to the Observer.

Link4Life now claim that the records were 'submitted to Companies House incorrectly and include additional employer costs from pension contributions as well as their monthly wage.' But the Rochdale Observer claims: 'even when these figures are taken out' the figures show 'Mr McAteer's wages still rise from the £100,000 to £110,000 band to the higher £110,000 to £120,000 band.' The reason for all this guess-work is that both Mr McAteer and Mr Kilkenny are refusing to come clean about exactly how much they are on. These benefits for the bosses of Link4Life follow on from a series of sackings by them of staff, and cuts in cultural services at Touchstones Museum and Art Gallery. Debbie Firth, the co-ordinator of Touchstone Challenge - a group promoting the arts in Rochdale - told Northern Voices: 'I was absolutely furious when I read that Link4Life Managing Director (Craig McAteer) and his deputy (Peter Kilkenny) have between them received up to £30,000 in pay rises at a time when they are cutting jobs and services within arts and heritage in Rochdale.' When Debbie Firth, a young local mother, first helped set up the Touchstone Challenge group in May last year, she shortly after received an email from a firm of Leeds' solicitors, acting on behalf of the Link4Life bosses, warning her that the group was threatening the business prospects of Link4Life.

Commenting on the present situation, Milnrow Councillor Andy Kelly, who ferreted-out the wage figures for the Observer story, said: 'I am sure that the vast majority of people in this borough think this to be simply ridiculous (and) I have written to the local government minister Eric Pickles asking him to request the district auditor undertake a review of the situation.'

Another founder member of the Touchstone Challenge group, Trevor Hoyle, wrote in the Rochdale Observer last Saturday, complaining of the 'cavalier attitude' of Mr McAteer and Mr Kilkenny. Mr Hoyle wrote: 'It comes as no surprise to those of us who have kept a close eye on the management style of Link4Life that the two top directors have pocketed up to a £20,000 pay rise last year, while sacking staff and imposing a wage freeze on those earning less in a year than their annual pay rise'.

While these Link4Life bosses keep their traps shut about their own pay conditions, they are, in fact, employed by a charitable trust appointed by the local Council, and their salaries plus any pay rises are, according to Mr Hoyle, 'in large part paid for by the rate-payers of Rochdale'. These Link4Life bosses shelter behind a lack of public scrutiny and it is for people like Brian Ashworth, chairman of the Link4Life trustees, to enlighten the public instead of rushing to present the case for the defence.

Northern Voices 13 (48 pages plus cover); with a story from Touchstone Challenge leader, Debbie Firth, will be on sale at the end of this month: Postal subscription for Northern Voices is £5 for the next two issues (post & packing included). Cheques payable to 'Northern Voices' to C/o. 52, Todmorden Road, Burnley, Lancashire BB10 4AH. Tel; 0161 793 5122. Email:

Monday, 6 February 2012

Afore the House falls in


'THERE is always a warning crack,' says the Spanish Bawd in the novel by Rojas, 'before the house falls in!' Is this what's now happening at Bury MBC, following last Tuesday's dawn raids by police on former Bury Council boss, Councillor Bob Bibby, and his colleague, Councillor Jim Taylor? The police told the Bury Times that the two Conservative councillors 'had accepted bribes in relation to a planning application in Radcliffe'. Three other men were also arrested suspected of submitting the application. In an interview with the Bury Times, last Wednesday, Bibby denied the allegations saying sternly: 'Bribery hasn't been part of local government for 30 years - those days are long gone'. He added: 'I turn 70 this year ... I have had 13 years in local politics and have been around long enough to know that such corruption is not only impossible to hide, but undesirable given the negative attention it is bound to bring to those involved. I have nothing to hide and can speak for Jim as well. These allegations are unfounded.'

It seems that the allegations relate to a planning application tabled in February 2011 by a property company, and that the application was for 200 homes and and a warehouse to be built on land at York Street and Bury Road in Radcliffe. Councillor Bibby admitted the application was 'problematic' because the houses would be near a flood plain. Bibby claimed police had told him they had seen text messages suggesting he would take a £10,000 payment for help with the application. Councillor Bibby strongly denies sending or receiving any such message.

In April 2011, members of Bury planning committee granted permission; now there's a coincidence! Defending himself, Bibby who was then the Council leader, declared to the Bury Times:
'I am in no position to influence planning at all. As council leader, you generally encourage investment in your town and you want companies to come in and clean up grotspots and provide businesses that create jobs and homes for families. But when it comes to the details of particular applications, that is not for the council leader.' Furthermore, he said: 'To allege that someone would pay £10,000 to one individual in relation to an application is very strange.' Councillor Bibby, a Conservative Councillor from Church Ward who became council leader in May 2007, was replaced as leader last May, when the Tories lost overall control to Labour.

Last Tuesday, detectives and uniformed police seized computers and paperwork from Bury Town Hall and from business premises in Moston. Premises in the more middle-class areas of Didsbury and Altrincham were also searched. All five men, aged between 45 and 69, were released on bail until April. Police say the arrests came after an intelligence-led operation conducted in June 2011. Superintendent Rush said: 'This has been a complex investigation and these arrests are a result of a lot of hard work ... I recognise this operation will cause some disruption at the council ... However, the council is co-operating with the investigation and we intend to keep disruption to a minimum.'

A council spokesman, last week said: '... it would inappropriate to comment.'

Joe Cleary, former Bury binman and UNITE shop steward at Bradley Fold sacked in dodgy circumstances contacted Northern Voices last week to say: 'Have you seen the news about Bury councillors allegedly using their positions for pecuniary gain? I can't believe that somebody from Bury Council could be corrupt; this must be a mistake, these people are whiter than white, they don't do anything wrong. Do you think we should offer them our support? Maybe have a collection or maybe picket the police station until the "Bury Saints" are exonerated? I've just bought Bob Bibby a card, on the front it says: "Thinking of you at this sad time." I'm off to post it now!'

Now then; Joe Cleary was a bloke and trade union activist who was sacked a few years ago as a binman in Bury for allegedly allowing himself to be tempted and swayed in his duties by a bottle of 'Strawberry Volvic', unlike Councillor Bobby Bibby now, he was never given the chance to clear himself in an English Court: rather he was condemned and tried by Bury MBC councillors of the likes of Bobby Bibby sitting in a pompous tribunal in Bury Town Hall. Councillor Bibby the politician, is going to get a form of justice that was denied to the binman, Joe Cleary and his colleagues. As our own great bard Shakespeare had one of his character's say: 'Jockey of Norfolk be not too bold, for Dicken thy Master is bought and sold.' Yet, Joe Cleary, a former UNITE shop steward, is typically English in his charitable instincts, whereas a Frenchman may have called for the Guillotine, Joe is recommending a whip-round!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

No Spanish Holocaust Humour: Siempre Chufla!

'Don't worry Senora, he won't be needing a coat where he's going!'

YESTERDAY in the Spanish Supreme Court the voices of the victims of Franco were heard for the first time from those who were children in 1936 relating their accounts of what happened to their parents in the Spanish Civil War. Pino Sosa, now 75-years-old from the Canary Islands, said: 'On the 19th, March 1937, a group of Falangistas came at 6 a.m. for my father. My mother went to get him a coat and the Falangist said: "Don't worry Senora, where he is going he won't be needing it and he won't be coming back".' Siempre chufla los Espanoles: the Spaniards always can be counted on to crack jokes even in the most dire situations like when they are committing assassinations. It is one of their many virtues; one could hardly imagine 'Comrade Spiky Mike' from Chorton' or 'Knight Rider' from Oldham or the randy secret police agent, Mark Kennedy, coming up with such a turn of phrase before they pulled the trigger now could you: too much of the English stiff upper lip! (The humour has that extra bite to a Catholic killing an anarchist or socialist; because whatever the weather outside is doing in the 'infieno' [HELL] a coat is the last thing one needs.)

About the same time 75 years ago in 1937, the International Herald Tribune reports: '1937 Demonstration in Moscow - One of the mightiest demonstrations in Russian history was held here today [Jan. 30] when more than a million persons massed in Red Square and in surrounding streets to express approval of the verdict in the treason trial concluded at midnight. Thirteen of the 17 defendants charged with conspiring against the state had been sentenced to death... Addressing the group, Nikita Khrushchev, secretary of the committee, said: "We declare that by whatever means the enemy may try to check our advance toward a Communist society we shall crush the attempt." Astonished silence greeted the announcement of the sentences last night in the courtroom.' I wonder if Comrade Stalin and the Russian Communists were as good, in 1937, at droll 'Chufla' as the Spanish Falangists?

Never-the-less, one must grant our local fellow-travellers and one-time admirers of Stalin and Mother Russia a certain banal dark humour; for in 2006 they also held an inquiry at Salford Quays presided over by Alec McFadden, the TUC JCC North West representative, into whether or not it was appropriate to call someone a 'Holocaust denier' for failing to recognise that Spain had suffered a form of genocide during and after the Spanish Civil War under Franco. One witness at the inquiry, John Howard then Chair of the Greater Manchester County Association of Trade Union Councils, even said at this hearing: 'I've never heard of the Spanish Holocaust!'. Since the, of course, the historian Paul Preston, himself a sympathiser of the Communist Party, has published a book entitled 'The Spanish Holocaust', and today Judge Garzon is facing the Spanish Supreme Tribunal on the charge of ulta vires [acting beyond his powers] for investigating the 'crimes of the Francoists' for a 'systemic plan' to eliminate its detractors. In trying to raise these very matters in 2006 at the time of the 70th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War, the Secretary of Tameside TUC was suspended for one year on the recommendation of Alec McFadden: this followed a complaint from Oldham TUC, its then secretary, Martin Gleason and Treasurer, Mike Luft. In the end after contacting Brendan Barber and the TUC, it turned out that Alec McFadden himself had acted 'ultra vires' and beyond his powers in proposing this suspension.

I only wish I was a Spaniard and could come up with some piece of 'Chufla' to capture the spirit of silliness of the occasion at Salford Quays.