Monday, 30 July 2012

£600 Million Blacklisting High Court Claim Against Sir Robert McAlpine!

A group of blacklisted workers have launched a High Court claim against Sir Robert McAlpine which could potentially be worth £600million. Guney Clark & Ryan solicitors served a claim on behalf of 86 claimants for "Tort of unlawful conspiracy" at the High Court last week. The claimants are part of the Blacklist Support Group, a network campaigning on behalf of construction workers illegally blacklisted because of their trade union activities by major building contractors as part of the Consulting Association scandal first exposed in 2009.

The claim targets Sir Robert McAlpine as the company with the worst record of blacklisting, the last invoice issued to them by the Consulting Association was in excess of £28,000 for the use of the blacklisting service. However, the conspiracy charge means McAlpine would also be responsible for the actions of the other 40+ contractors such as Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Skanska who systematically blacklisted workers simply for being members of a trade union.

Many of the claimants were repeatedly dismissed from major construction projects and in some cases suffered years of unemployment because of their union activities or for raising concerns about safety on building sites. It is believed that the larger claims are in the region of £300,000 for loss of earnings and hurt to feelings. The minimum award under the new blacklisting regulation introduced in 2010 is £5,000 (but the regulations do not retrospectively cover the Consulting Association victims). The average claim has been estimated at £20,000 per claimant which values the current cases in excess of £17million. As this is the first wave of claimants, out of a possible 3200 blacklisted workers, the total pay-outs the building firms could face exceeds £600million.

The blacklisted workers are being represented in the High Court by Sir Hugh Tomlinson QC: celebrity barrister to the stars in the News of the World phone hacking cases.

Mick Abbott, 74 year old ex-scaffolder said:
'This nearly ruined my marriage and it meant that my children were on free meals at school. My file goes back to 1964 and the last entry says that I rekindled the campaign for justice for the Shrewsbury picketers in 2006. They have been watching me all these years and passing this information around, blighting my life over four decades.'

Steve Kelly, electrician & spokesperson for the Blacklist Support Group said:
'I was blacklisted because I was a union member and because I raised issues about safety.  In 2007, McAlpine sacked me from the Colchester Barracks project after 2 days for refusing to work on a moving platform without proper training (exactly as we had been instructed in the site induction) - the dismissal is recorded on my blacklist file.  Over the year I suffered severe financial strain, my wages were cut in half which caused immense stress paying bills and putting food on table. I was out of work for a year apart from few weeks here and there in 2001. Being sacked from Colchester Barracks after only 2 days piled up the stress and caused a nervous break down for me eventually.  The blacklisting firms should be made to pay compensation for years lost and years in future. They should be made to employ blacklisted workers or not be awarded any public government backed contracts. An apology in national press and to individuals whose lives they ruined would be a start.'

Blacklisting material in The Observer, last Sunday:

Article by Daniel Boffey - The Observer, Political Editor:

Column by journalist Nick Cohen:

for background info. on Blacklist Support Group:



Blacklist Support Group:

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Save the Castleton Carnegie Building

TODAY supporters of the old Carnegie Library building in Castleton, Rochdale, were at Tesco's in Sudden trying to rally support for the building which is now derelict.  The library service was moved some years ago by the Council to another building near the Castleton swimming baths.  The Carnegie building was sold but has not been put to any use since.

Now a group of 22 residents have formed a Friends group and want to restore the building and open a Heritage Centre, and small Museum to Andrew Carnegie, hoping in the process to give the structure back to the people of Castleton in Rochdale.  This group of Friends is asking for local people to come out and support this proposal to 'acquire the building and sympathetically renovate it in order to make it the centrepiece in the regeneration of Castleton'

This Friends Group say:  'We would like to create a Heritage Centre with a small museum to Andrew Carnegie who gave the money for the library to be built in 1904.'  It was closed as a library in 2006 and the service was moved.  Membership of the Friends of the Carnegie (Castleton) costs £2 per year for adults, and 50p per year for children.  Membershiop fees to be sent to Friends of the Carnegie (Castleton), c/o Mrs. M. Williams, Treasurer, 20, Crescent Road, Rochdale OL11 3LF.

Stop Press from the Blacklist Support Group

1. The Observer will be running a major article on the blacklist this Sunday (sorry for the mix up last weekend - it wasn't our fault)

2. We made the last issue of Private Eye page 31 (its the one with Boris and Cameron on the front page).

3. There was a meeting with Christian Khan Solicitors about the complaint against police collusion to the IPCC last week - more news to follow

4. There was a meeting organised by the GMB at Liberty (the human rights organisation) earlier this week - more news to follow

5. New BLACKLISTED T-shirts of various sizes now in stock - they will be handed out free when we turn up for the photo-opportunity outside the High Court later in the year

(its 100% all systems go on this one)

6. Liam Dunne at Guney, Clarrk & Ryan is taking witness statements and particulars of claims over the next few weeks. You know what to do if you haven't sorted things yet.
7. The attachment is for the UNITE rank n file construction meeting on 11th August in Conway Hall - blacklisting is one of the main items on the agenda.  It is the actions of the rank n file sparks during the BESNA dispute that has put blacklisting on the agenda at the construction industry national negotiation for the first time ever.

8. The link below is for the e-petition calling for full disclosure of government documents in the case of the Shrewsbury Pickets. Please support:

Friday, 27 July 2012

Northern Sculpture Henry Moore goes indoors

Commercial considerations or metal thieves?
IS it the threat of the metal thieves or was it commercial considerations that led to the latest exhibition of Henry Moores 'Late Large Forms' of bronze sculptures to be shown inside the Gagosian Gallery, which occupies a warehouse near King's Cross Station? In the New York Times, in 1983, John Russell wrote: 'More than any other artist of our own time he (Moore) has been brought out of the museum and into the open and offered the gift of ubiquity.'

Now Henry Moore is being exhibited in a warehouse! Some believe that commerce is the reason the Gagosian has done this. Rachel Campbell-Johnson, The Times art critic, writes: 'It's an immensely expensive thing to achieve because these things weight tons, but it allows Gagosian to yoke itself to a big name. Everyone has heard of Henry Moore. They have put on some fantastic shows like this before, but it's all part of creating an image of themselves as linked to great artists.'

It seems that the boundaries between commercial galleries and museums are becoming increasingly blurred these days. Richard Calvocovessi, director of the Henry Moore Foundation, said: 'Galleries like Gagosian put on museum-quality shows which outweigh any doubts. And Moore did show in commercial galleries. But in the end, it was mostly the space that convinced us to do it - what it (Gagosian) could offer in terms of space and light.'

The opening reception was on Thursday, May 31st, from 6:00 to 8:00pm and the exhibition continues until Saturday, 18 August 2012. Henry Moore said: 'Everything I do, I intend to make on a large scale... Size itself has its own impact, and physically we can relate ourselves more strongly to a big sculpture than to a small one.' Henry Moore was born in West Yorkshire, England in 1898 and died in East Hertfordshire, England in 1986. His public commissions occupy university campuses, pastoral expanses and major urban centers in 38 countries around the world. His sculpture and drawings have been the subject of many museum exhibitions and retrospectives, including the Tate Gallery, London (1951); Whitechapel Gallery, London (1957); Tate Gallery, London (1968); Forte di Belvedere, Florence (1972); Tate Gallery and the Serpentine Gallery, London for the occasion of Moore’s eightieth birthday (1978); Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1983); Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield (1987).

I still wonder if the move indoors has something to do with the prevalence of metal thieves in England: on the 12th, July 2012 it was reported that a 22-inch (56cm) high “Sundial” bronze sculpture by British sculptor Henry Moore has been stolen from outside the artist's former home, the latest in a string of thefts involving outdoor artworks by thieves thought to be cashing in on rising metal prices. Made up of two interlocking bronze crescents, Moore's 'Sundial 1965' is worth up to £500,000 ($770,000), police said. The sundial was the latest work by the abstract artist, who died in 1986 aged 88, to be targeted by thieves. 'We are deeply saddened about the loss of Sundial... We take our care of Henry Moore sculptures extremely seriously and have installed heightened security measures here in recent years,' said Richard Calvocoressi, director of the Henry Moore Foundation. Copper, bronze's main component, has more than doubled in price over the last three years leading to a steep rise in the theft of metal artwork, memorial plaques, as well as electrical cables and drain covers.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

A response from John Desmond to 'Anarchist Censorship'! (see 23rd, April 2012 posting by Christopher Draper)

I SUGGEST that Christopher Draper’s important post has become even more important and most timely with the publication of the article ‘The future of Freedom’ in the current (July) issue of the newspaper. Lest the reader hasn’t seen the article, it has the following subheading: ‘Now that we’re bust and what we’re going to do about it’.  Lest the reader hasn’t read the article, it includes the following announcement towards the end: ‘If the situation remains as it is now we will end the hard copy version in October on its 125th Anniversary and put out some guff [that’s right] about it transforming into a digital entity for the online age.’

My response to Christopher’s post is to comment upon:

• his allegations about Toby Crowe and Donald Rooum

• an observation and an opinion in his post, and

• the announcement in FREEDOM.

Christopher’s allegations about Toby and Donald:

I read Donald’s history of FREEDOM with particular interest for three reasons. I was a member of its editorial collective. I have known Donald for many years. And I also knew Toby.  One of the things which struck me about Donald’s history was his description of Toby as ‘a big, energetic, young man’.

I remember three things that Toby achieved. First, if I remember correctly, and I think I do, Toby was responsible for implementing a much-needed and much-improved redesign of FREEDOM.  Second, Toby gave at least one introductory talk about anarchism at a London bookfair. His talk at a bookfair held in Conway Hall had a packed audience.  I was there.  Third, Toby inaugurated (or perhaps revived the tradition of) holding readers’ meetings at FREEDOM. During one meeting Toby described to me how he put together the paper.  He would start on a Sunday night and continue into the early hours of Monday morning.  Then, after at most a few hours’ sleep, he would start his job as a nursery teacher. Because of this account, Donald’s description of Toby as being ‘energetic’ has a particular resonance for me.

I had known Donald some years before I met Toby. I initially met him when I used to visit the FREEDOM bookshop on Saturdays, when he was regularly in attendance. I always found him friendly and hospitable.  Later, in the many conversations I have had with him at the anarchist bookfairs in London, I have always found him courteous, extremely knowledgeable and non-partisan.  I remember one occasion, at a bookfair which was held in Conway Hall when we were both taking a breather in the balcony of the Main Hall. Embarrassingly to relate, I had let slip my intolerance of a particular group of anarchists. He gently corrected me.  Some years later, at a bookfair which was held in the University of London Union in Malet Street, I met Donald working at the FREEDOM stall. I asked his advice about which of Colin Ward’s books he would recommend. I had never previously seen Colin. Consequently I didn’t know that, coincidentally, he happened to be a few feet away. Donald pointed him out to me and suggested that I ask him, which I did.  A short but very pleasant conversation with Colin ensued.

Because of the many kindnesses that Donald has extended to me, Christopher’s description of him as being ‘a good lad’ has a particular resonance for me.

My accounts about both Toby and Donald do not imply that they did not do what Christopher alleged – only that his allegations conflict with my experiences of them.

I am concerned about Christopher’s allegations about Toby and Donald.  But I am also concerned by something else. I am concerned that the editorial collective decided to publish a history of FREEDOM written solely by one person.  A history of FREEDOM which is based upon invited contributions from others, a history which is collaborative and which includes what might otherwise be hidden, might be very different from Donald’s version.

An observation and an opinion in Christopher’s post:

Christopher observed about FREEDOM that: ‘Positive reports of small-scale political initiatives and social experiments were once commonplace but these are long gone, replaced by repetitious pictures of masked youths confronting various agents of a repressive state.'  His observation reflects my concept of ‘negative anarchism’.  Negative anarchism is anarchism which is mostly against. Negative anarchists have many characteristics.  One of them is that they are against without understanding and being capable of articulating what anarchism is for.

Christopher opined about FREEDOM that ‘sadly it seems to have declined into the mere mouthpiece of a clique uninterested in the lives, views and opinions of others.’  His opinion reflects my concept of an ‘organizational enclave’.  An organizational enclave is an organization in which its centre of power ignores and isolates itself from its internal milieu and external milieu.  The centres of power of organizational enclaves have many characteristics.  Two of them are: they are opposed to the organization adequately inviting feedback, and they reject any feedback which the organization receives.

The announcement in FREEDOM

I have subscribed to FREEDOM for many years and still am a subscriber.  But in 2010 I decided not to send any more contributions to it because I no longer trusted the editorial collective to prevent a correspondent from obscenely abusing me in its letters’ page.  This fate had befallen Ian Pirie, a subscriber of thirty years standing, when, in the February of that year, FREEDOM published a letter which subjected him to a stream of obscene abuse.  Ever since the publication of the letter, about which I don’t think the editorial collective has ever issued an apology, I have speculated about the number of subscribers to FREEDOM.  I seem to remember being told, not so many years ago, by a member of the editorial collective, that it was approximately five hundred, which I seem to remember having been the case some years previously.  Now, from the article ‘The future of Freedom’, it seems that the number of its subscribers is down to three hundred.

How has this situation happened?  The article ‘The future of Freedom’ offers two explanations: ‘printed newspapers have had their day’ and ‘the paper’s rubbish’.  I am not convinced by either of these explanations.  The existence of printed mainstream newspapers refutes the first explanation.  And, for me, the inclusion of the long-standing regular cartoons by Donald, the long-standing regular column ‘A sideways look’ by Svartfrosk and the innumerable articles by Iain McKay refute the second explanation.  I suggest an alternative explanation.  My explanation is that FREEDOM has cut itself off from many of its subscribers.  Perhaps the meeting which the editorial collective has said it will have at the London Anarchist Bookfair will afford an opportunity for this issue to be adequately discussed.

John Desmond:  25th July 2012.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Rochdale Photographic Exhibition: Barry Hobson

Seeing Castleton:  Photographic Exhibition: 28th July – 26th August 2012
Due to the fact that we work on a voluntary basis, the gallery is currently open only on Fridays and Saturdays 11am – 4pm and Sundays 12:30pm – The Hive Project in the Rochdale Wheatsheaf Rochdale Centre in the Town Centre.  Admission free.

CASTLETON is a ward south of Rochdale Town Centre on the Manchester side, at the beginning of the 20th Century it stretched almost into the Town Centre.  Its most iconic building is Saint Martin's Church just beyond the shopping area, but despite this and the canal that runs through the village, the main street area has been allowed to become dilapidated.  Barry Hobson, an artist working in Castleton presents 'Seeing Castleton' a selection of photographs from his Castleton Neighbourhood Project.

As a member of Rochdale Sculptors in 1970, Barry’s early artwork involved the creation of structures from industrial materials.  He continued with his art practice and went on to complete a four year Fine Art course at The Byam Shaw School of Art in London.  He worked in Sculpture and Photography and graduated with a first class honours degree in 2003.

Since then Barry has exhibited in London, Germany, Finland and Lancashire.  Returning to Rochdale almost five years ago, he continues his theme of working in the environment where he lives.  The current work, taken during these five years of exploration, captures buildings, nature growing and local people doing things in Castleton, an urban village on the road from Rochdale to Manchester.

With just under 100 mounted prints and 200 digital images, it represents the largest entry for an annual exhibition held in the Photographic Society’s 112 year history and, as well as demonstrating members’ photographic skills, shows the wide range of interests they have.

Mrs Pat Noon, the current President of the Society, will welcome the Mayor and Mayoress (Cllrs James Gartside and Jane Gartside) in opening this exhibition in the afternoon of the 28th July at 2pm.

The Society was founded in 1890 by John Bright M.P. and over the years members have used a wide range of skills and technologies to reflect on the world around them. They are particularly proud to bear the Rochdale Coat of Arms, granted to them in 1892.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Suicide risk linked to benefit cuts and flaws in government incapacity test!

An internal e-mail which was recently circulated to staff working within the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), has warned staff that 'ill-handling' of benefit claims involving claimants being moved off sickness benefits to Jobseekers Allowance(JSA), could lead to suicide risks amongst 'vulnerable customers'. The e-mail says:

"Very sadly, only last week a customer of DWP attempted suicide...said to be the result of receiving a letter, informing him that his sickness benefit would be cut off."

Although the e-mail from the DWP, emphasises the need for the "utmost care and sensitivity", when dealing with 'vulnerable customers', disability campaigners have repeatedly warned government ministers that flaws in the Work Capability Assessment(WCA) - which is carried out when someone applies for Employment and Support Allowance(ESA) - could lead to mentally ill people taking their own lives.

In April, the 'Daily Mirror' newspaper revealed that: "at least 32 people are dying each week despite them being ruled not sick enough in the medical test carried out by the private firm 'Atos Healthcare', for the new sickness benefit."(ESA). Among the cases referred to by the newspaper, was that of a warehouse worker whose degenerative lung condition forced him to give up work. Although the man had trouble breathing and walking and his weight had dropped to seven stone, he was awarded no points in the medical test for ESA carried out by 'Atos', and was told that he would be fit to return to work within three months. But the man died, before the 3 months had expired.

While some people gleefully clamour for more benefit cuts and want more welfare reform, it is the less well off, and the most vulnerable, who are making the biggest scarifices to pay off Britain's financial deficit brought about by the banks.

In August 2011, northernvoices blog reported the tragic case of Richard Sanderson aged 44, from Southfield, South West London, who took his own life when he and his family were threatened with eviction following government cuts in his housing benefit.

In May, it was reported in the press that a man had slashed his wrists during an appointment at Birkenhead Jobcentre. The man - who had mental health issues - had missed several appointments and was warned by the benefits officer that he was at risk of being sanctioned and had two options. He was told that he could start turning up on time or continue being late and lose his benefit. The man replied: "I have a third option." He then took out a knife and cuts his wrists.

Last month, the Guardian reported on the case of a 48-year-old man who set himself on fire outside Birmingham Jobcentre over a dispute about delays in receiving his benefits. According to the newspaper, the man had just been found fit for work following a medical assessment.

Though these kind of cases do get reported, negative press reports about feckless workshy scroungers who are "Living the life of Riley" on state benefits, has allowed the government to take away support from the disabled, the unemployed, and the 'working poor'. As a result of this, the government has been able to slash benefits by £18bn and brush aside objections because it believes that the public support a hardline, on benefit cuts. Indeed, opinion polls do suggest that the majority of the British public tends to believe that the government pays out too much in benefits and that welfare levels overall, should be reduced. However, public attitudes towards welfare are often based on little knowledge or influenced by misleading and negative press reports which are drip-fed, to the public on a daily basis. Although many may believe that benefits are too high in this country, it is a fact that out of 27 EU countries, only Estonia has a higher level of poverty among unemployed people than this country. Benefits paid in the UK are amongst the lowest in Europe and over the last 40 years, unemployment benefit has been cut by 50% as a proportion of average earnings, to just 10%. Though the cuts in benefits have been savage, what few people realise, is that 88% of all benefit cuts are still to come.

America's Black Spring!

Denver cinema shootings:  Some thoughts on Henry Miller's fantasy foresight

Henry Miller's book Black Spring, published in 1936, was described at the time as a book in which the ordinary events of everyday life are bye-passed in order to venture into a surrealist world of fantasy.  George Orwell accused him in a letter of moving away 'from the ordinary world into a sort of Mickey Mouse universe where things and people don't have to obey the rules of space and time.' 

Given the events over the weekend at the Denver cinema in which dozens of people were shot, Miller's book may not seem so fantastic or surreal.  Here is a paragraph taken from the book:
'... Men and women promenading on the sidewalks:  curious beasts, half-human, half-celluloid.  Walking up and down the Avenue their eyes glazed.  The women in beautiful garbs, each one equipped with a cold-storage smile.  ... smiling through life with that demented, glazed look in the eyes, the flags unfurled, the sex flowing sweetly through the sewers.  In had a gat with me and when we got to Forty-Second Street I opened fire.  Nobody paid any attention.  I mowed them down right and left, but the crowd got no thinner.  The living walked over the dead, smiling all the while to advertise their beautiful white teeth.'

That was from the book Black Spring by Henry Miller, written by an American at the time of Hitler, Stalin, and at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, but written while Miller was living in exile in Paris.  Yet at that time George Orwell considered this prose rather like a dream sequence that had drifted beyond the real world where the 'grass is green, stones hard etc', but to us, after the Second World War and 9/11, it may not now seem quite so unreal or so dreamlike.

British Journalist Blacklisted by Consulting Association

THE National Union of Journalists has said it is very concerned after a former freelance photojournalist discovered she had a secret blacklist file opened on her.  Molly Cooper, who was on the NUJ national executive council, had the file opened on her by the Consulting Association, managed by Ian Kerr, in 1999.

The association was funded by the construction industry to maintain details on union activists.  It was shut down in 2009 after a raid by the Office of the Information Commissioner. A card index of more than 3,200 names was discovered and so far the majority of those found to be on it are building workers. Many suffered decades of intermittent work because of industry blacklisting.

However, it has become clear that the files extended much further. 
Professor Charles Wolfson, an expert on the oil industry and the former MSP Tommy Sheridan both had files opened on them.  Now Cooper has found her own short entry. It only covers a page, but has personal information and clippings from assignments she carried out for trade journals covering building disputes.
Cooper said she was shocked when you discovered she had a file – even though it was only a small one.  'As a photographer you are just there to cover stories so I cannot understand why they should open a file on you,' she said.

Cooper was made aware of the file following documents released as part of an employment tribunal by a blacklisted construction worker, Dave Smith.  She said that she was never aware of losing any work because of the file and now works in academia in London.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: 'The union is very concerned that NUJ members carrying out their legitimate work as journalists have been targeted by blacklisting companies.  People targeted because of their journalistic work or trade union activity is illegal and deplorable.  The NUJ totally condemns blacklisting and the union will take action in support of journalists who fear their personal details were unlawfully recorded.'

Steve Acheson, from the Blacklist Support Group, said:
'The news about Molly Cooper is quite breathtaking.  A respected freelance journalist, elected to the NEC of the NUJ had a secret file about her opened up and was spied upon over many years just for doing her job. What’s going on?If this was happening in Syria or Russia, the story would be all over the BBC News with politicians shouting about freedom of the press. But because it is big business spying on trade union activists, there is a deafening silence.  The drip, drip, drip of news that the Consulting Association did not just blacklist trade union members in the construction industry but also academics, elected politicians and now journalists makes me worry what else will be discovered.  Evidence has already come out that points to police collusion. Where will this conspiracy end? We need a full public inquiry to get to the bottom of it.'

Thursday, 19 July 2012

From Wiltshire Woman to Park Cakes, Oldham

Review of 'Trade Union Solidarity' - Spring Issue - 20-page A4 size jounal: Price £1: Inquires and subs. to ring Glen Burrows on 01278 450562

THE first issue of T.U. Solidarity appeared last Autumn at the time of the Manchester Tory Party Conference, with a picture of a woman from Wiltshire on the front cover, and the current issue has a lass from Birmingham, Becca Kirkpatrick, aged 28, a pugilist and female Jock McAvoy no less, illustrating the back cover.  Any magazine in the unions or on the Left these days, it seems, must consciously display a commitment to multiculturalism and gender balance.  In Solidarity magazine we have a range of photos of picket lines, because the editors have a policy of promoting the rank and file workers at the expense of the union officers.  Unfortunately, many ordinary workers don't appreciate this:  such as the woman I know at Park Cakes who turned Solidarity down flat when they approached her for an interview, because she was too frightened:  she told me that she didn't care about the Agency workers plight so long as the jobs of the permanent staff were safe. 

English workers are often shy when it comes to talking to the media, they also often distrust those who they see as 'troublemakers' on the shopfloor or in political parties.  These people crave a quiet life.  Thus, Solidarity had to get Julie Summersgill, the convenor of the Bakery, Food & Allied Union (BFAWU) at the Oldham factory of Park Cakes to give them an interview.

As luck has it, there are rank and file campaigns such as the Unite Rank & File Construction Workers, that contain activists who are less media shy.  Besides the article 'Rumble the Crumble: fighting the two-tier workforce at Park cakes' there is an article on the successful struggle against the attempt to impose new BESNA contracts in the building trade, which would have meant pay cuts for the workers.  The journal has a column interview with blacklisted electrician, Steve Kelly.

There are a few northern trade union branches and Trades' Councils  listed among the supporters of the Solidarity magazine, but the overwhelming majority are from down South, with a disproportionate number in the South West.  There is a noticeable lack of support in the North West, and this may indicate that Alex McFadden - the influential North West representative of the TUC JCC - is hostile to Solidarity

There's a northern interview with Brian Taylor of the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) at Capita India Mill, now a call centre in Darwen, Lancashire, where 80 workers went on strike in Autumn 2011 against a below inflation imposed pay rise.  We learn that Darwen and Blackburn belong to one of the most deprived areas in the country.  Brian Taylor tells us that only a minority of the 200 workforce are in the union, and of the pressure of the 70-second call targets, just as at Park cakes the workers fear that card-carrying union members will be victimised, and, he says, workers often join the union 'under the cloak of darkness'

The publication has no leader comment or editorial, so there is none of the preaching and party-lines one gets in other left-wing journals and sheets.  In this sense Solidarity is refreshingly free from people telling us what to think.  Hence, the journal is not a publication that treats its readers as cultural dopes:  its for mature workers not young students.  The contact editors are Dave Chapple in the South West, Shelia Cohen in London and Becca Kilpatrick in Birmingham:  if we were living in France we would describe these people as radical syndicalists; that is people who prioritise the trade union struggle for rights at work in preference to party politics and winning elections.  The trouble with British politics is that there are too many schoolmasters running the show, and it creates a form of politics that most ordinary English people either despise or can't relate to.  The language in Solidarity is straight-forward and clear, nowt fancy, it is shorn of slogans  Becca Kirkpatrick, the boxer, also refreshingly pays homage to 'agression (as) one of our vital tools (as trade unionists)' and thankfully, she is not proclaiming that dreadfully fashionable PC term 'assertiveness' in the workplace.

Cultural North: 'Well I'll Go To Buxton!'


THIS year's Buxton Festival that ends on July 25th, is a treasure trove of lesser-known works of opera.  Chris Draper, who writes in Northern Voices 13, never mentioned the Buxton Opera House in his feature 'Six O' the Best Northern Theatres'.   And yet, Buxton for these few weeks in July is the cultural capital of the North, even though it tends to be overshadowed by Glyndebourne and Edinburgh in Scotland.  Buxton describes itself as 'a happy marriage of music, opera and books'; it also includes talks on literary subjects together with recitals and chamber concerts.

The opera house, dating from 1903, has 900-seats and is in the centre of town near the central park.  The Festival is dominated by works of opera, and this year there is the Sibelius opera 'The Maiden in the Tower', the Strauss comedy 'Intermezzo', Handel's oratorio 'Jephtha', Mozart's 'Idomeneo' and Gluck's Iphigenia operas.  Handel's biblical drama is about the Israelite warrior Jephtha, who unwisely promises that if he is victorious he will sacrifice the first thing he sees on returning home.

There was a double bill chance to hear the Sibelious opera with Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Kashchei the Immortal'.  George Loomis in the Herald Tribune writes that the Sibelius opera 'lacks theatricality', but that 'Rimsky-Korskov's dramaturgical skills never seemed more potent than when "Kashchei" got going after the intermission'.  As well as these Buxton Festival productions there are some guest productions such as Metastasio's libretto 'L'Olimpiade', the plot of 'L'Olimpiade' involves a trick by an ancient Olympics contestant to get a better athlete to compete in his name with tragic results.

The printed version of NORTHERN VOICES 13, with all sorts of stuff others won't touch and may be obtained as follows:
Postal subscription: £5 for the next two issues (post included)
Cheques payable to 'Northern Voices' at
c/o 52, Todmorden Road, Burnley, Lancashire BB10 4AH.
Tel.: 0161 793 5122.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Bomber Always Gets Through!

THERE was a slogan, or perhaps it was a truism, going around during the Second World War that 'The Bomber Always Gets Through!'   I think it came from Baldwin originally.  Then, Miss Vera Brittan wrote a pamphlet, 'Seed of Chaos', which was an attack on 'obliteration' bombing.  She was not playing the pacifist card, but was arguing that in order to win the war we should stick to legal methods of war and abandon civilian bombing, which would blacken the reputation of the British in the eyes of humanity in the years to come. 

It is impossible to view bombing, or owt else about war, as anything other than repugnant.  I've always been suspicious of them who want to 'legalise' or 'humanise' war.  In a way this makes war more acceptable to the general public by creating a fancy catch-phrase.  But though killing civilians by bombing in wartime may be bad, it is not necessarily worse than killing them by ground warfare, though it is assumed that air bombing does more of this than street fighting. 

It is not clear why it is worse to kill civilians than soldiers?  The killing of children should be avoided, but not necessarily civilians as  a whole.  Why?  Because among the civilians in cities will be a disproportionately large section of the middle-aged.  Is it better to sink a submarine with say 50 young men or bomb a textile mill full of young women workers?    In this age of Feminism and the New Woman, why should the young lads be the first to die?  For this reason, if no other, we ought to be welcoming the fact that the U.S. Marine Corps is about to let women take the Infantry Officer Course, a punishing test that prepares lieutenants to lead infantry platoons into combat in the marines.

Today, Syrian state TV confirmed the death of Assef Shawkat, Assad's brother-in-law and the deputy head of the armed forces, and his closest security adviser, as well as Daud Rajha, the minister of defence and the regime's most senior Christian figure. Several others, including the interior minister, Mohammed Shaar, were wounded.  Now while some folk will object to the suggestion that civilians, particularly women, ought to suffer in wartime alongside young men, I doubt that many will object to the idea that political leaders should die at the hands of the bomber alongside the young lads they send out in battle to die.  Thus, the death today of some of this ruling clique in Syria ought to be welcomed.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Classic Corn with Knobs On!

EFFORTS to spice up the classics by burdening them with the language of Fifty Shade of Grey is, I suppose, just what we should expect in this day and age.  In the way that bad money drives out good, so shity literature should overwhelm the more refine books from the 19th Century.  Is there owt worth reading in E.L. James's novel Fifty Shades of Grey?  I would say that it may represent what has been called a 'Good, Bad Book' in the sense that it may reveal something sociological about the nature of the modern world and modern woman. 

The plundering of the classics to jump on Erika Leonard alias E.L. James's 'Fifty Shades' bandwagon using the trite vocabulary that is added to the fiction of Jane Austin's 'Pride & Prejudice', Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre' and Arthur Conan Doyle's 'Sherlock Holmes'.  Mr Darcy turns to Elizabeth and says:  'I have long since desired to have your soft, beautiful body writhing in ecstacy beneath mine own.'  It's shagging on the back-seat of the car that sells stuff these days.

Yet, 'Fifty Shade of Grey' does tell us something of the nature of the legalistic culture of contracts, negotiation and business deals, even when it comes to committing consensual bondage, domination and S&M.  I think Ms. James, or Erika Leonard, has hit on something there about the systematic health and safety culture, and dignity at work policies, that perpetuate now in post-post modern society.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Durham Miner's Gala

'WE will never leave you without hope!', declared Ed Miliband, last Saturday, at the Durham Miner's Gala.  He then continued to do the typical word-smith's group of three items:  'We will never leave you without work!' and culminated with 'We will never leave you without your dreams!'  Then came another threesome:  'Here we are, looking after communities''Looking out for each other!' and 'Never walking by on the other side!'

It was the first time since about 1989, that a Labour leader had addressed the Durham Miner's Gala.  There was a small protest with a banner that read:  'Labour & Tory All the Same!  THEY ALL PLAY THE BANKER's GAME.'  Mr. Miliband reminded us that the Durham Gala had been addressed in the past by such figures as Keir Hardie, George Landsbury, Clem Attlee, Mannie Shinwell and Jim Callaghan.

Ed Miliband echoed Vice Cable, the Lib Dem Business Minister's cry of 'Tax the Banker's bonuses!' and followed it with 'Put our people to work again!' and 'Break the power of Murdoch'.  Slogans to stir-up the converted.

Tom Watson, the MP who did much to expose Rupert Murdoch, was the first speaker, but the most enthusiastic applause came for two Asturian miners fresh up from Madrid.  One was a member of the C.C.O.O. and the other was from the socialist U.G.T..  I spoke to both of them and told the UGT socialist that I had been a member of the CNT when I worked in Gibraltar and lived in La Linea.  The lad from the UGT was the most approachable and was friendly towards the Spanish anarchists and the CNT.  Both speakers spoke well, giving details of their dispute and fearing the demise of their mining communities in the Asturias and Leon.  The dispute, which is small, has sparked public support in Spain and has been going for over 50-days with a march into Madrid, last week, and an occupation of some pits.

The NUM gave the Asturian miners £5,000, and the Durham Miners' Association gave another £5,000.  The North East IWW had a bookstall at the event selling Northern Voices, and the Tameside TUC commemorative booklet on the Spanish Civil War, that has now sold nearly 3,000 copies, was on sale there.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Local MP besieged by library protesters in Haughton Green. Hurst library to be sold to 'McDonald's'!

Last Friday, angry residents in Haughton Green, Denton, confronted Andrew Gwynne MP, demanding to know why their local community library was being closed by Tameside Council. He was also handed a petition containing the names and signatures of 1,457 people who are asking the council to reverse their decision, and to keep their library open.

Gwynne, who was clearly flustered by questions from placard waving protesters, said that libraries and other services were closing in Tameside because the government had slashed the council's budget by £100m. When asked why the parliamentary Labour Party was not speaking out about the cuts and doing more, he said they were speaking out, but were being outvoted by the government who had a majority of sixty. When asked why the local Labour council had been silent about the cuts which they were imposing on the people of Tameside, he told the questioner that they ought to take the matter up with their local councillors. Gwynne told library campaigners that the "worst cuts are still to come" and said he'd only been aware that Haughton Green and Denton West End libraries were being closed, when a local newspaper had contacted him for a comment. He said he would be contacting the council for a full explanation and for the reasons, why they were closing both libraries, which he was opposed to.

Although the council are currently carrying out a questionnaire based consultation exercise, they have already decided to close five libraries - Haughton Green, Newton, Mottram, West End, and Hurst. Dukinfield library could also close. Yet, in spite of these closures, the questionnaire says that Tameside Council is looking to "redesign its library service" and describes these savage library cuts, as "A NEW OFFER FOR TAMESIDE LIBRARIES" the "development of the new vision" offering a "high quality service for all Tameside residents." This bull-shit, is the language of the council's "Big Conversation" with the public. In Tameside, public services don't get cut or closed, they get "redesigned". A source has told Northern Voices that the council is to sell Hurst library, to McDonald's. Moreover, most of what the council is offering is already available in libraries and what people don't often realise, is that in filling in the questionnaire, and expressing a preference for one of the three options put forward by the council, they're effectively voting to close libraries and to cut council jobs.

Unlike Tameside councillors, who are provided with a free laptop or desktop computer and a £250 a year broadband allowance, many people in areas like Haughton Green and Hurst, which have beeen designated as areas of 'social deprivation', may not have internet access or even a computer, and they rely on their local library for access to computers and the internet. Food banks, have already been set up in Haughton Green and Hattersley, to distribute food to people in need.

According to research by the trade union UNISON, since April last year, 100 libraries across Britain have already closed and another 600 are also under threat. In Tameside, the council have now axed more jobs than almost any other authority in the north-west - only Rossendale, in Lancashire, have lost more staff - and they are busily outsourcing jobs and services, to private contractors like Carillion. Since May last year, the council have cut 1,384 full-time jobs and they recently announced that they want to cut a further 600 jobs.

Like many council's, Tameside say they have been forced to make these cuts because the government have cut their funding. Yet, it is the lollipop ladies and the librarians who are losing their jobs in Tameside and not the councillors or the 'fat cats' in these council's. While libraries close in Tameside, Tameside councillor's are given iPads and the choice of a iPhone or a Blackberry ostensibly, to cut down on paperwork and to promote the council's "green credentials." It is also interesting to note who is paying off this deficit, brought about by the greed and incompetence of Britain's bankers and the government's 'light-touch' regulation - it's certainly not the rich!

In May, Michael Meacher, the local MP for Oldham West and Royton, wrote to the Guardian newspaper stating that 77% of the budget deficit is being recouped by public expenditure cuts and benefit cuts, and only 23% is being repaid by tax increases. More than half of the tax increase, is accounted for by the VAT rise. While people lose their jobs and see their benefits and public services cut and their wages frozen or cut, the richest 1,000 persons in Britain, just 0.003% of the adult population, have seen their wealth increase over the past 3 years by £155bn.

Tameside Reporter facing closure after 157 years!

The independently-owned Tameside Reporter, which is owned by Reporter & Chronicle Newspapers Ltd, is facing closure after 157 years of being in business.
Several weeks ago, staff working for the newspaper were summoned to a meeting and told that because of financial difficulties, the paper might have to cease trading, and that staff might be made redundant. Staff who might be facing redundancy, include the editor Nigel Skinner, the deputy editor Chris Maxwell, four jounalists, and the newspapers photographer.
According to a report on the journalist website 'HoldtheFrontPage', the newspaper was put up for sale a month ago, and is looking for a buyer.
The newspaper which was first established in 1855, was known for many years as the Ashton-under-Lyne Weekly Reporter. In 1980, the newspaper was bought by United Newspapers and since 1997, has been owned by Reporter & Chronicle Newspapers Ltd, a company set up by Martin Lusby and Barrie Holden.
It is rumoured that the local housing company 'New Charter Housing Ltd', which is based in Tameside and which now owns and runs Tameside Council's former housing stock, has expressed an interest in buying the Tameside Reporter. Some people might find it strange that a housing company with no experience of running a newspaper and with very close links to Tameside Council, would want to buy a newspaper that is in financial difficulties. Yet New Charter Housing, seem keen on diversifying into other areas. Only recently, the housing company, bought Tameside Radio which is also based in Ashton-under-Lyne.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Olympics, London & the Militarised State

TODAY we learn that G4S can't supply 10,000 security staff for the Olympics as planned, and that the Home Secretary, Theresa May has had to plead with the Ministry of Defence to let her have thousands more service personnel to do the job as security-men at the London 2012 Games.  I wonder what the squaddies are saying about that?

Ironically, only last Friday in the Herald Tribune, Jules Boykoff and Alan Tomlinson were writing about the International Olympic Committee (ICO):  'Most worrisome, perhaps, is that the I.C.O. creates perverse incentives for security officials in host cities to overspend and militarize public space.  The I.C.O. tends to look kindly on bids that assure security, and host cities too often use the Games as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stock police warehouses with the best weapons money can buy.'

Mr. Boykoff and Mr. Tomlinson further say visitors to London 'would be forgiven for thinking they had dropped in on a military convention.'  They write:  'Helicopters, fighter jets and bomb-disposal units will be at the ready.'  Before this recent mishap by G4S about 13,500 British military personnel were expected to be on patrol, that would be 4,000 more than currently serving in Afghanistan.  Now, it seems, that figure will have to be revised upwards.

Admittedly, the Government are right to be concerned to protect our capital city and the Games, but as Boykoff and Tomlinson say 'there is such a thing as excess - and surveillance and weaponry are not a panacea.'  Symbolically, having London presenting an image of a militarised state is is hardly conducive to the Olympic ideals of peace and understanding.  These critics suggest that today it is the growing size of the Games that is the problem - 'Gigantism' - and argue that competitions 'drenched in privilege, like the equestrian events, should be ditched' as should 'pseudo-historuical events like Greco-Roman wrestling' and events with high start-up costs should be changed for ones needing less resources like tug-on-war and running events 'like trail running and cross-country'.


Madrid! Madrid! Companeros!

TWO days after the central government delegate in Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, noted that the 'black march' organized by protesting miners had been entirely without incident, the denouement of the 430-kilometer journey descended into violence in the center of the capital.

The 200 marchers were joined by thousands of sympathizers and members of the labor unions as they marched from Colón square to the doors of the Industry Ministry along nearby Paseo de la Castellana on Wednesday. Among the newcomers were members of the 15-M protest movement, teachers protesting cuts in education, families and politicians. Also among the throng — which the CCOO and UGT labor union expected to be 25,000 strong, although no official figures were available — were what an Interior Ministry spokesman described as 'anti-system groups, armed with bottle rockets and bricks.'

Shortly after the march arrived at the Industry Ministry, violent clashes between police and protestors began to erupt. Some marchers attempted to break through the police barrier outside the ministry and all sorts of objects were hurled at security forces. Of the 76 people injured in the clashes, 42 were protestors and 33 were police officers. Also hurt in the mêlée was a photographer working for an online publication based in Asturias, one of the regions worst affected by the proposed cut of 63 percent in subsidies to the industry this year, which the sector fears would augur the end of coal mining in Spain.

Police made eight arrests — none of which were of miners — and employed rubber bullets after firing several warning salvos.

The black march had set out from coal mining regions across Spain — Asturias, León, Palencia and Aragon — with the intention of making its voice heard. “We’re like the Spanish football team, without dropping a cup,” joked Faustino Balaguer as he departed Puerta del Sol square on Tuesday evening at the beginning of the night protest march organized by the miners.

Thousands of supporters greeted the marchers with cries of 'champions' and 'this is our team,' inspired by Spain’s recent European success. Firefighters also joined the march as its numbers swelled ahead of the planned Wednesday stretch between Colón and the Industry Ministry, which was headed by the 200-odd veterans of the black march. 'You are the pride of the working-class struggle,' was one of the most repeated slogans shouted by civilian participants.

'Coming here is the most honorable thing I have done in many years,' said Luis, a miner who had arrived on one of the 500 buses organized by mines across the country to ferry more protestors to the capital.  'Our demands are justified.'

José Manuel Martínez, 12, was under no illusions as to why his father had brought him to Madrid.  'If they close the mines, we’ll lose our homes,' he said.

The secretary generals of the UGT and CCOO labor unions, Cándido Méndez and Ignacio Toxo, who marched behind the leading miners, accused the government of bringing the conflict upon itself by acting with 'injustice, insensitivity and a complete lack of intelligence' in its dealings with the sector.

No representative of the Industry Ministry, headed by José Manuel Soria, agreed to meet with the protestors on Wednesday.  (From today's EL PAIS:  Thursday 12th, July 2012)

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Kathleen Ferrier: The Real Voice of the North

TO commemorate the centennial of the birth of the North of England contralto from Blackburn, Kathleen Ferrier, EMI has released her complete recordings on a three-disk set:  including a display of her artistry through the works of Gluck, Bach, Handel and Mahler.  At the same time Decca is releasing a new film of Kathleen Ferrier, directed by Diane Perelszteji, and narrated by by Charlotte Rampling.  The film looks at the life of the lass from Blackburn, Lancashire, who died of cancer in 1953 at the age of 41, and includes a companion CD of unreleased live recordings, including Brahms lieder.

Vivien Schweitzer in last Friday's Herald Tribune wrote:  'From humble beginnings as telephone operator near Blackburn, England, Ferrier became one of Britain's most beloved singers, her rich and haunting voice providing solace to a war-torn nation.'  What seems to have been the key to Kathleen's success is explained by Ms. Schweitzer thus:  'Ferrier's voice was remarkable not only for its unusually low range and striking timbre, but also for the expressive, yearning qualities that often reduced audiences and colleagues to tears.'  In the film, Nathalie Stuzman says that Ferrier 'had the deepest voice imaginable for a woman (combining) the colour of a chest voice, usually found in male voices, with the clarity of a female voice.'

Kathleen Ferrier married Albert Wilson in 1935, at the age of 23, and left her job.  The marriage was not successful, and it effectively ended when Albert joined the army in 1940; they divorced in 1947, but remained on good terms.  It seems Ferrier drank beer and smoked, and is reported to had a boisterous personality, a rowdy sense of humour and quick wit.  She never remarried but had a long-term companion in Rick Davis, a Liverpool antiques dealer.

She found out that she had breast cancer in 1951 and had a mastectomy.  Her international career extended from 1946 to 1953, when she died.  She made her New York début in 1948 singing Mahler's 'Das Lied von der Erde' at Carnegie Hall with Bruno Walter.  Walter himself once said that the two greatest musical experiences of his life were knowing the contralto Kathleen Ferrier and Mahler.  Vivien Schweitzer writes:  'She would probably have entered Wagnerian terrain had she lived longer.'  As it was Ferrier took the role of Orfeo with the conductor John Barbirolli at the Royal Opera House, in English, and during rehearsals she had had daily treatment in hospital; the premiere, in February 1953, was a success, but during the second performance, the femur in her left leg fractured while she was on stage - the cancer had spread to her bones -  she remained standing, and finished the performance with the audience not aware of what had happened.  After that Ferrier was put in hospital and never walked again.  She died a few months later.

Local Novelist Queries Link4Life Bosses' Pay

Letter to Rochdale Observer from Trevor Hoyle:

PRIOR to the opening of the £11 million leisure centre, the council's finance chief, Farooq Ahmed, tells us that the high salaries for Link4Life executives are deserved if the organisations they manage are performing (Rochdale Observer June 30).

But if the 70% increase over 4 years for managing director Craig McAteer is 'deserved', where does this leave the rest of the Link4Life staff whose salaries have been frozen, had their hours and wages reduced, or worse still, been made redundant?  One rule for the executives, it seems, who are 'deserving', another for the foot soldiers who actually run these organisations.  No pay rises for them (if they are lucky enough to still have jobs).

And I still can't get my head round the fact that while Link4Life is supposedly a charitable, non-profit making trust, funded largely by Rochdale rate-payers, why the board of Trustees and councillors alike see nothing wrong in permitting these inflated salaries.  Where is their sense of responsibility?  Have they been asleep?  Is it they just don't care, or are they powerless?  I'd really like to know, if someone can be bothered to tell me.

Yes of course I welcome the new leisure centre.  I'd also welcome a fraction of the £34 million Link4Life is spending on sport and leisure capital projects going towards new arts and heritage facilities.  There was a brilliant suggestion recently in the (Rochdale) Observer from Mrs. Enid Jones (Letters June 23) that instead of knocking down, the old Art Deco swimming baths could be used as rehearsal rooms for local groups and a theatre/ performance space.

As well as being near the centre of town, with parking, and providing a resource we badly need, it would preserve an iconic building which holds fond memories for three generations of Rochdalians.

What about it, Link4Life management, board of Trustees and councillors?  Any takers?

Trevor Hoyle,

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Doing Business in the Southern Olympics

LAST Friday in the Herald Tribune, Jules Boykoff and Alan Tomlinson wrote:  'Although the I.O.C. (International Olympic Committee) has been periodically tarnished by scandal - usually involving the bribing and illegitimate wooing of delegates - those embarrassments divert us from a deeper problem:  The organisation is elitist, domineering and crassly commercial at its core.'   The revival of the Olympics by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in the 1890s was down to an assembly of princes, barons, counts and lords to help co-ordinate the Games.  It seems that in the present crop of 105 I.O.C. members still have a good chunk of royalty including Princess Nora of Liechtenstein, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and Prince Nawaf Faisal Fahd Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia. 

Then there is the commercial end of the Games, Mr. Boykoff and Tomlinson write:  'The I.O.C. has turned the Olympics into a commercial bonanza.  In London, more than 250 miles of V.I.P. traffic lanes are reserved not just for athletes and I.O.C. luminaries but also for corporate sponsors.  Even the signature torch relay has been commercialized:  The I.O.C. and its corporate partners snapped up 10% of the torchbearer slots for I.O.C. stakeholders and members of the commercial sponsors' information technology and marketing staffs.  Michael R. Payne, a former director for the committee, has called the Olympics "the world's longest commercial".'

Good business for some of these folk down South!

Spanish Miners in the Mountains of the Asturias

Miners from the Asturias in northern Spain have been on strike since May, occupying pits underground and fighting for the survival of their mining towns, threatened with a huge cut in government subsidies.  Some embarked on a long march for jobs to the capital to voice their concerns. On Monday they arrived on the outskirts of Madrid to bring the message to the heart of government; our communities are dying.

'We want the agreement signed in 2006, the Coal Plan. It has been signed since 2006. What they have to do is to keep it, nothing more. That’s all we want. We do not want more money,' said one miner.

Around 10,000 people are employed in Spain’s mines, which have been loss-making for a century, but on which depend scores of towns and villages. That is why these workers walked 270 miles, and why they will fight to the bitter end. english video spanish

LANGREO, ASTURIAS, Spain — For more than 40 days, 14 men in the north of Spain have spent their days and nights in dark shafts, 3,000 feet underground.  They are not trapped.  Instead, these miners have voluntarily locked themselves in the depth of the mines to protest against the massive government cuts to the sector.

'He tells me he is doing this for our son,' said the wife of miner Dario Martinez, Elisabeth, who is caring for their nine-month old boy in the nearby small town of Langreo in the Asturias.

Dario Martinez, 30, has been living for more than a month inside Candin shaft in a claustrophobic 270 square foot chamber. The temperature is about 77 F degrees but the humidity ranges between 80 and 100 percent and there is plenty of dust in the air. They have no toilets or showers, sleep on planks and eat what their colleagues from the surface send them four times a day via a service elevator.

'They are determined to stay down there until there is a solution from the government, but I worry that he will get sick,' said Elisabeth.

Like the Martinez family, more than 10,000 others in the coal mining regions of Spain worry they might soon be unable to feed their children. The entire sector has been on general strike since May 28, following an April announcement by the conservative government of President Mariano Rajoy that it would cut subsidies slated to be received this year by 63 percent — the sharpest cut in the budget to any program.

Without public aid, the mining industry and the villages that depend on it are doomed to disappear, and quickly.  Coal mining in Spain is a loss-making sector that has been publicly subsidized for more than a century. It has been traditionally regarded as a strategic industry because it is the only local resource in a country with an energy dependency of 81.7 percent (30 points above the EU average).

With economic modernization and changes to Spanish industry that took place in the late 1980s, the mining sector became less important. The number of miners in Spain shrunk by 90 percent over the past 20 years. Even so, the sector is essential for the survival of certain towns like Langreo, which is almost fully dependent on coal mining.

In 2010, then-President Jose Luis Zapatero signed a plan to cut the subsidies by 10 percent in 2012 but the current government decided to increase that six-fold resulting in a total reduction of more than 200 million euros.  The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Commerce justifies the reduction in the context of the EU demands to reduce the public deficit by six percent by the end of the year. Spain has been in recession since the end of 2008, and has one of the most troubled economies in Europe, with a 24.3 percent unemployment rate. It recently requested a bank bailout worth 62 billion euros.

Regardless, the miners say a deal is a deal.

'All we are demanding is for the government to respect what was agreed on, approved by the EU, and signed by all the parties affected,' said Manuel Robles, Union General de Trabajadores representative of the Candin shaft. He says miners would accept some cuts but not something 'so radical.'

Guerrilla war

Although miners believed that their colleagues underground would be their trump card to pressure the government, it is their 'armed' actions that have been receiving the most publicity.  Black columns of smoke stain the blue skies of bucolic Asturias. Almost daily, burning tires block roads, highways and railways for hours while dozens of policemen fight with miners in the forest.

'We are not attacking, we are just defending our jobs and the future of our children,' said Robles, 35, who is the third generation of miners in his family.

On Wednesday, 200 men fought for hours against riot police squads on the roads and hills of this mountainous region. Two miners who did not want to be identified out of concerns for their personal safety told GlobalPost that they are using guerrilla war strategies. They hide in the forest and use small home-made mortars to shoot rudimentary but effective ammunition, ranging from golf balls and powerful firecrackers to pepper and cayenne. The footage of these violent protests has spread around the world, portraying a climate of tension and unrest that doesn’t help Spain in the international markets.

But the Spanish government's actions to address its crisis in one sector have left bitterness in another.

'The government doesn’t have 200 million euro to guarantee the survival of our jobs and villages, but funnily enough, it has 23 billion euros to rescue Bankia,' said Robles, referring to Spain's fourth largest bank.

And analysts say that the timing is off.

'This cut will be a death sentence for these regions,' said Jose Maria Garcia Blanco, a sociology professor at Oviedo University in Asturias who specializes in the transformation and decline of industrial areas.

In the past two decades, the Spanish government has spent hundreds of millions of euro to reconvert and reindustrialize the mining regions, but those plans have failed, forcing the state to continue subsidizing the production of coal.

'Many of the companies created with those subsidies have gone bust,' said Blanco, who complains the government didn’t oversee their programs carefully enough to determine whether it was investing in sound projects.

No other jobs available

Aside from trying to reindustrialize the area and training people to do other jobs, for many years, public subsidies were handed out with the goal of lowering the price of Spanish coal in order to make it competitive against South African, Colombian and Indonesian exports. But since 2001, with developing countries like China entering the international markets, the demand for coal has soared and, therefore, the price for foreign coal has increased.

According to Carbunion, the umbrella organization for coal mining companies, Spanish coal is now about 15 percent cheaper than imported coal if total costs are considered, including extraction and transportation.

In 2010, the European Union also decided that member states could not continue subsidizing coal mines beyond Dec. 31, 2018, and that only self-sufficient companies would be able to continue operating. 
Mercedes Martin, general director of Carbunion, says the government is choosing the wrong energy strategy for the country.

'Coal thermal power stations guarantee the [continuous] running of the electrical system in periods of high demand,” she said. “Renewable energies cannot be relied upon to provide [a continuous supply] because they depend on the weather,' Martin said.

The International Agency of Energy estimates that the consumption of coal will increase by 65 percent in the next few decades, and countries like Germany are considering reopening new mines. Moreover, the reserves of coal in Spain will last a century, long after gas and fuel reserves in the world are predicted to be exhausted.  The general director of Carbunion says that with the subsidies planned by Zapatero’s government until 2018, the sector had been investing heavily to make mines profitable without public aid. With Rajoy’s cuts, she says companies will have to close down because they won’t be able to pay for the investments they have already made.

'The situation is reaching a point in which I don’t know any more what the government’s motivations [for the cuts] are,' admitted Martín.

For the miners, the reason behind the drastic reduction in subsidies is clear.  'We represent the last bastion of a very well organized working class,' said Lisardo Suarez, a miner for 18 years at Maria Luisa shaft in Ciano.  Others add that the miners have long been leaders of revolts.

'We have been the spearhead of the worker’s movement throughout the 20th century when some of the workers uprisings during the dictatorship were started by us,' Robles added.

In 1962, during Franco’s dictatorship, miners dared to go on a strike to claim more labor rights and better salaries.  The protests spread throughout the country and received a lot of support abroad.  With the past in mind, miners say that the government is afraid their current protest 'could act like gunpowder across the country, turning into a massive uprising by all the citizens in Spain and in Europe,' said Juan Carlos Liebana, Comisiones Obreras union representative for the mining sector.

Blanco agrees:   'I believe that behind the cut there are politics,' he said. 'The government sees in the current context the ideal opportunity to go forward with a coupe de grace against a whole political and social framework that is hostile against conservative parties.'

In fact, the mining sector has traditionally voted left and it is the most unionized in the country: almost 100 percent of workers are part of a union.  'They have a very strong capacity to mobilize people socially and politically and that has given them a huge power to pressure governments,' Blanco explained.  'That’s what has kept this making loss industry alive throughout time.'

A 280-mile walk

In order to inspire the rest of workers, miners are fighting for their jobs on yet another front. Since the end of June, about 200 men have been marching on national roads to cover the 280 miles that separate their mines from the capital Madrid. Dressed in helmets and uniforms, they are warmly and massively welcomed in the villages they traverse, greeted by the blaring of horns of passing drivers.

'People are inspired by us because they realize this is not only for the mining sector,' said Jose Manuel Alves, one of the marchers. 'They identify and realize that they should be doing the same, that they should have our strength and determination.'

On July 11, thousands of miners arriving from all corners of Spain will join the marchers on their way to the headquarters of the Ministry of Industry. Robles says they won’t leave till the government backs off the cuts.  Still, despite several meetings with the unions and Carbunion, conservatives are not willing to negotiate over one cent of the 2012 budget. The minister of industry insists that he would be happy to talk about the 2013-2018 period but miners refuse to give up 2012 as lost.

'We have to defend our present in order not to jeopardize the future,' Robles said.

my grandfather's village 51 days underground

Monday, 9 July 2012

NORTHERN VOICES: The Russian Connection

Ksenia Sobchak; the Katy Price of Russian politics?

AFTER the UK and the USA, the most visits to the Northern Voices Blog come from Russia, followed by France.  In the last month, there were 522 visits from Russia on the NV Blog.  Perhaps this is not surprising given that an estimated 66 million Russians use the Web everyday - the largest such national population on the European continent, and said to be one of the fastest growing in the world.  It seems that the Russians have adopted the Web not just as a public sphere for debate or as a reference point, but also as a refuge of last resort, a kind of citizens' judgement court to vent their annoyance against dodgy officialdom.

Andrew Meier, reporting for the Herald Tribune from Moscow, writes:  'The digital frontier has updated the 19th century fight in Russian literature, the struggle between fathers and sons.'  Mr. Meier claims:  'Now the old guard, the first post-World War II generation to come to power in Russia, is squaring off against "the Generation of the Naughts," those who came of age in the first decade of the century.'  In Moscow and on the Web, this generation call themselves the 'Kreativity Klass' ( the creative class) and apparently stud their speech with English.

Anton Nossik, one of Russia's leading bloggers and pioneer of the country's digital news sites tips former socialite and the now up-and-coming journalist on the internet, Ksenia Sobchak, as a serious media threat to the regime of Putin.  Mr. Nossik warns against underestimating Ms Sobchak saying:  'The risks are real and what she's doing, it may end up being more important than the work of any other oppositioner - Putin has the powers of the Kremlin behind him but she's got something he does not:  the fans.'

Having Ksenia Sobchak in the political opposition in Russia is a bit like having Katy Price in the anti-cuts campaign in England.

Blacklist: Tommy Sheridan & Steve Acheson

Tommy Sheridan has revealed that he was kept under surveillance by the Consulting Association blacklisting conspiracy over a period of 14 years while he was first an elected councillor and latterly while he served as an elected Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP). Sheridan's blacklist file, recently disclosed by the Information Commissioners Office, covers the period 1995 to 2009 and relates to times when he had supported campaigns connected to the construction industry including his visits to picket lines involving construction workers and his advocacy of improved working conditions across the building industry.

It was originally thought that the construction industry blacklist only covered trade union members but recently released files prove that the Consulting Association also spied on academics, journalists, lawyers and elected politicians on behalf of the 44 largest building contractors in the UK. Tommy Sheridan is the first of the elected politicians to confirm he was spied on and featured on the blacklist.

Tommy was elected to Glasgow City Council from his prison cell in Saughton jail in 1992 as he served a sentence related to opposition to the poll tax and specifically poll tax warrant sales. He served 4 months of a 6 month sentence and was elected to the council in May 1992. The Consultancy Association file on Sheridan begins in 1995. He was elected to serve as a Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Glasgow Region in 1999. The secret file on him covers 1995 through to 2009. Sheridan served two terms in the Scottish Parliament before narrowly losing his seat in 2007.

The fact the file stretches over a 14 year period proves how determined the Consultancy Association was to keep tabs on individuals they deemed to be potential trouble-makers. The blacklist file records events such as Sheridan's support for striking electricians in Edinburgh in 2000 and support of community protests against the M77 extension through woodland and wildlife areas in his constituency. One entry relates to a time when he was acting on official council business and assisted constituents to gain employment as security guards on a Beazer Homes construction project. The blacklist file contains completely untrue smears including claims that Sheridan was going to be given one of the Council houses under construction!! There is two entries in the file related to this period, March and May 1995, and an identified 'source' with initials attached is recorded as the origin of the information.

Other information on the blacklist file comes from press cuttings, while some information was supplied by the Scandinavian multi-national construction giant Skanska.

Tommy Sheridan said last Friday:
'Everyone in the labour movement suspected for years that big companies compiled secret blacklists containing trade unionists and activists but now those suspicions are proven to be a sad reality. For daring to support construction workers fighting for better wages and conditions you find yourself placed on a blacklist. Because I supported local constituents getting jobs on local construction sites I was blacklisted. These companies are sinister and secretive and can ruin the livelihoods of trade union members who dare to speak up for their fellow workers. The full extent of the activities of groups like the Consultancy Association have to be exposed. Who financed them? Who supplied them with their information? Who used the information? As a socialist who opposes big business exploitation I expect to be targeted but thousands of ordinary workers have been unable to find work because they appear on these files. It is a scandal and a disgrace and it must be fully exposed.'

Francie Graham, blacklisted electrician from Dundee who recently gave evidence to the Select Committee said:
'I always had to travel for work because I could never find work in Dundee and hardly ever in Scotland. I had to work down South in London and Wales.  The first entry on my blacklist file is from 1975 from a job for Dundee City Council when I was active in the union.  I had to work through agencies who are out with our national agreements, where I got no protection from any legislation. There were many times when I have been tapped on the shoulder and told there was no work for me when everyone else on the job carried on working. I recently lost my wife. I believe that always travelling and only getting home every 4 or 6 weeks for a weekend affected my wife's health. This blacklist hasn't just had an impact on my working life, its evil tentacles spread into all areas of family life.'

Evidence recently appeared in The Observer newspaper that some entries on blacklist files could only have been supplied by the police or security services and resulted in calls for a full public inquiry by Michael Meacher MP, John McDonnell MP and Drew Smith MSP. The Scottish Affairs Select Committee in the Westminster parliament chaired by Ian Davidson MP is currently carrying out an investigation into blacklisting. David Cameron has even answered questions about the issue in Prime Minister's Questions.

Steve Acheson, spokesperson for the Blacklist Support Group (and blacklisted electrician from Manchester) said:
'I was one of thousands of building workers have been blacklisted for standing up for our most basic legal rights at work.  These multi-national companies have deliberately victimised me because I was a member of a trade union.  Thousands of lives have been ruined by this blacklisting conspiracy with the with the active support of the police, Special Branch and the security services. Now it seems that they were also spying on elected politicians.  When celebrities got their mobile phones hacked there was a public inquiry - where is our justice?'

BIG Blacklisting day in the Westminster parliament -
TUES 10th July 2012:
2pm - Scottish Affairs Select Committee investigation takes evidence into Blacklisting in employment.
6pm - Grand Committee Room - Blacklisting, bullying and shakedowns by Carillion.
7pm - Committee Room 7 - TUCG seminar chaired by John McDonnell MP - Justice at Work - including blacklisting.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Bob Diamond grabs conversational control using first name terms

IN his book 'The Art of the Advocate', Richard Du Cann writes:  'Really the advocate has only one weapon:  words', and he continues:  'If the advocate is appearing for the Crown in civil or criminal proceedings he cross-examines in order to get to as near the truth as he can and not to secure a verdict.' 

Yesterday, the parliamentary committee of MPs failed to ask Bob Diamond, the former head of Barclays Bank, the crucial question as to if he thought that the Brown government or its officials wanted Barclays Bank to seek to adjust the Libor rate (interest rate for Banks) downwards.  As a consequence, because this question was not asked, it will now be difficult to establish if any untoward pressure or encouragement was brought to bear on Barclays by civil servants representing the Brown administration in the previous Labour government.

This morning one female participant in these seemingly never quasi-judicial parliamentary inquiries described them as 'Bun Fights', and another commentator said they were the modern equivalent of the Stocks.  For months now the quality of the level of advocacy and questioning of MPs as a means of getting at the truth has been challenged by solicitors and others as being rough and ready, poor and impoverished.

Today, the morning news broadcasts are fascinated by the novel tactic used by Bob Diamond to deflate the force of the investigators among the MPs.:  particularly his ready use of first name terms to address them.  We don't know how often Bob Diamond may have practised his performance in front of the mirror or tutors trying to refine his skills.  But this casual use of first name terms yesterday may have been an approach recommended by his advisers.  This tactic would certainly have been worthy of study and interest to a conversational analyst like the late Harvey Sacks.

On the question of style and the advocate Mr Du Cann writes:  'Probably more nonsense has been written about style in cross-examination than about any other single aspect of forensic advocacy.'  There is no miraculous style the win cases and illicit the truth and basically it is the effect on the day that counts and can lead to triumph or defeat in the investigation.  What the MPs who interviewed Bob Diamond yesterday, should now be asking themselves is the question Richard Du Cann puts in his book:  'Has the advocate done all he (or she) should for his client in testing the value of the evidence that has been given?'  Yesterday, the client who the MPs were representing in their cross-examinination of Bob Diamond was the general public, and on that showing we must doubt that we were well served by our representatives.

Former BNP candidate acquitted of harassing Tameside councillor!

When it comes to bitterly feuding rival parties, the hatred and hostility that exists between ex-BNP candidate Roy West and John Taylor (pictured), the Labour deputy leader of Tameside Council, could hardly be surpassed. The 'feudin hillbillys', the Hatfield's and the McCoys, from West Virginia, have got nothing on these two.

The slanging match between these two bitter political rivals, which usually sees them trading insults with one another on a regular basis, took a different turn recently, when West - who stood against Taylor in the May Tameside local elections as an independent candidate, - was summoned to appear before a District Judge at Oldham magistrates' court charged with "pursuing a course of harassment' against councillor Taylor, for a period of more than 18 months" which involved 'sending emails, letters and leaving comments on John Taylor's blog.'

West, of Glenmore Grove, Dukinfield, denied the charge and was due to stand trial a week last Tuesday. But on the day of the trial, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) -who were clearly desperate to avoid a trial - and Mr. West's defence solicitor, came to an agreement that the Crown would offer no evidence against him, provided he accepted a 'restraining order'. Acquitting Mr. West and dismissing the charges against him, District Judge James Prowse, then issued a two-year restraining order which prevents West from going within 50 metres of councillor Taylor's home on Jubilee Avenue, Dukinfield. The order also prohibits West from contacting councillor Taylor in any way - other than when taking part in election campaigns or at council meetings. The Judge told the respective parties:

"My thanks go to everyone for avoiding a messy trial. This is a sensible end to a long and unhappy story. I hope that's an end to it and I hope that any further exchanges can be kept within the democratic process."

This case involving Mr. West, is not the first time that councillor Taylor has gone running to the police complaining that he's been harassed by a member of the public. In 2008, Taylor complained to the police that he'd been harassed by Liam Billington, a 19-year-old Tory blogger, who ran a blog called 'Tameside Eye'. The allegation of harassment, related to three doctored images which appeared on his website. Billington was subsequently arrested and held in custody for 7 hours at Ashton police station, where he was photographed, fingerprinted and a sample of his DNA was taken. His two personal computers were also removed from his home and seized as evidence. During questioning by his police interrogators, Billington was asked about other blogs and who ran them and was told not to to let on, that he'd been asked about this. Charged with one count of 'harassment' and two counts of 'racially aggravated harassment', he was eventually released on police bail. After considering the evidence against him, the Manchester Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute him.

Councillor Taylor's complaints of being harassed go back many years. On a number occasions, he has written in the local press about receiving hate mail, and of being stalked, and of having dog excrement thrown into his garden. Only last month, Mr. West received a solicitor's letter written on behalf of councillor Taylor, and two other councillor's, warning him about his 'behaviour and conduct'. One of the things they complained about was a t-shirt that West had been wearing in public, which named certain councillor's and the amount of allowances that they had claimed. Though this information can be accessed on the council's own website, the letter stated that the councillor's "feel intimidated and harassed by your conduct."

While one can understand why these councillor's would feel vexed by Mr. West's political activities, such as wearing a t-shirt in public with their expenses claims emblazoned across it, does this sort of thing really constitute harassment? One might also ask if this law of harassment, is being used as a means by which politicians can silence their critics and political opponents.

When the 1997 'Protection from Harassment Act' was being debated, campaigners warned that a bill whose ostensible purpose was to protect women from stalkers, was so loosely drafted that it could be used by the police however they wished. This law was used against protesters outside the U.S. intelligence base at Menwith Hill who the police said were harassing American servicemen, because they held up a placard which read "George W. Bush? Oh dear!" Even more ridiculous, was the case of a protestor in Hull, who was charged with harassment on the grounds that he'd been staring at a building. The Act was also used against villagers in Oxfordshire who were protesting against a plan by RWEn power to turn a lake into a fly ash dump. They were told by the police that if they continued, they would be prosecuted for harassing the security guards on the site.

Clearly this is a law that is wide open to serious abuse by those who exercise power and control and a law, which poses a serious threat to civil liberties.


Talk about Derby's Suffragette, sentenced for an 'assassination threat'

In August, the descendants of Alice Wheeldon will be visiting Derby. As part of their itinerary there will be a lecture at Derby Central Library, plus a short play.

Alice Wheeldon, Derby's Suffragette

For almost a century, Derby's Alice Wheeldon and her family have been vilified as the Peartree conspirators. Accused of attempting to murder Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, they were imprisoned and Alice herself died soon afterwards.

But didn't they campaign for workers' and women's rights, as well as support conscientious objectors to the slaughter of WW1? And were they innocent or guilty?

This meeting will review significant new evidence and ask whether we should, in fact, be proud of this Daughter of Derby.

Venue Derby Central Library,
Derby DE1
Time 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm
Date Thursday 30 August 2012
How to book: Cost £6. Early booking is advised. Please contact Derby Local Studies Library on 01332 642240 or email Minicom 01332 380712.

Web link http://

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Sheffield Recycling Strike

GMB union members who work at Sheffield recycling centres are now on all-out strike against job losses, pay cuts and severe cuts to the opening hours of the service. They are up against Sheffield City Council, private contractor Veolia and charity Sova Recycling in a battle that had already seen the 35 GMB members take 21 days of discontinuous strike action before going all out from Saturday 23 June.

The strikers are clear that the recycling service generates enough money to stop the cuts. But management want to restrict four of the five recycling sites to weekends only for the public, cutting the workers’ jobs and hours – with even more severe cuts lined up for he winter. The strikers explained the background to the dispute at the Unite the Resistance conference in London on 23rd June.

Help the Sheffield strikers defend jobs, hours, pay and an important public service! For a collection sheet and to watch a video of the strikers at the Unite the Resistance conference, go to our website here: