Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Safety Last - but police spied on union members

DAWLISH, a resort on the South Devon coast, looks like a nice place to retire, and I expect Juliette Austin had looked forward to enjoying her retirement. But Ms. Austin, who as a former PE teacher had probably looked after her health, did not have long to do so. 

AN INQUEST has been opened into the death of a 67-year-old retired PE teacher  who had been suffering from an asbestos-related disease. Juliette Mary Austin, of Elmwood Crescent, Dawlish, had been exposed to asbestos during her working life, most likely in various gymnasiums. Ms Austin, originally from Holbeach, Lincoln, had been diagnosed with mesothelioma before she died at Rowcroft Hospice on February 15., Cause of death was epithelioid mesothelioma.” http://www.torquayheraldexpress.co.uk/PE-teacher-exposed-asbestos-gymnasiums-coroner/story-26070124-detail/story.html

Asbestos campaigner Michael Lees, who as it happens lives in Devon, says 86% of schools surveyed in UK local authorities contain asbestos.

He disputes a statement by the Department of Education in their draft report on their asbestos policy review that “We estimate that up to 75% of schools in England contain some asbestos...”

"They are wrong, and the reason is that the Government has never carried out an audit of asbestos in schools. Instead their estimate is based on the age of the buildings and their floor areas. This study confirms the need to carry out an audit of the extent, type and condition of asbestos in schools". 

There have been questions in parliament about the schools asbestos issue.

Annette Brooke MP:
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the summary report of the Property Data Survey Programme, published in January 2015, how many schools were rated as being (a) good, (b) satisfactory, (c) poor and (d) bad condition. (225260)

Mr David Laws: 
The Property Data Survey does not provide an overall assessment of schools in the manner requested. The surveyors who visited schools made an assessment of the condition of individual construction types within each block, such as different types of roofs or walls for which we hold individual records, but did not attempt to rate an entire school on a ‘good’ to ‘bad’ scale.

The answer was submitted on February 27, 2015 at 11:42

Annette Brooke MP:
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the summary report of the Property Data Survey Programme, published in January 2015, what estimate she has made of the total cost of repairs necessary to bring the school estate in England up to good condition. (225207)

Mr David Laws:  The Property Data Survey was designed to give a relative view of condition need. As stated in the report, the Property Data Survey condition need we have calculated is not the cost of addressing the need in the estate but a relative weighting of the complexity of addressing different types of condition need. Calculating the total cost of addressing the need in the estate would involve taking into account other factors, such as asbestos and structural need, which are excluded from the survey. As such we do not hold an estimate of the total cost of repairs necessary to bring the school estate in England up to good condition.

The answer was submitted on 02 Mar 2015 at 14:23.

Annette Brooke MP
To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the summary report of the Property Data Survey Programme, published in January 2015, whether the cost of maintaining, repairing or replacing a school building referred to in that report includes extra costs incurred because of the presence of asbestos. (225171)

Mr David Laws:

The information collected by the Property Data Survey Programme focused on the condition of the buildings. The surveyors who visited schools as part of the programme did not record any information on the presence of asbestos. The condition need identified through the surveys does not reflect any asbestos that may be present.

The answer was submitted on 02 Mar 2015 at 14:21.

Michael Lees comments:

"The PDSP was an audit of the condition of the school estate in England and was published on 6th February. Asbestos was specifically, and irrationally excluded.

It is extraordinary that at the end of the two year audit DfE cannot say either how many schools or buildings are in a good, satisfactory, poor or bad condition or how much it will cost to bring the whole estate up to a good condition.

See: Property Data Survey Programme Summary report


A Derbyshire group which works to raise awareness about the dangers of asbestos,  DAST say that despite Asbestos being banned since 2000 it may still be found in any property built before that date. It is estimated that it is present in 90% of all public sector housing and schools as well as people's homes. Last year the group supported 294 people in the East Midlands who had been diagnosed with an asbestos related disease, 65 of those people were from Derbyshire.

Another inquest opened last week, into the death of building worker Rene Tkacik, 44, killed on the Crossrail site at Fisher Street, London, on March 7 last year, when a section of freshly sprayed on concrete, or shotcrete, came down on him. Outside the St.Pancras Coroners court I joined supporters of the London Hazards Centre and the Construction Safety Campaign, who held a vigil as Mr.Tkacic's family members arrived with their lawyers.

Safety campaigners say workers on the Crossrail project have more than once been dismissed by contractors after raising concerns about safety.  While welcoming the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation into Rene Tkacic's death they would like to see a wider investigation into health and safety on Crossrail. 

At the same time the campaigners note that the government has cut the HSE's budget by 38 per cent.
In a leaflet preparing for International Workers Memorial Day on April 28, they also mention that over 2,000 people in this country die each year due to exposure to asbestos, "mostly building workers", but also "teachers and pupils are dying from exposure to asbestos in poorly maintained schools."

Lest it be thought that the powers-that-be are not paying attention to those raising these issues,  a story in the Daily Mirror yesterday reveals another angle:

Undercover cop joined construction union UCATT to spy on workers

    21:00, 2 March 2015
    By Nick Sommerlad

An undercover policeman infiltrated a union to monitor protests against deaths on building sites, the Mirror can reveal.

Mark Jenner posed as a joiner and joined construction union UCATT.

Activists believe personal information collected by the officer was used by industry bosses to blacklist workers who raised concerns about health and safety.

Major industry chiefs benefited from the notorious blacklist that has been linked to Tory-donating construction firm Sir Robert McAlpine.

Steve Murphy, UCATT’s general secretary, said tonight: “Public money was spent on police covertly joining trade unions, infiltrating groups associated with trade unions and colluding with construction employers to blacklist workers.

"This is a scandal that must be exposed.”

Mr Murphy, who has demanded an inquiry, said the Met police “operated a secret organisation that destroyed innocent people’s lives”.

A Scotland Yard spokesperson said: “We neither confirm nor deny the identity of any individual alleged to have been in a covert role. We are not prepared to confirm or deny the deployment of individuals on specific operations.”

While undercover in the 1990s, Mr Jenner – part of the Met’s now-disbanded Special Demonstration Squad – had a five-year relationship with an unsuspecting activist, Alison – not her real name.

She told the Mirror: “It is appalling they spied on people who were arguing for better health and safety at work.”

Mr Jenner also formed friendships with at least two building workers who ended up blacklisted. Labour MP Steve Rotheram said: “It’s very sinister. We were using an officer to infiltrate legitimate trade unions.”

Mr Jenner, 51, posed as Mark Cassidy, from Merseyside, and was a member of UCATT for three years starting in 1996.

He paid by direct debit and remained a UCATT member until 1998, during a period when the union was negotiating over a series of high profile construction projects including the Jubilee Line extension and the Millennium Dome.

Jenner’s diary, left when he fled the home he shared with “Alison”, show that he monitored meetings of UCATT and other unions. Alison says that union activity formed a “large part” of his day to day work.

He also penetrated the Colin Roach Centre in Hackney, East London, which campaigned on behalf of victims of police ill-treatment.

Three months ago UCATT used Freedom of Information laws to ask the Met: “Was there a policy of infiltration of trades unions conducted by the Special Demonstration Squad?”

Scotland Yard said it was not required to confirm or deny whether it held the details requested. The force give six reasons why they could not reveal the information including national security.

Blacklisting firm the Consulting Association was paid to supply information to construction companies. Sir Robert McAlpine stumped up £10,000 that was used to help launch the organisation in the early-90s. The association was closed down in 2009.

A probe by Derbyshire police found “no conclusive evidence” that Scotland Yard shared information with blacklisters.

But David Clancy, investigations manager at the ICO, has said the blacklisting files contained specific operational details “that I believe could only be supplied by the police or the security services”.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission said in 2013 that it was “likely that all special branches were involved in providing information”.

A second former SDS officer Peter Francis, who went undercover as activist Pete Black before turning whistleblower, has seen blacklisting files of two trade unionists he monitored and said they included details he had provided to his handlers.

The Mirror has spoken to two further active trade unionists who befriended Jenner and believe their files contain information he obtained undercover.

Jenner joined them at meetings of a small group called the Building Workers Group which was linked to UCATT and arranged pickets a construction sites where there had been deaths or serious injuries.

Steve Murphy added: “UCATT was infiltrated by the police and members have a right to know why. This sort of operation could only have been sanctioned at the highest level.

"I believe the truth rests with the Home Office. Who gave authority for the police to do this and how high did it go?”

Mr Murphy added: “The Metropolitan Police must not be allowed to hide the truth; they operated a secret organisation that destroyed innocent people’s lives. They must be held to account.

“It is increasingly clear that the only way we are going to get the full truth on the blacklisting scandal is by holding a full public inquiry which is open and transparent.”

Blacklisting firm the Consulting Association was paid to supply information to more than 40 construction companies, including Balfour Beatty, Skanska and Carillion, before it was raided by the Information Commissioner in 2009. Sir Robert McAlpine paid £10,000 to help set up the Consulting Association in the early 1990s.

Another covert police unit the National Extremism Tactical Co-Ordination Unit is known to have met with the Consulting Association in 2008, shortly before the blacklisting firm was closed down.

Handwritten notes of the meeting by Consulting Association boss Ian Kerr seen by the Mirror indicate that NECTU was set up to monitor animal rights activists but was “now expanding”.

The notes refer to the construction industry specifically and that NECTU wants to “liaise with industry”.

UCATT made a second FOI request to the Metropolitan Police about NECTU, asking for details of meetings with the Consulting Association.

Scotland Yard replied: “Searches failed to locate any information relevant to your request, therefore the information you have requested is not held by the MPs.”


 see also:



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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Freedom of Speech, so long as you keep shtum?

"FREEDOM OF SPEECH" has been much talked about lately, in the wake of the 'Charlie Hebdo' killings and with regard to such slightly less serious matters as the enthusiasm with which some groups of students, feminists or whatever want to ban or boycott others, burn their papers, and so forth, in the name of creating "safe spaces". Having regard for my own safety, not to say sanity, I won't go there, but will stick to the relative comfort zone of things I know and can understand.

"Freedom of Speech" is not a new idea, of course, but more like a retro fashion. I can remember it as the first of the Four Freedoms proclaimed by President Franklin D.Roosevelt a year before I was born (and given the middle name Franklin), the other three being freedom of worship, and freedoms from Want, and from Fear. Maybe if freedom is back in fashion we should consider the rest of the package, particularly the last two, which are missing from much of the world, and being increasingly denied a lot of people in this country.

After the war, when the UN was established with such great hopes, Roosevelt's four freedoms were woven into the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which reads, "Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed the highest aspiration of the common people,...."

I also remember seeing my first live fascists, with placards proclaiming "Let Mosley Speak" and "'Action!' (their paper) "banned from your library. Why?". At that time most town halls were banned to the fascist leader, and if anyone quoted Voltaire, the more recent "barbarous acts" were more uppermost in people's minds, along with the thought that had the War turned out differently, Mosley would most likely have been the only politician to enjoy freedom of speech. As it was, Tory Kensington kept its doors open for Sir Oswald when he wasn't stirring the Teds in the north end of the borough.

 So I was not altogether carried away with the recent fervour over "free speech", nor entirely surprised when a Labour councillor friend in the North East who'd said something about the EDL and Pegida marching in his his city received hate mail saying he was attacking "Free Speech", and going on to accuse him of a string of other offences, as libellous as ridiculous. (Naturally the kind of heroes who send this stuff are always anonymous).

But rather than discuss the ethics of free speech or pontificate about its proper limits, and what the law says or what it ought to say, I would like to look at how much free speech there really is, as illustrated by a few recent instances.

One of the things we ought to be able to freely hear and talk about, because it could affect all our lives, is the treaty being cooked up behind closed doors by European Union(EU) and United States officials, called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Ostensibly about removing obstacles to trade, there are fears that it could force countries to remove restrictions on food additives and genetically modified crops, lower safety standards, and drop the minimum wage. Some court cases already being brought by big companies could be the shape of things to come. Philip Morris wants to sue for loss of profits caused by the Australian government's legislation on cigarette packaging, while Germany is facing legal action because it decided to phase out nuclear power.

Under TTIP big companies with their seemingly limitless resources and high powered lawyers could take any  government which got in their way to special, secret courts. The threat of billion dollar fines could deter a future Labour government,say, from renationalising the railways, or reversing the inroads of privatisation in the NHS. What price then your voting in elections, passing conference resolutions, or - if the Met will still allow it - even marching in the street?

No wonder there have been protests in Brussels about TTIP, or that 97 per cent of European citizens said they were against it in an EU poll. Even European commissioners are expressing caution, as are MEPs, and trade unionists both sides of the Atlantic oppose it, though the British government seems content to let it go ahead.      


The wonder though is how little we hear from politicians or on TV about TTIP, and why it is not being raised in an election year. It seems not even elected members of the European parliament are trusted, and they have to take a vow of silence, forbidding them from telling us what they have seen.
 As Molly Scott Cato, a Green MEP for the South West of England, wrote recently:
'... I have now been granted privileged access to the European parliament restricted reading room to explore documents relating to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal. But before I had the right to see such “top secret” documents, which are restricted from the gaze of most EU citizens, I was required to sign a document of some 14 pages, reminding me that “EU institutions are a valuable target” and of the dangers of espionage. Crucially, I had to agree not to share any of the contents with those I represent.

The delightful parliamentary staff required me to leave even the smallest of my personal items in a locked cupboard, as they informed me how tiny cameras can be these days. Like a scene from a James Bond film, they then took me through the security door into a room with secure cabinets from which the documents were retrieved. I was not at any point left alone.

This week hundreds of protesters against TTIP have descended on the European parliament. They are quite rightly concerned about the threat that this treaty poses to the British government’s ability to conduct its affairs in their interests. On a range of issues, from food safety standards and animal welfare to public services and financial regulation, there are deep concerns that the harmonisation of standards across the Atlantic really means a reduction of standards on both sides.

But how are we to know for certain? All discussions about TTIP have been hypothetical, since the negotiations are taking place in secret. In order to read even brief notes of what has been discussed I have to be reminded of my duties not to undertake espionage for foreign powers. Repeated complaints about secrecy from my fellow Green members have resulted in our being admitted to the restricted reading room but we are still not able to share what we discover there with our constituents or with journalists.'

Of course, an important part of free expression is the freedom of the press. As people say, if you don't like what you see in a particular paper you can stop buying it. Whereas, if you are wealthy enough you can buy the paper and change its politics.

We all know better than to trust the tabloids for our information, but there's the 'quality' press- papers like the Telegraph.Until recently its chief political correspondent was Peter Oborne, a conservative even if independent.

On February 17, 2015 Oborne resigned from The Daily Telegraph. In a letter posted to the online news website, OpenDemocracy, Oborne criticised his former employer for the relationship between their editorial and commercial arms. Oborne outlined how the paper would suppress negative stories and drop investigations into the HSBC bank, a major source of their advertising revenue, which, in his opinion, compromised their journalistic integrity calling it a "form of fraud on its readers".

He also alleged that the Telegraph’s coverage of stories relating to UK supermarket chain Tesco, shipping company Cunard and the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong had been influenced by commercial considerations, adding, “There are other very troubling cases, many of them set out in Private Eye, which has been a major source of information for Telegraph journalists wanting to understand what is happening on their paper”.



 It would not be the first time a newspaper has considered its advertising revenue before running a story that might upset a company.  What was newsworthy was that someone like Oborne felt he had to speak out. In other cases journalists newer to the profession have come across what looked like a big story to pursue, but reluctantly had to dump it when they were told it would never get printed, or realised it might break rather than make their career.

I' imagine the Ritz-owning, Channel Island-dwelling Barclay brothers who own the Telegraph might be sympathetic to some of HSBC's tax avoiding customers anyway, aside from the advertising. A much bigger newspaper owner, whose interests' ability to avoid UK taxes did not prevent a mutually understanding relationship with British governments is Rupert Murdoch. The Sun's infamous Hillsborough story was a political matter. And Sun journos who we're told were horrified by what they saw were free to go up the road from Wapping, or keep their heads down and mouths shut, remembering that all that took Prince Rupert's shilling had waved goodbye to conscience along with union rights.

Free Speech at Work?

Are you free to say what you like at work? "Have a nice day?", click, click and/or "would you like fries with that?" may not be the full extent of your repertoire, but it can be pretty well circumscribed. Elsewhere, that nice office where everyone's on first name terms and you can dress down Friday may seem free, but have you noticed how the receptionist looked nervously over her shoulder before she whispered her confidence to you?
How free people feel to speak their mind depends generally on how secure they are and if the place is organised. In some casual jobs people are afraid to talk to the person they are working with, in case what they say is eavesdropped, or reported, and next day they are out of a job.
As for government departments, undermining job security and union organisation is not just about pay and conditions, but one way of intimidating civil servants from speaking out about stuff they know, or telling the public things we should know. Of course it may have the opposite effect.
In the past the Official Secrets Act was used to cover a multitude of sins, and probably still is, but now it is being supplemented with commercial businessspeak.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services(PCS) union at the National Gallery are starting their second strike today in the fight against their work being handed over to a private security firm. But they have an additional issue since management suspended senior union representative Candy Udwin, an art handler, for allegedly “breaching commercial confidentiality,” PCS said, by giving information to a full-time union official, including information about the costs of using profiteers.



Now hang on. We the public still own the National Gallery, right? In fact the management claims it must get more "commercial" because there are limited public resources available. But the private company coming in is not a charity. It must see a profit in taking over the work. So how come the cost of bringing the privateers in is not something the public, including people who work at the gallery, are supposed to know?

Another aspect of freedom of speech at work is safety. In the construction industry, where many workers were blacklisted after taking up safety issues, and HSE inspections are few and far between, responsible workers will not cut corners, but they may hesitate to raise issues, hoping someone else will, if it means losing your job and having your card marked henceforth.

Electrician Frank Morris lost his job on the Crossrail project after raising concerns about safety, and it took over a year for him to win reinstatement.  Frank was not the last, either. But last week a worker who was sacked in similar circumstances was reinstated within half an hour of workers taking militant action on his behalf.  This may have to do with a demonstration at company headquarters spilling over into London's Oxford Street and stopping rush hour traffic. It is probably also not unconnected with the inquest opening tomorrow at St.Pancras Coroners' court into the death of Rene Tkacic working on Crossrail, and the vigil planned by trade unionists and safety campaigners outside.

Our individual freedom and even lives as workers depends on our ability to join in collective action. 


Crossrail  Vigil at St.Pancras Coroners Court, Camley Street, London N1C 4PP. Assemble 9.15am

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Such treatment of staff is a National Disgrace

NATIONAL GALLERY, January 19Two thirds of staff told jobs will be privatised.

FINE art can be a profitable business, hoarded as private wealth, or patronised for prestige by big business, but when the care and appreciation of art treasures comes up against the quest for short-term profit, what comes first?

Four years ago the famous art dealers Sotheby, at their New York branch, tried to dispense with professional art handlers and entrust valuable works of art to untrained casual delivery staff. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), Professional Art Handlers' Local 14, resisted, even sending a team to London for support, and with other trade unionists I was proud to join the US brothers - and sisters - picketing Sotheby's one evening in Bond Street.  I'm pleased to say that after a ten month lock out, the management signed an agreement with the union and members got their jobs back.

TRANS-ATLANTIC SOLIDARITY on Bond Street.  Guests arriving for white-tied evening do at Sotheby's greeted by union pickets from New York and London.

 Staff at major art galleries have a double responsibility,  looking after the pictures and the public. Both can require sensitive handling.  The staff at London's prestigious National Gallery are used to that.  They are not highly paid, but they might have expected some respect.

 But last year, for a special exhibition of Rembrandt's later works, sponsored by Shell, which opened in October, the Gallery contracted a private security firm to do the work. And by January 18, when the exhibition ended, the workers had been told privatisation was here to stay. Organised in the same Public and Commercial Services (PCS) that covers other civil servants, they are fighting to defend their jobs and the service they provide.  Earlier this month the staff walked out on strike, and they are planning further strike action starting on Sunday.  

"The National Gallery has told 400 of its 600 staff they are to be taken over by a private company. They are responsible for the security of the paintings and the public and look after the millions of visitors.

The National Gallery is the only major museum that does not pay the London Living Wage.


Over 40,000 people have signed our petition and supported our campaign to halt the privatisation.

The Gallery has brought in a private company CIS to “temporarily” take over services in a third of the gallery at the additional cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money.
So privatisation raises public costs, and the private company's profits, not the workers' pay and conditions, nor the standards of service. 

PCS recently received an email from a gentleman complaining that staff in the National Gallery Rembrandt exhibition were rude and aggressive, and that there is no reason why visitors should have to put up with staff shouting at them.
"We don't have to be nice to you" is a phrase he recalled being used by one or the staff.
We explained that the Rembrandt exhibition was staffed by the private security company CIS not by National Gallery staff.
He replied “Clearly these CIS staff are a not up to the job – their hectoring manner is that of prison guards. Please feel free to use this information in support of your campaign. Good Luck!”
We are including here some other bad experiences, mostly taken from the comments on Polly Toynbee’s article in the Guardian. http://gu.com/p/452t7/sbl
Can you help us? Did you have a bad visitor experience at the Rembrandt exhibition? Would you tell us about it in the comments below or send us a personal message?
We are campaigning against the Gallery’s privatisation plans. We don’t like the idea of a private company damaging our reputation and that of the Gallery, and would like to try and establish whether these are just a few isolated incidents, or if they’re more widespread. Thank you!
...Also, we're out on strike 22nd-26th February. Details on how you can support us here:

Just to show how eager they are to impress the Con Dem government and London's Tory Mayor perhaps, and how uninterested in reaching agreement with their workers, the National Gallery bosses have suspended a senior PCS union representative, Candy Udwin. Candy's 'offence' it seems was  drafting a question for the PCS Negotiation Officer about the cost of CIS.  Supporters have collected over 8500 signatures for a statement condemning this victimisation and calling for her reinstatement.

Appeal for help:
Make a donation to our strike fund – Thanks to those who already donated over £6000!
Most strikers do not even earn the London Living Wage so any donations will help.
Donate to Sort code 086001 Account no 20169002 or cheques to Culture Sector Hardship Fund, c/o PCS North West Region, Jack Jones House,1 Islington, Liverpool L3 8EG.
Write to the Gallery Trustees
Email the chair mark.getty@ng-london.org.uk 

A Commons Early Day Motion, 300, on staffing and security at the National Gallery, has attracted 59 signatures. 
Ask your MP to support the campaign and back Early Day Motion 300.  Email your MP here: http://action.pcs.org.uk/page/speakout/no-privatisation-at-the-national-gallery

Sign and share the no privatisation petition – make it 50,000!

Email noprivatisationatNG@gmail.com  or
www.facebook.com/nonationalgalleryprivatisation %E2%80%99s

On US teamsters' dispute at Sotheby's, see:

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Uncovering the Past, Making Sure There's No Cover-up in Present

 ARCHEOLOGICAL excavations due to start soon at Liverpool Street, in London's central business district, will uncover the bones of many poor, forgotten Londoners, buried in part of the 16th -17th century Bedlam cemetery.  

Among them they could find the remains of Robert Lockyer, a Leveller, one of those who fought in Cromwell's army against the monarchy, only to be suppressed when they spoke out against propertied privilege, and demanded the right to vote for all.  Lockyer, who is thought to have lived on nearby Bishopsgate, was elected as an 'Agitator' by the soldiers, but executed by firing squad in April 1649. 

Though the killing was in St.Paul's cathedral churchyard, his bullet-ridden corpse was thrown into a grave in the Bedlam cemetery.  But if the aim had been to crush the Leveller's movement before it gained sympathy among working people in London, it was not entirely successful. Some 4000 people, many wearing Leveller green ribbons, attended Lockyer's funeral at Bedlam.

The cemetery was eventually closed, and in the 18th century it was built over, then in 1829, working-class housing was cleared to make way for Liverpool Street railway station.  In recent times new office building spreading north and east of Liverpool Street has expanded the business area, and raised "market values" of property in adjoining areas, increasing pressure on working-class people to make way for the more affluent and fashionable.

Only now, the story and remains of much earlier generations' hardships and struggles are getting attention.  This bit of history is being brought to light by the Crossrail project.  
The site at Liverpool Street has to be excavated for the construction of  the eastern entrance  of the new east-west London railway, Crossrail’s station complex there.

As well as the possibility that Lockyer's grave might be rediscovered, archaeologists are also hoping that they may find another important Leveller grave – that of John Lilburne, the movement’s most prominent leader. Dying of natural causes at the age of 43, he was buried there in 1657. Known as ‘Freeborn John’, Lilburne had been flogged, pilloried, gagged and imprisoned as a threat to King Charles I. The Cromwellian authorities had him arrested for high treason, and later  exiled and then imprisoned.  He was on parole from his last prison sentence when he died.

A different kind of  investigation will open on Monday, February 23, charged with uncovering the facts about a more recent death.  Rene Tkacik, 43, was fatally injured on March 7 last year, when he was hit by a section of freshly applied Shotcrete. This is the technique of firing concrete mix through hoses at high velocity, so that it hardens on impact on a surface or around reinforcing rods. 

Recalling that electrician Frank Morris was sacked from Crossrail after raising safety concerns, and only  reinstated after a year long campaign (Frank has since been elected to the Unite union executive), London Hazards Centre says there has been much concern over Crossrail safety, including the use of shotcrete. Following Rene Tkacic's death a whistleblower compiled a list of accidents and near misses, including workers injured by falling concrete. He said that having approached contractors BBMV and Crossrail seeking assurances that steps be taken to avoid any further injuries and deaths, they failed to action his concerns. He also notified the Health and Safety Executive.

Last year two enquiries were called.

On Monday, an inquest on Rene's death will commence, at St.Pancras Coroners' Court. The Hazards Centre and the  Construction Safety Campaign have asked people to gather at 9.15 am  for a silent vigil outside the court.  

For more info. on LHC,  shotcrete, and Crossrail, see:

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Irish MP and campaigners held in pre-dawn raids



Brid Smith, a south Dublin councillor from the People Before Profits alliance, who unsuccessfully contested the Dublin South West Dail seat won by Paul Murphy, also condemned the arrests in a statement, saying Joan Burton’s visit had been a provocation for many residents.

“Joan Burton has presided over decisions that have cut social welfare for young people, deprived single parents with children over 7 of One parent Allowance, and supported legislation which has cut the wages of public sector workers. Once her appearance in Tallaght was known, it was inevitable that there would be protests.

‘Paul Murphy acted as a responsible TD in joining his constituents on these protests and should be praised for sticking with those who elected him.

‘There is no evidence that he abused Joan Burton in any way – he simply sat on the road in a peaceful protest.

‘His arrest at 7am in the morning is in sharp contrast to the manner in which tax evaders are treated. On the morning of Paul Murphy’s arrest it was reported that Irish businessmen held secret accounts in a HSBC account Switzerland to evade tax. Yet I doubt if there will be any 7 am visit to their houses to make an arrest.

‘Once again, we are seeing one law for those who represent the poor and and another for the wealthy and powerful.’


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Friday, February 06, 2015

Meddler on the Roof

SINGING from the same...er hymn sheet?  Or getting another report on Tower Hamlets? Eric Pickles, here with Home Secretary Theresa May, is Minister for Communities and Faith. So will he put money where his mouth is, and help repair synagogue roof?

(a real East Enders' tale)

A former East Enders actress says the series is unreal in its depiction of the area's ethnic make up. I've often thought the same about its socio-economic model. I can suspend disbelief and accept residents going to the cafe for breakfast, on Coronation Street or Albert Square, is a dramatic device.
But an entire community living by pulling pints or selling each other dodgy gear from market stalls seems a bit unreal to me.

With no one leaving the Square for work, or social life, I fear the effect of isolation and inbreeding once associated with Fenland villages, though it spares us Walford residents grumbling about London's transport problems or talking about the bus strike.

Steering clear of anything political seems a soap rule generally, though Coronation Street once had young Ken Barlow worrying his Mum by going on a CND march. (I don't know whether this had anything to do with ex-miner and Left-wing writer Jim Allen contributing scripts. I did go on a march down Cross Lane, Salford. not unlike the one heard going past the Street on Corrie.)  Brookside, which I rarely watched, had brother-sister incest and bodies under patios, one Liverpool-born critic I know praised the "social realism"; but as a regular fan confirmed to me, nobody in the series ever once mentioned the three-year long struggle waged  over Liverpool docks.  

This must have been galling for one member of the cast, ex-docker Peter Kerrigan, who'd entered TV in a Jim Allen play, and hadn't forgotten his old comrades. But in the end it was Robbie Fowler who broke the TV blackout on the dockers.

Anyway, to get back to 'East Enders',  I thought I'd suggest a real East End story, albeit introducing a couple of implausible characters. The Rt.Honorable Eric Pickles MP is, to quote his full job title, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Minister for Faith. After recent tragic events in Paris and before sending out a letter to mosques on their duty to prove they are British, Pickles took part in a photo opportunity alongside Home Secretary Theresa May, both holding up signs declaring 'Je suis Juif' - I am Jewish. My reaction when I saw this was a horrified shudder, but I suppose that is ungracious. There is a way that Pickles could win appreciation.  

Here is an item that caught my eye in the online Jewish News:
"A group of young Jews are fundraising to help save one of London’s oldest synagogues on Nelson Street, Whitechapel. East London Central Synagogue, founded in 1923 is the East End’s oldest purpose built synagogue, but its roof is collapsing and its original features are in need of major repair. Jewdas is aiming to raise at least £5,000 to save the synagogue, and have started a campaign. http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/fundraising-campaign-save-whitechapel-shul-state-disrepair/

Jewdas, as their name suggests, are a witty, irreverant but creative young group whose seemingly wild but well-organised cultural events have breathed new life into their community, and its better traditions, while blowing more than a raspberry at the Establishment. Some of these young people were to be seen marching behind the Young Jewish Left banner on last year's Gaza demonstrations.
Now they are showing the same lack of inhibition taking responsibility for something constructive and positive.

It's almost like a small piece of Cameron's forgotten 'Big Society', but without the big money advertising, over-paid CEOs,  and exploited charity workers.  Jewdas are just amateurs. 

To understand the background, mind, let's start with an item headed 'Politics and race: A tale of two mayors',  which appeared in 2013, in of all places,  The Economist:  

 STRIDING into the east London Central Synagogue, Lutfur Rahman grasps Leon Silver, a wiry Jewish elder, in his arms. Mr Silver hugs back. Since winning the mayoralty of Tower Hamlets, an east London borough with a quarter of a million inhabitants, in 2010, Mr Rahman has allocated some £3m ($4.5m) to repairing religious buildings. The synagogue is one of them. Tactile and soft-spoken, with a beaming countenance, Mr Rahman—a Bangladeshi Muslim—is every bit the local champion.  http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21589485-two-very-different-models-running-diverse-bit-east-london-tale-two-mayors
The contrast in styles was with Newham's Labour mayor Sir Robin Wales, who I'll deal with another time. The E15 mothers protesting social cleansing and taking part in Saturday's housing march have already been dealing with him.

That 'Economist'  article appeared on November 9, 2013,  which happened to be the anniversary of Hitler's Kristallnacht pogroms, a point that's only been given significance now by news of swastika graffiti in parts of east London, and Holocaust memorial posters being defaced.

 Lutfur Rahman was re-elected mayor of  Tower Hamlets last year, but his re-election is being challenged in the courts. In December, although a police investigation found no evidence of fraud, Eric Pickles sent his commissioners in to take over the council, having received a report from Price, Waterhouse and Cooper alleging a “worrying pattern of divisive community politics and alleged mismanagement of public money by the mayoral administration of Tower Hamlets”.

So how does that affect the synagogue?
"East London Central Synagogue, founded in 1923, is the East End's oldest remaining purpose built synagogue. It is a remnant of a once thriving Jewish East End culture, and an important emblem of Jewish Heritage. The synagogue was due a grant from Tower Hamlet's Council to cover much needed renovations - in particular the roof, which the congregation has been waiting to repair for many years. However, due to recent intervention in the running of the council by communities minister Eric Pickles, the grant has been frozen, and is likely to be much lower in value if it is still given. " https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-the-shul

We might add that as well as amalgamating several previous congregations, the synagogue hosts varied cultural as well as religious activities. Keeping it going helps maintain Tower Hamlets' diversity, affording confidence to old East Enders staying in the borough and newcomers deciding to make it their home.  

One does not have to agree with Lutfur Rahman's policy of working with faith groups, or other aspects of Tower Hamlets council, to see that it is not quite the "divisive" policy unduly favouring Muslim groups or places of worship which media and political rivals have been suggesting. We do have to ask whether Pickles, and those egging him on,  have been divisive in singling out Tower Hamlets for intervention.  

And while we admire the spirit of those young people who have taken responsibility for raising funds for East London synagogue, it does not seem unreasonable to ask that Mr.Pickles and his commissioners, and anyone else who meddles in Tower Hamlets, should take responsibility for honouring the council's legitimate pledges.

   The synagogue in Nelson Street.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

We can take care of our enemies, but have to watch out for some "friends"

JOSHUA BONEHILL-PAINE.   Will he come to London if not 'otherwise detained'?

IT had to happen some time, I suppose.

After all the excitement over murders in Paris, with Home Secretary Theresa May and local government minister Eric Pickles requiring mosques to prove they belong, and various bigots and provocateurs claiming to protect our freedom,  a publicity-seeking young man from Yeovil in Somerset has tried to give the theme a twist by declaring his intention of coming to "liberate" Stamford Hill in north London from Orthodox religious Jews.

 Announcing his plans on a Facebook page which has since been taken down, 22-year old Joshua Bonehill, aka 'Liberate Stamford Hill', claimed that the religious community's Shomrim (watchmen) protecting synagogues were dressed as police, and enforcing "talmudic law" on the streets, and "white people" who ventured forth were spat upon.  ( I guess that means the many black people in the area are safe, or Mr.Bonehill is not concerned what happened to them).

In case anyone was too thick to grasp what this was really about (it's not religious restriction and it is certainly not "Zionism",though some comments kept on about that),  Bonehill said he was protesting the  "Jewification of Great Britain", and illustrated this with caricatured Jews with very long noses. He said he was calling a demonstration on March 22, had asked the police to close off several roads, and that the march would finish with a rally on Clapton Common.

His announcement came on January 30, a few days after Holocaust Memorial Day,marking the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  It also comes as the Oxford Union has invited
the French National Front leader Marine Le Pen. French racists have a tradition of even-handed hatred against Muslims and Jews.

The online Hackney Citizen,  which quoted Bonehill describing himself as a "proud antisemite", says "He is a member of the far-right National Action party. He has previously supported the Conservative party, then the United Kingdom Independence Party, and the British National Party".  Bonehill tried to organise a march in Cardiff last year under the name National British Resistance Party.

He has claimed ten 'nationalist' organisations would support his march, though doubters suggest he will be lucky to get ten individuals, and he might just mean he is a member of all ten.  Whatever the reality behind his boasts, local people and organisations have promised a hostile reception if he shows his face.

Hackney Council has said it is committed to stopping the march from taking place in the borough’s parks. Deputy Mayor, Cllr Sophie Linden said:  “This is completely at odds with the long and proud history we have in Hackney of our diverse communities working and living together.

“Any attempt like this, by an individual from outside Hackney, to fracture our communities and create division through anti-Semitism is unacceptable and has no place in our borough. We are in contact with the police to urge them to ensure this divisive march does not go ahead and we certainly would not allow it to take place in one of our parks.”

“In the meantime, I have spent today talking to members of our local community and I am unequivocal that we won’t tolerate any activity in Hackney which seeks to stir up racial hatred or which is intended to frighten and intimidate people.”

Hackney Councillor Michael Desmond called the plans “a pathetic attempt to cause strife in an otherwise peaceful neighbourhood”.

The group Hackney Stand Up To Racism said: “”We are shocked that a far right group calling itself the National British Resistance is planning to hold an anti-Jewish rally on 22 March in the Stamford Hill/Clapton area, under the grotesque banner of ‘Liberate Stamford Hill’… We ask that people in Hackney are vigilant and prepared to mobilise on 22 March.”



One reason people are inclined to take Bonehill's proclamations with a sizeable helping of salt is that at 22 he has already plenty of form.  Last year on April25 the BBC Leicestershire reported:

'Moronic' hoaxer Joshua Bonehill-Paine spared jail

A "moronic" hoaxer who claimed a pub had banned military personnel to avoid offending the immigrant population has been given a community order.

The Globe, in Leicester, had to close temporarily after people threatened to firebomb the premises and kill or assault staff.

Joshua Bonehill-Paine invented the claims on his website the Daily Bale.

The unemployed 21-year-old must do 180 hours of unpaid work after admitting a charge of malicious communication.

Bonehill-Paine, of Hudson Road, Yeovil, will also be supervised by the probation service for two years.

He has described himself as "a rising star of the right-wing community".

He appeared at Yeovil Magistrates' Court wearing a union flag tie and accompanied by his mother.
The Globe's Facebook page The Globe defended itself on Facebook after the hoax spread on social media

In mitigation, Bonehill-Paine claimed he targeted the pub because he wrongly believed the landlord had been involved in an online hate campaign against him.

The magistrates told Bonehill-Paine he was on the cusp of a custodial sentence, but gave him a community sentence after taking his mitigation into account.

Graham Cluley, an independent computer security analyst, told the BBC that the Daily Bale is "utterly irresponsible and frankly moronic".

Bonehill-Paine and the Daily Bale have been responsible for other false claims published online.

Last year his website created a hoax missing person poster, claiming a six-year-old girl had been "kidnapped by an Asian grooming gang".

The hoax poster went on to be shared thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter, with many people believing the claim to be true.

Another article posted on the website in September falsely claimed an Asian youth had punched a two-month-old baby twice in the face, then thrown the infant against a brick wall in Middlesbrough. It contained a graphic photo of an injured baby.
Oddly, this was not the first time the beaks had sentenced Bonehead to community service.
A former public schoolboy and Conservative Party member, magistrates sentenced him to a 12 month community order involving 100 hours' unpaid work and supervision by the probation service, following an incident on 11th March 2011 in which he broke into a police station in Chard, Somerset using his Conservative Party membership card, after being kicked out of a hotel for drunkenness. Bonehill-Paine kicked out when efforts were made to arrest him, assaulting two officers in the process. Bonehill-Paine also pleaded guilty to criminal damage to a flower bed in Preston Road, Yeovil, on 30th March 2011. He was found guilty of the offences of burglary, assault and criminal damage.[5][6]

In 2013, Bonehill announced plans to lead a "Stand Strong" march in Woolwich, a month after the murder of Lee Rigby, describing it as a protest against "extremism, terrorism and oppression".

In September 2014, Bonehill announced that he was in the process of registering a political party in Yeovil, called the National British Resistance party. He described it as having "ambitions to replace the British National Party and gain mainstream support", with the intention of contesting elections in 2015. (ibid)

Not one to pass an opportunity for spreading alarm, Bonehill ran an exclusive on his website about a 32-year old Somali called Jamal Malouf with Ebola disease disappearing in Leicestershire. That would be quite a story, considering Somalia is the other side of Africa, about 4,000 miles from the areas of the Ebola outbreak. But it seems the reason Malouf was able to disappear so easily was that he never appeared in  the first place except on Bonehill's website.

Tesco supermarkets on the other hand are  real, and that's why Bonehill is due in court in St.Albans this week, charged under S.38 of the Public Order Act 1986,  the "contamination of goods", for publishing an article on his website suggesting that fruit and vegetables from Tesco could be infected with Ebola. The offence carries a maximum 10 year sentence.

While  I doubt whether that's what he'll get, he could be unable to make it for that demonstration in Stamford Hill on March 22.  Announcing it in advance might be one way of presenting himself as some kind of leader, and confusing people about the reason he's in trouble. Or it could be a way of diverting attention from the anti-racism march through central London scheduled for 21 March, commemorating the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
This is receiving trade union backing. Hopefully we will not see a repetition of the disgraceful episode in 1949 when a threatened march by Oswald Mosley was the pretext for a blanket ban affecting the May Day march in London,using the Public Order Act. That was by a Labour Home Secretary.    

Meanwhile, in Golders Green...

If you want to keep and develop fairly good relations between different communities, the last people you'd want around are Britain First, an offshoot from the British National Party, founded by its former fundraiser after he'd made his name amid the flag-waving riots of  Belfast.

Since mounting its Special Brew Patrols in east London, and march ing on a kebab shop in Cricklewood because it thought the Muslim Brotherhood had its headquarters in the flat above, Britain First has come up with a new gimmick. It is apparently offering to patrol the streets of Golders Green, in north-west London, and protect Jewish people.

Some trusting souls unaware of the BF's background may think this a nice,albeit unnecessary gesture. The Community Security Trust (CST), which already handles security for Jewish premises and events, is not so naive, and is advising people to have nothing to do with Britain First.

For once there's some agreement, on that at least, between the CST and the Jewish Socialists' Group, which has issued a public statement:     

The Jewish Socialists’ Group is committed to fighting all forms of racism including antisemitism, and condemns any attempts to exploit the recent tragic events in France to set Britain’s Jewish and Muslim communities against each other. We call for solidarity between our communities and with all people beyond our communities who oppose racism.

We condemn and oppose the activities of Britain First, a split-off from the BNP, who take their name from a slogan popularised by the antisemite and fascist, Sir Oswald Mosley in the 1930s, and we call on Jewish communal organisations to do likewise.

Britain First was also the name of the newspaper of the National Front, Britain’s largest far right organisation of the 1970s.

The new organisation calling itself Britain First has a record of antagonising and abusing Muslim communities, through its “Christian Street Patrols”.  It has leafleted Jewish areas, claiming to support Jews against antisemitism, while actually working to turn Jews against their Muslim neighbours and sow tension all round.

It is encouraged by Tory government ministers such as Theresa May and Eric Pickles, who have made unequivocal statements in support of Jews against antisemitism, while calling on Muslims to prove themselves worthy of support by statements of disavowal from actions for which they are not responsible. Theresa May and Eric Pickles are leading members of a government whose policies have marginalised and undermined minorities, migrants and refugees.

The Jewish Socialists’ Group is committed to strengthening a Jewish future in pluralist, multicultural societies based on mutual respect, in Britain and elsewhere. We completely reject attempts by Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu to exploit insecurities in an attempt to recruit diaspora Jews to his “demographic wars” in Israel.

We will also continue to fight against austerity and inequality in our society, recognising that this provides the breeding ground for racist movements.

Posted: 2 February 2015 

And finally....  A new group formed on Facebook called Yeovil Against Bonehill says it will liberate the Somerset town from the notorious racialist!

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