Pudding Mill to Pump Lane
With newspapers, television commentators and comedians, even Facebook friends, taken up with what Gordon Brown said in his car about a woman he'd met in Rochdale, I hope I'm forbidden for turning to more neglected topics. There are other accidents besides leaving your mic on, and sometimes people lose more than a poll rating.
"REMEMBER THE DEAD, AND FIGHT FOR THE LIVING", was the repeated injunction heard on Wednesday, April 28, Workers Memorial Day. I joined the crowd assembling at Pudding Mill Lane, by the side of the Olympic site, in Stratford, east London. Tony O'Brien, of the Construction Safety Campaign and builders' union UCATT, introduced speakers including Len McCluskey of UNITE, Health and Safety inspector Simon Hester, union rep for Health and Safety Executive (HSE) staff, and Liliana Alexa, whose son Michael was killed in the Battersea crane disaster, when a tower crane collapsed onto homes.
Three years ago, in April 2007, the relatives of crane driver Jonathan Cloke, who was also killed, joined the Alexa family and local people at the unveiling of a memorial plaque to the two men. But that's not all the Battersea Crane Disaster Action Group founded by Mrs.Alexa has achieved. In March this year the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announced that from April 6 employers using cranes would have responsibility to notify the HSE of the crane’s site address and the name and address of the crane’s owners. The HSE also ruled cranes needed to be examined within a 14-day period before they could be put to use.
Liliana Alexa continues to honour her son by campaigning for the living.
Simon Hester, who emphasised that he was speaking for HSE staff and not their bosses, described going to a site where a 15-year old boy had been killed when a wall he was demolishing collapsed on him. The boy had been working for £25 a day, cash in hand. At that age he should bot have been on a building site. "This is Britain in the 21st century".
Simon said things were going to get worse with the recession, with companies trying to cut corners and costs, and people desperate to take any work. Meanwhile, inspectors could only visit up to eight per cent of reported accident sites, and could soon be facing 20% cuts in jobs. What's more, the Tories were proposing more deregulation of industry, and leaving employers to police themselves.
Among the banners being assembled besides Construction Safety Campaign's were those of London Region Unite Construction (a fine new effort depicting the Olympic arena site), UCATT, GMB, Waltham Forest Unison, UCW postal workers, Shrewsbury Pickets' Justice Campaign, and the National Pensioners' Convention. Tony O'Brien announced that it was not clear whether we could march in the road (Newham council, almost hundred per cent Labour, had said no, according to the police), but we would "see what happens".
In the event, we did march, out to Stratford' s busy bus and train station and to a nearby patch of green where we joined hundreds of building workers who had come off site to pay respects to fallen colleagues. The families of Shaun Scurry, killed in 2009, and Harry Sheridan, killed in 2008, were there. Wreaths were laid, and we held a two minute's silence.
Pointing out that the Tories have promised self-regulation on safety for construction bosses if they form the next government, Bro. Allen added: "Ucatt and the trade union movement stand ready to make sure that does not become policy."
Ucatt regional secretary Jerry Swain empathised with the families of those killed, saying: "The pain and anger will still be there years after." He branded construction employers who cut health and safety "criminals". Even when cases came to court the firms only faced paltry fines. "Those who fail to protect their workforce should face the sanction of imprisonment," Jerry Swain said, to applause.
Telling building workers "You aren't paid enough to risk your life!" , he urged them to contact the union about any issues that worried them, and promised them full backing.
West To Pump Lane
I wonder how much backing unions to give, say if workers walked out over safety issues, when they are still hamstrung by legal injunctions and anti-union legislation, as we saw in the British Airways and rail disputes, even when a ballot has been taken? John Hendy QC told last week's meeting of the Southern and Eastern region TUC that a top judge had told him there is really no legal right to strike in this country.
One MP who has campaigned for a Trade Union Freedom Bill is John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, out in west London, and yesterday I set off to see what I could do to help his election campaign.
On the way, there was a slight delay at Uxbridge, where police closed Belmont Road besides the bus station while they brought up a van to arrest and take away a man who had evidently been disgruntled after his visit to the Job Centre that morning. He had come back around noon carrying an axe, and set about smashing all the windows and both the entrances. I don't suppose this was amusing for staff working inside. Fortunately nobody was injured, and the man, in his thirties, surrendered to police and seemed satisfied as he got in the van.
I have never done anything like this, but there have been occasions in the past when at my last tether dealing with officialdom I have nigh felt like it. Of course the officials you deal with are not to blame for what is decided by governments, and yet so far as Job Centres go, with fewer jobs on offer, yet more pressure on reduced staff as well as claimants, I can see more incidents like this, and sometimes with more serious consequences.
Anyway, on to Hayes, where I am delighted to see red and yellow Vote McDonnell posters, and bills in several shop windows. I've yet to see such profusion in areas with more conformist New Labour MPs, and those who -unlike John - got caught around the expenses trough. Again, I found some real enthusiasm in the Labour committee rooms, with all sorts of people turning up to help.
To add to the fun, news comes in that the Tory candidate, one Scott Seaman-Digby no less, is facing a spot of embarrassment. It seems he thought it would be a good idea to display the Hillingdon council logo and that of marriage guidance organisation Relate on his firm's website. Seaman-Digby is the boss of procurement consultancy Hawtrey Dene and also Hillingdon's cabinet member responsible for corporate services. He has even been said to advise David Cameron.
As part of his council duties, he's a trustee of the local branch of Relate. Yet neither the council nor the marriage guidance charity were aware he was using their logos. Seaman-Digby says there was a "misunderstanding", both concerns benefiting from his professional procurement experience free of charge. The logos have disappeared after my journalistic friend Dave Osler began asking questions. But a former Labour councillor, Anthony Way, intends to lodge a formal complaint with the local council's standards board. "These extraordinary allegations need to be fully investigated," says Way, "and if they are true, Scott should stand down."
Misuse of logos, or pictures - misundertandings can happen to anyone. I'd almost sympathise if Seaman-Digby was not a Tory standing for parliament and doubtless boasting of his business experience. I'm told it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
- When Tory Nick Hurd (son of Douglas) was first elected MP for Ruislip and Northwood, his election literature mentioned that he was a merchant banker. His latest leaflet just refers to his experience in "business" without saying what line. An onset of modesty no doubt.