Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cameron's loss, Sparks gains, and an old comrade

NO wonder David Cameron is busying himself abroad this week. When the government can't even face the BMA or the Royal College of Midwives over its plans for the Health Service, it may feel on safer ground talking about Somalia.

One of Cameron's star appointees today stepped down from her role supposedly helping families back to work, as police looking into her firm A4e launched a second fraud inquiry.

'I have asked to step aside from my voluntary role as Family Champion as I do not want the current media environment to distract from the very important work with troubled families,' Emma Harrison said in a statement.

Her resignation also comes as the government's work- for- your- dole scheme is in trouble, with Tesco asking the government to change the rules, and anti-workfare demonstrations outside stores from Lewisham to Glasgow.

Mrs. Harrison's firm received £180 million from state contracts last year, and though it did not meet government targets for getting the unemployed into jobs, she paid herself a dividend of £8.6 million. She lives with her husband, family and friends in a $5 million country mansion. Yesterday it was revealed that Thames Valley police had arrested four former A4e staff on charges of defrauding the taxpayer. And it turns out that A4e itself has been employing people on workfare.

More on Emma Harrison:

The other big news today -though with far less coverage in mainstream media - is the ignominous collapse of the eight big contractors who had lined up to bully electricians into accepting a new one-way contract that would lead to de-skilling and a one-third pay cut.

The eight had withdrawn from the long-standing Joint Industry Board (JIB) -itself not considered satisfactory by many sparks - and proposed their own set-up, BESNA. The biggest, Balfour Beatty, which has enjoyed many big lucrative contracts for both private and public sector, wanted electricians to sign up or else. But last week it backed down after militant campaigning and with the threat of an official strike. Then came the news on Wednesday that NG Bailey had followd suit. Today the remaining firms, linked as the Heating and Ventilation Contractors Association, fell back as well. A joint statement was then issued:

"In consultation with the remaining companies and following discussions with Unite, it has been agreed that HVCA will withdraw its proposal for the Building Engineering Services National Agreement (Besna).

“As a result of today’s decision by HVCA, Unite has agreed not to pursue further industrial action or protests against the Besna companies.

“HVCA, supported by its member companies, will now engage in high-level talks with Unite within an agreed timeline, with the aim of creating new proposals and ensuring agreed terms are honoured.”

I think it was Harold Wilson who said a week was a long time in politics. For the sparks at least this past week must have seemed short and sweet.


It is a pity that Dave Finch did not live to see all this. I expect Dave, who died recently would have been delighted by the success of militant rank and file action, but at the same time counselled the sparks to trust in your organised strength and keep your powder dry.

I remember Dave from back in the 1960s when, working in the AEI factory at Willesden I joined the Electrical Trades Union, which meant I could visit several branches, some well-attended and lively in those days, particularly Kilburn and Hendon, and also attend the Socialist Labour League electricians' faction, of which Dave Finch was a leading member. At the time the union and the Left within it was still suffering the effects of the Communist Party ballot-rigging affair and the right-wing witch hunt which followed.

Not that Dave confined himself in any way to narrow trade union, workplace issues. I remember him and other Lambeth Trades Union Council members taking on racism, and holding Saturday outdoor meetings in the street next to Brixton library, thus preventing a fascist group using the pitch, and getting the anti-fascist message across. That was in 1962, I think, and the following year when thousands of workers came down to London for a mass lobby of parliament against unemployment it was Lambeth trades council which somehow managed to lay on breakfasts for people as they arrived. We nearly stormed parliament that day.

In the 1970s I got to know Dave's brother Harry, by then a shop steward at Alfred Herberts(machine tools) in Coventry, though he'd previously worked in Birmingham, and before that, as I learned later, as a young miner at Cannock Chase. it would have been strange if I hadn't, as everybody knew Harry, still a chirpy little cockney, despite his stay in the Midlands, and active both in the union and politically even after a heart bypass should have counselled otherwise.

Had I got to know him better, I might have learned that Dave Finch too had worked in the colliery, though as a scientist in a reserved occupation he needn't have chosen either this or the army. It was a matter of getting among the workers, for left-wing politics.

In later years, Dave went into teaching, and it was from friends in the National Union of Teachers, by no means from the same neck of the left-wing woods nor generation, that I heard favourable comments and respect for his union activity.

More recently he was known as a stalwart of Croydon Trades Union Council, and it is another such veteran who knew Dave well for many years who has written this obituary, which is well worth a read:

A World to Win | Obituary | DAVID FINCH, 1920 2012
Obituary of DAVID FINCH, 1920 – 2012 by Ted Knight

I'd also welcome comments and memories from anyone else who knew this fine comrade.

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