Saturday, March 30, 2013

Back to Jail for Con-Man "Lawyer" who acted for War Criminals and boasted he'd funded Cons

GIOVANNI di Stefano has been sentenced to fourteen years in jail for a series of frauds on “desperate and vulnerable victims”  whom  he tricked into thinking he was a bona fide lawyer.

 Di Stefano was convicted on 25 charges, including deception, fraud and money laundering
 He pleaded guilty to another two counts of fraud and further three counts ordered to lie on file

Di Stefano, 57,became known as the Devil’s Advocate for taking on “unwinnable” cases, though the Law Society said he was not qualified, nor entitled to act as a lawyer at all.

Judge Alistair McCreath, the Recorder of Westminster, noted there were many offences over significant periods of time. The fact that the victims – which included a disabled man seeking damages for the loss of an arm – were all “desperate and vulnerable” and faced losses which were not just financial but also included the “raising and dashing of false hope” were aggravating factors, the judge said.

The judge said the case was not just about money. "It is also about something different and great – it is about the real distress you caused to so many people. You had no regard for them nor for their anguish,” he said. “Your only concern was to line your own pockets.”
Among the offences to which Di Stefano pleaded guilty was stealing £150,000 compensation that should have gone to a man who had lost an arm in a car crash. The money was due as part of an insurance policy but di Stefano had it paid in to his business account and “duly stole it”. This was a “wicked” crime and is one which “stands in a league of its own”, according to the judge.

But then Di Stefano, a former associate of Serb war criminal 'Arkan' and director of Dundee football club, was always in a league of his own. And he had quite a long run.

He reportedly served a six-month sentence for fraud and false pretenses in 1975 in Ireland, and a three-year sentence for obtaining property by deception and other charges in 1976 in the UK. Di Stefano insisted that these convictions were those of a different person, called "John" instead of "Giovanni", although they shared the same surname, birthday and birthplace.

Then in June 1984 he was arrested again and charged with fraud before being released on bail. He was again arrested in August of that year and refused bail. In 1986, Di Stefano was tried for conspiracy to obtain property by deception and fraudulent trading, and was convicted after a 78-day trial, jailed for five years, and prohibited from being a company director for 10 years; In 1990 a Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal ruled that Di Stefano could not be employed by any British solicitor without permission from the Law Society,

Di Stefano claims to have been freed on appeal, though records indicate his appeal was unsuccessful. After three years in jail however he was back in business, attempting to clinch deals in America and New Zealand before turning up in Yugoslavia in 1991. He obtained Yugoslav citizenship thanks to his "friend" Slobodan Milosevic, and became an associate -political and business - of Zelijko Raznjatovic, better-known as Arkan, leader of the so-called Serb Volunteer Guard, or "Tigers", irregulars operating for the Serb Interior Ministry, who enjoyed rape and pillage as a perk for their job of 'ethnic cleansing'.

In 1997 Di Stefano wrote warning British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook that British soldiers would be killed if they made any attempt to bring in Arkan as a war criminal. The businessman-"lawyer" also boasted to the Sunday Times that he had met John Major several times, and that he had donated £10,000 to the Tory party before his conviction and another £20,000 after release. He insisted there was nothing irregular about this.

"I am a Conservative. I'm the epitome of conservative.
It is not an offence to give money to politicians for their services" (Sunday Times, July 27, 1997)

As Arkan expanded into various businesses in Serbia, from flowers to a football club, Di Stefano too began popping up as fairy godfather offering to invest money in cash-strapped British soccer clubs - Dundee, Norwich, Northampton Town, - and even a doomed Northumberland colliery. Somehow, while still abroad, he knew where to dangle his carrot.

Arkan boasted that he would go to the Hague if wanted, and bring down all sorts of people. He was gunned down himself in a Belgrade hotel, and obviously no longer required the services of his lawyer and partner Di Stefano. Then Di Stefano came under investigation in Italy in connection with business affairs. But somehow he survived to fight another day.

Tony Clarke, the Labour MP for Northampton South, who fought attempts by di Stefano to take over Northampton Town football club, said: "Everything about this man is shrouded in mystery. The authorities need to take a very close look at his legal qualifications, because if he is not legally qualified, heaven knows how that affects the cases he has been involved in."

Somehow, qualified, disqualified, or whatever, Di Stefano claimed some big name clients, big bad name that is - time-share racketeer John Palmer, road-rage killer and bullion robber Kenneth Noye, Dr.Harold Shipman, property tycoon and thug-employer Nicholas "tenants are scum" van Hoogstraten. Indeed he was remarkably successful for Van Hoogstraten, who was sentenced to 10 years for the killing of a business rival in 2002, but released on appeal, even though two of his associates remained serving life sentences.

Van Hoogstraten was ordered to pay the victim's family £6 million in a civil case.
He was estimated at being worth £500 million, though he said his assets in the UK had been placed in the names of his children. His assets in property and farming in Zimbabwe were estimated at £200 million. It may be through Van Hoogstraten that Di Stefano claimed Robert Mugabe as a friend. His ambition to represent Saddam Hussein on trial was less successful, but all in all the lawyer-who-wasn't has enjoyed a brilliant and long career, knowing all the top gangsters. Is this really the end for Giovanni?

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jeremiah Duggan. Ten Years On, the Fight Continues

JEREMIAH DUGGAN. Family still fighting for truth and justice over his death. 

TEN years ago the body of London-born student Jeremiah Duggan was found by the side of a motorway outside Wiesbaden in Germany. The police said Jerry had been hit by a vehicle travelling at 60 miles per hour. The official verdict was that the young man had committed suicode by running into the path of traffic.

Jeremiah Duggan's family and friends have never accepted this verdict.

Jeremiah Duggan had been studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. Concerned like many of us at the war on Iraq, he had bought a paper called Nouvelle Solidarite, and accepted an invitation to attend what purported to be an anti-war conference in Wiesbaden.

In the early hours of  Thursday, March 27, 2003 he 'phoned his girlfriend Maya, to whom he sounded highly agitated, and then his mother. to whom he sounded terrified. "Mum, ..I'm in big trouble", he told her.

Nouvelle Solidarite in France and the Schiller Institute in Germany whose conference and cadre school Jeremiah had agreed to attend are both offshoots of the notorious US-based Lyndon LaRouche organisation. LaRouche, a one-time leftist who acquired a reputation for inciting violence against genuine left wing organisations in the United States, and also served a fraud sentence. His organisations, including the Executive Intelligence Review, appear to be well-funded. They are reknowned for conspiracy theories including the British royal family and Israel.

As to Jeremiah Duggan, LaRouche's followers insist the young man was disturbed and committed suicide. They accuse the Duggan family of serving a conspiracy involving the British Foreign Office and the Tavistock Institute.

A British coroner threw out the earlier "suicide" verdict, and the Duggan family went to the High Court to obtain a further inquest and investigation. While the police in both Britain and Germany dragged their heels, the family pursued their own investigation with the help of experts, casting doubt on both the place and cause of Jeremiah's death as accepted by German authorities.
Was Jeremiah Duggan beaten up and body taken to motorway?

Jeremiah Duggan's family and friends have never given up. Their campaign for truth and justice continues to win wide support. Today they issued this statement:
Jeremiah made a terrified phone call to his mother in the early hours of the morning, naming the people from the LaRouche political cult as putting his life in danger and begging for his mother to rescue him. Despite this information the Wiesbaden police decided on the spot, without any investigation, that it was suicide and they had no need to investigate the circumstances that may have caused his death.
Germany now stands accused of a violation of article 2 in the Court of Human Rights. 
This is the first time Germany has been accused of such a crime, for the failure to properly investigate a sudden death.
New information was presented by witnesses to include a State Official Mrs Caberta, at the time Religous Sects Advisor of the City of Hamburg ,that Jeremiah was alleged to have been subjected to harm prior to his sudden death yet The Prosecutor in Wiesbaden failed to open enquiries and refused to read the files or see the Duggan lawyers.  
As a result a legal complaint was lodged in September 2011 against the Prosecutor’s office for failing to do their job.

“If there is nothing to hide – then why leave so many questions unanswered – like why did the Manageress of the LaRouche Organization have my son’s passport?” said Jeremiah’s mother.

Ten years on we continue to ask for a full and fearless investigation.  Germany is proud of its Penal Code and so we will never give up hope that good people will come forward and not cover up the truth about Jeremiah’s death and will help us  get a proper investigation  contact: or
Serdar Kaya, Christian Noll: on 049 30 627 29 662a.

Background briefing on case of Jeremiah Duggan 

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Labour with the Coalition, Unite in Opposition

IS Labour angling to become the third partner in the Con-Dem coalition?

The reason I ask is that on two important issues in the last two weeks we have seen the Labour leadership and MPs  - with some honourable exceptions - hastening to help the government. Add this to the way they suddenly reached agreement over the Leveson inquiry conclusions, and you have to ask "What use is an Opposition that does not oppose?"

On March 13 the Commons debated the Crime and Courts Bill. Labour MP John McDonnell tried to amend the Bill to counter clauses which would take away the rights of civil servants working for the National Crime Agency, leaving them unable to strike, and replacing collective bargaining with imposed wages and conditions. John McDonnell was supported by Plaid Cymru and other MPs. But not by Labour.  They abstained.

Here is John McDonnell:  

Let me say to my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench that I am extremely shocked by what has been said—that they are not willing to support my amendments. This is the first time in the history of the labour movement—the first time ever in the history of the Labour party—that this party has supported in Parliament the removal of trade union rights from trade unionists. That is a significant step and marks a historic change in attitude. I urge those on the Front Bench to use these moments in this debate to think about what they are doing.and others—anyone who is in the Chamber and anyone watching this debate outside—to understand what is happening here today, because this is significant. This is not a minor matter; this is about taking away a basic human right from a group of workers. It has never been done before in the history of our party."
Commons Debate  

That surprise may be a bit exagerrated, if we recall the last Labour government's record in keeping Tory union laws, or the record of Labour in the past taking part in coalitions.  But McDonnell has a point. Labour was founded as a party to protect trade union rights, in case we have forgotten - as they evidently have. And John isn't the only one concerned about this new bill.

"The TUC has today (Monday) called upon the House of Lords to reject plans in the Crime and Courts Bill which would prevent over 3,000 civil servants working for the National Crime Agency from taking strike action in the future.

The TUC said the new legislation was the beginning of another attack on public sector workers' right to strike. TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: 'The TUC is opposed to this Bill in its entirety and in particular the clauses that seek to ban civil servants in the National Crime Agency from taking industrial action.

'The right to strike is a fundamental human right. To remove it from a group of civil servants is draconian and unnecessary. We fear that it is the beginning of an attack on the rights of those working in the public sector to take industrial action.

'Unions will always work very hard to reach a negotiated settlement during a dispute with their employer. However as a last resort, and where their members vote for strike action in a ballot, they must be free to defend their position by withdrawing their labour.'
Thousands of civil servants to lose trade union rights

So Labour is making such a job of opposition that the TUC has to appeal to the Lords to make a fight!

From the rights of those in work to those of people out of it. Paid work that is. Last month, two people -Birmingham geology graduate Cait Reilly and haulage driver Jamie Wilson won a court case ruling that the government had acted illegally in forcing them into unpaid, dead end work, in order to receive their benefits.

What do you do if a court rules that you have broken the law? If your name is Ian Duncan Smith, the minister responsible, you have the law changed to suit. But surely Labour would not stand for that? They did, though.

Here is a report by Hugh Muir and Shiv Malik:

Senior members of the shadow cabinet were obliged to follow the instruction to abstain from the Commons vote. Following a briefing from Ed Miliband at Monday’s meeting of the parliamentary Labour party, they had been warned that anyone who stepped out of line would be sacked.

Byrne wrote on the Labour List website on Thursday: “People are very angry about the jobseekers bill currently before parliament. Labour MPs are furious. Labour councillors and activists are angry. And they are right to be. This bill is an emergency fix to almighty incompetence at Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP. Our decision not to support the bill in the Commons but to abstain was very, very difficult.”

He defended the policy of abstention by saying Labour had won two concessions including the establishment of a independent review of the benefit sanctions regime.

But critics within his party accuse Byrne of failing to mount any significant opposition to the government’s bill. “The problem is that Liam basically agrees with them,” said one. “There is a lot of anger. This is a very important issue. He has missed an opportunity and put us on the wrong side of the argument.”

Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union, said: “Those Labour MPs who voted against the government saved the party’s honour. Abstention in the vote risks being seen as tacit acceptance of forced labour.

“Labour needs to understand that it is the opposition to a disastrous government waging class war against the poor. Labour failed to provide that opposition, with the honourable exception of the 44 MPs who stood up for core Labour values of decency and justice.”

And Michael Meacher MP, one of those who did oppose the government:

Labour in secret deal with Iain Duncan Smith on benefit sanctions

By Michael Meacher March 23rd, 2013

It now emerges that Labour did a secret deal with the DWP that the latter would set up an independent inquiry into the use of sanctions against job-seekers in return for Labour supporting emergency legislation – the Jobseekers (Back-to-Work Schemes) Bill which passed all its stages in the Commons last Tuesday – which established the government’s right to re-impose mandatory work activity (forcing someone to work for no pay on pain of otherwise having their benefits withdrawn) which had been struck down in the High Court a few weeks earlier. 

If this is true, it is a despicable deal: Labour should never have supported the re-imposition of such legislation whatever the quid pro quo.  

Worse still, Labour has already sold the pass in exchange for a nebulous offer which remains entirely within the gift of the government.

On Saturday, I decided to brave the weather (which turned out not as bad as forecast) and chance my public transport (which was running fine) to attend the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom rally at which Len McCluskey was sharing top billing with Ricky Tomlinson, the jailed Shrewsbury picket become TV star, and Bob Crow of the RMT. I was glad I made it.

Len McCluskey, who is standing for re-election as general secretary of Unite, the country's biggest union, spoke not just about trade union rights but about those other things we had come to expect and were now being attacked, the National Health Service and comprehensive Education. He spoke about how the Con Dems had a constant strategy to divide us - employed from unemployed, fit from disabled, and so on. Len also took the opportunity of presenting a "Docker's Tanner" award to a hero of past struggles, Bernie Steer, who was one of the 'Pentonville five' along with Vic Turner who died in January.

Speaking of today's struggles, Bro.McCluskey did not hesitate to remind us, if we needed it, how Labour in thirteen years of government had not rescinded Tory anti-union laws. He said there were two things to do with unjust laws. One, to change them, Two, to render them ineffective. While calling on Labour to change the laws, his union would also work to make them ineffective. And if Labour did not pledge to change what the Tories had done, Unite would have to reconsider its support for Labour.       
 The Unite leader has pursued this line in a Guardian interview this week:

McCluskey said the UK was going through "genuinely extraordinary times" and warned that if Miliband failed to offer a radical alternative, the party could become irrelevant and he would be consigned to the "electoral dustbin".
"If Labour fail to grasp the moment then I think that the political landscape is likely to change dramatically. I think the relevance of Labour as a party would be brought into sharp contrast," McCluskey told the Guardian.
He said that unless Labour set out a clear economic vision that "rejected the failed neo-liberal experiment of the past 30 years" and focused on growth and jobs, Unite and other unions would be forced to re-examine their relationship with the party.
"In many respects Labour is at the crossroads of its future, of its purpose … if it doesn't stand up for the aspirations of ordinary people – the 99%, if you like – then what is its purpose? If we don't win the next election, that will be critically examined and the political landscape could change dramatically."
Unite, which has about 1.5 million members, backed Miliband's leadership bid in 2010 and has since donated £6m to the party through membership fees. Any withdrawal of financial support would be financially crippling for Labour.
McCluskey expressed his anger over the Labour leaderships's failure to oppose the coalition's emergency welfare bill this week. Forty-four Labour MPs rebelled during the Commons vote and McCluskey has written to them to offer Unite's support, saying they "saved the party's honour".
Unite has put forward detailed alternatives to the government's austerity measures, including the creation of a British investment bank, a house building programme and an increase in the minimum wage. McCluskey said he was hopeful that Labour would take notice and begin to flesh out a more radical programme over the next 18 months, giving confidence to those struggling under coalition policy.
"The reality is we need the Labour party to put forward what looks like hope, what looks like a vision of hope, because at the moment there is nothing but fear and despair by this government."
McCluskey, who is engaged in a leadership election at Unite, added: "If it doesn't, if we fail, then it won't only be Unite, it will be other unions as well that will have to seriously consider that relationship … there may be another workers' party, another party of labour may emerge."

Len McCluskey's perspective falls well short of what I would call a socialist programme. He has nevertheless placed the 1.5 million member Unite on the side of the Left in the TUC calling for union rights and consideration of a general strike. Unite has backed members in construction and the NHS, and been prepared to link with UK Uncut and Pensiners campaigns, encouraging both workplace and community branches to become a political force, while as he made clear on Saturday, he is not giving a blank checque to Labour.

There is more to be done in making Unite fit for purpose, as well as sorting wheat from chaff with Labour. If Len McCluskey wants more time to do the job, then I am prepared to give him a chance.
That is why as well as being glad I went to the weekend rally, I'm glad I cast my vote for him to continue as general secretary. 

Last time around I voted for Jerry Hicks, the former Rolls Royce convenor who started his fight against bureaucracy taking on the old Amicus union leadership, and is battling on, as the sole contender against Len McCluskey. I don't doubt Jerry's sincerity, and I admire his dogged determination. But as well as being impressed by what I've seen of Bro. McCluskey since he took over, I just don't think Jerry's battlecries of "rank and file"-ism and electing all officers really meet the needs of the broader struggle.

There is a much stronger and thorough rejoinder to Jerry and his supporters from Jim Kelly of Unite on the Workers International site:

'Jerry Hicks -Wrong Era, Wrong Politics'

It is certainly worth reading.

But before we go, let us regret that Len McCluskey's new broom has not yet reached some of the bad old habits in the union, which have infected some in his own camp.  Seizing on the Socialist Workers' Party's recent troubles and the fact that it rather belatedly decided to back Jerry Hicks (with whom its relations in the past have been checkered), some people have been smearing Jerry by false assocation with the scandals..

Len McCluskey himself, at the end of an otherwise impressive election address, descends to an attack on hs opponent as "a political opportunist relying on the support of the discredited Socialist Workers Party".  This is untrue, as well as unnecessary, and besides exagerrating the importance of the SWP in the union's affairs, it takes us back to the bad old days of smear campaigns and witch hunts. Let's hope we hear no more of it.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

For the price of a phone call to Turkey...

IT may have been the first fruit of President Obama's visit to Israel and Palestine, small but still significant. Not the favourable response he received from an audience of Israeli students when he spoke about Palestinian rights, but Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu lifting the phone to Ankara, though not yet lifting the siege of Gaza..

"In a remarkable about-face after three years of adamant refusal, Bibi Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey’s premier for Israel’s 2010 massacre on the Mavi Marmara.  He’s also promised financial compensation to the families of the nine Turkish citizens murdered during the attack.  Reports also indicate an Israeli agreement to ease the Gaza blockade, though the provisions are uncertain".

That also seems to be the positive spin put on this development by Turkish media supporting their government. 

My friend Dror Feiler, who sailed on the Freedom Flotilla and has not let rough treatment by Israeli captors deter him from further sailings, welcomed the Israeli prime minister's apology, but with caution. In a note to the Jewish Socialists' Group Facebook page offering "Some thoughts after Israel's apology to Turkey for the attack on the Freedom Flotilla (31/5/2010)",  Dror wrote:
"Some thoughts after Israel's apology to Turkey for the attack on the Freedom Flotilla (31/5/2010).
The Israeli apology to Turkey is of course a step in the right direction. But The apology to Turkey that Israel and Turkey agreed upon is not enough. In the apology Israel is defining a murder as a “mistake and/or “malfunction" and this is unacceptable.
Israel has not acknowledged that the Freedom Flotilla action was/is a legitimate struggle against the blockade and occupation. A real apology should be formed along the lines that Turkey and the Freedom Flotilla demanded from the beginning – An apology and compensation, the establishment of an international investigation committee and lifting of the blockade on Gaza."

US-based blogger Richard Silverstein in his Tikkun Olam blog quoted above did not hesitate to see this as Obama's bargain, and accepted that Israel was going to pay compensation and had made some promises re Gaza. 
 Mavi Marmara compensation

Of course shooting a cameraman in the head at close range is more than a "mistake", and no amount of compensation brings those killed back to life, but Netanyahu's phone call wan't just a climb down for him. It was a smack down to former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and a slap to the kind of Israelis who support Beitar Jerusalem but scream abuse at its recently acquired Chechen player, and had added "Hating Turks" to "Killing Arabs" among their listed hobbies. To them and to their slightly more pretentious Western backers.  Here's Richard Silverman again:
"This is such a strange and sudden development that it begs speculation about what caused it.  First, earlier refusals were grounded in Avigdor Lieberman’s rejection of an apology.  Given that Lieberman immediately attacked the apology, it seems he hasn’t changed his mind.  Contrition lies with Bibi.  Given that Pres. Obama left Israel today one can’t deny the critical role that he played in brokering the deal.
But given that Obama had tried and failed before, something more must’ve been offered to Bibi.  This is where I fear what transpired during this visit.  What could Obama offer Bibi that would move the latter from rejection to acceptance of a development that surely rankles the pride the any red-blooded Israeli nationalist."
He continues by discussing a serious fear:

Given that Iran was at the top of the mutual Israeli-U.S. agenda on this trip.  And given that Bibi didn’t object when Obama told the world that Iran was at least a year away from the nuclear threshold, despite the fact that Bibi placed that date right around now when he broached the subject in his fall UN speech;  this leads to the sneaking suspicion that there was a Grand Bargain made that involved an American commitment to attack Iran with or without Israel in the coming year.

However, on the off-chance that this reconciliation between Israel and Turkey came with Erdogan’s acquiescence to an attack on Iran, then I’d take back everything I wrote in the paragraph above.  I find it impossible to believe that Erdogan would agree to such an attack on a former ally.

Well, what are  the practical consequances of the promises so far? Not a lot, according to the Gisha site monitoring the Gaza siege: .
Sunday, March 24, 2013 – Amid assurances to Turkey by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of easing Gaza access, Israel has tightened restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza, as part of what appears to be a new policy of openly blocking civilian access in direct response to fire by combatants. Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement sent an urgent letter today to the new defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, demanding that the new restrictions be lifted (an English translation of the original letter is available here).

Since Thursday, Gaza's only goods crossing has been closed, and travel by Palestinians into and out of Gaza through Israel has been blocked, except for medical patients and other exceptional cases. Israel also reduced the fishing zone off the coast of Gaza from six to three nautical miles. The restrictions came after militants from Gaza Thursday fired rockets at civilian population centers in southern Israel.

On Friday, in a phone call in which Netanyahu apologized to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyep Erdogan for mistakes made during the May 2010 interception of a flotilla bound for Gaza in which nine Turkish citizens were killed, Netanyahu noted that Israel had substantially lifted restrictions on goods entering Gaza. News reports quoted Erdogan as saying that Netanyahu also promised to improve humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip.

In Gisha's appeal today to the defense minister, the human rights organization condemned the rocket attacks as a blatant violation of the international law prohibition against deliberate or indiscriminate fire toward civilians and noted that Israel, too, is obliged to avoid harming civilians:

"Because of the severity of the prohibition against deliberately harming civilians, the steps taken by Israel, also aimed against civilians, are entirely unacceptable", Gisha Director Sari Bashi wrote. "In the last month, there appears to be a new policy toward the Gaza Strip, in which Israel is openly restricting civilian movement to and from Gaza, not because of a concrete security necessity, but rather as a punitive step taken against the civilian population – in direct response to fire by combatants".

The letter noted that this is the second time in less than a month that Israel has openly blocked civilian travel and goods transfer, in direct response to rocket fire by militants, and called on the defense minister to refrain from engaging in collective punishment.

Read the full letter sent to Minister Ayalon (English 

But it seems there is one by-product, judging from a report in the New York Times today:

"With help from the C.I.A., Arab governments and Turkey have sharply increased their military aid to Syria’s opposition fighters in recent months, expanding a secret airlift of arms and equipment for the uprising against PresidentBashar al-Assad, according to air traffic data, interviews with officials in several countries and the accounts of rebel commanders."  
Turkey steps up arms to rebels

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Friday, March 22, 2013

Government making it Civil War, not Civil Service

BUDGET DAY battlers challenge Con Dem austerity coalition.    

The Con Dem government is waging a two-pronged war against public services, hitting both the public who need them and the workers who provide them. Moves to restrict union rights, threats to facility time and getting rid of union representatives so as to intimidate the rest, it's all part of the game.

Last week members of the Public and Commercial Service Union (PCS) registered their opposition to staff cuts and attacks on pay and pensions with a one-day strike on Budget Day, opening a three-month campaign. The union said it was taking this action because ministers refused to negotiate over cuts.   

All that Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude could say was that the strike was "futile".
He claimed fewer than 95,000 staff members had taken part in the industrial action, and it had achieved only a "minimal impact" on services. Plainly he is asking for tougher and more effective action to hit the government where it hurts.

On February 28 Maude announced that he was setting up "competency frameworks", supposedly to improve services. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka commented: 

"The minister's stated ambition that he wants the civil service to deliver the best for Britain is rather undermined by the fact that his government has cut more than 60,000 civil servants since 2010, frozen their pay, cut their pensions and is now trying to rip up their terms and conditions.

"Under these circumstances it is difficult to see how ministers are creating anything other than a demoralised and impoverished civil service that will find it impossible to provide important services to the public."
Last week's strike saw demonstrations by civil servants, not just in London, but in Newcastle and elsewhere.

In fact the usual media talk about "Whitehall job cuts", pretending it is all about "Sir Humphrey" and his tea-drinking Men-from- the- Ministry has become not just a well-worn cliche but worse than a sick joke, as people can see it is hard working staff and front-line services being hit.

HM Revenue and Customs has said that from June to September, 13 enquiry centres in the north east of England will close. It has launched a consultation on the future of the network as a whole, which employs more than 1,300 workers. Staff have already been told it is "highly likely" all the offices will close.

In recent years opening hours have been reduced in around 250 local tax offices. Now the government wants to shift all tax advice and enquiry work into call centres, with people only offered a face to face meeting in exceptional circumstances.

HMRC has already faced severe criticism over its delays in answering telephones. Closing all 281 face-to-face enquiry centres in the country would cut off vital personal support for pensioners and other vulnerable taxpayers, the union says.

From the Customs and Revenue to the Coastguard. The government has announced plans to close more than half the country's coastguard stations, and last week it refused a recommendation from the House of Commons transport select committee to "rule out further [coastguard station] closures in the foreseeable future and confirm that the new arrangements...are intended to last for a generation".

In response it stated "[The coastguard service] will take advantage of [new ways of working, technology and continuous improvement] over the coming years and is likely to evolve and change progressively just like any other part of public service. No government committed to excellent public services could guarantee that there will be no further change 'for a generation'."

In a letter to transport minister Stephen Hammond, published in the committee's report, chair Louise Ellman writes: "We continue to receive worrying information from coastguards about staffing levels, management culture, morale and the arrangements for closing MRCCs [stations]."

To help clear the path for cuts and privatisation, civil service bosses are copying the methods of unscrupulous private employers and finding ways to dislodge conscientious trade uninists.

In Sheffield,  Lee Rock was sacked by the Department for Work and Pensions after 27 years as a union activist in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), officially on the grounds of “attendance management”, which is officialdom-speak for sickness absence. In September 2012, he hit his so-called “consideration point” of 11 days’ sickness – and the DWP “considered” that this would be an ideal time to get rid of one of the most effective and outspoken militants in the DWP (where the PCS has over 70,000 members).

At the recent regional conference of Unite the Resistance in Sheffield, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka highlighted Lee’s case, condemning the “trumped up” charges. He has ensured Lee of the support of the national union and says he will demand his reinstatement “at the highest level”. The DWP group secretary will be forwarding to the national disputes committee the submission for the ballot to take strike action, initially in Sheffield contact centre, where Lee worked.

Lee Rock has been continuing in his post as local assistant branch secretary and still represents local PCS members – but management is making it as hard for him as possible. For the first meeting of the branch’s AGM after his dismissal, Lee had to be escorted onto the premises by a security guard – and was picked up afterwards, much to the embarrassment of the guard. He has since been banned from his former workplace, which means that even for official hearings, Lee, the workers he represents, the managers and the minute taker have to traipse miles across city centre to meet in a different DWP building. The whole branch executive committee, too, has been forced to gather at a different location for its monthly meetings.

Meanwhile, members of Lee’s local Sheffield branch have been collecting hundreds of signatures demanding his reinstatement and calling for strike action. 18 PCS branches have submitted similar emergency motions to the DWP group conference in May – there would have been even more, had most branch AGMs not already taken place a week or two before his dismissal on February 23. This wide support ensures that the demand for strike action will be heard in front of hundreds of delegates in Brighton. Management might have thought for a few days that they’ve seen the last of Lee – but clearly, he continues to be a thorn in their side.

Other trade union branches, individuals or trades councils who wish to send a message of solidarity to Lee or the branch can email it to the branch secretary at

Jon applied for numerous roles within the Home Office, many of which he was the only candidate for. On each occasion he was forced to take a formal interview and even had to sit a two-hour test for a job in an area where he had previously worked. He’s been issued a redundancy notice at a time when several posts are being advertised at his grade.

Jon’s appeal against his redundancy is taking place on 10th April at 1pm. In solidarity, CSRF are calling for a picket of the Home Office in London and a communications blockade of the permanent secretary Mark Sedwill.

Picket the Home Office

Whilst Jon’s appeal is going on supporters are calling for a large, noisy presence at the headquarters of the Home Office. "They have to know that we will not accept the victimisation of workplace activists and support all workers’ right to organise".

Wednesday 10 April, 12.30-15.30pm
Home Office HQ
2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Councils Cut, and Councillors Diagnose Those Resisting

 Brent Fightback is the anti-cuts campaign initiated and supported by Brent Trades Union Council, and includes Labour Party members, perhaps even one or two present or future councillors. When residents who object to their local library closing are told they can use another, which is also about to be closed, they may have differing opinions on which are the "loonies".

Meanwhile in neighbouring Barnet, the Tory group leader was also diagnosing the resistance.

One Barnet campaigners are 'eccentric socialists', says leader

8:50am Wednesday 6th March 2013
By Chris Hewett
A campaign group fighting Barnet Council’s outsourcing programme was dismissed as “a group of eccentric socialists” by the leader in charge of the scheme.
Conservative group leader Richard Cornelius made the comments about the Barnet Alliance for Public Services as the authority’s annual budget was passed at Hendon Town Hall last night.
In his speech, he attacked the group, which has fiercely criticised and campaigned against the Tory-imposed One Barnet outsourcing scheme.
He said: “(They are) just a group of eccentric socialists, American exiles, bloggers and a coffee shop owner.”
The Totteridge representative also referred to a judicial review brought against the One Barnet scheme, supported by BAPS, which is due to be heard at the High Court later this month.
Outsourcing contracts have been put on hold pending the outcome of the legal proceedings.
Councillor Cornelius said: “Everyone has a right to speak to the courts, but the delay will make it difficult for us to implement the savings we have planned.
“I don’t see how a union (BAPS) can support this when it is potentially damaging its members’ job prospects.”
He later added: “We read a lot of local propaganda from bloggers and general whingers but people want to live in Barnet – we have the two best schools in the country, the second best primary education system, our regeneration schemes are delivering and our business base is strong.”

We can understand the councillor from leafy Totteridge thinks socialists of any kind are to say the least "eccentric", his ward being one of the wealthiest in London, though his colleague Brian Coleman enjoys a charity residence. But why the animus against Americans and owners of coffee shops? some readers asked.

Well, it was an American called Charles Hondericks who, revisiting the area from which his mother hailed, hit upon the idea of making a film about how the area has changed since the days of the Barnet workhouse about which Charles Dickens wrote, and in doing so, gave a voice to some of the residents who are fighting the Tory council's scheme.
 A Tale of Two Barnets
  As for the coffee shop owner, Brian Coleman, or "Mr.Toad" as some unkindly dubbed him, was suspended from the Tory party following his arrest over an incident with a lady who runs a local cafe and tried to photograph him parking in a loading bay. We won't say more as the case is due to be heard next month.  But it was good of Councillor Cornelius to remind us of this.

"Ex-Barnet mayor Brian Coleman hit woman and drove off with her"

Trial Postponed

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Another Battle of Britain

MORE news of  people threarened with loss of their homes to the relentless drive for profit in London. And the culprit is a This is Cameron's Big Society at work!

Wally Kennedy is a former Labour councillor in the London Borough of Hillingdon, who still runs a regular advice surgery for people in his ward, and is chair of Hillingdon Against the Cuts. Where there's a battle to be fought, or someone needing help, you'll see more of Wally than of many remaining councillors combined.

Here's a note he posted this morning:

I attended a packed meeting on Sunday 17th at 4pm at the Battle of Britain Club on the Uxbridge Road ... called by Sara Carson ... to start the campaign to stop the eviction of 64 families who have lived at the Former RAF base for almost 2 years. Their landlord is Nottinghill Housing Trust who has issued them with Possession Orders and £175 court costs ... even though there were no Court hearings. 

We are organising legal advice and representation through the Law Centre in Hayes and I will be in the Civic Centre in Uxbridge today to chase up the Housing Dept.  The MP, the Councillors and the Press were invited to attend the meeting ... did they turn up ... I will leave that to your imagination.
Well done to Sara Carson and her daughter Emma for all the hard work and welcome to all those who agreed to be on the action committee ... let battle commence. Bail out our communities - not the banks. Build council and affordable housing for all. Take all empty properties into public ownership and sustainable use.
Wally is a Socialist Party member.  He does not protest local injustice without talking about broader alternatives; but nor is he one of those people who tell us how nice the socialist future might be,. without doing anything in the here and now. 

The same could be said for left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell in the neighbouring Hayes and Harlington constituency, but unfortunately Uxbridge is represented by a Tory, John Randall MP.

RAF Uxbridge has quite a history, containing 60 feet below ground the RAF’s 11 (Fighter) Group Operations Room, otherwise known as  the ‘Battle of Britain Bunker‘. During the Battle of Britain this Operations Room coordinated the air defences for London and the entire South East.

Following on its near neighbours at RAF Eastcote, and RAF West Ruislip, the  site has been earmarked for development, including housing and commercial use and a riverside park.. At 110 acres it is the biggest development site in West London.

The Notting Hill Housing Trust has a more recent, but also more chequered history, dating back 50 years to when Bruce Kenrick, a Scottish Reformed church minister, and one of the founders of Shelter, moved to Notting Hill and was shocked at the housing conditions, as well the numbers of homeless. He started raising funds and bought one house to house several homeless families. Within a year this had grown to five houses. Today, with Dr.Kenrick long gone, the Notting Hill Housing Trust has the Duchess of Gloucester as patron, and owns 25,000 houses in London. It is credited with contributing to the gentrification of Notting Hill.

If that is not gratifying to all the working class families whom the Trust was supposed to help, or some of its dissatisfied tenants, it helps sustain Notting Hill Housing Trust's CEO (since 2004), Kate Davies, on an estimated £165,000 plus per year back in over £196,000. Mind you, in these austere times the trust has imposed cuts and poorer conditions on junior staff.  That must have really come hard on Kate Marshall, as she was known when general secretary of the Revolutionary Communist Party (Living Marxism).

Nowadays not suprisingly she is closer to the Tory party, though still in touch with some of  her old chums apparently. As for her partner Nick Davies, having quit a local government job in Bromley on "health grounds" he recovered enought to join Tory Hammersmith and Fulham, running its arms length housing agency which is divesting itself of council housing and closing its waiting list. Registered as a company Davies is collecting £310,000 a year according reports. Just the couple to understand and sympathise with the ordinary tenant facing eviction. Charity begins at home, as they say..

It looks like RAF Uxbridge is due to be another battle in the class war which Living Marxism told us was over.

Kate Davies file

Nick Davies Ltd - but not his salary!

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Defending trade union rights

 JOHN McDONNELL MP with workers in struggle.

LABOUR MP John McDonnell seemed optimistic recently that the Labour Party was moving to the left. Maybe these things are relative, but as an MP who has steadfastly supported workers in struggle and tried to cut back the claws of Tory anti-union legislation during the last Labour government, John McDonnell did not let his optimism blind him to what Labour front-benchers were up to in a debate last week on the new National Crime Agency.

The Con Dem government is using the bill setting up this Agency to bring in new restrictions on the rights of workers who would be employed in the Agency.

Elfyn Llwyd, a Plaid Cymru MP pointed out: 
"As we know, clause 12 would prohibit unions from instigating a strike affecting any officers working for the National Crime Agency who have operational powers. That would include the director general of the NCA, and it would give power to the Home Secretary to take civil action against any person or persons who might call, or incite, such a strike. The Government seem to regard the serious-minded people who will be working in this field as little less than children who might run off on a whim and call a strike for no reason at all. The quality of those people does not indicate that that is the kind of thing they would do, but I do not think they should be deprived of rights that most workers are accorded. It is only right and proper for the Government to take a respectful approach to those workers and allow them the negotiating rights and further rights that most people have."

Clause 13 would enable the Home Secretary to pass regulations fixing the pay and conditions of NCA staff, while another Clause would allow some jobs such as fine collection to be privatised.

The Welsh MP was supporting amendments moved by John McDonnell who chairs the PCS union's group in the Commons, and who warned that the clauses included in the NCA bill were the thin end of the wedge for depriving the unions of negotiating rights.

So what did the Labour leaders do to oppose this attack on union rights?  They abstained.  Here is John's understandable reaction:

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington, Labour)
Let me say to my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench that I am extremely shocked by what has been said—that they are not willing to support my amendments. This is the first time in the history of the labour movement—the first time ever in the history of the Labour party—that this party has supported in Parliament the removal of trade union rights from trade unionists. That is a significant step and marks a historic change in attitude. I urge those on the Front Bench to use these moments in this debate to think about what they are doing.
This is the party that campaigned to redress the disgraceful treatment of GCHQ workers—if people remember—all through the ’80s and ’90s, when a Conservative Government removed their trade union rights. This is the party that gave commitments to the Prison Officers Association that we would address its complaint that a Conservative Government had removed the right to take strike action from prison officers. I urge Labour MPs and others—anyone who is in the Chamber and anyone watching this debate outside—to understand what is happening here today, because this is significant. This is not a minor matter; this is about taking away a basic human right from a group of workers. It has never been done before in the history of our party.
Commons Debate
It has become a cliche of irony to remind ourselves that it was the unions which founded the Labour Party to defend our rights in parliament.
I hope union leaders will have something to say about this latest betrayal. Some of them will have their chance next Saturday, when a rally is being held at Friends Meeting House to launch a Campaign for Trade Union Freedom.

A message says "New Speakers Added: TUC's Head Of Equalities and Employment Rights Sarah Veale
Carolyn Jones, Director of the IER;
Michelle Stanistreet, GS of the NUJ
John Hendy QC
Roger McKenzie, UNISON AGS

Plus: Len McCluskey, General Secretary, Unite the Union
Billy Hayes, General Secretary, CWU
Bob Crow, General Secretary, RMT
Manuel Cortes, General Secretary, TSSA
Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary, NUT"

The Campaigns for Trade Union Freedom is a merger of the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions (LCDTU) and the United Campaign to repeal the Anti-Union Laws."

  The LCDTU was going when I was a lad though it seems to have been revived with, of course, new people, in recent years. The United Campaign to repeal the Anti-Union Laws emerged during the 13 years of New Labour government which kept Thatcher's laws on the statute book, and saw them used to deny workers the union solidarity to which they were entitled.  John McDonnell was I believe one of the few MPs that spoke for it.

I notice John is not listed among the speakers for this rally, but then no MPs are. I also notice however that the PCS union's Mark Serwotka, a popular speaker whether at rallies or holding the union fort in TV panel discussions, is not among the general secretaries listed, and nor is PCS president Janice Godrich. PCS members are immediately affected by the government's latest moves and are also taking industrial action on Budget Day, this coming Wednesday.   

The anti-union laws should have been fought against and buried while Labour was in office, instead of union leaders tamely submitting and handing over our funding to the party that was in government. Still better late to fight than never, and despite the top heavy appearance of this campaign at first it does seem to be reaching out for branches and others to affiliate. 

It should be interesting to hear what our leaders have to say on Saturday, and a good turn out will at least stop anyone excusing inaction by alleging 'apathy'.  

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

London Met: A Morphosis?

LONDON MET PROTEST.  does search for "sustainability" affect whom staff can elect? 

A curious little footnote to the goings-on at London Metropolitan University, where three staff members were reinstated last week after being suspended for reasons that were not made exactly clear.

The three are Jawad Botmeh, a researcher in the Working Lives project, Max Watson an administrator in the same department, who is also Unison branch chair at London Met, and Professor Stephen Jeffery, the head of the department.

The first to be reinstated was Jawad Botmeh, who served a life sentence for "conspiracy to cause explosions", in what many suspect was a frame-up, before coming to London Met. While in prison, Jawad, already an engineering graduate, took degrees in Sociology and Reconciliation, which helped convince Stephen Jeffery that he would be a good person to work in his department.

Jawad had worked at London Met for five years, without any complaints from colleagues or graduate students. It was only after he was elected to be a staff governor that the decision was taken to suspend him. Some media reports said it had "emerged" he was the "Israeli embassy bomber", as though his prison conviction (which had to be for "conspiracy" since he was nowhere near the bombing) was never any secret, and he never concealed it from London Met authorities.

The three suspensions raised a storm of protest not only from London Met staff but from  other universities and trade unionists. "An injury to one is an injury to all" said protesters, and signatures flowed to an online petition proteting against injustice.

Now Jawad has been reinstated, but it seems this was not without conditions. He has stepped down as  a staff governor.

According to an email from University secretary Alison Wells: "The Board and the University had become aware that Jawad Botmeh's membership of the Board would impact adversely on the interests and the future sustainability of the institution".

As Jawad's friends at London Met say, they can understand that he did not want any more hassle, but just to get back to his job. But they are wondering in what way his presence on the board of governors was supposed to threaten the university's interests and "future sustainability".
I have remarked before on the possibility that London Met's problems in recent years have made it vulnerable to outside pressures. 

Now while staff are hoping someone else will come forward as good as Jawad to act as their representative among the governors, the reference to interests and "sustainability" must make them wonder whether their choice of candidate is expected to be acceptable, and to whom? 

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Three Back at London Met, but victimisations elsewhere....

 THREE staff members whose suspension raised a row at London Metropolitan University are back at work. In a message thanking supporters the three -researcher Jawad Botmeh, his union representative Max Watson, and Professor Steven Jefferys, head of the Working Lives research unit, say:
Thank you thank you thank you…
All three of us were reinstated by London Metropolitan University
yesterday and today.
This confirms that we have done nothing wrong.
We know we would not have won this terrific victory without your
overwhelming support.
Within two weeks of 600 letters going to the Vice Chancellor and to
the Board of Governors, and of 2,500 signatures to the petition from
colleagues within the UK and the European Union and from around the world we have been reinstated.
Our trade unions, UNISON and UCU, gave us 100% support. This victory confirms the importance of collective strength and solidarity.
You helped us all.
You knew the difference between right and wrong.
You knew it was vital to support the right to union representation,
the right to elect staff representatives and the importance of
academic freedom.
Thanks so much!
Jawad, Max and Steve

The three are inviting friends and supporters to join them for a celebration next week.

But elsewhere there continue to be reports of trade unionists being picked on at work under varying pretexts. Latest is someone I know, Gerry Downing, who has worked on the buses for many years, been a union rep taking up cases for others, and is a Unite delegate on Brent Trades Union Council.
He has had previous run-ins with management, and last year he was given a written warning over "distribution of literature" at Cricklewood garage - he had passed around a clipping from the local paper about the busworkers' plea for toilet facilities at Brent Cross! This disciplinary measure was dropped on appeal.

Gerry is also chair of the Grass Roots Left which is supporting Jerry Hicks in Unite's election, and he is threatened with a libel action from a Unite full-time official whom he criticised, but the management's latest move appears to have seized on an unfortunate "incident" dealing with a difficult member of the public.

Here is a report by Brent trades union council chair Pete Firmin to member(excerpts)s:
Gerry Downing was summarily dismissed on Tuesday, March 12th by Metroline Travel at its Cricklewood garage on a spurious charge of “inappropriate behaviour towards members of the public whilst driving a route 210” 
Gerry has been a thorn in the side of Metroline for over two decades as he says in his submission to the hearing (attached);
“This escalation of the seriousness of the matter cannot be separated from my previous history with Metroline in disciplinary matters – the fact that I was dismissed by Metroline twice in the past and subsequently re-employed due to the buying of the small companies I worked for, the affair in West Perivale where I was charged with Gross Misconduct about an allegation of racism which was dropped without explanation and again charged but not dismissed. There was also the charge of an assault against the previous Rep Lamont Jackson, which CCTV showed to be false and that I had been the victim, where the matter was dropped with no further action by Mr Sampandia Manager of Willesden Garage. Then there was the subsequent charge of distribution literature in Cricklewood for which I got a written warning overturned on appeal.”
This sacking must also be seen in the context of the huge rise in the sacking rate in Metroline as a consequence of the introduction of appalling new contracts for starters in January 2012. The saving for sacking a ‘senior driver’ on relatively good rates and conditions and replacing him or her with a new driver on a far inferior rate and much worse conditions is very considerable.  This follows the recent sacking of a West Indian woman driver for three minor accidents like clipping mirrors after twenty years driving for Metroline. Oscar Alvarez, an Industrial Workers of the World member in the Metroline West Perivale garage was recently sacked also on a similar charge after a confrontation with a woman driver . They also deemed a exchange with a driver to be Gross Misconduct with no proof of any insulting or rude remarks other than a remonstrance with the driver who had admitted cutting up the bus. 
The outcome of Gerry’s hearing was practically predetermined by the inclusion in the disciplinary pack of a letter from the Garage Manager, Leroy Webley in reply to one of two complaints from passengers over an incident that took place on the 210 bus on 15th February.
The reply contained the phrase
“As such, they’re expected to behave in a polite and professional manner at all times.
We failed to do so on this occasion, and I am sorry for any upset/distress you may have suffered as a result of the poor customer care displayed by the driver.”
The was 12 days before the Gerry had been asked for his version of the events and its inclusion in the pack amounted to an instruction to Darren Hill, the most junior Operations Manager in the garage who heard the case, to bring in the required verdict.

The incident on the 210 bus involved an adult boarding the bus with a screaming child. Gerry went over to speak to them, to see if the child could be comforted and calmed down. He says the child was screaming so loud that he had to raise his voice to make himelf heard.
"Ridiculously the judgement came down to whether I was under stress because the mentally ill child had been screaming on the bus for a half an hour and was now back on the same bus to return to where he came from, the Whittington Hospital in Archway, or whether I was concerned for the child’s safety. I had asserted that both was the case but he insisted this was not possible and I had acted because of the stress of the situation and my own domestic problems (my partner was about to undergo a major operation for throat cancer) and I had no legitimate concerns for the child’s safety. He rejected also my plea that such stress was a health and safety as it could cause the driver to have an accident.
"I was unaware of the relationship between the child and the adult and towards the end of the hearing the manager admitted that if the man accompanying the child was a carer and not his father his actions as seen on CCTV in continually covering the child’s mouth and holding him wrapped in a blanket so tightly would amount to abuse. Why it did not amount to abuse irrespective of the relationship he did not explain.
"After the hearing was over another and as we awaited the verdict another 210 driver came up and told how he had the same man on his bus a few weeks previously and he had been screaming in the same way. He said it was clear the kid was mentally ill and needed assistance. After three stops he stopped the bus and got out of his cab and asked that man if he would call an ambulance as the kid is sick? The man said, “No, no, no, the child is just upset.”
 "He said the safety of the child seemed to be in danger and he looked like he was attacking him. The driver gave his details and was prepared to give evidence to the hearing but the manager refused to hear him as he said the case was now closed. He has agreed to give evidence to the appeal.
"It all came down to my body language and the tone of voice I used when asking two questions of the man. This was deemed so gross and offensive that I had to be sacked immediately to protect the public.
"Bus driving is a very stressful job at the best of times. The 15th February was less than a week before my partner was facing a major operation to remove her voice box for throat cancer on the 21st. It was due to take a whole day we were told and her chances of survival were only 30%. It became almost impossible to continue driving with that level of screaming. It might cause me to have an accident, and I had no knowledge of how long it might go on, all the way to Brent Cross maybe? I could not have continued driving for much longer under that pressure but then the child needed urgent assistance and I confronted the man because he clearly was not seeking medical assistance for the child as quickly as possible – he had come from Whittington hospital and had passed the medical clinic in Almington Road on the way to Finsbury Park. I am only speculating that when he got off at Almington Road it was to take the child to the medical clinic which he had missed on the trip from Archway because he was so distressed himself. I have never in the past been found guilty of any inappropriate behaviour to passengers".

 Although this incident seems real enough and reflective both of the tensions erupting in an austerity stressed society just now and the difficult situations with which bus drivers have to cope, the use of an anonymous "witness" who made a complaint reminds me of what happened to a friend in the Post Office some years ago. After decades of satisfactory work, in which he was well-regarded by regular customers, he was told by a new abrasive manager "Your trouble is you have been here too long" - meaning he knew the mail regulations better than his bosses, and that he was prepared to go out of his way to assist a member of the public, without regard to the "commercial" culture then being brought in. Still, they managed to find someone to complain that he had upset them one day. Having been sacked my friend spent two years and much of his savings waiting for an employment tribunal to hear his case. They ruled that he had been mistreated but that the Post Office acted within its rules, and as with other cases even when workers have been wrongfully dismissed, he could not get his job back.

Brent Trades Council is supporting a meeting on Sunday night March 17 to launch a busworkers defence campaign, in support of Gerry Downing and of Oscar Alvarez who was sacked at West Perivale garage. It is at  7 pm in the Trades and Labour hall (Apollo Club) 375 Willesden High rd NW10 2JR (near Willesden bus garage).
Messages of support can be sent to Gerry at:


Great news from Gerry Downing's appeal against dismissal. Gerry has been reinstated to his job as a bus driver. Well done Gerry and thanks to all of those who supported the protest to support Gerry at Cricklewood Garage earlier today.
Pete Firmin Brent Trades Union Council


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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

An Englishwoman's Home Belongs to the Landlord in his Castle

 AFTER International Working Women's Day and the more commercialised Mother's Day, with the Socialist Workers Party row over treatment of women sandwiched in the interval, it seems we must thank the Metropolitan Police for providing elevating tableaux of women being evicted.

 Late on Saturday afternoon police and bailiffs called in by London Metropolitan University evicted people who had marked Women's Day the day before by occupying the Women's Library in Old Castle Street, Aldgate.

Around 70 protesters from campaign group Reclaim It! had moved in at 1.30pm on Friday, and were joined by activists from  UK Uncut, the Occupy movement and Disabled People against the Cuts.
They said the occupation was “part of a growing wave of feminist anger against the government’s austerity regime”.

Set up in 1926, and said to house the biggest collection of women's history in the country, the Library, which includes ehibitions as well as books, aroused wide concern last year when its closure was announced. The London Met branch of Unison set up a "Save the Women's Library' campaign in October. Since then it has been announced that custody of the library will be handed over to the London School of Economics.

But whereas it is in a purpose built premises now which London Met purchased just ten years ago, protestors fear it will have neither the prominence nor the accessibility at LSE. And meanwhile sections are being closed ready for the move. 

History lecturer and library user Josie Foreman said: “The Women’s Library houses a world-renowned collection of women’s history.”
“At a time when women are bearing the brunt of this government’s savage cuts, cuts which compound the gender inequality of our society, this history is more important than ever.”

Yesterday another page of that history was lit up when bailiffs bust in the doors of a block of flats in Muswell Hill, north London and evicted a dozen families. This time the Met were not only escorts for the bailiffs, but had until recently been the landlords. Residents said the evictions would "break up a community".

Caroline Gallagher, who worked for the Met for 26 years, said she was being "kicked out" of her home of 16 years.She and her son and daughter had been forced to move to her mother's house.
 "I was a traffic warden manager and worked for the Met for 26 years and I got made redundant in December 2011. I feel very let down. First they make me redundant and then they kick me out of my house. Then having to go through the housing process is horrendous."

Some houses were boarded up last week as a few people left after finding accommodation but others had to wait until they were evicted before local authorities would consider them homeless. Even then, though obliged to help families with children it seemd likely councils would only move them into temporary bed and breakfast hotels.
A Met Police statement said: "The land had been leased to Crown Housing Association to provide non-permanent accommodation for their own tenants who hold short-term leases. The lease to Crown Housing Association expired in December 2012 and it would be sold.

Crown Housing Association was formed in 1974 to provide sheltered housing for retired civil servants, expanding this later to include housing for people who work in any area of the public sector, such as the NHS, education, ambulance and police services, local authorities, as well as the civil service.   It also houses non-public sector people who are nominated by local authorities in some areas where it has properties. But yesterday it was claiming it had no alternative but to empty Connaught House of tenants.

Meanwhile, whatever happened to all those council flats and houses for which there were long waiting lists before the Tories hit on "right to buy"and Labour moe or less fell in with them. This was supposed to give existing tenants the right to buy their own home and take pride in looking after it, while if I am not mistaken there was even a suggestion at one time that councils might use money raised from sales to enable further building. That last bit was soon ruled out, and more recently the Tory theme changed from "giving people the chance to won their own homes" to ending security of tenure and saying that people earning over a certain amount should not be allowed to remain in council housing. Not that there's much of the latter left, or being built, anyway.

I've written before about how Tory councils like Wandsworth and Westminster sold off housing stock to private owners, not necessarily existing tenants or even resident in the boroughs. Westminster's Dame Shirley Porter ended up in trouble when she was found to be emptying council properties to sell in an execise aimed not just at gentrification but gerrymandering. But Wandsworth Tories got away with selling entire estates such as the new one by the river which came into their hands when the GLC was abolished.

A report published by the Daily Mirror shows the scam is much bigger than we imagined.  
It found that one third of ex-council homes sold in the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister are now owned by private landlords. In one London borough almost half of ex-council properties are now sub-let to tenants.

Tycoon Charles Gow and his wife own at least 40 ex-council flats on one South London estate.
His father Ian Gow was one of Mrs Thatcher’s top aides and was Housing Minister during the peak years of right-to-buy. The Gows live in a £2.5 million house in Esher, Surrey  Other wealthy investors own scores of ex-council properties via offshore holding firms in tax havens in the Channel Islands, the GMB union has found. The union's general secretary Paul Kenny said: “You couldn’t make it up. The family of one of the Tory ministers who oversaw right-to-buy ends up owning swathes of ex-council homes.”

 Wandsworth Borough Council has sold off 24,000 properties under right-to-buy since 1978.
For 15,874 the lease was sold, as they were in blocks of flats where the council kept the freehold.
The council said 6,180, or 39%, of the owners who bought those leases gave a different address for correspondence. It also revealed 95 landlords have five or more of these properties.

Research by the GMB suggests the owner of the 93 could be Charles Gow. In one single ex-council block of 120 flats in Sherfield Gardens, Putney, 62 of the leaseholds are registered to different addresses. The largest leasehold landlord owns the leases on 93 of its freehold properties, with the second largest having 32. Of these, Mr Gow owns 35 while his wife Karin owns another five.
Ian Gow was Mrs Thatcher’s parliamentary private secretary between 1979 and 1983.
Right-to-buy peaked in 1984, by which time he was Housing Minister. He was killed in 1990 by an IRA car bomb.

Land Registry records show his son began buying properties in Sherfield Gardens in 1996 for £100,000 each. His firm KCG is offering four-bedroom flats there for £1,500 a month.
The properties are now worth up to £300,000 and the Gows’ 40 properties could be worth £10million.

 Two sister companies based in Guernsey own another portfolio of former council properties.
Chelsea Estates Ltd owns 38 ex-council homes in Wandsworth, Westminster and Lambeth, while Birkett Estates Ltd has 19. They are controlled by ex-venture capitalist Alex Birkett Smith, 46 and brother James, 42.  The GMB found the pair and their wives also directly own another 27 ex-council properties in Wandsworth, meaning one wealthy family has almost 100 ex-council homes in the capital.

Westminster council said  31% of 8,910 leaseholders sub-let its flats. There are 2,084 households on waiting lists for social housing in Westminster. The council reportedly spent £2million in nine months paying for 120 homeless families to stay in hotels last year.

There are five million people waiting for social housing in Britain and house building cannot keep up with demand. Meanwhile, the private rented sector has almost doubled in a decade and 8.5 million people are tenants – one in six households.
  • GOOD NEWS  London Met University has reinstated researcher Jawad Botmeh, whom it had suspended, and this apparently means he can also resume his place as a staff governor. We are waiting to hear what the university will do about Jawad's union rep and  Unison branch chair Max Watson, and his head of department Steve Jefferys, who were also suspended.

Rich landlords have third of ex-council homes

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