Monday, December 29, 2014

UKIP Man Sends Out A Xmas Gift to Workers

 OUTSIDE City Links depot, Motherwell.

TWO items of generosity to warm the heart in the season of goodwill, and good cheer, and betoken - for somebody perhaps - a happy and good new year.  First, the news that Daily Express and Daily Star owner Richard Desmond, who has written sentimentally about his immigrant forebears, and likes to be known for his charitable works, has donated £300,000 to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Well, he is entitled to fund the party of his choice, even if it has some undesirable allies and a less charitable attitude towards foreign immigrants.

It seems unnecessary to ask whether Desmond's newspapers will follow, since they have been setting the anti-immigrant, and anti-minority, agenda since long before most of us had heard of UKIP's leader Nigel Farage.  

The second piece of seasonal goodwill came in the news for 2,727 City Link workers, just in time for Christmas Day, that their company was being placed into administration, and they will be getting the sack - not from Santa Claus, but from City Link boss John Moulton. Mind you, maybe this modern-day Scrooge was too upset to tell them. Most only heard on the news that they will be receiving no more pay after December 31st.

City Link was a major carrier, used by firms like John Lewis, and Mothercare.

While people who were expecting parcels have been told today they can collect them from depots, the workers will be collecting their P45s.  And some maybe not even that.

The 2,727 staff who have been told to brace themselves for “substantial redundancies” in the coming days do not 1,000 self-employed drivers and third-party workers, whom receivers Ernst and Young say would be “unsecured creditors” of City Link and therefore not entitled to any redundancy payments.  The RMT union reckons the true jobs figure was about 5,000 once workers in the supply chain were taken into account.

Better Capital bought the troubled courier group for just £1 in April 2013 from Rentokil. It promised to invest £40 million turning round the business, which had not got over its takeover of rival Target Express in 2008, and was slowed by IT problems. The company put workers on new contracts, paying staff on a per-parcel basis and requiring drivers to pay for their own vans, uniforms and petrol.

Most parcel carriers have been doing more business due to increased online buying. In the Summer City Link launched a new green and yellow staff uniform, replacing the old black livery. But the uniforms were not company issue - hundreds of drivers on City Link’s books had to pay for the kit themselves, as they are self-employed.

Last month City Link’s said it had “got all its plans in place to deliver an even more successful peak to last year’s winning performance”. Liam Tucker, its operations director, who joined in September, said: “City Link had one of its most successful peak periods in 2013 and we are looking forward to an even busier and more successful one in 2014.”

But now we are told that City Link has incurred substantial losses over several years. "Despite the best efforts to save City Link, including marketing the company for sale, it could not continue to operate as a going concern,” ,” said Ernst and Young (EY) partner Hunter Kelly, who highlighted intense competition in the sector and a struggle to reduce its overheads.  EY is expected to start letting staff go in the coming days because City Link’s owners – private equity firm Better Capital, led by veteran venture capitalist Jon Moulton – have failed to find a buyer as a going concern.

City Link was still advertising for more owner drivers as news came of the redundancies. But as City Link’s existing freelancers have discovered, they will not be entitled to any redundancy payments made by the administrators and some could even lose deposits put down on leased vehicles.

The RMT union says announcing the closure at Christmas was not only heartless but being in a holiday period could hinder any rescue plan. RMT’s general secretary, Mick Cash, called for an official investigation into both the timing of the appointment of administrators and allegations that City Link may have been restructured prior to its collapse, moving “valuable property assets out into a separate company”.

Better Capital boss Jon Moulton dismissed the RMT’s claims, telling the Guardian: “If this is an asset strip, it is an extremely poor one because we will have lost a lot of money.” Better Capital has already written down its £40m investment in City Link to £20m.

Meanwhile fellow blogger Tom Pride has been looking at the boss of  Better Capital:
"Moulton is a former Conservative Party donor, who decided to transfer his allegiance to UKIP after criticising Tory chancellor George Osborne for not cutting hard enough and for being too soft on austerity".

And here are some quotes:
Moulton on making people redundant: “You can never fire anyone too soon

Moulton’s description of the people he has fired: “cutting away unnecessaries

Moulton on why there should be even more austerity: “It’s the moral thing to do and it’s the right thing to do.

Moulton on why there needs to be more cuts to public services such as the NHS: “I don’t believe that the UK economy will do well until the public sector shrinks.

Moulton on how much he loved making companies bankrupt when he worked as an accountant: “Insolvency was great.”

Moulton on his great love for Margaret Thatcher: “”Without Mrs Thatcher I probably would have stayed working in the US, watching the UK decay rapidly.

Moulton on his approach to making a profit: “We come and make redundancies, close facilities, take the costs of out of a P&L and in a month or two, profits come back.

Moulton on his first experiences of dealing with bankruptcies and redundancies: “Firing people, selling factories and stock. It was great fun.”

Moulton on why he loves his job  – which often involves sacking thousands of people: ” I do what I do for the enjoyment it gives me.”


City Link staff hold protest outside Scottish depot

City Link contractor says: 'I've worked for nothing'

Workers facing redundancy at the collapsed parcel delivery firm City Link have staged a demonstration outside a depot in Motherwell. City Link contractor Mark O'Neill, who has worked with the company for 21 years, will become a creditor but doubts he will get any money back
He said: "It looks as if I've worked the whole of December for nothing. "You couldn't ask for a worse Christmas present."

Staff learned that the company, which employs 165 people in Scotland, had gone into administration on Christmas Day. Workers gathered in Motherwell on Monday morning to protest against the prospect of redundancy.

The job losses are expected on New Year's Eve, with the remaining posts being retained to wind down the company.

Political action

Staff have been told they will be paid until 31 December. More than 100 contractors work for the company in Scotland. They will be treated as creditors by administrators.

Those taking part in the protest in Motherwell were demanding political efforts to save the operation as a going concern - or for as many jobs as possible to be saved.

Gordon Martin, regional organiser in Scotland for the RMT union, said some staff were joined at the demonstration by their partners and children.

Speaking at the scene, he said: "It's a demonstration organised by the workers, for the workers, about their right to work. Basically this is a right-to-work argument. These guys deserve and demand the right to work."

He claimed a recent meeting with the administrators failed to give staff answers to their questions.

"They've walked out of the meeting more disillusioned than when they walked into it, which is saying something considering the situation," he said.

Mr Martin said the protesters were aiming to put political pressure on UK and Scottish politicians to intervene to save jobs.

He urged MSPs and Scottish ministers to "intervene with any means possible and through any actions to try and keep this as a going concern - and if that's not possible to save as many jobs as possible".

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, December 25, 2014

All Souls to Austerity, or 'Gilded Age' for Some?

IT might be Christmassy, if it had some decorations. But if it looks cold in this picture, now its worse -the lights are off,  and the building's up for sale.

NO, this isn't the Pottins family mansion in seasonably wintry guise, but it is a place where I frequently went back in the 1960s, and not just to get out of the cold, when I was living in Kensal Rise. Providing an escape from boring drudgery at work and the walls of my bedsit, and free at that, the Kensal Rise library with its books and newspapers (casettes and computers hadn't yet arrived)   offered truths and tales a plenty. I don't think it occurred to me that it had a tale of its own -and more to come.

The street names - College Road, and All Souls Avenue -were a clue.  In those days you could walk from West Kilburn almost to Harlesden, pass three public libraries, and not see a pub. When you crossed the Harrow Road there was one on the corner of Scrubs Lane, the College Park. The reason for the 'dry' zone in between, so I was told, was that much of the land was owned by All Souls College, Oxford, who cared about the residents' moral welfare and sobriety.

If this was old-fashioned paternalism, it had its good side. All Souls had gifted the land for the library on College Road.  When it opened in 1900 it had a distinguished guest, Mark Twain, who happened to be staying at Dollis Hill at the time. There was a brass plaque commemorating his visit.

 When local people heard four years ago that their library was one of five which Brent council wanted to close, they thought that its distinguished past might be evoked to save it. Particularly as  the site had been given under a covenant specifying that the building be used as a public reading room and library. Residents in Cricklewood thought they had a similar case for their library too.

The campaign to save Kensal Rise Library did not stop there. Campaigners lobbied the council and took a coach up to Oxford to protest at All Souls College, with some support from students. They held local meetings and cultural events, and gained national publicity. Besides local teachers and trades unionists, they gained support from Alan Bennett,[9] Zadie Smith,[10] Nick Cave[11] and the Pet Shop Boys.[2]

After the council had taken away the books and closed the building, the campaigners set up a makeshift Pop Up library on the corner, with donated books and volunteers. It withstood the weather only to be torn down by heavies sent down by All Souls, no longer so interested in maintaining cultural standards as engaging in property development. 

Along the way, the Kensal Rise campaign has seen some interesting developments. One, a property developer's application for planning permission for the library site brought heaps of e-mails of support.  Only thing is they were mostly fakes. Some came from non-existent IP addresses, others from the same business premises, or purported to be from people who had not sent them. The council had to investigate. It also decided to notify the police. Meanwhile the campaigners persuaded All Souls and the council that any development of the building for flats must leave space for community use as a library. How much, and whether it would be sufficient for both lending and reading room is not so clear.

But two things have been made clear, just before Christmas. 
"The Kensal Rise Library building is up for auction this month, with a guide price of £1.15m.
Although planning permission has been granted to convert the majority of space in the building into flats, it still has a dedicated space on the ground floor earmarked for community use, which the Friends of Kensal Rise Library hope to run as a community library.
The community space is still controlled by the original owners of the building, All Souls College, Oxford, which sold the building to a developer on the basis that: "a certain amount of space in each building is leased on a rent-free basis for 999 years to enable continued provision of library services to the residents."

So the main use of the building will be for profitable development by anyone who can find £1.15 million or more, while the council's obligation to provide a proper library, run by professional staff, for residents and their children, is being replaced by a promise of space for unpaid volunteers and whatever books they can acquire. Call it Cameron's 'Big Society', brought in by Brent Labour council's cuts.

As for the law and order aspect, in February it was reported that police were delaying their investigation to seek more evidence.

 And now, just in time for the Christmas break came the news:   ' Brent Council has been informed that the Crown Prosecution Service is to take no action regarding the fraudulent emails sent in support of Andrew Gillick's original planning application for Kensal Rise Library.
Arnold Meagher, Brent Council's Principal Lawyer, Housing and Litigation Team wrote:

    I write to advise that the Council has been informed of the outcome of the investigation regarding Mr Gillick and the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service.

    The Crown Prosecution Service has decided that there is insufficient evidence to support any prosecution against Mr Gillick and therefore, no further action will be taken against him. "

    70 or so fraudulent emails had been sent including one using the name and address of local business woman Kirsty Slattery.  Reacting to the news this afternoon she said:

    I think the whole process has been purposely drawn out and detrimental to the people and businesses it affected. So somehow no one is responsible for these acts of fraud (?) according to the CPS and at no point has anyone even received an apology from Brent Council.

    The fraud affected my business as it misrepresented my standing in the community. This should never have been allowed to happen, someone ought to have been held accountable for these deceitful actions and the very least I would expect is a sincere apology."

Kensal Rise Councillor Dan Filson was even more scathing:

This news seems released by the CPS deliberately at a time when attention is elsewhere. Shame on the CPS.

    I am appalled that an attempt - by whoever, though the email thread heading may offer a clue - to pervert the planning process had not resulted in a prosecution.     It would be useful to know if the reason for this decision is insufficient evidence linking the alleged perpetrator to the offence(s) or an unclear charge upon which a prosecution could be hung?

    A dangerous precedent has been set, that a fraudulent attempt to mislead a planning authority as to the level of support for a planning application from the community and as to who in that community is supporting it by way of impersonation. We don't now know whether this stunt has been pulled in respect of other applications in this or other boroughs.

    Labour leader of the council Muhammed Butt said:

   " It is bitterly disappointing that the police have chosen to ignore the evidence found in the council’s own inquiries and drop their investigation. When the future of the building affects hundreds of Brent residents and the entire Kensal Rise community, any issue of alleged fraud must surely be a priority in order to maintain the trust of local people. "

We might contrast this episode with the alacrity with which the Metropolitan Police moved on Christmas Eve to evict squatters from a former RBS building in Westminster, where they had invited homeless people to join them, and planned to serve Christmas Dinner.

They might not like being called "plebs", but its we real plebs who should feel insulted by being compared to the Metropolitan Police. In any conflict between property interests and the interests of working people,  the police and the Crown Prosecution Service know what side they are on, and it isn't ours. And unfortunately I don't see any reduction in police numbers changing that bias, nor is it likely to improve if 'proper coppers' are replaced by enthusiastic volunteers.

It is a pity we have not a writer like Mark Twain to follow up some of these stories. His young hero Tom Sawyer could have figured in another of Brent's library campaigns, Preston Park, among the youngsters writing on its short-lived "democracy wall".  Huckleberry Finn might have been trying to serve up Xmas dinner in that empty bank, instead of helping runaway slave Jim along the river bank. But best of all, Twain's less well-known work 'The Gilded Age', which summed up a society of profiteering, property speculation, exploitation and corruption, might be updated from booming late 19th century America to today's different times. An age of austerity, true, but still a Gilded Age for some.  

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tenants' Win, and Russel Vindicated

 I'VE never been a fan of Russel Brand. Just not my cup of tea. I've never watched his programme, didn't like his treatment of Andrew Sachs or talk about "booky-wook", and I went as far as to unfriend two trying-to-be-trendy academics who got on my tits admonishing me for being insufficiently admiring of Brand, and telling me how useless the more conventional Left was.

But even a doubter like me had to rally to Brand's side when he was attacked by the 'Sun' and other media for turning up to support tenants on the New Era estate in Hoxton who were facing massive rent rises and evictions. The 'Sun' had a massive front-page headline screaming that Brand was a "hypocrite" because he payed high rent and his landlord was, it alleged, a tax-dodger. How Brand or anyone else is responsible for their landlord's tax affairs was a bit of a mystery, though I was impressed to see one of Murdoch's mighty organs suddenly getting upset about whether people are paying enough tax in this country.

The bigger question was how someone paying a rent that he can presumably afford  becomes a "hypocrite" by showing concern for people who are less well off and were being asked to pay rents that they could not afford, for what had originally been built as low-income housing. Most people would say the comedian was simply showing his decent side. But at a time when we'd been hearing from various celebs and has-beens how they feared the effect of Ed Miliband's proposed mansions tax, and might have to deprive us of their company and flee the country if Labour got in, Russel Brand had broken the rules.

He had showed ingratitude to the rich and ruling class, and genuine concern for the less well-off, and worst of all, instead of patronising us, and showing what a good chap he can be on some BBC charity show, he took sides with working class people who had organised themselves to fight injustice. There has been nothing like it (well not as publicised, that is) since Robbie Fowler broke the silence over the Liverpool dockers' struggle, by revealing his dockers' support tee shirt to the cameras on 'Match of the Day' , for which he was fined by UEFA, as well as badmouthed by the Beeb.     

 But the good news now is that, with help from Russel Brand, and support from socialists and trade unionists, the New Era tenants who organised themselves to defend their homes have won, at least for the time being. First their Tory MP landlord and now the big American corporation that had wanted to develop the estate by getting rid of working class tenants, have backed off.

Here  is an account by one of the tenants, Lindsay Garret, published in the 'Independent':
It all began on a Monday morning in June, when I received a letter from the owners of the New Era estate. It said that Westbrook Partners, who had bought the property in March, were planning on evicting 93 families, and more than doubling everyone else's rent.
My initial feeling was of shock and devastation. I cried - I couldn’t believe this was happening. And then my disbelief turned into anger. For all my life New Era has been my home. I couldn't stop thinking about my daughter's future, and what would happen to my parents, who are both in their late sixties and also live on the estate.
If we were evicted, we would have had no choice but go wherever Hackney Council could rehouse us - places that were being named were Hastings, Clapton, Birmingham - anywhere but London basically.
I cried, and then I thought: fuck this, and called the press. I had read an article about a similar housing problem in The Mirror a few weeks earlier, so I thought they might listen. Suddenly, our story was on the front page, and I realised that people were interested in what we were going through, as we received so much attention.

Everyone felt the same. We were upset, and wanted to fight back. So we organised a Tenants Association. We had a meeting and I got voted in as Chair.We then built a community around our campaign, and started getting out there, trying to get more people to listen. We launched the petition on, got down to Hoxton Market to hand out leaflets to people with the link to our petition. We contacted local housing groups like Digs, who gave us advice...

I don’t think we’d be here now without Russell Brand's support. We stopped him at the market in the middle of September, and met again a week later. He was really interested and impressed with what we were doing, and told us he was going to help us save our homes.

By getting involved he gave us a bigger voice. And rather than taking over, he gave us a much bigger audience to speak to. The amount of publicity that came with him really helped us.
He's been criticised for joining our campaign, but this has actually made more people interested in us. People who hadn't heard about what we were doing were suddenly asking what this New Era campaign was all about. I think the only people that the media harmed was themselves - it made them look a bit stupid, because everyone could see that what Russell was doing was a good thing.

And while I am at it , without becoming a "Brandite", because I like his style (with words, I could not possibly copy his hairstyle), let me commend the reply he wrote to a bank employee who complained that his lunch break was spoiled by an incident in which Brand was involved: Apology for a Cold Paella:

Labels: , ,

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Not letting A&E be a casualty

IT'S some years now since I was taken ill at the end of  a day  at work, and when the symptoms persisted after I got home, knowing my GP's surgery would be shut, I rang NHS Direct. The nurse who called back advised me to take a cab right away to the nearest hospital A&E.

Living at the time quite near Park Royal, or Central Midddlesex, hospital, I did not bother calling for a cab, but walked over to the A&E where after some time in a busy, crowded and noisy waiting area (so bad the overworked and stressed receptionist could not hear me properly, so any record will show a visit by someone with a similar but differently spelled name to mine), I was seen to, and kept in under observation. After three night's rest which I turned into a week off work I was pronounced well enough, and am here to tell the tale.

A friend whose initially similar symptoms, misdiagnosed as "just a bug" by his GP,  turned out to be something more serious, ended up dying after treatment in the same hospital, a year or two before my short stay. But that is a different story, though it explains why I got the wind up when taken ill.

 The A&E and much else at Central Middlesex has changed beyond recognition since my brief stay. There's a bright new entrance, a bigger, more comfortable waiting area, and better facilities, and the hospital as a whole seems to have grown, with new buildings partly paid for if I'm not mistaken by a so-called Private Finance Initiative (PFI). 

Unfortunately, these things come at a price. If I still lived nearby I'd no longer be able to stroll up the road to be seen there, nor can my former neighbours rush down with their kids when they are injured, nor anyone who has an accident in Park Royal's many workplaces. Even the new bus station handily placed outside the hospital entrance is not much use now. You won't have to wait in a queue at the Central Middlesex A&E anymore, because after cutting back on its services, the health authority has - as people predicted - shut it altogether.  The same thing has happened to Hammersmith hospital too.

As was also predicted -  though not by the authority and experts, it seems - not only are people from Willesden and Acton facing greater difficulty and a longer journey reaching the alternative - Northwick Park hospital in Harrow -but the staff at Northwick Park A&E, which we were told could provide a better service, are having difficulty coping with the increased workload. So wherever you live the result is longer waiting times, more stressed staff, and - as is happening elsewhere -ambulances kept waiting to discharge patients, when they could be going on their next call.

Patients in west London have the longest wait for A&E treatment in the country following the closure of two casualty units.

Each week hundreds wait for longer than the NHS target of four hours, as pressure has soared at the three nearest hospitals.
Critics say axing the casualty units at Hammersmith and Central Middlesex on September 10 has put other hospitals under “unbearable pressure”, with patient care suffering as a result.
Figures from NHS England reveal the trust that runs Northwick Park and Ealing hospitals was the worst in the country for A&E performance in the final two weeks of October.

So much for the promise of "centres of excellence" created by concentrating facilities at one site.

Ealing hospital was only saved incidentally after massive demonstrations by local people, and some outspoken health professionals, with support from the council as well.  Where people were slower to wake up and mobilise, the cuts have gone full steam ahead.

Some people in the health service, and in the media of course, seem to think it is their responsibility to make excuses for government and blame the public when things go wrong. So we were told that reducing casualty services to one site would be better for us. Delays in ambulances reaching calls are supposedly explained by people making frivolous calls (though in my experience ambulances are not sent out to anyone who asks, just like that); not to the government reducing the number of ambulance stations, nor to ambulances having to queue to discharge patients at hospitals.
And see:

The other day I saw some jobsworth on TV explaining that the reasons Northwick Park was having difficulty seeing patients in time was that once people know an A&E facility is there they will use it.
Maybe if I were more cynical I'd suspect the idea had been to move the service away from the more centrally placed and accessible Central Middlesex hospital, hoping enough people had no idea where Northwick Park was or how to get there, and a lot of them would not make it.

A couple of years ago, having heard a revealing talk from Dr.John Lister of London Health Emergency about what was happening to the NHS, Brent Trades Union Council of which I am a member decided to commission a report from him, with the aim of alerting people to what was threatened in north-west London. With help from Ealing and other trades councils this was published as a news-sheet.

Though the Central Middlesex A&E has closed, the fight is not yet over. This week I received a press statement from the Brent borough council;

Independent commission to review A&E closures in West London
2 December 2014

An independent commission, chaired by leading barrister, Michael Mansfield QC, is being set up by Brent Council along with three other local councils in west London, who have been deeply concerned by deteriorating local hospital services.

The closures of hospital A&E services in West London have been followed by lengthening waiting times for residents struggling to get seen at over-burdened neighbouring hospitals. With the expected imminent spike in demand from winter pressures, fears are rising that lives are being put at risk.

Growing disquiet at the knock-on effect on other hospitals, of the closure of emergency services at Central Middlesex and Hammersmith, has also resulted in the surprise announcement by NHS England of its own inquiry into how hospital reconfiguration in west London is being handled. The councils remain concerned about the impact of closing further services at Ealing and Charing Cross hospitals on the remaining emergency services in the region.

Official NHS figures show the trusts that run St Mary's, Charing Cross, West Middlesex, Ealing and Northwick Park hospitals have all failed to meet A&E waiting time targets over recent weeks.

In the three weeks after 19 October, all three hospital trusts dipped below the national target, which says 95% of patients should be seen within 4 hours. Performance at North West London Hospitals Trust, which runs Ealing and Northwick Park hospitals, fell to just 67.8% of patients being seen within 4 hours, the second worst result in the country.

Now, Brent Council along with Hammersmith & Fulham, Ealing, and Hounslow have got together to set up an impartial inquiry to look in depth at the impact local closures are having, and at the implications of further hospital reorganisation proposals, including the planned closure of services at Ealing Hospital and Charing Cross Hospital in Hammersmith.

As well as reviewing the evidence provided by the NHS to support their reorganisation, the commission will be asking others to contribute evidence. It will also commission further research to fill the gaps in existing evidence.

Councillor Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council, said: "Our worst fears, about the effects of closing local A&Es before the expansion of Northwick Park was complete, have come true. Brent residents now face the longest A&E waiting times in the country and immediate action needs to be taken to resolve this situation as we are talking about life and death emergency treatment. Further delays to the A&E improvements at Northwick Park will only make the problem worse. West Londoners deserve the best healthcare and this joint review will be vital in shining a light on what has gone on with these botched A&E closures."

Last week, hospital bosses faced tough questions from Councillors at Brent Council's Scrutiny Committee who decided to keep the matter under review.

Michael Mansfield QC last year chaired the Lewisham People's Commission, an inquiry into the proposals to close services at Lewisham Hospital. He has represented defendants in criminal trials, appeals and inquiries in some of the most controversial legal cases in the country. He represented the family of Jean Charles de Menezes and the families of victims at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. He chaired an inquiry into the shoot to kill policy in the North of Ireland and has represented many families at inquests, including the Marchioness disaster and the Lockerbie bombing. He also represents the family of Stephen Lawrence.

Weekly A&E figures supplied by NHS England…/ae-w…/weekly-ae-sitreps-2014-15/
Statistics » Weekly A&E SitReps 2014-15
The Weekly A&E collection collects the total number of attendances in the week for all A&E types, including Minor Injury Units and Walk-in Centres, and of these, the number discharged, admitted or transferred...|By Statistics

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Guilty of being pregnant, and telling truth at job interview

 WHEN we were young it was considered a feature unique to faraway totalitarian regimes, and unimaginable in Britain, that the state should dictate to couples whether they could have children, or how many.  Laws forbidding abortion, and even contraception, are more common, especially where the authoritarian Church holds sway.

But you can wave goodbye to your individual freedom and rights when you are poor and need to claim benefits (as distinct from the privileges of the rich), particularly if you are female.

Not content with presiding over the numerous deaths of people whose disability benefits were taken away, Tory Minister Ian Duncan Smith is looking for new ways to take away unemployment benefits. One would involve stopping women who had more than two children from registering as available for work. Remind you of anything?

Already under pressure and incentives to meet targets for claimants they take sanctions against, some officials seem to be ahead of the minister in their enthusiasm for making up new rules they can enforce.

Jobseekers are supposed to show evidence that they are making genuine efforts to look for work. But a young woman in Ashton Under Lyne has been punished for trying too hard.

The 19-year old woman was 23 weeks pregnant when she attended an interview for workfare - that is, work for nothing - at a branch of DIY and home improvement merchants B&Q.

Whilst at the interview they noticed that she was pregnant and they said they would put her on light duties. But it seems that later they changed their minds. Whereupon the jobcentre decided to take the  woman off their workfare -and benefits -list, telling her “we are sanctioning you because you told them that you were pregnant”.

This woman had walked some miles to the workfare interview, seeing it as her last chance of not being sanctioned, having previously been accused of not making enough effort to find work. She had been truthful at her interview. Had she not been, she could have been in trouble, and putting herself and her baby at risk.

We all know this government's attitude to Health and Safety regulations, - so much "red tape" to be dispensed with - but in this case a person is being penalised for not putting herself or potential employer in breach of them.

Unemployed workers and supporters have staged a demonstration outside Ashton job centre, and accuse officials there of targeting pregnant women for sanctions. 

I don't know how common this kind of thing is.  It is bad enough people being forced into unpaid work for their benefits, without being deprived for telling the truth when applying for it.

I think this calls for questions in the House from MPs at the very least.
And the PCS union, which I know has had trouble displaying posters in the Job Centres urging courtesy towards claimants, should make further efforts to advise its members, that there are limits to how far they are obliged to go in doing the government's dirty work.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cops on the Corporate Campus

STUDENTS occupying a building at Warwick University vowed on Monday that they would not leave quietly without a change of attitude from the authorities. They want apologies from the university and the West Midlands police over the way a previous protest was treated.

Last Wednesday police sprayed CS gas in the faces of students and threatened them with a taser. The protesting students, supporting the Campaign for Free Education, were occupying the reception area of the university administration building. Three students were arrested

 As news spread of the police assault on what the students said was a peaceful protest over tuition fees, students and many academics around the country responded with messages of protest to the Warwick authorities and solidarity with the students.

In Coventry former MP and councillor Dave Nellist said the police action was a disgrace, and called for a full public investigation.

About 1,000 students took part in a demonstration on the university's Coventry campus on Thursday morning, following which a group of campaigners took control of the entire top floor of the university’s conference centre, the Rootes Building.  Although the term has officially ended the students were continuing their stay this week, and have smuggled a Christmas tree into the building.

"The group was visited by academic registrar Dr Michael Glover on Friday before a letter was sent which asked them to end their trespass on the site.

University spokesman Peter Dunn has since confirmed the protesters could be forcibly removed.

He said: “As with all of these occupations, we reserve the right to bring a protest to an end if protesters do not bring it to an end themselves.”

But anti-fees campaigners say they will make eviction from building "as difficult as possible"
Warwick University CS spray protesters could be forcibly removed, Simon Gilbert, Coventry Evening Telegraph, December 8.

Earlier, replying to an e-mail from vice chancellor Nigel Thift which alleged a security officer had been assaulted and a door broken, the occupiers had called the vice chancellor a liar, and accused him of showing more concern about a door than the lives of students. Their statement said they were building a community, and invited others to join them.

West Midlands police said an investigation of the campus action would be undertaken by their Prfessional Standards department.  “The inquiry will determine the appropriateness of the actions taken by the officers who had been called in by the university after reports of assault on a member of their security staff.” 

News of occupations at Warwick and even mention of the Rootes building brings back memories.
It was back in 1970, when Warwick, under innovative vice chancellor Jack Butterworth, was one of the bright and shiny new universities set up under the Wilson government's policy of expanding access to higher education and promoting modern technology and business.

Students who peacefully occupied the administration offices without resistance came upon a remarkable collection of documents in an unlocked file. One was a letter from Rootes Motors (later to become Chrysler) management, marked 'Strictly Confidential', with a report of a meeting on Coventry Labour Party premises. My late friend and comrade Harry Finch, a shop steward at Alfred Herbert machine tools, was mentioned, but the main focus was on the speaker, Dr.David Montgomery, a visiting American academic at Warwick's Centre for the Study of Social History.

Gilbert Hunt, a Director of Rootes Motors, member of the University Council and chairman of its Building Committee, had sent his corporate Director of Legal Affairs, accompanied by a security officer, to listen in on the meeting. The object of this surveillance was apparently to ascertain if Montgomery, who had a trade union background before his academic status, and was meeting trade union activists in Coventry, could be prosecuted under the 1919 Aliens Restriction Act.

Another letter found in the files concerned the political background of a student applicant for a place at Warwick. Underneath was scrawled the message "Reject this man", initialled "JB" -presumed to be Butterworth.

The Warwick University occupation back in 1970 spearheaded a nationwide campaign by students concerned about secret files and the use to which they are put, which reverberates today with the much more serious campaign by workers fighting against blacklisting. Professor E.P.Thompson, whom Butterworth himself had appointed, resigned from the University, and wrote the book, Warwick University Ltd., relating the student discoveries to what can happen when a university is too close to business.

Jack Butterworth went on to become Lord Butterworth, a Tory peer.

While the Warwick university campaigners were settling into their occupation, a different aspect of the place of universities, and of police on university premises, was brought into focus at the London  Metropolitan University, on Holloway Road, on Friday.

Around 25 protesters, assembled under the banner of “Islington Against Police Spies”, handed out leaflets and spoke to students, staff and passers-by about the employment of  Bob Lambert, the former undercover cop who infiltrated environmentalists groups. Using a different name, Lambert established a two-year relationship with one unsuspecting campaigner, and fathered a child with her, before disappearing to restart his career elsewhere.

Last month the force apologised “unreservedly” for Mr Lambert’s actions after agreeing to pay out £425,000 compensation to the mother of the child.

Bob Lambert has also been accused, under parliamentary privilege, of planting a bomb in a department store as part of an operation to discredit animal rights activists. In June 2012 Green MP Caroline Lucas said in Parliament that Lambert  had planted a fire bomb that caused £340,000 worth of damage to the Harrow branch of Debenhams department store in 1987 as part of his undercover work in the Animal Liberation Front. Lambert denied this. Two animal rights campaigners served four years in prison for similar attacks.

Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group says Lambert is also implicated in the police gathering of information supplied for the purpose of blacklisting trade unionists.

The official position now is that Mr Lambert works part-time as a senior lecturer in London Met’s John Grieve Policing Centre. He is an expert in counter-terrorism and has published articles about hate crime. He became a doctor after completing a terrorism studies PhD at Exeter University.

In a statement, London Met said: “While we recognise the mistakes Bob made in his police career, for which he has apologised and displayed deep regret, we have absolute faith in him as a lecturer and member of our community. During a 31-year policing career, Bob made a significant contribution to tackling terrorism, political violence and hate crimes in London which, along with his strong academic record, makes him a valuable asset to criminology teaching at London Met.”

Labels: , ,