Posts Tagged ‘Bolsover’

Dennis Skinner: Stop Treating Northern People like Second Class Citizens for HST Rail Link

November 2, 2017

In this short piece from RT, Dennis Skinner angrily demands that Theresa May stop treating the people of the north as second class citizens, whose homes can be casually demolished to build the HST rail line.

He states that research has shown that down in the ‘leafy suburbs of the south’, 30 per cent of the first 140 miles of the rail line will be tunnelled under ground to prevent having to knock houses down. But in the north, only 2 per cent will go underground, because the company states blandly that it’s cheaper to knock them down. He requests the Prime Minister to meet with the constituents in his part of Bolsover to assure them that a further thirty houses will not be knocked down.

May simply replies that she is sure that HST will be happy to look into that, and says she would like to remind him about the benefits that HST will bring with the northern powerhouse and the growing economy in the Midlands. To which the Beast of Bolsover looks extremely unimpressed, shaking his head with his other colleagues on the bench.

In fact Skinner has every right to be sceptical, as research has been done that predicts that rather than benefit the north, the rail link will actually take industry and jobs from that already struggling part of the UK.

Quite apart from the manifest injustice of the rail chiefs apparently considering that the homes of the good people of the north aren’t worth the same consideration and preservation as those in the south. I can very well believe that they take this view, as there is very much a London first mentality amongst the metropolitan elite, and particularly amongst the Tories. You can see that in the way any major artistic or cultural project is immediately scheduled for London rather than any of our nation’s great provincial cities. And this was especially true when the capital was run by Boris Johnson.

Despite the rhetoric, May and the Tories have absolutely no interest in how the rail network will affect people in the deprived parts of Britain, which it will allegedly benefit, and are only concerned in case it harms their part of the south.

Dennis Skinner on Mike Ashley and Sports Direct

June 6, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has published a piece about Mike Ashley, the founder of Sports Direct, finally agreeing to meet the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, who are investigating the employment practices in his firm. Among the issues they wish to inquire into are claims that working conditions at Sports Direct result in employees working for less than the minimum wage. Ashley was unwilling to meet them at their headquarters, and so invited them to come to talk to him at his headquarters, but this violates parliamentary transparency. So they threatened to apply sanctions. This finally worked, and Ashley has agreed to go to meet them.

See Mike’s article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/06/06/sports-direct-founder-to-appear-before-mps-after-committee-prepares-to-apply-sanctions/

Shirebrook, where Sports Direct’s headquarters is located, is in Dennis Skinner’s constituency, and the left-wing Labour MP has a few sharp criticisms at Ashley and his firm in his autobiographical Sailing Close to the Wind: Reminiscences. Especially as the site occupied by it is on former coal tips, which were levelled and the land reclaimed through funding obtained by Skinner as the local MP. Skinner writes

Mike Ashley, the billionaire operator of sports shops on many high streets and the Newcastle United football club in the premiership, owns a huge Sports Direct warehouse in Shirebrook in the Bolsover constituency. I secured £21 million from Gordon Brown when he was chancellor of the exchequer to flatten Shirebrook’s pit tips and Ashley’s buildings sit on the reclaimed site. So Ashley’s plant was subsidised out of the public purse.

Sadly, MPs such as myself have no control over planning matters and East Midlands regional development agency didn’t heed advice to demand that trade unions be recognised. As a result, if all the workers I’ve seen from the place are representative of the whole workforce there, the warehouse is filled with hundreds of workers on insecure zero-hours agency contracts at little more than the minimum wage. So taxpayers subsidise Ashley a second time by topping up the low pay with benefits to enable his workforce to survive.

No trade union is recognised at Sports Direct in Shirebrook and I know from conversations with countless nervous workers that they’re terrified of speaking out of turn because they fear they’ll be sacked. Almost everybody I’ve come across was recruited through an agency, on poor conditions, rather than through Jobcentres. I know of very few workers there who are on full-time permanent contracts paying a living wage. I wrote to Ashley asking why at Newcastle United, the football club he owns, a trade union is recognised for the players but he doesn’t recognise a trade union for the workers at Sports Direct. Ashley never replied. What’s more, I, as the local MP, have never, on principle, set foot in the warehouse.

Greedy bosses such as Ashley are why I shall be a socialist as long as I breathe. He’s rich beyond the dreams of avarice by exploiting workers. Worth an estimate £3.75 billion, his loot increased by £1.45 billion last year according to the latest Rich List. He’s amassed a fortune even bigger than that grinning tax dodger Richard Branson. The helicopter Ashley flies in, to and from that Shirebrook plant, is paid for by the sweat of men and women who struggle to afford a bus fare home.

The truth is the Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) forced Ashley to recognise a union at Newcastle United. Footballers are a tightly knit small group with a transfer value on the market. At Sports Direct, Ashley holds all the cards – the company hiring and firing at will. He dips into a large pool of vulnerable unemployed. (pp. 101-2).

This shows the double standards between the very lucrative world of professional football, and the poor souls, who slave away in sweatshops all over the world to produce the merchandising sold by exploiters and slave drivers like Mike Ashley. Sports Directs’ head should have much explaining to do, but I dare say he’ll get away with it, or escape with a bare minimum punishment due to the fact that he’s one of the go-getting entrepreneurs the Tories and New Labour just love. And bad luck for the rest of us.

Dennis Skinner’s Personal Recommendations for Improving Britain

May 31, 2016

The veteran Labour MP and trade unionist, Dennis Skinner, also makes some political recommendations of his own in his autobiographical Sailing Close to the Wind: Reminiscences, published two years ago in 2014. He summarises his plans, saying

So I’m fighting for a new Labour government to axe the bedroom tax, save the NHS, cut fuel bills, created jobs for the young and raise living standards. My personal manifesto will be to the left of that of the party but I’m committed 100 per cent to the election of Labour candidates across Britain. (p.313).

As for the proposals themselves, he writes (headlines in bold are mine)

I’ve a few suggestions of my own to boost Labour’s popularity and beat the Tories.

End Privatisation

To start the ball rolling we should end expensive privatisation instead of paying a fortune to contractors such as G4S, Serco and Capita that make a mess of services in the process. It’s time we got back to publicly run, publicly owned services provided in the public interest.

Nationalise the Railways

On the railways, the £900m surplus on East Coast trains, operated publicly after the private sector crashed twice, shows us the way ahead. Instead of boosting Richard Branson’s profits, a nationalised railway could make a profit and generate the cash to improve every station in Britain.

A ‘Robin Hood’ Tax on City Speculators

If we want extra money for the National Health Service and social care, we should levy a Robin Hood tax on speculators in the city. Directing the funds raised directly to health and care, including help for the mentally handicapped, rather than to the Treasury, would be immensely popular. We could start with a low rate and increase it when the tax proves to be popular, as I’m sure it will be, by emulating the one per cent National Insurance rise for the NHS when Gordon Brown was Chancellor.

Scrap Trident

Scrapping Trident would free up billions of pounds for a massive house building programme so everybody has a roof over their head and nobody is homeless. The position on council house sales has to change or local authorities won’t build houses if they know they must sell them cheaply after a few years.

End Nuclear Weapons, Restore Local Democracy

The savings from defusing nuclear weapons can also help save local democracy. Councils are being swamped by central government. Powers are either grabbed by Whitehall or transferred to unelected quangos. Ever since the Clay Cross rent rebellion, Whitehall has dictated to communities. We need to reverse the trend.

Nationalise the Utilities

On the question of the utilities – gas, electricity, water – this is the moment to start taking them back into public ownership. We took control after 1945 and right up to Wilson’s final government, when he nationalised aerospace with a majority of only three, public ownership was advanced. To cap energy bills is a good idea but a better plan is to control utilities by restoring public ownership in Britain of firms that are currently owned in France, Germany and almost every country on the globe.

Spend More on Education; End Privatised Schooling

Spending on education more than doubled under the last Labour government, which was impressive. let’s stop the growth of faith schools and misnamed free schools – tax payers fund them so they’re not free – by enhancing the powers of local authorities to champion the education of every single child.

Raise Minimum Wage

We need to end the pay freezes. The people that are carrying the burden of the bankers’ ramp are mainly workers at the bottom of the scale. The Living Wage shouldn’t be optional. Everybody should get it. But let’s not stop at £7.65 an hour outside London and £8.80 in the capital. The trade union campaign for 10 an hour should be Labour policy. A decent day’s work deserves a decent day’s pay.

Ban Zero Hours Contracts

We should introduce legislation to outlaw zero hours contracts and private employment agencies. Playing off worker against worker, ferrying into Britain cheap labour to undercut employees, is poisoning community relations. Sticking 10, 12 or 15 eastern Europeans into a house then deducting large sums form their earnings is in nobody’s interests except cowboy employers. Reasserting the role of Jobcentres as local labour exchanges will improve wages and conditions.

Increase Trade Union Rights

Trade union rights must be strengthened significantly, including the abolition of sequestration. Industrial action requires two sides to be involved in a dispute, yet it is union funds that are seized. Rebalancing employment rights in favour of workers and unions is essential if we are to build a fairer economy.

Abandon Tory Obsession with Fiscal Restraint

And we must escape the dumb economic mantra about balancing the books. There would have been no Spirit of ’45 if Clement Attlee’s goal was to balance the books. There would have been no NHS, new Welfare State, new council houses and unemployment wouldn’t have dropped to 440,000 in 1950, after only five years of the finest Labour government ever. In fact the finest government ever.

We need spending to get people to work and the economy growing. You don’t need a crystal ball to see where we should be going. We can find the way ahead by reading the history books. (pp. 309-12).

He states that they’re not just his ideas, but have been discussed for the last 10 or 20 years in the Bolsover constituency.

I have some caveats. I don’t like the attack on faith schools, having been to an Anglican faith school myself, and I don’t share his euroscepticism. But other than that, I think he’s absolutely right. Thatcherism has done immense damage to this country. Now, after thirty years of it, it is long past the time it should have been discarded.

Dennis Skinner on the Battle of Orgreave

May 30, 2016

Skinner Book Pic

Mike last Thursday put up a piece reporting that an all-party parliamentary group had demanded that Theresa May open an inquiry to reveal what really happened during the Battle of Orgreave in the Miner’s Strike. The MPs signing the demand include Sir Peter Bottomley, who was Employment Minister during the Strike, Angus Robertson, the leader of the SNP’s parliamentary group, Tim Farron, the leader of the Lib Dems, and much of the parliamentary Labour party, including Jeremy Corbyn.

The Battle of Orgreave was one of the most violent confrontations during the Miner’s Strike, when 6,000 police from all over the country charged the strikers on horseback, arresting 95 of them. However, the men were later freed after the trial against them collapsed.

Mike, however, remains pessimistic about ever getting the truth out of Theresa May.

See the article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/26/will-we-get-the-facts-about-orgreave-from-someone-like-theresa-may/

Indeed. This is a government that utterly despises any kind of transparency and democratic accountably. Mike has described at length, and ad nauseam, the way Ian Duncan Smith and the DWP tried to block at every turn the requests from him and other bloggers and disability activists for the release of the official figures showing how many people had died after being declared ‘fit for work’ under the assessment system. This is a government that has reviewed the Freedom of Information Act itself to tighten it up to prevent the release of any information that may be embarrassing, uncomfortable or just plain awkward for the authorities. They have even declared that Freedom of Information Act requests should only be made to understand why an official decision was made, not to challenge it.

It is a deeply authoritarian attitude. They take it as their right to govern, and the public’s duty to obey unquestioningly. The Daleks would be proud.

I’ve been reading Dennis Skinner’s autobiography, Sailing Close to the Wind: Reminiscences (London: Quercus 2014). The notorious and celebrated ‘Beast of Bolsover’ comes from a mining background, and entered politics through his activity in the NUM – the National Union of Miners. He has always campaigned vigorously on their behalf, as well as those of all working people. He was a staunch supporter of the Miner’s Strike, organising much public support for the strikers. And as you’d expect, he has some very harsh and very pertinent things to say about Thatcher. He also gives his view on the Battle of Orgreave, the violence inflicted against the miners by an out-of-control police force, and the gross distortion of justice and attack on the working class it represented. He writes:

The police state imposed by Thatcher abused miners as the enemy within. Striking miners were stripped of civil rights, victims of summary justice. the courts were a tool of her oppression. Strikers were barred from picket lines and jailed on the uncorroborated testimony of police officers who made it up as they went along. It broke my heart to see miners trickle back to work towards the end, starved and beaten.

We suffered a strategic defeat in the June of the British Steel coking plant in South Yorkshire at the Battle of Orgreave. In hindsight, the field wasn’t an easy place for us to make a stand with a mass picket. the ground was too open, and there were few choke points where we could stop the convoys of lorries. the police in riot gear, with their dogs and mounted cavalry, lined up in their thousands. It was as if they wanted us there, coppers shouting mockingly ‘See you tomorrow’ when they went off a night. We were well and truly battered by the police. Some of the coppers were out of control, bashing anybody in reach. Mounted officers rode their horses at miners and used batons as swords. To escape being trampled under the hooves I climbed up a young tree, the sapling’s thin branches straining and threatening to drop me into the path of the cavalry. It was like a scene from a massacre in a Wild West film.

Orgreave confirmed the BBC was part of the campaign against the miners because the film broadcast on TV was reversed and it was forced to apologise after the strike, which was too late. The BBC showed the miners throwing sods of earth at the police and then the police retaliating but it had happened – and was filmed – the other way round. The BBC lied just like the Tory government.

The police would boast about overtime and taunt workers who’d not been paid a penny for months by waving £10 notes in front of them. I gave all my wages to the NUM, every penny in that year. I’d done the same in the 1972 dispute. I was seen as a miners’ MP and had been elected to Parliament only a couple of years before. In ’84 I was talking to NUM officials who’d said they wouldn’t be paid. ‘What about you, Dennis?’ they asked. My answer was: ‘I’m going to do what I did in 1972.’ I didn’t want to do anything else. (Pp. 203-4).

The hostility of the police was frightening, officers breaking the laws they were sworn to uphold. They were emboldened by immunity. Heads of miners were cracked and men wrongly arrested in their thousands. thatcher turned Britain into a police state. (Pp. 204-5).

It’s possible that following the Hillsborough inquiry, that has exonerated the Liverpool fans and put the blame on the stadium, the company operating it and the police, we might see justice in this area too. But I doubt it very much. Hillsborough was a terrible accident. The massive use of disproportionate force by the police to break the miners was a deliberate policy by that Tory idol, Maggie Thatcher, about whom no evil must be spoken. She did it deliberately to break the miners in retaliation for the way they had overthrown Ted Heath a decade earlier. Her policies are synonymous with the Tories, and the Tories cannot criticise and will not criticise the Leaderene. We need and deserve an unbiased report into Orgreave. But I very much doubt we will ever get it under this mendacious, deceitful and deeply secretive government.