Posts Tagged ‘Sunderland’

Folkie Mike Harding Reads His Angry Letter to May on LBC

December 2, 2018

This is a short video from Garbage Collector’s channel over on YouTube. Those of us of our certain vintage will know Mike Harding has a folk musician and comedian. He used to have his own folk music show on Radio 2. Harding was on holiday in France when May made her speech calling for the whole country to unite behind her on Brexit. Harding was so outraged by her, her party and Brexit that he wrote this letter, which went viral. May herself even shared it, and James O’Brien then asked Harding to record himself reading it, so he could play it on his show on LBC.

It’s a powerful, angry attack on the Tories. Harding states that his family includes Irish people and Poles, who came to Britain and fought for it. His father is buried in Holland, having been shot down with his bomber during World War II. Yet these brave people have been shamefully discarded by May. He attacks the way she treated the Windrush people and her vans going round calling for immigrants to hand themselves in. He states that she has no answer to the question of the hard border in Ireland, nor over Gibraltar. Her party has privatized everything bar the NHS, and is lining that up to sell it to the Americans. And the Tories refusal to invest in industry has resulted in the north – Yorkshire, Sunderland and elsewhere – being decimated. She has grievously divided this nation. Those who voted remain will never forgive her for Brexit, and those who voted Leave will never forgive the Tories for not fulfilling the glowing promises they made about it. There are no magic unicorns being produced by the government, and no 350 million pounds people were told would go to the NHS if we left Europe.

Here it is. There’s a complete transcript of it over at Garbage Collector’s post for it on YouTube.

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The Racism of the Tory Party and its Supporters

May 12, 2018

Yesterday Mike put up a piece commenting on the sheer amount of racism in the Tory party. Evolve Politics had published a piece about the 18 Conservative councillors and council candidates that have been suspended just that month for alleged racism. They gave the name of the councillors and candidates, the towns and areas in which they were standing, and the reasons for their suspension. And it’s a long, ugly list. Most of them were suspended for alleged islamophobia, though there was also accusations of anti-Semitism, general racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and abuse of transsexuals. One candidate, Darren Harrison of Watford, had been suspended for allegedly having links to Neo-Nazis and the EDL. The Tory Mayor of Wokingham was also suspended for alleged links to the EDL. Two other Tories were suspended for supposedly abusing and assaulting their fellow activists. Another had allegedly been falsely claiming to have served in the army. And Geoff Driver of Sunderland was suspended on charges of corruption and witness intimidation.

Evolve Politics also reported that the largest Islamic organisation in the UK has called for an inquiry, but this has been ignored, as the media ignored the racism in the Tory party.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/05/11/have-we-already-forgotten-the-huge-number-of-tories-who-were-suspended-amid-allegations-of-racism-and-abuse/

A few days earlier, Mike also posted a very relevant piece from the Turning the Tide blog. The blogger there had been a member of a number of Corbyn-supporting groups on Facebook. He had never once encountered a threatening, racist or anti-Semitic remark on them. But the media are fixated on attacking Corbyn with supposed left-wing racism. This is not questioned, because it is shared by so many of the mainstream media. They have also turned a blind eye to the much more prevalent racism in the Tory party. The blogger therefore compiled a selection of on-line hate, garnered from Twitter and Conservative-affiliated webpages. The blogger then gave an example from the Guido Fawkes site. This contained some very nasty comments about Muslims.

Mike then reminded his readers that the Guido Fawkes site has been the source for many of the anti-Semitism stories used by the Blairites and the right-wing media.

He concludes this article with the words

And nothing from the MSM on this issue, even though it is right in front of them.

Are our news reporters now so poor at their jobs that they can’t do even the slightest investigation? Or is their political bias now so great that they refuse to discuss anything that could harm Conservative political chances, no matter who is harmed as a result?

Let’s have an answer, mainstream journalists. You are avoiding this story because of either ignorance or incompetence.

Which is it?

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/05/08/blogger-looks-for-right-wing-hate-online-and-finds-it-easily-wheres-the-media-outrage/

We shouldn’t be surprised at this racism and bias in the Tory party. This is the party, after all, which ran posters advising people to vote Labour if they wanted a Coloured neighbour in the 1960s. I also remember the scandals in the 1980s when the Union of Conservative Students adopted racial nationalism – the official ideology of the National Front and BNP – as its own. As for Guido Fawkes, he was a member of Freedom Association, a Libertarian organisation, when it was inviting the leaders of South American death squads to its annual dinners as guests of honour.

So it’s no surprise that the media are keen for the racism in Tory ranks to remain unreported. There have been academic studies of the role and power of the media, that show how important the media is for shaping which issues or considered suitable for discussion and debate. Those issues that aren’t reported, or which they sneer at, generally are held to be outside the circle of proper debate. And this is another case of the mainstream media trying to do this by not reporting the Tories’ racism.

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Brexit: A Catastrophe, with Some Positive Aspects

June 25, 2016

Like very many people, the Brexit vote on Friday left me depressed. I thought it might be a narrow vote to remain like a number of other people I knew, including some who were actually in favour of it. The result, unfortunately, has been a very narrow vote to leave. I have to say that I think the relatively small majority involved means that there should have been a minimum number of votes established for the motion to succeed. This is a major constitutional change, and so I think something like the two-thirds majority many nations demand for changes to their constitutions should have been the minimum number of votes the Brexiters should have needed to win. This has not happened, and I can the rancour and division arising from the vote and the fact that it was so narrowly passed continuing for several years yet. And especially once the negative effects of the vote kicks in.

Cameron Has Destroyed Britain

Let’s start with the fact that Cameron has destroyed the United Kingdom. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU. As a result of England and Wales voting ‘Leave’, Nicola Sturgeon is now pressing for yet another referendum on Scottish independence. This time the SNP may well succeed. Even if they don’t, it will still lead to considerable constitutional friction as the desires of the Scots to remain in the EU clashes with the English and Welsh vote to leave. The result is going to be more division and acrimony.

And in Northern Ireland, that could be deadly. Despite the Good Friday Agreement and the peace initiative, there’s still very much sectarian tension in Ulster, and there is the threat anyway of a renewed terrorism campaign by dissident Irish nationalists. My own feeling is that the open border with Eire has had some effect in calming the political situation by giving the Irish Nationalists the opportunity for free contacts with the south, even if Ulster itself still remains a province of the UK. Very many people, including Mike over at Vox Political, have pointed out that the ‘Leave’ vote could cause further violence as the common membership of the EU was at the heart of the Good Friday agreement. That’s gone, and the treaty with Eire and the different parties at Stormont will have to be negotiated all over again. And if a referendum is called for the province becoming part of a united Ireland, the result could be further violence, especially from the radical sections of the loyalist community, who passionately wish to be part of the UK.

The referendum, so far, has done little except seriously to imperil the centuries-old union between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

More Attacks on Workers, More Austerity, More Racism

There are many good left-wing reasons for leaving the EU. However, the ‘Leave’ campaign was orchestrated by the Tory extreme right – Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Priti Patel and Gisela Stuart. Their main concern was to get Britain out of Europe so they could undermine further what few remaining rights workers have in this country, and so return Britain to the sweatshop conditions of the 19th century. People have died and seen their mental health made much worse already through benefit sanctions. Johnson, Gove and Patel will want to destroy the minimal welfare state that’s been left, including the NHS. The result will be further poverty.

And at the heart of this campaign has been terrible xenophobia, particularly directed against Muslims. Indeed, Farage criticised the early ‘Leave’ campaign because it was based on economic performance and the negative effects staying in Europe had on British business and the welfare state. Now the Brexit crew have admitted that their statement about the £350 million a year or so they claimed was going to Brussels, would go instead to the NHS, was a lie. Some people are going to feel betrayed. They should. But more likely this frustration and anger will be directed at the immigrants, who will continue to be blamed for taking British jobs and welfare benefits, even though this too has been exposed several times over as a lie. The result of this will be that Britain moves closer to the American far right, with Farage or Boris assuming the role of a British Donald Trump. Mike pointed out in an article on Thursday that Brexit will not substantially affect the number of immigrants coming to Britain. Over half of them are university students, another few more are coming to fill jobs where no British workers are available, and the refugees coming to Europe are covered by the international legislation on refugees, established in the 1950s, not by European law. I doubt if there will be a rise in membership of the Fascist right, as this has collapsed since it reached its peak a few years ago. What will happen is that probably more people will join UKIP, and there will be increased racist violence against Blacks and Asians. And you can guarantee that it will be stoked by papers like the Daily Heil, the Scum and the Express.

More Poverty, as Foreign Firms Pull Out

Mike over at Vox Political also put up a piece yesterday stating that Britain is likely to lose a number of foreign firms, such as the various American, Chinese and Japanese companies, that have set up business here so that they can have access to the European market. Honda in Swindon have been one, and there have been others across Britain, in places like Sunderland, which voted to leave. Now that Britain is about to leave the single market, and tariffs may be imposed on goods from Britain exported to Europe, there’s no advantage for these firms to remain here. So many will consider leaving.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/06/24/euref-the-fairy-tale-is-over-and-the-ending-wont-be-happy/

A Few Small Reasons for Hope

I don’t think that, as appalling as the Brexit is, it’s necessarily entirely bad. It gives a little more space to save the NHS and renationalise some of the industries privatised by Maggie. One of the reasons why the defenders of the NHS against privatisation, such as the authors of the book NHS SOS have been so insistent on taking action as quickly as possible, is that neoliberalism is written into the EU’s constitution and particularly its laws on competition. These state that once an industry or state concern has been privatised, it may not be renationalised, and other countries’ firms should be allowed to compete with it. This was due to come into force this year, when foreign firms were to be allowed to compete to run the railways. This piece of legislation locks in privatisation, and would mean that under the current EU legislation, we could not renationalise the NHS when Cameron, Osborne and Hunt finally privatised it.

Now Mike rightly points out that the squalid Brexit crew will want to lock in privatisation, especially with the Transatlantic Trade Partnership the Tories are so keen to sign. This needs to be very strongly resisted. Nevertheless, I don’t think the Brexit vote has been entirely bad, if England and Wales can use the opportunity it’s provided to stop the completion of the process of privatisation. But this is going to demand a considerable amount of work, and will be blocked not just by the Tories, but also by the Blairites in the Labour party.

From 2011: Private Eye on the Failure of Working Links Workfare Firm to Find Jobs for Unemployed

April 13, 2014

workfare-isnt-working

This is from the Eye’s edition for the 25th November – 8 December 2011.

Workfare Update

Challenged in parliament over rising unemployment, David Cameron repeatedly offered the government’s Work Programme as the answer. But one of the main contractors running the welfare-to-work scheme has been deemed “inadequate” at helping the jobless find work, according to Ofsted inspectors.

Working Links, a partnership between Manpower and CapGemini, runs the Work Programme in Scotland, Wales and the South West. But according to an Ofsted report earlier this year: “The percentage of participants that progress iinto jobs is low”.

Ofsted marks services on a scale of one to four, from “Outstanding” to “Inadequate”. In Derbyshire the “outcomes for participants” – like jobs – got the worst mark. the inspectors also lamented that “the number of participants who joined the programme was significantly below the contract targets” and that “during this period only 13 percent of participants gained employment”.

The scheme is the brainchild of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who had hoped to create a body of “Fairy Jobmothers”. Alas, the Ofsted inspectors were not over-impressed by some Working Links staff. “The personal consultants do not always negotiate and set clear targets for the completion of different activities. Often, they do not monitor these activities sufficiently well,” said the inspectors.

In the North-East, meanwhile, Working Links operations in cities like Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Tyneside and Sunderland, admittedly unemployment black spots, were underwhelming . Though the number of people finding jobs had improved slightly, job rates “remain low”, the inspectors said.

Working Links’ antics have sometimes been questionable. As Private Eye revealed in April, a confidential government audit into the partnership’s Liverpool operation showed that it was even claiming government cash for jobseekers who had found work without its help. As well as running the Work Programme, Working Links is now also part of the Community Justice Partnership, bidding for probation contracts (see last Eye).

Workfare is little more than a 21st century form of forced labour. A number of bloggers, such as Johnny Void, and including myself, have pointed out its similarity to the totalitarian forced and compulsory voluntary labour systems of Stalinist Russia, Communist Yugoslavia and Nazi Germany, all of which had schemes in which those persecuted by the regime, including the unemployed, were forced to work for industry. Johnny Void and several others have also shown that these schemes are terrible at getting people into jobs. The statistics actually demonstrate that you’re more likely to gain work through your own initiative than through the government’s Work Programme. Not that this seems to bother the government, as it looks like the whole programme is designed to supply cheap labour to industry, rather than actually combat unemployment. This piece by Private Eye adds more information on how useless the Work Programme is.

Co-Operatives in Pre-Revolutionary Russia and Potential in Modern Britain

March 16, 2014

Co-operative pic

The co-operative movement and store was a major part of working class life during the 19th and much of the 20th century. My parents used to shop at the Co-Op, and receive the books of Green Shield Stamps, a form of the enterprises early profit-sharing. They were also a very strong part of lower-class life in Russia in the years shortly before the 1917 Revolution. The historian J.N. Westwood describes just how popular they were in his book Endurance and Endeavour: Russian History 1812-1886, 3rd Edition, (Oxford: OUP 1987)

In contrast to its attitude towards trade unions, the administration did little to hinder, and even encouraged, the co-operative movement which flourished after 1905. Producers’ co-operatives in the form of artels were already part of Russian tradition; what was new was the sudden popularity of marketing and purchasing co-operatives. There was also a blossoming of the savings bank movement. by 1918 the co-operatives’ membership was equivalent to about one-third of the total population. The biggest co-operative retail store was Moscow’s Kooperatsiya, which had 210,000 members. There was a co-operative wholesale union, (Tsentrosoyuz), and in 1911 a People’s Bank had been founded. The latter, the Moscow Narodny Bank, was 85 per cent owned by the co-operative movement. All this does not mean that Russia in 1914 was well on the road to socialism, but it does suggest that Russians, and especially rural Russians, had not become as individualistic as some commentators assumed. (p. 179).

Westwood also gives this description of the artels, the co-operatives formed by artisan craftsmen.

The elite among them [industrial workers] were the specialists, who often grouped themselves into a co-operative (artel), whose elected leader would seek short-term contracts in such trades as house-painting or stonemasonry.

Artels were also important in industry. They were formed by workers who capitalized themselves by paying an entrance fee. Because the members knew and trusted each other, and cherished the reputation of their group, the artels were noted for their reliability and good workmanship. In a sense the artel member was a privileged member of the proletariat, but he was found only in small-scale enterprises. The bulk of Russia’s industrial workers worked in factories. (p. 177.)

The authors of Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy (Nottingham: Spokesman 1986), Diana Gilhespy, Ken Jones, Tony Manwaring, Henry Neuberger, and Adam Sharples also examines and considers the role co-ops played in British industry from the late 1950s to the 1980s. They state:

Workers’ co-ops are often held up as a pure form of industrial democracy. The ideal model of co-ops is one in which working people, given training and the experience of self-management, can extend their control over the work-place to strategic decisions made in the enterprise. They are owned and controlled by worker members on a one-member, one vote-basis, and not by shareholders or the state. Profitability is not the overriding objective because it is enough that the co-operative covers the costs and funds future investment. (p. 50).

They note, however, that co-ops have not always been successful. Many have failed, while others have only survived by cutting workers pay and conditions. They also note the various different forms of co-ops, such as those set up by the Quaker and Christian Socialist, Scott Bader, in 1958, which is really a form of benevolent paternalism, with the actual management structure little different from conventional, capitalist enterprises.

They then consider the problems and positive aspects of many of the small co-operatives set up in the 1970s. They describe them thus:

Many very small companies have been set up as co-ops from scratch. In the 1970s’s many people were attracted to the idea of co-ops, and over 200 sprang up as a result. Many of the people involved were middle-class, well-educated, under 35 and few had children. Typical ventures were left printers, bookshops, wholefoods suppliers, and builders’ collectives. Most are struggling financially, operating in labour-intensive sectors where the profit margin is low. They are heavily dependent on funds from local authorities, ICOF (the Movement’s funding branch) and on members’ own savings. In general, unions have played no part in their establishment and running. They often survive through low pay, unpaid overtime, and poor working conditions often close to sweated labour. An impressive degree of workers’ control is practised – with equal pay, job rotation, and sharing of responsibilities for running the firm. The members often have personal access to professional help and other resources. Their youth and background mean that questions of pay and job security are less important to them. (P. 51).

The also examine the workers’ co-operatives that were founded by employees trying to save their jobs in firms threatened with closure, in particular those at Fakenham, Meriden, Scottish Daily News and Kirkby Manufacturing. The movement here was expanded by the 1974 Labour government under Tony Benn as the Secretary of State for Industry. It was Benn, who financed the Meriden, Scottish Daily News and Kirkby Manufacturing.

These, they acknowledge, were a failure, stating:

In economic terms these co-ops have been failures. Heavily undercapitalised and in a bad market position, they were handicapped from the start. Co-op ownership could not reverse the decline of firms which capitalists had failed to run at a profit. As a result, they were forced to choose between reducing wages and accepting the very redundancies they sought to avert. Meriden only managed to prolong its life because the workforce accepted redundancies and the re-introduction of wage differentials. Such fundamental compromises have reduced workers’ control to little more than a formality.

In no case does the seem to have been any strong initial feelings in favour of the co-operative principle. most of the workers were not asserting their right to self-management. They were willing to negotiate about any proposals to save their jobs. Had it been possible to persuade new capitalists to move in, the worker’s would have agreed. Working people often have neither the confidence, sills nor financial resources to want to take on the risks involved in ownership. Faced with financial pressure, many co-ops have had to turn to middle-class managers to bail them out. (pp. 51-2).

Those founded after the mid-70s, often with the help of Labour local authorities, were much more successful. The authors go on to say

The most impressive phase in the growth of co-ops has been the most recent: there are now thirty times more workers’ co-ops than in the mid 1970s. Co-ops have had a better record of survival than other small businesses, reflecting th4e greater commitment of their members. This growth clearly reflects the increase in unemployment, which has forced many to new ways of working. The most important factor, however, has been the support provided by Labour local authorities. The range of new co-ops is extremely varied: for example, City Limits, London’s successful weekly listings magazine; Pallion Business Services in Sunderland, set up and run by a group of physically handicapped people, provides office and business services; MONS a Sheffield-based engineering co-op, has developed and produced a dehumidifier.

The kind of support Labour councils provide has been sensitive to the particular problems co-ops face. Above all, advice and management help is provide through over 70 local co-operative development agencies, reflecting co-ops’ need for assistance on starting up, product development, marketing, training and legal questions. In addition, investment finance is given through enterprise boards, the development agencies themselves, and new revolving loan funds: £7 million was given in 1985-86 alone. Co-ops are also being helped with premises, planning applications, and in liaising with local trade unions. (p. 52).

They conclude that co-ops cannot be developed from above, particularly in large and medium sized firms, and that shop stewards and employees are faced with a sharp learning curve regarding management. For some this can be too difficult, and the employees will find the experience of attempting to run a co-op dispiriting. However, they note that many co-operatives have weather the recession better than capitalist firms, and that establishing a co-op should be an option open for workers to decide for themselves.

Clearly co-operatives have a strong tradition right across Europe, from Britain to Russia. Although they can have severe problems, nevertheless they can be very successful and provide another way of developing a socialist economy, if only in part.