Thursday, 17 December 2009

Palestine : Beyond the Headlines

Save 25% on Green Left/SR Palestine seminar

Green Left and Socialist Resistance are co-organising a seminar studying the causes of the Palestine conflict, with an emphasis on frequently ignored issues. Speakers include Gilbert Achcar (Eastern Cauldon, The Clash of Barbarisms) and Joel Kovel (Overcoming Zionism, The Enemy of Nature). You can save 25% by booking online in advance at Socialist Resistance.

Leaflets are online at http://bit.ly/27Dcwa. The event will be held on Saturday 16 January at Friends House, opposite London Euston station, from 10.30am to 5pm. Registration will open at 10am.

Workshops planned will include:
Zionism and the ecological catastrophe in Palestine;
Gender in Palestine;
Palestinian Refugees and the Right to Return;
Palestinian trade unions;
Land and water in Palestine;
Revolutionary struggle and national liberation;
Building direct solidarity;
Does the Zionist lobby control US polcy?
Tickets are steeply discounted for early bookings:Advance £12/£6On the door £15/£8

Sunday, 13 December 2009

March for jobs!


Last Wednesday, Brighton and Hove Trades Council and the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign organised a meeting for people facing redundancy as a result of closures and cuts in businesses in the Brighton area.

Workers from Lloyds and Threashers attended, along with trade unionists from both the private and public sectors - Argus report here.

One of the things to come out was the idea of a march through Brighton top oppose job losses.

It was clear from the meeting that workers feel a sense of isolation and powerlessness, and a joint march would be a way to overcome this.

The march is likely to happen early in the new year. Watch this space!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Tory administration implodes

Highly significant bloke that Paul Lainchbury.

Paul who? (as his constituents used to say!) Well Tory Cllr Paul Lainchbury represented Goldsmid ward and for much of the time made a pretty poor job of it. All sorts of reasons have been put forward for this, many of them beyond his control. But whatever the reasons, it might have been sensible for the Tories to call time, get him to resign and run a by-election at a time of their choosing. But Paul had his uses - most notably the one thing he did manage to do was turn up to the odd council meeting and maintain the Tories' thin majority, which they used to elect their candidate for Mayor, take all nine Cabinet posts, and generally get their policies through. The Tories completely monopolised power, despite having barely half the council's seats.

Eventually, the departure of Lainchbury could no longer be put off and in the by-election the voters punished the Tories for their contemptuous treatment of them and gave the seat to the Greens. With that defeat went the Tories' overall majority, and what happened last Thursday was then only a matter of time.

So the opposition "coup" was good for democracy, but what happens next? As I understand it, the opposition parties cannot form an administration unless they become a single group in the Council - that means a coalition. Can three parties are going to be at each others' throats in May (or sooner) actually hold it together in the longer turn?

Or they could continue to leave the Tories nominally in power and come togther to vote down Tory policies or force changes - but after a while the danger is that they start to look like "spoilers" who want power but no responsibility, and that could boomerang in the Tories' favour come the next council elections in 2011.

Most importantly, what does it mean for those who use the Council's services and those who work for it? Perhaps it's time the "opposition" told us what they plan to do?

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

A victory for people power

Good news to report from the campaign to stop the Cissbury sell-off. Thanks to Dave Bangs for the report.

STOP CISSBURY SELL OFF
4th December 2009
Info@scso.co.uk chrisharex@yahoo.co.uk Tel: 01903 200 648 dave.bangs@virgin.net Tel: 01273 6290 815 Maggie.winter@findonvalley.org Tel: 01903 263 038

Worthing to retain its Cissbury Downland
Leadership Councillor Steve Waight supports the improvement of public access and the enhancement of this public downland

Worthing Council’s Cabinet unanimously agreed to withdraw the Council’s Cissbury downland from sale yesterday, December 3rd.
Councillor Steve Waight, the Cabinet Member for Resources and Business Modernisation went further, though, and, in a prolonged exchange with questioners, conceded most of what protestors have been calling for.
120 protestors had turned up to demonstrate on the steps of the Town Hall and crowded into the Cabinet meeting. Their numbers amply corroborated Cllr Waight’s statement that “more local people had responded to him on this issue than any other in his 18 years as a councillor”.

Retaining control not just ownership
In his responses to SCSO supporters Cllr Waight categorically stated that, in addition to retaining the freehold, the Council “will also retain control over the land”. He stressed that the primacy of the issue of public access had been heard and understood by him and that he had heard the call both to protect the land as it was and to enhance it.
Cllr Waight and Steve Coe, Worthing Council’s Estates Manager, reported that a meeting had taken place earlier in the day with officials from Natural England, the South Downs Joint Committee (SDJC) and the National Trust. In this meeting there was discussion of the nature of the external funding that Natural England could make available to the Council, chiefly through the agri-environmental Higher Level Stewardship scheme (HLS), and the support that both the National Trust and the SDJC were able to offer.
Steve Coe indicated that they will have further meetings with these bodies to address the options available to the Council.

No sale of long term leases
Cllr Waight said that the length of any new lease was yet to be determined, but indicated a positive attitude to the idea of new leaseholds coterminous with the ten year duration of each HLS agreement. He stated that there had been interest expressed from farmers and landholders neighbouring the Council’s downland. He said that it was necessary for the Council to address immediate legal technicalities with regard to the cessation of the past agricultural tenancy, as part of the process.

There was no mention by Cllr Waight of the idea of the sale of long term leases which had been a feature of both the Report to Cabinet and the accompanying press release[i][i].

Continuing public concern and sense of exclusion
Questioners repeatedly stressed their suspicion of the Council’s intentions and their opposition to the truncation of the review that had earlier been announced (circa 10th November) by Cllrs Waight and Yallop, the Council Leader. They urged that the final proposals for the downland should be made fully public and consulted on widely, and criticized the opaque nature of these events. Cllr Yallop reminded the meeting of his action a year ago to make public the details of the sale. Cllr Waight stated that the review had been on the issue of sale alone, not on the wider management concerns, which did not quell questioners concern at their exclusion from the process of considering this issue.

A good first step
This result is a good first step, though taken within the context of these ongoing concerns.
Stop Cissbury Sell Off will continue to press the views of residents and users of this downland, and to press for the democratic accountability of future management decisions over Worthing’s public downland.

A public information meeting is being arranged by us early next year, when details of progress will be discussed. It is planned to invite Worthing Council representatives to brief us on what they are doing

Monday, 7 December 2009

Lloyds workers speak out - meeting this Wednesday




LLOYDS - Closing!
THRESHERS - Run Dry!
BORDERS - Boarded Up!




WHAT CAN THE WORKERS DO ?
A chance to discuss what can be done and hear from local unions defending their members, including Unite who are representing workers at Lloyds.

An after work meeting has been called by Brighton, Hove and District Trades Council & Youth
Fight for Jobs and is open to ALL workers and their families.

6pm Wednesday 9 December Phoenix Community Centre, Phoenix Place, Brighton

Across Brighton & Hove working people are being threatened with redundancy as workplaces close down.

As well as Lloyds, Threshers and Borders shutting, Brighton Council is looking to lose 150 workers and Sussex Uni are to axe nearly 200 jobs

This all means while jobs are going the opportunities for finding work in our town are less than ever.

Time and time again it has been shown that strong unions can and do make a difference when jobs are under threat.

If not challenged companies will try (even when they are half owned by the tax payer) get away with making job cuts on the cheap.

We need to get organised AGAINST job losses and FOR job creation. Come along to discuss how we can win the best deal for workers.

Contact details
Brighton, Hove & District Trades Council
07709 696561
secretary@lewes-eastbourne-and-wealden.nut.org.uk
Youth Fight for Jobs
07984 027754
brightonyouthfightforjobs@gmail.com
www.youthfightforjobs.com
Facebook: 'Brighton Youth Fight for Jobs

Friday, 4 December 2009

Tories hit us with their laser beam

In the wake of the Lloyds job losses, the Council have decided to do their bit for economic development and employment - by cutting 160 jobs. More than 50 of these will be in Adult Social Care, a service which has just been assessed as 'good' by the CQC. How 'good' it will be after the Tories' decimation is anyone's guess.

Tory leader Mary Mears has described this as a "laser-like focus on delivering value for money". Funny, looks like old fashioned Tory slash and burn to me. Although delivering the news from a hoilday cruise was a real touch of class I thought.

The justification for this is to deliver on the Tories' election promise to reduce council tax, but if services deteriorate and charges and costs go up, the most vulnerable in society will end up worse off. But the Tories are a minority administration and they have no mandate to attack jobs and services.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

What's a Labour Government for?

Having slagged off Cameron in the previous post, now it is the turn of Brown and Darling - fiddling while Brighton's financial industry burns.

The announcement yesterday by Lloyds Banking Group that it was shutting its call centre in Gloucester Place - in fact they are vacating the building completely - was a major shock. Some 500 staff are facing either compulsory redundancy or compulsory relocation.

The shock was all the greater given that the bank is largely owned by the government. So....er....are they actually going to do anything? Not on your life!

This actually goes to the heart of New Labour's problem. It could win some support by being seen to assert some authority over the bankers, but they can't - they are trapped in the headlights of their own neo-liberal policies.

It is time for the unions to step up to the plate. Unite needs to extricate its head from New Labour's arse and get organising. It also needs to sink any differences it may have with the more parochial LloydsTSB Union. Many people think (rightly or wrongly) that the LTU has the greater credibility with the workforce. Now is not the time for internecine squabbling.

The building at Gloucester Place is a symbol of the big expansion of the then-TSB in the mid-1980's, when it made Brighton the centre of its operations. Many people have worked there for years.

There is a possibility for a real campaign around this, not least because the bank have given 6 months notice - lets not see it wasted.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Don't let the Tories take away our right to be safe

Dave's dabbling again. This time the object of his pronouncements is health and safety legislation. And no Daily Mail myth and cliche is left unused in his crusade.

Does anyone remember the 1980's? A decade famous for Thatcher (of course), as well as some dodgy music and even dodgier dress sense. But the disasters were not just sartorial and musical. There are some very '80s names to remember as well - Hillsborough, Bradford, Zeebrugge, Purley, Marchioness, Kings Cross, Piper Alpha. The 1980's will be remembered as the decade in which people died in huge numbers in dreadful disasters (never call them "accidents") whilst mainly doing very mundane and supposedly risk-free things. What these disasters had in common was that they were all preventable; they all occurred for the want of basic safety provisions - a lookout on the dredger which sank the Marchioness, proper crowd control measures at Hillsborough, not putting to sea with the bow doors of a ferry still open! This was the decade when we were free from the shackles of rules on safety and "common sense" ruled the day.

Of course, Cameron's speech ties in nicely with the media paranoia about 'elf n'safety, which distorts and exaggerates every apparently inappropriate and overbearing use of the legislation, and no doubt Cameron thinks this will grub him a few votes.

But there is more to it than that. His is a message which the deregulation enthusiasts of big business want to hear. The hidden agenda is a war on the basic standards of health and safety at work which it took the labour movement generations of campaigning, and thousands of lost and damaged lives to achieve. Even now we have only just got corporate manslaughter onto the statute book, and there has still been no prosecution as far as I am aware.

Don't let him get away with it. Don't let the next 10 years become another disaster decade.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Blair lied....no s*** Sherlock!

After a week the Chilcot inquiry confirms what we already knew.....Blair lied.

He lied about the threat posed by Iraq, he lied about their weapons capability, he lied about them being ready to attack within 45 minutes, he lied about being a "restraining influence" on Bush.

The anti-war movement knew this, and the 2 million who marched knew it too.

So what were our MP's doing at the time (you know...those people we vote for to "hold the executive to account")? Checking their expense accounts? Climbing the greasy pole to the dizzy heights of Parliamentary Private Secretaryhood? They certainly weren't applying even a scintilla of scepticism to what they were being fed.

So, Des, David and Celia (oh yes, and Ivor too!), what's your excuse? How did you not spot what anyone with half a brain was able to?

Answers on a postcard.............

Stop Cissbury Sell Off - all smoke and mirrors from Worthing Council

Stop Cissbury Sell Off. November 27th 2009

Contact: David Bangs, T: 01273 620 815, dave.bangs@virgin.net. Trevor Hodgson, T: 01903 602 200, thodgson@pccomplete.co.uk, Chris Hare, T: 01903 200 648, chrisharex@yahoo.co.uk

Worthing’s Downland
When is a sale not a sale ?

We would like very much to offer three cheers to Worthing Council leaders’ proposal to Worthing Cabinet to withdraw the Council’s Cissbury downland from the market[i].
Sadly, we cannot.
Indeed, the proposal to replace the sale of the Cissbury Downland with ‘long term leases’ looks like an attempt to dispose of the substance of their ownership of this Downland, under cover of the near-worthless retention of the legal freehold.

Pulling the wool over Worthing peoples’ eyes.
The council will thus receive the credit for dropping an unpopular sale, but still gain the capital receipts from the sale of the leases. Worthing people will gain little or nothing in terms of the management and improvement of their downland.
In effect, this proposal revives the discredited idea that covenants will adequately protect the future of our downland, by using the slightly different legal form contained within a long-term leasehold agreement.

It is telling, also, that the idea of the sale of the downland through long term lease has its origin in external advice from a ‘prominent developer’[ii].

Councillors should bear in mind that it was the Council’s past history of distance management of their farmed downland on long term agricultural tenancies that has encouraged the Council to forget the original purposes of their ownership in the first place.

‘Long term leases’ are not a solution. Thus: -
- The National Trust own about 450 acres of downland at Beeding Hill on ‘long term leases’. That form of ownership means nothing. They have no management control over any part of the resource except the tatty little fly-tipped car park. The rest of the downland has been bulldozed and relentlessly ploughed. The public have lost all rights of access, and all the archaeology and the ancient flowery pastures have been destroyed.
- Adur Council own large amounts of farmland north of Shoreham and Southwick, which is let on long term leases, and over which the Council has no management control. That downland has been stripped of almost all of its wildlife interest, its archaeology, and its public access.
- Brighton City Council own the freeholds of both Benfield Valley and the Devils Dyke Golf Course, yet they are let on long term leases. In the case of Benfield these leases have been owned recently by several developers and have not prevented several damaging development proposals for parts of the Benfield Valley land. In both cases the leases give the Council zero management control over these downland areas.
We urge the Council to develop democratically accountable forms of management for all its downland, which optimise their control over the land and their ability to put in place all the enhancements that would benefit Worthing people. These structures may well include carefully drawn up Agricultural Business Tenancies, but they would not include any ‘long term leases’ or ‘long term’ tenancies.
Particularly, the Council should write a Management Plan for their owned downland and consult with Worthing people and other interested bodies on the contents of that plan.
Such a Worthing Downland Estate Management Plan should include:
- Free and open access over all the council owned downland, as was always envisaged when the Borough purchased it, and as is strongly needed on this urban fringe Downland within the new National Park. All of Mount Carvey already has such access, and Tenants Hill had it in the past, and needs to be returned to that free and open condition.
- Management of all the farmland as permanent pasture, with the removal of most of the internal fencing at Tenant Hill and some at Mount Carvey.
- A project of enhancement of the quality of this permanent pasture, so as to re-create the flowery, species-ri ch pastures which were so central to the place identity of the South Downs in earlier generations.
- This project of enhancement to be done with the close partnership of Worthing’s neighbours, the National Trust, the new National Park Authority, Natural England, and local experts.
Eastbourne Council have undertaken just such an enhancement project over the past 15 years with excellent results for all visitors to their downland at Beachy Head and on the heights above the town, for wildlife, and for the restoration of a badly damaged down landscape.
With such a plan Worthing, too, can make its Cissbury Downland an iconic landscape for the new National Park.
Please reject any return to the bad old days of distant Council management and loss of all memory of the public values for which our downland was first bought.


[i] (Worthing Borough Council Press Release, 26th November 2009, and WBC Cabinet Meeting Agenda item 9, December 3rd 2009).

[ii] (Agenda Item 9, para. 3.2, Report to Cabinet: 3rd December 2009).

Monday, 23 November 2009

Local Union activist threatened with sack!

This just in from the National Shop Stewards Network. I know Zena, and this is quite incredible. This NHS trust doesn't just want to get rid of her - they want to be able to appoint the union rep to take her place!


Zena Dodgson, the elected Trade Union Facilitator (TUF) for staff at East Surrey, Crawley and Horsham hospitals, has been threatened with dismissal by Surrey and Sussex NHS Trust. Zena is also the elected Secretary of Surrey and Sussex Healthcare Branch of Unison, but would be unable to continue in this role unless employed by the Trust.

She was elected to the TUF post by the trade unions in 2005 and has been re-elected every year since by her union colleagues.

The Trust has unilaterally decided to make Zena’s elected post redundant and replace it with an appointed Trade Union ‘Convenor’ role at the end of 2009. She has been issued with an 'at risk' notice. The management want to have the 'new' post appointed by a panel which will include them! The union side is opposing this and defending their right to elect their officers.

The Trust in the past had a management appointed staff side coordinator and it took a four year effort to end this arrangement.

Zena is obviously seen as an obstacle to the plans of the Trust. Along with her Union colleagues at the Trust, she strongly opposed the ‘reconfiguration’ of Crawley hospital, which involved the downgrading of some services.

The decision to dismiss Zena is part of SASH management’s effort to turn it into a Foundation Trust, allowing it to be run as a business in the health care ‘market’. In the Marketing and Communications Strategy Update presented by Andrew Hines, former Director of Corporate Services and Facilities, to the SASH board meeting on September 24, 2009, he wrote:“If the Trust is to be effective in the future as a Foundation Trust, it needs to develop a mature approach to marketing.”The staff have started a petition to defend their elected Trade Union Facilitator.

Zena’s union, Unison, has lodged an appeal against her dismissal, which is scheduled to be heard on Monday, 23rd November.All supporters of the NHS should oppose this attack on Trade Union democracy.

The Chief Executive of Surrey and Sussex NHS Trust is Mrs Gail Wannell.Send letters of protest to her at: Maple House, East Surrey Hospital, Canada Avenue, Redhill, RH1 5RH.The phone number is 01737 231825, or email at gail.wannell@sash.nhs.uk

Please send messages of support to zena.dodgson@nhs.net

National Shop Stewards Network

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Council helps itself to employees' pay

Now, tempting as I am sure it will be to some to write this post off as the special pleadings of a featherbedded public sector worker, do please stick with it. Any worker could potentially find themselves in a similar position.

At the end of last month, we finally got the pay award that was due from April, the delay being due to some very protracted negotiations (well actually some protracted stalling from the national employers).

Only several hundred employees didn't - the reason supposedly being that they had previously been overpaid a year previously when last year's pay award was applied. The Council took it upon itself to simply withhold people's pay on the basis of a "maybe" People weren't told this until they enquired - no explanation, no justification.

Now people are starting to have deductions made from their pay for these supposed overpayments, but still no explanation of these overpayments has been forthcoming. People have been given no opportunity to challenge the decision that an overpayment has occurred, nor to challenge the decision that there is a legal right to recover.

Needless to say, the union is on the case. We are disputing the Council's right to act in this arrogant and high-handed manner, and we are demanding that employees are given the right to challenge these decisions before money which they have earned and are relying on is snatched away from them. Now that they are being challenged they are starting to back down.

John Barradell, the new Council CEO, places a high premium on good customer service. But of course, if any user of council services were to be treated like this, there would be hell to pay.

Expecting council workers to show respect for service users starts with some respect being shown to them. Over this issue, Brighton and Hove City Council has shown its employees no respect whatsoever.


PS - if you find your pay packet suddenly "light" because of an alleged overpayment, challenge it quickly. Demand an explanation, and demand the right to negotiate around whether and how it should be recovered. Use your employer's grievance procedure and get the union involved if you've got one. What the employer won't tell you is that they may not have the legal right to recover the money at all, if you received it in good faith and had no reason to believe it was wrong.

Make sure you get advice quickly!

UPDATE - the council has now backed down in the face of pressure from Unison and the GMB. Everyone is getting the money they are owed and anyone the council thinks it has overpaid will get a letter of explanation and a chance to discuss and dispute the issue. The council looks like it will still seek to recover the money but we will be arguing strongly for it to be written off.

Yes..I know...lots of "righteous indignation" from the usual suspects on the Argus Comments about this great "windfall" council staff are supposedly enjoying - but if you have ever been overpaid benefits, tax credits or wages you'll know what a nightmare it is. You have got used to living on a sum which you had every reason to suppose was correct, then it's taken away from you when someone discovers the mistake. That in itself is bad enough, but then they want back all the money you've had been overpaid in the past as well.

Don't forget - if you didn't know it was wrong and had no reason to suppose it was, and you have acted on the basis that it was right, it is highly likely that the employer has no legal right to demand the money back. In Keenan vs Barclays Bank, an employment tribunal ruled that the employee had so built her life around the salary which later turned out to be incorrect that it was not only unfair to ask her to repay the sum hitherto overpaid - but that it was also unfair to expect her to take any reduction in the salary she had been wrongly paid for the future. Now there's an interesting precedent to quote at your friendly local HR department!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Respect Conference

Reports of conference are available on various blogs which I link to. For example here and here.

The official report is here.

I just wanted to give a few impressions as a delegate.

The positives are that Respect is on the up, growing in membership and hopeful that we can increase our Parliamentary representation, by adding Salma Yaqoob and Abjol Miah to George Galloway. Respect remains the strongest left current electorally (the Greens have more councillors but as yet no-one in Parliament).

On the downside we remain small and active in a comparitively small number of places. This really brings us to the nub of the biggest and most controversial questions facing us - if we can only win in a few places, who do we work with on the rest of the left and on what basis?

There were a number of motions about this at Conference, none of which were mutually exclusive and all of which were passed. But this paper unanimity does mask sharp disagreements about what the words really mean for different people

One group, which supported No2EU at the Euro-elections and is sceptical about the Greens, want to see Respect orient towards the new coalition which has just been announced between the Socialist Party and Communist Party of Britain.

Another group, around the leadership, is dismissive of No2EU and the latest coalition and sees co-operation with the Greens as a bigger priority. In Birmingham this has borne fruit with the Greens deciding not to stand against Salma Yaqoob after she supported the Greens at the Euro-elections, and a possibility of a similar deal in Manchester.

Socialist Resistance does not see the approaches as needing to be counterposed. We want to see votes for credible candidates to the left of New Labour in as many places as possible, be it left Greens, explicit socialists or indeed Labour lefts like McDonnell and Corbyn.

The left's priority must be to mount as big a challenge as possible at the general election to counter the swing to the right (and the far right) which is currently a very real prospect.

We cannot afford the luxury of bickering.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Hove Park School - the new blackboard jungle?

Last week, there was a distressing incident in which a boy was stabbed by another boy at Hove Park School, which my own child attends.

I do not claim to know all of the circumstances of this incident - I expect all of those to come out in the investigation which will follow.

What I do want to comment on is how this incident has been seized upon by the local media to sensationalise the incident and to try to paint this school as some den of iniquity. The Argus has also implicitly attacked the management of the school as having failed to act appropriately, as having not treated the incident seriously, and as trying to sweep it under the carpet. In fact nothing could be further from the truth.

The school suspended the alleged perpetrator, called the police and, remarkably, printed a letter which was taken home by every pupil on the very day of the incident in order that parents would know what had happened and that the safety of nearly all the other pupils was in no way compromised. So much for "sweeping it under the carpet". Of course, this measure was not good enough for one parent, who bemoaned "having to find out about it through a letter", though his suggestions as to what the school could have done to get the information to all parents that quickly is not recorded.

Another implied sin according to the Argus was that, horror of horrors, lessons carried on normally while this happened. Again no indication is forthcoming as to what would have been a sensible alternative course of action

Of course, the Argus could also not resist throwing in another mention of HPS's exam results (which they had covered previously), to complete the exercise in dog-whistle politics.

So far, so predictable. What is worse is that a local councillor, Amy Kennedy, has decided to go along with the wave of hysteria, and in fact has helped to make it worse. So far we've had Cllr Kennedy saying that the school should be put into special measures (huh??), unfounded claims that behaviour problems are not dealt with at the school, and wild comparisons to The Bronx!
(Such a comparison is of course soooh last century...the correct point of overblown comparison from the US is of course Baltimore, in these post-Wire days.)

Would it be too much to expect that the school should get some support and acknowledgement for the steps it is taking, rather than being undermined at every turn by people who seem determined to label it a failing school?

Hundreds protest against downland sell-off

Thanks to Dave Bangs for this report on the protest in Worthing which I mentioned last week.


STOP THE CISSBURY SELL-OFF PRESS RELEASE SATURDAY NOVEMBER 14

HUNDREDS of residents have protested in Worthing against controversial council plans to sell off downland next to Cissbury Ring.

250 to 300 people gathered at the Coombe Rise car park in Findon Valley last Saturday November 14th for a rally staged by campaign group Stop the Cissbury Sell-Off (SCSO).

They then filed up on to the land itself, waving banners and placards, and let off distress flares to draw attention to the threat.

Some then continued for a four-mile guided walk across the council’s for-sale land and the National Trust’s Cissbury Ring, despite intermittent squalls of gale force wind and lashing rain. The walk passed over one for-sale council-owned field next to Cissbury Ring which has had a statutory right of access for the last 5 years, but has never been opened to the public, as the law required it to be. This was the first time the public have ever properly used this land.

The event was hailed as a huge success by SCSO, which has already forced Worthing Borough Council to look again at its plans.

After the group alerted the public to the proposals, the local authority last week announced a review of its decision to sell agricultural land at Mount Carvey and Tenants Hill.

But speakers Dave Bangs and Chris Hare from SCSO, along with Kate Ashbrook from the Open Spaces Society, told the rally that this was not enough. Dave Bangs said: "The council failed to appreciate the public’s wish for this Downland to remain in council hands. We urge everyone to write to Cllr Steve Waight, the Worthing Council Cabinet Member for Resources, who will conduct the review, and express their opposition to any sales of Worthing council downland”.

Speakers urged Worthing council not only to definitively withdraw plans for the sale, but to work with bodies like the coming National Park authority and the National Trust to preserve and enhance the much-loved areas and to take advantage of available environmental funding.

Said SCSO spokesman Trevor Hodgson: "There was a very strong feeling amongst everyone there that we cannot assume the council will do the right thing, despite the massive turnout today.

"The speakers stressed today that it is important for everyone who cares about the future of this land to remain vigilant in the weeks and months ahead.

"There are now a huge number of people actively involved in this campaign and the council can be assured that we are not going away.

"We will fight on until we are completely satisfied that this crucial piece of Worthing 's environmental and historical heritage is fully protected and secure for generations to come."

Mr Hodgson added that there had been particular disbelief among residents that Worthing council was trying to sell off its downland at a time when the South Downs National Park was being given the official green light in recognition of the importance of this unique English landscape.

Further information on the campaign, including maps of the land in question, can be found on the SCSO website at www.scso.co.uk. To contact the group email info@scso.co.uk

ENDS

SCSO: Media contact. Trevor Hodgson. Email: info@scso.co.uk
Tel: 07968 042646

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The tabloid, the letter and the Prime Minister

Well, The Sun in full retreat...never a bad thing, but what are the issues here?

It is quite clear that most people don't quite understand how a war which is killing Afghans by the thousand and British soldiers by the score can be reduced to the standard of one person's handwriting and spelling. Didn't we lose a certain amount of perspective here?

Brown's crime is to continue the criminal presence of UK troops in Afghanistan - against the wishes of a clear majority of the Afghan and British people - but The Sun and the Tories can't quite come out and say this. They have no different strategy to New Labour but still somehow need to make political capital out of the situation. So we have the unedifying spectacle of a particularly clumsy tabloid sting, aided by a bereaved mother whose grief has clearly overruled her better judgement. Brown's getting the best press he's had in over a year - how did that happen??

I don't want the UK troops to get more equipment - in order to kill yet more Afghans - I want them out.

Oh..and by the way...the Afghans?...remember them? They're the people whose dead we don't count and don't name, the people who we've reduced to bit part players in their own tragedy.

That, rather than the nonsense over "the letter", is what we should be focussing on.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

It looks like victory

The Cityclean workers have suspended their action after appearing to win most of their demands. If that is the case it is a welcome victory. However the action is only suspended and it looks like there is weeks of negotiation ahead. Given the way the council's negotiating position constantly shifts over this issue, nothing should be taken for granted. We also don't know what the employer's expectations are around the issue of productivity.

But for now, it looks like the Council has backed down in the face of solid and determined action which had clear popular support.

Pictures from the picket lines - Hollingdean Depot yesterday







Monday, 9 November 2009

Stop Cissbury Sell Off


Stop Cissbury Sell Off
Our website has a map of the for-sale Downland: http://www.scso.co.uk/

PROTEST EVENT
against the proposed selling of Worthing Council-owned Downland around Cissbury Ring

MEET AT COOMBE RISE CAR PARK, FINDON VALLEY
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14th, 11.00am
Speakers include: Kate Ashbrook, redoubtable Director of the Open Spaces Society, & Marion Shoard, countryside author & national campaigner.
Press and TV will be there, so we need maximum turn-out to demonstrate our opposition to the loss of this public landscape.
We will walk up onto the for-sale land and hold a short meeting.
Bring the family and all your friends, and anything to make a show – banners, placards, balloons…..

For those who have time we will then take a walk across Mount Carvey, Cissbury Ring and back down Tenants Hill to view the for-sale Downland and talk through how we wish to see it improved under Worthing’s ownership.
The walk will be around 4.5 miles, but folk who do not wish to walk the whole way can easily return at several points.
The walk will cross a Council-owned field that has a statutory right of public access but has been closed to the public, contrary to the law, for the last 4 years.
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Contact: Chris Hare, Tel. 01903 200 648, chrisharex@yahoo.co.uk; Barry Winter, Tel: 01903 263 038, bam@cisfort.fsnet.co.uk; Dave Bangs, Tel. 01273 620 815, dave.bangs@virgin.net.


From: David Bangs, 78 Ewhurst Road, Brighton, BN2 4AJ, Tel: 01273 620 815 dave.bangs@virgin.net
02 / 11 / 2009

Stop Worthing selling off its Downs !!
Worthing Council must stop the sale of its Cissbury Downland forthwith. The decision to sell was made without public consultation, or, indeed, public knowledge.

Worthing folk will not to take kindly to the loss of their present informal right to roam over the fields and little woods which Worthing has just put up for sale.

This is a potentially disastrous repeat of the mistake which was made 15 years ago by Brighton Council, when it covertly decided to flog off its Downland. Thankfully, a sharp local campaign reversed that decision, and Brighton is at last making real public improvements to its Downland.
Worthing Council Leader Paul Yallop is plain wrong to imply that the Council has a ‘duty to the taxpayer’ to sell its landholding around Cissbury Ring.

To the contrary, they have a public duty to enhance this landscape as one of the core green spaces available to their residents, in a town which is relatively poorly endowed with urban green space.

The Cissbury Ring landscape is, to Worthing, what council-owned Beachy Head is to Eastbourne, and what Stanmer Park is to Brighton. It is Worthing’s own ‘green lung’.

The solution is ready and waiting for Worthing to take up. There is ample money available for future Downland management via ‘Higher Level Stewardship’ funding, which is now available to local councils as well as private farmers and landowners. Furthermore, there are other targetted funding sources to tackle a project of Downland enhancement.

If Worthing Council does not feel it any longer has the in-house expertise to plan such a project they need not worry. There will be ample expertise available from the forthcoming National Park Authority (underway in less than a year) and, in the meantime, staff of the South Downs Joint Committee, of which Cllr Yallop is a new member, are available for support. Furthermore, the National Trust, who own Cissbury Ring itself, have a direct interest in partnership working with the Council to undertake enhancement of this landscape.

There is a real doubt over whether much of the special old Down pasture wildlife of Cissbury Ring can survive in the long term unless its ancient chalk grassland can be restored in this wider landscape. The Ring is, at present, just a ‘precious fragment’ surrounded by a sea of farmland which has been stripped of its ancient flowery pastures. This Downscape urgently needs a project of enhancement on behalf of local people.

Come on Worthing, no unnecessary fights, please ! Don’t sell this Downland. Improve it, instead !!

Dave Bangs

Unite to stop the pay cuts!

Unison in Brighton and Hove is fully in support of our GMB comrades who start a week's strike action tomorrow at Cityclean. Unison members face the same attacks themselves. In fact when the full impact of the council's proposals is known, we will have more members affected.

But there is a danger that workers will end up squabbling with each other about who does the most difficult and worthwhile jobs. There have been signs of this on the Argus online discussions.

We need to be saying that a the work of the (mainly but not exclusively male) Cityclean workers is just as important as the work of (mainly but not exclusively female) teaching assistants. The people of the city rely on both of these groups of workers We also need to reject the employers' constant depiction of certain jobs as "unskilled".

Equal pay legislation was meant to lift low-paid women workers up to a decent level of pay, but instead the employers are using it to level downwards - a complete perversion of the law's intent.

This the fight we need to be having.


UPDATE Monday - the strike is solid and the depot was heavily picketed today. We will see whether the Council will start to negotiate sensibly.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Vietnamistan

A country is occupying another country, supposedly because of some imagined threat.

Unsurprisingly inhabitants of occupied country have no inclination to accept foreign occupation and fight against it by any means they can.

As part of it's "strategy" the occupying force shores up a corrupt government which is brought to power in rigged elections. Said government's own abuses of human rights are just as bad as those which they claim to be against.

The occupying force is hopelessly bogged down, less and less wanted by the local population, and ends being stuck there for years.

The parallels are quite strong aren't they?

There's one more parallel - after years (and nearly 60,000 deaths of their own and untold millions of Vietnamese and Cambodians), the Americans negotiated a settlement and a withdrawal with people they previously called "terrorists".

Do we have wait that long and shed that much blood before we start that process in Afghanistan?



Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The crisis in working class political representation

The RMT is hosting a conference in London on the urgent question of how the interests of working people can be represented politically. It is significant that a trade union is offically organising and sponsoring the event.


11am to 3pm
Camden Centre
Bidborough Street
London WC1
download flyer (pdf file 4mb)

The working class is being asked to pay for a crisis created by capitalism with more attacks on jobs, pay and conditions, cuts to services and a new round of privatisation.

This RMT-convened conference will be non-binding and non-resolution based, to discuss with like-minded socialists and trade unionists how best we can defend and promote working class interests.

The conference will seek to analyse the current crisis in working class political representation and then discuss the options for fighting back.

Open to all but please register in advance. To register please email: info@rmt.org.uk, or write to: RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD. Free Creche provided but please also book using the above contact details.

Speakers
Susan Press, Vice Chair Labour Representation Committee
Brian Caton, POA General Secretary
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP
Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary
John Foster, No2EU: Yes to Democracy
Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MEP
Dave Ward, CWU Deputy General Secretary
Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary

On strike against the cuts - local workers speak out

After last years banking crisis,Britain's politicians warned us that we would all have to pay for the bail out of the banks.
The forthcoming election seems to be a competition between the main parties about who will cut jobs,services and pensions the most.
Three groups of workers in Brighton and Hove have already been told that they must help pay for the mess the government and banks have got the country into. But they have also said that they are not prepared to pay with their jobs,pay and working conditions.

They are all taking or planning strike action to defend themselves and public services
Come along to hear their story,be inspired,and find out what you can do to help.

PUBLIC MEETING 7.30pm TUES 17th NOVEMBER

BRIGHTHELM CENTRE
(Queens Rd,5 mins South Brighton station)

SPEAKERS Union representatives from 3 disputes

* Brighton Royal Mail Delivery Office (CWU)
* Hollingbury Bin Depot (GMB)
* Brighton Housing Trust (Unison)

Each striker will talk for about 10 minutes,leaving plenty of time to ask questions and discuss what we can all do to give help and solidarity


NO PAY CUTS !
DEFEND ALL JOBS !
DEFEND PUBLIC SERVICES !


MEETING ORGANISED BY BRIGHTON AND HOVE UNISON

Friday, 30 October 2009

Council in chaos after massive strike vote by Cityclean workers

Members of the GMB working at Cityclean have voted to strike with 94% in favour on a 76% turnout. It is a massive mandate - far bigger than that of any of the 54 councillors on the authority. If the strike goes ahead next month it will bring refuse collection and streetcleaning to a standstill.

Such a massive vote is true testament to the incompetence and duplicity of Brighton and Hove City Council, who now seem intent on provoking the other union at the council, Unison, into the same course of action by pretending to negotiate whilst getting ready to impose further pay cuts on more staff. Although the scale of the pay cuts facing the Cityclean workers has pushed the GMB to the fore, Unison actually has more members potentially affected.

In truth, while it is easy to blame the current Tory administration (and they certainly deserve their share with their dismal performance over the last few months), none of the parties emerge with credit from this fiasco. The issue has dragged on unresolved for 12 years. Now, well-remunerated council bosses want to impose pay cuts on the lowest-paid staff.

WE WON'T STAND FOR IT!

This afternoon, Brighton and Hove Unison issued this statement -


UNISON IN FULL SUPPORT OF GMB COLLEAGUES

The GMB ballot result announced at lunchtime today (29th October 2009), of 94% of members in Brighton and Hove Cityclean in favour of strike action, is welcomed and fully supported by UNISON (Brighton andHove Branch).

The central issue of the Council seeking to impose massive salary cuts of up to £8,000 on these staff is an issue also faced by many UNISON members in the Council. Whilst our members are not concentrated in one workplace, like the Cityclean workforce, overall it is the case that we will have in total many more staff across the Council who are faced with pay cuts of varying amounts. These totals reflect the fact that UNISON has in membership some 60%of the entire Council workforce, 3,800 in all, and those affected arein a whole range of posts including, frontline care services, ICT,Planning and so-called "back-room" services. A large proportion ofthese are relatively low-paid women workers - the very people that Equal Pay legislation was meant to positively benefit.

UNISON cannot be clear what the scale of pay cuts will be, because the Council employer cannot, or will not provide accurate figures to us, despite repeated requests. In addition,the employer has frequently altered its negotiating position, cancelled meetings at short notice and in the last few days managers have told staff in a central part of the Council that they will be "dismissed" if they refuse to sign new, worse pay, contracts.

Today,at the "eleventh hour", the City Council have made a further offer in respect of which UNISON is seeking urgent clarification and further negotiation. However,the core pay cuts still remain, along with a plain threat to ignore the two Trade Unions and go straight to staff with these proposals. This is no way to negotiate or reach agreement. The Single Status Agreement into which these negotiations fall, came into place in 1997 -the Council has prevaricated and delayed for 12 years and now wants to rush new grades into place. UNISON in a letter today has indicated to the City Council at political and senior officer level, that we will not accept an imposition of new contracts. The Branch will proceed to an immediate Strike ballot in such circumstances. Our membership will also support in every possible manner our colleagues in the GMB when they take action - there will be no division between the two Branches who already work very closely at a local level.

Alex Knutsen,UNISON Branch Secretary said
"A situation which should have been resolved through negotiation overthe last 12 years, has now reached a point where confrontation appears to be inevitable. This is very regrettable but even at this time could be recovered. However, if the Council leadership continue along this very dangerous path, UNISON members will vote for strike action to defend their colleagues in their Branch. Members are not militants but committed public sector workers forced to respond to an inept, disorganised and threatening management."

For further information please contact Alex Knutsen on 01273 249076 0r 07961025930

Sunday, 25 October 2009

As the dust settles on Question Time......

So, what to make of Nick Griffin's appearance on QT? Was he exposed as a dyed-in-the-wool Nazi; or a political lightweight? Was he deliberately set up by the liberal establishment for a mauling? What will the voters make of it?

Unquestionably, Griffin took some hits on Holocaust denial, KKK connections and Hitler. But the discussion never really got beyond this. Perhaps this was because the other politicians on the panel had some uncomfortable truths of their own to hide from.

The BNP's support comes from a burning sense of grievance which stems from the notion that "resources" (jobs, housing, public services) are "scarce". The sense of grievance comes from perceptions of how these "scarce resources" are divvied up. In this environment any idea, however incorrect, that certain groups receive any kind of preferential treatment can be exploited. What the Left has to do in this situation is to start by challenging the "scarce resources" myth head on - something which the three supporters of neo-liberalism on the panel were never going to do.

One of the most significant moments on the programme came when someone asked the immigration question. Griffin just looked on smiling as the other three fought over which of their parties best wore the political clothes of the BNP on this issue.

In the absence of a clear political alternative, I suspect that the BNP will conclude that they have done rather well out of the QT experience, notwithstanding Griffin's ineptitude, and notwithstanding that they will have to go through the motions of complaining about how "unfair" it all was.

It's a hard thing to say, but most recession-hit working-class people do not have at the front of their minds what happened in WW2, or what sort of people Griffin mixes with when he visits the US. What they might be interested in is the emerging pattern of BNP councillors' extremely poor performance in office - voting to close services they promised to protect, failing to hold surgeries, failing to attend meetings, not following up casework and - yes - not a little self-enrichment on expenses. What they might also be interested in is an alternative view of society in which the fourth-richest country in the world has no excuse for "scarce resources".

That's the challenge for the Left.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Bring home the troops


The announcement that the discredited election in Afghanistan is now to be re-run strips away the last vestige of justification for this doomed, pointless war. How many more people have to die shoring up a corrupt warlord regime in Afghanistan, and protecting the reputations of politicians at home?
The Stop the War Coalition, CND and the British Muslim Initiative have organised a demonstration in London this Saturday to demand that the troops be brought home. Among the people on the demo and speaking afterwards will be family members of soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The demonstration assembles in Hyde Park at noon and ends in Trafalgar Square. More information here
Local transport details -
Group: Brighton and Hove Stop the War
Transport: CoachPickup point: 2 pick ups: St Peters Church @ 9am, Gardner Arts Centre, Sussex Uni @ 9.30am
Return time: 5pm
Cost: £10 waged / £5 student or unwaged
Contact: Maggie CliffordTel: 07962 940355

Monday, 19 October 2009

How a murdered young woman became a "sex-change prostitute" in 24 hours

Maybe it's just me, but has anyone else wondered how much tackier The Argus' coverage of the murder of Andrea Waddell can get? The headlines used in the print version really do plumb the depths (the web coverage does seem better for some reason). It was noticeable how the tone of the coverage changed as more details about her personal life became known

Why does she deserve to be defined solely by her line of work and her sexual identity?

I did not know Andrea Waddell but it is clear that many people who did feel her loss very keenly - not least her family.

The least our local paper can do is show some respect and ditch the prurient sensationalism.

Meeting on Afghanistan this Thursday

AFGHANISTAN: 8 YEARS AFTER THE INVASION

Have there been any benefits for the Afghan people - and for women in particular? How has the military intervention affected regional and global security? Should we argue for ‘troops out now’?

A talk and discussion with Gabriel Carlyle Peace News journalist and anti-war activist
Thursday October 22nd 2009 7.30pm – 9.00pm Brighthelm, North Road BN1 1YD meeting will start promptly at 7.30pm
Everyone welcome


WatchingtheWarmakers.org.uk

Friday, 16 October 2009

Gated communities in the centre of Brighton? No thanks!


A very good letter in The Argus this week alerted me to the fact that there is a proposal to close the Ship Street Gardens twitten from 9pm to 8am, because of crime and anti-social behaviour.
No-one would deny that such things are a problem but is "gating" a footpath through the old town actually going to solve the problem or merely move it?
We cannot gate every street in central Brighton!
More to the point, by what right does anyone close off an area in the centre of town? Whilst I realise that it doesn't necessarily float everyone's boat, for me a walk through the passageways is part of the charm of "old Brighton". As the writer of the letter points out, if they get away with this, how long will it be before Black Lion Lane follows? Then the whole "cut" through that part of the Lanes is blocked up for half the day.
It is quite a surprise to further discover that it is the local Green councillors who are motivating this.
Don't let them get away with this theft of city space!
Send objections before October 18 by email to simon.bannister@brighton-hove.gov.uk or write to the Director of Environment, Public Safety/Environment Improvements, Bartholomew House, Batholomew Square, Brighton BN1 1JP (ref: Simon Bannister).

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Brighton Tories jump the shark

The pressures of running the Council seem to be getting to the Brighton and Hove Tories.

In an extraordinary outburst, Cllr Ayas Fallon Khan has denounced the Greens' Ben Duncan as a "communist". More absurdly Cllr Linda Hyde thinks recycling targets are "communism"!

For Cllr Fallon Khan, hitherto regarded as a comparatively intelligent politician, it's a serious credibility blow.

Looks like the Tories have decided their only hope of stopping a Green win in Pavilion is to indulge in some unsophisticated red-baiting. So expect another 6 months of this nonsense.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Pay cuts at the Council - hypocrisy at work

A couple of weeks ago, Brighton and Hove City Council honoured employee Osei Frimpong as its Public Servant of the Year at a lavish ceremony. Osei is a streetcleaner and the work he and his colleagues do in keeping the streets clean and healthy is vital. The same council which displayed its faux gratitude to Osei is about to cut the pay of those same staff, in some cases by £8000 a year. Hundreds of other staff are also facing pay cuts.


The council unions, GMB and Unison have had enough. After months of unproductive talking, they are going to start the process for an industrial action ballot. The final straw in the talks was a cack-handed attempt by the employer to split the two unions. It didn't work.


This is just the latest example of the quite staggering ineptitude of the Council over this issue over a number of years. The workforce is left wondering if they'll ever manage to sort it out.

Don't forget.....you heard it here first!

Good to see The Guardian picking up on a theme developed by me - having a go at our old friends The Taxpayers Alliance.

Among the things they have discovered is that one of the TPA's directors lives abroad and has not paid tax in this country for years. The article established that, far from being a pressure group funded by ordinary taxpayers (as they would have us believe), they are in fact funded by some extremely wealthy backers and effectively act as a Tory front.

Let's hope journalists now stop quoting them as the authentic voice of the taxpayer and recognise them as the right-wing rentaquotes they are.

By the way, if you want an antidote to the TPA's propaganda, try this.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

The truth about the post

Against the background of the postal workers' strike ballot, and in anticipation of the approbrium that the press will shower upon them, I thought this worth reproducing from the letters page of the current London Review of Books. This is what you won't read in the Daily Mail........


Old people still write letters the old-fashioned way: by hand, with a biro, folding up the letter into an envelope, writing the address on the front before adding the stamp. Mostly they don’t have email, and while they often have a mobile phone – bought by the family ‘just in case’ – they usually have no idea how to send a text. So Peter Mandelson wasn’t referring to them when he went on TV in May to press for the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail, saying that figures were down due to competition from emails and texts.

I spluttered into my tea when I heard him say that. ‘Figures are down.’ We hear that sentence almost every day at work when management are trying to implement some new initiative which involves postal workers like me working longer hours for no extra pay, carrying more weight, having more duties.

It’s the joke at the delivery office. ‘Figures are down,’ we say, and laugh as we pile the fifth or sixth bag of mail onto the scales and write down the weight in the log-book. It’s our daily exercise in fiction-writing. We’re only supposed to carry a maximum of 16 kilos per bag, on a reducing scale: 16 kilos the first bag, 13 kilos the last. If we did that we’d be taking out ten bags a day and wouldn’t be finished till three in the afternoon.‘Figures are down,’ we chortle mirthlessly, as we load the third batch of door-to-door catalogues onto our frames, adding yet more weight to our bags, and more minutes of unpaid overtime to our clock. We get paid 1.67 pence per item of unaddressed mail, an amount that hasn’t changed in ten years. It is paid separately from our wages, and we can’t claim overtime if we run past our normal hours because of these items. We also can’t refuse to deliver them. This junk mail is one of the Royal Mail’s most profitable sidelines and my personal contribution to global warming: straight through the letterbox and into the bin.‘Figures are down,’ we say again, but more wearily now, as we pile yet more packages into our panniers, before setting off on our rounds.

People don’t send so many letters any more, it’s true. But, then again, the average person never did send all that many letters. They sent Christmas cards and birthday cards and postcards. They still do. And bills and bank statements and official letters from the council or the Inland Revenue still arrive by post; plus there’s all the new traffic generated by the internet: books and CDs from Amazon, packages from eBay, DVDs and games from LoveFilm, clothes and gifts and other items purchased at any one of the countless online stores which clutter the internet, bought at any time of the day or night, on a whim, with a credit card.

According to Royal Mail figures published in May, mail volume declined by 5.5 per cent over the preceding 12 months, and is predicted to fall by a further 10 per cent this year ‘due to the recession and the continuing growth of electronic communications such as email’. Every postman knows these figures are false. If the figures are down, how come I can’t get my round done in under four hours any more? How come I can work up to five hours at a stretch without time for a sit-down or a tea break? How come my knees nearly give way with the weight I have to carry? How come something snapped in my back as I was climbing out of the shower, so that I fell to the floor and had to take a week off work?

So who’s right? Are the figures down or aren’t they? The Royal Mail couldn’t lie, could it? Well no, maybe not. But it can manipulate the figures. And it can avoid telling the whole truth.

One thing you probably don’t know, for instance, is that the Royal Mail is already part-privatised. It goes under the euphemism of ‘deregulation’. Deregulation is the result of an EU directive that was meant to be implemented over an extended period to give mail companies time to adjust, but which this government embraced with almost obscene relish, deregulating the UK mail service long before any of its rivals in Europe. It means that any private mail company – or, indeed, any of the state-owned, subsidised European mail companies – is able to bid for Royal Mail contracts.

Take a look at your letters next time you pick them up from the doormat. Look at the right-hand corner, the place where the Queen’s head used to be. You’ll see a variety of different franks, representing a number of different mail companies. There’s TNT, UK Mail, Citypost and a number of others. What these companies do is to bid for the profitable bulk mail and city-to-city trade of large corporations, undercutting the Royal Mail, and then have the Royal Mail deliver it for them. TNT has the very lucrative BT contract, for instance. TNT picks up all BT’s mail from its main offices, sorts it into individual walks according to information supplied by the Royal Mail, scoots it to the mail centres in bulk, where it is then sorted again and handed over to us to deliver. Royal Mail does the work. TNT takes the profit.

None of these companies has a universal delivery obligation, unlike the Royal Mail. In fact they have no delivery obligation at all. They aren’t rival mail companies in a free market, as the propaganda would have you believe. None of them delivers any mail. All they do is ride on the back of the system created and developed by the Royal Mail, and extract profit from it. The process is called ‘downstream access’. Downstream access means that private mail companies have access to any point in the Royal Mail delivery network which will yield a profit, after which they will leave the poor old postman to carry the mail to your door.

So if ‘figures are down’ that doesn’t mean that volume is down. Volume, at least over that last few miles from the office to your door, is decidedly up. But even assuming that Mandelson was telling the truth, that volume really is down by 10 per cent, the fact is that staff levels are down even more, by 30 per cent. That still means each postman is doing a whole lot more work.There are more part-time staff now. No one is taken on on a full-time basis any more. There are two grades of part-time workers: those working six-hour shifts and those working four hours. The six-hour staff prepare their own frame – their workstation, divided into roads and then numbers, with a slot for each address – but they don’t do any ‘internal sorting’ (this is the initial sorting done when the mail comes into the office). The four-hour part-timers come in and – in theory at least – pick up their pre-packed bags and go straight out. They are hardly in the office at all. This means that the full-timers have to pick up the slack. They are supposed to prepare the frames, sort out the redirections, bundle up the mail and put it into the sacks for the part-timers to take out, as well as doing all the internal sorting, and preparing their own frames: all in the three hours or so before they go out on their rounds.

When I first started working at the Royal Mail every postman prepared his own round. These days maybe a third of the staff are part-time. It’s the full-timers who are on the old-fashioned, water-tight contracts, with full pension entitlement, the ones whose pension fund is such a nightmare for the Royal Mail’s finances. As well as being invariably part-time, new staff are on flexible contracts without pension rights.

The pension fund deficit was £5.9 billion last year and is predicted to rise to £8 or £9 billion next year. The deficit is the main reason various people in positions of authority within the government and the Royal Mail were suggesting the partial sell-off earlier in the year. These people included Adam Crozier, the chief executive, and Jane Newell, the chair of the pension fund trustees, as well as the business secretary, Peter Mandelson. But a partial sale of the Royal Mail wouldn’t get rid of the pension deficit. No private investor would take it on. Which means that, whether the Royal Mail remains in public hands or is partly or fully privatised in the future, the pension deficit will always remain the tax-payer’s obligation.

Meanwhile there is increasing tension in Royal Mail offices up and down the country. There was a strike in 2007, and a national agreement on ‘pay and modernisation’, but this year has seen management constantly implementing new practices, putting more and more pressure on the steadily dwindling ranks of full-timers. The latest innovation being forced on an unwilling workforce is the collapsing of frames.

Let me explain what this means. Each frame represents a round or a walk. Letters are sorted on the frame, and then bundled up to take out onto the walk. But mail delivery is a seasonal business. Traffic varies throughout the year. Around Christmas it is at its highest. In the summer months, when the kids are out of school, the volume drops. This is known as ‘the summer lull’. So a national agreement was reached between the union and the management to reduce the number of man-hours in each office during the summer months. And the way this was done was to collapse one of the frames. One frame in the office would no longer have a specific postman assigned to it, but would be taken out by all the postmen in the office on a rotating basis. This meant an average of ten or 15 minutes extra work every day for every postman in the office. This agreement was meant to apply to only one frame and for the summer period only.

Now this has changed. There is increasing pressure to collapse more and more frames – that is, to get the same number of postmen to do larger amounts of work – and not just in the summer months but over the whole year. Management are becoming noticeably more belligerent. For some weeks now the managers have been bullying and cajoling everyone in our office, saying that a second frame would have to be collapsed – ‘figures are down’ – and that the workforce would have to decide which frame that would be. Everyone refused. Collapsing a frame would mean that one person would have to move frames, while another person on a ‘flexible’ contract would lose his job altogether. No one wanted to be responsible for making that kind of decision. No one wanted to shaft their workmates. And then last week it was announced, on the heaviest day of the week, and without notice, that a second frame was going to be collapsed anyway, regardless of our opinion. When the shop steward put in a written objection it was ignored.

Such was the resentment and the chaos in the office that a lot of mail didn’t get delivered that day, and what was delivered was late. If a postman fails to deliver a letter, it is called ‘deliberate withholding of mail’ and is a sackable offence. When management are responsible, it is considered merely expedient. There’s a feeling that we are being provoked, and that this isn’t coming from the managers in our office – who aren’t all that bright, and who don’t have all that much power – but from somewhere higher up. Everyone is gearing up for a strike.

The truth is that the figures aren’t down at all. We have proof of this. The Royal Mail have been fiddling the figures. This is how it is being done.

Mail is delivered to the offices in grey boxes. These are a standard size, big enough to carry a few hundred letters. The mail is sorted from these boxes, put into pigeon-holes representing the separate walks, and from there carried over to the frames. This is what is called ‘internal sorting’ and it is the job of the full-timers, who come into work early to do it. In the past, the volume of mail was estimated by weighing the boxes. These days it is done by averages. There is an estimate for the number of letters that each box contains, decided on by national agreement between the management and the union. That number is 208. This is how the volume of mail passing through each office is worked out: 208 letters per box times the number of boxes. However, within the last year Royal Mail has arbitrarily, and without consultation, reduced the estimate for the number of letters in each box. It was 208: now they say it is 150. This arbitrary reduction more than accounts for the 10 per cent reduction that the Royal Mail claims is happening nationwide.

Doubting the accuracy of these numbers, the union ordered a random manual count to be undertaken over a two-week period in a number of offices across the region. Our office was one of them. On average, those boxes which the Royal Mail claims contain only 150 letters, actually carry 267 items of mail. This, then, explains how the Royal Mail can say that the figures are down, although every postman knows that volume is up. The figures are down all right, but only because they have been manipulated.

Like many businesses, the Royal Mail has a pet name for its customers. The name is ‘Granny Smith’. It’s a deeply affectionate term. Granny Smith is everyone, but particularly every old lady who lives alone and for whom the mail service is a lifeline. When an old lady gives me a Christmas card with a fiver slipped in with it and writes, ‘Thank you for thinking of me every day,’ she means it. I might be the only person in the world who thinks about her every day, even if it’s only for long enough to read her name on an envelope and then put it through her letterbox. There is a tension between the Royal Mail as a profit-making business and the Royal Mail as a public service. For most of the Royal Mail management – who rarely, if ever, come across the public – it is the first. To the delivery officer – to me, and people like me, the postmen who bring the mail to your door – it is more than likely the second.

We had a meeting a while back at which all the proposed changes to the business were laid out. Changes in our hours and working practices. Changes to our priorities. Changes that have led to the current chaos. We were told that the emphasis these days should be on the corporate customer. It was what the corporations wanted that mattered. We were effectively being told that quality of service to the average customer was less important than satisfying the requirements of the big businesses.

Someone piped up in the middle of it. ‘What about Granny Smith?’ he said. He’s an old-fashioned sort of postman, the kind who cares about these things.‘Granny Smith is not important,’ was the reply. ‘Granny Smith doesn’t matter any more.’So now you know.

Roy Mayall, a pseudonym (obviously), has worked as a postman for the last five years.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Sharon Shoesmith : sinner or sinned against?


Just posting this makes me feel a bit like the one hapless bloke at a public lynching who says "hang on a minute". But anyway, here goes.

I don't know if Sharon Shoesmith has a case to answer in the tragic and terrible case of Baby Peter - but that's the issue -no-one really does. The simple reason being that the woman has never had a hearing.

Unaccustomed as I am to actually defending senior managers in local government, I do retain the old-fashioned belief that even they have the right to present a defence for their actions.

What I do know is that once the tabloids got tired of their little witch hunt, children's social services remained dangerously overstretched and understaffed, and politicians of all major parties have no solutions.

I remain very suspicous of the motives of Ed Balls - a man whose top priority is his own PR, and I have a feeling that the remaing days of Shoesmith's hearing could be very uncomfortable for him.

Friday, 2 October 2009

A tale of two worlds

One industrial dispute actually ongoing in Brighton and Hove and another which is brewing have a common cause - attempts to cut the pay of already low-paid staff doing difficult jobs. I am talking about the disputes at Brighton Housing Trust and at Cityclean at the council.

But there is another common thread.

In both cases the people doing the cutting have no such worries. Brighton and Hove Unison has published information on the rich rewards to be had at the top of the social landlord tree.

At the last BHT Board Meeting one of those in attendance was a certain Mark Perry from Downland Housing Association – reportedly, he was none too sympathetic to the dispute.

Mark Perry enjoyed a pay rise in 2008/9 of 47%. Not 4.7% but 47%. He takes home a mere £ 136,500 a year – just about enough to live on, I suppose.

Other interesting amounts are Keith Exford, Affinity Sutton, £22,000 bonus; Neil McCall, William Sutton, 25% pay rise and Nick Dudman, Broomleigh H.A., 24% pay rise.

In Cityclean, the people telling the refuse collectors and streetcleaners that they must sacrifice thousands in pursuit of a "fair and equitable pay structure" are themselves taking 6-figure salaries.

Is it any wonder that people are angry?




Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Blackberry Way


What comes to mind when you see all those earnest, besuited 30-somethings coming out of NuLab Conference on the seafront?

How about....the perfect cast for a truly epic Cecil B De Mille-style version of In the Loop?

The Left makes gains in Europe. Lessons for the UK?

In the German elections the headline was the turn to the right, largely due to gains for the free-market Free Democrats. The election was a disaster for the SPD.

But big advances were made by Die Linke (Left Party), a far left grouping made up of ex-communists from the East and disillusioned SPDers. They got 12% of the vote and increased their representation in Parliament from 54 to 76. A majority of their MPs are women.

In Portugal, Bloco de Esquerda (Left Bloc) has won 16 seats in Parliament.

This demonstrates that parties to the left of New Labour-style social democracy can break through if they are ready to work consistently and people willing to sink their differences. A lesson surely for our divided left.



Sunday, 27 September 2009

Pictures of today's demo





Today's demonstration was a well-supported, noisy affair with contingents from a number of trade unions, students and anti-war groups. I estimate about 2000 marchers. The rally at the end featured Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell from the Labour Party, unions leader Mark Serwotka from PCS and Tony Kearns from the UCW, as well as Lindsay German from the Stop the War Coalition.

Contrary to the lurid predictions of the Argus (and some of its weirder website devotees), it was a peaceful event, the organisers having liaised with police beforehand and throughout. It is rumoured that many of the marchers did in fact have jobs and had also washed beforehand!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

BHT workers fight on

I was happy to join my UNISON branch colleagues on the picket lines at Brighton Housing Trust yesterday (see earlier post).
The workers are now engaged in a rolling programme of selective strike action. This continues next week at First Base. As we have made clear a return to negotiations would be enough to stop the action but BHT remain oburate in their refusal to do so.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Respect by-election victory

Respect is "on course to win up to three seats in General Election".

George Galloway this morning welcomed Respect's by-election victory in Sparkbrook ward, Birmingham, as "spectacular". "This was a great victory for Respect. We beat a strong campaign from New Labour, got more than three times the Tory vote and pushed the Lib Dems into fourth place. This will send shock waves across the city of Birmingham and beyond."George Galloway continued: "Our detailed analysis now shows we have a very good chance of winning in our three target seats of Birmingham Hall Green with Councillor Salma Yaqoob, Bethnal Green and Bow with Councillor Abjol Miah and Poplar and Limehouse where I am challenging the discredited New Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick. My warmest congratulations to newly elected Councillor Shokat Ali who will add strongly to the team on Birmingham Council."George Galloway spent yesterday campaigning for Respect in the by-election.The full election result was: Respect 2492, Labour 2221, Tories 797, Lib Dems 505, Greens 188 and Independent 54. Respect holds all three council seats in Sparkbrook ward.

Racist attacks in Saltdean

Someone I know has sent me this disturbing news from Saltdean.

A Muslim family that has lived in Saltdean for over twenty years has been subject to a sustained campaign of racist and religious abuse. The Deghayes's home and family have been attacked, verbally and physically. The children, especially two twins in Year 8, are regularly called "Paki" and also "terrorist". This leads to fights at school and Saltdean Oval (the park). There are also many small acts, such as having water thrown over them in the school canteen at lunch, that have been going on for almost two years.

On Friday 11th September at 11.30 pm a gang of youths, boys and girls, smashed the front window of the Deghayes house and the windscreen of their car. They were in the garden for some time. They used bottles, bricks and stones to break the windows. The police have yet to charge anyone in relation to this.

The abuse is not unconnected to the fact that a family member, Omar Deghayes, was held for several years in Guantanamo Bay before being released in late 2007.

Brighton is a Peace Messenger City, and the local Peace Messenger Group has organised a public meeting on Thursday 24 September at 7.30 pm in Our Lady of Lourdes Church Hall, Steyning Rd, Rottingdean. [NOTE CHANGE OF VENUE IF YOU HAVE SEEN A PREVIOUS ANNOUNCEMENT]. Buses 27, 12 and 14 stop on the seafront at Rottingdean: walk up the High Street and take the first right into Steyning Rd. The entrance to the Church Hall is about 50 yards up on the left. The number 2 bus will also take you there, but it takes ages via Woodingdean.

Please attend if you can, or maybe you can help in other ways. For more information, please contact Jackie Chase (Peace Messenger contact) on 07759 564 620.

There is some resistance out there!

SUPPORT THE VESTAS WORKERS! PUBLIC MEETING: THIS THURSDAY!

Come and find out about the inspiring battles that workers are undertaking against the unjustified attacks on jobs, pay and conditions. With a speaker from the Vestas workers' committee plus contributions from the Visteon car parts plant occupation, Brighton bin workers/street cleaners’ in dispute with the council and Brighton Housing Trust workers fighting to defend their pay and their jobs.

Meet 7.30pm Thursday 24 September Friend's Meeting House, Brighton

Will Hove go it alone...and will there be honey still for tea?!


"Grayson! There are an awful lot of working-class people in Brighton, you know! "



Talk of "independence" is in the air. The independence of sweet surburban Hove from evil, hedonistic, spendthrift Brighton, that is. There seems to a bit of a head of steam gathering around this notion that life in Hove was so much better in splendid isolation. A website - Hove Alone (which seems to be down at the moment) - is dedicated to the reformation of Hove Borough Council, and letters keep appearing in the Argus, most notably from civic worthy Beryl Ferrers-Guy, who seems to blame the formation of the unitary council for the closure of the Army and Navy in George Street!
Brighton and Hove City Council is far from being a perfect institution, but who do these campaigners think they are kidding? Do they imagine that a Hove Council can be formed which will run everything? In the unlikely event of Hove reverting to borough status, many of the key services like education and social services will be run by a county council, just as they were before. Given that this entity would be stuck out to the west of what would presumably remain an unitary Brighton, this would likely be West Sussex County Council. The borough council services would be ripe for takeover by the burgeoning "shared services" partnership of Worthing and Adur. So in return for gaining this "independence" we would end up being ruled from Chichester and Worthing. Some people just don't think things through do they?

Of course, what really lies at the heart of this campaign is a sepia-tinted view of Hove untainted by all those poor people, homeless people and drug addicts. Of a council which hoarded resources but never thought about putting them to good use. It is though these folk imagine that some kind of fortified border can be set up across Western Road to keep all the "bad" stuff out.

Hove always had more than its share of poverty and social problems - it was just better at putting a genteel facade around it all. Hove cannot insulate itself from the realities of the world, so don't listen to the blandishments of those who claim otherwise. Better that we work together to solve the problems which face us all

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Homeless charity making own staff homeless!







Congratulations to my UNISON colleagues working for Brighton Housing Trust, who took strike action yesterday against attempts by BHT management to slash their pay and other terms and conditions. Many staff face pay cuts of up to £300 per month.

The Chief Executive of BHT, ex 'rebel' Labour Councillor Andy Winter (a poacher turned gamekeeper if ever there was one) decided that he had pressing business in London rather than face the wrath of his workforce. On his watch BHT has gone from being an employer of choice in the voluntary sector to being known as an organisation which bullies it's staff. No word on whether he thinks HE should be due a pay cut.

Contrary to the claims that this is all about the credit crunch, the reality is that it is all about breaking one of the best-organised voluntary sector workforces in the area.

The workers have offered to suspend action if Winter withdraws the sackings and negotiates. But there will be more action if not.

This is one we have to win.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Brighton Housing Trust - on strike this Wednesday!

Please support these workers in dispute. Please pass this on to friends and contacts, and please come to any of the advertised events if you can.


BRIGHTON HOUSING TRUST
EMERGENCY – STRIKE ACTION!
MEMBERS NEED YOUR SUPPORT.


On Wednesday the 19th August, up to 125 Branch members employed by BHT will be taking strike action.

They have been forced to this last resort by an employer who is hell- bent on ripping up and imposing new Contracts of employment.

All staff will be removed from NJC Conditions of Service and will have working hours increased, for less pay!!!.

For half of our members, there will be a pay cut of up to £6,000.

This is not as bad as the original proposals to slash sick/maternity pay and other conditions, which UNISON successfully fought off.

Some of our members who work with homeless people will face the loss of their homes due to these proposals, Bluntly, BHT, once an “employer of choice”, has moved to one of the most heartless, aggressive and bullying organisations of the 80 the Branch has members within.

What You Can Do. On 19th August 2009, join one of the following events;

8-11am- Demonstration at 144 London Road (opposite Hobgoblin Pub)

11.30 -12noon- march from London Road to Barts Square (outside Brighton Town Hall), followed by a rally.

1.30pm- demonstration at Community Base, Queens Road.

Financial;
Our members are low paid, facing large cuts in salary, and for some strike action losses will cause financial hardship. The Branch is appealing nationally for support, but if you want to make a contribution (cheques payable to Brighton & Hove UNISON) please send this to the Branch Office, Town Hall, Brighton, BN1 1JA.

What we Want.
Simply, a suspension, of the threat of dismissals, and talks, to reach a negotiated settlement – nothing more, nothing less.

On the 19th please, please turn up to support your colleagues in what is a key dispute for Brighton and Hove UNISON members.

Alex Knutsen
Branch Secretary

Friday, 14 August 2009

Dry heave of the week

The latest in an occasional series. This one requires no comment from me....