Friday 31 December 2010

The campaign against cuts needs unity. It doesn't need distractions!

As we move into a new year, the campaign against the slash-and-burn policies of the ConDem government will need to intensify.  It will also need to pull in the maximum number of people from all of the campaigns against various aspects of the cuts.  I could wish that all of these people would be coming at this from a revolutionary socialist perspective, but I realise that this is not going to be the case.

The Brighton Stop the Cuts Coalition has in many ways been a model of how to organise a united fightback against the cuts.  It has been an open, democratic body which has respected the fact that no one individual or political tendency has all the answers and that the priority is to get everyone working together on what unites us.  It has offered and given support to initiatives from other groups, rather than tried to muscle in and claim ownership of every activity.  This can be seen in the way that it has related to the tax protests by UK Uncut and the student rebellion against tuition fees.  Also the solidarity which it has given to the Argus journalists in their dispute and to the fight by council workers against the Connexions cuts and the attempt to close Bright Start Nursery.

It is therefore no coincidence that the BSTCC has grown over the last half of the year, to the extent that it needs to find a bigger room for meetings and is branching out into the localities - with a successful Portslade meeting earlier in the month and one planned for Hollingdean in the new year.

It is for all these reasons that Socialist Resistance is concerned that progress both locally and nationally could be hindered by proposals likely to be put to the National Shop Stewards Network anti-cuts conference to create an "All-Britain Anti-Cuts Campaign".  An article on SR's website explains the background and our opposition to this proposal.  It has been motivated by the Socialist Party's members on the NSSN steering committee and unsurprisingly was adopted, since the SP has a majority on that body.  But what is significant is that the SP carried not a single non-SP member of the committee with them.  The NSSN steering committee is now divided on this issue with effectively two factions - the SP on one side; everyone else on the other.  It is one thing to be able to use a majority to get your way, but any victory starts to look a bit pyrrhic when there's nobody with you.

We need to build a fightback against the cuts in the workplace - and the NSSN is crucial in developing this, in the absence of much fight at all from the union leaderships - but what we don't need is another national body purporting to be the national anti-cuts campaign.

Locally the Socialist Party has played an exemplary role in the anti-cuts movement and their activists have been crucial to its success, but I hope that they recognise that they need to continue to work within a broader movement rather than set up some new body which is not needed or wanted by the vast majority of people outside their ranks.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Tories on the back foot over Bright Start - Campaigning Works!

In the face of a determined campaign by nursery workers and the parents and kids, the Tories are in headlong retreat over their plan to close down Bright Start. They even pretended it was snowing to get the council meeting over with as soon as they could!

Latest bulletin below.

Save Bright Start News

Bulletin number 9


The council seem to be looking for a way out, we made the Argus front page and the TV news again. And we have a lot of reason to be more hopeful about our future than we did 2 months ago.

But our campaign is not over yet.

This is Alex Knutson, Unison branch secretary’s statement following the council meeting yesterday

“First of all, thanks to all who turned out, and another excellent front page of the Argus, extensive coverage on the regional news, and having the children present in the Gallery really does put pressure on our elected politicians !

The decision was that the Green motion, amended by Labour (to restrict the Tories even further) was agreed unanimously, with the Conservatives abstaining. This means, that the motion, as amended, goes back to Councillor Brown on the 17th January, for her to consider, along with her consultation results (we - parents, staff and children - need to be there!!! ). This puts very heavy pressure on her to accept the contents of the motion, and the verbally expressed views of the Green, Labour and Liberal Democrats last night, that there should be a working party to promote and develop Bright Start for the future. This is where the cases put forward by the parents and staff, that demolished the Council case for closure was so important, and effective. In my experience, and leaving aside the moral arguments for a moment, it is rare to be able to put forward such a clear plan for the financial viability of a service in the public sector, as, by definition, all services are subsidised to one extent or another.

Mary Mears ill-thought out intervention at the beginning, basically a co-op model, was a desperate attempt to confuse the situation and save the day for the conservatives. Nevertheless, we will have to "watch" this, as I am sure they will try to include it, as an option to consider. I will forward on a UNISON document that highlights the risks/dangers of the model, which can, initially, seem attractive, but in the long term offers no security to staff, parents or children - it is effectively, privatisation by another name.

We need to keep up the pressure on all the politicians to ensure this "jewel in the crown" stays where it is, in the Council.”

Where next for Bright Start ?

Meeting for staff and parents with Unison .Monday 20th 6pm

We will be meeting on Monday after nursery to discuss precisely what Thurday’s decision means and where we go from here.

Clearly there is still no reason for anyone to take their child out of Bright Start.

But we can’t relax either. Any “social enterprise “ or privatisation plan would eventually force most staff to leave as pay would end up being close to minimum wage like most other private nurseries.

Future Dates

Tuesday 21st December 6.30pm New Road to Madeira driveJoin the Save Bright Start giant scissors and families at the Burning of the Clocks procession

Monday 17th January 2011, 4pm We will be lobbying Vanessa Brown’s Cabinet Member Meeting . Committee Room 3, Hove Town Hall. If it goes ahead!

P&P Brighton & Hove Unison, Brighton Town Hall 291611

Vote “Vanessa Brown’s NOT Closing Us Down” for Xmas number One

Thursday 16 December 2010

Brightstart demo - pictures and videos

With no apparent sense of irony, Cameron today whined that the the MPs' expenses scheme was "anti-family" - apparently because MPs might not be able to claim fro transporting their kids from "home" to "home".

Altogether say "ahhhhhh!"

Many of his and his local government henchmen's policies could be said to be just a tad "anti-family", I would have thought.  A case in point being the attempt to close Bright Start nursery, but there is resistance to this cynical move.

A great march and lobby by kids, parents, Brightstart workers and supporters.  Photos and videos below.

I left the Council meeting before the end, but was able to hear some great questions being put to Cabinet member Vanessa Brown.

Knowing that they were losing the argument and the vote, the Tories suddenly conjured up a proposal to turn Bright Start into a "social enterprise" under which they would effectively wash their hands of it and give it to the users to run.  It is effectively a privatisation.  More detail later.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Protest against Housing Benefit cuts

About 30 people leafletted and spoke to passers-by about the cuts to housing benefit which are looming. We need both employed and unemployed workers to fight these cuts which could see thousands homeless.

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Tuesday 14 December 2010

Photos of EMA Protest yesterday

Photos by Dave Hill

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Monday 13 December 2010

Defend EMA - join the demo at City College Monday lunchtime

On Monday 13th December, from 12noon to 2pm, Trade Unionists, students, anti-cuts representatives from political parties, will gather at City College, Pelham Street, Brighton, to demonstrate their opposition to the ConDem Coalitions proposal to cut EMA.
EMA is paid to students who attend the 3 Colleges in the City, as well as 6th Forms. These young people are drawn from families on low incomes/benefits and receive up to £30 per week. They are at College to, either gain qualifications that will lead to University, or, to learn skills that will enable them to get a decent job when they finish the course/training. As an example, City College offers academic courses, or practical training in building, hairdressing and beauty. Its catering courses are nationally renowned and many young people enter the world of work with the College's fine reputation behind them.
Specifically, it should also be noted that over many years now, the Colleges have enabled youngsters with learning disabilities, behavioural problems, etc, to achieve simply amazing progress, in learning, followed by work.
The Governments proposal to cut EMA puts all these achievements at risk, will lead to the closure of whole courses, and to redundancies of skilled teachers and support staff. It is truly, the "most disgraceful cut of all", so far.
To gauge the impact on Brighton and Hove, it is estimated that of students attending City College, 50% receive EMA, 30% at Varndean College and 20% at BHASVIC.
What do students use the money for? In almost all cases it is spent on bus/train fares and lunch - it is not enough, but for the vast majority it is the difference between kids attending college, or staying at home. It is also worth noting that if the young person does not attend their classes/work placements, then they are "docked" their EMA, so the money is linked to responsibility and committment. When the last Government introduced EMA, there were many sceptics who said it was a "bribe" to get kids to stay in education. The reality has proved very different, and it is now seen, universally, as one of the most successful initiatives in further education, in the last 40 years.
The joint Trade Unions, with the tacit support of the vast majority of colleges, are launching a national campaign to persuade the Government to change its mind on EMA, and will be leafletting/getting petitions signed, across the country from Monday onwards.
Alex Knutsen, UNISON Branch Secretary, said " EMA is one of the "jewels in the crown" of futher education, enabling working-class young people to have opportunities for University and skilled employment. It is a key piece in the fabric of a decent society and should not be ended for what can only be described as ideological reasons. EMA works, young people get work, and all of us benefit.
If the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats get away with this cut, then it is purely and simply, a piece of political vandalism. All decent people instinctively know when something is wrong - and this, is wrong".

Please note - this demo is not aimed at City College, but against the Government.
For further information, please contact, Alex on 01273 291611 or 07961025930.

Saturday 11 December 2010

SAVE BRIGHT START NURSERY - note change of venue for protest

Our dishonest and deceitful employer claims to be "consulting" on the future of Bright Start Nursery.  If asked, the relevant councillor, Vanessa Brown, will swear that "no decision has been made".

Strange then, that at last Thursday's Cabinet meeting, the cut in subsidy was voted upon before the consultation process had even properly finished and been responded to.  Strange too, for an organisation so committed to democracy, that our union rep at the nursery was denied paid release to take part in the consultation.  Strange also that so many lies and half truths could have found their way into the Council's own "consultation" document.

The final bit of strangeness comes in the sudden switch of venue for next Thursday's Council meeting at which Unison is planning a march and lobby.  Full details are below, but please note it is in Brighton not Hove.

We can stop this! 

Message from Brighton and Hove Unison
On Thursday Brighton and Hove Council will be voting on whether to close Bright Start Nursery.

They claim it’s about saving money and prioritising vulnerable children.
We will be marching to the council to tell them that

• They should be considering the needs of the children at Bright Start and their future needs

• They shouldn’t be closing frontline services at all. We are one of the only nurseries in the City Centre.

• They should listen to the staff, parents and unions who’ve explained how to make the nursery self-financing

• Putting 18 experienced nursery nurses on the dole will cost the taxpayer more than the existing subsidy

• The council should cut out its own frivolous waste on luxury chocolates, alcohol and expenses, or use its £20million reserve pot rather than cutting services for children




Meet outside Jubilee Library, North Laine 3.15pm
A ten minute march, led by babies, toddlers, children, parents and nursery nurses to BRIGHTON TOWNHALL for a rally at 4pm

Our 5,000+ petition will be handed in and many will stay to hear the council vote on whether or not to shut down Bright Start nursery. Please support us

Student protests: shaken government relies on vicious policing and media spin

“Attacks on police officers and property show that some of the protesters have no respect for London or its citizens,” so said Tory Home Secretary Theresa May, just hours after proving she had no respect for the young and the poor by voting to pull the rug of higher education from beneath their feet.
Last night’s student protest against the trebling in tuition fees has been characterised in the media as unprovoked mindless violence. But the main violence to be seen came not from the students carrying placard sticks or overturning litter bins. After all, shattered glass can be replaced–shattered futures can’t.

The real violence came from the police force, seen to use horses to charge at dense crowds of people, beat protesters unconscious and even get caught on film pulling a student from his wheelchair.

One protester, Alfie Meadows, was beaten as he tried to leave the area. He fell unconscious and underwent a three hour operation for bleeding on the brain. Others report that police refused to allow another unconscious protester out of the kettle to receive medical help.

As one anonymous protester reported to the Guardian, “I was outside the kettle in Parliament Square yesterday watching as riot police fought with protesters and then split like the Red Sea to allow two charges of police on horseback into the crowd. It was absolutely horrific to witness. These are dispersal tactics used on the continent but the Met are using it against people who have nowhere to run because they are kettled. The horses charged at high speed and from where I was they seemed to end up wading through the protesters. It’s a miracle that no-one was seriously injured, or even killed.”
This was not simply the case of police responding to violence and disorder. Before the protest had even begun, Scotland Yard was already straining at the bit for a fight, using inflammatory language unseen since the G20 protests in 2009 which saw the death of Ian Tomlinson.

Meanwhile, David Cameron has moved beyond talk of a “violent minority”, now preferring to label most of those who came to stop the fees as “wanting to pursue violence and destroy property.” This is the talk of a man who is scared of opposition from the streets – it’s not easy to con the brave student movement into dropping their opposition to fees. They aren’t Lib Dems, after all. But it is also his attempt to brand all those wanting to stand up to his coalition of cutters as a violent mob, hell-bent of destruction.

But one thing is clear—the movement does not end here. In 1990, the poll tax became law, opposition on the streets continued, and police used horses and truncheons to beat protesters into submission. It didn’t work and the poll tax fell.
The gamble by the police was that using extreme violence against school students would scare them off the street. This gamble has failed. It has simply increased the anger of these young people, who have been taught a valuable—if painful—lesson in whose side the state is on.
This is still only the beginning.

This statement was published by the United Campaign Against Police Violence at 03:20.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Bright Start latest. Reject the Council's lies and their phony consultation. Join the demo on 16th Dec

Count Down to 16 December!

Now the consultation period is over we have
just a week to prepare for a big turn out at
the full council meeting next Thursday
16th December, 4pm
March from Kings House(Grand Avenue)
2.45pm Unison bus from King & Queen

(pub behind nursery. Let us know if you need a seat)

We will hand in our 5,000+ petition
March singing songs, waving banners,
handing out balloons, stickers & leaflets.

A parent and unison will speak, then Greens
and Labour will put our case before the vote.

But it will not end there...

During consultation the council announced to
the Argus the £87,000 cut in nursery
provision, meaning Bright Start.

After the full council debate, we need to keep
up the pressure. If closing Bright Start is the
council's “Flagship” of its cuts campaign, we
know of the huge support that has built up for
Bright Start over the last 2 months.

Most people in Brighton approached to sign
our petition have done.

People seem to see us as the worst example
of what's wrong with cuts.

We should make the most of that and draw
on all our supporters to sink the Cuts

Our response to consultation showed the
strength of our feelings.

Now we need the energy and time of all of
you to stop this closure plan in its tracks.
What You Can Do

1. Take the petition around anyone
you know who hasn't signed

2. Take it round your work Xmas party

3. Take it round your elder kid's
school playground (Headteachers
should be fine if you ask them first)

4. Pass it round at any family event –

Pantomime queues, parents at Kids
film showings, Skating, school fairs
and anywhere else you can think

5. Visit your local shops –
independent ones will sometimes
take petitions and often put our
poster (on reverse) up in their

6. Join our petitioning stall in

Churchill Square or Jubilee Square
(outside Library) from noon on
Saturdays. There'll be a group of us,
handing out leaflets, balloons &
stickers as well as petitioning.

7. Join us on 21st December,6.30pm
(the day of nursery kids Xmas party) for
PARADE”. This is a huge local family
festival and we want to make a big
splash. The group who'll be in the
parade, with a giant pair of scissors its
rumoured, will need more of us to
hand out publicity and balloons for our

Students and workers unite!

Last night I attended a brilliant meeting of students and trade union activists. It was an opportunity to discuss, debate and exchange solidarity.

The students declared their solidarity with Council workers fighting cuts and job losses - and they made it clear that, when they march on council buildings, they are NOT targeting council workers.

In turn trades unionists were able to declare their support for the fight against fees and the Brighton University occupation.

At a time when attempts are being made to divide us we need more meetings like this.

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Well done UK Uncut!

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Wednesday 1 December 2010

The selective use of health and safety legislation

I have been a trade unionist a long time, and for all that time the idea that workers have a right to work in safety has been absolutely central.  Accordingly I am always supportive of measures taken by management to protect workers - in fact unions usually positively demand such measures.

So I thought that, however supportive I might be of the campaign against fees, I still thought it right that I should support evacuations of staff from main council buildings if there was any chance that the safety of my members might be compromised by demonstrations, even if that was not the intention of the demonstrators.

But events this week have made me a bit more cynical.

On Monday morning this week, the heating failed in Priory House next to Brighton Town Hall and the temperature plunged to 12C.  In strange contrast to the employer's reaction to the demonstrations last week and yesterday, there was no move to evacuate Priory House, despite the fact that the temperature was 4C below the (chilly) legal minimum for an office of 16C.  It took most of the day for the heating to get to a decent level.  Some staff who complained were treated dismissively, as though they were moaning about nothing.  We did get some emergency heating in and I advised staff whose medical conditions might have been aggravated by the cold to leave the workplace.

I then got to thinking that the panic around the prospect of some teenagers making a noise outside council buildings was a useful way of demonising the protestors, and that the evacuations were less about the welfare of staff and more about the convenient use of the anxieties of staff to advance a political agenda.

I am sure that I am being way too cynical, but next time it happens I might just ask a few more questions.........