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I’m With Bob

kamsandhu —  March 18, 2014 — 1 Comment

By Thomas Barlow

So I was going to try and do a tongue-in-cheek, satirical remembrance of Bob Crow that lauded his achievements whilst chastising his enemies in a humorous way, but Mark Steele beat me to that – and unfortunately he is just far better than me in every department. So instead let me launch into a straight, good old tub thumping tirade against his detractors, who hypocritically came out to mourn his death this week.

The amount of stick he got for ridiculous things like daring to have a holiday (A holiday?! IN BRAZIL?! How f***ing dare he?!) may well have been a contributory factor to his sudden and unfortunate passing, so let Boris and the other thoughtless reactionaries shut their traps and consider Bob’s true worth for a moment. I am going to use a phrase that is unpopular because of it’s bland Marxist connotations, but it is true to say that he was a true working class militant. Tony Benn’s passing is a tragedy and he was truly principled and fine person, but when it comes to organising and standing alongside the majority of people (what we used to call the working class), Bob delivered results.

It is dangerous and wrong to mythologise one person so I shall try to refrain from doing so.  It can only be hoped that the RMT carry on in the vein of form they have with Bob, and knowing many of the members, I think it is a safe bet that they will continue. But what Bob represented was not just a straight talking, working class, Millwall fan. He represented success.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

When I make arguments for unionisation nowadays I always ask the following questions; ‘Do you like your weekends mate?  Your lunch breaks?  8 hour days? Nearer pay equality for men and women? Holidays?  Not being killed at work?Not seeing your kids working 16 hour shifts for a pittance? Hell, what about the vote for the majority of people, the Welfare state and a good deal of our civil liberties?’

‘Because you can thank the unions for that, and most importantly, all the people within them, who for 150 years were ridiculed, oppressed, beaten and killed for daring to be in one.’

Thanks to the RMT and Bob I could go further. ‘Do you think everyone has to have their pay slashed?  Lose jobs with no notice?  Work zero hour contracts?  Do unpaid internships?  The RMT crews don’t!’

Unbelievably this is one of the things that irritated some people the most about Bob and the RMT.  ‘We all get shafted in the private sector, why should they get better conditions?’

Well firstly, we probably shouldn’t keep supporting privatisation if the only thing guaranteed from it is a good shafting for the majority of people who work in that sector.

More importantly though, whilst people are right to bemoan the shafting they get at their work places, the solution isn’t to hope everyone else gets corn-holed equally roughly. It is like asking to be the whip hand on a plantation, who gets to beat the others before taking your own stripes across the back. It is the mentality of miserable oppression, and shows our innate inability to celebrate improvement for each other.

This is how we lose, and yet Bob showed us how we can win.  We want a living wage.  We can strike.  We want real contracts.  We can strike.  We want civil liberties, working healthcare and social care and genuine prospects for a lost generation. We can strike.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it is not as easy as all that.

There is more than enough wrong with the unions, with their super mergers, their obsequiousness to the Labour party and their moronic and cowardly representation of our struggles. But the Unions are what we make them, any social struggle is.

We cannot expect those above us to do things for us, we have to do it ourselves.

I am sure Bob would not mind me saying that it wasn’t him who won the negotiations and struggles for his members.  It was the members who won them, united, militant and ready to take the flak.  And Bob was there with them, every step of the way.

So if we get together, and we look at all the tactics available to us to cause trouble for the elite, and we are prepared to use them, regardless of the violence and abuse that will be chucked at us, we can have more than holidays and the vote – we could actually win a life worth living.

It’s what Bob would have wanted.

Image: Sabcat

Image: Sabcat

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Tomorrow the People’s Assembly will hold a national conference to debate and grow the organisation. 

Image: Coalition of Resistance

Image: Coalition of Resistance

Trade Unions, national and local campaign groups, and individuals are invited to discuss motions and demands as the movement advances.

You can sign up and register for tickets here.

The event page says:

“As well as being the democratic body of the People’s Assembly, we want to use the conference as a way to strengthen and grow the organisation. So please do get in touch with trade union branches, campaigns and community groups locally and ask them to send delegates.

“We have set the delegate entitlement for local People’s Assembly groups quite high to ensure newer activists are able to attend the conference.”

People’s Assembly Delegate Conference
Date: 15 March 2014
Time: 10am – 5pm
Venue: Emmanuel Centre, Marsham Street, London, SW1P 3DW
Nearest tubes: Westminster, St. James’ Park, Pimlico
Buses: 88, 87, 3, 11, 24, 211, 148, 507, 53, 453, 12, 159
See the Emmanuel Centre website for detailed maps: http://www.emmanuelcentre.com/

RIP Bob Crow

kamsandhu —  March 11, 2014 — Leave a comment
Covent Garden Tube today.

Covent Garden Tube today.

Despite an outward stress on the necessity of work, the coalition government have helped to garner an employment landscape of insecurity, poverty and low worth. Welfare policy and employment laws changed over the last two years have been crucial in creating a power imbalance in favour of employers, ultimately damaging employee worth, status and work life.

At the beginning of this year, David Cameron announced plans to make it easier for employers to fire workers. By increasing the length of service from one year to two before a hearing can be called following dismissal, and by reducing the sick pay, redundancy pay and compensation amounts employees can claim for, Cameron said that these relaxations in employment laws would make companies see less risk in hiring more people, and this would also ‘get rid of the bad’ to let in the skilled employees.

David-Cameron1

However, allowing employers to fire employees more easily by cutting red tape does not solve the problem of a lack of jobs. Further, the report that David Cameron commissioned from Adrian Beecroft in support of law relaxation was admittedly based on a ‘hunch’ rather than economic proof or explanation:

“Quantifying the loss of jobs arising from the burden of regulation, and the economic value of those jobs, is an impossible task…How many more businesses would there be, how many people would they employ, how many more people would existing businesses employ, how profitable would all these businesses be? Who knows?”

Yet, Cameron pressed to apply these measures, insisting that America had relaxed it’s laws and seen a drop in unemployment. But, while the US remained relatively stagnant in it’s position, Germany halved it’s unemployment figures whilst maintaining much stronger laws and regulations for employers.

Whilst Cameron was forced to retreat on these plans by deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the subject has surfaced again a few times, with support from Vince Cable and some Tory Ministers. Still, changes to laws like this during a fragile recovery will only cause anxiety for workers who feel the threat of losing their jobs on top of the hardship of the current climate. It also assumes the employer acts in employee interests which has been disproven time and time again, says lawyer Edward Cooper:

“An underlying assumption in these proposals is that employers all act reasonably. We see day in and day out that employers do not always act reasonably, especially when there is money to be saved.”

Edward Cooper, Channel 4, 2012

Despite these proposals being put on the back burner, changes to employment tribunal fees were passed in July this year, meaning that employees seeking justice, investigation, hearing or tribunal would now have to pay to have their case heard. Again, at a time of fragility for the market, this put employees on the back foot should they be treated unfairly by their employer.

Under the new rules, it would cost £160-250 to lodge a claim and a further £230-950 if the claim goes to court, which is usually the case with claims such as unfair dismissal or discrimination. The Ministry of Justice also charge £1200 for a full hearing if people want to challenge the decision of an employment tribunal.

Government have said that these fees were brought in to encourage ‘mediation’ and negotiation without the Courts, in the hope more cases could be settled outside the legal system.

However, these fees are attacks on the employee’s rights alone, and only make it harder for employees to fight companies who often already have the upper hand. The fees give companies more leeway to treat employees unfairly, in the hope they cannot afford to bring them to justice. For some grievances, the cost is more than the money an employee feels they are owed, but could count highly as a case for morality or discrimination and be important in ensuring a company is reprimanded for treating someone unfairly.

Despite the fees now existing, trade union Unison has won the right to take the case to judicial review, in the hope the fees will be lifted. Unison, with the support of the Human Rights Commission, argue that the fees make it impossible for workers to exercise their rights. The Ministry of Justice have vowed to refund all fees should Unison win the case.

Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary said the fees “give the green light to unscrupulous employers to ride roughshod over already basic workers’ rights.”

The hearing continues.

As well as these changes to laws, the government have implemented their own damaging schemes, which are currently taking their toll on the employment market. Welfare-to-work schemes which incorporate workfare policies are forcibly sending unemployed people to work for 30-60 hours a week for their unemployment benefit or they risk sanctions or withdrawal of benefits.

Minster for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith insisted these policies were designed to allow people to gain work experience to secure future employment. However, the schemes have just widened the already burgeoning ‘work experience’ and ‘intern’ industry which already operates cruelly in the fashion, media and music world and employs an entire workforce of free labour for the same, often unlikely, chance of employment at the end.

Whilst gaining months of free work experience was once expected if you wanted to get into a much sought after industry, now workfare policies insist they are required for minimum wage jobs stacking shelves. As the interns of the music and media industries are trying to gather to gain some rights and protection against being exploited by companies and employers, the welfare-to-work programmes are normalising work experience for the low paid.  Entry level jobs are beginning to carry work experience criteria, and the free workforce donated by the government rotates to feed a steady supply of workers to companies. This sort of policy replaces paid jobs with free labour. It devalues work and treats workers as commodities. It creates higher barriers to work by insisting on months of free work for minimum wage jobs.

Image: legal-aware.org

Image: legal-aware.org

Thus workers are desperate, and employers are often only happy to exploit this, as we have seen in the prevalence of the zero hour contract. Sports direct used these contracts for over 90% of staff. They offered no holiday or sick pay, and did not have to guarantee any hours. To ensure employees would take home money, they would have to take any hours the employer asked of them, at whatever short notice. Giselle Cory of the Resolution Foundation said in an interview with RealFare earlier this year, that these contracts were also found to be used as management tools, to punish employees if they did not take on work when and as the employer demanded:

“But what we see actually, is that these contracts are being used to disempower the employee. We’ve seen evidence of really bad management practice where someone is on a zero hour contract, their boss says ‘I want you to work Saturday.’ They might say ‘I can’t’ or ‘I can’t get childcare’ for example, or ‘I would simply rather not’, and they are zeroed down, which is effectively where they’re pushed to very few or no hours in the medium or longer term. So that’s in effect, using these contracts as a management tool, when that’s not what they’re intended for and that’s a great imbalance of power between the employer and the employee.”

Giselle Cory, Resolution Foundation

And with the rise of these contracts we also see the worst rates of underemployment on record, with 1.46m people in part time work in need of more hours. Thousands of people are desperate for work and so many take on any contract and terms they can. This is at the expense of their rights and their home life as work may demand availability at any time. Many are at the mercy of employers to work at short notice and so sacrifice plans, commitments, family time for minimum wage jobs that offer them no security or help should they fall ill or need time off. The imbalance is clear.

And the government’s moves have made it easier to exploit employees, and treat them as disposable. The priorities have not been to make a secure employment landscape for people in the recovery but to allow employers to use and abuse at will. Whilst the government and media rhetoric has made it shameful not to work, employers are made to feel no shame for making workers poor on time, worth and money.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

A short while back the People’s Assembly and some trade unions called for a day of civil disobedience on the 5th of November in a united act of solidarity against austerity. 

Image: The People's Assembly

Image: The People’s Assembly

The day is nearly here, and the People’s Assembly “want to make this Firework Night one, which David Cameron will remember and remember for a very long time.”

The day of civil disobedience aims to see protests in every town and city in the country with actions such as roadblocks, occupations of banks, moneylenders and universities, as well as the eventual bonfire in many places made up of the eviction letters, debt letters, loan company adverts, welfare legislation, banners and effigies of Cameron, Gove, Clegg, Osbourne or anyone fitting.

There are three waves of action – one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening. Make sure you don’t miss yours. Find out more about what is happening near you by visiting The People’s Assembly site.

The MIllion Mask March will also take place on 5th November in a worldwide march reaching 400 locations, combining the forces of Occupy, Anonymous, Wikileaks, The Pirate Party and the Oath Keepers.

The Facebook page says: “Remember who your enemies are: billionaires who own banks and corporations who corrupt politicians who enslave the people in injustice.”

You can see where the march is happening in the UK here.

Here is the Anonymous announcement for this day of action:

Whatever you do, join in the acts of solidarity against the punishing system which is enslaving people all over the globe in the interests of a few rich people. Time to act.

Image: The North London People's Assembly

Image: The North London People’s Assembly

 

 

“Everything we have won, all the gains, all the rights, were not won through the good will and generosity of those above but through ordinary people from below organising, uniting together, forcing those in power to listen.”

Owen Jones, author and columnist

“We need to mobilise millions of people.”

Nick McCarthy, Head of campaigns, communication and organising PCS Union

 

“They talk about privatisation as fragmentation but it is actually decimating services.”

“1 in 4 children in London go to school hungry and that is shocking. There are things too big to stay silent on, and poverty is one of them for teachers.”

“It’s such a tsunami of awfulness, and we need to give people hope.”

Max Hyde

“It’s one law for the rich and no law for the poor.”

John Rees, Stop The War Coalition, Counterfire

“The government have no knowledge of, no connection with, the solidarity that exists between working people.”

Reverend Paul Nicholson

“The benefit cap is more about sending out a message than it is about saving money.”

Jane Lapporte, Haringey Housing Action Group

“The only way to fight this is to go back to your roots, and support the welfare state, public health services and public owned education…We want a society that cares for all and ignores none rather than ignores many and cares for a few.”

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP

“I’m not a politician, I’m just a human being that cares about other human beings and the environment we live in….This [system] is corporate welfare for those up top and neo-capitalism for everyone else.”

Francesca Martinez, Writer and Comedian

“This government wants to cut out everything to do with equality. The cuts are amplifying the racism that existed before…The government cuts are not about saving money, they are about discrimination, inequality and racism.”

Zita Holbourne, Poet, Artist, Activist

“Things do change, and they change because of the actions of ordinary human beings like you and me.”

Lynsey German, Stop The War Coalition

1) Thousands protest at Tory Party Conference  to “Save the NHS”, but BBC Coverage lacking 

NHS logo

NHS logo

On Sunday 29th September around 50,000-70,000 took to the Manchester streets outside the Tory party conference in what was one of the largest protests outside of London for years.

Unions has called for a day of action in the name of saving our NHS, attacking the coalition government for the health contracts being sold off to private companies, as well as plans to turn hospitals into Trusts which take on a more business-like role.

The plans could see up to hospitals using private investment for up of 50% of its funding, pushing NHS patients further down the waiting lists and essentially creating a two-tier health system.

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC – one of the unions which called for the day of action, said at the rally that the current government did not like the NHS because it was the biggest “socialist success” of our time, adding:

“Cameron said the NHS is safe in his hands. Is he telling the truth or is he a liar?” (The crowd responded “Liar!”)

Despite the rally being so large, the BBC coverage has been attacked by many for being too minimal and unrepresentative of the scale of the very peaceful protest. Those who would like to contact the BBC can call them on their Complaints Line 03700100222.

2) Ed Miliband’s price freeze promise is met with threats from energy companies

Ed Miliband announced at the Labour Party Conference last week that he would freeze energy prices for 20 month should he come into power in 2015, following rising prices for 6 years.

Energy companies immediately hit back at Miliband, threatening blackouts and shortages if prices were frozen.

This has thrown the energy prices debate into the limelight, at a time when living standards are being stretched. Some talk has arisen over the re-nationalisation of some energy, which despite being attacked by Tories, can be  no worse than being held to ransom by largely foreign-owned companies which have profited hugely despite the austerity we have experienced, and shared none of the periods of cheaper energy with its customers.

“The profits made by the “big six” – British Gas, EDF, E.On, npower, Scottish Power and SSE – over the last few years (figures courtesy of the BBC): In 2009, £2.15 billion. In 2010, £2.22 billion. 2011 – £3.87 billion (a massive hike of £1,870,000,000 in a single year). And in 2012 – £3.74 billion. That’s £11.98 billion in profits over four years – a huge and unwarranted amount in these times of supposed austerity.”

Mike Sivier, Vox Political

3) Westminster Council defeated in landmark ‘bedroom tax’ case

Bedroom Tax Protest Image: birminghamagainstthecuts.co.uk

Bedroom Tax Protest Image: birminghamagainstthecuts.co.uk

The Conservative-run Westminster Council was defeated by a local tenant in the first ruling of it’s kind, against the controversial spare room subsidy.

Surinder Lall, who is also blind, told the tribunal that he was being charged for a second bedroom, when he had never used the room as such, as it had always stored the equipment he needed to help him lead a normal life.

Lall explained that his case was typical of many disabled people who required room for equipment, and called on the Council to stop using the term ‘bedroom’ to take away benefits from those who need it. Westminster Council say they were going on information supplied by Lall’s landlord.

“In his decision notice, the judge wrote: “The term ‘bedroom’ is nowhere defined [in the relevant regulations]. I apply the ordinary English meaning. The room in question cannot be so defined.”

4) Labour makes their commitments, whilst Tory Party Conference gets under way

The Labour Party Conference set up Ed Miliband’s aims for the party and was met with some strong support for some policies including a promise to scrap the bedroom tax and to sack ATOS. However, campaigners want an end to the Work Capability Assessment also, which has already been ruled unfair on those suffering from mental health problems, yet the Department for Work and Pensions are looking to appeal this. Campaigners want the policies that have ruled disability assessments to be pulled out, as well as the face of those who have provided them so poorly.

The Tory Party Conference is now underway in Manchester, with George Osborne expected to speak today on taking an ever harder line on benefit claimants, and introducing the ‘work for the dole’ policy! (Surprise, surprise! a policy put forward by the Tax Payers Alliance – read why this was a predictable move). More info to follow this week.

 

Image: the Telegraph

Image: the Telegraph

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

150417_274242869377189_1750197938_n

Maybe it was a symbolic two fingers up, or more likely because the Jubilee line offers wheelchair access, but on Saturday 11th May, a 350-strong group of anti-cuts campaigners and union members from around the UK, featuring a reverend, a DWP civil servant and the odd MP, came together in Westminster, just around the corner from the Houses of Parliament. Their shared goal – to unite and get organised. Arranged by Campaign for Benefits Justice and supported by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and trade unions CWU and PCS, topics included the Bedroom Tax, the Personal Independence Payment and the housing crisis with greed and Capitalism as the backdrop. The result was a ten-point action plan and a steering group who’ll meet next month to enter the next stage of the resistance. The people are angry and it would seem they are mobilising.

Here’s some of what was said:

“It’s divide and rule. It happens in every recession because they don’t want people to know it’s the system that causes unemployment. That causes poverty.”

“Councils: Do your job. Say no to evictions. No to privatisation. Yes to a living wage.”

John McDonnell, MP

“We have to remember we live in the 7th richest country in the world.”

“£125bn was lost last year to tax avoidance and tax breaks… The 1000 richest people in Britain saw an increase of £180bn profit…..Enough to pay off the deficit.”

 Chris Baugh, Assistant General Secretary PCS

“We have failed healthcare workers using a failed system to find severely ill and disabled people fit to work.”

“Don’t become disabled……they’ll tax you for the privilege.”

Sean McGovern, Chair TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee and Disability Representative to Unite Executive Council

“I’m treating it like a WW2 situation – rationing heating, electricity and food. Because this government has declared war on its people.”

 Maria Brabiner, Manchester v. The Bedroom Tax

“I think what they’re testing on asylum seekers, they’re putting them on food vouchers, they put them, having no rights for accommodation for their living…They’re testing on asylum seekers and that’s what they’re going to test with the rest of the people in this country so it’s not a fight for asylum seekers or citizens or immigrants. It’s a fight for all of us and we should stand together.”

 Manjeet Kaur, Asylum Seeker

“It’s a calculated ideological assault by the government because what they’re doing is at the same time as attacking benefits and taking away benefits from people, they are also taking away your ability to challenge those decisions. So you have your benefits stripped and now you can’t challenge that in the courts and say ‘That isn’t right’ because you don’t get legal assistance for that any more.”

Mike Goold, Haldane Organisation of Socialist Lawyers

Speaking about refusing to evict people because of the Bedroom Tax: “Local councils are in a dilemma, and when you’re in a dilemma, you need to take sides.It’s time they took the side of the people.”

 Liz Kitching, Hands Off Our Homes (Leeds)

“We’ve got the people power and we intend to use it.”

Shirley Frost, Sheffield, Defend Council Housing

“One of the initiation rights info the Bullingdon Club. If you want to claim to be a Bullingdon Club member, you have to burn a £50 note in front of a homeless person. That’s what these people have done. And these are the people who tell us how to live our lives. These are the people that tell us when we’re right or wrong and how to bring up our families. And we are not going to take any more lectures from these people. We’re going to tell them how to spend our money.”

Angela McCormick, Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation

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The Benefit Justice Summit has now declared a day of action for protest against Bedroom Tax and other welfare reforms on 1st June.
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