Solid strike by London bus workers

From the TGWU section of Unite:

‘First’ London bus workers’ strike is solid
29 Aug 2008

Unite, Britain’s biggest union, says that today’s 24 hour strike at First Capital East Buses and First Centrewest Buses has remained solid.

The union is warning that FirstGroup faces further disruption unless it returns to the negotiating table with an offer which recognises the hard work of these bus workers and the rising costs of living in London.

Unite regional officer, Peter Kavanagh, said: “This strike has been solid. It’s a clear indication of our members’ determination to get a fair deal. It’s time for FirstGroup to return to the negotiating table with an offer that our members deserve. FirstGroup is extremely profitable – it’s only right that these workers should get a fair share of the rewards.”

A further 48 hour strike is planned beginning Friday 12th September.

Strike ballots are now taking place in most other London bus companies in disputes over pay. The union submitted a London wide claim to all bus operators in March of this year to challenge the current system whereby drivers (and other grades) performing identical jobs within the TfL regulated industry, receive hugely varying pay and conditions. In many cases the pay disparity for drivers working for different operators can be as much as £6,000 a year.

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Preston’s local solution to the energy crisis

Ah, municipal socialism…

A press release from the Left Alternative:

Preston City Council passes significant climate change motion
29/08/2008

Preston City Council voted yesterday to recognise trade union “environmental representatives” to help the council set and meet stringent carbon emission targets.

The TUC and its affiliate unions have been actively working towards establishing such reps as part of their Green Workplaces Project.

The motion was part of a radical package proposed by Left Alternative councillor Michael Lavalette and actively supported by left-wing Labour councillors in the city.

The motion also proposes that the council should commit to the principle of establishing a local power company, under local authority control, which will provide cheap, carbon neutral energy to the local population.

Cllr Lavalette, who proposed the motion, said: “This is an incredibly significant motion. When it is implemented – alongside other motions we have passed on public transport systems – it will make Preston one of the greenest cities in Britain.

“But the motion also puts us in line to be the first significant employer to recognise trade union environmental reps. The unions will be important players if we are to tackle climate change; it is only right that they and their members are given a recognised role in setting and implementing carbon emission targets.”

Labour Deputy Leader Matthew Brown added: “Setting up a local power company is a realistic possibility. It allows us to deal with issues associated with climate change and carbon emissions, and, at the same time, allows us to provide cheap fuel for the people of Preston, some of whom are amongst the poorest in the country.”

Both councillors said they hoped that the Preston motion would become a model that other councils would follow. The full motion is as follows:

Preston City Council notes:

1. The continuing threat from abrupt climate change.

2. The world’s leading scientists and recognised climate change authorities note that if action is not taken to reduce greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalent emissions) within 30 years there is likely to be an irreversible effect on the Global Climate.

3. The Government’s Royal Commission on Environment Pollution has predicted that the target reduction in greenhouse gases, expressed as CO2 equivalent emissions, should be 60% by 2050 and 80% by 2100.

Preston City Council further notes:

1. The efforts made by Woking Council to adopt a comprehensive Climate Change Strategy on a scale that is likely to meet The Royal Commission on Environment Pollution targets of 60% reductions of CO2 equivalent emissions by 2050 and 80% by 2100.

2. That Derby Council have a five year strategy to achieve a 25% reduction in carbon emissions and Norwich council have an annual reduction target of 6%.

3. That the TUC (via its Green Workplaces Project) and its affiliate unions are actively campaigning for employers to recognise ‘environmental representatives’ with a role in setting CO2 reduction targets, initiating workplace environmental audits and educating members on green and sustainability issues.

Preston City Council resolves:

1. To use solar panels on the Town Hall as a means of meeting energy needs and reducing CO2 emissions
2. To commit to the principle of establishing a local power company within Preston, in local authority ownership, to generate power for the area and investigate how this can be implemented.
3. To use sustainable combine heat and power sources of energy in the City Council buildings – discouraging the production of CO2 type gasses.
4. To increase use of photovoltaic and renewable energy
5. To investigate improvements to insulation in all council buildings and workplaces.
6. To incorporate planning policies which will ensure that new developments in the City reduces CO2 equivalent emissions of greenhouse gases.
7. To establish a carbon neutral approach to the future of services and activities within the City
8. To make progress as speedily as possible on the long-delayed City Council travel plan, aimed at reducing car use for travel to work and staff (and member) travel on business.
9. To enter negotiations with all local authority trade unions to recognise environmental representatives, and to establish with the unions the active role of the representatives in achieving the council’s carbon emission targets.

England’s poor childcare

No, not a story reviving the spectre of the single mother, the stereotypical young mum blamed for everything by the tabloid press and the Tories in days gone by… it’s an article on the costs and inequities of childcare services.

From the Morning Star, a quality tabloid:

Poorer families denied decent child care
(Wednesday 27 August 2008)
by LOUISE NOUSRATPOUR

TRADE unions demanded a major expansion of childcare provision on Wednesday after school inspectors raised concerns that families in poorer areas of England lacked access to quality care facilities.

The quality of childcare differs dramatically between areas, with provision worse in places with the most poverty and social deprivation, according to a three-year study by school regulator Ofsted.

In the 30 most deprived local authorities, nearly half of childcare facilities were described as “not good enough,” compared with 40 per cent nationally.

In Hackney, east London, just 29 per cent of childminders were judged to be good or better, compared to the leafy suburb of Wokingham in Berkshire where the proportion is 81 per cent.

“Children and families living in areas already experiencing relative deprivation therefore face further inequity because they have less access to high-quality childcare provision,” the report warned.

Despite improvements over the past three years, four out of 10 childminders and daycare groups still rank as “satisfactory” or “inadequate,” categories that inspectors said signal the need to improve.

Only 3 per cent of England’s daycare nurseries were judged to be outstanding.

The most serious problems identified by the report, which covered 90,000 inspections, included staff shortages, lack of proper training and nurseries with no first-aid kits.

A spokeswoman for public-sector union UNISON said: “Once again, children from deprived areas are losing out.

“UNISON is campaigning for major expansion of childcare provision. We need quality care, delivered by properly trained and fairly paid childcare workers.”

Fellow union GMB equality and inclusion officer Kamaljeet Jandu branded the figures “frightening,” adding: “This should be a wake-up call to government to improve standards and provide training for people working with children in this sector. ”

Childcare charity Daycare Trust official Maxine Hill said: “Even one childminder providing poor care is one too many.

“Disadvantaged children have much to gain from receiving high-quality childcare and every effort should be made to improve quality.”

The Daycare Trust warned that childcare costs for pre-school children in England continued to rise above the rate of inflation, with most parents complaining about lack of affordable childcare in their area.

Beating the blacklist, constructively

… and the anti-union laws.

It’s possible:

Victory against the blacklist
By Steve Kelly (London Construction Unite)
Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The blacklist in construction is back with a vengeance. It is a well known fact that the blacklist has been used against construction workers for many years especially since the Shrewsbury strike in 1972.

It was always difficult to prove, but in 2006 a case involving three Manchester electricians who were sacked from a job at the Royal Infirmary Hospital in Manchester (having been elected by the workers on that site as their shop stewards and safety rep), was heard at industrial tribunal brought by the T&GWU, now Unite, for unfair dismissal. Evidence was bought to the tribunal by an ex-employee of a well known electrical contractor called Haden. Alan Wainwright swore on oath that indeed a blacklist was most definitely in operation and there was a list of 500 electricians who had worked on the Jubilee Line extension, Pizers (in Kent), and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden .

These sites were all organised by electricians in the past with elected shop stewards and safety reps .Any action taken on those sites would have been unofficial action which annoys firms as well as union bureaucrats. In construction that’s always been the case, and will continue to be so, due to the nature of the industry. Strike while the IRON IS HOT so to speak. The three electricians in Manchester eventually won the tribunal for unfair dismissal, sacked for organising in a trade union.

Two of the workers recently got work after bravely demonstrating outside the site every day since May 2006. A third worker, Steve Acheson, was still struggling to find work up to 3 weeks ago. Steve was offered a job at the Fiddlers Ferry power station in Warrington. Three weeks ago he was told he could start along with 20 others. Two hours later Steve was told by the company on site they only needed 19 workers .Seems like they realised who Steve was (steward from MRI).

The workers on site immediately said they would walk off the job unless Steve was employed. It was obvious to them the blacklist was being used against Steve. Unite full time officers were called in for talks with the company to avert a walkout by the men. After 4 weeks Steve had still not be offered a job on the site. On the 14th August the workers on site told the union that if Steve was not on the job by Monday 18th August they would not go into work and picket lines would be set up for Monday morning.

The other trades assured the electricians of their full support. Steve Acheson was given a job on the site within a couple of hours. This shows how, if workers unite and stick together and defend their fellow workers, the blacklist can be defeated. This kind of action may be necessary in the future – most likely on the Olympic project in Stratford, which is rumoured to need 9,000 workers when it is in full swing.

The main lesson here is all construction workers should join a union and take unofficial where necessary, especially when told not to by trade union officials. They would say we are breaking the law. Rank and file trade unionists have been doing that since 1834!

Unity is strength!

The workers united can never be defeated!

English eyes are smiling?

Some good news, first: those nice people at, erm, NICE (the National Institute for Clinical Excellency) have reversed their position on the sight drug Lucentis. Patients with age-related macular degeneration will now be able to receive the drug from the NHS on diagnosis, rather than having to wait until they are blind in one eye.

The Lucentis saga might not have happened if we had a) an English parliament controlling the NHS and b) public ownership of the pharmaceutical companies.

The bad news is that doctors are failing to inform cancer patients of drugs they could get for their illness:

A quarter of specialists polled by Myeloma UK said they hid facts about treatments for bone marrow cancer that may be difficult to obtain on the NHS.

Doctors said they did not want to “distress, upset or confuse” patients if drugs had not yet been approved by the NHS drugs watchdog NICE.

Primary Care Trusts can provide drugs ahead of NICE approval but many do not.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is currently reviewing several treatments for myeloma, including the drug Revlimid (lenalidomide) which trials suggest could extend the life of patients by three years.

One in four of the 103 myeloma specialists in England, Wales and Scotland questioned confessed that they had avoided telling patients about licensed drugs still awaiting approval by NICE.

And more bad news is that the English NHS is heading for a huge surplus – meaning that money that could have been spent on treating the sick now has been held for – what purpose? Future investment, possibly. But in future, will this be the profit margin, near two billion pounds…

Cold Wars and kettles

The roots of the recent events in Georgia (the nicest possible way to describe what was a hot war) lie in Kosovo’s declaration of independence earlier this year being recognised by several European powers & the US, of course – the Russian bear didn’t growl at the time. When Georgia began an attempt to recapture South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russia responded with a massive assault on Georgia’s US-sponsored military infrastructure, and shortly after, a ground invasion.

It’s not my business to take sides in a war between two capitalist states, but it’s worth noting that Georgia initiated the fight (lesson: don’t poke bears if you don’t want to be mauled) at a time when its Western-backed US-educated President has faced massive demonstrations from the opposition.

Russia is now recognising the independence of the two break-away states, something which is infuriating the UK and US governments, and other big players within the EU.

Now, I can’t see a quick entry into the Russian Federation for either Abkhazia or South Ossetia – it would be too obvious – but it’s clear that this recognition of independence is self-serving. A few years down the line, there could possibly be the integration of the two new states within the Russian Federation – which has waited seventeen years to recognise their independence, note well. It’s also worth noting that Georgia, etc., were part of the Russian Empire, which pre-dated the Soviet Union. (So, can the anti-communist sloganeering please stop? Oh, thought not.) Within the Soviet union Ossetia and Georgia were administratively separate and the Russian govt argues Georgia annexed S. Ossetia on declaring independence. All very complicated.

So, One might ask what the fuck has all this got to do with us in Little England, or as the Brown government prefers to call it, Big Britain? Foreign Secretary David Milibliar is trying to cobble together an anti-Russian alliance with a trip to the Ukraine. Georgia and the Ukraine should be allowed to join Nato, says he, echoing the rhetoric of his clone David Cameron who has visited Georgia already. (Word is that wee David has hired “Ian Hargreaves, one-time editor of The Independent, policy wonk at Ofcom and PR man for BAA” to assist with his leadership bid debate on New Labour’s future.)

Aside from the oil factor, I wonder, are they lying when they say it’d be easy to get an alternative route to Afghanistan if the Russians cut of access through their airspace? I wonder, because that particular conflict isn’t going well – mass civilian casualties, a stream of military deaths and injuries, etc.

The hidden child-killer is unmasked

It is…

Poverty.

From this weeks’ Observer:

An ‘epidemic of poverty’ in Britain is having a dramatic impact on the survival rates and health chances of children from poor families, an influential coalition will warn this week in a major report that casts doubt on government efforts to close the inequality gap.

End Child Poverty, a 130-strong network of children’s charities, church groups, unions and think-tanks, claims that the gap between rich and poor represents a ‘huge injustice’ in British society and has become one of the major factors affecting child mortality rates.

Its report, based on a wide-ranging analysis of government data, finds that children from poor families are at 10 times the risk of sudden infant death as children from better-off homes. And it reveals how babies from disadvantaged families are more likely to be born underweight – an average of 200 grams less than children from the richest families. Poorer children are two-and-a-half times more likely to suffer chronic illness when toddlers and twice as likely to have cerebral palsy, according to the report, ‘Health Consequences of Poverty for Children’.

‘Poverty is now one of the greatest dangers faced by our children,’ said Nick Spencer, one of the report’s authors and professor of child health at the University of Warwick. ‘If poverty were an infection, we would be in the midst of a full-scale epidemic.’

The report is likely to revive the debate on child poverty and focus attention on Labour’s record when it comes to tackling social inequalities. In March 1999, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, promised to eradicate child poverty ‘within a generation’. This was later defined as a commitment to end child poverty by 2020, with a target of halving the number of children living in poverty by 2010/11.

But last week the Conservatives attacked the government on its record for narrowing the gap between rich and poor. ‘Labour has failed, it has created a more unfair society and I think there is a real opportunity for the Conservative party now to lead this debate,’ the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, said.

But while the current row over social inequality has tended to focus on education and benefits, the implications for health have been largely ignored. Now, however, the End Child Poverty report highlights how socio-economic factors affect the entire life of children born into poverty, from foetal development and early infancy through to teenage years and adulthood.

It found that children living in disadvantaged families are more than three times as likely to suffer from mental health disorders as those in well-off families and that infants under three years old in families with an annual income of less than £10,400 are twice as likely to suffer from asthma as those from families earning over £52,000.

The report also suggests the health consequences of being born into poverty continue well beyond infancy. For example, adults who came from deprived families were found to be 50 per cent more likely to have serious and limiting illnesses, such as type two diabetes and heart failure.

‘From the day they are born, children’s health and very survival are threatened by family poverty,’ said Donald Hirsch, co-author of the report and policy adviser to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

‘It is one of society’s greatest inequalities that poor health is so dramatically linked to poverty. Children in the poorest UK families are at least twice as likely to die unexpectedly before their first birthdays than children in slightly better-off families. This is a huge injustice for the children in one of the richest nations in the world.’

The government claims it is closing the gap between rich and poor, but accepts that more needs to be done. The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said in June: ‘Although we have already lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty with new tax credits, more people in work and better public services, the latest figures show we have not made enough progress.’

He added: ‘We will not deny or explain away the figures. We will take them as a spur to action, a call to conscience.’

The government recently announced the introduction of 10 pilot projects to tackle ill health among people from poor backgrounds, including rewarding parents for making sure their children attend health check-ups and receive inoculations.

But Hilary Fisher, director of the Campaign to End Child Poverty, said the new report showed that there was an urgent need for more robust measures to address the health consequences of economic deprivation. ‘This evidence has profound implications for public policy,’ Fisher said. ‘The facts prove that effective action to end child poverty would make a vital long-term contribution to improving the health of our nation and prevent avoidable incidences of physical and mental ill health.

‘The government made a bold promise to halve child poverty by 2010 and this now requires bold action.’