Friday, 28 September 2007

Letter - An Organised Dab in the Hand

Letter sent in by myself appearing in the Socialist Issue 503.

A recent report published by the UN said that organised crime takes roughly £954 billion a year, and argued that it was one of the three biggest threats facing the world alongside global warming and the scarcity of global drinking water. Further into the report, it stated that contrary to popular opinion, only a minority of bribes (which accounted for over half of this crime) went to public officials in the developing world. The report stated that "the vast majority of bribes are paid to people in richer countries". Rising crime, as critical criminologists observed in the 1980's and 1990's, is an expression of free-market policies that right-wing governments have ushered in worldwide. On top of these bribes, in this country we have seen the huge donations that companies and the rich pour into the main political parties, being rewarded with peerages and PFI contracts. The capitalist system creates crime and needs replacing by a system run by the majority to meet their needs; a socialist world.

Monday, 24 September 2007

No Nuclear Nightmare for Ynys Môn!

here's an interview i recently did with an activist from a local campaign group

Wylfa, the nuclear power plant on Anglesey, has been operating there since the 1960’s. It is currently coming towards the end of its life and is due to close in 2010. When the government last year proposed a second generation of nuclear power plants, Anglesey County Council and the local Labour MP, Albert Owen heralded the coming of a new power plant at Wylfa, which the said would bring jobs and prosperity to local community.

The reality is far different. The island’s two main employers are Wylfa and Anglesey Aluminium which gets a supply of energy from Wylfa at a discount. Local politicians have argued that if Wylfa closes, so will Anglesey Aluminium with a huge loss of jobs. However, many jobs will be retained in the decontamination process that could take several years and workers would be needed to maintain any renewable power generation.
Also, Anglesey Aluminium survived for 18 months whilst Wylfa was closed down, so how much of a difference will be made by a permanent shutdown? Even Anglesey Aluminium’s managing director has stated the future of the company doesn’t depend on a new nuclear plant at Wylfa.

Furthermore, the local politicians don’t talk about the inherent dangers of nuclear power. British nuclear power generation has far from a spotless safety record and Wylfa itself has been closed several times. Moreover, the big problem with nuclear power is what to do with the waste which stays radioactive for thousands of years. There is currently no safe way of storage. Government suggestions that a safe way may be found in the future is just their way of passing the buck and storing up big problems for the future.

The precedents for a campaign against another plant on Anglesey are there however. In the mid-1980’s the Thatcher government proposed a new nuclear power station on the site, which a local campaign (under the same name) organised successfully against, contributing to the proposal being dropped.

The present campaign features some of the members of the original group (the organisers continued to monitor the situation between themselves), alongside local community activists and some alternative energy researchers who have been working on proposals on how the area’s energy needs could be met through renewable energy, which Anglesey is ideally located to harness.

The campaign organised a public meeting of about 40 people last February in Menai Bridge, and has launched an online petition ( as well as carrying out leafleting of the whole of the island. Last year the House of Lords threw out Blair's phony 'consultation' on new nuclear power stations and told the government to go back and carry out the a real consultationthey had promised. Since then, the issue has temporarily stalled and the local politicians behind the proposals have kept quiet. The campaign, however, is still active, holding regular stalls in Llangefni and running fundraising events to support the campaign.

The Socialist party says

• Nationalise the commanding heights of the economy including the energy sector and large manufacturers

• No to nuclear power, for massive investment into the development of renewable energy

• For a socialist plan of production to meet people’s needs

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Huddersfield - Victory! Campaign saves nursery

I decided to publish this article from this weeks issue of the Socialist becuase, if you have being reading my blog you may remember i blogged about my involvement with this group and stuff (articles are scattered throughout but A Different Kind of Stall was the first and there were various other posts on the local elections which covered the campaign too).

LOCAL PARENTS, their children and staff at Tiddlywinks Nursery in Huddersfield are celebrating a victory in reversing Kirklees council's decision to close it down. Back in February, the Director of Children's Services announced her intention to close the workplace nursery without consulting or discussing with parents or staff.

Mike Forster
Given just three weeks to launch a counter-offensive before the recommendation was endorsed, campaigners had, within a week, held a meeting of 50 angry staff and parents pledged to fight the council and organised a lobby of the town hall.

Such was the campaigners' determination, a huge wave of opposition to these plans swept through Huddersfield with huge press coverage, thousands of signatures being collected and children, staff and parents besieging the Tory council boss in his own council chamber. This forced the council to concede a review of their decision with officers instructed to look more closely at their recommendation.

The campaign group knew they would need further massive pressure to force any concession. Two town centre demos were held. The media took up the story of women fighting hard to save their nurseries.

All these parents go out to work for a living and desperately need good quality, affordable nursery care for their kids. The council is in effect saying that they will have to settle for private sector provision if they want nursery places. Huddersfield people understood that this was another form of backdoor privatisation and clearly said, enough is enough.

One local parent, Mel Mills stood in May's elections as an independent candidate on the Save Our Services ticket to highlight the nursery's plight and to maintain the campaign's momentum. She secured over 5% of the vote in a hectic three-week campaign, beating the Green Party candidate!

Tiddlywinks Nursery is in Huddersfield's Ashbrow Ward where there is higher than average unemployment and poor housing. As Mel commented, working parents will not be able to go out to work if their local nursery is closed, thereby exacerbating already high levels of deprivation.

Predictably, the review produced nothing new. The council officers still insisted the nursery should close. The council leader had to present the review's findings to an angry crowd of around 100 parents, staff and children. He asked for a response within five weeks. The campaign then produced a forty-page rebuttal of every single argument of the council.

Parents had also demanded that the Scrutiny and Overview Committee examine in more detail the officers' recommendation. That meant yet more uncomfortable headlines for the council as parents, staff and the UNISON union tore into these proposals.

Clearly the council were looking for a way out. And intense lobbying of all the party bosses on the council, made them decide to back down. The Children's Services director still wants to see the nursery shut, but she was overruled by politicians who did not want to be labelled as the council that shuts working parents' nurseries.

Last week, the council leader called an emergency press conference to announce that Tiddlywinks was saved. The campaign is disappointed, however, that two other nurseries will still be shut, leaving only one workplace nursery for the whole town. A rearguard action is still being waged to at least try and save one more.

However this is a significant victory. A Tory council has been forced to back down by an intense and determined campaign, helped by Socialist Party members in Unison and by our local councillor, Jackie Grunsell, who was the main voice of opposition on the council.

Mel told the socialist: "I am absolutely delighted that our nursery is staying open. This will send a clear message to people in Ashbrow that we can save local services. It will help people understand our campaign. It makes it even more important that I stand again in the elections again next year because they won't stop here.

"They are already talking about school closures, but they will not ride roughshod over us. I am sad that two nurseries are set to close, but we haven't given up the ghost yet and I intend to see this through to the end."

Campaigners will attend this week's cabinet meeting to try and force another concession, but whatever happens, they can be proud of what they have achieved.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Overcrowded prisons, overworked staff

Here's another articl;e of mine, published in this weeks The Socialist

BRITAIN'S PRISON officers held their first-ever national strike, mainly on pay, in August. Another major issue that strikers raised was that of conditions. Prisons are still massively overcrowded. According to the National Offender Management Service 80,762 people were in prison in August. Prison officers are also very overstretched, which is bad for prison officers and prisoners alike.

The government response has been a limited early release programme (ECL) and a new prison-building programme. Early release of prisoners has been part of Britain's penal system for over 100 years, although the last Tory government drastically curtailed this, adding 1,000 extra prisoners into the system, under Michael Howard's slogan of 'prison works'.

The law allows prisoners to be released on the Home Secretary's power up to six months early. Former Home Secretary John Reid limited it to 18 days, in line with Labour's right-wing law and order policies.

The tabloid press protested nonetheless over prisoners being given £170 cash on leaving prison. But all prisoners get this money, usually £45, to help them survive until they can sign on and start claiming benefits. Prisoners released under ECL are given extra money because they cannot sign on until the days they are released early have passed. They are still technically prisoners.

However, pressure from right-wingers led to this scheme being scrapped. ECL prisoners get only £45, which is supposed to last them until they can start claiming benefits, up to a month. Probation officers' union NAPO calls this a recipe for re-offending.

The government are also building more prisons to provide 9,500 extra places by 2014, although their own estimates show that at the rate prisons are filling, the cells will run out again then.

Moreover, at present up to 400 police cells are holding prisoners who won't fit in prison. This is at a huge cost. New Labour have privatised both police cells and prisons. Increases in prison populations will be another vehicle for this privatisation, making prisons even more like human warehouses.

All the main parties have the same vision for their law and order agenda, of more and more of the population being locked away, similar to the USA. Socialists wholeheartedly disagree with such ideas.

The Prison Officers Association have welcomed the announcements of new prisons. But the prison service, like other state institutions under capitalism, is drastically under-funded.

Striking prison officers interviewed by the socialist stressed that staffing has been drastically cut over the last few years.

Understaffing means that prisoners spend more time locked up in cells rather than doing any activities, frustrating for staff and prisoners alike. This situation will worsen if any further expansion of the prison population through building new prisons goes ahead.

Socialists argue for a radical decrease in the prison population. Many people are locked up due to debt and poverty.

Moreover, sentences handed out by courts have crept up in length and the proportion sent to prison for more than 30 years, despite the crime rate going down over recent years.

To implement this reduction, socialists call for the democratic election of judges, subject to recall.

Moreover, we demand the release of all people imprisoned for fine defaults, ASBO defaults and other trivial offences, with democratically elected bodies to review all other cases.

Socialists do not necessarily oppose building new prisons. But we would argue that any new prisons need to be part of a plan to reduce the jail population, through replacing older prisons with newer ones, which held fewer prisoners but with more facilities and better conditions.

This would free up staff to reduce the prisoner-staff ratio, whilst providing better prison facilities. But these prisons should not be built and run by the private sector with their history of providing poorer quality prisons.

Moreover, socialists demand that privatised prisons are renationalised too.

Such a programme would reduce the overcrowding crisis in prisons. However, to tackle the problem of crime a socialist programme is needed that would give jobs and training for all on a living wage, with housing and other essentials of life under public ownership and control.

Prisons should be geared towards helping offenders overcome any problems such as not being able to read or write.

Combined with the measures above, most prisoners would be able to emerge into a meaningful life on the outside and escape the re-offending trap that sees six in ten of those who are released back inside within two years.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Review - Lady In The Water (2006)

This is my first stab at a film review but i really enjoyed this film even though it had been given short shrift by film reviewers. For more info see

Lady in the Water is not an overtly political film at all, but I did find it very thought provoking. The plot is basically a real-life fairy tale. A sea nymph, named Story, is living in the pool of an apartment block. She is being hunted by some other-worldly beasts called Scrunts who can hiude themselves in grass surrounding the apartment block and try to stop he completing her task. This is to meet the vessel, a human who after meeting Story will go on to do 'great things', and then she is to return to her world afterwards on the back of an giant eagle.
Paul Giamatti plays Cleveland, the apartment handyman, who inadvertently sees Story and begins trying to piece together the story I've outlined above, which is contained in an old fairy tale which he learns from an elderly Chinese tennant. After Cleveland helps Story acheive her task, something goes wrong and a Scrunt attacks her. Cleveland rescues her, retrieves something to heal her, learning more about the story in the process. Anyway to cut a long story short, he finds out that there are more people that can help Story, ordninary people amongst the tennants and they eventually help Story return to her world.

Now, although the story narrative is highly concerned with certain people having pre-ordained roles there are other narratives that I find particularly interesting. Firstly is the notion of social change that comes into play through the vessel, as I said previously if we ignore the pre-ordained theme, we can see the idea of social change coming through this.
Secondly I like the fact that the apart from Story, all the characters in the film are ordniary people. In a distorted way it shows that ordinary people are capable of great things, plus it gives the film a characterful feeling.
I have to say, I was a fan of M. Night Shymalan's previous films, but I prefer this film to the others which all seemed to revolve around one large plot twist.

Friday, 7 September 2007

First Ever National Prison Officers Strike

This is taken from this weeks issue of the Socialist, i wrote most of the preamble.

Strike against public-sector pay cap

On 29 August, the Prison Officers' Association (POA) held its first ever national day of strike action, with over 20,000 staff walking out from all public prisons in England and Wales.
An earlier ballot showed 87% support for action up to and including striking.
The POA had its right to strike removed under the Tories in 1994. Labour repealed this but introduced a voluntary 'no-strike' agreement.
Earlier this year, the POA, angry after two years of below-inflation pay deals, told the government it was withdrawing from this agreement.
Under the agreement, the union was supposed to give the government 12 months notice of withdrawal, which is how the government got a court injunction and declared the strike illegal.
POA branch rep John Hancock spoke to Chris Newby and Keith Dickinson outside Wormwood Scrubs prison on the day of the strike.

"There was 93% of us locally in favour of taking industrial action. I think that's reflected in what's happened today across the country, the tremendous support for the strike.

The main issues are the fact that we're supposed to have an independent pay review body and the recommendation that they give is supposed to be binding on both sides. Over the last two or three years the government has accepted what the pay review body has said but phased the award in.

Last year the review body said 2.5% but then they phased it in, so effectively over the year it became 1.9%.

So we've had year-on-year cuts in our pay whilst we've been over-achieving on our targets. So we're now absolutely fed up with the fact that we're not getting paid for the job that we're doing.

Also there's been massive staff cuts. Ten years ago we had 400 officers here. We're now down to just over half of that. And yet the prison population has gone from 40,000 to 80,000.

In the Scrubs at the moment we have 1,300 inmates and 230 officers so it's five or six prisoners to one officer.

Most of us are outside here now and I'm very very proud of the branch for this turnout.

We're already worse off now than we were 10 years ago and there's a proposal for more staff cuts over the next three years. This will mean more escapes, less drug testing etc. Inmates will be locked up on Friday as well as Saturday and Sunday. What sort of problems is that going to cause us on a Monday morning?

The government said today that this dispute was wholly unlawful. I would say it's wholly unnecessary because had the government not reneged on the promise that they made while they were in opposition to reform trade union rights we probably would not have had action today.

We balloted according to the trade union laws but they are saying we have a no-strike commitment. But the prison service can break their side of this agreement whenever they feel like it. They don't like it when the prison officers have done exactly the same.

I attended the National Shop Stewards Network conference and I'm very much in favour of Bob Crow's stand. He has been exceptionally supportive towards us.

The general feeling here is upbeat and hopefully we'll get a settlement sooner rather than later."

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

NUS, HSBC and Facebook

One of many thing in the press in the UK at present is that NUS (the National Union of Students) has forced HSBC to scrap it's plans to charge graduates through a campaign set up on the online social network Facebook.

I find this interesting as back in March, as Socialist Students conference, Wes Streeting a Labour Students member and NUS VP Education was really promoting facebookas a campaigning tool for the future, whereas we argued for a mass campaign to defeat fees. Was Wes correct, and our kind of camapigning a thing of the past. Well no.

On the NUS website and Wes' NUS officer blog, he said

"There can be no doubt that using Facebook made the world of difference to our campaign. By setting up a group on a site that is incredibly popular with students, it enabled us to contact our members during the summer vacation far more easily than would otherwise have been possible. It also meant that we could involve our former members - the graduates who were going to be most affected by this policy.

“HSBC’s decision to reverse this policy is a victory for this NUS campaign and the individual action of students and graduates across the country. The fact that this U-turn has been forced is a testament to the role of unity and communication in empowering students and encouraging fair deals from student and graduate bank account providers.”


As a result we:

Set up a Facebook group which has now attracted around 4,000 members to oppose the move and visibly demonstrate our opposition – this group attracted press coverage throughout the media including BBC, Sky, The Guardian, The Times, The Express, The Daily Mail, The Independent, Channel 4 and The Scotsman. In recent days the press pressure has been mounting as a result of more than 200 people joining the group per day and interest in the planned stunt outside HSBC headquarters

Wrote to HSBC calling for a meeting to discuss their policy change

Examined the policies of all the other major student account providers and confirmed that they would not be following the precedent set by HSBC

Sent out an action briefing to students’ unions and asked unions to prepare for potential first term action

Planned a photo stunt involving student officers and activists from the Facebook group outside HSBC headquarters to generate more media coverage

Now to be fair, this is much better campaigning work than NUS has done on fees, especially I would say the fact that they were actually trying to get local student unions to do something. Please note however, that the only concrete activity that NUS had organised was a photo stunt to get press coverage.

However, in the Guardian Money supplement this Saturday, mention is made of students on the facebook groups organising protests at HSBC banks across the country

It is understood that apparently spontaneous, but secretly planned, demonstrations could have gridlocked HSBC branches across the country. Students intended to turn up in large numbers at HSBC city centre branches in university towns, forming long queues at cash and enquiry desks, each asking the same questions about how their account would be hit and how they could move overdrafts elsewhere

The idea was to block branches with a peaceful protest next Tuesday lunchtime - at the same time as the National Union of Students (NUS) planned a demonstration outside HSBC's Canary Wharf headquarters.

This apparently was suggested by a postgraduate from Leeds. I'd suggest it was this that made HSBC change their mind rather than Facebook. For me it shows the importance of mass campaigns where all students (or workers) can take part and contribute to it.

Another comrade has recerntly blogged about online activism as well,