Sunday 18 April 2010

20 years ago: the Strangeways prison riot

from this weeks issue of the Socialist

On 1 April it was 20 years since the start of the Strangeways prison 'riot'. The riot was a protest by prisoners against their appalling conditions. They initially barricaded themselves in the prison chapel, then took to the roof to raise the profile of their demands.

Iain Dalton

At the time conditions in prisons were bad. Strangeways had a certified capacity of 970, yet at the time of the riot the prison was holding 1,647 prisoners.

Prisoners on remand were in their cells 18 hours a day. Category A prisoners were in their cells 22 hours a day, only being allowed out to slop out - empty their chamber pots - for an hour's exercise and for a weekly shower. There was no change of kit for most prisoners after showers, and young prisoners had no work and few activities to keep them occupied.

The prisoners put these demands through the Manchester Evening News:

* Improved visiting facilities, including the right to physical contact with visitors and a children's play area.
* Category A prisoners to be allowed to wear their own clothes and be able to receive food parcels.
* Longer exercise periods.
* An end to the 23-hour-a-day lock-up.

Over a period of a few weeks, prisoners surrendered or were recaptured. Eventually the last five were taken off the roof in a cherry-picker.

The riot led to the setting up of a public inquiry under Lord Woolf which concluded that prison conditions were 'intolerable' and urged reform.

But a scurrilous article in the Society Guardian on 3 March this year attempted to put the responsibility for the riot onto violence-seeking prisoners and lazy prison officers who couldn't see the vision of the newly installed reforming prison governor Brendan O'Friel.

Yet the Woolf report noted that his reforms hadn't done much to alleviate the standards of prison life and called the conditions 'still wholly intolerable'.

Prisons had been understaffed for years, resulting in prisoners being locked up for longer and longer periods.

As part of the government's Fresh Start scheme for prison staffing, prisons had been reducing the number of hours overtime worked by prison officers as well as making other 'efficiency savings' whilst not making up for this by increasing staffing levels.

This also led to the increasing use of sedatives to keep control of the prison population.

After the Woolf report there was a slowdown in the growth of the prison population. Many prisons were improved so that they contained integrated sanitation and Strangeways itself was rebuilt at a cost of £55 million after the damage it had suffered during the riot. It was re-opened as Manchester prison.

But since then the prison population has shot up again. It is now over the 80,000 mark, which necessitated the use of police and court cells to hold prisoners during 2007. Although slopping out is supposed to have been phased out, it is still present in a few prisons such as Peterhead.

Some right-wing media portray prison conditions as luxury accommodation, yet as the Strangeways riot showed, it is far from the 'holiday camp' they wish to portray.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Contract Killers

Review from the February 2010 issue of Socialism Today

Blackwater: the rise of the world’s most powerful mercenary army
By Jeremy Scahill
Nation Books, 2008, £8.99
Reviewed by
Iain Dalton

THE NEW year began with a US court throwing out a case against five Blackwater guards accused of killing between 14 and 17 Iraqis in the infamous 14 September 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad. Witnesses allege that they fired indiscriminately when the convoy they were guarding approached a crowded intersection. Thrown out on a procedural technicality, the case highlights the use of private contractors in warzones, and the way in which they can act with impunity as they go about their business of doing the dirty work of US imperialism, and other major powers. A number of claimants had reached out-of-court settlements with Blackwater.

Blackwater is a name which has become associated with the brutality of the US ‘security’ operation in Iraq. So infamous has the organisation become that it has seeped into culture. The Anti-Flag song, The Ink and The Quill, is dedicated to it, describing its forces as "the hidden fist of the free market". In the popular RPG computer game, Oblivion, ‘Blackwood Company’ mercenaries massacre a village of civilians they are informed are bandits. Several films feature Blackwater-esque companies. So much so that, in January 2009, it rebranded itself as Xe in an attempt to escape that association.

Blackwater was initially set up in 1998 as a ‘one-stop shop’ training facility by former armed forces personnel on the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia, the company named for the colour of the water there. From creating a mock-up high school facility for training after the Columbine massacre to landing central government training contracts, Blackwater went from strength to strength. But it was only after the 9/11 attacks and invasion of Afghanistan that Blackwater Security Consulting was incorporated, and the company began supplying ‘security contractors’ to various wings of the military and US government, starting with providing 20 guards for the CIA’s Kabul station.

The biggest contract that Blackwater managed to land in this period was the one to guard the US viceroy in Iraq, ambassador L Paul Bremer III. The corruption and self-serving nature of the regime Bremer presided over is detailed well, from the $9 billion in unaccounted for Iraqi reconstruction funds, the ‘de-Baathification’ which threw hundreds of thousands out of work, lowering corporation tax from 40% to 15% and, crucially for Blackwater and others, Order 17, which granted immunity from prosecution to contractors in Iraq.

Jeremy Scahill does not just describe Blackwater’s rise to prominence, but that of the security contracting industry as a whole. Other mercenary outfits, such as DynCorp, Aegis, Eirlys, the Steele Foundation and others, have all benefited from the Iraq war privatisation, sending thousands of armed troops between them. Indeed, by the time Donald Rumsfeld left office in 2006, there was almost a one-to-one ratio of contractors to US armed forces personnel. (This includes other tasks, such as catering, as well as mercenary fighters.)

As with other traditional state functions, such as policing and imprisonment, privatisation has mostly proceeded from taking over peripheral functions, such as catering, transport and guard duties. It was while escorting a convoy of kitchen supplies that four under-equipped Blackwater personnel were killed in Fallujah. US forces responded by inflicting collective punishment on the city. Blackwater has its own air force, run under the name Presidential Airways, and has created its own armoured personnel carrier. As well as its original training facility, it has developed several others, including a jungle training complex in the Philippines.

It is not just from the Iraq and Afghan wars that Blackwater has made its profits. Much closer to home, it moved into New Orleans to provide security for the Department of Homeland Security and other private facilities in the city after hurricane Katrina. The company has also been involved with training elite units in the armed forces of US allies in the so-called ‘war on terror’, such as in Azerbaijan, and has suggested that it could deploy a force as peacekeepers in Sudan!

The latest edition of this book contains an extra chapter examining where Blackwater will go after the end of the Bush administration whose wars have proved so pivotal to the company’s growth. Scahill discusses how Blackwater is pulling its focus from Iraq, particularly after having landed a contract for counter-narcotics work in Latin America. It is also moving into supplying US forces with its own vehicles, such as a mine-proof SUV and surveillance blimps. Using ex-CIA operatives, it has also created Total Intelligence Solutions to bring ‘CIA-style services’ to the open market for Fortune 500 companies. But, as Scahill notes, while for Blackwater the Iraq occupation may not be its priority anymore, as long as US troops are deployed abroad, it is likely they will be accompanied by private contractors for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, as Blackwater departs, there are actually more contractors entering Iraq, the total increasing by around 2,500 over the first half of 2009. One of the main companies that the US government is replacing them with is DynCorp. Not only has this company overbilled the US government by around $13 billion for services in Iraq, it has been involved in equally or even more unwholesome activities as Blackwater. For example, there have been two separate allegations from former company employees that DynCorp was running a sex-trafficking business during the Bosnian war in 1990s. Teenage girls were brought in from Romania and Russia, with the help of the Serbian mafia, and were also traded as slaves between some DynCorp contractors. A recent Senate committee hearing heard that in 2003 a DynCorp subcontractor was killed when a bullet penetrated the car he was travelling in. The armoured car that he should have had was being used to ferry prostitutes between hotels used by DynCorp in Kuwait and Baghdad.

The extent of the privatisation of warfare and security throws up several interesting questions. Recruiting troops as mercenaries could allow countries such as the US the ability to deploy more troops without a draft or, more likely, Scahill argues, to make the troop count deployed in warzones a much more palatable level. Potentially, US security corporations may also come into conflict with the US government if they or their subsidiaries supply training or forces to regimes hostile to it. When US armed forces helped overthrow Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, he was being guarded by security forces from US-based Steele Foundation.

Unfortunately, throughout the book you find yourself grappling with what point Scahill is attempting to make, apart from the generalised harm that companies such as Blackwater are inflicting on the world. Where he details the background of Blackwater’s main founder, Erik Prince, a right-wing Christian neo-con, it reads in part as if he is some sort of conspiracy nut, as if outing links between Blackwater, the White House and the Christian right will somehow stop them. At other points, you feel as if Scahill wants privatisation surgically removed from the military so it can fight wars better. While offering very informative quotations, facts and figures – there is a wealth of other events that there is not space to go into here – these are presented in chapters that sometimes do not seem to have a logical succession and can be overwhelming.

But Scahill is a journalist who is simply exposing facts for our understanding. It is up to active Marxists to take the information supplied and weave it into our analysis of modern day warfare and the perspectives in war-torn areas, such as Iraq, to give such material a practical application

Friday 22 January 2010

Capitalist Fraudsters

Letter from this weeks Socialist

In January last year when reporting the Madoff scandal the socialist posed the question of how many more fraudsters like him were going to be exposed like him. Since then we've seen the downfall of England Cricket Board backer Alan Stanford, and a report by accountancy firm, BDO, a massive increase in reported fraud.

This year reported fraud has reached £2bn a year, the financial sector alone accounting for £1.34bn a 70% increase on last year - but around 90% of the largest frauds aren't even reported at all. The fraudsters, have been using the wealth they've been able to con from greedy bankers to emulate their opulent lifestyles.

We need to take over the banks and run them democratically under workers control to use the wealth to benefit the majority of the population, not just the opulent lifestyles of a few.

Iain Dalton

Sunday 3 January 2010

A Note on the Approach of Marxists to the Police

Some time ago now, there was a short polemic published on the Socialist Party in relation to the police and the state (Marxism and the State: An Exchange). The protagonist of the debate, a by then ex member of the Socialist Party had criticised the Socialist Party for its position in relation to the police, regarding that he believed the police were reactionary through and through and therefore Marxists shouldn't make appeals to them.
As the reply admitted, the police are often used to crush the workers movement and are used by the state as a tool for repression. Thus some people come to a position that the police are 'one reactionary mass'. But this is only one side of the situation. Any institution is made of human material and such peoples opinions, beliefs etc change over time. Of course, the impact of their day to day activities is important, but so is the wider world.
As people may be aware, the 1918-19 British Police Strikes were led by Socialists within the police force - now it may be objected that this was a unusual situation - but the reply in the polemic gives several others - such as Emil Eichorn taking over the Berlin police without arguement and the paralysis of the police during the May 1968 events in France. (Also, the 1917 overthrow of the Tsar was conveyed by a very excited Kharkov police chief, as Trotsky notes in The History of the Russian Revolution, chapter 8)
I'd like to add one more, in his book German Revolution 1917-1923, Pierre Broue points out that "... the Communists stepped up their propaganda work towards non-proletarian layers affected by the crisis, in particular officers and policeman."(pg729)
This was in 1923, during the hyper-inflation crisis, when if anything people were turning towards the nationalists in Germany (the Communists experienced growth too, but at a somewhat slower pace). Why approach the police? Because they aren't seperate from the class contradictions that tear through societies.

Friday 13 November 2009

Out With the Bad Mercenaries, In With The Equally As Bad Ones

As people may work out from my political views, I'm not a reader of FHM. However, on spotting a copy of the December 2009 issue which featured an article on mercenaries, I grabbed it a scribbled down a few notes from the issue, the following piece is what I've gleaned from it.

The most famous currently existing mercenary company (or civilian contractors as they prefer to be known) in the world today is probably Blackwater, responsible for the Nissour Square shootings and numerous other incidents in Iraq which propelled them into the spotlight. Such was the turmoil, that they have now changed their name to the more corporate Xe and are supposed to be being ejected from Iraq (although they have had certain contracts extended such as $20m aviation contract and are getting new contracts in Afghanistan) and replaced by other firms.

A review of the Jeremy Scahill book on Blackwater will shortly be appearing on this blog, so I won't go into too much depth on them. But the article provides interesting information on how Blackwater's fromer head, Erik Prince, has dealt with some of these incidents - for example redeploying men who had been sent home for steroid abuses, claiming that sending them home was weasting company money, or the rumour that they (Blackwater) were "...offing anyone who tried to alert the authorities about Blackwater's (allegedly numerous and ongoing) war crimes."(pg193)

However, the US are gradually handing Blackwater's contracts to other groups, mainly DynCorp. Although the coalition troops themselves are being deployed from Iraq, the article states that mercenaries hired by the US increased from 10,743 in March to 13,232 in June. Moreover, DynCorp's reputation isn't any better than Blackwater's.

The article lists a whole load of alleged shady goings on that the company have been involved with such as that,

"Two DynCorp employees seperately alleged that the company was running a sex-trafficking business during the Bosnian war in the 90's. Teenage girls were traded as slaves between DynCorp contractors. They were brought in from Romania and Russia thanks to collaboration with the Serbian mafia"(pg194)

"Meanwhile their cavalier attitude to crop-spraying while combatting the South American drug trade meant that ordinary crops got destroyed and children died..."(pg194)

"DynCorp has also being accused of sexually exploiting the local womenfolk in the Middle East. A subcontractor was killed in 2003 by a bullet penetrating the unprotected car he was riding in. Where was the armoured DynCorp car that he was meant to have? Ferrying prostitutes between DynCorp hotels in Kuwait and Baghdad, according to another subcontractor testifying at a Senate committee this year."(pg194)

The final thing that I picked up from the article was a contradiction within it. Towards the end of the article it argues that the US government finds it cheaper to pay contractors $60k-70k a year rather than the $100k it costs for a soldier in training, food, salary, healthcare, pensions etc. Yet at the same time, it talks of these mercenary contractors massively exceeding their budgets, such as DynCorp exceeding its Iraq budget by 51% and overbilling the government by $13.3bn. I'm not sure I understand the economics of mercenaries and I will have to come back to this issue at a later point.

Wednesday 30 September 2009

Review: The Everlasting Staircase: A History of the Prison Officers’ Association 1939-2009

From the September 2008 issue of Socialism 2008.

By David Evans with Sheila Cohen, Pluto Press, 2009, £15

Reviewed by Iain Dalton

WHEN PRISON officers went on their first ever nationwide strike two years ago, it propelled their organisation, the Prison Officers Association (POA), into the spotlight as, ironically, their leaders were threatened with imprisonment if they did not call off the action. Yet the history of trade unionism within the prison service goes back way further than this action or even the formation of the POA in 1939. Until now, it has been a relatively unwritten story, so the publication of a fairly comprehensive history is most welcome.
David Evans begins his narrative with the coming into being of the modern prison in the late 19th century and the attempts of the newly-created salaried gaolers to resolve their grievances. While a few attempts were made to form a trade union organisation in the early 20th century, it was not until the setting up of the National Union of Police and Prison Officers (NUPPO) in 1913 and the Prison Officers Federation (POF) in 1915, that this was achieved. Both unions were illegal, as a Home Office standing order was interpreted by then home secretary, Winston Churchill, as meaning that prison officers should be treated like the police, soldiers and sailors and banned from organising a union.
However, the NUPPO-organised walkout of the Metropolitan police in August 1918 over pay changed everything, with the government verbally backtracking over pay, conditions and the right to form a union. The apparent success of the action led to NUPPO and the POF merging. Yet, within a year of this apparent success, the government felt strong enough to pass the 1919 Police Act which once more took trade union rights away, at the same time attempting to buy off police officers with a substantial pay increase. NUPPO organised strike action in protest, but this was badly undermined with only a small number of police officers coming out as well as a few prison officers in Birmingham and 70 from Wormwood Scrubs. All those who took action were dismissed. The additional disillusionment following the failure of the 1924 Labour government to reinstate the strikers severely disappointed many who had been involved with NUPPO.
Instead of trade union rights, prison officers were left with an ineffectual representative board and, for the next 20 years, pay and conditions deteriorated, steeling the determination of prison officers to secure trade union rights once again. Despite the earlier association with police officers and the fact that the Police Act was used by the Home Office to designate prison officers as having police constable status and so banning them from forming a trade union, the struggle for union rights in the prison service has more in common with those of civil servants. Indeed, it was two leaders of the Civil Service Clerical Association who assisted in spearheading the POA’s right to exist and represented the fledgling POA in negotiations.
The newly-formed POA quickly reached a very high density of membership within the prison service, covering all prisons in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It quickly expanded in 1942 to win rights to represent staff at special hospitals such as Broadmoor. The period after the second world war saw a massive expansion of the prison population, almost doubling between 1945 and 1950. Prisons became overcrowded, with prison officer numbers failing to keep up with the increased population which, when combined with reforms improving prisoners’ conditions, began to breed resentment.
As Evans explains, it was not because prison officers were fundamentally reactionary, as some would claim, but that many of the improvements in conditions came without increasing staffing levels to ensure the safety of both prisoners and staff. This is not to say that the POA did not support improvements in prisoners’ conditions. For example, the POA was instrumental in ending ‘slopping-out’ and forcing the prison service to invest in integrated sanitation. But the overcrowding and extra duties imposed on officers led to the situation in the 1970s and 1980s where prison officers were required to do massive amounts of overtime just to keep prisons functioning.
The period from the late 1960s to the late 1980s was full of POA disputes and struggles which there is not the space to go into here. Importantly, however, this was when the POA discovered one of its most potent dispute tactics: refusing to admit prisoners above the Certified Normal Accommodation (CNA) limits, which highlighted both prison overcrowding and understaffing. There are also other interesting points that Evans raises, such as how prison officers treated the Pentonville Five dockers imprisoned for trade union activities, for instance, by leaving their cell doors open.
But it was the confrontation with the Tory government of John Major in the early 1990s that shaped the major concerns of the POA in recent years. Continued overcrowding of prisons led in 1993 to refusals to accept more prisoners at Hull and Preston, the latter already operating at 200% of the CNA. The Home Office went to court to seek an injunction against this action, and the judge, as well as ruling the action illegal, went further than the Tories in declaring that the POA was not a trade union. This was formalised by the Tories in the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which instituted the infamous section 127 which criminalised calling for prison officers to take industrial action.
Combined with this was the beginning of prison privatisation. Even the Thatcher government thought this was a step too far. But, in the early 1990s, starting with Wolds remand prison and court escort services, the Tories began opening up prisons and related areas to privatisation as well as privatising any new-build prisons. Not only did the privatised prisons attack the pay and conditions of staff, they also refused initially to recognise the POA. Instead, they recognised the scab Prison Service Union, which had been set up by disgruntled ex-POA officials, in ‘sweetheart’ deals. Faced with the market testing of public-sector prisons, the POA decided to organise within privatised prisons and fight for their return to the public sector. The POA’s campaign has been partially aided by some privatised prisons returning to the public sector after private mismanagement, as well as the embarrassing failure of any private-sector tenders to run Brixton prison when it was market tested.
Despite assurances from New Labour in opposition that it would fully reinstate prison officers’ trade union rights and reverse privatisation of the prison service, the POA has been let down on both counts. This led to the POA general secretary, Brian Caton, tearing up his Labour Party membership card at the 2009 POA annual conference. Trade union rights were partially restored on condition that the POA signed up to a no-strike agreement. However, such were the appallingly low pay offers that prison officers were receiving (even compared to other public-sector workers) that the POA pulled out of the agreement and undertook national strike action in 2007. The Ministry of Justice then reinstated the Tory legislation banning strikes by prison officers. This has led to the POA calling for the TUC to organise general strike action against the anti-union laws, as well as bracing itself for the possibility that the courts will be used against it if the POA is forced to take action to defend its membership.
Overall, the book is a very detailed history of the POA. However, there are several areas where more detail on particular issues would be welcome, as well as some areas which are not commented on, such as the alleged influence of the National Front in prisons and the POA in the 1970s. Also, on some points, the narrative is a little confused, jumping backwards and forwards in time rather abruptly. This is partially due to having to cover the specific intricacies of the issues the POA was dealing with in Northern Ireland and Scotland. But these criticisms should not put off anyone who is interested in the POA from reading this well-researched book.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Interview with POA leader Brian Caton - Fighting for the right to strike

Below I have reproduced an interview with POA General Secretary, Brian Caton from this weeks issue of the Socialist. Whilst I think the article is very interesting generally, it does also answer some of the questions I raised in the book review published recently in Socialism Today (which will be published on here at the end of the month).

Socialist Party industrial organiser Bill Mullins recently interviewed Prison Officers Association (POA) general secretary Brian Caton. Brian has recently decided to join the Socialist Party, after being a member of the Labour Party for many years.

How did you get into the Prison Service?

I come from a family of nine. I was brought up in Barnsley, my Dad worked as a collier. I was always a rebel at school. In fact I've got a school report which says: "If Brian doesn't improve his behaviour he will end up in prison."
My Dad was a union official when he was 16 and active in the 1960s. He was a very principled man.
I was in the army for 12½ years and I saw at first hand how devious governments of any colour can be.
My intention when I left the army was to be a probation officer. I was interviewed to be an assistant probation officer, then they scrapped those jobs.
They offered me a job in a rehabilitation hostel for drug offenders and alcoholics. But I just couldn't live on the wage. I was living in a council house but I had one child and my wife was heavily pregnant.
I passed the entrance exams for the police, prison and fire services. And because I'd been at Wandsworth prison as a potential probation officer I thought I'd go there.
I was a prison officer for 19 years from 1977. I started at Wandsworth and then went to Wakefield.
I was on the POA national executive, then in 1996 I left the Prison Service to become an assistant secretary.

What do you think about the privatisation of prisons?

Britain is the current leader in the world in having private prisons. In fact, per head of population, Wales is the world leader in private prisons. All of these have been built in the last 20 years.
Most of the companies involved with running prisons have got very long contracts. The public sector was never allowed to bid for them, the Tories just privatised them.
Justice Minister Jack Straw said there would be a level playing field for the running of prisons but then he said he's opening private prisons that the public sector will not be allowed to bid for.
We are not even allowed to bid for the transportation of prisoners. Public servants used to do all of this work.
The idea of Titan prisons - massive warehouses - was checked fully and was scrapped. But many Category C prisons have already got 1,500 prisoners, as big as Titans.
Straw is also pulling prisons together in clusters. The biggest travesty for us concerns Blakenhurst prison in the midlands, which we won back from the private sector.
Straw clustered it with Hewell Grange and Brockhill prisons, which were close to it. Now it's come up for retendering. So the other two which have never been private are now involved in a compulsory tender. He said he wouldn't do that, once again misleading the POA.
Birmingham, one of the biggest prisons in the country, has been named for potential privatisation. There is quite an active POA branch there and they took action in August 2007. So the threat of privatisation is Straw having a kick-back at us.

What do you think of the government's 'modernisation' plans?

We're not opposed to modernisation but the modernisation they are putting forward is dangerous for prison staff, dangerous for prisoners and dangerous for society.
We had the biggest turnout in a ballot ever in our history that rejected that modernisation. We're not allowed to take lawful strike or industrial action, so we go to the negotiating table at a disadvantage. They listen to what we say and then they ignore it.
We rejected workforce 'modernisation' in a ballot and now they're trying to impose it on us. This is alongside pushing forwards this market testing and privatisation. So we are in conflict with them.
I've been fortunate in having Colin Moses to work with. He's one of the few elected black trade union leaders in the country. We're both socialists and have very strong trade union beliefs. We both believe in trade unions doing the job for the members.

How do you deal with members of far-right organisations like the BNP in the union?

We have thrown BNP members out of the union, about six people. We were able to get the Prison Service to say they would sack any prison officers who were known to be members of far right organisations. In order to achieve this we constantly bombarded the Prison Service with the fact that we'd thrown people out for being members of the BNP but they were keeping them employed as prison officers. We got the Prison Service to make a declaration that if they found anyone in those organisations they would sack them. This applies to everyone who works in the Prison Service. This is part of a motion at the TUC this year.
If you get sacked for being in the BNP, if you're a POA member we won't support you.
We couldn't live with the thought of anyone with racist or fascist leanings having a key with a black person behind the door. We discussed it a lot and we decided to throw them out of the union. If we find any more we will throw them out. It's in the union rules.

Why did you leave the Labour Party?

I'm sick and tired of people saying that just because you're a prison officer you're right wing. I had three gold brooches for the amount of prison officers I have recruited to the Labour Party. I'm sad at having to leave the Labour Party but I couldn't stay in it with Jack Straw being politically dishonest to me.
I have respect for some Labour politicians and I have lots of friends in the Labour Party. Lots of my executive are still members of the Labour Party.
But being the general secretary of a union means you get face to face with people and you can ask questions that others can't. I asked questions and got waffle when I expected to be treated with respect and given honest answers.
I left a meeting at our conference with Jack Straw and made a presentation to him of a decanter from the POA to say thank you for coming to the conference. I also gave him a book entitled The Right To Strike and I said: "I've got you a third gift. You can have my Labour Party card after being a Labour Party member for 40-odd years."
I got a standing ovation.
He asked me what I was going to do now politically. I said I'll join the workers' party.
He did say that his father had been locked up for being a conscientious objector. I asked him what the founding fathers of the Labour Party would think of him now - fighting illegal wars and privatising prisons. I got a standing ovation for that as well.

What's happening now in the Prison Service?

From 1 September they're bringing in prison officers at £14,000 a year - £6,000 less than the proper rate. This will mean conflict. We've taken them to arbitration but it's all on the back of our members refusing the modernisation.
They want to scrap the principal officer grade and run prisons with people in suits. We're not up for modernisation if it means cost cutting, cutting our wages and conditions, and the conditions for prisoners.
If prison officers can't rehabilitate, all they can do is confine. That looks like what they really want us to do.
When we send those prisoners back into society under those circumstances, they will rape, rob and murder again. If we can't attempt to rehabilitate them or tackle their mental health problems, drug or alcohol problems then we're wasting our time sending them to prison.
We've said let's have an integrated system where prison officers and probation officers work together. Where non-custodial sentences deliver the same programmes as in the prisons but out in the community. But we can't do that with overcrowded prisons, filling them up with people who are mentally ill.
These things are part of the POA's policies. We argued these points with Labour in opposition. They said they would talk to us when they got into power but 12 years later they haven't done anything.
Cameron's lot will cause a massive increase in crime. They will lock people up for longer, try to cut the prison budget and privatise.
One of the things about the day's strike that we took was that we said: "You push us too far and we'll strike." No law will stop working people saying I will withhold my labour.
My members don't want to break laws but we don't want bad laws either. I'll be arguing at the TUC that for any union to be able to bargain properly with the employers, the union membership must be able to withdraw their labour.

Brian Caton is speaking at the Socialist Party's Socailism 2009 event.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Upcoming Attractions

Right, now I've setup the new blog (see its time to figure out what to do with the old one. Should I delete everything non-crime and criminology related? Should I just post my own stuff or do some reposts on it off other articles that I think are interesting on this subject? Who knows, I'm gonna mull that question over for a while.

What I do want to do is get some new material up on the blog. Posts perhaps aren't gonna be all that frequent (maybe once a week on average), but I have got some things I did want to post.
For example, I came across a few pieces by James P Cannon in his book Notebook of an Agitator on crime which I want to post some commentary on. I want to post up some more material on Haiti as well as examining 'humanitarian' intervention in some other places too.
One piece that is finished and will be posted up at the end of this month is a review I have written for the current issue of Socialism Today ( The book is a history of the Prison Officers Association called The Everlasting Staircase by David Evans with Sheila Cohen. If you're interested you can get a copy of this months issue from the website above or your local Socialist Party branch.

Friday 4 September 2009

New Blog

I've done it - I am going to split this blog in two. I'm still in the process of figuring out how that works completely, but from now on this blog will just feature posts on crime, criminal justice and other related issues.
For everything else, please see my new blog - And Now For Something Completely Sectarian

Thursday 3 September 2009

Some Thoughts On Blogging

Like an idiot I have once more left the review I was going to post here on my laptop - so instead I originally quickly plugged some new blogs by Socialist Party members.

But then I got thinking about the blog. When I started the blog, I did want to write criminology posts, but also to comment on stuff around me. Both of which I think are dead useful, but of late, I feel a compulsion to keep churning out posts, some of which I know aren't that good quality at all and also I tend to frequently repost stuff too.
The problem I find is that often a lot of the crime related stuff tends to be more polished stuff that is intended for publication somewhere, whereas often I like to rant about other things, yet I feel that sort of thing lets the blog down. So I'm toying once more with the idea of splitting the blog into one which is to do with me, and a more specialised one on crime. We'll see in the next few days if I go through with it

Anyways, back to the blog plugs

First off there is Grinning in Your Paradise - written by a comrade who describes himself as hopping between Sheffield and Cambridge.

Then there is Everyones' Favourite Comrade - this one is written by a comrade in Cardiff who has set up the blog "for several reasons which include, to more orientate and structure my rants, to encourage my to write and read regularly as I get distracted easily and generally to get my specific views out there!"

Finally, I just wanted to once more plug again Proper Tidy - if you're looking for socialist analysis of the key issues in North East Wales look no further!