Friday, 24 September 2010

Quotation Station


`I quote the words of a Lord Justice of Appeal when he says ; "Environmental crime , if established, strikes not only at a locality and it`s population but in some measure to the planet and it`s future." Nobody should be allowed to doubt it`s seriousness.`

Judge Christopher Hodson quoted Lord Justice Sedley when sentencing a man to 30 months imprisonment for taking the eggs of peregrine falcons, a protected species, from the wild and attempting to smuggle them out of the country.

 The case was widely reported in the UK press, this quote came from the free paper, Metro, dated Friday August 2010.

I would hope that most people would agree with the views of the two judges. If this sort of thing interests you, you may like to read my article Poisons and Pesticides Provoke Perturbation (1 Sept 2010), online at  Angel Pavement.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Sustainable Steve Wages War on Whitehall

Reading Steve Shaw`s article `Radical Bottom Up Democracy` in The Citizen this month I began to wonder if I`d unknowingly passed through a time-warp.

Steve`s article, commendable in it`s intentions, aimed to promote the Sustainable Communities Act of 2008. In that respect, I have no problem with it whatsoever.

What`s striking is his description of the obstacles he claims the Act has encountered. "Senior Whitehall civil servants" have tried to "block the Act" and are in fact "doing all they can to destroy the democratic core of the Act". "Sir Humphrey" (a reference to a character in a 1980s TV series) "is still at large." 

Reading the relevant passages, I felt as if I was reading a tract from either the Thatcherite right of the `80s or something from some 1970s ultra-left grouping, an impression furthered by the dated TV reference. Don`t be so shrill, Steve, people will stare ! 

I haven`t given up my time just to poke fun at someone who I`m sure is doing good and valuable work, I do have some serious points to make.

Firstly, I have some experience of  civil service work in days gone by, including a short spell in the HQ of a nationally known government agency. That particular job was one I hated, but it did have it`s educational side ! One thing I can state with some certainty is that, whatever may have happened in the past, these days if Civil Servants are deliberately obstructive or drag their heels, frankly it`s because politicians, probably those at a very high level, have either told them to do so or have indicated that they`ll turn a blind eye. 

The other point is that the Sir Humphrey character was a portrayal of a particular type of Whitehall culture which might have existed at one time, but didn`t survive the Thatcher years.  Mrs T, as you may know,  cut the power of  `Whitehall mandarins` by turning large parts of the old Departments into semi-autonomous Agencies run by Chief Executives brought in from the private sector on short term contracts. A number of the newly-formed Agencies were in fact moved out of London, and both the Conservatives and Labour have subsequently preferred the advice of businessmen and political appointees to that of career Civil Servants.

The resultant outcry against the `democratic deficit` thus created was in fact a great boost to Charter 88, one of the `ancestors` of Unlock Democracy, the very organisation Steve represents, so it`s odd if he is unaware of this.

My guess is that Steve has genuine concerns that the Act is being obstructed but is reluctant to antagonise the very politicians he needs to ensure that it is properly implemented. In an odd way I can see how that would be a dilemna, but I have to say one should be wary of half-truths as a vehicle for advancing a cause. By their very nature, Unlock Democracy supporters  tend to be well-informed people with a social conscience who have a rooted objection to the Westminster culture of the three main parties. I`m not sure they`re interested in reliving the battles of the past. 

Having said all this, it`s only right to stress that Unlock Democracy is an excellent organisation, that the Local Works project (a coalition of over 120 organisations ranging from Trade Unions to small business organisations, environmental groups and others  all wishing - quite rightly - to see the Sustainable Communities Act, which came into force in 2008, properly implemented) is extremely worthwhile  and that the hard work and commitment of Steve Shaw and his team is beyond question. I hope anyone reading this will be tempted to visit their sites at and and see what it`s all about.

 Lastly, The Citizen is a good read and obviously provocative or you wouldn`t be reading this article in the first place !

Monday, 30 August 2010

Blue Truck, Green Truck Update

See my article Blue Truck, Green Truck, this blog, 13 May 2010 for the background to this article.

Further to my earlier posting, US District Judge Christina Snyder has now ruled that the Port of Los Angeles is within it`s rights to implement a Clean Trucks Program. The Program makes trucking companies responsible for maintaining their own fleets of  `clean` trucks, reducing pollution levels etc. The American Trucking Association had contested the Port`s right to introduce such a program, but failed to convince the Judge.

The decision was welcomed by the Natural Resources Defence Council, The Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports and by LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who stated that this was "real progress" and described the CTP as "a model for ports around the nation."

The American Trucking Association has accepted the verdict, but has launched a further lawsuit, contesting the Port`s right to insist that firms directly employ their drivers. At present, many firms depend heavily on a network of nominally independent self-employed drivers, roughly equivalent to the arrangement many catalogue companies in the UK have with self-employed couriers.

The following websites may be of interest ;


This blog will be carrying rather fewer topical articles in the future, as I simply don`t have the time needed for checking facts, keeping up to date with new developments. However, if you`re interested in community-based campaigns, charities, environmental groups etc, you may like to visit Angel Pavement at .

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Illustrated by Yaffle

The Labour Publishing Company Ltd was formed in 1920 at the suggestion of G D H Cole, at a meeting of a group called the Labour Research Department. Apparently, Cole had been approached by the economist J M Keynes with the suggestion that the LRD publish a book Keynes had been working on. In the event, that did not happen, but the seed had been sown in Cole`s mind.

Also present at the LRD meeting which approved Cole`s decision were George Bernard Shaw and Beatrice Webb.

The company was beset by problems from the outset, but managed to survive from 1920 - 1929. In 1926, they published a short play, Foiling the Reds or  The Heart of a Labourer by a playwringht using the name `Yaffle`. The play seems to be a satire on UK industrial relations at the time, though the playwright`s introduction to the LPC`s  published version of the volume is so studiedly ironic as to potentially confuse the reader as to his/her intentions.

Be that as it may, my main reason for penning this short article is to introduce you to the artistry of one `Flambo`, whose excellent work adorns this volume. Here are a few samples ;

Sadly, I`ve been unable to cast any light on the true identities of Yaffle and Flambo. It is true, apparently, that the children`s TV character Professor Yaffle (from Oliver Postgate`s TV series Bagpuss) was based on G D H Cole, but as far I know, this is just co-incidence.

At present, we do have a copy of Foiling the Reds on sale (3553 in our listings, but as I say, my main interest today is purely to introduce you to the excellent artwork. If anyone can cast any light on the identities of Yaffle and Flambo, I`d be interested to hear from you.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

National Mesothelioma Day 2 July 2010

Friday 2 July 2010 is National Mesothelioma Day, held to raise awareness of issues surrounding asbestos-related illness.

I take an interest in these matters as not so long ago an old friend of mine died of the effects of working with asbestos.

If anyone`s interesed, my article Asbestos Awareness and `Advocacy` - For Chris (this blog, 19 April 2010) provides a little background info and links to various interested bodies etc.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Thought for the Day

"When politicians demand the public do something because of the dictates of financial markets, it`s best to hold on to your wallet !"

Dean Baker, American economist.

I know nothing about Mr Baker, but no doubt we`ll all get plenty of opportunity to reflect on his words in the not-so-distant future !

Monday, 7 June 2010

Ramblers Roundup

The Ramblers Association celebrates it`s 75th anniversary this year (see ) ,  so it seems fitting to bring you a round-up of current activities.

A new campaign, Dead End, aims to name and shame the councils in England and Wales with the worst record  for footpath maintenance. A map of footpath black spots has so far highlighted Worcestershire, North Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and Buckinghamshire as being among the worst performers (but one suspects that Gedling Borough and Nottinghamshire County Councils will soon be joining them - see below).

Ramblers members and local residents in Oxfordshire are celebrating a successful 13 year campaign to keep open a footpath connecting Shiplake with the Thames towpath. The campaign came to an end when a judge rejected the landowner`s appeal against an earlier ruling.

Wales  - Ramblers Cymru`s Communities on Foot toolkit, a guide to setting up and running a sustainable community-based walking group, has proved so successful and influential that enquiries are now being received from overseas. The second phase will see the creation of a Community Walking hub at Port Talbot, with satellite hubs in nearby communities.

Wales - Ramblers Cymru is also collaborating with the Countryside Council for Wales to create a website called Activate which will list the guided walks available from 176 organisations in Wales each year.  An IPhone App is also planned to make them searchable whilst walking.

After campaigning on the issue for a mere 35 years, Ramblers members and other residents in Bath have succeeded  in the creation of a new path across the Cotswold Scarp at Lansdown.

Dartford and Gravesend Ramblers have managed to re-open a 400 metre stretch of the Pilgrim`s Way near Swanscombe after a court case backed by the town council.

Nottinghamshire Ramblers have served legal notices  on the Chief Execs of Gedling Borough Council and Nottinghamshire County Council, claiming that Gedling Borough Council has been closing footpaths without the requisite consultation for years. 

Nottinghamshire/Yorkshire border area. Worksop Ramblers are in talks with Tesco concerning rights to paths crossing the new Tesco site in the area.

Further Reading

Ramblers Revisited Again (this blog, 10 May 2010)
Ramblers Revisited (Bookshelves and Brown Ale, 13 March 2010)
After Kinder (this blog, 10  March 2010)
Rambling through Adversity (Bookshelves and Brown Ale, 10 December 2009)
Kinder Conservation and a Historic Mass Trespass (this blog, 1 November 2009)

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Blasts from the Past - J B Priestley on Democracy

Yorkshire is believed by many to be the cradle of civilization, and among it`s finest exports we find the writings of J B `Jack` Priestley, novelist, essayist and somewhat reluctant political activist.

This legendary literary grumbler made a passing appearance in this blog in `JBP Gets it Right` , 12 April 2010.

Schemes to extend and deepen democracy take many shapes and forms.  I suppose one could validly come up with a number of names, often from different and/or conflicting political backgrounds, all of whom could stake their claim with some justice. I personally would name-check W E B Du Bois, Manning Marable and Sam Webb, though in each case it would be a critical appreciation.

Having said that, there is one man who has been an influence on me for a much longer time than any of these, a man whose plays, essays, short stories and novels have obscured his credentials as a political thinker, and that`s our old mate Jack.

I`ll leave discussion of the various causes our grumpy literary lion embraced for another time, and concentrate for the moment on the views expressed in his wartime book Out of the People (1941).

At the time he wrote this book he had for a time been one of Britain`s most popular radio broadcasters, second only to Churchill in the people`s affections. This period of his life had lasted for six months before his programmes were cut due to complaints that he was becoming too political. He himself claimed to have received abusive letters from his detractors, though one assumes that a man who had fought in World War One was not unduly troubled by the odd crank letter.

Tellingly, when Priestley considers democracy, he does not see it as simply something that happens every few years, not merely a method by which people elect politicians and nothing else. Neither does he simply see it (as I tend to) as an ongoing process of representation and accountability. His version seems to be a more complete vision, taking into account the interplay of different and sometimes opposing forces.

In  the passages I`ll be quoting he looks at those factors in British life which seem to him to offer bulwarks against totalitarianism. In places he is obviously discussing a rather different world than the one we now live in, but his underlying message, in my view, still stands. I`ve edited out references that are very dated, but have left the substance of his remarks unaltered ;

Tellingly, his democracy is not in fact the democracy of politicians, but the democracy of, as the title of his book implies, the people. In the Britain of his day, he tells us ;

"A whole world of conduct and values persists outside...official authority. This means that although that authority might be as strongly organised and centralised here as it is elsewhere, the effect could not possibly be the same. There are Courts, those of popular and private opinion, where it`s writ does not run."

Leaving aside these slightly intangible factors, he goes on to look at organisations ;

"Fortunately too for Britain the central authority has not suppressed various large and powerful associations that are the first to disappear in a totalitarian state.

Among these of course are the trade unions...Some of us have always tended to deplore the direct political influence of trades unionism, on the ground that it is uncreative and really bolsters up the capitalistic system. The trade union official, after years of negotiation, is not easily transformed into a boldly constructive political leader. If he is a member of Parliament...he is apt to regard himself as having "arrived" more or less like the Tory politician who finds himself in the House of Lords, and may do little more than obey routine orders. Most of us have at some time or other condemned that political machine known as Transport House. But now I for one am glad that it still exists."

Remaining with the subject of the unions, he then looks at them from another angle ;

"The organisation of so many workpeople into powerful unions...does mean that such workpeople, no matter how wide the gulf between them and the real executives, do not feel powerless and helpless, mere cogs in a vast machine. There still exists a sphere in which they can to some extent assert themselves. They may find themselves dominated by the political machinery of Transport House, but at least this is another kind of machine, capable of resisting if necessary the power of the central authority."

Moving on, he turns his attention to the Co-Operative Movement (then rather different to the one we know today), and to professional associations ;

"Another example of a strong the Co-Operative Society, which might use its vast membership, elaborate organisation and wealth in a more boldly creative fashion than it has done up to now.

And then there are the various professional associations, some of which, notably the British Medical Association, could if necessary offer some resistance to any unreasonable and tyrannical government demands, and might prove very useful allies to any democratic movement."

He goes on to give what seems to me to be his strongest argument ;

"The fact that it is always one of the first acts of a dictator to suppress or control such associations as these only proves how fortunate we are still to possess such associations. But indeed the part they play in English life is very important, and most outside observers, concentrating too much on our Parliament and Cabinet system, nearly always make the mistake of underestimating their influence. The network of them gives a certain democratic toughness to the fabric of English life that is not perceptible to the foreign theorist. They are...capable of playing an even greater part in the new Britain."

Clearly these matters are important to him as a couple of pages later he returns to his theme ;

"Fortunately the network of associations, whether trade and professional or educational and cultural, remains with us. Their continued existence - and in spite of so many adverse conditions they are astonishingly alive - means that people can meet and freely exchange ideas and opinions. At these times they are all something more than servants of the machine. They are real citizens. They throw off any resemblance to the featureless folk of `the masses` and turn into real people. The true democratic spirit, which can only exist among real people, is born among them."

(The latter comment may seem a little odd. He is referring back to an earlier passage in which he argued that  Fascists and orthodox Communists view the population as an undifferentiated mass (`the masses`), rather than the infinitely varied body of people (`real people`) he himself encountered. )

There, for the moment, we`ll leave JB. The important thing here, to me, is not that he is arguing for an uncritical appreciation of the bodies he mentions - clearly he has his own criticisms of the trade unions and the co-operative movement, and I`m sure he could have found aspects of the work of the BMA he was unhappy with. His specific contention, that the organisations he referred to provide obstacles in the path of any tendency towards totalitarianism or over-centralisation seems to me to be well-made. More relevant today is to consider the role these organisations play and whether, each in their own way, they contribute to a healthy democracy.

We`ll return to JBP at some later date, right now, I`m going to have my dinner !

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Nick Clegg Plays Jazz Saxophone !

Yes, it`s true ! Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg plays jazz saxophone and has his own Charlie Parker tribute act. Other members include author Terry Pratchett, TV presenter Adrian Childs and a man called Barry who they met when he delivered a pizza to the rehearsal rooms they use in Dartford , Kent.

Actually, that`s not true at all, I made it up. Having got your attention, I`d like to return to the subject of the recent UK general election - the reason for that little trip to the outlands of my imagination was just to spice things up a bit.

More than any other recent general election, this one seemed to me to be all about disaffected Labour voters, particularly in the Midlands and the North.

 In a surprise move, the Tories seemed to target this group. Where I live, numerous advertising hoardings presented themselves to passers by with images of blue-collar workers accompanied by the slogan `I`ve Never Voted Tory Before, But...`. As I mentioned before, David Cameron seemed to distance himself from the legacy of Mrs Thatcher and speak the language of  unity and the common good, a message that some say displeased his backbenchers.

The Liberal Democrats, as we know, increased both the number of votes they received and the proportion of votes cast, though the number of seats they held fell. The reason for this, I suspect, is something else  I commented on before, that the non-Tory vote in traditional Labour strongholds divided itself between Lib and Lab. This was a big concern for Labour, as  illustrated in some of the leaflets that came through my door, one in particular carrying the slightly bizarre message "go to bed with Nick Clegg and you could wake up with David Cameron" !

Another thing that came over very strongly was the superficial worldview of many TV pundits, accustomed for so long to treating politics as a game of musical chairs played at Westminster. Again and again, pundit talked to politician and pundit talked to pundit, before (of course), turning back to the studio to see how the city was reacting.

This lack of depth revealed itself in other ways.

When David Cameron twice stressed that he numbered steel company Corus among his backers, no-one knew enough to challenge him about their appalling health and safety record (even though they acquired four further criminal convictions and fines totalling £355,000 during the run-up to the election and are currently under investigation following yet another death at one of their sites), or their boardroom instability (four senior managers having resigned in as many months), or their controversial `mothballing` of their plant at Redcar at a time when the overseas market for steel is bouyant.

When Liberal Democrats campaigning in the key marginal of Derby North boasted of their party having taken control of Derby City Council, no-one mentioned the unusual background (when Labour and Conservative Councillors entered into a pact to freeze out Lib Dem Councillors, Labour voters in a magnificent display of bloody-mindedness took ther votes way from Labour and voted Lib Dem instead) or the questions that have been asked as to whether some councillors are too close to waste contractor RRG, or the use of public funds to finance RRG`s appeal against their own Council Planning Committee.

No-one could say that Labour had a good campaign, but in truth it could have been worse. Had reporters sampled views in the increasingly resentful Labour heartlands, one feels a few home truths might have been spoken. Instead , reporters talked about such specious concepts as `Lambrini Ladies` and `Motorway Men`, oblivious to the fact the Labour`s support was draining away in cities and town centres.

Two big changes were noticeable.

One concerned immigration. At one time, when politicians spoke on this issue, they were usually `playing the race card`.  Now, you wouldn`t make that assumption - people`s concern tends to be over European immigrants and migrant workers, to be a matter of resources and not of race.

While it`s true that the BNP and UKIP weren`t able to make any political capital over the matter, there is something of a democratic deficit. As things stand, any voter of mainstream political views who feels we have given too much power to an insufficiently democratic European Union simply has nowhere to go. I was glad to see the Lib Dems switch their emphasis from being part of Europe to wanting to reform Europe, and also to hear recently that any further hand-over of power to Brussells will now be subject to a referendum (allegedly).

The other is manufacturing. Suddenly, all three main party leaders are enthusiastic supporters of  the UK`s manufacturing industry. In fairness, Nick Clegg is MP for Sheffield and so has a constituency interest in the matter, but the other two as far as I knew where apostles of globalisation and the `casino economy` of financial services. One suspects this change of heart has to do with having been brought face to face with the reality of  the roulette wheel of investment banking, as well as the need to win hearts and minds north of the Thames. Certainly it`s no bad thing. In my view we need more manufacturing, more green jobs and above all, safe jobs. I really do think we are going to lay down the law (probably literally) to companies like Corus and BP.

Anyway, that`s wot I fink about the election. Now that`s done, let me tell you about David Cameron`s secret life as an Elvis impersonator...

Blue Truck, Green Truck

An American Congressional Sub-Committee heard testimony this month about the Clean Trucks Programs at the LA and Long Beach ports.

These schemes were introduced in October 2008 to replace large numbers of old trucks with newer vehicles with lower emissions.  A `carrot and stick` approach was adopted combining strict environmental standards with subsidies to help buy new trucks.

The LA port had planned a `concession` system requiring trucking firms to hire drivers as employees, rather than treating them as nominally independent sub-contractors, and take responsibility for maintaining trucks. This went `on hold` due to a preliminary  injunction sought by the American Trucking Association. Their lawsuit against the port authority in this matter has been heard and a decision is pending.

The Sub-Committee heard from representatives of the Natural Resources Defense Council that the two ports generated "more smog-forming pollution and particle-forming nitrogen oxides than all 6 million cars in the region".

The NRDC points out that communities around the ports have a 60% higher risk of cancer from air pollution and higher asthma rates than those experienced elsewhere in the same region. They reject the trucking industry`s argument that the ports have no authority to address environmental and safety concerns.

Owner-driver Jose Covarrubias described life as an `independent` contractor, which sounds similar to the arrangement experienced by some self-employed couriers in the UK. "No matter what port truck driver I talk to, the story is the same. The companies just call us independent contractors so we can pay for everything and so that they can avoid paying their taxes."

The Committee also heard from trade unionists and industry representatives.

On the same day, the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference, an event sponsored by the Blue Green Alliance* heard from truck driver Porfirio Diaz concerning the struggle he and his fellow drivers are waging for union rights and clean air.

Diaz has spent 25 years transporting cargo containers to and from the port at Oakland, California. Initially he regarded it as a good job with a unionised employer offering good terms. Then the company decided to make the previously directly-employed drivers into `independents` paid by the load and with no union or health and welfare benefits.

In practise, this means he is no longer paid whilst waiting to pick up a container and has to cover his own fuel and other costs, sometimes working a 70 hour week - hardly a good thing for a man driving a heavy vehicle ! His son suffers from asthma which he believes comes from smog generated by trucks idling in the port - I assume he lives nearby - and the family home was repossessed when he fell behind with his mortgage payments.

With help from the labour and environmental movements, he and his fellow-drivers are campaigning for legislation to win back the benefits they lost and force the comapnies to reduce port pollution.


This posting draws heavily on articles by Tim Wheeler and Marilyn Bechtel which appeared in the American  People`s World newspaper. The research and reporting is pretty much all theirs and my own contribution is really just in writing a new and more compact article based on their work, and in Anglicizing it a little to avoid confusion (Americans use the word `expenses` where we would say `costs`, whereas `expenses` to me means money refunded to by an employer to an employee who has incurred expenditure as part of his/her work, e.g. to pay for accomodation whilst working away from home.).

I don`t have much information on Tim Wheeler, But I do know he wrote some excellent articles on health and safety matters recently, particularly with reference to the recent US mining disaster.

Marlilyn Bechtel is a former professional musician who has been with the PW since the `80s and is active in the peace movement.


*For further reading on the BGA, see my article `John Muir`s Blue Sierra`, this blog, 12 December 2009.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Ramblers Revisited Again

Storm clouds are gathering over The Ramblers` next General Council Meeting*, following the closure of the Scottish and Welsh Offices and the accompanying redundancies.

At the GCM, Motions of Censure from a number of branches are going forward in respect of both Senior Management and the Board of Trustees. These have been merged into one composite motion which also requires the Board of Trustees to explain what measures have been put in place to prevent any further problems of this nature.

There are also separate motions requiring greater openness and better communication. A particular area of concern is that many groups and individuals are unaware of consultations addressed to them. There are suggestions that some items are deliberately hidden away in obscure corners of the national website.

One observation I would make is that Senior Management and Trustees seem to be representing member`s concerns as arising from a simple breakdown in communication. While poor communication has been part of the problem, it has only been one small part of a much wider picture. My suspicion is that they are looking for a presentable way to account for this on their CVs - it`s a nice, glossy cop-out to say "we became aware that a problem of communication existed and took steps to rectify this", which on the face of it seems very reasonable. The true picture might be more damaging to certain people`s career prospects.

Anyway, that`s enough of that. For background and further reading, you might like to look at these ;

Snapshot - May 2010 (8 May 2010)
Ramblers Revisited     (13 March 2010)
Rambling Through Adversity ? (10 December 2009)


After Kinder (10 March 2010)
Kinder Conservtion and a Historic Mass Trespass (1 November 2009)

( The last two both appeared on this blog.)



*Regrettably, time has ovetaken us and the relevant meeting has now taken place. Further news in due course.


For an update on the GCM, visit

Saturday, 8 May 2010

A Few Random Observations About the UK General Election

I deliberately avoid making this blog party political as, like most people, I associate the two main parties with petty point-scoring that ignores and/or obscures the real issues that face us all.

Having said that, there are a few things to learn from the recent general election, regardless of what you think of the outcome.

The most interesting thing to me was the way in which Labour`s traditional strongholds became their Achilles` heel. One striking thing about the run-up to election day was the way in which the Tories targetted traditional Labour voters with their "I`ve Never Voted Tory Before But..." posters. With many in post-industrial areas of the Midlands and the North having felt ignored by Labour (at leadership level) for so long, it would be interesting to know how effective this was. Personally, I suspect many normally safe Labour seats fell to the Conservatives because disaffected Labour voters took their votes to the Lib Dems.

Also interesting was the way in which the three main party leaders are now enthusiastic about manufacturing and engineering. An attempt to win votes in the Midlands and the North ? An acceptance that a `casino economy` over-dependant on revenue from the financial services sector is just not viable any more ?

Also educational was the way in which yesterday`s icon is today`s encumbrance. Labour wheeled out Tony Blair very early on in their campaign, and shunted him back to the US remarkably quickly, allegedly alarmed by negative feedback from the public. Mr Cameron appeared to distance himself from Mrs Thatcher`s legacy with his talk of a  Big Society and his claim that they don`t wish to be `The Nasty Party` (his phrase, I believe) any more.  Whether he can bring allies like Corus on board with this is another matter (- see ).

I am a believer that the best election result is a high turn-out from a motivated and well-informed electorate and the question of who wins is secondary, so in that way I`m quite happy, though in future they will have to ensure that all who want to vote, and are entitled to, can actually vote.

I would like to express some sympathy for those like Judy Mallaber who lost their seats through no fault of their own. Ms Mallaber represented my wife and myself over a constituency matter some years ago and showed herself to be a forceful and effective MP, and I know she has fought tirelessly for local industry. We need more like her and I`m sorry to see her go.

Lastly, there is still some fall-out as we all know. Personally I would welcome a hung Parliament if it makes politicians work together in the common good, but let`s see what works in practise.

In the meantime, here are some responses from the progressive community. I`d urge anyone reading this to consider these organisation`s arguments. If you disagree, or are unconvinced, fair enough - I don`t agree with everything they propose myself -  but I think they deserve our consideration ;

Friday, 7 May 2010

Still the Boss ?

Employees of designer clothes company Hugo Boss won an unexpected victory when the firm reversed an earlier decision to close it`s plant in Brooklyn, Ohio last month.

The company had planned to close the US plant and move produuction overseas, where labour is cheaper. The change of heart, hailed as "almost unprecedented" by trade union leader Bruce Raynor, came about due to global pressure of different kinds.

One man who can give himself a pat on the back is actor Danny Glover, who organised a boycott of Boss` products by Oscar nominees attending an Academy Awards ceremony and also visited the plant in person to address the workers. Ordinarily I have little interest in celebrities, but  Glover, although I know next to  nothing about his film career, does seem an interesting character. The son of two postal workers who were both NAACP activists, he has embraced various causes throughout his life and is currently chair of  Trans-Africa Forum, a Du Bois-style Pan-African organisation.

The involvement of a progressive-minded celebrity might not mean much in another industry, but in the image-sensitive world of high fashion, it is a very big deal indeed, particularly given Mr Glover`s  hands-on approach.

While it`s very tempting to say that this is a case of  "one man can make a difference", that`s very rarely true, and many played a part in the campaign to save the worker`s jobs.

 A major factor in the reversal of the closure decision was the fact that state pension funds in various parts of the US made protests. The reason their words had weight was that they all had substantial holdings in Permira, a UK company which has the controlling interest in Hugo Boss.

Another factor was that German trade union IG Metall sits on the board of Boss, and that Spanish trade unions picketed a tennis tournament  sponsored by the company. Turkish trade unions also sent letters of support to the worker`s campaign.

Many others played their part - local politicians, religious leaders,  the workers themselves and Cleveland Jobs With Justice, who I seem to recall we encountered in an earlier article on this blog.

The unions did have to take a pay cut to keep the plant alive, but overall, it`s still  an excellent result.

Over here in the UK, things don`t always seem so encouraging.

 A major multi-national that employs a friend of mine has just decided to close the plant where he works (I`m deliberately `anonymising` the details as things are a bit sensitive there at present), throwing 1200 people out of work. Part of the reason is that some of the work previously carried out on site has been contracted out to companies in other parts of the world. Although it is not a unionised workplace, some employees had joined the relevant union as private individuals. There have been consistent complaints from them for many years to my knowledge that their union ignores them, and I gather no help has been offered in this situation, despite a number of requests.

The behaviour of some European multi-nationals sparked angry responses from UK oil refinery and power station workers not so long ago, particular issues being safety matters and selective hiring processes that appear to put UK workers at a disadvantage. In the East Midlands at least, that still flares up periodically, though no longer making national headlines. The unusual thing about this series of disputes is that it appears spontaneous and not instituted by trade unions or any political grouping. The left has been divided over whether to support the workers, and those that do admit to having been taken by surprise. The far right has stayed away. While their grievances seem well-founded, the workers themselves show little knowledge of current affairs and/or trade union law, so one can assume they`ve not been briefed on the issues. Certainly, the trade unions have become involved in supporting them, but by the same token, some support has been forthcoming from Conservative MP Patrick Mercer, who has a number of constituents among the workforce.

Saving the worst till last, we now come to the shameful story of Corus.

Steel company Corus  was fined £1.3 million pounds and ordered to pay £1.7 million pounds in costs in December 2006 after an explosion in the company`s Port Talbot furnace killed three workers. The Judge in the case, Justice Lloyd-Jones, was critical of the company`s "casual" attitude to safety.

You might think that this would be enough of a warning shot  to make the company change it`s ways, but this is clearly not the case as a quick visit to will show you.

Safety magazine Hazards lobbied the leaders of the three major UK political parties over Corus` abyssmal safety record during the run up to the UK general election this year. In particular, they highlighted the fact that the company had been convicted of 8 safety breaches, including three fatal incidents, during the period August 2007 - April 2010. If anything, the firm is now offending more frequently, as during March 2010 and April 2010, Corus UK Ltd and a subsidiary, Corus Special Profiles, were convicted of four separate safety breaches, including one of the fatal incidents mentioned above, and were ordered to pay a total of £355,000 in fines as a result.

One thing that strikes me about this is that in 2006, the firm is fined £1.3 million, but after continuing to offend on a regular basis, and with a clear pattern of escalation in recent times, the highest single fine imposed in the cases highlighted by Hazards is £250,000, a mere fraction of the earlier fine and very little indeed to a company with an annual turnover measured in billions.

One factor contributing to Corus` appalling record is the fact that the company is deeply unstable at the highest level, with four senior managers having resigned in as many months. Whatever the circumstances, it is clear that effective enforcement is needed to bring about change and so far I don`t think we`re seeing this.

At time of writing, Corus are under investigation yet again following the death of an employee in Scunthorpe.

It`s clear that politicians, trade unionists and others (including the Courts) are going to find that dealing with multi-nationals throws up issues that are not at all eassy to solve. The Hugo Boss situation shows that under the right circumstances, intelligence, imagination and, above all, determination can prevail in the end.


For the Hugo Boss situation I have drawn on a number of articles by Rick Nagin* for People`s World. For the other matters my sources were many and varied, including This is Scunthorpe, Scunthorpe Telegraph and Hazards Magazine.

* Rick Nagin sounds an interesting character. A member of the Newspaper Guild and the Communications Workers of America, he has been active in journalism and grassroots politics for many years. At one time Executive Assistant to Cleveland, Ohio`s first Hispanic Councilman, he himself received an impressive 49 % of the vote when running for Cleveland City Council in 2009. He is now involved with the AFL-CIO trade union federation and Jobs With Justice.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Democracy Revisited

Further to Roundup #2 (this blog, 11 April 2010), Unlock Democracy have now published the results of their survey of the various parties` policies, when measured against their own manifesto.

The resulting booklet., which is quite detailed, looks at the policies of 9 parties, Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Plaid Cymru, SNP, UKIP, Respect, BNP.

Policies have been measured by a points system, which is expressed as a percentage. The front runners are the Liberal Democrats (81%), closely followed by the Greens (80.5%), then the SNP  (57%) , The Conservatives (46%) and Labour (45.5%). The remaining parties score very low points.

It should be stressed that these markings only relate to matters within  UD`s remit, i.e. democracy and constitutional reform, and not, for instance, economic matters. The other point I would make is that these overall figures are a guideline only unless you refer to the way the parties performed on specific issues - Labour scored very badly on Preventing Voting Fraud, whereas that was a strong area for both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

UD have also taken this opportiunity to launch an "online tool to help people decide how to vote in the general election".

Monday, 19 April 2010

Asbestos Awareness and `Advocacy` - For Chris

Not so long ago, my oldest friend died of an industrial disease, malignant mesothelioma, contracted whilst working for a short period mixing asbestos fibres for use as roofing insulation and then for a time working as a roofer installing the material.

He spent only a very short time working for the company in question, and that quite some time ago. So much so that I hardly recall him mentioning it during the twenty-plus years we knew each other.

Recording a verdict of death due to industrial disease, the Coroner commented, "His death is associated with working with asbestos. This is just the tip of the iceberg, really, with asbestos. It is causing all these deaths."

Clearly he was right. The most perfunctory of searches on the web soon uncovered a similar case, a man who lived near to me. He worked as a fitter/welder in a power station for only five years in the `70s, and then moved on to other work, but tragically the consequences of working inside the towers with no protective clothing struck him in later life.

My friend did at least have the comfort of knowing his family were provided for. He was a member of one of the country`s largest trade unions, and they employed a specialist solicitor. The solicitors already had half-a-dozen ongoing comparable cases involving the same employer, who had already indicated they would admit liability.

Others do not have that comfort. In another case I found on the web, a man had contracted an asbestos-related disease whilst working for a company that no longer exists today. Attempts to trace their insurers had failed, leaving him with nothing. Understandably, the man was adding his voice to calls for the government to step in and provide compensation in these circumstances. More recently, campaigners have pressed insurance companies to set up a Fund of Last Resort for those who find themselves in this situation.

There are a number of sites which may prove helpful to anyone needing to know more about the issues surrounding asbestos-relate illness ;

Health and Safety Executive -

British Safety Council -

Trade Union Congress -

Hazards magazine -

Labour Start -

(trade unions/international)

Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team -

(The name is a little anachronistic now. DAST is actually based in Chesterfield on the Notts/Yorks border and it`s activities cover the  East Midlandsas a whole and not just Derbyshire. It`s site provides links to equivalent bodies in other areas and to some national bodies.)

Building and Woodworkers International -

(I must admit I know next to nothing about this one. I`ve had a quick look at the site and as far as I can see the views expressed are perfectly reasonable. In any case, I assume most people reading this know their own minds and don`t need too much guidance from me.)

(American site - once again, I don`t know much about this one but it seems it might be helpful)

Canada is one of the last asbestos-producing nations in the world and the second largest exporter of the substance, which is banned in Europe, New Zealand and Australia. The Canadian government provides funding for the Chrysotile Institute, an `asbestos advocacy body` which promotes the export of Canadian asbestos abroad, mainly to India and Indonesia. The Institute claims to educate developing countries on the safe use of the product, though campaigners are unconvinced, pointing out that symptoms of  asbestos-related illness can take 20 years or more to show up.

Despite worldwide condemnation, the Chrysotile Institute, business groups and, disgracefully, a number of Canadian trade unions have formed a lobbying group, Partners for the Use of Asbestos, to lobby for the Canadian asbestos industry. One wonders how many of them would be happy to have it in their own homes.

In the interest of balance, I was going to provide a link for Partners... but could not trace their site. I did find  and .

As you`ve probably gathered, there are various issues around asbestos and it`s uses and I`ve only really scratched the surface with this brief account. Hopefully it will provide some helpful links and comments for anyone wishing to know more about the subject.

Lastly, it`s worth noting that 28 April is Worker`s Memorial Day - visit for details.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Civil Rights Showdown Revisited

"America`s pretensions to greatness will remain just pretentions until the benefits of freedom, democracy and opportunity are enjoyed by all of our citizens" - W E B Du Bois

My  article headed `Civil Rights Showdown` (this blog, 13 March 2010)  looked at a call for a "new Civil Rights movement", centred on the fight for jobs, by leaders of America`s United Steelworkers trade union.

It looks as if they`ve got their wish as a new coalition, Jobs for America Now, brings together trade union related bodies such as the AFL-CIO (a trade union federation), Change to Win and the Blue-Green Alliance (see my article `John Muir`s Blue Sierra`, this blog, 12 December 2009) with traditional civil rights groups such as the NAACP, the  Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

This is not new ground, but is not without it`s hazards. Both W E B Du Bois and Martin Luther King felt the need to break away from `traditional` civil rights and engage with wider issues. Both had trouble taking their adherents with them on that journey and are often characterised as `leaders without followers` during the periods in question. My own feeling is that times have changed, though I`d have to concede I`ve never so much as visited America, so my opinion may not be worth much !

Be that as it may, J4AN is only one of a number of like-minded groups springing up in the US at this time, and in my judgement they deserve our attention.

Recently, the  Cleveland branch of Jobs With Justice, a coalition of trade unions, religious groups, community organisations and student bodies, took up the cause of former employees of a firm named InkStop Inc, who had been `locked out` when the company`s owners decided to declare bankruptcy. Apparently, the company failed to pay three weeks wages or health insurance (leaving their former staff ineligible for certain types of benefits) and failed to give notice. In a surprise move, District Judge Solomon Oliver ordered the 15 board members to pay the 660,000 US dollars to the 629 former employees from their own pockets.*

Such disputes are not so uncommon in the US - there was a celebrated campaign by steelworker  Frank `Saint of Chicago` Lumpkin and his colleagues in the Save Our Jobs Committee in a similar situation. Mr Lumpkin`s battle took 17 years ! Fortunately, the InkStop workers didn`t have to wait that long. What is unusual is the decision that the  Board should  pay the workers from their own personal funds.  Lawyers for the staff are convinced a highly visible campaign by Cleveland JWJ played it`s part in that.*

For the moment, JWJ and J4AN seem to be striking a chord with many Americans. How they will fare in the future is perhaps a `watch this space` situation. Time will tell.


* It`s worth noting that a statement from the worker`s lawyer praising Cleveland JWJ`s efforts has been removed from their web site and replaced with a statement from the group praising the Board of InkStop for "stepping up to do the right thing" by agreeing to the settlement.



For facts relating to JWJ, J4AN and Frank Lumpkin, I drew on articles in the People`s World by Paul Hill, Joe Sims and John Bachtell, plus a bit of background from the websites of the two organisations..

 Martin Luther King

1) Jon Power - Martin Luther King : A Reassessment - Peace Pledge Union, London, Revised Edition  1983

2) Martin Luther King / Unknown Editor/Compiler (Jon Power ?) - Quotations On Peace and Justice, Racialism and Nonviolence by and about Martin Luther King - Peace Pledge Union, London, 1982

These two were reprinted many times during the `80s.

W E B Du Bois

I`ve read many books by and about W E B Du Bois - try for further evidence of my ongoing obssession !

Monday, 12 April 2010

JBP Gets it Right !

An article in UK newspaper the Mail on Sunday has stated that "millions of visas allowing foreigners to enter Britain are being issued by an American company and a High Street travel agent".

Mail journalist Jason Lewis pointed out that the system had never officially been announced to Parliament and that many applicants were being directed "to commercially run offices around the world" and that "hundreds of thousands of applicants simply fill in a form on a website run by the US company".

The two companies concerned, Computer Services Corporation (CSC) and VFS-Global (part of Swiss package holiday group Kuoni) handle roughly 80% of visa applications, according to Mr Lewis. 

He stated that a Home Office inspection of CRC`s Worldbridge visa office in Rome had raised concerns about "unhelpful" and "generic" wording of replies to customer queries.

A Home Office report in December had gone further, stating that CRC/Worldbridge staff running a visa advice hotline "were polite" but "had no information", rendering the service "completely useless". The report also drew attention to the high charges for using the service, said to be 14 US dollars (roughly £9.00) per call, payable by credit card.

VFS fare even worse. According to Mr Lewis, a member of their staff inolved in providing visa services to Pakistani nationals was arrested last year for allegedly taking £22,000 in bribes but absconded. He sounds a dependable character !

My own personal view is that even if the two companies were providing the best service in the world, the policy of outsourcing in this way should have been announced to Parliament. Clearly, the performance of the firms is subject to official scrutiny in the form of inspections etc, but ultimately elected politicians should be overseeing this and should have all relevant details placed before them promptly in an open and transparent fashion.

Inevitably, the Mail on Sunday, a Conservative newspaper, uses an otherwise excellent article for a bit of Brown-bashing, plus, arguably, a bit of xenophobia,  but while I think we`ve all had more than enough of petty political point-scoring by politicians and their allies, I have to concede that Ministers, including the Prime Minister, should absolutely be held responsible for their secretive and high-handed approach to these matters.

Having said that, this is only the tip of a very big iceberg and Labour are not the only culprits.

 Since the 1980s, the old government departments have been divided into Agencies, normally run by Chief Executives brought in from the private sector on three-year contracts and often relying heavily on casual staff. Hardly a recipe for stability, and certainly not a model of accountability (though thankfully, the original idea that Chief Execs should be `autonomous` has been quietly dropped, as it was perfectly obvious from the start that it would be). In truth, instead of providing a breath of fresh air from outside (which might well have been needed), the result has been to provide us with Agencies that are a weird hybrid of public and private and are often completely dysfunctional.

I don`t believe that either left or right can avoid a degree of blame for the excesses of the `80s. The ultra-left always distrusted the Civil Service as being too involved with a system of checks and balances and likely to be an obstacle to change. Mrs Thatcher agreed, but with very different objectives. `Orthodox` Marxists believed that civil society - the Courts, the Civil Service etc - was made up of `class-based institutions` which were ultimately reactionary (In Marx`s day this was almost certainly true). Prior to the Thatcher era, Labour and the Conservatives to a degree presided over a `post-war consensus` (a kind of  "welfare capitalism" as Tony Wright describes it in his book Socialisms) but failed to make it sufficiently responsive to people`s needs to engender any real sense of shared ownership.

 In modern times, of course, both major parties have been apostles of `globalisation`. I suspect that either would at one time have been only too happy to outsource public services to foreign firms.  

I do not claim to have any magic formula for a perfect society. I do not trust `perfect societies` ! If Mrs Thatcher did one good thing for public services, it was the decision to move many of the newly-formed government agencies out of London, and I do give her credit for that. A little decentralisation goes a long way, you may think.  We need to remind ourselves that public services are supposed to be accountable to Parliament and that Parliament is accountable to the people. I`ve never been very good at finding an ending for articles, but as ultmately we`re talking about how to make a democracy work, you might want to reflect on the words of J B Priestley in his wartime book Out of the People ;

"Let it be admitted, once and for all, that you cannot have democratic government long, cannot make a democracy function properly, if you have an apathetic and passive people."  


Sunday, 11 April 2010

Roundup #2

I`ve heard a rumour that we in the UK have an election coming up. In light of that, let`s continue to ignore political parties and see what some other organisations are doing.

1) Race Relations - The Runnymede Trust

The Runnymede Trust are publishing a series of books by MPs representing the main UK political parties, in the Political Platforms (also known as the Runnymede Platforms) series. Publications to date are ;

Dominic Grieve QC MP - Conservatism and Community Cohesion

RT Hon John Denham MP - Labour and Cohesive Communities

Lynne Featherstone MP - Race Equality and the Liberal Democrats

2) Democracy / Constitutional Reform - Unlock Democracy

UD have issued their own Manifesto and are now looking at the policies of the main political parties, to see which comes closest to their aims. They will publish their findings fairly soon, no doubt. It will be interesting to see how the different parties fare. 

3) Democracy / Constitutional Reform - Power2010

Power 2010 have launched their Power Pledge, advocating various reforms. They ask supporters to visit their site and send a letter on these matters to all their local candidates (not just the incumbent) .

4) Transport / CPRE

CPRE and the other parties to the Heathrow court case have scored a significant victory. While the judge was at pains to make it clear that his ruling didn`t rule out the provision of a third runway and sixth terminal, but it is clear that any future Government will have begin the public consultation all over again, but in a revised form, before they can even think about proceeding. Full details of the ruling can be found at the CPRE web site.

5) Transport / Brake

Road safety charity Brake have a number of ongoing campaigns - visit Often overlooked - perhaps regarded as a bit `worthy but dull` - this organisation has come a long way since it was formed in the 1980s as `Brake - The Campaign for Safer Lorries` - I recall that it was heavily backed  by the trade union I was in at the time and it`s been interesting to see how it`s developed over the years.

6) Environment / Beauly Denny

Pylon Pressure have echoed the call made by Ramblers Scotland to make the Beauly Denny powerline an election issue, calling on supporters and sympathisers to lobby their MPs / MSPs on the issue.

7) Miscellaneous

Save Our Valley, Tripping Up Trump, Mr Peckham`s Pit Pony Petitions, Save our Waterways etc are, of course, ongoing but with no developments since I last mentioned them.

8) Trade Unions / Heath and Safety

The trade union movement will be marking International Worker`s Memorial Day at various locations around the country on Wed 28 April 2010. I will return to this theme in the not-too-distant future.

9) And Lastly...

With an election on the way, politicians and pundits will have little interest in regional matters outside of key marginal seats, and grassroots groups will find it even harder to be heard. I always like to buck a trend when I can, you can keep up to date with  life in parts of the Midlands and the North with these listings ; 

5 April 2010 - Yorkshire Snapshot

5 April 2010 - Derbyshire Snapshot 

17 March 2010 - Snapshot

all of which can be found at

Blasts From the Past ; Angus Cameron on McCarthyism

Blasts from the Past will be pretty much what the title implies, a series of quotations from books and articles, largely taken from my own collection, which for one reason or another I think may be of interest for others.


Angus Cameron was for many years publisher-in-chief at Little, Brown, having previously worked at Bobbs-Merrill. He was noted for his progressive views, but according to the UK newspaper The Independent, was not an idealogically-minded person. 

In 1951 he came under fire from a US-based organisation named The American Legion, who claimed Little, Brown were publishing a disproportionate number of  left-wing writers. Cameron was championing a wide range of writers and indeed had friends across the political spectrum, but as the McCarthy era dawned, the accusations continued (I don`t propose to taking up too much time discussing McCarthyism - for the uninitiated there is a reasonable explanation of the term on Wikipedia).
Cameron`s bosses put pressure on him to abandon his progressive activities. He refused, and resigned from the firm. Shortly afterwards he formed a new company, Cameron and Kahn.  His business partner, Albert Kahn, was a noted left-winger and opponent of McCarthyism, suspected by many (with some justice) of having pro-Soviet views. Perhaps inevitably, Cameron soon found himself summoned to defend himself before the Jenner Committee, a McCarthyite investigative body.

Left-wing magazine Masses and Mainstream published his statement to the Committe in their June 1953 issue. Like Cameron`s choice of business partner, the choice of M and M as his vehicle was perhaps a little provocative. The openly pro-Soviet periodical represented both the best and the worst of the American left of it`s day, a question we will be returning to in later articles.

Cameron began by deploring "the atmosphere of hysteria" leading to the inquiry, pointing out that "Congress has no right to legislate and therefore no right to investigate...the rights of free speech and free press". However, he continued "I welcome the chance to make a statement about the committee and its works."

Indicating that he regarded the various McCarthyite committees as "inquisitional", he expressed the view that they were acting "illegally" by "investigating into the political beliefs, affiliations and associations of American citizens, not in order to search out subversion, but actually to intimidate and terrify the people, to silence democratic criticism not only of these committees themelves, but of the policies and action of the administration."

"As a book publisher," he continued, "In consider that I have a special function to oppose these activities since they attack the right of the people to say and print what they believe without fear of smear or persecution.

I believe that the freedom to explore through books the real world around a freedom which cannot be limited in the slightest degree."

After expanding further on his thoughts, he commented "I welcome the chance to add my voice to the rising tide of opposition to this committee and the thinking in the administration which makes it possible. I am glad to express my confidence that the people of this country will soon discover the true purposes of the witch hunt and sweep it they have swept away similar practises in the past."

In conclusion, he stated "I am proud of the books which I have had a part in publishing, of the organisations which I joined or supported, and of the educational ventures in which I participated...I intend to continue my activities for books, causes and organisations in which I believe, regardless of disapproval of this committee. My own knowledge based on study, my own observations of the real world around me, and my own conscience based on convictions will continue to determine my actions whatever this committee may think or do to the contrary."  

Subsequently, Cameron took over the running of the left-wing Liberty Book Club, before eventually being hired by Knopf. He began work at Knopf in a fairly minor editorial postion, apparently, but rose to become vice-chair of the company.  He was the author of a number of books in his own right, mostly reflecting his love of the outdoors and fondness for cookery.

There are few sources on the web concerning Cameron, and they do tend to contradict each other. I`ve largely drawn on John Calder`s obituary of Cameron for The Independent (5 December 2002) as it seemed to be the only one penned from the persective of someone who knew him personally. Calder describes Cameron as a `liberal` rather than a leftist, though it is clear he had left-wing connections, including some contact with the American Communist Party.


Friday, 2 April 2010

Fighting Slavery and Climate Change in Yorkshire

Launched in May 2009 after a sucessful three-year pilot, the British Museum`s `Campaign - Make an Impact` project encourages active citizenship and an awareness of history amongst youngsters.

`Active citizenship` and `historical awareness` are key interests for this blog, so it was interesting to learn how the scheme has  been put into practise in Yorkshire recently.

Staff of the Dales Countryside Museum, the North Yorks County Record Office and researcher Audrey Dewjee  have been working with pupils from Richmond looking at the abolition of the slave trade and it`s relevance for their area, examining archival material such as a notice from Dent concerning an escaped slave and the baptism record of John  Yorke, described as a "black servant".

Having looked at the historical issue, the pupils went on to explore the techniques used and to mount their own campaign on a modern issue, that of climate change. Museum employee Jane Sammells  commented "we feel this is a wonderful way of encouraging young people to engage with their heritage whilst enabling them to consider contemporary issues".

Interestingly, Morris Birkbeck, a prominent opponent of the American slave trade, was born in the Dales, in the town of Settle. Accompanied by his children and a frind, George Flowers, Birkbeck emigrated in 1817 after the death of his wife. The two men hoped to found a colony where "the insolence of wealth and the severity of pauperism..are alike and unknown".

They settled in Edwards County, Illinois and founded a township named Wanborough. Birkbeck was moved to action when moves were made to introduce legislation allowing slavery in Illinois, and his `Appeal to the People of Illinois` is held to have been influential in leading the people to reject the proposal. 

Of course, Birkbeck was not the only opponent of slavery, many others played a part, including Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce. Escaped slaves like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman also played an important role. In Jamaica, a band of former slaves called the Maroons (from the Spanish  Cimaron, meaning "an untamed person") fought the British forces in the 18th century. There was slave insurrection in Haiti, and some believe this contributed greatly to the end of slavery, not least because slave traders were afraid to sail too near to the newly freed country, fearful the Haitians would attack them to free their human cargo.

Back in present-day Yorkshire, Ms Sammells and her team are currently repeating the exercise,  still focusing on slavery and climate change, but are planning a future project looking at the campaign to create National Parks.


I don`t claim this article is particularly original. I drew heavily on two articles ;

J Sammells - Campaign - Make an Impact, Dales Heritage, Issue 11 , January 2010
Brian Goodall - Morris Birkbeck 1764 - 1825, Dales Heritage, Issue 11 , January 2010

and a visit to

On The Web

If any of the issues touched on here interest you the following sites may be useful ;

Anti Slavery -  - The UK`s oldest pressure group, this organisation was formed under the name The Anti Slavery Society by Thomas Clarkson and others in 1839 to fight slavery worldwide.

Also interesting is the unsigned article A Look at 21st Century Slavery ( 29 July 2010) at

Climate Change - these two American sites are interesting - and .

National Parks - . Two articles on this blog, `Kinder Scout and a Historic Mass Trespass` and `After Kinder`, touch briefly on issues relating to National Parks, though not in any depth, and have useful links.

Yorkshire Heritage -


Talking of young people getting in touch with history, I learnt recently of Hidden Herstories, a project involving a group of young budding film-makers. Their film looks at the lives of four women (Octavia Hill, Amy Ashwood Garvey, Claudia Jones and Jayaben Desai). I must admit, I haven`t had time to look at it myself yet, but it can be found here ; 

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Save Our Valley Update

Unexpected developments in the Save our Valley campaign (see previous articles).

The IPC has now advised National Grid that they feel the consultation process was not conducted adequately.

They have written to MP Dr Fox suggesting a meeting of concerned parties. He has quite rightly replied that he will attend if required, but meetings are no substitute for proper consultation of his constituents.

Potentially, this could put the whole project back considerably. It will be interesting to see what transpires.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Waterways Update

Following on from my earlier articles `Waterways` (this blog, 15 Nov 2009) and `Waterways 2` (this blog, 6 Jan 2010), I understand that, in response to continuing uncertainty over the future of British Waterways, Save Our Waterways has issued a discussion paper `Comunity Support - The Future of our Waterways`.

Details / Contacts ;

As mentioned previously, has useful links and a couple of articles relevant to canals and waterways.

U Cubed

Over to the USA now, where the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) has launched a website for America`s unemployed. Actually known as Union of Unemployed ( see link below) , it has attracted the nicknames U Cubed and, oddly,
 Ur Union of Unemployed. 

Facilities offered on the site include social networking, job listings and legislative campaigning.

After registering and logging on, users can connect with other users according to their zip code (if you`re in the UK, it`s like a postcode) , and they are organised into a `cube` of six people. These are organised into groups of nine cubes, known as `neighborhoods` - I decided to use the American spelling - , and then the neighborhoods are formed into `blocks`. The idea is to form  networks of  `job activists` to support each other and to campaign to get people back to work.

It may sound a bit strange, but speaking personally, I had a couple of spells of unemployment as a youngster ("being a youngster" was quite some time ago !) and I have to say, I pretty much hated everything about it. I would have jumped at something like this, I promise you. 

In the interests of research, I had a quick glance at the site. There are various links to current affairs sites, giving details of news items relevant to the unemployed. I was interested to read that the Senate had passed a bill allowing the government to offer tax incentives to employers giving jobs to the unemployed and putting an infusion of cash into road-building schemes. The bill was passed by a fairly respectable majority, with 11 Republicans siding with the Democrats to support the bill.

On the campaigning side, there was encouragement for users to lobby to support The Local Jobs for America Act , The `Jobs for Main Street` Bill and other proposed measures, and an interesting campaign called a WARN notice campaign (a WARN Notice is one required by law in the US when a company plans to close a plant permanently, to give employees fair warning that such measures are being considered. Allegedly, companies often fail to comply with their obligations in this respect). The idea of this campaign is for the unemployed to warn politicians that "I am paying close attention to how you vote, to how you lead us out of this economic turmoil".

I was glad to see that fairly conventional lobbying methods, such as e-mail/letter-writing campaigns, were in use, rather than a more confrontational approach, as nothing will kill it stone dead quicker than any suggestion that participation might hurt user`s chances of finding work.

This is the third article about new initiatives among US trade unions that I`ve posted, and I have to say I think they`re setting a high standard for fresh thinking and flexible responses to a changing world. It may well be that any of us might disagree with some details ("road building" is hardly the most green option), but overall, I`m pretty impressed. Let`s hope unions outside the US are taking notes.


Pepe Lozano - Machinists Union Creates Website to Organize Nation`s Unemployed, People`s World,  23 Febrary 2010

Union of Unemployed website -

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers -

Monday, 15 March 2010


Starting today I`m going to be providing a series of  `Roundups` at irregular intervals giving information about current goings-on in the progressive  community. For the most part, I`ll be concentrating on non-party/grassroots/community campaigns and the like, but I reserve the right to be completely inconsistent in the selections I make ! 

These are all UK-based, but may be of interest wherever you are.


End Child Detention Now -

 "A citizen`s campaign to end the scandal of child detention by UK immigration authorities".


Runnymede Trust -

This London-based race relations charity has recently launched a series of publications called Runnymede Political Perspectives, with contributions by representatives of the major political  parties.

The first of these is Conservativism and Community Cohesion : A Perspective by Conservative MP Dominic Grieve QC , edited by Robin Frampton and with additional comment by a number of academics.

The second is Race Equality and the Liberal Democrats : A Perspective by Lynne Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat MP who is her party`s spokesperson on equality. Again, this is edited by Robin Frampton and features responses from a number of academics.

Presumably the next will be from a Labour MP.


Pit Pony Petitions

The proprietor of a pit pony sanctuary in Wales has launched three petitions - to the Parliaments in England, Scotland and Wales -  relating to the use of ponies underground. For an explanation of the issues, links to the petitions and other campaign materials, visit . Please note, the three petitions all have different closing dates (two in May and one in August). You do not have to be resident in England, Scotland or Wales to sign these.


This blog ignores party politics but if you live in the UK you may have noticed we have an election coming up. I won`t tell you who to vote for and I won`t tell you who I`ll be voting for, but what I will do is provide these links ;

How you vote is your choice. Make sure it`s an informed choice !


CPRE / Transport

 The increasingly assertive Campaign to Protect Rural England has ambitious plans in respect of transport. Opposed to aviation expansion and  road expansion, the organisation calls for a "railway renaissance" and is also looking at areas such as rural transport and road safety. CPRE was part of a coalition (with green groups, certain local authorities and local residents) which has mounted a legal challenge to the proposed building of a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow airport. The outcome is expected later this month. .

 Save Our Valley

 See my earlier article for this blog `Doctor Denounces Democratic Deficit` (this blog 2 Feb 2010). The main issue relates to the proposed siting of pylons in the Bristol/Somerset area. A secondary issue is the allegedly flawed consultation process. The underlying issue, and to my mind the most important issue, is that the IPC (the body which oversees national infrastructure projects) is not accountable to anyone.

Tripping Up Trump

As the name implies, a campaign initially concerned with plans made by Donald Trump to build a £1bn golf course in Aberdeenshire and the likely impact on local people - some of whom will lose their homes - and on the environment. Increasingly, the campaign is addressing an underlying issue, arguing that compulsory purchase orders should not be used to help establish a private business concern.

Various ( Rushcliffe Greenfields, Rufford Incinerator and others)

For a round-up of a number of ongoing preservation and conservation campaigns in the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire area ;

And Finally...

Let`s end on a positive note.

Congratulations to the Save Our Sheringham campaign on winning their 14 year long battle with Tesco (details from and/or ). Councillors have now given the go-ahead to a proposed eco-friendly supermarket, a local initiative which has secured the backing of Waitrose.


Saturday, 13 March 2010

Civil Rights Showdown

Not so long ago, we looked at America`s United Steelworkers trade union, their involvement with the Blue Green Alliance and their agreement with Spanish co-op Mondragon to establish a number of  co-operatively-owned manufacturing businesses in the US. (my article `John Muir`s Blue Sierra`, this blog, 12 December 2009).

Now we find the same union mounting a call for what they call a "Civil Rights Movement 2.0", centred on the fight for jobs. Speaking on the 50th anniversary of the `Greensboro 4` *, union leaders Fred Redmond and Leo W Gerard commented "The involvement of young people in that movement - along with religious, labor and other community leaders - cannot be underestimated...they forced America to change for the better." They called on young people to force America to solve "the critical civil rights challenge of this time : good jobs to enable all America to thrive into the next century."

"Good jobs provide health insurance" they added "Good jobs create strong communities. Good jobs create a high quality educational system."

They pointed out that young Americans are disproportionately likely to lack health insurance, and that 50% of the 16 - 24 age group were jobless last year. African-Americans and Latin Americans were more likely to be uninsured and/or unemployed than their white peers.

Tellingly, they pointed out that each manufacturing job supports five other jobs, compared to just one job supported by a service sector position, and that manufacturing jobs tend to pay better. They believe that the manufacturing sector created America`s black middle class and that the decline in America`s manufacturing sector has therefore hit the African American population disproportionately. 

Interestingly, their statement implied strongly that they would advocate some sort of protectionism to protect the American economy from cheap imports. This seems to have been picked up by others, and I notice the Steelworkers blog carries a statement from one Dave Johnson (13 March 2010) headed When Conservatives are Right, commenting on an article by an American conservative called Pat Buchanan. Mr Johnson comments "This free trade stuff has worked for us about as well as the free market stuff worked out for the economy. Free market and deregulation destroyed the economy. Free trade has destroyed our ability to earn money and recover." **

Arguments over the case for/against protectionism fall outside the scope of this blog as I want to keep it cheap and cheerful. Leaving that aside, the two trade unionist leaders do have a good point when they comment that cheaply-produced consumer goods imported into the US are often produced in countries with limited safety regulations and few requirements for environmentally-friendly working practices. "Cheap goods come at a high price" they say.  


Pepe Lozano - Steelworkers Call For Civil Rights 2.0 : A Youth-Led Jobs Revolution - People`s World, 17 February 2010

L W Gerard / F Redmond -Black History Month Challenge : A Youth-Led Jobs Revolution - Statement, 11 February 2010

On the Web

United Steelworkers -


* The Greensboro 4 were four young African-American students who defied segregation by sitting at a whites-only lunch counter, rather than standing in the designated `colored` section as the store`s policy required. They were refused service, but did not leave. The following morning, they returned and repeated their action, this time accompanied by 23 sympathisers. They continued in this vein and within a week had rallied around 1,000 supporters. Others began to copy their actions in equivalent situations. Within 6 months, F W Wolworth, owners of the store in question, had de-segreated their lunch counter. Civil rights veteran W E B Du Bois, by then a very elderly man,  was effusive in his praise for the youg men`s actions and commented, in answer to a question, that he had no advice for them "maybe they should be giving advice to me".

For articles and links relating to the Civil Rights Movement past and present visit

** US politics can be confusing to outsiders - including myself - and I`m not sure I`ve helped here.  In Britain,  both major parties (Labour and Conservative) have seen the growth of the Chinese and Indian economies as representing new markets for British goods and services. Obviously they are not going to jeopardise that by placing tariffs on Indian and Chinese goods exported into the UK, in case those countries retaliate in like form. ( The two Liberal parties I believe are committed to free trade as a matter of principle).  In the US however (as I understand it)  Conservatives have tended to see India and China as potential economic rivals, hence Mr Johnson`s choice of words.