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.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

After Kinder

Anyone interested in  my earlier article `Kinder Conservation and a Historic Mass Trespass` (this blog 1 November 2009) may be wondering how the Ramblers fared after those heady early days.

The next major landmark for the movement was the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. As the name implies, this was the act which established the national parks of England and Wales. It`s other claim to fame was the creation of the `definitive maps` of public paths.

Establishing the definitive maps in law was one thing, but in the end it was`people power` that really counted. Ramblers` Trustee Kate Ashbrook explains ;

"Once the Act received royal assent, ramblers worked tirelessly to claim paths over a wide area. For instance, members in Merseyside, led by Wally Smith explored the remote paths of Snowdonia, sixty plus miles away. It was a great achievement and we are indebted to them.

Fifty years later we won freedom to roam throughout Scotland, and on mapped open country in England and Wales. And there have been countless other victories."

The Ramblers  (at that time known as The Ramblers Association) worked hard to establish it`s reputation as `the trade union for walkers`, and it`s support base became ever broader, no longer limited to the `miners and mill girls` of the early years.

In recent times, the organisation has been rocked by a financial crisis which resulted in the closure of it`s Scottish and Welsh offices, and significant cuts in the campaigns section. This troubled time is discussed in my article `Rambling through Adversity` (see link below). As I indicated in that article there were also significant positive results on the campaigning side during that same period, but it is clear that there is a legacy of bitterness and mistrust between the rank and file on the one hand and the Chief Executive and Board of Trustees on the other.

However that may be, it s clear the organistation is far from being a spent force, as a quick skim through recent campaign results indicates ;

 At Withyham, East Sussex, Ramblers and local people have recently emerged victorious after a ten-year dispute over the Earl de la Warr`s decision to close a right of way between the local church and the village centre, which crossed his Buckhurst Estate. The path had been in use since the 1930s, but was blocked with a barbed wire fence during 2000. The local council rejected an application to make it a right of way, but this decision was overturned by a public inquiry. Rambler`s representatives blamed East Sussex County Council for "nine years of delays and misjudgements".

In Cleveland, North Yorkshire, a major new path has been established along the path of a disused railway line afer a long-running battle involving two public inquiries and a High Court Appeal. In this instance , unlike the Withyam situation, the Ramblers and the locally-based Guisborough Bridlways Group were supported by the local council.

Kings Lynn Ramblers have also won a decade-long battle after a farmer discovered that a path crossing hs land was not on the definitive map.  The Ramblers proved that the path had been in use for 20 years and was therefore a de facto right of way, and in fact followed the line of a carriageway in use as early as 1797. Despite this, the local council dismissed their claim. The issue went to a public inquiry and the inspector`s report ordered the re-opening of the route.

Not all campaigns drag on for years. The owner of Scotland`s Boquhan Estate denied public access to his land on the grounds of privacy and security. He was successfully challenged in court, but decided to appeal to the Edinburgh Court of Session.  However, in January he decided to drop his appeal and the right of access remains in place.

Not all Rambler`s campaigns are rural. The organisation is frequently brought into conflict with urban councils over `gating` or `alleygating` orders, which close footpaths and alleyways in (usually) inner-city areas. One such case, still ongoing, involves the closing of a path at Altcross Road, Croxteth by Liverpool City Council, despite a 700 strong petition protesting their actions and no evidence of persistent crime/anti-social behaviour on the route. The organisation encourages members to submit details of contentious gating to

Other cases are ongoing, most notably the long-running dispute over Vixen Tor, Dartmoor, with it`s distinctive Sphinx-like rock formation. The Ramblers and campaign partners the British Mountaineering Council wanted this site designated as open access land under freedom-to-roam legislation during a 2005 public inquiry but were unsuccessful. Now Devon County Council has agreed that there is enough evidence to support putting Vixen Tor on the definitive map of public paths. The landowner has objected and another public inquiry is expected in the autumn. 

Of course, court battles and public inquiries are not all the organisation is about. Some people just like to go walking with like-minded people ! The organisation also collects information on rights of way (see ) , and encourages local groups to submit details of their walks to . Recent issues of their magazine indicate a broadening of interests, with the association taking an interst in planning and road safety issues where relevant, and looking at the ideas of consultant (and Ramblers member) Tim Pharoah. Also worth a look is the blog section - where you can encounter Northern Walker, Bearded Git and Walking Class Hero, among others. Benny Rothman would have been proud !