Uncategorized

#ScrapTrident #StopBombingSyria #WelfareNotWarfare, 2nd Feb 7pm at the Trinity Centre

Here’s a blog I’ve done for the Bristol People’s Assembly on our 2nd of February rally, the links between war and austerity, and the need to oppose both.

If you’re free in Bristol on Tuesday the 2nd of Feb, then please come and join us at the Trinity centre from 7pm.

Bristol People's Assembly

stop trident

On the 2nd of February the Bristol People’s Assembly is joining forces with the Bristol CND and the Bristol Stop the War Coalition to host a public meeting and rally against the renewal of the trident nuclear weapon system and the continued bombing of Syria.  Join us in calling for ‘Welfare not Warfare’.

The government is expected to force a vote on renewal of Trident in a few months time. The majority of the British people, including the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (though sadly not all of his MPs), the Greens and the Scottish and Welsh Nationalist all oppose nuclear weapons. They are deadly relics of a bygone era, weapons of mass destruction that would indiscriminately kill millions, and which are completely useless against the threats Britain faces. They don’t keep us safe and they divert resources from essential spending.

We are seeing devastating cuts to vital services, most tragically…

View original post 637 more words

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NHS, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

#NHS execs speak out against #TUBill #KillTheBill

At my UNISON branch meeting this month we were discussing the impact of the end of ‘DOCAS/Check-off’ (the process of taking trade union subscription fees directly from wages) on our local union membership.

Afterwards our secretary forwarded me this email of 32 NHS directors and executives emailing government minister Matthew Hancock outlining their support for the current arraingments.

The more alarming parts of the bill like enforced arm bands for picketers (or massive fines), and (the now scrapped) clause to force trade unions to send all their facebook and twitter messages during a dispute to the police two weeks in advance, and the hugely undemocratic voting thresholds have understandably taken most of the focus when its discussed.

But (as well as the attacks on facility time and the legal obsticles it places at every level of organising) it is the financial aspects of the bill that will probably have the biggest day to day impact on our unions.  This bill also seriously hamstrings the ways unions are funded (and their ability to fund opposition to the Conservatives).  As such I thought it was worth reprinting the NHS directors letter out in full below.

As it shows these changes are not only completely unneccessary but are also against the wishes of employers who get tangible benefits from the current payment system, and recognise this nakedly political assault on unions ability to organise will have negative ramifications for working relations.

The bill may have passed through the commons, but it has not become law yet.  We need to lobby and put pressure on the Lords and the Government to try and stop as much of this bill as possible.  And if it does make it to law, we need to do what we can to circumvent it.  Unjust laws must be opposed.

Over the week of 8th to 14th of Feburary the TUC is organising a national week of action against the bill.  Find out whats going on in your area or organise something yourself through your union and trades council and get involved.  Together we can beat this.
https://www.tuc.org.uk/union-issues/trade-union-bill/heartunions-week-8-14-february-2016

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike against the TU Bill, with me and Green comrades in the background.  November 2015

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike against the TU Bill, with me and Green comrades in the background. November 2015

 

7th October, 2015

 

 

The Rt. Hon. Matthew Hancock, MP,

Minister for the Cabinet Office

   & Paymaster General,

Cabinet Office,

70 Whitehall,
London, SW1A 2AS

 

Also by email to: matthew.hancock.mp@parliament.uk

 

 

 

Dear Sir,

 

Public Sector Check-Off

 

We write as a group of public sector HR Directors in relation to the recent announcement about deducting trade union subscriptions through salaries.

 

You will appreciate these are challenging times across the public sector with significant challenges ahead and this will involve significant consultation and negotiation with trade unions.  We have worked with trade unions over the last few years often in partnership arrangements both locally and nationally (such as the National Social Partnership Forum in Health) to bring about change.  These discussions require good will and transparency on both sides.  Although we understand the government will want to explore all elements of cost avoidance (as we do), we want to highlight the cost savings we achieve through effective consultation and communication with and through trade unions.  It is also helpful for us to easily understand our union density, particularly when we work with multiple trade unions.

 

We believe the announcement on deductions will challenge and change relationships and the partnership approach many of us have worked to develop and ask that you consult extensively with employers about the potential impact before taking a final decision.

 

Effective relationships with trade unions will help us expedite the changes we need to make in ways that minimise the disruption to patients and service users.

 

Yours faithfully,

Dean Royles,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

 

Anita Pisani,
Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Workforce and Service Re-Design,
Cambridgeshire Community Services NHS Trust

 

Susan Tyler,
Director of Workforce Development,
Leeds and York Partnership NHS Trust

 

Marie Fosh,
Director of Workforce & Transformation,
Lincolnshire Community Health Services NHS Trust

 

Ros Edwards,
Director of HR and OD,
The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals

 

Amanda Oates,
Executive Director of Workforce,
Merseycare NHS Trust

 

Jon Restell,
Chief Executive,
Managers in Partnership (MiP)

 

Bernard Scully,
Director of Human Resources,
Mid-Essex Hospital

 

Jeff Crawshaw,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Colchester Hospital

 

Ruth McAll,
Interim Director of Human Resources,
East of England Ambulance Service

 

Ian Crich,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Trust

 

Ann McIntyre,
Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

 

Jon Lenney,
Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust

 

Tracy Hill,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Isobel Clements,
Director of People,
Taunton and Somerset NHS Trust

Mark Appleby,
Director of Human Resources,
Yeovil NHS Trust

 

Tracey Cottam,
Director of Transformation and Organisational Development,
Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust

 

Colin Hague,
Director of Human Resources,
Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust

 

Carol Sparks,
Director of Organisational Development and Human Resources,
2gether NHS Foundation Trust

 

Jenny Turton,
Head of Human Resources,
Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust

 

Darran Armitage,
Interim Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
Devon Partnership NHS Trust

 

Mark Warner,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Dorset County Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

 

Tina Ricketts,
Director of Human Resources,
Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Foundation Trust

 

Dave Smith,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

 

Oonagh Fitzgerald,
Director of Workforce and Education,
Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

 

Paul Jones,
Interim Director of Human Resources,
North Bristol NHS Trust

 

Darryn Allcorn,
Director of Human Resources,
Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust

 

Martin Bamber,
Deputy Director of Human Resources,
Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust

 

Charles Summers,
Director of Engagement and Development,
NHS Dorset CCG

 

Marianne King,
Head of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
NHS Somerset CCG

 

Martin Ringrose,
Director of Workforce and Organisational Development,
South Devon Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

 

Emma Wood,
Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development,
South Western Ambulance Services NHS Foundation Trust

 

Sheridan Flavin,
Director of Human Resources,
Weston Area NHS Trust

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Bristol Politics, Green Politics, Uncategorized

The need for a ‘Needs Budget’

 

Poplar

Mural to celebrate the Poplar rate rebels who used the powers of local government to stand up to a Conservative and Liberal coalition government in the aftermath of the First World War

I’ve just been selected by the Bristol Green Party to be their candidate for Bedminster in next May’s Council elections.  I’m really excited and want to thank all our local members who voted for me; we came second to Labour in Bedminster by only 3% this year and we have a really good chance of getting atleast one of the two seat in the ward.  I intend to do a longer post on my priorities for the ward, but for now I thought I’d dwell on something that came up in the hustings, my opposition to any and all cuts budgets and the need for a ‘needs budget’.

As you should know the Green Party completely opposes Austerity as a failed economic model, that has held back the economy, and punished the poor and most vulnerable in our society whilst forcing ordinary people to pay for the bailout of the banks.

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Me (top centre) and fellow Greens (including Molly Scott-Cato our MEP, Tony Dyer our Mayoral candidate, former Bristol West candidate Darren Hall, and Redland Councillor Martin Fodor) at the launch of the report ‘The Power to Transform the South West’ which outlines how we transition to a carbon neutral eceonomy to save the environment and create jobs

Nationally our MP has been fantastic in continually voting against cuts and austerity and has one of the best voting records of any Left wing MP.

However, on the local level, the limited options available to resist the imposition of cuts has seen Green Councillors – most famously in Green controlled Brighton – adopt the same ‘dented shield’ approach used by Labour to try and minimise the worst excesses of local cuts and vote for cuts budgets (so they can amend and tinker with them).

The amount of money in the budget is imposed on local authorities by central government and its austerity agenda.  To set a legal budget within those confines means passing on cuts.

The alternative is setting a ‘needs budget’.  Disregarding the limit set by Whitehall this would set a budget adequate to cover provision for all the services local people need (hence a ‘needs budget’).  Such actions have been made illegal under section 114 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 which then obligates the councils financial officer to alert Whitehall as to what’s happened.  After that the council would have 21 days to set a legal budget or supposedly civil servants from central government would depose the council and set a cuts budget themselves. (Though it could also be achieved through using reserves, prudential borrowing, or acquiring alternative revenue streams to provide a needs budget without challenging the law). 

That being the case many feel they have no option but to pass cuts budgets that have minimised the threat to vital services as much as possible.

However, to me, and many others, this seems a very improbable course of events.  This is a government with a wafer thin majority, and deposing the democratically elected council of one of the largest cities in the UK would be a deeply unpopular move.  The drama would dominate the news and could be a spark that ignites the disparate movements we’ve seen trying to resist austerity these last 5 years.

Should it even get so far as civil servants being sent into the city, they would be met with large scale protests and no doubt a strike from local government workers who would then refuse to help them carry out their dirty work (and many civil servants are PCS members who would be unlikely to cross a picket).  With all that going on, the likelihood of the worst case scenario (the deposition of the council) happening seems very low.

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Banging the drum (or metal pot and wooden spoon) of the anti-austerity movement at a protest in Bristol

Instead they’d no doubt try and reach a compromise, in which we’d be able to win a better deal for Bristol.

One way this might work has already been laid out by our Mayoral candidate Tony Dyer.  The Conservatives have said councils can keep their business rates (probably from 2020).  Tony has challenged the government to give Bristol its business rates from 2016, which would allow us to reverse the cuts and invest in the many many infrastructural projects Bristol urgently needs (chiefly social and affordable housing).  If we set a needs budget and demanded we be given our business rates early to pay for it, it seems likely central government would, to some extent, give in.

Its not as far fetched as some might have you believe.  Remember despite the apparent dire state of the nations finances, in the last budget the Conservatives magicked up £12 billion in extra defence spending (the exact same amount they’re cutting from welfare, conincidently), and another £10 million for a private jet for the PM (among many other things).  Last year they found money for an 11% pay rise for every MP, and £15 billion for Osborne’s ‘Road Revolution’.  In short, they’re very good at finding extra money when they need it.  And in the kind of constitutional crisis they’d provoke by trying to depose Bristol Council, they’d no doubt decided they’d need the money.

Furthermore, councils have already had their budgets cut by so much that there simply isn’t that much more they can cut before statutory services start to fail.  The so called ‘low hanging fruits’ of council expenditure have already been picked.  If councils continue to live within the dictates of the law and refuse to try and set ‘needs budgets’, at some point in the next 5 years we’re going to see a significant failure of the basic services many people depend on.

The main argument against ‘needs budgets’ is that civil servants aren’t going to know our communities needs and their cuts will be far worse than the more compassionate cuts our Council will do itself.

As I’ve said this seems unlikely, and if it got to the point where implementing cuts will result in the failure of services how can civil servant driven cuts be any worse?  Also it would focus the blame for these cuts squarely back where it belongs with central government, and would make the Tories do their dirty work themselves.

We’ve already seen massive mobilisations against the government and its austerity program since the election. If unelected civil servants started deposing local authorites to implicate savage cuts; the protests, strikes and civil disobedience it would cause would be a significant challenge to the government.  

If several councils refused to set cuts budgets at the same time, their likelihood of success would be even higher.  The blowback from them attempting to depose multiple authorities at once could likely bring down the government (so they’d probably give in).  For that to happen we need people elected onto those councils making those arguments and willing to make a stand against austerity. 

If elected I will be one of those people.  I pledge to never vote for a budget containing cuts, and to consistently make the case for the alternative whenever possible.

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Me (on the far left) and People’s Assembly comrades (and is that big Jeff in the seconr row slightly on the right) leading the Bristol protest against the emergency budget this summer.  Picture taken from the Guardian

 

 

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Bristol Politics, Green Politics, Uncategorized

#ClimateChange and the fight for #ClimateJobs

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The placard I made at the NEON event to call for A Million Climate Jobs in the just transition we need to a sustainable economy.  It lasted about 10 minutes against Sunday’s rain.

This is a talk I prepared for a NEON (the New Economy Organising Network) event to prepare for Bristol Climate March:

Climate change as we know is the most serious long-term challenge facing both our society, and our planet in general.  We are on the verge of reaching the point of no return, the tipping point beyond which catastrophic warming of the planet will be unavoidable, and the habitability of our world serverely undermined.

But as well as a challenge of almost unimaginable horror, climate change is also an opportunity.  As Naomi Klein has recently persuasively argued Climate Change can provide movements for social and environmental justice with a ‘collective lens’, a shared conceptual framework, sense of purpose and set of arguments for moving beyond the extreme Free-Market Capitalism (conventionally labelled NeoLiberalism) that is so impoverishing both our planet and our communities.

For decades the arguments of the alter-globalisation movement – that Free Market fundamentalism was causing spiralling inequality and social stratification – have fallen on death ears.  We now know those exact same policies have greatly exacerbated our excessive consumption of resources and our output of greenhouse gases, endangering life as we know it.

It also presents an opportunity in terms practice solutions it requires.  I don’t want to understand the scale of the problem and the response it needs.  To do our part in preventing catastrophic climate change the few decades we have left to actually do something about it, we need to rapidly transition to a zero-carbon economy.  Tinkering around the edges with carbon trading, taxes and offsetting just won’t cut it.

Climate Justice Jobs

The Bristol People’s March for Climate, Justice and Jobs. 29/11/2015.  3000 attend despite heavy rain.

The amount of carbon already in the atmosphere means that even if we stopped polluting tomorrow we’ve still locked in considerable warming, we have to act now to prevent temperature rises above 2 degrees (which would have extreme consequences across the world).

We need to cut CO2 emissions by around 75-80%.
We can achieve this if we cut our energy usage by half (very achievable with an aggressive program of energy efficiency and home insulation – Britain has the worst insulated homes in Europe, which contribute to an estimated 20,000 death every winter, as well as huge amounts of wasted energy) and supply at least half of that energy from renewable sources.

This will mean the end of many jobs in polluting and fossil fuel dependent industries (an estimated 350,000).  But it will also require millions of new jobs in building new infrastructure, renewable energy, home insulation, public transport and energy efficiency.  The Campaign Against Climate Change, have created a rough blueprint laying out how this might happen.  They estimate that nationally we need to create 1 Million Climate Jobs to do all this work.

The knock on effect of having all these people employed with increased spending power, and the allied industries needed to supply all the construction of this transition will create hundreds of thousands more jobs.  This always happens with new investment.

climate march bbc

Some of the soggy marchers as the rain started to ease off as we looped back round Broadmead, credits BBC.

The total cost of employing 1 million people, and supplying the material and supplies for the new climate industries would be about £50 billion.  However, the extra money received in taxes, and the loss of expenditure on benefits for all those extra jobs would instantly save £18 billion.  Much of this investment will provide long term returns that outstrip the cost of borrowing, (bus and train passengers buy tickets, electric cars and low energy appliances are sold for money, people pay bill for renewable energy, etc).  The Campaign Against Climate Change again estimate this would recoup around another £12 billion of these cost.  Meaning in total it would be £20 billion a year.

It sounds like a lot, but remember at the drop of the hat the government’s found an extra £12 billion for extra defence spending just yesterday.  Also we don’t collect hundreds of billions of pounds in tax avoided and evaded by the wealthiest companies and individuals; we’re wasting 100s of billions on replacing trident; and when the banks crashed the government happily bailed them out to the tune of £850 billion (whilst exposing itself to £1.2 trillion pounds worth of ‘toxic’ debts).

Despite the economic crash and austerity, this is actually an ideal time to invest, as interest rates on government bowing are at a historic low.  Much of the capital could be paid for a Peoples Quantities Easing (like the Quantitive  Easing they used to bail out the banks but this time for the benefit of everyone). Not only will we be saving the planet, but we’ll also get over a million people into secure long term jobs (easing the blight of unemployment) and provide a fiscal stimulus to get the economy going again.
Win, win, win.

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Green MEP Molly Scott addresses the crowd at the rally after the march on the need for climate jobs in a rapid (but just) transition to a carbon neutral economy.

Earlier this year research carried out by the Resilience Centre outlined in greater detail how this transition could play out in the South West.  We are lucky that the South West has an abundance of renewable energy resources, and has the capacity to not only provide all of its own energy needs from a diversified renewable energy system (and go completely fossil fuel free), but also to become an exporter of energy to the rest of the UK.

The report also stresses the economic impact of implementing the plan, which has the potential to create 122,000 jobs in the region (where unemployment numbers 126,000) and directly add over £4.2 billion to value of the local economy (48% the total value of the South West’s tourism industry, or 87% of the total value of its aerospace and defence industries).

A mix of onshore and offshore wind, marine and tidal, solar, geothermal and biomass dispersed across the region can meet all our long term energy needs; and provide full employment and a vital economic boost in these dark times of austerity.
The resilience foundation estimates that this would add an extra £4.3bn per year to the region (representing about 4% total economic growth to the South West economy).

This can be done.  In the last few years in Germany for example their Energiewende (Energy Transition) has seen the country rapidly move to an energy sector driven by renewables. The South West has even greater potential for renewable energy then most of Germany. It is not that we lack the physical capability to implementing this plan; it is just that we lack the political will.  We need political change (and the Green Party locally is increasingly playing an important part in this), but this alone will not be enough.

To get the kind of wholesale change we need, in the timeframe available, is going to require massive mobilisations of people in the streets and in our communities.  Our governments have been keenly aware of this looming disaster since at least the 1980s, they’ve seemingly endlessly negotiated and prevaricated, and all the while the emission have been increasing exponentially.  We need people power, this is far far too important to be left to the politicians and the institutional comprises they’re forced to make.  That’s why Sunday’s march and meetings like this are so vital.  Thank you inviting me here tonight and listening to me.  See you all on Sunday!

Links:
The Power to Transform the South West report can be found here:-  http://mollymep.org.uk/2015/04/17/power-to-transform/

A Million Climate Jobs now here:-
http://www.campaigncc.org/greenjobs

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Me, after the protest finished on Sunday.  None of my placards managed to survive the heavy rain and intense winds (they literally melted and then got ripped to shreds)

 

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Protests

John McDonnell speech causes violence at Student Protest? #GrantsNotDebts

free educaiton 2

On Wednesday the 4th of November I got up before 7 on my day off to travel down to London with about 30 others from the University of Bristol to protest the scrapping of maintenance grants, the continued cuts to educations, and demand the abolition of tuition fees.

We got to the beginning rally point just after 12, and mingled with our comrades from across the country and tried to listen to some speeches till the march set off just after half past 1.  Despite occasional outbursts of rain, the protest was good spirited and vibrant.  There were towards 10,000 students and their supporters joining the protest, and although angry over the way this government attacks students and young people in general, over 99% were completely peaceful.

The march was accompanied by a tiny group of about 30 or so ‘Black Bloc’ anarchists.  Periodically throughout the march they let off flares, as is their custom (or so it would seem from the demos I go to). These weren’t much of a nuisance other than to the marchers behind them who had to breath through the smoke.

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Outside the Home Office, guarded by lines of fences and police (far more than this picture indicates)

The march stopped briefly outside the Home Office to chant ‘Say it loud and say it clear, Refugees are welcome here!’ in opposition to the government’s disgraceful treatment of refugees and migrants.  At this point the aforementioned Black Bloc let off some more flares, and threw some paint at the building (and the vast police presence deployed outside to guard it).  After a few minutes the march continued without much incident.

Me from the outside of the kettle

Me from the outside of the kettle

The view from my side of the police 'kettle'

The view from my side of the police ‘kettle’

When we got to the department of Business, Innovation, and Skills, the Black Bloc again decided to attack the government building and the police in front of it (after we had stopped for more inaudible speeches further up the road).  This prompted the police to indiscriminately ‘kettle’ everyone still on the march.  As the line of them ran forward to try and get in front of us and block us in (and not just the marchers but also members of the public, including a nurse I talked to who was trying to get to work), everyone ran to try and get past (no one wants to be stuck in a kettle for hours on end).  Unfortunately I wasn’t quite quick enough (despite my name) and got trapped just after the last person made it out in-front of me.  After half an hour of being stuck like this, people were getting noticeably frustrated (and I was kicking myself for leaving my book on the bus).  All of a sudden some of the hundreds trapped by the police charged their thin line, and broke through at the middle.

Of course everyone who was trapped by the police, surged forward to escape (again, no one wants to get stuck in a police kettle).  Like a torrent of water sweeping through a broken dam we surged forward with no other aim then to escape the police containment.  At this point, no one really knew what was going on, most people around me seemed to think there was meant to be a rally happening at the end of the march (we hadn’t heard or even been aware of the rally further up the road) and once past the police were trying to get to there.  The police gave chase, and the remnants of the march split up as we tried to avoid them, find the rumoured end rally, or just get back to where our coaches were collecting us.

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Predictably the coverage in the press has almost exclusively focused on the frantic scenes outside BIS, and the actions of less than 0.3% of the demonstration.  Almost all of the pictures shown of the demo are of the tiny unrepresentative group of Black Bloc anarchists, their scuffle with the police and the ensuring kerfuffle as the police reacted with disproportionate force (captioned illustratively in the Daily Mail article as ‘Anger’, ‘Chaos’, ‘Out of Hand’ just encase their readers weren’t getting their message).

Me and Green Councillor for Cotham ward Dani, on the march

Me and Dani (Green Councillor for Cotham), on the march

Or as the Daily Mail reported it ‘Students clash with police as tuition fee protest turns violent after rabble-rousing speech by Labour firebrand John McDonnell’ or even more alarmist in the express ‘London under siege’ (‘Rampaging rioters have taken over the city streets’).  This attempt to link John McDonnell’s speech (present in many of the tabloid press’ reports, most explicitly in the Mail) – which called for a peaceful demonstration and for marchers to ‘remain safe’ – with the violence of the Black Bloc is the most galling part of their manipulation.  The main reason being I was only about 50 or so meters away from John McDonnell and couldn’t hear his small megaphone over the crowd.  The anarchists I saw were further behind (no doubt they don’t have much respect for McDonnell or the Labour party so didn’t want to listen), so had no chance of hearing, and came predetermined to have their ‘fight’ with the police – as they do every year – no matter what anyone said.

Me, at a student demonstration against fees and cuts in 2012

Me, at a student demonstration against fees and cuts in 2012

I’ve been going to these student protests since 2010 when we were first betrayed by Clegg and his broken promises (as I attempted to immortalise in the picture above), and I know the Daily Mail and the right wing press will report on these demonstrations negatively, no matter what.  They want to discredit any and all protests and movements for change as they know the power they have to transform society and threaten their entrenched power and privilege and that of those they represent.  But what a gift to the right wing press these Black Bloc members must be.  All the better that McDonnell had been there at the beginning to give a speech urging peace that almost no one could hear, so they can not only discredit protesters and the student movement, but also the Left of the Labour party that they so fear and despise.

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“Education is a Right; Stop the Cuts, join the Fight!”

Had this protest been several times bigger the actions of the tiny Black Bloc would have been far harder to paint as representative of the whole protest.  I respect everyone’s right to join our protests, and I understand the frustrations and feelings that give rise to the actions of the Black Bloc, but by these same actions they’re practically doing the work of the right wing propagandists over at the Mail and other hate filled rags for them.  At the same time they’re helping our enemies to alienate large swathes of the public from the student movement.

A handful of people clad in black pointlessly throwing things at government buildings isn’t really radical, it achieves nothing.  What would be radical is if we had hundreds of thousands of people protesting and blockading the roads outside those government buildings, or even occupying them.  That would get us results.  But the ‘tactics’ of the Black Bloc is actually acting as an obstacle to that happening, and holding our movement back.  Hopefully an obstacle we can overcome.

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Bristol Politics, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

#Bristol #KillTheBill – #NHS #Right2Strike Speech

Bristol KillTheBill protesters send their solidarity to victimised UNISON steward Sandy Nicole

Bristol KillTheBill protesters send their solidarity to victimised UNISON steward Sandy Nicole

Green Party mayoral candidate Tony Dyer gives an impassioned speech against the bill

Green Party mayoral candidate Tony Dyer gives an impassioned speech against the bill

Tonight in Bristol we had a very inspiring rally against the Trade Union bill with some rousing speeches from people across the movement.  I’d been asked to speak and had prepared a short piece on our NHS strike last year, but in the end there wasn’t time so I thought I’d put it on here so it didn’t go to waste.

My friends I wanted to speak tonight about the strike we had in the NHS over pay last winter, and how this draconian anti-democratic Trade Union bill would have effected it and me and my fellow NHS workers.

The NHS and its staff have taken a hammering since the Conservatives first got in with their Lib Dem enablers back in 2010.  Putting aside the backdoor privatisation and the continual outsourcing of staff and services – which is undermining the very foundation of the NHS and is a huge drain on resources – times for NHS workers are bleak.

Between 2010-214 we lost around 35,000 NHS staff (including around 7000 front-line nurses).  At the same time hospital usage is continually going up, by 10% between the winter of 2013 and 2014 alone.  This is because cuts to social care and care in the community are forcing into hospitals more and more people who would have been kept well at home.  Less and less staff are being asked to do more and more work.  All the while our pensions have been attacked (we now pay in more each year, for more years, and get less out at the end) and we haven’t had an above inflation pay rise since the reckless gambling of the banks crashed the economy back in 2008, reducing real incomes by up to 10%.

Even with all this, it wasn’t until last winter that enough was enough and our unions felt able to go on strike after the government refused to give us a 1% pay rise (whilst MPs gave themselves an 11% raise).  NHS workers are not militant by nature.  This was the first national NHS strike since 1982. None of us got into this line of work to get rich (over 77,000 of us didn’t even get the living wage before the strike – me included – and many staff have had to resort to food banks to survive), but to care for people.  This duty of care makes staff feel uneasy taking action, and is why unlike most strikes we try to cause as least disruption as possible to essential services.

As a result of our action the government came back to the negotiating table with a new offer.  It wasn’t perfect (excluding staff at the top of the pay scale from the pay rise), but it did give a 1% rise to most staff, and staff on the bottom of the pay scale like me received a raise of up to 5%. A 5% raise hasn’t been revolutionary in my life, but it has had a significant impact on helping me cope with the continual spiralling cost of the basic necessities of life.  This is one of the many reasons we need unions.  They’re our voice at work and stand up for our interests across society.

If this bill had been in place our strike simply could not have happened. The new law puts a 50% minimum turnout threshold on all strike ballots.  But because the NHS is an ‘essential’ public service a minimum of 40% of all members of the union must vote yes for the strike to go ahead.  On a 50% turnout that would mean you’d need 80% of staff to vote yes.  Almost impossible in an industry with over 1 million staff in vastly geographically dispersed workplaces.

Even if we did manage to strike, the new law would have allowed hospitals to replace us with agency staff, making action pointless (and possibly endangering lives of patients).  This isn’t even the most ridiculous part of the bill, which would make picketers wear armbands (or face a £20,000 fine) and force unions to inform police of all strike related communications (including facebook and twitter) two weeks in advance (not to mention attacks on facility time, and the financial basis of unions).

This is a full on assault on our ability to organise to defend our interests at work and resist the Conservative austerity drive that is so impoverishing both our communities and our planet.  It is a travesty, a partisan attack motivated only by the desire to clampdown on resistance to the Conservative attacks on ordinary people and our welfare state.

We have to unite to resist the passage of this bill, and should it become law, work together to defeat it.  If this bill becomes law, we need to be prepared to break that law to defend our interests, and we need the whole movement to rally behind any union that does so.  Only together can we overcome.  Thank you for listening to me, and thank you all for coming out to support this demonstration this evening. You all give me hope that this isn’t over, and together we can win.  Solidarity!

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike, with me and Green comrades in the background

Concord Health UNISON branch officer Mandy Robinson takes to the mike, with me and Green comrades in the background

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Green Politics

Why we must oppose austerity and join the Manchester protest – A Green Perspective

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We all know that austerity is a ‘social justice’ disaster. This morally reprehensible policy is forcing ordinary people – particularly the poorest and most vulnerable – to pay for the economic crash caused by the reckless speculating of unaccountable banks in deregulated financial markets. In its most extreme the cuts to disability benefits, the NHS and a vindictive regime of benefit sanctioning have led to thousands of deaths. Austerity kills.

On top of this, the economic justification for inflicting all this misery has been completely discredited with most economists agreeing that by shrinking the economy austerity has harmed growth, prolonged the effects of the recession (even the IMF is issuing proclamations against it) and utterly failed as an apparent strategy to reduce national debt. Austerity is revealed to be not an economic necessity but a repackaged conservative ideology to undermine the welfare state. The financial crash is being used as a smokescreen to implement the same brand of neoliberal policies (cuts to public spending, privatisation and de-regulation) that led to it in the first place.

All this is grounds enough for why austerity is wrong and why we must fight against it, and large protests like the 250,000-strong June 20th Demo in London and the ones in Manchester in October this year (co-organised by the TUC and The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, to coincide with the Tory Party Conference) are crucial in building this struggle against a great social injustice. Nonetheless, within these debates and protest movements we must be sure to argue that austerity is also a huge obstruction to the aims of environmental justice and directly threatens attempts to mitigate climate change.

For one, if Britain is to transition to a sustainable carbon neutral economy it is going to need massive investment in infrastructure, housing and renewable energy. As well as stopping us from destroying the environment and the habitability of our planet, this could both provide jobs for millions of people and the fiscal stimulus needed to get the economy going again. But austerity takes us in completely the opposite direction. As long as we have a Conservative government pursing ideological austerity, determined to reduce state spending at any cost (whilst shamelessly cutting taxes for the rich and large corporations), arguments for investment will always fall on deaf ears.

Cutting ‘Green’

Each year in the UK 25,000 people die from the cold, and at least a third of these deaths are due to living in cold homes. This is because the UK has some of the worst insulated homes in Europe, with expensive energy bills putting millions in fuel poverty. Under the coalition, home insulation was a disaster, with loans for insulation (the so called Green Deal) taken up by so few that new cavity wall insulations fell in 2013 to a quarter of previous levels. Under our new majority Conservative government the home insulation budget has been cut by another £40 million in the first round of departmental cost-cutting and the Green Deal loans completely scrapped (along with a decade-in-the-making plan to make all new homes carbon neutral by 2016). And it’s the same across the board.

Under Austerity the government is not only completely unwilling to embark on the investments our communities and our planet so badly needs, but is actually cutting what few vital green initiatives we already have. As well as backtracking on its home energy-efficiency and insulation programme, it is slashing the subsidies for biomass, aerobic digestion and biogas, as well as solar, onshore wind and even tidal power. So far the only renewable energy source that isn’t being cut is offshore wind (much more expensive than its onshore counterpart), and even its future seems uncertain.

The Green investment bank, which has increasingly played a pivotal role in providing start-up capital to the environmental industry (and one of the Coalition’s few positive achievements) is being privatised in the largest ever sale of state assets. Green taxes like fuel duty are being cut. Even the incentives to buy less polluting cars (through differential rates of Vehicle Excise Duty) are being scrapped from 2017. However, the cuts to the Environment Agency and flood defence programs have caused the most headlines after they spectacularly highlighted the – contradictory – long term costs of austerity, by contributing to the massive flooding that hit southern England (especially the Somerset levels) over the winter of 2013-14.
The ‘dirty’ economy rolls on…

What’s more, whilst environmental programs and renewable energy are being cut left right and centre, subsidies for the fossil fuel industry continue unabated (this is primarily in the form of tax breaks for oil companies and government funding for exploratory oil drilling), amounting to several billion pounds a year. As fossil fuel reserves decline (unfortunately not fast enough to stop us destroying the planet as more than two-thirds of current reserves need to be left in the ground to avoid catastrophic warming), the government experiments with riskier unconventional extraction methods, from offshore deep water resources, to the now infamous ‘fracking’. Everywhere we look the short-termism inherent in austerity is taking us the wrong way in the fight against climate change.

Outside of the arena of state action, by reducing people’s incomes as the cost of living increases, austerity is further encouraging environmentally harmful consumption. Austerity has seen the longest and sharpest decline in living standards in the UK since Victorian times, driving the demand for (among other things) cheaper food – which can currently only be provided through ecologically harmful processes. Food production is a major source of carbon emissions and ecological damage, but as our current economic system privileges ecologically damaging production norms – making the green choice the more expensive choice – people have no option but to take what they can get in the age of austerity. When people are struggling to put food on the table, they’re less inclined to worry about the environmental impact of that food or of green issues in general.

Join the movement!

For all these reasons and more austerity is an environmental disaster. If we want to make sure the UK does its part in ensuring we don’t warm the planet by more than 2 degrees by the end of the century (the internationally-agreed target we’re all very close to making impossible), then austerity has to end. We already know we owe it to the most vulnerable in our society and our wider communities in general, but now we also owe it to our planet to end austerity now. Anyone who cares about climate change has a duty to join the movement against austerity (The Green Party is an official affiliate and supporter of The People’s Assembly Against Austerity) and take to the streets to protest these policies that are having such a disastrous effect on both our society and our environment.

That’s why I hope you’ll join us on the streets of Manchester for the huge march on Sunday 4th October, and in the public spaces, faith centres and community halls for the ‘festival of resistance’ Mon 5th – Wed 7th (encompassing everything from workers’ rights, to welfare, to TTIP, to climate), where we can create the broadest possible demonstration of defiance to this government and a huge public debate about austerity that the Tories don’t want to have!

Transport details for #TakeBackManchester: http://www.thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/transport_to_manchester http://bristoltoryconfdemo.eventbrite.co.uk/

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