Bedminster, Bristol Politics, Green Politics, Uncategorized

Why its “utterly irresponsible” not to vote against #cuts to #Bristol’s #budget

I was very proud of my local party at this year’s Bristol City Council budget-setting meeting where Green councillors condemned austerity and voted against (with a few abstentions) Mayor Ferguson’s latest budget that cut another £30 million from vital public services.

As Green group leader Ani Stafford-Townsend said:-

“These cuts are being presented by government as inevitable, but they are not; they are an ideological choice by the Tories. It is George Osborne who has chosen to slash public spending and force those on the lowest incomes to pay the brunt of bankers’ excesses. Instead, those best able to pay should be asked to foot the bill through fairer taxation and by cracking down on tax avoidance by big business.”

Of course not everyone was happy with that decision.  It would seem that chiefly amongst those dissatisfied with Greens voting against cuts were our colleagues in the local Labour party.  Labour had once again voted en masse to pass on these crippling cuts to the communities they’re meant to serve, and then branded us as “utterly irresponsible” for refusing to do the same.

My opponents in Bedminster went as far as to devote 1/5 of the front of their latest newsletter to reprinting this and even spuriously trying to claim it proved we were against recycling, and the adult social care precept Green councillors proposed and passed with the support of the local Labour and Lib Dems.

From the press release they sent out further attacking us, and interactions with some of their candidates on twitter, it seems their main argument for voting for cuts is that if they didn’t councils could be deposed by Whitehall and according to Labour it would have “resulted in Bristol being run by civil servants in London” who would then impose the cuts themselves.

As we explored in a previous blog, this is extremely unlikely due to the high political cost such a move would entail, and the resulting confrontation would at least gives us the chance (and I think a very good chance at that) to get the funding we need to run the services we rely on.

The only other option is to do as Bristol Labour have and accept the impossibility of resisting cuts locally, voting for cuts budgets where councillors make minor amendments to try and implement them in the least harmful way possible (the so called ‘dented shield’).

This is not a viable option.

Despite Mayor Ferguson’s pledge to implement the cuts without attacking frontline services many of these have already taken a beating to ‘realise’ the almost £90 million of savings forced upon our city. For example, halving the number of staff enforcing fly tipping has resulted in an almost doubling of the incidents of fly tipping on our streets (what a coincidence); libraries have lost staff and opening hours (and have an uncertain future with £635,000 worth of cuts still to be made after the local elections); the Ashton Vale book-mobile has been axed; the budget for social care has been savaged (for adults it was cut by 30% between 2010 and 2015 alone); youth centres have been lost; the Bush respite centre has had to half its beds; the list goes on.

So far where the cuts to frontline services have been most extreme – like to the Bush respite centre – it has only effected a small minority of our (most vulnerable) citizens (not that that makes it any better), or where it has effected larger numbers it has been through much less life or death problems like fly tipping.  As austerity intensifies over the next 4 years this will not be the case.

This month the council announced it expects to have to reduce its spending by another £75.3 million by 2020.  This is on top of the £90 million cuts already made (from a starting budget of £201million in 2010).  No amount of tinkering will enable the council to reduce its budget by nearly 80% and still maintain essential frontline services.  There is no least harmful way to make cuts on this scale.  

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Infographic from The Bristol Cable

In other words, if the council keeps on doing what Councillor Helen Holland and Bristol Labour like to describe as ‘the responsible thing’ and keep voting for the cuts budgets central government is passing on to us, at some point in the next four years we will see the widespread failure of more and more essential council services.

When we start to experience widespread failure of essential services, it is going to make little difference to the people who rely upon them if these cuts are being implemented by the council or by central government officials.  If we fail and the council is deposed the result will be the same as if we do nothing.  If we try we at least have the chance to avert this disaster and get the budget we need.  That’s why I think councillors who abandon their obligation to fight for the residents whom they’re meant to represent, and instead accept the cuts and the destruction of council services as we know them, are the ones who are really “utterly irresponsible”.            

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Bristol Politics, Green Politics, NHS, Protests, Railways, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes, Uncategorized

The Green Heart of #Bristol’s #SocialMovements

I joined the Green Party back in October 2014 at the start of the ‘Green surge’. I’d became increasingly aware that they were the only party consistently talking about restructuring the economy in the interests of everyone to tackle not only climate change but also the spiralling inequality infecting our society.

Within a month I’d been co-opted into being the parties Trade Union Liaison Officer, and was busy organising support and ‘Solidari-Tea’ for the NHS strike that winter. Me and my colleagues in 13 different unions across the NHS were striking after the government refused to give us even the miserly 1% pay rise recommended by its own pay review board. After more than 6 years of a freeze on NHS pay, things are becoming increasingly tough for more and more health workers. Green comrades got up at the crack of dawn and came to join me and other staff on the picket lines bringing flasks of hot Soladari-Tea and coffee for everyone (very appreciated on a bitterly cold winters morning). The hot drinks and support helped contribute to the vibrant hopeful mood of the picket, and I knew I had found my political home.

In the little over a year I’ve been involved with the local party since then it has consistently put itself at the heart of movements for social justice across Bristol.

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Green councillor Anna McMullan highlighting the plight of Bangladeshi Garment workers at the International Workers Memorial Day event in Bristol April 2015

We’ve brought Solidari-Tea to picket lines across the city. Joining the men and women of the FBU striking against unfair and unsafe pensions that would see 60 year old running into burning buildings, and the RMT fighting to protect jobs and services on the new Inter-City express trains. Most recently we’ve been out in force to support Junior Doctors fighting against unfair and unsafe contracts that could see them working more than 70 hours a week without unsocial pay enhancements for working on Saturdays or into the night.

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Junior Doctors and their supporters (including Green councillor Carla Denyer front and centre) picketing outside the BRI

We’ve sent support to workers at the sharpak Yate food processing factory fighting against the imposition of longer contracts, to teachers at the Winterborne academy fighting against unmanageable workloads and bullying management, to staff demanding their fair share from wage stealing bosses at Café Amore and much more.

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Greens campaigning for the Public Ownership of Rail at Temple Meads in Feburary 2015

We’ve joined the Bristol Trades Council in campaigns for the Living Wage, worked with Bristol Stop the War to build opposition to the bombing of Syria, and have been at the heart of the Bristol People’s Assembly and its resistance to cuts and austerity. We’ve taken to the streets to call for the public ownership of our railways with the Action for Rail group, and campaigned against the exploitative practices of rogue landlords and letting agents through ACORN the Community Union.

 

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Green councillor Rob Telford at an ACORN picket of Tobie Holbrock who was refusing to repair unacceptable mould in his rental properties

Its been my great honour to be at the centre of most of this activity, but it was my leading role in organising the Bristol rally against the Trade Union Bill last November that was one of the most fulfilling actions. This brought Greens, trade unionist and members of the local Labour Party together with hundreds of ordinary Bristolians for a rally and demonstration in the fountains against the draconian bill, and imbued us with the spirit to resist these unjust laws.

 

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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

Unlike the Labour party that won’t support strikes because it thinks it has to appear to be neutral to look like a party of government, the Green party is unashamed in its support of ordinary people trying to protect their rights and improve their lives.  Just as it is unashamed of its support for all groups trying to enact positive social change. On picket lines, marches and demonstrations across our city the Greens are an increasingly regular and prominent fixture. Both in the council and in the streets of our city the Bristol Green party is taking a bold stand for people and planet, and I’m proud to be a part of it

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Bristol Greens joining the thousands braving the wet weather for the Bristol Climate March last November.

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Some of the Greens at the Bristol People’s March for the NHS 2015

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Greens protesting government plans to Scrap the Human Rights act and other things at the Bristol Makes Some Noise against austerity protest last year

Some videos: –
me speaking at the Don’t Bomb Syria rally-  https://www.facebook.com/BristolPeoplesAssembly/videos/1678031245741863/~

Anna speaking at ‘How do we Stop the Tories in their Tracks’ –

Green Party deputy leader Shahrar Ali speaking at the Scrap Trident rally –

 

 

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Bristol Politics, Green Politics, Uncategorized

The need for a ‘Needs Budget’

 

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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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Protests

John McDonnell speech causes violence at Student Protest? #GrantsNotDebts

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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, NHS

EmmersonsGreen ‘ISTC’ highlights the perils of NHS Privatisation in Bristol

In February 64 Bristol GPs signed an open letter to the Bristol ‘Clinical Commissioning Groups’ (CCG – responsible for commissioning services to providers and administering the tendering process to the private sector) highlighting the shocking wastage of money represented by the Emersons Green ‘Independent Sector Treatment Centre’ (ISTC).  There letter – available here – compellingly highlights many of the problems creeping privatisation by stealth is introducing into our NHS.  Hopefully their letter and their campaigning and the campaigns of activist groups like Protect our NHS (who have helped organised the letter) can help generate interest in both this individual case of the perils of privatisation; and the wider place of health care in our society.

Reforms over the past few decades, greatly exacerbated by the 2012 Health and Social Care act, have been slowly but surely introducing a marketised health care model into our NHS.  Greens (and many others who care about our NHS) believe this model not only fails on its own terms of reducing cost and increasing efficiency (in fact doing the opposite) but also reduces standards of care, working conditions of staff, and has reprehensible moral implications.

From our conversations with health workers we repeatedly hear that Emersons Green ISTC does not provide as good care as the NHS centres, yet (as scandalously highlighted by the loss of £7 million over the last three years) the NHS has to pay Care UK regardless of the actual treatment it provides.  This puts GPs in the unenviable position of having to either refer patients to the Emersons Green ISTC to receive poorer service, or to effectively waste NHS money by sending them for treatment elsewhere.

This local wastage of NHS money provides a microcosm for the wider problems across the country.  We currently waste billions of pounds every year artificially forcing our health service to function as a fragmented market.  Recent studies have found the NHS to provide the best value for money service in the world.  The USA spends roughly 1/3 of its entire health spending on administration costs, whilst spending twice as much as the UK per capital on health for much worse results.  Yet this is the very model our leaders seem to be emulating.

In 1980 before Thatcher first introduced an internal market into the NHS, administration costs were around 5%.  Since then the main inflationary pressures to providing health care should have been the cost of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, yet administration costs have now risen to over 15% of the total budget.  Much of this is down to the extremely time consuming and expensive bidding system for service contracts and the purchases provider split.  The government doesn’t collect reliable statistics for the costs of these measures, but it is estimated to cost around at least £10 billion a year.  This is a colossal wastage of funds that should be going to providing health care, before even taking into consideration the profit that private providers extract for running services.  Finally the hugely inefficient PFI deals pioneered by the Blair government and continued by the current coalition critically undermines NHS budgets to finance servicing debt repayments frequently far out of all proportion to the value of their investment.

As highlighted by the GPs letter, staff working for private providers are often unknown to NHS staff, and not fully integrated into local health care networks.  This adds unnecessary confusion and communication problems that lower potential healthcare outcomes.  In general wherever the private sector has been given a greater role in providing services, standards of care are depressed.  The flagship example of Hinchingbrooke hospital which was until recently completely run by the private company Circle Health is a case in point.  Quality of care, hygiene standards and patient safety were all compromised in the interests of profit.  The care quality commission (CQC) gave Hinchingbrooke the inspectorate’s worst ever rating for “caring”, and found it “inadequate” (the worst rating) for safety and leadership.  Circle have since pulled out of the contract, leaving the hospital under special measures.  We cannot let this happen elsewhere!

Locally Greens will be campaigning for the NHS to provide services to Emmersons Green and all health services except in extremely exceptional circumstances.  We hope the GPs letter and campaign will help pressure the Bristol CCG into making this a reality.  This will only happen if more and more people join with campaigns resisting privatisation like Protect OUR NHS (and political party’s committed to doing the same like the Green Party).  Nationally we aim to restore the ‘duty to provide’ healthcare by the Secretary of State for Health (removed in 2012); to ensure the NHS remains a unified public service; and to remove the internal market and private sector involvement that so blights the service.  To this end we are fully supporting Dr Allyson Pollocks’ NHS Reinstatement Bill that does just that and more to return the NHS to its founding principles and ensure our society has the health service it deserves.  On top of this we must ensure the NHS is given adequate funding to provide the service so many of us depend on, and has enough staff to meet its need.  We are committing to provide an extra £12bn of core funding every year to the NHS, to support and restore services and pay, improve mental health care, and make vital updates and improvements.

This extra money would be funded through progressive general taxation.  As already noted though we could save billions by remove ideological vanity projects that artificially force the NHS to run as a fragmented part-privatised service.  Greens seek to reduce the overall cost of healthcare not by simply treating the symptoms of ill health in individuals, but their causes among society at large – chiefly inequality and poor environments.

To reiterate the words of the much quoted founder of the NHS Aneurin Bevan: ‘The NHS will last as long as their are folk left with the faith to fight for it’.  Our NHS is being undermined and sold off by politicians who frequently are directly financially benefiting by its privatisation, to give greater profits to private companies (usually owned by their supporters and peers).  We need to go out there and fight for it.  Join campaigns against privatisation, and this May the 7th, use your vote for the NHS.

Some Bristol Green Party supporters at the People's March for the NHS

Some Bristol Green Party supporters at the People’s March for the NHS

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Bristol Politics, Trade Unions and Industrial Disputes

Social Murder, Health and Safety, and Trade Unions

Early photograph of the last mass Chartist meeting of 150,000 at Kennington Common to deliver their final petition, allegedly signed by 6 million, 1848

Early photograph of the last mass Chartist meeting of 150,000 at Kennington Common to deliver their final petition, allegedly signed by 6 million, 1848

The Chartists were the first mass working class movement in the world. They had local groups across the country; organised petitions signed by millions, and held mass demonstrations attended by hundreds of thousands in a time with much more limited communication networks and in an extremely repressive atmosphere.

Their strength came from the general revulsion at the extremely pronounced levels of injustice and exploitation inherent in the early factory system. The average working day was in excess of 12 hours, often in cramped workshops with few breaks and no health and safety standards. The employment of children was widespread. This practice came under increasing criticism from the 1780s but it wasn’t until 1833 that effectively enforced legislation was brought in to regulate child labour.

Boys working in a textiles mill

Boys working in a textiles mill

The 1833 act only outlawed children under the age of 9 (except in the silk industry) from working, and limited them to working 8 hours a day till they were 14 (and then 12 hours till they were 18). Workers received abject poverty pay, had no weekends or holidays, no maternity leave or sick pay or any real rights at all.  After a long day they returned home to squalid slum housing to subsist off of terrible diet of the cheapest food. As in the less wealthy countries of the world today (where the majority of our cheap mass manufactured goods are produced) rates of accidents, injuries and mortality were appallingly high.

The Chartists termed the tens of thousands killed and maimed in the all-pervasive industrial accidents of their era ‘Social Murder’. These were the thousands unnecessarily killed each year by a society structured to pursue profit no matter the human (or environmental) cost. Thankfully, due largely to the efforts of past generations organising in their workplaces, communities and in political parties, we now work in far safer and more humane working environments.

But even today in the UK around 1,500 people die in largely avoidable accidents in the workplace. A further 50,000 die prematurely every year as a result of long term I’ll health acquired at work. Many more are seriously injured. In my branch of UNISON (representing around 1,500 people) sadly in this last year alone one of our members has been left permanently disabled and another with serious long term health issues.

According to our Health and Safety officer Mark, both of these incidents were caused by actions worse than negligent on the part of management.  The drive to cut costs by minimising legislation and cutting corners, that can leave workers seriously disabled or worse, makes this kind of behaviour increasing likely in the UK today.

Rates of industrial accidents have been gradually rising over the last few years as both Health and Safety regulation and the budget of the agency enforcing them have been cut by the Coalitions.  For years now right wing comics and TV personalities – like Clarkson – have demonized health and safety and turned it into a joke. This works in much the same way that media demonization campaigns have paved the way for cuts to the wider welfare state in general. The way health and safety discourses are conducted – couched in the terms of the names and dates of the legislative framework that created it – can be tedious. But it is an extremely important part of workplace safety and the rights that the labour movement has won us over generations of struggle.

Whilst sectors of the media denigrate health and safety legislation, and the coalition government carries out savage cut, employers are going on the offensive. Bristol made national news when revelation of the extensive use of a black list of health and safety stewards and activists by leading Bristol construction companies came to light. To maximise profits by undercutting health and safety standards at least 3,214 health and safety activists (ordinary people concerned about their welfare at work) were victimized and had their ability to work and provide themselves with a living severely curtailed.  The list most famously was in use on the construction of Cabot Circus.

We don’t have to look to the past to see how the all-consuming drive to profit inherent in our economic system, when not tapered by strong unions and health and safety legislation, leads to misery. Our contemporary world is full of depressing evidence. The working conditions in the parts of the world where most of the Wests cheap manufactured goods are produced are atrocious. Rates of injury and death are shockingly high and reminiscent of our early industrial past. Often adults and children work side by side in appalling conditions.

We don’t like to think about this blood involved in the production of our cheap consumables.  Occasionally workplace conditions are so despicable an ‘accident’ of such awful magnitude happens and pierces the veil of silence carefully constructed around it.   As in 2013 when over 1100 people were killed and a further 2500 injured in Rana Plaza Bangladesh when a sweatshop producing goods for a consortium of western companies collapsed. Just before this disaster the building had been deemed safe twice by inspectors working on behalf of Primark.

Rana Plaza just after its collapse in 2013

Rana Plaza just after its collapse in 2013

We may not like to think about these extreme levels of exploitation and death inherent in the international trade system; but the role of western multinationals in setting up this very system to supply our domestic consumption patterns is central and makes us all partly responsible. Rana Plaza is a case in point. In the wakes of the disaster the International Trade Union movement created and signed an accord on minimum safety standards in the garment industries of Bangladesh and Cambodia.

So far only three American owned factories have signed up. We see the violence inherent in the system flare up as Western Corporation repressively extract resources all across the global south. Indigenous leaders are murdered as they try to protect their lands from invasive oil drilling. Workers striking for better wages and conditions are brutalised by police and private guards. The Marikmana massacre of late 2012 is the most vivid and bloody example.  38 strikers were killed and at least 78 more were wounded when security and police representing the London based Lonmin mining corporation opened fire on them. The revelation that most of them where shot in the back whilst fleeing make it all the more horrifying.

Marikana_feature_2

Armed police with the miners they’ve just killed

If we want to change this horrifying state of affairs, changing the way we interact with our economic system to become more ethical consumers is a step in the right direction. But small scale individual change is never enough. We need to organize in our communities, workplaces and political parties to protect our health and safety and our living conditions; and we need to push these organizations to restructure the economic system that causes so much global misery.

Unions are especially relevant in this struggle for the role they play in protecting conditions at work; their role in the international labour movements attempt to improve conditions in the global south; and their involvement in community campaign to protect health and the environment. This last point can be illustrated locally by the part played by unions (including UNISON I’m happy to say) in supporting Avonmouth residents successful campaign to stop the building of a biomass energy plant. Large scale Biomass energy production accelerates deforestation and climate change, and emits toxic dust clouds that seriously impact health and can cause cancer.

Finally, to commemorate the victims of industrial ‘accidents’ around the world every year we celebrate International Workers memorial day. This year on the 28th of April we’ll be marking the occasion with a march from unite the union’s Tony Ben house (setting off at 12:30 pm) to a wreath laying in Castle Park, and a talk in the evening. The message is remember the dead and fight for the living. Come along, join and get active in a union, and make sure you use your vote this May (there’s less than a week left to register).

Flyer for the Bristol hazards group International Memorial Day talk

Flyer for the Bristol hazards group International Memorial Day talk

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Green Politics

My Green alternative platform for Hengrove

So that the people of Hengrove at least have the ability to vote for the Green Party should they want to, I’ve agreed to be the candidate in the coming local council elections.  Unfortunately in the past support for the Greens within Hengrove hasn’t been very strong, and as the Green Party is supported primarily through contributions from its members it sadly doesn’t have the resources to campaign hard in every ward.  I’d love to be able to go and try and speak to every resident and directly make the case for the Green alternative to the austerity business as usual politics of the establishment parties face to face, but we’re just not able to.  So instead I thought I should at least outline my core politics here so that if any Hengrove residents want to know about their local candidates and manage to find this site they can see what their Green option is offering them.

Obviously there are many many ways the council intersects with the lives of Bristolians, and many important issues that I would campaign on and attempt to address if elected.  To stop this post being too long I’m going to concentrate on four key areas that I personally think are going to be vitally important for any elected councillors to deal with.  The Bristol Green Party has a whole host of policies to deal with local issues, which I would broadly follow (as well as consulting with my constituents) to help me make these decisions and attempt to make a difference for local residents. 

Cuts and the economy

Some of the 50,000 people who marched through London 21/06/2014 Demanding the alternative to cuts and austerity

Some of the 50,000 people who marched through London 21/06/2014 Demanding the alternative to cuts and austerity

Cuts to public services and in particular the savage cuts to council budget are transforming the nature of both our welfare state and our local government. Regardless of which of the main parties forms the next government were going to be forced to endure another £30 billion of cuts by 2017.

Aside from their odious social impact cuts are flawed economically. Most economists agree that cuts have held back economic growth. On top of this austerity has greatly depressed wages, and with them tax returns. That is why the government has consistently missed its own targets; and why they have only cut the deficit by a third in numeric terms (a half as expressed as a percentage of GDP) when they said they would have eliminate it by now.

Services have already been cut to the bone.  Where this next round of devastating cuts will fall, and attempts to resist them will dominate the political landscape of the next few years.

We need our local politicians and our local communities, their organisations, trade unions, charities and campaigners all to work together if we are to have any hope of resisting. If elected I promise to fight for the people of Hengrove and Bristol and try to use the limited powers of local government to get a fairer deal for local residents.

I would never vote for ‘austerity’ council budgets and would instead press the council to demand a fairer alternative. I would use my position to amplify the voices of local residents and of campaigns and resistance to austerity and its social ills. This is work I already do as a volunteer organiser for the Bristol People’s Assembly, and as the Bristol Green Party Trade Union Liaison Officer. I would make this, and directly representing my constituents, central to my work on the council.

I would campaign for the Living Wage to be adopted across the city.

I would campaign to make council tax fairer and less regressive. 

I would campaign for the council to (like more than 60 other councils across the UK) call for the implementation of a ‘Robin Hood’ or Financial Transaction Tax (a tiny tax of about 0.05% on transactions made by banks, hedge funds and the financial sector) and any other progressive measures councils can promote to rebalance our economy in the interests of ordinary people.

The NHS and Public Services

Our public services, the people who provide them, and the people who depend on them are all being attacked to pay for the bailout of the banks.  The NHS in particular has been undermined by privatisation and being artificially run as a fragmented market system. Staff have had their wages depressed, and pensions attacked, whilst there are 35,000 less of them (and 10,000 less hospital beds) then in 2010 treating ever growing numbers of patients.

Everywhere there are campaigns attempting to resist these cuts and privatisation.  Last year I was proud to go on strike with my union and colleagues to fight for fair pay.  Just as important as anger over poverty pay was staff anger over creeping privatisation. I was privileged again this year to join the People’s March for the NHS in Bristol. Everywhere there is great anger among staff, patients and our wider communities as people see the damage being done to our health service.  We need to unite these campaigns if they are to be effective. And we need our representatives in local government to join us.  This is as true for the NHS as it is for any and all of our public services.

William Quick TULO, Tony Dyer Bristol South Parliamentary Candidate, and Deb Joffe Windmill hill ward candidate supporting the picket

William Quick TULO, Tony Dyer Bristol South Parliamentary Candidate, and Deb Joffe Windmill hill ward candidate supporting the picket

If I elected I will press the council to campaign for all local NHS services to be provided by the NHS and not the private sector. I will support all campaigns for fair pay for staff and all efforts to resist privatisation. In particular local campaigns to support the NHS reinstatement bill which is gaining support from across the political spectrum.  I will also fight to ensure all other public services, remain public, and be active in local campaigns to restore public ownership to public transport, energy and communications.

Housing

We’re facing a housing crisis in Britain, and particularly in Bristol. Short sighted housing policy (particularly right to buy which has reduced Bristol’s nearly 50,000 council homes of the 1970s to less than 30,000 today) and a lack of investment have left affordable homes in short supply.  Between 2011 and 2014 annual rents in Bristol increased by £1272; whilst wages fell by £1730 in real terms. Is it any wonder that homelessness is increasing?

Me and Darren Hall protesting against C J Hole's attempts to profiteer from the housing crisis and push up rents

Me and Darren Hall protesting against C J Hole’s attempts to profiteer from the housing crisis and push up rents

Me carrying my placard with C J Hole's unethical profiteering letter quote, filched from the BBC news website

Me carrying my placard with C J Hole’s unethical profiteering letter quote, filched from the BBC news website

I would press the council to make better use of its compulsory purchase orders to bring properties back on the market and object to any developments that didn’t contain a considerable proportion of affordable homes. The councils own requirement of 40% is not enough, but even this modest measure is far too infrequently followed.

As the sale of social housing and the encouraging of ‘buy to let’ have concentrated the ownership of property in the hands of an ever smaller number of people; tenants have been increasingly getting a bad deal. Their rights are frequently ignored, they face insecure tenancies, rip off letting fees and properties that are all too frequently poorly maintained. Across the UK 1/3 of privately rented homes now contain unacceptable levels of mould and damp

I will support campaign for tenants’ rights (like ACORNS ethical lettings charter), the abolition of letting fees, and the introduction of rent caps (as they have in Scotland); and I will campaign for longer and securer tenancies for renters.

Environment

Aside for the crises of inequality and poverty, the looming environmental crisis is the most series threatening our society (and species and planet as a whole).  I would encourage sustainability in everything the council does (especially energy, and procurement).  I would oppose fracking which is extremely damaging to the environment, is the completely wrong direction our energy policy needs to be taking, and puts private companies’ profits before the rights of home owners and communities.  I would be a vocal voice on the council for the campaign to divest from fossil fuel companies and make Bristol fossil free.  Finally I would join other Greens in campaigning for better air quality throughout our city (nationwide over 50,000 people die prematurely each year because of the polluted nature of our air).

Vote Green

We need strong alternative voices, prepared to fight for what they believe in and for ordinary people representing us if we are to have any chance of tackling the problems we face.  I believe I could be that voice for local people. If you want a strong independent alternative voice that’s committed to standing up for ordinary people and advancing social and environmental justice than I’d urge you to consider voting Green.

 

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