Thursday, July 31, 2014

Better Together UK - The Best of Both Worlds

The Referendum on Scottish independence is obviously a matter for people who live in Scotland. I am half Scottish and use to live in Scotland and if I lived there now, I would vote "No" to independence. However, I think the rest of the UK can also express their opinion and show their support for the union.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Has Matalan finally paid its dues into Rana Plaza compensation fund?...Or not?

I was going to post the urgent request from a colleague below tonight but it would appear from here that Matalan has finally done the "decent thing" (we think but let us get full details). Why they took so long and have damaged their brand by doing so is beyond me.

"Hi everyone
Can you please take 5 minutes to help?

We’ve got a day to turn this round – could you phone Matalan today and tell them to pay into the Rana Plaza compensation fund?

They are refusing to pay into the fund which was set up after the collapse of Rana Plaza. Their clothes (papaya jeans labels found in the rubble) were made at Rana Plaza. According to the Fund managers Matalan owe £3m to compensate the victims. Their excuse for not contributing is that they are working with an NGO called BRAC. Whilst accepting that BRAC does good work on poverty alleviation, etc, that will not compensate the families of the 1,129 who were killed or the more than 2,500 who were injured: some will never work again.....

Some more background:
38 Degrees campaign
Matalan statement
Label Behind the Label

The Spirit Level - Trailer

The Spirit Level - Trailer from Literally Films on Vimeo.

This is an excellent trailer which I recommend strongly. A number of unexpected contributors. "The Spirit Level tells the story of how the gap between rich and poor has risen to unprecedented levels, under our noses. But does it matter? We've be interweaving stories from across the globe to examine how it impacts on all our lives.

We have conducted in-depth research, both of the data and on the ground, identifying the personal stories that bring to life the bigger picture. We're thrilled to have completed filming across the US and UK, and to be taking the film into the edit.

We need your support to help us continue with the project and realise it's full potential. Please visit to find out how".

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

European Question time - MEP Panel #LabLink14

I am still catching up on posts from the UNISON National Labour Link Forum earlier this month.

After the Westminster debate with local MPs there was the "European Question Time" with MEP's Clare Moody, Anneliess Doods and Richard Howitt, who are all proud UNISON members.

At the beginning, London delegate Sanchia Alaisa was thanked by the Chair for her very credible performance standing as a MEP in London but who was not this time elected. .

Richard thought that despite the negative media coverage,  Labour actually had overall a fairly successful European result in May. There was a 50% increase in the Labour vote and we beat the Tories for the first time ever in a EU election. The BNP was wiped out but there are around 150 hard right MEPs in the EU Parliament and the Tories have joined a hard right grouping with parties who have MEPs with race hate convictions.

The MEPs at forum were also proud to be on the picket lines and rallies for Thursday strike over low pay. They understand why UK MPs may not feel able to do the same.

Claire spoke about how in the South West last time it was the only region not to have a Labour MEP. This time they nearly got 3. She believes that Ukip have poisoned the political well with their policies. She walked out of the EU Parliament when Farage spoke his nonsense.

Annilease talked about her campaign about agency staff in hospitals who had buy own shoes, didn't have secure employment contracts and were offered corridors to sleep in. We have seen a polarisation in politics and a "public v private" debate with the public sector being blamed for recession.

Young people and those on benefits are being demonised as well as the demonisation of migrants. There is a "Normalisation of racism". We need to challenge myths and the nonsense about "benefit tourism".

Final thought was about strong support for Social Europe.  Stop the race to bottom via Europe. Need growth and jobs but quality jobs and decent lives.

In the Q&A in response to a question on what would happen if there was an independent Scotland Richard thought that Spain would block Scotland joining the EU because they have got their own secession problems as does Belgium. Every member state can veto a new member joining as France did with the UK for many years. Also if it did become a new member of the EU it will under existing treaty have to join the EuroZone.

Monday, July 28, 2014

China - a personal journey : AMNT Summer Conference 2014

Another late post on the AMNT Summer Conference. Lin Yue is an executive director with Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

Her presentation on "China - a personal journey" was more interesting and very different from the usual asset management talk.

Lin wanted us to better understand Chinese culture and history. She  used her journey from being the daughter of a family persecuted in the Cultural Revolution to becoming a Oxford graduate and working for Goldman Sachs.

She was born in the 10th biggest city in Northern China.  She remembers as a child the first ever TV advert she ever saw "Head and Shoulders" but remembers wondering "What is dandruff"?

China has 55 minority groups and a population of 1.3 billion. There is a huge economic imbalance between the west and east. While in the north they are supposed to be more open minded, taller and speak better mandarin than in the south. Which is somewhat similar (but inverted) to the UK North/South divide.

China may be the 2nd largest economy but in a survey Americans were asked who will be the next world super power and 70% of them said China but in China itself only 30% thought this.

Historically China use to be a rich country with a high world GNP but it missed out on the industrial revolution and in the 19th Century was invaded by Britain and and Japan. This lead to a "Victim economy".  Sensitivity over international criticism of China over Taiwan and Tibet is due to the widespread belief that "the West" is still out to get China.

Lin's parents were sent to work in the fields by the State when they were aged 16 for 3 long and difficult years. Many in the West wonder why Mao Zedong is still on its banknotes. In China people tend to see the State as part of their family and the Head of State as the Head of their family. Life under even the worse excesses of Mao was also thought to be better than living in a Japanese colony. 

Since Deng Xiaoping's "who cares if a good cat is black or white" reforms, China has been transformed. The one child policy has led to 200 million little emperors but there is huge expectations on these children to succeed. Her mother bought her a piano at age 3. It cost £150 and to pay for it her mother had to work overtime every weekend for 3 years.

In the post 1980s materialism many do not believe in communism but in money. There is a saying that "No flat, No love". Success in English equates to success in life. However, while young people are privately negative about the state they will defend criticism by the West on China as they would on a family member.

Ironically in China women want to be as white as possible while the UK Women want a tan. In the UK people want to stop driving their car and ride bicycles while in China everyone wants to give up their bikes and drive a car.

In China people respect their parents, teachers and their leaders. China is multi dimensional country with a traumatic past. It is likely that China will become more like Hong Kong in the future. Less Mao and more Jackie Chan.

Will the Communist Party give up power in China? Ask yourself would any political party give up power anywhere? The Communist Party has been in power for 60 years but has probably changed as much as in any 2 party state. The argument is that "Responsive authoritarianism" works for China but the ability to keep generating future GDP growth will be key to its survival. 

(apologies for any misquotations or mistakes due to my amateur and hurried note taking)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The West Ham Big Community Iftar

Last Thursday evening after the West Ham CLP General Committee meeting (see post on speech by Guest speaker Professor Ken Spours) we moved next door in the Harold Road Community Centre, E13 to participate in a Community Iftar (the breaking of the fast during Ramadan).

This was organised by the Sheba Project and supported by the Big Iftar - an initiative to bring people of all faiths and none together during Ramadam to share Iftar.

We had a talk by an Islamic teacher about what fasting means to Muslims and were invited to share the breaking of the fast by eating dates and drinking water. After the mobile phones had confirmed that the fast was over - there was probably one of the most successful and inclusive community events I have ever attended.

Lots of lovely food, soft drinks, laughter and good conversation.

Many thanks to all the organisers for (I exaggerate not) a truly wonderful event.

West Ham GC Open Meeting - Professor Ken Spours Institute of Education.

On Thursday we had Professor Ken Spours as our guest speaker for our West Ham CLP General Committee meeting which was open to all members.

After his presentation we had a community Iftar (breaking of the fast during Ramadan) event which I will post upon next.

Due to a work commitment I came in a little late but as I came in I heard Ken extolling the education system found in the "Nordic arc of prosperity" as well as parts of Canada. He wants to reverse some of the extreme Anglo Saxon education models such as the "Grove Revolution" in the UK.  Michael Gove's privatisation has led to one of the most centralised and politicised education systems in the world.

The emphasis on early assessment leads to young people being labelled and not assessed. Ken gave an example of a bright 6 year son of one of his neighbours whose assessment report was next to useless but labelled him as below average with no real evidence.

Ken admitted that he use to be a member of the Communist Party for many years, mind you, he was  "a Euro-communist not a Stalinist".

 Ken believes that you must always accentuate the positive. We need a climbing frame concept of eduction. Educators should not lead from the front or be behind but by their students side. Help people to discover their own talents. This "helping hand" approach he first found in Tanzania.

Unemployment may be going down from a very high level but the young are losing out and are now the new poor. We need inter-generational justice. The Tories prefer inter-generational war. He would prefer class war. But not a Marxist class war (despite still being a Marxist).

As well as a New Education system we need a new type of economy and politics. In one way he liked Gove more than Ed Balls. When Balls was the Secretary of State for Education it was the "peace of the grave yard" and there was no debate. The mass raving debates on education under Grove is much better.

Labour did many good things but Labour cannot just tell teachers what to do. Tristram Hunt MP gets this bottom up approach. We need new values.  Education is too important to be left to politicians. We need an independent Council for Education. Other countries plan ahead for 10 years rather than our 3 year political cycles.

Education should not humiliate kids at schools and should stop damaging them. The future is about being creative. Ken sees top Chinese students at his university who fall apart when asked to work by themselves. Values are the glue of system. The more people understand what to do the less we have to tell them.

He once had to sit next at a dinner to Gove and listen to him say that the most important thing a young person should know is facts such as "where is Belgian?". While Ken accepts that young people have to know certain things. You really need to put them in different and difficult circumstances and not just enter them for a 12th GCSE. What is the use? We live in a problem world not a subject world.

We need a baccalaureate system and hopefully we will have one soon . Students will have to undertake a research project as well as voluntary work.

Ken believed that the Tory attitudes over the schools in Birmingham which are claimed to face an Islamic takeover is hypocritical since they had removed the powers of local authorities to properly  supervise schools.

All schools should be in the same "family of schools". Schools should be accountable to each other and parents. A new settlement would give autonomy and collaboration.

Schools are not an island. We need more confident teachers. We now recruit probably the best we ever had. But they tend to be technically good but cultural poor. The current system gives them the incentive to cheat. All teachers should take a Hippocratic oath. To do no harm but fight for better education. Get a discussion of values and why they are here.

Finally, Education must fully integrated communities. It use to be said that school is bad but better than work. We need to have confident workers who have control. A hall mark of a fully comprehensive system is true life long learning. If we get this then we can have our 1948 moment.

In the Q&A there were many questions. In mine I said that I agreed with much of what he said but felt there was a danger of romanticising comprehensive schools. I went to a former secondary modern turned comprehensive in the late 1970s. While there was a handful of excellent and dedicated teachers who helped me, for many working class kids, comprehensive schools failed them. I was lucky and got a decent eduction but most of my contemporaries did not.

Ken agreed that there were some very poor comprehensive schools were some teachers just gave up. But the problem was not that they were comprehensive but that its values were not fully implemented. There was also the economic crisis's of the 1970s and for many the education they got in a comprehensive was still better than they would have got beforehand.

He compared the criticism he use get as a member of the Communist Party because of the actions of the Soviet Union. People would ask him how could be a communist and he would counter by saying that the Soviet Union was never a socialist state. (I take his point but I am not totally convinced)

It was an excellent and well attended debate and when large CLPs moan about the lack of attendance at GC meetings then they should think of similar ways to encourage members to attend.

Hat tip Julianne Marriott for photo.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Gaza PSC Protest and March - London 26 July

Today I spoke on behalf of UNISON at the protest outside the Israeli Embassy in London. I then joined the well supported march with West Ham Labour Party colleagues which went around Hyde Park, Whitehall and past Parliament.

This was my speech. "I bring solidarity and greetings on behalf of my trade union UNISON. My name is John Gray and I am the UNISON Vice Chair of the London International Committee and a National Executive member.

The actions in Gaza are disproportionate and illegal. The UN must act now. The EU must act. The UK government must act. The evidence shows that the actions of the Israeli Defence Force are illegal in international law so why is the international community dragging its feet?

The rising death toll of innocent civilians cannot be justified. Israel has a responsibility to respond to the rocket attacks judiciously – it has not done so, and the latest bombing of the UN school is disgraceful and beyond comprehension.

 UNISON has always supported the policy of a two-state solution. We recognise the right of Palestinians to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza strip with its capital in Jerusalem. To have a viable Palestinian state Israel must comply with international law and withdraw to the 1967 borders.

The illegal settlements continue to dispossess, humiliate and terrorise the people who are the rightful owners of the land that has been occupied. We will continue to campaign against the illegal settlements.

Our links with Palestine have been established over many years. As a trade union we support workers in Palestine, in Israel and in the occupied territories to achieve their rights. We do this through delegations, projects and campaigns to support the rights of Palestinians and of Arabs within Israel who are often treated as 2nd class citizens.

We support the Workers’ Advice Centre WAC-MAAN who organise workers inside Israel. Their director, Assaf Adiv, and another WAC-MAAN activist Yoav Tamir were arrested this week on a picket line outside a garage, that was refusing to enter into negotiations with their workers. The fact that it was they who called the police because of thugs who were trying to break up the strike gives an indication of how victims are being portrayed as aggressors, and how basic rights are being violated.

We call on both sides to reach a cease fire. The only viable alternative to the current conflict in the region is a political arrangement: the principles of which are embedded in the long-existing UN resolutions.

No more lives must be lost. It is time to call a cease fire. It is time for international law to be upheld. It is time for the safety, dignity and rights of the people of Gaza to be restored.

The horror must end".

Update: I have been sent a link to a video of speech. Hat tip Simon Carr.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Westminster Question Time #LabLink14

Trying to catch up with posts from UNISON Labour Link National Forum 2014 earlier this month.

The first speaker on "Westminster Question Time" was  UNISON member and local MP, Dawn Primarolo. Dawn has been the MP for Bristol South since 1987. In fact in 1987 Dawn was the only Labour MP to be elected in the whole of the South West of England.

She is currently a deputy speaker at the House of Commons (official title "Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means").  Dawn said she had been asked whether use to be a teacher? She says, no, she learnt to cope as Speaker by being a parent.

At the moment Dawn is trying to stop the privatisation of a local Bristol GP Surgery.  A contract has been put out but it is totally unclear who is responsible and despite it being a 14 day process, the local NHS is refusing to speak to her, because it may "compromise" the tender.  Dawn asked the Labour Party to make it clear that we are not going to allow the privatisation of our NHS.

Dawn is also campaigning on the "Living Wage" and is asking the Mayor of Bristol why in a rich city, we are not paying everyone a living wage? Dawn is standing down as an MP in 2015 but is pleased that an excellent unison member, Karin Smyth, is replacing her as our candidate.

Next speaker on the panel was Kerry McCarthy MP for Bristol East.   Kerry supported the call for a Living Wage but also asked for the banning of "zero hour" employment contracts, which cause misery to many of her constituents. She also attacked the proposed privatisation of cancer services by this Government. Kerry pointed out that all of us here now know what will happen to the NHS if the Tories get in again in 2015.

During the Q&A the panel were asked what they thought of "Executive Mayors". Dawn responded that she was not a fan of executive mayors and thought they were undemocratic. There is now an opportunity with the Labour plan to devolve powers to look again at the system.. For one person to hold all this power without any accountability is wrong, no matter how good they are.

When asked about priorities of a new Labour Government Kerry said that there is a massive task and a lot to do since this Government had spent the last 4 years destroying all what we have done.

To a (leading) question about the Scottish referendum (by a Scottish delegate) "Is separation better or should we stand together and fight together?"Dawn replied "I'm for the union. All the gains we have ever got have been made by fighting together". 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Invitation to West Ham GC and Community Iftar (all CLP members) 24 July

*GC CHANGE OF VENUE - Harold Road NOT 306 High St*

24 July: All members meeting (GC) followed by community Iftar

West Ham CLP is joining a community Iftar (breaking of the fast during Ramadan) as part of our all members meeting (GC) on 24 July.
Our GC meeting, usually held at 306 High St, Stratford, will instead be at Harold Road Community Centre (170 Harold Rd, E13 0SE). We start at 7.30pm, as usual, and our guest speaker is Professor Ken Spours, from the Institute of Education.

At 8.45 we'll join our MP Lyn Brown and friends and neighbours for a community Iftar (meal) organised by The Sheba Project and supported by the Big Iftar - an initiative to bring people of all faiths and none together during Ramadam to share Iftar.
We really hope you will join us for GC and/or Iftar (guests are very welcome for Iftar). You are also invited to bring a dish to share. 
General Election campaign
West Ham CLP is getting ready to campaign for the 2015 General Election. If you'd like to be part of the group planning, fundraising and delivering the campaign please get in touch by emailing

We look forward to seeing you on Thursday (more info about venue etc below)

With very best wishes
Julianne Marriott (Vice-Chair Comms and Campaigns)
Harold Road
Harold Road Community centre is no more than a 10 minute walk from either Plaistow or Upton Park station and less than a 10 min walk away from Kennedy Close stop on the 241, 262, 473 or St Anthony’s Road stop on the 104 or 238.
Get in touch if you have any questions and to RSVP to Aisha or Julianne