Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ken’s Café

I met up with Ken Livingstone and Labour Assembly candidate, John Biggs this morning at West Ham FC for a tour of Forest Gate and East Ham.

Ken launched the latest Labour Party billboard, “Don’t Vote for a Joke – Vote for London” (about you know who) then on route to East Ham stopped off at “Ken’s Cafe” (opposite Queens Market) for a mug of tea and bacon butty. He gave a number of interviews to press and media inside the Cafe. The tea was very good value at only 50p in a real china mug.

In recognition of my many talents I was given the crucial and vitally important role of a Labour Party balloon holder by Scottish organiser Katie. Who later deprived me of this honour in order to give the balloon’s to Mrs “Ken’s Cafe” grandchildren.

They then took the tube to East Ham and we walked down to the indoor market. Despite the rain people seemed genuinely thrilled to meet Ken and John. In these surroundings Ken was in his absolute element.

If we can transfer this enthusiasm, recognition and support into actual votes on the Day – Labour and Ken will walk it. Things are somewhat different in the outer London Tory boroughs, so we need to maximise the Vote in “City and East” Constituency (Newham, Tower Hamlets and Barking & Dagenham) to win. We’re doing our best. It's now less than 24 hours to save London from Boris!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

48 hours to save London from Boris

Busy day, like many Labour activists I got just a little bit wet this morning delivering the last of our local ward leaflets.

I also thought that my time was finally up when I opened the garden gate of a terrace house, which had its front door slightly open. Once the gate closed behind me, the largest Alsatian dog known to man came charging out of the house barking furiously. I managed to make a very rapid retreat and ran out into the pavement and closed the gate behind me. As I did, I still thought I was doomed since the wolf was absolutely bloody enormous and could have easily jumped over the gate (or rather stepped over it).

However, it stayed in the garden, barking happily, obviously very pleased with itself for protecting its pack and lair from intruders. There was occasional semi-humanoid bleating noises from inside the house about “Rex – shut up” or something like that.

After work I spent part of the evening ringing up ward organisers and Party members trying to make last minute arrangements for tomorrow evening and Thursday.

Actually a lot of the hard graft has been carried out by our “Scottish Organisers”. Many, many thanks for their hard work and support.

I dropped off UNISON plastic bags full of Labour “eve of poll” postcards to volunteers on the way home. Had a conversation with a Party supporter and family (who also had to protect me from their family mutt) who were just incredulous that Boris had any chance of becoming mayor.

Many people think Boris is such a joke that he will never be elected. I gently remind people that in Hartlepool they elected a Monkey as a Mayor.

Ring of Democracy – Keep Nazis out of London


Following the WMD rally, there was straight away a symbolic “ring of democracy” formation around City Hall. This was organised by SERTUC and other London unions, especially UNISON which represents staff who are employed at the GLA.

There had been a bit of a “hick up” since there was a water main burst which meant that City Hall was actually closed since there was no water supply. The GLA UNISON banner was locked away and unavailable so they carried the UNISON London regional Banner.

The “ring of democracy” went ahead successfully. UNISON London regional Convenor Gloria Hanson (left in picture) and GLA UNISON branch secretary Teresa Askew (see next to Gloria) both spoke about their member’s horror about the prospect of having to work for any BNP Assembly members.

Hopefully of course this will not happen. However, it depends on turn out. High turnout means no Nazi /BNP in the London Assembly;

Low turnout means that London will have Nazi/BNP in the assembly.

Please do whatever you can to maximise the vote (and of course to vote Labour – warts and all).

Monday, April 28, 2008

Workers Memorial Day – Rally outside London City Hall

This afternoon I was on a Unison Regional Council Officer “Away day” in central London. During lunchtime a few of us went to the Greater London Assembly, City Hall to take part in the Workers Memorial Day (WMD - see picture) rally.

As previously posted WMD is an international Day of Remembrance of workers who have been killed at work or have died of diseases linked to work. It is also a campaigning day to stop workers being hurt in the first place. The rally had a number of speakers from trade unions, safety organisations and families who have lost loved ones.

According to the ILO over two million workers are killed due to work every year world wide.

This rally was quite subdued and poignant. Especially when speakers spoke about family members who had been “killed” while at or due to work and their long, long legal battles for justice.

Last year West Ham Labour Party held a “minute’s silence” outside Forest Gate Youth Centre, with Lynn Brown MP, local councillors and Party activists.

There were actually two events outside City Hall - “back to back”. The WMD rally and the anti-Nazi/BNP “Ring of Democracy” around City Hall (see next post).

Sunday, April 27, 2008

South East Region TUC AGM 2008

Yesterday morning I had to skive off from Labour Party street stalls and canvassing to attend the SERTUC (South East Region Trade Union Congress) AGM at Congress House.

I am a first time UNISON delegate. London UNISON Convenor, Gloria Hanson was there to show me the ropes.

It was well attended with about 100 delegates from 17 affiliated trade unions and a number of TUC trade councils from all over London and South East England.

There were really interesting speakers such as Adrian Weir from Unite, who spoke about a recent trade union visit to Palestine and the pretty disastrous situation for everyone in that deeply unhappy and divided region.

Ivan Beavis, spoke somewhat wittily on the need of the Labour movement to support the Morning Star newspaper. It is not apparently anymore the Party organ of the Communist Party but the only real “Paper of the Left”. You may not agree with all its arguments and editorials but it is the only national newspaper that will bother to report on trade union and Labour movement issues. I know I should read the “Morning Star” but to be frank I find it difficult to find the time to read any printed newspaper nowadays, never mind the mass of specialist trade union, political, safety, Pension and housing magazines that I should be wading through. It’s a poor excuse I know, but there you go. Fair play to Ivan for at least making us smile.

Not a smiling matter in the least was the speech by senior Shelter Unite Shop steward, Elizabeth O’Hara. Shelter (the housing charity) had their 3rd and 4th day of strike action last week and are due to go on strike again next week for 2 days. The strike is over a proposed significant reduction in pay, terms and conditions for many staff. They are meeting management on Monday and I hope something get sorted out. The strike seems to be getting even more bitter than before and must resolved ASAP.

There were also guest speakers from Malawi trade unions who phrased the South African Dockers who refused to unload arms and munitions for the dictator Mugabe in Durban and called for international intervention in Zimbabwe to bring democracy to that country.

There was a lot of support for Ken in the GLA elections and of course defeating the BNP. Steve Hart the London regional secretary of Unite pointed out that some 3,500 of his members who work as cleaners have benefited from the London Living Wage of £7.20 per hour. Ken has announced that as soon as Metronet (one of the underground contractors that have gone bust) is taken over by the GLA, their low paid minimum wage (£5.52) staff will also benefit from the GLA Living wage commitment.

The GLA UNISON shop is apparently nearly 100% density, as you could imagine with the workforce fearing the prospect of Boris as their boss and BNP Assembly members.

No matter what you think about Ken (or the Labour Party for that matter) you must want Boris to lose. It is no use just moaning about Boris or dismissing him as a buffoon, he could well win. If you don’t want him to win you have to actively campaign against him. If you shut your eyes and pretend he doesn’t exist he will not just go away. Personally, I wish SERTUC had postponed the traditional May 1st parade and should have encouraged trade unionists to either be “knocking up” for Labour or handing leaflets out for Searchlight. I’m disappointed to miss this years March (see 2007). But I think it is far more important to stop Boris.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

LBTH Friends, the Deputy Mayor and Fab.

Last night I went to a London Borough Tower Hamlets Council (LBTH) staff reunion with a slight difference. Top former Globetown (St James Local Housing Office) Housing officer, Dinur (Dula) Rahman had organised a meal for LBTH staff that work or have worked in the former Globetown neighbourhood area.

I worked with Dula in St James (now alas closed) a couple of years ago. He has moved on and neither of us now work for the Council.

Dula had not only booked the very good Kaya Restaurant in Hanbury Street, E1 (just off Brick Lane) but had arranged delicious food and drink.

To everyone’s surprise he had also arranged as guest of honour, the deputy mayor of Tower Hamlets, (Labour) Councillor Ali, to attend as well as well as local MTV singing star “Fab”, who of course arrived in a Stretched limo. I have never been to a council staff reunion with a pop star. However, this is after all Tower Hamlets. Fab asked me not to post her photo since she is due to lauch a new single soon on MTV.

A good time was had by all even though existing staff in the Tower Hamlets Housing directorate are feeling just a bit bashed around recently. The Council is trying to transfer all its existing social housing to an ALMO. At least one current member of staff present was under notice of redundancy.

Picture above is of some of the people present (most good UNISON members of course). Dula is far left (not in the literal sense of the word of course).

It is a funny old world at times.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tackling the CPA in Canning Town South

Yesterday evening we had a Newham wide Labour Party mass canvass in Canning Town South. This is one of only 2 wards in the borough that are represented by Non-Labour Councillors. The so-called “Christian Peoples Alliance” (CPA) holds all 3 seats in this ward. Their leader is the awful Old Testament fundamentalist and super egotist Alan Craig.

While I am sure that the vast majority of CPA supporters are sincere about their concerns and beliefs. I believe that Craig has deliberately stoked up division between our communities in Newham in order to appeal to his own vast personal vanity that he is some sort of “an important thingy”. For example he attacks the building of a big mosque in East London despite supposedly being a religious leader himself? Would he object to a big Christian church in Newham? Let me think about this for a moment? Nope, of course not.

Recently Tom Duncan, of the local weekly newspaper, the “Newham Recorder” compared leaflets put out by the CPA with those of the BNP.

We had 50 Newham Labour Party activists out and about in Canning Town South, knocking on doors, delivering leaflets and talking to local people about the forthcoming election.

I ended up in a canvass team with Newham Councillors, Andrew Baikie and Lester Hudson (see action pic at Stubbs Point tower block). I think we had a very good reception. Some of the other canvassers apparently had some problems with BNP supporters. I met no body willing to admit that they supported the CPA (or BNP).

Again, another positive canvass. Must not be carried away by this since most boroughs in London are not currently natural Labour territory.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

WMD Monday 28 April 2008

A quick reminder that this coming Monday 28th April is International Workers Memorial Day.

This is an annual health & safety day that remembers those who have been killed while at work or have died of industrial diseases. It also is a campaigning day to improve health and safety at work to try and prevent such unnecessary deaths.

I think that many people know of a friend, relative or work colleague who has died prematurely from a work related illness or accident.

There are local events across the country. Check out the TUC website to see if anything is happening near you.

There is a rally and March in London. Gather at Holland Street, London SE1 beside the Tate Modern at 10.30 and then march to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) headquarters in Southwark Street for a rally with speakers.

Next march to City Hall, London SE1 for the main rally with speakers (from trade unions, campaigners and the families of those killed at or by work).

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Labour St George Stall on Green Street.

After work I met up with West and East Ham CLP Labour activists, Newham Labour Councillors and Labour City & East Candidate, John Biggs, in Green Street for a “Superstall” (see picture).

We set up in the usual position opposite Barclays Bank. We were giving out the famous West Ham Labour Party balloons to children who promised faithfully to vote Labour when they were 18.

We also handed out leaflets outside the local underground station and sent canvassing teams into the neighbouring streets.

I thought that we had a really good reception. While I appreciate that the opinion polls are very tight and there is no room for any complacency, I thought the electoral atmosphere was "positive".

The activists I spoke to were really pleased with the news about the protection for low paid taxpayers who had lost out from the abolition of the 10p tax rate. Well done Alistair and Gordon for listening to what was a simple but potentially dangerous situation that just needed sorting ASAP.

I don’t think now that the Labour Party will be damaged in the long term at all by this. The Party and the Government has shown the wider world it will listen and if necessary act to sort out any damaging policies. (While we are at it - how about equality for agency workers next?)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

48 hours of Joy and Sorrow

A very powerful unofficial YouTube video on why Ken should be returned as Mayor of London. This has been out for a few days now but it was only tonight that I saw it for the first time.

Forget the politics for a moment, to me this video illustrates why Ken, despite his imperfections is fit for office and why Boris, despite his imperfections is not.

This video I think is worth a view by all Londoners who experienced 7/7, no matter what you think of Labour.

Hat tip to Hopi Sen

Monday, April 21, 2008

"Out and About" in Plaistow North

I was going to call this post “The Magnificent Seven” but luckily sanity prevailed. Of course there were 8 of us including my good self and more members arrived during the course of this particular canvass.

However, I do like yesterday’s photo of Lyn Brown MP, local councillors and West Ham CLP Party members, just before we went off to carry out voter ID for the GLA elections in Plaistow.

I felt that it went pretty well. Ray and (Cllr) Jon even recruited a new Party member.

People were pleased I think on the whole, that we were calling at their homes to canvass their views and ask for their support. At one house when I pressed the door bell, instead of a ringtone it played an Islamic recorded greeting "As sala'amu alaikum" (peace be upon you) - which was nice (they were out).

One lady responded to my pitch by saying “We are teachers; of course we will be voting Labour”. Which was even better. I thought it best not to mention the forthcoming NUT /UCU strike this Thursday. However, one of our keenest canvassers that day is also one of the chief organisers of the strike at his FE college (they are also “out” the same day). Education is not a direct responsibility for Ken or the Assembly in any case (yet).

At one of my last visits the occupant was visibly horrified when I asked him who he will be voting for on May 1st. He said "that was between me and the ballot box”. However, when I said “fine, sorry to bother you, here is a leaflet for Ken and John Biggs – hope you will consider voting for Labour”, he turned round and said “Oh, don’t worry mate, we always vote Labour, just it’s none of your business asking”.

This is fair enough I suppose. Mind you, if he doesn’t vote that day, we will be “knocking him up” (early and often).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Union Jack flies proudly in Upton Lane

On route to canvass for the Labour Party in Plaistow this morning, I got caught up behind a Sikh Charity Bike ride in Upton Lane, London E7. There were about 150 riders escorted by what looked like NHS medics on quad bikes. The ride was raising funds for the Richard House Children’s Hospice in Becton, E16.

The event was also to celebrate Vaisakhi (which I understand is a Sikh harvest holiday and the start of the solar year). It was started that morning in Ilford by the mayors of Redbridge, Newham and Barking and Dagenham.

On route there were people handing sweets to drivers and passer-bys, which were most appreciated by those of us who had to try and deal with “the morning after the night before hangovers”.

Especially when you are about to go door knocking and asking the great British public for their votes.

Although of course I am Welsh/Scots, I felt it was good to see the emphasis that the organisers had made on promoting the Union Jack and the Cross of St George (the National flags of Britain and England – see photo). Stick this in your pipe and smoke it Barnbrook.

Why Unions think "Ken Rocks"

London TULO has set up a new Ken and Labour Party supporting website “Ken Rocks”.

"As London Trade Unions, we support Ken
because he will deliver a better London and
a better work/life balance for Londoners
." TULO


These are the reasons put forward on why unions support Ken and the Labour Assembly members.

Londoners at work

Trade unionism is alive in London

Supporting trade unionism as the best way to ensure that workers receive fair pay, conditions and pensions.

London Living Wage set at £7.20 an hour for 2007 to take account of the cost of living in London – all GLA Group employees paid no less than the Living Wage.

Implementing fair employment clauses in public contracts, to ensure that proper pay, conditions and trade union rights are not undermined.

Thousands of newly licensed taxi drivers now in trade unions.

Londoners getting to work

London is now seeing the biggest public transport investment programme since the Second World War.

World-class bus service
Night bus network almost doubled, from 57 routes in 2000 to 100 routes from 2006.

8,000 London buses now modern, low floor and wheelchair-accessible.

All buses are now fitted with CCTV - making you safer.

Over 90% of all London’s households are now within 400 metres of a bus stop.

Tube and rail
More than 30 London Underground stations refurbished and renovated.

New £16bn Crossrail line to be constructed.

New ‘London Overground’ service, bringing metrostyle services to Hackney for the first time, and south to West Croydon and Crystal Palace.

Fares kept down
A 21st century transport system - 10 million Oyster Card’s have been issued!

Free bus and tram travel for under-18s in full-time education.

Single bus fares cut from £1 to 90p, and weekly bus pass down from £14 to £13.

The Freedom Pass for older and disabled Londoners defended from Tory attacks.

Londoners after work

More low cost, affordable rental homes for Londoners

Reversed disastrous Tory policy of curbing affordable rental house building, with 28,000 new homes this year, up from 17,000 in 1999.

Requirement that 50% of all new homes are affordable to Londoners.

Plan for 50 000 new affordable homes over the next 3 years, supported by £4b from government.

New Housing Strategy also includes measures to increase supply of affordable family sized homes to address problems of over-crowding.

Londoners deserve a Mayor who takes London seriously

Spartacists Squabble with ....Bolsheviks

I thought that folks might be interested by this stroppy email below, which was sent on Friday, by the “Partisan Defence Committee” (PDC) in relation to yesterday’s so-called “United-front” protest in London. This was held in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia is a former “Black Panther” prisoner who is held on death row for murder in the USA.

A bit of background – the email was sent to the even more grandly named “International Bolshevik Tendency (Britain)” which many years ago split (or was thrown out – depending whose version you believe) of the “Spartacists League” which is supported by the PDC.

Since this split these two tiny factions have spent their time largely writing pamphlets about the respective “splitters” and calling each other names.

I have no doubt that this glorious future awaits Respect! (Whether they call themselves Respect Renewal, Continuity or Left List)

Apart from the childish in-fighting, do people really believe that the meaningless sloganising used actually signifies anything nowadays? How many of the “30,000” Brummie trade union “supporters” mentioned will have turned up (or even have the faintest idea that the protest is going on)?

Enjoy!


Sent: Friday, April 18, 2008 4:24 PM
Subject: Letter from PDC to IBT re united-front protest for Mumia's freedom

To: International Bolshevik Tendency (Britain)
From: Partisan Defence Committee, London
Subject: London united-front protest for Mumia’s freedom on 19 April

17 April 2008

We have approached your organisation on two occasions to endorse the above united-front protest which is part of an international series of protests initiated by the Partisan Defense Committee in the US and its fraternal defence organisations in other countries. The slogans of the demonstrations are: “Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent! Free Mumia now! Abolish the racist death penalty!” Over the last two weeks more than 300 organisations and individuals have endorsed the united-front demonstrations including trade unions representing thousands of workers, minority organisations, civil liberties groups and other campaigns from the US to South Africa to Mexico. In Britain, one message offers “the support of the 30,000 members of the Communication Workers Union in the Midlands Region”, while a variety of organisations such as the Marcus Garvey Organising Committee and Afrikan Liberation Day Organising Committee are mobilising for and speaking at the event, in addition to a number of trade unionists and campaigning organisations.

We first asked for your organisation’s endorsement at your “planning” meeting in London on Thursday 3 April. Your organisation refused to endorse the PDC-initiated London demonstration. Subsequent to this an advertisement appeared on your website and elsewhere for a demonstration to be held at the same time and place as the PDC-initiated united front. Again, on 9 April we emailed you an endorsement form. To date we have received no reply. Attached is an endorsement form.

In the interests of fighting for Mumia’s freedom, we think it is obvious that there should be one demonstration. We are prepared to offer speaking time to you and to those organisations that have endorsed your demonstration.

Yours,
K... K.....

Saturday, April 19, 2008

At last some truth about Immigration and Social Housing

Back from a birthday celebration break in deepest, darkest Devon to read a welcome account in “Inside Housing” about research by the “Equality & Human Rights Commission” into the British housing allocations system.

Unlike the nonsense and “Big lies” pedalled by the BNP, the commission reported categorically that there was “no evidence in the research of any abuse of the system including “queue jumping” to the significant detriment of any group including white families”.

The reality is that “new migrants made up less than 2 per cent of the total number of people in social housing throughout the UK. Around 90 per cent of those living in social housing are born in the UK”.

There is still of course the problem that the perception of “queue jumping” and unfairness still exists. This report will help tackle this mis-perception, although I doubt it has been widely covered in “The Sun” or the “Daily Mail”?

For decades we have also had a corrosive policy of allowing Council homes to be sold under the “right to buy” without these rented homes being replaced. This has led to not only rapidly changing communities but scarcity and perceived competition between communities for homes and shelter.

Thankfully we are now planning to build new homes in London (Ken willing).

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Have a Break


Having a break from from blogging for a few days. Apologies for any delay in responding to comments.

Good luck to the London marathon runners tomorrow. Most will do better than the 4:24 it took me in 2002! (Never, ever again)

Friday, April 11, 2008

‘Give me a Cab Coleman’

The London “Metro” has a really good piece about the Tory deputy leader of the GLA, Brian Coleman, and “Cab-gate”. The Metro states that Brian notched up cab bills for himself equal in cost to that of the entire other 25 London assembly members including Ken.

He paid £1,000’s in cab fares when he had in fact free travel on the London transport system. In one day he made a claim of nearly £700! The Metro claim he spent over £10,000 compared to an average £845 for other assembly members.

He now claims that he has to have a taxi because as “deputy leader”, he has to wear his "Civic chain of office". Others claim that he does not have to openly wear his “bling” on route and can put it in a case while on the bus! Coleman seems to think also that there are diamonds in his chain. The London Assembly state that they are not precious stones.

Labour assembly member Murad Qureshi (UNISON member) is quoted: ' He justifies getting taxis everywhere because he wears his bling around. There's no reason for him even to be wearing it.' Green party assembly member Jenny Jones called him shameless and said he should 'leave the bling behind'.

Of course one of the most interesting things about Coleman’s Taxi bill is that it largely occurred after he got a ban for 6 months from driving following speeding offices.

So we now have to pay for his criminal behaviour?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

UNISON SGE Elections

My ballot papers for the SGE elections came through the door this morning. I am standing with Irene Stacey as part of the Centre Left slate for the London Local Government seats.

I am going for the London General Seat while she is standing for the Female Seat. There are no nominations for the low paid seat in London Local Government.

In the Health SGE elections there is also centre left slate – Layla Rumble, Bill Beekoo and Rachel Voller. All are UNISON Labour Link supporters and active Party members.

If you are a member of UNISON in London, please consider voting for us.

Standing against us are candidates supported by the “United Left” (which is dominated by the Socialist Workers/Respect Party- aka SWP), the Socialist Party (aka SPEW) and an independent (aka “Razor”).

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Red Rose-tinted Glasses and the Pension Protection Fund

Another excellent post by ex-TUC pensions expert, Tom P, in his “Labour and Capital” blog. Tom has a dig at the Tory dominated Financial press who constantly attack the government for “interfering” in their industry. If they were just left alone everything would just be sweetness and light. Yeah.

It beggars belief that anyone in the British Financial services industry think that they can rest on their laurels and be trusted to be left alone? Time and time again, the industry has proved itself incapable of self-regulation and driven by short term self interest. I’m not just sticking the boot in over present day difficulties over the US sub-prime mortgages and Northern Rock. In my life time, there has been a constant drip-drip of financial crisis’s and scandals by so-called “respected” Financial institutions. Do I really need to list them all?

Tom contrasts the collective failure of the industry to do anything about companies that go bust and break their pension promise, with the success of the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) set up by the government. Which within only 3 years of its existence is already protecting 41 schemes and over 12000 pensioners, paying out £1.4 per month? A further 225 schemes and 118,000 members are being assessed for help.

The hypocrisy gets even worse. Many of those who failed to do anything about this problem before the government stepped in, then incredibly began to complain about the failure to protect those who schemes failed before the PPF was set up. Tom points out that the government once again responded by introducing the financial assistance scheme. A bit late admittedly and much chivvied on the way, but better late than never.

Tom concludes that "If I take my red rose-tinted specs off I can see that Labour's record on pensions is not without blemishes. However on the specific issue of protecting pensions where employers have become insolvent it has a very good story to tell.

Tom, put your specs back on mate, they are not “rose-tinted” in the slightest. This government with pensions at least, is doing what it says on the side of the tin. A true left of centre progressive government that is prepared to actively intervene into the market to protect ordinary people. Not only vulnerable pensioners whose schemes have gone bust but to also vigorously regulate schemes to ensure that they remain solvent in the future.

A government that recognises that most personal pension plans only benefit the financial industry and the rich, have intervened again to provide State run quasi-compulsory, Personal Pension Accounts.

Most importantly, the government has also intervened via pension credit and fuel payments etc to (dare I say "redistribute"?) pour money into the pockets of the poorest British pensioners.

They have done this without scaring the horses. In private at least, I am sure that the more intelligent City folk realise that there are limits to what “free for all” capitalism can achieve and that there is a positive role for the state. However many simply do not have the intellectual honesty to admit it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Outrage of London Tory's £660-a-day taxi bill

Check out a previous post about Tory Assembly member, Brian Coleman, and his hypocritical attempts to pay poverty pay to vulnerable GLA workers. While at the same time, claiming daily taxi fares far in excess to the weekly wage of such workers.

Boris Johnson (left), of course has also committed himself to being in favour of scrapping the London Living Wage.

The interesting stuff from this Freedom of Information (FIO) request is that:-

Conservative deputy chair of the London Assembly, Brian Coleman, is under pressure today to explain how he managed to run up a £660 taxi fare in one day – paid for by London taxpayers.

Figures released today show that Mr Coleman claimed over £4,000 for
taxi bills from City Hall expenses in just nine months from the public
purse. This is more than ten times the average claim of other London
Assembly members.

Some taxi journeys Mr Coleman claimed for were to and from
Conservative Party events, which may break strict City Hall rules on
using taxpayers' money for political purposes.

JOHN BIGGS, London Assembly Member, said:

'Londoners will be astounded at the arrogance of someone who is
entitled to free public transport running-up a taxi fare of close to
£700 in one day.

'If this is the Conservative attitude to public office - not just
freeloading but slapping Londoners across the face with their gigantic
taxi bills - what would a Tory-run City Hall look like?'

JOHN GRAY, of trade union Unison said:

'Brian Coleman recently opposed paying Greater London Authority
cleaners any more than the minimum wage. Perhaps he could explain to
Londoners how he can justify spending more on one taxi fare than a
full week's wages for those who clean his office?'

Mr Coleman's taxi claims include £176 on 13 September 2007 explained
as 'car from home to various engagements' and £391 for a journey on 16
October to and from an 'event at the House of Commons'.

His largest one-day taxi claim comes in at £656 on 13 December 2007
and includes 2.5 hours 'waiting time'.

(London Labour Party press Release)

Ends

Notes for editors:

1. Figures released by the Greater London Authority's Audit Committee
showed the average taxi expenses bill claimed by members of the London
Assembly members from April 1st 2007 to December 30th 2007 was £317.
Mr Coleman claimed taxi expenses totalling £4,157 / £461 per month.
(see attached file for breakdown of his claim).

2. Brian Coleman's £4,157 taxi account bill adds up to more than half
of the entire taxi account bill of all of the 24 London Assembly
members and the Mayor combined.

3. The total taxi expenses for the 25 London Assembly members and the
Mayor that was claimed between April 1st 2007 to December 30th 2007 is
£8,066.

4. On the 14th March 2007 Brian Coleman led a proposal in the London
Assembly to give the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Assembly the use of
a single taxi for a different meetings and engagements, rather than
separate taxis which were condemned at the time as a 'chauffeured taxi
service in all but name.' More at
http://www.london.gov.uk/assembly/assemmtgs/2007/plenarymar14/item07.pdf

5. The Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Chair and Deputy Chair of the Assembly,
and all Assembly Members are offered free annual all zone travel cards
to use for travel in London.

6. Taxi expenses for London Assembly members between April 1st 2007 to
December 30th 2007). See:
http://www.london.gov.uk/assembly/audit_panel_mtgs/2008/mar04/agenda.jsp

nuf said comrades?

Social Worker Stabbed to Death

Yesterday, Philip Ellison, age 47 and father-of- three was murdered at a “Supported Living Facility” in Preston. A man has been arrested on suspicion of murder and under the Mental Health Act.

The BBC quotes a UNISON spokesperson saying that this death was "a tragedy" and "illustrates the dangers of this type of job".

Philip’s family have released a statement saying “He was very committed to working in a job he had done for eight years and was known and loved in a variety of different communities and he will be missed by all."

My thoughts are with Philip’s family.

However, while this is obviously a “tragic incidence” and I know nothing about the particular facts of this individual case. I hope that the enquiry into the murder will examine what information was made available to Philip that day about his clients, their friends and family members? Was this information up-to-date? Did all the care agencies (not only the Council, but NHS, Police, Probation, past Housing providers etc) properly share information relating to the risks from clients? Where the risks properly evaluated? Where and suitable and sufficient control measures put in place?

In health and social housing this hasn’t always been the case.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Tele-canvassing for Ken and Labour

(Please note the very subtle and subliminal visual “Vote Labour” message that we are exposing the volunteer activists to while they are telecanvassing).

This evening, after work, I stopped off at the West Ham Labour Party CLP HQ in Stratford to help out with the telephone canvassing. Picture is of top Plaistow North Councillor and UNISON/Unite member, Jonathon Knott, on the “dog and bone” for Ken & Labour.

It is a fascinating process canvassing for Ken and Labour. You speak to traditional solid Labour supporters, and then ring someone who never normally votes Labour but will vote for Ken! Of course, you also get those who will vote Labour for John Biggs and the Labour list candidate but cannot abide Ken.

Overall, I thought that my session was pretty positive for both Ken and Labour.

All this also means that there is plenty of potential for voter confusion. Last time there was 150,000 spoilt votes in London? The number of such votes could decide the election? The prospect of a similar this time or even worse is a truly horrible night-mayor! (Joke)

Vote for London: Vote Ken



Ken sets out his vision for London in tonight's election broadcast. Check it out. I think that Ken comes over really well? So does London!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

UNISON Local Government Service Group Executive Elections (London region)

Following my last post on the UNISON London Health SGE elections (in support of Layla, Bill and Rachel). Here is a copy of a flyer that Irene and I are sending out for the London Local Government SGE elections.

In the picture left Irene is seen receiving a prize for being the top trade union recruiter for 2007 with Gordon. You all know by now what I look like.

If you are a member of UNISON Local Government in London, please copy this flyer and email to any other members you know. UNISON branch funds and distribution lists should not be used. Ballot papers are due to be sent out tomorrow to members home addresses.

Irene is a traditional Labour Party supporter and is a care assistant in Newham. She is standing against a SP candidate. While I am standing against the incumbent United left candidate (David Eggmore) as well as a high profile Socialist Party candidate (Glenn Kelly) and Oreleo Melvin Du Cann. My candidacy has in the recent past caused discord amongst the comrades. Shame.

UNISON: URGENT INFORMATION PLEASE READ: UNISON

Vote Irene Stacey and John Gray for the UNISON London Elections April 2008

Dear UNISON Member

You will shortly get ballot papers from UNISON for important London wide union elections. These ballot papers will be sent to you at home.

The elections are important since the people who you elect will directly represent you and all other London UNISON members nationally.

Irene Stacey has worked in schools and home care for over 20 years and is Newham Branch Secretary. She has represented London in UNISON for many years. John Gray is a housing estate officer in Tower Hamlets, branch health & safety officer and the elected London UNISON Finance Convenor.

Irene and John are standing as UNISON London representatives because they believe it is time for change. They want London to send representatives to National UNISON who put ordinary members interests at heart and put members concerns first.

They also want the union to listen to London and help us fight low pay, privatisation, poor health & safety, and inequality.

Irene and John are also UNISON Labour Link members. They want to use our influence in the Labour Party to work for and promote UNISON aims and values. Protest or gesture politics are a luxury we cannot afford.

VOTE FOR IRENE AND JOHN!

X IRENE STACEY (FEMALE SEAT)

X JOHN GRAY (GENERAL SEAT)

UNISON Health Service Group Executive Elections (London region)

As well as the GLA and other Council elections taking place across the land, there are also some fairly important UNISON internal elections taking place.

UNISON is divided into 7 Service Groups. These elections are to elect regional members of each National Service Group Executive (SGE).

In London Region there are only two contested elections for regional delegates. For Health and Local Government service groups. Here is the election statement for the Health centre left slate that I am supporting. I will post next the Local Government slate (guess who is standing in that election!).

If you are a member of UNISON in London, please copy these statements and email or photocopy to any other members you know. UNISON branch funds and distribution lists should not be used for such purposes. Ballot papers are due to be sent out tomorrow to members home addresses. Enjoy!

"United Left" SWP and SP Trotskyite candidates are standing against them. Nuf said?


LAYLA RUMBLE, BILL BEEKOO AND RACHEL VOLLER
ALL HERE FOR YOU ON THE HEALTH SERVICE GROUP EXECUTIVE


Dear Colleague,

As you will be aware we are currently in the nomination period for the Service Group Executive (SGE) elections. We are writing to you to seek your branch’s nomination for the three positions available to represent the Greater London Region.

As your existing SGE representatives we have worked hard together as a team to speak up for our members. Sometimes speaking up is not easy but we have always aimed to put UNISON members first and not political agendas as some representatives are known to do. We have consistently fought to use UNISON budgets in the best interests of our membership, to serve all of our members not just the more vocal, and have particularly spoken up on behalf of our low paid members.

Bill Beekoo (General seat)
Bill works for Havering PCT and has been an SGE representative for 6 years bringing with him a vast amount of experience in negotiating and organising. He is a firm believer that NHS workers should be well rewarded for the hard work that they do. He has contributed to debates on pay, pensions and privatisation and if re-elected would be particularly interested in making sure low paid contract workers received Agenda for Change in ALL Trusts in London.

Layla Rumble (Low paid seat)
Layla works as a Maternity Health Care Assistant and is also training to be a midwife. She is passionate about representing our lower paid workers as they are integral to the smooth functioning of the NHS. Layla is also keen to see more opportunities for our members to increase their skills and prospects through the Knowledge and Skills framework and if re-elected would make this a priority.

Rachel Voller (Women’s seat)
Rachel works as a midwife at UCLH. She has served on the SGE for 4 years and has fought hard for recognition by the government of the high standards of work provided by our NHS workers. Rachel is keen to see an end to privatisation and outsourcing of services within the NHS and if re-elected would make it a priority to address ways in which Trusts can be supported to bring their facilities back in house.

We hope that you will re-nominate us so that we can continue with the work we have been doing and ensure that the voices of London members are heard at the highest levels. There is important work to be done especially with changes afoot under the Darzi report and we feel that with our experience and motives for standing we are the best placed to serve you.

Bill, Layla and Rachel.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Green Street Labour Stall for Ken & John


Just a quick post about today’s West Ham CLP stall in the famous Green Street, Forest Gate, London.

Our existing City & East London Assembly member John Biggs (left) was there, as was our local MP Lyn Brown MP.

Local councillors and Labour Party activists from across the borough turned up to spend a hour or so talking to local people about the GLA elections. The Labour Party Free balloon’s once again went down very well!

Without being in the slightest sense complacent and recognising the Newham is a pretty solid Labour borough, we seem to be getting very positive reception from local residents. Dare I say an even much better response than in the 2006 local elections?

Still, getting the vote out will be key. Every Newham vote will matter.

Corporate Killing Law in force from Tomorrow.

From tomorrow (Sunday) the new Corporate Manslaughter and Cooperate Homicide Act 2007 comes into force.

The TUC broadly welcome the Act. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber is quoted as saying “'Too often in the past senior executives have been taken an overly casual approach towards the safety of their employees...... 'Although unions would have preferred to see the new law make individual company directors personally liable for safety breaches at work and for it to have introduced tougher penalties against employers found guilty of workplace safety crimes, we hope the Corporate Manslaughter Act will see the start of a change in the safety culture at the top of the UK's companies and organisations.

'The new law would be tougher if it were accompanied by a new legal health and safety duty on directors and a requirement on companies to report annually on their workplace safety culture.'

The safety pressure group “Centre for Corporate Accountability” (CCA) are disappointed that the Act will only apply to deaths that occur after April 5 (and all the evidence supporting the allegation must also take place after this date). This will mean that it will probably be at least until 2010 before any large organisation charged. In the meantime the old common law offence of manslaughter will still of course apply.

By co-incidence “Inside Housing” leads on a Police corporate manslaughter investigation into the high profile housing association “Notting Hill” and House builders, Barrets, following the death of 26 year old Elouise Littlewood. She died in her brand new “shared ownership” home from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning only 2 months after moving in.

It is also only 3 weeks before this years Workers Memorial Day.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Happy 90th Birthday RAF


A few days late, but belated Happy 90th Birthday to our Royal Air Force.

Many members of my family have served in the RAF and I still have friends and relatives who proudly serve their country in the RAF.

I don't think that anyone can better summarise the contribution that the RAF has made to this country than Churchill's "Never was so much owed by so many many to so few".

The RAF still makes a vital contribution to the defence of this country.

Please consider donating to the Royal Air force Benevolent Fund

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Labour “Out and About” in Forest Gate North

A quick report from the canvass teams out tonight in parts of Forest Gate, London for the GLA elections.

We had the support of our Labour, West Ham MP Lyn Brown and City & East Assembly member, John Biggs (front Left).

Newham is traditionally one of the safest Labour boroughs in the country. Historically, in General and local elections, Newham CLP's East & West Ham will usually “export” Party activists to campaign in other parts of London and Essex, where there are marginal seats.

While the City and East assembly member will be re-elected by the traditional “1st past the post” system, the Mayor and London wide list members will be elected by PR.

What this means is that every single vote in London will count. So across the borough we will be actively campaigning and canvassing to maximise the vote for Ken, John and Labour.

The Real BNP – on Rape and Violence towards Women

Some commentators on this blog suggest that the BNP is not a nasty, thuggish, extremist fascist party. It is they claim, just a traditionally minded politicial Party that happens to be against immigration and has nothing to do with the Nazi's.

Well, Searchlight has exposed the BNP Number 2 candidate in the GLA elections, Nick Eriksen (and London BNP organiser) as someone who openly excuses rape and violence towards women. Please check out the link. The BNP reckon they will get at least 8% of the vote in the GLA election and if that it true (I hope and expect not), then Eriksen would have probably been elected for the BNP.

Eriksen claims that "rape is simply sex" and “Men who go along with the rape myth are either morons or traitors”. He also seems to think that it is acceptable for men to give their wives "a good slap!”

I don’t think that anybody makes the case that all people who may feel sympathetic to BNP arguments are supporters of rape or violence towards women. However, I think that this illustrates the widespread concern that many people do not understand or appreciate what the BNP is really about. Why it was formed, who are their leaders and what are their true aims?

The BNP is a National Socialist political party which is rooted in Nazism. This is the political philosophy of Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler during the Second World War. Its political theory is alien and foreign to this country. The BNP is not a genuine democratic nor British Party.

If you have concerns about immigration then join a democratic British Political party and argue your case. Don’t support something that hides its true identity and pretends that it is something that it is not.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

LGPS seminar on UNISON TV


You may recognise the 2nd speaker on the UNISON TV interview of delegates to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) seminar last week. Click on this link and then left click screen: headphones or speakers on.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Class Action at the TUC

Apologies to those who may have just choked over their beer and sandwiches at the thought of some sort of radical action taking place within our beloved Trades Union Congress.

However, yesterday, I attended a seminar at Congress House, organised by its Pensions officers for trade union pension fund trustees. The seminar was on whether or not British pension funds should be taking part in "Class Actions" court cases in the US.

In a nutshell, US securities class actions are were investors sue a company (which is listed on the US stock exchange – not only US based companies, but nowadays many large European companies) for given “misleading” or false information (or simply lying) that caused these investors or funds to lose money. Usually as a result of a fall in the share price of that company.

Some well known cases in recent years have been against Enron and WorldCom. There have also been high profile equal pay cases against that bad guy of the international trade union movement “Wal-Mart”

So far so good. If a British Pension fund lost money by paying over the odds for a US listed company, since its fund manager had been mislead by that company over the true fair price for its shares, then it is logical to assume that the pension fund could sue to recover this loss.

In Britain the legal system makes it very difficult to pursue such claims. In the Good Old US of A things are very, very different.

Here, lawyers can sue companies on a “no win no fee” basis and the rewards from such litigation are potentially huge. These lawyers earn a fixed percentage from successful claims which are often for hundreds of millions of dollars. Many of the most successful "Class Action" lawyers are now multi-millionaires.

Many people find the whole business “distasteful”. Not just trade unionists! Some pension fund advisers think that if you take part in such lawsuits, you are just “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul”. Since if you a sue a company and are successful, the lawyers take most of the money and the bill is actually paid by either the company or its insurance company in which you may also hold shares.

It is not helped by the rather sleazy image of “Class Action”. Over the years I have now attended at least 3 presentations by teams of US lawyers recommending that British pension funds get involved. The first team of US lawyers that I saw 5 years ago, are now apparently about to go to jail in the US on bribery convictions connected to "Class Actions". Apparently this firm also attempted to "bride" British trade unions with an offer of $10 million to allow them access to their member trustees.

I accept fully that the other US firms I have seen in the more recent past, and of course yesterday, are totally different from these “rotten apples”. Mark Willis, the US lawyer from Cohen Milstein Hausfeld & Toll, who spoke at the seminar seemed pretty upfront and honest about the seedy side of his business.

Just because this is potentially a dirty business then this does not mean that in the UK we should be too sniffy about the whole process. Not only have lawyers in the past made huge amounts of money from class actions but US pension funds have also received back millions and millions of dollars. At the seminar, Caroline Goodman, the MD of the British company "Institutional Protection Services" (IPS) said that, on average, a pension fund with £500 million of equity and bonds should receive back £100, 000 per year from taking part in class actions. That is a lot of money. Imagine what the return would be on the whole of the LGPS scheme at £125 billion.

I will seek advice from my pension fund investment advisers and trade union. Of course, the governance argument is that pension fund contributors would ensure that their money is only invested in decent well run companies that would not face such legal action over such dishonesty.

No doubt there will have to be some sort of “due diligence” test but if there is no further financial risk to the fund (no win, no fee) I cannot see what on earth we have to lose? Except a little bit of our deficit chains?