In Union News: Britain’s biggest public sector union Unison supports BackTo60

From Left to right: Unison’s national pensions officer, Alan Fox; Jackie Jones, Labour MEP for Wales; Sian Stockham, senior vice president Unison and Gloria Mills, national secretary, equalities,Unison.

At the TUC I was commissioned to write an article for Union News, the website that reports on all trade union action, about Unison’s decision to back the 1950s born women for the full restitution of their pension from the age of 60.

Unison were keen enough to support the BackTo60 campaign to come to Downing Street to hand in a letter to Boris Johnson, supporting their case which has been backed by a Parliamentary motion, started by Anna McMorrin, Labour MP for Cardiff, North and now signed by 190 MPs from all parties.

Next week Unison will be backing the campaign at a fringe meeting supporting the cause of the 3.8 million women at the Labour Party conference on Tuesday in the Metropole Hotel, Brighton.

You can read my article on the Union News website here.

A new warm film on Socialism’s big event – The Durham Miners Gala

There are no deep coal mines in the UK. There are no coal miners. There are no brass bands attached to a living colliery and there no new union banners for new pits. And soon, under new environmental rules, the sale of domestic coal, except for smokeless fuel, may be banned.

So one would think that an event called the Durham Miners Gala would be consigned to our nostalgic past with a few old men having a pint down the local working men’s club.

But the facts contradict this. A new film released on Friday The Big Meeting by director and producer Daniel Draper two years after the last pit closed in the UK in 2016, shows the very opposite with a thriving modern festival in the City of Durham attracting over 200,000 people. It is a tribute to the almost eternal traditions of community, solidarity and fraternity that lives on long after the last mine closed.

It is warm almost affectionate appreciation of one of Labour’s major festivals seen partly through the eyes of a diverse group of individual participants, including a 19 year old Oxford undergraduate who runs a local left wing bookshop in her vacations; a Waspi group of middle aged women campaigning for their pensions and a woman who plays in a brass band.

The film itself interweaves the past and present with split screen and colour and black and white clips contrasts the old celebrations with the new. It has clips of Prime Ministers like Clement Atlee and Harold Wilson addressing the meeting from the balcony of the Durham County Hotel when the National Union of Mineworkers was a major force in the land to today’s political participants including a video from presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in the States to Jeremy Corbyn, the current Labour leader.

It shows how the country has changed. One black and white sequence shows young lads and lassies (well before the contraceptive pill) cavorting in the fields and woods round Durham – as the festival was the place where young miners could meet people of the opposite sex. This is contrasted with today’s festival highlighting gay rights.

Banners and brass bands at the Durham Miners Gala

There is very raw emotional coverage of the music of brass bands – which, if anything, have expanded – with bands from places like Bristol which never had a pit to the US band players– participating with bands that have survived their pit closures. And there is in an interview with a woman who still makes these huge union colliery banners and is both reviving old lost ones and making new ones.

There is also clips of current pop artists who attend the event including Billy Bragg.

The climax of the festival is a service inside Durham Cathedral with the brass bands that have marched through the streets converging on the city’s huge place of worship.

This is the film that both tells the history of a 135 year old event and captures the spirit of it today.

As the director said: “I don’t think words can do justice to such an occasion – I feel like the Gala is a living and breathing organism, something not static, but immovable – a celebration of working-class life, not just today, but almost as if it takes place in the past and future simultaneously. I suppose this film is an elaborate explanation of something wonderful and beyond words.”

The BIG MEETING. On release from September 6 and shown first in South Shields, Newcastle, Glasgow, Durham and Halifax. It is produced by the independent Shut Out The Light company

Contributors:

Contributers: Jeremy Corbyn, Dennis Skinner, Ian Lavery, Richard Burgon, Angela Rayner, DBC Pierre, John Irvin, Paul Mason, Margaret Aspinall, Selina Todd, Robert Colls, Ross Forbes, George Robson, Heather Wood, Heather Ward, Stephen Guy, Charlotte Austin, Laura Daly, Lynn Gibson, Mike Jackson & Brett Haran (LGSM), Ben Sellers, Liam Young, Emma Shankland, Robert McManners, Jake Campbell-Morris.

Exclusive: BackTo60 and Unison take 3.8 million 50s born women pension demands to Downing Street

From Left to right: Unison’s national pensions officer, Alan Fox; Jackie Jones, Labour MEP for Wales; Sian Stockham, senior vice president Unison and Gloria Mills, national secretary, equalities,Unison., knocking at Downing Street’s door.

A group of leading BackTo60 campaigners and top people from Unison, the public service union, today delivered a personal letter to Boris Johnson calling on him to act to pay out the money owed to 3.8 million women whose pensions have been delayed by up to six years.

The delegation went direct to Downing Street preceded by Larry the Cat to press Boris Johnson to fulfill a pledge that he would look again at the problem for this particular group of women, many of whom have driven to poverty by the decision enacted by successive governments.

They are backed by a petition signed by 177 MPs of all parties calling for a Special temporary measure to grant the money owed without reversing the existing pensions legislation by returning the pension age to 60 for women.

The full delegation were Prof Jackie Jones, Barrister, MEP, Wales; Gloria Mills CBE, National Secretary, UNISON, Equalities, Sian Stockham, Senior Vice-President, UNISON, Alan Fox. National Pensions Officer, UNISON, Joanne Welch, Campaign Director,BackTo60.com and Callum Jones, Undergraduate.

Prof Jones said “It’s beyond time for women to have equal rights and equal financial entitlements for years of service.  Equal pension is part of this.  No way are women going to settle for anything less.”

 Gloria Mills said”1950s women deserve their full state pension now and the government should act by using the Temporary Special Measure contained to right this wrong. UNISON the UK’s largest trade union with 1 million women members will continue to fight for pension justice for the 3.8 million women born in the 1950s many of whom are UNISON members.”.  

She added: ” The recent idea that people may have to work to 75 is a disgrace to all working people. All these women have been discriminated against all their life by not being able to claim a pension while they are working part time or bringing up a family. Their pensions pots are miniscule compared to many men.”

Jackie Jones MEP and Gloria Mills

Sian Stockham said : ” Some women who just paid the married woman’s pension have been left with the disgraceful sum of just 10p a month which is a disgrace.

Callum Jones, an undergraduate student who joined the delegation said : “It is clear to see that the government is trying to take advantage of vulnerable members of society and if we don’t look after the most vulnerable members of our society what kind of society would we have.”

Delegation including myself in front of Downing Street.

 Earlier petitions, one of which reached 728,000, were delivered to former Prime Minister, Theresa May on 3 separate occasions:  It was ignored and this led BackTo60 to succeed in getting o a Judicial Review, held on 5th and 6th June was hthe Royal Courts of Justice,t and the Reserved Judgment is due soon.

In a rather bizarre move this May WASPI Ltd, which also represents some of the women, tried to urge MPs not to sign the motion calling for the restitution of the money to the 3.8 million. They believe the women should only get a bridging loan which will have to be paid back by having reduced pensions for life.

But this action is rather late as 177 MPs have already signed and the motion was delivered to Number Ten demanding full restitution today.

This is the Waspi Ltd statement re the EDM sponsored by Ann McMorrin MP for BackTo60
Larry The Cat

Establishment won’t destabilise a Corbyn government says author of “A Very British Coup”

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Chris Mullin, author Pic credit: Twitter

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Chris Mullin, the former Labour minister and MP, last night told an audience of MPs and peers that he did not believe that the Establishment would seek to undermine a future Labour government  led by ” saintly” Jeremy Corbyn .

His  riposte came a month after Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, expressed worries that Corbyn had not ditched his left wing views, had met people who were not friends of Britain and said he was worried about him becoming PM. The charge has been made also by Sajid Javid, the home secretary who describes Jeremy Corbyn as ” a threat to our national security.”

Chris Mullin was giving a talk as part of John Bercow’s Speaker’s Lectures series  after the publication of his autobiography Hinterland, which describes his life as a war  journalist. Mp and minister and a chair of the influential home affairs committee.

He is most famous for his novel written in 1982 ” A Very British Coup” which became a BBC TV series describing how a left wing Labour MP with strong views on disarmament and an ally of the trade unions wins a general election with a landslide victory only to be undermined by the security services, the Establishment and the Murdoch Empire.

Although written some 33 years before the sudden rise of Jeremy Corbyn the novel is now seen as prescient of events that did change the direction of the Labour Party. At the time it was written Tony Benn not Jeremy Corbyn was seen as the great danger.

But despite the novel’s gloomy prognosis Mr Mullin does not see this happening should Jeremy Corbyn win the next election.

” I think MI5 has been cleaned up  in the last 30 years “, he said. He was not so certain about MI6 after the comments of Sir Richard Dearlove.

Mr Mullin himself was branded as part of the ” loony left ” by the right wing media particularly as he championed the cause of the  six Birmingham bombers who  were found guilty of blowing up two pubs killing 21 people and injuring 182 others but had their convictions quashed 16 years later. This was one of the greatest miscarriages of justice.

He disclosed that although he was on the left of the party he had not voted for him as party leader as he did not agree with all his policies. He described Jeremy as a ” saintly person” who  has always stood by his beliefs.

He also had a surprise for his audience. He is a writing a sequel  to A very British Coup which covers the current Brexit crisis. It is to be published on March 29 next year – the day Britain is due to leave the European Union.

 

 

A former top Unison official slammed by a judge selected to be a new Labour councillor for one of London’s deprived wards

Linda Perks at a Unison protest. pic credit Flickr

Linda Perks at a Unison protest. Pic credit: Flickr

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Most of the rows about Labour candidates being selected in London  for May’s local government elections have centred around the rise of Momentum and challenges to established Labour leaders in Haringey and Newham.

But while all this is going on quietly a new kid on the block has emerged unnoticed in the London borough of Greenwich. She was the sole person criticised by a part time judge in a hearing over the election of Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, Britain’s largest public service union last year.

Linda Perks, the former London regional secretary, was castigated by part time judge Mary Stacey during as certification officer hearing which followed complaints about rule breaking from other candidates who challenged Dave Prentis for the job.

The judge upheld a complaint against Linda Perks,  for flagrant breaches of union rules – after reading a transcript and listening to a secret tape of a meeting held at the TUC’s Congress House, where, it is said, 50 officials were urged to break campaigning rules to ensure the re-election of Dave Prentis. The code name for the campaign was ” Special Chocolate Biscuits”.

After listening to the tape the judge ruled :“ Ms Perks tone is not just confident and swaggering in so openly breaking the rules but chilling in its brazenness and demonstration of unchecked power”.

She blatantly had known she was breaking union rules by getting officials to organise support for Dave Prentis during work time which was against union rules. The judge notes that it almost looked that for 3 or 4 days officials would do little else but campaign for Mr Prentis.

Linda Perks was suspended by the president of the union. But the judge said:

“The subsequent leisurely disciplinary proceedings of Ms Perks and outcome do not inspire confidence or serve as a deterrent for future overzealous officers. Some might think the move to National Secretary in Head Office on unspecified strategic projects retaining all pay and benefits represents reward rather than punishment, though she has endured the imposition of a final written warning.”

Since then Linda Perks has retired from the union and was given a huge farewell party attended by Dave Prentis who tweeted ” Absolutely packed house to thank Linda Perks, one of our longest serving regional secretaries. We will all miss her”.

Now the Labour selection body has selected her as one of three candidates to represent Charlton- one of the poorer wards in the borough. There is a full report by a local journalist and blogger, Darryl Chamberlain on his 853.com blog. He quotes an email  from her saying:“My union work has also enabled me to develop a good understanding of how councils work and how decisions are taken.”

The ward she is representing is one of the poorest in the borough. Its faded grandeur has led it to put on the ” at risk register” by Historic England as reported here. It has a low level of  home ownership and high levels of council housing and housing association and higher levels of unemployment.

Linda Perks declined to reply to a request for a comment about her selection. Her contribution to local affairs – should she be elected for this safe ward where Labour romped home in 2014.  – remains to be seen.

 

 

 

Blog in 2017: The Grenfell tragedy has resurrected the madness of fire privatisation

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Grenfell Tower: The next morning Pic credit: Wikipedia

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This year my small news site received an extraordinary boost from a five year old post which appeared to have been regenerated by the Grenfell fire tragedy.

The Grenfell disaster showed the bravery of the London fire brigade in tackling such a grim scenario. Heroism and extreme tragedy side by side.

The post that got revived in the wake of the fire was the almost unbelievable story of how an Old Etonian baronet living in a semi in Wellingborough, Northants had got his hands on the management of London’s entire fire engine fleet for £2. It is probably still the most egregious act of privatisation in this country. He of course had to hand it back after a few weeks as he couldn’t run it.

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Sir Aubrey Brocklebank: Sacked by the London Fire Brigade; Picture courtesy Daily Telegraph

The public authority had been powerless when the dodgy private company they gave the contract to maintain the fire engine fleet- Assetco London – handed over  London’s fire service to the baronet as the directors realising the game was up and fled the scene.

The good news here – though it has never been reported  by mainstream media-  is the authorities in their own slow way are ensuring the perpetrators get their just deserts.

Grant Thornton , the auditors for Assetco, have been fined  £3.5m (reduced to £2.275m  after they co-operated with the Financial Reporting Council) and found guilty of no fewer than 12 cases of professional misconduct.  The details are in this blog.

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Assetco’s John Shannon stands astride two London fire engines

Robert Napper, the individual accountant  responsible for auditing Assetco was fined £200,000, reduced to £130,000 after  he co-operated  with the inquiry. He had already retired but I traced him to an Oxfordshire village enjoying his expensive wines. 

Now Assetco directors John Shannon, Raymond ” Frank ” Flynn and Matthew Boyle are to face a disciplinary tribunal by the Financial Reporting Council on January 15. The statement is here.

The press release reads: 

“The Formal Complaint contains multiple allegations against each of Mr Shannon, Mr Flynn and Mr Boyle. The Formal Complaint includes allegations they acted dishonestly or recklessly; that they breached the fundamental principles of integrity and objectivity in the manner in which they prepared the financial statements; and that their conduct fell significantly short of the standards reasonably to be expected of members of Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI). The complaint covers a wide range of issues which pervaded AssetCo plc’s financial statements.

Some idea of what was going on has already been covered on this blog. Don’t hold your breath that the London Evening Standard will cover the story.

The original blog attracted over 2,500 hits when it was published. This year it topped my ratings with over 14,700 hits – showing that readers are interested in such issues.

Altogether over five years it has received some 20,000 hits.

The other stories have been posted on both my blog and byline.com – so the figures on my blog will be a small proportion of the number of hits on the stories.

The second highest hit from readers tells the heroic story of a London Midland train driver whose quick reaction in nine seconds prevented a commuter disaster near Watford. It  came out in an accident report and had over 5170 hits and can be read here.

ConservativesTwo stories about the plight of the Conservative Party also rated highly. A story revealing that membership of the Conservative Party had plummeted to 100,000 attracted nearly 5000 hits and one on changes to the Tory Party constitution attracted well over 1700 hits. The two blogs are here and here and on Byline here and here.

The real block to enormous boundary changes in Parliamentary constituencies is the DUP and this blog  and byline.com disclosed this last July. The links are here and here. 

On my site it got 2600 hits – mainstream media have finally followed it up last week but put the blame on Jeremy Corbyn instead.

Also popular was a blog on how secret influencers are bankrolling right wing  think tanks by the organisation Transparify . This attracted over 2400 hits on my site and the links are here and here.

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Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison Pic Credit: Twitter

The attempt to force Unison to rerun the election for the general secretary Dave Prentis also attracted a lot of readers. Again the public hearings by the Certification Officer received no coverage in mainstream media except the Morning Star. All the blogs received over 1000 hits – the largest being  over 1850 hits for a blog publishing the statement of a former union official who accused the union of ” anti Democratic practices”. The link is here and here. 

The issue is not quite over as a judge is due to hear the opponent’s case again  for an appeal on February 8.

Three other issues made the top slots – the  bonus payments to top DWP civil servants who set up the hated Universal Credit payments which I also wrote up for the Sunday Mirror; the scandal of 3.3 million pensioners who will have to wait years for the state pension and the prospect of two Tory Lord Chancellors facing legal action for institutional racism over the appointment of judges and tribunal members.

All this has to show that there is a  public appetite for investigative journalism and the mainstream media are increasingly ignoring important stories by sticking to a narrow agenda. Much more to come in 2018.

 

 

 

 

London Midland admits it got it wrong over its passenger assistance service

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Rather a lot of stairs to go up or down if you are disabled or have a buggy at Berkhamsted station if the lift is out of order.

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London Midland has admitted that a ” breakdown in communication ”   meant it didn’t know that one of its stations was unstaffed, had a faulty lift and that its  emergency passenger help service didn’t work last Sunday.

The admission came in an email from the company in response to a complaint I lodged after being dumped at Berkhamsted with my disabled wife Margaret at the end of a weekend break from Liverpool.

I highlighted this in a blog earlier this week purely because I thought the situation was potentially dangerous and that train companies should be more careful in ensuring that their passengers can travel safely.

An email from Sarah Brassingham, a customer relations adviser, admits :  ” Unfortunately there was a breakdown in communication that meant that the team at Milton Keynes Central were unaware of the issues at Berkhamsted that evening, which were obviously compounded by the issues with the help point on your arrival.

Steps are being taken to address this with the stations and Passenger Information teams, and our Facilities team are resolving the issues with both the lift and the Passenger Information points as quickly as possible.

I can assure you that we take any assistance failures extremely seriously and apologise again for the inconvenience and distress caused.”

We have been offered a rail refund for the Milton Keynes to Berkhamsted journey but it does raise wider questions. One solution would be to ensure that whoever helps a disabled person  to get on the train informs the guard about the person’s destination – so if there is no one there the guard can help. at the other end But that still doesn’t get over the problem of faulty lifts or emergency help systems not working.

London Midland say their policy is ” Pre-booked assistance is provided by the station team at staffed stations and by the Conductor on board the train when the station you are getting on or off the train at is unstaffed.”

That raises another question. London Midland still has guards. If Southern get their way they won’t be any and presumably if they have any unstaffed stations disabled people won’t be able to get off the trains or be unable to travel.

That is one reason to back the RMT union case to keep guards on trains and fight the company and Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, who want to get rid of them.