Sunday 31 January 2010

The Impossible Hamster

Huge increases in consumption, fueled by huge increases in debt, are behind much of the current economic crisis. Many politicans and economists believe that the economy has to keep growing without limit: industry, finance and commerce need a constantly expanding market in order to make profits. Everything is monetised (has a money value) and our 'wants' replace our needs. It doesn't make us happy and meanwhile millions don't have their basic needs met.

More from Impossible Hamster Club

We must not let Blair get away with murder

The comments on my story about the Youth Parliament show how angry, frustrated and disenchanted people feel with local politicians. At a national level the expenses scandal got massive publicity, but to my mind the public lies told by Tony Blair and his government over Iraq are of a different magnitude. The number of British soldiers killed is in the hundreds - the number of Iraqi civilians killed is in the hundreds of thousands. War crimes are more important than financial crimes.

That was the reason I went down to the demonstration outside the Chilcott Inquiry on Friday when Blair was due to testify. Interviewed by Australian TV for Channel 9, I stated baldly that the Iraq War had been illegal and that therefore Blair should be put on trial for war crimes. I predicted that he would easily manage the Inquiry Panel and would be unapologetic.  I stated my belief that his action had been predicated on staying onside with President Bush and the US at any cost.

So it turned out. The low number of people attending the demonstration, after the hundreds of thousands who marched against the war in the first place, was a big disappointment. It may be that everyone expected Blair to dance circles around a toothless panel but I fear that our failure to express massive anger about Blair's actions is a sign of our feelings of helplessness and resignation. If this is part of a wider political disengagement we leave the way clear, internationally for an attack on Iran, and nationally for the shadowy Right to exert more influence. 

Earlier in the week I read an account on the front page of the local paper in Leighton Buzzard of a row about the BNP renting the local British Legion club for a meeting. A BNP spokesperson was quoted as saying that the BNP should be heard because it was the only political party opposed to the British presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such a stance opens up all sorts of scenarios for the General Election.

Wembley Southern Train Link: a little more official!

Since I publicised the Wembley Central Southern Trains route north to Milton Keynes (Platform 5) and south to Shepherd's Bush, Clapham Junction and East Croydon (Platform 6), here and in a letter to the Wembley Observer, there has been an increase in passenger traffic on the routes.

In a welcome and sensible step, station staff have now posted timetables at the rather forbidding entrances to Platform 6 (Southbound) and Platform 4 (Northbound). If changing from the Bakerloo or Overground you have go through the barriers to Central Square to access the Southern/London Midland platforms.  If you find the doors locked don't worry, they are opened just before the train is due. Trains in both directions leave just past the hour up to just after 9pm on weekdays, but finish earlier on Saturdays. They do not run on Sundays.

On Wednesday February 3rd I observed passenger traffic on the trains that depart just after 4pm. I counted 10 passenger boarding s the north bound train  and 22  the south bound service.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Council accused of intimidating Brent Youth Parliament members

Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North, yesterday accused the Liberal Democrat led Brent Council of intimidating members of Brent Youth Parliament. He raised a point of order in yesterday evening's debate on the European Communities Act:

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Mr. Speaker has given his full support to the work of the Youth Parliament and I seek your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as to whether it is in order for a public body to seek to intimidate its members in any way.

Recently, my hon. Friend Ms Butler invited young people who were members of her Facebook group to visit her in Parliament. Many of those young people were also members of the Brent Youth Parliament. Shortly thereafter, members of the Youth Parliament received a letter from Brent council's senior lawyer. The letter stressed that Brent Youth Parliament is supported by the London borough of Brent and it counselled them as follows: "You will obviously need to give careful consideration as to whether you wish to align yourself with a particular person or group and what impact this may have on others' perception of you as a Brent Youth Parliament member. If you do decide to participate in local politics, you will need to give consideration as to which person or group you are willing to be connected with and any implications of this."

Many of these young people have been frightened by the letter and regard it as a warning shot. They have previously believed that Brent council was encouraging young people to become politically active, but they now consider that it encourages them only if they are sympathetic to the Liberal Democrats. What action can this House take to ensure that these young people are not bullied in this way by a local authority?

The Deputy Speaker advised Mr Gardiner to write to the Speaker about the issue.

Thursday 21 January 2010


The picket line at Grunwicks, Chapter Road, Willesden

Chatting last night after a Brent Green Party meeting in Willesden, we got round to discussing the Grunwick dispute which took place round the corner at the Cobbold Road and Chapter Road Grunwick photo processing factory owned by George Ward. I described joining picket lines at 6.30 in the morning as a young teacher, before going off to do a day's teaching, often bruised as a result of the pushing contests between police and pickets.

The dispute lasted from 1976-1978 and was significant in many ways.  Firstly,  it was a dispute involving immigrant workers from East Africa, Indian and the Caribbean, that broke through into the national trade union consciousness.  It produced solidarity action from the Cricklewood Postal Workers' Union, who stopped delivering the processing mail orders, and when this was stopped by court action, other unions joined in mass pckets including miners and printers. It was also a dispute that mobilised many women trades unionists and activists: a women only mass picket met with unprecedented police violence. Immigrant workers became visible for the first time and other disputes followed, aided by the workers' experience of mobilising against colonialism.

Secondly it marked the first major intervention by the National Association For Freedom (yes it was NAFF - probably why they renamed themselves the Freedom Association, currently going large on climate change denial) on the side of bosses and against trade unions, and was in many ways a rehearsal for action against the miners during the Thatcher era.

Thirdly, it exposed weaknesses in the Labour government and the labour movement which we still suffer from today. The precarious Callaghan government was split on the dispute. Shirley Williams, a member of Apex, the strikers' union, joined the picket line, while Home Secretary, Merlyn Rees, sent in the police and the Special Patrol Group to break up the pickets.

Many Brent schools take part in Black History Month every October. They often study American Civil Rights leaders while UK studies are often about Black role models or celebrities. A study of Grunwick would reveal the strength of self-organisation and solidarity action and relate immediately to local people and the local area. In the revealing video produced by Brent Trades Council Vipin Magdahi, a member of the Strike Committee, says, "You can go to any college or school - but what we learnt in those days nobody could teach us."  Jayaben Desai, leader of the dispute, on hunger strike outside the TUC to ask for support, was asked by Len Murray, then leader of the TUC, "Who told you to do this?" (He was obsessed with the idea that the 'ultra-left' was responsible). She replied, "Nobody - it is part of our Indian tradition."  The strike failed when the wider movement decided to concentrate on fighting the Labour Government's pay restraint and social contract, but there is much children could learn from this strike which was of national significance.

There is an exhibition about the strike called 'Striking Women: Voices of South Asian Workers from Gruinwick and Gate Gourmet'  at the Women's Library, London, E1 7NT until 31st March. Images can be found on the SocietyGuardian website.  It would be wonderful if it could be exhibited at the Willesden Green Library in the future and visited by local children.

Copies of the DVD cost £10 and can be ordered through the Brent Trades Council website or by writing to Brent TUC, Willesden Trades and Labour Hall, 375 High Road Willesden NW10 2JR, enclosing a cheque for £10 payable to Brent TUC.

Friday 8 January 2010


The Civic Centre site

Brent Greens have previously asked searching questions about the lack of public consultation on whether the borough really requires a new Civic Centre.  The Council recently announced that they were consulting on the plans and a story in the local press and in the council's own Wembley Way told readers they could find details on  However this only takes one to the main portal and there is no direct link to the plans. You have to go through several menus and know the exact address or the case number to eventually get to the appropriate page.  The case number can only be found if you happen to have spotted it in the classified ads at the back of the local newspaper. Brent Greens have previously asked that important consultations should be linked from the Council's home page, or at least the planning portal.

Anyway we have decided to do the Council a favour and advertise the consultation, which officially closes on January 31st, although submissions can be made afterwards and may be taken into account if there is time to add them to papers before the Planning Committee. Follow this LINK to go to Civic Centre plans where you can also submit a response. The plans are likely to go to the Planning Committee at the end of February or mid-March. If you want to inspect the plans in details they are available at the Town Hall One Stop Shop, the Willesden Green Library and the planning department at Brent House. Case number 09/2450 and Planning Officer

As the Council is itself the applicant in this case it is regrettable that the process has not been more accessible and the short time left to respond raises doubts about whether residents have been given a fair deal. You can't help feeling that the Council's decision to advertise for a contractor to finalise the design and build the Civic Centre withba closing date for tenders of February 10th 2010, before the Planning Committee considers the application, is jumping the gun somewhat. The Council hope to complete the building by the end of 2010.

One of the benefits the Council claims for a Civic Centre is that it will make it possible to dispense with their use of other buildings and we have asked at the Wembley Area Consultative Forum what they intend to do with the redundant buildings. We didn't get a very clear reply but this artist's impression gives a clue.  It comes from the documents submitted for the demolition and replacement of Elizabeth House in Wembley High Road (the offices and flats behind the petrol station next to St Joseph's church on Wembley Triangle and backing on to the grounds of St Joseph's School). The Civic Centre would free up other buildings in the area including Chesterfield House, Brent House and Mahatmi Gandhi House.

The plan is for a 13 storey building comprising 115 flats and a ground floor commercial unit. Follow this LINK to the planning documents. It is case number 09/2506 and is due to be decided no earlier than January 28th 2010. Planning Officer

Convoy gets through - then Galloway deported

A volunteer hands over the keys to his vehicle

The Viva Palestina convoy have now handed their aid over to the Central Council of Charities - a non-governmental body of civic societies - at a ceremony in Gaza City. Convoy volunteers will now be visiting hospitals and other places where their aid will be put to use, as well as taking a tour of the devastated areas of Gaza.

Keven Ovendon, convoy leader, said "The level of support internationally for this mission has been tremendous. We`ve been understandably in a bit of a bubble - especially when we were barricaded in at the port of Al Arish. But we´ve got some sense of the scale of solidarity events and of media coverage.

"The sight of people lining the streets virtually the full length of the Gaza Strip, after waiting for 10 hours for our last vehicles to pass (thanks to further Egyptian delays) was the only vindication of that this initiative ever required.

"This was an incredibly diverse group of 518 people. Now we aim to build on that across the UK and internationally.

"Thanks to everyone who responded to the calls to action from the VP office. There are thousands of emails to respond to and we will do as soon as we can. We are now working on further plans for coordinated initiatives over the next 12 months, which will be announced shortly. "

British MP George Galloway was officially deported from Cairo today (Friday), when Egyptian plain-clothes police officers bundled him onto a London plane.

Galloway had been trying to return to Rafah after news broke that seven of the Viva Palestina convoy members were said to be arrested. Police, who at one point were numbered at 25 mainly plain-clothes officers, refused to allow him to return.

Information from Viva Palestina website

Thursday 7 January 2010

Anti-racist Action in the Workplace

Everyday life in the workplace is a scene of struggle and at its most stark is a battle between management attempts to divide and rule and workers efforts to unite and better their working conditions.

The divide and rule tactics can be based on gender, qualifications, different contracts and other working conditions and hierarchy. Increasingly immigration status has become an issue with on the one hand companies using the insecurity created by immigration checks and raids on workplaces to drive down pay and conditions, and unions seeking to organise all workers, including migrant workers, to provide secure jobs and decent wages and conditions. 

Privatisation and out-sourcing of services in the public sector means that these struggles often take place in schools, hospitals and colleges where cleaners, maintenance staff and catering staff are employed on minimal wages and with few employment rights. The prevailing climate of mounting racism and right-wing activity attempting to blame immigrants for the economic crisis is reinforced by highly publicised raids by riot style squads on workplaces to check the immigration status of workers and detain those whose papers are not in order.

The Hands off my Workmate campaign aims to prevent the use of immigration law and the activities of the Borders Agency to intimidate migrant workers, and especially their use on workers who are seeking to exercise their rights to join and organise trade union membership and representation. It is important to recognise that such raids introduce insecurity and potential violence into the workplace and the shock of seeing workmates with whom you have built up friendship and solidarity seized in front of you is a distressing experience. It was similar emotions that caused many schools to organise against the deportation of families when children and their parents had become part of the local community and local people experienced the shock of the brutality of the state at first hand. Now the brutality is more hidden as children are held in detention centres with their parents at places like Yarl's Wood and prevented from going to school. A moving interview with Yarl's Wood children was published in the Guardian in August.

Students and staff at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London took solidarity action when migrant worker cleaners were held in detention after a raid and forced management action to provide papers to the workers and the release of those held in detention, as well as reconsidering the out-sourcing of cleaning contracts.  The HOMW promotes similar action in other workplaces.

Green Left have agreed to support the campaign, recognising its importance in combating racism and protecting fundamental human rights and I hope that the Green Party nationally will follow their lead. Solidarity action at workplace and community level is an effective and practical way of challenging the divisive activity of the extreme right.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Viva Palestina Convoy Faces Riot Police

The following message has been passed on to me from the Viva Palestina convoy taking humanitarian aid to Gaza. Refused entry by Israel they attempted to cross via Egypt:

To all friends of Palestine

Our situation is now at a crisis point! Riot has broken out in the port of Al- Arish.

This late afternoon we were negotiating with a senior official from Cairo who left negotiations some two hours ago and did not return. Our negotiations with the official was regarding taking our aid vehicles into Gaza.

He left two hours ago and did not come back. Egyptian authorities called over 2,000 riot police who then moved towards our camp at the port.

We have now blocked the entrance to the port and we are now faced with riot police and water cannons and are determined to defend our vehicles and aid.

The Egyptian authorities have by their stubbornness and hostility towards the convoy, brought us to a crisis point.

We are now calling upon all friends of Palestine to mount protests in person where possible, but by any means available to Egyptian representatives, consulates and Embassy's and demand that the convoy are allowed a safe passage into Gaza tomorrow!

Kevin Ovenden
Viva Palestina Convoy Leader

Following her attention being drawn to the siutuation by Brent PSC, Sarah Teather, MP for Brent East has written to the Egyptian Ambassador and the British Foreign Secretary to urge humanitarian aid to be allowed to pass safely.

However the reply received to a similar plea by a Brent PSC member from the Foreign Office does not give much encouragement:

The UK Government's clear advice is against all travel to Gaza, and this is the advice we have given to the organisers of the Viva Palestine Convoy. While we understand the humanitarian motivation of such efforts, it is reckless to travel to Gaza at present and any medical and other essential specialist staff seeking to access Gaza should co-ordinate their entry to Gaza with the major international humanitarian organisations already on the ground......Entry to Gaza via Rafah is a matter for the Egyptian authorities and humanitarian organisations wishing to deliver aid to Gaza must work with the Egyptian authorities on methods of delivery. You should contact the Egyptian authorities for details of any planned openings.