Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

FOODBANKS: Why do we need them?

In R.Richardson on January 10, 2018 at 1:21 pm

A report from Ruth Richardsonfood-pot-kitchen-cooking.jpg
Our Co-op Member Group meets regularly to discuss topical matters – usually concerning the co-operative movement – but not always.

In November we invited Sandi McDonagh, the PR and training manager of the Forest of Dean foodbanks, to come to talk to us. I warned Sandi that we were a small group, but she assured me that she’s happy to talk to groups of any size including schools, the W.I., housing associations, etc.

The Forest has a foodbank in each of the three main Forest towns, and a large warehouse at Cinderford. It operates under the auspices of the Trussell Trust, a countrywide organisation and by far the largest provider of food banks, now having 400 outlets – a number which has doubled in recent years. Last year over one million three-day food “parcels” were provided.

OTHER FOOD BANKS:

There are other foodbanks in the Forest often run by churches, such as the “Lord’s Larder” in Newent. The need for and use of foodbanks is considerably greater than official statistics show – the Government doesn’t want to lend credence to the idea that its policies have exacerbated need among the less well off!

Sandi showed us the vouchers that clients have to obtain from bodies such as schools, town councils or surgeries, and present them to receive food. Different size boxes are filled at the warehouse to cater for families of different sizes, and the boxes are decanted into bags.

A box contains enough food for a family for three days, and a client can visit the food bank three times in six months. It’s not intended that there should be long-term reliance on the foodbank (The Tressell Trust doesn’t have the resources for that) and what is provided is intended to see a family through an emergency.  Extra food can be provided though for families with school-age children during school holidays when the children will not be getting their free school meals.

At present the Forest foodbanks are supplying donated hats, gloves and scarves and also Advent calendars and tins of chocolate for families. Sandi made the point that the warehouses are well stocked at present because of harvest festivals and also because of people’s generosity in the run-up to Christmas. Often there’s a bit of a shortfall after Easter.

Sandi mentioned that while all donations are welcome they are over-flowing with tins of baked beans and soup! Last year the turnover of food in the Forest was fifty tons.

HELP WITH ADVICE:

All the foodbanks are attended regularly by a representative from Green Square, a Gloucester-based body which advises on housing and debt management, and sign-posts clients to other organisations as appropriate.

Universal Credit which we reported on in our last issue is now being rolled out in Gloucestershire. Although the Government has tweaked its legislation a little, it is still expected that the change over will lead to an increase in the use of foodbanks of 17 per cent in the run up to Christmas.

* Collection points for donated food (tins and packets) are situated in many supermarkets and churches. Or go trusselltrust.org to find your nearest collection point.

R.R.


EDUCATION MATTERS: FACING UP TO WORK LOADS

In September, as we reported in our last issue,  a new large teachers’ union  came into being –  The National Education Union (NEU). It was formed through the merger of the NUT and the ATL.

It’s worth looking at their website, in particular at their campaign to reduce  teachers’ workloads. The average working week is 54 hours for a classroom teacher and 60 plus for subject heads or senior management . The NEU has detailed advice advice on how to “develop a workload  campaign in your workplace”.  The step-by-step guide looks practical and helpful, though whether hard-pressed teachers will have time to put it into practice is doubtful – even with the long-term objective of reducing the workload.

AN EXERCISE IN ASSET STRIPPING:

Another story that we covered in our last issue was the collapse of  the Wakefield Academies Trust. An article in  the Guardian detailed the asset-stripping that occurred in the year or so before the Trust’s demise.  Hundreds of thousands of pounds were transferred into the Trust’s accounts from schools such as Hemsworth Arts and Community Academy or Heath View Primary School, when they joined the chain in the last two or three years.

Even when a budget deficit was evident, the Chief Executive, Mike Ramsey, was paid £82,000 for fifteen weeks’ work. £440,000 was paid to IT and clerking companies owned by Ramsey and his daughter . But, says a draft Department of Education report, there is no suggestion of fraudulent activity. The full report has yet to be published.

NICE WORK (?):

A Times Education Supplement investigation discovered that a quarter of  England’s best paid academy leaders received pay increases of  ten per cent or more last year. The investigation analysed the top salaries at 121 academy trusts and found that on average the pay was a fifth more than that of the Prime Minister. The Department of Education commented: “It is essential that we have the best people to lead our schools if we are to raise standards.” One wonders if Mike Ramsey from the Wakefield Academies Trust was one of the “best people”?

A NARROWING CURRICULUM?

Amanda Spelman is the head of Ofsted.  Recently she condemned the narrowed down curriculum resulting from the focus on passing SATS and GCSEs .  Her comment infuriated teachers who for years  have been railing against league tables, SATS and continual assessment.

A letter in the “i” newspaper from a retired teacher expressed their views succinctly.

“I was a teacher for 43 years and had to endure a rich, vibrant and interesting curriculum being systematically eroded and turned into a narrow, blinkered, unimaginative, boring regime.”

Another letter commented  that test results decide…

“Ofsted grading, pay increases and the head’s future” so schools then “focus on results to the detriment of everything else. Who’d have thought it?”

DO IT YOURSELF?

A recent article in the “i” newspaper reported on the lengths that some head teachers are going to, to keep costs down as their budgets undergo the heaviest cuts in a generation. They are carrying out the work of caretakers, support staff and maintenance men.

One head spent his summer holidays repainting the school, whilst another has had to let the playing fields go to seed as he cannot afford to mow them.

Schools funding levels have been frozen whilst costs have increased. Which means a shortfall in real terms of around eight per cent.

Ruth Richardson.

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MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur on January 10, 2018 at 1:15 pm

dinosaurAll change on the  railways:

Under this pie-eyed privatised system we now have for the railways, the franchise to run the Gloucester to Cardiff line via Lydney is now up for renewal. And Arriva trains (who’ve held the franchise for much of the time since privatisation) are bowing out.

I don’t know why. It just seems like a case of “goodbye, it’s been good to know you.” So, very soon, we’ll have another company running our trains – and looking at the choice of those in the bidding, it doesn’t look good.

When privatisation was introduced (by John Major in a moment of muddled thinking), the franchise for our local line was won by a cowboy outfit called the West & Wales Railway.  It suffered from a shortage of rolling stock and an inability to keep to its timetables. It wasn’t  surprising when it was  sent packing.

At that time Arriva was running trains in the north of England – and was, it seems, making a similar hash of things. They, too, lost their franchise, but were offered our cluster of routes as a kind of consolation prize.

Then the Arriva group was taken over by Deutsche Bahn (the German state railway company) and efficiency improved – though we were still saddled with antiquated rolling stock on our line. But we’ve grown used to them – and things aren’t likely to get any better when the new franchisee takes over, I fear. It’s a case of same old system, whether we like it or not.

ON THE BUSES:

Not everyone in this neck of the woods knows that  Arriva also own a few bus companies here and there. For example they run the city services up in Wakefield, and also around North Wales – and no doubt elsewhere.

But this Autumn Arriva bus crews came out on strike, in protest against a meagre pay offer. It seems the company is making quite a profit – but wants to keep most of it to itself.

According to one source,  Arriva’s transport operations are profitable enough to send some £26 million a year (on average) back to Germany. Which I’m sure will do nicely  for Deutsche Bahn!

21 YEARS:

It’s now over 21 years since I started writing this column for the Clarion. Ah, I remember it well!

But why should the Clarion take on a dinosaur to write a comment column, however erudite it may be?  Well, you could say it was a sign of the times.

Back then “New Labour” was  in power. It was indeed the flavour of the month for many.  But there were others  who weren’t  so happy.  It wasn’t just a matter of nostalgia; it was more a sense of betrayal. It was a feeling that much of New Labour’s policy was merely Thatcherism dressed up in new clothes.

Tony Blair (remember him?) Scoffed at his critics. He dismissed them, and called the “dinosaurs”.  So when the Clarion was launched with the muffled sound of trumpets it was decided that this new  paper should have its own dinosaur.

Now of course it’s Blairism aka “New Labour” that’s sunk almost without trace.  It may well be that dinosaurs are coming back into fashion. Let’s hope so!

Dinosaur

100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution

In C.Spiby, Guest Feature, Readers, Uncategorized on January 8, 2018 at 2:03 pm

To mark the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, your Clarion is pleased to have obtained permission to print the following speech – in full – given by Communist Party of Britain general secretary, Robert Griffiths, at the 19th International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties Leningrad-St Petersburg, 2 November 2017. 

“Comrades,

When we Communists urge people to overthrow capitalism because it is unfair, unstable, wasteful, belligerent, exploitative and oppressive, many agree with us that capitalism is indeed most—if not all—of these things.

But what do we propose to put in its place?

Before the Great October Socialist Revolution, we could only offer people a set of values—liberty, equality, cooperation, comradeship, freedom—and the hope that a new type of society could be created in which these would be the ruling values.

Marx did not provide any model for the future communist society, although he pointed to the Paris Commune as an example of how power can be exercised by the mass of people through a system of direct democracy.

But he was reluctant to provide a blueprint because, as the very first rule of the International Working Men’s Association put it, the emancipation of the working classes must be achieved by the working classes themselves’.

After 1917, Communists could point to the achievements of the Soviet Union in the teeth of civil war, imperialist intervention, sabotage and fascist invasion. It transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of workers and their families for the better. It played the leading role in rescuing Europe from Nazi-fascist barbarism. It proclaimed the equality of women, all races and nationalities and assisted the struggle for peace, progress, socialism and national liberation across the world.

Yet there were weaknesses, failures and severe violations of socialist democracy that eroded popular support for the Soviet Union, outside and within.

This does not mean that Communists should cease defending and promoting all that was liberating and transformational about the October Revolution and its outcome.

But how can we inspire workers and the mass of people today with the ideals of socialism and communism?

As the general crisis of capitalism—economically, ecologically, socially, culturally, politically—reasserts itself, we need to show how our communist values would shape a modern, humane and democratic society which can meet the needs and aspirations of the mass of people.

Our vision of socialism—the lower stage of communism—has to explain how the economy and society might be reorganised on a new basis for the benefit of all.

Challenging the economic and political power of the capitalist monopolies must be an essential part of the communist solution. Public ownership and economic planning—enhanced by the application of modern information and communications technology—are the antidotes to market anarchy, plunder and waste.

We need to provide modern, concrete examples of how capitalist relations of production obstruct the full and beneficial development of society’s productive forces. For example, capitalist ownership ensures that medical technology, robotics and automation are not developed and applied in order to benefit the mass of humanity.

How will socialism secure the future of the planet’s eco-system, bearing in mind that—as the most recent IMF World Economic Outlook report confirms—the chief victims of global warming and climate change are the poorest layers of the working class in the tropical Third World?

How will socialism usher in an epoch of peace and international solidarity?

The Communist response must include a relentless struggle against imperialist super-exploitation, the military-industrial complex and wars of aggression. Social progress is impossible in times of war. Communist and workers’ parties everywhere need to strengthen and project the World Peace Council and its national affiliated organisations.

In the advanced bourgeois democratic countries, in particular, many people equate communism with dictatorship and the abolition of democratic rights.

More must be done to explain how and why socialism and communism will expand and transform democracy, drawing the mass of people into the self-government of their workplaces and communities, abolishing monopoly power and repressive legislation, opening up the mass media to social ownership and participation, and subordinating elected representatives to the needs and aspirations of those who elect them.

What will socialism mean for women, racial and religious minorities and young people?

The benefits to them of social ownership, public sector investment and economic planning have to be spelt out if we are not to appear irrelevant to wide sections of the working class and the people.

Inspired by the Great October Socialist Revolution, these are questions that Communists need to answer if the 21st century is to mark the final victory of socialism.

Long live the inspiration of the October Socialist Revolution!

cpb_flag


READERS’ LETTER:

To my fellow Clarion Readers

I am pleased to have assisted the Clarion is sourcing a fantastic speech by the CPB’s general secretary given this year at the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution (see page 3 {print edition issue #132-Ed.}). But I wanted to add a personal and separate afterword on the matter of 100 years of the Revolution in Russia.

Whilst I still think the Party’s programme, the British Road to Socialism, is a credible means of achieving socialism, the Party in both the UK and around the world still to distance itself from totalitarianism.

Clarion readers will doubtless agree that Stalinism was not what Marx and Engels had in mind when they set about formulating the Communist Manifesto. For that reason alone we must continue to fight for the rehabilitation of our reputation through the potency of our ideas and ideals.

It was Beat poet Allen Ginsberg who said it best, I believe, when he said Socialism was…

“…a universal failure wherever practiced by secret police.”

I keep a physical reminder of this with a East German people’s police armband next to a small bust of Lenin on my political bookshelf. So where there should be pride, there is sadness and the warning of betrayal of the revolution.

Thinking now of our 100 years, I find myself feeling that it is probably fitting that the revolution came to its end through the power of the powerless.

The end of history, as Fukuyama called it, was at once both incredibly sad and inspirational for socialists. Sad because of that betrayal of socialism that came with communist totalitarianism; inspirational because it was the people of East Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and more who brought about the end of these one-party totalitarian states.

And yet, in the era of Trump, Putin and indeed Kim Jong-un, I cannot think of a more urgent time since the war against fascism in WW2 when the world has needed the values that drove the Russian people to build their new society than today.

Which brings me to another of my favourite quotes, this time by French poet/socialist Charley Peguy, when he said:

“The Social Revolution will be moral, or it will not be.”

With revolutionary socialism still regarded as the epitome of blood-drench immorality, it will take much to disassociate that view so that we might achieve the groundswell of support needed for 21st Century socialism. So, we move along that road in smaller steps. Starting with the election of Corbyn’s Labour government. That would be a perfect gift for the British worker. Happy Christmas.

Carl Spiby, St. Briavels
(former CPB member, former Labour Party member, but still a Labour voter)