Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Archive for October, 2013|Monthly archive page

FLEXIBILITY OR EXPLOITATION?

In R.Richardson on October 24, 2013 at 12:47 pm

The “zero hours” contract under the spotlight

A zero-hours contract is one where a company may offer any number of hours a week to the workers that it takes on. According to a “Unite” survey, there are now over five million workers, both in the public and private sectors, on zero-hours contracts.

Where they are used appropriately, such contracts may offer flexibility for employers and also such employees as students and retired people. But all too often such workers are merely exploited.

Where they are used appropriately, such contracts offer flexibility for employers and also such employees as students and retired people. But all too often such workers are merely exploited.

TRY PLANNING AHEAD!TRY PLANNING AHEAD!
It is difficult to plan holidays, social activities and child care when you don’t know whether you will be working, from week to week, or for how many hours. In fact a “Unite” survey disclosed that 22 per cent of those on zero-hours contracts work less than three hours a week. And many firms prohibit workers from taking on other jobs.

On the other hand, some workers are at times required to put in long hours, perhaps up to fifty hours in a week, without notice. A comment from a blog for Guardian readers said, “Your ability to be at your child’s school production, or watch your nine-year-old’s first football match becomes secondary to your employer’s whims”.

MINIMUM WAGE AND NO UNION:
Most of those on zero-hours contracts are on the minimum wage. They tend not to be members of trade unions, so have no source of help or advice. These contracts are not, however, totally restricted to low paid workers. Universities and colleges of education employ many teachers on zero-hours contracts.

Many well-known firms have large numbers of such workers. In Sports Direct, for example, 90 per cent of its workers are on these contracts whilst in Wetherspoons it is 80 per cent. Buckingham Palace, Cineworld and the Tate Gallery also use zero-hours contracted workers.

Over half of domiciliary care workers are on such contracts, and are only paid for contact time – not for call-out or travel time. Sometimes a house visit is cancelled at short notice, sometimes an extra one is added at the end of a working day, possibly disrupting personal childcare arrangements.

MEASURES TO END ABUSE:
Ed Milliband, in a recent address to the TUC, said, “We must stop flexibility being used as an excuse for exploitation”. He called for three specific measures:

1. Banning employees from insisting workers be available even when there is no guarantee of work.

2. Ending zero-hours contracts requiring workers to work exclusively for one business.

3. Ending misuse where employees are, in practice, working regular hours over a sustained period.

AND A CALL FOR PROTECTION:
Meanwhile, “Unite” has called for further measures. All workers should be given the full protection of employment rights from day one, and all contracts must include a guaranteed number of hours per week, with limitations on imposed overtime.

“CROWDWORKING”:
Crowdworking is a more recent phenomenon. Once a company would have a bunch of temporary workers to complete a time-consuming but routine computer task, such as data processing. Now through technology, workers all over the world can “collaborate” (sic) on huge tasks whilst sitting at their home computer. Many such workers are based in China, Pakistan or the Philippines, and local rates are paid. It gives the concept of “globalisation” a totally new dimension!

In the interests of research, a BBC journalist, L.J.Rich, spent a week working through sites such as “Clickworker” and “Cloudcrowd”. In 37 hours he earned just £19.16p.

JUST A REMINDER:
It’s all just another reminder that we can’t expect companies to behave ethically. Their function is to extract maximum profit from any business opportunity for their shareholders and directors. Which is one reason why it’s so important to give their employees the kind of legal protection that “Unite” is calling for.

By RUTH RICHARDSON.

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Breaking the Thatcherite consensus

In Editorial on October 24, 2013 at 12:40 pm

It’s all relative of course, but to those of us with a sense of history, the “Macmillan years” back in the 1950s must seem like the golden years of Tory rule. It wasn’t just that, in Macmillan’s own words, we’d “never had it so good”. More significantly it was a time when the Tory administration seemed happy enough to accept the post-war reforms brought in by the Attlee Government as a continuing basis on which to build our society.

The “mixed economy” included all the industries and utilities brought under public control by Labour. Council homes were still available to those in need – and were still being built. Local authorities still had a freedom, and the power, to run their own affairs. Meanwhile, some councils were groping their way towards re-defining the tripartite system of education and introducing new comprehensive schools. The NHS, as founded by Nye Bevan, continued to be a model for all. And it had finally been accepted by the Government that we were no longer an imperial power, and could no longer act like one.

THE SHADOW OF THATCHERISM:
Those were the years described by commentators as a time of “consensus politics”. But this consensus was, of course, finally broken by Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s, in her determined purge of anything that could be seen as collective or socially-orientated. She herself declared that (in her view) “there was no such thing as society – only individuals and their families”. The structure of our public services was sold off (in a purge that Macmillan likened to “selling off the family silver”), our industrial base disintegrated and unemployment soared. Of course some got very rich in the process, and a new term, “Yuppie”, was coined for those in the City and elsewhere who were making “loadsa money”.

It was a dark, ugly phase – but one which also seemed to establish a new consensus. Nearly everything that the Attlee Government had achieved was swept away. But when “New Labour” was returned to power in the 1990s there was no attempt to restore the collective basis of our society. To put it crudely, the Blair regime seemed happy to continue, in broad outline, with the changes wrought by the Thatcher regime, merely smoothing away the rougher, more jagged, edges.

CARRY ON THATCHERISM:
Now we have the Tories back in power. Under Cameron and Osborne (with the backing of their tame allies, the Liberal Democrats) the Government seems intent on carrying Thatcherism even further. Now it’s the very foundations of the Welfare State that are being undermined. No longer is welfare seen as something which we should all benefit from, as a society, but is identified as merely a meagre handout for those at the bottom of the heap. The ugly face of “means testing” has re-emerged, and the philosophy behind it is now all too prevalent. And it’s all being done under the guise of “balancing the books” and sorting out the economy.

Of course the devastation caused by the Cameron Government over the past three years has already been documented in the Clarion, and readers hardly need reminding of it. But the point is here, how should the Labour leadership react? Under Ed Milliband, can it build a credible opposition – one that can win the next election AND break the neo-Thatcherite consensus while its at it?

As we go to press, the Labour Party has been meeting in conference. It’s been a time to spell out where it goes from here; the campaign issues that it should be pressing home, and the policies on which they’ll be based. So far there are a few “straws in the wind”. For example, we should approve of Ed Milliband’s promise to repeal the iniquitous “bedroom tax”. Or Ed Ball’s statement on Radio 4 that he would be happy to use the word Socialism. And, in a defining moment, Milliband’s lead in opposing possible military involvement in Syria, successfully changed the ball game. Meanwhile, Ed’s speech to Labour’s conference was a tour de force that had delegates riveted. It was certainly both a change of style and content from the sort of speeches we used to get from New Labour. No doubt the Tories will soon make their views clear – and we can judge them accordingly. The Daily Mail has already made its position clear! It was, it said (amongst other things), a return to “’70s style Socialism”. If only!

But statements made by some other Labour leaders indicate that we’ve still a long way to go. All too often there seems to an obsession to fit in with an agenda drawn up by the Tories. It’s now up to Labour to draw up its own agenda.

ROLE OF PRESSURE GROUPS:
So far the campaign against the Government’s “slash and burn” policies has been vigorously fought by pressure groups, campaigning on a number of fronts – such as opposing cuts in our social infrastructure, trying to save the NHS, or the trade union campaigns for jobs. And more power to their elbow. We need to build such campaigns to focus public attention, to involve the public and to ensure that issues don’t just slip under the radar.

But such campaigns, though necessary, are not enough in themselves. It’s vital that we carry them forward on to the political front. We must persuade voters that the policies pursued by the Tories are based on self-interest and the philosophy of greed. Indeed, it’s the Tory leadership that’s out of touch with the ordinary voter.

We need to persuade voters that there is another way, based on different values and perspectives. We may not be able to re-create what Ken Loach labelled “the spirit of ’45”, but we should surely try to emulate the principles behind it.

MODERN TIMES: the Dinosaur column

In Dinosaur on October 24, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Stores in their eyes?

dinosaurWe were ambling along, enjoying Lydney in the sunshine the other day, when we were accosted by a young man. He was very polite about it, mind. What he wanted us to do was to sign a document to say how much we really, really wanted a new Asda in Lydney.

Needless to say we declined the invitation, pointing out our disinclination to support a new supermarket drawing custom away from the town centre.

At present Lydney has three supermarkets, all trading reasonably well, as far as I can see. The Co-op store is the most entrenched – it’s been a part of the community since the 1880s. Tesco, of course, is a bit of a cuckoo in the nest but has now embedded itself. Indeed you can hardly miss it as you head up the High Street. And then there’s the Nisa store, which started life as a Kwiksave (trading out of what was an old bus depot), became Somerfield and then transformed itself into a Harry Tuffins.

Now if that isn’t enough, it seems that Lydney is embroiled in a new store war, with Asda and Sainsbury’s competing to build out on the new development on the edge of town.

What I’d like to know is can a town the size of Lydney sustain a fourth supermarket? Are there enough eager shoppers to go round? OK, I hear you say “that’s Lydney’s problem”. But it’s not confined solely to Lydney. Both Cinderford and Coleford now face the imminent threat of new “hyperstores”.  Thanks to a vote in the District Council, Tesco are likely to go ahead with their new development in Coleford (right next to the Co-op), whilst Cinderford’s shopping centre faces decimation if Asda goes ahead with it’s monster store on the edge of town.

There are small or medium-sized towns all over the country that are being choked by the growth of the big supermarket chains. Communities that could sustain, say, two superstores and still maintain a thriving town centre, now find that they have three or four competing supermarket chains on their doorstep – and consequently their town centres simply shrivel up and die.

But there are some towns that have, so far, managed to buck the trend. Recently I’ve visited two such communities. Llangollen, in Wales, has a couple of supermarkets, the Co-op and a Nisa store, and sustains a thriving town centre with hardly an empty shop to be seen. More recently we were in Swanage on the Dorset coast. Apart from a pier and its own steam railway, Swanage also has a Co-op and a Budgen’s store – and here again, the town centre is busy and bustling. Nearer at home, we need only go as far as Newent, which has a modest Co-op and a Budgen’s store – and a bustling town centre.

They are amongst the communities that have been spared the ravages of the likes of Tesco, Asda, et al. Let’s hope that they can continue to do so.

Family fortunes

Whilst we’re on the subject of Asda, this supermarket chain is wholly owned by the US giant, WalMart, which in recent decades has spread its tentacles across North America.

Walmart itself is owned by one family, the Waltons. And between them, members of the family made a total of 115.7 billion US dollars from the business last year. The biggest slice went to Christy Walton and family who pocketed 28.2 billion.

Of course that kind of wealth doesn’t seem to trickle down to the thousands of Walmart employees. Or the bulk of the company’s customers, come to that.

It ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it!

I hope readers don’t mind if I mount one of my favourite hobby horses (and I do have a lot of them!). It’s what happens to the English language as words change their meaning or are mis-used – or indeed are phased out altogether.

I still grit my teeth when I hear what used to be called the “Union Jack” referred to as the “Union Flag”. I think it was about the time of the Falklands invasion that it happened. And to me, my radio is still a wireless set, a truck is still a lorry and an elevator remains a lift.

And I can’t abide nouns being used as verbs. For instance, the word “access” (you have “access to” – you don’t “access” anything!). And I shudder inwardly when I hear a politician declare that a “robust” response is needed.

The latest travesty seems to be the way in which suddenly we’re all pronouncing the humble word “aitch” as though it’s in fact “haitch”. Where did that come from? And why? Is there a secret grapevine that spreads such mis-pronounciation? Or a secret Ministerial department in charge of language change?

For an old dinosaur like me, it’s most unsettling!

Dinosaur

WTF? the counter comment column by Tyler Chinnick

In T. Chinnick on October 17, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Autumn 2013

THE KISSING RITUAL

It’s one of the easiest (and most nauseating) rituals on any political campaign: the kissing of the baby. Not so for Tony Abbott, the leader of Australia’s conservative Liberal party who missed the baby altogether and kissed the back of the mother’s head.

This unfortunate photo opportunity has not, unfortunately harmed the campaign. Abbott who looks like the cartoon version of Adam West from The Simpsons and whose rampant homophobia is surpassed only by his misogyny ended up winning the election. pity the nation!

In other election news from down under the One Nation Party’s candidate for Rankin, Queensland – Stephanie Banister bewildered everyone by claiming in a television interview that Islam was a country, Jews followed Jesus and praising a government program that wasn’t due to start for another three years. She stepped down claiming her words had been taken out of context. They hadn’t.

JUST SAY NICE THINGS

But the ramblings of an inconsequential weirdo on the political fringes pales into insignificance when you consider news coming out of the Prime Minister’s office. The Prime Minister of Israel that is, Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Ha’aretz the Israeli govt. is offering students scholarships if they post pro-Israeli messages on internet fora.

The scheme is reminiscent of China’s ‘50 Cent Party’ where individuals are paid 5p for every pro-China message they write. How becoming more like China will affect Israel’s image abroad is yet to be seen.

HANDBAGS AT DAWN

Oprah Winfrey accused a Swiss shop assistant of racism for refusing to show her a $35,000 handbag. According to Winfrey the shop assistant tried to show her a different, cheaper bag instead – something which the woman in question denies. The owner of the store maintains that it was all a misunderstanding.

But what is more offensive: the alleged racism or the fact that Oprah Winfrey is willing to spend on a handbag what some people could only hope to earn in a whole year? In completely unrelated news Winfrey’s new film The Butler opened a week after the alleged incident.

MANNING WHO?

Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who heroically/treacherously leaked the largest number of classified documents in modern history has been sentenced to 35 years behind bars.

But before being transferred to Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas where he is due to serve his sentence the 25 year old released a press statement requesting that he be referred to as ‘she’ and be permitted to start hormone therapy as soon as possible.

The statement read “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female . . . I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun . . . I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible”. Good luck in prison, that’s all I can say.

NEED FOR FOOTNOTES?

The press continues to unearth examples of UKIP lunacy. The latest numb-nut is a man called Hugh Williams who self-published a book called “From Ur to Us, Everything you Need to Know about History”.

The stuff we need to know about history includes that the second world war was due to “Polish aggression”, that Hitler offered peace to Britain but was refused and that child abuse in the Catholic Church was “negligible”. He referred to the book as being “unencumbered by the shackles of political correctness” – unencumbered by the shackles of sanity would seem more accurate.

LEFT INSIDE: A new face for Labour in the Dean

In C.Spiby on October 15, 2013 at 12:25 pm

The Forest of Dean Constituency Labour Party has nominated Steven Parry-Hearn as its Parliamentary candidate for the next General Election.

What does this mean for the left in labour?

Indeed, what does it mean for the Dean? And what about those dissatisfied with New Labour and who have yet to be tempted by Ed Miliband’s brand of ‘One Nation’ Labour?

Mr. Parry-Hearn lives in the constituency with his young family and has been very active behind the scenes in the Party with various projects and posts at Executive Committee level. He’s also a member of the LP South West Regional Board and stood against Liam Fox at the last election. Then he lost (but then again who didn’t in Labour that time around? It was a national swing of historic proportions – nothing less than our greatest defeat, so we can’t blame him for that!), but Steve DID gain a significantly higher vote than that expected of a Labour Party candidate there.

He’d also been active in the Aberavon CLP in Wales at the election before that – a heritage his accent reveals. So, clearly, Steve has experience and the organisational skills of a good CLP member. But where does he stand on policy?

He says ‘There are issues here, social injustices, which the current Member of Parliament has completely ignored. He has betrayed his constituents…’ [1]

Whereas Harper is an accountant by trade, Parry-Hearn works for the Shaw Trust, dealing with the fallout of failed Tory policies.

Like many of us, he vehemently opposed Harper on the sell-off of the Forests but managed at the same time to bring a breath of fresh air to the Forest of Dean CLP. Although not a target seat for Labour, Harper must be on the back foot precisely because of the attempted sell-off of the forests and the success of the HOOF campaign. Now we have chosen Harper’s opposition it is time to get to the nub of his beliefs. I took advantage of the selection process to quiz him on issues I feel particularly strongly.

For starters, I asked him about the development of new Nuclear Power at Oldbury, a hot topic amongst local people living opposite in the Dean as well as environmental and anti-nuclear campaigners.

Parry-Hearn said he does not support Hitachi-Horizon’s development and that he has ‘been opposed to the development of nuclear powered generation for many years.’ [2] In fact, he goes on to state ‘I believe that there are energy generation solutions which are far more acceptable not only to ourselves, but also to our descendants.  I believe that we are merely custodians of our fragile planet, and we must use all our ingenuity to develop new, cleaner fuels and means of generating energy.  I feel that wind, sea and solar must be the way forward.’ [3]

This puts Steve at odds with the previous candidate, Bruce Hogan whose position had seen him switch over the years to a pro-nuclear power stance.

Moving to a deliberately tricky issue for some in Labour is the question of the renewal of the UK nuclear missile system (Trident). On this topic Parry-Hearn said that ‘I personally stand idealistically and morally opposed.  I feel that we are behaving rather hypocritically here. We rattle sabres at Iran, Libya and North Korea, but what right do we have to dictate terms of disarmament to those states, when we ourselves stealthily and perpetually patrol the world’s oceans with our Trident Submarines?’ [4] And he goes on to qualify this with further reasoning: ‘we should not commit public money, when we are seeing this awful, callous government cutting welfare to the most vulnerable in our society.

On those points Clarion readers will probably agree and welcome our PPC, but that’s just two issues. It is not enough to judge him on these alone. We still don’t know whether Parry-Hearn sits in the pre-New Labour camp or post’. That is, is he a believer in the One Nation line? Certainly, it seems we can – I think – rest assured Parry-Hearn is no raving Blairite.

The true test, I suppose, will be the moment our national programme is finally launched.

That document, which will at last declare our policies and set our Party’s election manifesto, will be the strongest challenge for Party-Hearn to date. Will he stay true to his own beliefs – those upon which he was elected as PPC locally – or will he sway to the national line?

I strongly suspect on both Trident and nuclear power the national policy will differ from Hearn’s. With the nuclear power development directly affecting his constituency will he have the will to act against his party? For sure, he says he is of ‘high moral courage, honesty and diligence.’ [5] On the issue of nuclear weapons, this could arguably be the most moral question of all.

But as I have said, we shouldn’t shape our support of opposition of him on those two nuclear topics alone. Does he have the red fibre Clarion readers’ lust after? For his part, Graham Morgan (County, District & Town Councillor for Labour) believes Steve is ‘a real man of the people.’ [6]

Moreover, Parry-Hearn states he is committed ‘to establishing a Business Task Force, promoting growth, sustainable inward investment and apprenticeship opportunities for our young generation’ [7] in the Dean. He targets housing as the way forward both locally and nationally as a tool of economic renewal and his work with the Shaw Trust would mean he also has first-hand experience of the dire need for good social housing. He is pro-European but supports a referendum.

At the 28th July hustings which resulted in his election, Steve cited Andy Burnham as one of those currently influencing his political thinking. This being the same Andy Burnham who is leading the charge against the Tory Health & Social Welfare bill, promising to repeal it at Labour’s first opportunity and switch to re-investing in the NHS instead. That is a good place for Labour and Steve to be and thus a good influence to be guided by, in my book.

So, while Parry-Hearn might not be the Forest’s answer to Tony Benn we can hold some comfort by the fact that he probably wouldn’t be entirely offended by the idea either.

In fact, I would go so far to say that I think that our constituency has the strongest candidate for many elections past.

I hope you will canvass his opinion yourself by directly engaging with him while supporting our party and his campaign with all your vigor.

We MUST get rid of the ConDems, and then keep the Tories and UKIP out. We must save our NHS. We must be united in our support of the only realistic chance for Parliamentary power across the left. And in doing so we will keep our values alive in Labour, locally and nationally.

Support Steve and we support that aim.

 

[1] Personal letter to all FoD CLP members 1st July 2013

[2] Personal correspondence with the author 22nd July 2013.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] Steve Parry-Hearn FoD PPC campaign leaflet  July 2013.

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.