Sharon Shoesmith and Corporate Accountability

May 31, 2011 at 5:47 pm (Cuts, Max Dunbar, unions, workers)

Just as public services come under unprecedented attack, up comes Sharon with her £1 million payoff and her list of self justifications and excuses. The story could have been planted by the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Incredibly, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said that the Court of Appeal’s ruling ‘give a much-needed boost to social workers up and down the country who protect daily thousands of vulnerable children and adults.’ Liberals flung the usual cliches of lynch-mob justice, demonisation and ‘witch hunts’, as if the dismissal of an executive who presided over horrific failure is exactly like what happened to innocent women in sixteenth-century England.

To me the case sums up the anger that so many people feel towards their local authorities, which wasted the regen cash of the boom years, whose jobs are completely closed off to workers from the communities they are meant to serve, and whose directors, when something irrevocable happens, say that lessons have been learned – and they never are. When people die on trains because Railtrack bosses cannot be bothered ensuring the safety of their passengers, we rightly demand accountability, sackings, jail time, heads on plates to go. When a child is tortured to death on the public sector watch, our wagons circle around managers on ministerial salaries.

My Shiraz colleague Jim Denham has commented on Shoesmith’s apparent insensitivity and lack of self awareness. These are traits acquired from organisational politics. When you spend years in the higher ranks of a powerful entity, discussing nothing but pay scales, funding pots and multi agency action plans, a deadly insularity takes hold. A child died with fifty injuries, okay – but what about me? What about my career, my reputation, my family, my life? Defending his company’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP boss Tony Hayward argued that ‘The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.’ Shoesmith told Radio 4 that ‘a child dying does not equal a department in disarray’.

It worries me that the unions do not recognise that the appeal was not about protecting hard working and hard pressed social workers, it was about protecting the pensions and security of the public sector management class. In his report into the murder of Victoria Climbie, another child tortured to death in the same LAA, Lord Laming refused to blame ‘hapless, if sometimes inexperienced, front-line staff’. Instead, he criticised ‘the managers and senior members of the authorities whose task it was to ensure that services for children, like Victoria, were properly financed, staffed, and able to deliver good quality support to children and families.’

It is significant that while a number of junior staff in Haringey Social Services were suspended and faced disciplinary action after Victoria’s death, some of their most senior officers were being appointed to other, presumably better paid, jobs. This is not an example of managerial accountability that impresses me much.

There is a failure of management culture. Baby P and Climbie will happen again unless the culture improves and it will not improve unless there are serious sanctions for corporate negligence. Likewise, the anti cuts movement will fail if it’s seen to be just a pressure group for lazy, stupid, overpaid, negligent council managers.

Update: This isn’t just about one LA of course. The Salford Star reports on a a series of appalling failures to safeguard children in that area. I know there’s a north/south divide, but it still surprises me that these events haven’t had national press.

Because in local government, nothing is ever anyone’s fault

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The limits of Spanish protest

May 31, 2011 at 12:45 pm (capitalist crisis, democracy, Europe, James Bloodworth, socialism, spain, workers, youth)

By James Bloodworth (crossposted from Obliged to Offend)

.
The Genuine  Democracy Now movement began in Spain two weeks ago as a public outcry
against political corruption and unemployment that has soared to unprecedented
levels. Spain has a 21.3% unemployment rate – the highest in the EU – and many
of the unemployed are young people. Some Spaniards who do have jobs are going
months without pay due to their employees hanging the threat of unemployment
over their heads. Protesters have come together against what they see as an
outrageous carve-up between bankers and politicians, who are making ordinary
people pay for the financial crisis of the rich.
.
Ironically perhaps, on   the back of the protests it is the socialist party (PSOE), one of Europe’s more
economically progressive governments, that has suffered one of its worst results
in recent history. The PSOE lost around 2 million votes while the People’s
Party, an economically right-wing party, obtained unprecedented support from the
electorate in many key provinces of the state.While the protesters say
they wish to see radical changes to the Spanish political model, their lack of
concrete demands appear to be harming the movement as a whole. Ignacio Molina,
associate professor in the department of politics and international relations at
the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, believes that the movement is too limited
and narrow in focus.
.
“In other words, protesters are naive enough to think
that changing the political model on institutional issues such as the republican
form of government, participatory democracy or the proportional electoral system
can help resolve the crisis and improve the life prospects of young people or
the unemployed,” he said.

This highlights the harm be-all-and-end-all
adherence to “autonomy” and “spontaneity” is doing to mass-movements right
across Europe. Because there is no alternative program to be argued for,
movements are struggling to win the majority over to ideas different to that of
the status quo. The manifesto of the protesters fails for example to make any
concrete proposals regarding the Spanish economy – the root cause of much of the
disenfranchisement felt by ordinary people..

When the protesters do
return to their homes, whether in the next few days or several weeks from now,
there are no organisational structures in place nor transitional demands for
people to take home with them. As we saw with the British student movement, when
this happens a movement can quickly lose much of its momentum and force. As one
Spanish commentator remarked, “the saddest thing about the Spanish revolts is
that, in the end, most of these youngster’s parents and elders turned out to
vote for the People’s Party instead of joining the protesters.”

That  being said, with no end to the economic crisis in sight there is a chance this
protest will not simply fizzle out – there is the potential for this to be the
start of something much bigger. What is required, though, is a bridging of the
gap between undirected discontent and ideas about a different sort of society, a
society where people really would exercise democratic control over their
economic lives.

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UCU rejects internationally recognised definition of anti-semitism

May 31, 2011 at 9:32 am (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, Champagne Charlie, Education, Europe, Human rights, israel, unions)

UCU conference last week.

Proposed by the National Executive Committee of the union:

70/  EUMC working definition of anti-semitism - National Executive Committee

Congress notes with concern that the so-called ‘EUMC working definition of antisemitism’, while not adopted by the EU or the UK government and having no official status, is being used by bodies such as the NUS and local student unions in relation to activities on campus.

Congress believes that the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine antisemitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus.

Congress resolves:

  1. that UCU will make no use of the EUMC definition (e.g. in educating members or dealing with internal complaints)
  2. that UCU will dissociate itself from the EUMC definition in any public discussion on the matter in which UCU is involved
  3. that UCU will campaign for open debate on campus concerning Israel’s past history and current policy, while continuing to combat all forms of racial or religious discrimination

Motion overwhelmingly carried,  with 4 against.

Here’s a report from one delegate.

A lesson in logic from an ex-member of UCU

Here’s a speech from a delegate:

Ronnie Fraser:

I, a Jewish member of this union, am telling you that I feel an antisemitic mood in this union and even in this room.

I would feel your refusal to engage with the EUMC definition of antisemitism, if you pass this motion, as a racist act.

Many Jews have resigned from this union citing their experience of antisemitsim.   Only yesterday a delegate here said ‘they are an expansionist people”. It is difficult to think that the people in question are anything other than the Jews.

You may disagree with me.

You may disagree with all the other Jewish members who have said similar things.

You may think we are mistaken but you have a duty to listen seriously.

Instead of being listened to, I am routinely told that anyone who raises the issue of antisemitism is doing so in bad faith.

Congress, Imagine how it feels when you say that you are experiencing racism, and your union responds: stop lying, stop trying to play the antisemitism card.

You, a group of mainly white, non-Jewish trade unionists, do not the right to tell me, a Jew, what feels like antisemitism and what does not.

Macpherson tells us that when somebody says they have been a victim of racism, then institutions should begin by believing them. This motion mandates the union to do the opposite.

Until this union takes complaints of antisemitsim seriously the UCU will continue to be labelled as an institutionally antisemitic organisation.

It’s true that anti-Zionist Jews may perceive things differently.  But the overwhelming majority of Jews feel that there is something wrong in this union. They understand that it is legitimate to criticise Israel in a way that is, quoting from the definition, “similar to that levelled to any other country’ but they make a distinction between criticism and the kind of demonisation that is considered acceptable in this union

Ronnie met with stoney silence.

What a shameful disgrace.

H/t Engage

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Desert Island Doppelganger

May 30, 2011 at 5:18 pm (BBC, jazz, Jim D, music, whisky, wireless)

You can now visit  the BBC Radio 4 / Home Service ‘Desert Island Discs’ archive, and have a look at the choices of every guest on the programme since Roy Plomley began it in 1942. I was somewhat taken aback to find that one guest (guess who) had made almost exactly the choices (including the “luxury item” and “book”) that I would. My only difference would be the inclusion of Louis Armstrong (probably ‘West End Blues’) in place of Johann Strauss II.
.
Johann Strauss II

1.

Johann Strauss II

Tales from the Vienna Woods

Orchestra: J. Strauss Orchestra of Vienna Conductor: Leopold Stokowski

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

2.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The Magic Flute Act 2

Soloist: Irma Beilke, Carla Spletter, Rut Berglund Orchestra: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

.Click to show "Bix Beiderbecke" result 2

3.

Bix Beiderbecke

I’m Coming Virginia

Artist: Frank Trumbauer & His Orchestra

Antonin Dvorak

4.

Antonin Dvorak

Symphony No. 9 in E minor ‘From the New World’

Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra

Jimmy Rushing

5.

Jimmy Rushing

Exactly Like You

Artist: Count Basie and Orchestra

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

7.

Pee Wee Russell

Strut Miss Lizzie

Artist: Eddie Condon + Band

Wild Bill Davison

8.

Castaway’s favourite

Wild Bill Davison

Runnin’ Wild

Artist: Sidney Bechet

Book

Oxford English Dictionary

Luxury item

Scotch whisky

This programme is not currently available to listen. Why?

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“Syrian lives were now cheaper than a bullet”

May 30, 2011 at 2:06 pm (democracy, Free Speech, good people, Human rights, Jim D, liberation, Middle East)

Activist tells her story of assault by security forces on demonstration in Homs

Milia stayed out all night protesting. That night, people were
chanting in the new clock square, the one that protesters had dubbed “The
liberation square of the governorate of Homs”. Milia’s house is on Hamidia
Street, right behind the Khaled Ben Walid mosque. But this Christian
neighborhood also harbours one of the oldest churches on earth, the Church of
the Holy Girdle and Milia lives right next to this landmark, visiting it every
Sunday to receive the archbishop’s blessings.

Read it all here. The courage…

H/t: The Fat Man

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Goon, but not forgotten

May 30, 2011 at 12:01 am (BBC, comedy, Jim D, surrealism, wireless)

It started sixty years ago and made me laugh as a kid. It still does.

Peter Sellers doing his George Sanders voice as Grytpype-Thynne.  The great Max Geldray on harmonica.

Radio 4 Extra has been celebrating the sixtieth anniversary. Kick-off: a brilliant recreation, ‘Goon Again’  with an amazing cast including the sons of Harry Secombe and Ray Ellington !

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Unite: defend the SWP!

May 29, 2011 at 1:32 am (Johnny Lewis, sectarianism, stalinism, SWP, Unite the union, workers)

Defend the SWP!

Now there’s a headline you never expected to see here…

Below: the pwoletawiat:

Anyway, the leadership of the United Left (UL) in Unite seems to be seriously considering expelling the SWP over a Socialist Worker article about the BA dispute; here’s the UL officers’ statement:

********************************************************************************************************

Most United Left Executive members were shocked and angry last week at an article entitled “BA workers should reject this shoddy deal” which appeared in the “Socialist Worker” 21 May edition and which was being sold by three UNITED LEFT Executive Council members who are members of SWP outside Congress House whilst the UNITE Executive was in session.

The paper first appeared on Wednesday the day after we had debated the conclusion to our long running UNITE British Airways Cabin Crew dispute. The article caused offence by implicitly criticising  our left General Secretary Len McCluskey and our UNITE BASSA reps for recommending this “terrible deal”.

No-one was more upset by this than our two United Left Executive Council members from BASSA who have lived and breathed this dispute for the past two years, and whom the rest of us had congratulated only the day before for a remarkably good settlement after one of the most bitter and ruthless disputes in recent times. The other members of our UNITED LEFT executive group were also incensed by the article, which was seen as a public act of treachery by the Socialist Workers Party whose members participate in UNITED LEFT and sit on the Executive. At the very least it must be seen as a supreme act of disloyalty towards our left-run Union including our BASSA reps and our left General Secretary.

The article was a typical piece of ultra-leftism which seeks to turn members against their own union, twisting and stretching facts about the negotiated deal to paint the blackest picture possible. We all know that the BA settlement was not an outright victory and that labour cost savings were always going to part of any final settlement. However the recovery of staff travel concessions, a solution to deal with the disciplines and dismissals of both members and reps, and the recovery of trade union recognition and representation rights represented a major climbdown by the Company. For this group of workers to stand up against the bullying and anti-union tactics of this powerful multinational (which had the full backing of the establishment and we understand a £2 billion warchest to “smash BASSA”) had always been the most impressive aspect to this dispute and to conclude it with such credit was widely welcomed at the Executive Council.

What many UNITED LEFT colleagues are now asking is how can we sit alongside SWP members whose party newspaper attacks the union in this way? Who are they to interfere in the details of a collective bargaining agreement which was endorsed not only by the BASSA reps but widely applauded at a special meeting attended by 2000 members? Is the SWP capable of understanding the realities of the industrial relations situation facing these members, or what the collective aspirations are of the majority? Finally why would the SWP want to attack UNITED LEFT BASSA reps – and our left General Secretary –  and try to undermine this latest deal as it goes to the membership for a ballot vote?

The answer to the first question is that our BASSA reps are saying they do not now wish to attend UNITED LEFT meetings if SWP members are present. That view is being shared by an increasing number of UNITED LEFT supporters. Is this now a “step too far?”

The UNITED LEFT National Co-ordinating Committee is meeting on Saturday 11 June prior to the Rules Conference to take a view on the amendments. We therefore invite comments and views especially from UNITED LEFT Regions for our consideration at that meeting on what UNITED LEFT should do with regards to acceptance of SWP members within our organisation.

Martin Mayer                                                               Paul Birkett

Chair                                                                           Secretary

UNITED LEFT

**********************************************************************************************************

It may be the case that the SWP’s article has upset members of the UNITE Executive, the union’s Civil Aviation Industrial Sector Committee and BASSA shop stewards at Heathrow. It may also be the case that SWP members of the EC behaved in a cowardly and irresponsible fashion in failing to raise their objections at the Exec itself. But to simply boot the SWP out of the UL would be anti-democratic and counter-productive for the following reasons:

1/ It would push the United Left towards being some sort of ‘democratic centralist’ organisation, which it shouldn’t be: it’s a united front;

2/ It would strengthen the most right-wing, anti-“Trot” elements within the United Left, who have long been looking for an excuse to boot out not just the SWP, but also the AWL and anyone else who causes them problems;

3/ The BA “deal”, like all other “deals” done by the union, should be subject to scrutiny. It is a simple matter of *fact* that the BA settlement is not a victory: it is probably the best deal that could be have been done under the circumstances. We should stand in the tradition of Farrell Dobbs, and be honest (to the members) about compromises and retreats. To outlaw criticism of the BA deal would be to set a terrible precedent, outlawing *any* analysis or criticism of the union’s negotiations.

4/ There is a growing tendency in politics (ironically, supported by the SWP), to outlaw giving “offence”: the fact that the Socialist Worker article “caused offence by implicitly criticising  our left General Secretary Len McCluskey and our UNITE BASSA reps ” would be an absolutely awful basis for expelling the SWP – even if you think the article was bollocks!

5/ Finally, the statement contains a most disturbing suggestion that simply daring to criticise Len McCluskey is unacceptable. As someone who actively supported Len for General Secretary, I personally find that insulting and worrying: we should militantly oppose any cult of The Leader. If the accusations against Len are untrue and unjustified (as I believe they are), we should debunk them and expose and humiliate the accusers – not play into their hands by expelling them from the UL and giving that madman Jerry Hicks some new supporters.

The SWP may well be (well, actually, ARE) a bunch of posturing, unserious, ultra-left/centrist tossers…but they should NOT be expelled from the United Left!

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Sharon Shoesmith and the ‘Polkey’ principle

May 28, 2011 at 1:15 pm (child abuse, crime, Jim D, law)

“I don’t do blame.. you cannot stop the death of children” – S. Shoesmith, BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme, 28 May 2011

If I was a friend of, or adviser to, Sharon Shoesmith, I’d strongly urge her to stop giving interviews. Radio interviews in particular. Every time she opens her mouth, millions of listeners are antagonised and enraged. Her former colleagues and other professionals who’ve worked with her say she’s a highly capable manager with a strong commitment to children’s services. On the radio, she comes over as spectacularly arrogant, self-righteous and lacking in even a scintilla of  self-awareness. Her extraordinary performance on this morning’s Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme is not the first time she’s displayed an alarming lack of humility, remorse or compassion. She put on a similar performance when interviewed on ‘Women’s Hour’ in February 2009, much to the consternation of Mumsnet commenters at the time.

This outstandingly unsympathetic woman emerged from her victory in the appeal court yesterday with a disgusting display of triumphalism (“‘I’m over the moon. Absolutely thrilled’) and only a passing mention of her “sorrow” at the death of baby Peter Connelly, thrown in almost as an afterthought.

Having got all that off my chest, I have to say that there is no doubt that Shoesmith was unfairly dismissed. Prior to her dismissal she was denied due process. No disciplinary procedure was followed. Her dismissal was announced on TV by Ed Balls, thus forcing the hand of her actual employers, Haringay Council. As Lord Justice Kay said after the judgement, “This is not to say that I consider Ms Shoesmith to be blameless or that I have a view as to the extent of her or anyone else’s blameworthiness. That is not the business of this court…Whatever her shortcomings may have been (and, I repeat, I cannot say), she was entitled to be treated lawfully and fairly and not simply and summarily scapegoated.”

In other words, this was what employment lawyers call a “Polkey” victory, after the landmark case of Polkey v A.E. Dayton Services Ltd, which established the principle that a failure to carry out a reasonable and proper procedure alone can constitute an unfair dismissal, even if carrying out a proper procedure would have made no difference to the final outcome.

Ms Shoesmith will not be re-instated, but is now widely expected to receive arrears of her £133,000 pa salary from the date of her dismissal in December 2008, plus pension contributions for that period.

I’m not familiar with Court of Appeal compensation rules, but at an employment tribunal, a case won purely on the “Polkey” principle, where the tribunal believes the dismissal would have happened even had a proper procedure been followed, will result in massively reduced compensation: usually down to six weeks’ pay (the time, it is estimated, that a proper procedure would have taken).

As Ms Shoesmith has stated that it was “justice not money” that lay behind her legal challenge, perhaps she’ll now publicly announce that she is willing to accept compensation of, say, £15,346 plus pension contributions?

Baby Peter Connelly Peter Connelly died with more
than 50 injuries on Shoesmith’s watch. But she refuses to accept responsibiliy.

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Gil Scott-Heron RIP

May 28, 2011 at 10:00 am (black culture, good people, jazz, Jim D, liberation, music, The blues)

Gil Scott-Heron 1 April 1949 – 27 May 2011.

Above: the track that made him famous and is often cited as the birth of rap (though he rejected the title “Godfather of Rap”). Below, a later message to some of those who followed him:

Hey, yeah, we the same brothas from a long time ago
We was talkin? about television and doin? it on the radio
What we did was to help our generation realize
They had to get out there and get busy cause it wasn?t gonna be televised
We got respect for you rappers and the way they be free-weighin?
But if you?re gon? be teachin? folks things, make sure you know what you?re sayin?
Older folks in our neighborhood got plenty of know-how
Remember if it wasn?t for them, you wouldn?t be out here now
And I ain?t comin? at you with no disrespect
All I?m sayin? is that you damn well got to be correct
Because if you?re gonna be speakin? for a whole generation
And you know enough to try and handle their education
Make sure you know the real deal about past situations
It ain?t just repeatin? what you heard on the local TV stations
?Sometimes they tell lies and put ?em in a truthful disguise
But the truth is that?s why we said it wouldn?t be televised
They don?t know what to say to our young folks, but they know that you do
And if they really knew the truth?why would they tell you?
The first sign is peace, tell all them gun totin? young brothas
That the man is glad to see us out there killin? one another
We raised too much hell when they was shootin? us down
So they started poisoning our minds tryin? to jerk us all around
And they tell us they got to come in and control our situation
They want half of us on dope and the other half in incarceration
If the ones they want dead ain?t killed by what they instigated
They put some dope on a brotha?s body and claim it was drug related
Tell them drug related means there don?t need to be no investigation
Or at least that?s the way they?re gon? play it on the local TV stations
All your 9-millimeter brothas?give them somthin? to think about
Tell them you heard that this is the new word, they got to work that stuff out
But somehow they feel in the wrong way with a gun in their hands
They feel real independent?but they just pullin? contracts for the man
Five and five will tell you it?s hopeless out there on the avenue
But if they really knew the truth?why would they tell you?
And if they look at you like you?re insane
And they start callin? you scarecrow and say you ain?t got no brain
Or start tellin? folks that you suddenly gone lame
Or that white folks had finally co-opted your game
Or worse yet implying that you don?t really know?
That?s the same thing they said about us?a long time ago
Young rappers, one more suggestion before I get out of your way
But I appreciate the respect you give me and what you got to say

-Message To The Rappers

NB: his last gig in Britain was disrupted by anti-Israel fanatics

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The Rat Mladic arrested: now watch for the apologists and deniers

May 26, 2011 at 11:53 pm (apologists and collaborators, Chomsky, fascism, Jim D, serbia, stalinism, terror, thuggery, truth)

The war criminal and mass-muderer Ratko Mladic has, at long last been arrested. Justice has been delayed, but hopefully will now be done.

Meanwhile…

“…Countdown begins now for the Noam Chomsky article
daydreaming about Bush being deported to the Hague for trial, and saying
the entire Bosnian conflict is America’s fault –  posted by happyroach at 9:25 AM on May 26″

Readers may rest assured that Shiraz will be monitoring the inevitable apologists, revisionists and deniers, with hawk-like vigilance, and keeping you posted.

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