Louis at Hallowe’en: Skeleton In The Closet

October 31, 2013 at 6:36 pm (cinema, comedy, jazz, Jim D, New Orleans)

Any excuse to run a clip of the great Mr Armstrong. This is from the 1936 Bing Crosby movie ‘Pennies From Heaven.’ Behind the masks the band includes Lionel Hampton on drums and Joe Sullivan on piano:


Scary, isn’t it?

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More on Grangemouth

October 30, 2013 at 8:21 pm (AWL, Jim D, scotland, truth, TUC, unions, Unite the union, workers)

logo-unite

Given the scale of the defeat, and the massive political implications for the left and for trade unionism as a whole, we make no apologies for a further post on Grangemouth.

A comrade writes:

The ‘offical’ Unite line on Grangemouth seems to be:

1) Ratcliffe wanted to impose worse terms and conditions. Unite in Grangemouth opposed this. Members voted for rejection of the new terms and conditions. The issue here was: opposing new terms and conditions.
.
2) Then Ratcliffe says he is going to close Grangemouth. The issue therefore changed. Now the issue was: keeping Grangemouth open. To keep Grangemouth open, it was legitimate/necessary to accept the new terms and conditions.
.
3) The decision to accept the new terms and conditions can be judged only against the situation referred to in (2), not against the situation referred to in (1).
.

A more sophisticated version of the above can be found in an unsigned article on the STUC website, which uses the theme of ‘the demise of the industrial correspondent’ as a way of explaining the chain of events which led to Unite’s decision to accept the new terms and conditions. The article has clearly been written by someone with ‘inside knowledge’. It’s equally clear from the article, assuming that it is accurate on this point (and I think that it is), that the convenors (and, by extension, the shop stewards committee) took the decision to accept the new terms and conditions (i.e. it was not a decision imposed on them by McCluskey, and certainly not by the Unite Scottish Regional Secretary Pat Rafferty, who is incapable of imposing anything on anyone).

The STUC article is at: http://stucbetterway.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/grangemouth-and-demise-of-industrial.html
 
Meanwhile, Workers Liberty have published another very well informed piece that calls for a reassessment of the traditional, crude “bureaucracy vs rank and file” approach in the light of what happened at Grangemouth.

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Understanding the Grangemouth defeat

October 29, 2013 at 1:25 pm (AWL, labour party, posted by JD, scotland, truth, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Employees at the Grangemouth petrochemical plant react to the news that it is to stay open

Above: workers react to news that the plant will remain open

By Dale Street, from the Workers Liberty website

The enormity of the defeat suffered by Unite at Ineos in Grangemouth is virtually impossible to exaggerate.

For the workforce the new terms and conditions mean a major cut in their terms and conditions of employment. Jobs will be axed (for sub-contractors as well as for Ineos staff). And Ineos workers have been left defenceless against further attacks in the future.

Ineos has got its way on everything. Basic pay will be frozen until the end of 2016. There will be no bonus payments until then either. The shift allowance is being cut from £10,000 to £7,500. Overtime rates and holiday entitlements are being cut as well.

Contractual redundancy pay is being replaced by the statutory minimum, and the final salary pension scheme is being replaced by a defined contributions one. Workers will pay higher contributions in exchange for a worse pension.

The scope of collective bargaining with the recognised union (Unite) is being cut back. Full-time convenors are to be replaced by part-time ones. And Unite has agreed not to engage in any industrial action for the next three years.

According to some press reports, the new terms and conditions also include mandatory overtime which may be unpaid, a higher retirement age, and Ineos to have the right to alter terms and conditions as they see fit in the absence of consultation.

But the knock-on effects of the defeat go well beyond the Ineos workforce itself.

Unite, it should be remembered, balloted its members for strike action in defence of plant convenor Stevie Deans. It gave Ineos notice of a 48-hour strike (subsequently withdrawn). And it successfully campaigned for members to vote against the Ineos “survival plan”.

With only a few exceptions, Unite is now the object of a sustained tirade of abuse in the mainstream media, in articles by political commentators, in the comment section of online media, on websites, and in a host of other forums. Unite is targeted not for having eventually agreed to the Ineos ultimatum but for having stood up for Stevie Deans, for not having accepted Ineos’ demands at the outset, and for having exposed and denounced Ratcliffe’s economic and social thuggery.

Typical – and far from the most vituperative – examples:

“On Wednesday night workers across the UK who are Unite members would have been saying ‘what the hell is my union doing? Will they screw up my job too? ’ Common sense has prevailed at last. Unite has lost all credibility, and justly so.”

“Just goes to show the ‘all brothers out’ militant union attitude of the seventies is out of place in 21st century Britain. A small group of union enforcers got eviscerated by Ineos while the membership were given a lesson in reality. Job done!”

“What the hell was Unite thinking of? When did absolutely nowt become preferable to a regular paycheck? One of Unite’s top people for Labour Party selection rigging worked there, and he had to be protected over the interests of his 799 co-workers.”

In the context of it being “open season” on Unite, comments posted by local MP Eric Joyce – Labour, until thrown out of the party – merit special mention:

“The unions need to engage with the situation properly, not fanny around making stupid political gestures. Unite called a strike over a pathetic and petty issue related to Labour Party internal politics.

“By the time the union woke up to the reality workers faced, it was too late. Workers at Ineos need proper union representation – right now, they are getting the fumbling, dumbed-down, politicised opposite.

“Ed Miliband seems to have been bounced into an anti-employer position when it’s clear that Unite had handled the dispute appallingly. He needs to step in now and make it clear that Unite needs to start operating like a serious trade union.”

Last weekend’s Sunday Times also reported that a thousand Unite internal e-mails had been handed to the police, allegedly revealing “a concerted union plot involving threats, intimidation and dirty tricks” to “thwart” the Labour Party inquiry into claims that the Falkirk parliamentary selection process had been rigged by Unite.

Under the headline “Ineos to Sack Union Boss”, another article in the Sunday Times reported that it was “expected” that Ineos would sack Unite convenor Stevie Deans on the basis of allegations that he had spent time as union convenor on Labour Party work.

In recent months Stevie has been: suspended and reinstated by the Labour Party; investigated by the police, who found no case to answer; suspended and re-instated by Ineos; subjected to three different investigations by the company; witch-hunted in the press; and scapegoated for Ineos’ decision to threaten closure of Grangemouth.

Then, in the midst of disciplinary proceedings, his anti-union employer handed over to the anti-union police and the anti-union Sunday Times a dossier of Stevie’s e-mails, allowing anti-union Tory MPs from the other end of Britain to call for the Labour Party and the police to re-open their investigations into Stevie.

Britain’s biggest union is under concerted attack from every element in British society possessed of a visceral hostility to trade unionism and to the right of trade unions to demand political representation from the party which they founded. Read the rest of this entry »

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Acting for Active Transport

October 28, 2013 at 9:49 pm (Cycling, environment, Rosie B)

Hundreds of people will gather outside the St Andrews House government offices at  1.00-1.30pm on Weds 30 October to call on Finance Secretary John Swinney MSP, the man in charge of the 2014/15 Scottish budget, to double investment in walking and cycling.  Be there!!

The event is organised by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, an umbrella body for over 60 Scottish organisations including environment, community, faith and international development groups, trades unions, student unions, and of course transport and cycling groups such as Spokes, Transform and Pedal on Parliament.

FREE PIC- On Your Bike Campaign EM 01_4

A similar SCCS event two years ago marked the turning point in a successful campaign by Spokes and many other organisations to reverse severe active travel cuts which the government had included in the draft 2012/13 budget.

This year the draft budget for 14/15 does include a welcome rise in active travel investment but it is nowhere near adequate to meet the government’s ambition of 10% of all trips in Scotland to be by bike in 2020.  There is growing cycle use in Edinburgh, but, for Scotland as a whole, only 1% of all trips are by bike (around 2% of work trips).  Furthermore, under the draft budget, cycling investment peaks in 14/15 and starts to fall back again in 15/16.

Location:
outside St Andrews House
Regent Road
EH1 3DG Edinburgh
United Kingdom

Date:
Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Time:
1 – 1.30pm

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Unite’s Grangemouth debacle

October 28, 2013 at 8:08 pm (Jim D, scotland, Socialist Party, Unite the union, workers)

Stevie Deans 

Above: Stevie Deans

For once, the Guardian got it right about an industrial dispute:

“Not so much victory from the jaws of defeat, as defeat from the jaws of devastation. After two terrible days in which workers at Grangemouth thought they had no future whatever, they breathed an almighty sigh of relief when they learnt that they would not be out on their ears, but would hold on to jobs with terms entirely rewritten to suit owners, Ineos. Compared with the threatened alternative of mass local unemployment, the outcome is infinitely preferable – especially as a £300m investment should safeguard jobs at the plant for many years to come. But a settlement in which the bosses have humiliated the union, dismantled pensions and frozen pay for years on end leaves a bitter taste.”

The scale of the defeat inflicted upon Unite and the workforce at Grangemouth cannot be exaggerated. Ineos has had its way on everything: pay will be frozen until 2017, the shift allowance will be slashed (from £10,000 to £7,000), the final salary pension scheme will be replaced by a ‘defined contributions’ scheme, enhanced redundancy terms will go, Unite’s collective bargaining rights will be curtailed, and there will be a three-year no-strike deal.

All that was in place before the latest news that convenor Stevie Deans has tonight resigned from his job with immediate effect.

Inevitably, sections of the left are already screaming “sell-out” at Unite. Shiraz doesn’t have any inside information at this stage, but we are aware of credible reports that, following the closure announcement, Unite came under considerable pressure from its Grangemouth membership to accept the Company’s terms.

The most detailed report so far published in the left press has come from The Socialist, which noticeably avoids any crude charge of “sell-out”, though it is critical of Unite. The article is marred by the ridiculous suggestion that Unite’s failure to call for nationalisation earlier than it did was a result of its policy of ‘reclaiming’ the Labour Party. The article also states that “the Unite Scottish secretary, Pat Rafferty, supported by the Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, was at that point [ie after the closure announcement] urging that the union sign up to the company’s demands” as though Rafferty and McCluskey were trying to force Ineos’ terms onto a reluctant membership – something that does not seem to have been the case.

Nevertheless, as far as we can judge it’s a reasonably accurate report, and worth taking the trouble to read:

Trade Unions must learn lessons from Grangemouth setback

Ineos and billionaire owner Jim Ratcliffe have announced a reversal of the company’s plan to shut the petrochemical plant at Grangemouth. This follows a significant defeat for Unite on workers’ terms and conditions, demanded by the brutal Ineos management as part of their “survival plan”. While playing Russian roulette with the lives of thousands of workers, the billionaire Ratcliffe was sailing his £130 million luxury yacht around the Mediterranean. He recently applied to build a £5 million mansion in Hampshire.

There were cheers at the mass meeting when the workers were told the plant would re-open. Having been told on Wednesday that 800 jobs were lost, it is understandable that the announcement was welcomed – at least for now. It will also bring relief to the around 2,000 sub-contracted workers at the site who were in the midst of being laid off.

Ineos had said they were going to liquidate the company that ran the petrochemical plant. This would have meant workers lost thousands, and in some cases tens of thousands of pounds, in redundancy payments. Under current statutory redundancy terms post-liquidation workers would have been entitled to a maximum of £13,500.

As part of the deal Ineos will be bailed out to the tune of £134 million in Scottish and UK government grants and loan guarantees. The company claims it needs this to ensure a £300 million investment at Grangemouth over the next few years. After claiming the business was on its knees, Ineos is now saying the site has a 15 to 20 year future ahead of it. This is further proof that the company was lying about the so-called “financial distress” of the plant.

If this u-turn by the bosses was a result of being forced into a retreat by collective trade union action by Unite members, including an occupation of the plant, the reopening of Grangemouth would be seen as a step forward by trade unionists at the plant and beyond. However, this was not the case. Instead Unite has agreed to sign up to the company’s “survival plan”. This includes no wage rises until 2016, cuts in bonuses resulting in a loss of up to £15,000, the tearing up of the final salary pension scheme, a three-year no-strike deal, and an end to full-time union convenors on site.

There was huge pressure on the shop stewards at Grangemouth following the closure announcement on Wednesday 23 October. More than half of the permanent workforce at the whole Grangemouth site had been told their jobs were gone. The oil refinery was closed. According to Ineos it would remain so, unless the union agreed to huge cuts in workers’ terms and conditions. The possibility of closure enduring was a real one. In addition, the Unite Scottish secretary, Pat Rafferty, supported by the Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, was at that point urging that the union sign up to the company’s demands.

In the absence of a fighting strategy by Unite to save the plant, including the occupation of the site and the building of a mass campaign across Scotland to demand that the Scottish/UK governments nationalise Grangemouth, the pressure proved too great for the shop stewards to resist. Nevertheless we recognise the commendable role the stewards and union activists have played at Grangemouth over the last years in defending trade union rights and conditions at the plant, which was emphasised by the successful strike in 2008. Read the rest of this entry »

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Lou Reed, Velvet Underground Leader and Rock Pioneer, Dead at 71

October 27, 2013 at 6:51 pm (music, Rosie B, song)

Sad news.

I thought his Berlin too glamorously decadent for words, and Walk on the Wild Side had a real sweetness and warmth about people who most would have regarded as depraved deadbeats.

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Saudi women’s driving day of action

October 27, 2013 at 9:08 am (Civil liberties, Human rights, Middle East, misogyny, posted by JD, reblogged, women)

It was yesterday, so we’re a bit late. But it’s still well worth showing some solidarrty with these brave women in their campaign for a basic human right.

From Saudi Woman’s Weblog and Amnesty’s Livewire blog:

Eman Al Nafjan (@Saudiwoman) is a female blogger from Saudi Arabia who has been campaigning against the driving ban. She was arrested by police earlier this month as she filmed a female driver breaking the ban.  

‘Society’ is no longer an excuse for Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving
If there was one word to describe what it is like to be a Saudi woman, it would be the word patronizing. No matter how long you live, you remain a minor in the eyes of the government.

In Saudi Arabia we take patriarchy to the extreme. The fact that the culture, like many others around the world, is male-dominated is not the major challenge. The real challenge is that the government has allowed this patriarchy to dictate how it deals with citizens. Female citizens are assigned a legal male guardian from her immediate relatives. This male guardian can legally marry her off as a child to a man decades her senior. He can also legally and easily ban her from education, work and marriage. He has to pre-approve any international travel officially. Since basic education is free and college education comes with a stipend paid by the government to all public college students, most male guardians prefer to send their daughters to school. Yet in those cases where the male guardian chooses to imprison his female ward at home, the legal system makes it almost impossible for her to be able to get away.

The de facto ban on women driving is one of the main things that perpetuates this governmental patriarchy. Currently there is no public transportation system available. You cannot walk to the corner and catch a bus or take the subway except in Mecca. Thus for any woman to get from point A to point B, she doesn’t only have to buy a car but convince a male relative or employ a man from South East Asia to drive that car. This day-to-day obstacle has proven to be a demoralizing deterrent for many women from pursuing an education, a career and even maintaining their own healthcare.

When government officials are asked about the driving ban, they respond that there is no legal or Islamic basis for it and that it is only socially maintained. The King himself stated so. Others who have made similar statements include the Minister of Justice, the Head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, and the Chief of Traffic Police. Yet when a woman gets behind the wheel of her car, it isn’t society that stops her but the police. In many cases the woman is then taken to the nearest police station and her male guardian is called. The woman and her guardian are both made to sign pledges to ensure that this case of driving while female is not repeated.

There have been several attempts since 1990 to try to lift this ban on women driving. Among them were proposals sent to the Shura Council by Dr Mohammad Al Zulfa in 2006 and another by Abdullah Al Alami in 2012. Both were not even allowed to be discussed on the floor of the council. There have also been several petitions and requests sent to the Royal Court, which mostly failed to get a response. There were also campaigns to get women just to go out and drive. And they too were met with more of a response from the government than from society.

In 1990, 47 women got into their cars and drove and the government responded with job suspensions and travel bans. In June 2011, Manal Al Sharif made a Youtube video asking women to join her in driving their own cars and was imprisoned for over a week for it.

Thus the October 26th Women Driving Campaign is the most recent campaign to try to resolve the women driving ban. What makes this campaign special is that it’s the first real civil movement to occur in Saudi Arabia. There is no face to the movement. The petition was written by more than 30 people, many of whom do not know each other.

The first couple of days the petition went public, we were still accepting revisions to the text. It was only finalized on the third day. Everyone who signs the petition is considered not only an organizer but a leader who can take the initiative to act in the name of the campaign. The campaign itself has Youtube channels and an Instagram account for signatories to upload their driving videos, photos and even just to talk or make a statement through art. Through these means, the campaign aims not only to call on the government to quit its ambiguity regarding the ban but also to demonstrate that officials can no longer use the “society” excuse.

Get involved with the October 26th Women Driving Campaign:

Read more:
Saudi Arabia must not thwart campaign for women drivers (News story, 24 October 2013)
One year on, Saudi Arabian women still driving their way to greater freedom
(News story, 15 June 2012)
Women activists prepare to defy Saudi Arabian driving ban
(News story, 16 June 2011)

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Russell Brand: poseur, prat…or person of principle?

October 24, 2013 at 9:09 pm (anarchism, BBC, celebrity, Jim D, libertarianism, middle class, New Statesman, revolution, strange situations, television, wild man)

Having watched, pondered and re-watched Paxman’s interview with comedian Russell Brand on last night’s Newsnight, I’m still not sure what to make of it. My initial response was that Brand is a pretentious, incoherent idiot, spouting a lot of pseudo-revolutionary hot air and half-digested anarchistic platitudes. But several people I’ve spoken to today told me they were impressed by him. So I’ve watched it again and have to admit that, after a facetious start, he becomes more sympathetic as he gets angrier. But I still think he’s a prat – and a banal prat at that – and wonder what the hell the New Statesman is playing at, hiring him as a guest editor this week.

Judge for yourself…

…and feel free to let us know what you think.

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‘Gypsy’ child-abduction claims: time to just stop and think for a moment…

October 24, 2013 at 8:50 am (children, Civil liberties, conspiracy theories, Jim D, Racism, travellers)

Statement from the European Roma Rights Centre:
ERRC Urges Restraint and Responsible Reporting in Child Removal Cases

22 October 2013

Budapest, 22 October 2013: The ERRC is concerned by increasing reports of children being removed from Roma families, following reports about a child taken from her home in a Romani settlement in Greece. Another child has since been removed from her home in Ireland, according to media reports.

We ask the media to act responsibly in reporting the situation, especially as the full facts of the original case have still not been established.

The ERRC is aware of at least one report from Serbia where skinheads tried to take away a two-year old boy from his parents because he was “not as dark as his parents”. Irresponsible reporting could have severe, negative consequences for Roma families across Europe.

If a crime has been committed in Greece, and this is still by no means clear, those who committed it should be treated as individuals, not as representatives of their ethnicity. Such a case could arise in any racial, ethnic, religious or national group.

Criminality is not related to ethnicity. Roma children are, however, much more likely to be put into state care, trapped in segregated education, and forcibly evicted from their homes. These are the stories that don’t make it to the front page.

We urge restraint, and we urge all local authorities, media outlets and other stakeholders to fully examine the facts before acting.

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

From the BBC website:
DNA tests prove Dublin Roma girl is part of family

23 October

DNA tests have proved that a seven-year-old girl taken from a Roma family in Dublin on Monday is their daughter.
The family said they were “delighted” that their daughter had come home.

They also said they would be taking legal advice, and that serious questions have arisen over the procedures used in the case.

The blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl had been removed by police from her Tallaght home and taken into temporary care.

The family have supported calls from human rights group Pavee Point for an independent inquiry into the investigation.

In a statement issued through their solicitor the family said: “Her removal has been a cause of huge upset to her parents, her brothers and sisters, and the young girl herself.

“They now intend to concentrate on looking after their family and, in particular, in trying to reassure their daughter that she will be left in their care.

Distraught

“Our clients also wish to say they do not believe that what has happened to their family over the few days should ever have happened.

“They do not accept that this was any proper or sufficient basis to take their daughter away from them.

“They believe that there are very serious questions arising about the procedures used in this case but are going to wait for things to settle down and consider their position and that of their daughter in light of recent events and will be taking legal advice in respect of this.”

A 21-year-old sister of the child, who can not be identified for legal reasons, said their mother had not eaten for three days because she was so distraught.

“Everyone was very sad,” she said. The sister added she hoped no other family would have to go through a similar ordeal.

Report

Meanwhile, a two-year-old boy from a Roma family who was briefly taken into care in County Westmeath has been reunited with his parents.

The boy was taken from his family on Tuesday in Athlone and returned a day later.

Alan Shatter, the Irish minister for justice, said he will be asking the Garda (Police) Commissioner for a report on the two cases.

A Garda statement said: “Protecting vulnerable children is of paramount importance to An Garda Síochána and we continue to work in partnership with the HSE (Health Service Executive) and other agencies to ensure children’s safety.

“An Garda Síochána want to assure the community that we take extremely serious all reports received from members of the public concerning child welfare issues.”

The Irish police action took place against the background of international interest in the case of a blonde-haired child being taken from a Roma family in Greece last week.

Greek police are investigating whether the girl had been abducted

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More on Cyclegate

October 23, 2013 at 6:49 pm (Cycling, Rosie B)

By the jeering tone, I’d guess that the makers of the video think it’s unreasonable for a cyclist to cycle where cars go. “The privileged are most privileged when unaware of their privileges.”

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