Monday, 31 October 2011

Secret Met Police plane fleet raises serious questions on civil liberties

Reacting to reports today that the Metropolitan Police Service has a fleet of secret spy planes, each costing £3 million and capable of eavesdropping on mobile phone calls from the sky, Green Party Metropolitan Police Authority member Jenny Jones said:
"This dramatic and shocking news raises important questions on civil liberties, democratic scrutiny and prospective job cuts.
“First, how are instances of eavesdropping authorised or justified? Second, how did such a colossal and contentious item of public spending entirely avoid scrutiny? And third, will such excessive and controversial expenditure now be cut to prevent the prospective redundancies of police officers and support staff across London?”

 The report can be found here:

Saturday, 29 October 2011

BBC accused of anti-welfare stance

Letter to The Guardian

•, Friday 28 October 2011 21.00 BST

We are outraged that the BBC is joining the propaganda war aimed at destroying the welfare state, Britain 's most civilised and civilising legacy (Last night's TV, G2, 28 October). In the 1940s, after years ofdepression and slaughter, working-class people who had sacrificed so much felt entitled to a life without the constant threat of war and poverty. Family allowance, income support, unemployment and housing benefits, disability benefits, a state pension, the NHS and free education have assumed that everyone contributed and deserved to be looked after "from the cradle to the grave".

Entitlement fostered not only dignity and respect, but decent wages and working conditions for those in work. Since 1979, Thatcher's love for the free market and her hatred for "the culture of entitlement" has determined social policy. We are now all expected to chase nonexistent jobs or work for our benefits, ie £1.63 an hour; sick and disabled people are found "fit for work" even despite terminal illnesses; older people have had their pensions postponed because living "too long" is a crisis; the vital work of mothers and other carers is disregarded and dismissed. The minimum wage is bypassed and we all stand to lose. Why should corporations pay a living wage if they can get claimants and prisoners to work without one?

We are expected to compete with Chinese workers, 600,000 of whom drop dead from overwork every year. Is that what we should aspire to? The Chinese, like the rest of us, are demanding better wages and working conditions – and the welfare state is part of that. Haven't they noticed people are getting together internationally to raise everyone's standards, not to lower them? The fight is on for the society Thatcher said did not exist.

Selma James Global Women's Strike

John McDonnell, MP

Mark Serwotka General secretary, PCS

Bob Crow General secretary, RMT

Nina López Legal Action for Women

Kim Sparrow Single Mothers' Self-Defence

Claire Glasman WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities)

Marie Lynam Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group

Prof Peter Beresford Chair, Shaping Our Lives

Noel Lynch Chair, London Green Party

Dave Skull Mad Pride

Johnny Void Benefit Claimants Fightback

Sam Weinstein Member of Utility Workers Union of America

Alan Wheatley Green Party Trade Union Group

Joanna Long Boycott Workfare

Anne-Marie O'Reilly London Coalition Against Poverty

Friday, 28 October 2011

Has the city learnt nothing from the banking crisis?

FTSE 100 confirms worse fears; the rich are getting richer while everyone else struggles with cuts.

"Outrageous, unfair and morally reprehensible" fumes Penny Kemp of The Green Party.

More than £1.3 billion has been taken away from council's annual spending on help for the over 65's, pensions are losing value, nurseries are closing and millions are living in fuel poverty and we see a 49% pay rise for Britain's top bosses: THEIR average salary hits £2.7m while the UK's average salary crawls in at £24,000. A tiny minority continue to be rewarded for failure.
Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking in Australia, said the report was "concerning". It is more than concerning Mr Cameron, it is wrong and makes a nonsense of any further cuts.

It is examples of corporate greed such as this that prompted Jenny Jones, Green Party mayoral candidate to campaign to turn London into the ‘Fair Pay City' As Jenny herself states;
"During Boris Johnson's Mayorship the number of people within the GLA group earning more than 10 times the Living Wage has risen by 56% (from 62 to 97). The Chief Executive of Crossrail, Rob Holden, earns £857,134: a figure approximately 55 times the Living Wage (1).
A 10:1 maximum pay ratio would seriously reduce the pay gap in our city. It is unacceptable to use the economic crisis to defend paying workers less than the amount needed to support a family at the same as paying out colossal salaries to chief executives."


From SchNEWS
There were muted celebrations from cleaners at Buckingham Palace last week as they won a pay rise from £6.45 to the princely sum of £7.50 per hour - still short of the London Living Wage of £8.30 they had been campaigning for.

Sadly Her Majesty's altruism has its limits. On the day the pay rise was announced, hospitality contractor 'Off To Work' was offering shifts for a 'wonderful team' to work at Windsor Castle for £6.81 per hour. Part of Off To Work's 'company vision' is that people 'should feel like kings for one small moment' - presumably it wasn't referring to its staff.

O'Higgins ahead in Irish presidental election.

Left-wing, gay Labour candidate, Michael D O'Higgins, seems to have come from behind and now seems to be leading O'Gallagher, the Dragon's Den candidate in the battle for the position of President of Ireland. The election was yesterday under PR and a final result is expected late tonight.  The Sinn Fein candidate, Martin MacGuinness is also doing well according to the tallymen, with 29% in Dublin. His second preferences will probably decide the matter. They should go massively to the Labour candidate.

O'Higgins is also a poet. Here is one of his poems:

"When Will My Time Come"

When will my time come for scenery

And will it be too late?

After all

Decades ago I was never able

To get excited

About filling the lungs with ozone

On Salthill Prom.

And when the strangers

To whom I gave a lift

Spoke to me of the extraordinary

Light in the Western sky;

I often missed its changes.

And, later, when words were required

To intervene at the opening of Art Exhibitions,

It was not the same.

What is this tyranny of head that stifles

The eyes, the senses,

All play on the strings of the heart.

And, if there is a healing,

It is in the depth of a silence,

Whose plumbed depths require

A journey through realms of pain

That must be faced alone.

The hero, setting out,

Will meet an ally at a crucial moment.

But the journey home

Is mostly alone.

When my time comes

I will have made my journey

And through all my senses will explode

The evidence of light

And air and water, fire and earth.

I live for that moment.

Eating animals becomes legal obligation

A decree has just been published in the "Journal Officiel" in France making compulsory rules for the composition of meals in all public and private school catering.
These rules force 6m children of school age to eat meat, fish, dairy and eggs. Similar decrees are in preparation for almost all French catering, from nursery schools up to old people's home, including colleges, hospitals and prisons.
So it is now impossible for school cafeteria users to maintain their vegetarian diet every day.
And it will be impossible to be vegan for even one meal.
Vegetarian children who manage to leave the meat on the edge of their plate would be forced to have unbalanced meals, as no alternative would be available.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Mayor urged to stop further privatisation of the London Fire Brigade

Responding to the FBU, UNISON, GMB joint report ‘Privatisation of London’s fire service training and control centre report published today [24th October], London Assembly Member Darren Johnson said:

“I don’t believe that Londoners agree with privatisation of the fire service, and the uncertainties that come with it. I don't want to see pivotal London Fire Brigade services privatised as we have seen far too many privatisations that have been costly and ineffective. That is why I welcome these proposals by the unions for the Fire Brigade to work with staff and unions in designing improved in-house provision for training and fire control."

On the privatisation of fire engines, Darren said:

“The financial fiasco of the privatisation of London Fire Brigade fire engines has raised fundamental questions about the financial viability and safety of handing key frontline emergency services assets such as Fire engines over to the private sector. I have urged the Mayor of London to bring it back under public ownership” (1)

Darren Johnson’s questions to the Mayor of London at the 12 October Mayor’s Question Time:
1) AssetCo and London Fire Brigade

Question No: 3045 / 2011

Question by Darren Johnson, Green Party Member of the London Assembly

Do the ongoing financial problems around AssetCo demonstrate the problems inherent in the public sector’s over-reliance on private sector contractors, and would you agree that essential frontline assets such as fire appliances should be brought back into public ownership?
Written response from the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson

The key requirement is that the public sector can deliver services effectively and essential equipment is correctly maintained. Returning assets to public ownership is not always possible or desirable. In this case, LFEPA has worked closely with AssetCo in order to ensure that the core service provision of supply and maintenance of fleet and operational equipment is continued.

The heat is on

A new analysis of the temperature record leaves little room for the doubters. The world is warming

Monday, 24 October 2011

Men of Arlington documentary tonight

 I did a lot of campaigning on the issue when I was on the London Assembly. London Irish homelessness is often hidden. These men (it is mostly men) came over and sometimes did not get involved in society or the welfare system. Many of them contributed to relatives at home, and are now forgotten, many also succumbed to drink and the other problems associated with immigration. The Irish are the only group whose life expectancy drops when the come to England. I also helped save the Cricklewood Centre when the Church attempted to close it down.
.....................This is from the Irish Times newspaper:
For generations of Irish emigrants to London, the cavernous Arlington House in Camden provided a home away from home. The massive redbrick edifice, which was mentioned by George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London, is more than a century old and remains a place of refuge from the street for many Irish men.

Many of its long-term residents are Irish. Over the years many of them succumbed to alcoholism, substance abuse, depression and homelessness and other perils of forced emigration.

Though Arlington House is not a home in the conventional sense, they have found solace and comradeship there, as well as a roof over their heads.

The residents of Arlington House are the subjects of a moving documentary, which will be broadcast on BBC1 tonight. Men of Arlington focuses on three residents of the London hostel, two of whom still live there.

Peter Doyle (pictured) was born to a single mother and spent his first 15 years in Irish institutions. He left for England in search of a better life and found a bed in Arlington House. Half a century later it is still his home. Seamus Morgan O'Connell is a descendent of Daniel O'Connell. He was also educated at Ampleforth, the top Catholic public school in Britain, but lost everything after his business collapsed when he was 37. He has been there for 25 years.

The third, Joe McGarry, ended up on the street, but got his life back and went on to chair the housing association that looked after Arlington House.

In advance of the screening of the documentary tonight, comedian Ardal O'Hanlon has written an open letter to the Taoiseach asking him to provide a community resettlement scheme for homeless Irish men in London who want to live in Ireland. O'Hanlon is patron of the Aisling Return to Ireland project, which provides trips to Ireland - in many cases for people who have not been back for decades. In his letter O'Hanlon said there was no willingness on the part of any Government department to take responsibility for this "faceless, voiceless and voteless constituency".

Men of Arlington is on BBC1 at 10.35pm tonight.

Friday, 21 October 2011


It was officially confirmed this week, as if we needed any more evidence, that the two freak minor earthquakes that occurred near the site of Caudrilla's fracking exploration near Blackpool were the fault of...the fracking exploration (see SchNEWS 790, 788).
The government has now said that unless Caudrilla (not yet a star of Japanese monster movies) can prove that they make remedial measures to make sure the quakes don't happen again, the fracking will have to stop. Whether this happens or not is uncertain: the potential for profiting from shale gas has pound signs flashing in the eyes of oil'n'gas companies all over the world.

And it hasn't stopped them in the US: The town of Guy, Arkansas

- which happens to lie between a multitude of fracking wells - had more than 700 earthquakes in just six months earlier this year.

But hey, what's a bit of man-made, permanent seismic shifting when there's big bucks to be made? See
(From SchNEWS)

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Prince William’s homeless charity Centrepoint faces strike action

The homeless charity Centrepoint was urged to enter into last-minute talks with Unite, after the majority of its members voted overwhelmingly to strike in a dispute over staff losing thousands of pounds a year in pay

Unite, the largest union in the country, has asked the conciliation service Acas to intervene as managers seem intent on imposing pay cuts which could see some of the more than 100 staff losing thousands of pounds, while top executives will have their pay ring-fenced from cuts.
Unite’s members voted by 70 per cent to 30 per cent for strike action at the charity, which looks after homeless young people, and its members will meet on Monday (3 October) to decide strike dates.
The charity’s patron is Prince William and Centrepoint hit the headlines when its chief executive Seyi Obakin left the pay negotiations to join the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their visit to America. Unite described Mr Obakin’s trip as ‘an unnecessary sycophantic jaunt’.
Unite regional officer Matt Smith said: ”There is a clear mandate supporting the view that our members are not prepared to accept that the lowest paid frontline staff should take savage pay cuts, while the senior management keep their pay at the same level.
”Unite calls on the senior management to get back round the table to resolve this potentially damaging dispute at one of Prince William’s favourite charities.
”We hope the board will intervene and bring this iconic charity back from the brink of disaster. We need to prevent this charity from carrying out the cruellest of ironies - cutting our members’ pay by so much it could potentially force them to join the very homeless that they do so much to help.
”We have a members’ meeting on Monday to decide on strike dates. Unite has contacted Acas in an attempt to resolve this, but the management is being completely unreasonable and putting the future of the charity at major risk.
”At the last meeting we had at Centrepoint the senior management was confident our members would not vote for strike action and they would bat off any negative publicity. This is a dangerous under estimation of our members’ feelings. The senior management's naive industrial relations attitude is a real concern for Unite.“
Unite said that more than 100 staff at Centrepoint have been singled out to face severe wage cuts, demotion and redundancy.
Unite research into Centrepoint’s 2010 public accounts has revealed that the organisation pays six of its senior executives over £60,000-a-year, with one being paid £110,000.

Climate change will put strain on military resources!!

Climate change poses "an immediate, growing and grave threat" to health and security around the world. Officers in the UK military warned that the price of goods such as fuel is likely to rise as conflict provoked by climate change increases - humanitarian disasters will put more and more strain on military resources.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Mayor says “no huge alarm” over rise in pedestrian casualties

The London mayor responded to questions about an extra 151 slight child pedestrian casualties last year, by saying that he felt that there was ‘no huge alarm’ as long as the number of killed and seriously injured was still declining. He said that he was looking at “the blip in statistics” which has seen child pedestrian casualties rise for two years running, after a nineteen year on year decline in the number injured. However, he had not discussed the issue with advisers since March, despite Jenny Jones writing to him in May asking for an urgent investigation into the reason why. The Mayor says that TfL have not identified the reasons for the increase.

The Mayor also said that he felt it might be to do with the growth of mobile electronic devices, which some people used whilst cycling, driving or crossing the road. Casualties have continued to decline in the rest of the UK. London is the only region in the country where they have risen since 2008. The Mayor has more than halved the budget for road safety in London.

Jenny Jones said:
"We can't accept more injuries to children in London when numbers are falling in the rest of the country. Something has gone wrong in London since 2008 and the Mayor needs a moratorium on the policies which could be responsible. That means putting a stop to all the changes to traffic lights which are part of his smoother traffic flow agenda and reversing the cuts to the road safety budget until such time as he publishes a proper investigation of the likely causes.

1. Figures for child pedestrian casualties obtained from TfL– ‘Casualties in Greater London’ fact sheet 2. The total number of pedestrian casualties has declined every year since 1989 since 2008 (

3. Information on budget cuts provided in response to question no 628/2010

Sparks De-Skilling

 And Pay Dispute Ballot Or No Ballot All Out To Defend Our Future
A sometimes angry and consistently passionate meeting of over 100 electricians, or sparks as they are known in the trade, took place at Conway hall central London last night to discuss future tactics in their struggle against attacks on their pay and terms and conditions.

 The sparks are facing an entirely calculated and cynical attack by a cabal of seven construction firms Balfour Beatty, Crown House, Spie WHS/Matthew Hall, Shepherd Engineering Services and NG Bailey. The seven have given workers a stark choice either sign new contracts by December 7th or face the sack, the new contracts downgrade the sparks from skilled to semi skilled workers and includes a hefty 35% pay cut, from £16.25 to £10.50 per hour. With inflation running at 5% and food and fuel prices through the roof, the sparks have been left with no choice by their employers, they have to fight back.

This is quite clearly an attempt by the group of seven employers to take advantage of the current economic environment of high unemployment and falling wages, to drive down wages in order to increase profits, Balfour Beatty the biggest of the firms and the instigator of this initiative made profits of £50 million last year.

These firms have seen the actions of the coalition government in attacking the pay and conditions of the public sector workforce and taken inspiration from that, if the Condems can get away with slashing the conditions of such a highly unionised workplace as the public sector then what's to stop the private sector doing the same to their less organised workforce.

The sparks are not taking this lying down though, they have not waited for the Unite leadership to direct tactics, the last month has seen protests outside building sites up and down the country with more planned over the coming weeks. This action seems to have upset some of the Unite leadership with Bernard McAuley - Unite National Officer, who was present at the meeting, coming under particular criticism for an email he sent describing the wild cat protest movement as “cancerous” and “divisive”.
The militancy of the rank and file, who are crying out for a national ballot on strike action, was palpable at the meeting, and seemed to be completely at odds with the measured tone of Mcauley and Gail Cartmail Unite Assisstant General Secretary. The Unite leadership still seems to be hamstrung by the high court decision in May 2010 that ruled its strike of BA cabin crews illegal, McAuley stressed the need for Unite to have a proper membership audit before balloting, obviously the fear of another court case stalks them. This is no use to the sparks of course the clock is ticking for them and it looks likely they will have to take action without the explicit backing of the union.

It is clear that this dispute is a tester for the rest of the construction industry, these seven firms are dipping their toes in the water to test the temperature of union resistance. A defeat of the sparks here, who are a relatively well unionised and organised section of the construction workforce, would open the doors to a more general wage reduction for all skilled construction workers.

The sparks are determined to continue the fight with or without an official ballot, more protests are planned in the coming weeks which will hopefully build into wild cat strikes and targeted closures of high profile construction sites up and down the country, building into the biggest mass walkout of construction workers in years on November 30th to coincide with the public sector strikes. To do this the sparks are going to need bodies at the protests and picket lines and money fighting fund is being set up to support striking workers details of which can be found

On their blog http://jibelectricia​

On twitter!/JIBElectrician

On facebook

Friday, 7 October 2011

'Movement for an Adoption Apology'

Guest post from Jean Robertson-Molloy:
A new Green Party Policy has just been agreed at the Sheffield Conference: that we should campaign for an official government apology for the past treatment of unmarried birth parents who were coerced into giving up their babies for adoption.

Some may think that the Green Party has more important matters to attend to than this. But this decision is important and worthwhile.

Firstly it is important for the well-being of the people who suffered in this way.
The idea that one should give up a child for adoption simply because one was not married sounds today almost laughable. But that was what many women were coerced into doing by the simple method of refusing them information and advice about the available benefits at that time. Many people, especially women, suffered years of mental and or physical ill-health subsequently, which perhaps nothing can now make up for.

But at least we can let them know that their pain and grief is recognised, and thus make the unspeakable speakable, an essential ingredient of healing.

But this is also a matter of social justice with wider implications. As Greens, we tend to be very aware of the injustices suffered by people in other countries, of the children who starve, of the homosexuals threatened with death, of the women raped routinely in war-fare, to mention only a few.

But one of the Green Party’s strengths, it seems to me, is that we are also aware and willing to get involved with local issues, individual injustices. And not to sweep under the carpet inconvenient facts. That half a million women suffered under this system is a very inconvenient fact for those who want to promote adoption today. But suffer they did, and I am proud of the Green Party’s willingness to endorse this campaign. Jean Robertson-Molloy 4-10-11

I seconded this motion for Conference. Only those involved know of the trauma involved. Here is Jean's moving speech to Conference:
Adoption Apology Speech Jean Robertson-Molloy, at Green Party Conference—Sheffield 10-9-11
I am a birth mother. I gave up a child for adoption in 1963 because I was not married . I’m not against all adoptions , but I am against the way things were done in the past.

It seems incredible now, but in the 60s, and before and after that, it was a total disaster for a woman to be pregnant without being married. Horrified parents would often threaten to throw her out, while the authorities preferred not to give information about the welfare benefits that she could be entitled to, but constantly advised that adoption was the best thing. This of course was pre-pill and pre legal abortion.

And there was a huge double standard prevailing; young men could happily sow their wild oats–but if a woman was found out for having ‘got herself pregnant’ there was hell to pay.

Therefore many women felt there was no option but to give up their children. And often suffered years of mental health problems, even suicidal depression, up till the present day. Some birth fathers, who were also forced to abandon their children, suffered these traumas too. But saddest of all, many of these birth mothers never managed to have any more children.

And is everything more civilised today? I don’t think so. Our present government is right now engaged in cutting down on all the services which exist to support single parents and vulnerable families, while at the same time blaming them whenever the family falls apart. Fast-tracking of children from such families into adoption is their current answer, instead of trying to deal with the real causes of family breakdowns (such as drugs, alcohol, domestic violence and poverty*.)

So, let’s demand another look at the realities of the adoption system. And at least recognise and acknowledge the pain and grief of those past situations when so many women lost their children needlessly. An apology for this is surely long overdue. Thank you.
* this phrase within the brackets was omitted when she ctually gave the speech.

Three birth mothers, including Jean, have set up a campaign group on this issue,  called MAA -- standing for 'Movement for an Adoption Apology'. They have not yet got a web-site. They need lots of people to write to their MPs in support of the demand for a Parliamentary apology.  Meantime, anyone who is interested is welcome to contact Jean about it.