Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Atos Represents Global Capitalism, not France!

Crippen! Lose the French stereotype!

Mostly I enjoy Crippen's work. He, usually, manages get his point across in this medium using comedy to temper the political message.

This cartoon, in my opinion, fails because he's resorted to stereotyping in a shallow way. The cartoon portrays Atos as a beret-wearing-onion-selling-Frenchman, armed with a model guillotine.

Why the need to stereotype this multi-national company (it operates in 42 different states) as French? Are the French especially noted for their aggressive approach to capitalism; are they more rapacious than, say, the Dutch (whose Origin BV came together with Atos to form 'Atos Origin' in 2000)?

The point is that Atos Origin is a capitalist venture, and thus doesn't show loyalty to any one state; no, it shows loyalty only to profit. Capital(ism) isn't bound by national boundaries, flags or anthems; it moves wherever it can to find, or create, the optimum conditions to make maximum profit - for the most part adopting the doctrine of following the line of least resistance (resistance is usually any factor that impedes the maximisation of profit, wage bills, taxes, etc).

So Crippen, there's no need to portray Atos as a Frenchman, or French, a pig in a pin-stripe suit would have more than conveyed the message - that is greed breeds greed; and, the pinnacle of greed is the total control of all processes, including appeals.  

Anyway, the representation of the French onion seller is false as he doesn't have a bicycle nor is he wearing a Breton smock!  

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Left and Remploy

The Left is somewhat shy when it comes to Remploy and disability in general. I'm not sure why this is so; after all, we're considered the progressive political wing, a thesis I'd agree with.

When it comes to supported employment there does appear to be a divergence in opinion within the left. One school of thought dismisses this type of employment as perpetuating discrimination of disabled workers. Within the disability movement itself this school of thought tends to be more prevalent amongst 'better' educated people. Ironically, the kinds of people who perpetuate this purist line tend to work within the disability industry at a white-collar level.

Of course many of those working in the disability industry as advisors or consultants are directly or indirectly paid via government funding, centrally or locally; this is in itself a form of supported employment.

However, nobody is going to criticise a personalisation broker who earns her or his money from an indirect subsidy. But, woe to the poor ill-educated disabled worker who, through employer prejudice or co-worker bullying, finds working in a Remploy factory a safe and welcoming experience.

What a shame the Left feels so little for unfashionable causes such as Remploy. Indeed, our Comrades in Remploy need the support of the Left more than ever. We need support; we need solidarity; and, more than anything we need ideas to push forward our struggle - you must appreciate we exhausted a lifetime of ideas four years ago on the original Remploy campaign.

So, the invitation stands.   

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Darcus Howe Accused of Rioting!

Marcus Howe was explaining to Fiona Armstrong that he wasn't shocked at what he'd seen over the past days of looting and rioting. He went on to quality this remark. That young black and the young white youths in poorer areas of this country were unhappy at the direction in which they were being pushed by the powers that be; indeed, he stressed the concern he had for his grandson who was of an age that meant he was likely to be stopped and searched because of his colour.

These, I thought were fair comments. However, the silly BBC newscaster then asks this elderly highly respected broadcaster whether he condoned the rioting and looting, a question, I doubt she'd have put to a white equivalent; Marcus let this comment go. He proceeded to give some context to these events, being interrupted at every turn; then the newscaster accuses Howe of rioting himself in the past; an action which he strenuously denied.

Darcus Howe - renowned African-Caribbean broadcaster, columnist and civil liberties campaigner

Rioting is one thing, being attacked by the police while demonstrating peacefully is not rioting. We were not rioting when we were attacked by the police on the Wapping picket lines 25-years ago.

Many people have suspected that the BBC has lost its way journalistically in recent years. We can now also add racism to their interviewing techniques. Maybe the David Starkey broadcast has had an influence.

David Starkey - Right wing
 reactionary TV pundit

Saturday, 20 August 2011

A Short History of Remploy

Remploy was set up under the 1944 Disabled Persons Employment Act by Ernest Bevin, who was then minister of labour; to become yet another plank in Welfare State formed by the Atlee government in 1945.

After the Second World War, Clement Attlee's Labour government was not about to repeat the pitiful scenes 30 years earlier of limbless soldiers playing mouth-organs on the streets. 
"One of the finest Acts of Parliament ever put on the statute book is to see that these people are not left like flotsam and jetsam on the beach of society, but are put somewhere where they can be happy and of use to the community," said then Minister of Labour, George Isaacs, on opening the first factory.
So, Remploy was formally founded in April 1945. Its first factory opened in Bridgend, South Wales, in 1946. It made violins and furniture and many of the workers were disabled miners.
'Remploy' was an early brand name which was originally registered by the Ex-Services Employment Corporation.

Derived from 're-employ', the name was adopted by Remploy in 1946. Until then it was called the Disabled Persons Employment Corporation.

At its height Remploy had around 100 factories spread across England, Scotland and Wales, employing over 10,000 disabled workers. The factories produced and manufactured goods and services ranging from, in the early days, violin making and book binding through to furniture making; Remploy workers were skilled covering a wide spectrum of sectors from textiles to motor components.

It was Tory Minister Michael Portillo who kick-started Remploy's decline, when in 1994 he ended a scheme guaranteeing the factories' priority for government contracts. This imposed competitive tendering on the company.

By 1995 Peter Thurnham, a then Tory MP who crossed the floor to the LibDems in 1996, wrote a paper calling for Remploy to be taken under the private sector umbrella, where he felt it would be more successful.

Down the years the Trade Union Consortium has lobbied successive governments complaining about the quality and commitment of the people running Remploy.

Here is an  example of a squandered opportunity:
 A few years ago Mike Eavis (the Glastonbury Festival site owner) wanted to source the t-shirts locally. In collaboration with the trade unions, he offered one of Remploy's Cornwall sites a £1 million-pound contract. Remploy prevaricated about it for a long time. When challenged, a Remploy board member complained about the £50,000 set-up costs!
In late 1999 Remploy announced it was going to merge a number of its factories and close others. Anything up to 20 sites were to be affected. On a cold February afternoon around 60 Remploy workers and trade union activists from around the country assembled outside Parliament and held a 24-hour vigil.

Though few in number we made our presence felt. MP after MP came out to us to give support and solidarity to our cause. John Snow, Channel 4 newscaster, stopped and spoke with us for half-an-hour. Within a few days of the protest a moratorium was placed on the closures - Remploy was safe for the time being.

From January 2006, each Remploy factory has had the right to a minimum of one reserved public contract. Despite this the company did very little to seriously take advantage of this resource.

And, as a consequence the factories continued on a downward trajectory until in May 2007 the company announced a tranche of factory mergers and closures. This galvanised the unions into action. Demonstrations and rallies were organised up and down the Britain. Every major city with a Remploy site held some kind of action. I remember going to Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Poole, Swansea, Cardiff, Glasgow, Stirling, Leatherhead, and of course London.
But, despite the Remploy Crusade, which saw a team of activists travelling by coach to every site on the closure list from Inverness down to Cornwall, 2008 saw 30 factories shutting down throwing 2,500 disabled people out of work - over three years after the event around 85% of those who accepted the voluntary redundancy are still without jobs.  

Three years on, and with the same indifferent people running the company into the ground, Liz Sayce of Radar, a disability charity with a vested interest in seeing Remploy factories close, submitted the finding of her government commissioned review of employment support for disabled people: 'Getting in, staying in and getting on'.

Her findings are that Remploy factories are not an efficient way to engage disabled people in the workplace. She believes mainstream employment is the only solution to employing disabled people; and, that the subsidy currently enjoyed by Remploy factories should not be renewed. Any factories that cannot survive without a subsidy should either close down or be taken over as a co-operative venture or social enterprise. Obviously, it is pointless trying to start up either a co-op or social enterprise if there is no work on the books.

On the positive side Sayce calls for monies saved from Remploy and residential training courses to be ploughed into Access to Work, the one area she supports. The problem is that the government isn't committed to getting disabled people into work; no, it is committed to reducing its benefits' bill, and pushing disabled people off IB and ESA is their goal. There is no indication that the government is going to increase the A2W budget; indeed, there are signs that they may well add to a growing list of items no longer available to people through A2W.

Up to the present day. Once more Remploy activists are being called to arms. Though some of us haven't recovered from the last battle, it's hard to get over the emotional trauma of seeing workplaces close down as comrades stand by, many in tears feeling that their right to work has been snatched from them along with their dignity; they look into a dark and uncertain future.

But, we will fight on, because as Tony Woodley put it all those years ago..."if we fight we may not always win - but if we don't fight, we will surely lose."

Support Remploy Factories with Public Contracts!

The arguments over supported employment boil down to one thing only, the choice of the individual to work in a Remploy factory. Remploy factories are organised and have good health and safety records; up to recent years many of the factories offered decent and challenging job types.

Unfortunately, in recent years many Remploy factories have been de-skilled; a ploy by the company to make jobs less attractive, thus to force people away from factories.

The company, in cahoots with successive governments (and remember the start of Remploy's demise began with a report from Peter Thurnman, in 1994, who tried to make a case for Remploy to be taken under the 'protection' of the private sector; and, Michael Portillo's taking lucrative textiles contracts away from them in 1995) has sought to run down the factory side of the business.

Why run factories with its inherent difficulties, such as going out to find work (despite the 2006 Public Contracts Regulations (Regulation 7) giving each factory the right to a minimum of 1 public contract) and dealing with trade unions; no, it's easier to deal with unemployed disabled people pushing them through a revolving door system of employment. A job here for three-months, another over there for six-months, another one with another supermarket for two-months. Each time Remploy chalking up another job found, another disabled person in employment.

If the government supplied Remploy with enough public contracts to fill their order books their factories could be self-sustaining in a few years time. Such a policy would barely register on the radar of the £250 billion, or so, of public contracts annually put out to tender.

As things are Liz Sayce of RADAR is condemning Remploy factories to closure; and, Remploy workers to a future of poverty - of those Remploy workers who lost their jobs 3½-years ago, some 85% are still unemployed. Sayce's suggestion that factories can be turned into Co-ops or Social Enterprises, without a government subsidy, is a false premise. The idea any kind of business can start up with, virtually, empty order books is risible, and the suggestion is disingenuous.

The trade union and wider labour and community movement must get behind Remploy workers and send a message loud and clear to this government and Sayce that disabled workers should have a choice; and, if that choice is in a supported and organised workplace, then so be it!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Taking Responsibility for Our Own Actions

A lovely 'you-couldn't make-it-up' incident presented itself to me tonight. Earlier on this evening I took part in Channel 4's 'Street Riots: The Live Debate' over in a studio in Endell Street, Covent Garden. It's nice being picked up by a chauffeur driven car; deposited into the heart of the West End; and, by-passing queues to be admitted into the green room for free nosh and drinks.

But, I deviate.

Anyway, back on track. Eventually we're herded into the studio and the warm-up guy does his warm-up stuff, and we gingerly laugh at his not-so-funny patter. Krishan Guru-Murthy, a lot smaller in real life (wears Cuban heels), then gives the SP of the show and introduces us to Iain Duncan-Smith,Hilary Benn MP, Adrian Mills an Ealing restaurateur (his restaurant was ransacked and looted), Paul Gladstone Reid a composer, pianist, singer-songwriter and producer, and a rather taciturn policeman who referred to all explanations and views contrary to his as 'excuses'.

The debate went fairly well. Duncan-Smith and the businessman holding the old law-and-order line; people-have-to-take-personal-responsibility-for-their-own-actions was intimated several times by Duncan-Smith in relation to cutting benefits and evicting, even, parents of children convicted of looting.

The Tory line when confronted with problems is always to fall back on the old chestnut of family values and personal responsibility. And Duncan-Smith ensured that nobody, whether they agreed with him or not, left the studio without his message messing around with more pleasant thoughts, such as those ice cold bottles of Peroni waiting for me when I get home.

The show ended and the floor manager wanted us, wheelchair users, to wait until the studio was cleared. No way Pedro! I'd sat for an-hour-and-a-half in a lot of pain, and I needed to pee, quite quickly. So, I got out first, or so I thought, and headed for the lift to take me to the ground floor and the adapted toilet.

Up we went. Out of the lift, throw a right. Bob's your uncle, there's the 'special' loo waiting to accept yours truly.

A young geezer all skinny jeans, Loake's brogues and Ralph Lauren cardy looked at me as I reached for the door."Sorry sir, there's someone in there. He won't be a minute" instructs this trendy clothes horse, probably a TV researcher. "Ok mate" I say; relief, hopefully, a minute or two away.

Three minutes later the door to the disabled toilet, the one with the big sign announcing in pictogram the universal symbol of disability, and out strolls Iain Duncan-Smith!

Oh glory! Hallelujah! My peeing need seemed to vanish from my mind as I mentally uncrossed my legs and said to Duncan-Smith: "This is an adapted toilet, see the sign?" Which he acknowledged uncomfortably. "Why are you abusing this facility? I've had to wait in extreme pain and discomfort because you think you're above the rules that everyone else accepts!"

Duncan-Smith, is somewhat trapped, because I've placed my wheelchair between him and the door, and my PA is standing by my legs, so the trapped rat can't vault over me and do a runner.

Then I have him on the ropes, just waiting to deliver my coup de grace down drop his gloves his guard is gone as he splutters out "I'm sorry, but somebody told me I could use it".

And, in true Sun headline grabbing thought...GOTCHA! 

"So, if someone told you to pick up that TV because it was going begging. You'd pick up the TV?" I asked. "What's happened to your sense of personal responsibility for your own actions?" I pressed. "Are you exempt from the rules and regulations you spent the past hour telling us we must adhere to because that's how we maintain an orderly society?" I finished pushing my way into the loo.

Duncan-Smith, thinking he could do a runner took full advantage of the cessation in my harangue and just as he thought he'd escaped the loony wheely, I looked into the bowl and spotted he hadn't flushed the loo.

"Oy!" I shouted, arresting ADS's flight: "Do you know it's customary to flush the khazy after use?"

I can still picture his look, a mixture of abject contempt and 'beam-me-up-Scotty', as he drew an embarrassed grin across his Chevy while hastily turning a corner to the safety of the street.

More Contempt from ATOS Healthcare 'Professionals'!

In the past few days information has come to light of just how contemptuous some ATOS healthcare workers are of the people they're charged with giving independent medical assessments. These assessments, to determine qualification for different levels of benefit, should be carried out both honestly and objectively. Indeed, the quality of a person's future existence hangs on the assessment.

In one case an assessor has been posting her feelings of sick and disabled clients on her Facebook page in Middlesbrough.

This paragon of the caring profession, Debbie Carr, talks about sick and disabled people in terms of: "Oh god another day here with the down and outs arggggg!" Adding: "Well that's the end of my holidays! Back to work tomorrow with the down and outs I suppose..." And: "Thank god it's Friday last day in this god forsaken place with the down and outs!" 

Whatever her personal views of people, this kind of behaviour is unacceptable. ATOS is looking into this breach of...ethics?

Another pearl of professionalism from ATOS's jewellery-box of employees is one Richard Treasure (now there's a name to live up to), an administrator for the outfit. Mr Treasure, somewhat of the minimalist school of insults, simply dismisses sick and disabled people as 'parasitic wankers'. Mr Treasure has been reported to NWCAC.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Are lawlessness and lack of respect modern day phenomena?

People are looking over the past week and commenting on the lawlessness and lack of respect exhibited by people today. They speak, naturally I suppose naturally, in terms of modern society lacking the moral direction of days and eras past; the halcyon days of their, or their parents, youth when summers were hot and untroubled; when kids and youths knew their place in the pecking order, and so life trundled on...

Looters ransacking a London shop earlier this week

A friend of mine, who sadly passed away recently at the grand old age of 89, told me a few stories about the London Blitz that puts a different complexion on what I learned at school. In history lessons I was told that Londoner's pulled together during the Blitz, neighbour looking after neighbour, stranger helping out stranger. It was a community spirit that got people through that dark and deadly period of history; people pulled together and helped one and other out.

What Jack, my friend, told me somewhat changed the complexion painted at school. Before volunteering for the regular army Jack did a stint either as an Air Raid Warden or in the Local Defence Volunteers, can't remember which. His job was to assist with the putting out of fires and helping people injured and made homeless from the, by now nightly, bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe.

These were hard times. Jack himself came off duty one morning and arrived in his street in Walworth to see his home now a pile of smoking rubble, a grave for his mum and sisters - he'd lost his entire family in one night.

Sure, people did help one and other out; Londoner's spirits, on the whole, were lifted and kept warm by their common experiences of tragedy and the assistance they offered one and other.

However, the dark side of the Blitz, the death and destruction aside, was the callous looting of damaged property, and the robbing of the dead that was quite extensive. Jack smashed the myth that I'd accepted of Londoners acting as one, resolute in the face of Nazi aggression. Jack didn't relate these incidents to me joyfully; no, he said while the majority of Londoners looked out for those less fortunate than themselves a selfish few made profit from the misery of others.  

As Londoners sought out the safety of the London Underground in 1940 less scrupulous people were above ground stealing from their houses! 
Like myself Jack was a Socialist, a man who'd lost a great deal through violence; a man that fought the Nazis in North Africa and up through Italy (yes, laughingly Jack admitted he was a D-Day Dodger) would have viewed the looting and violence of the past few days with sadness; but, I feel he'd not have sat in judgement of today's London or its people, because he'd seen and knew of worse.

1941 - 2011, what's changed?

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Riots don't happen without underlying causes

The events that took place earlier this week should not be dismissed only as the actions of mindless people out on the thieve. The riots and looting that erupted after the peaceful protest outside Tottenham police station last Saturday night were a reaction to a society in trouble.

A number of factors brought about these outbursts of violence. Bad policing, where police action disproportionately targets black boys and men from the ages of ten or eleven through to early to mid-forties.
Pretty much every time I go out either in my chair or driving I witness the police questioning either a black male pedestrian or they'll have stopped a car with a black driver. Yes, there are a lot of black people living where I live. Nonetheless, they are not the majority of the local population; and, they're definitely in a minority of motorists.

Most of these kids have been disadvantaged in their schooling; and yet, when they do, against the odds, shine through at school and gain the qualifications they need to progress to university a privileged bunch of yahoo Tories price tertiary education out of their reach; EMA, an essential funding, allowing council estate kids the opportunity to stay longer at school and set their targets at university, closed to 16-19 year-olds from last January.

Next a majority of projects aimed at youths have been cut back or closed down. Most people coming from poor working class backgrounds can't send their kids on expensive activity holidays anywhere. Youth clubs closed down throwing kids onto the very street corners where idle time and boredom breeds discontent.

A massive hike in youth unemployment due, directly and indirectly, to public sector cuts. Where is the promised programme of salvation from the private sector? There is none. You know why? Because, as everyone warned the private sector has a huge dependence on the public sector. Indeed, some 40% of public sector contracts are farmed-out to the private sector.

And, when contracts such as the manufacture of the Crossrail rolling stock are lost to the country, it pretty much sums up this government's commitment to the manufacturing industry, getting youngsters into work and the economy as a whole.

Government is betraying large swathes of the population. People are left to rot from sink estates to poor schools through miserable consumer-driven lifetimes through to a terrifyingly unsure retirement. It isn't only disabled people being demonised. Many from the poorer sections of the working classes are also being held up by the right wing media as scum, an underclass (chavs) unworthy of any consideration.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Self-Fulfilling Prophesy

As the day goes on I'm hearing, through my PA, of things kicking off in Wandsworth, Tulse Hill, Camberwell, Brixton, Streatham, Elephant and Castle, Walworth Road...

Messages are coming through her Blackberry alerting people to potential trouble spots; these messages are by way of warning people, not an invitation to join in any illegal activity.

However, as these messages wing around from Blackberry to Twitter to Facebook to iPhone to Beebo, through this web of social networks are they becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy?

For example, 'A' gets a message from 'B' about an incident, say, in Stockwell. There is no corroboration just 'be careful things are kicking off in Stockwell'. By the time this message has circulated amongst hundreds, if not thousands, of people what may have, or not, been an incident in Stockwell has attracted scores or hundreds of people, some curious some out to cause trouble.

Yes, social media can be a great way to mobilise people; as well as an excellent means of communicating messages and information immediately. But it can also be used as a medium to generate interest, or to create an occurrence where previously none existed.

Thus, as I advised my PA, beware of individuals creating situations out of the smoke of fear and confusion; if enough people respond to these social networking media they can easily be sucked into a self-fulfilling prophesy.