Monday, 30 June 2014

Flexible Working: giving with one hand

From today, everyone with more than 26 weeks service has the right to request flexible working and their employer needs to seriously consider it. Consider - not grant it. If there is a good reason (and the definition of a good reason is extremely broad), it can still be declined.

Unfortunately, if you have less than two years' service, as the Coalition has severely restricted access to employment tribunals and knocked employment protection rights back from 12 to 24 months, there is nothing to stop your employer sacking you for making such a request and getting away with it.

Give with one hand...
- the right to request flexible working, and next year a slight, over-hyped variant on existing provisions on shared parental leave

And take away...
- protection against unfair dismissal in your first two years with any new employer
- free access to an employment tribunal to claim unfair dismissal (now £400 charge)
- free access to redress against sexism, racism, homophobia, disablism or religious discrimination in the workplace (now a £1,200 charge)
- legal aid for employment cases (already sparse, now virtually abolished)
- reasonable periods of consultation before large scale redundancies (periods halved)
- the employers' obligation to protect staff from harassment from clients and customers in the workplace (abolished)

All this to drive us to the "flexible economy" that Cameron and Farage hope can make massive profits for their corporate paymasters as they undercut the (slightly) fairer conditions on the European mainland.

So don't be fooled by Lib Dem Employment Minister Jo Swinney's honeyed words of workplace progress today. In the scheme of things, it is just some spit and polish on yet more Coalition crap.

First they came for the trade unions; and now they are coming for us.
85% of us are employees; but more and more, our rights are history.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Water Cannons: Doing what it says on the Tin

So London Mayor Boris Johnson has ordered three water cannons to be bought from Germany to be deployed on the streets of London. It has caused a lot of controversy, but like many others who don't know any better, or just don't care, Johnson has made out it's all a bit of a joke - though, after agreeing to be fired upon by one of these new weapons when he was caught off-guard by a radio interviewer, he may not be just quite so nonchalant.

The true nature of water cannons is really explained by, well, their name. These are CANNONS, a weapon invented in the Middle Ages to bring down the walls of besieged cities.

They are not, for example, garden hoses. Nor are they water chutes like in swimming pools. They are not even like the sprinklers the Mayor may have his people water his lawns with.

No, these are cannons. Weapons, firing high velocity jets. And they do what cannons do.

And it ain't funny at all.

Dietrich Wagner, a Stuttgart environmental campaigner, was blasted in the face by a water cannon during a demonstration against plans to cut down some trees. He lost his sight.

Seeing Through The Illusion of Choice

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”


Isn't this Britain now? An oligarchy centred on acceptance of a full-blown market system where all decisions, in all aspects of life public and private, are ultimately commodified, priced and sold. The health service, even now the jewel in the crown of the nation, is subject to not just creeping but full-on tendering out of its services to Virgin Clinics and other profit-seeking privateers; public buildings are in hoc to construction firms for tens of billions for decades to come; Serco, Capita, Balfour Beatty and other mega-corporations run our benefits system, our education authorities, our passport offices. A food company executive scripted the Government's policy on public health, a brazen act of corporate power imposed on the Body Politic.


Everything is up for sale, often to the same companies that fund our political parties - even Labour Party conferences have been sponsored by supermarket chains.


What then is left? US linguist and activist Noam Chomsky characterised such a world thus:


Neoliberal democracy. Instead of citizens, it produces consumers. Instead of communities, it produces shopping malls. The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralized and socially powerless. In sum, neoliberalism is the immediate and foremost enemy of genuine participatory democracy, not just in the United States but across the planet, and will be for the foreseeable future.”


Today, the Murdochs' News International company's mass circulation rag, The Sun, is seeking to boost its circulation by having a special World Cup "This Is England" copy delivered by the privatised Royal Mail to every house in the country - some postal staff are reportedly threatening strike action. This paper, after all, is the one that demonised the victims of Hillsborough, that publishes wildly inaccurate stories about migrants, scapegoats benefits claimants and even gleefully over-reported on an internet countdown-to-legal-sex-with-Charlotte-Church clock as the child singer approached her 16th birthday - one of many lurid stories it has published with no regard to the impact on the people covered.   


In so many, many ways, The Sun epitomises the neoliberal system described by Chomsky, reinforcing the status quo, trivialising society into a succession of scandals, celebrities and celebrity scandals. Its owners, who also control the equally sensationalist and right-wing Fox News in the USA, have grown rich on its sales and, needless to say, the last thing they want to challenge is the way the world works.


But - look who wants you to buy this large piece of toilet paper? I wonder why.


You know what to do. Membership applications can be found here:

CAUTION: This man (below) is just as neoliberal as the rest of them. Former stockbroker, he is keen to increase your taxes and cut them for millionaires, cut regulations on the banks and roll back support for mums and dads in the workplace. He also voted against action to stop female genital mutilation. Neoliberal Nigel is not the friend of ordinary people. He is just the Authorised Opposition by Appointment to the Establishment.


A Reminder for SCOTTISH READERS - It's on 18th September...

Thursday, 5 June 2014

D-Day 70 Years on: Why Britain Fought

In recent weeks, the bravery of the troops who went ashore against the Nazis at the D-Day landings seventy years ago this morning was the subject of largely vain attempts by people on the Far Right of politics to appropriate history for their own political benefit. In spite of the fact that a good number of them had previously expressed admiration for the very Nazi regime the British and other Allied troops were battling in 1944, pictures of soldiers and of the iconic wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, the shamelessly tried to align anti-European politics with the British war effort and the personal bravery of allied servicemen and women.

Churchill himself urged people to "Study history! Study history!" as the key to statecraft and politics. Well, it seems that both the anti-Europeans who have tried to seize him for their own cause and the seemingly silent pro-European "mainstream" politicians are all equally ignorant of what Churchill actually said and stood for.

Churchill was an imperialist, with some pretty questionable and unpleasant views and actions alongside his undoubted achievements. Yet he was also a realist and as the Second World War ended with the collapse of Nazism, he was central to twin efforts to both unify Europe and define and protect human rights to prevent the recurrence of the terror that had engulfed the Continent. Consequently, for those who argue to leave Europe and abrogate our commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights, Churchill's views might come as something of a surprise.

So, as we recall the brave and terrible sacrifices made on the Normandy beaches all these decades ago, it is also a time to recall what we nearly lost and why, as European unity and the commitment to the rights of all comes under increasing pressure, we should not forget the reasons these things came about in the first place. We must learn from history; only then we may also learn to not repeat the mistake of listening to the siren voices of xenophobia, bigotry and rampant nationalism that were the cause of so much harm all that time ago.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Farage Photos

Just in case you've been missing Nigel Farage, who hasn't been on the TV for over 4 hours now, here are some photographs. Please share with your friends and acquaintances, who may be getting worried about where he has gone.

You may also want to consider asking the BBC for a partial rebate of your licence fee following this disgraceful failure to maintain normal wall-to-wall coverage of Mr Farage, his cigar and pint glass.