Saturday, April 12, 2014

Labour's Trade Union Charter

 Ed Miliband with Durham Miners Gala in background

The ten points below are taken from pages 6 to 8 of the Labour Party Consultative Document "Work and Business" which will shape Labour's General Election Manifesto. For the procedures in use to seek to influence the development of such documents, see here.

"1. Labour will protect working people from their wages and conditions being undermined by strengthening the National Minimum Wage. The minimum wage should rise in real terms to at least catch up the ground it has lost under this Government, and Labour will investigate whether certain sectors can afford to pay more without risking jobs.

2. We will also establish ‘make work pay’ contracts, giving a tax rebate to those companies that sign up to become Living Wage employers in the first year of the next Parliament. Firms that sign up will be eligible for a tax rebate, paid for from the actual exchequer savings from higher tax receipts and lower social security payments.

3. Labour will increase transparency on pay, by requiring companies to publish the ratio of the pay of their top earner compared to the average employee, and the pay packages of the ten highest paid employees outside the boardroom. The next Labour Government will also look at how to simplify executive pay packages, and we will ensure that there is an employee representative on remuneration committees to ensure that the views of ordinary staff are heard when decisions to award top pay packages are made. We will require investment and pension fund managers to disclose how they vote on pay and all other issues, and ensure that shareholders approve remuneration packages in advance.

4. Labour will help make work pay by extending free childcare for three and four year olds from 15 to 25 hours per week for working parents, paid for by an increase in the bank levy. We will ensure parents of primary school children have access to ‘wraparound’ childcare from 8am to 6pm.

5. Success will be built by the many, not the few, and the next Labour Government will take action to increase security in the workplace and protect workers’ rights, including the internationally recognised rights of freedom of association.  We will also ensure that health and safety in the workplace is a priority, and will explore ways to ensure workers have access to justice.

6.. ... the way the law is currently implemented in the UK allows employment agencies and companies, in some circumstances, to pay agency workers lower rates of pay than directly-employed staff. That simply isn’t fair, so the next Labour Government will take action to ensure agency workers are properly protected and that there is no exemption from equal treatment on pay.

7. Labour will extend the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to cover different sectors of the economy, such as construction, hospitality and social care, giving better protection to those workers. The next Labour Government will also look at what more can be done to ensure agricultural workers are properly protected.

8. Labour will also increase security in the workplace by acting to end the unfair practices and abuses associated with zero-hours contracts. We will ban employers from being able to require zero-hours workers to be available on the off-chance that they will be needed, stop employees from being required to work exclusively for one firm if they are on a zero-hour contract, and ban the use of zero-hours contracts when employees are in practice working regular hours.

9 ... if the current Government will not launch a full inquiry into the disgraceful practice of blacklisting in the construction industry the next Labour Government will.

10. Labour is clear about the positive role the trade union movement plays in delivering fairness, safe working conditions and supporting productivity in the workforce, and we recognise the important discussions around the role of collective bargaining in boosting pay and promoting pay equality, as well as employee representation in the workplace."

Hat Tip for photo : Left Futures.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Labour's Future

The Labour Party has published its final set of policy documents for consultation and amendment before they are adopted to shape its General Election Manifesto.

Produced by its National Policy Forum (NPF) following Labour’s policy review process, the eight papers are available on the party’s Your Britain website .

The individual documents can be accessed directly from these links:

1. Stability and Prosperity Policy  : on the economy — from growth and the economic recovery, to public spending, taxation and how to reduce the deficit in a fair way.
2. Work and Business : on how the UK can compete in a global economy, including support for business, rights at work, fair pay and the future of pensions.
3. Living Standards and Sustainability : issues affecting the quality of life in Britain, the cost of living, and our environment. Key topics include energy, climate change, food, rural affairs and transport.
4. Stronger, Safer Communities : how we rebuild our communities and create a society in which everyone plays their part — including community safety, housing, local government and immigration.
5. Education and Children : childcare plans, and thinking on young people’s wellbeing and learning — from early years through to further and higher education and apprenticeships.
6. Health and Care : plans for the NHS, health and social care — and how to bring about a new focus on whole person care.
7. Better Politics : how to build a new form of politics — looking at engagement, equality, civil society and the change of our political system.
8. Britain’s Global Role : Britain’s role within the global community — including foreign policy, international development and defence.

These policy documents can be read online, or downloaded in pdf format.

Included in these are proposals on (1) tackling climate change, (2) re-distribution from the wealthy to the poor, (3) overcoming energy price rips offs, (4) providing decent housing and other communal facilities, (5) educational openings for under-achievers (including second chance education), (6) an integrated health service, (7) devolution, (8) improving electoral registration to tackle the missing six and a half million voters, (9) third world aid and development, including international pressures for the use of the Robin Hood Tax, and (10) – Len McCluskey please note – what could be called a ten point Trade Union Charter in a section of the document “Work and Business”.

I am not claiming that these proposals (and those surrounding them) are perfect. But they do open up avenues for clarification and development. It is a different agenda from anything we got in the Blair-Brown years. What is needed is that it should all be pushed to the front of the political agenda. It will be difficult to start gaining support for a mainly unheard of programme just in the four weeks run-up to a General Election.

Individual members of the Labour Party can put forward their own proposals via the above website. See here to trace my own recent submission dated 4th April.

Every Constituency Labour Party is entitled to propose up to 10 textual amendments before the deadline on 13 June, NPF members will then choose which proposals to adopt at a meeting in July. It is, therefore,  a good idea to hold a constituency meeting soon with a NPF representative present and press them to pursue the Constituency's  proposals.

The final papers drawn from the consultations will then be debated and adopted by Labour’s annual conference in September, and will shape official party policy for the 2015 general election.

Some of my favourite extracts from the eight consultative documents are given below. They are proposals which need to be defended and extended.

1. Stability and Prosperity

Page 6, lines 29 to 31 and page 4, lines 4 to 16. “Labour is committed to tackling climate change...(we) will take advantage of the opportunities that have arisen from the low-carbon economy and green industries”... “the next Labour Government will break up the banks so that ordinary retail banking is completely separate from riskier investment banking...will also tackle excessive pay in our banking system...Labour has proposed a repeat of the bank bonus tax, using funds raised to provide a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee for young people. Labour will also require banks to publish the numbers of employees earning more than £1 million...we also need a legally enforced Code of Conduct for bankers so that those who act recklessly can be struck off.”

2. Work and Business

Page 6, lines 27 to 30 and page 7, lines 1 and 2, plus 13 to 15. “Labour will protect working people from their wages being undermined by strengthening the National Minimum Wage. The minimum wage should rise in real terms to at least catch up the ground it has lost under this Government and Labour will investigate whether certain sectors can afford to pay a tax rebate to those companies that sign up to become Living Wage employers in the first year of the next Parliament...Labour will increase transparency on pay, by requiring companies to publish the ratio of the pay of their top earner compared to the average employee, and the pay packages of the ten highest employees outside the boardroom...we will ensure that there is an employee representative on remuneration committees...”

3. Living Standards and Sustainability

Page 7, lines 21 to 40. “Labour will break the stranglehold of the 'Big Six' energy companies by ring-fencing their generation and supply businesses, and forcing them to buy and sell their energy through an open exchange. We will also require energy companies to open up their books and provide information on their trading activities and their retail and generation businesses. This will make the market more transparent and competitive, and will open it up to alternative forms of ownership and generation, such as community energy...we will freeze energy prices until 2017, saving the average household £120...Labour will support community energy, and explore the huge potential for individuals and communities to create and save energy through community ownership and collective consumer action.”

4. Stronger, Safer Communities

Page 4, lines 20 to 40 and page 5, lines 43 and 46. “The next Labour Government will build at least 200,000 homes a year by 2020, initially focusing in developing brownfield sites...We will support local authorities who want to build social homes, and encourage those who are not building to do so...Labour will set about building the next generation of new towns and garden cities.”... “Many letting agents adopt unscrupulous methods...Labour will change this by regulating letting agents and bring an end to rip-off fees and charges”.

5. Education and Children

Page 5, lines 24 to 26 and page 6, lines 12 to 14. “Labour will ensure that all young people continue English and Maths to18 and...we will introduce a new gold standard Technical Baccalaureate for young people, acting as a stepping stone into an apprenticeship, further study or Technical Education...Labour...will deliver a radical devolution of power from Whitehall...(to) empower local communities to have a greater say about education in their area”. Page 9. lines 14 to 18. “Labour also believes in second chances for those who could not complete their education the first time round. Changes to tuition fees have led to a sharp fall in university applications from part-time and mature students. The economic downturn is a reminder that many people need support to manage economic and labour market change, and it is vital that we ensure there are retraining and lifelong learning options for those who need them”

6. Health and Care

Page 5, lines 14 to 23. “the next Labour Government will integrate health and social care services into a system of 'whole person care'. This approach will bring together three separate, fragmented services into a single service co-ordinating all of a person's needs – physical, mental and social – with preventing illness and promoting good health at its heart. Whole-person care will enable us to put people of all ages at the centre of the health and care system in a way that has never been done before; seeing the whole person, and organising services around the needs of people and their communities. The concept of whole-person care has relevance across all stages of life, from the child with complex needs, the working age adult with disabilities through to the older person. For example, from the very start, our maternity services, health visitors and children's centres can work closely together to improve the outcomes for children and parents, particularly those from disadvantaged groups.”

7. Better Politics

Page 1, lines 22 and 23; page 7, lines 42 to 44 and lines 6 and 7. “By handing power and responsibility down from Whitehall to communities, we can empower people to solve problems themselves...There is a huge well of talent, ability, ideas and passion in every community. Devolution is the best way to unleash these things in the interests of the places we cherish...Labour will examine further reform of the devolved settlements across the UK”.

Page 4, lines 12 and 13; page 6, lines 38 and 39. “Labour will give a voice to young people by lowering the voting age to 16 for all UK elections. While we improve citizenship and political education, we will give young people the opportunity to engage in democracy...When the franchise is extended to 16 year olds, schools, as well as colleges and universities, could handle voter registration.”

8. Britain's Global Role

Page 45, line 36. “Labour believes that Britain's national interest lies in remaining at the heart of a reformed EU.” Page 8, lines 15 to 18, and 44 and 45. “Labour will deliver reform from within the EU, not exit from it. We want to see tough new budget discipline with stronger independent audit, a balanced growth plan, a new Growth Commissioner and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy...and will ensure the UK does not opt out of its Social Europe obligations”. Page 10, line 25 to 34. “With the deadline for reaching the Millennium Development Goals expiring in 2015 ...Labour is committed to supporting a post-2015 development agenda that seeks to eradicate global poverty, promote sustainability, and end aid dependency by 2030. We believe that this can only be achieved through a rights-based agenda...decent jobs and social protection, access to universal heath and social care, universal access to basic utilities, quality primary and secondary education, protection of ecosystems and biodiversity, basic food security and eradication of hunger, women's empowerment and gender equality, freedom from violence and fear of violence, good governance and active and responsible citizenship.” Page 11, lines 2 and 3. “Labour is in favour of an international transaction tax – one that is agreed by all the world's financial centres”.

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Memory Of Tony Benn

I first heard Tony Benn speak when I was an adult student at Ruskin College in 1961 and I last heard him speak at a Conference run by the Society for the Study of Labour History over 50 years later. He  always spoke well and from his depth of understandings and from his socialist commitments. Like all good speakers, he was particularly keen to enter into a full and frank debate with his audience. I was tucked away in the audience the first time I heard him, but on the final occasion we had our last talk together after the meeting. He had been surprised to spot me in the audience.

Although I came across him at Labour Party Conferences and at fringe meetings in the 1970s and early 1980s; I never met up with him face to face until 1983. It was an exceptional occasion. He had been selected to stand for parliament in a by-election at Chesterfield. I was a tutor on an Industrial Day Release Course for Derbyshire Miners which was held at the Adult Education Centre at Hurst House in Chesterfield. As I was teaching politics, I arranged for the candidates from the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Parties to address us. They preferred to address and debate with us separately. As we had four hourly sessions in class between 10 am and 4 pm (with breaks for coffee and lunch), this was easy to arrange. Ideally with candidates covering three of the hourly periods, it would have been educationally advantageous for the fourth hour to be at the start or the end of the day. That would have allowed the class to prepare itself for the event, or to have an inquest over what had transpired. But the candidates had other commitments which cut across this neat plan. So for the session from 11.15 am to 12.15pm, I arranged for the late Bas Barker to address us. He was Chair of the Chesterfield Trade Union Council and the only fourth Party candidate up to then who had ever contested the Chesterfield seat - as a Communist. He was an ideal fourth choice. Eventually 17 candidates stood in the 1983 Chesterfield bye-election. But none of the "extras" had come forward in time for our  discussion. The media took a great interest in the event and turned up to mingle with us during the two coffee breaks, which were held in a "common room". When Tony was speaking the door opened quietly and a microphone was poked into the room. I quickly chased the intruder away. John Halstead was teaching a parallel course to mine as their economics tutor, so we placed the two classes together and shared the chairmanship and organisation. (The class I was teaching is shown in the top photo here). It was an exceptional day of serious debate. Tony in particular contributed to the quality of the day's activities. I considered it to be a great educational success. In the year after Tony's bye-election success, he found that his constituents faced the impact of pit closures and the 1984 Miners' Strike. Those he had addressed at Hurst House a year earlier where now at the forefront of local developments and had Tony solidly and actively on their side.

During the 1983 Chesterfield Bye-election, Tony made an incredible impression. It was not a good time for Labour. Egged on by the media, people turned up at his packed meetings intent to "sort him out". Yet they normally left with posters and leaflets to advance his candidature. I had given him my full support two year's earlier when he was very narrowly defeated in a contest for the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party. I was at the Labour Party Conference where this vote took place and remember an official whispering in his ear to tell him the result. I still remember the "wow" look on his face.

Four years later, I joined Tony in parliament as the MP for the neighbouring seat to Chesterfield - North East Derbyshire.  The constituency I represented laps in a "C" shape around Chesterfield. Our Constituency Labour Party Meetings and half of my MPs surgeries were held in Chesterfield as it was a central point to meet given the distribution of the NE Derbyshire population. But the links with Tony were not just those of convenience. Once I settled into parliament, I joined the Socialist Campaign Group where he was a major figure. For 14 years we were often together joining in the same debates in the Commons. In the early years, there was the unsuccessful fight to save the remaining pits in our area. Even after he retired from parliament in 2001, he continued to attend meetings of the Socialist Campaign Group and we were together on the platform at the launch of "Labour Against the War" at the time of the invasion of Iraq. In the Commons we met weekly at Socialist Campaign Group meetings. Whilst in Labour rebellions against Blairism we normally met up in the same division lobbies.

Even when people have basic shared horizons in politics, they can't (and should not) agree on everything. On one occasion, Tony and I had a joint meeting of our two Constituency Labour Parties to discuss the situation in Northern Ireland. We did this as Tony and I had different views on what the correct approach should be. He was a solid advocate of a united Ireland. Whilst I was content with that as a long term aspiration, I felt that the fact that the Unionists were in the majority meant that their stance could not just be overridden; it needed accommodating to. Tony, of course, tested my contrasting stance to the full. But invariably in a comradely fashion. We took similar lines in debates within the Socialist Campaign Group itself.

No socialist can ignore Tony's contributions over the years and we need to draw from them. Tony would not, however, want us to do this dogmatically. But in the spirit he pursued matters - through the dialectics of comradely debate. What mattered to Tony was the values which people adhered to. Differences of interpretation on how to relate these to passing events, were of lesser importance. 



Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Manifesto For Europe

The Party of European Socialism (PES) is made up of 33 political parties within the European Union, including our own Labour Party. On the 1 March in Rome, the PES adopted its Manifesto for the coming European Elections. It is divided into the ten sections, as below -

1. It is time to put jobs first.
2. It is time to relaunch the economy.
3. Putting the financial sector at the service of the citizens and the real economy.
4. Towards a Social Europe.
5. A Union of equality and women's rights.
6. A Union of diversity.
7. A Safe and Healthy life for all.
8. More democracy and participation.
9. A Green Europe.
10. Promoting Europe's influence in the world.

It is a progressive document and it can be found via the link here

Labour is not planning to publish its own programme until it starts its own short campaign for the European elections. This could still be a few week's away. Why at least, in the meantime, does it not push the above manifesto? It has already been launched by our sister parties in numbers of other European Nations.  If, however, Labour plans to ditch some of the PSE's programme, then we are entitled to know why.

On the PSE, see here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Mining and Me

Derbyshire Miners at an Industrial Day Release Class in 1983 - outside the WEA Centre at Chesterfield.

Although I have never worked in a coal mine, much of my life has been shaped by the nature of coal mining communities. Today is the 30th anniversary of the start of the 1984-5 Miners' Strike. It is an appropriate time for me to indicate something about what my mining inheritance has meant to me.

I was born in 1936 at Easington Colliery. At that time my father and all of his five brothers worked at the local pit, as did the husband of his only sister. His own grandfather had been killed following a fall of  large stone at Monkwearmouth pit, where Sunderland"s football ground now stands. This is telling, because my eight year old grandson is now a sixth generation Sunderland supporter, going back to our ancestor who was killed. My mother also came from a mining tradition. One of her brother's also worked at Easington's pit and her younger sister married a miner from the neighbouring Horden Colliery. Of my nine relatives who worked at the local pits, only my Uncle Arthur moved jobs by joining the RAF before the second world war. When Easington Colliery suffered a pit disaster in 1951 and 79 local miners and two rescue workers were killed, none of my relatives (which now included cousins) were amongst the fatalities. Yet my father and others were working in the pit at the time. They were in separate seams to the one in which the disaster struck. However, the father of the person who was later to become my first girlfriend was amongst those who were killed.

Mining communities weren't without their internal rivalries and disputes, yet they generally showed an exceptional form of communal coherence and self support. I came naturally to share in these co-operative norms, even though I did not always live up to them. I also followed them in their support for the Labour Party. It started as a form of tribal loyalty, but developed into a commitment to democratic socialist norms by the time I became Secretary of the Easington Colliery Branch of the Labour Party at the age of 21.

Apart from the period of my National Service and term-times when I was a full time adult student, I lived at Easington Colliery until I was 27. I then married Ann, whose father was an onsetter at nearby Shotton Colliery. We moved to Hull where I was studying. But we regularly returned (eventually with our children) to the two Colliery areas, until our parents died. So I joined the picket line on a visit in 1985. My mother was the last of our parents to survive, finally dying in 1999.  Easington Colliery and Monkwearmouth being the final two pits to close in the Durham Coalfield six year earlier.

My links with the coal miners were not, however, confined to my early and fading links with County Durham. From 1966 to 1987, I was an Industrial Day Release Tutor on courses run for Trade Unionists via the Sheffield University Extramural Department. The solid core of this work was with classes of miners from South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire. These classes ran from 10 am until 4 pm, including coffee and lunch breaks. I spent the full period with the men who attended. The main break normally being spent at a local pub for lunch and drinks. Miners attended over a 24 week period each year for three years. The South Yorkshire Miners attended one day per week, whilst the Derbyshire miners attended a second day each week in their second and third years. We studied together as equals and the tutors learnt at least as much from the experience as the students did. The main topic areas we covered were student skills, industrial relations, economics and politics. I dealt with aspects of all of these, except that I did nor specialise in economics - although it is a subject area which can't be excluded from the study of politics.

I had a range of other commitments, with classes from bodies including the Steel Industry, the Railways, my own ASTMS branch, shop stewards and mature students seeking entry to full-time higher education. These were all fine groups of dedicated students - the few exceptions tended to pack in their studies as they thought they were too much like hard work. The miners came from closely knit and inter-related communities and readily and fully joined in a form of shared education from the start. When I later became an MP, I often missed the depth of discussions in day release classes. For too much parliamentary politics is about point scoring and personal advancement. But at least I had some of my former ex-mining students around me such as Kevin Baron and the late Martin Redmond, Kevin Hughes and Terry Patchett. Then there was the late Micky Welsh who had been a fellow student at Ruskin College and had then returned to the mines, whilst teaching on our preparatory courses which were run for those looking for places on our miners day-release programme.

I had the privilege of taking miners' day release classes during the 1984-5 strike itself. Students took time out of their strike activities to attend. In the 1984-5 session itself, I was tutor for two classes of Yorkshire Miners who met on a Thursday and Friday. One student was missing for four weeks as he had been in Lincoln Prison because of a judgment about his strike activities. So immediately on his return he came to the front of the class to tell us of his experiences and to sustain a full mornings debate on policing, the courts and the prison system. He did an excellent job without any notes or any prior warning. I arranged for extracts from the classes' essays on their strike experiences to be published. One of these was from a fine, concerned, able and dedicated student called Bob Genders. Within a year of his return to work after the strike, he was killed in an accident at Rossington pit.

My first experience of meeting these miners was a telling occasion. I had been appointed to a position in the Sheffield Extramural Department, but was still employed at the North Notts College of further education at Worksop. But I was informed that it would be helpful if I participated in a selection conference to determine a fresh intake of Yorkshire Miners. This was held at the NUM Offices in Barnsley, which later became known as "Arthur's Castle". Well over 100 people attended, seeking the 20 places for a new intake. First a tutor gave an explanation of how to takes notes from a talk. Then another tutor gave a clearly structured talk from which they took notes. This would give us an indication of who had problems with writing. Yet some who had such problems were encouraged  to join one of our preliminary courses to tackle such problems. These courses produced numbers who then moved onto the normal day release programme and often became some of our best students. After the note taking exercise, those at the selection conference were divided into groups to discuss two separate topics. One of these would be about the mining industry and the other on a political issue. Tutors would chair the groups, but would swap places with a fellow tutor between the discussion of the two topics. I was initially placed on the platform which the Yorkshire NUM leadership normally operated from and had a group of about ten applicants with me. My job was to encourage everyone to contribute and see how people responded to each others points. The debate was of a telling quality, better than what I had been used to when an undergraduate. I wondered where I had landed myself and how I would manage in class. We were the only part of the University who had Government Inspectors. For a number of years an inspector came to our Yorkshire Miners' selection conferences. Not because she saw problems, because she enjoyed the day so much.

I taught the group of 20 students we selected (but as I was the novice I shared the teaching). Amongst the students were Norman West who went on to become the MEP for South Yorkshire, Terry Patchett a future Barnsley MP, Ron Rigby later leader of the Barnsley Council and Jack Wake from Cortonwood. The miners at Cortonwood walked out when faced with the closure of their pit on 5 March 1984, as the prelude to the lengthy strike. Jack was their Secretary. In all I was the tutor on 30 miners' classes, taking in 720 day sessions. Especially given the decline of the mining industry, numbers of our students moved on to adult education colleges and some went straight into university. One period of decline in coal mining reduced the size of a Derbyshire Miner's third year class to only nine students. Seven of them then moved on the full-time adult education colleges, especially Coleg Harlech.  Numbers ended up as lecturers, teachers, social workers, full-time trade union officers, NCB officials, councillors and the like. But the courses should not be measured in terms of social mobility, but in advancing commitments to the bulk of its participants to use their abilities to serve their communities - even though pit closures helped to destroy much that was best about their home territory. The impact on the tutors is probably seen in the fact that I helped establish and worked with the Miners' Support Group in Dronfield in Derbyshire. Where Ann and I have lived since 1969.

Eventually, in 1987 I moved on and served as  the MP for NE Derbyshire for 18 years. The mines were closing, although the Derbyshire Miners' Day Classes held out until 1994. I hope that I was not seen as a rat that was leaving a sinking ship. Although I could not join the NUM Group of MPs as I was a member of ASTMS (which eventually became part of present day UNITE), I attempted to take an active role in the parliamentary wing of the Coalfield's Community Campaign who operated from Barnsley - its Chair was the leader of the Chesterfield Borough Council. One of my ploys was to introduce a Energy (Fair Competition) Bill in 1993 as an alternative to Heseltine's energy policy which was finally closing Derbyshire's pits. But I was up against the Conservative Government. When the local pits finally went, efforts had to be turned to seeking proper compensation for those who had suffered from their mining experiences, over matters such as chest diseases and vibration white finger. So I was part of that general struggle.  Alternative job openings were also pushed for, but these pressures even gained negative responses when Blair became Prime Minister. I followed the miners tradition in that era of normally being on the best side, but losing out to the worst. Paradoxically, the small pit I aided the most effectively was a small non-NUM drift mine in my constituency. First, I was part of the struggle which got them added to European Union funding. Secondly, I was involved in efforts which got them added to power stations purchasing some of their output. Finally, when they could not obtain insurance cover for the mine, I vigorously pressed their case. But that effort would have failed. It was the owner who saved the day. He transferred the ownership of the mine to the men. They were then able to obtain individual insurance cover and continue their operations. It was worker's control, thanks to the boss!
In retirement, my interest in my past mining connections have led to me researching what the local heritage was which I inherited. As the pit at Easington Colliery was first sunk in 1899, I wanted to know about its past in the years before I was born. The fruits of my labours can be found in three articles which were published in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 editions on North East History which is the Journal of the North East Labour History. For more related material on the above themes, see the links provided at the foot of this page.    

 Anger: Men hold a sign called 'Thatcher's prayer' as they travel to Easington Colliery Club
From Easington Colliery at the time of Thatcher's funeral.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Ed and Jon and Socialism?

Ed Miliband and Jon Cruddas made two important Labour Party policy speeches on 10 and 12 February. They tend to have been missed by the media. They can be found via the links here and here. 

Unfortuneately, they are difficult speeches to fully grasp hold of. This is partly due to the form in which the “Labour List” web-site presents them. Each sentence is shown as if it were a new paragraph. This probably made it easier for Miliband and Cruddas to read them out at the time, but proper paragraphs would enable the reader to grasp which bits go together and thus help form an analysis. A second confusing factor is that a great deal of what they say is in the form of sound bites directed to appeal to our emotions, rather than proposals we can clearly understand. It is continually indicated that all will become clear when coming policy review proposals are finally adopted. So the proof of the pudding will have to be in the eating.

Miliband lays stress on what he says is “one of the key principles that drive” his politics – that of equality. His presentation at this point says much that will appeal to democratic socialists, but we tend only to have hints at the policies his values will lead on to. Although he did go on to say “you can’t tackle inequality without changing our economy, from promoting a living wage, transforming vocational education, to reforming executive pay, to helping create good jobs with decent wages”. At least he says things that can always be quoted back at him, if we ever feel the need to do so.He concludes by stressing four further principles which ” will guide what we do”. First, “we could change the assumptions about who owns access to information because information is power.” Secondly, “no user of public services should be left as an isolated individual, but should be able to link up with others”. Thirdly, “every user of a public service has something to contribute and the presumption should be that decisions should be made by users and public servants together, and not public servants on their own”. And finally, “it is right to devolve power down not just to users but to the local level”. His final points leads on the speech by John Cruddas to the Local Government Network.

John Cruddas also concludes by making four points. First he says that “We will transform the systems and institutions of our nation”. He quotes Ed Balls as saying “we will devolve economic power to innovative cities and regions” and claims that “we must turn our cities into powerhouses of innovation and economic regeneration”. Then he points out that we are waiting for Lord Ardonis “to develop our strategy for regional jobs and growth and his report will be pubished in the Spring”. Secondly, he argues that the “Government is wasting money on reactive high costs services because it is failing to fix social problems.” Here (as far as local government is concerned) we have Rachel Reeves planning “a radical devolution to local authorities” to negotiate on behalf of their tenants and build more homes. Thirdly, we are told that we “will devolve power to help local people to help themselves and shape their services in response to their specific needs”. Proposals are said to have been set out by Hilary Benn is his “English New Deal”. Finally, we are told that we “will increase the power of local places by building collaboration between and across public services and organisations, and pooling funds to stop inefficiency and aviod duplication”. Here a “Local Government Innovation Taskforce is drawing up plans to better organize services around the places people live in rather than institutional silos”.

The package from Cruddas gives us hope and fears. For how will the square be circled? Devolution is on the cards, but with it we will seemingly be saving overall expenditure! Although there is no proper democratic procedures in the Labour Party to influence final policy developments, we have seven months before Annual Conference to seek to influence Labour’s final pre-election programme. I am for spending that time trying to win friends and influence people – amongst Labour’s movers and shakers. But then if they don’t listen, it will be time to get out of the heat of the kitchen – if we can only get there in the first place. (Although I did manage a private meeting in December with a Labour front bench spokesperson).

Hat Tip : Barry Winter of the ILP.  See

Thursday, February 13, 2014

How to restore the NHS now that the dam is broken.

It needs careful study, but here is a really important item on the state of the NHS and the difficult way ahead if it is to be reasonably restored. Click here.