Category Archives: Birmingham, UK

We Had the Vote: Leave the EU Now. Conference, Birmingham 27/10/2018

A veritable line up of speakers attended yesterday’s conference held in Birmingham against the flow of demos demanding that we stay in the EU and its institutions. None of them made arguments remotely resembling those associated with the Brexiteers on the right flooding page of press, tv representing the massive reaction of the EU elite to those who had the temerity to vote to leave the EU in 2016. We had the vote: leave the EU now!

Issues raised at the outset included sovereignty, which can be associated with the wishes of supporters of UKIP and the Tory right, although for totally different ends, but from thereon there was little if nothing comparable. Dr Kim Bryan from the Socialist Labour Party spoke of the endless and destructive wars in which NATO was involved in proxy wars accounting for 95% percent of deaths in continuing global conflicts: the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Ukraine, the Yemen. The EU is committing increasing funds using NATO to protect its interests. 

Ken Capstick, former Deputy Leader of Yorkshire NUM, spoke of austerity as a “Capitalist Crime” which is being allowed continue after the 2007 financial crash. The leaders of the EU, financiers and bankers, were associated with fraud, theft and other criminal activities and should now be in jail. Don’t hear this from Tories and their right wing allies. 

Professor Costas Lapavitsas, a former Greek MP in the Syriza Government made an eloquent and clear case for the need to end any association with free markets and the tools being used by the EU to meet their agenda. Their aim was to bring about stabilisation through measures such as austerity. Since the method used was to created money is this “stabilisation” real? As is being shown now in Italy, as well as Spain, Portugal and Greece. Austerity is not a policy, it is now institutionalised so that voters have no choice of voting for a party which can do anything different. The “democratic deficit” has become an abyss. There is a profound divergence among people as a result with feelings of powerlessness reasons for which many are unable to comprehend. While the message is that EU produces harmony among member states the reverse is true: Germany is using the EU for its own purposes with France in a support role. Central European states support Germany’s industrial base while those in the south are sources of cheap labour. 

Prof. Lapavitsas ended with advice about what we can do now, discussed in more detail in his new publication “The Left Case Against the EU”. Reform he saw as complete surrender. We are internationalists, but we need the internationalism of labour, not capitalism. For this we have to start from home.

Doug Nicholls, General Secretary of the General Federation of Trades Unions, pointed out that we need to get out of the single market institutions to restore our freedom to determine our future. The “Freedoms of Maastricht” are restrictions except for big international corporations. The basis of the single market came from Thatcher’s decision in 1979 to remove exchange controls on capital in Britain. The result caused misery for many when industry moved elsewhere across the globe. People were told to “get on their bike” to get jobs, as we thought that we had a right to expect employment where we were living. Movement of labour internationally hollowed out the work forces of some countries. UK agricultural and fishing industries were devastated and our ability to sustain ourselves in food and energy was reversed. As net contributors to the EU budget we had a little of our money returned through projects across the nation.

It was pointed out that the EU has not been audited for 20 years. It is rife with corruption and people don’t know her the money goes. We need to re-establish self-reliance to rebuild our own economy and industry. At present EU procurement and competition policies consistently disadvantage British industry. We have to ensure that EU law doesn’t continue to overrule employment law that we ourselves have created. Poland had to tear up all their collective bargaining agreements as a condition of joining the EU.

We need to reject protracted negotiations designed to keep us tied to the EU in some way, but we had a significant working class positive vote which generally lit a spark across Europe and which should mean that we will leave in EU on 29th March.  The elite were caught unawares that this would happen are themselves divided. Britain’s history has been one like a sleeping giant which periodically re-awakens to challenge. The question of an Irish border with controls is an excuse being used to frustrate an agreement. We should remember the great leaders such as James Connolly who stood for freedom and self-determination of their countries, free of impositions from others. These were understood as internationalist perspectives where all others would have their rights respected based on creative co-operation.

Arthur Scargill, Leader of the Socialist Labour Party concluded drawing on his long experience of campaigning against Europe, including in 1975 alongside Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn. Going into Europe had resulted in the UK losing its manufacturing base which accounted for 80% of the GDP. Germany is succeeding because of its manufacturing strength, not least in the automotive industry, formerly a feature of a strong British industry. If we take back control we can revive our manufacturing base, using our energy supplies, with new technology available for clean energy, and provide the jobs we need.  

We at this conference should determine to oppose the economic and political decision to sabotage the people’s decision to leave in an unprecedented and sustained campaign through media that ran even into children’s television. We have a responsibility to respond with the case against membership of the EU  We need to understand the issues now and go from here to tell others bringing people onto the streets to oppose what’s going on.

Scargill pointed out that we had a people’s vote. He was referring to the General Election called by Theresa May in 2017. In that resulted he noted that 75% of constituencies with Conservative MPS voted to leave the EU and 61% of constituencies with Labour MPs. If that was reflected in parliament there wouldn’t be a need for a debate. We don’t need further debate, we need action. 

Instead we have betrayal from many in the labour movement who need to understand the facts of life we’re discussing. No socialist can support the free movement of people or capital. Tony Benn made it clear that the EU constitution supported Capitalism. 

The Labour Party did not escape criticism in its wish for a customs union and a free market.

We need to call meetings like this across Britain to say what is going on and will not accept the sabotage of the right wing. That is the way to win the votes of the British people.

Capitalism can’t be the answer to the problem it has caused, so why is it supported in this election by virtually all parties

Brexit has been likened to revolution by those who have become victims to the effects of globalisation. Instead of recognising this many in the Labour movement continue to support the Thatcherite free market and globalisation in spite of the realisation it is only a very few who benefit. It is multinational corporations and banks, which have caused so many crises in recent history, who dominate us promoting austerity, privatisation of public assets, including the NHS and state schools, who benefit. The EU is one of the organisations used to regulate us, along with the IMF, the World Bank etc. In the General Election on June 8th, 2017, there is hardly any option but to vote for it in spite of Brexit.

Arthur Scargill, leader of the Socialist Labour Party, spoke about this in his support for the SLP candidate for Birmingham, Perry Barr at the Shaheed Udham Singh Centre, on Saturday, 3rd June, 2017

If Brexit and similar movements in USA and across the globe are symptomatic of resistance to elite domination then the elite are fighting back, systematically according to Takis Fotopulos. It follows that all main political parties are fighting this election on the basis of supporting the EU elite against the wishes of those supporting Brexit. Among the weapons employed to smear Brexit supporters are that it is fundamentally racist and supports facism. This precludes anyone who fought for Brexit on the basis of its policies on austerity, its attack on workers and their representatives including working conditions and pensions. The EU presently does all it can to promote privatisation and dictates to countries, like long suffering Greece, that they should privatise railways, seaports and airports. No money is available for nationalised industries. Workers are on strike because of the impositions being forced on them. In Britain, the RMT and ASLEF rail unions are attempting to ensure that guards are kept on trains for the safety of rail passengers. The RMT has pointed out that 75% of Britains rail franchises are in the hands of German, French and Italian state railways among others. Southern rail has at the same time doubled its Chief Executive’s salary from £200k to £400k. Profits go to those organisations which will not stay state owned under current EU policy and the so-called “Golden Diktat” they operate.

For Thursday’s general election, Diem25, a manifesto for democracy in the EU spearheaded by Yanis Varoufakis, identified UK MPs giving it support. Takes Fotopoulos asks if it is rather a “Manifesto for Perpetuating the EU Elites’ Domination of the European Peoples”. The list includes individuals across parties indicating that they do all agree on supporting an elite over the interests of the majority hit by the effects of ill-considered globalisation.

Tory Education Policies Unravelling

The infamous budget speech from George Osborne has not left the news headlines since its delivery weeks ago. “Austerity” was a term dreamed up to blind people from the reality of Tory policy which was avowedly to shrink the state. Local accountability has certainly shrunk with nowhere to go to question those now running our precious and hard won services.

Education has been overshadowed by proper concerns over what is going on in health, with threats there of increasing privatisation which, with TTIP proposals, could end up with multinational concerns running NHS services. In Birmingham Perry Beeches School was held up as an example of the brave new world, its head teacher, Liam Nolan, elevated to the position of “super-head”. Perry Beeches attempted to produce clones across Birmingham with “Perry Beeches II, III and now V”. “Super-head” has now become a bit big for his boots. Although he has for now retained his position of Head Teacher, his designation of CEO and Accounting Officer of a Trust set up to run the whole empire has been withdrawn, his second six-figure income having drawn fire. The Trust has been paid well over a million pounds annually, with Mr Nolan protesting that £200,000 was too little to reward his brilliance.

Like health and other public services essential to our well being, education is not served by being forced into a market place which discriminates between the well-off and the majority who live from their labour and ability to get employment. Speeches as the National Union of Teachers and NAS/UWT Conferences this Easter serve to show how Tories are now being challenged with a national protest on 16th April and teachers supporting junior doctors with strike action. Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader, was well supported at the NUT Conference in Brighton while Education Secretary Nicky Morgan had a torrid time in Birmingham speaking to NAS/UWT delegates. Her assertion at the outset that there would be no u-turns in her proposals looks particularly vulnerable in the light of Osborne’s back tracking on benefits following his budget announcement.

Extract from Nicky Morgan’s speech.

Arthur Scargill returns to Birmingham for 44th anniversary of Saltley Gate

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John Tyrrell, SLP President, introducing Party Leader, Arthur Scargill

On 6th February the Socialist Labour Party once again remembered the anniversary of Saltley Gate when 300,000 workers stopped work in support of the miners. This was on 11th February, 1972. 150,000 marched on Saltley Gate preventing deliveries of coke intended to break the strike. There were lines of workers marching east to west and west to east, the police intending them to pass each other. As they reached the gate Arthur Scargill gave the order over loud hailer to “Stop”. When this happened the order was given by the police “Close the Gate”. This victory shows how effective mass action is against unfair and anti-working governments, such as the one we have currently, are. It is necessary to remember and for the first time since the 40th anniversary held at Saltley Gate in 2012, Arthur Scargill returned to Birmingham to speak at the 44th anniversary, this time to a packed audience at the Priory Rooms in Bull Street, Birmingham.

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Arthur Scargill. Leader, Socialist Labour Party & Leader at Saltley Gate speaking on the need to exit the bureaucratic EU

As in 2012 Scargill’s speech focussed on current issues, notable the European Union and the crucial need to leave what he had predicted would become a bureaucratic organisation serving there freedom of movement of Capital and workers for the benefit of the large corporations. Their involvement in TTIP showed where their interest lay. He emphasised his disappointment with Labour failing to tackle these key issues, drawing back after Jeremy Corbyn’s massive majority to bring about significant change putting the need of people before corporate greed. The idea of sending submarines around the globe with unarmed Trident missiles was laughable. Corbyn had the chance at the Labour Annual Conference of insisting on stopping Trident and putting forward other changes he had articulated in his bid for leadership of the Labour Party.

As far as 1972 was concerned there was much to be learned about working people acting together in solidarity. It had proved that doing this brought about the changes they needed in the face of coercive and anti-union governments such as that in office now.

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New Style Radio presenter, George Gordon, speaks about Harold Crawford

George Gordon, a radio presenter at New Style Radio based at the Afro-Caribbean Millennium Centre in Winson Green, Birmingham, was in 1972 a shop steward. He brought his workers out then. Two years ago he mentioned the name of Harold Crawford, a Barbadian who had made a contribution to the support of the miners at that time. George pointed out that there was considerable apathy amongst African Caribbean workers and Harold Crawford galvanised them into action by convincing them of the need to give active support. Other sections of the community were brought together by organisations like the Indian Workers’ Association. We had come to realise that 1972 was supported across diversity and included women and men from various backgrounds. However it didn’t come about by chance, but through leadership from within sections of the community.

The meeting had started with a song from Banner Theatre’s 1972 production of Saltley Gate by Dave Rodgers. (I suggested this should be a candidate for an English National Anthem!).

Following George Gordon, Dr Kim Bryan, Secretary of the Socialist Labour Party spoke of other acts of solidarity in Britain at the time in the early 70’s, including rent strikes in Liverpool and beyond. There was no reason why such resistance should not come again. This was followed by an informative debate with those present.

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Guest speaker Jorge Luis Garcia Garcia from Cuba

Jorge Luis Garcia Garcia representing the Cuban Embassy spoke briefly on the situation since Cuba and the US had begun talks and exchanged visits late last year. Regrettably there was no time left for discussion on the important issues raised by the exceptional speakers.

An earlier meeting in London had discussed Cuban Futures at greater length and depth. A report can be seen here.

 

Photographs: Neil Barrington with thanks

Midland Metro extension from Snow Hill to New Street

I took a walk along the short Midland Metro extension which at last connects the two main stations in Birmingham, Snow Hill and New Street. As a City Councillor and Cabinet Member for Transportation from 2003-4 I signed a document advancing this, but the new Tory Lib-Dem administration put it on ice. Some of them were after an underground system. Financially the case for the Metro just about stacked up, but an underground system? I knew the London Underground very well as I had lived and worked there for many years, but you sometimes have to walk considerable distances when changing trains! I had planned to present the then Lord Mayor, Cllr John Alden with a shovel with a map joining the Council House to his home in Harborne, together with a model of a London tube train, but the idea wasn’t approved by Sir Albert so I regret I let it drop. I did tell John about this later but he just gave me a puzzled look. (Journalist Paul Dale from the Birmingham Post and Mail, saw the shovel and model train in my office and questioned me about. He didn’t see the point either!)

I travelled by train from the Hawthorns into Snowhill, which is just as well because I found the Metro now stopped short at St Paul’s. Beyond that was a deep hole.

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I was expecting it to be joined up to the new extension since it was announced that trams would be testing it during October. Nevertheless you can see that people are very busy getting it ready.

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It’s not clear where the tram stop will be. Is that under construction? Presumably the buildings at the end of the platform will be part of a connection between rails and tram. There’s no sign of a platform outside Snow Hill (see below).

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The first stop is taking shape in Bull Street.

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Then right into Corporation Street. No sign of another stop here.

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But something seems to be emerging here outside the side entrance to New Street, now “Grand Central” Station.

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So welcome to New Street Grand Central Station.

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Alton Burnett

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Our Comrade, Friend and Brother Alton Burnett finally succumbed to his battle with cancer and passed away on Friday, 7th March at 7.20 pm. Phillip Murphy, Maxie Hayles and I had visited a week or so earlier but found him in a deep sleep. We understood he was suffering considerable pain in his waking moments. Alton was a larger than life character committed to serve the community, which he did as a Councillor for Erdington and as Secretary to the Afro-Caribbean Millennium Centre on Dudley Road, Birmingham.

In 1985 Alton led a group along Lozells to pay tribute to the post masters, the Moledena brothers, who lost their lives in a fire at the post office.

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More than 20 years later he repeated this act of reconciliation when some young men were tragically run down along the Dudley Road, yards from the Afro-Caribbean Millennium Centre. At the time there was considerable tension with a feeling that what had happened was due to friction in the community. It fell to Alton once again to dispel the idea as he carried a tribute to Tariq Jahan, father of one of the boys killed. Tariq himself rose above the rumours flying round and was given great credit for his generosity of spirit at such a time of personal loss. (He went to give aid to the injured only to find it was his own dying son he was trying to help.)

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Alton Burnett pays tribute to the young men who were killed along the Dudley Road speaking to Tariq Jahan, bereaved father of one of them.
Rather than a flashpoint, the makeshift shrine appears to have evolved into a focal point for the community to bond. It was there that Alton Burnett of the Afro Caribbean Millennium community center presented Mr. Jahan with flowers and a message of condolence on Thursday evening.
“We are one,” Mr. Burnett said. “We feel your pain and we feel your sorrow. We will not let this divide us.” The two men hugged, a symbolic moment recognized with applause from those watching.
New York Times 11/8/2011

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Devolution means “you take the decision”, not me

I’ve been a bit slow to understand but now I realise what you mean, Sir Albert, by devolution. Birmingham is considered a bit big for an authority and could be split into smaller units. We’ve trying that for some years to work in districts, although the even more local ward committees have been criticised as “not being fit for purpose”.

Albert Bore has been around a long time now. Earlier he was seen as “bag carrier” for Sir Richard (Dick) Knowles. He was always democratic mostly when it was forced on him. So I wrote and told him how much I was pleased with his wish to devolve power to local areas based on constituencies and wards. The problem I told him was that we were given responsibility, but there were no resources to do anything. Yes we could take decisions, but the only decision to be made was to make cuts by closing or transferring assets, for example. Now my area of Handsworth Wood is virtually an asset-free area. What is left to govern?

A local family bought Hawthorn House, formerly housing a local library, community facilities and council offices. A children’s play area has been reinstated after the family objected to it, having acquired the house fully knowing it was planned to do this.

Laurel Road Sports Centre, rebuilt after a fire had gutted the former wooden structure, was put up for tender to transfer the assets to a new owner. The site had been much improved after the involvement of Sports England, but it never regained the feeling of local ownership it previously enjoyed. The popular protest failed after assets were passed to a local church group. In other words its long term future is far from guaranteed.

Camp Lane held a training centre, graced with a picture of Prince Charles in honour of a visit, and, yes, a plaque with the name of Sir Albert Bore from when it was opened, or re-opened after a period of closure. Considerable sums of Council (our) money was pumped in to improve social facilities. It could prove a major asset and funding source to a private owner for functions. Local power devolved. We weren’t asked or involved in deciding its future.

Local schools have become academies, another term for asset transfer. Again public money used to enhance our schools with considerable building schemes for sports centres etc. has been handed over for private gain.

Albert Bore has declared that it is the end of local government as we know it. It is essentially a loss of voice of people who formerly controlled local government. Evidently one or two councillors are voicing their concerns but it is muted by their temerity and dissuasion by those in Labour who still won’t rock the boat.

Contrast Birmingham in 1972 when Labour Party leaders like Moira Symons led in supporting miners’ industrial action with 30,000 Birmingham Trades Unionists marching on Saltley Gate. Their actions led to the end of a former corrupt Tory administration under Heath.

A Community Trust In Handsworth Wood

With the great give away of community assets there is a great wish to try to preserve some control in the hands of local people as local council representation continues to weaken. Local councillors wring their hands. “Nothing can be done” is their cry.

In Birmingham’s Handsworth Wood Ward the City Council announced they were considering a transfer of assets of the hard won Laurel Road Sport Centre. At one time a very modest wooden building was freely available to use until a fire caused by an electrical fault in a vending machine burned it down. Local people supported by there then councillors helped campaign for a new improved rebuild. This was achieved with the help of Sports England with a new brick building and greatly enhanced sporting facilities. It came at a price of greatly reducing the availability of the centre to local people. No the considerable sums spent could just be handed over to a private concern who, if like Sports England, will be interested for a short period. After that anything could happen.

Why not then set up a local Community Trust? I have just learned that one has been set up, but the opportunity to get involved seems obscure. Who is a member of it and how to apply is not “open” and “transparent” as these well worn words, continuously and consistently declared as key to local democracy is not apparent.

Mick Archer, a local political activist, has been asking some pertinent questions and found that such a trust was formed in 2013 as a limited company, with Councillor Gurdial Singh Atwal the lead director. We know it was awarded £10,000 of money from the devolved Community Chest, decisions for the spending of which are in the hands of the three Handsworth Wood Ward Councillors. Mick Archer’s ongoing enquiry is proceeding.

Sports centre in Handsworth up for asset transfer

Once upon a time when we lived in a fairly civilised society we had a wooden hut which served as changing facilities for a range of sporting activities. The hut was available to us in the community, With Ernie in charge it was made available when needed. From 1990 onwards the ward changed from being represented by Tory councillors it transformed in three years to having three Labour councillors with the largest majority in Birmingham. After elections we would return to Laurel Road to tune into the election results late into the night.

One day came the news of a fire. Our precious centre had burned down due to an electrical fault in a drinks machine. What would happen to the site. We wrote letters to Pepsi-cola, or whoever owned the drinks dispenser to see if they would help sponsor a rebuild. Eventually we learned that we would get a new building which we were asked to comment on. I remember we were told we couldn’t have a clock tower (don’t remember anyone asking!) Sports England came on board to help out and gave us funding for upgrading the facilities including a climbing wall (instead of the clock tower I suppose).

On the downside Ernie disappeared to look after another centre nearby. African Caribbean himself he was popular with local youth and could reach out to young people with excellent results. The centre became managed with a new staff. We could hire the building for meetings but it had to be cleared by 9.00pm.

Last Wednesday a large group of people assembled at Hamstead Hall School from the Handsworth Against the Cuts Campaign with banners and songs led by Dave Rogers of Banner Theatre. Laurel Road was a candidate for asset transfer. It was the Handsworth Wood Ward Committee meeting at which the three Labour councillors were present. A request had been made for Laurel Road to be an agenda item. This had not happened but I suppose because of the size of the protest group discussion was grudgingly allowed. We were promised that our views would be taken back to the City Council. The councillors said they were on our side, but in view of the draconian cuts in funding there was little they felt could be done.

The question remains why the Labour Party, now in control, acquieces to everything thrown at it. Handsworth Wood Ward may have continued with its Tory representation. The question is whether the three Labour Councillors oppose the transfer of assets and privatisation. The sad fact is that they do having openly supported first Academies and then Free Schools. While Labour brought in academies their stance of Free Schools has been oppositional. At least of two of the Councillors actively supported Free Schools in Handsworth set up by the Nishkam Centre. Do these councillors not understand that asset transfer and privatisation is the handing over of public money for the purpose of making the now private assets profitable to an unaccountable group of people? How will they support us when they believe in asset transfer etc?

No light went out with Mandela, it continues to shine ever brighter

I have a picture on my mantlepiece showing Nelson Mandela leaving the International Convention Centre in Birmingham during his visit to the UK in 1993. He had just spoken to a packed hall for two hours, without notes, and it seemed as if he was just holding a conversation with us. It certainly didn’t seem like two hours and those present would have willingly stayed another two or more to hear what he had to say to us. As the car left I positioned myself to salute him which he acknowledged with a smile and wave. He made everyone he came across, it seems, feel important, and as we have seen the people of South Africa are celebrating his life which brought them not only freedom but a knowledge of who they are. This feeling of course extends not only across Africa but the whole world.

One of the first to pay a tribute to Mandela in Birmingham was Rev Jesse Jackson. He is no stranger to Birmingham and Handsworth, home to a significant African Caribbean community. When former Councillor Phillip Murphy made a request for Nelson Mandela to come to Handsworth the response was that it would be impossible given his tight and exhausting schedule. When ANC contacts let it be known that such a visit had been requested he insisted on meeting them early that morning.

Tributes to Mandela continue to pour in across the world, including from the Israeli government who continue to uphold their own apartheid regime between Arab and Jew. Palestinian tributes were countered by the Israeli army using their accustomed violence.