Monthly Archives: August 2010

Ken Capstick comments on Chile’s trapped miners.

Ken Capstick of the Socialist Labour Party comments on the situation in Chile where miners are trapped underground it s thought until Christmas.
Chile’s trapped miners
Even those who have done the dangerous work of mining can only imagine what the 33 men are going through in Chile
By Ken Capstick (NUM & SLP)
Guardian 25th August 2010.
“The 33 miners trapped below ground in Chile’s San José mine since 5 August are suffering the worst nightmare of miners the world over, who will be sharing their pain and that of their families, desperately hoping the rescuers succeed.
I spent 38 years of my life working as a coalminer and many long hours underground. I will never forget leaving school and jumping for joy – we said it was “the end of bondage”. I was 15, it was Easter 1956. Normally we would get a week’s holiday – I got two days and then found myself feeling imprisoned in what seemed worse than any dungeon. Deafening noise, constantly moving machinery, little light with which to see, grimy surroundings and hard physical work was my lot in life.
I was out of bed by 4.30 in the morning, trudging to the pit with my father; weather conditions, however bad, never stopped him or most miners. Men would crush on to the cage, as it was known, and then there would be a sudden plunge into the shaft as it hurtled for almost half a mile into the depths of the Earth. The bricks of the shaft wall were just a blur – four Blackpool towers end-on-end would just about reach from top to bottom.
I would start work at 6am and work until 1.30pm. Looking back now I realise how dangerous it was. At the end of the shift I would wash in the pithead baths and catch the bus in the pit yard, known as the pit paddy, which circled the mining village and dropped everyone off near their homes. Mother had the dinner on the table. I often fell asleep eating it.
I finished my first five days, Monday to Friday, in what seemed like a year. Saturday was voluntary in those days. I told my father I wasn’t going. He told me I was.
There was constant danger, and supervision by older miners was essential. They took care of you, but not in a mollycoddling sort of way – it was rough justice if you didn’t do as you were told, back-chatted or got “too big for your boots”.
I became an electrician and worked in every part of the mine. It was regarded by other miners as a cushy number. It was, but only by comparison with the work they did. Conditions were often cramped, crawling on hands and knees, breathing foul air, coughing and spitting out black coal dust from deep in your lungs.
Miners didn’t suffer fools gladly: coalmining was harsh. Conditions could be freezing cold or boiling hot in different parts of the same mine. Miners worked often on their bellies, using a pick and shovel all day, doing crushingly hard work. They ended up with bronchitis and emphysema, industrial deafness, broken limbs, dust on the lungs and were called greedy by people who could never understand. And we have had our share of disasters that have killed hundreds of miners in the time it takes to say, “Look out”. Sometimes they would be torn to bits after being dragged into brutal machinery, quite literally carried out in bags like chunks of mincemeat. It would be announced in passing on the news.
I once helped to carry a friend out of the mine. He was dead. He had been buried by a large fall of ground. We worked feverishly to get him out. That was 40 years ago. I laid a wreath at the altar in memory of him recently. It never goes away.
Eight miners have died in Britain’s coalmines in the past four years. In the Lofthouse colliery disaster of 1973 an inrush of water killed seven. Their comrades worked for a solid fortnight before being forced to leave them buried where they died.
Miners depend on each other for their own safety, which creates an unbreakable bond of camaraderie. Some might find it strange that a coalmine echoes to the sound of laughter. If I miss anything, it is the humour.
A miner is a miner wherever he works. Sometimes I spent 18 hours at a stretch in a coalmine, but can only imagine what it must be like for those fellow miners trapped in the unimaginable darkness of the San José gold and copper mine.
Leadership will be a vital element, someone experienced who they trust and respect, with the authority and mental strength to maintain his own morale as well as that of the others. I have met many men of that calibre. And in San José, 670 metres underground, it seems a natural leader has emerged – 54-year-old shift foreman Luis Urzúa.
If you have ever called a miner greedy, say a prayer with me tonight for those in Chile who, if reports are accurate, look like being there until Christmas.”

Ends Source: Guardian.

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A notable Midlands anniversary

At a time like this examples of human struggle over adversity are to be cherished as never before. One anniversary on the horizon is the Centenary of the Chain Makers’ Strike of 1910 when women achieved a notable victory in improving pay and conditions for working people. The Chainmakers strike ended on 22nd October 1910. There will be a day of celebration for the anniversary on 23rd October which will include a speech by former MP Sylvia Heal, footage of interviews with strikers, a performance by Making Links. a procession to Mary McArthur gardens and the unveiling of Plaque.
The website has a number of interesting features, including Helen Salmon reviewing a book “Breaking their chains; Mary Macarthur and the Chainmakers’ Strike of 1910”, by Tony Barnsley, a re-enactment video and a teaching resource for schools. Quite a treasure store.
I find this extremely refreshing after reading about Tony Blair’s foray into providing a “bank for the super-rich“. This he calls a “boutique” and is located in Mayfair. This of course will provide an essential service for the pressing needs of a reviled and ostracised section of society.
Another celebration will take place at the Chainmakers Strike Anniversary Cradley Women Chainmakers festival. Saturday 18th September, Black Country Living Museum. Organised by the TUC. Speakers include Tony Benn.

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The Gospel according St Tony

Roll up, roll up, get your signed copy of the Gospel according to St Tony at £150 a throw. He’s going to give the proceeds – your money – to the British Legion. No mention yet as to how Iraqis and victims of Blair’s wars will be helped. Will he perform the ultimate miracle and bring them back to life?
Hard to remember but there weren’t always those who revered him in the Labour Party. As Birmingham City Council candidates we all went across to Coventry in the late nineties for a photo opportunity with TB. Except my agent, Gurdev Manku, wouldn’t let me. “You’ll lose” he warned. He was probably right in the area we both represented. In 2001 I remember going across to Meriden to support Christine Shawcroft, a like-minded parliamentary candidate for Meriden. It was another TB who adorned her leaflet – Tony Benn no less, and we had the great delight of hearing the man deliver his speech in support for Christine, a long standing member of Labour’s NEC.
As for the Biblical memoirs, if you don’t want it covered in a purple cloth and signed in blood then you can get it at Amazon at £12.50, half price. Mandelson’s memoirs the same. Alastair Campbell’s account is a little cheaper though. Since Gospel is something to do with telling the truth, which one lives up the closest. Does any one of them shed light, for instance, on the death of a scientist?
I wouldn’t pay a brass farthing for the whole bundle personally.

All for the sake of the Dynasty

The attempt by the Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to ensure the maintenance of a political dynasty was at the very least inept. Protesters in Birmingham made it clear that they thought his absence from flood devastated regions of Pakistan was totally unacceptable with shoe throwing in evidence. Even one of his supporters, sporting a rosette with Benazir Bhutto’s picture, said so.
Zardari himself came to power amid the massive outpouring of grief from the former supporters following Bhutto’s assassination. Their son, supposedly the beneficiary of Zardari’s efforts. absented himself from an embarrassing situation by remaining in London to launch a relief effort for flood victims. It seems that this was a damage limitation exercise if ever there was one.
Meanwhile back in Pakistan things are going from bad to worse as flood waters advance along the valleys of rivers like the Indus and Brahmaputra.

Are Fannie and Freddie homeless now?

In US the big lenders are now out in the cold. The lobbyists from Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, once close buddies of the Clintons and the Bushes, are now history as Democratic politicians at least look elsewhere. So maybe there is something of that change happening under the Obama administration.
Unfortunately there’s rather less sign of post-Blairite politicians in the UK moving away from being lobby fodder. They need to top up their modest incomes by selling their soul to the devil whether the nuclear power, gm crops or arms industries they’ll be there with their boots blacked for sure. Hoon and Hutton and Hewitt, all at it and not a sign of embarrassment. And we haven’t looked at the Tories who we came to expect to be at the trough in the natural order of things. New Labour’s motto was “we can always be better at being Tories than you” and so they all proved from “the Great White Shark” Tony Blair, through My Lord Mandelson (didn’t he want to put himself up for leader of the new New Labour? What slipped there?) all seeking to earn a bob or two while the rest go unemployed, lose their homes and generally slum it. In the US the old guard Clintons, at once jealously guarding their privacy and parading their considerable newly found wealth, show their contempt fro those caught up in the mess that resulted from the sort of policies they once pursued.

Patricia in the public eye once more

If you thought Hewitt blew it after taking a starring role in Channel 4 Dispatches time to think again. I caught sight of her in the background foreground – if you see what I mean – of the news covering the Cameron Show in India. “No can’t be” I thought “Didn’t she leave the room with Brown?” Well it was no apparition, Patricia Blewitt as large as life and this is why. More here.
This all seems to be part of New Labour and Blairism seamlessly drifting from one administration to another. Did you think tou were voting for change at this election. Not then or the election before. We drifted from Thatcherism – a free free market or – free-for all – celebrating US Capitalism – to Blairism. Blair and New Labour was always the true heir to Thatcher. Mark is another story. Now we float back to a new Tory era yet to be named. Some disclaim Thatcher but that world in indelibly marked on our culture. Individualism, selfishness, greed dominates an elite circle. While there is wide acquiescence there are many who hate seeing public services handed on a platter to the self-serving barbarians who presently control our destiny.
Our Patricia is quoted in the Independent:
“The former Labour cabinet minister Patricia Hewitt, who now chairs the UK India Business Council, says: “India, one of the world’s most exciting and fast-growing economies, offers opportunities that no British business can afford to neglect, particularly as we emerge from the global financial crisis.”
Ms Hewitt accompanied the Prime Minister on his trade mission, along with the Chancellor, George Osborne, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, and the universities, culture and energy ministers. With them were the heads of major UK companies, including BAE, Vodafone, Standard Life, the Aviva insurance group, B&Q, Penguin Books, 3i and Standard Chartered. The chiefs of the CBI and the Institute of Directors were among the 40-strong business delegation.”