Massive turnout for May Day
MAY DAY, Workers’ Day, was celebrated by thousands all around Britain last Sunday with a huge variety of events.
In London around 40,000 people filled Trafalgar Square for a Rock Concert under the banner of Unite Against Fascism.
They were joined by a large and colourful march of trade unionists and international community groups – several thousand strong – who had set off from Clerkenwell Green.
The march, organised by the South East Regional TUC, was ablaze with colourful banners and several different bands and three choirs provided music for the marchers.
Speaking for Sertuc, Laurie Helsden said: “We organise our march extremely well. We work very well with the police so violence has nothing to do with the traditions of May Day and it has never occurred on the May Day march itself.”
When they arrived in Trafalgar Square it was to hear music from rock singer Pete Doherty, soul singer Terri Walker and rhythm and blues singer Estelle.
There were also speeches from veteran campaigner Tony Benn and London mayor Ken Livingstone.
RMT marchers reach London
THE GROUP of 25 rail workers marching from Glasgow to London over the past two weeks to demand the renationalisation of our railways reached their destination last Saturday.
The Rail Against Privatisation (RAP) march was accompanied by hundreds of rail workers and supporters as they went from Whitehall to a public rally in Camden Town Hall.
Speakers at the rally included Tony Bann, RMT general secretary Bob Crow, Jeremy Corbyn MP, John McDonnell MP, Communication Workers’ Union general secretary Billy Hayes and PCS civil service union general secretary Mark Serwotka.
“The RAP marchers have had a great reception in the 14 towns and cities they have already visited,” said Bob Crow. “The message they have received, loud and clear, all along the way, is that Britain wants a publicly owned railway.
“That is what rail users want, it is what the unions want and it is what the Labour Party overwhelmingly voted for – and it is about time that choice was put before the British people.
“There is a huge rail rebate to be had from bringing rail back into the public sector.
“RMT has shown that public ownership can release huge funds to help get projects like Crossrail started, put staff back on our deserted stations, keep rural railways on track and promote a fairer fares policy.”
The march passed through Edinburgh, Newcastle, Durham, York, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Derby, Nottingham, Birmingham, Milton Keynes and Northampton on its way from Glasgow to London, with public meetings off the route in Dover, Cardiff, Bristol and Exeter.
RMT points out that in 1993-94, the year before privatisation, more than 90 per cent of trains ran on time. But in the year to December 2004, after a decade of privatisation, only 82.8 per cent ran on time.
The £4.5 billion public subsidy paid to the railway industry is now more than three times the subsidy paid to British Rail.
A recent report by the independent think-tank Catalyst calculated that £800 million a year is taken out of the industry as returns to private lenders and investors – a total leakage of more than £6 billion since 1996.
The RMT has also pointed out that passengers on British railways pay the highest fares per mile of any in Europe.
The walk-on standard far from London to Manchester (303 km) is £93.50, compares to £22.70 for a similar distance in France, £30 in Spain, £18.50 in Italy’ £42 in Germany and £23.54 in Belgium.
Bob Crow said: “When GNER agreed to pay a franchise of more than £1 billion for the east coast mainline service, RMT warned that the only way this money could be raised was by raising fares and cutting services.
“Our analysis shows that fares on this line are already three times higher than on journeys of similar length in the nationalised railways in Belgium and France.
“But fares per mile on the Virgin West Coast line are even higher. Rail privatisation has turned UK rail fares into a lottery and it is set to get worse.”
Workers’ Memorial Day
By Mike Fletcher and Caroline Colebrook
THOUSANDS of workers all around Britain and the world last Thursday marched in tribute to fellow workers who have died through injury or sickness as a result of their work – and in protest at the negligence of employers that allows so many unnecessary accidents to happen.
In London around 300 trades unionists gathered at Bankside on the south bank of the Thames to march to the new London County Hall for a rally with Mayor Ken Livingstone.
There were many colourful union banners, from the construction union Ucatt, from the Transport and General Workers’ Union, from public sector union Unison and from the general union GMB.
The march passed many construction sites along the way where workers on the sites were invited to join the marchers for a few moments to pay respects to workers killed on building sites and to call for better safety measures. Some of them did.
The rally at County Hall was addressed by a number of union leaders and activists, including Sertuc regional secretary Mick Connolly, Ucatt regional secretary Jerry Swaine and Keith Norman, the acting general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef.
They spoke of the 72 building workers who have died in Britain in the last year in preventable accidents, 28 of them in London. Most of the accidents were from falls but there had also been many workers crushed, buried, or died when vehicles overturned.
One building inspector told the crowd that it was his duty to step in after fatalities had happened. He said: “I am not supposed to get emotionally involved but when you meet the families it is very hard not to.”
He cited one typical case where a young Ghanaian worker was killed when the vehicle with a telescopic platform (a cherry-picker) he was driving had overturned. The man had been given no training on how to operate the machine. He had not even been told there was a safety belt under the rubbish beside his seat that would have saved his life.
Chief among the demands made was for stronger corporate killing laws. “If you just fine rich bosses for corporate killing it means nothing to them,” said Jerry Swaine. “They figure that in with the running costs and if it’s still cheaper to ignore safety regulations they’ll carry on doing the same. It’s the nature of capitalism.”
They also demanded more resources for the Health and safety Executive so that it can do a proper job and more powers for union safety reps on sites, including protection from victimisation.
They cited many instances of safety reps being put on the redundancy list as soon as they were appointed.
They demanded powers for union safety reps to inspect all sites, including non-union sites and for proper safety training – two or three days every year – for all building workers, not just the bosses.
Too many workers die because they are asked to do potentially dangerous jobs with little or no training.
Ken Livingstone said: “I wholeheartedly back the call for zero tolerance of preventable workplace injuries and deaths.
“As London’s construction and transport projects increase, world-class health and safety standards are vital to maintain a world-class workforce.”
He promised to impose stringent health and safety conditions of all contracts for work for the Greater London Authority.
In Colchester members of the Amicus general union laid a memorial stone in Castle Park to workers who have died as a result of their work.
Among the trade unionists present were the local trades council, the Labour candidate for Colchester and local Labour councillors and members of the New Communist Party.
They discussed the need to fight for a Labour election victory and the local Labour Party welcomed the NCP’s affiliation to the Labour Representation Committee.
They discussed working together on many broad issues, such as the proposed closure of Colchester bus station.
Other events to mark Workers’ Memorial Day took place in Birmingham, Solihull, Bristol, Bradford, Cleethorpes, Coventry, Grimsby, Liverpool, Rochdale and Immingham.
They included vigils, observing silences, marches, wreath laying and speeches by union officers.
Abu Rideh jailed again
Mahmoud Abu Rideh, one of the alleged terror suspects detained for over three years without charge or trial first in Belmarsh prison and then Broadmoor high security hospital, has been returned to jail after being released last month for failure to comply with his control order.
Abu Rideh, a Palestinian and former victim of torture while a prisoner in Israel, has a history of mental illness and depression. He is now under 24-hour watch in the hospital wing of Brixton prison in south London.
He appeared before Bow Street magistrates court a week ago on charges of failing to comply with “any of the obligations” imposed on him under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 “without reasonable excuse”.
But his arrest followed a decision that he could have his electronic tag removed while he underwent hospital psychiatric treatment. He was told it would not be re-attached as long as he was still receiving the treatment.
He was charged with breaching his control order when he visited a police station and told officers he did not want to have the tag refitted and would prefer to be returned to custody.
Shami Chakrabati, the director of the civil rights organisation Liberty, accused the Government of “chopping and changing” the terms of Abu Rideh’s regime, adding to the “cruelty and confusion suffered by this man”.
She said: “The Home Office confirmed that for a period of time that it had agreed to take the tag off. The faulty and cruel nature of control orders has been once again exposed.
“We are deeply alarmed at the suggestion that a man driven to the point of repeated self-harm may now be prosecuted for going to the police in a cry for help.”
The magistrates have referred his case to the High Court.