Church divided over St Paul’s protesters
ANGLICANS are divided over their attitude to the anti-capitalist protesters now occupying St Paul’s Cathedral Churchyard – the closest the demonstrators could get to the London Stock Exchange.
On the first day of the protest, Saturday 15th October, the Dean of St Paul’s, Giles Fraser, welcomed the protesters and told the police not to move them on from the church’s grounds.
Since then a friendly relationship developed and the protesters have been well organised and well behaved.
But many in the Church of England are critical of Fraser’s position. They complained the Cathedral was losing revenue from tourists due to the encampment – when local shops say the camp has drawn tourists and revenues have increased.
Then the Cathedral was forced to close, supposedly on health and safety grounds.
The tents are arranged at a distance from the cathedral doors, leaving plenty of free access for tourists and worshippers. And the camp is well organised, taking care of litter, sanitation and other possible hazards.
There is continuous friendly liaison between the campers and the cathedral staff.
Independent safety officers have said it presents no significant threat to the cathedral.
The campers voted to stay put when senior church officials asked them to leave. Rumours spread that the Church was being pressured by City financiers to evict the encampment.
A strong faction in the Church of England criticised Giles Fraser for his original act of welcome but others are supporting the protestors for their pro-justice stance, typically making frequent references to Jesus in the Temple.
The Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Richard Chartres is calling on the campers to leave but other clerics are threatening to resign if the protesters are forced from church land.
Teachers lobby MPs
THOUSANDS of teachers from all over Britain came to Westminster on Wednesday to hold a rally and lobby their MPs over the changes to their pensions, that will see them paying far more and getting far less.
The rally and lobby are also a significant stage in the build up to the national strike of public sector workers on 30th November.
It is also significant for the first action to involve all the teaching unions together.
The Government changes will raise the retirement age to 68 and increase pension contributions by 50 per cent in 2014. And the pensions paid will be linked to the consumer prices index instead of the retail prices index – meaning lower pensions.
The changes affect teachers and lecturers in England and Wales, but workers in Scotland and Northern Ireland fear the same reforms could eventually be made to their pensions.
Seven unions took part in the lobby, including the National Union of Teachers, the National Association of Head Teachers and the University and College Union.
More than 20 unions are set to take part in the 30th November strike, which will be accompanied by meetings and rallies throughout the country. Many unions began balloting for the action this week.
It is hoped that many hitherto un-unionised workers will become involved and that the mass strike action will spread spontaneously into the private sector as a general protest in defence of pensions and against Government cuts.
Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the lobby was an opportunity for the government to “see sense”.
“I see some real fear in the eyes of officials when we have our meetings about pensions,” he said. “They know that the unions are voicing the views of teachers.
“Teachers don’t believe that they can take a full class of 30 14-year-olds or seven-year-olds at the age of 68. They are really angry.”
Organising curry workers
THE BANGLADESHI Workers’ Union was quietly launched a week ago with the aims of bringing trade union representation to workers in Indian restaurants and curry houses throughout Britain.
It already has 500 members and is in discussions with Unite and the GMB to become affiliate members.
An estimated 100,000 Bangladeshi Britons working in the curry trade often find themselves exploited by unscrupulous owners who happily take advantage of their ignorance of the minimums to which they are entitled.
One of the organisers, Muhammad Salim Uddin, of Brick Lane in London’s East End, has a decent job contract, with a decent wage and holiday entitlement.
But many of his colleagues are not so fortunate. “I had a friend who worked for six years straight and never took a holiday," he says. "He was always working, never had time off. He didn't realise he was entitled to it. He knew nothing about sick leave. He just came into work all the time."
But the small but growing band of restaurant workers and community leaders are hoping to change that, with the creation of the new union aimed at the curry trade and other industries where Bangladeshi Britons are prominent.