Thursday, February 16, 2006

London celebrates Chinese culture

The largest celebration of Chinese culture "China in London 2006" was formally launched in the last days of January with the switching on of a specially designed Chinese lantern lighting display in the heart of the capital by London Mayor Ken Livingstone and China's Super Girl champion Li Yuchun.

"China in London", a season-long celebration encompassing over 100 events and exhibitions across the metropolis, demonstrates the close links between London and China, which is further reinforced by Beijing and London as the next host cities for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

After lighting up the Chinese lanterns at the world-famous Oxford Circus, Li Yuchun performed in front of a large crowd with British band Liberty X.

"I am very pleased that Li Yuchun is able to join London in launching the largest ever celebration of Chinese culture to have been held in the City. Her appearance at this event is a demonstration of the growing links and strengthening of relations between London and China, which were given a huge boost by London's successful bid to host the Olympic Games in 2012," said Livingstone.

The launch also marked the beginning of the capital's Chinese New Year celebrations, which has been traditionally the largest of its kind outside Asia. The annual Chinese lunar New Year parade and festival took place on Sunday 29th January, marking the start of the Year of the Dog.

Chu Ting Tang, president of the London Chinatown Chinese Association, said: "Super Girl Li Yuchun's launch of the China in London season is an exciting curtain raiser to the capital's Chinese New Year celebrations, which are growing every year. Around 80,000 people attended last year's festivities in Chinatown and Trafalgar Square and we expect the turnout to be truly phenomenal this time around."

The Chinese New Year parade and festival was one of the biggest events during the "China in London" season, which features a wide range of other activities, from exhibitions, performances and film screenings, to food tasting and the appreciation of Chinese language and literature.

James Bidwell, chief executive of Visit London said: "We're delighted to play host to such an extensive celebration of Chinese culture in London. With Li Yuchun performing, the cultural links between China and London could not be stronger. In 2004 Chinese visitors represented eight per cent of all trips to the United Kingdom from Asia and, with the receipt of approved destination status in 2005, we would expect this figure to rise in 2006. This celebration of Chinese culture in London highlights the city's cultural diversity and the economic benefit it brings."

Livingstone noted that later this year he will be visiting Beijing and Shanghai with a delegation of representatives from London business. "I will be opening London offices in both cities to promote links between London and China. I regard it as the highest strategic priority for London that we develop the strongest possible links with the Chinese economy. It is also central to the continued strength of London, as a financial centre, that we remain open to the most important developments in the global economy."

The Chinese season is organised through a partnership between the Mayor of London, Visit London, and the Royal Academy of Arts, as well as a wide range of organisations, including London Chinatown Chinese Association, New West End Company, Regents Street Association, Transport for London and the London Development Agency.

Highlights include a spectacular specially commissioned window and in-store display at Selfridges, performances by the Gold Sail Dance Troupe from Beijing, the Shanghai on Screen film festival in the West End and Docklands, as well as a Beijing Olympics Photography Exhibition at London's City Hall.

A cornerstone exhibition is the acclaimed China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795 now on show at the Royal Academy of Arts and featuring 400 works, many of which have never been shown outside China.

The Red Mansion Foundation, a non-profit organisation which promotes cultural exchange between China and Britain through contemporary art, is staging shows like Bad Girls, Good Girls and China Coup. There will also be a wide range of theatre, dance and live performances such as Yellow Gentlemen, a new play by Benjamin Yeoh, and a version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Nightingale by the Yellow Earth Theatre Company.

London's growing relationship with one of the fastest growing markets in the world brings significant economic benefit. London attracts around 30 per cent of the Chinese foreign investment projects in Britain, the largest European recipient country of Chinese foreign direct investment projects.
Xinhua news agency

London rally against Islamophobia

by Caroline Colebrook

THOUSANDS of Muslims gathered in Trafalgar Square last Saturday to present the peaceful face of Islam and to show their concern at growing Islamophobia in the West.

Also present were many non-Muslims: peace activists, representatives of other religions, to demonstrate their solidarity with Muslims facing discrimination and oppression.

This followed a smaller demonstration in the previous week outside the Danish Embassy where a different group of Muslims, protesting at the now notorious Danish cartoons, had called for violence against non-Muslims.

The pictures of this demonstration, splashed across the media, fuelled more anti-Islamophobia and helped the Government in its efforts to sell its draconian proposed anti-terrorist legislation.
The masses attending Saturday’s rally were determined to distance themselves from this but nevertheless to express their anger at the Danish cartoons and what they represent in a world where the western imperialists have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and are threatening other Muslim countries and those who resist are demonised as terrorists.

Speaking for the Muslim Council of Britain – one of the groups who organised the event – Inayat Bunglawala said: “The reasons for the rally are two-fold. We want to allow peaceful expression of the hurt caused by the publication of the cartoons but we also want to allow people to publicly distance themselves from the extremists because for most of Britain this is the only impression they have of Muslims in this country.”

Faiz Siddiqi, of the Muslim Action Committee, said: “What is being called for is a change of culture. In any civilised society, if someone says, ‘don’t insult me’ you do not, out of respect for them. Europe has a history of not treating minorities properly. The Holocaust is an example of that. The imagery being used today is the same kind that Hitler used against the Jews. Look where that ended up: in world war.”

Coaches brought protesters from Bradford, Oldham, Luton, Leicester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow. Hundreds of placards and banners carried peaceful slogans, condemning incitement.
Speakers at the rally included Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather. Respect MP George Galloway faced a subdued reception, which included some booing, as he addressed the crowd.

London mayor Ken Livingstone also supported the rally and told the crowd: “I am supporting this event because, unlike some of the BBC’s coverage, it will allow the views of the mainstream Muslim community to be properly heard.”

Speaking of the cartoons, Livingstone said: “There is no excuse for breaking the law and anyone who does so should and will face prosecution. But there is no getting away from the fact that this whole episode has allowed much of Europe’s media to engage in an orgy of Islamophobia.”

Tube contractor axed for doing the dirty on cleaners

METRONET Rail last Monday terminated its contract with the Blue Diamond cleaning company after the Transport and General Workers’ Union informed it that Blue Diamond had been consistently withholding workers’ pay.
The TGWU, which represents cleaners on London Underground, discovered that Blue Diamond had been paying their workers £5.05 per hour despite having agreed a basic wage of £5.50 with Metronet at the start of the contract in October 2005.
Metronet agreed at a meeting with the TGWU in January to investigate and the TGWU last week welcomed Metronet’s decision to fire Blue Diamond from their prestigious cleaning contract on the District, Circle, Metropolitan, Hammersmith and City and East London lines, believed to be worth in excess of £20 million over three years.
This is the first time in 20 years that a contract has been ended due to concerns over the abuse of workers.
TGWU deputy general secretary Jack Dromey said: “Blue Diamond robbed the cleaners, ripping thousands of pounds off hard-working men and women who serve Londoners 24 hours a day. Metronet have done the decent thing, acting promptly and properly to terminate Blue Diamond’s contract.
“The TGWU is determined to end the often shameful treatment of cleaners. In London many are migrant workers. This decision demonstrates that contractors who behave badly will no longer be employed by responsible client companies. Blue Diamond did the dirty on cleaners and is paying the price.”

  • Pay victory for Parliament cleaners

CLEANERS at the Houses of Parliament last week won a significant victory in their long, well-publicised battle for decent pay.
The Transport and General Workers Union said the cleaners will now get £6.70-an-hour, statutory sick pay and 28 days’ holiday.
The campaign, which attracted widespread support from the public, MPs and peers from all political parties, involved two one-day strikes last year.
TGWU deputy general secretary Jack Dromey said: “One year ago, Parliament paid poverty wages. Now the cleaners have won a living wage and respect.”
Negotiations are continuing on implementing a pension scheme and there will be no job losses as a result of this agreement.

Hackney dinner ladies may strike

SCHOOL dinner ladies employed by the London Borough of Hackney are considering strike action after improvement’s to the dietary quality of the meals they prepare left them with a lot more work to do but no extra pay.
The cooks and catering assistants based at 27 schools in the borough are currently employed by contractors, but say they do not receive the same rates as those directly taken on by the council. The dinner ladies, some of whom earn as little as £9,000-a-year, claim their workloads have increased in the wake of Jamie Oliver’s TV programmes which called for more freshly prepared meals.
The dinner ladies are members of the Transport and General Workers Union and are represented by Cathy Stewart, who works as a dinner lady in Hackney.
She said: “The dinner ladies are under tremendous pressure after the Jamie Oliver programmes to deliver top notch nosh but at rock bottom pay.
“To say they are angry is an understatement as they see little or no effort being made by the schools and the contractors to sort out their grievances.
“These dinner ladies don’t earn a fortune but they are under extra pressure from heads who want them to do extra duties for which they are not being paid and are not responsible.
“Quite rightly they say it is about time they were shown some respect.”
Paul Fawcett, TGWU officer for London, said the chance of a walkout was a distinct possibility. He said: “It’s very likely there will be strike action, we are now going through the preliminary proceedings, and the result of the ballot will be known in March.”
The union says the contractors have been paid an increase in their contract price of 11 per cent to cover discrepancies under the single status agreement, but none of the dinner ladies have seen this reflected in their pay.

Harry Stanley's widow calls for police changes

IRENE STANLEY, whose husband Harry was shot dead by police in 1999 because they thought the table leg in a bag he was carrying was a gun, last week learned that the officers concerned will not face disciplinary charges.
She responded by calling for an end to the police practice of “pooling recollections” after deaths in custody.
The decision, by the Independent Police Complaints Authority, to take no action against the officer was made even though the IPCA had accepted that their “detailed and consistent accounts lack credibility”. obscured
From the beginning, a search for the truth has been obscured by the police officers “pooling their recollections” and writing their notes up together on the night of the shooting.
Irene Stanley doesn’t want other families whose loved ones die at the hands of the police to feel deaths are “covered up” from the start: the police service must put an end to this discredited practice.
Harry Stanley was a 46-year-old Scottish painter and decorator. He was recovering from a successful cancer operation. On 22nd September 1999 he left his home in Hackney telling his wife he was going to visit a friend.
He wanted to collect a table leg from one of his brothers who had fixed it after it had been damaged earlier in the year.
On his return home he visited a public house. Another customer, mistaking Stanley’s accent for Irish rather than Scottish and noticing that he was carrying something long in a bag, telephoned the police to say that a man with an Irish accent was leaving the pub with a sawn-off shot gun in a plastic bag. no reason
Within a few minutes PC Fagan and Inspector Sharman, an armed response unit from the Metropolitan Police service specialist firearms unit SO 19, arrived in the area. The officers approached Stanley from behind. They shouted, “Stop, armed police!” Stanley (who had no reason to imagine that the police wanted him or that they were indeed police officers) did not stop at that command.
The police say that they shouted again, to which Stanley responded by turning around. The police officers opened fire, with one shot hitting him in his head, the other hitting him in his left hand. In the bag was the repaired two-foot table leg, which he had collected from his brother.

Army unit probed in Menezes inquiry

THE MINISTRY of Defence launched and internal inquiry last week into the role played by an elite army surveillance unit into the shooting of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes in order to discover "if lessons can be learnt".
They say they are trying to discover how Menezes, an innocent man, came to be wrongly identified as a terrorist suspect. But the decision has raised questions about the role of military personnel on our streets.
The army surveillance unit comprise members of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, who had been seconded to the Metropolitan Police to work with under-cover officers, monitoring the flats in south London where Menezes lived.
The Independent Police Commission has questioned the soldiers as part of its investigation into the shooting dead of Menezes at Stockwell Tube station last July.
Now the MoD has set up its own separate inquiry into the events leading up to the shooting. It is reviewing the procedures and command structures that allowed apparent surveillance failures to happen.
The Special Reconnaissance Regiment was formed in April 2005 and is based at SAS headquarters in Hereford. Its members are said to have developed specialist skills in the occupied north of Ireland. It is believed that one of the soldiers taking part in the surveillance of the south London flats was armed and that it was a soldier who incorrectly identified Menezes as an "IC one male" – the police term for a white man, when he left his flat.
During the surveillance one of the soldiers, who had to relieve himself against a tree, temporarily lost sight of Menezes, according to reports. This led to a series of communication problems.
One senior counter-terrorism expert commented: "I can’t understand why non-police personnel were used to do something that important. They won’t know police procedures. If you start using the army on the streets without a proper public debate it will end in disaster."

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Social cleansing in south London

by Edwin Bentley

RESIDENTS of one of the few remaining working-class neighbourhoods in south- east London are bracing themselves for a massive programme of social cleansing that will transform the Walworth area into an up-market residential and commercial area.
Estate agents don’t have a very good reputation. Rather like bookmakers, their job is to make as much money as possible out of people’s dreams. But among themselves, estate agents and bookmakers have to be totally realistic; they must know the facts, whether or not they share them with you and me.
Back in April 2002, a report commissioned by estate agents in the Walworth area stated that “the strong working class element to the district has prevented gentrification in an area that geographically would make it a prime candidate.”
But on 27th September 2005 the local council, Southwark, opted to remove the biggest barrier to this threatened gentrification. The Liberal Democratic-run council finally decided to demolish the massive Aylesbury estate; 2,759 council flats will be knocked down, to be replaced by a mixture of private and housing association accommodation.
The neighbouring Heygate estate will also be flattened, removing a further 1,194 council homes from the area.
Immediately after his election in 1997, Tony Blair had gone to the Aylesbury estate to announce a whole new way of dealing with the housing problem in London. Blair spoke of “forgotten people “ who were dumped in the most decaying, unpleasant surroundings without any hope of a better life. But rather than invest money in improving local council housing, the Government has opened the door to big business.
The Aylesbury and Heygate estates are next to the Elephant and Castle, the transport hub for south London. As Southwark council states in its propaganda, this area is far closer to the attractions of Central London than people imagine. Only a few minutes from the centre of the city, bus, road, rail, and underground links mean that a lot of people find it a convenient place to live. But as our estate agent friends pointed out, it is also solidly working class.
Over the past 40 years Walworth has become home to many different groups of immigrants who have come to London in search of a safe place to live and work. Early in the morning, many of the workers going down into the Elephant and Castle Tube station or catching a bus are Africans and South Americans, heading off to do their cleaning and other low-paid service jobs all over London.
There was a time when these estates were seen as a symbol of a bright new future. Following severe bomb damage during the Second World War, the old rows of Victorian terrace houses were knocked down and replaced in the 1960s with spacious flats and maisonettes. But as was so often the case, the necessary maintenance work was never carried out on a regular basis, and the quality of materials used in the construction was so low, that very soon major problems developed.
Over the years Southwark council thought of the Aylesbury and Heygate estates as sink estates, where they could house the most disadvantaged people, who would not complain too much about conditions. Neglected by both central and local government, the condition of the area got worse.
In 2001, Southwark council tried to wash its hands of the problem by transferring all housing on the two estates to the control of a housing association. The proposal was put to a vote in a local referendum, and overwhelmingly rejected by the tenants.
This time round, Southwark has only engaged in “consultations”, to ensure that decisions about the future of this working class community could be taken without giving local people any direct say.
Following demolition, during which time the existing tenants will be moved out to other flats all over London, contractors will move in to build the new homes. On the Aylesbury Estate, although 4,900 new homes will be built, 2,700 of these will be luxury properties that will be sold off to the highest bidder; 2,200 flats will be classified as “social housing”, and run by a housing association. That means that the housing stock for working class people will be reduced by 500 properties.
In addition, these flats will be smaller and much less well-appointed than those designed for private sale.
What is so wrong with council housing being transferred to housing associations? For a start, local people have the example of the Church Commissioners, which owns quite a lot of property in the area. Right from the 1880’s, Church Commissioners’ flats had been let at well below the market rate. This has all changed, and from now on all new tenants will be obliged to pay the market rate, which will be many times the present rent.
The example of other providers of social housing is also alarming. Just in the last year alone, the Peabody Trust has sold off more than 400 properties in London, saying that it needed the money to maintain its existing stock of properties. That really is selling off the family silver.
Housing associations can only be effective if they are adequately supported by Government finance, if there is an element of democratic control, and if they refuse to sell off their properties to those tenants who can afford to buy them. At present, they meet none of these criteria, and are liable to be swept away by market forces.
Ultimately, local people know that they will only have peace of mind if they live in properly funded and maintained housing provided and controlled by the elected borough council.