Friday, July 13, 2007

London news round-up

RMT warned of Tube danger

by Caroline Colebrook

THE RMT transport union last week had repeatedly warned of dangers before last Thursday’s derailment on the Central Line.
Investigators say a roll of loose tarpaulin could have caused the Tube train to come off the rails in the middle of the morning rush hour, injuring 40 people and trapping hundreds for hours.
Six of the eight carriages of the westbound Central Line train between Mile End and Bethnal Green stations were derailed when a sheet of tarpaulin stored by the side of the track came loose as trains passed at 35 miles an hour.
The driver reported he had seen the obstruction and put on his emergency brakes but the sheet got caught under the wheels on the right-hand running rail, taking six carriages off the track.
Around 350 passengers were trapped to two hours in temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Another 450 passengers were stranded on the train behind. Eleven had to be taken to hospital but fortunately no one was seriously injured. Nevertheless many were distressed as, initially, some thought the crash was the result of terrorist activity.
One passenger described the scene: “It started to rock unbelievably, really violently, the carriage filled with smoke and we could see sparks and there was a smell of electrical burning as the driver was braking.
“People were shouting and the driver’s voice sounded really shaky – he said he did not know what we had gone over but that we had derailed.”
The driver then walked through the train trying to calm passengers’ fears. Another passenger said: “The worst thing was the heat. Some people were having difficulty breathing but when the emergency services arrived, those were the first to be led away.” Two hours after the derailment the passengers were led to safety along the track.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said that it was the fourth incident in 18 months in the same area where private contractors were operating.
“This union has raised concerns over the bad storage of equipment by contractors in this area and wrote to London Underground back in April demanding an investigation yet nothing has been done.
“It has also been the third serious Tube derailment in less than four years, including the Chancery Lane derailment and the one at White City,” he said. RMT reiterated its call for London Mayor Ken Livingstone to take these private contracts introduced under PPP (public-private partnership) back in-house.
“Before Ken got elected as London Mayor he said he did not want ‘blood on his hands’ over PPP so now he has an opportunity to act in the interests of public safety.
“RMT is calling on Ken Livingstone to take these contracts back in-house before we have a disaster on our hands,” Bob said.

Jailhouse Rock

CAMPAIGNING folk singer Billy Bragg and Mick Jones, former lead guitarist with the Clash, have launched an initiative to get prisoners out of our overcrowded jails through rock and roll.
Last Friday the two went to Wormwood Scrubs in West London to hand over five guitars as part of Bragg’s Jail Guitar Doors campaign to provide instruments for inmates.
Bragg said: “We all believe people have to be punished for their crimes. I support punishment. But I also believe in rehabilitation. The question is, do we want to help people not to reoffend and to contribute to society? Getting them involved in music is one way we can do that now.”
The initiative has the support of Tim Snowdon, director of the charity Changing Tunes, which uses music to rehabilitate inmates in nine prisons.
He says the facts speak for themselves. “Sixty-one per cent of ex-prisoners reoffend within two years of release. But ex-prisoners who take part in a Changing Tunes programme have a re-conviction rate of between 10 per cent and 15 per cent.
“Most importantly that means there are fewer victims if crime, but it can also save people whose lives were in a spiral of destruction.”

Scotland Yard in new race row

THE METROPOLITAN Police force is facing serious complaints from a black, British-born youth worker of Somali parents after confidential surveillance tapes obtained by his lawyers revealed astonishing racist remarks from the officers in charge of his custody.
The supervisory officer described Fahmi Hassan as “an arrogant shit” and an “obnoxious Somalian”. The officer said Hassan “has lots of wants, lots of needs, lots of arrogance; nothing a good beating wouldn’t put right. Knows his rights, knows the law.”
One custody suite officer told his colleagues that Hassan was “an absolute knob head”. Then the sergeant adds: “There is a great film. Have you seen the film Black Hawk Down about an American helicopter that gets shot down in Somalia, Mogadishu.
“It is based on the truth. It is when the Americans very foolishly went into Somalia to suppress the warlords. There is no one in charge in Somalia. It’s just tribal factions. There’s no bugger in charge in Somalia.
“He’s a Somalian. They are very violent people I think. If you think about it, the ones who got out of Somalia are either the middle classes or the kids with guns. It’s that type of environment.”
Hassan had been arrested accused of assaulting a police officer and was cleared later at a magistrate’s court. Now he is suing the Met for wrongful arrest, assault and malicious prosecution.

Massive equal pay lobby

HUNDREDS of women employed by local authorities descended on the Houses of Parliament last Tuesday to lobby their MPs for proper funding for single status pay frameworks and equal pay for council workers.
The mass lobby – and accompanying rally – was organised by public sector unions Unison, GMB and Unite to protest at the lack of progress – 35 years after the Equal Pay Act and after 10 years of Labour government.
Unison head of local government Heather Wakefield said: “The fight for equal pay in local government is a century long.
We’re calling on the Government to put money where its mouth is and give women the money that they deserve.” She told a pre-lobby briefing rally that it was “an historic day”. We’re 10 years on from the signing of Single Status”, but there is still “a gender gap as wide as the Grand Canyon – it’s a scandal by any measure.”
And as lobbyers prepared to meet their MPs, Wakefield told them, to loud
applause: “It’s what women are owed – it’s not a favour; it should have been going in their bank accounts for years.”
Offering a potted history of the struggle for equal pay in local government – at around a century, much, much longer than most present probably realised – Wakefield paid tribute to the late Barbara Castle, who had brought in the 1972 Equal Pay Act under some duress, and told lobbyers to “keep banging the drum” for pay justice.
Dr Katherine Rake of the Fawcett Society told the rally: “Ten years into a Labour government, it is nothing short of a scandal that we have the biggest pay gap in Europe. At the current rate of change, it will take 80 years to close the gap for full-time workers and 140 years for part-time workers.”
Addressing the event, Diana Holland of TGWU Unite said that it was important to ensure that equal pay was not used as an excuse to bring down men’s wages – to “make equal pay a dirty word”.
And she said that a recent Equal Opportunities Commission poster summed up the situation with its slogan: “Get your daughter ready for working life – give her less pocket money than your son.”

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