Sunday, March 21, 2021

The deadly cost of austerity in the Royal Borough of Grenfell

Jeremy Corbyn with Emma Dent Coad
By Theo Russell

Former Labour MP for Kensington from 2017 to 2019 Emma Dent Coad, known locally as "the people's MP", was the star speaker at the online AGM of the Hammersmith, Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea Trades Council last week. There she spoke of the massive inequality in the borough and the many unanswered questions about Kensington & Chelsea council's £50 million Grenfell Recovery Fund.
    The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) has now pledged to produce a report on its Grenfell-related spending for the first time since the fire in June 2017 in which 72 people died.
    Dent Coad, who is also a current RBKC councillor and a member of the Audit and Transparency Committee, said it was “hugely frustrating that it has taken so long” to have these details made public.
    The Grenfell survivors and bereaved have so far seen very little of the funds, with many still not rehoused nearly four years later, and very little to show of the support services promised to them.
    In 2019-20, almost 60 per cent of the £4.5 million Grenfell budget for the year was staff and council property costs. Last year a council spokesperson told the London Evening Standard that £601,000 was spent on two managers - now denied by the council.
Dent Coad said people involved in the disaster regularly stop her in the street to express their frustration     with the distribution of recovery money and the lack of transparency. “I get asked about it all the time, it's not just that people are angry about it - people are hurt by it”.
    She said that “there is no leadership in the council” and described the current Tory MP Felicity Buchan as “appalling” and “a nodding dog for Boris Johnson who never stands up for her residents”.
    Current and former members and officers of the council, including the council leader, will be appearing before the Grenfell Inquiry in April, and Dent Coad said huge sums had been spent on legal advice and preparation.
    The inquiry is due to finish in spring 2022 “after which the police investigation, which has been ongoing, will spring into action - we hope”.
    “We expect to see arrests, but not to see anyone go to prison. The police can't afford to make mistakes, so they're going to be super careful”.
    Dent Coad recalled that “on the day of the fire two senior Tory councillors were overheard on an ITV report saying 'We offered them sprinklers and they refused' - a completely false claim”.
    The former Labour MP also spoke about the report by Kensington Labour Party Research Unit published last autumn, The most unequal borough in Britain, which she said had “changed the perception of Kensington and Chelsea as a playboy princes' playground”.
    `"RBKC", the report says, "the borough of princes, Sultans, plutocrats and billionaires, was our beautiful borough 'the most unequal borough in Britain'?
    ` How, in what one Councillor called “the richest borough in the universe”, with three billion pounds in reserves, could 72 people burn to death in a fire which, even in the earliest days, was blamed on 'cheap cladding'?"
    The borough has the highest life expectancy in the country, but across the borough the gap in years lived is a massive 27 years. Even more shocking, since 2010 - when a decade of austerity began to pay for the 2008 banking crash - average life expectancy in Golborne Ward fell by six years, the worst decline in the country.
    So a Moroccan man on the Wornington Green estate in North Kensington can expect to live to 64, while a white British born man near Harrods can expect to live to 91.
    This is the real impact of a decade of austerity and low pay on peoples' lives, while in London, across Britain and indeed the whole capitalist world, the rich accumulate ever more wealth, year after year.
    The report shows that by 2020 inequality was far worse than in 2014. In England's richest borough, according to Trust for London, in 2020 38 per cent of children lived in poverty, higher than the London average of 37 per cent! So the borough sees Britain's greatest concentration of the rich, side by side with its worst levels of child poverty.
    While some households have an annual income of £1.8m, while a few miles away whole communities are getting by on £18,000.
    We are not talking about the unemployed: three quarters of poor children have working parents, either full time or with at least two part-time jobs. What we're talking about here is low pay, insecure employment, daily worry and stress.
    Emma Dent Coad lost the December 2019 Westminster election by just 130 votes, after winning by 20 votes in 2017 after three recounts. But she has no intention of giving up the fight for the Grenfell community and for social justice. And despite the current difficulties and divisions in the Labour Party under Starmer's leadership, she stressed the need for a united opposition to take those struggles forward.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Support London bus drivers!

Picket of Park Royal garage
 by New Worker correspondent

London bus drivers took industrial action following the break-down of talks between RATP and Unite the union last week. Drivers working for RATP’s three subsidiary companies, London United, London Sovereign and Quality Line, went on strike over pay and conditions. RATP, a French state-owned transport company, is trying to impose new contracts that would cut drivers’ wages by some £1,500 a year.
    The fresh strike action follows a number of strikes held in February in protest at RATP’s “modernising” proposals. In a divide and rule approach, RATP is attempting to treat workers in each subsidiary differently and play one set of workers off against the other.
    Directors and shareholders line their own pockets while expecting their workers to take pay cuts lying down. Picket placards point out that the company’s highest paid director got £363,000 last year (an increase of £167,000 from the previous year), and £1,800,000 in dividends were paid out to shareholders.
    Support for the strike is solid in London United’s depots. With only nine out of 200 buses in operation, they are causing significant disruption. They’re also receiving lots of support from the community and notably from Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon.
    Unite regional officer Michelle Braveboy said: “Bus drivers at RATP are resolved that attacks on their pay and conditions will be abandoned and that they will secure a meaningful pay rise.
     “It is simply disgraceful that RATP is using the cover of Covid-19 to try to force through these cuts.
     “London’s bus drivers have kept the city moving through successive lockdowns but have also suffered a terrible penalty, through very high numbers of Covid deaths, as a result of their dedication and sacrifice.
     “This strike action is being taken as a last resort. This dispute is a direct result of RATP failing to treat its workers reasonably and fairly.
     “RATP is attempting to boost its profits by cutting workers’ pay, either directly or in real terms. Further strike action can still be avoided and Unite is prepared to enter into negotiations to resolve this dispute at any time”.


Sunday, March 07, 2021

Putting the boot in

by New Worker correspondent

One of Britain’s oldest and most effective trade unions recently secured an important legal victory which could pave the way for workers they represent securing huge pay rises. The ruling overturns an attempt by the bosses to impose caps on workers’ earnings.
The issue in question was actually that which led to the creation of the union in 1907. For the union is the 4,000 strong TUC affiliated Professional Footballers' Association.
    Originally founded as the Association Football Players’ and Trainers’ Union (AFPTU) in Manchester’s Imperial Hotel it succeeded a short lived Association Footballers’ Union (AFU) formed in 1898 and dissolved in 1901. The AFU had tried and failed to relax restrictions on players moving from one club to another and to prevent bosses introducing a maximum wage of £4 per week for players in the Football League.
    Two years after its foundation, bosses, in the shape of the Football Association (FA) withdrew recognition of the Union, a threat of strike action in response was met by the FA banning altogether players belonging to the union. Membership fell as players put their jobs before their union card, but Manchester United players stood firm, forcing the cancellation of a 1909 match. A prominent player, Tim Coleman of Everton gave his support shaming the FA, which encouraged members to return to the union and forced the FA to allow bonus payments.However, a later botched court case on the transfer question nearly broke the union.
    During the slump in 1922 clubs arbitrarily cut the maximum wage from £9 to £8, a move successfully opposed by the union. But major successes had to wait until the 1950s.
    When Jimmy Hill, footballer and later commentator became secretary of the Players' Union in 1956, it became the PFA. In 1957, the League’s maximum wage of £20 was scrapped, and the first £100 a-week player came in 1961. The age of footballers making the front pages for their drunken antics in sunny climes and tumbling out of nightclubs at 4 am finally dawned.
    In 1963 the PFA won a High Court case which declared that the “retain and transfer” system was an unreasonable restraint of trade. The commercialisation of sport clearly has its downsides, but unions are primarily there to get good deals for their members.
    Never very militant the union registered under the Industrial Relations Act 1971, which caused its departure from the TUC, but it returned in 1995. In the late 1990s it found itself in court for banning a woman football agent from its annual dinner. The case eventually cost £200,000.To compensate it now actively promotes women footballers so that they can in future misbehave in posh hotels just like the men.
In the same spirit of promoting inclusion, last month the PFA pointed out that although Asian and Asian British people make up almost 7.5 per cent of the British population, in the 2019/2020 season just eight players made first-team appearances across the Premier. To remedy this it launched its Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme (AIMS).
    In November 2018 the PFA had a revolt from its members over its management practices,which is presently unresolved with the much complained about CEO still in post.
    On the matter of the present dispute PFA’s CEO, Gordon Taylor OBE no less, said: “We were disappointed that the EFL decided to introduce salary cap proposals, which were voted through without the proper consideration or consultation with the PFNCC. As a result, in August 2020, the PFA served a Notice of Arbitration on the EFL stating the introduction of the new rules were in breach of obligations under the constitution of the PFNCC. We are pleased the panel upheld the PFA’s claim".
Needless to say not all players are in the multi-millionaire category. Comparatively minor injury can end a playing career, which in the best cases comes to an end decades before the pension age. To help get non-playing players it funds several education programmes for ex and current players. One is a physiotherapy degree course at Salford University. Media-savvy footballers can even be taught to be sports journalists.
    In line with ancient trade union practice it provides medical care including paying for injured players to attend the Lilleshall Sports Injury Rehabilitation centre in Shropshire for physiotherapy and sports injury.
    PFA is also a campaigning union. Recently it took up the problem of racist abuse directed at black players. Unfortunately some football fans are like Trotskyites and SNP supporters in the level of abuse they hurl at their enemies. Writing to the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter it pointed out that “The language used is debasing, often threatening and illegal. It causes distress to the recipients and the vast majority of people who abhor racism, sexism and discrimination of any kind. We have had many meetings with your executives over the years but the reality is your platforms remain havens for abuse”.
    PFA demands that the social media giants block racist or discriminatory material with an approved verification process for users and they urge co-operating properly with the police in such matters.
    It is also demanded more research into neurodegenerative disorders as the affect footballers, an a issue recently highlighted by the fact that many prominent footballers from the 1960s and 70s have been diagnosed with dementia, perhaps caused by frequent heading of footballs which were much heavier than now. The PFA is now funding such research.

Monday, March 01, 2021

Stand by Ukraine anti-fascists!

By New Worker correspondent

Local supporters of the Ukrainian resistance held a lightning picket outside the Ukraine embassy in West London on Sunday. They paid tribute to those that fell resisting the fascist mobs who overthrew the legitimate Ukrainian government in February 2014.
    The puppet Kiev regime serves Anglo-American and Franco-German imperialism and elevates Stepan Bandera, a war-time Nazi collaborator who fled to West Germany following Hitler’s defeat, who was assassinated in 1959. But anti-fascist uprisings soon led to the establishment of the Donbas people’s republics and the underground resistance in the rest of Ukraine.
    London solidarity campaigners include members of the Labour Party, NCP and Socialist Fight as well as supporters of the Stop the War coalition.