Thursday, November 30, 2006

Merseyside Fire Authority Stir Up More Trouble

Following the partial defeat of their cuts agenda this summer, Merseyside Fire Authority is trying to get its own back, and weaken the morale of victorious firefighters. Three weeks ago, letters were served to fourteen emergency crew members, calling them to hearings over incidents during the walkout, including one for 'smiling aggressively'. Now a firefighter is in trouble for drinking a cup of tea!

After four weeks of strike action this September, Merseyside FBU succeeded in saving essential services from 3.5 million of cuts demanded by the government. Instead, the cuts were moved away from the frontline.

Now, a firefighter faces disciplinary proceedings after being caught having a cuppa while working at Buckley Hill fire station in Netherton.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service insists tea breaks can be taken only at certain times, and the first firefighter to break the rule was caught with an unauthorised mug of tea while checking equipment in an appliance room.

Managers launched an investigation and told the firefighter - who has asked not to be named - that he would be put on a charge and face disciplinary proceedings once his initial interview was looked at.

Les Skarratts, secretary of Merseyside Fire Brigades Union, said: "They should stop being so petty and ridiculous. Firefighters save lives and they have enough to put up with without this nonsense.

"This firefighter was doing his daily checks and tests in the appliance room, and had taken a hot drink with him. That is not worthy of a disciplinary investigation.

"He will be interviewed by senior managers and undergo a disciplinary hearing. He could get a written warning on an otherwise exemplary service record, but the ultimate sanction is that he could lose his job."

Senior officers have sent a series of emails banning firefighters from enjoying a cuppa outside designated breaks.

Mr Skarratts said: "It is a waste of public money and firefighters' time issuing these edicts. We are very frustrated over this."

Firefighters on Merseyside have a lot to smile about following their tremendous victory, which was won thanks to great solidarity, in spite of a corporate media campaign against the union. Not surprisingly, the bosses who tried to break the FBU can't bear to see happy - or even relaxed - workers.

For in-depth analysis of the dispute, visit the Liverpool indymedia feature

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

NHS Blood Workers See Red

Workers are considering a walkout to stop the government closing 14 regional blood centres around England.

The centres - in Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Plymouth, Southampton, Tooting, Colindale, Brentwood, Oxford and Cambridge - are under threat because the government wants to build three super-centres, in Bristol and at two un-named sites in the North and South East.

Though this might save money, it will cost hundreds of jobs and put lives at risk, with blood supplies taking much longer to reach their destinations.

Amicus leaders said they were “extremely concerned” about the future of the NHS Blood Service, in Estuary Banks, Speke, and around the country. Amicus is currently preparing to ballot its members for strike action after a consultative vote showed 81% of Amicus members working at the centres are in favour of industrial action.

A spokeswoman for the Blood Authority demonstrated it is all down to money when she said:
"Hospitals are now paying
£70m a year more for blood than they were a few years ago. We need to become more efficient to allow this money to be spent on frontline care."

Hopefully blood workers will strike, but workers in Amicus need to join up their struggles with NHS workers in Unison and other unions. Of course, working class people depend on the NHS, so we must organise in our communities to protect and improve services.
Remember, £70m is next to nothing compared to the possible £70 billion the government is willing to spend on renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system.

Teenage Mother Abducted in Toxteth


A teenage rape victim and her toddler son were abducted in a dawn raid yesterday, victims of a fearsome armed gang known as the 'United Kingdom government'.

Medical student Charlie Happi Kouamaka and 21-month-old Christopher, who was born in Liverpool Women's hospital, were snatched on Tuesday morning, and the 'UK' gang plans to 'deport' (a sinister codeword for the physical removal from the UK 'patch') the pair to Cameroon on Thursday.

John Reid - who holds the post of 'Home Secretary' in the gang's hierarchy and is rumoured to have designs on the top job when current godfather Tony 'Soprano' Blair retires - is due to hear some pleas for mercy before the grisly event takes place.

Even local gang representative Louise Ellman - who is normally very loyal to her superiors and consistently pushes for stronger support of a gang known as 'Israel' - said: "This is an horrendous case and she must have the chance to launch a final appeal."

Ms Kouamaka was beaten and raped for 17 months because she refused to become the 18th wife of her village chieftain in Cameroon.

According to new evidence emerging through the Red Cross - a medical organisation which tries to patch-up victims of violence within and between gangs - Charlie was "held naked by the chieftain, whipped while hosed with water, had hot chillies put on her wounds and was frequently raped."

Charlie fled to the city of Duala, before escaping to a land known as 'Britain' two years ago and asking for asylum. She was 16.

In September 2004, Charlie discovered she was pregnant following a rape.

At the Women's hospital she met 'Father' Peter Morgan who said: "She was the most traumatised young woman I had come across... and I have seen a lot."

Fr Morgan, chairman of the Merseyside refugee group that works with rape victims, said: "She is the most honest, the loveliest and and kindest of people.

"She is a very shy and retiring person who doesn't project herself in any way. We believe everything she says and we have a lot of experience in this field. Cameroon has an appalling record on the treatment of women."

Ms Kouamaka gave birth at the hospital in February 2005 and has been learning English at Liverpool Community College, where she became popular for her expertise in African hair dressing.

She had started a course in health medicine and hoped to become a doctor, affiliated to the 'UK' gang.

'Father' Morgan said: "She is extremely bright. If she is allowed to stay she could qualify in any field."

But her appeal was turned down when 'Home Office' officials accepted claims from their Cameroon counterparts that she had not been abused and would not be if returned.

Since then more evidence has been given that her relatives were interrogated and beaten in efforts to track her down and return her to the chief she refused to marry.

Solicitor Peter Simm - who earns increased rations by petitioning 'UK' dons for mercy - drew up a renewed appeal, but immigration officers snatched her and her child from her flat in Belvedere Road in Toxteth early yesterday morning.

They were taken to Yarls Wood near Bedford, a detention centre notorious for poor conditions, and her supporters were given notice that the duo will be expelled on Thursday.

Mrs Ellman said: "There is a procedure that an MP can obtain a stopping order if new evidence has emerged. That is certainly the case here.

"It is not acceptable that a 19-year-old rape victim and a Liverpool-born child should be treated in this way."

A 'home office' spokesman said: "An appeal was lodged and turned down. Proper procedures have been followed."

Reckless disregard for human emotion is to be expected from the 'UK' gang, who will seemingly stop at nothing to increase their wealth and their influence. However, they are shooting themselves in the foot by 'deporting' a young woman who wishes to serve in their hospitals, and a young child who can be put through their twelve-step brainwashing camp, which could turn him into a passive consumer of 'UK' products, loyal worker, and possibly even a foot-soldier in future turf wars.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Pan's Labyrinth (15)

Written and Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Screening at FACT from 24th November - 14th December 2006

All fairytales are based on reality. After all, they are created by real people, in real situations. You'll be hard pressed to find a fairy in the material world, but the fact that imaginations conjure them up holds a mirror to that material existence. The best fairytales therefore reflect reality, and yet go beyond it, revealing something far deeper than the five senses can normally perceive. Pan's Labyrinth definitely belongs in that category, giving us an insight into war through the eyes of a child.

Using the medium of my typed words, transport yourself to Spain in 1943. Franco's counter-revolution is almost complete, and fascists have almost total control. Young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is travelling through the countryside with her pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil), towards the castle where her new 'father', Capitán Vidal (Sergi López) plans and executes his vicious retribution against the revolutionaries whose 'false' belief in human equality forces them into the mountains. Trapped by her own circumstances, Ofelia begins to fantasise about fauns, magic kingdoms and labyrinths.

Despite a relatively small budget, the visuals stand up well to comparisons with The Chronicles Of Narnia and Lord Of The Rings. They take influences from Goya to the gods of Ancient Rome, before blending into a super-real image of a ten-year-old's imagination, as designed by Guillermo del Toro.

It is very intriguing that Pan's Labyrinth is getting a massive push in the media, with at least three critics describing it as their film of the year. Certain scenes are timely reminders of the depths to which supposedly democratic western governments are eagerly sinking. The film paints the bloodthirsty, brutal government as the baddies, so those who resist it are the goodies.

I just wish we’d had this fairytale in school instead of the Bible.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Nothing Left to Lose

Directed by Tanushka Marah
Unity Theatre (17th & 18th November 2006)

War, and the pity of war, is the subject of this moving, enthralling and powerfully poetical piece of physical theatre from Company:Collision.

The play begins with two childlike puppets arguing over where they will play. The smaller one wants to play in the bigger one's room, as it is larger. When words fail, the bigger puppet threatens violence, and the smaller one says that mum is on his/her side. It is a scene familiar to anyone who has a brother or sister, or indeed anyone who has witnessed a conflict over scarce resources. Which is probably everyone reading this, because that's the only kind of conflict there is, if you think about it.

Anyway, the games begin, and we are introduced to the six flesh-and-blood 'dolls' - played by Liz Griffiths, John Healey, David Kelly, Sarah Leaver, Bronwyn Lim, Tanushka Marah and Ira Seidenstein - whose story this is. Each is dressed in rags and covered in dust and sand following a series of explosions. They speak in a language especially invented for the production, but through repetition, exaggerated movements and the universality of human feelings such as love, fear and bereavement, everyone soon knows exactly what's going on.

The dirty half dozen live in a place that is being bombarded by an army somewhere in the audience. They cause seems hopelessly lost, but they must fight on, because they have nothing left to lose.

It is impossible to praise this performance too highly. Every movement is perfectly executed, every note sung is pitch-perfect and oozes emotion. And the effort the actors must have gone to in learning this fictional language was handsomely rewarded by the rapturous applause they received at the end of the show. Special praise must also go to the writers, for applying their vivid imaginations so productively.

Though we were watching make-believe dolls in an unspecified location, the audience was left in no doubt that we were really witnessing life in Iraq, Palestine, and anywhere else that an armed resistance movement is taking on a brutal occupation. However, if there is such a thing as a human condition, it is an element within us that can and must co-operate in order to survive when the chips are down, an element that cannot be conquered through mere shock and awe firepower. This shone through the performance, and made the whole experience somehow hopeful.

A massive amount of talent was involved in the making of Nothing Left to Lose, so forget The Sound of Music, Company:Collision deserve much wider exposure.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Unions Fight Own Members!

Officials from the TGWU, Amicus and the GMB are backing the Jaguar car company rather than their own members in a pay dispute!

Workers at Halewood in Merseyside, Castle Bromwich in Birmingham and Browns Lane and Whitley in Coventry have been offered a 4% pay rise, balanced against changes in working practices and 'flexibility' - for which read workers bending over backwards to make money for their employers.

This deal was rejected by 2,101 votes (53%) to 1,878 (47%) on Friday, but trade union officials are refusing to accept this verdict.

After meetings on Monday, a spokesman for the T&G said: "The negotiators still felt the company's offer was one they could recommend.

"So further and more detailed consultations will take place with shop stewards in the plants."

This is yet another betrayal by trade union leadership, and workers must refuse to back down in the fight for decent wages and working conditions. All of us have to organise democratically in our workplaces and neighbourhoods to combat the capitalist class, because elected 'representatives' are never going to do it for us.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Merseyside Firefighter in Trouble for Smiling 'Aggressively'

Following the partial defeat of their cuts agenda this summer, Merseyside Fire Authority is trying to get its own back, and weaken the morale of victorious firefighters. Letters have been served to fourteen emergency crew members, calling them to hearings over incidents during the walkout.

After four weeks of strike action this September, Merseyside FBU succeeded in saving essential services from 3.5 million of cuts demanded by the government. Instead, the cuts were moved away from the frontline.

Now fourteen firefighters are being lined-up for disciplinary hearings over seemingly trivial 'offences'. One incident involves claims that one fire officer was allegedly "smiling too aggressively".

Last night, Merseyside's Fire Brigade Union chairman Mark Dunne said: "We have had 14 calls from firefighters who have been told they face disciplinary action because of the strike.

"It is over very low level incidents. One is for smiling aggressively and there are also ones for being rowdy and boisterous.

"It is unbelievable, particularly as both sides signed a back to work agreement which was supposed to mean that neither side would use the strike against the other.

"The problem seems to be that station managers and area managers are ignorant about the agreement."

Firefighters on Merseyside have a lot to smile about following their tremendous victory, which was won thanks to great solidarity, in spite of a corporate media campaign against the union. Not surprisingly, the bosses who tried to break the FBU can't bear to see happy workers.

For in-depth analysis of the dispute, visit the Liverpool Indymedia feature.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ten Days In The Class War

It was just eighty years ago - within living memory - and it took place on the streets where we walk every day, but it seems like a different world. Merseyside almost came to an almost total standstill as workers downed tools and joined together to fight against the rich and the government that represented them.

Liverpool is a city that was built on its status as a slave port, and its docks. While slavery was officially abolished two centuries ago, the docks and accompanying trades were ran by workers whose living conditions were often almost as bad as their unpaid counterparts. By the beginning of the 1900s, workers whose parents and grandparents had come from Ireland, Scotland and Wales were beginning to put their religious differences aside so that they could unite and fight for better pay. In 1911, a transport strike brought together dockers, railway workers and sailors in a campaign that paralysed business for most of the summer. Eight years later, following the end of World War One, 95% of Liverpool’s police went on strike, with the many returning soldiers in their ranks looking to be rewarded for fighting abroad. They were supported by many more workers in the city, who sensed this was a good chance to get the cops on their side. Before the army was called in, there was widespread looting, and the Daily Post described the area between London Road and Scotland as a ‘war zone’.

Even though the schoolbooks normally claim that the 1920s was a time of great prosperity before the ‘great depression’ of the 1930s, they are talking from the standpoint of the already wealthy. For the working class, conditions were still very hard, and poor people were getting increasingly angry about the ever-growing gulf between their lives and those of the rich. It just needed one spark to set that anger off.

Ever since World War One, the coal industry had been declining in Britain, but the mine owners had got very used to their lifestyles, and weren’t prepared to give up a penny in profit. So they announced a plan to reduce wages. This incensed the miners, and the working class generally saw it as sign of things to come. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin confirmed their fears, when he told representatives of the miners that “all the workers of this country have got to face a reduction of wages”. It became obvious to many that there was a conflict between the rich who didn’t have to work for a living and the poor who did. It was class war!

The government announced that they would pay the ‘extra’ wages of the miners while an inquiry look into the future of mining. When the inquiry backed the demands of the mine owners that wages should be cut by between 10% and 25%, the gloves were off. On 1st May 1926 – International Workers’ Day – the Trades Union Congress declared that all their members should refuse to work, and declared a general strike "in defence of miners' wages and hours".

Though the government had been drawing-up battle plans for over a year (stockpiling coal, passing various laws), the TUC was caught almost unprepared. Strange though it may seem, many union leaders wanted to avoid a confrontation more than the government did, and feared that revolution could break out, throwing ‘moderate’ leaders out of power. J.R. Cleynes of the General and Municipal Workers union expressed this clearly, when he said “I am not in fear of the capitalist class. The only class I fear is our own.”

The government declared a state of emergency, and warships docked all around the country. HMS Ramilies and HMS Barham lurked ominously in the Mersey, while two battalions of troops were sent to Liverpool. Clearly, Britain’s second largest port was of great strategic importance.

Workers on Merseyside were among the best organised. Local activists had begun to set up a ‘council of action’ ten months before the strike, and had established a reliable network of communication. This was important, because most of the commercial presses had been stopped or severely restricted, and the Council of Action needed to let people know what was going on. Out of four million strikers, Merseyside provided about one hundred thousand. On the second day, the Council of Action reported that all all engineers and shipyard workers on the Mersey were out. In Birkenhead and Wallasey, a group of strikers attacked the trams and brought them to a halt. Some people returned to work after a few days, while a strange alliance of unemployed and rich people became ‘blacklegs’ and crossed picket lines. But generally the strike was solid, and would probably have continued far beyond ten days, had the TUC leaders not negotiated a return to work with the government.

‘Not a minute on the day, not a penny off the pay’ had been the slogan of the miners, but the TUC agreed to all mine owners’ and the government’s demands. The only concession they asked for was that the law would prevent any victimisation of the strikers. When this was refused, the TUC obligingly ended the strike anyway. As a direct consequence, several hundred workers in Liverpool’s flour milling industry were sacked for their role in the strike.

The working class made some limited gains in the period after World War Two, but governments since the mid 1970s have mounted a sustained attack on pay, union and unemployment rights. Poverty levels have risen dramatically, while health inequality is at levels not seen ‘since Victorian times’, according to a 2005 report published by the British Medical Journal. So why don’t millions of people go on strike these days? Well, in March this year 1.5 million joined a strike against the government’s plans to make people work longer for their pensions. Ok, so it was only one day, but it was a start.

Liverpool is a very different city now compared to eighty years ago. The types of jobs people do are more office or shop based, instead of the heavy industry that used to dominate. But the essential character of work is the same. You go in, do your time, and the rich get richer off your back. In fact, workers get an even smaller share of the money they bring in than in 1926. What would our city look like if everyone stopped working and demanded change? It’s time to start imagining, because things can’t carry on the way they are.

A timeline of events on Merseyside during the 1926 general strike can be studied here.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Borat! (15)

Unless you've been living under the proverbial rock for the past month or so, you will have noticed practically every single reviewer in the world competing to make up the most overblown description of how funny this film is. And they're right, it is hilarious. However, one of the drawbacks of being this particular reviewer is I that must analyse everything, including why people think things are funny. And as someone who is sickened by sexism, racism and homophobia, why do I laugh when it comes from the mouth of this particular man, Sacha Baron Cohen, in his guise of a reporter from Kazakhstan?

The Borat character has been appearing in five minute slots on Cohen's TV shows for a few years now, confronting high and mighty Americans with his detestable opinions and naivety about western culture. Those segments were almost always memorable, as Borat drew embarrassing and astonishing statements from his targets. The humour came when the establishment figures showed that they actually agreed with their interviewer's bigotry. Why was that funny? Maybe because they were removing their masks, letting us catch a glimpse of the hatred and insanity we knew was there all along. Perhaps we hoped that this would lead to their removal from power.

This film is almost the complete opposite of those improvised routines. To stretch the character over the length of 84 minutes, we are subjected to a forced, highly scripted 'story' about Borat travelling across America to find Pamela Anderson, who he fell for whilst watching Baywatch in a hotel room. Pamela seems to be in on the joke, as does the woman who plays a prostitute in a few scenes.

But there are still loads of great set-pieces, such as Borat telling a rodeo crowd that he supports America's 'war of terror' (which they cheer) and sings Kazakh nationalist lyrics to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner (which they certainly don't). He also makes friends with 'Mr Jesus', causes mayhem in a Confederate-supporting antiques shop, and tries to learn the rules of upper class etiquette.

After
Me and You and Everyone We Know (which will never be beaten) this was my strangest cinema experience ever. Several times, the entire audience howled and shrieked with laughter, only to fall deadly silent or recoil in shock the very next second. Why? Because it's funny when someone pretends to be outrageously offensive, but when a rodeo worker tells the camera he wants homosexuals to be executed you can only fear for the future.

This can't be in any sense a true picture of America - that lies on the digital cutting room floor - and it certainly has nothing to do with Kazakhstan. But it is funny. I think.

Red Road (18)

When Red Road premièred at this year's Cannes festival, some cinéastes apparently marvelled at how writer/director Andrea Arnold had created such a realistic-looking Orwellian dystopia in Britain, one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Little did the poor little rich reviewers realise, the bleak and dilapidated Red Road area of Glasgow is genuine; actual flesh and blood people live there. The set was a readymade provided by 21st century capitalist society.

There are currently 4.2 million CCTV cameras in this country, and in this film Jackie (Katie Dickie) monitors a bank of about thirty, covering an impoverished area in Scotland's second city. Her life is lonely but quiet and ordered, until one day she recognises a face from her past (that of Tony Curran) on one of the screens. Gradually, Jackie is drawn into the shadowy realm inhabited by the flotsam of society.

And when I say it's a shadowy realm, I mean it, because Arnold is leading a new wave of Scots inspired by the Dogme 95 'Vow of Chastity' rules established by Danish film makers Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, which means there is no extra lighting, and no gimmicky use of computers, sound effects or any other Hollywood weapons of mass distraction.

All that means that the story, script and acting have to be top notch, and Red Road scores two and a half out of three on that score. The main premise - once it's finally revealed - is almost literally unbelievable, and that takes some of the 'shine' off, even though that seems completely the wrong word for what may be the most realistic-looking Orwellian dystopia I have ever seen. On a cinema screen anyway.

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