Sunday, 28 September 2014

Time to be proud of being a 21st Century Trade Unionist!

I grew up in the 1970s in Worcester with a grandad who worked for British Leyland at Longbridge in Birmingham, the heart of the car industry in the Midlands. A staunch union man a socialist -he was married to my gran a property owning Tory! There were always  good "debates" in their household. My memories however were of Grandad coming home early.. "On strike again" my gran would stand and accuse him. "Not enough sugar in their tea and they're off on strike again!" Obviously her own Tory exaggeration at the time but it had a ring of truth, as strikes were happening on a regular basis, on some issues that would appear trivial these days.

My Uncle worked for a small machine tool factory in Worcester. They were never on strike, but as Thatcherism hit home hard in the early 1980s my uncle was first on a 3 day working week, swiftly followed by the ludicrous 1 day week as more and more workers in the factory lost their jobs. Union bosses fought hard but in vain against its closure. The company shut for good in 1985, like thousands across the UK.

Two very different  experiences, but part of my early memories of Trade Unionism. I spent a week with miners wives in the food kitchens as an 18 year old politics student at college which has been an abiding memory for me, and haunts me to this day.

Trade Unionism and belonging to a union became a dirty word under Thatcher and  the myth peddled that under unions, workers were always out on strike took hold and flourished in working class communities. Just like today when Cameron peddles the lie of austerity that must be imposed on the working class, we have fallen for it, hook line and sinker and taken our eyes off the real culprits; the robber barons, the bankers, the Tory elite, Ukip and the millionaires.

Time to shake off the shackles of the 1970s! I believe firmly however that the dark cloud hanging over the Trade Union Movement is lifting. I want to see it being not only fashionable but imperative to belong to a union. This is all down to Len McCluskey opening up Unite the Union to members of the community, not working in the traditional unionised workplaces. Other unions will be certain to replicate the new way forward. As a Unite Community member myself you can literally hear new breath being breathed into the unions lungs, new energy and new working class people coming forth to take up the fight against Tory imposed austerity.

Community members shout loud and proud they are members of Unite. I walked round Labour Conference with my Unite lanyard holding my conference pass on proud display. I travelled the Manchester trams and proclaimed to all that would listen "I am a member of Unite the Union". The time to go unseen or casually not to mention union membership when talking to people is being banished. The sleeping giant of trade unionism that has taken an almighty kicking since the '70s is emerging into a new dawn in the 21st century.

Why? Because people in communities and workers in our factories, schools, hospitals and  public sector are sick to death of taking a battering from the ConDems, the right wing media and the emergence of the extreme right wing Ukip. For us in community we are seeing social services slashed, libraries and swimming pools closed, carers and disabled voices going unheard. Workers are being battered into accepting zero hours contracts and agency work is the norm. Let's face it, the Tories have put the power directly with the bosses. They hold every card without a crumb on the table left for the workers. Cameron quite openly tells us of his plans to literally eradicate trade unionism should the Tories be elected in 2015. Never has the time been riper than to belong to a union or join a union. Education is the key too as we talk to the younger generation about workplace rights. And this education has to begin at age 14+ as young people, brainwashed by right wing TV, need to know there is a union there, a band of people willing to protect them from the onslaught of  the worst excesses of capitalism.

But the future of a new modern era of Trade Unionism can only gain momentum by slaying the other
major opponent; apathy. In a Tory society of "I'm alright Jack" it is imperative we change the selfish
narrative and list the benefits of belonging to a union and the history of success we have had. I bang the gong on the following Trade Union successes: The Weekend, Maternity/Paternity Leave and Rights, Sick Pay, Workplace Pensions, Paid Holidays, a Minimum Wage, Health and Safety at work. These are the workplace successes. Imagine the community successes we will be able to list within the next five years! With constant attacks by the Tories and now Ukip creeping up on the working class disguised as sheep in wolves clothing by announcing they will ensure those on minimum wage pay no income tax, we must stand united against this right wing extremism. While Ukip make these soundbite policies they still back zero hours contracts, agency employed staff and a huge slashing of the workplace rights so hard fought for by unions. They are on the side of the bosses even more so than the Tories.

So If you're in a union already, have that talk with friends, relatives and workplace colleagues. Let them know you belong to a union. If it's possible, encourage others to join themselves. Unite Community for example only costs 50p p/w. Let's show the bosses, and Cameron and Farage that you "really don't get me; because I'm part of the union!"**** -

A 21st century modern trade union fighting to protect the rights of the working class against  greedy capitalism.

***1973 song by The Strawbs for those who can't remember it!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

My Labour Conference 2014

Being working poor with a large family, I could not afford the cost of Labour Conference. The pass was £63 for the low paid/unwaged and £109 for everyone else. Accomodation was quite frankly extortionately priced for budget accomodation. £120 per night plus on average. Wanting desperately to go I crowd funded my way there and I am eternally grateful to the many people ( including MPs) who put their hands in their pockets and paid for me to attend. I then began a campaign which I will continue to take up with Labour Gen Sec Iain McNicoll entitled #ForTheManyNotTheMoneyed
The campaign was to give a voice to every person who simply could not afford the best part of £1000 to attend conference week. The campaign continues for 2015 as Mr McNicoll looks into it.

Attending Labour Conference is an experience like no other. Every member rich or poor should be given the opportunity for a "seat at the table", a chance to engage with their party, meet people, smell the politics and in my case most importantly, learn from the event and come out wiser than when I went in! Of course it is useful to sit in the main conference hall and listen to the speeches by the party leader and shadow cabinet, but the fringe events on a wide variety of topics from What makes a working class MP, to the Cuba and Venezuela Solidarity campaigns are where you have to be to learn the most. I was like a political kid in a sweet shop! Scouring the days events in my conference book and making a list of MPs and other speakers I wanted to hear from most, made the entire conference all the more enriched. Of course while I was there I had my own article coming out, announcing my intention to stand for Parliament in 2020 and that it was truly a time for working class MPs who have compassion and the human touch to be  elected to change the make up of the current establishment. I had a terrific response to my Morning Star piece, with one lady rushing to the Morning Star stand to subscribe to the paper having read the article!

People make conference. A wide variety of people though, not just suits who can afford to be there. I met with  some grandmothers in their 80s who told me of their experiences after the war when the welfare state was being set up, I met with a young man whose mum was being hounded by the DWP and faced sanctions as due to her mental health she couldn't understand the letters being sent to her demanding her constant appearance at assessment centres, I met a whole array of feisty disabled people demanding change from the Labour Party and fighting to mould disabled policy within the party. These experiences were my education. Of course I also met with my own Unite the Union General Secretary Len McCluskey for the first time, and was delighted to meet up with the MPs I admire most, Ian Lavery, Grahame Morris and Ian Mearns. These four men have something in common more priceless than diamonds; the ability to connect, engage and care about what you are saying. No one feels the hurt of austerity on their people and constituents more than these guys believe me! And they are not just empty words. They act immediately. When you have heard  Ian Lavery deliver a hell raising speech on how children at a school in his constituency are stealing bread from the school kitchens as they are hungry and how there is simply no need for austerity in one of the richest countries on earth, you can be damned sure that speech will be seared in your brain forever! Christine Blower from the NUT telling delegates that teachers are hoarding cereal snack bars and the like to feed hungry pupils in school, the realisation from newly qualified and perhaps middle class young teachers that teaching is only part of their job, and social worker and feeding children is also part of their remit wrenches your insides literally. Kevin Macguire of the Daily Mirror sitting alongside 91 year old Harry Smith at a fringe event when he weeps as he tells of his sister dying from TB aged 10 because there was no NHS. These speakers told the real stories of conference. The stories that were happening to ordinary people. To me these were far more important than any policy announcements taking place in the main hall as they told the real story of what is going on under the watch of Cameron's Britain.

I was also involved in an incident concerning myself and other disabled people prior to the leaders speech taking place. Huge queues had formed and all disabled people were allowed in first, but the queuing system was pretty haphazard as of course there were people on mobility scooters and  in wheelchairs as well as the "walking wounded", the deaf  and blind. All week long  on the front row of the floor level balcony seating, stewards reserved seats for the disabled who couldn't climb the
balcony. I was among them. However, when stewards showed us to this front row, 2 party officials insisted we could not sit there as they were reserved for other party members. Despite vehement protestation from the stewards and also myself, I was told to move up to the balcony seating. However by this time a lot of the upper seats were occupied so there were quite a few stairs to climb. The stewards did their best to assist but I lost my footing with my crutch and fell. Thank you to the steward who picked me up and saved me! On seeing the scene, the party officials quickly urged stewards to fetch chairs from outside the hall and put us seated next to the wheelchair users in the main part of the hall. Myself and a few others who had attempted the balcony climb were very angry and of course shaken and in disbelief this was happening to us at Labour conference.  We felt frankly like 2nd class citizens, a bit of a nuisance to the female party suits desperate to avoid a scene and get their people seated in the reserved disabled seats.

At the end of conference all became apparent as Ed Miliband and his wife Justine walked to the back of the hall and shook hands with the long line of party members sitting in the reserved seats. Of course Ed himself would have been oblivious to the fact we had been ousted from this area, and the feeling of somehow not being good enough or photogenic enough for the cameras following him pervaded our thoughts.  I was very angry on leaving the hall and gave my account of what had taken place to a Morning Star reporter. Whilst Luke James reported the facts, another Tory paper copied the story and added its own right wing twist for public gain. Not what was intended.  Labour got it wrong for disabled people, but it was a time for bringing this to the attention of Kate Green, shadow minister for the disabled and not for Tory rags to gain politically from it. Both Kate and John McDonnell MP are raising the issue seriously with Ed Miliband and  looking into the behaviour of party officials. For the record it is up to people like me to speak out and ensure that at future events this is never repeated. With the arrival of Disability Labour as a new group I will work with them as a voice to  improve procedures for disabled people at conference. It is not enough to moan. Change must come by fighting for it personally.

The  conference centre foyer was packed full of stalls ranging from Unions to the Campaign for Real Ale (popular with delegates for samples!) and all had stacks of information; leaflets, free pens and fridge magnets etc. I have much to read in the coming weeks! The sheer volume of stalls and causes made me swivel- headed but again enriched the experience for me.

Finally I would like to thank the cleaners, the stewards, the  workers providing us with food and drinks, the centre receptionists, the centre guides. These were the unsung heroes. People like us on minimum wage and perhaps  a short term contract, all working to 200% to ensure conference was enjoyable to all. A special mention to the security guards on the gate who always opened up the main gates when they saw myself and other disabled people coming along, rather than the turnstiles for others. They were cheery every day and always glad to welcome us. The Manchester police were obviously present but again did their jobs and directed us to taxis etc when needed. The taxi drivers were animated and asked lots of questions about conference and what Labour would do in certain areas, and I hope I converted a few!

I marvelled at the cheapness of the tram tickets (£3 return)  and how safe and welcoming Manchester was to a lone female. Thank you Manchester, a truly great city.

Labour now has to knuckle down with a huge job of work leading up to May 2015. Trying to change the narrative and how  the right wing media perceive the party and leader will be a difficult task, but we have it in all of us grassroots members, us the people, to campaign to ensure a Labour victory next May. Just view the alternative on offer: Cameron, Clegg and Farage, or a combination of all 3, for the next five years. Stand with Labour, and campaign for change from within.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

IDS wants Obese Poor on Celebrity Diet Plan...

You have to wonder what  goes on in the Duncan-Smith country estate at weekends. Like a scene from a James Bond film you can picture IDS in his "lair" pondering how to rule the world and what dastardly plan he can hatch out next to humiliate, degrade and punish the poor. Never in the history of British politics has one man, backed by his leader, and even worse turned a blind eye to by the LibDems, been allowed this much freedom to  target his own personal hatred onto one section of society; the most vulnerable. Backed up by a willing right wing media who have conned the working class into actually believing a lot of IDS' rhetoric we are now never shocked by what this right wing maniac will do next.

I use maniac willingly and in context.  "An obsessive enthusiast" " A person exhibiting wild or violent behaviour" "a person suffering from mania" "a deranged person". IDS is certainly an "obsessive enthusiast" over his plans  for the poor, sick and disabled. His latest wheeze probably would have shocked us a few years ago, but such is our "unshockability" at  what he does, his latest idea barely raises an eyebrow, as we have come to expect demonisation of the poor as a daily occurrence, both from Duncan-Smith and his propaganda machine the DWP.

IDS has written to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a cunning plan  to ask if  poor obese people claiming JSA and ESA could be put on the celebrity diet "The Cambridge Plan" - a £45pw liquid diet. Now many people radicalised by right wing media may well see nothing wrong with poor obese people being given "help" this way. But with the Tories and particularly their hatchet man IDS, you have to peel back the layers to find the hidden truth and reality of the situation. IDS' constituent Ruth Barber is the brain-child of The Cambridge Diet. "All in this together" certainly rings true. As with ATOS being handed multi million pound contracts and various Tory cronies having more fingers in pies than the nursery rhyme figure Little Jack Horner, it seems IDS is keen to put a huge  NHS "diet contract" Ruth Barber's way. Of course were the scheme to become reality, there is always a stick with Duncan-Smiths harebrained ideas and you don't need a crystal ball to know there will be an element of compulsion to participate if you are obese, and in receipt of JSA/ESA or the inevitable sanctions will be applied.

Putting aside, that this is the latest in a whole range of punishments  from a man so dim his own party derides him, let's look at the facts of  obesity and being poor.

Poverty and being on benefit is a vicious grinding cycle. While many of us would like to put some portly MPs, obese due to lavish subsidised lunches and expensive champagne receptions, on one of these celebrity diet plans, yet again the spotlight falls on the very poorest, who in Tory eyes, are not permitted to be obese like their richer "betters". While lardy Cameron parades his belly chillaxing on the various beach holidays he enjoys each year, this is simply not permitted to be poor and fat and scraping by on £71pw JSA.

Those of us whether poor or working poor have very limited incomes which have to be stretched like never before due to Tory imposed austerity. When I have the electric bill to pay or one of the kids comes home with torn trousers which needs replacing immediately, the food budget is where I , and thousands of other people turn to in an effort to find the money needed. To cut down means to go without or replace with  bulky cheap food the kids will eat. Simple as that. I know I can go to Iceland and pick up a pizza for £1 and frozen chips for £1. As much as I would like to , minced beef and fresh  vegetables are a lot more expensive. I have fed a family of 6 on £30 for a weeks meals when desperate, but I know how to as I was taught practical cooking skills by my parents and by school. Many people are not so fortunate.  The school GCSE for example is full of  theory based health and safety questions rather than how to feed yourself on a strict budget.

Once someone like IDS has lived for a year controlling a food budget week in week out on JSA of a total £71pw income or on a Carers income of £61.35pw, then he can speak with authority of how poor obese people should be truly helped. Imagine your food budget as a single person on JSA is £10pw every week, every month which thousands are living on. Now imagine doing a weekly food shop in the supermarket. Out goes the nutritional more expensive food like meat, fresh vegetables; in comes the bulky highly processed foods like frozen pizzas, chips, and value bread. In fact everything becomes the supermarkets value brand; the lowest common denominator. Now after weeks of living on this cheerless bulky high sugar diet, your health starts to suffer you feel lethargic, less motivated, sapped, stressed with the anxiety of wondering where the next meal is coming from, so your mental health takes a bashing. You feel cooking is a chore, you feel less motivated to cook, less motivated to go out. The walls and your horizons start to narrow as your life consists of one long huge effort to survive. And the inevitable thing is that your weight  increases on this high sugar diet and lack of  outdoor exercise and obesity occurs. Obesity brings its own demons of higher  blood pressure, diabetes and other related health problems. Then a man comes along earning £100k a year plus and tells you the answer is a celebrity liquid diet, a cure for your obesity and poverty in one, and that by going on this diet, you will be fit for work, off benefit and your life improves with a wave of the IDS magic wand!

What utter tosh!  GPs will tell you of the complex array of health problems caused by poverty. Poverty and a lack of education and life skills go hand in hand and have done for decades. Successive governments have never found the cure. Likewise GPs will also point to the excessive lifestyles of the rich where their obesity is caused by too many rich foods and lavish dinners. But IDS is not pushing a celebrity diet  onto his cronies is he?!

So stuff your liquid diet IDS. Stop trying to award big fat privatised NHS contracts to your chums. And get off the backs of the poor who can't carry the weight of austerity any longer. Fat chance Cameron will sack you sooner, but  I very much think that like your party, you will be history in May 2015.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

A new era for Labour requires a new kind of Politician

Many of you who regularly read my articles in the Morning Star, will know just how deeply concerned I am about the lack of working class candidates and MPs in the Labour Party. So as well as writing and campaigning on the issue I am putting my (lack of money) where my mouth is, and throwing my hat into the Westminster ring as a potential candidate. Albeit I am a little too late for 2015, but will use the time until 2020 to keep campaigning and standing up for the working class people of this country.

You see it is time for a different politician and a different way of 'doing politics'. For every phone conversation at our local CLP, for every door knocked upon you hear time and time again. 'They're all the same. They are all in it for themselves and haven't got a clue about the lives of ordinary people' And apart from good solid working class MPS like Ian Lavery, Dennis Skinner, Ian Mearns, Grahame Morris, Katy Clarke and co I have to agree.

If ever there was a time for compassionate politics it is now! If ever there was a time to stand on the door step or at the Labour local office and say to worried anxious people "Why don't we have a cuppa and talk about the problems you are facing a bit more." Ordinary people want MPs and candidates and door knocking volunteers like me, to shut up for a minute and listen. Listening skills are missing from many MPs. They stare dreamily over your shoulder, check their watch and start walking away, because the bedroom tax does not affect them, the fact you can't afford petrol for the car for the entire month for work and the worry that causes you, is a million miles away from anything they have encountered, caring for a disabled child or elderly relative is an experience alien to them.

It's not 'weak' to be compassionate. Neither is it weak to listen and show empathy. Ordinary people want their MPs to understand how bad things are in their day to day lives thanks to Cameron and particularly Iain Duncan-Smith. But before all Labour MPS grab their tissues and run to their constituents, I have to point out, its something you either have in you or not. Compassion and empathy cannot be learned or you will end up looking a fraud either on the doorstep or on TV, as working class people are too canny to fall for 'pretended compassion' (I refer you to Cameron and the Hug a Hoodie campaign he ran.)

Dennis Skinner is a genuine compassionate politician who 'won't take the MPs payrise until all working class people have had a payrise.' He refuses to drink in Westminsters subsidised bars as he feels deeply just how wrong this is, while many are suffering the welfare cuts. Ian Lavery when speaking about the bedroom tax said 'We should never forget that these properties are not just statistics these are people’s homes'. He understands because he listens.

I chat to people all the time as a member of Unite Community; a proud arm of Unite the union no longer confined to workplace members but people from all walks of life in our communities. All I hear is the plea ''We need MPs who have done a factory job, worked in a supermarket, cared for a disabled relative, shop in our shops, don't just try to look like us but ARE one of us.' Indeed recently an elderly lady complemented me on my dress as she had her eye on the same £14 dress in Matalan but felt it was a bit too young for her!

Compassionate MPs are needed urgently in our communities. Our working class people have born the brunt of this austerity going into a fifth year in 2015. We are austerity-battered, weary, frightened and trying to hang on in there as best we can often living from week to week on zero hours contracts and a pay day away from losing our homes. I know this because its happening to me too. Last week as my third son started 6th form, HMRC already cut to the bone with staff shortages, cut all tax credits from every family in the UK with a child starting 6th form or college or a training course. It meant a £50 immediate cut in income that week; a week when every penny counts as you kit your child out and spend money on bus fares, lunches for their first week on a new part of their lives. HMRC acknowledged the huge error which they are putting right 'shortly'. That error made me panic over what to cut down on that week, alongside all the thousands of other families affected too. These 'errors' can tip us over the edge into financial peril, such is our grip on the cliff edge of austerity.

Alongside compassion and empathy for our fellow man/woman people are fed up to the back teeth of corrupt politics, corrupt politicians and morally bereft government. Its time for honest politics. You may laugh and think me naive but I believe there is an honest way to do politics and an honest way to be an MP. If you make an error of judgement for example, if you make a big cock-up, tell people. 'I'm sorry but I got it wrong'. Again don't say it  if you don't mean it as the people will see through you. Don't say things that sound insincere or out of the normal kind of way you say things or it all sounds false and forced. Take Dave over Scotland saying 'its not about giving the effing Tories a kicking.' False written all over it. Likewise if I was ever to say Nigel Far-raj talking about Nigel Far-idge leader of Ukip then give me a kicking too! If as a Labour MP cuts have to be made, be honest, tell people why and explain the situation. Don't ignore people on twitter or facebook asking you polite pertinent questions that mean a lot to them, unless they abuse you. Our concerns MUST be the Labour MPs concerns too, or why are you in politics at all?

Whilst I have decided it is right for me personally to enter the political ring, I understand how daunting that could be for others. It's the reason the working class is so under represented in Westminster. We are too busy battling to survive to devote time to campaign or try to change things. This is what Cameron and the Establishment rely on.

Labour have shown the way on All Women Shortlists, perhaps it will be time to go further after 2015 and develop a few working class shortlists, disability shortlists etc.Although there is a small financial pot to help future candidates this needs to be taken to the next level, as finance and giving up work to campaign to become a candidate is probably the prime reason working class candidates are woefully under represented in Parliament. If you are a Carer for a disabled child as I am, arranging appropriate childcare may be a struggle. Other candidates I know are struggling with sleepless nights caused by gangs on their estate, one is constantly back and forth to school as their child is being bullied, another can't afford the transport costs of campaigning in their rural  constituency. Let's act as a party and support candidates who are struggling. The Labour Party needs the drive, will and sheer determination of candidates who are working class themselves. It's a much higher cliff for us to climb into the political arena than for others.

I believe in this toxic sea of  austerity when people are crying out for change, the Labour party must use that vital sense; listening. Its not enough to say 'We hear you'. Now is time to say 'We hear you, we will listen to you further, we understand you entirely and we will act.''

I hope ordinary people will one day have enough faith in me to vote, and send me to Westminster. It's a priveledge to represent people. It's vital that their views, their lives, their struggles are represented by a politician who cares deeply for them. Time for the compassionate politician.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Britain needs a Pay Rise; But Women are desperate for a Living Wage

In TUC conference week much of the talk will revolve around low pay and the curse of zero hours contracts and rightly so. Since Day 1 of the ConDem government, employers have been positively encouraged to put the lid firmly on any pay increases and demand massive flexibility with their staff, to the point where workers are no longer employed directly but through agencies in many cases. Sacked on a whim, laid off on the spot for a week or two, scrambling for any extra hours the employer has to offer is now general. Even the Tories own manipulated figures on the economy are showing a skewed 'recovery' yet the lid remains firmly closed at the whisper of any increase in pay for the workers. Four years have passed with no pay rises, despite big bonuses for the bankers continuing, while austerity has virtually broken the backs of the poorest.

Those most bearing the brunt are women. Successive governments have urged and pushed women to the brink in a swift return to work after the birth of a child, economic forces have removed a woman's right of choice to work flexible hours, or take a few years to stay at home and care for her child should she wish, single mothers have been villified and not even a tax break given to couples, but a pernicious culling and freezing of child benefit at a time when it is needed more than ever.

 We have ended up with a situation where nurseries have become daycare warehouses for babies under 2, while mum desperately tries to find work that will cover the bills, let alone provide a few luxuries like holidays. Its all very well if the woman is a high flyer and can afford nannies and au pair help but the majority of us cannot. On top of this, although in theory a woman can request flexible working hours to care for a disabled child or elderly relative, in practice employers do not want an employee who may have to leave work at a moments notice. Being female under this ConDem government has meant hardship on every front and none more so than on pay.

A recent survey in the north west by the TUC revealed 2 in 5 part time jobs in the UK pay less than the living wage. However in Pendle Lancs, 3 out of 5 women - 61.5% are paid below the living wage. There is a 34%part time gender pay gap! A toxic mix of zero hours or ridiculous low hours contracts like 4 or 7 hours a week only add to the problem. In an effort to combine caring with work, women will often take any low paid factory work or supermarket job to make ends meet. Pressure is being mounted by unions to see councils adopt the Living Wage and this is having some success. But lets get into the private sector companies and show them the benefits of both the Living Wage but also Living Hours and employing staff directly. It is definitely a case of going back to the future, but without stable employment on a Living Wage, women and all workers face a future of slave labour.

A new generation of young women are emerging from school having spent the last 4 years perhaps watching their own parents struggle on low pay. A new generation of women who think zero hours, low pay and no workplace rights is the 'norm'. We have to work fast to change that narrative. There will be many women who go onto careers, but there will be many who will shift between one low paid job to the other and this government have so far been successful at brainwashing people into thinking this is their lot in life. A zero hours low paid job where renting a house is beyond them. We cannot allow Cameron and co to have this kind of blanket power across the working class. We need to empower women and all young people through education in high schools that it is a basic human right that a Living Wage and Living Hours are theirs to demand from employers. When they feel too vulnerable to stand up to an employer as a member of a Trade Union they have the right to representation. Education is the key.

The concept of in work poverty is alarmingly, slowly being absorbed and accepted. When a woman returns home from work in a low paid, unskilled, zero hours job she often then has to turn to household chores, childrens activities/ homework and caring duties. Having the time and strength to campaign against in work poverty alludes her. That is why it is absolutely imperative we campaign within our unions and take to the streets in demonstrations to show society and employers and companies we are not prepared to accept low pay and less than the living wage and living hours. A Labour government post 2015 must also put an end to in work poverty and Ed Miliband has pledged to free us of the scourge of routine zero hours contracts.

A mandatory Living Wage would be the cherry on the cake Ed. Lets do it!

Monday, 28 July 2014

Letter to Iain McNicol: Don't price the poor out of Labour Conference

Dear Mr McNicol

I am writing to you as General Secretary of the Labour Party to look at an issue that is causing many grassroots Labour members, concern, anger and upset over the cost of attending this years Labour Conference in Manchester.

In recent years the cost for attending conference has risen to the point where it is now more than the cost of 1 weeks Carers Allowance. The cost for carers, the unemployed and disabled is £63 for the conference week, whilst Carers Allowance is £61.35pw. Even if we decided to go for one day of conference the cost is £28 per day.

Firstly, I completely understand the Labour Party have no option but to raise funds for the 2015 Election Campaign by charging a fee for Conference entry. The Labour Party does not have huge millionaire banker donors like the Tories and it is harder for Labour to raise funds. Secondly I also realize CLPs send delegates to conference. However my CLP is low on funds and sends the same person every year, so other people do not get the chance to attend.

What I would like to get over to you is the following: Please try and find a way for the working poor, poor, carers, disabled, retired, unemployed to attend conference without it costing a whole weeks income. There are many working class members like myself who are eager to participate, eager to get involved, have as much right as other people to hear Ed Milibands vision post 2015, yet sadly cost prohibits us attending.

I know you have no control over accomodation costs in Manchester in September but even Premier Inns are charging £600+ for four days. Once conference pass, food and transport have been added on, the four days are the cost of a family holiday! Labour could, and in my view should, make it clear it wants to hear our voices too - the voices of the working class loud and clear, supporting Ed Miliband and the party in its drive to victory 2015. Does Ed merely want his words to echo around a room of MPs, and people who can afford to attend?

Money should not be the price the poor pay for being locked out of participation.

I urge you to seriously look at how the Labour Party prices its conference passes to those for whom £63 is a weeks income or more. £5 per day or £20pw would be a lot more comfortable for the majority of poor Labour members.

Please make this change. There are thousands of Labour members out there depending on you to let their voices be heard.

Yours faithfully

Bernadette Horton
Carer and Proud Member of the Working Poor and Labour Party.

I am sending this in written form to Mr McNicol today. As soon as I have a response I will update this blog.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Working Class Homes ; Let's Build, Build, Build!

Going back to the 1960s and 70s our council houses were homes to be proud of. Whilst not made of the costlier materials of private homes or to the grandest of designs, they were real homes. My mum was brought up in a lovely 3 bedroomed pre-fab house, put up quickly after the war with huge gardens front and back. My abiding memory is my grandfather tending the roses at the front and growing his vegetables at the back. Everyone worked in his road, everyone prided themselves on the neatness of their homes and gardens.

We need to return to this. Council homes that are built where tenants can be proud to live and proud of the community they belong to. Currently there are 4.5 million people on a council house waiting list. When Thatcher came to power in 1979, 150,000 council houses were built every year. When Thatcher left in 1990 only 1500 were built. Whatever we think about Thatcher, she was a clever woman. She sold us the aspiration of working class home ownership. "Buy your council house, live the dream, become one of us" she said and like fools we, the working class, fell for it.

 But for every council house sold under right to buy, next to none were built to replace them. Once Thatcher had got us hooked on the aspiration of owning a house, the drug lingered from one generation to the next, where renting was frowned upon and soon council and social housing was looked down upon as necessary places to "warehouse" the unemployed, single parents, the disabled, criminals and people washing up on the shores of the fringes of society. Early on working class low paid workers, shunned council housing entirely, going straight to home ownership with the lure of 100% mortgages. Many of course ended up, back on council housing lists when interest rates shot up in the late 80's and their homes were reposessed!

With the relentless rise in  numbers needing council housing and successive governments stubborn refusal to build, we have now reached a tipping point crisis, started by Thatcher and ramped up by Cameron. For the first time since records began home ownership is declining. Well done Dave! A family loses their home every 15 minutes under the ConDems. Private tenants  are on a merry-go-round of 6 month tenancies as landlords can evict so easily.

In London we have the great "buy to leave" crisis where oligarchs living abroad buy expensive London houses then leave them to stand to go up in price with no one living in them. The UK spends £20bn a year on Housing Benefit, plugging the gap for renters in the private sector whose rents are soaring under greedy landlords. Yet we spend £1bn a year building new homes currently. The ConDems  decided to point the finger directly at the poor as expected, and social cleansing of London is ongoing by setting a benefit cap, driving tenants often  hundreds of miles from the capital.

So what can be done? Ed Miliband is talking a very good start on the issue for the Labour manifesto. In Europe and even USA rent control is mainstream and expected. We desperately need some kind of rent control in the UK. The buy - let landlord needs curbing. Ridiculous photographs of "flats" with £700pm rents where you can't open a kitchen cupboard door as the bed is in the kitchen next to the sink is becoming the norm. Miliband recognises this and will move to bring in rent controls, a move decried by the Daily Mail as being "communist!"

Labour realises that Housing and the crises surrounding housing is a top 5 burning issue for people in the run up to 2015. Ironically housing hasn't even figured as an issue prior to the run up to 2010. But then the Tories hadn't been in power since 1997!  Ed  Miliband  has said Labour will build 200,000 houses every year of a Labour government from 2015. Admirable. He has a grip of the crisis. But we need to hear more on affordable homes and council housing. Letting local councils borrow to build social housing is a first move. Making sure these new homes have a mix of housing, green areas and a social mix of working, retired, disabled and unemployed people is also a key factor for new council houses fit for the 21st century. Let's not use the lowest common denominator as a starting point. Let's build housing that looks like the private housing around it ,so new council housing is not pointed at, ostracised and looked down upon as inferior.

Before we do this, we need to campaign to change the narrative. The Tories have bombarded the media with programmes on welfare and scroungers and have convinced swathes of the working class everyone is on the take and more cuts to social security are well past due and needed! Tosh! It's a media - newspaper and TV campaign to get their austerity message across and turn us on each other taking the heat away from them! The Tories are casting suspicion on charities like Shelter who are calling for more housebuilding and campaigning for the homeless as if homeless people are "undeserving" of a roof over their heads!

But look at our kids! I have a 25 year old son and a 22 year old son both are low paid. One is a care worker, the other on zero hours in a factory. My eldest moved out to a tiny 2 bed house with his partner which they rent privately at more than my mortgage! My 22 year old son  still lives  at home, renting out of his sphere of possibility. Zero hours, agency employed on poverty wages.. That's our kids lot in life and a new generation of renters and kids staying at home well into their 30s is what is happening in 2014. We can't meekly sit back and see the next generation far worse off than our own. We need decent social housing and we need it now! Join with me and tell a future Labour government : It's time to build, build, build!

TTIP - What it means to you and I ...

You may have heard briefly on the news, at work or within your union about TTIP.  It all seems to be global, between countries,  a bit lofty and academic for the likes of us ordinary people to get to grips with. Many people say it means nothing to them or is something the governments discuss between themselves and has no bearing on our lives. That's what the Tories want you to think. Believe me TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) will have more impact on ordinary working class people than you could ever imagine.

While we were passively voting or not voting in the recent European elections, big corporations across the globe were holding negotiation meetings  under the disguise of "free trade agreements" to give corporations new powers to challenge governments to "regulate, legislate and take back privatisations into public ownership" (Unite Briefing). Basically it is a free trade agreement between the USA and Europe. This treaty is about "harmonising standards" but  the corporations will determine what these standards actually are!  The negotiations took place furtively behind closed doors that ordinary people knew nothing about. The secrecy was because  the free trade agreement is about removing barriers to trade across the US to Europe. These "barriers for trade" just happen to include trade unionism, labour rights, food standards, climate and environmental factors, things that make the big corporations answerable and accountable. Yes you read it correctly! They want these removed!  TTIP would give these corporations the right to sue governments, councils etc who breached the free trade agreement by not implementing or refusing to implement directives.

TTIP is about increasing power to multi national investors, while reducing regulation on them. The USA wants to use TTIP to prise open the markets of Europe for the benefit of US capital. But how does this effect us?

Let's start with our NHS. Cameron is keen on TTIP because under it he could contract out and privatise the entire NHS. A future Labour government would then not be able to challenge the privatised contracts and get the NHS back in the public domain as the contracts would be unchangeable over 10 or 15 years for example. We all know of the "welfare or ghetto" hospitals in the USA. Well they would be here in no time under TTIP with our NHS being sold off to US investors and our service, already creaking under the ConDems would turn into the same system as in America. Turn up at a hospital with your cheque book. Unable to pay? Tough! Attend the "welfare" hospital if you can find one in your area! If we get a Labour government their hands would be tied and they would have to put up with a privatised NHS, sold to the highest bidder who puts profits before people. Andy Burnham told a recent meeting he would not sign any deal that did not exempt the NHS from TTIP. Good, but not good enough. We don't want the Labour Party Party signing ANY TTIP deal.

Already under the NHS Act 2012 all NHS hospitals will be Foundation Trusts this year. This allows them to take 49% of their income by treating paying patients. Poor patients will now miss out on treatment as rich people jump the queue. Andy Burnham will repeal this act on
Day 1 of a Labour government. But if TTIP goes ahead he will be unable to do anything!  This trade agreement will be binding on all governments, taking away our elected right to transfer the NHS back into public ownership.

The USA has always been traditionally hostile to trade unions. This would not change under TTIP. The US has ratified only 14 of 190 Labour Organisation Conventions and only 2 out of 8 core conventions dealing with child labour, forced labour freedom of association and discrimination. With Cameron already promising a huge Trade Union crackdown should he be elected in 2015, do we really need a US backed trade agreement that would be enforceable.

Around 70% of all processed food sold in American supermarkets contains GM (genetically modified) ingredients. Not so in the UK and Europe. The USA want to use TTIP to launch an assault on EU regulations - an EU that David Cameron wants to withdraw from and he is getting louder on the subject with a real zest to withdraw the UK from the Human Rights Act for starters. No one knows the long term effects of GM foods yet under TTIP we could be forced to eat GM food, like it or not!

In the USA upwards of $400m of taxpayers money has been spent in courts  and paid in compensation to corporations when they took authorities to court over banned and toxic substances and water and forest protection.

Over 90% of US beef is produced with the use of bovine growth hormones. The EU including the UK have had restrictions on the import of this beef since 1988. Again using TTIP, the USA want to
remove this under the freedom to trade clause.

If TTIP comes into being it will place the rights of investors above the rights of people's protection of  social and workplace rights, health, food and environment protection. It is a huge issue that is being talked about behind our backs, but under our noses. Be aware, tell your friends, neighbours and colleagues and most of all campaign to stop it in your communities. If it gets passed in late 2014 it will not only change our country, it will change our world for the worse.

Thanks to Joy Johnson for the TTIP Literature briefing from Unite, contained in the above.

From School Uniforms to Childcare; from Days Out to Food; the Working Poor hell of the 6 week School Summer Holiday.

That time of year has rolled around again; the 6 week school summer holiday. While the rich jet off abroad the poor and working poor will suffer like never before on a variety of fronts.

 When I was young, growing up in the 70s it was simple. Dad worked full time and Mum worked 2 evenings a week part time. While we were never well off, Mum handled the school summer holidays childcare wise for myself and my sisters on her own, with Dad's help on the 2 evenings she worked. Days were filled with bike rides, little picnics to the local park, trips to fetes or building dens in the garden. This then culminated in the 1 week caravan holiday to either Cornwall, Wales or Great Yarmouth which was looked forward to every year with great excitement. A working class school summer holiday that ended in the last days of August, when Mum marched us off to town for the school uniform buying. I never heard her complain once about the cost of kitting us out, even though a couple of items had to be bought at the school shop.

Fast forward to recent years when I have had all four of my sons straddling High School to Primary. I used to start buying my school uniforms for the September start at Easter! School logoed blazers and jumpers are the curse of the working poor parent! Every year successive governments have applied pressure to schools encouraging them to have a generic uniform with no school logos. I know of none where this is the case. Those navy jumpers all over supermarket adverts are useless when your school charges double or triple the price because the school badge has to be emablazoned on it. There were many years when I simply did not have the money to buy 'quality' school uniform items from M+S and the like and had to buy cheaper uniform. This frankly was so poor quality it barely got to October half term without having to be replaced, and thus defeated the object of being 'cheap'. Since Cameron came to power you can then add on certain GCSE textbooks as schools do not have enough to round. To kit 4 boys out in the whole uniform plus blazers,coats, shoes, football/gym shoes, PE kit and stationery would always come in at around the £800 mark. A huge sum to find in the school holidays and one I dreaded every year! Currently I have 2 sons left at High school and have become wiser, buying mens trousers, shoes etc in the stores summer sales.

I should be thankful I have not had to find 6 weeks school holiday childcare. That is only because my youngest son is autistic and I exist on the £61.35pw carers allowance.  For those who have no option, the juggling required and sheer cost is immense. I have a friend who is in this position. She and her partner have 3 children. One is 14 at High School and the other two are 5 and 8 in primary school. There are no grandparents living nearby. She takes the first week off school to stay home, her partner takes the second week off. Then she relies on her 14 year old to fill in the gap for the 3rd week which she feels guilty over, but has no choice. She then pays for two weeks childcare for the 5 and 8 year old full time and then  the whole family has a final week together in a caravan holiday in the UK. She would love a holiday abroad but school under Michael Gove have made it clear this is not allowed in term time, and she can't afford to go abroad in August as the cost doubles. Her school uniform costs are around the £500 mark. She is in favour of a shorter 3 week school summer holiday with the option to remove children for a holiday for up to 10 days a year excluding exam times. She feels this is fairer and far more do-able for working families.

For those families totally unable to afford a holiday, days out are no longer a cheap option. Once the 'free' days of a trip to the park, wandering around town with a visit to a cafe perhaps, bike riding etc are done children are often moaning about wanting a proper day out like their peers at school. For a family of 4, once petrol/train fares have been taken into consideration, entrance fees paid to a theme park or other attraction, a mid day lunch bought there is no change out of a few hundred pounds. While Cameron and his Cabinet jet off abroad, the working poor are wondering if their employer will give them full hours next week on their zero hour contract. Full hours of 35+ may give scope for a day out, but of course this is not assured! Rents and mortgages and other bills still have to be found in August. If ever there was a 'payment free holiday month' August would be top of my list!

Feeding your children for 6 weeks should not be a problem but in 2014 foodbanks are bracing themselves for unprecedented summer holiday demand. When poor children are in school, they at
least get 1 meal a day. In the summer holidays this is not the case. Couple this with bored children whose parents can't afford days out or a holiday and this results in 6 weeks of food hell. The older they are the worse it gets as tempers flare.

In my own household I plan carefully the main meals for the summer holidays week by week, but find I am buying a lot more bread, ham and salad for sandwiches, cereal and milk, bottles of squash etc as the 'fridge raiding' is far more frequent than in term time. My food bill soars and I always welcome September with relief on the food front. Families who get free school meals during term time are frequently unable to cope during the summer. Working Poor families who are not entitled to free school meals are already  sending their children to school with no lunch on some days of the month, as they simply have run out of money until payday. In 2013 a local foodbank reported a 40% surge in referrals during the school summer holidays. I witnessed 2 small children dancing around their kitchen delighted the foodbank had provided them with breakfast cereal for the week. Not treats, but cereal, a staple for the majority of families.

Huge pressure has been put on the backs of the working class by the ConDems. It is us and our children who are bearing the burden. Cleggs answer was to provide free school meals to all 5 and 6 year olds. He forgot many schools have no kitchens but was hell bent on ploughing on with his hare brained scheme! He never thought for one moment, that while the 5 year olds of the children of Cabinet members were enjoying a free school meal, impoverished working poor children aged 7 were going without a lunch as mums whispered 'Tell the teacher you're not hungry just for today' as she wracked her brains trying to figure out how she would pay for lunches for the rest of the week! That's real life Clegg; that is what is happening in your 2014 Britain!

Yet still the politicians wring their hands and do nothing. Gove has gone but he has been replaced by privately educated Nicky Morgan whose philosophy has so far constituted that 'University Education is not a right'. No change there then! Successive governments have talked the talk over the school summer holiday then done absoloutely nothing. Gove just decided to punish parents for taking
children out of school in term time. This has annoyed the middle class particularly, but Nicly Morgan is adamant government policy will remain unaltered: Punish parents who can't afford a peak summer holiday. No thought for the working poor.

It's time to support parents by any government that gets elected in 2015. More parents are having to work but childcare is unaffordable. Poor parents and parents of disabled children are unable to feed their kids over the 6 week summer holiday. Days out are luxuries. These are the lives of the working class in 2014 - lives far removed from Westminster where a couple of holidays, treats and days out are the norm for children of MPs during the summer! Walk a mile in our shoes during this summer and  try to change things to make our lives just a little easier. A time when feeding the kids, buying the  new terms uniforms and a 1 week holiday are once again within reach. After all haven't things progressed just a little bit since my 1970s childhood? To the poor it appears not.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

My Year as a Unite Community Member...

It's almost 12 months since I decided to join a trade union. Up until that point people like myself - full time carers, the disabled, the unemployed, the self employed couldn't join a union as we did not work in the traditional unionised workplaces.

One of the most innovative, bold decisions ever made by a Union General Secretary was when Len McCluskey decided to open up Unite to the community. Len instinctively knew that people in communities were suffering under the Tory imposed austerity. He knew that  people were fighting to stop community facilities from being closed, the disabled were fighting against ATOS, carers were struggling on their £61.35pw and needed a voice to get their reasonable demand for recognition and  an increase in the paltry carers allowance, and unemployed people were suffering due to Job Centre sanctions, and many working class people were losing their homes under the Bedroom Tax.

So Unite Community was born to join up communities with workplaces and give people in the community a voice,  education through training courses , and the linguistic tools to fightback against the dark Tory forces seeking to return working class people to a bygone age.

I grabbed my chance of Unite Community membership with both hands, relishing the opportunity to play my part in changing the narrative on austerity, telling people in my community and beyond that we really do not have to take austerity on the chin, and that ordinary working class people like myself  have the power to change this government in 2015. So what have I learnt?

One of the first things I quickly found was that I am never alone. The Unite family are always there to help. I am part of Unite Community in N Wales and my community officer Jo, covers the whole country and  is always there should I have a query or require training. She has encouraged me to embark on training courses, and to have self belief  that carers like myself have a huge role to play in shaping not only our communities but also the wider national political picture. From Community Activism to Public Speaking  courses, Unite tutors have encouraged me all the way. I have used the Unite website as a useful educational resource, campaigned on various issues both online through social media and also out in the community. My self belief that I can play a part in changing things has soared and even though I have limited mobility, I have recently taken part in campaigning against job centre sanctions on a picket line and represented Unite Wales at the Durham Miners Gala - proudly holding a banner!

 Unite Community have supported me to travel to hear inspiring speeches and to learn from the likes of Ian Lavery MP, Katy Clarke MP, Tom Watson MP and many people involved in the campaigns to save our NHS from TTIP. Passing on these messages to my local community, getting more people to be involved in local campaigns and speaking out publically myself is the only real way to tackle this governments rancid policies foisted on the working class and the most vulnerable.

I know that myself and other proud Unite Community members will be instrumental in the task to get the Labour Party elected in 2015 and the upcoming months will be tough and we expect the Tories to do the only campaigning they know best : smear the Labour Party, play on the politics of fear, and talk a dirty fight. But Cameron and his cronies are up against us now; ordinary people who are equipped to not only counteract his Etonian rhetoric, but to have real knowledge and the power to change the narrative, change the mantra that for the past 4 years has set neighbour v neighbour, poor v working poor, British v Immigrant.

 There is a growing awareness and hatred in the very working class communities so despised by the Tories, that austerity, privatising our NHS, making zero hours contracts the norm, producing Generation Rent, ensuring wages are so low that working families are visiting foodbanks is what us ordinary people have to put up with in life, while the Cabinet Millionaires and the bankers get richer.

Using your vote in 2015 to vote for any party other than Labour is a complete waste! If Labour are not elected we get 5 more years of even worse Toryism as Osborne seeks to cut a further £11 billion from the likes of us. I like to tell Labour waverers ; don't think about the leader of the Labour Party, think about the policies he is implementing: stopping the Bedroom Tax, making sure our NHS remains public and stopping Camerons privatisation by stealth, part renationalising our railways, giving our kids a future with Technical Apprenticeships, giving 25 hours of free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds, putting an end to zero hours contracts and pressing employers to pay the Living Wage. Isn't that preferable to 5 more years of huge cuts, making zero hours the norm and ensuring even renting is beyond our kids dreams? That is Toryism post 2015; that is Organised Spivvery in action.

So my first year as a Unite Community member can be summed up as : exhilerating, educational, dynamic and the most wonderful aspect the Tories will shudder at: EMPOWERING. Unite have given me the tools to effect change, and enabled me to become a real activist. Isn't that something you would want to join too?

I urge anyone in the community who wants to get their voice heard, campaign for their community, feel part of a vast movement of people v austerity and this government - Join Unite Community today!¬ You also receive the same benefits as full Unite members for only 50p pw !

Unite Community Membership Information