"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Why I marched on the 26th of March and what happened next. Clarice makes an appearance and gets lost.

On Friday, the day before the TUC 'March for the Alternative' a twitter hashtag was: #whyiammarching and individuals were sending in comments [in 140 characters or less!] their reasons for proposing to march the next day. [Click on the link to go to the Unite page and see the tweets] My union, Unite, asked for 'contributions' and tweeted these too so the tweet I contributed reached greater numbers than usual!

My tweet read: "So that my grandchildren will not have to experience the same lifestyles my grandparents had". OK, not the best grammar but 140 characters and spaces desires compromise and the sentiment was more important. Amongst the replies I received was one from an Oxford undergrad [alleged] who suggested: "do you know how ridiculous that sounds, and how little economic sense it makes?" Obviously no ex-lecturer likes to be called ridiculous by an under-grad. And that sort of remark would have my family ducking because they know how much I would savour a [pacifist] scrap like this! So I rose to the bait and retorted: "I am 60.* My grandparents did not have NHS, uni education, social security, pension. My grandchildren are facing the same. Ridiculous?" [I have added in punctuation because I can only bear so much] *I don't look it

wo more 'flurries' resulted: Undergrad: "show me where govt says it will abolish the nhs, uni education, social security and pensions. Then I'll withdraw my comment." Me: "Oh pedantic one that's why we are marching! To make sure these RIGHTS for which my grandparents worked are not destroyed/lost" **

For whatever reason that was the last I heard from my interlocutor. But this exchange illustrates why I and so many hundreds of thousands of others were marching through London yesterday - from fear not only of what we ourselves may be losing but of what the future generations may never have.

Anyway, the march was a fantastic time [the violence away from the main events will be discussed later] - its just such a shame that it needed something as drastic as the actions of this Government to bring us all together.
The crowd was peaceful and happy and friendly. Other Half and I had lots of friends marching throughout the gathering - of course none of us got to meet up in the 'swell' of humanity, but all of us were friends. To paraphrase [badly] Wordsworth:

Upon our side, we who were strong in right! Bliss was it on that day to be there!/em>

So many were marching - not just from all the unions and political groupings but actor unions, muscians unions, Liverpool Football supporters, climate change activists - even pensioners'
 groups. Celebrities [Tony Robinson was one of the march leaders] , off duty police officers and many, many more. Brass Bands, Steel bands, Bagpipes. Trade Union and Political Party Banners. Families with young children. Heartbreaking to see so many disabled activists who felt they had to take part and protest to save their living standards.

Along Oxford Street there were 'alternative' venues including actors Sam and Timothy West 'doing' impromptu play readings; comedians Josie Long and Mark Thomas 'doing' stand-up; music; poetry readings and more. Fortnum & Mason's in Regent Street was occupied by peaceful protestors who were singing and poetry reading.

Of course I can't ignore the nasty scenes in Regent Street during the afternoon. Violence is abhorrent, but I can also only regret that the media seemed to give far more attention in proportion to the very, very few violent yobs who had nothing to do with the far greater majority of the marchers.

I had spoken to a policeman on Regent Street BEFORE the march and he said they were expecting violence. There were so many policeman around Oxford Circus and along Regent Street before the march started, very many more than I saw in total along the route of the march and at the end of the march yet the violent ones were still 'allowed' to take hold*.
These few [in terms of the mass of protestors in London on the day] attacked Fortnum and Mason's from the outside and had NO LINKS with the peaceful protestors inside. And worse, the PEACEFUL #UKuncut protestors inside Fortnum's were arrested after being told they were free to leave. I think it is important that questions should be asked about some of the police strategies yesterday. I really hope however that the policeman we saw injured on the news last night is not badly hurt and that those responsible have been caught.

Addition 28th January *According to a guest on Radio 4's Today programme on 28th January, Dr Alan Finlayson [Swansea Uni's reader in politics] those responsible for the violence were most probably from a 'black bloc'. To hear this interview go to http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/new... To read more about a 'black bloc' go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_bloc

As someone remarked to me today - at any large event there are always trouble makers - usually nothing to do with the main event - just those who turn up, be it at a football match, rock festival, demo to cause trouble. The media concentrating on them makes them more eager to do such acts in future.

The photograph above shows a marcher just before she set off, trying to make sense of a map. I believe she was last seen wandering around Camden Lock. If anyone finds her please report to me, she is my twin sister Clarice.

At the same time as the 'undergrad discussion' I was also having a really interesting lingusistic discussion with another tweeter. I love twitter!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Not in My Name

Updated 22nd March after the vote in the House of Commons with voting details on Libyan Action
see bottom of page

Along with over a million others, I marched in late 2002 and early 2003 on the peace marches against our collaboration with the US in the Iraq 'situation' in order to wipe out "weapons of mass destruction". So obviously this week's news about the UN Resolution 1973 instituting a No Fly Zone over Libya has made me feel very miserable - and to put it very mildly - uncomfortable.

The Prime Minister has announced his intention of providing military support. He has been backed in this by the leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, who also happens to be the leader of the political party to which I belong. So perhaps others would expect me to support my leader, but here I am repeating the marching cry from 2002/3 to say to Cameron and Milliband that their statements are definitely "Not in My Name".

There is of course a difference this time. In 2003 Britain - along with the US - took their military powers into Iraq without the sanction of a UN resolution. Arguments as to whether or not it was a legal invasion are still continuing - in my view and that of other pacifists and marchers is it certainly was not a moral action.

People tend to think that for me, being a Pacifist, it is an easy option. Perhaps they think I just hear the word 'military action' and kind of 'opt out'. It actually doesn't work like that. I have written a bit about the kind of soul searching involved here: http://rephidimstreet.blogspot.com/2010/11/remembrance-and-pacifism.html
And when something like the events of Thursday and Friday of this week happen, soul searching of a different type take place. In all honesty I can imagine a defensive position where I would agree to some sort of direct action - but it would have to be an absolutely last resort - and this does not apply here, especally as I still have reservations as to the motives of those countries who are offering military 'support' now.

If, as they say, the leaders of these countries are so concerned about Gaddafi - whom I agree is a tyrant and despot - and the wider Middle East I do have a few questions for them:
1.Why now?
2.Why Libya and not, say, Bahrain, Yemen etc?
3.Does the word OIL have anything to do with your decision?
4.If - as you claim - you have thought for a long time Gaddafi is so dangerous, why did so many UN countries [including the UK] continued to sell arms to his regime?
5.A question to David Cameron - if we cannot afford to finance the Disability Living Allowance, the NHS as it is, Police force ditto, Social Services ditto, School buildings ditto, need to raise University tuition fees and all the other 'cuts' - how can we afford to offer military assistance?

Regarding point number 5 above there is a marvellous song by Robb Johnson: More Than Enough. I have been trying to find the lyrics to it or a Youtube link, to no avail so I will try to transcribe it when I have a spare moment. It can be heard on the CD Sit Down & Sing by Roy Bailey with Martin Simpson & John Kirkpatrick. It does contain the lines:

There's always the money for missiles and tanks
There's always the money for generals and banks
There's always the money for new ways to kill
But limited budgets for you if you're ill
Yes there's always enough for a war
But never enough for the poor

I heard Tony Benn on the radio yesterday [Friday 18th] speaking against UK intervention. He speaks such good sense. I wish I had his eloquence!

Great links, much better written than mine, on this subject. If anyone has any to add please 'comment' and I will add them:
A kind of 'Man on the Clapham Omnibus' point of view: http://tinyurl.com/6yhucph
John Baron MP press release: http://pressreleases.johnbaron.co.uk/archives/529

Voting details taken from BBC news webpage: errors and ommissions are therefore theirs!

Fifteen MPs (13 voted against plus two "tellers") against:Conservative: John Baron (Basildon & Billericay).

Labour: Graham Allen (Nottingham North), Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley), Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North), Barry Gardiner (Brent North), Roger Godsiff (Birmingham Hall Green), John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington), Linda Riordan (Halifax), Dennis Skinner (Bolsover), Mike Wood (Batley and Spen), Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran), Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South-East)

Green Party: Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion)

SDLP: Mark Durkan (Foyle), Margaret Ritchie (Down South)

The MPs who did not vote - either abstaining deliberately or because they were unable to be present - were:
Conservative: Greg Barker (Bexhill & Battle), Henry Bellingham (Norfolk North West), Peter Bone (Wellingborough), Conor Burns (Bournemouth West), Douglas Carswell (Clacton), Oliver Colville (Plymouth Sutton & Devonport), Nick de Bois (Enfield North), Alan Duncan (Rutland & Melton), Gerald Howarth (Aldershot), Edward Leigh (Gainsborough), Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West), David Lidington (Aylesbury), Peter Lilley (Hitchin & Harpenden), Jack Lopresti (Filton & Bradley Stoke), Stephen McPartland (Stevenage), Jesse Norman (Hereford & Herefordshire South), Owen Paterson (Shropshire North), Mark Reckless (Rochester & Strood), John Redwood (Wokingham), Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury), Mel Stride (Devon Central), Hugo Swire (Devon East), Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes), Gavin Williamson (Staffordshire South), Tim Yeo (Suffolk South)

Labour: Joe Benton (Bootle), Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles), Chris Bryant (Rhondda), David Cairns (Inverclyde), Michael Connarty (Linlithgow & Falkirk East), Rosie Cooper (Lancashire West), Frank Doran (Aberdeen North), Angela Eagle (Wallasey), Caroline Flint (Don Valley), Paul Flynn (Newport West), Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East), Tom Harris (Glasgow South), Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow), Jim Hood (Lanark & Hamilton East), George Howarth (Knowsley), Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central), Glenda Jackson (Hampstead & Kilburn), Sian James (Swansea East), Alan Keen (Feltham & Heston), Denis MacShane (Rotherham), Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham & Morden), Alison McGovern (Wirral South), Alan Meale (Mansfield), Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby), George Mudie (Leeds East), Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian), Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central), Marsha Singh (Bradford West), Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester South), Graham Stringer (Blackley & Broughton), Tom Watson (West Bromwich East), Dave Watts (St Helens North), David Winnick (Walsall North)

Liberal Democrat: Andrew George (St Ives), Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South)

Democratic Unionist Party: Gregory Campbell (Londonderry East), Nigel Dodds (Belfast North), Jim Shannon (Strangford), David Simpson (Upper Bann), Sammy Wilson (Antrim East).

SDLP: Dr Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast South)

Independent MPs: Lady Sylvia Hermon (Down North)

Photograph of the 2003 peace marches courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Not-in-my-name_banner,_Stop_The_War_demo.JPG

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Rallies and Demos

Whenever I am on a rally or a demonstration I think that they perform a four fold purpose. The first is to remind 'the powers that be' that the demonstrators have a grievance. The second is to inform the general public about that grievance. The third is to enrol extra support and lastly the fourth is the lovely feeling of solidarity and comradeship amongst the prostestors. [There is a fifth in my case which is that it also avoids housework but since that is a daily pre-occupation I cannot really count it in..]

So when we joined with others at the Southend Against The Cuts Rally yesterday, myself and Other Half came home tired but with a nice warm feeling. We had met up with old friends and marching comrades from other campaigns such as the Peace Marches and Anti-Trident Replacement marches as well as from other political meetings. It was good to catch up with Labour Party colleagues like Richard Howitt and Julian Ware-Lane and make new friends too. Also colleagues from other political parties and Trade Union comrades. There were of course friends from other campaigns in badges. Good speeches raised our morales even higher! And made us all feel primed for the TUC March for the Alternative on the 26th of March: http://marchforthealternative.org.uk/ or click on the blog title above.

The spring sun was warm and it was just a shame that the reason we were gathering together was to fight injustices.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Are Public Service Pensioners Being Demonised?

Starting the day by listening to Radio 4's Today programme is usually a good way to clear the overnight sleepfog from my brain and get the thinking parts working. This morning was not so good because my brain clicked straight into anger mode even before the breakfast cereal I was consuming had had chance to raise my blood sugars to a sufficient level to cope properly.

From this explanation, the photograph and the blog title you will probably have realised that I was listening to Lord Hutton talking about his just published independent review into Public Service Pensions {PSPs}

The main points, to quote briefly from the BBC News website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12703232 :

Lord Hutton's key recommendations included:

Linking the pensions of public sector pensions to average salaries over workers' careers, rather than their final salaries, possibly by 2015, to make pensions "affordable"

Aligning the public sector pension age to the state pension age, which will be 65 initially and is likely to reach 68 for men and women

Uniformed services, such as police and firefighters, working until 60

Honouring in full the pensions that workers have already built up in final-salary schemes.

The government has already accepted a previous recommendation of Lord Hutton that public servants should soon pay higher contributions.

The government said it would give the proposals "careful consideration".

Whilst Hutton explained that pensions earned so far should retain their link with final salaries he went on to say that future pensions earned should be built up in new 'career average schemes' - should be in place by 2015. These will be cheaper to fund whilst producing lower pensions unless members work longer to make up the difference.

There was much talk of how 'the taxpayer' could not continue to pay the 'generous' pensions that so many Public Sector Pensioners are now receiving. But what no-one seems to be pointing out is that the present pension payments are really deferred wages - they have been promised to the retirees in past negotiated wage agreements and have formed part of employment contracts over the past years. Any Pension scheme member will have planned their retirements whilst taking into account what money will be coming in - from savings and pensions [private, state and employment] Whether their employment was as a nurse, a banker or a factory worker etc it is obviously to those pensioners an important form of their life savings.

The fact that there is no 'pension pot' to fund PSP pensions and therefore 'the taxpayer' is paying those pensions is not the fault of the PSP pensioners. That money was promised to them - therefore those who promised it should be held to account. By keep repeatinging 'the taxpayer' is funding the pensions it seems as if those 'taking' the PSP pensions are as 'bad' as all the 'social security scroungers' everyone seems to know about but few ever actually really know. [Bankers' massive bonuses and George's Osbournes trust fund were never mentioned as comparisons btw]

So the PSP pensioners - what do they do with these generous amounts of money? Do they rush off to their villas in the sun and their third and fourth houses abroad and buy items of foreign luxuries boosting those economies? They may of course save for a foreign holiday - but most of their extra monies will probably be spent in this country on replacing goods and employing household services. And if they really are getting so much money that they 'don't deserve' - well like all the other 'high earners' there will be tax bills to pay!

The Unions have already spoken of strike action if talks on these problems are not solved amicably. And of course there have been many commentators on both sides, on the radio in the press and undoubtedly on BBC Question Time tonight. But one view from the 'other side' which really surprised me was in a press release, part of which was also quoted on the BBC website:

Ros Altmann, a former government pensions adviser and now director of Saga, said: "Lord Hutton's recommendations on public sector pensions have led to calls for industrial action by public sector unions, but the reality is that his proposals will still leave them with hugely generous pensions that most private sector workers could never hope to achieve."

What do you call a 'hugely generous pension'? Please remember that PSP retirees have always earnt during their working lives lower wages than those in the private sector on the promise of these 'generous' pensions. Truth is these PSP pensions are around £4,000 - £5,000.

Lord Hutton was born in 1955 so I calculate he will probably become due for State Pension when he is 66. Whether that will be the only pension he has to rely on is another matter.

Photograph is courtesy of Wkipedia

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

To all my wonderful Female Ancestors on International Women's Day 2011

Today [8th March] is International Women's Day. So Peace, Love, Greetings and Solidarity to all Women everywhere.

As it is the Global 100th anniversary of International Women's Day it is a good day to reflect on the achievement of Women worldwide - yet how far do many Women in under developed countries [and some so called developed countries] still have to 'travel' to achieve equality with men?

Because I am writing in the UK I wanted to reflect on the changes in Women's conditions and rights since the times of my mother, grandmothers and great grandmothers and think about how the changes in society and economic affairs, medical advances and education have changed from their generations to mine, my daughters' and my granddaughter's'. All of us have been around during the 100 years of the 'International Women's Day' celebrations. Obviously - being me - I will have to add a few political comments on how proposed present Government cuts could affect women in future...

Each of my great-grandmothers have been described at various times by various descendants as 'a strong woman' [sometimes the adjective has not been so kind as 'strong'!] But to survive in those times [last forty years of the 19th century onwards] working class women as my great grandmothers were, had to be 'strong'.

One great grandmother was widowed aged just over thirty with three children aged under five. If one could not support oneself the only 'state help' was the workhouse - so it seems as if she married a widower in an 'arrangement' in that she could look after his children and and he could support her and her children. They had one child between them who died at an early age and then the second husband died too. His children were now old enough to work to support themselves and my great grandmother married again. She outlived this husband too but at least her children were now old enough to support her. A not untypical story for the time.

My grandmothers had young children during the First World War. My English grandmother also worked in a munitions factory during the War, led a strike for better pay as the women workers [who got paid less than men, who also went on strike for more pay] could not manage on their pay even when, as in her case, she had a soldier's pay too [see http://rephidimstreet.blogspot.com/2010/08/is-political-activism-hereditary.html ] My Welsh grandmother had struggled feeding four small children when my grandfather was missing in action for many months after he was fighting in the Balkans. [He was eventually found, severely injured, in a French hospital and invalided out of the army. Happily he made a full recovery] Both grandmothers were nearly forty before they could vote despite having 'run' their families in these war years. Mind you, my grandfathers had fought for their country but couldn't vote for it until 1918 either!] My grandmothers finally got full equality with men to vote in 1928, when the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act was passed.

My mother fought against male discrimination all her life, but still made the tea at political meetings! [Not something that anyone has ever dared ask me to do!] I am just old enough to remember when one never saw a woman clerk on bank counters etc and most doctors were men. I remember the strike of the women sewing machinists at Ford Dagenham in 1968 for equal pay [see http://rephidimstreet.blogspot.com/2010/09/real-story-of-made-in-dagenham.html ] and the Equal Pay Act 1970.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s in several big banks and insurance offices women still had to ask 'permission' of thier bosses to get married! Also in the 1970s only half of a wife's salary was taken into account when a mortgage offer was calculated. In the 1970s I was actually sacked because I was pregnant and too ill to work!

Both of my daughters are in careers with the same salary scales whether a man or woman is in the job. Both are entitled to maternity leave. [As are men of course]

However although many would celebrate the fact that the 'glass ceiling' has now been raised for women in employment there are still plenty that would claim that it is only some that have managed to get through a few 'sky lights' in that ceiling. Many women are still exploited in employment - especially in the lower paid and part time areas. But then so are many men. This is still a part of our society that needs help, regulation and support and includes men and women, young and old, fit and sick. This is an area that I fear this present government is not so keen to help or address.

According to evidence from marriage licences and census returns three of my four g.great grandmothers could all read and write. The fourth could speak English and Welsh and also ran a little business from her home so I assume all were as educated as could be for their times. They all worked so hard and although the census returns showed that they were 'at home' and not working [even the fourth one!] they all had 'little jobs' to help out with the family economy.

My grandmothers were the first generation to benefit from the Elementary Education Act of 1870 [also known as 'Forster's Education Act'] which provided a basic schooling for all children between the ages of five and twelve. They were both extremely clever women - and one cannot help but wonder if they had had more opportunities what they could have achieved education wise. Both were voracious readers - my Welsh grandmother had a memory that could trip anyone up! My English grandmother was very active politically and argued down many a male!

My mother passed 'the scholarship' but her parents could not afford the uniform or 'extras' if she went to grammar school. She had to leave school at fifteen to help with the family economic situation and always regretted the education she had 'lost'. However again she was a great reader and self educator, very active politically, holding office and eventually became a Justice of the Peace.

I went to university, first of the women in my family. Both my daughters went to university, as an expectation of this modern society. But this now seems to be slipping away and I only hope that the policies of the current government regarding tuition fees which will be unaffordable by poorer families will have been reversed by the time my granddaughters reach university entrance age and they will not face the same educational disappointment as their great grandmother.

I have inherited a neurological condition from one of my greatgrandmothers - she had to spend [too often] three days at a time in bed to cope with it. No NHS in those days - and too expensive for the wife of an 'ordinary' working man to keep paying to see a doctor. So self-prescribed medicines and quite a miserable and painful life as she got older. I am treated by a top neurologist - who cannot cure but treats and alleviates the condition. I have also inherited [from whom is a mystery!] a rare blood condition which only became apparent mid-operation! A big thank you again to the NHS who saved my life on that occasion and made it possible for me to have any subsequent operations in safety - and more importantly so too my children who have unfortunately inherited not just my beauty [!] but my blood!

It has been shown in many reports that when the NHS was introduced in 1948 the number of working class women who would seek medical treatment had been previously underestimated. Many women had previously endured debilitating illnesses and symptoms because any spare cash for medical treatments or insurances had to be saved for the 'breadwinner' - if the man was too ill to work the whole family starved. Not only did women's health improve, but that too of their children as both pre-natal care improved and welfare clinics became more widespread.

Of course if this government manages to undermine the NHS and privatise many areas we may see a corresponding fall in the nation's health - especially amongst poorer women.

So a little personal reflection of my family women over the last 100 years. What is my conclusion? We all should celebrate International Women's Day and how far some women have travelled - but we must not sit back and congratulate ourselves. There are a lot of struggles still to undertake on behalf of the exploited everywhere in the world: women and men.

And for all those men sulking at being left out - it is Pancake Day too....

Friday, 4 March 2011

Enough! Stop the modern day vampires


I have used the image of Christopher Lee as Dracula purposely as I know that a lot of people have issues with images of blood/transfusions and I do not want to be responsible for collapses at the keyboard. It also stands as a metaphor for the way the Coalition Government is sucking the life blood/vitality from the electorate. Thanks to freemooviesonline.com for its use

It seems that these days I seem to be shouting more and more 'Whatever are they going to do next?' 'They' of course being this ludicrous Coalition government. [A commentator on another blog site whom I respect slated those of us still calling the Government 'the condem government' suggesting that it made those who used the expression sound like wishy washy lefties or some such phrase. Fair enough but I actually felt that using that phrase showed that I felt that this government is Condemning us to some dreadful future. And I love it when the character Frank Gallagher in Channel 4's Shameless rants about the 'ConDemNation' every Tuesday evening. But I digress.]

So what have they done now and why am I so angry and ranting today? I have already had a rant and blogged about the proposals to cut the number of Coastguard stations and AirSea Rescue Services. Likewise the Libraries. I have facebooked, tweeted and signed petitions about the proposals to sell off/privatise the forests, Save our NHS, cuts to the World Service, proposals for a Robin Hood Tax and more. I have blogged and ranted generally about the State of Society that could lead us back to 19thC ideals of the way to 'issue' welfare to 'deserving poor' and talked about the proposed cuts to the Disability
Living Allowance. I am ready to march on the 26th of March and drumming up as much support and as many people to come with me as I can. I retweet and support as much as I can all the UKuncut wonderful campaigners. The students who protested and are still protesting about the hike in tuition fees know I am their friend and behind them all the way. I have questioned the ideal of the 'Big Society', whilst also pointing out that our current society could not exist without all the volunteers we have already. And more. So what's new?


Please someone tell me that April Fools Day has been brought forward to March 5th. Tell me I am asleep and dreaming this. And go to the Unite website [click on the blog title above] or join the facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Blood-money-Stop-the-National-Blood-Service-sell-off/198998116785090?sk=wall and PROTEST

Breaking News: Unite have set up a petition:

Please sign and pass link to others