"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/

Monday 21 May 2012

Put Out More Flags*

Here's the thing. I am not patriotic as such - I worry that patriotism can lead to the sort of nationalism that can lead to wars. But I do believe that one should try to make where one lives a better place and in fact one has a duty so to do.

Also I love a good celebration. So I am not adverse to joining in with the odd jubilee party, with a few reservations of course!

Firstly, I am not paying extra for stuff like iced cakes just because instead of the usual pink or yellow icing they are iced in red & blue & white. Come on! And wrapping a loaf of bread in a red, white and blue plastic bag will not make me buy it for the sandwiches over the Co-op's own - when they are placed on the table who sees the wrapping!

Secondly, all the 'tat' [aka 'memorabilia'] that is being sold in the name of the jubilee celebrations is really winding me up - especially as so much is as made not in the UK - if we want to get souvenirs, we could still make our own or ensure that any we do buy is made in the UK or commonwealth, couldn't we?

Thirdly - and to me most importantly - the Union flags and bunting. This can actually be quite divisive to many of our citizens. Very many of us are not completely 'British'. And even those who are, may feel - as I do - that it has never been fair to those of us with Welsh blood that the Union flag does not represent all the UK nations. [Don't start with the 'Wales is a principality argument'. It does not wash with us] So this set me off thinking. Rather than exclude all those in these islands who feel excluded by the Union flag, lets all fly flags that are important to us along side it.

So I have just got out some of the flags which are important to me and which I have marched under at various times, or flown from my front door! Of course I had to take a photo and in no particular order: the Red Flag, the Peace Flag, my Union Flag [Unite], the Union Flag [checking that it is the right way up], the Welsh Dragon and St David's Flags.

So lets all Put Out More Flags, celebrate what is important to us and our differences and have a good Bank Holiday!

This blog was inspired by Bethan Jenkins AM

*This is the title of a novel by Evelyn Waugh. The titles are the only things Waugh and I have in common.

Monday 14 May 2012

Oh what a Circus, Oh what a show! Or what did the Olympics do for us?

Yes, I have mashed up two famous shows/films in this blog title. The first half is from the title song to the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita, the second half is a misquote from Monty Python's Life of Brian In case it is thought this blog is a show business review, read on Dear Reader...

I don't think that Elizannie would make a good spy. Taking the above photograph last night, in Kent Avenue, Dagenham and trying to be unobtrusive, didn't sit lightly on my shoulders. Firstly I am not that handy with a camera [well actually it was my 'phone, don't own a camera] and secondly I need a lot of time to 'frame' and get the 'subject' in the right place. And the fact that I was taking the picture out of a car window and the car was moving, albeit slowly, wasn't helping. And waiting until the two burly security men on the gate about 200 hundred yards away were looking the other way also wasn't helping. I developed a shake. It wasn't until I got home and enlarged the picture on my laptop that I realised the notice just showing on the left hand side of the picture says:
Warning: Surveillance cameras are operating in this car park.
If I had seen this at the time camera shake would have been even more interesting.....

So why have I taken a snap of this 'Big Top'? Well it is actually the rehearsal area for the opening and closing ceremonies of the forthcoming Olympics. OK, this has to be done somewhere and as you can all see, this appears to be a pretty deserted and unloved piece of ground. But I see the whole area as a metaphor for how much Britain - and its workforce - has changed in the past ten years or so.

Until just over ten years ago, since 1931, this site housed one of the major manufacturing areas of the Ford Motor Company in Britain. It was opened by the first Edsel Ford and at its peak of vehicle production it was producing 1200 cars a day and had a two shift pattern. It employed up to 30,000 people. I grew up near to this plant and at shift change time one couldn't cross the main roads for the employees flooding from the factory gates. Happy times.

One hundred years ago this ground was marsh land surrounding Dagenham Docks - looking out over the Thames. After WW1 reclamation work started and Ford bought the land and built their factory there. Lots of my family were employed there. The site was like a little industrial village - it had its own foundry (since closed and moved to Germany. Some workers in the Dagenham factory contracted asbestosis); a Power Station [which used to contribute to the National Grid]; a Medical Centre [which saved the NHS a lot of money in minor injury treatments. I was even treated there in my very short career with Ford]; an apprentice training building – 350 were started each year in the 1960s and at that time all were expected to be found a job at the end of their apprenticeship; a Stamping Die and Assembly tool room - in other words this plant was more or less self sufficient. The local shops looked after the workers well, f'r instance the local barbers could provide a 3/6p haircut while the bus you hopped off waited for traffic to move at shift change over in Chequers Lane - true story!! Another true story, to illustrate how cutting edge the plant and its engineering was over the years, is the fact that the first KUKA assembly robots in the UK automotive industry were used there.

But life moves on, the little shops that served the workers have closed and when Ford [like other large manufacturers] decided it had to 'rationalise' globally, it was its UK plants that were closed and employees who lost their jobd. The work from the UK was sent to Ford plants in different areas of the world where although labour costs are higher than in the UK they cannot close plants because labour laws in those countries make it impossible to get rid of employees in the way they can be dispensed with in the UK. Although ironically Ford still expects to sell its products here, failing to understand that the redundant workers are unable to find new jobs and cannot afford to buy new cars etc.

Meanwhile successive British governments, who have given regional grants to manufacturers here, like Ford, in the past, happily wave goodbye to such manufacturers. Last week we had the sickening sight of David Cameron and Nick Clegg in what was once a Ford owned Tractor Plant in Basildon, Essex burbling on about how it is manufacturing industry that is going to save our nation and relieve us of the deficit.

But how? We have so little manufacturing industry left - compared to, say, forty years ago. Worryingly, so much knowledge and experience has also been lost. Engineers are not valued in this country, in fact I signed a petition Make 'Engineer' a protected title just last month. [When we lived in Germany an Engineer was considered as one of the professions. Here it is looked down upon as 'dirty job' despite the number of qualifications required to fulfil the role and the amount of technical innovations that can bring revenue into the country] If you saw Dave & Nick on the news doing their double act last week you may have noticed a lack of enthusiasm in their audience of workers. Not far away, in the town, are many empty shops and factories where businesses have closed down due to the recession in the past few years. In fact just a couple of miles away stood the 'overflow' Ford factory for its Dagenham plant, built with the aid of a regional grant in the 1950s. That factory closed in 2009 with the loss of many jobs.

So from Marsh land to Industrial Giant to Olympic Rehearsal site. Where next? There was talk about a prison being built there but plans have changed. Some talk of a housing estate, although local services would be severely stretched one would think. Another factory to employ the many unemployed in the area, provide apprenticeships for the young in the area and fund growth in the area by sourcing satellite industries and financing small shops. Sounds good doesn't it? It happened in 1931. With a bit of Government encouragement it could happen again and in other such areas in the UK. If they really meant what they said last week.

The photograph was taken not far from the River Thames. Fire fighters and ARP wardens used to watch the aircraft from all nations flying up and down the Thames from the roof of the Ford Buildings here in WW2.

Thursday 10 May 2012

The Degredation of the Unemployed

Not a snappy/humourous title. Probably not a snappy/humourous picture when I eventually add one. I am feeling fed up today. Being fed up with this government is a usual and unremarkable state, but watching the slow disintegration of a close friend due to the way he is being treated in the search for employment is not so usual - luckily - for us and we are finding it hard. Not so hard as he, obviously, but knowing that too many other millions like him are also suffering and remembering how one hundred years ago this was a too normal state and wondering if this government is using rocketing unemployment as a way of ensuring a cheap labour pool for future employers is terrifying.

If you have been reading earlier blogs you will know about our friend's struggle to find another job after his third redundancy in six months. His employment history is on those earlier blogs so it is not repeated here. But with the loss of his own business a few years ago and his gradual descent through a sucession of jobs which are lessening in both skill and remuneration seems to mirror the manufacturing history of the country since Maggie Thatcher was Prime Minister. She appeared to set out to destroy manufacturing in Britain and in that she was very successful - and if we look at the figures in this Guardian article we can see that this probably contributed to what the Guardian is suggesting that 'this recession is now worse than the 1930s'.

Back to my job-seeking friend, who thought he couldn't be treated much worse by the officials at the job centre. [He is not blaming individuals, who are enforcing rules 'from above' - government, I mean] Yesterday he was sent for a job making sandwiches - at the minimum wage [it will become clear why this is in bold and repeated, read on] to the town about 3 miles away. Not at all what he is qualified to do, but hey, it is a bit of money after all. And he could get there by bike. He was told if he didn't go to the interview his allowance would be stopped, but that wasn't his incentive to go, especially as he is still waiting for that allowance to start after 6 weeks of unemployment.

So he arrives at the interview which has been set up with further job centre officials, to be told that he has to attend a further interview at a larger town 20 miles away. The official asked how my friend would get there, when he replied 'by car if you will pay the petrol', he was told that petrol money was not given - only public transport costs. He replied, 'fair enough I'll go by train', only to be told that since he had said he had a car, he had to go by car... Oh, and my friend was told to shave off his beard as it didn't look good at an interview [Other Half definitely not impressed at this. Neither was I, very partial to a man with a beard, me. Remember the Brian Blessed kiss?]

The interview was at 8pm last night [thats OK, unemployed are not entitled to have a social life, are they?] Five other men and six women were at wat amounted to a quasi seminar. Remember this is for a minimum wage position. And then the crowning glory of it all. The position[s] were actually in a large town roughly 80 miles, halfway around the M25 to us. I googled the best way to get there [remember this is for a minimum wage position and these were the alternatives:

Suggested routes
71.1 mi, 1 hour 32 mins
In current traffic: 1 hour 52 mins
72.4 mi, 1 hour 33 mins
In current traffic: 1 hour 50 mins
79.5 mi, 1 hour 33 mins
In current traffic: 1 hour 35 mins
1 hour 56 mins
Public Transport (3 transfers

I don't know if I mentioned that this is for position which pays the minimum wage and the hours are from 6.00am to 3.00pm. It is actually impossible to get to the town by public transport as our trains - although we are on a mainline - do not run all through the night. I looked up the cost of Public Transport via train however and a daily return when the trains are running would be - and this is the cheapest off peak fare - £26.10p. Go figure

This would be funny if it wasn't so tragic. And it is tragic. Whilst I have been typing this, my friend was actually visiting his GP for his annual asthma check-up. To his shock and horror, the GP asked if there was anything worrying him as he thought he may have had a mini-stroke and sent him to the local hospital for tests. What my friend has been putting down to anxiety due to his unemployment and general lack of money issues the doctor sees as symptoms of a stroke. He is 43 years old, apart from sporadic asthma generally fit and a non-smoker.

If I started this blog feeling fed-up, I cannot describe how I feel now. I am sitting here trying to think what to do, who to lobby, who to annoy. If you can help me to raise awareness of all those in this situation, please do.

The photograph is as grey as this story. Unemployed on the Hunger Marches in S.Wales in the 1930s. Enough said.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

The Day that Murdoch [should have] cried*

This is, by any measure, an astonishing thing (HT @DeborahJan... on Twitpic

I have never admired Rupert Murdoch since his company took over the Sun newspaper in 1969. As I wrote on the 20th July last year:
I have to declare my interest here. I have never liked Rupert Murdoch's business style or ethos. He bought The Sun in 1969, five years after it had morphed from the sadly missed Labour Party Daily Herald into a new left leaning broadsheet called The Sun in 1964. Rupert Murdoch then changed it into the tabloid that everyone knows today. My father was a lobby correspondent on the old Daily Herald and transferred to the new Sun until his death in 1967. I have never bought The Sun since 1969.

A headline to a Guardian article today giving the findings of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee declares:
Rupert Murdoch 'not fit' to lead major international company, MPs conclude.
Select committee also says James Murdoch showed 'wilful ignorance' of extent of phone hacking at News of the World

Here is a link to the Guardian Report.

Do I sound vindictive? That honestly is not the intention. This morning I was discussing press releases with a comrade and we were lingering for some time over exact wording and ensuring that an MP was not mis-quoted. Something I consider even more important now that newspaper quotes can be disseminated even further afield thanks to the internet. Its a shame that the Murdochs of this world did not take their respnsibilities so seriously. They besmirch the good name of good journalists and media commentators everywhere.

And before it is too late, Fraternal May Day greetings to you all!

*Apologies to Don McLean and American Pie