Archive for the ‘social justice’ Category

Election fever?

“The entertainment starts now” …. 01.04.2015
Background: The author, still deaf (no improvement from yesterday, sadly) is a life-long (well, so far!) Trade Unionist, having served “stints” in the T&GWU, APEX, MSF, Unison, and most of all, GMB. In the dark ages, he was an active Labour Party member – in Westbury CLP (that was really DARK for Labour!) and in Cardiff North, serving as the CLP Secretary for a few years. He left, for a decade or so, because he wasn’t a fan of New Labour, but has been cajoled and persuaded to re-join about a year ago – now living in Cardiff South & Penarth. Trouble is, he’s not sure now it was a good idea; especially as he is not a huge fan of the sitting MP. Apparently, there is a General Election called – who to vote for ….. Cue much angst, and pray for wit.
Of course, there is a really good reason to vote Labour, and to install “Ed” in #10 …. Like most decent people, I think that anything – ANYTHING – that motivates the vile and attention-desperate individual, called Katie Hopkins, to leave the country has got to be a good reason. Trouble is, we all know she won’t honour that pledge, just like the succession of others in the past (Griff Rhys Jones, Myleene Klass, Michael Caine, Phil Collins etc.), they all talk big but always whine away into the background. So, I need another reason …
Let’s look at my options, based on those declared candidates to date:
1. First out of the trap, and producing eye-wateringly expensive leaflets – three to date – (heavy duty card, multi-coloured and glossy finished) was UKIP. (I hope someone is keeping track of his election expenses?) He appears to be a lawyer of some description, and – as yet – hasn’t said anything outrageous (which puts him at odds with the bulk of his party!). He’s fibbed a bit, mostly about UKIP’s intentions for the NHS.
UKIP, to my thinking, is a single-issue, single-personality party. Other than Europe, their policies seem – at best – muddled, contradictory often, and rushed. The whole package seems to be centred on “that bloke down the pub”, Nigel “hate Europe, but happy to take millions from it, and, ooh, married a German” Farage. The outer veneer of respectability and “matiness” has begun to slip, as more and more refugees from the extreme right jump aboard. Ironic really, when you consider what he thinks of refugees and “asylum seekers” (wrong sort of asylum, Nige!).
Could I vote for them? I think the phrase “NOT in a million years” springs to mind.
2. Next to appear were TUSC. Lone female, looking desperately nervous (am I that scary?  ) and not really listening when I said, “I’ve not got me hearing aid in, can you hang on?” Muttered something unintelligible, thrust a cheaply produced leaflet at me, and legged it. Didn’t seem to canvass anyone else in my street, so I appear to be “special!” (I’ve long suspected this …). Usual shopping list of unobtainable demands, albeit I believe the sincerity is, at least, authentic.
I’m tempted. I know the candidate, but that won’t put me off! He’s a former Unison activist and involved in virtually every cause in town. Bless him, he even reminds me of me, when a lot younger (only I was better looking, Ross), but is this not simply a wasted protest, because we know he isn’t going to save his deposit, let alone win?
No one else has delivered a leaflet yet, but I am aware of others standing …..
3. Those lovely people from the Conservative party, of course. On the basis that I do not want former mentors and peers, sadly no longer with us, to come back and haunt me, that is never going to happen. Nothing would, or could, induce me to vote for a party so clearly motivated by the interests of the few. I detest Cameron, Osborne, Gove, May, Hague, and the like. No one sums up better their attitude than the idiot former Foreign Secretary, Malcolm “I’m entitled” Rifkind (yes, I know Jack Straw was also caught in that sting; equally greedy, but not equally stupid in his defence answer).
We have a “PR-PM” (someone else’s wit, not mine).
The Labour Party of Gordon Brown is NOT responsible for the global melt-down in the Finance world; far from causing it, most sensible pundits acknowledge he saved us from the worst effects. It was big banks greed, big banks arrogance and big banks incompetence that caused it. Austerity and deficits are THEIR responsibility alone. No wonder they want Cameron & co. to continue; they’ve let them off and bludgeoned most into believing it was someone else’s fault other than theirs.
4. The coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats … Like many, I used to have a bit of a “soft spot” (a marshy bog in Somerset!) for the well-intentioned, slightly dotty, street lighting & dog poo party. I even liked Vince Cable at one point, and read his book. They are now a busted flush, because in power, they have been found severely wanting. At least I no longer feel any sympathy for them; their image is now clear. They are Tories, pure and simple.
5. Plaid Cymru ~ the Party of Wales. Trouble is, there isn’t one Wales anymore, and – consequently – PC has become almost a coalition of itself. I like Leanne Wood a lot (for those outside Wales, she is the Party leader; a Rhondda girl and very much a Socialist). I am fortunate enough to have known her in the past, when we both worked for the Probation Service, and she is an attractive personality. She speaks well, has strong principles and radiates trust. Unfortunately, she is already a sitting AM (Welsh Assembly member) so is not a candidate for Westminster. Instead, the local candidate is a deselected Labour politician (there are a few of them in Plaid!), and he isn’t as charismatic as Leanne.
The reality is that, even if they won all 40 of the seats they will contest (those in Wales) they are not going to govern. They’re pinning their hopes on influencing a hung parliament, along with the SNP in Scotland. Truth is, the best they will achieve is possibly – at the very best – 4 or 5 seats, mostly in North West Wales or West Wales. The bulk of the seats, largely in the South East, they will – as usual – struggle in. They also have problems internally, as former personalities petulantly speak out and detract from a single message. Add to that, they have a small number of “anti-English at any price” extremists … hardly welcoming to an English boy like me!
6. The Greens – I like Caroline Lucas, the solitary Green MP in Brighton; I even like some of their objectives, but they have been found wanting under a bigger spotlight. The current leader – Natalie Bennett – seems out of her depth, and has said some truly stupid things, when she actually stopped coughing at awkward questions. Sorry, they have lost all credibility to me.
7. There was, at one point, a chance of a Class War candidate!! Always good knockabout stuff from the Anarchists, but – sadly – the candidate has withdrawn.
8. Which leaves me with Labour ….. Sigh. I really want to believe; I really want to want to vote for them. Leaving aside the sitting MP, a professional, careerist with a sizeable chip on his shoulder and who blocks people on social media who dare to question him (yep, me included & I’m a constituent AND a party member!), the party seems – to me – ultra-cautious, apologetic (even for things they aren’t responsible for) and unimaginative. They have become obsessed with appearing like the Conservatives, only slightly less so. Why??
I know I am an “old fart” nowadays, but I still believe in the “Attlee” approach of building your way out of a recession. Invest in public facilities (schools, hospitals); build social housing; improve the infrastructure (and I don’t mean waste £50billion+ on shaving a few minutes off train travel to Birmingham from London!). There is so much that could be done, with interest rates at an all-time low. Put people to work building things; not rely on a discredited service sector that makes bugger all, other than large personal bonuses.
Sadly, I hear nothing from anyone in the Labour Party on these lines. I am in a quandary. I have never abstained at an election since reaching voting age; I have usually voted Labour at every opportunity too (where they stood a candidate).
They have four weeks to convince me …..


Update 2014: Still deaf . . . . .

Back in 2011, when I first started my (thankfully?!) brief blogging venture, I mostly spoke about my experiences as someone with a hearing impairment. My belief then, further reinforced by events since, was that “society” has a relatively poor understanding of “disability”. Politicians, and the agencies of the government (DWP, etc.) have an even worse one!

Whenever Westminster wants a soft target to garner media attention, they usually focus on “benefits” in general, and – often – the sick &/or the disabled in particular. The national press, and not just the usual suspects of the Sun, the Mail and the Express, lap it up, and go mad trying to find someone who may be abusing the system. [DWP/ government statistics unfailingly show that the % of fraud is miniscule. If you want big numbers, look at tax avoidance …]

First up; ANY system – no matter how sophisticated – will always have a small number of people who find a way of cheating it. Just look at Parliament and MPs expenses ….
Concentrate of catching the cheats, not on a high profile campaigns to make the genuine feel ashamed of claiming. Usually these result in the elderly, or the mentally ill cutting themselves adrift and becoming isolated.

Secondly, can someone please explain to the policy makers that “disability” means many different things to many different people. The disabled are NOT a homogeneous group with identical, or even similar, needs and problems There are different levels of impairment, and different people – for reasons of confidence, for reasons of support (or lack of!) or simple attitude – cope in different ways.

Two people with very similar degrees of the same disability will, quite possibly, cope very differently. The individual needs assessing, NOT the disability.

Similarly, can someone please explain that not all disabilities are visually obvious. The sight impaired sometimes have a nice cuddly Labrador, and the mobility impaired sometimes have wheelchairs – both clear indications of a problem (and, sadly, often an invitation for some to patronise!); BUT, many disabilities are invisible.

You’d have to look hard to see my hearing aid, especially when I’m not wearing it :-). Then there are serious, life-changing conditions like Crohns Disease, heart disease, lung disorders, and a whole host of others. There is also the “Cinderella” of all disabilities – the issue of mental health, still stigmatised in the twenty first century.

I spent nearly 25 years in welfare rights – with the CABx, with the Probation Service and with a local authority. I know from personal experience of thousands of clients, that simply paying a weekly stipend to bugger off and stay at home is no solution; but neither is a unrealistic workfare programme with non-jobs and intimidating sanctions.

This is still one of the richest nations on the planet. We can – apparently – afford two aircraft carriers at countless billions, even though we don’t have any aircraft to fly from them. We can afford £224 million penalties on cancellation of a failed contract for the Borders Agency. We can even afford to consider replacing a nuclear weapons system in a world where the real threat is often in our own communities ….

Surely, we can afford to spend a bit of time on finding long term, realistic ways of supporting our own people? The quality of a society is measured on how it treats its most disadvantaged, not on how draconian it is to them.


Am I TOO sensitive? Am I f. . . !

Recent events have made me realise, even more, how intolerant a society we are at times.

It has also raised my personal estimation of the long-term disabled to a stratospheric level.

Allow me to elaborate.

Regular readers (both of you!) will – by now – know that I am severely hearing impaired. Whilst having no hearing in my left ear since birth (mine was always a Mono world), I managed to reach the Grand Old Age of 52 before a virus caused the right one to fail. I use a hearing aid, to amplify sound to a level where I can make some sense of it, but – in truth – it isn’t volume alone that is the problem, it is clarity too. No hearing aid can improve that, sadly.

The hearing aid can help, but it also has a negative side. First, it causes “sweatiness” and an increased risk of additional infections. Imagine walking around all day, every day, with your finger in your ear. Not comfortable, is it. Then there is the problem of traffic. I live and work in a large, bustling City – Cardiff. Love it. Wouldn’t want to live anywhere else now. Almost a “local” – after 26 years.

The difficulty is that traffic makes a lot of unpleasant noise; engines revving, squealing brakes, horns and hooters, irate motorists, etc. – anyway, it is not what I want to hear, so I frequently remove my hearing aid when in town. Popping it in to talk in shops or in cafes takes seconds, and I keep it in its neat little case in my top pocket. I have to use my eyes more, because the same traffic I don’t want to hear can also run me over!, but – to date – I have coped.

Yesterday, whilst awaiting a bus to County Hall in Cardiff, I was verbally abused – by a tourist, I think (he had a Tourist map of Cardiff in his hands) – and this reminded me of the other, too many sadly, occasions that I have suffered similar. The incident, in itself was not major; but it is part of a culmination of a society that is increasingly intolerant and aggressive to the disabled.

As I said, I was awaiting a bus; sitting in a bus stop outside the Hilton Hotel, watching the Irish Rugby Squad board their coach. Said “Tourist” (no idea if he was Irish!) approached, and – I presume – asked directions (he had that look and was pointing at his map).

I responded thus (as I had removed my hearing aid, as mentioned earlier); “Sorry, I can’t hear you but . . ” – I didn’t get any further than that, because he – literally – went ape-shit on me. He started ranting, no idea about what because I was still fumbling for my hearing aid, and then he stormed off. From his body language, his facial expressions and from his colouration (going puce), he clearly thought I was being unhelpful. If he had waited a second longer, my sentence was going to end, “. . .  if you hang on a second, I’ll put my hearing aid in and will be glad to help you bwtti“.

OK. No one was physically hurt. No blood was spilled. The little old lady next to me was a tad upset at it, but she was ok. If I wasn’t getting on and not as quick as I used to be, I should have decked him one, but that would definitely terrified the old dear, so probably best I didn’t.

I should also add a few personal points. I am a smidgen under 6 foot tall; about 17+ stone, and after 40+ years in the world of work, including spells working with both sex and violent offenders, with people with addictions and with sufferers of Mental Health problems, not easily upset. I am also a very active Trade Unionist, so I am well used to abuse!

I don’t cry easily. With the exception of tears of joy when my beautiful, much-loved daughters were born, the last time I can remember really crying was 18th September, 1970 – when I read the front page of the London Evening News that Jimi Hendrix had died (OK, I was 16 at the time!!). I didn’t cry yesterday either . . .  but i felt like it nearly.

Daily, I see the expression on some people’s faces when I ask (tiresome, I know) to repeat something – sometimes even twice.

All to often, I am expected to be amused as some idiot, on being told that I am deaf, makes some tasteless joke about it.

Frequently, I am confronted with meetings (even after being told of my condition) that don’t have an induction loop, or don’t know how to operate it, or find that it hasn’t been serviced in years and that it doesn’t work. “Oh, do you mind?”, they say.  What? Do I mind that I’ll not now hear sod all, and that you probably don’t give a toss? Have a wild guess!

A couple of years ago I attended a meeting in City Hall, along with many others, when Sir Richard Tilt was addressing an audience of CAB workers, Advice agencies, Local Authority staff and specialists who worked with Social Fund appeals. Tilt was the Commissioner of the Independent Social Fund Review at the time.

His staff had gone to some lengths to ensure that the meeting location was equipped with the correct loop and that it worked. The “top table” all had microphones and their was a roving mic’ for speakers from the floor. Brilliant. Only Sir Richard decided to become a “man of the people”, rose from his seat and stood in front of the table to address us. Couldn’t hear a bloody thing.

Not being the shy, retiring type, I interjected that those of us with a hearing impairment required him to use the microphone. He waved me aside and said, I’ll come to that later !! Sir Richard? or just plain “dick” ?

On other occasions, I have met with unfriendly technology or uncaring staff. I have previously blogged about the lack of working loops in cinemas, in theatres or, if they do work, the fact that a deposit is required for use. These are all relatively minor when compared with what some disabled people face each day, but if these are wearing me down, think what it is doing to them.

I have huge respect now, for those born or disabled young; for those with much more severe conditions than mine. I would like to hope that readers of this might just take a bit of that respect away with them and use it next time you meet someone who needs a bit of patience and understanding. Please.

As ever, thank you for listening and be grateful that you can 🙂

This “Rant” is dedicated to the wonderful Kaliya Franklin (@BendyGirl on twitter) who continues to inspire me daily with her tweets, and to Natasha Hirst (@TashHirst) who inspired me to blog this contribution. She is a hugely talented photographer, political activist and all round good egg, who just happens to be deaf too. xx – to both of you – xx

The barely lucid ramblings of a nasty union activist :-)

There exist many myths in the media, most generated by newspaper owners and/or editors, with their own agenda and an eye on their own investments and political beliefs. It, sadly, also makes “good copy” and the sales figures of some of the worst offenders demonstrate that there is a ready market for these simplistic scare-mongering and scapegoating tactics.

One of the great myths is that of Trade Union power and the belief that a small, unaccountable group of quasi-Marxists are plotting away to enforce a perverse set of values upon you all; you know, take all your money from you and redistribute it to schemes for Black, One-legged Lesbians Against The Bomb and so on (my apologies, if offence caused, to any Black person, Disabled person or Lesbian – it’s just trying to make a point)

I suppose I should declare an interest first. I am still, and have been for over 40 years, an active Trade Unionist. In my work life, I have been employed in the private sector (railway engineering), the “not-for-profit” sector (advice and support), and in the public sector (probation and local government). I have changed unions accordingly, always joining the one that negotiated my terms and conditions, and always being an active member. I do not see the point of not being anything else.

I have been a Shop Steward or a Staff Representative, a Works Convenor and a Branch Secretary, and I have held assorted Regional, Area, and National, offices. Never have I done it because I felt obliged too; always because I wanted to (and, whisper it, I greatly enjoyed it!)

In all that time, I can truthfully say that I have neither:- 
[a] held the country to ransom; nor, 
[b] plotted to overthrow the legitimate elected government of the day.  (I must have missed that training course !)

I have represented hundreds of individuals with grievances or who were subject to disciplinary measures. Some of the grievances were doomed but the individual insisted; some of the disciplinary charges were upheld and justified – some were even dismissed as a result (of what they had done, NOT my representation!! 🙂 )

On occasions, I have been asked “Why are you representing that person ?” 
My response, “Even Harold Shipman and Fred West were entitled to representation for what they did“.

Representation is not endorsing the action; it is about ensuring that the individual gets a fair hearing and a suitable solution.

Thousands of people, possibly millions ?, would have suffered injustice if not for their union steward – and the vast bulk of these activists do it in addition to a paid job. Few get any recompense – most get a fair amount of grief from belligerent employers.

(“ Hey Dave, is THIS the Big Society in action? If it is, we are a hundred years ahead of you mate  ! “)

Most of the positive changes to working life, and their consequential effect upon Society in general, are a direct result of unionised labour fighting for something. Like Equality (and I am the first to admit we have a way to go still, in all aspects – gender, race, disability, age, orientation, culture, and so on . . ); Health and Safety; Work-Life Balance; compensation; the list is endless – and none of it was given without some brave souls standing up for it – but is that an abuse or misuse of Trade Union power? Of course it isn’t.

When has ANY industrial action ever been fought without a heavy price been exacted on those taking it? The 1926 General Strike still resulted in starvation wages for the Miners for years afterwards; did the 1983 Miners Strike result in total victory for the participants? – morally, I would argue “Yes “, but actually? financially? physically? – far from it; 200,000 jobs gone in S. Wales alone. Add to that, the vast majority of Trade Unionists are never involved in any industrial action, ever – yet still they are painted as some reactionary force.

Ironically, the two most powerful Trade Unions in the UK – The Law Society and The British Medical Association – who really do squeeze governments of any and all political hue, are not even considered by most as unions! (Possibly because a lot of MP’s are members of them! :-O )

The image is not helped by some representation in the world of television or film – Peter Sellars as Fred Kite in “I’m alright Jack“, or Jack Nicholson as Jimmy Hoffa (US Teamsters leader, now – apparently – playing a “supporting role” in a major road flyover) in “Hoffa“. Even my own personal favourite, James Bolam as Jack Ford in BBC’s classic “When the boat comes in” has him as someone who exploits his union and his class to get on! Yes, I know there are dozens of more positive images, but usually made on small budgets and seen by very few (I know, I am generally one of the few!).

We need some more positive and charismatic role models, and we need them from a wider base than white, middle-aged men. To my immediate knowledge (and my memory is just as prone to error as anyone’s!), we have had only one black General Secretary (Bill Morris of T&GWU), and very few female General Secretary’s (Brenda Dean of SOGAT, Liz Symons of FDA, plus a “smattering” in the Teaching unions – apologies sisters, but your profile is such that even I’m struggling to remember any other than Mary Bousted and Christine Blower; dear god, I nearly forgot the legendary Dame Anna Godwin of the Clerks Union!). Considering women make up over 50% of society though, it is a pitiful representation.

Where is the next Jack Jones? Where is the future Rodney Bickerstaffe? 
Better still, where is the next JANE Jones or RACHAEL Bickerstaffe?

I’m rambling now, I’m sorry . . . Originally, this was going to be more specific to the role I, and my colleagues are playing in attempting to defend jobs in our own workplace, but I worried too much about possibly offending people who do not deserve that.

I will see if I can make the points later, and in a way that doesn’t. As ever, thanks for listening, and be grateful you can. 🙂

The blame game . . .

They say confession is good for the soul. That admitting your responsibility frees the inner guilt and allows you to move on; but what if you are not guilty but still get the blame?

History is littered with examples; The Birmingham Six, The Guildford Four, all manner of people locked up for things they didn’t do but who were punished for it just the same. Sometimes the error is admitted, and the sentence squashed, but how do you undo the years of imprisonment, the beatings in prison and the price paid by family and loved ones outside? No money can compensate for that, surely?

Whole people’s are sometimes used as scapegoats; jews in pre-war Germany (and in case we get too sanctimonious in Britain, at various times through British history too!); nowadays, it appears to be the entire Muslim faith that are considered terrorists in the making. Ignorance rules, and a Sikh gets beaten up for being a Muslim because some dick-head doesn’t know the difference.

What, though, if you are being punished for something; that everyone accepts is not your fault, but still you get punished. No one disputes that you are innocent; they even know who is guilty, but they are not only allowed to escape any punishment, they are positively rewarded instead! Outrageous, you say.

No. Let me explain.

The UK, like much of Western capitalism (US, bigger European nations – the usual suspects) is in a financial mess caused by speculative gambles and excessive greed by a few, and I mean a few – very few! As a consequence, a new government has decided that the only recourse is to cut back on everything – only it isn’t “everything” – is it. Salaries and bonuses for a few are still the same, even better for some. Instead, this government decides that the sick, the disabled, etc., will have to do with less help.

For my sins, which are undoubtedly many, I work in Local Government. I have worked in frontline support for some of the most deprived and vulnerable for something like 20 years, 12 of these with a Council in Wales. I used to manage a Welfare Rights Team, but the ruling party of this Council decided to shut it down. Then I was put in charge of a scheme to assist discharged offenders on release find accommodation; the thinking being that this could reduce re-offending. Now this is being closed down too.

Across dozens of Local Authorities, front line staff – in Adult and Children’s Services, in day care for the elderly, in support for vulnerable individuals – are being made redundant, being “actively encouraged” to volunteer for severance, or to retire early. The last two almost sound attractive, until you realise that the amounts most will get will barely last a year – and remember, most benefits are means-tested after 6 months – and then what?

In Manchester and in Birmingham; in Rhondda Cynon Taff and Neath Port Talbot; in the South East and the North West; across the UK , people who bear absolutely no responsibility for the mess that successive governments have created (I hold no brief for ANY Political party) are now being made to pay the price. They are being punished for something everybody knows they didn’t do.

Worse, the vulnerable people many of them supported, are being deprived of this service; so they are being punished as well.

We always seem to find resources for weapons or for wars; how about a “war” on inequality? or “weapons” against the causes of disability. These are otherwise called “investments in the quality of life” and they should be financed by fair taxation and proper enforcement of tax liability. Instead, I read that this government plans to make it even easier for big businesses (usually Banks!) to avoid their responsibility. Is this fair? Did you vote for this? I know I didn’t.

As ever, thanks for listening and be grateful that you can. 🙂 PK