Friday, 27 January 2023

Holocaust Memorial Day 2023

From Primo Levi's "The Truce." After his abandonment in the concentration camp, accompanied by "a Greek," and walking towards Cracow, Levi spends the night in a barracks "requisitioned by the Russians and full of Italian soldiers." Levi writes: [The Greek] told curious stories about the war; of how after the Germans had broken through the front he had found himself with six of his men ransacking the first floor of a bombed and abandoned villa, searching for provisions; he had heard suspicious noises on the floor below, had cautiously climbed down the stairs with his sten gun at the ready, and had met an Italian sergeant who, with six soldiers, was doing exactly the same thing on the ground floor. The Italian in turn had levelled his gun but the Greek had pointed out that in those conditions a gun fight would have been particularly stupid, that they all found themselves, Greeks and Italians, in the same boat and that he did not see why they should not make a small separate and local peace and continue their researches in their respective occupied territories - to which proposal the Italian had rapidly agreed." Levi continues: "For me too he was a revelation. I knew that he was nothing but a rogue, a merchant, expert in deceit and lacking in scruples, selfish and cold; yet I felt blossom out in him, encouraged by the sympathy of the audience, a warmth, an unsuspected humanity, singular but genuine, rich with promise." I suspect that something has gone slightly awry in the translation with that "blossom out" but I dearly wish some similar humanity could prevail between the unfortunate young conscripts of Russia and Ukraine, and between the politicians fuelling the conflict. I'm not convinced that the promise of Western tanks will make such an outbreak of humanity more likely or happen any sooner

Saturday, 14 January 2023

Trade unions: co-ercion or cooperation (version2)

A friend has very kindly reformatted the previous post and corrected the many typos and spelling errors. Let's see if the published version will retain these improvements. Friday, 13 January 2023 Trade unions: coercion or co-operation? Since the 1980s, the days of the Thatcher governments and trade unions as "the enemy within, " there has been a plethora of legislation designed to restrict the ability of trade unions to make their case. • Sympathy strikes (aka secondary action), have been outlawed and the right to picket restricted: • Unions are no longer permitted to strike on the decision the executive committee, or a show of hands, but a ballot in support has been required; • since 1984 (an interesting year in coercive history) the ballots have had to be postal, so very expensive for the union to organise; a simple majority in such a ballot is not sufficient - the turnout must be at least 50% and at least 40% of the total membership must have voted in favour;* • Unions have been required to give at least 7 days notice of the intention to strike (it may now be 14); employers have the right to seek an injunction if they can show that not all the correct procedures have been followed; • the unions' immunity from being sued over lost trade or profits resulting from a strike, established by the overturning of the Taff Vale Judgement by the Liberal government of 1906, has been reduced; • if a union wishes to have a political fund to support a party it must gain approval from the membership via a ballot (this one has backfired on the Tories - more unions now have political funds which contribute to the Labour Party than before the act. Sadly there is no provision for the membership to stipulate which party, so we Liberal Democrats still get nothing); • the internal rules and procedures of each union are subject to supervision by an external body set up by the government. The latest coercive move, introduced into parliament this week, is to try to legislate that during strikes "key services" must maintain "minimum service levels." This is a totally unnecessary, and potentially counter-productive, move because they already do. The International Labour Organisation (I.L.O) of which the UK is a founder member, has customs which provide for this. In the darkest days of the Miners' Strike the pits were kept operational, air-flows were maintained, and safety and security procedures continued. During the current NHS dispute the nurses continue to perform emergency work, and the Ambulance and Fire and Rescue services continue to respond to "life and limb" calls. As in Europe, these arrangements are made at local level, as far as I know amicably, and taking into account local requirements. The Government's Bill, which probably contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights (nothing to do with the EU and of which the UK is a founder and still a signatory) would enable the government bullies to blunder in, determine conditions, unilaterally declare them to have been breached - and them what? Sack the workers involved and leave, say, the health and education services shorter of key operatives than they already are? Clearly the aim of the legislation is not to try to resolve the current disputes or to protect the public, but twofold: to persuade Tory Party members that the government is stiffened with the Thatcherite determination that so many of them admire: and in the hope that the voting public will fail to read between the lines and turn against the strikers, and therefore the Labour party, and towards a government fighting to look after them. It has been a Liberal/Liberal Democrat tenet for all the years I've been a member that employment relations should not be a battleground but an area of co-operation. Rather that further conflict between capital and labour (if those two concepts still have relevance) we need structures to encourage employers and employees to work together, such as employee representation on boards and, where appropriate, a sharing of the profits. *Just to spell this out, this means that, on a 50% turnout, there needs to be a vote in favour of 80% for a strike to be valid. The Brixit referendum would not have reached the threshold required of a union vote because only 37% of those entitled to vote chose Leave. There's one law for some things and another for others.

Friday, 13 January 2023

Trade unions: coercion or co-operation?

Since the 1980s, the days of the Thatcher governments and trade unions as "the enemy within, " there has been a plethora of legislation designed to restrict the ability of trade unions to make their case. Sympathy strikes (aka secondary action), have been outlawed; the right to picket restricted; Unions are no longer permtted to strike on the decision the executive committee, or a show of hands, but a ballot in suport has been required; since 1984 (an interesting year in co-ercive history) the ballots have had to be postal, so very expensive for the union to organise; a simple majority in such a ballot is not sufficient - the turnout must be at least 50% and at least 40% of the total membership must have voted in favour;* Unions have been required to give at least 7 days notice of the inention to stirke (it may now be 14); employers have the right to seek an injunctio if they can show that not all the correct procedures have been flollowed; the unions' immunity from being sued over lost trade or profits resuting from a srike, establised by the overturning of the Taff Vale Judgemnt by the Liberal government of 1906, has been reduced; if a union wishes to have a political fund to support a party it must gain apporval from the membership via a ballot (this one has backfired on the Tories - more unions now have polical funds which contribute to the Labour Party than before the act. Sadly there is no provison for the membership to stipulate which party, so we Liberal Democrats stillget nothing); the internal rules and procedures of each union are subject to supervision by an external body set up by the government. The latest co-ercive move, introduced into parliament this week, is to try to legislate that during strikes "key services" must maintain "minimum service levels." This is a totally unnecessary, and potentially counter-productive, move becasue they already do. The Interantional Labour Orgaisation (ILO) of which the UK is a founder member, has customs which provide for this. In the darkest days of the Miners' Strike the pits were kept operational, airlfows were maintained, and safety and security procedures coninued. During the current NHS disput the nurses continue to perform emergency work, and the Ambulance and Fire and Rescue services continue te respond to "life and limb" calls. As in Europe, these arrangements are made at local level, as far as I know amicably, and taking into acount local requiremts. The Government's Bill, which probably contravenes the Euroean Convention on Human Rights (nothing to do with the EU and of which the UK is a founder and still a signatory) would enable the government bullies to blunder in, determine conditions, unilaterally declare them to have been breached - and them what? Sack the workers involved and leave, say, the health and education services shorter of key operatives than they already are? Clarly the aim of the legislation is not to try to resolve the current disputes or to protect the public, but twofold: to persudae Tory Party members that the goverment is stiffened with the Thatcherite determiation that so many of them admire: and in the hope that the voting public will fail to read bewteen the lines and turn against the stikers, and therefore the Labour party, and towards a governmet fighting to look after them. It has been a Liberal/Liberal Democrat tenet for all the years I've been a member that employment relations should not be a battleground but an area of co-operation. Rather that further conflict betwen capital and labour (if those two concepts still have relevence) we need structures to encouage employers and employees to work together, such as employee representation on boards and, where appropriate, a sharing of the profits. * Just to spell this out, this maans tha, on a 50% trunout, there needs to be a vote in favour of 80% for a strike to be valid. The Brixit referendum would not have reached the threshopd required of a union vote becasue amoy 37% of those entiteld to vote chose Leave. Tthere's one law for some things and another for others.

Monday, 9 January 2023

Leaders' Messages

Both Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, and Sir Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, have given us upbeat speeches to enliven our New Year. Mr Sunak has made five promises, to: Halve infaltion; Grow the economy; Reduce debt; Cut Health Service waiting lists; Stop small boats carrying asylum seekers and migrants across the Channel. Sir Keir Starmer is less specific, but is promising to allow local areas to "Take Back Control" (clever choice of slogan) by devolving power to them. Mr Sunak's list of promises is pretty vacuous. The rate of inflation, currently 10%, is predicted to halve anyway. It is a typical piece of political perception management that the current high rate is claimed to be entirely due to the war between Russia and Ukraine, but halving it will be claimed as a government achievement. It is criminal that, nearly 14 years after the Sustainable Develpment Comission's "Prosperity without Growth" report was published (Marh 2009) our major plolitcal parties are still looking to growth which wil fry the planet to solve our short-term problems. When I first heard "reducing debt" as an aim I presumed this was private debt - possibly by raising wages to avoid people over-borrowing on their credit cards. Apperntly it's govenment debt, which is not a short-term problem, especially as aditional governent expenditure will be needed to bring the public services up to scratch after 13 years of governemnt austerity to facilitate tax cuts. This leads us on to cutting health service waiting lists, which wil need both immediate expenditue to pay health workers fairly and discourage them from leaving, along with serious long-term investment to provide an adequate service for an ageing population. Finally boats full of migrants making dangerous Channel crossings could be stopped within a fortnight if adequate alternative legal provisions were made. As for Sir Keir's vague promises, devolution of powers to local areas is long overdue but the devil will lie in the detail of how it's done. If it's to national paliaments and regional assemblies elected by proportinal representation and with powers to raise funds and the right to spend them as they wish, with Whitehall and Westminster limited to foreign policy. defence, the mainenance of the currency, and redistribution of "LEVELLING UP" funds well and good. If it is to flamboyant mayors elected by First Past the Post, based on city regions and needing to spend half their time on putting in bids to all- poweerful London, then not so good. We shall see. Fortuantely for us, (and mybe unfunately for Sir Keir, who sees advantages in remaining vague) Michael Jacobs, professor of political economy at Sheffiled university, has combed Labour's policy promises and collated an encourageing list of good intentions. The full article can be found in the Guardian on line at 04/01/23. In summary, there's a resonable chance that a Labour government will: spend £28bn on climate change action this decade; achieve a net zero power generation system by 2030; drive a 10 year energy efficiency programme to insulate homes and buildings; use a "Brexit opportunity" to direct government porcurement to UK companies (I'm not too happy about this one); establish a national wealth fund; introduce sginificalnt economic devolution (see Sir Kier's aspirations above); tax wealth equally with income; abolish non-dom status - this with the one above would raise £26bn a year in additional tax revenues; raise the minimum wage to a real living wage; increase workers' rights and protection, incuding banning zero-hours contacts; negotiate fair pay agreements with employers and trade unions; bring rail operations back into public ownership when their franchises expire. All the above sounds exciting. Presumablky Sir Keir hopes we won't notice. Although both New Year speeches seem equally unispiring, Andrew Rawnslkey in yesterday's Observer summed up his conclusions as follows: "At heart, Mr Sunak is a low-tax, small-government, light-regulation Tory. That is his desired direction of travel. His default view about the state is that it should get out of the way. Tellingly, his one thought about addressing the crisis in the NHS is that more health care should be provided by the private sector." "At heart, Sir Keir believes in a large and activist government, with the levels of taxation implied by that, though he prefers to talk about an “agile state” to make it sound more attractive to the wary."

Thursday, 5 January 2023

What the young should learn

Yesterday our Prime Minsiter, Rishi Sunak anounced five priorities for the remainder of his premiership. For some strange reason the pre-announcement for the speech (now called a "teaser" I believe,) didn't mention any of the five priorities, but concentrated on his apparent determination for all students to study mathematics up to the age of 18. The reason why his PR departement decided on this tactic excapes me. However, since almost everyone has had an education of sorts, everyone thinks they are experts on it and most hold strong opinions, so it could be a useful distraction. Most people, in their "expert" opinion, believe that the young should learn what they learned. In my own father's case this included the abilty to recite the rivers of Yorkshire in order from north to south. As I could never do this (geography was not and is not my strong point) he never regarded me as properly educated. I've discovered when using this illustration when speaking to Roary Clubs, that many of his generation take the same view. Mr Sanak atended a posh public school and probably received a highly academic education which incuded both Classics and mathemenatics. Towards the end of my full-time teaching career I was fortunate to attend a course for teachers who were teaching some maths but whose principal qualifications were in other subjects. The course director pointed out that unitl twenty years ago (forty now) there was one subject which was regarded as absolutely essential to develop rational thinking and an orderly and enquiritng mind. That was Latin and "Look what has happened to that." The nessage I took to mean is that there is nothing super-duper wonderful about the study of mehamatics which will spill over into more fulfilling, responsible and useful lives. We need to think very carefully about what mathematics we are teaching and why. The primary purpose of education is not to prepare the young to be prductive workers, but to "open windows:" - to introduce the youhg to all the wonderful things the world has to offer, in literature, art, mathematics, music, engineering, physics, biology, history, geography, languages, performing arts or what you will. Some will taste, decide it's not for them and move on. Most, we hope, will find at least something to get exceited about and enjoyment from. For some it will be mathematics. They will just love artihetic, delight in geometrical relationships, and enjoy discovering unknowns through algebra. These enthusiasts will go on to higher things. Those needing nathematics to suport their interest in other areas (carpentry for example, or astro-physics) will learn to manipulate what is necessary. Others will find maths eithr a bore or a mystery or paossibly both. What mathematics is necessary to live a functionig life as a citizen? There is little point in plodding through painstaking methods of calcualting manually what can be done in a flash by a machine. For expample, I was taught how to calulate a square root using an algorithm similar to long division. So were most of my generation. There is litle point in attenpting it now that the result can be found by the press of a button on even the chapest of calulatiors. If you'e curious you can find how to do it here: https://www.onlinemath4all.com/square-root-by-long-division-method.html The essential tool for moderern citizenship is a thorough understanding of basic statisices. For example, when the rate of infation falls will prices stop rising? (No they won't). The average pay for nurses is said to be around £34 000 a year, which seems to me to be quite a good screw, but what is the median pay that the middle group get, or the modal pay that most get? Those don't seem to be reported. When Mr Sunak in his Chancellor of the Exchequer days increased employees' National Insurance Contributions from 12% to 13.25% was that a rise of a mere 1.25% or over 10%? This and the many related statistics bandied about by politicians are the mathematics with which all citizens should be familier. If this is what Mr Sunak has in mind I'm all in favour.

Monday, 26 December 2022

Who we really are: HM the King

 I like to think that the royal Carol Service in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Eve and the King's broadcast on Christmas Day itself gave a clear message as to who we really are , or at least should be aiming to be.  These were  in sharp contrast the nastiness of this article in one of the Sunday Papers, complaining of an alleged shift of the Tories to the centre(stress on the "alleged") and treats from one of their chief donors and other supporters to pull their funding unless they put a stop to migrants  crossing the Channel and sent  those who succeeded on to Rwanda or back to Albania.

The Christmas Eve carol service was put together by the new Princess of Wales, stressed the work of organisations designed to be helpful and come to the rescue of people in need. In particular it included, apparently be order of our our made-it-at-last King Charles, the reading of poem:Malcolm Guite’s  poem Refugee:

 We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,

Or cosy in a crib beside the font,

But he is with a million displaced people

On the long road of weariness and want.

For even as we sing our final carol

His family is up and on that road,

Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,

Glancing behind and shouldering their load.

Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower

Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,

The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,

And death squads spread their curse across the world.

But every Herod dies, and comes alone

To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.

I can’t comment on the quality or the poetry (to me it seems a bit “gushy” – especially the bit about Christ’s “fingers tightly curl. . .” but the sentiment is clearly: ”Up yours, Suella Baverman.”

 

The royal onslaught on the current values the Tories feel compelled to adopt continued  with the King's Broadcast  on Christmas  Day, in which Charles stresses his  continuity with his mother and their shared support of the values of human togetherness and helpfulness.

 A strong contrast to what increasingly seems to be the Tory belief in "come and join us by pulling yourself up by the bootstraps if you can, and grab a bigger share of the pie.  

And, if you can't, tough."

I know what vision I want to be part of.  The next election will tell us which has got it right, the Royals or the Tory donors.

 


Friday, 23 December 2022

A Brexit Opportunity

Government cheerleaders frequently boast of how we are poised to take advantage of the opportunities available to us now that we are released from the constraints of membership of the EU.

Soi far they have been pretty damp squibs: a few minor trade agreements organised by Liz Truss when she was the responsible minister and were merely "roll-overs" of agreements we already had within  the EU.  There was  an allegedly more major one for trade with Australia which analysts claim makes far more concessions to Australian farmers than it doses of ours, leaving British farmers feeling let down and likely to make minimal impact on our GDP.

This morning's newspaper reports an "opportunity" of a different kind. The UK has 3 651 "water bodies" - including rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters.     All are in danger of pollination, the two main polluters being untreated sewage discharged into them by the Water Companies, and  chemical and animal "run off" from agricultural land.    While we were still members the EU required that all of them would be brought to a "good" state of chemical and ecological status by 2027.

Only 4% of them are actually on track to achieve this status.

So Brexit Opportunity 1 was to reduce the target from "all of them" to 75%.

However, even this looks as though it will be unachievable so:

Brexit Opportunity 2 is to put back the target year  to 2063.

 

For for further an better particulars see see:


https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/dec/22/target-date-for-cleaning-up-waterways-in-england-is-moved-back-by-36-years