#IWMD17 – Looking after those who look after us

This Friday, the 28th April is International Workers’ Memorial Day and I will be attending the event at Bonnyrigg, Midlothian which is organised by the local Trades Council.

Recently,  I have been spending a bit of time going back and forward to hospital to visit my dad, thankfully he is now back home.

As an active trade unionist it was good to see that there were a number of UNISON posters dotted around the hospital, highlighting a number of issues including health & safety.

Whilst thankfully, the most recent statistics produced by the Health and Safety Executive for the period 2015/16 show that there were no fatalities in the health sector there are areas of concern for those working in the health sector.

The statistics state:-

Industries with ill health rates statistically significantly higher than the rate for all industries were Human Health and Social Work activities, Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing, Public Administration and Defence and Education.

Looking behind these figures we can see that there are an estimated 4.8 million working days lost each year due to work related illness in the health and social care sector.

There are 4 main categories for absence:-

  • 2.1 Million days through work related stress, depression and anxiety;
  • 1.2 Million days due to musculoskeletal disorders;
  • 0.6 million days through workplace injury;
  • 0.9 million days due to other workplace injuries.

There are also around 78,000 self-reported non-fatal accidents; 27% of these are for slips, trips and falls, 25% lifting and handling, the last category is 21% for physical assault.

At one time or another most of us will make use of the NHS.

It is in our interests to make sure that it is properly funded and run.

But it is also in our interests to make sure that those working in the NHS have a safe and secure environment which to work.

As trade unionists we know that this cannot just be left up to the employer.

Nor, can this be left up to a Health and Safety Executive which has seen its role changed and its funding cut.

The HSE’s Business Plan for 2016/17 shows that the funding the executive receives from central government will be over £100 million less in 2019/20 than it was in 2009/10, bringing the total reduction since 2009/10 to 46%. 

Once again, workers will need to organise themselves in the workplace to ensure that they are protected.

In February of this year UNISON  launched their sixth annual survey into NHS safe staffing.

This survey assess the nurse to patient ratios on wards and will support UNISON’s campaign to improve staffing levels.

The results of the survey in 2016 found that 63% of respondents felt that the number of staff on wards was not adequate enough to ensure safe, dignified and compassionate care.

This should concern not only staff,  but patients and their families.

Sometimes sections of the media try to portray the interests of the public and the interests of workers, being represented by their trade unions, as being inimical to each other.

When it comes to the NHS we need to Face it that it is in all of our interests that things are improved.

 

A list of International Workers Memorial Day Events and other information about #IWMD17 can be found here.

 

 

 

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Couldn’t Get to There from Here

You feel anticipation, excitement at what lies ahead, you, your bike and the road.

The future is unwritten as someone once said, well at least today is.

Mid-November but the sun is bright, the air is cold and the tarmac dry.

You push the pedals hard as you leave the road and move uphill and onto the cycle path.

At the top of the incline you pause for a moment and look down towards the Forth, sparkling in the winter sun.

Soon you are in town, the early morning traffic light, you are making good time, pause for a photo beside the millenium cycle marker and then onto the canal. Remember, you tell yourself, need to take the turn-off before the path gets bad, you find it and up and over the small bridge and into the park land.

Then the outskirts of town, into the countryside and down the quiet B roads that you imagine must have been so much busier than this in days gone by.

A brief stop to take on some fuel a chat with someone passing in their Land Rover and then you are off again. You feel a slight chill as you push-off, but soon feel warmer as you feel the sun on your back and your body heats up as you pedal, turn and glide up and down the hills.

Into the sprawling new town and along the paths, through the tunnels, subways, walkways hardly needing to cross a road with cars for what seems like an age.

Then somewhere between Livingston and Bathgate you slip down a path that brings you to the edge of a field and something catches your eye and you stop.

Standing there, a deer, alone in the noon-time mid-winter blazing sun.

The picture you take cannot do justice to what you see with your own eyes, nowhere near, only you and the deer will ever know that this moment happened at this time, on this day, in this place.

Then, on the move again, peddle round the field, over a bridge and now a path beside a railway line.

The countryside, far behind, you travel through the industrial past, the coal mines, the factories before giving way to the new.

Industrial estates, housing estates, odd-looking sculptures contrast with the images of a bygone age.

The day is moving on and you think it’s time to stop and eat.

When you planned this trip you thought of finding a warm and welcoming old-fashioned pub, with a roaring fire, food, beer and malt whisky. But time and location mean that Greggs will have to do.

You sit, look at your map, look at the time and think, not long until darkness falls, well at least this far, the wrong turnings haven’t been many and the sign posting has been good.

Back on the bike feeling good for the break you push on through the traffic and find the next path.

Another railway line and cycle path take you up above the town, the ground beneath you grows colder, frost appears and you feel the air chill.

You stop again, just to check your map and then you notice the light is slowly but surely starting to fade.

As you leave the path you meet the home time traffic, in the darkness you miss a sign and then another and another.

Lost!

Your phone is nearly dead so, you find somewhere for coffee and to recharge.

You sit, look at maps, reassess your plans and then decide, no!

It’s not going to happen today, you need a plan B.

So, you set off again a new plan in mind and in the darkness you find your way, light on full-beam, hoping that it will last as you climb, twist, turn and glide down unfamiliar paths.

Then the paths change, better, smoother, some light and the river on your left-hand side.

You sense the city ahead and push on, faster, feeling drawn towards it like a magnet.

Ducking overhanging branches, jumping off to negotiate narrow ledges under bridges until the path before you spreads and you are travelling through parks and past museums illuminated in the night lights.

Then finally you reach Plan B and the station is ahead.

On board the train you sit, tired, exhausted by your days ride.

You think back on your day.

Getting lost, no old-fashioned pub and having to get the train.

So, it didn’t work out as planned, but wasn’t that all part of the fun?

And then you remember about that field, the sun, the stillness and that deer.

Yeah, you think, today was a great day for a bike ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Young Soul Rebels – A Book by Stuart Cosgrove

The crisp beat of a snare drum, a pulsing bass, the staccato stab of a guitar, a horn section punctuating every line, strings that zing and a soaring voice laying down what it means to have loved and lost.

Mix that all together and you get something near to northern soul, a music that inspires a dedication and devotion that rivals the fervour of any religious acolyte.

In his book Young Soul Rebels, Stuart Cosgrove,  touches on all of this and more as he takes us on a personal journey through northern soul.

The author takes you on a trip from his childhood in Perth to Wigan Casino, London, Washington DC, Blackpool and then back to Perth for a reunion of the Perth City Soul Club.

At the same time he touches on some of the key events that shaped Britain in the 1980’s; the miners strike, the economic policies of the Thatcher government and the industrial decline of the north and south.

As well as his love of the music, the friendships that he makes are a key part of the story and provide an element of humour and tragedy to the story. The sections where he describes the air of menace and fear that existed when the Yorkshire Ripper was at large are especially powerful.

What shines through time and again is Cosgrove’s love of this music and why it still remains important to him today.

Helpfully, throughout the book he refers to the key records that influenced him and the northern soul movement.  This acts as a handy reference for those wanting to explore this life affirming music in more depth.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone that has an interest in northern soul.

But I would also recommend this to anyone who wants to learn about how music can become obsessive and inspire devotion in its listeners.

Kevin Rowland once wrote that he was searching for the young soul rebels, well in this book you can find them!

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The Shock Doctrine – A Book by Naomi Klein

So, early 2017 and the political scene for someone that is interested in left of centre politics, is pretty bleak.

The constitution an issue that has dominated Scottish politics for the last 5 years or so and now due to Brexit is dominating politics at a UK level.

At an international level we are in the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency and where that takes us, who knows?

My regular catch up and discussions with one of my friends have been less than optimistic, unless we’ve been talking about music.

However, it was during one of those conversations that the following book was recommended to me.

This book doesn’t have all of the answers but I’ve certainly found it eye-opening and it does offer a glimmer of hope as to what might be a way forward, though it is going to be a long journey.

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, published in 2007, chronicles the influences behind the major international political upheavals of the late 20th century. Klein also illustrates how natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Sri Lankan 2004 tsuanmi have been exploited by Shock Doctrine economists.

Although this book is wide ranging in its scope it does not skimp on detail as to the impact of the disaster capitalists policies on Iraq, Poland, South Africa, Chile and the UK.

The premise of the book is that adherents to the Milton Friedman concept of economics, who graduated from the Chicago School, have sought to offer their advice to economies that are undergoing a fundamental shift in their circumstances.

Similar to the electro-shock treatment endured by patients experiencing mental trauma, where Dr. Ewen Cameron believed that he could shock his subjects back to a state that would mean they would be a blank canvass . A canvass that he could use to re-build his patients personalities and behaviour patterns.

These economists believed that economies suffering severe shock could be used as a year zero experiment and be re-built again from scratch.

Chile and the policies adopted by Augusto Pinochet following the overthrow of Allende are cited as an early example of what happens to countries when they follow Friedman’s policies. In Pinochet’s case it was after a meeting with the man himself, where he was promised that he could take credit for an “economic miracle” which would end inflation in months, that Chile embarked upon a path that led to upheaval and misery for many ordinary Chileans.

In 1975, Pinochet cut public spending by 27% in one blow and then went on cutting until by 1980 public spending was half of what it was under Allende. Klein makes the point that this sent the economy into a deep recession and makes the comparison that the logic is similar to that of the psychiatrists who started the mass-prescribing ECT in the US during the 40′ and 50’s, convinced that such a shock would magically reboot their patients’ brains.

What Pinochet did in Chile was not just restricted to the economy, Klein also sets out the steps that Pinochet took on a political level to destabilise his political opponents; abductions, killing and torture. Again the parallels between the shock the economy was experiencing are linked to the very real use of electro-shock treatment on political prisoners.

For Chile the experience of the Shock Doctrine ended up with unemployment at 30% in 1982 and by 1988, 45% of the population below were below the poverty line.

Though there have been attempts to address the issues that this so-called economic miracle created, in 2007 Chile was rated the 8th most unequal country on the list the UN uses to track inequality worldwide.

The chapter on the aftermath of the Iraq War demolishes the arguments put forward at the time that any strategic thought went into the rebuilding of Iraq. With a forensic expose of the relationship between the US government and the private companies such as Blackwater that won contracts to provide services and security for the newly shocked state, Klein shows that for some this was only ever about profit and shareholders.

However, the chapters on Poland and South Africa are the ones that I personally found the most disheartening.  Both of these countries had undergone periods of severe hardship and change was being brought about through the struggle of ordinary people as they fought to remove authoritarian regimes.

When those struggles were won, people were full of hope and expectation that a better way would be found.

In both countries it was not long before Solidarity and the ANC came up against the free-market exponents of Friedman’s crisis theory economics.

In Poland the dream of an economy based on cooperatives was replaced with debt relief and $1 billion dollars from the IMF in exchange for Poland signing up to shock therapy.

The policies followed in Poland led to economic depression with a 30% reduction in industrial production over a two year period.

Eventually, in Poland people were left with no other option than to go out on strike to show their opposition to what was happening.

Strikes increased from 250 in 1990 to more than 6,000 in 1992, this pressure forced the government to back down with their programme of privatisation.

Meanwhile, in South Africa the hope and optimism that spread like a wave through the country when Mandela was freed, crashed against the hard-headed realpolitiks of the Friedmanites once the negotiations started about what the new dawn in South Africa would bring.

The ANC’s programme, the Freedom Charter, which included land redistribution was ripped up and  replaced by privatisation, cutbacks on public spending, workforce ‘flexibility’ and freer trade.

Klein concludes her chapter on South Africa in a downbeat mood and quotes S’bu Zikode, a leader of Durban’s shack dweller movement “What is in the Freedom Charter is very good. But all I see is betrayal.”

The chapter on the UK covers Margaret Thatcher and her adoption of a more extreme economic policy, following the Falklands war.

The US is referred to throughout, as natural disasters at home are exploited to introduce more extreme economic policies.

The final chapter, Shock Wears Off, covers how people are organising to fight back citing Venezuela under Chavez and community leaders in New Orleans organising direct action to rebuild some of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina following delays by the local authorities.

The inspiration for these community leaders being the action taken by communities along the Thai coast who had to take matters into their own hands after the tsunami hit. Again, these communities faced intransigence and delay from their own government in trying to repair the damage from this natural disaster.

Although this book was written over 10 years ago,it still has the potential to speak to events happening in the UK today and also a future Scotland should it become independent.

A UK out of Europe and a newly independent Scotland would both potentially have shocks to their economic systems to cope with.

Would both countries come to the attention of the Chicago School economists? Would we see the massive cuts in public spending that the Shock Doctrine describes?

If Naomi Klein ever updates the Shock Doctrine, I hope that it will not include additional chapters on how the UK and Scotland are now at the mercy of massive public sector cuts and seeing inequality spiralling out of control.

Klein has warned us in this book what we need to look out for, she says that ‘Any strategy based on exploiting the window of opportunity opened by a traumatic shock relies heavily on the element of surprise.’

We have been warned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Age of Jihad a Book by Patrick Cockburn

Recently we held the first meeting of Musselburgh Labour Party Book Club, snappy title I know – we are on the look out for a shorter name!

The idea of the Book Club was borne out of a discussion a couple of us had one day following a stall being cancelled due to bad weather.

We were talking about ways that we could have more political discussion in the branch and possibly another way to engage people in the party outwit the usual structure of a branch meeting.

So, having seen a piece on the intranet about the revived Left Book Club we thought we would give our own book club a try.

A book was identified The Age of Jihad by Patrick Cockburn and a date was set at our October branch meeting for the first meeting of our book group.

So, on a Thursday night in November 7 of us met, including 1 new member, at the house of our Branch Secretary to discuss the book.

Here’s what we thought…..

The Age of Jihad by Patrick Cockburn

About the Book

Patrick Cockburn writes for the Independent on the Middle East, his book takes the form of a diary starting in 2001 up to the present day.

The book starts in Afghanistan and concludes in Syria, in between it covers the conflicts that have taken place in Iraq, Libya, Yemen and  Bahrain.

The book includes interviews with people living in these countries and includes testimonies from shopkeepers, soldiers, families and politicians.

What we Thought

Everyone thought this was an interesting and thought-provoking read.

We did not think that the author took a particularly partisan view about what was happening but let the interviews that he conducted set the scene.

The point was made by a couple of people in the group, that reading the book had reawakened an interest in what was happening in Syria, especially the current situation in Aleppo.

The book sets out in great detail the different factors at play in each of the conflicts that it looks at. Sometimes the conflicts are based on religion, other conflicts are related to tribal loyalty or national identity and at times all of these factors can combine.

In his introduction the author makes the point that ‘these are not black and white situations, good guy against bad.’

Another point that comes across in the book is that whilst the initial military action by the West won relatively easy victories and replaced dictators such as Gadaffi and Sadam Hussein, the aftermath and what might have been required to deliver many of the promises that were made before the conflicts began, such as delivering democracy and a better life for people,  have been much harder to realise.

At several points in the book people indicate to the author that things in their view have become worse.

Towards the end of the book the comment is made ‘As the French Algerians used to say the only alternative is the suitcase or the coffin.’ This sums up the despair of some people about the current situation that they find themselves in.

One of the most harrowing examples of this sense of despair is described in the chapter called the Syrian Catastrophe.

In his diary entry for the 9th February 2014 the author tells the story of an Alawite family that lived near Damascus who’s town had been captured by Jihadi rebels. The family make a pledge that rather than face torture and death they will die as a family in their house by detonating a grenade, should it look inevitable that they will be captured.

The diary entry goes on to recount the events leading up to the brother taking a call from his sister, she tells him that the rebels are inside the house and then he hears an explosion on the other end of the phone.

There are other examples throughout the book of people being forced into heartbreaking decisions as they face the realities of the conflicts that they find themselves caught up in.

The latter chapters are taken up with the emergence of Isis.

These chapters underline the dilemmas faced by those seeking to oppose the expansion of Isis and the difficult choices they face in seeking to build an alliance to defeat them.  This is highlighted in a section about the government in Baghdad having to consider the deployment of Shia paramilitaries, which the US views as being under Iranian influence and who the US did not want to see fighting in Sunni areas, however Baghdad would appear to have little choice but to do this.

The funding of Isis is also touched on in the chapter on the expansion of the Islamic State. Sir Richard Dearlove sets out that he has little doubt that funding has come through private donors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The last chapter is the afterword where Patrick Cockburn puts the current conflicts in context referring back to 1914, the Ottoman Empire and other conflicts that have happened in Somalia and Chechnya.

Again the difficulty in describing what is happening in the Middle East and the reasons which lie behind these conflicts is referred to.

It is perhaps best summed up in the quote from Anthony Cordesman, a military expert for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington who states ‘one of the problems is that we keep trying to describe this (situation) as if it were black and white and what we are really watching again is three-dimensional chess with nine players and no rules.’

Final Thoughts

I think we all felt that this book has helped us appreciate some of what has happened these last few years across the Middle East.

The conflicts that we have seen on the news and that both the US and UK have been involved in are incredibly complex situations.

Since finishing this book Aleppo has been in the news every day and tonight a new ceasefire has been announced to allow Syrian civilians to evacuate.

We live in a time where we have access to more information than ever before through the internet and 24 hours news channels, this book underlines the importance of and how valuable it is to have journalists of the calibre of Patrick Cockburn reporting from the frontline and the voice that he gives to people trying to survive in situations which are all to horribly real, but unimaginable for many of us sitting at home where we have easy access to food, warmth and light.

If you want to understand what you see on your TV a little bit more, then I would urge you to read this book.

 

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Our Favourite Shop – The Style Council

It was 1985 late April or possibly early May, I sat listening intently to Radio 1 along with my friend Garry waiting to hear a preview of the new Style Council album.

From memory it was snatches of the songs and an interview with Paul and Mick.

What we heard sounded interesting, poppy and varied.

The modern jazz vibe of the first album had gone, which personally I had liked, but the pop vibe that had replaced it was decent and I liked what I heard.

Anyway, after that it was a walk to Stockbridge for a few pints, it was mid-week I think , to talk politics, music and our plans for world domination of the music scene, with our Beatles fuelled songs.

The day Our Favourite Shop was released found me off to Virgin or HMV to pick up the album and then a rush home after work to give it a first listen.

At the time I really liked it and its an album I still return to 30 odd years after it was released.

So, what do I think of each track?

Our Favourite Shop

UK Album Chart Position 1

Homebreakers

This is a bit of slow burner.

Opening with sounds from a railway station to add a bit of atmosphere and then slowly building from there. Mick, Paul and Dee take it in turn to deliver the opening lines.

Sometimes this is described as Paul Weller’s most political album and this kicks things off by tackling unemployment and the break up of a family.

All Gone Away

Things get a bit more upbeat with some jazzy guitar work and nice flute accompaniment.

Lyrically political subjects are again tackled, unemployment but rather than the focus just being the individual and the family, as with Homebrakers, All Gone Away widens this to how unemployment has an impact on communities.

Come to Milton Keynes

UK Single Chart Position 23 

The upbeat mood continues with Come to Milton Keynes, although this had its critics and it does seem and odd choice for a single, given the other songs the council had around at the time, I quite like it for the range of instruments used on the track.

Lyrically it tackles the issues of consumerism, alienation and drugs.

Internationalists

The council try out a funky groove with this one, fast-paced, wha-wha guitars, organ and horns and lyrics about changing the world.

Again a song very much of its time and one the council played during their Live Aid set.

A Stones Throw Away

The mood changes to a more sombre one with the more classical sound of A Stones Throw Away.

Sometimes these songs don’t always work but I think this nails it.

Once again, lyrics that are political and go round the world until they end up closer to home in South Yorkshire. The song ends on a quite chilling note with just Weller’s voice being heard as the strings drop away.

The Stand Up Comedians Instructions

Lenny Henry guesting on vocals here and this time the subject is racism and stereotyping.

A good idea but whether they really pull it off is open to question and the years haven’t been too kind to this one.

Boy Who Cried Wolf

A change of style and subject as the political mood of the first part of the album becomes personal.

This is a song that has grown on me over the years.

A song of ultimately doomed love with a pop-funk backing.

There are some echoes of what was to come on the next album but whilst that album maybe suffered from a too polished production I think the production on this works and suits the song.

On vinyl this brought side 1 to an end.

A Man of Great Promise

A song that has deserved the occasional revival over the years when it has reappeared in Weller’s set-list.

Dedicated to Weller’s friend Dave Waller and opening with church bells.

It’s a heart-felt tribute to someone who was close to Weller.

Nice chiming guitars which some great percussion makes this song one of the highlights of the album.

Down in the Seine

Back to France following on from the A Paris ep of 1983.

A nice little diversion with accordion some good acoustic guitar work and waltzy time signature.

The lyrics are about love and water is used as an image, which again echoes the A Paris ep, which included an instrumental version of Party Chambers. The original Party Chambers, the b-side of Speak Like a Child, included lyrics about being at the water’s edge.

The Lodger’s (Or She Was Only a Shopkeeper’s Daughter)

UK Single Chart Position 13

A return to politics and soul with this next track.

The lyrics are mainly about the class system and the establishment.

Musically the style is a bit of a precursor of what was to come on the next album but similarly the production on this suits the style of this track better.

Luck

The breezy feel of summer and back to the personal with this optimistic song about the nature of love.

Some lovely piano work underpins the final coda of ‘Luck taste of summer time.’

With Everything to Lose

With a musical backing similar to that used for Have You Ever Had  It Blue we return to politics and this time the workplace.

The Style Council drummer, Steve White wrote the lyrics for this which highlight the deaths of young people under the then governments Youth Training Scheme.

This track features a cracking sax solo.

Our Favourite Shop

Drenched in Hammond Organ one of Mick Talbot’s funkier instrumentals which includes a trumpet solo.

A good groove, like most of Mick’s solo pieces with the council.

Walls Come Tumbling Down

UK Single Chart Position 6

The single which preceded the album, a political call to arms wrapped within a driving pop song.

Rarely has pop and politics sounded so life affirming and vital.

Weller hitting out at government and calling for unity.

At the time many people said that this was the angriest and most aggressive he had sounded since the Jam.

And that’s where the album finished going out on a real high!

Overall

Lyrically very much an album of the politics of the time and I think that its important because of the events that it chronicles.

It’s difficult to think of politics featuring so blatantly in the top twenty of today or that a song calling for working class unity would feature on a prime-time talk show as Walls Come Tumbling Down did when the Style Council appeared on Wogan.

Musically this developed the sound that the Style Council had been honing since their first single but adding in more elements of soul and funk.

For me this had the right blend of all of those elements and overall Our Favourite Shop just shades being my favourite Style Council album, just ahead of Cafe Bleu and Confessions.

The soul element would overtake the more pop and jazz influences on the Council’s next album the Cost of Loving.

 

 

TSC - Our Favourite Shop

 

TSC - Inner Sleeve

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in 1980's, modernism, mods, Music, paul weller, the style council, uk music | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment