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Archive for November, 2011

Today was strike day.

As those of us picketing were expected to do so between 8:00 and 10:30am I got up at 5:30 and wearily got through the daily palavar of my physio exercises before having a slight crisis over what to wear for the day. Not in the sartorial sense, purely in the ‘should I wear a jumper?’ sense. After breakfast (always start a long day with porridge) I headed out to the bus stop and immediately cursed myself for not going for a jumper in the end and put my long sleeved fingerless gloves on to make up for it…

Oxford Road train station and the Cornerhouse

It was still dark when I arrived in Manchester so I walked fairly quickly down Portland Street and Oxford Road, taking in the mise-en-scene. The first picket I saw was a PCS picket nearish Portland Tower, followed by a UCU Salford one just down the road. On Oxford Road there was an MMU picket for either UCU, Unison, or both outside John Dalton building. A bus driver honked as he went past, and it was presumably a positive honk as one of the pickets raised his placard in salute.

It was gradually getting light as I moved down Oxford Road, and by the time I’d passed the picket outside the Tin Can it was pretty much daylight.

I arrived at my own building not long after eight, where I was greeted by three of my colleagues who had beaten me to the union office (for flyers etc) by mere minutes. There were no union reps about so one of my colleagues had stepped into the breach and was organising things herself, despite having only ever been involved in one other strike action before. We appeared to have been left to get on with it, so we got on with it and were pleased to be joined later by a further four colleagues.

So far as successful picketing went, we weren’t that successful as the only two people we persuaded not to cross the picket line were two people who’d already decided not to. We got a lot of indifference from people, including colleagues, and were blanked by a lot of people as well (again, including colleagues) but we did also get some supportive noises and good luck messages from people, even if they did cross our picket line. We were also given homemade chocolate chip cookies by a young UCU picket, coffee (unofficially) from staff, and tea from an ex colleague who is now a student.

We left for the union meeting/breakfast at Kro safe in the knowledge that we’d done the best we could with what resources we had, and that at least we’d now be fed and be able to get warm. Alas such was the turnout that Kro were completely overwhelmed, and the service was so slow that we had to leave for the march before most of us had had our drinks and food. We were in a minority of people leaving, as I don’t think everyone intended to march, or at least, not until they’d had their breakfast.

We had missed the student feeder march which left from All Saints park, so we hopped a bus and tried to get as far down Oxford Road as possible before hopping off and walking as fast as we possibly could in the direction of Liverpool Road.

As we got closer, we could hear the noise: a sonic sea of whistles and instuments that may or may not have belonged to the vuvuzela family. The sea of people was pretty damn admirable too, and it was headed up by a row of mounted police in high visibility gear. They weren’t allowed to strike themselves, so were on official business, but they looked magnificent. On studying the horses later in Whitworth Park, I noticed that they had the equine body armour equivalent of shin pads on, which suggested – along with the usual helmets – that caution was being employed. Either that or the police were worried that the horses knees might get cold.

Liverpool Road

The march literally set off from Liverpool Road as we arrived, so we carefully inserted ourselves in amongst a group of ambulance staff. I can’t remember the exact route of the march, but we did Deansgate and the area between Deansgate and Albert Square. The reception from people on the streets was pretty good, and there were quite a few points on the march where people had lined the streets and were applauding as we marched past. Albert Square was one point where this happened, but there were points prior to that, and after that too.

One low point was going past the banks/commerce area on Deansgate, where someone had hung a banner from an upper storey office block which read “Why should we pay for public sector greed?” This caused a lot of booing and hissing, plus one Unison bloke was so irate that he shouted “WANKERS!” persistently and loudly until we had passed. RBS’ offices, which had their own police guard on the doors, got even more boos.

RBS under guard

There was a nice part of the march immediately after these incidents when we came to pause for a few minutes by the John Rylands Library. Given that we weren’t going anywhere, we took it in turns to pose for pictures with our placards outside it’s magnificent Victorian facade.

John Rylands Library, Deansgate

Albert Square, what with the Christmas markets and decorations around the town hall, was very picturesque. We were applauded by crowds on the pavements here, which was a very touching and moving experience after the indifference encountered on our picket earlier.

Albert Square

Portland Street also went well, and soon we were on Oxford Road again. We had heard via a friend whilst going through Albert Square that our own building was possibly in lockdown, and we speculated as we marched as to whether it might have something, or nothing, to do with the frankly adorable bunch of students we’d left looking after the site of our picket at half ten.

That aside, the overall student response on Oxford Road was pretty disappointing, but we’d already concluded that those most likely to be engaged with the days events were probably on the march anyway. The response we got at the hospital end of Oxford Road as we headed for Whitworth Park was much better, as you would expect: lots of staff watching and applauding.

It took a long time to get everyone from the march into Whitworth Park for the speeches, which were polemical and rabble rousing in character, as was befitting the situation. I liked the UCU woman and the NHS Salford woman best. The UCU woman had great charisma and rhetoric, and the NHS Salford lady was wonderfully articulate and to the point. And very brave as well given she apparently hadn’t spoken to a crowd that big before.

After that, it was all over. Most of our colleagues had parted company with us pre Whitworth Park, so that just left three of us. We walked wearily back down Oxford Road and took refuge in a café where we had a long overdue cup of tea and compared digital camera pictures whilst discussing what we felt we could have done better so far as our picket was concerned. Since we’d been pretty much left to our own devices with it, and none of us had organised a picket before, we thought we’d done really well. But now we know we will have to organise it all ourselves then we’ll prepare accordingly next time.

The unions reckon 30,000 people marched today in Manchester, and I’ll be interested to see if this figure matches or differs from figures in the media and, if so, by how much and in which respect.

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This is an edited version of an email I sent to my local M.P about two days ago, regarding changes to public sector pensions. I did use the template on the UNISON site, but I took quite a bit out and put a lot more of my own experience in as I felt my MP would possibly take more interest if I did that, as it would show I’d made an effort and believed what I was saying. Haven’t had a reply yet, but I suppose I may well do eventually.

 

What do you mean it's the f***in' workhouse for me?

 

 

I work as a Library Assistant at………………….. and I am a member of (pension scheme). I am writing to you at this time because of the proposed public sector strike on Wednesday 30th November.

I would like to tell you some of the reasons why I voted yes in the……… ballot on strike action.

Aside from the information provided to me by my union and by my pension scheme about the proposed changes to my pension, I am also someone who reads a lot of different newspapers and current affairs magazines,listens to a lot of radio news, and generally takes a great deal of interest in politics and current affairs. Voting ‘Yes’ to strike was not therefore a decision that I took lightly.

I would also add that, although a library does not compare to a busy hospital or airport, the run up to Christmas is one of our busiest times at work, it’s also the time of year when a lot of people are off sick. Whilst no one will have their life or their security endangered as a result of my strike action, a lot of people will be very inconvenianced and no doubt extremely annoyed.

I am opting to strike because I really don’t feel as though I have any other choice. I feel as though I am being constantly attacked by the coalition government in every aspect of my life: my working life, my home life, my social life, my family life… I feel as though they have declared open season on everything I hold dear. Not just my pension, but libraries, universities, disability support, and my ability to financially support myself and live an independent life.

I am not wealthy, I have just under £900 a month to live on after tax, pension, national insurance and union membership deductions. I use a laborious budget system as this is the only way I can be sure of not running out of money each month.My rent is £299 a month, Council Tax is £78 a month because I live on my own in a studio flat, Gas and Electric are £50 a month, with an extra £10 a month allocated for the inevitable winter fuel bills, I allocate £20 a month to the quarterly water bill, laundry is £32 a month because I don’t own my own washing machine and instead use a launderette. The phone and internet is £35 a month as well. My contents insurance is £33.57 a month, I put £20 a month into an ISA because, frankly, I am expecting the state pension to be long gone by the time I retire, I spend £150 a month on food, my monthly bus pass is £62.70. The rest of the money goes on: stationary, stamps, subscriptions, magazines and newspapers (£14), Emergancies, repairs and replacements (£15), Prescription and non prescription medicine (£19) Household Essentials (£19), Fun (£19), Birthdays & Chrismas (£14).

I appreciate that that was probably very boring to read, but I have included it to demonstrate that I am not someone who ran around with a credit card when times were good who is now whinging. Despite having acted financially responsibly in the past, and continuing to do so, I feel as though I am being punished every day: when fuel prices go up, again, when phone and internet prices go up, when food prices go up, when the bus pass inevitably goes up (I was priced off the trains years ago), when the launderette puts its prices up, when the contents insurance goes up….

Now the government plans to tax my already extremely stretched income further by expecting me to pay double the pension contributions I already make. This is simply completely unnaffordable for me.

My parents both worked in the public sector and are now retired. My father has an NHS pension, but my mother succumbed to the propaganda from the Thatcher government of the 1980’s and opted out of the council pension package. She was missold a private pension which, over the years, has earned her consistently less than she would have received had she stayed with the council pension scheme. She only realised this about a year before she was due to retire, by which time it was far too late. I am detirmined not to repeat her mistake.

I would also add that I have experience of the private sector as an employee and would like to point out that, as a woman, I do feel more protected in the public sector, by and large, as opposed to the private sector.

I had 3 private sector jobs prior to my entry into the public sector, and one employer (the Co-Operative) were fantastic so far as working conditions and supporting their staff were concerned, but the other two employers I worked for were appalling.

One of them was a publishing company which had an endemic culture of bullying and sexual harrassment. The average time most people lasted working there was 6 weeks, I did 6 months. As the workers at the company were not unionised and the HR department was weak, the only recurse those being bullied and sexually harrassed had was the industrial tribunal process. At the time I left, three tribunals were in process against the company. The company folded about six months after that.

In the second case, I worked for a market research company, which operated zero hours contracts and didn’t pay sick pay for this reason. It also meant that you were never actually guaranteed any work despite being employed by them. On the plus side, if you got given a survey you didn’t like you could take a few weeks off unpaid, or longer, until you felt like working for them again – which was a common scenario. You, of course, were not paid for those weeks off and it was common for people to be working two or more jobs simultaneously. I also found out after I left that the smoking of cannabis on smoking breaks was pretty common there, and I was not surprised.

But how was I supposed to know they were the new Equitable Life?

I have included these examples as a way of explaining that my loyalty to the public sector is far from sheltered or sentimental, rather it is based on my own experiences throughout my working life.

I have been informed by my union, and have read elsewhere, that the ‘savings’ being proposed by the government in changing public sector pensions, including extra contributions and reduced entitlements, will, either directly or indirectly, go to the government, rather than be used to safeguard the pension scheme. It is, in effect, a direct extra tax being imposed on me, to which I strongly object.

In the run up to the strikes both the goverment and the media have churned out myth after myth, scare story after scare story about public sector pensions and public sector workers. We are lazy they tell us, we are greedy, we have ‘gold plated’ pension schemes and ‘gold plated’ wages. I hope the information I have provided above will demonstrate to you that they are wrong on all counts. I regularly read Private Eye, so I know all about Rotton Boroughs and council corruption, but nepotism, obscene pay packets and unfair working practices are, I would venture, probably more common in the media and in politics than they are at, say, Stockport Council. It would be nice if those slinging the mud would remember the adage that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but I shan’t expect that anytime soon.

Also, I  will have to work until I am at least 68 anyway, regardless of whether I work in the private or public sector.

I am aware that this is not the 1970’s, that the unions were smashed repeatedly in the 1980’s, and that the past cannot be recreated. I am not expecting to hold the country ransom. What I hoping for is an opportunity for the forgotten to be heard.

Rosie the riveter would have quite liked to have had a pension when she was too weary to rivet anymore

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Taken from SchNEWS, Issue 798, 25th November 2011

NOV 30: WE’RE ALL IN IT TOGETHER

As UK Prepares for Biggest Strike in Generations….

Well, it’s been a long time coming… Wednesday 30th November will see the first mass strike in the UK for four decades. 17 unions, including the biggest ones Unite, UCU, Unison, various teaching unions and PCS, have balloted to strike on pension reform which will see an estimated 3 million off work and, hopefully, cause massive disruption. Demonstrations and pickets are planned across the country – see http://www.n30strike.org for a complete list. Amongst the strikers are some unlikely suspects: 18,000 Border Agency workers are expected to strike leaving the government having to employ sinister private security firm Serco to take over for a day. Even the National Union of Probation Officers voted to join the strike four-to-one.

The government wants public sector workers to forgo 3% of their salary as pension contributions, which equates to a pay cut. So far workers have had to accept a two year pay freeze during a time of high inflation (in other words a pay cut), if they haven’t already been thrown out on their arse during the waves of mass redundancies (a total pay cut). The government’s arguments are designed to play on long term disgruntlement among the private sector that they have to deal with, on the whole, a shockingly shit pensions scenario and the public sector have had it a bit better off. Rather than aiming to sort out the private pensions mess which leaves millions in poverty on retirement, the PM wants the country to believe the public sector pensions are ‘gold plated’, unfair and unsustainable. Actually, most public workers end up with less than £5000 a year pension. They’ve also been reformed already: through a mix of negotiated and underhand changes, public sector pensions have bee!
n reduced to the tune of 25p in each pound over the last few years.

While the ‘official’ pensions reason is a biggie,  the day will be one of anti-austerity action on the whole. It was obvious a year and a half ago that austerity measures were going to cripple the public sector, but it’s only over the issue of pensions that unions have been able to come together in co- ordinated action. The government’s various cuts bills have been sector specific until now, and Tory anti-strike legislation forbids solidarity action – effectively making mass, cross-sector strikes illegal. This, combined with the timidity of the unions and their own stifling legal processes have delayed action until the shared pension cuts could become the focal point for general civil unrest.

Which is rich, considering unemployment is at a 17-year high thanks to government policy. They’re also attempting to rebrand it as a “take your child to work day” in an effort to avoid parents taking the day off to look after children turned away from closed schools. It’s not only the government who want to break the strike: One particularly bizarre measure is being taken by an academy school headteacher in London, who is bringing in ex-Army personnel, police dog handlers and CSI teams to teach classes next Wednesday.

The tactics for the day are to keep demonstrations and marches focused in local communities and for many dispersed actions as opposed to a mass gathering, but if you fancy hitting the road to get in on the action, the most fun place to be looks set to be London. Occupy have issued a call-out to congregate in the capital and ‘Shut down the city’ – the plans for which are to be confirmed…

In other union news, shining like a beacon of wildcat hope in the darkness, the Sparks electricians union showed how its done again this week by an unannounced occupation of the head office of construction firm Grattes Brothers on Wednesday (23rd). Continuing their protests against industry-wide collusion to cut pay and de-skill work, which has involved direct actions, walkouts and demonstrations, 150 Sparks have locked themselves in the Kings Cross premises.

Whether the country comes grinding to a halt or not, we’ll have to wait and see, but N30 has the potential to reinvigorate the anti-cuts movement and take it outside the Occupy camps. See ya on streets!

http://www.schnews.org.uk/stories/Nov-30-Were-All-In-It-Together

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Last Thursday I went to the student union to see Zola Jesus with two of the friends I went to see Throwing Muses with earlier this month. Part of me was thinking ‘Oh God I hope it’s not Club Academy again, Zola Jesus is only about 4” 9” if it’s a big crowd I won’t be able to see a damn thing…”  we were all expecting a lot from Nika Roza Danilova and her band, and she certainly didn’t disappoint: Soul searingly powerful vocals and equally powerful pounding, pulsating, hammering drums.

There were aspects of NIN and Siouxsie, but not in a conscious, deliberate way. Danilova has an extremely powerful, as one of my friends said, pitch perfect voice which is just staggering. Because of the otherwordly character of the music, and lyrical themes, coupled with the frenetic lighting flashes, it was very easy to feel as though you were being transported to another world.

The bands image is interesting as well, because they are older looking blokes with leather jackets and other industrial type staples, but Danilova appears to have made a conscious decision to transcend the inevitable goth tag by bleaching her hair peroxide blonde and wearing pale colours. Her videos for the singles from her new album, ‘Conatus’, feature her in white a lot, and on Thursday she had on a pale green satiny vintage dress with a furry gillet in pale brown. She shares with Siouxsie a commanding stage presence and expressive arm movements, plus occasional flailing, dropping towards the floor, and letting her long hair fly amok whilst hunched over intoning darkly. She has beautifully expressive large dark eyes, something we sighed over collectively as we were leaving…

EMA, aka Erika M. Anderson, who was on prior to Zola Jesus was also good. We concluded she had probably heard a lot of Sonic Youth and taken a lot from Kim Gordon, but that this was no bad thing. Not derivative, but cool.

Prior to the gig, we had tea at 8th Day then drinks at the union bar. There had been a cock up with my two friends tickets so we had to queue with the long line of Hanson fans to get to the Reception desk in the union to pick up replacements, which was a tad humiliating.

Then we stood outside a while with the smokers, talking about the strike. Lots of peoples HR departments have sent out emails trying to put pressure on people to tell their line managers before the strike if they intend to strike, or to guilt trip people into not striking at all. I don’t think the letters will have had that much effect though because they neglect a crucial point, namely that the average public sector worker is royally pissed off most days, most of the time at the moment. The day at work I’d had before the gig was absolutely atrocious, and yesterday was even worse. Neither left me with much desire to do anyone any favours… I felt a bit guilty today though because things weren’t as mad, but still ultimately unrepentent.

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On Sunday I went to Manchester University Student’s Union to see Throwing Muses. The gig was supposed to be upstairs in the Academy 2, but had been shunted downstairs to Club Academy in the basement to make way for the Mela for Eid upstairs.

I can imagine Club Academy, as a venue, not being that much bigger than the kind of venues the Muses played when they first started out in the US in the mid eighties as it was small and sweaty. The crowd looked as though they were made up almost entirely of people who have been following the band since the eighties.

The stage was really low down so I couldn’t see Kristen Hersh at all throughout, which made for rather an un-engaging experience. I did however have a perfect view of the sound desk, a pretty good view of the bar, and spent a large chunk of the bands set watching a woman with a particularly magnificent rose tattoo and red bob, who was stood about a metre in front of me holding onto a barrier, undulating wildly and a various speeds throughout.

The band, and Hersh, seemed to take a little while to get going, meaning ‘Bright Yellow Gun’, which was about the fourth song or so in, sounded a little sluggish. Hersh seemed to be struggling with her vocals too, I think she had a cold as she sounded husky and a bit tired when she was speaking to the crowd. At times her vocals sounded unnervingly like early Courtney Love.

‘Hate My Way’ was about the sixth song in, and the band seemed to take off from there, with Hersh still sounding hoarse but both she and the band seemingly more relaxed. There were moments when it all really seemed to come together and it was possible to discern what made the band such a hypnotically powerful proposition, and Hersh such a compelling frontwoman, bu there was also the odd moment that was bewilderingly unlistenable as well.

The bands first encore commenced with Hersh performing a stripped down subtle and controlled rendition of early favourit ‘Fish’, and the band rejoined her for about four more songs. They were called back for a second encore afterwards, a blissfully slow and langorous song I wish I knew the title to. Hersh seemed weary as she said a final goodnight, and I was personally relieved that she wasn’t pushed into a third encore. She seemed to have had enough by then.

I couldn’t find any of my friends so after hanging around for 15-20 minutes outside waiting for them to emerge, I headed down Oxford Road. The crowds from the Muses gig were merging with revellers from the Mela for Eid upstairs, and the more spontaneous Eid celebrations outside. Lots of cars were blasting desi and the Asian men (and it was all men so far as I could see) were in boisterous mood.

The further I got down Oxford Road the less Eid revellers I saw. By the time I was passing the Thirsty Scholar by Oxford Road train station the desi had been replaced by the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger once again moaning that he was ‘Borrrn in a crossfire hurricaaannne’. I picked up a 192 by Piccadilly train station and the desi and Rolling Stones were replaced by the deafening mouth organ howl and stomping feet of a scratch blues ensemble on the top deck, who sounded particularly carried away. I have to confess, I’ve seen and heard some seriously weird things on the 192 but this is the first time I’ve experienced a live gig on it, drunken karaoke not withstanding.

Longsight was oddly quiet for Eid, possibly because the gig had finished fairly early, what with it being a Sunday. I arrived home in perfect stillness and quiet.

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Watching the Marivaux’s video for their debut single ‘Horns’, all proceeds from which will be donated to the Student Hardship Fund, I couldn’t help be reminded of the 90’s state of the nation address that was The Family Cat’s ‘Bring Me The Head Of Michael Portillo’

The Family Cat record was pre-internet, and was subject to a government ban (as was it’s follow up ‘Jonathan Aitkin is a twat’) but the Marivaux song appears to have largely slid under the radar.

Will more protest songs follow? and will they be any good?

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