Sir Soulsby, British Steel and the case of the Chinese Granite

January 26, 2016

I was standing at a stall in the centre of  Leicester last Saturday afternoon, with the noise of pan-pipes playing Abba jarring my ears.

steel

I had taken the old British Steel logo (designed by David Gentleman in 1967) and made posters with “Save Our Steel”. “Renationalise the steel industry to provide jobs for communities”, I shouted – but the pan pipers had now been joined by some Hare Krishna devotees and I wasn’t sure if people could hear what we were saying.

The last remaining steelworks in Britain, representing centuries of skills and jobs for local communities, are under threat of closure – the Indian steel company TATA is announcing job losses at Port Talbot as I write this. The problem has been that cheaper steel has been imported from China, where labour costs are far lower and our industry has simply been unable to compete.

I realised that the very granite paving slabs we were standing on were also symbolic of the process of capitalist globalisation. They were shipped from China and are made of Chinese granite. It was obviously cheaper for Sir Peter Soulsby, the Lord Mayor of Leicester (no doubt having hired a consultancy to do a cost effectiveness analysis) to import tons of rock halfway across the planet, so that Leicester’s streets could be paved. Cheaper, that is, if you don’t take into account the exploitation of workers in China, or the greenhouse gases involved in the transport of the rock. The word “cheap” in this context is relative – the whole project cost £19m, with £1.5m set aside for the materials needed.

From the beginning, things went wrong – the “wrong type of granite” was delivered, which delayed the project, and specalist machinery had to be purchased to maintain the pavements. Despite all this effort, problems continued – granite is naturally porous and so was always going to be a challenge to clean. One comment was that a bag of chips should have been thrown on the paving slabs to test them before they were purchased.

It isn’t even as if the new paving slabs have been particularly prized by the people of Leicester. In 2010, just three years after they were laid, a quarter of them had become loose and so much of the city centre had to be dug up and re-paved.

So how was Chinese granite chosen for this job in the first place? The manufacturers explain that granite was chosen because it was “traditional to Leicestershire” and because it lasted longer than concrete. Indeed, granite is traditional to Leicestershire. Some of the oldest igneous rock in the world is under Charnwood forest, to the north. The area is dotted with local granite quarries. Had people been informed of the potential difficulties and product miles involved in transporting the rock, maybe they would have had second thoughts?

Under capitalism, it is cheaper to import huge quantities of steel, or granite from China, and ship it across the globe, than it is to use locally-manufactured alternatives. Labour cost is clearly the major factor in this. The answer is surely to secure decent terms and conditions for workers worldwide, so that jobs cannot be undercut.

The stall I was taking part in was on a cold Saturday in January in Leicester was organised by the Socialist Party. The Socialist Party is part of the Committee for a Workers’ International, which fights for socialism and workers’ rights in 45 countries worldwide. We argue for democratic control of industry, decent wages and secure jobs. If the profit motive is taken out of the equation – then we can truly have a future that benefits the vast majority of the Earth’s population, and ensures that there will be a habitable planet for future generations to enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Hot Air (updated)

December 30, 2015

Trains trundle to and fro, tired travellers
Stuffed sardines stifle in squalor
First-class fat cats with fatter wallets
Relax, remote from the raucous riff-raff.

Six hundred hypocritical half-wits howl hot
Air against applications; altercations arise –
Irate imprecations, impossible implications.
Wind turbines? Not In My Back Yard!

Motorway madness means mollycoddling motorists
Belching bellicose blasts, bloated backbenchers
Pork on Parliamentary privilege,
Gigantic guffs of hot air.

Cameron points accusingly
Crotch-deep in flood water,
Après moi la deluge – a modern Canute
Eclipsed by climate change.

If only Nature could be given wings
And the Earth’s glacial warming
Measured in a five-year term.

On the distant banks of the Thames
No cuts to flood defences here.
The barrier bursts open,
Foetid algal slurry laps
Around hems of designer suits,
Ruining pairs of Jimmy Choos.

Maybe, the message might just prick
Empty balloons of pomposity and privilege.

Or we could just take power ourselves.
We would not have to suffer
Yet more hot air.

Whaling

December 29, 2015

Computers can’t read handwriting
They’re no good at that at all.
A five year old can outsmart the brainiest chip
When it comes to deciphering a simple slip
Of paper. For all its technological prowess
Squiggles and scrawls do not process.
A Pentium wouldn’t know a sonnet from a sestina
If it slapped it in its face (metaphorically speaking).

Satellites collect data, from all ahttp://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/18681/20151209/mariner.htmcross the globe.
Model our climate, predict weather
But we don’t know what happened before,
In previous centuries, of yore.
But in museums, there moulders forgotten lore.

Mariners kept logs to tell them, if they were heading nor-nor-west.
Latitude and longitude, in the days before GPS.
So that’s where human brains and eyes come in
To decipher a ship’s scribe’s scribblings
As their boat listed violently in an Arctic storm.
They didn’t know they too were recording precious data
To unravel El Nino’s mysteries, to save future polar bears.

We can use the computers we have in our heads
To understand where we come from
To right wrongs we have done to this planethttp://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/18681/20151209/mariner.htmhttp://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/18681/20151209/mariner.htm
Maybe some good will come of whaling after all.
Co-operation, not profit must be our goal
To stop global warming from swallowing us whole.

 

To participate in the project to extrapolate our data about the world’s climate back 150 years – click on this link: http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/18681/20151209/mariner.htm

Leicester political parties to debate future of Human Rights Act

December 8, 2015

A couple of quotes –

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre;
The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” (W B Yeats, The Second Coming)

“Liberty, if it means anything, is the freedom to tell people that which they do not want to hear.” (George Orwell)

The first quote is apt, because it describes a process which destroys the established order of things – the idea of social democracy which seemed so dominant after the Second World War is rapidly being dismantled, at the altar of profit and unrestricted, laissez-faire capitalism.

The second quote describes the necessity for freedom of speech, the right to protest, the right to have a democratic voice, to go on strike, to organise in a trade union – to tell those in power what they do not want to hear.

I will be speaking for TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) at a debate on the future of the Human Rights Act on Wed 9th December, the day before International Human Rights Day.

We are broadly in favour of the Human Rights Act, even though socialists recognise that it does not go far enough in guaranteeing people’s economic rights, that it can be superseded by national legislation, and that rights granted under capitalism have to be fought for – having legislation alone is not enough. However, the Tories’ proposal to strip us of basic rights is still an outrageous attack on civil liberties.

We have seen the clamp-down on freedom of speech in the wake of the Paris bombings by Hollande, the so-called “socialist” President of France, with environmental protestors being unable to have any say, even outside the recent United Nations climate change talks.

This is highly ironic, since it was the United Nations which introduced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 – in order to set baseline standards of human rights, in an attempt to legislate against the horrific Nazi regime, to simply say that some human rights (privacy, life, freedom from torture, right of privacy, right of assembly) were sacrosanct.

Again, the British government (then New Labour) came up against this in 2004, with their willingness to indefinitely hold foreign prisoners without trial, in contravention of international human rights legislation. The Lords overturned their intent, due to it being incompatible with the Human Rights Act.

So what is the future of the Human Rights Act, and why is it still relevant today? Join in the debate on Wednesday 9th December at the Race Equality Centre, 6.30pm.

Source: Leicester political parties to debate future of Human Rights Act

Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge [Book Launch]

December 8, 2015

Source: Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge [Book Launch]

Uncovering Resistance: Leicester and Leicestershire in World War One

October 3, 2015

This set of poems arose from a book by Penny Walker, exploring Leicester’s resistance to World War One. I performed these as part of the Everybody’s Reading Festival.

Common to the interviews done in preparation for the book, were family silences on the subject of war. Perhaps it was just too difficult a subject to be talked about. The prevailing attitude (completely unhealthy of course) of the British “stiff upper lip” may have played a part – or perhaps words were simply not capable of capturing the horrors of the trenches.

The opening line, “For fifty-seven years”, refers to Harry Patch, who never talked about the war to his late wife, and was 100 before being inspired to pass on an anti-war message to future generations.


Silence

For fifty-seven years, he kept it secret from his wife
A shameful infidelity, a nightmare, a scream of terror.
For words cannot encompass the horror
Cannot convey the conflict.
Unless you were there, you would not understand.

The title of my next poem, “Cat and Mouse”, refers to the treatment, common to both conscientious objectors and suffragettes – of being imprisoned for a short time, then released – only to be recaptured by the authorities. The popularly called “Cat and Mouse Act” enabled the government to remove suffragettes from prison, if they had been on hunger strike, forcibly feed them, then return them to prison. As the war went on, it became more difficult to obtain exemption from the war. Conscientious objectors faced similar treatment, and the opprobrium heaped on them continued, even after the conflict had ended.


Cat and Mouse

We were released,
Asked to sign on
Imprisoned again.

Up before the beak,
The middle-class old duffer,
Deaf to our pleas.

Treated like criminals,
Blacklisted.
After war ended
Still people held grudges.

Life goes on,
We make do.
Where others perished,
We still live.

The white feather
Becomes a white poppy.
Symbol of resistance,
Symbol of pride.

Common reasons for objecting to the war were non-conformist Christian beliefs – the idea that it is never right to kill another human being, as well as socialist beliefs – the idea that the working class should unite against the bosses, and that this struggle must be international. This imperialist war is a war for the aristocrats – so why should we do their dirty work for them? Common to both strands of thought, were rock-solid principles.

“I have been fighting all my life” is a quote from John Flanagan, who was a shop-steward and a member of the Independent Labour Party in Bradford. His grand-daughter now lives in Leicester. When asked why he refused to fight, he replied that he had been fighting all his life, but he refused to kill fellow workers. Often Christian and socialist beliefs went together, and I (an atheist) have tried to combine these outlooks in this poem.


Principles

I will not fight against my fellow man.
This is not an act of cowardice;
I am as patriotic as the next fellow:
But war must be resisted.

Without us, the general’s plans are naught.
We are the ones who have to drive in
The bayonet. Who have to turn against
Common humanity, common decency.

I have been fighting all my life
For decent pay and better conditions.
The trade union banner is my flag.
The bosses are our enemy, not each other.

An injury to one is an injury to all.
Thou shalt not kill.
We were all created in the image of God.
We are all equal.

One of the most enduring images of the First World War is the recruitment poster with Lord Kitchener, “Your country needs YOU”. In this poem, I contrast the glory and camaraderie which many people signed up to war, with the shell-shocked veterans who returned from the front, only to be shunned by polite society. For the ordinary Tommy, there would be no treatment of the psychological effects of the war, and this was only just beginning to be understood.


Kitchener

Kitchener pointed at each of us.
Our friends had signed up,
Some lied about their age to join.
We were young in those days
Eager, idealistic, naïve.
By Christmas it would all be over:
Cut down in the trenches of Passchendaele or Ypres.
Such a waste of life.
The Lonely Ones returned
Not to a heroes’ welcome.
Nomadic – unable to settle, or rest.
Thoughts echoed through their heads
To surface in nightmares.
Ignored by society, shunned.
Past glories, forgotten.
Fingers still point accusingly
At broken men.

little red little green

If you have enjoyed my poetry on this blog, my new collection, “Little Green Poetry” is now available from Lulu – – £4+P&P (paperback) or £2.50 (for e-book readers)

You can still order copies of my first collection, “Little Red Poetry” from http://www.leftbooks.co.uk or http://www.lulu.com – again for £4 (pb) or £2.50 (as a pdf for e-readers).

I hope you enjoy reading my poems, and, as always, all proceeds will go to help build the fightback against corporate political parties, to build a voice for the millions, not the millionaires.

To find out more about my politics, visit the website of the Committee For A Workers’ International, which is engaged in struggle in around 50 countries worldwide.

How Saxby Street Got Its Name

September 28, 2015

Some poetic responses for the Everybody’s Reading Festival, to the eponymous book by Penny Walker, which discusses the impact of World War One on my local community of Highfields, Leicester.

What’s In A Name?

Place names – windows onto the past
From a distance of a century,
Ordinary folk from Highfields
Caught up in conflict
With other ordinary people.
We even shared the same words:
Mecklenburg, Mickleover, Micheldever
Mony a pickle maks a mickle.
Inflamed by propaganda,
Outraged at living with a Germanic street name
Indignant complaints made to the council.
At a stroke of a bureaucratic pencil
Hanover – Andover; Saxe Coburg – Saxby
As in Groby, Blaby, Barkby, Ratby
Reminders of the time when the Danelaw ruled
And Erik Bloodaxe was feared like the Hun.
Immigration is nothing new,
We all have something fresh to bring.
Today, Leicester celebrates Divali, Eid and Vaisakhi
The Empire which stoked war is but a memory
We live together as a community.

The motto of Leicester is Semper Eadem which translates as “Always the Same”. The children of Medway Primary School staged a short play, looking at the similarities and differences between 1915 and 2015.

Always The Same

Leicester stood out
In the rush to sign on
We remained aloof,
Independent.
Recognised the war for
The racket it was.
It was easy to get a job
Though hours were long
Hosiery was thriving.
We sang to rhythms
Of the factory.
No need to risk our lives
For a few bob.

Penny’s book dealt with memories from the First World War recorded in the local Oral History Archive. Since this was compiled starting from the early eighties, few people were alive who could remember the events from their adulthood. Many of the contributions were about childhood experiences of wartime.

Memories

Children played in the street
Hopscotch, top and whip, battledore and shuttlecock.
Our rhymes danced high and clear –
One potato, two potato, three potato, four!
Much better than school – crammed sixty to a class.
Lives were more fragile;
No doctors for the likes of us.
The NHS was a figment of Bevan’s imagination
To be cradled by a future war.
We couldn’t afford such luxury.
We swam through the jitties and the alleys
Fireflies amidst pollution’s pall.
Innocents in the battle
Which engulfed the world.

little red little green

If you have enjoyed my poetry on this blog, my new collection, “Little Green Poetry” is now available from Lulu – – £4+P&P (paperback) or £2.50 (for e-book readers)

You can still order copies of my first collection, “Little Red Poetry” from http://www.leftbooks.co.uk or http://www.lulu.com – again for £4 (pb) or £2.50 (as a pdf for e-readers).

I hope you enjoy reading my poems, and, as always, all proceeds will go to help build the fightback against corporate political parties, to build a voice for the millions, not the millionaires.

To find out more about my politics, visit the website of the Committee For A Workers’ International, which is engaged in struggle in around 50 countries worldwide.

This little piggy trusts in market

September 21, 2015

What fantasies trotted through Cameron’s head?
Prime Berkshire Bore, home counties, well-bred –
With fly unzipped, and pork sword at half mast,
Piggy was prepared for a final repast.
What made the Honourable Member rise –
Edwina Currie, with smouldering eyes?
Did Thatcher’s stern image fill up his spout
As it flapped against pink, upturned snout?
Did Virginia Bottomley’s golden locks
Stuff his succulent sausage with meaty thoughts?
Bestiality – just a youthful fling?
Harmless but of college fun – not a thing
Worthy of the tabloid press to dwell on.
But Corbyn left his top button undone,
Stood silent at the national anthem.
Do such heinous crimes – heaven forfend –
Justify acres of column inches penned?
One rule for the rich, another for the poor
Posh-boy’s high-jinks, fit for cutting-room floor.

Thoughts on Corbyn’s victory

September 14, 2015

Regular readers will know that the header of this blog – with three cans standing for three varieties of equally foul-tasting soft drinks, was an attempt to highlight the lack of a working-class political alternative in the UK. All the main parties (at the time of designing the blog, when I first started posting in 2009) had the same austerity agenda.

This has changed with the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party. He has galvanised hundreds of thousands of supporters in packed meetings the length and breadth of the country to simple ideas: we do not have to put up with inequality; we can fund decent public services; we can run our public services democratically and we should be governed from the bottom up, with more democracy and transparency. These socialist ideas are what the Labour Party should be standing for, and what the party was founded on.

I have never been a member of the Labour Party, or any other party for that matter, until 2004, when I joined the Socialist Party (formerly Militant Labour) in protest at the Iraq War – now the mess we have made, with imperialist adventures in the Middle East is all too apparent, with the human cost of hundreds of thousands of refugees. Corbyn rightly opposes investment in Trident, and the bombing of Syria.

The Socialist Party had since 1996, been arguing for a new working-class party, to represent the millions disenfranchised by New Labour. As Militant, we had been the subject of a witch-hunt in the 1980s, and so turned outside the Labour Party. We argued that Labour was dead and there was no point in trying to resuscitate a corpse. One of my first blog posts was a parody of Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch, to illustrate this point. However, it seems that we could have been wrong – that Corbyn may be able to restore democracy and socialist ideas and finally exorcise the ghost of New Labour.

The scale of his victory (60%, and a clear winner across all sections of the Labour Party – with the exception of the Parliamentary Labour Party) is encouraging – but there is still a lot of work to be done. I support Dave Nellist’s call for a conference of everyone on the left who is opposed to austerity – the trade unions, grassroots Labour supporters, Green Left, and TUSC, the party which I am a member and have stood for in elections. I think TUSC, to a small extent, by articulating anti-austerity policies in hundreds of constituencies across the UK, played a part in convincing people of the need for an alternative. A conference would provide a platform for a discussion about how to defend the ideas of socialism from attacks on the right, and transform the Labour Party back to what it should always have been – a vehicle for democratic socialism, to provide electoral representation for the working class. Careerist, Blairite politicians within Labour will need to be deselected at the earliest opportunity, if Corbyn will have any chance of carrying through the bold programme on which he has been elected.

The Progress faction within Labour are licking their wounds now – with many resigning from the shadow cabinet, but they will waste no time in attacking socialist ideas, for they are still wedded to capitalism. Tony Blair has described capitalism as “the only system that works” – New Labour privatised much of the NHS, did nothing to reverse Tory anti-trade union laws, expanded the use of the Private Finance Initiative (started by the Tories under John Major), and fundamentally did not oppose Tory austerity.

Labour also has a huge problem in Scotland – traditionally its heartland, but the SNP have acted as a pole of attraction for people looking for an anti-austerity party there (not that the SNP actually oppose austerity themselves, and offer no real alternative, being wedded to capitalist ideas themselves). Labour shot itself in the foot by allying with the Tories on the question of independence, and will not easily be forgiven by the Scottish working-class.

We can expect savage attacks on Corbyn from the right-wing press, but also from the right of his own party. Corbyn needs to re-democratise Labour, allowing the grassroots of the party to have a say in decision making. He should enable left-wing trade unions that had been expelled from New Labour – the RMT and FBU – to return, with democratic rights to have input into policy decisions.

The working-class will need to fight back.

Anthology in solidarity with refugees

September 5, 2015

artPoems for People: an anthology in solidarity with Refugees

Aim: To publish and promote an anthology of poems to raise awareness of issues faced by refugees and show solidarity. Funds raised over and above the anthology’s costs will go to charities supporting refugees. The anthology will be produced by an experienced editorial committee, typesetter and Five Leaves Publications who will not charge for their time and will be available in print and as an ebook. Proceeds from sales will go to registered charities supporting refugees both in the East Midlands and abroad.

Donations are welcome – please click on the link above to donate to the cost of producing the anthology.

This is based on a suggestion of Ambrose Musiyiwa, who was inspired by the poetry collection 150 Poems for Human Rights. The plan is for an East Midlands anthology of a hundred poems or pieces of micro-fiction, in solidarity with the refugees who are taking to boats and rafts to cross the Mediterranean, or making their way with difficulty through Europe and, in a small number of cases, arrive in Calais with the hope of reaching the U.K. The aim of the anthology is to enable readers to take a view of the situation which is not governed by the fear and hatred, whipped up by the language of media and many politicians. The anthology will be produced by an editorial committee, typesetter and publisher who will work free of charge. The anthology will be published by Five Leaves Publications in Nottingham, and will be available both in print and as an ebook.

Submission Guidelines:

Please submit no more than three pieces of work. If you submit work which has previously been published, please give details of where it has appeared. The editors would particularly welcome writing which sheds a new light on the refugee experience in some way, writing which is specific rather than general, and writing which is not unremittingly gloomy, harrowing or preachy. We hope for a variety of work and an anthology which will interest, engage and surprise readers.

Poems should be no more than 42 lines (and much shorter work is welcome). Micro fictions should be no more than 100 words. All work should be single-spaced. Please include a biography of 50 – 100 words.

All submitted work should be in English. In the case of translated work, it is the translator’s responsibility to obtain permission from the copyright-holder of the original work.

Please send your submissions, preferably by email to poetsinsolidarity101@gmail.com by midnight on 28 September 2015. Send all material in a single word attachment AND in the body of the email. If you do not have access to email, you may submit by sending two copies of each piece of work by mail to: Poets in Solidarity with Refugees, 36 Leybury Way, Scraptoft, Leicestershire LE7 9UB. In either case, remember to include your contact details.

About: Poets in Solidarity with Refugees is a group of writers, artists and literature promoters, mostly based in the East Midlands, who want to share and welcome stories from refugees fleeing war-torn countries. Poems and fiction for the anthology will be selected by an experienced editorial panel and backed by a promotional campaign.


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