Archive for the ‘human rights’ Category

Ballad of James McLean

March 28, 2017

Listen here –http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Andrew_Walton/Deliveroo_Rider_EP/Ballad_Of_James_McLean

This tale is all too sadly true –
James McLean, he walked the talk.
To London streets, where homeless folk
warm hands on steaming cups of brew.

In Leicester, likewise, courageous stand;
he pitched his tents on Jubilee Square.
Mayor Soulsby, angry at protest there,
Served him notice to quit the land.

But public ground belongs to all;
The Diggers, once fought for such a right.
We have no choice, except to fight,
No longer to be held in thrall.

Moved on, James struck on pastures new,
Nearby the Old Town Hall.
Providing shelter, comradeship too.
Sir Soulsby, he still had the gall

to impose an unjust fine on him:
good James did nothing wrong.
Leicester in Bloom’s all proper and prim
But I’d rather see the homeless throng

provided with places for their needs;
hostel funding should not be cut.
New Labour councillors claim to heed
calls for more resources . . . but

Blairites cry tears of Tory blue,
their words don’t match their deeds.
False claims of  building houses new,
while poor are thrown on the streets.

A Mayor’s vast salary will console;
Soulsby’s never suffered on the dole.
‘Gainst cruel hypocrisy, ruthless cant,
we must, like James, protest and rant.

Homeless services, they must stay,
the fat-cats must be booted out.
Capital’s greed has had its day,
let people protest, hear us shout.

As cuts hit home, we realise
We must all strike and organise,
like James McLean, who made his stand,
and occupied our council land.

mclean

 

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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

Darker Shade of Blue – the Azure card

January 20, 2015

These are notes from a public meeting hosted by Leicester Civil Rights Movement, which detailed the plight of asylum seekers in the UK, today.

We heard first-hand accounts of what it is like living on an Azure card – the card given to asylum seekers who are under Section 4, awaiting a result on their claim for asylum. The card limits where you can go to for food and other essentials: asylum seekers live on a measly £36.62 a week. They do not have access to other benefits and are not legally allowed to work. The voucher scheme was first used in England in 1999 and is currently frozen – it does not go up in line with inflation.

“Not having cash means that you cannot shop in charity shops or the market, which would be cheaper and preferable to supporting big business. I can only use Tesco, Asda, Morrisons or Sainsbury for food – otherwise I need to exchange the card for cash”.

“I have been an asylum seeker for three years, living in a pub and destitute. When you get the Azure Card, it reminds you of a sunny sky, a symbol of hope. But the reality is not like that. Maybe your nearest supermarket is far away, or you may be old, disabled or sick – you still have to walk to the supermarket and back”.

Azure card

“It makes you feel like a criminal, people in the queue stare at you”.

“I can’t save any money from week to week – if you do not use all the money up within a week, it disappears. It makes you a prisoner – you have no choice about where to shop or what to spend your money on. You cannot save up to give someone a gift, or to celebrate. You need to rely on other people to exchange the card for cash – this makes you vulnerable to exploitation”.

“The Home Office want to send me to Nottingham – I don’t know the city, where the shops are – how can I use the card?”

“The card can only be used in the big supermarkets, Mothercare and Boots. I am only allowed to buy food and toiletries – nothing else. I can’t get a phone card, or use a bus. I need to transfer money into a bank account in order to get a phone contract or top up a phone. I can’t do that with an Azure card”.

We heard that it is Home Office policy not to believe applicants when they first apply, so that the vast majority of asylum seekers need to produce additional evidence so that their case can be reconsidered. They are then given an Azure Card, which they could remain on for years.

Asylum seekers have to report to a centre every month – they should be given a bus pass to enable them to do this – but many do not have the confidence to challenge a shop assistant or bus driver if they are refused, the knowledge to whom they should apply, or the English language skills to fill in a form correctly. In addition, many suffer from mental health issues due to the traumatic experiences from which they are fleeing. This adds to the alienation, contributes to stress and makes their situation even worse.

This affects thousands of people, in every major city in the UK.

Asylum seekers cannot travel to visit friends or a solicitor – they cannot travel by coach or train. They have a right to live as well as merely survive. They don’t have access to money, clothes, etc. Women have been denied sanitary pads. Most asylum seekers have had their Azure card refused as they have tried to use it, even in supermarkets which are part of the scheme. Often, because of trauma, they do not have the confidence to argue their rights with a cashier – they may just walk away and their journey to the shop is wasted. If they create a fuss in the shop, generally their card would be accepted – but this draws attention to themselves. Pregnant women have been denied use of the Azure card in Asda – “We can’t take these”.

Why do the government do this?

They want people to leave and become fed up with living in Britain. The official line is that asylum seekers can go to a supermarket and buy food and essentials – what more do they need? There is no account given to people’s basic human rights.

Charities like the City of Sanctuary link people up with asylum seekers, to exchange cards for cash. This helps to some extent, but increases the vulnerability of asylum seekers and affects what little independence they have.

Obviously, we need to get rid of the card, but it is just part of the whole corrupt and rotten detention system. The big four supermarkets make millions out of asylum seekers’ plight – http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/supermarkets-rake-44million-governments-asylum-4635562

We heard from a volunteer with Refugee Action, a charity which offers support to asylum seekers and those with Section 4 support.

He reported that Iain Duncan Smith was considering extending the use of the Azure card to people with gambling, drug or alcohol problems, so that they can only spend money on essentials. This stigmatises people with drug and alcohol problems even more than they are already. There is a real risk that while the scheme may begin with people who have drug / alcohol problems, it could eventually cover everyone on benefits.

Asylum seekers cannot unify as a community – Home Office seeks to chop-up their means of support, by scattering them across the country – so they are disenfranchised. The message is that you are not welcome here. Much of the mainstream media constantly spreads propaganda that asylum seekers and immigrants are to blame for the country’s problems, responsible for failings of services. Thus, the government seeks scapegoats, excuses to carry out its austerity and cuts programme.

“People with dependency issues and drink / drug problems could unite with asylum seekers to stop this campaign of stigmatisation. People with problems often self-medicate – I knew a woman who lost both her children, but ended up using heroin. People can be labelled as “criminals”, “CHAVs”, “uneducated”, but I have experienced peer-led communities, who helped me overcome my drinking. This was as a result of a social phobia – used as a coping mechanism”.

“There is a connection, sympathy and similarity between members of these communities, both are alienated and disenfranchised. Whereas, if you have plenty of money, you are welcomed into the country on what is called an “entrepreneurial visa”, yet vulnerable people, who have gone through horrific experiences, are being targeted”.

“We need to defend high quality, publicly provided drug and alcohol services. We need to empower a disenfranchised working class and connect up community organisations with each other”.

It was felt that getting rid of the Azure card is fixing a small cog in a big wheel – but it would be an important start and give people confidence that they can win victories. If people are not getting served in a supermarket, we could target each supermarket individually. Pickets could support people, there could be a photo-op with giant Azure cards. We need to give people the confidence to approach management if they are refused.

The findings of the meeting correspond with a large-scale report carried out by the Red Cross, drawn from first-hand experience with working with asylum seekers across the country. They recommend withdrawal of the scheme completely and abolition of the law which does not allow Section 4 asylum seekers to receive any cash – http://www.scribd.com/doc/234776188/Azure-Card-Report-2014 – It found that the scheme affects the mental health of the vast majority of asylum seekers, most of them do not understand it or their rights, the vast majority have been refused use of the card and they feel embarrassed and stigmatised as a result of using it.

Sodexho run the Azure card system. The Mirror ran a story showing the money made from asylum seekers by the “big four” supermarkets – Tesco £20.6m, Asda £11.3m, Sainsbury £5.9m, Morrisons £2.4m. “Often people are asked for their signature to buy something. Shops are inconsistent – they may take a card one week and not the next”.

“If you ring the Home Office, they say that all shops are aware of the scheme and they would chase up any shops not complying with it – however, how many asylum seekers would know who to contact, how could they without a phone card?”

I would add that this stigmatisation of marginalised groups is part of capitalism. It is a deliberate strategy, to isolate and atomise working-class and poor people. Mainstream politicians, of all parties, argue that cuts are inevitable and we have no choice but to accept austerity.

Yet the people of Greece and Ireland have shown that there is an alternative to division and scapegoating, by rising up en masse against debts and water charges. We need to do the same here, and also build a political voice for those who have no party to speak for them. I support TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition – which is an attempt to build a new political voice for the oppressed.

Write on.

January 13, 2015

Carbon-powered, a pocket-sized tree.

To inspire, educate, agitate, satirise.

Pricks pompous, powerful politicians.

Graphite forges words, coal-black and

As hard as diamond, but glides softly.

We need to fight to defend this wonder.

No to scapegoating, violence, or racism.

For free expression, protect human rights.

As censors rub out our freedom of speech.

And cartoon characters laugh at violence,

An indestructible force of human nature.

Powerful weapons, in the right hands

Can begin to change the world.

Shattered, broken they lie.

Pencils write, develop

our consciousness.

Spirit lives on.

Fight back.

Unity to

Win.

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.

Save Leicester Race Equality Centre

April 4, 2014

trec

Leicester Race Equality Centre (TREC) has represented the people of Leicester for the last 50 years, giving advice and support to an estimated 150,000 people during that time. Leicester is one of the few cities left in the UK with a Race Equality Centre and the city has been touted by the council, with their slogan “One Leicester”, as a model of multiculturalism. Yet this has been shown to be a hollow boast, when it comes to cutting services supporting community cohesion.

The need for the Race Equality Centre is shown by the fact that Leicester has seen recent protests by the far right, and threats against a community centre in a local estate called Thurnby Lodge, which was used by an Islamic group , as well as many other community groups. Asylum seekers and immigrants in the city still face prejudice, as the right-wing media whip up hatred against minorities. TREC complained to the council’s Antisocial Behaviour Unit, about the problems faced by members of the community in Thurnby Lodge, but was ignored. Campaigners for the centre feel that its political stance, in standing up for the rights of minorities against the council, has contributed to the council’s decision to cut its funding.

TREC offers services to the whole of Leicester’s population. It has successfully brought communities together in dialogue. They have been told that people seeking support will have to go to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau instead, which is itself under-funded and over-stretched.

Leicester’s Labour council (52 out of 54 Labour councillors) and Sir Peter Soulsby, the city’s Labour mayor are cutting not just TREC, but also many other services – nine adventure playgrounds across the city are under threat, and 133 council staff working in children’s services face possible redundancy.

Members of TREC and other local campaigns approached the local Socialist Party and Leicestershire Against The Cuts to fight the council’s cuts, by petitioning to remove the office of executive mayor altogether. We highlighted that just getting rid of a mayor wasn’t going to solve all of the problems in the city – wherever Labour councillors voted for cuts, we vow to stand against them in elections. Leicestershire Against The Cuts seeks to bring all those facing cuts together to fight back.

A public meeting was called, and 130 people gathered to oppose cuts to the centre. We decided to pressurise the council by organising a mass lobby of its next meeting at the Town Hall, 5pm on Wednesday 9th April. A petition to support the Race Equality Centre is here – http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/help-save-the-race-equality-centre and the Save Our Services Sack Soulsby petition can be found here – http://goo.gl/XGzhUd

The Socialist Party supports these petitions, but believes that petitioning alone is not enough, as the council have already ignored the findings of “consultations”. We need a mass movement to force them to back down. We point out that there is no need to cut services, when money is being ploughed into capital projects such as Jubilee Square are going ahead at the cost of £4m, or an area of the city centre is being re-paved at a cost of £500,000. The council also has reserves, which instead of being used to pay employees’ redundancy payments, could be used to keep services open while it fought the Tory cuts, and called on other Labour councils across the country to do the same.

As the forerunner to the Socialist Party Militant proved in its struggle in Liverpool from 1984-87, there was a council which built more council houses in that one city than the rest of the country combined, which protected jobs and services and mobilised a mass campaign to force money from the Thatcher government. The Socialist Party, as part of TUSC, still stands opposed to all cuts in all public services. We point out that the resources are there in society to invest in communities, it is just that there is no political voice to stand up for the interests of ordinary people. We are part of rebuilding that movement.