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Year 2001 No. 51, March 19, 2001 Archive Search Home Page

More Teachers Vote to Join Action

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

More Teachers Vote to Join Action

Contradictory Signs for Tony Blair

National Conference on Care for the Elderly

Tony Blair Declares that Britain’s Joining Rapid Reaction Force is Vital for NATO

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More Teachers Vote to Join Action

Teachers in Kent, Manchester and Reading have voted to take industrial action by not covering for staff shortages.

The turnout in the ballot of NUT and NASUWT members averaged 36% and the vote for action was 91.5%.

Teachers in London and Doncaster had begun their action last week and have been joined by those in Middlesbrough, Leicester, Nottingham, Portsmouth and Southampton. Other ballots are taking place in Hertfordshire, Sandwell, Hartlepool, Ipswich, Liverpool, Barnsley, Medway Towns and Rochdale.

The teachers action involves refusing to cover beyond the first day of an absence known in advance – including permanent vacancies – or for more than three days in the case of a teacher being suddenly unavailable. The teachers’ contract of employment says that teachers can be asked to cover where the employer has "exhausted all reasonable steps of providing a supply teacher to provide cover without success". In many schools, these so-called exceptional circumstances are becoming the norm, and the teachers have condemned this situation as unacceptable.

NASUWT general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, has pointed out that in London and Doncaster extra supply teachers are being found, in some cases "miraculously". He said, "In that case the action is succeeding. If it secures more supply teachers then the immediate demands of the action are met. However, these are only short-term remedies. The chief inspector has already reported that children’s education is being damaged by an excessive reliance upon supply teachers."

In their work to rule, the teachers of the NUT and NASUWT are refusing to: teach classes that have been amalgamated; teach pupils moved from other classes because their teachers are not available; undertake duties which normally go with a post that has not been filled; set or mark work for classes other than their own; and supervise or co-operate with non-teaching staff covering classes.

Where head teachers cannot manage to cover any classes affected by the action, they face the prospect of having no option but to send pupils home. However, Nigel de Gruchy has said that reports indicate that many permanent vacancies have at last been filled by emergency arrangements prompted by the impending "cover to contract" action. He said, "Far from wanting schools to go on part-time education, teachers will be delighted to see their action yielding results to everyone’s benefit."

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, has said that the teachers’ action is "damaging children’s life chances".

However, the teachers’ action is just and is being taken in opposition to the anti-social offensive. According to Tony Blair, the direction society is headed in is a matter of "choice not chance". Yet when it comes to the future for the youth, all the government can offer children and school-leavers is "life chances", the "chance of work", and so on. It will not even provide the necessary resources to invest in schools and the teaching profession to ensure an all-round education so that children are prepared to take charge of society in the future.

The demands of the teachers are consistent with the demand that the government as the representative of society invest in social programmes, and for society’s political renewal so that the people can make the decisions which affect their lives and their future.

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Contradictory Signs for Tony Blair

The bourgeoisie would like to see the Labour Party ensconced in power for its second term of office in order to see through the project of putting the arrangements in place in society appropriate for imperialist globalisation. This is the significance of the opinion poll that floats the conjecture that that Labour has extended its lead to 26 or 27 percentage points.

At the same time, there is a growing feeling among the electorate that it would be at the very least insensitive to the needs of the country if an election were to be called while the foot-and-mouth disease crisis continues to build, as well as there being opposition to the government’s handling of the crisis which is causing such damage to the agricultural industry.

Margaret Beckett for the government has said that the issue of calling the election is "under review".

The Labour Party is also launching a project to try and increase its power base among the electorate by setting up 12 pilot schemes. The aim, it is reported, is to overhaul its party membership and increase community participation in politics. By "community participation in politics" is meant schemes to ensure that supporters are found at the grassroots level for Labour’s programme to hold communities responsible for the people’s wellbeing.

The answer of the working class and people must be to politicise themselves in order to participate in political life to represent their own interests. If the election is called for May 3, the task facing the progressive forces is to build up the workers’ opposition to the "Third Way" programme of New Labour.

Article Index

WDIE Report of RAGE (Residents Action Group for the Elderly) Conference

National Conference on Care for the Elderly

Held in Birmingham

By Ken Knapman

On Saturday, March 17, 100 delegates gathered from around the country to discuss setting up a National Organisation around the important pro-social programme of investment in care for the elderly. This extremely important and significant milestone represents a victory for working people of Britain, who have been campaigning for years seeking progress for the development in the needs of the older generation. It is a move by users of council care homes and their families in particular against the anti-social agenda put forward by the ruling circles and successive governments.

The conference was hosted by Birmingham RAGE (Residents Action Group for the Elderly) and guest speakers included: Les Bright of Counsel in Care; Karen Escott, the principal researcher, Centre for Public Services; Dr David Rowland, Research officer at the University of Central London; Caroline Johnson, Convenor of UNISON in Birmingham; David Atkins, Havering Action Committee; Phylis McGowan, Camden Wellesley Road Campaign; Martin Ralph, Tameside carers representative; Winnie Whitehouse, Dudley Hospital Dispute; and Mark Oley of RAGE in Birmingham. The meeting was chaired by Ron Dorman of Birmingham RAGE.

The main speakers gave talks, speeches and presentations in the morning session to a very high standard with professional overhead displays and an enormous amount of back-up material for the participants. The afternoon session contained workshops on: 1. How to use the law, presented by Allastair Wallace, solicitor from Tyndallwoods; 2. Preparing your arguments, presented by Karen Escott. The second half of the afternoon contained two workshops on: 1. Organising in the community, by Greg Myatt (RAGE); 2. Building in the unions, presented by Laura Teague and Caroline Johnson (UNISON).

At the start of the Conference a message from Jaguar Cars Joint Shop Stewards Committee was read out by the Chair. It read:

"We, the Jaguar Trade Unions send this strong message of support to You/RAGE in fighting the privatisation of the social services provision of care for the elderly in Birmingham. We wish you good luck for your national conference and all trade unions wish to be kept informed of developments in the campaign."

A message of support was read out from the Fire Brigades Union: It read:

"Colleagues, please accept fraternal greetings to all delegates from officers and individuals from West Midlands Fire Brigades Union. We hope that your conference today is a success. The battles you are undertaking on behalf of the elderly homes are a credit to both the workers and the residents. Your fight is part of the mobilisation of the Public Sector that needs to take place to win this war. The elected representatives who vote through these tacks are morally corrupt, their actions are destroying the lives of those who work in the public sector and those that in the future may use these public services. Your courage, resourcefulness, strength and principles are a boon to the rest of us. Forward in unity, strength and solidarity, enough is enough, yours fraternally Steve Godwall, Vice Chairman of the FBU."

Les Bright from Counsel in Care looked at issues of privacy, food, mealtimes and closures which have been around for nearly 50 years. He reported to the conference of how they had worked to minimise the impact on the people who lived in homes over the period of their activity. He told conference, "During a period of uncertainty people become unwell and in many cases they often die." He said, "In the event that a home does close, steps are taken to ensure that people are moved safely and they are fighting so that residents go where they want to and not where they are told to." This campaign has had to point towards government. Les asked to what extent do we as a society value the care of older people? He pointed to how a Royal Commission highlighted the need for massive investment. He said that the formation of a national organisation at this conference would be able to make care of older people a central question in the general election.

Karen Escott, principal researcher for the Centre for Public Services, talked about the so-called "modernisation of local government" and how "Best Value" was supposed to be attained. She demonstrated how service provision was made through local authorities, trusts, voluntary services and the private sector. She spoke about how the pressure was to transfer services, nationally, directly into the private sector. Privatisation experts were employed to look at ways of saving money. She said that demand for care of the elderly was increasing and local authorities are the biggest funders and private care depends also on the funding from the local authority. There is evidence of closures and take-overs and the local authorities are being blamed, yet the problem is lack of government funding.

Karen said that the potential impact was on the quality of care. Removal of democratic control has an impact on the homecare staff where there is a high cost of transfer. The advantages of in-house services are that they are flexible and have high standards of in-care. Also the staff are usually highly skilled, experienced and committed. She said that the focus was service improvement where standards are raised higher. This has to be the long-term perspective where "Best Value" must be rigorous. She said that the various options must be fully examined and the challenge is to put a range of options. A key factor in all this is the consultation process where user and staff view should always be taken into account.

Caroline Johnson, UNISON convenor, said 19 of the 36 residential homes in Birmingham were going to be closed and replaced with extra care sheltered housing. "This is not what the families, residents and staff want," she said, when she visited all of the homes. "The majority of people in the homes are very frail, 90 percent are over 75 years old, many had lived in sheltered housing before moving into residential homes and found it quite difficult. We put it to our council and made it clear that we were in favour of putting in extra care for sheltered housing for those that wanted but it shouldn't be put at the expense of closing down our homes. The council didn't listen to it but continued to close down some of our homes. In one house the council actually boarded up the window of a home, where residents took the council to court while the residents were still in there to attempt to get them out." Amongst other things Caroline reported:

"We have set up campaigns in every home and have been lobbying, petitioning, general public protests, which have helped to raise the profile of our campaign. In 1998 we founded RAGE, which consisted of relatives and residents in the homes and union shop stewards and individual members. We decided we didn't want the homes to close or be privatised. We have tied them up in the courts. In December, Birmingham City Council decided to ignore the wishes of our elderly community and decided to privatise every single one of our elderly people's homes. We felt that we had enough, of playing games by their rules. We began a campaign of mass civil disobedience we have always been angry but now we are raging and if we have to block traffic or tie ourselves to public buildings we are prepared to do it. Our first taste of direct action was in January when 25 pensioners from the over sixties club attached to one of our homes bought the traffic to an almost standstill by Springhill roundabout. We kept the light on red and handed out 2,000 leaflets and talked to people who tried to get into work."

Phylis McGowan of the Wellesley Road Campaign in Camden said, "They brought a massive amount of suitcases and the thought crossed my mind of their being ‘shipped out’ for the crime of only being a pensioner." She asked, "Why are we all having to fight a ‘socialist’ government?" She commented on what Mark Twain had said about why they are selling homes off, "Buy land, they ain't making any more!" One home went for £3.5m and the Thomas Ellis home went for £1.5m.

She asked, "Why are we treating our old people this way, they went through war and depression, an old woman of 93 had to go to the high court. There is a home of 100 people in Camden and the people who care for them, when they move, won't be able to go with them. Camden Council will be charged with murder when these people die!"

She also reported, "In a judicial review the judge couldn't say that they can't close the home, only, 'You just can't do it that way'."

Phylis said that they had gone to the trade unions for help. They needed to force the likes of Frank Dobson and Glenda Jackson to stand on a platform and justify themselves!

Martin Ralph of Tameside Carers gave his greetings form Manchester. The carers struck for one and a half years during 1998 and 1999. He said, "We do need defence of public services and a national campaign." He spoke of the need of care for the elderly and highlighted the needs of support staff.

He continued, "Tameside was a forerunner, it happened 10 years ago. It is not just the Tories. They bribed councils, and a strong labour council took the bribe enthusiastically. They said services wouldn't decline and wages wouldn't go down but they lied. They said that if anything goes the wrong way then they would take it back again. We believed the promises then. During the strike, the experience of the elderly was a national disgrace; one woman campaigner was put on beans on toast for breakfast forever. It took weeks to change her beds. Strikers wanted then to be part of a national movement. It might be too late for them but they hope it still happens."

During the workshops there was much lively discussion about the nature of the campaign and how it must prepare itself for political action on a national basis. People talked about how the movement cannot rely on the leadership of the unions but work amongst the trade union members to influence the movement. It was raised and discussed how to make use of the "Charter for Social Justice" and fight the social partnership between unions and employers both at home and in the wider context of the European Union.

A number of resolutions were put forward at the end of the conference for acceptance and voted upon, as well as the decisive question of forming a National Committee. All in all, the conference was a resounding success for the future of the movement in favour of care for the elderly.

Article Index

Tony Blair Declares that Britain’s Joining Rapid Reaction Force is Vital for NATO

Tony Blair has commented in the Sunday Telegraph that it is essential for the future of NATO that Britain has signed up to the planned new European rapid reaction force. He says that if Britain had stood apart from the new force, it would have played in to the hands of those elements which wanted to undermine NATO.

Tony Blair is performing a tight rope act, acting as a "bridge" between the interests of US imperialism and the Europe of the monopolies. He has committed Britain to the Rapid Reaction Force, but does not wish to go as far as France in developing a separate defence identity for the EU. At the same time, he is forced join in with developing the force for fear of not being able to develop what he refers to as Britain’s leading role in Europe. He said to the Sunday newspaper, "If we don’t get involved in European defence, it will happen without Britain." He continued, "Then those people who really may have an agenda to destroy NATO will have control of it."

The US Republican administration of George W Bush is fearful of the implications of the European force for challenging the aggressive US-led NATO alliance. Yet it is not opposed to it as such, providing the US can control it and allow it to carry out the interests of US imperialism without US troops being involved. For example, the US administration criticised the European powers for not being involved in the bombing of Yugoslavia, yet was reluctant to put its own troops into the field and get further bogged down in the Balkans.

Tony Blair’s comments coincide with a fresh warning from US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the European force could undermine NATO unless it was properly handled. In an interview in the same newspaper, the US Defence Secretary stressed that it is essential that the planning mechanism for the new force should remain with NATO if the new arrangements are to work successfully.

Donald Rumsfeld said, "As one who has spent a lot of time with NATO, I must say that I personally will be watching very carefully to see how things evolve, because we have so much at stake with the alliance. We have to be vigilant to see that we don’t do anything that could inject instability into the alliance. It’s a lot easier to put something at risk than it is to fashion it in the first place."

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