Sunday, November 18, 2007 

Olympic Promises

Interesting report this morning on Radio Five Live by Barbara Collins on whether the East End will benefit from the 2012 Olympics and whether the Games will really leave a legacy of sporting facilities, business opportunities and a brand new transport infrastructure. In the week when the Olympic authorities have been trumpeting their plans, what kind of regeneration is on the cards?

Download as a podcast here [mp3 - right click to 'Save As...']

Saturday, November 17, 2007 

The RESPECT split and its impact in Newham

For those who are still unaware, one of Newham’s two opposition parties, RESPECT, has split nationally into two factions, one led by George Galloway and the other by the Socialist Workers Party.

Following an emergency meeting of Newham RESPECT on 26th October, a statement was issued that strongly opposed any split in the party and called upon the leadership “to pause and refrain from any move to divide us.” The statement adds that “Newham members are united in believing that everything that brought us together still exists and more so now” and that the party locally “appreciate our weaknesses and resolve to move forward and manifest the nation's desire for a political organisation that reflects the most important aspirations for a just society.”

What is interesting about this statement, as with much of the sudden and acrimonious collapse of RESPECT as a political project, is who has signed it and where it has appeared. It is posted on the ‘official’ RESPECT website, which is controlled by the SWP faction, but a number of the signatories were most definitely not SWP members, including Sabia Kamali, the unsuccessful candidate for councillor in Plaistow North, or the Mayoral candidate Abdurahman Jafar, or branch chair Michael Gavan, or Sarah Ruiz, a former Labour councillor who lost her seat after standing as a RESPECT candidate for councillor in East Ham North. But the names very obviously missing included the three RESPECT councillors who were elected - Hanif Abdulmuhit, Asif Karim and Abdul Karim Sheikh. Hanif was also RESPECT's chosen candidate for the Greater London Assembly (GLA) constituency of City and East.

Since the end of October, however, a number of the signatories of the ‘unity’ statement have chosen sides. SWP members, unsurprisingly, have opted for their party's 'Continuity Respect', whilst Abdurahman Jafar and Sabia Kamali have chosen Galloway’s “Respect Renewal” camp. Michael Gavan understandably has more pressing concerns to worry about than which of the two competing conferences on 17 November to attend. Meanwhile Cllr Hanif Abdulmuhit in particular has become very close to George Galloway, hosting a “members” meeting at his home after Galloway refused to attend one at the local RESPECT office whilst SWP members were present (reported in the SWP's internal bulletin Party Notes as “further evidence of a declaration of war against us”).

But others are torn, between the deeply sectarian SWP and the faction led by an MP who has not turned up to a single constituency surgery in 10 months, hardly ever enters Parliament, but is the fifth richest MP in Britain though TV work (that the SWP faction allege includes forthcoming, lucrative adverts for... Domestos).

With the SWP fairly weak in Newham and the Galloway faction more likely to prevail, the likelihood is that a number of these independents, especially those who have never been particularly enamoured with Galloway's raging ego, will drop out completely.

Meanwhile, the local New Labour councillors can barely restrain their glee at the rupture within RESPECT. Many were genuinely concerned at the last local council elections that they might lose their seats and there was a sigh of relief when RESPECT failed to capture more wards.

 

The Hounding of Michael Gavan

On Monday, Michael Gavan will be fired from his job as chair of Newham UNISON Local Government for alleged "gross misconduct", because Newham council accuses him of "not acting in the best interests of the council" and organising an "unauthorised" meeting against possible privatisation of services.

Newham UNISON has denied the allegation amounts to gross misconduct and moreover argue that this is a direct attack on the union, aimed at gagging their main negotiator as it starts a campaign against the privatisation of the refuse and cleaning service.

Newham Council’s case rests on two allegations. First is the “unauthorised” meeting of refuse and cleansing staff that Michael is said to have organised and attended. There was indeed a stewards meeting to discuss privatisation, but unfortunately for the council, it had been called off the day before it was due to be held. The second allegation is even more preposterous: the allegation of “not acting in the best interests of the council” is purportedly the result of Michael’s representation of a UNISON members who have been suspended for more than a year on an allegation of having committed a criminal offence that the council claim Michael was aware of – and should have reported.

To make matters worse, the council decided to bring in the former head of the School of Management at Westminster University to “investigate” Michael, who subsequently faced a perfunctory interview that failed to address the central claims against him. The appointment of a management consultant to investigate makes clear that the intention is to sack him and remove one of the union’s most effective representatives.

Newham Council’s aim seems to be to intimidate other union representatives by showing it can remove anyone who dares to stand up for rights at work and oppose council plans to privatise. Protests against Michael’s treatment have come from trade union branches all over the country, but although he has formal backing from UNISON nationally, there have been complaints that the London Regional Office has been slow to call a ballot for strike action (action eventually happened on 31st October). And despite the fact that Newham branch secretary Irene Stacey is also a member of UNISON’s NEC, general secretary Dave Prentice has yet to flex his union’s muscle within the Labour Party nationally to stop the appalling actions of a Labour council much-favoured by Whitehall. Could this perhaps be because Michael is also the chair of the local branch of Respect?

Michael is likely to win the inevitable employment tribunal that will result from the hounding he has received from the council, but he will be out of work next week and unlikely to see an outcome in his case for anything up to two years. In all probability, the council will settle at the eleventh-hour, satisfied that its money will have been well spent in breaking the union. Meanwhile, the borough’s New Labour Mayor Sir Robin Wales will be able to plough on with privatisation, resulting in cuts in pay and longer hours for cleansing and refuse staff.

Messages of support can be emailed to the branch at newham-unison@btconnect.com and messages of condemnation sent Robin Wales at Robin.wales@newham.gov.uk

Sunday, November 11, 2007 

UFFC Remembrance Procession 2007