On Monday 2nd January, Unite West Midlands official Gerard Coyne addressed a Birmingham group of supporters as part of his campaign to take the Unite leadership from Len McCluskey.
He framed the speech around the issue of border control, stating
“There is one principle on which the UK government should not even begin to negotiate. That is over the question of control of our borders… for the many Britons facing insecurity in the job market, who rely on public services such as the NHS and state schools, and who need affordable homes, the presence of a very large number of foreign nationals has added to the pressures they already face at a time of austerity.
Theresa May and other ministers should not wait until Article 50 has been triggered to set out a negotiating position on free movement of labour. They should be saying now, without equivocation, that the issue is non-negotiable. There can be no compromise on the principle of taking back control of our borders.”
Trades Unionists have experienced first hand the impact of austerity for our members. We have seen wages drop, hours and workload rise, and in some cases safety being put at risk. There has been one group and one group alone to benefit from this attack on the workforce, and that group is the rich, not migrant workers.
At a time when hate crime is rising, with foreign workers increasingly at risk of being attacked on our streets, it is truly irresponsible for Coyne to use his platform to chase populist votes. Instead of highlighting the lack of investment in our infrastructure and public services, he chose to pander to the scapegoating of migrants. This was a clear betrayal of union members who rely on his leadership in organising to take on the attacks on pay and conditions.
When Trades Unionists allow, or worse, encourage the story to be told that it is migrant workers who destroy jobs and conditions, we do the bosses’ work for them. We only ever win when we have solidarity as workers and fight together for better conditions for all. When we allow groups of workers to be used as scapegoats for the failures of employers and the state, we compete against one another for scraps instead of fighting together for victory.
We therefore condemn Gerard Coyne’s comments in Birmingham as divisive, counterproductive, and dangerous for West Midlands workers.
Rhiannon Lockley (Chair, West Midlands UCU)
Nicky Downes (Equalities officer, Coventry NUT)
Doug Morgan (President, Birmingham NUT)
Andrew Scattergood (Brigade Chair, West Midlands FBU)
Kirsten Forkert (Higher Education Chair, West Midlands UCU)
Dave Muritu (National Equality Chair and Black Members Rep, UCU)
Lou Harrisen Powis (Assistant Branch Secretary, Sandwell Unison)
Martin Lynch (President, Dudley NUT)
Matt Raine (Branch Secretary, Birmingham University Unison)
Sharon Campion (Joint Branch Secretary, Sandwell Unison)
Pete Jackson (Vice Chair, Birmingham South PCS)
Paul Mackney (UNITE member, former General Secretary of UCU/Natfhe 1997-2007, President Birmingham TUC 1979-84)
Rick Evans (Unite WM)
Chris Spence (CWU and Unite Community)
Sharon McCourt (Unite Community)
Ruth Rosenau (Unite Community)
Sasha Simic (Shop Steward USDAW C133 branch)
Aaron Bennett (Unite)
Joe Cairns (UNITE COMMUNITY Stoke & North Staffs Branch)
Clare Thomas (Unite)
Jo McNeil (President Liverpool, NEC and GS candidate, UCU)
Michael Wongsam (Unite Communities)
Rita Wright (Equality regional officer, UCU West Midlands retired members)
Brett Davis (Unite Branch Secretary WM7212)
Nita Sanghera (West Midlands women’s officer, UCU)
Jean Evanson (Division secretary, Shropshire NUT)
Richard Milner (Unite chair, EM/NN14)
David Kersey (Communications Officer, Coventry UNISON)
Dave Wyatt (Wolverhampton UNISON retired member)
Pete Bicknell (Lewisham Southwark College UCU)
John Baxter (retired UCU member)
Sean Wallis (UCL UCU vice president; UCU NEC member)
Frances Patterson (Retired member of Unison)
Lesley Kane (Open University UCU branch secretary)
Carlo Morelli (UCU NEC)
Christopher Denson (Joint Secretary Coventry NUT)
Tony Barnsley (Joint Branch Secretary, Sandwell General UNISON Branch)
Laura Miles (UCU retired member)
Andy Higginbottom (Kingston University UCU Branch Chair)
Carlos Conde Solares (UCU)
Geoff Abbott (UCU)
Elaine White (UCU NEC Women members’ rep)
Bob Jeffery (Campus Convenor, UCU, President, Sheffield TUC)
Sean Vernell (UCU NEC, vice chair Further Education Committee)
Statement also endorsed by Red Labour
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This week ballot papers will arrive for a UCU NEC by-election for FE disabled members rep.
I will be voting for Elane Heffernan from Hackney college who is a brilliant activist who understands:
1. That equality issues need to be at the heart of our union
2. That education access and the rights of education workers are not given freely by an aggressive right-wing government: they can only come from a strong union which is willing to act.
Every time I have heard Elane speak on an issue she is powerful and clear in her points. She has also challenged me and changed my mind on issues too – anyone who knows how stubborn I am will know that is no small feat!
But Elane is not just someone who makes you think – she is also a doer – from leading a delegation up to brum to show practical solidarity to the branches there at the deep end of the area review when we took national strike action, to recently winning better conditions for disabled staff at her college.
Elane is inspirational in her fight for women’s rights. As an often exhausted mum who sees all the barriers to participation at workplaces but also in the union for women like me, I know Elane will fight those barriers. So she will get my vote.
All sectors, including FE, HE, ACE and prison education vote in this election. Ballots are open for 4 weeks. Please leave a comment if you would like a leaflet.
UCU women member’s standing committee
UCU need Elane Heffernan as disabled FE rep on the NEC. She is a long term activist for disabled people’s rights who also fights for all equality issues, and has a long history of standing up to racism. Elane will work for a union which fights for better working conditions and to defend education. Her recent branch victory, winning better conditions for disabled people, shows she has the skills and the resolve to win. As national equalities chair I encourage everyone to vote for Elane and vote for a fighting, equality centred union.
Chair UCU equality committee, national black members rep (NEC)
It wasn’t too many decades ago that it was the tories who attacked the Labour party with the race card – if you want X for a neighbour vote Labour and all of that. A lot of those battles were fought on black country soil: Smethwick, Wolverhampton, rivers of blood.
In the 21st century where UKIP have transformed themselves from the besuited posh mahogany people who hate Brussels to a nationalist party for the “respectable working class”, hoovering up votes where the less savvy more brutish form of the BNP were crumbling, it is much less clear where anyone stands in anything. UKIP may lack any reason to officially exist now that we have taken our country back, but the genie is most definitely out of the bottle.
In the last election Blue Labour pulled the strings on how the party addressed immigration. Too many years of Purple Blairite neo-liberalism has left working class people feeling patronized and ignored on immigration, the Blue Labour lot argued, and we ignore them at their peril. Following on from the resounding success of this, which saw yet another election lost bringing on yet more austerity followed by a referendum fought on poisonous turf leaving hate crime soaring (including a fire-bombed butchers in Walsall and a toddler and grandmother assaulted in nearby Worcester), Owen Smith yesterday decided the time was ripe to go for the us and them in class politics, stating:
“There are too many immigrants in parts of Britain.”
His stance on the need to connect with and listen to working class people on immigration will certainly please my neighbouring MP, Dudley North’s Ian Austin. There is a long argument in the Labour party that the left stick their fingers in their ears when it comes to immigration and write off huge numbers of working class voters when they do.
There is lots of data to show migration has a positive contribution to the economy – but if you are not benefiting from those contributions then arguably that data could look dismissive and like part of an establishment con to deny your lived experiences of falling wages. It is also pretty problematic to get heavily involved in arguments which suggest migration is good because migrants contribute to the economy because it equates human value with wealth production. Women (and yes some men too) put in hours of unpaid domestic labour which adds to the social value of communities but are wealth receivers in that they receive child benefits, carers allowances etc. And then we come to disabled and elderly people. And women migrants who are carers, disabled migrants, elderly migrants. Working class people include but are very much not limited to white men, something which is so often missed.
There is no solution to the problems of impoverished and divided communities to be had in a blue Labour approach of listening to and repeating the view that we must get migration under control. It is not the job of the labour movement or any party which is meant to represent the interests of workers to do the bosses work for them by scapegoating other sections of the working class for decreasing wages, poorer living conditions, poorer working conditions… All of these things are imposed on the working class by those who profit from them, and the only thing which has ever beaten them back on it is solidarity: collective action.
So what is the solution then? Solidarity doesn’t come out of nowhere and if we had an organised working class with a strong spirit of collective identity which could not be broken down into workers and claimants, native and foreign, then we wouldn’t have austerity. Instead we have a society which has been battered by the dismantling of the manufacturing industry, defeats in key trades union battles, right-to-buy, the Thatcher wipe-out of traditional class divisions of party politics, post 9/11 terror narratives: ripe ground for UKIP and the soft libertarian nationalism they offer, in which the establishment is opposed as an authoritarian entity which imposes rules, but “British values” as opposed to establishment orders are perceived as collectively owned/negotiated and threatened by outsiders who brazenly maintain their own values through in particular religious activity or in a more atomized way a perceived failure to contribute to the collective good. It is perhaps the Labour party and not the working class which has lost its sense of identity after all.
The black country was the home of the Cradley chainmakers, as well as returning Enoch Powell. It delivered a big out vote and I think it would be a huge mistake to reduce that to ignorance and racism or to something which can be resolved by controlling immigration. I think the following are key to building Labour:
- ACCESS TO RESOURCES: Listening to working class people needs more than a repetition process on immigration if it is going to build the communities on the knife edge of austerity. Social housing in particular but access to services more generally need to be key to a winning back of the white working class. People are frustrated most when they feel others are queue jumping, which is inevitable when there is a shortage of housing and other resources.
- ACCESS TO SOCIAL PARTICIPATION: Strategic community enrichment is also key, and I think at the heart of this we need funding to not just replenish but build on Further Education to put colleges at the heart of every community with free access to courses for all – not just to meet business need as in the current ethos but to emancipate and democratize.
- ACCESS TO DEMOCRACY: The hardest but biggest fight to win is for increasing democracy in people’s lives. For many people elections are seen as meaningless: just about changing the colour tie of who represents them. With the academisation program shutting parents out of school decision making and the TU bill shutting down democracy in workplaces it looks set to get worse, and it seems unlikely that May’s proposal of what looks like staff association stooges on company boards will do much to halt the shut down. We need to look out how to bring democracy to communities that need it most. Trades unions certainly need to work on building community connections, and beyond that we need a program that empowers. The race card may be ethically dubious, but even beyond that in an era when “purer” versions of the same values are trotted out by two other parties, electorally it hasn’t and won’t cut it. We need radical politics which put social building, social participation, solidarity and democracy at the heart of Labour party identity.
I’m writing to you as a Labour party member to beg you to respect the mandate of Jeremy Corbyn as leader.
I have always been a Labour voter. I was the generation who first had tuition fees following Blair’s election – that and Iraq meant I did not join the party until the election of Ed Miliband. I believe Ed is a genuine and nice man and I finally felt able to join something which was pushing values I believed in. I met him with my kids just before the last election and they thought he was great. Sadly, earlier that day, he had unveiled a headstone you may know something about.
I grew up in a Labour house – my dad who had been a solid campaigner under Kinnock and John Smith left in the late 1990s due to dismay with what was happening. I believe there were some good things which came out of the Blair era which we often forget – SureStart centres in particular. There was also a lot which troubled me. My dad rejoined the Labour party last year. He finally felt he could. My sister joined too for the first time at the age of 37.
Leading up to the last election I really struggled with what happened to our campaign. Terror over the rise of UKIP meant we fell for the oldest trick in the book and started to use the tactics of the right – appealing to fear and offloading people’s experiences of lack of democratic power and austerity onto vulnerable groups. The mugs made me want to vomit. I may have mentioned the headstone. I fought internally over delivering leaflets when everything I was given had this immigration stuff on. I know exactly why you pushed for this – you were frightened that we would lose voters to UKIP, resulting in a tory victory which made things even worse for migrants and white working class people. Working class people are not all white, as I am sure you are aware.
You did it with the best of intentions but what you did reinforced the values which led to the racism-focused referendum we just went through. I live in Dudley. Ian Austin is our only Labour MP. I heard him talk a lot about getting tough on immigration. In Dudley we get regular outings from the far right. Just in the space of last year we had the EDL, Britain First, and a group called something like “Casuals against Islam” (forget the exact name, but you get the sentiment). Today on Midlands today I watched a young woman explain she had proudly voted out because “immigrations” were stopping her from getting the council house she desperately needed. This referendum has told us we need to listen to working class people (which we already know). But what is your strategy in “listening”? By listening, do you mean, listen to work out what people want to hear, and then say it? Listen to her say she voted because of migrants then show you have listened by promising to “get tough on immigration”? Because I’m not sure that is really listening. How is getting tough on immigration going to get her her council house? Shouldn’t we morally be listening and then explaining how we will stop the social housing crisis by a big scale build? That way we are listening but coming up with a solution based on lifting people at the bottom up – not by setting them against one another. I am frightened of what a newly emboldened far right will do to people’s lives in Dudley, and the blame cannot just sit with Farage – we all have to be accountable.
I work in further education. We saw a 24% cut to adult learning last year, and now we are going through nationwide mergers which will shrink provision further. If we want to engage a disenfranchised working class into positive rather than negative policies then we have to make the crisis in further education a top priority. Democracy just doesn’t work without access to education. It can’t.
I’ve noticed something with my class of last year and this year. They like Jeremy. One of my students came in with a Corbyn badge to his first lesson. They like that he is nothing like the politicians they are used to – they like that he is kind, that he is clever, and that he is not prepared to play the politics sleaze game they associate with Westminster. From left to right they recognise him as a man of principle, and many have told me they are voting for him. Corbyn has overseen a huge surge of young people into politics – and guess what, it wasn’t the young people who dominated the out vote. Are we interested in creating a politics of the future, or are we fixated on a politics of the past?
Since Corbyn got in I have had some hope that we may actually move forward as a society. Last night was a big step backwards, not because of the result but because of the turf it was fought on and the immediate reactions of our politicians. Boris may have been chased by booing spectators the first time they tried to film him but he certainly got it together to deliver a unifying speech which portrayed a vision of a tory party split only by principled democratic stances, otherwise respectful and working together. What vision of the Labour party have you delivered to the public today?
We don’t get another shot at this. If we lose our young activists, and our old returners, and go back to mimicking the stance on immigration provided with more conviction by other parties, the game is up.
I know you want the best for Britain and the Labour party. Please think very carefully about what you are doing.
Dudley South CLP
Wednesday 22nd June would have been Sarah Reed’s 33rd birthday.
Sarah Reed was a young, black, mentally ill woman. She died in prison earlier this year.
Sarah Reed was a mother. After the death of her child in 2003 Sarah was left by a hospice to carry her baby’s body across town in a taxi, wrapped in a sheet, to the undertaker. She never really recovered from this and from then on struggled with severe mental health issues.
In 2012 a police officer James Kiddie was caught on CCTV carrying out a violent assault assault on Sarah. He was filmed yanking her by the hair, dragging her across the floor, pressing on her neck and punching her several times in the head. He received 150 hours community service.
Following this brutal attack by a police officer Sarah’s mental health deteriorated further. While under section she was arrested for what she stated was self-defense against a sexual assault. The decision was taken for her to be incarcerated, in spite of her severe mental health issues, in Holloway prison.
It was not the right place for a very poorly young woman who in her 30s would climb in her mother’s bed for comfort at night.
Earlier this year she was found dead in her cell. Her family were initially told that she was found hanging, then that she had strangled herself.
Please join the day of action to mark Sarah’s birthday. You can do this by finding and sharing information about Sarah’s case, and by posting solidarity photographs and or videos. The hashtags to use are #SayHerName #JusticeForSarahReed and #BlackLivesMatter. You can read Sarah’s mother’s story of what happened to her daughter here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/feb/17/sarah-reeds-mother-deaths-in-custody-holloway-prison-mental-health?CMP=share_btn_fb
Just had a cry in the pouring rain and thought I would quickly express some thoughts about what happened today.
I’m not too familiar with Jo. I know her name mainly from tweeting her off a list when campaigning. I’ve seen her speech about child refugees. I’ve seen the picture of her chasing Farage with her kids in the In Flotilla yesterday.
I’m thinking about all the times I have stood with my kids at anti-fascist demonstrations. They’ve never been close to any violence but they’ve been there, partly because I’m a mum and if they were not there I couldn’t be, and partly because I’m a mum in a world that teaches children the colour of your skin should dictate your access to resources and your freedom to move and there is no neutral position on that, only sides.
I’ve seen the grief from my mum friends who are antifascists and I am crying with you.
I’m thinking of the mum who pushed me to get active and works so hard for the Labour party. I’m thinking of the mum whose kids are at more demos than mine in Birmingham and who first tried selling me a paper in 96. I’m thinking of the brilliant queer mum who fights every day for her trans child. I’m thinking of the mum I’ve only recently met who has spoken so quietly and with such conviction to halls full of trades unionists though her voice is shaking about the things which really matter.
We have every right to shout out and we are not going away. Love to you all.