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Hundreds join Tyne and Wear May Day march and Rally in Newcastle

Around 300 people took part in the Tyne and Wear May Day March and Rally in Newcastle on Saturday.

The event coincided with the 125th anniversary of the very first workers’ international May Day celebrations.

Back in 1890, the international demand was for an eight-hour maximum to the working day. This call united workers in the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria and many other countries.

One of the organisers of the Tyneside event, Martin Levy, said:

“There’s a lot of people on zero hours contracts today who would love to get the chance to work eight hours.”

“The march is as relevant today as it was 125 years ago. It’s very important as a statement of the principles of the Trade Union and Labour movement – solidarity, fighting inequality and fighting for social justice.

“These issues don’t just go away.”

Speakers at the event included Christine Payne, general secretary of actors’ union Equity; Ian Mearns, Labour’s candidate for the Gateshead constituency at the forthcoming general election and Andrew Murray, chief of staff of Unite the Union and deputy president of the Stop the War Coalition.

Professor Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, had been due to speak but had to cancel at the last minute.

His place on the platform was taken by Ann Schofield of the Tyneside Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.

Those taking part assembled at Princess Square then walked along Northumberland Street and then past St Thomas’s Church towards Exhibition Park, where the rally was held.

The Tyne and Wear May Day March, at Exhibition Park in Newcastle 

Music on the march was provided by the Backworth Colliery Band, while local musicians DrumDin (OK) and The Backyard Rhythm Orchestra performed at the rally.

Mr Levy added:

“This 125th anniversary of the very first workers’ May Day was an opportunity to make clear our opposition to austerity and privatisation, and to express solidarity with all those struggling for a better world, particularly the people of Palestine.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  02 May 2015

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Teesside Anarchists occupy Middlesbrough building in May Day demonstration

Teesside Anarchist Network have occupied the Cleveland Trade Unionists & Unemployed Workers Union Centre on Marton Road, Middlesbrough

Protestors “occupied” a Middlesbrough trade union building as part of a May Day protest against its underuse.

Members of the Teesside Anarchist Network held a peaceful protest at the Cleveland Trade Unionists and Unemployed Workers Centre, on Marton Road, Middlesbrough.

The network said the building has been neglected, the top floor is inaccessible and rain pours in through the roof. Protestors say the building is currently not used to its full potential, but they have so far failed to get a positive response from trustees.

A statement from the Teesside Anarchist Network said:

“This is a real tragedy and a far cry from what was envisaged by the local workers whose contributions paid for the centre.

“The centre could and should be brought back to life; think of the things that could be happening there. It could so easily be used to house facilities such as a clothing bank, advice centre, healthy eating project, creche, a bookshop.

“It should be open to all the groups in Middlesbrough who are struggling in the aftermath of the bankers’ crisis and austerity.”

The protest began at MIMA at 4pm, and made its way to the centre on Marton Road. A police van was later seen outside the premises during the occupation.

A statement on the Teesside Anarchist Network’s Facebook page tonight read:

“Trustees of Cleveland Trade Unionists and Unemployed Workers Resource Centre have agreed to our demand to meet with us within seven days to discuss renovation of the centre as a viable project.”

> Good for them !

Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 02 May 2015

Axed bus service could be replaced… by volunteers

An axed bus service could be replaced with a voluntary service to help keep people on the move.

A local charity is investigating the possibility of replacing the service to enable residents to access key services in the area.

Thirsk District Community Minibus Association said they had been inundated with requests for public transport to replace the old “figure of eight” service through Thirsk and Sowerby – which bus operator Dales and District used to run until just two weeks ago.

The service came to an end as the Campaign for Better Transport claimed North Yorkshire County Council cut more bus services than any other local authority in the country over the last year.

It said a 25 per cent budget cut by the authority, which is currently in the process of cutting its budget by £167m because of a reduction in Government funding, led to a total of 90 different bus services being reduced, altered or axed.

The move comes four years after the Little White Bus service was launched in Upper Wensleydale, which has since won a contract to become the only bus operator for Wensleydale and Swaledale.

The association, which was launched in 1987 and currently operates two minibuses, is now considering running a reduced service, which would be staffed by volunteer drivers and would be funded through grants and donations from the passengers themselves.

 The group is considering running the service from Thirsk Market Place, with a route that would include Sowerby Road, Front Street, Back Lane, Gravel Hole Lane and Topcliffe Road, but has not decided what days or times it would run yet.

A spokesman for the group said:

“We have been approached by numerous residents who are deeply concerned about the loss of this service.

“The cost of a return trip to Thirsk from Sowerby by taxi could be £7 for some residents, and if you are regularly going to the doctors, then going to collect prescriptions and pick up groceries, that could soon mount up and make certain journeys unaffordable.”

 “We are concerned that some residents, and in particular elderly people who were the majority of users of the previous service, may face the prospect of becoming isolated or housebound without a bus service.”

 The group hopes the service could be up and running before the end of May.
Source – Northern Echo, 02 May 2015

A Headline Straight From The Thatcher Era…

Echoes of the Thatcher era… nothing really changes.

Scores of jobs to go at South Tyneside shipyard

Fifty-eight jobs are to be axed at a South Tyneside shipyard.

The workers are set to go at A&P Tyne, on the Wagonway Road Industrial Estate, Hebburn, as the company says it is trying to “respond to peaks and troughs in demand”.

A company spokesman said consultation over the job losses had now been launched with trade union representatives.

The news comes just months after the business, which specialises in the design, fabrication, installation and commissioning of seabed-to-surface projects, successfully completed part of a £60m aircraft carrier contract for the Ministry of Defence.

It is believed that among the workers earmarked to go are fitters, joiners and machine shop employees.

Management, office and supervisor levels have also been advised their jobs are at risk, according to a source, although the jobs of welders and platers are said to be safe.

A spokesman for the company said:

“A&P Tyne has entered into a period of consultation during which it will review the number of people employed at its site in Hebburn.

“The reduction in workforce is part of a restructure at A&P Tyne that will enable the business to remain competitive in a challenging, global marketplace.

“A&P Tyne needs to respond to peaks and troughs in demand.”

“Ship repair work is subject to fluctuation and the restructuring will ensure that staffing costs adjust to tally with fluctuating ship repair income, to secure the future viability of the yard. Consultations are being undertaken with trade union and elected employee representatives.

“Fifty-eight roles have been put forward for redundancy, but final numbers will not be reached until the end of the 30-ay consultation period.”

Less than a fortnight ago, Jarrow’s Labour Parliamentary candidate Stephen Hepburn, alongside Vernon Coaker, his party’s shadow defence secretary, visited A&P to see at first hand the work being carried out there.

At the time, Andy Shaw, A&P’s group managing director, said was able to highlight to his guests his company’s success in rapidly turning around contracts.

He said:

“The future of the defence sector is hugely important to A&P Group, given that we continue to deliver multi-million pound contracts for the Ministry of Defence and see this as a growth area across the group going forward.

“We are contracted across a broad range of defence projects including the MoD Aircraft Carrier build programme, the Astute Class Nuclear Submarine programme and through-life support of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.”

It is believed all the workers to be made redundant will be off-site by the beginning of June.

Source – Shields Gazette, 01 May 2015

UKIP candidate offers to organise gay pride march in Darlington after being accused of swerving hustings on environmental and LGBT issues

UKIP candidate offers to organise gay pride march in Darlington after being accused of swerving hustings on environmental and LGBT issues

A furious row broke out last weekend when UKIP Darlington falsely claimed their candidate David Hodgson had not received invites to two recent hustings events.

A post on the group’s Facebook page says:

“It may be of considerable interest to our supporters that David Hodgson did not receive any official invitation or notification to attend the two previous hustings despite the fact that his personal contact details are widely publicised.”

 Mr Hodgson later admitted receiving an invite to the environmental hustings but maintained he was not invited to the LGBT event – despite organisers insisting he was.

He claimed he did not write the contentious Facebook post and said he would ask for it to be amended to reflect the true circumstances.

Peter Plant, secretary of Darlington’s Friends of the Earth group and organiser of their recent hustings, accused UKIP of openly lying and suggested Mr Hodgson was “swerving” issues he had no political stance on.

Mr Hodgson said a previous engagement prevented him from attending the environmental hustings and claimed he would have welcomed an invite to the LGBT event.

 UKIP has previously been criticised in relation to LGBT issues, most notably in 2014 when then councillor David Silvester claimed heavy flooding in Britain was a result of legalised gay marriage.

However, Mr Hodgson pledged support for the LGBT community and said he would be interested in organising a gay pride event in Darlington.

He said: “Gay and lesbian people have my support and sympathy as I have gay friends myself and go through to Blackpool for gay pride events there.”

Mr Plant said: “I think he was frightened to turn up as UKIP don’t have the policies – they have one, blame foreigners.

“I’d respect them if they turned up and put their case, even if I don’t agree but by doing this, they’re showing they have no respect whatsoever.”

 Emma Roebuck, organiser of the LGBT hustings, added: “I sent invites to all candidates and have no reason to think UKIP did not receive theirs.

“The hustings was an opportunity to speak face-to-face with them about these issues and I’m not going to turn that down.”

Mr Hodgson’s agent, David Williams, added:

“Following negative comments an assertions regarding Mr Hodgson regarding his non-attendance at two recent hustings meetings, it must be made clear that no official invitation was received using the accepted official protocols.”

 > Which presumably means they were given invitations, but in the wrong way ? Sounds like a great get-out clause.
Source – Northern Echo, 15 Apr 2015

Fuck off back to Eton – Alnwick ukulele player Robin Grey gives reasons for David Cameron serenade

The ukulele player who shot to stardom this week with a swear-filled serenade for David Cameron has called for political change.

East Londoner Robin Grey, who grew up in Gosforth, spoke out a day after expressing his dissatisfaction for the Prime Minister with an adhoc song in Alnwick, Northumberland.

The 34-year-old folk singer, maths tutor and charity worker was in Alnwick as part of a cycling holiday.

He explained:

“I was cycling down the hill into Alnwick, having spent a while in Northumberland National Park, and I was cut up by a big blue Conservative Party coach – I couldn’t believe it.

“Then a lot of people got off with balloons and David Cameron was among them. It was so strange because it was just them, and no ordinary people.

Robin Grey playing his ukulele 

“I was gobsmacked and took my bike over to the other side of the road. I thought, ‘what can I do?’ I didn’t have any eggs and didn’t want to get arrested. I could have shouted but that is boring.

“So I grabbed my ukulele and played the first thing that came to me.”

He proceeded to tell the Tory leader, who was attempting to drum up support for the party’s Berwick election candidate Anne-Marie Trevelyan with a 15-minute walkabout, to “fuck off back to Eton”.

Robin said:

“I consider myself to be an activist. The more I travel round the country the more I see what people have in common – they want to see change happen.

“I hadn’t rehearsed the song. I am used to picking up by ukulele in primary school and playing, and I have worked at the Edinburgh Festival too so it comes easily.

 

“I am amazed at how popular the video of my song has been. Looking back I probably could have come up with some better lyrics, like addressing him on the NHS, but at the time I knew I wouldn’t get another chance so I just kept going.”

A security guard told me not to swear because there were children around so I did a cleaner second verse.”

He added:

“Change is needed and as more people start to get their information from less obvious routes and media sources, the ruling elites are losing control and cannot keep telling us what to do.

“After Alnwick, I headed up to Seahouses to my nanna. She was supportive of me making mischief and she knows it comes from a good place.”

With the help of his ukulele, Robin’s causes include the closure of tax breaks for corporations and the super rich, the re-nationalisation of the railways and utility companies, the provision of singing and music lessons for all schoolchildren, scrapping of bedroom tax, and a ban on fracking in the UK.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 14 Apr 2015

Average Teesside home is worth £25k LESS than it was five years ago

The average homeowner in parts of Teesside has lost £25,000 off the value of their house since the coalition came to power in 2010 – while prices in London have soared.

Exclusive analysis of Land Registry data show the average house price in Redcar and Cleveland has dropped by 21.3% since May 2010, the date of the last election.

The average price is now £92,785 – or £25,134 LESS than it was then.

Only two places in the country – Merthyr Tydfil (down 27.1%) and Blackpool (down 24.9%) – have seen a bigger percentage fall.

In Middlesbrough, prices are down 6.6% since May 2010.

That means the average property is worth £5,904 less now than then.

And Stockton-on-Tees has seen a 2.6% fall, equivalent to £2,944.

Across England and Wales as a whole, house prices have actually gone up by 10.8% since May 2010, with the average property worth £17,595 more than it was then.

Across England and Wales as a whole, house prices have risen by 10.8% since May 2010.

The biggest increases have all been in London – with the 29 top-rising areas all in the capital.

Top of the list is Hackney, where house prices are up 76.3%.

The average house is now worth £634,045 – or £274,491 more than it was five years ago.

In the City of Westminster, meanwhile, the average price is up £464,941 from £610,767 to £1.07m.

When London is taken out of the equation, Tory-run areas seem to have done markedly better than those controlled by other parties.

Ten of the 20 ‘non-London’ areas that have seen the biggest rises are held by the Conservatives, with nine in no overall political control and just one – Slough – held by Labour.

Tory Wokingham (up 25.7%), Hertfordshire (up 24.6%) and Surrey (up 24.6%) have seen the biggest rises outside London.

By contrast 19 of the 20 areas to have seen the biggest falls in house prices are run by Labour.

The only one that isn’t is Lancashire (down 13.6%) – which is in no overall control.

Source – Middlesbrough Gazette, 13 Apr 2015

Regional parties hoping to give London-based parties an election ‘bloody nose’

 

Regional parties hoping to give London-based parties an election 'bloody nose'

 

It was ultimately unsuccessful, but the campaign for devolution in Scotland has fanned the flames of regional rule in the North-East that were never quite extinguished by the 2004 ‘no’ vote.

The North East Party was launched less than a year ago as the independence campaign north of the border was in full swing. On May 7, it will field four candidates in Easington, Redcar, Stockton North and Newcastle North.

Vice-chair Susan McDonnell, who formed the party with former Labour MP Hilton Dawson, admitted they had hoped to have more candidates standing, but people who had initially shown an interest backed away when they realised the effort involved.

“They also had to find £500 for the deposit from their own pocket which may have put them off,” says Mrs McDonnell, who will contest the Easington seat.

The party wants to see a referendum for the the region’s 12 unitary authorities to be replaced by a single North-East government, however Mrs McDonnell stresses that it is not all about devolution.

“It’s about decision making taking place in the North-East by people from the North-East – we’re sick to death of being the poor relation in the North.”

 The party’s manifesto includes other proposals such as replacing council tax with a property tax. £1 billion would be invested in North-East enterprise and jobs from a new land tax, and older people would get free care.

The party has enjoyed some early success with two councillors voted on to Peterlee Town Council, and Mrs McDonnell says its membership is growing fast.

“We’re got quite a large presence on social media and are getting people from all over the region travelling to our meetings – Blyth, Newcastle, Redcar, Hartlepool and Stockton.”

The candidate accepts she may not be able to defeat the standing Easington MP, Grahame Morris, who has a majority of almost 15,000, but she adds: “I’m having a whale of a time.

“I am taking it very seriously but I also understand it’s a game. I’m not so naive to think that I will win on May 7 but I will give Grahame Morris as good a run as he’s ever had – I hope to give him a bloody nose.”

 The candidate welcomes Ukip‘s decision to field current MEP Jonathan Arnott in the Easington constituency, saying the North East Party believes it will split the Labour vote considerably.

The party is one of several regional parties which have appeared around the country in recent years, with many forming an allegiance under the Vote Local banner.

Mrs Mc Donnell says the parties have been launched because of a combination of being disillusioned with the mainstream Westminster centred parties and the referendum in Scotland. The new parties include Yorkshire First, which wants to see a Yorkshire parliament.

Devolution and regionalism expert Arianna Giovannini, who lectures at Huddersfield University, said the idea of regionalist parties was not new.

However, she adds: “What is certainly new is the emergence of regionalist parties in the North of England, ie Yorkshire First, the North East Party, and the Campaign for the North.”

Dr Giovannini says the emerging regionalist parties have great potential, especially if they succeed in joining forces with other organisations and movements, and manage to achieve grassroots support.

But she adds:

“Whether regional devolution in the North of England will succeed or fall may well hinge on the ability to generate democratic momentum, creating a clear, bold, confident and concerted vision for the future.

“However, the story of the Scottish Constitutional Convention tells us that such a process will take time, and cannot be rushed or accomplished overnight. In this sense, the following months and the results and effects of the imminent general election will be crucial in shaping the path ahead.”

The North East Party may not yet be big enough to change the course of the devolution debate in this region, but it is certainly a sign of the growing desire to see greater powers handed over.

Source –  Northern Echo, 09 Apr 2015

Sodexo to shed 131 probation jobs as workers replaced with machines

A major jobs cull is on the horizon at a North East probation service as machines look set to replace some functions carried out by staff.

The Northumbria Community Rehabilitation Company (NCRC), which is run by the French catering company Sodexo, is set to shed 131 jobs (around 30% of its workforce) as chiefs look to cut costs.

Unions have slammed the plans, which have emerged in the wake of a divisive privatisation programme, as “downright dangerous”.

It comes as Sodexo plans to install ATM-style kiosks which would allow offenders to report to services without having to meet an officer.

The move to “biometric reporting” would see an offender’s identity checked using fingerprint technology.

A face-to-face meeting could then be requested by the offender.

It is also thought that low-risk offenders may in future be monitored via a call centre under the plans, which Sodexo insists are in the early stages.

The job cuts are expected to be spread out over a 12-month period.

Probation service union NAPO believes the measures, if implemented, could put the public at risk.

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of NAPO, said members feel let down by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.

He said:

“We are angry and disappointed about this news. Probation staff have been through hell over the last 18 months dealing with Grayling’s so called reforms and now many of them are facing redundancy and job insecurity.

“When we met with Sodexo earlier this year they told us there would be no reductions in workforce.

“The use of call centres and machines instead of highly skilled staff is down right dangerous and will put the public at risk.”

A Sodexo Justice Services spokesman said it was opening consultation on the plans with staff across the six UK centres that it operates.

He said:

“We are in the process of sharing our future plans with employees across the six CRCs that we operate, including Northumbria CRC.

“Given that we will be formally consulting on these plans, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

“Regarding the enhanced voluntary redundancy scheme, we are complying with the National Agreement negotiated between the unions and NOMS.

“We are looking at the possibility of introducing biometric systems in the future but details have not yet been confirmed.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 01 Apr 2015

Hartlepool’s debt nightmare laid bare by worrying figures

Hartlepool‘s  debt nightmare has been highlighted in a national league table of towns suffering from high levels of personal insolvencies.

The town ranks 16th in the country for towns with the worst record of people with critical levels of debt.

Statistics from information services company Experian show 13 out of every 10,000 households in Hartlepool had an insolvency problem during the survey period which was the last three months of 2014.

Torquay topped the table with Scarborough and Penzance close behind – but Hartlepool’s problem is getting worse.

 Figures show three more people per 10,000 households were in difficulties last year than at the same time a year earlier.

The study also showed hard-pressed and vulnerable young families with squeezed budgets were the worst affected.

Jonathan Westley, managing director of Experian’s Consumer Information Services UK & Ireland, said:

“Insolvency rates within young families and across some key coastal towns and locations in the North remind us there is still some way to go in terms of recovery.

“Many people are still on stretched budgets further highlighting the need for credit providers to recognise circumstances unique to each individual, enabling their money to go further and help support them against debt.”

Overall, the picture is improving and the signs for 2015 are positive with personal insolvencies in Great Britain falling from 10 in every 10,000 households in 2013, to nine in every 10,000 households in 2014.

Mr Westley added:

“The good news is that we’re on the right path and it’s promising that overall insolvency rates are steadily declining. The current low mortgage interest rates may well have aided the improvements we’ve seen among many groups.”

A breakdown of the statistics showed some sections of society were in bigger difficulties than others.

Families with children who have limited budgets were struggling to make ends meet, often found in areas with fewer employment options, the study showed. This group had an insolvency rate of 19 per 10,000 households.

Single people who pay modest rents for low cost homes – and who often live in a property for only a short length of time before moving on – were also struggling to make ends meet.

People on long-term rent deals, who are living in low-value flats or in small terraces on outlying estates, were also shown to be among the at-risk groups.

Source – Hartlepool Mail,  01 Apr 2015