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.
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
A leader of a controversial ‘anti-extremist Islam’ movement today claimed they already have an established following in Newcastle.
More than 320 people have now gone online to confirm attendance at Pegida UK’s Tyneside rally which has also sparked interest from Far-right wing groups in the region.
> Well, there’s a suprise – I wonder how many members of the local racist loonies are the same people as those apparently supporting Pegida ? I’m sure they’ll see it as a nice Trojan horse…
The British arm of the highly-criticised German protest movement say their North East following is one of the reasons they will be coming to the city at the end of this month.
The decision by the group to hold their first UK demo in Tyneside has already met with widespread condemnation.
But Pegida representative Matthew Pope said the march would be “peaceful” with the aim of standing against extremist forms of Islam.
Mr Pope added:
“We did not want to start our UK demos in London because there are a lot of right-wing extremists there and we wouldn’t want to associate ourselves with them.
> Tough shit, mate. You’re going to be their puppet organization.
“We are already have a following in Newcastle and it is far enough away from London to be the best place to get things underway.”
Mr Pope said anywhere up to 1,000 marchers could be expected in the city centre on the planned date of the demonstration, Saturday, February 28.
The plans have been met with concern and the Chronicle can reveal that several individuals, associated with Far-right groups in the North East have already, via social media, confirmed they will be attending.
In a Facebook post, Pegida UK sent out an open invitation to the march, stating: “All are welcome to attend. Let’s show the Islamists we show no fear.”
Under the banner of ‘Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West’, the group claims it is trying to defend countries from the spread of extremism at the hands of Muslim immigrants.
Mr Pope said:
“We understand that we are going to get tarnished with the same brush as certain other groups but this will be a peaceful demonstration.”
Mr Pope went on to say the purpose of the march would be to take a stand against Islamic extremism and not against the Muslim community.
However, he did say Pegida had concerns about the way the UK Government and police forces were approaching certain issues.
“We have concerns about the way Islam is being taught in schools. We are also worried with the way some groups seems to be setting their own laws withing our system of laws.
“We are certainly not against immigration, but feel our culture is being taken over by another culture.”
Mr Pope said that on February 28, protesters would be handing out leaflets and posters with containing information about their aims and about their views of Islamic law.
Opponents to the group have said they will hold a counter-demonstration if the Newcastle march goes ahead.
Councillor Dipu Ahad, from Elswick, Newcastle, has already written to Northumbria Police’s chief constable asking for the demo to be banned.
“I’m not hopeful this will happen so we will be planning our own counter-protest, bringing together people from all cultures in the city to celebrate the diversity of our community in a peaceful and celebratory manner.”
Anti Fascist groups in the city also say they are monitoring the plans for the protest.
Since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, dozens of Pegida chapters have popped up online, prompting some reports that the group is establishing a bigger presence across Europe – in France, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Spain, the UK and other countries where local Pegida Facebook pages have sprung up.
Will the march go ahead?
Pegida UK say they are currently in talks with Northumbria Police over the date, time and place of the march.
Mr Pope said:
“As representative for the organisation I have just started liaising with Northumbria Police about our plans.
“We are hoping that this will be on February 28.
“Although an exact route has not been set down, it will be in Newcastle city centre and we can expect anywhere up to 1,000 people to be attending.
“We are happy to work with the police and follow any guidelines which they set down.”
Newcastle City Council said they had not been contacted by the organisation.
A spokesman added that they have to wait to be informed by the police about any demonstrations happening in the city before taking any necessary action.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 06 Feb 2015
A Muslim leader in the North East has added his voice to condemnation of the terrorist attack at French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which left 12 dead.
Abu Tayeb, chairman of Islamic Diversity, an organisation which promotes better understanding of the Muslim faith, strongly denounced the attack as “unacceptable behaviour”.
But he said he would not apologise for the attack because it had nothing to do with Muslims or the Islamic faith.
“We’re not going to apologise for their actions because they don’t have anything to do with us. It is similar to the Lee Rigby murder in that they were individuals acting for themselves. There is no link between Islam and their actions. We condemn it.”
The Muslim Council of Britain reiterated its own denouncement of the horrific scenes in Paris, which saw 12 individuals murdered, including two police officers, at the offices of the weekly satirical magazine in Paris.
Dr Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain said:
“Nothing justifies the taking of life. Those who have killed in the name of our religion claim to be avenging the insults made against Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace. But nothing is more immoral, offensive and insulting against our beloved Prophet than such a callous act of murder. Our thoughts, prayers and solidarity go to the families of the victims and the people of France.
“While Muslims must engage with fellow citizens in a spirit of dialogue and friendship, we must all come together to seek unity and defy the terrorists whose only aim is to divide us. The best defence against closed minds is for a truly open society, welcoming of all.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 Jan 2015
The North’s poor are going hungry after the Government rejected a £22m food fund from Europe, it is claimed today by the region’s Labour MEPs.
David Cameron has been criticised for allegedly failing to take the money, which could directly go to foodbanks in the region, over fears it reveals the UK’s dependency on the EU and weakens his position.
However the Conservative Party have dismissed Labour’s claims, saying people are not missing out on the EU cash and have £2.9m to spend.
Labour MEPs have now written an open letter to the Prime Minister asking him to lift his block on support for the country’s most vulnerable people for what they consider is solely for ‘ideological reasons’.
The European Aid to the Most Deprived Fund is worth £2.5bn, and is available to all EU member countries to dip into to help people who are most in need.
Foodbanks in the North East would have been able to apply for funding from the pot.
However David Cameron decided to opt out of the scheme in 2013, which Labour members believe could have eventually totalled £22m for the UK between 2014 and 2020.
The Government has previously said it believes individual member states are best positioned to deliver social programmes for the poor through regional or local authorities. They’ve said they will take their Most Deprived Fund subsidy (£2.9m) and deduct it from their ‘structural fund’, the cash pot they would prefer to see money delivered through.
Today North East’s two Labour MEPs, Jude Kirton Darling and Paul Brannen have said in their joint letter to David Cameron that he should ‘remove opposition’ to support for foodbanks.
The letter has also been signed by leader of Newcastle City Council Nick Forbes and leader of Durham County Council Simon Henig.
Jude Kirton Darling, MEP, said:
“People are under intense financial pressure at the moment and many people will have used food banks this year.
“As the weather turns colder and people face increased heating bills and Christmas approaches we feel now is the time for the Government to remove its opposition to support for food banks.”
Paul Brannen MEP added that as well as accepting more money from the EU, he would like to see food bank use decline through an increased minimum wage, less use of zero hour contracts and a youth job guarantee for young people.
A Conservative party spokesperson, said:
“We aren’t losing money – any funding the UK receives from the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived will be taken off our structural fund allocation.
“Instead we will use our structural funds to support local initiatives to train and support disadvantaged people into work. We have not yet decided how the €3.5m euro pot (£2.9m) will be spent – food aid is just one of the options for spending the money.”
In 2013, British MEPs alongside two other member states formed a blocking minority which meant the initial European-wide fund was spilt into two, with one fund for ‘material assistance’, which would have seen the UK receiving food and items like sleeping bags directly, and another for ‘immaterial assistance’ which could go towards the budgets of social programmes.
Britain chose to draw down only on the second fund ‘immaterial assistance’, and while it accepted a share of £2.9m, the same as the smallest EU member Malta with a population of just 450,000, neighbouring country France accepted has taken its full €443m allowance.
The letter to Mr Cameron written by the pair, said:
“We feel now is the time to remove your opposition to support for food banks.
“We understand your opposition to the European Union but the fact is that the money is available and should be used as there is clear and desperate need. It is wrong to block support for the most vulnerable people for ideological reasons.
“You have claimed that support for food banks should be a national decision, yet the decision of your government is to not support food banks at all. We do not believe that is right.”
The Government announced in October that it plans to use the UK share of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived to provide additional support for school breakfast clubs in England.
Under the plans, which will be led by the Department for Education, this money would be allocated to schools with particularly high rates of disadvantage, as measured by free-school meal eligibility. This still needs to be agreed by the EU Commission.
Source – Sunday Sun, 21 Dec 2014
Easington MP Grahame Morris has called on Parliament to launch an inquiry into foreign state-owned companies owning UK rail firms.
Mr Morris said British commuters, who suffer the highest rail prices in Europe, are subsidising foreign passengers.
MPs from Parliament’s rail group have called for an urgent inquiry.
It follows a decision to award the Scotrail franchise to Dutch state-owned firm Abellio, and also research showed 20 of the UK’s 27 private rail services are owned by foreign state-owned or backed railways.
Mr Morris said British commuters have experienced substandard services for decades adding:
“Often the very same operators that are using British commuters as cash cows are foreign state-owned companies that then hold down fares and improve services back in their own countries.
“That British commuters are expected to both suffer the failure of rail privatisation as well as subsidise commuters in Holland, Germany and France adds insult to injury.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 18 Oct 2014
Campaigners have hit out at rail fares as it was revealed it is cheaper to drive to London in a Bugatti Veyron than catch the train.
Fares from Newcastle and Middlesbrough to the capital city work out more expensive by almost 10p per mile than driving the £850,000 supercar.
Rail travel to London at peak times costs even more – at 20p per mile more than the gas guzzling motor.
An investigation revealed the Veyron, which has an engine more powerful than that in a World War Two Hawker Hurricane fighter plane, costs a whopping 32p per mile to drive.
This means a journey in the Bugatti from Newcastle Central station to Kings Cross would cost a whopping £90.24. The same journey in a tiny Volkswagen Up! would cost around £28.
Travelling from Middlesbrough Rail Station to Kings Cross would cost £80.64.
But the journeys by rail were more even more expensive – at a cost of 45p per mile for an off-peak journey and 45p during rush hour.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, said:
“Whilst East Coast has been a stunning success in public ownership, delivering a billion pounds back the taxpayer while the private train companies drain similar sums out, these figures show that in the run-up to the intended re-privatisation the route is being fattened up with eye-watering fares that can be exploited by any new private company taking over in the future.”
Andy Silvester, campaign manager of the Tax Payers’ Alliance, said:
“It’s totally understandable that taxpayers want a train line that they’re paying for to have more affordable ticket prices.
“The East Coast Mainline should be returned to private hands as soon as practically possible, as it is only by reintroducing competition that prices will come down.
> Do you think he really believes that ? Against all the evidence ?
“Of course, passengers are paying even more for their train tickets than the price of the ticket, as they’re also funding it through their taxes.”
Stephen Joseph, chief executive of Better Transport, said:
“For the vast majority of people, the 2 hour 50 minute train journey from London to Newcastle will still be better value than the five hour drive, and come at less cost to the environment.
“The Government must take stronger action to keep rail fares down to ensure this continues to be the case.”
The Veyron has an out of town fuel economy of 15.6 letres per 100km, which was used to calculate how it fared compared to rail tickets between Newcastle and the capital.
Booking a ticket in advance allows travellers to pay less for train at specific times of the day. But for flexibility passengers need to buy off-peak and anytime singles and their prices stay the same all day.
The Veyron’s impressive cost for the journey highlights rising rail fares in England. Comparisons made by the Sunday Sun show it matches the price of a train ticket between Paris and Lyon in France, at exactly 32p per mile.
The journey on the continent is 243.23 miles compared to 268 between Newcastle and London.
A distance of 407 miles between Madrid and Barcelona puts the high rail fares in the UK in even sharper light. A journey between the two Spanish cities would cost just 22p per mile.
But a taxi ride between the two UK cities would set you back the most at £1.80 per mile or an eye-watering £496.80 on the metre.
The cheapest option would be to take a coach, at just 11p per mile and £29 per ticket.
Source – Sunday Sun, 05 Oct 2014
Scottish National Party (SNP) Press Release:
After months of denial, a UK [Conservative Party] Minister has finally admitted there is a link between Westminster welfare cuts and the increase in food bank use across Scotland.
The evidence the committee heard today is in stark contrast to evidence given to the committee by DWP director Neil Couling, who said that growing reliance on food banks was a result of the poorest people in society having to “maximise their economic choices”. This was later backed up by Employment Minister Esther McVey in a letter to Housing Minister Margaret Burgess.
Work and Pensions Minister Lord Freud has also previously claimed there was no link between Tory welfare cuts and soaring food bank use.
During the committee meeting, David Mundell also said he wanted the UK Government to produce an analysis of the use of food banks – something that has not yet been carried out, despite evidence from the Trussell Trust that reliance on food banks has grown 400 per cent in the past year.
The Trust’s figures also show that 22,387 children in Scotland used food banks in 2013/14 alone – an increase of over 1000 per cent since 2011/12.
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael – who previously described the UK welfare system as “fantastic” – was scheduled to appear at the committee, but cancelled with less than 24 hours’ notice.
SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing, who sits on the Welfare Reform Committee, said:
“While it is welcome that a UK Government Minister has finally faced up to the fact that Westminster’s attack on welfare is responsible for the growing number of people forced to rely on food banks, this admission is long overdue. For months, Westminster has ducked responsibility and tried to blame the poor for the devastating impact cuts to benefits are having.
“David Mundell has said he would like to see a UK Government analysis on food banks – something that has not yet been produced, despite the fact reliance on food banks has grown 400 per cent. Given we now have 22,387 children in Scotland relying on food banks for a square meal, we desperately need a change of direction.
“Scotland is brimming with resources and talent – and is richer per head than the UK, France and Japan – but while it is tied the Westminster system the most vulnerable people in society are forced to use food banks. Only a Yes vote in September can give Scotland the opportunity to build the fairer country we know we can be.”
Commenting on Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael’s cancellation of his appearance before the committee with less than 24 hours’ notice, Annabelle Ewing said:
“It was very disappointing that Alistair Carmichael did not attend the Welfare Reform Committee today. While everyone understands the importance of the commemoration on World War 1, Alistair Carmichael has a duty to appear before the Scottish Parliament and explain why the UK welfare system is ‘fantastic’ as he has previously claimed, and it would be good if it could be rescheduled.”
*David Mundell is the Conservative Party member of parliament for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (2014).
Source – Welfare News Service, 26 June 2014
I’ve been reading Mike Rapport’s book, 1848 – Year of Revolution (London: Little, Brown & Co 2008). This is about the ‘year of revolutions’, which saw uprisings against the old, Conservative orders and empires break out across Europe, in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Frankfurt, Milan, Venice, Prague, Krakow, Budapest and Galicia. Liberals and Democrats rose up in the hope of establishing more representative electoral systems, a wider franchise, or the abolition of the monarchies altogether. German and Italian Nationalists attempted to create a united Germany and Italy out of the various independent states in which their nations were separated, while Polish, Czech, Slovak, Magyar, Romanian, Serb and Croat nationalists attempted to forge their own states with a greater or lesser degree of autonomy and independence. This was also the year of the publication of Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, when Europe was indeed haunted by workers’ protests and uprisings against…
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austerity has failed to create jobs or economic growth. As predicted, the government has attacked jobs, pensions and pay, threatened privatisation and attacked and demonised those entitled to welfare. Yet all of this has worsened rather than improved the economy and people’s lives.
Unemployment is rising, living standards are falling, and in early 2012 official estimates confirmed what our communities have experienced: that the economy is back in recession.
You might wonder why, in the face of such overwhelming evidence of failure, government ministers have not changed course. It is because they want the public sector reduced and privatised, and wages driven down. This is exactly what David Cameron promised, when he said his government would “tear down” what he described as “big government bureaucracy”.
The government has pledged to cut 730,000 public sector jobs by 2017 and to cut spending by £80bn. For millions, their jobs, pay and pensions…
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It is very hard to work out what is going on in the UK labour market because the quality of the statistics is basically junk – garbage in, garbage out describes the lack of quality of the data well. I really am not exaggerating.
Bad Labour Market Data Part 1 is that every other major country, including the euro area as a whole, is able to produce timely estimates, but not the UK.
Currently unemployment rates for February 2014 are available for Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United States. Data for April 2014 were released by the United States on Friday.
The UK stands out as the only country out of 31 that has no data available for February, March or April 2014.
Pathetic. The national statistic that pretends to be for January is actually an average of December of 2013 and January and February of 2014. The reason for this is simply because the sample sizes are too small to generate accurate monthly estimates.
The Office for National Statistics does in fact publish a single-month estimate of the unemployment rate but that jumps around all over the place.
Let me illustrate the problem. The ONS makes the supporting micro data on individuals available for researchers like me to examine. They take out identifiers so we can’t work out who anyone is. The latest micro data we have is for the three-month period October to December 2013.
In total over these three months 77,657 people between ages 16-98 were interviewed. Of these, 39,761 were employed 6,995 were self-employed and 3,347 were unemployed. The overall unemployment rate, once the data have been weighted and seasonally adjusted is 7.2 per cent, but the relatively small sample size means this estimate is measured with lots of error.
For the technically minded, the 95 per cent confidence interval for the monthly national change is ± 0.3 per cent, which means that any monthly difference smaller than that is not statistically significantly different from zero.
The unemployment rates that were calculated, for example, for East Anglia (5.7 per cent), East Midlands (6.4 per cent), Scotland (7.1 per cent), Wales (7.1 per cent), Northern Ireland (7.4 per cent) as reported by the ONS for October-December were based on ridiculously small samples of 114, 246, 281, 153 and 142 unemployed people respectively. Given the very small sizes the result is that the regional unemployment rates are measured with even more error than the national rate and bounce around like a rubber ball from month to month.
The reason why the ONS struggles to report unemployment rates by month becomes obvious rather quickly.
So the single-month estimate for December of 7.2 per cent that it reports is only based on a sample of 1,198 unemployed people, of whom 632 were male and 452 were under the age of 25.
The number of unemployed people in each of the five regions identified above in December is East Anglia (34), East Midlands (91), Scotland (105), Wales (51), Northern Ireland (55), hence why no single-month disaggregated estimates can be produced.
Bad Labour Market Data Part 2. The government has claimed recently that based on earnings growth of the national statistic called Average Weekly Earnings (AWE) for the whole economy of 1.9 per cent in February 2014 and the fact that the Consumer Price Index has been steadily falling, this means that real wages are set to rise.
If only that was true. But sadly it seems most unlikely given the fact that the Monthly Wages and Salaries Survey (MWSS) on which the estimate is derived has two major sample exclusions whose wages are likely to be growing much more slowly than that, if at all.
First, the ONS has no earnings data, as in none, on the 4.5 million self-employed workers, including large numbers who have set up in business recently. The only earnings data we have available from HMRC are over two years old.
What we do know is that the typical self-employed person earns less than the typical employee and some have zero earnings or even losses; there is every prospect earnings growth of the self-employed will be low.
Second, it also turns out that the MWSS doesn’t sample workers employed in firms with fewer than 20 employees that are the least likely to have strong earnings growth given the difficulty small firms have had in raising capital. The ONS simply makes an adjustment based on the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE), which was last available in April 2013 and which itself excludes the lowest earners below the National Insurance threshold.
The ONS computes an average over the previous three years that it imposes on the AWE monthly data. So the ONS just guesses that what happened in the past applies now. But maybe it doesn’t.
The ONS admitted to me that “ideally, we would sample businesses with fewer than 20 employees in the MWSS. However, we do have to pay close attention to minimising the burden on respondents, and we believe that using the adjustment factor from the ASHE strikes an appropriate balance between this and accuracy of the estimates.”
Really? So making it up as you go along is OK? It turns out that this amounts to approximately 20 per cent of all employees, or another 5.2 million workers whose wages we know zippo about.
So the national wage measure excludes 10 million out of the UK’s 30 million workers and my working assumption, for the sake of argument, is that their average pay rise over the past year is zero (it’s a maybe not-so-wild guess that the ONS can’t disprove)!
There is supporting contradictory evidence of strong earnings growth from the latest UK Job Market Report from Adzuna.co.uk, showing that average advertised salaries have slipped £1,800 in the past year down to £31,818 in March 2014, 0.6 per cent lower than in February, and 5.3 per cent lower than in March 2013.
A survey carried out by the Federation of Small Businesses at the end of 2013 reported that “after several years of wage restraint, it is encouraging that the vast majority of small firms are beginning to raise wages again”. They found that 29 per cent of firm owners said that over the next year they would raise wages for all staff, 35 per cent for some staff, 8 per cent for those on the minimum wage. 22 per cent said they would freeze wages, 2 per cent said they would lower them and the rest didn’t answer.
So the AWE is an upward-biased estimate of wage growth. Garbage in, garbage out. The UK’s labour market data are not fit for purpose.
Source – Independent, 08 May 2014