Privatisation making postal service worse

It seems that the closure of the Gladstone Road Post Office in Whitstable is a foregone conclusion.

In a statement to the Gazette last week Post Office spokesman Cathal Wogan said: “When a preferred franchise partner is identified we will conduct a public consultation.”

“When” not “If”.

You should also note the sequence of events. First they intend to find the partner, and only after that will they allow us a public consultation. There will be no consultation over whether we want a franchised Post Office in the first place.

Our MP, Julian Brazier, says he has no objection to this. “What I do want is to ensure is we continue to have a good postal service in Whitstable,” he tells us.

I wonder if he’s tried Canterbury Post Office since its transfer to WH Smiths?

Anyone who has been there knows that the service is appalling, with the Post Office counter on the first floor, queues down the stairs and long waits to get served.

If that’s the model of what a future Post Office in Whitstable will look like then I say, “No thanks, Mr Brazier, we’ll keep Gladstone Road open if you don’t mind.”

Of course this is all part of the slow downgrading of the Post Office over the generations.

I have a set of CDs of films made by the GPO Film Unit in the 1930s and ‘40s. As some of you may remember, the Post Office was once renowned throughout the world as one of the innovators of documentary film making.

The films show the GPO as a thrusting, forward-thinking organisation largely responsible for the making of modern Britain.

The degradation of the institution began in 1984 with the sell-off of BT. More recently, of course, we’ve seen the privatisation of the Royal Mail and the franchising of counter services.

The trick has been to hive off the profitable parts while keeping the unprofitable parts in the public domain, degrading the whole service in the process.

If you want to know what’s wrong with the UK: there it is, in a nutshell.

Like selling off your car but keeping the steering wheel. How insane.

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Variation on Zero Hours Contracts at Morrisons

Letter to the Whitstable Gazette, August 14th 2014

I was pleased to read the letter a fortnight ago from Gordon Mowatt, Managing Director of Morrison’s Local, in which he says that remarks in my column a few weeks back were “simply factually incorrect.”

I’d described the jobs on offer in the new Morrison’s store, due to open in Whitstable in the near future, as “a variation on zero hours contracts”.

I stand by that statement.

Many of the jobs on offer are 8 hours a week. Mr Mowatt is disingenuous when he says that the reason for this is to “attract people to work in retail.” The fact is that people were forced to attend interviews by the Job Centre whether they wanted to work part-time or not and, had they refused the work, they would have been subject to sanctions.

I have a letter in front of me which lays out the conditions of employment. The weekly schedule can be altered at any time by the company and may include early mornings, evenings and weekends, it says. This is, in effect, a variation on the zero-hours contract and, while there is no overt exclusivity clause mentioned, it would take a particularly tolerant second employer to want to take anyone on whose hours were so flexible that he couldn’t say when he would be able to work from one week to the next.

Perhaps Mr Mowatt would like to show me a copy of the contract to see if there is an exclusivity clause or not?

The rate of pay for new employees is £6.50 an hour. That is the minimum wage, and while it is true that after a probationary period pay will go up to £7 an hour, that is still a paltry amount for anyone with a family to have to live on.

In case you don’t know it, Whitstable is an expensive place to live: almost comparable to London in some respects.

According to recommendations by the Living Wage Foundation, people need at least £7.65 an hour to live on, £8.80 in London.

If the jobs on offer are so good, Mr Mowatt, why don’t you pay the living wage?

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Israel is an Apartheid state

Photograph by Julie Wassmer: from the Gaza demo, London 09/08/14

Apartheid refers to a political system where one group has less rights than another based upon their ethnicity. The term originates in South Africa, where white South Africans under apartheid were given specific rights denied to the black population, such as the right to vote.

In the case of Israel, the state of Israel controls both the Gaza strip and the West Bank, but denies the people of those areas any rights. Jewish settlers in the West Bank are dealt with under civil law, while Palestinians are dealt with under military law. That is apartheid.

When the three Israeli settlers went missing civil law would have demanded a police investigation, and bringing the perpetrators to trial, in the normal manner. Military law meant that Hamas members in the West Bank could be arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned (and indeed shot) merely on suspicion. It doesn’t matter who did it: justice demands that all people be treated equally under the law.

The nature of the apartheid state means that when the two Palestinians were shot in the weeks before the latest conflict started, no one was charged, and no one went to jail, while after the 3 Israelis were murdered, Israel merely had to blame Hamas without any evidence in order to attack its members. Indeed, as we now know, it lied, knowing full well that the teenagers were dead and that Hamas were not responsible.

I’m not assuming that only Israel can act wrongly, nor that Hamas is more justified than Israel. Hamas too have acted illegally, but the extent of their crimes pales into insignificance compared to the crimes of Israel. Also because Israel is supported by the West, that makes us culpable in their crimes. In the case of the United States, the USA gives Israel $3 billion a year and provides it with arms, which is what allows it to continue.

If there is to be peace in the region, all sides have to be consulted, as the IRA were consulted in order to bring peace to Northern Ireland and the ANC were consulted to bring peace to South Africa. Both were considered terrorist organisations in their day. Both have transformed to become political organisations. The same would happen to Hamas.

You cannot imprison a people, humiliate and degrade them, treat them as 2nd class citizens, steal their land, steal their water, deny them proper health care or any hope of a future, build walls around them, shoot at them, arrest them and assassinate their leaders, dig up their olive trees, wreck their farms, break families up and not allow them to visit each other, and then expect them not to react.

Hamas are the symptom, not the cause. There are non-violent forms of Palestinian resistance too. They are treated with equal disdain by this racist, violent, apartheid state.

Read more here.

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Stop the Israeli terror on civilians

Above is a photograph of my friend Julie Wassmer’s poster protesting against the slaughter in Gaza. It was fixed to a tree outside of her house in solidarity with the suffering people of that desperate, besieged, overcrowded enclave.

She put a copy of it up on Twitter, which earned her a massive response. Many people throughout the world are appalled at what has happened in Gaza, at the brutality and callousness of the Israeli Army in attacking women, children and old people in their homes.

Later a policeman visited her and took the poster down. He said that someone had complained that it was anti-Semitic.

How is this anti-Semitic exactly? It is talking about the State of Israel, not Jews. Many Jews are against the attack on civilians in Gaza. Are they anti-Semitic too?

This is one of the tricks that Israel and its supporters play, this attempt to identify themselves with the whole of the Jewish people, and to wrap themselves up in the mantle of the Holocaust.

The only proper way to remember the Holocaust is to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, to any people, of any race or religion.

Listen to the words of Henry Siegman, a refugee from the Holocaust, and former head of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America.

Siegman wrote an article called “Israel Provoked This War”. Was he being anti-Semitic by saying this? He also did an interview with Amy Goodman from Democracy Now, which is available on YouTube.

Both the interview and the article are highly recommended.

When asked why he thought Israel was provoking the war, he said, “Because they are intent of preventing the development of a Palestinian State. To put it bluntly, they want all of it. They want all of Palestine.”

Part of the problem we have is that, despite its supposed neutrality, the media seems unable to report the real causes of the war. We are always being taken back to a specific point, when the rockets started flying, but are never given the context: of the ongoing brutality of the occupation. Thus we lose half of the story.

The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youths by unknown assailants was given extraordinary prominence, while the murder of two Palestinian youths, not a month earlier, passed without comment.

After the poster was taken down Julie put one up in her window to replace it. Later she came home to find a Star of David and the letters IDF daubed all over her wall. IDF stands for Israeli Defence Force. Her lock had been interfered with so that she couldn’t open the door, either from the inside or the outside.

She was also inundated with hate mail on Twitter.

Such bullying behaviour is a testament to the weakness of the argument on the other side.

If you would like to hear more about the background to current events, there will be a stall: 2pm on Whitstable Beach on the 17th of August, near Brian Haw’s memorial bench.

Polite debate welcome.

For more on this story by CJ Stone please follow the link here.




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New store, more zero hours

A new Morrisons on Whitstable High Street

As you may know by now, Morrisons is due to move onto Whitstable High Street in the near future, having taken over the premises currently occupied by Cain’s Amusements.

At present the opening date is unclear. However staff training starts on the 25th August, so we can expect the shop to open soon after that, possibly in early September.

Recruitment is currently taking place, with potential staff being referred there by the Job Centre.

This is sad news for the independent retailers of Whitstable who will certainly be threatened by the existence of yet another chain on our High Street.

It is also dire news for the unemployed as the much hyped jobs on offer will be at the minimum wage.

What’s worse, most of the jobs appear to be a variation on the zero hours contract, where people have to sit at home waiting for a phone call to see if there is work for them or not.

In the case of Morrisons, staff will be part time but exclusive: that is, they are only being offered 8 hours a week over two shifts, but on contracts containing an exclusivity clause, meaning that they won’t be allowed to work for anyone else for at least 12 months.

The rest of the time they will be sitting at home, like zero hours workers, waiting for that phone call.

The trick is that, while compliant staff will almost certainly get more hours – who can possibly survive on £52 a week before stoppages? – holiday pay will only be for the 8 hours contracted, and Morrisons won’t have to pay National Insurance contributions.

People on Job Seekers Allowance are being threatened that, if they refuse to take the post, the Job Centre will be informed, and sanctions will follow.

Such is the nature of work in 21st century Britain. The expression “slave labour” springs to mind.

So the next time you hear politicians talking about “the Recovery” and the number of jobs being created, remember this: What they are referring to is the recovery of profits, not income, and the jobs on offer are trash.

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A form of squatting by any other name

Yorkley Court Community Farm

I’ve just come back from visiting a community farm in the Forest of Dean.

What’s a “community farm” you ask?

In this case it’s a squatted farm on disputed land in which the residents – mainly young people from the nearby cities – are learning the art of sustainable living.

Well I say “squatted” and that gives you a particular impression of the status of the people living there

The word implies people occupying property to which they are not legally entitled. And that’s true, of course.

Except that if you look at the history of land, all land was originally squatted, and all current legal entitlements have only come about because historic squatting has given way to customary ownership over the generations.

70% of the land in the UK is owned by less than 1% of the population. Britain has the second most unequal distribution of land in the world. Most of that land was acquired by conquest; which is to say that it was squatted, but that the squatters were wielding swords at the time.

History is written by the victors. Then again, so are the laws.

So the legal system was built to protect the property rights of those who had originally taken the land by force of arms.

One of the squatters told me an interesting story. He said that in 2008 he had been working in the City of London. Before the financial crisis he had spent his time trying to make a profit for his bosses and an income for himself. After the collapse his job shifted, and more and more he found himself repossessing houses from people unable to pay their mortgage.

That was when the penny dropped. The people who had created the financial crisis were profiting, and the people who were paying for it were the victims.

There’s much talk of the recovery at the moment, but the fact is the bulk of the wealth since 2008 has gone to the top 1%.

Banks are sitting on heaps of property acquired from exploiting other people’s misery.

Which is just a form of squatting by another means.

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We Are Wiser Than The Angels

Mary Stone 1930-2013 RIP

Mary Stone 1930-2013 RIP

Mums are everywhere. They are the universal experience of all creatures upon this earth, the first and the last. She is the being who maintains us in our solitude, when we float in blissful meditation in the womb, unaware of anything but ourselves. She is the heartbeat that surrounds us and which we take as our own. When she moves, we move. We’ve been moved by her ever since.

Read more here.

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Stonehenge at sunrise – still as exciting as ever

Several thousand at least

I was at Stonehenge for the solstice morning sunrise again this year.

You may know that I co-wrote a book a couple of years ago with the mad biker druid, King Arthur Pendragon, about the campaign to free Stonehenge for public access.

Viewers may have seen Arthur on BBC2 on Saturday evening in a Culture Show special presented by Alistair Sooke. Arthur was the one wearing chain mail.

He was also featured in an article by Will Self in the Guardian, in which he is described as follows: “It might be easy to dismiss Arthur Pendragon as an endearing eccentric had he not been quite so successful.”

I can attest to this, having spent a lot of time in his company over the years. He’s surprisingly down to earth and very astute politically. We can lay the blame for the current regime directly at Arthur’s feet, who ran a 14 year long campaign for free and open access culminating in taking the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights in 1998.

After that the government backed down and people have been meeting in the Stones for the solstices and the equinoxes ever since.

The summer solstice night is the maddest of them all. This year an estimated 37,000 people turned up, and all of them trying to get into the centre of the stones.

It’s surprising how many people can fit in there. It feels like several thousand at least.

The Druids try to squeeze themselves in amongst this vast crowd and do their best to hold a ceremony, but are generally drowned out with the sounds of whooping, cheering, drumming and chanting.

This goes on all night. The closer it gets to sunrise the more excited people get, until, as the first rays break over the horizon, the crowd goes wild.

I find this remarkable. Most of the people are in their teens or their twenties. They’ve been brought up on a diet of Hollywood movies and video games, and yet, here they are, in a field in the middle of nowhere, getting all excited at the prospect of a sunrise.

Somehow that gives me great hope for the future.

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The Battle of the Beanfield

That’s someone’s home burning in the background.

1st June 1985. A date that signifies horror and disillusionment to anyone who knows of it. A date which reveals the poisonous worm at the heart of the British Establishment. The day that the dreams of a generation died.

An extract from my book Fierce Dancing: adventures in the Underground. Remembering the anniversary of an infamous day in British history.

Read more here.

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Threat to our sovereignty is from big corporations

As always I went to exercise my democratic right last Thursday, casting my vote at the polling station in Windsor House.

There was a long wait in the queue, after which I enjoyed my half a second’s worth of democracy, before being shovelled back into the political wilderness again.

The voting paper was extraordinarily long, with a bewildering number of parties, many of which I’ve never heard of before.

A lot of them were anti-EU parties, which I agree with. The trouble is most of the anti-EU protest votes went to UKIP, who have made a lot of gains, both in the European and in the local elections.

This is very odd, because although UKIP make a big thing about protecting UK sovereignty from the Europeans, they don’t seem to mind giving UK sovereignty away to the Corporations.

So far we’ve heard no words from UKIP about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a trade agreement between the European Union and the United States – even now being negotiated in secret – which threatens to take away our national sovereignty in a number of areas: not least the right to protect our environment from greedy energy companies, or the right to protect our National Health Service from profiteering private health companies.

The trick is in a mechanism called the investor state dispute settlement, which will basically allow the corporations to sue national governments if their profits are threatened.

Tribunal meetings will be held behind closed doors. Judgements will be made by corporate lawyers. Citizens will have no right of appeal.

This is how one of the judges describes the tribunals: “Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.”

Or as the US-based Democracy Centre described it: “a privatised justice system for global corporations.”

UKIP is very vocal about the protection of British Sovereignty when it comes to social legislation emanating from Europe, but it remains strangely silent when the threat to our sovereignty comes from the Corporations.

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