Fire fighters must win

21 Jul
 This evening, from 5-7 pm, witnessed another strike in the series of actions by the Fire Brigades Union over their long running pension dispute. Once again, the banners and pickets were outside the closed Kings Norton fire station, and once again there were the regular hoots of support from passing motorists.

FBU strike 001

 The negotiations have dragged on now for three years and there is no resolution in site. The government has adopted the same mean and vicious attitude towards the fire firefighters as they have to other public sector employees, wanting “more for less”. The number of years of service to qualify for a full pension is to rise from 30 to 40, and the already large amount that a firefighter pays towards the pension, about £3,800 pa, is to rise to over £4000. It is one of the least generous pension arrangements in the public sector (if you discount ministers of course).
 On top of that there have been years of low wage rises, that were preceded by a wage freeze.

FBU strike 005

 This brutal attack on the firefighters is being met with determined resistance by their union, the FBU, with solid strike after solid strike. They are not just fighting for themselves, but for all those that may need the service they provide. Can a 60-year-old be expected to go into burning buildings, and carry people down ladders? It is a bit like the government’s proposals that would lead to 68-year-old PE teachers chasing 16-year-olds around a playing field.
 The idea is that when a firefighter can no longer match the level of fitness required, they will have the “choice” of leaving with a 50% cut in their pension (for a 55-year-old) or getting the sack. Some choice!
 This dispute must be won, as must the similar disputes across the public sector. We wish the FBU all our support and also thank them for their help in our recent election campaign.

FBU strike 010

FBU strike 008


The Politics of Grass

16 Jul


 Some details emerged about the green waste collection at the Bournville Ward Committee last night. A spokesman from the Lifford Lane Household Recycling Centre (HRC) explained that there have been 46,000 take-ups of the £35 charge for green waste collection. These pay for twenty collections per household during the growing period of the year. That 46,000 figure represented only 10% of city households.
 He further explained that after initial problems, the huge queues at the Lifford Lane centre had been more or less eliminated. The maximum wait now is about twelve minutes (!?) The waste is not burnt, but is taken to a recycling centre in Lichfield to be composted. The £2 million saved by stopping the free green waste collection has been achieved by employing fewer workers. What happens to the composted waste in a financial sense was not made clear.
 It was claimed that when there was a ‘free at the point of use’ system in place, the green waste was getting out of control, but the new system was making it more manageable. Other municipalities charge for this service so we are just stepping into line with them.
 So, instead of acting as a model of how things should be done, Birmingham is levelling down its service delivery to the way it is done by others.
 The argument that it is the wealthy households who tend to have bigger gardens and so were the main beneficiaries of the free collection system is countered by the fact that £35 per year might not mean much to them, but it means a lot to hard pressed working class households who also have gardens and benefited from the free service.
 So, in one fell swoop the “modernisation” of the green waste disposal has united the wealthy and poor households in opposition to this new scheme. That explains why it has proved so easy to collect signatures in opposition, no matter where you set up your stall. People are already paying  their council tax for local services. Why should they pay twice?
 People want the free garden waste collection restored.
 The extra financial burden placed on households is in order to save the Chancellor of the Exchequer money; he has other priorities. However, there is also the question of how many vehicle-miles are being clocked up by people taking their own individual waste to the HRC rather than a few lorries doing it for everyone. At present 90% of households are not using the £35 ‘service’, so presumably they are either dumping it, burning it (so much for the green city vision), composting it (if they have the facilities) or driving it to the HRC centres. The huge car queues at the Lifford Lane centre that began earlier this year suggest the latter. If the fee starts creeping up in future years, that percentage might not drop as intended, as the scheme ‘beds’ in.
 Does Birmingham really need more vehicles on the road? Is this not an inefficient, polluting and anti-social way of doing things? After all, even the private sector finds it more efficient to use couriers for the collection and delivery of goods.
  And of course it also means that only those needing this service have to pay for it, either directly via the £35 fee or indirectly in terms of petrol money (and time). That kind of argument is anti-social, especially if you start applying it to other services, education for example.
 The point was also made by Councillor Sealey (Con) last night that some people do not have the necessary car, internet access or credit card in order to register for the service and pay for collection. What are they to do?
 Surely, a city which aspires to be green and social would see this new system as a retrograde step; the need to collect green waste is a communal matter not an individual one and should be free at the point of use.
 This whole saga may not represent the unkindest cut of all, but however it pans out it represents more austerity dumped on the backs of Birmingham citizens. Leveling the grass and the hedges in this fashion is not leveling the equality gap.
 And while we are on the subject of waste collection, there is a slight link between the issue and the current Zionist bombardment of Gaza. Think Veolia, and look at our post on the 28th December 2013. (They run the five Birmingham HRC depots.)

A progressive council would bring all waste collection back in-house, make green waste collection free at the point of use and employ a suitable number of workers with good wages and conditions to do the job properly.
 But that means standing up to austerity and not implementing it.


Masefield Community Centre

Masefield and Merrishaw 022

 The situation of the Masefield Community Centre, where the meeting itself was held, is still precarious. It is hanging on for life each year, particularly with the question of who pays for its long-serving worker. This is all because of the huge cuts to the Selly Oak District budget which Labour has pushed through.
 The Masefield Estate compares poorly with other areas of Bournville in terms of its housing and amenities, although there have been some improvements in recent years. There are attempts to find alternative funding for the centre to keep it operating, but if these fail, it would be a terrible blow to the area if it was lost. The improving situation of late would go into reverse. Another anti-social measure is just not what an already low-voting area needs.


 These two issues, the green waste and the Masefield Community Centre do not sit well with the phrase in the Council leader’s recent policy statement – (The city) “is a place where citizens work together to look after and improve their local neighbourhood and offer support to their neighbours.” No, it seems instead that obstacles are being put in place by the Council to prevent citizens doing just that.
 The path to a grey and anti-social city that we are on needs to be rejected.

Bob Whitehead

Katie Road NHS, walk-in or drive-in?

13 Jul
 A  meeting was called about Katie Road NHS walk-in centre last Thursday at the Elim Church Centre. It was called by Steve McCabe MP and featured people from the local health service on the platform, with about fifty members of the public in attendance.

Katie Road 006

 There is a variety of out-of-hours health provision in Birmingham, including five accident and emergency centres, six walk-in centres, GP arrangements (opted in and opted out) plus others, and the current situation regarding the walk-in centres is that their contracts are coming to an end in the spring of 2015. There will be a formal consultation over their future from September to November, so Thursday’s meeting was a kind of pre-consultation.
 There has already been a fair amount of consultation, for example a phone survey of 100,000 people, and it was claimed that while the walk-in centres were clearly popular, there was some confusion over when to use them. The Katie Road building was also deemed to be very overcrowded at times, suggesting that the current building was unsuitable as it was.
 When asked by people from the sizeable audience about what the consultation was exactly about, three options were offered; Katie Road should stay as it is, it should be augmented (eg to include urgent care) or be moved closer to the QE A&E. It was stressed that this was not all about saving money, it was about what could be better.
 There were many contributions from the audience, making a variety of points, but no one could doubt the importance of the walk-in centre to those present. One of the main reasons expressed was its accessibility; by bus, train and car, and of course by just walking in. Hence the name. The service provided was also regarded as good and highly valued; it was staffed by experienced GPs. Many of those present had used it for themselves or their family.
 At present it is run by a group of GPs as a kind of cooperative, but fears were expressed about a private take over next year. It was made clear from the platform that there had to be a tendering process, and this, with the citing by some of the increasing inroads of private firms into the NHS being a backdrop to this consultation, did not dispel fears. People were worried, but were also very pleased to hear a robust defence of NHS provision from one or two attendees in particular.
 Those present were invited to sign up to an information email list, and were also invited to follow developments on the website of the Cross City CCG. Birmingham South Central CCG was also going to do a big consultation.
 So, at one level the information given out was reassuring, but vigilance regarding future developments by people who use this service, actual and potential, would be most advisable. It is a much valued community resource, and a straw poll of the audience showed that no-one wanted it to be moved off the current site.


Joint union march and rally in the city centre

10 Jul
 The public sector strike rally in the town centre was noisy, colourful and successful; militant speeches, plenty of stirring music from Banner and a lively march around the town centre enabled the up to one thousand trade unionists make their mark. Passers-by watched with interest and many were keen to take the leaflets explaining what is was all about.
June10th 019
 Yet, as useful and important as this event was, it is hard not to compare it with the much bigger mobilisation on November 30th 2011, which packed the NIA for its rally. That event, as part of national action, was aimed at thwarting the attacks on pensions by the new ConDem government. At the rally, the militant speeches from trade union leaders Dave Prentis (UNISON) and Brendan Barber (then TUC General Secretary) described the action as only the beginning. The truth was that it was the end, the culmination. The momentum that had been built up would very soon be dissipated by piecemeal deals with the government, which left the movement fragmented and gave the green light to the ConDems.
 Nearly three years on, public (and private) sector workers are in a much worse situation. The climb-down in 2011/2012 enabled the Tories to vent their traditional class hatred towards the public sector and trade unions to the full. Since then there have been huge wage cuts in real terms, sustained attacks on pensions, and of course massive cuts to public services, to Councils in particular.
 So, the boulder has to be rolled back to the top of the hill all over again. There is no choice for the public sector. When Cameron came to power he said that we should have to ‘get more for less’; in other words rack up the rate of exploitation. The Tories never change.
 They are claiming that the economy is improving and the deficit is being paid off. So, taking these at face value for the moment, (!) why is that tax cuts for the rich are prioritised over decent pay and pensions for those at the bottom? Why are there huge amounts available for HS2, aircraft carriers and Trident? If there was another war, why would unlimited amounts be found lurking at the back of the ‘empty cupboard’?
 It is not a question of means; it is a question of political will. The public sector can be regenerated and its workers treated properly, but for that to happen there has to be a massive redistribution of wealth. That will only come with mobilisations that are far greater in scope than today’s, or even those of November 30th 2011.
 All too predictably, Labour opposed the strikes. So, alongside the task of building up the organisation and confidence of workers in the public sector, the parallel task of building a political alternative to Her Majesty’s (lack of) Opposition cannot be ignored.

June10th 020


June10th 016

June10th 011


Bore’s Flawed Vision for Birmingham

2 Jul
 Many things could be said about the leader of the Council’s new programme and vision for Birmingham, but the opening sentence of the statement “We have implemented much of the manifesto on which we were elected in 2012” begs the immediate response – ‘and a lot more besides; the huge cuts to services meekly passed on from central government for example’.
 At the end of document there is mention of £159 million of new cuts next year that “we will need to make”. So it is clear that the Labour Council has abandoned any pretence of fighting the terrible austerity to which the city is being subjected. Not an auspicious framework for a start.
 There is to be a “programme of transformation and investment for leisure services”. Is the projected replacement of the public and popular Tiverton Baths with a privately owned and run pool an example of the kind of thing in mind? Certainly, lower down in the document “where public services are accountable to their users and belong to the wider community, whoever delivers them” at best displays an indifference to public services being delivered by the local elected council, and at worst opens the door to wide-scale privatisation.
And the phrase preceding it “everyone has a duty to contribute to civic life” certainly begs a lot of questions. After a full week at work are people expected to step in to do jobs for free that the Council used to do with properly paid and qualified staff? ”.
(The city) “is a place where citizens work together to look after and improve their local neighbourhood and offer support to their neighbours.” Behind these worthy statements we can see Cameron’s ‘Big Society’.
 The confirmation of the abandonment of municipality and its replacement by a friend of the business community is shown with “A prosperous city is one in which local entrepreneurs can thrive, with a quality of life that attracts inward investment and individuals from around the world. It is a place for inventors, designers and creators”.
 The need for “easy access to national and global markets” paves the way for support for HS2. The idea that some of the £50 billion-and-counting cost for this project could be used instead for a massive investment in city public transport, with publicly owned trains and buses operating very cheaply or free at the point of use is absent. The phrase also clearly prioritises the need for the city to compete in the global market. So much for the socialist vision of Albert’s youth.
 The whole theme fits into Miliband’s and Adonis’ version of the Heseltine and Osbourne plans for regional development. The idea that the LEP would be scrapped and that massive investment in affordable housing, public transport and other services would be undertaken by a city council under the control of elected councillors is anathema to Labour 2014.
 Then there is the reference to “the modernisation of our refuse collection service.” The best we can say about that is that it has not gotten off to an impressive start with the green waste bags fiasco.
There are vague pledges such as “accelerate plans to build new low energy homes”, and “We will conduct a radical new review of local governance in the city”. But no detail in terms of numbers of houses and their cost or how a marketised city will simultaneously bring in a new era of democracy and citizen empowerment. It has not happened anywhere else, why should it happen here?
 Not to be churlish, there are some welcome statements, for example the implementation of a living wage by the council. But what about the thousands of lost Council jobs? What standard of living for all these people who have lost their income?
 And yes, the phrase about the city “It is a place that celebrates its diversity and rejects all forms of discrimination” is of course welcome. But with a large Muslim population, something a bit more specific in terms of countering the tidal wave of Islamophobia surrounding the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair and how the establishment of democratic control over the education service would be commenced would have been more welcome.
 The charts in the full version of policy statement show that little has changed in terms of poverty and deprivation in the inner ring of Birmingham in particular. The pro-business and pro-market orientation of this vision for Birmingham does not inspire confidence that much is going to change for those at the bottom. And that number seems to be ever-growing.
 The full 28 page statement can be found here.
 We cannot match the volume of words or the detail of proposals contained therein, but we hope to contribute to developing an alternative, as illustrated by our vision.

Festival flyer



We want St Joseph’s parents to be properly informed and listened to.

22 Jun

Originally posted on Ask St Joseph's Parents:

We are a parent-led community group who believe that proper and meaningful consultation needs to take place explaining both the pros and the cons of becoming an academy.

Proper consultation involves hearing both sides of a debate such as

  • What are the advantages of becoming an academy?
  • What are the risks for the school?
  • How will it affect my child’s education?
  • How will it affect us as parents?
  • Why do some parents believe St Joseph’s should stay as it is?

View original

Ist May Band at the Drum on 27th June

20 Jun
Banner’s 1st of May Band has a gig at the Drum next Friday 27 June. It is key for them as it is being filmed, and from this gig they get a  video to promote their anti-cuts, anti-Gove and anti-capitalist shows more widely. So a good friendly audience on the night would be most welcome.
Banner’s main singer Dave recently gave his services at a CATC social and was much appreciated. The least we can do in return is publicise this forthcoming event.

1st May band

1st May band2



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 261 other followers