Whitechapel – the tip of the iceberg

On Saturday 19th October, around 50 people attended a protest outside Whitechapel Underground station in protest at the plans to permanently close the ticket office when the station undergoes refurbishment as part of the Crossrail project. The protest was organised by the East Ham Branch of the RMT – I am their Branch Secretary. Members from across the country, from all grades – shipping to management – came and offered their support, handing out leaflets to the public, gathering petition signatures and making lots of noise. We were joined by members of the public too, including children, pensioners and people with disabilities, who will particularly suffer from the closure.
Assistant General Secretary, Steve Hedley gave interviews to LBC Radio and BBC London News, who broadcasted a very average shot of me and some great shots of everyone else. Bob Crow was unable to attend, but I forgive him because he came to our previous demo in July. I think it’s great that so many people are hearing our message because I am under no illusions that ticket office closures will end with Whitechapel. Bob Crow said that Whitechapel was a ‘line in the sand’ and I say it is the tip of the iceberg.
Even the Evening Standard published figures last week saying that the public want ticket offices. And don’t even get me started on Boris and his chocolate teapot election promise of a ticket office at every station. We on London Underground are already seeing station jobs slashed, abuse of agency workers and unfilled vacancies. Top this off with the threat of driverless trains, ticket office closures and further staffing cuts, things don’t look good.
As trade unionist we have two choices: roll over or fight back. This is start of the fight back. The tip of the iceberg. I don’t work in a ticket office, so the closures won’t directly effect me. Why then am I taking the lead in this campaign? One, it’s not me today, but it could be me tomorrow. And two, it’s the right thing to do. I believe that. That’s why I started the online petition, that’s why I have organised three protests to date, that’s why I designed a leaflet for the public, that’s why I spent hours contacting local councillors, politicians, businesses and residents about the issue. That’s why I got suspended from Facebook and Twitter.
I’m only one person and I’m doing what I can. It wasn’t just thanks to me that 50 people gave up their Saturday morning. It was a group effort, a unified effort. RMT prides itself on being an organising union, a union of actions rather than empty words and I’ve witnessed that more than ever with our fight to save the ticket office at Whitechapel.
RMT will oppose future ticket office closures in the same way it has with Whitechapel and probably in a bigger way. That is why this is just the tip of the iceberg.

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Fracking

Following on from Green MP, Caroline Lucas‘s arrest for taking part in a peaceful demonstration at Cuadrilla’s fracking site in Balcome, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the issue. I think there is no place in Britain, or indeed the world, for fracking. It is a dangerous, destructive, short-sighted act, that will help nobody but the energy company fat cats. Below is an extract from the motion I submitted to my RMT branch opposing fracking:
Fracking or hydraulic fracturing to use its correct name, is a method of obtaining natural gas to be used for fuel. The process involves drilling into rocks and blasting them with a highly pressurised mixture of water, sand and chemicals to release the gas inside the rocks. This gas is called shale gas. The pressure from the mixture causes cracks, or veins, in the rock, which allows for the shale gas to flow back with the mixture. Although fracking is very popular in the US, the world’s second largest CO2 emitter, many countries have banned the process, including France and Bulgaria.
The reasons behind fracking’s controversy are many. The most notable is that the chemicals used in the process are known to cause cancer and the inherently dangerous nature of the process allows for these chemicals not only to pollute the air surrounding the fracking site, but also to leak from the fracking well, contaminating groundwater, which could end up as the water in your tap. Other environmental costs associated with fracking are huge. Millions of gallons of water are transported to facilitate fracking, meaning high carbon emissions as well as the need to build access roads for these vehicles to reach the fracking sites and remove the vast quantities of waste produced during the process. Another side effect of the fracking process is earthquakes, with two being recorded in Blackpool in 2011 during tests of the process.
On the subject of cost, an April 2013 report by the Energy & Climate Change Committee admitted that they doubt fracking will reduce energy prices in Britain. Fracking is a short term solution to a long term problem. The UK’s shale gas reserves will only meet consumer needs for 47 years, whereas investment in renewable energy sources will ensure sustainable energy for future generations, reduce carbon emissions and create thousands of jobs in a new energy industry. The government are legally obliged to reduce global warming by 2 degrees, which will be impossible if it insists on continuing to devour our fossil fuels and push forward with their plans to frack in the UK.
Tory peer, Lord Howell’s recent disgusting comments that the north east of England is a good candidate for fracking because it is “desolate” and there is “plenty of room” show that our government is totally out of touch with not only real people, but environmental (and public health) issues. London Mayor, Boris Johnson even wants to frack the capital, saying “if reserves of shale can be exploited in London, we shall leave no stone unturned – or unfracked.” It is Londoners who will be exploited if Boris gets his own way.

The motion then goes on to ask RMT to oppose fracking and create more green reps. I’m looking forward to seeing how it progresses.

Some useful websites about fracking are
No Dash for Gas and the Green Party website.

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Abolition of the British Royal Family

I’m still not 100% decided on this, but my view is moving more towards the good points that Oliver makes

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An open letter to Innocean and Hyundai

I can’t believe that at no stage did someone tell them that this was a bad idea. That it is in extremely poor taste. Even if you are lucky enough to have never been personally affected by suicide, even someone with the thickest skin would have the common sense and compassion to know this is in poor taste

Holly Brockwell

Dear Hyundai and your advertising agency, Innocean,

This is my dad.

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His name is Geoff. He married my mum in the eighties and had two little girls, by all accounts the loves of his life.

This is the note he left when he committed suicide in his car:

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And this is your new ad.

As an advertising creative, I would like to congratulate you on achieving the visceral reaction we all hope for. On prompting me to share it on my Twitter page and my blog. I would not like to congratulate you on making me cry for my dad.

When your ad started to play, and I saw the beautifully-shot scenes of taped-up car windows with exhaust feeding in, I began to shake. I shook so hard that I had to put down my drink before I spilt it. And then I started to cry. I remembered looking out…

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Why I won’t be celebrating Thatcher’s death

Yesterday started the same as many days for me. I finished the last of my night shifts and headed home for bed, careful to avoid any news web-sites or social media, as I’d recorded something on telly and didn’t want to spoil anything for myself. When I settled down to my show in the early afternoon, I couldn’t resist a quick peek at my Facebook notifications. There were lots of messages and event requests for parties to ‘celebrate’, but what were we celebrating I wondered. My answer soon came when a friend sent me a tweet to say Margaret Thatcher had died. This was now a day that would go down in history.

The party invites were to Thatcher’s Dead parties. My initial reaction, as a Christian, and I hope a half-decent person, was one of shock. I know a lot of people within the trade union movement, as well as the general public, held a strong dislike, or even hate, for the woman nicknamed ‘The Iron Lady’ – but a party in honour of her death? Was that not a step too far? Whatever her sins, she was still a mother and grandmother. Every life is deserving of some respect and each death, of dignity.

The people rejoicing in her passing are people I consider friends. People I admire and people I respect. They are intelligent, highly educated individuals, who compaign tirelessesly for inclusion, fairness and respect. They are not the sort of people who would dishonour someone’s memory or take pleasure in the grief of a family who had just lost a loved one. I admit that my knowledge of Britain’s only female prime minister is limited and that’s why I had to find out what she did to invoke such strong emotions in so many.

Margaret Thatcher resigned as prime minister on 22nd November 1990, one month after my third Birthday. At that time, my priorities included Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and watching the traffic from our fourth-floor council flat in Ealing, west London. During her time as prime minister, Maggie chalked up such achievements as the highest levels of unemployment Britain had seen since the 1930s, selling off many of our utilities to private companies, multiplying the country’s nuclear weapons by three and the loss of 256 British lives during the Falklands War, at a cost $1.19 billion (Thatcher’s figure).

I knew these facts already, it was certainly no secret that she was the least-liked post-war PM this country has had. However, she was never my PM – she never snatched my milk, made my parents unemployed or tricked them into buying a home they could never possibly afford, whilst the upper-classes got rich off of tax cuts, continuing their champagne lifestyles blissfully unaware of the poverty and deprivation many of their fellow Brits were living in. Politics didn’t exist growing up in the Tooley house (apart from the troubles in the North of Ireland, which were always discussed away from my English father). I know I don’t like much of what Thatcher did, but when I think of her, I can’t feel the same pain, anger or sorrow as many of my friends. I understand it though and I empathise.

The lasting effects of her uncompromising stance and tough policies are still felt today, by myself and many others of the post-Thatcher generation. Particularly cuts to education funding, including unaffordable fees for further education and savage cuts to museum funding. We are suffering a new housing crises, with local authorities unable to offer an acceptable level of social housing to the people who need it because all the council houses were sold-off and never replaced. The 6.5% interest I pay on my mortgage payments are nowhere near the levels under Thatcher, but they are simply unaffordable for the majority of young people. You can’t buy a house, the council can’t rent you one, where do you live?

I have deliberately left this part for last, as I don’t want this to come across as propaganda. I want it to be factual, but regardless of my position within Britain’s most militant trade union, one cannot ignore the destruction this woman did to our movement. Margaret Thatcher came to power in May 1979, following The Winter of Discontent, where many industries took part in strike action, with rubbish famously piling up in the streets and the dead of Liverpool lying unburied. It was Thatcher’s view that the unions needed to be brought under control and stripped of their power and status. She achieved this by destroying the economy, all but eliminating British manufacturing and presiding over more than three million out of work. In consequence, trade union membership also plummeted. Mobile picket lines were banned and laws were introduced making ballots compulsory, which reduced the unions effectiveness. In the past, companies ran ‘closed shops’ where every employee who worked for a company – and reaped the union-fought benefits – would have to be a member of their trade union. Thatcher’s Tories outlawed this too.

Most memorable was her showdown with striking miners, who walked out for almost a year between 1984 and 1985 – which also was the first year of my brother’s life – as many pits, including those making profit, were closed down or sold off to the private sector. Maggie infamously compared the striking miners to the Argentine’s who killed those aforementioned 256 British soldiers in the Falklands war. Did I mention that the only reason the Falklands were invaded was because Mrs Thatcher removed the only Navy presence on the island? – though I’m sure that could have been a coincidence. This is what she said, “We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty.”

Former mining towns have never recovered. They have suffered levels of unemployment higher than the national average ever since the closure of the mines and property prices are typically lower than the rest of the UK also. When I walked the streets of Liverpool and saw the empty houses, the poverty and evidence of drug use, which has become another higher-than-average statistic for these communities, I feel. It is a stark contrast from my cosy life in London – and let me tell you, I grew up poor. If I’d grown up in Thatcher’s Britain then I’d probably be attending a death party, but for me, as I am now, it would feel like going to the wedding of a couple I’ve never met.

I won’t rejoice in the fact that this woman is dead – I don’t think I’m that type of woman. The type of woman I am is a strong, committed, tenacious one – words that have all been used to describe Thatcher. She may be dead, but her policies live on. I am “the enemy within” Mrs Thatcher and I am dangerous, as are all of my brothers and sister within the trade union movement. April 8th 2013 is a day that will go down in history, but the lasting legacy will be the never-ending fight and success of trade unionism in Great Britain.

Margaret Thatcher – gone, but never forgotten.

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