Friday, 13 October 2017

JUST HOPE YOU DON'T LOSE YOUR JOB - IT COULD BE YOU

Newspapers have recently been carrying stories about Universal Credit being rolled-out across the UK. The system sees the main benefits, such as Unemployment and Housing, rolled together into one - Universal Credit. There are still unemployment and housing elements to Universal Credit, but only one payment is made to a claimant.

Saltcoats in North Ayrshire, which has some of the highest levels of poverty and unemployment in Scotland, has been one of the areas used as a pilot to test Universal Credit. This means anyone who attends Saltcoats JobCentre regarding their unemployment has already been on Universal Credit for a couple of years.

When someone makes a claim for Unemployment Benefit they are automatically registered for Universal Credit, which means they will wait six weeks before receiving a payment. There is no logistical or rational reason for a claimant to wait six weeks, it is simply a choice made by the UK Conservative Government.

The Tories have chosen to make people wait six weeks, with absolutely no income. The Tories have chosen to plunge people, including dependent children, into absolute poverty.

Tories point out that claimants can ask for emergency payments to tide them over the six week period. Emergency payments are made at half the level of benefits, so half the amount it has already been decided is the minimum a person needs to survive. Emergency payments are also treated as loans and must be repaid.

This decision by the UK Tory Government has resulted in a massive surge in the numbers of people becoming destitute and having to turn to foodbanks in order to eat and feed their children. At the same time, rent arrears have soared. Councils and Housing Associations are more understanding of the plight of tenants, but private landlords are unlikely to allow a tenant to go into six weeks rent arrears before receiving a payment, so more and more people are being evicted from their homes.

Once on Universal Credit, if a claimant has an enquiry, the only way they can seek answers is by calling a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) phoneline, which is charged at 55p per minute, if calling from a mobile. Most people no longer have a landline in the home and so are forced to use their mobile phone.

Like most call-centres, the DWP phoneline has a queueing system, which means callers can be waiting for long periods before they even get to speak with someone who could help answer their query.

On television this week a Tory Government Minister suggested if people couldn't afford the 55p per minute charge, they could pop into their local JobCentre where staff would answer their questions. In reality, staff at JobCentres do not deal with Universal Credit payments. The role of JobCentre staff is to check that claimants are spending at least 35 hours per week looking for work.

So, contrary to the advice given by a Tory Minister, claimants cannot pop into the local JobCentre to ask questions about their claim for Universal Credit. Neither can a claimant use a phone at the JobCentre to contact the DWP phoneline. Phones for use by the public were removed from JobCentres around two years ago.

Another point the Minister seems to be unaware of is that the Tory Government is closing JobCentres across the country. Already, people from Kilbirnie, Dalry, Beith, Largs and West Kilbride must attend Saltcoats JobCentre. The cost of travelling to Saltcoats to 'pop into their local JobCentre' would be way beyond the means of someone with absolutely no income because of the Tories' decision to impose an arbitrary six week wait for payment.

Finally, when a person secures employment, the Tory Government steals from their meagre benefit payment.

If, for example, a person makes a claim for Universal Credit on the 1st of the month, and manages to start a job on the 31st of the month, benefit payments are stopped from the last date on which the person made a claim, which would be the 1st of the month. The person, therefore, would lose four weeks benefit.

Again, there is no practical or rational reason for this decision. It is done by the Tories simply to reduce spending, by financially punishing the poorest people in society. It is done despite the fact the benefit claimant had complied in every way with strict rules imposed on them by the government.

Of course, such decisions mean people start work with no money until they receive their first wage, which could be four weeks in the future.

This is the situation that millions of people are about to be plunged into.

Monday, 9 October 2017

THE BRUTALITY OF STATE FORCES

Like most people, I was appalled as I watched the State terrorism of Spain's Guardia Civil (October 1st). Thugs in Police uniforms brutally beat-up women and men who simply wanted to cast their vote in a referendum to determine whether or not Catalonia should become an independent nation.

We should bear in mind that, although the Spanish Government in Madrid had declared the referendum to be illegal under the constitution of Spain, both sides in the Catalonia debate – for and against independence - wanted to vote. The actions of the Spanish Government and the militarised Police were carried out with one aim – to prevent the democratic process in Catalonia. In that aim, they failed.

Almost 50% of Catalans were determined to face-down the baton-wielding thugs deployed by the Spanish Government. Of those who managed to cast their vote, in the face of such oppression, 92% voted for Catalonia to become an independent nation, free from Spanish control.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, pro-independence websites, social media and correspondents to The National newspaper have all begun to question if the right-wing Tory Government in London could be watching and learning from what is happening in Catalonia. It is argued that, perhaps, the UK Government will not consent to a second Independence Referendum in Scotland, and will, instead, take the same course of action as the Spanish unionist administration in Madrid.

Anyone who thinks a UK Government would not deploy riot police to batter people pursuing a democratic process, has a very short memory or must be relatively young.

The obvious example of this happening was when the Tory Government of Margaret Thatcher sent mounted Police, with extended batons, to charge into miners taking legitimate strike action and complying with the law, as it stood at the time. No-one who witnessed those scenes, even just on television, will ever forget the brutality.

One of the first things Thatcher did on assuming power was to give the Police a significant payrise, and they repaid her by allowing the service to be politicised. Orgreave 1984 was the day public perception of the Police changed for ever. Rather than the friendly Bobby, the police had become Thatcher's Stormtroopers, deployed against the people.

However, there is a more recent incident where riot police were used to batter unarmed people, and this one was in Scotland.

It happened on July 6, 2005 in the countryside around the Perthshire town of Auchterarder.

On that day, thousands of people gathered to protest against a meeting of the G8 countries, which was being held at the five-star Gleneagles Hotel, the nearest town to which is Auchterarder. Police and other authorities had agreed a route for a march, which, bizarrely, took thousands of people though the town and then into a quiet residential area.

The pleasant surroundings could not have been further from the 'shock and awe' reigning-down on innocent people in Iraq, dropped from US and UK bombers sent in by George W Bush and Tony Blair, two of the men attending the meeting at Gleneagles.

I was on the march, which was heavily policed, largely by officers wearing helmets. The significance of this is that Scottish police do not wear helmets. Those officers, it turned out, had been brought into Scotland from the Metropolitan Police in London and elsewhere in England. There were also Welsh police in attendance.

As the march was directed through increasingly narrow residential streets, bordered by neatly-maintained private gardens, I began to question the route we were being taken down. I also noticed that officers lining the route were not displaying identification numbers, a practice seen during the Miners Strike back in 1984/85. I approached an officer who had braid on his hat, and asked why police had no ID numbers. I also asked why we were being directed down residential streets. The senior officer simply looked through me. It was as if I wasn't there. He did not respond to my questions.

I returned to the march and shortly after this we were directed down an even narrower street, off to the right. The road we had been on was blocked by six-foot fences, behind which were rows of police in riot gear, and behind them mounted police.

As the march reached the end of the short, narrow road, another road stretched away to the right, but ahead was an unfenced field and, across the field, clearly visible was Gleneagles Hotel, the focus of the march.

There were no police at this point. No-one was directing the march along the road to the right, so, understandably, a number of people entered the field and began to make their way towards Gleneagles.

In the distance, it was clear the hotel was fenced-off and police officers were stationed beyond the barrier. However, more people began to enter the unfenced field and walk towards the hotel.

I felt there was something wrong about the whole situation and decided to stand back at the side of the road. Only after I had stood for a minute or so did I realise I had stopped next to a large mechanical hoist. It was already extended and in the cradle at the top were two men, one operating a television camera and the other with a stills camera.

There was a commotion to my right and when I looked along the road there were ranks of riot police jogging towards us. They took up the entire width of the carriageway, forcing people to take refuge in the adjacent field. The police officers banged their truncheons against their shields as they moved, letting out a shout as they did so. The practice was clearly designed to intimidate.

Next, a loud noise engulfed the area as a Chinook helicopter flew very low overhead. The chopper landed in the field, close by the barrier at the Gleneagles Hotel. As it touched down the rear door opened and more riot police emerged. They fanned out, facing the people who had entered the field.

The riot police who had come along the road in front of me, had turned to the right and entered the field. They, too, fanned out to face the people.

Those marchers who had taken to the field were now surrounded.

Above me, the television and stills camera-operators had a perfect location from which to film what then happened in the field.

Police moved in from both sides. The people had nowhere to go. Raising batons, police officers proceeded to batter unarmed civilians who had simply been protesting against the actions of politicians.

I was, and remain, totally convinced the whole thing was a set-up.

The peaceful march had been directed to a point where an unfenced field appeared to give close access to the building housing George W Bush and Tony Blair. Despite the entire route of the march being lined with police officers, at this point no police were in place. Once people had entered the field and made their way towards the hotel grounds, they were surrounded by riot police who took extremely heavy-handed action, allowing no escape.

That night, on every television news channel, the same footage was shown. The camera operator in the cradle of the mechanical hoist had clearly supplied footage to all channels. The story was told about 'rioters' attempting to attack George W Bush and Tony Blair, and how the police had managed to prevent them.

Next day, newspapers also carried the same photos, clearly taken from the mechanical hoist, and told the same story about 'out-of-control' protestors having to be beaten back by police.

In fact, what happened that day was a set-up. I watched it happen. Peaceful marchers were ushered to a point where they were all-but encouraged to enter the field that led to Gleneagles Hotel. They were then surrounded by riot police who beat them to a pulp. An obedient media then ran the story the British State wanted told.

Historically, English troops were sent onto the streets of Glasgow on January 31st 1919 to put-down a workers' protest, which the government in London feared could be the beginning of a revolution. While the English soldiers, backed by tanks, were on the streets, Scottish soldiers were locked in Maryhill barracks, for fear they would side with the people.

The much more recent violence meted out by police against striking miners was also carried out to prevent workers from achieving the legitimate aim of saving pits and local communities.

The bloody scenes I witnessed at Gleneagles in 2005 were another example of State brutality being used against the people.

Do not think for a minute that the UK Government would not, again, use force against the people if it felt the British State and establishment was under threat.

The movement for Scottish independence is entirely peaceful and democratic. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the unionist forces on the other side of the argument.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

LABOUR'S 'NATIONALISM'

Firstly, there is no such thing as the Scottish Labour Party. 'Scottish Labour' is a 'description' registered by the Labour Party, which has its headquarters in London, England. Members of the Labour Party in Scotland can legitimately refer to their organisation as 'Scottish Labour', but the Electoral Registration Commission confirms there is no such body as the Scottish Labour Party.

Secondly, Britain is not, never has been, and never will be a nation. It is a geographical area that forms the largest part of a union-of-nations known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

With those facts in mind, let's look at the comments by the two men vying to be the next leader of the 'Scottish Labour Party' as part of a British 'national' organisation. They both oppose 'nationalism' and state that, under their leadership, if elected, there will be no second referendum on Scottish independence.

The candidates' positioning and choice of words is for them to decide. However, their statement on 'nationalism' is clearly, and deliberately, used as a way of attempting to smear the pro-independence movement in Scotland by seeking to draw a link to other known nationalist movements, such as the far-right, black-shirted, goose-stepping Neanderthals who can be regularly seen on our television screens in undemocratic Eastern-European countries and now, under President Trump, in the USA.

Few reasonable and rational people would disagree with opposition to the far-right concept of 'nationalism', which, history shows us, stems from a national chauvinism, an exaggerated patriotism that believes a particular nation is better than any other. This is the type of nationalism associated with British nationalist movements, which, actually, is more accurately related to a belief in English chauvinism, an imperialist legacy that asserts England is better than other nations, including its neighbour, Scotland. However, the whole point of the comments from the Labour leadership-contenders is to link this toxic 'nationalism' with the peaceful and democratic movement for Scottish independence.

Scottish 'nationalism' - the 'nationalism' to which the Labour leadership-contenders refer - could not be further removed from the far-right British nationalism we see represented today by organisations such as the British National Party, the English Defence League or the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

The Scottish 'nationalism' espoused by the Scottish National Party is a moderate, centre-left political ideology, advocating an inclusive, civic identity that argues for the people of Scotland to be recognised as the sovereign power in the country. The SNP's Scottish 'nationalism' seeks to represent the spirit and aspirations of the whole nation of Scotland, coming together to elect a Scottish Parliament that will govern in the best interests of all the people of Scotland, with the full powers that only come with independence, to deliver a progressive, radical society in an outward-looking, modern nation.

To argue against Scottish independence or to link the movement to toxic 'nationalism' – as British Unionist political parties do - is to say Scots should not be the sovereign power in their own country, and that almost half the population holds abhorrent far-right political views. Opposing Scottish independence is to argue for more of what we currently have - Tory governments in London imposing their right-wing policies on us, even after we have democratically rejected them at the ballot box.

Those of us who support an independent Scotland believe we are no better or worse than the people of other nations. We simply argue that the people of Scotland are best-placed to take decisions on the type of nation in which we want to live.

Supporters of independence believe it is in our best-interests to organise our society on the basis of the nation of Scotland.

The two contenders to lead the Labour Party in Scotland reject this argument; this is the position from which their opposition to Scottish 'nationalism' stems. As a British political organisation, the Labour Party believes it is best to structure society on the basis of a perceived nation of Britain, which, if we accept their 'logic' in relation to Scottish 'nationalism', makes them British 'nationalists'.

Now, clearly, members of the Labour Party in Scotland are not bedfellows of the British National Party, the English Defence League or UKIP, but their party's definition and attribution of the term 'nationalism' would appear to place them in such company.

The other statement from the prospective leaders of the Labour Party in Scotland – that there will be no second referendum on Scottish independence – is a worrying development.

In a week that has seen the Spanish Government send armed-police to crush a democratic movement towards holding a referendum on independence in Catalonia, a statement from representatives of the British Labour Party, claiming they will prevent a similar plebiscite in Scotland, smacks of authoritarianism, even toxic 'nationalism'.

Certainly, if the Scottish people, at some point in the future, elect a British 'nationalist' party to govern Scotland, a party like Labour – that is, one seeking to structure society on the basis of a perceived nation of Britain - then it will be perfectly acceptable for that organisation to adhere to its British 'nation' belief and to not hold a referendum on Scottish independence. However, while Scotland has a Scottish 'nationalist' government – one that seeks to structure society on the basis of the nation of Scotland - with a manifesto commitment to hold an independence referendum, then any attempt to block this would, again, smack of imperialist, authoritarian 'nationalism'.

The Labour Party in Scotland, and its prospective leaders, really should be careful about using the word 'nationalism' in attempts to smear the broad-based, pro-independence movement. If supporters of an independent Scotland are to be pointed-at and branded as equivalent to toxic 'nationalists' simply because we see the benefits of building our society on the basis of the nation of Scotland, then surely those who adhere to a society based on a perceived nation of Britain are, by definition, British 'nationalists'? 

* Originally published by Newsnet Scotland.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Still Hiding The Real Reason For War

One-hundred-years-ago today – July 31st 1917 – the first shots were fired in the Battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres.

It is this battle that most of us picture when we think about the First World War of 1914-1918.

Torrential rain for much of August 1917 turned the Passchendaele battlefield into knee-deep mud, forcing soldiers from both sides to live and fight in atrocious conditions. Most of us considering the Battle of Passchendaele from the distance of one-hundred years cannot begin to imagine the reality of those soldiers: constantly wet, scraping mud from boots and leggings, uniforms crawling with lice, trenches infested with rats, and all this before being committed, over the top, to fight; trying to run through mud, running into gunfire from enemy trenches.

The battle-ground at Passchendaele consisted of just five-miles of Belgian countryside. After three-months the British-led Allies secured victory, only for much of the land to be lost again in later conflicts. In total, estimated figures suggest more than half-a-million men, from both sides, were killed or wounded at Passchendaele. This figure, which some argue underestimates the actual total, works out at almost 4,000 casualties every day. Try to picture four-thousand men standing before you: then imagine all of those men falling, killed or wounded...every day, for three months, and all for five miles of mud.

Today, on broadcast news channels, we see official ceremonies commemorating the Battle of Passchendaele. In the UK, the news reports lead with Prince Charles reading a poem. Of course, today's British royal family are ancestors of the German and British monarchs who 'ruled' as men from their countries killed each other at Passchendaele and other horrific battles during the First World War. The ancestors of Prince Charles – King George V and Kaiser Wilhelm II – were cousins.

The bravery of the men who fought in the First World War was incredible. It is right we mark battles such as Passchendaele and never forget the price men paid for what they believed was a just cause.

Today, on one of the British television channels, a UK Government minister said, “These men fought for the freedom we enjoy today.” Presumably, one-hundred-years-ago, the soldiers in German uniforms also believed they were fighting for freedom. So, what was the purpose of two armies killing each other in the name of freedom?

The soldiers, on both sides, certainly believed they were fighting for freedom but, in reality, Britain and Germany plunged into all-out war in 1914 to secure economic dominance. The First World War was all about imperialism.

Most of the soldiers, on both sides, marched off willingly to fight for ‘King/Kaiser and Country’, but few of those men fully understood the nature of the conflict they were about to take part in. Not just the new mechanised killing they would encounter, but the actual reasons for the war.

In both Britain and Germany, so-called 'ordinary' men and women were whipped-up into a jingoistic fervour by capitalist-owned newspapers, with the working class told they had to ‘do their duty’ by defending their country, when, in fact, the war was all about the imperial aspirations of the ruling class and the wealth they could accumulate through colonial expansion and exploitation. In a situation unchanged since medieval times, 'ordinary' men were to fight and kill each other at the behest of their lords and masters. One unattributed comment perfectly summed-up the reality of the First World War when it described the close-quarter use of the bayonet fixed to a rifle in the following terms: “A bayonet is a weapon with a worker at each end.”

Any commemoration of the First World War must tell the story of so many lives destroyed – on both sides – working class men sent to kill other working class men, while capitalist arms-producers on both sides amassed personal fortunes running into millions-of-pounds.

One-hundred-years later, the real reason for the First World War and the inhuman carnage of battles such as Passchendaele is still not being told. Today, in UK broadcast news-reports, we are hearing of bravery and courage, which is as it should be. However, we should also acknowledge that so many 'ordinary' men were killed and maimed, not for freedom, not to save their country, but in the interests of capitalism, exploitation and financial profit.

A modern version of the capitalist media-owners who whipped-up the jingoism that drove men into the knee-deep mud of the trenches at Passchendaele are, today, hiding the true reason for the First World War. It is not in the interests of the capitalist exploiters for 'ordinary' men and women to know how we have been used, and continue to be used, to make the rich even richer, while our lives, and those of our families, remain expendable.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

So, You Thought 'Big Brother' Was A Thing Of Fiction

Latest plans announced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will result in around 750 people losing their jobs. Ironically, as the plans relate to the closure of Jobcentres, the people losing their jobs are currently employed to help others find work.

Actually, staff employed in Jobcentres have seen their roles change substantially over recent years. Most members of the public who haven't had cause to recently visit a Jobcentre probably think the facility is a centre where there are jobs. Those people would be wrong.

Long gone are the days when Jobcentres had boards on which local and national vacancies were posted, and people without work or looking for a change could peruse the jobs and apply for any that seemed to fit the bill. Vacancy boards were removed years ago, replaced by computer terminals where 'Jobseekers' could search for vacancies. The terminals, too, were phased-out a few years ago.

Now, 'Jobseekers' must do their 'jobsearch' online, using their own computer or smartphone, and their own broadband or Wi-Fi. Attendance at Jobcentres is now to confirm with a 'Jobs Advisor' that 'Jobseekers' have done a sufficient amount of 'job-seeking' to qualify for a Social Security payment. Currently, 'Jobseekers' are told they must prove they have looked for work over a 35-hour period per week. So, 'Jobseekers' are required to prove they have done a week's work in looking for work.

The role of the 'Job Advisor' at the Jobcentre is to verify the 'Jobseeker' has spent at least 35-hours looking for work, and to offer advice on how the 'Jobseeker' could better use their time to find employment.

If the 'Jobseeker' is deemed to have not done a week's work in looking for work – the 35 hours – then a 'Job Advisor' has the power to refer the 'Jobseeker' for a sanction, which can result in a 'Jobseeker' having every penny of their income instantly stopped, plunging them immediately into destitution. Fortunately, 'Job Advisors', in the main, have sympathy for the plight of the unemployed. This is the human element that tempers the process of sanction referrals.

'Jobseekers' are also told they should allow Jobcentre staff to access their online 'Jobsearch', so it is easier for a 'Jobseekers' 'Jobsearch' activity to be monitored.

At present it isn't legal for Jobcentre staff to insist a 'Jobseeker' allows access to their personal 'Jobsearch', which is done using their personal IT equipment, at home, and in their own time. However, 'Jobseekers' are led to believe this intrusion into their personal life is normal and should be accepted. Of course, once the Tories have dragged us out of the European Union and have scrapped the European Convention on Human Rights, then it will become legal to monitor the personal use of computers to search for work. Our right to a personal life will be gone.

Once the Human Rights hurdle has been crossed, the UK Government can then move swiftly to fully automate the 'Jobsearch' process, and there will be no need for Jobcentres or the real people they employ.

When the UK Tory Government has removed our Human Rights – as they fully intend to do – 'Jobseekers' will be legally required to allow central monitoring of their 'Jobsearch' activities. This will be done by an app. If a 'Jobseeker' fails to log at least 35-hours active 'Jobsearch', the central app will automatically issue a sanction. No human input will be required.

This system would generate substantial financial savings for central government: no Jobcentres would be required and, by extension, no workers needed to staff the Jobcentres. In addition, the automatic sanction triggered by the central app would remove any human sympathy for a 'Jobseeker' trying their best to find employment but who hasn't actually sat at a computer doing a week's work looking for work – the 35 hours. So, even more financial savings could be made as Social Security payments would be stopped and charities would have to pick up the tab of preventing the sanctioned 'Jobseeker', and their dependents, from starving.

The current programme of Jobcentre closures is the latest result of more automated central government control being exercised over 'Jobseekers'. Once that pesky Human Rights Convention is removed, and we no longer have the right to a personal life, then the full programme can be rolled out. No more Jobcentres, no more 'Job Advisors', no more attendance at Jobcentres by 'Jobseekers, no more human interaction. Instead, the whole process will be streamlined by the central app monitoring the 'Jobseekers' actions and automatically imposing sanctions by e-mail.

You thought 'Big Brother' was the all-controlling, central government organisation of a dystopian society described by George Orwell in his work of fiction, '1984', didn't you? Think again, we are fast racing towards the actual creation of a Big Brother system of control over our actions.

To the Tories running the UK, people do not matter. All that matters is money, making profit. So, the central monitoring app, spying on the actions of citizens, would be privatised. American IT corporations are already queueing-up to run the system, with government-imposed targets to reduce expenditure on Social Security payments by strict appliance of the 35-hour 'Jobseeking' rule and the imposition of automated sanctions.

If you voted Tory, you are responsible for this happening.