Thursday, 21 July 2011

Cameron Escapes via The Back Door Whilst Derby Burns..But Who Lit The Match?

I must admit that the Train Driver within me initially felt a touch of relief when it was announced that Bombardier had not been awarded the Thameslink contract, albeit solely for the fact that I found the poor design of the 377 so frustrating. The political activist within me however, viewed things differently, and when the ramifications for the Derby works hit home, I felt angry towards the government for making yet more empty promises.

Obviously, the loss of such a high level and prestigious contract signals difficult times ahead for the Bombardier works in Derby, and its workforce. Protests are planned, parliamentary manoeuvres have commenced. National newspapers have begun bellowing the war cries of outrage at the thought of a German company being awarded the contract over a ‘British’ one.

I cannot help feeling though that we are missing the point by directing the full force of our venom at David Cameron.

Yes, he made promises that he was not willing to keep. Yes, he proved himself to be as flimsy in government as he was lightweight in opposition, if not opportunist. But he alone does not deserve the full brunt of blame for Bombardier failing to win that contract.

I have spent a few years driving Bombardier’s staple offering to the EMU market within the UK. The 377 is a train that epitomises the term ‘unfulfilled potential’ The units acquit themselves brilliantly in terms of braking and acceleration when in AC mode, but are dogged by poor ergonomics and design and suffer from repeated operating problems, and lazy indifference in terms of comparative performance when in DC mode.

Many drivers have been exposed to repetitive injuries as a result of driving the train for extended times, in addition to muscular skeletal issues as a result of the positioning of the DOO screens and the design of the seat.

The fact that the Mk 5 units are of worse specification than the Mk 1’s, with all of the improvements made to previous sets as a result of sustained campaigning by dedicated ASLEF reps being ignored, merely underlines not only how poor in some areas these trains truly are, but also the fact that, owing to their braking and acceleration, they are vastly underperforming, and are nowhere near well enough designed to realise their full potential. This is a true shame, and in actual fact a betrayal of the Derby workforce by the Bombardier design and management teams.

TOCs have to share blame for this. Service issues could be avoided or minimised if Driver training was more in depth, and the DfT must accept that their failure to insist on improvements to the basic design, as well as their short sighted penny pinching has not helped.

The main failing is that the 377 overall is that it is full of promise that is choked off because of a lack of investment. Essentially though, Bombardier has shown that its products are, despite the quality of the craftsmanship at its disposal, a step behind other players in the sector. This is a hard truth, but in my opinion, a truth nonetheless.

Siemens have a proven track record in delivering high specification rolling stock with minimal operating and maintenance issues, and were even a step ahead when it came to financing deals.

The management team at Bombardier must accept that they have been simply outplayed by their competitors. The workforce have every right to feel aggrieved at Cameron turning his back on them, but they need also to direct some of their anger at those within the management of the company who failed to see that they needed to step it up a level.

On a purely commercial basis, I can see why the contract was awarded to Siemens. On a political and moral level however, the waters become much more clouded.

The DfT have admitted for example, that they have not carried out an assessment on the potential decimating impact of this decision on employment in the East Midlands, despite thousands of jobs relying on Bombardier. Ignoring the inevitable exodus of train building expertise from the UK, they have arrogantly scurried behind concocted excuses and falsified accusations levelled at the Labour Party, and EU rules.

At every twist and turn they have hung the workers at Derby out to dry, overall by overall, work boot by work boot, whilst cynically hanging the blame for it on the shadows of the previous administration, and the European Union.

Cameron and the government have dined hungrily on promises made to the Daily Mail reading masses about ‘standing up to Europe’ and ‘Putting British interests first’ etc.

On his first big industrial test, Cameron has failed.

Sadly for the dedicated and skilled workers at Derby, I fear that the management of Bombardier have unlocked the backdoor for the Tories on this issue by failing to win the bid on merit, despite the Government’s litany of broken promises.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

I Would Like To Say Thank You To Rupert Murdoch & David Cameron..

Another day goes by, and another set of shocking headlines are emblazoned across the news shows, newspapers and webpages detailing the slimy excesses of News International and its key players.

Rather than start with another attack on Murdoch, and David Cameron I would like to shake them both by the hand and say 'Thank You'

Thank You Rupert, for finally moving the political agenda forward in this country to a place where the tories can no longer have any credibility whatsoever when they accuse Labour of being 'in hoc' to trade unions...

The subserviance shown by the Tories toward your papers and executives has well and truly 'blunted the knife' and will finally afford Labour the opportunity to be more open in their support of progressive, democratic trade unionists.

Lets look at the dynamic of this; Labour have, since the changes ushered in under the stewardship of Neil Kinnock and his successors, been at times hesitant, and at others, downright scared of being seen to endorse any action taken by trade unions on behalf of their members. This is largely due to a more media centric approach taken by the leadership in the face of the burgeoning power of the Murdoch empire.

The mantra was, and for some still is, that 'Middle England does not like unions' and that supporting the democratic unions routinely panned by papers such as The Sun et al as being 'dinosaurs' 'stuck in the 70s' and a 'danger to Britain's prosperity' was a sure fire way to lose an election.

Many have questioned whether this was representative of a shift in ideology within the party away from our principled beginnings, but I do not think it is. I think it was the product of the overbearing influence that News Corp was permitted to exert over our political parties and their leaders.

Whilst it is certainly true and fair to point the finger at Labour over recent years for cosying up to Murdoch et al and therefore being complicit in their own troubles to that end, it is undeniable that the present ConDem regime is entwined in these scandals tighter than a sailors slipknot.

We have John Whittingdale MP, Tory Chair of the Culture Select Committee being shown to have close links to the organisation his panel is to interrogate, we have Andy Coulson, former tory spin doctor being proven to be at the very epicentre of all of this, and today it is reported that Gito Hari, the BBC journalist was vetoed by none other than Rebekah Brooks as a candidate for Coulson's Tory job, in FAVOUR of Coulson as a direct result of his News International links!

This, I suggest, will be the very tip of a very murky and dank iceberg.

I believe that it is fair to say that a line of responsibility and association can be traced from Murdoch right down to these key Tory figures, and that overshadows any schmoozing, glad handing, and sharing of sun kissed yachts by ambitious Labour strategists with the henchmen and women of Murdoch and his son.

That being said, the impetus is now fairly in Labour's hands.

Ed Milliband has stepped into the sunlight over this saga, and he needs to avoid the shadows to really start making the progress that is vital if we are to turf the ConDems out come the next election.

My point is, he is free to do so now that the scabbard of News International has been wrestled from their grasp, and the sword snatched away.

EdM was widely panned for 'doing deals with unions' during his leadership campaign.

Why shouldn't he? A cursory glance at the record of the tories ahows they have reason only for an embarrassed and awkward silence on this issue.

They have for years acted as the apologists and justifiers for the exploitation and greed of the banks, multi national industries and the worst excesses of slash and burn conglomerates.

I would trust the will of a democratic and accountable trade union with a clear philosophy and social responsibility over that of a profit driven hawk like Murdoch any day of any year.

Now the Tories have shown themselves to be not much more than the political wing of Rupert Murdoch inc. they have no room to bleat at Labour campaigning with conscience, and on behalf of organised workers across the nation.

Any attack on Labour by the tories for our links with trade union colleagues can easily be repelled and neutralised, and this frees our hand to once more organise both within the trade unions, as well as within society at large, in partnership woth union allies, as well as others.

Don't get me wrong, a violent lurch to the left would consign us to a generation of opposition, and should be largely avoided.

But we need to be willing to support the legitimate actions of democratically accountable and progressive trade unionists when they are fighting for jobs, for justice, for growth, and for the future of our great nation.

Statistically it is inevitable that some industrial action will not be justified due to a number of reasons, and it is only right and fair that Labour be as open and honest in their assessments of these scenarios as we are in our support for the vast majority of strikes which are proportionate, legal, democratic and justified.

It has to be said also that Labour is right to be a friend of business. It is only possible to redistribute wealth if there is someone there to create it after all, and it is everyone's interests to allow business to grow and expand.

But the fight for justice for working people is not one Labour can afford to shy away from.

The world may have changed, and business may have changed, but our commitment to those who produce the goods that create the wealth we all benefit from should never wane or wander.

The purpose of the Labour party has not changed once in the 111 years since it was founded, even though the world in which it operates is unrecognisable.

Our leadership need to accept and recognise that, and set the example of flying the flag high, and flying it proud for the working men and women of the UK.

Maybe we should afford Murdoch a special place within our history.

His determination to win at all costs, and to smash the collective will of the working people has ended up freeing our beloved Labour Party from the shackles placed upon it by the tentacles of his incipid empire, and the overeagerness of our past leaders to bend to his will and slanted agenda, just as Labour and the trade unions have freed workers from the shackles of exploitation and low pay for over a century.

Finally, I cannot forget 'Call Me' Dave.

I would thank Cameron for bringing us that 'Big Society' he loves so much. His cynical ploy to further undermine the backbone of trade unions by further cheapening the cost of Labour within our public services has ended up making him look like the vacant wax like failure we all knew him to be. His awkward silence and sluggish response to the actions of his friends within News Corps has only served to underline his own culpability in this.

I previously wrote that we should embrace the big society and use it to re-energise our trade unions through community activism. To that end I am proud that halting the further ambitions of News International is the first achievement of Cameron's grand idea.

So thank you Cameron; Your ineptitude, arrogance, and disdain for every person in this nation not within a safe tory seat, coupled with your subserviance to News Corp has bust open the lock to the door that was keeping Labour restrained within itself out of fear of being slurred for our natural principles.

Thank you Murdoch; Your hatred of the working man and woman who line your pockets, and your determination to win at all costs, has thrust us through that door and into the light.

Provided Labour can hold onto the spine we have rediscovered over the Murdoch issue, and have the vision and courage to grip onto the intiative and execute innovative policies that are true to what we stand for, namely a fair Britain, a strong economy, robust rights for workers, a fair playing field for unions, and a climate where commerce can flourish in a fair and just manner, the contributions of these two elitist and dogmatic millionaires to the advancement of the working classes will be forever appreciated.

So messrs Murdoch and Cameron, I offer my congratulations.

You should both be very proud of the first positive contribution you have made to British society..