Friday, 27 April 2012

A Green Fuuture for #Hull, Embracing #Renewables & Elected Mayors

(Originally published via Hull Republic) Where once mighty ocean going vessels jostled for position alongside St Andrews dock, there’s now only rubble, rusting trolleys and the buried remnants of another world, where fishing was king, and where Hull truly did leave others in its wake. Over time, more of our industries have choked and expired, with the city now struggling under the weight of generations who have been without work for far too long, children born into benefit dependency, with all the healthcare issues and legacy of poor education that goes hand in hand with an end to aspiration. We live in the regenerative shadows of Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool. We are continually disregarded, with the exception of St Stephens, as our infrastructure crumbles. Our city has two overriding problems; firstly, we have for years lacked any form of visionary political leadership. People are disenchanted with politics. They do not see how it can bring the change they want, because they see how their views are ignored by the political class. Secondly, the legacy of Thatcher and New Labour has resulted in our industries fading away and dying, leaving generations of working people with no job, and legions of youngsters with no hope. Both problems are interconnected, and both need to be tackled simultaneously, if we are to provide our young with the chance to experience achievement, political engagement, and self-worth. What we need to do is to reinvigorate our local government by increasing democratic accountability. Whilst the majority of Councillors are good people working for the community, there are inevitably some who rely on antipathy to remain in office. The city electorate as a whole has no control over who is leader of the council. This demotivating factor goes a long way to making people feel powerless to bring about change via the ballot box. One way to counter this is through a Directly Elected Mayor. I believe that this would increase participation in elections and provide a unified and cohesive, accountable vision and strategy for the city. It would give voters the power to bring real change. If the mayor isn’t up to the job, he or she can be voted out. It gives people a reason to take ownership of local governance, as well as challenging the parties and candidates to formulate radical and robust strategies for the city’s future, bringing to and end the stagnation from which we have all suffered. Hull desperately needs to attract fresh opportunity through new technologies. The ‘green’ sector is flourishing, and our city is the perfect new home for such industry. We need strong, vocal political leadership in order to raise our voice above the clamour of hopeful locations vying for the revenues and jobs these industries create. The best way to do this is to market Hull as a ‘blank canvass’. We have legions of people, desperate to learn, desperate to earn, desperate to escape benefit dependency and to respect themselves once more. We have large swathes of disused land, ripe for modernisation, the foundations of great infrastructure, with maritime links, and what could be an excellent rail link to the nation and road network leading to the Humber Bridge and beyond if we could harness the political will to implement a strong, united claim for investment. The battle to bring vital new business in the form of environmentally friendly technology will be all the harder when led by an outdated and increasingly irrelevant council system which survives on the antipathy of disillusioned and bereft voters. We need a strong, passionate and visionary voice for Hull. We need someone to lead us in our struggle for a new legacy for our young, and our disenfranchised working classes. We need someone upon whom we can all exercise the ultimate sanction if they fail to live up to our expectations. The city’s electorate needs to be taken on an exciting journey of opportunity, of new industry, of tangible investment in roads and facilities, to a place where there is a chance of a job, and a reason to lift their gaze from the floor. Whitehall has shown time and again that it neither cares for Hull, nor is it willing to part with the cash for investment we need. The city must therefore, be its own cheerleader, architect, and navigator on a journey to the future we all want and deserve. That can only be achieved through direct accountability, and the scrutiny of a motivated electorate. The first step on that exciting journey must start with embracing a new age. To cherish our past is essential, but we must throw open our doors to these exciting new technologies, as well as our minds to the possibility that an elected mayor just might give us a say on where our great city is heading after all. Thanks for reading. Karl Davis for HullRePublic. HullRePublic would like to thank Karl for his thought-provoking post and look forward to working with him again in the future. So what do you think? Should Hull have elected Mayors? Leave us a comment. Get in touch. Share. Make the Change. Karl Davis is a train driver and trade union activist, having held a number of elected positions within the train driver’s union, ASLEF and the TUC. Karl lives in Hull, East Yorkshire, and is married with a young son. A Labour party member and community campaigner, Karl is a member of Labour’s Future Candidate’s Programme, and has played pivotal roles in numerous local campaigns on the issues of housing, corporate manslaughter, Health & Safety for agency workers, Trawlermen’s issues, and also acted as Secretary to the families of the crew of MV Gaul, a Hull based fishing vessel lost in mysterious circumstances in the Barents Sea in 1974. Karl assisted in organising and co-ordinating the campaign to successfully pressure the government into re-opening the Formal Inquiry into the vessel’s loss. Karl is a keen writer, regularly contributing articles to publications, including Guardian (Comment is Free), The Progressive Journal of London and The ASLEF Journal, amongst others. He has appeared on numerous local BBC News outlets connected with a multitude of issues, and engages in public speaking in support various causes. He is currently collaborating with the Universities of Brighton & Bournemouth respectively, on a new book aimed at mental health professionals treating those affected by suicide. Karl is also busily writing his first novel, and posts on twitter as @karldavis1979. His blog can be found at;

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Why I was Pleased With Ed Miliband's Moves on Union Funding

(Originally published in The Progressive Journal of London & an abridged version subsequently published on Liberal Conspiracy)

As an increasingly critical and frustrated Labour party member, I found Ed Miliband’s comments about the thorny issue of party funding today quite pleasing. I’m tired of party advocates squirming in front of TV cameras as Tories bully them into condemning every strike ballot, and launch jibes about the fact that the party is largely funded by organised workers.

It is clear for all to see that the Tories couldn’t give damn about radical reform of our political system and overhaul of its culture of dependency. They only care about turning this debate into an opportunity to further bind the hands of free and democratic trade unions.

The Tories want a cap of £50,000 on donations, and they want to include union donations within that proposed rule. If this were to come into force it could quite literally starve the Labour party out of effective operation as a political voice for working people.

The Tories, consumed by panic at the grassroots and backbench levels at the realisation that they are being led by arrogant incompetents know this. They are keenly aware of the rising tide of derision and hatred cast toward them as a result of misguided and ideological swipes at the welfare state and public sector that the vast majority of the electorate rely on daily. To choke off the natural home of that massed, disenchanted voice would prevent the very real possibility of electoral disaster for them, come 2015.

There lies a lot of merit in Miliband’s proposals. Allowing personal party donations of £5000, and a union levy of £3 per member to be donated to Labour, with individuals also able to donate separately upto the specified £5000 limit would maintain the strong and proud links between the unions, and the party they created over a century ago. It would still generate revenue for the party, as well as maintaining its accountability to organised workers.

In addition to this, it would set the unions a challenge of enthusing and motivating their members to join and donate to Labour, thereby forcing them to up their game and increase their engagement with their members, strengthening the link between union and party, increasing membership, consolidating the democratic mandate for real change that people so badly want, as well as channelling the organisational expertise of trade unions into local communities.

Despite being an interesting ideological joust in an increasingly homogenised political theatre, this issue speaks to a wider topic.

With every policy announcement and benefit reform, with every tax reform and fiscal initiative, this government is showing itself to be more and more feckless, bereft of ideas and glued together only by a collective disdain for the poor, the public sector and the organised left.

The current crisis within which we find ourselves was caused by the very people the Tory party was formed to represent, and it is ignorant to the hands of those who do not feed it. To cater for the interests of the wider populous is not an option because it does not earn money, or win the party votes.

The Tories cannot see a way out of this mess that doesn’t involve scapegoating the poor, the public sector and the organised left, because to do so would render it an enemy of its natural bedfellows, hence the government playing footsy with the banking sector and big business.

Labour must start presenting a coherent strategy for dealing with the structural deficit in a calm, ordered way, as well as preserving the dignity and base living standards of the poorest and most vulnerable.

Overall, we must win the argument of whether there truly is an alternative to this car crash of a government by taking the electorate on a journey of policy guided by principle, aspiration and sound economics.

Ending the party strategy of treating the trade unions like an embarrassing uncle, and instead treating them like respected and loved best friends would be a great start. Looking at ways of channelling investment into regional infrastructure, possibly through future rounds of quantitative easing or a National Infrastructure Bank, revitalising local government by the expansion of elected mayors, as well as maximising the spread of candidates from working class backgrounds would further bolster Labour’s journey back to power by consolidating our mandate to fight for those attacked at their most vulnerable by this foolish government of millionaires.

Every journey begins with the first step: Labour’s first step should be to proudly and publically embrace the cherished link between organised Labour and political advocacy, put an end to the automatic condemnation of organised workers exercising their legal and human right to democratically decide to withdraw labour, and to stop flinching at the wagging finger of the increasingly rabid and Dickensian right, and the editors of The Daily Mail and The Sun.

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Trouble With Workfare..

(Originally published in the ASLEF Journal)

I have directly asked a number of Tory MP's about the Workfare scheme. Whilst some are admirable in their willingness to debate, they are either evasive, or worryingly vague in the answers they give about the detail. Regardless of the merits of individual MPs in their defence of it, the coalition’s response to growing criticism of workfare has been soaked in fear, mistruth, and predictable disdain for organised workers.

For anyone reading this who thinks workfare is a good thing, let's just stop and examine what we can only assume to be happening given the government's unwillingness to properly engage in debate. Benefit claimants are being sent to work for a defined period of time to gain work experience. As ministers are too busy side stepping legitimate questions, we can only surmise that this is to fill a position that is vacant within that organisation.

The important point here is that there is a job available.

At the end of the programme, the company are under no obligation to offer work, regardless of suitability or performance. They are, therefore, perfectly at liberty to ask for another participant under the scheme and repeat the cycle.

Without descending into levelling unqualified charges at companies, it is easy to see the attraction of installing a 'workfare merry-go-round' where once there was an HR department who actually give people real jobs for a real wage.

That understandable capitalist strategy aside, whilst the Tories have dined on the right wing media's thirst for hardline welfare reform, they seriously miss the point. If these companies are allowing benefit claimants to develop experience by shadowing staff, and are not filling empty jobs with workfare participants, that is one thing, and could prove enormously positive if monitored and managed in the right way. If these companies are using benefit claimants to staff their stores and factories, they are frustrating and stifling an already choked jobs market. Undoubtedly some participants will find jobs at the end, but that is not sufficient evidence to counter the argument.

Had it not been for workfare, these jobs would have been advertised through job centres and websites. People would have applied, been interviewed and selected. They'd have done the job and received the wage, moved away from benefits, and contributed to the economy.

I fail to see how workfare improves this process.

Admittedly, this scheme, touted as a 'route to hope from despair' amid other hyperbolic terms, is supposedly aimed at those with no work experience. But even if this scheme does introduce inexperienced job seekers into work, it is doing so at the expense of others who are claiming JSA and looking for a job. All this scheme does is take the stick with which job seekers and benefit claimants have been whacked , and replace it with a double edged sword.

If there are jobs to filled, let them be advertised. Let benefit claimants apply for them. Let the successful candidates earn a fair wage for their labour. Why allow rich, multi-national companies to nurture their considerable profits on the back of unpaid labour provided by a clueless government? The very people who would apply for these jobs are the same ones who the government target by insinuating laziness and lack of work ethic.

All workfare does is provide a cycle of unpaid labour for the country's most profitable organisations whilst preventing the scheme's participants from permanently accessing the same vacancy they're forced to occupy on a temporary basis, and receiving the commensurate wage. At best it shoe-horns an inexperienced person into a role that could be taken by another benefit claimant who does have experience. It generates good headline for the Tories within their press and media buddies, panders to the doctrine of divide and rule perpetrated by big business and government, and needlessly diverts jobs away from one part of the job market to another.

Far from being a fresh initiative that increases the access to jobs for the unemployed, it is actually the equivalent of standing in time of almost biblical drought, trying to turn public opinion against competing components of the water cycle, rather than cutting the rhetoric, listening to the voice of reason, and cracking on with digging a well.

People on benefits are struggling in a suffocated jobs market. They don't need the finger of foolish millionaires wagged needlessly at them.

What people on benefits need is responsible government that helps them to find work by guiding the economy to growth, rather than chopping at its bones. They need job centres that channel them toward REAL jobs rather than unpaid labour, and they need welfare reform targeted at improving quality of life for the poorest and most vulnerable, not just the Tory party approval rating in the eyes of the Murdoch press.