Self-driving cars — the way of the future

Are self-driving cars the future? Will connectivity and autonomous vehicles revolutionise the UK automotive industry?

After attending the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders conference on connectivity and autonomous vehicles this week, I believe the answer is yes to both questions.

A new report by KPMG for the SMMT says connectivity and autonomous vehicles (car programmed from a smart phone or tablet with an ability to be “driverless”) will give the UK economy a £51 billion boost while “cutting road congestion and accidents”.

It also claims that connectivity and the autonomous car industry will generate 320,000 new jobs in UK by 2030, while delivering benefits to society. We shall see – glowing predictions such as this sometimes go horribly wrong!

Mike Hawes, chief executive of SMMT, said: “The report clearly shows the UK automotive industry is leading the way in developing the cars of the future and that it will act as a catalyst for wider economic benefits. The UK must grasp the opportunities ahead and ensure it is continually at the forefront of pushing through these next breakthrough technologies.”

Among the companies making presentations on connectivity and autonomous vehicles at the conference were BMW, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, Bosch and Volvo.

They outlined developments to date, including vehicles already using smart phones or an embedded SIM card to programme navigation, in-car entertainment, and security, obtain road information. Self-parking and cars with 360-degree sensors and cameras that monitor road conditions and the environment around the car will become standard.

It all sounds simple – you get in the car – push the button and you arrive at your destination safe and sound.

The Volvo video of their driverless car cruising on a Swedish highway, switching lanes, slowing down, speeding up all with no driver – and a guy in a passenger seat casually using his mobile (not hands free!) and eating an apple which had me trying to press the non existent brake peddle!

A presentation by Bosch referred to “the time saved on the hour long commute to work” giving you more time to – you guessed it – do more work. Also the answer to the car “failing”? Well, it slows down, and then parks itself in a handy lay by and the driver takes over. Try doing that on the M1 or M25 on a Friday afternoon!

But connectivity is already well underway. Pre-programming, parking and traffic jam assistanance are available. Development work by vehicle manufacturers and tier one suppliers on “part driverless” systems and full automation is also underway.

There will be a number of major issues for Unite members and our highly successful automotive industry. The KPMG report forecasts that by 2030, every new car will have some form of connectivity and more than a quarter will be fully autonomous, so there will be big questions not least on future jobs, skills, re-training and how will the industry handle the change and ensure the UK auto sector stays successful.

To do that it has to be done in conjunction with the workforce. In the UK we have the skills and dedication to handle these developments. Workers in the industry and future apprentices will need to learn digital skills and there are also many questions of concern to the public – road safety, road and transport infrastructure, sustainability and data protection.

Connectivity and autonomous vehicles are not just buzzwords. Unite believes the UK needs to be at the forefront of research, development, design and manufacturing.

Our members have a big stake in the industry – they helped it survive in the economic crisis and help turn the industry around. Working with Unite and our members, the UK automotive sector will ensure we are not just in the race – but leading it.


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Pay your tax

Activists dressed as tax collectors and doctors, accompanied by a giant piggy bank, presented a tax bill to Virgin Care on Wednesday (March 25), following the revelation that the firm continues to bid for NHS contracts despite extensive use of tax havens.



Protesters from The Peoples NHS have joined forces with UKUncut following a new report from Unite the union, which revealed Virgin Care’s lucrative NHS deals and tax haven status.



The demonstration was held just one day before Virgin Care won a £280m contract to run NHS healthcare in East Staffordshire.



Photo: Mark Thomas

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Kitchen sink soap opera

How many column inches, hours of air time and rage in one hundred and forty five characters have we had this last week over a kitchenette? Too many to mention, and I know I’m adding to it all. I do so because the kitchenette saga is symptomatic of what passes for political discussion.

Tune into PMQs at any point since 2010 and the commonest emotional feeling is – gloom. I don’t write this as someone who bewails adversarial politics – far from it. Yet I can’t be alone in thinking that, while insults have always bounced about, there has in the past been some attempt at answering the question.

Nowadays an exchange goes something like this. Last week Ed Miliband asked about the general election debates. He accused the Prime Minister of resorting to; “feeble excuses” after Downing Street announced that the prime minister would refuse to take part in a head-to-head televised debate with him during the general election campaign.

The absurdity of it all is instead of a debate about the state of the economy its on who has a kitchen or a kitchenette. This is at a time when we have a major housing crisis.

While I’d have preferred that Cameron’s refusal to take part had been used as a supplementary line rather than a central point, it was nevertheless a perfectly legitimate question.

The Prime Minister’s response was predictable in its boorishness:

“The truth is you are weak and despicable and want to crawl to power into Alex Salmond’s pocket”.

The language of the playground gets him through weekly jousting session, but not enough to get him through a TV debate hence the Crosby veto.

Not surprisingly Cameron’s allies in the right wing press are doing all they can to shore up the Prime Minister with a constant drip, drip of poison against the Labour leader. Their interests, along with the Tories ideological drive to dismantle the state and tear up regulations that might rein them in, are synchronized.

It was into this noxious atmosphere that Justine Miliband entered and let in the cameras.

Politicians parading themselves in ‘at home sessions’ are nothing new. Margaret Thatcher let TV cameras into her Downing Street kitchen as she poured tea out of a china teapot in Downing Street’s kitchen.

Photo calls at home were used by Thatcher’s PR people to soften her image. Frankly it needed more than photo ops to make acceptable the damage her policies had wreaked on the UK. Her legacy of a devastated manufacturing base, weakened trade unions, the wholesale privatization of our utilities and mass unemployment are still causing negative consequences. Chuck in sales of council houses and we have all the conditions that polarized the UK.

She tore up the post war consensus and Tony Blair and New Labour bought into it. Osborne and Cameron have taken her legacy on to a much further level. They have over-seen an economy predicated on an insecure jobs market with low wages, zero hours working, and the new scam in the mix, ‘umbrella companies’ that force workers into bogus self-employment. The upshot is a blatant shifting of obligation from the employer to the employee.

Yet it hasn’t even worked in their own economic terms. Nevertheless here we are on the eve of the election and their finger tips are still clinging on to 10 and 11 Downing Street.

This really is the election of a lifetime and unless Labour wins we can kiss goodbye to a welfare state, an end to a National Health Service and a country where inequality reigns supreme.

Instead of the economic crash bringing about a social democratic revival the Tories seized the moment to consolidate neo economic liberalism. As Tony Blair once famously said about New Labour ‘I really do believe it’ – Osborne and Cameron – ‘really do believe it’. They appear to have won the argument that the misery of austerity aligned to Duncan Smith’s malevolent welfare strictures are necessary to repair the consequence caused by the last Labour government and its ‘profligacy’ on public services.

It wasn’t only Thatcher at home that we were lumbered with it was her pearls of economic wisdom that became established truths. “Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country”, was as patronizingly inane then as it is now. But it served an economic purpose and it is still churned out today by Tories who turn cutting the deficit into a fetish and idolize austerity.

This article first appeared in Tribune.





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The first live TV action of this general election was a bruising encounter. But Ed Miliband boosted Labour’s hopes and morale with a focused and passionate performance.
Hell, yes, he has truly arrived on the political stage. And hell yes, he’s shown he is capable of winning this election.
Miliband looked as if he is back to the Ed of the Labour leadership hustings. Back to the Ed when the Daily Mail attacked his family.
He showed passion for his beliefs. Not just what he thinks, but what he feels.
David Cameron can be very good. But he was out of sorts.
He seemed distracted, lacking in focus. A man without a long-term plan beyond his retirement years.
Neither David Cameron nor Ed Miliband got off without taking some political punches. They were both roughed up by Paxman, but that’s what he does.
Cameron struggled to recover from the opening exchanges about the rise of food banks — the growing numbers of people relying on charity just to avoid going hungry.
Paxman reminded him that he had fought the 2010 election on the theme of ‘broken Britain’. Hadn’t the Tories broken it a bit more, was the suggestion.
Then rising Government debt – rising by £500 billion under Cameron. Paxman had done his homework (sometimes he doesn’t). Cameron had not.
Paxman probed on low wages and zero hours contracts, a job but no guaranteed income. Cameron did not seem comfortable dealing with the consequences of his own actions.
His judgement was questioned. Although Cameron did not quite twig this.
HSBC’s boss Stephen Green had been made a Lord and a Tory minister. Had Cameron asked questions about HSBC’s Swiss operation and money laundering, tax evasion and tax avoidance?
Not much.
Many questions asked about Andy Coulson, later jailed for conspiracy to hack phones? Clearly he had not probed too deeply.
And his support for his friend Jeremy Clarkson, shown the door by the BBC for punching a producer?
On all three Cameron was not happy dealing with the consequences of his actions. And so it went on through immigration, the EU and foreign policy.
Having watched it on BBC, the first commentariat response was from the Tory behind so called ‘free’ schools, Toby Young. Young looked shaken by what he had seen and complained about Paxman’s ‘aggression’.
Cameron was much steadier and more polished with the audience questions. After a bruising encounter which he did not enjoy, he showed poise and composure.
He was helped by Kay Burley taking some time to get involved beyond simply introducing the next question. That finished very downbeat, even boring, and Cameron seemed relieved it was all over.
He will have to be careful not to come across too much like a timeshare salesman looking for us to buy him another 5 years in Downing Street. There is such a thing as too slick.
Miliband faced the same tough time with Paxman. But he was much more focused and on the counterattack with zero hours contracts and a fairer society.
Like Cameron, he was unclear on where he would make the cuts. And a bit shakier still on Labour’s track record on immigration.
But he was not afraid to say – four times – where he thought Labour had gone wrong in the past. He distanced himself from ‘New Labour’ and said some spending decisions – such as the Millenium Dome – had not been great.
He’s clearly not trying to make friends with ‘Mr Dome’, Peter Mandelson.
He took his knocks on the Mansion Tax and defended it well. There would be no deal with the SNP.
An EU referendum. Not a priority and only if there was a further transfer of power by Treaty.
The most uncomfortable questions were very personal. Wasn’t he just a north London geek whose brother would have been better?
He faced those from one audience member, fair enough. But Kay Burley, interrupting and commenting more than she did with Cameron, pressed the same question.
And just for overkill, so did Paxman. Ed Miliband handled them all very well and may well have put that question to bed.
In any event, if the other Miliband boy would have faced some very awkward questions about his time at the top end of the last Labour Government.
The Tories, as they say in boxing, talk a good fight. But their man did not seem to have the heart needed to take the pain and last the distance.
One of those in the TV ‘ring’ was hungrier for it. And hell – yes – Ed Miliband showed he also has the heart and the head.
And he was ‘tough enough’.
No wonder Cameron has been ducking and diving to avoid a true head-to-head debate with Ed Miliband. He was ill-prepared, but experienced enough to get through without it being anywhere near a car crash.
Miliband had passion, energy and impact. He had more screen presence but still has work to do.
It was Ed Miliband’s breakthrough moment – not a knock out moment. Labour will be buoyed by now.
For once the public saw him unfiltered. Not through the sieve and bias of the media.
Ed needs to keep his hat on and batten down the hatches, because the bumpy ride to Downing Street has just started.

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MPs demand full public inquiry into blacklisting

Scottish Affairs Select Committee blacklistUnions have welcomed a call by MPs for a full public inquiry into blacklisting.

A report published today by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee accuses construction companies of misleading MPs over a compensation scheme for blacklisted workers.

It said the firms were more interested in minimising damage to their reputation and finances rather than a genuine attempt to tackle the scandal.

It describes the scheme as “misleading, callous and manipulative”, criticises it for being launched without the agreement of trade unions as well as the low levels of compensation offered and that those participating in High Court action are barred from accessing the scheme.

The committee also states it has no confidence in the sector to “self-cleanse” or to take robust steps to eradicate the practice of blacklisting. It believes that a voluntary code will not prevent blacklisting and that statutory regulations must be introduced. It also says that companies that refuse to self-cleanse should be barred from “all contracts funded, in whole or part, by public money.”

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “This report is a damning indictment of the underhand and cruel tactics that the construction industry employed against decent workers prepared to stand up and be counted on such issues as health and safety.

“The recommendations cover all the key points that Unite has raised with the committee. We welcome, in particular, the employment of ‘blacklisted’ workers. This is the only ‘proof positive’ that these major contractors are on the road to cleaning up their past dodgy employment practices.

“However, it is clear from the report that many companies are dragging their feet on the issue of compensation to remedy what the committee calls ‘the sins of the past’.

“Whoever is in government after May’s general election must respond to the repeated call for a full public inquiry into the long-running issue of ‘blacklisting’.

“The Scottish Affairs Committee, as a whole, and its chair Ian Davidson have shone a light on this murky world of blacklisting. We are indebted to them for their work and dedication in seeking out truth and justice.”

GMB national officer Justin Bowden said: “This excellent report is to be welcomed for two key reasons: first, the fact that its very strong recommendations are made on a cross political party basis; second, the clear way it reflects how sick to death the MP’s of all parties and everyone else is of the construction companies and their arrogant, bully boy attitude.

“The construction companies actions towards those they blacklisted since they got caught shows that they believe they did nothing wrong, membership of the Consulting Association shows how they believed that they were above the law and their attitude towards MPs shows that they believe they are above Parliament.

“Strip away the weasel words and crocodile tears from the blacklisting companies and their highly paid entourage of spin doctors and lawyers and the simple truth is that MP’s of all political parties involved in the Inquiry into Blacklisting in Employment do not trust the companies to eradicate blacklisting and do not believe they have, or will self-cleanse.

The only way the questions posed by the Scottish Affairs Committee will get answered is from a full Public Inquiry.”

UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy: “The Scottish Affairs Select Committee has condemned the counterfeit compensation scheme in the strongest possible terms. The scheme has no credibility and workers who have had their lives ruined have seen that TCWCS is simply a cheap way to gag them and deny them justice.

“Given recent revelations about how the police and security forces were involved in infiltrating trade unions and supplying information to the Consulting Association to blacklist workers, the Committee has called on the government to hold a full public inquiry into blacklisting.

“Every week there are more grubby revelations about the involvement of the state in blacklisting. The only way we are going to get the truth is through a full public inquiry. This puts fresh pressure on the government to launch a public inquiry so workers and their families whose lives were ruined can learn the full truth once and for all.

“Blacklisting will only be eradicated  through strict laws, with blacklisters facing criminal charges, a voluntary code would be worse than useless. Until blacklisters own up, pay up and clean up they should be barred from bidding for public sector contracts.

“The work of the Scottish Affairs Committee and its chair, Ian Davidson MP, in exposing blacklisting has been absolutely invaluable. Without the committee’s hard work, diligence and perseverance, the recent strides in unmasking the blacklisters and the slow battle to make them pay for their actions would have been impossible.”

East Ham and Ilford North Election fund raiser

After the Stratford By Election candidate selection and West Ham Labour General Committee some of us went to support this fund raiser. It took place in the Royal Regency in Manor Park. Which is a magnificent former cinema restored as a plush function venue. We missed the speeches but met...

Husband and wife activists sacked within three days of each other after leak accusations

University of BoltonTwo members of staff have been sacked by the University of Bolton for allegedly leaking information to the press about the vice-chancellor, George Holmes. In addition, a pro-vice-chancellor has left the university at short notice in unknown circumstances.

The sackings come after stories appeared in the national press about a £960,000 loan from the university to the vice-chancellor and details of expensive staff away days to a resort in the Lake District where the vice-chancellor moors his yacht.

Damian Markey, a senior lecturer in visual effects for film and television, was sacked on Friday afternoon. His wife Jennifer, an academic administrator in the health and community studies department, was dismissed on Monday. Both deny any involvement in leaking stories.

Mr Markey was pulled out of an internal review at 2pm on Friday afternoon and told to report to a disciplinary hearing at 2:30pm. At the hearing he was accused of making malicious statements about colleagues, leaking information to the press aimed at damaging the university, and bringing the university into disrepute.

He denied all the charges but was summarily dismissed 45 minutes later. The evidence against him was that the CEO of the University Technical College run by Bolton University said he overheard a mobile conversation when Markey used the words ‘boats’ and ‘lakes’. He was told this proved he was involved in the leaking of the story in The Times about staff away days in the Lake District, despite details having been sent to all staff.

Mr Markey was also told that because he, along with others, had raised concerns by students in the internal review, it meant he was focused on bringing the university down. The concerns were agreed in advance by all those involved in the review, including a visiting academic from Coventry University.

They asked why students had complained of not having sufficient tools after the university had invested £791,000 in the Centre for Performance Engineering (CAPE). One of the complaints against Mr Markey at the hearing came from the head of CAPE, Nick Reynolds.

In February it was revealed that the university had lent vice-chancellor Holmes £960,000 to buy a home near to Bolton.

The university chief was living in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, some 50 miles from the university, and the loan was to enable him to buy a house in four acres of land near Bolton, while awaiting the sale of his family home in Wakefield.

The Daily Mail reported that his Wakefield house did not have a For Sale sign outside and that it belonged to a woman understood to be his new partner. Holmes refused to comment on the loan deal, as did his wife, who lives nearby.

Mr Markey is a member of theUCU and was the secretary of the local branch. UCU says it believes that the decision to dismiss him was because of his trade union activities. His wife is a member of the local UNISON branch.

Both unions have said they will appeal the decisions, with members meeting yesterday to decide their next steps. UCU said many staff are angry, confused and frightened after the extraordinary dismissal of two of their colleagues and the shock resignation of the pro-vice-chancellor.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “These sackings are completely unjustified and quite staggering. There was no investigation and the whole sorry episode has ridden roughshod over the university’s own procedures.

“In our view what Bolton has done is unlawful and represents trade union victimisation and they can expect to face the full force of the national union. We will be appealing these decisions as well as instructing our lawyers. At the moment we are trying to calm down other staff members who are understandably angry and concerned by the university’s behaviour.

“Nobody likes looking a bit silly in public, but to start axing staff without evidence is the response of a desperate despot, not a university vice-chancellor.”

TUC launches LGBT charter

lgbt rainbow flag bannerThe TUC today launches a new Charter for International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Solidarity.

The central message of the Charter is that solidarity is at the core of trade union values, but that decisions regarding when, whether and how to act must be firmly in the hands of the LGBT communities in each country.

The Charter explains how unions can best support the struggles of LGBT people in the many countries where homosexuality is illegal, and subject to popular prejudice. It is still a crime to be lesbian, gay or bisexual in more than 70 countries, with punishments including life imprisonment, flogging and the death penalty.

Crucially, the Charter emphasises that:

·    leadership must come from the LGBT communities.

·    LGBT communities in different countries will have varied approaches based on cultural and national sensitivities.

·    trade unions should be prepared to offer practical support in whatever form is needed.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The message of this charter is that trade unions support campaigns against laws that oppress LGBT people across the world. ‘An injury to one is an injury to all’ is a basic trade union message and it applies everywhere.

“Unions will also support LGBT communities who wish to avoid a kneejerk response to violations ­– one example being the Winter Olympics in Russia where a boycott was seen to be doing more harm than good and Russian LGBT organisations called for engagement as a more effective approach.”

The Charter can be downloaded here.

Saving Our Safety Net Fact of the Week: Unions reduce inequality

I take every opportunity I can to promote The Union Advantage – it’s a TUC pamphlet that sets out the reasons why workers are better off in unions. It sets out all the hard-nosed “what’s in it for me?” stuff like higher pay rises, safer workplaces and fairer treatment. But I’m proud that it...

Support for Dunnes Stores workers builds as strike approaches

Dunnes Stores workers who are in Mandate Trade Union are going on strike on April 2nd. Workers are demanding that the wealthy and profitable store provides secure contracts and incomes, secure jobs, fair pay and the right to union representation.

Mandate trade union and their supporters have been campaigning in towns and cities all over Ireland building support for next weeks strike.

Watch the video here from Dublin’s busiest shopping thoroughfares, Henry Street and North Earl Street. Mandate and their supporters are busy building support and solidarity for the strike next week.


Do you support decent conditions for Dunnes workers? Of course you do!

Take action and sign their petition HERE.

Follow all campaign updates on their page here.

Hidden cash

That the Tory donor list is dominated by hedge funds may come as no surprise, but did you know that many of the businesses bankrolling the Conservative party sell items you might yourself have at home?

As the Mirror reported yesterday (March 25), some of the most everyday products fuel an ideology that’s determined to undo protections for working people, rip apart our public services and browbeat the most vulnerable with austerity, punishing the victims of a financial crisis which was itself orchestrated by the mega-rich.

The Mirror’s list includes:

Melton Mownbray Pork Pies and Ginster Pies

The makers of the popular pies are the Leicester-based Samworth Brothers, who have poured in oodles of money into Tory coffers over the years. Director Mark Samworth has donated £585,000 to the Conservative party since 2010, while the company itself donated just over £30,000 in 2002 and 2003. President David Samworth donated £26,000, which brings Samworth’s total Tory party donations to more than half a million pounds.

Next clothing and accessories

The clothing retailer funnels hundreds of thousands into the Tory party, with its CEO Lord Wolfson having donated more than £400,000 to the party since 2006. The resulting nepotism is not surprising—Wolfson was made a peer by prime minister David Cameron in 2010.

Although Next may be a purveyor of fashionable clothing, the most unnerving thing about the retailer is its staunch refusal to pay its workers decent wages, despite having reported record profits valued at almost £700m.

Lord Wolfson criticised Living Wage campaigns last week, saying the £6.70 an hour many of his workers were on, which is just barely above the minimum wage, was “enough to live on.” This coming from a man who is worth more than £100m and earns a basic salary of £350 an hour – over 50 times more than your average Next employee.


Lycamobile is a massive mobile phone virtual network operating in various countries, including Australia, the United States, and various EU countries including the UK.

It is one of the Tories’ biggest corporate donors, having extended more than £800,000 to the Conservative party in total, despite coming under intense criticism for not paying any corporate tax in the UK on its massive profits since 2007.

The Guardian also reported earlier this week that Lycamobile executives were present at a Tory fundraising ball, where they were seen bidding £200,000 on a statue of Margaret Thatcher and also placed winning bids on two other prizes – lunch with Michael Gove and tea with London mayor Borish Johnson.

This was the same ball where a Tory foreign office minister was secretly recorded making jokes about benefits claimants.

Crombie coats

Crombie, purveyors of luxury coats, is owned by former Tory vice-chairman Alan Lewis, who has donated almost £250,000 to the Tory party.

The Mirror reported in 2013 that Crombie’s parent company, Hartley Investment Trust, is part-owned by two companies operating in the Isle of Man. These companies are in turn owned by companies doing business out of the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas—two notorious tax havens.

That the Tory party welcomes donations from tax avoiders shows just how much the party is committed to doing anything at all about the mega-rich refusing to contribute their fair share.


Autotrader UK, an automobile classifieds publisher that once published a printed magazine, has since 2014 been owned by Apax, a private equity firm run by Tory donor Adrian Beecroft. The Guardian sold its stake in the publisher for hundreds of millions under a controversial offshore deal in the Cayman Islands.

Beecroft, who has donated almost £600,000 to the Tories, also infamously authored a report in 2012 that sought to tear up employment protections that have been in place for decades, including slashing redundancy notice periods, capping tribunal pay outs and allowing employers to opt out of flexible parental leave.

Unite political director Jennie Formby said the list of household consumer goods funding the Tory party comes as no surprise.

“This list is yet further evidence proving the extent to which the Tory party is the party of people in high places,” she said.


“The big business cash injected into the Tory party is no casual coincidence – many of these businesses and the millionaires who run them are afraid to be taken to task by a government truly serving the people, and so push to purchase into power the party that will protect their interests.

“Many of these Tory donors refuse to pay their workers the Living Wage despite massive profits, and they avoid paying tax at all costs,” she added. “They dream of a deregulated world in which global capital controls everything – even in the sphere of public services.

“Who else to make this dream come true than the Tory party, the party that opened up the NHS to rampant privatisation and supports massive trade deals such as TTIP, which will inevitably create a race to the bottom for workers’ rights?”

See the Mirror’s full list of products funding the Tory party here.

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Egyptian teachers protest short term contracts

A picture from an earlier teachers' protest. A 34 year old sociology graduate and teacher named Ammar holds up his contract. It states his pay is 110 Egyptian pounds ($18.60 US) a month with an annual Labour Day bonus of ten pounds ($1.69). Photo by Austin G Mackell

A picture from an earlier teachers’ protest. A 34 year old sociology graduate and teacher named Ammar holds up his contract. It states his pay is 110 Egyptian pounds ($18.60 US) a month with an annual Labour Day bonus of ten pounds ($1.69). Photo by Austin G Mackell

The practice of hiring teachers on short term contracts has been widespread in Egypt and nothing much has changed since the time of the Mubarak dictatorship which was overthrown by the uprisings in 2011, in which teachers played a prominent role.

As we reported in 2012: Under the Mubarak dictatorship, education spending was steadily run down, partly at the behest of the IMF. This situation persists, as does the fact that more and more money is extracted from the poor to fund public schools. This takes the form of fees extracted from parents for books and even building maintenance, but most especially from institutionalised systems of private tuition, which bring in money for the management, as well as supplementing teachers’ salaries.

Teachers on permanent contracts earn between $65 and $115 a month in regular salary. The majority of teachers however are on temporary contracts and they earn up to $16 a month – some earn nothing at all – on the basis that they will obtain the money for survival by taking private tuition lessons at the end of the school day. These lessons, which are more or less compulsory, can have twenty plus students per teacher and those who cannot pay, cannot attend. This situation forces teachers – themselves poor – to become the oppressors of other poor people who typically pay twenty per cent of their incomes for their children’s education. It is a form of insidious privatisation which enables the state to cut education budgets and offload its constitutional responsibility onto teachers and the poor.

The Mubarak government was replaced first by a repressive Muslim Brotherhood regime under Morsi and now by the rule of the army under Sisi, which is carrying out violent and repressive measures against any kind of dissent. Just as teachers stood up to Mubarak and formed an independent teaching union in 2010, despite the ever-present threat of the security forces, so now teachers are once again demanding justice.

When a choice isn’t worth having

Margaret Thatcher’s now notorious Sermon on the Mound gave the notion of “choice” a central place in both public policy and Christian thinking. Nearly 30 years later, Thatcher’s heirs are elevating choice to the paramount principle of pensions policy-making. I have written...

The New Housing Question

~ by Mat Thomas Council Housing has been the only publicly owned and publicly controlled housing system in Britain. It has been necessary to utilise local authority management because such a...

UK coal mines hanging on a thread

Today, in refusing to back UK Coal’s bid for State Aid, the government has almost shut the door on UK Coal mining. A £10m loan will avoid the inconvenient closure of UK Coal’s Thoresby mine during an election period. As TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said today, “Immediate help for UK Coal...

London’s NHS in crisis

A report launched today (Thursday 26 March) reveals that London NHS’s crisis has moved into intensive care.


London’s NHS – into the unknown outlines a further unravelling of services as the NHS becomes more fragmented and financially squeezed.


Roy Lilley is the chair of the inquiries that formed the basis for the reports. “We would like to report that the picture had improved over the last 12 months – however, the situation has moved from serious to being in intensive care.”


The report is a follow-up to London’s NHS at the crossroads which was released in March of last year. Both reports were funded by Unite.


“This second report brings a detailed, but disturbing, analysis of how the Health and Social Care Act has caused havoc to NHS services in London,” said Unite regional secretary for London Peter Kavanaugh.


Almost all of London’s 19 acute hospital trusts are deep ‘in the red’ and braced for an end of year deficit of almost £270m.


Most of the planned ‘savings’ centre on unproven plans to reduce numbers of patients treated as emergencies, as waiting list patients or as outpatients – all of which would drain vital funding from hospital budgets and put services and whole hospitals at risk.


To make matters worse, the plans to reduce access to hospital care are not matched by equivalent investment in services outside hospital – community health services, district nurses, or GPs.


The funding gap between resources and demand for social care, provided by local boroughs in London, is growing rapidly. Councils warned that the gap by 2017/18 in London alone could be more £900 million.


“Some clear strategic thinking is desperately needed before the service implodes under the mounting pressures,” added Kavanaugh.


Some recommendations the report makes include an immediate reversal of the worst aspects of the health and social care act, which has wasted £3bn of NHS funding.


More investment in ambulance services, which are losing 26 paramedics-a-week and struggling to fill 400 vacancies and the closing down of Healthwatch England with patients interests being represented by new bodies similar to the former community health councils.


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Keeping the fight alive

The growing connection between Unite’s community and industrial members saw the unveiling of the world’s first dual-purpose trade union banner by the Derby Unite Community branch last week (March 19).


Historical images of a Derby strike pre-dating the Tolpuddle Martyrs have been combined with a 21st century communication Quick Response (QR) code. When scanned by a mobile phone this leads people to a website which will encourage them to get involved by informing them of the nature of the protest.


Anyone scanning last week on the Unite National Day of Action against Benefits Sanctions was taken to Unite Community’s website detailing the day of action.


The cost of the banner has largely been paid for by the Rolls-Royce manufacturing branch of Unite. It has been designed by local Unite community member Jim Griffiths and beautifully created by Ed Hall, Britain’s leading manufacturer of marching banners for trade unions and other campaign groups.


The banner states We Honour the Derby Silk Workers 1833-34 and will be carried on the annual commemorative march organised each weekend before May Day by the Derby Trades Union Council.


Honouring the sacrifices made by early trade unionists, the banner pays tribute to a moment in history when up to 2,000 Derby silk workers left work in November 1833 to June 1834. Following the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824, the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union, in which Robert Owen was prominent, was established with an important branch in Derby that included weavers, iron workers, builders and silk thrusters.


When silk manufacturer, Mr Frost, discharged one of his employees, his fellow workmates walked out in support. Within a week 800 people, in a town of 24,000, were affected. When many local employers then declared they would not employ trade unionists, another 500 walked out and by February the numbers had leaped to 2,000. Attempts to persuade strike-breakers imported from London led to many strikers being imprisoned.


The strike continued for many months but eventually collapsed as starvation set in. Many strikers were subsequently victimised and never worked in their trade again. Nevertheless, in late 1834, the Dorchester Agricultural Labourers at Tolpuddle took up the struggle for trade unions, which only exist today because of the sacrifices made by the likes of the Derby silk workers, Tolpuddle Martyrs and London Dockers of 1889.


Helping to unveil the banner, Paul Bickerton, who in addition to being an elected workplace rep is treasurer of the local Rolls-Royce Unite branch, said:


“Our members back the local Unite Community branch that is doing great work in defending the welfare state and helping prevent a split between those in and out of work. I’m keen to see the banner on the annual march, which rightly keeps alive the silk worker’s fight, and pleased to know Unite is leading the way in modern up-to-date methods of communicating with the public.”


“We would like to thank Rolls Royce Unite members for their financial support and look forward to working closely with them in the future in opposing austerity,” said Derby Unite Community branch chair Cecilia Wright.


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