Sunday, January 21, 2007
But for Chief Fire Officer Tony McGuirk and the Daily Post, this is an open and shut case. 'Police investigate sabotage as firefighter has foot cut open in 'revenge' incident' screamed Saturday's front page. However, there is every reason to doubt the Daily Post/Fire Authority version of events, that 'malicious colleagues' planted the blade in the boot as some kind of retribution.
Since the partial defeat of their cuts agenda last summer, Merseyside Fire Authority have been steadily stepping up provocations against the FBU. In November, letters were served to fourteen emergency crew members, calling them to hearings over trivial incidents during the September walkout, including one for 'smiling aggressively'. Then a firefighter got in trouble for drinking a cup of tea. Just last Monday, management locked FBU members out of their own meeting at West Derby fire station, forcing them to hold the meeting in the rain.
After four weeks of strike action last year, Merseyside FBU succeeded in saving essential services from £3.5 million cuts demanded by the government. Instead, the cuts were moved away from the frontline. A hardcore of non-union firefighters - along with normally pen-pushing 'fantasy firefighters' - kept a skeleton service going during the strike. In doing so, they aided the Authority's campaign to sack unionised firefighters and cut the number of fire engines. Though they earned time and a half for their trouble, they also earned the distrust of firefighters, who saw them as Judas figures and tools of the bosses.
So Merseyside FBU members have every reason to dislike the non-unionised scabs, who sold out their fellow workers. But the union had beaten the Authority, and held widespread support amongst the general public, who largely recognised that they too depend on there being a large, well-equipped fire service. In any police investigation, the first question asked is supposed to be 'who benefits?' Merseyside FBU certainly doesn't gain anything from this kind of publicity.
Merseyside Chief Fire Officer Tony McGuirk wasted no time in acting as judge and jury. He sent a letter to all members of staff - which the Post gleefully published - insisting that there is no way the incident could have been an accident, and pointing the finger at 'an individual or individuals prepared to act in this reprehensible manner when someone does not agree with their views'.
This is just bullshit. Merseyside FBU disagreed with McGuirk's view that drastic cuts could somehow result in a better service, so they took him on and won. In response, the Fire Authority have embarked on a campaign of bitter recrimination that has left morale on the floor. Whoever planted the blade, McGuirk bears much of the responsibility.
On Friday night, Les Skarratts, secretary of the Merseyside FBU branch, said: "The way McGuirk has dealt with this is unacceptable and highly inflammatory. I find it outrageous that someone who could be involved in the investigation can say categorically it was caused maliciously by someone at the station. We don't condone this kind of behaviour but we also don't necessarily believe there was a malicious incident. It is a matter of police investigation so I cannot comment on the details."
If the police do charge someone with this offence, there is now no way there could be a fair hearing. The Daily Post has prejudiced any trial, and continues to show itself as little more than a mouthpiece of the bosses. Working class people must continue to support their firefighters, and seek to develop projects like Indymedia, which allow journalists to report in the interests of the vast majority, rather than the friends of newspaper owners.
Friday, January 19, 2007
Written by Guillermo Arriaga
On general release from 19th January 2007
After the fascinating Amores perros and the beautiful 21 Grams, Mexican director Iñárritu concludes his 'death trilogy' with this disappointingly ponderous effort. As before, we are presented with stories which are somehow connected, but unlike in the earlier two, they might as well not be. Their connectedness tells us nothing.
No doubt taking its title from the story of a jealous and paranoid God dividing and therefore conquering humanity in the book of Genesis, Babel is a joyless, hopeless film, which must surely have the effect of alienating any viewer who has ever experienced the tiniest shred of happiness.
Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett play a wealthy American husband and wife who are visiting Morocco to escape an unspoken tragedy at home. Whilst travelling between town, she is shot by a young Moroccan boy, who is improbably testing his rifle by taking aim at the tourists' bus.
Back in the US, the couple's nanny (Adriana Barraza) wants to get away to her son's wedding in Mexico, but can't find anyone to look after the kids. So she and her reckless nephew (Gael García Bernal) take them across the border for the celebrations. Not very surprisingly, that doesn't work out too well.
Meanwhile, in Japan, a deaf-mute schoolgirl (Rinko Kikuchi) is struggling to cope with her mother's death, her father's coldness and her emerging sexual desire.
Iñarritu showed he knows his way around a camera in his previous films, and there's plenty more evidence of that here. Working closely with Brokeback Mountain cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, he creates a collage of different textures, weaving them together with great expertise. The casting is spot-on, with all the actors (many of whom are amateurs) putting in excellent performances. Brad Pitt in particular is in something like his Fight Club/Meet Joe Black form, and shows he's capable of doing something slightly sophisticated now he's getting on a bit.
Unfortunately, it's the idea behind the film that is fundamentally flawed. The connections between the stories are so contrived, and yet so pointless, that any emotion the characters generate seems fake. "We all know that Art is not truth," claimed Picasso, "Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand." But the clunky plotlines in Babel constantly remind the viewer that that they are watching a lie, making Iñárritu's 'truth' very hard to grasp.
However, the message seems to be that authorities don't realise the suffering they cause, because are they are just too big and powerful. Iñárritu may not know or care, but in the Oaxaca and Chiapas regions of his country, people are uniting to take the power back from their oppressors. In Babel, the director is symbolically using the megaphone of Hollywood budgets in a pathetic appeal for leaders to show compassion and understanding. But elites know precisely what they are doing, because that is how they became elites in the first place. Sadly, it seems that fame and fortune have turned Iñárritu's head.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
The forty-year-old man became a human fireball in the garden of a former nursing home in Wirral. He later died in Arrowe Park Hospital, Upton.
In February 2006, Loango Estates were awarded planning permission for the building, and neighbours believed it was being turned into flats.
Kimberley Wilson, who lives near what used to be the Ballynanty nursing home in Seabank Road, Wallasey, said she saw the man in flames in the garden when she went to make tea. At first she thought he was a pile of leaves or rubbish on fire.
She said: "It was hard to see what it was at first. We couldn't tell it was a person until we realised it was moving, as if he was rolling around trying to put himself out."
Miss Wilson ran to help, while her mother Julie called 999. By the time she arrived in the garden the flames were almost out.
A joint investigation into the blaze was launched by the Health and Safety Executive, the fire service and Merseyside police. Yet again, the Health and Safety Executive arrive at the scene of a death on Merseyside. Yet again, they have failed to identify a problem before it claimed a life.
After four weeks of strike action last year, Merseyside FBU succeeded in saving essential services from 3.5 million of cuts demanded by the government. Instead, the cuts were moved away from the frontline.
But that certainly hasn't been the end of this dispute. Instead there has been an atmosphere of bitter recrimination, and the Fire Authority have been constantly looking to weaken firefighter morale. While they may be achieving this, they also seem to be strengthening solidarity.
The latest row kicked off on Monday evening, when FBU members gathered for an emergency meeting, which had been called to discuss proposed disciplinary action by the brigade against four firefighters who refused to break safety guidelines and remove hot acetylene gas cylinders at a major warehouse fire in Wirral.
FBU chairman Mark Dunne told the Daily Post that management ordered thirty members out of the station, forcing them to hold the meeting outside in the rain. The group eventually moved to a spare back room at The Alexander pub where tensions remained high.
Mr Dunne said: “It’s fire authority policy – and part of the industrial review agreed when we returned to work after the strike – to hold branch FBU meetings in the stations, at agreed times.
“It’s the first time in thirty years a meeting was cancelled after managers threw members out of a station.”
Merseyside fire officials said the meeting would have been “disruptive”. Hmmm...might they have been the disruptive ones?
A resolution for possible renewed strike action is now being drawn up.
Firefighters on Merseyside have a lot to smile about following their tremendous victory, which was won thanks to great solidarity, in spite of a corporate media campaign against the union. The bosses are in a hole, but they can't stop digging.
Click here to see Liverpool Indymedia's in-depth analysis of the dispute.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
£3 billion worth of developments are due to be completed in the twelve months leading up to the city’s Capital of Culture celebrations in 2008. While some of the jobs have needed doing for many years, much of it is taken up with the building of new shopping centres and luxury penthouse flats. Meanwhile, working class areas within easy walking distance have been starved of funding for redevelopment, and compulsory purchase orders have been served, tearing-apart long-standing communities.
Before the crane collapsed, the Duke Terrace site would have been much like many others around the city centre. About seventy builders employed by David McLean – many of them Polish – had been on the site, working on the luxury ‘Elysian Fields’ development. The complex, which will stand where the Community College used to be, will consist of 104 one and two bedroom flats and duplex penthouses. Completion is expected by the middle of this year, leaving plenty of time for the wealthy newcomers to get their feet under the table before 2008.
The Liverpool Echo website has quoted an unnamed workman as suggesting that high winds had caused the crash. However, there had been many windier days than yesterday during the last couple of weeks, and these massive cranes – which dominate the Liverpool skyline – should surely be able to withstand any weather conditions short of the apocalypse.
Two Health and Safety Executive inspectors were called to the scene, and they are to conduct a joint investigation with Merseyside Police. However, this comes far too late for the deceased man.
Corners are very likely being cut to get all the Liverpool construction jobs done before next January. Just ten days ago, Morgan Utilities Ltd were fined for a safety violation on the corner of Church Street and Whitechapel. Regular inspections of all building sites is the very least that should be demanded by construction workers in particular and the Merseyside public in general.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
Unity Theatre (12th-20th January 2007, not Sun and Mon)
You don’t have to be an insomniac to love this play. You can be afflicted by panic attacks, low self-esteem, or any neurosis under the sun. In other words, you only have to be a human being who sees too many adverts, is under too much pressure at work or is anxious about the ever-expanding ‘war on terrapins’. No wonder it won the People’s Choice award at last year’s Edinburgh festival. Welcome to the insane world that the Liverpool’s Big Wow Theatre Company call home.
"Office worker Keith (Mark Rutter) can’t sleep. Or can he? Maybe his not being able to sleep is actually a dream, but then maybe ‘reality’ is just a dream within a dream about not being able to sleep! And what is he doing with his life? God, he’s such a failure! Or is he? Whose voice is that anyway?
The other twenty-seven characters are played by the hyper Tim Lynskey, from Kevin Sandwichboy to a bored female co-worker to an entire Insomniacs Anonymous group as it falls apart at the seams.
This outstanding physical comedy is built on a spot-on observation of a society collapsing in on itself, and the mile-a-minute humour was lapped-up by an extremely appreciative audience on the first night.
With typical millennial self-deprecation, Big Wow claim to be ‘turning pissing about into an art form’. There is more than a hint of people like Reeves and Mortimer about them, but Insomnobabble is far, far cleverer, and this duo may be the best performers I have ever seen on stage.
The Hope Street graduates reflect reality and yet go beyond it. Everyone in the western world over the age of about eight must think like Keith more than occasionally, but because we all experience life as individuals, it can sometimes seem like we are the only one. By putting all the craziness on stage, and receiving well-deserved gales of laughter in return, Big Wow prove beyond that always-present doubt that we are not insane, our lives are.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
The Capio healthcare 'chain', which has 'franchises' in Ormskirk and Liverpool, has been using advertising since it was established , in a bid to woo rich people who can afford better treatment away from the NHS. Though it clearly isn't fair that some people can buy better health care, at least it took pressure off services for the rest of us. Now NHS hospitals are going to compete with EACH OTHER for customers (or sick people as they used to be known).
Since the government has set up an internal market within the NHS, hospital chiefs say they have no choice but to promote themselves to keep patient numbers – and funding – up. A national NHS marketing code WILL NOT put a limit on the amount of money hospitals can spend, but it is expected to say 'disproportionate' expenditure could affect the reputation of the NHS.
In other words, the government don't want working class people to think that advertising is a waste of money, even though it is!
Sheilah Finnegan of the Southport and Ormskirk Hospital Trust said the organisation had set up a body to look at patient advertising.
"In common with most Trusts across the country, because of the new era of patient choice and payment by results, we have had to look at how we can ensure that patients are given reliable information about our services so that they can make informed choices.
"We have always produced information for patients in the form of general leaflets about the hospital services and specific leaflets about specific treatments and procedures.
"We are now looking at how these can be enhanced to focus on issues that are important to our patients, such as promoting our excellent record on safety and cleanliness."
A spokesman for the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospital's NHS Trust said: "The trust has a new director of communications who is currently reviewing a range of marketing and advertising operations and budgets for the organisation."
Working people, especially hospital staff, must take action against this appalling waste of money. It is in all our interests that we don't let the government get away with destroying the health care we all rely on.
Later this month, Tomlinson will join Arthur Scargill at a meeting in Shotton, North Wales, which will be filmed as part of a TV documentary which he hopes will raise awareness of the stitch-up which ultimately cost the life of his fellow defendant, Des Warren.
At the beginning of the 1970s, the poor safety record and low wages was creating anger amongst unionised workers in the construction industry. Non-unionised workers were subjected to a system known as ‘the lump’ – cash-only payment in a lump sum, without any security or employment rights. The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) proposed a ‘builder’s charter’ – guaranteeing a 35-hour week, a wage of £1 an hour, improved safety and pensions.
The building industry – lead by companies such as McAlpine’s and Laing’s – were terrified by this threat to their profits, as were Ted Heath’s Conservative government. Against the background of the Vietnam War and emerging protest movements, the ruling class was worried alternatives to capitalism gaining popularity. In fact Lord McAlpine was treasurer of the Tories, so he was doubly worried!
The unionised workers began to use ‘flying pickets’ as a tactic to win the lump workers around to their cause. Among the leaders were Des Warren (who worked in Ellesmere Port for a time) and Eric (‘Ricky’) Tomlinson.
On September 6 1972, coachloads of UCATT and Transport and General Workers Union members from North Wales and Chester went to the market town of Shrewsbury to assist trade union members there, by picketing the sites. At one place they were greeted by the son of one boss brandishing a shotgun, at another site a building company director challenged Des Warren to a fight, but by the end of the day when the men set off for home they felt it hadn't been a bad day's union work, and there had been no trouble with the police.
Six months later – with the conflict between strikers and government intensifying – the authorities took vicious retribution and recrimination. Warren and Tomlinson were arrested in connection with the Shrewsbury events (along with twenty-two others), and charged with unlawful assembly, affray and conspiracy to intimidate. After a bizarre and blatantly unfair trial, they were found guilty of the conspiracy charge by the capitalist state and a middle class jury.
Warren received three years in prison, and Tomlinson got two years. They became known as the ‘Shrewsbury Two’, and a campaign was launched to set them free. But if the trial had been a deliberate conspiracy of the Employers' Federation, government and state, then the campaign saw a conspiracy by leaders of the Labour Party, the TUC and UCATT to limit the threat to the profit system. Workers were told to vote for a Labour government, but when they got one Harold Wilson and James Callaghan refused to cut short Warren’s sentence or launch an inquiry. Callaghan’s government began the attack on workers’ rights that was accelerated by Thatcher and is still supported by Blair, Brown, and almost every politician you are likely to see on the news.
Warren, who wrote his memoirs 'The Key To My Cell' , was later diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and campaigners believe it was his treatment at the hands of the prison authorities that gave him the illness. He died from pneumonia, aged 66, in April, 2004.
Ricky told the Liverpool Echo: “We are calling for a public inquiry because we want people to know what we all went through – and to clear our names.”
Campaign secretary Mick Abbott added: “This latest event will give the campaign fresh impetus and we expect it to be followed by meetings in Manchester, London and other parts of the country.”
Ricky will speak at The Grosvenor, Nelson Street, Shotton, at 7.30pm on Friday January 26. For tickets – £5, including a buffet – contact Mick Abbott on 07907 307 853.In Liverpool today, the preparations for the Capital of Culture mean there are construction workers everywhere, but conditions in the industry have not improved since the defeat in the 1970s. The time has come for a new generation of Des Warrens to learn from the mistakes of the past and to organise for a free and fair future.
Click here to read a report and see photos of last summer's campaign launch.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
On general release from 5th January 2007
Mel Gibson is a deeply troubled man. That was obvious from 2004’s The Passion of the Christ, which subjected its viewers to torture and torments in the name of saving their ‘souls’. But clearly that wasn’t enough for Gibson. It’s as if he sat down and thought, ‘How can I make something even more brutal, horrible and disgusting? Loads of people watched my last film out of morbid curiosity, how do I follow that?’
There’s no doubt that Gibson is good at what he does. It’s just that what he does is artistically, historically and emotionally empty. This is agony for fun, profit, and prophet.
Apocalypto is set in the fictional last days of the Mayan civilisation in Mexico, before the Spanish Catholic conquistadors arrived on their quest for gold. A group of hunter-gatherers live peacefully in the forest, led by Flint Sky (Morris Birdyellowhead). When rampaging city-dwelling warriors sack their village, the women are raped and/or sold into slavery, the men are tied to a rack, and Flint Sky is murdered, leaving his son Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) as symbolic figurehead of the group. The latter just manages to hide his wife (Dalia Hernandez) and young son in a well before he too is captured and marched off with the rest of the men.
The captives and their captors eventually reach a hellish pyramid city, where the starved and diseased masses are appeased by human sacrifices to their gods. Covered in a ceremonial blue paint, the prisoners are led to an altar, where their hearts are ripped out and their heads chopped off. The grotesque spectacle only ends when a solar eclipse interrupts Jaguar Paw’s execution. He manages to escape, in ridiculously unbelievable style, and so begins a ridiculously unbelievable chase sequence. But what we are really watching is Mel Gibson being hounded by his own demons.
There is nothing wrong with a movie being horrifically violent. The problem with Apocalypto is that it seems to deliberately distort history in an attempt to justify the holocaust perpetrated against the Mayans by the Spanish and later the Americans. Though an archaeologist was on hand to offer advice, he was allegedly asked if there was any proof something didn’t happen. If there wasn’t, Gibson and his producers could “play”. ‘Never mind that hundreds of years actually passed between the collapse of Mayan city-states and the arrival of the Spanish’, the film seems to be saying, ‘the brown pagans deserved it’. With the exception of Mel’s alter ego and family, of course.
Gibson seems to be deeply troubled by a notion that civilisation is collapsing about his ears. But this is rooted in his Catholic faith rather than a study of modern or historical conditions. In Gibsonworld, brutality and murder are caused by people not being Christian enough. In the real world, it is caused by scarcity of resources. This is something that some modern Mayan people – the Zapatistas – understand, and it guides them in their battle against the modern empire-builders of the Mexican government and their US backers.
Amicus chose Liverpool to host the campaign unveiling, because the city centre in particular is currently is the middle of the ‘Big Dig’, where the council is rushing through work before the Capital of Culture celebrations begin in less than a year. Some of the work has clearly needing doing for some time, but other construction jobs are aimed at creating a haven for the corporate carpetbaggers who will descend on the city in 2008 and leave it in 2009.
Amicus’ Construction Officer Steve Benson, said:
“For too long employers in the construction industry have been undermining or at worst ignoring existing national agreements for the protection of construction workers. This demonstration is the beginning of our campaign to ensure that all employers honour their commitment and adhere to the national agreements.
“With big investment and building projects in Merseyside we want to encourage more people to join Amicus and get involved in taking the construction industry forward.”
Meanwhile, in Liverpool Magistrates’ Court, Morgan Utilities Ltd were losing their case against the Health and Safety Executive, after one of their extremely rare inspections spotted two employees working in an “unsupported excavation” at the junction of Church Street and Whitechapel in October 2005. The hole was around six metres long, two metres deep, and just under a metre wide.
The workers were installing a new section of 225mm diameter fresh water main in the trench, which had no shoring to its almost vertical sides. Morgan Utilities Ltd and one of its managers, Gordon Holt, of Rochdale, each pleaded guilty to criminal charges brought by the HSE.
HSE inspector Neil Jamieson said: "There was a high risk of collapse and consequent injury given that spoil was stored immediately adjacent to the excavation sides, an excavator was also operating in close proximity to the edge, and the risks were further accentuated from vibration emanating from the nearby Liverpool underground railway system.
"Mr Holt, who was managing the work, was aware it was being undertaken in the manner described.
"During the last five years HSE had made two visits to sites where Morgan Utilities was carrying out excavation work, which caused concern as people were working in deep, unsupported excavations."
Workers cannot rely on inspections to point out safety issues, they must organise against the capitalist system itself, which rewards businesses for cutting corners. As Merseyside construction work intensifies over the next twelve months there is a great danger that serious injuries or even fatalities will take place.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
Open Eye, Wood Street (1st December 2006 - 3rd February 2007)
There is something ironic about a gallery that stands opposite a Starbucks café holding an exhibition that seeks to show the repression and uniformity of North Korea. It’s hard to decide which persecutes its workers more, Kim Jong-il’s state machinery or the coffee company. But it doesn’t really matter, because North Korea has huge oil reserves, just as Iraq does, so the Bush administration and international allies want ‘regime change’ in North Korea, just as they did in Iraq. In the wet dreams of some rich Americans there are already Starbucks branches in the capital city Pyongyang.
This isn’t the most exciting exhibition of all time. Not surprisingly, given the subject matter, many of the images seem bland and uninspiring. I’m sure that was Chancel’s intention, because he talks about it in the blurb, but it certainly doesn’t make for an absorbing visit. By default, this amounts to nothing more than pro-U.S. propaganda, and mirrors the crimes that Chancel (justifiably) seems to be accusing the North Korean dictator of. The French photographer was apparently given permission to come and go as he pleased, so why didn’t he stray from the manicured world of well-healed bureaucrats (apart from one shot of a tower block, like we don’t have those)? If he took photos in the American equivalents, the expressions would be equally forced. Yes, North Korea has a cemetery for ‘revolutionary martyrs’, but the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC is rapidly filling up with war dead. Yes, there are military statues in Pyongyang, but there are many in Liverpool, and probably almost every city in the world. Yes, the ‘socialist realism’ murals – with absurdly happy looking workers beaming at their glorious future in the middle distance – are just propaganda pictures, but they aren’t that different from the corporate adverts that poison our minds hundreds of times a day with their promises of instant fulfilment if only we buy a deodorant, new sofa, or self-help book.
In fact, I’ve just invented a much better exhibition. Take photos of repression in North Korea, and then compare it with repression in the United States and call it ‘A Plague On Both Your Houses’. Chancel’s effort isn’t worth the admission fee, and that’s only the energy it would cost you to walk up the stairs.