Climate Change and Bangladesh

November 30, 2009

Sea level rises exacerbated by cyclones and climate change. Bangladesh. See this Guardian video.

According to the Guardian report today Britain is set to send 500 more troops to Afghanistan. Military Families Against the War  supported by the Stop the War Coalition are planning a protest at No. 10 Downing Street on 21st. December where they will deliver the ‘Bring the Troops Home’ petition and demand to see Gordon Brown.

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Whilst Westminster politicians continue to dither over the sense (or non-sense) of spending huge amounts of cash on Trident replacement – Genny Bove and other members of Wrexham Peace and Justice Forum and Wrexham Women for Peace  (in North Wales) have been out on the streets asking people on the ground what they think.

Genny Bove is quoted in the  Wrexham Leader as saying: “Shoppers, workers, students and pensioners were among those who took part in the survey, which invited people to suggest ways in which the money earmarked for Trident could be more usefully spent by ticking their choices or making their own suggestions on a large wall chart and on survey sheets.

“The most popular suggestion was to use the money on health services, with education, jobs, the environment and public transport not far behind.

“Other popular suggestions were pensions, housing, benefits and childcare.

“One group of students felt strongly that there was a need for more spending on social care for disabled people; several people mentioned the need for more funding for residential care and home care services, and there were many comments along the lines of ‘Anything but Trident!’.”

For the full report as published in the Wrexham Leader (and to add your voice to the Wrexham Leader’s poll on Trident) see this link:

At a time when voices criticising the U.K’s involvement in Afghanistan could not be louder, the Wall Street Journal reports on a U.S. bid to seek up to 7,000 more troops from European Allies. See U.S. Enlists allies in new surge (Wall Street Journal).

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Kumi Naidoo steps into office at Greenpeace as the new International Executive Director. He carries with him the hopes of millions upon millions of individuals, groups and peoples:

“These are big challenges we are facing like never before. If we are able to understand the moment we live in and respond with the courage to create a green economy to push for an energy revolution and to fundamentally ensure that we can share this planet in a more equitable way we can reverse the dangerous path that mankind has started on.

Coming to Greenpeace is an opportunity for me to be part of an organisation that has played a leadership role in warning about the dangers of environmental destruction and climate change.

Greenpeace is a movement that has consistently promoted non-violent direct action. At a time where civil disobedience appears to be the only way we can actually push our governments Greenpeace’s methodology offers us the most promise – because right now the only possibility we have to get our governments to listen to us …is to ensure that they are being constantly pushed.” (End of quote).

It’s twenty years since I began work at Greenpeace Germany as a member of the Greenpeace Germany North Sea Campaign (toxics team). I came back to Britain in 1993. My Greenpeace years taught me many things and although my role has changed now – I’m a writer and a journalist – I don’t suppose I will ever forget that there are vast oceans of expertise in this special organisation – which now more than ever – we all desperately need.

According to the Stop the War Coalition Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, the soldier who faces desertion charges for refusing to return to Afghanistan, has been arrested and charged with five further offences for leading Stop the War’s demonstration in London on 24 October and for expressing his opposition to the media in defiance of orders.

The new charges carry a maximum of ten years imprisonment in addition to the sentence of three to four years that Joe could get if the desertion charge is upheld.

Joe’s mother, Sue Glenton, has spoken out against his arrest:

“You’ve got government ministers, army commanders and MPs speaking every day in support of the war. What’s so scary about a Lance Corporal having his say? My son is only speaking
out for what he thinks is right.”

The Stop the War Coalition say Joe’s arrest and imprisonment are signs of panic by the government and military commanders, faced with an ever growing majority of the British public opposing the war and an increasing number of prominent voices in the media calling for
the withdrawal of British troops.

A poll published in the Independent shows that only one in five voters believes that Britain’s military presence in Afghanistan is helping to protect the country from terrorism, as Gordon Brown insists. The same poll shows that 48 percent of voters think the war in Afghanistan increases the risk of domestic terrorist attack.

Stop the War has launched a campaign to defend Joe Glenton and his right to freedom of speech. (For updates see

An emergency protest is being held on Thursday 12 November, 5pm, at the Ministry of Defence, Whitehall (opposite Downing Street) FACEBOOK EVENT (Please circulate): 

The Defend Joe Glenton petition can be downloaded here:

Lance Corporal Joe Glenton
Military Corrective Training Centre (MCTC)
Berechurch Hall Camp
Essex CO2 9NU


Need to get up to speed with the central Copenhagen issues? Listen to the latest analysis from the BBC at Chatham House at this link. (twenty minute broadcast).

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“I believe that there is no prospect of a military solution,” Gorbachev said in Russian through a translator in an interview in Berlin today.

“What we need is the reconciliation of Afghan society – and they should be preparing the ground for withdrawal rather than additional troops.”

See this Bloomberg news link:

The wall.

November 9, 2009

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Thirty five years since learning German became a part of my life. Twenty years since the fall of the wall. Another set of challenges…

News coverage has been extensive. I liked this piece East Germans Lost much in 1989

It’s a good bet that some of us are already suffering from information overload on this one. What’s going to be happening at Copenhagen? If you’re looking for a brief overview of what some of the problems are, try this Guardian article:

For some radical criticisms – go to this Greenpeace link.

Jeremy Leggett’s new site

November 7, 2009

Just received a note from Jeremy Leggett. I first became aware of Jeremy’s work when working for the North Sea campaign at Greenpeace Germany in the eighties. With little prospect of effective agreement at Copenhagen, it seems we need to hang on tight to those who talk good sense – and Jeremy does. 

The site is packed full of analysis on the ‘triple energy crisis’. See:  Jeremy Leggett


The Communication Workers Union and the Royal Mail have reached an interim agreement in a press release issued today, the CWU said:

The CWU’s postal executive yesterday (Thursday) unanimously endorsed the attached agreement. This agreement has been brought about by the strength of the union’s national strike ballot and the overwhelming support for the strikes.

 The interim agreement contains significant developments and concessions that have mainly emerged in the last few days. The interim agreement ensures that the long running bitter local disputes are now resolved by negotiation and agreement. These strikes developed as a result of management imposition and the interim agreement genuinely returns these issues back to the need to agree change.

 The interim agreement also ensures postal workers will work normally during the Christmas period, ensuring they get the chance to earn extra money. This is a benefit that has been denied to workers as Royal Mail has tried to build a casual workforce. The agreement also deals strongly with discipline cases, clear up arrangements and stops the growing practice in Royal Mail of taking people off pay.

 Most importantly, the interim agreement is very specific on how a full and final agreement will be shaped. It guarantees that Royal Mail will agree change and that workers will get real benefits from the modernisation of the business.

 Dave Ward, CWU deputy general secretary, said: “There is no doubt that the strength of support from postal workers in the strikes has made Royal Mail think again. They have made significant concessions this week that are clear for everybody to see. Those concessions have allowed us to suspend strike action and work towards a full and final agreement. The union has always been focused on achieving modernisation by consent and now the company has finally acknowledged that is how we must go forward.

 “The agreement ensures the imposed change that has led to the bitter local disputes will now be subject to negotiation and agreement. It also deals with with clear up arrangements and discipline but most crucially the interim agreement is clear in shaping the final agreement and the benefits that postal workers can now expect from the future.  

“Trust remains an issue between the union and the company but the introduction of an independent chair to continue the negotiations and fortnightly reviews will mean that nobody can walk away from this agreement.”  

The national ballot and all local ballots remain in place. 

Postal Strikes called off

November 5, 2009

The CWU has today announced that the postal strikes planned for Friday 6th November and Monday 9th November have been called off.

The CWU said: “CWU and Royal Mail have reached an interim agreement that was unanimously agreed by the union’s Postal Executive today. 

The interim agreement will provide a period of calm for the CWU and Royal Mail to reach a full and final agreement. The interim agreement guarantees that modernisation will be introduced with agreed job security and improved terms and conditions for postal workers. It also addresses all the issues included in the long running local disputes.  

The strike ballot remains in place. 

Dave Ward, CWU deputy general secretary, said: “There needs to be exceptional efforts to improve trust and relationships between CWU and Royal Mail. As a result both TUC and ACAS will have a continuing role to keep the discussions and agreement on track.” 

The details of the agreement are embargoed until 12noon Friday 6th November 2009.

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 In a delivery office picket-line interview last Saturday – I discussed the dispute with official CWU steward Tom Astle. He told me: “As the service gets worse – the bonuses (of senior management like Adam Crozier) go up – they’re being rewarded for taking our jobs”.

“The Royal Mail promised in 2007 the union would have a say in the future direction of the business,” Tom said. “But we’re not getting the information we need…they’re trying to derecognise the union.”

I asked Tom about the new machines which are being introduced and what the union thought about them. (In an earlier blog post – I describe how a passing delivery worker said he thought the machines were a good idea but ‘the Royal Mail have had the money for them for two years and can’t get them to work’.)

Tom said the machines were walk-sorting sequencing machines (I’ve worked on both LSMs – letter sorting machines and IMPs – Integrated Mail Processors myself). He said they were up and running in Germany – but here  the Royal Mail were still going through the process of ‘trialling’ them. In other words, the machines don’t appear to be working yet and it’s an issue of bad management.

Whilst Tom and I were talking a lone voice behind me on the picket line said: “and then there’s the bullying”.

I turned round and said flatly: “Yes – I know all about that”. Having worked at the Royal Mail for five years, that’s true. But afterwards I realised my comment must have sounded dismissive and that I should have asked this postal worker what he meant and got something else on record. I was shocked at my own mindset which was,  I suppose – bullying is still so widespread at the Mail it’s not news.

I believe bullying is still deeply embedded in corporate practices (see reports from the  Oxford Mail Centre and more recently Swindon ). Anyone who is bullied and survives (and tragically in the history of the Royal Mail there are some who haven’t) will tell you it takes time to figure out what’s going on. When and if you ever do – you’re faced with stark ‘choices’. You speak up – risk making the situation worse – 0r keep quiet – and stay helpless. Either way, until and unless you quickly acquire skin like a rhino – as far as your emotional well-being is concerned and for a good while at least – (until you start fighting back) – you’re pretty much fucked. 

There are endless examples of ‘dysfunctional’ corporate working practices at the Royal Mail. Blogger Roy Mayall (a pseudonym) has recently been accused of being on the pay roll of a PR company. The accusation appears to be an attempt to discredit his writing which I hope is not going to work – simply because there are too many posties (I’ve had messages from at least three) who recognise the truth in what he is saying. It’s what blogging (at it’s best) was destined for: he’s describing human realities that don’t otherwise see the ‘light of print’.

 Every postperson is familiar with the so-called ‘attendance’ procedure which Roy describes. (See his piece Sick Postman get the Sack). Such a procedure would be outrageous and unacceptable in other workplace circumstances – where are the discussions to ‘modernise’ this procedure (from a human resources point of view?).

A source told me recently that  one-hour contracts of work are now being offered to postal workers in the North West. I’ve written before about what I call ‘part-time-full-time’ work contracts. This appears to be an extreme example about how far worker’s rights have been eroded at the Mail. What’s the story on these?

A worker is given a part-time contract (for example for one hour) – but for the majority of the time they may work up to forty hours a week or more. The rest of the thirty-nine (or more) hours is made up of what is called ‘overtime’. The total amount of work that a person is allocated can fluctuate from week to week according to demand. And of course employment rights ‘fluctuate’ too (as described in a previous post).

As far as anti-bullying procedures are concerned – they are in place at the Royal Mail – but there is at least one problem with them. Before a worker can access an employment tribunal – I believe they are required to complete internal disciplinary and grievance procedures. These are supposedly ‘independent’ but in fact there is the ever-present danger that the company ‘polices’ itself. 

The biggest bully of them all, though – has got to be the government. I couldn’t say it better than Gregor Gall of the Guardian:

“As the only shareholder, the government no longer sees maintenance of the service during a strike as a key aim so it does not intervene to force a peaceful resolution.

Instead, it wants Royal Mail to browbeat the CWU into submission so that Royal Mail is an out-and-out business making ever increasing profits. In order to do that, it has allowed Royal Mail to set the dogs on the CWU. The only thing is, the CWU is biting back and drawing blood

See Gregor’s article: The postal strike’s fiery war of words.

 In a letter to Lord Mandelson sent yesterday the GMB union has asked for investigation of breaches in the law in Slough, Bristol and Dartford and “does not rule out enforcement proceedings against Business Department and the Government if they fail to act”.
GMB last month set up a hotline 0208 971 4217 for members of the public to report breaches of the law by employment agencies.
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GMB has almost 600,000 members working in every part of the economy. One in every 32 people at work in the UK is a member of GMB and GMB is organised in 34 of the UK’s biggest 50 companies