Category Archives: Report

Report: Stand Up to Racism Trade Union Conference

944343_838222376289599_8345544089945264528_nLast weekend, we had the excellent initiative of having a specifically trade union and labour movement conference about anti-racism was held in London. Delegates from Barnet TUC went along.

The day itself, of course, also happened to be the day of further protests against the most racist (to say nothing of also sexist and authoritarian) president of recent American history, Donald Trump. SUtR organisers quite right cancelled the morning session to allow us all to join around 40,000 other people on this lively and important demonstration, and it put people into the right frame of mind for the day.

The opening session contained greetings and introductions from a range of trade union speakers. Ronnie Draper, general secretary of the of the Bakers’ Union, spoke about how his union was combating the myth that immigration, rather than employers, are the cause of low wages. Suzanne Matthews of Unite the Union spoke her work organising black workers with the TUC. Janet Maiden from Unison Health spoke about NHS workers defending the ideal of multiculturalism. The conference then split into three workshops: one on Brexit and Workers’ Rights, one on building solidarity with refugees and a third on the threat of the Prevent policy.

I went to the refugee solidarity session. It was kicked off by Sara Tomlinson of Lambeth TUC, who had been involved in the Care for Calais organisation. Teachers from Lambeth had been volunteering at a pop-up school at the refugee camp operated by a courageous refugee activist who has since received the NUT’s “Service to Education” award. The school served around 100 adults and dozens of children. The school provided a vital centre of normality and stability for the refugees and was more than just a place of education (in a sense, this is true of any functioning school!). It was destroyed when the camp was forcibly dispersed in November, and conditions for the refugees are now far worse, as they now live completely rough as fugitives, and risk death to sneak onto literally any vehicle they can. Care for Calais has continued distributing basic aid to refugees, even though this is now far harder, and continues to appeal for support. Trade unions are encouraged to help out by sending useful items like sleeping bags to Stand Up to Racism and to get trade unionists to the site to help, as Lambeth teachers have. A very good report from Mile End hospital followed about them organising their own-workplace based solidarity collection. Activists are strongly advised to reproduce these actions at their own work.

There was also some good information about things that have been done to help refugees inside Britain. Unite Community in the city of Chesterfield has managed to organise English for Speakers of Other Languages classes for refugees, based on its existing programme to help Eastern European workers learn English. This actually helped build solidarity between the communities and has also resulted in refugees and migrant workers joining the unions at work, which they might otherwise never have had the opportunity to do.

The other sessions also got very positive report backs. For people who do not know about Prevent, a very handy pamphlet has been produced to explain it. Essentially an institutionalised programme of getting education workers to report “potentially extremist” behaviour by students, who are almost exclusively Muslims, has created a surreal atmosphere of paranoia and discrimination that would be funny if weren’t so horrible. Young Muslims have been called in for questioning for wearing badges that say “Free Palestine” or mispronouncing words so someone else can think they heard the word “bomb”. Children growing up in such climate can scarcely be said to be free and enjoying their rights: our movement must oppose Prevent, and champion an education that is actively anti-racist. The session on Brexit was also useful, and contained a report back from the new Free Movement of Labour Campaign, which has been invited to send a speaker to Barnet TUC’s AGM next month.

Generally, this was a timely and very well organised conference that turned what could be a very bleak few hours into a useful organising event. I would support having another one in future.

Report from Housing Activists Conference by Tayieba Shah

housingThe Housing Summit was what I’d expected it to be. It was amazingly well attended over 250 people surpassing the expectations of I think the organisers and attendees alike. It was heartening to see so many people. It had good coverage of London and organisations outside London, from Bristol and people from Norwich. The Conference had great speakers and the morning was taken up by Speakers followed by questions and answers. The afternoon was broken up into work shops. I attended the young people and housing work shop. There were young Londoners under imminent threat of eviction, some of which may have taken place by now. Luckily for at least one attendee the people from Camden council were in attendance and personally offered to help with one young man’s eviction notice. The brief was to come away with at least 5 action points from every work shop -of which I do not have a complete list now available to me, but to continue to organise and oppose around the housing act was at least one other workshop.

Even though it was organised well, attendees from the floor wanted to be heard and share their stories. Time went quickly and we ended up having 10 minutes for lunch and rushing to our chosen workshops. There were excellent suggestions from the young people and the housing crises workshop. The one I can still recall was from a teacher who suggested that we go into schools and sixth form colleges to inform young people what is coming to them – Basically virtually no choices in housing whatsoever. Letting young people know and preparing them for what is going to be a very difficult task to make an adult lifestyle – having those lifestyle choices taken away from them, ensures that we recruit new activists while informing young people of their current reality in housing.

There was some heated discourse on whether guardian agencies could be recruited into helping more young people into housing. This was controversial as usually the guardians have been put into housing that families once occupied as in Dollis Valley and perhaps they had absolutely no place in real housing choices for anybody. Charging extortionate rents and giving people even less rights than normal tenants.

I have to say that even though I put my hand up all the time to ask questions and contribute, I was the only one representing Barnet and I was largely ignored and not allowed to speak. I think because all our stories are of people being evicted and not winning. It was clear to me that the organisers wanted only a positive contributions to the floor of the summit.

Unfortunately I could not stay beyond 4pm so missed the summary and conclusions of other workshops but I know it was a successful day. It was reassuring to know that there is a real opposition amongst some councils that the housing act is unrealistic and untenable and unworkable even if they were not short of money, most councils would find it impossible to implement. Also I learnt that pay to stay is not law yet and should not be treated as such. Some councils at the other end of the spectrum are implementing policies, like Barnet for example, that are not yet law and can be justifiably refused by people.

It was altogether a good day for axing the housing act and for networking with each other, getting to know new people in housing.

Tayieba Shah

AGM 2016: BTUC Ready to Campaign

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A big thank you goes out to everyone who came to our annual general meeting. Barnet TUC elected its committee for the new year and had a series of excellent speakers who sparked off an excellent debate about how we as movement can take the struggle for social justice forwards for another year.

Our first speaker was the academic and activist Linda Kaucher, who came talk about the threat posed to equality and democracy by the transatlantic treaties know as TTIP and, more urgently in her view, CETA. Although these are packaged for the public as “trade” agreements, Linda warns that they have very little if anything to do with trade, and everything to do with deregulation. Tariffs between EU and North American countries, she points out, are and have been very low for a long time, but standards of regulation to protect health, safety and the environment are much higher. Big business is lobbying hard for these treaties because it does not want such protections to get in the way of profits. An interesting debate ensued about the implications of this, and what it might mean in terms of the forthcoming EU referendum, but there was consensus that more needs to be done to oppose TTIP.

The next speaker was local councillor and new leader of the Barnet Council Labour group, Barry Rawlings. The Labour (and Lib Dem) counsellors have challenged the hard-rightwing Tory council this year by submitting complete alternative budgets, approved as valid by the council finance officers. Barry emphasised that the Tories have been pushing for massive cuts and privatisation by claiming that they have no choice in the matter because of reduced revenue (itself a Tory policy, of course, though they ignore this!), whereas the budget he’d moved showed that there was in fact a range of political choices that can be made in allocating resources. Among other things, they had had a proposal to replace all 800 social homes that are currently being lost through council regeneration projects, as well as significant defence of care services through use of a ring-fenced council take increase that would cost Barnet residents no more than 10p a week. The Labour group has invited the wider movement to have some constructive input into what choices a progressive council, that we could achieve, would do. There was very enthusiastic discussion about this, as no issue is more urgent in Barnet right now than putting a stop to the extreme austerity agenda. We all agreed though, that further resistance is also needed between now and the potential election of a new council, if there is to be any public services left to utilise, and libraries continue to be one of the key front-lines.

The evening was rounded off by Ian Hodson, national president of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union. He’d come to our meeting directly from spending the afternoon on a picket line of striking Junior Doctors, who he hailed as fighting a battle for us all and warned us not to let them be another National Union of Mineworkers. He proceeded to give a wide-ranging speech about the goals of his union and its struggle for equal rights and fair pay for young workers, who are massively exploited at the moment. He also emphasised the importance of the struggle against rise of racism, represented by the outrageous rhetoric that David Cameron has used against refugees. BTUC will be organising a Barnet meet-up for the March 19th demonstration against racism in London in that spirit.

Barnet Labour – Housing Commission Report Launch Event

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Housing Commission Report

Launch Event

25th of January Clayton Crown Hotel, Cricklewood Broadway please  RSVP here.

Lack of affordable housing in Barnet is now one of the top 2 concerns for local people according to the council’s latest Residents’ Perception Survey.

People are finding it hard to get onto the housing ladder with average house prices in the borough at nearly half a million pounds. Private sector rents are the highest in outer-London with many rented properties poorly managed and maintained.

Homelessness is increasing, and with recent news that Barnet Council is set to increase council rents for new build to 65% of average open market rents from 30%, more and more people will find themselves trapped in a cycle of debt, eviction and homelessness.

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Barnet’s Labour councillors have set-up a Housing Commission to look into how Barnet can increase the supply of affordable homes, and help improve standards in the private rented sector.

Our Commission is Chaired by Nicky Gavron AM, and is made up of independent housing experts, local community representatives and Labour councillors. You can find out more about our Commissioners here.

The Commission will meet at least six times over the next 8 months, and will be taking evidence from housing professionals, other London boroughs and the local community. The meetings will all be open to the public to attend.

Our launch event and first evidence session took place on Thursday 20 November at the Crown Moran Hotel on Cricklewood Broadway, with Guest Speaker Cllr Sarah Hayward, Leader of Camden Council – thanks to all who participated! You can see footage here from the meeting courtesy of the Barnet Bugle.

We held our second evidence session on Monday 1 December at the Rainbow Centre on Dollis Valley Drive, and heard evidence from private tenants’ rights campaigner, Jacky Peacock OBE, Roz Spencer, Rogue Landlord Taskforce Co-ordinator, LB Lewisham, Duncan Bowie, Senior Lecturer in Spatial Planning at the University of Westminster, Professor Marjorie Mayo & Ines Newman, authors of ‘Tackling the housing crisis‘ and Maria Brenton, co-founder of Older Women’s CoHousing (Owch). You can see footage from that meeting here – courtesy of the Barnet Bugle once more.

Our third evidence session took place on Monday 8 December at the Friern Barnet Community Library. We heard from Sarah Sackman – Public Law Barrister and Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Finchley & Golders Green,  Alison Inman – Board Member of the Chartered Institute of Housing and the Tenant Participation Advisory Service, and steering group member of SHOUT (Social Housing Under Threat), Kate Murray – former Editor of Inside Housing and steering group member of SHOUT, Cllr Phil Glanville – Cabinet Member for Housing, LB Hackney and Cllr James Murray – Cabinet Member for Housing, LB Islington. Footage of this session can be viewed here – courtesy of the Barnet Bugle as ever.

Our fourth evidence session took place on Thursday 8 January at the Park Road Youth & Community Centre, West Hendon. We heard evidence from Christine Hynes – CEO of Climate Energy Homes, Andrew Dismore – Assembly Member for Barnet & Camden and Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Hendon, Dan Knowles – Director of Sawyer Fielding, Cllr Stephen Cowan – Leader of LB Hammersmith & Fulham,Jasmin ParsonsOur West Hendon and Janette EvansBarnet Housing Action Group. Footage of this session can be found here courtesy of the Barnet Bugle.

Our fifth evidence session took place on Monday 23 February at the Grahame Park Community Centre in Colindale. We heard evidence from Cllr Barry Rawlings – the Barnet Labour Group’s Deputy Leader and Health Spokesperson, Cllr Mick O’SullivanChair of the London Federation of Housing Co-ops, and Chair of Islington’s Housing Scrutiny Committee, Cllr David Rodgers – former CEO of CDS Co-operatives, the largest co-operative housing service agency in the UK, former President of the International Co-operative Alliance (Housing) and the Deputy Cabinet for Housing at LB Ealing, John Dix – aka Mr Reasonable,Theresa Musgrove – aka Mrs Angry of the Broken Barnet blog, Patrick Hunter – Unison convenor, Barnet Homes, Cllr Nagus Narenthira – NASUWT and Labour councillor in Colindale. Footage of this session can be found here courtesy of the Barnet Bugle.

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Our sixth evidence session took place on Wednesday 8 July at the Park Road Youth & Community Centre, West Hendon. We heard evidence from Nicholas Boys Smith – Founder of Create Streets, Maggie Rafalowicz – Campbell Tickell, Tom Copley AM, and Keith Nason – Secretary of Barnet NUT.

Our final public evidence session took place on Thursday 10 September at 7.30pm – once again at the Park Road Youth & Community Centre, West Hendon. We heard evidence from Daren Nathan, Development Director at Durkan and Cllr Alan Strickland, Cabinet Member for Housing & Regeneration, LB Haringey.

Over September and October we have continued to take evidence from other London boroughs, and other organisations including housing associations in Wales, and so our report has been delayed and will be launched on Monday 25 January. To attend the launch event please RSVP here.

We look forward to seeing you at our report launch event!

Cllr Alison Moore, Joint Vice Chair, Housing Commission and London Assembly list candidate

Cllr Ross Houston, Joint Vic Chair, Housing Commission and Labour’s Housing Spokesperson

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Library Consultation report

11012699_10153367435611206_6387938277617707152_n“Inappropriate, over the top, dire, painful, unacceptable, unsatisfactory, restrictive and unimaginative”

 

That is the view of participants stated in the recently published Council’s Library Consultation report*.

UNISON and Library user groups challenged the fairness of the consultation from the outset, viewing it as forcing responses   accepting the Councils options as being the only ones possible for the future of our Libraries. But even with this weighting the result is a resounding no to the Council.

The report finds:

95 % support for libraries being run directly by the Council

Little support for library closures.

Condemnation of the proposed minimum average size of 540 square feet for Libraries.

Widespread praise of the expertise and professionalism of Barnet’s library staff, and a strong sense that these qualities could never be adequately replaced through the use of

The quality of the library service would be negatively affected if any of the options are implemented volunteers

Criticism of the ‘open library’ model (unstaffed libraries)  on grounds that it would pose a security risk to users, stock and facilities; as well as diluting the overall quality of the service

The Council, if it has any claim to be a democratic body responsive to the wishes of residents, must now discard the current proposals for libraries and instead present the people of Barnet with a plan that will save our Libraries and develop on the already admirable service they provide.

* Barnet’s Future Library Service: Final Report of the Consultation Outcomes.

Report of Findings for Opinion Research Services July 2015.

https://engage.barnet.gov.uk/consultation-team/library-review/user_uploads/barnet_libraries_final_full_report_2015_07_24_v2.pdf-

 

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