Thursday, March 21, 2019

Opposing the sweatshops

The Bangladesh Accord enforcement system is run by a transnational team of labor auditors, union and worker advocates and has directed the inspection of about 2,000 factories and identified tens of thousands of hazards, from faulty wiring to foundering building structures. The Accord began was born in the wake of the 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza, Bangladesh's worst modern-day industrial disaster. Following the preventable deaths of more than 1,100 workers, the industry channeled its public shame into a legally binding global compact to make work safer for workers in Bangladesh factories. Both international human rights groups and local unions and worker advocates have been involved with the development and en­­forcement process, as well as generally ensuring that the Accord provides a platform for workers' self-advocacy on occupational safety issues. For several years reforming sweatshops has slowly plodded ahead.
Today, however, the Accord is dangling by a thread.
The Bangladesh government ordered the Accord, which was recently renewed with many newly negotiated enhancements, to cease operating through its Dhaka office at the end of last November, while severely restricting the Accord’s staff from conducting basic regulatory functions, including citing safety violations and sanctioning employers who retaliate against whistleblowers who report hazardous conditions. The program is currently ensnared in a legal impasse with the government and owners under a restraining order from the High Court, pending further court proceedings.
Although the transition plan provides for the transfer of duties to the Bangladesh Remediation Coordination Cell of the Department of Inspections for Factories and Establishments (RCC-DIFE), the Accord’s international staff sees the new authority as a vehicle for corporate capture of the regulatory apparatus. The Accord Steering Committee stated in mid-February that “the RCC-DIFE remains at its earliest stages of development and is not yet prepared to adequately regulate building and occupational safety and health at its current base of ready-made garment factories.”
Liana Foxvog of the U.S.-based advocacy group International Labor Rights Forum, told In These Times, “The highly obstructive constraints that the government is attempting to impose would strip the globally-respected safety initiative of its ability to operate independently of government and employer control.”
 In other words, the main purpose of absorbing the accord into a business-friendly regulatory regime is to unravel the Accord’s standards and autonomy.
“The Accord inspection programs are ongoing and have not yet completed their purpose. ... It is important both for the safety of workers and the benefit of the industry that the Accord is allowed to continue to function to ensure the factories are safe to work in,” said Amin Amirul Haque, a leader of one of the union signatories of the Accord, the National Garment Workers Federation.
The garment workforce in Bangladesh may have seen meaningful improvements in hundreds of factories, but the Accord covers just a fraction of the several thousand supplier factories in Bangladesh, including many that feed into the massive stream of apparel exports that flood Western retail markets.  Many local factories have participated in a controversial corporate-friendly alternative to the Accord known as the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, pushed by Gap and other brands.
Garrett Brown, an industrial hygienist who has assisted with the Accord's local safety-training programs, explained that  the takeover by the Bangladesh government will undo past progress “for the same reasons that were problems before Rana Plaza, which is that the government is heavily influenced by the garment industry and doesn't want to do anything that would reduce exports.” There is a tension between local suppliers, who are subjected to the rigors of the regulatory process and responsible for making required retrofits, and the brands that use the Accord to hold suppliers accountable—reflecting the growing sensitivity of Western brands over the disturbing pattern of labor abuses overseas.
For Bangladeshi factory owners the short-term interest in maximizing profit seems to outweigh the social dividend of safeguarding workers’ lives. An abrupt end to the Accord could stifle Bangladesh’s already embattled labor movement. Despite general hostility toward labor activism by bosses and the government, with frequent crackdowns on strikes and union organizing efforts, the Accord encouraged the formation of autono­­mous worker safety committees, which have provided a rare source of legal leverage on major issues of worker safety.

Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Center for Workers’ Solidarity, which has long campaigned for reforms in the global supply chain, stated, “We need the Accord to continue to work. It has made enormous change and made our workers’ lives safer. Now workers have right to say NO to dangerous work. If the Accord would have to leave the country it would mean putting workers lives in danger again and we should not take this risk.”

Wednesday, March 20, 2019


Both the long-term and the immediate causes of the Rebellion of 1549 were almost entirely economic. They were: the enclosures of the common lands, together with the enormous increase in sheep grazing, and the impoverishment of not only the peasants but many yeomen farmers, and even some smaller landowners caused mainly by inflation due to the debasement of the coinages. The Dissolution of the Monasteries also exacerbated the situation.

Feudal agriculture had been largely collective, based on the plough team and joint cultivation of the common lands. The system of cultivation during the Middle Ages was a communal system of largely unfenced fields and strips. A serf would graze his cattle on the common pasture. Nevertheless, the open field system was wasteful; in any one year one of the three fields was out of cultivation, and the serf's various strips of land were often scattered. It was not surprising therefore, that the system had been slowly, but ineluctably, breaking down since the Black Death in the fourteenth century. But the effects of this breakdown and the enclosure of many of the common lands only really became apparent during the reign of Henry VIII. The old feudal landowners wanted the land and the peasants; the new landowners of the sixteenth century wanted the land of the peasants, and without the peasants. The reason was that it was becoming increasingly profitable to put sheep out to pasture, on account of the growing wool trade with the Continent. The centre of the traffic in wool was the city of Norwich in Norfolk. Croome and Hammond comment:

"During the fifteenth century the demand for English wool fluctuated violently, but after 1476, when the export markets were recovered, it began to increase, until at one time the export of Norfolk wooll at any rate, had to be forbidden by law. There was thus every encouragement for lords who wished to make money to specialise in sheep-farming, which provided a good investment for capital earned in trade, a prospect of a rapid profit at a high rate, and low labour costs; one shepherd could look after 1,000 sheep. It was far more profitable, if more speculative, than even the highest arable farming on enclosed land promised to be; more profitable still than living on tenants' rents, which in many cases had become fixed by custom, while prices were rising. Moreover, though we can easily exaggerate the indifference of the Middle Ages to worldly wealth, it remains true that as the sixteenth century proceeded. The profit motive became more obvious in men's actions, and more and more the object of preachers' denunciations."

Discrimination at the surgery

Travellers and other vulnerable groups without a fixed address or proof of ID are being turned away from GP surgeries despite NHS guidance that they should be treated, the charity the Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) warned. 
After a “mystery shopper” exercise where a prospective patient who said she was a traveller without proof of address or ID contacted 50 GP surgeries, 24 refused or were unable to register the patient, 17 practices said they would not register people without proof of identification and 12 GP practices said they would not register people without an address.
Groups who have no fixed address include asylum seekers and refugees, those in contact with the criminal justice system, homeless people and people who have suffered domestic violence. 
NHS guidance states that registering to become a patient should not require proof of identity, address or immigration status.

London Public Meeting on Brexit

2pm, Sat, 23rd March

Quaker Meeting House, 
20 Nigel Playfair Avenue,
 London W6 9JY

Brexiteers and Remainers will persist in presenting the illusion that their interests are in the interests of us the working class, the “national interest”,  when in the end, there is very little for us as a class to gain, although at an individual level there may be advantages and disadvantages.

Our role as a party is to offer a class analysis which has led us to conclude that we should stand aside regards support or no support for those who say they speak for us but instead continue to criticize the hypocrisy of them all.

Quote of the Day

“The whole of Sarajevo became a huge family. We were very kind to each other, sharing things with one another. It was something I’ve never seen before. I’m very privileged that in a time of desperation and misery, to have seen Sarajevo more beautiful than ever.” Rešad Trbonja, remembering the 47-month-Siege of Sarajevo. 

Public meeting on poverty (23/3 Manchester)

2PM  23rd March

Friends Meeting House, 
6 Mount Street,
Manchester M2 5NS

Poverty need not mean destitution; it can be described as people being excluded from what others take for granted, such as decent living conditions. In this talk we will look at the extent of poverty both in the UK (homelessness, food banks, etc) and globally. We will also examine the consequences of poverty and its causes (which are not just a matter of inequality). And we will argue that the world can produce enough goods and services for poverty to be completely unnecessary.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

News priorities

It is not happening to "us" so it is not major news headlines.

"...the world doesn't realise the scale of the problem especially in Mozambique, where some 1.7 million people were on the path of the cyclone," said Herve Verhoosel, WFP spokesperson.
Cyclone winds and floods that swept across southeastern Africa have affected more than 2.6 million people and could rank as one of the worst weather-related disasters recorded in the southern hemisphere. Rescue crews were still struggling to reach victims on Tuesday, five days after Cyclone Idai raced in at speeds of up to 170 kph from the Indian Ocean into Mozambique, then its inland neighbours Zimbabwe and MalawiUN agencies launched an appeal for immediate international funding and logistical support to save hundreds of thousands who remain isolated and with no access to food or clean water.

"We want to live"

Several human rights organisations and political factions have denounced attacks on protesters by Hamas security forces in the Gaza Strip, who had demonstrated for several days against the increasing cost of living and tax hikes. Protesters said they were attacked with batons by Hamas forces while protesting against the dire living conditions in Gaza Strip.
The new movement was launched about a month ago, with the slogan "we want to live", by a group of media activists not affiliated to political parties. The first protest, which took place on Thursday, was repressed by dozens of Hamas security forces, who dispersed protesters by beating them and firing in the air. Hamas security forces also broke into citizens' homes and carried out arrest campaigns throughout the strip in Gaza City and Jabaliya refugee camp in the north, Deir al-Balah in the middle district, and Khan Younis and Rafah in the south.
Protesters had gathered near the centre of Deir Al-Balah camp, holding posters and chanting slogans - 'We want to live. We want to work. Our future is lost',"

Israa Buhaisi, a journalist with Al-Alam news channel, told Al Jazeera "This is a popular movement. People took to the street to ask for a solution for their miserable life in Gaza."

Nearly a dozen Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip have declared their support for the youth movement and their support for what the group calls "just demands" - which include establishing a labour office that protects workers' rights from exploitation; ending control of goods and prices by some parties and monitoring the work of the private sector; and suspending all taxes burdening citizens.

Mohsen Abu Ramadan, a Gaza-based political analyst, said that the movement was a result of the unprecedented high rates of poverty and unemployment in the Gaza Strip, which has reached 70 percent among the youth. Around 20,000 university graduates each year find no jobs, which has caused a number of social problems in the strip. Furthermore, the withdrawal of a number of international NGOs working in Gaza has deepened economic problems.

Water costs

2.1 billion people do not currently have access to clean and continuously available drinking water. 4.3 billion, do not have access to safe sanitation facilities.

Half of the world's population with inadequate access to safe drinking water lives in Africa. Only 24 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa has access to safe drinking water.

By the year 2050, 45 percent of global gross domestic product and 40 percent of global grain production will be threatened by environmental damage and lack of water resources.

People who are poor or marginalized are also more likely to have limited access to proper water and sanitation.

In cities, rich homes have piped water while poor people living in slums, who often had to buy water from trucks, kiosks and other vendors, spending roughly 10 to 20 times more. "The misperception is that they don't have water because they can't afford it - and that is completely wrong", with some spending up to 30 percent of their salaries on water.

Exports of crops - like coffee, rice, avocadoes and cotton require large amounts of water to grow them, yet poor communities struggle to get enough for their basic needs, a situation made worse by climate change, WaterAid
India, for example, is the world's third largest exporter of groundwater, accounting for 12 percent of the global total. Meanwhile, the rate of depletion of its groundwater jumped by 23 percent between 2000 and 2010, and as many as 1 billion of its people live in water-scarce areas, WaterAid said.



Good voters of this green and pleasant land,
Today's exposé of 'The Old Boys Band';
Who's affluential stories that we tell,
Exudes a nasty effluential smell!

PM Lloyd George made anyone a Lord,
Who in the Roaring Twenties could afford;
A very liberal donation to,
The Liberal Party's slush-fund, entrée nous.

And Winston Churchill, for his sweat and toil,
Received a large cash bung from Burmah Oil; (1)
To favour their close interest in Iran,
And thus maintain the 'Seven Sisters' clan. (2)

The Tory MP, John Profumo knew,
That Christine Keeler was no ingénue;
But in the House of Commons swore that he,
Had never known Miss Keeler, 'biblically'!

A witty wag thus wrote a wicked verse,
As cynical an ode as it was terse;
“T'was OK to be lying with Christine,
But lying to the House was quite obscene”!

Tom Driberg, one of those depraved MP's,
Who was involved in sybaritic slease;
Opined that one of his life's greatest joys,
Was sodomising homeless little boys.

The Fourth Estate did not daily express,
A word about the scandal in the Press;
The Lord above got Driberg off the hook,
Assisted down here by Lord Beaverbrook. (3)

Lord Boothy was, due to a moral lapse,
Involved with certain Krayzy East End 'Chaps'; (4)
As was Tom Driberg who with the said gent,
Were into things that legally were bent!

The Fleet Street press latched on to Boothby's lies,
And scrutinised all his Fort Vallance ties; (5)
Both Ronnie Kray and brother Reg were tried,
And sentenced to some thirty years inside.

Both Lord and MP buggared-up the Krays,
In a variety of different ways;
And as this was a tad below the belt,
Both Members could have had their collars felt.

It should be understood that in those times,
Those persons gaily bent upon 'Wilde' crimes;
Could often wonder where their leisure went,
When t'was at Her Majesty's leisure spent!

Because each year in those pre-anum days,
Activities as such, beyond the gaze;
Of faux respectable society,
Shocked our Victorian sobriety!

And both Lord Boothby and Tom Driberg knew,
The cheeky pleasures of the batty few;
Were strictly then, against the Common Law,
In those more backward thinking days of yore!

John Stonehouse, MP, did a 'Reggie P', (6)
And 'disappeared' into the deep blue sea;
He dumped his clothes upon Miami's beach,
Believing this ploy put him out of reach.

He sometime later re-appeared in Oz,
Where he admitted the sham was because,
Of his liason with his secretary,
And such affair had thus forced him to flee.

But then conceded crimes like fraud and theft,
Were 'supplementary' reasons why he'd left;
In quite a hurry from Great Britain's shore,
In a futile attempt to flee her law.

And when deported back to the UK,
He spent an all inclusive holiday;
At one of London's most exclusive clubs,
A cell in the reclusive Wormword Scrubs!

The Tory MP, Cecil Parkinson,
Who was in Thatcher's upper echelon;
Had his ambitions permanently filed,
When Sarah Keays was found to be with child.

There's no doubt it was 'Parky' in 'the buff',
Who coolly put young Sarah, 'up the duff'; (7)
Such images would both cloy and annoy,
If you were Maggie Thatcher's favoured boy!

It's time for the electorate to see,
For politicians, money is the key;
Their egos and neuroses seem to feed,
Their need for adulation—and their greed!

(1) 1923. Burmah Oil secretly gave £5k (£250k now) to Churchill to lobby the British Government to allow them to monopolise Persian (Iranian) oil resources.
(2) Oil consortium controlling 85% of world's oil output.
(3) 1935. Lord Beaverbrook, Tory proprietor of the Daily Express, used his Fleet Street influence to hush-up Labour MP, Tom Driberg's homosexual activities which were then illegal.
(4) Gangster slang for a fellow gangster. “One of the chaps”.
(5) 1940's/60's. The Kray Brothers fortified house at 178 Vallance Road, Bethnal Green, East London.
(6 1970's.'Reggie Perrin'. Eccentric TV character who faked his own drowning.
(7) 1983. Cecil Parkinson, a favourite of Margaret Thatcher, resigned when mistress Sarah Keays gave birth to his daughter.

© Richard Layton

England's looming drought

The chief executive of the Environment Agency has warned England is set to run short of water within 25 years.

Sir James Bevan said, “Water companies all identify the same thing as their biggest operating risk: climate change.... We have not built a new reservoir in the UK for decades, largely because clearing all the planning and legal hurdles necessary is so difficult and local opposition so fierce,”

 By 2040, more than half of our summers are expected to be hotter than the 2003 heatwave, he says, leading to more water shortages and potentially 50-80% less water in some rivers in the summer.

The population of the UK is expected to rise from 67 million to 75 million in 2050, increasing the demand for water. But Bevan says the average person’s daily water use of 140 litres could be cut to 100 litres in 20 years by more efficient use in homes and gardens. Currently, about a third of water is lost to leaks or wastage.

More water will need to be transferred across the country to water-stressed areas, such as the south-east, Bevan says, via pipelines or canals. Just 4% of current supplies are transferred between individual water companies, but there are plans for 20 new transfer projects. More desalination plants, such as Thames Water’s Beckton plant, will also be needed to turn seawater into drinking water, he says.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Spreading Lies

The BBC reports that British government officials forged documents to produce "fake news stories" during the Cold War. The Information Research Department (IRD) was the Foreign Office's secret propaganda unit. For 30 years it fed information to journalists and had its own news agencies too.

Those interested in the topic may be interested to know that the late Peter Newell, a member of the Socialist Party, conducted his own investigation into the subject of state-sponsored disinformation.

Useful Reading 
Secret History - How the British government controls and censors the news

Marx, the Cold War and the "Spooks"

Information Research Department - Notes and Quotes