Monday, May 30, 2011

60 years after the Easington Pit Disaster

The above photograph was taken at Easington Colliery yesterday at a Ceremony of Remembrance held at the graves of miners who were killed in a local pit disaster 60 years ago. I was at the ceremony and at an earlier and packed Memorial Service held in the Parish Church, where the names of all those killed was read out. 81 were killed due to an explosion in the Duckbill District of the Five Quarter Seam and this was followed by the deaths of two of the rescue workers.

Another 895 men were working in other parts of the pit at the time and the official report into the disaster pointed out that if stone dusting had not taken place earlier then "the explosion might have acquired such violence that it would have spread beyond its actual confines and have caused one of the greatest disasters in mining history". Yet as it was, the explosion rushed through nine miles of roadway.

We all have our own way into the past. I was a 14 year old school boy and my father was in the pit when the explosion struck at 4.35am on 29 May 1951. He survived because he was working in a different seam to the one in which the explosion took place. He later helped with what he described as being "salvage work". The official report by the Chief Inspector of Mines states that tribute "must be paid to the large number of colliery workers who removed bodies, strengthened stoppings and cleared paths. Their work, though not so dangerous as that of the trained rescue teams, was arduous, unpleasant and not without strain, and I am glad to have the opportunity of recording sincere appreciation of their services". It was an overall experience which reinforced my father's loyalties. So yesterday I wore his old Durham NUM tie.

My father moved to Easington with his parents and five siblings when he was a three year old in 1912 just after coal was first drawn from its pit. He worked at the colliery between the ages of 14 and 65 and died in 1996 just three years after the pit was closed. Few people could have been so closely bound to its life as a mining colliery. The experience of its pit disaster happening roughly half-way through his life.

The photo of the young girl above comes from the this source.

Added 24 June : Also see here, here, here, here and here.

More Trade Union Repression In Iraq

See here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Clause 4 Moment?

The major problem with the Labour Party Consultative Document "Refounding Labour" is that it manages to put forward over a 100 questions on how the Labour Party should operate and function without ever raising the key question which should shape our approach to these bits and pieces : namely, what is the Labour Party supposed to be about? What is its purpose?

Yet there is a well known section of the Constitution of the Labour Party which deals with the paramount issue of what its very aims and values are - its famous Clause IV.

I can appreciate why the Labour Leadership would wish to avoid a re-run of the past disputes over reforming Clause IV, which were initially unsuccessfully instigated by Hugh Gaitskell and then successfully by Tony Blair. For if they had even mentioned the words "Clause 4" in their Consultative Document, then that would have been enough to stimulate an argument as to whether we should return to the original wording that was adopted in 1918 namely - "To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service." The publicity around the Labour Party itself re-opening this debate could have been used to damage Labour's standing. But perhaps our responses to the Consultative Document could be used to get the matter of aims and values back onto the agenda, yet we might be able to avoid any major damage from the media. Especially if we use the words of the original Clause IV as inspirational, rather than treating them as if they were the Holy Grail.

The current Clause IV appears below. What do you think of it as it stands?

Clause IV.
Aims and values

1. The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few; where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe and where we live together freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

2. To these ends we work for:

A. A DYNAMIC ECONOMY, serving the public interest, in which the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation to produce the wealth the nation needs and the opportunity for all to work and prosper with a thriving private sector and high-quality public services where those undertakings essential to the common good are either owned by the public or accountable to them
B. A JUST SOCIETY, which judges its strength by the condition of the weak as much as the strong, provides security against fear, and justice at work; which nurtures families, promotes equality of opportunity, and delivers people from the tyranny of poverty, prejudice and the abuse of power.
C. AN OPEN DEMOCRACY, in which government is held to account by the people, decisions are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect and where fundamental human rights are guaranteed.
D. A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT, which we protect, enhance and hold in trust for future generations.

3. Labour is committed to the defence and security of the British people and to co-operating in European institutions, the United Nations, the Commonwealth and other international bodies to secure peace, freedom, democracy, economic security and environmental protection for all.

4. Labour shall work in pursuit oft these aims with trade unions and co-operative societies and also with voluntary organisations, consumer groups and other representative bodies.

5. On the basis of these principles, Labour seeks the trust of the people to govern.

As a democratic socialist, I can live with much of the above. Sub-clause 1 appears on the front of Labour Party Membership Cards and is what many members may believe is the full Clause. But there are four more sub-clauses given above. The first section presses for each person to be given the chance to reach their own potential, rather than seeing people as benefiting by sharing and helping each other. But the overall phraseology is ambiguous enough to be given a general form of democratic socialist interpretation. And the meaning given to the sub-clause depends to some extent what then follows.

It is sub-clause 2a which is the major drawback for me. It encapsulates the New Labour approach which came to fail us both morally and electorally by 2010. Here the concept of the "Dynamic Economy" attempts to marry together the opposing forces of a mainly unrestrained free enterprise approach with that of the public well-being. Below I offer an alternative form of words in favour of advancing the alternative concept of a "Sustainable Economy".
In sub-clause 2b, I am also concerned about the commitment to promoting "equality of opportunity", a concept which creates the image of us being lined up on the starting line to race against each other, rather than our working together to form an egalitarian, participatory and sharing society. The notion of "social equality" seems to me to point us in a better direction.

My two proposed amendments are given below. Limiting the changes in the overall wording, whilst trying to get to the heart of the matter, seems to me to be a practical yet principled approach.

Proposed amendments.

A. Replace sub-clause 2a on “A Dynamic Economy” with the following -

“A SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY, serving the public interest by operating through the principles of co-operation and participatory democracy, in which wealth and economic power are fairly shared.”

B. Amend sub-clause 2b on “A Just Society” as follows -
"Replace the words"equality of opportunity" with the words "social equality".

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Refounding Labour : a summary of Labour's consultative document

Keir Hardie is one of the primary founders of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and then of the Labour Party, of which the ILP was itself a part. Labour is now seeking to refound itself.

It is, therefore, appropriate that I should have recently returned from a week-end school run by the ILP (now Independent Labour Publications) where we discussed the "refounding" document which I summarise here.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Massive Swing from Lib Dems to Labour in Chesterfield

Labour gained 23 seats from the Lib Dems in the Chesterfield Borough Council Elections, turning a 11-37 deficit into a 34-14 victory. The photo shows Councillor John Burrows the new leader of the council celebrating with his grandchildren Oliver and Jacob. On May Day he also made significant contributions to this meeting on Adult Education. Well done John and the Chesterfield Labour Party.