Bill's Archived Comments

for the week beginning: Monday, 15th July 2002

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Contents of this page (scroll down the page to see the full text of the article which interests you)

- Animus at Amicus (19 Jul 2002)

- Summer of discontent 2002 / Winter of discontent 1978 - Labour's Achilles heel (19 Jul 2002)

- Labour reverts to type - tax and spend (and not even wisely!) (19 Jul 2002)

- "You hold an Israeli passport, you're out!" says Mona Baker (15 Jul 2002)

(If you wish to see other articles, please click on the 'Archives' link above to go there now)

I have been away for a short vacation so this is the first week I have posted since 17 June 2002 ; some of the later comments this week are a little delayed, too, because I jarred my back a few days ago and have had other things on my mind (excruciating pain [!], for example) until earlier today.

Animus at Amicus (19 Jul 2002)

Amicus was formed earlier this year as a result of the amalgamation of the AEEU engineering union, headed by Sir Ken Jackson (and until this week's ballot one of the two joint general secretaries of the merged union), and the white collar MSF, led by Roger Lyons, who became the other joint general secretary. Amicus became Britain's second largest union after the merger.

Sir Ken Jackson is widely regarded as being one of the strongest supporters of 'New Labour' in the union movement and his defeat had been feared by senior members of the government. His opponent, Derek Simpson (a former communist who joined the Labour Party 10 years ago), has described himself as a "lieutenant of the Left". Simpson emerged as the winner, after four recounts, garnering 89,521 votes compared with 89,115 for Sir Ken, out of a total union membership in excess of one million.

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, called leaders of seven unions for a meeting at the Commons, after which the PM's staff said that the meeting was intended to be 'private', playing down its significance.

Sir Ken Jackson, unhappy about the result, has lodged a complaint about the election alleging possible irregularities - the union executive met to discuss this, but six members left the meeting leaving less than the quorum required for a decision to be taken. Latest information is that this dispute could drag on for several weeks. Yesterday's result is one of a series of victories for Left-wing candidates in recent union elections, the most notable of which was the election as general secretary of the RMT of Bob Crow, a supporter of the Socialist Alliance (see next article).

Summer of discontent 2002 / Winter of discontent 1978 - Labour's Achilles heel (19 Jul 2002)

Public service unions held their first national strike Wednesday since the last major bout of strikes, dubbed the 'winter of discontent' almost 24 years ago, the strikes which led the following year to the last Labour government being turfed out of office in May 1979. They blame the government for holding down council pay. Half a million council workers obeyed the call for a one-day strike. Thursday was the turn of transport - the strike yesterday by RMT resulted in the cancellation of 90% of Tube services in London and virtually gridlocked the capital's road network. More strikes are likely. Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, apologised to the public for the disruption, but said more stoppages were likely: "I can't see any other way. We are out because London Underground has taken no notice of our concerns." P&O tanker drivers are scheduled to begin a 3-day strike today, according to a union spokesman; this is over an 8% pay claim which compares with the 4.5% offered by P&O and rejected by the union; petrol distribution is likely to be hit.

Labour reverts to type - tax and spend (and not even wisely!) (19 Jul 2002)

The government Monday announced that departmental spending would rise from £240bn this year to £301bn in the financial year 2005-6.

The major beneficiary of this largesse is education, which will receive £15bn more per year by 2006, roughly 25% of the increase. Every state secondary school in England will receive an additional £50,000 next April and the payment direct to school heads will go up to £150,000 rising to £180,000 in 2004. Generous as these increases may sound, headmasters have highlighted the flaw - it is all short term cash. For example, the head at Droitwich Spa High School (on most parameters regarded as very close to the average and rated in the top 50 in national league tables) Mr Davies says that whilst the extra is welcome, it is not nearly enough: "It does not go to the root core of the problem which is under-funding. It won't help bring in new teachers because there is no guarantee it will be& on offer after a couple of years, so it is difficult to do any long-term planning." At White Hart Lane in Haringey (a north London inner-city comprehensive), David Daniels the head estimated he required £250,000 additional funding to sustain improvements. He arrived at the school 18 months ago to right the 'serious weaknesses' then identified and Ofsted gave it the all-clear this April past. Mr Daniels, commenting on Monday's announcement, said: "I welcome the extra money of course, but the problem is that it is short-term funding when what we need is a permanent increase in our core budget so that we can plan ahead."

Little mentioned on Monday was the additional £19bn for health over the next three years, announced in April - this has already been criticised by most of those not addicted to socialist principles as failing to address the badly-needed reforms in the NHS which are essential if the additional money is to be spent wisely.

According to the Chancellor's figures, total government spending will rise from 39.9% of GDP this years to 41.9% in 2006, but according to Douglas McWilliams, director of the Centre for Economics and Business Research: "We calculate that rather than spending reaching the 42% of GDP the Chancellor claims, with stockmarket falls and a weaker pound, the prospects are for dull economic growth at best and his spending plans will push spending up to 45% of GDP by 2005-6. So we believe the cost of the review will be a further £12.5bn rise in taxation by 2006-7 in addition to the £10bn tax increase announced in the Budget." Another economist, Peter Shaw (senior economist at Investec) said: "The Chancellor's calculations are based on inflation of 2.5%, but inflation in the public sector is now at 6.5% according to some measures. ... So for the Chancellor to meet his pledges in real terms he needs somehow to reduce the level of public sector inflation, most realistically by raising productivity." A number of other commentators say slightly different, but fundamentally the same, things - that the Chancellor's plans are based on assumptions about the growth in the economy which may be over-optimistic in the current climate and that the increases may simply be used to raise wages and result in inflation being fuelled.

"You hold an Israeli passport, you're out!" says Mona Baker (15 Jul 2002)

Mona Baker is a professor of translation studies at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology; she is of Egyptian descent, although I don't know what her nationality is (nor do I care particularly). She publishes, as a completely separate venture from her tenure at UMIST, two scholarly journals (Translation Studies Abstracts and Translator). She has sacked two academics from their advisory roles on her journals, not because they are incompetent or otherwise professionally unsuitable, but because they hold Israeli nationality.

One might say 'Who cares?' - however, I think that it sets a precedent that it would be unwise to go unchallenged. As I've written here before, I think that the current Israeli leadership is pursuing policies toward Palestinians which are unlikely (that's a mild way of putting it) to ameliorate relations between the two communities; of course the current Palestinian leadership has not pursued policies any more conducive to long-term stability than its Israeli counterpart. It seems that Ms Baker has, however, not broken any law and UMIST apparently is not in a position to require her to reinstate the sacked individuals. What appears to be happening is that UMIST is now considering whether it can, effectively, force Ms Baker out of her professorship unless she recants, no doubt using some justification such as 'bringing discredit upon UMIST' - whether such action would survive scrutiny before any future employment tribunal must be open to some doubt.

In apartheid South Africa, UN sanctions across a wide range of matters from the economic to the sporting probably had a major impact on the then current leadership of South Africa having the will [or not] to continue in power and led, in the years immediately prior to the holding of truly democratic elections based upon universal adult suffrage, to the gradual dismantling in practice of the apparatus of apartheid. It is probable that one of the most debillitating sanctions was that against the participation of South Africa, and individual South Africans, in international sporting events - cricket, rugby, golf and athletics, for example. Relatively few countries chose to flout the UN sanctions, other than very covertly - two which did were Israel and Taiwan, perhaps for slightly different, but in my view fundamentally similar reasons - they too felt themselves to be 'picked upon' by much of international opinion, bowing to political pressures from their political opponents (most Arab countries and the Peoples' Republic of China, respectively).

I think sanctions against specific countries do have a place in international policy in specific circumstances, but I don't really think that Israel is one of these specific cases. Firstly, whatever else it may be, Israel is the only true democracy in that part of the world - however deplorable I may think the policies pursued by Ariel Sharon over many years, he does have democratic legitimacy and he is faced with a Palestinian leadership, in Yassir Arafat, which seems unable to accept the fundamental right of Israel to exist, however much this core belief may be disguised. Nor was the way the Palestinian Authority ran the areas [nominally] under its control, in the period before Israel effectively emasculated it by military action, able to withstand even the lightest scrutiny.

After all this rambling, the conclusion I come to is that Ms Ramsey was wrong to dismiss the two Israeli academics. On the other hand I don't think that UMIST should attempt to force her out - that would seem to me merely to compound the injustice. Perhaps the best way forward will be for suitably qualified academics, preferably from a wide range of backgrounds (and including Israelis, Jews, Moslems and Arabs) to collaborate on publishing academic journals which can legitimately supplant those published by Ms Ramsey - marginalising her discriminatory policies, in other words.

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Copyright © 2002 William Cameron