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30 November 2016

The Socialist Inbox

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Tram tragedy

The recent Croydon tram derailment killed several passengers. It was a further major tragedy since privatisation of public transport.

The media have rushed to blame the driver who seems to have fallen asleep. Now another man has been suspended after video evidence showed him sleepy while driving a tram. Public attention should focus on policy, not just the failings of individual drivers.

Unite the Union recently conducted a safety survey aimed at all London bus drivers and received thousands of responses. The results are still being collated, but it is already clear that fatigue is a big concern. In some senses bus driving is a routine job. But a half-second lapse of concentration can spell disaster.

Croydon trams are operated by First Group on behalf of Transport for London. Trams are few nationally, but about five firms, including First, run the bulk of buses and trains for profit.

My experience as a bus driver is that shift work, including very early starts and some finishing after 2am, is compounded by long hours at the wheel. Many drivers work overtime to bring home enough wages for their families.

Safety regulations, such as up to five and a half hours driving before a thirty-minute relief or minimum overnight breaks, are seen more as targets than extremes to be avoided as far as possible! If you show them the Highway Code recommendation of a tea or coffee break after two hours driving, bus drivers laugh.

If Jeremy Corbyn's call for renationalisation of the rail companies was developed into a rounded-out public transport policy it would be a clear winner.

Bus driver, Lewisham, south London

Bully bailiff

A local friend contacted me on the morning of 14 November, and was clearly upset. His elderly parents were alarmed, he stated.

Wearing only a jacket with the word "ENFORCEMENT" on the back of it in oversized print, someone was prowling the family home, stalking from front to rear, peering through and rapping on windows, pounding on doors, and shouting.

Why became clear only after this mystery character left the premises, much to the relief of my friend's parents. They discovered something in their post box.

It was a demand notice from a company called Marston Holdings. A quick search of Marston Holdings on Twitter yielded an account, @MarstonGroup, describing itself as follows: "The UK's largest judicial services group with c. 2,000 staff & self-employed agents recovering 300m+ per year on behalf of taxpayers, businesses & individuals."'

So, who was the company collecting for? Newcastle City Council is named as the client on the document discovered at the door following the unhappy episode.

I asked my friend how he and his family felt about the situation. He said: "They obviously have no concept of empathy for the alarm and distress they are causing. If this is a local Labour council's way then God help us all."

Even though the demand is for someone else, and was served mistakenly at the wrong address, he added: "I pity the poor sod who's next."

William Jarret, North Shields

Waiters' wages

Class struggle is everywhere every day, even in a seemingly idyllic holiday destination. Meeting and observing three waiters while on a week's holiday in northern Italy brought home this truth.

One night we met a 22-year-old American, Tom, from Michigan. He had just finished working for a restaurant back home where he was paid $3.50 an hour - that's around 2.85. He spoke eloquently about the strain on waiters each working day, wondering whether they will make enough in tips to pay the bills.

Tom was interested to hear of the election and re-election of Kshama Sawant in Seattle, and the $15 Now campaign which had won a $15 minimum wage in that city and others across the USA.

Arriving at Genoa Airport for the flight home, we noticed a woman serving at a snack bar, doing the jobs of three people. With unbelievable good grace, panache and a good grasp of several languages, she took orders, made the coffees, warmed up the food and served it up while the queue grew and grew.

After touching down in the UK, we encountered another barista at a motorway services. Again, he was doing the job on his own while the queue snaked back towards the door. In contrast to our Genoa Airport woman, he seemed ground down by it - maybe having had to endure these conditions for longer.

All three waiters were young, full of life, full of potential and - unless the working class organises in its own interests, facing a future of low wages, insecurity and exploitation.

Rob Rooney, Cornwall

Super seventies?

I am fed up with the BBC constantly referring to the 1970s as grim. It wasn't like this at all.

My great grandfather used to eke out a living in the pre-war years in Bristol selling stores to ships on the river, while his sister-in-law was forced to live in a caravan on a fairground site or be in the workhouse. That was the 1930s, with workers being told to know their place.

In the 1970s, on the contrary, the unions had the bosses by the short and curlies. In 1980 I obtained an apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce, who offered free training. This was gained by the unions, as previously you had had to put up 100 to be an apprentice, out of your own pocket.

The 70s were good years for the poor compared to today, and there was nothing wrong with being down the pit, on the docks or in a factory which put hard cash in your pocket.

I have complained to the BBC about its constant decrying of this decade and the unions. The specific complaint was about the 'Coast' programme. The presenter had said that the unions manipulated their workers into strikes.

I pointed out that this was complete fantasy, as before the unions and the National Dock Labour Board, workers had to stand in a cage and be picked for work. The woman at BBC complaints, who lived in Scotland, said the system of zero-hour work is reminiscent of that era.

Mick Comys, Bristol

Stop Sainsbury

Lord Sainsbury has donated over 20 million to the Labour Party over the last two decades. But as well as donating to the Labour Party, since 2004 Lord Sainsbury has been effectively bankrolling the Blairite faction of the Labour Party, Progress, to the sum of 260,000 per year.

Progress claims to be Labour's "moderates", but its members have played a leading role in the undemocratic coup against the current leadership.

This is not the first time that Lord Sainsbury has used his enormous wealth to steer the development of the Labour Party, however.

Back in 1981 - when, much to the chagrin of Labour right wingers, Michael Foot was the leader of the Labour Party - David Sainsbury (not yet a peer) used his financial resources to bankroll the Social Democratic Party (SDP) - a right-wing split from Labour.

The key objective of the SDP was to keep a left-wing Labour Party from power by splitting the left vote. They succeeded in this task, and Sainsbury, who donated 750,000 to the SDP between 1981 and 1987, played no small part in this.

Given his history of funding the right, maybe it is about time the 'compliance unit' took Lord Sainsbury's membership under review?

Tom Barker, Leicester

I, Daniel Blake

'I, Daniel Blake' finds Daniel (played brilliantly by Dave Johns), a 59-year-old joiner, recovering from a major heart attack. His consultant is concerned that Daniel's heart may begin to beat irregularly, and tells him he is at risk if he continues to work.

Daniel can do light work and is eligible for a few points towards the 'employment and support allowance' benefit. But unfortunately, his points do not tally up enough for him enough to qualify, and he is declared fit to work.

I won't give anymore of the plot away. I found the film very poignant. It shows the day-to-day struggle of people who, through no fault of their own, are systematically being failed by a government which puts up every obstacle to stop the working class from getting a decent life.

Meanwhile, they let the bankers get ludicrous bonuses, instead of building affordable houses and helping hard-working people who are willing to graft like they used to but injury and illness prevents.

Calvin Fowler, Worcester



http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/24033