Saturday 28 April 2012

Guardians of morality or dangerous fuckwits ?

In  the big scheme of things  luvie-nepotism may not be the worse source of hereditary privilege - but the sight of the progeny of celebs pursuing careers in the arts after a jump-start from mummy and daddy especially pisses me off.

So in normal circumstances I wouldn't have much time for Jamie and Tyronne Wood - the sons of the other guitarist in the Stones - the one  who isn't Keef - and their proprietorship of a Mayfair art gallery.

But I warmed to the celeb-brats when I saw the news that they had been questioned by the Metropolitan Police - who had forced them to take down a  piece that they had deemed offensive Apparently a particularly sensitive copper has spotted photographer Derek Santini's interpretation of the story of Leda and the Swan through the window of the galley from the top deck of a passing  bus.  

Police officers sent to order the  offending piece removed were unswayed by explanations that the story of Zeus taking the form of a swan to seduce Leda, (mother of Helen of Troy) has inspired artists through the centuries - including Michelangelo . They just said they'd never heard of the myth and that it seemed to be 'condoning bestiality'.

I could be depressed at the puritan  philistinism of those in authority but then again at least whilst they're defending outraged public morals in  Belgravia they are not shooting unarmed black men in the streets of North London where I live.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Mail comes full circle

Notoriously back in 1934 the vile-then-as-it-is-now Daily Mail ran the headline 'Hurrah For The Blackshirts'. The BUF and Nazi sympathising press baron and Mail-owner Viscount Rothermere proclaimed that  'The sturdy young Nazis are Europe's guardians against the Communist danger'. 

Unlike many other national newspapers the Mail does not have an online archive - so I can't provide a link to the relevant article*. This is probably no accident  - the Mall loves to wrap itself in wartime nostalgia with constant references to the virtues of the wartime generation and give-aways of classic British war movie DVDs  or recordings of Vera Lynn singing wartime favourites. 

Happily though they just can't help giving themselves away. 

On the day when France goes to the polls and it looks like a victory for the 'Socialist' candidate Hollande, and a more inspiring upsurge for Melenchon and the Left Front - the Mail reverts to form: '... the only responsible vote in France next Sunday is one for Marine Le Pen'.

It's not too alarmist to remember that first time round, the street-fighting boneheads of the Far Right only became a serious threat when paranoid sections of the ruling class decided that they were the lesser of two evils.

 * The clipping at the top of the page is actually  from  a Rothermere editorial in the Daily Mirror in which he  also had a  share-holding.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Holocaust Memorial Day today - and I have a piece over at 'On This Deity' to mark the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. 

I wanted to do it - but I'm also conscious that it's one of those stories so powerful that almost anything that can be written is in danger of being inadequate.

There's nothing I can add to the story of the Holocaust that hasn't already be said better by others, But for any activist who has ever  faced  the inevitable cynics' question  - why struggle when all the odds are stacked against you - the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising does  perhaps provide the ultimate inspiration.

Thursday 12 April 2012

In defence of staff rooms

News today that new schools won't in the future be required to have staff rooms:

As someone who until very recently was an outsider to the world of teaching and education I can see why people who don't have the luxury of an equivalent  'staff room' at their own workplace might not see the need for teachers' (and support staff) to have such a place.

I didn't realise it until I spent time in schools how intense and isolated the life of a teacher actually is. Intense, because when you are teaching, you are teaching - performing on your feet with no respite in front of thirty so highly critical pairs of eyes. Isolated, because for the majority of your day you are doing this on your own with precious little adult company.

Whereas in most jobs  - however hard you work at times there is an inevitable large amount of 'down time'. And this is taken up with - for want of a better word  'fucking about'. I know,  I've done my fair share of this - when we were a manual craft industry it involved endless practical jokes and the odd game of 'studio cricket' - in the modern studio environment the equivalent is probably messing about on the internet. And as an executive there is always the liquid lunch and lost afternoon. At whatever level we feel - quite rightly - that the busy times earn us the right to goof around occasionally. And even if you're not goofing around, most workplaces give you an opportunity to down tools and have lunch - whether it's a Gregg's pasty or lunch at the Ivy.  Not so if you're a teacher - as I've found you even have to plan ahead with your toilet breaks ...

All of which points to the need for teachers' staff rooms if only as basic workers' right. I deliberately don't mention the use of the staffroom for all those impromptu meetings done on the hoof between teachers than are essential to the daily running of the school. Because adequate 'non-contact' time should be scheduled to sort all that out. As a manager in my previous life 'meetings' of one sort or another were the single biggest part of my working week. Nobody told me that I should be conducting all these meetings in my own  lunchtime - or that I would have to conduct them all standing in the stair-well.

But let's face it - the move to do away with staff rooms is primarily a political one. Teachers seem to be in the forefront of opposition to the ConDems nowadays and they are rapidly becoming one of the more militant layers of the labour movement. And the first rule of anyone in the business of suppressing opposition is to deny the dissidents their freedom of association ...

Sunday 8 April 2012

Messing about on the river

Lenin said that it was the tops of trees that shake first in a storm - as a metaphor for the phenomenon that the stirring of elements at the top of society, and in particular the youth of the ruling class, was the first indicator of revolution. Historically this seems undeniable. But when I see one posh boy risking life and limb to disrupt another bunch of posh boys' fun I'm inclined to think that it is just more twatish high jinks than a bit of situationist agit-prop:

Trenton Oldfield who swam across the path of the Boat Race and temporarily halted the annual gathering of the braying tribes of Barbour-clad young hoorays claims he was making a statement about elitism. I will pass over the irony of his own private school education or membership of the Royal Society of Arts. He works in urban regeneration management and claims that his choice of target was not simply the symbolic elitism of the annual Oxbridge fest - but  also the route of the race which takes in one of the posher stretches of the Thames. Hmmm. There a couple of serious points to be made here.

The current  domination of the political class by the products of Oxbridge has taken us back two or three generations before the liberal sixties or the supposed meritocracy of the post-war boom. And whole swathes of our inner city that were once  thriving working class communities have become desolate wastelands of chicken outlets, betting shops and pound stores just waiting for yuppiefication. So looking at my own neighbourhood - not quite an Olympic borough but bordering one - I have sympathy for the Stratford demonstrators. Amidst all the hype and pomposity about Olympic heritage and legacy they are raising a small voice to ask 'what's in it for us?'. Good luck to them.

On the other hand I fancy that Trenton Oldfield has struck a blow primarily for his own publicity. And that in the future he will resurface as some sort of minor personality. If I've done him an injustice or am proved wrong in the future  -I will apologise in advance now.

Friday 6 April 2012

A licence for bullying and casualization.

The ignorant bullying face of Lord-Sir-Allun-Fucking-Sugar has become the totemic icon of 'entrepreneurship'. How apt. As of today the qualifying period for a worker's entitlement to raise a claim of unfair dismissal has been extended from one year to two.

I've got three different angles on this - as someone who was made redundant - as someone who was a manager and had to implement redundancy and dismissal procedures - and as someone who knows a blatant bit of class warfare when he sees it. And this is wrong from every one of them.

Losing your job fucks with your life. Up there with divorce and bereavement it is a life-changing moment and one of the most common causes of stress and clinical depression. Fortunately for me it went the other way - and although I still feel the occasional pang of bitterness it has allowed me to start on my way to a new and happier life. But I'm lucky - and unusual. Most people who lose their livelihoods in middle age are screwed. And - although this shouldn't need to be said -  people are not simply economic units of labour or in the newspeak of management 'resources' to be turned on and off at will.

If you're a responsible manager - or even just a half way decent human being - sacking people is difficult and traumatic. Emotionally and legally it can be a minefield. Which is exactly as it should be. I'm not proud of it ,but over the years I've had to lay people off - I've even sacked a couple for disciplinary reasons. I'm not asking for  sympathy but I lost sleep over it, I wrestled with my conscience and I think I can hand on heart say that I acted fairly - and legally. However ethical managers are not necessarily the norm - and so if we can't count on them to act according to their consciences, we could at least make them act according to the law.

The previous regulations were no more than a fragile safety net, often circumnavigated by the unscrupulous. But they were a safety net nonetheless. Now it has been taken away by a ConDem government who has no scruples about openly demonstrating that it is on the side of bosses in the name of making it 'easier' for businesses. Of course it will be. In the private sector -  as I know all to well - contracts are hardly ever awarded by big businesses to their suppliers for more than two years. So bosses will effectively be able to hire and fire at will within the life cycle of these contracts - in other words they can operate on a risk-free casualized basis. 

And why should it go without question that things should be made 'easier' for business ? I imagine that the abolition of the Highway Code would probably make things 'easier' for motorists - and Jeremy Clarkson is probably lobbying for this right now. Have a look at some of the arguments put forwarded by the business lobbies and you'd think that the previous employment legislation was tantamount to workers' control. Rather than just a baseline of procedures and administration as to what constitutes 'fair'. Which frankly if you didn't have the competence to keep up with - you shouldn't have been running a business in the first place.

Although as we know this government takes a far more lenient attitude to questions of competence in business - particularly in big business and banks - than it does with the rest of us. 

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Birth of a nation

A recent study has shown that the previously believed death-toll  of the American Civil War has been seriously under-estimated. Based on census returns, Prof David Hacker of Binghampton University has  calculated the total killed as 750,000. Staggeringly, an proportional equivalent  based on  the US's current population would be 7.5 million.

Records for the English Civil Wars total death-toll are more sketchy, but 185,000 for the years 1642-51 is a reasonable estimate. Again, a proportional equivalent  based on  the UK's current population would be around 2.8 million.

The numbers alone are shocking. 

But consider the social and economic effect of prolonged fighting - four years in the US - and (depending how you count it) nine years in this country. Or the immeasurable impact on the political and cultural development of both societies.

My experience of the levels of awareness of the American Civil War in the states is only second-hand. But I do know that in this country general awareness of our civil war is woefully low. 

In our schools history lessons often  seem to revolve repeatedly around the Great War and the Western Front, and Hitler and the Nazis. I don't want to jump on the reactionary band-wagon of old farts that wants a return to 'our island story' in schools. But I'd dearly love to see the Levellers and the all too short-lived English Republic salvaged from obscurity ...