Category Archives: Equality

Congratulations Freedom Riders: Keep up the Good Fight!

Enjoyed a lovely rally at lunchtime today, joining the South Yorkshire Freedom Riders at Sheffield station to celebrate their third birthday – and their victories.

The campaign began when free train travel for elderly and disabled people was removed in South Yorkshire, despite it continuing in London and many other parts of the country.

Here’s a report of one of their protests from 2014  – some of the police involved are today facing disciplinary action.

But today was in large part a celebration – complete with cake, for the Riders have won considerable victories – the restoration of free travel for disabled people, and half-priced fares for the elderly.

They’re not resting on their laurels however, and were in fine voice, both chant and song, demanding the restoration of free travel.

I was delighted to speak at the rally, and urged them the Freedom Riders that when they win their direct cause, they should continue to campaign – for railways run for public good, not private profit in particular. (This on the day that we learned a Chinese company – effectively an arm of the Chinese government – has been granted part ownership of a UK franchise).

There was also a speaker from Keep Our NHS Public – a reminder that this is part of a broader struggle, against the disastrous model of privatisation of public services that’s shovelling public money into private hands, cutting the pay and condition of workers and the quality of services.

And a great reminder from one speaker that campaigners need to stick together. She writing urged those present not to downplay other’s campaigns but to acknowledge that everyone does what they can, on issues that touch and move them.

More information

Well done Friends of the Earth for getting the air pollution message out

Today the Guardian reported that despite all of the publicity, most Britons are still unaware of the poor quality of the air that they breathe.

That’s one reason why it is great that Friends of the Earth is encouraging members and supporters to install simple tubes that measure the level of nitrogen dioxide in the air in their communities in a citizen science project that will spread awareness and knowledge.

There are quite a few up around Sheffield, some at sites like Hillsborough Corner (below) where you might expect poor quality air, others in parts of the city generally thought of us “cleaner”, although some of those might shock local residents when the results come in.

Building awareness of the issue is one reason by Sheffield Green Party is running the Let Sheffield Breathe campaign. It includes a petition calling on the council to adopt a new air pollution strategy. (It adopted one in 2012, which aimed to cut pollution levels in the city to below European levels, which failed, and since then there’s not been a coordinated attempt to take action.

It is also disappointing that when five cities (Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton) were chosen to be Clean Air Zones (with associated funding), Sheffield was not among them – we must lobby hard to be added to the list.

Sheffield stands strong and proud against actions of Trump and May

More than 2,000 people packed into Pinstone Street, spilling along Leopold Street and Fargate in a rally organised in little more than 24 hours to protest against the Muslim Ban in the US and Theresa May’s utterly inadequate response to it.

It was one of at least 26 protests around the country tonight, with reports of well over 30,000 people in London.

In my speech I focused on the spread and the size of that reach – from Preston to Plymouth, from Leeds to London.

I said: “Donald Trump, you live in a world that believes in human rights and democracy, that rejects discrimination and racism, and that will not condone your actions.

“That reflects the response of Canada, the response of Germany,the response of France. Yes the best that Theresa May could come up with, as she stood in Turkey, having just sold fighter jets to a regime with an extremely disturbing record on human rights, could say was effectively ‘No comment’.

“The turnout tonight, around the country and around America against the Muslim and refugee ban is a demonstration of the possibility of change, the possibility of building bridges not walls, creating a new society in which we truly are all in it together on this one, fragile planet, looking out for each other, caring for each year.

“Donald Trump is the logical end point – and I do mean end – of the era of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, a political philosophy of greed and exploitation, of the interests of the 1% ruling those of the 99%.

“It is time for something new, something different, it it time for hope.”

There were many wonderful hand-drawn banners in the crowd last night, and in my speech I drew attention to this one in particular: Where’s your moral compass Mrs May?” A very good question.

And it was clear that this placard spoke very much for the crowd last night, which cheered most loudly at each mention of the phrase “refugees welcome”. Sheffield, the first official City of Sanctuary in Britain, said it, and meant it last night.
Update: I learnt after the rally that Theresa May had been warned by Trump – during that excruciating visit involving handholding that made her look like a small child being taken to the park – that the ban was coming, which makes her response in Turkey even more astonishingly more clearly inept and indefensible.

Letter in the Guardian: Pay Ratios

As sent. Published on January 12

Madam,

Your leading article “The Guardian view on Corbyn and pay: close that gap” was entirely right to say that “pay for those running FTSE companies is too high” and you were right to welcome the proposal floating by Jeremy Corbyn to set a ratio of top to lowest pay.

There’s nothing novel about this proposal.
This has been Green Party policy for many years – although we’re calling for a ratio of 10:1, not 20:1.
There’s a growing civil society movement calling for companies to publish their pay ratios, as provided for in the US Dodd-Frank legislation.
Historically and globally, it is the extremely large ratios found in America and the UK now that are anomalous, not attempts to restrict them.
Countries such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Japan have ratios an order of magnitude lower than the UK’s, and in the 1960s a ratio of 20:1 was the norm.

Sheffield Needs a Payrise: Taking the message to the high street

I was delighted to be asked to speak at the rally today at the start of the Sheffield Needs a Payrise march, a campaign that’s calling for a minimum £10/hour wage for all workers in Sheffield and beyond (particularly apt since South Yorkshire is the fifth poorest region in Northern Europe). There was a great turnout of around 300, excellent on a busy, cold day just before Christmas.

We heard many examples of the difficulties workers face as a result of low pay and zero-hours contract. An Usdaw representative said she’d just been trying to help a member with six jobs, who needed to use a food bank to get by.

Gareth Lane from the bakers’ union spoke of the difficulties faced by laid-paid workers in McDonalds, citing particularly one young father left rarely seeing his children by computer-allocated shifts that took no account of his family responsibilities.
I spoke about the great radical political tradition of Sheffield, and how it was again politically leading the country with this campaign. Our economy, that’s increasingly dominated by low-paying, tax-dodging multinational companies that are parasites, isn’t doing what an economy is supposed to do, which is to provide for our needs, one of which is stable, secure, decent-paying jobs – jobs that you can build a life on.