Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Dhaka: the High Price of Low Costs

 In addition to remembrance of our local deceased, a number of speeches at the Workers Memorial Day paid tribute to those killed in that tragic factory collapse in Dhaka Bangladesh. They also warned us that this tragedy was the result of deliberate neglect and flouting of proper safety regulation.

 From FSRN

The owner of the building that collapsed in Bangladesh appeared in court today wearing a bulletproof jacket and helmet. Mohammad Sohel Rana was arrested yesterday as authorities said he attempted to flee across the border to India.
Rescue efforts continued today at the site near Dhaka, where the eight-story building housing garment factories collapsed last week, though government officials said hope was fading of finding more survivors, according to the Daily Star.
The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, which has an office in Dhaka, said more than 400 were killed and about 1,000 remain missing.
For more, we’re joined by Liana Foxvog, organizing director International Labor Rights Forum.
For more on the campaign from the International Labor Rights Forum:

 Western companies find Bangladesh so palatable because it has few regulations and many obstacles to workers organising and acting collectively. They keep there costs low by keeping wages low and putting off luxuries like safe equipment and basic maintenance. We see now that such policies have a very high price in deed.

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — As Bangladesh reels from the deaths of hundreds of garment workers in a building collapse, the refusal of global retailers to pay for strict nationwide factory inspections is bringing renewed scrutiny to an industry that has profited from a country notorious for its hazardous workplaces and subsistence-level wages.
After a factory fire killed 112 garment workers in November, clothing brands and retailers continued to reject a union-sponsored proposal to improve safety throughout Bangladesh's $20 billion garment industry. Instead, companies expanded a patchwork system of private audits and training that labor groups say improves very little in a country where official inspections are lax and factory owners have close relations with the government.
 Though make no mistake this isn't an isolated incident, factory fires and building collapses are not uncommon in Bangladesh, though they usually killed fewer people in more remote areas and so were easier to cover up internationally.

As someone whose bought and worn clothing from some of the companies now scrambling their PR teams I'm not going to get on my high horse and demand you do anything. Though I will ask you to be mindful that the real cost of an item goes beyond the price tag, and can often be very expensive to someone else.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Workers Memorial Day 2013

Today (28/04/2013) was Workers Memorial Day an important though sadly neglected event that gives us all a chance to remember those who were quite literally killed by their jobs. And highlight the importance of Health and Safety despite it being the favourite punchline to jokes.

The attendence was very good just a little below that which turns out for Remembrance Sunday. Sadly though that's probably due to the fact that since North East Lincolnshire is unlike rural Lincolnshire proper heavily industrialised, with Lindsey Oil Refinery and Connoco Phillips being just next door in Killingholme, and surrounded by many smaller chemical plants like Millennium Crystal. Thats in addition to having two very large and active dockyards very close to each other. Which means we have a high work related fatality rate. Though it does reinforce the importance of the day.

"Nobby" Styles UNITE Rep and main organiser of the Memorial
In attendence were the relatives of those whom lost their lives at work, most of the local Labour Party, a small number of Liberal Democrats, representatives from the local Unions (mostly UNITE and ASLEF) Thompson's solicitors and several companies. The service was facilitated by the Merchant Navy Association and Vickers one of our local Priests. It was religous but in a vague way and used the most worker friendly passages from the Bible.

Neil Castle Immingham Town Mayor (Labour)

North East Lincolnshire Mayor Mike Burton (Labour)

There were quite a few reefs laid by the Plaque, and the weather remained clear throughout. Over all despite still being neglected the service is growing in the region, Grimsby and Cleethorpes also have services and the number of companies agreeing to take part has increased. Also in attendence was local MP Martin Vickers (Conservative) he gave a luke warm speech and looked very uncomfortable when other reef layers criticised the cuts to the Health and Safety Executive, and the reforms  to Industrial Tribunals that make it harder to prosecute negligent employers, but he did show up so credit there. The fact he did attend and present a reef is an example of the growing acceptance and support of the day.

Scunthorpe a town in Northern Lincolnshire not too far away (they're are main footie rivals) held its first ever Memorial event this year which means the day is spreading nationally. Most of the credit for North East Lincolnshire's Memorial Day growth goes to Nobby Styles a UNITE rep who really worked hard to get everyone to lend their support. If you get local news you'll have seen him on the telly this past week promoting as much as possible.

Friday, 26 April 2013


I needed a break from Mrs T so I decided to watch a miniseries about cold blooded despots whom rule via regiments of helmeted police and view humans as commodities. In hindsight it wasn't quite the breath of fresh air I wanted.

If your not familiar with V I don't blame you, not only is the name quite nondescript and difficult to find. Also while it isn't a niche program being very successful on its first broadcast. It was quickly eclipsed so its now one of those shows thats popular with SF or "genre fans" as most like to be called.

It did get a remake in 2009 but it didn't really workout. V is broken up into three parts V the Miniseries, V the Final Battle (another mini series) and V the Series which takes place after the two miniseries. Of the three the series is unanimously considered the weakest but we'll get to that later.

V was originally going to be an adaptation of It Can't Happen Here about the rise of Fascism in America. Apparently spurred on by the writers criticism of the Reagan Administration. In fact for a show about battling space Lizards there is a surprisingly heavy criticism of Reagan's America. The first miniseries is dedicated "To the heroism of Resistance Fighters, Past, Present and Future" and opens with a scene of a rebel camp in El Salvador being attacked by a helicopter gunship. Later on the scene is repeated with a Visitor attack on a human resistance camp just to make it clear.

And the Final Battle (the second miniseries) contains pro South African Guerilla commentary, ironic given that the V miniseries was approved for viewing by Apartheid censors as it showed blacks and whites working together, with the white cast firmly in charge. Fortunately Black South Africans aren't as stupid as the Apartheid supporters hoped, they saw V for what it was, and according to anecdotes the V symbol graffiti started appearing throughout South Africa shortly after its broadcast.

The network executives weren't interested though, but they were interested in cashing in on Star Wars success. The year was 1983 just after Return of the Jedi and somehow they figured the script could be retooled to be an alien invasion and occupation story. Naturally right?

And surprisingly they were right V is a pretty effective Alien invasion story, and it still retains elements of the original idea. Though to be honest I think it works better as an Anti-Colonialism story then an Anti-Fascist one. The two aren't mutually exclusive of course Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany had colonies but aside from having a symbol that looks like a Swastika (if you squint) and a few resistance members using the F-word the Visitors (as they like to be called) don't do much that's explicitly Fascistic. At best its a generic military occupation.
As a depiction of colonialism though it goes into surprising detail of how an outside force can usurp and then replace a less advanced society. Essentially a group of "peaceful" and "friendly" technically advanced strangers or Visitors come to earth, even though the come in massive warships and are lead by an Admiral they assure us they come in peace. In exchange for some resources these benevolent Visitors offer to share their technological advancements (sound familiar to anyone?). And since they know all about the chemicals and refinement processes it seems only fair and natural for them to take an active and leading role in its procurement.

So they quickly take over many factories and refineries all over the globe using native labour to help them manufacture chemicals they claim they need to save their planet. They quickly ingratiate themselves with the Heads of State and Business community the world over whom are quick to make any concessions asked for to please the Visitors so they may benefit more from their technology and patronage. Very quickly the governments of the world are co-opted and its not long before joint police and Visitor patrols are seen on the streets.

The only group to offer any resistance (in the passive are they telling the truth? sense) is the scientific community so the Visitors move quickly to discredit earth scientists by forging a "International Scientific Conspiracy" to marginalise scientists and justify the arrest and disappearance of those few whom are uncovering the truth about them. As the name "International Scientific Conspiracy" hints this was part of the original script that received a hasty retooling, originally the target for repression was to be American Jews and most of dialogue makes this clear with talk of "Scientist children" and disgust at those who marry scientists. Though the change did give the miniseries one of its most interesting side characters the Bernstein's.

The Bernstein's are a Jewish family, the Grandfather survived the Holocaust and its through his words and view that the show regained some of the Fascistic imagery. His son and Daughter in law don't like what's happening but try to ride it out, there son Daniel on the other hand is an active collaborator, and rose through the ranks of the "Friends of the Visitors" which the show probably wanted to be a Hitler Youth style outfit (they wear brownish red uniforms) the fact that its open to humans the colonised population and that high ranked members are armed and allowed to take command of Visitor troops makes it more akin to what Empires do to try and forge strong links of loyalty among certain populations of colonies, like the Sikhs and Gurkha's of the British Empire, or the Algerian tribes for the French.

In fact they literally turn humanity into a resource for their consumption. The humans are their for basic labour, front line combat (they are at war with another powerful alien race) and food. With the exception of cannibalism that's a textbook example of the social position of a colonised people in the Imperial system.

That's quite a sophisticated plot for a show about space lizards whom stuff live mice down their throats. Fortunately the acting and production values don't let such a lofty concept down. Though the effects in the original Miniseries when they eat rodents is noticeably fake (it improved). Rather then be dominated by just one main lead the show was more of an ensemble piece with both the Resistance and the Visitors having several main characters have equivalent screen time and at least some importance to the plot. I personally liked how the Visitor Officers had distinct personalities and interests and it was interesting to see how both groups dealt with the pressure when things didn't go their way.

Trivia note, this show is popular with David Icke fans
I won't lie, I went into V purely to watch explosions and space ships and Lazer guns, and I got that, but I also got much more. For example the Visitors armour is resistant to bullets which means the first skirmishes are very one sided and a bit reminiscent of riflemen versus native spears and bow and arrows. This means they have to make do with explosives and a few stolen Lazer pistols. Eventually they devise special ammo that does penetrate armour. They also showed some Visitors to be noble and opposed to the invasion like the Fifth Column an internal resistance movement and Willie (played by Robert Englund) a technician.

Of course once they get the fancy new ammo (supplied by Ham Tyler, played by Michael Ironside) it quickly reverts to standard 80's action. Though thanks to the build up it comes across as exciting and heightens tension (because things of consequence are happening) instead of killing it. In fact I believe the key to V's charm is that while still being a very 80's show (most 80's cliche's and styles are present) it gave most of them a clever spin. Why are the aliens speaking English? they've been hidden for sometime and learned the languages of the people they were supposed to control to make the usurpation easier. Willy for example learned Arabic but was transferred at the last minute to L.A. which is why he struggled with the language. Why are they not dying from germs like in War of the Worlds? They knew it would be a problem and spent a long time developing inoculations to all earth bacteria that they know about. Etc.

Some scenes are very soap opera like, but since those scenes are to show the pressure building up and the characters are dealing with serious problems its kept from dominating the show or from bursting the suspension of disbelief.  I also liked how despite Ham Tyler being the most competent action hero type he isn't made to be perfect or always right. In fact due to his very abrasive manner and his past as a Black Ops soldier fighting dirty wars in Africa, South East Asia and Latin America, the rest of the resistance keep him at arms length since to them he's to extreme.

Magistrates the world over hated the show
Sadly the show seemed to be a victim of its own success. The two miniseries and the merchandising did so well the network commissioned a full series. Even though the ending of the Final Battle not only defeated the Visitors but did so in a way that explicitly stated they could never return. Though credit were its due the show did come up with an explanation for both another invasion and why they couldn't just do what they did the last time, that at least sounded plausible. You'll have to ask a microbiologist if it would actually work like that though.

Unfortunately V with its big space age sets was very expensive (about $1million per episode) so corners were cut and then cut again until the overall show started to suffer. For example since the Visitors look just like us (until you pinch them) a clever way to remind us that they were extra terrestrial was to make their voices reverberate a bit. That was dropped in the series, also the lazer effects must of cost a bit too because not only do we have the usual bad guys can't aim gimmick but in many cases the bad guys don't bother shooting at all even though our hero's are in the open. I'm not kidding in several scenes the Visitors just run at the good guys while waving around those plastic guns. They even did it in the pilot which didn't bode well for the shows development.

They also based the shows premise strongly around Casablanca, L.A. becomes an open city the resistance uses a cabaret etc. That could of been interesting but they didn't do much with it and I suspect were just looking for a way to justify saving money on location shoots. One part of the series I did like was a pre credits sequence that would be a short news bulletin from the "World Liberation Front" giving updates on the war outside of L.A. it was clearly a cheap way of evoking a global scale but for me it work. It also suffered from meddling by the executives, to cut costs they killed off some of the cast and just write out some others like Ham Tyler in a way that came out of nowhere and made little sense.

They also got really desperate towards the end. The original miniseries was quite notorious for its scenes of the Visitors eating live animals so the last few episodes had them chomping down on fuzzy little critters at every opportunity.I have more complaints but they won't make much sense if you haven't seen the show already.

If you get a chance I think you should check it out, the box set is very cheap. You can grab the whole thing with torrents, you can see the original miniseries on youtube (though it gets taken down often) and if you speak a language other then English you can probably see the whole thing on youtube as well.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

A Letter to Santiago: Thatcher and Pinochet

The list of reasons to dislike Thatch is long indeed, at several points in my life as an analytical exercise I tried to list them all as part of a Pros and Cons sort of thing. I swear each time the Cons column got longer.

But one thing that stuck in my mind as a warning of how dangerous she really could have been and why her loss of power, even though her party full of her acolytes remained firmly in control was a very good thing for everyone in Britain was Thatcher's relationship with Pinochet. Due to the brutality of the Pinochet Junta It's one of the few parts of Thatcher's legacy that isn't aggressively defended by her yuppie admirers. It's usually brushed off with an attempt to frame it as a pragmatic alliance strenghtened during the Falklands conflict where Chile sided with Britain as its relations with  neighbouring Argentina where even poorer then Chile's average minimum wage.

But that isn't really true as the above image shows, there was a mutual respect and relationship between the two. And why not they were very much alike, both had a religious zeal for Market controlled economies, both had a genuine hatred of Socialism (and both used an exceptionally wide definition of Socialism) both liked to style themselves as military leaders tough enough to handle any challenger.

But there were some differences and I wouldn't be doing a fair job if I didn't acknowledge that.

Thatcher merely prosecuted an armed conflict in Northern Ireland, Pinochet did that the length and breadth of Chile.

Thatcher split the opposition electorally Pinochet split opposition heads.

Thatcher had Cavalry charges against striking workers,Pinochet had Armoured cavalry crush their heads.

And Pinochet turned football stadiums into cages while Thatcher merely.... actually this probably belongs in the similarities column.

Anyway the point is the two were different leaders, unfortunately they were different by degrees not kind. Thatcher knew full well what her Latino friend was getting up too, and rather create a rift between the two she admire him for his vindictiveness. I saw a documentary once that claimed that Thatcher went as far as to confide that she wished she could have a society has pro-market as Pinochet's but she lamented the fact that she ruled a democracy and didn't have a repressive force strong enough to keep the people in line. Well today I finally found that letter and can confirm that it is has hateful as I feared.

The original copy
Thank you for your letter of 5 February. I was very glad that you were able to attend the dinner so thoughtfully organised by Walter Solomon. It was not only a great pleasure for me, it was, as always, instructive and rewarding to hear your views on the great issues of our time.
I was aware of the remarkable success of the Chilean economy in reducing the share of government expenditure substantially over the 70's. The progression from Allende's Socialism to the free enterprise capitalist economy of the 1980's is a striking example of economic reform from which we can learn many lessons.
 However, I am sure  you will agree that, in Britain with our democratic institutions and the need for a high degree of consent, some of the measures adopted in Chile are quite unacceptable. Our reform must be in line with our traditions and our constitution. At times the process may seem painfully slow. But I am certain we shall achieve our reforms in our own way and in our own time. Then they will endure.

Emphasis my own.

In her own words she admits that the Britain she dreamed of was akin to a colder and wetter Chile, and acknowledges that the only way Pinochet was able to advance so far was by the use of the military and police against his own people. Her weak criticism of his brutality smacks more of practical concerns rather then moral indignation.

For me this will be Thatcher's legacy, an admirer of a dictator who sulked about not getting to be as viscous in her own playground. Her heavy handed policing and attempts to destroy the Labour movement in Britain were just supporting evidence that her infatuation had the potential to become a reality if she were given the chance. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Lady's not Returning

Yes this time its true April the 8th 2013 is the day that Margaret Thatcher died. Its been a long time coming but its finally here. To comemorate this Red Letter day I've composed my own special eulogy

 I’ll tell you true, I’ll tell you why
So many are happy to see Thatcher die.
She made it her most important role
To condemn millions to waste on the dole.
So tight was the woman called Thatcher
That for decades we knew her as “Milk Snatcher”.

The nickname was apt for she was the cream
Of the proponents of Milton Friedman’s dream.
For over ten years she reigned supreme
At the head of our most divisive regime.
Her favoured title was the “Iron Lady”
Though her favoured practices were quite shady.

Her response to the trouble on Stormont Hill?
A sinister order to “Shoot to kill”
An order that punished many whose only crime
Was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When the Miners were on strike
She sent up the Met with a pay hike.
The people of Brixton were left in the lurch
Her solution? Stop and search.
Construction workers were trying to organise
Such an act would threaten her drive to privatise.
The solution she hid in bureaucratic mist
Was to agree to the bosses black list.

Still I’ll say this she was kind to her friends
That chosen few who enjoyed dividends.
Yes it was a good time to be in real estate
Or any position that could profit from the decline of the State.
A friend of Thatcher was here to stay
Just ask the Chilean butcher Pinochet.

Still that was all in the past
The shrill one is dead at last.
And the lie of Thatcherism
Will end like every other Despotism.
When the Working class
Shatter her legacy like glass.

For a more comprehensive list of reasons why I and many won't be sad on this day I'll leave you with Tony Benn.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

April is the month of Poets

April is NaPoWriMo* which means its time for a special competition. You have to write 30 poems during the month of April, I'm taking part so I maybe a little quiet this month. Should you be interested you can see my completed and edited poems for the month here if your wondering why there's a few missing the event states that you have to complete 30 poems not submit them. In that folder are the ones I feel are worth being read.

Here's a sample

The Ballad of Big Bill

Born in 1869 was one William Haywood
By helping workers anyway he could
He determined to spend his life
Not on friends, sport or Wife
By lending us his calloused hand
He vowed we’d build a promised land.

Now William was no College Professor
Nor a staunch Moral Confessor.
He grew up big and strong
And rejected the beard long.
In fact Most working folk
On account of him being solid as an Oak
Dubbed our Will “Big Bill”

Big Bill began his rise to fame
Helping a Silver mine stake its claim.
Whilst picking at rock he listened to Ed Boyce
Ed’s speech would give Workers cause to rejoice.
Big Bill with the Western Federation of Miners
Staunch lads them, but their work could be finer.

In 1905 Big Bill really made his mark
That year Big Bill made his views stark.
Addressing over two hundred fellow travellers
Big Bill declared we were better than our masters.
The convention declared and its resolution heard,
That was the birth of the Industrial Workers of the World.

From the farm to the cotton mill
Every worker who had their fill
With the callous Capitalistic boss
And Union bureaucratic toss
Found a helping hand
From the folks in that Industrial Band.

“I only want to live to see the dream of the Red Labor International come true.
That’s all I want. That’s the I.W.W.”

*For the record, I hate the abbreviation but its catchy and I'm stuck with it.

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