Monday, 24 November 2008

The Carers' Trade Union

The Carers Trade Union has now been established. If you support the union and are a carer yourself, then please consider joining. Please indicate your support by making a comment on this blog.

Discussion on the union is available on the Carer Watch site.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Elderly carers arise, you have nothing to lose but your chains

Old couples, who may have been together for many years, frequently want to remain together. Not surprising, but from this enduring attachment arises a despicable form of exploitation. The services required to keep an elderly couple in their own home are seldom remotely adequate. Specialist nursing services, for example, for Parkinson's patients, are almost as rare as hen's teeth. It is often the case that one partner is designated as the carer for the other. Perhaps it is a matter of who becomes seriously ill first. They can be placed in an impossible situation, caring for their partner when they themselves are old and sick. Who cares ?

Not, apparently the medical profession, who know about enormous numbers of these cases, but seemingly prefer to hide behind the remit of social service departments, who ostensibly are responsible for providing domestic support for carers. This is a medical matter as well as a social one. Social services don't have anything like the resources necessary to provide the needed services.

Make sure, when you are discharged from hospital, that there is a fit young person waiting at home to care for you.

It is a national disgrace. Couples expressing a human desire to remain together may be punished severely for their fidelity. Carer Watch, who campaigns for the rights of carers, is currently campaigning for elderly carers to be treated as human beings.

Too expensive ? Like constant wars, Trident, multi-million pound aircraft carriers, big bank bailouts, billionaire tax evasion, etc.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Carers up the creek

The concerns of carers are small beer compared to the present economic crisis. If they get the capitalist system to work again, there will still be the little matter a a major recession, possibly turning into a full depression, to deal with. The cost of bailing out the banks will be borne by the working class and those too sick and disabled to work, not by big business and its political allies in New Labour and the Tories. The Left have failed to make the obvious connection between Reagan-Thatcher-Blair-Brown and Casino Capitalism, sufficiently clear.

Meanwhile, back at the homestead, carers continue to struggle to cope with a demanding job for which they are not paid. Where is the campaign for a carers trade union ? Well, we are still struggling on at Carer Watch. Join us.

The government Green Paper on caring may become a White Paper one day and we need to do our best to influence it while we may. The Carer Watch group will shortly be producing their response to it and I can hardly contain my excitement ! For me, the salient issue is the proposal to move carers from the pathetic Carers' Allowance to the obnoxious Job Seekers' Allowance. This would apply to all carers, regardless of the hours they work, apart from the likes of me who are too ancient. What an absurdity and what an insult. So caring 24/7 is not a job already ? Those carers who are exhausted and made ill by all the hard work, the stress and depression, don't already have a job ?

All of this in a situation of rising unemployment where jobs are increasing hard to come by even for those who don't actually have one and are desperately seeking employment. It's all about social control. We may not have a job for you. You are obviously overwhelmed with work already, even to the point of desperation and despair, but the principle of you being not only being available for work but actively seeking it must be upheld. If you don't get paid a wage then you are not working already. If you are not employed then you don't get paid a wage. Carers can't win under the present set up.

It is important, I think, to campaign for carers to become public employees, because caring is a social responsibility. Using the individual budgets of carees to employ carers, potentially creates lots of problems. We clearly need a trade union to campaign for carers employment and other rights, so why haven't we got one ?

There are plenty of difficulties for sure, but carers could have their own trade union. It's about organisation. But it's not just about organisation. It's also about caring enough. Carers don't yet care enough about themselves and their situation to get themselves organised.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

A journey through education 5

The city of Derry in 1978 was still at war. It was here that the Institute of Continuing Education was based at Magee University College, the oldest part of the University of Ulster. Whilst waiting for the time for my job interview, I took a walk around. A bomb exploded as I walked past a shop. Fortunately it was only an incendiary device, of the kind with which I had become familiar in London during WW2. Many shops were boarded up and this beautiful city looked sad and forlorn. I spoke to some of the British soldiers, I had once been one of them myself, in another foreign place. They asked me questions about what I was doing there and I deduced that this was a part of a low-level intelligence gathering procedure. I visited the Free Derry wall in the Bogside. Later I was to go there many times, to watch the Saturday afternoon riots.

Of course, being English in Derry was a strange experience at that time, but, like others, I quickly became defined by my politics. This was a university setting and I was not constrained in the way I had been in the very different environment of Peterborough. The students were all mature and I had a great deal in common with them, whatever their politics.I made many friends. I could walk into the centre of the city, after a few years and would have to stop several times to chat to people I knew. I would go into a bar on my own and would shortly have friends coming over bearing drinks. I miss that.

On my interview day I asked a police person where the cathedral was. The Catholic or Protestant cathedral, he asked ? A divided city, but not divided equally. The nationalist community was, and is, in the large majority. Despite this the unionists ran the city for many years, because of gerrymandered ward boundaries. The old Church of Ireland cathedral was fascinating and full of history, but cold and unwelcoming somehow. The catholic cathedral was more modern, but glowing with warmth and candle light. Strange that I should feel more at home there, than in the cathedral which belonged to the communion into which I had been baptised. Not that I was tempted to convert. I had long since been an atheist. Now I think of myself more as an agnostic, whatever the disapproval of Dawkins may be. I feel that his stern rationalism leaves scant space for human emotionality.

Teaching in Derry was full of emotion and the political temperature was high. I had to decide at the beginning how to deal with my own political commitment. I adopted the simple expedient of explaining what my views were and telling students that they should make their own judgements. I would do my best to draw their attention to all the contending views in a debate. I was keen on heuristic learning and went in for some role playing. People were likely to find themselves in the situation of having to persuade their fellows of the validity of a political position opposed to their own. What fun.

I lived in residence for a while, before my family joined me. One day a detonator went off on campus, but the bomb itself failed to explode. Apparently there was a 'secret' RUC meeting taking place. The bomb disposal squad was called for, from my old corps, and we had to wait in the common room while the bomb was dismantled. The housekeeper, a stern Protestant woman whose cousin was a very senior RAF officer, played the piano and led us in a chorus of old wartime songs. Surreal or what ? Some years later when I was crossing the border at Strabane a bomb exploded in a shop, showering my car with glass. My young daughter was sitting in the back. Perhaps it was time to start thinking of returning home.

A registration system for carers ?

I believe that it is the informality of the family carer system which allows carers to be taken advantage of. If you are just looking after a close family member, no matter how much work is involved, then you are at best a deserving charity case, worthy of a small allowance, but still available for 'real' work. Hence the move to put carers on Job Seekers' Allowance.

Carers need to press for the establishment of a National Government Carers' Register. In the meantime, we should establish our own carers' register. Carers should be encouraged to submit an invoice to the government for the work they have done at the end of each month, deducting the allowances they have already received.

This would draw attention to the reality of carers' lives.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Carers deserve to be punished !

Some say good old Gordon................ At the Labour Party Conference this afternoon, New Labour Prime Gordon Brown paid a glowing tribute to carers. They do 'amazing work' he told the assembled delegates.

So why, if they are do such a good job, does Gordon propose to punish them? The government proposal, in their Green Paper, is to put carers onto Job Seekers Allowance. Doesn't doing 'amazing work' imply that full-time carers already have a job ? I mean, I don't want to jump to conclusions, but isn't caring very demanding, exhausting WORK ? I have to admit that I only have empirical evidence for this, discussing the experience of other carers with them, and being one myself. Don't carers save the exchequer large sums of money by doing this work ?

If you say, very publicly, that carers are doing 'amazing work' and then you deprive them of a decent living wage, what does that make you ? Just asking.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Carer assessments

All carers are entitled to an assessment of their needs, allegedly. Questions to carers about how satisfactory these assessments, carried out by social workers, are in establishing and meeting their needs, vary. This is not surprising. Circumstances and attitudes inevitably vary a great deal.

My reading of the situation is that they tend to be unsatisfactory, for most people. I decided not to have one, because I have no confidence in the system. I think, for example, that there should be a simultaneous assessment of the needs of both carers and their carees. This ought to include a medical assessment of the fitness of the carer to meet the demands of the caring situation and to provide care of a sufficient quality to meet the needs of their caree.

I am aware that some carers are so devoted that they want to care, regardless of their own health. Admirable, but not necessarily wise. Of course, it is all too easy to point to the reality of the alternative to family care at home. The privatisation and lack of adequate regulation of nursing homes is a national disgrace. I would rather go directly to the graveyard myself.

The key question is, where are the resources for good quality caring ? There is a limited to the size of the public purse you know. How often have you heard that ? It was always hypocrisy and now it is manifestly so. A country which can afford vast sums of public money to bail out greedy irresponsible banks and speculating city spivs can surely afford to care for its most vulnerable citizens. Look at the national budget, if there still is such a thing. Look at where the money goes, on immoral wars, Trident and aircraft carriers. Where are our priorities, both here and throughout the world ? Surely another, better, world is possible.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Old, sick, carers

Caring for the old, caring for the sick and disabled, these are relatively common situations. However, some attitudes need challenging. What about a situation in which the carers themselves are sick and elderly ?

If a couple have been together for some considerable time, then it is not unlikely that, as they grow older, first one and and then the other will develop the ailments of old age. If one is substantially worse than the other, then what could seem more natural than that their partner becomes their carer ? It may appear to be natural, but is it really reasonable ? If someone is elderly and unwell, how are they supposed to care effectively for another person, whose needs may be very complex and demanding ? Apart from any lack of skills and aptitudes, they are already deemed to be beyond the age when they are fit to undertake full-time work. That is why they are retired. Caring for an old sick partner may take much longer than a 35 hour week and be much more demanding and stressful.

As our population ages, this is becoming an increasing problem. It needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Is caring for the frail and unwell elderly a social responsibility, or a responsibility for the extended family ? Extended families are less likely now to live in the vicinity of their family elders than ever before and this trend is likely to continue. Moreover, they may be unable or unwilling to provide this care. In some cases they may even be looking for support themselves from their family elders !

This care must surely be seen as essentially a social responsibility. At the moment this responsibility is, largely, not being discharged. There are, of course, more general issues of managing an ageing society to confront. As an elder myself, for example, I do not hesitate to ask if keeping people alive beyond the time when their quality of life makes it worthwhile continuing to live, is a good thing to do ? A civilised society ought to accept the responsibility of caring for all those who need it. To the extent that it doesn't, our society cannot be deemed to be civilised.

Towards Carers' Power

When the first article relating to carers appeared on Compass I was amazed at the response from carers. Compass had never seen anything like this invasion. Although a member of Compass myself, as well as the LRC, I have to say that their politics is well intentioned, at best. They had never seen anything like this group of angry carers before. I was impressed and the carers set a new record with the number of their postings. Of course, this was largely the activist core of the carers' movement.

I had already been an a 24/7 carer myself for some considerable time, when the carers' invasion took place. I had even joined a couple of carers' groups myself, in a desultory kind of way, but it was as a participating member of Compass that I received the marauding carers. You could say that this was their finest hour.

More generally, I have been less impressed by carers. The activist core is magnificent, with the odd exception. There are those who completely lack political nous, but most battle on selflessly and they have my complete respect and admiration. However, beyond the activists there is a a large group who are largely passive and do little to help themselves or their fellows.

Of course, this needs to be put into context. Carers and caring situations vary considerably and this has implications for the struggle for carers' rights. However, many carers are more concerned to make the powers that be feel sorry for them, than to assert themselves. It is true that we all want to be understood and loved. Me particularly. We all need also to understand that carers do a hard, often unrelenting, job of work which goes mainly unrecognised. Somebody has to pay for this work and at the moment it is carers themselves. Their dedication is rewarded, all too often, by poverty, exhaustion and their own ill health. Family carers are unwaged care workers in need of a trade union to represent them and negotiate for a living wage on their behalf.

I was not the only carer already posting on Compass when the invasion took place. We joined forces with the invaders and out of that alliance came Carer Watch.

Stand up, stand up, stand up for your rights.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Democratic centralism or socialist democracy.

With the Labour Party in serious trouble, there is increasing consideration being given to an alternative for the Left. Perhaps it is a choice of being marginalised within the Labour Party, or being marginalised outside! I had thought that the Green Party may have something to offer, particularly the Green Left, but they seem unable to relate to working class politics, as we saw in the Glasgow East by-election. Clearly, there is no easy way forward. The ideological domination of capital is such that many people just don't see a viable alternative. The leap of the imagination necessary to visualise a different kind of society, one based on production for use rather than profit, on co-operation rather than exploitation, is just too far in present circumstances. We need to concentrate on the achievement of an authentic social democracy for the immediate future.

This will be difficult enough to even begin to move towards, but any kind of Left alliance based on democratic centralist organisations is surely doomed to failure. We have to convince by the quality of our ideas and the relevance of them to the everyday lives of the common people. If you have what is intended to be a broad popular democratic alliance, it will not survive the sectarian feuding implicit in having democratic centralist organisations within its ranks. The idea may have some relevance for revolutionary organisations, in potentially revolutionary situations. If you have a so-called vanguard party which needs to maintain discipline, then deciding policy on a democratic basis and then maintaining this as the line for all members, might work if it does not degenerate into bureaucracy. However, revolutions are problematical. They are better comprehended in retrospect than in prospect. They cannot be accurately predicted, either in terms of their advent or their nature. Nor can their eventual political control. Socialists are as likely to end up opposing the regimes they produce, as supporting them. Certainly, feuding Trotskyist sects should in no way be part of our prospectus.

Rather, inside or outside the Labour Party, we should seek to eschew sectarianism and work toward a broadly-based alliance of the anti-capitalist forces in society, building alliances with all those in struggle for progressive causes along the way.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

A democracy movement for carers ?

Carers are in particularly stressful situations. It is not surprising that the various charity forums and independent carer-led groups in which they participate are sometimes disputatious, full of anxiety and anger. And yet we do have things to talk about together.

I would like to suggest that carers would benefit from learning the discipline of democracy. A carers movement, free and independent, in which, following widespread discussion, there was a procedure for taking democratic decisions to formulate policy, would be a big advance.

I am arguing for a charter of carers' rights, a campaign for a carers' trade union and a recognition of carers as unwaged care workers, deserving a living wage. 

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Towards a carers' trade union.

I believe that carers need a trade union to represent their interests. Not all carers agree with this approach, I am aware of that. It does depend on how you see caring and carers.

Whatever the nature of the emotional bond between carer and caree, however much carers feel a duty of obligation towards their caree, the fact is that part-time or full-time, they are doing a job of work. If they didn't do this, often demanding and arduous, work, the state would have to provide it in some other way, probably at great expense.

Family carers are actually unwaged care workers. The hours they work, frequently much longer than normal employment, may consume a life-time of 24/7 care for some, and can be destructive of the carers own health. Carers ought to have social rights. In my view, we need a trade union to campaign for those rights, to negotiate on behalf of carers and to fight for a wage for currently unwaged care workers.

The discussion about the need for a trade union for carers, which has already taken place on the Carer Watch Forum and elsewhere, suggests that some carers are unable to get away from traditional views of family caring as a vocation, supported financially only by the miserable Carers' Allowance. They prefer to work for marginal improvements, largely in concert with the carers' charities. This doctrine of gradualism has not worked, does not work and will not work in the future. It is a doctrine of despair.

The formation of carers' trade union would mark the beginning of a new consciousness for carers of the reality of their situation, as unpaid care workers. It could be the beginning of a long process of emancipation for carers. It would not be about pleading for the recognition of carers' rights, but the beginning of a long process of struggle in which the awareness of the plight of carers' would be raised among the general population. Much more importantly the consciousness of carers themselves as unwaged workers would be raised. The moral blackmail which keeps carers in a situation of exploitation, would be undermined and exposed as the hypocrisy it really is. I believe that carees would greatly benefit from having carers whose worth was recognised and who are paid a proper living wage for the work they do. Let us work together in dignity and mutual respect.

Towards a carers trade union.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

A journey through education 4

The principal of Ruskin College had developed a rather elitist practice over the years, lovely man though Bill Hughes was. He had made an arrangement with some of the Oxford colleges to take on one of his mature students, either regularly, or occasionally. At the end of my two years study at Ruskin, I found myself among those informally selected to be interviewed by one or more of the colleges for consideration. I was accepted by Worcester College as a senior student and it was there that I matriculated the following Autumn. It was a strange experience for the education reject from south London.

In retrospect, I have come to believe that my time at Worcester and the following three years as a research assistant at Nuffield College was a mistake. My life had taken a turn from which I found myself unable to retreat. Regrets in old age are commonplace and I feel that I have more than my fair share of them.

I had seriously considered continuing my delayed education at a less elitist university.I thought that I would feel more comfortable among people from a broader background. There was a scholarship to  an American mature students' college available and I thought of applying for that. Many ex-Ruskin students have gone on to the University of Hull, over the years, because of an informal connection, so that was a possibility too. However, I really liked the look of a course at the University of Nottingham, so I applied for that, as an option to staying on at Oxford.

Rather unusually, my interview at Nottingham was on a Saturday. I was told, when I arrived, that there had been a mistake. I had applied for politics with economics, but the interviews scheduled for that day were for economics with politics. Different people were involved in interviewing, the man told me. He then said that he would phone the head of politics at his home, on my behalf. If I was somewhat bemused by this time I was to become even more so. The head of politics invited me to his house for a chat. He explained that he was an avid Welsh rugby union fan and intended to watch the match against England being shown on TV shortly. He would be delighted to have the company of a discomfited English man. I just love the eccentricity of academics. They are, mostly, marvellous people. I explained to him that where I came from rugby union was associated with grammar schools and the middle-class. No working class activist could support it, we were strictly soccer supporters. My love affair with Peterborough United had not yet begun at that time. Despite having had the opportunity of watching both Manchester teams, it is Peterborough which remains engraved on my heart. However, I suspended disbelief and we watched the rugby together. Afterwards he said that he would be pleased to welcome me to Nottingham, if that was my choice. We parted with a handshake, never to coincide again. I left reflecting on the rigour of university selection procedure. I decided to continue at Oxford. I have made so many bad choices in my life that I have lost count of them. This was one of my very worst. But I have my excuses readily available.

I only had two years of grant money still available to me. As a senior student this was sufficient for Oxford, but not for Nottingham. At Nuffield, later, I received a stipend, if that is the right word, of £18 pw rising to £23 by the time I left for my adventures in Peterborough. There were three of us by then, so it wasn't easy.

My uneasy relationship with Oxford in the sixties led me back into political activism. The psychology is not difficult to understand. Wherever I am and what ever I am doing, I am still the kid in the elementary school playground. Fighting, in one form or another, is how I relate to the world. I became involved in the Oxford Centre for Socialist Education and was its convenor for a while. The majority of its members were International Socialists, at that time members of the Labour Party. I left the Labour Party myself, after a while and joined the Independent Labour Party, to return to mainstream Labour in Peterborough. It is the ILP, with all its ambiguities, which really defines my politics.

After Nuffield I needed a job and my small family needed me to get one. I joined the adult education service in Peterborough and went on to become the Principal of Peterborough College of Adult Education. This is an unlikely story I know, however, I can't avoid the fact that it is true. In Peterborough I became engaged in battles about what the priorities in adult education should be. I had time-out to take another degree at Essex University and then joined the Institute of Continuing Education at the University of Ulster. My time in Peterborough, punctuated by shouts of 'Come on Posh', takes only a short time to tell, but it was eleven years of my life, which ended thirty years ago. So, there is yet more to tell.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Job satisfaction and the 24/7 elderly carer

I'm not talking about a minority of carers here, we actually are the majority.

I have a long interest in the relationship between objectivity and subjectivity. It is the basis of my dialectical thinking, so much out of fashion these days. Objectively, all caring situations are different. Of course, elderly 24/7 lone carers all have some things in common, as their collective description indicates. Moreover, they are likely, because of their age, to have certain age-related disabilities. Beyond that, there are a wide variety of circumstances. These will certainly have some influence on how carers relate to their situation. 

Subjectively, much will depend on their personality and their relationship with that all important person, their caree. I was a voluntary counsellor for some years, but I am not claiming that this has been useful in my caring role. I wasn't just a casual counsellor, but trained intensively. I just never got paid for the work I did. That seems to be a bad habit of mine ! I trained at the Swarthmore Centre, Leeds, Craven College, Skipton, the University of Leeds at Bretton Hall and with Relate. I have heard a lot of people's stories, but caring has taught me things I never could have imagined.

Some of us will have more nurturing personalities than others and derive great personal satisfaction from the caring role. There may be some difference between female and male carers, but I am not able to say anything definitive about that. Some of us may not be natural carers, but more  inclined to relate to our fellow human beings in rationalistic ways, without necessarily entirely lacking in empathy.

We are not  entirely alike, however much we may have in common. It is the interaction between objective and subjective factors which interests me. If we are at all political, we may note the power-play involved in caring, between carer and caree and between both and all aspects of the outside world, from immediate family to extended family, from the NHS to social services and politicians, etc. The extent to which we are able bring our emotions into awareness is important, as is the relationship between feeling and thinking, another dialectic which frequently lacks any kind of synthesis.

It may seem odd to think of caring providing job satisfaction. It isn't a job in the normal sense of the term, just a form of labour, largely unpaid labour ! Yet I have heard carers express some satisfaction in the work they do, even a great deal of satisfaction. But it ain't necessarily so. This needs to be remembered. What for some may be a labour of love, for others is hell on earth. Where have I heard that before ?

What do you think ?

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Another kind of democracy

Just how democratic is this society ? In my constituency it doesn't matter who I vote for, the Tory still wins. Every time ! The first past the post system is iniquitous. It is easily possible for a government to be elected with a relatively small minority of the electorate voting for it. What kind of legitimacy does this give it ?
Therefore, I support the introduction of what I believe to be a much more democratic system, the single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies.

Moreover, There is very little policy choice available to the electorate. This is partly due to the tendency of fptp to produce a situation in which predominantly only two parties have a serious prospect of power. The major parties therefore incline towards what they perceive to be the centre ground, to try to pick up undecided voters . The so called centre ground may, and currently is, moving to the Right. In some societies an ostensibly plural party system has functioned to support the status quo.In this situation, having a limited range of choice means very little substantial choice. It's heads they win, tails we lose.

It may also be that certain things are taken as given. In an alleged communist society, for example, the social system itself may not be an issue in an election. This seems also to be the case in a capitalist society. The idea that an election can actually change the fundamental nature of a society, is largely notional, in many instances. 

The key issues for me are, to what extent may a socialist society be said to be an open society ? Is capitalism a closed society, because its market basis is fundamentally regarded as given ? Is the ideological domination of the 'market society' produced by a largely dominated media, including commercial advertising, which covertly proposes not just a particular product, but also a particular lifestyle, an indication of a largely closed society, albeit it one in which overt oppression is somewhat muted ? I leave these as an open questions, for others to consider, although my own views are clearly inclined to the affirmative.

The crucial issue is, is there a genuine socialist alternative to a market dominated society ? Many societies which have claimed to be socialist,, have been accused of being totalitarian dictatorships. This may an unfair accusation, to some extent, but I certainly don't want to support any form of dicatatorship. It is time to reject any idea of a dictatorship of the proletariat. The views of Marx have all too often been distorted to fit the ambitions of a self-appointed 'revolutionary elite'. Likewise, we should reject any notion of 'democratic centralism' or 'vanguardism'. Socialists need to be constantly in the eyes and ears of the electorate. Not huddled together in some dark plotting corner.

An audacious definition of socialism would be that it is full democracy, in which the principle of equality is applied throughout society. The owners of the means of producing, and reproducing, wealth, based on their ability to exploit the labour of the majority, can't support democracy in any meaningful way. It is not in their interests to do so.

In the society in which we live, this is currently an aspiration for some of us. However, the politics of here and now need to be informed by this aspiration. A social democracy which rejects the idea of compromise and gradualism, should be dynamic in its determination to go beyond what appears to be achievable in the short run. The dream is a motivational force, utopian only in the best sense of the term. Its application to politics is immediate. The practice of democracy, could be the practice of socialism. Social democracy and socialism are not alternatives. One is an expression of the desire to achieve the other, in hostile circumstances.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

A journey through education 3

The heat and dust of the Suez Canal Zone had to be endured. It could hardly be enjoyed. We were serving a sentence for a crime we had not committed. I have two diaries, one for each of the two years I was incarcerated there. They are empty except for the counting down of the days until my release. We all had an interview with some officer or other. Mine asked me if I would like to sign on as a regular soldier. I looked at him with a combination of pity and incredulity. Sometimes I encounter young people who are planning to become career soldiers. I wish them good luck and then give them the very short talk I have prepared for such situations.

Soldiers not infrequently have adjustment problems when they return home after overseas service and so it was with me. I went back to my old job in the East End, employers were obliged to take us back, but I could not settle. I got a job nearer home, and had what was then known as a 'nervous breakdown'. I was referred to a hospital doctor who, under intensive interrogation from me, admitted, shamefacedly, that he was a psychiatrist.

Contact with the local Labour Party led me to contact with the local Labour Party Young Socialists, as they were known by then, and they pointed our that, despite my veteran status, I was still well within their age range. I shouldn't worry too much about politics they told me, they were mainly about having fun. And they were and plenty of fun was had in their company over the next few years. However, politics was in my blood and even the Labour Party could not contain it. My part-time political education resumed, whilst I earned a living as an insurance agent, first with the Pru and then with the Co-op. The stories I could tell.

I remember an NCLC tutor name Karl Westwood. He taught public speaking at Mitcham Labour Hall.. Those were the days when public election meetings were not rigidly controlled. It was possible to go into a Tory meeting wearing a Labour rosette and heckle from the back of the hall. Karl was a marvellous public performer and motivator. I also took a course simply called 'Socialism' with the NCLC. I had imagined that I already knew all about it, but was quickly disabused of that idea. I told the Chair of the local Labour Party that I was doing this course and he told me that I was wasting my time. I ought to concentrate on advancing my career. New Labour already in the 1950s ! What a loss to the Labour Movement the demise of the NCLC has been.

I had met people in the Labour Party and elsewhere, over the years, who had studied at the long-term full-time adult education residential college, which had strong historic associations with the trade unions. Ruskin College was based in Oxford and its qualifications were, for the most part, validated by Oxford University. Admission was on the basis of a record of social and political activity, a long essay and an interview. Many of the students who went there, some significantly older than me, had been active in politics for years. Some had no academic qualifications at all, unlike me. I was able to flourish my Army Certificate of Education-Third Class when I decided, five years after the completion of National Service, to apply for a place.

At the beginning of the first term a wide range of working class people arrived at Ruskin to commence their academic studies. There were miners and engineers, postmen and milkmen and even the odd insurance agent. At the beginning of the second term they had transmogrified into students complete with scarves and attachments, like beards.

John Prescott had not been heard of at that time. He was to arrive at Ruskin some years later. However, I do believe that my influence on the place had a delayed effect on him. I initiated a particular style of talking, which became endemic in the college. I still consider it to be my greatest achievement.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The conscious carer

People who find themselves looking after a member of their family don't necessarily come to regard themselves as carers, certainly not automatically. They are just looking after a member of their family who needs care. What could be more natural than that ?

But there are implications of being in this situation which become increasingly obvious, over time. They vary, of course, from case to case. It may be that changes have to be made to the carers' work pattern, even to the extent of having to give up employment completely and, consequently, live on a very small income. There may be implications for the carers' own health, or for their life-style and so on. Overwhelmingly, these are adverse changes brought about by becoming, sometimes in an involuntary way, a family carer.

The realisation that one is in a particular situation frequently leads to looking for help and support, advice and information, and so to contact with other carers. This may be through a carers' charity of some kind, which provides much of what carers need in the short term and strengthens their self-identification as one of a number of people in similar circumstances. 

Some carers may never get to this stage and continue to remain isolated. Others may remain at this stage and never develop beyond it. Some may be happy that they found the carer charities, but develop some sense of unease. After all, valuable though the service they give may be, they are not run by carers for carers. Their role is limited and circumscribed by the fact that they are charities. They obtain their funding, probably, partly from government sources. Their campaigning role is limited by virtue of the fact that they are charities.

Carer-led groups are the inevitable consequence of this reality and there are a number of them now in existence. However, my experience is that only a minority of their members are activists and also that they tend to be dominated by rather egocentric personalities. Perhaps this is inevitable, to some degree.

Those of us who want to see carer-led organisations become larger, with a more extensive activist base, and democratically controlled are up against a serious problem.

All movements are likely to find themselves dominated by some kind of elite caucus, if they allow it to happen. Political parties are notorious for this. However, it is possible to achieve more accountable forms of organisation. If carers want to develop a movement which can represent them and negotiate on their behalf, like a trade union, then they should consider democratic practice to be an essential part of what they stand for.

In the present circumstances it is inevitable that a small minority of activists will seek to represent carers to the government and its agencies, usually in competition with each other. However, in my view, that is no way to raise the awareness of carers to the reality of their situation. I suggest that that rather than dissipate our very limited energy on making representations to those who are determined not to hear us, we would be better advised to seek to contact and communicate with the large number of carers who are presently beyond our reach. Consciousness raising should surely be our priority.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

With a Labour Party like this who needs the Tories ?

That's what Gordon Brown is hoping you will think.

James Purnell, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, is the new New Labour attack dog. At a time of rising unemployment he is getting his teeth firmly into the work shy. He has blatantly stolen the Tories policy on workfare, which they, of course, had stolen from the Americans. Is there no limit to the excesses of right-wing populism ? I mean do we really give a damn if a few poor people get away with cheating the system ?

After all, the very rich do it all the time. Far more of them get away with it and on a much greater scale. I hope you sleep easy at night Purnell, as some benefit claimants lay awake worrying about how to get through the coming winter, with inflated fuel and food prices. Don't forget to submit your John Lewis order in plenty of time.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Charity as political control ?

How many charities for carers are there ? I don't just mean the large national ones, but the local ones and specialist ones too. How much funding do they receive ? How much from public sources and how much from other sources ? Does anyone know ? Obviously they are supposed to provide support for carers in their caring role, but they work within an agenda ultimately determined by government. 
The relationship between carers and government is, to a large extent, mediated by carers' charities. Supposing one day, like tomorrow, carers collectively decided that we would like to present our own unmediated views to government and we would like to have some funding to facilitate this ? Who should we ask ?

Of course, carers have their own carer-led organisations. Several of them. They are, however, dependent upon a relatively small group of activists. There is, inevitably, in carer-led groups, a great deal of emphasis placed upon the immediate alleviation of the day to day stress of caring and upon information and advice giving. Those carer groups which place a greater emphasis on campaigning, like Carer Watch, don't have the human and financial resources to do what is necessary to combat the insidious propaganda emanating from government sources. Carer charities are too inclined to keep on the good side of government to be entirely reliable.

It is my view that much work needs to be done on consciousness raising among carers. We need more carer activists and greater awareness of the issues around caring that we most need to concentrate on. This all requires resources. What independent, no strings attached, resources could we access ?

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

A journey through education 2

I joined the union, USDAW, the Labour Party and the Labour League of Youth. I attended classes run by the Workers' Educational Association and the National Council of Labour Colleges. I became involved in an organisation called the Socialist Fellowship which, among other things, opposed the Korean war, as I did myself. That's why I joined it in the first place. It seemed to me that the the entanglement of our Labour Government with American foreign policy would eventually destroy it. That , I believe, is what happened. We couldn't afford both warmongering and the Welfare State. I sold copies of Socialist Outlook, the paper of the Socialist Fellowship, at Labour Party meetings. I was alight with the flame of socialism. It burns just a little lower these days. This organisation was, it emerged, a Trotskyist entryist group which was proscribed by the Labour Party, after a while, and then disbanded itself. My brief, rather unconscious, flirtation with Trotskyism was over at the age of 15. However, whilst deploring their sectarianism, I continue to admire their consistent internationalism.
Who the hell would want to learn about being a grocer when there were much more exiting things to learn about ? 
However, the year I spent with the International Tea Company's stores was certainly a learning experience. I learnt about about obsequiousness and to know my place in the scheme of things. One day the shop's delivery van broke down and I had to get the old delivery bike out and cycle to that part of town where the driveways were long and the houses were large. Exhausted I rang the door bell of a formidable house. A person appeared and stared at me in utter disbelief. It seemed that I had transgressed in some way. 'The tradesmen's entrance', she spat, 'is around the back'. I was still a boy, but increasingly angry with it. 
I wanted to leave this demeaning job. Surprisingly my mother and father went along with my decision. Perhaps it was the stock-taking incident. Staff were required to remain behind once a year, after working hours, for several consecutive days, checking the stock. Apprentices without additional pay. On the third day, at about 10 pm, my father banged on the door, entirely without warning, and demanded my liberation. He explained , in his rough working class way, that as I was under the age of 16, it was actually illegal to keep me working for so long. The manager said that she had thought that I was enjoying myself. I sarcastically wished her  a good morning, as I walked through the door. She exacted her revenge the following day.
Unbelievably, the International Tea Company's Stores didn't want to let me go. Apparently, it was a bad precedent to allow apprenticeships to be broken, but for me it was a battle I couldn't afford to lose. If I had stayed I could have got my National Service deferred for a couple of years, but I didn't appreciate that at the time.
I got another job, working in the printing department of the urban district council next door to my own. I had no problem leaving them. They sacked me. I was collating the papers for a council meeting when the union branch secretary arrived for a chat. I got involved in a political discussion with him and made a mess of the whole thing. My next job was in an office in the East End of London, as a general lackey. It's amazing how easy it was to get a job in the early fifties. I enjoyed that job, particularly walking out of the office and just looking around the East End. Very different from south London. Then came National Service.
My view is that conscription is a form of slavery. Nobody asked us at the age of 18 if we wanted to spend the next two years of our life in the Suez Canal Zone, defending the interests of a country in which we were certainly not stakeholders. My generation had spent our early years in the Great Depression, much of our childhood in the years of bloody war and post-war austerity and now a key part of our youth was to be stolen from us.

I never cared much for the officer caste. I only ever met one that I liked and he was gently drunk for most of the time, which is probably why I liked him. He had served as a major and company commander during the war. Now, in reduced circumstances, he was a captain and regimental officer in the company in which I reluctantly served. I saw him a lot, as I worked in the office of which he was notionally in charge. He had other odd jobs. He was the treasurer of the officers mess, which greatly facilitated his predilection for a more than occasional alcoholic beverage.
More importantly for me, he also served as the battalion education officer. This bizarre fact was an indication of the importance given by the army to educational activity for conscripts. Actually the ramshackle education centre was run by a handful of sergeants in the education corps. An officer had to be seen to be in charge, even if he was pissed for most of the time. My captain friend, whom I familiarly called Sir, said to me one day that they were short on numbers on a course for the Army Certificate of Education- Third Class, so, '.... just trot along and make up the numbers, there's a good chap.' It had never occurred to me to join any group at the education centre. I thought that they were all about killing people, which has never interested me. However, orders is orders, so trot along I did and ended up with my first ever educational qualification. An achievement, however unpremeditated, but I have never ever bothered to put Army Certificate of Education-Third Class after my name. That's modesty, even if I do say so myself.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

A journey through education 1

My family were not educated folk. Good folk, but not educated. My mother, perhaps the major influence on me, was a former domestic servant. The mother of five sons, I was the fourth, I knew throughout my childhood, with absolute certainty, that she ached for a daughter. My father, a manual worker and 'ganger' on the local council, gloried in his sons.
When I first encountered the pain of school, war was already raging. It was an Anglican Elementary School, the Head, who dominated everything, was much more fundamentalist than one might have expected at such a school, He was also a Tory. I know because he told us so, incessantly. He worshipped God and Winston Churchill. Much of every school morning was taken up with his religious and political rantings. The other teachers, standing at the back of the hall, didn't dare to remind him that it was well past time for lessons to begin. His was the only lesson which required to be taught. We were 'gutter snipes' he despised us, walking along with our heads down. True Britishers would walk with their heads held high. Our parents were inferior beings. We shouldn't imagine that we were tougher than children at better schools. Not only did they have much superior intelligence than us, they could thrash us at boxing too. We should be grateful that Winston Churchill was our leader under God. Then yet another of the inescapable hymns. God was English, let there be no doubt about that.
It was a time of conflict, inside and outside of school. I fancy that wartime education for the working class was even more inferior than it had been previously. Many regular teachers were away at the war and our class rooms were dominated by some strange substitutes, their fear of us making them get their retaliation in first. We waged our own war against each other in the 'playground.' Then came the V1 and the V2. What marvellous entertainment.
I have no recollection of ever taking the 11+, although I do recall a period of evacuation with my mother and baby brother to a place, I believe, called Draycott in Derbyshire. I managed to evade all schooling during this period, a time of unhappiness among strangers. We returned to the London area after some weeks, my mother greatly preferring air raids to isolation. I can recall the Head singling me out for abuse during assembly, for 'running wild' during my period of evacuation. Why he required such a public setting to vent his spleen, rather than a quiet word in his study asking why I hadn't attended school during my period of evacuation, was, I fancy, more to do with his personal psychology than mine. For children in wartime Britain there was little understanding or caring of the trauma they were inevitably enduring. Collecting shrapnel, which was technically illegal, was our recreation.
I was at an elementary school and could remain there until leaving age, as one of my older brothers had done, or so I imagined.. No doubt some of my age peers left for better places at the age of eleven, but I have no recollection of that. Those of us deemed dull, merely continued beyond the war years. The glorious Labour victory of 1945 was greeted by cries of betrayal by the Head at his assembly orgies of self indulgence. Our parents were ingrates for not rewarding the preternatural Churchill with the election victory he had so richly earned, by winning the war for us. What scum we were, and even the redeeming virtue of being British could not alter the reality of our class. Out of this, and other things, was born my enduring attachment to socialism. Not so much a conviction as a visceral sense of knowing that I was a socialist and always would be.
Quite unexpectedly, with only 18 months of my sentence as a child still to serve, my elementary school was unnaturally transmogrified into a primary school. I and my fellow laggards were well above primary school age, so we were despatched to the nearest secondary modern for the remainder of our porridge. It was quite a short time to be at that sad apology for a school. Little of moment happened there, apart from the usual bashings in the playground, before I was cast onto the labour market at the age of 15. One teacher made a big impression on me though. A Welsh English language teacher archetypically called Mr.Evans. His passion for the language rubbed off on me a little, I think.

The Youth Employment Officer said that he would have little trouble in placing me. There was a vacancy for an errand boy with W H Smith. My father thought otherwise. He wanted all his sons to enjoy the apprenticeship he had never had, the very peak of working class aspiration. Difficult in my case, with not obvious aptitude. However, I was found a place as an apprentice grocer, with the International Tea Company's Stores, for five years. One of life's great examples of miscasting. I actually lasted for only one. 

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Shutting down

We don't see too many people these days. It's just the two of us, for most of the time. That's the way our family is, two children each from previous marriages, two of them seriously ill, none of them available for regular visits. The extended family is now the scattered family for many people. The notion of family care, lost forever for so many of us.

Depression is a normal state of being in a home where degenerative illness dominates. It is such a change from the way we were. We both used to be activists. Mature students, a teacher and an adult educator, Labour Party enthusiasts, ( who could be enthusiastic about the Labour Party these days ) and trained counsellors. Our lives were very busy and very full.

Perhaps we ought to know better how to manage this situation. We have the training, we have the skills, but it has been so overwhelming and so relatively rapid, just one thing after another until disempowerment seems to be the norm. It isn't as though we haven't fought back, we have both always been fighters, endlessly trying different ways to obtain some purchase on the situation, some degree of control over our own lives.

For me, the amazing thing has been the obduracy of 'the system'. The democratic collectivism which I have always entirely supported, the welfare caring state which Labour people so painstakingly constructed, absent when we ourselves needed it, destroyed by the betrayal of New Labour.

Of course, there is much which is subjective about all of this. Not everyone will experience the reality that we have in our situation. My partner in her sixties with early onset degenerative illness and me in my seventies with the infirmities of old age taking hold, have found that we are in a category which is seen as being beyond redemption. It is to be tolerated and managed, not reformed. We can't get 'them' to take us seriously somehow. It has been a revelation.

I guess the dawning realisation that you are no longer fun to be around, is difficult for all infirm ageing people to accept. We have tried getting out and about and still do, believe me, the struggle isn't over yet. Perhaps writing about it is , in itself, a way of exerting some small degree of control over an impossible reality. I have, it is true, been shutting down for some time now, but I'm still here you know.

Been there, done that

Not many people know that I am entitled to join the Suez Veterans' Association. Moreover, there is a campaign medal to be collected, if ever I am in the mood. I was reminded of this recently when someone contacted me seeking information about their grandfather. He turned out to be my old company sergeant major. How could I ever forget him ? 
I once had this vision of going on a peace march with old comrades from the SVA, all of us wearing our campaign medals. So I thought I'd just make an enquiry . " Keep the Flag Flying " declared my respondent from the SVA, at the end of his email. From the contents I didn't get the impression that it was the red flag he had in mind. Marching with a bunch of ex-service British nationalists certainly wasn't what I had had in mind.

I was  once standing outside Woolworths in Derry. Several indigenous, Saturday afternoon, husbands were standing alongside me. My Englishness did not prevent me from feeling at ease amongst them. Although the times were strained, I had made more friends in that city than I had ever made anywhere else I had ever lived. A British army patrol approached, two armed men on either side of the road. One of them began to aggressively interrogate the patient waiter standing beside me. The anger I felt would not, could not, have been helpfully expressed,  I just stared in an embarrassed way, but I was not noticed by the representative of the British Empire.
A man standing outside Woolworths, presumably just waiting for his partner, presumably a local man, doing nothing ostensibly harmful, being questioned by a stranger in uniform, holding a gun. What is your name, where do you live, do you enjoy being humiliated by me, am I making you angry, will you now go and join the provos, if you are not a member already ? They liked to ask people for their first name in particular, imagining that they'd divine their religion and thus their political affiliation from this information.

I don't condone everything the IRA ever did, I never could, but I have some insight into their motivation. Should I condone the occupation of the Suez Canal Zone, or Shock and Awe and the invasion and occupation of Iraq ? Terror is always wrong, whoever commits it, and however it is committed.

What the Romans, and the Normans, did for us, was to kill and terrorise a great many people. Does this justify the the British Empire ? I think not.

Imperialism is never justified. We should surely seek legitimacy in foreign affairs, as in home affairs. The international rule of law requires the development of an international system of democratic control.

Dugsie, L/Cpl retired

The delusion of empire continues

£ 3.2 bn giant carrier deals signed.
The Ministry of Defence has signed contracts worth £3.2 bn. to build the UKs biggest ever aircraft carriers.

Whilst people struggle to obtain the basic necessities of life. How very sick.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Tory councils told; 'Say no to Labour'

This lead story in today's Guardian informs us that Tory local authorities have been told by the Conservative local government spokesperson, the undesirable Eric Pickles, not to cooperate with the 'Labour' government when they don't consider it to be in the interests of their local communities to do so. Of course, the Tories are off on another of their 'small central government-local democracy' propaganda jaunts again. We all know that they, as much as Blue Labour, are responsible for reducing the control that working class people have over their own lives.
Apart from the constitutional problem, as between local and national government, this does raise a more general issue of political legitimacy. Gordon Brown was effectively elected Prime Minister by the Parliamentary Labour Party alone. Labour Party members in the country were denied a vote by the careerists of the PLP, as were all other members of the body politic. As long as he commands a majority in the Commons, Brown is, apparently, entitled to remain as head of government until the final due date for the next general election.
Of course, the present government did not have an overall majority of the electorate vote for it at the last general election. Far from it. 
The constitutional situation in this country is far from satisfactory, in my view. We need a written constitution, with a bill of rights. We also need electoral reform. I favour the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member constituencies. I also support fixed term parliaments, with a constituency procedure to recall members and a limitation on MP's term of service to ten years and a wage fixed at the national average for full-time employment.
There is also an important issue around democratic control at work. The democratic process should surely extend beyond a narrow definition of politics, to all aspects of citizens lives. We are not slaves.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Towards a carers' movement ?

Just how close to getting organised to fight back against their oppression are carers ? What degree of political awareness actually exists among them?

Perhaps I am not best placed to answer these questions myself. As a long-time political activist I am perhaps too impatient to move towards an activism which may be beyond the capacity of many carers, particularly given the day-to-day situation in which they struggle to survive.

I doubt if it is any coincidence that 24/7 carers, such as myself, whilst probably having the least spare time, are among the most conscious of the disempowerment of their situation. They experience caring in its most oppressive form.

Carers' organisations vary from the bland, but sometimes useful, charities, which serve to provide tea and sympathy, information and advice, as well as a degree of social control, which is most instrumental for government, to the carer-led organisations. These latter vary in their idiosyncrasy, but are generally not very democratically accountable to their members. They are rather, vanity groups, led by ersatz charismatic personalities, whilst being more representative of carers than charities, most of them are still in a state of infantile disorder. I jest, of course I do. How could you possibly imagine anything else ! I think that Carer Watch, so far, has come closest to a democratic ideal, but it still has some way to go, in my opinion.

I imagine a fully democratic mutual carers' movement whose leadership is elected and accountable. Yes, and dismissable. Such a movement could embrace the campaign for a Carers' Charter, the campaign for a Carers' Trade Union and the Campaign for a Carers' Wage.

Speed the day !

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

A new start is needed for Europe

This is certainly worth looking at. Thanks Mick.

A new start is needed for Europe: The European Left chart a way forward

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

A campaign against class discrimination

Campaigning against race discrimination, gender discrimination, sexuality discrimination, even age discrimination, is an accepted part of politics now, even if the progress made is limited. However, class discrimination is in a different category, somehow. We are aware of it, but it is accepted as a routine part of political conflict between Left and Right. A very unequal conflict, of course. This conflict is inevitable, but somehow the human consequences of class discrimination seem lost in this transcendental political struggle. It is like capitalism itself, seen as a natural phenomenon by most and, therefore, a routine part of life. We have, the assumption is, to achieve a fundamental change in society, before we can go much beyond ameliorating its worst effects.
Why should this be so ? Why shouldn't we campaign specifically against particular forms of class discrimination ? There are some people who seem condemned, in many cases, to low standards of living by their particular circumstances. People with disabilities of all kinds, for example. Not that they don't sometimes prosper, but the odds against them in a competitive society are frequently much greater than the norm. Can this be regarded as a form of class discrimination ? Are carers a class, or a category of the working class, and should their particular situation condemn them to economic degradation ? The low paid are an economic category and, in some circumstances, are thought to be deserving of a minimum wage, although not necessarily a living wage. They are the deserving poor, unlike the disabled and carers who, although thought to be 'wonderful' when hypocritically convenient, are somehow considered undeserving. Do we need to win a class war, the existence of which is not even noticed in passing by many people, before we can seriously confront issues of class inequality ? Perhaps by campaigning on particular class issues we can raise awareness of the general class nature of society, nationally and internationally. That may just facilitate its replacement by something better.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Saying good bye to the Labour Party, again ?

The truth is that I have left the Labour Party, which I joined in 1950, twice before. The first time was in the heady sixties, when I joined the Independent Labour Party, only to immediately find myself in the middle of a debate about whether the ILP should return to affiliation with the Labour Party. The second was just a few years ago, when I became utterly sick of what New Labour were doing to the Party. I wandered around in the wilderness for a while and then thought how futile, I can't fight the bastards from here. I had written an angry resignation letter to the General Secretary, which I posted on 'What Next for Labour ?', but I received no reply. I cancelled my DD payment. A few months later I had a letter from HQ saying that there must be a fault at my bank as my subs had stopped coming through. Despite the angry letter, nobody had noticed my leaving. That puts both the importance the Labour Party attaches to its members and my own sense of self-importance, into some perspective.
Now I am going through a green period and looking at the Green Party as a possible new home. Difficult to imagine myself among them somehow, except that the analysis of the Green Left, particularly that of Derek Wall, who paid a visit here recently, is very, very, interesting and seemingly relevant to our times. Why stay among the neo-Tories of New Labour, when I could be with decent enthusiastic, ecosocialists ? I ask myself. 

Sunday, 22 June 2008

The 24/7 carer

Caring situations vary considerably, as do the attitudes of carers and carees to the situations in which they find themselves. I am concerned here with the particular situation of the full-time carer.

I have heard many stories from 24/7 carers over the years, which I am able to relate to strongly, being one myself.

Much praise is heaped on the heads of those struggling to cope heroically with impossibly demanding situations, with little, or even no, effective support. We are wonderful, as was confirmed recently in the government's Carers' Review, which offered carers generally sweet bugger all, of any consequence.

I want to get just a little controversial about 24/7 caring. I know why we do it. However, the question of whether we should do it remains.

For me, and I speak exclusively for myself, 24/7 caring is a largely unmitigated evil, ultimately destructive of the personalities of carer and caree alike. I fully acknowledge the potential for disagreement, but I believe that somebody had to say it.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

The Campaign for a Carers' Trade Union

If you are a carer and interested in the formation of a carers' trade union, please register your interest on the Carer Watch forum on the following thread:-

Have a look around the Carer Watch site and forum at the same time. You will be very welcome to join this campaigning group run by carers for carers.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Dangerous Davis-The last libertarian

David Davis is undoubtedly, a populist Tory of the Right who feels uneasy and unloved in a Conservative Party which has rejected him, a working class lad, for a resurgent Tory Toff Tendendency, which affects a certain spurious liberalism. He appears to have an ego the size of a planet. There is, I think, something a bit odd about all of this, a contradiction which needs to be resolved. If DD is a maverick who sprung his decision to resign his seat on Cameron, without prior consultation, and then force a by-election, so that he could fight it again, in the incredible name of civil liberties, why is he standing again as an official Conservative Party candidate, rather than as an independent ? The speed with which the Tories accepted his decision and attempted to depict him as a brave individualist, a St George riding out the slay the dragon of state oppression, is deeply suspicious. And yet we are told by the media that his Party are really furious with him. That their apparent embracing of his 'cause' is a damage limitation exercise. That they are trying to turn disaster into triumph. I suspect collusion.

Now the Sun is shining on Kelvin. How seriously weird. Two shining knights of right-wing libertarianism in mortal combat. I ought to be delighted. I can't lose ! It's a long time since I've been in that situation.

Of course, I opposed 42 days myself and stand with the Labour Left dissidents. Neither DD nor Kelvin are one of us.I will watch future developments with great interest.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

        Labour MPs voting against the 42-day limit (copied from BBC news website)

  Diane Abbott

Richard Burden

Katy Clark

Harry Cohen

Frank Cook

Jeremy Corbyn

Jim Cousins

Andrew Dismore

Frank Dobson

David Drew

Paul Farrelly

Mark Fisher

Paul Flynn

Neil Gerrard

Ian Gibson

Roger Godsiff

John Grogan

Dai Havard

    Kate Hoey

Kelvin Hopkins

Glenda Jackson

Lynne Jones

Peter Kilfoyle

Andrew MacKinlay

Bob Marshall-Andrews

John McDonnell

Michael Meacher

Julie Morgan

Chris Mullin

Douglas Naysmith

Gordon Prentice

Linda Riordan

Alan Simpson

Emily Thornberry

David Winnick

Mike Wood

Silent health suffering of carers

** Silent health suffering of carers **

The health of carers is deteriorating because they do not have time to see a doctor, a survey finds. >

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Jokes are us

Carers at the heart of 21st century families and communities: a caring system on your side, a life of your own

It's a joke, right ?

Visit Parsifal

Visit Parsifal and read the dramatic saga of the garages.

The Campaign for a Carers' Trade Union

I am pleased to say that the Campaign for a Carers' Trade Union has now been established on the Carer Watch forum.

You can join this discussion in the carerwatch discussion group at

To join the carerwatch discussion group go to and click to join

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Is this the time ?

I have been arguing for some time now that we need a carers' trade union to negotiate wages and conditions of service on our behalf.

Is this the time to establish a campaign for the establishment of a carers' trade union ?

A Carers' Charter

A Carers' Charter could be the basis of a campaign to establish human rights for carers. At the centre must be the right to a reasonable life. So a recognition of the work carers do must come first. Carers are workers who need and are entitled to a wage. If they did not undertake this work, the state would have to take responsibility for it and it would cost far more. Carers also need an organisation to fight for a wage and improved conditions of service, an embryonic carers trade union.Its right to organise and negotiate on behalf of carers should be recognised by the TUC and the trade union movement generally. The above applies to all carers, regardless of their age or whether they are full-time or part-time.

If caring is to be a form of community provision, then the home must be seen as a workplace for carers, with proper conditions to meet carees situations. Carers' conditions of service should include a full medical and social assessment of their carees needs and of their own capacity to care for them. Carers who are incapacitated themselves should receive their own assessment and all necessary support.The same regulations which apply to other work places are also relevant to domestic houses in which caring takes place. All necessary equipment for therapy need to be provided. Health and safety regulations should be observed. Carers need and are entitled to annual leave, sick pay, the availability of relief workers for their own health appointments,shopping and recreation, etc. They should be fully consulted about their conditions of service and of any changes to them, before implementation.

The Carers' Charter asks for no more and no less than the same right to life which others already take for granted.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Is it time for ecosocialism ?

Globalisation dominates the planet and global warming threatens the continuation of complex life forms on earth. Should we now consider alternative forms of social organisation ? An international system based on production for use rather than for profit ? 

Join the multi-party discussion which has just been launched on Red Pepper for members of the Green Party, the Labour Party, any other party, or no party at all. Just type Red Pepper- Green Socialism into Google.

Friday, 6 June 2008

The Carers' Charter again.

If only I had Windows Explorer instead of Safari, I would probably be able to post the Carers' Charter here, but it can be read on Carer Watch now.

The Charter seems impossibilist, because it asks for something which is ostensibly not achievable, but who knows what may be achieved after a protracted period of struggle ?  More importantly, for me, it invites carers to think about themselves in a different way. Not as kindly souls who are doing the decent thing in looking after their nearest and dearest, but as people who have rights. As people, indeed, whose rights may be denied to them and who are vulnerable to exploitation. As workers who are doing a very important job in adverse circumstances. As workers, moreover, who are entitled to organise and negotiate for their rights. Not as passive objects in a situation over which they have no control, but as active change agents, able to interact with their situation. Consciousness is not static, it can be raised.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The Carers' Charter

The latest version may be viewed on Carer Watch- on the forum.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Greetings to Parsifal

Dear Parsifal

I miss your blog very much. Do please let us know what is going on.

Times are hard, there is no doubt. Gardens have to be tended, but friendship needs tending too. Some of us are thinking of you. I just thought that you might like to know that.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

On getting old

When you are only in your early seventies you can potter around, pretending to be an old person, without much risk of being challenged on your right to exist. However, when you approach the stage of being awarded a free TV licence, you should surely consider the future. Why have they assumed that you are so decrepit that you need to sit and stare at a TV screen ? Most of it is just packaging for cretinous commercial advertising. At times you wonder which is the more mind destroying, the programmes or the advertising. Even the BBC advertises itself and its wares inexhaustibly. Repeats are repeated and repeated again.

It's all very suspicious. If they ( you know, them ) consider that you are so far gone at the age of seventy five  to need this degree of drug therapy, to keep you out of harm's way, what will they think of you when you reach eighty ? Will they look at the space you are occupying and wonder if somebody younger should be there ?

Think on.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Towards a Carers' Charter 2

Thanks for the comments so far.

The proposed Charter is based on the original Chartist Movements' demands and is essentially about the human rights of a much abused section of the community. I hope that it can be kept flexible and amendable over time, as circumstances dictate.

Certainly, I think that carers who work less than a full week should be included. The principle is pay for work undertaken, as opposed to an allowance as a token gesture.

I will incorporate the additions proposed into an updated version, after others have been given a chance to contribute their ideas.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Towards a Carers' Charter

A first attempt to respond to my own question. What might a Carers' Charter look like ?

It would be the basis of a campaign to establish human rights for carers. At the centre must be the right to a reasonable life. So a recognition of the work carers do must come first. Carers are workers who need and are entitled to a wage. If they did not undertake this work, the state would have to undertake responsibility for it and it would cost far more. Carers also need an organisation to fight for a wage and improved conditions of service, an embryonic carers trade union. Their right to organise and negotiate on behalf of carers should be recognised by the TUC and the trade union movement generally.

Carers conditions of service should include a full medical assessment of their carees needs and of their own capacity to care for them. Carers who are incapacitated themselves should receive all necessary support.
( Other carers and our supporters are invited to add to this list of conditions of service. )

More Later.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Down with Brown ?

When Labour lose the Crewe and Nantwich by-election tomorrow, should Golden get the blame ?

It's not that unusual for governments to lose by-elections eleven years into office, even in what are usually considered to be safe seats.

Brown has not been a conspicuously successful Prime Minister, that is undeniable. The once reasonably social democratic Brown has become a vacuum, unlike Blair, who was always that way. Their overwhelming need to win produced a capitulation to the political Right which was always shameful and has now become pathetic. They adopted the 'free market' ideology in the name of a spurious 'third way'. They imagined that their triangulation to attract ' middle-class ' voters would be a permanent achievement, but they misunderstood both the nature of the international economy and the depth of commitment that many people still have to the idea of a welfare state. Could the more populist and charismatic Blair have won tomorrow ? Possibly.

Given that this is a safe Labour seat at general elections, Blair may just have held it. You won't really be able to blame Golden, unless the loss is massive. In which case, it will be seen as a judgement on his short premiership.

We may then be tempted to join in the baying for Brown's removal. This is a temptation which socialists and social democrats in the Labour Party should resist. I'm not fond of Brown, although I probably dislike him a little less than Blair. However, this is surely a matter of politics, not of personalities alone, no matter to what extent those personalities themselves personify a particular kind of politics. New Labour is the enemy.It is the marketisation agenda, the privatisation of our public goods, the betrayal of the working class, in its fullest sense, including all disempowered people, my fellow carers, the sick and disabled and the elderly poor. The involvement in American imperialist wars, with their vast loss of lives and the maiming of innocents. This is the betrayal.

I don't imagine that the good people of Crewe and Nantwich will have all of these considerations in mind when they reject Labour tomorrow, although they may have some of them. They will see Blairite and Brownite New Labour alike as having been an egregious failure. If the Labour Party is to be revived as a major political force in this country, it may possibly do so by a reconstruction of the New Labour Project under a new name and a new leader. That seems to me to be unlikely, but I wouldn't want to be a part of that in the slightest way, in any circumstances. If we can't remake the Labour Party as a decent, sincere and authentic social democratic force, then we will need to try to forge a new kind of politics, based on a new alliance between socialists and radical greens and other genuine progressives. 

A green-red politics ?

Everybody is a green these days, riding the wrong way down one-way streets on their Cameroonian bicycles. Blue-green why not, it's a lovely shade of politics. Hypocrisy may come in many colours.

But is there a deeper connection between environmentalism and politics ? Perhaps we should take a closer look at the Green Party. Its middle-class image does not immediately appeal to old socialists like me. Take an even closer look and you will spot a section of the Party which calls itself the Green Left. It has an analysis which connects capitalism to environmental pollution. An analysis which makes deep sense to those of us who have been opposing the neoliberalism beloved by the three major parties. The drive towards profit maximisation, the domination of international finance capital, and the sheer greed of the mega-rich places our earth in great danger. For the foreseeable future, its the only place we have to live . The earth will survive. The danger is that in time it will become an unfit place for human beings and other complex life forms.

I remain a member of the Labour Party, for the moment, but I have been taking a hard look at the Green Left for some time now.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The not so hidden persuaders

Is liberal democracy really that democratic ? Is the divide between politics and economics really that wide ? We are surrounded by commercial advertising exhorting us to buy. Under New Labour advertising techniques, developed by commercial advertising, has become the medium through which political communication is conducted. Buy our politics, they are the best the market can offer. An increasingly unconvincing claim for the Labour Party these days.

The 'free market' system is not so free when your ears and eyes are filled with insistent demands to buy this and that. After a while, it begins to smack of totalitarianism. The same advert. is repeated over and over again. And when the depressingly frequent commercial breaks come around, the volume of the TV is raised. This is not information giving, but rather an attempt at brain washing. The insidious underlying meta-communication is that the consumer society is the good society. Vote retail therapy. It really isn't necessary for you to think for yourself, we'll do it for you, at a price. 

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Why won't the political Left love carers ?

All carers vary, in both the nature of their caring role and their attitude to it. To keep things simple, let us take a 24/7 carer like me. Not that I am that typical, as an OAP I have a pension to live on, which is much better than the pittance younger carers have.

The 24/7 carer is not the heroic proletarian of socialist mythology, by and large. Struggling to cope against overwhelming odds, with little and decreasing support, they are even demonised by some as social security scroungers. Many of them, in my experience, are sadly lacking in political awareness, or even in awareness of the reality of their own situation. The most aware of them, like those in Care Watch, would like to do something about their blatant, but unrecognised exploitation. However, given the constraints of their situation and their lack of resources, they are in need of some help.

So what is more natural than for them than to turn to those historic defenders of the exploited, the political Left. However, for some reason, with a few very honourable exceptions, we are not loved by the Left. We cannot be the vanguard of the revolution, we don't have the time or the energy. Remember that the working class do not consist exclusively of industrial workers, unionised and ready for action. Less so now in the UK than previously. It consists of all the exploited. Carers need a trade union too, to defend their interests and negotiate on their behalf, precisely because they are workers too. They need a wage and decent conditions of service too.

New Labour are about to launch a new attack on carers, the elderly and the disabled. Will the MPs associated with Compass and the Labour Representation Committee defend us ? Will the wider Left support us at last ?

A socialist kind of social democracy

No doubt the factions of New Labour will attempt some kind of ideological reconstruction of The Project, hopefully in opposition to each other, prior to the general election. That is all the much proclaimed death of New labour will mean. New Labour is dead, long live New Labour.

It actually has to be defeated, along with all those other political forces who exploit the working class for their own gain. For those of us who remain in the Labour Party, for various reasons, the defeat of neoliberalism remains our ongoing task. The struggle, as always, will take place at various levels, organisational as well as ideological. It seems to me that, most immediately, the struggle over ideas is salient. The probability is that the reconstruction of New Labour will involve a revival of the notion of social democracy, in order to differentiate the Labour Party from the Tories, for narrow electoral reasons.

The struggle for ideas is an inherent part of political struggle. It is not about reaching an agreement on the meaning of terms for the sake of clarity. It is about defeating a political project which seeks to misuse the historic labour movement to defeat the material interests of those who labour.

We choose to use the term 'social democracy' to oppose neoliberalism. All political terminology has a history. It would be difficult to find a political label which has changed its meaning over time as much as 'social democracy'. It was originally associated with the Left, it came to be associated with an evolutionary approach to socialism, with gradualism, with 'moderation' and then with a new form of political reaction, the Gang of Four, the Owenites, and then the awful neo-cons in the USA and New Labour.

Historically, it undoubtedly belongs to the Left. We reclaim it as our own. It expresses precisely our opposition to that extreme form of market capitalism, neoliberalism, which has become dominant in recent times. In opposition to this we stand for a social democracy in which the useful members of society run their own affairs in a democratic way.

The struggle to make the Labour Party an authentic social democratic party is under way. The Blairites and Brownites are not, in any authentic sense, social democrats and they should never be allowed to get away with describing themselves as such, without being challenged.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

The demise of New Labour ?

Compass Chair Neal Lawson declares the death of New Labour. That was a couple of days ago. So why are they still there and still in government ? Come on Neal explain yourself.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

A Carers' Charter ?

Campaigning for carers' rights in this society is not easy, Carers are usually seen as a mixture of the deserving and the undeserving poor. Of course, carers and caring situations do vary somewhat. The apparatus of state and charity organisations is there to organise, contain and control the situation. Carers are nourished, advised, scolded, encouraged, discouraged, placated and told how wonderful they are in their dedicated incarceration. They are serious charity cases. They deserve their pathetic allowances. Well, the deserving ones do. The others are well........

What they are not is employees recognised as authentic workers, doing an essential job which the state would have to pay for if they were not there to do it. It's true that their exploitation is partly of their own making. These are decent people who can't just walk away from the often desperate needs of their much loved carees. Is their inherent decency a good reason to exploit them ?

Carers organisations, like Carer Watch, are there to demand and campaign for the rights of carers. They are indeed authentic workers. Just like other workers they need a trade union to represent their interests. Unfortunately, the official trade union movement seems very reluctant to recognise their status. There has to be a reason for that. They need a wage based on the work they do. Let's have an end to the farce of allowances. The terms and conditions of employment of carers should be freely negotiated in a formal collective bargaining situation, just like other workers.

Our society owes much to the brave sacrifices of the historic Chartist Movement who fought so hard to establish many of the democratic rights we all enjoy today. The pathetic creeps of New Labour, of course, no longer value the struggles on which our movement was built. Is it now time to establish a charter of rights for carers ? A basis on which the carers' movement, divided and weak as it is, can come together and campaign for the recognition and rights which carers so richly deserve ?

At this stage, I just ask the question.