The internet is a curious and contradictory thing. A sign of the times in France is a useful website called lesgreves.com (strikes.com), which gives a detailed and long list of strikes taking place each day around the country. The main sponsor on last week’s home page was Opel. Opel is the German subsidiary of the giant General Motors car firm. Hopefully the firm will feature in a different way in a round-up of strike reports later this month when workers across Europe join a day of action against GM.
Oil giant BP is embroiled in accusations of price fixing in the US after it was forced to make the contents of 4,000 internal emails public. BP has been fighting US regulators for two years over charges that it has manipulated the market after it took over its US rival Arco. Two emails dating from 1995 reveal how BP intended to use its stake in supplying oil to the West Coast of the US to restrict supplies and jack up prices.
Two company managers-Robert Aicher and Linda Adamany-talk of ‘shorting the West Coast market’ to achieve ‘West Coast price uplift scenarios’. That’s management babble for price fixing. BP has been trying to present an ‘ethical’ image in recent months. The revelations are doubly embarrassing because oil company profits are now at their highest level for 15 years.
BP also has a place in the New Labour government. Lord Simon, the ex-chair of BP, is now the Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe.
Schools are threatening to exclude pupils whose parents cannot afford to buy uniforms, says a new report from the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux.
A single parent in south London had to keep her son out of school because his trousers were the ‘wrong colour’. A Kent single parent was told her child could not start secondary school because she could not afford the uniform.
Uniforms cost up to £274 but the average grant for the few pupils who qualify for local authority assistance is only £49. One school in West Sussex brought in new uniforms to mark the millennium. That left one mother having to buy three new uniforms without the possibility of secondhand outfits from older children.
Key equipment in the London Underground is so antiquated that officials have had to approach a museum for a spare part. Staff at the Earl’s Court control room had to retrieve the part for a computer used to monitor trains from the London Transport Museum. The machine was bought in 1979 after the New York Metro had written it off as obsolete.
The Daily Telegraph described the BBC’s new drama series based on Irish history, Rebel Heart, as ‘more suitable for a Republican prisoners’ fundraising cabaret than it is for taxpayer-funded broadcasting’. It was upset that writer Ronan Bennet showed the brutality of British rule in Ireland.
The same Telegraph ran a story last week which showed that the British suppression of the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916 was even more barbaric than the depiction in Rebel Heart. Documents kept secret for 85 years revealed that a senior government official said, ‘No hesitation was to be shown in dealing with these rebels and they were not to be made prisoners.’
He told the prime minister that ‘nothing but harm could come of any public inquiry’. British troops executed 15 leaders in secret court martials which had no legal standing.
Churches are putting profit before the health of their parishioners. Mobile phone masts are springing up across Britain and churches are offering telecom companies prime sites to place them. Fears are growing about possible health hazards from the phone mast emissions as the government and telecom companies have not done any serious research into their effects.
There are over 100 campaigns against the siting of mobile phone masts. One of them is by residents near to St Margaret’s Church in Altrincham, near Manchester. Solicitor Leon Swerling describes himself as ‘the most unlikely eco-warrior’ but is part of the campaign.
He says, ‘I can see that the church wants money but there is uncertainty about the risk of emissions. No one can say what the future effects might be.’ The archbishops’ council of the Church of England is encouraging churches to site the masts.
They seem to be aware of public objections. The mobile phone mast on Guildford Cathedral is hidden inside the angel on the roof.
The government is deporting nurses who are doing a vital job-keeping hospitals running. Criselda Dizon came to Britain in 1999 on a two-year contract after NHS managers recruited her from the Philippines. They were happy with her performance and wrote a letter to her in April last year promising to renew her contract.
She then injured her back at work but continued working until August, when she was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. The trust is no longer renewing her work permit and the Home Office is trying to deport her despite the shortage of nurses.
‘Blair IS the new Thatcher. He is running an enlightened government. Thatcher ran an enlightened government.’
ROBERT BOURNE, property developer, Labour donor and prospective purchaser of the Dome
‘We have slain the dragon, but we now live in a jungle full of snakes.’
FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE CIA on the problems since the collapse of the USSR
‘What’s the point point of having five new law and order bills in the Queen’s Speech if they put off activists and I can’t get five party members to attend my general committee?’
UNNAMED LABOUR MP
‘I can’t stand salmon. I’m glad I’ll never need to look at it again.’
IRENE McCOLM, salmon worker who won the lottery last week
‘It is relevant that the people who read Burke’s know who I am because when our party conquers a majority in Scotland it will have a major impact on their lives.’
TOMMY SHERIDAN, SSP member of the Scottish Parliament, on appearing in the publication Burke’s Landed Gentry, the bible of the aristocracy
‘It’s time someone did for health what McDonald’s has done for food. Should we have to provide everyone with social security? Is a fast food outlet required to feed everyone who turns up at the till?’
RICHARD RAINWATER of the Columbia-HCA insurance multinational which runs several private hospitals in London
‘I just went. I didn’t have a game plan. I just thought it would be an interesting opportunity to broaden my horizons. About halfway through my senior year somebody asked, ‘What are you going to do?’ I said, ‘I dunno’.’
GEORGE W BUSH, on attending Harvard Business School
The US defence department announced last week that a satellite positioning device had been found in an Afghan cave. They said the equipment was lost in Somalia in 1993. The discovery, they proclaimed, was concrete evidence at last that Bin Laden's Al Qaida network was behind the deaths of 18 US soldiers in the disastrous raid on Mogadishu.