Scunthorpe scaffolders + civil service ballot + Stuart delivery

Posted on: January 17th, 2022 by Charlie No Comments
12 strikers with red Unite union flags

Actavo workers have stood firm

Scaffolding workers at British Steel’s Scunthorpe plant have voted overwhelmingly to pursue their indefinite strike over poor pay.

The 62 workers in the Unite union are employed by contractor Actavo and struck for 12 weeks last year, calling for the company to abide by national agreements covering the construction industry.

The workers are currently between 10 and 15 percent below NAECI agreement rates.

Strikes continue from Wednesday 26 January following an 83 percent vote in favour in a reballot.

Joe Rollin Unite organiser said, “Actavo must realise that if they don’t settle this dispute they are going to face not only industrial action but an escalation in leverage-style tactics.” There is a day of action at Actavo sites on Monday 24 January including a demonstration at the site.


Civil service workers set for a national ballot over pay 

The PCS union is demanding a 10 percent pay rise for all civil service workers when the government departments set their next pay rates in April.

And it is asking its members whether they’d be prepared to strike if bosses won’t cough up.

The union released details of its pay claim on Friday of last week. Alongside a 10 percent increase, it also demands a minimum living wage of £15 an hour, at least 35 days holiday a year, and a significant reduction in working hours without loss in pay.

PCS is also set to run a consultative ballot on industrial action—which could then lead to a legal strike ballot. 

The ballot is set to begin on Monday 14 February and run until Monday 21 March.

  • Workers at the British Council are set to vote on whether to strike over job cuts.

Bosses want a reorganisation that could slash as many as 20 percent of jobs.

Members of the PCS union already voted by 80 percent to strike in a consultative ballot last year.

The legal strike ballot is close on Friday 25 February.


Pressure on Stuart delivery bosses 

Delivery workers have continued strikes in several locations across Britain this week with delivery company Stuart still refusing to budge on plans to cut workers’ pay. 

Strikes began in December after Stuart, which delivers for Just Eat, cut its base delivery pay by 25 percent to just £3.40 per delivery. 

Action, which began in Sheffield also spread to Sunderland and Chesterfield. 

Workers, who are members of the IWGB union, have already had one victory. Stuart announced it would pay workers for waiting times of over 15 minutes—one of the strikers’ core demands. 

Pictures of piled up McDonald’s orders in Sheffield showed that the strikes are having an impact. 

Strikes can win the pay rise that delivery riders deserve but they must will be most effective if they escalate and spread.

Eastbourne bin workers keep up battle for pay justice

Posted on: January 17th, 2022 by Charlie No Comments
Six strikers with hi-vis jackets on a picket line

Picketing has made the strike effective

Pickets remain strong and in good spirits as the Eastbourne bins strike entered its third week and saw the fifth day of strikes. 

Supporters, including a delegation from Eastbourne Labour Party, lobbied council buildings on Monday in support while talks were underway. 

Twenty refuse truck drivers are striking and were joined on the picket line by supporters including the loaders who are presently balloting to join the strike.

The council has offered 7 percent for drivers—well below the £13.50 an hour the GMB union is asking for. 

And it offered a mere 3 percent to loaders. This would not be enough to match the minimum wage when it is increased in April. 

The Liberal Democrat council has been spreading misinformation about the strike and has described its offer as “generous”. 

But the strike has every prospect of winning especially if pickets continue to stop the refuse trucks from leaving the depot and loaders join the strike. 

One striker, Peter, said,  “We are the start of a wider revolt of the low paid, especially refuse workers. If we give encouragement to refuse workers across Sussex and as far as Liverpool to follow our example so much the better.”

  • Donate to the strike fund by sending funds to GMB Brighton Branch, sort code; 60-83-01, account number 42004718
  • Watch a video of the strikers’ case at bit.ly/EastbourneSW

Strikes coming in Waltham Forest?

Refuse workers, cleansers and parks workers went to Walthamstow town hall last week to tell the Labour-led council that they are ready to fight over pay, sick pay and the use of zero-hours contracts.

Unite and GMB union members are preparing for a fightback.

The workers are outsourced to Urbaser, a multi-billion pound corporation.

Unite’s Willie Howard said, “There is no reason for these workers to be cast aside and forgotten, without them, society cannot function. 

“Let all parties concerned be put on notice—things need to change and they need to change fast.

“Workers are determined to follow other environment workers in London and across Britain in standing up for better.”

Delivering a fightback at Sheerness docks

Posted on: January 17th, 2022 by Charlie No Comments
Eight strikers with fists raised and banner from Medway Trades Council

Strikers supported by the trades council

Unite union members at Sheerness docks in Kent held their second strike day on Thursday of last week.

The action is in response to GB Southern Terminals imposing fire and rehire to cut 17 out of 27 jobs and worsening conditions of those remaining. The workers prepare VW cars coming off ships from Europe ready for distribution to car dealers. 

GB Southern Terminals won the contract from VW by making a cheap bid. Now they want to make the workers pay for its profiteering. 

Under the plans overtime premiums will be slashed to the basic rate and banked hours introduced. That would mean that Saturday working will not be counted as overtime. 

Also skilled pay rates will only be paid for the hours workers are actually carrying out the skilled elements of the job.

The strike is solid and car transporter drivers are refusing to cross picket lines. 

The workers are striking every Thursday through January but they planning to escalate to five days a week in February and March. 

GB Southern Terminals can probably cope with delays caused by one day a week strikes. 

But storage is likely to become a serious problem with five-day strikes so escalation is the right way to go to win.

If GB Terminals’ contract with VW is not renewed, employees would transfer to a new employer with terms and conditions protected.

 

State collusion rife in Derry Loyalist murder gang

Posted on: January 17th, 2022 by Simonb No Comments
a mural in belfast

Anti-collusion mural in Belfast Picture: Wikimedia commons

Relatives of the victims of the Greysteel and Castlerock massacres in Northern Ireland are planning to sue the cops over claims one of the convicted ­gunmen in the attack—Torrens Knight—was a Special Branch agent.

A damning report by Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson looked at 19 murders by a terror gang in the ­north west of Northern Ireland between 1989 and 1993. It lends further weight to the claim that the killer was an informant. The report, released last week, is ­damning over a number of cases.

At least four men murdered by Loyalists were not told their details had been found in Loyalist intelligence files, the report has revealed. And in several cases, security force members suspected of links to Loyalists were dismissed or transferred instead of being investigated.

Police destroyed files on informants who were suspected of having been involved in crime up to and including murder. Victims’ group Relatives for Justice said the report provided ­“irrefutable evidence of collusion”.

“We stand vindicated in our ­persistent claims of collusion in particular by the RUC and UDR in the murders of our loved ones.”

One case is of Gerard Casey, who was shot dead as he slept beside his wife and baby daughter at their home near Rasharkin, County Antrim, in April 1989.

One of two weapons used to kill him was a Czech-made VZ-58 assault rifle. The weapon was also used during the Rising Sun pub massacre which claimed the lives of eight people at Greysteel in Co Derry on Halloween night 1993. It was also used in the murder of four building workers in Castlerock the same year.

The assault rifle is one of hundreds smuggled into the Northern Ireland with the help and direction of British intelligence.

The report revealed that a serving member of the UDR provided information to the Loyalist gang that killed Gerard Casey.

The British soldier’s role gave access to intelligence documents and the person attended RUC District Action Committee meetings “where sensitive information was discussed”.

Anderson also revealed that ­intelligence linking the soldier to the Casey killing was not shared by Special Branch with the investigation cops. It was passed to the army who ­discharged him.


Philip Green still cashing in millions

Philip Green and his family are poised to receive up to £2.5 million more in payouts from their former Topshop retail empire on top of £50 million paid out last year.

The Greens, who owned Arcadia Group until it fell into administration in 2020, are in line for the payment based on an £11 million loan secured by their Aldsworth Equity group against a former Topshop store in Norwich.

The collapse of the group resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs as 162 sites closed down. It also left the pension scheme £500 million in deficit. The Norwich loan arrangement, which is buried in administrators’ documents, prioritises the Greens’ debt above most other creditors.

The payout comes on top of the repayment of a £50 million loan issued by Aldsworth against Topshop’s Daventry warehouse which was settled in May after the building was sold by administrators.

Arcadia Group had a pension deficit of £510 million when it collapsed.

Trustees of the scheme have so far received £185 million from the sale of Arcadia assets. This is part of £210 million in secured funds agreed under a 2019 deal between the pensions regulator and the Green family.

The family benefited from a £1.2 billion dividend from Arcadia in 2005, as well as more than £300 million in interest payments on loans and rents on properties that they owned.

They put in just £100 million of extra funding into the group’s pension fund under the deal.


The Labour Party is asking its own staff to accept a pay cut as it deals with the loss of more than £3 million to falling membership and reduced trade union support. Labour staff were briefed on the state of the finances at a meeting last week with senior party figures. They were offered a 2 percent pay uplift for next year—a real-terms cut. They specified that an estimated £1.6 million had been lost from union contributions and £1.5 million from members’ fees in the last year.


Here’s a clever way to end the pandemic. The US federal government has said it will no longer require hospitals to report the number of people who die from Covid-19 every day. Hospitals will still notify state authorities, who are supposed to then feed into a national total. But several states have already moved to stop reporting on testing and cases.


Could Andrew have nuked the Falklands?

New documents show that British warships deployed to the Falkland Islands in 1982 were armed with dozens of nuclear depth charges. Andrew, formerly prince, served on HMS Invincible, which carried 12 nuclear weapons.

The revelation is contained in a new file released to the National Archives and analysed by Declassified UK. Marked “Top Secret Atomic”, it shows that the presence of the nuclear weapons caused panic among officials in London when they realised the damage, both physical and political, they could have caused.

A Ministry of Defence (MoD) minute, dated 6 April 1982, referred to “huge concern” that some of the “nuclear depth bombs” could be “lost or damaged and the fact become public”. The minute added, “The international repercussions of such an incident
could be very damaging”.


Fast track Tory PPE contracts broke law

The High Court has ruled that it was unlawful for the government to use a VIP fast lane for suppliers of Covid personal protective equipment (PPE) with connections to ministers and officials.

A ruling said the system was “in breach of the obligation of equal treatment”, adding, “The illegality is marked by this judgment.”

At the height of the first wave of coronavirus, a number of bids to supply PPE such as gowns, masks and gloves were passed on to officials by ministers including then health secretary Matt Hancock after they were approached directly by contacts.

Campaigners from the Good Law Project and EveryDoctor took legal action over more than £340 million in contracts awarded to pest control firm PestFix and a contract worth around £252 million to the hedge fund Ayanda Capital. They argued that suppliers including PestFix and Ayanda were prioritised “because of who they knew, not what they could deliver”.


Things they say

‘Operation Save Big Dog’

The name Boris Johnson has given to the plan to sack civil servants to cover his tracks

‘My loyal labrador’

How Johnson refers to Martin Reynolds the civil servant who sent the BYOB invite to one of the many Downing Street parties. He may not be a big enough dog to save

‘Overeacting’

Johnson’s response when civil servants said they shouldn’t have a party during lockdown

‘The reason for the laminated picture was if those bears weren’t put back in the right order by the maids, he would shout and scream.’

Andrew who used to be a prince had 50 to 60 stuffed bears on his bed that had to be kept in the same place according to royal protection cop Paul Page

‘People may mis-remember a lot of things, but they don’t mis-remember sexual abuse by a prince’

Virginia Giuffre’ lawyer David Boies on Andrew’s claim she has false memories of abuse by him

Tories in trouble ramp up racism to split opposition

Posted on: January 17th, 2022 by Sophie No Comments
A picture of Priti Patel

Patel and the Tories are ramping up attacks on refugees (Number 10)

Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel are escalating their attacks on refugees as the Nationality and Borders bill nears its passage through parliament.
 
Johnson will use racism to try to divert attention from his rule-breaking. 
 
Part of Johnson’s “Operation Red Meat” to try to regain popularity is expected to give the Royal Navy ­“primacy” over government vessels in the Channel. 
 
The army and navy would be able to deploy ships, boats and surveillance equipment to support Border Force officers.
 
“Pushback” tactics” could also be deployed, including the use of boats or jet skis to stop and redirect boats to France.
 
Channel Rescue, a human rights group, warned last week that the  Border Force may have already begun implementing the Home Office’s lethal plans to push asylum seekers back across the Channel.
 
It said the government was ­rushing to implement the plans before the judicial reviews into the policy can stop it. The number of people crossing the Channel has risen. But this is because other options to reach Britain, such as boarding lorries, are not available.
 
A record 28,300 refugees crossed last year. So far 581 have made the life-threatening crossing this January—more than double last year.
This all points to a growing crisis of people forced to flee their homes and needing to claim asylum. 
 
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi waded into the debate to say Patel’s borders bill will provide “a much better way of dealing with illegal migration”. 
 
He claims, “There are legal routes for migration”.
 
And the Tories are relentlessly pointing to people smugglers as the people who put lives at risk.
 
But it’s deadly border tactics that have already led to many Channel deaths, including a Sudanese man who died last Friday.
 
The French authorities said they found the man unconscious in the Channel after he fell overboard from a boat trying to reach Britain.
And as the failed refugee evacuation from Afghanistan has shown, there are no operating ­“official” routes into Britain.
 
It’s not just crossings that the Tories are making difficult. Child refugees are being forced to share rooms and beds with adults they do not know as hundreds are wrongly placed in over-18s accommodation.
 
Unaccompanied refugees who say they are children are ignored and forced to share rooms for weeks and months. 
 
This leads them to contemplate suicide or running away. One Ethiopian girl, aged 16, was repeatedly raped on her way to Britain and packed in a mixed‑­gender hotel with adult men on her arrival. Home Office staff judged her to be 23.
 
Since September 2020, 421 cases of “doubted minors” in hotels have been reported by charity Care4Calais.

Patel claims adults “blatantly abuse” the asylum system by lying about their ages. The Tories are the blatant abusers of human rights.


Citizenship stripped under new rules

The Home Office wants to send more people back to dangerous countries they have fled from.
 
Refugees from countries hit hard by war and conflict, such as Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria, are being told to return and having their asylum claims rejected.
 
A 36 year old from Yemen and a 21 year-old from Afghanistan have had their asylum claims thrown out on the basis they are not at risk in their home countries.
 
This follows a 25 year old Syrian being forced to return after seeking asylum in May 2020. 
 
He had fled forced conscription into Bashar al‑Assad’s army in 2017.
 
He says if he returns, he will be targeted as a draft evader, arrested, detained, and killed.
 
The Home Office then sent a letter to the man’s lawyers retracting its decision and granting asylum.
 
The refugee from Yemen was refused a claim in June 2021 because officials “do not accept there are problems in Yemen”.
 
The accountant, who is married with two children, has physical and mental health problems. The letter claims there is “a substantial public health programme in Yemen”.
 
In reality, parts of Yemen do not have any functioning health infrastructure. And the Afghan man who arrived aged 16 after fleeing conscription by the Taliban has had his refugee status removed because of a cannabis related conviction.
 
The Home Office has also been forced to reinstate the citizenship of a British man who was left stateless for nearly five years.
 
Since his removal the man has had a daughter, who the Home Office is refusing to accept as a British citizen.
 
Under the Tories’ new borders bill, citizenship can be stripped without notice or reasoning.

Join the anti-racist fight 

Anti-racists across Britain are preparing for events called by Stand Up To Racism (SUTR). On Saturday 5 February, the TUC union federation and SUTR are holding a trade union conference. 
 
Workers will discuss how to organise workplace resistance to the attacks on refugees, institutional racism and the top down divide and rule of workers.
 
The conference will be in the lead up to SUTR’s protests to mark UN-anti-racism day.
 
Demonstrations on 19 March in London and Glasgow, and 20 March in Cardiff, will see thousands of people take to the streets for the first time since the pandemic began.
 
Anti-racists will march in a show of defiance under the slogan, World Against Racism and Fascism. The international day of action will also see protests take place across Europe, and many other parts of the world.
 
Building for these events is crucial to show the anti-racist movement is back on the streets. A mass movement is needed to challenge the racism spewed from Boris Johnson’s government.
 

You Have Not Yet Been Defeated by Alaa Abd el-Fattah book review — writing that’s dangerous to those in power

Posted on: January 17th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
Alaa Abd el-Fattah, author of You Have Not Yet Been Defeated

Alaa Abd el-Fattah, author of You Have Not Yet Been Defeated

You Have Not Been Defeated is a hard read. Author Alaa Abd El-Fattah is still suffering, imprisoned for years along with a generation of Egyptian activists. There are now about 60,000 held in Egypt’s prisons. They know the Arab Spring of 2011 was defeated and are anxious that revolutions to come could face the same fate.

Alaa, an activist years before 2011, built up a huge following on social media and was a major spokesperson for the left as the Egyptian revolution erupted. 

He reported from the revolutionary days in Tahrir Square in January 2011 to Mohammed Morsi’s victory in free presidential elections in 2012 to the military coup in July 2013. Shortly afterwards, he was arrested by Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s new counter-revolutionary regime in November of that year. 

The book is a running biography, from 2011 to 2021, of a man of immense bravery and integrity. He gives his thoughts on what went wrong with the revolution and what needs to happen for there to be a future. It is also an insight into what happens to such a man in prison as the years go by.  

The first piece from July 2011 is about the constitutional crisis. Alaa and others launched a movement to involve people across the country in writing a new, democratic constitution. This is because he worries the elites have “already agreed that the people’s role ends at the ballot box”. 

Western-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak had been forced to step down on 11 February. Millions of ordinary people had taken to the streets, occupied the main square in the capital Cairo while workers in key industries struck. The military, and other forces, hoped to divert the revolutionary energy into “safe” parliamentary channels. 

Another 2011 piece, a report on the massacre at Maspero, beautifully illustrates how solidarity can overcome sectarianism. Maspero was a mainly Coptic Christian sit-in, a protest against the sectarian burning of two churches. It was attacked, soldiers shot live ammunition and ran over protestors, leaving 26 dead and 350 people injured. 

Alaa, with other secular and Muslim activists, secured proper autopsies for the dead by protecting the forensics team. He captures the power of such action. “First we were responsible for securing our demonstrations, then we were responsible for securing public facilities,” he writes. “The forensics team began its work on our protection watched by our doctors and our lawyers and our unknown soldiers. 

“Vultures can’t pick at a united front…We had no weapons to face down their rage but our embraces and the tears of mourning managed to drive out the fallacy of a militaristic sectarian reality with the truth of the dream of a free Egypt. The forensic doctor caught the bug and was transformed from a bureaucrat into a guardian of justice.” 

Alaa returns from addressing a Silicon Valley audience to go in front of the military prosecutor for his actions at Maspero. He and his sister are heading a growing campaign against the military penal system being used to oppress demonstrations and workers’ actions that are going on across Egypt. The next entry is written from prison.

On his release in December 2011, his first words to the masses gathered outside are, “We have to bring down military rule. This revolution will have succeeded when General Hamdy Badeen is in cuffs in the courtroom and a cylinder of cooking gas costs five pounds.” 

The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, was elected in the country’s first free presidential election some 16 months after the revolution began. He had mass support among Egypt’s poor, but only wants to bring in limited changes. 

Alaa’s Facebook posts and al-Sharouk’ newspaper articles mock the Brotherhood. But there is no sense, in this selection from 2012-2013, that Alaa is part of a movement. 

By June 2013, anger was growing against Morsi, who had turned to austerity and authoritarian measures, including against workers’ organisation. On 26 June, days before mass protests erupted, Alaa wrote, “The only solution is a revolutionary escalation that takes the issue to a different stage and different methods. But there is no time to prepare. Occupying institutions, for example, would have been useful.” 

The 30 June protests are enormous. The army had hoped in vain the Brotherhood could contain the revolution, so now it cynically sided with the protests against Morsi in a bid to regain control. On 3 July el-Sisi took charge in a coup. 

In a series of short posts, Alaa sounds confused and his attack on the Muslim Brotherhood is published on Facebook on 30 August. “The Brotherhood used state violence to target workers strikes, suppress social protests with unprecedented brutality and caused unprecedented levels of death by torture in police stations. Around 5000 were detained between January and April most of them were tortured.”

On 14 August, there was a massacre. The army brutally assaulted the pro-Morsi sit-ins at Rabaa and El-Nahda squares, killing over 900 people. Whatever criticism Alaa has of the Muslim Brotherhood is buried in a passionate call for solidarity. He writes, “Sisi is a murderer and Rabaa is one of the most terrible massacres in our history.” 

As other state murders follow, he attacked those in power. Then, along with many activists, Alaa is arrested again.

He recognised the revolution was defeated. But it takes time to realise the arrests are not just about left wingers like himself, nor about the Islamists. The repression is not a temporary response to put down the revolution. It is a tool to be used more generally and permanently to suppress opposition, to stop change.

Each time Alaa had a chance, like when he was released for his father’s funeral, he spoke against the regime. From inside Torah Prison he continually analyses and questions what happened and why, theorising different scenarios. He has to cope with hope and despair, and communicates these complexities with poetry, metaphor and honesty. 

A number of extracts reflect Alaa’s continual legal battle for his case and his rights while imprisoned. He writes how those of his class and status get better treatment than others. Islamists get the worst. Some will never be allowed visits. He explains how bureaucracy and paranoia work to dehumanise prisoners, leading to lack of medical treatment and numbers of deaths. 

In March 2019 he was released, to another five year sentence of “probation”. He describes this as torture, having to be complicit in his own repression, “choosing” to return to the police station every night. He emerges into a world where surveillance and control are deepening everywhere.

In an essay with the same title as the book, he addresses those of us living in liberal democracies where we still have the freedom to act. 

A small anti-corruption protest, the first in years, took place in 2019. Thousands of other activists were swept up, accused of terrorism. Alaa was re-arrested on 29 September from inside Doqqi police station, after six months of “probation”. 

Quite a few essays show more “pessimism of the intellect” and less “optimism of the will”.  But suddenly hope bursts through in July 2020, in an essay on the pandemic. The prisoners are certain “that the judge’s son and prison warder’s mother aren’t safe unless the prisoners are safe”.  They launched the Egyptian Captives Forum initiative. 

In 2021 Alaa heard that in Sheikh Jarrar in the West Bank Palestinians called on Gaza for help. Again, he allows himself some optimism. He visited Gaza in 2011, hoping that the revolts in Egypt and the Middle East would help bring Palestinian liberation. 

Fittingly the book ends with an impassioned essay on Palestine. His activism had its roots in the Palestinians’ Second Intifada, the rebellion against Israel in the early 2000s. And he now asks, “As a captive do I have the right to dream of a road to Cairo that passes through Gaza?”

Alaa says he is in prison for his actions not his words, but it is both. He writes, “That movements need a captivating vision of the world they are fighting for, and not only rage at the system they are desperate to overthrow… 

“Our rosy dreams will probably not come to pass. But if we leave ourselves to our nightmares we’ll be killed by fear before the Floods arrive.” 

This kind of writing is dangerous to those who don’t want the world to change. Alaa Adb el-Fattah has stayed true to the revolution.


You Have Not Yet Been Defeated by Alaa Abd el-Fattah. £12.99 Available from Bookmarks—the socialist bookshop

Miriam Scharf is a socialist and active in the MENA Solidarity Network 

Black Ivy — how black men subverted the style of the white rich

Posted on: January 17th, 2022 by Nick No Comments
Two young black men in mix Ivy League style clothing with workwear

Two young men in Los Angeles, in 1967, a year after the Watts Rebellion riots, mix Ivy League clothing with workwear (Picture: Bill Ray/The Life picture collection/Shutterstock

In the mid 20th century the world’s preeminent superpower became the engine for culture, and an art form US blacks had championed for two decades—jazz.

At the same time the US was convulsed by agitation for Civil Rights and anti-war protest. This art book matches that upswell of protest with the changing way that US blacks clothed and carried themselves.

Garments sold by East coast outfitters, Brook Brothers, were the epitome of sartorial distinction and handsome understatement. Its clientele were men of wealth and political office, moneyed college undergrads, boardroom execs and golf club associates.

US blacks weren’t simply copying the trappings of acceptability. This wasn’t an inferiority complex let loose. It was a paradox. These clothes and styles of dress were adopted and adapted with added intent.

It was a wardrobe that demanded respect. No longer could you sneer “boy” at its adult wearer but instead address its snappily clad owner as “man”.

A particular favourite among many great images here is the unforced simplicity of Billy Taylor. Relaxed and cross legged by his piano, it is hipness distilled.

Taylor is pictured in a narrow leg light blue suit and striped tie. He was “all geek god like and cool, looking every bit the jazz intellectual that he was”. His most famous composition “I Wish I Knew” (How It Would Feel to Be Free) could be regarded as the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.

It was said that jazz maverick Thelonious Monk had a hat for every tune. Undoubtedly, a Monk performance was as unorthodox as his head dress. But few would match this Monk aesthetic called “cool”.

His performance in Bert Stern’s 1959 film, Jazz on a Summer’s Day cemented that legacy.

Jazz musicians Benny Golson, Sonny Rollson and Thelonious Monk in classic Ivy League suits

Jazz musicians Benny Golson, Sonny Rollson and Thelonious Monk in classic Ivy League suits

Black Power leader Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture is pictured on an outdoor makeshift stage. He dons a trench coat and sports jacket with one hand sunk into his pocket. From his body language you just know this dude has serious issues to impart and demands, you listen up!

There was an underlying shabby chic-ness to the apparently uncoordinated dress sense of playwright Leroi Jones.

The awkward combinations of knitwear, tab-collared shirt and bashed-up corduroy pants was more like the unspoken uniform of librarian or geography teacher. His play, Dutchman, was written when mixed marriages were illegal and setting eyes on a white woman could get you lynched in the South.

It opens with a white woman eye-balling a black man on an empty New York subway. In the back and forth sexual tension, she challenges his tilt at assimilation, “Three button suit! What right do you have to be wearing a three-button suit? Your grandfather was a slave, he didn’t go to Harvard.”

In the movies Sidney Poitier was Black Ivy personified. In lead roles, To Sir with Love, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night Poitier got to represent the new, ­professional black male.

He also showcased the wardrobe that accompanied it—blazers, slacks, shiny sharp pointed shoes. The book is an ambitious attempt to make sense of the shifting way the black American male was seen, and in turn saw themselves. It’s done with ­diligence and craft.

But it would be remiss not to note that Brooks Brothers has questions to answer about its past.

Documents have surfaced that purport to show that the business grew wealthy on the back of black plantation slavery. Critics have noted the company’s attempts to recover payments owed from its Southern “work employers”—a by-word for slave owners.

In 1853, Brooks Brothers was among a group of businesses that published “The Tailor’s Appeal”—a petition over outstanding bills from Southern merchants.


Black Ivy—A Revolt in Style. By Jason Jules and Graham Marsh. Reel Art Press.

KPMG—auditor’s Carillion cover-up is part of ‘endemic’ problem

Posted on: January 17th, 2022 by Isabel No Comments
A Carillion contractors sign to illustrate story about KPMG

Auditors should reveal the truth behind a company’s finances—KPMG did the opposite (Pic: Elliot Brown/Flickr)

When Carillion, the giant ­construction and facilities management company, crashed into bankruptcy four years ago it sent a shockwave through the British economy.

The firm that was building hospitals and schools for the government under Public-Private Partnership schemes had employed 40,000 people. And it was one of the ­highest valued companies on the London stock exchange.

But following its collapse many jobs were lost and half-finished ­buildings littered the landscape.

Now, shocking details of the way accounting firm KPMG staff deliberately falsified documents to give the ailing Carillion a financial clean bill of health have emerged.

KPMG, one of the biggest financial auditors, was supposed to ensure Carillion’s accounts were accurate and that it kept within financial laws.

Instead its staff forged ­spreadsheets, minutes of meetings and other vital documents to hide their own flawed practices.

Professor of accounting Stewart Smyth says Carillion was a disaster waiting to happen.

“Finance capital was given a free hand by the changing of accounting rules over a 30-year period,” he told Socialist Worker.

“This allowed Carillion to value its assets on the basis of expected future earnings, rather than what they were actually worth at the time.”

Having artificially inflated the value of their assets, Carillion bosses were able to take out ever bigger loans, said Smyth.

“There was an explosion of debt, and that enabled huge ­shareholder dividends,” he explained. “But there was going to be trouble if the expected returns on those assets didn’t materialise.”

That is exactly what happened. Carillion is shown to have made total profits of £669 million between 2012 and 2016—and it then paid out £371 million to shareholders.

But in reality, the firm only generated £166.4 million in cash from its normal operating activities. Smyth points out shareholders got more than twice the amount of cash the firm made.

And he says the “big four” ­accountancy firms, including KPMG, helped them do it. “The audits they conduct are supposed to show when a firm is taking too many risks,” Smyth said. “But in reality, they only tell you that the accountants expect the firm to survive for at least the next 12 months.

“The idea that KPMG’s failings at Carillion are the result of ‘rogue accountants’ is not sustainable. We are not talking about 1 or 2 percent of audits that fail, but more likely ­somewhere between 15 and 30 ­percent are flawed.”

Accountancy professor Prem Sikka recently noted that 39 percent of the audits delivered by KPMG were reported as deficient, and that its competitors recorded similar figures.

“The problem is endemic,” says Smyth. And it is built into the accountancy sector.

“Audits are used as a ‘loss leader’ for the big accountancy firms,” he explains. “They use them to get a foot in the door and then try to sell tax avoidance plans, management ­consultancies, outsourcing and so on.”

That creates a conflict of interest that means audits often miss chances to warn us when corporations are near to collapse. And, says Smyth, in all likelihood there will be more major unheralded bankruptcies in the future.


Reforms aren’t enough to fix the dangerous practices of auditors

As Financial Reporting Council (FRC) hearings into KPMG continue, the accountancy bosses have done their best to distance themselves from former colleagues.

They insist there is “no systemic problem”—despite the firm having been fined £27 million in Britain in the past three years alone.

Instead, they talk of individuals that tried to cover their own mistakes without the firm’s knowledge.

KPMG’s chief executive Jon Holt said it was clear that “misconduct has occurred and that our regulator was misled.”

“It is unacceptable, we do not tolerate or condone it in any way, and I am very sorry that it occurred in our firm,” he added. 

But the FRC has already announced separate investigations into KMPG’s auditing. It would do well to ask how Carillion managed so many “clean” audits—including in the year it went bust. 

The firm collapsed with a staggering £7 billion in liabilities—debts—and just £29 million in cash.

No wonder Carillion’s liquidators are preparing a £250 million negligence claim against KPMG.

“There’s no doubt that some heads will roll,” said Smyth. “But KPMG bosses and the regulator will try to tell us that this solves the problem—saying, ‘nothing more to see here’.

“But the establishment—including some politicians and sections of big business—recognise there is a danger in these practices. There are bills and acts of parliament that attempt to re-impose some regulation of the sector. There is even talk of ‘restructuring’ the big four accountancy firms—PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG.

“But this is all too little, and far too late. There needs to be a national audit service that is completely independent of the profit motive, and which has no connection to the firms it looks into.”

Unsurprisingly, no one in the accountancy industry is prepared to sign up to that.


The real price of the failure of Carillion

Carillion was Britain’s second largest construction firm and the largest supplier of services to the public sector.

The company oversaw hospitals, schools and prisons, and had part of the contract to build HS2.

Under governments from Tony Blair to Theresa May it profited by reaching long term deals set to suck in public money for generations to come.

The name of this money syphoning scheme became infamous—the Private Finance Initiative, better known as PFI. Construction firms were encouraged to bid to build big infrastructure, and then lease it back to the state for between 20 and 30 years.

PFI kept the debt off the government’s balance sheet. But this meant public funds would constantly stream into private hands in the form of mortgage-like payments.

These exaggerated costs were meant to be compensation for the “risk” the big firms were taking with their capital. After Carillion went under, our money was used to help pay its debts. The risk, it seemed, had been transferred back to us.

The bills for finishing the construction of half-built hospitals, including the £335 million Royal Liverpool University and the £350 million Midland Metropolitan, also landed on us.

The final tally on both ran to around £1 billion each.