MSB officers statement on Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games bid

The members of Momentum South Birmingham voted unanimously on the 8th October to oppose Birmingham’s 2022 Commonwealth Games bid and actively campaign both within and outside of the Labour Party against it.

At a time when the city is suffering from eye-watering Tory austerity and many essential services are being outsourced and cut to the bone, the notion that we can spend something in the region of £180 million on what is little more than a vanity project is to MSB’s members, and will also to the people of Birmingham, seem extraordinary.

Sadly our Labour council has done very little over the last seven years to challenge both the narrative and reality of austerity and the impression that the effort expended on the bid rather than doing that leaves is that our city party’s leadership is increasingly out of touch with reality and has a skewed sense of priorities. Elite sport, however enjoyable, is not something that actually benefits most people.

There is little evidence that these projects fund real regeneration. Impressive-sounding numbers are plucked out of the sky about how much extra revenue they will generate for the city or region they are held in but it is never clear who that money will end up going to. Someone will almost certainly be making an awful lot from the Games but it won’t be working class people in Birmingham.

There is no evidence that sporting events of this sort increase participation across the board, which is surely the responsibility of the Council to prioritise. In fact after London 2012 the opposite appears to have been the case.

We’ve also seen time and again how projects of this sort are used to justify social cleansing and gentrification.

It is not difficult to imagine money being sucked out of other pots to fund costs as things develop, as was the case with the new Birmingham Library, which has ended up being an unsustainable white elephant. That was a vanity project of the previous Tory-led council and there is a grave danger of Birmingham Labour repeating the folly.

There are surely far better ways of spending £180 million and we urge Birmingham City Council to pull back from this error – if they choose not to do so we are happy to lead or participate in any campaign to persuade them to.

In solidarity

MSB.

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Birmingham Labour’s chickens come home to roost

I’ve written a series of pieces over the last few weeks detailing numerous irregularities in selection meetings across the city for the 2018 local elections.

Matters came to a head on Wednesday the 19th September, just before Labour Party Conference, when several members of the party’s National Executive Committee personally intervened, following what I have been told were over 50 complaints (at least two of which involved demonstrable dishonesty), to seek the suspension of all selection meetings across the city pending a review of the process and to allow outstanding panel applications and appeals to be addressed.

(I’m given to understand that much of the concern centres around the Harborne and Handsworth selection meetings – readers will be aware that I have covered the rollercoaster ride in Harborne ward in some detail.)

Furthermore, the planned Birmingham Board AGM and ordinary meeting on Friday September the 22nd was called off.

The AGM itself was called off also at the insistence of the NEC, although it is still unclear whether they instructed the whole meeting be cancelled entirely. Having such an important meeting of the Board when so many members were likely to be away for Conference was wholly inappropriate in any case.

The AGM, which hasn’t been held for years (despite the clue being in the name regarding frequency), was called at 6 days notice despite the rules making it clear that 28 were required for such an important event in the Birmingham Labour calendar.

There were also several attempted changes to the composition of the Board that have come to light in the week leading up to the meeting, which were, shall we say, interesting, and appear designed to ensure certain outcomes in certain votes (and will warrant further investigation by someone with the time…..) The most important of these was thankfully blocked.

And of course, all of this is set against the backdrop of the continued turmoil in the Labour-controlled city council, with the Group leadership election last week (that ordinary Birmingham party members had no say in at all, depressingly, despite clearly being the best judge of these things).

So all in all it wasn’t a terrific few days for the Labour Party hierarchy across our fair city and region.

In this context the seriousness of the National Executive Committee’s intervention cannot be exaggerated. For the NEC to get involved and suspend the selection process in the largest metropolitan council in the country, and just before Conference, represents an absolutely devastating vote of no confidence in the functioning of the local party apparatus.

I am told that several very senior individuals locally were in an absolute state of panic following the move – one feels that after a couple of decades of being allowed to act with complete impunity they suddenly realise that the repeated stitch-ups, irregularities and manoeuvrings are catching up with them. Not before time.

For many party members locally the NEC’s move is a welcome one and the vindication of a longstanding and at times demoralising campaign to democratize the city and regional parties. It is no more than a start, but nevertheless hugely significant.

It is clear to any objective observer of Birmingham Labour party politics that there is a serious problem, that the sheer scale and diversity of the irregularities across the city in the last couple of months suggests it is a huge, systemic problem, and given the sovereign power of the NEC within the party’s structures it probably required NEC intervention to try and address that systemic problem.

All that said, the decision does itself potentially pose a few problems. There has been some commentary on social media suggesting that the timing is disastrous and it could really hurt the party locally in May 2018, with candidates potentially not being in position for some time. There have been numerous delays already and selections were meant to begin a year ago.

I would argue however that doing nothing, and allowing this farce to proceed, would have been far more damaging. An attempt to clean this up was always going to be messy, whenever it began (and in many areas of the country selection meetings have barely started anyway).

The reality is that the West Midlands and Birmingham Labour Parties are rotten from top to bottom. There is no democracy and members have virtually no say. The Birmingham Board, on paper the ‘Local Campaign Forum’ which according to the rules is supposed to control candidate selection, in reality simply rubber-stamps decisions made by paid (or formerly paid) officials and senior MPs elsewhere.

Board meetings are months apart and no reports are provided to members unless huge pressure is applied. Minutes are impossible to get hold of and those that are produced are ludicrously brief.

For example, at the Board meeting that was due to be held on the 22nd, the minutes were to be handed out at the meeting and not circulated by email beforehand!

Many local members are still entirely unaware of the Board’s existence and in the last year the composition mysteriously has shifted before meetings where crucial votes may have been lost by the Regional Office.

That until recently four (now three with the lifting in Hall Green) of the ten Birmingham CLPs are in ‘Special Measures’, some for over 20 years and with seemingly no plan in the remaining three to lift them out, was and is used to justify the most Kafkaesque regime imaginable in the whole city.

The lack of democracy has real-world effects. There is no way that a Birmingham Labour Party more responsive to members would have treated the refuse workers so disgracefully.

A more democratic, member-led party would not have produced such a meek response to savage Tory-imposed austerity.

And a West Midlands Regional Office with any life and vibrancy in it at all would not have run such a spectacularly inept, and at times repugnant, mayoral campaign (if I wanted to give out leaflets with the Cross of St. George on the front I’d have joined the National Front).

Because of this we have a Tory regional mayor in a region that should comfortably have returned the Labour candidate. A more democratic regional party would have actually provided us with a choice of candidates and allow most members to participate in that selection – thus providing us with a final candidate who we could actually get behind rather than ending up campaigning, half-heartedly, for a candidate most of us (whether on the right or left) didn’t want, in an election the people of the region didn’t want in the first place.

The hollowed-out West Midlands party structures are what you are left with after decades of only sporadically interrupted and disrupted Labour First and right-wing control. The effects have been a disaster and unless and until things are cleaned up we will face repeat after repeat of the Sion Simon campaign.

Returning to Birmingham, Momentum members and sympathisers in the North and South of the city, along with members of all wings who just want a democratic, vibrant party, voted and campaigned for a more just and democratic freeze date for members to participate in selection meetings. Members were expected to have joined over two years ago to participate in meetings this year. The “freeze date” was set literally at the month when all the new members started joining to support the first Corbyn leadership campaign – July 2015. It was so blatant it was almost embarrassing.

The national rule is 6 months.

All the protests and resolutions were ignored; when it finally came to the Board for consideration (which in itself took Herculean efforts I understand) it was voted down by what I have also been told was an unconstitutional secret ballot.

It took a personal intervention by Jeremy Corbyn at an NEC sub-committee meeting to shift the freeze date to about a year. Far from perfect, but the fact that the party leader felt it necessary to intervene himself to protect members’ rights, over the head of the local party leadership, showed that something was seriously awry, and that the intelligent individuals in the West Midlands Regional Office would surely know that they were now on notice.

The recent developments would suggest that if there was a debate in the WMRO, however, it was won by the “carry on stitching-everything-up and bludgeoning through regardless” brigade.

The attempt to ram the AGM on the 22nd through at such short notice, the tin ears around the freeze date and the unending, clumsy, cack-handed attempts to manipulate the 2018 selections suggests a local party bureaucracy used to doing what it wants with impunity and incapable of reflecting on the mood shift in the party across the region and the country.

Members with any involvement in trying to assert and extend party democracy locally, in however small a way, will know the stock response they have always received from the machine: sullen, ignorant, po-faced, dishonest, indifferent and unbending intransigence every step of the way. No room for compromise. No meeting anyone half way or ever giving any ground on anything. Every setback, however minor, for the WMRO met with another attempt to force through what they wanted by another, invariably even less democratic route. Witness all the selection meetings held in August after they “lost” the freeze date battle.

The selection process in Birmingham has become the site of a civil war that the West Midlands Regional Office started. This mess is owned by them.

MW

Moseley and Kings Heath Labour Party come out in support of the bin workers

Members of Moseley and Kings Heath Labour Party ward had a liveley meeting on Thursday 14th, with the main item being the ongoing bin-workers strike. 

Lisa Trickett, one of our councillors, is the cabinet member responsible for handling this affair and so a number of us thought it was particularly important that we address the issue. An emergency motion was put in and accepted, with a quite basic position agreed in communication with Unite- that the council should honour the agreement reached at ACAS, as this retained the Grade 3 positions

A Unite member in the branch proposed the motion, focussing in particular on the dead-end that austerity represents for the Labour Party. We have seen in both France and Greece the process of virtual or complete destruction of social-democratic parties that have stuck to austerity and Labour both locally and nationally needs to avoid that fate. 

A lively discussion of the motion followed, at first in Trickett’s absence as she had not arrived at the meeting. When Trickett arrived and it was proposed from the floor that she should be given 10 minutes to address the issues which was agreed, although this was not unanimous. Some wondered why a member who arrived half way though the consideration of a motion should be given extra time. However Trickett was given the time, which she used effectively to argue that as the council had already regraded a lot of women workers and reduced their pay that there was no way she was going to allow ‘a group of men’ to avoid the same fate. Here, what was being argued for was equality of misery – all workers should be treated equally badly by the council. 

Members for the most part rejected this argument. The point was made that as the public wanted their bins collected and the public supported retaining the Grade 3 posts on the grounds of safety, the council should respond to this and retain those posts. The example of Bristol, which had an 8000 strong demonstration against austerity initiated by a Labour Mayor was a far better model of how to move forward than Birmingham’s sorry tale. 

When it came to a vote, the result was 22 for supporting a deal retaining grade 3 positions, 11 against and abstentions. A collection was then taken raising over £100 for the strikers. A number of us thought that this was the best meeting that we’d had in a long time and we will continue to do whatever we can to support the bin workers.

Bin it for the long haul 

For those of you following the bin dispute closely the email below may be very interesting. It would appear to be an attempt to get other council workers to do the refuse workers jobs for them while the strike continues.It would also seem to suggest that the council leadership is a) planning for the long haul on this one and no resolution is in sight and b) that the arguments about the planned changes to pay, terms and conditions being about efficiency and saving money are looking increasingly hollow if a plan as expensive as this is being contemplated.

 

******

 

This is an important update to the managers’ bulletin you received earlier today, which is attached below:

 

Please note that the £8.30 rate quoted for ‘loader’ is the bottom of GR2 grade but that this will be enhanced to £8.45 an hour under our commitment to the Living Wage. This rate took effect from 1 April 2017 and is reviewed annually.

 

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Managers’ Bulletin 320: Casual evening and weekend working opportunities for staff – supporting the collection of waste from the city’s streets

 

As all managers are no doubt aware, the council is in the process of addressing a dispute within Waste Management. To fulfil our duty to collect the city’s waste, and to minimise the adverse effects of the disruption on our citizens, we are looking for support from colleagues across the council who may be able to help collect waste during evenings and /or at weekends.

Please make sure you bring these opportunities – which are for existing council staff to undertake casual additional work in Waste Management – to the attention of all staff.  

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Why you’re getting this information

The support required is to collect waste from 5pm to 9pm Monday to Friday and from 6am to 3pm Saturday and Sunday, in addition to the work staff would normally perform as part of their existing role. Managers are expected to support any team member/s who express an interest in the opportunities – and release them for appropriate training, subject to the needs of your service.    

Staff are sought for the following roles:

Driver: £10.29 per hour  

• To be a driver, supported by a team of casual loaders, a Category B driving licence is needed to drive caged tippers to collect waste from allocated rounds. Applicants who don’t already drive for the council will need to attend an Occupational Health appointment and take a driver assessment.

Loader: £8.30 per hour

• Loaders will join a team of casual staff to collect waste from allocated rounds

Both roles will need staff to operate from any of our four depots across the city (Montague Street, Lifford Lane, Redfern and Perry Barr). Where possible, we’ll try to ensure any depot preference expressed is met.

Staff who are successful in being selected for any of these roles will need to complete a training course before being asked to undertake any work. The course will cover all relevant operational matters and health and safety. Staff will need to be released from their current role to undertake this training. (Dates to be confirmed.)

Payment for work will be made the following month. For example, work undertaken in September will be paid in October. Managers in Waste Management will keep appropriate records to ensure that payment is received.

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What you need to do next

If you, or any of your team members, are interested in one of these roles:

• Please download and complete the Waste Management expression of interest form, which should be returned to WasteRecruitment@birmingham.gov.uk by 5pm on 14 September 2017.

• In the first instance, you should discuss interest with your own manager to ensure that anyone who is interested can be released for the training. It’s also important to check that any effect on current duties is minimised.

Staff will be advised on the outcome of their Expression of Interest and the next steps by 19 September 2017.

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Additional information

• While the council is grateful for the support that staff may wish to offer, this may not be taken up if interest in the additional work is greater than the number of roles needed.

• The council reserves the right to undertake a selection process that would involve an interview and consideration of the availability of candidates in determining who may undertake this work.

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Further information  

If you have any queries, you can contact ************

Monyhull and Druids Heath selection 

The attempts to manipulate the selection process in Birmingham for the 2018 local elections show no sign of abating.

Earlier in the year a plan was agreed by the Birmingham Board, in consultation with the NEC, for a significant number of wards and seats to have All Women Shortlists (AWS) in order to boost the number of women candidates and councillors, and to concurrently accelerate the outstanding and new applications of women members for the panel.

There have been persistent rumours of certain prominent (and always right-wing) individuals in the local party wanting to water the commitment for gender balance down in order to get their preferred candidates selected, and it is clear that the commitment to accelerate the applications of women applicants has not been kept. At the time of writing I’m aware of at least 5 women awaiting a decision, only one of whom has even been interviewed.

And in recent days a further development. A quick scan on the newly updated election section of the Birmingham Labour Party website reveals this juicy tidbit:

 


This seemingly innocuous piece of information marks an interesting and very significant shift. Druids Heath was up until very recently an AWS.

So why the change? Rumour has it that the West Midlands Regional Office (who have been coming up in these articles a fair bit haven’t they………) have decided to remove the AWS for a certain male individual’s benefit.

And on what authority did the change get made? The rules of the Birmingham Board state that the power over selections sits with the Birmingham Board, a body that hasn’t met since July and whose latest meeting, which was meant to be on the 8th September, was not for the first time, postponed until the 22nd. Who is calling the shots in between the rarer-than-hen’s-teeth Board meetings?

One wonders if the NEC will be happy with everything that is going on under their noses in the city……….

 

MW

The Birmingham Bin Strike continues

Refuse collectors in Birmingham have been forced into continuing industrial action following a treacherous u-turn by council leader John Clancy and his cabinet. Although the strike was originally called due to the council’s decision to sack over 100 grade 3 refuse workers, it was suspended after a deal was brokered between the council and Unite the Union, with John Clancy receiving high praise for his involvement.

Birmingham Binstagram

A fortnight later there is a different story. “Deal or no deal? There was no deal,” is what John Clancy sniggered as he spoke to the press. You would think that 100 job losses isn’t a laughing matter, but it’s easy to laugh when it’s not your job being cut. Howard Beckett, Unite the Union (Assistant General Secretary), stated that John Clancy has “declared war on the union,” accusing the council of committing “industrial sabotage.”


A South Birmingham Momentum member joined the picket line on Friday morning, speaking to one of the workers who had been sent a notice of redundancy. She heard the feeling of betrayal the workers felt about this u-turn from the council: “If I lose my job, I lose my house. Then what? Labour are supposed to be the party of the working class”. Those affected, who earn a maximum £23,000, must now choose between giving up their jobs or accepting a £5,000 pay cut. Birmingham City Council have already begun advertising jobs on the council website for Refuse Loaders in various depots across the city. These jobs are said to come with proper employment benefits such as holiday and sick pay, but this Labour Council has already been employing agency staff on zero hours contracts with no employment rights.


Many Labour Party members are rightly furious. “John (Clancy) owes his lucrative political career to the Labour Party,” said one disgruntled member. “He is selling the working-class down the river. He doesn’t represent me whatsoever. He doesn’t represent what the Labour Party stands for at all.”

ACAS have now officially confirmed that an agreement had been made on 15th August 2017 between BCC and Unite, and Unite have begun legal action to sue the council for breach of contract. It is not certain what the Council’s next move will be in this dispute but what is definite is John Clancy’s position as leader is increasing untenable. “Nobody will be losing their job” now almost sounds a desperate plea to hang onto his own position.

South Birmingham Momentum takes this opportunity to send messages of solidarity to the workers. We offer our 100% support in this battle to keep every single job, and in doing so, keeping our streets clean and our public safe. We have reported earlier on in the strike how unpleasant the job of a refuse worker can be, and have always been in full support of the earlier industrial action, taken partly because of the threats to grade-3 employment in the Waste Disposal Department of Birmingham City Council.

The curious case of the postponed selection meetings

The difficulty with reporting on the selection process in Birmingham Labour for the 2018 local elections is that in different areas democracy is being sidestepped in different ways.

  • So, in some wards meetings are forced through in August.
  • In some wards candidates are “accidentally” not informed about the meeting.
  • Certain applicants with empty activity diaries find it oddly easy to get approved for the panel.
  • Other applicants with far fuller activity diaries find it nigh on impossible to get a response to an email, let alone an interview for the panel.

We now have a new technique to add to the list – postpone the meeting.

The Balsall Heath and Sparkbrook selection meetings were due to be held on the 4th and 5th September but I’ve heard from several reliable sources that these meetings have been called off (with no new date agreed so far) at the insistence of the West Midlands Regional Office, who had in turn been urged to act by one of the candidates, currently a sitting councillor, who was not available on those dates. Those more familiar with the local minutiae can probably work out who that candidate is but suffice it to say they are known for having a bit of a volcanic temper.

There is something deeply problematic about a selection meeting being called off because one of the candidates decides they can’t make a given date outside of the traditional Summer holiday period, particularly when that candidate is a sitting councillor. It smacks of an abuse of incumbency.

There is also the small matter of the setting of a selection meeting being the decision of a CLP, not the Regional Office. Hall Green CLP, many of you may know, has recently come out of ‘Special Measures’ which means that it should, in theory, be able to make its own decisions about its own business.

But it would appear that certain individuals want to carry as if the lifting of ‘Special Measures’ never happened and the venerable tradition of Regional Office manipulation of selections in the area continues apace (both wards are considered rock solid Labour, you won’t be surprised to hear).

I’ve argued on these pages previously for delaying some of the selection meetings. But in Balsall Heath and Sparkbrook there is a real danger that if the delays continue then the candidates will be imposed – with the impositions being of individuals that would not have a prayer in an open, democratic selection meeting.

This is the fourth piece I’ve written in less than 3 weeks about these issues – I have a nasty feeling that there will be a lot more to come over the next few weeks. There is a serious problem becoming apparent and it is city-wide.

 

MW