Thursday, 27 March 2014

Teachers action was in the spirit of Bob Crow

The action of the teachers going on strike came at a timely moment, just two days after the funeral of RMT leader Bob Crow. He would have approved.

The teachers were protesting about pay, work overload and having their retirement age extended to 68 and rising. Bob Crow argued consistently for shorter working weeks, better pay and conditions for his members. All of these demands are eminently achievable in a society that is run for the common good of all its people rather than for the benefits of a few bankers and their mates.

Our society is incredibly skewed in favour of an elite that live on the backs of everyone else.

- Why in a country that has 1.5 million young people under 24 without jobs is the retirement age being extended?
-Why in a country of 88 billionaires are more than 500,000 people going to foodbanks?
-Why are efforts not being made to collect in the £42 billion estimated by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to be the cost of unpaid tax?
-Why is there such a focus on the relatively small amount of money lost through benefit fraud, while the big welfare cheats, like the low wage paying companies, rack renting landlords and non-tax paying multinational companies continue with business as usual?

If our society were ordered more along the lines suggested by Mr Crow and the teaching unions then things would be fairer all round. There would be work for all at decent wages with fewer hours being worked by more people. The rich might get a little poorer but the rest of us would have a much better quality of life. 

* Wanstead and Woodford Guardian - 31/3/2014
Ilford Recorder

Sunday, 23 March 2014

People unite to give voice to multicultural Britain at Stand up against racism and fascism march

The diverse face of multicultural Britain was evident among the 10,000 people who marched from Parliament Square to a rally in Trafalgar Square yesterday in protest against racism and fascism.
The Stand up to racism and fascism event to mark UN anti-racism day was organised by the TUC and Unite Against Fascism.
The drums beat out as the march began from in front of Parliament, winding its way up Whitehall, past Downing Street and onto Trafalgar Square. “We are here today to tell Mr Cameron that we are all in this together, no matter what race, religion or gender ..and he’d better take notice,” said Katie Dunning, from the Communication Workers Union.
There were groups from across the spectrum represented: the unions, Roma and Irish Travellers, trades councils, faith groups, miscarriage of justice and death in police custody campaigns and domestic worker defence bodies.
Among the speakers were Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn, Pax Christi vice president Bruce Kent, Farooq Farad from Muslim Council of Britain and Gloria Mills from Unison.
George the poet gave a powerful message of resistance, whilst in the square devout Muslims mixed with the odd Sherlock Holmes impersonator – deer stalker and pipe in hand.
The overall message was one of solidarity against the racist ferment in the media, with repeated attacks on the promotion of the anti-migrant message of UKIP leader Nigel Farage and his fellow travellers of the far right.
The Stand up to racism and fascism protest saw the often ignored majority coming out for a more diverse and inclusive country than that often portrayed in the mass media or in the nearby House of Commons.
At the rally, Labour MP Diane Abbott attacked the political debate on immigration, with its constant scape goating of minorities.
She claimed that it is not immigrants that cause low wages but bad employers. Diane also challenged the attacks on immigrants for using up health service resources. “Without immigrants there would not be an NHS,” said Diane. “It is time to stand up against racism and fascism. It is time to let the Mail and the rest of the tabloid press know that they don’t speak for us. There is an election coming and we can’t allow the scapegoating of migrants.”
Gloria Mills of Unison claimed that Britain is becoming more unequal as a result of the application of the austerity agenda, with black and ethnic minorities being hardest hit.
She called for an end to the toxic debate on immigration. “Migrant workers are being exploited, we must mobilise,” said Gloria.  
Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn questioned what sort of society there would be in Britain without immigration over the past 70 years. “If there hadn’t been migration into Britain since World War II, what kind of education, health, transport system and industries  would there be, what sort of society would we have,” said Jeremy, who claimed the society would be poorer and less diverse without immigration.
Veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent, the vice president of Pax Christi, described UKIP as an example of “the worst of British political life.”
He claimed the party had fed on that same arrogant spirit that made Britain a nuclear power. “It’s a we’re British and don’t want other people here attitude,” said Bruce, who recalled when he had his prostate operation, how he had an Egyptian doctor and African nurse. “It is possible to live together in peace and harmony on this planet.”
The co-ordinator of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ) Rosie Bairwal claimed that UKIP don’t promote good community relations and are opposed to multiculturalism. “They don’t appreciate the contribution that migrants make to our country. Their damaging narrative is often about demonization rather than promoting good community relations,” said Rosie, who stressed how important it is that faith communities show support for action like the demonstration.“It is important that faith communities show their support for this demonstration and a strong determination to challenge all forms of racism and discrimination.”
CARJ are concerned about the negative narrative there is around migrants, which it claims is based on fear. “This demonstration is important because it is about the positive contribution that migrants make to our society,” said Rosie, who also criticised the lack of political leadership on the issue. The political debate has been reduced to which party can cut immigration by the largest amount, no party is making out the argument for the positive value of immigration.
Rosie suggested that had Britain not been the recipient of EU migrants from the Eastern European accession countries since 2004 the economic position would be a lot worse now. The positive economic impact of migrants coming to the UK, where they often to not use the public services which their taxes have paid to provide is rarely mentioned.
A study by University College London that looked at the fiscal impact of the migration of recent eastern European migration found that migrants contributed 37% more in taxes than the cost of the public services they consumed.
A research report for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that from 2011 the estimated the value to the UK economy of international students at over £14 billion per year.
Colin Bell, a CWU member, stressed how important it was for people to stand up for multiculturalism. “It is important to show that we the majority are united. I do not believe in belittling anyone – we all breath the same air,” said Colin.
Linda Roy, national equalities officer at the CWU, saw the demo as a time when people came out to say “no to racism and the far right.”
Linda felt the 10,000 on the march were reflective of feelings throughout the country, something that does not come across in the mass media. “There are very diverse people here, look at the banners. We are saying we are here and are going to be here for the duration. We want to stamp out racism and fascism,” said Linda. “We don’t accept the far right and their views, we are here fighting all the way for equality.”

Friday, 14 March 2014

Tony Benn remembered

3/4/1925 to 14/3/2014

Tony Benn was a great champion of working people. Loved seemingly universally, it troubled him in later life that he could be well regarded by the Sunday Telegraph. “If I’m a national treasure in the Sunday Telegraph, something’s gone wrong,” he said in the last diaries.
Tony was first and foremost a democrat, with a real belief in the potential of education and the human spirit.
It was democracy that he felt really frightened the ruling class. He was right because if there ever was a population that was truly educated and informed those who continue to profit to the cost of everyone else could no longer prosper.
Many of Tony Benn’s socialist ideas like workers councils and taking public control of much of industry are as relevant today as they were many years ago when he first raised them. He never trusted the nuclear industry, recalling how they had lied to him when a minister about an accident that happened at a power station in the 1950s.
Tony was also an opponent of the European Union, as presently constructed. He objected to the transfer of powers from sovereign states, the lack of accountability and the fact that it was basically run by bankers. In his opposition to Europe he found many allies on the Tory right, not least the late Alan Clark. The rationale for opposition was different but both were united in the ultimate goal.
Tony’s  life was a journey that took him from the centre to the left of politics. In the 1950s he was very much the spin doctor in chief for then Labour leader Hugh Gaitskill. He began to move left in the 1960s and 1970s when serving in office under first Harold Wilson and then James Callaghan. Tony seemed to despise Wilson coming to the conclusion that he stood for nothing much beyond personal political survival. A bit harsh maybe.
Hostilities broke out toward the end of the Callaghan government of the late 1970s, with a virtual civil war ensuing after defeat in 1979. The group of left wing thinkers congregated around Tony, coming up with radical new socialist policies for government. Unfortunately, these did not come to pass.
Tony lost the deputy leadership contest with Denis Healey in 1981. The despicable soon to become SDP founders, staying just long enough to cast their votes for Healey in what proved a narrow victory.
Tony stayed on as an MP, losing his Bristol seat in 1983 but then being elected for Chesterfield. After 50 years, he finally left Parliament in 2001, notably quipping that he wanted to spend more time on politics.
There were others no doubt glad that Tony never became Prime Minister. It was said that the security services were frightened that Tony Benn would become Prime Minister as they had nothing on him. It was Benn upon whom Chris Mullin based the character of Harry Perkins, the left wing Prime Minister in his book A Very British Coup.
Tony gives a brilliant account of life in and out of government in his diaries running from 1940 to 2010. The only sadness is that the final diaries: A blaze of autumn sunshine were cut short by illness, preventing a day to day account of the Coalition. He instead summarises things in effectively a 20 page essay.
In the diaries he also reflects on his life, being driven to try to improve life for humanity generally. He does though have some pangs of guilt as to whether he spent too much time on work and should have given more to his wife and family. He was struck hard by the loss of his wife Caroline in 2000 but had immense pride in all of their children.
He strikes up some important friendships in later life such as with newsreader Natasha Kaplinski and actress Saffron Burrows. Ruth Winstone, who brilliantly edited the diaries was also a steadfast friend for much of his life.
All who have known Tony Benn will value the experience, a truly selfless person who tried to make the world a better place for all who live in it.  

*Morning Star - 28/3/2014

Talking to Tony Benn - interview reproduced from 31/3/2011

Tony Benn was out there at the head of the TUC march last weekend arguing for an alternative to the cuts. In many ways the theme of the march provided a good subtitle for Mr Benn’s life, staying strong to his principles, arguing for a fairer and more just way of organising society. “Every generation has to fight the same battles, again and again,” says Mr Benn who still speaks three or four times a week at meetings around the country. At 86, it is not unreasonable to say that the former Labour cabinet minister has seen it all before. As such he remains dubious about the so called allies’ intervention in Libya. “The West has decided to intervene supposedly to stop civilians from dying. Yet in Bahrain they have sent troops into crush the revolt and Yemen is also using force against demonstrators,” said Mr Benn. “It is not logical and it means in effect we have gone to war with Libya. Not that this is anything new, Britain used to run Libya.” As a former energy minister in the Labour Government, Mr Benn has always been concerned about nuclear power. He does not believe the industry is trustworthy and will repeatedly lie to protect its own interests. He recalls when in office not being told that plutonium was being exported from British power stations to the US to be used in nuclear weapons. “We were effectively running bomb factories for the Pentagon,” recalled Mr Benn, who believes the destabilisation of the Japanese power station Fukishima provides a timely reminder of the danger of nuclear power production. “The earthquake provided a reminder that nature is our master. I hope and believe it will make people ask questions about the nuclear industry. It is dangerous and when I was in charge of it I realised I could never believe a word those running the industry said,” said Mr Benn. What the industry is good at is reinventing itself. Most recently this has seen the nuclear industry gaining a rebirth as a means to cut carbon emissions in the fight against global warming. Mr Benn points out that this has happened before, some 10 years after the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Then it was sold as cheap, safe and for peace. But this was false; it is not cheap once the cost of clear up is taken into account. It is not safe as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and now Fukishima show and it does not promote peace,” said Mr Benn, who does not believe the public are being told the truth about the nuclear damage being done in Japan now. The former energy minister hopes that the tragedy in Japan will cut short any plans in Britain to build a new generation of nuclear power stations. Mr Benn believes that David Cameron is a straightforward neo-liberal Thatcherite. “The attack on the NHS is something Mrs Thatcher would not have dreamed of,” said Mr Benn, who can never recall a time of such public anger. The fact that the mass of people are now being made to pay for the irresponsibility of the banks is fuelling much of that anger. He is though optimistic about the prospects of the Labour Party under Ed Miliband, which he sees getting more back to its fundamentals after the New Labour neo-liberal experiment foundered. He believes that Mr Miliband will be more respectful of the trade unions and the people who they represent remembering that it was the unions which put him in place. “It is going to be the popular movement that shapes how the Labour Party reacts,” said Mr Benn, who remains loyal to his democratic socialist principles. He quotes the creation of the National Health Service as one of the most socialist things ever done by a Labour Government. “The NHS remains the most popular institution. People won’t accept a world dominated by wealth and money, a world where the rich benefit at the expense of everyone else,” said Mr Benn. “Socialism is about democracy, people taking control.” Mr Benn still believes in the programme of industrial democracy that he put forward in the early 1970s, which would have seen 25 areas taken into state ownership remains a useful blueprint for today. Today, these would include banking, health, education, energy resources and railways. “The government plays a very important role in shaping the economic policy. It has to do more than manage how capitalism runs,” said Mr Benn. The state of the traditional media is not something that inspires hope in Mr Benn, though he does take heart from the different sources of information now made available through the internet. This has helped inspire some of the popular revolts in the Middle East and North Africa. In Britain, Rupert Murdoch’s interests dominate broadcast and print media. Meanwhile, the BBC represents the British establishment. “There is no trade union news, it is all about the financial markets, it is a view from a rich man’s world,” said Mr Benn. “The BBC refuses to mention the Morning Star which carries trade union and international news.” He is though keen that the BBC is not sold off to Mr Murdoch. The arrival of Wikileaks on the scene has also helped to set many people free. “Wikileaks is important because information is a source of power. In the old days governments wanted to know everything about everyone with no one knowing what they did. Wikileaks has changed all of that, bringing a transformation of power to the people,” said Mr Benn, who believes Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and US military source Bradley Manning are important figures in helping to liberate us. It has been a long held theory of Mr Benn that there are real radical reforms every 40 years. The last big change came in 1980 when Thatcher came to power bringing the neo-liberal capitalist model. Previously there was the Labour Government of 1945 and the reforms of the Liberal Government of 1906 and formation of the Labour Party. So there should be major change coming over the next few years, whether it will be caused by economic meltdown, global warming or a combination of the two no one knows. What Mr Benn though is sure of is that if the change is to be for the betterment of humanity it is likely to come from the struggle of the mass of people for justice and democracy. Who knows, maybe the changes have already started with the popular revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, where next London

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Frank Cottrell Boyce sidelined by "cabin crew" at faith conference

The man who masterminded the triumphant London Olympics opening ceremony, including the parachuting in of the Queen and James Bond, was himself sidelined on Saturday.  
Addressing a conference titled Dissonant Voices: Faith and the Irish Diaspora conference at the London Irish Centre in Camden, writer Frank Cottrell Boyce was expanding his views on inclusiveness and how cultural presentations can get into other areas of life, when five representatives of I.M.E.L.D.A. (Ireland Making England the Legal Destination for Abortion) walked in dressed in full red cabin crew attire, wheeling travel bags behind them and ringing a bell.
Each of the five then read out statements about the injustices of women having to come to England to get abortions. Many in the room mistakenly believed that this bit of theatre was all part of the Cottrell Boyce presentation to maybe wake people up in the after lunch slot. But as the statements went on and an increasingly bemused looking Cottrell Boyce stared on in disbelief it became clear that the conference had been hijacked - where is 007 when you need him? The women were told to leave, which they eventually did rolling out with cabin bags behind them. Not though before one member of the audience had walked out in disgust.
I.M.E.L.D.A. is described as a feminist performance activist group, which was set up following the death of Savita Halappanavar, who was denied an abortion in Ireland in October 2012.
Cottrell Boyce continued, telling of the trials and tribulations of the run up to the opening ceremony at the Olympics, with many in the media constantly rubbishing the efforts of those involved. 
The writer declared that those involved in creating the ceremony were committed to the project would not have walked away for such petty matters as not getting the credit or having to wait to get expenses paid but they would if the work had been compromised. “It was about something bigger,” said Cottrell Boyce.
Last year, Cottrell Boyce helped create The Return of Colmcille for Derry City of Culture. He recalled how it is often people from the faith communities who come forward to take part in events such as the Derry and London Olympics extravaganzas.

Earlier, Father Gerry McFlynn of the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas, recalled how it was not easy for the Irish in Britain over the years of the Troubles. “The Irish are still the largest ethnic community in the Church. I’ve never felt at ease here, always a bystander,” said Father McFlynn. “The Church does not exist just to support the status quo, it is about speaking truth to power.”

Author of A Wounded Church, Father Joe McVeigh called for the Irish Church to embrace the teachings of liberation theology. “The Irish Catholic Church has to change and its elitist mindset has to be removed,” said Father McVeigh. “The Irish Church can learn from the church of the poor in Latin America. The liberation model will return the Church to its roots.”

“In my view only this model of Church will have appeal to people who feel they don’t belong,” said Father McVeigh, who declared that the Irish Church is good at charity but charity is not enough. “The prophet did not say let charity flow down like mighty waters but justice.”
He suggested that Pope Francis should not just have attacked the rich but told the poor to organise.   “The experience of the Church in Latin America offers us in the Irish Church a model of how to move from charity to justice.”
“It is crucial that faith is a witness to justice in solidarity with the oppressed peoples,” said Father McVeigh.

Author of a number of books on human rights abuses in Ireland, Monsignor Raymond Murray told of decades fighting for justice in the north of Ireland. This included exposing torture by the British forces, which was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights, opposing internment without trial and the operation of Loyalist death squads and use of rubber and plastic bullets.
Monsignor Murray questioned all those who had stood by while atrocities were being committed. “The Church, media, trade unions and academics, where were they all,” said Monsignor Murray.

* Guardian diary - 11/3/2014 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

What has made Pope Francis a media superstar?

The new Pope, Francis I, must be a PR executive’s idea of a dream.
Since becoming Pope in March, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio has dominated the world media. He was named person of the year by both Time magazine and the US gay magazine Advocate. Most recently he appeared on the front cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
The beaming Pope has received the sort of coverage previously reserved for rock and sports stars.
Pope Francis’s achievement is all the more impressive when it is put into the context of where the Papacy stood under his predecessor Benedict XVI.
At that time, its reputation stood at something of an all time low, racked by corruption in Vatican ranks, the ongoing child abuse scandals and the impression of an institution that was a couple of centuries out of date with its attitudes on gender and equality.
Doctrinally there is very little difference between Pope Francis and his predecessor but PR wise the two men are polls apart.
Pope Francis always appears relaxed before the world’s media, even enjoying the opportunity of talking to reporters.
A Jesuit, he has brought his humble way of living to Rome. He lives in a simple apartment outside of the Vatican offices and drives a second hand car.
His rhetoric has also repeatedly addressed the needs of the poor, something that has a greater resonance if living a humble existence oneself.
The new Pope has moved to make change, appointing a permanent council of eight cardinals from around the world to oversee reform of the Vatican.
The Pope has also set up a child sex abuse committee to look at abuse in the Church.
However, it has been more his words than his deeds thus far that seem to have captured the world’s media. He has repeatedly condemned the present form of capitalism, calling on the Church to walk with the poor. This has brought forth, accusations that he is a Marxist, causing some powerful business leaders to pull back from previous financial support they would have given the Church.
The new Pope’s tone of tolerance, extended to liberation theologians, whose take on the Church of the poor Francis has largely adopted. Previous Pope’s such as John Paul II persecuted the liberation theologians, moving to silence and even excommunicate some.
Tolerance has also been evident in the new Pope’s language concerning gay people. In place of Pope John Paul II's claim that: homosexuality was “intrinsically evil” comes: “if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.”
What has been amazing is the way Francis has been welcomed across the board from right to left. So in Britain, few would be surprised at the coverage given to the activities of the Pope by the likes of the Times and Telegraph. Both papers have kept up specialist correspondents working on religious issues, with faith (mainly Christian) writ large on their pages.
More surprising is the favourable coverage that Francis has received from liberal titles like the Guardian and Independent. Both papers tend to be at best sceptical about Catholicism and at times downright hostile.
So it comes as a surprise when Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland declares that in place of Barack Obama, “the obvious new hero of the left is the Pope.”
Then there was a Christmas editorial from the Independent: “Francis has refused to tone down his sharp criticism of the distorting effects of modern capitalism, and has championed the cause of the poor in a manner that other international leaders could and should learn from.”
The great media appeal of the Pope means at present that virtually anything he does makes news. Take a recent week, when the Pope made headlines like “Pope Francis peace doves attacked by crow and seagull” ,“Pope Francis tells Francois Hollande: ‘we share a saint’” and “Pope Francis ‘is great’ claim jailed mafia bosses.”
This newsworthiness gives the Pope a free rein to speak about a whole range of subjects. In the past, it has been the cry of liberals in the Church that all the hierarchy wanted to talk about was abortion, contraception and gays. And that was all the media wanted to report concerning the Church. When Pope’s or bishops said something about say war in Syria or the economic crisis, no one was interested. Now if Francis says it, at least for the moment, everyone is interested.
There does though appear to be a struggle between right and left to claim ownership of this Pope. The left look to his various pronouncements, based on the social teachings of the Church, on capitalism, the poor, refugees, war and peace.
The view of the right was best summarised by Catholic Herald editor Luke Coppen who argues that this Pope is a conservative figure who has not moved from the strict doctrine of the Church but there are those on the left taking elements of what he says out of context to suit their own agenda. On the gay issue, for example, Coppen puts Francis’s comments in the context of Article 2358 of the Church’s catechism, calling for gay people to be treated with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity’. “In simply restating Catholic teaching, however, Francis was hailed as a hero,” said Coppen who refers to the liberal view of the new Pope as “fantasy Francis.“
“Whenever he proves himself loyal to Catholic teaching — denouncing abortion, for instance, or saying that same-sex marriage is an ‘anthropological regression’ — his liberal fan base turns a deaf ear.”
Joe Kelly, the editor of the Catholic weekly the Universe, also takes issue with some Papal perceptions. “Francis isn't coming to advocate any pseudo-marxist revolution - this guy's definitely not an Oscar Romero (the former Archbishop of El Salvador, who was killed in 1980 for his advocacy on behalf of the poor), whatever some might like to think. Yes, he's for a focus on the poor and marginalised, but he wants us to embrace and to feed them, not go off and lobby parliament on their behalf,” said Kelly.
Editor of the online news service Independent Catholic News, Jo Siedlecka thinks he is “a natural communicator in touch with contemporary thinking and able to explain Christianity in an attractive way.
“He is warm. He smiles and makes jokes, that's why he is getting so much media coverage. He has star quality. This may be a honeymoon period but I think the media will continue to cover Pope Francis as long as he keeps coming out with such great quotes. I wish we had more religious leaders like him.” 
What cannot be doubted is that Pope Francis is good business, he sells papers. He is saying things that find an audience internationally, a moral voice, not afraid to speak out. People want to hear what he has to say. A real test will come though, when another scandal hits ..and how he handles it.
The test for many as to whether this Pope is merely a good orator or a true reformer will be whether he attains structural change in the Church. Will he address the issues of an out of date institution that still treats women as second class citizens and gays as outcasts? If he does then there can be said to be real change.
It will ofcourse be unpopular with a large number of vested interests who have done very nicely thank you out of the previous way of running things. It will be interesting to see then how the media persona of the Pope progresses, when there will be plenty from the vested interests prepared to brief against. What does seem certain is that he won’t be able to go on pleasing all the people all of the time, which has been the story of his Papacy so far.

* Published - British Journalism Review - March 2014

Monday, 3 March 2014

12 years a slave deserves more acclaim

The film 12 Years a slave has received acclaim, winning the best picture Oscar and Bafta
Chiwetal Ejiofor won the Bafta for best actor, while Lupita Nyong’o won the Oscar for best supporting actress.
It was surprising though that director Steve McQueen and supporting actor Michael Fassbender did not receive either Oscar of Bafta recognition for the excellence of their work.
The film tells the story of Solomon Northup, who in1841 was a free man in New York. He was a renowned musician, performing in high society. Everything turned sour though when he was tricked by a couple of con men who effectively sold him into slavery. He then disappears into the southern slave plantations of Louisiana before finally being liberated. Solomon wrote his memoir in 1853, though the story did not become public knowledge until the late 1960s.
The majority of the film is about Solomon’s struggle to regain his freedom. Brilliantly acted and directed, the drama manages to capture the brutality of this period of American history. The slaves were regarded literally as non-people or pieces of property. When Solomon is initially being sold, there is the scene when the prospective white buyers are inspecting their potential purchases, checking teeth and potential physical strength – it is very much the scene of the meat market.
Solomon, played brilliantly by Chiwetal Ejiofor, struggles to obtain his freedom, having to hide his previous educated life. The slave owners played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender offer views of a more reasonable man and a religious fanatic on the edge of insanity for much of the time.
Fassbender really captures the manic nature of his character, with a sadistic wife he is seemingly on the edge all of the time. The view of the slave as property is constantly reiterated.
The rightgeousness of the slave owners position is backed up by a strange religious fervour. The Cumberbatch character is seen reading from the bible to his slaves, while Fassbender blames his slaves for a caterpillar that comes to decimate the cotton crop. The slaves have upset God, so have to go away until the caterpillar disappears.
Solomon is eventually rescued but only after a number of twists of fate. Director Steve McQueen brings his own unique skills as an artist (he previously won the Turner prize) to the film. This is particularly clear in the scene when Solomon is being punished by his first owner, hung and left twisting in the breeze for what seems hours. Then later the lashing of Patsey (played by Lupita Nyong’o) which graphically shows the effect of each lash on her back.One of the great values of the film though is in bringing to life the true horror of slavery. It tells of a period that happened almost two hundred years ago but today there is still slavery going on across the world. Sex trafficking is a particularly virulent form of modern slavery, which it must be hoped that films like 12 Days a Slave will help highlight and bring to an end

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Priests back Cardinal Nichol's claims over suffering being caused by welfare reforms

Cardinal Vincent Nichols recently declared that the welfare safety net had been removed and that the punitive use of sanctions, often cutting people off from support for weeks, left many dependent on foodbanks to survive. The Archbishop described the situation where in an affluent country, so many people are being forced to use foodbanks as “a disgrace.” Archbishop Nichols received backing for his claims from the parish where he served in the late 1970s in Liverpool. Father Peter Morgan, parish priest at St Anne’s parish in Toxteth, declared: “the situation is appalling, the most extreme I’ve seen. There are more and more calls at the door.” He recalled the case of a lady who had her disability benefit cut off last November. “She has not had any money since and has been surviving on hand outs,” said Father Morgan, who told how “people make mistakes filling in forms and they are cut off. Many are terrified of filling in forms.” “People are having their housing benefit cut off, so they are running up huge debts. The implementation of the bedroom tax is also affecting a lot of people in Liverpool. A lot of people are looking for places with fewer bedrooms but the accommodation is just not available. When benefits are being assessed and they are just cut off there is no safety net.” Father Shaun Smith, parish priest of the Sacred Heart, Hillsborough, Sheffield, tells of a growing number coming every day for food and help. “They are very much in need. Some have had their benefits sanctioned. Some come from prison and have no support at all,” said Father Smith. “We run an informal food bank at the church here. It is supported by donations. We get a lot of people in genuine need coming, who need referring onto agencies. We are at saturation point. There is a delivery from the supermarket each week, which is funded from donations.” St John Vianney church in Tottenham hosts the Haringey Migrant support group. The capacity is for 50 men, women and children. There have been so many people turning up that the door has had to be closed. “There are solicitors and trainee solicitors coming to help people work through the immigration procedures. The cases vary from asylum claims to the undocumented and students overstaying on visas. This is all part of the parish outreach work,” said parish priest Father Joe Ryan. “We have the regular soup runs going out and there are more people knocking at the door for food. They are given vouchers and go round the corner to the local cafĂ© that does all day breakfasts. “There are people slipping through the net and we’re trying to help them with the basic food support. At the moment we are getting around 10 a week coming to the door. The numbers though are going up.” An east end priest who wished to remain anonymous believes the problem is the implementation of the welfare reforms. “We are seeing real suffering on the ground. There was a case here of a single parent, who had her money stopped because someone had rung up maliciously, saying that someone was living in her house. They weren’t but it took three weeks to sort out. If she had not been in touch with the church she would not have had anything to eat. There are real people at the sharp end feeling the effects of these reforms of the welfare system. People are slipping through the net,” said the priest. In another case there was a family of five, mother, father and three children, granted indefinite leave to remain. “People in this category have no recourse to public funds so are dependent on being able to work in order to stay out of destitution. In this case the husband dropped dead at work. The woman collapsed at work, finshing up £8,000 in debt. The family was evicted. A Catholic charity helped the family, raising £3,000 so the family could get accommodation. After months, the local authority finally decided to help the family- they were not allowed on benefits,” said the priest. “We are getting the reports of doctors and hospitals seeing the effects of food poverty. I’ve been a priest a long time but I am now seeing absolute poverty and a form of destitution.” Father Tim Byron SJ, chaplain at the University of Manchester, recalled how the first student-run foodbank was opened last October. “It is not a drop-in service, rather we have built up 56 referral agencies which range from local headteachers, charities, the probation service, council run family services, mental health service, job centers, housing associations, local churches etc,” said Father Byron. “These referral agencies hold and distribute vouchers which are necessary to access the foodbank. In our first five months we have distributed 2,300kg of food to 464 people (252 adults and 212 children). 31 per cent of the vouchers were issued due to benefit delays, 28 per cent due to low income, 8 per cent due to benefits changes, with homelessness, domestic violence, unemployment, debt, sickness and 'other reasons.'” Father Byron believes that “as the welfare state is being rolled back, as the tide is going out, those who do not have the support of an extended family to rely on are being left stranded and without support. “We supply emergency food boxes to the local hospital for discharged patients and recently we have seen a rise in demand for 'kettle packs' i.e. food that can be cooked for those without access to cooking facilities. Some of these are being requested as people cannot afford their gas bills and so are having to choose between keeping their electricity on but switching the gas off which can have a drastic impact on their heating. “Some students are referred to us. normally during the end of the semester, by student services - as they are too embarrassed to be helped by their peers, we allow them to come out of hours when they can get food more discreetly. During half term - or more extended breaks there is a spike of families who come, who normally rely on free school meals.” Father Jim McCartney, parish priest of Sacred Heart Church, Blackburn and founder of rehabilitation centre THOMAS (Those on the margins of society) testifies to seeing increasing numbers of people coming through the centre. “They are struggling to live and survive. We are seeing increasing numbers of East Europeans and some students looking for help,” said Father McCartney. “There is a need to address some of the underlying problems that have been around for the past decade or so. The workforce need to be better equipped for the jobs market. There are people taking advantage of the benefits system, that cannot be swept under the carpet and must be taken into account.” Father Raglan Hay Wills, parish priest of Our Lady of Ransom Church, Eastbourne, has found lot of people really struggling, often the kind of people who don’t make a protest but are really desperate. “What is for sure is that every day in Eastbourne there is a hot meal available somewhere and sometimes two. This support network is provided by churches, the salvation army and charities. There is no day on which we could not direct someone to a meal. The need though depends on the weather,” said Father Hay Wills. “The real concern is the person isolated, quietly suffering in desperate circumstances, they are not the people who come to the presbytery door here. It is a worry for those people who don’t have anyone to help them. “

see: Tablet - 1/3/2014