Friday, 6 September 2013

The Friday joke: civil servants win legal battle against boss Eric Pickles

I was tickled to see this week that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles was taken to the High Court by his own departmental staff over attacks on their union PCS. And that he lost.

I have a friend or two in the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and I know they have had a very hard time recently trying to represent the interests of their members at the same as they are no longer given time off work to do union duties, and the union has been banned even from meeting on the premises.

In the same way that Pickles offered his own departmental spending as a sacrificial lamb in the Spending Review, promising savage cuts to local government spending, for example, for which we are all paying now in reduced and privatised services, he has also dumped on his very own departmental staff.

The main dispute that the union went to the High Court over is the plan to stop "check-off" whereby union dues are collected at source from wages. 

Pickles prides himself on representing the interests of local taxpayers. In Barnet he has had, albeit obliquely, to apologise for the sneering attitude towards democracy of the local Tories. I give credit where it's due, and I acknowledge Pickles' solicitude for the rights of the little man and woman against Town Hall bureaucrats, where the Town Hall does act like bureaucrats.

Pickles, apparently, was a socialist in his youth but he abandoned socialism when the Russian tanks went into Czechoslovakia in 1968 to crush the Prague Spring democratisation movement. When we organised our Barnet Spring march in the snow earlier this year, that was one of the echoes that gave our protest more poignancy.

However, just like many a leftist who ended up backing and apologising for vicious dictatorships just because they weren't Western imperialists, the politics of the Cold War seem to have disorientated Pickles and he went over to the right and joined the forces of Conservatism.

I would argue that it is a mistake to conclude that your enemy's enemy is your friend but, as far as I can see, that is what Pickles has done. From siding with the working class, he went over to the enemy, and has been batting for the rich ever since.

Now Pickles needs to remember that the people working in his own department are little men and women as well, who deserve to be supported against their own species of bureaucrat - their bosses. Trade unions serve such a purpose and always have - and always will. You can't kill the spirit.

Arguably, the key force that began the process that led to the collapse of the Soviet empire was the inspiring Polish Solidarnosc (Solidarity) trade union.

Alas, there is every likelihood that Pickles will appeal against this week's court ruling.

I would urge everyone who has drawn some comfort from Pickles' well-aimed jibes against Barnet's Tory Council to help him see sense over this issue. Send a message to Pickles via Twitter - @EricPickles - and watch for developments on the PCS website. Tell Pickles - hands off PCS!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Celebrate Friern Barnet Library's great future, Thursday 5 September; and online

I'm happy to share this mailing from Friern Barnet Community Library about an event tomorrow night (Thursday 5 September):
Exactly a year since the occupation and liberation of Friern Barnet Library, there will be an amazing anniversary celebration next Thursday, 5th September 7pm.
There will be a preview of the book Barnet Library - Occupied and Opened, edited by Rosie Canning with contributions by Pete Phoenix, Reema Patel, Richard Stein, Sarah Sackman, Mike Gee and many more. Several authors will be coming in to read their work.
Posters, pre-order forms, art work and printouts will be available.The book features the community voices and community spirit that went into saving the Friern Barnet Library. We look forward to seeing you there.
Recently I helped a friend with some research for his librarianship Masters degree. He was investigating the extent to which campaigns such as that waged at Friern Barnet Library chimed in with David Cameron and the Tories' 'Big Society' rhetoric.

My friend is from Sheffield. The campaign to defend libaries in that city - SCALP - was a bit quiet - mainly because they haven't announced any big library cuts yet! But I was able to put him in touch with some people involved in the successful campaign to save Friern Barnet Library, and I contributed my own views.

Hand on heart, I could say that the FBL campaigns and those like it fly in the face of Big Society notions. They are, first and foremost, about saving threatened public amenities for the public and, as far as possible, keeping them as part of an integrated, publicly accountable service.

That being the case, I am absolutely delighted to see this petition on the Barnet Council website, text: 
We petition Barnet Council to grant Friern Barnet Community Library security of tenure through a longer lease before May 2014.
The library has only been given a two year lease. A number of community libraries across the UK are already operating on leases as long as 25 years.
A lease of 21 years would take Friern Barnet Community Library up to its centenary in 2034.
We also petition Barnet Council to recognise Friern Barnet Community Library in its publications as a part of the network of Barnet Libraries, and to recognise the library as a part of its inter-library network.
Signed by prominent Labour councillors in Barnet, as well as community campaigners for the library, I take this petition as a commitment from the Barnet Labour group to re-integrate Friern Barnet Library back into Barnet Libraries should it win the council back from the Tories in May 2014. That is a very welcome commitment as far as I am concern. 

And I do hope that Labour will have the courage and conviction to go all out to win the Council as I think it is there for the taking!