Friday, May 27, 2011

Twenty Years Ago... the NEW WORKER

Rolls Royce workers lobbied shareholders of the aerospace group last week.
Some workers who own shares entered the group’s annual general meeting to make their criticisms.
The 34,000 workforce had been angered when the company issued them contract termination notices in order to impose a pay freeze.
Threats of legal action and industrial action forced the company to back off, but it still wants the pay freeze and 6,000 aerospace job cuts.
Trade union negotiators were meeting the company as we went to press.
Workers at the Leavesden site, which is threatened with closure at a cost of 1,760 jobs, are preparing detailed proposals for keeping at least the engine plant open.
Rolls plans to sell the site, which it recently purchased from the Ministry of Defence, a move reminiscent of the British Aerospace-Royal Ordinance scandal.
Lord Tombs, Roll’s chairman, announced he would cut his salary by 10 per cent, from £150,000 to £135,000 in 1991.

Soviet soldiers have clashed with nationalist militias in renewed tension in the Baltic states.
No-one was killed but the Lithuanian and Latvian authorities claim Soviet soldiers held their militiamen at gunpoint and then burnt down the border check-points which they have illegally set up across their frontiers.
The Soviet forces, Black-Berets from the Interior Ministry, were involved in bloody clashes with nationalist groups last year.
The nationalist regimes have demanded their withdrawal from the Baltic region.
In Moscow attention is focusing on the forthcoming Russian Federation elections.
Yeltsin is leading a high-profile campaign, promising to retire from public life if his challenge fails.
His rival, Soviet President Gorbachov, is trying to remain in the limelight by giving publicity to the private visit of former British premier Margaret Thatcher, who has arrived fresh from a similar jaunt in South Africa.

Friday, May 13, 2011


THE NATIONAL Association of Local Government Officers last Monday resumed pay talks with employers on behalf of 500,000 local government members.
They are claiming a rise of 12 per cent of the Council of Europe decency threshold of £9,330, whichever is greater. Around 38 per cent of their members are paid less than this threshold.
Nalgo is also seeking to make the adult rate payable at 18 instead of 21, reductions in the working week and increases in annual leave.
This claim was first submitted in January, giving the employers a long period of consultation on the claim and the unions expected a first offer by the beginning of May.
So far the employers have made no offer and are divided on whether or not to make an offer by the end of this month.
This would be likely to anger the membership and lead to calls for strike action as happened in 1989, when a programme of one-day stoppages and selective strikes by Nalgo members won a substantial pay award.


YUGOSLAVIA stands on the brink of civil war, despite the talks between the Serbian and Croat leaderships and the army has demanded sweeping powers to stop the ethnic violence.
Fighting between Croat and Serbian nationalist militias led to many deaths last week. At least one soldier died in clashes with Croat nationalists. The national army, in which most officers are Serbs, may also disintegrate if the crisis worsens.
Hungary is believed to be arming the Croat militias who accuse Romania of backing the Serbian-Montenegran front.
Yugoslavia’s constitution provides for a presidency that rotates among the individual republics and is virtually nominal.
Yugoslavia’s worsening economy and its unworkable federal constitution have produced a situation like that in the Lebanon with nationalists leaders from every community and religious group set on establishing local centres of power.

The Scottish Elections

By our Scottish Political Correspondent

IN THE AFTERMATH of last year’s general election, in which Labour reversed the trend in England, members thought they had a fair chance of reversing the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary elections that saw the Scottish National Party form a minority administration with 47 MSPs, only one more than Labour’s 46. When the formal campaign for the 2011 election began this seemed unlikely as Labour’s lead in the polls faded away. After an insipid and accident-prone campaign by Labour it was clear that former Royal Bank of Scotland economist, First Minister Alex Salmond, was staying put in his official residence.
However it was not until the early hours of Friday morning that the extent of Labour’s defeat and the Nationalist triumph became clear. The final results saw the SNP secure an overall majority with 69 seats, Labour came a distant second with 37, the Tories had 17 (two down from 2007), the Liberal Democrats, despite frantic efforts to distance themselves from the coalition, dropped to five seats from their former 16. Two Greens and an Independent (a former Nationalist) retained their seats.
Labour lost a lot more than the reduction of nine MSPs implies. As only 73 MSPs were elected for constituencies with another 56 being elected on a top-up party list system some of their losses were compensated by gains on the lists. Under this system the former Tory leader lost his Edinburgh constituency seat, but will reappear as a regional list MSP. However, none of the Labour constituency MSPs were also on the regional lists, so those new Labour MSPs are not exactly inspiring figures or intellectual heavyweights.
Remarkably the percentage of people voting Labour declined only by a microscopic 0.5 per cent, but the fact that only one in 200 voters deserted Labour was of no help as the SNP vacuumed up votes from disaffected voters from all other parties, thus causing Labour to lose the sort of seat where they used to weigh the Labour votes.
As has became the norm in the three previous elections to what comedian Billy Connolly called the “pretendy wee parliament,” the election saw only about half the electorate inspired to rise from their sofas to the polling stations. Turnout was particularly low in working class areas; in one Glasgow constituency turnout was a just under 35 per cent. The highest turnout was 63 per cent in a leafy former Tory seat won by Labour.
On the fringes of the election those standing for left-wing parties did not make any significant impact. Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, the Scottish Socialist Party and their former comrades in Solidarity stood in all the regional lists. Political train spotters can find full details of their votes at the bottom of the results tables among those for the Pensioners, Christians, UKIP and single issue candidates.
Curiously enough, of these three left parties the one which did the best was the SLP which, in contrast to the other two, has virtually no visible presence in Scotland. In Glasgow George Galloway, standing as a Solidarity-backed opponent of the cuts failed to win a seat, doubtless much to the relief of the remaining Labour MSPs whom Galloway cruelly, but accurately, described as having a struggle to become nonentities.
In Donald Dewar’s old constituency of Glasgow Anniesland, the incumbent Labour MSP lost to the SNP by a mere seven votes. This was the sole seat in Scotland contested by the Communist Party of Britain, whose candidate who polled 245 votes. He was quoted in the Morning Star as saying “... the defeat of Bill Butler, a consistent left-wing Labour MSP, is a blow to the whole left in Scotland”. That may be the case, but if so why oppose him in an election? In the west of Scotland there were many right-wing MSPs who would have been better targets.
The fascists, in the form of the BNP and the curious Scottish Homeland Party (who want to prevent Turkey joining the European Union, hardly a vital issue to Scots) all did badly. However the BNP’s small vote was always greater that the two Trotskyite parties.
Until a dramatic change of tack in the last week of the campaign, Labour more or less ignored the SNP and spent most of its time and energy attacking the Con-Dem Coalition. Given that David Cameron was not actually standing this was a big mistake. Labour’s few attacks on the SNP focussed on their plans to hold a referendum on separating from England as being a distraction from more mundane economic questions. Opposing such a vote was clearly an error, given that if a referendum actually been called it would have seen a resounding defeat for the Nationalists.
What of the future? The insipid Labour leader Iain Gray, who only just survived election night, is standing down as leader. The pool of talent to replace him is not great. For what it matters, the leader of the Liberal Democrats also fell upon his sword, leaving four other MSPs in the running. This leadership contest is unlikely to be riveting viewing.
Trying very hard not to gloat, El Presidento, Alex Salmond in his victory speech, claimed that he would “govern for all the ambitions for Scotland and all people who imagine that we can live in a better land”. These pieties bring to mind Margaret Thatcher’s quoting St Francis on the steps of Downing Street when she was first elected Prime Minister and promising to end strife.
Salmond’s previous administration did indeed introduce some welcome minor reforms such as abolishing prescription charges for the few not covered by exemptions, but his main policies are not progressive. He and his normally Tory backers want the Scottish Parliament to have control of taxation in order to reduce Corporation Tax on multi-national businesses. Tellingly, shortly before the election Salmond’s main attacks on the Tories focussed on their plans to levy a tax on oil companies.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Fifty Years of Human Spaceflight!


By Theo Russell

Yuri Gagarin - The First Spaceman by Vix Southgate; First Orbit, directed by Christopher Riley; Little Eagles, by Rona Munro.

SPACE enthusiasts and scientists from around the world came together last month in a global celebration of the new era of space exploration which began with Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight, on 12th April 1961.
Writers, broadcasters and scientists from Britain were at the forefront of several projects aimed at giving Gagarin’s flight the momentous commemmoration it deserves, and to encourage young people to learn about space exploration and astronomy.
Yuri Gagarin – The First Spaceman is a comic, or graphic novel, style book detailing the flight as it happened, aimed at schoolchildren by Vix Southgate. Vix is an author and illustrator specialising in science-based stories, and also administrator of, a website promoting Gagarin events around the world.
The book, which combines text and comic strip, recounts that Gagarin was an ordinary boy who witnessed his village being occupied by the German invaders, and grew up to be a skilled worker.
“He grew up as a farm boy and saw the horrors of war. He went to live in Moscow to become better educated and he trained to become a foundryman at a steelworks. He went on to technical school and joined a flying school, later becoming a pilot in the Soviet military. He joined the space programme and became the first man in space.”
Vix’s website ( also contains valuable resources designed for school teachers and links to websites Gagarin space exploration and astronomy. contains lots of fascinating information about the Russian astronaut, his space flight and his visit to Britain in 1961 and pulls together other people’s memories of the day.
The film First Orbit, launched on YouTube 12th April is a remarkable international collaboration directed by Christopher Riley. It opened on over 1,000 screens around the world in more than 75 countries, including UNESCO HQ in Paris, Boeing HQ in Seattle, and the European Space Agency’s Columbus Control Centre near Munich. It has now been viewed over 2.8 million times on in almost every country on Earth.
The film, which took almost five years to bring together, is a collaboration between the European Space Agency, Roscosmos, Nasa and the ISS.
It combines original footage of Gagarin’s training and flight with film shot by Italian astronaut and photographer Paolo Nespoli from the International Space Station (ISS), matching as closely as possible the orbit followed by Gagarin's Vostok 1 spaceship.
It also uses historic audio recordings of the entire mission, which many thought to be lost, and is probably the first time it has been heard outside of Russia.
The music accompanying the stunning shots of the earth from space was composed by British musician Philip Sheppard, who also wrote the music for the Olympic Handover Ceremony at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
First Orbit can also be downloaded from the website by anyone applying for permission to show it to a group of people.
The ISS is itself in many ways a continuation of the Soviet space programme, and its full name in the space industry is “ISS-Zarya”. Zarya, “dawn” in Russian, was the first module of the ISS. It was launched in 1998 from the same cosmodrome – the famous Baikonur in Kazakhstan – as Vostok 1.
While the United States has provided most of the funding and built most of the modules, the ISS is a genuine international undertaking involving Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and Canada. Five of its 15 modules are Russian-built and another, Nauka (Science) is due to be added next year.
The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, regards the ISS as the continuation of a "permanent Soviet human presence in low-Earth orbit", and there can be no doubt that it would have taken many more years to develop without the pioneering work of the Salyut and Mir space stations on long-duration human spaceflight.
While the Soviet Union clearly saw the military potential in developing space flight from the beginning, it also actively pursued the use of space flight for peaceful scientific purposes. Today, 50 years after Gagarin’s flight, Russia and many other countries still oppose the militarisation of space.
One addition to the contributions made by Vix Southgate and First Orbit to the Gagarin celebrations, the play Little Eagles recounts the life of Sergei Korolyev, the extraordinary genius and Chief Designer behind the Soviet space programme. The play, by Rona Munro, is being performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Hampstead Theatre, North London, until 7th May.
The 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight not only marks the beginning of a new era in human history, but reminds us of the positive contribution and the peaceful international cooperation still being made possible through the exploration of space. Projects such as First Orbit and Yuri Gagarin – The First Spaceman and Little Eagles are helping to bring those inspiring ideals to a new generation.

photo: Vix Southgate