Tag: Barnsley

Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

30 Years On: NUM Miners' Strike Commemorative March
The spirit of ’84/85.

The weather was dreadful. Really, really dreadful. But then again, it was Glastonbury weekend, so maybe it should have been expected. With a display of the grim humour that got many through the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, it was suggested that Thatcher was behind the heavy rain that lashed the NUM march through Barnsley, in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the year long strike. “She pissed on us in life and now she’s pissing on us in death”.

Hundreds gathered in the historic Miners’ Hall at the NUM headquarters in Barnsley, in preparation for the short march through Barnsley town centre. On display was the paraphernalia of a once proud industry that had bound communities together, clustered around the pit heads of South Yorkshire. An industry that was cruelly crushed by a government hell-bent on destroying the unions, in their determination to further a free market agenda that dogs us to this day.

30 Years On: NUM Miners' Strike Commemorative March
One of the many banners on display.

The march began to assemble in the increasingly heavy rain. With union banners on display from collieries and regions all over the country, the over-riding atmosphere was of camaraderie and of pride. The brass band struck up and the march was off in a blaze of sound and colour, in defiance of the slate grey sheets of rain.

30 Years On: NUM Miners' Strike Commemorative March
Left to right: NUM General Secretary Chris Kitchen, Barnsley East MP Michael Dugher, Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis, Unite’s Kevin Coyne and NUM President Nicky Wilson.

Just off the Dearne Valley Parkway lies Cortonwood. Now a retail park with stores such as Argos, Sports Direct, McDonalds and Matalan, it is hard to believe that this was once the site of the colliery where the strike started. It seems sadly symbolic that in this place, where men once hewed coal from the ground and began the march out that led to the most bitter strike of recent history, the forces of commerce have moved in. Bulldozed away the remnants of industry and replaced them with stores full of consumer goods, fast food and minimum wages.

When the strike began, I was an 18 year old coal worker, bagging coal at a distribution yard in Huddersfield. I still remember the gritty crunch of coal dust in my mouth and how it ingrained itself into your skin. I remember how the old guys who drove the delivery trucks, after a lifetime of handling coal had been stained a dirty grey colour. I had nothing but respect for those that did the job of hauling coal to the surface and when the lorries started to bring coal from the working pits into the yard (under the pretence that it was destined for hospitals), I resigned.

30 Years On: NUM Miners' Strike Commemorative March
Ian Clayton addresses the rally.
30 Years On: NUM Miners' Strike Commemorative March
NUM President Nick Wilson delivers his passionate speech.

Back at the Miners’ Hall, there was a rally. Looking out over the sodden congregation, Ian Clayton opened with the observation that soon the steam would begin to rise and that it probably wouldn’t be the first time in this historic venue. Ian and all of the speakers that followed, Kevin Coyne from Unite, Women Against Pit Closures and NUM President Nicky Wilson, gave fine speeches, full of pride in their culture and defiance against the neo-liberal machine that has brought the industry to the brink of extinction.

Sadly, Owen Jones didn’t show up, but George Arthur of the Freedom Riders gave an often humorous insight into current policing practises, following the arrest of two Freedom Riders protesters at Sheffield train station earlier in the week. NUM General Secretary Chris Kitchen closed the rally by ironically thanking South Yorkshire Police for assisting in the town centre road closures, “the last time the police showed me where to park was at Orgreave”.

30 Years On: NUM Miners' Strike Commemorative March
NUM President Nicky Wilson (left), NUM General Secretary Chris Kitchen (centre) and Kevin Coyne of Unite.

There is still hope for the future of the coal industry in the UK. The NUM and Unite have joined together in a venture called Coal Combine. At the Carbon Capture & Storage / Coal Combine Seminar in January, delegates from deep mines, surface mines and coal burning power stations took part, uniting not just the two unions but workers from the energy sector. The newly launched website can be found here.

I attended the march as a photographer, but that 18 year old coal worker of my past marched under the banners in solidarity with a battle which may have been lost, but shoulder to shoulder with my comrades in the war for rights and justice which continues.

See a short video of the march at the Sheffield Star here.

 

30 Years On: Strike Anniversary Reunion Parade Rally

This Saturday the NUM headquarters in Barnsley will host a march and rally to mark the 30th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike.

At 10.30am, visitor will have the opportunity to visit the historic Miners’ Hall, before marching through Barnsley, proudly displaying a number of the union’s banners. This will be followed by a rally by a rally back at the Miners’ Hall, with speakers including the Mayor of Barnsley Councillor Tim Shepherd, NUM National Secretary Chris Kitchen, NUM President Nicky Wilson, Women Against Pit Closures, columnist Owen Jones and broadcaster Ian Clayton.

From 3pm a buffet will be served at Gawber Road Working Mens’ Club, followed by live music from the Dublin Raiders from 7pm.
The event will also serve to launch the new website ‘Cleaner Coal’, that marks a joint venture between the NUM and Unite with the aim to unite workers in the energy sector. The new website can be viewed here.
View the launch flyer: CleanerCoal_LaunchA5_Web.
The full itinerary:10.30am Visit Historic Miners’ Hall – Exhibition – Tea & Coffee
12 noon March & Rally at Miners’ Hall
Enjoy Music & Refreshments at Gawber Road WMC (S75 2PR)3.00pm Live Brass Band “Barnsley Brass” and Buffet
7.00pm Till late live music “Dublin Raiders” and Buffet

View the flyer: Flyer for 28 June 2014

Organise To Win! Freedom Ride: Standing up against the Cuts

frredom

The Campaign to save free travel for the disabled and pensioners in South Yorkshire now known as the Freedom Rides has been inspirational and it has already won a partial victory! Something to be celebrated for sure! But how did the campaign win this amazing concession?

On 31st March, elderly and disabled travel pass holders lost the extra concessions that had applied in South Yorkshire since travel passes had been brought in nationally. South Yorkshire agreed, like a number of other authorities, to give extra concessions because of the poverty that many elderly and disabled suffer in this region. That meant that disabled pass holders could travel free on buses and South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire buses free at any time of the day; elderly were able to travel free on buses and trains from 9am through to the end of the day.

On 6th February South Yorkshire Transport Authority voted to scrap free train travel for all disabled people and pensioners. The savings were £329,000 for ending train travel and £300,000 for restricting bus travel times. There are over 268,000 travel pass holders in South Yorkshire. The body making the decision, South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority, was made up of 12 councillors from across the region. The five councillors from Sheffield and the two from Barnsley, all voted for the cut while three from Doncaster and two from Rotherham voted to keep the concessions.

What caused great anger among those affected was that there was no publicity or consultation. It was the complete lack of debate and democracy that was too much for people to stomach.

But the Barnsley Retirees Action Group had other ideas and spear headed an amazing campaign of direct action that has inspired campaigners everywhere. They printed a few thousand leaflets calling a public meeting in the central library. 300 people turned up and the caretaker turned away another 50. The meeting grilled the two Barnsley councillors who voted for cuts and the Director of SYITA. It was agreed to start weekly Freedom Rides which saw people boarding trains and refusing to pay for travel then holding rallies where they would meet other “freedom riders” from Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield.

The numbers involved in the freedom ride were inspiring, with over one hundred people taking part each week and the protest seemed to be growing as time went on, winning support from the Trade Union Movement including ASLEF, RMT,BFAWU and Unite, who’s officers took part in the protests and spoke at rallies.

The first three weeks of the freedom ride went off without incident even though there was a large police and security guard presence at Barnsley train station in the first week. Protesters thought they were going to be stopped but were told by the police, “We are here to look after your safety,” and were almost escorted onto the train. On weeks two and three there were no police around and the numbers travelling swelled. On week four police blocked entry to the Sheffield bound platform. After a long period of argument the police and Northern Rail management said that everyone could get on the train, “But this is the last time, next week you have to pay.” Week five found Barnsley station swarming with police and everyone forcibly barred from getting on to the platform. Protestors sang songs based on US Civil Rights songs updated. The singing and chanting rocked the station but did not move the police.

The protestors began to cross the railway bridge to go over to the north bound platform where a train arrived carrying protestors from Sheffield. Everyone boarded that train while the police were still blockading the other platform. As the train set off everyone waved at the police who looked very confused! The TV and other media had been contacted to say that it was likely that there would be a confrontation at the station. They turned up and gave great coverage to the day’s events.

Week six found even more turning up to ride but a massive police operation. It was impossible to get to the ticket office without a ticket. The bus interchange bridge was blocked by police. The media had been warned by protestors that there was likely to be an escalation on both sides and they came along hoping for good footage. The large numbers of protestors provided that. A lively rally was held during which the national chair of ASLEF retired members section presented BRAG with a cheque for £50.

Like all other meetings the rally was extremely democratic. Everyone who wanted to was able to speak. Ideas and proposals were voted on. This rally decided to set off on a march around Barnsley. As the demonstration set off protestors from Sheffield arrived on a train and were able to pass through the police and join the march. The massive crowd went up to Barnsley Town Hall, where for some time there were chants against the cuts and calling for the councillors who made the cuts to come out – they didn’t!

The demonstration went into the town centre for a public rally and sing song and chanting then back to the interchange, through the bus station and over the interchange bridge until stopped by a wall of police. After more chanting everyone dispersed.

A huge letter writing campaign also was underway with people complaining to local councillors and MP’s who at first were reluctant to become involved but the large protests and accompanying media coverage helped force the hand of the local politicians, who I am sure were concerned about what effect this would have on the up-coming elections.
Members of the public and Unite’s Community Branch were becoming more involved, not just with the protests but also behind the scenes applying pressure on local councillors and asking difficult questions at Labour party meetings. That combined with the Sheffield Citizens Advice Bureau’s legal Challenge helped create a massive amount of pressure which has resulted in a partial victory, meaning free travel on local trains for disabled people and their carers is to be re-instated on June 8th, along with half price train travel in South Yorkshire for OAP’s.

On the Monday of the seventh week even more people turned up, pleased that a partial victory had been won but angry that the original concessions were not restored in full. Disabled campaigners who had been central in the protests turned up to say they were willing to support any future protest for elderly travellers to win back the original concessions.

The Freedom Riders are planning a victory parade through town on Saturday the 17th of May and will be holding a vote (show of hands), on whether or not to continue with the protest in light of this announcement. Whatever the protesters decide to do on the 17th, their action has been inspirational and shows that a combination of direct action, political pressure and legal challenge can win! How many times are we told that “nothing changes” “you can’t win”? We now can prove that is wrong, “if you fight you may lose, if you don’t fight you have lost already” (Bob Crow).

Media Links
Sheffield Star
We Are Barnsley
Barnsley Chronicle
Morning Star
Yorkshire Post
Aslef

Sheffield Star
Sheffield Star

Orgreave Mass Picnic & Festival

The TUC have agreed  to support Orgreave Mass Picnic & Festival, on Saturday 14 June 2014. If anybody wishes to attend the event, Barnsley’s Trades Council is providing transport from Barnsley, picking up at 10:30am and returning to Barnsley at 7pm. The coach pick up point will be outside the White Bear on Church Street. Therefore if anybody would like to book a place on the bus, please let Dave Gibson know ASAP. The bus is free to all.

Dave’s contacts details are:-

Email: gibson.dave1950@gmail.com

Tel: 07594857960

Please make every effort to circulate to as many members and non members as possible, so we can ensure that one of the greatest political struggles for jobs and communities can be remembered.

Yearly Centre Report 2013-14

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The economic squeeze that is being imposed on most working class people will ensure that any first anniversary celebrations for the Unite/National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) community centre in Barnsley will rightly be muted. Far too many people are struggling against a barrage of government attacks on welfare benefits, rights at work and public services for champagne corks to be popping in honour of the many successes achieved by the Unite Community members who have provided welfare advice services to local people on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 10am to 3pm since it opened in June last year.

By the end of April 2014, Unite Community members at the centre had dealt with 61 closed cases with 26 ongoing. Support for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants comprised almost half the cases. ESA, which is paid because of an illness or disability, has been heavily criticised by many organisations, including the Citizens Advice Bureau, due to the fact many claimants have been found fit for work after being selected for the Work Capability Assessment. (WCAs)  Following campaigning – in which Unite Community members have participated – by disabled organisations, the Department for Work and Pensions has recently stopped outsourcing company ATOS from carrying out repeat assessments until another company can be found to do WCAs.

The centre at Barnsley has helped 6 claimants appeal against an ESA decision to restrict their benefit. Four were won including Ms P whose successful tribunal hearing helped increase her benefits by £28.45 a week. By helping Mr R with his Working Tax Credit the centre helped him recover a total of £4,795.68. Five bedroom tax appeals helped ensure two people had more money in their pockets and with Ms C’s success also being combined with a successful claim for Personal Independence Payment and carers allowance then her benefit levels rose by £184,80 per week, She has joined Unite.

“We have helped many people raise their income, By doing so we have raised people’s hopes that there are people on their side,” said Richard Vivian, a life-long trade unionist and retired professional benefits advisor who volunteers at the centre.

Richard and Mohammad Tariq, who got involved in the centre in October 2013, designed the two-day welfare advice-training course, which was held for 16 Unite members from across Yorkshire earlier this year. All aspects of welfare rights and benefits were covered including protecting client’s rights and data protection. Unite Community members have also undertaken two days training on welfare rights provided by the Child Poverty Action Group. “People need representation but we can only provide it if we are properly trained and familiar with the complexities of the benefits system,” said Mohammad, who since joining Unite has become much more conscious of the widening gap between rich and poor. He now wants to particularly encourage young people and ethnic minorities to join the union.

In addition to providing welfare right advice the Barnsley centre, which is based in the NUM Headquarters that is the world’s first purpose built trade union headquarters, (see below) also runs computer classes. People have attended ‘Learn My Way’ computer basics classes and others have come in for assistance in setting up an e-mail address and help with writing a CV. “We are giving people opportunities to improve their skills. All benefit applications now have to be done online and the government wrongly assumes everyone has got a computer and internet connection,” said Brian Clarke, a former engineer who has been a trade union member since 1955 and whose last job before he retired was general manager at Wortley Hall. Brian became an active volunteer at the Barnsley centre after seeing an advert in the Morning Star and is enjoying helping people.

The professional advice provided by Unite Community members to the folk of Barnsley is becoming increasingly important in an era when many advice organisations are struggling to survive and cope with the increasing demands placed on them. Maximising people’s benefits is vital work but it cannot be a long-term solution, especially when benefit levels are so low and are not even being increased each year to keep pace with the rate of inflation.

Unite Community members thus try to help people understand what lies behind the government’s austerity drive that has driven down people’s living standards and raised inequality levels back to those seen in the 19th century. There has been a conscious effort to challenge media misrepresentation that the jobs crisis can be blamed on immigrants.

Rather than sitting at home worrying, people are encouraged to get involved in campaigns around the effects of government cuts to working people. Centre activists have supported the local campaign against the bedroom tax, joined protests against the workfare programme and supported workers taking industrial action.

“Working people have power if they are organised. Unite Community members can help raise awareness and help encourage a culture of resistance. I remain optimistic we can change society for the better,” said Richard, who as a young man was forced to retrain when he was blacklisted by engineering employers across Scotland.

NUM Headquarters, 2 Huddersfield Road, Barnsley S70 2LS

Opening times: 10am to 3pm, Wednesdays and Thursdays

  • The NUM Building in Barnsley was the world’s first purpose-built trade union headquarters when it opened in 1874. It was designed by Wade and Turner of Barnsley in a Scottish Baronial style and featured a tall, French-Gothic entrance. The moving force behind the centre was the secretary of the South Yorkshire Miners’ Association, John Normansell, who said at the time of the opening: “you are most welcome into a house that is built by your fellow miners at their own cost and expense in every way.” Normansell died soon afterwards and is commemorated by a monument outside the building. A meeting hall, the windows of which record major elements of miners’ working lives, supplemented Wade and Turner’s design in 1912. In more recent times a statue has been erected that commemorates those miners who lost their lives in supporting their unions in times of struggle. These include David Jones and Joe Green, who lost their lives during the year-long strike in 1984-85 and who every year in March are remembered in a special ceremony.

View report in PowerPoint: Annual Report1 Barnsley Center 

Information taken from Buildings of the labour movement by Nick Mansfield and published by English Heritage.

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Barnsley Demonstration; Reinstate Free Train Travel Now!

On Saturday May 17th the Barnsley Retirees Action Group (BRAG) is organising a demonstration through Barnsley to demand the reinstatement of the right to free train travel for older and disabled people in South Yorkshire which we have lost as a result of Tory spending cuts.

The march will go past the office on Regent Street where the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive will meet  on Mon. 19th May (and which we will lobby from 1pm onwards), then past the rail station to a rally in the precinct.

We obviously hope to have a big turnout of older and disabled people from across South Yorkshire for this march. As important we hope to get large numbers of trade union and Labour delegations.

We welcome speakers from those unions and parties who have been supporting our campaign, as well as from disabled organisations, pensioners groups etc.

The march will assemble at 11am on Eastgate ( a few minutes from the Transport Interchange) near Barnsley College’s main building.

At the last meeting of Barnsley Trades Council we passed motions from GMB and UCU calling for support of  the campaign for free train travel. We will be supporting the demonstration. The campaign has also had national support from both ASLEF and BFAWU and regional support from RMT and the NPC.

in solidarity,

Dave Gibson (campaigner and Trades Council officer)

Freedom Ride 5

Five Weeks ago free travel passes were taken away from pensioners and disabled people in Barnsley, this means that thousands of the most vulnerable people in our communities are now finding it even harder to get out of their homes.

In response pensioners groups, disabled groups and trade unionists have staged five ‘Freedom Rides’, were people board the train and refuse to pay. This week a heavy police presence meant we could not board our usual train to Sheffield, so we cleverly crossed over the bridge and instead traveled to Penistone to stage our rally.

Fantastic support from ASLEF Unite Community and the Bakers Union shows our protest is gaining even more support!!! United We Bargain Divided We Beg!

freedom 2 freedom1 photo 3

Community Activist Training

South Yorkshire Branch.
The training will take place in the Miners Hall, NUM Headquarters
2 Huddersfield Road
Barnsley
S70 2BW

Wednesday 14th of May
From 10am Until 4 pm
activist

 

 

 

 

Unite Community Activist Training aims to bring together community activists to plan our future campaigns, We look forward to hearing your ideas and to sharing our collective experience to drive and strengthen Unite Community membership and organisation in the North East, Yorkshire and Humber region.

1. Welcome to Unite
2. Introductions and motivation
3. Networking, organisation and developing relationships
4. Purposeful organising
5. Action planning your campaigns
6. Unite Community Centre Report
7. Leverage

We hope this will be a successful event and look forward to your feedback in order to identify future training needs.

If you have any special dietary requirements please let me know by Friday 2nd of May.

Please Confirm Your Attendance To Joe Rollin as spaces are limited via post, email or telephone contacts below.

Joe Rollin, Unite Community Coordinator
55 Call Lane Leeds LS1 7BW
Tel 07711 375 536
Email joe.rollin@unitetheunion.org

Free Travel Protest

Pensioners, disabled people and Unite Community members from Doncaster Sheffield and Barnsley refused to pay for their travel on trains to Meadowhall today where they met for a rally against cuts to free travel for the most vulnerable in our Community.

Although more the 20 Police officers and security guards were present nobody paid for their travel in a fantastic act of defiance set to be repeated next Monday at 11am. Meet at the train station in Barnsley, stop the cuts direct action gets the goods!

South Yorkshire added extra concessions to the travel pass schemes for disabled and elderly people because of the higher rates of disability and lack of money in our area.

Many other parts of the country did the same. London still has free travel during the day on buses, local over ground trains and the underground. West Midlands threatened to take away its concessions but backed down because of a massive protest campaign.

South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive voted by 7 to 5 to stop all travel on trains with passes and to only allow bus travel between 9.30am and 11pm. The seven who voted for cuts were 5 Sheffield councillors and 2 Barnsley councillors. This is a particularly severe cut for disabled people who are able to use passes at any time of the day. Many disabled people have been able to take on low paid and part time work because of free travel. Partially sighted people will find handling money outside of ‘free’ times difficult and demeaning.

A meeting of over 300 in Barnsley decided to oppose these cuts. Over 150 turned up to lobby the latest meeting of the SYPTE.

It has been agreed to organise a ‘Freedom Ride’ on Monday 31st March. We are asking people in Barnsley to turn up at Barnsley Train station from 10am to board the 10.24 to Meadowhall refusing to pay. We hope that other parts of South Yorkshire will also aim to get to Meadowhall on their own ‘Freedom Rides’ to meet up for a rally at 11am where we will plan further action.

Barnsley Chronicle report here.

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Thousands in court for council tax arrears as benefit cuts hit home

Many people who were formerly exempt from paying now face court, as the bedroom tax adds to spiralling debt burden.

Southwark council 9,000 people face court for council tax arrears

Southwark council had issued 9,000 summonses for council tax arrears to its residents by October 2013. Photograph: Martin Godwin

When a court summons for unpaid council tax arrived in early July, last year, Jan Campbell, 49, of Barnsley, south Yorkshire, panicked. “It was terrifying. I thought I was going to lose my home. Her mental health problems drastically worsened, and her family encouraged her to stay with them in Northampton. The court date came and went, and the judge waived the £100 court costs, but granted an attachment of benefits order, which deducted £12 of council tax a month directly from Campbell’s benefits. She’s struggled to make ends meet ever since. “I’m having to sell things. I’ve got nothing left. Everything went in 2012. To be part of society you have to have these things, and you can’t afford them.”

With government cuts to means-tested council tax benefit, many people are now facing liability orders for arrears. From April 2013, the government slashed funding for council tax benefit by £500m, and instructed local authorities to decide how the reduced benefit should be distributed. The poorest residents, unemployed, disabled or low paid, now find themselves paying council tax where previously they were exempt.

Many people, like Campbell, have simultaneously been hit by other welfare cuts. In a three-bedroom home, the bedroom tax shortfall and council tax swallows up a quarter of her benefits even before any of her bills are paid. “That’s a whole week out of the month. It’s not supposed to go on that. What do they expect me to do?” She was able to claim Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) to cover part of the bedroom tax, and with the help of Unite the union, won an appeal over one room that was too small to be classed as a bedroom. (more…)