Archive | September, 2011

Film Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

28 Sep

– by Walton Pantland

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a finely crafted spy movie. It owes more to old films like The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin than modern incarnations like The Bourne Identity. It’s a cerebral and atmospheric film, and you need to pay attention to follow the complexity of the plot as the tension slowly winds itself to a cold, hard finale.

Based on the novel by John le Carré, and set in 1973 in the depths of the cold war, the central plot is that one some one at the very top of British intelligence is a secret Soviet agent – and has been for years. MI6 – code named the Circus – has been infiltrated by an enemy agent. Gary Oldman, in a masterful performance, plays George  Smiley, tasked with surreptiously identifying and exposing the spy at the heart of the Circus. He teams up with a Benedict Cumberpatch’s Peter Guillam as they set out to spy on the spies and uncover the mole. As he slowly uncovers the agent’s tracks, he is haunted by an earlier interaction with Soviet master spy Karla, who appears to be the puppet master pulling the strings.

The grey tones and muted, subtly shifting moods perfectly evoke Cold War paranoia; the focus on betrayal and secrecy rather than car cases and gun fights a reminder of the contrast between the slow burning tensions of international espionage and the passions of hot war.

The film also deals with loyalty and identity, as well as with homophobia in the British establishment, and asks: why would some one betray their country? The answer seems to be that despite the differences between their societies, at this level both sides seem as bad as each other. Both engage in nefarious deeds, and are involved in assassinations and other such activity. Despite the veneer of espionage being a gentleman’s pursuit, this is a dirty business and people are of no consequence.

When you find yourself with colleagues you despise and enemies you respect, and complicated layers of double dealing, it is hard to know when you’ve crossed the line until it is too late. Featuring more than one passionate but tragic love story, as an agent falls for the beautiful but betrayed Russian woman Irina and tries to rescue her, Smiley and Guillam attempt to hold things together and inject some humanity into the situation.

With a stellar cast and understated performances, this film evokes a murky, complex world when the shadow of nuclear annihilation hung over the body politic.

A masterful film well worth watching.



Scotland’s Ambulance Workers Overwhelmingly Reject Working-time Plans

23 Sep

Joint statement by Unite Scotland & Unison Scotland: 

Scotland’s ambulance workers have overwhelmingly rejected latest proposals by the Scottish Ambulance Service to resolve a protracted working time dispute.

Members of Unison and Unite were balloted on the proposed changes to their terms and conditions, with both trades unions returning an 80 per cent rejection of the offer of August 12th.   However, proposals for a lump sum payment of £250 a year for workers to respond during unpaid time, plus £50 per call-out, fails to address the wider issues at play.

Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said, This rejection merely scratches the surface of the issue.  Our members want to see the Scottish Ambulance Service properly resourced and fit to serve the public. Instead they have been demonised for following imposed working time changes.

In 2004, the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) reduced our members’ working week by 2.5 hours.  Simply trying to pigeon-hole the unresolved issue of unpaid working time as a ‘meal-break’ fails to address the matter. 

Lump sum payments merely ignore the problems created by AfC – problems that can be resolved very quickly by the Scottish Government and through a negotiated agreement which both Unison and Unite members are fully committed.”

David Forbes, Regional Organiser for Unison, said: The employer’s offer was put to our members and they have voted overwhelmingly to reject these proposals.

“Ambulance work is very demanding and our members greatly value balance and stability in their working time, during which it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that adequate staff and resources are in place to cover these periods.

Our members deal with life and death decisions day in, day out.  That’s why it’s so important to staff – and for the piece of mind of the Scottish public – that often long and stressful shifts are underpinned by clarity in the terms and conditions of this essential workforce.”


Notes to editors

  • Unison’s ballot saw a turnout of 74.1 per cent of members. Of these members, 79.2 per cent voted to reject the proposals.
  • Unite’s ballot saw a turnout of 67 per cent of members. Of these members, 80 per cent voted to reject the proposals.
  • Ambulance workers, along with other NHS staff, work 37.5 hours per week, with an additional 30 minute unpaid meal break each day.
  • For further information contact David Forbes, Regional Organiser for Unison, on 07985 121397 or 0131 226 0059 or John Gallacher Unite Scottish Ambulance Service Convenor on 07789 923749.


Yanis Varoufakis Interview Part 3 – The Modest Proposal

23 Sep

In the third part of our interview with Professor Yanis Varoufakis we discuss the ‘Modest Proposal’ developed by Yanis, along with Professor Stuart Holland,  for overcoming the European economic crisis.

As the economic situation rapidly declines in Europe against a backdrop of political inertia and with the folly of austerity increasingly exposed, the Modest Proposal offers solutions to save the Eurozone.

Keep an eye out for our fourth and final instalment of our interview next week.

Fairer Employment Practices – Making Devolution Work

22 Sep

By Keith Ewing, Professor of Public Law, Kings College London & Mick O’Sullivan

One of the problems we are about to face under the Con-Dem government is the erosion of employment standards.   More use of agency workers, limited rights to unfair dismissal, and restricted access to tribunals.

In these circumstances we need to be looking around at areas where the Con-Dems are not in power politically, and where there might be opportunities to advance rights at work.   Specifically is there anything that can be done in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (and by large local authorities)?

The obvious problem of course is that under the devolution settlements, employment rights are tightly controlled by Westminster.   But while this means that there can be no ‘hard law’ mechanisms from the devolved administrations, this does not mean that we cannot develop alternative mechanisms that reflect a rejection of the race to the bottom being promoted by George Osborne and chums.

So what would be possible?   We think it would be open to the devolved administrations to take social justice and fair employment standards seriously, and to set a new agenda. There are three essential building blocks, all of which could be assembled very easily if there was the political will to do so.

First, it would be necessary to establish an office in one of the existing departments (whether Belfast, Cardiff or Edinburgh) dedicated to Fair Employment.   We could call it the Office of Fair Employment Standards (OFFEMPS), for want of something more imaginative.   No doubt somebody will be able to think of something smarter with a clever acronym.

Secondly, it would be necessary to develop a charter of Fair Employment Practices, expected to be applied by all employers in the jurisdiction concerned (Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland).  The hard question of course is what these fair employment practices would be.   But don’t despair – there is an easy answer.

2011 is the 50th anniversary of the European Social Charter, an international treaty ratified by the UK (in 1962).  That treaty sets out a number of fair employment practices, that include

  • Everyone shall have the opportunity to earn his living in an occupation freely entered upon;
  • All workers have the right to just conditions of work;
  • All workers have the right to safe and healthy working conditions;
  • All workers have the right to a fair remuneration sufficient for a decent standard of living for themselves and their families;
  • All workers and employers have the right to freedom of association in national or international organisations for the protection of their economic and social interests;
  • All workers and employers have the right to bargain collectively.

There should be an expectation that all employers in Northern Ireland,Wales and Scotland will comply with these standards, which could be suitably embellished and developed, to fill gaps in  legal protection, as in the case of agency workers in particular.   A fair employer would be expected to convert an agency worker to full employment status after a year’s service.

So far as collective bargaining is concerned, this would provide an opportunity to address the declining levels of coverage, unparalleled in modern Europe.   There ought to be an expectation on all employers that they not only recognise trade unions, but that they take part in sector wide bargaining arrangements, in common with the best practice of the Nordic countries and the Netherlands, countries with economies we can only admire.

All of which brings us to the third of the building blocks, namely how to ensure that employers comply with these expectations.   There are precedents for this elsewhere, but essentially what needs to be done is the establishment of a contact person in the appropriate government to whom complaints could be made by a trade union about the activities of a particular employer.

It would then be the responsibility of the officer and his or her team to investigate the complaint and to seek its resolution, publishing outcomes on the government website.   A similar procedure is used by the OECD to enforce guidelines relating to the labour (and other) standards of multinational enterprises.  This has had good outcomes for British unions, including the global framework agreement with security giant G4S.

So although there may be no power to legislate on labour standards in the devolved bodies, this is no excuse for doing nothing.  There is a power to set and supervise fair standards, and to name and shame.  True, these standards are not enforceable in the courts or tribunals.   Paradoxically, however, a reliance on political pressure and bad publicity may provide a better way of raising standards than a reliance on law and lawyers.

Given at least four years of the Tories at Westminster stripping away at our employment rights, this is one of our best options.  It could be rolled out beyond Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh to London and to other receptive councils.


Edinburgh construction workers protest over 30% pay cut plan

20 Sep

Construction workers, who face up to 30 per cent pay cuts because rogue employers are tearing up long held Scottish national agreements, will be demonstrating outside Edinburgh City Council on Thursday, 22 September between 9am – 11am.

Dozens of workers, members of the country’s largest trade union, Unite, will be staging their protest outside Edinburgh City Council on the day the council meets to confirm its decision to award the new Portobello High School building contract to Balfour Beatty, one of the eight employers behind the breakaway move.

The focus of their anger are plans by Balfour Beatty and another seven breakaway construction companies, which are imposing semi-skilled grades into the mechanical and electrical sector in Scotland.

Unite regional officer, Scott Foley said: ‘Our members in Edinburgh are furious about this attack by these so-called reputable companies aimed at reducing our members’ income by up to a third.’

 ‘The companies are trying to bulldoze their plans through by ripping long-standing Scottish national agreements without any negotiation.’

 ‘These rogue employers should pull back from the brink as their brutal onslaught on workers’ skills, pay, and terms and conditions is causing widespread anger among workers.’

Workers in five of the eight breakaway companies have been written to by their managers with a stark choice – sign new contracts on much inferior pay, and terms and conditions or face the sack on 7 December.

The employers want to withdraw from five long-held agreements and replace them with a new agreement which will allow employers to introduce semi-skilled grades and dictate rather than negotiate on pay, holiday entitlement, overtime, and what constitutes away work.

But five of the eight have upped the stakes. Balfour Beatty, Crown House Technologies, Spie Matthew Hall, Shepherd Engineering Services and NG Bailey have issued Unite with legal notice of their intention to dismiss, with notice, thousands of employees before re-engaging them on new inferior contracts.


Note to news editors:

For further information, please contact Unite communication officer, Liane Groves on 07793 661657 Scott Foley Regional Officer, 07810 157 915

The eight major break-away contractors currently involved are:

Balfour Beatty Engineering Services Limited; N G Bailey Building Services; Crown House Technologies; Gratte Brothers; MJN Colston Limited; Spie Matthew Hall; Shepherd Engineering Services (SES); and T.Clarke Plc.

Unite has been told by these major employers that they will no longer be party to the following agreements:  SJIB (Scottish Joint Industry Board for the Electrical Contracting Industry); JIB (Joint Industry Board for the Electrical Contracting Industry); SNIJIB (Scottish and Northern Ireland Joint Industry Board for the Plumbing Industry); JIB-PMES (Joint Industry Board for Plumbing Mechanical Engineering Services in England and Wales); HVAC (National Agreement for the Heating, Ventilating, Air Conditioning, Piping and Domestic Engineering Industry); MPA (Major Projects Agreement).

Yanis Varoufakis interview part 2

15 Sep

In the second part of our interview with Professor Yanis Varoufakis, we learn about the impact of the financial crisis in his home country of Greece and why things have got so bad so quickly in the home of democracy.

We also look at the spread of financial contagion across Europe and the Eurozone and why our politicians are refusing to act.   It’s all over for Greece, Italy and Spain, claims Varoufakis, and if France loses its AAA credit rating, it’s all over for the Eurozone.

Professor Varoufakis reveals just how close the Eurozone is to the economic brink and why it impacts the whole continent and its people – Scotland included.

Look out for parts three and four over the next few weeks.

The Campaign to Save Remploy

15 Sep

Remploy trade union members protested outside the Thistle Hotel in Glasgow yesterday where officials from the Department of Work and Pensions were meeting senior management from the company.  This is part of a ‘consultative road-show’ concerning  the Sayce report on supported employment, Getting in, Staying in and Getting On.  Unite has argued that these consultations are shrouded in secrecy.

The Sayce report  found that for every £1 spent on support through Access to Work, the government recoups £1.48. Our concern with the report centres on its emphasis of supporting the individual rather than institutions employing the disabled to gain and retain employment.  The need for supported employment is as necessary today as it was when Remploy was set up in 1945.

Remploy, which employs 4,000 people, including 2,800 with disabilities, has been subject to a voluntary redundancy programme which meant 700 people leaving the organisation.  It also provides sheltered employment for people with disabilities producing, among other things,  top range textiles used by security forces.