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February 20, 2012

US call centre business to create 600 jobs in Wales

US call centre business to create 600 jobs in Wales

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Conduit, a subsidiary of the US directory assistance organisation kgb, is to create six hundred new jobs in the Welsh capital Cardiff by the end of 2012. Conduit is currently searching for 320 employees and intends to employ a further 280 this year.

In a statement, First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones described the news as “yet another indication that Welsh government policies are having a beneficial effect supporting the economy and creating jobs during these difficult times”, saying he was “delighted that Conduit is yet again expanding its operations in Wales.” Edwina Hart, Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science, said she was “pleased that using the economic levers we have at our disposal, such as creating sector-specific enterprise zones, we continue to attract and retain world class business in Wales.”

The new employees will work at Fusion Point, an office area in Cardiff city centre. Prior to this announcement, Conduit already had in excess of 1900 employees within three Welsh bases in Cardiff Gate, Swansea, and Cardiff city centre. This new contract has been created in association with a residential care service provided by British Gas.

Conduit Europe chief executive officer Denis Creighton said of the company’s decision: “Wales delivers our best performance figures period. And that’s why we’re planning to focus future growth here.”



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December 5, 2010

UK Parliament to vote on tuition fee rise on Thursday

UK Parliament to vote on tuition fee rise on Thursday

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Students protesting outside the UK parliament in November.
Image: BillyH.

The controversial plan to raise university tuition fees in England and Wales will be voted on in the House of Commons on Thursday, December 9. The policy has been the cause of protests across the United Kingdom by students, some of which have turned violent. It has also been a source of considerable criticism and political difficulties for the Liberal Democrats and has raised questions as to the long-term viability of the Coalition government.

The new policy on tuition fees will allow universities to double the current tuition fees from £3,290 per year to around £6,000 per year, as well as allowing some universities to get special approval from the Office For Fair Access (OFFA) to raise their fees to £9,000 per year. If passed, the new fee structure will apply starting in the academic year of 2012/2013. The vote on Thursday will only be on the fee rise, with other matters being voted on in the new year following publication of a new higher education white paper.

Vince Cable and Nick Clegg will likely vote for the changes, but how many Lib Dems will join them?
Image: Nick Clegg.

In addition to increasing fees, the policy will increase the payment threshold at which payment is made. It is currently set at £15,000 and will rise to £21,000, but the interest rate will also rise. It is currently 1.5% but will now vary from between 0% and 3% plus inflation (using the Retail Price Index).

The fee increase follows the publication of an independent review by Lord Browne, former chief executive of BP, a process started by Peter Mandelson, the former Business Secretary. Before the election, two main options were mooted for funding reform in higher education: either an increase in tuition fees or a graduate tax. The Browne Review endorsed the former and the findings of the Review form the basis of the government’s policy. The graduate tax was supported by the Liberal Democrats before the election, and in the Labour leadership elections it was supported by Ed Balls and the winner of the leadership election, Ed Milliband.

Conservative members of the Coalition intend to vote for the reform, and the Labour opposition have been vociferous critics of the rise in fees, despite the previous government’s introduction of top-up fees. The Liberal Democratic members of the Coalition have been left in a politically difficult position regarding the fee hike and have been target of much criticism from protesters. Liberal Democrats have opposed the rise in tuition fees: their party manifesto included a commitment to ending tuition fees within six years, and many signed a pledge organised by the National Union of Students to not vote for any increase in tuition fees.

The Coalition agreement allows Liberal Democrats to opt to abstain on votes for a number of policies including tuition fees. Many Liberal Democrats are expected to abstain, and a few MPs have stated that they will vote against it including former party leader Sir Menzies Campbell, and the recently elected party president Tim Farron, as well as a number of Liberal Democrat back-benchers. Liberal Democrat party leaders have said that they will act collectively, but the BBC have said senior Liberal Democrats have admitted in private that government whips will not be able to force all Liberal Democrats to vote for the policy.

On Tuesday, the Liberal Democrats parliamentary party will meet in the Commons to decide on their collective position. If all ministers decide to vote for the policy, it will probably pass, but if only cabinet ministers (and maybe parliamentary private secretaries) vote for the policy, there is considerable risk of it not passing. If the Coalition does not manage to get the policy through Parliament, it will fuel doubts about the continued effectiveness and viability of the government.

How deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and business secretary Vince Cable vote has been of considerable controversy. Although under the Coalition agreement, they are allowed to abstain, suggestions of doing so have prompted criticism. It was suggested last week that Cable may abstain even though as business secretary he is directly responsible for higher education policy, and has been heavily involved in designing the proposals. Cable has said that Liberal Democrat support of the tuition fee changes has allowed them to push it in a more “progressive” direction.

Cable has now decided that he will vote for the policy, and argues that the policy has “a lot of protection for students from low income backgrounds and graduates who have a low income or take time out for family”. He also believes “there’s common consensus that the system we’ve devised is a progressive one”.

“Dr Cable has performed so many U-turns over the issue of university funding that he is spinning on his heels,” said National Union of Students president Aaron Porter. “That may stand him in good stead with the Strictly Come Dancing judges but the electorate will see it differently.”

Former deputy PM John Prescott has joked about Vince Cable’s u-turns on Twitter.
Image: Steve Punter.

Former deputy prime minister John Prescott joked on Twitter that “On tuition fees we’ve noticed Vince Cable’s remarkable transformation in the last few weeks from stalling to Mr In Between”—a reference to a previous attack Prescott made on Gordon Brown as having transformed from “Stalin to Mr Bean“.

On Question Time this week, Liberal Democrat treasury secretary Danny Alexander also confirmed he is prepared to vote for the policy but delegated the question to the meeting of Liberal Democrats on Tuesday.

The politics of the tuition fee debate may also affect the by-election taking place in Oldham East and Saddleworth following the removal of Phil Woolas, where Liberal Democrat and Conservative candidates will both be standing for the first by-election following the formation of the Coalition government.

Opposition to the policy has become the focus for a large number of protests across the country by both current university students, many school pupils and political allies of the student movement.

On the Nov. 10 demonstration, protestors occupied Millbank tower.
Image: Charlie Owen.

On November 10, between 30,000 and 52,000 protesters from across Britain marched through central London in a demonstration organised by the National Union of Students and the University and College Union, which represents teachers and lecturers in further and higher education. At the November 10 protest, a number of people occupied Millbank Tower, an office block which houses the Conservative Party. Fifty people were arrested and fourteen were injured. NUS president Aaron Porter condemned the attack and said it was caused by “those who are here to cause trouble”, and that the actions of a “minority of idiots” shouldn’t “undermine 50,000 who came to make a peaceful protest”.

Following the November 10 march, other protests have taken place across the country including an occupation at the University of Manchester, a sit-in at the John Owens Building in Manchester, and a demonstration at the University of Cambridge. A protest was also run outside the offices of The Guardian where Nick Clegg—who was giving a lecture inside the building—was executed in effigy while students protested “Nick Clegg, shame on you, shame on you for turning blue” (blue is the colour of the Conservative Party).

A graffitied police van in Trafalgar Square at the November 24 demonstration.
Image: yllA.

On November 24, a large number of protests took place across the country including a mass walk-out from universities and schools organised on Facebook, numerous university occupations, and demonstrations in Manchester, Cambridge, Birmingham, Leeds, Brighton and Cardiff, and a well-publicised occupation of University College London.

In London, a protest was planned to march down Whitehall to Parliament, but police held protesters in Trafalgar Square until they eventually broke free and ran around in a game of “cat and mouse” along the side streets around Charing Cross Road, Covent Garden and Picadilly Circus.

Simon Hardy from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts described the police response including the controversial ‘kettling’ of protesters as “absolutely outrageous”. Green MP Caroline Lucas raised the police response including the use of kettling in the House of Commons and stated that it was “neither proportionate, nor, indeed, effective”.

On November 30, protests continued in London culminating in 146 arrests of protesters in Trafalgar Square, and protests in Cardiff, Cambridge, Newcastle, Bath, Leeds, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Belfast, Brighton, Manchester and Bristol. Protesters in Sheffield attempted to invade and occupy Nick Clegg’s constituency office. Occupations of university buildings started or continued at University College London, Newcastle University, Cambridge University and Nottingham University, as well as council buildings in Oxford and Birmingham.

A “day of action” is being planned on December 8, the day before the Commons vote, by the National Union of Students.



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November 24, 2010

UK students protest for second time this month

UK students protest for second time this month

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

At least three hundred students gathered outside the gates of Cardiff University.

Mass-walkouts took place today in cities throughout the United Kingdom, as students campaigned against rising tuition fees and government cuts.

Protests took place for the second time in as many weeks in places such as Aberystwyth, Cambridge, Southampton, Liverpool, and Brighton. Events included a ‘study-in’ at the Edinburgh Liberal Democrat headquarters, a 10am protest in Trafalgar Square attended by thousands, and a ‘dress in red’ march in Manchester.

In Cardiff, at least a hundred students rallied outside the main gates of Cardiff University‘s main building, in an event organised by a group named Actions Against Cuts Cardiff, with the support of a member of the National Union of Students executive committee. Occupations of university buildings have also begun in Birmingham, Plymouth, and the Royal Holloway.

In London, students are infuriated by what they say is London South Bank University‘s decision to ban anti-cut related meetings from their campus earlier this month. One student described it as “undemocratic and scandalous” as, according to the students, they were forced out of their booked room by security guards, and prevented from partaking on any on-campus meetings — but South Bank University maintains that it was a “misunderstanding” due to a double-booked room. Dr. Phil Cardew, Pro Vice-Chancellor of LSBU, maintained that “freedom of speech lies at the very heart of the higher education community whether it is academic, political or social debate”, and that “the students were encouraged to continue their discussions in the Students Union”.

A police van was vandalised in Trafalgar Square.

Not all the demonstrations were peaceful. Central London saw two officers injured as the police attempted to hold back the protesters, a police van attacked and vandalised, and three arrests were made. Police, keen to make sure that the 30 Millbank occupation was not repeated, were out in force, clashing with students in Cambridge, where two arrests were made, and kettling protesters of up to a thousand, according to protest organisers, as dusk approached.

The group that organised the protests, the “National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts” (NCAFAC), told students in the run-up to the protests to not “be afraid of blocking traffic if you have enough people”. On their blog, they stated that “[they] would like to see university students planning to march around their campus, bursting into lecture theatres and spreading the word”, a move that would breach many University codes of conduct. When contacted by Wikinews, the group did not respond to requests for clarification.

Universities are facing more than £900m ($1.4bn) cuts in the next three years. This protest comes as, earlier this month, 50,000 students and lecturers took to the streets in a National Union of Students organised rally, which culminated in the violent occupation of the Conservative Party campaign headquarters at 30 Millbank. In Westminster, a student suspected of throwing a fire extinguisher off the headquarters’ roof pleaded guilty in court today, under the charge of violent disorder, and will appear in Southwark Crown Court at a later date for sentencing, the maximum of which is five years imprisonment. Some protesters involved in the 30 Millbank occupation led an ‘energising meeting’ in Cardiff yesterday, prior to today’s demonstration.

Many students do not understand the reasoning behind the cuts. The Trotskyist student group, Cardiff University Socialist Students, wonder why, compared to the “£120 billion the government throws away every year on evaded, avoided and uncollected taxes”, the “few billion” required to pay tuition fees is “tiny”. The group also advocates cutting the Trident nuclear deterrent in order to pay for fees, and wonder why the vice-chancellor of the university was awarded a 4% pay rise (to £275k p.a.) compared to last year, whilst during the economic recession.

Last week, three hundred sixth-formers marched in Finchley, Margaret Thatcher’s old constituency, throwing shirts at the local Tory headquarters, echoing the phrase “They ripped the shirts of our backs”. Lower income college students are hit badly by the budget cuts, as plans to abolish Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA), the up-to £30 a week subsidy for 16-19 year-old full-time students with household incomes of £30,810 or less.

The protests were primarily organised on the popular social networking site, Facebook. One Facebook user said earlier this week that the protests were “a perfect opportunity for students to show how disappointed we are with Nick Clegg”, who was advised by security officers earlier to desist from cycling from his home in Putney to Downing Street over fears that he could be pounced upon by angry students en route.



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January 26, 2010

Wales railway upgrade proposals would cost £5bn, says expert

Wales railway upgrade proposals would cost £5bn, says expert

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

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A file photograph of a Welsh train service in Cardiff
Image: Chris McKenna.

A committee of Welsh Assembly politicians has called for an extensive programme of works to upgrade the railways in Wales, saying that Wales is not being treated fairly in comparison with other parts of the United Kingdom. However, one academic who gave evidence to the committee says that the proposals, if implemented in full, would cost about £5 billion (more than US$8 billion), and it is unclear whether this level of public finance will be available.

The Enterprise and Learning Committee made a number of recommendations to improve the rail service within Wales, and between Wales and England. It calls for better links between the north and south of Wales, high-speed links from Wales to other parts of the UK, and light rail systems for the southern cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport.

Other suggestions include upgrading the Severn Tunnel between south Wales and England, electrifying the line along the north Wales coast, and new carriages, especially on routes serving the valleys of south Wales. Improved access for passengers with disability is another area where the committee wants action. It also calls for more decision-making powers about railway matters to be transferred to the devolved government in Wales.

The committee, which took two months to look over the report, said that it was concerned that passenger satisfaction with the service was lower in Wales than elsewhere. In addition, investment was needed to meet an anticipated increase in demand for passenger and freight services. It wants the possibility of reopening closed lines, or building new lines, to be examined.

Committee chairman Gareth Jones said that the report “examines the long-term future of the rail network in Wales”, adding, “The evidence we have gathered indicates that freight and passenger traffic on our network will increase over the coming years. The objective hopefully will be that Wales benefits from this extra traffic so that we are better placed in terms of high speed link connections with the rest of the UK and Europe. It is important that the Welsh government provides for that extra demand.”

Commenting on the report, Profesor Stuart Cole from the University of Glamorgan said that although the plans were ambitious, the committee had “set out very clearly what is required if you’re going to get a 21st century railway”. The 21 recommendations would cost £5bn in total, with the three light rail schemes taking about one-third of that total, in his view.

Other improvements, for example between the north and south of Wales, could be achieved at a lesser price. Cole, who gave evidence to the committee, says that “for an expenditure of £50m spread over three years we could get the journey time from Llandudno to Cardiff down from four hours to three hours and 20 minutes.”

The Welsh Assembly Government will give its full response to the report at a later date. A spokesman said that a modern railway was “crucial” for Wales, and commented that the Assembly Government agreed with many of the recommendations. Network Rail, which manages railway tracks in Wales and elsewhere in Great Britain, said that it would already be spending more than £1.5bn on infrastructure over the next five years, with improvements to over 120 stations planned.



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Welsh air route in difficulties, call for funding cut

Welsh air route in difficulties, call for funding cut

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

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Highland Airways, which runs flights between Anglesey in north Wales and Cardiff in south Wales, has said today that it is business as usual, despite suspending online booking yesterday. Meanwhile, Liberal Democrats have called on the Welsh Assembly Government to withdraw the £800,000 annual public subsidy for the route (about US$1.3 million) and use the money on “green public transport” instead.

Logo of Highland Airways, the troubled company running the north–south service in Wales.
Image: Highland Airways.

Although flights were continuing and passengers were told to “check in as normal”, the company stopped taking bookings for future flights yesterday, blaming “technical difficulties”. However, it also said that trading conditions were “difficult”. The company’s commercial director, Basil O’Fee, explained that the company’s problems had been “exacerbated by the severe winter and resultant reduced flying and reduced income.” He added that the board was in talks with potential new investors, and hoped for a outcome of these discussions to be known “within days rather than weeks”.

“It is now time to end this costly debacle before even more public money is poured into a service that is both economically and environmentally unsustainable,” according to Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. She wants the money spent on improving rail transport in Wales.

However, Ieuan Wyn Jones, the leader of the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru and the Assembly member for Anglesey, said that the service was an “essential link”. He hoped that the company would be able to keep going, or in a “worse case scenario”, that the route would be run by administrators while the Assembly Government looked at other options.

The company has carried 37,000 people on its twice-daily service since it started operating. According to Jones, this showed that that the service “has been a huge success with passenger numbers far exceeding expectations”.

Bidding for the next contract with the Assembly Government to provide the route closed last week, with Highland Airways thought to be the only entrant. The lack of other bids was “particularly worrying”, commented Jenny Randerson, Welsh Liberal Democrats transport spokesperson. “This does suggest that despite huge public subsidy, this service is still not seen as a viable, profitable, and green solution to this key transport need”, she said.

Highland Airways is based in Inverness, Scotland, where it operates passenger and freight services for island communities. The news that the company was in difficulty was said to come as a surprise to business and transport leaders in Scotland, where it is regarded as a “Highland success story”.



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January 12, 2010

Bus crashes into shop in Cardiff, Wales

Bus crashes into shop in Cardiff, Wales – Wikinews, the free news source

Bus crashes into shop in Cardiff, Wales

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cardiff, Wales — A public bus has crashed into a shop in Cardiff, Wales. No one is believed to have been injured.

The bus was nearly empty when it crashed into a closed, shuttered shop.
Image: Killing Vector.

The nearly-empty bus was leaving the Cardiff central bus depot in Wood Street at approximately 7pm local time when witness say it failed to complete a left turn onto St. Mary Street, instead crashing into the shuttered doors of the Pure Rugby sport memorabilia shop. The shop was closed and empty at the time. Police and an ambulance were called to the scene of the accident and the area was cordoned off; St. Mary Street was closed to bus traffic and buses throughout the city centre were put on alternate routes for the evening.

While South Wales, along with much of Great Britain, has suffered from icy conditions in recent weeks, roads and sidewalks were clear. The accident comes three days after a three-bus collision injured a driver on Westgate Street, one street over from St. Mary Street.



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May 27, 2009

Left-wing EU parliament candidates debate in Cardiff

Left-wing EU parliament candidates debate in Cardiff

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cardiff, Wales — Labour, Plaid Cymru, and No2EU candidates for the Wales seats in the European Parliament met at Cardiff’s Sandringham Hotel last night for the second of two pre-election hustings debates hosted by Cardiff Trades Union Congress. Cardiff TUC president Katrine Williams moderated as Derek Vaughan of the Labour Party, Jill Evans MEP of Plaid Cymru, and Rob Griffiths of the No2EU coalition, the tops of their respective lists, took questions from an audience of 22 composed largely of socialist activists and trade union members.

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Candidates from the Tories, Liberal Democrats, and Green Party were not invited to the evening debate, although the Liberal Democrats did take part in the TUC’s debate earlier in the day. Ms Williams explained that the Liberal Democrats and Tories had been excluded because “we wanted to have candidates more representative of trade unions” but that not inviting the Greens had been “an oversight” due to the less prominent tradition of green politics in Wales. The BNP, UKIP and some minor parties also did not take part.

Derek Vaughan responds to a question from the audience

In opening statements, the three candidates discussed their records and their goals for the European Parliament. Mr Vaughan, leader of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, asserted the pro-organised labour credentials of the Labour Party, which has been under fire for several years from the left, and noted that Labour, which currently controls two of Wales’s four seats in the EU Parliament, has brought £1.5 billion to Wales, with a comparable amount to come in the future. Calling the BNP “Nazis” and comparing the British political situation to that in Germany in the 1930s, Vaughan called for the parties of the left to rally behind Labour in order to ensure that the BNP did not obtain any seats in Wales; but he expressed resignation to the likelihood that the BNP would earn a seat in North West England.

Jill Evans MEP after the debate

Ms Evans, meanwhile, who has been an MEP for ten years, announced her opposition to the pro-privatisation current in the EU and pledged that Plaid would support a new program of public investment and pro-organised labour revisions of EU directives, particularly the Posted Workers Directive.

Rob Griffiths delivers his opening statement

Mr Griffiths, meanwhile, who is General Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain, took a position urging radical reform of the European Union. The Lisbon Treaty, which he characterised as a re-branding of the European Constitution, would, he argued, enshrine neo-liberal policies in Europe and impose them on its member states in a way that was irreversible — “at least by any constitutional means”. Calling for a “social Europe” as opposed to a “United States of Europe”, Griffiths suggested that the creation of a European Defence Agency and the actions of the European Court of Justice were being used to turn the European Union into a capitalist “empire” akin to the United States.

Discussion of the ongoing UK parliamentary expenses scandal and its implications for MEPs, who draw salaries and expenses considerably higher than Westminster MPs do, dominated the early discussion. The Labour candidate expressed the position that the problems in accountability leading to the scandal had been fixed; his opponents noted that of the parties currently representing Britain in Brussels, only Labour has not yet disclosed their expenses (although Mr Vaughan states that the party will begin to do so soon) and Mr Griffiths furthermore declared that the scandal was part of a wider problem: the corruption of the political system by big business.

On the subject of a common European defence policy the three candidates supported widely differing views. The No2EU candidate stated plainly that he considers Europe not to be threatened, and said that a European defence force would be used for foreign adventures in Afghanistan, Africa, and elsewhere in the developing world while at the same time building up the armaments industry in Europe. Ms Evans, meanwhile, argued that the proper role of a common EU force would be as a “civil force” supporting conflict prevention and conflict resolution operations, and also called for the abolition of NATO. Mr Vaughan finished the second round of questioning arguing that a common European armed force should be an alternative to the “US-dominated” NATO, but also stated the importance of bilateral alliances in building up a common European defence force, citing the Franco-German Brigade of the Eurocorps as an example.

Candidates answered the questions of an active but small audience

Debate ended on the contentious question of MEP salaries, with one member of the audience challenging the three candidates to pledge to accept a wage, if they won, equal to the average wage of their constituents. Ms Evans agreed that the set wage, currently £63,000 rising to £73,000 in 2010, was “too high”, but would not commit to a so-called “worker’s wage”, under heavy criticism from the audience. Mr Vaughan, following, called it “not fair” to ask MEPs to take such a pledge but asserted “I have never been motivated by money” and finished his part in the debate with a call to elect more left-wing socialist MEPs. Mr Griffiths, whose No2EU coalition has made a worker’s wage for MEPs part of their election manifesto, readily pledged to hold to a living wage, albeit not necessarily one equal to the average wage of his constituents, and described some of the difficulties associated with refusing an EU salary, noting that initially No2EU had proposed that its MEPs should draw no salary and claim no expenses from Europe but the coalition’s legal advisors had said that to do so would endanger the status of any of its members as MEPs.

Voting for the European Parliament elections in the United Kingdom takes place June 4.



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April 3, 2009

G20 protests: Inside a labour march

G20 protests: Inside a labour march – Wikinews, the free news source

G20 protests: Inside a labour march

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Wikinews accredited reporter Killing Vector traveled to the G-20 2009 summit protests in London with a group of protesters. This is his personal account.

Friday, April 3, 2009

London – “Protest”, says Ross Saunders, “is basically theatre”.

It’s seven a.m. and I’m on a mini-bus heading east on the M4 motorway from Cardiff toward London. I’m riding with seventeen members of the Cardiff Socialist Party, of which Saunders is branch secretary for the Cardiff West branch; they’re going to participate in a march that’s part of the protests against the G-20 meeting.

The South Wales protesters gathered on the steps of the National Museum, Cardiff
Image: Steve Chapple.

Before we boarded the minibus Saunders made a speech outlining the reasons for the march. He said they were “fighting for jobs for young people, fighting for free education, fighting for our share of the wealth, which we create.” His anger is directed at the government’s response to the economic downturn: “Now that the recession is underway, they’ve been trying to shoulder more of the burden onto the people, and onto the young people…they’re expecting us to pay for it.” He compared the protest to the Jarrow March and to the miners’ strikes which were hugely influential in the history of the British labour movement. The people assembled, though, aren’t miners or industrial workers — they’re university students or recent graduates, and the march they’re going to participate in is the Youth Fight For Jobs.

The Socialist Party was formerly part of the Labour Party, which has ruled the United Kingdom since 1997 and remains a member of the Socialist International. On the bus, Saunders and some of his cohorts — they occasionally, especially the older members, address each other as “comrade” — explains their view on how the split with Labour came about. As the Third Way became the dominant voice in the Labour Party, culminating with the replacement of Neil Kinnock with Tony Blair as party leader, the Socialist cadre became increasingly disaffected. “There used to be democratic structures, political meetings” within the party, they say. The branch meetings still exist but “now, they passed a resolution calling for renationalisation of the railways, and they [the party leadership] just ignored it.” They claim that the disaffection with New Labour has caused the party to lose “half its membership” and that people are seeking alternatives. Since the economic crisis began, Cardiff West’s membership has doubled, to 25 members, and the RMT has organized itself as a political movement running candidates in the 2009 EU Parliament election. The right-wing British National Party or BNP is making gains as well, though.

Talk on the bus is mostly political and the news of yesterday’s violence at the G-20 demonstrations, where a bank was stormed by protesters and 87 were arrested, is thick in the air. One member comments on the invasion of a RBS building in which phone lines were cut and furniture was destroyed: “It’s not very constructive but it does make you smile.” Another, reading about developments at the conference which have set France and Germany opposing the UK and the United States, says sardonically, “we’re going to stop all the squabbles — they’re going to unite against us. That’s what happens.” She recounts how, in her native Sweden during the Second World War, a national unity government was formed among all major parties, and Swedish communists were interned in camps, while Nazi-leaning parties were left unmolested.

The Youth Fight For Jobs assembles.
Image: Killing Vector.

In London around 11am the march assembles on Camberwell Green. About 250 people are here, from many parts of Britain; I meet marchers from Newcastle, Manchester, Leicester, and especially organized-labor stronghold Sheffield. The sky is grey but the atmosphere is convivial; five members of London’s Metropolitan Police are present, and they’re all smiling. Most marchers are young, some as young as high school age, but a few are older; some teachers, including members of the Lewisham and Sheffield chapters of the National Union of Teachers, are carrying banners in support of their students.

Cquote1.svg Gordon Brown’s a Tory/He wears a Tory hat/And when he saw our uni fees/He said ‘I’ll double that!’ Cquote2.svg

—Youth Fight for Jobs, chant #5

Stewards hand out sheets of paper with the words to call-and-response chants on them. Some are youth-oriented and education-oriented, like the jaunty “Gordon Brown’s a Tory/He wears a Tory hat/And when he saw our uni fees/He said ‘I’ll double that!'” (sung to the tune of the Lonnie Donegan song “My Old Man’s a Dustman”); but many are standbys of organized labour, including the infamous “workers of the world, unite!”. It also outlines the goals of the protest, as “demands”: “The right to a decent job for all, with a living wage of at least £8 and hour. No to cheap labour apprenticeships! for all apprenticeships to pay at least the minimum wage, with a job guaranteed at the end. No to university fees. support the campaign to defeat fees.” Another steward with a megaphone and a bright red t-shirt talks the assembled protesters through the basics of call-and-response chanting.

Police escorted the march along the entire length of its route.
Image: Killing Vector.

Finally the march gets underway, traveling through the London boroughs of Camberwell and Southwark. Along the route of the march more police follow along, escorting and guiding the march and watching it carefully, while a police van with flashing lights clears the route in front of it. On the surface the atmosphere is enthusiastic, but everyone freezes for a second as a siren is heard behind them; it turns out to be a passing ambulance.

The march enters the City of London. The top of The Gherkin, a symbol of London’s financial center, can be seen in the background.
Image: Killing Vector.

Crossing Southwark Bridge, the march enters the City of London, the comparably small but dense area containing London’s financial and economic heart. Although one recipient of the protesters’ anger is the Bank of England, the march does not stop in the City, only passing through the streets by the London Exchange. Tourists on buses and businessmen in pinstripe suits record snippets of the march on their mobile phones as it passes them; as it goes past a branch of HSBC the employees gather at the glass store front and watch nervously. The time in the City is brief; rather than continue into the very centre of London the march turns east and, passing the Tower of London, proceeds into the poor, largely immigrant neighbourhoods of the Tower Hamlets.

The march finds empty streets in the Tower Hamlets
Image: Killing Vector.

The sun has come out, and the spirits of the protesters have remained high. But few people, only occasional faces at windows in the blocks of apartments, are here to see the march and it is in Wapping High Street that I hear my first complaint from the marchers. Peter, a steward, complains that the police have taken the march off its original route and onto back streets where “there’s nobody to protest to”. I ask how he feels about the possibility of violence, noting the incidents the day before, and he replies that it was “justified aggression”. “We don’t condone it but people have only got certain limitations.”

Cquote1.svg There’s nobody to protest to! Cquote2.svg

—Peter, march steward

A policeman I ask is very polite but noncommittal about the change in route. “The students are getting the message out”, he says, so there’s no problem. “Everyone’s very well behaved” in his assessment and the atmosphere is “very positive”. Another protestor, a sign-carrying university student from Sheffield, half-heartedly returns the compliment: today, she says, “the police have been surprisingly unridiculous.”

Marchers chant labor slogans in Wapping

The march pauses just before it enters Cable Street. Here, in 1936, was the site of the Battle of Cable Street, and the march leader, addressing the protesters through her megaphone, marks the moment. She draws a parallel between the British Union of Fascists of the 1930s and the much smaller BNP today, and as the protesters follow the East London street their chant becomes “The BNP tell racist lies/We fight back and organise!”

Marchers take in lunch in Victoria Park. Speakers from organized labor address the crowd.
Image: Killing Vector.

In Victoria Park — “The People’s Park” as it was sometimes known — the march stops for lunch. The trade unions of East London have organized and paid for a lunch of hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries and tea, and, picnic-style, the marchers enjoy their meals as organized labor veterans give brief speeches about industrial actions from a small raised platform.

Cquote1.svg A demonstration is always a means to and end. Cquote2.svg

—Neil Cafferky, London organizer of the Youth Fight For Jobs march

During the rally I have the opportunity to speak with Neil Cafferky, a Galway-born Londoner and the London organizer of the Youth Fight For Jobs march. I ask him first about why, despite being surrounded by red banners and quotes from Karl Marx, I haven’t once heard the word “communism” used all day. He explains that, while he considers himself a Marxist and a Trotskyist, the word communism has negative connotations that would “act as a barrier” to getting people involved: the Socialist Party wants to avoid the discussion of its position on the USSR and disassociate itself from Stalinism. What the Socialists favor, he says, is “democratic planned production” with “the working class, the youths brought into the heart of decision making.”

On the subject of the police’s re-routing of the march, he says the new route is actually the synthesis of two proposals. Originally the march was to have gone from Camberwell Green to the Houses of Parliament, then across the sites of the 2012 Olympics and finally to the ExCel Centre. The police, meanwhile, wanted there to be no march at all.

The Metropolitan Police had argued that, with only 650 trained traffic officers on the force and most of those providing security at the ExCel Centre itself, there simply wasn’t the manpower available to close main streets, so a route along back streets was necessary if the march was to go ahead at all. Cafferky is sceptical of the police explanation. “It’s all very well having concern for health and safety,” he responds. “Our concern is using planning to block protest.”

He accuses the police and the government of having used legal, bureaucratic and even violent means to block protests. Talking about marches having to defend themselves, he says “if the police set out with the intention of assaulting marches then violence is unavoidable.” He says the police have been known to insert “provocateurs” into marches, which have to be isolated. He also asserts the right of marches to defend themselves when attacked, although this “must be done in a disciplined manner”.

He says he wasn’t present at yesterday’s demonstrations and so can’t comment on the accusations of violence against police. But, he says, there is often provocative behavior on both sides. Rather than reject violence outright, Cafferky argues that there needs to be “clear political understanding of the role of violence” and calls it “counter-productive”.

Demonstration overall, though, he says, is always a useful tool, although “a demonstration is always a means to an end” rather than an end in itself. He mentions other ongoing industrial actions such as the occupation of the Visteon plant in Enfield; 200 fired workers at the factory have been occupying the plant since April 1, and states the solidarity between the youth marchers and the industrial workers.

Members of the International Bolshevik Tendency display signs and sell literature in Victoria Park
Image: Killing Vector.

I also speak briefly with members of the International Bolshevik Tendency, a small group of left-wing activists who have brought some signs to the rally. The Bolsheviks say that, like the Socialists, they’re Trotskyists, but have differences with them on the idea of organization; the International Bolshevik Tendency believes that control of the party representing the working class should be less democratic and instead be in the hands of a team of experts in history and politics. Relations between the two groups are “chilly”, says one.

A march steward calls out a chant

At 2:30 the march resumes. Rather than proceeding to the ExCel Centre itself, though, it makes its way to a station of London’s Docklands Light Railway; on the way, several of East London’s school-aged youths join the march, and on reaching Canning Town the group is some 300 strong. Proceeding on foot through the borough, the Youth Fight For Jobs reaches the protest site outside the G-20 meeting.

Police cover all roads leading into the ExCel Centre.
Image: Killing Vector.

It’s impossible to legally get too close to the conference itself. Police are guarding every approach, and have formed a double cordon between the protest area and the route that motorcades take into and out of the conference venue. Most are un-armed, in the tradition of London police; only a few even carry truncheons. Closer to the building, though, a few machine gun-armed riot police are present, standing out sharply in their black uniforms against the high-visibility yellow vests of the Metropolitan Police. The G-20 conference itself, which started a few hours before the march began, is already winding down, and about a thousand protesters are present.

A speaker demands an end to dictatorship in Ethiopia

I see three large groups: the Youth Fight For Jobs avoids going into the center of the protest area, instead staying in their own group at the admonition of the stewards and listening to a series of guest speakers who tell them about current industrial actions and the organization of the Youth Fight’s upcoming rally at UCL. A second group carries the Ogaden National Liberation Front’s flag and is campaigning for recognition of an autonomous homeland in eastern Ethiopia. Others protesting the Ethiopian government make up the third group; waving old Ethiopian flags, including the Lion of Judah standard of emperor Haile Selassie, they demand that foreign aid to Ethiopia be tied to democratization in that country: “No recovery without democracy”.

Ogaden Somalis demand an autonomous homeland.
Image: Killing Vector.

A set of abandoned signs tied to bollards indicate that the CND has been here, but has already gone home; they were demanding the abandonment of nuclear weapons. But apart from a handful of individuals with handmade, cardboard signs I see no groups addressing the G-20 meeting itself, other than the Youth Fight For Jobs’ slogans concerning the bailout. But when a motorcade passes, catcalls and jeers are heard.

It’s now 5pm and, after four hours of driving, five hours marching and one hour at the G-20, Cardiff’s Socialists are returning home. I board the bus with them and, navigating slowly through the snarled London traffic, we listen to BBC Radio 4. The news is reporting on the closure of the G-20 conference; while they take time out to mention that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper delayed the traditional group photograph of the G-20’s world leaders because “he was on the loo”, no mention is made of today’s protests. Those listening in the bus are disappointed by the lack of coverage.

Most people on the return trip are tired. Many sleep. Others read the latest issue of The Socialist, the Socialist Party’s newspaper. Mia quietly sings “The Internationale” in Swedish.

Due to the traffic, the journey back to Cardiff will be even longer than the journey to London. Over the objections of a few of its members, the South Welsh participants in the Youth Fight For Jobs stop at a McDonald’s before returning to the M4 and home.



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September 28, 2008

Wales loses all BBC TV and Radio services

Wales loses all BBC TV and Radio services

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Cardiff, Wales — The British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) entire analogue, DTT and Satellite service was taken swiftly off air today for over 7 hours following a massive power failure at Broadcasting House in Llandaff, Cardiff. The outage hit at 10:30UTC this morning, and was further compounded by the fact that the building’s back up generators failed to start, bringing the whole service to a total standstill.

BBC1 and BBC2’s regional opt-outs for Wales were very quickly fed into another service, relaying BBC Northern Ireland for most of the day, while BBC Radio Wales fell silent. The Welsh language broadcasting service, BBC Radio Cymru had to switch to taking a feed from BBC Radio 4’s long wave service until 17:05UTC, when service was restored, and BBC News and Sport interactive for the Principality went offline, with no updates throughout the day.

During this time, the BBC’s main switchboard in London became jammed with callers, and BBC Information and BBC Reception Advice services had queue times up to 20 minutes to speak to advisors.



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February 10, 2008

Rugby union: Wales, France, England win in second week of 2008 Six Nations

Rugby union: Wales, France, England win in second week of 2008 Six Nations

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

The second week of the 2008 RBS Six Nations Championship kicked off yesterday with Wales playing Scotland at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. This was followed by France playing Ireland at the Stade de France, Saint-Denis. Today, Italy played England at the Stadio Flaminio, Rome.

Wales vs. Scotland

Scotland’s Dan Parks kicked off the match at 1400 local time (UTC). An error in the first line-out of the match by Scotland resulted in Wales kicking the ball along the ground to the Scotland try-line, almost leading to Wales’s fly-half, James Hook, scoring a try within the first minute of the game, stopped only by Scotland’s fullback, Hugo Southwell. Scotland withstood the pressure from the following Welsh scrum, and went on to score the first points with a penalty from Chris Paterson in the tenth minute. Wales struck back three minutes later with a try from Shane Williams, converted by Hook, following a misjudged kick by Southwell that went straight to Mike Phillips. Scotland were then disadvantaged by the sin-binning of Nathan Hines, for hitting out at Lee Byrne at a ruck. However, they survived their time without the lock, the next score not coming until a 30th minute penalty to Wales, kicked by Hook. The 32nd minute saw the loss of Scotland’s skipper Jason White to injury, being replaced by Allister Hogg. The final points of the half came from a Paterson 43 metre penalty for Scotland, making the half-time score 10-6.

The second half began as the first had ended, with a Paterson penalty four minutes after the restart bringing Scotland to within a point of Wales. This didn’t last long, however, as Hook scored and converted a try two minutes later, following a series of drives by the Welsh. Paterson kept the Scots in it with two further penalties, to make the difference only two points in the 56th minute. Wales replaced their half backs, Hook and Phillips, in the 58th minute, bringing on Stephen Jones and Dwayne Peel. Jones made his mark with a 65th minute penalty to give Wales a slightly more comfortable five point lead. Wales continued to pressure the Scots, and three minutes later, Williams grounded from mid-air with his body in touch to score a try, controversially given by the video referee, despite claims his foot had made contact with the touchline. Jones converted from this, and scored again with a 72nd minute penalty, which, despite late pressure from the Scots, proved to be the last points of the game, making the final score 30-15 to the home team.

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France vs. Ireland

Ireland’s Ronan O’Gara kicked off the second match of the day at 1700 local time (UTC+1). France’s first significant attack came in the third minute from a winding run by Aurélien Rougerie, squeezing through the Irish line, picking up about 60 metres, forcing Ireland to give away a penalty only 25 metres out. However, Jean-Baptiste Élissalde failed to capitalise on this early chance to score, kicking just wide. Within three minutes, France had got the ball over the try-line, but Julien Bonnaire was held up by the Irish defence as he tried to ground. The first score came from a 15th minute turnover in a ruck, and a disguised kick from Élissalde deep into the Irish corner gave Vincent Clerc, beating Denis Leamy to the ball, a simple try. The conversion was kicked successfully by Élissalde. Ireland responded almost immediately, with an 18th minute penalty from O’Gara. The French again managed to break through the Irish defence only a minute later, this time a pass by David Skrela setting up Clerc for his second try in five minutes in the same corner. This time Élissalde missed the conversion. The next points came from a second O’Gara penalty ten minutes later, to keep Ireland within a converted try’s score of France. However, a 36th minute dropped pass by the fly-half led to another turnover, which initiated a move that gave Clerc his hat-trick try within the first half. The conversion was made, and no further points were scored, bringing the half-time score to 19-6.

The second half saw no score until the 49th minute of the game, when Cédric Heymans easily gathered a ball that had rebounded off Brian O’Driscoll from an Élissalde kick, bursting through the covering defence to score behind the posts, giving Élissalde an easy conversion. Seemingly out of the match, Ireland continued to battle, and were rewarded in the 58th minute with a penalty try awarded for persistent French infringing at scrums only metres from their line. O’Gara easily kicked the conversion to bring them within 13 points of the French. Ireland’s hopes were raised further three minutes later when, following the introduction of Mick O’Driscoll and Rory Best, David Wallace was able to force the ball over the line. However, the conversion kick, that would’ve brought Ireland to within one converted try’s score of France once again, was missed by O’Gara, leaving them eight points behind with 20 minutes to play. A 69th minute move by the Irish looked certain to result in another try, but it was not to be as a final pass by O’Gara to release Geordan Murphy was a foot too high and into touch. Ireland continued to put the French under intense pressure, culminating in a 75th minute penalty from O’Gara to bring the Irish score only five points behind the French. However, a tense last five minutes proved too short for the Irish, who, despite constant bombardment, were unable to break through the French line to score a final decisive try. The match ended 26-21.

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Italy vs. England

Italy’s David Bortolussi kicked off the final match of the weekend at 1530 local time (UTC+1). England got off to a flying start when, after three minutes, Jonny Wilkinson ran onto his own chipped ball, before passing out to Paul Sackey, who sprinted through for the try in the Italian’s corner. Wilkinson then converted to give England an early seven point lead. Italy’s response came with two penalties, one in the sixth minute, the other in the 12th, scored by Bortolussi, to bring them back to within a point. The 15th minute brought a second England try, when Jamie Noon charged down and gathered a Bortolussi kick, before a short pass back to Wilkinson, himself making a short pass back to Toby Flood, who ran for the corner, diving over the try-line, to set up the conversion that would take Wilkinson to a total of 1000 points for England. A missed penalty by Wilkinson in the 23rd minute kept the difference at eight points, but nine minutes later, he successfully scored his second penalty attempt, to widen the gap to 11 points. A final penalty scored by Wilkinson three minutes before the break meant the half-time score was 6-20.

The Italians began the second half well, putting pressure on England, and earning penalties, scored by Bortolussi, in the 44th and 55th minutes to bring Italy back into the game. England again increased their lead four minutes later with a third penalty score from Wilkinson. There were no more scores for the next 17 minutes, and in the 67th minute, England replaced Wilkinson with Danny Cipriani. Going into the last ten minutes, Italy were still trailing by 11 points, when Kaine Robertson was stopped only by an ankle tap from Noon. Six minutes later, Simon Picone charged down a Cipriani kick, racing on to take the ball, running clear with it to score the try. The conversion, scored by Bortolussi, took Italy to within a try of victory, setting up an uncomfortable final three minutes for England. However, despite attempts by Italy to break through, they were unable to score the late try they needed, and the match finished 19-23.

Sources

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