Saturday, October 27, 2012

Georgia On My Mind

Following elections earlier this month, it is unclear how far Georgia's new government will go in honouring a pledge to reform the draconian labour code introduced by the previous regime. Although opposition coalition leader Bidzina Ivanishvili is now Prime Minister, Mikheil Saakashvili, whose United National Movement lost its parliamentary majority, remains President.

As I wrote at the time, the effects of the code were apparent when I visited the former Soviet republic last year to document the work of public sector unions. Trade unionists were already complaining of intimidation by both government and employers. Now a friend, recently returned from Tbilisi, tells me that, in the last 18 months, membership of the Georgian health workers union has fallen from 27,000 to 3,000 - a catastrophic collapse that suggests the situation has deteriorated further.

The legacy of Cold War realpolitik meant that the UK was quick to leap to the defence of Saakashvili's misguided attack on South Ossetia in 2008, whilst his attacks on workers' rights, in contravention of article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, went unremarked. However, despite the lack of pressure from its western allies, a recent report suggests things may be about to get better. More pictures here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The People's Library

Local residents and a group of activists from Occupy London, who took over the empty Friern Barnet Library a few weeks ago, have already filled its shelves to overflowing with books donated by supporters. The newly restocked People's Library and community hub is open six days a week and hosts a range of events for children and adults, as well as running a trust-based book-lending service.

A court hearing in December will determine whether Barnet Council can evict the community librarians and sell off the building as part of its One Barnet £1 billion outsourcing programme. Until then, at least, volunteers and users have an opportunity to demonstrate how such a service might operate without local government support. A couple of months is one thing, but it's hard to see how it can survive in the long term without a regular source of income. In the meantime, it's a great advert for community solidarity and co-operative action. More pictures here (and more to follow).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Don't Applaud, Just Throw Money

Down the road from the Tate Modern gallery in Southwark, London, is an animatronic sculpture by the public art collective Greyworld. Monument to an Unknown Artist (above) looks out over cranes and the rapidly rising towers of a new residential development called Neo Bankside. Apartments in the blocks are on sale for prices ranging from £1m to £6.5m. A quick Google search (my Latin is rusty) reveals that the inscription on the monument - Non plaudite modo pecuniam jacite - translates as: Don't applaud, just throw money. Neat placement.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Consultation? No Thanks!

Consultation is very popular with the authorities in west London. Residents in Earls Court are still fighting to prevent the demolition of their homes following a deeply flawed consultation exercise by Hammersmith and Fulham Council. Now the local health service is under threat.

In the last couple of weeks there have been two big demonstrations by residents and health workers in Hammersmith (above) and Southall (below) over proposals to close the A&E departments of four local hospitals: Charing Cross, Central Middlesex, Ealing and Hammersmith. As with the Earls Court redevelopment scheme, the plans are 'out for consultation', but it is clear that NHS North West London has already made up its mind. In the current climate the powers that be will have a hard time convincing anyone that 'reorganisation' isn't just a euphemism for cuts in services. The demonstrations are likely to continue.