Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Ernie Bevin and a Leek Roundabout

On 4th June 1944 Churchill asked the Minister of Labour Ernie Bevin to say farewell to the troops who were setting off to take part in the Normandy landings. One of the soldiers called out " When we do this job for you Ernie are we going back on the dole". Both Churchill and Bevin replied " No you are not"
Unemployment in the country reached a high of 2.5 million in the 1930s. In 1932 20% of the work force in Leek were without work. Townspeople pulled together to fund a centre in Shoobridge St for the unemployed many veterans of the First War

Unemployment dogged North Staffordshire right up to the outbreak of the Second World War. The soldiers who embarked for Europe, my father amongst them, had reason to fear the poverty of the 1930s and wanted to ensure that there families never had to endure it again. That postwar consensus has been betrayed by politicians.

September 2011 and unemployment is again at 2.5 million. This figure overlooks those who want to work, which pushes the figure up to 4.5 million. Locally 1200 people are workless. There are about 450,000 vacancies nationally. In other words 10 jobless people chasing every job. The number of young people without work is around 1 million. We see evidence of the desperate search for work in Leek when 200 people apply for 2 vacancies in Argos or over 700 for work at Pointons.

In short the world that the Normandy veterans fought to escape from has returned and is now handicapping the lives of many in the town.

I have been following the argument that has raged in the Post and Times about the roundabout. I was struck by one comment that the removal of a piece of traffic management would be an insult to the war dead. In my opinion this is wrong. The greater insult is to see a return to the world of poverty and unemployment they expended their blood and sweat to escape. Cllr Hart poised the question whether it was to be jobs or roundabout. The veterans of both world wars given their experiences would not hesitate to give an answer.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Miners- a family memory

The deaths of the South Wales miners were poignant reminder of how dangerous the industry is. Of course although it is hard to realise now the Staffordshire Moorlands had a number of pits and many local men and women have worked in the past in the mining industry. The last working pits closed in the 60s and the only trace of the industry are in pubs name.

I was thinking of the sad fate of the miners recently on a visit to Caverswall. In the churchyard lie the bones of three distant ancestors killed in the Mossfield Mining disaster in 1889. Mossfield Colliery- long gone- was situated at Adderley Green. Charles, Thomas and Samuel Sherwin three brothers who were to pay with their lives because profit motives, a s the inquiry later revealed, outweighed safety considerations. The youngest Sam was 13 his body was recovered from under his dead pit pony. In the disaster, caused by an explosion, 64 men and boys were killed, as were 16 ponies. It is said that the family used the compensation money to start up a bakery in Werrington. Another story states that a pair of the dead brother’s clogs was attached to the grave in Caverswall. They were not the first or last Sherwin's- my mothers maiden name- to die in a pit.

My great, great, great grandfather Thomas Sherwin was killed in a gunpowder explosion in one of the pits that existed on Wetley Moor in October 1840. And the last was a relative killed nearly a hundred years later at Hanley Deep Pit.

A local newspaper reported on the community response.
"bodies were laid side by side on fresh straw to be identified and claimed by relatives. Day wore on into night but the crowd still remained and miners from other collieries were now standing by. A religious service was held near the mouth of the shaft. Mothers, fathers, wives, friends, neighbours, spectators and sightseers all stood bareheaded."

A similar scene was played out outside Gleision Colliery last week to tragically restore the poetic judgement that there is blood on the coal.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

9/11 Thoughts

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 has just passed. It’s one of those days in history when people can recall what they were doing. I certainly can. It was a beautiful early autumn day. I spent the morning carrying out my Councillor duties in Stafford and then working for a conflict resolution organisation at Longton High School. The news, which I listened to on the way back to Leek, was unbelievable. I initially thought it was a radio play, but the voices of the presenters and the terrible events they were describing were proof. I later spoke to a friend with whom I had visited New York in 1999. New York, it goes without saying, is a great place. I loved Central Park, the museums, China Town and Greenwich Village. It is a place of charm, vitality and diversity. It was as much these characteristic of the place that was brutally attacked a decade ago.
You may ask what is this to do with Leek? I would answer everything because we have all been changed by 9/11. Locals who have fought in the subsequent wars. I was recently talking to a mother who son was badly injured in a mine explosion in Helmand province. There were the polarising debates over Iraq in 2003. Many people, myself included, went to the largest rally in London that February. Other consequences have been an increase in distrust of Muslims. Stoke has seen an arson attack on a mosque and a general feeling of uncertainty has increased.

What is to be done? At the time I recalled a quote from the American monk Thomas Merton. Ten years after it serves as the only response to fanaticism.

"The desire to kill is like the desire to attack another with a red hot iron. I have to pick up the incandescent metal and burn my own hand while burning the other person. Hate itself is the seed of death in my own heart while it seeks death of another. Love is the seed of life in my own heart while it seeks the good of another.".

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The age of plastic

I was in the north of Scotland for my holiday and spent a day visiting an Iron Age site on the coast. My 7-year-old nephew Henry volunteered that we lived in the age of plastic when we discussed the various ages of man. I think he was spot on, as a look on the beach was proof enough of this insight. On the beach were plastic bottles, netting, boxes, rope, cartons, bags and crates.

Plastic as a substance has been around for about a hundred years and the qualities that have made it so successful its durability and versatility also makes it deadly for wildlife.

Tens of thousands of whales, birds, seals and turtles are killed every year in the marine environment as they often mistake plastic bags for food. Its also been known to damage farm animals.

Plastic bags, once ingested, cannot be digested or passed by an animal so it stays in the gut. Plastic in an animal's gut can prevent food digestion and can lead to a very slow and painful death.

Plastic does not biodegrade because it is a combination of elements extracted from crude oil then re mixed up by men in white coats. Because these combinations are man made they are unknown to nature.
Plastic never really disappears. In effect it lasts forever.

A number of countries are taking measures to restrict the use of plastic bags.
Ireland has instituted a steep tax on plastics. According to the country’s Ministry of Environment, use fell by 90 percent as a result, and the tax money that was generated funded a greatly expanded recycling program throughout the country.

Larger economies have joined the cause. French and Italian legislators imposed a ban on all non-biodegradable plastic bags, to go into effect in 2010.

I feel that the UK should equally move in the direction of a ban.

At the current rate of environmental depredation it is likely that humankind will become extinct in the next few hundred years. It would be pathetic if the plastic bag is the proof for any future custodians of the planet of our existence.