Highways England tell us what we already knew!

At Thurrock Council’s Lower Thames Crossing Task Force meeting on Monday 22nd January, Highways England made it clear that while they will ‘listen’ to the concerns of residents, the horizontal and vertical alignments of the road are ‘project led decisions’: Thurrock councillors and residents told they have “no influence” over Lower Thames Crossing route by Highways Englandhttp://www.thurrockgazette.co.uk/news/15904908.Thurrock_councillors_and_residents_told_they_have__no_influence__over_Lower_Thames_Crossing_route_by_Highways_England/ As you can read in the article, the ‘areas of influence’ are in the main cosmetic.

The Chair of the Lower Thames Crossing Task Force, Councillor Peter Smith, said: “I appreciate Highways England explaining to us quite candidly that we cannot influence these areas.” Let’s be blunt, any Thurrock councillors participating in this task force are merely going through the motions for the sake of appearances. In effect they’re doing the bidding of Highways England in conferring an illusion of legitimacy on the forthcoming ‘consultation’ process when the stark reality is that it is nothing more than an exercise in bullshit.

The Chair of the Thames Crossing Action Group, Matt Jackson, has a considerably more realistic take on the consultation: “The consultation Highways England plan to run during 2018 will be little short of a waste of money. What is the point consulting the general public when they; a) have no effect on the final design. b) their opinions are discredited due to local business wants and needs?”

Why are we not in the least bit surprised by all of this? Regardless of whether it’s the Lower Thames Crossing or the re-vamp of Basildon town centre, we’ve always made the point that these are exercises by the planners in attempting to fool the public while ramming through what they deem to be right. We have a top down planning system that is inherently skewed towards delivering what big business demands regardless of the detrimental impact on ordinary people.

Until people wake up to whose agenda is being served here, the power dynamics that enforce that agenda and join in making an effective challenge to a political, economic and social system in thrall to neo-liberalism, we’re going to have more of this bullshit. It really is time to wake up, smell the coffee and start to do something to mount a serious challenge to this…

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We’re bringing out another paper!

While The Stirrer does what it says on the tin – stirs and causes trouble – our sister project, The Estuary Alternative, is about promoting positive alternatives. In other words, starting to build a new world in the decaying shell of the increasingly dystopian one we currently have to endure. We’re bringing out another print edition of The Estuary Alternative in a bid to give this project a boost. So, if you’re involved in a progressive, community based grassroots project anywhere in the south of Essex, we’d love it if you could write a piece about what you’re doing and send it to us:)

As it’s almost certain we’ll be on a stall at this event (see poster below), we’re going to be bringing out another print edition of The Estuary Alternative in a bid to promote this project and get more people contributing to it.

We pretty much wrote all of the copy for the first print edition of The Estuary Alternative in a bid to kick start the project. With the forthcoming print edition, we feel that in order to reflect what’s going on with community focused grassroots projects in the south of Essex, the people involved in them should be writing about what they’re doing and sending the copy to us. All we want to write is a brief editorial and that’s it.

We want to get this four page, A4 paper, printed and delivered back to us by the middle of March. This means the layout has to be…

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‘Power hour’ or Workers’ power?! – Reports from two Amazon workers, Hemel Hempstead, Winter 2017/18

Given what we’ve already written about the Amazon facility at Tilbury: Are Amazon digging a hole for themselves at Tilbury? – https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/12/01/are-amazon-digging-a-hole-for-themselves-at-tilbury/ and: Dark, Satanic warehouses… – https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/11/27/dark-satanic-warehouses/ – we feel these reports from workers at Amazon’s facility in Hemel Hempstead offer some interesting insights into the operation, the dynamic among the workforce and the potential to take on Amazon in a fight for better conditions…

Angry Workers of the World

Inside Amazon

With our series of Amazon workers’ reports [1] we hope to not provide yet another sad victim story of how Amazon turns humans into semi-robots. We leave this to the mainstream media. We want to dismantle the myth of Amazon being the all-powerful and well-organised global giant. We want to support the small but important efforts to turn Amazon’s international structure into the basis for a global exchange and coordination of workers:

https://amworkers.wordpress.com/

We want to use the reports to address workers around us. We have to do this face-to-face and for this aim we have written and distributed leaflets at Amazon Hemel Hempstead this winter. We spoke to workers at the company bus stops in west London in the morning and with Amazon workers at the warehouse:

https://angryworkersworld.wordpress.com/2017/12/20/leaflet-for-amazon-workers-december-2017/

Two of our friends wrote reports after working at the Hemel Hempstead FC. Feel free to circulate them and to get…

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Reflections on the Save Southend NHS march and rally

On Saturday 27th January, over 1000 people marched through the centre of Southend to protest against the ‘Sustainabilty & Transformation Partnership’ (STP a.k.a. Slash, Trash & Privatise) plans for ‘rationalising’ services between Southend, Basildon and Broomfield hospitals. It was also in protest at the merger of the three hospitals which was sprung upon everybody during the STP ‘consultation’ process. The protest was called by Save Southend NHShttps://www.facebook.com/SaveSouthendNHS/ Check out their Facebook page for frequent, accurate and to the point updates and bulletins about the campaign and the implications of the STP.

The aim of the protest was to draw the attention of the wider public in Southend to the threats posed to NHS services by the STP plans. Threats which if not challenged, will lead to a two tier service with those that can pay getting a better standard of treatment followed by eventual privatisation and the loss of a free at the point of use health care.

The full implementation of the STP with the re-location and ‘rationalising’ of services relies on having the capability to transport patients swiftly between hospitals. One you start reading what Save Southend NHS have found out, it’s very clear that Southend, Basildon and Broomfield hospitals do not have the vehicles, let alone the staff to provide this capability. Even if they did have the capability, they would have to deal with a road network in the region that more often than not is congested. Congestion that in an emergency blue light situation could in some cases be the difference between life or dying in the back of an ambulance.

The STP also relies on patients and their families, friends and carers accepting that more often than not, they will have to travel a lot further for treatment and visits. Even in this day and age, not everyone drives and having to endure a journey on a series of buses to get halfway across the county is going to be a stressful and distressing experience for many. All of this shows that the STP plans have nothing to do with improving services for patients and everything to do with cost cutting and privatisation.

As for the march and rally, we felt it did the job of getting the message across to the public about the threats posed to NHS services in the region by the STP plans. What was good was that it was a lot more than just the ‘usual suspects’ with a good number of ordinary people joining the march and rally. One of the strengths of Save Southend NHS is that it’s a broad, community based campaign that doesn’t have a party political agenda. One of their other strengths is the network they’re building up with other campaign groups across the region and beyond. Both of these will be essential in dealing with the inevitable games of divide and rule that those behind the STP plans will try in their desperation to thwart opposition to them.

All in all, the march and rally were a great success in that they brought people together, boosting the morale of campaigners and supporters in the process and sent out a clear signal that opposition to the STP plans is growing. The organisers certainly deserved their celebration in The Railway afterwards! However, a march and rally is just one tactic on one day in an ongoing campaign and there’s a lot more work to come in the future. Here at the Stirrer, we’ll be doing what we can to support this fight.

Thurrock UKIP have gone – what comes next?

In the least surprising piece of news we’ve heard in a fair while, all 17 UKIP councillors in Thurrock have quit the party and have established a new political grouping called the Thurrock Independents – see here for the full story in the Thurrock & South Essex Independent: BREAKING: Local UKIP councillors quit party and form new Thurrock Independents group: http://www.thurrockindependent.com/2018/01/26/breaking-local-ukip-councillors-quit-party-and-form-new-thurrock-independents-group/ Keeping up with the noble tradition of playground politics on Thurrock Council, Labour and Tory councillors have swiftly poured scorn on this new political venture: Opposition parties react to new Thurrock Independent Party: http://www.thurrockindependent.com/2018/01/26/opposition-parties-react-to-new-thurrock-independent-party/

Presumably the Thurrock Independents have been doing a fair bit of soul searching before reaching their decision to jump the sinking ship that is UKIP. Some of that soul searching may have been about the role of a local councillor. Now, we never had a brief for UKIP councillors in any way, shape or form but as they now claim to be independents, we’d like to offer them our thoughts on the role of local councillors: A few thoughts on local councillors…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/11/17/a-few-thoughts-on-local-councillors/

We’ve been having a look at the comments about the Thurrock Independents on social media and it would be fair to say that the reactions are mixed ranging from supportive to outright derision. Given that a fair few people voted for these councillors because they were UKIP, the point has been made that they should all consider quitting and put themselves up for re-election either in by-elections or at the next local elections in May. Obviously, some of the former UKIP councillors have served their terms and are up for re-election anyway but there’s a body of opinion (mainly pissed off UKIP supporters who can’t accept that it’s over) that thinks the lot of them should face the electorate to see if they’re still wanted.

It does appear that Tim Aker who as a councillor is one of the Thurrock Independents intends to carry on as a UKIP MEP: Thurrock MEP defends defection to the Independentshttp://www.thurrockgazette.co.uk/news/15900674.UKIP_MEP_says_he_had__no_choice__but_to_defect_to_the_Independents/ Seriously, you couldn’t make this up if you tried!

A few years back, Thurrock was touted as the area where UKIP would get an MP and be the catalyst for national success. Thurrock was graced with visits from former UKIP leader, Nigel Farage and resources were showered on Thurrock to make it a stronghold for the party. Now UKIP no longer exist in Thurrock – from heroes to zeros in just a few years. Alan Sked who founded the Anti-Federalist League in 1991 which changed it’s name to UKIP in 1993 thinks they’re long past their use by date and should jack it in now: I founded Ukip. It’s a national joke now and should disappearhttps://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/22/founded-ukip-national-joke-disappear-henry-bolton-alan-sked

So what now? Many commentators have said that UKIP have fulfilled their stated aim of securing a vote for Brexit and there’s no reason for it to exist. However, over the years, UKIP has adopted a more openly anti-immigrant stance. In Thurrock, this aspect of UKIP proved attractive enough for many former BNP voters to vote for them at local council and general elections. With UKIP’s demise in Thurrock which we strongly suspect will be getting repeated across the country, there’s currently a political vacuum for those of an anti-immigrant disposition. Vigilance is needed because there are reactionary elements waiting in the wings to fill that vacuum.

You only have to look across to continental Europe to see how slickly presented identitarian parties are hoovering up the votes and moving into positions where if they aren’t close to gaining power, they potentially hold the balance of power. We only have a short period of grace to work out how to get our progressive message across to people before the malign reactionary elements come crawling out of the woodwork to exploit people’s concerns about immigration for their own nefarious ends.

There’s a longer, slightly more measured, version of this article on our sister blog, On Uncertain Ground: https://onuncertainground.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/thurrock-ukip-have-gone-what-comes-next/

Save Southend NHS march and rally – it’s happening this weekend!

We’ve put up a fair few posts sourced from the Save Southend NHS Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/SaveSouthendNHS/ – which detail the threats posed to NHS services in the region. If people don’t unite to fight against these threats, cuts in the name of ‘rationalisation’ are inevitable. What will also be inevitable will be the acceleration of the privatisation of the NHS and the beginning of the end of free at the point of use health care.

The march and rally on Saturday has two aims – to make the public aware of the extent of the threats posed to the NHS services we rely on and to build a campaign that will stop those threats. If you’re an activist anywhere in south east / mid Essex, you need to be on this march and rally offering your solidarity. If you’re a member of the public who’s concerned about the future of the NHS, please come along to this event to find out more about the threats and join in the campaign to stop them.

To make sure the message that this march and rally needs the support of everyone in the region who can get along to it, we’re leaving this post at the top of this blog and won’t be posting again until it’s over – that’s how vital we think this event is…

A ‘heritage asset’ where the lifts don’t work and the windows leak

The ‘regeneration’ of Basildon town centre has been under discussion for a number of years now accompanied by the occasional ‘consultation’ exercise. From anecdotal evidence we’ve heard, these ‘consultation’ exercises seem to avoid any meaningful engagement with the residents of Brooke House, the unmissable block shown above that’s located slap bang in the middle of Basildon town centre.

Brooke House is a Grade II listed building and has been described by Basildon Council in their bullshit ‘regeneration’ propaganda as a ‘heritage asset’. You can see this description for yourself if you visit the premises near the Entertainer toy shop taken over by the council to display their plans for the town centre.

Let’s get one thing straight, Brooke House is more than a Grade II listed building or a ‘heritage asset’ – it’s where people live. Given the deteriorating conditions inside the block, it would appear that this is something Basildon Council can’t really grasp: The state (and future) of Brooke Househttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/12/22/the-state-and-future-of-brooke-house/

Over the weekend of the 20th and 21st January, the lift serving the even floors was only working intermittently before packing up completely. The lift to the odd floors was working but very slowly and in almost complete darkness. Residents frequently had no option but to use the stairwells. Stairwells that as a result of the wet weather over the weekend and leaking windows were soaking wet, slippery and dangerous to use.

So, in the 21st century in a supposedly advanced country, we have a residential tower block in the middle of a town centre with malfunctioning / broken lifts and a soaking wet stairwell that has rightly been described as a death trap because the windows aren’t getting fixed. All of which gives the impression that the policy of Basildon Council regarding Brooke House is one of managed decline that will force tenants and residents to seek alternative accommodation. The idea being is that once the block is empty, the council can offload it to a developer and trouser the cash.

Basildon Council now have a fight on their hands with the newly formed and vocal Brooke House Residents Basildon group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1587080528053394/ and a proactive local councillor willing to hassle the council until they start to take a genuine interest in the people living in the block. As with our previous post about Havering Council’s estate ‘regeneration’ plans, local authorities need a sharp reminder that when they talk about this, it’s not just buildings, it’s peoples’ lives they’re playing with…