Protest against the development (desecration) of the cliffs

We’ve shared posts from other groups in Southend opposed to the hubris of Southend Borough Council in persisting with their ill considered proposal for a museum on the clifftop near Prittlewell Square Gardens: Wasting millions again The campaign against this desecration is being stepped up a gear with a protest called by the South East Essex Green Party on Sunday 17th December.

Details of how building for the protest is going can be found on this Facebook events page:

Although, this has been called by the Green Party, the event is obviously open to all who are fed up with the arrogance of Southend Borough Council in continuing to push this proposal through in the face of increasing public opposition. We’ll be along to support it… Hopefully, people power will eventually prevail and this proposal will be consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs.


Amazon workers are fighting back

Amazon workers blocking the street in Berlin on Black Friday

Striking Amazon workers outside a distribution facility in Leipzig

Our previous post: Dark, Satanic warehouses… looked at the appalling working conditions staff at the Amazon distribution facility in Tilbury have to endure. The question is, do they have to suffer these conditions or can they fight back? On Black Friday, in Germany and Italy, workers at Amazon distribution facilities took strike action against the company as part of their fight for better pay and conditions: Amazon German, Italian workers protest on Black Friday, dubbed ‘Strike Friday’

Unlike the UK, it would seem that the unions in continental Europe still have a reasonable understanding of what their function is, namely fighting for the interests of their workers. The problem about the mainstream unions here in the UK is that they don’t want to rock the boat as it would disrupt their project of helping Jeremy Corbyn become the prime minister. It has to be pointed out to them that in fighting for the rights of workers, disruption is necessary to get the point home to employers. Here’s a small resource list of activists and so called fringe unions who are prepared to rock the boat…

Make Amazon Pay (Facebook)
Industrial Workers of the World
Independent Workers Union of Great Britain

As we’re mainly housing and community activists, we don’t have the contacts in places such as the Amazon warehouse at Tilbury that we’d like. If you’re working at Amazon in Tilbury – or any of the other massive warehouses in the region – feel free to contact us (anonymously if you want) to discuss where this could be taken. If anyone from Make Amazon Pay, the IWW or the IWGB wants to come down to Tilbury to start organising, even though our resources are stretched, we’ll do what we can to help and offer solidarity.

Lastly, if you’re thinking about doing your online shopping with Amazon – remember, clicks have consequences, one of which is perpetuating a brutal culture of exploitation…

Dark, Satanic warehouses…

Original image shot by Crusty Streets

If you go anywhere near Tilbury, you can’t help but notice the massive, recently opened Amazon warehouse that stretches along the north west edge of the town. From the outside, it looks to be a state of the art facility offering halfway decent employment opportunities. The reality is very different as Alan Selby writes in the Mirror: Timed toilet breaks, impossible targets and workers falling asleep on feet: Brutal life working in Amazon warehouse

Selby’s report deserves to be read closely as it shows that when it comes to workers rights, we’re heading backwards. To be honest, his report comes as no real surprise… This is the brutal reality of employment in 21st century Britain – short term contracts, little or no job security, the constant threat of the sack if you don’t meet increasingly demanding and harder to fulfil targets. With a proportion of ‘underperforming’ workers set to be sacked and replaced by those even more desperate for a job, the management at Amazon have succeeded in pitting workers against each other – it’s the ultimate in divide and rule.

Staff turnover is high as workers, even those desperate for employment, simply cannot cope with the brutal physical and mental demands of the work and have to leave for the sake of their heallth. Ambulances are called in on a regular basis to tend to workers who have collapsed from exhaustion. That matters little to Amazon as they know there’s a plentiful supply of people desperate for work who will take the place of those who depart. Ignore the bullshit Amazon spout about how they ‘value’ their staff – they just see the people working for them as interchangeable production units to be discarded at will if they can’t keep up with the relentless demands of the warehouse.

What has to be born in mind is that the Tilbury warehouse operates within all the legal requirements for health and safety, and employment law. Which shows that when it comes to looking after the well being of workers, employment law in this country isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. There’s no meaningful union representation at Tilbury – mind you, given how crap the mainstream unions are, it wouldn’t make a heck of a lot of difference if there was.

Welcome to the dark, Satanic warehouses of 21st century Britain. When it comes to treating workers like dirt, there’s little to mark out Amazon from a 19th century cotton mill up in Lancashire. A message needs to be sent out to the likes of Amazon that there’s only so far they can push people before they fight back. If any of the fringe unions such as the IWW or IWGB want to get involved down here, we’ll do what we can to offer our solidarity. Meanwhile, if you are thinking about doing your online shopping with Amazon – remember, clicks have consequences, one of which is perpetuating a brutal culture of exploitation…

Waiting for a response…

From the Save Basildon NHS Facebook page:

On Monday, local trade unionists sent this letter to the NHS success regime and local media – they are now waiting for a response.

From: Basildon and Thurrock trades Union Council

To: Clare Panniker, CEO Mid and South Essex Hospitals Trust, Mid and South Essex Success Regime

Dear Ms Panniker

I am writing to ask that the Mid and South Essex “success regime” takes urgent steps to organise an open-to all public meeting in Basildon, to begin a period of consultation with local people about the enormous shortfall in funding that the NHS is facing.

We are very concerned that the “Success Regime” in mid and south Essex seems to be committed to substantial cuts in funding. We are concerned that the size of the cuts that are planned is unclear – ranging from a global figure of £150m on the SR’s website, to a figure of £100m stated to local health campaigners at a meeting on 17/10/17. We are concerned that the shape of those planned cuts is also unclear – especially since the Regime dramatically withdrew its plans to downgrade two out of three A&E units in July 2017, and has yet to publish new ones – though a reference was made to the possible closure of operating theatres in Basildon at the meeting of 17/10/17. All we seem to know for sure is that the cuts are coming and that they will be substantial.

Sir Simon Stevens, the Chief executive of NHS England has called for an emergency injection of £4bn to rescue the health service from an acute crisis. In the same speech, to the NHS Providers conference on 8 November, he called for funding increases of £20 to £30 billion to bring NHS spending in line with French or German levels.

Any meaningful consultation must be open to discussing this view – that one of our options is to fully fund the NHS as a comprehensive and free to use public healthcare system. What we don’t want is a pretend consultation on plans that are already finalised. We do not share the Success Regime’s optimism that access to GP services can be restricted, hospital services can be trimmed, increased demands can be made on social care provision without unacceptable consequences for the quality of treatment and care, and its availability for those without the means to pay.

David Murray
President, Basildon and Thurrock Trades Union Council

The desecration continues…

These are some photographs sent in by one of our comrades from Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) showing the ‘progress’ Basildon Council have been making in desecrating St. Martin’s Square as they re-locate the town’s market there…

St. Martin’s Square used to be a pleasant, tree filled oasis where, when the weather was right, visitors to the town centre could take some time out from their busy schedule to sit and relax. Basildon Council in their offices on the other side of the square didn’t see it that way – all they saw was a space that in their eyes wasn’t bringing in any revenue. They have a narrow, meanly utilitarian mindset that puts a price on everything but fails to see any value in a space that offers people a chance to rest and re-charge their batteries.

In a changing retail climate with people spending less because they don’t have enough money or if they do, increasingly spending it online or at regional malls such as Lakeside or Bluewater, relying solely on retail is not going to create a balanced, attractive and viable town centre. That simple fact has escaped the myopic bean counters at Basildon Council who seem to think that if they make a few cosmetic changes to the town centre, the shoppers will come flooding back. They’re living in the past but if you try telling them that, they’ll arrogantly brush you aside because as a mere resident, your views don’t matter outside of election time…

We wrote about the complex planning chain which is leading to this desecration back in July: Falling apart… Well, Dry Street is being transformed from meadows to an executive housing estate which will do sod all to alleviate the (massively rigged and shrunken) waiting list for social housing in Basildon. As you can see from the photographs above, St. Martin’s Square is being covered with permanent structures whose rents could well be out of the reach of a lot of the traders currently operating in the existing market. We suspect that the new market is being pitched at a different kind of trader catering to a more affluent customer base. Well, good luck with that in a town that’s experiencing more poverty as pay levels stagnate and decline!

There’s another piece in this complex planning jigsaw…the re-location of the Basildon campus of South Essex College to the site of the existing market. Will it ever happen? Who knows… It is a well known fact that the Basildon campus is being run down with some departments such as motor mechanics being re-located all the way over to Rayleigh. We’ve heard anecdotal reports from staff at the Basildon Campus suggesting they’re being kept in the dark about their future and are feeling increasingly de-moralised as a result…

Despite all of this, the myopic bean counters at Basildon Council see all of this as ‘progress’. This is what you get with a system of local governance and a planning system that actively excludes resident participation in any decision making. This is why we say that the system we have is no longer fit for purpose and why radical change from the grassroots upwards is needed sooner rather than later…

Vegan Army Surplus

Vegan Army Surplus Facebook page:

Along with a mate from Basildon & Southend Housing Action, I’m going to be at the Colchester Vegan Christmas Fair tomorrow helping out on the Vegan Army Surplus stall. The aim of the stall is to offer hard wearing vegan clothing options for the kind of activists who like to get ‘out and about’ – there will be some more fashion orientated items on sale as well. Aside from the clothing, there will be a range of propaganda items, some vegan orientated, others more generally orientated such as The Estuary Alternative paper. Tomorrow will also be a good networking opportunity that will hopefully help us in our aim of building up an alliance of groups and activists throughout Essex and further up into East Anglia.

Dave (the editor)

Colchester Vegan Christmas Fair (Hosted by Lotus Stray Rescue)
Sunday 25th November: 1pm – 6pm
Firstsite, Lewis Gardens, High Street, Colchester CO1 1JH
Facebook page:

New Town Utopia

A review of a sympathetic, brutally honest, sometimes funny (gallows humour), sometimes tragic, film about the disparity between the original vision for Basildon New Town and the reality as we know it today…

‘New Town Utopia is a feature documentary film about utopian dreams and concrete realities… the challenging, funny, and sometimes tragic story of the British new town of Basildon, Essex. The narrative is guided by the artists, musicians and poets of Basildon – on a journey through memory, place and performance. Facing austerity, adversity and personal battles they are individuals driven by creative spirit to help their community through art, poetry, music… and some rather angry puppets.’

See here for more information about this film:

The film is about the vision the post war Labour government had for the New Towns and how that contrasts to the stark reality of what Basildon is like today. There’s footage of tired looking estates with the inevitable cracked and broken paths with the actor, Jim Broadbent, speaking the words of the Labour MP, Lewis Silken, as he articulated his vision for what the…

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Have Highways England won?

On Monday 20th November, members of the Lower Thames Crossing Task Force (made up of Thurrock councillors), the Thames Crossing Action Group and representatives of Highways England met to discuss developments regarding the route the crossing will take through Thurrock. See here for the full story on the Thurrock Gazette: Further details on Lower Thames Crossing route unveiled in meeting

Just take a few moments to absorb this – the Thames Crossing Action Group, initially set up to oppose any route for the crossing, have been sitting in a meeting alongside representatives from Highways England discussing the finer details of the route. There’s no longer a debate about the need for the crossing in the context of moving towards a more sustainable future where we don’t have to rely on a mode of transport fuelled by a finite resource. There’s not even a discussion about whether improvements to the existing road infrastructure that would relieve congestion at the Dartford River Crossing could render the construction of a new crossing unnecessary. In short, there’s no meaningful opposition to the Lower Thames Crossing. Highways England have won because they are dictating the agenda.

That’s the way it’s always been when it comes to major transport infrastructure projects. The system is rigged so that any discussion about a proposal is around ‘alternative’ routes or when just one option is presented, making tweaks to it. The political and economic system we have and the planning system that underpins it will not allow any fundamental discussion about the future direction of society and the transport infrastructure that will support it. Those decisions have always been taken behind closed doors and until people wake up to the reality of whose interests the system really supports, they will continue to be taken behind closed doors.

As we’ve written before, most local amenity groups take the conventional route when it comes to opposing housing developments or major road / transport infrastructure projects. These groups have the best of intentions but sadly, they don’t understand that the system is rigged and at the very best, they may be permitted to suggest a few tweaks to a scheme but that will be it. The Green Action Group did their level best working within a rigged system to stop the a development of executive style homes (that will do jack shit to ease the housing waiting list in Basildon) on meadow land at Dry Street – the meadows have gone and the houses are going up. It’s the same with Thames Crossing Action Group – they’ve put in a phenomenal amount of work to state the case against the crossing but because they were working within a flawed, rigged system, they’ve been reduced to sitting in the same room as Highways England to discuss tweaks to the route.

Above are two examples of what happens when there’s no militant opposition and amenity groups opt to work within the system. In both cases, our environment and along with it, our health and peace of mind have been the losers. We would like to suggest that a change of strategy and tactics is needed as an urgent priority before any more damage is inflicted…

An abuse of power

A report by the Money Advice Trust as part of their ‘Stop The Knock’ campaign reveals that Thurrock Council used bailiffs over 6,000 times last year. The figures in the report were obtained by the use of a Freedom of Information Act request. See here for the full story on Your Thurrock: Report reveals Thurrock Council called the bailiffs over 6,000 times last year

In a period where more and more people are getting into financial difficulties as a result of a toxic combination of stagnating or declining pay, increases in short term or zero hours employment contracts and benefits ‘reforms’ (cuts) as a result of austerity, you would have thought that a local authority such as Thurrock would be taking all of this into consideration before resorting to the use of bailiffs. Thurrock Council make a lot of noise about the need to protect their revenue streams in an age of permanent austerity yet fail to grasp that it’s austerity that’s plunging more people into financial crisis.

With Thurrock Council being a (just about) Tory controlled authority, it would be tempting to fall into the trap of treating their attitude to people in financial difficulties as an expression of their politics. When you look at the figures in the Your Thurrock piece showing which authorities resorted to using bailiffs the most, the party political breakdown falls apart completely because one of the worst offenders is none other than the Labour controlled London Borough of Barking & Dagenham! They came in with 16,281 instructions to bailiffs to collect debts in 2016/17. If you think this number of instructions is draconian, it’s actually a decrease of 52% since 2014/15.

Working with Basildon & Southend Housing Action, we’ve come to understand that each local authority develops their own operating culture which can carry on in its own way regardless of political control. Some authorities can – given the constraints imposed upon them by the government’s austerity measures – be reasonably pragmatic and fair when it comes to recovering debts. Others seem to have a penchant for getting heavy with people from the outset. As you can see from the figures showing the use of bailiffs by local authorities in the region, there’s no consistency and there are dramatic swings from one year to the next.

Despite all of this, there are too many local authorities resorting to sending in the bailiffs almost as a default option. In theory local authorities should be the servants of the people. That’s the theory…in practice, they love lording it over us and part of that involves elements of coercion. The excessive use of bailiffs to recover debts from people who’ve hit financial difficulties is an abuse of power. It shows how local authorities are losing legitimacy in the eyes of an increasing number of people and the only way they can maintain their legitimacy is through coercion. It shows that ultimately, the local authorities who are supposed to serve us but instead, lord it over us, are no longer fit for purpose…