Sunday, 14 May 2017

Durham & Derby Teaching Assistants Campaigns – Please help deliver a Labour Government

The conduct of some in the Labour Party in the north east and Derby has been awful not just over the Durham & Derby Teaching Assistants campaigns but the fallout from Thatcher’s policies and successive governments which have decimated your communities.

What has happened over several decades is that working class areas have been treated as “voting fodder” that has enabled some Labour MPs to be parachuted into safe Labour Party seats and a long career in politics.

Nothing more best evidenced this practice than at the Durham Miners Gala last year when Davey said Tony Blair (Sedgefield MP) had never accepted to speak at the Gala.

For me it was shameful, an absolute disgrace, and is partly one the reasons the working class vote has declined in subsequent General Elections.

Yet knowing all of this I am campaigning to help elect Jeremy to win the General Election in 2017 and bring in Labour Policies the like of which we have never ever seen.

We have had two governments in 2010, 2015 and both have ripped up workers terms and conditions and escalated the brutality of austerity that now blemishes our communities everywhere.

Jeremy wants to offer something different a different world. No more tugging our forelocks for the scraps at the table but a world where we see the end of poverty, injustice and jobs, education and a fully funded NHS free for all of us that use it.

If you remember when the first Labour MPs coup started against Jeremy, Davey called them traitors.

and he banned them from the Gala. He pulled no punches about what he thought of them and I agreed with him.

I was having a drink with Davey and Graham before the Gala. He explained to me that this was the first time there had ever been a socialist leader of the Labour Party in his life time and he was 100% committed to helping Jeremy elected.

This is why I am going to do the best I can to play a small part to help put a Labour Government into power that will end misery, poverty and endless attacks on the disabled, workers and our communities.

I may be wrong, but I think that if Davey was still with us he would be out in Durham drumming up support for a Labour Vote in order to make sure that when Jeremy speaks at the Big Meeting this July, he will do so as Prime Minister.

What is clear that grassroots campaigns are showing time again they have a greater reach than the establishment and that includes the trade union movement.

My request.
Please turn your legendary social media skills in encouraging the young people you have taught to register to Vote by 22 May and then turning out the Labour vote in your communities.

The establishment with the support of the mainstream media say we can’t win.

Well B****x to them.

“Grassroots never give up and never give in until we win and that means with Jeremy as Prime Minister.”


Saturday, 13 May 2017

My take on “Mental Health Awareness week”


I’ve had a lot of that recently.

Last month was an anniversary I thought would never happen to me.

One year and counting I have been taking medication.

For someone who never even liked taking painkillers the idea that I would accept medication was just not something I thought would happen to me.

I don’t like it and I want to come off it, but I have this niggling feeling of the consequences if stop it. I keep saying to myself “let’s get the next few weeks away and then visit the GP and talk about coming off the medication.”

But of course there is no respite or end to stress for me and that of my members and friends and family.

We are all literally digesting the brutality of austerity and its impact on all of us is devastating.  

My plan is to see the GP after 8 June after Jeremy is elected Prime Minister, BUT, what if that doesn’t happen?

I try not to think about that.

I want an end to the pain and suffering that just seems to keep coming. Sometimes I feel like I am drowning. In the “coal face” austerity is literally killing people. The stress levels of those coming for support to our union office is off the scale. I try like all of you to be positive, offer support and solidarity. But the sheer volume is at times overwhelming.

It is at these times, ‘He returns’.

Always hanging in the background waiting for moments of weakness, whether it be tiredness or stress.

‘He’ is quick to wrap his arms around me and start pushing down on my shoulders, increasing the tension in my neck which travels quickly to the back of my eyes.

‘He’ senses an opportunity to drop in negative thoughts, at first they are like short subliminal messages, but each one increases in duration until I find myself stuck in a loop of negativity.

Who is ‘He?’

‘He’ is depression.

My instinct is always to fight, as many others do when facing depression. My past coping strategy has been to work until I drop with tiredness which brings me sleep and some respite.

But I know this coping strategy does not work and is destructive to me and to those around me.

Talking to others and listening to others has been a release.

One of my concerns about divulging my mental health issues was that it would make others wary of me, or that others would somehow think I am not able to cope or be able to support others.

I don’t think that is right.

So many people are talking to me about their experiences it has opened up another world for me.

For me if you are struggling find a support group or contact Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), they have so much knowledge and solidarity, I can find words that express my admiration for them. They take our pain straight into the back yard of the politicians and national media. For that I owe them a debt of gratitude.

That is why I am glad we have events like Mental Health Awareness week.

It isn’t a fix to the stigma and discrimination that people have to deal with, but it is an opportunity for us all to talk to others and that is not a bad thing in my book.

Solidarity to you all out there and good mental health. 


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

"Vote Labour to end Austerity" - from the Barnet UNISON archives No. 2

I have spent over a decade having to deal with the brutality Austerity has brought to our members and public services. 

On Thursday 8 June 2017 we have a very clear choice.
We can vote for more misery, more poverty, more job losses, more privatisation of our NHS and Schools, more cuts to public services, more social cleansing of our communities.
Or, we can vote for Hope, Vote for Life, Vote for end to misery.

Everyone will have their own experiences of what has actually happened.
Here in Barnet UNISON we have our own records of what has happened, just in case people have forgotten the destruction, pain and misery from Cuts, Outsourcing, redundancies and closures.
Over the next 6 weeks I am going to start releasing clips from protests, strikes, demonstrations we have organised with our friends and comrades in our communities.
This video clip is from one of the first One Barnet strikes. It was early days and the Council were carrying out what one Barnet Tory Councillor called the Stalinist "One Barnet Programme".
The workers at risk of outsourcing were environmental health workers, Planners, Highways inspectors, Parking staff, Revs & Bens workers, IT workers, HR & Health & Safety, Custodians, Cemetery workers, Finance workers, Building control, Regeneration workers, customers services officers. 

This clip demonstrates the passion and commitment of the in house staff to serving the residents of Barnet, something that was always ignore when the Councils expensive consultants carried out the Options Appraisal for each service.


Our members said that apart from running the picket lines they would like to do something for Barnet residents. What you see is Barnet UNISON strikers leaving the picket line and going down to a small learning difficulties day centre (not council) in Barnet and clearing it out before cleaning and painting the whole centre. As one of our strikers so eloquently stated:
 “We may have withdrawn our labour from the Council but we have not withdrawn our commitment to delivering public services to our residents.”
 I hope you enjoy and this serves as a reminder of why we need to make sure Austerity is dumped once and for all on Thursday 8 June 2017.

Friday, 14 April 2017

"Bathing her eyes" v Dementia

For the last seven years I have been travelling up north to visit my Mum who has dementia. 

In that time I have seen both rapid and slow deterioration of her condition and the consequences for her well being. 

I am no expert, I've worked as a care worker with people with dementia, but I've noticed some reactions which for me have given me ideas as to how to interact with my mum. 

The term "bathing" came to me whilst we were out on one of our many excursions in the car. My mum would often make comments about the trees, how big they are. It made me wonder what was going on in her mind as this was something new. My guess was sensory stimulation, if she is not seeing much because she is no longer out and about, the scenery must be stimulating and perhaps triggering memories, that have been hidden by the cruelty of dementia? 

Perhaps it's nonsense but I decided to go for it. 

We go on lots of excursions, we sing and I point out the scenery which always leads to her making a comment. I may be daft, but for me it means there is still part of my mum who can still engage and respond to the world around her. 

Shopping, is another activity which she was more than familiar. We now spend our time together wandering through supermarkets or shopping centres looking at lots of different items. I swear I can see the cogs in her brain working, and again it prompts a conversation about what see is seeing. 

It is this that a refer to "bathing her eyes", and for as long as I am able, I will continue to provide as much sensory stimulation as I can on my visits. 

I've always had a good laugh with my mum and enjoyed making her laugh as does my brother. 

If each time I visit her, I am still able to make her smile and laugh, then the hundreds and thousands of miles I have been travelled will be truly worth it. 

Next time I want to talk about music and dance. 

Thanks for reading my thoughts and solidarity to all those caring for someone in your life. 

Thursday, 30 March 2017

My Mental Health: "Is it me or is it you, or is it both of us?"

Stigma. As a mental health social worker I have had plenty of experience of trying to support people with mental health problems and particularly dealing with stigma and discrimination.

Now I’ve gone public, it has been a real eye opener observing how others are relating to me or so I think.

But then that is the problem and the title of this post; “Is it me or is it you, or is it both of us?” reflects the ongoing dialogue I am having with myself these days.

My message to those around me near and far is “I am ok.”

Don’t feel sorry for me.

Don’t feel responsible for me.

Treat me as you did before.

My breakdown was a long time coming and not a product of something that happened recently in my life.

We are all trying to live our lives the best we can and I am no different.

My mental health just became unsustainable with all that was and is going on in my life.

As a good friend and a person I respect a lot said, I “simply run out of petrol, and my engine was trying to work on fumes.”

If I was a car I could simply get a new engine or ditch the car and buy a new one.

But the mind is not a car, it’s more complex.

But with help, support I’ve been able to re-build and try to learn and develop better coping strategies.

I have lots of comrades out there old and new whom I respect and from whom I get great comfort and solidarity.

I recognise that even with support sometimes I am going to have some sort of relapse and I just hope I am able to cope.

If I can’t, so be it.

But I am ok.

I can make decisions and I can take the stress that comes with organising.
Organising is in my blood.

It’s taken me such a long time to realise organising is part of my DNA and that is ok, as long as a try to find “me time”.

Ironically, for the last decade whilst fighting mass outsourcing in our community I would repeat my warnings to activists to be aware of “burn out”, “take care of your mental health”, “take breaks”, all of which has, in a nice way, fed back to me from the same comrades.  

It some ways I think I am stronger, that may sound strange but I have a sense of freedom now.

I know I am a target.

They know that I know, if that doesn’t sound odd.

I am ok.

I’ve a lifetime of organising in the public, voluntary and private sector. When I was 23 I organised a load of Travel Courier’s for a famous travel company. We were on zero hour’s contracts before they were called that, no annual leave, no sickness entitlements, we organised and won contracts with guaranteed hours & entitlements. It was very cloak and dagger, we didn’t have a union to help, we were grassroots low paid workers organising ourselves.

I’ve tried to walk away from organising, but as a friend of mine said once “Just when I thought I was out they pulled me back in!”

Whatever is coming I am ready, the work still keeps coming in sometimes it feels never ending even overwhelming but I am part of a great team of reps and staff, and that is all you need sometimes.

So, if it is me, I’m sorry.

If it isn’t, then all I can ask is treat me as you always did, I am the same John perhaps a little ragged, a little older and wiser and just perhaps a little stronger.



Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Disability Workplace Scenario:What would you do?

In a workplace I know there is a regular meeting held in a room.

The room for one of the workers is inaccessible because of their disability.

Several colleagues have raised the accessibility issue with the employer, but the meetings continue to be held in the same room.

Some of the workers colleagues refuse to attend the meeting in the room with the employer and sit in solidarity with the worker with the disability, a electronic link is provided in the room, but it does not allow those not in the room to fully participate in the meetings.

My question to grassroots trade unions members is what would you do?

1. Sit in solidarity with the worker and apply pressure on the employer to move to a fully accessible room.

2. Ask the employer to move to a more accessible room but continue to sit in the room with the employer.

3. Just sit in the room with the employer and do nothing.

I know what I would do, but interested in what others think is right.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

My fight with self harm, medication

Finding "me time" was something my counsellor kept asking me in the 30 plus sessions we had. I'd agree and promise myself to make time, just as I advise other activists to do in order they look after themselves. 

It's still a challenge finding time, it's hard  turning off, but now I know my limitations and the risks if I don't. 

The other week I woke up and experienced a strange feeling. It's hard to explain but I felt free, what was it that made feel this? I suddenly realised it had been a while since I had thoughts of self harm. I hadn't noticed, the nearest similar feeling is when you are grieving and suddenly you realise the pain is less and you feel guilty. I'm probably not explaining myself, but for a while it was liberating. 

Negative feelings and thoughts are not only depressing they drain energy and attack your ability to remain positive. It has been a struggle I've battled for many years but at least now I feel I'm more honest about myself. 

Today I was checking some emails and it was a year ago I when had my mental health breakdown. 

A year of my life, what a lot has happened. 

Since I first went public about my mental health I've spoken to so many people who have disclosed their own personal demons. We talk compare notes, discuss treatments such as counselling and medication. The more I talk to others the more I'm convinced the well know phrase "1 in 4 " people experience mental health problems is probably more like "2 in 4".  

Stigma, is still a big concern, whilst I was aware of it for others it wasn't until I went public that I experienced some pretty nasty and prejudicial comments from people I'd not expect. But that is life, my friends and comrades in DPAC expose on a daily basis the level of hate crime and institutional discrimination in the workplace and our communities. 

Challenging prejudice is  part of my daily life and it looks like it's getting worse. Austerity is still being promoted. It's brutality will continue to unleashed unless we all manage to sort ourselves out. 

I do have hope and belief that with hard work and an end to sectarianism grassroots can mobilise a sustainable opposition to Austerity. 

My next personal challenge is medication. I want to come off it, I hate taking the stuff, but I know I'll have to prepare a plan. This is a big deal for me, so I want to get it right. 

To my friends and comrades don't worry about me. I keeping busy, learning each day how to cope and how to better deal with those powerful negative self harming thoughts when they do come in waves. 

Anyway enough of that,  it's depot Wednesday another early start. 

Wishing you all good mental health