Friday, 17 June 2016

Reading Trades Union Council Mourns the Murder of Jo Cox MP

Flowers for the late Jo Cox MP at Reading's
Spanish Civil War Monument

With the news of the horrific slaying of Jo Cox, Labour Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen, on Thursday, 16 June 2016, at the hands of Thomas Mair, the Reading Trades Union Council took the immediate decision to arrange a memorial gathering in Forbury Gardens, Reading, in front of the monument to the Reading veterans of the International Brigades. As news emerged about the killer’s utterances at the time of the murder – ‘Britain First’ – and his subsequent claim, when asked in court to confirm his name, that he is ‘death to traitors, freedom for Britain’, the location was proved well chosen. As Ray Parkes pointed out during his words at the memorial event, the monument honoured Reading’s fighters against fascism and racism during the Spanish Civil War and – reinforced by the death of Jo – he confirmed the labour movement’s determination that the likes of Mair shall not pass unchallenged: ‘¡No pasarán!

Organisation of the memorial began with the creation of a Facebook Event, posted by John Partington and circulated by email to friends, comrades and the local media. The event invitation stated simply:

The Reading Trades Union Council will be gathering at the Spanish Civil War Monument in Forbury Gardens for a moment of contemplation for the late Jo Cox MP, Labour member of parliament for Batley and Spen.

Jo was savagely murdered in her West Yorkshire constituency today. All who wish to show solidarity with her public activities and gather with likeminded persons to share in mourning are welcome to join us.

In response to the email-shot of the event, both GetReading ( and the Reading Chronicle ( published online publicity on 16 June. Similarly, Jack FM Berkshire broadcast details of the event during 17 June. In the hours before the Forbury gathering, both BBC South Today and BBC Radio Berkshire contacted Partington, as RTUC’s Communications Officer, and asked for permission to attend and report. On the understanding that their attendance would be sensitive to the feelings of the mourners, they were both welcomed. A journalist from GetReading also attended.
At the event around 100 people gathered. Partington thanked them for attending, explained that the RTUC felt the need to create a space for contemplation following the terrible killing and welcomed forward those who wished to say a few words. Appropriately for a gathering which represented exasperation and anger at the racist intolerance of Mair and sadness for the loss of a politician, migrant-rights campaigner, mother and wife, the speakers include women and men, persons of varied ethnic descent, Labour and Conservative politicians, Southerners and Northerners, senior citizens, middle aged persons and younger adults. Children and youths were also present at the memorial.
The overriding message conveyed by the speakers was simple – Jo’s activism, both with Oxfam and as an MP, represented the values all present wished to uphold. She argued for greater sympathy with the plight of Syrians during the horrific civic war in that country, refusing to vote for the current bombing campaign as pursued by the British government and arguing for the resettlement of many more refugees in this country. While Jo’s death was identified as an attack on British democracy, more personally the loss to her family and especially to her two children was decried.

Following the event, GetReading published a summary of the proceedings (, BBC South Today included interviews and filmic panoramas of the gathering ( at 10:58) and BBC Radio Berkshire included a report and interview ( at 1h12mins). The media were tasteful in their presence and reporting – though some overplayed the role of Reading East’s Conservative MP, Rob Wilson, who, while welcome at the event, did not echo the sentiments of tolerance and belonging as forcefully as most other speakers. That message might have been more clearly projected on television and in print.

Reading Trades Union Council thanks all who attended the event and hopes this report – and the media coverage cited above – will help those who could not attend get a sense of the mood of the gathering and utterances.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Unite strike in pay dispute at Capita

Members of Reading Trades Union Council fraternised with striking Unite members over their pay dispute with Capita Insurance and Banking Services. Unite established several pickets around their Reading Bridge House offices, leafleting passers-by and discussing the basis of the dispute.
Unite's leaflet distributed on the picket lines
The RTUC President, Jan Bastable, is a senior shop steward with Unite, and other RTUC members joined the picket lines in solidarity: James Parker (RTUC Secretary and Unite member); Chris Reilly (RTUC Vice-President and RMT member); John Partington (RTUC Communications Officer and TSSA member); and Cllr Sarah Hacker (RTUC Executive Committee member and Unite member).
Striker Jan Bastable (left) and fellow RTUC committee
member, Cllr Sarah Hacker (second right), picket with other Unite members

James Parker (right), secretary of the RTUC,
joins the emerging Unite picket in solidarity

John Partington (left) of the TSSA and RTUC
shows solidarity with a Unite picketer
Striker Jan Bastable (left) and John Partington (right) -
both of the RTUC - join the Unite picket line

Unite's Capita dispute received endorsement from Harry Leslie
Smith (centre) at a recent RTUC event in Reading

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

An Audience with Harry Leslie Smith: A Report

Organised by Reading Trades Union Council
A Report of the Evening, by John S. Partington
Harry Leslie Smith

Date & Time: 8 June 2016, 7pm-9pm
Venue: The Reading International Solidarity Centre, London St, Reading
Chair: Jan Bastable, President, Reading Trades Union Council
Jan Bastable, President of Reading Trades Union Council, with Harry Leslie Smith
As chair of the event, Jan Bastable made a few opening remarks by way of introduction. She noted that she first saw Harry Leslie Smith at a Labour Party conference fringe event two years ago and was moved to tears by Harry’s story, as were many others present. Having visited Reading a year ago, Harry was welcomed back by Jan and the floor was given over to him.
Harry thanked the audience and the Reading Trades Union Council for the invitation to speak to them. He urged all to vote in the forthcoming European Union Referendum. He asserted that austerity must be fought. During the Second World War, despite hardship and war, the nation was united – but now we are divided by a Tory-induced austerity more extreme than any time since the 1930s. From a Britain which shone like a beacon of liberty, austerity and Tory anti-trade unionism is provoking intolerance and division.
Harry declared that healthcare is the right of every citizen regardless of economic means. His sister died of tuberculosis in Barnsley in the 1930s and his father lost his job through a workplace accident. His family moved to Bradford as economic migrants. He remembers foraging through dustbins for food in the 1930s when his father could find no work. At age 7 he found work as a beer seller from a barrel in working-class areas. In 1941, aged 18, he took up the fight against the Nazis.
Following the war Harry engaged in the fight for a more equal Britain and a more liberal world through the Labour Party. But today we are returning to the blackness of the 1930s – with such things as homelessness and zero-hours contracts. David Cameron is using fear of immigration, foreigners and the poor to dismantle the welfare state. Harry ended his talk by beseeching his listeners to ‘Go out and fight for social and economic justice!’
At this stage, Jan invited questions and discussion from the floor.
One attendee asked if Harry had any tips for disabled rights campaigners, given his experience of the war and human destruction.
Harry observed that, over the last 20 years, ‘creature comforts’ have been prioritised over compassionate policies. Wealth needs taxing and loopholes closing. Houses, schools and hospitals are being neglected in favour of tax breaks.
A second questioner pointed out that we do not want another world war and asked Harry what might be the catalyst for change today.
Harry observed that the government has taken hopes for change away but it is within our power to achieve change. We need to organise big demonstrations and vote for change.
A third questioner asked Harry how we can reinstil a collective consciousness in the younger generation.
Harry urged all present to lead by example, demonstrate and support Jeremy Corbyn who he described as a ‘good man’.
A fourth questioner asked if Harry felt there was a win-win situation which would keep Britain in the EU. (I.e., a result which would oppose austerity, protect workers’ rights and keep Britain in the EU).
Harry countered critics of the EU’s anti-democratic structure by declaring the Britain is not democratic. He pointed out that citizens across the EU are people too and they must rise too. Europe-wide efforts are needed to achieve our aims. The ‘Out’ campaign needs to explain where Britain will stand in the event of ‘Brexit’. Food security is essential, but they are not clear on the subject.
A fifth questioner noted Harry’s active Twitter presence and asked if he is ever bothered by what people write to him and about him.
‘People like to talk to me; I don’t always say what I think...’, Harry replied.
A sixth questioner, while reflecting on ‘scandals around “Panamagate”, coke-snorting and anti-democratic tendencies in government’ asked: ‘should we stage a general strike?’
‘Yes’, Harry replied, we need to show the government how we feel. He also pointed out that he was in the first general strike!
A seventh questioner asked whether social media can fill the gap of print media given its fragmented nature.
Harry declared that social media is a great invention but too many people use it for ‘chit chat’. We need to utilise it, but Harry suggested we should also continue to take a printed newspaper.
The final question of the evening asked, ‘How do we overcome apathy and cynicism?’
Harry answered by stating that he does what he does because he witnessed the 2008 economic and banking crisis. We need to change laws and have a just taxation system.
Jan wrapped up the evening by thanking Harry for a delightful discussion and thanking the audience for their attendance and interaction. After events closed, many of the audience took ‘selfies’ with Harry and conversation continued for a further hour.
The audience at the Reading International Solidarity Centre
This report is merely a synopsis of issues raised and Harry’s thoughts about them. The evening was as much a discussion among the audience as it was a question-and-answer session with Harry – one representing a variety of views, but which proceeded and ended on a note of good-natured enquiry.

Reading Chronicle, 30 June 2016, p. 16

An Audience with Harry L. Smith

Venue: Reading International Solidarity Centre, London Street, Reading RG1 4PS
Date & Times: 8 June 2016 from 7pm-9pm
Organised by: Reading Trades Union Council
Harry Leslie Smith, 93-year-old anti-austerity campaigner and author of Harry’s Last Stand, will be talking about his life and politics and answering questions from the floor in this ‘Audience with Harry L. Smith’.
Harry moved many by his speech to the Labour Party Conference in 2014, relaying details of his upbringing in the 1930s and 40s, in the days before a welfare state and the NHS (see He will speak further on the subject of life in his youth as well as his thoughts on the present and he will answer questions from the audience.
This event is organised by the Reading Trades Union Council. Details about the RTUC can be found on its Facebook page ( To reserve seats, please email your name and number of required tickets to Jan Bastable (

Saturday, 4 June 2016

'Bursaries or Bust' protest, Whitehall, London

Southern & Eastern Region of the Trades Union Congress
John Partington from the Reading Trades Union Council joined approximately 1000 other protestors from SERTUC, the National Health Action Party, Unison, the Royal College of Nursing and other organisations for the ‘Bursaries or Bust’ protest on Whitehall, opposite Downing Street, London, on 4 June 2016.

National Health Action Party

Lambeth NHS
Speakers included the fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood, and the NUS President-elect, Malia Bouattia.

Vivienne Westwood at the 'Bursaries or Bust' protest

NUS president-elect Malia Bouattia at the 'Bursaries or Bust' protest

The rally was protesting against government proposals to abolish bursaries for student nurses, despite the shortage of nurses suffered by the NHS.


Thursday, 2 June 2016

The European Union Referendum Question Time

Date & Time: 18 May 2016, 7pm-9.30pm.

Venue: RISC Conference Hall (above the Global Cafe), 35-39 London St, Reading RG1 4PS (parking at rear).

Panellists: Jonathan Hayward (Unite the Union: International Dept), Steve Hedley (RMT Senior Assistant General Secretary), Ragesh Khakhria (Trade Unionists Against the EU) and Cllr Matt Rodda (Labour Party).

Ahead of June’s EU Referendum, the Reading Trades Union Council cordially invites you to an evening of debate to consider the pros and cons of remaining within the European Union or leaving it. A panel of four prominent guests – representing both the ‘remain’ and the ‘Brexit’ camps – will take questions and comments from the floor. It should be an enlightening evening, aimed at assisting voters to make an informed decision about this most important subject.

If you would like to submit questions for the panel, please email them to with your full name. You will then be called upon to ask your question in person on the night.

The event is being organised by the Reading Trades Union Council, but (in line with the varied views of its affiliated trade unions), the RTUC does not endorse one side of the debate or the other. We are proud to act as facilitators – “Let the Public Decide!”

More information about this event can be found on the following Facebook page:

Reading Chronicle, 12 May 2016, p.8
Reading Chronicle, 2 June 2016, p.3

The European Union Question Time Debate: The Report
Organised by: The Reading Trades Union Council
Panellists: Jonathan Hayward (Unite the Union: International Dept), Steve Hedley (RMT Senior Assistant General Secretary), Ragesh Khakhria (Trade Unionists against the EU) and Cllr Matt Rodda (Labour Party)
Chair: Chris Reilly, Vice-chair, RTUC
Venue: Reading International Solidarity Centre, London Street, Reading
Date & Time: 18 May 2016, 19.00-21.30.
In an effort to afford the people of Reading a chance to listen to and partake in arguments for and against European Union membership, the Reading Trades Union Council organised a ‘Question Time’ event at RISC. The event was extensively publicised through Facebook and local trade union networks, and received media publicity through the Reading Chronicle, the Morning Star and Jack FM Berkshire.
Chris Reilly took the chair and, as well as receiving questions in advance of the event, invited questions from the floor before the meeting commenced. Chris then welcomed guests, gave an overview of the RTUC’s purpose and activities, and introduced the panellists. Each panellist was then invited to state their positions on the EU referendum in no more than five minutes.
Jonathan Hayward commenced, explaining that he is not convinced the majority of the population understands the magnitude of the decision to be made. The debate around EU membership is being hijacked by rightwing Tories fighting for party politics and the party leadership through the EU debate. The ‘leave’ campaign is using emotive arguments – ‘immigration, immigration, immigration’ – leading 80% of people polled considering immigration to be the key issue but only 30% of respondents seeing it as a personal issue in their locality or workplace. Jonathan argued that immigration did not cause the economic collapse of 2008, did not cause pressure on services, or pressure on wages. He argued for ‘A Better Europe, not No Europe’. The EU accounts for 46% of world trade, the UK does more trade with Germany than the USA, and we do more trade with Sweden than with the Commonwealth. The Tory right hates employment rights and Jonathan warned that, if we leave the EU, the Tories will attack our rights at work.
Steve Hedley began his five minutes by pointing out that he is an immigrant (from Ireland) whilst pointing out that EU immigration drives down wages in the UK. He also suggested that the EU institutionalises privatisation. It pushes rail privatisation, advanced by Britain in the 1990s, into an EU-wide policy. Regarding labour laws, Steve asserted that the EU has not repealed Britain’s anti-union laws. While Jeremy Corbyn promotes nationalisation, if elected he cannot introduce it into the rail industry as such a policy is against EU law. The EU ‘separates wheels from steel’ – the rail operator cannot be owned by the infrastructure maintainer. Steve pointed out that the EU did not defend workers in Ireland when an austerity tax was introduced, or Greece when trade union rights were suspended.
Ragesh Khakhria started his five minutes by asserting that he is an internationalist, socialist and trade unionist, but he felt the EU is ‘undemocratic in theory and in practice’. The EU parliament cannot propose legislation; this comes to the parliament from unelected commissioners. MEPs get block grants without need to present receipts for their expenses and flights to their home countries are paid for at business class rates. He pointed out that 79% of the UK’s trade is internal and the UK’s trade share with the EU is declining. The EU is the only trading block experiencing zero growth.
Matt Rodda, in his opening remarks, declared that his support for the EU is based on local, practical issues. Local employers are Reading University, retail, IT and the public sector. Reading has a large trade union membership in an expensive area of the country to live in, though with many people on modest incomes. Matt asserted that we cannot afford the economic shock of leaving. The uncertainty caused by an exit vote and a renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU would lead to a ‘great recession’ which could take ten years to overcome.
Following these introductory remarks, Chris took a straw poll of the audience which showed 44% for ‘leave’, 44% for ‘remain’ and 12% undecided. Chris then invited the first question from the audience.
Question One: Does the panel think that Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne are not using honest arguments but instead are adopting devious, manipulative tactics which if you vote to remain will result in an illegitimate victory?
Matt Rodda began his answer by stating that he is not a fan of the Tories, but looks at the arguments of ‘remain’ Labour MPs.
Steve Hedley called the Tory ‘remain’ arguments ‘campaign fear’. He said they are disastrous arguments and dishonest. He also pointed out that Jeremy Corbyn and his supporter Owen Jones were anti-EU until Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party.
Jonathan Hayward said he is not interested in Tory arguments. He warned that the UK would break up if we left the EU and that the EU is for trade unions.
A member of the audience suggested that employment rights are the only determinant in the argument – exiting the EU would be disastrous.
Ragesh Khakhria replied that employment rights are not protected by the EU. Regarding the defeat of the miners in the 1980s and the anti-union laws since 1980, we were not helped by the EU.
An audience member stated that the Central Arbitration Committee and the Working Time Directive were brought in by the EU and these will go if we leave.
Jonathan Hayward said the EU didn’t give us rights – workers across the EU won them and EU membership rolled them out across Europe.
Question Two: The ‘Brexit’ camp holds the belief that the UK is drowning in a sea of EU legislation and red tape that holds back companies and people. In the event of ‘Brexit’ and the removal of EU laws and regulations, does the panel believe that the government will then continue to remove UK legislation?
Steve Hedley answered by asserting that he does not support ‘Brexit’ but ‘Lexit’.
Ragesh Khakhria asserted that the EU is destroying Greece, showing the EU at its worst. The left would have cheered if Greece had left the euro, but the EU wouldn’t let them.
Matt Rodda answered that the LSE reports Brexit would push us into a worse recession than 2008. Michael Gove and Priti Patel represent the right’s efforts to tear up workers’ rights on Brexit. The Tories are planning to redraw electoral boundaries in their favour, Scotland may leave the UK – if we leave the EU the Tories will be supreme in privatisation and withdrawing rights.
An audience member claimed that equal pay was won by the women workers of Dagenham. There have been twenty anti-union laws passed since 1980. The EU has done nothing to stop this.
Jonathan Hayward called the referendum a diversion. Cameron offered a referendum to the Tory right. The Left in Britain was not looking for a referendum pre-2015. The EU represents 50% of world trade and regulates capital. Syriza in Greece wants to remain in the EU. The European left support Britain remaining in the EU.
Ragesh pointed out that Norway and Switzerland are not in the EU but are two of the riches countries in Europe.
Steve answered Jonathan by pointing out that Syriza imposed more cuts that the previous right wing government in Greece.
An audience member noted that TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is being pushed by the EU which will dismantle workers’ protection.
Jonathan countered this by pointing out that the UK government is the biggest advocate of TTIP and that it must be ratified by all EU members.
The audience member objected to this, asserting that as TTIP involves no EU treaty change, no national ratifications are required.
Question Three: Where on earth are you going to put all these people coming in on an open border policy? There are already people living in sheds in gardens in one London Borough.
Ragesh Khakhria asked, why do people come here? The EU economy – Greece, Spain, Ireland – destroyed.
Matt Rodda revealed that Reading Borough Council has land for council housing and used to be able to borrow against the value of future rents – 1000 homes could be built. Sites exist for development. The Tory government won’t allow such development. Instead, developers buy and sell land for profit but don’t build on it. Planning permission gets granted but houses are not built.
A member of the audience suggested immigration is a domestic issue, not an EU issue. The UK has had a housing crisis for years – not just since 2008. New towns need to be planned and built to address the crisis. Trade unions need to organise immigrants and protect them from exploitation rather than accuse them of undercutting wages.
Steve Hedley said the EU allows undercutting of wages. The Laval and Viking cases allow workers in one EU country to be paid the minimum wage of their home country rather than that of the country being worked in. This could allow the minimum wage of another EU country to be applied in UK, undercutting the UK minimum wage.
Jonathan Hayward countered that the Laval and Viking cases led Sweden to legislate to protect their minimum wage – the UK government chooses not to do so. The EU will not tell the UK government what to do in this regard.
Question Four: What is the best way of protecting the UK from TTIP? Stop TTIP, leave EU – do the ‘out’ comrades believe that a Tory government would actually stop TTIP?
Jonathan Hayward, speaking from experience, pointed out that, with TTIP, British trade unionists often negotiate with other overseas trade unionists on its terms. The Tories advocate the worst aspects of TTIP. We’re better in the EU to fight than out to suffer its consequences.
Steve Hedley said: first, elect a left wing UK government; second, allow national self-determination.
Ragesh Khakhria asserted that TTIP represents everything that is wrong with the EU. Negotiations are conducted in secret by bureaucrats. An independence UK government would at least be accountable for decision made in negotiations.
Matt Rodda suggested that leaving the EU would see Scotland and perhaps Wales leave the UK and the left in a rump England would be powerless.
An audience member stated that struggle is needed daily – we can’t wait for elections. He asked the panel, yes or no, in Brexit, would the Tories reject TTIP?
Matt replied: ‘No’.
Jonathan replied: ‘No’.
Ragesh and Steve replied that we shouldn’t assume a Tory victory in the next elections.
Question Five: What will be the impact of the EU convergence obligation under the Stability and Growth Pact upon the UK budget between 2016 and 2020?
Matt Rodda pointed out that the Tories chose to cut taxes on the rich and increase VAT so the poorest would pay more. The UK government’s economic policy is not an EU diktat but Tory ideological policy.
Ragesh Khakhria stated that deficit spending can be 3% of GDP. Osborne has historically low interest rates, but refuses to borrow to invest.
Steve Hedley asserted that Greece is being forced to drive austerity by the EU. A left wing government under Corbyn would have to balance the budget – he would be restrained by the EU. The EU ideology is liberalisation – and the NHS is at risk. The EU is a ‘bosses club in the interest of business, not workers’.
Jonathan Hayward countered that you can’t blame the EU for the privatisation of the NHS – Blair and Brown initiated this. We will have more privatisation if we leave the EU.
With time drawing to a close, Chris Reilly took a final straw poll of the audience to conclude the event. This showed a slight movement in favour of leaving the EU, with 45% for ‘remain’, 50% for ‘leave’ and 5% undecided.
Report compiled by:
John Partington, Communication Officer
Reading Trades Union Council

Morning Star, 14-15 May 2016, p.20