You, Me, and the Digital Revolution

Reading Time: 1 minute

Available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

On this episode, themed around Digital Activism, Liz Castro, the Catalan based writer tells us what is going on there, and we have contributions from around the world and from across the social media activist world from George Collins, who asks if Facebook is making us Radical, Nelly Neal, talking about videogames and her kids,  Debra Torrance on digital activism and clicktivism, Chuck Hamilton gives us his take on Jesus and the Easter story, Em Dehaney,  shares her Trump inspired  poem Dominoes, and Wee Raiph talking chocolate eggs,  as well as a beautifully moving performance from Raiph of Neil Scott’s story Resilience, which you can read here.

With music from Steve McAuliffe & The Mighty Ur, Stephen Smith, Derek Stewart Macpherson, Faber Whithouse, Marshall Chipped, Steve White, The Baby Seals and Andrea Heins.

 

 

 

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The G Word

Reading Time: 7 minutes
         Debra Torrance

 

As a gay woman I’ve been lucky enough to have a broad range of inspirational females to befriend. Recently there has been furious debate about the changes to the Gender Recognition Act. I have friends on both sides of the debate. As I consider myself to be a generally liberal feminist (in the literal sense not ideological) who respects the right of transgender folk as well as the concerns of much more well versed feminists, I thought I could dip my toe into the mine field that it is.
Now another serious inspiration in my life is my elderly mother. I was her “change of life” baby, first diagnosed as the menopause. So I was a real pleasant surprise. I am surrounded by men in the form of my three brothers, so my mother and I have a strong bond and speak about everything. She was the first person I came out to.
Gender is something she, and I presume many well meaning people, struggle to understand. Unintentional misgendering and accidental use of long outdated language, is something she finds difficult to grasp. Trying to recite the gay alphabet to my mother only confuses the situation further, however she like myself believes everyone should have the right to live however they want to and identify however they wish without fear of persecution or abuse. She is pretty conservative about sex but liberal about sexuality. Her brother emigrated to Hawaii to avoid the persecution of gay men in the middle of the 20th century.
I wanted to state that before I continue with this piece. I am going to deliberately try to avoid gender studies type language that could cause confusion to folk like my wee Mum, such as heteronormative, homosexual, transsexual, or complex abbreviations etc. I will be using the term transgender which is someone who identifies as the opposite sex. If you don’t know what gay and lesbian is in 2018 my 77 year old Ma says you’ve to google it!
So the first thing i wanted to find out was what does the Gender Recognition Act mean to someone who’s life it would actually impact? So I asked my friend who I know is transgender and has been a woman as long as I have known her. She is middle aged and has been living as a woman since the 1990’s. Due to medical reasons, my friend will never be able to medically transition.
The changes to the Gender Recognition Act would allow my friend to avoid situations like she recently experienced as a witness in court. The opposing counsel purposely questioned her lifestyle and mockingly asked how to refer to her. Luckily for my friend she is well versed and confident. She simply stated to be referred to by her name, and the pronouns she and her. A simple request that some younger more inexperienced transgender people might have stumbled with, intimidated by the wood and leather of the courthouse, rattled and under pressure from the cloaked barristers with official titles.
This is why my friend also supports the changes to the age limits of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate. When she was young, being gay was still criminal so suppressed thoughts of her gender were nowhere near surfacing. She is thrilled by the potential life changing new policies for the youth of the transgender community. Things that were only deeply buried dreams for her as a teenager could be a reality for these young women. However she raises concerns with the proposals for 16 and 17 year old’s requiring parental consent as not all parents are supportive of an offspring’s transition.
I wanted to look at the consultation process and examine the proposed changes. The now closed consultation can be viewed here

Overview

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 allows a transgender person to change their legally recognised gender. This consultation seeks views on whether and how the Gender Recognition Act 2004 should be amended in relation to the law in Scotland .
It covers establishing new arrangements for dealing with applications for legal gender recognition, the minimum age at which applications for gender recognition could be made and related matters.

Why The Consulting?

In the Fairer Scotland Action Plan, the Scottish Government committed to ‘review and reform gender recognition law so it is in line with international best practice for people who are transgender or intersex’.
The Government has decided that because people with intersex variations face issues that are distinct from those experienced by transgender people, we should consult separately on each set of issues. We will publish a consultation later this year seeking views about how we should address the issues experienced by intersex people/people with variations of sex characteristics.
Consultation is an essential part of the policy-making process. We will use the views expressed in response to this consultation to help inform the Government’s decisions about further action.
The consultation goes on to ask about different changes to the act that will affect transgender people over the age of 16. It states:
“ The Scottish Government considers that people aged 16 or older should be able to apply for legal recognition of their acquired gender using the proposed self declaration process.
4.05. There is clear evidence that people aged 16 do live full time in their acquired gender and want this to be legally recognised. For example, the Women and Equalities Select Committee heard evidence from LGBT Youth Scotland to this effect. In the Republic of Ireland, 8 people aged 16 and 17 have received a GRC31 after obtaining a court order permitting them to apply under their self-declaration system. The court in the Republic of Ireland is required to consider evidence about the young person’s transition to their acquired gender. “
Since we are already encouraging young people to get involved in politics, age limits lowered to 16 to be able to vote, I don’t see what the problem could possibly be about them being able to take direction of their own lives. I came out as gay when I was 16. However it wouldn’t be fair to present these points of view without also listening to the counter arguments.
So I spoke to my friend who is a radical feminist, she is also middle aged and well versed in the issues and topics that are often lobbed under the title of gender critical. My friend has referenced radical feminist theory since I have known her, she is often a source of inspirational articles for me. I asked her, what concerns she had about the changes to the Gender Recognition Act.
She replied:
“I’m a lesbian woman who is also a mother who fears for the generations of girls (and boys) coming after me. Will they even have a choice in life to choose to love their own sexual preference? Not if transgenderism becomes the only explanation for boys wanting to play with dolls (nurture behaviour) or girls wanting to play football (competitive behaviour).”
My friend is also concerned about the tone of the debate around gender critical opponents, by raising any issues there is often shouts of “transphobia”. When questioning the levels of medical supervision over transitioning genders, there is a fine line between invasive stereotyping and genuine concern.
For example a lot of young gay people will resist their emotions to begin with, I know when I was 16 I first said that I was bi-sexual, as though it was somehow easier to deal with than just being a gay woman. My friend pointed out that if the new gender revolution happened when she was younger, she could have been victim of peer pressure to conform to a male persona. This is the argument for a lot of women who in the lesbian community who could be described as butch.
Another concern for many lesbians is this new notion of a “Cotton Ceiling”. Like the glass ceiling, some transgender folk believe that there is a barrier to them with regards to dating. Since gender and sexuality is individual from one another, some transgender women who identify as lesbians feel they should not be excluded as potential partners based on the level of their transition. This is something I feel everybody should take notice of.
A fundamental part of feminism is bodily autonomy. No one should feel pressured into having sex with anybody.
I feel at this point in this long read, it’s important to highlight the condition known as Autogynephillia, “which is defined as a male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as female.” It is suggested as much as 3% of men in western countries may experience this condition. This is a new field of study and complexities and association to transgenderism is not fully understood. It is however a fundamental component to many radical feminist points of debate.
I feel I should also address some other more scientific stuff here too. Such as Gender and what it actually means in 2018. Well there are two biological sexes, male and female. There is also intersex babies born who are often assigned a gender at birth. There is an argument that gender is on a sliding scale, some male born babies can behave with female characteristics and vice versa, and some folk don’t identify as any gender at all. These people are known as non-binary or androgynous.The scale on which an individual sits is often referred to as the gender spectrum.
It is said that people who identify as transgender suffer from gender dysphoria, “a mismatch between biological sex and gender identity” and this requires review at a Gender Identity Clinic to be officially diagnosed. Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness however it can lead to distressing and uncomfortable feelings.
According to a recent Stonewall survey, “eight out of ten transgender young folk have self harmed and almost half have attempted to kill themselves.” When we are talking about changing the lives of transgender folk, young transgender people have the most to gain. This same survey showed that nearly one in ten have received death threats at school. We need to change the environment for every young person, being transgender shouldn’t be an issue that stirs such hatred.
So to put it into context for someone like my wee mother, I created a hypothetical scenario. My elderly mum likes to only go swimming if it is an all ladies night. This is due to many reasons, none of which is sexist nor transphobic. I asked how she would feel if a transgender woman wanted to partake in her swimming session. Her response sums up the whole entire subject for me;
“If a woman wants to discreetly change into her swimsuit then it doesn’t matter what is in her pants, but if someone wants to gratuitously take advantage of that situation to get some sort of cheap thrill then it still doesn’t matter what is in their pants. He or she would be papped oot the club.”
To me, this is it, in these sorts of heated debates, particularly on sensitive subjects we have to come to a common sense approach.
“Extremism isn’t something that should be mistaken for rational thought with passion.”
                -anon
Most of the current debate has been about the extremes; sexual assault in toilets, infringement on women’s spaces, etc. The debate doesn’t seem to involve the wee lassie who’s been out as trans since 14 and is just wanting a certificate to get a job in the public sector or something.
Changes to the gender recognition act could make life so much easier for so many transgender folk. Equally some of the changes have raised legitimate concern to some women.
To shout “TERF” (transgender exclusionary radical feminist) to someone raising a valid point isn’t very inclusive, however to deny anybody the simple and basic human right of self identity is exclusionary. This fine line of language and debate is difficult, but to make Scotland a better and fairer, more inclusive place, we have to have these uncomfortable conversations.
We have to be tolerant of each other. We have to stop being so reactionary and conclusive in our judgements. After all Gender is fluid isn’t it? Why can’t the debate around it be too?

Resilience

Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

Resilience

 

My teacher taught me to be more resilient today.  I fell and I cried, and I was embarrassed she saw me.  But my teacher said, “life can be like that.  Just pick yourself up again, and get on with it.”

It started out an ordinary day.  I had to get to school.  Da’ had come round to the flat last night.

My maw and da are not living in the same house.  Maw’s nerves are bad.  Da makes them bad.

Me and Iain had been out lookin’ for maw.  She goes out sometimes and forgets we can’t get in.  Somebody grassed and my da came round and hit the door through.  Maw was in the house after all, but she had had some of her medicine and hadn’t heard us. Da shouted at her that he couldn’t have the we’ans coming round to his in case he was reported to the social.  And maw flew at him with a bottle.

Iain gets all upset when they fly at each other.  I tell him to get behind the couch and get down.

Da caught the bottle on the arm, and telt her that if she did that again he’d cut her.  She said if he didn’t get the bleep out, she’d have the polis on tae him.  He jist said, “keep them we’ans aff the street at this time of night or I’ll have ye seen tae.”

He had her seen tae one night outside the flat.  That oul’ woman at 9b came out and pelted the guys with clothes pegs, like that could help.  But they ran away, and she brought maw into her house.  It was a really nice house.  Warm, with lights.  Maw was in some state.  And they guys had taken her bottle. After she was fixed up, maw and us went back to our flat and maw telt us never to speak to that nosey oul’ biddy again.

When da’ went back out of the flat, maw give me a leatherin.  “why the bleep did ye go to that bam,” she shouted.  I say bleep ‘cause I don’t like bad words.  Maw and da say them aw the time.  They fly like broken bottles across the street from their gobs when they see each other.  After she leathered me (I don’t cry, ‘cause that can make it worser), she telt me she was sorry and things were bad and that I was a pretty wee thing.  Her wee Norah.

Onyways, Iain and me, we went and slept on the same mattress in the other room.  We’ve a duvet each an’ we can share.

I don’t sleep all through the night.  Sometimes its ‘cause maw is singin’ and dancin’ after her medicine. Sometimes, its just ‘cause I’m listening out for da.

I woke just when the light was startin’ and I crept through to see where maw was.  She wasn’t in the flat.

Our flat isn’t warm.  It isn’t light. Sometimes people in school talk about when they get up out of bed and they get their breakfasts from their maw’s and they have a shower and stuff.  Our maw isnae like that.  We do get showers, especially when the social worker is coming.  But maw hasn’t been good in the past few weeks.  She gets the depression.

The water is cold, but I make Iain wash his oxters and face an’ hauns.  Iain is older than me, but he has special needs.  Or the depression.  They seem the same to me.

Our school Uniform isn’t in the flat.  An’ I know what maw has done.  She has done it before and promised not to.  The social will be roun’ later, because the only thing I have to go to school in is a pair of shorts and a vest.  Iain has a ripped pair of jeans and a power rangers pyjama top.  She mustn’t have been able to fit our welly boots into the plastic bag last night, or maybes people don’t want to buy wellies.  She calls it, “robbin’ Peter tae pay Paul.”  Paul must be the skinny man who she gets her medicine from.

When we are leaving, I leave the door on the latch.  Maw might not have remembered her key, and if she has a lot of medicine in somebody’s house, she might not be hame tae the morra.

The school isn’t too far.  I don’t know the time, but I know when the morning rolls are being delivered to Detsy’s, its near breakfast club time.

When we got to the school, Charlie the breakfast club guy, said, “Youse must be freezin’!” and he gets us uniforms, socks and trainers.  People in the school give them in when they are too wee for them.  He lets me choose, and I choose the ones that look the oldest, so maw won’t try an’ sell them again.

Breakfast club is great… walking in here, into this big new building, with its big hall and light and warm and things to do is like sunrise.  It’s like when I had a torch and I was able to light our room one night when it was scarey.  This place is the only place my forehead doesn’t feel tight.  Sometimes I feel so happy here, I get a bit out of control, and the teachers shout at me.  But its not like da’ or maw shouting.  Its safe shouting.

One of the times I do feel bad is when people are getting points for bringing in their homework.  I never have mines done.  I cant do it.  I don’t have time. You don’t get told off for not doing it, but its like one of maws slaps when Kylie Loft gets points.  She’s horrible.  She wouldn’t give me a share of her big bag of Doritos last Tuesday, even when she gave Maisie, Tina and Mohammed some when we were playin’ tig, because she says, “Norah never shares anythin’.” I wish I did have some stuff to share.  I feel bad when its my birthday and’ the teacher sings happy birthday.  Because I never have a cake or sweets to give the class.

Our teacher is nice.  But I wish she’d stop giving points for things my maw and da’ can’t do, like best costume on World book Day, or for wearing all your school uniform, or for healthy snacks or home learning projects.  I don’t mind people getting points I suppose.  But all them projects are mostly done by people’s maws.  Their maw hasn’t got the health my maw has.  I can never get points.  And that’s like a punch in the stomach sometimes.

The school dinners are the best.  I pretend I hate them like Tina does.  I know Tina loves them like me.  Where do you get food like that?  Its all different colours!  Things you just don’t get normally in the chippy or outta tin. Mr Singh behind the counter likes me.  He gives me extra stuff and winks.

Onyways, after lunch, it was gonna be circle time.  I like afternoons an aw, but I get a wee bit sad because I know its nearly time for home, and I knew it would be cold, and I knew my maw wouldn’t be there.  And sometimes I get angry at my friends because they haven’t Iain to look after, or maw to clean or da’ to hide from. And on the way up the stair to class, I tripped and I fell and I didn’t want to get up.  And I wanted Mrs Madigan, the classroom assistant to pick me up and give me a wee cuddle and tell me things would be awright.  Mrs Madigan says, we have a jar that you have inside you that should be filled with cuddles and love, and when you feel sad, you can use one of the cuddles and pieces of love from your jar to help you keep going.

But our teacher came back just before Mrs Madigan and told me to get up and taught me resilience.

Resilience is when you pick yourself up and brush yourself down and start all over again.  So my teacher says.

I count the cuddles and love going in to my jar.  I don’t have much in there, but when I get them, I clamp the lid down tight and remember and remember them. Because I know that one day Iain and me might need them.

Written by Neil Scott

 

WordPress Resources at SiteGround

Reading Time: 1 minute

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Wonder Women!

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

We have a whole heap of goodies coming up for you on this International Women’s Day special episode of Ungagged.

Get yourself Ungagged and let us know what you think of this episode in the comments, or on our twitter or Facebook and, if you love what we do and want to help keep us going, consider chucking some change into our hosting costs fund on PayPal.

On this episode, introduced by Victoria Pearson, first time Ungagger Jessica Maybury is coming on to talk about the repeal the 8th movement, Sandra Webster will be discussing carers and nurses, the backbone of our health service, and Debra Torrance will be talking about the plight of the showman who are being forced from their homes because their land can be more profitable for the council without them on it. You can read Debra’s piece here.

We have a bit of a women travelling theme this episode with first time Ungagger Seanna Fallon sharing her personal experiences as a solo female traveller, Teresa Durran, who managed to record despite jet lag and being full of cold, talking about her recent trip to new Zealand, and Thomas Morris talking about some of the remarkable female travellers he has met as a backpacker.

No Ungagged episode would be complete without Red Raiph, so he’ll be along to share his thoughts on International Women’s Day,  Chuck Hamilton will be talking about women who are his heroes, and another first time Ungagger, Nelly Neal, will be talking about the reality of teaching for women.

Em Dehaney will be sharing a fabulously furious feminist rant, Brian Quail will be talking about his incarceration following his disruption of the trident nuclear convoy, Derek Stewart Macpherson will be asking who holds the (literal) power, and George Collins will be talking Brazilian jujitsu and Kenyan politics.

We’ll have all of that plus Neil Anderson and friends performing the winner of our winter short story competitionA Lefty Winters Tale, by Anthony Franksand music from Steve McAuliffe & The Mighty Ur, The Wimmins Institute, Petrol Girls, Dream Nails, Madame So, Grace Petrie, The Kara Sea, Ethical Debating Society, Desperate Journalist, The Tuts, Sharon Martin and Gallows Circus.

With thanks to  Neil Scott, for pulling the whole thing together.

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Ungagged is a not for profit collective of volunteers, and we rely on the generosity of our listeners to meet hosting and advertising costs, as well as help us fund the campaigns on our news page. If you’d like to donate us the cost of a newspaper or a cup of coffee to help keep us going, you can do so through PayPal here.

 

No place like home – but where is home when you are on wheels?

Reading Time: 6 minutes
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Debra Torrance

No place like home – but where is home when you are on wheels?

The shows, the carnival, the fairground integral parts to a gala, the Highland games, a village fete and important part of Scottish communities; essential components to local economies. What are the shows?

The flashing lights and ringing bells, the stall holders calling out to come to their stall. “Hook a duck, every one’s a winner!”, “Can you ring the bell? “Have a go!” The smell of candy floss, toffee apples, donuts. Hotdogs? Hamburgers? You aren’t sure but the smell of fresh fried grub makes your stomach ache even though you already had your dinner.

You wait though because you haven’t been on the big rides or in my case the sticky wall yet. You stand in that circle drum, everybody laughing, knowing what is coming, it starts off so slow. Turning a wee bit, the young boys look determined, ready to perform acrobatics to impress whatever wee lassie they are winching. The speed picks up, the floor suddenly drops away and the boys flip upside down, everybody starts screaming and laughing. The force of the spin has pinned you to the wall, you are trying to look around, someone to your left looks awfy peely wally, are the gonna…? Aw naw!

Wean’s running about with plush toys, their bounty’s won at different attractions. From shooting galleries to hammers; small and large to test your strength. Hook a ducks; a children’s favourite. Can you knock over skittles with a throw of the ball? Can you throw a ring round some whisky?

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The annual Glasgow holiday is even called the Glasgow Fair. Where for generations Glaswegians went doon the water to Ayr, Rothesay, Troon, Saltcoats and other seaside towns. And every year there was a carnival in the Glasgow Green. A summer celebration, I don’t think i ever missed as a child.

I even have a jigsaw of me and my niece as wee tots on a big green helicopter, on a roundabout. It was the winter carnival though at the Kelvin Hall. This has now moved to the SECC and is better known as the Irn Bru carnival. Where it is still tradition to go with the family between Christmas and New Year.

With fairgrounds being so popular in Glasgow and the West, it should be no surprise that…

“An estimated 80% of show people are Glaswegians, living in about 50 privately-owned or leased yards in pockets to the east, south and north of the city.”

The community of folk who travel and operate the fairgrounds all over Scotland are facing ever increasing difficulties. Show folk have intrinsic links to their yards, carnival sites and surrounding communities. Although the nature of business for the modern showman has drastically changed from 100yrs ago, many still travel with their wagons to various towns and villages often occupying the same routes at the same times for many years. These businessmen and women operate in all aspects of trade, diversifying and settling in communities, some have coffee shops and catering businesses, some have property portfolios and 9-5 jobs.

But the thing that unites them is their community, their inherent sense of belonging, their language and perceptions of self, they will remember the carnival differently from me. They might remember the smell of diesel and the “put put” of the generator, (lighting set for the well versed). Showfolk will remember the hard work, the long build ups and pull downs, gathering with their friends and attending dances, the weather when they had to get towed by a tractor and moving to the next town or village.

Imagine being able to go to work where you can meet up with all your family, your extended cousins and aunties, kids you used to go to school with. It would be such a privilege to work a wee kids Ferris wheel that your great grandad also operated, imagine having that connection and sense of belonging. It’s so beautiful and should be treasured.

As a punter going to the carnival means different things to me than it would a showman. But I can clearly see the deep and varied traditions, I can appreciate the art of the stalls and could endlessly stare at the vintage graphics on display. But i am surprised to find that this amazing culture has no official status or protection.

Even though a distinct and unique culture, showmen aren’t afforded the same status as Irish travellers or Romany Gypsies. Fairground sites where showmen can also park their wagons alongside their valuable machinery are rapidly disappearing. Static year round yards where showmen can be secure in the knowledge their children have a stable and consistent education are rapidly being eradicated.

Showfolk face discrimination like many minorities, one story I was told that broke my heart was of a young kid going for her first day at a new school, her classmates made her feel welcome so much so that they invited her “to come throw stones at the gypsies”. At her own home, her own people.

The lazy stereotyping of the general population also doesn’t help. An increasing amount of show children are doing well at school, attending university and of those who don’t continue in eduction have a hard working ethos instilled in them from being part of a family business from a young age.

The fairground community is a vibrant, hardworking, complex part of Scottish society. The skills, knowledge and history so connected to Glasgow that in the Museum of Transport there is a whole display dedicated to Showfolk, their vehicles, their homes and the history of the fairground.

What now is seen as a trendy lifestyle choice, living off grid in eco friendly homes, maximising space and storage, the showfolk of Scotland have been doing for centuries, such as conserving water, recycling and up cycling. Although a modern chalet is more akin to a modern semi detached new build than an off grid earthen shed, Amazing Spaces and George Clarke should check out some of the innovative chalet design in various Glasgow yards.

Showfolk take such pride in the appearance of their stalls at a carnival, imagine the pride they have in their homes? Showman’s yards are like many estates within Glasgow, some immaculate, well maintained, tidy properties others not so pristine. Rides, trailers and machinery vital to their livelihood, kept close by for security purposes. They are nice places, where everybody knows your name , would help out in any situation and somewhere I’d want to live. This is a throwback to traditional Scottish Communities where every neighbour knew everyone on the street. Everyone knows everyone. If they don’t know you they ask “Who do you belong to?” and quickly a connection is established.

So imagine living somewhere for 37 years, establishing roots, having a short term lease throughout that tenure precluding you from investing in it, you become more of a maintainer or caretaker than an owner of that place. Moving into it as a dump. A black site, unsuitable for anything else so the council lets you park on it. But you still have to pay rent, council tax and have a licence to occupy. Then out of the blue, just because that place you have lived for all this time, is now trendy, you have to move. What are your options here? Move your kids from School, depart from your friends in the local community? Will your neighbour you have parked next to for 37 years be beside you again? Your next site will not be in The West End, nor will it necessarily be in the South side where you are but most likely the alternative will be in another black site – ghettoised in 2018.

Why write these thoughts you may ask, well this injustice is happening now to people in Glasgow, because when it comes to it they are people, like you and me, being told to move because that bit of land is now worth more to the council with them off it. This has happened in Patrick, Vinegar Hill to name but a few and it is now happening in Govan. The two adjoining yards in Govan, the Stringfellow’s and Johnstone’s are being closed, the council not allowing their lease to be renewed. The papers heralded the new development without initially reporting the impact on the people. The occupants for nearly four decades are being evicted. With limited options of another location. To be geographically displaced is one thing but when you think about what their options are most likely to another black site, not desirable (at that time) and without their ties to the local community and possibly their established businesses in that area, not much of a choice really! Will this be owned or will this be leased? If they do get somewhere else is there really any certainty over the future of showfolk and their established roots in Glasgow…

Not everyone who identifies as showmen travels with the fairground. Elderly folk retire to these yards and continue to be protected and looked after by their community.

This also goes hand in hand with other economic influences affecting showmen such as inconsistent licensing regimes across Scotland, all of which threaten their economic well being and way of life.

Oooh Jeremy Corbyn…Poorly Paid Agency Workers Aren’t Just Migrants

Reading Time: 5 minutes
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Brian Finlay
This post also appears on Brian’s blog

Like many on the left I was optimistic when Jeremy Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party. I was happy to see him fend off the centrist Labour MPs such as Liz Kendall and latterly Owen Smith to be the leader of the opposition in Westminster. I was hopeful that the UK had a leader of the Labour Party that believed in the scrapping of our Trident nuclear weapons and ending Austerity.

I find myself wanting to cheer him on but get disappointed when I hear him acknowledge the ‘will of the British people’ in the 52/48 EU referendum to end freedom of movement. I got even more disappointed when Jeremy Corbyn stood on a manifesto, in June 2017, which supported the renewal Trident nuclear weapons; outvoted by his own party to do so. I lost all faith when he addressed the Scottish Labour Party conference this week and delivered a speech which blurred an issue of poorly paid agency workers with migrants coming to this country.

This has pandered to the controlling of mass immigration narrative which has been made to be a major factor for the working condition woes in the UK which is completely unfounded. Poor pay and working conditions are stagnated and driven down in the UK labour market because the National Living Wage (NLW) is low, precarious work is unregulated and jobs are being deskilled because of automation and centralisation of power structures.

Agency workers in areas such as manufacturing and hospitality sectors in the UK have historically been accepted and normalised. In fact, organisations such as Amazon and Ryanair still use agencies to staff their business. Different organisations use agency staff to different extents.  Amazon has both their own employers and agency staff working in the back office and on the warehouse floor alongside each other. This allows them to quickly increase their workforce to the business needs and when workload demand increases. Ryanair has a slightly different approach, where their cabin crew and customer service staff are from agencies and their pilots are employed by Ryanair. This is known as marketisation where different specific areas of an organisation can be tendered out to an agency or in some cases third party companies; this is common with cleaners or maintenance for example.

These types of working arrangements can cause huge problems for employment relations and attempting to collectively mobilise staff to strike, or collectively bargain, as employees all work for different organisations or agencies and have unique terms and conditions of work. This fragmentation of the workforce dilutes any power the collective employees may have had to strike and means that, where trade unions are even acknowledged within the organisation, the strike will only impact on a small section of the business and have limited impact on the organisation’s ability to function and produce profit. It is important to acknowledge this is not accidental and organisations have adopted marketisation for this reason to ensure the employer holds the power and prevents, as much as possible, strike action taking place and it allows them to tender out parochial, specialised or in some organisations low skilled job roles. 

I believe this is the issue that Mr Corbyn wants to address in relation to his speech at the Scottish Labour Party conference but what he did, which may be unintentional or possibly not, is talked about this issue in relation to cheap agency workers migrating to this country from abroad. I was shocked to see these words come out of his mouth and sounded like dog whistle politics of mass immigration driving down the wages and quality of work in the UK. He has previously stated that with the EU referendum result he would want to see the end of free movement of people because of ‘genuine concern over immigration by the electorate’ but, as a socialist leader, he should be standing up and arguing the case for free movement. Moreover, he should be specifically highlighting areas of the country which need immigration to continue to function such as here in Scotland. We have a declining population numbers overall and an ageing population, we have an urgent need to attract immigrants. By closing the door to the single market we stop the free flow of people from the EU and speeches like this could make us seem unwelcoming. The underpaid agency worker issue could be policed with the legal framework we already have; regardless to where that worker has come from.

It has been known, since the debate of introducing the National Minimum Wage (NMW), that the offer of meals, refreshments and accommodation from an employer can be offset from an employee’s wages. This means that if an employer is paid the ‘National Living Wage’ (NLW) they can have accommodation and cost of meals taken from their pay packet resulting in the employer having to part with less money to the employee. This type of working arrangement can be occupied by anyone not just workers from abroad. These types of adverts exist on Gumtree every summer for remote hotels in the north of Scotland and such like. The fact is agency workers are already protected under UK employment law to receive at least the NMW under the UK Governments Rights for Agency Workers. I do believe that a threshold should be put in place to ensure agency workers are not paying over the cost price for in-work accommodation and meals. A comprehensive framework is needed to ensure that employees are receiving company perks at production cost incurred to the business and the employer is not pocketing additional profit by exploiting agency workers in this manner.

The desirability of agency workers, from my extensive research in the hospitality sector, has reduced in the last ten years due to the adoption of zero hour contracts (ZHC). The use of these contracts, which contributes massively to in-work poverty and degradation of the power held by the employee in the UK, gives the employer similar flexibility benefits they traditionally had with agency staff. The use of these types of contracts rose by 300% in 2015-16 and is most common in service sector work. The ZHC is also more attractive as they do not have to pay agency fees. Agency fees can be particularly expensive and could cost the employer double the hourly rate than it would be to have their own employee but it did give the employer to stability of staff ‘on tap’ but this can now be achieved through ZHC’s. The use of ZHC’s as a method of employment tends not to suit skilled manual labour or specialised jobs which may amount to agency workers in these fields; for both indigenous and migrant workers.

The European Union is looking to change laws and regulations to migrant temporary agent workers which may not match ‘our’ values. There have been multiple treaties and policies that the UK has either managed to not sign up to or negotiate progressive changes at the ratification stage. Jeremy Corbyn talks of these potential EU developments in employment policy, which we won’t be part of as we’re leaving the EU if he gets his way, but neglects to reassure the audience what domestic levers could be used. I found the speech to be clouded and he was confusing incredibly important issues with migrant labour when it really didn’t need to be; as it’s an issue across the entire UK workforce.

It is clear that  if Jeremy Corbyn genuinely wanted to help with this issue he could have dealt with it without referring to migrant agency workers. I don’t feel it was appropriate or relevant to do so, especially with all the misinformation and falsely created tension around immigration. I do feel it was opportunistic and yet he chose to make that speech in one area of the UK where we are crying out for migrant workers to come and join our workforce in Scotland. If Corbyn really had an understanding of what Scotland needs he would back Scotland having all immigration and workers’ rights devolved to Holyrood. This way we could see the end exploitative precarious working conditions and set an immigration policy that reflects our values and our needs for the future.

Weesht For Indy – Not…

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Weesht For Indy – Not…

I am part of a political group that agrees to disagree on pretty much all of the razors of political analysis that cause splits, tantrums and forked tongued statements.  Ungagged is a website and political podcast that has pretty much every left view somewhere in its archive, said by people ranging from Trotskyists, Tankies, Blairites, Anarchists, Greens, Nationalists – all from the left spectrum of politics.

We respect the fact that others going to sometimes say, organise or promote an aspect of left politics we don’t agree with on the podcast, or written on the website.  And the fact that quite a few of us are from different parts of the world with different experiences, or different parts of Britain and Ireland, with different experiences, or different parts of Scotland with different experiences, informs us, rather than divides us.

My political background is as complex as anyone’s, but to summarise it, I was brought up in Northern Ireland in a protestant/unionist community and found myself at odds with that community.  I read literature and had experiences in Northern Ireland that convinced me the UK was not conducive to equality – in any way or aspect – and when i moved to Scotland I became involved with left and pro-independence politics.  I was a member of the SSP EC in the late 2000’s; co-opted again during indyref, and elected again onto the EC, twice. I left the SSP in late 2015.

I don’t see independence as a tactic.  I don’t see independence as being about my identity.  I don’t see independence as an income stream. I see independence as a way to break a state that at present is reinventing its imperialist past as somehow glorious – a state that is “dripping with blood from head to foot.” A state that is a key block, still even in its weakened state, in the curtain wall of capitalism.  A wall that hems in the poor and working class, while the rich and corporate world can fly free, borne on wings built with our bones, fueled by our blood and fed to obesity while we starve.

So…

There is an attitude in the Yes movement at present of, “disagreement is not healthy,” or “don’t challenge people – we are all on the same side.” I loathe that. That is nonsense, and designed to shut down debate, just as those on the left who prevaricate and hide the analysis they share within their particular cult shut down debate.

In order to come to agreement as to what sort of Scotland we are fighting for, we have to disagree, hone our arguments etc. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.  And both those who tell us to shoosh for Indy, and those who hide their true analysis and hide behind their moderately successful tactic of the past independence referendum are, mistakenly in my opinion, really doing their best to stop education through engagement.  They are building walls to a synthesis of feet on the streets, together, during the next campaign.

“Shoosh for indy,” seems to be the order of the day, not “unite the diversity,” though many of those telling us to wheest cry, “why is the movement not as accepting of difference as it was between 2011-14?” and,  “Why cant we all just raise a flag of truce and deliver a saltire to each door?”

I strongly disagree with some people who want independence, or those who at this juncture feel it is “a good tactic.” I strongly agree with some others.

Some I disagree with, I would trust with my life. Some who seem to “agree with me,” I really trust no more than crocodiles resting just below the water.

And this attitude is coming from all sides. If you criticise the ultra nationalists careering around social media, expect to be trolled. Raise points about people making money (rather than raising funds for expenses) from independence, and you are a traitor. And criticise some of the left “analysis” and you are accused of all sorts.  Let’s not, however class all of those we disagree with in the same category. For example, I have recently seen criticism of Darren McGarvey after his interview with Owen Jones. I don’t entirely agree with Darren, but I totally respect the guy (I honestly went from a position were I didn’t rate him, to once having met him, perhaps “getting him,” to now feeling, as a teacher concerned with ACES, the guy is pretty cool). He is absolutely honest in what he is saying… Which is where I get annoyed by some other folk who write about or speak about, independence or social change or socialism -their hiding behind words and “analysis,” as if those words and analysis are objective and self evident. Hiding behind analysis as “objective,” is deceiving (and in some cases this is exactly what the writers and speakers intend). All analysis is subjective. Darren never pretends his writing or words are anything other than his opinion or experience.

The pretence at objectivity from left individuals and small organisations is breathtaking.  And the pretence that what some of them are doing is for the common good is just damned depressing.  The narcissism of some just makes me want to run as far away from some of the left in the independence movement, but Scotland an the independence media being so small, they seem to be everywhere.

The great thing about the Yes movement between 2011 and 2014 is that it was allowed to shift and expand and then it took on a life outside the original Yes Scotland “diversity plan.” After September ‘14, there were statements and manifestos drawn up in our name, without our input; read out in halls and we were all expected to cheer.

I am a democratic radical socialist. And I am not part of a cadre or vanguard or group with vested interests in how the campaign takes shape and is run. I have always, within the movement and when I was in a political party, spoke my mind and called out dishonesty and worse.

I, like many, have views about what should happen post indyref. And I, like many, have views on how we should as campaigners and activists, be represented in the press, and on political bodies growing up within the movement. And at the moment there are far too many self appointed spokespeople for me. Few of whom speak for a movement of butterflies, and a majority of whom seem to want to stick the butterflies in boxes and tell them to shoosh for unity etc. while they tell us what to think.

To argue, to disagree and to call out tactics and vanguards and manels and pyramid schemes seems to cause great ire.

The people who do are the ones I trust.

We don’t need a monument of Margaret Thatcher…..we’re standing in one

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Brian Finlay 
This article originally appeared on Brian’s blog

We don’t need a monument of Margaret Thatcher…..we’re standing in one

A nation of powerless workers and inequality

 

The name Margaret Thatcher is one that resonates with more or less every single person the UK. It is met with scoffing or near hatred by most working class and a sense of pride and ‘Britishness’ with others. The connotations of the stern and confident female leader is enough to make any Conservative Party supporter weak an the knees and think of the good old days. The days when LGBTIQ+ rights in the classroom were silenced and we used excessive force against Argentinian navy ships to install British pride. Let’s face it, they’re certainly not getting the Iron Lady 2 with Theresa May who is as strong and stable as mercury at room temperature but just as ‘likeable’ to the majority of the working class.

 

The discussion of having a statue of Thatcher erected outside Westminster has gone on for sometime now. It seems to have surfaced again more recently with supporters across the political spectrum. I understand she was the first female Prime Minister but I don’t feel that justifies being set in stone, or in iron with a large swinging handbag as some doting commentators have joked, especially since we are all standing on the monument to Thatcherism. We stand in country with a welfare state that is being decimated, bureaucratically alienated from it’s users and stigmatised by the right wing press and the ‘just about managing’.

 

We live in a country with a shameful social housing sector which was sold off for state profit with Maggie’s ‘vote winning’ right to buy scheme. Yes this allowed many working class people to own a property but it has residualised social housing and saw the decline of the desire-ability of housing estates once sought after under state ownership. I could go on and on about other ideological policies that inflicted harm on the working class people of the UK in the 1980’s but discussing the Poll Tax needs it’s own blog or political essay.

 

When Thatcher came into power in 1979 she had won to fight the unions. The ‘winter of discontent’ had triggered a political shift to Conservatism and she brought her ‘traditional school teacher’ attitude to politics. A strong woman ‘of the people’ to take on the male domination of Trade Unions who were, in Thatcher’s opinion, scuppering the UK’s productivity and holding public services to ransom. The planned and aggressive butchering of trade union rights through the plethora of legislation passed transformed employment relations in this country. Simultaneously her government went on to sell off public utilities including coal mining, gas providers and water.

The ideological assumption was that a competitive market would improve service delivery, keep costs down and the productivity in these industries would be improved; look how that has worked out. This was a turbulent time for manufacturing as a whole and the working class communities right across the country. The miner strike of 1983/84 is a prominent memory and artefact in history of how aggressive and ideological Thatcher’s regime was in empowering employers and weakening trade unions and the employees. This whole period of time could be, and actually has, it’s own textbook but fast forward to today we see that ideology played out in favour of Thatcher. The neo-liberal agenda and quest for a free unregulated market was not accidental and was not halted or minimised under 13 years of a New Labour government.

 

Today where huge industrial estates and other hard industry once stood we see retail parks and leisure parks. Where small independent businesses used to occupy our high streets we see national and multi-national chain corporations occupy those sites which still remain open. In Scotland around 25% of the working population work in the service sector including retail, sales or hospitality. Just under ten percent of Scot’s work in hotels or restaurants. Traditionally the vast majority Scottish workforce was employed in manufacturing, production, energy extraction or manual labour. Some commentators assert the reduction in this type of work is because much more women are now in the workplace, which takes up just over 40% of the today’s workforce, but this is down to the decimation of industry which is echoed in areas like Northern England and parts of Wales.

 

This is significant because service sector workers tend not to have collective representation or be represented by trade unions; hindering their bargaining power with employers. In fact unions in the UK have seen membership decline massively and only have ‘real’ authority remaining within the public sector. However, public sector trade unions are under attack from Theresa May’s government with the austerity lead public sector pay cap weakening the only strong remaining trade union movement in the UK. In the UK’s service sector is where we see some of the lowest wages, precarious working conditions and low skilled repetitive work. Many of these jobs have face-to-face customer interaction 100% of the time which exposes the employee to high levels of exhausting emotional labour which can lead to burnout.

 

The precarious types of employment can manifest in zero hour contracts (ZHC) or as ‘self-employed’ style of working with a central employer; referred to as the ‘gig-economy’. If an employee is on a ZHC have no guaranteed amount of working hours per week from their employer. This gives the employer the ability to have the manpower when it is required but scale down and not have pay employees when they’re not needed. This can also make it possible for employers to stop giving hours to employees that don’t ‘fit’ or don’t produce high levels of productivity. Having hours cut or removed completely is common if a staff member is ‘problematic’ or seen to be a trouble maker; meaning the employer holds nearly all the power. This type of working conditions are expected in retail and hospitality and becoming more and more normalised and widely accepted as ‘how it is’ these days. Employees with limited influence or power can do very little and as these jobs are relatively low skilled a disgruntled employee can be replaced relatively easily and quickly.

 

The gig-economy is a self-employed type of working arrangement with a single employer. This means you’re a worker for that employer but not an employee of them meaning you don’t receive all the same benefits or rights as employees. This is common in the growing courier companies, such as DHL and Hermes, where employees must rent their vehicle, uniforms or even buy the fuel for delivering the parcels. This model of employment is also present in companies such as the taxi firm Uber. This manifests by an app providing drivers with the customer pick ups and have they have their service scored and graded by the customer. The employee can also be monitored centrally by management to ensure their productivity, working hours and even levels of customer service are above targets; set by management. What we now see in the new employment age is employees being controlled by an app on their phone which they require to utilise to gain access to work. The Conservative Government ‘investigated’ these types of employment practices and recently imposed these employees must receive the National ‘Living’ Wage and be entitled to annual leave but they did not address the core issues of power, control and the really precarious nature of the job. In companies that adopt the gig-economy model can revoke the offer of work for that day with no notice or state they are not meeting the required standard of work and not offer work going forward. This cuts out the very lengthy performance management procedure and prevents the employer being taken to tribunal.

These two common manifestations of precarious work have installed uncertainty, in-work poverty and further job degradation and deskilling. The jobs are designed to be as simplified and controlled as possible, often by technology as the first contact ‘line manager’, resulting very little autonomy. It is known that job satisfaction and organisational commitment predominantly comes from autonomous flexible work but in the precarious age of work it’s more profitable to have de skilled, repetitive and highly controlled types of job roles.

 

So what has this created? What does it have to do with Margaret Thatcher? The answer is a nation of powerless workers and the employer holding most, if not all, of the power. The precarious and low paid jobs occupied by a chunk of the Scottish workforce result in employees essentially being trapped in in-work poverty and uncertain financial position due to having no employment security. In the hospitality sector, where less than 2% of the workforce has trade union membership, this is the kind of working practices that are on offer. In our contemporary labour market, which is amongst the most unequal in the ‘developed’ world, we see cases of CEO’s being paid 125 times more than junior member of staff. We see the need and utilisation of foodbanks increase every month due to in-work poverty and the implementation of the heartless Universal Credit welfare reforms. This is extreme Thatcherism. An unregulated employment market free from collective bargaining and trade union interference. We all live and work in the monument sculpted by Thatcher’s governments ideological ideals, and this monument has been embellished by New Labour and Coalition/Conservative governments that served after her. We don’t need reminded by a glorified statue outside the Palace of Westminster because we are reminded everyday. Reminded that in the sixth largest economy in the world the wealth inequality is scandalous and it is an eye sore. Let’s look at building on that rather than fawning after a Prime Minister that inflicted such social harm on the people she was elected to represent.