Showing posts from June, 2011

There's Still Power in a Union (2)

With a wave of industrial action expected this summer in response to the Coalition’s severe programme of budget cuts, we hear voices from the Right and the Centre calling for a further ‘tightening’ of union strike laws. We see no reason to change the laws at the moment, the Tories say (and the Lib Dems warn, as if they were reluctant passengers), because at the moment things are working fairly well, but we may have to review the laws at some stage if the situation changes. As long as the unions co-operate with us, in other words, they’ll be fine. If they don’t, we’ll start making their lives difficult.

That’s a fine example of democracy for you, isn’t it? They’re not doing what we want them to, so we’ll make it harder for them to defy us. They say the unions do not have a sufficient mandate from their members for the next wave of strikes. Most members, they point out, didn’t cast a vote either for or against industrial action. Perhaps. Although there are issues about how furtive a uni…

There’s Still Power in a Union (1)

When my friend was talking to me about the problems at his job last night I thought, and said (not for the first time either), "If everybody in the workplace joined a union it would make England a different country overnight." And it would. Most bosses say they don’t recognise unions and won’t negotiate with them; but if everybody was in a union, they would have to recognise them. So why don’t people join unions when pay and working conditions are dreadful for so many? A common thing you’ll hear in objection to unions – from people who can be bothered to engage in a discussion about it – is that the unions are "in it for themselves". Some unspecified person at your or my union’s head office is cynically using the union cause to seek publicity and profit. Well, it’s natural they’re going to get publicity during disputes and negotiations because the media is following them around asking for interviews. But what sort of masochist do we suppose would actively seek the …

Jamie Cullum: The Triumph of the Dull

Last night, as I was waiting for my friend to arrive, I put the Radio Two Jamie Cullum Jazz Programme on for some diversion. Once again I have to conclude that he is the most boring man on radio. The dumbing-down of the jazz content on his show is bad enough – it avoids the seriousness of John Coltrane/ Sun Ra-era jazz the way Labour avoids any public connection with the unions – but Cullum’s vacuously enthusiastic twitterings drive me mad. The last time he was on I actually told the radio to shut up in an empty room. And then I turned it over. I should have known better last night too – same show, same presenter – but can I be blamed for my goofy optimism?

Eliza Carthy: Good Folk

Last night while I was doing other things on the internet I watched a programme about 'folksinger' (since we must classify everything) Eliza Carthy. It was narrated by one Tom Ravenscroft. He wouldn't be the son of grievously-missed John Peel (born John Ravenscroft) would he? or am I exhibiting a romantic side to my nature I would do better, in the defence of my hard-won image as an emotional ice block, to conceal? No matter. In addition to Mr. Ravenscroft, whoever he may be, the programme also featured Eliza herself (obviously, you might think, although if she gets very famous she will absent herself from such flummery), Billy Bragg, 'comedian's comedian' Stewart Lee and Eliza's parents 'folk legends' Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson. And I don't know why - who can say what happy commingling of astral forces and bodily courses makes these things come about - but from the beginning to the end of the show I was mesmerised by the music, the interv…

The Winter of Discontent: Rubbish Piled Up in the Mind.

In keeping with my current political mood - which seems to have been provoked by the appalling spectacle of Mr. Cleggeron in white shirt, tieless, with sleeves rolled up (have we really reached such an idiotic and transparent low in political propagandising?) walking around a hospital ward "listening" to nurses and patients - I watched an old documentary about one of my heroes Michael Foot this morning. In doing so I discovered something I'd forgotten long ago: those "memories" anti-Labourites and lazy political agnostics who don't want their consciences pricked or their inactivity disturbed haul out every time you talk about the years immediately before Thatcher - the ones about "rubbish piling up in the streets" and "bodies not being buried" because of the strikes - were actually grossly irresponsible sensationalist headlines from a Tory Party Political Broadcast! I'm sure it happened in a few places - it wasn't just the busine…

The Tyranny of the Old

On Saturday that venerable old programme Desert Island Discs changed its format for a week and featured the 8 songs that listeners would wish to take with them to the hypothetical desert island. They had been writing and emailing their selections in for some time, it seemed. I immediately succumbed to the same temptation I imagine every other listener felt who hadn’t already sent in a selection and chose my own 8 songs, just for personal amusement (and to see if I couldn’t prove my intellectual and cultural superiority to my usual audience, the silent the walls of my living room at the Bard Gaff). This was the list I produced:

John Coltrane ‘Alabama’
Neil Young ‘Mansion on the Hill’
George Harrison ‘My Sweet Lord’
Elvis Presley ‘Mystery Train’
Bob Dylan ‘Ballad of Hollis Brown’
Billie Holiday ‘Strange Fruit’
Fairport Convention ‘Mattie Groves’
Rolling Stones ‘Gimme Shelter’

(With Carl Perkins’ ‘Honey Don’t’ and Waylon Jennings’ ‘Honky Tonk Heroes’ waiting in the wings if any of the o…

When Grace Departed

Browsing around on YouTube this morning I found footage of Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock in ’69 singing ‘Somebody to Love’ (which isn't in the movie). What a mighty band they were with their powerful, complex, multi-layered songs and Grace, the most devastating frontman (person?) of the era - only the ingrained sexism and lack of imagination of critics and historians makes them say Jagger.   I flipped forward a little over a decade after that, drawn by a masochistic desire to wreck the high Grace's booming voice and startling blue eyes had put me on, and watched ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ by their Reaganite incarnation Starship. (Or were they Jefferson Starship? I dunno.) My memory of it turned out to be accurate: they were fucking hideous. Grace is still there out front but all of her charisma, all of the sexual power she had, is gone; and with her hair piled up on her head and a gaudy jacket on she looks like a groupie at an Elvis Presley concert. The rest of the band a…