Monday, 23 March 2020

'A virus is nothing' Guardian Article featuring GS Co-chair Maureen Childs

'A virus is nothing': elderly WW2 survivors refuse to submit to panic
Over-70s asked to self-isolate compare coronavirus crisis to wartime childhood memories
Guardian 2020/mar/23 Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

Maureen Childs, 80, at her balcony, on the seventh floor of a tower block near Tower Bridge. Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

Maureen Childs, 80, isn’t scared of coronavirus. She is careful not to catch the bug as she self-isolates in her seventh-floor flat in east London, but like many of the millions of elderly people now being told to severely limit their activities, she has lived through a far greater catastrophe: the second world war.

“I can remember the sounds of the doodlebugs going over,” she said as she contemplated her second week in almost complete lockdown, one of 7.8 million people in the UK aged 70 or older who, regardless of medical conditions, are being told by the government to self-isolate.
German motorised bombs flew over London as she and her family listened to the radio and “as soon as the sound stopped we were all sitting there petrified because you didn’t know if you were underneath it.” One day, they were and the device blew out the doors and the windows of her home. “A virus is nothing compared to that,” she said.

Comparisons between the current public health crisis and wartime are much-discussed among the generation most vulnerable to Covid-19. But as Public Health England instructs them to avoid non-essential use of public transport, avoid gatherings in public or with friends and family and only use telephones or go online to contact GPs, different problems are emerging.

“It’s the lack of exercise that worries me,” she said. “When I did go out [to the shop and to the bank], the walking got to me. I lost the use of my legs. I need to be more disciplined and do exercise at home, but I feel such a ninny.”

Childs thinks she is part of a rump of the elderly who she fears are being overlooked – millions of over-70s who would normally fend for themselves, but who are made vulnerable by the latest isolation orders. They are not necessarily among the 1.2 million of the most vulnerable who the NHS is now instructing to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for a period of at least 12 weeks.

 “The frail are well looked after,” said Childs, who had an active life as a national organiser for the Green party and committee member for the British Computer Society. “It’s the ones who aren’t very frail who have fallen through the cracks because we are left to look after ourselves, which we’re proud to be able to do. But we don’t get much advice or help.”
Paul Goulden, director of The Silver Line, a helpline for the elderly that has been inundated with callers concerned about coronavirus, urges “everyone to pick up the phone and check on your older family, friends and neighbours and see how you can help”.

Patricia Shooter, 84, hunkering down with her husband, Bill, 94, at their home in Leicester, has also been comparing the coronavirus crisis to her wartime childhood in Sheffield.
“I do feel scared, but I was also scared when the bombers were going over,” she said. “Our house was bombed. The planes came down over the moor. I remember being in the garden [where they were sheltering] and wondering, ‘Where’s the house?’ I don’t want to be ill and I don’t want to die. But I don’t want to start panicking about coronavirus.”

Shooter was also active and used to swim five times a week. Last week she only swam once (she felt safe as there were only five other people in the pool). She has been shopping in Aldi, wearing gloves and wrapping a scarf over her mouth.

“I have always been independent and I am not being silly,” she said. “I am cleaning every day with disinfectant wipes, cleaning all the doorhandles.”

Both Shooter and Childs struggle with the idea of volunteers doing their shopping. “I like to pick what I like to pick,” said Shooter. “They won’t like it,” said Childs. “Old people are very proud. We are a grumpy old bunch, but we have reason to be grumpy. People treat us like children.”

For now, the elderly and their families are taking it one day at a time. The charity Age UK is encouraging families to “connect and reassure older people in this uncertain time” not just by phone, text and video calls, but by sending letters, postcards and pictures from grandchildren too.

“Picking up shopping, prescriptions or running errands could help to alleviate any worries and concerns they may have about how they’re going to cope,” said Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK.

“Doing what we can to encourage older people to stay physically active at home and ensuring they remain connected and included will be essential. This could mean making sure people have what they need to keep going with their hobbies and interests, like wool if they are knitters.”

Childs has been trying to reach out and help her friends by sending web links to online courses that they might find diverting. Many are in computer programming, but there’s also a six-week course on 19th-century opera, a four-week course on Sikhism, three weeks on Beethoven’s ninth symphony, and an eight-week course on the fundamentals of neuroscience.

However, at least one of the courses might be postponed to a more appropriate time: a four-week module entitled “Lessons from Ebola: preventing the next pandemic”.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Anti-Nazi Germans

Special Offer
As the launch of the book Anti-Nazi Germans will now not take place until the autumn, you can get a copy post-free from the authors.
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Enemies of the Nazi State from within the Working Class Movement
by Merilyn Moos
German Volunteers in the French Resistance
by Steve Cushion
It is a commonly held myth that there was little resistance in Germany to the Nazis except for one or two well known instances. But, regularly ignored or forgotten is the level of opposition from Germans, and in particular from the German working class movement. This book examines that resistance in two parts, starting with the internal resistance. Here are forgotten stories of brave men and women who organised against the Nazis in German towns and villages, as well as in the concentration camps and the armed forces.
The second part chronicles how German refugees contributed to fighting the Nazis in France. From spreading anti-Nazi propaganda in the German Army and attempting to organise mutiny and desertion, through to extensive involvement in urban terrorism and the rural guerrilla struggle.
We are unequivocally on the side of the German anti-Nazi resistance. Perhaps this should not even need to be said, but such is the power of nationalism, that many people feel uncomfortable with those who are prepared to undermine their own country’s war effort or take up arms against the nation of their birth, even if that nation were Nazi Germany. We have no such qualms and take an internationalist stand that places class before nation.
We examine at the actual activities of the rank and file anti-Nazi militants and in the process we shall be rescuing the memory of some heroic fighters who otherwise risk being lost from history.
Published by
Community Languages in association with the Socialist History Society

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Thy Kindom Come: Rev Paul Nicolson (10 May 1932-5 March 2020) Lived Adventurously, Building Compassion & Dialogue

14 March 2020 acknowledgements to
Thy Kindom Come: Rev Paul Nicolson (10 May 1932-5 March 2020) Lived Adventurously, Building Compassion & Dialogue

“Compassion in politics has to transcend and override all party political allegiances.” — Paul Nicolson Source LINK

Paul Nicolson demonstrating outside Church House “in the role of a homeless person for five hours from 9am to 2pm,” 13 Feb 2020. Placard states: “86,130 families in temporary accommodation in England, with 127,000 children. “4600 people sleep rough every night.” “With & for Street & Family Homeless.”

I am grateful to Alan Wheatley formerly of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group for this guest post

Retired Revd and Taxpayers Against Poverty (TAP) founder Paul Nicolson wrote on 14 February 2020:
Yesterday, Thursday 13th February 2020, I was begging on the doorstep of Church House, Westminster in the role of a homeless person for five hours from 9am to 2pm. It was the last day of the February meeting of the General Synod, which is the governing body of the Church of England comprising a House of Bishops, a House of Clergy and a House of Laity all meeting together. I was supporting from the street two excellent motions to be voted on that day. One was promoting a better friendship between church members and impoverished people in line with the priority given to it by Jesus. The other was opposing the shredding of legal aid which is blocking access to justice for many Both motions were passed unanimously. 

 By demonstrating for the homeless I wanted to draw the attention of Synod members to the concerns I hear so often from TAP’s supporters about the Church of England’s commercial use of very valuable land in ways that do not contribute to ending homelessness. 

I was wonderfully cared for by the door keepers of Church House who brought me coffee and checked I was OK from time to time. Two friends came to be with me for about an hour and another brought me lunch and hand warmers. “I did not feel the cold until after I had finished the vigil. Then my body felt chilled until it warmed up in the early hours of the next morning. Charities, shelters and cold weather policies of local authorities simply do not meet the need for or the right to a home in all weathers….” LINK 

Core values and compassionate listening leading to rapport with poor people

Yes, Paul was a great and compassionate listener despite being very hard of hearing. It was through such compassionate listening that he became a devout campaigner and, I’d say, “early warning system” for what has only made it to the mainstream with the pandemic of Universal Credit injustices.

A key example of that was illustrated by his sending me a Guardian Society cartoon from July 2003 in response to my 2016 reflection that saying, “Telephone calls [to the Universal Credit helpline] can cost up to 55p a minute from pay-as-you-go mobile phones, which are commonly used by people with lower incomes,” is less illuminating than saying that the call charge is £33 per hour.

Paul responded to my observation: “Dear Alan – I wrote a similar letter to Guardian Society in 2003. It was published with the following cartoon. - good wished – Paul”  

I first met Paul in about February 2012 at a street demonstration outside Parliament, a few months before his 80th birthday. The backdrop to our meeting was parliamentary debate about the Welfare Reform Bill 2012, spearheaded by investment banker David Freud who had been Blair and Brown’s ‘welfare reform guru’ before accepting a life peerage on the Tory benches. 

Had Paul Nicolson been recognised as a government ‘welfare reform guru’, things would have been very different than they are now. Whereas New Labour had talked about getting Incapacity Benefit claimants into jobcentres since at least as early as 2000/2001, I had been a disabled jobseeker since 1977 witnessing inadequate governmental support for disabled jobseekers. 

Paul had been an anti-Poll Tax campaigner in the early 1990s while I was more intent on “slugging it out in the hope of making it instead of fighting the forces that exploited [me]” and that David Freud represents. (Social mobility quotation by Dinyar Godrej, New Internationalist, March-April 2020.) He thus set up anti-poverty charity Zacchaeus 2000 (Z2K) and attended court hearings of debtors as a McKenzie Friend and would have interacted with people not readily considered “core Green Party voters.” 

The masthead text of the Z2K: Fighting Poverty website currently reads: “We believe the social security system should be a tool to help people move out of poverty and into a stable, dignified life. “We work with people in London to solve their housing and welfare issues. We campaign to change policy that is causing the most harm to our clients.” LINK  
Opposing ‘poverty porn’ and the taxing of incomes too low to tax

Under New Labour the public perception of benefit claimants was largely skewed by a blitz of Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) ‘Targeting Benefit Fraud’ adverts toward the manufacture of consent for harsher treatment of benefit claimants while claimants were already hard hit below the mainstream radar. Eg LINK  Whereas Z2K stands with and for poor people, Citizens Advice England now kowtows to a DWP gagging clause. LINK   

 That does not surprise me. On 20 January 2005 I got a phone call from prospective employer telling me that my pre-Christmas 2004 job interview had been successful, pending references and police check, but I also got a call from the DWP telling me that my Jobseekers Allowance was suspended because I had not attended my first signing-on session after the Christmas break. As I explained to the CAB worker who later handled my case, as a very long term disabled jobseeker I had experienced emotional turmoil since the 22 December 2004 job interview. I had been out of full-time waged employment for over a decade and really wanted the job. I had felt like a prisoner facing “all the joy and fear of leaving such incarceration” and the date stamp for my 14 January signing-on date had been a blur. 

So the CAB worker got on the phone to DWP: “This is Elizabeth from Kentish Town CAB and I’ve got one of your claimants, a Mr Wheatley here and he’s got himself into a right mess...” leaving me feeling humiliated and deeply ashamed more than wronged by a heartless system in which I had heard of myself at the jobcentre as “an overstayer on New Deal” in 2003! (Yes, I did get my Jobseekers Allowance reinstated, but….) 

Though Paul Nicolson stood down from his directorship of Z2K when he set up the more outspoken Taxpayers Against Poverty, I doubt very much that I would have got such ‘just deserts’ handling from Z2K! 

Yet the gulf between claimant realities and government spin widened cataclysmically with the emergence of ‘poverty porn’ tv documentaries such as ‘Benefits Street’ and ‘Can’t Pay, We’ll Take It Away’ that Paul opposed. 

When Tory Government brought in the reduction of Council Tax support for benefit claimants, Paul decided on civil disobedience, by refusing to pay his Council Tax, and being taken to court until the London Borough Haringey reinstated full Council Tax Reduction for benefit claimants. LINK His stance later helped lead to a revolution within the Labour Party in Haringey, deselecting right wing Labour councillors who would engage in ‘social cleansing’ of council housing stock to the benefit of Australian company ‘Lend Lease’. LINK 

Paul’s legacy

The above is just a sampling of what Paul Nicolson undertook, and this is already a long article. I shall just close here by emphasising that he had been working on the Elimination of Homelessness Bill with support from Debbie Abrahams MP (Labour) and Compassion in Politics at the time of his death, and supply the following ‘further reading’ links. And the best way that I can pay tribute to his work is for me to carry on with the benefits justice campaigning we had in common. 
Further Reading
Posted by Martin Francis at 22:17:00  

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

What's Parliament Like As A New Socialist MP? 

What's Parliament Like As A New Socialist MP?

4 Mar 2020

65.4K subscribers
Zarah Sultana speaks to Aaron Bastani about life as a young, new socialist MP and breaking some of the unwritten rules of Parliament. Watch the full #TyskySour here: