30 Oct 2013

Young Greens to join university strike pickets and call for student support

Young Greens groups across the country will be backing lecturers and other university staff on strike this Thursday, following a unanimous vote by the Young Greens National Committee to support the industrial action over pay and other issues.

Members of the Green Party’s youth branch will be joining picket lines in Manchester, Norwich, York and elsewhere.
The strike action is over a 13% real-terms pay cut over the last four years and a below-inflation 1% pay offer this year, as well as calls for equal pay between male and female workers. There is currently a £1bn surplus in the higher education sector which the Unite, Unison and UCU unions argue should be used to ensure fair remuneration.Manchester Young Greens will be joining the action, with Young Greens national Co-Chair Clifford Fleming speaking at a strike rally on the day, where he will say: “We are united against an ideological affront to Higher Education, an affront which has resulted in tripled tuition fees, course closures, cuts, and the shoddy treatment of workers in the sector.
The attacks to university pay and conditions are part of a broader attack on education by the coalition government, and it’s vital that students support the strike.”
In Norwich, University of East Anglia Young Greens will be joining picket lines on the day. Chris Jarvis, society Equality & Diversity Co-Ordinator, said: “The UEA Young Greens are proud to support our lecturers and other university workers faced with a measly 1% pay offer – a real-terms cut in the income of thousands of staff at the University.
‘Students must show our solidarity in the face of the government’s attempts to undermine education and the public sector as a whole. This race to the bottom has to stop. With 15 members of staff at the top paid more than the Minister for Higher Education, decent pay for our cleaners, catering staff, technicians and other workers should be a given”.
University of York Green Party members have launched a student petition in support of the workers taking action. Chair Nick Devlin said: “We are encouraging all students to visit the picket lines during the strike and show some support for the people who keep our university running. This petition is calling for fair pay for all at the University and is a show of solidarity from students.
“With the Vice Chancellor paid nearly 18 times more than the lowest paid, it’s time for fair pay on campus – a Living Wage for all and a maximum pay ratio of 10:1.” The petition is available here.
The strike comes after the launch of a Young Greens report, The Fair Pay League, which shows that the average Vice Chancellor pay is over £248,000, and 1,633 senior staff members in the sector are paid over £140,000 per year – more than enough to pay the nearly 5,000 workers on the Minimum Wage at Universities a Living Wage.
More information on the strike and a petition for those backing the strike to sign is available here:

29 Oct 2013

Fracking: neither cheap nor safe

Fracking: neither cheap nor safe
Frontline article by Ken Montague (reproduced with permission from

The growing resistance to fracking - the "hydraulic fracturing" of deep level shale rocks to extract natural gas - promises to reignite the climate movement after years of demoralisation following the failure of the UN climate talks in 2009.

A feature of the recent march and blockades at Cuadrilla Resources' drilling site near Balcombe in West Sussex was the diversity of the people involved, as well as the numbers. Local residents were central to the protests, as they have been at Fylde, near Blackpool, where two Cuadrilla fracking operations led to minor earthquakes.

Today there are 45 anti-fracking groups around the country preparing to take action when further licences are issued. Given that 64 percent of England sits above shale gas and oil deposits, and their commercial exploitation could mean thousands of fracking sites, the protests are likely to increase and erupt into a full-scale war of attrition against the Cameron government and its dash for gas.

What has made fracking such an explosive issue is the evidence after 20 years of drilling in the US that the process is inherently unsafe. This is due to the uncontrolled leakage of methane into the air and groundwater, and the possible risks to health of the chemical additives in the fracking fluid used to prize the rocks open. Methane is a neurotoxin, which can cause early-onset dementia. The mix of additives, which in America has found its way into drinking water, includes chemicals that are known to be toxic or carcinogenic.

The British government says that fracking will only be permitted under strict regulation. But this ignores the fact that we do not have the technology to ensure that the cement barriers encasing the drilling shafts can withstand the pressures involved or that gas can be prevented from escaping from the pipelines and processing units.

Studies in the US showed that in 45 percent of cases the barriers failed at some point in the process and 5 percent of rigs leaked from the start.

The other, broader, issue is the government's intention to make gas a "core part" of Britain's energy mix "well into and beyond" 2030. This flies in the face of the warnings by many authorities that, with the unabated burning of fossil fuels, the world is on course for an unthinkable temperature increase of 4 to 6 degrees above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

A recent report by Lord Stern and the Carbon Tracker think-tank made it clear that, if we are to have any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, we have to switch to renewables now, and leave 80 percent of coal, gas and oil reserves "in the ground".

Last year the government's decision to cut investment in renewables and make Britain "even more attractive" for the oil and gas companies provoked an angry letter from its independent Committee on Climate Change stating categorically that gas-fired power generation "could not form the basis for government policy" if it was to meet its carbon reduction targets.

Of course there are apologists for fracking who argue that gas can be a "transitional" fuel because it emits only 50 percent of the CO2 emitted by coal. In a recent speech on climate change, US president Barack Obama even referred to it as "clean" energy. This overlooks the effect of the leakage of methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

For natural gas to be cleaner than coal, methane emissions would need to be kept below 2 percent of annual production, but recent studies by the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration at gas fields in California, Colorado and Utah found that leakages ranged between 2.3 percent and 17 percent of production.

As well as giving tax breaks to the fracking companies and cash sweeteners to local communities, the government tries to sell us fracking by saying it will offer unlimited cheap energy and create thousands of jobs.

The Committee on Climate Change, however, has shown that extracting gas is actually more costly than installing renewables and even Cuadrilla admits that the impact on fuel bills would be negligible.
Leaving aside Green MP Caroline Lucas's comment that "there are no jobs on a dead planet", there is clear evidence that renewables generate more jobs than fossil fuel industries. A study by the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute suggests that a million dollars invested in gas would create five jobs while the same amount invested in wind and solar power would create around 13 jobs. This is the kind of argument behind the growing campaign in Britain for a million climate jobs.
Fracking for gas is not safe, not clean, not cheap, and nor the best way to create jobs or to tackle climate change. Nonetheless, Lord John Browne, the government's chief adviser on the subject, says it's the way forward. He should know; he is chairman and 30 percent owner of Cuadrilla.

Ken Montague is the secretary of the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group and Secretary of Brent Campaign Against Climate Change

24 Oct 2013

NHS cutbacks continue to bite

An article by Ben Feguson in the Guardian of 23/10/2013 (“Mentally ill people are taking up a huge amount of police time” see: reports how a police patrol attempted to get a distressed mentally ill person admitted to Northwick Park Hospital and then to Central Middlesex, in both cases unsuccessfully because wards were full, which may be further evidence that cutbacks in NHS provision in North West London are sometimes leaving people who need health care untreated.  

(see also the Blog post of "If it's not an accident or an emergency, where do you go?" 25/06/2013)

22 Oct 2013

Amendments to our education policy

When the London Fed, ( London Federation of Green Parties).  agreed last night to consultation with community and campaign groups regarding revision of our education policy I was asked to circulate the wording of the placard I displayed. The placard had been applauded by striking teachers on the London march

 *NO* to privatisation, academies, free schools, phonics test and SATs

 *YES* to creative teaching in democratically accountable LA schools

 *TOO MUCH, TOO SOON!*/(reference to formal curriculum for young children starting to soon)

 *68-TOO LATE!* (/reference to pension reform proposal requiring teachers to work until the age of 68)/ /

If anyone would like to join in drafting amendments to take into account the changes brought about by Michael Gove please email me on

If a member of the Green Party join in on the members' website at:
acknowledgements to Martin Francis