Reinstate David Muritu

What do you call an employer that circumvents long-established disciplinary procedures and sacks the branch secretary of its recognised trade union on the last day before the seasonal break? There are many unpleasant names that spring to mind, but because it’s Christmas I’ll use this employer’s official title: Halesowen College.

I reproduce below the statement supporting the reinstatement of UCU branch secretary, David Muritu. It is my understanding that this is just the beginning. Entirely coincidentally, of course, three more active members of the union are facing disciplinaries. This comes ahead of strike action planned in the New Year, which was unanimously endorsed by local UCU members. When that’s the case, you know management must be as poor as it is bellicose.

From what I can gather, David is popular among staff and students at the college. Like a number of others, he works ridiculous hours for his students against a pretty shoddy background . I ask you, what other college makes lecturers cover two classes *at the same time*, foists non-specialists to teach certain specialised courses, and fails to provide specialist cover when there are absences?

They’re hardly cash-strapped either. According to their own minutes of June’s corporate meeting, they have an operating *surplus* of over £2.7m. Management’s actions are plain bizarre. You can only agree with the petition statement’s opening, David Muritu’s sacking “is an attack on eduction and trade unionism”.

Make sure you sign the petition. Solidarity messages can be sent via HalesowenUCU_branch_secretary@hotmail.com

Halesowen College: Reinstate David Muritu as a Maths Lecturer at the college

This is an attack on education and trades unionism. On December 20th Dave Muritu, a known local socialist trades union activist, was sacked from his position as Maths lecturer. This followed disregard of the college disciplinary procedure (no evidence was presented 3 days in advance of the hearing), without anything other than deductive reasoning (his sacking was linked to results, with no regard for competency procedure or accurate review of statistical significance (his results are above national average).

Please sign and convey your disappointment in the college failure to prioritise student needs and achievement over politics. The only logical conclusion which can be drawn from the situation is that as no substantial evidence has been produced, Dave has been sacked on grounds of disagreement with the principal on educational theory and politics. The maths department have received considerable lack of support in the face of student needs, including

1) Failure of the principal to agree specialist cover in staff absence, inspite of a substantial surplus which could fund this

2) Students in a functional lesson being encouraged by management to give up the studies their time is allocated for in order to participate in a “focus group” based around leading questions with no rigorous development or consistent recording of data

3) Victimisation of a known trades unionist, along with possible victimisation of other known activists in the maths department, setting a precedent for activists to be targeted with knock-on effects for other trades-unionists nationally.

Please sign and join us in fighting this outrageous decision collectively.

Save Birmingham Youth Services

by Jamie Chapman

‘In this video I attend a protest in Birmingham city centre that is campaigning against the cuts being made to the Birmingham youth service. The youth service in Birmingham is being cut by almost 70% which is terrible. Now is the time where youth clubs and youth workers are needed for the younger generation to keep them from becoming involved in gangs and criminal activity.

I also interview people at the event to get there opinion on politics and the cuts that are being made.

Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/chapperztv
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/chapperztv
DailyBooth – http://www.dailybooth.com/chapperztv

Salma Yaqoobs Website
http://www.salmayaqoob.com

Thanks to Arron Dobbins for helping me film this and to all the people who agreed to be interviewed.’

Victory: Big Brother No Longer Watching You

By Salma Yaqoob

Yesterday I attended the West Midlands Police Authority meeting to discuss Project Champion. The Authority has the remit to oversee West Midlands Police in the interests of  the public. It was a remarkable event. After months of campaigning, common sense has finally won the day. Senior West Midland Police Officers recommended to the meeting that all of the spy cameras be removed in the interests of rebuilding trust with the community. This is a landmark  victory for civil liberties.  Congratulations to everybody involved in the campaign and especially to Sparkbrook residents. The relationships between local councillors, residents, mosques and community organisations, built up over the many years of campaigning, was the anvil on which this ill-conceived plan was broken. On behalf of myself and my Respect colleagues I thank them for their continued support.

No thanks however is due to the Police Authority who have illustrated throughout that they are simply unfit for purpose.

The Authority failed to fulfil its public responsibilities. They are supposed to be the public’s eyes and ears, to be independent, to oversee and provide scrutiny on the workings of the police. If they had done their job properly this whole mess would not have happened in the first place. But instead of leadership and independence too often they showed deference and indecision. Yesterday I witnessed the bizarre sight of its chair literally having to be dragged to making the right decision by the police themselves. The authority is unfit for purpose. It needs an overhaul and that should start with the resignation of it’s chair.  

For now campaigners can take comfort that all our hard work has not been in vain. This is a victory for people power, and it is of national significance. If the police had got away with rolling out Project Champion in Birmingham, other areas would soon have followed. And if that had happened, I have no doubt there would have been miscarriages of justice.  Playing into the hands of extremists is not exactly the smartest move if you want to challenge the threat of extremism.

Blaming Asylum Seekers Will Not Tackle the Housing Crisis

by Salma Yaqoob

Earlier this year, the Red Cross described the way our immigration system treated those whose claims for asylum have been denied as ‘shameful’. Birmingham City Council has now added to this catalogue of shame by its decision to cancel a contract with the UK Border Agency to house 190 asylum seekers.

“Asylum seekers last in the housing queue” said the Daily Mail as John Lines, the Cabinet Member for Housing, secured the headlines he wanted. But asylum seekers were never in the front of any queue, and are among the most desperate and destitute people in our society.

Birmingham has more than 65,000 council homes and only a tiny handful of these were used for the contract with the Border Agency. It is not true that asylum seekers ‘jump the queue’, and it is not true that Birmingham’s growing housing crisis is caused by asylum seekers.

The council’s decision smacks of a political stunt. Click to continue reading

We Need Your Help for Salma

REMEMBER. Respect can win in Birmingham Hall Green. And that’s all more likely with your support. That is why we are putting out a national call for all supporters and sympathizers to come to Birmingham this weekend.

 Meet at 95 Walford Road, Sparkbrook, B11 1NP. For more info ring 078 121 72885Come and support Salma Yaqoob this weekend. Vote RESPECT

Salma Spearheads a Quiet Revolution for Muslim Women

by Madeleine Bunting from the Guardian

salma-yaqoob-001.jpg

Drums, loudhailers, chanting slogans. It is a very old-fashioned kind of politics that can be heard on the high street in Kings Heath, Birmingham.

But Salma Yaqoob, the prospective parliament candidate at the centre of the hubbub, represents a quiet revolution. “Bankers bailed out, people sold out,” she shouts into the loudhailer outside the banks. The passing cars sound their horns in support.

She is the most prominent Muslim woman in British public life. She wears a headscarf, a powerful symbol of a faith she has accommodated with her passionate leftwing politics. She is standing as a candidate for the tiny and fractured Respect party.

In some streets around the new constituency of Hall Green, her poster is on every window. Since her narrow defeat for Westminster in 2005, she has built up support through her work as a local councillor, as well as building a national profile through her appearances on BBC’s Question Time.

She might just topple Labour from a seat in an area which, in 1997, it counted as one of its safest. Boundary changes have brought much of the old Sparkbrook and Small Heath constituency (Labour majority: 19,526) into the new Hall Green.

Yaqoob is one of a small group who has a good chance of making history as one of the first British Muslim women MPs. Her result is looking close, while across Birmingham, Shabana Mahmood is fighting Clare Short’s old seat, Ladywood. In Bolton South, Yasmin Qureshi inherits a big Labour majority, and Rushanara Ali could well take the Bethnal Green seat back for Labour. Yaqoob’s headscarf at Westminster may prompt a few headlines – both here and abroad – but few will fully grasp the small revolution these women are spearheading in these communities, and how they are introducing to British electoral politics a constituency of Muslim women, many of whom don’t speak English and were in previous elections confined to the backroom, the private family areas of the house, whenever canvassers or candidates came to the doorstep.

Back on the high street in Kings Heath, the noisy protesters crowding around the diminutive figure of Yaqoob are furious. Gurt Singh has been running a steel and timber yard all his life, but he has had to put his 10 staff on a three-day week to avoid redundancies. “I reckon I have only a few months left. I can’t get credit from the bank.”

Essa Altaf is equally outraged. A property developer, he has had to lay off eight men. “I don’t want to lay off any more, I have morals. I know redundancy affects a whole family and then the whole community. Why do I have morals, and the banks don’t?”

By now I am surrounded by men who all run small businesses in the building industry all telling a bitter story of the recession. The boom in this area of Birmingham has always been fragile and the recession hit quickly and hard. Jobs are the biggest subject on the doorstep, says Yaqoob. She knows well that the issues, even at national elections, are local: jobs, schools, antisocial behaviour, police, housing. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars rarely come up, she says – the surge in anti-war sentiment, which helped her in 2005, is unlikely to feature this time round. Constituents’ economic security is far more pressing.

What will help Yaqoob is that her Labour opponent, Roger Godsiff, who has held the seat since 1992, has been badly damaged by the expenses scandal. His second-home claims were among the highest in England, and despite charging £163,885 to the taxpayer in 2007-08, last year he spoke in only five debates and voted in 56% of divisions.

Yaqoob was wooed by Labour after 2005.She acknowledges that “My values are traditional Labour, but New Labour has gone to the right”. She was even courted by the Liberal Democrats and the Tories, a tribute to her rare capacity for fair-minded plain speaking, most evident in her Question Time appearance earlier this year, at Wootton Bassett, when she earned respect for her handling of questions about British soldiers killed in Afghanistan, a war she opposes.

But she has stuck with Respect, despite its internal disputes, since 2005, and is probably now better known than her party. She is accused by prominent Labour and Liberal Democrat Muslims of “leading the community into a “cul-de-sac” but defends her politics vigorously.

“I couldn’t speak like I do if I was in Labour. I’m not here as a career politician, but because I want to offer an alternative to the neo-liberal model, which is patently failing. I now punch above my weight, working with other parties and influencing them. I want to try and open the space for discussion and debate, which is crucial right now, and nudge Labour into a more principled position.”

She says she won’t “make a tactic into a principle”, clearly indicating that she would come back to Labour on the right terms. In the meantime, her gamble to be her own woman and to speak her mind without having to submit to party discipline is surviving against all the odds. A recent independent assessment argued that she is among Birmingham’s three most influential councillors.

Ironically, her toughest battles are probably within the Muslim community. Contrary to assumptions that this is where the core of her support lies, she has had to pick her way very carefully through the sensitivities of conservatives within her community. The old Sparkbrook and Small Heath had the highest number of Muslim votes of any constituency in the country, and many of them are now in Yaqoob’s patch.

“I’ve had death threats and criticism that I support gays – because I have a clear anti-discrimination position – and there have been claims that it is haram [forbidden in Islam] to vote for women. People say to me, ‘Have you no shame?’ and they accuse me of immodesty and ask my husband why he lets me speak in public. It’s still an uphill struggle.”

But she has been winning even her fiercest critics round. “Some people who made out fatwas against voting for a woman have now been saying that I’m the right candidate. I have been invited into mosques – some of which don’t even have facilities for women to pray – to give the Friday sermons.”

Yaqoob is well aware that she is a challenge to traditional Muslim political culture – not just because she is a woman, but because she is not afraid to speak her mind. She has openly criticised the way the postal vote has been misused in Birmingham to strengthen the traditional biraderi – clan affiliations. In practice, what this means is that a community fixer will offer a party hundreds of votes in return for favours.

She recognises that many non-Muslim voters can feel threatened by her as a Muslim. “I’m between a rock and a hard place,” she says. “I have to jump hurdles because of the way I look. Firstly, I have to make it clear that I don’t support terrorism, secondly, that I’m British, thirdly, that I don’t just lobby for Muslims and lastly, that I’m not a Trojan horse for sinister Islamist plots.

“People still question me about the hijab as a symbol of oppression. I try to stay patient and build a relationship of trust. For a real discussion, people have to be able to hear each other: someone has to pull the barriers down. People have a genuine fear, and you need to deal with it or you are dehumanising them – it won’t just go away.”

Her training as a psychotherapist clearly influences how she understands political conflict and how she is still able to deal patiently with questions faced since she first went to university more than 20 years ago. It makes her voice distinctive in public life – and it’s easy to see why she’s clocked up five appearances on Question Time, the showcase for aspiring politicians.

The key factor benefiting Yaqoob is the decline of the close bond between Muslims and Labour, which has defined the politics of the Muslim community for two generations. Disillusion with foreign policy, most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as on domestic economic issues, is likely to slash the Muslim votes in Birmingham.

While Labour’s successes in Birmingham in the past 13 years are evident in the city centre – the newly redeveloped Bullring shopping centre with its iconic architecture, for example – it’s a model of urban regeneration, which hasn’t percolated through to the neighbouring Victorian terraced streets, where shops and businesses are closing down.

A younger generation of educated Muslims no longer demonstrates the expected deference to the “village elders”, who once directed the family and delivered a bloc vote for Labour. Some are impressed by the Conservatives’ emphasis on family values, hard work and responsibility – it is a message that has appealed to successful immigrant communities in the past. This election will almost certainly see the arrival of the first Conservative Muslim MPs: men have been selected for Bromsgrove and Stratford-upon-Avon, two safe Conservative seats in the West Midlands.

Even in Ladywood, the Conservatives smell the possibility of giving Labour a run for their money. David Cameron made an appearance in the constituency last weekend. The Conservative candidate, Nusrat Ghani, also a Muslim, and Mahmood both grew up in this area of Birmingham. Both can call on the family connections vital to winning votes. Mahmood’s father is the chair of the Birmingham Labour party.

Both are able to get beyond the “front room campaigning” of previous elections; candidates and canvassers sit in family sitting rooms and are served delicious tea spiced with green cardamom, while the conversations run on in Urdu or Mirpuri. The questions here are about family and which village the candidate is “from” back in Pakistan. There is no mistaking the pride and delight among these women to see a female candidate.

“My generation had a much more traditional life and you listened to your husband on who to vote for, but my daughters have a completely different outlook,” says Maqsood Bibi through a translator. “It’s a good thing for women to come forward so that it is not just men in politics. As a Muslim, I believe God gives you, as a woman, the same rights as he gives to the men. So why shouldn’t you become an MP?”

Along the street, Gulshan Begum was even more forthright. “My generation of women are often illiterate and we need women in power to support us.”

Their generation has waited a long time for the moment when this may finally come true.

Photograph: Anita Maric/News Team International