Archive for December, 2003

Respect for the law

Britain’s longest strike ended this week. The workers at a factory in Caernarvon, Friction Dynamics UK, that makes brakes, clutches and other vehicle parts, went on a one-week strike in April, 2001 over changes to their shifts introduced at a time when their wages had been static for 4 years and were going to be cut by 15%. Although the workers agreed to call in ACAS mediation, the management failed to turn up. After 8 weeks the management sacked all 86 strikers – this was legal under the Employment Act once a strike reaches 8 weeks. They were replaced by people recruited from Jobcentres (apparently the Employment Service saw nothing wrong in acting as a strikebreaker agency), and went to an industrial tribunal claiming unfair dismissal. For a start, it took a year for the case to come up, but that wasn’t all. In the meantime one of the scabs was seriously hurt working with a machine missing a guard – he lost all the fingers on one hand, and was not compensated because Dynamics had somehow omitted to tell their public-liability insurers that 86 out of 103 workers had been sacked and replaced.

And that was it. The TGWU dug in for a long struggle and they kept picketing, lobbying, demoing and the rest of the armoury of protest. Finally, in August this year, the courts ruled that they had all been unfairly dismissed. But no compensation ever appeared – the American owner, Craig Smith (here’s a link to some interesting information on this character) put the firm into administration, then got a new firm called Dynamex Friction which he owned to buy its assets, appointing the former manager of the plant as chief executive.

Why is it that conservatives are obsessed with “respect for the law” when the people they idolise most have all the respect for the law of goats? Smith may or may not have broken the law with his latest trick – the lawyers will decide that – but he has demonstrated utter contempt for it. The picket, by the way, is coming to an end now because the struggle will go on in the courts.


Blogroll update

We welcome two blogs to the blogroll – Guild of Ghostwriters, a British group blog, and Waldheim, a lefty blog from Yale.

Rutan does it again

The great Burt Rutan has come up with another of his astonishing aircraft. SpaceShipOne (great InterCapping!) flew above the speed of sound – the first time anyone has done without the aid of the state, better yet on the 17th of December, 100 years after the Wrights blah blah blah. This is his effort for the X-Prize, a prize of $10 million for the first spacecraft built without governmental aid, successfully flown into space, with space for 3 passengers, and repeated within 2 weeks with the same craft.


Now that’s the first good news in a while.

One day, in the future, they will find his body in the desert, blackened by the sun, his lips cracked, eyes swollen, collapsed at the foot of a great sand dune with a shovel still gripped in his blistered hands, crushed by the sand drifting back into the hole, like Ozymandias’ architect…..still looking for weapons of mass destruction.

The possibility of an acquittal is a valid criterion of a fair trial.

Link Excellent Washington Post story on Wesley Clark and the Kosovo war. Not the best advert for his presidential campaign, even though it doesn’t mention “I’m not going to start World War Three for you, SIR!”

100 years to this day – Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first ever controlled and sustained manned flight. Another good reason why, as soon as this post publishes, I’m off for a beeer.

The Guardian reports today that plans for dealing with an outbreak of smallpox in Britain have been published. The arrangements include the establishment of emergency clinics, to be co-located with district general hospitals, within 24 hours of a smallpox case being confirmed anywhere in the world. These sites would require 140 staff each, who the regional health authorities are now to select. These persons would be the first group of people to be vaccinated immediately on a threat being identified. The clinics’ task would be to isolate and observe all suspected cases, vaccinate contacts and any other groups, and treat any unfortunates who develop the disease. The first set of guidelines issued some time ago for this case suggested that the clinics would be set up away from any centre of population, but it would appear that practicality has won through.

All well and good, then – no wonder this article from the Canadian National Post suggests that Britain might be one of the few countries that could survive a flu pandemic. But what is wrong with us when – even in this desperate crisis – it is necessary to say that illegal immigrants who came forward to report suspected disease would be given immunity from prosecution (and, I hope, from smallpox as well)? Why has this psychosis seeped into absolutely everything? I’m sure that one day it will be remembered as one of the periodic panics that sweep through societies, like the Chinese Labour Cry or radon gas or Flesh Eating Bug. Rather like the one issue every nation has that seems absolutely vital to them but bewilderingly trivial to everyone else, people in the future will stand uncomprehending before the screaming headlines and hypocritical rantings yellowing in the archives. What was it all about – after all, it made up only 0.4% of public spending? Where did all the hate come from?

And in this weird country, 20 feet from me right now, two carpenters speaking what sounds like Russian are repairing a toilet cubicle..

Perhaps they wouldn’t be so bemused if they were to read David Blunkett’s insane remarks to the BBC today. “I need to ensure that people feel safe, that they are not egged on by those who would use insecurity and instability and difference as a method of whipping up racism and xenophobia”, he said in an effort to defend his exciting new Asylum and Immigration Bill, which would permit him to withhold state benefits from rejected asylum seekers and take their children away if they refused to make a voluntary departure. So – we’re going to be xenophobic in order to keep the xenophobes from getting in and being – well – xenophobic?

Another issue which militates in favour of a legal conclusion is that it ought to be a much clearer case than that against Milosevic. Much of the geologically slow wrangling at The Hague has been about the application of the principle of command responsibility for war crimes. Given that Saddam Hussein held the posts of Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Leader of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party of Iraq, President of the Republic of Iraq, and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces – that shouldn’t be so hard to achieve…and it might go some way to achieving what Iraq Now, a US National Guard officer blogging from Iraq thinks is necessary:

“I wrote before, in War of Ideologies, it’s not enough just to capture Saddam Hussein. It’s not enough to militarily defeat the Saddamites and radical Muslim sects. This war will not be over until those movements are discredited on their home turf”


An interesting precedent to what I suppose will now be the Hussein Case seems to have occurred in the British intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000. It might well throw some light on the differing views of legality and its importance between the UK and US to consider what happened immediately after the capture of the RUF leader Foday Sankoh. Sankoh – whose movement famously engaged in mass amputations of prisoners’ limbs as a form of revolutionary terror – was taken prisoner at a house in Freetown very soon after the British force landed. The initial problem was to prevent his followers from springing him, not to mention preventing a lynching. The obvious solution was to load him into a helicopter and ferry him without further ado to Illustrious, the task force flagship. But there was a serious difficulty in using her as a jail, which was that according to the law of the sea, she was under exclusive UK jurisdiction. That meant that he could legally claim refugee status immediately his feet touched the deck. In the end he was held in the Freetown prison awaiting trial by a UN-supervised court set up after the RUF’s defeat later that year (he died in prison).

The Americans, though, occasionally give the impression that third-country prisoners are being held aboard ship. Whilst those ships are on the high seas or in US territorial waters, they are technically part of the US courts’ jurisdiction for any event aboard. In foreign waters, the principle is the same – but with the condition that the port state has jurisdiction on any matter affecting its peace or security. Either way, they are either not holding prisoners at sea or they simply find the law inconvienient.