Showing posts with label Dundee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dundee. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Price of Cost-Saving

Steven Conway died while working at Diamond Wheels (Dundee) Ltd. There were no safety protocols in place at the premises, no risk assessment was carried out and there was no safe system of work in place.

The 33-year-old was sent in to remove debris from a tank containing "volatile" chemicals with limited protective clothing. He was wearing only trainers, tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt and fleece. The mask he was given did nothing to protect him from the toxic fumes let off by the chemicals and was actually releasing "contaminants" into his air supply. The gloves he was given had holes in them. He had suffered chemical burns from contact with hydrofluoric acid. Pathologists concluded he had died from inhaling industrial paint stripper.

Diamond Wheels, pleaded guilty to a charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act. They will face a fine as a punishment.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Then and now

From the June 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

In March, I went along to the Dundee Rep to watch the world premiere of They Farily Mak Ye Work, a play based on the life of Dundee's jute-mill workers from the First World War to the early Thirties. The play covered some of the important events of the period such as the Mill Workers' Strike of 1922 and the Means Test demonstration of 1931 but what impressed most was the quite remarkable resilience displayed by workers enduring quite dire poverty in their day to day lives.

When I left the Rep. I wondered if there were many people who had been left thinking, "Ah great, another fine play about the inter-war depression . . . I'm glad things are very different now". While in some respects life has become more comfortable for working people in the 1980s, it would be mistaken to suggest that there have been fundamental changes since the 1930s.

Today we are again witnessing record levels of unemployment: workers are laid off and those who remain have to work harder as their employers try to retain their share of the market. Commenting on this practice at the newly-opened Eagle Jute Mill in 1930, the Dundee and District Jute and Flax Workers' Guide (June/July 1930), stated that:
. . . a number of women were sent from the Labour Exchange on Monday morning, 30th June, and were told they had to do the work of four women. And as they declined to be "preyed upon", they left.
The large reserve of young unemployed workers proved a useful source of cheap—or even free—labour in the Thirties, as one annual report of the Association of Jute Spinners and Manufacturers noted:
. . . the Ministry of Labour Trade Boards Divisional Office, Edinburgh, drew attention to two recent cases in which Dundee Jute firms had had juveniles on their premises without paying wages. The matter appeared to have arisen through permitting the juveniles to "look round" for a few days on the understanding that no wages would be paid unless, and until, the juvenile was taken on in a regular capacity. It was stated it was understood the practice was not uncommon in Dundee. (Association of Jute Spinners and Manufacturers, Fifteenth Annual Report of the Committee, 1933, p. 10)
Is today's YTS a great deal better? Employers may claim that they are taking on youngsters for social reasons, but they cannot deny that young workers are receiving pocket money for a week's exploitation.

The soup kitchens that were synonymous with the Twenties and Thirties have disappeared. So too have other features of capitalism's charity. Commenting on the dire poverty faced by some workers in Dundee in the 1920s, Mary Brooksbank recalled that:
Even the police had their Bootless Bairns Fund, for bootless bairns were a common enough sight in those days. (No Sae Lang Syne: A Tale of This City, p.29) 
Today you just have to stroll through the centre of any city to be confronted with numerous charities all with their collecting tins hoping that you will donate to the cause of Help the Aged, Shelter, Dr Barnado's and so on. All of them signs that workers suffer a great deal at the hands of this society that asks for payment before human needs are considered.

Since the 1930s, we have witnessed the proliferation of new generations of "luxury" consumer goods among working people. In the 1950s, workers increasingly began to possess televisions, cars and washing-machines—wow, the "affluent society" had really arrived! In the 1970s colour TVs and digital quartz watches went from being status symbols to commonplace items and the video seems to be heading the same way. The question is, can we really say that things have got better just because there are more consumer goods around? Often you will hear people claim that a new car is a sign that, "there must be a lot of money about" when in fact many people are up to their ears in debt as the home, the car and the household items are paid for on the never-never - mortgage or HP payments. The increase in consumer goods should not be related to what workers had in the 1930s, for it should be remembered that they then had more items than workers in, say, the 1850s. If we make comparisons we should be looking at the proportion of wealth the workers received then and receive now, from the total that workers in society have created. Now, as then, workers only receive a tiny fraction of the wealth they produce and while the employers reap the profits of our labour we are expected to be grateful for the tiny slice of the cake that is our wage or salary.

Class division
This, then, is the class divide: a conflict between owners of capital—be they mill-owners, land-owners, or shareholders in private or state-controlled industries—and the rest of us. This is the relationship that compelled our relatives in the 1930s to suffer the treadmill of wage-labour and poverty, to march for the "right to work" and which led to numerous demonstrations and cracked heads in strikes where the police clearly showed that their main function is to protect the capitalists' property rights. Looking back on the Means Test Demonstrations in Dundee on September 24 1931, Sara Craig recalled that:
. . . the policemen came on horseback and they were hittin' folk wi' their batons. They were hittin' the folk wi' their batons and chasin' them and breakin' up the crowds. (Ed. Billy Kay, Odyssey: Voices from Scotland's Recent Past. p. 13)
Only someone who had just crawled out from a hole in the ground, or had been beamed down from outer-space, would suggest that you can have a democratically accountable police force. Yet time and time again, the Labour Party and assorted left-wing romantics advocate precisely that. If anyone believes the myth of Dixon of Dock Green bobbies then they ought to ask themselves why the police's task-force was deployed against striking miners in the recent strike? Did they not defend the interests of the National Coal Board against the miners?

An alternative
The problems of poverty that we face today have led to so called solutions like "Right to Work" marches or voting Labour and expecting nationalisation to solve our problems. These "solutions" have been tried and they have failed and it is a tragedy that they have been repeated decade after decade. The sense of disappointment felt by Labour Party members and voters after 1945 must have been immense, watching the dream of the New Jerusalem fade as the Labour government showed it could not run capitalism any better than the Tories.

It is time we decided to get rid of employment and organise the production and distribution of wealth without the barrier of wages and money and the restrictions that capitalism places on our needs. One by one, this system of society stamps out the dreams, hopes and ambitions that we have at various points in our lives - they are crushed by the need to make ends meet. Common ownership is not some age-old dream of a perfect society but am immediate and realisable means of getting rid of the numerous problems that are our lot as wage-workers. The alternative to organising for socialism is the acceptance of our poverty where employers will continue to "fairly mak us work".
Derek Devine

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dundee - the city's culture is deprivation

More than a quarter of Dundee children are living in poverty, according to latest figures. In some areas of the city, one in three youngsters are below the poverty line as parents struggle to feed their families.
The East End has 36% of kids classified as being in poverty, while Lochee and the North East of the city both have 30%. On average across the city, 26% of children are poverty-stricken — more than one in four. Coldside has 29% of children suffering, while Maryfield has 28% and Strathmartine 27%. The lowest figure for a Dundee ward was the well-off Broughty Ferry, at 7%
Mary Kinninmonth, director of Dundee Citizens Advice Bureau, said that some parents in the city were forced to make the choice between heating and food. She said: “There are people who often don’t eat properly themselves, to make sure they can feed their children. “Sometimes it is a stark choice between heating and eating."
John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said problems were expected to rise with changes to the benefits systems and Dundee would suffer more than elsewhere.
Dundee is aspiring to be the 2017 City of Culture. 
Dundee wants to be the 2017 City of Culture
Dundee wants to be the 2017 City of Culture

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Jeanie Spence (Jute and Flax workers, Dundee), Lamont (National Federation of Women Workers), Agnes Brown (National Federation of Women Workers), Mary McArthur (national leader and general secretary of the National Federation of Women Workers) and Rachel Devine (Jute and Flax Workers, Dundee).
 In 1900 Dundee was associated with one product: jute. Jute was the cheapest of fibres, but it was tough. As such it was the ideal packing material. Jute bagging and jute sacks were used to carry cotton from the American South, grain from the Great Plains and Argentina, coffee from the East Indies and Brazil, wool from Australia, sugar from the Caribbean and nitrates from Chile. Dundee was ‘Juteopolis’ – synonymous with its main industry. This association of place and product was not unusual. We still link Clydebank with ships, Sheffield with steel, Stoke-on-Trent with pottery. Throughout the late nineteenth century, over half of Dundee's workforce worked in the textile sector, which, from the 1860s on, was dominated by jute. Migrant workers arrived in Dundee in thousands. By the end of the 19th century, the city had quadrupled in size. Many of the immigrants were from Ireland, poor and Catholic. Many Catholic Irish immigrants faced discrimination and bigotry in Presbyterian Scotland. They were attacked from the pulpit and in the street. The Irish women working in the jute mills of Dundee were an exception – they were widely accepted.

Raw jute was produced in significant quantities in only one region of the world: the deltas of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers in Bengal in India. And for a short period – long finished by 1900 – Dundee and the surrounding district had a near monopoly on its manufacture. The Dundee jute industry was composed of many firms, most of them carrying out only one part of the process of buying, transporting, manufacturing and selling jute. Big profits were made in jute, but these were invested overseas rather than in the local economy. From the 1870s on, investment trusts launched by Dundee businessmen, channelled enormous sums into foreign investments and particularly into American railway, land and cattle companies. Dundee's ‘jute barons’ preferred to invest in American stocks rather than in developing new industries in Dundee. The result left Dundee dangerously dependent on the jute industry.

Monday, January 21, 2013

O Dear me, The Jute Mill

"O Dear me the World is ill-divided...Them that work the hardest, are aye the least provided"
 The Jute mill song is based on the experience of women workers in Dundee who would work up till they had their babies and then had to scrape a living from pitiful wages. It reflects on the deep inequality in society. It speaks to a great many people then and now on how working for a wage feels like degradation with little to show for it at the end of the day. The lyrics manage to convey the lack of time in the workers life. Wage labour swallows it up and divides it into blurry sections called work and rest. They are always on the clock.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A challenge to debate

Harvey Duke, Organiser at Dundee Unemployed Support Centre, said: “Iain Duncan-Smith says he wants to cut all benefits, just as thousands of jobs are to be cut. Dundee Unemployed Support Centre challenges him to come to Dundee, where 24% of families already live in poverty, and debate his cuts in a public meeting. It's one thing to attack the poorest families from the comfort of a London club. It's another thing to look in the eyes of those whose incomes he will slash.Unemployed workers are fed up being told we are all scroungers. Some of us have worked for decades. We don't need threats or slave labour. We need and demand real jobs with a living wage.”

Dundee has the highest levels of poverty in Scotland with 24% of families officially classed as poor.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said; “Iain Duncan-Smith should have the guts to stand up in front of the communities at the sharp end of his welfare cuts, like the people of Dundee. If he refuses to meet with the Unemployed Centre it will show in the clearest terms that this ConDem Government doesn’t have the bottle to justify their cuts plans to those who will be hit hardest.”

Sunday, May 16, 2010

city of discovery

In an article ex-Labour MP , John McAllion , describes his home-town of Dundee that provides some interesting statistics.

In the 19th century, the High Court Judge Lord Cockburn described Dundee as a "sink of atrocity which no moral flushing seems capable of cleansing". James Cameron, who began a career in journalism in the city in the 1930s, described the east coast town as a "symbol of a society that had gone sour".

A national study, "A Divided Britain", identified residents in many of the city's working class neighbourhoods as suffering from the "worst financial hardship in Britain". This was backed up by a contemporary Scottish Executive report showing that 46 per cent of resident households in the city had a net income of less than £10,000 a year while 55 per cent of the same households contained no-one who was working. A Joseph Rowntree Foundation report branded Dundee as a city of poverty, teenage mothers and poor mental health.Dundee GPs were issuing more prescriptions for mental health problems than anywhere else in Scotland. After Glasgow, Dundee had Scotland's next highest concentration of poverty, overcrowding and drug abuse. The city retained its title as the teenage pregnancy capital of Scotland.

At the beginning of 2009 an English-based research group published a report "Cities Outlook 2009" warning of the impact of the recession on 64 cities across Britain. It ranked Dundee 54th of the 64 cities, claiming that it lacked economic prosperity, suffered from a shrinking population and was scarred by stubbornly high levels of social deprivation and benefit. Only Liverpool had a higher level of benefit claimants as a proportion of its working age population.

Annual business statistics issued at the end of 2008, revealed Dundee losing 60 manufacturing firms and 3000 manufacturing jobs in the eight years following 1998. By 2006, the city had become a service sector economy with four times as many workers working in services as in manufacturing. The average annual salary in the service sector was £8,900 a year less than in manufacturing.

The Dundee story has been about low pay, persistent poverty, joblessness and benefit dependency in a city where the hard lives of thousands of its working class citizens have been erased from the official record.