Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Great Deception? Ten years of the struggle for Govanhill baths

It is now 10 years since Glasgow City Council undertook the shameful decision to close Govanhill Swimming Baths. So where does the campaign to reopen the baths currently stand?

I have spoken at length with many of Govanhill's local residents with this question firmly in mind, and amid the many responses I received there was a recurring theme prevalent throughout. Most of the locals I interviewed were actively involved in the original campaign to protect this valuable    community resource. Nearly all agree that the campaign to reopen the baths has been hijacked by a small, but nevertheless influential and vocal clique who serve merely the interests of a favourable public relations outcome for all the agencies involved in funding the current renovation project, and in order to create the illusion of a democratic social inclusion exercise in action.

However, many of the former protesters I have spoken with are angered and outraged by the      manner in which they have been actively excluded from this process; they claim that the committee for the Govanhill Baths Community Trust is wholly unrepresentative of the local community (no Irish, no Blacks, no Asians, and no Roma's). So much for the "many cultures one Scotland" mantra.

Many of the local residents feel aggrieved that both the ex Chairperson and the current Chairperson of the neighbouring woolly liberal Pollokshields Community Council are also leading lights in the Govanhill Baths Community Trust's Centre for Community Practice (CCP). The rest of the CCP is composed of a range of professionals featuring such notable luminaries as David Miller, Professor of Sociology at the University of Strathclyde and self-proclaimed expert in the murky industry of spin. He is also a the co-founder of Spinwatch, a website publishing public interest reporting on spin (convenient, perhaps his specialist knowledge in his chosen field could be employed in explaining why the initial cost repair estimate for the baths of £1 million has since spiralled inexplicably to a whopping £12.5 million).

On the face of it the working class residents of Govanhill are understandably irate that a whole     cottage industry has developed on the coat-tails of the Govanhill Baths Community Trust e.g. Social Enterprise Centre for Community Practice, Govanhill Baths Art and Regeneration, Charity Shops, Community Hub, Southside Film Festival and many other enterprises including Streetlands all of which received considerable funding under the auspices of Glasgow City Council, Govanhill Housing Association and the NHS.

Govanhill Baths Community Trust's cosy relationship with Govanhill Housing Association as well as the mutually assured connivance of their former bĂȘte-noir Glasgow City Council, have ensured that three local business premises were made available for the exclusive use of fundraising and             promoting their own vision of how the redevelopment of the swimming baths would be best          implemented.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a keen shift in focus away from considering the swimming baths as a necessary, functional, sporting and recreational resource financially accessible to all, to that of a   facility which will incorporate an H.Q. for Govanhill Baths Community Trust. Their plans for phase one also includes the provision of a range of Community-based Art, Educational and Cultural activities as well as the opening of one Pool, Sauna Suite/Turkish Baths, a cafĂ©...and more besides?

Well I suppose having free exhibition space exclusively for middle class artists to promote their   masterpieces is thirsty work therefore it makes perfect economic sense to provide over-priced skinny white lattes and paninis in situ to cater for the massed throngs of Govanhill Art Lovers expected to descend in their droves when the doors finally open.

It is further interesting to note that there has been no mention of what these dazzling new facilities are going to cost ordinary local residents to access. Thus far, there has been no mention of concessions. One can only imagine that after spending £12.5 million, prices will be artificially inflated in order to maximise financial returns which will in turn actively     exclude the vast majority of Govanhill residents who took to the streets in order to           demonstrate against the bath’s closure in the first instance. Or perhaps that is the intention: keep out the riff raff!

Add to the list of the potentially disenfranchised the many volunteers who were and still are raising funds for this project and who remain blissfully unaware that they themselves will ultimately be priced out of this middle class jamboree. After all, are they naive enough to believe that pricing concessions will be readily available for the unemployed, disabled, OAP's, students, school kids, or for single parent households or those on minimum wage? This is not about charity, it’s about big business and private profiteering, or as one local resident succinctly described it "they are not fooling anyone in this community, the Govanhill Community Baths Trust is a well tried and tested method of bringing social unrest and sensitive political disquiet back under the control of the established order in this City".

Firstly, as an instrument of social control create an homogenised agency to hijack the problem, because the problem attracts the funding which ultimately sustains the agency and   allows it to develop so long as it is agreeable and deferential to its political masters. The Agency will in turn receive the rubberstamp of approval which will allow them access to  millions of pounds in funding in order to create well-paid positions for the intelligentsia in this City (see David Miller, Heather Lynch, Alan Pert, Fatima Uygen et.al.) Paradoxically, there is a built-in disincentive to actually finish this project: this might explain why after 10 years of procrastination work has yet to begin, despite the many public pronouncements declaring the imminence of phase one.

In short, poverty issues in Glasgow have become the goose that lays the golden egg and the middle classes have never been slow to exploit any financial opportunity that arises out of our misery. The two-faced good Samaritans are being exposed, as are their disingenuous methods of siphoning public funds in the name of a good cause and channelling the resulting cash flow straight into the pockets of the private profiteers.

As a footnote to this account of sordid complicity I would further point to the latest media release from Govanhill Community Baths Trust, 28 May 2011: "after 10 long years of     struggle with considerable community support, the backing of Glasgow City Council, the Scottish Government and others, the Board of Govanhill Baths are delighted to announce that we are moving back into the baths."

I have just one question for the board to answer, that is if after 10 years of struggle with  considerable support from the community, Glasgow City Council, the Scottish Government and the GHA (why not just name them) just who exactly were they struggling with? Perhaps it was a class struggle; I guess we will never know.

Roy Walsh, local Govanhill resident, June 2011

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Glasgow calling!

With mass unemployment combining with attacks to unemployment benefits and increased competition for jobs, businesses are setting out to further destroy the wages and conditions of workers, with increasing numbers of casual and agency staff employed with little to no protection from exploitation.

No Cuts – Full Stop! received the following letter from a call centre worker in Glasgow. Thousands are faced with the same experience.

Dear FRFI Glasgow,

Marx would have found call centres fascinating I’m sure. It is an interesting dynamic. Woe betide anyone who has to be off sick.

Break times are monitored closely and any time away from the computer (e.g. to go to the toilet) is all taken into account in percentage terms. I work for an agency for basically minimum wage next to BT workers on a half decent salary with much better Terms & Conditions. Me and other agency workers have less pay, less holiday time, less holiday pay, no pension, no sick pay with a random shift pattern. A worker who started in the office just before me went into work a couple of weeks ago to be told not to enter the office and to wait in reception. He was sacked there and then. Apparently he was late a couple of times and as he is agency they can get rid of you very easily.

In the office there are agency workers who have been there for years. I spoke to two women who have been there working for an agency within BT for 6 years and 12 years respectively.

I met the shop steward and joined the CWU (Communications Workers Union) and was happy to receive a CWU pen. Oh the perks!

The shop steward said that I worked in one of the better call centres in Glasgow as a lot she has visited have 'horrendous working environments'.

Bring on the fight!

Jim R. 

Strathclyde staff and students fight back!

The fight to defend education jobs and services at Strathclyde University is growing.
Management at the university propose to end degree courses in sociology, geography, music and community education with a final decision to be made on June 28. The future of the Ramshorn Theatre and Collins Gallery is also uncertain bringing drama and art subjects into the firing line.
On Thursday 2 June students, staff and members of the public gathered in opposition to these attacks on education.
Among the crowd were community education students Siobhan Devine and Fiona Upton who spoke about the vital role and long and proud history of their course;
'Every year our course is oversubscribed and it has been running for over one hundred years. Students of community education are put on placements in working class areas providing support for the most vulnerable people including the disabled, unemployed, ex-prisoners, elderly and young people. To scrap our course would be a blow to Glasgow's communities as well as the students and staff of the course.'
Indeed, so far the blows have come thick and fast with upto three hundred and fifty members of staff at the university leaving on a voluntary redundancy scheme which closed last year. One hundred more jobs are to be cut over 2011/12 with further redundancies for people on short term contracts. Under the current proposal twenty five additional jobs could be lost.
For all the talk of austerity Principal Jim McDonald continues to reep a salary in the region of £232,000 (The Daily Express, 6 February 2010). In an email sent to students during protests at the university over the winter this crook stated;
the teaching budget for 2011/12 does not stretch far enough to maintain the number of fully-funded places. Cuts at the current proposed levels cannot be sustained beyond next year’.
In other words much deeper cuts lie ahead. Meanwhile the plan to open a new technology centre at the university (costing £89m) by 2013 to ‘attract millions of pounds of inward investment’ and to ‘drive global businesses’ goes on.
The university management are determined to sacrifice education jobs and services for personal gain and prestige. They did not hesitate to call the police on staff and students this time and will do so again whenever our protests are effective. We must be ten times as determined to defend and expand the right to a good education!
For a full report of the days protest see: http://www.glasgowdefencecampaign.blogspot.com/
Defend education, fight back now!