GCSE Crisis- Britain’s Youth Deserve Better

Anthony Parker 

Image © Kewima

In Gehenna they sacrificed their children to appease ancient gods,
By fire to reverse their fortunes by miraculous odds.
Millions on the dole queue stuck in the mire,
Amidst the doom the only light is that of the funeral pyre.
Cuts here and there, cuts everwhere to put the books in order, yet the young lead to Gehenna, lambs to the slaughter.
A price worth paying for fantasy growth to be higher,
in Gehenna they sacrificed their youth upon an open fire.
No hope, forget Jerusalem built upon this green and pleasant land,
In Gehenna they took the youth by the hand and fed them to the fire!

I start this post with one of my poems ‘Gehenna’, a story of blow after blow being laid upon the young. However this is no fantasy dystopia, this is modern Britain, a place where even qualifications don’t seem to help, if you’re lucky to be awarded them that is.

Nearly a week after the GSCE results were released, the row over the results is intensifying as head teachers are pressing for this summer’s English GCSEs to be regraded amid a row over grade boundaries, with the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) estimating that more than 10,000 teenagers in England and Wales received worse results than merited.

The results – in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – show a fall in the proportion of GCSEs awarded an A*-C grade across all subjects for the first time since the exams were introduced 24 years ago, however the results for the English GCSE caused particular alarm. Teachers have stated that they believe pupils had been marked too harshly and too few had achieved an expected C grade. But more shockingly, some have said that pupils who would have got a C if they had sat their GCSE in January, only got a D in June  for exactly the same work,  which has prompted accusations of grade boundaries being deliberately raised to satisfy Mr Gove’s avowed aim to make exams tougher.  Read more of this post

Thoughts on the Draft Communication Bill: An Interview with Andy Phippen

The Left Central Writer

Professor Andy Phippen

As Professor Noam Chomsky points out, the internet is capable of liberating oppressed people while having the potential to be utilised for surveillance and for controlling opposition to state oppression. It is the latter observation that the pressure group Open Rights Group believe relevant, considering our civil liberties to be at risk due to the draft Communications Data Bill pointing out:

It marks a serious increase in the powers the state has to order any communications provider – whether it is an Internet Service Provider (ISP) like BT or an Internet company like Google – to collect, store and provide access to our information about our emails, online conversations and texts.

The Orwellian feature of the legislation is outlined by Open Rights Group arguing it grants the technical ability to identify the political orientations of protestors who blog or write for radical websites. An issue relevant to whistle blowers or investigative journalists who might find themselves subject to the measures outlined in this draft legislation under the guise of ‘public interest’ or their journalistic work compromised by a vague requirement of the state to investigate a crime.

Professor Andy Phippen agreed to talk about the proposed legislation:

AP: Government’s respond to social problems by avoiding the issue and focusing instead on the internet, a knee jerk reaction motivated by ‘legislative hyper-activity.’ The internet mirrors society. We need to focus on the actual social problem and criminal activity rather than focusing on the internet.

LC: What’s the motivation behind the Bill?

AP: Technological advancement brings fears for governments; even the invention of the printing press produced a hysterical reaction. Biblical scholars were concerned that they were going to lose social control over the ‘common man.’ The availability of books meant those in power lost control.

Yet from history we learn that the printing press empowered humanity and in the same way the internet democratizes information. The government today fear a loss of control in much the same way as the biblical scholars did. Knowledge is power and the internet has empowered.  To take one example, look at academic research. It is becoming more freely available and as a result it has enriched the knowledge base. Academic research and other information, once available only to elites, is now widely available.

LC: Do you think the internet enhances our democracy?

Read more of this post

Turkish immigrants in Germany

Osmi Anannya

Image © Zanthia

It’s been 51 years since the once booming West Germany signed a recruitment agreement with Turkey to provide guest workers for the nation’s workforce. Usually unskilled labourers, armed with a minimum wage payroll and accommodation for the duration of their temporary contractual stay, came to the Western side of the country. This practice continued up until the 1973 global oil crisis and by that time somewhere around 710,000 Turks had benefited from the programme, living amongst German people and other ethnic minorities in Germany. Although many chose to return to their homeland soon afterwards, several thousand instead chose to bring their families to Germany, triggering an increase in the Turkish immigrant population numbers. Today these numbers constitute about 5% of the country’s population.

Studies by the Berlin Institute for Population has revealed that, of all immigrant groups in Germany, the Turkish population are least likely to integrate and most likely to be poorly educated, underpaid, and unemployed. With time, schools have started to introduce additional lessons in Turkish to aid immigrant workers’ children to further integrate into German society and increase their employment prospects. When rapid modernisation of industry in Germany began, companies demanded better qualified workers and Turkish guest workers found themselves ill equipped to compete in this new labour market.

Read more of this post

Colombia’s Mining Industry: A Story of Corruption, Violence and Wasted Potential

Daniel Crump 

Image © Tanenhaus

Colombia is now into its third week of strikes as a result of disputes between workers at FENOCO, Colombia’s main coal transporting railway, and their bosses. Colombia’s Labour Minister has called on both sides to attend talks and work out a way to end the impasse that has so far resulted in Colombia losing $1.2 million a day in royalties.

The strike, which began on July 23rd, was caused by coal workers at FENOCO demanding better working and pay conditions. There is also a demand by the Trade Union leaders for workers laid off in 2009 after a similar strike, to be reinstated.

One of FENOCO’s shareholders, Drummond International a US-based mining company, have already announced that it has run out of stock and has been forced to cancel coal cargoes coming from Colombian mines. Sources close to the Unions state that Drummond International, a partial owner of FENOCO, has ‘’changed the working hours of staff unilaterally, violating labour standards, in an attempt not to pay out full wages to workers at the train company’’. There have also been reports of death threats against national and regional Union leaders of the mining industries.

Colombia is currently the world’s fourth largest producer of coal, transporting cargo to the main export ports on the country’s Caribbean coast along FENOCO’s 226km rail line. Drummond International has already declared ‘Force Majeure’ on a case by case basis which allows buyers and sellers of coal to renege on previous contracts due to ‘situations beyond their control’.

Colombian mining has historically been a story of untapped potential. Despite vast resources along the country’s northern regions, the industry in total makes up about 2.4% of GDP. During the 1990’s and the early 2000’s, foreign investors were put off by Colombia’s instability, resulting from civil war and high levels of corruption. President Alvaro Uribe, as part of a nationwide clean up of Colombian politics and civil society, made investment more attractive by eliminating large parts of Colombia’s FARC terrorists and incentivised companies to bid for mining contracts and introduced tax breaks to help the industry grow.  Read more of this post

Labour: From Constitutional Reform to Shameless Opportunism

Nicholas Pentney 

Image © Christian Guthier

Upon Ed Miliband’s joining of forces with those Tory Rebels who opposed Lords reform, one may be tempted to invoke the old idiom that “politics makes strange bed fellows.” Indeed, Labour’s vigorous support (in the form of a three-line whip no less) of the band of rebellious Conservatives who rejected House of Lords reform plans does seem very odd indeed. After all, wasn’t Labour the party of constitutional reform? Wasn’t this the party that at one time in government had begun the biggest constitutional upheaval since the Reform Act of 1832? Wasn’t this the party who talked about the need for reform in manifesto after manifesto?

Of course, when pressed, Labour insisted that they were actually in favour of the Reform Bill – it just wanted more time for it and in fact would have supported the Bill at the second reading. This is frankly hard to believe; Labour cannot be ignorant of the fact that the rejection of the motion would have killed off the Bill in the way that it did. Besides, Labour had no problem in getting to work with devolution and other reforms without any delay after the 1997 election. So how does one explain Labour’s attack on Lords reform? The answer comes down to Ed Miliband and his trademark opportunistic and cynical tendencies.

Ed probably thinks he’s been quite clever. By opposing the programme motion he thinks he can claim that he hadn’t reneged on his and Labour’s reformist principles whilst at the same time inflicting a considerable blow on the Coalition. When one looks at Miliband’s track record, can anyone be really surprised when he jumps into bed with a bunch of rebellious Tories? For instance, on AV, rather than pull out three-line whip levels of party discipline, he quietly tolerated those in his own camp who gave vigorous support to the ‘No’ campaign. On government cuts he opposes or supports depending on what the opportunistic climate dictates. On public sector strikes he quietly sat on the fence until he was sure that he would gain most from coming down on the side of the strikers. Read more of this post

LGBT Rights: Got Pride?

Stephen Donnan 

Image © Guillaume Paumier

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending Northern Pride in Newcastle-Upon Tyne. I was shown around the town by a friend, the sun was blazing and the cider was ice cold, so we decided to take part in the parade. As we joined the throngs of revellers waving rainbow flags alongside drag queens and carnival creations I couldn’t help but notice that one thing was lacking from the parade route: protesters.

Yes that’s right, I couldn’t get my head round why this parade was going so smoothly, and why were there no pickets along the street? Beside city hall? Outside the churches we passed? I looked several times and couldn’t see them, concluding that I must have missed them. I asked my friend if there had been protesters ever before and she looked at me as though I was nuts. I guess coming from Belfast you tend to expect certain things that other places consider bizarre, such as Christians protesting a gay pride march.

Every year the Sandown Presbyterian Church sendsadelegationtoholdplacards reading slogans about Sodom and Gomorrah, telling us that we are all going to Hell, that we are an abomination. These people aren’t alone, for their views are shared by many, including our very own First Minister.

As part of the UK, Northern Ireland has a track record for being the worst country in the British Isles for LGBT rights, being the last nation in the Union to liftthebanonhomosexualityin 1982. Direct Rule brought us protection against workplace discrimination based on who we love, equal access to IVF treatment, the right to change legal gender, the ability to serve openly in the military, legal protection from hate crime, rights of access to goods and services and the first CivilPartnerships took place in Belfast in 2004. But this myriad of equality legislation stopped as soon as the Northern Ireland Assembly was re-established in 2007.

Our Health Minister, Mr. Edwin Poots MLA and member of the DUP, has recently refusedtolifttheban on gay and bisexual men from donating blood, despite his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and England replacing the ban with a 12 month deferral period. Due to the nature of legislation in place, same-sex couples in a Civil Partnership areforbiddentoadoptchildren and raise a family and future Health Minister Jim Wells MLA described those taking part in Belfast Pride as ‘repugnant’, and the issue of same-sex marriage has drawn a line in the sand for political parties in NI as Scotland, England and Wales all have plans to legislate in favour of such a measure.  Read more of this post