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Shirebrook: united campaign against the danger of division
Jon Dale, Mansfield Socialist Party
A stabbing of a man walking his dog in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, the second in a month, has increased tensions in the ex-mining town. Since its pit closed over 20 years ago, Shirebrook has struggled. The main employer now is Sports Direct, whose headquarters and huge warehouse moved in with taxpayers' subsidies.
Sports Direct main shareholder and chief executive, billionaire Mike Ashley, has 90% of his workers on zero-hour contracts, mostly on minimum wage. Agencies deliberately recruited in Eastern Europe to get what they perceive as a more easily exploitable workforce.
Private landlords house many in overcrowded accommodation. The lack of available space to socialise and relax is one factor contributing to the drinking of alcohol in children's playgrounds and in the Market Place, which many find intimidating.
300 turned up at a protest rally called by a group of residents five days later. Councillors (all Labour locally) were criticised for staying away and blamed for many of the town's problems. The stabbing is believed to have been carried out by four eastern European migrant workers. In the past there have also been attacks on eastern Europeans.
Although some divisive comments were made at the rally, on the other hand the Trades Council Secretary was applauded for attacking Mike Ashley and exploitation, as well as Labour councillors' failures to oppose this or Tory cuts.
Sports Direct blockaded
A vote was taken to march to Sports Direct. The factory gate was blockaded for about 20 minutes. Vehicles could not enter or leave. It was like a miners' strike mass picket - but with only a couple of police present!
Mansfield Socialist Party branch quickly discussed the developing situation and saw the apparent vacuum of political leadership could be filled by Ukip or other right-wing forces, but that this was not a foregone conclusion. We felt it was vital to propose a united campaign for demands that all workers could unite around. We invited Youth Fight for Jobs to hold a public meeting and printed 2,000 leaflets in English and Polish.
We believe the trade unions should play a leading role in this and asked Unite and GMB to send speakers (although neither was able to do so).
The leaflet called for the council to employ park attendants. Rent caps should be brought in and council houses built. Zero-hour contracts should be scrapped and a £10 an hour minimum wage introduced. A big increase in tax on the profits of Sports Direct and other large companies, and Mike Ashley's wealth (alongside other billionaires), could fund more council housing, schools and local services.
20 attended the meeting and agreed to put these proposals to the residents' meeting called for 3 July, which the organisers have said is open to all nationalities.
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