Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 17/12/09

Welcome To Corporistan

If anyone had still been sufficiently deluded in thinking that the power structures of those who formulate, enforce and administer the laws of this increasingly baffled and baffling island (*) were in any way impartial in their decisions, just a couple of cases from the last few days should be enough to make the scales fall from their eyes.

Firstly, coming hot on the heels of their attempts to gag not only The Guardian newspaper but also parliament itself, the noted shysters Carter-Ruck (known to the cognoscenti as Carter Fuck, or possibly as Farther Crook) succeeded in gagging the BBC regarding a report on the Corporation's flagship news programme Newsnight. The report showed clearly that Farter-Cock's clients, the oil trading company Trafigura, had allowed its toxic waste to be dumped in Côte d'Ivoire by one of its subcontractors, and that that waste had had severe - even lethal - effects on many of those living in the vicinity. Trafigura denied that they had known that their hirelings had done any such thing, although internal e-mails showed that Trafigura were aware of the dangers of the waste and the need to dispose of it very carefully indeed.

In an act of cravenness which has become a hallmark of the BBC under its current inept management, the Broadcorping Castration climbed down, withdrew the allegations that the dumped waste had caused deaths (despite the fact that a special UN rapporteur had shown strong prima facie evidence that this was the case), and agreed to pay a five-figure sum of licence-payers' money to a charity.

The report, along with a radio feature on the same issue broadcast on the BBC's World Service, has been removed from the BBC's websites. For the moment at least, the 'offending' TV report is here (Part 1) and here (Part 2). One hopes that YouTube don't turn chicken as well. Wikileaks almost certainly won't, and they have not only a transcript of the Newsnight report (here), but also audio of the World Service report here.

The Corporation, in a desperate attempt to avoid looking like a bunch of pussies, issued what The Guardian risibly described as a 'combative' statement, which did nothing more than raise the question why, if the BBC were so sure of the veracity of the report, they had buckled under the first threat of a writ.

In its defence, the reasons are not difficult to discern. Firstly, Blarter-Crock would have deliberately run up massive costs on behalf of its client which the BBC might - win or lose - have to end up paying. Secondly, any full hearing would almost certainly have been heard in front of David Eady, possibly the greatest danger to freedom of speech in the UK today, and the man who granted a certain American ______ a wide-ranging injunction preventing the country's media from publishing certain pictures of Mr _____ _____ which apparently show him in the ____, although any such photographs would almost certainly be fakes; or so Mr _____' lawyers claim (see the Rant immediately preceding this one).

Once again, we see the lethal libel laws of England being used as a means of preventing the freedom of journalists to report on the misdeeds of wealthy corporations. Just as with the notorious crook Robert Maxwell, Trafigura are attempting to prevent their criminal incompetence from being exposed by using the rich-man's casino of Eady's court.

The truly worrying thing is that this now in effect means that any well-backed corporation - or individual - who wishes their activities to be kept from public view will know that all they have to do is threaten the BBC with Eady and all shall be well (hidden). As the BBC is the only broadcaster, indeed one of the very few media outlets tout court in the UK which still 'does' investigative journalism of any depth at all (with the occasional exception from Channel 4 News), its capitulation to Further-Cluck sets a disturbing precedent.

The second illustration of how the law is frequently misused in order to protect the interests of those with power, money or other influence came this week in the field of industrial relations.

British Airways (BA), a company which had been very profitable until the Irish 'entrepreneur' Willie Walsh took control of it, and which has since - quite coincidentally, I'm sure - suffered substantial losses and other difficulties, mostly of the management's own making; BA, then, having earlier this year cajoled its employees into working a whole month without pay, engineered a strike by its cabin crews. 'Engineered' in the sense that the management sought to impose staffing cuts and other changes to the crews' conditions, and made that announcement at such a time as to guarantee that any strike action would take place during the sensitive Christmas and New Year period.

Predictably enough, the members of Unite who were balloted voted for an all-out strike with a majority of more than 92% on an 80% turnout - both remarkably high figures for such a ballot in recent times.

Walsh didn't seem to be fazed by this. Instead, his company went to court to try to get the ballot declared void. BA's claim was that, as about 800 of the 10 000 or so who voted had been accepted for voluntary redundancy and were deemed by law not eligible to vote, the whole ballot was invalid.

The case came to court and the judge duly ruled that the strike would be illegal.

Under the vicious anti-Trade Union laws passed by the extreme-right governments of the 1980s (and, curiously, never repealed by New Labour in its twelve-and-a-half-year-long period in office; Blair, indeed, saw them as something to be proud of rather than a disgrace against democracy), the process of taking industrial action of any sort legally has become a grotesque obstacle course, with all of the fences and pits provided to the employers to place as they will. One of the penalties for holding an 'illegal' strike is for the courts to seize all of a union's assets, thus rendering that union unable either to campaign or even to ensure strike pay to its members. This is one of the ways in which the miners were defeated in 1985.

Let's look at this logically: over 10 000 members voted, a turnout of eighty per cent. Of those, 92.4% (well over 9 000) voted for strike action. Even with the exclusion of those whom BA and the court said should not have been allowed to vote, there would still have been a massive mandate for action. Even BA weren't so stupid as to claim that the 800 'invalid' ballots would have swung the vote the other way. So what was the point of rendering the whole vote unlawful?

Perhaps we get a clue from the remarks of the judge, Laura Cox:

"A strike of this kind over the 12 days of Christmas is fundamentally more damaging to BA and the wider public than a strike taking place at almost any other time of the year."

With respect, dearie, how damaging it may - putatively - be to the company or the public is none of your bloody business! You're supposed to be making judgements in law, not editorialising for the Daily Telegraph. But your words do give a clear indication that your decision was at least as much political as legal. Given that, even with the 'invalid' ballots, the result would still have been an overwhelming one for strike action, what other excuse, apart from nit-picking, can there be for the overturning of the result?

Some might say that it was the fault of Unite for not ensuring that those ineligible to vote were excluded. That discounts the fact that BA's staffing was in a state of flux at the time, and that the only people who knew the names of those who were to be granted voluntary redundancy in the period between the ballot papers being sent out and the closing date for voting were the personnel/human resources/people function (delete MBA-Bollocksese term as appropriate) at BA, who would not give that information to the union, who therefore had to do the best they could with the information that they held. So it seems to have been BA itself which prevented the running of a totally clean and legally valid ballot.

The double standard regarding the validity of ballots can be illustrated by reference to the widespread fraud reported in a number of constituencies in the 2005 General Election, much of it involving the postal voting system which the government had put in place for it. This, no doubt by another of those happy chances, benefitted - amongst others - Jack Straw in Blackburn, where nearly a third of all votes cast were done postally, many of them from Muslim families with close ties to Straw's electoral machine. There were also serious irregularities in other areas, again with positive electoral consequences for the Labour Party (the Lib Dems have also been caught out in some places).

Even when the claims of fraud have been proven in parliamentary elections, there has not been any attempt by the judiciary to force those contests to be re-run, even though the fraud may have led to candidates being elected who otherwise would not have been. And yet, with a completely cut-and-dried result in a ballot for employees to defend themselves against far-reaching unilateral decisions imposed by management without negotiation, somehow the presence of 8% of 'invalid' ballots which would have made no difference at all to the outcome means that the whole process is deemed illegal.

If it hasn't been clear to anyone for a long time, it should be bloodily obvious now that the laws are framed and operated by, and on behalf of, the same section of society; what J B Priestley called 'Topside', the so-called 'great and the good'. In short, those who own things (like a big corporation, for example, or most of Worcestershire). We, hoi polloi, are expected time after time meekly to assume the position and take the regular shaftings which, due to our passivity and our willingness to be fobbed-off for the sake of what we believe to be 'a quiet life', is probably no more and no less than we deserve.

(*) Baffling Island - a mysterious landmass in the north of Canada.