Now -read the book!

Here is a link to my memoirs which, if you are a glutton for punishment, you can purchase online at
Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

UNISON nominates Corbyn

I should leave the country more often!

For the first time in 12 years I miss a meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) and what happens?

Our General Secretary pledges vigorous opposition to the Trade Union Bill, the NEC offer solidarity to Max Watson (facing the threat of dismissal) and John Burgess (facing threats from the far right) - and the NEC elects the majority of members of a National Labour Link Committee who go on (on the same day) to offer a supporting nomination for Labour Leader to Jeremy Corbyn‎.

In completely unrelated news, the NEC had on its agenda proposals for an election for General Secretary. 

About which I'll blog when I'm back in the country.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why it's right to strike (2) - support London Met this Friday
UNISON members at London Metropolitan University are striking this Friday in opposition to three threatened compulsory redundancies (including that of UNISON Branch Secretary, my comrade Max Watson).

The deliberate making of compulsory redundancies even when financial savings could be made without them reflects the worst sort of managerial vindictiveness - particularly ‎ when one of those selected happens to be a union activist who has been victimised before.

Whereas all public spending cuts, and all associated job losses, should be opposed there are at least some managers and organisations who will abide by the spirit as well as the letter of section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act and do all they can to avoid compulsory redundancies.

There are others - some of whom seem to be calling the shots‎ at London Metropolitan University - who seize the opportunity of financial crisis to try to show their power to impose unjust dismissals in order to weaken both the organisation and the spirit of a workforce they wish to cow into submission.

Follow the link above for suggestions from the branch as to how you can help them in their fight for justice.

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Why it's right to strike (1)

In many ways the highlight of this year's UNISON National Delegate Conference, which took place last week in Glasgow, was that it took place in a City where UNISON members were striking for justice.

Now it's good to learn that the homelessness workers have - after seventeen weeks on strike - accepted a settlement recommended to them by their branch and shop stewards.

In today's local government it is sadly all to common to see groups and individuals swallowing reductions in pay or conditions in the (invariably mistaken) belief that this can secure their jobs.

It was therefore heartening to see a group of workers prepared to fight for the fair, higher rate of pay which they deserved - and it is all the more encouraging to learn that they have obtained a settlement which they can accept.

It is precisely the ability to take such action which the Tory Trade Union Bill seeks to eliminate.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

The first shot in the war on trade unionism

I go on leave for a week to enjoy the sunshine in Sussex and the Government introduces draconian restrictions on the rights of workers to organise and take action as trade unionists (in the Trade Union Bill).
This isn’t quite the existential threat to trade unionism itself which many of us continue to anticipate. The easy-to-legislate-for threat to the finances of the major trade unions, successfully piloted twenty two years ago, has not (yet) been resurrected.
The Tory Government aren’t (yet) quite returning to the Combination Acts, but they want only timid and tame trade unionism on their own terms. They don’t want industrial action, and they want depoliticised trade unions (with the beneficial side effect of undermining the income of the main opposition Party). Furthermore they want to uproot workplace trade union activism with an attack upon trade union “facility time”.
Apolitical, collaborationist organisations run by paid officials rather than lay activists are the only sort of trade unions which this Government would want to tolerate (for a time). This is a more intelligent - and therefore more dangerous - attack than one which sought to wipe us out completely, since it does not immediately threaten the livelihoods of the officials of the movement.
However, toothless trade unions would be worthless for workers and the future of our movement if we acquiesced in these attacks would be one of continuing decline into irrelevance. If this Bill passes another, within a couple of years, will come along to finish the job.
Official opposition  to the new Bill has been expressed by our General Secretary and by the TUC and the Trade Union Group of MPs. I am pleased that my own UNISON Branch Committee agreed to help initiate a new rank and file campaign to mobilise branch level opposition to this legislative attack across the trade unions.
Without doubt, the first step in our response to this assault upon workers’ rights must be to resist – but we must also prepare our organisations to continue to be battle ready whatever happens in Parliament. We need to build trade unions which are more democratic, more political and more willing to take action.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Harriet Harman - A Modest Proposal

Harriet Harman has reportedly claimed (without mandate or authority) that the Labour Party will not oppose the restriction of child tax credits so that they shall bring no additional benefit to households where the parents have more than two children.

This craven acceptance of the politics of George Osborne (whose budgets are always all about politics and have never yet been about economics) is perhaps intended to show Labour's "economic credibility" and to appease the presumed envy felt by some poor people against other poor people.
Taking this (unauthorised) policy pronouncement alongside the related claim that Labour will not oppose the lowering of the benefit cap‎ it is clear that those currently leading the Labour Party see the need for Labour to stand firm against the sourge of large families. (As I have never myself appreciated that this scourge even existed I can only applaud the perspicacity of these wise leaders).

In decreeing that Labour will not oppose "for the sake of opposing" Harriet Harman has taken a bold stand against the excessive breeding of the poor. Her words, which will give confidence to all those who support Liz Kendall - and consolation to all those "socialists" who know that we must never espouse socialism for fear of losing elections, do not, though, go far enough.

Jonathan Swift, writing more than two hundred years ago in the link above, had the courage and confidence to follow the politics expressed by Harriet Harman to their necessary conclusion. Whilst Labour Party members wait for Liz Kendall to show that same courage, we can (of course) draw the conclusion for ourselves.

If you are the third (or fourth, or fifth) child of parents who depend for a decent life upon tax credits (or if you are the sibling of such a person) Labour's current leaders believe that you deserve to have less than the children of smaller families. You are a lesser person. Harriet Harman has had the strength to join George Osborne in speaking this truth to you, even if we must wait awhile before Liz Kendall can draw Jonathan Swift's conclusion.

Obviously it is slightly difficult for those of us who joined the Labour Party out of a belief in social justice ‎to have to come to terms with this new wisdom (but we have former SDP member Polly Toynbee to help us to do so).

At the risk of seeming like someone who isn't prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to win an election all I will say is, if you're offered an opportunity to attend a fundraising dinner hosted by Progress for Kendall please take the vegetarian option.


(Oh, and if you have the affliction of principle or the problem of decency and therefore cannot follow the necessary trajectory of New Labour to the Modest Proposal of Jonathan Swift then I suppose you'll just have to support Jeremy Corbyn).

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Saturday, July 11, 2015

No hopers offer no hope...

Labour's right-wing are taking fright at the prospect of significant support for socialist candidate, Jeremy Corbyn.

The link above reports the desperate attempt to unify supporters of the three pro-austerity candidates in order to quash Jeremy's growing challenge.

Interestingly, the co-thinkers in the trade unions of those for whom a serious socialist challenge for the Labour Party leadership is horrifying are also doing all they can to minimise support for the policies of their own organisations.

Someone must have briefed that UNISON's National Labour Link Committee (half of whom have yet even to be elected) will, on 29 July, back "Cooper or no one." Quite how that benefits any UNISON member not hoping for a Lordship is perplexing to say the least.

It's because the resistance to Corbyn from within the labour movement machine is increasingly as obvious as it is absurd that UNISON GPF payers wishing to be sure that their vote for Corbyn is eventually counted will be wise, first of all, to transfer to the APF.

We would be unwise to fail to foresee almost any disreputable move being made to weaken the socialist challenge for the Labour Party leadership.

The tragedy of Labourism includes the tragedy of a Labour Left so habituated to our subordination that there are many good people who, whilst agreeing with the politics of Jeremy Corbyn, will consider casting a vote elsewhere in pursuit of "electability".

It sometimes feels as if many socialists in the Labour Party feel that our socialism is something private, if not shameful, and that we must always choose leaders well to our right because what we believe is somehow inappropriate.


None of the other three candidates for Labour Leader is any more electable than Corbyn.

The agonising death of social democracy across the European continent is dragging the sorry remnants of Blair's "third way" (and Brown's accommodation to it) down into the same abyss. Twentieth century Labourism is over.

No one knows whether democratic socialism can offer parties of the Left, and our movement, a path out of this destruction, but we may as well grab hold of that hope‎ - which Corbyn offers us.

Trade unionists need a voice in the legislature. Burnham, Cooper and Kendall do not offer that voice - and their supporters in the trade unions are not supporters of trade unionism.

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Friday, July 10, 2015

UNISON must support Jeremy Corbyn, the UNISON candidate for Labour Leader

Below is a message which I have sent to relevant members of my UNISON branch, in line with the agreed policy of the branch. I would urge every UNISON activist to encourage their branch to send a similar message (if your branch has taken a similar decision). As UNITE’s decision to nominate Jeremy Corbyn clearly shows, this is a time at which we must make use of the relationship between the trade unions and the Labour Party if it is to have any meaning.
Jeremy Corbyn stands, in the most obvious way, for everything which UNISON stands for. Whether UNISON nationally supports Jeremy (who has supported UNISON throughout our existence) will be decided by the National Labour Link Committee on 29 July. Were the Committee to decide to nominate any other candidate that would be tantamount to declaring in favour of disaffiliation. Were the Committee to decide not to make a nomination that would be tantamount to declaring their own complete irrelevance.
Maximising the vote for Jeremy Corbyn maximises the influence of UNISON policy. Every UNISON member should do all we can to maximise this vote. Here, then is the message to APF members which I have sent (having sent a similar message to GPF members encouraging them to switch);
As a UNISON member you can have a say in the election for the leadership of the Labour Party.
Your trade union branch, Lambeth UNISON, supports the candidacy of UNISON member, and London MP, Jeremy Corbyn. Jeremy stands for opposition to austerity and supports the policies which UNISON supports – in favour of a fairer society with well funded decent public services provided by workers who are well paid and treated fairly. You can read more about Jeremy’s campaign at
It is important for us as public service workers that Jeremy’s clear cut opposition to the economic policies which threaten our job security and have undermined our living standards receives as much support as possible. It is in your interests as a UNISON member to support Jeremy Corbyn in this election. (There are three other candidates and you can read about them at
You can watch the UNISON hustings at which all the four Labour leadership contenders spoke online at
As a contributor to UNISON’s Affiliated Political Fund you can then obtain your right to vote in the Labour leadership election by registering online (free of charge) at (check the box for “yes” that you are a member of an affiliated organisation and then tick the box for UNISON). The last date to register to vote is noon on Wednesday 12 August. Ballot papers will be despatched from Friday 14 August and the ballot will close at noon on Thursday 10 September.
I hope that you will consider registering to vote in the Labour leadership election in order to support Jeremy Corbyn.

Barnet UNISON Secretary Victim of Hate Crime

‎I pass on the following news without comment except to express full solidarity and support to John Burgess and Barnet UNISON.

As trade unions resist the attacks we face and show solidarity against oppression we can anticipate such reactionary hostility and must stand solid together to defend brothers and sisters at the sharp end.

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Barnet UNISON Press Release: 10 July 2015: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Local Trade Unionist Victim of Hate Crime

"It is with deepest anger I have to report that our Barnet UNISON branch secretary, John Burgess, had his car vandalised as it was parked up outside his own home. After the day's activities on 8th July, which involved a strike and protests, John returned home to find a large note stuck on his car windshield: "Fucking Union Faggotts Get Back Home From Here!"  and a nail stuck into a front wheel of his car. This came within 2 weeks of the Barnet UNISON banner, and a branch presence which of course included John, proudly appearing on the Pride Demo. It is our view this particular use of offensive language is far too coincidental for us not to understand this as an attack on John as a trade unionist and also for being seen on the Pride demo.

We also think there is a strong coincidence that our branch was a very early signatory to the Unite Against Fascism statement about the proposed Fascist gathering in Golders Green and encouraged our members to attend the protest last weekend (4th July). We are proud that we were part of a larger community mobilisation which meant Fascists could not raise their heads in our community. Fascists are organisations which peddle hatred and what happened to John is in every sense a Hate crime which has been reported to the police.

John has a job to do and that is to represent the members of his union branch. We choose him year after year as we believe he is the best placed person to do this. He enjoys the confidence of the branch membership. This means whoever did this is trying to intimidate and silence all of our membership. We will not be silenced!

We believe it is the demonisation of trade unions by the current Government which also encourages this type of personal attack on individual trade unionists. We condemn such attacks and call on our supporters to rally round and show solidarity and support to one who has done nothing other than defend us and offer solidarity to all those fighting the effects of Austerity and oppression." Helen Davies, Branch Chair Barnet UNISON.

George Binette, branch secretary, Camden UNISON had this to say: "On behalf of Camden UNISON I express our shock and horror at the vicious homophobic vandalism carried out against John Burgess, Barnet UNISON branch secretary. This attack is a perverse tribute to the effectiveness of John's tireless commitment to both his members and the defence of public services. Unfortunately, all too many politicians and sections of the media seem set to whip up a Jeremy Clarkson-style climate where it is literally open season on active trade unionists. Solidarity with John and the Barnet branch."


Notes to Editors.

Contact details: Helen Davies Barnet UNISON on 07432733168 or 0208 359 2088 or email:

Keep up to date go to the new Barnet UNISON website at The information in this e-mail is confidential and may also be subject to legal privilege. It is intended solely for the addressee. If you are not the intended recipient please reply to the sender. You are hereby placed on notice that any copying, publication or any other form of dissemination of this e-mail or its contents is prohibited. Whilst every endeavour is taken to ensure that e-mails are free from viruses, no liability can be accepted and the recipient is requested to use their own virus checking software. Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this email?

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Pensions Board (not bored)

With apologies for parochialism, I didn't want to let pass blogging my attendance (though not as a member) at the inaugural meeting of the local Pensions Board last night (topping off a day which had already included a picket line in Bromley, a lunchtime protest in Brixton and the unanimous rejection of the Further Education employers' "zero per cent offer" by UNISON members at Lambeth College).

The Pensions Board is one of many coming into existence this year (following the 1 April deadline by which local Councils needed formally to have established them). The meeting was (as expected) dominated by the business of agreeing what the Board would b‎e doing with its time in future.

Although it's early days, it was encouraging to see Scheme Member representatives, as equals with employer representatives, holding Council officers to account and asserting their rights (as full voting members of the Board) to speak and ask questions on behalf of the workers who pay into the fund and pensioners who depend upon it.

Whilst pension fund governance is often seen as being about the investments of the fund (which are substantial), in a statutory defined benefit scheme (like the Local Government Pension Scheme - LGPS) where our pensions are fixed regardless of the performance of particular funds, the role of Pensions Boards can be far more about the administration of the scheme - a subject far less dry than it sounds when you consider that‎ our LGPS pension rights are amongst the most valuable things we local government workers own.

The most immediate implication of the performance of the fund, for local government workers, is the impact which it has, after each triennial actuarial valuation, for the employer's pension contributions which Councils are required to make from their ever diminishing revenue budgets. In Lambeth we have retained (non-voting) scheme member co-optees on the Pensions Committee to keep an eye on this, albeit we expect the Pensions Board to have oversight.

In the longer term, I hope Pensions Boards serve to maintain and develop interest in, and understanding of, our pension scheme by the local government workforce so that when this Government (or more probably the next) breaks the promise that the last changes to the scheme would be secure for twenty years, our members can more readily be mobilised for the fight to defend once more the principle that public servants are entitled to dignity and respect in old age.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Solidarity with Barnet - and Bromley!

Solidarity and good luck to comrades in Barnet UNISON striking tomorrow against privatisation. The latest step in Barnet's long struggle against rampant outsourcing is well timed to coincide with Chancellor Osborne's latest austerity budget.

The coordination of Barnet's action with that being taken - in a similar cause - by UNISON and UNITE members in Bromley is a welcome development, demonstrating the wisdom of lay, rank and file trade union activists who know that the causes of our problems are political - and that they therefore require a political response, maximising political pressure through the coordination of action.

Workers in Bromley (where the employer took advantage of Regionally self-inflicted injuries of ‎the UNISON branch to break away from national conditions of service) also face an attack on trade union time off which poses a near existential threat to branch organisation.

UNISON's Greater London Region needs to develop an imaginative, inclusive strategy to fight these threats on both our northern and southern flanks - and I look forward to blogging about that strategy.

In the mean time solidarity to both Barnet and Bromley!

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A whole Conference just for Rules?

Diligent readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Blogger) will know that its author has an almost unhealthy interest in the UNISON Rule Book.
I have therefore read with interest the post at the link above, from the blog of a UNITE activist, concerning the first day of their Rules Conference.

It appears that lay activists have resisted some fairly dodgy manoeuvres, but have lost the argument for election of officials. 

At the same time, UNITE's support for Jeremy Corbyn, the socialist candidate‎ for Labour Leader has coincided with a successful defence of UNITE's Labour Party affiliation.

As much as a special Rules Conference sounds like a personal paradise, I think I prefer the annual opportunity to amend our Rule Book which we have in UNISON.

Indeed, I prefer an Annual Conference all round - and I continue to wonder why the lay leadership of PCS would sooner be subsumed in a trade union where branches can change Union policy only every two years and rules only every four years.

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ACAS Early Conciliation and Trade Union Organising

Above is a link to the page on the website of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) where research papers are published. The most recent reviews the first year of (compulsory) "early conciliation" (the new arrangement whereby you can't lodge a tribunal complaint without first initiating a formal ACAS conciliation process.
This review is based upon large scale telephone interviewing of workers and employers using the early conciliation process. I am most interested in what their data can tell us about how trade unions are making use of early conciliation for our members - since, although the process was obviously introduced to put another obstacle in the way of tribunal claimants (and recent case law has shown that the slightest technical error can rule out a subsequent claim), the ability to "go to ACAS" about an issue is obviously something that a decent negotiator could use to some good effect.

‎In all, only 24% of claimants using early conciliation had a representative. This is worrying if it means that three quarters of workers were representing themselves (since someone who represents themselves is represented by a fool) - but that proportion is not so far away from aggregate trade union density in the economy as a whole as to be surprising. (Only 36% of the employers interviewed for this survey reported trade unions as present in their workplace).

Just under half of worker representatives were lawyers, and about a quarter were union officials. However, since (in UNISON at least) we would use a lawyer to deal with such matters, it is likely that a significant proportion of the legal representatives were there as a result of trade union presence.

Around 30% of claimants settled their claim through early conciliation, nine times out of ten for cash (with a median sum of just £1,300). ‎ Fewer than half of claimants (but almost two thirds of employers) were satisfied with the outcome of early conciliation.

A little over half of the claimants who had not arrived at a settlement had submitted, or were planning to submit, a tribunal claim. The largest single reason for not doing so in these circumstances (cited by over a quarter) was the discouraging effect of tribunal fees. Interestingly, three in five of those who were not planning a tribunal claim having failed to achieve a settlement said that ACAS was itself some part of their reason for not doing so.

It is impossible to know whether these 60% were benefiting from honest, unbiased ‎comments on a hopeless case, had gained greater understanding through the process of early conciliation or were consciously being put off - certainly, since one of the key concerns of the ACAS research is (understandably) whether early conciliation is reducing tribunal claims, and since the whole point of the process was to keep workers away from tribunals, it is not surprising to hear that the process is obviously achieving this objective.

What should trade unionists take from this data?

Well, first that we ourselves should be researching the work which we are obviously doing in early conciliation in order to assess its utility for our members and our organising effort.

Individual representation at a tribunal, which is the very essence of a "servicing" approach to trade unionism can show us, as a movement, at our most reactive.

We have reacted to the actions of the legislature over the years, whether that was creating the tribunals, extending their jurisdiction, introducing fees or introducing early conciliation. We have also reacted to soaring professional indemnity premiums by preventing lay (and full-time) officials undertaking tribunal representation, and only taking cases which are likely to win.

It may be time to step back and take a look at what is left of the system for enabling workers to enforce our employment rights, and to consider how to use this to advance union organising. This would require a radical reappraisal of how we currently operate and is therefore unlikely pending a change in leadership. It is, however, necessary.

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Monday, July 06, 2015

Unite backs Corbyn - what about UNISON?

The Executive Council of our sister Union, UNITE, has shown the elementary consistency of backing, in the election for Labour Leader, the candidate who most supports the policies of that trade union - Jeremy Corbyn. (How this impacts upon debates at UNITE's Rules Conference about backing non-Labour candidates in elections I will be interested to learn.)

The challenge before UNISON's National Labour Link Committee on 29 July (the half of whom nominated by the National Executive‎ will not be in place until a decision of the NEC on that same day) is whether they can show the same loyalty to the values and policies of UNISON.

These trade union nominations (like the "supporting nominations" from Constituency Labour Parties) carry no weight as votes, all of which are cast individually between members (including affiliated members opting in), "supporters" and the Party. This individuation of the relationship between affiliated members and the Party is part of the toxic "Collins" legacy of Ed Miliband, bequeathed to us by those who negotiated on behalf of the unions.

Nevertheless, UNITE's formal backing for Jeremy Corbyn's campaign, following on from those of ASLEF, BFAWU and other unions, signifies both the seriousness of the campaign and the recognition (long overdue in some quarters)‎ that our trade unions need to put such political clout as we have behind the policies we agree.

UNISON members can lobby their Regionally elected members of the National Labour Link Committee and - since the NEC has yet to elect it's representatives - should also lobby any and all NEC members to support Jeremy Corbyn. Every vote cast for Jeremy Corbyn, and ever effort to maximise his vote, helps to bring hope back to our movement (when we had almost forgotten it).

Congratulations to the UNITE EC for their backing of Jeremy Corbyn!

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Saturday, July 04, 2015

Confusion over pay...

This story - from our national website - reports the decision of the Higher Education Service Group Executive (SGE) to accept the employers' pay offer, following a consultation exercise in which 72% of members participating supported this course of action.

That the web story (at least as at 9am Saturday morning) didn't report what the pay offer was (‎1%) may just be a slip up - but it is perhaps indicative of the confusion and uncertainty around pay which dominates the UNISON Centre.

The 1% pay offer won't be implemented until the conclusion of a disputes procedure likely to be initiated by UCU and UNITE (the unions rejecting 1%), at which UNISON and GMB (having accepted 1%) will be present as observers.

Whilst our members in Higher Education are deciding to accept 1%, we are consulting our members in Further Education on the (non) offer (of 0%) - and activists in branches need to take the lead in recommending rejection if we are to move our Union in the direction of defending our living standards.

At the same time, our members in Probation - having suspended strike action for further talks are being called upon to take two hours of token strike action on ‎14 July (to protect the lawfulness of their ballot mandate) as UNISON continues to oppose what is - in essence - a 0% "offer" with small one off cash payments for those who won't benefit from incremental progression.

The obvious timidity of the national Union in relation to pay reflects the genuine uncertainty of the membership and the uneven pattern of our consciousness and combativity. This mixed picture is hardly exclusive to UNISON - UCU's rejection of 1% in Higher Education is based upon a 53% vote in a ‎consultative ballot with a 32% turnout (and in which 53% indicated that they were unwilling to take strike action).

It would be absurd to complain that a reluctant leadership are restraining the natural militancy of an angry membership - that isn't what's going on.

The failure of leadership in UNISON (and much of the wider movement) is deeper and more serious than that.

Confronted by an uncertain and timid membership, we appear content to reflect this spirit in the leadership we offer at a national level.

What is needed is a determined approach to outlining a plausible strategy to raise our pay - and a genuine campaign to win the support of our members for this strategy.

The likelihood that UNISON will do this now is, I fear, fairly slender - activists need to do all we can to keep pushing in this direction however we can.

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