Diane Abbott MP has tabled an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to extend the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. This long-overdue attempt to give equal rights to women in the North almost didn’t happen, despite it being Labour Party policy to support extension.
It almost didn’t happen because Gordon Brown had promised Ian Paisley’s fundamentalist Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that, in return for its nine MPs voting for 42 day detention for “terrorist” suspects, the Abortion Act would not be extended to the North.
An amendment to do this was to have been tabled on 8 July. But Gordon Brown browbeat the MP who was to move it into backing down.
Brown’s main argument was that if the amendment were pressed, Northern Ireland’s parties would never believe a government assurance again. So, the bodies and lives of women in Northern Ireland were ransomed to keep the nine DUP MPs onside.
The DUP is led by Peter Robinson, a creationist who is married to fellow MP Iris Robinson. She recently told a BBC radio programme that it is the duty of government “to implement God’s law”.
That comment came some days after she told the same show that homosexuality is “an abomination”.
Now the amendment is tabled, the mantra from New Labour and its fundamentalist allies in the DUP is that there is no support in Northern Ireland for abortion rights and that extension would mean Westminster “imposing” abortion on the North. This is nonsense.
All the North’s main unions, including Unison, Unite and NIPSA, and most of the smaller ones, support an extension of the Act.
Since the passing of the Abortion Act in 1967, tens of thousands of women from Northern Ireland had to travel to England and pay for a procedure that is free on the NHS in the rest of the UK.
However, thousands of others are forced to continue pregnancies they find intolerable. This includes women pregnant as a result of rape and sexual abuse.
We now have an opportunity to end this unjust situation and ensure that working class women have the same rights as better-off women. But that means taking on the power of the Catholic and evangelical churches who see the North as the last bastion of sexual repression and the denial of abortion rights.
Trade unionists in Britain can help. Rush a motion through your union branch calling for active support for the campaign to extend the Act. We need money to produce leaflets, posters and other campaigning materials, and the unions can help with this.
We need trade unionists and others to lobby Labour MPs and let them know the level of support there is in Northern Ireland for the extension of the Act.
Goretti Horgan, Alliance for Choice, Northern Ireland
Simon Basketter’s article about the jailing of five Muslim men for the “fertiliser plot” (» A ‘fertiliser bomb’, secret services and fertile imaginations?, 2 August) reminded me of the similar treatment the Irish community faced in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s.
Racism against the Irish had been long ingrained. When I came to London in the early 1960s there were still “No Irish, no blacks, no dogs” signs up on the rooms to let.
No black people could go to the Hammersmith Palais, and if Irish people went, no one would dance with them. The police were very racist towards us. Young Irish boys were regularly stopped and searched.
The stereotype that all Irish people were terrorists developed with the IRA’s bombing campaign against the British occupation of Northern Ireland. The same stereotype is being forced upon Muslims today.
We had to stand together to combat the attacks on us. The Irish community and the trade unions were quite well linked.
Whenever somebody was lifted by the authorities we would have an immediate picket of the local police station.
The campaigning had an effect in breaking the stereotypes and changing the atmosphere. There is very little scapegoating of Irish people taking place today.
We must defend our Muslim brothers and sisters. The trade union movement has an essential role to play in this.
The unions need to defend Muslims politically and economically, and fight for their right to stay here, as we should do with all migrant workers.
Pat Boyle, West London
The People Before Profit Charter can be a rallying point for the resistance that is taking place across the world.
I am looking at our power in the past. This includes the peasants’ revolt, William Wallace, the Spithead Mutiny, the Chartists and the Tolpuddle Martyrs.
There are still tens of millions of hands and brains to mobilise.
Dave Davis, Beckenham, Kent
The significance of New Labour’s catastrophic defeat in the Glasgow East by-election (» Labour’s Glasgow East defeat is down to policies, 2 August) should not be underestimated.
On a British level, it is the strongest indication thus far of the meltdown of Labour’s working class base. Here in Scotland it has other political ramifications.
The Scottish National Party (SNP), which won Glasgow East, has now proved that it can defeat Labour at the polls (as it did in last year’s Scottish parliamentary election) and overturn a huge Labour majority in a solid, working class seat.
This raises the prospect of a Conservative government at Westminster in 2010 coinciding with a referendum on independence for Scotland.
Currently, polls suggest that only around one third of Scottish voters want independence.
However, the combination of disillusionment with New Labour among working class voters in Scotland and anti-Tory sentiment among the same people could change that.
There is no surge in nationalist sentiment but the SNP, and, potentially, the pro-independence position, are benefitting from disillusionment with Gordon Brown and New Labour.
Socialists in Scotland must prepare for the distinct possibility of a huge change in the terms of debate around Scottish independence.
Mark Brown, Glasgow
The proposals by work and pensions secretary James Purnell to force unemployed people back into work have totally dispelled any remaining illusion or hope I harboured about this government.
It is very depressing news. I have ME – a form of chronic fatigue syndrome. I’m a qualified graduate teacher but even before I had ME I found it impossible to get a permanent job commensurate with my qualifications, apparently because of my age.
At one point I did market research for a crisps manufacturer during the day and cleaned in a supermarket in the evening in an effort to support my family.
I longed to teach and make a contribution by sharing my passion for literature.
The hoops the state makes sick and disabled people negotiate are inexcusable.
Now that I’m a pensioner I am subject to less bureaucracy in the form of Department for Work and Pensions’ doctors.
But with no occupational pension I’m dreading the winter because I feel the cold easily and I’ll be faced with a 20 percent rise in heating costs.
Can we have more articles such as Alex Callinicos’s (» Triple trouble at bursting bubble, 26 July) explaining the instabilities of capitalist markets?
Forty years ago, Stafford Beer, the president of the British Operational Research Society, expressed frustration that techniques of systems engineering were never applied to the economy.
Systems engineers were employed in aerospace, chemical engineering and other industries. Their mission was to control instability.
Beer worked as an economic planner for Salvador Allende’s democratic socialist government in Chile. His experiments were brutally curtailed by General Pinochet’s 1973 military coup.
He would have been devastated to find out that unstable markets still dominate our lives.
Gordon Blair, South London
Sasha Simic described Adam West as the “safe” Batman (» Taking the Dark Knight back into the shadows, 2 August).
During the technicians’ strike of 1987-88 at TV-AM, the schedules were filled with endless repeats of cheap shows including “Batman”.
Adam West, visiting Britain at the time, explained his refusal to appear on a breakfast-time chat show by declaring to a bemused presenter, “Batman does not cross picket lines!”
Alec Armstrong, Leeds
Barack Obama’s slogan “Change we can believe in” is weak, passive, pleading and supplicatory.
US voters need a series of active demands, such as the early working class had in Britain in the 1830s and the 1840s.
The Levellers had similar demands 351 years ago when their leaders were cringing before entrenched privilege and the army wanted pay and rights:
“None can decieve you, but whom you trust upon doubtful terms.”
Nigel Coward, West London
It is now official – Margaret Thatcher’s government was soft on dole scroungers, at least, according to New Labour.
James Purnell, work and pensions secretary, has said that unemployment only reached the levels it did in the 1980s because Thatcher did not have a benefits regime that imposed “responsibilities” on the unemployed.
Purnell is one of the new breed of smug, cocky, ultra-Thatcherites running New Labour.
According to Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee, he is New Labour’s “sin-eater”, taking responsibility for policies too right wing for others to stomach.
He has certainly been eating something, but it isn’t sin.
John Newsinger, Leicester
Neil Faulkner’s article on the limits of the Roman Empire (» Hadrian and the limits of empire, 2 August) was excellent.
But I want to question his use of the word “racism” to describe the Romans’ attitude to other people.
For me, racism denotes the modern form of capitalist oppression where the ruling class and its institutions create division and rule over the rest of us based on “race” – an artificial construct used initially to justify the slavery of African peoples.
Neil goes on to talk about how the Roman ruling class “counterposed ‘Romans’ and ‘barbarians’” to justify their rule.
There is an important distinction to make here because if racism has been with us since Roman times, then racists might feel more confident to argue that racism is an inherent part of our nature.
Andy Ridley, East London