Our struggle continues
Forty seven years ago, on 21 March 1960, South Africa’s police force killed 69 people and injured many peaceful protesters who were struggling against apartheid.
The commemoration of the massacres at Sharpeville and Langa became known as Sharpeville Day. This is now called Human Rights Day – when South Africans are supposed to celebrate human rights achievements.
Continuing in the tradition of the Sharpeville protesters, organisations like Right to Work and other social movement groups are still battling for quality and accessible free basic services such as water sanitation, electricity, housing, education, health and decent jobs for all.
Access to, and full enjoyment of, social and economic rights for South Africa’s poor remains in a crisis situation. The unemployment rate is at 40 percent.
The gap between the highest income earners and the lowest is widening. Women and the poor continue to be the most affected by HIV/Aids.
In 2006 it was estimated that about 5.5 million South Africans are infected with HIV/Aids. The government’s anti-Aids programme covers only 17 percent of those suffering from HIV/Aids.
The housing crisis continues despite the government’s promises of eradicating shacks.
Since 1994, the number of shacks has been growing at an average of 140,000 a year. Even the institutions that serve big business concede that the government’s promises of freeing South Africa from the shackles of shacks by 2014 remains another utopia.
Land distribution remains in the starting blocks. Education for working class and poor students is in tatters.
The ANC-led government should consider the needs of the poor people who still live in a terrible situation. And Human Rights Day should symbolise what happened to those who died in Sharpeville and Langa.
Thabang Maseko, Right to Work organiser, Mdantsane, South Africa
Make Your Vote Count success
The PCS civil service workers’ union in Nottingham held a Make Your Vote Count event on Friday 30 March, as part of the union’s campaign in defence of public services.
We invited candidates and representatives from the parties standing in the upcoming local elections to a hustings.
At the well-attended meeting, PCS members quizzed people from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories on their parties’ attitude to the issues affecting the civil service.
We raised questions over the privatisation of services, the closure of a local civil service office, pay bargaining and the council’s spending on consultants.
Unsurprisingly, none of the representatives of the parties impressed us. They mostly had no idea of the attacks we were facing and seemed unable to respond exactly to the questions.
But we did get some support against closure from the Labour councillor, which will come in useful in the future.
The event helped PCS members understand the parties’ positions. I would encourage PCS branches to hold similar meetings, also inviting Respect or Solidarity candidates to provide an alternative to the mainstream parties.
It also helped us keep up the momentum of our campaign against job cuts, which will see another major strike on May Day.
Matt Burrows, Nottingham
Governments, United Nations institutions and many powerful NGOs support a massive expansion of agrofuels, which can be used as fuel for cars, allegedly to reduce climate change emissions.
It is hard to see how agrofuels can possibly mitigate climate change. Deforestation and intensive agriculture already account for around one third of greenhouse gas emissions.
Monoculture expansion is the main cause of rainforest destruction. It requires vast amounts of fertilisers which boost emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas which is about 300 times as powerful as carbon dioxide.
The oil industry and large agri-businesses are clamouring for government subsidies and incentives to create a booming new agrofuel market and to help their takeover of vast tracts of land in the Global South.
While sugar ethanol cuts emissions from fossil fuel burning, it causes far greater emissions through deforestation.
Scientists warn of a risk that deforestation could tip the whole of the Amazon region into runaway die-back. This would release up to 120 billion tonnes of carbon, reduce rainfall over a vast region and would probably push the world into global food shortages.
Far from mitigating climate change, biofuels threaten to push us over the edge even sooner than fossil fuel consumption.
Far from replacing fossil fuels, biofuels are used as an excuse by governments and corporations not to improve fuel efficiency standards.
If we wanted to replace even a fraction of our fossil fuels with biomass, there would be little land left for growing food or for the ecosystems on which all of us depend.
If we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, prevent hundreds of millions of people losing their livelihoods and stop food from becoming unaffordable to poor people then we need to build opposition to the new “biomass economy”.
To find out more go to www.biofuelwatch.org.uk
Almuth Ernsting, Aberdeen
We need a different vision of the family
I certainly recognised a lot of what Michael Rosen wrote about the family (Keeping it in the family, 24 March) from my own experience.
However, I take issue with his suggestions for measures that could help.
I don’t want “help” that consists of taking my kid away from me.
I have bad memories of our family being offered “respite care” from our child, because the pressures of living in a cramped one-bed flat, and dealing with the loss of a job, were becoming too much for us.
It also strikes me as odd that Rosen appears to see the life of the rich as some sort of ideal.
I don’t want to be a relative stranger to my child compared to the nanny.
A couple of aspects missing from Michael Rosen’s analysis were the concept of a nuclear family itself and the pressure to work at the convenience of employers.
The cultural dominance of the nuclear family leaves many families isolated.
I think there needs to be a more inspiring alternative offered, that involves work organised for the convenience of family life.
It will also involve improved housing and the glimpse of a future world when the task of raising children will not be just one for parents and assorted “professionals”, but one for a whole community.
Timothy Hinton, Exeter
The British way of discarding poor
The rise in child poverty under New Labour reported in your article (Surge in poverty, 31 March) is shameful.
I wonder though if Tony Blair’s MPs care that increasing numbers of children are mistreated? They have been silent for many years now.
British history regarding the value of children is not good.
Past governments, church organisations, and charitable bodies have exported children overseas on what was called Britain’s child migration scheme. That was one way of reducing the child poverty figures.
In 1618 the first group of orphaned and destitute children were shipped to Virginia, in America. The last consignment of children left Britain for Australia in 1967, 349 years later.
Forced migration came to an end throughout the British Empire, but the misery of child alienation persists to this day.
Discarding the poor is not only inhumane, it is criminal, and yet it continues to be practiced by Blair’s New Labour government today.
Read the background on this current inhumane treatment of our children, talk to your friends and vote. But be careful who you vote for.
Peter Reardon, Victoria, Canada
Another win from Seattle
Protesters against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Seattle in 1999 have finally settled their case over the way that police brutally treated them.
The 50,000 strong demonstration against the WTO marked the bursting onto the scene of the anti-capitalist movement.
Some 175 protesters settled their claims with the city of Seattle for $1 million last week after police arrested them in Westlake Park during the protests.
Kenneth Hankin, a Boeing engineer and the lead plaintiff, said, “For three days, I lost my right to protest the WTO.”
The protesters’ victory shows the continuing inspiration from the events of Seattle.
Katherine Branney, East London
We must fight for our NHS
I would just like to thank Socialist Worker for its impressive coverage of the problems within our NHS regarding so-called “cut backs”.
I live in Whitehaven, where our general hospital has been threatened with closures, meaning that people will need to make the 50-mile trip to the hospital in Carlisle.
I wrote to Jamie Reed, my local Labour MP, expressing my concerns on the issue and asking what I, a young citizen, could do to get more involved.
After a month and still no reply, I wrote a second letter saying “your swift response is much appreciated – I hope trips to Carlisle in an ambulance are this quick!”
I think the NHS represents the wider struggle for our public services and the fight to protect them from the corporate wolves.
It has become an immensely big issue for me over the last six months. I raise my fist for anyone who fights for our NHS. Health is a public necessity, not a business opportunity!
David McAllister, Whitehaven
Unite send the BNP running
Three members of Whitstable Unite Against Fascism, who were out leafleting last week, were tipped off that the Nazi BNP were also out leafleting.
The BNP is standing a candidate in the Gorrell ward in Whitstable.
The Unite members chased the lone Nazi they came across through the streets of Whitstable until he went into the library shouting that he had had his leaflets stolen.
He asked if he could use the phone to call the police.
When the library staff realised he was a BNP member they refused to help him out.
Unite members spotted him 15 minutes later and once again gave chase. When he realised that they were behind him he ran away!
Whitstable Unite, by email
French train shows the way
The French state railway set a new world speed record on rail last week when a special TGV train reached a top speed of 357 miles per hour.
This was a great day for everyone that cares about our planet because it surely heralds the beginning of the end for short haul flights across Europe.
While no rail company would be able to put on passenger services travelling at such speeds, high speed trains are set to be introduced in many parts of the continent.
A Velaro train will travel between Madrid and Barcelona at maximum speeds of 220 miles an hour – a world record for scheduled passenger service.
It will travel the 390 miles distance between the two cities in two and a half hours, making flights between them obsolete.
Pressure should be put on governments and companies to introduce high speed trains in as many places as possible. This would make life much better for us all and help the environment as well.
Agnes Wilson, York