Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2048

Black Londoners protested against exclusions in April 2005 (Pic: Jess Hurd/

Black Londoners protested against exclusions in April 2005 (Pic: Jess Hurd/

Time to end exclusions

Your feature on how young people are being demonised over knife crime (Racism has destroyed my boys’ hope, 21 April) highlighted how school exclusions play a significant role in forcing young people out onto the streets.

Last week we heard the news that exclusions are now affecting even the youngest school children. One child under the age of six is expelled from school every week, according to official government figures.

These statistics are alarming, but they should come as no surprise. Children are now being tested from the age of three. They might well become more disruptive if they feel they are being judged and failed at such an early age.

The regime of testing in schools changes the relationship between teachers and children. The children become “outputs”, targets that teachers must reach. Performance related pay adds to the pressure on teachers to simply push children through hoops.

Formal education is starting younger and younger, and there’s a concerted drive from the government to get children to read and write at ever younger ages. This cuts into time when children should be learning to play and communicate with each other.

Meanwhile the world outside the school gates is getting harder for many children. Parents are working longer hours and are more stressed out. That can often lead to their children becoming more alienated and angry.

School exclusions are not the answer to this, and certainly not the answer for five year olds. We need to fight for a different vision of education that makes it something that helps children to cope with the world.

Sara Tomlinson, joint secretary, Lambeth NUT (pc), South London

Some 500 people joined a peace march on Monday of last week following the tragic killing of 14 year old Paul Erhahon in Leytonstone, east London.

There has been widespread anger in the black community with Tony Blair for saying that knife crime is somehow only a black problem.

The highest incidence of knife attacks occurs in Glasgow, which has a small black population.

This is a shameless attempt by Blair to shirk responsibility for the real causes of anger and alienation that many young people feel.

Paul lived in one of the most deprived areas of London, where one in four people live in overcrowded housing.

The local council has closed nearly every leisure facility open to young people. Youth unemployment is very high.

A campaign for more facilities for young people in Waltham Forest is being launched and the local Respect group will be playing a central part in that campaign.

Michael O’Grady, Waltham Forest Respect, East London

In defence of Mugabe

Western leaders such as George Bush and John Howard are ganging up on Zimbabwe, making shrill demands for more “democracy” in the country.

The leaders of these demands are racist hypocrites. During the 500 year rape and pillage of Africa, no colonial power prepared native populations for “democracy”, nor were there any Western demands for natives to get the vote during this period.

In fact the reverse was the rule. Western governments supported minority white “settlers” against the black native majority and still do with regards to Zimbabwe.

The great guerilla fighter and liberator Robert Mugabe was demonised by Western critics as a “terrorist”. He restored Zimbabwe’s liberty and independence with the barrel of a gun, not the vote.

Mugabe then provided critical support for liberation movements throughout the southern African region. Mugabe still commands immense prestige and support among the black diaspora.

Western demands for “democracy” in Zimbabwe are desperate and malicious attempts to destabilise the country by using opposition provocateurs as fodder. The real goal is regime change – the US wants a “moderate”, docile puppet government in Zimbabwe.

Van F, Geneva, Switzerland

Building for May Day

We’ve been busy building for May Day in Hackney, east London. Three of us managed to tour a dozen or so workplaces in just two and a half hours one day last week.

We now have contact details for a number of workers and trade union reps in the area. They were very pleased to see us and hear about May Day and Organising For Fighting Unions.

Our next move will be to involve more activists in this work and draw up a list of local union contacts, to help us strengthen trade union networks.

Despina Karayianni, East London

Caveats and questions on the theory of value

Joseph Choonara should be congratulated for his accessible columns explaining Karl Marx’s critique of economics. But I have a caveat on the question of value (Socialist Worker, 14 April).

We must be careful not to naturalise value by conflating it with labour time. In all societies, according to Marx, the length of time it takes to make “use values” must be a factor of consideration in their production, use and exchange.

But it is only under capitalism that labour time becomes a yardstick independent of collective democratic control and a means to measure commodities as a homogenous substance (value), irrespective of need.

Labour time, as one of many considerations, will survive the destruction of capitalism. But value – as both undemocratic measure of labour and indifference to its concrete human qualities – must follow capitalism into the dustbin of history.

Mike Wayne, South East London

The explanation of living and dead labour left me wondering about where animals fit in. Animals are, of course, “living” in the ordinary sense, but are they “dead” in Marxist economic terms?

Animals can surely produce more value than the equivalent needed to feed and shelter them. So are they are a source of surplus value?

Sabiha Ghani, Manchester

Doctors who call for privatisation

A group of doctors released a report on Monday this week that makes grim reading for those who value a free NHS.

It highlighted how patients are increasingly paying extra to the private sector to “upgrade” their treatment.

They say Britain now has a “two-tier health system”, where the rich can access a range of treatments that most of us cannot afford. And they predict that this trend will continue.

But the report’s authors draw the wrong conclusions from this state of affairs. They say the government should “face up” to the fact that more patients are going private by jettisoning the whole principle of an NHS that is free at the point of delivery.

The fact that the Doctors For Reform report advocates more privatisation should not be a surprise. Doctors For Reform is linked to a right wing think-tank called Reform that pushes a neoliberal agenda in the public services.

Reform claims to be independent of any political party, but its senior staff and advisory board are dominated by Thatcherites.

This shows how New Labour’s “reforms” have opened the door for Tories to attack the very foundations of the NHS.

Steve Clark, Edinburgh

Breaking the colour bar

Major league baseball is the US has just held a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the breaking of the “colour bar” in the sport.

In April 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first African American to break out of the “Negro Leagues”, to which black players had been restricted, and play for a major league team.

Now all the dignitaries of a still racist society are jostling to be seen to celebrate Robinson’s achievement.

They emphasise how Robinson was persuaded never to react to the foul racist abuse he was subjected to when he started playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Unfortunately in his later life Robinson criticised the boxer Muhammad Ali for refusing to fight for the US in Vietnam.

Nevertheless, Robinson was a courageous man who had a positive effect on US society as a whole as well as on sport.

Phil Webster, Whalley, Lancashire

Scraps of the British Empire

Andy Harries (Letters, 14 April) complains that Socialist Worker does not recognise the Falkland Islanders’ right to democratically decide their own future.

The Falklands have around 3,000 inhabitants (plus 1,700 British troops). This is equivalent to a dozen streets in a British town and is far too small for an independent state.

The Falklands are ruled from London by a governor appointed by the queen, who retains executive authority. The elected council has no control over defence and foreign affairs.

The Falkland Islanders could be full citizens of the much nearer Argentina, which has a large community of British origin. They could participate in the progressive struggles in that country.

Sixty years ago Britain had a vast empire based on murder and racism. Happily that is now gone.

Britain has no right to hang on to remaining scraps of that empire – and certainly not to the Falklands, which were stolen by force from Argentina in 1833.

Ian Birchall, North London

War not about ‘democracy’

General Galtieri’s motive in occupying the Falklands was to bolster his declining political popularity.

But his murderous military regime could have fallen several years sooner had he not been encouraged by arms and trade deals from Britain.

Argentine naval officers even had to cut short their training in Portsmouth to rush home for the war. Democracy had nothing to do with it on either side of the Atlantic.

Dermot Smyth, Sheffield

Autism and ostracism

It has transpired that Cho Seung-hui, the gunman behind the Virginia Tech shootings, was diagnosed with autism aged eight and bullied at high school.

Autistic people, like all disabled people, suffer systematic discrimination in society, and autistic children are frequently ostracised by their peers. I wonder if this was one factor that led to Cho’s actions.

Roderick Cobley, East London

Solidarity on London tube

It was heartening to read of the RMT union members on London Underground who defeated the Metronet consortium (RMT beats back the privateers on London tube, 21 April).

It struck me that the attitude of these private bosses is based on the theories of the 18th century economist Adam Smith, who argued for greater intensification of industry and exploitation of workers through the division of labour.

Today we can see how the industrial and service sectors are held aloft on the backs of the workers and the general public.

I certainly hope the solidarity of the tube workers will be the start of a fightback by the working class against privatisation and PFI.

Raymond Hosan, Manchester

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Tue 24 Apr 2007, 19:09 BST
Issue No. 2048
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