Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2050

Fighting for disability rights at the beginning of Blair’s reign (Pic: Jess Hurd/ http://www.

Fighting for disability rights at the beginning of Blair’s reign (Pic: Jess Hurd/

Labour policy attacks the weakest in society

I am a disabled woman with osteoarthritis, a form of arthritis that leaves me in pain a lot of the time.

I have been on incapacity benefit for the last year because I am unable to work.

Many people think it is an easy option to get disability benefits.

They’re wrong. It is not in any way an easy option.

It is a struggle to claim these benefits at all.

Despite the fact that some days I cannot move and I am in pain all the time, I had to go to an appeal to win the right to my benefits in the first place.

Now I have received a letter saying I have to go for another medical examination to see if

I am genuinely incapable of work.

I am registered disabled, take incredibly strong medicines for my arthritic complaint and have to use disability aids when I need to get around.

So you can imagine how angry I am at receiving this letter.

No matter how disabled I am, I think this lot are going to try to get me into work that I cannot do. And I cannot really do much.

In Warrington, where I live, the only jobs that are coming are low paid, and will require long periods of standing up (which I cannot do) or are very manual (which also I cannot do).

I know that it is government policy to bully the weakest in society – such as disabled persons, the elderly and single parents – to take these jobs.

At the same time as the government is attacking people on benefits, it is getting harder to get help and welfare advice.

I want someone to come with me to my interview. I am thinking that I will have to go to the Citizens Advice Bureau at five in the morning to start queuing.

Often you can’t get in the door and the queues run down the street.

People seem to think that disabled people should all be like the celebrity athletes and high achievers that you see on TV.

The point about these people is that they are out of the ordinary and often highly trained athletes.

It is not the reality for most people living on benefits with a disability.

I am disgusted with how this New Labour government treat disabled people.

I refuse to be bullied into work that I cannot do.

Susan Moran, Warrington

Marx on animals

Sabiha Ghani asked whether the labour performed by animals was classed as “living” or “dead” labour according to Karl Marx’s definitions (Letters, 28 April).

Marx’s concept of living labour was not a biological one, but one based on certain productive relationships.

The value of commodities comes from a mixture of new “living labour” added by workers and “dead labour” – the earlier labour of workers (who may still be alive!) in the form of raw materials, machinery and so on.

Living labour creates profit because workers perform more labour in a working day than is reflected in their daily wage.

Animals do not sell their labour power to capitalists – the animal becomes, in its entirety, the property of the capitalist.

The economist Adam Smith, who concentrated on concrete labour of specific individuals, did on occasion treat animals in the same way as humans.

He writes in the Wealth of Nations: “No equal capital puts into motion a greater quantity of productive labour than that of the farmer. Not only his labouring servants, but his labouring cattle, are productive labourers.”

But Marx focused on “socially necessary labour time” – the labour time required by humans at a given point in the history of capitalist society to produce a given commodity.

This makes it impossible to equate human and animal labour because of the biological specificity of animals.

In the second volume of Capital Marx explicitly treats draught animals as “fixed capital” – equating them with “implements and machinery”.

For Marx, the amount of value they pass on to the end product reflects the amount of human socially necessary labour required to provide for the rearing, feeding and upkeep of the animals.

This is analogous with the amount of socially necessary labour required to build and maintain a machine.

Incidentally, the department of Revenue and Customs treats animals produced for sale as “circulating capital” and zoo animals as “fixed capital assets”.

Leo Pickard, Brighton

Standing side by side with the Palestinians

The second Palestinian twinning conference took place in Ramallah in the West Bank last month. It attracted 120 delegates and individuals, including 80 Palestinians and 45 from Britain.

There were keynote speeches from the mayor of Ramallah and activists such as Jamal Juma from the Stop the Wall campaign.

There were workshops on issues such as the involvement of political parties and the need to find a twinning partner for Gaza – the Palestinian city facing the greatest deprivation.

Many Palestinian families are facing starvation.

They also face increasing loss of land and livelihood through the continuing encroachments of Israel’s apartheid wall.

In the last three years, twinning has emerged as an important way to build solidarity between activists in Britain and Palestine.

It heightens awareness in Britain of the disastrous economic and human rights situation faced by Palestinians.

This is achieved through friendship links involving exchange visits between British and Palestinian groups – occupational, student or women’s groups.

Secondly, twinning helps to create the feeling among Palestinians that they are not alone.

For more info go to

Sabby Sagall, North London

Making it hard to view the council

I am writing to you to share the utter disgust I feel at the contempt that the majority of elected councillors seem to have for the public that elected them.

In Newham, east London, there is a new ticketing system to get into the public gallery of the council town hall in order to observe meetings of the council.

This new system treats the observers as though they are ruthless criminals who need tags to be kept on them.

I, for one, certainly do not want my name and address to be held by the mayor or by the council – and nor do any of the other members of the public that I have spoken to.

If these changes were for real safety reasons, they would not have a system that is so flawed.

It’s time the council and “his worship” the mayor of Newham Robin Wales started treating the residents of Newham as citizens and not as animals.

It is our democratic right to attend council meetings and observe the workings of our local council.

We shouldn’t be made to jump through these hoops.

Whatever can we expect next?

Newham resident, by email

Union stands up to BNP

I would like to let readers of Socialist Worker know about the recent Bectu media and entertainment workers’ union conference.

Conference voted to ban members of the fascist British National Party (BNP) – or any other racist or fascist organisation – from membership of the union.

This is in light of the case of Simone Clarke, the BNP ballerina, who is a member of our sister union Equity.

Other interesting debates at the conference included a proposal to disaffiliate from the Labour Party on financial grounds, which was defeated.

This was as well as motions calling for a universal declaration of workers’ rights and increased awareness of environmental issues, which were both carried by a large majority.

Bectu member, by email

A promising future?

it emerged last week that government policy to tackle climate change has its sums wrong.

It is widely accepted that any increase in global temperatures have to kept below 2 degrees Celsius.

Indeed the aim of preventing more than 2 degrees of warming has been adopted overtly by the United Nations and the European Union – and implicitly by the British, German and Swedish governments.

They all say they want to confine the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to a level that would prevent such a rise.

But they know they have set the wrong targets to achieve this. In fact the targets that have been set pretty much guarantee a rise above 2 degrees.

The gap between rhetoric and reality grows ever wider – we must build a movement to close it.

Laura Fletcher, Luton

Green policy hypocrisy

The government’s environment department has asked me to use energy saving lightbulbs to help save the planet.

At the same time the government owned Royal Mail is telling me I will have to drive my car an extra 27,000 miles a year when my mail centre closes and moves to Swindon.

I would have to own Blackpool illuminations to neutralise my carbon footprint!

Shaun Shute, Postal worker, Gloucester

Pensioners in poverty

I found your article by Austin Mitchell and Prem Sikka on pensions and poverty very interesting (Austin Mitchell and Prem Sikka on pensions and poverty, 16 December).

I was told by Labour canvassers who came to my door recently that pensioners have never had it so good – with our free bus passes and winter grant for electricity.

I commented that other European countries do so much better.

I am glad your article confirmed this.

It is shocking that Britain comes almost bottom, 26 out 30 in the league table of pension provision in the richest countries.

Valerie Carter, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire

Chilean apples help the poor

James Miller (Letters, 5 May) complains about apples travelling all the way from Chile to Britain.

He points to the environmental costs of transporting the apples to our supermarkets.

Yet would we really want to stop other countries selling us produce?

Chile is not the richest nation on earth and needs to export goods. This applies even more to poorer developing countries.

If we buy their produce it will help them reduce poverty. We shouldn’t keep their products out.

Yes, global warming matters. The way to tackle it is better regulation to reduce carbon pollution, as well as new, cleaner technology.

Graeme Kemp, Shropshire

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Article information

Tue 8 May 2007, 18:20 BST
Issue No. 2050
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