Postal worker asks 'Should we fund the privatisers?'
At a meeting of my CWU branch last week I put a motion to back the conference organised by the Socialist Alliance debating the political fund. The government's announcement of its steps to privatise the Post Office just added fuel to the fire. Why are we giving our money to New Labour when it is getting rid of thousands of jobs and wrecking the service? Our union gave over £1.5 million to Labour last year.
Many people didn't realise it was that much money. It really wound them up. It gives the union leadership serious problems in terms of mounting a campaign against the government's privatisation.
During the London Assembly elections two years ago our branch voted to give money to candidates we felt were more in tune with our union's policies. We made donations to Ken Livingstone and the Socialist Alliance.
The union leadership then froze our branch's funds, and it was even raised at our union's national conference. The conference rejected the union leadership's stand in freezing our branch funds. Our outgoing general secretary, Derek Hodgson, made an £800,000 donation to the Labour Party. Our union is half a million in the red.
Recently a letter has gone out from the union's acting political officer, Ian Wingfield, urging branches to affiliate to constituency Labour parties. But what is New Labour doing for us in return for the cash? I said at the union meeting that the Socialist Alliance's conference is about opening up the debate on where our money should go.
I explained that other CWU branches had already voted to send delegates. We voted to attend the conference and send six delegates to hear the case for the different positions.
MARK DOLAN, postal worker, North London
Beirut march for 'food, education and freedom!'
'NO TO a budget that makes people hungry!' chanted over 2,000 students as they swamped the heart of Beirut's commercial district in one of the biggest protests in years. Banging pots and pans in Argentinian style, the students' protest spilled over from Parliament Square into Beirut's newly reconstructed swanky business district.
They eventually clashed with riot police armed with batons and water cannon. 'Food, education and freedom!' the students chanted as Lebanon's parliament approved the 2002 budget. This included a new 10 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) which targets basic necessities, and cuts in the state-funded Lebanese University.
Ali, one of the organisers of the demonstration and a member of the radical Communist Students group, said, 'We decided that we needed to put aside all divisive issues [between Christians and Muslims] to fight the VAT and the budget.' The current government has been trying to reverse Lebanon's economic woes through increased privatisation.
This has resulted in mass layoffs from the national carrier, Middle East Airlines, the national power company, EDL, and the Beirut port. Alia, a 21 year old student at the Beirut Arab University, said, 'We need to have more protests, and they need to be bigger.'
SW READER, Beirut
Biting in Big Apple
'DEMONSTRATE IF you dare' was the message sent out to our movement when the World Economic Forum met in New York two weeks ago. The build-up to the protests was all too familiar. There was media hysteria about violence and a promised police crackdown.
Activists asked how many would defy the New York police and jingoism in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks and the war in Afghanistan. The Globalise Resistance delegation were staying with 30 students from Syracuse University.
They and other activists talked about how maybe 5,000 or 6,000 people would attend the main march. 'Ten thousand and we'll be dancing,' one organiser said. When we arrived at the main assembly point it was certain all expectations had been outstripped.
The protest was young, with a swathe of home-made banners and puppets, inventive slogans, and lots of jokes about George Bush choking on a pretzel.
The police presence was extraordinary. A few young people wearing masks were arrested near the beginning of the march. But it soon became clear that the police were not going to charge into the demo and risk a full-blown riot.
Shops along the route remained open. One coffee shop had a line of shoppers sitting in the window holding up the march posters: 'Bad capitalist. No Martini. WEF go home.' Discussions I had on the demo constantly reflected people's delight with the turnout that was, I think, around 25,000. The anti-capitalist movement is back on track. We will not be silenced by jingoism.
GUY TAYLOR, Globalise Resistance
Right on Iris?
Your reviewer of the film Iris (Socialist Worker, 2 February) calls Iris Murdoch one of the leading philosophers of her generation. Having just read her biography I would have to add, yes, and deeply reactionary. I am an admirer of Murdoch's books. But like many reformists of that period she was a member of the Communist Party from the safety of her comfortable and insular Oxbridge background.
She later came to believe that the Labour Party had been taken over by left wing extremism. Iris approved of the Falklands War, and said of the miners during the 1981 strike, 'They should be put up against the wall and shot.'
On Ireland, she defended the Unionist Ian Paisley, saying: 'That he is emotional and angry is not surprising, after 12 to 15 years of murderous IRA activity.'
MARY BRODBIN, London
Guilty of solidarity
I WAS found guilty last month by a district judge at Brighton magistrates' court for failing to remove a Palestinian scarf when asked to by a police officer. This was during the peaceful protest outside New Labour's conference in September last year. The two arresting officers gave contradictory evidence, and another police sergeant's written statement was disallowed because it was written three and a half months after the arrest. Yet the judge ignored this and fined me £100 with £250 costs.
I and my three witnesses wished to demonstrate our solidarity with the Palestinians, and all wore the Palestinan scarf, or kaffiyeh, in the courtroom. I'm sure this helped the judge reach the conclusion that I was of 'questionable character'. This I take as a compliment. She further commented that I should get a job to pay my fine-a little more difficult now that I have a criminal record! If anything, this trial has made me more determined to make my voice heard on the streets.
GARY DUKE, student, Salford University
In the week in which Ofsted congratulated itself on 'higher standards' of teaching, hundreds of parents in Lambeth prepared their ten year olds for inevitable rejection letters from oversubscribed secondary schools in the borough. There are not enough comprehensive school places. The Tories gave schools autonomy to increase selection. To their shame, New Labour have extended these policies.
There is now more selection in Lambeth than at any time since the scrapping of the 11-plus in the 1960s. Last September the authority had to set up a temporary school for the rejects of selection. Some 45 children still remain in limbo with no permanent place. Parents have been campaigning for a new co-educational secular comprehensive school. But the only thing on offer is a City Academy run by a Christian organisation.
JAN NIELSEN, London
NEW LABOUR'S support for US treatment of its prisoners in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is absolutely predictable. It is difficult to imagine any action by Bush and Co that Blair would not support.
What it exposes, of course, is any pretence that this is a war for civilisation and against barbarism. On past experience we can be completely confident that far worse is going on than has so far come to light. We must be uncompromising in our opposition to America's wars.
JOHN NEWSINGER, Leicester
I read your review of Bread and Roses (Socialist Worker, 2 February) which only gained a video release in the US. But will the 1975 film Days of Hope by Ken Loach and Tony Garnett ever be released on video by the BBC?
Not likely, since it revealed a Labour Party which drew up plans the Tories used in the 1926 General Strike. If anyone has access to a video copy of Days of Hope please contact me.
TONY WILLIAMS, professor/area head of film studies, Southern Illinois University, US
I AM delighted that Socialist Worker will now be available from newsagents. This will give people the opportunity to see a different side of politics instead of the right wing, business friendly, imperialist political parties that seem to get the most airplay. Perhaps this will see a change for the better!