Wrong strategy to take on PFI
Health Secretary Alan Milburn's announcement that private company BUPA is to be given a key role in the NHS has shocked many health workers. It was also cynically timed to overshadow the TUC's Positively Public rally against privatisation in central London on the same day.
The fact that the contract was due to be signed later in the week should be a wake-up call to our union leaders that New Labour's drive for privatisation will not be stopped by rallies and balloon releases.
Public services union UNISON says that 83 percent of the public oppose privatisation. That opposition means nothing unless we have a strategy to defend our services.
The magnificent ten-month Dudley strike showed the way to fight PFI privatisation. But UNISON has recently agreed to a shoddy compromise over three PFI schemes. The deal gives protection to 85 percent of staff but leaves the other 15 percent to the mercies of privatisation.
That's why the Northern Region Health Council of UNISON voted unanimously to condemn the deal. UNISON opposes PFI 100 percent in principle, not 85 percent. A coordinated strategy of industrial action at all PFI hospitals could kill Milburn's privatisation dreams stone dead. This isn't pie in the sky-it's UNISON policy. It's time we put it into action.
YUNUS BAKHSH, UNISON Health Service Group Executive and NEC (personal capacity)
Enron could do with 'structural adjustment' now
What's the difference between Enron, the failed energy multinational, and the West African state of Mali? Mali owes various bankers $3 billion. Enron owes at least three times that much. As a result of its debt Mali's people have suffered nearly a decade of brutal 'structural adjustment'. Their health service has been cut to ribbons, their schools have started levying charges or closed, and many of their kids have died from malnutrition and disease.
Enron bosses and shareholders may lose their money (although I wouldn't bet on it). But the vast majority of them will still have plenty of other investments to cushion their luxurious lives.
They will not suffer an 'austerity programme' to bleed them dry until every cent of every debt is repaid. They will certainly not see their children suffer or die as a result of debt repayment.
I would like to see Mali's debts cancelled, and a good dose of structural adjustment for the bosses and big shareholders of companies like Enron.
JANE LINTON, South London
Oscar Olivera's sister speaks out
Oscar Olivera, spokesperson for the Coalition in Defence of Water and Life, and executive secretary of the Federation of Workers in Cochabamba, Bolivia, was arrested on 27 November.
He was charged with 'sedition, conspiracy, instigating public disorder and criminal association'. He was released on the same day pending a trial. Similar warrants are out for the arrest of two other Coordinadora spokespeople, Omar Fernandez and Samuel Soria.
The charges are related to the successful campaign against privatisation of water and supporting protests by local coca growers. For the government, fighting for our rights is 'sedition'. Denouncing the unjust distribution of land and the killing of farmers who are fighting that system is 'sedition'. If sedition is a fight for a country with dignity, we will continue to be seditious.
Already the government has started to retreat over the charges because of the outcry against them. This included hundreds of fax messages from supporters across the world.
MARCELA OLIVERA, Cochabamba, Bolivia
Why we want bigger SWP
Sean Thompson (Letters, 1 December) says that Paul Foot underplays the role of organisations like the Socialist Alliance and greatly overplays the importance of parties such as the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).
I think Paul was right to challenge non-aligned socialists to look at how much more effective they, and the left as a whole, would be if they joined the SWP. I nursed criticisms of the SWP for 11 years to justify my 'independence'. Sean is right that SWP members need to show respect when they are working with other socialists. But he is wrong to say the SWP is a 'sect'.
The involvement of the SWP in movements like that against the war, the Defend Council Housing campaign, the Anti Nazi League and others shows that the party can take initiatives and work with other people. But the SWP is not just about working in campaigns.
It is also about trying to create an organisation which brings together agitation against the Nazis, against war, against poverty and many other issues into a generalised opposition to the way society is run at the moment, and to fight for an alternative.
ALAN WALTER, North London
Racism: is it on the rise?
I bought your paper for the first time in a newsagent in north London recently. I think it is brilliant! I had never realised you could get a paper which brings together news and socialist analysis in this way. I was really moved by the middle pages on AIDS and Africa.
Isn't it incredible that we live in a world where thousands of people are just abandoned to die and nobody does anything about it? It wouldn't be like this, of course, if they were Americans or white people in general for that matter.
I read the Observer recently and I am quite depressed by some of its findings about how racist people are. Is racism better or worse than in the past? Is the Labour Party any better than the Tories on this issue, not in words but in practice?
MARTIN BOYD, North London
Good result of alliance meeting
I am an independent member of the Socialist Alliance who attended the constitutional conference recently. The conference was never going to be easy, considering the broad church that the alliance has become, but it was still a great achievement for all who genuinely wish to work together to provide a socialist alternative for the British public.
The day was living proof that working class democracy is alive and well, and that there are thousands out there who do believe another world is possible. It was a great shame that the Socialist Party felt unable to continue as an affiliate. I hope that time will prove to them that not only do we have a fair and open structure, but that the future of left wing politics in this country cannot survive if it is divided.
I didn't agree with some aspects of the constitution, but it was democratically decided, and I for one will continue to play a full role in the alliance. It is campaigns such as these that are vital to the alliance's future, and I would encourage all socialists in Britain to join and help build the Socialist Alliance in order to establish a better society.
NICK CHILDS, South London
Don't send us to Milton Keynes!
At Wimbledon football club there is a struggle going on which has much in common with values which are held dear by many socialists. Wimbledon is a small club and was built around the local community.
Our owners, multi-millionaire businessmen, have decided to move the club to Milton Keynes for the benefit of further inflating their already huge bank balances. Wimbledon fans have held marches and sit-ins at the ground.
This Sunday Wimbledon are playing Nottingham Forest. The match has been declared a Fans United day, and we will be encouraging supporters from across the country to join us. There is more information at www.wisa.org.uk
SEAN FOX, North London
Congratulations on your article about AIDS in Africa. It really brought home to me the hypocrisy of the US and British leaders who talk about 'terrorism' but support policies which mean so much loss of life.
I do hope you will continue to highlight the devastation which the market system means for the Third World. I have only recently become involved in political activities, after the Genoa protest, really, and it is articles like the one last week which make me realise just how urgent the task in front of us is.
ANNE WILKINSON, Birmingham
More benefit cuts for the unemployed and disabled, as reported in last week's Socialist Worker. At the same time there is an advertising campaign that insinuates that all unemployed people are 'benefit cheats'.
In the pre-budget statement Gordon Brown gives billions to his pals in business. What do the sick and unemployed get? Nothing. It was fashionable to target single parents a few years ago. Earlier this year it was asylum seekers. Are genuine people like myself, who want decent jobs (not 50p per hour in McDonald's) going to be the next scapegoats?
JULIE FOWLER, Newcastle
I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Kate Rankin. I knew Kate for 20 years. She was gentle and caring but with the kind of mental toughness needed to remain politically active for so long.
She was ferociously active around Bold colliery during the miners' strike, and as a council worker, and was at the heart of so many campaigns in defence of jobs and conditions. Like the early pioneers of the socialist movement Kate knew the value of bread, but of roses too.
ALAN GIBBONS, Liverpool