Socialist Worker


Issue No. 1672

How Ford has caused divide

The problems highlighted by the Sukhjit Parma case at Ford Dagenham began in the 1.8 Diesel Assembly area when group leaders were introduced in around 1994. In each area hourly paid workers were asked to apply for positions in their departments as group leaders who were to be paid 10 percent extra for assisting the foremen.

Generally in the plant those chosen were a mix of black, Asian and white. But in the 1.8 assembly area those chosen were all white! Most black and Asian applicants were rejected out of hand, not even getting an interview. On one shift, of all the Asian and black workers who applied, only one was even interviewed – and he was then rejected for a job he was already effectively doing. When this selection resulted in fewer group leaders than were required, white applicants were brought in from other departments. Two of these were soon in trouble for distributing racist 'joke' sheets.

The group leader involved in the Parma case (currently suspended) had been personally approached by the superintendent to ask him to apply. The foreman involved has received only mild punishment. It is the general opinion in the plant that the foreman should have received the same treatment as the group leader. Any investigation must also examine the behaviour of the superintendent involved and determine his responsibility. He had already been nicknamed 'The South African'' for his behaviour in personally going round the workplace tearing down pictures of Nelson Mandela.

So it was in an atmosphere of management toleration that racist incidents took place, not just a case of a couple of 'bad apples'. Yet the superintendent of the department has since been promoted to being manager of all the assembly areas in the Engine Plant!

TV programme seriously wrong about the Nazis

THE TELEVISION series Playing the Race Card started excellently. It showed how the Tories fought a by-election in 1964 around the slogan, 'If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour.' It exposed Labour as shamelessly trying to outdo the Tories by strengthening anti-immigration laws.

But the second programme, about the 1970s, was dreadful. It suggested that the dominant feature in workers' minds was support for racism and even the National Front (NF). In fact the early 1970s saw a huge upturn in working class struggle that culminated in the defeat of Heath's Tory government. The Labour government that followed tore into working class living standards, and this created fertile ground for the growth of racism and the NF. But even then it was a small minority of workers that accepted their poisonous ideas.

In addition (and totally missed by the programme), significant numbers of workers were involved in active anti-racist and anti-Nazi activity. It was not Margaret Thatcher's pandering to racism that derailed the Nazis. It was the campaigning work of anti-Nazi groups, principally the Anti Nazi League (ANL). Hundreds of trade union branches affiliated to the ANL and tens of thousands of people joined demonstrations against the NF.

In my own town of Rotherham the ANL organised a campaign to drive out an NF organiser who worked at the same pit as me. The majority of my workmates wore ANL stickers on their helmets. The Nazi was isolated and forced to leave the pit. By wiping out this type of experience the BBC made a seriously misleading programme.

Guard against 'profits first'

AS A union activist on the railways in the 1970s and 1980s I can see clear parallels between the debates and battles on safety and manning we were having then and the arguments that have surfaced after the Paddington disaster. The attempt to get rid of the safety role of the guards started back during the Labour government in the 1970s, when under the cloak of 'partnership' the leadership of the NUR (now RMT) under Sid Weighell started to accept management's argument that guards were not necessary on all trains.

Although this predated privatisation, the talk about running the railways as 'a business' had already entered the vocabulary of both the bosses and the union bureaucrats. Rank and file railway workers at King's Cross, where I was working, fought a long campaign in the 1970s to defend the principle of a guard on every train. But in the late 1970s and early 1980s, using the argument of new technology, the bosses were able to open the floodgates to allow the removal of the guard. The only way for workers to defend safety standards is to build up strong union organisation and to demand democratic public ownership.

U-turn is not solution

I WAS delighted to hear that Labour is shelving plans to introduce motorway tolls. I have always believed that any road pricing hits the poor rather than the rich and is simply a cover to disguise the lack of commitment to public transport. However, I was shocked to read that Labour is ditching the plans because ministers believe it was the key issue in the recent Hamilton by-election.

Although the Tories and the SNP made great play of the issue in their propaganda, I believe it influenced only a very small minority of people. The real issues were tuition fees, jobs, poverty and the perception (absolutely correct) that New Labour looks after the rich. If Tony Blair and Donald Dewar really believe that dropping tolls will restore their popularity here then they are even more stupid than I thought they were.

Sharp reaction to pessimists

I AM more convinced than ever that there is a tremendous thirst for anti-capitalist ideas. Around 300 people attended a conference in London recently, organised by those who used to be involved in the now defunct Marxism Today.

During the 1980s this misnamed magazine was at the forefront of establishing the ideological foundations for New Labour. Now Stuart Hall, their leading intellectual, told the conference he was so disillusioned he didn't know why he still continued. This pessimism sent waves of irritation through much of the audience. Most were young and spoke with anger about the system. They pointed to the possibilities of mass protest.

Socialists who countered the conference organisers' scorn for class politics got a great response. The final speaker, US Marxist Bob Brenner, spoke with angry brilliance about the crisis of the world system, insisting that class politics and 'anti-capitalism' had never been more relevant. The organisers of the conference seemed perplexed – as bewildered by this new audience as they were by New Labour. But we should take heart that an event like this can show the demand for revolutionary politics.
ROB FERGUSON, South London

Budge has betrayed us

AS A former mine worker I was disgusted to read that RJB Mining is to close the Ellington colliery. That means the last deep mine in north east England has gone. RJB Mining and its boss Richard Budge made millions from the industry. Budge took £600 million clear profit in the first four years after he grabbed the pits at a knockdown price from the Tories. RJB is not making a profit at the moment, but Budge could still pay himself £436,000 last year.

Ellington miners have been left to work their guts out with outdated machinery and no investment. They have slogged themselves on long shifts and their reward is to be dumped to shore up Budge's profits. The redundant miners will find it hard to get jobs and are likely to add to the pool of people thrown on the scrap heap at 40.

Postal points

I READ that the government has suddenly woken up to the fact that hundreds of thousands of people who have endowment mortgages may be at risk of losing their homes. This is another example of the problems when you rely on the private sector and the stock market to deal with the future. However, in the same breath the government urges an essentially similar system for all our pensions! I don't want my house to depend on the gyrations of the stock market, and I don't want my retirement hitched to them either. Please note, New Labour!

SEVERAL RECENT letters on the subject of Ken Livingstone have made great play of the fact that he is the 'anti-Blair' candidate. I see very little in his recent statements that mark him out as any such thing. He has repeatedly stated that he wants to work with Blair and shares his general approach to national and international politics. Livingstone sometimes speaks left (to gain an audience) but will then lurch back to support for Blair when he judges it necessary. Maybe the issue of tube privatisation is so big that you think it is the only issue (although I don't think the mayor will be able to decide on it anyway). Personally I would prefer to consider running a genuine socialist candidate who could help build the resistance to Blair we really need.
TRICIA PEATE, Birmingham

AT A recent SWP meeting about the Communist Manifesto, the speaker pointed out its relevance to the situation today. I agreed with that, but could not help thinking that a more modern version is required. With Karl Marx recently voted 'Man of the Millennium', it would be helpful to produce a Communist Manifesto for the New Millennium, to update and popularise his ideas.
R KILPIN, South London

HOW DARE the Tories scream about the French government blocking beef exports? It was the Tories' obsession with the market that gave us BSE. French fat cats, British fat cats, farmer fat cats and Railtrack fat cats – what's the difference? They always put their profits before our lives. A poll shows that 73 percent of people want the renationalisation of Railtrack, but Labour will ignore this and still privatise air traffic control and the London Underground.

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Article information

Sat 13 Nov 1999, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1672
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