Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2069

TUC delegates protested during Gordon Brown’s speech last week (Pic: Charlie Kimber)

TUC delegates protested during Gordon Brown’s speech last week (Pic: Charlie Kimber)

No applause for Brown

I attended the TUC conference in Brighton last week and was present for Gordon Brown’s speech. I feel compelled to comment on Brown’s attitude towards public sector pay.

I work in the public sector and am subject to the 2 percent cap on pay rises. Brown told us that although we deliver vital services, it is our fault and our fault alone that inflation rates are rising.

I work in the civil service where the average wage before tax is £20,000 a year. This is £3,000 a year below the national average. Half of all civil service workers earn less than this national average wage.

I don’t know what the statistics are for nurses, local government workers, teachers, prison officers, postal workers and others, but they must be comparable.

Brown has chosen to give effective pay cuts to all of us for at least three years. This will force more essential workers into real poverty. We all deliver vital services to all sectors of society. All we want is a pay rise at the rate of inflation.

We are not the cause of inflation, we are the victims of it. My response to Brown’s speech is – see you on the picket lines.

Emma Boyd, PCS Defra London branch (personal capacity)

Socialist Worker (» Brown’s TUC speech goes down like a lead balloon, 15 September) was if anything too generous about the response that Gordon Brown got at last week’s TUC conference in Brighton.

Delegates near the front might have applauded for 30 seconds, and some people – probably a rent-a-crowd hired for the day by Brown’s cronies – actually stood up. But the further away from the platform you were, the less likely you were to even put your hands together.

And with good reason – for there was nothing in Brown’s speech to welcome. He hardly mentioned the war, and when he did it was merely to say that Britain would honour its commitments.

The stuff on skills and the workforce was laced with flag-waving nonsense about “British jobs for British workers”. He demanded that foreign workers learn English and made implicit threats to blackmail single mothers and young people into work.

Brown finished with a lecture on why public sector workers have to accept below-inflation pay “rises”. He did not mention his fat cat friends in the City helping themselves to huge wads of cash.

Perhaps just as significant as the response in the hall was the response of union leaders afterwards. People such as Unite’s Tony Woodley – who last year suggested that Brown would treat trade unionists with more respect than Tony Blair – were left seething.

Moderates such as Sally Hunt, leader of the UCU lecturers’ union, were also highly critical. Even Derek Simpson, Unite’s other leader and one of Brown’s biggest fans at last year’s TUC, was forced to warn of industrial strife ahead as a result of the prime minister’s stance on pay.

The claim that Brown might offer something different to Blair is dead in the water – at least among the vast bulk of TUC delegates.

Alan Gibson, NUJ London magazines branch (personal capacity)

Problematic role models

I support the thrust of Kerri Parke’s argument against the New Nation’s “power list” of 100 black men and women (» Real role models are not in the boardroom, 8 September). The vast majority of the list is made up of high court judges, City traders and Labour peers as she contends.

But it is not true to say Doreen Lawrence has been omitted from the list. The New Nation acknowledges her role and writes on how her “long fight for justice became a trailblazing force in the never ending quest for racial equality”.

Nor is it the case that “nothing that is creative or caring is ever recognised as successful”. Of the 50 women in the list at least 14 are artistic, such as singer Mica Paris and author Zadie Smith.

The men’s list includes 11 creative people, including the academic Paul Gilroy (who spoke at the Marxism event in London this year) and Ekow Eshun, creative director of the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Nevertheless, there are real problems with the list. The most influential black British woman in Britain is deemed to be Baroness Scotland, the attorney general.

Her job is to fine-tune some of the most vicious legislation in recent British history – laws that have deeply damaged the black population of Britain and the wider working class.

The New Nation’s choice for black Britain’s prime male mover is Damon Buffini, head of the Permira private equity group. His business is worth £200 million and he also finds time to advise Gordon Brown on how to “reshape the workforce”.

But the wider question of role models is important for black children confronted by a media that paints them as gun-toting gangsters. We need to carefully engage with any attempts to redress this negative stereotyping.

Finding black people I wanted to aspire to be – people such as Malcolm X, Bobby Seale and Angela Davis – was essential in radicalising me politically, and to me eventually joining the Socialist Workers Party.

Hailing up the people who have influenced me sometimes gives me the strength to keep going into the battle – by any means necessary.

Adeola Johnson, North London

Hackney tenants force the council to back off

In Hackney, east London, council tenants have shown how undemocratic local government can be forced to listen to activists.

The council’s cabinet usually meets behind closed doors, but it had to allow tenants to attend and speak at their meeting on Monday of last week.

The meeting was packed with angry tenants opposing the proposed sell-off of land on their estates to private landlords.

Under the “Estates Plus” scheme Hackney plans to “infill” areas that are deemed unused and sell them off. In some cases this includes green spaces and children’s play areas.

But the plans have had to be scaled back due to a high level of opposition to privatisation from tenants across the borough.

The cabinet agreed to go ahead with “Estates Plus”, but admitted it will have to reduce the planned sell-off.

On some estates, such as the Gascoyne, the plans involved demolishing four tower blocks containing 160 homes and selling the land to private landlords.

Tenants on the estate held a lively protest in July, which exposed the lack of say they were being given, (Letters, 4 August). The cabinet admitted it had failed to consult tenants fully and has put its plans on hold.

We will continue our fight against the demolition or privatisation of our homes and fight for the investment we need.

Angela Stapleford, East London

Scotland’s record of imperialism

The debate over Scotland’s role in British imperialism seems set to rumble on.

Huw Abertawe (» Letters, 8 September) finds Neil Davidson “naive” and “unconvincing” since “probably no more than a few hundred Scots” took part in the colonisation of Malawi.

Would he be any more persuaded by adding those Scottish slave plantation owners in the Caribbean – Scots owned a third of all plantations on Jamaica – or those Scots such as Henry Dundas who ran swathes of India under the British Empire?

Are these really comparable to the “client groups” of Asians transported to colonial Africa?

It is indicative of Scotland’s disavowed imperialism that we make such comparisons while forgetting Glasgow’s emergence as the “second city of the empire”.

Add to that the Scots’ massive participation at Westminster spanning Henry Campbell Bannermann, Herbert Asquith and Bonar Law to Gordon Brown.

It is a level of participation inconceivable for an Indian or Nigerian political class and one highly unusual for a “colonised” nation.

Michael Morris, Glasgow

Blair blamed Watergate

Reading Simon Basketter’s fascinating article on Vietnam (Socialist Worker, 8 September), I was reminded that Tony Blair sides with Richard Nixon over the Watergate scandal.

In Blair’s “feral beasts” speech on the media in June, he accused the journalists who revealed the Watergate scandal of undermining journalistic standards with their “conspiracy” allegations against Nixon.

This was a revealing remark. The right has long insisted that it was the media that lost the Vietnam War – despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Watergate severely weakened the White House at a crucial period in Vietnam, revealing to millions of Americans that Nixon’s war was also leading to domestic abuses of power.

Blair clearly sees himself as wronged by the media. But his remark about Watergate shows just how deep is the grudge he bears.

Nixon was forced to resign in disgrace. Blair survived – but his disgrace is none the lesser for this.

Dave Crouch, North London

Honouring Mandela

Simone Murray is not alone in being disappointed by Nelson Mandela’s decision to allow a statue of him in Parliament Square (» Letters, 8 September).

The best way to honour Mandela is to continue the fight against racism and the divisions which exist within our society.

John Appleyard, Liversedge, West Yorks

Debt and the world economy

Joseph Choonara provided a very good analysis of the mortgage crisis afflicting the world’s financial markets (» Subprime and the stock market's mortgage madness, 1 September) – a crisis that could cause trouble for the wider economy.

Capitalists depend on paying their own workers as little as possible, and then selling their goods for as much as possible to make a profit.

But if every capitalist pays as little as they can to their workers, no one will have enough money to buy the goods they are selling – so no one will make a profit.

For the last decade, especially in Britain and the US, the “solution” to this contradiction has been the massive expansion of consumer borrowing, especially mortgages.

In Britain, this has meant virtually stagnant real wages can fit alongside expanding consumer expenditure.

Households in Britain now owe more to the banks and building societies than the British economy produces in a year.

But an economy can’t go on borrowing forever. Home repossessions in Britain are now the highest since records began. Over 300 personal insolvencies are recorded every day.

As banks become wary about lending money, interest rates will go up and so consumer spending will slow down – and the entire British economy will start to look very shaky indeed.

Jacob Middleton, East London

Resilience of the Lebanese

I have just returned to Canada from a seven month stint in Lebanon.

Reading Eamonn McCann’s article on his visit to Qana (Socialist Worker, 8 September) brought back a flood of emotions and vivid memories of Beirut and southern Lebanon.

The devastation caused by the war is shockingly ubiquitious, but I will remember the resilience of the Lebanese people.

Christopher Brown, Montreal, Canada

MPs' double standards

Gordon Brown says skilled workers from outside the European Union will now be expected to understand English to a standard equivalent to GCSE grade A to C.

One wonders how many MPs and ministers would attain even Key Stage 3 English standards if they were tested.

Husain Akhtar, North West London

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Tue 18 Sep 2007, 19:15 BST
Issue No. 2069
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