Explosion of Stop the War activity on campus
Students from Sussex University went to the fantastic Stop the War demonstration in London on Monday of last week.
Before this term, despite some activity, there wasn’t really an organised Stop the War society on campus. At the fresher’s fair there was an admin worker who was running a Stop the War stall. Between us we collected lots of names of students who were eager to join and booked a coach for the demo.
We filled a coach with 60 students in just two weeks – once people knew it had been banned they were more determined to go. Nobody was prepared to let Gordon Brown silence us over the issue of war and attack our right to protest.
We did stalls outside the library, had a meeting on the war, sent out mass emails and did lots of leafleting, which many students were involved in as well as the student union.
Students were really glad they went to the demo. It was interesting for me to travel to a demonstration with people who had so many different political ideas.
It was also very encouraging to see the levels of interest and concern among people we spoke to, whatever political or social background they had come from.
A lot of people went who had never been on a Stop the War demo before and they will now be working with us on campus to build our network and movement.
There are protests each week at a nearby weapons factory that we will be supporting, and we’re also planning a Stop the War meeting to organise more activity on campus.
We have a huge network of active students now – and the next time there’s a demo we’ll be there!
Syed Bokhari, Sussex University, Brighton
The Stop the War protest at parliament was absolutely amazing. It was the first demonstration I’ve ever been on, and there was a really positive atmosphere with everyone striving for the same goal.
Hearing that we’d beaten the ban was a major triumph. It’s appalling that they would even attempt to take away our freedom of speech and freedom to protest.
I’ve always been against the war, but didn’t realise I could do anything about it before. Now we’re planning to pull more people into activity and build the Stop the War group on campus.
Emma Davies, Manchester Metropolitan University
No way to build union
The deal struck in the US between the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) union leaders and General Motors (GM) is shameful.
GM say that redundancies are less likely and that the union can take control of the pensions and healthcare funds.
But, as with so many of these deals, the truth is much more damaging than first appearances suggest.
This is the latest of a series of agreements over the last 30 years which management and union leaders claimed would save jobs at the expense of conditions. The result is that 80 percent of GM jobs have been lost in that time.
This present agreement offers no guarantee of maintaining jobs, but accepts a division of the workforce into core and non-core jobs – with substantially different conditions between the two.
Rather than protecting jobs this will undermine unity in future struggles.
The union taking control of the pensions and healthcare funds is like taking control of the Titanic after the lifeboats have departed. These funds already have huge shortfalls, yet the agreement allows the transfer at a “discount” for GM.
This is not just a story of woe from the US.
The new Unite union under Derek Simpson has pushed both the idea of partnership with bosses – most notably the “Think of England” campaign round Peugeot – and that trade unions can only grow by merging both nationally and internationally.
It was 70 years ago that the UAW reached its first agreement with GM following the great Flint sit-down strike – and it was that victory that attracted hundreds of thousands of previously unorganised car workers to join the union.
That victory was built on the opposite of partnership with the bosses – solidarity from other workers.
Solidarity is the key to rebuilding the trade unions. Partnership, be it with the bosses or Gordon Brown, is a barrier to building fighting trade unions.
Mike Thompson, Chair, Leicester East Amicus-Unite (personal capacity)
Challenging the fate of women in prisons
Caroline Powell, a 26 year old mother, was found hanged on 5 January 2007 at Eastwood Park Prison.
I was arrested and charged at a peaceful demonstration held to protest against her death. The Crown Prosecution Service brought the case to trial, but the case was thrown out – a victory for common sense and justice.
I am outraged that I was denied legal aid, and at six court appearances I was without legal representation.
The Crown argued that I had blocked the road. But district judge David Parsons found that I had no intention of obstructing the highway and said I was “in the vanguard of public opinion seeking to bring about change”.
At 26 demonstrations I have been arrested 14 times, but this was the first time I had faced criminal charges in a court. I was encouraged by the demonstration held by supporters outside.
The trial gave me the chance to air some unpalatable truths about the suffering and deaths of women prisoners. I informed the judge that 39 women prisoners had died at the hands of the state since my daughter’s death in 2003.
Where there is injustice, there will be protest. Long may the spirit of protest remain alive and well in our democratic society.
Pauline Campbell, bereaved mother of Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, 18, who died while on “suicide watch” in Styal Prison, 2003
A history of leaks at nuclear plant
In 1957 a fire at Windscale – now called Sellafield – in Cumbria showered radiation across northern Britain and parts of Ireland.
The accident happened in part because of demands for increased nuclear material for the arms race.
Various governments covered up the extent of the disaster for years afterwards.
People in County Louth believe that the fire caused more cancers and incidences of Down’s Syndrome. The cancer rate in the area was estimated to be more than 12 percent above the Irish average.
New research has shown that the radioactive clouds created generated twice as much radioactive material and caused dozens more cancers than had been claimed.
But is this information really new or have British governments known and concealed the facts for 50 years?
Nuclear power has never been safe and it still isn’t.
Two years ago at the Sellafield Thorp plant enough radioactive material to make 20 nuclear weapons escaped through a cracked pipe into a stainless steel chamber which is too dangerous for humans to enter.
Marie Meehan, Dundalk, Ireland
No music to Brown’s ears
Gordon Brown’s failure to “draw a line under Iraq” led to him “bottling” calling a general election. But many Labour activists were geared up for one.
In Manchester’s Withington constituency last month, Labour supporters asked 1,500 residents on their doorstep the key issues Labour would need to address to snatch back the constituency from the Liberal Democrats.
Withington is a key marginal which contender Lucy Powell claimed Labour would retake at their party conference. She also claims to “have the ear of Gordon Brown”. But I do not think the results could have been music to his ears.
“Bring the troops home from Iraq” was the number one issue according to the results published in our local paper.
Mark Krantz, Manchester
Real purpose of occupation
The British and Australian governments have no excuse for not bringing home their soldiers right now.
According to a recent survey of more than 2,000 Iraqis, 85 percent have little or no confidence in US and British forces. Nearly 60 percent see attacks on US-led forces as justified.
It is not the first survey to report such startling conclusions.
In September 2006 another survey for the University of Maryland based worldpublicopinion.org reported “Seven in ten Iraqis want US-led forces to commit to withdraw within a year.
“An overwhelming majority believes that the US military presence in Iraq is provoking more conflict than it is preventing.”
That the US is still in Iraq, and in increased numbers, gives the lie to the US story of their occupation being motivated by a desire to re-establish democracy in Iraq.
In the last year the US priority has been to pressurise, so far unsucessfully, the “government” into signing off on the controversial oil laws.
As US vice president Dick Cheney said, “The Middle East with two thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.”
Peter Martin, Australia
What a Prosser
What a friend to the low paid Baroness Margaret Prosser has turned out to be.
The former deputy general secretary of the T&G union, Labour Party treasurer, and low pay commissioner now sits on the board of Royal Mail.
Last week she urged her company to stand firm against striking postal workers, and even accused their union of using the dispute to score political points.
With political friends like these, is it any wonder that postal workers are leaving Labour in droves?
Rohan Nakkady, East London
I live in a council flat in Clerkenwell in central London. It’s a very busy area and I had been asking for double-glazing for a number of years because of the noise and to save energy.
Finally last year the council agreed to carry it out to comply with the “Decent Homes” initiative.
As it turned out the insulation of the property has been compromised – both thermally and acoustically.
I have been complaining to the council for a year now, and I have tried to get the local councillors and my MP to intervene but they seem inordinately silent on this matter. It’s scandalous.
I’d appreciate it if you could publish something on this for the awareness of the general public – what a waste of public resources.
The council are “ticking their boxes” with the government, but are making the environmental situation far worse!
Fernando Luiz, London