As cheap as chickens
Mark Fisher (» Chickens, class and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, 26 January) is right that many of our food “choices” are based on what we can afford. However, the issue is also the impact that food has on our health.
Food is big business. In an effort to maximise profits, corners are cut at every stage – with disastrous consequences. Half the chickens on sale at British supermarkets are contaminated with campylobacter – which can causes nasty food poisoning with severe diarrhoea.
Both supermarkets and food producers go out of their way to promote unhealthy food in the form of ready meals and fast food.
They can make far more profit by taking cheap ingredients, processing them and selling them for much more than the sum of their parts than merely selling a simple potato or apple.
By adding salt, sugar, fat and a cocktail of other chemicals they create the ready meals that a massive advertising industry then sells to us.
This is a real concern. Working class people are sold bad food but then blamed for having a poor diet. And it has a real impact on health and life chances – obesity is on the increase, type 2 diabetes has now been found in children in Britain for the first time and coronary heart disease is the biggest killer in Britain.
There is a genuine interest in food at the moment – and not just among the middle classes Mark refers to. Programmes such as Jamie Oliver’s school dinners series highlighted the rubbish children were being fed by private catering companies. This gave confidence to local campaigns for better school food.
It can be very hard for ordinary people not only to afford healthy ingredients but also to have the time and energy to prepare meals.
It is not good enough to dismiss organic and ethical food as “expensive posh food” as Mark does. We want to fight so that people can have genuine choice and access to good quality food – this means challenging the power and profits of the supermarkets and food corporations.
Amy Leather, Manchester
Mark Fisher (» Chickens, class and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, 26 January) seems to applaud those who buy the cheapest food instead of recognising that we can fight back against the low wages and inadequate benefits that give people no other choice.
Factory farming is part of a long tradition of the adulteration of food for the poor to make profits for the rich. The co-op was founded by working people to combat this and provide cheap and healthy food, taking control of supplies out of the hands of their bosses so that workers were no longer forced to spend their wages at the company store.
It took the outbreak of BSE before we learned about the relaxation of controls on cattle feed and what went into the meat used to make the cheap beefburgers for our children’s school dinners. In this context, knowledge is power. We do not want our children poisoned.
Many of the TV programmes concentrate on the welfare of the chickens, but the big supermarket chains care no more for the welfare of the workers who process them, the farmers who are pressured into producing ever cheaper chickens, or the health of the customers who eat them. All they care about is the level of their profits and, in the case of Tesco, an ever-increasing market-share.
Sarah Cox, North West London
Russian invasion of Afghanistan was wrong
John Wight (» Letters, 26 January) claims that the purpose of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was to intervene in a struggle “between the forces of human progress and barbarism”.
In fact the Russians’ motives were exactly the same as those of the Tsar and British imperialism, who meddled in Afghanistan in the 19th century, and the US today – to protect their imperialist interests in a region of vital strategic interest.
The Soviet invasion was a disaster for the people of Afghanistan.
It left one million dead and the country even more impoverished than before.
The claim that the Russians were invited in to defend a progressive and popular Afghan government is a myth.
The Russians invaded to ensure that Afghanistan remained pro-Soviet.
The Afghan government, while it had carried out some measures that benefited women and the poor, had attempted to do so without seeking to build popular support beyond the urban intelligentsia.
It had brutally repressed all opposition.
The role of a supposedly left wing government in supporting the invasion further discredited the left and opened the door for the reactionary warlords that control most of the country today.
This is one of the reasons the left is still weak in Afghanistan.
Afghan society can only be transformed in the interests of the mass of the people by workers and peasants taking their lives into their own hands.
Liberation cannot be dictated from above by any government, no matter how well-intentioned.
The precondition for achieving this is the expulsion of all imperialist forces from the country.
The first duty of socialists is to oppose imperialism in all its forms – whatever our disagreements with those fighting back.
Tony Phillips, East London
Council housing more secure than private
The government should acknowledge the growing divide between the “ever increasing” rich, and the “ever demoralised” poor, by embracing the Fourth Option – direct investment in council housing.
My wife and I are registered on our local borough’s housing waiting list.
We have registered for council housing because we cannot afford to buy a property – despite being hard working, conscientious professionals.
My wife is severely disabled and I have a long term acute disability.
We see local council housing as possibly being able to provide a more secure tenancy in our old age.
We have rented privately for over 12 years and it has been an eye-opening experience as to how easily tenants are subject to the whims and fancies of the landlords.
The tenancy agreements put a disproportionate amount of rights in the hands of the landlords, and none in the hands of the tenants.
At times, we have felt acutely that a near-homeless situation has been all too close. It is hard to see a shorthold tenancy as a secure home!
Privatisation of the housing stock is a move backwards to feudal times and can only precipitate further division and social unrest.
Randolphe Palmer, Abridge, Essex
Lessons from the struggles of 1968
Thanks to Ian Birchall for an excellent article on 1968 (» 1968: the power of the masses, 19 January). It is sickening that the media manages to perpetuate the “flower power” hedonistic images of the time.
I was at the time an industrial organiser for the International Socialists (IS) – forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).
We produced three editions of a rank and file paper, The Dockworker, and distributed it in Liverpool, Hull and Bristol.
In London we sold some at the West India Docks where Terry Barrett held early morning dockgate meetings during the strike against Lord Devlin’s plans to undermine union organisation in the docks.
Tony Cliff, founder of the IS, made the point that the dockers’ march in support of Enoch Powell had only come after their defeat over Devlin.
The other aspect worth noting was the tremendous outpouring of poster art against exploitation and alienation.
I am fortunate to have had a lifetime’s access to the IS/SWP emphasis on internationalism, state capitalism and self-emancipatory Marxism.
Nigel Coward, West London
Ignored by US Congress
Here in the US members of Congress have truly abandoned the will of the people in favour of the will of corporate wealth.
The administration no longer even hides behind a mask of moral abeyance of law.
In Vermont we have a resolution to indict president George Bush and vice-president Dick Cheney should they ever come to our town.
Despite indisputable knowledge that 70 percent of the people of Vermont want impeachment, our own congressman will not even act on our behalf.
Emily Peyton, Putney, Vermont, US
Revolt against New Labour
Even before former Labour leader John Smith died, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had infiltrated the Labour Party with their Thatcherite ideas.
Brown’s best mates, the greedy shareholders, warn us that without them there would be no jobs – conveniently forgetting that without a workforce there could be no dividends.
Even our local councils are not immune to the creeping New Labour terror.
Two Labour councillors on my estate showed their arrogance by voting to sell off our houses – and being well and truly beaten in a ballot. They now refuse to fight for the modernisation of this 70 year old estate.
Things can only get better – I think not. The day is fast approaching when we have to have another peasants’ revolt!
Colin Avery, Brighton
Schools and knife crime
I work as a teacher in south London, where we have seen some horrific attacks on young people.
The solution to this is not to treat all children like criminals and scan children as young as 11 for knives and guns – as suggested by home secretary Jacqui Smith (see » Why police crackdowns will not cut knife crime, 26 January).
Teachers want to feel safe in our schools, but we have to create a climate where children are trusted and valued.
Children need access to counselling, mental health facilities and places to go where they can talk to people who will not judge them.
A climate of competition and league tables leaves little time for pastoral care and the building of good personal relationships in schools.
These are the tools that will help children make the right choices, not weapon detectors and policing.
Sara Tomlinson, South London
Nazi joined police march
As if it wasn’t scary enough to see thousands of coppers march through London, the BNP’s London mayoral candidate joined the front of the police pay march.
The BNP is a fascist organisation that breeds hate.
The Police Federation pointed out that they didn’t specifically invite him, they didn’t specifically ask him to leave either. I am disgusted.
Yasmin Nilel, North London
Kenyan camps not Holocaust
As James Haywood points out (» Letters, 26 January), British rule was brutal in Kenya in the 1950s.
The entire 1.5 million rural Kikuyu population was forcibly moved into “fortified villages” to stop them supplying Mau Mau rebels.
However, these were not concentration camps. Some 80,000 suspected rebels did pass through concentration camps.
The “pipeline” camps run by the British in Kenya featured the most brutal torture, rape and starvation.
But they should not be confused with Nazi death camps, which were designed with the express purpose of mass extermination.
To forget this is to lessen the specific horror of the Holocaust even in an age of imperial savagery.
Onyango Ooko, West London