Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2102

The unemployed marching for the right to work in 1977

The unemployed marching for the right to work in 1977

We can organise the unemployed

It is notoriously difficult for us to organise ourselves when we are unemployed because we have no workplace.

In the 1970s we addressed this problem with the 1976 Right to Work march from Manchester to London.

The Right to Work campaign was an attempt to organise the unemployed with the objective of highlighting the scandal of the rising numbers of unemployed people and embarrassing the right wing Labour government.

A number of us in Bristol approached the T&G union and it was agreed that we set up a T&G branch of unemployed people. This gave us credibility and also access to T&G regional facilities and the media.

This made it possible for us to make an impact in Bristol on the issues surrounding unemployment, with stunts like occupying Bristol job centre during an employers’ junket. People who were there that day went on to take part in the Right to Work march.

It is most certainly possible to organised the unemployed.

It’s not easy though, and requires loads of energy and imagination. But there’s nobody who has more time to be energetic and imaginative than an unemployed person.

Colin Cameron, Fife

Fight for the ‘forgotten’

Pay was the major source of contention that led many teachers to go on strike on 24 April – and rightly so. But there is a sector of the teaching profession that goes mostly unnoticed when such strike action is taken – the support staff.

These dedicated professionals, who have worked hard to earn their qualifications and who contribute massively to the education environment, are paid even less than their teaching colleagues.

One such worker has told me they are employed under the general headline of “learning support”.

But they are a necessity in the modern classroom to help those students who the system has failed, such as teenagers who have the reading age of a toddler, or those pupils with learning difficulties such as autism who require more one to one teaching.

Despite these workers being utilised in schools for the whole school day and taking work home with them just as any teacher does, they are paid significantly less than other teaching staff.

In some cases the wage for providing such necessary care is below Britain’s poverty line.

The worker I spoke to said that contractually they are not allowed to seek temporary employment over the school holidays when they, unlike other teaching staff, are not paid.

This leads to already financially hard situations being worsened.

While it remains vitally important that we fight for the government to match wage increases to the actual rate of inflation I believe we should also fight for the forgotten members of the educational workforce and bring their pay in line with a sustainable living wage.

This wage should show that support workers are appreciated by the government and reflect the essential nature of their work to the education system.

Ellie Reed, Chester-le-Street, Durham

Tests are disgrace

What can I say about the MPs criticising the Sats tests for the school students (» MPs say abolish SATs tests, 17 May) apart from that my daughter was sat last night in floods of tears, rocking backwards and forwards because of the sheer pressure of the Sats.

My daughter is in the top two groups for everything but found the stress of the Sats all too much. She was upset just because she didn’t answer two of the questions.

Does an 11 year old child really need the stress of all this? Why can’t children just be treated like children while they are young? It’s fair enough for exams when they are 16 and leaving to get a job, but not at the age of 11.

My daughter’s father spoke to the headmaster and he said he has spoken to numerous parents about their children at home in tears about the Sats.

I am appalled that youngsters have to go through this.

Mrs Hill, Burton-on-Trent

A political circus

Hot on the heels of Labour’s drubbing in the local elections and due to the untimely death of our local Old Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody we faced a by-election in Crewe on Thursday of this week.

The Tories are ahead in the polls.

National and regional figures are running the campaign show. Labour is in denial and the Tories are hellbent on driving home their perceived advantage. It’s become a circus and, for people in Crewe, a bad joke.

None of the parties are offering any alternative to the present mess. The Tories are pushing their agenda on crime and immigration.

Unfortunately, New Labour has also focused on these issues, and its right wing policies have allowed the Tories to come back.

It goes without saying what a Tory success here would bring locally and nationally.

But many people will only vote Labour through gritted teeth.

Steve Hammill, Crewe

Pamphlet can help take struggle forward

I have sold a number of copies of the new Pay Cuts, Resistance and Recession pamphlet by Charlie Kimber at the call centre I work at in London.

My colleagues were impressed. One guy felt that it was spot on about the real rate of inflation and how Gordon Brown is keen to absolve the bosses from any blame for rising prices while telling the rest of us to tighten our belts.

We hadn’t swallowed Brown’s bait though. We hadn’t had a pay rise for six years, so when our union campaign won 13 to 15 percent increases not one worker felt we were responsible for putting the price of bread up.

And we didn’t feel that greedy when chancellor Alastair Darling scrapped the 10p tax band and robbed us before we even saw our pay rise.

A woman in her early 20s who joined the union soon after she started work here bought the pamphlet because she wants to become active and feels the need to learn more about the movement.

This new pamphlet is timely. Socialists need to be able to start discussions about ensuring that our union subs only go to those MPs that fight for us.

We also need to start to unite wider layers around a few demands on New Labour and make sure that, if our union leaders act independently of the shopfloor, together we will act independently of them.

Pat Carmody, South East London

Time to step up homes campaign

The main message that came out of the recent Socialist Workers Party national meeting (» Fighting on all fronts can help create an alternative, 17 May) was that consistent campaigning in the community is the key to winning the trust and respect of working class people.

Where the left did well in the recent local elections is where we proved in practice that we are prepared to continually organise to defend local public services.

The Defend Council Housing campaign can be a bulwark against the growth of the right. It has been an incredible success over the last five years.

This has allowed us the opportunity to argue that there is an alternative to corrupt private landlords, and private housing that forces many families into extreme hardship.

By promoting Defend Council Housing and integrating it more into the left’s general campaigning work, we can direct people’s anger towards those really to blame – the local council and the government.

This would help stop the Nazi BNP, which is trying to lay the blame for people’s problems falsely onto immigrants.

Anna Owens, East London

Humans and hominids

As Gavin Edwards (» Letters, 17 May) rightly says, any argument that states indigenous Australians and all other people alive today are not fully modern humans is racist.

But modern humans emerged from Africa around 100,000 years ago, and then spread out, replacing earlier hominid species.

We know this from fossil remains.

But the Old Stone Age, represented mainly by stone tools, goes back half a million years in Europe, and two or three million in Africa.

So for most of this period, the world was indeed inhabited by earlier hominids, not modern humans.

Neil Faulkner, St Albans, Herts

Labour don’t represent us

Alex Callinicos’s article on the failures of Ken Livingstone and Labour to represent their “core support” (» The loser’s illusion that he’s a winner, 17 May) was clear and accurate.

Labour has reaped the seeds it has sown by robbing the poor to give to the rich.

It has increased taxation for the majority, decreased corporation tax for the wealthy minority, stoked up racism and privatised services.

In Luton, dismay prevails in the Labour Party. Ken Livingstone’s style of putting gloss on the results is pure fantasy and the Labour Party is primarily an electoral, institutionalising machine.

I’m sick of it. I’ll be making sure I get Socialist Worker to tell me what’s going on.

Dave Holes, Luton

A sign of hope in Sicily

While there is a worrying atmosphere in Italy at the moment after the election of the right wing government, there was some good news recently.

Around 10,000 people marched through Cinisi in Sicily on Friday 9 May on the 30th anniversary of the murder of Peppino Impastato, the left wing anti-mafia campaigner.

His life is the subject of my book, Defiance.

There were also three days of discussion in the town, where a social bloc of trade unions, magistrates, movements and others was set up to counter the mafia.

Tom Behan, Whitstable, Kent

Growing crisis in Bolivia

After reading Mike Gonzalez’s article about the right’s threats in Bolivia against the popular government of Evo Morales (» Fight for Bolivia’s future lies behind referendum, 10 May), I spoke to a friend in La Paz.

They told me that another problem is the rate of inflation. The price of bread has doubled in the last few weeks and for the poor in the highlands of Bolivia life is becoming ever more difficult.

So the government could find itself caught in a pincer movement from the right on one side and the growing dissatisfaction from its main supporters over the question of affordable food on the other.

The government also seems to be doing nothing.

If it took control of food stocks to provide a subsidised basic diet with distribution controlled by the popular movements, it could not only ensure the restoration of its support but confront the right wing with a determined opposition.

Roger Cox, North West London

Don’t just blame Brown

Our rulers have used Gordon Brown’s swanning into a political landscape littered with the wreckage running from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair and his lack of realisation that we were all expecting a change of course.

A perfect opportunity was spotted. Prices exploded from petrol to electricity.

The corpse of the present administration will be blamed and the inheritors of this golden moment of robbery will scurry off to their Mediterranean yachts.

Colin Frost-Herbert, Haywards Heath, Sussex

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Article information

Tue 20 May 2008, 18:46 BST
Issue No. 2102
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