Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2105

Our unions should not back anti-abortion MPs

After I read that Paul Murphy, senior cabinet member and T&G/Unite union sponsored MP, voted to cut the abortion limit to 12 weeks in the recent vote in parliament (» How union-sponsored MPs betrayed their backers, 31 May) I raised the issue in my T&G sector branch of Unite – which is affiliated to the Abortion Rights campaign.

This was welcomed by members at the branch, one of whom remarked that this kind of thing happened often with Labour ministers who are sponsored by trade unions.

Our branch will now pursue this through Unite’s Women’s Committees.

Some of the Labour MPs who voted for a reduction in the abortion time limit defended their actions on the grounds that abortion is a “moral issue”.

But that is not why trade unionists support abortion rights. Rich women have been, and will always be able, to get access to abortion. Working class women, however, have had to fight for this right, and for its recognition by the trade union movement.

It is vital therefore that we hold union sponsored MPs and ministers to account when they betray these class principles.

The anti-abortionists’ aim has always been to scrap the 1967 Abortion Act altogether.

They have focused repeatedly on the issue of late abortions in order to chip away at the upper time limit, even though those needing late abortions are usually the youngest, poorest and most vulnerable women.

Starting with the successful campaign to defeat the anti-abortion Corrie Bill almost 30 years ago, trade unions have been central to the fight to defend abortion rights.

Opinion polls since have shown consistently large majorities in support of this principle. Trade unions support a woman’s right to choose as a class issue because working class women still need access to safe and legal abortions.

The fact that Labour MPs were allowed a free vote on moral grounds shows yet again that Labour is a party that refuses to fight for women’s rights.

If we are to be successful in defeating more attacks on abortion rights, trade unionists need to defend publicly our policies against Labour.

We also need to campaign for a genuine left alternative, which sees women’s oppression as a class issue of concern to all.

Daniela Manske, South London

Waste in Hackney

If Hackney mayor Jules Pipe is looking for people with a “Keep Hackney Crap” mentality, we suggest he looks closer to his office rather than writing to the Hackney Gazette to criticise children’s author Michael Rosen (» Letters, 7 June).

Hackney council in east London recently ended doorstep recycling collections on all estates with tower blocks after a number of years of successful and safe recycling.

This is a real blow to thousands of people with an environmental conscience. The withdrawal of the collections will also mean job losses.

Instead of implementing a new scheme that adequately replaces the collections, the council is analysing results from trials before making a decision on “which method of collecting recycling from high rise properties to take forward”.

This adds up to incompetence and a complete lack of planning.

The decision will have a detrimental effect on the amount of waste the borough recycles and the conditions on our estate.

Many elderly and disabled residents will not be able to recycle at all, as they will find it too difficult to transport their waste.

One of the reasons given for the ending of the collections is “recommendations by the London Fire Brigade and independent fire safety consultants concerning the safety of door to door recycling on estates”.

While we recognise that fire safety is extremely important, we believe that ending doorstep collections in all tower blocks is a mistake. Recycling was collected once a week after being left outside for only a few hours.

Many blocks have wide corridors where the household door where the waste is left is far from fire exits.

With proper care and monitoring to ensure waste does not block fire exits there is no need at all to stop doorstep collections at a time when recycling is so important an issue.

Gary Armstrong and Angela Stapleford, Chair and vice chair, Gascoyne II estate tenants’ and residents’ association

Why won’t union leaders fight for NHS?

Until last week Gordon Brown’s government had been trying to distance itself from New Labour’s track record of privatising the NHS.

There has been a climbdown over Independent Sector Treatment Clinics for example.

But then came the announcement that the management of “failing hospitals” could be taken over by the private companies that have been itching to get their grubby profiteering hands on our health service.

My local hospital, Hinchingbrooke in Cambridgeshire, is one of those that has been earmarked for this treatment.

The government is setting up hospitals to “fail” so that it can authorise privatisation – just as it has done with schools.

Professor Wendy Savage, chair of Keep Our NHS Public, was quick to point out, “There is no evidence from anywhere in the world that profit-making companies make health services more efficient.

“Making profits from health means cutting services and reducing quality. It is the patients who pay the price.”

But why was there so little response from the leaders of the health trade unions?

Could it be that after years of telling us that Brown would be much better than Tony Blair they are now too ashamed to admit that they were wrong?

Marsha Stewart, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

The vicious circle of SATs in school

While Dave Davies is right to highlight one totally discredited function of SATs – to make kids know their place – it is also essential that we focus on the government’s continuing need for them as the currency of marketisation.

SATs produce league tables, which create demand for places, which put bums on seats, which bring pupil-weighted funding budgets, which determine human and other resources in schools, which determine every school’s “success” in this vicious circle of competition.

It is this crude measure that Gordon Brown uses when he assures the City of London and their global allies that Britain plc can deliver a “world class education system”.

With Britain’s headteachers union calling for them to never happen again, we should do all we can to bury this Tory legacy. Parents, for example, should get together and say they will never allow their kids to sit these worthless but harmful tests.

The defeat of SATs will be as much a blow against neoliberalism in public services as breaking Brown’s pay freeze.

Let’s get on with it!

Jo Lang, President Harrow NUT

Give us more on economy

I would like to see more articles on the forthcoming economic crisis.

We have the credit squeeze, the war in Iraq, the collapse of the housing bubble, rising inflation, the war in Afghanistan, oil prices at an all time record, the drop in the value of the pound, the trade deficit, the fall in consumer spending, record consumer debts and rising unemployment.

Then we have a lame duck prime minister and government overspending. Crisis? What crisis?

Eugene, Manchester

Shocking rate of suicides

The truths of Satinder Chohan’s play Zameen (» Satinder Kaur Chohan interview, 31 May) were apparent on my own visit to the Punjab in April this year.

I was told by socialist environmentalists there that excessive pesticides use have now permeated the water table to such an extent that it is inadvisable to consume foods with high water content, such as cucumber or melon.

The rate of farmer suicide is truly shocking. Satinder does us all a service by interrogating its causes.

Nick Grant, Ealing, West London

Save us from the celebs

What with the obscene amounts of money being given to certain celebrities and footballers, can I suggest a general boycott of their programmes and matches?

This would greatly reduce the TV licence and entrance charges for football matches.

There are a thousand Jonathan Rosses in Essex and hundreds of Terry Wogans in Ireland who could do the job as well and for far less money.

Hopefully the up and coming footballers out there would give anything to play for their club and country rather than themselves.

Bob Miller, Chelmsford, Essex

Good work on Palestine

I showed Simon Assaf’s article on exam boards and Palestine (» British exam board brands PLO as ‘terrorists’, 7 June) to my 12 year old daughter.

She is keenly interested in history and would tell you she is a “young socialist”. She is also part Jewish.

I asked her to comment on what she had read.

Her (sanitised) comments were that she would prefer to fail the course rather than parrot to the examiner how Britain and the US troops in Iraq “help build clinics” and she would debate the topics with her friends – using the paper if need be.

Keep up the good work!

Lesley Fitzsimmons, Luton

Obama shows true colours

In Barack Obama’s first foreign policy speech after winning the Democratic Party’s nomination for the US presidential elections, he said that Israel’s security was “sacrosanct” and “non-negotiable”.

He also pledged to do “everything” to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.

Imperialism, war and neoliberalism is no less imperialism, war and neoliberalism just because there is a black face sitting in the White House.

John Curtis, Suffolk

Supporting Tony Staunton

Tony Staunton can be proud of the fact that the officers of Unison are so scared of him that they persist in their witchhunt even after they have been judged to have acted illegally.

Unison is a major bank-roller for a Labour party that is massively in debt.

With genuine rank and file leadership, union funds could be transferred to support a different party that represents the working people.

Send messages of support to [email protected]

Robert Crick, Devon

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Article information

Tue 10 Jun 2008, 18:50 BST
Issue No. 2105
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