Socialist Worker


Issue No. 1736

The Prudential insurance firm has just announced it is axing some 2,000 staff – nearly 20 percent of its entire British workforce. I work in one of the Prudential call centres in Reading. Most of those who are being sacked are 'field staff'. These are the people who visit policy holders in their own homes and deal with individual cases. They are all being done away with.

They are being replaced by about 250 workers who will work in new call centres. So relatively well paid people are being replaced with poorly paid, overworked call centre workers. On top of this we have recently been told that, although our jobs are safe, we are being moved to another building down the road. Management told us that they hope to rake in £35 million from this measure. They told us about the job losses at an impromptu meeting with our managers. We had no idea what to expect-although we were all grateful for the chance to get off the phones.

Then they hit us with it. We got a five minute explanation and a leaflet telling us what to say to anybody who asks us about the matter over the phone. We came out of the meeting, logged onto our computers and the story splashed across all the news websites. BBC news online found out about this before any of us did. Worse, I was sent an email entitled 'Do not talk to the press'. We couldn't believe the nerve of these people.

They told the world's media, putting their spin on it, before telling us and then told us we were forbidden to speak about it to any journalists! I know I'm up for a fightback. The TUC has just produced a report which says that call centre workers get only 60 percent of average earnings. It shows how call centre workers are constantly monitored on things like going to the toilet. Now is the time for union leaders to start organising.


Why Tommy has got New Labour rattled

Attacks on the left in the Scottish press last week have exposed the fact that the New Labour establishment is beginning to worry. New Labour's favourite tabloid, the Daily Record, led the charge with a number of articles and editorials attacking the socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan. The attacks began after he was arrested at the Big Blockade of Faslane nuclear submarine base.

The Record accused Tommy Sheridan of tokenistic and irresponsible behaviour that wasn't fitting for a member of the Scottish Parliament. The point that the Daily Record and New Labour are missing is that it is insane to continue spending billions on weapons of mass destruction, especially when we are constantly being told there is no money for the real priorities of ordinary people.

The election of Tommy Sheridan and the increasing vote for the Scottish Socialist Party is worrying the establishment because it exposes the myth that there is no alternative to Blair's New Labour. And what is equally worrying for them is that this mood for an alternative is beginning to express itself physically in actions like the Big Blockade.


Bullies in the post

Postal Workers at the giant sorting office in Aston, Birmingham, took action last week by refusing to manually load bags of mail onto the lorries. The CWU union requested six extra conveyor belts over a year ago as the lifting causes risk of back injuries, but the office continues to have just two. The action is causing a massive backlog.

The office has recently received media coverage over the case of Jermaine Lee, a black postal worker who committed suicide in 1999 following bullying by managers and racial harassment. The press reported last week that 'mafia-style Asian gangs' were 'terrorising' staff and workers in the office.

But solicitors for the family of Jermaine Lee say the stories are totally unsubstantiated and 'the allegations may be a deliberate and malicious attempt to divert attention away from the central issue-racist bullying of Jermaine Lee by white managers.'

ANDY NORTH, Birmingham

Everyone benefits

Despite cold and wet weather, Thorpe Edge estate in Bradford was home to a benefit gig last weekend. It was organised by two Rebel! members for the striking Dudley health workers. Hearing the loud punk music, neighbours came from the surrounding area to listen to the gig.

On discovering that we were 'left of New Labour', which 'had to be good', one woman gave generously to our appeal. The gig was highly political. The lead singer of one of the bands took time out to explain that 19,000 children die each day because of Third World debt and that the strikers represent a blow to the neo-liberal agenda that causes these deaths.

Many congratulated us on our effects and were interested in coming to political gigs in the future. We raised £31.50 for the strikers' fund, which we hope will aid them in their courageous fight against privatisation.

PAUL HATES, Bradford

GM is the enemy

Seve Kidd's letter regarding the campaign to save the Luton car plant (Socialist Worker 10 February) raises some serious points. He is quite right about the damage caused to both people and the planet by over-reliance on the motor car. He is also right to say that we should be looking for alternatives to cars.

However, will allowing General Motors to close its Luton plant achieve any of these aims? I don't think so. GM's actions are not motivated in the least by ecological concerns or issues of the quality of life for ordinary people. Their judgement is based solely upon what will let them carry on making more cars to make profits.

The workers in Luton have no more say about what they produce than any other group of workers. Some of them may love cars, some may hate them, but none of them are in a position to impose their preferences or needs on the production process. As socialists we want a world with a clean and safe transport system. But to get there we have to stand alongside those suffering from the insanity of the system.


How Blair looked after Mr Moffat

Tony Blair claims to be in a 'fury' over Brian Moffat's refusal to give ministers advance warning of the job cuts at Corus. Looks like Tony has been let down by one of his friends again. On 17 May last year the government gave Moffat a role in running Britain's economic policy. He was appointed to the Court of the Bank of England, a shadowy group of businessmen supposed to keep the bank in touch with regional or industrial economic trends.

Moffat still sits on the court. He got his bank job when another Blair-friendly businessman made a mess. He replaced Graham Hawker, who used to run Welsh privatised utility Hyder. Under Hawker's dynamic leadership, Hyder nearly went bust and was taken over by a Japanese bank. Hawker lost his jobs at Hyder and the Bank of England. Never mind. Hawker has a new job at the Welsh Development Agency, one of the bodies supposed to find new jobs for the steel workers.


Plenty for everyone

Dr Richard Lacey was a thorn in the last government's side, revealing the true story of BSE and CJD. I have a lot of respect for this, but I do have one disagreement with Dr Lacey's concern in the recent interview in Socialist Worker that the world's population is a significant problem.

The hunger problem around the world is not caused by a lack of food worldwide, but is due to multinational control over food. There is enough grain alone produced to give everyone 3,500 calories a day, which is more than adequate for anyone to live on. And this is without other foods such as fruit or vegetables.

One of the greatest contradictions of capitalism is the potential to feed the world many times over, but the failure to do so in the name of profit. The food which is destroyed because it is not profitable to sell could easily accommodate a much higher population than exists at the moment.


Postal points

Our trades council is holding a march and rally for May Day this year on the theme of human rights. British asylum and immigration laws are among the most restrictive on earth, and are getting worse. 'Our' labour laws are the most restrictive in all Europe, except Croatia.

'Our' laws on the right of assembly are also restrictive. Police powers are draconian and British prisons are the most overcrowded in Europe. 'Our' education system increasingly negates the right to free education and 'our' NHS is being slowly strangled by creeping privatisation. Pensioners in Britain are the most deprived in all Europe. The right to life itself is menaced daily by the deficiencies of privatised railways. We must speak out and act now. We invite everyone to join our march on Saturday 28 April. Assemble at 11am, Turham Street car park, Lancaster.

STEVE METCALFE, president Lancaster TUC

The upcoming election will provide the perfect opportunity for left wing activists who have felt the cold shoulder of Labour policies during its time in office. I urge all left friendly groups, particularly disillusioned Labour Party voters, to unite behind the socialist candidate standing in your constituency. Register your anger with the bi-party system and the Labour government. Use your vote as a protest.

ADAM POULUS, North London

An important question facing people is how to vote? at the forthcoming general election. In seats with socialist candidates standing the answer is reasonably straightforward. But in the vast majority of constituencies with no left of Labour candidate, what will Socialist Worker be suggesting? The experience of Labour in office since then has surely exploded any lingering doubts about advising workers to cast votes for Labour again.

DAVE COLLINS, Huddersfield

The decision by the Scottish Parliament to look at providing full free care for the elderly is extremely important. One of the most amazing things is how suddenly there is universal agreement, including the media and Tories, that this will be an improvement. After years of pushing PFI and charges for social care, they now warn of the dangers of a two tier health system. I thought privatisation was meant to improve things?


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Article information

Sat 24 Feb 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1736
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