Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2107

Who was to blame for Bush protest violence?

I was confused about the reasons why the police reacted so violently to our recent demonstration against George Bush’s visit to Britain two weekends ago – everyone knows that our anti-war protests have always been peaceful.

My bewilderment started to clear after a friend passed me an article from, of all newspapers, the Mail on Sunday.

Yasmin Whittaker-Khan, a Mail journalist who seems to have attended the protest in her own time, wrote the piece.

She said that she was surprised to see a demonstrator there acting extremely aggressively.

This guy, smartly dressed in a white T-shirt and well-built, was apparently shouting abuse at the police, calling them “pigs” and the like.

He pushed aside children and elderly people in a bid to persuade others to join him at the front of the demonstration.

But the journalist recognised the aggressive “protester” as a police officer that she had met at a Christmas party, along with the local mayor and councillors.

She recalled her earlier impressions of him, “He was highly entertaining, bragging about his work in the police and how important he was,” says Whittaker-Khan.

“He is no mere rank and file officer.”

Call me naïve, but I always thought that stories about the police stoking-up trouble on protest marches were just so much left wing paranoia – until now.

When you couple actions like this with the growing attack on civil liberties it becomes clear that our basic freedoms in Britain are really under threat.

Suzanne Wiggins, Hampstead, north London

Police behaviour on the demonstration against Bush’s visit to London was shocking.

I was near the front, close to the barriers that prevented protesters marching down Whitehall, and could see the faces of the riot cops. Some clearly looked as if they were enjoying themselves.

This attitude was surprising as the crowd, although angry about Bush, showed no sign of being aggressive in any way.

I remember pointing out to a fellow protester that some riot police were smiling as they drew their weapons to strike unarmed protesters.

It’s ironic that I was stopped on the way to the demonstration and asked why I was carrying large poles (they were for my union banner), and told that some people may be attending the demonstration with the purpose of causing violence.

Well, the only people I saw intent on violence were the police.

Paul Turnbull, CWU union rep, Cambridge

‘N-word’ is always offensive

Stuart Calton (» Letters, 21 June) is dead wrong about the use of the “N‑word”. He claims its use “is a complex phenomenon”. It’s not really.

The word came into use among slave owners who saw Africans as subhuman.

It is a deeply racist slur.

The fact that the word has been in common usage among African-Americans merely tells us that racism is still with us.

And its prevalence in the public domain in a way that it wasn’t in the 1960s and 1970s – when we heard white racists use it a lot but not black people – is a sign of how the gains of those years are being undermined.

This is the concrete “social and political context” that Stuart urges us to understand.

When black people use the word it is not as a statement of pride in other black people, or a conscious attempt to “appropriate” it from the oppressor, but typically to denigrate and ridicule.

In other words the negative connotations are not in any way subverted because they come out of a black person’s mouth.

To be indifferent to its use gives a green light to racists.

For example, it allows white racists – like the US “comedian” Michael Richards, who was sacked for an on-stage racist tirade – to complain about the “double standard” of black people being able to use the word and get away with it.

Of course, it is important to distinguish between the oppressed and the oppressor when considering the usage of the word.

But what Stuart fails to grasp, and Richards does, is how using the word in whatever context gives racists an opening.

I support the campaign in the US to stop the use of the “N‑word”.

Far from immunising us against the offence the word brings, its continued use flags up how far we still have to go to eradicate the impact of racism on black people, as well as in the culture and structures of wider capitalist society.

Gary McFarlane, North London

Health bosses give us a reason to be grumpy

Health secretary Alan Johnson lectures health workers by saying that compassionate care is crucial to patients’ recovery – as if we didn’t know that already!

Apparently, we are now to be assessed on our ability to empathise with patients.

Our performance is already monitored through patient surveys and core standards but Johnson wants these to be published on an official website to create “friendly rivalry” between wards to improve standards.

He says, “If your experience involves nurses looking grumpy, or someone being rude, or not getting people there when you need them, then it ruins the whole experience.”

We don’t need yet more league tables and Ofsted-style point scoring to tell the government how many times we smile or hold a patient’s hand.

What we do need is some respect from health ministers whose own “core standards” seem to be based on how far they can cut and privatise public health services, keep wage levels below inflation, and treat patients as “customers” of the NHS.

Hospitals are overstretched and health workers are making themselves unwell trying to cope. Meanwhile people like Johnson give us good reason to feel grumpy.

Andy Ridley, East London

Victory over arms firm inspires us

Those who were buoyed by the victory of Raytheon 9 protesters in Derry (» Victory of the Raytheon 9 anti-war protesters, 21 June) might be interested in the campaign to stop the St Athan privatised military academy coming to Wales.

St Athan’s will be one of the biggest PFI/PPP projects ever, costing the taxpayer at least £14 billion, and involving arms company Raytheon and privatisation profiteers Serco.

Mike Hayle, the chief executive of the Metrix consortium who will head the academy, wants armed forces from all over the world to come to Wales to be trained to kill.

He says, “Our aim is that by 2013 if you travelled anywhere in the world and talked about military training, people would say that St Athan was the only place to go. It will genuinely be on the world map.”

People have come together to oppose this arms company-backed initiative.

We hope that the result of the Raytheon case will lead to a wider campaign against the company. We call for an investigation to determine whether it is a criminal enterprise.

Please visit our website »

Anne Greagsby, Cardiff

Bosses new blacklist

This month, the National Staff Dismissal Register (NSDR) goes online. It is a database of workers accused of theft and dishonesty – regardless of whether they have been convicted of any crime – which bosses can access when vetting potential employees.

The possibilities for employers using the NSDR to falsely accuse and blacklist trade unionists and other “troublemakers” is clear. Both the TUC and the Liberty pressure group have already voiced their concerns.

However, the NSDR – launched by “Action Against Business Crime”, a joint initiative of the state and big business – has benefited from a lack of publicity, and a consequent lack of real opposition.

The government has so far used the threat of terrorism to justify its curtailment of civil liberties – now the profits lost to employee theft seemingly pose a similar threat to civilisation.

Dave Sewell, Cheshire

Bend it like Bendit

What a cheek Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the 1960s revolutionary turned respectable German Green Party leader, has.

Last week he attacked the Irish people for throwing out the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty.

He said, “Essentially, the Irish people were considered stupid. The Irish felt something was hidden from them and nothing was.”

Nothing hidden apart from the threats to privatise public services, create a militarised bloc of countries with a common foreign policy, and provisions to help employers exploit differing labour laws to their own advantage.

After his party’s backing for the treaty and the war in Afghanistan, no wonder German voters no longer consider the Greens to be a left wing party.

Sigrid Heiss, Düsseldorf, Germany

Love racism, hate music

Boris Johnson, the new Tory mayor of London, has been rightly criticised for scrapping the anti‑racism message from the annual Rise free music festival held in the city each year.

Rise, previously known as the Respect festival, was set up by the TUC in 1996. It grew directly out of the movement that successfully drove the fascist British National Party (BNP) out of east London.

So it’s no surprise that Richard Barnbrook, the BNP’s new London assembly member, has applauded Johnson’s decision.

Barnbrook denounced Rise as “nothing more than an orgy of anti-BNP rhetoric” – and is now claiming victory for his campaign against it.

Jiben Kumar, East London

Unison has two faces

I saw Dave Prentis, the head of my Unison union, on the TV last week lambasting the government on below inflation pay offers.

He rightly tore a strip off Gordon Brown for telling more than a million health workers that our pay would be held below inflation for the next three years.

What a pity then that Unison’s leaders greeted that pay offer enthusiastically when it was first announced, and then put it out to a ballot without a recommendation to reject it.

Come on Dave, you can’t have it both ways.

Name withheld, Edinburgh

Chinese also fought

Great article about the black soldiers in the Second World War (» West Indian volunteers in the Second World War, 21 June).

I’d like to see one about the Chinese sailors in the merchant navy.

Chinese sailors were on far less money than their British counterparts doing the same job.

Ronnie Williams, Runcorn, Cheshire

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Article information

Tue 24 Jun 2008, 18:51 BST
Issue No. 2107
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