Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2110

Women in rural Bangladesh heading for a flood shelter last autumn. Now rising prices and global economic chaos are adding to the pressures they already face (Pic: Shamsuddin Ahmed/IRIN)

Women in rural Bangladesh heading for a flood shelter last autumn. Now rising prices and global economic chaos are adding to the pressures they already face (Pic: Shamsuddin Ahmed/IRIN)

Food and fuel price rises hit the world’s poorest

The rising cost of food and fuel is hitting the poor very hard here in Bangladesh (» G8 leaders condemn us to poverty, 12 July). We have seen the price of oil rise by 36 percent, while natural gas and chemical fertilisers have doubled in cost.

All this comes at a time of rising inflation. According to conservative estimates, the overall inflation rate will cross the 15 percent mark. In March the cost of essential food items was 70 percent higher than the previous year.

One Bangladeshi research organisation has estimated that the latest hikes in fuel oil prices will force about 400,000 people into poverty.

It also revealed that the number of people living in poverty has increased by 4 percentage points to 46 percent of the total population this year – reversing a 20-year trend of gradually declining poverty rates in Bangladesh.

But workers are fighting back. In April a united platform of all the national trade unions of Bangladesh demanded a rise in the national minimum wage.

Left wing activists have demanded the formation of a price control authority and the enforcement of laws against hoarding commodities. We have also demanded that the government opposes the US’s production of biofuels, which is driving up food prices across the world. We are also asking why, if Bangladeshi workers have to pay prices determined by the international market, are our poor farmers not being subsidised by the government like their counterparts in the US?

There has also been a wave of industrial action in recent months. Some 60,000 workers in factories and jute mills have been striking in Dhaka, Narayanganj, Gazipur and other cities.

As well as striking, the workers have blockaded roads, demonstrated and laid siege to management offices. In Narayanganj workers attacked the offices of the Knitwear Employers Association. The strikers are demanding increased pay as well as opposing the privatisation of jute mills, delays in wage payment, and terror attacks by thugs hired by the owners.

The working class, students and political activists are staging regular demonstrations, ignoring rules brought in under the state of emergency declared last year. There is now a real possibility of Bangladeshi workers and students joining forces with an emerging global protest movement against food and fuel price hikes.

Mushtuq Husain, Dhaka, Bangladesh

US oil lust drives war

Why would the US want to stay in Iraq for 20 years (»  New US plan for total control , 7 June)? And why does George Bush seem so keen to attack Iran?

My feeling is that the little agreement the US has had with the Opec oil cartel in the Middle East is now falling apart.

It is evident that the US’s “powers that be” feel far too threatened by the power Opec has over the country’s ability to wage war, power millions of automobiles, trucks, planes, and keep the economy running.

So George Bush has decided to rip up that agreement. If the US cannot get its “fix” of oil by conventional means, it will simply steal it.

With Iraq’s oil in Bush’s pocket and quite possibly Iran’s too, the US will have plenty of fossil fuel plus a staging area for military operations throughout the Middle East region.

But this is a dangerous game.Iran is not the pushover that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was.

Even Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, has recently seemed to be dissembling regarding pulling troops out of Iraq.

Stephen Ernest Smith, Missouri, US

Afghanistan alternatives

I’ve been reading Socialist Worker’s coverage of Afghanistan with interest, but I do think that there has been a significant lack of articles discussing what should be happening instead of the Nato occupation.

Afghanistan is a more difficult case than Iraq as neither the occupation nor the Taliban back in power are good options.

After more than 30 years of war there is no real working government in Afghanistan, nothing in the way of popular movements and little opportunity for ones to form at the moment.

I don’t have any answers on this issue – I know what I want the outcome to be but don’t know how to get there. I think that I and others would appreciate some guidance on this question.

Andy Harries, North West London

Army targets children for military recruitment

I am on the support staff of a secondary school in Bristol. Recently I witnessed a most unpleasant piece of deception by the British army that readers should be made aware of.

Our school has an annual “activity week” where timetables are replaced by other activities.

One such day for students aged 13 to 14 was billed as “army day”. Students were taken to the main hall and sat in front of a large screen bearing the logo and slogan from the army’s TV recruitment campaign – “Army. Be The Best.”

A soldier in full uniform then introduced himself as a recruitment officer. The pupils were clearly being subjected to a recruitment campaign – some two years before they were due to leave secondary school.

The screen then moved on to a film about soldiers in Iraq that contained a series of blatant lies about how the British army “has stayed on in Iraq after the end of hostilities” in order to “help to rebuild infrastructure like roads, schools and hospitals”.

I was livid and went to find the head teacher. I was informed that the army had submitted a brief which the school had accepted. But this brief did not mention the active recruitment of 13-14 year olds into a military career.

Spread the word. Do not allow military into our schools, and be extremely vigilant about allowing young people to attend any such activities – they are being groomed for military service.

Neil Maggs, Bristol

No place on Pride for Boris Johnson

I thought the recent Pride march in London in support of LGBT rights was a brilliant event – lively, well attended and political.

But I do have concerns over the attendance of London’s Tory mayor Boris Johnson on the march.

He is a known bigot who has made numerous anti-gay comments in the past and has recently shut down his Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Advisory Panel.

Most people in the LGBT community are outraged by this decision. But there are some who have come to the defence of Johnson.

George Broadhead of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association said Johnson “did very well” and attacked the former mayor Ken Livingstone for meeting with the Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

These views should be firmly rejected. It is wrong to equate being Muslim with being anti‑gay, as Broadhead does.

I have many Muslim friends who support and accept me for who I am. I stand by them rather than by Johnson, who wants to make cuts not just to LGBT services, but also to anti-racist initiatives. We need a united fight against both homophobia and Islamophobia.

Bettina Anna Trabant, South London

Knife crime and alienation

Instead of demonising our young people, perhaps we should think about helping them.

We need to ask ourselves why so many of them feel they need to carry weapons.

I have spoken to many young people associated with gang crime, and it seems to me that they feel they have no place in society.

Putting more police on our streets will only perpetuate the “us and them” culture that has become so destructive.

The state of this country’s youth tells us something about the society we live in. Short term measures will no longer suffice. These young people need to be helped, not locked up and forgotten.

Ellie Mackay, via email

Practical solutions

I knew Harriet Harman, now Labour’s deputy leader, when she was a young solicitor at the Brent Law Centre back in the 1970s.

I remember her saying it was better to be in the Labour Party than the Socialist Workers Party because Labour offered “practical solutions” to workers’ problems.

On Wednesday of last week she told the House of Commons that “the situation in the housing market is of grave cause for concern”.

Well, Harriet, you have a practical solution – build more council houses. So why don’t you do it?

Ken Montague, North West London

Racism in the police force

Rajendra Joshi’s article on racism in the Metropolitan Police (Socialist Worker, 5 July) is no surprise to the US’s National Black Police Association and its 15,000 members.

Yes, there has been change but it has not reduced or addressed institutional racism, or the willingness of white people to act like everything is OK.

It is people like Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, who enable racists to still operate within the structures of our institutions.

Sergeant Joshi has captured the true essence of the problem in the US. Already there are those who have tried to bury racism because a black man is the presidential nominee from a major political party in our country. But racism is alive and well.

Ronald E Hampton, executive director, National Black Police Association, US

Redheads shed light on racism

John Molyneux uses the idea of deporting red haired people to free up jobs for blond or dark haired folk in order to ridicule racism (» Is the world full up?, 5 July).

This is very effective, but not entirely fanciful. Back in the 1950s, it was sometimes said that red haired people were “highly strung” or “untrustworthy”.

I always use the fact that “gingerism” has disappeared without trace – whereas racism lives on – as evidence of the essentially political nature of such ideas.

Dermot Smyth, Sheffield

Guardian plug for Nazi job

I was shocked to discover that the Guardian website is advertising the post of political researcher to Richard Barnbrook, the British National Party (BNP) member of the London assembly.

The BNP is a fascist organisation and Barnbrook is a hardcore Nazi. It is bad enough that £29,000 of public money is being spent on this job without a supposedly liberal paper giving the fascists a helping hand.

Jiben Kumar, East London

Privatisation runs rampant

A new report has revealed the huge scale of privatisation running rampant through our public services.

It shows some £80 billion a year is spent on “outsourcing” public services to private firms and the voluntary sector. That’s a third of all public services and double the sum spent a decade ago.

Jacob Middleton, East London

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Article information

Wed 16 Jul 2008, 18:58 BST
Issue No. 2110
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