Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2127

Engaging with Obama

I work at Liverpool University and on Wednesday of last week I was due to teach a class of 100 students about poverty in 19th century Britain.

Ten minutes before the class was due to start I realised that this was wrong. Barack Obama had just been elected and I thought we should hold an open lecture on what this might mean.

I asked four other lecturers to speak for five minutes and I did the same. We then threw it open to the students.

The result was astonishing. For almost two hours students expressed their excitement and hope that the election might be the start of a process of change. But they also debated the contradictions that Obama’s election represented. We covered racism, war, economic crisis, climate change and a woman’s right to choose.

The lecture was exhilarating. It revealed the range of questions Obama’s election opens up, and the space that exists for socialists to engage with young people excited in the belief that change might be possible.

Michael Lavalette, Preston

The election of Obama as the US’s first black president is a victory for progressives everywhere. Obama’s promise has lit a torch of hope in the hearts of millions of black, Latino and poor American people.

His commitments to signing up to a treaty on global warming, to closing Guantanamo Bay, ending the Iraq war and to give Americans proper healthcare are to be applauded.

Well done America.

Mark Holt, Chair, Merseyside Stop the War Coalition

Obama’s election has got young people excited. At the school I teach at in Hackney, east London, students were talking of little else. Twelve year olds discussed what would happen next. We discussed the question of race and racism but moved onto other subjects quickly.

They had a very deep understanding of the issues. One student wrote a poem tracing the civil rights struggle from Rosa Parks to today. It was a heartening experience and I certainly enjoyed teaching the lessons.

Teacher, East London

One area of policy where Obama has already made clear what he means by change is with regard to US relations with Latin America. He has committed himself to a decisive reassertion of US imperial power in the region.

In a speech that he made to the Cuban American Foundation, an exile group committed to the overthrow of the Cuban government, in Miami in May, he made the position of an Obama administration absolutely clear.

The Bush administration had been so focused on Iraq that it had allowed US influence in Latin America to seriously decline. This has left a vacuum that was being filled by China and “demagogues like [Venezuelan president Hugo] Chavez” with his “perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government and chequebook diplomacy”.

Obama made clear his continued support for the Colombian government’s war against the Farc guerrilla movement and for its right to carry out military interventions in neighbouring countries.

John Newsinger, Leicester

Don’t fall for ruse

Many workers are worried about the impact the recession will have on jobs and pay. Already Labour ministers are telling us that we can’t strike for decent pay as it will undermine job security.

This is a ruse to try and lull us into accepting that we are in some way to blame for the economic collapse caused by the employers’ crisis-ridden system.

Recently 2,500 GMB union members at JCB voted for pay cuts and a shorter working week to “save” 350 jobs. This deal still cuts 150 jobs and bolsters the argument that sacrifices by workers are the only way to save jobs. The deal takes no account of the fact that JCB is making massive profits.

This approach weakens union organisation and undermines workers’ confidence. Following this deal, it is likely JCB will be back with another shopping list of fresh demands.

This strategy is reminiscent of the “give backs” negotiated by US unions in the early 1980s where union leaders would negotiate pay cuts for members when companies pleaded poverty. Union organisation became weakened and the bosses more emboldened as they drove home more attacks weakening the US labour movement.

As an aerospace rep, I remember we suffered huge job losses and plant closures in Edinburgh in 1990 with attacks on pay and union organisation.

We organised resistance to each round of redundancies and eventually got the confidence to organise a campaign of strikes against performance-related pay.

After a successful four week campaign, which was growing in strength, we were sold out by our union leaders. This demoralised the best activists and was followed by another round of redundancies and closures.

The reality is that the fight for better pay is linked to the battle to save jobs. They both feed into each other.

Success on pay builds confidence to resist job cuts and vice versa. Defeat on one front weakens our resolve to fight on the other. The key to defending jobs and pay is to build stronger union organisation.

Aerospace rep, Home Counties

Join together to save homes and services

Socialist Worker has done a great job explaining the economic crisis over the last few weeks. I am pleased that it hasn’t slipped into the smug “told you so” amusement of some in the anti-capitalist movement.

Anybody who wants to fight capitalism must engage with those whose homes, jobs pensions and local services are threatened.

In Brighton, local socialists and trade unionists have been working with the Green Party, who have 12 local councillors, to organise a protest against house repossessions, job losses, tax rises and for a decent state pension.

Our experience of cooperation across different political traditions has been positive.

I hope to see the immediate focus of the campaign being around repossessions.

It is a disgrace that banks now owned by the people are making people homeless then putting empty homes back on the market when there is such a shortage of genuinely affordable and secure rented properties.

I hope to win a commitment from our prospective MPs, including Green leader Caroline Lucas, to stand by those resisting repossession. We should organise local people to physically resist evictions.

I’d be interested to hear other Socialist Worker readers’ ideas and experiences of fighting the credit crunch.

Dave Jones, Brighton

Socialist Worker is talking sense

I am a “typical” middle-Englander, being a GP, a businessman with a couple of small companies, and believing in honest hard work for fair rewards that are both financial and moral.

I normally read the Financial Times newspaper.

But I have to say that I have read more sense about the bank bailout in the Socialist Worker article about banning bonus pay-outs to the bankers (8 November) than anywhere else.

I visited the Socialist Worker website to research another scandal.

This is to do with the long line of health ministers who end up with lucrative directorships and contracts with private companies who have profited greatly from the NHS.

Unfortunately, it seems that government ministers from all parties are increasingly benefitting from a corruptingly close relationship with big business.

That makes a nonsense of public debate and involvement with policy.

We should all be concerned about this development, whatever our individual politics may be.

Dr Henry White, Warwick

Extradition of justice

The NatWest Three, British businessmen who were extradited to the US in 2006 to face trial over the bank’s sale of a stake in a subsidiary of the disgraced Enron company, returned to Britain last week.

They pleaded guilty to one count of fraud. In return, prosecutors agreed to drop six other charges and support their bid to serve some of their sentence in Britain.

They served less than six months in a US jail and are expected to be free by the end of next year.

I wonder if Babar Ahmad, who is threatened with extradition on trumped up “terrorism” charges, or Gary McKinnon, who is facing extradition to the US on charges of hacking into Pentagon computers, will receive such leniency?

Katherine Branney, East London

Migrants and the unions

Bosses in the hotel industry prefer immigrant workers because they can make them work harder for the same pay (» Resist attempt to whip up racism, 1 November).

If you try to persuade them to join a union with you, you get dismissed out of hand.

Maybe you can tell me how workplaces that don’t have a union organisation can organise without getting people the sack?

Frank, Vale of Glamorgan

Signs of hope in Blackburn

I came upon a refreshing change in Blackburn last week in the form of some homemade posters on a derelict pub calling for an Obama victory, troops home now and Asbos for bankers.

I just had to take some photos of this great display, especially as the town has as its MP a self righteous war criminal, Jack Stwar [spelling intentional].

As foreign secretary, he fanned the flames of war in Iraq with his boss Bliar insisting there were WMDs. None of us will forget his antics when he attacked those Muslims who wear the veil.

Now, laughingly, he is minister of justice. There is no chance of him arresting himself for war crimes.

The posters were very popular with the general public.

Tom Howard, Blackburn

Let’s kick the City harder

New Labour accepts that society exists to serve the market, not the reverse.

Each and every “arms length” light touch policy is based on the neocon belief that worships vast wealth.

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling lie when they claim to be doing everything they can to address the crisis – a weak code of practice on repossessions has been welcomed by lenders for example.

All tentative moves towards regulation are resisted.

Some bosses have complained that this would be “kicking the City when it’s down”.

But they have no such sympathy for low paid employees trying to chase inflation not caused by themselves.

Nigel Coward, West London

‘Flexible’ and exhausted

It Is a disgrace that the Labour government is battling tooth and claw to retain Britain’s opt-out from the European working time directive.

This is despite Labour MEPs voting to scrap the opt-out that limits the working week to 48 hours.

The bosses, who want British workers to continue to work every possible working hour for the lowest pay possible, have gone berserk over the vote.

And Lord Peter Mandelson, Gordon Brown’s new business secretary, has pledged that the government will “continue to stand firm to protect the opt-out” which was “essential to Britain’s labour market flexibility”.

This proves how committed New Labour is to big business and grabbing as much from workers as possible.

Simone Murray, Carlisle

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Article information

Tue 11 Nov 2008, 18:22 GMT
Issue No. 2127
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