We need the Irish spirit over here
Tens of thousands of teachers, parents and students protested in Dublin last Saturday against the Irish government’s plans to make cutbacks in the education budget.
This is the latest stage of a mass movement that has challenged attacks on education, as the government looks to implement austerity measures in the face of the economic recession.
The cuts will hit education at all levels. They have produced mass opposition throughout Irish society, with everyone from pensioners to school students joining the demonstrations.
They are an inspiring sight. We need some of the Irish fighting spirit in Britain against the attacks we face.
Katherine Branney, East London
Object to being objects
A protest by 40 women and men outside the School of Oriental and African Studies’ (Soas) heats of the Miss University of London Beauty Pageant has caused a furore across the media.
Most of the opposition to our protest has come from liberals who believe that beauty contests are just a “bit of fun” in our “post-feminist” society.
But our position is strengthened by what has been a rolling back in the rights of women to walk down the street, or through campus, without the fear of being judged on their looks.
We have had comments such as, “You’re just jealous because you don’t look like these women – you would be OK if you put on a bit of lipstick,” to “If you don’t like being judged by your looks why don’t you wear a burkha?”
There have been even worse remarks, such as “women fantasise about being raped”.
This uncovers the terrible reality behind the seemingly benign arguments.
Women continue to face oppression in our society, with lower pay than men, worse job opportunities and the burden of childcare. We do not believe that women are being forced to enter these contests but how free is their choice?
There is a bombardment from the media and advertising about how a woman should act, dress and think. Because of this it is no surprise that 63 percent of young women would rather be a glamour model than a doctor or a lawyer.
We are told that being paraded round like a prize bull in a beauty pageant is the sort of liberation that women have fought for.
We also wonder how the contestants felt when men shouted that they should work in a brothel? With the introduction of top-up fees, some women students can see the exploitative glamour industry as an opportunity to make a bit of cash to help them through university.
What message does this send to our younger generation? That in order to feel valued you have to devalue yourself? We want a society that does not judge and then rank us on anything, let alone on the narrow stereotype of what it is to be beautiful.
We were told by a man – ironically in a class on feminism – that we should stop telling people what to think.
But by speaking out we are challenging the dominant ideas in society and making people question them.
This is exactly what we aim for. Why should we be silenced? We object to being objects and we are going to continue shouting.
We urge everyone to support the campaign against these degrading pageants by signing the petition, details of which can be found at » www.solomonsmindfield.net
Elly James, Soas students union women’s officer
Clare Solomon, Central London
Blaming the victims
The article on the death of Baby P (» Media witch-hunt puts more children at risk, 22 November) ended with the call for a struggle for a better future for our children.
As we fall into recession, this call should be a central pillar of socialist agitation.Now is the time to get involved in community campaigns to demand resources and defend working class children. Around four million children are living in poverty in Britain.
In the same week as the media damned social workers and called for more children to be taken into care, YouGov research suggested that half the population believe children are a danger to each other and adults.
The press and politicians have vilified children to such an extent that people can believe young people are responsible for up to half of all crime.
Other recent surveys show conditions for adults are deteriorating too. Many elderly people are living in poverty, isolation and fear.
Isolation causes division and alienation. When we can’t get action and support from public services and politicians, we are vulnerable to calls to blame and scapegoat others.
Socialists should be active in our local communities, mobilising in defence of health services, demanding social housing and cheap public transport, and resisting repossessions and evictions.
We should be campaigning for recreational facilities, respect and a political voice for all our children.
Tony Staunton, Plymouth
Debt hits resistance
Sadie Robinson’s article on workers fighting during a recession (» How workers resist recession, 6 December) shows why people should resist consumerism and buying unneeded goods while going into debt. It weakens workers’ ability to resist abuses as they are unable to withstand a period without paychecks.
Blue, Illinois, US
Union’s Accord with HBOS goes too far
I am employed by the HBOS bank and am a member – though not for much longer – of the Accord union. This union, which is affiliated to the TUC, is “the only union exclusively dedicated to the employees of the HBOS Group”.
The members are looked after by their union representative. Their official job description sounds like it was written by the managers who they are supposed to negotiate better terms for members with.
It says union reps must offer their thoughts “constructively” and have as their objective a “win-win” situation.
But both sides cannot win.
To demonstrate how ludicrous this idea is, imagine Rafael Nadal taking on Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final and trying to achieve a “win-win” result.
Is this not the exact opposite of what a union should be doing?
With a philosophy like this running through it, how can Accord be a real union?
It is too closely linked to HBOS. Members’ subscriptions are deducted at source – how much more “in bed” with HBOS can Accord be?
I don’t want to give my hard-earned money to a union that has my interests on level terms with that of the company I work for.
I don’t want my union reps neutered and censored by an insidious corporate culture.
As usual, it’s the workers who suffer because of this.
John Aspinall, Weston-Super-Mare
DNA database is seriously flawed
The Labour government’s drive against our civil liberties took a minor blow last week.
The European Court of Human Rights unanimously ruled that the database of the DNA profiles and fingerprints of over 850,000 innocent people is illegal.
The national DNA database contains the details of 4.3 million people, including 50,000 children, who have been arrested by the police.
It does not matter whether they are convicted of any offence or not – their details are still retained.
One of the men who took up the case against the database was arrested and charged with attempted robbery in 2001.
He was cleared five months later.
He was 12 years old at the time.
The government and the police claim they need the database as a vital resource to use to fight crime.
But they have added over four million people’s DNA to a file since 1997 purely on the basis that they came into contact with the police.
During this period crime has stayed at essentially the same level.
Marie Bristow, Bridgwater
We saved our job centre
The government has relented and stated that Whitstable job centre will not be closed as previously planned. This follows campaigning by the PCS civil service workers’ union and Left Alternative members.
We collected over 600 signatures on a petition against closure and handed out postcards for people to send to the regional manager of JobCentre Plus. We are told that he would regularly find them stacked high in his in tray.
We pointed out that this vital point of access and information for the unemployed needs to be kept local and accessible for all. The people of the town agreed with us.
The Department for Work and Pensions has stopped the closure along with that of 24 other job centres across the country.
A big thank you goes to all the activists who worked on this campaign and a bigger thank you to the people of Whitstable who rallied to this cause.
Daniel Allen, Whitstable
Interest in an unlikely place
On a crowded tube train recently I saw a man reading an old copy of Socialist Worker.
I moved opposite him and offered him the current issue. He said someone had left the copy he had been reading and that he didn’t want the new one.
We talked about socialism and the economic crisis and he evidently found it interesting because he went past his stop.
In the end he was pleased to accept the paper and a flyer for last weekend’s Marxism event on the economic crisis.
Hazel Sabey, West London
United stance against BNP
The fascist British National Party (BNP) were dealt a blow in Harwich, Essex, recently.
Anti-fascist campaigners took to the streets in force on a Saturday after around eight Nazis harassed a Socialist Worker stall the previous week.
Local activists, including representatives from the Unite, Unison and PCS unions, as well as councillors from Labour and the Community Representative Party, took part in an anti-fascist leafleting session in response.
Around 25 people turned out to oppose the BNP and gave out Unite Against Fascism (UAF) leaflets.
We are now planning to set up a UAF group in the town.
Kate Connolly, Harwich
Socialism is not a dogma
Jo, (» Letters, 6 December) criticises Socialist Worker for its “dogmatic” articles in favour of “nationalising enterprises”.
This is, she says, as bad as New Labour’s support for the free market.
Instead of dogma we should be more pragmatic and do whatever works best for society.
But Socialist Worker’s vision of nationalisation is much different to that of “big government and strong state socialism”.
While it is important for governments to stop firms going bust and to save jobs through nationalisation, we want to go much further.
Ultimately, we want a society where workers and communities democratically control, run and plan the production and distribution of goods and resources.
This is not dogma, but a theory based on providing a better way of running the world.
Running things on the basis of need would work much better for everyone than the failed free market economics that have ruined millions of people’s lives.
It would also be a very different kind of society to those of the Stalinist states of Eastern Europe, which were run on a state capitalist basis, rather than a socialist one.
Peter David, Newcastle