Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2132

Activists have been campaigning inside Woolworths stores (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

Activists have been campaigning inside Woolworths stores (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

Solidarity at Woolworths

Having heard that Woolworths workers were facing the dole, we decided to shift our Socialist Worker paper sale last week to the Woolworths store in Camberwell, south London.

We turned up at 9.30am with papers and petitions calling on the government to defend Woolworths workers’ jobs.

The store was crammed with people. Thinking there was nothing to lose, we made a loud announcement near the tills that we were there to support the workers who were facing the sack.

We repeated a short sharp argument based on the petition, pointing out that £500 billion of our money has been earmarked for bailing out the bankers who sparked this economic crisis.

A fraction of that would protect every job in Britain. So why should a single Woolworths worker lose their job, or anyone lose their home?

We said that bankers and politicians were making us pay for the crisis they created. Northern Rock – a nationalised bank – is putting people out of their homes faster than any other bank.

People immediately agreed and began passing the petition down the queues. The staff were delighted. We were mobbed – collecting 50 signatures in 20 minutes and selling out of papers.

Nicola Field, South London

We did a Socialist Worker paper sale inside the Woolworths at Cowley shopping centre in Oxford for an half an hour last week.

We made a brief announcement and then petitioned the queues, talking about the need for a fightback over jobs. Some 50 people signed the petition and took leaflets with eight buying the paper. Staff took leaflets to hand out to their workmates.

The first person to sign our petition was the wife of a local postal worker and former union branch secretary. She took the opportunity to add to our announcement the fact Oxford postal workers are also fighting for their jobs.

People were not just sympathetic about the Woolworth workers – they wanted action over growing unemployment in general. One person we spoke to had already lost their job and home as a result of the crisis. Others faced fights to get benefits for disabled children.

We went back to the store for an hour on Saturday, selling 18 papers and collecting nearly 200 petition signatures. One till worker refused to serve any customer unless they signed our petition. Staff thanked us at the end and were very grateful for our efforts. The petitions will be sent off to our local MP.

Ian McKendrick and Julie Simmons, Oxford

Inspections and Baby P

Christine Gilbert, head of the Ofsted inspections agency, has inadvertently admitted what many workers in social services have known for a long time – that Ofsted is incompetent, naive and clearly not “fit for purpose”.

If she really believes that Haringey council pulled the wool over inspectors’ eyes, and that this didn’t come to light until a year after the tragic death of Baby P, then anybody who relies on Ofsted reports is going to be badly let down.

Successive governments have signed up to the philosophy that every service provided can be “evaluated” as if it were comparable to selling groceries. It’s no surprise that this dangerously mistaken idea was started by Margaret Thatcher.

The government’s culture of avoiding risk at all costs while leaping to allocate blame has systematically eroded the professional judgement, confidence and optimism of the workforce in local government, healthcare and education.

Gilbert appears unwilling to take responsibility for the serious failings of Ofsted.

Likewise the government is much more inclined to blame poorly paid, overworked and largely unsupported social workers rather than accept any culpability on its part.

It prefers to scapegoat social workers for failings in society – rather than address the very real problems brought about by the family and its role in capitalist society.

Ross Sutton, Reading

Our union has to start campaigning and giving a lead to changing the conditions of social work.

Organised workers are the only people with the power to bring about the changes needed to protect the other Baby Ps that we do not yet know about.

I don’t see how we can proceed as social workers without starting to force these changes. It is too late for Baby P. It was too late for Victoria Climbié.

Are we just going to sit through another round of platitudes and scapegoating from our employers and government?

A social worker, by email

Time to march against these benefit ‘reforms’

I am utterly incensed by the benefit reforms announced by work and pensions secretary James Purnell (» Labour’s nasty attacks on benefit claimants, 13 December).

As a lone parent on benefits, I have done a good job of bringing up my child on incredibly limited means. But these new proposals chill me to the core.

They are quite obviously a ploy to divert attention away from the real reasons why Britain is entering a recession.

Instead of punishing the real culprits, the government is trying to blame the unemployed. After all, everybody knows lone parents are responsible for all of society’s ills.

The white paper recommends a “work for dole” programme. This effectively means the state getting a handy little army of workers that only have to be paid a fifth of the minimum wage.

If we do not vociferously oppose these reforms, things will only get worse. We need to march on Downing Street with our wheelchairs and prams and let the government know that they can’t get away with this kind of social engineering.

I have absolutely no clue how to bring this about – which is why I’m writing to you now.

Does anyone have any advice on how we could get such a march organised?

So many people around the country are horrified about these reforms – I’m sure many would gladly participate.

Lone parent, Devon

Dishonest lawyers ripped off miners

Two greedy fat cat lawyers who ripped off sick and dying miners in a deal with a scab union finally got what they deserved last week.

Jim Beresford and Doug Smith were struck off after being found guilty of dishonesty by the solicitors’ disciplinary tribunal.

They were found to have acted with “conscious impropriety” in their dealings with the UDM, a scab miners’ union set up to help break the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85.

Their Doncaster-based law firm, Beresfords, was paid £136 million by the government to handle thousands of industrial disease compensation claims from sick miners.

They deducted money from damages in thousands of cases. One widow received just £281.77 compensation – while the lawyers took £2431.08 from the government.

Beresford personally made more than £30 million from the claims. The money bought him a £1.8 million private jet, Aston Martins and a Ferrari.

Now the government should force Beresford, Smith and other lawyers to repay those millions of pounds to miners and their families.

Phil Turner, Rotherham

Bullying is rife in Royal Mail

I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised to read your story about a postal delivery worker in Luton who was dismissed and lost his appeal after leaving his keys in his van (» Postal workers, 16 June 2007).

Bullying by managers is rampant in Royal Mail. If these people worked for a professional company, they would be shown the door.

I urge all postal workers to take on Royal Mail – and save our postal service.

Bill McGrath, Preston

Support for bus strike

We think the bus strikes taking place in Bradford are an excellent idea (» Three-day strike planned at First Bus, 13 December).

Bus drivers nowadays do not get adequate pay. We should stand up for what is right – and that is the bus strike.

Laura, Angelica, Emily and Becca, Bradford

Great footage of bank demo

Last week you reviewed the latest DVD from the Reel News video collective, which profiles former members of the Black Panther Party (» Justice For All , 13 December).

I thought readers would like to know that the same DVD contains stunning footage of the October protest against the bank bailout held outside the Bank of England.

All the Reel News DVDs are available at Bookmarks bookshop.

Hazel Sabey, West London

Memories of Brian Rose

I’m shocked and saddened to hear of Brian Rose’s death (» Obituary, 6 December).

I met him in 1982 when I was on strike for union recognition at Caplan’s, a “cash and carry” wholesaler in Manchester.

It was the dark days of 1982 in the middle of Margaret Thatcher’s recession and the Falklands War.

Along with the other comrades in Salford SWP, Brian gave our strike unwavering support. On one occasion he almost got beaten up by some of the company’s thugs.

Since I moved to Japan, I lost touch with Brian, but he’ll always be in my fondest thoughts. I’ll miss him greatly.

Dave Handley, Kawasaki, Japan

Terrorists are not jihadists

The Arabic word “jihad” was misused in the 6 December issue of Socialist Worker.

Meena Menon talked about rejecting terrorist “jihad”, while your article on Kashmir accepted that groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba are “jihadists”.

The word “jihad” has a positive and wide‑ranging meaning for Arabs and Muslims, incorporating the struggle for good in a variety of ways.

For example, Hizbollah’s construction wing, which is involved in rebuilding Lebanon, is called Jihad al‑Bina – literally the “construction struggle”.

Please don’t use this terminology to describe those who try to violently impose their ideas on others – they are sectarians and terrorists, not jihadists.

Nasser Mashadi, by email

Blacklist gets the brush-off

A nasty attempt by New Labour to encourage blacklisting has come a cropper – because bosses are worried about the bad press they might get from sacking people.

The government launched its National Staff Dismissal Register in May this year.

It is meant to list of workers who resigned or were sacked for alleged “dishonest actions” – even if no prosecution took place. The register has been condemned by trade unions such as the GMB and Usdaw.

But to date only ten firms have signed up for the scheme. Perhaps the government should demand back the £1 million it gave to Action Against Business Crime, the group behind the scheme.

Jiben Kumar, East London

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Article information

Mon 15 Dec 2008, 19:00 GMT
Issue No. 2132
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