Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2163

Camberwell tragedy shows the need for good council housing

I live on a council estate in the London borough of Southwark and I’m very worried about the implications of the recent fire in Lakanal house, a tower block in Camberwell.

The fact that it probably started with an electrical fault in a ten year old portable telly does not explain why it spread so widely and rapidly and caused the deaths of six people.

It seems there was only one escape route, blocked in several places by rubbish, and no sprinkler system or communal fire alarm.

The recent refurbishment does not seem to have made the block safer. The council told the Southwark News newspaper that the replacement windows were metal, but in fact they are made of PVC, which may have contributed to the spread of the fire.

The council pleads that it does not have enough government funding, but at the same time it is planning to have an expensive new town hall built near the river.

It was left largely to other tenants and residents, and especially tenants at Sceaux Gardens estate, where the fire took place, to provide basic necessities such as money, clothing, children’s toys and toiletries to those affected by the fire.

There are 208 other blocks in Southwark with only one internal fire escape. Such blocks should be replaced or properly fireproofed now.

This terrible tragedy makes it all the more urgent that the government immediately provides direct investment in new top quality council housing.

Mary Phillips South London

The New Labour-controlled Neath Port Talbot council wants to privatise some 9,700 council homes in Neath and Port Talbot.

But it is facing growing opposition from the local Defend Council Housing (DCH) group.

The council has a budget of £5 million to spend on a “yes” vote.

However, the reports the council chiefs have been getting are so bad—for them—that the crucial ballot of tenants has been delayed until the spring of next year so that the council can reconsider its tactics.

In contrast to their millions, DCH has been operating on a shoestring. However, we have delivered thousands of leaflets across the borough and have organised a series of public meetings in Port Talbot, Glynneath, Neath Abbey and Skewen.

Despite the delay in the ballot we will be continuing with our campaign throughout the summer and into the autumn. DCH campaigners will be joining the march on the Labour Party conference in Brighton on 27 September.

Huw Pudner Neath Port Talbot DCH

War and hypocrisy

Before the ministry of “defence” and the media rush to celebrate the “heroism” of Harry Patch, the last survivor of the First World War, I think Harry would want us to consider some of his personal beliefs. These were revealed after 80 years of silence.

His ambition was to be a plumber in Combe Down, Somerset. He refused to volunteer for war. He was a 19 year old trainee when the authorities finally conscripted him into the army against his will.

“I didn’t want to go and fight anyone, but it was a case of having to,” he said.

“I mean, why should I go out and kill somebody I never knew and for what reason? I wasn’t at all patriotic. I went and did what was asked of me and no more.”

His older brother, William, had been badly wounded in the first Battle of Ypres in Belgium. Harry was nearly killed by a shell exploding above his head in the third Battle of Ypres.

This battle lasted three months and cost the lives of 325,000 British soldiers, all to capture less than five miles of devastated earth.

Three of Harry’s closest colleagues were killed outright by a deadly explosion on 22 September 1918. This became Harry’s personal remembrance day, on which he mourned the deaths of young men killed on both “sides”.

As the final member of the First World War generation dies, the death toll in the latest imperialist adventure mounts even higher. Some 22 British soldiers and countless Afghans have died in a single month.

Young workers, conscripted by poverty and propaganda, have become part of a killing machine.

They are paid to deal death to ordinary people that they do not know, and get killed or maimed in the process.

Just like in the First World War, the generals, the politicians and the arms manufacturers who plot the carnage stay a safe distance from the warzone.

And just like 95 years ago, they have no sense of shame.

John Murphy Blackburn

Don’t blame schools for growing pay gap between men and women

The pay gap between men and women has grown yet again.

Women in Britain are now paid an incredible 22.6 percent an hour less than men on average—a shocking indictment of how bosses treat their workers and what they think they can get away with.

A recent report by the Women and Work Commission shows that the gap for full-time workers is now 12.8 percent—up from 12.5 percent in 2007.

The report said that the government has failed to make “fundamental change” in pay equality.

It also added that women may be more vulnerable than men during the recession because they are likely to earn lower wages and have less savings.

Unfortunately, the report’s recommendations are a bit of a letdown. It bizarrely blames schools for pay inequality, saying that careers advisers are not advising young women correctly.

They should advise girls to go into “non-traditional” jobs to try and narrow the pay gap, it says.

But surely the problem is this acceptance that “traditional” jobs done by women are, by definition, lower paid?

We should be tackling the structural inequalities and barriers that trap women into poverty, not blaming careers advisers.

Jane Lockhart Sheffield

Defeat of Tamils won’t bring peace

The British Tamil Forum organised a commemoration in Trafalgar Square recently of the pogroms of Black July 1983. Several thousand people attended it.

In July 1983 the Sri Lankan government whipped up nationalist mobs who killed 2,500 people and forced many more from their homes.

It was after these events that all-out war broke out between the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) and the Sri Lankan army.

My own parents, hospital workers in Colombo at the time, were lucky to survive Black July. When the mob arrived at the hospital they were hidden by their Sinhalese colleagues. This reminds me that our fight is not with the Sinhalese people.

Some hail the defeat of the LTTE as providing a chance for peace. The IMF has awarded the Sri Lankan government a £1.3 billion loan to subsidise its war crimes.

But tens of thousands of Tamils have been killed, hundreds of thousands of refugees are being held in concentration camps, and we still have no rights.

There will be no peace in Sri Lanka until there is justice and self-determination for Tamils.

Nisa Manoharan North London

Resist threat to this nursery

I have just read your article about the planned closure of Thistle nursery in Glasgow (Socialist Worker, 1 August).

Our son went to that nursery and it provided him with the basis of his education.

No matter what he achieves in life, my partner and I will never forget the outstanding service that Irene and her dedicated staff provided.

This is a wonderful nursery and for it to be closed at such short notice, with the loss of experienced and highly skilled jobs and disruption to parents and children, must be heartbreaking.

We are not Labour supporters, never mind socialists. But we feel compelled to express our support to all those affected and our outrage at the people who have made this callous decision.

Mark Glasgow

Support from South Africa

I have been following reports of the strike action at Norlington school, east London, with great interest (Socialist Worker, 25 July).

I am a teacher in a township in South Africa and am also an activist.

We are facing similar challenges in education in our country.

Good luck comrades.

Andre Marais Cape Town, South Africa

Capitalism and the moon

John Parrington’s article on the moon landing anniversary (Socialist Worker, 18 July) was interesting.

Just as some people regard Columbus as a hero who discovered and explored the “unknown”, some also regard Neil Armstrong in the same way.

Space exploration and ever more destructive weaponry are functions of capital accumulation on a world scale.

From the 15th century onwards, concentration of unprecedented wealth from looting distant lands enabled some European countries to industrialise.

Now the moon and other planets can be “discovered and explored”—colonised.

Who pays? Billions of poverty-stricken people all over the world—the real heroes!

Patrick Heinecke Stonebridge, London

Real victims of violence

Socialists may have been cheered to hear of the Chinese workers who beat their boss to death in response to his plans to sack up to 30,000 of them.

But while this may sound like an amusing anecdote, the reality is that Chinese workers are more likely to be victims of violence rather than the ones doling it out.

New research by the China Labour Bulletin details how Chinese workers face abuse, harassment, intimidation and shocking levels of violence in their workplaces.

But for some reason, this doesn’t seem to make as many headlines as when workers fight back.

Sarah Shawcroft West Bowling

Let’s turn talk into action

The Norwich North by-election proved that Gordon Brown would rather have a Tory MP than defend the socialist MP Ian Gibson.

Ian Gibson was at every picket line and every local anti-war demo.

He always worked hard for working class people.

There was an idea that the Green Party candidate, Rupert Read, would attract Labour voters, while UKIP would split away Tory voters.

The truth is, 55 percent didn’t vote.

I urgently call on the left to embrace the Socialist Party’s “federal” election strategy for the coming general election.

Time is too short for forever discussing—discussion should take place in practice.

Rupert Mallin Norwich

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Article information

Tue 4 Aug 2009, 19:27 BST
Issue No. 2163
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