Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2193

We don’t want a climate of fear in our unions

Many Unison union activists will have read of the current situation in some London branches of the union (» Dawn raids by Unison on branch offices, 13 March).

Branches are, effectively, being removed from lay member control. Unison’s internal democratic machinery should be allowed to deal with issues, with lay members to the forefront.

It is rumoured that branch officers are resigning from office and individual members are resigning from the union. If this is happening, the situation is indeed tragic.

As your readers may be aware, I am standing in the current general secretary election.

To encourage members to stay in Unison they must be assured that it is member-led, democratic and accountable. I have made it a plank of my campaign that differences of opinion should be decided by debate and democracy.

Tolerance and openness should be encouraged. A climate of fear helps no one but the employer.

Unison is not a political party. It contains a wide spectrum of opinion. For a union to be vibrant it must be effective, open and a broad church.

It is not many years ago that certain unions in Britain thought that hounding activists would save the union – but all it did was remove activists who were the life blood of the union.

I urge all members to stay in the union and fight for those things that we all support.

Paul Holmes, Unison national executive (personal capacity)

Cuts campaign has created unity

Two hundred students and staff at Westminster university recently came face to face with our vice-chancellor during a protest – and then went into occupation.

This has been one of the high points of our campaign to save jobs and education.

A rally of 200 students, staff and activists launched the campaign. We have involved students from different background and campuses.

The occupation has galvanised staff members who feel more confident to fight for their jobs.

Management has not been able to victimise students for defending their education.

Their attempt to divide us by asking lecturers to identify those involved in the occupation has been a flop. UCU union members refused and unanimously passed a motion condemning any victimisations. The student union made a similar declaration.

This unity against the attempt to divide students and staff has created a sense of community.

The management is isolated though they haven’t made concessions. A rally on Wednesday and the UCU strike ballot will be crucial in defending 285 jobs under threat.

Gabriele Piazza, Central London

This call centre is no fun

I used to be lucky enough – or not – to have worked for the same company for over 12 years. But I got very bored, so when redundancy was offered at a good rate I did not refuse.

I thought I would spend a few weeks pondering, but then it got to three months and I got scared.

After all like most other working class people I have a mortgage, a car and other things that need to be paid for.

I got desperate and accepted a temporary job in a call centre.

The agency dressed it up as a fun place to be where you have to have a sense of humour and shouldn’t take things too seriously.

I was well and truly taken in.

Now I have to answer the phone seven and half hours out of every eight. I am only allowed to go to the loo or make a drink when things are quiet.

I have a loudmouth shouting “call holding” constantly in my left ear.

The whole business is squeezed from production through to operations and including lowly call centre operators.

Management minimise staff numbers, keep stock levels low, and pressure sales people to sell the impossible.

This causes resentment between departments – even though at the end of the day we are all just trying to earn a decent living.

I have read in Socialist Worker that call centre workers regularly experience bullying – and I can confirm this is definitely the case.

Only today I heard a “team leader” tell off a colleague, saying “you have been told time after time about how to resolve that query”.

This was in front of everyone within earshot. How demeaning for him.

I could go on. I think the point I want to make is that businesses large and small prey on the vulnerable and the scared during a recession.

They expect us to work for less money but for longer hours. They are treating us like mugs.

Angelina, call centre worker (not for long), Reading

Was it so wrong to take food after Chile quake?

After the first nervous shocks that Chile’s earthquake brought (Socialist Worker, 13 March), the media set off to take pictures of people who, yesterday, had a house, or a car, and now have nothing.

No house, no clothes, no water, no food, nothing left.

That was on the Saturday.

On Sunday, some supermarkets were opened up by force – because there was no drinking water, milk, sugar or nappies to be had.

All the supermarket chains from the south of the country to Santiago were closed.

I mention this because many people don’t like the way fridges, televisions and the like were carted off by a few of those who were looking for water and food.

But the supermarkets should have been opened so that people could survive the crisis in better conditions.

The next time this happens, we should make sure that the goods in the supermarkets get shared out equally.

You can always react in two ways – on your own, or with others, thinking of everyone else.

Solidarity is powerful.

As for the future, some organisations are sending help directly to the south, and many gave money to start building emergency housing.

Solidarity takes all forms, some better than others, but there we are.

Mike Stanton, Santiago, Chile

Trust schools are backdoor sell offs

Three Leicester colleges – Babington Community Technology College, Fullhurst Community College and New College – are set to be privatised.

They are to become Trust schools, run by the Co-operative. The NUT teachers’ union is opposing the plans and is discussing industrial action and protests outside Co-op shops.

NUT members feel this is a betrayal of those who have supported the Co-op because of its ethical positions.

Little has been written about “Co-operative Trust Schools”, but they are education secretary Ed Balls’ latest Trojan horse for breaking up state comprehensive education.

If the Co-op reaches its target of 200 Co-op Trusts by the end of the year it will have acquired part control of former public assets worth over £3 billion.

The Co-op – which already runs two academies – has tried to claim that the NUT supports Co-operative Trusts. But this is wholly untrue.

We need a massive movement to demand ALL our schools are run by democratically accountable local authorities.

Peter Flack, Leicester

Ben’s not big pharma’s man

Pablo Stern’s claim that because of his support for evidence-based medicine Ben Goldacre “whistles big pharma’s favourite tune” (» Letters, 13 March) is offensive nonsense.

As the briefest browse online quickly illustrates, Goldacre has repeatedly attacked big pharma for its outrageous distortions.

It is of course true that in the current system big firms make most medicines – but Goldacre has explicitly complained about this very fact and demanded more public funding!

Without getting into the question of what methodology Stern would prefer (intuition-based medicine?), here’s to Goldacre’s witty, livid and political interventions – and to SW for the interview.

China Miéville, London

Bragg gives in to BNP lies

When Billy Bragg was interviewed on the BBC’s Politics Show last week, he said, “the immigrants are putting pressure on housing.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody who’s concerned about that is a racist.”

So at a stroke, Bragg – who puts himself up as a leading anti-BNP campaigner – has given in to one of the BNP’s biggest lies. How disappointing.

The real reason for the housing shortage is that council housing was sold off and not replaced.

Making concessions to the BNP’s lies can only help fuel racism and fascism.

Mandy Millward, East London

Say no to this dog tax

Labour’s plans to force people to buy insurance in case their dogs attack someone are a terrible tax on canine companionship.

They say “hoodies” have vicious dogs. But most wouldn’t hurt a fly. We should say: no dog is illegal.

Anne Beaumont, Macclesfield

Petrol is the new tobacco

Good to see Socialist Worker defending the real science behind global warming.

The carbon industries are fabricating “facts” to try to convince you that climate change does not exist.

They want us to keep using their products until they kill every living thing on this planet.

The tobacco companies tried the same thing in the 1980s and 1990s.

Pojoe, Illinois, USA

McGCSEs are not education

I hear McDonald’s has been given the right to award GCSEs.

What a sad reflection on our capitalist world that real education has been replaced with burger flipping studies.

Carol Bloxham, Colchester

It’s West that is backward

Rohan Nakkady is right to highlight the colonial attitude and hypocrisy of Western leaders towards the Global South (» Letters, 13 March).

We never see leaders in the West, or the media, use terms like “backward and tribal” to describe stockbrokers at lapdancing clubs.

Women and men should be free to have as many or as few sexual partners as they choose of either sex – without being judged.

Julie Webster, Hucknall, Notts

Food firms make us fat

I recently watched a documentary about obesity that showed how the link between food and profiteering makes people fat.

It showed how junk food firms use sports stars to promote themselves. And it pointed out that there are even Burger Kings in three NHS hospitals.

This is crazy when there is enough healthy food in the world for everyone. The problem is capitalism distributes food for profit instead of to those who need it.

Charlie Dowthwaite, Barrow-in-Furness

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Article information

Tue 16 Mar 2010, 19:38 GMT
Issue No. 2193
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