Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2199

Who’s running Britain: Gordon Brown or Willie Walsh?

The airline bosses got their own way in the end.

They bleated on about how much money they were losing because of the flying ban following the eruption of the Icelandic volcano. They claimed that restrictions on flying were “unnecessary”. And the government gave in.

What had previously been defined as dangerous became “safe” within hours.

Andrew Haines, chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Britain’s air safety watchdog, claims that, “Safety is our top priority”.

In fact it seems that the overriding concern has been how to put planes back in the air to protect the bosses’ profits.

British Airways (BA) boss Willie Walsh even took part in a test flight to “prove” how safe the skies were. But the lengths he went to in order to force the government to back down are astounding.

With restrictions on flying still in place, Walsh sent 28 long-haul flights towards Britain on Tuesday.

Neither BA nor the government could guarantee where they would land.

Cabin crew on the flights say they were told they would “hopefully” land at Heathrow but had extra fuel in case they had to divert elsewhere.

Shannon, Amsterdam, Paris and Brussels airports were on standby to receive the planes if flying restrictions were not lifted on British airports.

Walsh was determined to force the government’s hand. As one government source put it, “It was a wily move by BA.”

Airline bosses met transport secretary Lord Adonis on Tuesday demanding that he lift the restrictions.

The government threw its energy into meeting their demands. “We had to interrogate the no-ash, no-fly rule,” a government source confirmed.

The CAA called teleconferences with the Met Office, aircraft engine manufacturers and volcano specialists. It formed engine and aircraft manufacturers into working groups to analyse whether existing guidelines were too strict.

One by one, the aircraft manufacturers said that their engines could safely fly in clouds with up to 2,000 micrograms of ash per cubic metre.

A new safety code was pulled together: air with more than 2,000 micrograms of ash is a no-fly zone, planes should take extra precautions if there is between 2,000 and 200 micrograms, and below 200 micrograms is no threat.

The CAA approved new guidelines to allow planes to fly through ash – overturning regulations that had been in place for years in just 96 hours.

The CAA told Walsh he could land flights at 10pm Tuesday. Yet even this wasn’t quite good enough for him – he landed the first flight at 9.49pm. The whole episode is stunning – and shows how business can manipulate the system.

Emma Leaper, Cardiff

Hats off to Sheasby

Playwright David Sheasby (» We have to fight for a decent BBC, 10 April), who died recently, had previously worked as a radio producer. In the late 1960s he invited adult education tutors onto an innovative radio programme he was producing for BBC Radio Sheffield.

We made programmes on the history of trade unions, how to increase and improve council housing and on greater equality for women.

In the 1980s David produced an open discussion series in which trade unionists were invited to record their reactions to Margaret Thatcher’s sell-off of state and private steelworks.

On one occasion the script mentioned the role of Ian MacGregor, a director with Lazards investment bank.

An officious news producer complained that the programme was libellous and as the scriptwriter I was suspended.

David was outraged. He marched me into the manager’s office and, after an argument, I was reinstated.

David’s most famous drama was on the visit of Pablo Picasso to Sheffield as a delegate to the World Peace Conference – which Clement Attlee’s Labour government banned.

We need more playwrights like David Sheasby. He will be sadly missed.

Nick Howard, Sheffield

The Start of peace?

The leaders of the US and Russia met in Prague in the Czech Republic last month to sign a new arms reduction treaty called Start.

The US is continuing its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and is developing a new generation of weapons. Meanwhile, Russia has increased its military budget.

The US wants to present Barack Obama as a peacemaker but its real agenda is to strengthen US influence in Europe.

It is vital to keep protesting and not let politicians fool us into thinking they stand for peace.

Jan Májíek, Prague

Democracy is under attack in Doncaster

The Audit Commission’s Corporate Governance Inspection has branded Doncaster council the worst performing council in Britain.

Now government intervention is looming. This will mean that what last vestige of local democracy remains will be stripped out of Doncaster.

On top of an absence of leadership we will have an absence of accountability.

For improvement in services read privatisation and outsourcing, for modernisation read job cuts, and as for democracy – don’t hold your breath.

Council workers struggle to deliver public services but are beset by constant change, poor leadership and a damaging mayoral system of government.

But the Audit Commission, although critical of the hard right English Democrat mayor, does not condemn New Labour’s flagship policy of mayoral governance itself.

Claiming that councillors’ only role is to “scrutinise” the mayor’s decisions is a huge attack on local democracy.

The mayor promised to cut translation services to minority communities and to get rid of “PC non-jobs”.

We should thank our lucky stars that elected councillors are “oppositional” and want to resist being nodding dogs for a system that has already robbed Doncaster of real democracy.

A council worker, Doncaster

Greens give a left electoral choice

One of your contributors questions how left wing the Green Party’s manifesto is (» Letters, 24 April).

I would argue that the manifesto is far to the left of the three main parties

The manifesto promises an increase in the living wage to 60 percent of net average earnings.

It promises to repeal the anti-trade union laws and to work towards ensuring that the maximum wage in any organisation is no more than ten times the minimum wage in that organisation.

Unlike the Lib Dems, we are committed to scrapping Britain’s nuclear weapons, rather than going for a cheaper alternative.

We are committed to withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and not attacking Iran.

We are also commmitted to fighting for justice for the Palestinians.

There are numerous other policies I could mention.

I would urge you to read our manifesto and judge for yourselves.

The Green Party is standing in over 300 seats offering many of you the opportunity to vote for genuine left candidates.

Andrew Collingwood, York

The legacy of the East End

One further aspect of the rent strikes organised in London’s East End (» The struggles behind electoral successes, 24 April) was that they were theoretical and practical ways to undercut the fascists.

The fascists’ line was that high rents were caused by “the Jews”.

But tens of thousands of Jewish tenants supported rent strikes.

The strikes showed that the problem wasn’t “the Jews” or even Jewish landlords, but what the landlords, of all kinds, were doing – exploiting tenants.

Class politics overcame race politics.

Michael Rosen, East London

Panorama boosts racists

I have just complained to the BBC about their 30 minute party political broadcast for the British National Party and UK Independence Party (UKIP), which went out under the name of “Panorama”.

I have never seen such blatantly biased, one-sided reporting and scaremongering masquerading as balanced reporting on immigration.

The BNP and UKIP leaders will be rubbing their trotters.

Mitch Mitchell, Cambridgeshire

Terreblanche: good riddance

You are right about the brutality shown by the late AWB leader Eugene Terreblanche (» Good riddance to dead Nazi, 10 April).

AWB followers say there are too many blacks in “their” country and make this point with violence.

Terreblanche was not a good human being. I hope all South Africans stand together for peace in South Africa.

Raptor, by email

The deficit and the debt

Tom Wills (Letters, 24 April) is right to point out the difference between the recurring gap of a deficit and the one-off sum of a debt.

But Socialist Worker’s 10 April feature recognises this in the alternative usages it proposes for the £97 billion for Trident.

It proposes to spend the money on 200 hospitals (£50 billion), 1,000 schools (£15 billion) and 500,000 council houses (£32 billion).

This is one-off capital expenditure. This still leaves, on Socialist Worker’s figures, over £170 billion each and every year – more than the alleged deficit.

Thanks to the paper for giving us the truth!

Helen Pearson, East London

For Malema in South Africa

The African National Congress (ANC) will bring its Youth League president Julius Malema before a disciplinary hearing next week.

He has become controversial for comments such as demanding the nationalisation of the gold and diamond mines and for singing the anti-apartheid song “Kill the Boer”.

I do not regard Malema as a consistent revolutionary.

But the ANC’s behaviour arises out of its panic over the recent rise of struggle.

I stand with Malema against those who want a neoliberal Africa.

Enoch Masondo, Central London

The rhetoric of an assault

Welcome to the modern world of industrial relations under a “Labour” government.

In Edinburgh we have a council that is willing to spend £20 million on scab labour to try and force staff to accept a wage reduction of a third.

It is using the rhetoric of “single status” to slash the wages budget and reduce workers’ rights at the same time.

Say hello to the joys of a union-sponsored Labour government that is happy to accept our money but will not accept our hard-won right to strike.

Paul French, Edinburgh

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Article information

Tue 27 Apr 2010, 18:51 BST
Issue No. 2199
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