WE ORGANISED an anti-war stall in Milton Keynes on the Saturday before Christmas. People were queuing up to sign the Stop the War petition. Among those queuing to sign were five British soldiers.
One had just left the army to 'do something useful'-he has now got a job as a hospital porter. One had left the army after fighting in the 1991 Gulf War. He is still haunted by images of dead Iraqis. The other three are still in the army.
They all said that everyone in the army is discussing the war on Iraq. And they didn't know of one soldier who supported the war. Unprompted they all said, 'This is about oil,' and they did not see this as a justification for war.
One of the soldiers active in the army said, 'Blair has got the weapons-they haven't.' He went off wearing a Stop the War badge.
KATE HUNTER, Milton Keynes
A socialist alternative to be supported
I WISH to express my support for the building of the principled left wing electoral alternative to New Labour through the Socialist Alliance. I have voted Labour in every election since 1997 but I now feel that I cannot vote for them again.
My father has supported Labour for decades. He feels that, though he dislikes what New Labour stands for, a vote for anyone else may let the Tories back in. I also share this concern, but feel that I cannot vote for a party which has Tony Blair as its leader.
I have no doubt that there are some good socialists in the Labour Party. However, there are also a number of shameless careerists who inhabit New Labour, often former Tories.
Furthermore, I had never before realised how right wing some of the people are who proudly proclaim themselves as Old Labour. Principled socialism from the Socialist Alliance will be an effective counterbalance to New Labour opportunism.
SOCIALIST WORKER READER, Crewe
Mass movement is vital
I HAVE enormous admiration for the bravery of the Women With Bolt Croppers who broke into and sabotaged Menwith Hill. However, I think that they are wrong to say that the mass demonstrations are achieving nothing. We have created a political crisis for Blair. The size of the movement has undermined the international credibility of Blair's support for war.
Individual sabotage of the military, however heroic, will only be a marginal inconvenience to them. On the same day as their protest, 14 December, over 500 marched to the US bomber base at RAF Fairford, near Swindon, which will be used to attack Iraq. Organising this march meant that we could openly organise and put the anti-war case.
The Fairford demo included representatives of the local mosque and the Church of England, the mayor of Stroud and the Gloucester NUJ banner. In contrast, organising sabotage like the Bolt Croppers did inevitably means organising as a secret conspiracy leaving them vulnerable to repression.
I think we do have to build mass civil disobedience at these military bases-but this must be organised by the many, not the few.
Andy Newman, secretary Swindon Stop the War Coalition
Not much harmony at Corus
DOWN HERE in Blair's brave new South Wales the owners of Corus, the giant Port Talbot steel plant, have announced new plans. They want to improve the plant's efficiency and competitiveness. They stopped buying Christmas selection boxes for the children of workers at the plant, saving thousands of pounds.
This move is sure to terrify their steel rivals. They will also stop paying the wages of 12 workers seriously injured in a horrific explosion at the plant 14 months ago. Three workers were killed in this explosion.
Steel workers and their families are still waiting to find out what happened. On 4 January a worker at the Corus plant in Llanelli was also killed in an industrial accident.
New Labour has no intention of repealing the anti trade union laws which allow arrogant bosses like those at Corus to treat their workers with contempt. In the new year we would like to see a real solidarity with those fighting for justice in the workplaces-and the selection boxes back.
HUW PUDNER, South Wales
Held hostage in their homes
WHILE VISITING Palestine I went to Gaza City. I was struck by the graffiti. It is done with all the skill and inventiveness of artists on the New York subway, but this is not turf warfare-this is street politics. Many pieces depict machine guns and Palestinian flags, and Israeli tanks being exploded by landmines.
Down the only road south from Gaza City, you get to the beach, but you can't stop there. It is in full view of the Net Zarim Jewish settlement and inhabitants regularly open fire on Palestinians. Last year, the cab driver informs us, a young girl was shot dead by a tank while walking on the beach.
Along the coast Jewish settlers at Eden of Hof Temmarim have swimming pools and sprinkler systems while 100 yards away in Rafah refugee camp people have one water filter for the whole camp. The settlers control all the water supplies.
Most Palestinians live under curfew every night. Every day you travel round in Gaza, you see more families and lives are being destroyed.
ADRIAN HART, Southend
Who arms Israelis?
TONY BLAIR has met with the Syrian leader and even thrown in a future meeting with Palestinian leaders to convince us he wants to build a stable Middle East.
His claims to care about the rights of Palestinians can be shot down in flames by the fact that the value of the UK military licences to Israel has increased from £12.5 million in 2000 to £22.5 million in 2001. British companies are profiting from the intifada. The core objective of Tony Blair's diplomacy is war not peace.
STUART McCABE>, Glasgow
Firefighters are still fuming at a Labour MP's betrayal
IN DECEMBER, firefighter Sian Griffiths wrote to Socialist Worker complaining about the role of Jim Fitzpatrick, ex-FBU official and Labour MP, in the dispute. Here we print extracts of his reply and Sian's response.
Although Socialist Worker doesn't cross my desk very often your letter in last week's issue was drawn to my attention. For months I have done as much as I could behind the scenes to avoid the dispute.
I would contest that I have been silent about the dispute. I have done quite a lot of media interviews and clearly outlined my view. In short, I do not support the 40 percent, but then, I do not believe that the FBU seriously expected to secure that much.
However, I do believe that a fairer deal is appropriate and have publicly (and privately) said as much. Finally I do believe that the service can be improved, as I know that you and the FBU do. I hope you find this helpful. Best wishes,
JIM FITZPATRICK MP
Although you didn't say very much, your letter was very telling and helpful. You say Socialist Worker doesn't cross your desk very often. Maybe it should! Obviously the copious, honest articles about the FBU and our dispute aren't interesting enough to warrant your attention. I personally have not seen hide nor hair of you before or during this dispute. You smugly, patronisingly and brazenly criticise our claim for a £30,000 minimum firefighter wage.
How dare you, when you bunch of charlatans secured over 40 percent for yourselves. This is paid by us and did not require an 'independent' review. It appears that you, like the rest, are prepared to see this job, along with every other service, public or otherwise, go completely down the pan. All starkly in contrast to this government's pre-election promises. Once again, profit before everything. PS: A small tip-actions speak louder than words.
SIAN GRIFFITHS, watch commander, West London
I AM sure I am not the only one who is disgusted to see York-based company Nestlé taking Ethiopia to court to claim $6 million over a company they lost to Ethiopian nationalisation in 1975. In the first six months of this year Nestlé made profits of $3.9 billion, yet they want to take to court one of the poorest countries in the world. I for one will no longer be buying any Nestlé products.
ANDREW COLLINGWOOD, York
I ENJOYED reading Colin Barker's thoughtful article which said those who find it hardest to organise are often the poorest in society. This partly explains the lack of protest in Poland, but not entirely.
A major factor here is that people are so busy chasing the culture of consumerism that nobody has the time or motivation to protest. I want to ask if anyone is planning an anti-war protest in Poland. If they are I'll join them.
LYN ATTERBURY, Pila, Poland
FOR OVER 12 months members of the RMT and Aslef unions have been taking industrial action against train company Arriva Northern over pay. In the first six months of the dispute Arriva lost £2 million. The government's strategic rail authority has indicated that Arriva might get public money to avoid a financial shortfall because of the action.
This would remove any incentive for Arriva to settle the dispute, and tell trade unionists that if they strike New Labour will bail out their employer with public money. One more reason why trade unions should consider withdrawing funding from New Labour.
JOHN APPLEYARD, Leeds