Have we lost our power?
I am puzzled by Kevin Doogan’s piece on the (un)changing nature of the workforce (If workers fight, will bosses migrate?, 21 August).
He seems to be saying that there has been little change—apart from the relative growth in public services—and that the discourse of globalisation, downsizing and outsourcing is capitalist ideology, reproduced by (some) labour leaderships.
The implication, that Doogan does not spell out, would seem to be that workers and unions should ignore the scare stories and can continue fighting in the traditional way on the traditional national and local terrain.
The question in my mind is this: if things are so good, why are they so bad?
His account is counter-intuitive and in contradiction with the experience of many workers and unions.
If, moreover, the old strategies and terrains were or are comparatively favourable, why do labour movements worldwide seem to be up Shit Creek without a paddle?
Those national and international union movements that have stuck to traditional strategies on traditional terrains have fared badly.
Yet I note a slow and uneven change toward what Kim Moody has called “global social movement unionism”. They are addressing—if awkwardly—the unemployed, the precarious, the youth, the women, and the new social issues and movements.
They are even talking of, and sometimes demonstrating, a “new labour internationalism”.
Are they having the wool pulled over their eyes by capitalist ideologues? Or is there something here that Kevin Doogan either cannot see or has not told us?
Peter Waterman, The Hague, Netherlands
Speaking in Bristol just before the coalition election victory, Kevin Doogan predicted that the Tory task of implementing mass austerity in the public sector would prove far more difficult than Thatcher’s demolition of industry in the 1980s.
They can’t move services out of the country—or claim no one wants or needs healthcare, welfare and education. Our position is strengthened by our rulers’ weakness.
Hugely unpopular cuts have to be forced through against the will of public sector workers and millions of families, carers, students and other users of the welfare state. Their anger could drive the Tories out of power.
I put these points to a Unison union meeting last week for city council staff. Although only small—around 25 people—the response was very favourable to my conclusion that we should follow Spain and Greece in organising ballots for general strikes against the cuts.
I was encouraged by the belief that resistance is both necessary and possible. Workers and users can fight together to stop this market madness.
Matt Clement, Bristol
Smears on Scargill
It makes me angry that miners’ leader Arthur Scargill is once again under attack.
Sneering media remarks about his disagreement with the current NUM miners’ union leaders are an excuse for red-baiting.
The innuendo that there is something dodgy with Arthur’s financial relationships with the NUM is rank hypocrisy when we have all seen the naked corruption of MPs and big business in recent years.
Just as sickening was the suggestion that Scargill and the miners’ union had profited from compensation claims by sick and injured miners,
The NUM has won millions of pounds compensation for these miners—and did so long after the union’s industrial muscle had gone.
I don’t know the full details of Arthur’s disagreements with some of the current miners leaders. But I do know he was absolutely right in 1984 to lead the miners into battle for their jobs and communities. Everything he warned about and predicted has come true.
If other trade union leaders had given the miners the support that was promised, the NUM would have won and Britain would be a better place today.
We could do with more union leaders like Arthur.
Mike Simons, East London
Record of pathologist
There was a fascinating detail at the meeting which followed the vigil for Sean Rigg at Brixton police station (Anger at deaths in police custody, 28 August).
Roger Sylvester’s father named the pathologist who cleared the police of any wrongdoing in his son’s death in 1999 as Dr Freddy Patel. This is the same man who did the Met’s post-mortem on Ian Tomlinson.
Wikipedia records that, “In 1999, forensic pathologist Dr Freddy Patel was reprimanded by the General Medical Council for releasing medical details about Roger Sylvester to reporters outside an inquest hearing.”
Nick Grant, West London
The swindle behind pensions robbery
The current attacks on the public sector’s so-called “gold plated” final salary schemes need to be put into some historical context.
Until the 1990s, most pensions schemes in the private sector—as well as the public sector—were final salary ones.
These have been attacked over the past 20 years and workers have been robbed of billions.
Initially, firms claimed that with booming stock markets their pension funds had more than enough money.
So they took “pension holidays” from paying in.
This applied only to the employers’ contribution, not the employees.
Then when the inevitable shortfall became apparent, employers closed these schemes and demanded that workers pay much higher contributions.
Now we are told that public sector workers that still have final salary schemes are “privileged”.
Pensions are part of workers’ pay, just deferred. Employers have systematically robbed workers of the retirement they have earned.
It would be good to see Socialist Worker produce a special feature on this issue.
We need to arm trade unionists with the arguments to counter the perception that such schemes are unaffordable.
Paul Ellis, Norfolk
‘Alternative vote’ isn’t the answer
When parliament returns in early September, it will debate moving to electing MPs using the “alternative vote” (AV) system instead of the current first-past-the-post system.
I am inclined to oppose AV, having seen it at work inside the Labour Party.
In the deputy leadership election in 2007, Jon Cruddas, the “left” candidate, won the first round. But his transfers later took Harriet Harman to victory.
The leadership contest is even worse: a sad drift towards the blandest of a bland bunch instead of a real debate between left and right.
AV favours the compromise candidate, which means either the right winger with the best left credentials or the left winger seen as most likely to sell out. No wonder the Liberal Democrats love it!
But I think mainstream politics is an all too cosy a consensus already. I’d rather see more polarised debate, not less.
And I would certainly not want these petty reforms to distract our movement from the task of fighting the cuts that we never voted for anyway.
What does Socialist Worker say about this debate?
Dave Sewell, East London
Vile ideas of Tories’ friends
“Thatcher’s favourite sociologist” Professor David Marsland argued on Radio 4 last week that the “mentally and morally unfit” should be sterilised.
He said that police and social workers should be able to recommend that drug addicts, alcoholics and the mentally disabled should be irreversibly sterilised—and the courts should be able to enforce this.
Daniela Manske, East London
No to Blair’s blood money
The latest edition of my local newspaper, the Spenborough Guardian, contains an interview with Pauline Hickey of Gomersal, West Yorkshire.
Her son Christian was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq five years ago, just three days before he was due to return home.
Pauline said that the British Legion should reject the cash offer from Tony Blair’s book because it is blood money.
Blair has committed crimes against humanity and more than half a million lives have been lost in Iraq.
Instead of promoting a book, he should be facing charges of war crimes.
John Appleyard, West Yorkshire
Climate isn’t a class issue
I’m working class and attended Climate Camp (Which way forward for the climate movement?, 28 August).
I found lots of people there from similar backgrounds as myself.
Class wasn’t something many of us ever thought about. We were all there for the same reason.
If it’s the middle classes that are most able to attend these events, then so be it. As long as the reason people are there is the right one, then why should class even come into it?
Don’t let this become a class issue because it really isn’t.
Bodie Broadus, by email
CIA drugged French town
It is frightening to find out that the US secret services can get away with using biological weapons illegally in other countries.
It seems that the CIA sprayed the drug LSD in a French town in 1951 as part of a mind control experiment.
They wanted to manipulate the minds of possible enemies during the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union.
They certainly caused local people to feel that their bodies were breaking up and that savage beasts were attacking them.
Some even thought their lives were in danger and that they should throw themselves out of windows.
If the US security services could carry out such an attack in France, who is to say they would not use such schemes to prevent rebellions against government attacks on the working class and the poor?
Mary Phillips, South London
Stop funding propaganda
The BBC extracts fees from TV and radio viewers and listeners.
If all those opposed to the propaganda that is set out by Panorama about the Gaza flotilla (Socialist Worker 21 August) stop paying their annual fees they will be hit in the pocket.
What will they do then—take us all to court?
One should be able in all moral conscience to withdraw taxes that fund the military too.
David, Victoria BC, Canada
Cat in a bin isn’t real news
The media treat workers with contempt.
Millions of people are struggling to get by in the worst recession for 60 years, and we face devastating cuts to public services—but what do the press want to talk about?
A cat in a bin! It’s disgraceful.
Trevor, West London