Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2223

Workers and campaigners united in protest outside the Tory conference (Pic: Smallman )

Workers and campaigners united in protest outside the Tory conference (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Birmingham success can boost fightback

Despite pouring rain, around 200 people from Sheffield packed into four coaches and had a great day on the Right to Work demo in Birmingham ( 7,000 join march on Tory conference , 9 October).

Around 50 sixth form and university students joined members of the Pensioners Action Group and trade unionists with banners from Unison (council, university and hospital branches), the GMB, the FBU, the NUT and others.

The union delegations included six from the NUT, six from Rotherham hospital and 15 from Sheffield council Unison—largely perhaps in response to the way the local authority is trying to impose attacks simply by sacking and re‑employing staff.

Many were on their first demonstration, and in the last few days we were getting calls from people who had just picked up leaflets on the street.

On the way back we talked about how that 200 could become 1,000 or more on the regional TUC demo in Sheffield in October if we all got organised and started to build it. Almost everyone left their contact details.

Yorkshire and Humberside TUC has called a rally in Sheffield on 23 October, with TUC general secretary Brendan Barber and a number of national union leaders down to speak from 12.30pm.

In order to build and enliven this protest, the Right to Work campaign has called a feeder march from the university at 11.30am with the support of the regional UCU lecturers’ union.

We now have a much larger base from which to build.

Ben Morris, Sheffield

If you raise the Right to Work banner, people get involved. That’s what we’ve discovered in Nottingham.

Nottingham County Council is wielding the axe with real Tory enthusiasm, while the Labour‑controlled City Council is also cutting, but without the enthusiasm.

Our local trades council has decided to call a public meeting against the cuts. Invitations were sent to all the local Labour MPs and the Labour opposition leader on the County Council. 

To our surprise, they all agreed to speak. This was extremely useful in building support among local trade unions.

On the day 150 people crammed into the room, with sizeable groups of postal workers, civil service workers and Unison union members. 

From this we filled three coaches to the Right to Work demo in Birmingham.

We have people trying to make the Labour Party MPs and councillors agree to all sorts of conditions before they are allowed to join the campaign. But, at the moment, our coalition is doing very well in uniting everyone who agrees that working people should not pay for the bankers’ crisis.

John Shemeld, Nottingham 

It was great to be on the Right to Work demonstration at the Tory party conference—not even the downpour could dampen my spirits.

It’s great to see the growing fightback and be part of it. Tory scum, here we come!

Dave Fagan, Liverpool

Boycott was right

For the first time in nearly 20 years, over a quarter of ten and 11 year olds did not have their last term of primary school destroyed by the hateful Sats tests.

Now 20 local authorities have too little information to produce primary school league tables.

This is the result of the Sats boycott by the headteachers’ NAHT union and the National Union of Teachers.

This boycott was incredibly popular with parents, teachers and, of course, pupils.

One head teacher in the area I work in asked her year six classes to write about the tests.

Pupils wrote about stress, how Sats don’t actually test anything except how good a person is at doing tests, and how they distort the curriculum.

Unfortunately the NAHT has now decided to abandon the boycott after a promise of talks with the government. Many teachers and head teachers believe this is a mistake.

The boycott would have been more successful this year as people realised that the world did not end when the tests weren’t taken.

Sally Kincaid, Wakefield

Schools for free

Just weeks ago Michael Gove cancelled the Building Schools for the Future programme, condemning thousands of pupils to continuing to learn in crumbling buildings.

The only schools allowed to continue their rebuilds were Academies.

Then last week Gove announced that there are 100 Department for Education buildings that are empty, and he intends to hand them over to Academies—for free.

But how suitable will these ex DfE buildings be for schools?

Do they have playgrounds in the DfE? Or sports halls or playing fields?

It is becoming clear just how desperate Gove is for his Academy programme to succeed.

Pete Jackson, Birmingham

SW wrong on BBC strike suspension

Socialist Worker’s coverage of the BBC dispute has been excellent—in contrast to some of the reporting elsewhere.

But just as some parts of the media try to present inaccurate or partial information to suit their own viewpoint, we should avoid falling into the same trap.

Your report Vote no to rotten deal—strikes can defeat bosses’ pension attack (9 October), gives the mistaken impression that the “union leadership” (presumably that’s me) called off the strikes.

Not true.

One hundred lay union reps, representing every single BBC workplace and all union members at the BBC, voted by around nine to one to give members a say.

That, after all, is the essence of trade union democracy—members have the final say, not union leaderships.

If members reject the BBC’s proposal we will strike—next time on the day of the CBI conference.

It is also not true to say, as an un-named BBC worker does, that “the unions will say this is the best we can get”. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) certainly hasn’t said that.

I don’t accept that union reps were “wrong” to decide to ask the members to vote on the new offer.

But I do agree that, “the fact that the bosses have moved at all shows the power workers have”.

Jeremy Dear, General secretary, NUJ

Adult learning will become a luxury

Adult learning is under attack in south London.

The Thomas Calton Centre in Peckham is a wonderful place where arts and crafts, dance, fitness and history are taught at affordable prices.

Until now. Management is imposing a premium “repeat” fee on anyone wanting to study beyond one term, with no concessions available.

That means £108 (£46.50 with a concession) for a ceramics class this term is rising to a staggering £165 next term—regardless of ability to pay.

Anyone who does an art class knows you never “repeat”, you build up confidence and skills and—perish the thought—enjoy yourself.

Already courses are closing as students fall away.

College management blame the funders, but we rang the Skills Funding Agency and they had never heard of “repeat” fees.

Students and tutors are starting a campaign to save adult learning.

But we want to know how widespread this is.

If you are seeing similar attacks in your area, please get in touch by emailing

Nicola Field, Peckham

What is a Liberal?

AT the 1964 general election I was aware of who the Labour and Conservative parties represented politically.

I asked my dad, who was an activist in Labour and his trade union, a question: “What is a Liberal?”

He answered, “A Tory who hasn’t got the guts to admit it!”

They are still in denial.

Graham Anthony Richards, Middleton, Manchester

Help save Blindcraft

Please sign the petition to save BlindCraft in Edinburgh, where 63 percent of the workforce are blind, partially blind or disabled.

Edinburgh council is threatening its funding. Go to

Billy Burns, by email

True face revealed

Well, it didn’t take long did it? Five months into a new government and the mask has slipped already.

Yes, the nasty party is well and truly back.

Rob Turnbull, Haltwhistle, Northumberland

A quickfire response

Socialist Worker’s quick online response to the Hutton Report on pensions last week was great.

It’s useful to have information—such as the fact that we contribute a lot more to tax relief for the pensions of the very rich than they do to the pensions of ordinary public sector workers.

We need more of this to help beat back the Con-Dem onslaught.

We need a set of alternative proposals based on making the rich pay.

Otherwise many people who hate the cuts could be persuaded by Cameron that “there is no alternative”.

Phil Webster, Lancashire

Hunting the poor

Tory culture secretary Jeremy Hunt may not be reading the poets Dryden and Pope as recommended by his cabinet colleague Michael Gove.

But he seems to be modelling himself on Jonathan Swift whose satirical A Modest Proposal suggested that, to deal with famine, the Irish should eat their children.

Hunt says it’s irresponsible for people on benefits to have too many children and agrees with the proposal to cap the benefit payable to any family at around £500 a week.

If people, or their partners, are forced onto benefits because they lose their jobs, become ill or are injured at work—what are they supposed to do with their surplus children?

Put them into care, smother them or, follow Swift’s Modest Proposal?

Sarah Cox, West London

Inconsistent on the Tories?

Michael Wayne (Letters, 9 October) challenges an apparent inconsistency in Socialist Worker’s arguments.

He says calling for a Labour vote in the election “because a victory for the Tories would demoralise the working class” but now arguing that with Labour in opposition “it will be easier for union leaders to call for strikes” is inconsistent.

But while the election of the Tories is demoralising for the class, it also changes the balance of pressure on the trade union leaders from the state and from their members.

Trade unionists who want to see robust opposition to the Tories’ cuts should seize the opportunity this presents.

We should be fighting to raise support for concerted and coordinated strike action to stop the government’s cuts.

Mark Dunk, South London

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Article information

Tue 12 Oct 2010, 18:13 BST
Issue No. 2223
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