Socialist Worker

Lives of four generations that shame Blair's Labour

Issue No. 1873

THIS IS the story of four generations of working class people in Blair's Britain-great-grandparents, grandmother, parents and their children.

In the six years since Labour came to power we have seen our public services and welfare system eroded almost into extinction.

FACT: an 86 year old woman has to pay £9 per week. This is for someone to help her take a bath because she is unable to get in and out of the bath due to arthritis and a type of pneumoconiosis (weaver's lung) caused by working in a cotton mill for 50 years. Her partner, who was 87, was unable to help because he also suffered the same complaints plus he was profoundly deaf due to being both a gunner in the Second World War and spending 40 years of his working life in a cotton mill.

FACT: A member of the second generation of this ordinary working class family has developed rheumatoid arthritis and has been told that at 50 she cannot get a hip and knee replacement because it would not be cost effective, as replacement joints only last for between 15 and 20 years. She assumes that her 33 years of full time working with at least ten to come has been cost effective!

FACT: The elder of two sisters in her late 20s who had a Caesarean section due to birth difficulties was sent home after 72 hours because of bed shortages in the hospital. She returned to a house which has been condemned as unfit for human habitation. She has been on the local authority housing as homeless for six months but has been told she has to wait for a two-bedroom house, as there are only herself, her partner and the new baby. Within this authority there are three-bedroom houses standing empty.

FACT: The father of this baby, a city council employee, who has been employed on less than minimum wage on a weekly contract for the last 12 months, was told that if he wanted time off work to look after his partner and new baby he would not receive any pay. His workmates, mostly people in the same situation as him, had a collection and gave him £140 so he could take a week off. This shows just how ordinary people survive in this unjust world.

FACT: The second sister in this family has two young children, works and attends college. She lives in a council house which is so damp she has been told she could sue the council for compensation. However she has rent arrears so she cannot do this.

FACT: The fourth generation are being forced to live in conditions which fall short of children's rights under both the Children Act and the Human Rights Act. They face a future without public services and no public housing and it goes without saying that university will be out of their reach.

These facts illustrate how ordinary working class families now live. If the third generation are the children of a Thatcherite rule, then their children are the grandchildren of that same rule. We need to build a mass movement, which will lead to a socialist world that can only be better.
Rita McLoughlin, Manchester


Building workers can be against sexism!!

I WAS very interested to read Sinead Kirwan's letter (27 September) about the resurgence of sexism.

It's true that behaviour that would have been socially unacceptable even five years ago has come back with a vengeance. As a young woman working on building sites I sample some of the worst elements of sexism.

It's not only the general leering but, as Sinead mentioned, it's the fact that senior management pay lip service to equality issues while organising corporate nights out at Spearmint Rhino clubs. I see this partly as a result of the decline of the women's movement.

A few women got to the top (and pulled the ladder up after themselves) and eureka-we're all deemed to have achieved equality. So the emergence of 'lads' mags' and lap dancing clubs, and the fact we still earn two thirds as much as men, were overlooked. But there is hope. I overheard two labourers reprimanding four of their colleagues for leering at young women the other day.

Also I work with someone who led a successful campaign to get his boss to remove all the porn from his office walls. The young women involved in the global anti-war and anti-capitalism protests give me hope.

We must now ensure that ending sexism is addressed as part of the debates about the future.
Name and address supplied


Italian unity needed quickly

THE ORGANISATION of the demonstration on 4 October in Rome against the European Union (EU) leaders' summit has shown some difficulties in the movement in Italy.

The major obstacle is the division between the anti-capitalist movement and the unions. The unions contested a few points of the European constitution under discussion. Many parts of the movement questioned the very existence of the constitution.

This division meant that there were two protests against the EU summit. One was a union protest where 250,000 marched through the centre of Rome. The other involved 50,000 anti-capitalists who marched to where the summit was held.

This divided our forces. We need unity in the forthcoming struggles over workers' rights, cuts in pensions, school funding and university 'reform'.
Antonio Ardolino, Comunismo dal basso, Italy


27 Sept: refugee's reaction

SHAHIN PORTOFEH is an asylum seeker who stitched up his mouth, nose, eyes and ears when his application to remain in Britain was refused. He wrote to Socialist Worker after the anti-war protest on 27 September:

IN MY opinion the demonstration of 27 September was successful in terms of its cohesion and unity among different ethnic groups, religions and political parties. It clearly sent a message to Bush and Blair and their bloody cabinets. Oil is the only target for our leaders. They are getting it by massacre and destruction. The result is poverty, dependent economies and so forth.
Shahin Portofeh, Coventry


Strike if Bush comes to London

ONE WAY to welcome Bush to Britain would be for any unions who are planning strikes for whatever reason around that time to call strikes on the days when Bush is here. This would be particularly poignant for London weighting disputes, for instance. Then Blair can welcome Bush to the reality of Britain under his control.
Graham Martin, Bradford


Chorus of praise for Beethoven

CONGRATULATIONS on the column (4 October) about the BBC2 programme Eroica, exploring the impact of Beethoven's Third Symphony. It's easy to forget nowadays that, at the time, Beethoven's music was shocking and radical, and the film did a good job of demonstrating why. Particularly striking was how the music was portrayed as appealing directly to ordinary people. 'Do I look like a landowner? I'm a brain owner!' was Beethoven's reply to criticism from a wealthy count.
Matthew Skelton, Oxford


Don't avoid the hard questions

THE MARXIST forums which the SWP began hosting two years ago have proved to be a great way of discussing a range of subjects. However, I feel that there is a tendency to avoid or dismiss certain types of questions which the SWP doesn't like. For example, it has been difficult at past forums to have a discussion on the various articles (of which there are many on the web) portraying Lenin as a nun killer. We need to discuss these issues.
Joe Varney, Coventry


New menus or a new society?

'BRITISH CULTURE' (the subject of several recent letters to Socialist Worker) is exclusive, racist and far from multicultural (in the real sense of the word). Eating chicken masala on Monday, sweet and sour on Tuesday and fish and chips the next day doesn't make you a 'multicultural' individual. This term is abused so much that it has lost its meaning. British multiculturalism is purely tourism. In this context, to construct (or reconstruct) a 'British culture' in any sense is a compromise for those on the left and is not helpful. An internationalist should look at the material roots of culture and argue for the breaking down of national consciousness.

Hsiao-Hung, East London


Scarves issue is more complex

IN HER article on the issue of French Muslim children being prevented from wearing headscarves (Socialist Worker, 4 October), Helen Shooter writes, 'The idea that a school student could be barred for displaying what religion they come from seems astonishing to us in Britain.' True-but only because of our ignorance of French state education. The French Revolution of 1789 brought the right to education free from church influence. The ideal was that religion should be left at the school gate and could then be collected on the way home. Children would therefore be liberated from their parents' religion and its symbols. There are other issues that Helen did not bring out, such as students demanding they skip parts of the curriculum such as physiology and physical education because learning about sex or showing flesh would be offensive to their religion. In Britain we see an unhealthy increase of religious schools dividing children on religious and class grounds. None of my argument excuses state racism, of which there is plenty in France, but it is not helpful to gloss over issues either.
Jamie Rankin, Twickenham


Film to watch this weekend

IN 1939 a Jewish schoolteacher wrote a song for a union meeting called Strange Fruit. When Billie Holiday took up the song it became an anthem for the anti-lynching lobby in the US. New York director Joel Katz has made an excellent documentary about the history of the song which is being shown at the Cuzon Mayfair in London this weekend, 18 and 19 October at 6pm. Catch it if you can.
Kate Jelly


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Article information

Letters
Sat 18 Oct 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1873
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