Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2231

Firefighters: Socialist Worker is right on strikes

After reading FBU union official Ben Sprung’s attack on Socialist Worker’s coverage of the London firefighters’ strikes (Socialist Worker, 4 December), I feel I should come to the paper’s defence.

I am not a member of the Socialist Workers Party, but I read the paper as it is the only publication that has consistently backed our cause—both in 2003 and now.

Ben criticised some of the paper’s reporting, such as the line, “rank and file pickets being so militant Matt Wrack and other union officials struggled to keep control of the situation”.

The reporter was trying to get across the anger of rank and file members—myself included!

Ben questions what the paper means when it reported that we missed a “key opportunity to stretch [strike-breaking firm] AssetCo beyond breaking point.” He asks if Socialist Worker wanted “some people to die on Bonfire night to prove the scabs are rubbish”.

Surely the idea of strikes is to stretch the bosses to breaking point in order to win and get the best possible deal for the workers?

I, and many of my colleagues, feel we should have pressed on with the strike action on 5 November. I don’t believe anybody would condone or want anyone dying on Bonfire Night as a result. But do we not risk this every time we go on strike?

During the last dispute these questions were asked, and my reply was to insist that managers could end the dispute by being reasonable.

The threat of mass sackings is far from removed—it is just on the back burner. Had we struck again, we could have removed it.

I would like to thank Socialist Worker and its members for their support and collections.

We have been consistently attacked by the right wing press, but Socialist Worker has supported us—and not only us, but every group of workers who find themselves having to go on strike. Long may it continue.

Charlie Brown, FBU member, officers’ section (pc)

Rank and file FBU union members in London are still enraged at the decision to call off strikes—and we are ready to reinstate them to protect our service and jobs.

The fact that the fire authority contracted paid strike-breakers as a tool against action by FBU members was a significant catalyst resulting in the yes vote for strikes.

Rank and file FBU members are angry that the sacking notice was issued and that the fire authority tried to discredit our professionalism by replacing us with ill-trained, badly equipped scabs. There were massive pickets and resistance wherever AssetCo showed up.

Strikes are still a powerful tool for the FBU in London. Now is the time to force the authority to consider its workforce, the public and the future of the fire service.

Steve,FBU member, Leyton, east London

Who are Ed Miliband's ‘squeezed middle’?

Labour leader Ed Miliband says he wants Labour to represent the “squeezed middle” in society. But there is great confusion about exactly who he is referring to.

Many Labour Party members and the right wing press seem to think that he wants to love up to the top-rate taxpayers.

Miliband made matters even more confusing by bumbling that he sees the “middle” as anyone earning between £16,000 and £50,000 a year!

It is clear from readily available statistics that the majority of British workers earn an average of between £19,000 and £24,000 a year.

The number who earn £50,000 is tiny.

And what about all of those people who don’t fit into Miliband’s “squeezed middle”?

The millions of people who are unemployed, the disabled who are unable to work, the cleaners and care workers who are essential but who cannot survive on their low wages.

Will Miliband defend them from the vicious Tory cuts?

I am a public servant and I earn around £22,000 a year. I certainly don’t consider myself to be middle class—and no one I work with does either.

The impact of the cuts, together with pay freezes and rising food, utility and council tax bills (many of which began under Labour) mean that our wages don’t go very far.

The real “middle” in society isn’t middle class—it is made up of working class people struggling to survive. Many will be members of the trade unions whose votes enabled Miliband to become Labour leader.

It would be more beneficial to those trade unionists who voted for Milliband as Labour leader, hoping he would pull Labour to the left, if he and his party opposed the cuts set to devastate our lives.

That would be welcomed by the 500,000 public sector workers who face losing their jobs and the millions who rely on the services that they provide.

Marianne Owens, Cardiff

Swiss social democrats open the door to racism

A referendum in Switzerland last week voted by 52 percent to 47 percent for the automatic deportation of foreign nationals found guilty of certain crimes or benefit fraud.

The proposal was made by the far right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and proves in practice the terrifying danger of electing far right political parties.

But it also exposes the Social Democratic Party, which pandered to racism by making a similar proposal to that of the SVP. Human rights groups fear that as many as 1,500 people a year could be expelled as a result.

Racialising crime in this way opens the door wide to further assaults against migrant communities.

In times of economic and political crisis, even where there is evidence of the working class coming together to fight back against austerity measures, it is vital that the anti-racist and anti‑fascist movement keeps up the pressure.

We need to continue to organise against the far right.

In Britain, the fascist British National Party was humiliated in this year’s elections.

But they are not going away. The mainstream political parties, including Labour, continue to pander to racist myths about immigrants and Muslims.

We need to keep up the pressure on the far right while demanding unity against racism in the anti-cuts movement.

Alys Zaerin, East London

Students inspired town hall protest

I was lucky enough to witness a student rebellion on 29 November as 200 students marched from Goldsmiths’ College to Lewisham town hall.

Firefighters came out of their station to wave to the demonstration.

Lewisham council was voting through cuts—£60 million over three years.

The students joined a rally of 100 protesters from the unions and local campaigns.

I read a letter from the Pensioners Forum asking councillors to protect services. As pensioners we rejected any division between young and old.

When a flare went off in the lobby, police and security closed the public gallery.

Riot police arrived to attack demonstrators, who replied with chants of “no ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts”, “workers and students united will never be defeated” and “this is what democracy looks like”. The police called in horses and dogs.

Despite this, our unity and militancy was itself a victory—it showed how we could fight and win.

We have seen already that the resistance of Lewisham is present in every town and city.

A general strike could bring down this vicious government.

Andrew Smith, South East London

Ambulances turned away

Tory promises to stop the downgrading and closure of district general hospitals in London are a sham.

King George’s in east London has decided it will no longer accept maternity or paediatric patients who arrive by ambulance.

Managers claim that this is because they don’t have the specialist staff needed to treat the seriously ill any more.

That no one had informed midwives or local paramedics shows that this is nonsense.

Pregnant women in difficulty, told by their King George-based teams to come in by ambulance, are then being sent to hospitals further away.

In response, some are doing the sensible thing—calling a cab, leaving the hospital grounds, and then returning in the taxi so they can be admitted!

What a shambles.

Health worker, East London

Libraries will make us free

The Tory philistines are intent on selling libraries to voluntary organisations or scrapping them.

Many people depend on a reliable library service—especially the vulnerable. And only a well-trained public sector workforce can run them effectively.

As part of our campaign against the cuts we must defend our libraries. It is knowledge and education that lead the way to freedom.

Anna Lansley, West Sussex

Police aid EDL in Preston

The police lied when they told anti-racist protesters that the English Defence League (EDL) had left Preston after their protest on 27 November.

Minutes after police told us to stop our demo, we saw police dispersing the EDL down the street we were on.

They were chanting racist slogans and calling us traitors.

I also witnessed the EDL throwing beer cans at a couple of Asian lads, hitting one of them on the head.

The police handled this extremely badly and put us all in danger.

Jain Gawne, Lancashire

Royal arms deal mess

Prince Andrew’s comment that the Serious Fraud Squad investigation into the corruption surrounding BAE arms sales to Saudi Arabia was “idiocy” throws a spotlight on the murky world of British arms dealings, and the corruption of many royals.

The investigation was into allegations that BAE had paid in excess of one billion pounds to senior Saudi officials for buying British jet fighters.

But the inquiry was cancelled by “peace envoy” Tony Blair under pressure from the Saudi government.

We are told that many of the royals act as “ambassadors” for Britain around the world, but exactly what are they selling?

Mark Holt, Chair, Merseyside Stop the War Coalition

Scottish refs strike wrong

You reported that Scottish football referees are set to “strike” (Socialist Worker 27 November). Despite receiving the backing of the Scottish TUC, it is not a dispute socialists should support.

The “criticism” refs are complaining of is about their sectarian practices being exposed by Celtic manager Neil Lennon.

Referee Dougie Mcdonald publicly admitted that he lied to Lennon over his reversal of a penalty decision initially given in Celtic’s favour, yet no action was taken against him.

Demanding that clubs sign a letter stating their faith in the refs is aimed at disciplining Celtic, the club traditionally supported by Glasgow’s Catholics.

What this exposes is the institutional sectarianism in the West of Scotland.

Socialists say no to sectarianism. And the Scottish referees’ association can go to hell.

Stephen McLean, Brighton

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Article information

Tue 7 Dec 2010, 18:03 GMT
Issue No. 2231
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