Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2235

Protesters defend the right to abortions in 2008 (Pic: Smallman )

Protesters defend the right to abortions in 2008 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Bigoted scaremongers want to turn clock back

Reporting of the way a small number of women have been failed by the Implanon contraceptive implant tells us a lot about the agenda of the right wing press.

The Daily Mail did its best to misrepresent the facts, trying to scare us into thinking that contraceptives don’t work and that abstaining from sex is the only way to prevent pregnancy.

In fact, there were just 1.4 reported pregnancies a year out of 10,000 women using Impanon. That means it is more than 99 percent effective.

Compare that with the pill, 92 percent effective—or condoms, 85 percent.

No contraceptive is 100 percent effective, and all have side effects. How tolerable these risks are depends on the individual and the information they receive.

The Daily Mail has consistently campaigned against the right of young people to have education about sex and relationships, and access to sexual health clinics.

Their scaremongering could mean many more women have unwanted pregnancies.

This is what happened with a recent scare around the pill, and it’s vulnerable young women who suffer the most. Cuts to the NHS and youth services can only make matters worse.

Already clinics are being cut, hours reduced and staff training curtailed.

To provide good contraceptive advice we need well-trained health professionals who have the time to discuss all the options with the women who come to them.

That’s not least because we have to undo the work of those who are deliberately trying to misrepresent the facts as part of a campaign to turn the clock back on a women’s right to control her own fertility.

Siobhan Hawthorne, East London

Britain’s largest private abortion provider, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), is going to the High Court to try to make it easier for women in England, Scotland and Wales to access early medical abortions.

At the moment women have to make two visits to a clinic to receive and take two sets of pills.

Some miscarry during the second visit, but not all, and this means they can find themselves travelling home while bleeding.

The law states that “any treatment for the termination of pregnancy” must be carried out on licensed premises. But BPAS argue that this should be modernised to allow for the administration to take place where the woman chooses—probably at home.

The drugs would still be prescribed at a clinic or hospital.

Predictably this has caused an outcry from the anti-abortion lobby. They complain of “DIY home abortions” and warn of them becoming a “pill-popping exercise”.

The reality is that many women find themselves facing unwanted pregnancies. The reasons are many and complex.

But I think we need to support changes that increase options and remove barriers to abortion, giving women greater control over their bodies and their lives.

Andrea Butcher, North London

Put Mark Twain in context

The passage from Mark Twain quoted by J Taylor (Letters, 15 January) certainly does display a racist attitude towards Native Americans. But I don’t think it’s right to simply dismiss Twain as a racist.

We need to understand historical figures like Twain in the context of their times, rather than judge them by the standards of the present.

The questions we should ask are: how did Twain’s views of Native Americans compare to those of his contemporaries? And how do they compare to Twain’s other views?

On the first point, it is clear that racist attitudes to Native Americans were rife in Twain’s time. His views are wrong, but they were not unusual. He was repeating the prejudices of his time.

On the second, it is clear that on every other issue to do with race, Twain held a strong and unusual anti-racist position.

His comments on Native Americans are an exception, a blemish on an otherwise exemplary record. And his views changed as he grew older and became more sympathetic to the plight of aboriginal people.

Melissa Morley asks a related question about Twain’s use of the offensive word “nigger”.

Again, we should realise that this term was much more common in Twain’s day, and that it is thanks to the anti‑racist movement that it is now unacceptable.

There is a case for keeping the word out of the classroom, as Melissa suggests. But ideally students ought to be taught about the history of racism and ­anti‑racism so that they can read the Twain originals without needing to clean them up for modern sensibilities.

Anindya Bhattacharyya, East London

Mark Twain may have been a racist but that is no reason to edit or ban his novels.

I think we it is important that we teach our children to look reality in the face.

Lots of otherwise good writers have racist ideas. We need to challenge their ideas, not simply edit them out of history.

Rohan Nakkady, Kerala, India

Jobless and disabled are working class too

As a visually impaired person, I can relate to Anna Lansley’s anger at the employment discrimination suffered by disabled people (Letters, 15 January).

Even before the recession, unemployment among disabled people of working age was estimated at around 50 percent. The attacks on the public sector will make matters far worse.

However, I can’t agree with Anna saying we shouldn’t use the term “working class”.

I have a job at the moment, but if I lost it I wouldn’t be in an objectively different position in capitalist society.

I am a worker because the only thing I own is my ability to work—and I’m sure this is the same for Anna.

It’s this fact that makes us workers, not whether or not the bosses are willing to buy our labour.

Disabled people have played a proud role in the socialist movement.

Think of Helen Keller, usually described as a “brave woman” who struggled against her disability.

The fact that she was a tireless fighter for socialism in the US is hidden from history.

I am proud to be part of the same tradition—and to be a member of the only class that has both the interest and potential power to bring down this bosses’ government.

Rob M, London

Who does union official speak for?

As a nurse and longstanding union activist I welcomed my union’s decision to reject a blackmailing deal on jobs and pay being offered by our employers ( Unison health executive reject bosses’ blackmail , 15 January).

They said they could guarantee no compulsory redundancies if we accepted an incremental pay freeze for two years—in addition to the below-inflation “rises” we are already getting.

The Unison union’s health executive rightly threw this proposal out, saying that the employers’ promises weren’t worth the paper they were written on, and that we would not discuss any similar deals.

It was also agreed that our lead negotiator, Mike Jackson, would issue a press release to that effect.

I have been outraged to see Jackson quoted in the press saying, “If there are any other proposals that might achieve a situation where they were able to provide guarantees we’d be interested to look at that.”

Who does this unelected official thinks he speaks for?

Unison prides itself on being a member-led union.

Well, the members want a union that fights to defend our jobs and the services we provide, not a sell-out.

Health worker, by email

Party for your right to fight

Thanks to Noel Halifax for his review of Goodbye to London, which recalls the heady days of mass squatting in the 1970s ( Trying to take down the system squat by squat , 15 January).

In the Tolmers Street squat that is mentioned, we didn’t just party in the occupied bank, but housed a poster collective, theatre and film groups, and a radical bookshop.

We also showed that direct action, plus unity with local tenants and unions, could stop the developers.

Our campaign forced Camden council to buy the land and build council housing.

The late Alan Walter, who subsequently led the Defend Council Housing group, was a driving force behind the squatters’ movement.

With the backing of trade unions, it defeated the proposed criminal trespass law that would have made today’s student occupations illegal.

Candy Udwin, North London

Who are the real criminals?

The sentence handed to student protester Ed Woollard is a complete disgrace. He got 32 months in prison for throwing a fire extinguisher off the roof of Millbank.

This is hardly justice when you consider that newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson died after being hit by a police officer on the G20 demo, yet no-one has faced any charges.

The state is trying to make examples of people who protest, while all the time the real criminals—the bankers, warmongering politicians, and the police who protect them—get to walk free.

Geoff Breeze, Southampton

Sacked for being female?

It’s great that former Countryside presenter Miriam O’Reilly won her employment tribunal against the BBC last week.

The tribunal ruled that she had been the victim of age discrimination when sacked by the show, aged just 52.

However, the panel decided she had not suffered sexual discrimination.

What utter nonsense. Our screens regularly feature old men presenting everything from Mastermind to Newsnight.

But when is an older woman allowed to front a major BBC TV show?

To say that gender had no part to play in O’Reilly getting the push as Countryfile went to a primetime slot is either naive, or stupid.

Anna Davies, Liverpool

Ivory Coast not so simple

It is misleading for Ken Olende to say that the roots of Ivory Coast’s problems lie in the French colonialists’ divide-and-rule tactics ( Imperialism isn't the answer in the Ivory Coast , 8 January).

He said that Catholics in the south were encouraged to think of themselves as more authentically “Ivorian”

The divisions arose more by default. In the 1960s, the government, in the spirit of pan‑Africanism, freely handed over farmland in the south to thousands of migrants from the north of the country.

It encouraged them to take advantage of high cocoa prices. As a result, Ivory Coast became one of Africa’s most prosperous nations, noted for its peace and stability.

Things began to fall apart in the late 1980s when the cocoa price began to collapse and the government slashed payments to farmers.

The migrants, most of them Muslim, began to be resented. Many were driven off their farms and some murdered.

AK Cobbina, North London

Which side are you on?

What If Pakistan does collapse into civil war, as suggested in Socialist Worker last week.

Who would the left support? The liberals and their “war on terror”, or the right wing Islamists and their blasphemy laws?

A Khan, by email

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Article information

Tue 18 Jan 2011, 18:01 GMT
Issue No. 2235
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