AS A result of recent changes in government policy, asylum seekers are being evicted from their homes, having all benefits removed and being denied the right to work. Most are Iraqi Kurds. We challenged my local MP and immigration minister Beverley Hughes to say what the government expects Kurdish refugees to do in such circumstances.
She first suggested they contact the 'networks that got them here'. Later she promised a 'safe overland route through Turkey'. Now the real reason behind the government's cruel policy has been revealed in a radio interview last week.
The Today programme featured a refugee who had applied for asylum on 10 January, two days after the harsh new regime came into effect. He was denied all support and cannot even appeal against this judgement. So he is living in a railway station. Hughes admitted this was harsh but said the aim of the policy was to act as a 'deterrent' and was intended to 'send a message to the world'.
In contrast to this cruel message, local schools across Manchester have welcomed the children of asylum seekers-and everyone has thrived, according to inspectors. Networks of support for asylum seekers have grown.
Now in response to the new laws a Crisis Committee to Stop the Destitution of Asylum Seekers has been set up. Anger is high at government hypocrisy-cutting food aid to those fleeing from Zimbabwe, and supporting a war on Iraq that will force even more to flee. Campaigners and activists are determined to both fight this policy and to bring support to those in need.
MARK KRANTZ, Manchester
Speak out now, not after killing
AS WAR looms ever nearer it is time for our elected representatives to get off the fence and make clear where they stand. MPs and local councillors have a responsibility to speak out. There is an old saying that 'silence implies consent'. That is true of the threat of war with Iraq.
There is no room for keeping quiet. Any MP or councillor who refuses to speak out against the war will share the responsibility for the bloodshed which George Bush and his poodle Tony Blair plan to unleash. Here in Tower Hamlets we will be stepping up the pressure on our MPs and councillors in the coming weeks.
The vast majority of people locally oppose the war. Yet our two MPs, Oona King and Jim Fitzpatrick, are, so far, backing Blair. We will be seeking to mobilise people to press them to change that stance and to march with their constituents on 15 February. Local councillors on the Labour-run council, many of whom are Muslims, have so far said nothing.
We will be phoning, writing and lobbying them to demand they speak out against war and join the 15 February march too. People across the country should do the same. No doubt many MPs and councillors are against the war in private. Now is the time to speak out publicly.
KAMBIZ BOOMLA, East London
Congestion charge: I support this idea
I LOOK forward to the introduction of a congestion charge in London next month. I am sure it will be very imperfect and that there will be lots of problems. But I thoroughly support the principle. We simply cannot go on with cars choking up the roads and ruining the quality of life for everybody in the city. People say it will be inconvenient to have restrictions on car use.
I say that it's bloody inconvenient to have pollution and levels of traffic that are a constant threat to pedestrians, especially children. The main people against the charge are the selfish individuals who feel that, like Mr Toad, they should be able to drive their car wherever they want, whenever they want, and damn the rest of us.
I would exempt some essential workers from the tax (although most don't drive into London as you can't park) and assess details after six months. But the idea is spot on.
ANNE COVINGTON, West London
Congestion charge: attack on workers
I AM against the congestion tax that is shortly to come into operation in London. It think it will hit the poor hardest and do very little to improve public transport.
I am a postal worker. Some of my colleagues share a car to come to work. They will be hit hard by the charge-another £25 a week on their travel costs as we work six days a week.
I am suspicious about measures which are said to be about the environment but always end up hitting the people who can't afford it. The solution in London is cheap buses and tubes that encourage people to abandon their cars, not more money out of our pockets.
It is encouraging that there are the beginnings of a movement to stop the tax. Some trade unions have launched legal moves and there are now protest meetings organised.
I think we should get involved in these and push them in a leftward direction rather than leave them to be directed by Tories and Daily Mail readers. If the unions insisted employers paid the tax for their workers then they could start strikes if they refused.
If we defeat the congestion tax then it will give people confidence to stand up to other measures imposed on us by authority.
POSTAL WORKER, London
From rank and file to Westminster MP
LABOUR MP and ex Fire Brigades Union member Jim Fitzpatrick (Letters, 11 January) would have read Socialist Worker more often in the 1970s when he was a member of the Socialist Workers Party. He played a leading part as editor in producing the Rank and File Fireman pamphlet during the 1977-8 national strike.
In reply to Sian Griffiths he says that he does not support a 40 percent pay rise for the fire service, but he does support a fairer deal and believes that the service can be improved (ie modernised). In one of the media interviews he refers to, he stated that there was an alternative to strike action in the dispute, and that was the Bain inquiry.
An editorial article in Rank and File Fireman in the 1977-8 strike stated, 'The employers' idea of cost effectiveness within the fire service is exactly the same as their crude and brutal cuts in the NHS, and we should make no mistake that is their intention for the fire service if we allow them to.
'Only we in the fire service know just what tragic results could occur if we allow them to decimate the fire service as they have done the NHS.' Nothing much has changed, Jimi, except that you are now a Labour MP. Jim Fitzpatrick originally comes from an area of Glasgow with high levels of poverty and deprivation.
He knows as well as any firefighter, and better than any politician, the potentially disastrous consequences which the cuts contained in the Bain report would have for the people in these areas, who already suffer the highest number of deaths from fire due to their circumstances. Enjoy your career, Jimi.
RONNIE ROBERTSON, retired firefighter, Glasgow
Lies last time, lies this time
I WAS enraged to read Christopher Hitchens writing in the Daily Mirror in support of war on Iraq.
He predicts that Saddam Hussein has huge weapons stores underneath mosques, and that we will soon discover 'mass graves' on a scale that will 'astonish the world'. Let me say at once that I do believe the Iraqi regime is brutal, and does indeed torture and murder opponents.
But Hitchens' lurid article is simply an attempt to cover up the truth about Bush and Blair's war, and to paint it in humanitarian colours. Hitchens made similar predictions and played the same role during the Kosovo war. After the NATO bombing of Kosovo and Serbia, Hitchens claimed that evidence would soon be produced of widespread slaughter by Serbian forces amounting to genocide.
In particular he pointed to the 'mass burnings of bodies in the blast furnace of the Trepca steel plant'. A thorough investigation by Western experts took place of what had happened at Trepca and found absolutely no evidence of 'mass burning of bodies'.
Hitchens did not apologise, nor did he seem worried by the 250,000 Serbs and Gypsies forced from their homes by the ethnic cleansing after NATO's assault. Christopher Hitchens wrote a very useful book setting out the imperialist crimes of Henry Kissinger. What a disgrace that he now acts as one of the foremost cheerleaders for imperialist war.
JANE NORTH, East London
THE TUC has just launched a campaign to enable trade unionists to take part in strike ballots through e-mail or by phone. This seems a reasonable enough idea.
May I suggest, however, that a more immediate reform the TUC could easily achieve would be for trade unionists to be allowed to vote on who is the TUC general secretary? Brendan Barber, John Monks' successor, emerged through a process which involved only a tiny circle.
Why not have an election which could spark interesting debate among seven million union members about the direction of the movement?
HELEN CHAYTOR, Birmingham
SOCIALIST Worker (11 January) is in danger of underplaying the threat of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). This is the most important issue facing all of us for the next year. If GATS goes through then it will simply not be possible to raise objections to privatisation without battling the entire force of the law-which trade unions are not going to do.
GATS will achieve for the US what the war on Iraq is intended to win-global hegemony. But it will do it 'peacefully' and securely.
MALCOLM HARRISON, by e-mail
THANKS FOR the good news about the Motherwell train drivers blocking war materials. It seems to me it was quite clever of the union to refrain from publicly backing their stance, as this would have opened them up to legal action. In these difficult times for unions I suggest we could do with more of such tactics.
ANDY DINWOODIE, Berwick
YOUR ARTICLE (18 January) on the Empire television series is fine as far as it goes, but misses out the series' argument about the US today. Niall Ferguson says that the US must take up the mission of the British Empire and proudly act as a 'force for good'. The British Empire was certainly evil.
A Bush empire, given the development of military technology, would be much worse.
TERRY HARRISON, by e-mail
'TERRORISM, n, the use or threat of violence to intimidate or cause panic, esp as a means of affecting political conduct.' (Black's Law Dictionary) This is what the US and we are doing to the people of Iraq.
I am expressing my opposition to my government's action by working with volunteers who will shortly travel to Iraq to act as 'human shields', ultimately placing themselves round hospitals, schools and waterworks in Iraq.
RICHARD SCRASE, TJP Iraq Human Shield Action (phone 020 7572 1124 or 07787 794 250, or go to www.uksociety.org or e-mail [email protected])