When we walked out to stop workfare last time
I’m struck by the similarities between today’s workfare schemes and the ones we fought in 1985.
Then the viciously right wing Tory government attempted to clean up the unemployment figures by extending its “Youth Training Scheme” (YTS) to all school leavers.
This meant those not in jobs or education would be forced to work full time—for £27.50 a week.
The “training” involved was sweeping floors, digging holes and stacking shelves.
This was, needless to say, a massively unpopular move. A mass walkout from schools across Britain was organised.
At my school, a comprehensive in Reading, plans were laid by word of mouth—and at lunchtime on 25 May we legged it.
Most met up with pupils from other schools for a rally outside the Civic Centre to protest against the scheme.
This being the 1980s, many of us were barracked by members of the public shouting the classic, “Why don’t you go back to Russia?”
The local paper warned of “Reds under the desks”. But generally there was good support.
In Liverpool, 4,000 pupils staged a rally addressed by the MP Terry Fields.
Meanwhile, all involved were denounced by erstwhile “left wing firebrand” Neil (now Lord) Kinnock as “dafties”.
Still the Tory government soon backed down and the mandatory aspect of the YTS was dropped.
Today’s government has an extreme agenda involving the exploitation and suppression of those in most need.
We’ve had riots in England and rising unemployment. One wonders if direct action in schools could be another 80s revival.
Noel Kelly, Bristol
I was on one of the government’s workfare schemes last year with a sales and marketing company.
The jobcentre didn’t tell me that it would be unpaid.
They said it was a “trial” and that I’d be paid for my work after that trial period was over.
But of course after four weeks working for nothing they got rid of me and brought on the next group for another trial.
It’s nothing but a scam—and it’s not just the big companies like Tesco and McDonald’s that are doing it.
Gemma Pearson, Manchester
Primitive life was enjoyable
Susie Helme (Letters, 3 March) argues we should not idealise “primitive communist” societies. She says life in these pre-class hunter-gatherer communities was “nasty, brutish and short”.
Despite this she also tells us that, compared to societies that came later, the health of hunter‑gatherer communities was often better.
Hunter-gatherers were, as Susie says, communal and egalitarian. They certainly had more leisure time.
In his classic study Stone Age Economics, the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins points out that the Hadza people of Tanzania worked on average less than two hours a day obtaining food.
They rejected agriculture not out of a desire to remain stuck in the past but because they enjoyed their lives.
But Susie is wrong to argue that this life was brutal and short. Recent studies show that for tribes like the Hadza the modal age of death for adults (the age that most adults die) was between 68 and 78.
Infant mortality rates were high but surviving to your teens tended to mean you became a grandparent.
Nor are these communities particularly violent. What marks them out is their cooperative nature not competition.
At times of shortage there may have been competition for resources but warfare was less likely an outcome than attempts to adapt.
This is not an abstract discussion. We are constantly told that socialism would never work because the germ of the capitalist way of doing things lies in our very nature and can be seen in our earliest ways of organising society.
This is not true. For most of our history we lived in communities were men and women were equal, and where work was for the collective interest.
Today modern science and medicine have opened up the possibility of a world organised so that everyone can have what they need to live a decent life.
Martin Empson, Manchester
How students linked up with the sparks
Teesside was one of the major areas of activity in the recent electricians’ dispute. Students here backed their struggle.
On 9 November, ten members of Teesside Socialist Worker Student Society joined around 40 electricians as they travelled to join the demonstrations in London.
Together we helped block the roads outside a major London construction site, stopping traffic and spreading the message that the sparks were mobilising.
That was the day the sparks attempted to break through the kettle to join the student march, and in some cases were hit with police batons in the process.
When one student was grabbed by police, though, the sparks immediately grabbed him back.
The following week was the first of what was to be dozens of pickets. By the third picket we were on first name terms.
Some sparks even came and picked us up from Middlesbrough—a £20 taxi ride away.
Without this we would not have been able to make many of the pickets.
We are still in contact with many of the electricians here.
Their victory has given confidence to Teesside, an area facing painful cuts both in the public and private sector.
Liam Anderson, Middlesbrough
Electricians: Thank you Socialist Worker
Rank and file electricians would like to thank Socialist Worker and its readers for their support throughout our six month campaign against the construction bossses.
Our dispute was completely ignored by the mainstream media.
In contrast, the coverage we received from Socialist Worker helped us to not feel isolated and gave us a voice throughout the dispute.
The donations and solidarity we received from others were vitally important in building the confidence to keep pushing till we eventually went on to win.
Trade unionists in both private and public sectors, retired people, activists and students joining us on our protests and pickets also played a crucial role in spreading soldarity and raising morale.
The role socialists played in this dispute should never be underestimated.
Hopefully this win will give us the boost to keep on pushing for better pay and conditions.
This was not just a victory for people working in construction, but also for our class in general.
Thank you once again.
Unite London rank and file electricians committee
Thanks to the Daily Mail!
So moved was I by the Daily Mail’s decision to give the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) free publicity, I thought I’d thank them.
I did however have to write a slight corrective to Melanie Phillips.
“Dear editor, I strongly object to Melanie Phillips’ assertion that the SWP’s aim is to ‘destroy British society’.
“Actually we want to destroy class society whereby a minority wrest all the goods and resources of the world, whilst the majority live in poverty.
“We are, after all, internationalists.
“Thanks for the free publicity by the way.”
Des Mannay, by email
Who are the real villains?
Congratulations to the SWP for being named the Sun newspaper’s “villain of the week”.
Socialist Worker should take a leaf out of the Sun’s book and start publishing its own hero and villain of the week.
Why not start with Rupert Murdoch?
Name withheld, by email
Flawed view of rabid racists
Proud and Prejudiced, the recent Channel 4 programme on the English Defence League, rested on a hugely flawed analysis.
It argued that there is an equivalence between the growing threat from fascist and racist pogromists and the handful of isolated Islamist eccentrics.
No one who saw 600 rabid racists attempting to attack the mosque in Hyde, Greater Manchester, last Saturday could seriously put forward such an argument.
The banned Islamist groups don’t attack our union offices and meetings—nor do they smash up shops because of the ethnicity of the owners.
This is the business of the likes of the EDL.
We must unite to smash them.
Mike Killian, Manchester
An attack on Egypt workers
Kamal Abbas, general coordinator of Egypt’s Centre for Trade Union and Workers Service, has been jailed for six months. The court heard that Abbas insulted a public officer.
He interrupted the acting president of the International Labor Organisation (ILO) during an ILO session last June.
He also challenged the argument that the state-ran Egyptian Trade Union Federation represents workers.
This is an attack on the Egyptian workers’ movement, the right to form independent unions, and on those struggling to continue the revolution.
Matt Hale, Manchester
Get people to Marxism
A lot more people than usual are looking for an alternative to the dead politics of the parliamentary parties.
Revolution has been more visible than for a while—and the “class politics” we been banging on about for years is more visible than for two decades.
The SWP should be pushing the stops out to get people to the Marxism festival. Years ago there would be coaches from towns—can we do that again?
Heather Fahone, Swansea
For more on Marxism 2012 see www.marxismfestival.org.uk
Debt and imperialism
I’m reading a book which contains the following lines on countries unable to repay debt:
“The insufficient guarantee of an international loan gives rise to the appointment of a financial commission by the creditor countries in order to protect their rights and guard the fate of their invested capital.
“The appointment of such a commission literally amounts, however, to a veritable conquest.”
The book is aptly entitled Imperialism, and was written by John A Hobson in 1902.
Tony Phillips, North London