BLAIR'S PLAN to cut the number of asylum seekers is shocking. One way the government justifies its plans is to say children's education suffers if they are taught with children who don't speak English. I am a parent governor at my daughter Sorcha's school, in a very deprived area of central London.
This school welcomes children from the four corners of the earth, which makes for a fantastic mix of cultures and languages. A boy from Afghanistan recently joined Sorcha's class. Sorcha says, 'He came from a country where there was fighting and people got killed.
'His grandad was sent to prison and escaped and got shot. I can't imagine what it would be like to live in a country where you did not feel safe and your family got killed. It made me sad. We helped him learn English and were kind to him because we knew that he had come from far away and missed his friends and family left behind. He soon settled down but sadly for him he had to move house and to another new school where he didn't know anyone.'
Far from fostering this kind of compassion, the government says asylum seekers are swallowing up scarce resources. What a joke! Johanna Street School, like hundreds of other inner city schools, has been underresourced for years-and not because of asylum seekers. Gordon Brown says he has ringfenced £3 billion for this war-imagine how this money could transform schools!
Humanity and understanding are not on the government's education plan, but they are among the most valuable lessons being taught at our school.
Judith Lyons parent governor, Sorcha Lyons-Hookham age ten
SITTINGBOURNE in Kent, where I live, very rarely makes the news. Recently, however, Sittingbourne has hit the national headlines. This is because the only hotel in the middle of town has been sold to Home Office contractors to be used to house asylum seekers while they are undergoing induction.
The reaction to this plan has been out of proportion. Local residents have been touting petitions, waving placards outside the hotel and marching. Whenever people have turned out to protest there has been an outpouring of vitriolic racism directed against asylum seekers.
The British National Party has leafleted locally and is planning to stand for council seats in the area. To their shame, local Labour councillors and the Labour MP, Derek Wyatt, have not said a word to challenge the prejudices against asylum seekers. Derek Wyatt called for a two-year moratorium on asylum seekers, saying, 'We can't take any more.'
The asylum centre plan is now in limbo, as the Home Office is carrying out a review. Local anti-racists are getting organised. We are building the anti-war march on 15 February, with a coach booked and a meeting planned. We are working to try to stop our town turning into a national byword for bigotry.
Dave Turner Sittingbourne, Kent
Tube sell-off fight is not 'beat' yet
THERE WAS nearly a fatal disaster on the London Underground Central Line two weeks ago. The near miss exposed the government's public-private partnership (PPP) plans for the tube.
They say PPP has not come in yet, but the tube has been run as a 'shadow operation' for three years now. What you see is what you are going to get. What a terrible time for London mayor Ken Livingstone to give up his fight against PPP.
Livingstone said last week, 'We got beat' on the fight against privatisation. But we have never really fought back against PPP with all our power. One simple thing that would help to stop crashes is having guards on every tube. The guards would need to have direct communication with the driver and control over the doors, and give the driver the OK to move off.
At the moment station staff are only supposed to reduce the 'dwell time', the time people spend getting on and off trains. This is designed to fulfil 'business needs'. PPP will mean more money going into the pockets of the privateers. And that means more cutbacks on safety.
Accidents like that at Chancery Lane are just the tip of the profiteers' iceberg. We should keep fighting against PPP.
Unjum Mirza tube worker, East London
A DELEGATION of Unison union members and tenants travelled from Manchester to London for the lobby of parliament on 29 January in defence of council housing. Many speakers opposed the money being squandered on a war for oil and demanded money for public services.
The tenants from Manchester were enthused by the turnout and the support. One longstanding tenant activist said she had been given a 'boost of life' by the lobby. Another stated that she had been campaigning alone on her estate and was 'really excited by the support and argument for keeping council housing'.
Marion Doherty Unison joint convenor housing, Manchester
War-weary in the barracks
MAY I say how much I enjoyed reading the article by James Thorne, 'Iraq War, No Tanks' (Socialist Worker, 1 February). As an ex-service RAF pilot, I feel that it expresses exactly the thoughts of many who have been or are in the armed forces.
We have held a peace vigil in Bristol every evening for over a year now and numbers are growing. How Bush and Blair can say the best way to help the Iraqi people is to drop bombs on them is almost beyond belief.
Frank Devrell, Bristol
SWINDON IS a garrison town surrounded by military bases. I was speaking to a young army officer doing a course at Shrivenham Military College, six miles north of here.
He told me that many middle-ranking officers are openly questioning the war. One woman active in our local anti-war group has a boyfriend on one of the local RAF bases. She has given leaflets to her boyfriend's colleagues and they have been passed around the base.
There is quite a lot of anti-war sentiment in the RAF, particularly among the older blokes and NCOs, as a lot of them think it is a war for oil.
Andy Newman, Swindon
Private schools not top class
NATALIE Sedacca raises a fair point concerning private school education in this country (Letters, 1 February). It is not the case that everyone who attends a school absorbs uncritically all the crap spewed out by the education system.
But socialists are absolutely opposed to the right of a wealthy minority in society to buy education.
A fair education system is one that provides interesting and varied learning for all kids, regardless of how much money their parents have.
Lou Hayton Hove, East Sussex
Dylan is master of anti-war
I'D LIKE to add something to your list of top anti-war songs in last week's Socialist Worker-Bob Dylan. To the generation of 1963 Dylan's 'Masters of War' was a great anthem against the Vietnam War. And during the last Gulf War, in February 1991, when Dylan was awarded a lifetime achievement award, he came onto the stage without a word, sang a blistering 'Masters of War' and left.
But the hardest of Dylan's anti-war songs is 'John Brown', which tells the story of a parents' pride in sending their son off to war, and his return with his body torn to shreds. Listen to the Live 1975 album to hear him in full angry flight.
Roger Huddle, North London
Coffin protest against war
EXETER STOP the War Coalition campaigners have been part of the famous Cornwall peace coffin procession. The coffin symbolises the innocent Iraqi civilians who will be murdered if war breaks out. It has travelled through places like Helston, Plymouth and Totnes. Look out for the coffin on the huge anti-war demo in London.
Exeter Stop the War Coalition
Even cuts in outer space
THE RECENT space shuttle tragedy shows once again that budget cuts on any level mean cutbacks in safety and maintenance. After an expert NASA panel warned the space agency of forthcoming safety issues, several of its members were removed.
George Bush has pledged to keep America in space, but his administration deferred several repairs and redesigns to the shuttle in the past because they cost too much.
This accident will have increased concerns and fears for those who live in the flightpath of rockets and shuttles powered by plutonium and other nuclear materials.
Martin Empson, East London
Taking aim at another planet
PEOPLE & Planet at Edinburgh University ran a day-long conference for students and other activists from all over Scotland a couple of weeks ago. Three hundred people attended the event, where the war and Palestine were key issues.
The day provided great opportunities to learn, to share strategies and to be inspired.
Pat Smith, Edinburgh
Politics for the troops
OUR FORCES are being hastily dispatched to be key participants in this proposed war against the beleaguered state of Iraq. Serving members of the armed forces can vote but not be politically active, especially on foreign matters.
But if they can be exploited by politicians perhaps the political rights of serving officers should be reviewed.
Nick Vinehill, by e-mail
Hunting down the pro-war MPs
OUR RECENT lobby of Barbara Roche's surgery was a big success, with over 60 people turning up. When asked whether any other issue had generated such a big response, she insisted that there was one-foxhunting-as if Muswell Hill and Crouch End were bastions of the Countryside Alliance!
Robin Beste, North London