Socialist Worker

Unleashing toxic war on the poor

Issue No. 1841

MILLIONS OF people are poisoned by toxic chemicals which are sold for use as pesticides in the world's poorest countries. These chemicals are banned or heavily restricted for agricultural use in countries like Britain and the US because of their effects on workers who use them.

Up to 250,000 people a year are being killed by exposure to such chemicals, according to a report published last week by the Environmental Justice Foundation. Dr Jacques Diouf, the director general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, says, 'Many pesticides that have been banned in industrialised countries are still marketed and used in developing countries.' Corporations which have invested in production facilities are determined to get a hefty return on their money.

The World Health Organisations (WHO) says that 'three million reported cases of pesticide-associated acute poisoning occur annually, resulting in 220,000 deaths'.

The WHO estimates that '25 million workers are poisoned by pesticides every year'. Especially sickening is the number of cases of birth deformities caused by mothers' exposure to the agrochemicals.

This echoes the wave of such birth deformities following the US's use of the pesticide Agent Orange as a chemical weapon in the Vietnam War. One of the agrochemicals still killing today is TCDD, a by-product of making 245T, a key ingredient of Agent Orange.

Murder on the roads

TWELVE YEAR old Rachel Sumner died last week after being hit by a police car as she crossed the road in Manchester. The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) has launched an investigation after local residents claimed the police car was travelling too quickly in a residential area.

Rachel's is the latest in a rising tide of deaths caused by police cars. In 1997-8 nine people were killed by police cars. That had soared to 44 by 2001-2. The PCA published a report last year. It examined 85 cases between 1998 and 2001 involving 91 deaths. Of the cases investigated the biggest number, 42 percent, were pursuits for 'traffic violations'.

THE class divide in Britain has grown wider over the last 50 years, according to the world's biggest long term study of people's lives. The Institute of Education in London published a report last week based on studies tracking 40,000 people from birth to adulthood.

The studies followed everyone born in one week in the years 1946, 1958 and 1970. It compared their lives through to 2000. The conclusion was stark: 'class polarities have strengthened and relative poverty has increased in Britain over the last 50 years.'

WHERE do the pundits on the Financial Times, Britain's top financial paper, get their insights from? Senior journalist Julia Cuthbertson has been suspended after appearing in a cable TV documentary.

She was pictured taking part in a seance hoping to contact former deputy editor Peter Martin, who died last year.

Naked truth censored

BBC PRESENTER John Peel had arranged an interview with an eccentric 'nude rights' campaigner for his Home Truths programme. Everything was set for the interview with the naked Steve Gough at the studio when BBC chiefs stepped in.

Gough would have to cover up, they ordered, or the interview would be cancelled. After all, some people could be offended at what they might see on their screens. Except the interview was for a radio broadcast.

Bosses feared spreading fire

SOME employers were terrified that the sympathy shown to striking firefighters could have translated into solidarity strikes. The Newsquest newspaper group is one of Britain's biggest. Newsquest chief executive Paul Davidson wrote to managers, 'The current dispute between the fire workers and the government has brought the issue of industrial action very much to the front of people's minds.

'Will you please now prepare detailed and fully costed contingency plans to ensure continuous production/publication in the event of strike action.' Managers at the Wirral Globe estimated it would cost around £2,000 a week to use scabs if the six staff walked out in support of the firefighters. The company worried even this might not work if there was 'a total walkout'.

Peace train

CONGRATULATIONS to the Eurostar worker who had to serve US treasury secretary John Snow and his entourage last week. The train attendant omitted to supply the cutlery needed to eat breakfast. The US government officials remonstrated.

'Give peace a chance!' shouted the rail worker, before adding an unprintable comment about George W Bush and walking off.

Try living on £1.30 an hour

JUDGES IN the Court of Appeal last week ruled that it was perfectly legal for employers to pay workers £1.30 an hour. Care worker Julie Walton and her GMB union had challenged her employers under the national minimum wage legislation.

Julie was required to remain on her patient's premises to provide vital care. She worked a 72-hour shift caring for a patient suffering from epilepsy. Her employer, the Independent Living Organisation, said that she only 'worked' for six hours and 50 minutes of each 24-hour period. This, they said, meant that she was paid around £4.60 an hour.

Things they say

'WE WILL resort to using the just repressive force of the state.'
Giuseppe Pisanu, Italy's interior minister, on proposals to arrest and jail anti-war protesters

'I cannot advocate a dirty war in which hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians will be killed.'
Stephen Brookes, held hostage by the Iraqi regime in the 1991 Gulf War

'HAVE WE indeed become blind, as Russia is blind in Chechnya, to our own advice, that military power is not the answer to terrorism?'
Letter to US Secretary of State Colin Powell from senior US diplomat John Brady Kiesling, who resigned last week in protest at US policy on Iraq

'OUR single-minded and unfortunately rather demogogic fixation on Iraq is undermining the legitimacy of US leadership.'
Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to former US president Jimmy Carter

'I THINK it's a better system. People should not be worried about PFI.'
Chancellor Gordon Brown in the latest issue of Inside Labour, the Labour members' magazine

'WARD AREAS are cramped. We observed facilities, originally designated as patient areas, being used as storage areas. There was lack of beds and frequent closures of wards as a result of gastrointestinal infection.'
Government Inspectors' Report on the first PFI hospital at Cumberland Royal Infirmary

'THERE IS just no comparison. This time I might as well have been in my own bed in my own home.'
Woman Patient this week comparing maternity treatment at the old Edinburgh Royal Infirmary with its PFI replacement

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Article information

Inside the System
Sat 8 Mar 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1841
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