Labour failing in classroom
AFTER A torrent of criticism about the new AS levels New Labour has been forced to launch a review of the exams. Tens of thousands of 17 year olds are taking AS level exams. Students have complained of massive increases in schoolwork, with some working 50 hours a week.
Only after huge disruption and complaints from students has the new education secretary, Estelle Morris, ordered a top level inquiry into the exams chaos. It was absolutely typical of New Labour to introduce the new AS Level exam in a rush and without consulting teachers or students.
It is desperate to have a system which measures and grades children at every possible opportunity, even though our pupils take the most exams of any in Europe. Now we have Nick Tate, the former chief executive of the qualifications authority and the man who dreamt the whole thing up from his cosy office, admitting that now he's out in school (even though it's a posh public school) his brainchild is a failure.
Last year we had the ugly farce of kids in Scotland not receiving their results, or getting the wrong ones. With a lack of examiners and the system nearing meltdown, the same thing is not far off in England. All of this is done so that New Labour can show we can measure "progress" in education. But these ideas of the market only serve to ruin the lives of our children.
- JON BERRY, St Albans
Tax haven for rich hit by demos
ON SATURDAY 9 June I took part in a day of action against tax havens organised by the French anti-capitalist group ATTAC. A group of about 50 of us joined hundreds of others from groups all over Normandy and Brittany to demonstrate in the port of St Malo in Brittany, while about 200 boarded a ferry for Jersey.
After giving those Jersey bound a noisy send off, we marched through the town centre handing out leaflets and performing street theatre. We held workshops, and ended with a rally involving trade union members and new ATTAC groups in Poland, Belgium and Germany.
Jersey's police force drafted in officers from Strathclyde and even tried to ban the demonstration but were forced to back off after islanders protested. Similar protests took place in Andorra, and in Paris against redundancies at Danone and Marks & Spencer.
- PETE LAMBDON, France
Nazis desecrate Muslim graves
I WAS horrified to hear from a young Asian man that a group of fascists had desecrated Muslim graves in the cemetery in Greenacres in Oldham. The Nazis smashed up the headstones on children's graves and daubed them with graffiti. The young man was not angry, but devastated and sick. What kind of people would do such a thing?
People understand the pain and suffering when parents have to bury a young child. Regardless of religious belief or race, everyone can relate to the horror of this Nazi attack on sacred ground. The Oldham Evening Chronicle made a big splash on the front page of lottery money being granted to ethnic minority healthcare projects in Oldham. This misguided article was in the same edition of the paper which ran only a small story about the attack on the graves.
People are sickened. They don't want to be associated with attacks on Muslim graves. Loads of people wrote to the local paper condemning the Nazis who did this. We need to tell everyone what these Nazis have done in Oldham and show they are no different to the Nazis in Germany who desecrated Jewish graves.
- JUDITH SWIFT, Oldham
RMT stop fund
AS A local RMT union rep for London Underground I have begun to recommend that my members do not support "New Labour", either financially or electorally. Our branch has declined to donate its political fund to a local constituency Labour Party. I think that the RMT should disaffiliate from Labour and operate an independent political fund.
We should certainly stop paying John Prescott's expenses! New Labour's privatisation plans are a betrayal of working people. Why should union members pay for their own betrayal?
- JAKE WYLIE, East London
Vengeance or justice?
GEORGE W Bush justified the execution of the Oaklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh, by claiming that his death was "not vengeance, but justice". Many of the students in my classes disagree. In discussing the execution we considered what the purpose of punishment was. Almost every group came to the same conclusion, the purpose of punishment is to learn.
What has Timothy McVeigh learnt, except to go to an early grave defiant and as a martyr for the far right in America? Why can't they leave him in jail to let him consider what he has done, I was asked. The US media made great play of "closure" for grieving relatives. But all of my students considered the idea of watching an imprisoned man being killed to be abhorrent. We also discussed the racism of the justice system, using Mumia Abu-Jamal's book. This reports that half the defendants convicted of killing whites in the US would not have received the death penalty had their victims been black.
Given that 90 percent of our students are black, Asian or Turkish, they are well aware of the racism of the Metropolitan Police. The death penalty hands the power of life and death to those who Macpherson denounced as institutionally racist. Bush's celebration of the death penalty is one more good reason to join the planned demonstrations against him in London next month.
- DES BARROW, East London
ELECTION POINTS... ELECTION POINTS...
THERE WAS a wonderful buzz on the streets of St Helens during the election. The result on the night was a very significant one. The Socialist Alliance vote equated to 6.9 percent. This was with a historically low turnout of 52 percent.
With the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) vote of 4.5 percent, there was an 11.5 percent vote for socialist candidates. The Socialist Alliance did mount an extensive campaign whereas the SLP ran a limited one. If we had been able to unite our resources, I honestly believe we could have convinced another 500 people to actually go out and vote for socialist principles.
That would have meant we could have beaten the Tories and come third instead of fourth. There was some confusion with voters who do not distinguish between the Socialist Alliance and SLP. With only one socialist candidate the impact would have had massive historic implications and we must learn from this. Never more so than now has there been a need for unity from socialist candidates, to give working people a realistic alternative to challenge the main parties.
This is especially important for the 62 percent of Labour voters who did not turn out in St Helens to vote for Shaun Woodward, who they saw as a Tory. We must give people an alternative in local council and European elections. We must build within the trade union movement and target young voters who see politics as a turn off and do not bother to vote.
We can offer them a united alternative based on socialist principles of looking after people first. Then we will gain their trust and confidence to vote positively for us, instead of negatively not turning out to vote. We can do this by talking with the SLP and showing we are an inclusive organisation, and that the best vehicle to achieve success for socialist candidates is by uniting.
- NEIL THOMPSON, Socialist Alliance candidate in St Helens South
IT'S WRONG to claim that the Guardian or Billy Bragg wooed voters to the Lib Dems in some areas. Three different Liberal candidates at local hustings agreed with me on asylum seekers, the racist impact of Widdecombe, Hague and Straw's pronouncements, the need to scrap vouchers, the false "genuine/bogus" distinction, and the dismissal of economic migrants.
They were not so quick to highlight their policy of immediate euro entry, support for privatisation of services, and lack of policy on the minimum wage/working week or trade union rights. The Lib Dems were no alternative to us, true, but they did present themselves on the ground as a left anti-Blair option. Chesterfield apart, they were not able to con that many punters.
- NICK GRANT, Socialist Alliance candidate in Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush
THE QUESTION of what now for the Socialist Alliance is before us. The Socialist Alliance made an impact during this election by uniting people to the left of New Labour. This was only the beginning, though.
We have to continue to build the alliance. We have to be at the forefront of the coming battles over privatisation in the NHS and education. We have to be involved in every fight and continue to build the New Left. We have nothing to lose, but we have everything to win.
- Simon Furze, Leicester Socialist Alliance
I DON'T know whether to applaud the socialists for putting up candidates or not. I agree that socialists should unite wherever possible, as in Scotland. But I don't know if running for government is a good thing. Besides these doubts, and the arguments you give in your election special, I see the election as a crushing defeat.
No matter how you look at it, Blair got a massive vote on right wing policies, just like Thatcher in the 1980s. It doesn't just sicken me-it really, really demotivates me. And that in turn sickens me more.
NEWHAM IN east London is a model New Labour council. It plans to let private property developers knock down 1,900 council homes and allow only 500 tenants to return to the area. Newham is an overwhelmingly working class borough. However, the Labour vote fell significantly here. Many people who voted Labour did so without any real enthusiasm but because they feared the Tories getting back in.
The thousands in Newham who didn't vote don't want the Tories back either. They either didn't have the opportunity to vote for the Socialist Alliance or they're not convinced about us yet.
- COLIN YATES, Newham