MORE THAN 40 delegates and guests attending the annual RMT union station grades conference in Manchester last week were treated to a first hand introduction to the politics of Respect. A fringe meeting was held at a nearby hotel at the conclusion of the first day's business.
Despite pouring rain, the entire conference shifted location to hear Respect candidate Michael Lavalette present the case for why working people should support this new political organisation challenging in the 10 June elections. Michael stressed the importance of providing hope for millions of voters who are opposed to war, privatisation, anti-union laws and discrimination but feel ignored and alienated from the mainstream parties and in particular New Labour. He stressed there was an added danger from the extreme right who were waiting in the wings to exploit the cynicism and disaffection of voters and could conceivably get candidates elected on a low turnout poll.
A delegate asked Michael directly what Respect would do for the RMT. Michael responded by stating that if Respect candidates were elected, they would be vocal political advocates for working people's rights. Respect would also continue to be an activist organisation supporting grassroots struggles wherever they occurred, be that on the picket lines of railway workers, nursery nurses, housing estates opposing sell-off, and, of course, continue to build the widest possible opposition to the war in Iraq.
Many delegates participated in the discussion that followed and the majority who spoke declared their personal support for this new initiative and a willingness to help build it.
A large number of leaflets and membership forms were distributed to the delegates and informal discussions on the merits of Respect continued long after the formal part of the meeting closed.
Peter Hughes, RMT conference delegate, London
Spirit on nukes march
I JOINED the CND Aldermaston march over Easter and, like Salvinder Singh Dhillon (Socialist Worker, 17 April), enjoyed the spectacle, music and impact of the march. Some 300 of us marched. Not the thousands of previous decades, it's true, but the diversity of the people, their banners and the high level of political awareness counted for a lot.
They made connections between a new generation of nuclear weapons, Bush and Blair's warmongering and hypocrisy over weapons of mass destruction. The march into and out of Southall was incredible. The level of support from onlookers was overwhelming. We saw the same level of support when we arrived in Uxbridge.
The march made an impact in spirit and voice if not in numbers and I for one was proud to be part of it.
Linda Nunns, Cardigan
Yoke's on him
WE GOT an opportunity to pelt the former spin doctor Alastair Campbell with eggs on Tuesday of last week. He had turned up at our college to promote his one-man show. A handful of students and teachers had met him as he arrived. Then, as his car left, eight eggs pelted his window.
We got into his evening show as they were handing tickets out at college. Campbell shouted, "Those are the guys that threw the eggs." I made a point of telling him although I had wasted 52p on the eggs I got free tickets that evening as he clearly hadn't sold enough.
Student, City of Bristol College
Work for longer
THE PENSIONS issue has really shaken people. Teachers will have to work until they are 65 if they want to take a full pension. It can't be good for teachers or students if they have a tired, bitter teacher who is hanging on. This will affect young teachers and those just entering the profession, as those over 50 will not be hit.
There are two shocking statistics. A teacher who retires at 65 has an average life expectancy of just 18 months after that. If we retire at 60, and do not wait until 65, it means we will be out of pocket by around £100,000. For all these reasons my union, the NUT, is due to take part in a lobby next Thursday in Lambeth, south London.
There are many other unions on board, including the PCS and Unison. It came about because our local MP agreed to meet with us to talk about the whole issue of pensions. He knows there is pressure from below. We know something has got to be done.
Lucianne Angell, South London
Link that strangles
EVERY MONTH I receive a copy of Unison Labour Link. This publication extols the virtues of Unison's link with the Labour Party. We have experienced this in Scotland. The nursery nurses' strike for a national pay scale has recently had the rug pulled from under it. They have been left to get the best deal they can with local employers.
Where, then, are the close contacts with Labour? Most councils in Scotland are Labour controlled, the employers' organisation (COSLA) is Labour controlled, and the parliament is Labour-controlled.
All have been content to force Unison members to go to an eight-week strike. We had wonderful speeches from Labour MSPs for the strikers. Then they voted against measures to support them.
The link seems to be working all right, but the wrong way round. When the going gets tough, the Labour link tries to close down the strike. If union members can't count on support it's time to give the money to those who will support workers in struggle.
Graeme Cumming, Prestwick
Tribute to victims on building sites
PATRICK O'Sullivan was killed on 15 January this year after falling 100 feet when working on the new Wembley Stadium. The Construction Safety Campaign was to march to Wembley and lay a wreath for Patrick on Workers' Memorial Day on Wednesday of this week. We would also like to dedicate the rally to other construction workers such as Chris Kesterton aged 16 who was killed and whose court case we attended in January with his family.
Also to the memory of Michael Whittard, Martin Burgess and Peter Clark, killed in May 2001 in the Canary Wharf crane crash whose inquest we attended in December, and to Ionut Simonica who was killed on the day of the Construction Safety Summit, whose inquest we attended and whose case comes up in court in June. We should not forget those workers killed abroad.
The construction of the Olympic facilities in Athens, Greece has already claimed the lives of ten construction workers. They are being built with non-union labour. We want this carnage stopped. There have been at least 59 killed on construction sites in Britain this year and the year is not over.
In 2003 the average fine for killing construction workers in London was less than £30,000 and no construction employer went to prison.
Tony O'Brien, Construction Safety Campaign
Different take on French poll
I HAVE disagreements with Alex Callinicos's article in Socialist Worker, 3 April. The French LCR/LO received 4.58 percent, or 1,078,447 votes-an improvement on the regional elections in 1998 when they obtained 4.4 percent on a lower turnout.
The share of the far left vote in France has been around 5 percent over the last ten years. It would be wrong to compare only to 2002. Then the far left got 10 percent as electors punished the SP/CP/Green government pursuing neo-liberal policies. Now the neo-liberal right wing government is being punished but electors voted for the SP/CP/Greens as best placed to beat the right. The far left was squeezed.
But the LCR/LO campaign had a huge impact. It had meetings of 1,100 in Tours, 1,700 in Rennes and 1,500 in Nantes and Lille. Alex is wrong to state that the LCR and LO should necessarily have called for a vote for the SP and CP in the elections' second round.
The political trajectory of the SP and the CP is similar to that of New Labour. It is therefore a matter of genuine debate as to whether we should automatically continue giving electoral support to the French SP. The fact that this is debated openly in the LCR is not a sign that it is imploding, but simply that it is not a monolithic organisation.
AT A recent delegates' meeting of the TGWU/EPIU union we raised the magnificent sum of £400 for the sacked Manchester electricians. Please could you print the address of their fighting fund to keep their struggle for justice in the public's eye.
David McIntyre branch secretary 7/600/11
Not grim in Grimsby
I'M FAIRLY sure that it is universal for young people to hate their home town but to hate our home town is different. We have the BNP in Grimsby and people involved with Combat 18. With that in mind I did not think that I would find myself raising awareness for Respect during my Easter holidays there. The response that we had was amazing.
The people who passed our stall genuinely did have an interest in what we were doing and many of them praised us for doing it. A lot of the stories that I had heard that day were upsetting and showed me exactly what I was working for-to give people hope and a chance to vote for someone who won't attack them and their children due to the colour of their skin.
What I thought would have been a waste of time turned out to be great success.
Sammantha Toombs, Grimsby