Anti-fees blockade the media ignored
I WAS one of the thousands of students who took part in the march against tuition fees in London on Wednesday 15 November. We did not get a fraction of the media attention given to the farmers and truckers, but I think everyone who was there would agree that we were fighting for something more important than cheap petrol.
Socialist Worker Student Society had originally planned to re-route the march towards parliament, and about 1,000 people actually did get there. However, the route was soon blocked, and in spite of several attempts to get through police lines it was clear that many of us would not make it.
Instead we organised a sit-down on Waterloo Bridge, stopping traffic for well over an hour. The students who took part were not there out of self interest, because they did not want to pay. We were there because we believe that everyone should have the right to free education.
This was demonstrated particularly by a group of Scottish students who no longer pay fees. They made the 12-hour journey from Aberdeen to show their solidarity with those of us in England and Wales who may have to pay over 4,000 per year if top-up fees are introduced.
Scotland has already shown what can be achieved by fighting the system. What happened on the march has inspired many of us to continue the fight.
- DANIEL JAMES, Cambridge
British Gypsum: one-day strike, 24-hour picket
THE ENTIRE nightshift at British Gypsum at East Leake and Newark in Nottinghamshire walked out and stood on picket lines at midnight on Monday of last week. This is the second one-day strike called by the GMB union. Picketing continued throughout the 24-hour strike. Despite management complaints, the police thought it best not to try to limit the number of pickets. We took a collection down to the picket lines on Tuesday morning. The union convenor knew Socialist Worker from the Saturday sales in Nottingham and encouraged all the pickets to buy a copy of the paper and pay 1, and "not to expect any change because the money went to help workers fighting back." Thirteen pickets bought the paper.
In the evening we took messages of support from UNISON stewards at Nottinghamshire County Council. We sold another eight copies of Socialist Worker to pickets and supporters. Workers said that the workforce have made all sorts of concessions on flexible working since Thatcher was in and held back on wages.
A striker told us, "One manager stood up in the canteen and said to us, 'Times are hard now but stick with us and we will look after you when things are better.' Now the group of companies British Gypsum is part of have made record profits of 3.5 billion. We want a 6 percent pay rise."
Managers got a 6 percent pay rise and they offered workers just 3 percent. It's been brilliant on the picket line. The workers plan more action, and the timing is being kept a secret to create the maximum impact. There is a lot of talk about the French lorry drivers and interest in possible action at Ford in Dagenham. Years of bitterness have exploded into offensive action on wages.
Please send messages of support to GMB, British Gypsum, East Leake, Loughborough.
- DEE MELIA, JOHN SHEMALD, Nottinghamshire
I WAS arrested on a counter-demonstration against the Nazi National Front (NF) for the gruesome crime of removing an NF sticker from a lamppost with my front door key.
According to the police I had inflicted two scratches on the lamppost, one an inch long and the other an inch and a half, so I was charged with criminal damage. Thanet District Council's subsequent inspection of the lamppost found no evidence of scratches.
Since then the Crown Prosecution Service has decided to drop the charges. This is because it feels it would not be in the "public interest" to continue with this farcical charade. What makes an even bigger mockery of all this is that the local police were attempting to receive payment for officers who were not called as witnesses at court despite their presence being requested.
- JOHN CURTIS, Margate, Kent
Shared green values matter
SOCIALIST WORKER is right to say big business is wrecking the planet. Environmental destruction has gone hand in hand with the spread of capitalism to every corner of the globe.
The future of all existing societies will be the fight to maintain and develop social conditions without the associated environmental degradation. In my opinion socialism and environmentalism are born from the same womb of value and principle.
Within the environmental movement there has always been an anti-capitalist element, but a materialist perspective in the analysis of green groups is usually lacking. We should always work with such tendencies, and try to argue and demonstrate the class basis to the environmental threat.
We need to show that the realisation of ecologically sustainable societies will only come with the emancipation of the working class.
- GEORGE WAVENEY, Great Grimsby
THE LETTER "Stick To Class" by a teacher in Socialist Worker last week misrepresents Kevin Ovenden's response to the research on education inequality by David Gillborn and Hedie Safia Mirza. Kevin's article quite rightly emphasises that ethnic minorities are disadvantaged by the current system.
His article does deal with the crucial area of the research which highlights working class disadvantage. But not everything can be reduced to class. However valiantly teachers try to combat inequality, their efforts are undermined by New Labour's insistence that students should be grouped by ability.
Setting or streaming reinforces the divide between those students who succeed and those who don't. A disproportionate number of Afro-Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi students are placed in the bottom sets. They suffer the double disadvantage of institutionalised racism and class discrimination. Mixed ability teaching was one important way to redress inequality. New Labour wants to end it. Some teachers support setting and streaming. This does not make them racist.
Only if we recognise these uncomfortable facts will teachers be able to tackle discrimination and inequality.
- SHAUN DOHERTY, North London
Victims of the system
TWO REPORTS from the local press in Richmond illustrate the noxious effects of capitalism in a wealthy part of London. One concerns the death of a homeless man, Jesper Kristensen. Jesper was refused help by Richmond council, which decided "he didn't fit the right criteria". He later died after sleeping rough in the gardens of the council's prestigious civic offices, York House.
A second report describes how lying bosses of private bus company Telling's Golden Miller tried to pin the blame for bus delays on workers' absenteeism. Bus driver Danny Holmes wrote to the paper hitting back, saying, "Bus companies cannot find drivers because of bad pay and we have to stand in for them." He was supported by Transport for London.
Even the bus company London United admitted drivers are "generally underpaid", and blamed lack of funding and privatisation through the tendering system. How does this fit in with the government's aim of persuading motorists to use public transport, thus reducing congestion and global warming?
- DAVID EAVES, West London
MY FATHER, Cyril Robinson, will be 100 years old on December 12, and up till recently he was a regular at Socialist Workers Party meetings in Leeds. The social security department came on a "centenary visit" to arrange for him to get birthday greetings from the queen. Cyril said to them, "I'm not interested. I don't want it. I'd rather have a telegram from Old Mother Hubbard."
- AUDREY FARRELL, Leeds
TONY BLAIR has a cheek wrapping himself in the mantle of defending science. This is the man whose government has gone further than any other in promoting the commercialisation of science. This is not pro-science but pro-business.
Scientific discoveries which happen to undermine the pursuit of profit are marginalised, and the scientists working in these areas find their funding cut. Examples include research into vaccines (very cheap and effective in beating disease but not very profitable), HIV/AIDS, and energy saving/renewable energy resources.
- MALCOLM POVEY, Leeds
MY MOTHER retired three years ago. We have just discovered that for the last three years she has been underpaid by 10 per week.
The DSS have told my mother she will get no back pay. Now they will only pay the money due to my mother for the last three months. Has anyone tested the legality of that? Please-I am appealing against this horrendous decision. Any support or legal advice would be welcome. What a disgrace. How many other pensioners are affected?
- READER, Southampton
I AM sad to say that Martin Smith's article "In My View" (Socialist Worker, 18 November) misses the point. Gangsta rap is just entertainment, as white teenage girls and boys go down to the malls in the US on the weekend to buy CDs that scare the pants off their mothers. It would be nice to think there was such a thing as rebel music, but young people are not defined by pop.
- DAVE WHITE, West London