This institution kills young men
THE PARENTS of Zahid Mubarek are right to demand a full inquiry into the murder of their son at Feltham young offender institution (Socialist Worker, 4 November). But they deserve a lot more-Feltham should be closed.
The current establishment opened in March 1988 and has never been safe. Four teenagers hanged themselves there between August 1991 and March 1992. One of them, 19 year old Lee Waite, had been robbed and assaulted by having a broken pool cue inserted in his anus.
Apart from a lot of hand-wringing, the most visible response of the Prison Service was to rename part of the segregation block after him. Numerous inquiries have condemned endemic bullying, conditions leading to self harm, and the lack of constructive activity. While much more could be done to address these problems, the main solution is to stop the flow of teenagers into prison.
When Feltham opened proposals were in place to abolish custodial remands for 15 and 16 year olds. These formed part of the 1991 Criminal Justice Act but were never implemented. Jack Straw has now scrapped them.
Since 1993, the number of teenagers on remand has more than doubled while record numbers of teenagers are in some form of custody. None of this does anything to tackle the causes of youth crime, but it does serve to pass the blame onto often very vulnerable and damaged young people.
- MIKE GREWCOCK, East London
Merseysiders get welcome socialist boost
THE MERSEYSIDE Socialist Alliance (MSA) launched itself on the road towards the general election with its first ever rally last week. It turned out to be the biggest political meeting on Merseyside for a long time. The 130-strong audience clearly welcomed the idea of a united front against New Labour.
There were many members of Merseyside's left, representatives from the Bootle anti-landfill campaign, those campaigning to stop Liverpool football club moving to Stanley Park, Merseyside Against Injustice, pensioners' groups and others. There were many trade unionists, including from UCATT, MSF, NUT, PCS and FBU. Several UNISON branches from Liverpool and Sefton were represented. Platform speaker Lesley Mahmood said it was a boost to address such a large meeting.
After the meeting audience members from North Wales asked MSA organisers for assistance at building a Socialist Alliance meeting in Wrexham.
- CARMEL BROWN, Merseyside
IT WAS inspiring to take part in the National Pensioners Convention's blockade of the streets in Parliament Square in London on Tuesday of last week. Around 200 of us-on the way from a 1,000-strong rally in Westminster Central Hall to the House of Commons-decided we had to make our presence felt. We took direct action.
Blockades are an effective way to tell people that pensions should be linked to average earnings again, as they were before Thatcher. Income tax should be raised so that the rich pay their fair share. We held the traffic up around Westminster for over 40 minutes. Most drivers we spoke to clearly agreed with our demands.
- MARY PHILLIPS, South London
Cash for coppers
Why Britain falls behind
I JOINED 1,000 others on Monday of last week to demonstrate outside Hackney council's meeting that rammed through massive cuts. Before our trade union leaders line up with the police against fuel protesters they should see how those same police were used against us.
I was disgusted to see that tens of thousands of pounds were spent on drafting over 400 police into the borough to intimidate those of us resisting the cuts. Officers spent the day inside the town hall, and over 60 riot police were deployed on the streets against trade unionists, pensioners, parents and kids. Police were even heard threatening children that they could be detained and social workers called.
- SAM BIRNIE, East London
Why Britain falls behind
IT IS right to support the demonstration in Nice on 6 December against the attacks of global business. However, it must not obscure the fact that the higher level of struggles across the channel has created a chasm between levels of welfare state provision in Britain and the rest of the EU.
Take pensions. In France the trade unions successfully fought attempts to cut pensions. In Italy the trade unions even called general strikes over pensions. The result is that state pensions in Britain are less than half those in France, Italy and Germany as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product.
- HUGH LOWE, West London
CAN EVERYONE take the time to write to the Independent. Their Middle East correspondent, Robert Fisk, has been criticised by supporters of Israel. Robert Fisk is a veteran journalist and author of many renowned books on the Middle East, such as Pity the Nation. Write to The Editor, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL. E-mail letters@independent. co.uk
- KEITH McKENNA, Birmingham
Message from an Iraqi Kurd
I HAVE just returned from United Nations controlled Northern Iraq, set up after the 1991 war as a "safe haven" for the Kurds. Most people there are unemployed. They are having to rob just to get water. There is a lack of electricity despite the fact there are two power stations-which, if they were fixed, could supply most of Iraq. Food poisoning is rife. Everyone is sick here. The health service is very poor.
Children are dying here, 5,000 per month in Iraq as a whole. The Kurds are living in tents. They have no basic rights. Everyone wants to leave, but the UN will not issue visas even to visit a doctor across the border. The UN just follows the policies of the US-which means more devastation for ordinary people around the world.
- Iraqi comrade, Central London
AT SHORT notice the University of East Anglia Socialist Worker Student Society group last week organised a meeting addressed by Munyaradzi Gwisai-the MDC member of parliament from Zimbabwe who is a socialist.
Despite many departments not having lectures that week 75 students turned up. They took part in a thrilling discussion with Munyaradzi about his role as a socialist in parliament, and building grassroots movements that can harness the anger that people feel across the world.
Munyaradzi made it very clear that our fight against things like tuition fees and for decent pensions was the same as the fight against neo-liberalism in Zimbabwe. He urged everyone to jump on board the "resistance train" whose next stop is Nice in December. UEA SWSS group
BIRMINGHAM SWP comrades were saddened to hear of the recent death of Kath Wakeling. Kath worked as a nurse at Dudley Road Hospital, and was a life-long campaigner for peace and justice. She was an active member of CND and took part in the protests at Greenham Common. Later she worked extensively in Amnesty International and campaigned successfully to free a family from political imprisonment. In later years Kath was an avid reader of Socialist Worker. Our thoughts are with Dianne, Dave, Alicia, and the rest of her family and friends.
- BIRMINGHAM SWP
TODAY I was introduced to your paper-thank god, not one owned by the odious Rupert Murdoch. May I use your columns to send out a clarion call to the agency nurses? Agency nurses, unlike our NHS brethren, have no rights. I appeal to all agency nurses to band together to get legislation changed to give us some form of basic human rights. Maybe we could form our own union?
- JOE, Lancashire
IN LEEDS last week about 70 people marched demanding free breast cancer screening, free fertility treatment, better pay for nurses, an end to PFI, and abortion on demand. After a rally outside the meeting of the NHS executive, we managed to occupy the porch of the "Benefits Castle", Quarry House.
- RENE THOMAS, York
NEW LABOUR has actively publicised the minimum wage, at a pitiful �3.70 an hour. However, what many people do not realise is that many businesses routinely employ people at wages considerably less than the government stipulates. I used to work at a fast food restaurant for eight hours a day and got �15. That works out at about �1.80, less than half the official minimum wage. These employers pay cash. Officially, as far as they were concerned, I did not work for them.
I suggest that the government targets these corporate animals, the real criminals of society, not petty thieves who are forced to resort to crime.
- ANINDYA RAYCHAUDHURI