'We're not just going to lobby'
THE SUBJECT of pensions is giving Tony Blair and chancellor Gordon Brown their biggest headaches at the moment. We have asked for better treatment until we're red in the face! They have told us they're listening but have utterly refused to restore the link between pensions and earnings.
Pensioners in Brighton at the Labour Party conference showed their anger at the government. They would not even let minister Jeff Rooker speak. Our next action will be the lobby of parliament on 7 November. Some of us believe that the time for lobbying MPs is past. The majority of MPs continue to vote against our interests in spite of repeated lobbies.
We are calling for DIRECT ACTION from pensioners on 7 November. Those who prefer to visit the MPs can go straight into Westminster Hall. Those who are up for it will block the road, sitting or standing, or walking back and forth as our arthritis dictates. From Parliament Square we could bring London traffic to a halt back to Trafalgar Square, the Embankment, Whitehall. It wouldn't take long for the tailback to stretch to the City.
What truck drivers can do, pensioners can do better! Book your coach now! Get your local unions to pay for it. The issue of pensions concerns younger people even more than it concerns us, since the state pension is set to "wither on the vine". This is the most important lobby in years!
- MURIEL HIRSCH, Crawley Pensioners
Grey Panthers roar to effect
OUR pensioners' group on Merseyside was cheered recently by news of a victory for German pensioners.
The German Grey Panthers demonstrated to make sure the German parliament did not push through an amendment in a welfare reform bill that would have ended pensions index linking. The Grey Panthers are now pushing for a flat rate pension of 208 a week-the pension is already nearly 200 a week.
They also take up issues like home help care, hospital treatment and post-hospital care. The Grey Panthers, who have 130,000 members, win because they are militant and because they have forged alliances with trade unionists to fight over a common agenda. Lessons
We can learn lessons here about stepping up our campaigns and going on the offensive. Groups who want to write to the Panthers should send letters to Bundesberband Graue Panther, Postfach 200 655, 42206, Germany.
- NORAH RUSHTON, Merseyside
Seattle, Millau, Prague
It'll be Nice in December
DELEGATES TO the summit of European governments in Nice, southern France, will discuss crucial issues on 6 December. The main trade union organisations across Europe-including the British TUC-are calling for a big demonstration outside the summit, which is supposed to agree an "Agenda for a European Social Policy".
Workers are coming from France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Finland. Workers' rights will be up for grabs, including the right to strike, women's rights and protection against discrimination. We must make sure that our side puts on the pressure.
The CGT, France's most powerful union federation, has already booked two sleeper trains to go to Nice. As a recent CGT publication said, "After Seattle there is a future for international trade unionism."
Nice could be the coming together of workers who are beginning to resist the attacks against them, and the anti-capitalist movement that has taken on the WTO, IMF and World Bank.
Seattle, Millau, Prague-and now Nice. All of us across Europe should build to make the demonstration as big and militant as possible.
- GUILLAUME LATIL, Paris
Panorama shows Marx's analysis is up to date
PANORAMA IS a very unpredictable programme-sometimes viciously right wing and sometimes very good. Last week it brilliantly demolished the claims of companies like Gap and Nike that they had cleaned up their act and were "ethical traders". It showed that behind all the talk of corporate codes of fair trading was the reality of child labour, forced overtime, harsh discipline and incredibly low pay.
Women working in subcontractors for these clothing giants are getting paid in a month the value of one or two Nike shirts. In that month they are producing many thousands of garments. The difference is the profit for various capitalist slimeballs.
We are often told that Marxism is out of date and that the labour theory of value is too crude to explain what happens in the world economy. I saw in that programme the living proof that Karl Marx understood much more about the world than all the economic commentators today put together Companies like Nike and Gap try to pretend that they are the strongest opponents of exploitation. In fact they are at the leading edge of it.
The problem is not just one or two high profile firms. It is the whole system that pumps work from us simply to make profits. I think of workers in the West Midlands who are facing job cuts and wage cuts. They are exploited by the same sort of people who beggar the Third World. I am angry about Nike, I am angry about the sweatshops, but I also want to take on the way the system works.
- SANDRA HUGHES, Birmingham
Who does want the coalition?
THE NATIONAL Assembly in Wales is being increasingly seen as irrelevant and a waste of time. There were great hopes among some people when Rhodri Morgan took over from Alun Michael as leader. It was thought that Morgan would be much more in tune with people's feelings, more "Old Labour" than the Blairites. But now he has gone further than Michael and formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
There have been howls of disapproval from Labour's grassroots. Apparently Morgan did not even bother to consult with his Labour assembly chums before offering the Liberals a deal. In addition there has been a swirl of allegations about Liberal leader Mike German's use of a corporate credit card when he was leader of the Welsh Joint Education Committee's European Unit.
While Morgan and German have been cutting their deal, hundreds of job cuts have been announced at Sony in Bridgend and the Corus steel plant in Port Talbot.
- HUW PUDNER, Neath
Don't let firms grab our lives
I WAS pleased that Channel 4 News gave author and campaigner Naomi Klein a chance to put forward her views against corporate rule recently. She explained how multinationals use brands and brand names to market a specific way of life and peddle their ideology.
She also exposed the reality that lies behind these brand names-for example, the exploitation in the sweatshops where the products are actually manufactured. Scenes of the S26 protest in Prague showed people rightfully angry at the onslaught of the global corporations and increasing corporate power.
But Naomi Klein also explained that the corporate religion of branding could also be turned against itself by activists who can select and target the companies. The Microsoft Computer Laboratory at Cambridge University is one example where multinationals are seeking to take over our public institutions in the interests of profit.
Let's hope that Cambridge University will wake up to the reality before the multinationals get their tentacles even more firmly on our institutions.
- LOUISE PARHAM, East London
Taking on the World Bankers
AFTER THE protests in Seattle, Washington and Prague, no place is safe for the purveyors of global misery. Around 80 angry students blockaded a university department last week and prevented representatives of the World Bank conducting a careers seminar. The World Bank came to the Sussex University Career Development Unit near Brighton to try and recruit "bright and energetic" students to help it "develop" Third World countries. Campaigners from a number of university societies pointed to the reality of the World Bank's operations.
"Every day, 19,000 children die needlessly because countries are being forced by the World Bank to pay back interest payments on foreign debt rather than invest in healthcare and education," said one leaflet. Stephen Church of Sussex University Socialist Worker Student Society rallied students with the following call: "In Prague 15,000 people opposed the World Bank summit meeting with the International Monetary Fund. Today in Sussex we have taken the 'bright and energetic' step of telling them that we don't want representatives of global mass murder on our campus."
- ANDY PLAYER, Brighton
YOUR ARTICLE, "Blood On Israel's Hands" (Socialist Worker, 14 October), is very one sided. The situation in the Middle East has always been so complex that it is wrong to take sides unless you have the in depth knowledge of the area, its history, geography and ethnic mix. It is simply too complicated for us living in this country to comprehend. So please try to refrain from simplistic opinions and verdicts. There are no "goodies" or "baddies" in this conflict, but angry, scared and frustrated people on both sides.
- URSULA ZEMEK
THE STABBING of a Jew by an Arab in north London is horrific. But we should be quite clear that Arabs are not carriers of anti-Semitism. The home of anti-Semitism lies in the house of the extreme right and the Nazis. The right hate Jews in the same basic way they hate everyone who is different. Arabs are fighting back against 80 years of slaughter and oppression they have suffered at the hands of Zionism and the Israeli state. We should not equate an attack by one misguided individual with Arab resistance to Israeli state terror and discrimination. Zionism has never been a solution to anti-Semitism. Only the unity that comes from the struggle for socialism can do that. That's why Jewish socialists like me have broken with Zionism.
- PETE GLATTER, South London