Socialist Worker

New Labour's stubbing out rights

Issue No. 1718

Letters

New Labour's stubbing out rights

TOWER Hamlets New Labour council in east London is attempting to deprive its workers of smoking breaks. It proposes to make smokers work an extra two and a half hours each week to make up the time taken for breaks. On the first day of the new rules 500 staff, smokers and non-smokers, walked out of their various workplaces in protest. Non-smokers can see that if the minority who smoke are deprived of their work breaks, all other workers will be made to feel guilty if they take a few minutes away from their desks. The issue is not about the council's concern for the smokers' health. It is simply a part of the general management idea that no one should have the right to be away from their work station. Everyone needs a break, a chance to chat with colleagues. 

But it doesn't fit with the Blairite aim to squeeze workers ever harder and to focus attention for local government failures on the workforce. Smoking Tower Hamlets staff are now boycotting time sheets for recording smoking breaks and anticipate further action will be needed. Whether this attack succeeds or not, other employers are likely to try it. Building strong trade union resistance can knock back this kind of attack and raise the general confidence of workers.

  • PAUL ROBERTSON, UNISON steward, East London

Don't forget those who left Wales to fight Franco

ABOUT 210 people left their homes in Wales in 1936 and volunteered to help the Spanish people in their fight for freedom against Franco and his fascists. There were 34 who did not return. Frank, my brother, was killed fighting for the International Brigades. I have been campaigning for councils to erect plaques in the communities the men came from.

There were only five plaques until three years ago. Soon there will be eight more. Three of those killed came from Llanelli. But the council will only agree to put a plaque in the town's library.

This is because those like the Royal Marines Association object to "political recruits" going alongside those listed at the cenotaph. I don't understand why they are objecting. These boys have been forgotten for more than 60 years and some people still want to forget them.

  • ARNOLD OWEN, Mardy, Wales

Sodexho

THE WHOLE system behind the vouchers for refugees is designed to put profit before need. Sodexho, the French conglomerate which administers the vouchers, took over US firm Marriott in 1998. Workers were not allowed to join the union and were banned from talking about their working conditions.

The firm was forced to back off after the US labour relations board condemned this suppression of free speech as unconstitutional. However, Sodexho continued its union busting operation by organising strike-breaking of New England hospital workers. Now US university students have targeted Sodexho as part of their campaign against sweatshops.

Sodexho supplies campus dining services, and is also the largest investor in US private prisons. The students have forced Sodexho off campuses at Evergreen State University in Olympia, south of Seattle, and at the State University of New York. Let's keep up the fight to scrap New Labour's vouchers and score a victory against a multinational firm.

  • SEAN VERNELL, London

Defending homeless

THE BRIGHTON Evening Argus newspaper launched a campaign last week entitled "Don't give to beggars". The front page said, "How You're Paying The Drug Dealers", quoting a police study that ten out of 30 regular beggars in Brighton spent money on heroin. This is after a series of vicious late night attacks on rough sleepers in Brighton. We took a petition round students at Brighton University. It went down a storm. Socialist Worker Student Society members stormed the Argus offices, demanding to see the editor. The editor agreed to report our protest, alongside a piece defending the Argus's record on supporting homeless people! Several local homeless groups and drug workers congratulated us and asked what to do next.

  • ANDY PLAYER, Brighton

Who owns the road?

THE DEMONSTRATIONS in Prague were mirrored by a much smaller but equally determined protest in Johannesburg, South Africa. About 350 people gathered to listen to speakers from various organisations.

Many condemned the rule of profit over need, and talked about socialism. After that we marched through Johannesburg. We stopped at the department of health to call on it to reject a plan to take a loan from the World Bank for hospitals.

Our last stop was the multinational Anglo American. This business empire was built on apartheid cheap labour. Anglo American security told us we were not allowed to march to the offices because "Anglo had bought the street".

The protesters simply walked past. At the head office we tried to deliver a memorandum, only to be attacked with pepper spray. Our demonstration was small but put a new mood which is growing in South Africa firmly into the public eye.

  • CLAIRE, South Africa

Swing left

THE DANISH workers' no vote in the euro referendum was a huge defeat for the social democratic government and the Danish ruling class. The international media has presented the vote as a nationalist one, and a victory for the racist Danish People's Party and its leader Pia Kjaersgaard. But this has nothing to do with reality.

Opinion polls before the referendum showed massively growing support for the two left wing parties-the Socialist People's Party and the Unity List. Other polls showed that those voting no were the people on bottom of the society-pensioners, unskilled workers and the unemployed.

People do not trust the government and are afraid that the euro will lead to cutbacks, privatisations and less democracy. That is how the anti-capitalist mood comes to the surface in Denmark-as a massive distrust of politicians and the system as a whole. The government is now threatening us with cutbacks. It said before the referendum, "A 'no' is not for free."

We are already seeing all over the country how workers are fighting back. We see strikes among bus drivers, post office workers, teachers, cleaners and lots of others. The struggle carries on!

  • MIKKEL BIRK JESPERSEN, Denmark

Prague spirit

'Struggle to free the whole world'

ABOUT 1,000 people from Greece demonstrated in Prague on 26 September. An 84 year old pensioner, Katina Sifakaki, was among them. She was an inspiration for everyone. She spoke in the three hour long meeting on board the ship leaving Greece: "In World War Two we fought to free Greece from the Nazis. But now your struggle is far better than ours. Going to Prague, you're struggling to free the whole world from capitalist repression."

Katina spent 15 years exiled in Greek islands during the civil war and afterwards. "I've buried many comrades deep in the ground in the exile islands. As I saw your spirit during the demonstration, I remember our spirit. Be sure that all these comrades are on your side."

"When I heard Katina speaking, I was really moved," said Leonidas Karakouros, a council worker in Hios island.

"In 1969 I went as a student to Italy. I spent my youth in meetings and demonstrating against the system. During the 1980s I saw many comrades missing from the movement. Going to Prague I was really happy to be among all these thousands of young people. After so many years I feel hope again."

  • COMRADES FROM SEK, Socialist Worker's sister organisation in Greece

Postal points

EXPOSE THE trade union leaders for what they really are-well paid bureaucrats looking for knighthoods, cosying up to prime ministers and not leading their workers. Give figures of their incomes, expenses and pensions, which come out of members' dues. Unions are still shackled under New Labour and must fight the legal chains.

  • SW READER

HUMAN RIGHTS activists and union members publish articles on the internet concerning Colombian right wing death squads murdering trade unionists, peasants and the citizens of Colombia. They allege that the squads are linked to corporate interests. I suggest the following slogan-"Stop corporate death squads". It allows US citizens to understand the connection between corporations and Colombian death squads.

  • ROSS REGNART, US

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Sat 14 Oct 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1718
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