Roger Lyons of the MSF
What a disgrace
THE DISGRACEFUL behaviour of Roger Lyons, general secretary of the MSF trade union, has emerged in an unfair dismissal case. The case was brought by a former employee of the union who says she was sacked for being a whistleblower. The tribunal was halted dramatically at the end of last week. Then the MSF agreed to an out of court settlement of 140,000. Revelations about Lyons' expenses claims have disgusted MSF members. Lyons earns nearly 97,000 a year as general secretary. Evidently this is not enough for him. He denies allegations that he has swindled the union out of thousands of pounds of the members' money.
But he admits to expense claims that are completely indefensible to our members. Lyons used members' money to pay for an audio and video recorder for his home, for a chauffeur-driven car, for wine, for takeaway meals... and the list goes on.
He even claimed for a 25p bun. The bill went on his MSF credit card! Meanwhile many MSF members live on a pittance. I work in the health service. We have union members struggling to survive on a starting salary of less than 10,000 a year. And we've just been told by the MSF that we have to accept a miserable 3.25 percent pay increase.
Ordinary MSF members are sickened by the antics of Lyons and his pals. How dare these people line their pockets at our expense? We need a union leadership that fights for decent wages and conditions for all of us. Lyons has got to go.
- GILL GEORGE, MSF member, South London
Globalisation has not brought boom to Cochin
COMING FROM a family whose origins are in Cochin, we read Flemming Larsen of the IMF's praise for the effects of globalisation on the town with some amazement (Socialist Worker, 1 July). It is true that for the rich and the middle classes in India things have never been so good.
Giant companies like the Tata corporation are based in India, and now foreign- based multinationals are setting up shop as well. But the increased wealth of the few has not trickled down to the many. In Cochin the eyes of the tourist may be dazzled by the signs of internet cafes on MG Road, but behind the main streets can be seen the kind of poverty that exists throughout most of the Third World.
And whilst, unlike 30 years ago, expensive home electronics are now in all the shop windows, the gap between rich and poor is bigger than ever.
Larsen says that many Indians get the opportunity to get well paid work in some of the Gulf states. But he does not mention that whilst there they are treated as second class citizens. In recent years there have been huge protests by construction workers based in Saudi Arabia.
For Indian workers globalisation has meant greater exploitation. Multinationals are only interested in India because they think it can cut their labour costs. Larsen's claim that globalisation benefits the poor is a sick joke. The punchline is that it is his IMF that has been aiding the rich who rob the poor.
- ANOUK and YURI PRASAD, East London
WARWICKSHIRE District Council recently voted to provide 20 furnished homes for refugee families. On two previous occasions the proposal was rejected, so it is a move in the right direction.
The local press, however, reflected the tone of the debate, which was, "We'd better do something or the government will impose something on us." After attending a public meeting on the issue I wrote an article about people in the local community who support refugees. I was surprised by the encouragement I got from journalists.
A local paper printed the article under the headline "Support Growing For Vulnerable Refugees". Then, returning from the march in London to defend asylum seekers, I was amazed to see the headline on the regional paper-"Rally Shows Backing For Asylum Seekers" followed by a sub-head, "Attempts To End Racist Attitudes".
- GARY RAMSDEN, Leamington Spa
CAN I ask why Socialist Worker seems to have shifted from the slogan "Refugees are not to blame" to "Refugees welcome here"? My personal experience is that this has made the argument more difficult. "Refugees are not to blame" is an excellent slogan, because it directly challenges the politicians' claim that refugees are responsible for poor public services, housing shortages, job losses, and low pensions.
"Refugees welcome here" is altogether different. Most people I've talked to see it as aimed from Socialist Worker at them. It appears to be saying, "Refugees welcome here whether you like it or not." I do appreciate that no slogan is intended to stand alone. But I'd be interested to know the reasoning behind the shift.
- BEN DRAKE, York
Numbers do talk
I WAS reading your article on the 7,000-strong demonstration about refugees. You imply that 7,000 demonstrators is a large enough number to heed. Yet in other articles you have claimed that the 250,000 pro-hunting demonstrators is but a small number, and also that one million anti-gay voters in Scotland are a minority. Can you explain the difference in view?
- MARK BORN
Surprise march for jobs
HUNDREDS OF angry workers demonstrated in Accrington, Lancashire, recently. Workers at Rists Wires and their supporters marched to a town centre rally to protest against the new owners' plans to close the Rists factory in November. The 550 workers whose jobs are under threat pressured their union, the GMB, into calling the demo.
When Rists was taken over in February the new owners, Leoni, promised a secure future for the Accrington workers. But it seems that the takeover was just an asset-stripping, or rather an order-stripping, exercise. Leoni now plans to close the plant and shift production elsewhere, apparently to Romania.
The militant mood at the rally was reflected in the speech of a GMB official. He attacked the Labour government for failing to defend workers, and said that GMB funds should be used to fight for the workers' jobs rather than being given to Blair's New Labour Party.
The demo showed that workers are willing to fight against "global" job wreckers, despite Blair's efforts to persuade us that we can't. Some 30 copies of Socialist Worker were sold on the demo, despite the hostility of some other GMB officials and the Tory mayor!
- PHIL WEBSTER, Blackburn
KEN FOLLETT says Blair's administration depends on vilifying people. Labour responds that Follett is "sad", "lurid", "over the top", showing "why he is better known for his fiction than his judgement". Having Folletted the Labour Party, maybe Ken isn't the one to talk. But Labour's response makes his point for him. Purporting to be on the left, Labour was elected to champion the ranks of the disadvantaged, dispossessed and disenfranchised. And now?
- JOHN NICHOLSON, Manchester
SOCIALIST Worker (1 July) says, "In May New Hampshire abolished the death penalty, the first state to do so since its reintroduction." This is true. The New Hampshire State Legislature approved a bill to abolish the death penalty.
But the state governor, a Democrat, has since vetoed the bill. She says execution is proper punishment for the "most heinous" crimes. So New Hampshire still has the death penalty, though there is nobody on death row at this time.
- WILL BEATTY, San Francisco
Genome project ok?
I WAS pleased to see that, unlike every other national newspaper, Socialist Worker has not been taken in by the hype surrounding the Human Genome Project (Socialist Worker, 1 July).
As Paul McGarr points out, the idea that knowing the human DNA sequence in its entirety can really tell us anything useful about human behaviour and human society is nonsense. It is also clear that there is going to be no simple path from knowing a gene is involved in a particular disease to curing that disease. The gene for Huntingdon's disease has been known for some years now, but we are no closer to a cure.
Tragically, it is now possible to know whether one is going to suffer from this terrible, wasting disease, but still have no means to prevent this happening. Having said this, I think we should be careful before dismissing the practical usefulness of the database that the project has created, however flawed the ideology behind it.
I think we should be careful to separate the heroes from the villains, and not just lump together everyone involved in the project. John Sulston, a key figure in the genome project in Britain, recently said, "Global capitalism is raping the earth. It's raping us. If global capitalism gets hold of the human genome, that is very bad news indeed."
Sulston's position is not without its contradictions, but I believe we should welcome such statements, at the same time as pointing out that only in a different sort of society will scientific ingenuity be harnessed for the needs of the whole of humankind.
- JOHN PARRINGTON, East London
Not waste of cash
PAUL McGARR is wrong when he says the Human Genome Project is a waste of public money (Socialist Worker, 1 July). Such arguments can only appeal to reactionaries and mystics such as Prince Charles who want to preserve the "mystery of life". Knowledge of the human genome on its own will not find a cure for cancer or many hereditary diseases, but without this empirical data scientists won't be able to even begin to understand the complex interplay between genes and the environment.
I agree with Paul on the patenting issue. The patenting of gene sequences by the drug companies will make the costs of any treatments developed by this research prohibitive for the bulk of the world's population. We should demand an immediate halt to any patenting of the genome, and for the public funding of all medical research to be paid for by a tax on the drug companies.
- JOHN SINHA, North London