Socialist Worker

Workers took back a little bit of control

Issue No. 1701


Workers took back a little bit of control

THE RECENT introduction of trade union rights at last gives everyone the opportunity to be represented collectively in their workplace. Although our rights still remain limited under New Labour's legislation, it is an opportunity to win better pay, conditions, and health and safety. It is also an opportunity to take back a little bit of control over our lives that the capitalist system steals away from us.

At a well organised factory in Glasgow, workers recently gave me a glimpse of what this means. When they heard that one of their old workmates had died, after only three years of retirement, they booked a coach so that the whole workforce could attend the funeral. The almost inevitable response of insensitive management was to refuse them the time off. But the workers did not take no for an answer.

They stuck together and told management that, if necessary, they would walk out to attend the funeral. Management not only backed down, but paid their wages while they went to the funeral. Tony Blair certainly did not intend his legislation to allow workers this much control, but he has left the door ajar. It provides an opportunity for activists to unite their workmates around them and push it right open.


Political turn gave me a 23 year surprise

I FIRST went to a postal workers' conference as a visitor in 1977 and have since attended as either a delegate or an observer for most years. However, I have never experienced a political atmosphere anything like this year's CWU conference in Bournemouth. Delegates overwhelmingly voted to disaffiliate from the Labour Party if the government privatises any part of the post office in future.

Then, despite the propaganda address from minister Stephen Byers, representatives decisively rejected the union executive's proposal to increase membership donations to the Labour Party. This means a massive shift in the union's policy, and represents a historic break between the union and Labour. For as long as I can remember, the union's leadership have argued that we must elect a Labour government. Now they have no direction to offer their membership.

The conference reflected the bitterness and resentment postal workers feel towards their leaders, and huge disillusionment and alienation from Blair's New Labour.

The theme running throughout the week was definitely "What is the alternative?" Polices were also passed defending asylum seekers and opposing the Nazis. These debates show that there is a growing audience for socialist ideas amongst workers. We have a marvellous opportunity to shape left wing politics in the period ahead.

  • GARY WATT, branch committee, North West London Counters and Clerical CWU (personal capacity)

Brixton bomb

We said Nazi, not 'Yardie', to blame

AFTER THE first nailbomb attack on Brixton last year the Anti Nazi League was asked by the media if this could be the work of a far right extremist. We were clear from the start that Nazi organisations like the BNP and NF have a track record of extreme violence.

The act of blowing up innocent people is the type of cowardly act the Nazis are infamous for. BNP election agent Tony "Bomber" Lecomber has a conviction for a nailbomb attack.

BNP leader Nick Griffin works closely with two Italian fascists, Roberto Fiore and Massimo Morsello, who are wanted for the 1980 Bologna railway station bomb that killed 85 people. So we told the media that it was very likely the bomb attack on Brixton was the work of Britain's Nazis.

Everyone from bomb experts to the police then tried to rubbish our theory. The police claimed it was everyone from Jamaican "Yardies" to Serbs or the Animal Liberation Front. But the vast majority of Brixton residents agreed with us and thought it was a Nazi attack from the first day.

They knew that multi-racial Brixton stands for everything the BNP and NF hate. Thousands of people signed the ANL petition that said the Nazis had planted the bomb. Tragically it took the Brick Lane and Soho bombs to prove that what we were saying was correct. But even following Copeland's arrest the police were quick to claim that he was working alone and not a member of a Nazi group.

We now know that is not true either. He was a member of the National Socialist Movement and had been photographed with BNP ex-leader John Tyndall. Let's hope that more comes out during Copeland's trial, and that those linked to his murderous campaign are exposed.

  • CLAIRE DISSINGTON, Anti Nazi League

Asylum debate shock

I GOT a shock recently when the committee of my UNISON union branch voted against a motion defending asylum seekers. Some of the shop stewards had swallowed the racist lies about the issue hook, line and sinker.

One Afro-Caribbean worker shouted at me that "my parents came here to work- these people are getting special treatment". In the last couple of weeks I have been taking the NUJ's statement in defence of asylum seekers round the offices where I work. It has provoked bitter arguments. In one office work stopped for an hour while the debate raged.

One Fire Brigades Union member was worried about what the media is saying about the numbers of refugees but could also see how Hague is using the issue to stir up racism. After much dithering he signed the statement and then argued with a colleague to do otherwise.

Then last week my full union branch was addressed by Theresa Bennett, our local London Socialist Alliance candidate. Theresa gave an excellent speech demolishing all the lies about asylum seekers.

The meeting voted almost unanimously to back the NUJ statement, donate 50 and support the 24 June national demonstration. The asylum seeker issue can be difficult to take on. But my experience shows that, given a willingness to raise socialist arguments, we can win people over.

  • TONY PHILLIPS, branch secretary, London Fire Authority UNISON (personal capacity)

McAvoy's bad performance

WE WISH to express our anger at the decision of the teachers' NUT union general secretary Doug McAvoy not to organise a ballot on a one-day strike against performance related pay.

Not only have the decisions of the last two conferences been ignored but also the union's survey that indicated a majority wanted a ballot. Locally we organised a survey, and 92 percent who replied voted for strike action.

Members of the NUT are furious at the national union's failure to seriously fight New Labour. At a recent meeting of 80 teachers at which we spoke, it was clear that members want a lead and are prepared to take action.

It was heartening at the meeting that 65 teachers, representing 29 schools, wanted to be kept in contact with further activities against performance related pay, as well as other issues such as fighting racism and Section 28.

  • PAUL VERNELL, division secretary, and RICHARD BROWN, assistant division secretary, South Gloucestershire NUT

Postal points THE SWP stands head and shoulders above all political parties for such values as freedom of the individual, civil liberties and democracy. It would be very apt for SWP members and allies to stand on openly London Socialist Alliance tickets for election to senior positions in such organisations as Liberty (the National Council for Civil Liberties) and the Electoral Reform Society.


THE POLICE checked 8,000 names, 20,000 Range Rovers and 80,000 mobile calls over 354 days in an effort to catch Jill Dando's killer. So where was this level of effort when Stephen Lawrence was murdered, or Ricky Reel? If you're black and working class the police don't care.

  • DEAN SCURLOCK, Bridgend

WILLIAM HAGUE has deftly leapfrogged Tony Blair in the campaign to become the most right wing party leader in Britain. Apart from immigrants, the Tories are in the process of developing an even harsher approach to single parents, by suggesting that they should be forced to look for work when their youngest child becomes 11. This would contravene British law, which makes it an offence to leave a child under 14 at home alone.

  • A ANANDAMURTI, Edinburgh

SO AT long last the government is planning to bring to book the fat cat companies that put profits before safety and lives, and certainly not before time. But why could this not have been done years ago? If it had been, it would have saved countless lives.

  • JOE RUTHERFORD, Blaydon-on-Tyne

Defend Satpal

ON 24 May Satpal Ram was transferred to HMP Belmarsh to facilitate legal visits. Satpal was wrongly convicted of murder in 1987 after defending himself against a racist attacker.

On 1 June Satpal was ordered to report to the prison workshop in Belmarsh to pack teabags for the princely sum of 1.50 a day. Satpal refused point blank. Then as a result the governor of HMP Belmarsh, Hazell Banks, put Satpal into segregation. She cut his visitors' time to 30 minutes.

Satpal once again is asking supporters for help. Please fax the governor of HMP Belmarsh insisting that Satpal is returned to basic regime. Fax Hazell Banks, governor, HMP Belmarsh on 020 8317 2421.

  • JOHN O, Birmingham

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Article information

Sat 17 Jun 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1701
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