Socialist Worker


Issue No. 1697


Hunger for an alternative

I HOPE all those who took part in the London Socialist Alliance campaign realise what they have achieved. Our results in the North East assembly constituency (7 percent) and in Lambeth & Southwark (6.2 percent) were beyond anyone's expectations. Each of these constituencies is the size of Sheffield. Taken together, they are bigger than Glasgow.

Is there a precedent for a previously unknown grassroots campaign, without a celebrity name on the ballot paper, without big business backing, denied an election broadcast or a free mailshot, saving deposits and making substantial inroads on the vote across such a vast swathe of the population? In some wards in Hackney, Islington and Lambeth we scored 20 percent. Across inner London's working class heartlands we consistently picked up 5 percent.

The results demonstrate the growing hunger among working class people for an alternative to New Labour. They also demonstrate that when the left works together the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Every day we are told that people without wealth, fame or power count for nothing.

Perhaps the major achievement of the LSA in its brief existence is to have given the lie to the most insidious myth of our times-that politics is the preserve of a professional elite. We've shown that grassroots activism can have an impact on election results. It took the Green Party many years to do what we have done in a few months.

Now we all share responsibility to ensure that the LSA survives and prospers. Let's prove the cynics wrong by overcoming old divisions and bringing our case for radical change to ever larger numbers of people.

  • MIKE MARQUSEE, North London

Will we have jobs at Rover in five years?

NOT SURPRISINGLY, workers celebrated the successful John Towers' Phoenix bid at Rover. Our lives have been on a rollercoaster of insecurity over the last few months. Now people are relieved that in the short term most of our jobs are safe. But many of us feel we have to keep our feet on the ground. There are still roughly 1,000 jobs going, and we should have no illusions that John Towers is a hero.

There is still no long term plan for Rover and there is no guarantee of new investment which will keep our jobs safe. We are asking ourselves, "Will we have jobs in five years time? Will we be forced to work even harder under John Towers?" Tony Blair must be wiping his brow with relief at the Phoenix deal. New Labour was prepared to let our jobs go to the wall.

Our trade union leaders also acted disgracefully. We petitioned for a mass meeting at the plant to call for action, but the union leaders would not accept it. Tens of thousands of workers, trade unionists and their families marched in Birmingham.

The march showed the potential. Yet our union leaders did nothing to build on this mood. Now we see the same thing happening to workers at Ford Dagenham. It is vital union leaders don't throw away the fight. Ford workers showed solidarity with our fight at Longbridge and joined the huge march in Birmingham. We want to show them solidarity, especially if they take the kind of action which could save their jobs.

  • KEVIN FLANAGAN, Longbridge worker, Birmingham

KEN Livingstone said that the election for mayor was a "referendum on tube privatisation". But less then a week after his victory he is backing down on his promises to oppose the government. Like many other London trade unions, my ASLEF branch supported Livingstone and campaigned for him because we believed that he would be a voice for ordinary people. Now he has appointed a New Labour millionaire as his deputy and is organising an "independent review" of tube funding. A review is just what Frank Dobson offered, and it is a million miles away from promises to do everything possible to stop privatisation. Why do we need another review? Independent research for the rail unions and a report by the Commons transport select committee have already shown that the "public/private partnership" will be an expensive mess. Another inquiry simply gives time for John Prescott to sign more of the system over to the privateers. Livingstone should be organising a massive campaign involving the trade unions, transport users' groups and the thousands who voted for him to stop privatisation now.

  • FINN BRENNAN, staffside secretary, East Finchley

Put this bigot on trial now

WHEN ANN Widdecombe (above) came to Oxford recently she discovered that asylum seekers are welcome here but she certainly is not. Widdecombe was in town to sign copies of her new novel and was met by a lively reception committee.

Various flans, eggs and other groceries were propelled in her direction, and she claimed afterwards it affected her deeply. We were not aware that she was such a sensitive character. Chants in support of refugees and against the Campsfield detention centre were kept up throughout her book signing. Police arrested two protesters and a support campaign has now been set up. We intend to call Widdecombe as a witness and put her bigoted views on trial.

  • CHRIS TALBOT, Oxford

Party of the disaffected

AS A Labour Party member I have had enough of its anti working class policies. This once was a socialist party and has now become another Tory party. I want to join the SWP and fight Labour at every election. But I don't want this to be a protest party that gains a few votes. I want it to be a mainstream party for the dissaffected, disassociated and disenfranchised. It is time for a change in our political landscape, and it is time for socialism to put on a bigger public face.


Jailed then sacked

I WOULD like to thank all the readers of Socialist Worker for the support you gave me and Stephanie over the media witch-hunt of demonstrators on the May Day anti-capitalist protests. I was surprised at receiving such a stiff sentence of 14 days in jail for tossing an empty plastic water bottle (half litre) over my shoulder. The press painted me out to be mindless. But I just threw the bottle over my shoulder in frustration at the behaviour of the police, and not through malice. I have since lost my job as a phone operator for British Telecom. I worked for BT through an agency.

But BT terminated my contract because they said my actions "discredited BT". I am really upset because I enjoyed my job. However, I have had brilliant support from my work colleagues who don't believe I am capable of the violent behaviour I was accused of in the press. Many of them were really gutted when they heard I lost my job. Even my line manager is on my side and doesn't think I should have been sacked. The support I've had from workmates and comrades is the best news I have ever heard.

  • Richard Stephens, Bristol

Keep up campaign

I WOULD like to thank all those who supported us at the inquest last November into the death of my son Ricky Reel. Despite attempts by the authorities to obtain an "accidental death" verdict, the campaign obtained an "open" death verdict. This has been a massive boost to the campaign and has vindicated the family's fears that Ricky was murdered. It has brought new hope that Ricky's killers will be found.

Now it is vital that we redouble our efforts and pursue the fight for justice for my son. I ask for your continued and valuable support. The legal costs involved in our two year battle are a particular strain on my family. We are not entitled to legal aid and have to pay out of our own pockets to rectify mistakes made by the authorities.

Please make any donation you can manage-it needn't be big. There are "Keep it Reel" CDs and T-shirts on sale, and a day of action was planned for Saturday 13 May. We are here to stay and won't go away until Ricky's killers are caught and the discrimination stops.

  • SUKHDEV REEL, West London

Stranded in Sierra

THE BRITISH military force was in Sierra Leone to evacuate British and EU citizens from the area, or so Robin Cook told us. Yet the extent to which the racist witch-hunt of asylum seekers by the Tories has been accepted by the New Labour government was starkly illustrated last week. William Floode, a 24 year old black man born in Cardiff, was barred from the British evacuation camp in Freetown. He had come to Sierra Leone as a child on his mother's passport, and so does not possess a passport of his own. His brother and aunt in London appealed to the foreign office, but William remains stranded. "I really have to get out of this place. It's dreadful," said William. "The British don't want to take me because I'm black, but I am British like them. Let them go to Cardiff and see. I'm sure there are lots of black people there." William Floode is a victim of New Labour's pandering to racism. Cardiff is a multicultural city, and large numbers of people are disgusted at William Hague's scapegoating. When asylum seekers are housed here, anti-racists and socialists will fight to make sure they are welcomed, not witch-hunted.

  • MEGAN TRUDELL, Cardiff

Police ran amok

I AM not a member of the SWP, Anti Nazi League or any political organisation, but I did attend the demonstration in Manchester on 1 May. I was appalled by the police behaviour on the day. As the day was winding down the police decided to block everyone into Piccadilly Gardens. They turned a peaceful and rightfully visible celebration of workers' rights and of support for refugees into a day of police heavy handedness. I was left feeling that freedom of speech in Britain is non-existent. I would like to congratulate those at the event for standing up for workers' rights by refusing to yield to police efforts to get them to leave the city centre. Well done!

  • IAN BOARDMAN, Manchester

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Article information

Sat 20 May 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1697
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