Voices from across Britain tell Socialist Worker...
New Labour's betrayed us
Crucifying the unemployed
"TO BE unemployed today is to feel like a hunted animal. Listen to any speech by a Labour minister. The press and the politicians all bang on with this message that there is no way you can be unemployed unless you want to be. Unemployed equals workshy, unemployed equals lazy, unemployed equals don't want a job-that's what they all say. I'm from Manchester. It is fantastically difficult to get a proper job if you get made redundant. I was an engineer for 35 years. Then I lost my job because the bus company was privatised. It's a humiliating experience to suddenly find yourself with nothing. The job centre told me there were some jobs going on the buses-not engineers but driving. I went there, and the queue to get an application form was hundreds of yards long. After a couple of hours a bloke in a suit came out and said, "The rest of you needn't bother. We've got what we want. I feel down and the way Labour goes on about the unemployed makes it much worse. I think they're just like the Tory bastards. I'm really excited that at last there is a challenge to Labour in the London elections. Good luck, and I'm sure that the challenge is spreading."
- MARTIN WATSON, Manchester
"TORY BLAIR, that's what I call him. He has done nothing for the working class. He has sold his soul. They are selling off council houses. It is a criminal act. They should be put in prison, in my opinion. Our forefathers fought for public housing. What right have they to sell it off? I am vice - chair of the North West Communities Alliance in Glasgow. We have some of the poorest constituencies in Britain. Eighty three percent of families are on some sort of benefit. This is Tory Blair's wonderful Britain. It is not working. Livingstone is right to stand. You can't just go along with them. Good luck to all independent socialists. Socialism is not dead, and it's not a dirty word."
- CHARLIE McCORMICK, vice - chair of the north West Communities Alliance, Glasgow
- IN THREE years New Labour has privatised more council homes than the Tories did in 18 years.
- The government plans to privatise all remaining 3.2 million council homes.
"FRANK DOBSON talks about pensioners living in fear of crime. Doesn't he know that pensioners have been robbed of �26 a week by this government and the last one combined? We were mugged by Thatcher's decision to make a break between pension increases and earning increases-a decision which Labour has refused to reverse. That money has been stolen from us. In opposition Labour said it was a vindictive Tory move. We get a few handouts and we're supposed to be grateful. Blair's a jumped up, tuppenny ha'penny, upper middle class, public school pipsqueak who has hijacked the Labour Party. He is a real menace. My pensioners group has met and said overwhelmingly that we will be supporting Ken Livingstone for London mayor."
- BOB COTTINGHAM, pensioner, Muswell Hill
- A REPORT last week from the Family Budget Unit at King's College London and Age Concern found that pensioners need between �10 and �44 a week more to reach their minimum basic needs.
- PENSIONERS TOLD Age Concern: "I haven't had a holiday for 25 years"; "I have to buy all my clothes in charity shops"; "No matter how I try, beans on toast does not taste the same as a proper dinner."
'Our schools are falling apart'
"I WAS looking for change from Labour. They've got such a massive majority. They could be working for a fairer society, taxing the wealthy for better health, education, and the environment. I wanted them to a move away from the competition brought into education by the Tories. Instead they've been a disaster for working class schools. It is the same philosophy as the Tories-league tables, tests, naming and shaming, closing down schools, performance related pay. My last school closed down. I remember a little kid coming in and saying, "Are we the worst in the country then, sir?" Money is haemorrhaging into private schools while we had to get a loan to buy modern textbooks. The heating doesn't work, the roof leaks and the windows don't shut properly. Opposite our school is Sun Life Insurance and an MoD building. They are splendid. Why is that not good enough for our children to learn in?"
- CHRIS CARTER, teacher, Bristol
- NEW LABOUR spent less on education in its first two years than the Tories did.
- CLASS SIZES are up for all except five to seven year olds.
The health worker
"THE NHS is such an important service, but Labour has completely failed to give it the resources it desperately needs. In fact in some ways things have got worse in the last three years. Until recently I was a member of the Labour Party. I worked for Labour at the 1997 general election in Hertfordshire. But now I just feel utterly betrayed. I suppose the turning point for me was when I saw hundreds of millions of pounds leaking out of the NHS to private firms and private care organisations. The NHS is at breaking point-people on trolleys, people pushed out of hospital early, staff suffering from incredible stress. I am campaigning for Ken Livingstone and the London Socialist Alliance. I think this is a chance for all of us to tell the government what we think of its policies."
- KAY YOUNG, NHS social worker, Royal London Hospital
- BRITAIN SPENDS just 6.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product on health. The European average is 8 percent. The British public sector spends �740 per person on health in a year. Germany spends �1,285. France spends �1,156.
- SENIOR HEALTH department officials believe that a 7 to 9 percent a year increase is needed to provide higher quality modern services.
What about the party of the family?
"THIS IS supposed to be a "family - friendly" government. But the reality is totally different. They haven't been friendly to children, they haven't been friendly to parents, and they haven't been friendly to families. They promised childcare to give kids a decent start in life and to allow women to go out to work. But there is still a massive shortage of facilities for children, and what exists is extremely expensive. It's a myth that the government has made it possible for everyone to work. I had high hopes of Labour but they have really let us down."
- EMEL MESTANOGLU, Hackney, East London
- THERE IS one childcare place for every 7.5 children under the age of eight. This includes after - school clubs and other facilities which take children for only a few hours a day.
"I THOUGHT Blair would be different. I thought they would take care of everyone. I thought they would look after the working class people. But tuition fees are wrong. Getting loans, paying them back. What if you have got a family? You have to pay back the cost of your education at the same time as raising a young family. Everyone should be allowed a go at education. Now it's just the rich who can, and people who work in Sainsbury's can't. Why? Everyone should be equal. I live at home with my mum. I couldn't possibly afford to live on my own. My mum is disabled. She got mobility allowance for 11 years. This year they stopped it. I didn't think society would become worse, that they'd take everything off you. But Labour have turned themselves on their heads. They are harder on the weaker members of society."
- MUSTAFA AHMED, Kent
- STUDENT FEES raised �130 million for the government the first year they were introduced. That is the same amount New Labour subsidised arms sales to the Indonesian government by.
- Two thirds of students are forced to work an average of 20 hours a week in order to meet living costs.
The police force are still harassing black people
"AFTER the murder of Stephen Lawrence and everything that people learned from that, I thought the police might be forced to change their attitudes towards black people. But nothing has changed, nothing. We still get stopped and searched, we still get singled out, we are still treated like people from another planet. Most people in London have learned to live together. But the police are still determined to keep us apart. There are still racist attacks and the police do not catch those responsible. Sometimes they do not even admit that these attacks are racist. There has been so little change. In 1997 I thought Labour would make a big difference, get away from all that Tory crap. Now I'm very unhappy with them-and not just about racism and the police either. I was really lifted by the revolt in Seattle last year. And now I'm going to vote for Livingstone and the London Socialist Alliance."
- REES MARTIN, London
Gripped by insecurity
"I'M FED up with these big companies. Where I work, at Ford, they want to axe a whole shift. That's over 1,500 jobs. But it's not just car workers-it's canteen staff, cleaning staff, it's all the suppliers. For the part of Essex where I'm from it will be decimating across the board. Everyone will be looking for the same jobs. This is not a north - south thing. This is an aggressive management thing. The government should stop lying about jobs. They are as good at creative accountancy as the Tories. Unemployment is definitely going up. There are redundancies all the time. Blair is the same as Thatcher. The longer he is in power, the more he is proving it. I'm pleased Livingstone is standing. If it draws people's attention to the fact that there are options other than Labour then that's good. He must stand up to privatisation and to big business."
- DAVID SIMPSON, Essex