Unite left to fill void letters
I AM not an admirer of Ken Livingstone, but New Labour has resorted to the most disgraceful methods to stop him becoming mayor of London. Is New Labour trying to purge the party of all elements of the left? New Labour has grasped capitalism and done away with its historical commitment to nationalisation.
The present government has entered into a frenzy of actions aimed solely at prolonging the miseries of the poor and low paid. The minimum wage in no way could be described as a wage which could begin to eradicate poverty. Publicly owned council housing is being handed to private enterprises. Private landlords will increase rents. Is this what lies ahead for the working class people of Britain?
Home secretary Jack Straw seems hell bent on bringing into reality the horrors described in George Orwell's 1984. A party that sat in opposition to the Tories for 18 years has learnt from them the art of subterfuge. That has left a vacuum within our communities. The different elements within the left must come together as one force in the struggle for social justice and freedom from oppression.
- MICHAEL LANE, Liverpool
Slogan forced on councillors
"PEOPLE before profits" is the new slogan of Labour in Sheffield. Labour lost control of the city council to the Liberal Democrats in last year's elections. The electorate were fed up with cuts, job losses and privatisation. The Liberal Democrats' promise to end all this was hypocrisy. They have moved towards sell-offs in social services, refuse collection, leisure facilities and more.
Labour in opposition has had to realise that it has to voice people's anger if it is to regain their trust. It has launched an anti-privatisation petition in response to the threat to the bin service. Labour is more than capable of cynical electioneering. But we should make common cause with Labour councillors while their verbal opposition to privatisation lasts. Many local party activists are the most angry over what has happened. While working together we can discuss the alternative to the shoddy politics of New Labour.
- JULIA ARMSTRONG, Sheffield
School students tackle racism
SCHOOL STUDENTS at Kingswood High School in Hull have taken a brilliant stand against racism. Black teacher Chris Hassan was suspended from the school, on the Bransholme estate, four weeks ago. He refused to teach a racist pupil who abused him at the end of last term. About 150 school students, almost all white, demonstrated outside the school with placards against Chris's suspension.
The headteacher, Kevin Beaton, condemned their action as "ill advised and unacceptable". So two weeks ago 500 students at the school signed a "Kick Racism Out of Kingswood" petition and a delegation took it to the headquarters of the local education authority in Hull. Local television interviewed the students, who maintained their complete support for Chris and their disbelief that they are criticised for supporting an anti-racist teacher. Chris's disciplinary case may not be heard for several more weeks. The fact that 500 students have pledged their support for a black teacher in an overwhelmingly white area should be a cause for celebration, not the slating the students have received.
- TEACHER, Hull
DAVID FROM Birmingham argues that nationalisation is out of date for the railways (Socialist Worker, 4 March), though he agrees the current privatised set-up is a disaster. A quick comparison with the rest of Europe shows how nationalisation can mean cheaper, safer trains.
But socialists should be demanding more. A nationalised railway, planned and controlled democratically, is the alternative to market competition. And it is not true that Labour lost to Thatcher in 1979 because the unions ran the country. A famous Tory election poster showed a huge dole queue with the slogan, "Labour isn't working".
Millions of people were disillusioned with Labour's failure to protect people from economic crisis. The government ran scared of the speculators and bankers who drained money out of the country. Blair echoes the idea that there is no alternative to the market as an excuse for copying Tory policies. The idea of running public services for profit is anything but modern.
- NICOLAI GENTCHEV, West London
TONY BLAIR and Jack Straw will not allow refugees sanctuary for fear of the right wing tabloid press. New Labour says there is not enough room for asylum seekers here. Socialist Worker (19 February) reported that there are 637,000 empty private homes in Britain. So how come we keep getting told there is not room for refugees? The government is responding with typical stereotyping. I say refugees should be allowed into this country. Let them tell their story. We should spread the truth about the repression they face so we can give them compassion, and not turn them away to a life of hell.
- THOMAS DALLINTON, school student, Barnsley
'Fresh start' brings further disruption
DAVID BLUNKETT threatened last week to close 500 schools and reopen them under a new name with new staff if they did not hit government targets for exam results. George Orwell School in Islington, north London, has already been a victim of this "Fresh Start" initiative. The school was savaged by inspectors and the press. It was shut and reopened as the Islington Arts and Media School last September. Blunkett attended the opening ceremony. The upheaval caused by the "Fresh Start" has been immense.
And there is enormous anger among staff and students that the promises they were made about the new school have been broken. Only half a dozen of the George Orwell teaching staff were taken back on in the new school. That has been very disruptive for the children, who had established relationships with their teachers. New staff are disappointed that the innovative curriculum and methods which they were told would be in place have not materialised. There is no opportunity for staff to share experiences-there is not even a staffroom.
Everything is run by diktat. The students feel they have no stake in the school. The level of disruptive behaviour, vandalism and absence from lessons has rocketed. Torsten Friedag, the "super- head" appointed on �70,000 a year, is embracing gimmicky New Labour policies. A revolt by staff and governors has forced the school management to meet some of their concerns.
But the school is now effectively going through its third "Fresh Start". The private Cambridge Education Associates, which now runs education services in Islington, is paying for an additional assistant principal and two deputy heads. The money will come from the budgets of other schools. New Labour cannot allow Islington Arts and Media School to be seen to fail. But only a return to the values of comprehensive education can turn it round. "Fresh Start" is not a solution to schools facing difficulties. It is a weapon for the government to ram through policies which attack comprehensive education, and compounds the problems teachers and pupils face.
- TEACHER, North London
I AM very disappointed that the Irish peace talks seem to be grinding to a standstill. Like Socialist Worker, I cannot see why it is only the IRA that has to decommission. In fact, it is being asked to surrender. My dictionary defines decommission as "remove from service" which the ceasefire has already achieved.
- DAVID MORRIS, South Wales
WE BOTH feel very lucky and privileged to have been able to represent our fellow union members at what turned out to be the largest demonstration in Austrian history. Workmates raised �400 in just a week to send us on the Anti Nazi League delegation to Austria last month. This is a shining example of why all trade unionists need to raise political issues in their workplaces.
- PETER THORPE and SHAUN JOHNS, Nottingham
I AM appalled at the severity of the sentences being handed down to people who were charged for taking part in the anti-capitalist demonstration at Euston station in London last November. One protester, Keith Spence, has just been sent down for 18 months. His crime was "to dance beside a burning police van" and "to bare his backside to the police". There is only one explanation for such over-the-top sentencing. The police and the courts want to intimidate people from standing up to capitalism and the multinationals.
- READER, West London