After child abuse scandal
What care do children need?
AS A residential social worker in a council-run children's home in Merseyside I have been shocked by the report exposing sexual and physical abuse of children in some Welsh care homes. Many of the homes featured in the report were privately run in a climate of strict discipline. The children's pleas were ignored and concerned staff like whistleblower Alison Taylor were ridiculed.
Many of the survivors of the abuse are still traumatised. Some are unhappy with the report and claim there has been a systematic cover-up by local authorities, the police and politicians. The report fails to highlight the growing crisis of underfunding and the threat of privatisation of care homes. Children who are taken into care are vulnerable. They need sufficient resources to give them the attention they deserve. In Liverpool five years ago we went on strike to fight cutbacks, but eventually they were forced through. Each year since then the social services budget has been cut.
This year we have been told unit costs must be reduced by 20 percent or the homes could be privatised. This is an absolute disgrace. Without resources we cannot do the job and get the proper training social workers should have. Demoralisation leads to a lack of confidence. If staff feel unconfident they are not going to challenge someone, particularly a manager, they suspect of abuse. Care homes run by private, unaccountable firms will do nothing to stop a new child abuse scandal in care homes happening again. If this Labour government really cared about the welfare of children they would end the privatisation threat and provide more funds for better trained care workers.
- CARE WORKER, Merseyside
I WAS disappointed with Helen Shooter's article on socialism and non-violence (Socialist Worker, 12 February). I think her treatment of Gandhi is completely unfair. He was committed to a far greater ideal than the removal of the British imperialists from India. That is why he rejected middle class life in favour of poverty and self denial.
The author is correct to say those using force to bring down the system must be included in the movement for change. However, force can never bring real change. This is the same oppression now exercised by the state that socialists wish to end. While violence removed the British, India remains a capitalist state with an oppressed and impoverished working class.
- FRANCIS K...PPSCHALL, East Sussex
Attacked by bigots and the bullies
I AM a university student who can remember first hand the effects that Section 28 had in my school. The word "gay" was only ever mentioned in the playground as a term of abuse, and the teachers were unable to do anything to counter homophobic bullying. It made me very angry to hear the House of Lords debate where homosexuality was put on a par with paedophilia and bestiality. New Labour's second chamber is anything but democratic. Its failure to ditch Section 28 proves the need to close it completely.
New Labour was elected because we thought it would stand up for things like equality. But now Tony Blair is trying to replace Section 28 with a compromise which would force schools to promote marriage and families-exactly the same thing that the Tories originally wanted. We must demand the government has the spine to fight for ordinary people's rights against the bigots.
- ALAN CLARKE, Coventry
Four leave group
FOUR LOCAL councillors have left the Labour Party after voting against the Labour group on Halton Borough Council, which covers Runcorn and Widnes. All four were on the left of the party, and the resignations have come as no surprise. They all voted against a 40,000 pay-off to a council officer who was removed from his post in charge of the remaining council housing stock.
Three of them were asked to give written assurances that they would vote with the Labour group in future. They refused and were summoned to a hearing. A fourth has now resigned in solidarity. The move is widely viewed as an attempt by the Labour group to stifle opposition to school closures in Runcorn New Town. The four intend to remain on the council and stand as independent councillors when their turn comes around.
- EX-MEMBER, Weaverdale Constituency Labour Party
A war on free press
THE RUSSIAN journalist Andrei Babitsky went missing on 15 January while reporting on the war in Chechnya. The Russian security service said it had arrested him for collaboration with the Chechen rebels. It then claimed he had been handed over in a prisoner exchange. An eyewitness reported seeing Andrei Babitsky being abused in the notorious "filtration camp"-or torture centre-at Chernokosovo in Chechnya. The Russian government is harassing and intimidating journalists reporting on the war. But Babitsky's case has caused an important opening in the stream of war propaganda in Russia. The Union of Journalists in Russia has now published a four page newspaper on him.
The National Union of Journalists in Britain and human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, have taken up his case. Media workers should pass resolutions of protest to the Russian ambassador demanding full and immediate information on Babitsky's whereabouts. Trade unions should also affiliate to the Campaign to Stop the War in Chechnya at 46 Denmark Hill, London SE5 8RZ.
- ALAN GIBSON, chair NUJ London Magazine Branch, JANE LEWIS, BECTU Committee member, BBC London Libraries & Archives Branch (personal capacity)
I AM so disgusted by home secretary Jack Straw's treatment of the Afghan asylum seekers. On Friday of last week I heard for the first time a fellow worker openly attacking asylum seekers in my workplace. The comments weren't from a racist, but an African woman. She, like others, was uncomfortable with Tory Ann Widdecombe, and was sympathetic to refugees. Yet she was also persuaded by Jack Straw that there are too many refugees and they can't all be genuine.
The mood quickly swung back when we talked about the reality of life for asylum seekers, what Afghanistan is like, how racism is used to divide us, and how New Labour only look after the rich. But it showed me that even the most anti-racist office can get caught up in a witch hunt whipped up by New Labour, the Tories and the press. We have to constantly argue against bogus humanitarians like Jack Straw. Otherwise he will succeed in pulling some people up the blind alley of blaming the victims in society.
- ELANE HEFFERNAN, East London
I WAS pained to see the ruthless British dispatch an SAS regiment to surround the impoverished Afghan refugees. It was a carnival of racism-the sneering Home Office, rabid tabloid press and aloof police. This was the most hysterical and evil British campaign against helpless refugees since Jewish victims of the Holocaust were barred entry. As an elderly Afghan I am appalled that the poor of the world are not allowed to trek for freedom.
- ZEKRIA IBRAHIMI, West London
I RECENTLY attended the annual general meeting of Disability Action in Islington. The mood was very different to last year, which was extremely bureaucratic and apolitical. This year, when I mentioned the election of Haider's far right party in Austria there was wholehearted support for the fight against him.
The group is currently fighting an order to leave the central, fully accessible premises to make way for a cappuccino bar! At the meeting of about 30 people, six of them took Socialist Worker.
- GEORGIA SUMNER, North London
OUR LAST National Union of Teachers meeting in Sheffield had over 70 people attending-the biggest for years. There were many new, younger faces and the atmosphere was really militant. We had a debate over how to fight education cuts locally. Speakers who said we should go on the offensive against Ofsted, the government's inspectors, and the market got loud applause. A motion calling for strike action was passed unanimously.
- BEN MORRIS, Sheffield
THE NATIONAL Union of Students Women's Campaign, supported by the Socialist Worker Student Society, held a picket of IPC Magazines, the publisher of Loaded, on Monday of last week. The "New Lad" culture, shown in magazines like Loaded and FHM, is just old sexism. Women are portrayed in a negative way, as passive objects to be looked at. It is part of a backlash against the rights women have won in the past three decades. But many women are reacting angrily to this trend. Around 100 women joined a picket of the Miss World contest in London last December. It's clear the battle for women's liberation goes on.
- HELEN ROGERS, London