Straw's deal with dictator
THE SPANISH independent newspaper El Pais carried a story on 3 January entitled "The Unpublished Straw-Pinochet Letters". It states that the confidentiality concerning the health report on General Pinochet was not the result of a request by the ex-dictator's lawyers. It was proposed by Straw. On 5 November Fenella Tayler, an official of the extradition branch of the Home Office, wrote a letter with two copies-one to Pinochet's defence lawyers and one to the Chilean embassy in London.
It said that the Home Office had received a request from the Chilean ambassador requesting Pinochet's freedom on the basis of medical reports. Tayler added that Straw had considered this seriously and concluded that Pinochet would have to be examined medically. Tayler went on to say that every effort would be made to keep all the medical information secret. Pinochet's lawyer said he was pleased with the Home Office's plan. Pinochet would be examined on the understanding that only his lawyers and the Home Office would find out the results.
Then the Home Office found a snag. The United Nations convention against torture says that if a person accused of torture is not extradited then the local government must consider the case. So if Pinochet did not go back to Spain then he could be prosecuted in Britain. The Home Office solution was that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General would see the medical report-so that they could say this was enough to avoid a prosecution-but that on no account would the Crown Prosecution Service get the information. This is because the CPS has acted for the Spanish authorities against Pinochet.
- STUART HOOD, Brighton
Enemy given a central role in new union laws
I WAS horrified to see that Sir Michael Burton has been appointed by New Labour to head the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC). This is the new body which will make key decisions regarding union rights under the new employment laws. As a printer and active trade unionist I found Burton's appointment totally unacceptable. Burton has a record of backing a union buster. He represented Rupert Murdoch, owner of News International, after he sacked 5,000 print workers in 1986.
At our union branch meeting last week I moved a motion condemning the decision. It was reported to us that some of our union national executive believe that open criticism of Labour over this sort of issue should be held back until after the new union laws are brought into operation. Despite this our union branch committee voted unanimously to back the motion. I'm calling on every trade union branch to pass motions condemning Labour endangering union rights once again.
- JIM MASON, Welwyn
Help win the socialist vote
EVEN THOUGH I live in the north west of England I am really excited by the forthcoming elections in London. Socialists are going to take on the dark forces of Blairism in the capital and also in local elections elsewhere. I took the seat I represent from New Labour last year. As an independent socialist I urge all readers to get out to canvass for the London Socialist Alliance and socialists elsewhere in the country. Do what you can, even if it is only for an hour or so. Like myself, these people stand up for socialist values. London and the rest of Britain must have a socialist alternative to New Labour. It can be done, as I know from personal experience.
- ANDY HOLDER, Independent Socialist councillor, Brunshaw ward, Burnley
What fascism really means
I WAS sickened by the acceptance of Haider's fascist Freedom Party into government in Austria. For the first time in my life the spectre of fascism might become a reality in Austria like it was for my Jewish mother. She was lucky. She fled Nazi Austria as Hitler closed the borders to Jews in 1938 and came to Britain. Unfortunately most of my family were refused entry and for eight years their whereabouts was unknown. Then the Bureau for Missing Persons discovered that her mother Amelia and oldest brother had last been seen on a Nazi train entering Poland. They had been murdered. The majority of Austrians oppose Haider's inclusion in the government. The demonstrations and riots give me hope that the Nazis can be beaten back and returned to the dustbin of history. Socialists must continue their protests here and send solidarity to people fighting fascism in Austria. The words "Never Again" must not be hollow ones. We have to do everything possible to make sure the likes of the Freedom Party never get the respectability they crave. We know where their politics lead-to the gas chamber.
- SAIRA WEINER, Manchester
SWSS meeting made me excited
I WENT to the Socialist Worker Student Society national conference last weekend at Salford University. It was the first real involvement I've had with SWSS and I thought it was really good. There was a great atmosphere to the place. Everybody was talking politics. There were some really interesting debates, especially during the meetings on the environment and Haider. The best part of the weekend was the film about the protest in Seattle. The sickening behaviour of the police (robocops) was in stark contrast to the unity of the demonstrators. Me and my two friends who went are planning to set up a group in our school. Were I to find a fault it would be that it made getting up on Monday morning for school an even duller prospect than normal!
- MARK CHARLTON, Newcastle
Seattle spirit reaches Devon
NEW LABOUR have betrayed the pensioners who voted for them in May 1997. Not only have they not restored the link between pensions and earnings, they have also not increased the pension to a decent level. Now New Labour intend to allow the state pension to shrink while they promote private pensions to young workers. Yet the majority of workers do not earn enough for a decent life in the here and now, let alone sufficient to build up a proper pension. We should be pleased and proud that we have a larger elderly population. Yet the government treats us as a burden.
The productivity of workers has increased tenfold since the Second World War, so it should not matter that the proportion of workers to retire has changed a little. We should not accept what the government is doing. Last month an ex Labour Party member in the tiny Devon seaport of Brixham started a campaign to restore the earnings link. This has led to a campaign group and a public meeting. Even in sleepy Devon there is the "whiff of Seattle"!
- DAVE ROBERTS, Plymouth
Courts ignore rape scandal
I WAS horrified to see that 400,000 damages had been awarded against a woman who was judged to have made a false allegation of rape. To make matters worse, the judge refused her anonymity. If she lied about the case then that was wrong. But surely a more caring system would try to understand why she acted as she did. The real problem is not women making up false rape claims, it is women who are intimidated by the courts and the police from making rape known. All surveys show that just one in ten rapes is reported, and that of those only 10 percent go to court. That's one in 100! And then only one in four cases are found in favour of the woman.
- MARGARET PERRY, East London
THE ONLY light Peter Kilfoyle has seen on the road back to Liverpool is that his position as a New Labour MP is at risk. What price a temporary junior minister's job if your very future as a politician is at stake at the next general election? Kilfoyle understands only too well the changing mood of the working class towards Blair and Co. I'm sure the dockers and the people of Liverpool with their vast experience of betrayal by New Labour won't be taken in by this cynical ploy, by a founder member of the Blair project.
- EDDIE PREVOST, Harlow
THAT THE award of a Nobel Peace Prize to first minister David Trimble was premature should be obvious to anyone who does not want to see the Irish struggle for freedom from turning again to the gun and the bomb. Trimble's insistence upon the unilateral disarmament of the Provisional IRA is one more strategic device designed by this leader of Orange sectarian bigotry to destroy what voters in all of Ireland want to work. Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams and the IRA have shown that they are willing to give the new political arrangements a chance to work.
- ROBERT E NORDLANDER
IT'S LIKE slavery all over again. I am wrongly imprisoned on Florida's death row, fighting for my life and basic rights. Let's be realistic-if I was rich I would receive proper legal help and I would not be subject to the death penalty for someone else's action. As it is I face the fact that the state has deliberately withheld crucial evidence. My appeal is pending in the court and I have no lawyer. I would be pleased to correspond with your readers who could learn more about my case and perhaps offer funds for my defence.
- LANCELOT ARMSTRONG, DC #693504, UCI AI P61205, PO Box 221, Raiford, Florida, 32083 USA