Socialist Worker


Issue No. 1858

Wales is no advert for sticking with Labour

IN HIS very interesting interview (Socialist Worker, 28 June) Billy Hayes praises the 'clear red water' of Welsh Labour Party policies. He adds that this shows we can win Labour to more progressive policies. Other union leaders have repeated the same theme recently. In truth it is a reflection of how bad things have become under Blair that Welsh Labour is held up as a shining example for others to follow.

On the crucial question of the war with Iraq, Welsh Labour leader Rhodri Morgan supported Blair 100 percent. The Welsh Labour Party conference refused to discuss the issue during the build-up to war, as it 'did not affect Wales'! In the recent parliamentary vote on foundation hospitals only two Welsh Labour MPs voted against this dreadful attack on the NHS.

Wales has one of the highest levels of child poverty in the whole of Britain as well as some of the lowest wage levels. The assembly has done nothing to tackle this and continues to give millions of pounds to the multinationals to invest in the 'flexible labour market of South Wales'.

When the LG firm in Newport recently announced 900 job losses the assembly refused to publicise how much money they were given or to demand the money back. PFI for all major NHS projects continues in Wales and the lack of social care provision for the vulnerable is just as bad in Wales as it is in many parts of England.

In the Neath area 25 teachers are being sacked due to lack of funding of education. Social housing waiting lists are at a record high and recent events in Wrexham demonstrate the potential for racists to gain from this.

Of course the differences between Wales and England around prescription charges, SATs, bus passes and tuition fees are real differences. They are however both limited and do not fundamentally challenge the deep levels of poverty that exist here.

We urgently need to challenge the system which puts profit before human need. The Welsh Labour Party will not provide such a challenge. The most exciting development in politics – in Wales, England and Scotland – is the way that the anti-war and anti-capitalist movements have encouraged the growth of political formations to the left of Labour.
Huw Williams, Blackwood

Politics at work

IT IS increasingly clear that the way rank and file confidence and organisation in the unions will develop is through the big political events of the day being brought into the workplace.

This was reflected at the recent Stop the War Coalition conference. At the workshop on 'The war and the labour movement' over 100 delegates discussed, as Andrew Murray, the national chair of the coalition, put it, 'how to bring the anti-war movement into the unions'.

The anti-war movement has given the confidence to teachers to organise a campaign against the hated SATs tests. Teachers have opposed the tests ever since they were implemented in 1992, but it was the school students' strikes that inspired and gave teachers the confidence to overwhelmingly vote at their union conference to boycott the tests.

Trade unionists at the coalition conference spoke about how the starting point to bringing the anti-war movement into the unions is to set up an anti-war group in the workplace. My experience as a teacher in a FE college in north London very much confirms this approach.

By setting up an anti-war group we managed to get staff involved in organising debates on the war which hundreds of students and staff attended. This gave 30 teachers and 70 students the confidence to walk out for a couple of hours the day the war broke out. This has also had an impact on our union organisation. From having between 15 and 20 union members turning up to union meetings the last one had 33.

This of course does not happen automatically. The second area of discussion for anti-war activists in the workplace is the need to make sure that organising against the war directly reinvigorates union organisation.
Sean Vernell, West London

You can't just blame the leaders for FBU surrender

I'VE READ your articles on the end of the firefighters' disputes and, although I agree with much of what is said, I feel compelled to add another dimension. As a firefighter for 15 years I cannot agree with the suggestion that the responsibility for what happened lies squarely with the national leadership of our union.

We are all big boys, supposedly. But I cannot honestly say I saw any lions on our picket line. In contrast, the nursery nurses look as if they are prepared to mount a sustained and effective campaign against their employers.

The membership failed themselves on many counts. I hope this will ignite a determination within the FBU union rank and file not to be led by a leadership whose strategy and tactics were transparent enough, and by the TUC (trade union careerists).

If the rank and file had been aware and organised, then, yes indeed, we could have gained a decisive victory. We have achieved on our own merit a defeat that Maggie Thatcher would have been proud of during her attack on the miners.

We never fought – we capitulated. This is important to learn from as more disputes are coming whether we like it or not. Their future depends on the outcome of negotiations still to be resolved.

Thanks to the many fine socialists I have met over the last months – your support was tremendous. Thanks to the Red Watch editorial team and 30k site originator. It was good to know I was not alone.

Good luck to the many conscious men and women fighting for a better patch. Don't be afraid of struggle, strength and solidarity.
Ross Dowds, Gourock

Awkward squad are a good sign

PETER HAIN retracted his statement about a 'grown-up and adult debate on tax' after a rollicking from Tony Blair. Why? He should be shouting it from the highest rooftop. We live in a society in Britain where the people who actually do the work have to pay their taxes week in, week out. Meanwhile the CBI lot find ingenious ways (cheating to you and me) of not paying!

I have been a committed socialist as long as I can remember, I've been a trade union member for over 30 years, and I'm sick to death of this Blair and his bloody cronies.

Instead of our prime minister and trade union representatives attending CBI meetings and debating with these parasites, they should be in open conflict with them. Thankfully we now have some new union leaders who are actually listening to what their members want and are beginning to challenge New Labour on a number of issues.

The right wing press calls them 'the awkward squad'. I hope they get a lot more bloody awkward. In a week when we are celebrating the centenary of George Orwell's birth we should perhaps reflect on his book Nineteen Eighty-Four.

There he talks about a government that describes itself as socialist, but actually pursues a relentless campaign against anything even resembling socialism. Sound familiar?
John Scobbie, Coventry

School against deportations

WE WRITE to you as concerned Tottenham teachers about the disturbing tendency in certain areas of the national press to demonise asylum seekers. At the school where we teach in north London we see daily the results of the government's rush to meet deportation targets.

The reality is frightened children and anxious parents, and the gradual disintegration of family and community life in what is a culturally rich and diverse area.

The reality is concerned children crying in class because they don't know whether their friends are going to turn up for school ever again. For the last year we have witnessed an increasing number of children being plucked from our school community, to the bewilderment of staff and peers. The manner in which this process occurs is often insensitive, usually heavy-handed, and sometimes unnecessarily aggressive. At present at least eight pupils across years seven to 11 are under imminent threat of deportation.

We urge the government to stop these deportations now, and to stand up to the right wing dogma currently being peddled in all areas of the national media.
70 staff, Northumberland Park Community School

A response to the interviews,

I AGREED with a lot of Asad Rehman's analysis of the movement (Socialist Worker, 14 June). He rightly argued that the anti-capitalist movement which has emerged from mass opposition to the war in Iraq is bigger and more dynamic than ever. But do we really need to build 'an Old Labour party with revolutionaries in it', as Asad argued?

I don't think so. Asad writes that he's still 'amazed by how right wing New Labour are. They do the things the Tories daren't do.' Sadly there is nothing new in this. New Labour is soaked in blood from its imperialist adventures in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

But Old Labour gave its support to the bloodshed of the First World War, the Korean War, and the wars in Vietnam and the Falklands. New Labour's attacks on refugees are repugnant but follow a rancid tradition of racist legislation passed by Old Labour.

New Labour will not repeal the Tory anti-union laws, but Old Labour has a foul record of anti-union legislation and persecution of its own. On issue after issue, New Labour has shown itself to be less a break with Old Labour, more a continuation of it.
Sasha Simic, East London

Build on issues, not Old Labour

I DISAGREE with Asad Rehman that 'we need an Old Labour party with revolutionaries in it, like the Scottish Socialist Party'. The future lies in a revolutionary socialist party that presents both the long term case for a change in economic structure and works in the immediate present with all groups seeking to bring about quantitative improvements in people's daily lives.

There are many issues that affect our communities – means testing, low wages and pensions, housing, health, education being some of them. It is possible to raise issues, challenge accepted views and achieve short term gains if we are involved with and give a lead to others who recognise the needs but lack an overall political and philosophical awareness.

My personal approach has been to concentrate on building a pensioners' forum; to actively pursue a policy on transport and health which stresses the needs of the socially excluded; and to act widely with others in the voluntary community who are working on social issues.

I work on an issues basis, not on a political basis. I accept the weaknesses in this approach, but until there is a large body of people working together with a clear perspective, I will concentrate on achievable aims and challenges to our failing economic structures.
Ralph Tebbutt, Gillingham

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Sat 5 Jul 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1858
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