AS PARENTS and staff at Stephen Hawking special needs school we are disgusted by the attitude of Tower Hamlets council, run by the Labour Party, to the needs of our children. That is why we decided to take our campaign out onto the streets, because we know what is happening to our children will make others angry too.
Stephen Hawking School is the only primary school of its kind in this east London borough. It serves children aged two to 11 years old with severe or profound and multiple learning difficulties. Now, due to local education authority policy, our school is facing a serious funding crisis. We believe the LEA is discriminating against our children, who are unable to speak up for themselves.
Many of our children are in wheelchairs and without safe staffing ratios they cannot take part in school trips that their mainstream brothers and sisters take for granted. There are many children at our school who cannot manage their own behaviour, children whose physical and medical needs are so severe that without help they cannot eat, drink or even go to the toilet.
The cutbacks, amounting to £150,000, could mean the loss of four teachers, every class losing an essential teaching assistant or 28 children losing their lunchtime supervisor.
An independent study from 2001 found that Stephen Hawking School had the most acute special needs in London. Last year this was recognised by the local authority and the school was given extra funding to meet these acute needs. This year the LEA has withdrawn that funding with no good explanation. Tower Hamlets prides itself on funding its mainstream schools on an enhanced level. But it only funds its special needs schools on an average level. Why is this?
Our recent very good Ofsted report stated that our school was good value for money, so the LEA says we don't need more money, and if they gave us more it would be a waste of public funds. We believe this is a disgraceful attitude. Because our staff and parents are committed and work hard to help the children make progress, we are being penalised when we should be rewarded.
As parents and staff we urge people to support our fight by putting pressure on the LEA to stop discriminating against our special needs children.
Molly Mahamdallie, Shelly Rahman, Toni Fellows, Sarah Luxford, Nazma Begum, John and Carol Stark, Achiya Hassan, Sue Kelsey, Staff and parents, Stephen Hawking School
Ballot could have helped miners win
THE ANNIVERSARY of the miners' strike set me reading about those events. Congratulations on the excellent special you produced. But I think you're wrong about having a ballot. Part of the real reason Scargill didn't want a vote was that he feared it would be lost.
But in March 1984 a MORI poll for Weekend World found 62 percent of miners in favour of a strike. By mid-April a MORI poll in the Sunday Times showed 68 percent for a strike, 26 percent against and 6 percent unsure. Had miners voted nationally for a strike it is highly likely that most, if not all, Notts miners would have come out. It would also have made it easier to get solidarity from other unions, the TUC and perhaps even the Labour Party.
Crucially the Nacods coal supervisors' union would have come under democratic pressure to get involved in the action. Our side might have won relatively quickly, and changed politics for the good in the 1980s. I say all this because I want our side to win.
Geoff Carson, Leicester
A warm welcome
I WENT to Whitechapel fire station last week, introduced myself as a teacher and said I wanted to talk to them about Respect. It was good to find they had heard of "George Galloway's lot". The main issues included New Labour taking trade unionists' money for granted, why did Blair expel the RMT, and how did the postal workers' unofficial action win.
I was listened to with interest and was invited to return again when more of the workers were present. My conclusion is that CWU, Unison, NUT, RMT and FBU union members will give time to listen to anyone speaking for Respect.
Lawrence, East London
Bosses' crimes exposed to all
THE WAY our Chinese brothers and sisters were treated at Morecambe Bay was a foretaste of how the self appointed "Lords of Humankind" would treat workers of all nationalities if they thought they could get away with it. I am a rail track worker and I know how my brothers in the RMT union were cut to pieces at Tebay on 15 February.
This is an industry which also uses agencies which are very little different from the shady "gangmasters". My branch of the RMT is the one where most of the Tebay victims came from. 28 April is workers' memorial day. We will mark it in Morecambe by having a memorial ceremony at the Dome at 10.30am.
We want a full, independent, comprehensive public inquiry into the Morecambe and Tebay disasters. We need to expose all those responsible for the deaths, injuries and traumas that have happened. Our slogan now has to be "No more cover-ups!"
Steve Metcalfe, chair Lancaster District RMT 0844, president Lancaster/Morecambe Trades Council, president Lancs Association of Trades Councils, Respect Euro candidate North West England
How we can unite workers
JOHN KEELEY (Letters, 10 April) asks whether the Socialist Workers Party should set up its own revolutionary trade unions. Certainly the idea seems tempting when most union leaders are more interested in shoring up New Labour than fighting for workers. But in current conditions in Britain the idea would be a disastrous mistake.
Trade unions will never overthrow capitalism. Their role is to fight for an increased slice of the cake for workers within the system. The primary importance of unions for socialists is that it is largely through strikes organised by trade unions that workers become aware of their need and ability to fight for an alternative society.
Trade unions depend for their effectiveness on organising the majority of the workers in any workplace or industry. Experience shows that splitting the unions on political grounds cuts revolutionaries off from the majority of the working class that we need to win over.
Splits play into the hands of union leaders, giving them unchallenged control and enabling them to accuse the left of being "splitters and wreckers". Lenin and Trotsky argued that the role of socialists is to organise within the trade unions no matter how rotten the leaders are, to support and lead struggles such as, today, the Scottish nursery nurses, to fight for revolutionary policies and to organise at grassroots level independently of the officials.
If we do this successfully we can lay the basis for the revolutionary organisation we need.
Tony Phillips, branch secretary London Fire Authority Unison (personal capacity)
Why Respect should do better
ALEX Callinicos's column on the French elections (Socialist Worker, 3 April) was OK as an analysis of the French left but far too pessimistic about Britain. He says there is a possibility that we could in some circumstances get a similar vote to the French far left.
Let me put forward three reasons why Respect should do much better: (1) We had a huge anti-war movement. The French didn't. (2) We have involved Muslims in this movement and drawn them into joint activity with the left and radicals. The French didn't. (3) We have a Labour government which has taken us into a bloody war. It is therefore much harder for Labour to pose as the alternative for working people. The French had a Tory government. Of course we have a lot to do to turn sentiment into votes, but it can and should be done.
We need to be energetic and optimistic and I fear Alex can leave people feeling the objective situation is against us. I'd like to bet Alex a fiver that George Galloway (MEP) and Lindsey German (Assembly) will get elected.
Anna Woolfson, Birmingham
South Wales against the BNP
THE BNP had recently leafleted parts of Newport in South Wales. So it was important that we counter-leafleted the area as part of the recent Unite Against Fascism (UAF) day of leafleting. We managed to do the whole area of Baneswell and also had a chat with a few people.
It was particularly good that we were well received by the bus workers-they agreed to display the material on their noticeboard.
Karl Riordan, Newport
Good news from Italian meeting
COMUNISMO Dal Basso, our Italian sister organisation, organised a very successful Marxist conference in Rome recently. Nearly 100 people attended, and the atmosphere was great. The forum concentrated on where the movement is going and helped to demonstrate to the activists and others around then that Comunismo Dal Basso is a growing group ready to fight on many fronts.
There is a perceived need for young, action-orientated and energetic debates to counter the traditional wordy debates of the left. There were debates on how we can stop the war, the crisis of capitalism, the birth of a new left in Europe, the politics of the family and oppression, and on racism.
Interventions from Britain were very well received. One delegate said, "If we want a serious alternative then Respect sounds like a great model!" Look out for the sizeable Italian contingent at Marxism 2004 in London.
Guantanamo breaks UN rights
IT SHOULD now be recognised that the detentions at Guantanamo Bay are breaking a number of rights proclaimed by the UN General Assembly Resolution 217 A (III). For example, Article 5 says nobody shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Article 9 says no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. The US has broken at least four other articles. The US is policing the world unjustly, illegally and immorally.
Brian Ferber, NUT Preston (personal capacity)
Cathy Burnett NUT Preston (personal capacity)
Livingstone is lost in Labour
I WAS surprised to see Socialist Worker (3 April) urging readers to vote Ken Livingstone as their second preference for London mayor. You suggest this is partly to stop "a Tory or Liberal sneaking in". But Livingstone is a member of the Labour Party and will support other Labour Party candidates. Their views are essentially the same as the Tories and Liberals.
Kate Forrester, North London