LIKE JOHN from Glasgow (Letters, 30 November) I too served in the army. I was involved in the firemen's strike in 1977. I was young and naive. I joined the army thinking it would be a good way to see the world. How wrong I was. I had only been in the army a few weeks at the time of the strike. As we were new recruits in the army, that we had to break the strike was stupid, irresponsible and dangerous.
Soldiers knew that we were being used as strikebreakers but some of us were afraid to say anything. Our training was basic in the extreme. Nothing can take away my respect for the dangerous job that firefighters do - they put their lives at risk to ensure that we can sleep safe.
We had to go to a fire at a warehouse - it was night and the blaze was frightening - you could feel the heat from 100 yards away. We were pouring water on a wall which almost fell on some of us. The military cannot do the firefighters' job properly for two reasons. Firstly, they are using the same equipment that I used 25 years ago.
We thought the equipment was inadequate then. Secondly, the military are not trained for this job. Blair and the bosses are not only threatening the lives of the general public but also of young inexperienced soldiers. Try to talk to the soldiers if you can.
They are being used as pawns in a political game which will cost lives.
Duncan Melville, ex-25 Field Regiment Royal Artillery
Ambulance worker: We have built solidarity
DESPITE THE propaganda of the government a number of paramedics and technicians in the London ambulance service have supported the firefighters' strike. However, getting ambulance workers to show their support for the FBU has not been as easy as it would have been a few years ago. Years of spending cuts and underfunding have taken their toll.
In the ambulance service we have faced New Labour's 'modernisation' initiatives and management/union partnerships similar to those the government wants the FBU to accept.
Unfortunately, our trade union leaders did not organise a fightback and this has meant accepting low pay and worsening conditions. A climate of demoralisation and confusion now exists inside the ambulance service, which has made it difficult to argue for solidarity with the firefighters.
It has been left up to activists on the ground to take collections, visit FBU picket lines and invite firefighters into stations to talk directly to ambulance crews.
A number of us attended last Saturday's demonstration in our uniforms. We have made a start in rebuilding a network of activists inside our union which can counter the pessimism that people feel after years of defeat.
Paramedic, Central London
The unbearable life of Palestine
I HAVE recently returned from a fact-finding tour of the West Bank. Life in Palestine today is almost unbearable. Curfew imposed at sundown every night on almost every West Bank town for the last two years means not going out at all, even for medical emergencies.
Women are terrified that when the time comes they will join the list of the, so far, 14 women to give birth at gunpoint, after being refused access to the nearest hospital, because their local checkpoint is closed. Israeli troops have demolished around 15,000 homes since 1967. The current rate is around three a week.
I met Salim. He lives in a large permanent refugee camp in East Jerusalem. He bought land, applied for a permit and built a house. That house has been demolished three times in five years, with no warning! Salim, his wife and seven children were left with nothing. There are a million heartbreaking tales that go unheard every day in occupied Palestine.
After hearing and seeing just a fraction of this brutality and oppression committed against an unarmed people, I am surprised that there are not more suicide bombings and attacks on illegal settlements. The restraint shown in the face of such oppression stands as tribute to the Palestinian people.
Adrian Hart, Southend-on-Sea
Keeping Griffin out of Cambridge
NICK GRIFFIN, the leader of the fascist British National Party (BNP), was stopped from speaking at Cambridge University on Tuesday of last week. A protest was called by the Anti Nazi League and supported by people from the town as well as students. After changing the venue several times the organisers of the meeting finally had to cancel it.
What we planned as a protest turned into a victory rally. Griffin was due to share the platform with leading Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik. This would have helped the BNP look like a respectable party that can speak at venues like Cambridge University and debate with 'mainstream' politicians. It was only because so many people protested that Opik pulled out. Griffin has been asked to speak in Cambridge again next term.
It is important that we expose Griffin as a racist and a Holocaust denier and make sure he does not get a platform for his Nazi views.
Daniel James, Cambridge University
WELL DONE to Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop in central London, for hosting an inspiring event on Tuesday of last week. Michael Moore, New York's premier Bush baiter, came to sign copies of his book Stupid White Men. The long queue meant a patient wait for the local workers, trade unionists and activists of all ages.
The turnout was fantastic and shows how strong the willingness is to rally behind anyone prepared to confront the Bush-Blair agenda. FBU members from a local fire station pulled their engine up outside the shop. I'd like to give a big thank you to Bookmarks for organising the event.
Stuart Chatteron, North London
There's no apathy among students
THE TORIES are trying to launch a cross-party commission to discover why young people aren't 'interested' in politics. I am a student at Sheffield University.
On the Stop the War Coalition day of action on 31 October there was an occupation here. All the students there certainly cared about changing things! I was lucky enough to go to the European Social Forum in Florence in November - one million marching against the war is not apathy!
I have just come back from a fantastic grants not fees demo in London, where students chanted their commitment against war and for a fairer world as well as for education funding. So why do an increasing amount of young people seem not to care which party wins elections? This is, in part, because they don't see much difference between the big parties.
Young people become active when they think that they can make a difference and locate the force to change things in themselves, not in paid politicians.
Joseph Kisolo-Ssonko, Sheffield
I AGREE that many public sector workers suffer from low pay, as Socialist Worker regularly points out, but please can you also highlight that low pay is rife among private sector workers.
Many of these workers are on the minimum wage, with no pension, on a casual contract. I fully support the public sector workers' complaints. Their campaigns need to win if all workers' futures are to be realised.
Stuart Clarke, Fife
I AM researching the area of illnesses related to the use of asbestos. I would be grateful for any experiences readers may have had or suggestions for where to find more information.
Craig Birrell, email@example.com
JUST HOW real is the Nazi threat in Europe? The Austrian Haider gets lots of votes and then virtually disappears. Fortuyn's party in Holland get lots of votes and then virtually disappears. Le Pen in France has a core support but can't get beyond it. The BNP in Britain is still very tiny.
My worry is that by concentrating on them some people miss the much wider and immediate threat from (racist) Labour and (racist) Tories - just look at what Chirac is doing in France!
Darren Russell, by e-mail
THERE IS a need to counter the distorted propaganda pumped out by the government in the firefighters' dispute. If the public were asked to vote on 'who would you trust - Blair or a firefighter?' the firefighter would win ten to one.
Here in South Wales we ran a support group stall and collected £131 plus 200 signatures of support for the firefighters.
Derek Hanlin, Porth