Socialist Worker

In any language Blunkett needs to go

Issue No. 1819

LISTENING TO David Blunkett advocating that Asian families should speak English at home infuriated and disgusted me. As a nursery teacher in a multi-ethnic school I have responsibility for coordinating support for children when English is their additional language.

Blunkett's comments are educational nonsense and simply untrue when it comes to the language development of second language learners. There is an abundance of research that argues it is damaging, for many reasons, for children to abandon their first language to learn English. In fact quite the contrary is true. The more proficient they are in their first language, the more likely they will be to acquire their second language, and to a higher cognitive level.

For this reason we work very hard encouraging parents and carers to continue speaking Punjabi or Urdu at home with their children as they learn English at school.

For someone in Blunkett's position, a former education minister, not to be aware of this research could be seen as implying a frightening level of ignorance. More importantly the fact that his comment picked on Asian families can only be viewed as bare-faced racism.

To single out Asian families from among an increasingly diverse population, where many people do not have English as their first language, will give further confidence to racists and the BNP.

Furthermore it is a hugely backward step for those of us working in multiracial communities, both on educational and social grounds. In school we have a policy of being intolerant towards racism - Blunkett needs to go.
Paula Champion, Leeds

Young offenders face life of horror inside prison walls

I WATCHED the BBC's recent drama Out of Control about a youth offenders' prison that gave a flavour of the system. However, I taught young offenders in Norwich prison for just a month in August, and it revealed to me an incredibly more barbaric system against young people than portrayed in the drama.

The treatment 18 to 21 year olds get is as bad as anywhere in the world. I met 30 young people there, of whom only two were imprisoned for violence. In Norwich they still feed youngsters grey porridge. No one eats it. Unlike the BBC drama all young people in Norwich prison eat their meals in their cells. Toothpaste is considered an unobtainable luxury.

The place continually stinks of urine, the prisoners' dirty laundry that the officers leave on the stairwell, and the ammonia used to clean the corridors. The toilets are like open sewers.

Youngsters are forced into education or they don't get paid. In my second week of teaching a 20 year old on remand hanged himself in his cell. Within days, one of my students had taken an overdose to kill himself. I went there thinking I could help with spelling, and left wishing I'd handed out pickaxes.
Former worker with young offenders, Norwich

A US voice against the war

THANK YOU for the stand you have taken against US terrorism. I wrote the following as a letter of protest to your prime minister, Tony Blair. 'As a citizen of the United States I am very disappointed that you believe the British people feel that they must jump every time our president tells them to do so.

'If you truly respect your country and the people who live there you will no longer continue to follow the dictates of the US government.

'In my humble opinion you will not be serving the best interests of your county if you join the US in terrorist attacks on other countries. 'The 11 September attacks on the World Trade Centre were brought about by terrorist actions committed by George Bush Sr when he was president.

'We would have never been attacked if we had minded our own business, and stopped trying to rule the world and take over the world's oil resources. 'If you continue to join with the US attacks against other countries, what is the future for your own country if some future US president decides that we should attack you because you have 'weapons of mass destruction', which you do have?

'It hurts me to believe Britain may follow in our tracks and become one of the most hated nations on the face of the earth.'
Robert Bradley, California, US

Build for Florence

THERE WAS a great meeting recently in Colchester in Essex to mobilise for the European Social Forum (ESF) that was hosted by Colchester Trades Council. The ESF will see tens of thousands of trade unionists and activists gather in Florence, Italy, to launch an opposition movement to war and privatisation. Our local meeting was impressive because the level of interest was really heartening. There was also a real eagerness to ensure a whole swathe of people get to the ESF from our area.

We elected to do three things - recruit people to the idea of the ESF, help them get to Florence and support them once they are there. I'm hopeful that this meeting has doubled, tripled or quadrupled the numbers we'll be sending to Florence.

I'd like to encourage everyone who hasn't already done so to organise similar mobilising meetings, and formal or informal support groups to ensure the maximum numbers have the opportunity to attend this historically important event.
Jim Jepps, Colchester

10,000 joined Stuttgart demo

A DEMONSTRATION in Stuttgart, Germany, in the run-up to the elections gave a sense of the opposition to the hard right Tory Edmund Stoiber. Stoiber visited Stuttgart, which is near his base in Bavaria. A protest was called, primarily by those in the ATTAC anti-war group.

We expected at most a couple of hundred. In the end there were 10,000 people in Stuttgart marketplace. The atmosphere was incredible. We had brought whistles, donated by a local trade union, and placards from the socialist group Linksruck. Long after we had distributed everything we had people coming up asking for more.

After a long delay Stoiber spoke, but where we were you couldn't hear a word. For two hours all you could hear was whistles and chants of 'Stoiber out'. What was amazing was that no one had organised this. Although there were a couple of individuals from the SPD, the German equivalent of the Labour Party, and Green Party members, most people had just turned up with their mates because they knew we had to do something.
Phil Butland, Linksruck, Stuttgart

Out and marching

OVER 40 people attended the launch meeting in London last week of Out Against the War - a lesbian and gay anti-war group. Speakers on the platform included a representative from the firefighters' FBU union, the deputy editor of Gay Times, a Socialist Worker journalist and a speaker from the Stop the War Coalition.

An exciting discussion came from the floor. People with a history of involvement in anti-war movements, trade unionists and those of us who are fed up with claims about the 'liberation' of the gay community vocalised their opinions. History has shown us that gay people have achieved the most freedom when they have stood shoulder to shoulder with other workers.

Bush and Blair would do well to remember the student uprisings in France 1968 and the Stonewall riots of 1969. I hope the world's media show the 28 September demonstration with a banner proclaiming gays and lesbians 'Out Against the War'.
Helen, Norwich

A habit fed by despair

THE LEGACY of the Tories' devastation of the mining industry in Britain is still being felt. Some 100 young people, whose despair at their lives has driven them to take heroin, held a lobby in Worksop last week of an inquiry into widespread drug use in former mining towns.

It's no coincidence that there is a higher rate of drug users in these areas. Near where I live, towns have been wrecked since the pits closed in 1993. Nobody wants to live in these areas. Several generations can be out of work. The government talks about 'regeneration', but the fancy projects don't have a real impact on people's lives.

A shocking number of them turn to drugs to try to escape the misery of their lives. My friend's son is addicted to heroin and is desperate to get off it. But he is stuck on a long waiting list for rehab. These are the victims of the last government that New Labour is ignoring as well.
Henry Rajch, Barnsley

Blair's idea of redistribution

TONY BLAIR chose to come to Hackney in east London last week to make a speech about 'redistributing power, wealth and opportunity'. He spoke at the Ann Tayler Centre, where my two year old son goes.

A few days before Blair's speech the local Labour council had performed its own 'redistribution' by closing St John's nursery and shunting many children from it to the very building where Blair did his speech. We occupied St John's and were only driven out when bureaucrats appointed by New Labour threatened legal action.

It is gross that Blair speaks of tackling poverty when Hackney council has slashed services for the poorest people. As well as closing four nurseries in the last two years, they have attacked transport concessions for disabled people.
Diana Swingler, East London

Postal point

IN A recent conversation with a friend, it turned out that although we agreed on the vital role of Socialist Worker, we thought that there were certain aspects of the dialogue which we found uncomfortable. The paper's greatest achievement is getting stories that aren't covered in the mainstream media into the public domain.

But sometimes the fanatical language used can discredit what are important issues. We have got to accept that most capitalists have only good intentions. Rather than savagely attacking them, we must explain where their ideas fall short in a coherent manner.
John Hills, North London

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Sat 28 Sep 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1819
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