Socialist Worker

Cutbacks let down the class

Issue No. 1814

PARENTS AND teachers in Hackney have argued for years for a new comprehensive school in Hackney. Instead we were greeted this week with the news in our local paper that 150 local school children have no secondary school places.

The reality of New Labour's education policy in one of the poorest boroughs in Britain is to short-change some of the most deprived vulnerable children. What is Hackney doing about this? Firstly, it is introducing a new city academy in 2004.

While we should welcome a new school, it is clear that Estelle Morris's 'post-comprehensive' schools, including city academies, are creating a two-tier system.

Some schools will be better funded than others, and allowed to select their students. This will be a disaster for children in Hackney.

Unbelievably, Hackney wants to close Kingsland school though, as it admits, it doesn't have spare places for the students at that school to go to. I had the privilege of attending a meeting about the closure last month. I witnessed some 80 parents, teachers and students defend their school, and expose the bureaucrats' arguments. Parents, teachers and students pledged to fight to keep the school open. We should be defending mixed local comprehensives.

One person I am confident will be giving his support is Paul Foot, who is standing as Socialist Alliance candidate for mayor in Hackney!
JANE BASSETT, vice-president Hackney NUT (personal capacity)

High street chain shackles its staff in Scottish stores

WE HEAR so much about 'flexible' working, but what does it really mean? A case in Scotland exposes what it's about. Five workers for the high street chain Argos have been sacked for refusing to work Sundays.

Their bosses think they can get away with treating workers as if they are a 'soft touch'. The nationwide store has ruthlessly exploited a legal loophole. Rules that prevent bosses sacking workers for refusing to work Sundays in England, Wales and Northern Ireland do not apply in Scotland.

Last month the Argos chain announced that all its 1,300 employees in Scotland would have to sign new contracts that impose Sunday working. But five workers - four from Aberdeen and one from Edinburgh - refused to sign up to the new agreements.

Argos bosses showed no 'flexibility' towards the staff or their family responsibilities and religious objections.

War-torn cry out for relief

UN OFFICIALS with special responsibilities for children in armed conflict report that relief work in Afghanistan is being held up. The missing relief is adding daily to the misery, suffering and deaths of the children in the war-torn country. The reports found that one in three children in Afghanistan have lost one or both of their parents.

Half the population is suffering from severe malnutrition. This has created a situation in which one in five children die before their first birthday.

Up to 350 people, many of them children, are killed or injured by unexploded cluster bombs and land mines each month. Despite this humanitarian disaster Clare Short's Department for International Development has not distributed the aid which it had allocated. The Department for International Development admits that £200 million has been allocated and only £14 million has so far been distributed.
DEREK HANLIN, Mid Glamorgan

Lowdown on pay

IT IS good the TUC campaign for better pay by calling for a national minimum wage of £5.30. One third of British workers take home less than the European 'decency' threshold for earnings.

Blair supporters like Polly Toynbee, who writes in the Guardian, argue that local authority workers escape absolute poverty. Council domestics and manuals in my TGWU branch can only do this by doing more than one job. They live in the worst accommodation in the area and forgo many things. Some four million UK children are too poor to get three meals a day or a decent pair of shoes.

What a difference it would make if their parents were paid what they deserve. The pay deal being offered to low-paid council workers is not good enough Vital groups of workers, like refuse collectors, cleaners and classroom assistants earn less than £13,000 and will see little benefit from the deal. An hourly rate of just over £5 is poverty pay.

When millions are prepared to strike, with public support, why do union leaders refuse to fight all the way? We need an all-out fight against low pay with council workers at its head. A person who is half poor is still poor.

Short changed on euro debate

IN Socialist Worker (10 August) there is a letter declaring war on the euro. I suggest that the comrades are victims of the run-around over the euro and are both greatly mistaken over the facts.

They imply that if Britain joined the euro there would be huge cuts and privatisation of public services, the welfare state and especially pensions. But Britain has almost the worst record on these things in the European Union, both in and out of the euro zone.

We should recognise that Britain is the most privatised country in the EU and already has 90 percent of the 'flexible' casual jobs in the EU. This is not a plea for a pro-euro campaign but one to look at the facts. The euro debate is a put-up job to distract workers from a struggle over the things that really matter, like jobs, pensions, privatisation, and rights for trade unions and workers.
HUGH LOWE, west London

It's a whole different world

LAST WEEK a reader asked if society could be run in a different way to capitalism. Sometimes it is hard to believe that large numbers of people would be prepared to share resources.

Capitalism is based on competition. It's easy to look around and see everyone being competitive. But there are many other human qualities like logic, fear, superstition, love, laziness, grief and need. People's ideas and aspirations can change.

Before capitalism we had feudalism. In this society everything was controlled by the aristocracy's god-given right to rule. But people in 17th century England rebelled against such ideas. Today technology gives us overproduction. But competition demands that only those with money receive it.

Computers update citizens' bank accounts every day. Imagine if the same resources and technology updated people's needs instead - competing would be superfluous. I believe most people would prefer this state of affairs. It is not a utopia but something people should have the confidence to fight for.

Blunkett echoes Thatcher

I ATTENDED a conference last month where David Blunkett was a guest speaker. The conference was about the delivery of 'citizenship' in schools and sixth form colleges. Blunkett's words were the kind of racist, right wing rhetoric that makes me sick. He began by arguing that a citizenship curriculum should not help young people understand their rights. It should teach them their responsibilities as a 'good British citizen'.

He then rounded on asylum seekers. Blunkett claimed his proposed citizenship test for people entering the country was a way of ensuring they 'really want to be British citizens and don't just want our excellent state benefits'. When a teacher from Dover challenged him, Blunkett replied that people who make racist remarks about asylum seekers 'have got a point'.

To our amazement he went on to blame asylum seekers for racism by saying, 'These people try to cheat the system. That causes racism.' Everyone that I spoke to had been appalled by Blunkett's speech.

The teacher from Dover said Blunkett reminded him of Thatcher in 1979 and said it was no wonder the BNP could get a hearing if Labour peddles racist rubbish. Blunkett requested that journalists were not present during his speech which he wanted kept under wraps. We felt that everyone should know what he really thinks.
ANN JENKINS, east London

Postal points

I WAS appalled to see that the BBC have allowed Andrew Neil, a right wing union bashing multi-millionaire, to present Newsnight on BBC2. If Newsnight wants to have any credibility as a serious and independent political programme Andrew Neil should be taken off immediately.
DAVE TAYLOR, Hampshire

I AM not often a Socialist Worker reader. I prefer the Times. However, I read news of Scott Ritter's speech in the houses of parliament last July in Socialist Worker. It seems to have been a good speech. But didn't Scott Ritter mention oil?

The US seems about to precipitate what it most fears, which is general loss of access to oil in the Middle East region.

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Sat 24 Aug 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1814
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