Socialist Worker

Answers absent to playing truant

Issue No. 1801

I AM disgusted at the jailing of Patricia Amos over her teenage daughters playing truant, and at the way education secretary Estelle Morris gloated over the case. What does the government think this will achieve? It is like something from Victorian times.

Over 50,000 children play truant from school each day. You can drag a 15 year old to the school gate, but if they don't want to be there they won't stay long. You have to ask why they don't want to be there. As the mother of three teenage daughters I know the real problem is the education system.

It's not the fault of the parents, or of teachers who are stressed out by an education system that fails children. Many working class children are left with no hope for the future. They see no prospect of a decent job or of escaping from poverty. Schools can seem pointless, irrelevant and boring.

Constant testing in schools makes them an unappealing place to be in for many children. Schools effectively discard as worthless children who won't improve their league table position.

If children have emotional problems or are struggling with work the support isn't there. When public school boys get drunk or behave loutishly you don't see their parents hauled up for parenting classes or dragged off to jail. I don't recall Tony and Cherie Blair facing compulsory parenting classes or jail when their son was found drunk in Leicester Square.

The solution to truanting is to make schools a place where young people want to be, to learn and develop themselves. Tackling poverty and giving teachers the resources they need to support children is how to give young people hope in the future.

Instead we get Dickensian-style punishment from New Labour. What horrors can we expect next-hanging someone for stealing a loaf of bread?
SUE GIBSON, East London

Blunkett echoes fascist Le Pen's asylum attack

I TEACH in a school where around 12 percent of students are refugees. Perhaps David Blunkett has schools like ours in mind when he adopts the racist rhetoric of Margaret Thatcher and describes us as being 'swamped' by such children.

New Labour wants to withdraw children seeking asylum from mainstream schools and 'educate' them in accommodation centres. Where New Labour isolates and excludes, most school children welcome and support refugee children, who thrive and progress because of this acceptance. More than 50 languages are spoken at our school. Refugee children are generally motivated and want to succeed.

Over 500 students at our school wrote impassioned letters to the Home Office in a successful defence of a student facing deportation. Maybe this kind of campaign could be included in the 'citizenship' lessons New Labour is so keen to promote in schools.

New Labour echoed the racism of Le Pen in the recent council elections. The BNP were the main beneficiaries, while no consideration is given to those who suffer the consequences. It must be opposed and stopped.

Why we were right to stand

THE NAZIS' election success in Burnley got the press jumping to interview BNP leader Griffin and his followers. The Labour council's leader and branch chair of the Communication Workers Union, Stuart Caddy, said he would not work with the BNP.

So people in Burnley were shocked to see him on the front page of the Burnley Express alongside newly elected BNP councillor Carol Hughes. Labour councillors will not block the BNP from council committees and are refusing to walk out or protest when the BNP take their seats. Thankfully, there is an alternative for socialists in Burnley.

The Socialist Alliance got 738 votes in three wards, with 11 percent of voters in these areas giving one vote to the alliance. Most of our votes come from people who have rejected New Labour totally.

This is an excellent start to rebuild the left in Burnley-to campaign on all the issues affecting working class people, from rundown housing to the closure of old people's homes by the Labour-controlled county council.
ANDY MAKIN, Burnley, Lancashire

Hain stirs up racism

IN NEATH and the nearby towns and valleys we have seen a number of brutal attacks on ethnic members of our community. Eight years ago Mohan Singh Kullar, an elderly and respected Neath shopkeeper, was murdered by a gang of drunken racist thugs.

A few months ago in nearby Maesteg a notorious racist criminal and Ku Klux Klan member was convicted of threatening another shopkeeper. On 29 April two Iranian brothers were hospitalised by three thugs wielding a claw hammer in Pontardawe, which is part of Peter Hain's parliamentary constituency.

These attacks were not because the victims had retreated from mainstream society. The attacks were made by vicious racist thugs who need no excuse to scapegoat, harass or hurt people of a different culture or colour. Peter Hain's recent speech only panders to the prejudices of racists everywhere.

Detention is as bad as dispersal

HERE IN Glasgow David Blunkett's 'swamping' speech has been met with disgust and disbelief. Following the forced 'dispersal' of asylum seekers to the city last year, this sort of language from politicians and newspapers led a minority in communities such as Sighthill to turn on the refugee community.

Before long, young Kurdish refugee Firsat Yildiz Dag had been murdered. Since then, in Sighthill and elsewhere in Glasgow, work by a huge variety of community activists and asylum rights campaigners has helped to defuse the tensions which reached their terrible peak last summer Blunkett's speech only threatened to undo that work.

Thankfully, however, enough has been done to undermine the right wing lies about refugees to prevent a recurrence of last year's problems. Blunkett poses as a 'tough talking' Yorkshire- man who won't avoid the 'difficult issues'.

This is a deliberate attempt to shift the blame for the crises in education and health away from the Labour government and onto refugees. The 'difficult issue' Blunkett has to face is that his detention policies on asylum and immigration only serve to polarise communities between those who accept and those who reject racist ideas about refugees. And he is on the wrong side of that divide.
MARK BROWN, Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees

Injustice goes on

THE POLICE have learned no lessons when it comes to deaths in custody. Richard O'Brien died in Walworth police station in south London in 1994. The High Court in London recently awarded a £225,000 settlement to his family. No amount of compensation can cover Richard's death, which is a tragic loss to his seven young children and his partner, Allison.

The hearing in the high court is the result of a long struggle by the O'Brien family and friends to gain justice. The inquest into the death of Richard O'Brien reached the verdict that he was unlawfully killed. The O'Brien family has never had an apology from the Metropolitan Police for Richard's death.

The deaths in custody continue. There needs to be an independent public inquiry.

Postal points

AS A socialist I'm appalled at the response to the shooting of Dutch right winger Pim Fortuyn. To see British politicians like Tony Blair lining up to pay their respects to a bigot like Fortuyn has been astonishing.

Fortuyn may not have been a fascist himself, but his views on immigration were strikingly similar to the BNP here. People like him are enemies of a multiracial society, and should not be afforded any respect from those of us who believe in social equality and justice.

SOCIALIST WORKER (18 May) wrote about the shortage of 'social housing'. I don't think you should fall into using the phrase, which has become part of a propaganda war. Professionals invented the name 'social housing' to lump together council housing and housing associations as if there is no difference between them.

Council housing has lower rents, more secure rights, is democratically accountable and publicly owned. That is why council tenants are fighting to defend it.

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Sat 25 May 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1801
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