I AM reeling from shock and anger, and I just had to tell as many people as possible about a great scandal and injustice. So I have written to you. My old workmate, James Maguire, had to watch his wife, Teresa, die from cancer.
James was a boilermaker at Harland and Wolff’s Liverpool shipyard. Teresa died after being exposed to asbestos while washing his work clothes. She had been diagnosed in 2000 with mesothelioma — a cancer of the lining of the lungs — and James pursued her case when she became too ill to attend court.
Damages of £82,000 were awarded against Harland and Wolff at a high court hearing in Manchester last year.
Teresa died, aged 67, shortly after that judgement. A tiny bit of justice had been done — or so we thought. Now the company has appealed, and won. The employer’s legal representative said that at the time Teresa was exposed to the dust, there was no knowledge of “secondary exposure”.
But in statements before her death, Teresa described how she regularly washed her husband’s clothes after his return from work, shaking his overalls out in the back yard of their Liverpool home so that “clouds of dust” were given off. There was plenty of evidence of the harmful consequences of asbestos. But there were no facilities for changing or washing at work, so we were forced to wear our dirty clothes home.
You expect work to be hard. You know there may even be danger for yourself. But you don’t expect to see your loved ones at home suffer as well. It is so agonising that the law has allowed the employers to get off the hook. This great injustice should be fought by every trade unionist.
Andy Downing Liverpool
It’s £7,000 a year for a nursery
THE GOVERNMENT reacted with incredible complacency last week to the news that childcare costs have soared in the past year. A survey by the Daycare Trust showed the cost of the average English nursery place has risen by 5.2 percent to £141 a week for a child under the age of two, and 7.3 percent to £132 for children over two.
London costs have increased by more than 17 percent for children under the age of two, reaching almost £200 for a week’s nursery care. The government’s response was that the figures were based on full-time care for five days of each week of the year and that most parents don’t use this!
Who have they asked? Many more parents would make use of full-time care if it were available and affordable.
The same survey showed that 65 percent of local childcare information services said lack of good quality affordable childcare was a constant problem.
I will be watching to see what the parties will be offering at the next general elction to deal with soaring childcare costs.
Labour offers tax credits, which are a help to some.
But they dwindle away to almost nothing for a couple who earn more than £30,000 between them.
Thokozile Milne East London
Private bad, public good
WHILE YOUR pension supplement (Socialist Worker, 22 January) highlighted the state pension, there are other aspects which should have been mentioned.
Pension privatisation, which the government wants to increase at the expense of state pensions, is the root of our problems.
All private sector — and some public sector — occupational pensions are privatised. Contributions to these pensions (so-called deferred wages) pass into the hands of a financial elite of City fat cats. They invest the funds and rip them off something rotten in collusion with the employers.
The workers concerned have, willy-nilly, become shareholders (an identity crisis?). State pay-as-you-earn national insurance pensions were historically based on the idea of “social transfers” and were designed to replace saving up for pensions.
A further spin-off from privatisation is the complex maze of occupational pension systems — public and private sector, contributory and non-contributory — with little common ground and where beggar-my-neighbourism is alive and well. Altogether this is not conducive to united working class action.
Across the Channel, where private-funded pensions have been fought off by trade unions and the left, mass united action is possible. In 2002 the UK accounted for nearly 60 percent of all European Union pension funds.
Clearly the central issue to campaign over must be state pensions from which most workers, and nearly all women, get the bulk of their retirement income.
The TUC wants to make crumbling private occupational pensions the focus rather than the state (basic plus earnings-related) pension. They even talk of making private pension contributions compulsory instead of simply increasing national insurance contributions.
Joseph Stiglitz’s book The Roaring Nineties has an illuminating section on the pensions question.
Hugh Lowe West London
Let’s not duck the fight over pensions this time
IN RAISING women’s state pension age (phased in between 2010 and 2020) the government will not only steal five years’ money but could also affect qualifying rights for other benefits, such as concessionary travel. This is outlined in the Transport Concessions (Eligibility) Act 2002. It is also not inconceivable that the impact will eventually extend to other benefits currently available at age 60.
I am convinced that the abject failure of the labour movement and pensioners’ organisations to campaign against the raising of the women’s pension age has invited the present onslaught against pension rights.
The lack of resistance sent a message to government, employers and companies that we did not really care that much about pensions and that they could move the goalposts with impunity. Now, more than ever, we need a movement which can link the generations in a fight for the future of all pensions.
Peter Jackson Hove
Who shall we vote for now? Respect!
I WENT to a debate entitled “Who do we vote for now” organised by the Institute of Contemporary Arts last week. The panel included speakers from Respect, the Green Party, the Lib Dems, Labour and political commentators like Johann Hari. It was chaired by John Harris, who has written a book reflecting the questioning among people who would normally vote Labour.
About 150 people attended the meeting. Neal Lawson, chair of the pressure group Compass, opened the debate and was introduced as an advocate for Labour. But he didn’t seem too convinced that it would be a good idea to vote for Labour! China Miéville spoke on behalf of Respect, and summed up Labour’s record, from the war in Iraq to the growing gap between rich and poor.
The general mood amongst the audience that night was clearly a deep dissatisfaction with the current government, and many of the questions posed to the panel were very thoughtful and serious. At the end of the meeting John Harris asked people to indicate how they intended to vote in the general election. Respect won by quite a big margin and only two hands were raised for the Labour Party.
Berit Kuennecke South London
Building on old methods
I KNOW Socialist Worker is presenting a variety of views these days, but Stirling Howieson’s Prince Charles theory of architecture (Socialist Worker, 22 January) is a bit much. To blame urban blight on “the dominance of modernist ideology among the architectural elite” is to line up with the worst reactionaries.
I can’t prove that there is an objective link between socialism and modernism, but there is at least a spiritual affinity between social revolution and artistic revolution. What our cities need is to free builders from the profit motive so they can pursue a synthesis of beauty and utility. What does Stirling propose? Building in stone! What’s next? Thatched roofs?
Mark Donaldson Edinburgh
I’m glad he got an ASBO
I AGREE with Socialist Worker with most things, but you’re wrong to be against all Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs). I was delighted when a teenage boy in Hull was given an ASBO after terrorising an Asian family I know who run a shop.
Under the order he is banned from shops in the relevant road and from using racist language.
Among the terrorised traders were Amarjit and Balwinder Singh who had to call the police almost daily because of the boy’s racist assaults. What’s wrong with taking action against such racists? Complain if ASBOs are used against the wrong targets, but do not campaign about the principle.
Asra Fareed South London
You’re right about Labour
I WROTE to Socialist Worker in August last year telling of my joining the Labour Party in an attempt to return it to its working class roots. As your readers kindly warned me, I was sadly deluded. I have now resigned.
I find it deeply troubling that Britian is governed virtually single-handedly by one man. This man is responsible for the dismantling of public services and a warmongering alliance with a right wing militaristic empire.
He is leader of a party that professes to be a democratic socialist party, but his actions clearly indicate he is anything but a socialist.
Dave Edwards Doncaster
THANK YOU for the article on religious schools (Socialist Worker, 29 January). The irony is that chief inspector of schools David Bell didn’t even have his facts right—a higher proportion of Christian evangelical schools failed the tolerance test than Muslim ones.
But Muslim-bashing seems acceptable and even automatic in today’s Britain.
A Hart by e-mail
NHS figures don’t add up
WE LEARNED last week that a £200 million self-booking NHS appointments’ system was taken up by 63 patients. So each appointment booked cost £3 million plus. This is another example of a failed initiative that ignores the core questions.
Patrick Cooper-Duffy Southampton
So who can wear a mask?
FURTHER TO your coverage of the National Front march in Woolwich (Socialist Worker, 22 January), I was dismayed to see that the police allowed a couple of NF goons to wear headgear covering their faces.
I approached a couple of cops and asked them why they had not asked the goons to take them off.
I was told they didn’t have the powers. Anyone in the anti-globalisation movement knows this is rubbish — the left can’t “mask up”, so why can the Nazis?
Sean Delaney by e-mail