Time to make poverty history
Last week I visited a local sixth form college in my council ward in Preston. As I walked in, I was met by students wearing white bands, and a building covered with white paper chains. The college was going all out to raise issues of debt and poverty as part of the Make Poverty History campaign.
On Saturday I was in town with my children and saw a long line of people outside Oxfam, all trying to buy white Make Poverty History bands. Later that day I spoke to the local branch of the development agency Cafod. I worked very closely with them around our day of action for victims of the Asian tsunami disaster.
They told me they had already filled one bus for the 2 July Edinburgh demonstration against Third World debt during the G8 summnit and were working on filling their second bus.
I don't think Preston is unusual. The debt issue - and Make Poverty History - is going to be huge in the run up to the G8 conference in Gleneagles, Scotland, this July.
I urge everyone who hates neo-liberal globalisation and the consequences of Third World debt to get involved in the Make Poverty History campaign - and start getting buses organised for Edinburgh on 2 July.
Michael Lavalette Respect councillor, Preston
Drugs and legal double standards
Watching the Richard and Judy show the other day I was greatly entertained by a discussion over the recent proposal by a senior police officer to crack down on middle class cocaine use. Richard, Judy and their guests - columnists from the Daily Mail and Mirror - were bursting with outrage at the idea that middle-class dinner parties could be busted by the cops 'just for a little bit of coke'.
What fascinated me was how these good folk, who would normally be the first to trot out the 'tough on drugs' mantra, seemed astonished that the law could actually apply to people like them. It's a revealing insight into attitudes to the law among the affluent, also evident at times in controversy around the fox hunting ban. The law is supposed to leave them and their 'respectable' lifestyles alone. The role of the police is to keep the rest of us in line.
In the US, a legal double standard on cocaine use has existed for years, with crack cocaine users - predominantly poor and black - facing massively harsher sentences than powder cocaine users, who are predominantly wealthy and white.
It gives the lie to the idea the law is impartial or above society. Truth is, the law is just as subject to class dynamics as any other aspect of our world.
Ben Drake York
Union merger is a window of opportunity
I've just read the comments about the proposed merger between the Amicus and T&G unions (Socialist Worker, 12 February). I agree with the T&G official that the merger may be led by the political and personal considerations of a few officials at the top of the unions. But that shouldn't stop us from turning this to our advantage.
Unofficial strikers like the Liverpool dockers are always going to be 'left isolated' by union leaders scared of anti-union laws. But since when did the rest of us ever have to wait for the nod from a general secretary before organising solidarity with strikers?
The T&G leadership supports 'pro-business politics, but with a bit of rousing rhetoric and an important role for union leaders' already. So I don't see how the threat of this can be used to oppose the formation of a new union.
If anything, the changes to come will allow us to advance our vision of an aggressively organising, democratic, and worker-led trade union. Opportunities for debate, argument and agitation will arise in every unionised workplace and union branch.
This is an ideal time for us to raise issues of democratic control, organising methods and whether we should continue to pour workers' money into the drain that is the Labour Party. The officials at the top may be more comfortable having boardroom meetings with managers and politicians, rather than fighting for workers - but we don't have to accept their terms of debate.
Looking to the few individuals at the top of the union to determine what gets talked about leads to the passive acceptance of their agenda. These individuals are not the ones on the ground fighting back against bosses and organising workers - we are! And there are hundreds of thousands of us in the T&G and Amicus - and only a handful of them. Let's turn the debate about the merits of a union merger into a debate about what kind of union we want.
Monica T&G member via e-mail
We need a union that fights for our rights
As an Amicus union rep, I completely agree with the comments in your report of the proposed T&G-Amicus merger (Socialist Worker, 12 February). The merger of MSF and AEEU, which formed Amicus, led to the closing down of many of our democratic structures and tighter grip by officials. Involvement of lay members in the union is positively discouraged.
The addition of UNIFI and GPMU to Amicus has taken place more as a financial merger of businesses, rather than as a venture which might provide benefits to members of any of the unions involved.
Workers throughout private industry are crying out for a voice that will represent them against the constant onslaught we face from our bosses. We also have to deal with a Labour government that has not only failed to deliver hoped-for improvements, but is now attacking our fundamental rights.
For the new union to put its faith in the 300 union-sponsored Labour MPs who already betray us on a daily basis is just crazy. We would welcome one big union which actively fought for decent pensions, better wages and conditions and made a stand against the war on Iraq.
What we don't want is a union whose leaders will treat us as a stage army to be wheeled out at every election to campaign for a Labour Party that kicks us in the teeth day after day.
Sue Jones East London
Why no apology for us, Mr Blair?
The prime minister's apology to the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven is a welcome development after so many years, and I, Paddy Hill, thank him for it. But what I want to know is when are we, the Birmingham Six, going to receive an apology, as well as the other victims of miscarriages of justices that have walked out the British appeal court over the past 15 years.
These include: Judith Ward, the Tottenham Three, the Bridgewater Four, the Cardiff Three, the M25 Three, John Kamara, Patrick Nicholl, Tommy Campbell, Robert Brown, Eddie Browning, Rob Alsobrook, Stephen Downing and many others.
The British establishment is well aware of the horrors and trauma inflicted on innocent people who have been wrongfully imprisoned over a long period of time.
So why then are there still no counselling programmes to help innocent victims, either before, or more crucially, after their release? An apology is welcome. But specialised retreats to help counsel and prepare people like myself after release are far more crucial.
Paddy Joe Hill Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (Scotland)
Kinnock gets his shilling
There was a sight on TV this week sick enough to make any socialist lose their lunch - Neil Kinnock, the former Labour Party leader, wrapped in ermine taking his place in the House of Lords. This was reward for his many services to capitalism, such as witch hunting the Militant tendency out of Labour in the 1980s, thus laying the foundations for New Labour.
But his greatest service was the fact he did nothing to help the miners during their year long strike. If a photo was needed to illustrate the term 'class traitor' then Kinnock would get my vote.
Phil Knight Neath, West Glamorgan
Chavez and human rights
I have lived in Venezuela for four years, and as much as I appreciate some of Chavez's reforms, one must also acknowledge, as Human Rights Watch has, his shortcomings - especially with respect to freedom of the press.
In 1998 as I watched from abroad, I shared in the hope that Chavez offered Venezuelans. Now, I must admit, I fear the Leviathan he is creating in Venezuela. There is a George Bush-like 'you're either with me or against me' sense to Chavez that should not be welcome in any democracy.
Robert Kuhl Caracas, Venezuela
Tory attack on our pensions
John McLoughlin is wrong to claim that it was this government that decided to raise the state pension age for women to 65 (Socialist Worker, 5 February). This measure was contained in the Tory government's Pension Act 1995. It was proposed by Ann Widdecombe in 1993 and announced by Kenneth Clarke in his first budget on 30 November that year.
I raised the issue with several prominent Labour MPs at the time. The blank looks and nonchalant shrugs I got from them made it obvious that they had no intention of stopping this theft should they win the election.
It did not even seem to register with them as a matter worthy of their attention or concern. Make no mistake - the New Labour capitulation to Tory policies began long before 1997.
Peter Jackson Hove, East Sussex
Young people need a voice
I vaguely remember at the age of six being aware that something was happening outside of my world. It was 1997 and Tony 'Bliar' had just been voted in as prime minister.
Little did I know it was to be the beginning of a reign of terror. Since then Blair (with help from George Bush) has sent hundreds of troops to kill and be killed.
Blair says he's interested in education. But at our school - which is meant to be a sports school - the equipment is falling apart due to lack of government funds. We only have four pingpong balls, which you can buy for 25p! As young people - I'm 13 - we deserve to hear about politics and we deserve a say in how our country is run.
Josie Williams Brighton
Too soft on temperance
I found your article 'Is alcohol the demon drink?' (Socialist Worker, 5 February) interesting, although I feel you were too soft on the temperance movement.
Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are god cults. And they are dangerously wedded to a bourgeois medical profession that is in turn wedded to the pharmaceutical industry.
James Haggerty Glasgow