1,400 school students left without hot food
I recently started work in one of 27 schools in the London borough of Tower Hamlets which is part of a £127 million Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme. It was claimed that this would provide much-needed new buildings and urgent repairs throughout the borough. But it has proved to be a complete disaster.
Last October the main contractor, Ballast, went bust and the subcontractor building the new sports hall walked off the site, leaving the work incomplete. At the beginning of January we were told that negotiations were taking place to get the sports hall completed and to find funding to complete 'phase two'-a new canteen.
By the middle of January, we were told that a new 'canteen portakabin' would be installed to enable hot food to be cooked on site in order to feed the 1,400 students who attend the school. Then, at the beginning of February, we were told the new sports hall would be completed by the beginning of the summer term, but that the 'canteen portakabin' idea was too expensive.
So it was then suggested that we could cook the school dinners on the Sixth Form site and move over 1,000 students up there every day for their lunch! Our students currently have to queue for a carrier bag with cold sandwiches and crisps for their school meal.
There is no canteen and nowhere for students to eat. Not surprisingly, after lunch, school corridors and one of the main halls used for dance are littered with the debris from lunch.
We are having to teach in huts littered around the playground, games are a bus ride away and valuable time is wasted in endless negotiations to try to get those school facilities the government promised were only a PFI away.
Sheila McGregor, East London
Where is software going?
OPEN SOURCE software is sending shockwaves through the world of computing. In particular Linux, a free operating system which can be used as an alternative to Microsoft's Windows, is attracting a great deal of interest. Linux was created by Linus Torvalds in 1991. He got other programmers from universities around the world to help him.
Eventually major corporations like Intel and IBM became interested and other new operating systems based on Linux, such as 'Red Hat', were developed. Linux is the first viable competition to Microsoft to surface. Like other Open Source software, Linux is free. Companies can make money by providing hardware that runs it, selling services or by selling applications that will run under the system.
Institutions around the world are interested in Linux because you can install it on as many machines as you like, unlike Microsoft programs where a separate licence is needed for each copy installed.
The 'source code' for Linux is also publicly available, meaning that users can make changes to the operating system. That is the opposite of proprietary software like Windows, whose source code is not publicly available. Because it is free, Linux cuts the cost of computers on which it is installed. The giant US supermarket chain Wal-Mart is now selling a computer that runs Linux for only $200.
Increasingly, free Open Source software is available which can be downloaded via the internet. For example, Open Office does everything Microsoft Office does and more. I would be interested to know what other readers of Socialist Worker think about these developments. Will Linux break Microsoft's domination of the computer industry? And should socialists support the development of Open Source software like Linux?
Justin Samuels, by email
Welcome support for Unite
ACTIVISTS IN London Fire Authority Unison have warmly welcomed the launch of Unite Against Fascism, the new coalition to reverse the growth of organisations like the BNP. We have voted to affiliate and will propose that Greater London Region of the Unison union does likewise.
The comments of our general secretary, Dave Prentis, at the launch of Unite last week were particularly welcome. Unison has excellent policies on fighting racism and fascism, and in defence of asylum seekers. Our Northern Region played a central role in stopping the Nazis winning council seats in the north east at the last local elections. In the past the debate in the union has too often been sidetracked by disagreements about which anti-racist organisation to support. Unison's support for Unite means that we can put all that behind us.
As Dave Prentis says, Unison members must 'work with local coalitions to get campaigns going'. We need to build on our experience in the north east to build a serious grassroots movement across the country to stop the BNP. We need to get moving now. We must make sure that the BNP gets a real kick in the teeth in June.
Tony Phillips, branch secretary, London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority Unison
More blood on Blunkett's hands
SUPPORTERS OF the rights of asylum seekers were outraged by the recent decision of the German authorities to deport the Ay family back to Turkish-occupied Kurdistan. Mrs Yurdugal Ay and her four children became well known in Britain for their brave fight against deportation.
Incarcerated in the Dungavel detention centre here in Scotland for a year, the family insisted that their removal to Germany would lead to them being deported on to Turkey. Despite Germany's history of sending Kurds to face persecution in Turkey, and despite the fact that Mrs Ay's husband, Mr Salih Ay, had already been deported to Turkey from Germany (and not heard of since), the Home Office pressed ahead with the removal of the Ay family.
The predictions of the Ay family and their supporters were ignored by the politicians. Now they have come true, and the Ays face a horribly uncertain future in Turkey. If any harm should come to them, David Blunkett will have their blood on his hands.
Mark Brown, Glasgow
The Sun are scum
AT THE last general election the Sun supported Blair. Recently the owner of the Sun, Rupert Murdoch, announced he may not support Labour at the next general election. Surprise, surprise, the findings of the Hutton report were leaked to the Sun.
Rupert Murdoch owns BSkyB and objects to the licence fee going to the BBC. It was reported that the government could be planning to reduce the BBC's share of the licence fee by 10 percent. What a coincidence!
John Appleyard, West Yorkshire
Striking sparks a new mood
I HAVE been a branch secretary in the PCS civil servants' union at the court service for nearly 20 years. I have supported all of the strikes I've been asked to. But the two-day action on the 29 and 30 January was something different. In our branch we have recruited 78 new union members in six weeks.
This includes young staff who are new to unions and longstanding non-members. Most of the picket lines during the strike were run by staff who had not been out before. Members who were not on the rota for picketing turned up anyway.
We had some staff who went into work on the first strike day but who came out to join picket lines on the second day-stating that it was seeing their mates outside striking that caused them to reconsider. The enthusiasm of staff young and old striking for the first time has inspired me!
Dave Vincent, Manchester
Are unemployed paying for war?
I HAVE just had notification of the new rate of the Job Seekers' Allowance from April. It will go up by £1 a week-15p less than it should have done. It does not sound like much, but it means that the government will save £10 million a year. So it looks like they are even making the poorest in society pay for their war in Iraq.
Adrian Cannon, Leith
Betrayed time and time again
TIME AND time again Tony Blair's fine phrases have been betrayed by his despicable actions. This highlights the eternal pantomime-tragedy of the Labour backbenchers and the need for a real alternative from below to the neo-liberal madness strangling our world.
Our task is nothing less than to forge the political representation that the movements against war and capital in this country deserve.
Rob Jackson, Manchester
New evidence for Ishtiaq Ahmed
VITAL NEW evidence has emerged in the case of Ishtiaq Ahmed, who is in prison for a murder he did not commit. The defence team has recently been told of news concerning the detective who conducted an interview in which the prosecution's key witness changed her statement to implicate Ishtiaq.
That detective, it now emerges, was later disciplined by the police for the way that interview was handled. That information has been kept from defence lawyers for over 15 years. We are now urgently calling for not just an appeal but for the case against Ishtiaq to be dropped so his name will finally be cleared.
Friends of Ishtiaq Ahmed
Please write to Ishtiaq at HMP Springhill, Grendon Underwood, Aylesbury, Bucks HP18.
Is our ignorance Blair's bliss?
THE INABILITY of the government to confront the issues that really matter, rather than provide for the future of our country in the form of university students, is sickening. I imagine a world out of George Orwell's 1984 where the government relies on ignorance to reign terribly over us, and what better way to do this than to discourage education.
Ellon Souter, Kent
No apologies for opposing the war
THE HUTTON inquiry was never seriously going to look at the lies the government told to win the public to war. We, the public, have been lied to again and again, and Blair has the cheek to make us apologise.
I, for one, will not apologise until Blair apologises for taking the country to war on Iraq, for defying the United Nations, and for taking part in the biggest act of mass terrorism the world has ever seen.
Chris Leary, Manchester
This top-up sell-out
THE VOTE in favour of top-up fees indicates in the most forceful manner yet New Labour's commitment to reproducing social and economic inequality through educational variability. The idea that school qualifications are a route to higher education has now been compromised by a cocktail of spinelessness and betrayal by Labour MPs who deserve to be shredded.
Barry Conway, Bolton
Politicians get away with murder
I AM an Imperial College student and although I have only been living in the UK for four months, my anger and disgust about the fees vote and Hutton report couldn't be greater. There is in my opinion a main conclusion from these events. We live in a system which is corrupted to the point of allowing politicians to get away with absolutely anything.
I believe the only cure would be to replace this system by one constructed and controlled by the masses and for the masses.
Daniel Garcia, London