Socialist Worker


Issue No. 1944

Pro-choice activists in 1977 confront Michael O’Halloran, then Labour MP for Islington North, over his support for the anti-abortion Benyon Bill.  (Pic: Phil McCowen)

Pro-choice activists in 1977 confront Michael O’Halloran, then Labour MP for Islington North, over his support for the anti-abortion Benyon Bill. (Pic: Phil McCowen)

Defending a woman’s right to choose

Are we going to sit back and watch as politicians, the state and the church use our bodies as an election issue?

Michael Howard, the Tory leader, wants to reduce the upper limit for abortion from 24 weeks to 20 weeks. He is backed by the Catholic church, whose archbishop is calling for a vote for the Tories. Tony Blair has reiterated his support for a “free vote” in parliament on abortion – preferring to see it as a moral issue.

Yet abortion is a political issue, not a moral one. Abortion was legalised in 1967 precisely because it was a political issue. Thousands of women were controlling their fertility by backstreet abortions (brilliantly portrayed in the recent film Vera Drake) – and over 50 died every year as a consequence.

Alongside contraception, legal abortion represented a revolution in women’s lives. It meant safe abortions, rather than the unsafe ones women would attempt anyway.

In every attempt to roll the clock back, we get moral hysteria and distorted statistics. Emotions and feelings about abortion are being exploited to obscure the facts and attack our rights.

The majority of abortions are performed safely before 12 weeks. A mere 1 to 2 percent are performed after 20 weeks, normally on teenagers who are so traumatised they are unaware of their pregnancy or have tried to conceal it. But listen to Howard and Blair – do you hear any talk of sex education classes in schools?

These politicians are not interested in making life better for women or children in need. They want to use our bodies as political fodder in the race to Number 10. We need to stop them.

Julie Waterson East London

Memories of Portugal’s revolution

It gave me great pleasure to read Jorge Costa’s report (Socialist Worker, 12 March) about the success of the Left Bloc in the recent Portuguese elections.

I remember being in Portugal during the revolution in 1974 to 1975. Then things were very different. The army was on the streets demonstrating with the workers. Factories were being occupied and run by workers.

Many of the employers fled and a nasty fascist dictatorship crashed to the dirt. There was not a section of the poor in Portugal that was not active in the movements clamouring for change.

Unfortunately a dark cloud hung over this revolution. There was no force inside the workers’ movement that could unite the different parties and movements.

The main parties were the Socialist Party, which made the right noises but became very right wing, and the Communist Party, which had the very best militants but held them back.

Outside this mainstream were left groups that saw their influence grow. It was these groups that wanted to take things further.

But their size and a certain amount of confusion about what to do prevented them from making any headway against the better known parties.

The establishment of a normal parliamentary democracy in Portugal was a big step forward – but much more could have been achieved.

After many fights, the factories were returned to the owners. Soldiers were forced back to their barracks. The bosses and their representatives returned to rule.

The work of Left Bloc comrades in Portugal today has built a new movement that can act as a unifying force to give effective leadership to Portuguese workers.

The growth of new parties like the Left Bloc and Respect can give hope to ever greater numbers of disgruntled workers – and make sure that we do not miss any more great opportunities.

Roger Cox North London

PFI schools scandal

I am amazed how Tower Hamlets council in east London seems to get away with the fiasco that is the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) almost completely unchallenged.

During the summer of 2003 a construction firm which was supposed to be building state of the art schools for our children went bust. The finance company involved in the project pulled out soon after.

It has taken until last week for Tower Hamlets council to persuade any other companies to step into the breach. Consequently a number of schools in the borough have been in construction limbo for nearly two years.

Ben Johnson, Stepney Green and Central Foundation schools, to name but three, are permanently surrounded by builders’ hoardings. Their play spaces are severely restricted.

A look through the hoardings at Ben Johnson school reveals how the playground has been turned into a building site.

Temporary cabins are stacked on top of each other – these are the “classrooms” where our children are being taught.

Private companies do not finance such projects out of goodwill and charity. They do it for profit. The private companies own the new buildings and effectively rent them back to the schools.

They employ all the support staff, such as cleaners and caretakers, and it is obviously in their interests to keep the costs of these services down. This leaves the schools with little control over the management of their buildings.

The long term costs to the taxpayer of PFI projects are enormous. The cost of borrowing in the private sector is often up to 3 percent more than what the government would have to pay.

If the government has money to underwrite PFI, why not put that money directly into new school buildings?

Let’s keep our schools in democratically accountable public ownership – and stop jeopardising our children’s future.

Jackie Turner Secretary, Tower Hamlets Respect

We demand justice for Awais Alam’s family

People in Walthamstow, east London, are appalled that the trial of two men facing manslaughter charges over the death of Awais Alam has collapsed. What kind of justice is that?

Awais was killed while out shopping in Walthamstow in June 2003. Police at the time described it as a racist killing. The two men were reported as taunting Awais with racist comments.

When he confronted them they knocked him to the ground and kicked him repeatedly. He was later pronounced dead in Whipps Cross Hospital.

The attack on Awais was met with immediate outrage. A vigil for Awais drew a fantastic response of sympathy and solidarity from the local community, the RMT union – of which Awais was a member – and local MPs Neil Gerrard and Harry Cohen.

The Walthamstow Festival which followed celebrated the diversity of our community as a response to Awais’s death.

Now, almost two years later, Awais’s three children cannot believe how the justice system has let them down. They had hoped the trial of Peter and Steven Baldwin would give them some answers as to how their father died and why he died.

Our community continues to stand in solidarity with Awais’s family in demanding justice and ensuring that racists will not be tolerated.

Unjum Mirza Political officer, RMT London Transport region

Stop the racist bile against travellers

I have been appalled by the treatment of the travelling community both nationally and in my local area, Cambridge (Socialist Worker, 19 March).

People tend to forget in the year of the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz that travellers were victimised and gassed alongside Jewish people. This victimisation continues today.

Not a day goes by without my local newspaper, the Cambridge Evening News, printing racist and inaccurate articles as part of its “Campaign on Travellers”.

The Cottenham Residents Association continues its assault on travellers and a website called “Middle England in Revolt” peddles material which wouldn’t look out of place on a BNP leaflet.

They claim that there are 800 people living on Smithy Fen. I am a nurse and my frequent visits there indicate that 80 would be a more accurate figure.

There are no burnt out cars, as is often claimed, and the people that live there are certainly not rich.

These lies do nothing but inflame the situation. We must not support this racist bile, and we must help shatter the myths about the travelling community.

Steve Sweeney Cambridge

Uncertain end to SEKA sit-in

The occupation of the SEKA paper factory in Izmit, Turkey, is over (Socialist Worker, 5 March). The plant, which is owned by the Turkish government, was threatened with closure.

Workers have now voted by 80 percent to accept a proposal to transfer the entire site into local government management. This is a pretty unprecedented move and is down to the fight the workers put up.

The local government is saying the workers will all have jobs, but says it cannot afford to keep the plant going. Instead they want to build a “Hyde Park” on the site.

The union is saying they will put pressure on the local council to keep the plant open. But with the occupation finished it is hard to see what that pressure can be.

Turkish socialists Istanbul

Blairite dross from Amicus

Enclosed with the recent Amicus union members’ magazine, I received a copy of “Amicus the election activist” – 16 glossy pages of propaganda for the Labour Party.

General secretary Derek Simpson writes, “Amicus believes that a third term Labour government is essential, that goes without saying.” These words come from the same person who only months ago told us, “Blair has to go.”

We all know that Blair is not about to adopt a “radical agenda”. I’d like to request Amicus stop wasting my subscriptions on Blairite dross!

Belinda Affat East London

Maxi Jazz is not alone

Regarding your interview with Maxi Jazz (Socialist Worker, 19 March), when I heard Faithless’s “Mass Destruction” on the radio, I immediately declared it my personal “song of the decade”.

I work for a South African organisation doing research on political economy and we have participated in the anti-war movement here. I have promoted Faithless’s No Roots album in the movement.

It is so refreshing to hear artists taking up social issues. To Maxi – keep up the struggle, you are not alone, man.

Neil Newman Cape Town, South Africa

Tariq Ali and tactics in Iraq

Many thanks for Tariq Ali’s very positive article on the Iraqi resistance (Socialist Worker, 19 March). As an Iraqi, I have some local knowledge that I would like to share.

Tariq says, “The political failure to create a national liberation front is the Achilles heel of the resistance.”

But a centrally unified movement under the powerful and watchful occupation is both impossible and dangerous to the resistance.

A central command structure is just what the occupation dreams of. Cells acting in a decentralised fashion are more practical in the circumstances.

Also, the collapse of the bipolar world order has left no safe haven for a leadership to set up a “national liberation front”.

Finally, I cannot see why so many insist on replaying the “lack of an overall political project” tune. The resistance’s political project exists, in writing, since September 2003.

It has been reiterated on several occasions since through a number of declarations and statements.

Ahmed Al-Habbabi via email

Rod Liddle’s nasty rant

Journalist Rod Liddle’s Immigration Is a Time Bomb programme, broadcast by Channel 4 on 7 March, was one of the nastiest documentaries I’ve seen.

It was an hour long rant against immigration and multiculturalism which could easily have been mistaken for a party political broadcast on behalf of the BNP.

Dave Taylor Hampshire

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Sat 26 Mar 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1944
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