Socialist Worker

Workers still trapped in a world of no choice

World of no choice | Hijab ban debate | Democracy | Top-Up Fees |

Issue No. 1889

MY FRIEND and I were discussing your article on how much (or little) things have changed since the 1840s (Socialist Worker, 31 January). The following day I went into my workplace (telesales) to find that the company had gone into liquidation that very morning and that we wouldn't be paid for the previous week's work.

Two of the managers have now set up a new company and offered us a 'loyalty' bonus of £50 if we stay with them. Of course even this minuscule amount is taken back from us if we leave the company within six weeks. My friend is employed as a waitress, and when the hotel is closed she continues to work for them as a painter. Last week she had to climb ladders to paint the outside of the building.

Her response to my incredulity was, 'What choice do I have?' This is Torquay, part of the 'English Riviera', where people yearn to live. It is a low wage economy, the rents are high, and consequently there is a lot of homelessness.

The terrible deaths of the Chinese workers cockling in Morecambe Bay in the middle of the night is a disgusting example of Blair's Britain.

As usual the politicians and police are pointing the finger at gangmasters without acknowledging how the racist immigration laws are forcing people into such a terrible situation.

This government needs to be challenged and the new unity coalition, Respect, will get my £10 membership fee as soon as I get a half-decent pay cheque.

Karen Johnson, Torquay

People are disgusted by the attacks on women's right to choose

Ban that can't be supported

THE FRENCH Assembly is wrong to ban Muslim headscarves, the hijab, in public schools. France claims to be a secular state. This is not true. The Christian and Jewish sabbaths are holidays in France, but not the Muslim sabbath, Friday. The Christian religious holidays are all statutory holidays in France. France subsidises religious schools. Crucifixes will still hang in schools in Alsace-Lorraine. I urge the French Senate to abandon this act of intolerance.

Tom Trottier, by e-mail

IN THE 1970s I was a cotton winder at Courtaulds in Preston, leading a go-slow for better bonus payments. The 3,000-strong workforce was racially mixed, and each year Muslim workers booked a day's leave at Eid. Management announced that, because of the go-slow, they would not allow a day off for Eid.

The response of those on the 'left' in France and Britain who see Islam as the enemy would presumably be to cheer at this move. I consulted with my workmates and arrived for the 6am shift the next day with a leaflet written in English, Urdu and Gujarati. This announced that this year Protestants, Catholics, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists and Muslims would all be celebrating Eid with a day's strike.

By dinner time supervisors were trawling the factory looking for anyone with a Muslim name, asking them if they would like to book Eid off! A week later the go-slow resulted in complete victory. Last year I stood on the town hall steps to protest against the bombing of Iraq side by side with young women in a hijab.

As I listened to the filthy, racist, sexist venom spat out at them, I had absolutely no doubt whose side I was on. Now is exactly the right time to teach these racist warmongers some Respect.

Neil McAlister, chair Bolton Stop the War Coalition (personal capacity)

THE FRENCH state's ban is not about liberation, but is about stoking up anti-Islamic bigotry to divide the French working class. Religious faith isn't simply the product of ruling class propaganda but also a response by the oppressed to their oppression.

Using force against religious beliefs is counterproductive and reinforces religious faith among persecuted believers. Liberty and social justice cannot be imposed on us from on high by the state or 'enlightened' individuals.

Sasha Simic, East London

Britain is not a real democracy

NOW THAT weapons of mass destruction have proven somewhat tricky to find in Iraq, it turns out all along the real reason to go to war was to rid that country of an evil dictator and to install democracy. As one of the leading proponents of the war to install democracy in Iraq, surely Britain would have a thriving democratic system. Not so.

When millions demonstrated against the Iraq war, were their voices listened to? No. Many MPs vote for a policy they feel will damage the education system because they feel to vote otherwise would undermine the authority of 'The Leader'. We do not have to look abroad for the evil cancer that is threatening our society. We need look no further than those supposed to represent our interests in government.

There exists a complete lack of confidence in the whole parliamentary system. We, the educated youth, are the future of this country. We will not stand by as our elected representatives tend to 'The Leader's' every whim.

Chris Gaunt, Lancaster

Top-up pressure

THE DAY of the top-up fees debate started with a 500-strong protest of students who opposed the fees. Cambridge students marched for three days in order to get to Westminster.

This could be make or break for the number one war criminal, Tony Blair. Although the government won on top-up fees there is still a groundswell of anger against Blair and his cronies. There is greater pressure now on Tony Blair.

Maria Underwood, school student, South London

Movement still going strong

AROUND 150 people attended a meeting called by Islington Stop the War Coalition on Tuesday of last week. Azmat Begg, father of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner, spoke movingly of how the Bush regime's barbaric treatment of the prisoners affected an ordinary family. Another speaker was Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn.

There was a good mixture of young and old in the audience. Speaker after speaker expressed fury at mainstream politicians. One Asian man said there was no way he could vote for a party that condoned the war in Iraq, however good MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn might be.

The anger over the Iraq war has certainly not gone away, and a wide range of people are keen to take action. We can make a united stand against the bullies and liars by making the 20 March protest big.

Jess Vivian, North London

Don't try to gag vital debate

THIS IS a letter sent from a Unison union steward to the union's general secretary, Dave Prentis: 'Dear Dave, As a Unison member and activist I am dismayed at your attempts to gag members from speaking at the Convention of the Trade Union Left in London two weeks ago. I, along with other members, feel sorely let down by this Labour government. A long list of hard-won socialist values have been eroded by this government.

The introduction of PFIs in the health service and education, and the giving away by Labour councils of local authority housing stock, are destroying our hard fought for living and employment conditions. The introduction of tuition fees will have a direct effect on my family, with two daughters hopefully going to university in the next two years. One will have a debt on graduation of around £25,000, unlike most of the cabinet, who went for free.

Surely this is not an incentive to enter the medical profession, or any other for that matter. With the cutoff for means tested benefits set so low, the only way my family would be able to reduce this burden would be for me and my partner to take second jobs. Did Blair's parents?

My partner, also a Unison member, has after 20 years Labour Party membership torn up his membership card in disgust at the ditching of socialist principles. Along with me and several other Unison members he will actively campaign for Respect: The Unity Coalition. Dave, I ask you to get behind your members' wishes. Do not prevent true democratic debate in the union or the workplace. Remember you too are elected.'

Lee Franklin, South London

Celebrities no joking matters

HAZEL CROFT doesn't go far enough in her analysis of I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! (Socialist Worker, 14 February). Firstly, the pseudo-liberal feminist commentators who try to present Jordan as some sort of feminist icon are neither liberals nor feminists. They are purveyors of dangerous, reactionary stereotypes.

Secondly, the reasons and consequences of the prominence of Jordan's breasts on the front pages of the tabloids is even more serious than she suggests. Jordan may be 'siliconed up' rather than 'sexed up'. But she serves the same purpose as the Sun's headline following the publication of the dodgy dossier on Iraq, 'Only 45 Minutes From Doom'. Both are weapons of mass distraction.

The only difference is that the threat from the former is real and imminent and part of an ongoing development programme. But this is not a joking matter. The editorial content, control and ownership of the media is, quite literally, a deadly serious issue and one we must take on.

Mick Gosling, chair, press and public relations branch, National Union of Journalists

Nomination has killed satire

SO BUSH and Blair have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Musical satirist Tom Lehrer, when asked why he'd given up that career, said, 'I gave up satire when they gave Henry Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize for invading Cambodia-I couldn't top that.' Enough said!

Rick Baker, Hawkhurst, Kent

Respect is the complete packet

I STARTED talking to a young man in a pub who happened to be sat at the same table as me on Wednesday of last week. He said he'd been changed by the anti-war movement and didn't have a clue who to vote for any more. I told him about the founding of the Respect coalition and mentioned the advert in the Independent that day. He pulled a copy out of his bag, read the ad and said, 'That's exactly what we need.'

He then filled out the form to join. He gave me a pack of cigarettes to say thanks! Respect fits the mood of so many people who marched against the war.

Mark Harvey, East London

More pensioners join the campaign

THE CRAWLEY campaign against the council tax has spurred us all on. Southwark Pensioners Action Group has organised a meeting on the subject for Wednesday 14 April. We all hate the council tax, but there are worries about how else to pay for council services.

Housing, education, libraries and refuse collection are important to us all, but ordinary workers and pensioners are asked to pay more than they can afford. Surely there must be a fairer way. The rich should contribute far more than they do. Campaigner Muriel Hirsch is going to speak at our meeting, address our concerns and tell us how they got going in Crawley.

Mary Phillips, South London

Free market is hurting millions

IS THE profit motive an adequate means of providing the economic suffiency of all? There are about 15 million people on the poverty line in this country. That means there are a class of people who have a similar economic interest because they have little money.

The Labour government wants a free market economy which for the working class is nothing more than cheap labour and extended poverty. Gordon Brown must introduce adequate benefits for those unable to obtain work because of government policies that assume the preference of competition before cooperation.

Unless the supposed representatives of labour consider the case of labour there will only be oppression for the working class.

John Bunney, Glastonbury

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Sat 21 Feb 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1889
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