A left ‘no’ to Europe
The position trade unionists should take on the EU constitution will be a live debate at next week’s annual delegate conference of the PCS civil service workers’ union.
A motion calling for a no vote in any forthcoming referendum argues that the constitution will have a clear adverse impact on our PCS members — whose jobs delivering essential public services are already under threat, thanks to Gordon Brown’s “efficiency” plans.
The constitution opens the door wide for further privatisation of public services and attacks on pensions. It institutionalises unfair trade with the developing world.
It allows big business to make profits out of the services our members provide, while permitting this government to keep us shackled by Tory anti-union laws.
Those in favour of a yes vote often smear critics as xenophobic and anti-European. But as in France, a growing number of trade unionists and social justice campaigners in Britain and across Europe are coming together to point out the real dangers of this undemocratic privateers’ charter.
Sue Bond, PCS vice-president (personal capacity)
I agree with Salvatore Cannavo’s criticism of Toni Negri (Socialist Worker, 21 May). But the left in Britain should keep its distance from the no campaign. In other European countries, a left wing no campaign may be possible. But in Britain, we’d be swamped under a mass of flag waving patriotic blather.
Howard Medwell, North London
The battle for fertility rights in Italy
With a referendum scheduled for 12 and 13 June, Italians will have the chance to repeal four parts of a law introduced in February 2004 on medically assisted reproduction.
The four provisions impose restrictions on access to medically assisted reproduction, ban research on stem cells, ban certain types of fertilisation treatment and open the way to an attack on the law on abortion.
The law basically puts the rights of the embryo and those of the parents on the same level, in plain and evident violation of the constitution and abortion law.
It is a cruel law, which bans fertile people affected by genetic diseases from accessing IVF techniques in order to select healthy embryos.
It bans infertile people from using external donors.
Many Italian couples nowadays have to travel abroad in order to access reproduction techniques. Such restrictive laws do not exist in any other European country.
If this anachronistic law is not repealed, medical research in Italy will be put in jeopardy, as will be the possibility to develop cures to diseases such as diabetes.
This law has been promoted by a staunch conservative and ultra-Catholic lobby.
The government has never had the courage to take a clear stance against it for fear of taking on the church.
Rifondazione Comunista, Italy’s radical left party, has been fighting to promote debate on the issue and to encourage people to vote for the complete repeal of the four provisions of the law.
A democratic, informed confrontation of ideas on the issue in Italy has been difficult, if not, at times, impossible. The debate has been turned into a fight between good and evil — angels of death against champions of life.
People are not being encouraged to vote against the repeal of the law, but to abstain from voting, as if ethical issues should not be open to discussion.
Let’s hope Italians will be able to see through this curtain of lies and will be able to choose what is right and good for women, science and life.
Carolina Stupino, Rifondazione Comunista Women’s Forum in London
Reasons to be cheerful
Socialist Worker’s report of the Amicus policy conference held in Brighton (14 May) was a bit flat and played too much on the negatives.
We in the former AEEU were the pariah of the trade union movement for years under right wing leaders such as Eric Hammond, Gavin Laird and Ken Jackson. But now there are things we can be proud of.
Last week’s conference agreed to fight for the repeal of all anti-union legislation and for the return to public ownership of all privatised public utilities.
We agreed statements condemning the war on Iraq. And we now have an excellent policy on the rights of asylum seekers.
The real battle of conference was over whether to elect or appoint all new full time officials. The right pulled out the stops to win this one, producing their only leaflet of the whole conference to urge a vote against elections.
They lined up all their best speakers one after another — and they lost. This means the days of reward by favour and patronage are over. The right wing came away licking their wounds, not us.
We in Amicus now have plenty of things to work with and lots of campaigning opportunities are presenting themselves. Let’s get on with it!
J Hicks and J Smart, Amicus members at Rolls-Royce Test Areas, Bristol
Climate for a fightback
The South West regional council of the Unison union last week voted to take the threat of climate change seriously.
We will support and work with the Campaign Against Climate Change to build a mass movement against global warming.
There will be big international protests to coincide with the multilateral environment talks in late November — including a demo in London on 2 December.
Every trade union should mobilise its members to stop climate change — by targeting the bosses responsible for it.
Tony Staunton, Unison South West regional committee
A victory for trade unions over the BNP
The Crown Prosecution Service has decided to discontinue the charge against me of causing criminal damage to the fascist British National Party’s wreath on Holocaust Memorial Day in Oldham.
I would like to thank all the Socialist Worker readers and members who sent me messages of support, and letters of protest to the chief constable. I am certain that lobbying from anti-fascist groups and individuals from far and wide had a major bearing on the outcome.
What lessons can we as trade unionists learn from this experience? The response to the incident in Oldham on the BNP’s website on 1 February showed their view of trade unions in stark relief.
We were accused of being complicit in the murder of millions of victims of Lenin and Stalin. In their view we ought to be banned from Holocaust memorial events.
During the general election, the BNP’s Anita Corbett, alleged “victim” of the flower squashing, attacked trade unions for abandoning workers faced with factory closures. She claimed the BNP can protect British workers from the effects of globalisation.
We need to relate our anti-BNP campaigning to these bread and butter issues to stop our sisters and brothers being seduced by these kinds of arguments. We must show how the BNP’s fantasy world is a nightmare for all of us.
Martin Gleeson, Oldham TUC
True pioneers of neuropsychology
In his discussion of the brain (Socialist Worker, 14 May), Steven Rose comments on the significance of the work of Lev Vygotsky and others in Russia between 1920 and 1936.
Alexander Luria, Vygotsky’s principal collaborator, concluded around 1930 that the overall shape and structure of the human brain did not change substantially after early development — despite the growth of an enormous variety of skills and abilities.
What did change were the functional relations within the brain. And the practical use of language played a crucial role in this reorganisation of higher brain functions.
This dialectical model of how the brain works combines cultural and historical influences with the potential for developing an individual’s conscious thinking ability. Thus neuropsychology helps explain how humankind can consciously make its own history.
Stalin suppressed many of these schools of science in the 1930s, and they are not widely studied or accurately conveyed in the West.
But I can reassure Steven Rose that these ideas are not “completely lost” — many key works have been translated into English.
Dr Mike Hames, South Nutfield, Surrey
Blair’s nuclear posturing
Socialist Worker readers will have been horrified at media reports that Tony Blair is moving towards approving a new generation of nuclear weapons to replace the Trident missle system.
This nuclear posturing puts us all at risk and wastes billions of pounds that could be put to much better use.
Such a decision would also run counter to the nuclear disarmament requirements set out in the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty, to which Britain is a signatory.
Readers can help defeat such plans by asking their MPs to sign early day motion 129, “Britain and the non-proliferation treaty”, sponsored by Labour MP Alan Simpson.
This calls upon the government to make good on its disarmament commitments and abandon plans to build new nuclear weapons. I urge all readers to act without delay.
David Rolfe, Telford, Shropshire
US collusion with tyranny
George Galloway made an interesting point in the US about Donald Rumsfeld having met Saddam Hussein twice to “sell guns and maps”.
The 1980s era when the US colluded with Saddam during the Iran/Iraq war has been quietly forgotten.
It makes the current criticisms coming from the likes of Bush and Blair of Saddam’s regime all the more hypocritical, bizarre and absurd.
Perhaps it is the likes of Rumsfeld who should be hauled before a senate investigations committee to explain himself, rather than George Galloway.
Patrick, by e-mail
Scargill and media smears
Michael Rosen’s article “Two minute hate” (Socialist Worker, 14 May) was well worthwhile. I remember the criminal attempts to frame miners’ leader Arthur Scargill over that money from Libya.
When the truth came out the media coverage was meagre. This was in stark contrast to the front page reports hurled at the public when the accusations were made.
Someone at the time said to me, “It must be true, otherwise why doesn’t he sue them?”
Well, that can be a tricky business, especially when the funds of the miners’ union were already being threatened.
I suppose George Galloway would have had their guts for garters, but as it was, the main perpetrators got off very lightly.
Harold Pearson, Cambridge
Capital needs cheap energy
Wind turbines or nuclear reactors? The fact that this false choice is being presented to us shows that those in power know that capitalism faces a threat.
The world market cannot continue to expand without harnessing ever more energy. But our oil supplies cannot meet predicted demand.
Capitalism survived the 20th century because productivity gains that largely came from cheap oil “bought off” the workers.
This century it will be much harder to replicate the same productivity gains.
Can capitalism “buy off” the workers for much longer?
John Keeley, Folkestone, Kent
Shakespeare in the hood
“Moral panics about youth are far from new,” said Pat Stack (Socialist Worker, 28 May). He’s right — even Shakespeare tackled the “problem” of youth, or gangs of teenange boys hanging around street corners with bugger all to do.
Shakespeare alluded to the disaffection and injustice relating to the accident of birth.
For these gangs of Elizabethan boys causing mayhem on the streets were usually younger sons, and not the oldest, who would benefit from inheritance rights.
Belinda Webb, North London