Socialist Worker


Issue No. 1966

Political issues have inspired many trade unionists (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Political issues have inspired many trade unionists (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Crucial debate on unions’ future

Union organisation suffered terribly from the high-profile defeats in the 1980s. Those defeats are long behind us, but we now need some equally high profile victories.

How else will the millions of workers who desperately need collective organisation realise their need?

Many already have some radical ideas — the movements around globalisation, the environment and war have led many people to ask serious questions about the status quo.

The article by the T&G and GMB union officials in last week’s Socialist Worker (How to build the unions after Heathrow action, SW, 27 August) rightly talks about the need for proactive grassroots organisation, and sets out many of the tasks it must face. It’s not only the official union machines that are rusty, the grassroots networks often are too.

I think the immediate challenge is to connect more “unorganised do-ers” into such networks, and fortunately the present high profile disputes at Heathrow and Rolls Royce give us a fantastic opportunity to do so.

We need to rebuild the traditions of solidarity, using the inspiration of these disputes.

This means organising workplace collections and levies, taking strikers round meetings and workplaces in every town and city, organising delegations to demonstrations or to visit picket lines. As we deliver the solidarity, we bring the sorely needed victories a big step closer.

Solidarity strengthens the “givers” as much as the “receivers”.

These are the same steps needed to build the networks of grassroots activists— the networks that make everything else possible.

If you don’t do it, who will?

Ian Allinson, Amicus national executive council member (personal capacity)

999 cuts mean lost lives

Following your articles on NHS cuts (Market driven cuts hit the NHS, SW, 20 August and A&E closures put patients at risk, SW, 27 August), as a paramedic I feel it is my duty to draw to everyone’s attention that lives are being lost due to serious cutbacks in Teesside’s ambulance service.

The 13-strong fleet is down to eight ambulances.

Ambulance fleets have become understaffed and office-based managers are responding to 999 calls in their own cars.

A new system where 999 calls from Teesside are handled by controllers in York is resulting in crews being sent in the wrong direction, wasting valuable time.

We believe that on three occasions people have died after crews were sent in the wrong direction by York-based controllers unfamiliar with the area.

We believe these deaths were related to excessive time getting to the scene.

Tees, East and North Yorkshire Ambulance service have slashed the recruitment and training of front line staff in an effort to deal with an £11 million shortfall.

The result is just one ambulance covering the area between Redcar and Whitby, and a threat to the ambulance covering Carlin How.

It cannot be right that the cost-cutting has gone so far that lives are risked in this way.

David, Teesside

Don’t back Gaza deal

As a Palestinian who lived under the Israeli occupation for a number of years, I was quite dissappointed with Souheil Natour’s article (Gaza withdrawal offers space for freedom, SW, 27 August). Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip must be seen for the political manoeuvre that it is.

Israeli leader Ariel Sharon can now appease a section of Israeli society that has put pressure on his government to “disengage”, while also using the withdrawal as a smokescreen for the completion of the apartheid wall and the continued expansion of setlements in the West Bank.

This is not a retreat from the Zionist project.

Gaza will remain a massive open air prison with its borders and airspace tightly controlled by the Israeli armed forces.Palestinians in Gaza have endured Israeli violence and aggression on a daily basis and few will have any illusions about what this pull-out will bring.

I have also been outraged at the amount of media coverage given to the eviction of these illegal settlers on occupied land. When do we ever see images of Palestinian refugees forced from their homes or crushed under them as they are demolished?

And Souheil is wrong to place his hopes in a US-brokered peace deal. This “road map” is designed to help Israel permenantly seal it’s control over the West Bank and Jerusalem while claiming to offer Palestinians a viable state of their own.

In reality, this “state” will be a string of bantustans that are encircled by a network of concrete walls, watchtowers and barbed wire trenches controlled by the Israeli army.

We must not forget the long history of failed “peace processes” that never even pretended to address the injustices faced by Palestinians.

History has shown us that real peace can only ever come with justice for those who are oppressed. That is why we must continue to be part of the global struggle against war and imperialism and to build solidarity with those who are resisting it wherever it is found.

Jinan Coulter, north London

Tessa Jowell and a cage of starving tigers

Ravi Malhotra is right to see CLR James as an inspiring figure of relevance for today’s movements against war and capitalism (Letters, 20 August).

However, in his article Sebastian Budgen did not “dismiss the enormous contributions” of James but simply noted his current “status of posthumous fashionability”.

This reached new heights last year when New Labour’s culture secretary Tessa Jowell praised CLR James as “one of the best black intellectuals” and “one of the greatest Caribbean writers”.

All true, of course, but one wonders if she had ever read say, James’s panoramic account of the Haitian revolution, The Black Jacobins?

In it, James noted that it is “easier to find decency, gratitude, justice, and humanity in a cage of starving tigers than in the councils of imperialism, whether in the cabinets of Pitt or Bonaparte, of Baldwin, Laval or Blum”.

In the “council of imperialism” that is Blair’s cabinet, we might ask where Jowell sits?

However, Marxists should not deify James, who made mistakes like anyone else.

While Eric Hobsbawm was wrong to see Stalinist Russia as socialist, he has made a contribution at least equal to James in the field of Marxist history — as Budgen’s excellent piece on Broué implied.

Christian Hogsbjerg, Leeds

All sections fail in key US strike battle

Your article on the US union split (What’s behind the divisions in the AFL-CIO union federation?, SW, 6 August) is correct to doubt just how radical either side in the argument really is.

The strikebreaking which has been going on against striking Northwest Airline mechanics demonstrates how weak all sections of the union leaderships have become.

The walkout by 4,400 members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) since 20 August has put to the test all the union leaders — and they are all failing.

Scabbing is being carried out by organisations which are members of all the different union formations.

Northwest is using hundreds of strikebreakers. But it could not keep operating without picket lines being crossed by members of the Air Line Pilots Association and the International Association of Machinists (AFL-CIO), the Professional Flight Attendants Association (independent). The Teamsters (Change to Win) have refused to halt deliveries.

If AMFA goes down to defeat, a similar onslaught awaits other unions in the airlines and far beyond.

Will nobody stand up for solidarity?

Maria Sanchez, San Francisco

Robin Cook had principles

Mick Gosling’s letter (Letters, SW, 20 August) berating Robin Cook displays a total lack of understanding of what Robin Cook achieved.

Yes, Paul Foot may have written articles on “arms to Iraq”, but he had no knowledge of the contents of the Scott report, far less the intellectual rigour to digest the contents and produce a scathing demolition of the Tory government in parliament in a few hours.

It’s ludicrous to compare the two.

Cook’s advocacy of an ethical foreign policy in 1997 was a brave attempt to impose a decent policy on arms sales and to define limits on our relationship with the US. He failed, but showed real character.

He was more to the right on many issues than say, George Galloway, but he was one of a few principled, intelligent politicians who tried and almost succeeded to change things from within our existing structures of power.

To suggest his epitaph should be “useless whinger” is surely below contempt. Shame on you Mick.

Graham Young, by e-mail

Robin Cook was no hero

Soe people might have been offended by Mick Gosling calling Robin Cook a “useless whinger”. I wasn’t.

Last year, I managed to get a ticket to the Labour Listens series of meetings in Luton when Cook spoke alongside the virulent pro-war Blairite, Margaret Moran.

With 500 people attending at the local Islamic Centre, Cook just fawned and name-dropped in order to ingratiate himself with his audience.

Moran, on the other hand, tried to present herself as against all the other wars from Vietnam onwards, clearly worried about the reaction she might receive for her present stance.

I was the only member of Respect to get a ticket as Labour had tried to exclude all oppositional voices.

When I got up to criticise her — which led to cheering and catcalling from there on — Cook simply sat back and kept his head down. This “anti-war” politician was quite happy to give his support by simply being on the same platform as Moran.

Ged Peck, Luton

I want to see end of peer

I trust that we shall soon be reading that Labour peer Lord Haskins has been expelled from the party.

He gave £2,500 to Liberal Democrat candidate Danny Alexander to fight and win a seat at the general election in Inverness Nairn.

As a Labour Party member I know that the one thing you cannot do is support another party’s candidate at an election.

Imagine how long someone would survive if it were revealed they had given money to George Galloway in Bethnal Green.

Don’t hold your breath. I believe there will be one rule for peers who give large donations to the party and another for the rest of us.

Janet Wilson, East London

Who was for public safety?

As I was surfing the net I came across a very interesting headline from the BBC website dated 14 May 2004.

It went as follows, “An anti-war coalition has launched its London mayoral election campaign claiming the invasion of Iraq has made the capital a target for terrorism.”

The anti-war coalition mentioned is of course the Respect party and its “claim” has been proven tragically prescient.

The party that campaigned farthest to the left was the party which, in the end, campaigned the hardest for public security, putting the lie to right wing claims of being genuinely concerned about violence and safety.

Christopher Brown, Montreal, Canada

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Sat 3 Sep 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1966
Share this article

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.