Socialist Worker


Issue No. 1975

Birmingham’s peace vigil last week (Pic: John Harris/

Birmingham’s peace vigil last week (Pic: John Harris/

How Respect is fighting for unity in Birmingham

The rioting two weeks ago in the Lozells area of Birmingham (Calls for unity after riot in Birmingham, 29 October) demonstrates how the bitterness built up by poverty in Blair’s Britain can explode in dangerous forms.

A third of adult men in Lozells are unemployed, and 30 percent of homes don’t have central heating. 

School attainment levels for both Pakistani and African Carribbean children are well below the average for Birmingham. Everyone struggles to get by.

In this desperate situation, a rape allegation became the spark for an explosion of people’s resentment.

A myth has been created of one ethnic group doing better than the other — a myth fanned by some “community leaders” who should know better.

Over the past week Respect members in Birmingham have been at the forefront of trying to overcome sectarian scapegoating and unite all sections of the community over the need for peace and social justice for the area.

Alliya Stennett, an African Carribbean Respect member from the area, spoke at a protest called over the rape allegations on Saturday 22 October.

She opposed the anti-Asian sentiment expressed by some speakers and some people distributing leaflets to the crowd. Since then she has worked hard to get this message out through the local media.

On Wednesday of last week Respect member Salma Yaqoob, together with the mother of a boy killed two years ago in gang violence, initiated a peace vigil in Lozells.

This received extensive local media coverage and showed it was possible to bring the community together.

That evening about 40 people, including a number who had attended the vigil, came to a Respect meeting addressing how we can win peace and justice in our community.

Cheryl Garvey, a local Respect candidate in the 2004 Euro elections, spoke very well about how divisions had been fostered in our community by the system of different groups representing different ethnicities having to compete for funds.

She also spoke about the need for a better political leadership that fights for the whole of the community.

Raghib Ahsan from the People’s Justice Party — and a veteran of the Handsworth riots of 20 years ago — spoke about the need to unite all of the dispossessed to fight against a system that doesn’t care about places like Lozells.

The audience responded enthusiastically to Gary McFarlane’s suggestion that we build a mass campaign for social justice for Lozells.  We are now in the process of trying to put that in place.

Helen Salmon, Birmingham

Pensions: it’s victory

While Chris Bambery (We must throw out this shabby pensions deal, 22 October) is right to say that the public sector unions should have followed through and secured the pensions of all future civil service workers, health workers and teachers, in comparison with the fate of funded occupational pensioners the settlement is a big advance.

Millions of workers in the privatised category have already lost big pension entitlements more or less without a whimper.

If there is any doubt that the settlement is a victory, note the outpouring of fear and loathing from the bosses’ CBI.

Also see the articles in the Financial Times showing the City realises that one of their major sources of profits will be threatened if workers draw the lessons that private pensions do not meet their needs and must be replaced by state pensions.

This also raises the question of why the TUC continues to support compulsory contributions to private schemes instead of increased contributions to national insurance.

This is a much more serious charge than the one Chris levels at them.

Hugh Lowe, West London

It’s divide and rule

The scale of the defeat over public sector pensions is even worse than first appears. The union leaders have fallen for the classic divide and rule tactic.

What happens in four or five years time when the government, New Labour or New Conservative, next tries to increase the retirement age for workers employed today?

How many of the growing number of workers retiring at 65 will be prepared to take action to defend the falling number of those still entitled to retire at 60?

As ministers are surely aware, if they wait a few years the deal will be impossible to defend. It has to be rejected and the right to retire at 60 has to be defended for all public sector workers.

John Newsinger, Leicester

Unite the campaigns to twin with Palestine

When delegates arrived at the first twinning with Palestine conference in London on 25 September, we discovered that at least 20 places across Britain are taking steps to make a friendship link with places in Palestine.

Ranging from student unions, through church groups and broad-based friendship groups to councils, this is becoming a movement with echoes of the twinning campaigns with South Africa in the days of apartheid.

In Camden, north London, in just 18 months, hundreds of people have signed a friendship statement calling for friendship and twinning links with Abu Dis, next to Jerusalem. Now we have children and teachers writing each other letters, nurses planning exchanges, youth groups aiming to run a Camden-Abu Dis football match.

Some of our friends from Abu Dis came to the conference in London, and they spoke eloquently about their hopes of the twinning. They said that they find hope and encouragement from the interest from outside, and they welcome the practical projects we are devising together.

There has been to date no organisation linking towns, villages or refugee camps wanting partners at both ends and to prevent duplication.

We aim to set up such an organisation. Please go to for more information.

Nandita Dowson, Chair, Camden-Abu Dis Friendship Association

Scottish myths

Gregor Gall (Scotland the brave?, 29 October) wants to have his nationalist cake and eat it.

Gregor tells us that across the Scottish political spectrum there is common recognition of a left of centre political culture.

But he tells us later that Scotland is no more egalitarian than large tracts of England and Wales.

The truth is that nationalism in Scotland has never constituted a powerful challenge to the British state.

During the few periods where Scottish nationalism has made political inroads, it has usually been in protest against the betrayals by Labour governments.

Where nationalist ideas have come to the fore in industrial struggles, they have weakened these struggles, as when vital pickets of Ravenscraig steelworks during the 1984-5 miners’ strike were called off by Scottish NUM union leaders because they were threatening “Scotland’s steel”.

The danger of Gregor’s arguments is that they give succour to those inside the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) who see its future as lying in Independence Conventions and appeals to left nationalists.

The alternative is for the SSP to build on anger around issues such as the war in Iraq, the deportation of asylum seekers and the council tax.

Iain Ferguson, Glasgow

McCarthy to Coleman

The article in last week’s Socialist Worker on the blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Norma Barzman (The red and the blacklist, 29 October) is a salutary reminder of the way in which left wing critics of US policy were witch-hunted in the 1940s and 1950s.

Just one point of correction — the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that investigated the Holywood Ten in 1947 did not actually include Joseph McCarthy.

McCarthy chaired a Senate Special Investigations Committee in the early 1950s into “communist subversion” which also witch-hunted left wingers, becoming so notorious that the term “McCarthyism” was coined.

Today’s McCarthy is Norm Coleman, the chair of the present day Senate Special Investigations Committee, who is now once again trying to slur George Galloway.

James Eaden, Chesterfield

Subs offer CD is a big hit

I have recently subscribed to Socialist Worker which meant I received a copy of the Black and Proud CD as a special offer for Black History Month.

As a primary school teacher this was very welcome as I was looking for music for Black History Month to use in school.

I really enjoyed the CD. It was good quality and I read the sleeve notes and learnt something about the Black Panther era.

I find Socialist Worker gives a clear and balanced view on news as well as keeping me up to date on what’s going on in the local area.

Rachael Kittley, North London

Get stuck into the pay fight

I believe the letter (Lecturers say no to fees, 29 October) on the AUT-Natfhe pay campaign is badly wrong.

For the first time I can remember we have a serious pay campaign.

If the university employers get away with another increase of a fraction of a percent above inflation it will be a huge defeat for the unions.

A victory in this pay campaign will increase the unions’ confidence and make the chance of a real fight over funding more likely. Don’t stand on the sidelines carping — fight to win.

Nick Savage, Cambridge AUT (personal capacity)

Apply brakes to the system

I believe global warming is the gravest threat to the working class and humanity.

Capitalism is like a high speed train heading for disaster and unable to apply the brakes. Our “leaders” seem blinded to the climate change already happening and that which could occur in the future.

Roger Wellman, Lyme Regis, Dorset

Strike for our students

I’m a sessional worker at Norwich’s City College and there is no way any further education teacher or lecturer can vote other than yes to a national strike on 16 November.

In schools Labour has advanced Thatcher’s privatisation ideas beyond ruling class dreams. Business has a stake in classroom resources, financing, kids’ meals — and the children themslves.

City College has a department which is second to none in its holistic approach to the education of those with learning difficulties or special needs.

The department also boasts a heroic band of learning support staff.

Lecturers in this department will be reluctant to vote for strike action because of their students’ needs. Yet if we are valued, our students will be valued so much more.

Rupert Mallin, Lowestoft

Correction: Due to an editing error we mistakenly stated that Blackburn has two Christian and two Muslim secondary schools on page 2 of last week’s Socialist Worker. In fact it has three Christian secondary schools and one Muslim one.

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Sat 5 Nov 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1975
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