SO MICHAEL Howard had his day out in Burnley. The local Conservatives gathered together all the Asian and black people they could muster, about 12 in total, and placed them where they would be on camera.
Howard attacked the BNP. He actually said what they are. Yes, their policies certainly are based on bigotry and hatred. Yes, they are a bunch of thugs. But he went on to prove that he is just as much a bigot when it comes to asylum seekers-this even though his parents were asylum seekers. While all this is going on inside the Keirby Hotel, BNP leader Nick Griffin and his odious cronies are outside playing to the press and TV cameras. We now have to ask what good any of this did for the people of Burnley.
How did it help the unemployed, the low paid worker, the young people living in deprived areas, the pensioner still on ridiculously low pensions and, most importantly, race relations? We have to realise that it was not meant to help. The agenda of all the politicians around on this day was the greater good of themselves. Finally I have to point out to these politicians that there are only 57 asylum seekers in Burnley out of a population of nearly 90,000.
Given the millions of refugees round the world, I would have thought that Burnley is rather underwhelmed with asylum seekers.
John Johnston, Burnley
TV let down the miners
I AGREE with Steve Hammill (Socialist Worker, 7 February) about the travesty which was Channel 4's recent programme about the miners' strike. The editor of the Sun at the time, Kelvin Mackenzie, is enough to make an ordinary person feel physically sick at the best of times, but this was just unapologetic union-bashing.
What both that programme, and the better one on BBC2, left out though was the massive practical organised support for the strike by trade unionists. Watching the BBC2 programme, anyone who didn't live through it would wonder why the miners were so isolated-they weren't. Even as a member of the Equity actors' union, not known for its militancy, we organised a £5 a week levy off each person's wage at our small theatre company in Rochdale.
We went on demonstrations and picket lines. We made up weekly food boxes and delivered them along with money we raised on street collections. Thatcher was determined to starve the strikers back to work and we were equally determined not to let her. The practical lessons we learned are important today.
We also formed a benefit band and had some fantastic socials. They raised money, but were more about solidarity and raising people's spirits. Fighting together generates energy and creativity. Every revolutionary situation in the past has seen an explosion of culture as people find they have plenty they want to say. This strike was the same. As Steve Hammill says, the strike was betrayed by the TUC leaders and the Labour Party, but not by the thousands of trade unionists who worked so hard to support it.
Kate Rutter, Sheffield
It was going all out that won quickly
THE STRIKE at London Taxis International was not just about pay. It was the attitude of the management that got the workers' backs up. They could have started with overtime bans and one-day strikes but they thought they'd get there quicker with all-out indefinite action. Strikers thought the bosses might drag it out, so they were prepared to stay out as long as it takes.
Only two or three voted against going on strike. The strikers organised rolling pickets on two-hour shifts. Some said there was no point because it was solid, production was stopped and there was no one to take deliveries. But the picket line is important because it embarrasses the management. It also keeps everyone involved.
I went to the mass picket and heard comments like, 'This is good-loads of people including taxi drivers tooted their horns in support as they went past. The more pickets the better.' They held mass meetings to discuss the strike, keep everyone up to date, and sign up for strike pay.
The whole thing made many workers wonder if management is in touch with what they think or if it even cares. Now they're back in-victorious-they feel much stronger.
Penny Hicks, Coventry
Debate over free software
I WISH to add to Justin Samuels's letter (14 February) on 'open source software'. Users of Microsoft Windows will be more than familiar with how often their computer crashes.
Linux software cuts this massively. The reason that many non-socialist experts give is that people write Linux because they enjoy doing so. The writers of Microsoft programs work under the banner of 'flexibility', something we all recognise as code language for 'easily laid off'.
It was, after all, Microsoft whose employment practices led to the term 'permatemp'-someone who is permanently kept on short term contracts to keep them in fear of redundancy and deny them their rights. Microsoft programmers' work doesn't belong to them, so there is less incentive to make it perfect.
But the pride which Linux workers have in their product proves how owning your work is a big plus for both maker and user. Companies like IBM and Sun Microsystems have quickly tried to 'co-opt' the programs. However, I would recommend that socialists use Linux, Open Office and Mozilla because it hurts Microsoft's profits.
Graham Martin, Bradford
SHOULD socialists support the development of alternative software to Microsoft's? The answer must be that we welcome any weakening of the power of the giant multinationals, but should not fall into the trap of considering smaller capitalists any better than larger ones.
Justin Samuels accepts in his letter that companies can make money from free software by providing the machines, services or applications that run on it. If we support smaller capitalists against a multinational, their profits go up and one dominant company is eventually replaced by another.
Production still remains out of the control of the people who produce the software, fast food, cola or whatever. Socialists must insist that the real alternative is where goods are no longer produced for profit, but according to human need, under the control of the people who do the work.
Daniel Ansell, Cambridgeshire
Recalling a heroic anti-Nazi fighter
WHERE WERE you on 23 April 1979? There were 342 arrests, many serious injuries, and Blair Peach, a socialist and anti-racist teacher, dead. Beneath the bald facts there were many stories of anger and outrage in Southall on 23 April 1979. Disparate voices were united in a huge protest against the Nazis of the National Front, who the police waded in to protect.
Twenty five years on we want to hear those voices. The Blair Peach Memorial Committee wants as many schools and colleges as possible to commemorate these events in assemblies or lessons during the week beginning Monday 19 April. We want students and staff to simply ask, 'Who was Blair Peach?' We are inviting every Socialist Worker reader who was in any way affected by these events, especially children at the time, to put their thoughts in writing so we can publish them online for student access.
Up to 400 words is preferred. E-mail [email protected] The Southall Community Alliance, with offices now opposite the town hall that the few Nazis on the day hid in, is arranging an exhibition of visual materials. All loans of photos, posters, newspapers, leaflets, badges, stickers and other memorabilia are most welcome. Call Harsev Bains on 020 8574 8855.
We also need money to fund a range of other events. Trade unions and other groups are asked to send cheques made out to 'BPMC' to Carole Regan, BPMC, 86, Bow Road, London E3 4DL.
Nick Grant, secretary Ealing NUT
IT'S GOOD to read that social workers in Liverpool are taking action. The same issues affect my workplace. The latest scam is to get us to sign a contract agreeing to longer shifts to cover up for staff shortages. At our first meeting on the issue union officers spoke as if there is nothing much we can do. Hopefully we will have a striking Liverpool social worker at our next meeting to put an alternative.
The council is also planning to close a children's play park. It has recently evicted a 53 year old man (for being single), putting him on a long homeless waiting list. Meanwhile there are whole villages that stand virtually empty as rich people are allowed to buy up second homes that stand idle.
Council worker, Pembrokeshire
Safety, and a bit of solidarity
AT THE beginning of the firefighters' strikes, hundreds of tube staff refused to work over fears for their, and the public's, safety. Solidarity with firefighters was high, but workers were also horrified by London Underground's claims that the army could do the same job, and that there wasn't really much chance of a fire anyway!
Instead of dealing with our fears, they sent some of us home without pay. This breached their own procedures brought in after the King's Cross fire, which was supposedly a wake-up call for safety standards on the tube. We and our union, the RMT, took them to an employment tribunal. Finally last week we won. Management were keen to settle out of court.
First they demanded we agree there was no serious or imminent danger compelling us to withdraw our labour. When we refused to accept that, they tried to make us sign a statement saying there was a danger but it wasn't imminent. When we refused that they gave up, said nothing and paid back our wages. They hope this will be the end of the matter, but it won't.
Tube workers will continue to stand by other workers, especially now that Blair and Labour have expelled the RMT in a move to isolate us.
Peter Trotter, Hammersmith & City branch RMT
Testing for a new divide
THE GOVERNMENT is set to alter the way children are tested and educated. For years teachers have argued that children are being tested to destruction. The national literacy and numeracy strategies were introduced in England, leaving teachers no longer able to follow our professional judgments in order to develop and sustain children's education.
It has led to teachers being forced to train pupils in how to do well in national curriculum tests rather than teaching to their needs. Unfortunately the NUT union did not boycott these tests, despite a huge vote to do so. But we have brought the case of overtesting to the forefront of parents', teachers' and politicians' minds. A new exam is set to replace the existing ones for those who are 14 to 18.
But the philosophy is still to skim off the 'best' children with vocational qualifications for the majority and an academic qualification for the elite. Will it be a case of children at the age of 11 deciding on a life as a plumber or professor? Is there a need for such a rigid separation? Where would the harm be in advocating a mix of both vocational and academic abilities?
Jemma Fowler, Buckinghamshire
Mixed result at High Court
THE HIGH Court gave its verdict last week on the actions of three police services who 'kidnapped' three coachloads of anti-war protesters at Fairford last year.
We were protesting against US B52 bombers flying from there to attack Baghdad. The judgement is on the one hand a triumph for us, declaring that the police acted unlawfully in detaining us on the coaches and forcing us back to London. But it also claims they acted legally in preventing us from protesting. These claims are surely contradictory. Our most serious concern is the denial of our right to protest.
Weren't we led to believe we were bombing Iraq partly to give this right to Iraqis? We, and the police, are appealing the verdict.
Sue Davis, Tower Hamlets CND