Socialist Worker


Issue No. 1986

Demonstrating for workers rights in Dublin last year (Pic: Richard Searle)

Demonstrating for workers rights in Dublin last year (Pic: Richard Searle)

British unions oppose Bolkestein

The European TUC has called a protest in Strasbourg on Tuesday 14 February against the European Union’s Bolkestein directive.

The directive will cut back on workers’ rights across Europe and trade unionists must mobilise against it. It represents an attack on public services.

My PCS civil service workers’ union is sending a small delegation to the protest.

The union is also planning to brief members about the threat of the directive and carry out activities with them on this issue.

The TUC should follow the European TUC’s call and organise meetings and rallies across Britain.

European dockers protested in Strasbourg last month against a similar directive affecting them and forced the European parliament to vote against it. Let’s do the same over Bolkestein.

Sue Bond, PCS vice president (pc)

The body as commodity

Doctor Teela Sanders (Debating prostitution, 28 January) is right to say that we should support any measure for women working as prostitutes that makes them safer from assault or police harassment.

Criminalisation of prostitutes, or their clients, only makes it more dangerous for the women involved and harder for them to access health care and other services. But there are wider questions that I think should be addressed.

Prostitution is not just another job. Most women who work as prostitutes do not do so as a “career choice” but as something that they have to do because of poverty.

The hypocrisy of the government’s drive to get prostitutes off the streets is that New Labour has created unprecedented levels of inequality in Britain – which push women into prostitution.

Sex should not be a commodity to be bought and sold. As well as campaigning for better safety and services for prostitutes, we should be fighting for a world where women do not have to sell their bodies in order to feed their families or fund an addiction.

Esme Choonara, Glasgow

I agree wholeheartedly that vulnerable women must be protected, and these measures are intended to address this. But what is missing from the debate in the media and among politicians is any sort of political perspective – for example that women should not be treated as commodities.

There is some discussion about arresting kerb crawlers but we never hear a politician condemn the exploitation of women in this way.

Given the increase in “lad mags”, or pornography for the lower shelves, the expansion in lap dancing clubs and general acceptance of the attitude that women can be treated as sex objects, it is no surprise that there has been a huge increase in men using prostitutes over the past decade.

As socialists we must not lose sight of the basic arguments behind the debate – about the inequality between men and women which still exists at all levels.

We also need to acknowledge that the most vulnerable people in our society do need protection.

Pip Harrison, West London

Mark the Holocaust

Holocaust Memorial Day is something that socialists should support keeping.

The Nazi Holocaust was unique and different from all the other genocides in history. It is the only atrocity in which the extermination of an entire race of people by modern industrial methods was attempted. It is completely wrapped up with the nature of fascism.

Other genocides need to be remembered, and learned from. But other atrocities, such as in Rwanda or of the Armenians in Turkey, were of a different nature. The Holocaust needs to be understood for what it was.

I believe moves should be resisted to turn Holocaust Memorial Day into a day for remembering all genocides.

The memorial day is an important part of fighting fascism today. In Barrow-in-Furness in 2005 Unite Against Fascism supporters took to the streets to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day – this local activity was made easier because of the day being “officially” recognised.

To agree with proposals for a “Genocide Day” – or to take neither side in the argument – will miss the point about the uniqueness of the Holocaust and of fascism, and will backfire.

Paul Jenkins, Barrow-in-Furness

Ferry dispute

In his letter about the Irish Ferries dispute (Letters, 21 January) Liam Mac Uaid makes some valid points, but misses the bigger picture.

Management had to abandon much of its original attack. Concessions were won after thousands of workers took to the streets. A whole generation of workers had their first taste of unofficial strike action. We should point out that more could have been won. But the overwhelming feeling was “we won”.

Socialists and trade unionists should build on that mood in order to stop the outsourcing of jobs, the exploitation of foreign labour, and the sell-outs of union leaders.

Owen McCormack, Dublin

Follow the anti-war call of Unison leader

Dave Prentis, the Unison union’s general secretary, is calling for Unison branches to mobilise for the 18 March anti-war demonstration in central London.

In his news from the general secretary e-mail bulletin, which goes to all branch secretaries and organising staff, Dave Prentis said, “Our union is affiliated to the Stop the War Coalition and, in line with national delegate conference policy, calls for an end to the occupation of Iraq.

“The Stop the War Coalition is organising a national demonstration on 18 March to demand a troop withdrawal from Iraq and for no attack to be made against Iran.

“Unison branches are asked to support this demonstration by mobilising as many members as possible to take part.”

Unison branches across Britain should take up Dave’s call and make sure the demonstration on 18 March has the biggest union contingent of any of the anti-war protests.

Branches which are not already affiliated to the coalition and have annual general meetings coming up should affiliate.

Go to or phone 020 7278 6694.

The anti-war protest and the planned strike of 1.5 million workers against pensions in late March are two great opportunities for union activists to hit Tony Blair.

Rusty Ebrahim, Hackney Unison branch secretary (pc)

Almo is for the good of tenants

There are no “secret plans” to privatise Haringey’s arm’s length management organisation (Almo) Homes for Haringey as claimed by Paul Burnham (Housing round-up, 28 January).

The council will remain the landlord once Homes for Haringey becomes responsible for managing council properties from April.

None of our residents’ rights will be affected, nor will the Almo be open for private finance to control rent and service charges.

Homes for Haringey will enable the council to apply for extra funding. It is working to bring Haringey’s homes up to the decent homes standard by 2010.

The majority of residents voted for an Almo. They are being consulted and are playing a vital role in shaping and delivering the service. The residents sitting on the shadow Almo board are not just rubber stamping decisions, they are improving housing conditions.

Residents will also have their say in deciding whether to continue with the Almo in four years. We will continue to make sure Homes for Haringey gives them the service they want and deserve.

Stephen Clarke, Director of housing services, Haringey council

Put community before rich

Around 45 people attended a meeting of Open Dalston in Hackney, east London, recently. Open Dalston is campaigning for the regeneration of Dalston junction to be carried out in consultation with and for the benefit of the people of Hackney.

The favoured proposal of the council and Transport for London comprises high density, high rise accommodation for sale. Open Dalston has already issued an injunction against Hackney council to prevent the demolition of historic buildings.

An alternative regeneration plan for the area has been proposed which will incorporate these buildings and will provide a theatre, community centre, music venue and a park. For more information contact

Sue Jones, East London

Still cooking in stations

The report in last week’s Socialist Worker on London firefighters refers to station cooks being “sacked”.

That is not quite accurate. The Fire Authority agreed in December 2004 to dispense with the role of station cooks after a six year campaign by the Unison union to defend them.

After campaigning, the cooks have accepted a deal which means that they keep their jobs until 2010 and those that want it can seek redeployment to other work.

The cooks unfortunately did not feel confident to take strike action and there was a feeling that this was the best that could be achieved by negotiation.

Tony Phillips, East London

Militancy will build homes

I was invigorated to read Leslie Turner’s letter (Letters, 21 January). There is growing anger and frustration over housing.

A short while ago it was regularly reported that the number of second and therefore unoccupied homes in Britain was greater than the number of homeless families. During the Second World War local and central government took over properties needed for the “war effort” wholesale.

Empty office blocks now festoon urban Britain while homelessness gets worse.

What builds housing second is bricks and mortar. What builds houses first is militancy.

Colin Frost-Herbert, Ontario, Canada

China’s boom hurts planet

I would like to add a footnote to the excellent China article (The other side of the Chinese boom, 28 January). The environment suffers intensely too.

The Three Gorges dam alone evicted over a million people, with disastrous results for fish, the river and dolphins.

Scores more major dams are planned – primarily for big business. These adversely affect other countries downstream.

In the light of China’s 7-8,000 annual coal mining fatalities, the prospect of its planned 40 odd nuclear reactors does not inspire confidence. By the end of 2004, over 300,000 people had already been evicted for the Olympic Games set for 2008.

Moira Hope, by e-mail

Women are still paid less

Almost one in five of British companies are paying women lower wages than their male work colleagues.

A new study by the Equal Opportunities Commission of 870 employers found that 16 percent are unlawfully discriminating against female workers who are paid less than men who do the same job.

What a disgrace that this discrimination is still rife 30 years after the passing of the Equal Pay Act. It just shows how little has really been changed by legislation in parliament.

Simone Murray, Carlisle

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Article information

Sat 4 Feb 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1986
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