Haiti’s masses rise up
The announcement late last week that blank ballots cast in Haiti’s presidential election were to be discounted – effectively acknowledging René Préval’s victory without recourse to a run-off – sparked massive celebrations in the poorest districts of this devastated country.
The “international community” has hailed the decision as a victory for “common sense”. The victory, however, is entirely that of Haiti’s poor majority. Despite two years of occupation, intimidation and a massively skewed playing field, they got out to vote for their candidate. More importantly, they mobilised to overcome the massive electoral fraud that was being committed to rob them of their victory.
Tens of thousands took to the streets to demand justice. My favourite images of these protests came when hundreds of Haiti’s poorest invaded the five-star Hotel Montana, a favourite haunt of Haiti’s wealthy elite.
While guests were evacuated from the roof by helicopter, the new occupants briefly availed themselves of facilities it would cost them a year’s income to spend a night in.
We should all celebrate this clear victory, but the challenge to improve the desperate conditions of Haiti’s majority remains daunting. Haiti’s elite has nothing but contempt for the poor majority and will stop at nothing to defend its enormous wealth and privileges. It is at best naive of Préval to present the only hope for the country as him acting as a “bridge” between rich and poor.
We must also assume that Préval will be leaned on to make concessions to those opposed to his modest programme of reforms. He has already stated that the UN occupation forces should stay for as long as necessary, despite the fact that their main role has been to persecute his followers at his opponents’ behest.
It was the resilience of Haiti’s workers, peasants and urban poor that preserved democracy. It is their continued activity that represents the best hope to preserve it and build a better future for themselves, regardless of who holds office. We owe them our solidarity.
Andrew Taylor, Haiti Support Group
Modern revolution needs a vision
In his response to my article, “Globalised Revolution”, Jacob Middleton (Letters, 11 February) rightly notes that the working class, both urban and rural, bears the brunt of global capitalism’s advance.
No doubt workers who can disrupt industrial capitalism, along with peasants who can challenge a government’s control of territory, can bring plenty of pressure to bear in a crisis.
But a global revolutionary coalition would have to be broader than anything seen before. It demands ideological creativity – the ability to imagine a new order and make it touch the lives of ordinary people.
Such vision never comes simply from the exploited. It comes from a vanguard, such as the Bolsheviks in 1917 or the Iranian clergy in 1979.
A vanguard usually coalesces long before a crisis makes its vision seem relevant. So yes, the working classes are crucial. But their discontent needs somewhere to go.
Otherwise, every outbreak will just be a letting off of steam. This is a time for building global networks and getting visions to take root – a task that falls to a wider range of social groups.
Adam K Webb, Massachusetts, US
Abuse and prostitution
The writer of “Prostitution – Is It Just Another Job?” (Letters, 18 February) states that she is a “sex worker by choice”. But most women who work as prostitutes have not “chosen” it as a career. They have been forced into prostitution because of poverty, addiction or alienation.
They become prostitutes because they can see no other solution to their particular problems. Many suffer regular physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their clients or the men who are pimping them.
Many are underage or have been trafficked – at least 700,000 women a year are sold into prostitution worldwide. These women have absolutely no “choice” in the matter.
Women are more vulnerable to being exploited in this way because we are treated unequally in society. Prostitution flourishes because of the commodification of women and the alienation of our sexuality. It is now common for businesses to “entertain” their staff at lap dancing clubs.
Sexism is on the increase, particularly among young people. A survey of young people carried out in Scotland in 1998 found that half of the men interviewed and a third of the women thought that hitting a woman or forcing her to have sex were acceptable in certain circumstances.
In Italy last week a court ruled that a convicted rapist should have his sentence reduced because his 14 year old victim was not a virgin when he raped her.
It is this skewed view of women as goods to be bought and sold, reinforced by the fact that women still earn considerably less than men and still have to bear the brunt of childcare, that creates the conditions for prostitution.
In the 1970s the women’s movement and trade unionists fought hard for the recognition that pornography and the sex industry are about the abuse of women. In the era of lad mags and “postmodern irony” we need to have these arguments again.
Yes, we need better services and protection for prostitutes – but we also need to address the fundamental inequality that exists between men and women.
Sue Jones, East London
End this barbaric and degrading practice
Recent reports of how a heavily pregnant Styal prisoner spent four hours in a prison van the day before her baby was due have provoked moral outrage.
The chair of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services has called on the Prison Service to stop using such vehicles to transport pregnant prisoners.
Women transported in prison vans, known to inmates as “sweatboxes”, often spend hours in cramped cells measuring 24 inches by 34 inches, with hard seats and no seatbelts.
The association describes the practice as “unethical and barbaric”, and says the Prison Service has no understanding of the damage that can be done to an unborn baby “whose mother is confined to what amounts to a broom cupboard for many hours”.
The Prison Reform Trust, the Howard League for Penal Reform and others have asked the home secretary to put an immediate stop to transporting pregnant women in prison vans, pointing out that “better care is taken to regulate the transport of live farm animals”.
It is incomprehensible that pregnant women are subjected to such degrading treatment.
Annette Brook MP has now tabled a House of Commons early day motion on this issue. I would urge readers to ask their MP to sign EDM 1603 in order to get this barbaric practice stopped.
Pauline Campbell, mother of Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, 18, who died in the “care” of Styal Prison in 2003
Prison won’t work
Over 60 people from across Britain joined together in London on 28 January to establish a new, forceful organisation, No More Prison, determined to fight for the end of prisons.
Former prisoners, activists, health workers, prison workers and academics exchanged ideas and strategies to stop prison building, end child imprisonment and develop alternatives to punishment.
Driven by a populist criminal justice policy, Britain locks up more people than any other country in western Europe – currently standing at over 88,000 children, women and men.
Opening the seminar, Professor Joe Sim argued the need for a new abolitionist movement in Britain that distinguished itself from the prison reform movements that have become entangled with New Labour’s law and order project.
No More Prison calls for a moratorium on prison building, redirection of the prison budget, dismantling the negative and punitive prison officer culture, and a widening of definitions of social harm to encompass white collar crime and others.
No More Prison, by e-mail
Keep troops out of schools
A year or so back, I had a conversation with Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed in Iraq, about army recruiters visiting schools. Abuse and being maimed or killed make for great career choices!
Now chancellor Gordon Brown wants to set up military cadet forces attached to schools to instil discipline and patriotism into young people.
Locally we’ve just had a government minister outline a vision of a national youth sports programme to strengthen national “cohesion”.
As for army style “discipline” – is that the discipline we’ve seen at Deepcut barracks, or meted out in the recent video of troops in Iraq?
KD Price, East London
‘Cultural war’ in Denmark
Your articles about the Danish cartoon caricatures (Cartoon row: the issue is racism, 11 February) were excellent.
Like hundreds of thousands of other Danes, I’m truly appalled by these dreadful drawings. I also loathe the paper Jyllands-Posten which published the cartoons.
The forces of reaction are waging a “cultural war” in Denmark – and Muslims are caught up in this struggle.
It’s a war for the “soul of Denmark”, and if we lose the country won’t be worth living in. So we don’t have a choice – we have to fight back.
Michael Krug, Denmark
More than a protest vote
Mark Brown is right to say that Hamas’s election victory in Palestine isn’t a step backwards (Letters, 11 February). But I think his analysis is overly critical of Hamas.
The vote for Hamas was more than a protest vote against the corruption of the Fatah party and its many compromises with Israel.
People voted for Hamas because of its record of fighting against Israeli oppression and its progressive position on Palestinian statehood.
Hamas’s use of suicide bombings and the organisation’s religious nature – unsurprising in an area with a significant proportion of Muslims – are not the criteria for judgement.
The question is whether or not Hamas lead the struggle forward. And in the face of US and Israeli dominance, this cannot be achieved solely through the Palestinian Authority.
It rests on the ability to link the Palestinian struggle with wider forces across the Arab world – especially in Iraq and with the rising tide of resistance in Egypt.
Colin Smith, North London
Attacking our mental health
I totally agree with Iain Ferguson’s recent column (Changing the System to Benefit the Rich, 28 January).
One example of how neo-liberalism is attacking our welfare state is the new Mental Health Bill, which New Labour will try to pass through parliament later this year.
It replaces the 1983 Mental Health Act, which put in place free after-care for people with severe mental illness discharged from hospital. The new bill talks about removing this care.
Other proposed changes reflect an ideological shift towards treating mental illness as an individual’s problem, rather than that of society. We need to campaign against this bill.
Malcolm Jones, Liverpool
It’s time to save the NHS
New Labour is leading a major assault on the NHS.
This shameful and retrograde policy needs to be tackled. A major study shows between 25-50 percent of student nurses dropping out during training.
Such is the apathy of the unions and the Royal College of Nursing that this situation goes unanswered.
Patrick Cooper-Duffy, Southampton