Should Unison give money to New Labour?
As a member of the Unison union and the Labour Party, I wholeheartedly welcome the decision by Unison Labour Link to suspend support for the Labour Party pending the outcome of the dispute over the local government pension scheme (Socialist Worker, 1 April).
This dispute is with the New Labour government—and it is a dispute that goes right to the heart of what our union is all about.
I don’t share Socialist Worker’s view that we should switch funding to Respect or the Scottish Socialist Party though.
I think we need to restructure the relationship between the trade unions and the Labour Party and the government. At the moment we pay for the privilege of being treated with less respect than a doormat by New Labour.
The suspension of support for the party is an important symbolic step, but it ought to be backed up by a really combative intervention in the Labour Party at every level—particularly in parliament.
After all, Labour Party conference decided that pension schemes should not be changed without union agreement. Labour MPs ought to be under more pressure to support the policy of the Labour Party, not the anti-union policies of the New Labour government.
Unison—and the other unions—should be using our political funds to campaign alongside socialist MPs in support of our policies. We should see the Labour Party as a battleground in the war that New Labour has declared upon us.
Unison Labour Link’s decision to suspend support for the party is a good start for the new approach that is needed.
Jon Rogers, London
For many, it’s too little, too late. Unison has continuously sustained this government, allowing it to feed our NHS to the fat cats of capitalism, slice by slice.
If funding is to resume, it should only be to those MPs, and potential MPs, from any party, who support Unison members’ core principles of care, justice and peace.
The dogs of war cannot live without sustenance. Unison should not continue to feed them.
Zena Dodgson, Unison Branch Secretary (personal capacity)
Who funded the school scabs?
In common with many other Unison union branches, Telford had a great response from its members who supported the call for strike action on Tuesday of last week.
There is one particular element to our dispute that illustrates exactly how discriminatory and unfairly our low paid female members are being treated.
Support staff in schools have discriminatory terms and conditions built into their employment contracts. They are paid during term time and do not receive full credit for their existing pension contributions but a pro rata amount. They also have annualised pay, which makes it incredibly difficult to work out entitlements around redundancy.
Despite these unfair practices they still work hard and many put in unpaid hours to the benefit of the children in their care.
During the strikes, rather than close some schools our local education authority (LEA) sent in many retired teachers, retired headteachers and LEA advisers to keep schools open where support staff were on strike.
Of those former headteachers, many had taken early retirement on a full pension, the very thing that our low paid members are in dispute over.
Further, it is not clear who actually paid for these strike breakers—the actual schools or the LEA.
Many of these schools are facing falling pupil numbers and consequently our support staff members are facing redundancy or reduced hours in order to balance the books. These extra payments will only make the financial position worse.
I can only conclude that this New Labour government does not care at all about the lot of the ordinary low paid worker, not only in local government but in all sectors of our society.
We must, as trade unionists and activists, expose these unfair and immoral practices by argument and debate to convince our fellow workers that change in our society must come sooner rather than later.
Jonathan Sedgebeer, Branch secretary Telford Unison (personal capacity)
Respect backs fight by Mayville teachers
Waltham Forest Respect members were proud to offer support to the striking teachers at Mayville School, Leytonstone, east London, on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week.
The government has introduced plans to restructure management allowances across teaching.
Its new White Paper will take power away from local authorities.
Most schools have managed to assimilate teachers into the new management structure without loss of pay.
But the headteacher at Mayville has refused to negotiate with his staff and set out to break their strike.
We were shocked to learn of the high staff turnover and low morale amongst teachers.
We met someone from EduAction, the private contractor which runs education in the borough, who told us EduAction would not get involved and that it was up to the governors and the headteacher.
So much for the education providers’ concerns for the welfare of its staff and students.
Waltham Forest Respect will be supporting any further action by staff at Mayville and will help build for the lobby of the governing body on 20 April.
We will also continue to campaign against the privatisation of education and for the provision of good local schools for all our children.
Caroline Coleman, Respect candidate, Leytonstone
Robin Hood is alive and well in Madrid
In Spain’s large towns and cities beggars and drug abusers habitually shoplift groceries from local supermarkets for their own consumption.
But the Spanish state television has reported a new twist on such activity.
In a predominantly working class quarter of Madrid, Spain’s capital city, the thieves are taking their loot to a local park and offering it to pensioners, at a huge discount on retail prices.
In a TV interview, a well-dressed, grey haired, elderly woman says that her monthly pension of 500 euros (£300) is insufficient to meet even her basic living costs.
She is shown buying the few luxuries she could not otherwise afford, such as pre-packed slices of ham, from a dishevelled young man. Surely this is a case of symbolic symbiosis between two of society’s oppressed classes.
As a 74 year old English, working class pensioner, some 40 years resident in Spain, I don’t know whether this ought to make me laugh or cry. Spain has a nominally socialist government which unashamedly implements the same right wing policies as Britain’s New Labour.
Jim Handley, Madrid, Spain
French revolt inspires us
I am a Chinese communist. We Chinese communists are paying much attention to the rallies in France about the CPE labour law.
We are encouraged by the French movement and we get information about it from the internet.
In China, we can get little information about the movement in Chinese.
We have to find information in English. I have translated the article, “France 1968: A Year To Remember” (Socialist Worker, 1 April) into Chinese and put in on the largest Chinese website.
A vendetta against Bush
I would like to encourage Socialist Worker readers to go and see the new film V For Vendetta.
Set in a future fascist British state it is a call for a revolutionary overthrow of a corrupt, totalitarian regime.
The Warchowski brothers, who also made the Matrix films, have updated the original graphic novel to polemicise against George Bush’s war on terror, Islamophobia and the crackdown on civil liberties.
The portrayal of V, a “terrorist” who wants go blow up parliament and bring down the regime, is refreshing in these harsh times.
Simone Murray, Carlisle
BBC strike bias exposed
The BBC’s proclaimed objectivity has been exposed as a myth by people at the Indymedia website.
The BBC “have your say” board was tested for bias by three volunteers during last week’s pension strike.
Forty messages were sent to the board by the three people who logged in to various proxy sites.
They made 20 anti-strike comments and 20 pro-strike comments over 48 hours.
All 20 anti-strike comments were published while only one pro-strike comment was published.
The volunteers are now forwarding their findings to the BBC in an official complaint. This is just another example of pro-government bias from the BBC.
Peter David, East London
Where could $500bn go?
The website www.500Billion.com has launched a monthly contest for the best alternative to the cost of Iraq war spending.
The purpose of the contest is to spark debate on the costs of the war and to help people concretely understand the scale of money being spent.
Some entries are serious and others humorous.
March’s winner would buy 5,574 Twinkies (golden sponge cakes with creamy fillings) for each American. That’s 15.7 Twinkies a day for a whole year.
James Love, Vernon, Canada
Stop women dying in jail
Following the deaths of six women at Styal Prison, Cheshire, in the 12 months ending August 2003, the government has ordered a review into the treatment of vulnerable women within the criminal justice system.
Home secretary Charles Clarke attended the Fawcett Society’s conference in London on 30 March.
I raised several concerns with the home secretary.
Referring to the review body I commented that the report would not reach the home office until the end of the year, and the final report may not be published until 2007 at the earliest.
I told Clarke that in the meantime I feared for the safety of women in prison, as a further 29 women had died apparently self-inflicted deaths since my daughter Sarah’s death in 2003.
Clarke said public protection was paramount, but that he was prepared to accept that prison doesn’t work, and that women convicted of non-violent offences should be given community sentences.
Pauline Campbell, Malpas, Cheshire