Socialist Worker


Issue No. 1996

Who gets trade union money?

Jon Rogers (Letters, 8 April) writes congratulating the Unison union’s Labour Link body for suspending funding to the Labour Party during the pensions dispute. But he adds that the money must not be given to other organisations such as Respect or the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).

I agree with much of what Jon writes, but I think he is wrong about this funding question.

It is not enough to withhold money. There has to be a positive discussion about what Unison does with its political fund.

I have no problem with funding Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and similar Labour MPs on the grounds that they support Unison’s policies.

But on the same basis we should be able to support Respect’s George Galloway and the SSP’s Colin Fox. Using our money in this way would mean a real debate among Unison’s members. It would invigorate union democracy and instigate political discussions.

If we don’t allow a democratised union fund we either have to fund nobody—a backward, unpolitical step—or return to just funding Labour when we decide the party has become semi-decent again (I’m not quite sure when that would be).

Let’s have a political fund that really reflects our union.

Sandra Towers, North London

The 28 March strike by Unison and other public sector unions was great, and illustrated massive solidarity from members of other unions. But there were also big problems with it and the continued strategy from the Unison leadership.

The union leaderships in this country are defensive, pessimistic and want a quick accommodation with Blair—we can’t let this happen. Why are the union leaderships not asking for solidarity action now from other unions?

I am seriously worried that unless ordinary members of whatever union don’t put enough pressure on their respective union leadership, then this fight over pensions could go down to defeat.

Derek Fraser, President Rochdale NUT (personal capacity)

Scottish voters' verdict on Labour

Scotland will not have local elections this year, but the signs of Labour’s crisis are as marked here as they are in the rest of Britain.

Recent by-elections have seen staggering defeats for Labour. In Kings Park, Glasgow, Labour’s vote fell by 26 percent while the Lib Dems’ vote increased by 22 percent.

On the same day in Stirling, Labour lost another seat as its vote fell 16 percent and the Scottish National Party (SNP) vote rose by 17 percent.

This year Labour has also lost council seats in South Ayrshire and Milton. And there was the loss of the Dunfermline West parliamentary seat in February.

Unfortunately—as with the rest of Britain—there is no guarantee that the left gains when Labour crashes. The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) has made no breakthroughs in these elections and has perhaps slipped back a bit.

Parties like the Lib Dems and the SNP will always seek to benefit from Labour’s weaknesses.

But they do not offer any genuine alternative for workers in Scotland.

Scottish Labour has sometimes tried to look more left wing than the Blair model. Yet it has, for example, refused to offer a genuinely better deal on pensions to striking local government workers.

I hope to see Respect do very well in the coming English elections, and the SSP to step up its challenge.

Marie Houlighan, Glasgow

Debating Samuel Beckett

Sinead Kennedy is right to point to the forms of “resistance” present in Samuel Beckett’s life and work, and to overturn the misplaced criticisms of his supposed nihilism and pessimism (Samuel Beckett: poet of pessimism or herald of resistance?, 8 April).

I wonder, however, if she is correct to locate Beckett’s politics and thought so squarely in his presentation of the myriad broken bodies that stumble across his stages and fill his novels with their interminable, if humorous, complaints.

After all, it is precisely an emphasis on these same bodies, their alleged uselessness and horror, that underlies some of the original Marxist (and other) criticisms of his work.

It has always struck me, rather, that the bodies in Beckett serve as a formal mechanism for isolating certain other human capacities (the voice, for example, memory and the will to persevere).

The lack of adornments of his tramp-like characters allows Beckett to “reduce” humanity to a few main components, not so as to revel in its debasements, but rather the better to see what we are made of, beyond material possessions.

It is here that the properly courageous elements of Beckett emerge—tenacity, commitment, the desire not to give up. If that’s not a description of a properly political orientation, I don’t know what is!

Nina Power, South East London

As a Marxist and a theatre critic (in that order), I would like to express my absolute agreement with Sinead Kennedy’s superb article on Samuel Beckett.

The strand in left wing thought which has attempted to dismiss Beckett’s theatre as pessimistic has never grasped the profound humanism in the plays.

Typical of Beckett’s quiet radicalism was his statement that the ideal place to perform his immense drama Waiting for Godot was in a prison. The piece was, indeed, played in a number of jails.

It also toured in Sweden with convict actors, until four of the five performers escaped through a dressing room window. I’m sure that would have made the great playwright smile.

Mark Brown, Glasgow

United for education at Surrey University

A victory in the struggle for better higher education was won recently here at Surrey university. In a referendum students voted by 388 to 357 to support the industrial action by lecturers in the AUT union.

The yes campaign was supported mainly by Respect students, in close contact with lecturers.

This was the most interesting political challenge Respect had been involved in during the last two years. We distributed more than 2,000 leaflets and put up over 200 posters. The majority of students we approached expressed their support and voted to back our lecturers.

This was despite the fear-inciting argument of the no campaign—organised by our student union sabbatical officers. It said students wouldn’t graduate if the AUT was successful in its exam boycott.

We made it clear from the start that we were fighting for better higher education, and that could not be achieved without well paid and motivated lecturers.

Lecturers are not to blame for problems that result from the boycott. Those responsible are the government—which had no problem raising money for war—and the employers who have overloaded lecturers with extra responsibilities.

We argued the only way forward was to support the lecturers so that the employers are forced to negotiate, otherwise next year’s students would face a much more difficult situation.

Underpaid staff, top-up fees and the closure of departments are all attacks on our education and we have to fight back united.

Ioanna Ioannou, Respect, Surrey University

Did Socialist Worker ignore the thugs in France??

I am glad that Socialist Worker at least acknowledged (Learning lessons from France’s past, 8 April) that in France there were “skirmishes between marchers and groups of youths hovering on the fringes of demonstrations”.

This is, I suppose, progress on the paper’s previous denials of “contradictions among the people”.

But, first of all, is the term “skirmishes” really accurate to convey the reality of a large group of people kicking a prostrate demonstrator, sexually harassing young women or mugging people?

Secondly, and more importantly, the article gives absolutely no explanation about why there might be such “skirmishes”, or why the CGT union federation stewards had to arm themselves with wooden staves.

Shit happens. Is that the editorial line? How are readers supposed to understand the shift in the paper’s coverage from last week’s assertion of the automatic proletarian unity against the police to this week’s grudging admission of “skirmishes”?

Why is it so hard for you simply to say that, for this and that reason—the reality is very complex—that there is a significant minority of lumpen thugs who disrupted the demonstrations, and that this is a real problem? What, politically, is the harm in just admitting this basic truth, for god’s sake?

Sébastien Budgen, Paris, France

Don’t forget Vanunu case

The Free Vanunu campaign has organised the Vanunu Freedom Ride to protest at Mordechai Vanunu’s continuing persecution and to demand his complete freedom and the dismantling of all nuclear weapons.

This bicycle ride started in Glasgow last week and ends in London on 21 April. We plan to stop at various towns and cities on the way where we will hold events to raise awareness of Vanunu’s situation and Israel’s nuclear weapons—still secret and not subject to international inspection.

Any cyclists are welcome to join us for as short or as long a distance as suits them. We also welcome any donations and creative ideas. For details go to our website

Alice Milington, Hemel Hempstead

Gas prices makes us boil

Residents in Sheffield who benefit from the council’s community heating scheme have been landed with a large increase in their heating bills.

Last year’s bills for residents were in the region of £500 for the year. This year the bill is £817—a 60 percent increase.

The council’s letter to tenants blames the rise on increases in the wholesale price of gas and consequent price rises by energy providers. It goes on to say that the council will be “putting in place a programme of efficiency work during 2006-7”.

My understanding of this system is that it is supposed to be cheap and environmentally friendly. It would appear that it is neither.

It would appear that the government has cut funding for the development of public sector community heating schemes.

This is despite the government previously announcing over 15 months ago that it had allocated an additional £10 million to continue the programme.

Could this be the real reason for such a hike in costs? I don’t know the full answer, but to elderly people like my mum, and other families, this is an incredible increase.

Linda Cawley, Sheffield

Danger of free speech rally

On the same day that people in the US showed their anger at anti-immigration laws, a small group gathered in London to fan the flames of Islamophobia under the guise of a “free speech” rally.

I was there to observe. I was shocked to hear Peter Tatchell, someone I had previously believed to have sound left wing credentials, turn to the police who were present and make a plea that they “stop being afraid of upsetting the Muslim community. They are not above the law.”

Has he not noticed that stop and search of Asians by police has soared 300 percent?

Is it possible that all those headlines about dawn raids on British Muslim households have escaped him?

The claim that the police are scared of upsetting Muslims is the sort of nonsense I would expect to read in one of the right wing tabloids.

Those who believe that the “march for free expression” is a progressive movement should realise that it is pandering to reactionary forces who benefit from demonising Muslims.

Mary Allen, by e-mail

Respect helps school protest

Jim Rogers, former council leader and now Harlow Respect local election candidate, joined forces last week with former MEP Hugh Kerr to call for a campaign to stop plans to uproot Passmores School and move it to another site.

Both spoke, along with a parent, at a community public meeting attended by around 60 people. It followed stories in the local press and in a Labour Party newsletter advocating the move.

A resolution to establish a campaign to keep Passmores School on its present site was passed with no opposition.

Julie Chase, Harlow

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Article information

Sat 15 Apr 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1996
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