Socialist Worker


Issue No. 1997

Flores Sukula addresses the radical social work conference (Pic: Duncan Brown)

Flores Sukula addresses the radical social work conference (Pic: Duncan Brown)

For help and solidarity

Recently over 250 social workers, students and service users crammed into a conference in Liverpool on Social Work in the 21st Century: a Profession Worth Fighting For?

It was inspiring. Academics, activists, service users and practitioners discussed the impact of neo-liberalism on social work – and how we should resist.

There were sessions on working with asylum seekers, the demonisation of young people, the politics of social work and social care and working in the social work business.

The conference voted to write to the home office demanding that the Sukula family should be allowed to stay in Britain – Flores Sukula spoke at the conference – and demanding the repeal of Section 9 laws which allow the removal of children from asylum seeking families.

There was a real feeling that we were witnessing the growth of a new left in social work.

In the late 1960s and the 1970s the protest movements of those years led to the growth of a “radical social work”.

Many people entered social work committed to changing the social circumstances that generate human misery. But during the 1980s and 1990s “radical social work” was marginalised as the big protest movements went into retreat.

It is no surprise that a new left is emerging in social work now. The global justice and anti-war movements of the last few years have provided the resources of hope that have created a space for a new radical social work.

The dominant theme of the conference was, “We didn’t come into social work for this”. We didn’t become social workers to be rationers of care and controllers of the poorest sections of the working class. Instead the majority came into the field to offer help and solidarity to the most marginalised and victimised in society – and this means addressing the public causes of so many private troubles.

Social work, social workers and service users have suffered over the last two decades from cuts and demonisation.

The conference seemed to mark a line in the sand. That enough is enough – and that another, better, engaged social work is possible.

Michael Lavalette
Laura Penketh
Iain Ferguson

Coca-Cola’s rotten record in India

Coca-Cola relies on access to vast supplies of water. It takes almost three litres of water to make one litre of Coca-Cola.

In order to satisfy this need, Coca-Cola is increasingly taking over control of aquifers in communities around the world.

Nowhere has this been better documented than in India, where there are now community campaigns against the company in several states. New research carried out by War on Want in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh confirms the findings that Coca-Cola’s activities are having a serious negative impact on farmers and local communities.

Coca-Cola established a bottling plant in the impoverished village of Kaladera in Rajasthan at the end of 1999.

Official documents from the government’s water ministry show that water levels were stable from 1995 until the Coca-Cola plant became operational.

Water levels then dropped by almost ten metres over the following five years. Locals now fear that Kaladera could become a “dark zone”, the term used to describe areas that are abandoned due to depleted water resources.

Joe Zacune, War on Want
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Uniy in the French movement

I was shocked and surprised to read Sebastian Budgen’s letter (Did SW ignore the thugs?, 15 April) castigating “lumpen youths” as a major problem for the movement in France against the new labour laws.

Budgen has obviously never seen a real social movement up close before. There are often “impure” elements in every struggle. Does he think there were no sexist remarks during the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike in Britain, no petty thieves during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, no looters of small shops during the 1981 Brixton riots?

Of course such things existed, but quite rightly our side did not elevate this into a major question.

 The job of socialists during the recent magnificent battles in France was to build links between students and workers, and then to build further links between these groups and the banlieue youths who had been so scandalously ignored by all political forces.

The people Budgen so denigrates should be our allies and we have to work towards that.

But perhaps Budgen approves of the alternative course of some  CGT union stewards who handed over the youths to the police – a great help towards unity.

Eleanor Young, West London

Is Britain different?

I was delighted by the revolts in France which forced the government to cancel the labour laws.

But it made me wonder whether such an uprising is possible here.

Has the British working class not recovered from the defeats of the 1980s, leading to the strength of union leaders and weakness of the rank and file? Is the hold of Labour too strong?

Or should we see the difference between Britain and France as a myth – look at the power of our anti-war movement for example?

Jeremy Corrigan, Bristol

Peru’s Humala is part of revolt against the US

Mike Gonzalez (Peruvians vote for a change of direction, 15 April) is too dismissive of the radical credentials of Peru’s Ollanta Humala. Reading Mike you would be hard pressed to work out why the US administration is so concerned to stop him winning the run-off presidential election next month.

Humala is not a revolutionary socialist (indeed he may not be a conventional socialist of any stripe) but his revolutionary nationalism scares the rich.

Not since the 1970s, when a military government introduced radical land reform and kicked out foreign companies, has Peru’s European-descended elite been threatened with huge wealth distribution for the benefit of the Andean poor.

“How can it be that 5 percent of the population enjoys the wealth of this country and the rest are exploited?” asked Humala recently. “How much longer must so much of Peru’s people live in misery?”

These are very pertinent questions and, even if he does not have the full answers to them, Humala has raised them.

He is also very close to Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who has been applauded by Socialist Worker for many of his actions.

Humala needs support and solidarity to win. The strength of the social movement will decide what ultimately happens in Peru, but we can’t build that separately from standing with Humala.

Katherine Cowie, South London

Education for sale

Corruption is inevitable when the super-rich get involved in health and education.

One of the super-rich who has funded Labour’s academy schools programme is retail chief Philip Green. He has plenty of cash to spend on branding schools in his image because the system gives him so much.

In October 2005 Green awarded Arcadia shareholders a £1.3 billion dividend. Green and his wife are joint owners of 92 percent of the group, and therefore received £1.17 billion – the largest payout to an individual in British corporate history.

Entirely legally, Green’s share was not taxed as it was paid to his wife, Tina, who lives in Monaco. Mrs Green is the direct owner of Arcadia.

So when we learn this tycoon has pumped more than £6 million into his retail academy, we should set that against the tax he might have paid – £480 million on a profit of £1.2 billion.

Green owns a £20 million yacht and a £16 million private jet. For his son’s bar mitzvah in 2005, he spent £4 million of his own money on a three-day event for over 200 friends and family in the French Riviera. For his 50th birthday, he flew 200 guests to Cyprus for a three-day toga party.

Just the sort of ethos we want for our children!

Mary Poole, East London

Insulted by Jones’ award

Good news for all those Labour candidates who are going to lose their seats in the local elections – you might end up in the House of Lords!

Maggie Jones, the Labour candidate who lost the party’s safest Welsh seat in the 2005 general election, has been made a peer.

Jones, an official with the Unison union, was defeated in Blaenau Gwent in 2005 despite defending a 19,000 Labour majority.

Ex-Labour Assembly Member Peter Law won the Blaenau Gwent seat following a campaign overshadowed by a row over all-woman shortlists for Labour candidates.

There is deep anger in Wales over Jones’ appointment.

Peter Law said he had predicted on election night that Jones would get a peerage and called her nomination another example of “Labour rewarding failure”.

We know enough in Wales about dodgy peerages, as this is the country where honours seller Lloyd George made his name.

Gareth Jones, Ammanford

Beware, state is calling you

My fears about new terrorism legislation were increased after reading about the case of Harraj Mann.

He was hauled off a London-bound plane at Durham Tees airport recently after police said they had received a security tip off.

Mann had asked the taxi driver taking him to the airport to play The Clash’s “London Calling” through the vehicle’s stereo.

The driver rang police after he heard the song’s line “War is declared and battle come down” which Mann apparently sang along to.

Mann, a mobile phone salesman of Indian origin, missed his flight to Heathrow because of the security check and had to return home to Hartlepool.

Perhaps he was lucky not to be flown to Guantanamo!

Martin Brockhurst, Newcastle

Who counts dead in Iraq?

Am I the only person who is increasingly worried by the use of the Iraq Body Count (IBC) figures of how many people have died in Iraq since the war began?

I am sure the project began with very good intentions, but it is now habitually used by press and politicians to undermine higher estimates (such as The Lancet study) and to claim that many more died under Saddam Hussein’s brutal rule.

IBC by simply reporting deaths that are noted by the media, is ignoring a vast number of fatalities. It is therefore in danger of becoming useful to imperialism.

At present its highest estimate of those who have died is 38,300.

John Turner, Leicester

Fairford is our key Iran base

The prospect of war with Iran terrifies me. It really feels as if there are no limits to Bush’s evil plans.

And if it begins, we in Britain have a special responsibility.

A key component of US action would be a strong dependence on the B-2 long-range stealth bomber.

The plane’s dependence on specialised servicing equipment to maintain its “stealth” radar avoidance ability puts the only four bases worldwide where these are available at an absolute premium.

These four bases are in the US, Guam in the Pacific, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire.

The stealth support facilities already available in the first three locations were joined by Fairford in December 2004. This serves as a forward operating facility, especially for bombers.

In the approach to the Iraq war, the Air Force’s 457th air expeditionary wing was based at Fairford.

Given Fairford’s centrality, should we not be considering direct action at the base?

Sally White, Bristol

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Sat 22 Apr 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1997
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