Socialist Worker


Issue No. 1998

Illustration by Leon Kuhn

Illustration by Leon Kuhn

Our rights were sold out

The trade union leaders from the 11 unions involved in the pensions strike of 28 March have not only betrayed their own members, but all workers by calling off further strikes and trying to break the momentum of action (Fury at pension retreat, 22 April).

The mass strike of 28 March, the biggest since 1926, gave hope to so many other workers for improvements in working conditions.

Achieving better conditions for some workers leads to better conditions for all workers.

This is not the time for members of the 11 unions to become demoralised and deflated by the actions of their leaders. It is the time to make them accountable.

After all it is the members who pay their wages not those they are making deals and compromises with, without the authority of their members.

It is also time that union leaders remembered that their role is solely to be the mouthpiece for their members’ wishes. When are we all going to wake up to just how much New Labour are taking the piss out of workers.

They must be laughing at how far they are able to go with insufficient resistance when only days after the successful 28 March mass action they announced that they will increase the amount of taxpayers’ contributions to the MPs’ pension scheme.

Looking at this objectively shows just how ridiculous a situation it is. The government is being allowed to reduce pension rights and rob pensions of working people while also allowing the government to get those same working people to pay into a much wealthier pension scheme for already rich MPs.

The government is telling us that they have no money for workers’ pensions when they are spending billions on an illegal war.

But worse than this, and not just relating to the pensions issue, is that union rights that have been fought for over so many years are being chipped away.

Surely it is time for working people to decide what is allowed.

Jane Clements, Northampton

Why give union cash to Labour?

I write regarding the Unison union’s decision to suspend support for the Labour Party pending the outcome of the dispute over the local government pension scheme.

Jon Rogers is right to say it is a dispute that goes to the heart of what every union is about (Letters, 8 April).

But combative interventions at any level, let alone parliament and all the bluster at party conference, will achieve absolutely nothing.

New Labour’s onslaught of attacks on pension schemes and retirement rights will not cease in the face of localised action.

Every union must halt support for Labour as soon as possible and build the real alternative – Respect.

R Harris, Barrow-in-Furness

Discipline US-style

I read with alarm Terry Wrigley’s article on the Education Bill (Worst of the worst from Labour and Tory, 15 April), particularly his attack on proposals for non-teaching staff and volunteers to be involved in punishments.

As a warning of what will ensue one only has to look at the US.

There schools and youth programmes have increasingly employed non-teachers for use in “intervention” – to restrain disruptive pupils.

This has resulted in a number of deaths and an increasing number of legal challenges to use of so-called “reasonable force”.

Restraint using “reasonable force” is supposed to be used only in incidents involving violent students but it is clear it is now frequently employed as a punishment, often for fairly minor infractions.

There have also been a number of cases where sexual abuse has taken place under the guise of “restraint”. It also appears black boys suffer disproportionate levels of “intervention”.

Following one specific incident a protest took place in Florida on Friday of last week over the death in January of 14 year old black student Martin Lee Anderson at a “boot camp”.

Officially he collapsed during exercise and an examiner’s report blamed his death on the condition sickle cell anemia.

An examiner hired by the family gave cause of death as suffocation. Actor Charlie Sheen has donated $10,000 to their campaign for justice.

Three years ago a black youth died of appendicitis in a Miami juvenile lockup after staff ignored cries for help.

It has emerged that guards shown in the tape of this latest event were involved in at least 63 other incidents of “pain compliance” and restraint on juveniles.

The sheriff whose department oversees the camp attacked those criticising such programmes, which have mushroomed across the US in the last ten years.

Keith Prince, London

Whose behaviour is really unacceptable?

Sebastian Budgen (Letters, 15 April) expresses concern about Socialist Worker’s coverage of skirmishes at recent demonstrations in France. He questions whether the term “skirmish” is appropriate to describe alleged incidents which, if proven, would normally result in criminal prosecutions.

Sebastian refers to a “significant minority... who disrupted the demonstrations” and, of course, unacceptable behaviour from any source should not be tolerated when a protest is held.

My only experience of “unacceptable behaviour at demonstrations” has been at prison death protests held outside women’s prisons in England.

Sebastian may be interested to know that in every case the perpetrators of such behaviour have been so called authority figures and that, without exception, demonstrators have been very well behaved.

On more than one occasion, I have been driven at aggressively by prison van drivers. At one demonstration a false allegation was made against me by a male police officer that I had “assaulted” him.

Yes, there is sometimes bad behaviour at demonstrations, but it is important to remember that the culprits are not always youths and/or demonstrators.

Pauline Campbell, bereaved mother of Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, 18, who died in the “care” of Styal Prison, 2003

Respect’s answer to global warming

Sir David King, the government’s chief scientific advisor, has warned that even if the government achieves its objectives in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures worldwide are still likely to rise by three degrees.

Here in low lying Tower Hamlets, east London, we would be threatened directly by rising sea levels.

Countries such as Bangladesh are already suffering from the effects of climate change.

Respect is committed to making Tower Hamlets one of the greenest and most energy conscious councils in the country.

We would introduce renewable energy provision from photovoltaic cells (solar panels) or wind turbines on all council properties.

Renewably powered street lighting would be introduced. We would institute a much more aggressive recycling policy and would investigate the setting up of decentralised micro-generation of electricity.

We would put much more emphasis on safer routes for pedestrians and cyclists.

Ismail Hussain, Ahmed Hussain and Jackie Turner, Respect candidates for Mile End East, Tower Hamlets

War leads to gun crime

Gun crime appears regularly on our news bulletins. But there is virtually no discussion as to how people come to possess these weapons in the first place.

The end of the Second World War saw thousands of guns come into this country via troops who kept them in the bottom of their kit bags.

A steady flow of guns and ammunition came to this country from troops who had served in Northern Ireland.

Since the current war in Iraq began, more than 200 weapons belonging to the British military have either been lost or stolen – more than half of them hand guns or assault rifles.

These are official figures. I suspect the real figure is higher.

The consequence of Britain being at war means more guns are available on the streets and the anti-war campaign should make an issue out of this.

John Appleyard, Liversedge, West Yorkshire

God save the queen?

The BBC and the mainstream media have filled their broadcasts and pages with sycophantic guff about Britain’s richest pensioner for her 80th birthday on Friday of last week.

Other than sheer tedium, programmes on the queen’s fashion years have a more sinister edge.

The establishment wants us to accept that it is OK to allow a small minority of talentless individuals to rule over us and spend billions of pounds supporting them while hospitals slash jobs and public services crumble.

But there is a much better tradition than that of the monarchy – resistance to authority. As Jean Gray wrote in Socialist Worker in 4 June 1977 during the queen’s silver jubilee, “The queen is not with us because she brings in tourists.

“She is here because of what the monarch represents. All over the world, every day, things are being the done ‘in the name of our sovereign lady the queen’ which E Windsor knows and cares little about.

“The monarchy, ‘queen and country’ represents ‘authority’, ‘discipline’, subservience and respect for the so called ‘foundations’ of our society.

“To put two fingers up to the queen, to say stuff the jubilee, is to underline your defiance of the profit hungry scavengers who keep her there.”

Christine Layfield, Sheffield

No ‘just war’ in Iraq

In one of the most deplorable kangaroo court trials, Flight Lieutenant Dr Malcolm Kendall-Smith – an officer in the Royal Air Force who refused to follow orders to serve in Basra – has been sentenced to several months imprisonment.

Dr Kendall-Smith is being made a scapegoat. Clearly he should be feted as the conscientious objector and hero that he is.

Letters of comfort and support are always greatly welcomed by those unjustly incarcerated. Until it becomes clear which prison he is being sent to, Dr Kendall-Smith can be written to via his lawyers: Dr Kendall-Smith, c/o Justin Hugheston-Roberts, Rose Williams & Partners Limited, Stamford House, 2 Waterloo Road, Wolverhampton, WV1 4BL.

In Girvan on the Scottish Ayrshire coast, where I was on holiday recently, I visited a poignant war memorial that sits on the sea front to those lost in “the just cause” of the First World War.

A mere 20 years later, the Second World War followed, an equally “just cause” – involving a remorseless, powerful and ruthless enemy – which required Britain and democracies everywhere, to fight and prevail in.

However, there really was no “just cause” whatsoever in what we did in either Afghanistan or Iraq.

Zak Walpole, Glasgow

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Sat 29 Apr 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1998
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