Socialist Worker


Issue No. 1999

The aftermath of the disaster

The aftermath of the disaster

Nuclear after Chernobyl

Most sensible people would agree with Martin Empson (Chernobyl: a nuclear danger, 22 April) that reliance on a new generation of nuclear power plants is dangerous folly. But others would disagree that “wind, wave and tidal power” is the solution for future energy needs.

Wind power is useless on a freezing day when there is a high over Britain and there is no wind. Wave technology is in its infancy and in present circumstances would take 20 years to develop and implement to a level to solve the energy crisis.

But these days it is possible to burn coal with little or no emission of harmful gases. Coalfields could be reopened within five to ten years and there is sufficient coal to last a century. It would also employ people.

Geoff Way, Bournemouth

Perhaps it is Martin Empson’s desire to play up the Chernobyl disaster figures that is the real distortion here.

Having read thoroughly the International Atomic Energy Authority’s report concerning Chernobyl (something Empson is no doubt hoping that your readers won’t do) I am fairly convinced that it is as accurate as can be given the difficult nature of these sorts of studies.

A proper grown up debate is needed about nuclear power. This entails a clash of seriously different views. Views, however, that are ultimately bound by scientific and academic honesty. There is no place for tabloid-style remarks and conspiracy theories. It is far too serious a debate for that.

Paul Drew, Cheung Chau, Hong Kong

The Chernobyl tragedy does not discredit nuclear power any more than the Concorde crash discredited air flight. Both were the results of human error which had disastrous consequences for those who died or were injured or lost loved ones.

The cause of the Chernobyl fire was engineers on the evening shift experimenting to see whether the cooling pump system could still function should the auxiliary electricity supply fail.

The experiment was handled wrongly and the disastrous process began. This was terrible, but such horrors can be avoided. The truth is nuclear power is the sure way to combat global warming. Nothing else can so quickly fill the energy gap. By doing so it will be a lifesaver, not a life taker.

Demand nuclear power under state control, not in the hands of private firms. Demand union involvement and social accountability. Demand full safety audits and checks. But don’t sentence the world to climate chaos because of prejudice and unfounded beliefs.

Henry Parker, South London

Thank goodness for Martin Empson’s analysis of the Chernobyl disaster and its legacy.

There is a real danger that this event – which demonstrated that nuclear accidents are at a qualitatively different level to all others – will be forgotten.

With Blair and his corporate allies seeking to launch a new generation of nuclear rectors, Chernobyl must be remembered.

Marc Stewart, West London

The unions are finished

Alex Callinicos (Workers’ rights in France and Britain, 29 April) makes some interesting remarks about the difference between the militancy of British and French workers, but ends with the same dull formula of the need to build a rank and file movement in the unions.

This is the politics of the past.

When Blair goes it will be nothing to do with the unions. They have stood beside him to the end and run away at key moments. And there is absolutely no sign of a movement of trade unionists that can overcome their leaders and deliver independent struggle.

The leaders betray Gate Gourmet, and the rank and file do nothing.

The leaders pack in the pensions struggle, and the rank and file do nothing.

The anti-war movement is immeasurably more important than the unions. The anti-capitalist movement is immeasurably more important than the unions.

The Military Families Against the War movement is immeasurably more important than the unions. The people’s revolt in Bolivia is immeasurably more important than the unions.

Socialist Worker needs to get with where politics is today. You ritualistically devote pages of coverage every week to strike ballots and rumours of ballots, only for these struggles to go nowhere or to be snuffed out by the union leaders.

Abandon that and tell us more about the anti-war movement, the tenants’ struggles, the anti-racist struggles, the battles by asylum seekers and so on. That’s where a new movement is coming from, not the unions.

Nicky Hayes, Bradford

Private finance is a knife at throat of NHS

Serious concerns are developing within the Labour movement about the growing dependency of the NHS on private finance.

The private finance initiative (PFI) and public private partnerships (PPP) in the NHS and in other public services pose a serious risk of developing into full scale privatisation.

When significant amounts of state capital are available to the treasury, it should not continue to starve the NHS of capital and insist that NHS managers market test every capital building project for PFI before consideration is given to state funding.

Government capital attracts much lower interest rates than private capital, and without the need to undergo the PFI process, there is a much shorter lead-in time for schemes.

The trend over the last 25 years has been to reduce the availability of state funding and encourage private investment, a truly Thatcherite policy that the Labour government should surely have abandoned by now.

Many PFI schemes include the transfer of key NHS staff, which will erode the essential nature of the NHS – an NHS hospital, owned by the NHS and staffed by NHS workers.

I really believe now more than ever that the tide must turn and public sector workers need to unite together with the labour movement to enforce a shift of policy.

Gareth Thomas, Cannock, Staffs

Tale of tea break

At the BAE Systems yards where I work in Glasgow, we have seen the resilience of workers against neo-liberalism.

Management decided they were going to abolish the tea break on the morning shift as part of “streamlining costs”.

The break is very important because we start work at 7.30am and lots of workers hardly have time for refreshment before they begin. A 15 minute break, especially in winter, is a real relief.

We were told that if we accepted the abolition of the break we would eventually get an 11 percent rise as our annual pay increase. Despite this we rejected the plan at a mass meeting.

Then the company made some improvements, conceding that the night shift could be over four nights as people prefer rather than five. But the abolition of the break was still rejected by 70 percent of the workers in a union-sponsored ballot.

The company held its own ballot, after a lot of propaganda – and it was still rejected!

The joint unions then produced a letter virtually begging us to accept the deal. It was only this which secured a wafer-thin majority (32 in a yard of 2,000) to accept the end of the break.

We have won lots of concessions, but the unions could have led us into resistance.

BAE Systems worker, Glasgow

Upset by Green tactics

As a supporter of the Green Party I recently visited the party’s website and read the following about the council elections: “If the Green Party is standing less candidates than there are seats up for election in your ward, they will have the best chance of election if you only vote for them.

“Votes for candidates of other parties will, in a sense, cancel out your Green vote because the Green candidate(s) need(s) to get more votes than the other candidates in order to get elected.”

I was very shocked by this attitude.

Surely if there is a Respect or other progressive candidate then a Green voter should vote for them as well as her own first choice?

I hope Respect will do all in its power in the future to come to an agreement with the Greens so that all radicals can work together in future elections, and help each other to break the mould of traditional politics.

Pippa Jones, York

Unity is not automatic

Eleanor Young’s response (Letters, 22 April) to Sebastian Budgen showed a worrying attitude. Yes, the banlieue youths should be our allies, but that does not automatically mean that is how they will behave.

Building a genuine alliance between workers, students, and deprived youths will require an analysis based on the reality of the situation, and not simply pretending that problems do not exist.

To assume that people will automatically behave in a certain fashion is the worst kind of mechanical determinism, and does a grave disservice to the complexity of human experience.

Sam Ross, Sheffield

Ethiopians were scorned

With regards to your article on the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936 (The fascist invasion of Abyssinia, 29 April), the Second World War would have taken an altogether different shape if the fascist Bernito Mussolini had been deterred early on.

But it was “only Africans” who were suffering so few leaders cared – though, as you say, the people felt differently.

Gail Warden, by e-mail

We still make things here

Twice in recent weeks Alex Callinicos has written about Britain being a small manufacturing nation in comparison with its competitors.

It is of course true that Britain saw a bigger slump in manufacturing during the 1980s and 1990s than many other countries.

But it remains an important manufacturing base.

Manufacturing makes up a significantly larger share of Britain’s GDP than it does in the US, and it is only slightly behind France and Italy.

Britain remains an important industrial power, even if foreign companies dominate important sectors.

That is why car production in Britain, despite the closures, remains almost as high as at any point in the last 40 years.

To think manufacturing is a minor sector is to underestimate the effect that strikes by industrial workers can still have in Britain, or to indulge in fantasies that economies can be based solely on services.

Martin Collier, Bolton

TUC’s virtual militancy

I wasn‘t sure whether to laugh or cry when I discovered that the TUC has launched a “virtual march” game on its website. Unfortunately this is the only march the TUC is likely to organise over pensions!

If you want to while away some time at your desk, go to

Hannah Wall, Birmingham

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Sat 6 May 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1999
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