Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2002

Linguistic advantages

Michael Rosen writes some entertaining and insightful articles in Socialist Worker, and elsewhere from time to time. I also enjoy his BBC programmes, where his light touch and preparedness to bring different opinions and experiences of language forward do him credit.

However, his recent piece on “correct” use of English had me “literally” reaching for my shotgun (Mind Your Language?, 20 May).

Simply because a bunch of appalling bores and pedants such as John Humphrys and Lynne Truss are given an airing to expound their dreary views doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.

The problem is not as Michael sees it – one of the powerful ordering us to speak “proper”. Rather it is that the ability to communicate effectively is itself an empowering thing.

Middle class children have a real advantage in that their language is the norm and working class children have to “learn” this language in the struggle for education and jobs.

Many people, especially teachers and others who work with young people, are aware of the decline that has taken place in communication skills. Some blame TV, some blame a decline in reading, video games and so on.

The point, however, is that middle class children are still reading, and accessing skills, despite these drawbacks due to their inherent social advantages.

Michael’s hippie liberal view seems to be, “Hey man, like let the little dudes just like, experience stuff and like, just grow.” In the real world however, employers do require abilities such as reading and writing – and the ability to communicate effectively.

Working class children need access to education and training, and their parents know that, and I’m sure Michael does too. Sticking two fingers up to John Humphrys might be fun, but it doesn’t address the problem.

Philip Foxe, North London

Prescott’s hypocrisy over pensions

Labour MP John McDonnell has challenged the government’s plan to slash local government pensions by up to a third.

He has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM), known as a “prayer”, seeking the annulment of the “regulations” introduced by John Prescott to facilitate the cuts to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).

Unfortunately, with support from only 16 other MPs, including Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn and Austin Mitchell, there currently seems little prospect of a vote on the EDM. That is despite up to two million workers’ pensions being affected by the regulations.

John Prescott is guilty of gross hypocrisy by introducing the regulations. MPs belong to the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund. This scheme has an “80 year rule” that allows an MP to retire at 60, without any actuarial penalty for early retirement, provided he or she had got in 20 years service.

There are no plans to delete this rule, yet the regulations would remove the “85 year rule” of the local government scheme and the very similar protection it provides. Perhaps the 4 percent of voters who are LGPS members should be doing more to draw this discrepancy to MPs’ attention.

John Fricker, T&G union at Restormel Borough Council, Cornwall

Nasser’s legacies

The reason the Egyptian people are so oppressed (Rebel Egyptian judges interviewed, 20 May) is not just to do with Hosni Mubarak’s coterie or the rise of the Islamist fundamentalists.

Both of these forces worked with each other when it suited them (and still do), especially against the Communists and the left. Similarly, US imperialism has armed and nourished every ruling class in Egypt since the demise of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Nasser was a great man, certainly the greatest ever Arab leader. But he also crippled the Communists when the latter became opportunists and merged with his Arab Socialist Union. He also persecuted the Islamists.

Had Nasser left a more democratic tradition, such as what we see in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, the Egyptian army would not have turned into a bloated warhorse and there would not have been any need to sell out to Israel and to US imperialism.

So Egypt’s crisis is very much self-inflicted. Egypt’s agony is the agony of every Arab country. That is why we must watch the situation in Egypt very closely. The revolt of the judicial system represents a frustration with the Mubarak regime’s inability to provide even small democratic openings to the middle class.

There are organic movements in Egypt struggling to define a socio-political programme, and Kifaya is one of them. I was very happy when it broadened its agenda from merely ousting Mubarak to one of anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism.

Now it must develop organic contacts with the workers and peasants, who have waited for deliverance ever since Nasser died and have seen their rulers sell out to Israel and the US.

Kifaya must link up with the masses, because the old rotten culture which extols Arab nationalism just won’t do.

The Arab east is ripe for classic anti-feudal revolutions, on the pattern of the French and Russian ones. But the only way to avoid the old mistakes is not to revert to the colonels and generals, but to genuine revolutionaries.

Raza Naeem, Lahore, Pakistan

Flower sellers attacked by police in Mexico

The neo-liberal agenda in Mexico has recently seen a vicious attack against flower vendors and their supporters in the town of Atenco.

Authorities trying to evict flower sellers met with resistance as the grassroots organisation in Atenco – which fought off attempts to build an airport on their land in 2002 – fought back with machetes and the kidnapping of police officers (later released to the Red Cross).

The police retaliated with over 3,000 armed officers running rampage in the town, arresting over 200 and beating, by order, “everything that moves” according to the testimony of a police agent.

The police fatally shot at least one person, 14 year old Javier Cortes Santiago. Foreign activists and human rights observers, who were later deported, have given horrifying accounts of sexual abuse and rape in the police vans before reaching Santiaguito jail.

The next day 6,000 marched, closed three main highways, struck in several universities and high schools and demanded the release of all detained prisoners.

The Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos has condemned the police repression and called for all the prisoners to be released.

Readers can find translated articles on the Atenco situation at and

Fiona Crawford, Glasgow

MPs fail to amend extradition rules

Our MPs have ignored a golden opportunity to give British citizens back their rights to a fair trial in this country – rights that are currently contravened under the 2003 Extradition Treaty.

On Wednesday 10 May a debate and vote took place in the House of Commons over amendments to the Police and Justice Bill that would have revised our extradition arrangements with the US.

Currently dozens of British citizens are facing extradition to the US without so much as a shred of evidence presented against them. These include Babar Ahmad, who faces trumped up charges of terrorism.

Some 293 MPs voted in favour of the government, including many anti-war Labour MPs. As a result the vote was lost and the matter will now go to the House of Lords who will reconsider these amendments.

We are very disappointed that MPs voted against amendments that would have given Babar and others like him the basic right to a fair trial in this country – or at least the right to challenge the evidence presented against him.

Mrs Ahmad, Free Babar Ahmad campaign

Maoism and revolution

Henry Maitles’s article about Maoism (Maoism and Marxism, 20 May) contains numerous errors. The most serious is the identification of Democratic Kampuchea (the “Pol Pot” regime) with Maoism.

This regime welcomed the defeat of Maoism after 1976 and joined in the condemnation of the so called “Gang of Four”. It can, therefore, hardly be called Maoist.

Having been to Nepal a few weeks ago, I can confirm that the peasants there are far less individualistic than the Western working class that the Socialist Workers Party seems to place so much faith in. They are making a revolution – the Western working class is not.

Maoism is spreading very rapidly across the Indian subcontinent. Genuine Marxists should be studying this phenomenon and drawing appropriate conclusions from it.

Jacob Secker, East London

Respect for east London

The reason why Respect had such a breakthrough in east London is poverty. I worked in Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking for over ten years. The levels of poverty I saw there were shocking.

The Labour Party, which should be representing these people, now acts against their interests locally and internationally. This is the driving force for Respect’s dramatic breakthrough.

I have been massively impressed with the results Respect has achieved. From here on in we are hitting above our weight.

Pete Hannen, New South Wales, Australia

Close down RAF Fairford

On the first day of spring in 2003, a fleet of 17 B52 bombers left RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire. They were part of the “shock and awe” campaign that started the invasion of Iraq.

Now in 2006 George Bush and Tony Blair are trying to lay the foundations for a war on Iran. If RAF Fairford was closed down, Bush could still bomb Iran – but it wouldn’t be from British soil.

I have set up a Close Fairford campaign to prevent the bombers going to Iran. But we need support from other organisations and from workers who are anti-war. If you don’t want war on Iran please write to your MP and organise your own pressure group.

James Overton, Polperro, Cornwall

‘British values’ and the war

Education minister Bill Rammell recently said we should teach “British values” to our schoolchildren.

I find these proposals ominous. How will the war in Iraq be taught against these criteria? This carnage was neither free, fair nor democratic.

People from a host of ethnic and cultural backgrounds exercised their civic responsibility by demonstrating against the war – but it went ahead regardless. Is that what makes us all “British”?

Alan Haynes, Gravesend, Kent

Let’s protest against BNP

The fascist British National Party (BNP) now has 48 councillors across the country. Margaret Hodge MP deserves sacking after her comments about the BNP, which only helped these scum to rise.

This should be a wake up call for Unite Against Fascism to step up the campaign to flush the Nazis out. A national demonstration should be called as soon as possible.

CA Dowthwaite, Barrow-in-Furness

Arithmetical correction

The new union to be formed by the merger of the AUT and Natfhe – the University and College Union – will have 120,000 plus members, not 60,000 as you say in your article on the AUT conference (AUT conference, 20 May).

Paula Lanning, Natfhe, London

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Tue 23 May 2006, 17:51 BST
Issue No. 2002
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