The residents are right
It’s excellent news that the tenants at the Boundary estate in east London have rejected so overwhelmingly Tower Hamlets council’s attempts to privatise it (Tenants’ victory over housing privatisation, 7 October). This is an unusual estate, one of the first major public housing projects in the world. Its picturesque appearance is a far cry from the stereotyped idea of grim, ghettoised council flats.
The Boundary estate is an early example of how housing for workers could be great architecture rather than a money-spinner for property developers and slum landlords.
Built in the 1890s on the site of the Old Nichol slum in Shoreditch, it was a product of the arts and crafts movement, which tried to use quality materials and original designs for the everyday life of working class people.
Now the area around the estate is full of overpriced loft conversions and luxury flats.
These developments for City workers tend to be of lower quality than the surrounding estates. The Boundary estate could have met the fate of the nearby Keeling House, a 1950s project of great architectural quality recently sold off to private developers. The residents have refused to let this happen.
Owen Hatherley, South East London
Defend Council Housing (DCH) in Brighton and Hove would like to thank Socialist Worker for its excellent article (Tenants’ ‘independent’ adviser accused of backing privatisers, 30 September) exposing how the so-called “independent” tenants’ advisers, Tenants Participation Advisory Service (TPAS), are used by privatisers.
The leaked e-mails, between Tony Bird of TPAS, and government and council officials, reveal TPAS’s vital role in preparing the council’s attempts to privatise our homes.
How can such advisers be impartial and independent when they are paid by councils to promote privatisation?
Over the last five years, Brighton and Hove council has wasted over £4 million on private consultants and privatisation propaganda. Some 8,000 people languish on the local waiting list, awaiting homes which remain vacant because the council claims it hasn’t got the money to fix them.
The political fall-out of the leaked e-mails continues to reverberate, undermining the council’s attempts to privatise our homes. It has also seen two people lose their places on housing committees.
Tenants will campaign for the immediate sacking of TPAS and the defeat of the New Labour council’s attempts to privatise our homes. We want the fourth option - direct investment in council housing.
Sean Humphries, on behalf of Brighton and Hove DCH committee
It has not been a good time for independent tenants’ advisers. Aldbourne Associates, Taunton Deane’s expert and “independent” tenants’ advisers, has been forced to print a public apology to council tenants and leaseholders in Salisbury for misleading them during the consultation on stock transfer.
It had failed to mention that if the transfer goes through VAT would be added to service charges. There is no mention of VAT in the offer document, which is alarming as it has been approved by Taunton Deane to send out to tenants.
Patricia Rowe, Wiveliscombe, Taunton
Photos of child’s play
I really appreciated Dod Forrest’s article, Is Childhood Dead? (30 September).
He was right to point out the ways in which capitalism has steadily eroded all of the spaces and supports that children need to develop into happy and healthy individuals.
In 2004, working with a small team, I conducted research with children in a deprived ward in Liverpool. The six children we worked with were between the ages of seven and ten. They were from “stressed” circumstances.
They were part of a local youth inclusion project and all had their own social workers. We gave the children disposable cameras and asked them to take pictures that said “something” about the environment in which they lived and played.
The lack of safe places for the children to play was the theme that struck us from the photographs. The photographs of the places they played were of burned-out cars, syringes, burned grass and tipped rubbish.
The children were filled with anxiety about the places where they played. Their stories also revealed the loss of play spaces in their areas. Fields and small spots of woodland had been built over for supermarkets, car parks and university buildings.
As open spaces are enclosed by urban intensification the few spaces left become the sites for many other problems that blight the poorest communities.
In the 1930s the experimental child psychologist Lev Vygotsky spoke about the importance of play in child development.
Play resolves a tension in the child between their desire to do things they cannot do and the necessarily limited reality of their situation. When the opportunities to play are restricted this tension cannot be resolved through the child’s imagination.
The result can be pent up feelings of frustration that the child does not understand.
This is an important element for explaining the alarming levels of depression and mental ill health among our children. It is also one for which capitalism is certainly to blame.
Mark O’Brien, Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Liverpool
Eyewitnesses to terror
I recently returned from Palestine deeply distressed at the plight of the Palestinian people. I was there when Lebanon was invaded and listened as the planes bombed Lebanon and Gaza.
Palestinians are lucky to sleep through a night without Israeli forces sweeping through refugee camps, exploding sound grenades, demolishing houses and sending dogs to attack people.
I witnessed a 14 year old boy shot in Balata refugee camp. A Swedish doctor and myself were walking with a young man when three Israeli soldiers fired shots into the Palestinian’s body.
The doctor asked the Israelis to leave the young boy alone and he would try to save him. The Israeli soldiers laughed at us and fired more bullets into this young boy. He died in my friend’s arms.
On the TV that night, it was announced that brave Israeli soldiers shot a young, armed terrorist. When is Britain and the US going to own up to who the terrorist really is?
My husband and I went to a demonstration at a Palestinian village that has been taken over by the Israeli authorities to build a settlement. We marched away from the Israeli soldiers and they shot me in the back.
The next week I was hit on the elbow and left with a shattered bone. My husband is now deaf in one ear from sound bombs going off around him. This is nothing compared to what happens to the Palestinian people.
Israeli forces told me that a Palestinian’s life is worthless. Sadly I would say that for them this is definitely true. We have a website with reports, photos and film - go to www.gphrc.org
Margaret Pacetta, Glasgow
Magnificent unity for workers’ rights
Next time you hear home secretary John Reid banging on about eastern European workers who want to “abuse” British hospitality, remember the name Zbigniew Zalejski.
What Reid and his ilk want is low-paid workers with no rights. This is why New Labour supports the European Union’s (EU) free market Bolkestein Directive.
Two weeks ago Zalejski, a 45 year old Polish worker, died when he fell 50 feet while cleaning an oven at a glass factory in central Italy.
The factory is owned by the British-based multinational Pilkington, which had made an “EU tender” for maintenance work.
This was won by a Finnish company, which to cut costs sub-contracted the work to a Polish company.
Italian workers responded magnificently. Factory shop stewards called over 2,000 workers out in protest at his death.
Lamberto Vespasiano, secretary of the CGIL union in the town of Chieti, said, “Workers’ safety rights are being increasingly attacked. We need to respond with determination and strength, with no compromises.”
Tom Behan, Whitstable
Dictatorship or democracy?
Isn’t it amazing how subtly the government and media condition us? Take for example the recent military coup in Thailand.
TV reports refer to the coup leader as “a really nice guy, a devout Buddhist” and the deposed prime minister as “corrupt”.
We are told the coup must be OK because Thailand’s king has approved its leader, and that the military is on the road back to democracy. This is a strange statement, given that the military has just destroyed it.
No condemnation of the military takeover came out of the US or Britain. The coup leaders will not be demonised. There will be no threats of sanctions or war.
The West supports this coup and wants little discussion of it.
Thailand’s dictator is our new friend in the region. I’m sure we will carry on selling him arms. We should bear these things in mind when next we hear George Bush or Tony Blair talking of building democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mark Holt, Chair, Merseyside Stop the War Coalition
Islamophobia from Straw
It’s typical that a white, middle aged male politician thinks he can legitimately tell women what they can and can’t wear.
In the current climate of Islamophobia, Jack Straw’s comments about veiled Muslim women are yet another attack on the Muslim community.
They imply that Islam is an inherently problematic religion which is incompatible with “Western” values.
The idea that veiled women - rather than the “war on terror” and the accompanying Islamophobia - is straining relations between different communities is absurd.
Straw claims that the veil is a “symbol of difference”, but what’s wrong with that? Any Stop the War or Respect activist can tell you that Muslims and non-Muslims can “relate” to each other perfectly well - veil or no veil.
Everyone who opposes the “war on terror” should be opposing Straw’s comments and standing up for a society where diversity is celebrated, not threatened.
Sadie Robinson, South East London
Take control of our lives
The lesson of the British navy’s mutiny at Invergordon in 1931 (Mutiny at Invergordon, 30 September) is clear:
Don’t just wait for a government to give you what you need, you must fight for it!
Fifty years ago in 1956 the Hungarian people did exactly the same. They fought for liberty and a sense of control in their lives.That’s what workers need to do today.
We need to remember these dates.
Graeme Kemp, Wellington
Ignoring Al Gore’s truth
After reading Sasha Simic’s letter attacking Al Gore (Letters, 30 September) I wonder whether Sasha interrogates all his fellow anti-war or climate change campaigners before he can bring himself to work with them?
Not everyone who wants to stop war or climate change feels we have to smash capitalism to do so. That’s a good job, or we’d be unlikely to achieve anything useful.
Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth is an excellent tool for campaigners against the climatic effects of an oil based system. If this is not a moral issue, then neither are racism, famine or war.
Gore’s scientific presentation is let down by the remedies he proposes. Gore’s approach is weakened by his commitment to business.
The fact that he supported the 1991 Gulf War may be a symptom of this, but only an abstract sectarian would use it as evidence that he and others like him have nothing useful to say about the need to change the priorities of capitalism.
Andy Abel, Bristol