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LETTERS – Individual acts over safety can become collective resistance

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Issue 2741
A safety campaign poster outside a school in south London earlier this year
A safety campaign poster outside a school in south London earlier this year (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Thanks for printing my letter on the NEU union’s groundbreaking advice to teachers to use Section 44 of the 1996 Employment Rights Act to refuse to work because of Covid-19 (Letters, 27 January).

In the process, you cut out my critical point that the union had “collectivised” this individual right.

Individual employment rights are usually difficult to enforce individually. They require collective organisation behind you.

In this case the NEU provided its members with a “model letter” to send to their school head. The union also wrote direct to schools explaining why they were unsafe.

Some socialists might feel uncomfortable in relying on such individual actions. We don’t look to the law to solve workers’ problems. But it would be foolish not to exploit it to our collective advantage when we can.

After all, when unions ballot for industrial action, we encourage members to vote—despite this being done individually through the post and not in a meeting.

Dave Lyddon, Keele

Dave Lyddon is right to emphasise the importance of workers exercising their legal right to refuse dangerous work (Letters, 27 January).

It is also true that this right originated in the European Framework Directive of 1989.

But the decades of “non-use” noted by Dave stems from a much greater scandal.

Margaret Thatcher’s government was required to implement the directive by 1992. But the only type of regulation that Thatcher wanted was the anti-union variety.

So some were delayed and key sections removed. This included the explicit duty on employers to control serious risks identified by statutory risk assessments.

The Tories were eventually forced to concede the right to refuse dangerous work.

However they introduced it as a minor clause in the little known Section 44.1 (d) and (e) of the 1996 Employment Rights Act.

Even today they do not specify the right of workers to stop the job on the grounds of safety or health. Over these years, thousands of workers have been killed, injured or made sick by workplace hazards.

John Murphy, Stockport

Was Socialist Worker wrong on India action?

Socialist Worker sympathised a bit too much with Indian farmers who raised the Sikh flag over the Red Fort in Delhi on 26 January.

Even the man who led the action, Deep Sidhu, has said he thinks it was “a police trap”. Leaders of the only small farmers’ union to support the action have dissociated themselves. All the other farmers’ Sikh leaders have condemned it.

Throughout Punjab many village committees have passed resolutions to dissociate from people who were involved.

The plan had been forged by a group of Khalistanis, Sikh separatist extremists, from abroad.

They offered anyone who would carry out such an action a quarter of a million dollars and permanent residence in Canada.

There was scant security and protesters pushed through the police line with ease. After some hours the Rapid Action Force arrived to clear the fort with considerable violence.

The idea of invading the Red Fort struck a chord with many youth.

But it was a calculated move by Modi to sow divisions between Sikhs and Hindus, and deliver a hammer blow to the campaign.

He has miscalculated. Thousands of farmers have returned. Their slogans are, “We are not Sikhs, Hindus or Muslims, but farmers!”

And all meetings start with loud shouts filling the air, “Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Christians are brothers!”

Balwinder Rana, From Punjabi farmer background

Mental health ‘reform’ leaves people at risk

The Mental Health Act (MHA) White Paper aims to improve mental health services by reforming the MHA 1983.

That sounds good, doesn’t it?

But the White Paper fails to address the root and branch reforms needed.

Acute mental distress and trauma is most often caused by poverty, housing problems, disadvantage, abuse and discrimination.

These are all worsened by neoliberalism—and now by Covid-19. Yet the White Paper still treats such distress and trauma as “something wrong with your brain”.

This still allows you to be forcibly detained in hospital.

Safety? No one else is detained because of potential risk—and we frequently leave hospital still more traumatised. Please support our campaign for full human rights.

Dorothy Gould, By email

Get involved with the campaign—email [email protected]

Floods show climate chaos won’t ignore us

The flooding of a large part of the village of Skewen in South Wales was a devastating event with eight streets flooded and scores of homes wrecked by the raging torrent.

A river of orange water poured out of the old Skewen Main mine on Drymau Mountain which stands over the village.

Drymau is riddled with old mine workings although the mine was closed in 1928. It will cost millions to repair the homes, roads and drains and millions more to cap the flow and direct the water to safer channels.

Residents face at least six months before being allowed back into their homes.

They have basically paid for the failure to ensure the mine in the mountain was made safe against flooding.

The flood is the first on this scale in almost a hundred years. It shows that, although the government can ignore climate chaos, the climate chaos will not ignore us.

Huw Pudner, Pontardawe, former Skewen resident

Open books at universities

Time for students to hold university managers to account and demand to see their financial statements since lockdown.

Universities will be flush with surplus cash because for a year they have been charging students full fees but delivering online courses.

Millions of pounds from energy, student services and so on will have been pocketed from closing campuses and furloughing staff.

Aria Davis, Stockport

A brutal war on claimants

This is what this right wing government wanted all along (Attacks on benefits have toll on mental health, 3 February).

Their next step will be food vouchers instead of cash and workhouse style hostels for homeless and destitute.

Thomas Ness, On Facebook

Fury at British Gas attacks

Another big organisation acting with impunity (British Gas workers return to strikes, 28 January).

Look after your staff. If you don’t, I will be switching my supplier.

Chris Szabo-Hemmings, On Facebook

It is unbelievable that these shortsighted practices are being used in this day and age.

British Gas is pursuing profit at the cost of its employees.

Ted Watts, On Facebook

What a disgraceful way for British Gas to treat their workforce.

I am a longstanding Homecare customer but that is going to change.

Janet Cummings, On Facebook

It’s A Sin is worth a watch

Great series (It’s A Sin tells the hidden stories of the Aids crisis, 3 February).

It also reveals the heartbreaking schisms in families caused by ignorance and bigotry.

Don’t miss this.

Philip Foxe, On Facebook

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