THE NEWS of Le Pen’s election breakthrough in France broke on Sunday night. I felt I had to do something. So I did a collection at work the following morning. The response was inspiring. It raised £178 for the Anti Nazi League. I work at Marconi, the company that has gone belly-up and may still collapse. It is making redundancies, and that has had a terrible impact on the atmosphere at work.
Some of those I work with are leaving. Our union branch has battled to try to get some resistance, but most heads have been down. That is the kind of demoralisation that can feed the Nazis. But as one colleague said to me, ‘We may be low, but we are not as low as the BNP.’ People understood that events in France were a warning of what could happen in Britain.
The response where I work shows that it does not have to be the right that gains. The collection has helped to create a sense of solidarity at work. It has also helped the anti-Nazi campaign. I put a note up saying how much was collected, along with an example of the anti-Nazi leaflets that have gone door to door in Tipton in the West Midlands.
People were proud that they had done their bit to get those leaflets out. I’d encourage every Socialist Worker reader to do a similar collection. You’ll be surprised by the response, no matter how ground down your workmates have been.
SEAN LEAHY, Coventry
LIKE MANY others, I listened with increasing horror last week as home secretary David Blunkett repeated Thatcher’s vile accusation that local schools and doctors’ surgeries are ‘swamped’ by asylum seekers. I was disgusted that Blunkett was trying to boost New Labour’s vote by appealing to the most racist ideas in the run-up to the council elections in which the BNP hoped to win seats.
If he wants to ease the difficulties of schools and GPs and push back the racists the solution is easy. Let asylum seekers choose where to live, and tax the rich to provide enough teachers, doctors, homes and language support to meet everyone’s needs. That would bring back a chunk of demoralised voters too.
Instead Blunkett is talking of segregating asylum seeker children. He’s a fool if he thinks this scapegoating will weaken the Nazis. The language of racism belongs to the right, and it is traditional Tory voters who rally round such talk.
Blunkett will not gain a single vote for New Labour, but he will boost the confidence of the Nazis. About 90 percent of refugees live in London. Schools and hospitals do face problems, but they are not overwhelmed by the special needs of those who don’t speak fluent English, despite funding cuts.
In Newham, east London, one child in every 12 at school is a refugee-yet results are improving. There are no race riots here. Within hours of Blunkett’s speech health, education and housing workers in Newham decided to do something to stem the racist tide.
We are, of course, supporting united campaigning against the BNP. We have also organised a statement to kick off protest at Blunkett’s plans. Get a copy from the Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers-phone 07941 566 183.
ELANE HEFFERNAN, East London
THE SHOCKING result in the first round of the French presidential election has provoked much anger, fear and debate in my school. Some teachers thought that the result was due to voter apathy.
But I wasn’t alone in arguing that the failure of the Labour-style government to deliver reforms for ordinary people had opened the door to the bitterness and racism that enables fascists to gain support.
One teacher warned that we should not be complacent in Britain-Labour’s privatisation and pro-market policies are creating the same bitterness here. Another teacher and one of my sixth formers took collection sheets for the Anti Nazi League, and I collected £54 for the ANL in one day.
Some of us decided to join the mass leafleting against the BNP candidates in neighbouring Bexley last weekend.
MOIRA NOLAN, South London
I SPENT last Wednesday at the European Parliament in Brussels helping the Anti Nazi League protest against Jean-Marie Le Pen’s plans to hold a press conference there.
The day started on a positive note. Security guards at Eurostar were curious about my luggage. It turned out that they just wanted anti-Nazi stickers. Le Pen’s conference was scheduled for 5pm. By that time a noisy but peaceful protest had gathered outside the parliament.
I was on the inside, with a group of a dozen or so anti-fascists who worked in the building. Many were assistants of Glyn Ford and the other socialist MEPs responsible for coordinating the protest. Le Pen took one look at our ‘Stop the Nazis’ placards, cancelled the conference and slunk off back to Paris.
All in all, the protest was a brilliant success. Mass protests will ensure that Le Pen has nowhere to run.
ANINDYA BHATTACHARYYA, East London
HENRY KISSINGER responded to calls for his arrest for aiding and abetting war crimes by admitting that mistakes were ‘quite possibly’ made by the administrations in which he served.
The former US Secretary of State told an audience of British business leaders at the Royal Albert Hall in London last week that the issue was whether courts were the right place to determine what had happened.
Protesters calling for his arrest staged a demonstration outside. Kissinger told 2,500 business leaders at the Institute of Directors’ annual convention: ‘No one can say that I served in an administration that did not make mistakes. The issue is whether 30 years after the event courts are the appropriate means by which determination is made.’
He tried to exonerate himself from culpability surrounding the US government’s covert involvement in the disappearance of thousands of people throughout Latin America in the 1970s. He said, ‘It would be impossible to recall every one of the thousands of cases I dealt with every day when I was in office.’
The self styled ‘genial old sage’ was well received by the 2,500-strong audience, which also lapped up speakers’ insistence that large corporations were not increasing their profits and influence at the expense of the developing world.
NEIL HODGE, Nottingham
THE 100,000-strong demonstration in Washington on 20 April was inspiring. Four feeder marches converged, with many participants wearing stickers saying ‘We are all Palestinians’. The protest raged against the treatment of the Palestinians, and against Bush’s war abroad and at home.
A rally by Act Now to Stop War and End Racism called for money for health, housing and jobs, not for war. One AIDS activist told me, ‘What issue brought me out onto the streets? Too many of them-the injustice of the way the US spends its money, for peace and to stop AIDS.’ The Mobilisation for Global Justice group rallied outside the World Bank headquarters to demand that they open their meetings and end structural adjustment programmes.
One of their activists said, ‘Whether you are here for the Palestinians or Colombians, or to demand the IMF and World Bank change their policies, we are all here to say human life should be put above corporate greed.’ This was the largest demonstration in support of the Palestinians in US history. It was also a mass protest against war and capitalism.
ERIN GEORGE, Canada
I AM one of 3,500 Unison union members in Newham, east London, who were due to strike last week. The New Labour council had tried to derecognise our union branch. This followed Unison’s criticism of an £11,000 fat cat pay rise awarded to a manager while the council were refusing to regrade low paid staff in social services.
Newham council leader Sir Robin Wales is also chair of the body that is refusing to meet council workers’ £4,000 London weighting claim. If Sir Robin had banked on smashing our union he was to be mistaken, as support for strike action began within days to snowball.
Despite the fact that this was the first time many of us were to take part in a strike, there was real excitement. The council sent constant e-mails attacking the union, but the tide of confidence against them grew.
Workers organised mass leafleting of workplaces. More than 200 people joined Unison in the week before the strike. The day before it was due to happen management caved in.
When the news broke, the scenes of victory were mixed with an eagerness to take on the next fight. We are all talking about the strike planned on 14 May over London weighting. Our victory has created a new mood across the union in Newham.
DONNA GUTHRIE, East London
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