George Bush’s recent visit to Belgium was not the sweet love-in envisaged by European Union governments and the European Commission, as this picture shows. The US president was greeted by three days of demonstrations in Brussels, called by various non-governmental organisations, peace groups and trade unions. Despite the best efforts of the weather and the police, the protests were lively and noisy, attracting up to 5,000 people.
Hugh Jenkins Brussels
Why pick a military town as the site for an anti-war rally (Socialist Worker, 26 February)? As a veteran and a resident of Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg, I can think of at least 50 reasons. Each of those has a name, and each were members of our community prior to their deaths in Iraq.
Some may argue that voicing opposition to war in a military town is somehow disrespectful. Tell that to the military families and veterans from many wars, including the current one, who plan to gather here on 19 March, the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
Like the majority of Americans, we now reject the reasons used to justify the war. Many of us feel that the US government failed to successfully plan for what has happened. That lack of planning affects our communities more so than most.
Protesting against the war in Iraq is not a new activity in Fayetteville. A group of local veterans, military wives and their community supporters has been conducting vigils in the centre of town since the day the US invaded.
The early vigils met with catcalls. But as the disaster in Iraq became evident, derision subsided and vocal support emerged.
These local activists supported Jeremy Hinzman, the US army paratrooper who left Fort Bragg for Canada and applied for refugee status on the grounds that he was being forced to participate in an illegal war.
An anti-war demonstration in Fayetteville during the Vietnam War drew 4,000 people, many of them servicemen. Our town saw another such demonstration last year, on the first anniversary of the Iraq war.
It was the largest action for peace here in nearly 35 years. For three hours groups like Military Families Speak Out and Veterans for Peace condemned the senseless waste in Iraq. Both will return to Fayetteville this year for our second anniversary rally.
Anti-war activism by veterans over the years has been largely forgotten or downplayed. During the recent election, John Kerry talked at length about his time in Vietnam. But it wasn’t his service there that brought him to the national spotlight — it was his membership in Vietnam Veterans Against the War and his memorable testimony before Congress.
We are tired of the ubiquitous yellow ribbon magnets that command us to “support our troops”. To those of us living in this town, real support for the troops means — bring them home now!
Lou Plummer Military Families Speak Out, Fayetteville, North Carolina, US
The Prevention of Terrorism Bill may reduce terrorism, but at what price? If we allow fear to rule us, we are in a prison of our own making that is far more secure than Belmarsh. Internment without trial was proposed by politicians as the solution to the security situation in Northern Ireland. It led to very high levels of violence and increased support for the IRA.
Gary Fuller Canterbury
Mike Rosen is right to criticise Ken Livingstone’s comments to a Jewish journalist as crass (Socialist Worker, 26 February), though I’m not so sure they weren’t anti-Semitic.
But my point is about his conclusion that Livingstone was trying to raising a valid question about why a Jewish journalist would want to write for the Evening Standard. Journalists get work where they can find it, like any other worker. Ordinary journalists don’t have any influence over the editorial line of their publication.
We support the idea of socialists and trade unionists getting jobs at any of those newspapers and building the collective strength of fellow workers on the inside.
That’s the way to influence a newspaper’s editorial position — the unionised journalists at Express newspapers are engaged in just such a battle with their campaign against the paper’s witch-hunting of asylum seekers.
I work at the Independent on Sunday. The paper has been excellent on the war and a number of other issues. But this liberal attitude doesn’t extend to treatment of its workforce — we’ve had to fight every inch of the way to win our rights. Journalists, like all workers, have no control over the means of production. Collective, not individual, action is the way to change both journalists’ conditions and what gets printed in the papers we work on.
Kate Simon NUJ Mother of Chapel, Independent Newspapers
Iftikhar Ahmad makes some important points regarding the British education system (Letters, 26 February). He suggests that discouraging the study of Arabic and Urdu has led to the literary heritage of those languages being lost.
In this, he is absolutely correct. And this phenomenon occurs throughout the world — local cultures are being lost because of capitalism’s insistence on homogenisation.
I am amazed at the ability of friends to speak a number of these languages, whereas most people in this country speak just one. None of this rich heritage of learning should disappear. The problem, however, lies in Iftikhar’s proposed solution. Are private Muslim schools funded by the state the way forward? I believe there are better ways of fighting for the tolerance and respect that is so often lacking when it comes to Muslims.
The reason many Muslims feel “outside” the established education system is that so little is done to address their needs. While supporting the right of currently existing Muslim schools to be given a proper share of funding, I would rather that all schools become inclusive enough to allow equal participation by Muslims and others.
It is only through cultural interaction, not separation, that we can help establish the tolerance and respect for Muslims that Iftikhar calls for.
Ged Peck Luton
The Countryside Alliance maintains that “class prejudice” lies at the core of the fox-hunting ban — perhaps an unwitting admission that most people who indulge in such practices are from right wing backgrounds. However, the democratically elected House of Commons, which voted for the ban after years of obstacles, is hardly riddled with left extremists. And it’s quite clear that the forthcoming election campaign won’t involve any radical left policy alternatives on any mainstream party agenda.
The problem with this ban is that it’s an isolated piece of seemingly left wing legislation by a New Labour government that has ceded on all fronts to Tory policies.
The Countryside Alliance says the law is unenforceable because it’s a law it doesn’t like. They feel at ease to exploit loopholes to overturn the ban because so many of them have been mollycoddled by New Labour since 1997.
This issue is not the most important on the political agenda, but it is vital that the ban is enforced. If hunt activists get away with defying this new law, Britain will remain an ideologically barren and apathetic right wing country.
Nick Vinehill Norfolk
Tony Blair, with his Agenda for Change (AfC) in the health service, needs a vote of no confidence stamped on his forehead as far as the political levy from unions is concerned. Here at City Hospitals in Sunderland, AfC and foundation status are causing pay cuts, pay freezes, lower pension payouts, stress, anxiety and the loss of most of our temporary staff.
Foundation status is just privatisation through the back door. We should stop creating new posts in management and human resources, and put finances into essential services such as qualified and experienced staff.
Hospital worker Sunderland
I was working as a contractor for the security firm Group 4 on the Vauxhall Motors site in Ellesmere Port. I was shop steward for the T&G union and I campaigned on health and safety issues.
I had an accident on site and, while I was off sick, Vauxhall Motors commissioned a firm to video me at home. I was just walking round my back garden and standing in my garage. They then sent the film to Group 4, who accused me of fraud, came to my home, took away all my keys and passes, and started an investigation into me.
I have now been removed from the Vauxhall site and offered a much lower rated site. My union says there is nothing that they can do. Is this really the case?
Peter Scott Mold, North Wales
Ken Livingstone is right not to apologise to the Daily Mail group. I’m certainly not going to. I had a call from one of their reporters just after the 2001 election. He was trying to get in touch with my wife’s old schoolmates. I told him I wouldn’t help and he asked me why not.
“Because you are vicious, nasty people,” I replied. “You whip up hatred against minorities, asylum seekers, working people, trade unionists like me. You attack women. You attack me and mine. So I won’t help you.”
“Oh. I suppose I’d better leave it there then,” said the reporter. How on earth do these lowlifes think they can go around approaching decent people like this?
Eddie McDonnell Manchester
Alex Callinicos describes Il Manifesto as a “centre left paper” (Socialist Worker, 26 February). This is not the case. It is as far left as any daily newspaper published anywhere today. It is well to the left of the Guardian, for example.
David Kentucky, US
On Saturday of last week an overwhelming majority of Leeds shoppers voted yes to British troops coming home from Iraq. Local anti-war campaigners held a referendum in the Briggate shopping area, posing the question, “Do you believe British troops should be withdrawn from Iraq as soon as possible?” Out of 347 votes cast, 77 were percent in favour and only 19 percent voted no.
Ben Willems Leeds
With new anti-terror legislation set to be approved, readers might be interested in an experience I had a few years back. In the 1990s I was taken in for questioning by police after a petrol bomb had allegedly been thrown at officers from an address where I lived.
They had no forensic evidence of an attack. But the police produced my army-style combat jacket, bought from Camden market. “This is the kind of thing terrorists wear,” one officer declared.
Keith Price East London
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