Corporate killing con
THE GOVERNMENT’S new laws on corporate killing fall far short of what the hundreds of people involved in the Simon Jones Campaign have been fighting for. Simon, a student at Sussex University, was killed in 1998 when a crane grab crushed his head just two hours into his first day working at Shoreham Harbour. Neither the harbour bosses nor the employment agency that placed Simon there are likely to be convicted of corporate manslaughter, despite a vigorous campaign. Individual directors have to be proved responsible for a death to be convicted.
That is virtually impossible under the current laws. Bosses should be made responsible for general safety. They should be prosecuted for manslaughter if a worker is killed and safety measures were shown to be inadequate. Jack Straw’s plans make it no easier to get justice for those killed in dangerous workplaces. The new measures do not even call for police investigations of accidents. Simon’s father said of the government’s plans, “They talk of being tough on crime, but they are too closely involved with big business.”
Profit drives down safety on the sites
THERE CANNOT be a building worker who has not worked on, or does not know someone who worked on Canary Wharf. That is why the tragic deaths of three workers last month hit so hard. Building workers keep dying and contractors’ profits keep going up, despite posters on sites espousing “working well together”. Even on showpiece sites the shareholders look on while subcontractors skimp on safety.
The biggest hypocrisy comes from the so called “safety advisers/officers”. They inspect sites across Britain and vouch them safe. How can fatalities keep happening on such “safe sites”. So long as profit drives the industry, building workers will keep being killed. Publicity campaigns are not worth the paper they are written on. The sooner a few of these negligent directors and their kept safety advisers are sent down the better.
Beware politicians with gifts
POLITICIANS realise the voting power of pensioners and are offering them a variety of promises. All these offers should be judged against a simple benchmark. The charity Age Concern and others calculate that pensioners need about 150 a week to live a reasonable life.
Restoring the link between rises in pensions and earnings would mean a pension of about 100 a week. Pensioners do not ask for charity, but until we get 150 a week we will need extra benefits.
All pensioners pay VAT, most pay income tax and nearly all pay council tax. So, politicians, stop using us in your political games. Face up to your responsibilities as we did throughout our working lives, and pay us our pensions.
Assembly for refugees…
MY CHILDREN go to a small infant school in a multiracial area of Islington, north London. Parents and teachers were disgusted to find out that the Nazi British National Party had been leafleting housing estates in our local area. The Nazis were trying to use the lies spouted by Tory leader William Hague about asylum seekers to stir up antagonism between black and white people.
The majority of teachers have signed the statement defending asylum seekers in response and are encouraging parents to sign it. Many children in our school have recently fled from poverty, war and oppression in their home countries. So teachers are also planning to hold an anti-racism assembly in the school.
The headteacher and governors have backed this. Parents and teachers at other schools should be organising assemblies on asylum seekers and racism, and getting people to sign the statement. If we can do it at our small school, others can too.
Not yet agreed
I MUST take you to task over your report that Rodney Bickerstaffe will take over from Jack Jones as leader of the National Pensioners Convention (Socialist Worker, 20 May). Many active pensioners would be totally opposed to Bickerstaffe as leader. The leader of the convention should be elected and there will be a row if this does not happen.
Whatever the pros and cons of Jack Jones, he understands the importance of social insurance for pensions and has always opposed any form of funded scheme. It is not clear where Bickerstaffe stands on this. The leaders of his UNISON union have been backing the government over privately funded “stakeholder” pensions.
This is the equivalent of doing a sweetheart deal with the City. The City pensions industry is so notorious that even Joseph Stiglitz, the retiring chief economist of the World Bank, tore them off a strip for their greed.
Glimpse of the future in Kent
A COUPLE of us started selling Socialist Worker at the Pfizer construction site near Sandwich in east Kent last November. We sometimes sold more than a dozen papers. More importantly we got to know about a number of small disputes on the site around health and safety, and overtime payments.
After the events in Seattle we half jokingly sold the paper with the slogan “From Seattle to Sandwich-the fightback starts now!” and got a good response. A regular buyer approached us in April to get a report into the paper about 240 electricians who were sitting in their hut, refusing to work in unsafe conditions.
This was the start of seven hectic weeks of visiting the picket lines every day, producing bulletins and putting forward ideas about how to win. We circulated a petition in support of refugees and won a number of arguments on the issue. We helped start a fighting fund and printed over 20,000 leaflets for the pickets to give other workers on the site. Although the dispute was finally lost, we could sense a mood for change. It was only the shameful activities of the full time union officials that prevented it breaking through.
…they aren’t to blame
SOME 24 delegates at the UNISON union’s Welsh regional council meeting last week, including three branch secretaries and the union’s head of health in Wales, signed the statement to stop scapegoating refugees. They know that refugees are not to blame for the continuing crisis in the health service and councils.
Many also expressed a disappointment at the attitude of New Labour on this issue. In the coming weeks we need to do our utmost to use this statement to oppose the attacks on refugees and the disgusting racism which is whipped up as a result.
I FOUND the Tony Cliff memorial meeting at London’s Hammersmith Apollo last month an enthralling experience. There was a sense of unity among the 3,000 people there. The majority of speakers were from Britain, but there were also speakers from Greece and Zimbabwe.
I really enjoyed the description of how Cliff helped to build the fight against racism. I have been a member of the Socialist Workers Party for only two months and felt I had learned a good slice about this influential revolutionary by the end of the rally. The day was a definite success. If Cliff were here today he would have been very proud.
I’M JUST back from seeing Gladiator and I find myself disagreeing with Angela Stapleford’s review (Socialist Worker, 20 May). Sure, it shows a rotten Rome. But in its place the film can only promote the myth of the honest general. The “people” are no more than an audience. As ever, the climax of the movie, which is supposedly about the whole Roman Empire, is the same old Hollywood one on one punch-up, witnessed by a Holy Mother Mary type, eyes watering. If anything there is a kind of implied fascism about the film-that we need a great soldier, a man of action, to sweep aside the corrupt state and save us all. Er, actually, no thanks.
A people’s senator
THE MOVIES Gladiator and Spartacus feature the same historical character, the progressive senator Gracchus. Gracchus was a real person. He tried to give land to the peasants of Italy and was murdered by the Roman ruling class in 133 BC. That was 60 years before the events depicted in Spartacus and 313 years before the story told in Gladiator. If you would like to know more about the ancient world, then I would suggest two books: The Roman Emperors by Michael Grant gives an easy to read overview and The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World by Geoffrey de Ste Croix is a Marxist classic.
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