My lesson in class struggle
RECENTLY I was in Paris on an exchange with some students. The first morning we found ourselves in the middle of a teachers’ meeting to discuss strike action and building for a one day national strike. The teachers went on strike the next day. They also took part in the national strike and 200,000-strong demonstration on Friday 24 March. The demo was magnificent.
The marchers were demanding that the education minister should resign, that there should be 2,000 more teachers and that teachers should be consulted about future education plans. I stood for three hours in one of the main boulevards and the demonstrators didn’t stop coming past. Paris Metro workers also went on strike and won their demands in just a few hours.
Three days later we heard the welcome news that the French education minister, Claude Allgre, had resigned. It is the equivalent of David Blunkett getting ditched. French teachers, like us in Britain, are under attack from the Socialist Party government which is just like New Labour. But teachers, students and parents have organised strikes, occupations and demonstrations against these attacks. They have shown the way to force the government to back down. I can’t wait for the day when I’m able to go on a similar march alongside hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and parents in Britain.
Compassion spans the divide between two communities
CYPRUS HAS recently been gripped by massive public concern over the fate of two boys (one Greek and one Turkish Cypriot) who are both fighting for their lives against leukemia. The search for compatible bone marrow donors has seen thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriot donors lining up for tests to find out whether they are compatible. This shows that chauvinism is not all-powerful and that ordinary people who struggle to bring up their children also feel affection for the children of others.
This incident follows from the experience of last year’s earthquake in Turkey when hundreds of thousands of Greeks sent aid. Likewise, Turkish rescue specialists helped the people of Athens when they suffered a less serious earthquake. Ordinary workers have no reason to hate each other. This is what these humanitarian crises show. Workers’ response is very different from that of their rulers, whose existence depends on fuelling national and communal hatred.
Why we back Ken
BETH SAMBROOK (Letters, 25 March) is right to detest the slaughter of fellow workers in Yugoslavia. I was active in the campaign to stop the war in the Balkans. But I will still send money to Ken Livingstone’s campaign. Frank Dobson, Labour’s official candidate, is in favour of tube privatisation and he is not in favour of increasing the minimum wage.
Livingstone is against tube privatisation and is for a 5 minimum wage. If he is elected with a massive mandate from the people of London, then the fight against tube privatisation and all other sell offs becomes easier. Socialists should not forget Ken’s record over the war but neither should they be afraid of supporting him to beat a common enemy.
WHEN I vote for the London Socialist Alliance in the elections on 4 May I will also be voting for Livingstone for mayor. I will do this as a socialist who opposed the war in Yugoslavia and as someone whose family members were at the sharp end of the bombing. Livingstone has become a focus for the huge discontent among working people against New Labour.
The mayoral elections have become a referendum on the Blair government and where it is taking us. Every vote for Livingstone will be a vote against Blair and the filthy system that gave us the war in Yugoslavia.
THE LONDON Regional Council of the FBU firefighters’ union recently passed a resolution officially supporting Ken Livingstone as London mayor candidate. We are sending his campaign 3,177-that’s 1 for each member who voted for him in our union’s ballot.
Our national officers argued that the cheque should not be sent as it was breaking the national policy of supporting the official Labour Party candidate. But we voted overwhelmingly a second time to send the money to Ken. Three of us met Ken in his office the next morning. We asked him to take the cheque, cash it and give us a receipt. It was sent round to the bank while we were there.
Meanwhile FBU general secretary Ken Cameron asked two executive committee members to suspend the London Region Committee-which they refused to do. We wanted Ken to have the money because he has supported us in our fight against cuts. There was a clear mandate from firefighters to support him. We felt we needed to show that our support for him wasn’t halfhearted.
Sun’s new target
A LOCAL campaign that has pandered to racism has succeeded in stopping the council from building a refugee hostel in the former pit village of Thrybergh, in Rotherham. Local Labour MP Denis MacShane could have said that refugees did not close the pits or the Rover car plant which could lead to more jobs in steel being axed locally.
But he did not give a lead and racists in the area could feel boosted by the result. Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper branded Silverwood miners near Thrybergh “the scum of the earth” during the 1984-5 miners’ strike. In solidarity print workers refused to have anything to do with it and the Sun appeared with blank spaces. Now the Sun and other papers want those same miners’ families to scapegoat refugees. Rotherham Trades Council has launched a “Refugees Are Welcome Here” campaign to encourage people not to fall for the old divide and rule tactics.
Not a laugh
MY FOOTBALL club, Leicester City, is in an area with a large ethnic population. There was a phase in the 1980s when it was fashionable to greet the opposing good black players with the sound of monkey noises. I challenged one lad as to why he was doing this. He looked embarrassed and said, “It’s just a laugh and everyone does it now.” He did not realise it was unacceptable. This kind of shameful thing died a death when we had our own black players.
Last season, at home to Leeds, about 50 away fans pointed to the Leicester kop and chanted, “A town full of Pakis.” There may have been a few racists but I bet the majority were joining in what they thought was “just a laugh”. Young people need to be educated by the left that it is racist and wrong to do this kind of thing.
PFI gets a knock back
CAMPAIGNERS ARE celebrating a great victory over the Calderdale and Kirklees area health authority. It has decided not to close a consultant maternity unit at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. Services were going to be centralised at the new Halifax Hospital. This is a PFI hospital. The area health authority’s plans also involved further reductions in bed numbers which fed people’s anger.
The opposition to the plans was massive. Several parents argued that their babies would probably have died if they had to travel the extra distance to specialist services in Halifax. Some 43,000 signatures were collected, there were angry audiences at “consultation” meetings and two big demos of many hundreds.
This galvanised the local press, some councillors and MPs into opposing the cuts. We need to keep protecting our hospital services from the PFI fat cats and the trust management who go hand in glove with them.
Calling from the sweatshop
I AM writing about call centre sweatshops. The BBC set up a social action phone line to give listeners and viewers help with their problems ranging from cancer, depression and disabilities to who to complain to about faulty goods. BSS, a worthy charity, was put in charge.
Everyone was happy-there were pay and hours to suit, and we were doing something worthwhile. There was no union, but we couldn’t have everything. In April last year the contract was up for grabs and in walked Capita. They knew nothing about social action but plenty about finance. To save money they got rid of experienced staff.
Now they want to disregard the present contract and introduce a 2.6 percent increase in working hours while the salary stays the same. We have to answer calls within a three minute period which includes talking and writing up a call. The staff are unhappy and weary. We’ve got the union in and we are trying to get all the workers to join.
I was really pleased to hear that Excel had been given the boot by Cable & Wireless. This was after they were exposed by one brave union rep for their disastrous handling of 999 calls and their treatment of staff. It is sweet justice indeed. Now we want to be a force that Capita has to reckon with.
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News in brief from workers' struggles