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|Picture: DUNCAN BROWN
AROUND 300 people protested against the war in Glasgow last week. The demonstration was shown live on Scottish television and further activities are planned
I HAVE been impressed by the level of anti-war feeling at work. I have worked in a community health clinic for a long time. I am convinced that the eight years of discussions and arguments since the 1991 Gulf War have helped. We have discussed talk about "evil dictators", UN or US so called "peacemakers", imperialism, government attitudes to refugees, and so on. This has played its part in making people much clearer about the lies and propaganda coming from the New Labour government today.
Even people who initially felt that we had to do something could be won to the idea that the bombing will only make things worse. In one case someone said after initially being very pro-war, "You can stop. I'll sign your petition. You are right." As health workers we have felt let down by a government that brought such hope two years ago. We are told there is no money for the NHS or for pay. Yet Blair has launched two wars in less than a year. When it comes to war, money is never an issue. At our union section meeting yesterday people unanimously voted for Labour to end the war and that the money be spent on saving lives, not destroying them.
THE MORNING after the NATO bombing of Serbia began I took a petition against it around my council workplace. I found that a small minority of people were in full support of the war, a larger minority were against, and the majority were unsure. Those who were unsure felt that "something had to be done" to protect the people of Kosovo. When I argued that bombing Saddam Hussein had done nothing for the Kurds and had only killed thousands of Iraqis, my workmates agreed.
Another person thought I was saying that British people shouldn't get involved in what is happening in other countries. I said socialists have always cared, which is why we don't support bombing ordinary people. When asked what should happen, I said the bombings should stop immediately and that Britain and NATO should stop selling arms to repressive regimes like Indonesia and Turkey. My workmates didn't agree with everything I said but all agreed with some of it, which led to further debates.
Twelve copies of Socialist Worker were bought by my workmates and another ten were sold by local sellers petitioning outside. My experience shows that we can build widespread opposition against the war.
WHILST THE West continues to rain bombs on Serbia allegedly in defence of the Kosovan people, their treatment in some of the NATO countries makes you think about the real motives behind the intervention. In Britain asylum seekers have been met on arrival by immigration officers with a "questionnaire" to determine whether they are in fact "genuine" Albanians from Kosovo, or Albanians from Albania.
The 40 questions include, "When is International Women's Day?", "When was the LDK [the main party in Kosovo] founded?" and, "What is the nearest river to where you live?" An incorrect answer to any of the questions by a refugee, many of whom are disorientated, may result in them being deemed by the Home Office not be to Kosovan. Even if you overcome that hurdle, a Kosovan asylum seeker may be put in detention. They are detained even though the Immigration Tribunal has recently held that all Kosovan Albanians are refugees.
It is not true that they are treated sympathetically, as the Guardian claimed last week. The Asylum Rights Campaign has cited a case where a Kosovan family in London refused to be sent to Hull. They were "rounded up" by the police, who tried to handcuff the father. The police took them to King's Cross station, guarded them, and then forced the terrified family onto the Hull train.
Another country involved in the NATO bombing is Germany, which has a 2 percent recognition rate of asylum seekers from Kosovo. Just two weeks ago the court of appeal found that the German authorities were not complying with the 1951 Refugee Convention in relation to Kosovans seeking asylum.
I THOUGHT you might like to know about the results of a survey commissioned by Brent council, north west London, into the conditions on the estate where I live. The survey found that 48 percent of households survive on an income of under £100 a week. Nearly everyone on this estate has children. Most single parents are allocated one bedroom flats. Despite these findings Brent council has imposed one of the most savage cuts packages of any borough. At the same time it has increased the rent, putting the weekly rent of a one bedroom house at £73 a week. School meals went up at the same time. The estate overshadows Maida Vale, an area where the rich sell their luxury flats for half a million pounds.
THE REFERRAL of the James Hanratty case back to the appeal courts 37 years after he was hanged tells you something about the police. It has emerged that senior police officers at the time withheld vital evidence, and so made sure Hanratty went to the gallows. This was the era of Dixon of Dock Green, a mythical age when the police were supposed to have been "decent" and "honest". They were obviously neither even then.
The Hanratty family have been fully vindicated, but James can never be bought back. My mind turns to all those people today rotting in prison, such as the M25 Three, waiting for the Criminal Cases Review Commission to get round to them. As a home affairs committee report pointed out last week, people who have been wrongly convicted will have served their sentences before their cases are reviewed.
THE government report on poverty released last week demolished New Labour's claim that class is no longer a key factor in society. The figures published by chancellor Gordon Brown show that one in four children never escapes from poverty and that deprivation is passed through generations. This is nothing to do with the "lack of enterprise and initiative" of the people concerned.
At 22 months children whose parents are in social classes 1 and 2 are already judged to be 14 percent higher up the educational development scales than children from social classes 4 or 5. The government reveals these figures, yet does so little in remedy. A paltry minimum wage and the New Deal are no solution. The blighted lives behind these figures demand a crusade against the rich who have looted so much during the Tories' reign and are grasping for more under Blair. But instead Labour is much keener on being seen as the party of business than the party of the poor.
JOHN TUCKER was 58 when he died of an industrial injury at the British Steel plant in Port Talbot, south Wales, in December of last year. A coroner's inquest jury in Neath last week heard how John, who had worked at the plant for 43 years, died. John had been walking along a gloomy corridor when he fell 20 feet through an open manhole onto a concrete floor below. He died of extensive fracturing and internal injuries. The corridor was poorly lit and a danger. The manhole was not properly barred off. Amazingly the coroner instructed the inquest jury to return a verdict of "accidental death". Just three weeks before John's death 1,800 redundancies were announced at the plant. Meanwhile British Steel continues to make handsome profits.
WHILE Socialist Worker rightly criticises the Guardian management for stopping Mark Steel's column, there is another story to be told about the newspaper. An Asian journalist last month put forward a motion to our workplace National Union of Journalists chapel to boycott the local pub, due to racist comments and attitudes from the landlord. The Stephen Lawrence report had given the journalist more confidence to bring up the issue. The meeting of about 50 people supported him.
But unfortunately what followed was a crisis of confidence by a group of chapel officers. A second 90 strong meeting was called. Speakers said it would be wrong to water down the boycott, as the union is about solidarity and looking after all of its members. But some members decided to resign from the chapel and even from the union. I believe they are wrong. A healthy union is one where members, black or white, feel their views can be discussed and action taken. The overall impact has been positive. Taking action against racism has sparked a lively debate and has breathed new life into our union organisation.
THIS LETTER was also sent to the chair of the Independent Television Commission.
"I AM writing in protest at the British government's closing down of Kurdish television service MED TV. MED TV is the only voice of the Kurdish people. MED TV's licence has been suspended for 21 days and it is facing the threat of complete withdrawal. I and my family, and the rest of Kurdish society, are now left with nothing. We trust that you will use your judgement in the name of human rights for the Kurdish people to restore our banned television channel."