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|Picture: JESS HURD
10,000 marched in Kidderminster last year
CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save Kidderminster General Hospital won a stunning seven seats in the recent Wyre Forest District Council elections. The size of the majorities was amazing. In Franche ward Leonard Barton for the hospital campaign won 1,335 votes. Labour was second with 475. In Habberley and Blakebrook, Andrew Morgan for the hospital campaign won with 1,146 to Labour's 658.
People were outraged that their local hospital is to be downgraded so that there will be no accident and emergency unit, no intensive care, no beds for the terminally ill patients, no beds for care of the elderly, and many other cuts. A demonstration last year saw 10,000 people take to the streets to save the facilities. In the wake of the election result the government has suddenly discovered some extra cash for the casualty department.
Health minister John Hutton now says that the 24 hour emergency service will not close. Incredibly our local MP, Labour's David Lock, says, "The hospital campaign has not done any harm, but the extra money is not a reward for people pressure. It is the result of my bashing on ministers' doors."
Lock was elected in 1997 in a huge swing against the Tories. Now Labour has let down the people of the area and they are taking their revenge at the ballot box. There are now thousands of people here who rejected the Tories and have seen through Labour's empty promises. The campaign must go on to win a total reprieve for the hospital, and we need to pull together those who want a socialist alternative to the attacks started by the Tories and continued by Labour.
AT A meeting of UNISON union housing stewards in Manchester City Council earlier this month, a motion opposing the war was discussed and passed with a narrow majority. After this meeting some members decided to organise a meeting to launch Council Workers Against the War.
Discussion around the war and building the meeting involved people who might normally disagree strongly about other issues. Frank Allaun (an ex Labour Party MP), a speaker from CND and a speaker from the SWP agreed to address the meeting. UNISON branch officers were supportive of the initiative. One of them stated that the trade unions were too silent about the war.
Twelve people attended the lunchtime meeting. All who came enjoyed it and were keen to arrange an evening meeting where more council workers would be able to hear the arguments. Opposition to the war has allowed groups of workers to unite to show their horror and anger at the destruction being caused by NATO, and their disappointment that a Labour government is supporting such actions.
AMID ATTENTION on the Balkans, a war against the Iraqi people continues. The no-fly zones which the US and Britain have arbitrarily declared allow those implementing them to inflict indiscriminate damage and vandalism. Only last week US and British jets killed 13 civilians in a raid in the province of Nineveh, northern Iraq. In addition, today and every day children are dying in Iraq from the effects of sanctions. Iraq is being ground pitilessly back into the Dark Ages.
THE NEW Labour government's conduct and complicity throughout the NATO offensive against Serbia underline the scale and political ramifications of the Labour left's defeat by the "modernisers". A genuine left of centre government, which New Labour is laughingly dubbed, would recognise that this conflict derives from competition for resources and profits.
The paltry 13 Labour MPs voting against air strikes illustrate not only the narrowness of our political spectrum, but how during the Tory years the Blairite faction was cultivated by the Labour leadership to suppress left wing views. If previously anti-NATO ministers like Robin Cook are willing to sacrifice all previous convictions to win power, what else will be sacrificed if they sanction the deployment of ground troops?
IT IS interesting to compare the atrocity stories in the Gulf and Yugoslav conflicts. When Kuwait fell, great prominence was given to the brutal behaviour of the occupying soldiers. On television a distraught young woman described how her prematurely born baby was snatched from a hospital incubator and thrown away. This was simply a lie, manufactured by the Allies' war machine. No baby died in this manner. The woman turned out to be none other than the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington.
Now NATO spokesmen proudly boast that the bombing of Yugoslavia has disrupted the country's electricity supply. Is not this action more likely to result in the deaths of premature babies in incubators, not to mention those on kidney dialysis and others using equipment that depends upon a constant power supply? Does this make Blair and Clinton into war criminals?
"PAYOUT TO Black Estate Agent Over Met 'Beating'," was the headline in the London Evening Standard on Tuesday of last week. Colin Tomlinson had finally won an out of court settlement after being assaulted by three police officers in Brixton, south London, in 1994.
The beating was so severe that Colin Tomlinson had to undergo two eye operations and is permanently injured. Yet the police still refuse to admit liability for the assaults, and no police officer has been disciplined. After the Lawrence inquiry and the Nazi bomb in Brixton, the police have been high on rhetoric about how sensitive they are towards racism. But their refusal to admit wrongdoing over something that goes back this far shows the truth much more realistically.
What happened to Colin Tomlinson is part of the day to day experience of racism which black people still face from the police. No amount of soft soap can hide the grinding weight of a police force that is rotten to the core.
SIX TAMESIDE Care strikers stood in the recent local elections and showed that there is opposition to the policies of New Labour. The carers have been on strike now for over a year after their employer, Tameside Care Group, attacked their pay and conditions and then sacked them after two months on strike.
Their own experience of the effects of the privatisation of council services led six strikers to stand under the banner, "Defend Public Services". They hit a chord with all those wanting to fight the threat of privatisation and the council's decision to sell off its entire housing stock. The strikers gained respectable votes of between 108 and 316. They continue to give inspiration through their fight.
THE VOTE for socialists standing for the Scottish Parliament was brilliant. In Glasgow alone 23,000 people voted for taxing the rich, for free education and against privatising public services.
It was great to go into work the day after the elections at the further education college in Coatbridge where I am a lecturer. People greeted me with smiles and congratulations. They felt that we, the socialists, had something to celebrate. There were cheers for Dennis Canavan's trouncing of New Labour and Tommy Sheridan's election. Everyone who had voted socialist felt part of their victories.
I had been canvassing for the SWP candidate in Glasgow Cathcart, Roddy Slorach, and had thoroughly enjoyed knocking on doors putting the case for a socialist alternative to New Labour. Many people were happy to discuss our ideas. It is the same at the college, where we have noticed no improvements in education under Labour.
All sorts of people want to know about a socialist alternative to Labour and they do not believe the Scottish National Party will provide it. Thousands of people are looking to us to build the biggest and angriest opposition to pro-business policies. We must make sure we don't disappoint them.
THE ATTITUDE of the police, employers and the media towards working class people was highlighted in a recent case in Barrow-in-Furness where 33 women won £45,000 compensation. Police were forced to pay the sum after they humiliated and strip searched the women in Asda's Barrow supermarket in 1993 following the theft of a £10 note.
The women, members of Asda's staff, were forced to strip to their underpants while policewomen searched their underwear. No male member of staff was searched. After these events the national tabloids ridiculed the women in cartoons. Will these papers now publish an apology? Many of the women are still coming to terms with their experience.
One of the women has stated, "Asda must not appear blameless. After the search we were told to go back to our sections and leave everything tidy for the next day. The only regret Asda seemed to have was the bad publicity. The whole affair hardly cost Asda the price of a tin of beans. But the embarrassment of being strip searched will stay with us for the rest of our lives."