Letters

Cuts stand

The Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition will be standing candidates in the two central Rugby divisions of Benn and New Bilton and Overslade in this May’s Warwickshire county council elections. We took this decision after much discussion, to ensure there is an anti-cuts voice for electors.

It is both local and national Tusc policy not to stand against any Labour candidate who supports Jeremy Corbyn and opposes cuts. However, we found no such evidence in Rugby or Warwickshire. In fact, Labour in Warwickshire supports the Tory £67 million cuts package. Rugby Tusc wrote to all opposition councillors on Warwickshire county council last October, suggesting they should join together and use their numerical majority to overturn the Tory budget proposals. The Greens replied to say they would oppose some cuts, the Liberal Democrats noted our plea, but not one of the 22 Labour councillors even had the courtesy to reply.

Furthermore, we wrote to all Labour county councillors and candidates in January asking them pledge their opposition to cuts and agree there are alternatives to austerity. We received no replies. We wrote to Rugby Labour Party in February to ask if any Labour candidates publicly supported Jeremy Corbyn. The reply failed to answer the question. Now we know why: the Tories on Warwickshire county council could only get their massive cuts through by having the full support of all 22 Labour councillors. The £67 million cuts are the direct result of a compromise budget agreed between Labour and Tory councillors.

We are deliberately standing in the areas of Rugby most likely to be hit by the cuts to public services and welfare, which always hit the poorest and most vulnerable disproportionately. We want to concentrate our resources and show local people there are alternatives to austerity.

We have two excellent and locally well-known candidates, who both live where they are standing. Former postal worker Marian Wakelin will be our candidate in Benn. Trade union studies lecturer Julie Weekes will stand in New Bilton and Overslade.

In Rugby and Warwickshire, we are now facing massive cuts in care for the elderly, libraries, the fire and rescue service and road maintenance. Thousands will lose their jobs. The 4% increase in council tax will hit the poor and those on low wages particularly hard. Cuts to support for recovering addicts are particularly callous. All this is in addition to the severe welfare cuts claimants are suffering, including personal independence payments, child benefit and universal credit. Health spending is to be cut by £30 billion nationally through sustainability and transformation plans.

We are standing to oppose all such cuts because, as we have repeatedly pointed out, councils can avoid passing on government cuts.

Local councils are close to insolvency. Health services cannot cope, hundreds of thousands will lose their jobs and those who cannot work, including the disabled, are being pushed into abject poverty through benefit cuts and sanctions. None of these austerity measures are being actively opposed by any other party, but Tusc is committed to opposing all cuts at all levels and will centre its local election campaign around that.

Pete McLaren
Rugby Tusc

Hot spot

Democracy in Turkey is on a knife edge and in a few weeks time the country will be going to the polls in a referendum on the most radical changes to the constitution since the founding of the republic in 1923.

If a ‘yes’ vote is secured, president Erdogan will wield unprecedented powers, which will enable him to appoint key positions in the government and judiciary and, more worryingly, give him the ability to dissolve parliament altogether. This is the most critical time in the country’s history and has serious implications for the people of Turkey and internationally.

As Solidarity with the People of Turkey (Spot) we are supporting a project by two British-based journalists, who will be travelling to Turkey in the days preceding the referendum. Award-winning Kurdish journalist Figen Gunes and British journalist Steve Sweeney will be spending 10 days in the predominantly Kurdish south-east of the country from April 8 to 18. They will be travelling from Gaziantep to Sirnak and their visit will include Mardin, Nusaybin and Suruç. Along the route, they will be speaking to and interviewing community leaders, politicians, trade unionists and ordinary people. Figen and Steve will also be reporting daily for British and Turkish newspapers and producing a documentary on their return to the UK.

Spot believes this is vital work particularly in the current political climate and it is likely they will be the only western-based journalists in the area.

In order to make this project a reality, there is a need for urgent funding and we are appealing to you to help raise the target of £5,000, which will help with flights, internal travel, accommodation and much-needed specialised equipment. They are happy to come and speak about their experiences at your branch or community organisation on their return.

You can contribute using the following bank account details: Mr Steve Sweeney, ‘Turkey Solidarity account’, account number 90509628, sort code 09-01-28.

Alternatively, please get us in touch with us at Spot (spot@daymer.org) and we can assist with alternative ways to donate to Steve’s and Figen’s project. Please feel free to contact Steve Sweeney (stevesweeney@peoples-press.com) for further information.

Solidarity with the People of Turkey
email

Union studies

I am a product of trade union education. I did an MA in labour and trade union studies at the University of North London. I was privileged to be supported through this by my union (and my employer) and that is how I ended up becoming professor of work and employment relations at the University of Leeds.

I was also external examiner at Ruskin College on its BA in labour and trade union studies for three years and I have done guest lectures here and supervised MA dissertation students. I can attest to the changes in people who are able to gain an education later in life - often those who were failed earlier in their studies or who just weren’t able to continue into further education at that time in their lives. I have seen many fantastic students graduate from these courses and take up important positions in the labour movement.

Learning about the labour and trade union movement is vital if we are to learn from our history and to be in a position to change the world in which we live to something that has greater equality and compassion. My uncle was a beneficiary of trade union education at Ruskin College over 60 years ago.

Sadly, there will no longer be any degree-level courses in trade union studies left in the country, now that Ruskin College has announced plans effectively to close its BA and MA programmes in international labour and trade union studies by making all the staff in this department redundant. What are our unions doing about this? It’s time there was a plan of action and an injection of resources.

My deep commiserations to colleagues Ian Manborde, Tracy Walsh, Fenella Porter and all others who have lost their jobs as a result of these unnecessary cuts. Shame on those who brought them about.

Professor Jane Holgate
Leeds University Business School

Yevtushenko

I was sad to read news of the death of Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. As a young activist, I was tremendously influenced by his work, which at that time simultaneously hailed the historic achievements of Soviet socialism and criticised the bureaucratic errors and backward thinking of many politicians in the post-Stalin era. Later on, Yevtushenko would move steadily to the right, eventually celebrating the fall of the Soviet Union.

While some saw Yevtushenko’s rightward shift as evidence of his commitment to ‘democracy’, to me it appeared the kind of slow rot of conservative thinking that he had railed against in his poems. I choose to cherish Yevtushenko as the writer of great celebrations of true Bolshevism, in works such as Bratsk station and ‘Babi Yar’. The former is a book of poems telling the story of how the Russian Revolution unleashed the incredible human forces that turned rural, backward Russia into a technological and economic powerhouse. The latter is a direct attack in the name of communism on official anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.

 

Peter Goselin
Connecticut

War talks

Thirty-three people packed into the meeting room at the Red Shed in Wakefield on April 1 to discuss British socialism and World War I.

The first speaker, historian Martin Crick, gave a fascinating account of socialist responses to World War I, including the struggles of socialist conscientious objectors. Martin noted that there were 30 conscientious objectors in Wakefield. He also explained that Wakefield prison became a home office work centre for conscientious objectors who agreed to do work of ‘national importance’. The conscientious objectors did not have to wear uniforms, had free association and were able to go out during the day. This led to letters from residents to the Wakefield Express complaining that the conscientious objectors were “cluttering up the free public library” and warning of the impact they might have on the “morals of Wakefield’s young women”.

The second speaker was Paul Bennett from the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Paul noted that the SPGB was unequivocal at the time. It described the war as a “capitalist war”. It called on workers to “join the army of revolution instead”. During the war, the party itself faced many difficulties. Its membership fell two thirds. Outdoor meetings were broken up and speakers attacked. Some members lost their jobs because of their opposition to the war. The party was battered, but emerged better prepared for the struggles to come.

The final speaker was Jock from the Communist Workers Organisation. He said World War I was an “extraordinary watershed in human history” and that we are “still living with the consequences”. Jock noted in particular what a socialist among the 16 conscientious objectors imprisoned in Richmond Castle in 1916 wrote on his cell wall: “The only war which is worth fighting is the class war ... if the workers of all countries united and refused to fight, there would be no war!”

This event was organised by Wakefield Socialist History Group, whose next event is ‘Syndicalism and the great unrest’ on Saturday May 13 at 1pm. This will also be held at the Red Shed (Vicarage Street, Wakefield WF1). All are welcome and admission is free.

Alan Stewart
Wakefield Socialist History Group

Hope Hospital

I’m delighted to share an update on the People’s Convoy - the very first crowdfunded hospital, which was delivered via convoy from London to Syria, and has just opened. After almost three months of building work, Hope Hospital has opened its doors to patients in northern Aleppo - the only facility like it in the area.

Last December CanDo spearheaded the People’s Convoy campaign - alongside partners organisations Across the Divide, Doctors Under Fire, Hand in Hand for Syria, Phoenix Foundation, the Syria Campaign, Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations - raising money to rebuild the last children’s hospital that had been bombed out of action in Aleppo.

CanDo’s focus is to bring the dignity of independence to local organisations working on the front lines by recognising their incredible work and connecting them to direct funding and resources. The not-for-profit organisation is creating a new international aid ecosystem that recognises, respects and empowers local humanitarians using crowdfunding technology.

The campaign resonated with public figures, humanitarian organisations and the public globally, and resulted in raising a staggering £246,505 (270% of the fundraising target) in just 14 days, which in addition to rebuilding the hospital, also provided enough funding for six months of running costs.

The convoy departed from Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London on December 17 2016 to a buzz of media attention. The heavy-goods vehicle carrying the hospital equipment and supplies drove over 2,600 miles, passing through France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, before crossing Turkey and finally reaching the border with Syria on January 2 2017.

With over 4,800 single donations mostly from the UK and USA, the People’s Convoy sent a strong message of solidarity to the Independent Doctors Association (IDA), who were rebuilding this children’s hospital for the seventh time after the six previous buildings had been bombed out of action.

The IDA is an independent humanitarian organisation founded by a medical committee of Syrian doctors from Aleppo in 2012 as a response to the humanitarian needs. They work to rehabilitate medical services in northern Syria and attain a standard level of health and social well-being for the affected populations.

Inspired by the public display of generosity and solidarity, the IDA decided to name the facility Hope Hospital. Dr Hatem from the IDA said: “After evacuating from Aleppo our hearts ached, because we had been building the children’s hospital in Aleppo for two years and then lost everything. There was something in my heart that said we would have to give up and not work inside a children’s hospital again.”

He went on to say: “After we saw the People’s Convoy, something rebuilt within ourselves. The hope returned to me when I realised that there are people thinking about us and supporting us. It means all the people in the world aim to save children’s lives wherever they are and whoever they are. It means the world knew what we were doing inside Aleppo: serving the children, the civilians. So we began working hard to build Hope Hospital. For us, it represents a new place where we can work and still imagine ourselves back in Aleppo.”

Hope Hospital is a clear victory for humanity. While it might seem like a small victory in the face of the continued adversity in Syria, it marks a significant milestone. From the thousands of supporters and the tens of organisations that endorsed the convoy, to the media supporters and the breathtaking resilience of the IDA team, the achievement is a celebration of the human spirit.

The hospital will serve Jarablus district (northern Aleppo), a community of 170,000, treating over 5,000 children each month - a figure which is likely to grow, as more communities become displaced from continued evacuations and news of the hospital spreads.

Dr Rola Hallam
CanDo