Letters - FRFI 258 Jun/Jul 2017

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Shame-faced socialists

Dundee Against Austerity decided to assess what principled scope there was for using the Scottish council elections in May 2017 to build in the working class communities most affected by austerity. Our stall at the local shops in Fintry became a wee focus of interest and education: primary school bairns engaged us in discussions about the welfare cuts and sanctions that some of their parents – and of course themselves – were experiencing; women workers in private care provision told us about their low wages, local street cleaners expressed their fears about looming privatisation, people who had been forced by the DWP to take a job at Amazon revealed the shocking accident rate in the warehouses as massive machines were used to pick goods.

All in all, grim accounts of life for the majority of the working class outside of the better-off workers comfortable in their bought council houses up the nicer cul de sacs. These were the mostly white guys wi’ their Suns and Daily Mails refusing our leaflets as they headed into the bookies. As Dundee Against Cuts we stood in this area on the basis of 100% opposition to all council cuts. Our leaflets argued that the working class did not cause the economic crisis – so why should we have to pay for it! Our colleagues in the Socialist Party, Scotland had different arguments on their material but said they too were 100% anti-austerity.

Along comes the General Election and suddenly, in various styles, support for Corbyn’s Labour Party is announced by these ‘100% anti-austerity’ candidates. You don’t need Marx or Lenin or Connolly or Maclean to explain, Mr Spock of Star Trek nailed it: ‘Illogical, Captain!’ How can you, we declared, claim to be 100% against the council cuts and vote for a party that has passed cuts budgets? But this was the picture across the left and across social media here in Scotland, vote for cuts parties like Labour and the SNP and shout about opposing austerity. We have been here afore; in 1979 low paid Black and Irish workers suffering under the Labour government’s wage policy quite rightly booed and heckled Tony Benn as he shamelessly tried to get support for Labour in another election.

After the council and general elections the bad news about cuts that was buried in order to get votes will emerge, people will have to organise and fight back. They can place no reliance on a discredited left which unhesitatingly abandons their interests to tout for Labour votes. Lenin called it ‘shamefaced socialism – socialism in words, opportunism in deeds’. A new movement has to be built.

Michael MacGregor
Dundee, Scotland


Public housing private profits

I live in a block of flats owned by Southwark Labour council in south London. It is located near Blackfriars – an area that has become a magnet for the private development of riverside luxury flats near the City. A few years ago a wealthy property speculator bought the leasehold to a three-bedroom flat in Helen Gladstone House in Nelson Square, converting a kitchen into a bedroom in the process. His wife, conveniently, owns the leasehold flat above his. The couple have now joined with four other leaseholders in the block to bid for the freehold of the maisonettes – sited directly in front of an attractive public square. The six other tenants – two of them leasehold and four council tenants – were completely opposed to the sale. While the matter was being considered, Southwark suspended all major public works on the property so that tenants are still waiting, for example, for their windows to be replaced.

Suddenly, to the shock and despair of the tenants, who had begun to organise against the takeover, Southwark council quietly handed over the freehold on their homes to the cabal of wealthy leaseholders. The remaining tenants fear that new rents will be introduced up to the highest level of ‘affordable’ permitted – ie 80% of market rents – and the leaseholders have no idea what control they will now have over service and maintenance charges. The new freeholders also bought the lovely green space at the back of the building – that was always locked off to residents and which we believed belonged to an adjoining tower block. The tenants of Nelson Square are completely opposed to this latest sell-off by Southwark Council of public land without public consultation.

Paul Yates
South London


Support Ben Stimson!

Ben Stimson is being held in HMP Manchester (Strangeways) on remand, following his arrest under Articles 5(a) and (b) of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2006, in relation to his support for the struggle of anti-fascist campaigners in Donbass, Eastern Ukraine.

Prior to his imprisonment, Ben was on bail for ten months, during which time he was subjected to intense and humiliating surveillance. Then, in September 2016, he was arrested in Manchester and charged. He was sent first to HMP Belmarsh in south London, and then in December was transferred to Strangeways. The Manchester prison is nearer to his family but, just like other prison ‘privileges’ which are arbitrarily granted, this benefit is just as likely to be removed. In line with this type of treatment, Ben had been subject to all kinds of restrictions and bans on him using the prison library, having access to education, using the gym and receiving correspondence and publications. Until we wrote to the prison governor threatening legal action, he did not receive copies of FRFI or other progressive publications which were posted in to him.

The prison still seems to be operating a policy of banning phone calls and mail between him and left activists: at least 30 letters are believed to have been intercepted, including even one from Debbie Abrahams MP.

In Belmarsh, Ben was at first subjected to solitary confinement, and even now is mainly on an inhuman 23-hour lock-up regime. He has also faced threats and intimidation; in Belmarsh some screws made ‘jokes’ to Ben, who is of Jewish origin, about Zyklon B gas used by Nazis, and threatened him with torture.

The prison has also refused to address his health needs, including blocking his getting to hospital for a scan, and one nurse who examined him was very hostile. Another ploy has been to endanger his safety by screws gossiping about him to prisoners with far right or extreme religious views.

As a result of this abuse, Ben has staged two hunger strikes, one in December at Belmarsh and later at Strangeways.

Ben goes on trial from 10 July at Manchester Crown Court, and would welcome the presence of any supporters who can attend court.

You can also write to Benjamin Stimson A0998DW HMP Manchester, Southall St, M60 9AH. Given the interference Ben has experienced with his mail, it is advised to send your letters by recorded delivery.

Martin Harrison
Manchester


Jaan Laaman needs support

US anti-imperialist political prisoner and longstanding FRFI reader Jaan Laaman has been in solitary confinement since late March, in what supporters say is punishment for expressing support for the International Women’s Strike on 8 March and for writing a statement mourning the death of civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart.

Details of how to assist Jaan by sending complaints to the prison authorities can be found at https://4strugglemag.org/ and letters of solidarity sent to:

Jaan Karl Laaman #10372-016, USP Tucson,

PO Box 24550

Tucson, AZ85734,

USA


Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 258 June/July 2017