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Tuesday 3 February 2009
Letters: Better living through snow
Heavy snowfall brings glimpses of a better life
For all the complaints that some may have about the effects of the weather, and the genuine trouble it may cause a few, perhaps we should see the recent heavy snowfall as a blessing.
Here in Crystal Palace in South London, it has produced an impromptu holiday. At the peak of rush hour when cars would normally be nose to tail outside my window, the road was virtually deserted. And instead of using an enforced day off work to go to the supermarket or sink into a stupor in front of the television, hundreds of people are flocking to Crystal Palace park to enjoy the snow. In a timeless scene, that would perhaps be more familiar to Brueghel than those of us living with climate change, children and the young at heart are tramping through the powder pulling sledges behind them or pelting one another with snowballs.
As we head into turbulent economic times, where some may have a little too much leisure and not enough money, perhaps it is a reminder that the problem is not simply that there's too little work but that work, in a recession, is unequally distributed. We could all do with a little more time to play, with our friends and family, and a little less time at the grindstone.
Why our society doesn't manage the ebb and flow of the economic cycle by trying to ensure that we all have a share of the extra leisure and shoulder a small portion of the collective financial pain, rather than some having to work harder to support others who are unable to find work at all, escapes me.
Perhaps we should all head out, build a snowman, and remind ourselves that life is as transient as our carrot-nosed friend and think about reordering our priorities. We would have a happier, healthier society for doing so.
EU law is at heart of wildcat strikes
There is growing confusion as to exactly why European law is at the heart of the current wave of unofficial disputes over the award of contracts to non-UK workers. ("Wildcat strikes over foreign workers expected to spread", 2 February).
The fact is, that even if Total have given guarantees that they will not exclude UK workers, or undercut UK conditions, the recent European Court of Justice judgements in the Viking, Lavall and Ruffert cases, have for months now thrown doubt on how such companies will behave in the future.
UK and EU trade unions and Socialist Group MEPs, are concerned that the ECJ have interpreted European employment law, including the "Posting of Workers Directive", as giving a higher priority to the freedom of capital movements over the rights of both UK and EU workers in the UK to work under settled UK collective agreements, wages and conditions. These judgements are getting the balance badly wrong.
Free movement of workers is intrinsic to the idea of the EU, and protectionism is wrong. But if current European law and its impact on disputes and major construction projects like the 2012 Olympics in London, is to be fair to UK and non-UK workers alike then these recent interpretations of European Employment law must be reviewed urgently.
Claude Moraes MEP
In the face of an increasingly dehumanising, globilised economy, European trades unions appear to have been asleep at the wheel, allowing a situation to develop where foreign workers and now, presumably, UK workers, are forced to work away from their countries, homes and families to better serve the desires of the globalised economy and its acolytes.
Now, after more than 20 years, their response to businesses playing one country's workforce off against another seems to be to remove the "inter" from international socialism, rather than unite in common cause. The workers united will never be divided – unless, of course, they aren't from round here.
I have worked on contract around Europe and, as a single guy, I have enjoyed the excitement and the variety of locations. But I could see that most of the married people I worked with were not really there by choice, but because circumstances had pushed them to take a job abroad. These were people whose drive and energy should have been contributing to their home region, but instead, they were forced to trek across Europe to earn money. As it is, they often pine for an idyllic retirement in their home country which either never comes or, if it does, is tainted by the fact that, during the years away they have become "outsiders".
The open-border employment market means that companies can profit from wage differentials by pulling in cheap workers from other regions to maximise profit. At present two horrible disruptions are taking place: first the disruption to the migrant worker who has to travel abroad, and second the disruption to the employment market of the country where he/she is set to work.
I am certainly not against people working abroad and travelling in search of their fortune, but this dream has been hijacked by Brussels and by powerful business interests.
As a trade unionist of many years it is not often that I oppose collective action, but this has to be one of those times. Anger is being expressed against foreign workers rather than towards the employers who are clearly exploiting the situation over pay. That the BNP has been trying to capitalise on this dispute is hardly surprising; that alone ought to alert the trade unions to the potential dangers of supporting this action.
If the trade unions had done more in terms of organising active opposition to Labour in the way that the French trade unions are now doing, they would not only be pulling the rug out from under the BNP but also focusing peoples' rightful anger in the right direction - cut-throat employers, bankers, and spineless Labour MPs.
The real root of this issue is that the foreign workers who are bussed in are put up on a floating hotel and make little or no contribution to the local economy.
No rational person objects to foreign workers living and working in this country if they pay, through their spending power as well as taxes, to contribute to the infrastructure and as long as it's on an equal footing with UK nationals.
For MPs to say that Total has done nothing wrong and spout on about protectionism only goes to show how misinformed and out-of-touch the Honourable Members are.
Kingston upon Hull, East Yorkshire
Railways in the 21st century
Graham Howes (letters, 29 January) gives an idealist's view of the railways that bears no relevance to the realities of the 21st century. The railways are now carrying more passengers than in the 1950s, on a considerably smaller network, in greater comfort, speed and safety. The fare examples quoted are misleading if he is resident in Manningtree, because a standard day return to London never costs more than £41.10, with off-peak fares (valid 9am to 4.15pm and again from 7pm) only £22.80, so there is no reason why anyone would want to purchase an advance single for £11.
There are no spare carriages around to increase capacity at peak times and procurement of new rolling stock takes many years and can be justified only if the rolling stock can be used throughout the day. Furthermore, to operate longer trains, platforms must be of adequate length at every station used and this can result in complex engineering problems.
The consequences of Mr Howes' £50 maximum return fare would be unbearable overcrowding on many trains, which would result in a loss of passengers and cuts in service, which, incidentally, are only being floated at present by some operators as a possibility if a major reduction in passengers is experienced due to the recession. The December 2008 timetable actually shows an increase in services operated across the country, with greater utilisation of rolling stock and labour resources.
Dr John Disney
Nottingham Business School
Now is no time to cut aid to Africa
With latest estimates suggesting that the global financial crisis will drag an additional 40 million people in to poverty this year, it was deeply worrying to read Dambisa Moyo advocating dramatic cuts in aid to Africa (Opinion, 2 February).
Of course, aid on its own cannot solve Africa's problems: it must go hand in hand with rich countries reforming international trade and financial rules to ensure that poor countries can generate and retain their own resources. But while aid is not sufficient, it is most certainly necessary. And it works.
It has helped put over 40 million more children into school worldwide, 29 million of these in sub-Saharan Africa. It has provided treatment for 2 million people with HIV / Aids, the leading cause of death in that region. And without an educated and healthy workforce, how is economic growth to be achieved? History tells us that, where aid is used well, it acts as an effective catalyst for growth.
Thankfully, while Moyo might see aid cuts as "inevitable", others, such as Gordon Brown and Barack Obama, disagree. In fact, as the Prime Minister said last November, the financial turmoil and its likely impact on the developing world means that there can be "no worse time" to "retreat from the plans we have to build a better and fairer world".
Head of Public Policy and Advocacy, Oxfam GB, Oxford
Chilling Christian view of nature
It's nice to see that Catherine Pepinster has been looking up her biblical lexicon for the meaning of stewardship in the Old Testament ("Sir David has misunderstood the scriptures", 31 January). But she should also know that in theology the reception and common understanding of doctrines is of equal, if not more, importance.
The modern Evangelical Christian view was summarised with chilling clarity by President Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, James Gaius Watt, when he said: "The earth was put here by the Lord for his people to subdue and use for profitable purposes on the way to heaven." More recently, at a Vatican conference, Cardinal Martino lashed out at the neo-pagan "idolatry of nature" by ecologists who challenged man's, "indisputable superiority within and over all the rest of creation." So much for biblical stewardship, the devastating implications of which Sir David Attenborough understands all too well.
"PM's plan for 'Britishness' museum consigned to history" (letters, 2 February) depicts the Union Flag being flown upside-down. This is said to be a sign of distress – a most appropriate message in Gordon Brown's current situation.
In "No wonder marriage is dying" (Opinion, 31 January), Tim Lott writes: "Furthermore it seems to me that ... men and women have fundamentally failed to understand one other." This reminds me of an old joke: two gay friends pass by a house from which emanate the sounds of screaming between husband and wife and the crashing of crockery. "What I have always said?" says one to the other. "These mixed marriages never work."
Dr Michael JOHNSON
In the light of the current financial chaos, Bruce Anderson writes that there need to be "improvements in bank regulation" (Opinion, 2 February). Er, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Mr Anderson one of those who, until fairly recently, were calling for a reduction in the role of the interfering, nanny state? It is ironic that many who held that view are now blaming the current problems on a failure of government regulation.
Tory maths plan
From all the thousands of professionals in education and mathematics, does David Cameron really expect us to believe that the best person to investigate mathematics education policy in this country is a TV presenter – Carol Vorderman – who happens to be good at sums (report, 2 February)? I'm sorry Mr Cameron, we're not that daft. We're perfectly capable of spotting when we're being patronised by silly populist schemes in a pathetic attempt to gain our support.
Richard Dawkins is quite right to criticise you for publishing a letter on a subject outside the writer's area of expertise (31 January). Whatever next? Before we know where we are we shall be having biologists writing books about theology.
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