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Thursday 5 February 2009
Letters: French jobs for British workers
French jobs for British workers? No problem
I write in response to those who are sure Total would never let the foreign devil take French jobs in France. I worked on a gas drilling project in the South of France for Total last year, where the contractors were predominantly German but also included well-qualified British, Romanian, Serbian, Italian and Egyptian workers, very few of whom spoke French.
One thing I certainly don't remember is being bashed on the head with a placard telling me to get out.
You oppose militant trade union nationalism and its "jobs for Brits first" battlecry ("Our leaders must make the case for economic liberalism", 3 February). Your views faithfully reflect those of our political class and commentariat, who yearn to further enlarge the EU's labouring force with Turks, Ukrainians and Georgians.
As nationalism was the Achilles heel of Homo Sovieticus, so it will prove the undoing of our globalists, whose first loyality is to Brussels and Washington rather than to British working families.
The problems at the Total Oil refinery in Lincolnshire arise from Britain's half-hearted membership of the European Union. A real Common Market would have a common currency and common interest rates. But a real Common Market also implies harmonisation of pay and working conditions. Such harmonisation would mean that there would be no advantage in bringing workers from abroad.
Unfortunately, even within the Eurozone, pay, prices and working conditions vary widely. The Working Time Directive is a small step towards harmonisation but there is a long way to go.
Our lukewarm stance damages us greatly. We need to make up our minds. Are we wholehearted members of a thriving European Community, or should we leave?
Thornton Hough, Wirral
Sweet irony: I spotted a demonstrator wearing a Manchester United woolly hat at a "British jobs for British workers" protest. So Portuguese workers are worshipped in Old Trafford but a threat at the Total plant?
Africa can beat its addiction to aid
Dambisa Moyo is not alone in the view that aid has blighted Africa's development (Opinion, 2 February). The most pernicious impact of aid on Africa in the past three decades is sometimes called "addiction". Sub-Saharan Africa has become addicted to aid through a combination of a debt trap, economic policy control by the aid machinery and political arm-twisting by rich countries. Addiction leads to loss of self control, ability to think forward, the confidence to act for oneself and believe in oneself.
This is what under-development means at its core, if development is meant as a long democratic process that starts from within, able to resist imperial interference, and in the spirit of self-belief.
Aid need not de-develop a people, as evidenced by the experience of Korea and Botswana. But sadly it now does, perpetuated by institutions that have an interest in maintaining control, in ever new forms, not least through knowledge domination.
The financial crisis is no doubt a huge opportunity to chart a new path, but it will be a mistake to replace one type of dependency, official aid, with another, unpredictable foreign direct investment. Instead, Africa needs to look into its tax system. Taxation is the most stable source of finance, and is essential for building democracies. It needs to focus on building institutions for efficient but also fair taxation. It needs a fair share of natural resource rents.
It needs above all to plug the loopholes through which multinational companies avoid their tax obligations. Christian Aid estimates that poor countries lose a minimum of $160bn a year by companies illegally concealing their profits in trade mispricing and in tax havens.
Africa cannot do this alone. This is where it most needs its friends. Foreign direct investment will follow when Africa makes progress in social and economic development.
Head of policy, Christian Aid
There's no doubt that foreign involvement in Africa has been bad for Africans and bad for development – from slavery, through colonialism to cold war rivalry. It's very easy to depict aid as just another phase of foreign meddling with equally dire consequences.
But Dambisa Moyo is not telling the full story: she gives the example of high growth rates in Sudan, Angola and Mauritania, but these were mainly the consequence of high demand for raw materials to feed Chinese manufacturers – and now the boom times are over, for the time being at least. After years of decline, Zambia too was enjoying a boom on the back of copper, which provides 80 per cent of its export earnings, but copper is now trading at a third of the price of mid-2008.
Could aid be better? Yes, of course it could. Aid is one of the most volatile of resource flows, varying from year to year with changing fads and changing donor governments. For a start, therefore, we could make aid more reliable, enabling southern governments to make long-term plans on the basis of aid commitments, something they wisely avoid at present.
Ms Moyo accuses aid of breeding corruption, but she overlooks far worse corruption, not to mention conflict, resulting from oil and mining, the main areas of interest for foreign investors. In the long term reliance on commodities and raw materials is likely to be far more damaging than aid. The truth is that aid and the other foreign inflows will always underperform if they are not partnered by competent and honest governments with a commitment to poverty reduction. And this is a question that Ms Moyo does not address.
Senior Policy Adviser, CAFOD
Dambisa Moyo is right to point out that aid dependency is not a desirable long-term development strategy. But she has picked a bizarre moment to assert that financial markets are the answer to Africa's woes. Far from being a solution, a strategy of reliance on foreign investment and access to international capital markets has not helped much with poverty reduction, and now looks set to wreak havoc on some of the region's economies.
New research from ActionAid, to be published this month, will show that countries that based their development on external financing, like South Africa, got little development at the time and face deep and long crises now. By contrast, countries which relied more on local capital, like Brazil, got more development, and are likely to see a shorter and shallower crisis.
The G20 need to look at ways of making international capital markets serve development better. But until they do, rejecting aid in favour of private flows will be jumping out of the frying pan into the raging furnace.
Dr Claire Melamed
Head of Policy, ActionAid UK
Blaming God and Darwin
It is surprising that Sir David Attenborough of all people should blame the instinct to "be fruitful and multiply" upon the Book of Genesis (31 January). He has demonstrated in his excellent TV programmes how this is written into our DNA, and indeed lies at the heart of all creation.
It appears to have escaped his notice that the devastation of the planet occurred long after Darwinism gained the ascendancy over Genesis. It is more plausible to blame man's attitude upon the realisation that his origins lie not in a garden where all creatures lived together in harmony, but in a ruthless struggle for survival of which he was the ultimate victor.
Dr Nigel Halliday urges David Attenborough and other luminaries to apply the same academic rigour to the Bible as they do in their own disciplines (letter, 2 February). I suspect that if the word of God had been properly peer reviewed at the time it would have never been published, not only for its barbarity but also because of its numerous ambiguities and self-contradictions that account for the current debate in these pages.
Good weather for moaners
Beating ourselves up and complaining about the weather are two of our national sports, and when the two can be combined, as this week, we are champions.
We don't, at the moment, have long cold Canadian winters, and local authorities can hardly be expected to behave as if we do. Those who complain about blocked roads, slippery pavements and closed schools would probably also complain about the waste involved in warehouses full of grit, salt, snow-ploughs and snow-blowers, used only rarely.
A couple of days off work or school is not a national disaster.
Marilyn Mason and Peter Mason
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
When I was at school in 1963 there was a severe winter with heavy snow lasting for some six weeks. What a pity it was that the practice of closing schools down as soon as there was snow had not then been adopted.
According to your report (3 February), the cost to the economy of the heavy snow was £1.2bn. This seems to indicate an inflationary trend in made-up numbers, caused perhaps by the credit crunch, where millions became hardly worth bothering with, and trillions were made available for the first time to add a frisson to disasters. It seems only yesterday that £100m was the favoured made-up amount for the cost of bad weather, French trawlermen, Robert Maxwell (delete as appropriate). Those were the days.
Why not leave foxes alone?
Tim Bonner, of the Countryside Alliance, implies that setting dogs on dogs is somehow different from setting dogs on foxes. The only difference is in the human mind.
This small wild mammal has far less protection in the UK than in most other countries in its native range, for the simple reason that we have been culturally prejudiced against it. As an ecologist who has been observing foxes for a couple of decades, I find it absurd that the debate about foxhunting usually descends into a philosophical ramble about the emotions of the hunters, as if the life of the fox itself has no more intrinsic purpose than a political football.
They are living animals. They are a uniquely fascinating species, and in the grand scheme of things they do not make difficult neighbours. It is time to live and let live.
Christian Bale's tirade against a work colleague ("Bale turns American psycho with expletive-laden tantrum on set", 4 February) would be classed as gross misconduct in any other workplace, which would probably, in the absence of an instant apology, have led to his sacking. With so many excellent actors around I cannot understand why the producers of the film would tolerate such behaviour.
I am disgusted at your printing of Christian Bale's foul-mouthed tirade. Don't you know that "all right" is two words and not one?
I am afraid it is Professor P P Anthony (letters, 31 January) whose "interpretation is plain wrong and offensive" when he berates Howard Jacobson for a supposed "attack" on President Obama. He even, ridiculously, accuses Jacobson of "venom" in the wholly imagined attack. Jacobson states quite clearly that he admires Obama and holds him in esteem. He says that Obama "is our most realistic hope for peace". He is suggesting that Obama, unlike some, understands moral and political intricacy, and will work hard on that basis.
Social work force
You report (4 February) that almost 40 per cent of social worker posts in Sandwell are vacant. This is not correct. Sandwell has 200 social worker positions and 39.9 posts are vacant. However, 24.4 of these posts are covered by short-term contract workers, which gives an overall number of vacancies of just 15.5 posts or 7.75 per cent of the full establishment of 200.
Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
With regard to your piece on the punctuation of city street signs (30 January), I have long wondered why the London Underground station signs show Earl's Court with an apostrophe and Barons Court without. Would this have anything to do with the superior ranking of an earl over a baron?
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