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Tuesday 21 June 2011
Letters: Two classes: workers and the super-rich
Your leading article of 16 June on public-sector protests was a disgrace. To suggest that differences between public and private sector workers are now producing two classes is irrelevant to what is really facing both our society and virtually every other. Today we have a new situation where the divide is between the super-rich and everyone else.
It was the super-rich bankers and City speculators with their seven-figure annual returns (I do not say "earnings") who created the financial meltdown, and they have continued paying themselves the same ludicrous sums while everyone else is expected to pay more, work longer and receive less.
To the tired refrain that "there is no alternative" may I mention that in 2010 the wealth of just the 1,000 richest individuals in this country as measured by The Sunday Times was £333.5bn. After a year of everyone being exhorted to pull together and share the burden, the wealth of this top 1,000 had increased to £395.8bn.
The combined wealth of these ridiculously overvalued individuals is now over 40 per cent of our country's total sovereign debt. Room enough there for a substantial wealth tax before we start expropriating the rights and earnings of people who actually need what money they possess.
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
Giving up going on strike, decent pensions and job security are not the only things many in the private sector gave up years ago. (Sean O'Grady, 20 June). They also gave up on trade union membership and have paid the price for having no one to fight for them ever since. Lesson there for everyone then.
Sean O'Grady thinks it's unfair that a taxi driver pays taxes to fund the pension of an ambassador. Presumably he also thinks it is equally as unfair that a hospital worker on £16,000 a year has his pension docked in order to protect the multi-million pound salaries, not mention bonuses, of our top banking executives?
I agree entirely with the views expressed by your correspondents of 18 June. That your editorials side with the bosses of big business (who got us into the mess we're in, but are still enjoying obscene bonuses and pensions) and treat the genuine concerns of ordinary workers about their future with such disdain does you no credit. Your argument seems to be that because firms in the private sector have succeeded in shutting down what were once first-class pension schemes for their workers, resulting in higher rewards for shareholders and bonuses for the bosses, then the public-sector workers should accept an equally insecure future in retirement.
Our MPs and government ministers are public servants, too. What about some leadership from them in cutting back on their own incredibly generous pension arrangements, to show that "we're all in this together"? (I think I know the answer: "Some hope.")
No reasonable person could disagree with your view that "the principle that all workers should qualify for a state pension at the same age should be beyond argument" (leading article, 18 June).
They do so now. The current argument is about occupational pensions which are distinct from and additional to the state pension. For these the minimum age (which applies to both private and public sectors) has been lower than for the state pension for as long as I can remember (in the 1970s it was 55, reduced to 50 under Margaret Thatcher and restored to 55 under the previous government).
The situation for those working in independent schools is worse than you report (16 June).
The Government is planning to expel all teachers and heads working in independent schools from the Teachers' Pension Scheme (TPS) – around 60,000 people in all. As a result, independent schools may close, others will have to hike their school fees to be able to fund pensions for their staff, and they are likely to lose staff to state schools.
We have yet to see any evidence that the Government has thought about the implications of what will happen to teachers who move between the state and private sector to work. Or the impact on the mobility of teachers between sectors, on private-school teachers sharing ideas and expertise, lessons and summer schools for state-school pupils.
And perhaps the Government would like to share the details of the impact on the TPS of losing all the private-school teachers from the scheme?
Overwhelmingly, ATL members in independent schools voted to strike alongside their state-school counterparts on 30 June.
National Official for Independent Schools
Association of Teachers and Lecturers, London WC2
I've had this wonderful idea. Why doesn't the Government support euthanasia on the NHS for the elderly? It would solve many of their NHS budget problems, make a vital contribution to the pensions crisis and provide an easy way out for those of us over-70s who do not wish to belong to the kind of society they are trying to create.
Peaceful protest in Greece
I am appalled by the British media's coverage of Greek people's response to the country's financial and political problems, and more specifically by the media's insatiable appetite for violence and negativity.
For more than 20 days now, thousands of people have been demonstrating in major cities in Greece, against austerity measures that have utterly impoverished them, and against the corrupt political system that has led the country to its current dire state. These were the most powerful mass demonstrations in the history of modern Greece, and they were peaceful. The demonstrators were equipped with determination and humour; they were carrying cooking pots – a hint as to how much poorer they are becoming by the day – not petrol bombs. People of all ages and backgrounds, coming together every night, in their thousands, to send politicians an unequivocal message; the people had lost faith in them and their unfair policies.
One would have reasonably expected to hear about these demonstrations in the news. But it was not until 15 June, when violence finally erupted, that the British media decided Greece was newsworthy. The petrol bombs were at the centre of the discussion again, and people in Britain never really had the opportunity to hear that a different type of protest is possible; a protest unimaginably inspiring, that which has been characteristic of the "indignant" movement in Spain and Greece.
Perhaps these are risky times. Perhaps in a Britain where austerity measures are just beginning to bite, unemployment is growing fast and people in the public sector are just preparing to strike, ignorance is bliss.
Dr Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos
Lecturer in Law, Brunel University
Nato looks for new enemies
Geoff Naylor (letter, 16 June) asks why American GIs are occupying bases up and down the country. That's easy to answer, Geoff: they're here to protect us from the wicked Soviet Union that wants to convert us to communism and to enslave us all.
Wait a minute, didn't the Soviet Union disappear, oh, twenty years ago? In which case, what exactly are these forces doing here? And what exactly is the point of Nato now that its main threat has disappeared? The best that the brains of that organisation have managed so far is to set up Colonel Gaddafi's Libya as a threat to defend us against, regardless of the fact that Libya presents no threat to anyone but its own citizens.
Really, at a time when we are told we have to cut back on public expenditure, forcing the disabled to take their unfair share of the cuts, why cannot we cut back on our imperialist pretensions and act in accordance with our real status in the world, rather than on our status as imagined by people who don't seem to have noticed that not only has the Soviet Union disappeared, but so has the British Empire.
Cooking up a coalition
Philip Goldenberg (letter, 15 June) is of course correct to say that newly elected MPs are free to form a ruling coalition provided they can command a majority, and that we elect a parliament, not a Government. But I do not recognise his description of the Coalition Government's policies as being a "synthesis" of their two manifestos. The Coalition Agreement, horse-traded behind closed doors, came up with a set of policies which by no stretch of imagination could be so described.
Indeed the Coalition Government has come up with a number of sometimes incredibly daft policies which were not even mentioned in the run-up to the election – such as proposals to sell off Britain's forests and nature reserves – and policies which were clearly designed to let bankers off the hook, when, prior to the election, both parties had claimed that they would tackle the obscenity of hugely inflated bonuses and executive pay.
And, had either of the current Coalition parties said in their manifestos that they were going to reorganise the NHS completely and introduce much greater privatisation than previously, their less-than-impressive performances at the election would have no doubt been much worse.
If parties, once elected and having formed a government, then feel free to come up with a whole new set of policies between them, much of which no one has had a chance to vote for, then what price democracy?
Yes, of course, a coalition government is constitutionally legitimate in our parliamentary system following an election in which "no party has an overall majority", as happened in 2010.
But that doesn't indicate that any and every policy proposed by such a government is covered by that same general constitutional legitimacy. Just because the combined votes of the two parties add up to nearly 60 per cent, that doesn't mean they can claim that level of support for any of the policies they are now pushing through. In fact, quite the opposite.
I fear it is going to be very damaging to faith in our parliamentary institutions to see major policies being implemented despite having been specifically and vigorously opposed by one of the Coalition partners during the very election that delivered the hung parliament, as with the Lib Dems over tuition fees and too-fast deficit reduction, among other key matters.
Equally, given that no party put forward any manifesto proposals for reorganisation of the NHS on anything like the scale currently creating so much alarm, there can be no overall constitutional legitimacy for the kind of "reforms" being considered. Far from accepting the constitutional legitimacy of this coalition, it's no wonder so many people regard this government as illegitimate, in the crudest, most abusive sense of the word.
Antibiotics on the farm
The soaring use of antibiotics on factory farms and associated risk to human health ("Death Wish: routine use of vital antibiotics on farms threatens human health", 17 June) signals yet another warning about our broken food system.
UK factory farms pump animals with huge amounts of feed to make them grow faster – including soy from South America, where its production is devastating rainforests and forcing rural communities from their land.
At home, small farmers struggle to survive as cheap factory-farmed meat swamps the market and supermarkets demand more for less – and risk losing out to mega-farms like the proposed 25,000-pig unit in Foston, Derbyshire.
The Government must support small farmers and planet-friendly farming by ending supermarket bullying and helping people eat less and better meat and dairy.
Friends of the Earth Food Campaigner, Leeds
Could I suggest that if Mary Ann Sieghart and her high-minded broadsheet colleagues are serious about restraining the muck-raking vermin who infest the tabloids (Opinion, 20 June), they do so by using the many discreditable facts they no doubt know about the vermin to produce a weekly page about their repulsive personal behaviour and private misdeeds?
I believe this would have far more impact than any number of high-minded columns and editorials, might sell more papers, and would certainly provide much amusement to the rest of us.
R S Foster
Richard Ingrams must be joking when he says that we should not protect wild animals because "where there is animal worship there is human sacrifice" (Opinion, 18 June). Ever since the Somme, western society has eclipsed every primitive culture in the world in its mastery of the art of ritual homicide: a development which coincides with the biggest mass extinction since the dinosaurs. We are alone in this distinction. While ants occasionally have wars, even they are not guilty of the systematic eradication of other species.
I missed the first parts of the charming correspondence about clichés and over-used words. How do I feel about that? Devastated. Just completely devastated.
Perspectives on BrianHaw
Anti-war hero saved lives
It was very sad to hear of the death of Brian Haw. The man gave up the last 10 years of his life to demonstrate in Parliament Square, against the British and American foreign policy.
When he first arrived in the summer of 2001, the West was strangling the life out of Iraq with sanctions. Then came the Afghanistan war (2001), the invasion of Iraq (2003) and now the continuous bombing of Libya. He became a figurehead of the anti-war movement.
He was a real hero. His actions, and those of the anti-war movement, save lives around the world. So, next time they erect a new statue in Parliament Square, Whitehall or Trafalgar Square, it should be him. We've had enough statues for leaders who have started wars, and the military who have waged them.
Thank you for your fitting coverage of the death of Brian Haw. Had he been employed by the military he would undoubtedly have deserved a medal for courage.
I was encouraged by your call for a memorial to be placed at the spot of his vigil in Parliament Square (leading article, 20 June). Whether one was for him or against him, his vigil is an indelible part of Westminster history.
Respectable members of the Establishment called his camp an "eyesore" and so the monument should be an eyesore, too. It should be a piece of modern sculpture depicting the ugliness of war.
I have known Brian Haw for more than 10 years. In that time he has been assaulted and arrested, had his banner set alight, and has been subjected to daily abuse. He always turned the other cheek.
Despite all that, he maintained a constant vigil over the green grass of Parliament Square and was never uprooted by any situation thrown at him. He spent over 3,500 nights protesting for something he believed in. To his critics I would say: think about what you would stand up for over the same length of time.
I would like to express my condolences to Brian Haw's family and friends. While not necessarily agreeing with him, I admired him for his commitment to his cause and for his protest's annoying of pompous parliamentary stuffed shirts. As a frequent attender of meetings at the Commons, I can assure them that neither he nor other Parliament Square protesters ever disturbed me.
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