Letters: Union defends people against machines

These letters were published in the 5th February edition of the Independent

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Last August in the middle of the day at Baker Street Underground
station, I wanted to add some credit to my Oyster card. Unfamiliar with the
ticket machines and unwilling to delay others, I joined the queue for the
ticket office, and eavesdropped.

There were two tourists ahead of me, both, it transpired, with minimal spoken English. The first was investigating which multi-ticket would be most suitable for her stay in London, about which she was questioned and then offered advice. 

The second, a young man, had managed to purchase a similar ticket but it would not function. Eventually the patient and courteous man in the ticket office discovered the error was a wrong start date, and rectified the matter. I did detect a note of relief in his voice when I made my very simple request and handed over £10 cash.

Who is so deluded that they think a bank of machines and more retail outlets will ever replace this kind of service, the idea that has provoked the current dispute with the RMT union? Such expertise and understanding cannot be quantified, and are of immense benefit to London’s image as a tourist-friendly city.

S Lawton, Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

While I share Charles Foster’s concern about the potential excesses of socialism (letter, 28 January), I find his criticism of trade unions as “profoundly undemocratic” unfair and unsubstantiated.

Trade union policy is decided by annual representative conferences. Industrial action is only possible if mandated by a majority of the workforce. Contrast this with party conferences and public statements during hustings, which can be ignored once power is obtained.

The Tory party promised not to undertake major reforms of the NHS and to be the greenest government ever. The Liberal Democrats promised to oppose nuclear power and not to support increases in tuition fees.

By proposing resolutions and attending mandating meetings I had a say in every policy which my trade union adopted. Political parties no longer even pretend that their conferences mandate their behaviour.

Pete Rowberry, Saxmundham, Suffolk

If state schools were like private schools

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, wants state schools to “be like private schools.” However, if this were the case, 85 per cent of children would not be in a school at all: they would be barred entry on the grounds that they were either not rich enough or not clever enough.

How about an alternative approach? What about private schools being like state schools and taking on some challenging children, not just the “easy to teach” bright, motivated ones from supportive homes? If this happened we really would start to break down the “Berlin Wall” between the two education sectors.

Ben Warren, Head teacher Summerhill Comprehensive School Dudley, West Midlands

Michael Gove makes the interesting assumption that private schools are better than state schools. Is there any evidence for this? No, there is not.

Our top state schools are at least as good as the top private schools. Indeed once you allow for the difference in the standard of pupils at entry, many are better academically.

Mr Gove constantly compares Eton to the worst state school. But (whisper it softly) most private schools are not actually academically particularly good, unsurprising when their staff are often the failures from the state sector.

Parents are very well aware of this, and the honest parent of a child at private school will openly admit that the school is chosen not for its academic achievement, but because it enables children to meet “the right people” and “make connections”.

Private schools work best for those pupils who can only get a well-paid job through knowing the right people, as they would fail on merit.

Sadly then, the attempt at making our state schools “as good as private schools” misses the point. They have different aims and objectives. No amount of long days and homework will make the change.

Sheila Parker, Worthing, West Sussex

I am delighted to hear that Michael Gove’s government will be providing resources to enable schools to extend the times that they remain open and provide activities such as “school plays, sports clubs, orchestras and debating competitions” to pupils. 

This was a policy established under the last Labour government and funded through the Extended Schools agenda. Unfortunately it was also one of the areas of funding the Conservative-led Coalition scrapped as soon as it got into power.

Funny how, in the run-up to a general election, money can be made available when it wasn’t previously. 

Jo Rust, Secretary, King’s Lynn and District Trades Council, King’s Lynn, Norfolk

Saudi Arabia, source of extremism

Peter Popham’s article “The war on Christianity” (30 January) compliments Prince Charles for “saying the unsayable” by speaking out over the persecution of Christians in Islamic states.  An additional unsayable which could be said is the role of Saudi Arabia as the well-spring of most of the Islamic extremism in the world. 

Salafism (for which read Wahaabism), the state religion of Britain’s apparently unimpeachable ally Saudi Arabia, identifies Jews and Christians as enemies of Islam. In addition, Sufis are defined as “witches” and Shi’a as “polytheists”, whom some Salafis believe they should fight and kill in the cause of tawheed, the homogenisation of Islamic thought.

While some Salafi groupings eschew violence, the broad Salafist propensity toward violence and intolerance is propagated by the Wahaabi moonshine of muddled fiction that in Salafism passes for theology.

Saudi petrodollars have enabled Salafism to incubate extremism worldwide, via the internet, by funding mosques in Britain and the US, madrasas (schools) in struggling states like Pakistan, and through the Salafi regional offshoots. Such groupings carried out the Mumbai massacre and the Nairobi siege, and include al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, the Deobandis and Ahl-el-Beit of India, and the Jama’a Islamiya of Pakistan.

The pared-down, simplified Salafist ideology is at odds with the rest of Islamic thought on many issues, and in this context  with a hadith (recorded saying) attributed to the Messenger Muhammad. The Messenger is reported to have directed that Muslims being denied the right of reply, when receiving viewpoints in conflict with their own beliefs, should “politely listen and leave”.

Hamdi Shelhi, Oxford

Medieval floods on the Somerset levels

I do understand why Chris Harding (letter, 3 February) is unsympathetic to those afflicted by the Somerset floods; but there are “more things in heaven and earth”.

He notes that records of flooding have not been kept over the past thousand years. That is of course true, but the medieval chronicler William of Malmesbury, writing around the year 1125, did have things say on the subject.

Of Muchelney in particular (often in the news of late) he says: “The place is not easy of access; one can normally get through in summertime on foot or by horse, but not in winter.”

All the same, we are not living in the Middle Ages, and it ought to be possible to do something about this parlous state of affairs. Allowing the Environment Agency to do its job by staffing it properly would be a good start.

Julian Luxford, Ceres, Fife

Owen Paterson is very keen to focus on the houses in Somerset that haven’t been flooded.

How long before someone in the dock invokes the “Paterson defence”? 

“I may be heavily implicated in a number of homicides, but just consider how many people I haven’t murdered, M’lud”.

Mark Robertson , East Boldon, Tyne & Wear

Desperate to smoke in cars

I suppose it was inevitable that the proposal to ban smoking in cars in the presence of children would be met by the objection that it is “unworkable” because it would be very difficult to identify the perpetrators.

This specious argument is always trotted out when members of a small, vociferous group face losing their freedom to do harm. The same shrill voices were heard when fox hunting was banned. It is the last refuge of the desperate, and it is nonsense.

A second’s thought would make it clear that on this basis every law is “unworkable” because it is always difficult to identify the perpetrators.

Andrew McLauchlin, Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire

This morning I observed a gentleman driving his car while lighting his cigarette with one hand and texting in the other. I thought it was only women who could multi-task.

Lynn Hutchings, Whitstable,  Kent

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