Voice From the Back

Down the sink
Angela O’Hagen, the campaign and communications manager of Oxfam in Scotland was so incensed by the plight of the poor in Mali and the Dominican Republic that she wrote to the Herald (26 June) about it. “Encouraged by Europe’s Common Agriculture Policy, Europe’s farmers are producing mountains of milk that no-one has the appetite for. Instead of pouring the milk down the sink, we dump our left-overs on the developing world undermining local dairy farmers in the likes of Dominican Republic and Mali who cannot compete against our artificially cheaper milk.” No, your eyes don’t deceive you, here is a spokesperson for Oxfam regretting that milk isn’t poured down the sink! Truly, capitalism is a mad house.

Hobson’s Choice
“Digby Jones, the Director-General of the CBI, yesterday argued for businesses to keep an opt-out on the European Working Time Directive that restricts the working week to an average of 48 hours . . . Mr Jones said, “This is about choice. People should have the right to say ‘no’ to long hours and the directive rightly gives them that protection. But they don’t want unions and politicians telling them when they can work, or for how long.”Times (26 June) Why would anyone want to work more than 48 hours? Could it be because they need the overtime pay? Could it be because they don’t want to be overlooked for promotion or, more likely, to be sacked?

It’s not funny
Bernard Manning is a stand-up comedian who has been accused of being a “foul-mouthed racist bigot”, but, as a report in This Week (28 June) of his trip to India shows, he is not stupid. “It was effin’ awful . . . You’re either wealthy in India or you’ve got eff all. The hotel was absolutely wonderful, and people were living high on the hog, beautiful meals, swimming pools, but you get out the front door and . . . effin’ poverty. There’s no in-between. You’ve got women queuing up for water and they’ve got an atom bomb! The last effin’ thing they need in India is an atom bomb! They want reservoirs and plenty of water coming through the tap. Effin’ upset me I can tell you.”

A voice from America
In the New York Times Magazine (6 July) there is a photograph of a woman wearing a flimsy looking plastic bag on her head. Underneath her photograph are the words of Darline Stephens of Anniston, Alabama. “ I live about 5 or 10 miles from chemical weapons. We’re over there searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but we have them here in our hometown. I didn’t know this stuff was at the Army Depot all these years. I just heard last year. It takes seven years to burn the chemicals to get rid of it all. We didn’t really believe they were going to burn something that could kill us until they told us to get our masks. My family lives payday to payday, so we sure can’t say, ‘Let’s quit our jobs and move.’ I wish we could. The government does some ignorant things – they just give us a plastic mask? If you could send our boys to war with real masks, I don’t understand why we can’t have the same masks. Everyone in the rescue squad and fire department has high-dollar masks. I just don’t understand why they think some people’s lives are worth more than ours. My son and I are Christians, so we’re saved. He knows where he’s going if he dies.”

Mind the gap
“Almost half the world’s population, or three billion people, live on little more than £1 a day and the gap between the world’s poorest 20 percent and its richest 20 percent has more than doubled since 1960, the International Labour organisation said.” Times (7 July) So where does that leave the notion that the market system would lead to prosperity for all?

Worse than Thatcher
The Labour MP Michael Meacher, formerly the environment minister, revealed in the Guardian (15 July) that the gap in income between the bottom 20 percent and the top 20 percent has increased under Labour. “The share of the bottom fifth has slipped back to 6 percent while the share of the top fifth has moved up to 46 percent. Therefore, the rich now have a bigger share of the nation’s post-tax income than at any time under Mrs Thatcher.”

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