Letters - FRFI 270 June/July 2019

Cuba shows how to eradicate measles

There are increasing outbreaks of measles globally: 112,163 confirmed cases in 2019 so far (900 in England and Wales in 2018). Almost 110,000 people died from measles in 2017 – mostly children under the age of five. Complications can result in disabilities such as blindness and hearing loss. Europe had over 83,500 cases in 2018 in Ukraine (16 deaths), Greece, Italy, France, Serbia, Russia and Georgia, as well as Israel. Astonishingly (or not), Germany, Italy, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine remain endemic for measles, the world’s most infectious illness, but one which is entirely preventable with a simple, effective, safe vaccine. Driving the outbreaks are disadvantaged and marginalised communities of unvaccinated and under-vaccinated people, such as Irish Travellers or Orthodox Jews. There are inequalities in vaccine uptake by ethnicity, deprivation and geography. Between 2010 and 2017: the US had 2,593,000 unvaccinated children, France had 600,000, and the UK 527,000; in sub-Saharan Africa over 17m infants are unvaccinated annually.

Current measles vaccination rates (Ukraine 42% in 2016, EU 90%, UK, US 92% in 2017) are insufficient to stop measles circulation and a possible return to the 2.6m deaths annually pre-mass vaccination in 1980s. 95% is needed to achieve herd immunity. The media like to blame the antivax movement, but brazen Big Pharma criminality does more damage to trust in vaccination.

Meanwhile, socialist Cuba has not had a single reported case of measles since 1993, nor rubella since 1989, nor mumps since 2010, nor whooping cough since 1994. Cuba has a 99% immunisation rate for targeted age groups. As long as measles continues to circulate anywhere in the world, no country can avoid importation.

However, Cuba’s experience with measles elimination shows that if an appropriate vaccination strategy and public education is applied, measles and other diseases can be eradicated globally. This can only be done under socialism, where discrimination based on ethnicity, geography and poverty can also be eradicated.

Charles Chinweizu

CPGB-ML lurches further to the right

I was disappointed, but not entirely surprised, to see the CPGB-ML come out in open support of the Brexit Party and launch a new free publication, British Worker. This is consistent with the direction they have been heading in for a while, of appealing to some of the most reactionary elements within the working class, also evident when they attended the UKIP conference in Birmingham in September last year. The three taglines to the British Worker say a lot:

  • ‘Wherever you were born, if you live and work in Britain you are a member of the British working class’ [Translation: We know this paper looks really racist, but it isn’t, we promise];
  • ‘No matter what you earn, if you need to sell your labour-power for wages you are working class’ [Translation: We know lots of you who support Brexit are labour aristocrats and petit bourgeois, and we embrace you! Don’t worry, we won’t bring up the split in the working class];
  • ‘Our fight for a better world begins here in Britain. Workers of all countries, unite!’ [Translation: We are open national chauvinists now and we look after our own!]

Real communists understand that Brexit and Remain represent two sides of a dispute within the ruling class, and neither is in the interests of the working class. The job of communists is to build an independent leadership rooted in the real interests of the international working class; we cannot pander to reaction. 

Tom Vincent

Extinction Rebellion in Nottingham: not so ‘horizontal’

Extinction Rebellion (XR) in our area have shown us that not only is the organisation far less ‘horizontal’ than they claim, but that they use the label as a tool to shut down political debate and keep all but the self-appointed leaders out of organising. A comrade and I went to one of their Non-Violent Direct Action Workshops in May, and saw this in action; every time imperialism, socialism, XR’s future, or anything outside of the organisers’ navel-gaze-y lecture notes was brought up, we were told that we didn’t have time for that debate, often with a friendly smile and a ‘what-can-you-do’ kind of shrug. Their theme of the day was that we didn’t have enough time (at a 6-hour long workshop!) for political discussion, despite the appetite for it around the room. And it wasn’t just us communists getting frustrated with constantly being told (ever so politely, of course) to shut up; anyone trying to inject revolutionary politics was similarly scolded.

Who plans XR’s meetings and their agendas? Who decides what action is taken, when and where? Why do the majority of XR get no say in any of these things, no ability to change them, no idea how these decisions are made, and no open discussion forum? These questions and more were dismissed. The organisers decide who is and isn’t allowed to be part of their ‘horizontal’ planning. It’s going to be an uphill struggle for us not just against the climate crisis, but also against those who are trying to keep democracy out of ‘their’ mass movement.


Ewan Brown 1991 – 2019

It is with great sadness that we remember the short but brilliant life of Ewan Brown. Staunch anti-fascist, he was involved in many left wing, anti-racist and anarchist movements alongside community initiatives including libraries, music, political graffiti collectives, deaf café and more. He documented many events over the years from Palestine protests to anti-deportation rallies, ATOS occupations to student strikes. He stood up to police violence and fascist thugs alike.  Ewan has left us a legacy, his political agitational stickers will be plastered around Newcastle and beyond for decades to come. Taken from us too soon, his friends and comrades will remember him with the promise: #BeMoreEwan


Experiencing Cuban healthcare

I recently had the privilege of visiting Cuba for the first time. A few days into the trip I fell ill with a high fever; very suddenly my blood pressure plummeted and my hands and feet went numb, so my tour guide rushed me to the nearest polyclinic.

A doctor assessed me almost as soon as I arrived and within 20 minutes I had been given a shot and a blood test. Rarely have I been seen as quickly in the NHS here in Britain. While I was waiting for the results of my blood test, which took only another 45 minutes (and came back all clear), the waiting room, which had been half-full when I arrived, had emptied as everybody had been seen to.

As a foreigner I had to pay, but only about 7 CUCs for three prescriptions and a further 70 overall (about £60 in total). I dread to think what the cost would be in a similar situation in, say, the US.

So, while it wasn’t quite the highlight of my trip, I was very impressed with my first-hand experience of Cuba’s famous healthcare. How can a poor, blockaded country have such an efficient system? The answer can only be because it is socialist. Imagine what Cuba could achieve if this system were combined with the resources of a rich country!


West Cumbria’s deal with the devil

The first new deep coal mine to open in Britain for decades has been approved in the coastal town of Whitehaven, Cumbria. The £165m Woodhouse Colliery, owned by Australian corporation EMR Capital, could provide 500 jobs for the area and 2,000 jobs in its wider supply chain. It will open in 2020 next to the site of the old Haig Pit, which shut in 1986 with the loss of 3,500 jobs.

The borough of Copeland now relies heavily on the nuclear industry, which is set to shed 3,000 jobs in the near future. The new mine will process up to 3m tonnes of metallurgical coal a year for five decades, supplying British and other European steel plants.

While many welcome the investment, there is opposition due to the environmental damage it will cause; a local action group has been launched, Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole.

The activists have a point. The steel mills that the colliery will supply currently import coal from the US, Canada, Russia and Australia; getting their fuel from closer to home will technically reduce UK emissions by around 5.3m tonnes, meaning the project won’t fall foul of climate change targets. But while that looks good for Britain, the imported coal will just find other markets, increasing global emissions. The colliery will allow Britain to export its pollution, not reduce it.

Why are Cumbrians forced to choose between poverty and pollution? Investment always seems to come with a price in ‘forgotten’ areas like Copeland – whether it’s sitting on a massive pile of nuclear waste or bringing another coal mine into the world at a time of climate crisis. And when profits dry up, the investors find another region to exploit.

To reduce global emissions and give people a lasting and decent livelihood, we can less and less rely on the wisdom and generosity of capitalists.

Liam Harrison
Bransty, Whitehaven


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