Issue section: 

Retail heresy

Danny Dorling and Carl Lee describe the average out-of-town shopping centre as a "retail fortress" and a "highly defensible space" and predicts that "premium retailers" will want to ghettoise themselves further (Feature, Socialist Review, October 2011).

And we return to Victorian levels of inequality, history suggests he is right. The development of steel girders in the mid-19th century meant that palaces of shopping became possible with huge plate glass windows. Department stores from Chicago and Paris to London's Oxford Street were built as spaces for the rich where wealthy ladies could comfortably shop without dirtying their clothes. Shoppers were supposed to be safe from pickpockets and the "sensitive" need not see beggars, or the ordinary people of nearby Soho or St Giles. With fixed prices they were even protected from haggling.

In Piccadilly the shopping lanes of the Burlington Arcade were also guardable spaces with private security - the Beadles - deciding who looked respectable enough to enter. Now with growing levels of inequality we will see more gated communities not just with private sports facilities and restaurants but also where the rubbish is collected regularly and street lighting works.

It's no wonder that in recent zombie movies, the audience comes to realise that we are the zombies that the people inside hate and fear.

Sarah Ensor
East London

Strike and occupy!

Jim Wolfreys' article on marketisation in universities really got the tone right (Feature, Socialist Review, October 2011). It's been really useful on my campus (Goldsmiths) as a way of introducing people to the White Paper.

Clearly though, the White Paper can't be beaten on one campus alone. Moreover, defeating it will require real student-staff solidarity and cooperation. We saw last year how student occupations by themselves couldn't bring down the tuition fees vote. Clearly then, the public sector general strike on N30 isn't just another good day of action - it is the key link in the chain.

If the strike over pensions wins it will mean that we'll be in a completely different position to challenge not only the White Paper, but also the tuition fees vote. That's why we're building locally and nationally through the Education Activist Network, for a real shutdown, getting students out in their hundreds to strengthen the picket line, and if possible, continue the strike and occupy with our lecturers.

Søren Goard
South London

Insecurity has always been with us

I thought Esme Choonara's piece on the so-called "precariat" was excellent (Feature, Socialist Review, October 2011). As someone who is facing the sack by an employer I have worked for during most of my adult life, the issue of job security is very much on my mind.

Looked at historically, the concept of job security, let alone a job for life, is an illusion that grew up in the developed world during the long post-war boom and is not at all typical of capitalism throughout its existence.

Employment contracts in Britain were only won in the 1950s - not coincidentally at a time of labour shortages when workers could walk out of a job on a Friday and find a new one by Monday. Before then workers could be legally sacked without notice for any reason.

Traditional jobs such as mining and dock labour have never been secure. Dockers were only granted permanent employment rights in 1967 to blunt opposition to containerisation (the use of large containers which would soon lead to major job losses).

Factory workers have always faced lay-offs and short-time working due to dips in demand and shortages of raw materials and components even in times of boom. As Esme points out, the gap between the permanent and precarious workforce is grossly exaggerated by the more superficial observers of contemporary capitalism.

My union branch receives a detailed monthly breakdown of agency and temporary workers to help us to hold the employer to account and prevent temps being used to undermine the full-time workforce. We have tried to recruit temporary and agency workers to the union and stand up for their rights.

Legislation is shortly to come into force that will give agency workers many of the rights of directly employed workers. This was fought for by unions across Europe. As well as benefiting agency workers in the short term this will hopefully make temps less attractive to employers as a cut-price alternative to creating permanent jobs.

Clearly the Tories want to use the economic crisis to discipline workers through fear of the dole, and to increase "flexibility". The mass strike on 30 November can begin to turn the tide.

Tony Phillips
North London

Stock up on fake tan?

Bravo Jess Edwards! A much needed concise response to Catherine Hakim's ridiculous book Honey Money (Books, Socialist Review, October 2011). She would, however, have recommended that you added a nice little picture of yourself with red, pouty lips - sex sells don't you know!

For me the most shocking element of Hakim's book, highlighted by Jess, is the reinforcement of social constructions and categorisations.

As a senior research fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies, you would expect more of a critical position for claims of "natural" differences in sexual behaviour. Furthermore she completely neglects to question differences within various "categories" such as woman, man, lesbian, gay and of course feminist. But what would I know? Education will have done little for my female brain. I'm probably better off heading to Boots to stock up on fake tan.

Louise Buckfest