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Articles from the Peace News log: Social Justice

Articles from the Peace News log.
For articles in this category from the whole site, look here

Jon Lockwood reviews Leon Fleming's recent play

Leon Fleming's new play concerns a brother and sister growing-up and living in Birmingham trapped in the clutches of an uncaring welfare system. The story is told with flasback scences from their childhood, mixed with the contemporary tale of two people being processed by The System TM and trying to survive.

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Playwright Leon Fleming on the biographical inspiration behind his new play 'Kicked in the Sh*tter' and why he believes that theatre is the greatest medium we have created for dragging thoughts out of a society.

ImageI’ve written a play, Kicked in the Sh*tter. Sounds a bit grim, but it's pretty funny.

It is.

That’s the plug over.

When I first wrote this play, I had no idea what I was writing. Or why.

But I soon realised I’d been writing about a world I know well; albeit one so much darker now, than it was when it was mine. The two characters are people I have known. More than that though; they are me, a lot of me; more than I would usually allow. That frightens me.  

My play exists in an unforgiving world - one we’d see every day if we didn’t choose to close our eyes to it. It revolves around two people with their own individual mental health difficulties, struggling to hold their heads above water; fighting with the government over back-to-work assessments and the minefield that is the benefits system in the UK.

Because I lived on a council estate for a year back when I was in my early twenties, I have some idea what I’m talking about. I worked in a pub on the estate and I claimed Job Seekers Allowance and Housing Benefit. This community was populated by very busy people. Warm, immensely generous people. Some were working, and some weren’t.

I was also surrounded by heroin addicts and people with a whole range of dependency issues and specialist needs that just weren’t being catered for as well though. These were a forgotten people. Actually, not forgotten; neglected.

This play has also forced me to acknowledge my own relationship with mental health; those unspoken of, invisible illnesses that affect so many of us.

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As condemnations of Haiti's minimum wage increase are ringing out the long and disturbing history of external interference leading to a race down to the bottom needs to be remembered.

Apart from being Haitian Independence day whereby former slaves successfully removed the cruel grasp of colonial slavery 210 years ago in 1804, today is also supposed to see a much needed increase in the minimum wage in Haiti but has sparked controversy.

Protests have broken out in Haiti demanding a greater increase than has been proposed whilst a somewhat inevitable a race down to the bottom backlash from industry and the international community has argued against even the modest increase citing a concern about competitiveness.

Today’s increase lifts the wage from 200 to 225 Haitian gourdes (£2.76 to £3.11) for an eight-hour day. UNDP has reported that more than half of Haitians live in extreme poverty, less than $1 per day, and that 76% of the population lives on less than $2 per day.

Apart from being an important issue in of itself due to the fact that Haiti is a desperate poor country, the history of the minimum wage in Haiti is actually a useful microcosm to illustrate in part why Haiti is so poor. Despite a prevailing narrative that seeks to blame Haitians for this plight and sees little to no outside influence there is also an extremely strong external hand that has influenced events and the developmental path in the country. Lurking underneath the minimum wage issue is also a wider issue of liberal economics and its imposition on a weak and vulnerable country by the international community. To discuss issues about the minimum wage in Haiti is necessarily to also discuss issues of liberal economics more broadly. How the external influences on Haiti helped create the social calculus that results in the social disaster that followed the earthquake in 2010 has previously been addressed on this blog and is available here as a wider discussion to these issues.

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John Linsie reflects on the media's simplistic response to the 2011 "riots".

The present state of affairs on English streets is bad enough but the situation is exacerbated by the platitudinous responses made by most politicians who seem both to have no idea of what is going on or how to respond to the situation without making it worse. The platitudes come out thick and fast: “pure criminality”; “only a minority of the population” (has Cameron any conception of what it would be like to face even a small mob of youths?); “nothing justifies such lawless behaviour”; “sections of our society are sick”; and so on.

Water cannon and plastic bullets are seemingly now on the agenda – which, arguably, if used would only escalate the violence – do you imagine that this would not trigger a tit for tat response from sections of the “youth”? Furthermore, what is the point of threatening imprisonment when the prisons are already overflowing? The present political response is on the level of Toytown’s Mr Grouser: “It ought not to be allowed”.

So what is to be done? First, to recognise that an established generation has the responsibility effectively to hand on a culture to its emergent generation. But that the present established generation has conspicuously failed to do – and I am part of that generation. That responsibility is, moreover, essentially an institutional responsibility – as Benjamin Disraeli neatly observed: “Individuals may form communities, but it is institutions that can create a nation.” And English institutions have failed English children – so much so that politicians, and their hangers on, are now scurrying off to put the blame wholly on parents.

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