Issue 212 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 1997 Copyright Socialist Review


Well behaved

As a first time reader of Socialist Review and a behaviourist, I was surprised by John Parrington's assertion (June SR) that 'behaviourism is now largely discredited'. It is true that the philosophy, the science, and even the founder of modern behaviourism, B F Skinner, have come under persistent attack these past decades, but it is simply not the case that behaviourists support pindown or smacking as a means of controlling behaviour (as Parrington claims).

The author is either ill informed or is not up to date with the advances behaviourists have made in developing humane and positive techniques for enhancing the life experience of their clients.

Currently, autistic children are being recovered by intensive behavioural in-home training; children at risk of abduction are taught avoidance strategies using modelling and positive reinforcement; advances in behavioural teaching methods are improving academic skills of slow learners; disadvantaged students unable to enter college are being brought to the required standards using behavioural methods; couples experiencing marital discord can now consult behavioural therapists to improve their interactions; and even a behavioural method for teaching golf has shown itself to be superior to traditional methods.

In each of these areas behaviourists have empirically demonstrated the effectiveness of their methods. No 'vagueness-spoken-here' philosophies but hard data that anyone can consult.

On the issue of smacking and pindown, again anyone can consult even the most basic behavioural text to discover that behaviourists are extremely cautious about the use of aversives because of their negative side effects. Put simply, aversives are the least preferred method and are only considered in cases where behaviour poses an immediate danger to clients, their families or peers. Therapists, social workers, parents and teachers are encouraged at all times to use positive reinforcement as this has been shown to be superior in its effects to any other technique.

Far from being discredited, behaviourism is alive and well and continues to apply itself successfully to some of the most intractable problems of human experience, thus enabling clients, whatever their level of functioning, to lead richer and more fulfilling lives.

Dr Mecca Chiesa


On the offensive

Gareth Jenkins's article on the end of free education at university (September SR) contributes an important historical perspective on the attacks that Labour is seeking to push through. Socialists have to come up with an adequate political response in leading the fight to defend free education.

The future course of the class struggle in Britain revolves around one central contradiction - that between the aspirations of the millions of ordinary people who voted Labour on 1 May, and the reality of Labour in power.

Labour's response to the Dearing report has brought that contradiction into sharp focus within months of their being elected.

It would be difficult to overestimate the sense of betrayal and the anger amongst students and workers over the introduction of fees. It affects the aspirations of every working class family in Britain. When it would take only 4 billion to restore student funding to its 1979 level, why does Labour continue to spend billions on the Eurofighter and Trident? Why does Labour ignore the majority view that they should tax the rich?

The launch of the Stop the Fees Campaign to save the grant and stop tuition fees has been timely. For instance, 600 FE students in Sheffield signed up to the campaign in three days last month. Thousands more have joined the campaign at colleges up and down the country and hundreds have joined SWSS looking for a political lead.

By building Stop the Fees and relating to the generalisation already going on in the class we can give a focus to this groundswell of opposition. Socialists have a good opportunity to turn the defence of one of the cornerstones of the welfare state into a general offensive.

Alexis Wearmouth

Sheffield University

Parcel force

The marvellous victory of the American Teamsters' union over UPS in August will have been cheered by all readers of Socialist Review. Sharon Smith's article (September SR) illustrated the significance of the strike's success and its widespread popularity with American workers. But there are some points I would like to add.

UPS management seriously underestimated the Teamsters' ability to pull off a strike and maintain it. As Sharon suggests, it was UPS that provoked the strike and the Teamsters' president, Ron Carey, tried to avoid one right to the last. UPS was confident that the strike would soon fall apart and ran a publicity campaign to play on the divisions in the workforce to encourage scabbing. But the company's expectations were never met and the level of scabbing wasn't significant.

Despite the criticisms socialists may have of the Teamsters' leadership, the union had to run a campaign called 'Countdown to the Contract' for over a year before the strike occurred, including rallies, videos, stickers and badges declaring, 'It's our contract and we'll fight for it.'

What stirred the Teamsters' bureaucracy into action? Teamster president Ron Carey represents a section of the union leadership that recognises that without better representation of their members' interests unions will continue to lose members and credibility. They also calculated that the UPS contract was a benchmark by which subsequent deals would be influenced, and finally Carey's own election as president was about to be declared invalid by a federal judge. Any sort of victory at UPS would bolster Carey in the election rerun that he now faces.

The campaign initiated by the Teamsters' leadership illustrates the contradictory nature of the trade union bureaucracy that trade unions simply cannot work in partnership with the bosses and entirely accept their agenda if they are to survive.

Regan Kilpin

South London

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