The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 1st December 2000



Editorial - Burnout.
Lead Story - Rail chaos multiplies.
Feature - London's fire engines to be privatised.
International - Barak goes for broke.
British News - Turks hunger protest.

Editorial

Burnout

 A RECENT poll carried out by the TUC reveal that some four million people in Britain regularly  work over five extra hours a week for nothing. Altogether some £23 billion worth of unpaid  overtime is worked every year.

  Not surprisingly the poll also found that over half of those questioned said they find it difficult to cope  with the pressures of work and that there is a deal link between workplace stress and family problems in the home.

  A further TUC survey of 8,000 safety reps showed stress to be the major health and safety problem in the workplace.

  Unfortunately, while the TUC has come up with one good proposal -- to press the government to end the individual opt-out from the 48-hour average working week -- it's other main idea is to seek solutions through "partnership at work" schemes.

  TUC general secretary John Monks talks of tackling the "long hours culture" through "sensible regulation and better management". The TUC argues that  other EU countries do not need a "long hours culture" because they "work smarter". Smarter working, the TUC thinks, can be achieved here through  worker/management partnerships.

  The issue the TUC should be addressing is the  reality of the £23 billion worth of extra work that is  boosting the bosses profits every year. And that of  course is not the full extent of the rip-off since many  workers have also been robbed of time-and-a-half and double-time rates as new "flexible" work patterns have been introduced.

  Such a bonanza is not going to be given up without a fight. Even if the cosy "partnership" meetings  between workers and managements do lead to "work smarter" arrangements, the bosses will still want to  exploit the climate of fear they have so carefully built up in many workplaces -- the long hours will simply  become "more productive" long hours.

  The Blairite tendency at the TUC may well imagine that "New" Labour really has brought about a "New" Britain. Maybe they do now think that workers and management share the same interests and can therefore resolve all problems by better communication and dialogue.

  If that is the case they are wrong. The nature of the  capitalist system has not changed. In the real world  the lion doesn't lie down with the lamb -- if the lion  feels a bit peckish it eats the lamb.

  Nor does the passing of time make the basic conflicts of capitalist society go away or lessen.  Capital doesn't just exploit labour -- it survives crises by increasing its exploitation of workers and screwing them more and more.

 It was this reality that led workers to form trade unions in the first place. It was the need to address the problems of over-long hours, poor workplace conditions and low wages that forced workers to seek strength from unity and to exercise that strength in struggle.

 The present problems need strong trade union action, not weedy partnerships with the bosses. We need the TUC to put its energy and resources into promoting trade union membership, to press for proper trade union negotiation in the workplace, to elevate the principle of collective bargaining and to restore the confidence of trade union members.

 It may be easy for trade union officials to pass the buck on low pay to the government, to look to EU directives to address conditions and to urge workers to negotiate themselves with their partner-boss. But easy won't win. Only struggle will bring back the full weekend, a proper family life, leisure time and freedom from stress.

 It is high time we kick back at the "lunch is for wimps" slogan with ideas that serve our interests rather than those of the boss. After all the workers who forgo their lunch are the ones most under the thumb and we need to say so.

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Lead Story

Rail chaos multiplies

by Daphne Liddle

CONDITIONS for rail travellers throughout Britain have continued to worsen this week, with several derailments, injuries, hold-ups and a journey from London to Nottingham that took nine hours instead of the one hour and 45 minutes it should have taken.

 On Sunday a Virgin passenger train from London's Euston Station to Glasgow came off the rails just seven miles outside Glasgow, carrying 400 passengers.

 The train was travelling at only 15 miles an hour and four passengers were slightly hurt but many were badly frightened. If the train had been going any faster there would have been many more serious casualties.

 The track at the site of the accident, Mossend South Junction, had not been under the speed restrictions imposed since the Hatfield rail crash. A Railtrack spokesperson said: "It was not a site identified as having gauge corner cracking so it wasn't a site with emergency speed restrictions.

 "The train was travelling at a slow speed through the junction, as trains normally do at that particular point."

 Since Sunday, a Health and Safety Executive preliminary report has said this derailment was probably due to rails moving apart as the train moved over them.

  On Monday 30 passengers on the 1Opm from London to Nottingham, who had expected to arrive safely before midnight, did not reach their destination until 7.30am the next day.

 The train set off late because no driver was available. The journey was then hit by a power failure between Elstow and Bedford where the train was stuck for nearly four hours.

 There were children among the passengers who became more and more desperate, wondering if they would ever get to Nottingham.

 The train finally moved as far as Kettering, where the passengers were asked to get off and make their way to a cold and dirty double-decker bus which took them finally to their destination.

 During last Wednesday at least two freight trains have been derailed, one just outside Bristol and one in Northampton. There have been no reported injuries but the incidents have blocked rails and led to further disruption of services.

 Commuters into London face a daily nightmare, not knowing whether broken rails, floods or derailments will hold up their journeys or how long it will take to get to work. People trying to keep long-awaited medical appointments in hospitals and clinics the other side of the capital dare not risk the gamble of a rail journey.

  London traffic normally increases over the Christmas period but the AA has reported a 10 per cent increase in road traffic throughout Britain and a much higher than usual surge in the capital.

 The air lines have reported a 30 per cent increase in the number of passengers travelling city to city within Britain.

  Railtrack and some of the train operators are calling for an end to the speed restrictions imposed after the Hatfield crash because conditions for train drivers are now so confusing that in itself increases the chance of dangerous accidents.

 But Vernon Hince, speaking for the RMT transport union, pointed out that all the restrictions had been imposed for a reason and until engineers had corrected each problem, it was not safe to run trains at speed over those tracks.

   But, according to Sir Alastair Morton who heads the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority -- a Government watchdog -- the engineers are working as fast as they can but the number of restrictions remains more or less constant because "a further half dozen keep on appearing every day".

 He accused railway engineers of not understanding the problem of gauge corner cracking and failing to stop it pervading the entire rail network.

 He also accused the whole industry of being "spooked" by Hatfield and said that "our system has a cancer in its innards" - the interface between Railtrack and its sub-contractors.

 There is only one solution. The whole industry must be reunited and renationalised.

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Feature

London's fire engines to be privatised

by Caroline Colebrook

THE LONDON Fire Authority last week decided to privatise London's fleet of 540 fire engines and two boats in an attempt to save money.

 The authority has awarded a £314 million 20-year contract to supply and service new vehicles and maintain the existing fleet to Lattice, a firm which operates Britain's gas pipeline network.

 Lattice has set up a new arm, TLG Fire Services, to do the work.

 The deal has been secured under the Private Finance Initiative and has been welcomed by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority.

 The fire authority says the deal was essential as the only way to replace London's ageing fire fleet.

 Chairperson Valerie Shawcross explained. "Investment in the vehicle fleet has be come urgent This is the third year in which no new fire engines have been brought to replace those that have come to the end of their economic life.

 "The result was that we are using older vehicles with the obvious extra maintainance costs, downtime and inability to harness advances in technology to improve firefighting techniques."

 The deal means that TLG will supply 104 new fire engines to the service over the first five years of the contract and lease the brigade's maintainance depots at Lambeth, Barking and Ruislip.

 This will involve the privatisation of 90 jobs, mainly mechanics, with new contracts starting in February.

 TLG is also contracted to a gradual replacement scheme for the entire fleet, including frontline and training vehicles.

 Modern cutting gear for use in road accidents will be installed in all vehicles.

 An electronic tracking system to monitor the whereabouts of every vehicle will also be installed.

 TLG will be responsible for picking up faulty vehicles and delivering them after repair. "This frees up what amounts to weeks of downtime for fire personnel," said Ms Shawcross.

 The authority is resorting to the this measure in desperation and through lack of funds. But in the long-term it will cost tax payers far more.

 Mick Shore of the London Fire Brigade Union told the New Worker: "Of course we are happy to get some new fire engines - there have been no new ones for a long time now.

 "But we are very concerned that as a result of Government spending policy, the only way the fire authority can see to get new engines is to hand it all over to the private sector.

 "There are 90 jobs to be transferred, none from our union or we would be balloting for action. They are mainly AEEU mechanics with some GMB and Unison admin workers.

 "The fire authority is happy because it is getting £43 million from the Government it would not have got otherwise. But that could have been given direct to buy new engines.

 "The Government is dictating going down the PFI road because it wants to get public sector borrowing down in preparation for entry into the European Single Currency.

 "Lattice is part of British Gas and not a bad employer but this deal is a worrying precedent. If they do the job well -- and British Gas is used to running a fleet of emergency vehicles, though not fire engines -- they could win similar contracts for emergency vehicles around the country.

 "If they do a bad job, it'll be too late."

 It is also likely to lead to cuts in the standards of service and maintenance. The private company cannot do the job more cheaply than the authority itself is doing and still make profits.

 Londoners will still be paying through the nose for this deal in 20 years time while the company continues to make profits.

 The scandal is that, three-and-a-half years into a Labour govenrment, the fire authority is still so strapped for cash that the authority has to put the entire London fleet of fire engines in hock in order to get any new ones at all.

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International

Barak goes for broke.

by Our Middle East Affairs correspondent

ISRAELI PREMIER Ehud Barak has bowed to opposition demands for a snap election two years ahead of schedule vowing to lead his Labour bloc to victory when the time comes. "I have won every election I have participated in. I am ready for new elections," he told the Knesset, Israel's parliament on Tuesday evening, following the failure of his latest bid to form a Government of national unity.

 But nothing is never quite the way it seems in Tel Aviv's hothouse politics. The elections will not take place for another six months and the extremist Likud opposition leader, General Arik Sharon, may not be too keen to hurry the agenda.

 Sharon, whose provocative actions sparked off the current Palestinian uprising in the first place, knows that former Likud leader Benyamin Netanyahu, is planning a come-back at his expense. Sharon needs time to fend off the challenge so now he's thinking again about Barak's offer of a "national unity" coalition to see out the crisis.

 Barak needs time, though he's got six months, to get a ceasefire with the Palestinians so that he call once again mobilise the peace movement behind his platform. Both leaders want to wait until the new President of the United Slates is in the saddle -- whoever that will be -- before doing anything precipitate.

 Barak's decision was met with indifference by the Palestinian masses. Fighting rages throughout the occupied territories and along the Lebanese frontier and few -- if any -- Arabs believe that Barak is a man of peace.

 Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said that it was not important for the Palestinians which Israeli government remained in power. What mattered was that Israel's policy should change.

 This was echoed by Palestinian negotiator Saab Erakat on Voice of Palestine radio. "It seems that Israeli politicians who inflict harm, kill and threaten to use the military machine against the Palestinian people will get more votes," he declared.

 But it seems that Barak is trying to cut some sort of deal with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to end the fighting so that he can concentrate on getting returned to office in Tel Aviv.

 Barak's putting out feelers to the Palestinian leadership suggesting that his government may now be interested in yet another "interim" agreement, putting the thorny question of Jerusalem and the Zionist settlers on the backburner for another day. It will only work if Israel makes real concrete "interim" concessions to the Arabs.

 On the international front the Palestinians are winning diplomatic backing for their call for international observers to stop the violence. Last week Russian leader Vladimir Putin met Yasser Arafat in Moscow and put forward a three-point plan to resolve the crisis.

 The first is the despatch of international observers to monitor a cease-fire. The second stage would be the withdrawal of Israeli forces frotn Palestinian territory and an end to the economic blockade and the third would be serious talks to try and reach a final settlement.

 People's China is also calling for a new breakthrough in the "peace process". This was made clear in a keynote speech given al a reception to mark the Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People in Beijing on Wednesday.

 Chen Yongchang, vice-president of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries said the Chinese people were "gravely concerned" about the clashes between Israel and Palestine since September and they deeply mourned the civilian casualties caused by Israel's use of violence.

 The bloody clashes have seriously hindered the Middle East peace process and caused turbulence in the region, a result that "neither China nor the international community is willing to see".

 From the very beginning, the Chinese government has called on the two sides to "take effective measures to prevent the situation from deteriorating," Chen said.

 For the just cause of the Palestinian people, the road is tortuous, but the prospects are bright, he said, adding that the Palestinians will will the final victory and achieve national self-determination with the support of the peace-loving people of the world.

Back to index



British News

Turks hunger protest

BY THE gates of Finsbury Park, just opposite Manor House tube station in north London, a small group of young Turks is camped. They are taking part in a protest hunger strike involving prisoners in Turkey and Turkish prisoners in various jails throughout Europe.

 The protest, organised by the Committee for Struggle Against Torture Through Isolation, concerns moves by the Turkish government to build new prisons that put the inmates into solitary cells rather than in the dormitories that have been traditional there.

 The comrades at Finsbury Park told the New Worker why they feel so strongly. For a start, many of the inmates are political prisoners who should not be in jail in the first place.

 But most of all, the Turkish authorities have often launched attacks on prisoners. Many have been killed and there have been some massacres.

 They fear that in the new F-type prisons, they will be isolated and it will be all too easy for prisoners to be attacked, beaten up and murdered without anyone outside being any the wiser.

 In isolation cells they cannot offer each other solidarity and support which is traditional in their society. Solitary confinement is in itself a form of torture.

 They have chosen this form of protest after the example of the hunger strike of Bobby Sands and his comrades against the British state's refusal to allow political status to Irish Republican prisoners -- and the impact that hunger strike made around the world.

 Last Tuesday the committee wrote: "Today, 28 November, is the 40th day of the Death Fast resistance by the political prisoners of Turkey.

 "We call upon those who are concerned about the rights of political prisoners to show support at this critical time.

 "Across Europe the supporters of the Death Fast resistance are now entering the 30th day of their solidarity hunger strike.

 "Also the supporters of the revolutionary struggle in Turkey who find themselves in the prisons of Europe are completing their 21st day of hunger strike.

 "The prisoners' main demand is that they shall not be forced to enter isolation cells is a concern that all progressive and democratic human beings should share.

 "The policy of oppression against political prisoners in Turkey manifests itself with massacres and tortures.

 "In a land where people go hungry, the regime is spending millions on building isolation cells. They aim to make political prisoners surrender their beliefs and to turn prisons into torture centres."

 They are asking for protest messages to be sent to the Turkish government: the Prime Minister's Office, phone 0090 312 417 0476; fax 0090 312 434 2110; the Justice Minister, fax 0090 312 414 6257 and the Interior Minister 0090 312 425 4080.

 Solidarity messages can also be sent by phone to 0044 207 254 1266, fax 0044 207 923 2095.

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