The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 11th January 2002

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Editorial - A peaceful New Year?
Lead Story - Pay the rail workers!
Feature - Mothers face huge variation in maternity services.
International - Sinn Fein prepares for all-Ireland campaigning.
British News - Manufacturing output in steep decline.


A peaceful New Year?

THROUGHOUT the world people have been wishing family, friends, colleagues and neighbours a peaceful and happy New Year. But United States President George W Bush has glibly predicted that "next year will be a war year" -- a statement he gave in a jocular sessionn with the US media at the end of last year.

 He can afford to smile since he won't be among the thousands of American GIs stuffed into a troop carrier, transported thousands of miles and exposed to the reality of Washington's war fighting policies.

 Nor will Bush's family ever know what it is like to survive in a country targeted by the US and its fleet of warplanes. New Year in the Bush clan will not involve sitting under a flimsy shelter in a snow-swept refugee camp nor will it require the burying of starved-to-death babies in frost-hardened ground.

 Well away from the horror of the front lines Bush and the corporate fat cats he represents have other reasons to smile. The dollars are rolling in to fill the coffers of the big arms manufacturers -- Lockheed Martin, General Electric and the like have seen the value of their stock surge by 20-30 per cent since the war against Afghanistan began. And this has happened when the US economy overall is in recession.

 If these are the bright spots in an otherwise gloomy economy it is easy to see why the US capitalist class wants more war. Bush's prediction will have raised quite a few smiles in the boardrooms of the military-based manufacturing sector.

 The Bush administration, not surprisingly, is planning to increase the country's military budget next year -- to the tune of $32 billion. It will bring the total military spend up to £343 billion.

 This money will come from the American people. And since the rich are protected from increases in taxation by government policy, it is the poor who will have to pay -- largely through cuts in welfare and what remains of the social budget.

 It is hard to imagine the hardship facing the growing number of unemployed American workers -- there has already been a great rise in the number of people forced to seek basic necessities from community "food pantries".

 Obviously the "bright spot" of weapons manufacture in the US economy is only "bright" for shareholders and tycoons. For the majority, who get to pick up the tab, more war and more weapons means more poverty.

  Britain's military budget may not be as huge as that of the US but it is still colossal -- considerably higher than that of other European countries -- and, like the US, it has virtually nothing to do with defence and everything to do with strutting the role of a global power.

 Also like the US, it is the rich who gain and the working class who pay. We pay directly of course through taxation. But we also pay indirectly through having to suffer the neglect of our infrastructure and public services.

 It is a scandal that our rail system has been undercapitalised for so long that is unsafe, overcrowded and unreliable. People have died from this neglect and we still haven't got a comprehensive Automatic Train Protection system -- but we've got a Trident nuclear weapons system that benefits no one but the US-based corporations that sold it to us.

 It is a scandal that we are short of nurses and teachers -- largely because of poor pay and rotten conditions. But we can lob two Cruise missiles into Afghanistan at $1 million a throw.

 George W Bush must be answered. Blair must receive a message for a change -- our message for 2002 is that it must be a year of peace campaigning! The struggle for peace must lifted to new heights and it must be linked to the struggle for a redistribution of social spending away from the means of war and into providing decent services for everyone.

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Lead Story

Pay the rail workers!

by Daphne Liddle

WHEN IS 7.6 per cent not 7.6 per cent: when it's spread over 18 months and is really only 4.2 per cent annually.

 This sleight of hand is at the heart of the railworkers pay dispute that has brought South West Trains (SWT) to a halt for four days already this year as members of the RMT transport union have taken strike action on 3, 4, 7 and 8 January.

 The action so far has been two 48-hour strikes which have stopped trains out of Waterloo to south-west London and to the south coast, affecting some 200,000 commuters a day.

 The dispute has been brewing for a long time and it stems from South West Trains -- owned by Stagecoach -- making a poorer offer to train guards and station staff than to drivers.

 When the trains were nationalised and run by British Rail, percentage pay rises were for all grades.

 Since privatisation, the RMT union has been battling for a fairer settlement. When South West Trains refused to negotiate, the union balloted for action and won a powerful 76 per cent in favour of striking.

 At the same time the RMT balloted for action in protest at the victimisation of two union activists.

 Greg Tucker was a train driver who was elected to be the health and safety rep at Waterloo. This followed the victimisation of the previous health and safety rep, Sarah Friday who took her union role a bit too seriously for the SWT management.

 Her insistence on high safety standards cost the company time and money and she was dismissed on a trumped up charge of failing to ask permission to go to the toilet.

 She won an industrial tribunal over unfair dismissal but was not given her job back.

 Greg Tucker took a leading part in the protests at her dismissal. He also led a successful action against SWT attempts to make staff wear red waistcoats.

 SWT management then picked on his long standing career as a political activist on many progressive issues to paint him as a dangerous red.

 Supervisors were instructed to watch him like a hawk until he did something wrong. Eventually they found he had spent a few moments driving his train at over the speed limit -- on a stretch where the limit was reduced from 100 miles an hour to 90.

 They then demoted him to a ticket collector at Clapham Junetion, cutting his salary from £30,000 to £15,000.

 The union is demanding his reinstatement. It is concerned that if every safety rep is victimised in this way, there will be few volunteers for the post. SWT's actions are a threat to the union's meaningful existence.

 The other victim is train guard Mike Skiggs, another union activist also disciplined, this time ostensibly for using a mobile phone for a short time while passengers were boarding a train on which he was the guard.

 Both Greg Tucker and Mike Skiggs insist the real dispute is about pay and that SWT is using them as a smokescreen to confuse the press.

 The strike took a new lease of life last Tuesday when SWT imposed the 7.6 rise on guards and station staff -- a lower figure than had been on the negotiating table before.

 Vernon Hince, the acting RMT general secretary, said this 7.6 per cent still fell short of what had been offered to the drivers and failed to address the victimisation of the two union activists.

 He said: "I have never known such arrogance in all my years in the rail industry."

 The union responded by fixing two new strike days for 24 and 25 January.

 Meanwhile three other rail companies are also facing action from the RMT and the train drivers' union Aslef.

 Drivers for Scotrail last week refused to work voluntary overtime in a dispute over demands for a £5,000 increase in basic pay.

 This led to the cancellation of around a quarter of Scotrail's services and showing how heavily it depends on long hours of overtime from its drivers.

 The RMT is also in dispute with Arriva trains in the north of England over low pay offers for guards and station staff.

 The union has fixed 24 January, 5 and 6 February for strike days on Arriva trains. This will also affect services on the trans-Pennine routes and on Merseyside.

 And RMT members employed by Connex South East, which runs trains from south-east London through Kent and East Sussex, have rejected a pay offer and are balloting for strike action.

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Mothers face huge variation in maternity services

by Caroline Colebrook

EXPECTANT mothers face a bewildering lottery when deciding where to give birth, according to The Good Birth Guide, published last week by an independent organisation called Dr Foster.

 The guide revealed big differences in the levels of service available and areas where women are getting a poor service because of a chronic shortage of midwives.

 The guide's aim was to give women a comprehensive survey of the levels of service available in hospitals throughout the country.

 Most women have little choice, their doctor routinely will book them into the nearest big hospital. But the guide points out that this often leaves out smaller community hospitals and midwife led units.

 It names Ipswich, Solihull and the Royal Devon and Exeter hospitals as having the busiest maternity units but it is the number of patients per midwife that makes a real difference to the level of treatment and care available.

 And many of the biggest hospitals also have the gravest shortage of midwives.

 The guide names Wexham Park hospital in Slough, Berkshire, Kingston Hospital in Surrey and King George Hospital in Ilford, Essex as being not only very busy hospitals but also having a very high midwife work load.

 In 21 hospitals, there is on average more than one baby born every day per delivery bed.

 It does not suggest that these very busy hospitals, usually in big cities, necessarily provide worse care.

 But it warns: "There will be some pressured units which are operating with substantial overcrowding. Mothers have a right to consistent standards."

 The Royal College of Obstetrictians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) supports the guide and says it gives a lot of useful information.

 But it warned that counting the number of babies born per delivery bed per day does not always give a clear idea of the pressures on a maternity unit.

 But there was agreement that the survey showed, once again, an alarming overall shortage of midwives that is particularly acute in the London area.

 It is recommended that on average a midwife should deliver no more than 35 babies a year. At Wexham Park it is 51. At St Peter's in Chertsey, Surrey it is 49 and at the King George in Ilford it is 45.

 When midwives are under pressure they often find themselves looking after more than one women in labour at a time.

 Research has shown that women in labour who do not get one-to-one care do not do so well. There is a higher incidence of complications which lead to a higher proportion of caesarean sections needed.

 Speaking for the RCOG, Peter Bowen-Simpkins said: "It emphasises that there are areas where pressure on midwives is enormous and patients are getting a worse service."

 Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said: "It shows how precarious the service is at the moment and under-resourced.

 "The Government is putting in a lot of effort but the returnees to midwifery are few. It is almost like running a tap and pulling the plug out."

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Sinn Fein prepares for all-Ireland campaigning

by Steve Lawton

SINN FEIN leaders, boosting republican and nationalist confidence as the New Year begins, are raising the profile of the long standing demand for a united Ireland.

 Mitchell McLaughlin, the party's chairperson, told a gathering of the party's northern Ireland Assembly members (MLA's) in Derry last weekend, that Sinn Fein's presence on both sides of the north-south divide was sufficient now to begin the push for the island to be unified.

 Speaking to the press after the conference, he said: "Given our political strength our party must take the responsibility for advancing a type of united Ireland that can accommodate all." McLaughlin said this remained the "core outstanding, political debate in Ireland.

 He told MLA representatives that discussions with unionists on the "benefits of unity" must now begin, "by engaging with our political opponents -- unionist, nationalists and others." He said it was necessary to allay fears over the nature of constitutional change. but the "dismantling of partition... can no longer be ignored."

 The Sinn Fein leader, dismissing provocative exaggerations of the party's likely poll showing in four months time, said that its current Westminster and local electoral advances would be built upon in the Irish Republic. The southern impact of Sinn Fein would be "highly significant", he said.

 Meanwhile, delivering the Feargal O'Hanlon memorial lecture in Monaghan in the south last weekend, Martin Ferris, Sinn Fein councillor, and north Kerry candidate, also emphasised the widening base of the party's support. He said that ever since 1997, Sinn Fein has been in a permanent political campaigning mode.

 He maintained "2001 will be remembered in electoral terms as the year Sinn Fein became the largest nationalist party in the Six Counties and won four Westminster seats, and when our party played a key role in defeating the Nice Treaty referendum in the 26 Counties."

 Honouring fallen comrades from the IRA's armed struggle in 1957, he said their sacrifice "lives on in the commitment of the republicans of 2002 to achieve the republic for which they gave their lives."

 With all the "new strategies and new methods of struggle" 45 years later, he said the "core aim of the struggle is the same. We remain totally committed to the ending of British rule in the Six Counties and to the unity of our country and our people."

 Sinn Fein is "building the radical alternative and pointing the way forward to an all-Ireland democracy, an Ireland of equals", Martin Ferris declared.

 British occupation of the north -- and the British state's anti-Good Friday Agreement saboteurs -- remain the key to serious outstanding problems in the unionist-nationalist divide.

 Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein president said,just prior to talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 13 December: "Sinn Fein does not participate in the current policing arrangements... and I reiterate my view that nationalists or republicans should not support the policing arrangements until the terms for this are in line with the Good Friday Agreement."

 He felt "vindicated" in this decision particularly in the light of the Omagh bombing investigation in which the Special Branch and RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan are accused of failing to co-operate with the Policing Board. That was made possible by former northern Ireland minister Peter Mandelson's mangling of the policing commission process.

 Gerry Adams said that while "Mr Blair did the right thing" in establishing the Saville inquiry into the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings by British paras in Derry, efforts have since "suffered as a result of obstruction and interferrence by the British MoD."

 He said there has been a failure to address collusion and dirty tricks. Information has been withheld from inquiries and institutions, while other investigations -- especially into several murders and bombing incidents -- have either not happened or have been stymied.

 At the same time, as Education Minister Martin McGuinness pointed out during the launch of the Granada film Blood Sunday: "The fact that English people are prepared to tackle a subject of such great embarassment to the British Government is to their eternal credit and I think it helps the peace process.

 He added that it was time to "get on and secure the truth about a lot of things." The growing quest for Irish unity will help bring that about and strengthen the hand of those seeking reconciliation and political, social and economic equality.

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British News

Manufacturing output in steep decline

MANUFACTURING companies are cutting jobs at the fastest rate for a decade as they struggle to survive what is being described euphemistically as "the First synchronised downturn in the world economy" For more than 20 years.

 Newspaper headlines may have covered the Christmas boom in high street sales. But behind the scenes, the underlying picture is one of serious dedine.

 Daniel Kaye, an economist at Capital Economics, said: "Far from recovering, industry is now contracting at an even faster pace than before.

 "Whatever happens to consumer spending, ii looks almost certain that policy-makers will be operating amidst an environment of deep manufacturing recession for the remainder of the year.

The activity index of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) fell from 45.6 in November to 45.2 in December. Anything under 50 signals a decline and this is the poorest reading since January 1992.

 Mr Kaye warned that jobs in manufacturing are declining by six percent a year rather than the four per cent shown in official figures.

 Even a few new orders are not improving the job situation.

 Melinda Johnson of CIFS said: "it's a dismal picture for UK manufacturers. What we are seeing is that they are trying to improve their efficiency by meeting any new orders that they get directly from stocks."

 Engineering is in serious trouble. The Engineering Employers' Federation said last Wednesday that a new survey reveals the bleakest winter for a decade.

 Struggling firms have cut output in the last few months leading to a 3.2 per cent fall in 2001 that is expected to continue. EEF director general Martin Temple said: "Conditions for engineering manufacturing remain very difficult and many members are finding life as rough as in the 1990-92 recession.

 "While a potential pick up in world trade holds out the prospcct of recovery in the second half of the year, companies currently need a breathing space if they are to benefit."

 He expressed particular concern that the rise in consumer spending on the high streets this Christmas might prompt the Bank of England to increase the cost of borrowing.

 He warned that Britain's engineering companies are in no shape to withstand higher interest rates.

 The motor industry in Britain faces yet more problems, despite increasing sales of cars in Britain. A large proportion of those bought are imported.

 Management at Jaguar last week held talks with union leaders over increasing fears that the Ford subsidiary is likely to have to make drastic job cuts at the Halewood plant on Merseyside.

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