The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week of 11th October 1996

1) Lead story - Consevative Party Conference - Rattled Tories Attack the right to strike.
2) Editorial - Criminal Treatment.
3) Feature - The Battle of Cable Street Remembered.
4) International news - A European 'hot autumn'?
5) British news - In solidarity with Irish political prisoners.

1) Lead story

Consevative Party Conference

Rattled Tories Attack the right to strike

TRADE UNIONS came under renewed attack at last week's Conservative Party Conference. The call for even more anti union legislation, put forward in a speech by Board of Trade president Ian Lang last Wednesday, underlines the necessity of getting rid of the Tories at the general election.

The union-bashing session also served to rally the conference in the wake of the defection of Lord McAlpine, the latest allegations of sleaze and the clear divisions in the party over European Monetary Union.

But the proposals put by Ian Lang were not simply a band-aid for a rattled party. There is a real danger that growing authoritarianism, or creeping fascism, could turn into a canter if the Tories get another five years in office.

Mr Lang's proposal would allow consumers and businesses to sue public sector unions for darnages in the event of a strike. It aims to outlaw strikes in the public services by threatening the unions concerned with financial ruin in the courts.

Much was made of the cost to businesses caused by the recent strikes affecting the London Underground, train services and the RoyalMail. The tone of the speech was to bash the unions, bash the Labour Party and push the already draconian anti-union legislation further down the path towards an outright ban on the right to strike in the public sector. You'd never think, listening to Mr Lang, that the employers bore any responsibility at all -- it was as if workers went on strike just for the hell of it.

Mr Lang went on to talk of "a new concept in industrial relations -- proportionality. If a strike's effects are disproportionately damaging to the public then the union which organises the strike will risk losing its immunity and being sued for damages.

When asked who would say if a strike was disproportionately damaging Mr Lang said it would be left to the courts to decide. In other words the unions would have no way of knowing what to expect until action was taken against them.

TUC general secretary John Monks condemned Ian Lang's proposals which he said were a "blatant pre-election gimmick which will do nothing to improve public services or industrial relations". He described them as "impractical and totally unworkable".

"Everyone who uses our public services knows that they have been starved of resources and investment in recent years", said Mr Monks. He went on, "If the government were serious about improving public services, it would start to tackle this real problem. "Perhaps Mr Lang would like to start by giving members of the public the right to sue the government every time a train or operationis cancelled due to a shortage of staff".

Rodney Bickerstaffe of public service union Unison said: "First it was the race card and now it is the tired old Tory anti-trade union card -- and it won't work with the British public.

"This is an attack on the civil liberties of ordinary working people. The best way of deterring strikes is to treat workers decently, pay them a proper wage and make sure our public services are adequately funded.

"But it is of course a lot easier to come out with hot air designed to get cheap applause at a flagging Tory Party conference. "Mr Lang must be hoping he is not re-elected so that he doesn't have to put these ridiculous, impractical proposals into effect."

Jimmy Knapp, leader of rail union RMT was scathing:'Mr Lang's proposals", he said, "effectively mean banning the right to strike which is an attack on a fundamental human right. It is only a short step to banning trade unions altogether. That is a measure of how extreme the Tory Party now is."

Mr Knapp defended his members who had gone on strike by pointing out that, "we had a series of strikes on London Underground because the company refused to honour agreements it made last year. Reneging on agreements by employers will become commonplace", he said.

Postal workers' union leader, Alan Johnson said the proposals, "had nothing to do with industrial relations but everything to do with theTory Party's hatred of the trade unions." He also said the plan was "ill thought out, vague and completely impractical."

We are still demanding that the anti-union laws already introduced should be scrapped. There most certainly must be no more. Mr Lang and his party have got their answer from the trade unions today -- tomorrow they will face the ballot box and get the order of the boot!

2) Editorial

Criminal Treatment

BEING UNEMPLOYED has always been a miserable business of scrimping to make ends meet and worrying about tomorrow. Now there is the added insult of being treated like a criminal.

Huge billboards, complete with a "hotline" number, invite us to inform on anyone we think might be making a fraudulent claim for benefit.

This "beat-a-cheat" campaign smears the majority of benefit claimants who, far from being criminals, are the victims of a criminally exploitative system which regards having millions of people on the dole as a pretty good way of keeping those in work more firmly under the cosh.

Isn't it interesting that a government so keen on law an'-order and stopping the waste of public money, hasn't thought of putting up a few street hoardings targeting the parasites who've made a financial killing from buying up the once publicly-owned water, gas, electricity and telecom industries? And no-one ever asks us to snoop on bad employers or rich people we think might be fiddling their tax returns.

Nor do we see any "wanted" notices for Tory ministers responsible for cheating people who, having paid National Insurance contributions for years, find they are to be denied non-means tested benefit under the Job-Seekers' Allowance (JSA). Altogether 90,000 unemployed workers stand to lose their right to statutory benefit under the JSA.

Now we learn that this week's Conservative Party conference looks set to revive another plan for attacldng the unemployed -- US-style workfare.

The idea is for the long-term unemployed to be forced, under threat of losing their benefit, to join a workfare scheme paying a mouldy ten quid on top of benefit.

It's an appalling plan whichever way you look at it. If the workfare jobs turned out to be real jobs the scheme would be providing an army of workers on slave wages which would undercut and threaten wages in general and put more regularjobs at risk. And we would all be paying out of public funds for a massive handout to employers in the form of a wages subsidy.

If, as seems more likely, the workfare jobs were in the voluntary sector, doing community projects of one kind or another, there'd be little difference between a job on workfare and a community service order meted out by the courts to offenders. The scheme clearly has more to do with deterring benefit claims than helping people find work.

Another idea being discussed at the Conservative Party conference is the United States' scheme "America Works" put forward by Social Security Secretary Peter Lilley.

This gets firms to train unemployed claimants in "jobseeking skills" and repays the firm a proportion of the benefit-saving if the claimant finds regular work.

Like many of the "job-finder" schemes already used by the government under the Restart programme, the insulting implication Is that people are out of work because they don't know how to write letters, use a telephone or clean their shoes before a job interview.

It's rubbish. People are out of work because there are not enough jobs.

What's more, none of these claimant-bashing measures would actually create any new jobs or tackle the longstanding problem of Britain's run-down manufacturing industry or the continuing lay-offs caused by privatisations, mergers and new technology.

The government's main concern is to cut back on public spending. That's the way they hope to meet the requirements for joining the Single European Currency.

The European Union was created by capitalism and its purpose is to benefit the capitalist classes of Europe. If the British ruling class want the EU and all its demands they should be the ones making the sacrifices. Let them meet their currency criteria by raising taxes on the wealthy. Let them cut spending by scrapping Trident nuclear weapons and the billions spent every year on "defence".

We know there can never be full employment under capitalism. That can only be achieved in a socialist society -- a system brought about by fundamental revolutionary change.

But that does not mean we do nothing today. We have to fight against these Tory attacks on our class. We should support the campaigns of unemployed workers who are fighting the imposition of workfare. We should step up the fight to reverse the introduction of the JSA and oppose the Tories' half-baked schemes which smear and insult the unemployed.

Above all we must make sure this is the Tories last conference in government. They've got to go. Kick them out by voting Labour at the general election!

3) Feature

The Battle of Cable Street Remembered

by Daphne Liddle

ANTI Fascists came from all over Britain to the East End of London last Sunday to mark the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street.

And veterans of the original battle were very well represented on the march from Altab Ali Park to a street festival in Cable Street itself, where the modem, predominantly Bangladeshi community made the marchers welcome with speeches, music, book stalls, food stalls and so on.

There were many banners on the march from political organisations and trades unions. But the two proudest banners were those of tile Fifteenth International Brigade who fought against France fascism in Spain in 1936, and, from the same war, the banner of the Emst Thaelmann Brigade.

This was the: banner of the German anti-fascists -- exiles from Hitler's Germany who went to fight in Spain.

Gerry Gable, the editor of Searchlight anti-fascist magazine, described the Ernst Thaelmann brigade as "The bravest of the brave. They knew that capture would, for them, mean certain death."

Another speaker at the start of the march was Avtar Jouhl, from the Trades Union Congress general council.

He stressed that all the various anti-fascist organisations represented on the march, including the Anti-Nazi League, the Anti Racist Alliance and many others, were not there in any sense as rivals, but they had come to join together to pay tribute to the local community of 60 years ago who stopped Sir Oswald Mosley's blackshirts from marching through their streets.

Also present was Leon Greenman, an Auschwitz survivor who continues to campaign against fascism and racism.

Solidarity and friendship between different generations of anti-fascists was very evident on the march and at the festival.

Grey-haired communists, Jews and trades unionists -- former residents of the area -- chatted with the children of Bangladesh parents, explaining to them the history of the street they live in and hearing about the current struggles against racism and fascism.

A meeting to commemorate the Battle of Cable Street was held three days before the march, in the Davenant Centre in the Mile End Road, just a hundred yards - from Gardiners Corner, where much of the battle took place.

Memories of that day, when the working people of the East End stopped Mosley's fascists from marching through the heart of the Jewish area, are still very much alive, writes Rene Sams.

David Cesanni, director of the Weiner Library, outlined the history of fascism, which, he said, was "once again a global phenomenon".

Labour councillor Gerry Ross, a veteran of Cable Street, told how he had learned about fascism. One day in 1933 he had come home from school to find his mother slumped over the table.

"Hitler has taken power in Germany," she cried. And Gerry knew then that he had "a role to play in the fight against this evil".

3) International news.

A European 'hot autumn'?

by Steve Lawton

GOVERNMENTS across Europe are falling over themselves to meet European Union requirements by implementing some of the most draconian austerity measures since the Second World War.

As the pace and depth of these hastily devised policies cuts swathes through workers and welfare systems, so increasingly the labour movement has been forced to take more prolonged and militant action against the attacks.

The German engineering I G Metall union's strike action two weeks ago threatened the launch of what workers were calling the beginning of a "hot autumn".

As we go to press I G Metall are in wage negotiations with employers and have suspended imminent strike action following the Gesamtmetall employers' federation announcement that it would call on its members not to implement sick pay cuts pending the outcome of talks.

It comes at a time of record unemployment. It has just been announced that the jobless figures, now standing at 3.99 million officially, are the highest recorded since 1962. The I G Metall's membership has declined by nearly a million since the 1991 peak of 3.6 million.

Opposition to a 20 per cent reduction in sick pay runs deep because it was a hard-fought-for gain from a bitter strike 40 years ago. Head of I G Metall Klaus Zwickel was blunt: "Any company which attempts to cut sick pay must expect demonstrations and consequent loss of production."

In fact, the union's plan tohold a national day of protest on 24 October would coincide with the 40th anniversary of that 114-day strike. A rally in Kiel had been announced for two days later, while sporadic actions across Germany were in preparation to run into early November.

The weekly Focus magazine's survey of workscouncils revealed that 80 per cent of the 200 councils covered would strike against sick pay cuts. This pressure is becoming all the more serious as the social and economic cost of the division between eastern and western Germany increases, as the drive to shift industrial plant into countries with cheaper labour proceeds with the consequent loss of jobs.

According to one I G Metall official, Dagmar Opoczynski, she said their action -- as was the case last year -- is drawing attention to the bosses' anti-union campaign.. She said: "They want to push through a political agenda" which cuts social benefits but in particular, aims at the weakening of workers' councils and unions."

Close union-employer co-operation is evaporating at a time when it would otherwise be usual for trials-of-strength to result in re-negotiated industry-wide contracts. But the whole structure is now being severely attacked by the government.

And it is the all-round threat of a general wrecking of the trade union movement and labour organisation that is at the heart of resistance elsewhere. France's Communist-led CGT union announced on Tuesday actions which will demonstrate what it calls 'a powerful national display of workers' solidarity for the beginning of November."

Belgian public sector unions are gearing up for strike action over pension cutbacks. One union official at a newly-privatised Belgian telecotn company with thousands of imminent job losses expected, said workers "felt they had been cheated" and their security had been "blown away".

And in the Netherlands unions are beginning to bite back as deregulation and privatisation takes its toll. They have begun suing companies which -- encouraged by the government - shift to part-time job recruitment.

The European TUC is also discussing a European-wide 24 hour protest action for early spring 1997.

5) British news

In solidarity with Irish political prisoners

TWO MEMBERS of the Irish prisoners' support campaign, Fuascailt, last Sunday walked from Belmarsh high-security prison in Thamesmead, southeast London, to Downing Street where they joined the campaign's regular monthly picket,

They were raising money for the welfare needs of Irish Republican political prisoners and their relatives.

One of the walkers, Francis, told the New Worker: "The purpose of the walk is:

to highlight the draconian, spartan and inhuman conditions these political prisoners are enduring;

to recognise that political status has been accorded and abrogated to suit British political expediency;

to draw attention to the fact that the criminalising of these prisoners is just another facet of the British government's involvement in subterfuge and rnanipulation;

to re-state that these prisonersare political activists involved in an ongoing war with an imperialist-cum-colonial power -they are attempting to remedy a wrong visited upon the people of Ireland under the threat of "immediate and total war"

and to affirm that the according of political status to these prisoners by the present government would go a long way to creating an atmosphere within which peaceful negotiations could resume.".